Paris and Paradise
This is a "what if" story that takes place after the events of "Le Purrfect Crime". The story assumes that the events that occurred in "Gadget Goes Hawaiian" had already taken place as well. It does not follow the continuity of any previous story.
If there was one thing Dale Oakmont was known for, it was his antics. He loved the spotlight, and he loved clowning in it. That had the Rangers worried, because for the last week since their return from Paris, where they stopped the Maltese de Sade, Dale hadn’t cracked a smile—no jokes, no funny disguises, no pranks. Frankly, it had Chip worried, and he said as much to the others in a private meeting at headquarters.
“I mean, Dale’s never been like this!” the fedora-clad chipmunk said. “I don’t know what to do for him.” Gadget was just as concerned. “Well, it was a hard experience for him, Chip. After all, he lost his memory and became that Ram-Dale character and nearly killed us. He probably feels guilty. I know I would.”
Monty put a friendly arm around Chip. “Yeah, that’s probably all it is. But ya did have a good idea that he go talk to his folks about all this. Maybe they can help cheer the lad up.” Chip’s worried eyes looked toward the door Dale had gone through not an hour ago. “I hope so, Monty. For his sake, anyway.”
In a tree near the New York City Zoo, a forlorn chipmunk with a cherry red nose sat in a plush velvet chair. Anne and Duncan Oakmont were just as worried for their boy as Chip was, and Anne at the moment was bringing him a cup of her famous lentil soup in hopes of bringing her son out of his doldrums.
“And that’s the whole story,” Dale said, his eyes peering at the floor. “I really messed up big time and I still feel bad about what happened. I know they’ve all said they’ve forgiven me, but I haven’t forgiven myself.” Anne was overflowing with sympathy. She’d never seen Dale as anything other than her little boy, and now he was hurting. “Oh, my poor dumpling! I just knew something like this would happen someday.”
Duncan was more sensible, and knew his boy had potential, even if Dale didn’t know it. He came over as Anne gave him the cup of soup. “Son, maybe you ought to consider coming home for a time. After all, a head injury isn’t anything to laugh about. You could rest here for a time, regain your composure.”
“The doctors said I’ll be fine. Just to avoid any strenuous activity, maybe take a vacation and avoid stress.”
Anne instantly took hold of the idea. “A vacation, that’s the very thing! Duncan, we haven’t been anywhere together as a family in several years. Why not go off for a couple of weeks? That would give Dale time to recover and then when we come back he can tell the Rangers that he’s leaving them with an open mind.” Dale popped up at that sentence. “Hey, wait! I never said I was leaving the Rangers. I’m just taking some time off to get my head together, literally.”
Anne took her boy’s free hand. “But son, it’s so dangerous! You were almost killed by that evil cat, and if you were killed I just don’t know what I’d do. I thought the Rangers would look after you, but from the way you said they treated you...”
“Hon, let’s not push him into a decision,” Duncan intervened. “Dale, I’m sure there’s a reason why they said all those things to you, but maybe you should take some time to think about if staying with the Rangers is right for you. I think Anne’s right, and a vacation would be a good way to do that.”
**I know why they said those things. They’re true, that’s why** Dale nodded slightly. “Okay, I guess I can’t argue with my folks about that. Make the arrangements and I’ll start packing.” Anne took the cup from Dale’s hand, hugging him. “Don’t worry, dumpling, we’ll help you to get through this!”
Soon after, Dale returned to Ranger Headquarters and explained about the trip. They were all relieved to hear the news, because they needed some thinking time as much as Dale did. That night, Dale spent the evening stuck on the couch in Ranger Headquarters and watching his shows, not saying a word. He really didn’t want to talk to or face any of them, but as fate would have it he ran into the last person he wanted to see on the way back to the room with he shared with Chip.
Gadget had been in the kitchen getting a snack when she came out and bumped right into him. She couldn’t quite bring herself to look in his eyes.
“Oh, uh, sorry about that Dale,” Gadget said, not sure what to do. Dale gave her a look that almost made her cry right there. “It’s not your fault, Gadget. I brought it on myself. I am a goof-up.” Gadget looked as if he’d punched her in the stomach. “Dale, I...I’d better go!”
Gadget walked away quickly, a mess of emotions. Dale didn’t understand her reaction, and assumed she was ashamed of him. He continued on to his room, and get into his bunk, covering himself with the covers. He never heard the muffled crying of Gadget in her room, and all he could think of was that he wished tomorrow wouldn’t come. Of course it did, and Anne and Duncan were there to pick him up.
While Monty helped Dale finish his preparations, Chip talked with his parents about the trip. “I hope this’ll all work out. I think the time off will do us all some good.” Anne gave Chip a very cross look. “Why did you have to go upset him? You know how sensitive he is!” Chip desperately wanted to escape. “It’s just that...well...”
Duncan put his arm around Anne. “Chip, she’s upset as well. Give it time, and things will be better.”
“I suppose so,” Chip said. “Oh, here he comes.”
Dale looked like he was a guilty prisoner headed for the guillotine. Chip patted him on the back, trying to maintain a facade of confidence. “Have a great time in Hawaii, Dale! Just think, you’ll be all the rage over there in that shirt of yours!” Dale didn’t even bother to look at him. “Yeah, thanks. Goodbye, everyone. Sorry for making such a mess of things in Paris.”
“Aw, don’t worry about it none, pally,” Monty said. “Just one of those days, I suppose.” Gadget tried to smile, but failed miserably. “Yeah...well, goodbye.” Zipper buzzed to him, “Goodbye, Dale. Hurry home.” Dale headed for the door. “Don’t worry, everybody. I’m sure I’ll feel better once I’ve had some time to relax and think about things.”
“That’s right, dear,” Anne said, glaring at Chip and the others. “Once you’re in a friendlier climate, I’m sure things will look better.”
Dale waved goodbye, and soon the Oakmonts were on a chartered albatross flight to the west coast. From there, they connected with another albatross, heading for the Hawaiian Islands. It was a long flight, but Dale really didn’t care. He just stared ahead, wishing he were anyone else but himself. When they spotted Oahu at last, the albatross dove down and managed to get them down in one piece. Duncan helped Anne out of the passenger capsule and beckoned Dale onward.
“Come on, son!” Duncan beckoned. “We’re in paradise now. Shake a leg, and let’s get to our hotel so we can start having fun!” Dale looked annoyed, and was. **As long as we’re not on the same island as Lahwhinie, I’ll be happy** “Yes, dad.” Dale carted his stuff up to his room. As he and his dad were unpacking, he picked up one of his Hawaiian shirts and stared at it for a while.
Duncan sensed a problem. “What’s wrong, son?” Dale put the shirt down. “Nothing, dad. I’m just thinking that I’m tired of Hawaiian shirts. Can I borrow one of yours?” Duncan managed to hide part of his surprise. Dale had worn Hawaiian shirts for as long as he could remember. “Uh, sure son. Help yourself.”
Dale looked through his father’s clothes and picked a white short sleeve shirt with a collar. “Thanks, dad. I think this looks pretty nice.” Duncan set on the edge of the guest room’s bed. “Son, I know this has hit you hard, but I just want you to know that you can talk to me anytime you feel you need to. If you need to be alone while we’re here, your mother and I understand.”
“:Maybe that’s what I need, to be in a different place. How about I meet up with you and Mom for dinner tonight? I’ll walk on the beach, do some sightseeing, and stuff like that.”
“Okay, son. Take your time, and think things out. If you need us, just leave a message at the main desk. Anne and I are pretty bushed from the flight, so we probably won’t get out until tonight anyway.”
Dale went off, white shirt and all. The destination wasn’t important, that he get out was. He let his feet lead him, head down, until he was several hundred yards down shore. All at once he bumped into something too large to avoid, or rather he bumped into Dale. “Whoa, sorry there little dude. When the surf’s up, I don’t look anywhere but the waves.” Dale snapped out of his doldrums, looking up at the huge blond-haired beach bum. “Hey, haven’t we met before?”
“Uh, the nose looks familiar, I think,” the mouse said. “Didn’t you used to play tricks on a duck or something?” Dale remembered then, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. “Hey, weren’t you that surfer dude with Lahwhinie, uh Shake-n-Bake?” Shaka did at last show some sign of recognition. “Her Lahwhinosity? Oh yeah, but she’s been kicked out of the tribe, y’know. Last I heard, she was looking for someone new to bum off of.”
Then Shaka-Baka’s own memory clicked. “Hey, I know who you are now! You’re the one she tricked that time, just like the other chipmunk dude with the hat. Oh, she was really wiped out when you took out her plans for becoming queen.” Dale crossed his arms. “I know how she feels about having her life ripped apart. Well, I guess it was good seeing you again, Big Kahuna. What are you up to these days, dude?”
“Oh, you know, same-old same-old,” Shaka said, then he heard the waves crashing. “Look out, surf, here I come!”
Dale watched as Shaka Baka dashed into the waves, becoming one with his element. **He may not be that smart, but at least he knows where he belongs. And the sea doesn’t talk down to you** With a sigh, the chipmunk continued down the beach. Again, he became lost in his thoughts and didn’t look up until he reached a craggy escarpment. There was the remnant of a lava field here, part of the evidence of the tumult that had created the island. Dale walked up until he was overlooking the Pacific Ocean from a majestic view. The wind blew through his fur and it seemed for a moment that there was nothing but him and all this.
“Beautiful, isn’t it.”
Dale half-turned, and then wished he hadn’t. It was Lahwhinie, standing there in a white sundress. Like Shaka-Baka, she didn’t immediately recognize him without his trademark shirt. “I come here to think and watch. It’s about the only pleasure I get out of life now.” Dale desperately tried to think of something, anything. Then he remembered his favorite childhood tactic for when he wanted to avoid talking to girls.
“I think I hear my mother calling me!” Dale said, looking down the beach the way he came. “Gotta go!” Lahwhinie turned to look at him, but Dale’s adrenaline kicked in and he was out of sight in less than ten seconds. Lahwhinie just shook her head. “Some guys just can’t handle beauty. He was sort of cute, though.”
Dale didn’t stop running until he saw the hotel his family was staying at. He collapsed on the beach, breathing hard, until his heart stopping pounding a thousand times a second. It had happened—she’d seen him! Dale thanked providence that he’d not worn his regular shirt. She’d have certainly known him if he had. And if she had...Dale shuddered. There was no telling what she’d do. Dale headed back for the hotel, wondering if he could talk his parents into leaving early. Like tonight.
His first chance came at dinner, when he joined Anne and Duncan at the Trade Winds. It was a combination floorshow and restaurant, with the tourist in mind. A waitress mouse dressed like a hula girl showed them to their table, near the front. Duncan was in his element—fun and food. “I don’t know about you two, but I’m starved! That rest really brought back the ol’ appetite.” Anne tried to take in everything at once. “Oh, I love the names of everything. It’s all so exotic. Miss, I think we’ll all start out with an appetizer. What about you, son? What would you like?”
