Love: the Spies of Life
part 4

TaleSpin and its characters are property of Disney. All other characters are mine and cannot be used without permission.

Veniece, Italee
12:30 P.M.

Like Pearee, Veniece was a bustling modern city with its roots firmly planted in the past. However, Veniece was unique in that there were no roads, and, consequently, no automobiles within the city limits. Instead, it was crisscrossed with a complex web of canals with the smaller canals flowing into a main canal that the locals called Il Grande Canale. All through the day and late into the night, these watery highways teemed with cargo barges, speedboats, water buses, and, of course, Veniece's famous gondolas.

At one of the city's many docks, a long line of vaporetti, water buses shaded by sun-bleached canopies flapping in the sultry breeze, patiently took turns loading and unloading passengers. When their crowded boat pulled up to the dock, Baloo, Rebecca, and Inspector Deuseau rose from their bench and made their way to the exit.

"Ah, Veniece," Inspector Deuseau breathed as he disembarked. He briefly sniffed the briny air, twisting the tip of his moustache as he did so, before returning his attention to Baloo and Rebecca. "This way, s'il vous plait."

"Well, Beckers, you said you always wanted to visit Veniece," Baloo said with a half-hearted chuckle as he and his wife stepped onto the dock and followed the inspector down the sidewalk.

"Under different circumstances." Rebecca looked anything but happy as she glanced around her. On either side of the narrow waterway, buildings rose like pastel-colored cliffs, the peaceful, murky waters lapping almost to the buildings' doorways. Her frown deepened when she spied a gondola leisurely drifting up the canal; the gondolier was serenading a loudly-dressed, rapt-looking hippo and her shutterbug crane husband with O Solo Mio. She would have given anything to have been able to exchange places with that couple.

As if he read her mind, Baloo gave her hand a comforting squeeze. "As soon as we clear my name, we'll take in some sight-seein'."

"What if we don't clear your name?" Rebecca said, panicking a little.

"Don't go countin' your troubles before they're hatched, sweetheart."

"Speaking of trouble, I think we're in it," she said wearily. Her eyes had rested on the 'POLIZIA' emblazoned on the door that the Inspector was holding open for them. "We're at the police station."

"Police station?" Baloo echoed, alarmed. "Say, Inspector, what is this? Did ya bring us all the way here just to slam me in the slammer?"

"No, I need to pick something up," the inspector replied enigmatically as they stepped inside. The dim coolness was a welcome comparison to the sweltering sunshine outside.

"Wait here," the inspector told them. He then proceeded to the front desk.

The newlyweds stood next to a bulletin board plastered with wanted posters as the Inspector talked to the two cops behind the desk. The Veniece policemen kept flashing suspicious glances at Baloo.

"I don't like the way they're lookin' at me, Becky," Baloo muttered, adverting his gaze from the desk. "Makes me feel like I am a low-down, dirty thief, like my mug belongs up here with these guys." He jerked a thumb at the wanted posters.

"But you know you're not and that's all that matters. You've never done anything shady in your life." A mischievous twinkle came to her eyes as she started to count off on her fingers. "Except the time you changed all my calendars to Saturday to get your paycheck a day early, and I'll never forget the time you lied about your little excursion to Mars to get a vacation, not to mention the time you..."

Baloo impatiently interrupted, "All right already. But I didn't steal no papers from no lab."

Reassuringly, Rebecca said, "I know you didn't."

"Tell that to them," Baloo said quietly, glancing at the policemen.

Inspector Deuseau approached them, saying, "D'accord, we are all set."

"What's that?" Baloo pointed to manilla envelope the inspector was tucking into his outer jacket pocket.

"A little something I want you to give to Dr. Quark. Let's go," Deuseau said briskly.

"Go where?" Baloo asked as they followed the inspector outside.

"We have some shopping to do."

Baloo groaned.

An Hour Later

The trio exited a men's clothing store. Rebecca stole admiring glances up at Baloo, who sported a new black suit.

