All's Bear in Love and War
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"What are you waiting for? Shoot her!" Col. Spigot shouted. He emphasized his command by frantically waggling his riding crop at Rebecca standing in front of the cratered concrete wall.
"B-b-b-b-but...!" Baloo's eyes darted around, searching for a way to get Rebecca out of the line of fire. Not only was there a shortage of material goods to use as escape tools, he was experiencing a rare shortage of ideas.
Before he could devise a plan involving the lone light bulb affixed to the top of the wall, his rifle, and the overabundance of snow, Spigot barked out, "No 'buts'! She's a dangerous criminal!"
The petite bearess, near tears and shaking with cold and fear, looked anything but dangerous.
Baloo was sweating profusely despite the frigid wind that made Rebecca's skirt flap like a swallow in flight. He tried stalling for time by pointing out, "I'm bettin' she hasn't even had a trial yet. It's against the law to shoot someone before they have a trial. Can't she just get off with a warning?"
"I'm warning you. Shoot her, or as your commanding colonel, I'll shoot you!" Like a toddler throwing a tantrum, Col. Spigot jumped up and down. The flounder helmet bobbed comically on his head.
Baloo's eyes lit up with a sudden idea. He shouldered his weapon and surreptitiously winked at Rebecca. "Ya know, it's too bad that all your potential has to end this way, boss lady. Remember all the potential that I said you had back at Lake Flaccid? With the guacamole…?"
Catching onto his train of thought, Rebecca added with a slight smile, "And the flesh-melting ooze guns?"
Baloo nodded, almost imperceptibly. "Pre-zactly."
"Silence!" A very annoyed Spigot shouted. "Prisoners are to be shot, not heard. You're taking too long. Give me that gun!"
"Whatever ya say, your colonelness." Baloo was all graciousness as he handed over the weapon.
"Watch how a pro does it," Spigot said, pushing him aside.
Because the gun was a lot taller than Spigot was, it was difficult for him to raise it to his shoulder, yet maintain his balance. Warthog and gun swung wildly in a circle. The diminutive colonel staggered backwards, then forwards, backwards, forwards, on his toes, his heels, his toes, his heels. The barrel of the gun was aimed at the sky, the ground, the sky, and then...
Baloo cracked open an eye when a triumph Col. Spigot dropped the weapon in the snow and crowed, "You've still got it, Ivanov. The Crack-Shot of Coldstream Canyon." The short warthog strutted away, chuckling to himself.
When the colonel was out of earshot, Baloo said, "Don't know what he's so all-fired happy about. Spiggy couldn't hit the broad side of a fuselage, right, Becky?"
Baloo hurried towards the wall. Rebecca was lying in a crumpled heap, looking like a pathetic pink flower trampled in the snow.
And she wasn't moving.
His heart jumped into his throat as he dropped to his knees and started untying her hands. "I don't believe it. He really did shoot her! Where's a paramedic when you need 'em? Heck, I'd even go for a single medic." However, since there wasn't another soul in sight and he didn't know where the Glorious People's Hospital was, all he could do was cradle her limp form in his arms. Tears pricked his eyes. "Oh, man, Beckers, just say one word and tell me if you're dead!"
It seemed like an age passed until Rebecca's eyes fluttered open. She smiled dreamily at up him.
A second later, Baloo was almost sorry that she was alive. Rebecca had grabbed him by the lapels and was shaking him. "I'm not dead, but you are, buster! How dare you defect without asking me, your boss, first?"
"I-I-I...d-d-didn't...d-d-defect!" Baloo gasped out.
"But I-I don't understand." Rebecca stammered, releasing him. "Your uniform…the gun…and Col. Conrad told me you did."
"The only thing defective around here is that Conrad," Baloo growled, helping her to her feet. "Yeowch! Sliced my hand on your…" When she turned her hand over, he was momentarily blinded by the light reflecting off the enormous diamond. "Becky, where'd you get that rock?"
"Col. Conrad," Rebecca murmured guiltily, her eyes cast downward.
For some reason, Baloo felt that his world was in a tailspin; his boss lady must have shaken him harder than usual. He leaned heavily against the cold wall to steady himself, turning his back towards her. He couldn't bear the sight of that huge diamond that glinted mockingly at him. Angrily, he spat, "You're engaged to that liar, that fake, that…that phony baloney?"