Dale grabbed a menu, trying not to appear as nervous as he was. “I’d like some poi. Make it a double and some french fries.” Duncan brightened up some at this turn of events. “Well, good to see you’re thinking about enjoying yourself again. That’s the Dale I know.” Duncan elbowed him gently, and Dale managed a brief smile.
Ten minutes earlier, Lahwhinie had come into town from the cliffside by a circuitous route. With a practiced eye, she began to watch the flocks of tourists. Once she was convinced that there was no one to impede her progress, she began talking with people. That was something she’d never had a problem with, mainly because men found her so attractive. However, she also found it worked well with talking to older couples who might equate her with their own children.
Lahwhinie had just seen such a couple entering the Trade Winds and her interest level was such that she didn’t notice who was with them until the red nose drew her attention. At that point, she realized that she’d seen both the nose and the clothes this chipmunk was wearing earlier in the day. That made her curious and all her concentration centered in on him—he was so familiar, so...and then it clicked. She knew, and for a moment she considered running because she expected his friends to show up any moment.
When the rest of the Rangers didn’t show and Dale and his family had gone in, Lahwhinie weighed it all in her mind. Was it a trap? It was possible, but this munk wouldn’t be the one to set it. She remembered him, and how malleable he was. At that thought, she realized that perhaps she had a better use for him than the simple weekly monetary score she’d been after. A bold and daring plan emerged in her mind, and the more she thought on it, the most she was convinced it was the way to go.
Ten minutes later, a blonde mouse in a white sundress entered the Trade Winds. She easily spotted the Oakmonts’ table and simply waited for the right moment. When none of them was looking she trotted up and sat down, right next to Dale. When he turned around, she planted a kiss on him. “Sur-prise! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? I’d have made plans for us! Oh, but of course, you wanted to surprise me! How sweet.”
Dale leaped out of his seat. “Lahwhinie! How did you find us? What’re you doing here?” Lahwhinie giggled like a person who shared a common secret. “You’re so cute when you do that.” She turned to Anne and Duncan. “And you must be Dale’s parents! I can’t tell you how nice it is to finally meet you.”
Needless to say, they were just as amazed as Dale. “Um, likewise,” Duncan said, startled at this sudden turn of events. Anne could only manage a question. “You know our Dale?”
“Well of course I do!” Lahwhinie said, sidling up to Dale even more. “Didn’t he mention me to you? I tell you, he’s such a thoughtful person! He probably didn’t want to admit what a good time he had. We both had a great time, and that night of the luau is one I’ll never forget.”
Anne and Duncan’s eyes slid to Dale accusingly, but Lahwhinie came to his rescue. “Oh please don’t get the wrong idea. He was a perfect gentleman about it all! When he left, I can’t tell you how sad I was at the time, but I understood. He’s a Rescue Ranger, and that’s his life.” Lahwhinie turned back to Dale, fluttering her lashes. “Now, what brings you back here, as if I didn’t hope?”
Dale flailed his arms and addressed his parents like the court of final appeal. “Mom, dad, don’t listen to her! She’s a snake and she’ll kill us all and dance on our graves!” Lahwhinie chuckled, sounding as innocent as a baby lamb. “Isn’t he just the funniest guy you’ve ever met? I tell you, the stories he can tell are just marvelous. But seriously, I’m a tourist guide now, and since you’re all here I’d like to take you around while you’re here. I’ll even charge you my cut rates—well, as long as you don’t mind me exacting a little finder’s fee...”
Lahwhinie kissed Dale on the cheek before he knew it was coming and Anne and Duncan chuckled along with her. Duncan found his estimation of his son growing in the face of this newcomer. “I must say, you’re a very beautiful young lady. It’s a wonder Dale didn’t mention you before.”
“Oh, he’s so modest. It’s just not like him to be forthcoming,” Lahwhinie said. Anne found herself agreeing with that assessment. “Well, that does sound like our Dale...” Dale was over the shock now, and he knew he had to try desperate measures to convince his parents, starting with the truth. “She tried to kill all us Rescue Rangers the last time we were in Hawaii! That’s why I insisted on coming to this island, so we wouldn’t meet up with her. She’s bad news.”
Duncan and Anne’s eyes shifted back to Lahwhinie, but it didn’t faze her at all. “Oh, we had this contest among the tribe to see who would be queen. I did get a little carried away and when I got their friend Gadget to help me I think the boys got just the teensiest bit jealous. I made it up to them, though, at the luau. That other chipmunk...um, Chop...now he was just after me because I looked like Gadget.” Lahwhinie leaned toward Dale’s parents, like she was sharing a secret. “To be honest, I think maybe Gadget got mad at me because of the fun time Dale and I had. I think she has a crush on him.”
“Don’t listen to her!” Dale boomed. “She’s playing her evil seductress mind games with you! Let’s get outta here before she tries to sell us a bridge or something.” Anne gave him her motherly look of disapproval. “Now Dale, that’s not polite, particularly in a public place like this.” Duncan addressed himself to Lahwhinie. “Miss, could you explain why our boy seems so afraid of you?”
Lahwhinie’s visage almost instantly turned to one of regret. “That’s easy. We had a little mix-up where he, Chap and Montana ended up at the bottom of the artificial volcano. I tried to help them, but the rope slipped out my hands. I’m afraid I’m not any good at things like that.”
“But!” Dale started.
“Dale, I’m trying to listen,” Duncan said.
Lahwhinie bowed her head and looked up at them to accentuate her appearance of contrition. “And I admit I was sort of obsessed with the idea of being queen. I put my reputation and everything on the line and it all just got out of hand. That’s one reason I came over too, to get a chance to make sure I put things right and to let Daley-poo here know that I wasn’t holding a grudge.”
“But!” Dale started again.
“Of course you’ll get a chance!” Anne said, cutting him off. “Now, when can you come in the morning?” Lahwhinie took Anne’s hand, empathy oozing from her. “You three look beat. We’d better wait until ten.”
“Sounds fine. Meet us in the courtyard of the Swaying Palms Hotel,” Duncan said. Lahwhinie got up and thanked them. “I can’t wait. Dale, is there something special you’d like me to wear just for you?”
**Fifty pounds of dynamite with a lit fuse** “Nothing in particular,” Dale mumbled. Lahwhinie pretended to be shocked. “Oh, you scoundrel! But I think I can come up with something you’ll like. Toodles everyone!” Lahwhinie sauntered out like she was walking on air. Once she got outside, she grinned like the cat that swallowed the canary. “That’s one problem handled. Now if I can just get him to handle the next one.”
Back inside the Trade Winds, Dale pleaded his case no end, but his parents would hear none of it. With a huff, he crossed his arms and sat silently for the rest of the evening. When they left, he marched to his hotel room, flopping down on his bed and watching television, flipping through the channels so fast that no one other than Dale would ever be able to tell what the shows were, let alone whether they were even worth watching. “Man, I just can’t get a break! How am I supposed to get away from it all when it all seems to be following me?” The chipmunk drank some Coo-Coo Cola, feeling like the star of the old TV show “The Fugitive”. Nowhere could he seem to feel safe while he was on the same island with her.
The red-nosed chipmunk never moved all night, and when Duncan knocked at 9:45, Dale simply opened the door. Despite his protests and his disheveled appearance, Duncan remained firm. He helped Dale spruce up some and the nerve-wracked chipmunk splashed water in his face to help him regain some alertness. In a few minutes they joined Anne at a wicker table in the hotel’s courtyard and precisely at ten they saw her coming.
Lahwhinie was dressed in her traditional blue outfit and appeared positively perky. “Hi-yee!” Lahwhinie said, addressing Dale, then suddenly taking on a note of concern. “What's the matter, Dale? You look like you just lost your best friend.” Dale lowered his eyelids halfway, his voice lowering almost to a growl. “I've been up all night, wondering when you were going to try to sneak in and kill me.”
“Kill you?” Lahwhinie said, surprised. “Now why would I try to kill my favorite chipmunk?”
Dale just stood there, amazed at how Lahwhinie could say that with a straight face. “Let's see...there's the lost queen title, you getting plastered in marshmallows, the debacle at the luau...”
“Dale, I thought you forgot all about the luau and what we shared!” Lahwhinie cooed. “When we met on the beach yesterday, you acted like you didn’t know me. I thought you had to be someone else when you ran off. Aren’t you glad to see me?” she asked pleadingly.
“Uh Dale, I think you have a little explaining to do,” Duncan said suspiciously.
“Dale, you didn’t tell them about us?” Lahwhinie asked. Dale gave her a stern look. “Yeah, I told them what you did when we were here.” Lahwhinie dried her eyes, never losing her innocent look or happy smile. “Then you both must be so proud of Dale and his Rescue Rangers! He was like one of the knights of old, appearing almost by divine intervention in our time of dire need. I’ll never forget the luau either. Dale never left my side, and it seemed we spent the whole evening just gazing into each other’s eyes. And the kiss he gave me, it was always how I dreamed my first kiss would be,” Lahwhinie said and fluttered her lashes at Dale for emphasis.
“Don’t listen to her, it was nothing like that!” Dale protested.
“Dale….” Anne said, a warning in her voice. Dale tried to recover. “Well yes, I did spend the evening staring into her eyes at the luau and we did kiss. But she kissed me, and I only did that ‘cause I thought she was Gadget!” Lahwhinie looked up at the Oakmonts, tears forming in her eyes. “Dale, what did you tell them about your visit and about me?”
“I told them the truth!”
Lahwhinie burst into tears and between sobs she replied, “Is that why you and your friends left so quickly? Were you ashamed of a lowly native girl loving you? Would I have embarrassed you in front of your worldly, sophisticated friends? If you didn’t like me, why didn’t you just tell me? I started working as a travel agent so that I could earn the money to go to the mainland to try to find you! I thought we had something special,” she said, then her voice turned angry. “But was I just another of your many conquests! You just vanish from my life after stealing my heart, then make up stories to make people believe I’m a monster. You’re the monster!” she shouted and stormed away. The others couldn’t see the nasty smile on her face as she cried her fake tears.
“Dale Archer Oakmont, you have a lot of explaining to do!” Anne demanded. Duncan took Dale by the arm and led him out of the courtyard. Dale was fuming. “Man, can you believe the act she’s putting on?” Dale said. Duncan just kept glaring at his son, and it suddenly crossed his mind that they might’ve believed her. “Dad, you can’t be taking her seriously, can you?”
“Dale, at this point I’m not sure what to think.”
“You think I’m lying?!”