However, Baloo wasn't so impressed with his new look. "I still don't get why I gotta dress up in this fancy-pants zoot suit to meet a doctor who's seen folks in their birthday suits."

Sharing an amused smile with the inspector, Rebecca said, "Dr. Quark isn't that kind of doctor."

"You need to make a good impression on him, monsieur," Deuseau explained. "After all, you are supposed to be a spy."

"Supposed to be a spy?" Rebecca said hopefully. "Does that mean that you think Baloo is innocent?"

The inspector's moustaches, drooping from the heat and humidity, comically flopped from side to side when he shook his head. "I am not sure, madame. Only when all the facts are before me will I be able to decide certainly."

Rebecca's smile, which had faltered with the inspector's not-so-reassuring words, reappeared as they passed a store window. She abruptly halted, consequently causing Baloo to jerk backwards with a "Whoa!"

"Becky, what gives?" Baloo asked, wrenching his arm from her grasp.

Pointing to the window, she gushed, "Isn't that the darlingest salt and pepper shaker set you've ever seen? Inspector, may I please go in and look?"

The inspector glanced at his watch. "Oui, madame. We have a little time."

Baloo frowned. "I wouldn't let her go in there if I were you, Inspector. There ain't no stoppin' when that gal starts shoppin'."

"I heard that!" Rebecca retorted as she pushed open the door, causing the chimes to tinkle.

Bypassing the pots and pans and gleaming cutlery, Rebecca made a beeline for the salt and pepper shaker sets and promptly picked up the pair she had admired. Painted on the delicate white porcelain of the potbellied pair were willowy blue letters spelling out 'Veniece' as well as a blue silhouette of a gondola.

I'll show Baloo, Rebecca thought to herself as she wove around the tall shelves and display cases towards the checkout counter. All I have to do is pay for these and we'll be on our way. What in the...? She had spied something that prompted her to take a step backwards so that she was concealed behind a shelf.

A familiar-looking, well-groomed man that she couldn't quite place was standing behind the counter, conversing with...

"Baloo?" she murmured to herself.

Confused, Rebecca glanced over her shoulder, out the window. Baloo and the inspector were still standing near the shop door.

As Rebecca's eyes flitted from Baloo to the Baloo look-alike, then back to Baloo, she heard snatches of Hans' and Baldrik's conversation.

"Will you be returning here after your rendezvous, sir?"

"Nein," Baldrik said brusquely.

"What a shame. Helga was so looking forward to preparing another special meal for you. Speaking of which, you hardly ate anything at lunch. Perhaps I could interest you in some dessert? Bavarian cupcakes, a von Bruinwald family favorite?"

"I don't eat poison." Baldrik glared in the direction from whence came the sound of metal against a whetstone.

That's who that is! Rebecca thought with a gasp. It's Hans from the von Bruinwald castle. And that other man; he must be the thief! I've got to tell Baloo.

As she turned to leave, her cardigan snagged on a saucepan handle. The pan clattered to the floor with a deafening noise before rolling out into the aisle.

Rebecca quickly picked up the pan and placed it back on the shelf after dusting it off. "Sorry," she said, blushing.

Hans, though displeased by the interruption, said politely, "May I help you, madam?"

"N-no, thank you," Rebecca stammered, shrinking under Baldrik's piercing gaze. It was frightening to see someone who resembled her husband looking at her with so much hate. "I'll just be going now," she said, her voice unnaturally high. She was almost to the door before she realized that she still held the salt and pepper shakers. Setting them down on a random shelf, she rushed outside.

"Ol' Baloo the pack mule reportin' for duty," Baloo said wearily, holding out his hand.

Breathlessly, Rebecca said, "You have to see this!"

"What? The darlingest set of toothpick holders?" Baloo said sarcastically.

"No." Taking Deuseau by the arm and Baloo by the other, she dragged them inside. "This," she said, pointing to where Hans and Baldrik had been standing.

The inspector and Baloo looked around the store, but there was nothing there besides cooking utensils. The store was silent except for the far-away scraping of metal against a whetstone.


"What's the deal, Becky?"