"Not exactly..." She nervously twisted the ring that was two sizes too big.
"That looks pretty 'exactly' to me, lady. Well, you can just fly right back to your rich, famous colonel and live happily ever after!"
Rebecca put a gentle paw on his arm and waited until he had turned his sad, weary eyes towards her before saying, "But there won't be any 'happily ever after', Baloo, not without...what's that?" Her ears had detected the rhythmic tramping of many, many boots; it was growing louder.
Baloo protectively pushed Rebecca behind him as a troop of soldiers marched past.
When the soldiers were out of sight, Rebecca said, "In a few hours, Usland and Thembria will be at war with each other. Let's get out of this place!" She grabbed his hand and tugged on it.
Baloo, the immovable object, replied, "I'm stayin'."
"But," she grunted through gritted teeth, now trying to push the big bear, "the Sea Duck's…that way."
Amused by the petite bearesses' futile efforts, Baloo said, "I'm still stayin'."
Finally, Rebecca realized that she couldn't win. With her hands on her hips, she asked, "Why?" She thought that he would have jumped at the chance to leave the slush pit that was Thembria.
"Papa Bear's gonna catch Goldilocks," Baloo said, his spirits lifting. He had just realized something. A mental comparison of the current time with the time that it took to fly from Cape Suzette to Thembria told him that Rebecca must have cut her date with Col. Conrad short. She had walked out on the glitz and glamor of the world's biggest hero to fly to this forbidding, forbidden country and risk a firing squad to rescue him. It warmed the cockpit of his heart.
Rebecca scoffed, "Oh, Baloo! I think your brain's frozen, because you're making less sense than usual. Okay, so Col. Conrad might not be the shining paragon that the press makes him out to be, but he's still our peacekeeping ambassador. It's not his fault the High Marshall didn't want to negotiate with him and that they're going to declare war on us."
"Does it make sense that the so-called peacekeeping ambassador was swipin' stuff from Thembrian warehouses to jump-start the war?"
"He was?" she said, shocked.
"And then he tried to frame yours truly for it."
"He did?" She balled her fists, looking as if she would like to punch the peacekeeping ambassador.
"Yup, just like he framed that other chauffeur of his, poor stiff." Baloo thoughtfully rubbed the back of his neck. "Call it a hunch, honeybunch, but something as fishy as the Great Patriotic Flounder is goin' on here and I think that that Col. Conrad is just the tip of the iceberg. Yessiree, he'll be back. I just know it."
"Okay, I'll stay too," Rebecca replied reluctantly. She had known Baloo long enough to respect his hunches; they were usually right. Besides, she knew she would follow him anywhere and go along with almost any of his screwball schemes, especially if he called her endearing names like 'honeybunch'.
Grinning, he grabbed her hand. "C'mon, comrade, we gotta see a sergeant about some supplies."
On the Shores of Mustgo Lake
A Little While Later…
Baloo squinted through the darkness at the snow-blanketed building that loomed before them. "The Ministry of Lawn Ornaments?" he whispered just loud enough to be heard over the waves of hot-spring-fed Mustgo Lake that were lapping against the nearby docks. "What are we doin' here, Dundee?"
"You said you needed supplies, sir," Dunder replied, pushing open the heavy metal door. "This is where the supplies are."
As Dunder, Baloo, and Rebecca entered, a frightened woman sidled past, furtively tucking a package wrapped in brown paper into the pocket of her faded dress.
The sergeant led them through the dark, empty room, around the counter and lifted up on a ring connected to a trap door, revealing steps leading down. The light got brighter as they descended. At the bottom of the stairs, they found themselves in what looked like a large underground warehouse stocked to the rafters with every kind of item imaginable.
Baloo let out a low whistle. "What is this place?"
Dunder replied, "It was built as a bomb shelter during the Great War, but now it's the Black Jack Market."
"Does everyone in Thembria know about this?" Rebecca asked, glancing at the rows of canned food on the shelf next to her. The prices stamped on the cans were ten times more than what she usually saw at her local grocery store in Cape Suzette.
"Everyone but the top, top officials. If they knew, they'd take all the best stuff for themselves."