“I don’t know,” Duncan said. “All I’m saying is that the behavior she described is consistent with your behavior over most of your life—making up stories to get out of trouble and fibbing to escape responsibility for things.”
“Dad, I’m not a child anymore!”
Duncan put a hand on his son’s arm. “Dale, you still act like it at times. How are we supposed to respond to that poor girl’s outburst when she knows you that well?” Dale leered back over in the direction of the courtyard. “There was a time when women like her were burned at the stake.”
“That will do! There’s one simple way to solve this. I’ll call the Rescue Rangers and get them to corroborate your story. Then we’ll know for certain.”
“Fine!” Dale said, in a huff.
Duncan went to the phone and dialed, and after several minutes he returned, dissatisfied. “I got the answering machine, but they’re on a mission and won’t know how long they’ll be away.” Dale couldn’t believe this. “Great. Now what do we do?”
“We play it down the middle. We’ll do some sightseeing, with this young lady as our guide.”
Duncan calmed him. “If she’s the nice girl she claims to be, then you owe it to her. But if she’s the monster you claim she is, better to have her in plain sight rather than lurking in the shadows.” When they went back to the main room, they found Anne hugging the distraught Lahwhinie. “There, there, now. It’s not as bad as all that.”
Lahwhinie was positively bawling. “I was out of my head, and I’d have done anything to get him to notice me. I’m so, so sorry!” Dale muttered something under his breath and Anne helped her up. “Dale, we talked it over, and Lahwhinie has something to say to you.” Lahwhinie came up to Dale, looking as sincere as a saint from Heaven. “Dale, I want to apologize for what I did to you and your friends. I was crazy with wanting to have power to feel loved by the tribe, but I never realized that I had a real chance for happiness with you. I shouldn’t have kissed you like that without asking first, but I just couldn’t help myself! You are awfully cute, you know.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Dale said, feeling as if he had “idiot” painted on the front of his shirt. “Dad said we’re goin’ sightseeing. He said you could come with us.” Lahwhinie looked as if Dale had told her she’d just inherited Fort Knox. “Oh, thank you! I know all the best places, and since I’m trying to do the right thing, I won’t even charge you for today’s tour.” Lahwhinie took Dale’s hand. “Come on, I know the perfect place to get the best look of the island from!”
Dale disentangled his hand from hers. “I’m watching you,” he whispered. Lahwhinie gave him a “little old me?” look in return and as a group they headed out.
Lahwhinie turned out to be a fountain of information about local history, customs, and lore. She and Anne got along swimmingly, particularly when they hit the shopping malls. It seemed that the Hawaiian mouse knew every sales clerk in every store, and she ended up getting discounts for all the Oakmonts. Afternoon’s end found them all at a stylish restaurant—where they were eating at a discount thanks to Lahwhinie—and Lahwhinie was staring admiringly at Dale.
Duncan finished up and looked at their tour guide with approval. “Lahwhinie, I’ve got to admit, it’s been one of the finest days I’ve spent in quite some time.” Lahwhinie didn’t take her eyes off of Dale. “I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mr. Oakmont. It was my pleasure.”
“And wait until I show the ladies’ auxiliary what I bought today!” Anne said, patting the bags of merchandise by her seat. “I’ll be the envy of the sewing circle.” Lahwhinie smiled at Dale in a way that made him even more uncomfortable than he had been, and her voice took on a seductive tone. “And what did you enjoy about today, Dale?”
“The fact that I’m still breathing,” Dale said, not missing a beat. “How about you, Lahwhinie?”
“Now that you’re here to protect me, my life’s worth living again.”
Anne broke up their back-and-forth when she took a picture. “Oh, that will look simply heavenly in the scrap book! Uh, Duncan? Don’t you think we ought to be getting back to the hotel?” Duncan caught her meaning and looked at the two of them, smiling. “Yes, we ought to. Dale, why don’t you stay a while and that way you two can talk without having two older people around to spoil your time.”
Dale returned to the land of panic. “Dad! Remember what I said before?”
“Now Dale, I won’t have you making excuses. You’re in a public place and she doesn’t have a weapon on her anywhere. Besides, if she really had any idea of harming you she’d have done it the moment she recognized you.”
“Yes, Dale, give her a chance,” Anne said. “After all, you are in Hawaii and you should have some fun while you’re here!” Dale pointed at Lahwhinie. “Fun, with her? I’d rather swim in shark-infested waters dressed as a meatloaf!” Lahwhinie laughed, good-naturedly, “Oh Dale, you’re such a card! Now you two just run along. I promise I’ll keep him out of trouble.”
“See that you do, dear,” Anne said. “And Dale, be on your best behavior.”
“I’m not the one who’s ea...uh, untrustworthy.”
Duncan gave his son a reproving look, then to Dale’s dismay they actually left. Dale gulped and turned back to Lahwhinie, who’d taken hold of his arm. “Well, honey, shall we go? The Limbo’s a great place for dancing, and you’ll love the beat.” Dale didn’t care if she was planning his demise anymore. He just wanted the truth. “Drop the act, Lahwhinie. What do you want?”
Lahwhinie blinked a few times, surprised. “What do you mean, sweetie?”
“It’s me, remember? You tried to kill the others and me and threatened to destroy the whole mouse village out of spite because you couldn’t be queen! What’s the scam? I know my parents are a bit like the Cleaver family so you suckered them pretty good, but I’m not falling for it this time. What’ll it take to get you outta my fur?”
The Hawaiian just stood there for a moment, then her eyes began to fill with tears. “I’m sorry! How many times do I have to say it? I didn’t know what I was doing half the time! I’d planned so long to be queen that I just got in deeper and deeper and I convinced myself that whatever I did was okay.” Lahwhinie took hold of his shoulder. “I’m glad you stopped me, because I really had to sit down and think for the first time. I’d been able to con my way into anything until then. Okay, I’m still conning a little, but just try to live on a tourist guide’s salary. I just didn’t know how much I was hurting people until I got hurt myself.”
Dale had to admit, she was good. “Save the crocodile tears for some other sucker, Lahwhinie, I’m not buying it. I don’t care what your game is, I’m not interested.” Lahwhinie dried her tears, but she didn’t get angry. “Do you think I’m lying to you? Dale, if I were lying, why would I be working at all? I’d never worked a day in my life until I was thrown out of the tribe. I could’ve just used my looks, but then I’d have had to give in to my benefactor, and despite what you might think I’m not that easy. I finally got my hands dirty, and it ain’t the best life, but my smile still gets me cut rates on anything I want. So like I say, I still do a little conning, but hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
“Would you drop the act already!” Dale said, almost shouting. “I said I’m not falling for it. Why don’t you just take a hike and threaten and annoy someone else?” Lahwhinie put her hands on her hips. “Look, I know you think I’m Judas Iscariot in drag, and I was for a while. If you’re so concerned that I’ll stab you in the back, why don’t we strike a deal? I promise that if I’m lying or I try anything, I’ll get out of your life forever. Okay?”
Dale daringly took a step closer. “The question is, why do you want to hang around me for?” Lahwhinie averted her eyes slightly. “Well, let’s just say you’re different from most guys.”
“That’s a likely story.”
“Okay, okay,” Lahwhinie said, relenting. “The truth is that after the volcano incident I had to leave the tribe
in a hurry, so I relocated in the city. I planned on taking advantage of the lucrative tourist business, but it’s been harder than I thought.”
“I don’t know!” Lahwhinie said, throwing her hands up. “You guys jinxed me or something, and I lost my edge. I haven’t been able to run a decent scam since I got here. I’ve been reduced to shaking down lonely guys for drinks and dinner.”
“My heart bleeds. Maybe your conscience is giving you a wake-up call.”
“Conscience?” she said, spitting the word, “I don’t have one. The world exists for my pleasure. I just have to get back in the groove and I’ll be my old self.” Dale gave a mock smile. “I can hardly wait. So, what does all this have to do with me?” Lahwhinie put her hand out in front of her. “I got into some trouble with some people, like I said, and someone’s got it in for me. I need your help.”
“Cry me a river,” Dale said, still on his sarcasm tour.
“What happened to you?” Lahwhinie asked. “The last time we met you were a nice, happy guy.” Dale sneered at the question, snapping at her. “Stuff happened, okay?” Lahwhinie held up her hands in a stop position. “Whoa, excuse me for living! What happened, Gadget dump you for that Chirp guy, or did she realize what a goofball you are?” Dale’s hands balled up into fists and his face took on a look of anger. Lahwhinie realized she had crossed a line. “Oh, I guess I hit the mark there. Well anyway, I need help and you’re a hero, so help me.”
Dale seemed to be speechless for a few moments, then laughed at her. It wasn’t a kind laugh, either. “Why should I help you of all people?” Lahwhinie grimaced, taking his ire. “Because you’re the only person anywhere that thinks my life has even a little value. There’s some people after me, my back’s against the wall, and there’s no one else I can turn to.”
Dale stopped, realizing that now at last she was being sincere. “I don’t know…” he mused.
“I’ll make it worth your while,” Lahwhinie offered.
Lahwhinie pulled Dale to her and gave him a long and passionate kiss. “Get me outta this jam and I’ll be very, very grateful.” When it hit Dale just what she was offering he quickly broke their embrace. “Whoa, lady! That’s not my kinda thing, lady!”
“Who are you, Jerry Lewis?” she quipped.
“Heroes don’t do things like that!” Dale countered. “Look, just let me think about it, then I’ll decide.” Lahwhinie didn’t like that answer, but accepted it for the moment. “All right, but can we call a truce until then? I wouldn’t mind some company, and I really do know most of the best places around.” Dale started looking around for dangerous-looking faces. “Are we gonna be safe? What about these people who are after you?”
“They won’t go where we’re going. I don’t think they’re even on this island. I met the guy about a month back and I thought he was some rich playboy. Turns out he was a scientist, and he’s got a private lab over on one of the little islands to the west of here. I think he’s trying to talk to dolphins or some stupid thing like that.”
Dale eyed her with suspicion. “If he’s not even around, what do you need me for? I’m just trying to have a nice quiet vacation with my folks.” Lahwhinie let her emotions loose. “Because he tried to kidnap me! He wanted me to go with him to do some kind of tests. Said I was ‘the perfect choice’ or some such, and when I said I wouldn’t go he and this other goon tried to pull me to their boat. I broke away and headed for the hills, screaming rape.”
Lahwhinie took on a look of true worry. “That wasn’t the last of them, though. They tried it again just a week ago, and I think they’ll keep trying unless someone stops them. Of course, you can imagine how much my story weighed with the local cops.” Dale could just hear their echoing laughter. “I’m tempted to let you to sleep in the bed you made, but as much as it galls me, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t help. Let me sleep on it and then we’ll see what we can do.”