"B-but, but...there was a man here who looked just like you, Baloo. I saw him!" Rebecca scurried down the central aisle, peering around shelves and display cases.

"Mais there is no one here now." Inspector Deuseau's shrewd eyes coolly took in every aspect of the store.

Baloo followed Rebecca as she frantically looked under shelves, over display cases, around towers of baking pans, and through a row of cleavers danging from the ceiling. "Maybe you've been out in the sun too long, honey. Why don't we go somewheres to cool down?"

"I am cool!" Rebecca said indignantly, whirling around. "And I know what I saw. You," she jabbed him in the chest with her finger, "were outside," she pointed to the window; "and there was a man over there who looked exactly like you," she gestured towards the counter, "and he was talking to that butler..."

"Butler? What butler?" Baloo asked, scratching his head as he attempted to follow her train of thought.

"The one who tried to murder you when you were a baron."

"H-H-Hans?" Baloo gave a nervous glance around the store, at all the dangerous, not to mention deadly, cutlery. His whole body tensed, as if he expected Hans and Helga to swoop out of thin air, bearing down upon him with their murderous weapons, as if he expected the floor to drop out from underneath him. Without further delay, he put his paws on Rebecca's shoulders and steered her towards the door.

"Baloo, we can't leave!" she protested, digging in her heels. "He's here! The thief!"

"Good," Baloo said quietly as he tightened his grip on her squirming shoulders. His vigilant eyes swept from side to side, expecting a surprise attack. "Let that brutal butler an' his weirdo wife douse his lights, not ours. We are outta here!"

Baloo and Rebecca were outside before the inspector made it to the door. Just as he reached for the doorknob, he heard a faint 'click'. He turned to see a man behind the counter where there hadn't been anyone a second previously. His eyes narrowed and a hand crept up to his moustache as he meditatively studied the man, who was rifling through papers on the counter.

When Hans discovered that he was being watched, he hastily shoved the papers under the counter. In his overly suave voice, the former butler asked, "May I help you find something, sir?"

"Non. Not today."

When Deuseau walked outside, Baloo was saying, "It's too dangerous, Becky."

"But it's our chance to clear your name!"

"You don't understand. There's chances an' there's chances. An' some of 'em just shouldn't be took."

Arms crossed, Rebecca snapped, "I understand perfectly. I understand that you don't believe me. You believe me, don't you, inspector?"

"Maybe, madame," the canine policeman replied absently as he took a notebook out of his jacket pocket and jotted something down.

"Ha!" Rebecca retorted, smirking triumphantly.

"Or maybe not."

"Ha!" It was Baloo's turn to smirk.

Deuseau slipped the notebook into his pocket. "Mais, I do believe that we have a mission to complete at St. Lark's Square. Come, we must go."

St. Lark's Square
3:00 PM

A little while later, Inspector Deuseau, Baloo, and Rebecca disembarked the vaporetto and stepped into piazza at St. Lark's Square.

"It's so big," Rebecca commented. While keeping an lookout for the Baloo look-alike, her eyes panned around the buildings bordering the L-shaped 'square': the elaborate Doge's Palace, the towering stone Campanile, the golden-domed St. Lark's Basilica, and two of Veniece's museums. The piazza was swarming with tourists, pigeons, vendors, and outdoor cafes. Her head fairly swam with all the activity.

"How are we supposed to know where this Dr. Quark is?" Baloo asked.

Rebecca caught Baloo's arm before he could wander over to a nearby gelato stand. "He's not over there."

"How do you know?"

Before Rebecca could retort, a tour guide walked by with approximately twenty tourists in tow. In a thick Italeean accent, she said, "The Campanile was built in 912 A.D., then rebuilt stone by stone a thousand years later after it toppled to the ground. In the 10th century, the bells were rung, not only on the hour, but to signify..."

"Bells!" Baloo and Rebecca exclaimed, sharing a look.

The inspector discreetly pulled the clue that the thief had dropped at Le Laboratorie D'Atomique out of his pocket to consult it.

The tour guide continued, "There are hundreds of steps to reach the top of the 325 foot building, but not to worry, there is also an elevator."