Just then, a warthog with one tusk that pointed up and one tusk that pointed down approached them. In a thick Thembrian accent, he said, "Ah, more customers."
"Hey, you're that Lawn Ministry guy," Baloo exclaimed.
"Black Jack is the name," he said proudly, rubbing his hands together. He knew suckers when he saw them, and everyone who came to the Black Jack Market was a sucker.
"Fleecing is your game," Rebecca concluded. "These prices are outrageous! Two dollars for a can of beans?"
"For you, special price of $3," Black Jack said, slapping a label with $3 on the can.
"That's a crock!"
A $4 label was piled on top the $3 label. "Four dollars, then."
"What?" Rebecca cried.
"Haven't you heard? There's a shortage," Black Jack replied with a smug smirk. Due to the lack of goods in the Thembrian warehouses and the government-owned Storesky above ground, he could charge the paltry peasants whatever he wanted and none would dare complain. Illegally obtaining things from anyone other than the State was a capital offense.
"Wait a prop-spinnin' minute!" Baloo interjected. "If there's a shortage, how'd all this stuff get here?"
At that moment, seven very short Thembrians in matching jackets and stocking caps raced down the stairs. They all wore black sashes, indicating that they were security guards. The grumpiest-looking one, aptly named Sgt. Grumpy, said, "The Flamingo's here, boss."
Baloo and Rebecca shared a look, saying simultaneously, "Flamingo?"
Baloo, Rebecca, and Dunder ran upstairs after Black Jack and the seven security guards. From behind the counter they saw the tail section of a large pink plane protruding into the room.
Black Jack's midget cohorts had formed an assembly line. Some were unloading plastic pink flamingo lawn ornaments from the plane onto a conveyer belt. Some were taking the flamingos apart. Some were boxing up the goods that fell out of the flamingos. Some were snapping the birds back together and painting them blue. Meanwhile, Sgt. Grumpy spray-painted the plane blue.
Dunder murmured, "That's the biggest flamingo I've ever seen," meaning the cargo plane.
"Hey, I recognize that guy," Baloo said. He was looking at the panther pilot talking to Black Jack. "He's one of Khan's men, but what's he doing jockeying that pink jalopy?"
Seeing Black Jack slip the panther pilot a wad of cash, Rebecca replied, "Making a profit from that merchandise for his boss."
Baloo had turned his attention to the assembly line where he saw pair after pair of chinchilla earmuffs drop out of the opened flamingos. "It's not just any merchandise, Beckers. That's the stuff that Connie shoplifted from the storehouses." Thumping the counter with one of his massive fists, he growled, "Why that dirty so-and-so! He's stealin' from the poor so's Khan can sell it back for more."
"And making a tidy profit in the meantime." Realizing how Col. Conrad had obtained part of his millions, Rebecca glanced guiltily at the gem glittering on her finger.
After the newly painted blue cargo plane had left, Black Jack turned to Baloo, Rebecca, and Dunder, an oily smile on his face. "Now, how can I be of assistance to you comrades?"
"We need some supplies," Baloo replied.
"Supplies I've got," Black Jack said wryly as he leaned against the counter. "What I need is payment, either money or something that I can re-sell to the peasants."
"Anyone have any green?"
"I do." Dunder rifled through his pockets, then helpfully held out a handful of leaves. "I have some turnip greens leftover from lunch."
Black Jack snatched them and promptly shoved them into his mouth. Gulp. "No sale."
Rebecca piped up, "This diamond ring will more than pay for whatever we need."
"What would the peasants want with a diamond ring," Black Jack laughed scornfully as he handed the ring back to her, "even if they could afford it?"
"But that's all we have," Rebecca pleaded.
"Not everything..." Black Jack leaned over the counter and leered at her.
A Half Hour Later...
The grey dawn was beginning to lighten the oppressive blackness of a Thembrian night as Baloo, Rebecca, and Dunder hurried through Mustgo's snowy streets, their arms full of the precious supplies.
However, Rebecca would have preferred the cover of darkness. "I can't believe I let you talk me into doing that, Baloo."
"It was either that or no supplies. 'Sides, what's wrong with the dress you got on now?" Baloo cast an admiring sidelong glance at her. He had liked that pretty pink dress, but what she was currently wearing was revving his engines.
