Snaff breathed heavily as he struggled to drag my limp body into the stall. The black stallion which occupied the enclosure was visibly nervous, stomping its hooves and backing as far away from Snaff as he could.
"There," Snaff sighed, releasing my wrists as he dumped me close to the fencing between this stall and the empty one beside it. Snaff looked at the stallion and then motioned toward it quickly, causing it to start and fidget nervously. "That's good," Snaff snickered. "Feel free to trample him as much as you like. It'll help sell the story."
Snaff exited the stall and closed the door behind him while the confused stallion remained standing in the corner, anxiously looking down at me.
Hurrying to the back of the stables, Snaff closed the large double doors and then walked over to Bob. He grabbed Bob's reins tightly as he opened the door to her stall. "Come on!" he shouted, yanking on her reins to jerk her from the enclosure. "Come on, now!"
Bob pulled away, grunting angrily at Snaff, but Snaff held the reins tightly and jerked her forward, forcing her to follow him. He then reached down to retrieve the lantern from the floor, carrying it over to the empty stall beside the black stallion's. Still clutching Bob's reins, Snaff violently threw the lantern down into the stall so that it broke on the ground, spilling kerosene over the nearby hay. Snaff watched anxiously for a moment until the flame from the lantern started spreading, catching the hay and slowly growing in intensity.
"Let's go!" Snaff ordered, jerking Bob roughly as he ran to the doors leading to the corral. They both hurried outside and then Snaff closed the doors behind them.
Bob dug her hooves into the dirt and tried to resist as Snaff pulled her toward the open gate in the corral, struggling to lead her to the single trailer.
"Come on, you ungrateful beast!" Snaff growled, grabbing the reins with both hands and pulling Bob with all his might.
Bob became more determined to fight and pulled away desperately, using the weight of her body to counter the force with which Snaff was pulling at her.
"You're going in the trailer!" Snaff groaned from the effort. "Or else!"
Bob suddenly lunged at Snaff, catching him completely off balance. She threw her head down toward his legs and then flipped him up into the air over her neck. Snaff hit the ground hard and was dazed, not believing what had just happened.
"Why you vicious nag!" Snaff growled, clambering to get to his feet.
Bob lunged at Snaff again, who backed away quickly, looking around for something to use against the rebellious horse. Bob reared and kicked out with her hooves again and again, driving Snaff backwards as he held up his hands in an attempt to defend himself.
"That's it!" Snaff suddenly snapped, reaching down behind him to pick up a stick. "I'm through being nice! I swear, I am going to thrash you to within an inch of your life!"
Snaff swung at Bob but missed. Bob instantly lunged forward, driving her head into Snaff's chest and knocking him off his feet. Snaff hadn't realized the well was right behind him and with a cry of shock he stumbled over the rocky edge, disappearing down the hole; his voice fading as he fell.
Bob turned and ran back to the corral, rushing through the gate and stopping at the doors of the stable. She whinnied nervously and pawed at the ground, nosing the doors but not knowing how to open them. She could smell smoke from within and huffed anxiously. Finally she turned and ran out of the corral, racing as fast as she could toward the road.
I was aware of a smoky smell and the sensation of hot breath against my face. Slowly I opened my eyes and realized everything was dark and out of focus, but I could just barely make out something large and dark hovering over me. Closing my eyes, I reached up and felt something moving, sniffing at my hand. I recognized the sound as that of a horse. I opened my eyes again and while everything was spinning I recognized the effect of the flickering orange glow which was illuminating the animal's face above me as it made a nervous huffing sound.
I struggled against the incessant dizziness to sit up, eyeing the flames through the slats between the stables with concern. I knew I didn't have much time. The stallion turned in a circle beside me, bumping me roughly into the wall as I moved toward the door, pulling myself into a standing position despite the unbelievable pain and wooziness in my head. My fingers somehow found the latch and the door opened. Within an instant the stallion bolted past me from the stall and began running around the center walkway frantically.