“You want to sleep on my bed?” Lahwhinie asked, confused. “But I thought you said—”
“Don’t start with me, Lahwhinie! Meet me here tomorrow and I’ll decide if I’ll help or not.”
It was evident she didn’t like the idea. “Couldn’t you decide now? Well, I guess maybe not. How about just walking me back to my place, okay? I try not to be out anywhere on my own, for obvious reasons.” Dale sighed. “Okay, but don’t try any funny business.”
It turned out that Lahwhinie’s home was an apartment near the center of town. She thanked him for walking with her, but Dale pulled back when she tried to add a kiss on the cheek to that. Lahwhinie shrugged, and Dale waited until she’d gotten inside then headed back for his hotel. His parents were waiting in the hotel’s restaurant, and Dale explained the day’s happenings.
“Sounds like you’re wise to be skeptical, but sometimes even a professional liar tells the truth,” Duncan said. “You can’t take a chance with something that serious, son. If she really is in trouble, you should help.” Anne took his hand. “But be careful. If she is in trouble, those animals she described could be dangerous. If she’s lying, then she’s even more dangerous.”
“But is she worth it?” Dale asked. “How do I know that if I don’t help her she’ll just turn around and stab me in the back, literally?”
“Dale, this isn’t about her. If someone’s in trouble, it’s right to help. You know that. Whether she deserves it’s another matter, but if we only helped the ones who deserved it, I reckon no one would get help,” Duncan said. Dale knew he was right. “Okay. Maybe you and mom should head back to New York. Things might get dangerous here.”
“But what about you, dumpling?” Anne asked. “Do you want us to send for the Rangers?”
Dale paused, then nodded. “That might be a good idea.” Dale went to the phone and called Ranger HQ. All he heard was the answering machine saying the Rangers were on a mission. He returned to the table and reported. “I’m stuck. I guess I don’t have much choice. Well, the first thing to do would be to hide her, so she can’t stay at her apartment.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Duncan said. “There’s lots of out-of-the-way places on this island. The easiest thing would be to rent a house, and one where you could see anyone coming. Then you need to find out where these men are, if they are, and see if they’re trying this with anyone else besides Lahwhinie.” Dale thought about that, and shook his head. “Even there, they could trace us. We’ll have to try someplace they wouldn’t imagine we’d stay at. Lahwhinie said the authorities weren’t interested in helping, so I don’t know what to do if they do show. I better go over there now and then we’ll head for the hills till I figure this out.”
Anne squeezed his hand. “Don’t let her push you into a corner, son. If you see things are getting too tough to handle, go to the police yourself.” Dale had already figured it that way. After all, he didn’t owe this girl a thing. “Okay, thanks mom and dad,” he said, hugging his folks. “Wish me luck, I’m gonna need it.”
His parents watched him head for the door. “Are we doing the right thing, dear, letting him go like this?” Anne asked.
“I’m not sure, but he’s accepted the responsibility. Let’s grab a flight out tonight, Anne. We can have the Rangers on their way here by morning.”
“Yes, let’s do.”
The Oakmonts left the restaurant and prepared for departure. Meanwhile, Lahwhinie had just finished showering when a knock came at her door. Instinctively, she hid at first, then grabbed a tire iron she’d put aside for just such an occasion. She crept up to the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Dale.” Lahwhinie gripped the tire iron tightly, approaching the door. “How do I know it’s Dale? You could be imitating his voice.” Dale couldn’t believe she was making him beg. “Do you want my help or not? If I was here to harm you, would I bother not breaking down the door?”
Dale waited, and a few moments later he heard the sound of a dead bolt being unlatched. Lahwhinie opened the door, dressed in a pink towel, her hair wrapped in a similarly-colored turban. She was still holding the tire iron. “A girl can’t be too careful these days, particularly when kooky scientists are after her. So what brings you back here? Come to sit around and jaw about old times?”
“We need to leave this area if you’re in danger. We can’t have you be a sitting duck if we’re gonna figure out what the mad scientist is up to and how to stop him. Get some stuff together and let’s make like a banana and split.”
Lahwhinie paused to think about it, then nodded. “All right, come in. I’ll change in the bathroom.”
Dale didn’t like the idea, but he reasoned he could always break the window and run for it if she tried anything. Lahwhinie didn’t, and in fact was pretty talkative about the first time she’d seen the two animals in question. It turned out the scientist was a weasel named Dr. Lewin and his large rat assistant had the delicate title of Gunther. Lahwhinie emerged, dressed in a safari outfit she’d bought for her tourist role. “Looks great, huh? I use it when I take the howlies through the jungle. Oh, and I do remember on their boat it said, ‘Lewin Enterprises, Molokai and Genera Island’. I remember that because I was trying to see what brand the boat was to gauge how expensive it was.”
“Swell, let’s get outta here,” Dale said. “We need a nice quiet spot away from town to wait them out. Then tomorrow we go in disguise to the docks and see about finding that boat.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that right now, chipmunk.”
Dale and Lahwhinie turned to find a quite large rat in a business suit, holding a lock pick in his hand. Lahwhinie backed away in terror. “Dale, it’s Gunther! Don’t let him take me!” Dale turn and faced the guy fearlessly. “Okay, buddy. You got some explaining to do.”
The big guy grinned. “Okay, here’s how it is. The boss needs the lady for a little experiment, for which he’ll be pleased to reward her handsomely. And he don’t take no for an answer.”
“What kinda experiment?” Dale challenged.
“That ain’t your concern. Step aside, or I’ll have to separate those teeth of yours even more!”
From behind, Lahwhinie shouted, “Duck!”
“Where?” Dale asked.
Gunther pushed him aside, and Lahwhinie swung the tire iron she’d reclaimed while Gunther was distracted with Dale. It knocked him down, and before the goon could recover Lahwhinie and Dale were outside and she’d locked the door. “That won’t stop him for long. Got a plan, mister hero?” Dale took her by the hand and led her quickly down the stairs. “We run as fast as our feet can carry us, that’s what. We also check to see if he has someone waiting in a getaway car outside!”
There was no one else. Apparently, Gunther had thought himself more than a match for a seemingly defenseless girl. They escaped into the shadows and watched as Gunther came out, cursing a blue streak. He got into a car and left, screeching away. Dale wanted to go right then, but Lahwhinie insisted on going back to get some of her things. After she returned, they hailed a taxi and headed for the far side of the island.
After being sure they weren’t tailed, they found a seedy hotel far from the beaten path of regular islanders and tourists. Dale felt very embarrassed as he signed the register as Mr. and Mrs. Suave. They made their way to their room and, once inside, Dale bolted the door and shoved a chair under the doorknob. He headed to the windows and after looking about he pulled the shades shut.
“I hope this is worth the trouble,” Dale said, sinking into a chair well past its prime. Lahwhinie stood there, looking at him. “You and me both.” Then she gasped and pointed, “I think I just saw the bed move!” Lahwhinie grabbed her tire iron and chased a hideous-looking bed bug around the room and out the door. This attracted far more attention than Dale liked, but no one was in the mood to question a mouse with a tire iron in her hand so they shrugged and went back to their rooms.
Lahwhinie came back inside. “By the way, thanks for standing up to Gunther that way. You’ve got more guts than you...well, maybe I was wrong about you.” Dale just gave her a look showing he was suspicious about every word she said. “Hey, I would’ve stood up to him for anybody.”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. You don’t look like the kind that would. What makes you do stuff like that?”
Dale stood up, slightly ticked. “What do you mean, ‘You don’t look like the kind that would’?” Lahwhinie tried to cover, but didn’t really have much practice at it. “Well, you know—the boyish face, the nose, the shirt, the attitude. Don’t take this wrong, but you look more like Ace Ventura than James Bond.” Dale had to bite his tongue to keep from saying what she looked like. “Well, if you weren’t so shallow you’d understand why people do stuff.”
“I’ll wait and see the movie. What’s got you so hot and bothered, anyway, besides all this? You were ticked off even before I got you into this mess,” Lahwhinie said. Dale sat down again, the chair springs squeaking under him. “You’re the last person on earth I’d wanna tell my problems to. It’s people like you who make the world the place it is and when all the bad things you’ve done catch up to you, you come crawling to people like me!”
Lahwhinie crossed her arms. “Oh sure, blame the con artist. I can’t help it if people are after me! All I ever wanted was to be queen of the tribe, but no, you had to come and goof it up.” At those words, Dale jumped up, fighting mad. “I’m a goof?! I’m a goof?! You’re the worthless...” Dale growled in frustration and turned toward the window.
“Hey, what’d I say?” Lahwhinie knew she’d struck a nerve, but she didn’t know why. She decided in the interest of her own health it might be good to make amends. “Look, it wasn’t anything personal. Heck, I owe you guys, after all. The tribe wanted to sacrifice me to the volcano, but you and the others spoke up for me. You don’t have to say it—’I wouldn’t understand why’. But I wasn’t calling you a goof. You’re a pretty brave guy, when push comes to shove.”
“I don’t care what you think,” Dale said, his back to her. “I’ll never be able to trust anything you say.”
“Fine by me,” Lahwhinie said, sitting again on the creaking bed. “It’ll be easier for me to rest, knowing I’ve got a protector who’s going to be awake all night in case I attack him. I don’t know who’s gotten under your hide, but I figure most likely it’s a girl. Well, good night, Dale. Enjoy the rug.”
Lahwhinie flopped down on the bed, and Dale was left to cope with his churned-up feelings. What was it about Lahwhinie that got his blood boiling? Was it simply that she looked like Gadget? Dale shook off the notion, sitting on the chair next to the bed and checking for anything crawling that might try to attack him during the night. He grumbled as he wondered at how his vacation had ended up like this, muttering under his breath, “I just wanted to relax and unwind and not think about Ranger work. Now I’m up to my big red nose in trouble and Chip’s not around to get me outta this jam and Lahwhinie thinks I know what I’m doing. I’m just gonna goof this up like I always do and get her and me killed.”
In the bed, Lahwhinie had seemed to be asleep but her eyes were open. She’d heard Dale’s soliloquy, but decided to keep her own counsel. Night turned into day, and once they were up and about, they put on some sunglasses and unfamiliar clothes and headed for the docks. It took a while, for there were dozens of boats, skiffs, launches, yachts and cabin cruisers. It was the last type that Lahwhinie was looking for, and when she found it Dale was glad, simply because it meant no more walking.
Lahwhinie pointed out a weasel in a lab coat. “That’s him. I loathe weasels—they always look like they’re up to something.” **I guess it takes one to know one** “Okay, we’ll need to rent a boat to follow that one,” Dale said. “Then we trail him back to his secret lair and defeat him.” Lahwhinie gave him a sly grin as they headed off to rent a boat. It was an easy matter, and once Dr. Lewin headed out they trailed at a discreet distance.
