It is now about twenty-eight years after the "Darkwing Duck" series takes place. There have been lots of changes since then. Trust me on this as you read the next installment in this increasingly inappropriately titled series:
It was a dull and quiet night. The still, humid air in St. Canard was weighed down by heavy, grey, bland clouds. It was the sort of night in which, when one realizes one is out of milk, one does not feel like making a trip to the grocery store, and instead just heads for the nearest convenience shop.
A bell above the door chimed as a blue-eyed feline woman wearing jeans, a turtleneck, and a denim jacket walked in. The simian at the cash register looked up from the small black-and-white television. "Hey, Jen."
"Hey, Abu," she answered. "Who's winning?"
"I'm not watching the game," he replied. "'Terms of Imprisonment' is on."
"Oh, yeah. I'll rent that one sometime."
She went over to the dairy case, snagging some bread on the way. She slid the door open, crouched down, and began shoving the front containers of milk aside, looking for cartons with later expiration dates.
The bell rang a second time. The sound barely registered in Jen's mind, but Abu looked up. Another feline, a reddish-furred man with black markings encircling his eyes, walked in. He looked around the store, then walked up to the register.
"What can I get you?" Abu asked, his attention focused more on the movie than on his customer.
"Look at me," the feline drawled.
Abu looked up, meeting the other's green eyes. They stared into his own, trapping his attention. He saw the pupils contract, and his own responded by dilating, as if in fascination or fear.
The cat held his gaze for several seconds, then said in a low voice, "You're supposed to give me the money in the register."
"Oh," the simian answered. He looked at the register, then muttered to himself, "Where's the key..." as he looked around.
"Just open it like I'm buying something."
"Okay." The simian stared at the machine, then, concentrating, pushed a few buttons. The feline waited while Abu puzzled out how to open the cash drawer. Abu eventually succeeded, and started slowly and carefully counting bills out.
The feline said, "No, I'll count them for you later." The simian, relieved, handed him the ones, then the other denominations. The cat put them into the inside pocket of his coat. The simian started to scoop the coins out onto the counter, then thought better about it and got a brown paper bag to dump them into. Folding the bag closed, he handed it to the cat.
The cat took the bag, sighing to himself. At least this one wasn't that heavy. Coins were more trouble than they were worth. He put it in another inner pocket - his coat sagged noticeably on that side, weighed down by the heavy coins - and walked out of the store.
Jen, who had despaired of finding milk with an expiration date more than four days in the future, brought her items up to the register. "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. I see you got a new guy doing your deposits," she said conversationally.
"I do?" Abu looked confused.
"You know, the guy you just gave the money to. Hey, are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah," he said, still sounding distracted.
She waited for ten seconds, then asked, "Could you ring me up?"
"Oh!" He stared at the register, then looked at her items. Slowly he entered the prices - she had to correct him on missing decimal points - and, after a few false starts, opened the register. She took her wallet, which had lately become burdened by coins, out of the pocket of her jacket. "I'm gonna inflict a bunch of pennies on you," she said and she began digging out exact change.
"Must be a really good movie," she commented under her breath. The guy sounded like he was a million miles away. She handed him the money, and as he was carefully putting the bills and coins in their proper wells she opened one of the paper sacks laying on the counter and bagged her purchases. Not waiting for the receipt, she picked up the bag and said, "See you later!"
"See you," he answered as she left.
It was a bright and sunny day. Gosalyn, still in her bed, slowly became aware of warm sunshine slanting in through her bedroom window and the cheerful trilling of birdsong.
"Shut up," she muttered.
She glanced over at the clock. 12:30. Might as well get up. She sat up and stretched, then swung her legs over the side of the bed and got into a standing position without incident.
Aside from the birdsong, all was quiet in the house. Honker was at work, Noelle was at school, and Dexter was with Drake and Launchpad. It was a good arrangement: on his way to work Honker dropped the kids off, and when Gosalyn finally awoke after a night's worth of crimefighting she picked Dex up from Dad and 'Pad. They did not mind babysitting; in fact, they loved it.
She poured herself a cup of black coffee and stuck a pair of miniwaffles in the toaster oven, then flipped through the local news section of the paper Honker had left on the table for her. Several pages in she found what she was looking for. At that moment the toaster oven dinged and popped open. She took one of the miniwaffles, buttered and syruped it, and began eating it like a piece of toast as she read the article.
As usual, the paper gave her only a few column-inches. This time the article didn't even include a stock photo of her. Well, that wasn't surprising. For the past couple of weeks she had been dealing with a rash of mutants. Once again, people who had goofy powers were putting on goofy costumes and getting into trouble. The way these mutants popped up every so often, you'd think that St. Canard was radioactive enough to glow in the dark. Actually, those self-proclaimed "supervillains" were nothing but copycats, each thinking that his or her own power would give an edge over Quiverwing Quack. Hah! She had been fighting crime for over fifteen years now, and no penny-ante weirdo who could control furniture or create cheese out of the ether was gonna get away from her!