As I stumbled through the opening I could see the fire was quickly spreading from the empty stall to the wall behind and climbing into the hay loft above. Everything was still spinning and I felt horribly nauseous but I somehow pulled myself along the line of stalls, struggling to keep my feet and fighting through the intense dizziness. I could hear the sound of the horses panicking, neighing and fidgeting and throwing their bodies against the wooden slats of their enclosures.
At each stall I stopped and worked to release the latch of the doors, throwing them open before moving on. After what felt like an eternity I reached the final stall on the one side, throwing open the door and gasping for breath. Smoke was quickly filling the stables and I knew that what little visibility remained would quickly diminish. I coughed, which increased the throbbing pain in my head tenfold.
I was going to open the doors to the corral when I realized with horror that the only horse running loose was the stallion. None of the other horses had come out of their stalls. Desperately I backtracked, moving along the line and trying to coax the horses out of their pens.
"Please, come on!" I cried to one horse, my voice sounding as if it were miles away. The horse only backed away from me, nervously grunting.
Somehow I remembered that horses have a tendency to panic during fires and recalled reading that it was necessary to cover their eyes to evacuate them. I pulled myself down the line of stalls, desperately looking for something I could utilize to cover the horse's eyes, but everything around me continued to spin and was quickly becoming obscured by smoke.
My body was racked with coughs and I felt as if I would be sick. I then remembered that I hadn't even opened the doors of the stalls on the opposite side of the stables. How could I possibly evacuate so many horses alone when I could barely stand?
Suddenly I had a strange sensation of feeling detached, almost disconnected from my body and the situation. It was as if I were falling into a deep hole. And as I fell it dawned on me that if I hadn't come to the ranch the horses would still have had two days to live. Instead they were going to die now and it was my fault. I saw that look of disappointment on Doomsday's face and then it faded away to nothing.
"I just don't know about this," Doomsday sighed worriedly. "Doc sounded really mad. Maybe we should go back."
"Nonsense!" Bugs insisted. "You want to help the horses, don't you?"
"Well, yeah," Doomsday agreed. "But Bugs . . . I don't understand why you just didn't ask Sgt. Vinton for the key to the cell. Did you have to bend the bars?"
"Sgt. Vinton was busy," Bugs explained. "I didn't want to bother him. He's had so much on his mind lately."
"That's true," Doomsday sighed. "I sure hope he was able to get Santa's suit to the dry cleaners."
As Ginny's truck rounded a bend on the hilly road, she pointed some distance ahead. "Who would let their horse run around loose like that?" she asked. The animal was running at full speed toward them with its reins dangling dangerously in front.
"That's Bob!" Doomsday realized.
Ginny slammed on the brakes and Doomsday immediately jumped from the cab of the truck as Bob came to stop in front of him.
Ginny and Bugs watched as Bob panted and huffed, then whinnied anxiously. "Something really bad is happening," Doomsday told them.
Bugs pointed toward a spot over the hill and said, "Isn't that smoke?"
Doomsday pulled the reins over Bob's head and climbed onto the horse's back. "I'll meet you at the ranch," he said. Bob immediately turned and started running back to the ranch, cutting across the hills and meadows.
Ginny started up the truck and followed the winding road, driving as fast as the heavily-ladened vehicle would allow.
Doomsday leaned in low over Bob's neck, holding on tight with his legs as she pounded furiously across the open meadows. They quickly approached a fence which Bob cleared easily. As they came over the crest of a hill Doomsday could see more black smoke rising into the sky from behind the grove of trees surrounding the Pelham Ranch.
"Hurry, Bob! Hurry!" Doomsday cried.
Drawing from her racetrack days of putting in that extra effort on the final turn, Bob somehow managed a final burst of energy, amazingly increasing her speed as they raced through the ranch's front gates. She cut through the trees and in an instant the ranch lay before them.
With a rising sense of horror, Doomsday could see that the stables were on fire. Bob carried him down into the open corral and stopped as Doomsday leapt off her back and hurried to the huge double doors.
Without hesitation, Doomsday threw both doors open and was immediately hit with a wall of smoke and heat which made him step back, coughing in response. After a moment the accumulated smoke cleared enough that Doomsday could just see inside the stables. He could hear the horses crying out in fear and immediately rushed inside.