"It's not a dress, it's a slip! And the next time you sell someone's clothes, they'd better be your own, buster!"
"Hey, the guy said there wasn't any demand for Thembrian uniforms, but pink, frilly dresses were hot stuff."
"Hot? No thanks to you, I'm freezing!" Rebecca hugged the knobby bundle closer to her and trotted a little faster.
"I'm sorry, Becky, but it was the only way." His solemn tone belied the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
"Hm!" Rebecca said with an angry toss of her brown hair as she slipped into the safety of the warehouse containing the hot water heater.
"Is Miss Becky's tongue frozen?" Dunder asked concernedly. "I had that happen to me once. It hurts."
"Nah, she's just givin' me the cold shoulder."
As he entered the warehouse a step behind Baloo, Dunder said, "Don't worry, Miss Becky. I'll get some clothes for you so your shoulders won't be cold. All I have to do is fill out a few dozen forms..."
The Balcony of the Glorious People's Government Building
Several Hours Later…
This was the moment that Col. Spigot had been awaiting for nearly two decades. In a few minutes, the High Marshall would declare war on that soft underbelly of the western world – Usland. And he, Col. Ivanov Spigot, would once again have a chance to shine in battle as he had done so many times in the Great War.
He rocked expectantly on his heels and peered between the stone balcony posts down at the large crowd of peasants assembled in the square. A few half-heartedly waved Thembrian flags. Most just huddled together and shivered. Like the High Marshall, Madame High Marshall, and all of the top, top officials who were gathered on the balcony, they weren't smiling.
Proudly adjusting his helmet, Spigot looked up at the uniformed, bespectacled man next to him. "I'm Col. Spigot, Head of the Glorious People's Air Force. Perhaps you've heard of me? The Terror of Tiny Tundra? Beast of the Battle of Buldoon? Death Dealing Demon of Dinswipe?"
The man, who happened to be the Head of the Ministry of Music and who had gotten stuck listening to that Col. Draindrip's boring drivel on numerous occasions, leaned over the balcony and frantically signaled for the start of the Thembrian national anthem. The full orchestra and booming choir on the stage below the balcony drowned out Spigot's reminisces.
It also drowned out the sound of a navy-and-white seaplane that circled overhead.
A Little While Later…
Col. Conrad pushed through the heavy rings of the Iron Curtain, muttering to himself. "Shere Khan can't tell me what to do. No one can tell me what to do. I'm Col. Conrad and if I say that there's gonna be a Cold Water War, then I reckon there's gonna be a Cold Water War. And the first casualty is gonna be the one thing that the High Marshall values most."
He drew a hand grenade out of his pocket and was about to pull the pin and heave it at the hot water heater when…
Momentarily distracted, Col. Conrad turned around. "What in the name of my Aunt Fanny's corsets…?"
His curiosity was rewarded by a flashbulb going off right in his face. Flash!
It was Rebecca, dressed in a man's suit and a grey trench coat. Completing her ensemble was a tattered fedora with a press card shoved in the hatband; it was pulled down to shade her face. "Fritz Kaddlehopper," she said in a mannish voice. "Reporter for the Glorious People's Press." She snapped another picture with her camera. Flash!
"Don't I know you? You look kinda familiar."
Without answering, she put the camera a mere inch from his nose and took a close up shot to blind him. While he was rubbing the spots out of his eyes, she touched the false grey mustache she wore to make sure it was still on. "I'm here for an exclusive interview on the man who started the war. The who's." Flash! "The why's." Flash! "And the how's." Flash! "Complete with pictures."
Blinded by all the flashes, Conrad stumbled backwards, tripped over his own feet, and went sprawling. The grenade flew from his hand and went skittering across the tile floor where it stopped near the Iron Curtain. "Ya'll can say that again," he said with a pained moan.
"Complete with pictures." Flash!
When she was helping him up, Rebecca took off her engagement ring and slipped it into his pocket. Then, camera clicking away at the Colonel, she backed towards the Iron Curtain and the grenade, but he was too fast for her.
He dove for the grenade and tackled it like it was a football. Scrambling to his feet, he demanded to know: "Hey, what in tarnation are you doing?"
"Just getting a close up of the famous weapon that started it all," Rebecca replied, taking a picture of the grenade that he was tossing up and down. Flash! "The Glorious People love it when I dish the dirt." Flash!
