Disclaimer: Planet of the Apes is owned by 20th Century Fox, Pierre Boulle and anyone else who owns the rights.
With a Little Help From My Friends.
Sergeant Ewald, whom physically resembled his predecessor, Zon, galloped furiously to the house of Dorian. Previously, that morning, Claudette, Dorian's fiancée, had come to the garrison screaming hysterically that someone had shot Dorian dead. When Ewald entered the home, he found the young chimpanzee sprawled out on the parlor floor, his head surrounded by a pool of blood. Dorian had been shot at point-blank range.
"I'm positive he knew who the killer was, because it looked like he invited the perpetrator inside. I searched the house, and there's no sign of a struggle, sir," Ewald later reported. "Nothing was missing. Even the money tin on Dorian's bedside table was left untouched. Whoever did this just killed him for no reason at all!"
"No, I'm sure somebody wanted him dead! But, who, and why?" Perdix's brow furrowed in determination. "I want you to question Claudette, and all of Dorian's surviving family members," he ordered. "See if you can find out anything."
"Yes, sir," the deputy nodded, then left to carry out his assignment.
Clip, clop, clip, clop went the steady unison beat of Minka and Hedy's hooves. Gentza hummed a lively tune along with the rhythm. His musical droning formed into words: "Apple Aunni, Apple Aunni. My apple dapple doo. Apple Aunni, Apple Aunni, my double bubble brew. Apple Aunni, Apple Aun-"
"Gentza, please!" Aunni cut in, pleading. "Do you have to torture me?"
"Torture you?" asked Gentza in mock offense. "I thought you liked my singing!"
"I do!" Aunni cried. "I love your singing, Gentza! It's just that I hate that song!"
Gentza chuckled. Before he could respond, he spotted a mounted patrol rapidly approaching in the opposite direction. He and Aunni quickly moved to the side, yielding the road to the speeding group. Instead of passing by, the soldiers slowed down, then swiftly surrounded the odd couple. Their leader, an unpleasant, menacing-looking sergeant, paralleled his horse next to Minka.
"Stop!" the sergeant ordered with a raised hand. "Stop right where you are!" His frown bowed into a faux smile. "Well, if it isn't the Great Dr. Gentza!" he scoffed. "World Renowned Physician of the Lower Species!"
"Ah, Vinson!" Gentza spoke the ape's name in an equally contemptuous tone. "Urko's favorite lackey! After twenty years, I see you've finally made it to the rank of sergeant!"
"Shut up, you disgrace of a gorilla!" Vinson barked angrily. "You're under arrest!"
"Arrest? For what?" Gentza demanded.
"You know what for!" Vinson growled. "It's against the law for humans to be riding horses!"
"She's not riding a horse!" Gentza firmly declared. "She's riding a mule, and the law says nothing about humans riding mules! I know, because I've actually read the laws!"
Vinson laughed derisively. "And you think that makes you very smart and clever, doesn't it?" he sneered. "Reading through the laws and finding the perfect loophole, so you can out smart the authorities! Well, you're seriously mistaken, Doctor! A mule is an animal that's half-horse, half-jackass, so you're still under arrest! On second thought, since the girl is only riding half a horse, I'll just arrest half of you, and take the girl into custody instead! As for you," he gestured at the road, "you're free to go on your way. If I catch you breaking the law again, next time I won't be so generous and let you off with a warning! Is that understood?"
"You can't arrest us! We've broken no laws!" Gentza protested. He sat haughtily in his saddle. "We are on an important assignment for the High Council," he said arrogantly, "and Councilor Zaius, himself, authorized Aunni to ride a mule, under my complete supervision!" He shot Vinson a warning look. "So I'd suggest you release us at once; unless you wish to have charges of interfering with official government business, and false arrest added to your record! Is that understood, Sergeant?"
The sergeant, on the other hand, would not be so easily intimidated. "How do I know you're telling the truth?" he challenged. "If you are on official government business, where are your special papers?"
"Right here!" Gentza said impatiently. His paw disappeared deep within his cloak, only to resurface seconds later. "Here's a copy of the letter of intent from Councilor Zaius!" He thrust the scroll at the commanding officer.
Vinson unfurled the paper and glanced at it with a critical eye. "Can you prove this letter really came from Zaius?" he asked skeptically. "For all I know, this document could be a fake!"
It is real, you boneheaded moron! Gentza thought furiously. "If you don't believe the letter's authenticity, why don't you confirm this with Zaius?" he sarcastically suggested. "Better yet, why don't you confirm this with Urko? He's also on the High Council! He was there when Zaius assigned me the title of Human Head Counter!"
"Yes, I'll certainly confirm this with Urko!" Vinson retorted, shoving the paper into his pocket. "I'll just confirm this with him right now. Until this matter is cleared up, you'll both be taken into custody! Let's go!" He drew his gun and waved it at them. "Move! Now!"
Vanka, Kagen's replacement, stood gleefully outside of Urko's tent. Kagen remained in Central City, to recover from the injuries he had sustained during the race against Prefect Mikko's horse. Urko's horse had suffered a minor leg injury, as well. Although the horse would be back to running races again, unfortunately, he would not be healed in time for the big contest against Quando. Urko left the process of selecting Tusan's replacement entirely up to Vanka. The ape jockey had scoured through Urko's stables and chose Daggrah, a spirited dark-gray stallion that Urko had "won" from a prefect in a previous race.
In Kagen's absence, Vanka was also charged with the important task of finding and training a human jockey for the big upcoming race. So far, the gorilla-a champion rider in his own right-had been unsuccessful in finding the right candidate. All of the prospective riders were either too young, too old, too tall, too weak, or for various reasons, unable to ride at all. After three days of searching, Urko's jockey was finally found! As he waited for permission to enter Urko's tent and report the good news, Vanka heard the Chief of Security's loud resonating voice brutally berating a subordinate.
"You incompetent idiot!" bellowed Urko. "Of course, that letter is authentic! Unfortunately, Zaius and the Council gave Gentza permission for his pet human to ride a mule! And there's nothing we can do about it! Just like Zaius and the Council tied my hands with Perdix's hairless-monkey! Damn fools! Before you know it, every hairless-monkey on the planet will be gallivanting all over creation on horseback!"
"But, sir! I didn't know about his special mission!" the hapless victim whimpered. Vanka instantly recognized Vinson, Urko's trusted aide. "I'm sorry, sir! I'll have them both released at once!"
"Yes, you do that," Urko hollered, "before that animal quack has a chance to make good on his threat!"
At this, Vanka's ears perked in alarm. He signaled the guard that his business had turned urgent. When the lookout automatically pulled aside the flap, the ape jockey rushed inside and quickly interjected, "Please, sir! Don't release them just yet!" When Urko's furious eyes turned upon him, he hurriedly explained, "Forgive me, Chief Urko, sir! I couldn't help but overhear that Vinson was planning to release those two prisoners he just brought in. I don't mean to sound insolent, sir, but Vinson deserves to be commended, not chastised!" He now had both Urko and Vinson's full attention. Both apes waited to hear what he had to say next. "Vinson has found your human jockey, sir!" Vanka announced with pleasure.
Vinson's brow rose in surprise, while Urko's wrath-filled face slowly melted into silent pondering.
"You can't be serious! A female human jockey?" Urko finally sputtered. "That mangy marmoset is going to ride my horse? Are you insane? What were you thinking? Don't you know human females are weak in mind, body and spirit? The first time she falls from Daggrah, she'll break every bone in her body! Then what good will she be?"
The expert equestrian stood quietly-deeply hurt that Urko would question his judgment! "But, sir, she's perfect!" Vanka insisted. "Yes, she maybe be female, but she's smaller and lighter than that human Perdix has riding for him! And besides," he paused to emphasize his next point, "she already has riding experience, so I may not have to train her for the race! Please, sir, let's give her a chance!" Vanka appealed with his unflinching stare. "If she doesn't work out, I'll find another human in time for the race."
A crafty grin played on Urko's muzzle. "Yes," he mused. "I may be able to turn this to my advantage! Vinson, Vanka!" he called, motioning the two gorillas closer. "I want to keep the girl's identity a secret for the time being. Let's have a little fun with Perdix, shall we?" he slyly snickered. "He doesn't know who my human jockey is, and it's driving him crazy! That fool actually thinks Virdon is riding my horse! Can you believe that?"
"Virdon?" laughed Vanka. "Why would he think that? Where would he get such an insane idea?"
"I don't know, and I really don't care!" Urko giggled with an indifferent shrug. "Imagine his surprise when he finds out my human jockey is Gentza's hairless-monkey!" A cunning chuckle burst from the simian commander, to which his two underlings joined in. After expressing his approval, Urko dismissed Vanka, then ordered Vinson to bring him the eccentric veterinarian and his human sidekick.
Quando waited impatiently as Nicky removed the bag of mail from his back, and pass it to one of the guards at the northern outpost. The surly gorilla snatched the sack and roughly flung it over his shoulder. Nicky saluted the simian soldier and the ape sneered in reply.
"Get out of here!" he growled at the lad.
With a loud whinny, Quando began pawing his rider with an anxious hoof. Nicky annoyingly caught the animal's foot in mid-air. "Stop it!" he hissed warningly.
The horse's antics caused a small smile to form briefly on the guard's face, then quickly dissipated with a loud harrumph. With an exaggerated wave, he loudly barked, "And take that damn ugly nag with you!"
"Y-yes, sir!" Nicky bowed in wide-eyed fear. He quickly slung upon Quando's back. As the spotted horse whisked him away into the colorful autumn mid-morning, hilarious laughter with coarse comments burst from the mail-carrying primate and his fellow troopers.
Nicky slowed Quando down to a trot to conserve his mount's energy, in case they had another run to make. The two were enjoying their unhurried return back to the garrison, when Nicky spotted a black rider-less horse standing alongside the country road, calmly grazing. He pulled Quando beside the horse and dismounted. Nicky took hold of the reins and glanced about, wondering how and why the abandoned horse ended up there. Nearby, he saw the horse's owner, a police gorilla, lying on his side, as if he were napping.
"S-sir?" called Nicky as he led both horses off the road. "Sir, I found…your horse…by the side of the…road." He slowly approached the still ape. "Sir, I-I was…afraid he w-would run off, so I-I-" The boy noticed the ape had not moved at all. "Sir, a-are you all r-right? Sir? S-sir?" Nicky dropped the reins and cautiously crept toward the ape. He frowned in puzzlement at the swirling dark cloud hovering over the body. Yelping in surprise, Nicky frantically shooed the swarming flies away. Kneeling beside the ape, he tentatively touched the simian's shoulder. A rancid smell reeked from the rigid body. Then Nicky fearfully forced himself to look upon the police officer's face, which was shrouded in a mask of dried blood. The kid averted his eyes to stifle his churning stomach. "P-P-Perdix!" he managed to scream as he recoiled away from the corpse. He leaped on Quando's back, and the two made a mad dash for Thalassa.
As Vinson escorted Gentza and Aunni inside Urko's tent, the Chief of Security sat behind his desk in greasy satisfaction.
"Ah, Gentza! Sit down!" Urko oozed. "What a pleasure to see you again!"
Gentza crossed his arms and cut to the quick. "If you were that eager to see me again, why didn't you just send me an invitation, instead of having your over-zealous sergeant haul me in?" He shot Urko a wary look. "Why did you have us brought in? You knew about my assignment! You were there when Zaius gave Aunni permission to ride a mule!"
"It seems that Vinson was completely misinformed about any of this," Urko replied flatly, "and for that, I deeply apologize. You're free to go, but…before you leave…I have a proposition for your human."
Gentza raised a suspicious brow. "A proposition? For Aunni?"
"For me, sir?" Aunni piped up curiously.
"Yes, you," Urko nodded at the girl. "You know about the big race that's coming up, don't you? Well, it seems that up until now, Vanka was unable to find the right human to ride my horse. When he saw Vinson bringing you in, he told me you were the perfect choice! And now that I've seen you myself, I couldn't agree with him more!" An alluring grin tugged on Urko's muzzle. "Imagine how famous you'll be! One of the few humans ever allowed to ride a horse! You'll start training under Vanka right away. What do you say, girl? Will you ride my horse?"
Aunni almost leaped from her seat. "Yes, sir! I'll do it!"
"No, you're not!" Gentza quickly countered. "You're not riding Urko's horse!" He turned to Urko and reiterated, "I'm sorry, sir, but she's not riding your horse! I forbid this!"
"Did you hear that, Vinson?" Urko sardonically asked the sergeant standing at his side. "He forbids this!" He frowned sourly at Gentza. "Yes, you forbid her to ride my horse, but you let her ride that flop-eared half-breed!"
"How is that different? They both have four legs and you can ride on both of them!"
"Yes, but Aunni's not racing madly around the countryside on Hedy!"
"But, Gentza," whined Aunni. "Chief Urko said I could ride his horse! Why can't I?"
"Because racing is a dangerous sport, Aunni!" Gentza immediately drove home his point. "Apes and horses have been seriously injured, even killed! Racing is not a sport for children, and it's certainly not a sport for females!"
Aunni cast her guardian a protesting look. "Is that why you don't want me to ride? Because I'm a girl?" she argued. "If it's so dangerous, why is Perdix letting Nicky ride? Isn't Nicky a child, too? If Nicky can ride a horse, so can I! I can ride a horse just as good as he, or any boy, can!"
"Aunni, I'm sure you're as good a rider as Nicky!" Gentza answered patiently. "I don't doubt that! If the situation were different, yes, I'm sure I'd let you ride! But I don't want you riding for Urko, because Urko is only using you! He doesn't care about you!" He turned his solid reproachful stare upon Urko. "All he really cares about is winning this race," he said bluntly, "and he'll use any means necessary to do it!"
The Chief of Security answered with cold, steely eyes that were just as obdurate. "You'd better watch what you say, Gentza!" he warned. "If you're implying what I think you're implying, you'd better have solid proof to back it up! My horse mostly wins because he's simply the better horse! He's stronger and faster!"
"Well, I'm sure he is," Gentza smoothly returned, "with the help of few questionable 'advantages'!"
Urko leaned dangerously across his desk, growling, "You want to know what happened to the last ape who became insolent with me?"
"I'm sure you had him publicly shot to make an example out of him!" the ape doctor evenly replied. He shook his head and sighed in acquiesce. "Look, Urko, I really don't give a damn about racing! If you want to cheat to win races, fine, that's your business! I don't care! But I will not have that child risking her life for your shady little farce! Find someone else to ride your horse!" He stood up and motioned the girl to do the same. "Come, Aunni, we're leaving!"
"You are not riding Urko's horse and that's final! We are leaving, Aunni! Now!"
Urko nodded to Vinson, who quickly positioned himself, blocking Gentza and Aunni's exit. "I don't think so!" the gorilla commander declared. "You see, my proposition was with the girl, not you! Since the girl accepted, she obligated to fulfill her end of the bargain. Of course, you're free to go, but she's not! Not until after race!"
"But the girl is a minor, and by law she's not bound to such an obligation!" Gentza firmly answered. "And as her guardian, again, I forbid her to participate in this race!"
"Her guardian?" sneered Urko. "Are you serious? Do you realize I could have you arrested for illegally processing a human?" Urko leaned haughtily back in his chair. "According to my investigation, you are not, nor have you ever been that human's legal guardian!"
Gentza was indignant. "Of course, I am! What are you talking about?"
"You mean you don't remember?" Urko prodded. "You should! After you disobeyed Captain Kimetz and took the girl with you, did you ever file an ownership claim on her? You may have rescued her, but legally she's still black market merchandise."
At this unexpected realization, Gentza's spirit and body sank wearily in his chair. "No. No, I didn't," he meekly admitted. "I-I've been so busy…with veterinarian school and all…I…completely forgot about that!" His eyes quickly met Urko's. "But I promise, as soon as I return to Central City, I'll have ownership papers drawn up right away!"
Urko smiled condescendingly. "That's good to hear, but by then it could be too late. Your negligence could cost you dearly. If you're lucky, you might just get off with a heavy fine."
"I'll pay the fine," Gentza vowed, "no matter how much it is!"
"Or the girl could be taken away from you," Urko gladly informed him. "Or both! And then there's the third alternative…" he paused dramatically. "Imprisonment!"
Horror displayed on Gentza's face. "Imprisonment?" he cried. "But Aunni's been with me for nine years! The heavy fine I could understand, but why would she be taken away from me now? And why bother to throw me in prison?" He gazed imploringly at his former commander. "What about the statute of limitations?" he queried hopefully. "Aren't they expired?"
Aunni clutched Gentza worriedly. "Gentza, what's he talking about? Are you going to prison? Are they going to take me away from you? I don't want to be taken away from you! I want to stay with you!" she babbled on the brink of tears. "Please, don't let them take me away from you! If you go to prison, I'm going with you!"
Despite his fear, Gentza forced a smile. "I'm not going to prison, Aunni!" He laid his palm against the girl's cheek, attempting to reassure her. "And nobody's going to take you away from me, either!" he promised. "Not without a fight, they won't!"
"Well, it looks like you're going to be in for one, Doctor!" Urko said ominously. "The statute of limitations is valid for ten years, and you've just stated you've had the girl for nine." He rested his chin on his interlaced fingers, clearly pleased with the awful dilemma he had put the doctor in. And he relished the thought that he would be the only one who could fish him out! "I'll tell you what," Urko said in a friendlier tone of voice, "if the girl rides my horse, I'll forget all about the illegal possession charge. I'll even have the ownership papers drawn up myself." When Gentza did not reply right away, he asked, "Well, Doctor? What's it going to be?"
"I guess I don't have much choice in the matter, do I?" Gentza replied in quiet defeat. "All right, Urko. Aunni can ride your horse."
"I can ride?" Aunni squealed delightfully. "Thank you, sir! Thank you! I'll be careful, sir, I promise!" She gratefully hugged Gentza. "Thank you, Chief Urko, sir! Thank you!" she gushed eagerly. "I'll be the best jockey ever! I'll make you proud, sir! I'm going to win that race for you!"
"Oh, I know you will, my dear!" Urko exuded with a patronizing smile. "I know you will!"
"Now wait a minute, here!" Gentza interjected, his feistiness returning. "I said she could ride, but only if she trains under my supervision, and my supervision only!"
Urko laughed cynically. "You? Are you serious? You're going to train her? How? You know nothing about racing! You just said yourself you didn't give a damn about it!"