A few of the tourists chuckled in relief as they followed the tour guide to their next destination.

"If the clue is correct, Dr. Quark will be at the top of the tower," the Inspector remarked. He stowed the scrap of paper in his pocket.

"Then I guess that's where I'm headed." Baloo tipped his head back to see the Campanile. Even though the bell tower was a mere midget compared to Khan Towers, the pointed peak still appeared to brush the clouds.

"You have the envelope?" Deuseau asked peremptorily.

"Roger that." Baloo opened his jacket to reveal the manila envelope stowed in his vest pocket.

"Bon. Deliver it to Dr. Quark."

"That's it?" Baloo nervously tugged at the starched collar of his new shirt. "That's all I gotta do?"

"Oui. That's it," Inspector replied with a nod. "I don't think I need remind you that the fate of the world depends on this."

Baloo gulped. "Then, please don't."

"After you've completed your mission, return here." His eyes narrowed as he added, "One thing. If you are the thief and attempt a double-cross, remember that when you are caught, years will be added to both of your jail sentences." His serious gaze fell on Baloo and Rebecca alike.

"Why am I going to jail? What did I do?" Rebecca cried.

"You are his accomplice."

Fuming, Rebecca sputtered, " that store, the one with all the cooking stuff! He's the real thief!"

"Let it go, Becky. Let it go," Baloo sighed in resignation. He turned to the inspector. "Can I talk to my wife for a sec?"

Deuseau glanced at his watch before nodding. "Be quick about it."

Baloo took Rebecca by the arm and led her a few paces away.

"Just say 'I told you so' and get it over with," Rebecca said contritely. "If I hadn't been"

"Pigheaded?" Baloo supplied with a wink.

Rebecca winced. Her scheme to get rich by using a pig to hunt truffles was one memory she'd like to forget. "I was going to say 'discontented'." With her eyes fixed on the patterned pavement, she murmured, "None of this would have happened if I hadn't wanted to come here in the first place. I-I'm sorry, Baloo."

"I ain't."

Rebecca looked up at him in surprise.

Baloo gently took her hands in his. "I got to share the past coupla crazy days with the only gal crazy enough to share 'em with me."

"We'll also get to share prison sentences if this Dr. Quark doesn't show up." Her chin trembling, she continued, "You heard the inspector. He still doesn't believe you're innocent. We'll be locked away in separate jail cells and we'll never see each other again. And who will take care of the kids and Higher for Hire and...?"

"Easy. Easy..." Baloo crooned, squeezing her hands comfortingly. "We'll get this mess straightened out, sweetheart. Besides, who'll you nag if I ain't around?"

Looking deeply into his eyes, Rebecca could see the fear under the bravado. Because she didn't want to undermine his resolve, she set her jaw and swallowed her tears. "If you screw this up and land us both in jail, I'm going to strangle you!"

Baloo laughed, a little nervously, as he enfolded her in his warm embrace. "Yes, sir, boss lady."

Just then, the Inspector cleared his throat delicately, yet unmistakably. "It is almost 3:00."

"I'm just gonna zip in, deliver the package, an' zip out. What could go wrong?" Baloo tenderly caressed Rebecca's cheek before he turned on his heel and started towards the Campanile.

"Everything," Rebecca whispered as she anxiously watching him disappear into the crowd.

The powerful bell, tolling three times, sounded like a death knell to Baloo. He walked faster, doggedly, across the piazza, his stomach in a knot.

Upon reaching the Campanile, Baloo squeezed into the elevator packed with a group of chattering, happy tourists. He wished that he shared their care-free spirits.

"Wait for us!" shouted a hippo woman racing across the piazza. Running beside her was her crane husband, his cameras bouncing against his chest with every step.

Baloo held the door for them.

"Oh, thank you, sir," Elmira puffed as she and Lester squeezed into the already bulging elevator.

"Is this your first time in Veniece?" Elmira asked Baloo as the door shut and the elevator began its ascent.

"No, I..."

