DEATH AND COMPANY: BOOK ONE
February 2, 2012. Groundhog Day re-write, GO!
"I'm sorry to lose you, Launchpad. Aside from being me pilot, you're a good friend." Scrooge McDuck leaned back in the chair behind his large mahogany desk and surveyed the mood of one Launchpad McQuack, who had just turned in his two weeks' notice.
"I know, Mr. McD. I'm going to miss you and the boys and, well, everyone. But this is something I have to do. I've always wanted to run my own shop, and I'll get to use two big hangars."
"Aye, I guess that's temptation enough," the old Scottish duck forced a smile. It was all he could do to keep from trampling Launchpad's dream, but Scrooge knew the pilot didn't have the business sense it took to run a shop. He bit his tongue, though, because the last thing he wanted to do was upset his friend.
Besides, it would be better for him to find out on his own. Everyone should be allowed to make their own mistakes.
"One condition, Launchpad," Scrooge said as the pilot got up to leave.
"What's that, Mr. McD?"
"You have to help me find a replacement pilot."
Corrine QuackIntyre looked at the crumbled newspaper clipping in her hands for the hundredth time and walked nervously into the waiting room of McDuck Enterprises.
The room was filled to the brim with what appeared to be very reputable and experienced pilots. Corrine sighed and flopped down in a vacant chair.
She was only 25, but had had her pilots' license since she was 17. They had called her a prodigy, which was odd considering she came from a family of mail carriers and firefighters. Still, Corrine had never been much for self esteem, so she was convinced she was wasting her time.
A job flying Scrooge McDuck and his family around on their adventures sounded too good to be true, but Corrine's mother had shoved her into a snappy skirt suit and practically pushed her out the door. She had said, "It's an open interview, the worst that could happen is you don't get it!"
Corrine couldn't really argue with logic like that.
"Send in the next candidate, Mrs. Featherby."
Corrine's head snapped up at the sound of the blunt accented voice over the receptionist's intercom.
The middle aged duck with her gray hair pulled up in a severe bun checked the sign-in list and announced, "Corrine QuackIntyre!"
Corrine stood up on shaky legs and made her way to the door to McDuck's office. She absently swiped her long straight black hair over her shoulder and then turned the knob.
Before her was a palatial office, an old duck wearing spectacles and a tall duck with a tuft of ginger hair sticking out from under a brown flight cap.
"Come in, come in," the old duck, presumably Scrooge, said with some impatience.
Corrine quickly entered and closed the door behind her.
"Now, Ms. QuackIntyre, your resume is quite impressive for your age, with your training and whatnot, but I'm concerned about your lack of practical experience."
Corrine cleared her throat and was very proud of herself when her voice didn't crack, "Actually, Mr. McDuck, that's kind of why I'm here. Let's be honest, there isn't a whole lot of experience to be had in Duckburg when it comes to flying. I could be an airline pilot or a sky writer or something, I guess. But what I really want to do is see the world!"
Scrooge gave her a kind smile and opened his bill to speak, but was interrupted as something large, metal and duck-shaped crashed through the wall of his office.
"Gizmoduck, what's going on?" Scrooge bellowed.
"Mr. McDuck!" The breathless robotic hero seemed on the verge of hysterics. "You have to come quickly, there's been an explosion down at your candy factory that I swear I had nothing to do with!"
McDuck rolled his eyes but shot up out of his chair, grabbing a cane and top hat from a hook by his desk.
"Let's get down there straight away. Ms. QuackIntyre, what are your salary requirements?"
"Well," Corrine said after a moment of shock, "I am really in it for the experience so I would work for very cheap…"
Scrooge turned his back to her but yelled over his shoulder, "you're hired!"
And then the three were gone, leaving Corrine sitting all alone in the huge office, staring blankly at the huge hole in the wall behind Scrooge's desk.
The next morning, Corrine met with Launchpad McQuack at Scrooge McDuck's private hangar.
"Good morning!" The tall duck sauntered over to shake the petite girl's hand. Corrine smiled and returned the handshake with enthusiasm.
"Good morning to you, too!" She said as she took in the large gold colored plane sitting behind them.
"Are we going to fly that today?" She asked. Launchpad nodded.
"Yessiree, I need to make sure you can handle Mr. McD's plane, and I'll give you the crash course on working with him! Pardon the expression."
Corrine giggled and headed for the plane.
"So, Launchpad," Corrine began once they had been steadily flying for a good 30 minutes. "Why are you moving to St. Canard? If you don't mind me asking."
"Not at all!" He said with a big smile. "Basically, ever since Gizmoduck came on board as Mr. McDuck's bodyguard, and since Mr. McD is getting up in age, there hasn't been as much for me to do around here. He still travels, but not nearly as often. He sends other people to travel for him a lot of the time now. Like Fenton, his accountant. He's around all the time, it seems."
Something in Launchpad's voice made Corrine pause. He sounded sad and resigned.
"I'm...sorry," Corrine said.
Launchpad looked at her, then quickly replaced his somber expression with a smile.
"Hey, no big deal! I have a big new opportunity in St. Canard! It'll be the start of a new life for me! Plus, have you heard of the masked hero they have over there now?"
Corrine rolled her eyes a bit. "Yeah, Darkwing Duck or whatever he calls himself. Sounds like a crackpot to me. Wouldn't he have to be a little nuts to run around in a mask and cape?"
"No way!" Launchpad said, as Corrine brought the plane down to land. "Darkwing Duck is a real hero! Just like Gizmoduck, but without a big fancy mechanical suit or anything like that! I hope I get to meet him when I get to St. Canard, I actually have something I want to give him!"
"You...got Darkwing Duck a present?" Corrine was incredulous.