"And, I want Aunni to ride a clean, honest race!" Gentza continued firmly. "That means no tricks, no special advantages, and no interference! If your horse is as great as you say he is, then he and Aunni should have no trouble winning this race on their own!" He spread his palms in a conciliatory gesture. "Why use a sledgehammer to break open an egg, when a tiny crack is all you need?"
Urko chuckled mildly at Gentza's metaphor, but he had to admit-Gentza did have a point. He already owned Tusan, the world's fastest horse! In addition, Daggrah's opponent was nothing more than a lowly courier horse, so why waste the effort on a few extra compensations? This race was already as good as won! "All right, Gentza," he finally agreed. "As long as Vanka is satisfied with the results, I'll allow you to train the girl." A devious grin formed on his face-for he had one last ace to play… "And I promise I won't interfere with the race-in any way shape or form…that is…if you tell me everything I want to know about a certain forbidden medical book; which brings us right back on the subject of illegal possession!"
"Book?" asked Gentza naively. "What book?"
"Don't play innocent with me, Gentza!" Urko cautioned. "You know damn well what book! The book that was stolen from Zaius' private library three years ago! It's a medical book entitled, The Principles of Surgery by Dr. Walter Mather."
"Walter Mather?" asked Gentza with mild interest. "That's an unusual name for an ape."
"He's not an ape, Gentza!" bellowed Urko. "He's a human! A human who wrote that book thousands of years ago!"
Gentza laughed amusingly. "Are you mad? Humans don't write medical books!"
"Well, this one did!" Urko snarled, pounding his fist on the desk. "Three years ago, one of my patrols reported they shot one of the fugitive humans! He must have been seriously injured, because the other two had to have brought him to the hospital for help! What other reason would that book suddenly disappear from Zaius' house? Mighty strange coincidence, wouldn't you say?" Urko hunched over his desk, his gimlet eyes locked upon Gentza's face. "Which one of you has that book? You, Sanjay, or Leander?" he rumbled steadfastly. "Since you're the so-called human specialist, you're the most likely suspect! Do you know what the consequences are for possessing such a book? It means treason and death by execution!" And Urko savored the thought of personally pulling the trigger! His threadbare tolerance was about to snap! The sight of this human-loving ape-this corruption of his species-disgusted him more and more!
"I don't know what you're talking about," the simian vet predictably replied. "If this happened three years ago, I know nothing about it. I was still in veterinarian school at the time." He shook his head in disbelief. "And I certainly don't know anything about this fantasy book, you're ranting about! Honestly, Urko, you need a very long vacation!" Gentza gently told him with a sympathetic smile. "You've been working too hard! First, you're chasing humans from another world, now you're having hallucinations about them writing medical books!"
"Am I, Doctor?" Urko flared, rising from his seat. "When I'm holding that book in my hands, then we'll see who's hallucinating!" Reluctantly, he stemmed his temper, then casually sat back down. "Speaking of hallucinations," he asked slowly, as if questioning a child, "didn't you successfully transfer blood on three human patients within the past year?"
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"Because I could've sworn Leander had previously banned such procedures!" Urko's voice rose edgily. "I thought he declared the transferring of blood from one person to another, was against the laws of nature! Now you're suddenly making history with all of these successful blood transfers! How is that possible?"
"From studies and experimentations," Gentza simply answered.
"Really?" barked Urko. "You, a human-lover, were willing to sacrifice humans to advance ape medicine?"
"Yes…it was extremely heartbreaking…" Gentza said painfully, "but…it had to be done." He gazed downward and spoke in a revered voice. "What brave souls those humans were!" After collecting his composure, he humbly relayed, "But in the end, I'm happy to say, I've had more successes than failures!"
"Is that so?" Urko glared dubiously. "Somehow, this little story just doesn't sit quite right with me! It's strange how you've suddenly gained all this knowledge on human biology!" his voice growled hard with accusation. "Knowledge that would've normally taken years, even a lifetime of study and experimentation to discover! Unless you had a special book that provided you with all of this information!"
"I've already told you!" Gentza cried persistently. "I gained a lot of my knowledge through study and experimentation!"
"Speaking of books, is that how you were able to write that book on human anatomy?" Urko pressed reproachfully. "That had to be quite an undertaking! Your illustrator should be commended as well! Those drawings and diagrams were unlike any pictures that have ever been seen before! Zaius, especially, was quite impressed with your work-even though it's been plagiarized! He said your book-word for word-is the same as Dr. Walter Mather's book!" His eyes gleamed wickedly; like a predator, ready to deliver the fatal bite upon its cornered prey. "Now, are you finally going to tell me the truth about that book? Or do you want me to mention your forgetful mistake to Zaius? Are you willing to risk having your darling pet taken away from you? How about imprisonment? If you're in prison, who's going to take care of your precious hairless-monkeys?"
"Urko, I told you-!"
"I'm tired of playing games with you, Doctor!" Urko exploded, his patience at last spent. He pointed at Aunni, and ordered, "Vinson, take that mangy marmoset and lock her up! We'll take her back to Central City after the race. The sooner the doctor gets used to life without his precious pet, the better! Then tell Vanka I've changed my mind! Tell him that hairless-monkey you found was worthless after all, and to start looking for another one!"
"Yes, sir!" Vinson briskly replied with the utmost pleasure.
"Gentza!" shrieked Aunni. As Vinson's form loomed over her, Gentza's arms cocooned the girl protectively.
As the soldier reached out to snatch the young human, Gentza's hold tightened. "No!" he cried. "All right! All right! I'll tell you everything; just don't hurt her, please!" he begged. "Just leave her alone! Leave her alone, please!"
Urko beamed in total self-congratulation. "Smart move, Doctor! I knew with the right motivation, you'd finally come to your senses!" The smile faded. "Now, start talking!"
Later that evening, Virdon began working on Nicky's saddle, while Galen keenly watched. Fauna entered her room, then emerged moments later with a book in her hand. She twisted her head around the sitting area. "Pargo?" she called. "Would you do me a huge favor?"
Sitting by the fireplace, Burke's attention was deeply entrenched in one of the books owned by Fauna's father. When Burke did not answer, Virdon sauntered over and nudged Burke with his foot.
"Hey, Pargo!" Virdon sang. "Get your nose out of that book! Fauna's calling you!"
Startled, Burke looked up and snapped the book shut. "What?"
"I said Fauna was just calling you," said Virdon. "You had your face buried so deep in that book, obviously you didn't hear her!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Fauna," Burke apologized. "I was reading one of your father's books and it's so interesting, I couldn't put it down! Did you need me?"
Fauna stepped towards Burke and handed him the book. "I was just asking if you could read to me again," she asked with a coy smile. "I really enjoyed listening to you read. You have such a nice voice."
"Why, thank you." Burke smiled as he opened the book. "Sure, I'd be glad to read to you."
Fauna settled in her chair, then with an inquisitive look, she asked, "Pargo, before you read to me, will you tell me something? Did my father teach you how to read? After I found out you were human, I got to thinking; how is that possible you know how to read? I thought humans didn't know how to read and write!" With this, all activity between the three friends abruptly ceased. "Uncle Sestus read me the rest of Father's diary, and Father wrote that he was trying to teach some of the humans how to read and write. Did Father teach you how to read, Pargo?"
"Well…no…Fauna," Burke replied carefully. "I'm afraid your father didn't teach me." When Fauna's face fell with disappointment, he quickly added, "But it would have been an honor to have had him as a teacher!"
Fauna's head swiveled at Virdon. "What about you, Alar? Did my father teach you? I assume you know how to read, too."
A concerned look covered Virdon's face. "Yes…I can read, too, Fauna," he answered quietly, "but, no, I'm afraid your father didn't teach me either. I wished I could have met your father, Fauna. Many people say he was a good person, and they were blessed to have known him."
Fauna dwelled silently on Virdon's last words for a moment, then finally asked Galen, "Did you teach Alar and Pargo how to read, Phoebus?"
Galen gazed searchingly at Virdon and Burke. When Virdon shook his head, he gently said, "No. Fauna. I didn't teach them how to read either." Casting a "help-me-out" look at the two astronauts, he stammered, "Ah, didn't an ape teach you how to read when you lived in Jackson County, Alar?"
"Oh, yes, a chimpanzee friend of ours named Jane taught us," Virdon played along. "She was really a good teacher."
"Jackson County?" asked Fauna. "I've never heard of Jackson County. Where's that at?"
"It's south…or, it was south," said Virdon wistfully. "You've probably never heard of it because it doesn't exist anymore."
"Oh, what happened?"
"Ah, well…" Virdon drawled with uncertainty, then brightened with inspiration. "That's the reason Jackson County doesn't exist anymore…because of the well. There was a huge drought that lasted for weeks, and the village well had dried up. There were dozens of massive searches for a new source of water. But when none could be found, everyone just packed up and moved away. Pargo and I left, too, in search of a new home. Later on, we met up with Phoebus, who really loves to travel. He was kind enough to take us with him, and we've been together ever since."
"I bet you've been to a lot of interesting places, Phoebus," Fauna noted with interest.
"Oh, yes, quite a few," Galen said lightly.
"Could you tell me about some of them?" she asked eagerly.
Just as Galen was about to tell her about some of the localities he, Virdon and Burke had visited, Sestus suddenly appeared from the back pantry. The middle-aged ape had returned from his weekly supply trip to Thalassa. He wore a troubled look as he dropped wearily in his chair.
"Something wrong, Sestus?" asked Virdon.
"Yes!" Sestus panted, running an upset hand across his furry gray head. "Perdix says there's been a couple of murders!"
"Murders?" everyone chorused.
"Of humans?" asked Burke.
"No, apes!" bellowed Sestus. "A chimpanzee and a gorilla were found murdered this morning! Claudette found Dorian shot dead in his own house, and Nicky found Drexel dead on the side of the road!"
"Dorian? Dead?" Fauna gasped in disbelief. "No! It can't be! Who would want to kill Dorian?"
Galen placed a compassionate hand over Fauna's. "Who's Dorian?"
"He and Claudette were friends of mine!" she sniffled. "We went to school together! They were going to get married next spring! Poor Claudette! That must've been awful finding Dorian like that!"
"What about the other ape?" Virdon hurriedly asked. "You said Nicky found him?"
"Yes, on his way back from a postal run this morning. Perdix said Nicky was hysterical when he returned to the garrison. He thought the boy had gone crazy!" Sestus inhaled a deep calming breath then managed to continue. "Drexel was one of Perdix's soldiers. Perdix said it appears that Drexel was ambushed and killed by two bullets through the head and neck. But the strange thing is robbery doesn't seem to be the motive! In both cases, nothing was taken! What's sad is there are no witnesses in either case! Both apes were killed for no reason! No reason at all!"
"No witnesses? What about the neighbors?" Virdon asked hopefully. "If both apes were shot to death, wouldn't somebody at least have heard the shots?"
"No," Sestus despondently sighed. "Dorian lives in the country, just like I do. And along the road where Drexel was killed, there's no houses around."
A panicked look flared between the fugitive trio; followed by a horrible, unspoken thought, which simultaneously filled their minds! It was happening all over again…
The following afternoon, Perdix dropped by to pick up Nicky's racing saddle from Virdon. He asked Fauna to gather everyone together in the house. By his dismal tone, he had more bad news to announce.
"I'm here to inform everyone, especially the three of you," he indicated Galen, Virdon and Burke, "about the new curfews which take effect immediately until further notice. Before all humans without ape escorts were to be within their homes by nine o'clock at night. Now the curfew for all unescorted humans will be seven o'clock. As for apes, the curfew has been changed from eleven o'clock to nine o'clock p.m. Those who break the curfew will receive swift disciplinary action!"
Virdon indignantly stood with crossed arms. "What's this all about? Why is there a stricter curfew being forced upon the humans and not the apes?"
"Before you start whining about how unfair this is, the curfew is for your own safety!" barked Perdix. "There's been another murder, and hopefully, this time, I can catch the humans responsible!"
"Whoa, hold the phone here!" piped up Burke. "There's been another murder?"
"Yes," Perdix grimly said. "Dr. Faxon's been killed!"
"Dr. Faxon?" Sestus and Fauna chimed in shock.
"Yes!" Perdix bitterly replied. "When he didn't show up at the clinic this morning, his head nurse rode to his house to find out why. She found him dead in his front doorway. Same thing as the other killings! Nothing disturbed or taken! And no witnesses! There's definitively a pattern here! All the victims were killed in the same manner, and all of them killed at night!"
"If there's no witnesses why are you so sure humans killed these apes?" Burke asked doubtfully.
"Because I did a little research and I've discovered a very interesting coincidence!" the garrison commander replied assuredly. "It turns out all of the decedents were ex-Dragoons! The humans must be killing them in revenge! That's also why I'm here! Since you're an ex-Dragoon, Sestus, you could be their next target! So be very careful!"
"Yes, Perdix, I certainly will be very careful!" Fauna's uncle solemnly promised. "Thanks for the warning!"
"Well, this is all very intriguing, Perdix," Virdon noted sourly, "but there's one thing that's seriously wrong with your theory!"
"Yeah, and what's that?" Perdix growled, angry that Virdon would challenge him!
"How would humans be able to shoot and kill apes, when humans aren't even allowed to have guns?" Virdon protested. "It must be an ape doing all these killings! It has to be!"
"Yeah," Burke retorted, "we're not even allowed to have pea-shooters, so how is that possible?"
"It's possible for a human to attack an ape and steal his gun!" Perdix fiercely returned. "Which brings up another interesting coincidence! These killings only started right after the three of you arrived!" He glared suspiciously at Virdon, Burke and Galen. "How do I know you're not the ones behind this?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Galen exclaimed resentfully. "Think, Perdix, think! Yes, humans have been known to kill each other, but as far as I know, no human has ever killed an ape! It would be foolish for a human to kill an ape! And why take revenge against the Dragoons now? Wasn't justice already served three years ago?"
Sestus had to speak up. "I know they didn't kill any of those apes, Perdix!" he insisted. "They've been here, the whole time on my farm! Just ask Fauna!"
"It's true, Perdix!" Fauna fearfully clung to her uncle. "Uncle Sestus is right! They have been here the whole time!"
Perdix's silent pondering of Virdon's assessment of the killer, only left the police chief even more perplexed. "If the killer is an ape," he demanded, "what reason would he have to commit these murders?"
"I don't know," Virdon derisively replied. "I suppose if he's trying to revive the Dragoons that would be a pretty good reason to commit murder!" He raked a frustrated hand through his pale hair. "I just know the killer has to be an ape! I only wished I had more to go on instead of this gnawing feeling in my gut!" Virdon's imploring eyes locked with Perdix's. "Please, Perdix, let us try to help you catch the perpetrator!"
"Yeah, we want to get this guy as much as you do!" Burke eagerly volunteered. "If he isn't stopped, you're going to have a nice rerun of what happened here three years ago!"
"Yeah, I know," Perdix sighed dejectedly. He anxiously stared at the three friends. "But how are you going to stop him? The killer is like a phantom! He strikes under the cover of darkness, guns down his victims, then disappears without a single eyewitness account!"
Virdon rubbed his chin musingly, "Hopefully, with a little old-fashioned detective work and a lot of profiling, we'll be able to nab him before he kills again."
"Pro…file…ling?" asked Perdix slowly. "What's that?"
"It's where we investigate the killer," Virdon explained. "We collect all the known data-information-we have on the killer, then try to come up with a profile on him, such as what type of person he is, his habits, why he's committing these murders and so forth."
"I've never heard of such a thing," Perdix said curiously. "If this pro-file-ling will help us catch whoever's responsible, then I'm willing to try it." He stood silent for a moment, then said, "By the way, has anyone seen a gorilla with a young human female in the area recently?"
"You mean Dr. Gentza and Aunni?" asked Virdon.
"Yes, that's them," said Perdix. "You know them?"
"Yeah," said Virdon. "We met them at Ricco's farm about three days ago. I'll admit, I was a little taken aback by him at first, but once you get to know him, he seems like a really nice guy." The spaceman threw a concerned look at Perdix. "Why? Is anything wrong?"
"No, not that I know of," Perdix replied. He quickly explained the arrangement he had made with Gentza and Aunni, allowing them the use of his guesthouse while the simian doctor conducted his human census. "I suppose it's nothing, but it's just odd," he said peculiarly. "The doc said they needed a place to stay for a few days, but they only stayed two nights. And they haven't been back since! I just want to know what his plans are; in case a friend or a relative suddenly show up to see the race."
"Doctor?" asked Sestus incredibly. "He really is a doctor? We thought he was either joking or crazy!"
"He says he's a veterinarian for humans," Perdix simply stated, "and the girl is his assistant. He even showed Prefect Mikko his credentials." He eyed Sestus keenly. "You say you've seen him, Sestus?"
"Yes, about four days ago. He and the girl stopped by, asking if we had any humans for the census he was doing," Sestus informed him. "I told him no. I didn't tell him about Nicky, because we only have him twice a week, and he really belongs to you and Ruth. Then he started asking about the rest of the humans in the area, and I told him where he could find them. He said thank you and it was nice meeting us, and off they went." Sestus chortled amusingly. "Now I've met some odd apes in my time, but this one takes the cake! Did you see those weird clothes and that fancy black cape he was wearing? And how about that mule the girl rode on! Was that really a mule, or a giant jackrabbit? I haven't seen ears that long since Cousin Fylo's guard dog, Fritz! You remember Fritz don't you, Fauna?"
Fauna chuckled merrily. "Yeah, his ears were so long, it's a wonder he didn't trip over them!"
A duet of hearty laughter erupted from the girl-chimp and her uncle. When the graying ape caught the stern look on Perdix's face, he quieted his niece with a couple of soft taps on her shoulder. "We're sorry, Perdix," he said in amendment. "We didn't mean to laugh. It's just that we've never seen-"
"It's all right, Sestus," Perdix cut him off. "I felt the same way, too. Of course, I'm the last ape who should ridicule a fellow gorilla for being different! After all, my grandfather was ridiculed for starting his own winery!" He shrugged indifferently. "Honesty, I don't care what species Gentza is, or what he does for a living. As long as he conducts his business in a lawful manner, that's all that concerns me! If any of you do happen to see the good doc, tell him I'm looking for him."
"Sure, Perdix, will do," said Burke.