"It is ours, isn't that right, Lester?"

"Yes, dear." His camera flashed in Baloo's face. Baloo blinked the spots out of his eyes.

"Lester and I just love traveling. It's been our lifelong dream to see the world. Have you traveled much?"


Baloo blinked furiously. "I, uh..."

"If you haven't been to Pearee, I highly recommend it. Very romantic, isn't it, Lester, dear?" Elmira gushed.

"Yes, dear." Click!

"Oh, here we are at the top," Elmira remarked after the elevator door opened. "Nice talking to you."

"Yeah." Dazed, Baloo stumbled out of the elevator and was swept out onto the observatory room with the tide of tourists eager to see the 360 degree view of Veniece.

He jostled his way through the crowd to an empty space at one of the huge windows. The breeze whistling through the open archways cooled his skin, but didn't cool his nerves. Gazing down over the piazza, he wondered which of the minuscule figures walking around below were Rebecca and the inspector.

Baloo nearly jumped out of his skin when a low voice beside him said, "Good afternoon, Herr von Bruinwald."

Baloo turned to see...nobody. Then, he happened to look down. An ugly toad, his stout figure encased in ugly mustard-brown suit which made his sickly green skin look even more sallow, was standing there, staring up at him. Thick spectacles magnified the bulging eyes of Dr. Illian Quark.

It's an illian wind that blows no good, Baloo thought, repulsed by the toad's appearance.

"Did you bring the papers?" Dr. Quark asked, concluding his question with an odd, rasping laugh.

Baloo nodded. Silently, he handed the envelope to the toad.

Dr. Quark opened the flap and peeked inside. "Very good." He closed the envelope's flap with a nasty, crooked smile. "Very, very good. A pleasure doing business with you, Herr..."

He was interrupted by a deep, gravelly voice saying, "Gutentag, Dr. Quark."

Oh, man...! His heart sinking, Baloo slowly turned to face a mirror image of himself.

Baloo and Baldrik were identical except for the rings they wore: one had a gold band, the other, a gold signet ring inscribed with the Swatzi symbol.

I guess Becky was right, Baloo thought, his heart threatening to jump into his throat. There really are two of me, uh, I mean, us.

Dr. Quark was visibly agitated. "What? There are two of you?" His bulging eyes shifted between Baloo and Baldrik, then between the envelope in Baldrik's hands to the envelope that he held.

"Hello, cousin," Baldrik said in a low, unpleasant voice as he slipped a meaty hand inside his jacket.

"Cousin?" Baloo yelped.

"Surely you noticed the family resemblance," Baldrik said, his voice thick with sarcasm.

Baloo gulped and nodded. His eyes were glued to the hand concealed inside Baldrik's jacket.

"I'm going to make you a proposition, cousin. Would you like to hear it?"

Baloo licked his lips nervously. "Shoot. Uh, I mean...!"

"What is this? What is going on, Baldrik?" Dr. Quark interjected.

"A double-cross," Baldrik snarled. He advanced, forcing Baloo back towards the window ledge.

Baloo, who was now sweating profusely, peeked over his shoulder at the windowless window. He didn't like what he saw. It was a straight shot several stories down to the pavement. All it would take was one step too many, and he would be street pizza.

What a time to be without my Sea Duck.

There was only one thing Baloo could think to do.

He grabbed both envelopes, pushed past Baldrik, and dashed through the crowd, shouting over his shoulder, "No, this is a double-cross!"

Baloo heard Dr. Quark yell, "Stop!" as he barreled through the door marked 'STAIRS'.

"I'll catch him," Baldrik said, starting towards the open elevator.

"You have to see this, mister!" Elmira said, grabbing Baldrik by the arm and leading him towards the window, away from the elevator in the middle of the room.

"Let go!" Baldrik shouted, trying and failing to wrench himself away from her vice-like grasp. "Let go of me,!"

Click! Click! Click! Click! Lester snapped picture after picture right in Baldrik's face, temporarily blinding him.

"He's getting away! He's getting away!" Dr. Quark squeaked. He jumped up and down in agitation.