Keeping low, Doomsday looked around in the darkness as best he could. He could see the doors of the stalls appeared to be open all along the left side and one black stallion was running around frantically. Doomsday focused on the right side, making his way down the line as he opened the door to each stall in turn. As he worked, he urged the horses to remain calm. He could see flames engulfing the back left side of the stables and spreading quickly in the rafters above. The smoke grew thicker the further he went, and he had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep from choking.
Once he had opened all the stalls along the right side, Doomsday rushed to the back doors and threw them open. A wind blew threw the stables, clearing the smoke somewhat but also picking up burning bits of hay from above which wafted down around him like a volcanic eruption.
Doomsday called out to the horses, who were still panicking and crying out with fear. Suddenly Bob, who had entered the stables, neighed loudly, urging the horses to be silent and listen. The horses obeyed, and Doomsday quickly ordered them to leave their stalls in a calm and orderly fashion, moving single file out the back doors and proceeding well away from the building to the pasture beyond.
Fighting back fear, the horses obeyed. One by one they left their stalls, following the horse in front of them as they calmly walked along the line of stalls to the back doors. The black stallion obediently joined the procession as well. Doomsday watched as they filed past, counting them. "How many are there in all, Bob?" Doomsday called, his voice rough from the smoke.
Bob neighed loudly in reply.
" . . . eight, nine, ten, eleven," Doomsday counted as the last of the horses filed past. With a sense of relief he could see them moving out to the pasture where they would be safe.
Doomsday coughed loudly, ducking to avoid a large piece of burning hay as it fell from above. The fire was now spreading to the right side of the stables and Doomsday knew it was only a matter of minutes before the whole place would go up in flames.
"Come on, Bob, let's go!" Doomsday called, turning to head out the back doors. But he suddenly realized Bob wasn't moving. "Bob, come on! Hurry!"
Bob whinnied nervously and lowered her head in the direction of a stall.
Doomsday hurried to Bob and grabbed her reins, trying to pull her from the stables. "Bob, we have to go! Come on!"
Bob stood fast and grunted, then whinnied several times.
Doomsday stopped pulling at the reins and clutched Bob's bridle in shock. "What? Where? Where is he??"
Bob looked anxiously at the black stallion's stall, which was completely engulfed. Doomsday looked around frantically, checking some of the empty stalls as he fought back a series of hacking coughs as well as a sense of rising panic.
Doomsday then heard Bob whinny and turned to see her head leaning down over a spot beside a nearby stall. Doomsday rushed over knelt down, quickly examining me as I stirred slightly.
"P.T.?" Doomsday asked anxiously. "P.T., can you hear me?"
"The horses . . . " I mumbled. "The horses . . . "
"The horses are okay," Doomsday assured me, struggling to lift me up so that he could get my arm around his shoulder. "Come on, I have to get you out of here!"
I became semi-conscious as I felt myself being supported by Doomsday and he encouraged me to move toward the doors leading to the corral.
Ginny's truck pulled up outside the corral and before she'd even stopped Bugs leapt from the cab and rushed to the stables, crying out, "Doomsday!" Bugs stopped outside the doors and tried to peer inside through the billowing smoke. "Doomsday!"
"Bugs, help me," Doomsday coughed, stumbling suddenly from the blackness as he struggled to support my weight.
Bugs quickly threw my other arm over his shoulder and together they helped me out of the stables and through the gate of the corral with Bob following close behind.
"What happened?" Bugs cried, noticing the line of dried blood running down from my forehead with concern.
"I don't know," Doomsday said as they carefully worked to sit me down on the ground. Doomsday sat beside me and held me up against his shoulder.
"Oh my goodness!" Ginny cried as she hurried to us. "What happened?"
"We don't know," Doomsday answered. "I didn't even know P.T. was here!"
"We didn't either," Bugs said.
"If Bob hadn't told me where he was . . . " Doomsday sighed, letting his voice trail off.
"The horses!" Ginny cried suddenly.
"The horses are all okay," Doomsday assured her quickly. "They're in the pasture out back."
I was staring ahead in a daze. Everything still seemed bizarrely distant. "The horses . . . " I mumbled, trying to get up, which caused me to start coughing.