Perdix sat at the table and motioned the three friends to do the same. "Now, about this pro-file-ling," he said eagerly. "Show me how it's done."
"Perdix!" cried Ewald as he barged into his chief's office, disrupting the tranquil mid-morning. "It's happened again!"
Perdix shot up from behind his desk. "What's happened again?"
"There's been another murder!" the ape sergeant exclaimed. "This time it's Retik!"
"Retik, Chilot's brother?"
"Yes, and this was found pinned to his body!" Ewald handed Perdix a letter-sized piece of parchment.
Perdix stared curiously at the paper. Across the middle, "DRAGOONS FOREVER!" screamed in red ink. His eyes narrowed into angry slits. "All right," he rumbled. "Tell me what happened! Where and how did you find the body?"
Later that day…
"Killed, the same way as Drexel?" asked Burke.
"Yes!" spat Perdix. "And not too far from where Drexel was found! Ambushed at night, nothing taken and not a single eyewitness! The only difference is, this time the killer left us a clue!" He ardently flung the note that was found at the crime scene on the table. His voice suddenly rose to a shout. "I thought you said this profiling works! And it would help us catch the killer!"
"It does!" stressed Virdon. "In most cases!"
"Yes, but how many more apes will be killed before we can successfully stop him?" demanded Perdix.
"We don't want to see another ape killed any more than you do!" Virdon said carefully. He was not about to risk invoking the garrison commander's wrath. In his current state of mind, Perdix just might become angry enough to call the whole thing off, and have the three fugitives executed! Virdon had to produce positive results…and fast! "I'm really sorry, Perdix, but we're all doing the best we can!" He gestured at the note. "You have no idea whose handwriting this is?"
Perdix shook his head wearily. "No, it doesn't look familiar. I wish I did! Then I'd know who the killer is!"
Galen picked up the note. "Interesting," he mused. "You know, this handwriting almost looks like my father's…that is…when he's angry. Mother was constantly leaving him notes on the kitchen table. 'Do this!', or 'Do that!', or 'Make sure this was done!'. It really irritated him! He'd write back in back in big letters 'YES, I DID THAT ALREADY!' And this note also proves the killer is an ape! Humans can't read or write!"
"No, but the human who's killing all these apes can!" Perdix gleefully informed him. "After he died, it was discovered that Lucian had been secretly trying to teach some of the humans how to read and write! His own diary confirms this!"
Virdon took the note from Galen and held it out for all to see. "If a human supposedly wrote this, why would he write 'DRAGOONS FOREVER!'? It doesn't make any sense!"
"Unless," said Perdix, "this human is trying to make it look like an ape is behind this!"
"Terrific!" Burke threw up his hands in frustration. "You just had to throw a monkey wrench into our theory!"
"Planted a few seeds of doubt, did I?" Perdix taunted in a self-congratulatory tone.
"Yeah, you certainly did!" Burke muttered. "Thanks, Perdix!"
Virdon's grim expression echoed Burke's sentiments. "Whether the killer is human or ape, it doesn't matter…he still has to be stopped!" He fingered the paper. "Maybe the note itself can give us a few clues. Is this special paper?"
"No," shrugged Perdix. "It's ordinary paper everyone uses."
"What about the ink?" Virdon asked hopefully. "Is red ink used for special documents and such? I've always seen writing in black ink."
Perdix shook his head. "No, some apes use red and blue ink as much as they use black." He stared at the paper again. "I wonder why the killer used red ink instead of black to write this note?"
"Since it's red, maybe it's supposed to represent blood somehow," Virdon speculated. "And the color red does tend to grab one's attention more quickly." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "What puzzles me is why did Retik violate the curfew?"
Perdix frowned. "I don't think we'll ever know the answer to that since Retik lived alone. And he wasn't out visiting his girlfriend or anyone. Unfortunately, Retik's brother, Chilot, wouldn't know either."
Burke cradled his cheek on his propped fist. "What puzzles me is, if the Dragoons wore masks to hide their identities, how would this human know which ape to kill?"
"Maybe this human is working with an ape," Galen offered. "An ape who's sympathetic to what happened to the humans."
"Yes, of course!" Virdon said excitedly. "Good thinking, Ga-ah, Phoebus! A human and an ape working together to commit these murders! So far, it's the only feasible explanation we have! Now all we have to do is to come up with a plan to catch our phantom killers, and we'll have this murder mystery solved!"
"Sir?" Ewald cautiously poked his head into Perdix's office. He hated to interrupt his commander while he writing up his daily reports, but… "Telli is here and wishes to see you. She said it's very important."
Perdix laid aside his writing stylus. "It's always important with her!" he groaned with a dreary sigh. "All right. Send her in."
The hotelkeeper charged into the garrison commander's office and promptly landed in one of the seats in front of his desk.
"All right, Telli," Perdix said languidly, "what is it this time?"
"He tried to kill me!" Telli erupted into tears. "He tried to kill me about half an hour ago!"
Perdix's attention suddenly perked up. "Who?" he queried in alarm. "Who tried to kill you?"
"That human-lover Gentza, that's who!" the she-ape barked angrily. "I tried to tell you, but you wouldn't listen! I told you he was bad news! The minute he and his pet human rode into town, they've been nothing but trouble!"
"What happened?" Perdix coaxed gently, but with urgency.
"I was on my way to visit my sister in Juniper this morning," Telli managed to recap between sobs, "As I was riding to Juniper, this masked ape suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and pulled a gun on me!"
Perdix tersely leaned forward. "He pulled a gun on you?"
"Yes, he had a gun!" snapped Telli. "And he wore a hooded mask, just like the Dragoons wore!"
"Are you sure it was Gentza?"
"Of course I'm sure!" she declared on the brink of hysterics. "It had to be him! How many apes out there wear black capes and ride palominos? After he pulled a gun on me, then he raised his fist in the air, screaming, 'Death to all Dragoons!' like it was some kind of war cry! When I heard him say that, I knew he had to be the one who's been killing all these apes! I asked him why, and he just laughed! Then he tried to shoot me!"
Ewald rushed to Telli's side in a panic. Placing a concerned hand on her shoulder, he hastily inquired, "He took a shot at you? Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
"No, thank the Lawgiver!" Telli sniffled into her handkerchief. "He missed! I was so scared; I rode back to Thalassa as fast as I could! My poor horse ran for all he was worth! Then Gentza started chasing me, shooting at me! He chased me for what seemed like forever! When I reached the town, that's when he gave up! It's a miracle he missed me at such a close range! It's a miracle I'm alive!"
"What about the girl?" the police chief quickly asked. "Did he have the girl with him?"
Telli wagged her head. "No, the girl was nowhere in sight. He was all alone."
"Were there any other witnesses?" Perdix asked hopefully. "Someone else who saw what happened?"
Telli shook her head, then buried her face in her hanky, weeping uncontrollably.
Indignant anger heated Perdix's core. Even though he was occasionally at odds with Telli, she was still a citizen of Thalassa. And it was his duty to serve and protect Thalassa's citizens. The gorilla commandant turned to his subordinate. "Send the word out that if Gentza is sighted, he's to be apprehended at once and taken into custody!" he commanded. "We have a witness who can positively identify him as the murder suspect!"
"Yes, sir!" Ewald briskly saluted, then scurried out of the office to carry out his orders.
Perdix reached over and patted the hotel proprietor's hand reassuringly. "Don't worry, Telli! We'll get him! I promise we'll get him!"
"Thank you," Telli said gratefully as she dried her tears. "I know you will!"
The sound of an approaching horse brought Fauna to the front door. Thinking it was Nicky delivering an order of bread, she waited by the open entrance. Instead of Nicky's light hurried steps, she recognized the sound of Perdix's heavy boots, moving towards her. "Perdix?" she called, just to make sure it really was him.
"Yes, Fauna, it's me," Perdix answered gravely. "I see that Phoebus, Alar and Pargo, are working outside with Sestus. I hate to disturb them, but would you tell them to come here for a moment? I need to speak with all of you right away. It's very important."
"Yes, I'll go and call them. Won't you please come in?" Fauna gestured for the gorilla to come inside.
Perdix waited impatiently by the fireplace, as Fauna went to fetch her uncle and their three houseguests.
"Afternoon, Perdix," Sestus pleasantly greeted the police ape. "Is something wrong? Fauna said you wanted to see us right away."
"Yes, I do," Perdix said grimly. "I'm here to deliver a very important message. If any of you happen to see Dr. Gentza and his human female, you're to report them immediately!"
"Report them?" asked Galen. "Whatever for?"
"For murder!" Perdix bluntly replied. "Dr. Gentza's been charged with the murders of Dorian, Drexel, Dr. Faxon, and Retik! And for the attempted murder of a fifth ape, who miraculously managed to escape, and was able to positively identify him as the murder suspect!"
"Dr. Gentza wanted for murder?" asked Burke in disbelief. "I don't believe it!"
"It can't be!" cried Galen.
"Are you sure it was him?" asked Virdon, after Perdix told them about Telli's encounter with the masked ape.
"It had to be him!" answered Perdix sourly. "Who else wears a black cape and rides a palomino?"
"I don't know," Virdon mused somberly. "He just doesn't seem like the kind of ape who would do something like this!"
"Of course he is!" Perdix declared. "Thanks to your profiling techniques, it all makes sense now, once you think about it!" He began to elaborate, "Dr. Gentza is an ape who proudly admits he's fond of humans. He's an ape who has devoted his entire life to the care and welfare of humans. When he came to Thalassa, he realized Thalassa was the perfect place to carry out his plan to avenge the humans! The doctor goes on a personal crusade to punish the Dragoons for their wrongdoings. He terrorizes them, by picking them off-one by one-until all of them are dead! And these killings didn't start until after Gentza's arrival in Thalassa! That also explains his sudden disappearance. He realized sooner or later he would be exposed as the killer, so that's why he and the girl are on the run!" Perdix's hard-edged conduct melted into gratitude. "And for helping me close this case, I wanted to show my appreciation by inviting the three of you to dinner at my place, tomorrow afternoon. I'll have Nicky stop by with a wagon at three o'clock to pick you up."
"Well, that's nice of you, Perdix," Virdon said reluctantly, "but perhaps you should invite this Telli to dinner instead. She's the one who actually deserves all the credit, since she's the one who identified the alleged killer. And besides, the poor lady could really use some support after what she's been through!"
"I suppose I could do that sometime," Perdix sighed halfheartedly, revealing his lukewarm acquaintance with the village innkeeper. He gazed at the fugitive trio with friendly, but insistent eyes. "But I didn't get a chance to properly thank you for helping me catch the Dragoons last time, so I wanted to make up for it, if I may?"
"Well…" Virdon hesitated. Perdix's dinner invitation caused a sudden uneasy feeling to stir within him. It was probably nothing, but the fair-haired human wondered if Perdix had more in mind than just showing his appreciation? When the opportunity arose, he would privately confer with Burke and Galen to devise a plan of action, if this did turn out to be the case! "All right, Perdix," Virdon finally agreed with a smile, "we'll be there."
"Good!" Perdix replied with a pleased grin. "Three o'clock it is. I'll see you tomorrow. Good day, Sestus, Fauna." The police ape nodded in concession, then quickly resumed his patrol.
"Uncle Sestus, I'm scared! What if Gentza tries to come after you next?" Fauna said nervously. "I think we should get out of here! Let's go to Hesston and stay with Cousin Fylo, until after he's captured!"
"Fauna, Hesston is thirty miles away!" Sestus wrapped a calming arm around his niece. "Don't worry, Fauna, I don't think he'll have a chance to come after me anyway. I'm sure Perdix and his soldiers will have him caught before nightfall!" A revolting look crossed the graying chimpanzee's face. "I knew there was something strange about that ape!" he blurted distastefully.
Virdon shook his head doubtfully. "He might have been strange, but I don't think he's the killer!" he maintained.
"Of course he's the killer!" exclaimed Fauna. "You heard what Perdix said!"
"Well…yes," Virdon said slowly, pondering, "but for some reason there's something not right about all of this!"
"No, there sure isn't," Burke readily agreed to which Galen added a likewise nod.
Sestus frowned. "And what's not right about all of this?"
"Perdix believes that Gentza killed those apes because they were ex-Dragoons, right?" Virdon stated.
"Yes," nodded Sestus.
"How would Gentza-an ape who's never been to Thalassa before in his life-know which ape is an ex-Dragoon?" the blond astronaut wanted to know. "Did someone tell him? Did someone give him their names, and where he could find them?"
Galen cocked his head in puzzlement. "And why would Gentza-an ape who was against the Dragoons and all they stood for-leave a note on Retik's body that says 'DRAGOONS FOREVER!'?" he asked. "Then when he tries to kill Telli, he yells, 'Death to all Dragoons!'? That doesn't make any sense!"
"And what about this Telli?" added Burke. "Why would he want to kill her? She wasn't a Dragoon, was she?"
Now it was Sestus' turn to do some pondering. "Well…no," he drawled. "Telli was never a Dragoon,
but-" A knock at the door cut him off.
"That'll be Nicky," said Fauna, allowing the teenager inside.
"After-afternoon, Miss Fauna." Nicky reached inside his knap sack and presented the girl-chimp with two loaves of brown paper-wrapped, freshly baked bread. "Here's your…bread."
"Thank you, Nicky." Fauna handed Nicky a note bill with a couple of coins. "Here's the money for the bread."
"Thank you, Miss Fauna," Nicky bowed with a small smile. Turning to Sestus, he said, "I-I have t-to be going now, sir. More deliveries t-to make." Sestus dismissed him with a friendly nod, and the boy scurried out of the farmhouse.
Fauna stood silently, staring straight ahead, as if she were lost in thought.
"Something wrong, Fauna?" asked Galen.
Fauna swiveled her head towards Galen. "I don't know, Phoebus," she said with a faraway look on her face. "I just thought of something strange that's been going on every morning at Sandy Point for the past three days. After I finish my chores, I always take a walk down to Sandy Point to enjoy the sounds of the ocean. For the past three mornings, I've heard a male ape down there yelling at his wife; I guess she was his wife. I couldn't hear exactly what he was saying, because of the strong wind and huge waves. But I could tell he was very upset with her about something. Then I kept hearing a horse running back and forth across the beach! The whole scene sounded rather odd." Her brow furrowed deeper. "What's really strange, is that the husband sounded a lot like this Gentza! I'm sure it's not him, but that's why I suddenly thought of this!" Her face darkened with exasperation. "I wished I could've seen what was really going on! I wanted so much to yell at that nasty ape and tell him to stop being so mean to his wife!" Her anger mellowed into concern. "But not being able to see, it might have been something completely different," she noted quietly, "and I didn't want to start any trouble."
Fauna's ear-witness account abruptly aroused the fugitive trios' interest-especially her recount of Gentza's voice and the galloping horse.
Virdon's intuition told him that Fauna's story needed to be investigated right away. He obliquely gave Galen and Burke a look to follow his lead, and the two friends silently indicated they were already thinking what he was thinking. "If it's all right with you and Sestus, we'd like to check it out," Virdon said with a hint of urgency. "If there is some kind of trouble going on, Perdix should know about it!"
"I was hoping you'd do that," said Fauna happily. Turning to Sestus, she asked, "Can they, Uncle Sestus? Please? I'd feel much better knowing for sure that what I heard was really nothing."
Sestus shrugged casually. "I guess there's no harm in taking a quick look. Just don't get yourselves into any trouble!"
"We won't," Galen assured him. "If there is any trouble, we'll report it to Perdix right away. If we're not back soon, that's where we are."
"Do you remember where Sandy Point is?" asked Fauna.
"Yeah, I think we can still find it," said Virdon as he motioned Burke and Galen to follow him. "Sestus, Fauna, we'll be back as quick as we can!"
In a secluded location about five miles from Urko's camp, Aunni began her training under Dr. Gentza's watchful eye. Vanka had paired her with Jezebel, a tall intimidating mare. The ebony racehorse was another one of Urko's trophies captured in a race against Avram, the Prefect of Delmar. Aunni's enthusiasm to ride Urko's horse had now turned to loathing. She experienced great difficulty staying on Jezebel's back, and most of the time she ended up on the ground.
"Aunni, what's the matter with you?" Gentza spat irritably after Aunni's umpteenth fall. "You've been at this for three days now, and you still can't stay on the horse's back! You already know how to ride Hedy, so what's the problem?"
"I don't know, Gentza! I don't know!" Aunni whined. "Riding Jezebel is different from riding Hedy! Hedy's not as fast as Jezebel is!" She hung her head and said dejectedly, "Maybe humans weren't meant to ride horses after all!"
Gentza crossed his arms. "What happened to your tenacity, my dear? What happened to your 'I can ride a horse just as good as, or even better than any boy can' attitude? And what's this nonsense that humans aren't meant to ride horses? If that boy can ride a horse, I know you can!"
"I'm sorry, Gentza, but I just can't do it!" the teenager wailed pitifully. "And I don't know why I can't do it! You were right, sir! Racing's not a sport for females! Maybe Chief Urko should find a boy to ride his horse instead."
The ape grabbed the teenager by her shoulders and roughly pulled her to her feet. "Now you listen to me, little girl! If you're having second thoughts about this, it's a little too late for that now!" he bellowed. "You wanted to do this, and by the Lawgiver, you are going to do this, you hear me?"
"But, sir!" Aunni whimpered. "I really do want to ride Chief Urko's horse in the race! Honest, I do!" Her head drooped again. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong, sir! I can walk and trot Jezebel, but I just can't ride her in a gallop! If Nicky can ride in a gallop, why can't I?"
Gentza sighed in frustration. "I don't know, dear. I wished there was a way to find out his secret. Other than gender, there's really no difference between the two of you! So there should be no reason for this at all!" His black eyes suddenly blazed with renewed determination. Gazing into Aunni's hopeless brown eyes, he brightly declared, "Aunni, I know you can do this! And you will!You'll just have to keep trying until you're riding that horse like a cocklebur on a bobcat's back!" He offered the girl an encouraging look, then hoisted her back upon Jezebel's back. "All right, dear, let's try this again."
"Yes, sir," she mumbled.
From their concealed place within the coastal cliffs, the three friends watched with interest. Virdon, deciding to follow up on Fauna's story, discovered his hunch was right. What Fauna had overheard was Gentza losing his patience, attempting to teach his human ward how to ride.
"Well, there's no doubt about it," Virdon strongly surmised. "Aunni is definitely Urko's human jockey!"