"Well, I sorta made him a present, yeah. I mean, I'm still working on it." Launchpad said, sheepishly.
The plane came to a stop and Corrine began shutting down the engines.
"Who's that?" She asked, pointing out the windshield of the plane at a short-ish mallard wearing a purple sport coat that looked to be about a size too small for him. He waved at the plane.
"Oh, that's Fenton Crackshell. He's the accountant I mentioned."
"Oh." Corrine said, feeling angry at the duck she hadn't even met yet.
Launchpad seemed like a really nice guy, so maybe it was righteous anger on his behalf since he seemed to think Fenton was replacing him.
As they vacated the plane, Corrine reigned in her initial reaction in lieu of politeness to her new co-worker.
"Hey, Launchpad!" Fenton called, happily, still waving at them.
Launchpad waved back and Fenton came flouncing up to them like a bundle of energy.
"I wanted to meet the new pilot!" The accountant announced, then shoved his right hand at Corrine, while standing just a little too close to her.
"Hi, I'm Fenton Crackshell!"
Corrine took a half step back so that she could shake his hand.
"Uh, hi Fenton, I'm Corrine. Corrine QuackIntyre."
"Nice to meet you, Corrine!"
The young woman looked at Fenton like he had lobsters growing out of his ears. Was he always this excited about everything?
"Nice to meet you, too," she said, as he continued shaking her hand.
She finally had to pull it out of his grasp in order to save her fingers from a sudden demise.
Fenton stood looking at them awkwardly for a moment before announcing, "Well, I'd better get to work or Mr. McDuck will have my tailfeathers! See ya later!"
As he walked off, Corrine commented to Launchpad, "He's...nice."
"Yeah, he's a good guy! Come on, you wanna go grab some chow?"
"I'd love to!" Corrine said with a big smile, and she and Launchpad made their way to McDuck's mansion.
ONE MONTH LATER...
The sound of her name being shouted through the mansion made the young duck drop her spoon into the soup Mrs. Beakley had made for her with a resounding plop.
Shooting up out of her chair, Corrine stood stiff as a board as Scrooge McDuck entered the room.
"Get the plane ready, I just got word that one of my rain forest excavations turned up something!"
"Yes, sir!" Corrine said, jumping into action. "Will the boys be coming, too?"
"Aye, and Webby. Oh, and Fenton is coming, too."
Corrine gave a quick nod and then headed out to make sure the plane was gassed up and ready to go.
Fenton Crackshell was the first to arrive for boarding, as revved up as usual.
"Hi, Corrine!" He said and smiled warmly at the pilot.
Corrine grinned at him. In the month she had been on the McDuck team, the silly but well-meaning accountant had definitely grown on her.
Corrine pulled her waist-length black hair into a high ponytail and addressed Fenton, "Are you excited about seeing the rain forest? Have you ever been before?"
"Nope, this is my first time! I'm like a kid in a candy store!"
For some reason, at the mention of 'candy store', Fenton became slightly crestfallen, but soon regained his composure.
"Here, let me help you with that!" Corrine said as Fenton struggled to lift a single decrepit brown suitcase into the plane.
"No, no, I've got it!" He assured her, finally throwing it into the back of the plane with a thud.
"Geez, Crackshell, what did you pack? Lead shoes?" Corrine looked curiously at the small dent the briefcase had left in its wake.
"Oh, uh, it's nothing." The accountant suddenly seemed to be fumbling all over himself before pointing and saying, "Here comes Mr. McDuck and the kids!"
The subject abruptly dropped, Corrine finished her preparations and helped get everyone situated on the plane.
Sitting in the pilot seat with Scrooge McDuck next to her, Corrine was suddenly nervous.
"You'll do fine," Scoorge said, not looking at her. Corrine was sure that behind the sometimes gruff exterior, the old coot was really a sweet guy.
"Well, here goes everything!" Corrine announced and brought the engines roaring to life.
With that, they were on their way.
It was a 24 hour flight, and Corrine kept at it without taking a break.
Scrooge had actually been an accomplished pilot in his time, but she simply couldn't expect her boss to take over while she grabbed a nap.
Finally, the lush green treetops began to form beneath them, denoting the end of their flight.
But it was just then that a loud explosion sounded from the starboard engine.
"Ah, hell!" Corrine yelled, flipping on the autopilot as she ran to the control panel at the back of the plane.
Pulling the cover clear off the panel, Corrine looked desperately at the fried tangle of wires that greeted her.
"I can't believe this. It's fried. But I triple checked to make sure..."
"Come on, there's no time!" Scrooge was shoving a parachute into her arms.
Scrooge, his nephews, Webby and Fenton were calmly strapping on their parachutes. They looked to be quite familiar with plane crashes.
With a determined glare, Corrine threw her parachute to the floor and rushed back to the cockpit.
"Corrine, what are you doing?" She heard Fenton yelling over the roar of the engine.
"I can save the plane! I can still land it!" She cried out frantically, taking the plane off autopilot. She jerking up on the yoke and pulled back on the throttle with all her strength.
Fenton stood watching her, somewhere between panic and amusement. Scrooge was instructing the boys as he let them jump, one by one, out of the plane ahead of him. He took Webby's hand and called back to the cockpit, "I expect you two off this plane in five seconds or you're both fired!"
With that, he jumped. Corrine could hear Webby's screams.
"No, no, no, no," The pilot mumbled to herself as the plane continued its descent.
Fenton was pulling on her arm.
"Come ON, we have to go NOW!"
"I'm not leaving! You go!"
Sweat poured down the mallard's face as he said, "Seriously, Corrine, you're going to make me do something in a second that we'll both regret."
