Up, and Away in My Beautiful Baloo-n
Don Karnage, a dashingly handsome wolf in a blue coat trimmed with gold buttons, burst through the observation deck's door with a jaunty, heavily-accented, "Hello, rich passengers-type peoples in the big silver balloon! It is I, the dreadful pirate, Don Karnage. You may now all tremble in fear of my truly magnificent self."
The majority of the passengers and crew did just that. Whimpering, wailing, and shrieking they made a mad dash for the far corner of the room.
Baloo and Rebecca didn't follow their fellow travelers' examples. The two bears stood where they were in the middle of the room with defiant sneers etched on their faces.
"Why if it isn't Don Garbage, the scourge of the air," Baloo jeered, not breaking eye contact with Karnage. He gently pushed Rebecca behind him. "What's wrong, Karny? Are cargo planes too fast for ya? Ya gotta hijack slow zeppelins now?"
An ugly scornful smile appeared on the pirate captain's face, revealing a mouthful of sharp pointed teeth. "Ah, Bahloo. We meet again, yes-no? I didn't know they allowed blimps on blimps."
"Why you..." the big bear snarled, doubling his fists.
The pirate captain unsheathed his sword and waved it under Baloo's nose. "Ah-ah-ah. Control that temperament. You and the annoying business lady, come with me!"
They were roughly escorted between Mad Dog and Dumptruck onto the Iron Vulture. The other passengers and the crew were herded into the zeppelin's kitchen where they were locked up.
Gibber whispered a hasty message in Karnage's ear.
"You may have a point on your head." Turning to the two bears, Karnage said, "Because you and your bossy boss are masters of escape like Whodini, you will be placed in my special occasion cell. One with heavy duty locks!"
"Have a nice stay!" Mad Dog snickered, shoving the two bears into a dark prison cell secured with a thick door. This thick door, equipped with three locks, had a tiny window with crisscrossed with thick bars. Dumptruck was assigned guard duty over them.
"Hee-hee-hee! This is a fool-proof plan even for you fools. We will ride the zeppelin right behind the noses of those cliff gunners and plunder Cape Suzette! As an added bonus check, we will ransom off those filthy rich people to the highest bidders!" Karnage gloated as he, Gibber and Mad Dog strutted towards the hangar.
"Not if I can help it," Baloo murmured under his breath. He rattled the stolidly-built door.
"I vouldn't try anything funny if I vas you," Dumptruck warned, shoving the barrel of his musket between the bars.
"Eep!" Trembling slightly, Baloo backed away.
Mindless of her fancy dress, Rebecca plopped down on a dingy cot, stating gloomily, "I guess that's that. All of Cape Suzette including our kids will be at the mercy of Don Karnage. What are we going to do, Baloo?"
"He said not to do anything funny..." A smile dawning on his face, Baloo snapped his fingers. "Becky, remember that movie we saw last week with the Three Stooges?"
Rebecca rolled her eyes. "What a waste of time that was! Three grown men doing slapstick comedy for two hours straight. No plot. No purpose. I could actually feel my brain shrinking."
"Do you remember any of their routine?"
"Unfortunately. Why?" She warily watched a cockroach climbing up the wall.
"If we can get him laughin' hard, we might have a chance of escapin'. An' who can fight better'n us?"
Rebecca smiled, catching on to his train of thought. "You've got a point, Baloo. What have we got to lose," she chuckled ruefully, "besides my self-respect?"
"Who do ya wanna be - Harry or Joe or Frizzy?"
"Does it matter? Let's get on with it, get it over with, and get out of here," the bearess said sharply, shooting a nervous glance at the door. "I hope I can look back on this some day and laugh."
Baloo took the blanket from the cot and spread it on the floor in front of the door. "Ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"Whoop, whoop, whoop!" Baloo hooted loudly, feigning poking his fingers in Rebecca's eyes.
In retaliation, Rebecca socked him in the stomach - hard.
"Oof!" Baloo groaned, doubling over and clutching his stomach. "Not so hard, Becky!" he wheezed in pain.
"Sorry. Reflex," she hissed contritely.
He lightly bopped her on the top of her head with his fist. She toppled to the floor with an "Ay-yi-yi!" She pretended to bite his ankle.
"Ow!" Baloo hopped around the cell as if he were in pain. Scowling at Rebecca, he stalked over to her and 'stomped' on her foot.
By this time Dumptruck was extremely interested in the 'fight'. Leaning his musket against the wall, he peeked through the tiny bar-crossed window, a grin on his heavy canine features. Barring the popular cockroach races, entertainment was rare on the Iron Vulture.
When Rebecca flipped Baloo over her shoulder, the pirate laughed at the big bear's pained face.
"Why you!" Baloo puffed.