The youth's poor horsemanship was even evident to the equine-challenged Burke. "That's Urko's jockey?" he asked almost humorously. "If that's the best he can do, Nicky and Quando will have no trouble winning this race!"
"If the doc keeps teaching her how to ride like that, they will!" Virdon noted. "For Aunni's sake, they need all the help they can get!" He peered intensely about the beach's parameter. "I don't see any guards around, but still there's no sense in taking any chances. You two wait here, while I go talk to them. If it's safe to come out, I'll signal you."
"Alan, be careful!" Galen cautioned, to which Virdon affectionately slapped him on the back.
"Dr. Gentza! Aunni!" Virdon waved at them as he jogged up the beach.
"Alar!" Gentza and Aunni both uttered when Virdon suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
"Alar! What are you doing here?" Gentza asked in surprise. "We didn't expect to see you again so soon!"
"Well, Phoebus, Pargo and I decided to stay for the big race. We're staying with some friends not far from here," Virdon confessed. "Since it's such a nice day, we decided to go for a walk by the beach. You know…listen to the ocean, play in the sand, skip a few rocks across the water." He smiled pleasantly at the odd duo. "So what brings you two down to the beach?"
"If you hadn't already guessed, Urko choose Aunni to be his human jockey for the big race," Gentza reluctantly revealed. "It was supposed to be a secret, but, now that you're here, I guess it won't be anymore."
"We kind of figured she was," Virdon observed. "Don't worry, Doc, we won't tell anyone." He cautiously glanced around, surveying his surroundings. "Urko doesn't have any guards around here, does he?"
Gentza shook his head. "No, he pretty much leaves us alone. He has Vanka bring us to the beach in the morning, then Vanka returns in the evening to take us back to camp."
Aunni gazed past Virdon, looking for Burke and Galen. "Where's Pargo and Phoebus? I thought you said they were with you."
"They're right behind me!" Virdon announced, waving at the cliffs. Burke and Galen slowly emerged from their rocky hiding place to join him on the beach.
"Pargo! Phoebus! It's nice to see you again!" Aunni squeaked delightfully.
"It's good to see you, too, Aunni!" Galen smiled.
Hoping to delay her riding lesson, Aunni started to dismount when Gentza pointed a hard finger at her.
"Hey, you wait just a minute here!" he barked sharply. "What did I just tell you, little girl? You take that horse back out there and keep practicing!"
"But, Gentza, my legs hurts and I'm tired! And so is Jezebel! Can't we-" Aunni started to protest, but Gentza cut her off.
"Yes, sir!" muttered Aunni, as she grudgingly trotted Jezebel down the shoreline.
"Aunni!" Gentza groaned, when she took another tumble.
"Is she all right?" Galen worriedly asked.
"She's fine. As long as she gets back on her feet, I know she's all right." The vet's eyes clouded with worry. "I've been trying to train her, but I think Urko realized he's made a huge mistake! Every night I have to plead with him to give us more time, but I fear that time is running out! She should be riding that horse like the wind, but she's not! I don't know what her problem is, and I don't know what else to do! If she doesn't learn how to ride in time for the race, Urko's going to have Vanka start training her! If Vanka can't do anything with her, then Urko will have her…replaced." Gentza spoke the word in trepidation. His features darkened with sudden fury. "I don't care what Urko says! That barbarian is not teaching Aunni how to ride! I swear-the first time he lays a hand on that child-it'll be his last!"
Virdon patted Gentza's back. "Don't worry, Doc," he said gently. "I know what the problem is, and I think I can fix it. The reason why Aunni's not learning how to ride is because you're not teaching her the proper way."
"The proper way?" Gentza's eyes desperately met Virdon's. "Am I doing something wrong?"
"No, not entirely," Virdon replied. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with the way you've been trying to teach her. It's just that you're trying to teach her how to ride like an ape. And Aunni's not an ape. She's a human, and she should be riding like a human. You have her riding all hunched over, with her legs bent up and her feet sticking out. That's why she's having a hard time staying in the saddle. You understand?"
"I don't think I do," said Gentza, more mystified than offended. "Humans are supposed to ride a certain way? How can that be when humans are forbidden to ride at all?"
"She should be sitting up nice and straight in the saddle, with her legs and heels down. Not sticking out like a couple of tree branches!" Virdon instructed. "If you don't mind, I'd like to show her how it's actually done." He gestured at Minka. "May I borrow your horse, Doc?"
"If you can help Aunni, please do!" Gentza insisted, gladly handing Virdon his palomino mare's reins. He turned to the girl. "You hear that, Aunni?" he called. "Alar's going to show you how to ride."
Intrigue read upon Aunni's face. "You know all about riding, sir?"
"I should. I grew up on horses," Virdon cheerfully revealed. "I've been riding horses since I was seven-years old."
Aunni gaped at him unbelievably. "You've been riding that long? How did you not get caught? They shoot humans for riding horses!"
"I'm very clever!" Virdon smiled, as he swung up on Minka. "Come on, let's get started," he urged, leading Aunni and Jezebel back by the ocean. "Class is in session, and we've got a lot of work to do."
Gentza stared anxiously after the blond astronaut and the human girl. "I just hope that Virdon will be able to turn her around!" he prayerfully murmured, more to himself than to Galen and Burke.
"I think he can!" Burke assured him. "Virdon's a great teacher! He'll have that kid riding like a pro in five minutes, or your money back! Guaranteed!"
A hint of a smile showed on Gentza's muzzle, Burke's confidence in Virdon somewhat reassured him.
"Doctor, how long have you and Aunni been in Urko's custody?" Galen inquired.
Gentza paused to think. "About three days. Why?"
Galen grabbed Burke by his arm. "Pete, you know what this means?" the chimpanzee chattered excitedly. "It means Gentza is innocent! Perdix will have to drop the charges when he hears about this!"
"Drop the charges?" the gorilla's baffled gaze bounced between Galen and Burke. "What are you talking about?"
"You've been charged with murder, Doc!" Burke informed him.
Shock covered Gentza's face. "Murder?"
"Yeah, murder!" said Burke. "Didn't you hear about those four apes who were found murdered over the past few days?"
"Yes, but I didn't kill those apes!" Gentza cried indignantly. "I couldn't have killed them! It's just as you said, Galen! Aunni and I have been in Urko's custody for the past three days!" He frowned, puzzled. "Perdix thinks I killed those apes? What makes him think I had anything to do with those murders?"
"Perdix believes you killed them because of your fondness for humans," Galen explained why the vet was being targeted. "And the fact that all the decedents were ex-Dragoons."
"Yes, I've heard of the Dragoons, and all the terrible things they've done," Gentza freely admitted, then added defensively, "but that's still no reason for me to kill them!"
Burke absentmindedly began fingering a glittering red rock he picked up from the sand. "Well," he drawled, "according to Perdix, a witness has come forward and positively identified you as the murderer! She said you tried to kill her, too!"
"That's a lie!" Gentza's eyes flashed with anger. "Who said I tried to kill her?"
"An ape named Telli," Galen replied. "She runs the hotel in Thalassa."
"Telli!" the vet venomously hissed the name. He folded his arms hard across his torso and growled through clenched fangs, "Well, now that explains everything!"
The news of the upcoming race continued to flare through out the land. The news had even reached as far away as Dorvado, the remote village in the extreme north. The contest had generated so much interest, that even Zaius had decided to attend.
Prefect Mikko had a headache, and the commotion that took place in his office the next morning only worsened the pain.
Zaius, who sat in front of Mikko's desk, did not appear to be fairing any better. The reddish-blond ape had arrived in Thalassa yesterday, for a much-needed vacation. His longing for peace and quiet quickly diminished, as he wearily watched the boisterous banter between Urko and Perdix escalate.
"He should be brought up on charges for concealing a murder suspect, Councilor Zaius!" yelled Perdix. "He knew the doctor was wanted on suspicion of murder! When I went to his camp yesterday to take Gentza into custody, he refused to hand him over! He even refused me the right to question him!"
"Is this true, Urko?" asked Zaius.
"Well…yes," Urko said slowly. "I only denied him permission to take custody of Gentza until after the race."
"And why did you deny him custody of the accused?" Zaius demanded to know.
"Because…" Urko replied hesitantly, then finally revealed, "Because Gentza is training my human jockey for the race."
"So, you admit it!" cried Perdix, staring hard into the Chief of Security's eyes. "He should also be disqualified, Councilor Zaius, for using a human female as his jockey! Gentza's assistant!"
Urko, who towered over Perdix, stood with his arms folded across his massive chest. "Yes, Perdix, I do admit it! It's true! My jockey is a human female!" he shouted back. "So what's your problem?"
"The problem is," hollered Perdix, "you deceived everyone into believing your jockey was a human male! What about the rules…sir? I was under the impression that females weren't allowed to participate in racing!"
Zaius glanced at the chimp prefect, who was rubbing his throbbing forehead. Mikko returned the supreme ape leader a hapless look.
"I never deceived anyone, Perdix!" Urko bellowed. "I never said my jockey was a human male! And I certainly never gave you the impression that only male human jockeys were allowed…Lieutenant!" He attempted to appeal to the orangutan. "Zaius!" he cried. "Didn't I say that I wanted to use human jockeys? And the girl is a human! I said 'human jockeys'! Those were my exact words! I never said 'male human jockeys'! Never!"
Zaius grunted, glaring reprovingly at the two gorillas. "I can't believe I'm actually witnessing two highly-respected police apes bickering like children over something so trivial!" he chided in disgust. At that moment, the simian political leader could not have cared less whom or what rode Urko's horse! A maggot could have ridden Urko's horse, as far as he was concerned! He briefly hid his face in his hands, then looked abjectly at Perdix. "I'm sorry, Perdix, but reluctantly, I'll have to agree with Urko on this one." He turned his icy gaze upon the security chief, and frigidly said, "Yes, Urko, you did say 'human jockeys', but male or female, I really don't see what difference this makes! As far as I'm concerned, a human is a human is a human!"
"Thank you, Zaius! I knew you'd agree with me on this!" Urko replied victoriously, his muzzle curving into an arrogant smile. "Well, Perdix, now that you know my jockey's a female, I'm willing to postpone the race for, let's say a week. That should give you enough time to find and train a female jockey for your horse, if you want. It'll make this race more evenly matched."
"No, Urko, the race will proceed as we originally agreed," Perdix replied, then countered with an easy smile. "If your jockey needs additional training, I'm willing to postpone the race, sir. I wouldn't want this contest to be unfair. After all, I am the one who has the advantage. My jockey is more experienced than yours is. You said so yourself, sir."
Urko's expression darkened and a soft growl vibrated in his throat. "Very funny, Perdix, very funny! I'll be the one having the last laugh! I'll be celebrating with a victory feast; with wine from my new winery!" He angrily snatched up his helmet, stomped to the door and yanked it open.
"Urko!" Zaius called sharply, halting the departing gorilla. When Urko whirled furiously around, he ordered, "After the race you are to immediately surrender Gentza over to Perdix. But in the meantime, you will allow Perdix to fully question him, is that understood?"
"Understood!" Urko grumbled, as he marched through the door.
"Thank you, Counselor Zaius," Perdix said gratefully.
"And don't slam that-" Mikko started to say, frowning peevishly at the exiting Urko. The door banged closed with a heavy thud. "-door!" the prefect finished.
"I think his celebration is a bit premature!" Perdix taunted jovially. "I told him before he shouldn't serve his wine before it's won! If you'll excuse me, sirs, I have a murder suspect to question." He cheerfully saluted, then left to interrogate Gentza.
"And I thought humans were immature!" Zaius murmured to Mikko, whom nodded in complete agreement.
As the evening sun met the western horizon, Macor and Krono escorted Telli down to the garrison. The innkeeper willingly left the hotel when the two police apes informed her that Perdix needed additional information from her.
The Thalassa police chief invitingly swept a hand at the chairs in front of his desk. "Please sit down, Telli. I'm glad you could come on such short notice. I have few more questions for you."
Telli haughtily planted herself in one of the seats. "If it'll help catch that human-loving ape murderer," she exuded. "I'll be glad to help in any way possible."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that," Perdix nodded, then got straight to the point. "You can start by giving me a full confession."
Telli tilted her head. "A full confession?" she asked with a short laugh. "You sound as if you think I killed those apes!"
"Are you serious?" she asked in disbelief.
"I am." Perdix's gimlet stare locked upon Telli's face.
"You must be joking!"
"Do I look like I'm joking?"
The female gorilla growled indignantly, "How dare you accuse me of murder, when you know damn well that perversion of our species is the real killer! I told you, he tried to kill me, too!"
"That doesn't make any sense, Telli!" Perdix reasoned. "If Gentza was gunning for ex-Dragoons, why would he try to kill you?"
"Because I wouldn't let him bring his filthy pet hairless-monkey into my hotel!" Telli yelled.
Perdix's piercing gaze brimmed with suspicion. "I find it hard to believe he'd try to kill you over something like that!" he said doubtfully. "And I'm sure he wouldn't be killing ex-Dragoons over this, either! Especially, if he's never been to Thalassa before in his life! Gentza wouldn't know an ex-Dragoon from my grandmother!"
Telli impatiently groaned. "Did it ever occur to you that all those apes he killed, were the same ones who were involved in that little fracas he started outside the mercantile that day?" She could not believe Perdix was that dense! "If all the victims were ex-Dragoons, then it's just an unfortunate coincidence."
"Yes, the thought had crossed my mind," Perdix countered quickly. "And it's also an unfortunate coincidence that when you reported Gentza's attempt on your life, you said your poor horse 'ran for all he's worth'! When I sent Ewald out to notify the public, he saw your horse tied next to his. He just happened to notice that even though your horse was soaking wet, he was still breathing normally. If your horse truly 'ran for all he's worth', he would've have been winded and lathered with hot, smelly sweat; not shivering from being doused with cold water to make it appear as if he had been sweating!"
Telli glared angrily at Ewald. "How could you say such a terrible, untrue thing? If my horse hadn't ran for all he's worth, I wouldn't be sitting here now! My horse saved my life!"
Ewald ignored Telli's outburst. "When I reported that Gentza was wanted for murder at the hotel, your daughter told me a very different story," he jumped in. "Rhawna seemed quite surprised to hear that Gentza tried to kill you, but then she became rather perplexed. At the time in question, she said you were down at the bakery, buying fancy tarts to impress your guests here for the race."
"She's mistaken!" Telli uttered. "That wasn't yesterday morning-that was this morning when I went to the bakery to order the tarts! Rhawna's a child!" she cried defensively. "You know how children are! Sometimes they forget to blow out the candles, or close the door when they leave a room!"
"When I asked Ruth about this, she confirmed Rhawna's story," Perdix added, his voice firm with indictment. "So did Nicky, Obax, and several other witnesses. Now surely Ruth, Nicky, Obax and the rest of those folks couldn't all be mistaken-at the same time-could they?" Telli fidgeted slightly, but said nothing. "You also claimed Gentza tried to shoot you. Is that correct?"
"Yes, I tell you, he did!" the hotel proprietor insisted. "He pulled a gun on me!"
"Well, Gentza told me he hasn't had a gun in his hands since his days in the military-which was nine years ago!" Perdix continued. "And being a pacifist, he despises weapons. He does admit he carries a hunting knife, but only as a tool, and for self-protection. After hearing Gentza's testimony, there's no doubt in my mind who the real killer is!"
"You actually believe that human-loving ape killer over me?" Telli spouted furiously.
"As a matter of fact, I do!" Perdix declared. "For your information, Urko has had Gentza and Aunni in his custody for the past four days. Aunni is Urko's human jockey, and Gentza has been training her for the race. And since Gentza was being detained by Urko, there's no possible way for him to leave Urko's camp alone at anytime and commit those murders!" He paused to let his words sink in. He had Telli cornered, with no chance to escape but to come clean! "You know, you might have almost gotten away with this, had you kept your month shut! Why did you do it, Telli? Why did you kill those apes?"
"Because they had to be punished!" Telli spewed rancorously. "I promised Zon, all the Dragoons would pay for betraying him! My husband is a hero! He deserves honor and respect for taking a stand against the infidel humans! He and the Dragoons made this district a place that all apes could be proud of! A place where apes could live peacefully and our children could be safe! A place with no humans!" She turned her teary malicious stare at Macor and Krono. "You were his friends! All of you! 'Brother Dragoons…now and forever!' 'Brothers', my eye! Betrayers are what you are! Zon was there when you needed him, but what happened when he needed you? You turned your backs on him and left him to the wolves!"
Macor and Krono exchanged hapless glances.
"Telli-" Macor started to say.
"Quiet, soldier! That's an order!" Perdix snapped at his police ape. "Why are you taking revenge now, Telli?" he wanted to know. "Zon was convicted and imprisoned three years ago."
Telli kept her watery, obdurate eyes upon Krono and Macor. "I promised Zon that somehow, someday, all of them would be punished!" she snarled. "I didn't know how, but I knew if I waited patiently, the right moment would come!"
"And you had the perfect opportunity when Gentza arrived," Perdix deduced. "He was the perfect scapegoat! He's an ape who's temporarily in town and an ape who's very fond of humans."
"Yes!" Telli hissed vengefully. "It was the perfect opportunity to get rid of these putrid backstabbers, while that filthy, human-loving traitor took all the blame!" She glowered at Perdix. "You think you're so righteous, don't you, Perdix? You've destroyed the peace the Dragoons brought to our community! You don't deserve to wear that uniform! You should be court-martialed!"
"Why?" barked Perdix. "Because I cared enough to ensure that the law was upheld by bothhumans and apes?"
"Your day will come, Perdix!" the ape-lady shrilled, verbally spearing the primate lieutenant in one final assault. "You'll be the one rotting in a jail cell, while Zon is free and exonerated by the truth! May you burn in hell, you destroyer of lives! Thanks to you, my children had their father taken away from them!" She buried her weeping eyes in her handkerchief.
"And thanks to you," Perdix sadly noted, "now their mother will be taken away, too!" He nodded wordlessly to his deputy.
"On your feet, Telli," Ewald quietly directed. "Let's go." Gesturing at Macor and Krono, each ape hooked an arm under Telli's.
As the sobbing simian was taken away, Perdix could only shake his head with pity. The former innkeeper would never live free in the outside world again…
As Sestus and Fauna enjoyed a simple breakfast of griddlecake and fruit with their three houseguests, Ewald stopped by to announce the reinstatement of the former curfews. The middle-aged chimp and his niece were completely stunned when the sergeant revealed the identity of the real killer.