Not looking at him, still frantically watching the trees getting closer, Corrine snapped, "What the hell are you talking about, Fenton?"
Then she heard him yell...something. It sounded like some sort of jibberish. Then there was a strange mechanical whirring sound that finally made her turn around.
Before she could get a good look, though, something very heavy knocked her on the head and all she saw was black.
Corrine opened her eyes to the sun blaring down on her, and six very worried faces.
"Ugh, day star…" She mumbled, repeating a joke she and her brother had used every morning growing up, as the sun shone through the windows of their east-facing room.
"Wow, that's quite a bump you have!" Fenton exclaimed, but there was something in his expression that made Corrine squint her eyes at him in thought.
"Did you see what hit me, Fenton? I thought I heard you say something and then there was a weird sound like electricity and then I got conked!"
"Uh, yeah, I was trying to pull you away and then a piece of bulkhead fell down and hit you right on the noggin'! You're lucky I already had my 'shoot on! I grabbed you and jumped out."
Corrine's mouth dropped open in amazement.
"You...you saved my life?"
Fenton's face turned a very unique shade of red. "Yeah, I guess I did."
Corrine smiled at him. "Thanks."
Then the reality of the situation hit the stunned pilot, causing her to shoot to her feet.
Fighting a wave of dizziness, Corrine yelled, "The plane! Oh no, what happened to the plane?"
Scrooge leaned on his cane and said, "It's salvageable," without going into too many particulars. "But right now I'm more concerned about how salvageable my pilot is."
"I'm...fine," Corrine said, flopping back down again. She felt incredibly silly, childish and stupid. "I'm so sorry, Mr. McDuck. I can't believe that happened. I wish I knew what went wrong."
"No bother," Scrooge said. "Do you have any idea how many times Launchpad's crashed us? It's his signature move."
Corrine was confused. "Wait, what exactly is his signature move?"
"Crashing," Scrooge repeated, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
The gang trudged through the rain forest in search of Scrooge's excavation site.
"Unca Scrooge!" Whined Huey...or was it Louie? Corrine still had trouble telling them apart.
"Aye, aye, I know. We'll be there soon, Dewey." Damn, wrong on all counts.
"Fenton, just leave the stupid suitcase!" Corrine found herself fussing at the accountant. He had been dragging the obviously heavy brown suitcase behind him since they had crash landed, and it was beginning to get on her nerves.
"I can't, it's full of important documents!" Fenton told her for the umpteenth time.
"Some documents..." Corrine mumbled, slipping back into a daydream. Walking aimlessly through the jungle wasn't high on her list of things to do, but at least she could use the time to think.
"Finally!" She heard the children yell in unison, breaking her from her reverie.
"There it is!" Scrooge was pointing about 800 yards into the distance where a plume of smoke could be seen, following by delicious dinner smells.
All their stomachs growled simultaneously.
Looking at each other sheepishly, Scrooge led the march. "Let's go!"
Corrine had always considered herself an excellent judge of character, and the men sitting around the makeshift campsite gave her the skeevies.
Three men, some form of dogs with their snouts darkened by the sun. They were the type of bushmen who picked their teeth with machetes and spat in the face of anacondas.
And they kept staring at Corrine with expressions that weren't hard to discern. In fact, it worried the pilot so much that she made sure to keep herself protectively between the bushmen and Webby.
Funnily enough, Corrine noticed that Fenton was hovering over her more than usual. Maybe he had gotten the same bad vibe from the men?
"McDuck," One of the men, presumably the leader, rasped in a deep voice. "We have found a certain item."
"Where is it?" Scrooge asked, cautiously.
"That..." Another one of the men said. "Is between us and the jungle. We will tell you...for a price."
Scrooge frowned. "I've already paid you."
"Hardly a sum worthy of this find!" Snapped the third man.
Corrine didn't think it was possible, but Scrooge's frown deepened.
"What do you want?"
"One million," said the first man. Then he shot a lecherous glare at Corrine and said, "And perhaps that girl."
The three men howled with laughter. Corrine flushed with anger and balled both hands into fists at her sides.
"Over my dead body," came a voice from in front of her. Fenton stood, his arms out in a protective stance, between her and the men.
The men continued laughing and Fenton clutched his suitcase closer.
Corrine saw Scrooge notice the suitcase and for a moment a look of fear crossed his features. The pilot made a mental note to wonder later what that was all about.
"Now, now, there's no need for all this ruckus!" Scrooge stood up and stared down the bushmen. "I'll consider your request, once I see this item and deem it worthy of such a steep price tag!" Then as an afterthought, "The money only, of course. You'll no be touching me pilot or there will be bigger problems than a trio of greedy scoundrels!"
The men glowered and grumbled but finally agreed to Scrooge's condition.
Traipsing around the jungle with three bloodthirsty dogs who would just as soon slit your throat as look at you was way at the bottom of Corrine's list of things to do. Yet, there she was, doing exactly that.
She made a mental note to call up Launchpad when (and if) she made it home. A good verbal thrashing for not warning her about most of this stuff would make her feel better, she was sure.
Corrine didn't consider herself a pansy, but she was just a pilot. She had some survival experience because of her upbringing, and the fact that crash survival was a basic part of training, but nothing had prepared her for the dark depths of a rain forest that just kept getting deeper. Not to mention walking through said rain forest without having slept in about 36 hours, and having just survived a plane crash.
She felt lucky that Scrooge had at least listened to her suggestion that the kids were safer staying at the campsite. Even alone, they were better off than with the crazed bushmen leading the adults into heaven-knows-where. At least at the campsite they had food, water, fire and shelter.