The trip took them into a group of islands off Molokai, privately owned by either the independently rich or used by corporations for their getaways. On one of the larger ones, Dr. Lewin pulled the boat up to a private dock and exited. There was a steep rock walk up to a large white stucco building that appeared to have been designed by a rodent contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Lahwhinie and Dale watched him enter the house, then Dale started up the boat again and they headed for the far side of the island. There were two possible landing places, and Dale chose the one he’d least likely choose normally, hoping that the bad guys wouldn’t watch it as closely. There was a narrow spit of beach here, with a rather difficult climb up to the plateau where the laboratory was.
Dale brought the boat in, and tied it up on the shore. Lahwhinie got out, and looked up, frowning. “No wonder they don’t get many visitors. I hope my manicure survives that climb. So now what, mister hero?”
“Quit calling me that. We make the rather difficult climb up to the plateau where the laboratory is. That’s just what they won’t be expecting us to do.”
Lahwhinie smirked at his reaction. It seemed her way to needle him. “Right. Maybe we should wait until night. I have a feeling they wouldn’t welcome us with open arms.” Dale checked the boat to make sure it was secure. “You know, I’m really surprised that you came along. I always figured you for a spineless coward when things didn’t go your way.”
At that, Lahwhinie showed her first real sign of anger. “Hey, I’m no coward! I just don’t know all the things that some people know, and it’s easier to get them to do things than learn it yourself. Besides, if you’d grown up the way I did, you’d be no different than me.”
“Oh spare me,” Dale said, returning. “My life hasn’t been a bed of roses either, so don’t come crying to me.”
“Well, aren’t we just full of compassion?” Lahwhinie said, sensing an argument. “I bet you didn’t grow up on an island where you were forced to stay for fifteen years, and trained to be a spy.” Dale’s look was priceless. “You? A spy?” Dale burst out in laughter. Lahwhinie stood there, waiting him out. “Hmm, guess I’m losing my touch. All right, so I grew up on the streets and had to claw my way up. I just always wanted to be a spy—it sure would’ve been a cooler life than scraping for food and learning how to con people for a living.”
Dale didn’t know what to say, although he had a hard time disputing what she said. “Well, things weren’t that bad with me. Look, I’m sorry for those things I was saying. I still don’t really trust you, but if I did offend you, I’m sorry. But just for the things that weren’t true.”
“Apology accepted. There’s some rope in the boat. Guess we’d better made like Dirk Suave in A View To San Juan Hill and get going. We can lay low up top until night, and then sneak up and find out what they’re doing.” Dale liked that plan. “Okay, that’s a good idea. Then we’ll sneak into their secret base like Dirk did in Moondraker.”
Lahwhinie had to chuckle. “Don’t tell me we actually have something in common! I should’ve figured it out when you signed us in as Mr. and Mrs. Suave. I’ve seen every movie of his at least a dozen times.” **Why, oh why did it have to be Dirk Suave movies? Is nothing sacred?** “Yeah, fancy that. But this ain’t make believe, this is real, so no fun and games like Dirk and his leading lady...uh, none of that funny business.”
She gave him a seductive look. “Even after we win, Mr. Suave?” Dale blushed and backed away. “Whoa, we’re just pretending here, right?” Lahwhinie switched to a satisfied smile. “Of course. After all, what’s the fun of pretending if you can’t pretend to be what you aren’t?” Dale had his own thoughts on that one. “So what do we do now? There’s a while yet till nightfall.”
Lahwhinie sat down on the sand. “I dunno. Why don’t you tell me more about where you grew up and all? Had to be better than what I had here, and besides, I don’t have anywhere more pressing to go.” Dale could see where this was leading. “Uh, I’m not sure if I want to reveal details like that about myself to you. Let’s just say that I was very shy, clumsy, not very bright and really goofy looking and pretty much stayed that way my whole life.”
“So when did you change?” she said, looking up.
Dale knotted his brow. “I didn’t. That’s why I took this vacation.”
Lahwhinie studied him closely. “What do you mean you didn’t? You’re not exactly what I’d call shy. You haven’t done anything clumsy. You’ve outguessed both those goons and me so far and as for looks, well, you’re not really that goofy-looking. Like I said, you’ve got a boyish face, but it’s sort of cute in a roguish way.”
“You can stop with the flattery, already. I’m helping you, remember?”
“Hey, I call it like I see it. If you want to wallow in self-pity, that’s your business.”
Dale pursed his lips. “Yeah, well we all have problems and you’re not one of the people I can open up to about them.” Lahwhinie gave out a sarcastic laugh. “Oh, really? And who can you open up to? Chirp, who was bopping you on the head half the time he was here? The guy who went wild for cheese? The bug? Or maybe miss goody gumdrop, huh?”
He hated to admit it, but she was right on that point. “Okay, maybe not them, but there has to be someone that cares. When this is over I’ll just talk to my folks.” Lahwhinie’s face took on a softer tone. “Those Rangers really did something to upset you, didn’t they? Why would they do that? I mean, you’re not going to try to go behind their backs and pilfer everything they have or push them off a cliff. You’d think they’d like having someone nice around.”
“Well, sometimes they do, but when times get tough they don’t want me around. I just goof things up.”
Now Lahwhinie was confused. “I thought you guys were ‘one for all and me for you’ or whatever it is. Why would that make that such a difference?”
“Because I’m the only one that isn’t good at anything!” Dale said.
Lahwhinie was beginning to sense repetition, and held her hands out in a stopping motion. “Waitaminit, let me get this straight. They told you that you were a good-for-nothing and kicked you out? I thought at least that goody two-shoes double of mine would’ve stuck up for you. Guess I was right about them—they are a bunch of fools after all if they treat a guy like you that way.”
Dale’s voice lowered as memories flowed in his thinking. “I thought they were my friends, but Gadget called me a goof-up and when I lost my memory I tried to kill them all.” Lahwhinie’s eyes went wide. “You tried to kill them? I thought there was more under that hide of yours than you were letting on! I guess you would try that after she said that to you. After all, you really must care about her the way you reacted when I...well, when I kissed you that time.”
“Yeah, imagine my surprise when my first kiss turns out to be from a homicidal backstabber,” Dale said, sticking his tongue out. Lahwhinie grinned back. “You of all people shouldn’t have said that. So I take it they lived and figured out a way to get you back to normal. Then let me guess—you were bummed out because little miss sunshine treated you like dirt and since you care about her opinion of you, you decided you were dirt and now you want to quit. That about cover it?”
Dale sulked, annoyed that he was that transparent to her. “Yeah, in a nutshell.”
“Hey, when it comes to matters of the heart, I’m an expert,” Lahwhinie said. “I’ve wrapped men around my little finger before and strung them along like puppies on a leash. Here’s a free bit of advice—never lay your self-worth on one person’s opinion of you. I did that once, and got burned just like you did. So tell me, what happened once they got you back to normal and all? Did you tell them off, or what?”
Dale could see that she wasn’t going to be satisfied until she’d heard every nasty detail. “It all started when we went to France,” Dale began, telling her of how he’d lost his memory and become Ram-Dale. “Well, when I got my memory back, we still had to stop Maltese de Sade who was running all the dogs out of Paris. So I pretended to be still-amensiaed but I wasn’t, and I fooled them! They bought it and I went with them to the Eiffel Tower where they had this bone on a chalkboard and then I knew I had to get rid of it. I kept saying, ‘I’m as ferocious as a tiger!’ and then I charged and threw the whole thing over the side. It was great, and it went ker-plooey into a million pieces! Then the others showed up and we managed to beat Maltese.”
Then Dale’s countenance changed. “I was lucky and blundered through it all really. Chip told me so. I talked to my folks when we got back and they suggested we take a vacation to decide if it would be best for me to leave the Rescue Rangers.” Lahwhinie had been totally absorbed in his story, amazing as it was. “Huh. Sounds like you handled it all, and they took the credit. You sure Chop wasn’t jealous of you?”
Dale shrugged. “Well, Chip always says I’m a dummy, so maybe he’s right. I do lots of stupid things all the time.” Lahwhinie got closer to him. “Look, maybe I’m butting in, but I really don’t care if I am. I think he’s wrong about you. I mean, name one time in all the time you’ve been here that you’ve done something Chip would say was stupid.”
“Well, I’m not sure, but I’m sure he would have said it sometime...hey! Why am I telling you all this? Your feminine wiles won’t work on me, Lahwhinie! I’m on to you!” Lahwhinie gave him a “get real” look. “Honey, if I was wiling you, you’d know it. You haven’t done anything dumb or stupid since I’ve seen you here. I may not be a shrink, but I’d say your problem’s that chipmunk with the hat. He was a pushy, self-centered egotist, even if he was cute. Maybe you should leave them, so you can get around people that appreciate your good points.”
“Like you I suppose?” he asked sarcastically.
Lahwhinie reflected his sarcasm back. “Like an outsider, I suppose? Look, once you get me out of this jam, I don’t care if you stay around or not. But I will at least thank you, even though I’m a ‘conniving temptress’. Tell me the last time any of them thanked you for saving their bacon. And I bet you have saved their bacon once or twice, haven’t you?”
Dale nodded reluctantly. “Sure, a couple of times. But Chip just says it was luck.”
“Sure he does. He’s afraid you’ll take over.”
Dale burst out laughing at the notion. “I can see it now, ‘Dale’s Rescue Rangers’! I couldn’t lead lemmings to the ocean!” Lahwhinie spoke on. “Look, I can spot that kind a mile off. He loves controlling people, and he’ll do whatever it takes to feel that way. Probably he doesn’t even realize he’s putting you down, but to him he’s got to because if you rose to the leadership he’d have to step aside. Dale, maybe you aren’t leadership material but hey, give yourself some credit. You were able to track down these jerks and come up with a plan to get in, and you weren’t afraid to stand up for me when that big goon wanted to take me. So thanks.”
Dale knew there was an angle in all this somewhere. There had to be. “Why are you being so supportive? This would be a whole lot easier to do if you hadn’t been evil before.” Lahwhinie frowned. “Look, I had my whole life planned out before you guys showed! I wanted to be queen so bad I could taste it. Haven’t you ever wanted something so much, you’d justify whatever you were doing to get it?”
“Well I did. I wanted to be queen, because then people would notice me and like me and I’d be somebody. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute—I grew up dirt poor, not knowing if I’d eat every day. I dreamed about living in a palace and having servants who’d do my bidding and call me ‘your majesty’ and all that. Finally I get my shot, and then you have to come along and spoil it! Wouldn’t you be a little ticked if someone stuffed your favorite dream right in your face?”