"You were right, Alar!" Sestus admitted in disbelief. "It wasn't that oddball gorilla after all! Who would've guessed Telli was the one behind these killings!"
"What's going to happen to the children," asked Fauna, "now that Zon and Telli are in prison?"
"And what's going to happen to the hotel?" added Sestus.
"The children, I'm sure, will be sent to live with relatives," said Ewald. "As for the hotel, Jacqueline, Telli's business partner will be in charge of it from now on."
Galen murmured aloud in puzzlement. "What I can't figure out is, how did Telli manage to kill Retik? In order for her to kill him, she had to have tricked him into violating the curfew!"
"That's exactly what she did! She tricked him!" Ewald replied. "We found a note on Retik's kitchen table from his brother Chilot. The note said that something had come up, and he urgently needed to borrow a hundred notes. He didn't want his family to know anything about this, so he asked Retik to meet him at T' Juan's house at nine o'clock. There, he'd pick up the money and explain everything. Even though it looked like his handwriting, Chilot swears he didn't write the note! He also claims he's never borrowed money from Retik in his life! And since Perdix has had trouble with Chilot in the past, he had him placed under surveillance until this matter was resolved." He further explained that since Chilot never displayed any suspicious behavior, he was cleared as a suspect. In the end, it was Telli who wrote the letter (in a passable recreation of Chilot's writing), as well as the note that said 'DRAGOONS FOREVER!'.
"I still can't believe it!" cried Fauna. "Telli just didn't seem like someone who could do something like this!" Her body trembled with fear. "And to think she could've killed you, Uncle Sestus!"
The graying chimp shuddered at the notion. "I'm just glad she was caught before she had the chance!"
About noontime, Sestus, Galen and the human duo had finished replacing the corral with a new, study split rail fence. The repairs on the barn and the house were still left to accomplish.
Sestus stretched with a yawn and said, "Well, fellows, I don't know about you, but after we have lunch, I'm going to take a little nap. I say we leave the rest of the repairs until tomorrow. You fellows can do whatever you like for the rest of the day: read, play cards, take a nap, whatever you want to do. You boys have earned it."
"Thank you, Sestus." Virdon was ready for a break. He turned to Galen and Burke and obliquely suggested, "After we eat, let's go for a walk down by Sandy Point. The doctor always said the beach was a great place to relax."
Picking up Virdon's hint, Burke added, "I also heard the beach is a great place for a Sunday ride…that is, if one were allowed to go on a Sunday ride!"
"Don't forget we're having dinner with Perdix later today," Galen reminded them. "We have to be back in time for Nicky to pick us up."
"Oh, yes, that's right," Sestus remembered. "Nicky's coming around three o'clock, isn't he? I have a few errands I need to run, so if I don't see you before you leave, enjoy your dinner."
"Why thank you, Sestus," Galen cheerfully replied. "And you enjoy your nap."
Sestus yawned again. "Oh, I will, believe me, I will! All that hard work just about wore me out!" He sauntered after the fugitive trio into the house for lunch.
Down at Sandy Point, Urko and Vinson watched Vanka exercising Daggrah. The gray racehorse tossed his head and snorted impressively as he passed back and forth before the Chief of Security and his assistant.
"Today is the moment of truth," Vinson stated. "What's your decision? Are you still keeping the girl as your jockey?"
"Gentza tells me the girl has actually improved," Urko said languidly. "Vanka's going to pit the girl and Jezebel against him and Daggrah in a mock race, so we'll see how 'improved' she really is." His doubtful eyes narrowed, as he watched the girl trotting the ebony mare in circles. "If she falls, or makes one mistake, that's it! She's out! We'll start immediately looking for her replacement."
"Yes, sir," Vinson agreed.
"Vanka!" Urko called to his ape jockey.
Vanka rode over. "Yes, sir?"
Urko patted the gray stallion's neck. "How's Daggrah? Do you think the girl will be able to handle him?"
"He's still a little high-strung, but I think he'll be fine in time for the race," Vanka confidently reported.
"Good." Urko was pleased. "Don't handle the girl like some fragile vase, just because she's human! I want her to learn what racing is really like! I want you to push Daggrah hard! Ride him as if you were riding in a real race!"
Virdon leisurely lead the way to Sandy Point, when suddenly he stopped and ducked behind the nearest boulder. Burke and Galen crouched beside him.
"What-?" Burke started to ask.
Virdon held up a hand to silence him. "Urko! He's here!" he whispered, pointing at the unmistakable gorilla, astride his white horse, on the beach below.
"Let's get out of here before he sees us!" Burke hissed in panic. He started crawling in reverse.
"Wait a minute," said Virdon, stopping him. "I want to see how Aunni's doing first. Then we'll leave." The blond astronaut cautiously picked his way through the serrated rock maze to find a closer, safer hiding spot, while Galen and Burke reluctantly followed along. On the sidelines, the threesome spotted Gentza, aboard his golden mare, watching Aunni, as any worried parent would watch his child participating in an important event.
Galen shielded his eyes from the afternoon sun's blaze. "What are they doing?"
Virdon observed the activity intensely. "It looks like they're setting up for some sort of simulated race."
"Well," said Burke, "let's hope Aunni took notes during Riding Class 101."
Virdon said nothing. In his mind-as well as Gentza's-a silent prayer imploringly rambled.
Urko rode next to Aunni. "See those caves over there?" He pointed to the hollowed cliffs about two miles away. "You'll both race down to the caves and back." Leaning over, he warned, "All right, human. This is your first and last chance to prove yourself! Any mistakes and you've just earned a one-way trip to the afterlife! Understood?"
"I want you to race Vanka as if he were Perdix's jockey!" Urko intoned. "I want you to ride as if your life depends upon it, because literally," he smiled cruelly, "it does!"
"Yes, sir!" Aunni eagerly repeated. When she heard about this special contest, she could hardly contain her excitement! Her riding had vastly improved under Virdon's coaching, and now she was ready to prove to Urko, and the world, she could ride as well as any ape could!
Urko u-turned his pallid horse and pulled up along side Vinson. Vanka lined up the prancing Daggrah with the relatively calm Jezebel. Angus, one of Urko's gorillas, fired his rifle at the sky, starting the race. Daggrah reared, then lunged from the starting point first, kicking sand up in his wake. Jezebel leaped into the race, seconds behind. Vanka and Daggrah shot five lengths ahead, keeping their sizable lead when they reached the cavity-riddled rock formation. But their challengers were closing the gap-and fast!
"Cone on, Jez! Run, Jez, run!" Aunni shouted at her mount. The black horse responded with a surge of speed. She ran as if an invisible demon nipped at her tail. Vanka glanced over his shoulder. As his lead rapidly diminished, he spurred the gray stallion with his crop. His strikes became more intense when his opponents dashed ahead and crossed the finish point by two lengths.
Gentza whooped with joy. "You did it, my dear!" he shouted. "You did it! That's my girl!"
Vinson gaped mutely at the shocking upset win. "I don't believe it, Urko!" he blurted in surprise. "That hack just beat Daggrah, one of your best horses!"
Aunni whirled Jezebel around and trotted up the Urko. "How did we do, Chief Urko, sir?" she squealed anxiously. "Did we do okay?"
The security commander sat in stunned silence. "Ah, yes, very good! Very good!" he finally faltered. Then a fulfilled smile brightened his face. "You really surprised me, human! I didn't think you were going to make it, but you've done well! I'm pleased!"
"Thank you, Chief Urko, sir" the girl breathlessly replied.
Gentza rode up in ecstasy. He reached over and proudly held the teen's hand. "I told you I'd turn this girl into the best jockey around!"
Vanka reluctantly cantered up. He shot Urko a flabbergasted look. "Urko, I-I didn't expect this! A few days ago, that girl could barely even sit on a horse!" he babbled. "I'm just as surprised as you are, sir!"
"I wonder how they'd fair against Tusan?" Vinson mused aloud.
"Forget Tusan! And forget Daggrah! Jezebel will be the horse I'll race against Perdix's horse!" Urko declared exhilarated. "I never dreamed that horse had it in her!" The gorilla general chuckled in sweet anticipation. "Yes, girl! You and Jezebel are going to blow the spots right off that nag's butt!"
Aunni giggled at Urko's last comment. Urko, Vinson and Vanka merrily joined in, while Gentza's face clouded in anger.
"What a minute!" growled the simian doctor. "What do you mean 'forget Daggrah'?"
"Daggrah was going to race against Perdix's horse," said Urko. "But since Jezebel beat Daggrah, I'm going to race her instead!"
Gentza's eyes flashed furiously. "You mean to tell me that you were going to put my girl on that…that…half-wild animal!" he sputtered. "She could've been thrown! Even worse, she could have been seriously injured or killed! If that child ends up crippled, or dead, Zaius is going to hear about this, you disgusting son of a-!"
"Oh, don't be so melodramatic, Gentza!" Urko cut him off. "The girl was never in any real danger! I would never put your precious hairless-monkey on a horse she couldn't ride! Daggrah may be a little high-strung, but he's not wild! I had Vanka working on getting him completely settled down in time for the race. When are you going to start trusting me?" He tossed his head with a condescending snort. "You know, Doc, you worry too much! You need to calm down, so why don't you go back to camp and give yourself a sedative?"
Gentza scoffed back at Urko, then turned to Aunni. "Come Aunni, we'd better do as he says and head back to camp!"
As Aunni followed Gentza to the bivouac, she secretly rejoiced. She did it! She had redeemed herself, and it felt like to her, the entire human race! The girl realized the possibility that she would never again be permitted to ride a horse after the race. Nevertheless, she would always have that humbled look on Urko's muzzle to treasure for the rest of her life! She only wished that Alar, Phoebus and Pargo could have been here to witness her victory!
Urko waited until the ape vet and his human pet were out of earshot, when he called Vanka over. He lashed out, slapping the primate jockey viciously across the face, almost knocking him off Daggrah. "You let her win!" he spat harshly. "I told you I didn't want the girl treated like some tenderfoot!"
"But, Urko!" Vanka protested, rubbing his stinging jaw. "I didn't let her win! I swear it! Jezebel won because she had the younger and lighter human riding her! Daggrah couldn't catch them, sir! They were just too fast! I'm sorry, sir!"
Urko growled and shook his knuckles. "All right," he rumbled. "We'll keep Daggrah as an alternate in case something happens to Jezebel. Take him back to camp!"
"Yes, sir," Vanka cringed fearfully, then hurriedly obeyed his commander.
Burke whistled in amazement. "Well, Alan, looks like you've created another Robyn Smith!"
"No kidding!" Virdon agreed, somewhat relieved. "Well, she's not perfect, but it looks like she's got the basics down. At least she's staying on the horse!"
"Who's Robyn Smith?" asked Galen.
Burke replied, "She was a female jockey from our time. She's more famous for being Fred Astaire's wife, than she was for being a jockey."
Galen gave him a floored look. "You had female jockeys in your time?"
"Yeah, Galen," Virdon answered with a grin.
"And who's Fred a-stare?" the chimp asked.
"He was a famous actor in our time," Virdon said. "When he married Robyn Smith he was old enough to be her father."
"You mean grandfather!" Burke added lightly. His demeanor grew solemn. "Now I'm worried about Nicky and Quando. With the new and improved Aunni, those two are going to have some real competition!"
"With that lightweight saddle, and those thin shoes, hopefully we've stacked some of the odds in Nicky and Quando's favor," Virdon replied encouragingly. "And the fact that Jezebel's a mare will improve some of the odds, too. Mares and fillies don't usually make very good racehorses. Jezebel," he spoke the name in amusement. "Quite a name for Urko's horse!"
Burke snickered at Galen's questioning look. "Jezebel was an evil queen from Biblical times. It's human history, Galen. You see, there was this evil king named Ahab, and Jezebel was his wife. Well, Jezebel was very beautiful, but she, too, was very naughty and wicked…"
That afternoon, Galen, Virdon and Burke, at Perdix's invitation, dined at the garrison commander's house. Ruth, Perdix's wife, served up a tasty meal of vegetable pot pie, cheese and potato soup with homemade vegetable bread. The three friends were treated to a bottle of Perdix's finest, while Nicky, Ruth and his daughters, Jonati and Bennu, drank fresh squeezed lemonade. The meal ended with generous slices of oper cake.
"So," Perdix began, peering suspiciously at the renegade trio. "You three aren't from around here, are you?"
"Ah, no," Galen answered cautiously. "We're from Jackson County."
"Jackson County?" asked Perdix, mystified. "Where's that? I've never heard of Jackson County."
"It's…ah," stammered Galen, "ah…a village that used to be in the extreme southern territories. I'm afraid it doesn't exist anymore." By the look on Perdix's face, he had successfully used Virdon's story to convince the Thalassa police chief on how a terrible drought caused Jackson County to meet its unfortunate demise.
Perdix dwelled silently on this, then looked searchingly at Galen. "You know, Phoebus, you have a very odd relationship with these humans. If they're your servants, you certainly don't treat them like servants."
"Ah, well," Galen said carefully, "I don't really see them as my servants. I see them more as my friends. And I'd rather have friends than servants. Our relationship may seem odd, but that's because we're very close."
"Phoebus has been more like a brother to us than a master," Virdon added. The fair-haired astronaut was not positive, but he suddenly sensed that Perdix's dinner invitation might be more than a celebration of a solved murder mystery. It started to feel more and more like a cleverly disguised interrogation! Virdon had to discreetly abort this conversation before Perdix discovered the truth! "I can't wait for the big race!" he abruptly uttered, changing the subject. "If Nicky and Quando win this race, the look on Urko's face will be priceless!"
"I'll say!" laughed Perdix. "Especially since he's the one who wanted this ridiculous race in the first place!"
"I, for one, will be glad when this big race is done and over with!" Ruth complained. "Things will be back to normal around here!"
"Yeah, me, too!" Perdix nodded understandingly at his wife, then an annoyed look quickly crossed his face. "You know that Urko beats everything I've ever seen!" he grumbled. "Even in a silly little race like this, the old boy's still up to his tricks! I knew he'd try to pull something underhanded! I would have never guessed it would be a female jockey of all things!"
"A female jockey?" asked Bennu. "What's wrong with that?"
"I think it's great!" Jonati chimed in.
"No, it's not!" cried Perdix. "It's deceitful!"
"I beg your pardon!" Ruth huffed. "I think females can do anything males can if given the chance! Even if this girl is a human!"
"I'm not talking about feminism, Ruth!" Perdix exclaimed, as he ran an agitated hand over his furry head. "I mean, it's deceitful how Urko conveniently never mentioned his jockey was a girl! If Fauna hadn't discovered Gentza and the girl over in Sandy Point, I would've never found out about this! All right, so his jockey is a girl, what's the big deal? Why was he being so secretive about this?" Perdix glanced over at Nicky. The boy's eyes gazed expectantly, accompanied by an aroused smile on his mouth. "What are you grinning about, boy?"
"I…I think she's…p-pretty!" Nicky said breathlessly.
"Yeah, I bet you think she's pretty!" Perdix told him pithily. "Don't get any ideas, boy! It's a race, not a romance, so get that sly-dog smile of your face!"
"Maybe that's Urko's plan," Burke suggested wittily, "to distract Nicky with a pretty girl."
"Whatever his plan is, it's not going to work!" declared Perdix. "Nicky's too smart a fly to be trapped in some pretty spider's web, right boy?" He chuckled at the blushing lad, then kindly advised him, "You keep your eyes off that girl and your mind on the race and you'll do just fine."
"Yes, sir," Nicky grinned embarrassingly.
When Barlow, the Prefect of Kaymak, had received the invitation to come as an impartial observer for the race, he immediately accepted. This particular race was of special interest to Barlow; he was one of the few prefects to whom Urko had ever lost a race.
Prefect Barlow had just settled into his accommodations when a furious knocking brought him to his feet. He moaned inwardly as Urko, Chief of Security, swaggered arrogantly over the threshold.
"Barlow!" Urko barked rather genially, as he removed his helmet. "What a nice surprise to see you in Thalassa!"
It was nice, until you showed up, Barlow thought irritably. He forged a weak smile. "Ah, yes, nice to see you too, Urko."
"Did you come to see the race?" asked Urko, his eyes dancing with excitement.
"Certainly! I came especially for the race. I just arrived this morning," Barlow answered. "I heard it was your idea to use human jockeys. And a female one, too! Interesting choice for a jockey, Urko."
"Yes, and I have you to thank for this, Barlow," said Urko affably. "You're the one who inspired the idea, having Virdon ride your horse."
Barlow's brow rose inquisitively. "And Kagen falling off of your horse wasn't a contributing factor, as well?"
"Well, all right, that, too," Urko confessed, then said in a warning tone of voice, "Since we might be using human jockeys, don't tell me you're going to have Virdon ride your horse again! If you are, I'll definitely have him shot! And you, for harboring a fugitive!"
An indignant look crossed the chimpanzee's face. "Urko, you surprise me! Why would I be so foolish to have Virdon ride for me again? Besides, I already have a human jockey!"
Urko regarded Barlow suspiciously. "Really? So soon? Who is it?"
"What does it matter? He's just a human."
"I think it does matter! It matters a great deal!" Urko growled. "Who is it, Barlow? It'd better not be the blacksmith's son! I was told that he and his father suddenly disappeared after the race that day, and they haven't been seen since!"
Barlow shrugged. "And what if it is young Gregor?"
"It is the blacksmith's son, isn't it? Damn it, Barlow!" Urko exploded, shaking his fist. "I'll kill that defiant little brat! And his father for betraying me! I should have you permanently transferred to the Forbidden Zone for harboring those two maggots all along!"
"If you'll recall, my horse won that race, and Zaius agreed to pardon Gregor for riding a horse!" Barlow replied mirthful arrogance. "And since I chose that boy to be my human jockey, if I hear of any ill will befalling upon him…" he growled, leaving the consequences unspoken.
"I wouldn't be so bold to make such empty threats if I were you, Barlow!" Urko firmly cautioned. "May I remind you that the Council gave their permission to use humans only on a trail basis! In the meantime, I'd suggest you start keeping a tighter leash on that hairless-monkey of yours! If he's caught breaking the law again, next time there won't be any clemency! I'll see that your precious human serves his original sentence! And I'm going to pull the trigger myself!"