Fenton had actually insisted that Corrine stay behind with the children, but Corrine impressed upon him that the bushmen were definitely crooked so she would go to keep their numbers even. Three on three.
Fenton had still tried arguing with her, had said something about how their numbers were more even than she realized, but then Scrooge had shushed him and snapped that they were wasting time.
So Corrine had gone with them, though she was beginning to wish she'd had the sense to stay behind with the children.
And Fenton was still dragging that infernal suitcase around with him!
"Fenton!" Corrine snapped. "Would you give the suitcase a rest! What could possibly be that important that it couldn't stay behind with the kids?"
Fenton's mood was somber as he said, "If this goes the way it's been going, you might get the chance to find out."
Corrine didn't bother him any more after that.
Finally, they arrived at a clearing in the brush. Corrine could hear a waterfall somewhere nearby and her mouth watered.
"Here it is, McDuck," The taller of the dogs said. "Right down here."
He pointed at two ridiculously large holes that had been dug into the ground. Scrooge cautiously moved closer to one of them, trying to peer down.
When he was close enough to the edge, one of the shorter dogs pushed him in.
Corrine let out a cry of anger, and Fenton threw down his suitcase and opened his beak to say something, but he was tackled by the shortest of the dogs.
The bushman who had made the crack of using her as payment approached Corrine slowly. She pulled a serrated hunting knife from her boot and took a protective stance.
"How cute," the man cooed. "She thinks she stands a chance."
"What should we do with the geek, boss?" The other two men had successfully knocked Fenton unconscious and held his limp body up between them.
"Just toss him in the other hole. With McDuck gone, that huge ass yellow diamond is ours anyway. Doesn't matter what happens to the rest of them." He drew closer to Corrine, who was busy looking between her pursuer and Fenton's lifeless form being dragged to the hole opposite of where Scrooge had fallen.
Finally breaking into a sprint that took her past the big dog, she flung herself to the ground at the edge of the hole and grabbed Fenton's arm just as he was tossed in.
Perched precariously at the edge of a twenty foot drop into oblivion, desperately clutching the arm of an unconscious accountant was very low on the list of things Corrine wanted to be doing. Alas.
As the three dirty dogs came up behind Corrine to grab her, Fenton opened his eyes.
"C...Corrine?" He mumbled sleepily.
"Fenton, you're okay!" Corrine didn't really have time to analyze her elation at seeing Fenton coherent, because there were more pressing matters at hand. Like staying alive and possibly saving their boss. One of the men grabbed Corrine roughly by her long hair and jerked her head back, but she managed to keep her hold on Fenton.
Then Fenton did something Corrine definitely wasn't expecting.
"BLATHERING BLATHERSKITE!" He bellowed as loudly as his bruised ribs would allow.
From somewhere behind them came a familiar electrical buzzing sound, and then suddenly Corrine was no longer holding Fenton, but rather was being held in a pair of metal arms.
Gizmoduck set the pilot gently on the ground and then addressed the bushmen.
"I would normally say something like, 'you've gone too far, you devious miscreants! Prepare to be thwarted!' But in this case, too far was back when you pushed Mr. McDuck down a very large hole. You're so far beyond too far, I can't even tell you."
Then Corrine was blinded by a series of explosions, deafened by a series of screams, and utterly stupefied by the fact that Fenton Crackshell was Gizmoduck.
"Huh. Didn't see that one coming." She muttered to herself.
Then she passed out again.
When Corrine opened her eyes, she saw Fenton tending to Scrooge McDuck's scrapes and bruises like a fussy nurse maid.
"Hold still, Mr. McDuck!" The accountant and part-time superhero snapped.
"That'll do, Fenton!" Scrooge snapped back and pulled his injured arm away, wincing a bit at the action.
"Oh, hey, Corrine! You're awake!" Fenton bounded over to her, happily.
"Fenton, I..." She started to say, but he held a finger to her bill to shush her.
"Look, I know what you're going to say. But only two other people in the whole world know, and one of them is sitting over there. Just please tell me you can keep a secret?" His eyes and voice pleaded with her, and for the life of her she couldn't figure out why. He almost acted like he was glad she knew.
"Of course I can. But that's not even what I was going to say. Secret identities aside, I wanted to thank you for saving me back there. It was you...er...Gizmoduck on the plane too, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Fenton said, kicking at the ground a bit in embarrassment.
"Well, thanks for saving my tailfeathers twice now." Corrine smiled and then wrapped her arms around the mallard in a tender hug.
Fenton was sure his face was turning every shade of red under the sun, but he didn't really care.
Pulling reluctantly from the hug, Fenton said, "Actually, I owe you thanks, too. You kept me from hitting rock bottom, literally. Why did you risk your life like that?"
Corrine wasn't one to blush, but she was certainly left speechless for a moment. Mostly because she had asked herself the same thing.
"I...I'm not sure," she finally admitted. "I was more scared of them hurting you than me. Instinct just kicked in."
The two stared at each other for a long time, until someone clearing his throat broke them from their stupor.
Scrooge looked at them and tapped his foot, impatiently.
"Come on, lovebirds. Let's get out of here."
Still blushing and feeling generally awkward, Fenton and Corrine followed Scrooge out of the woods and back to camp.
Giggling like school children, Corrine pulled Fenton into her small studio apartment where they proceeded to strip off their soaking wet clothes. They had been on their way back from dinner when a surprise thunderstorm had cropped up, creating a very cold and wet after-date experience. Dripping all over the floor and still laughing from the soggy situation and a little too much wine, Corrine made her way to the bathroom and started running piping hot water into the tub.
Leaning against the doorframe, watching Corrine pour bubble bath into the tub, Fenton mumbled, "Do you want me to go while you wash up?"
Corrine's smile got wider.