She thumbed through the rest of the paper as she ate her waffles. Nothing much else of interest in there. She changed from her nightshirt into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, washed her face, and brushed her long red hair out.
She looked in the mirror and decided that she was presentable. Walking back into the living room, she picked up the telephone, tapped on the keypad, and waited. After a few seconds she heard, "Yo."
"Hey, 'Pad. It's me."
She laughed. He always sounded glad to hear from her, even though she called every weekday. "Has Dex gotten into any trouble yet?"
"Nope. Hey, they mentioned you on the news."
"Really? Cool. I'll come over in a minute."
"'Kay. See ya, Gos."
Since she lived only a few blocks down the street, she walked to their house. Launchpad saw her coming, and opened the door just before she knocked. "Hiya, Gos."
"Hi, yourself. How's Dex been behaving?"
"That bad, huh?"
Launchpad knew that she was joking. Compared to his older sister, Dex was a quiet child. Compared to other kids - well, it was hard to compare him to other kids his age. It was an apple-and-orange kind of thing.
"You got another mention in the paper," Drake said as he came down the stairs, holding the hand of a three-year-old, redheaded gosling.
"Yeah, I know." she said. "Not much of a mention, but it wasn't much of a case."
When Dex reached the bottom of the stairs Drake released his hand. The gosling ran over to Gosalyn. "Mom!"
She swung him up. "What!" she answered, mimicking his tone of voice with a smile.
"Hi," he said, and stuck his thumb in his bill. She grinned at him and tapped her bill against his cheek.
Drake asked, "How many mutants has that been this month?"
Gosalyn shrugged, as much as she could at the moment. "I stopped counting after the fifth one. It's not like they're worth counting. I miss the old supervillains."
"I don't miss them THAT badly."
Drake looked at the bit of newsprint. "Did they get this name right? 'Vibratronica'? Please tell me that's a joke!"
She walked into the living room and sat down on the couch, settling Dex onto her lap. "SHE was a joke. Like the paper says, her trick was that she could vibrate. Sure, she can shake combination locks open, even break through walls - in a few hours, anyway - but that doesn't do a whole lot of good against a glue-bomb arrow."
"It could get dumber," Drake mused. "Give me a minute and I'll think of just how."
"Next paragraph, Dad. The Polisher. Can make surfaces slippery, so you can't chase him without slipping and falling. HE got away from a glue-bomb, but not a bola."
"Where in the world do they get their ideas from?" Drake wondered.
She answered, "I dunno. When they start in on their origin stories I just tune out. Yadda yadda yadda, radioactive something, get rich or control the world or take revenge, blah blah blah. I swear, it's almost like it was when I was little, when you were fighting dippy villains like Ammonia Pine and Quackerjack."
"It could be worse. What if you didn't have any crime to fight?"
"Don't even think it!"
Launchpad interjected, "It just means you're doin' a great job, Gos. Villains don't last long enough to get a lotta practice."
Gosalyn agreed, though she didn't say so out loud.
"'Sides," Launchpad continued, "If you didn't have those mutants to fight, you'd be goin' after these two-bit things."
"What two-bit things?" Gosalyn asked. Drake looked at him as well; he had not noticed any other crimes of consequence.
"Well, the paper says that for a while someone's committin' little crimes. Robbin' places like gas stations and stuff at night-"
Drake interrupted, "That's been going on as long since money was invented! Or gas, at least."
"Yeah, but this is kinda weird," Launchpad asserted. "It says that whoever's doing it always strikes when the place is open, but nobody ever notices. There are no witnesses except the person that got robbed, and they don't report it 'til hours later."
"That's kinda strange. I didn't see that in the paper," Gosalyn said.
"Neither did I," Drake added.
"It was just a little thing. I saw it on the page next to the comics. I'll go get it." Launchpad got up and headed for the kitchen.
"Sounds like a case for Quiverwing Quack," Drake said teasingly.
"Sounds like a scam staged by an insurance company," she replied. Then she looked thoughtful. "Or a protection racket. I'll check the small crime statistics when I go on duty tonight."
Launchpad returned with a folded-over section of paper. He handed it to Gosalyn. Dex tugged on the paper. "I can read it!" he announced.
She lowered the paper. "All right, read it to us." she said, pointing to the article.
Dex began reciting in a very serious voice, "'How can you get robbed with-out know-ing it? For the past sev-er-al months, people in st- Saint Canard have been finding out the hard way. The per-pe-tra-tors-'" he looked up at Gosalyn.
"Perpetrators. That's the people who did something."