Rebecca took Baloo's hands to help him up, but Baloo did a backwards somersault, and she ended up on the floor pinned under him. "Get off of me, you big oaf!" she shouted, her slender arms and legs flailing wildly. She roughly shoved Baloo over.
Hearing Dumptruck's guffaws, Baloo whispered, "It's workin', Becky. Keep it up. Speakin' of up..."
Baloo picked Rebecca up and swung her around - faster and faster until she dizzily yelled out, "Stoooooooop! I'm going to be sick!" When he put her down, she twirled like a top before collapsing on the floor in a heap.
To see the action better, Dumptruck unlocked the door and stuck his head in.
Baloo helped Rebecca to her feet, making a big show of kissing her hand. He gave her paw a little squeeze.
"This wasn't part of the routine," Rebecca whispered, squeezing his hand back.
"So? I'm improvisin'." He winked, grinning.
For a split second, the dingy jail cell, the burly pirate, the danger they were in, everything disappeared. They were the only two people in the world. But then the moment passed and Baloo remembered where they were.
"Slap me," the big bear hissed, eyeing Dumptruck standing in the doorway.
The pirate was giving the bears a suspicious look as if he was catching on to their charade. He wasn't laughing anymore.
"What? Why?" Rebecca looked at Baloo as if he were crazy.
"Slap me, Beckers. Irate-pay," he reminded her in pig Latin, gesturing with his head towards the doorway. "Remember? Irate-pay in oor-day?"
Following Baloo's troubled eyes to the door, she shrieked, "Oh!" She lightly slapped his cheek, causing Baloo to spin around on his toes.
Baloo heard Dumptruck's maniacal laughter resume as he shook his head like a maraca. Furtively signaling to the blanket that the pirate was standing on, Baloo 'kicked' Rebecca's backside. "Last stop. Everybody off. Whee-he-he!"
She went sprawling to one side of the blanket with a disgruntled 'oof!'. Her heavy petticoat and skirts flew over her head. "Mmm...mmmm! Get me out of here!" She staggered to her feet, pushing her skirts down; her hair, on which she had spent so much time perfecting, was an abominable mess. It hung in her face in wispy curls with hairpins sticking out of it like porcupine quills.
By this time, Dumptruck was laughing so hard that tears of mirth were rolling down his cheeks. He didn't notice that the two bears had grabbed the blanket until he was flying in the air. The hulking canine pirate landed with a 'thwack' on the metal floor.
"Laughin' Boy'll have a major, mondo headache when he wakes up."
"I can't believe that worked." Rebecca stood over the pirate's prostrate form. She smoothed her hair down and pinned it back up.
"Like I told ya, the Three Stooges leaves 'em fallin' in the aisles," Baloo chuckled, tying the unconscious Dumptruck up with the blanket. "Let's take our act on the road, Becky."
Rebecca took the key ring from its hook outside of the door and locked Dumptruck in the cell. They snuck down the hallway to the hangar. Through the open beak, they could see the zeppelin floating towards Cape Suzette.
"C'mon, we gotta head 'em off," Baloo hissed, edging against the wall to one of the pirates' brown, battered tri-wing CT-37s. When the pirates' backs were turned, he climbed in and pulled Rebecca in with him.
When he started up the single-engine plane, the pirates all turned towards them. It took the dim-witted pirates a few seconds to grasp the concept that a plane was being stolen, but finally, Hacksaw shouted out, "Look, the prisoners are escaping!"
"Fire!" ordered Hal.
"Where? Where's the fire?" Hacksaw cried, running around in a tight circle. "Gotta put the fire out!"
"No, shoot! Shoot at the prisoners!"
Every single air pirate whipped out a firearm and began firing at the CT-37. Bullets ricocheted off of the hangar's floor and ceiling as well as other aircraft.
"Ah!" Rebecca screeched, ducking down further.
"Hang on!" Dodging bullets, Baloo taxied the plane through the hangar.
"To what?" Rebecca screamed over the noise of the gunfire and the engine. Sitting on his lap, she clung to his tuxedo jacket with all her might and buried her face in his shirt.
"To me!" The pilot yanked back on the stick and they soared out of the beak, headed towards the cliffs.
Pirate cannonballs exploded all around them.
"Great," Baloo panted, clutching at the steering yoke until his knuckles turned white. "Just what we need ta liven up the party. Fireworks, an' me without my Duck."
The Cape Suzette gunners, thinking that the CT-37 was being piloted by a pirate, began firing on them also.
"We're not air pirates, you idiots!" Rebecca yelled in the direction of the cliffs, shaking her fist. "We're trying to save the city!"
The CT-37 spiraled out of control as a cannonball clipped their bottommost starboard wing.
"Whoa!" the two bears screamed.