That hit Dale where he lived. “Yeah, I guess so. I’ve never had any dreams…well, none that would ever come true anyway. I just live day to day and daydream a lot, but that’s it...hey, you’re doing it again!” Lahwhinie crossed her arms. “Oh, excuse me for appearing innocent. I can’t help what you think, but...I am sorry about coming on to you before. It’s just that—” Lahwhinie paused and her voice lowered. “It’s just that you’re the first person who’s cared whether I was breathing or not in so long, and I wanted someone to talk to. I thought if I teased you a little that would make you stick around for a while, but that backfired—great, now you probably think I’m lying again to cover everything I’ve done up to this point!”
Dale wasn’t any happier than she was about it. “Darn it, I keep wanting to trust you, but you tried to kill us.”
At that moment a boat went by and they both dove for cover. It wasn’t until then that they realized they’d gabbed all the way through sunset. A few more minutes, and a quarter moon was the only light. It was pretty dark, but their eyes quickly adjusted and they silently began their climb. When they reached the top about ten minutes later, the uniquely constructed house was lit up, about two hundred feet in front of them. A semi-thick jungle would provide them cover for most of the way, but they would inevitably be in the open at the end of the journey. Dale breathed easier when he saw no guards stationed outside
“Well, there’s probably all kinds of hi-tech security stuff here, so I doubt we’d get to the house undetected. I say we get caught and let them take us inside. Then we can escape and foil his evil plans.” Lahwhinie stood up. “Only if we have to. I don’t know what that lunatic might do if he got his grubby paws on me.”
Together, they moved slowly through the jungle, on the lookout for traps. There were none—either Dr. Lewin felt there was no need for security or the house itself was rigged with enough security to compensate. They walked up onto a wood deck that went all the way around the rectangular house and quickly moved away from the big picture windows when they saw the doctor and Gunther come in. They had someone with them—a young lady who appeared none too happy being there. Dale and Lahwhinie put their ears against the stucco wall so that they could hear the conversation inside.
Dr Lewin showed a nervous female islander mouse to a comfortable chair. “Now my dear, the reason for my invitation is quite simple. My former volunteer declined, and I need some DNA samples.”
“DNA samples?” the girl reacted. “What for?”
“My dear, you islanders are some of the most physically fit people on the face of the earth,” Dr. Lewin began. “My genetic research has led me to believe that your people are on average the least affected by the common contaminants and artificial additives that affect most animals’ lives. In short, you’re an ideal place to start over.”
Even as the two outsiders wondered what that could mean, they heard the sound of footfalls on the deck from around the corner. On their knees, they scurried under the window and took shelter in the only cover they could, a small alcove protected in the shadows. Dale and Lahwhinie squeezed in, not daring to breathe as the faint moonlight shined through the trees and revealed the face of Gunther. He walked slowly along the deck as if enjoying the night, then stopped and seemed to look right at them. Dale’s heart almost seemed to stop and he could feel Lahwhinie press into him some. After a long moment, Gunther started up his walk again and disappeared around the corner. A few moments later they heard a door close.
“Now I know what they mean about moments where you feel like you’ve had twenty years knocked off,” Lahwhinie whispered. “He ought to have been Claws in Moondraker. He’s even scarier than that guy with the metal manicure.” Dale had to agree, but now they had a bigger problem. “Great, now we have to rescue that island girl too. Man, I wish Chip was here.”
Lahwhinie cast a curious glance his way. “Why, so he could tell you that you couldn’t do it? Look, you managed to beat that Maltese dude, so you’ve got guts. Now let’s find some way in there no one’s guarding and see what this crackpot’s up to.” Dale took her hand and led her off the patio and then underneath it. “We’ll see how Gunther goes in and out of the place and then when he’s on his rounds we’ll try to go in the same way.”
That turned out to be an easy task, as there was only one door on the side that Gunther had come from. When next the behemoth came out, Dale and Lahwhinie hung over the edge of the deck and waited as he passed, then pulled themselves up. Silently entering, they found no alarm bells greeting them, so they proceeded with stealth. Dale felt a nervous excitement that he’d rarely experienced, and realized that for the first time he really was leading a team. When they heard Dr. Lewin nearing their position, they entered the door to the basement and went down.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they found it wasn’t a basement at all but a generously stocked laboratory that would’ve done Dexter proud. Scientific instruments of every kind flashed and blipped, and there were large cylindrical containers made of glass lining the walls. Their curiosity piqued, they looked about for a clue to what it was all about. Lahwhinie found the first one, and called him over.
“What do make of this? Looks like the guy’s lab book or something,” Lahwhinie said. Dale picked it up and began thumbing through. He stopped to read a particular entry. Genome resequencing test #413 - Failure. Breakdown in guanine and cystine. No binding in nucleotide sequences. Hope for better response with Pacific culture. Dale frowned and flipped through to near the back of the book. Genome resequencing test #992 - Partial success, but require less contaminated samples. Will begin collecting specimens. Operation Renaissance now six months and counting.
“Only Gadget’s smart enough to figure this out, but whatever it is, it can’t be good,” Dale said. “Home genetic experimenting is never a good thing. We’ll just borrow this book, find that girl and high-tail it outta here and go to the authorities.”
“I don’t think that will be allowed.”
The two of them turned to find Dr. Lewin and Gunther on the stairs. Dr. Lewin started down, stopping short of the bottom step. “You see, I took the liberty of having silent alarms placed in here, in case someone came snooping where they weren’t supposed to be. Now that you know of my plans, of course, I can’t allow you to leave here.”
Before either of them could think of a countermove, Dr. Lewin pressed a remote switch and the entire floor swung away. The resourceful doctor had built his laboratory with permanent supports only for his lab tables, and with a scream followed by a resounding splash, they fell into an Olympic-sized pool right below the lab. The pool was intricately designed, with several levels of stairs and catwalks for reaching the various height platforms.
Chipmunk and mouse spluttered but managed to reach the edge of the pool okay. When they got there, they instinctively looked up to see the irrepressible doctor and his lumbering lackey looking down derisively at them. “I hope you enjoyed your swim. I rarely take advantage of the privilege any more; we scientists have pressing timetables. It’s quite a shame you couldn’t have volunteered your DNA willingly, miss Lahwhinie, but rest assured we’ll retrieve your body in time to allow for plenty of viable samples.”
“You stupid jerk!” Lahwhinie shouted up at him. “Why are you doing this!”
Dr. Lewin absorbed her vitriol without the least concern. “Oh, you mean, why all the genetic testing? I’ll be quite happy to explain. You see, I was once a leading scientist at one of the world’s leading animal genetic laboratories. Then one day, I reached the unhappy conclusion that the animal genome was falling apart. You see, all the industrial and radiological contaminants are slowly degrading our planet’s genome and each subsequent generation has more defects than the former. So, I reasoned, it was time to cut our losses and start anew. Project Renaissance is that new beginning. Here, I have collected the purest genetic samples of flora and fauna, so that when I trigger a melting of the polar ice caps, we can start over as near to Eden as possible.”
“That’s crazy!” Dale retorted. “You’ll kill billions and billions of people! How could you be that evil?” Dr. Lewin gave Dale a patronizing look. “Don’t tell me you’re that naive, sir. Good and evil are bandied about like war banners of old, but what I’m doing is necessary. Not merely that; it is vital to the survival of the planet! It is unfortunate that not everyone will be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor, but if they knew they would understand. We must preserve the best of what we have, or soon we will all perish.”
Lahwhinie leaned over and mumbled into Dale’s ear, “See what I mean about justifying anything to reach an obsessive goal?” Dr. Lewin pressed another button on his remote and a clear but thick plastic dome began to move overhead to seal them in. He pressed another button, and pumps activated in the pool and it flooded over the edge. “I would say you have about five and a half minutes at this point. Forgive my poor hospitality, but I have more pressing matters. The South Pole requires my attention this evening and, once the pool is drained and Gunther has taken care of your final arrangements, I’ll be off. Oh, and do be good enough not to damage yourself too badly around the stomach, my dear. That’s where the best samples will be found. Come, Gunther.”
The doctor and Gunther left, not appearing to be fazed at all by the heinous act they’d done. Lahwhinie turned to Dale, a twinge of panic setting in. “Uh, got any ideas for getting up there? That roof thing’s too high to reach without something like a rope, even from the third level.” Dale took the lead, running through the knee-deep water, and Lahwhinie right behind. “We head for the stairs and see if we can find anything to shut the doors before we’re trapped!”
With the plastic sheet slowly sliding across, it didn’t take them long to figure out that their deadline was less than what Dr. Lewin had said. Within three minutes, the sheet of plastic would be in place above them, effectively making a cage that would eventually flood and drown them. They headed up the stairs, bypassing the first two levels. At the third, they were still about ten feet under the plastic sheet, in relative rodent-size terms. A quick search of the floor produced nothing but locked doors, but then Dale noticed something.
The pool’s banner hung down from a flagpole that jutted out from the wall a little beneath them, about Dale’s height from the overhang. The banner itself was made of cloth, and slowly the chipmunk began putting an idea together, even as he watched the sheeting sliding closer to them. Dale reached down for the banner and quickly tore it from the pole and with Lahwhinie’s help they ripped it into pieces and made a rope.
“I’ll go up on the upper ledge and use the flagpole as a springboard to get me up to that plastic thing before it closes,” Dale said, testing the rope’s tensile strength.
“What about me?!” Lahwhinie asked.
“I’ll lower the rope and you climb up it.”
Lahwhinie looked down at the flagpole. “It looks pretty solid. I hope it works, and are you going to be able to hold onto the edge and hold me on that rope?” Dale had already thought about that. “I’ll tie the rope around myself. Just climb for all you’re worth, because there’s no second chances.”
At that point, Dale got a strange look on his face. He took a stray piece of banner and tied it around his head like a headband, and his voice deepened. “Yo, don’t worry ‘bout it.” Lahwhinie watched him get up on the balcony. “Great, now I’m being saved by a Sly impersonator.” Dale waited for what he thought was the right moment, then jumped fearlessly. The flagpole sent him skyrocketing, and he actually overshot the plastic, but came down okay. Running to its edge he lowered the makeshift rope. Lahwhinie ran to keep up with the rope’s end, and then in a moment of pure desperation jumped from the catwalk and held on for dear life. Dale anchored himself as best he could, then saw she wasn’t coming up but clinging to the rope.
“:Don’t freeze up now, Lahwhinie! Don’t worry, I’ll save you!” Dale grunted as he began pulling up the rope. Lahwhinie opened her eyes and was startled to see that she was coming up fast. She turned and saw the near wall was coming up fast too, and her fear sparked her adrenaline. She began to climb, and quickly neared the top. Then it happened—one of the knots slipped. Lahwhinie screamed, but she had been close enough for Dale to snare her hand. Now the chipmunk on his knees was all that stood between her and doom. Lahwhinie began to cry and fidget, fear taking over again.