"I know! I know!" Baldrik shouted, livid. Through the spots obstructing his vision, he saw that the elevator had already begun its descent. He couldn't afford to waste time waiting for it to return. "Gestopftes!" He clawed's Elmira's hand away from his arm and stormed towards the door marked 'STAIRS'. In his anger, the big bear punched the door, causing it to splinter at the hinges, and thundered down the stairs. "You can run, cousin, but you can't hide!"

"Uh-oh! Here comes my identical kin," Baloo murmured, hastening his speed as he pelted down the seemingly never-ending spiral staircase.

To make matters worse, Baldrik was firing his gun at him.

Why didn't I take the elevator? Baloo thought, trying to duck and run at the same time.

When Baloo reached the bottom, his legs felt like jelly. Panting and slightly dizzy, he pushed open the door and was greeted by a blast of hot summer sun.

He sped across the piazza, towards the canals and a means of escape, paying no attention to the people feeding pigeons, taking pictures, following tour guides, or sipping beverages at the cafes. His mind was consumed with another problem.

What to do with them papers so's double-trouble don't get 'em if he gets me?

Just then, he spotted café tables that were shaded by bright yellow umbrellas with flat tops. Without slowing, he tossed both envelopes on top of an umbrella and continued on towards the canals.

"Baloo?" Rebecca said as a grey blur resembling her husband zoomed past her.

A moment later, Baldrik ran by.


Incredulously, Inspector Deuseau exclaimed, "Two of them?"

"Now do you believe me?"

Seeing Dr. Quark trotting their way in his odd, waddling gait, Rebecca cried, "Oh, no, you don't!" and swung her purse at the physicist's head. The squat toad fell to the pavement like a ton of bricks.

Deuseau was impressed. "If I may ask, madame, what do you have in there?"

Rebecca reached into her bag and retrieved a lead paperweight shaped like the Eyeful Tower.

"Vive la Pearee," the inspector chuckled.

"Good work," a voice said behind them.

Rebecca and Deuseau spun around in time to see Lester clicking handcuffs on Dr. Quark.

"Who...what...?" Rebecca faltered. Their touristy costumes were a stark contrast to their serious expressions.

"Agent Thompson. Agent Thompson." They both flashed their official badges.

In a business-like tone, Elmira said, "We're with the O.S.S.S."

"O.S.S.S?" Inspector Deuseau and Rebecca echoed simultaneously.

"The Office of Super Secret Spies," Lester supplied.

"We'll explain on the way. Right now, we have a thief to capture." Elmira slung the unconscious Dr. Quark over her shoulder and ran towards the docks with everyone else close behind. She jumped into a speedboat and unceremoniously plunked the physicist down on the bottom of the boat. Lester, Rebecca, and the inspector scrambled into the boat moments before the engine revved up and sped away.

Over the noise of the engine and the rushing wind, Elmira said, "As soon as we'd heard that Dr. Bonet and his associates were creating an atomic bomb, we knew that the Swatzis would want to get their greedy hands on it."

"And now we have the proof we need," Lester pointed to his cameras; "as well as the scientific link." He gestured to Dr. Quark lying unconscious, a large goose egg growing on his forehead.

"Don't worry, Mrs. von Bruinwald, we'll clear your husband's name." At Rebecca's startled expression, Elmira smiled mysteriously. "Yes, we know who you are."

I only wish that I could know everything that was going on, Rebecca thought. One glance at the inspector and she knew that he was thinking the same thing.


Baloo was also racing through the canals of Veniece in a speedboat. Glancing over his shoulder, he noticed that Baldrik, also in a speedboat, was gaining on him.

I can't shake this guy!

Baloo pushed up the throttle, causing the boat to skim faster over the murky canal, throwing a bigger wall of water in its wake. His tongue protruded in concentration as he zigged and zagged around gondolas, vaporetti, and speedboats. Buildings sped past in a multi-colored blur. Bridges flashed above him for a second, then were gone in the blink of an eye.