Because she wasn't strapped in, Rebecca was flung out of the plane and plunged head over heels towards the ocean. "BALLLLOOOOO! AHHHHHHH!"
"Rebecca!" Sweat dripping from his face, Baloo set his jaw and pulled the airplane out of the tailspin, swooped down, and caught Rebecca. She landed neatly in his lap.
"Nice of ya to drop in, Becky," the big bear joked with a relieved smile.
Baloo fought the controls when the plane tried to jerk left, then right. "Don't see how Karny can fly this thing. It's more temperamental than..." Shooting a glance at Rebecca, he abruptly curtailed his sentence.
"I am not temperamental!" Rebecca exclaimed forcefully, poking her forefinger in his chest with every syllable. "I'm a spirited woman with a lot of business sense, and if you think differently..."
BOOM went a cannon shell a few short feet in front of them, rocking the plane.
Steadying the aircraft, Baloo said, "Man, that was too close for comfort! Can we finish this fight later, Becky? Like when we're safe on the ground? In one piece?"
Five CT-37s piloted by pirates zoomed towards them out of the Iron Vulture.
"Baloo, pirates at six o'clock!"
"Pirates up our tailpipe. Pirates on our windshield. Cliff gunners tryin' ta rock us ta sleep. All I wanted was a nice, quiet dinner, not a second Great War. Just goes ta show ya there ain't no such thing as a free meal!"
"I'll take care of the cliff guards." When Rebecca picked up the microphone to radio the gunners, the cord was severed by one of the pirates' bullets.
"What else can go wrong?" Baloo groaned. In answer to his question, the engine began to sputter. "Oh, great. Outta gas."
"What!" Rebecca cried, looking at the fuel gauge. They were indeed out of gas, and 'E' didn't mean 'enough'.
"Hold on tight, Beckers. I'm gonna try ta land this bird on that silver bullet."
Milking every inch of glide, the CT-37 bounced on the top of the balloon's surface four times. The tires caught in the Mylar fabric covering the balloon. RIIIIIIIIP! A long gash was cut in the fabric. Helium gas from one cell poured out, and the front end of the balloon began to droop.
Inside the cockpit...
"Captain, the balloon's deflating!" Mad Dog whined anxiously as he noticed that they were losing altitude.
Angrily Karnage snapped, "Don't you think I can't see that with my own magnificent eyes?"
"Then shouldn't we get off of the balloon?" Mad Dog suggested.
"I am the only one who gives the orders around here, you estupid fleabag!" He smacked Mad Dog across the snout, then yelled frantically, "Abandon blimp! Back to the Iron Vulture!"
The air pirates parachuted out of the zeppelin.
"The pirates have left the party," Baloo said, watching the white parachutes of the pirates drift out over the ocean.
Hand over hand, Baloo and Rebecca scaled down the balloon and into the gondola. They swung themselves into the cockpit.
"You go free the prisoners, Becky." Baloo spat on his hands before seizing the steering wheel. "I'm gonna try ta land this oversized party favor."
Rebecca staggered to the kitchen in the rear of the gondola to let the other passengers and flight crew out.
The descending, out-of-control dirigible scraped against the left side of the cliffs. Baloo yanked the stick to the right, propelling the airship against the right side of the cliffs. At that moment, the Zen Zeppelin's pilots rushed into the cockpit with Rebecca close behind. The zeppelin pilots pushed buttons and pulled levers. However, they left the flying to Baloo.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Banging against the sharp, rocky cliffs, the balloon was ripped to shreds. With only one partial cell of helium remaining, Baloo managed to splash down safely in the harbor.
"Whew!" the big bear sighed in relief, wiping cold sweat off his brow. "First time I ever crash landed a balloon."
The heavy mass of Mylar, formerly the balloon keeping them aloft was now dragging them down into the dark waters of the harbor. Salt water seeped in through the chinks around the windows and doors and sloshed around their ankles. The water was rising fast.
Frantic shouts came from the passengers.
"Oh, no! We're all going to die!"
"My shoes are getting wet!"
"We're going to drown!"
"I can't swim!"
The general consensus was "We're doomed!"
Baloo thought fast. He came up with an idea. "No, we ain't gonna die! Stay calm, folks! We gotta stay calm!" he yelled over the panicked shrieks of the other passengers. "Hey, listen up!"
Rebecca put her fingers in her mouth and emitted an ear-piercing whistle. Immediately, silence fell over the crowd.
The big bear shot her an admiring look, causing her to say modestly, "I'm a mother."
Baloo continued with an undertone of calm urgency in his voice - almost as if he were addressing a frightened child - "We're all gonna get outta alive, but we gotta work together an' do it fast. First thing we gotta do is everyone find a buddy." He grasped Rebecca's hand and held their hands up. "Like this."