"The horses are fine!" Doomsday assured me again, holding me down. "They're all safe."
The Big Bologna suddenly drove up and Tack leapt from the vehicle, observing the scene before him with shock. "My horses!" He started running toward the stables.
"They're safe!" Doomsday called to the man, stopping him. "They're in the pasture. They're all okay."
"Where is my son?" Tack cried. "Where is Snaff?"
No one had an answer to this question. Bob glanced over at the well nearby but said nothing.
Doc had climbed out of the Big Bologna and ran to Doomsday, kneeling down in front of me as he carefully examined my head. "P.T., can you hear me?" Doc asked.
I moaned slightly, acknowledging the question, although I was too dizzy to offer any more of a response.
"Doc, is he going to be okay?" Doomsday asked, fighting back a choking in his throat caused by a combination of smoke inhalation and emotion.
"He definitely has a concussion," Doc said, brushing his hand against the side of my head and causing me to wince. "Was he unconscious?"
"He was when I first found him, but I don't know for how long," Doomsday answered.
"Any vomiting? Seizures?"
"Not that I know of," Doomsday replied.
"Good," Doc said, checking my eyes.
"The horses . . . " I moaned.
"He keeps asking about the horses, even though I've told him they're okay," Doomsday said worriedly.
"That's not unusual with this kind of injury," Doc assured him.
Bugs looked up at Tack Pelham, who was staring at the stables with distress. "How could this happen?" the old man cried.
Flaming bits of hay were flying up from the rafters, carried by the wind and wafting dangerously close to other out-buildings. The fire was also spreading along the outside perimeter of the stables, catching the unchecked grasses which had sprouted up between the buildings.
"This whole place will go up if we don't do something," Bugs noted.
Hearing this, Tack turned and said, "I have a fire hose set up! Quickly!"
Bugs and Ginny joined Tack as they ran to a coiled fire hose on the side of a storage barn nearby. Together they pulled the hose out to its full length. At this moment, Sgt. Vinton and Kurt Klinsinger arrived in Sgt. Vinton's patrol car.
"Good Lord!" Klinsinger exclaimed. "It looks like Snaff didn't waste any time!"
Doc jumped up and ran to Sgt. Vinton, leaning in the window of the patrol car. "Sgt. Vinton, call the fire department and an ambulance right away. P.T. is hurt."
Sgt. Vinton picked up the microphone on his radio and made the emergency call as Klinsinger climbed out of the patrol car and took in the hectic scene before him.
"Oh, if only I could have called my camera crew!" Klinsinger sighed.
Bugs turned the wheel on the fire hose system to start the water. Only nothing came out.
"Nothing's happening!" Ginny cried.
"That's impossible!" Tack insisted. "I make sure the tank is always kept full!"
Ginny and Tack dropped the hose and ran to the base of the water tower, shielding their eyes as they looked up at the glass sight gauge on the side of the tank. "The tank is empty!" Ginny cried.
"That no-good son of mine let the tank run dry?" Tack cried angrily. "Where is he? When I get my hands on him . . !"
"Is there any water in the well?" Ginny asked.
Bugs ran over to the well and picked up a small rock, which he dropped down the hole. He listened carefully and finally heard a soft thud, and a loud, "Ow!" There followed an echoing stream of obscenities which made Bugs back away slowly.
"Boy, that's one angry well!" Bugs commented.
"There's been nothing in that well for years," Tack assured Ginny.
"Well, I wouldn't say nothing," Bugs offered.
"Why aren't you using the fire hose?" Doc asked as he approached them. "We could at least keep the fire from spreading before the fire trucks gets here."
"Snaff let the tank go dry," Tack moaned.
"It's so frustrating!" Ginny cried. "I have a whole truck full of water! But there's no way to effectively get it on the fire!"
Doc studied the water tank, the electric pump below and the troughs inside the corral. "Does this pump lead from the tank to the troughs?" he asked.
"Yes," Tack said. "I usually keep the troughs filled."
Doc snapped his fingers. "If we can empty the water bottles on Ginny's truck into the troughs, I can reverse this pump to pump the water up into the tank."