When he dared to glance over his shoulder again, he saw that Baldrik was a mere boat-length behind. Baloo increased the throttle again, causing the engine to roar louder. "All I wanted was a nice, relaxin'..." he made a sharp right turn, thus temporarily throwing Baldrik off his trail, "--- honeymoon. Get in a little R&R - my two favorite letters," he dodged around a gondola; "and here I am bein' chased by some evil twin cousin. What else can go wrong?"

As if in answer to his question, the motor coughed and sputtered. "Come on, baby!" Baloo urged, tapping the gas gauge. "'E' means 'enough', don't it?"

The boat drifted a little before coming to a stop.

"Guess not."

Just then, he heard the sound of an approaching speedboat.

"Uh-oh!" Baloo murmured, whirling in his seat.

A big grey bear was flying through the air towards him. Before he had time to react, Baloo had been tackled, pinned to the speedboat's deck.

"Where are the papers?" Baldrik snarled in Baloo's ear.

"Go fish!" Baloo growled. With a grunt of exertion, he threw Baldrik off of him and into the canal. "Ha!"

"He who laughs last, laughs best, cousin." Baldrik tipped the boat over, causing Baloo to fall into the water with a gigantic splash.

Before he knew what was happening, Baloo found his head being forced under the water.

"Give me the envelopes!" Baldrik demanded, shoving Baloo's head underwater again. When he let his spluttering cousin up, he repeated, "The envelopes for your life."

"My...cough, life? Wha...what about all them folks' lives you''re gonna rub out with that...gah!...bomb?" Baloo gasped. He clawed at Baldrik's hand, which was now squeezing his neck.

"That should be the least of your worries right now," Baldrik said coolly, gradually tightening his grip.

In a constricted, scratchy voice, Baloo said, "The only...good thing...about that that it'll rid the world of all the...Swatzi you."

"How dare you, cousin!" Baldrik spluttered, enraged. He put both hands around Baloo's neck and squeezed as hard as he could.

Red swam before Baloo's eyes. With every passing second, he felt consciousness slipping away from him. However, his cousin's words had stung him to life. Mustering up the last bit of strength he had, he aimed a punch at Baldrik. "Don't." Punch! "Call." Punch! "Me." Punch! "Cousin." Punch! With the final punch, Baldrik let go his grasp and clutched his stomach, wheezing in pain.

Baloo swam towards the shore, gasping out, "As far as I'm concerned, we ain't related!"

The speedboat with Lester, Elmira, Rebecca, and Inspector Deuseau showed up just as Baloo crawled out of the canal. Baldrik grabbed his heels in an attempt to draw him back into the water, but Baloo kicked him off, causing Baldrik to fly backwards into the canal with an angry, "Aaargh!"

The inspector and the two O.S.S.S agents drew their firearms.

"No! Don't shoot!" Rebecca shouted, throwing herself in front of the guns. "You might hit Baloo."

"Which one is he, madame?" said the inspector.

Fists flew as the equally matched, drenched bears were slugging it out on the slippery shore. Neither of them showed signs of giving up.

Her heart pounding, Rebecca watched the fight, looking for a distinguishing characteristic - anything - which would point out which of the two fighting bears was her husband. She only had one chance.

Her eyes lit up with recognition as one bear pulled his opponent's jacket over his head, then yanked his opponent's arms out of his sleeves and tied them together behind his back, thus creating a sort of a straightjacket. It was one of the fighting techniques that Baloo had been teaching Kit - despite her protests. "The one on the right!"

"You are sure?"

"Yes!" I think...

But before they could arrest anyone, Baloo had kicked Baldrik into the canal with a disdainful, "You're all washed up, cuz."

The 'cuz' dispelled all doubts about Baloo's identity in Rebecca's mind. "Baloo!" Rebecca said happily, running over to hug him.

"The one an' only," Baloo said, grinning. "Got a special delivery for ya, Inspector. 'Fraid the package is a little on the soggy side, though."

Elmira dredged a dripping Baldrik out of the canal and Lester clapped handcuffs on him. As he was led away, Baldrik shouted muffled curses in German.