He drawled, "Waall, I love bein' able to see, so stop doin' that!"
"Sorry, sir, did I get your bad side?" Flash! Flash! Flash! Flash! As she snapped a series of blinding pictures of his other side, she slipped her hand through the Iron Curtain and waved.
On cue, Sgt. Dunder crashed through Iron Curtain. "What's going on…?" There was a pause as he untangled the barrel of his rifle from the iron rings. "Sorry about that." Shouldering his weapon, he cleared his throat self-consciously, and said his line again. "What's going on in here?"
Briskly, Rebecca said, "Fritz Kaddlehopper, reporter for the Glorious People's Press interviewing this Uslandian." Flash!
When Sgt. Dunder didn't say anything, Rebecca repeated pointedly: "Interviewing this Uslandian." Flash!
Woodenly, Dunder said, "Uslandians aren't allowed in here. I'm gonna have to take you to Col. Spigot." Per Baloo's instructions, the normally gentle sergeant roughly seized Col. Conrad by the arm, dragged him through the Iron Curtain, and towards the warehouse door.
"See this, you clodhopper?" Conrad tugged at the patch with the ambassador's seal on his sleeve. "I have diplomatic immunity, meaning I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. And what I want to do right now is…" He sank his perfect teeth into Dunder's snout.
"Ouch!" Dunder cried, releasing the colonel, who flung open the door and escaped outside.
"I don't remember that being part of the plan, Miss Becky." As he stood in the open doorway, Dunder touched his sore snout and winced. "But at least we kept him from blowing up the you-know-what behind the Iron Curtain and kept Col. Spigot from the firing squad."
Rebecca removed her moustache and nodded. She said softly, "It's all up to Baloo now."
Col. Conrad's plane sprayed them with snow blown from the warehouse roof as it soared overhead.
In the Martinique PB&J Seafarer…
The navy-and-white seaplane circled like a vulture several thousand feet over Mustgo Square. Col. Conrad stuck his head out the open window; the freezing wind stung his eyes and ruffled his golden curls. A devious grin marred his handsome features. He knew that far below, on the balcony of the government building, were all the Heads of State, waiting for the High Marshall to declare war. He drew the grenade out of his pocket and dangled it out the window. "This'll start the war off with a bang."
He jumped when a voice over the radio said, "Put it back, Connie."
"It can't be! He's supposed to be dead." With trembling fingers, Col. Conrad picked up the microphone. "Baloo?"
A Thembrian plane, plated like an armored car and armed like a small tank, fell in line with his starboard wing.
"Comrade Baloo to you," the big bear said, touching his fingers to the brim of his hat in a salute.
Not believing his eyes, Conrad grabbed the microphone. "You traitor!"
"Takes one ta know one." As if speaking to a small child, Baloo said very patiently, "Now, why don't you put that nasty old grenade away before ya hurt someone, Connie."
"Ya know what really hurts? Bein' ambassador to this stinking country! Have you ever been forced to listen to hours of the High Marshall's ice fishing stories? But the kicker is he never catches anything, but ice! Ice! He keeps his biggest 'catches' in a cupboard at his summer home right next to the figurines he's whittled out of ice. And he's the most interestin' person in Thembria! The rest of 'em are all alike as peas in a pod and as blah as the gruel they eat, especially that Col. Nozzle. Who cares what he did in the Great War twenty years ago? He'll never make General, but I will. And no one can stop me from getting there, not the Thembrian Air Force or Shere Khan or you."
He suddenly jerked the Seafarer to the right, thereby slamming his starboard wing down on the port wing of the Thembrian plane, sending it spiraling away.
"So long, sucker!" Conrad said, waving at the departing Thembrian plane. "Where was I? Oh, yeah, starting this shindig with a bang," he chuckled.
The colonel jumped, banging his head on the top of the window frame, when Baloo's voice once again came over the radio.
"But what about all those lives, all those families, this war's gonna wreck just so's you can have one more medal?"
Looking up, Col. Conrad could see the grey underbelly of the hulking Thembrian craft, flying parallel with his own plane.