"Really?" Ginny asked hopefully.
"But that's crazy," Tack sighed. "No one can empty that many water bottles quickly enough to do any good!"
"We can!" Bugs assured the old man. "Come on, Ginny!"
Ginny ran into the corral and Bugs shifted into super speed as he raced to the truck, carrying two bottles at a time and then opening them before setting them down at an angle to empty into the troughs. Ginny went down the line and checked their progress, removing each bottle once it was empty and setting it aside as Bugs sped by again and again. Working together they struck a good rhythm and soon the troughs all had several inches of water in them.
"Okay, start pumping!" Ginny waved to Doc.
Doc had switched the wires on the pump and turned it on. The water from the troughs began pumping up into the water tank.
"It's working!" Tack gasped with amazement. "It's actually working!"
Sgt. Vinton had jumped out of the patrol car and retrieved a blanket from the trunk. He knelt down next to me and Doomsday helped him wrap the blanket around my shoulders. The world was still spinning but I was starting to feel like I wouldn't pass out again, even when my body was racked with another series of coughs.
"Take it easy," Sgt. Vinton told me. "The paramedics are on their way."
I nodded slightly, grateful that I had Doomsday to lean into when I was feeling so unsteady.
"Keep it going!" Doc encouraged as Bugs and Ginny continued to empty the water bottles. The pump was pulling the water into the tank at about the same rate they were keeping the troughs filled. The fire was spreading around the stables and Doc noticed the roof of one of the out buildings was now smoking, having been set alight by a flying ember.
Bugs finally stopped running, panting to catch his breath. "That's the last of them!" he reported.
"Okay, great," Doc said. "We'll let this last bit of water pump to the tank and then I'll reverse the motor again."
Tack walked over to Bugs and patted him on the back, then smiled at Ginny. "I never saw such hard-working kids. I just wish I knew where that useless son of mine is."
"Well, this is just a hunch," Bugs gasped, "but I think he's in the well."
"Oh really?" Tack asked, walking over to the well. He looked down into the darkness. "Snaff? Are you down there?"
"Daddy! Help me!" Snaff's feeble voice came back in answer. "I think I broke my hip!"
"Oh no!" Tack gasped. "That's very painful! Yes, I'm very familiar with that! Do you know what the technical term for that is? Poetic justice! You little rat!"
"Okay, that's got it!" Doc called, turning off the pump and quickly reversing the wires again. He then called out, "We could use everyone's help with the hoses!"
"Come on, Mr. Klinsinger," Doomsday said, carefully leaning me against Sgt. Vinton, who had taken a seat beside me. "Let's go!"
"Oh, I'm not sure I'd be of much help," Klinsinger whined.
"Since you can't cover the story you might as well be part of the story!" Sgt. Vinton insisted. "Now go on!"
Bugs turned the wheel on the fire hose system and the water began coming out strong. Doc, Bugs and Ginny worked one hose while Doomsday, Tack and Klinsinger used another one closer to the house. Between the two teams they managed to douse several hot spots, quickly preventing the fire from spreading to the rest of the ranch.
There came the sound of sirens approaching in the distance. I was now sitting up mostly of my own volition and the dizziness was thankfully starting to subside. I watched wearily as the others worked together to fight the fire. Bob, who was standing nearby, leaned down to nuzzle my neck gently and I reached up to pat her nose.
Sgt. Vinton looked at me and was startled to see tears flowing from my eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said softly with a slight smile. "I'm just so proud of them."
"You have every reason to be proud," Sgt. Vinton agreed, waving the paramedics over as soon as the fire trucks pulled up behind us.
"He's doing very well," the doctor assured everyone who was sitting and standing around my hospital bed. "But we'll keep him overnight for observations just to be sure."
"Thank you, doctor," Doc said as the man patted my shoulder and left the room.
While I still had a significant headache and intermittent dizzy spells I was just grateful that the world had stopped spinning.
"I can't believe Snaff Pelham actually tried to kill you and the horses!" Ginny said. "What kind of person could do a thing like that?"
"A very bad person," Doomsday said seriously, coughing slightly. "I knew he was up to no good."