"No," she said, standing and pulling Fenton all the way into the room. "I want you to stay."
She captured his lips in a passionate kiss, and they cast off the rest of their clothes and sunk into the tub together.
The next morning, Corrine stretched and then felt herself being pulled into a tight embrace.
The warm arms wrapped around her were familiar and safe. She cuddled even more into Fenton's chest.
"Hey, there's something I've been meaning to say to you," Corrine said, not wanting to ruin the moment but needing to get something off her chest.
"Sure, what is it?" He asked, happily. Corrine couldn't help but smile.
She could never picture Fenton upset or in a bad mood.
"Listen, it's about when you go out as Gizmoduck. Can you promise me that you'll be very careful?"
Fenton hugged the girl tighter still.
"Of course I'll be careful! I'm always careful! Besides, now I have something really worth coming home to. Er...not that M'Ma isn't great and all..."
Giggling, Corrine turned to face her boyfriend and gave him a quick kiss. "Thanks. It would really mean a lot to me. I'm...scared of losing someone else I love."
He knew his first instinct should have been to ask her who she had lost, but Fenton zeroed in on the 'love' word and exclaimed, "Did you just say you love me?"
Corrine's expression turned very serious. "Yeah, I guess I did. And believe me when I say that I don't use that word very often."
And then Fenton was kissing her with renewed fervor, and Corrine put any sad thoughts she'd had aside.
"Fenton, I want to meet this girl!" Mrs. Crackshell demanded, but not so much that she felt the need to get up off the couch. After all, her favorite episode of Pelican's Island was on!
Fenton looked around at the tattered dump of a trailer he shared with his mother and sighed.
"Wait," his mother continued, "Is this the blonde girl or a different one?"
"A different one," Fenton answered, trying to hide his annoyance. "Gandra broke up with me because of my busy work schedule, remember? You know, the whole secret identity thing I could never tell her?"
Mrs. Crackshell nodded absently. "Good, good, then I definitely want to meet the new one."
Fenton crossed his arms and tapped his foot impatiently. "Fine, but how about I treat the three of us to dinner out?"
"Why, Fenton! That sounds lovely! Now shush, the commercials are over..."
Fenton rolled his eyes and made a hasty retreat.
He found Corrine at McDuck's hangar, wearing dirty overalls and fiddling with some very dangerous looking circuitry.
"Hey, Corrine!" He called, causing her to smack her head soundly on an open panel.
"Fenton!" the pilot cried in annoyance, but then couldn't help but smile at his abashed expression.
"Sorry!" He said, running over and pulling her into a tight hug.
Corrine rubbed at the bump on her head while Fenton excitedly exclaimed, "I have some good news! I'm taking you out to dinner tonight!"
Corrine smiled. "Thanks, Fenton. But what's the occasion?"
"Oh, you know," he suddenly seemed less excited. "It's just that my mother wants to meet you."
"She does?" Corrine was quite a bit more excited than Fenton was at the prospect.
"Yep! Can you meet us tonight around 7:00 at The Golden Ducky?"
Corrine pictured the little family restaurant in her mind and nodded, a smile lighting her face.
"Great, see you then!" Fenton gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head where she had bumped it, and wandered off to McDuck's mansion.
Corrine shook her head and got back to work, still smiling.
"Where could she be?" Fenton had gone from mildly annoyed to extremely worried as the clock ticked from 7:30 to 8:00 with no sign of Corrine.
"I guess she didn't really want to meet your dear mother," Mrs. Crackshell said as she munched absently on a dinner roll.
"No, that's not it," Fenton mumbled, "This isn't like her at all! Something must have happened."
It was then that Webra Walters appeared on the television mounted behind the nearby bar and made an announcement that made Fenton's blood run cold.
"Webwa Walters weporting in from Duckburg Bay where there seems to be a hostage situation taking place at this vewy moment!"
The camera cut from the reporter to a small form dangling from the bridge that connected Duckburg to the island city of St. Canard. The form was wrapped tightly in a series of ropes, and Fenton could see long black hair being whipped around in a strong wind.
Fenton gulped and turned to his mother.
"I have to go, M'Ma. I just found Corrine."
"Prepare to get your ass kicked, you damned dirty dog!" Corrine snapped as loudly as she could at her tormentor. "Because if Gizmoduck doesn't kill you this time, I sure as hell will!"
The large dog bent down over the side of the bridge to bring his snout slightly closer to his captive. "That's the idea, love. Except when Gizmoduck comes for you, it'll be me who kills him. If he didn't want this to happen, he should have finished us off back in the jungle."
Of course the bushman who had decided to come for revenge had to have been the meanest of the bunch. He had taken Corrine by surprise, getting the drop on her as she left work to meet Fenton and his mother for dinner.
When she'd opened her eyes, she'd nearly thrown up her lunch. As a pilot, she had no problem with heights...but water was another issue altogether. Water wasn't Corrine's favorite thing, especially since she'd never learned to swim and tended to sink like a rock. She couldn't help it, she just tensed up, and down she went! So to wake up dangling precariously over Duckburg Bay was very low on her list of things to do.
Corrine had another string of profanities ready to sling at the dog, but was cut off by a chill running through her from the high winds.
The sun had almost disappeared over the horizon when Corrine heard what sounded like a helicopter, and then a bright spotlight suddenly focused straight on her.
"Young lady!" Gizmoduck bellowed. Corrine tried not to smile, but it was hard. Fenton was such a ham in a can! "I shall thwart this villain swiftly and be with you momentarily!"
Gizmoduck flew over to Corrine's captor, and she could only imagine what was happening by the sounds being made above her.
"You came for the little bitch, just like I thought you would," the bushman said, enraging Gizmoduck.