All over the room, people began linking hands. They eagerly awaited further instructions.
"Everyone got a buddy?"
The minx waitress didn't look too happy that her partner was the short, dapper raccoon, but she nodded anyway.
"Good. Step 'B' is we've gotta push those dining tables into the water top side down. The way I figure it, we can use 'em for rafts." When people began to file into the dining room, he reminded, "The most important thing is don't lose your buddy!"
Men pushed the tables out the door, being careful that they landed legs up. As Baloo had predicted, they floated like corks. Everyone carefully boarded the makeshift rafts. Luckily, the surf wasn't very turbulent and the weather was mild.
"Everybody got their buddy?" Baloo inquired loudly.
A chorus of "Yeses" arose from the passengers and crew.
"I've got mine," Rebecca said, giving his paw a fond squeeze. "I'm so proud of you, Baloo."
Across the harbor was a small blue and white aircraft bobbing up and down on the waves. The mustached canine policeman on patrol was astonished. In all his years on the squad, he'd never seen anything like that strange fleet with that huge shapeless lump behind them. He dropped his donut and reached for his night binoculars. Surprised to see unidentified vehicles carrying several people each floating towards them, he prodded his partner awake. "O'Malley, wake up! We're being invaded by a...what are those anyway?"
O'Malley, a clean-shaven canine with a tan snout, picked up the microphone. "Harbor patrol, come in. This is Sergeant O'Malley. Request backup in checking out suspicious vehicles near the cliff opening. Repeat, request backup in checking out suspicious vehicles near the cliff opening. Over."
With lights flashing and sirens wailing, eight harbor patrol motorboats converged on the Zen Zeppelin's passengers and crew.
A cheer went up from the survivors.
The zeppelin survivors were transported to shore via the motorboats. Besides a few bumps and bruises, no one was hurt. They watched as the crumpled wreckage of the zeppelin was towed away by a tugboat.
"Looks like we made it out just in time," Rebecca murmured to Baloo standing beside her.
Lester and Elmira approached the two bears.
"Anyone who can successfully land a punctured zeppelin is an ace pilot in my book, Baloo. I'd be honored if you would fly my cotton, say, starting next Monday?"
Baloo's face broke into a wide grin. "No problem-o," he answered confidently, shaking Lester's hand as if it were a pump handle.
"Thank you, Mr. Lester." Rebecca also shook the crane's hand with a broad smile. "We look forward to doing business with you."
"We'll be in touch, sugars," Elmira replied as the couple walked away and got into a cab.
Baloo looked down at Rebecca, who stood beside him, her small hands wrapped around his arm. He placed a paw over both of hers with a warm smile. "What a night, huh, Becky?"
"You could say it ended a little flat," she chuckled. "Get it, Baloo?" She gestured to the deflated balloon. "Flat?"
"Yeah, but before that, it really took off," the big bear guffawed as he helped her into a taxi.
"Especially after we became friends again," Rebecca said quietly, looking up at him with a soft gleam in her eyes.
Drawing the bearess into his embrace, Baloo murmured in her ear, "Yeah, friends. Whatta ya say we hit a hamburger stand on the way home, Beckers, an' discuss what we're gonna do 'bout Higher for Hire outta the red an' back inta the black?"
"You're still hungry after that five course meal?" she cried in disbelief.
"Hey, all that savin' the day stuff works up an appetite."
"Oh, Baloo, what am I going to do?" Rebecca threw her hands up in exasperation.
"Pay for burgers an' fries?" Baloo turned out his pockets. "I don't have any cash on me."
"Sure you do. You have the five dollars that I gave you."
"That I won," Baloo heavily emphasized the fact that he defeated her. "Why doncha admit it, Becky? This ol' bear knows somethin' about business after all." The tone in his voice was just begging her to join in the fight.
Rebecca grinned. This was more like their old sparring matches, not the battles that they had been having lately. Frankly, this sort of 'fighting' invigorated her. Folding her arms across her chest, she said with feigned animosity, "Something, but not everything, flyboy. There's a huge difference. Why, I bet you wouldn't know a ledger from a ledge."
"Ya wanna bet on that, boss lady?"
"You're on, Baloo."
Once more, they were going to shake hands, but Baloo stopped short, retracting his hand quickly. "Hold on a prop-spinnin' second, Becky. Exactly how much are we bettin'?"
"How much do you have?"
Baloo handed over the five dollars with an exaggerated sigh. "You drive a hard bargain. Here. Ya might as well take it now."
Rebecca giggled. "Thanks." She snapped the bill between her hands. "Just enough to treat my one-and-only pilot to a malt on the way home."
Grinning, the big bear said, "You're an A-okay gal, Rebecca."
The stars shone down on their cab as it sped through the streets of Cape Suzette.