Barlow's eyes narrowed. "If the Council gives its final approval of human jockeys, I'm afraid you won't have that opportunity!"
"Well, Prefect," Urko returned with a haughty snort, "let me further remind you that the Council can also rescind its approvals!" As he put on his helmet, the military commander shot Barlow one final menacing look, then departed.
Moments later, another knock brought an irritated Barlow to the door. He flung open the door and found a delightful surprise waiting to greet him. "Galen, Virdon and Burke!" uttered the Prefect of Kaymak. "Come in, quickly! What are you doing here? Are you insane? Don't you know Urko's in town? He was just here!"
"Yeah, we know he's here," Burke answered with a smile, "and we've become quite the experts at eluding him."
"What are you doing here?" Barlow asked, happy to see his friends again. He peered peculiarly at the trio. "You don't need my help again, do you?"
Galen laughed. "Oh, no, Barlow! We heard you were in town, and we just had to come see you! Are you here to watch the race?"
"Of course," Barlow replied. "When I heard about this race with human jockeys, I had to come see this for myself!" A liable look crossed his face. "Actually, Prefect Mikko invited me as an impartial observer," he confessed. "Are you here for the race, too?"
"You bet!" grinned Burke.
"Not this time, thank goodness!" Barlow replied in relief. He and the three fugitives chuckled good-naturedly.
"We've been trying to help out Perdix," said Virdon. "We're hoping our advantages will give Nicky and Quando a chance to win this race."
Barlow gave the trio an unpleasant look. "You helped Perdix? A gorilla?"
"Yeah, what about it?" Burke asked curiously.
"He's a gorilla!" Barlow replied distastefully. "Gorillas are all brawn and no brain! They're nothing but militaristic tyrants with no sense of gratitude whatsoever! Galen, you're a chimpanzee! Wouldn't you agree?"
Before Galen had a chance to answer, Burke snapped defensively, "Hey! Perdix may be a gorilla, but he's our friend! He's a decent, fair, upstanding ape! And I know he certainly appreciates all we've done for him!"
Galen and Virdon gazed at Burke in surprise. They could not believe what they heard! Burke was actually defending a gorilla!
The dark-haired astronaut continued stridently. "And that human who's riding his horse? Perdix took that boy in because a group of human-hating apes called the Dragoons killed his family! And let me tell you something, mister! Half of those Dragoons happened to be chimpanzees!"
Galen curtailed Burke with a sharp look. "What Burke said is true, Barlow," he added in a conciliatory tone. "Perdix is a good ape. And like you, Urko, too, forced him into this race! A race where his horse, a courier horse, doesn't stand a chance against a champion racehorse! That's why we've helped him with his horse, for the same reason we helped you!"
Barlow considered this for a moment, then said penitently, "I'm sorry. I didn't know Urko had forced Perdix into this race. Of course, why doesn't that surprise me? I really don't know Perdix personally, so I'll admit, I'm an ignorant fool for judging him like that. It was nice of you to help the boy, but your efforts were unnecessary. The boy will win no matter what, because he's the more experienced rider. And the fact that Urko's jockey is a female."
"Yeah, and your point is?" Burke frankly asked.
"My point is, females have always been more delicate than males." Barlow plainly replied.
"Barlow!" cried Virdon. "I'm surprised at you! I always thought you were a liberal-minded sort of fellow, but I had no idea you were so chauvinist!"
Barlow cocked his head. "Show-van-nest?" he asked quizzically. "What's that? I've never heard that word before. What does it mean?"
"It means prejudiced against women…ah….females," Burke gladly explained.
"When I said that females were delicate, I was talking about all females," Barlow simply stated. "Human and ape."
"Don't let your wife hear you talk like that!" Burke chided.
"I'm not married!" Barlow countered with a smile.
"No wonder!" Burke answered back.
"Believe me, Barlow," said Galen. "Urko's jockey may be female, but she's certainly far from delicate."
"We've seen her ride," Virdon noted. "She rides just about as good as me. Her…um…master, Gentza, did a fantastic job turning her into a jockey!"
"Gentza? You mean Dr. Gentza?" asked Barlow.
"Yes, do you know him, Barlow?" asked Galen with a raised brow.
"No, but I've heard of him," answered Barlow. "The Council sent me a letter that Dr. Gentza was coming to my district to conduct a census on the human population. Dr. Gentza is here? I'd love to meet him! Since he's a specialist on humans, I'd love to discuss my studies with him."
"Studies?" asked Galen. "What studies?"
"My studies on human behavior, of course," said Barlow. "I honesty thought the games were a way to pacify and control humans, but unfortunately, I was proven wrong. Since I've introduced my humans to various positive activities, they seem to be a lot happier. They paint and sculpt, and play music and sing songs, and tell stories. They are quite talented! Especially Dalton. He's quite a singer!"
"Wow, that's great, Barlow!" Burke said brightly. "I'm glad to hear things in Kaymak are peachy! We'll have to come back for a visit-that is-when we're not too busy running from Urko!"
"That would be splendid! I'm sure Dalton, Martin and Gregor would love to see you again, as well!" Barlow beamed. "I can't wait to meet this Dr. Gentza! He sounds like a chimpanzee after my own heart!"
Burke almost choked. "A chimpanzee?" he sputtered. "You mean you don't know? Gentza is a-!"
Galen quickly stifled Burke by squeezing his bicep. "Ah, I don't think we should tell Barlow anymore about Dr. Gentza!" He obliquely grinned furtively at his human friends. "Let's allow Barlow to be pleasantly surprised when he actually meets the good doctor!"
"Ah, yes, good idea, Galen!" Burke agreed, catching on to Galen's scheme. "Don't you agree, Alan?"
"Oh, absolutely!" Virdon readily added.
The smirk, which passed between the three friends, was not lost at all on Barlow. He knew something was up! "All right," he demanded. "What's going on? Is there something I should know about this Dr. Gentza that you're not telling me?"
"Oh, no, Barlow! It's nothing like that! Nothing like that at all!" Virdon's blue eyes sparkled with a tantalizing gleam. "You see, Dr. Gentza is a great physician who's quite renowned in his field! He's a lot like you, Barlow. Someone who's an innovator, who's also a nonconformist. He's really a very interesting ape, and we know you'll like him!"
"Wait until you meet him!" Galen added excitedly. "He's going to change your whole way of thinking when it comes to humans and medicine!"
"And that's not all he's changing!" Burke muttered wryly under his breath.
"That's why I'm looking forward to meeting him, because he is such an unorthodox ape!" Barlow reverently agreed. "That medical book he wrote on human anatomy is very fascinating! It's unlike any other book ever published!"
The words "book on human anatomy" suddenly grabbed the odd trio's attention.
Virdon cast a troubled sideways glance at Burke and Galen. "Did you just say Gentza wrote a book on human anatomy?" he pressed while trying to maintain a casual air. "He…um, never mentioned to us that he wrote a book! When was this?"
"About six months ago. Not only does it show details of the human body, inside and out, but there's several surgical procedures as well," the prefect continued enthusiastically. "The diagrams and the pictures are so real looking! I know they're only drawings, but you'd almost believe you were actually looking at a human heart! I wished I had the book with me, so I could show it to you! It's incredible!"
"Oh, believe me, we already have!" Burke mumbled aside, trying to conceal his rising anger.
"Barlow, how would you know about such a book?" Galen asked impatiently. "You're not even a doctor!"
"I have a friend in Central City who's a publisher," Barlow explained. "Braxton's always known about my human studies, so as a surprise, he sent me a copy of Dr. Gentza's book!" He chuckled humorously. "Braxton told me I might have an instant antique since there were only twenty copies of Dr. Gentza's book that had been printed."
"Why was that?" Galen pressed worriedly. He swallowed hard, then asked the question he and the two astronauts dreaded hearing the answer to. "Was his book censored because of its subject matter?"
"In a way, you could say that," Barlow replied musingly, "but, no, it wasn't censored by the High Council, if that's what you mean! I think it was 'censored' by the general public. Considering the attitude that most apes have toward humans, I'm sure that's why his book wasn't widely published. If you were an ape who hated humans, or didn't give a thought to them one way or another, would you've owned a book about them?" He sighed regretfully. "If only I knew Dr. Gentza was here! I wished I could've brought my copy of his book along so he could sign it for me! Oh well! But still, what an opportunity this will be…to meet Dr. Gentza himself!"
In turn, Virdon, Galen and Burke could hardly wait for their own opportunity to discuss Gentza's literary "accomplishment"…with the distinguished vet himself!
The day was perfect for a race. The warm, early autumn sun, coupled with a soft gentle wind, welcomed the masses to Thalassa, anxious to witness this out of the ordinary event. Urko and his small entourage wandered through the town, enjoying the pre-race festivities. Flags bearing the garrison emblem and Urko's unique symbol flapped in the breeze on either side of the grandstand, reserved for the distinguished audience to observe the competition.
Inside Perdix's office, Nicky adjusted his black courier's tunic, carefully centering the embroidered red ape's head on his chest. He stood proud! Not only was he representing Thalassa, but most of all, he was representing Perdix-the underdog and his guardian! Perdix silently entered the room and stood in front of Nicky. He quickly looked over the boy's appearance, then nodded approvingly.
The gorilla firmly grabbed the lad by his shoulders. "I want you to run an honest, clean race," he told him. "Be careful and don't get hurt!"
"What…if-if I lose, sir?" Nicky hung his head worriedly. "You'll l-lose your w-winery…and it-it will b-be all my fault! You'll be angry…sir!"
Perdix roughly cupped Nicky's chin, and barked sharply in his face, "Boy, how many times do I have to tell you? I won't be angry! I don't expect you to win this sham of a race! If you did, it would be a miracle! Yes, I'm upset about losing the winery, but it's not the end of the world, boy! Who knows? Maybe someday, somehow, I'll get it back!" He lightly laid his paws on the lad's upper arms to quell the youth's fears. "All I'm asking is for you and Quando to do your best!" he benevolently said. "Whatever happens…happens!" He rallied Nicky with a good-natured slap on his biceps. "Now go out there and give those girls a race they'll never forget!"
Nicky mustered up a weak grin. "Yes, sir!"
With a slight smile, the Police Chief of Thalassa herded his jockey outside, where Perdix's wife and daughters were waiting for him. Nicky's adoptive family hugged the brown-haired teenager, then allowed him to lead his Appaloosa to the starting line.
Meanwhile in Urko's camp, Gentza busily assisted Aunni with her hurriedly-made, red and black jockey's tabard. Originally, she was to wear Kagen's smock, but the pullover was so comically large, it appeared as if a red and black circus tent had swallowed the girl! And thanks to Gentza, Aunni's long black hair tidily hung in two braids on either side of her head.
As Perdix made his way to the grandstand, he saw Prefect Mikko speaking with another ape of importance. To the garrison commander's delight, Mikko's new acquaintance was none other than Prefect Barlow of Kaymak. "Tell me all about the race in Venton, Prefect Barlow," he urged. "I heard you had a human jockey for that race."
"My human jockey turned out to be Virdon, the wanted fugitive," Barlow began. "But I didn't know he was a fugitive. I thought he was just another human. All humans look alike, you know. Well, I have this horse named Woda, that was very wild and none of my apes could ride him. The only one who could ride him was Virdon. And since Virdon was able to tame Woda, I thought why not let him ride Woda in the race…"
Down at the starting line, Vanka prompted a last-minute scrutiny of Jezebel. As Urko admired his lofty mare, Aunni and Gentza waited in apprehension.
"Jezebel's all set, Urko," Vanka reported. "I told the girl to hold her back until the last mile, then turn her loose! She'll run that spotted nag right into the ground!"
"Good," nodded Urko. "Ah," he snickered softly at the sight of Nicky leading Quando to the starting line. "The 'competition' arrives!"
Nicky saluted his female opponent. Aunni acknowledged him with a friendly wave, to which Urko shot her a disapproving look.
Gentza squeezed his ward fondly. "This is it! You do everything that Alar told you to do, you hear? And most of all, please, be very careful!"
"I will, sir," Aunni promised. "I love you, Gentza!"
The gorilla stroked the girl's cheek. "And I love you, too, dear!" he cooed, then kissed her.
Urko grunted nauseously at the sappy, repulsive scene. "Gentza, come!" he growled, as he headed toward the grandstand. "The race will be starting soon."
Aunni stole another glance at her rival. "Good luck!" she whispered.
"You, too," he returned with a small grin.
Perdix and his deputy, Ewald, took their places next to Urko and Vinson. As Perdix searched for the fugitive trio in the crowd of spectators, Zaius, Barlow and Mikko occupied their special seating arrangements behind the four gorillas.
"Well, Urko, this should be interesting," said Zaius. "Hopefully, your female jockey won't turn out to be a foolish choice. The boy, I hear, does have experience and he's proven himself to be an excellent rider."
"Yes, that's true," agreed Urko. "But wait until you see the girl in action! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!" He turned to Perdix. "Hey, Perdix! News flash! I love winning so much that I hardly ever lose!"
"I think you're losing your golden touch, Urko," Perdix easily replied. "As I recall, you lost your most recent race. Whatever the outcome, win or lose, it doesn't matter! I'll still be satisfied with the results."
"You should be," Urko commented. "You've done an excellent job turning that boy and horse into a top-notch courier team." He jumped to his feet. "There's the official! I think he's ready to start the race!"
The official, who was actually one of Urko's gorillas, wore a black poncho over his soldier's tunic. He bounded onto the spectator's stand and stood between Urko and Perdix. "Mount your horses and get ready for the start!" he called.
Nicky and Aunni swung up on their mounts and lined up side by side in front of the grandstand. Quando became agitated, tossing his head and pawing the ground. He was ready to go! Jezebel caught his excitement, and the ebony horse neighed and pranced in place.
Virdon, Burke and Galen had found a suitable spot to watch the race. They merged within a mixed crowd of humans and apes, hoping to become anonymous faces to Urko's keen eyes.
The official fired his rifle and both horses shot from the starting line like a pair of launched missiles.
"They're off, Fauna!" cried Sestus. "Nicky's in the lead, but not by much! That boy has his work cut out for him! The girl's riding a real racehorse, and she's just as good a rider as he is!"
Fauna clasped her hands together in nervousness. "Come on, Nicky!"
As instructed by Vanka, Aunni allowed Nicky to take the lead. Quando, who sensed Jezebel close behind, increased his strides. He eagerly wanted to leave his opponent far behind, but Nicky held him back. He had Aunni's game plan figured out, and the boy suddenly had a strategy of his own! Since he was expected to take the lead for most of this race, he would set the pace as well! For the first two laps on the three lap stretch through the village throughway, Nicky slowed Quando down to a leisurely canter. Aunni slowed down as well, keeping a careful half-length behind.
The crowd murmured at their antics, as did Urko and Perdix. Everyone watched, perplexed.
Urko leaned forward in his seat. "What's going on? Why are they slowing down?"
"I don't know," Perdix casually answered with a shrug. "It looks like Nicky's being a gentleman, and he's taking it easy on your novice girl jockey!" His comment produced a merry titter from all the apes except Urko.
"Nonsense!" Urko spat angrily. "This may be her first race, but she's just as good a rider as your human! And she's just as tough! We all came to watch a race, and damn it, I want them racing!" He scowled, then shook an aggravated fist at the two human jockeys.
Vanka and a small group of his fellow troopers cheered on Aunni and Jezebel, while Perdix's garrison gorillas rooted for Nicky and Quando on the opposite side-inciting their fellow spectators. Soon the hometown crowd drowned out Vanka and his bunch.
Jezebel's ears perked up at the roar of the crowd. She seemed to perceive that all this chanting was for her rival, and she tugged at the bit. She was a racehorse and she was ready to show this spotted wannabe, and all of these people, what a real racehorse could do! Aunni sensed Jezebel's eagerness and she pulled up along side of Nicky and Quando.
"Come on, Nicky!" she called irritably. "This is silly! We're supposed to be racing, not having a nice ride in the country!"
"All…right! W-we'll race! No-no more f-fooling around!" Nicky shot back. "Bring it on…girl!"
"Okay, boy, you asked for it! Catch us if you can!" Aunni loosened her grip on the reins. "Yahoo!" she yelled, giving Jezebel an encouraging poke with her heels.
At last! Jezebel was free! As a whirlwind let loose, she breezed in front of Nicky and Quando, pounding the earth with her fleeting hooves. Jezebel arched her neck and held her head up high. She was in the lead and in command of the race!
Nicky smiled to himself. His plan worked! He successfully turned the girl's scheme against her! Now, it would be him holding Quando back, saving his speed and stamina for the finish!
Vanka groaned. "Girl, what are you doing? This wasn't our plan! That's it! If you lose this race, you're on your own!"
Gentza watched in anxiety. "Aunni, please be careful!" he pleaded. "Whatever you do, just don't fall!"
"This is turning out to be quite a race!" Zaius proclaimed. "Well, Urko, I'm impressed! Your idea of human jockeys might be practical after all!"
"Come on, Nicky!" yelled Sestus. "Gentza's girl just took the lead and she's entered the cross-country course first!" he reported what was happening to Fauna. "But Nicky and Quando are right behind!"
Fauna nodded as she clutched her uncle's arm.
Hearing the crowd energized the Appaloosa! He tossed his head in a vain attempt to force Nicky to let him run his own race. Jezebel may have been a whirlwind, but Quando was eager to show everyone he was a full-blown hurricane!
Mounted gorillas from both Perdix's and Urko's outfits were situated on different parts of the course, to keep the racers on track, and to ensure that no dishonesty had occurred.
Part of the course ran through Bayne's Meadow, on the way to Sestus' farm. It was here that Nicky always unleashed Quando's passion for running. The spotted horse now begged, tugging on his bit, and the lad understood. The girl and the ebony horse were invaders on Bayne's Meadow! They may not win this race, but this stretch of beautiful land was their turf, and nobody was going to take it away from them! Nicky gave Quando his head and clicked his tongue, signaling his horse to go for broke. But Quando needed no urging! He blazed across the field in a sudden burst of speed, easily catching and passing Aunni and Jezebel. Bayne's Meadow belonged to them! Nicky glanced over his shoulder and shot the female human a smug look, to which Aunni returned a vengeful glare. The boy and his spotted mount cut across the main road that fringed Bayne's Meadow and continued on to the sea.