"I don't know who you think you are," said Gizmoduck as he circled around the villain, "But if you keep talking like that, I can assure you that you'll be leaving Duckburg in pieces."
"Oh? You think so?" The dog reached into his filthy jacket and pulled out the biggest yellow diamond ever unearthed.
"They say this diamond is cursed, but the curse gives me power. That's why I survived in the jungle."
"Ridiculous," Gizmoduck muttered, but he found he couldn't take his eyes off the huge diamond.
"It's not ridiculous, not when you've seen the things I've seen. By the way, my name is Rex Grills. I want you to know this since I'm going to kill you."
Gizmoduck smirked. "Nice to meet you, Rex. Such a shame that it'll be a very short lived meeting."
After that, Corrine strained to hear what was going on, but the yelling and explosions mixed together. She couldn't tell if Fenton was winning or losing.
"Gizmoduck!" Corrine tried to scream over the din, but her voice disappeared into the wind like confetti during a typhoon.
Some flashes of light blinded the pilot as she tried to look above her head at the scene taking place, and then she suddenly saw a huge yellow diamond plunging past her into the murky waters of the bay, and then her ropes loosened and she was soon following it.
It happened so quickly that she barely had time to process it.
While Gizmoduck and the bushman battled on, something must have loosened her restraints from the bridge's base. As she fell, she knew Gizmoduck was too busy fighting to notice her absence.
With barely a scream, Corrine plummeted into the freezing waters below.
She had never been unconscious so many times in her entire life.
When Corrine awoke from her plummet into Duckburg Bay, it was to the worried faces of Scrooge McDuck, Fenton Crackshell, and an older female duck with her blonde hair in curlers. Corrine surmised she was Fenton's mother.
"You certainly have a knack for getting into trouble," was the first thing Scrooge said. Corrine moaned.
"Um, Corrine, I'm sorry I let you fall into the Bay," Fenton said, not looking her in the eyes. "I should have been paying more attention, but I swear that man will never bother you again..."
"It's okay," Corrine said. Her voice was very hoarse. "I wouldn't have been able to swim, even if my arms hadn't been tied."
No one had a response to that. Somehow, it made them all feel even worse.
"Hi, I'm Fenton's mother," said Mrs. Crackshell, unhelpfully.
"Nice to meet you," Corrine said, forcing a small smile.
"Everyone out, I need to speak to the lass privately," Scrooge announced, then proceeded to shoo the Crackshells out of the room. Corrine could hear Fenton's protests from the hallway.
"What is it, Mr. McDuck?" Corrine asked, nervously.
"I have a hangar in St. Canard with a couple of small private planes. I tend use whatever vendor is cheapest at the time, and hire pilots on an as-needed basis to fly my smaller cargo. I want you there, instead. You can work on stand-by for me."
"Wait, what?" Corrine was taken aback. "I get kidnapped and fall off a bridge and now you want me to go work in St. Canard? Sir, I'm sure nothing like this will ever happen again..."
Scrooge interrupted her gruffly, "Corrine. I dunna think this life is for you. You might be safer and better off elsewhere."
"It's not that far. I'm sure you can see each other on weekends. Besides, I doubt you've thought of the consequences of being around him so much. You think of him as Fenton Crackshell, but he's also Gizmoduck, and Gizmoduck has enemies."
Corrine knew her beak was hanging open in shock, but she couldn't bring herself to close it just yet.
Finally, Corrine managed to say, "Why not just have Launchpad work at your hangar? He already lives in St. Canard."
"Aye, but he has his own...things...going on over there now. He doesn't owe me anything."
"Can I think about it for a bit and get back to you?" Corrine's eyes pleaded for Scrooge to at least give her time.
"Of course," he conceded, then walked to the door to let Fenton back in and remove himself from the argument he knew was surely about to ensue.
"How could you even consider it?" Fenton's voice had taken on a whiny quality, and Corrine frowned.
"Because it's my life. I love flying, but apparently I'm a walking disaster. So maybe I'd be better off."
"So that's it?" Fenton said, his voice changed from whiny to steely. "You're just going to let Mr. McDuck dictate what you do?"
Corrine rolled her eyes, exasperated. "Of course not! But he made me an offer, and it's my choice whether I want to consider it or not! Fenton, think about it! We have been on a total of ONE adventure and already some whack-job with an obsession stalked me down and kidnapped me to get back at you. I can only imagine what could happen on future adventures with even crazier enemies. Not to mention, tons of people want a piece of Mr. McDuck, too. I wish I was a braver person, but I'm not that kind of girl. I just want to fly planes and see the world. I would prefer to do all that with someone I love, but not if it'll get me killed. "
"Corrine," Fenton said, his voice low and calm, "The reason I do what I do is because I want to make a difference. I want to help people. You can be a part of all that!"
Corrine said nothing for a moment, then looked up at Fenton with her eyes full of tears.
"Would you give it all up? Could you give it all up?"
Fenton was silent for a long time. Corrine finally cracked a smile and said, "I didn't think so. Fenton, I can't lose you to some criminal. And I don't want to die before my 26th birthday. There are some things you can never take back."
Quietly, Fenton voiced the question that had plagued him. "What are you so afraid of?"
Setting her jaw and looking him straight in the eyes, Corrine said, "I lost my brother in a work-related accident. He was a firefighter, like most of my family. He was on a call, fighting a blaze for a good hour when things finally started to turn around and the fire was almost out. Then, all of a sudden a piece of the gutter filled to the brim with debris swooped down and crushed him again the side of the house. He probably didn't even feel it."
Fenton looked at Corrine for a long time; trying not to let the pity he felt show on his face.