“Lahwhinie, listen to me! Don’t be afraid. I won’t drop you, you’re safe we me. Just give me your other hand!” Lahwhinie looked up at him, but she was still paralyzed with fear and screaming. “I’m gonna die! Please, I won’t mess with you or your friends. I just wanna live!”
“Lahwhinie, I don’t want you to die. I want you to live, but you have to help me!”
That struck Lahwhinie in her panic. Someone wanted her to live? She quit screaming and suddenly remembered that she had another hand. She reached up and Dale tugged with all the reserves he had. It proved to be just enough, as he pulled her over the lip of the sheeting just before it hit the wall. Lahwhinie clung to him like a leech, her heart and lungs going mile-a minute. It took a good minute or so for her to shake off the shock.
“Thank you, oh, thank you!” Lahwhinie hugged him around the neck, still crying some. Dale didn’t know just what to make of it, but he did know one thing. They had only a minute or so before that water would hit the plastic and Gunther would come looking for their corpses. He struggled to his feet, exhausted. “We better be ready for Gunther when he gets here. We need a weapon.”
Dale grabbed her hand and led her across the plastic cover of the pool. When they climbed the stands they found a room down a nearby hall to the right. It was an exercise room complete with all the latest equipment and the classic weights as well. “I guess this stuff’ll come in handy.”
Lahwhinie headed over to a weight set. “Dumbbells for a dumbbell named Gunther. Say, I’ve got an idea.”
A minute later, Gunther appeared at poolside. He started the water draining, but noticed that the two former occupants of the trap were no longer around. The big goon marched off down the hall, when a whistle caught his attention. He looked in the door and there was Lahwhinie, smiling and waving at him. “Well, it’s about time you showed up, big boy.”
Gunther may have been many things, but intelligent wasn’t one of them. He was simply hired muscle, and could be lured by a pretty face. In this instance, he was very lured. He came into, grinning from ear to ear. A moment later, he and his grin were on the floor, thanks to Dale who had dropped a couple of dumbbells on him from the top of a few packing crates they’d piled up. Dale climbed down, grabbed a jump rope, and started to tie up Gunther.
“Now we gotta rescue that poor island girl and stop that nutty professor from destroying the world!” Dale said. Lahwhinie stepped on Gunther’s belly, heading for the exit. “All right, Mr. Suave, got any ideas that don’t involve getting us killed?”
“Uh, well, that mad scientist guy thinks we’re dead, so he won’t be expecting a sneak attack. I say we find him and nab him.”
“Works for me, but we’d better hurry. I have a feeling he’ll come looking after Goliath here pretty soon.”
Dale and Lahwhinie headed out of the exercise room, taking an obscure route upstairs. Moving slowly to avoid discovery, they soon found the room where the girl was being held prisoner. Unfortunately, Dr. Lewin was in there as well. Dale signaled that they should wait for an opportunity, and they laid low. After a few minutes, the doctor left the room by a rear door and they took their opportunity, slipping in by the main door.
The room was glass-walled on three sides, so the girl had seen them coming long ago. Her eyes lit up in hope as they shushed her, then the three of them snuck out of the room and headed for a more secluded spot outside where they could talk. The girl was a young native mouse in her late teens, and began to cry. Lahwhinie felt some empathy with the youngster and patted her on the back. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of here. My name’s Lahwhinie and this is Dale. What’s your name?”
“Kukana. He...he told me that he loved me, but he only wanted samples of my blood for some experiment or something. Please, get me out of here!”
Dale came to the fore. “Don’t worry, we’re the Rescue Rangers! We’ll get you outta this jam. Let’s make a break for the boat—you two head for the boat and I’ll stay here and stop his plans for melting the ice caps.” Lahwhinie held her head up, as Dale had included her as one of the Rangers for this mission. “How are you going to do that?”
“Hey, I’m a professional! I’ve taken down guys worse than this before,” Dale said.
“In other words you have no idea.”
Dale smiled and shrugged. “Right, but I’m sure something will come to me.”
Kukana tapped him on the shoulder. “Uh, Dale? When the doctor brought me to the house he showed me all around. I guess he thought I wasn’t a threat because he showed me his control room. It’s in that room he went into from the glass room. If you can get in there and push the big red button on the control panel, that’ll activate a self-destruct he built into the island. If I remember right, there’s a little clock next to it, so you could set it and get back to us in time to get away.”
Dale pumped his fist into his other hand. “Ha, I knew it! Just like in the movies, the villain always takes the time to reveal his plan and the villain always has a prominent self-destruct button on his control panel. You ladies head out, this is a job for Dirk Suave!” Lahwhinie walked up to him, locking eyes. “Are you sure you want to go alone? I could go with you.”
“No, I’m a professional idiot. I work best alone.”
Lahwhinie shook her head and chuckled. “All right, but be careful. I’m getting used to you.” In a spur-of-the-moment act, she hugged him, then wrapped her arms around him in a “last kiss before we die” embrace. “Don’t let him see you.” Dale was stunned for a moment from the kiss. “Woohoo! Uh, I mean, thanks, miss. Be careful and don’t forget to call the cops as soon as you can, and you better call the other Rescue Rangers, and the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and the RAS too.” Lahwhinie grinned a little more, and it was strangely full of gratitude. “Don’t worry, Mr. Suave. I won’t let you down.”
Dale left, keeping to cover, and returned to the house. Again he had to move slowly to escape detection, and he wanted to know if there was another door to the control room besides the one he’d seen. There wasn’t, so Dale found a croquet mallet and took it with him as he entered the glassed-in room. He tested the knob for the control room’s door—unlocked. Steeling his nerve and his muscles for a fight, Dale slowly pushed the door open.
The control room was empty, and Dale was thankful. Still, it also had him nervous. Where were Lewin and Gunther? Were they even now on their way up to the control room, closing in on him? Or were they—Dale suddenly thought of Lahwhinie out there and realized he’d better hurry. Dale put caution aside and soon found the red button. “Now how long did it take us to get here? Guess I’ll give us a half-hour.”
Dale set the clock and punched the button. Immediately the clock started ticking and Dale headed out. Still no sign of the bad guys as he exited the house, and it made his heart pound and his legs move faster. Worry sprang up in him like a fountain, and again Dale threw caution aside. All he could think of now was the possibility that Lewin might beat Lahwhinie to the boat. Pushing his way through the jungle, Dale reached a place where he could look down and see the boat—it was still there, and no sign of the girls. He was about to head out when a familiar voice made him wheel around
“I think you’re looking for these?”
Dale turned and his blood chilled. Dr. Lewin had Kukana in his clutches, and worse, Lahwhinie was a prisoner of Gunther. They’d gagged and tied them both, to prevent them from warning him. The pleading look in Lahwhinie’s eyes tore right into Dale’s heart as he faced down Dr. Lewin. “Okay doc, I set the self-destruct. Give me the ladies and surrender.”
The doctor appeared unmoved. “I think not, foolish munk. You see, I was going to set it off myself. As you might notice, this island would never survive a melting of the ice caps. I have a secret fortress in a place where I assure you I will be quite safe. And as we only have...” the doctor looked at a fancy wristwatch, “thirteen minutes, I think it is time to bring our business here to a conclusion. These two young ladies will be accompanying myself and will prove quite useful in propagating my new world. You, on the other hand, I have no use for.”
Dr. Lewin pulled a rodent-sized pistol, his other arm still firmly grabbing Kukana. “I am a civilized person, though, so I give you thirty seconds to make whatever kind of reparations you wish. I would give you longer, but I like a safety factor.” Dale’s face instantly took on a look of startling ferocity and with lightning speed he brought the croquet mallet forward and struck the doctor, the gun discharging as the doctor was knocked back. Dale felt a numbness in his body, but he continued on, unfazed as rage overtook him.
He advanced toward Gunther and for the first time Gunther knew fear. “Who...what are you?” Dale’s voice had changed entirely now. “I’m yer worst nightmare...” Dale raced forward toward Gunther, and with Gunther’s hands full holding Lahwhinie, his torso was vulnerable. Dale raced in and punched Gunther in the stomach as hard as he could. He found that for some reason his left arm didn’t seem to be working the way he wanted, so he had to concentrate his punches with his right hand.
“Yaargh!” Gunther shouted, doubling over. Gunther had never really had to fight much, being more of a deterrent than anything; however, he was still powerful. He released Lahwhinie, pushing her to the ground, then grabbed Dale and flung him away. Dale was no longer just Dale, though—he was Ram-Dale, and used a mid-air flip to land on his feet. Before Gunther could get over his surprise, Dale charged right at him, jumped and scissored his legs around the big rat’s neck. Using his weight and his momentum, Dale threw Gunther to the ground and turned just in time to avoid a lunge by Dr. Lewin.
Dale chopped the doctor in the back of the neck, knocking him out, and then returned his attention to Gunther. The giant rodent charged this time, his head down, but Dale was ready and he jumped over him, flipping and coming down behind him. Gunther stopped and Dale swept the big rat’s legs out from under him. As he fell, Gunther’s head hit a rock on the ground and he passed out.
Dale stood there for a moment, breathing hard and staring at them. Then he remembered the girls and untied Kukana first, then went over to Lahwhinie. When he got her loose, she hugged him hard. “Oh Dale, I was afraid for you!”
“Yo,” Dale said.
“Don’t you have anything more than that to say?” Lahwhinie asked. Dale seemed to wake from a daze. “Yeah, this island is about to explode, so we better get outta here and call a doctor. I’ve been shot.” Lahwhinie looked at his arm and gasped. “Oh, Dale!” She ripped off one of Lewin’s sleeves and made a tourniquet out of it. “I’ve been in a few fights in my time. That’ll stop the bleeding.”
Perhaps against their better judgment, they dragged Dr. Lewin and Gunther over to the edge of the cliff and let their bodies slide and bump down the steep embankment where it was sandy. Dale had a hard time getting down, but he managed, and Lahwhinie and Kukana followed him to the beach. When they got down, Dale checked the watch on Lewin’s arm.
“Minute and a half! C’mon, let’s get them on board. They’ve got a date with the cops,” Dale said. With Dale’s bad arm, it took the three of them to get Gunther on the boat. Lewin was a slightly easier matter, and soon they had them tied hand and foot. Lahwhinie and Kukana got on the boat with just over a minute to go. Dale followed, wading into the surf, but then he suddenly disappeared. Dale had stepped off the sand bar and into deeper water. He came up spluttering, flopping with his injured arm.