Nicky slowed Quando down when they reached Sunaeco Beach, a flat stretch of sand about three miles south of Sandy Point. Here, he and Quando relaxed a bit, since they still had a good sizable lead over Urko's team. Quando sniffed the sea salt air and enjoyed the feel of the cool wet sand squishing beneath his hooves. He spotted a flock of seagulls gathered on the sand a few yards in front of them. In a quick surge of speed, he dashed towards them. The birds fluttered in a mad rush to avoid the oncoming horse and boy. Quando let loose with a loud, long whinny as if he relished leaving a sky-full of gulls in his wake! Nicky laughed as the gulls returned to the beach, squawking furiously after them! He stole a quick look behind and saw Aunni and Jezebel in hot pursuit.
The girl followed, galloping her mount straight into the group of grounded gulls. This time, instead of the cluster of birds taking to the sky, the seagulls swirled madly around the girl and the horse. The combination of screeching and the flickering wall of wings startled Jezebel. She whirled around, neighing in fright. "Whoa, Jez, whoa! Easy girl, easy!" cried Aunni, attempting to bring the horse under control. The panicked mare rose high on her hind legs, easily pitching her rider onto the beach. Jezebel turned and fled from the furious flock, running back the way she came. As a briefly disorientated Aunni stirred from the sand, a chorus of hilarious laughter erupted from the three gorillas watching from the ridge above. Their hideous cackling nudged Aunni back to her senses. "Jezebel!" she yelled. "Jezebel, you come back here!" The teen took off after the runaway horse.
Meanwhile, Nicky had stopped long enough to witness Aunni and Jezebel's encounter with the seagulls. He chuckled amusingly-the birds had taken their revenge on his opponents!
"Jezebel! Jezebel!" Aunni hopelessly watched as her mount faded into the horizon. She collapsed in a woeful heap on the sand. A horde of unpleasant thoughts tearfully ran down her cheeks; the lost race and facing Urko's wrath, being taken away from Gentza, Gentza possibly imprisoned…
Behind the dismayed lass the sound of rapidly churning sand drew closer and closer. Aunni rose to her feet, just in time to see a blurred image of a horse and rider flying up the coastline. Using her sleeve, she quickly cleared her hazy vision. Her eyes widened and her heart leaped with joy at the sight before her… Along the ocean's edge, Nicky and Quando gradually approached, with Jezebel in tow! Nicky dismounted and handed the mare's reins to Aunni.
"You brought her back! Thank you! Thank you!" Aunni gushed gratefully. "Why did you stop to bring her back?" she asked curiously. "You could've kept going and won the race by now!"
Nicky grinned sheepishly. "It wouldn't…be much of-of a race…with just one horse! Are…you…all-all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Aunni blushed. "I'm more embarrassed than I am hurt! Thank you again for bringing her back!" Without warning, she grabbed Nicky in a quick embrace. When she released him, her entreating eyes met his. "Please don't tell Gentza about this!" she begged. "If he ever found out, he'll be very angry and upset!"
"I won't…say anything, but…they…might!" Nicky jerked his head upwards, indicating their giggling gorilla audience.
"Aw, isn't that sweet?" one ape jested from above.
"My hero!" the second primate cooed in a falsetto voice.
"Get a room, you shameless animals!" howled the third simian, to the delight of his fellow soldiers.
"Great!" groaned a crestfallen Aunni. "Just great! Gentza's going to know about this for sure!"
"Can't worry…about that now. Come on, let's…get out of…here," Nicky told Aunni as he climbed aboard Quando. "We…we have a race…to finish!"
"I'm for that!" Aunni readily agreed. She swung upon Jezebel's back, and the two competitors leisurely sprinted their mounts through the rest of the Sunaeco Beach course, ardent to leave the angry seagulls and their taunting spectators behind.
The remainder of the route snaked its way through a series of small ape-owned farms, ending back to the village of Thalassa. Both Quando and Jezebel happily loped by the simian onlookers lining the road, enjoying the cheers and the attention they were getting.
Nicky, eager to resume his original plan, subtly allowed Urko's team to recover their slight lead. At the right moment, close to the finish line, he and Quando would make their move!
As the racers reentered the village outskirts, the crowd yelled wildly for their local favorites, "Go, Nicky, go! Come on, Quando!"
"Here they come! My horse is winning!" Urko exclaimed. He leaped from his chair and hopped about like a jumping bean. "Come on, girl! Come on!"
Perdix was also upon his feet. He beat the air with his fists. "Come on, boy! You can do it, boy!"
Zaius leaned forward, clasping his hands together. Secretly, he wanted Nicky and Quando to win. Urko had grown too confident, too arrogant, and too annoying within the past few years. The Councilor would have certainly been one ecstatic ape if Perdix won this race, humbling Urko! The belligerent gorilla needed to be taken down a notch or two…
"Aunni is in the lead and it looks like she's going to win!" Sestus cried in disappointment. "Oh Fauna, I can't watch!"
"You have to, Uncle Sestus!" Fauna insisted. "You know I can't see what's going on!"
Nicky slackened the reins. "Yee haw!" he cried, turning Quando loose. The speckled horse battled fiercely to edge himself ahead of his coal-black rival. Victory was only a few lengths away!
But Jezebel retaliated! In a sudden explosion of speed, the ebony racehorse held her opponent back. As the official flagged them across them across the finish line, Urko's horse had vanquished Perdix's Appaloosa by a nose!
"She did it! She did it! That's my girl!" Gentza shouted. He grabbed a nearby, startled onlooker and squeezed him tight.
Virdon, Burke and Galen heard disappointed murmuring taking place around them.
"I think we should leave town while we still can!" Burke suggested. "Perdix just lost his winery, and he might come gunning for us! We tried to help him win this race and he still lost!"
"Why would Perdix be angry at us?" asked Virdon. "He's a reasonable ape. He knew from the beginning that Nicky and Quando were clearly outmatched! If we hadn't have helped them, they would've lost by more than just a nose!"
"They may have lost by a nose, but Nicky and Quando still ran a fantastic race!" Galen declared. "And I'm sure they'd win in a rematch, don't you think so, Alan?"
"It's possible!" Virdon agreed. "Come on, let's find Sestus and Fauna."
"Ha! Ha! My horse won! She won!" Urko trumpeted. He turned to Perdix. "Well, Perdix, it's finally over! You may have lost your winery, but that boy and horse of yours ran quite a race!"
"Yes, they certainly did!" Perdix agreed, shaking Urko's hand. "Congratulations, Urko. And special congratulations to your girl and horse. They ran a great race, too. Enjoy your wine, sir."
As Nicky and Aunni rode up to the grandstand, Urko took Jezebel by the reins and proudly paraded the joyful winners on a victory march through the village. Nicky, on the other hand, stood dejectedly before his guardian. At that moment, he wished he could disappear and never be seen again! It was not because of any retributions from Perdix; Perdix assured him there would be none. He was miserable because he had disappointed Perdix; an ape who deemed him worthy enough to be rescued from death and given a new life…a life that few humans were privileged to experience! The teen lowered his face to prevent the garrison commander from seeing his emerging tears. In response to Nicky's disheartened behavior, Perdix placed a benevolent hand on his shoulder.
Zaius rose to feet and offered Perdix a sympathetic hand. "I'm sorry about the race and your winery, Perdix."
"No, it's all right, Councilor Zaius," Perdix said in resignation. "Yes, I'm disappointed that I lost my winery, but Urko won it fair and square, so I'm satisfied."
"I'm glad to see you're taking this so well. I will say you've done a marvelous job with your human, Perdix. I'm impressed," Zaius praised. "Judging by his performance today, the boy seems quite capable in his role as a courier, and I see no reason why he shouldn't be permitted to continue his assigned duties. I'll present my final approval to the Council at the next meeting. If the boy continues to work out, perhaps we can start using human couriers on a permanent basis in the near future."
Perdix could hardly believe his ears! He may have lost his winery to Urko, but in the end, he had won his uphill battle to maintain his human messenger! "Thank you, sir. I really appreciate this!" he replied graciously. "I know you won't regret your decision, sir! Nicky has proven himself to be trustworthy, and I'm sure he'll continue to provide dedicated service for years to come!" He looked excitedly at the young human. "Did you hear that, boy? Councilor Zaius is pleased with you, as am I! He said you can continue on as my errand boy!"
Nicky's worried brown eyes encountered Perdix's. "I-I c-can, sir?" The gorilla confirmed the good news with a supportive paw on his back. "Thank y-you, C-Councilor Zaius, s-sir! Th-thank y-you, P-Perdix…sir! I-I p-promise, I-I won't l-let you d-down, sir!"
"I know that you won't, boy!" Perdix confidently replied. "I know that you won't!"
"Well, this is good news!" Gentza, sans his black cloak, overheard as he joined them on the grandstand. "Congratulations, Perdix, Nicky!" Casting a sympathetic glance at Nicky, he said, "I'm sorry about the race, Perdix. Even though you didn't win, Nicky still ran a great race!" The vet's arm coiled snugly around the youth, whom responded with a bashful grin. "You should be proud of him!"
"I am!" Perdix fervently replied. "Thanks, Doc!"
"Doc?" Barlow's brow raised curiously at Zaius. "Did he just call him 'Doc'?"
"Yes," the orangutan nodded. He cut in between Perdix and Gentza. "Barlow, this is Dr. Gentza from Central City. He's one of the apes who's conducting the census on the human population. Gentza, this is Prefect Barlow of Kaymak."
"Councilor Zaius, it's nice to see you again!" Gentza addressed the red ape. "Prefect," he acknowledged holding out his right paw to Barlow.
Barlow recoiled in shock, too stunned to reciprocate Gentza's handshake! Instead, his bewildered eyes fixed upon the emerald caduceus that adorned the veterinarian's mauve tunic. He turned and sputtered at Zaius, "He's Dr. Gentza? But that's impossible! He's a-a…"
"Gorilla," Zaius calmly finished. "Yes, I know."
Barlow pulled Zaius aside. "You never mentioned he's a gorilla!" he muttered in surprise.
Zaius shrugged. "As long as he gets the results I want," he whispered back, "I don't care what species he is!" Secretly, he wished more gorillas were like Gentza-level-headed and easygoing!
As Barlow regained his composure, another startling notion suddenly crossed his mind. The revelation of Gentza's identity further explained Galen, Virdon and Burke's shifty behavior! The three friends, he quickly realized, had cunningly paid him back for deceiving them in Venton three years ago! "Very clever, boys! Very clever, indeed!" he mumbled, then sighed, "Well, I suppose I deserved it!"
"Is there a problem, Prefect?" Gentza asked suspiciously.
"Ah, no, Doctor!" Barlow smiled embarrassingly. "There's no problem…no problem at all!" He quickly clasped Gentza's hand in an awkward attempt to conceal his presumptions. "I was…just telling Zaius how pleased I am to finally make your acquaintance!"
Oh, I bet you are! Gentza thought wryly. Being accustomed to such receptions, he clearly saw through Barlow's act! Instead of making the usual chiding comeback, he decided to let this one slide. "Pleased to meet you, too, Prefect," he said cordially. "If all goes well, Aunni and I should be in Kaymak in a couple of weeks to log your human residents."
"That sounds good!" Barlow said brightly. "I'm looking forward to your visit in Kaymak, Doctor!" he genuinely added.
"Thank you, Prefect," Gentza smiled. "And Aunni and I look forward to meeting all your humans."
Barlow gestured toward Thalassa's plaza. "Shall we join in the festivities?"
"After you, Prefect," Gentza nodded with a sweep of his hand.
Barlow's eyes sparkled merrily. "Oh, Doctor, I must tell you, I really enjoyed that book you wrote on human anatomy!" he eagerly blurted. "It's one of the most fascinating books I've ever read!"
Now it was Gentza's turn to be taken aback! "You've actually read my book?" His brow rose in puzzlement. "I'm surprised…and flattered! A medical manual on human anatomy isn't exactly reading material that would interest the general public!"
"Well, I've had this lifelong fascination with humans, especially human behavior," Barlow freely admitted. "My friend, Braxton, has always known about my human studies, and as a surprise he sent me a copy of your book-"
As the two apes followed Zaius, Perdix and the other grandstand observers to the after-race celebration, around the corner of a cabin not far from the platform, three pairs of exultant eyes watched.
"Do you think Barlow likes our friend, Dr. Gentza?" Virdon asked slyly.
"Oh, I think the doc's starting to grow on him!" smirked Burke.
"I was just telling Zaius," Galen mimicked the Kaymak prefect, "how pleased I am to finally make your acquaintance! I'm looking forward to your visit in Kaymak, Doctor!"
The fugitives chuckled heartily then faded into anonymity within the mingling crowds.
After an exciting day of racing and festivities, Urko had finally allowed Gentza and Aunni to retire back to Perdix's guesthouse. Gentza was organizing his log books and his medical bag, while Aunni played with flat multicolored marbles on the table; a game which appeared to be a cross between Solitaire and Chinese checkers.
A knock at the door brought Gentza to his feet. Peering through the peephole, his muzzle dropped in surprise. "Phoebus, Alar and Pargo! Come in, please!" the vet invited the fugitive trio inside. "Aunni, look who's here!"
"Phoebus, Alar and Pargo!" Aunni jumped up to greet the three friends. "Hello, sirs! Nice to see you again!"
"It's nice to see you, too, Aunni!" Burke brightly replied. "Hey, we saw the race! Congratulations there, kiddo!"
"Yeah, that was quite a race you and Nicky ran!" Virdon added. "Congratulations to both of you!"
"Thank you, sirs," Aunni quietly answered, then somberly stared at the rainbow glass balls covering the table. "I'm really sorry Nicky lost the race and Perdix lost his winery because of it."
"I don't see why you should be," Galen said appeasably. "As Alar said, you and Nicky ran a quite a race! I'm sure Perdix was disappointed, but he was very sporting about it." The chimp's eyes suddenly twinkled as his muzzle bowed into an assertive grin. "You know, I have this feeling that Perdix just might win back his winery from Urko someday."
Aunni's head snapped up at the prospect. "You really think so?" she queried hopefully. "That would be wonderful if he could!"
"I'm almost sure he will!" Galen replied confidently. "So for the moment, I wouldn't feel too badly about the race, if I were you." He patted the teen's shoulder reassuringly.
"Yes, sir," Aunni softly returned with a small smile. "Thank you, Phoebus."
Galen chuckled affectionately, then turned to Gentza. "Oh, by the way, Doctor…I'm sorry, but our visit wasn't exactly a social call. There's a medical issue that we need to speak privately with you about."
"Yes, of course, I understand," Gentza nodded. "We'll speak in the stable. It'll be more private there." After instructing Aunni to continue playing her game, he convened with the three comrades where Minka and Hedy were housed. "Now, what seems to be the problem?"
Out of the blue, Burke suddenly drew his knife and lunged at Gentza. He shoved the ape doctor against the stable wall, then held the knife against his throat. The loud noise caused Hedy, Minka and some of Perdix's horses to jump and restlessly sound off in return. "You're the problem, Doc!" Burke growled furiously. "We thought you were our friend, someone we could trust! But it turns out we were wrong! You're nothing but a two-faced backstabbing son of a bitch!"
Gentza's eyes widened; more in curiosity than fear. "What are you talking about?"
"That damned book on human anatomy you 'wrote', Dr. Gentza! Or should I say, 'Dr. Mather'!" the dark haired human hissed. "Do you realize because of that book you've put the entire staff at the Central City Medical Center in danger? Everyone from Leander and Kira, all the way down to Travin and every last human orderly will be killed for treason because of 'your' book! They'll die because you betrayed them!"
"I betrayed nobody!" Gentza snapped back. "Yes, I wrote that book, so to speak, but it wasn't my idea! And nobody's going to die-at least not while I live and breath!"
Burke grunted disgustedly, as he pressed the knife harder on Gentza's esophagus. "Can you believe this hairy Marcus Welby?" he told Virdon and Galen. "Now he's lying to save his own pathetic fuzzy butt!"
"No!" the gorilla hoarsely panicked. "It's the truth I tell you! Please! You must believe me!"
"Pete!" barked Virdon. "Back off! At least give him a chance to explain his side of the story."
Burke complied, but still kept his weapon trained on Gentza.
"Thank you, Virdon." gasped Gentza. He rubbed his neck, then coughed to clear his throat. "Urko and Zaius already knew about the stolen book, and that Virdon was brought to the hospital for help." he bluntly recounted. "One of Zaius' servants saw the ambulance cart parked outside of Zaius' home that day. He asked the guard why the ambulance was there. When the guard told him, he grew suspicious because he knew Zaius was in a Council meeting, so he summoned the police. Urko was following up with Zaius on this and that's how they discovered the book had been stolen, along with a bust of Dowsa. When Urko questioned me, I told him I knew nothing about this! I wasn't even at the hospital when this occurred! I was still in veterinarian school at the time. Later on, Leander did tell me about the incident, but I would never, ever tell Urko what really happened!" He gazed pleadingly at the trio. "I swear upon the Sacred Scrolls it's true!"
"It's all right, Doc. I believe you," Virdon said acquiescently. "Urko and Zaius may be dumb, but they're not stupid! Sooner or later," he added-mostly to soothe Burke's outrage, "they would've put two and two together and figured this out."
Galen stared at Gentza in disbelief. "But why did you rewrite that book? Do you realize how many lives, including your own, you've endangered just by making that book public?"
Gentza sighed noisily. "I told you! It wasn't my idea to rewrite that book!" he insisted. "And I haven't endangered anyone!"
"You expect us to believe that?" Burke sneered.
"Yes! If you'll give me a chance, I'll tell you why!" cried Gentza. "After vet school, Dr. Sanjay-my mentor, and the ape who was instrumental in helping me establish my medical career-assigned me the responsibility of managing the human orderlies. Under his guidance, I treated all the sick and injured humans. After about six months, Leander and Sanjay felt they could take me into their confidence-and at great personal risk-showed me the book. At first, I thought it was a hoax, but after I had a chance to really study the book, I was just amazed!" His eyes lit up like those of a fascinated child. "A whole new world of medicine just literally opened up right in front of me!" His excited eyes bounced between Virdon to Burke. "And that's when I realized that all those stories I've heard about both of you were true! You really are from the time when that book was written!"