"I won't end up like your brother," he finally said. "And I won't allow you to, either."
Shaking her head, Corrine whispered. "You don't know that. I won't go through that pain again. I have to protect myself. My brother once told me that sometimes you have to be selfish while you're still young, and it's okay."
"Fine," Fenton said, sounding resigned. "I understand. But someday you'll have to let yourself love again. And when you do, I'll be there."
Then, without another word, Fenton turned and left the room. His head hung low and his eyes focused on the floor.
Corrine watched him go, then closed her eyes and whispered, "Goodbye." Then she let the tears finally fall.
"St. Canard's resident hero, Darkwing Duck, seems to have teamed up once again with Duckburg's Gizmoduck! This is Tom Lockjaw reporting from..."
At the sound of the name Gizmoduck, the 29-year-old waitress with long black hair nearly broke the glass she was cleaning.
"Gertrude," Corrine said, her demeanor different than what her regular customers were used to, "Could you please turn off that tripe? I don't want to hear it."
"But Corrine!" Gertrude, her gossipy middle-aged friend exclaimed, "You know how I love to hear about those vigilante heroes! Oh, they're so sexy!"
Corrine did break the glass then, and stormed out of the room.
"Geez," Gertrude said to no one in particular. "Who pissed in her Banana Bran Flakes?"
Her shift was over anyway, so Corrine QuackIntyre made her way out of the back door of the small diner she had worked at for the past several years. After that damned Scrooge McDuck had neglected to use her services for several months, the grounded pilot had taken to waiting tables to make ends meet.
The walk back to her apartment was familiar and helped to calm her down. It had been almost four years since she'd left Duckburg behind, yet she still found it difficult at times to let go of...certain things. Like a sweet and sappy accountant who sometimes flew around in a big metal suit fighting bad guys, and who had once loved her.
But with the familiar busy city all around her, the young woman found it was easier to fight off the loneliness.
Unfortunately, her calm was once again shattered as she passed by an electronics store with several TVs playing in the front window.
"...The fisherman will not be keeping the large yellow diamond, however he will be receiving a finder's fee as the diamond, once thought lost forever, is transported to the St. Canard Museum of Antiquities for study. Once again, this is Tom Lockjaw reporting from Audubon Bay, where a large and ancient yellow diamond has been pulled from the water..."
Corrine stood still as a statue, staring blankly into the store window.
"Oh, shit," she finally said.
No one was around to hear.
"Seriously, Wingy, you should let me handle the diamond situation," Gizmoduck repeated for the dozenth time.
"I said you can come along, but if you think I'm going to leave you alone to protect that thing then you're more stupid than you look!"
"Hey!" Gizmoduck began, but was interrupted by the museum curator.
"Good evening, gentleman," the elderly duck greeted, pushing his thick glasses further up on his beak.
"Yeah, hi," said Darkwing, briskly walking past the curator to get a better look at the yellow diamond.
"So this is the thing causing all the fuss, huh?" Darkwing leaned closer to the glass display case, but was roughly pulled back by his cape.
"Be careful!" Gizmoduck hissed. "That thing makes people crazy!"
Shooting Gizmoduck a baleful glance, Darkwing muttered under his breath, "That would explain a few things..."
Gizmoduck opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by an unexpected visitor.
"Hey," came a soft female voice from behind them.
Darkwing turned around and considered the young woman for a few moments. On the petite side, long hair, feminine, dressed in a waitress uniform. Not a threat.
"Sorry, miss," Darkwing began, "The diamond isn't ready for viewing yet and the museum is closing..."
"I'm not here to see the diamond. Well, I wanted to make sure it was safely locked behind glass. But I came to see this talking display case over here," the girl said, sticking out her thumb in Gizmoduck's direction and smiling.
Darkwing's eyebrow winged up and he suppressed a chuckle.
"Hello, Corrine," came Gizmoduck's voice. He hadn't turned around to face the woman, but seemed to be staring at the diamond as he spoke.
"Hi," She said, her smile faltering the slightest bit. "It's been a while."
Darkwing looked between the woman and Gizmoduck a couple of times and then shrugged. "You know, honestly, I don't want to know. I'll be over here...uh...patrolling."
He walked out of earshot and Gizmoduck finally turned to face Corrine.
"What are you doing here?" He asked in a hushed voice that sounded a lot more like Fenton than Gizmoduck.
"I saw it on the news. About the diamond. I was...worried."
Then every light in the museum went out.
From the other side of the museum, Corrine and Gizmoduck could hear Darkwing yell, "Geez, the nerve of these criminals to try and steal a giant diamond while Darkwing Duck is protecting it!"
"Corrine, get out of here! It could be dangerous!" Gizmoduck ordered and then spun around, kicking his motor into high gear so that he could investigate other areas of the museum.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Corrine muttered, "Yep, always second fiddle to some criminals. The more things change, the more they stay the same."
As Corrine walked out of the museum, something up on the dome roof caught her eye. There was someone moving around up there, and from the yellow of the strangers clothes she knew it was not Gizmoduck or Darkwing.
"Curiouser and curiouser," she whispered to herself and headed around the back of the building to get a better look.
"Listen, Darkwing, I think we should check the back," Gizmoduck attempted to persuade the stubborn sleuth, but to no avail.
"And I think you should just leave the thinking to me!" Darkwing snapped.
"Now listen here..."Gizmoduck began to fall into the familiar bickering he was used to with Darkwing, but then thought better of it.
"Never mind," he said and headed for the back door of the building. "I'll go check the back, you check wherever you want."
"Suit yourself!" Darkwing called over his shoulder, already on his way back to the atrium where the diamond was being stored.