"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked Doomsday worriedly.
"Look who's asking!" Doc smiled. "The paramedics treated Doomsday for smoke inhalation at the scene and said he would be just fine."
"And how's the ranch?" I asked.
"The stables were a complete loss," Doc explained. "But thankfully everything else was saved."
"And after the firemen put out the fire, they had to rescue Snaff from the well," Bugs added. "Boy, was he in a bad mood!"
"I'll bet Tack was pretty upset," I sighed.
"Actually he was pretty happy," Bugs reported. "He said he could rebuild the stables and make them better than ever. All that mattered to him was that you and the horses were okay."
"Thanks to Doomsday," I smiled.
"And thanks to Bob," Doomsday quickly added.
"This is going to make a great story!" Klinsinger said, quickly scribbling down some notes. "'Boy Charged with Horse Theft Now Hailed as Hero!'"
"Well, I, for one, am going to do everything within my power to make sure those charges against Doomsday are not only dropped but wiped completely from his record," Sgt. Vinton promised.
Ol' Tack Pelham entered, looking glum. "I'm afraid I have some bad news," he sighed.
Everyone asked worriedly what was wrong.
"It appears that my son Snaff is going to survive his injuries," Tack sighed. "But the good news is he's facing such a long list of charges he'll probably be going to jail for a long, long time, which is, quite frankly, where he belongs." Tack looked at me sadly. "I'm absolutely sickened by what he did to you."
"Well, it certainly isn't your fault," I insisted.
"Yeah, we see it all the time, unfortunately," Sgt. Vinton offered. "Some people are just no good, plain and simple."
"Well, I know a group of people who are more than good," Tack smiled at us. "And I want to reward you kids for everything you've done for me."
"Well, that certainly isn't necessary," Doc said.
"Oh now, I'm afraid I'll have to insist," Tack said, holding up his hands to hold off further protests. "Thanks to you I still have the ranch and all of my horses. Such brave acts deserve to be rewarded. I'll write a check which you can use to benefit your very worthy organization."
We all offered our thanks for such generosity. Then Sgt. Vinton pointed out, "Visiting hours are just about over. We'd better let P.T. get some rest."
As everyone said their goodbyes and started to leave, Ginny turned to Doc and asked, "Now can I join C.A.P.E.R.?"
"I don't know," Doc said. "We still have to talk about this whole 'dirty, rotten screws' thing."
Doomsday squeezed my hand and smiled at me, saying, "We'll see you tomorrow."
"Absolutely," I replied.
Ol' Tack Pelham waited behind and then approached my bedside. "If there's anything I can do to make this up to you, please let me know," he said.
I thought for a moment, then said, "About this reward . . . could I make a suggestion?"
"Anything you want," Tack smiled. "Just name it."
The parade was in full swing and the crowds gathered on the sidewalks were full of good cheer. Parents hoisted their little ones up on their shoulders as the high school marching band passed. Everyone waved at the Mayor as he drove by in his convertible. There were oohs and ahhs when the paper-mache float shaped like a snow-covered cake sponsored by the Dolly Dimples Catering Company drove by.
Finally the cheers rose to a fever pitch when Santa's sleigh appeared pulled by Bob, who was groomed to perfection. She held her head up proudly, her movements strong and sure as the sleigh bells on her harness jingled with each step. Santa waved to the crowds and threw candy canes to the kids.
We were working crowd control at the very end of the parade, enjoying the festivities as much as everyone. Each of us wore a Santa hat, as did most of the people in attendance. We applauded and cheered as much as the little kids when Bob and Santa passed us. We then motioned that the crowds could now enter the street and as the people on either side merged into one reveling crowd we walked to the area where the parade participants had gathered.
Doomsday stepped over to me and said, "Wasn't Bob beautiful?"
"She sure was," I nodded.
"And Santa's suit looked so nice and clean!" Doomsday added. "I'm glad Sgt. Vinton was able to get it to the dry cleaners in time."
We joined Bugs and Doc over by Santa's sleigh as Ol' Tack Pelham worked to unhitch Bob. Kurt Klinsinger was standing nearby, speaking into a microphone as his camera crew filmed him.