"So a few nobodies kick the bucket," Conrad said with an unconcerned shrug of his broad shoulders. "Big deal. That's what war's all about. Besides, my family, Rebecca, Kurt, and Holly…"
"Kit and Molly," Baloo corrected angrily.
Col. Conrad continued as if he hadn't heard him. "…will bask in my shared glory when I'm elected President, and it'll all happen because I kept the world safe for truth, justice, and the capitalistic way. That's my job as Usland's biggest hero and the world's best pilot."
Without further ado, he pulled the grenade's pin and let it drop.
"We'll just see about that." Baloo's jaw was set in a grim line as he pushed the stick forward, putting the flying fortress into a sharp dive. In the process, his plane purposely clipped the nose of the much lighter Seafarer, thus making it spin forward on its lateral axis, tumbling tail section over nose.
Baloo thrust the throttle up as high as it would go and muttered to himself, "This is co-co-nuts, but I gotta catch that live pineapple if it's the last thing I do." As the airplane started to shake violently under the strain and a few loose bolts rattled past his feet, he gulped. "What if it is the last thing I do?"
The grenade whistled through the air, gaining momentum as it fell towards the crowd gathered on the balcony.
According to the High Marshall's assistant's very accurate pocket watch, the 24-hour grace period that they had given Usland to return their stolen goods had expired. The High Marshall rose from his throne-like chair, roughly shoved both the assistant and his pocket watch aside, and slowly lumbered to the microphone. In his deep gravelly voice, he began, "Glorious People of Thembria…"
All over the world, people were glued to their radios, nervously awaiting the announcement. Including…
Wildcat, Kit, and Molly at Higher for Hire…
Shere Khan at Khan Towers...
Louie, the crew of simian waiters, and the pilot patrons at Louie's Place...
All the military personnel – both Uslandian and Thembrian – at their respective military outposts…
But none listened as closely or as eagerly as the diminutive Col. Spigot.
In fact, he was so absorbed in the High Marshall's speech that he didn't notice the airplane bearing down on him until the propwash sent his helmet sailing over the balcony.
Baloo could hear the screams of the terrified Thembrians as his outstretched fingers finally folded over the grenade. He yanked back on the stick with all his might, missing the panicking people, but carving a few holes in the top of the long government building as the potbellied plane skipped across it.
"Spectacular stunt, my friend," Col. Conrad sneered over the radio, "but you're too late! The High Marshall's already declared war, and since you're a Thembrian and I'm an Uslandian…" With an evil grin, he pulled in behind the flying fortress and opened fire.
"I ain't got no time for your half-baked ideas, Connie." Frowning, Baloo flipped off the radio. "I've gotta ditch this hot potato!"
Mindless of the flak that harmlessly bounced off of the back of the solidly-built bomber, Baloo made a beeline for the only place safe enough to drop the grenade – Mustgo Lake.
"It's the wind up, and the pitch…" As Baloo soared over the half-icy waters, he threw the grenade as hard as he could, pulled back the stick, and climbed straight towards the clouds.
KABOOM! The grenade exploded as soon as it touched the surface of the lake.
Like a powerful geyser, water sprayed upward, coating the Seafarer. Immediately, the white-trimmed navy plane iced over, its engines and propellers becoming scarily silent.
"Ahhhh!" Col. Conrad screamed as his plane dropped like a rock, plowing into the nearby Ministry of Lawn Ornaments building. All sorts of goods flew in the air, unearthed by the crash.
A moment later, Conrad dizzily stuck his head out of the mound consisting of everything from canned food to kitchen sinks. He sneezed a pair of chinchilla earmuffs off of his nose.
"Looks like your diplomatic immunity just caught a cold, Connie." Baloo chuckled derisively as he pulled the ambassador out of the pile by the scruff of his neck.
The two bears were suddenly surrounded by Thembrians.
"Why, what can this be?" Baloo said innocently. "The Glorious People's stolen goods! It looks like they're all here, but they have been damaged by this Uslandian swine." He gave Conrad a little shake.
All accusing eyes fell on Col. Conrad.
Then, the crowd cleared a path for their Fearless Leader, followed closely by his faithful, much-abused, assistant. The High Marshall calmly surveyed the situation from beneath his heavily-lidded eyes. Apathetically, he said, "If the goods have been found, the war is cancelled. I'm going ice fishing."