As St. Canard's hero stepped into the large circular room, the full moon illuminating it almost as if the lights were still on, he noticed that the glass dome roof also managed to cast strange shadows on the marble floor of the room. Strange rat-shaped shadows.
Looking up, Darkwing saw Megavolt preparing to smash in the roof.
"STOP RIGHT THERE!" Corrine screamed at the would-be thief in what she hoped was a very threatening voice.
"And who are you?" Megavolt asked, looking up with some interest. He noticed her uniform and laughed, "The Winged Waitress?"
Roaring with laughter at his own joke, Megavolt fell onto his side in conniptions.
Corrine looked at the criminal, askance. Were all villains like this? If so, she would have to give Fenton a hard time about making the superhero thing seem like a big deal.
"My outfit aside, just what do you think you're doing?" She yelled at Megavolt, knowing that villains always loved to announce their schemes.
"Oh, I'm gonna steal that big diamond and give it to the old duck who hired me to...uh...steal it!"
Corrine blinked at the battery-charged villain and then said, "Well...I won't let you!"
His question caught Corrine off guard. Which is exactly why she never wanted to get involved in this stuff to begin with!
"Well...because...stealing is wrong."
Megavolt laughed some more and then turned his back to the girl.
As he continued to chip away at the glass roof, Corrine pondered what her next move should be. As it turned out, she didn't have to ponder for long.
"HALT, VILLAIN!" Came the voice of Gizmoduck and the sound of his propeller.
"Finally!" Corrine said to herself.
Surprised, Megavolt lost his footing and began to fall backwards into the glass dome.
"Whoa there!" Corrine exclaimed and instinctively reached out to stop the descent of the jumpsuit clad rat-thing. Unfortunately, with the battery on his back weighing him down more than usual, and with the momentum of tripping, Megavolt fell through the glass despite Corrine's best efforts, taking her with him.
With a scream of surprise, Corrine found herself plummeting toward the cold marble floor of the museum.
She heard her name being yelled by Gizmoduck, but it did her little good. He didn't have enough space to follow her through the hole Megavolt had created.
Preparing herself for possible death or at least many broken bones, Corrine tensed. The impact she was expecting, however, never came. Something had broken her fall.
"What the hell?" She murmured, then pulled a large gray fedora out from under her butt.
Jumping to her feet, Corrine grabbed Darkwing Duck by an arm and hauled him up. "I'm so sorry about that!" she apologized profusely. "I didn't mean for your back to break my fall!"
"My pleasure, ma'am," Darkwing mumbled, limping away.
Wheeling himself through the front door of the museum like a semi-normal person, Gizmoduck hollered across the room, "Corrine, are you all right?"
"Is SHE all right?" Yelled Darkwing as he hefted an unconscious Megavolt up off the ground. "You should be asking if I'm all right! I was the one used as an airbag!"
"Well, you ARE full of hot air," snapped Gizmoduck.
Corrine let out a melodramatic sigh and quipped, "The world's greatest bromance."
Then she decided, due to their Death Glares, to keep her beak shut. Apparently they were too tense for some good-natured teasing!
"I wonder what Megavolt of all people would want with a giant yellow diamond?" Darkwing pondered out loud. "He's usually only interested in light bulbs and electronics."
"Oh, I can answer that!" Corrine offered. "Up on the roof he told me some old duck hired him to steal it."
Darking place his thumb and forefinger under his beak in thought and muttered, "Hmmm...an old duck with money to burn and a penchant for rare gems."
"That could be anyone!" said Gizmoduck.
"Kind of reminds me of Mr. McDuck," Corrine said, off-handedly.
"Say," said Darkwing, "That's not a bad idea! Giz, what would that old coot do to get this diamond back? Wasn't it his excavation that originally unearthed it?"
Gizmoduck stiffened with indignation. "Mr. McDuck would NEVER involve himself with villains! He has enough money and clout to get the gem back some other LEGAL way!"
Corrine had subconsciously stiffened up at the mention of the excavation that had unearthed the rare stone, but she snapped out of it long enough to nod in agreement. "Yeah, McDuck is a good guy! I was just thinking out loud!" She paused for a moment, finally taking Darkwing Duck into consideration. She'd never so much as seen a decent picture of him before, and now she was talking with the mysterious vigilante. Out of the corner of her eye, she also took in the recognizable silhouette of the Gizmosuit. It suddenly struck her as funny that she was standing there with two costumed heroes, one she happened to know intimately, discussing serious issues of thievery and conspiracy while still dressed in her uniform from the diner.
No use trying to stop the freight train of fate, as it were.
Corrine stuck out her right hand toward Darkwing Duck and politely said, "Hi, by the way, I'm Corrine QuackIntyre. Sorry to stick my beak into your business like this. I came to say hi to Gizmoduck, that's all. We're old friends from Duckburg."
Darkwing shook the young woman's hand and smiled politely. He obviously bought her little white lie. Hell, she almost bought it, herself!
"Nice to meet you, Corrine," the masked crimefighter said, distractedly. "I think you may have been on the right track with that McDuck thing, so let's get back to the case at hand. Can you think of any other rich old ducks who might be interested in this supposedly cursed diamond?"
Corrine shook her head, "I wasn't really around Mr. McDuck enough to learn of any others he might know, and I don't keep up with business magazines."
"Wait," Gizmoduck piped in. "I remember Mr. McDuck mentioning an enemy of his. A rival, of sorts. The second richest duck in the world. Oh, if only I could remember his name..."
Darkwing and Corrine stared awkwardly at Gizmoduck as he wracked his brain for the name.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the cybernetic hero exclaimed, "I remember! The name is Glomgold! Flintheart Glomgold!"
TO BE CONTINUED...