Gentza continued in awe. "Leander and Sanjay allowed me to study and use the book to expand my field of expertise. We knew what the deadly consequences were for having such a book…but this book was such a priceless, unique find that we just couldn't allow it to be destroyed!" He began subconsciously pacing about the stall. "So, Leander and Sanjay devised an ingenious plan to preserve the book, and share its knowledge with other physicians and veterinarians-without arising suspicion from Urko and Zaius…they hoped! It took the three of us, and Kira, about a year to rewrite the book. And since I'm the human vet specialist, I was given all the credit as its author. I also discovered that Sanjay and Kira are excellent artists, and they painstakingly worked to recreate all the pictures in the book. When 'my' book was finished, we hid Dr. Mather's book in a secret, secure place. That way, the general public would never know the true origins of my so-called medical manual."
The vet paused to retrieve his rumpled handkerchief. "Since the council had been silent about all of this, we thought the plan had worked…until Urko had forced Aunni and me to participate in this race," he dolefully explained as he wiped his sweaty brow. "That's when I found out for the first time that he and Zaius knew about the stolen book and Virdon's hospital stay all along." Gentza resumed his pacing. "The council had been hearing stories about my successful blood transfusions, and other medical achievements through word of mouth, and that's what aroused their curiosity. Then Zaius and Urko conducted a discreet investigation, and unfortunately, 'my' book only succeeded in confirming their suspicions. Urko gladly informed me my book had already convicted us, and that further denials were futile. He ordered me to surrender the human book to him, and I told him that was impossible. I told him we knew the book was taboo, so we burned it in my fireplace…that was our story if we ever got caught." An short, ironic laugh emitted from Gentza. "I thought Urko would've been pleased to hear this! But he actually became angrier! He acted as if we had deprived him of an opportunity to erase some of man's dangerous past!" He whirled upon the odd trio. His grim, determinative stare bore straight through them. "Until Urko is actually holding Dr. Mather's book in his hands, no one is going to be killed for treason!" he declared. "This is promise you!"
"Oh, well, that makes me feel a whole lot better!" Burke viciously spat.
"Pete!" Virdon curtailed Burke with a sharp look.
"No, it's all right, Virdon," Gentza submissively said, waving a hand. "I know how much Burke wants to cut my throat, and I can't blame him for that!" He meekly hung his head. "But at least we can all take great comfort in knowing 'my' book will never be a best seller! Only a handful of apes like myself, Prefect Barlow and even you, Galen, would ever be interested in a book about humans!" A small tongue-in-cheek smile formed on his lips. "Especially a book written by an insane, outcast gorilla!"
"So where did you hide that book, Doc?" Virdon gently inquired.
Gentza shook his head. "I'm sorry but I can't tell you that!" he rasped. "I swore secrecy to Leander, Kira and Sanjay!" His head lifted, once again, revealing his resolute expression. "Believe me, that book is hidden in a place where it will never be discovered!" His steadfast eyes abruptly weaken with distress, as a trickle of tears dampened his cheeks. "I'm sorry!" he whimpered, drying his muzzle. "I didn't mean to cause so much grief, but please, you must understand, I had no choice! I had to save Aunni! I-I love that child! She's like a daughter to me! If anything ever happened to her, I could never forgive myself!" He turned away and leaned against the stall partition, covering his sobbing face with his worn hankie.
A stunned, silent look reverberated between the three friends…for they had never before seen a gorilla cry!
Finally, Galen quietly asked. "Aunni? What does she have to do with any of this?"
Gentza faced the renegade threesome with red, rheumy eyes. "Remember when I told you about rescuing Aunni from an illegal human pet ring? I didn't know I was supposed to file an ownership claim on her after I decided to keep her!" he blubbered distraughtly. "When Urko confronted me about the book, he forced me to make a deal with him. If Aunni rode his horse, and I told him about that book, he would drop the illegal possession charge, and have the ownership papers drawn up himself! If we didn't cooperate, he was going to have Aunni taken from me, and/or have me imprisoned! I just couldn't bear the thought of her being taken from me, then executed!" The tears resumed as memories of his first encounter with the young human suddenly plagued his mind. "Or worse, Aunni being sold to a new ape master who beats and starves her, and locks her in a cage! And me not able to find her, or ever get her back-" His desperate look beseeched Virdon, Galen and Burke. "If I'm in prison, the humans will suffer, too! They won't have anyone to provide decent care for them!" Once more, the ebony ape hung his arms over the divider and solidly wept.
As Burke sheathed his knife, his sympathy for Gentza augmented, along with the memory of his own situation…when Wanda tried to brainwash him into revealing the names of all the humans and apes who've lent them a hand. Luckily, Burke's strong willpower and military training, as well as Galen and Virdon's courageous rescue, had thwarted the she-ape's devious scheme! He patted Gentza's shoulder with a compassionate hand. "It's all right, Doc," he softly told the vet. "I know how you feel. I've been there, myself." He lifted his hand from Gentza's clavicle and uneasily ran it through his hair. "I just hope you're right about that book!" he cautiously told him.
"Well," Virdon stated with a hint of uncertainty, "it's been six months and so far, nothing's happened- knock on wood…" He rapped his knuckles on the stable wall for good measure.
"Again, I'm terribly sorry for all the harm I've caused you," Gentza tearfully apologized. "I know there's nothing I can do or say to make amends for what's happened."
"For starters, you could offer us a slice of Ruth's chocolate zucchini bread!" Galen suggested. "I saw it on the counter when we were in the guesthouse," he replied to Gentza's questioning look. "As I see it, since Ruth so generously gave you and Aunni a whole loaf, it would be very rude not to generously share it with your forgiving friends!"
"Yes, of course, that would be very rude, wouldn't it?" a composed Gentza smiled gratefully as he dried the last of his tears. "It would be a pleasure if you could join Aunni and me for some chocolate zucchini bread and coffee."
It was early the next morning, that the three fugitives gathered with Sestus, Fauna and Nicky to bid them farewell.
Fauna had packed some bread, vegetables, and fruit in a gunnysack and handed it to Burke. "Pargo, I just wanted you to know that I do forgive you for tricking me. Phoebus, too. I guess you had to do what you had to do."
Burke smiled coyly. "We never meant to hurt you, Fauna. We hated tricking you like that. But I'm glad we could finally resolve this and put this behind us. I want us to part on better terms this time." He moved closer to the she-ape. "I'd like to kiss you goodbye again, Fauna, if you don't mind."
"No, I don't mind," she said quietly. She closed her eyes, as Burke gently cupped her chin. He kissed the ape girl on her cheek, then quickly backed off. "It was nice of you to come and visit with us. Come back again as soon as you can."
"And don't let another three years pass before you do," said Sestus. "The door is always open."
"Thank you, Sestus," Virdon replied as he warmly shook Sestus' hand. "We'd better be heading out." He reached over and wrapped his arm around Nicky. "Tell Perdix goodbye for us, okay, Nicky?"
"Yes, sir," the russet-haired boy sadly nodded.
Virdon wandered over to the corral and quickly stroked Quando's forehead. Then the three friends departed Sestus' farm, and resumed their journey down the sandy road by the sea.
Galen, Virdon and Burke strolled carefree along the quiet thoroughfare, when they heard a trotting horse approaching from behind. The trio started to run for cover when they heard a familiar voice call, "Stop! Hold it right there!"
The owner of the voice was none other than Perdix himself. The garrison commander, aboard his black gelding, slowly approached the runaways, with his pistol ready in his hand.
"Did you think I was going to let you three get away from me again?" Perdix asked coldly, his eyes locked on the chimp and the two humans. "Especially when you're number one on Urko's most wanted list…Galen, Virdon and Burke!"
"You knew who we were all along, didn't you?" Virdon asked sullenly.
"Of course, it's my job," Perdix said flatly. "Urko had a special bulletin circulated throughout the districts, on the three of you. When I first saw you three years ago, I suspected you were the wanted fugitives, since your descriptions matched those in the report. But I couldn't be sure since you disappeared suddenly. Then when I saw you again, this time up close and personal, I positively knew who you were! You should've been more careful!" he warned. "Humans who know and do things they shouldn't-such as reading and writing, profiling and so forth-always find themselves in serious trouble!"
Galen growled sarcastically, "Now that you know who we really are, I suppose you're going to turn us in anyway because that's your job, too, right? After all we've done for you! See if we do you any more favors!" He had started to tell Perdix that Barlow was right! He was just another ungrateful, bone-headed gorilla brute, but thought better to keep his mouth shut!
Perdix's eyes narrowed menacing. "I had considered letting you leave quietly, but now I can't let you do that!" The ape dismounted and reached into his saddlebag. He retrieved a woven beige bag, all the while keeping his pistol clutched firmly in his paw. He cautiously moved toward the fugitives and handed Galen the sack. As he re-holstered his gun, a smile suddenly brightened his simian face. He chuckled at successfully catching the threesome off guard. "Remember when I told you that I never had a chance to show you my gratitude? I'm an ape of my word. Inside that bag are a couple loaves of bread and that bottle of wine I promised you."
"Does this mean you're not turning us in?" Galen asked warily, as he passed the bag to Virdon and Burke, whom untied the cord and took a quick peek inside.
"After all you've done for me, Nicky and Quando, how could I?" Perdix answered gratefully.
"We're really sorry about your winery, Perdix," Virdon apologized.
"At least we gave it the old college try…" Burke added dismally.
Perdix shrugged in retrospect. "It's all right. Urko won it fair and square, and that's all that really matters. But more importantly, you helped me catch a serial killer and clear an innocent ape of murder! And for that I'll always be grateful." The ape mounted his horse, then gazed pensively at the three friends. "Officially, I've never seen you, and I have yet to see you! You'd better get going. Urko's going to be here for another few days. Good luck, gentlemen." Perdix waved a fond adieu, reined his horse around and galloped back to Thalassa.
"There goes another good ape," Burke noted sincerely, as Virdon and Galen wordlessly agreed.
"Which way now, Alan?" asked Galen.
"We haven't been south yet, and I hear Acapulco is nice this time of year!" Burke added teasingly.
Virdon pulled out his compass, then turned to the chimpanzee. "What's down south, Galen?"
Galen shrugged. "I'm not very familiar with that area, but just more settlements, I suppose. However, I've heard stories that in the extreme southern part of the planet, there's an ape civilization that's so remote, they have their own culture and language."
Virdon's face glowed. "Se habla Espanola?"
A confused look crossed the chimp's face. "I don't know what you just said, but that does sound a lot like the language they speak."
"Let's go south!" Virdon cried. "Maybe we'll find a way to get back home! Some place where we'd least expect it! It's worth a shot!"
"Alan, I was just kidding!" Burke laughed.
"Galen's got me curious. We may not find a way to get back home, but it would be interesting to see what we find," Virdon said excitedly. "Pete, it makes sense! Mexico used to be south of the border. It's possible those apes adopted the culture and language of the Mexican people."
"It's possible, but I can't imagine an orangutan wearing a sombrero!" Burke said tongue-in-cheek. "You'll have to do most of the translating, buddy. My Spanish is a bit rusty."
"What's Spanish?" asked Galen. "And what's a some-bray-row?"
"Nosostros salgo en seguido!" Virdon said, then translated, "We leave right away!"
A month later, Urko held a private congratulatory dinner for his older brother, Enzo, the recently appointed prefect of Ier, a thriving human settlement in the south. Enzo was one of the few gorillas ever to hold that office. Lath had been prefect of Ier for twenty years, and had to step down due to his advanced age. Before he resigned, he had campaigned hard for Enzo's nomination as his replacement. Enzo had been Ier's District Police Chief for the past sixteen years, and his experience and qualifications made him the perfect successor.
"Give my compliments to Elta, Urko!" praised Enzo. "This vegetable casserole is excellent!"
"Elta didn't make the casserole," Urko replied. "Her servants Lulu and Niabi made it."
"Then give my compliments to them for a wonderful meal!" Enzo nodded with a pleased grin. "Now that I'm a prefect, I guess that means you'll be challenging me to a race next year. I'm warning you, Urko, don't try any of your tomfoolery with me! I know all of your tricks! Besides, I don't play those games anymore!"
"Enzo!" laughed Urko. "I wouldn't do that to you! You're my brother! After all, everything I learned about racing, I learned from you!"
"Speaking of races," Enzo remarked as he sipped from his glass, "this wine is the best I've had in a long time. Is this wine from the winery you won from Perdix?"
"Of course! I serve only the best!" Urko boasted. "And this race was an ingenious way to discipline Perdix for his insolent behavior! His interference cost Kagen and Tusan the race, and he had to be punished! I'm surprised to hear you don't approve of my racing strategies anymore. I thought you'd be pleased."
"I'm pleased that you ran an honest race against Perdix, but what disturbs me is that you've appointed yourself Perdix's judge and jury! How can you be so certain he was responsible for your losing the race? You have no hard evidence or eyewitnesses!" Urko's older brother paused thoughtfully. "And what if Perdix's horse had won?"
"A minor setback," Urko replied casually, as he downed the last of his wine. "Sooner or later another opportunity would've presented itself. Perdix's winery is adequate payment for the pain and suffering he caused Kagen and Tusan." He pondered silently for a few moments. "No, Enzo, I can't prove for certain Perdix was responsible, but my instincts tell me he knows more about this than he's letting on! I also feel that Prefect Mikko was involved somehow. After all, those two are friendly acquaintances."
Enzo stared silently across the table, troubled by the major change in his younger sibling.
Urko chuckled. "And those fools on the High Council actually believed my story about using human jockeys! Kagen may have taken a major tumble, but he's not ready to hang up his racing spurs just yet!"
"Does this mean you're not keeping the girl as your jockey?"
Urko wagged his head. "No. I only wanted her specifically for this race," he explained. "It's only logical for my jockey to closely match Perdix's jockey. It wouldn't have made sense having some old human geezer riding my horse! I knew Gentza and his hairless-monkey were somewhere in the region on that human census mission, but I had no idea they were in Thalassa! Imagine my surprise when Vinson brought them in! Not only did I have the perfect human jockey, but what a wonderful opportunity to finally confront that human-loving traitor, as well! Yes, Enzo, great fortune has certainly smiled upon me within the past month!" Urko beamed wickedly. "I still have one big race that I'd like to use human jockeys for. I'm planning a rematch against Barlow, the Prefect of Kaymak, next year."
Enzo leaned back away from the table, silently cursing himself. His little brother had turned from a good-natured horseplayer into a ruthless, competitive cheat; and he knew he was to blame! "Go on," he said, leery of what Urko was about to tell him.
The Chief of Security fingered his empty wine glass with a deviant gleam in his eyes. "Right now, I have a young human prisoner in custody for assaulting a police officer. Instead of having Dr. Malthus perform the usual surgery on him, I'm going to offer him temporary employment as my jockey. It should be an easy choice for him…ride or die! He's young, violent, crude and disrespectful of authority. He'll be the perfect opponent against Barlow's juvenile delinquent brat…"
Author's notes: It's been four years since I last posted anything and I apologize to all who've been waiting for new tall tales from me. My job, my music, and life in general have kept me busy, and I've finally had a chance to offer something new. Hopefully, those who read it will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I have several stories in the development stage, and with any luck I'll have them completed and posted before another five years pass.
I'd like to thank my tough, sticklers for perfection beta readers Dr. "Dr. Gori" Tanaka, his daughter Anita, "Bongo" Bob, and Buck Z. for really keeping me on the ball! And for helping me research the many topics that were incorporated into this story-sheepherding, horseracing, folk medicine, etc.
Most of all, a huge thank you to everyone who took another chance to read and review my latest story. As I noted before, this venture was purely written for entertainment purposes only, and not to be taken too seriously! This was also my first attempt at writing a murder mystery, so you'll have to bear with me on this. If there's any inconsistencies, I'll do what I can to correct them, and I'll be happy to answer any inquiries about the story, too. As always, constructive criticism is welcomed.
Thanks again for reading!
Arashi the Banjo Cat.
Update 8-19-13 Greetings everyone! Thank you everyone who took the time to read/review my latest tale. My apologies for not responding sooner. Work and life in general has occupied most of my time.
In response to the questions that people have asked, either in their reviews or private messaged me, no, my story wasn't actually dedicated to Baynes Barron. Since this was my "Perdix" story, I just included a lot of references to him. "Retik" was from "Radar Men From the Moon". "Garth" was from Baynes' movie "War Is Hell", and of course, Baynes Meadow. Perdix always reminded me of an ape version of Marshal Matt Dillon, so hopefully I've done his character justice.
Gentza and Aunni weren't really a reversed version of Armando and Caesar. They were based on the characters Judd Pryor and Wonder from the Gunsmoke episode, "Wonder". Judd Pryor is a drifter who becomes a sort of foster father to a young orphaned Indian boy named Wonder. Actually, Pat Renella (one of my favorite character actors) who played Jason and Zon on the series was the inspiration behind Dr. Gentza and Ricco (which was why Ricco appeared in this tale). As I was writing the story, he was the only actor I could picture playing Gentza and Ricco, that is, had my story been a real episode. Sadly, Pat Renella passed away on 11-9-2012 at the age of 83. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Renella. You made one heck of a handsome gorilla! No, two handsome gorillas! Correction, three in my mind's eye! RIP, Jason and Zon!
Not too long ago, Mike on Facebook told me that Gentza and Aunni reminded him of Lucas McCain (The Rifleman) and his son Mark! Thanks for the compliment, Mike! I love The Rifleman! (I'm also drafting a Rifleman fanfic!)
Thank you Apefan and Andrew P. for your helpful reviews. In retrospect, I guess the first chapter was a little slow. Maybe I should've had our fugitive trio reunite with Polar and his family instead. An idea for a story with Polar and kin is already brewing in my mind. Thanks for the suggestion! I'm glad the mystery plot of the story was all right and no one reported any inconsistencies.
No, Mary, I never told Mr. Renella about my story because I'm sure he wouldn't have had any interest in reading it. Now that's he gone, I do regret not asking him about his acting experiences on the show, what it was like working with Roddy McDowell, the makeup and so forth, but I figured he was too busy, or he didn't want to respond to some foolish little fan girl!
As for the wild humans, everyone will just have to be patient. Trying to overcome those plot bunnies! Every time I think I have a decent story, I find something not quite right, so it's back to the old keyboard for more edits and revisions. In the meantime, I'm also working on a "Spectreman" and a "Black Beauty" fanfic. Hopefully, any new stories will be finished and posted before another five years past!
Thanks again for reading!
Arashi the Banjo Cat.