The Baretts 3

Nodoka stepped off the airplane in Seattle wearing a gray pleated skirt, a starched white blouse, and a black blazer with the school's coat of arms proudly sewn on the left breast pocket. Kyo had on gray slacks, a wrinkled white shirt, a paint stained school tie, and a black blazer identical to Nodoka's, except for the tear in the right sleeve at the elbow and a bit of dried yolk on the lapel from the omelet he had just eaten. Dr. Beasel had insisted the twins wear their school uniforms so their uncle would recognize them when they arrived.

On the flight, when he wasn't drawing in his sketchbook, Kyo had slept. As he walked toward U.S. Customs with his passport in hand, despite his worry about his parents, he was nearly bursting with anticipation for this new adventure. Nodoka had slept some as well, but she was not nearly as excited. She had spent all her waking moments writing in her diary and plotting her and Kyo's return to the Omega Opportunity Preparatory School, hoping their uncle would listen to reason and was not a homicidal maniac.

As they waited in the customs line, Kyo spotted an older couple just beyond the gate holding up a crude sign with Law scribbled on it. He pointed them out to Nodoka and said, "Uncle Franken must be mom's older brother."

The black-haired man was wearing a pair of blue jeans, an old sweatshirt with Air Force written on it in faded letters, and a pair of high-top sneakers. The woman was much skinnier than the man, dressed in brown Capri's, a light brown tank top, and had brown boots. She also had bandages wrapped up her arms and up to the bridge of her nose.

"That can't possibly be Uncle Franken," Nodoka said.

"A dollar says it is."

"You're on." In the past seven years, Nodoka had won a total of two hundred and eleven one-dollar bills from him, each carefully tallied in her Moleskines. Kyo had not won a single dollar.

Kyo walked up to the couple. "Uncle Franken?"

"No," the man said. "My name's Sid Barett, and this is my wife—"

"Nygus," the woman said, throwing her arms around them. "You poor, poor things!" she drew them into her like a famished spider. "We are so sorry about what happened. You're so young…."

She went on and on. Kyo thought that Nygus would be very weak due to her skinny frame, but she seemed to be extremely strong. It was like getting hugged by an oak tree. He thought he might suffocate before she finished, but managed to wiggle free and get a gulp of air. Nodoka was not as lucky. Nygus held her in a headlock from which she could not escape.

"So, where's Uncle Franken?" Kyo asked.

"He couldn't be—" Sid started to answer.

"He and his crew just got back this morning,"

Nygus interrupted, "or he would have been here to meet you himself. He's been in the field and he had a lot of things to attend to at home. We offered to stand in for him. I hope you're not too disappointed."

"What crew?" Kyo asked.

"His merry band of pirates," Nygus said with a laugh.

"So you're not relatives?"

"No, but I hope you'll consider us family."

"Stein will explain everything when you see him," Sid Said. "Let's get your bags." He tossed the sign into the garbage and started down the corridor. "Nodoka, you haven't said a word," Nygus said, still clutching her.

Nodoka squirmed out of her grip and glared at Kyo. "You owe me a dollar."

Kyo reached into his pocket and handed her his two hundred and twelfth one-dollar bill.

When Sid jerked Nodoka's bag off the conveyer belt, he nearly dislocated his shoulder. "What in the hell do you have in there?"

"Books," Kyo said. He had told Nodoka to leave the books behind, but she insisted on taking a two-week supply (or by Kyo's estimate sixty pounds of words), which is how long Nodoka calculated it would take to convince her uncle to send them back to the school.

"I'll go see if they have a forklift," Sid said. He returned with a sturdy cart and pushed the bags to the parking lot.

Half an hour later they arrived at a beautiful lake in the center of Seattle.

"This is Great!" Kyo said.

"Oh, this isn't where your uncle lives," Nygus explained. "He's a hundred fifty miles west of here."

"But Seattle's on the West Coast."

"That's right," Sid said, dragging the luggage down a wooden dock to a small seaplane that had seen better days.

"We're flying in this?" Nodoka asked.

"I know she's not much to look at," Sid said apologetically. "But she can fly." He opened the storage compartment, and a bag of food spilled out onto the dock.