Lahwhinie glanced into the water and then at the watch; she knew they had less than a minute till the island blew up; it might take longer than that to rescue Dale. “Argh! Men!” She reached over the side of the boat and grabbed Dale’s hand, and with Kukana’s help they managed to get him back on board. When he was stowed away safely Lahwhinie leaped into the driver’s seat and put the boat in full throttle, heading away as fast as the boat could move.
Kukana tended to Dale as Lahwhinie steered away from the island, then everyone got down as the final seconds ticked off. With a deafening boom, the island rocked in a series of shattering explosions and then its foundation was gone as it quickly started sinking into the sea. They didn’t stay around to watch, mainly because Lahwhinie wanted to get Dale to a hospital.
It took nearly an hour, but they got back okay and hailed down the authorities. The animal division of Hawaii-Five-O knew Dr. Lewin quite well, and took both he and Gunther into custody. The agents called an ambulance and Dale was soon under a doctor’s care. Lahwhinie refused to leave his side, as did Kukana. When Dale opened his eyes again, the first face he saw was the one that he’d seen as she pulled him out of the water. She smiled down at him on his hospital bed, taking his hand.
“Hey, glad to have you back. I missed you,” Lahwhinie said.
“Lahwhinie?” Dale said, totally surprised. “What are you still doing here?” Lahwhinie gave him a “are you serious” look. “Dale, you’re a real hero! You stopped Lewin and Gunther, and freed Kukana. She was here until this morning, and her parents left flowers and a nice card for you. Hawaii-Five-O’s going to give you a special civilian commendation for what you did. They’ve been trying to get that slime for years, but haven’t been able to pin anything on him until now.”
Dale remembered now, and his face lit up. “We actually did it!” Then Dale felt a wave of pain. “Oh yeah, I forgot about the getting shot business. I’m still here, so I guess it wasn’t fatal. Did you talk to mom and dad?” Lahwhinie grinned. “I did more than that, Dale. There’s a surprise for you. But first, I want to thank the munk that saved my life. You’re the best, Mr. Suave…” She reached over and gave him such a kiss that he almost forgot about being shot.
Lahwhinie went out into the hall and came back with Anne and Duncan. Anne immediately went to his side, taking her son’s face in her hands and kissing his cheeks. “Oh, my dumpling! What were you thinking, putting yourself in such danger? Oh, I was so worried about you all the way over.” Duncan came over slowly, and patted his son’s hand. “Lahwhinie told us what you did, son, and I want you to know we’re very proud of you. You saved the day!” Anne recovered herself in a moment. “Oh yes, don’t mind me. I was just worried about you. I guess maybe you can look out for yourself, after all.”
“I don’t know,” Dale said. “I was like a crazy man there at the end. I could’ve hurt someone.”
Duncan nodded. “She told us that too. You were in a tough situation and had to fight your way out. From the way she described it, you were pretty amazing out there. She gushed about your skills, intelligence and stamina for nigh onto an hour. I think you’ve got quite a cheering section in that little lady, son.” Lahwhinie shrugged and blushed. “Well, he earned it. He saved my life and Kukana’s life and the world in the bargain. That sure rates a little gushing.”
That reminded Dale. “Lahwhinie, I forgot to thank you for saving my life. I’m glad you made the right choice.” Lahwhinie walked up and took his hand. “Well, I owed you one. Besides, like I told them, I think maybe I’d like to get away from Hawaii for a while. I hear New York’s a nice town. There’s certainly some nice people there.”
“Are you serious?” Dale said, not expecting this at all. “Was all this like one of those ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ kinda things, but without the being dead part?”
“It was for me,” Lahwhinie said. “How’d you like a friend back home to remind you of what a special guy you are? I think I might just know someone who’d be willing to take that job, if someone else she knows would ask her.” Dale was simply amazed. “Wow, I don’t know, but I guess we could try something like that.” Lahwhinie grinned and leaned over the bed’s railing. “Guess so, huh? Well, we’ll see how it goes, but I think we can do better than guess so...”
Lahwhinie kissed him then and there, and this time it wasn’t one of her teasing kisses. She put her all into it, and Dale knew in a moment’s shock that this girl actually loved him. When she stood back up, he looked her in the eyes. “You won’t ever regret your new life, Lahwhinie, I promise you that.” Lahwhinie nodded back, the look in her eyes telling it all. Then she remembered something else. “Anne and Duncan aren’t the only ones here to see you, you know. There’s four folks out there who I gave a good tongue-lashing to when they came in.”
“A barbershop quartet?” Dale quipped.
Lahwhinie raised an eyebrow. “You know who. And one of them in particular looks guilty as a fox in a henhouse. I think you can guess which one, but they were all real upset when they got here. You’ve been out for over a day if you didn’t know, and this is the first time you’ve been allowed visitors. They want to see you and talk to you, but I said it was only okay if you said so.”
Dale hadn’t expected this either. The Rangers had come? “Sure, send ‘em in,” he said, not sure he could reasonably say anything else. Duncan left this time, and he returned with Rangers. Gadget ran up to his side, having put her own feelings aside the moment she saw him. “Oh Dale, are you okay? I’m sorry we weren’t there to help and made you feel unwanted and everything!”
Before he could answer, Monty and Zipper approached. “Lad, Zipper and me sure are glad you’re okay. Sounds loike ya had a jolly punchup without us this time, and did everyone right proud. Ol’ Monterey Jack’s not a mouse who’s too proud to admit when he’s wrong. I reckon we drove ya to this, pally. Sure wish it hadn’t happened.”
“No one drove me to anything,” Dale said. “I know I was goofing up in Paris and I can admit that now. I didn’t take my job seriously. This little disaster helped me get my head on straight. Everything’s forgiven and forgotten. Hey, where’s Chip?”
The fedora-clad leader of the Rangers had been noticeably absent, but now he came peeking around the corner. It was hardest on him to come forward because he felt responsible for Dale in many ways and then there was his own pride. Chip swallowed it and came on in, hat in hand. “Dale, I hope you’re not mad with us or anything. I guess I overreacted in Paris and then I wasn’t there to help when you needed me after. If you’ll come back, things will be different from now on. Okay?”
Dale motioned him over and took his hand, shaking it. “No hard feelings, Chip. Don’t feel bad guys, I know you were on a mission while I was here. You couldn’t have helped me even if you wanted to. So what were you guys doing while I was down here?”
“Well, nothing quite as important as saving the world,” Gadget said. Monty held his nose. “Yeah, just stopping Fat Cat from using a hired gang of skunks ta run off all the dogs in town. Ya might say his plan really stunk.” Chip smirked at Monty’s antics. “Yeah, and so did he after it backfired.”
The room got a good laugh out of that, then Chip noticed that Lahwhinie had never left Dale’s side the entire time. They’d talked briefly, but she’d given no hint as to her own preferences. “Well, I’m glad things worked out. I guess you’ll miss Dale once we’re gone.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Lahwhinie said. “You see, I’m coming with you.”
As Yogi Berra would say, the silence in the room was deafening. Monty recovered first. “Did me ears catch that right? You’re coming back with us?” Lahwhinie took Dale’s hand again. “Maybe I should amend that. We’re coming home.” Dale nodded in agreement. “Oh, we probably forgot to mention that Lahwhinie’s willing to try life as one of the good guys, so I hope you’ll all give her your support, because she’s special to me.”
Gadget looked to one, then the other. “Golly, you mean you two like each other?”
“Sure,” Lahwhinie said. “What’s so hard to believe about that?” Chip cast a dubious look in her direction. “Well, there is the little matter of your trying to kill us when we were here last, Dale included.” Lahwhinie ducked her head. “I was afraid you’d bring that up.” Dale came to her rescue. “We all make mistakes we wish we could take back, but we can’t. We can only hope those around us can forgive them and move on. We’ve forgiven our enemies before. Sparky tried to kill us too, remember?”
“Well, technically Sparky wasn’t an enemy,” Gadget said. “He was just a shock-conditioned lab rat.” Gadget took a look over at her twin, and she could see that Lahwhinie at least appeared sincere. “But if you’re convinced that she’s willing to change, that’s good enough for me.” Duncan walked over next to Lahwhinie. “He isn’t the only one that thinks so. Lahwhinie, you’ve more than proven yourself a friend to the Oakmont family.”
“But last time....” Chip started.
“Chip, I think the blokes are right,” Monty said. “After all, we are the Rescue Rangers. We should be willing to give folks a second chance.” Lahwhinie walked over to Chip. “Look, I know I treated you the worst of the bunch and played on your feelings and all. I’m sorry I did that, now more than ever. I didn’t really think about what I was doing. It was just so I could be queen and I’d feel someone cared about me. Now I’ve got that and I didn’t even have to be a queen to get it.”
Chip was a bit startled by her admission. “Whoa, so this is more than just friends? Uh, not that that implies what it might sound like. I mean, it’s just, you’ve got stronger feelings than just friendship?” Lahwhinie looked back over at Dale. “He’s the first person who’s really cared about me enough to put his life on the line for me. Plus he’s just so cute and he makes me laugh.”
Dale took the floor again. “I know it sounds strange, guys, but I trust her and believe that she’s sincere. I was there, and I saw her at crunch time. She saved my life! She didn’t have to do that. She could’ve gotten away without me, but she stayed behind and saved me.” Everyone looked at Chip, and he sighed and nodded. “All right, she gets another chance.”
Lahwhinie sauntered back over to Dale. “You hear that? And you thought he’d never mellow.” Gadget giggled, and it set off a wave of rippling laughter through the room. Chip took the jibe, and realized that all the Rangers’ lives were about to change. “Well, I can say this. You two sure are clothing-coordinated. The doctor said that you’d be able to leave tomorrow, Dale.”
“I guess the bullet didn’t hit anything important, but I’ll be outta commission for a while,” Dale said. “I guess I could use that time to write my autobiography or watch TV or something.”
“Or something,” Lahwhinie echoed.
The group stayed in Hawaii several more days. Dale received his commendation and a medal from Hawaii-Five-O which Gadget commemorated with a picture from her xenon camera. Fortunately, Hawaii-Five-O didn’t press charges. Lahwhinie was more than glad to help Dale along in his recuperation, and the red-nosed munk didn’t appear to be in any hurry. Even Chip, who had at first been skeptical, was convinced that there was something genuine between the two of them.
When it came time to leave for New York, Lahwhinie was right there with Dale in the RangerWing. They had made the start of a promising relationship, albeit a unique one. Doubtless it would have twists and turns, but as Lahwhinie had said, she didn’t have anything better to do. Dale Oakmont for one was very glad of that
Kukana, Dr. Lewin, Gunther, Anne and Duncan Oakmont are copyright Indy and Chris Silva. Lahwhinie, Shaka-Baka and the Rescue Rangers are copyright Disney and used without permission but with the utmost respect.