"And it's a spectacular ending to what has certainly been the most incredible Santa Celebration and Soirée Parade yet!" Klinsinger shouted to be heard over the crowds. "And what better way to ring in the holidays? This year we have so much to be grateful for and I think more than ever each of us can fully appreciate the true meaning of this season."
"P.T., you're supposed to be taking it easy," Doc reminded me.
"I feel fine," I assured him. "And this certainly can't be considered working."
Ginny ran over to us, wearing her Santa hat and Christmas-tree covered dungarees. "Wasn't it wonderful?" she asked. "And Bob was so pretty!"
"I liked Dolly Dimples' float," Doomsday said. "It looked good enough to eat!"
We heard the sound of sleigh bells approaching and turned to see Santa walking toward us, leading Bob by the reins. "Ho, ho, ho!" Sgt. Vinton laughed, disguising his voice quite well. "Merry Christmas, boys and girl!"
"Merry Christmas!" we all replied.
"And Merry Christmas, Doomsday!" Santa said heartily, handing Bob's reins to him.
"Aw, Santa," Doomsday laughed as he patted Bob's nose. "That's sweet. But even I know you can't give Bob to me."
"No . . . but I can."
Doomsday turned to see Ol' Tack Pelham smiling at him. He seemed confused, looking from Bob to us to Tack. "What?"
"She's all yours," Tack explained. "I want you to have her."
Doomday's mouth hung open in disbelief. "But . . . how . . . why?"
"She'll live at my new stables and I'll pay for her upkeep but you can visit her and ride her any time you like," Tack continued. "And you have complete say over all decisions regarding her future. She's legally yours. And I can't think of anyone she'd rather belong to."
"I . . . I can't believe it," Doomsday gasped, hugging Bob's neck. "Really?"
Tack laughed and nodded. "Really. You see, as their reward, your partners wanted you to have her."
Doomsday looked at us with surprise. "Oh fellas!" he gasped, hugging Bugs tightly.
"Merry Christmas, Doomsday," Bugs smiled, patting Doomsday on the back.
"I just can't believe it!" Doomsday said, hugging Doc tightly.
"You deserve it," Doc assured him, smiling as he stepped back. "But actually you can thank P.T. It was his idea."
Doomsday looked at me with surprise, his eyes welling with tears. The expression on his face wiped away any memory of the disappointed look he had given me two days before.
"Oh, P.T.!" Doomsday sobbed, fighting back his tears as we embraced. "Oh, thank you!"
"No, Doomsday," I said in his ear. "Thank you . . . for saving my life."
We smiled warmly at each other as we parted. Doomsday walked back to Bob as Ginny stepped forward and hugged him. "Merry Christmas, Doomsday," she smiled.
"You guys are the best friends I've ever had," Doomsday said, wiping his eyes. He hugged Bob's neck as Bob nuzzled him happily. "Oh, I have something for you, Bob," Doomsday remembered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a couple of sugar cubes.
"That reminds me! Ginny, I have something for you, too," Bugs said, reaching into his pocket.
"Ooh, is it my C.A.P.E.R. ring?" she asked excitedly. "My C.A.P.E.R. band radio? Am I in?"
Bugs pulled out a sprig of mistletoe and held it over her head as he puckered his lips.
"Oh," Ginny sighed with some disappointment.
"Thanks, Bugs!" I said, walking over and giving Ginny a kiss.
"Hey!" Bugs protested.
"Yeah, thanks, Bugs!" Doomsday said, leaning over and kissing Ginny on the cheek.
"Now wait just a . . . " Bugs cried.
"Much obliged, Bugs," Doc said as he stepped forward and gave Ginny a kiss.
"Oh my!" Ginny gasped in awe when Doc had finished.
"Hey, what about me?" Bugs cried.
Bob leaned over and kissed Bugs on the cheek. We all laughed as Bugs looked frustrated.
"Aw, poor Bugs," Ginny sighed sympathetically, and she gave him a kiss.
Bugs smiled and said in his best gangster voice, "Now that's my moll!"
The high school band was playing a Christmas carol and we all joined the crowd in singing, "We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"