"We are going to die!" Nodoka hissed in Kyo's ear. Kyo ignored her. He was used to her being afraid of everything. "Relax," he whispered. "I've flown in dozens of small airplanes—some worse than this." He helped Nygus pick up the bread and meat, and said, "This is a lot of food."

"We have two new stomachs to fill," Nygus said. "I'm your uncle's cook…among other things."

"No kidding?" Kyo said. "I do a little cooking myself." He was being somewhat modest. At school when he wasn't drawing, painting, sculpting, or cartooning, Kyo was in the kitchen learning everything he could about the culinary arts. His long-range plan was to support his comic-book business by becoming a world famous chef. Even Dr. Beasel thought this was a reachable goal. Kyo's only regret in leaving so quickly was that he missed his last lesson on making the perfect broccoli soufflé. He peered into the crammed compartment and was delighted to see several items he could work with if Nygus would let him use the kitchen. "No vegetables?"

"We grow our own," Nygus said. "In greenhouses. And they're all organic."

"Do you have broccoli?"

"A whole row."

"That's great!"

That's bad, Nodoka thought. Of this keeps up, I won't be able to separate Kyo from Uncle Franken with a stick of dynamite, and he hasn't even met him yet.

Sid looked up at the clouds gathering above the lake. "We'd better take off. The weather's turning. If we don't, we'll be stuck on the mainland until the storm passes."

"The mainland?" Kyo asked

"Your uncle lives on an island off the Washington coast," Sid said.


Two sticks of dynamite, Nodoka thought grimly.

With a lot of grunting and groaning, Sid managed to get the twins' suitcases into the storage compartment. Kyo and Nodoka climbed into the tattered backseats, and Nygus got herself into the copilot seat next to Sid.

"Buckle up," Sid said

They took off across the lake, heading west toward the Pacific Ocean.

Unbeknownst to the occupants of the noisy seaplane, they passed right over the top of a large mansion perched on a hill overlooking a beautiful zoological park. Inside the mansion was a man sitting at a desk in a dimly lit room without windows. Lying next to the man was a magnificent, fully grown Caspian tiger, thought to have gone extinct a half century earlier. The man's name was Muska Gorgon. The tiger's name was Natasha.

The only thing on the desk was a computer screen and a speakerphone. Muska had graying blonde hair, gold eyes, and teeth as straight and as white as piano keys. His manicured hand lay on the tiger's back. He enjoyed the feeling of the soft black-and-gold fur and the taut muscles beneath the tiger's skin.

The phone rang. He punched a button and said, "I've been waiting for your call."

"Sorry," a man said over the speaker. "I was holding off until we had better news."

"And do you have better news?"

"No, sir. We haven't found her yet."

"I'm very disappointed."

"We didn't expect her to abandon her camper in Salt Lake City after we fouled the engine. She didn't take a bus, train, or airplane out of town. She didn't have enough cash to rent a car, and her credit cards were all cancelled. I suspect she's still in town someplace."

"And I suspect you are wrong," Muska said coldly. The tiger tensed, feeling sparks of anger from his master's fingertips. "Did you search the camper?"

"Yes, sir. It was full of book and assorted junk, but we didn't find what you're looking for. If she has it, it's with her."

"She has it." Muska swept his gold eyes slowly around his study, taking in the huge hermetically sealed glass dioramas lining the walls. Each of them represented years of searching, a great deal of money, and no small amount of risk. "And Stein?" he asked.

"As far as we know he's still on the island. The Baretts took off this morning for the mainland, but Dr. Stein wasn't with them. According to our source, they're picking up his niece and nephew."

"Ah, yes…The tragedy in the jungle. So, the children are going to live with him?"

"That's our understanding."

He was pleased to hear this. Raising two youngsters would certainly complicate things for Franken Stein. "Anything else?"

"Are you sending Chris out here to give us a hand?"

"No. Chris is in the field on another assignment. He left yesterday and he'll be gone for some time."

"We could sure use some help here."

"Just find the woman!" Muska terminated the call and looked down at his magnificent tiger. "Soon, Natasha," he whispered. "Very soon."

((I am very sorry for not updating in a long time sorry! I own nothing))