En masse, the Thembrian people droned, "Yay." A few waved their flags half-heartedly. Immediately, the crowd dispersed as the Glorious People went back to their homes and places of work before they were shot for loitering.
"No war?" Col. Spigot's expression drooped.
Rebecca jogged over, followed by Sgt. Dunder, who had a bandage wrapped around his nose. "Here's your helmet, Col. Spigot, sir."
Spigot seized his slightly dented helmet and plunked it on his head. Furious that there wasn't going to be a war and he wasn't going to get the chance to be a war hero again, he ordered, "Seize this man and confiscate his property!"
Immediately, two burly guards were on either side of Col. Conrad, who pointed to the ambassador's seal on his sleeve. Confidently, he said, "I have diplomatic immunity, so you can't touch me!"
Baloo ripped the seal off Conrad's sleeve. "Oops," he said with a saccharine-sweet smile.
With one snap of Spigot's fingers, the guards picked the former ambassador up, flipped him upside down, and shook him. When his pockets were empty, they dropped him on his curly blond head.
"Ouch! You can't do this to me! How dare ya'll treat me like this! I'm Col. Conrad."
One guard growled, "Never heard of you."
"Everyone's heard of me!" As Col. Conrad was hauled away to jail, with Col. Spigot leading the way, all his dignity and charm disappeared. Instead, the 'world's biggest hero' blubbered like a baby. "It ain't fair! It ain't fair!"
Baloo called after him, "If you're a good boy, Connie, your prison cell won't be too big or too small, but just right."
Dunder said, "Thank you for helping us stop the war, Mr. Baloo."
"No sweat, Dundee. It wasn't a total loss." The big bear tossed the diamond ring up in the air and caught it.
"What are you going to do with that?" Rebecca asked anxiously. "It's worth $50,000." She clapped a hand over her mouth, immediately sorry that she had mentioned its worth.
"Fifty grand, huh?" Baloo turned the ring over in his fingers for a while as if considering something. Then, he smiled to himself and gave it to the sergeant. "Here, Dundee, get some locks for those warehouses and hot water pipes for all the Glorious People."
"Gee, thanks, Mr. Baloo. You're a good comrade and the best fake Thembrian there ever was."
"Fake Thembrian?" Baloo and Rebecca said simultaneously.
Shyly, Dunder admitted, "I accidentally on purpose made a clerical error on line 35 on page 26 of form TI-204. I figured you didn't really want to immigrate to Thembria. No one does."
"Thanks, pal!" Baloo slapped Dunder on the back. "Let's go home, Becky."
Rebecca smiled and nodded.
A half an hour later, they were in the Sea Duck, thanks to Sgt. Dunder and his myriad of forms. Baloo sighed with contentment as he sank into the pilot's seat. He was back where he belonged. He flipped the familiar switches and pushed the familiar buttons in the start-up sequence, causing the familiar-sounding Superflight-100 engines to roar to life.
Still, something was missing.
Baloo pulled the picture of the Higher for Hire gang out of his pocket and clipped it to the control panel. He smiled at it, then at the bearess sitting in the navigator's seat, and taxied the plane towards the runway.
A few minutes later, they were airborne and were leaving the snowbound country of Thembria behind.
As Baloo turned the Sea Duck towards tropical Cape Suzette, he said, "Ya know something, Becky? I just stopped a war and no one knows."
"I know," Rebecca said quietly. She rushed over to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him tenderly on the cheek.
For some strange reason, Baloo, who was blushing up to his red cap, felt as if that was the only reward he needed. That, and maybe a couple dozen hamburgers.
A roguish gleam sprang to her eyes as she regained her place in the navigator's seat and buckled her seatbelt. "And so will Kit and Molly and Wildcat and Louie and whoever else you tell the story to over and over and over."
Baloo's goofy grin was quickly replaced by a scowl. "I could tell you a thing or three, Ms. Rebecca. Fallin' for a schmuck like that Col. Conrad."
"Ha!" Rebecca retorted. "You can't say anything, Mr. I-Fall-For-Every-Pretty-Face-and-Great-Set-of-Legs -I-See."
"'Least I don't go around, gettin' myself engaged."
"He wouldn't take no for an answer!"
"More like you couldn't say no."
They bickered all the way home...and it was just right.