"I'll bet ya $23.80 that Baldrik and Dr. Quarky get a nice, long time in jail."

Deuseau said, "I will personally ensure that."

"I'm so proud of you, Baloo. But what happened to the envelopes?"

"I tossed 'em on top of...of...a-a-a-a-choo! Top of the umbrellas in the courtyard at St. Lark's Square. A-a-a-a-a-a-choo!" He sniffled and ran the back of his sopping arm across his nose. "You wouldn't happen to have a souvenir towel on ya, would ya, Becky?"

"You want to buy a souvenir?" Rebecca took off her cardigan and used it to mop his face. She peered at him with mock-suspicion. "I'm not sure you're Baloo, after all."

St. Lark's Square

Baloo, standing on tiptoe, retrieved the envelopes from atop the umbrella where he had tossed them and gave them to the inspector. With a satisfied smile, Deuseau secreted them in his jacket pocket.

"What was in my envelope, anyhoo? The one I was supposed to give to Ol' Quarky?"

"I asked Dr. Bonet to write up a set of plans similar to the ones that he and his colleagues had developed, but with one crucial element missing so that the Swatzis wouldn't realize the bomb wouldn't work until they'd spent a lot of time and money on it."

"Hey, that's what I call usin' your head."

"Ingénieux!" Rebecca exclaimed.

"It was nothing," he said with a modest shrug. "Monsieur, madame, I thank you. The world thanks you." He then kissed a very surprised, and disgusted, Baloo on both cheeks.

Baloo wiped his face with a frown. "Yuck! Thanks, but no thanks!"

After the inspector had kissed Rebecca on both cheeks, he smiled at her and said, "How do you say? The old dog is not too old to learn a new trick? I will follow with my heart as well as with my nose next time. Alors, I will return to Pearee and let you honeymooners get on with your honeymooning. Toujours l'amour." As a parting gesture, he touched his moustache and winked at them."Au revoir."

"Adios, to you, too, Inspector."

"Oh, I almost forgot." Inspector dug a set of keys out of a pocket and tossed them to Baloo. "So that your arms are not tired after you fly home."

Baloo tucked the keys into his pocket. "That joke was a joke."

"Takes one to know one." Rebecca smirked, prompting a frown of annoyance from Baloo.

Rebecca slipped her arm through her husband's as they watched the inspector disappear into the crowd. "After all we had to go through with him during the past couple of days, the inspector really was a nice man."

Baloo wiped traces of spit from his face. "A bit too French-i-fied if ya ask me."

As they strolled through the crowded piazza towards the docks and a vaporetto, pigeons parted before them.

"You know, Baloo, you and Baldrik are alike in more ways than one."

"How's that?"

"You look exactly alike and you're both thieves."

Baloo exclaimed, "What? I ain't no thief!"

"Sure you are." She coquettishly glanced up at him through her eyelashes. "You stole my heart."

He grinned and squeezed her hand that was resting on his arm. "Now, that's a thing worth stealin'."

That Night

As Baloo helped Rebecca into a gondola, he said, "There's been one thing buggin' me today, Beckers."

"Only one thing?" Rebecca said, gingerly putting one foot into the unsteady gondola.

"Ha. Ha. Durin' the fight, how could ya tell which was me? I mean, me an' my long-lost cousin Baldrik look exactitutely alike."

"It was easy," Rebecca replied, her eyes twinkling mischievously as she settled herself on the bench in the back of the boat. "There's only one Baloo."

The big bear grinned. Her answer had pleased him immensely. "You better believe it." When he stepped into the gondola, the sudden shift in weight caused it to tip, flipping the gondolier into the canal with a "Whoooooa!" and a splash.

Rebecca giggled. "And it's a good thing, too."

"Would you have it any other way?" Baloo said softly, drawing her close to him in his embrace.

Instead of wasting words, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

For a few moments, the two love bears were oblivious to the spluttering of the soaked gondolier as he pulled himself back into the boat, the distant strains of O Solo Mio, even the beauty of the gibbous moon reflected on the rippling water.

The End