He looked back down at the paper. "'The perpe-trators have never been known to use a weapon. Instead, they sim-ply ask for money, ac-cording to the vic-tims. Ask and ye shall re-ceive.'" He looked up proudly.
"Good job!" she said, and gave him a quick hug. He held the paper up for her, having lost interest in the article as soon as he had made his point. She took the paper with her free hand and read over the remaining few paragraphs. When she finished she put the paper on the coffee table and said, "I might as well keep an eye out. It might be worth the attention of Quiverwing Quack." She added wryly, "And it'd be a break from the Mutant of the Week Club."
Later the same day, a slender, blonde cricket was watching the news. It was towards the end of the broadcast, when they inserted light, semi-interesting stories to pad out the hour. The current one was about a recent robbery. She would not have thought twice about it, except the crime had occurred only a few blocks away. "Jen!" she called.
"What, Terri?" came the answer from the kitchen.
"Did you go to the Quickie Mart last night? When you got the milk?"
Jen came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "Yeah."
"It was robbed last night."
"Huh!" Jen said, surprised. "I hope Abu's okay!"
"They said that nobody got hurt. Apparently the robber didn't even show a weapon. He just hypnotized him into giving him all the money in the register."
"Hypnotized?" Jen echoed.
"With things like this going on, I don't think this is a very good neighborhood," Terri said softly.
Jen touched Terri's hair affectionately. "That's just one robbery. That happens all over St. Canard. We're okay."
Terri looked dissatisfied. She glanced back towards the hallway leading from the living room to the rest of the apartment. "It's not us I'm worried about."
"I know," Jen replied. Ever since Terri had had her daughter, she'd been nervous about the area they lived in. Jen had never thought about it before. This wasn't a bad neighborhood. It was just more inner-city than was comfortable for Terri. Well, Jen would not mind moving into a suburb or something, but with only one of them working now that was out of their financial reach. Plus, people were tolerant here. She would hate to move into some pretty little picket-fence community where the neighbors would hassle them.
Terri had a pretty good idea what Jen was thinking. They had had the obvious discussion before, and rehashing it would do no good now. She sighed and said, "I'm going to check on Heather."
"'Kay," Jen said. After Terri turned off the television and went into the back room, Jen sat down, thinking about last night. Everything had been all right when she had entered, but when she had paid Abu he seemed... at the time she had believed he was just distracted by the movie, but now that she thought about it, hypnotized would be a better description. Then that cat he had given the money to must have been the robber!
Her first thought was to call the police. But what would she tell them? All she could say was that he was a red cat with black marks around his eyes. Surely they must know that much... but usually they included a sketch in the background of the news report if they had even a vague idea of what a crook looked like. There had been none. And, if they didn't already have one, a clear description would help identify him.
Why hadn't the police taken him in already? There must be something special about him. The police were no good in dealing with "special" criminals. They left those cases to St. Canard's resident vigilante.
Inwardly Jen winced. She remembered all too clearly the last time she and Quiverwing had "met". She had masqueraded as a villain in order to boost Quiverwing's then-sagging popularity. Far from being pleased, Quiverwing had nearly arrested her when she found out the truth. She had let Jen off with a threat to turn her in if she ever heard of her again. Well, Jen couldn't blame her. It had been a stupid stunt.
That had been nine years ago. Though she had resigned from the Quiverwing Quack Fan Club, she still followed Quiverwing's career in the news.
Oh, heck. She even remembered Quiverwing's tipline number. Leaving an anonymous message couldn't hurt. She glanced back towards the nursery, then picked up the telephone and tapped quickly at the button pad.
After a bit she spoke into the phone, disguising her voice by lowering it. "The robbery at the Quickie Mart last night at 9:45, I saw it. I was there, but he didn't see me because I was in the back of the store. The man who did it was maybe about thirty, thirty-five years old, average build. He's a cat, colored red, with black markings around his eyes that look kind of like a raccoon mask. He has an accent, I think it's a Southern drawl, but I'm not sure because he didn't speak loudly. Um... that's all." She paused, then hung up the phone. There was something else about him that she felt she ought to add, but heck if she could remember just what. Maybe it would come later.
Terri came back out into the living room. "Who called?"
"Nobody," Jen answered. "I was just leaving somebody a message."
"Oh. Heather's asleep."
Terri sat by Jen. Jen put an arm around her shoulders. Might as well come clean. "You know what, I think I was there when the place got robbed." She felt Terri stiffen. Quickly Jen continued, "I'm pretty sure the guy didn't see me. It was like the news said - when I paid Abu, he acted like he was hypnotized. I didn't even realize it until just now, because it didn't look like a robbery. I just called the police and told them what he looked like."
Terri pulled back and stared at Jen for a few moments. Then she put a hand to her forehead. "I really don't like this neighborhood."
As the sky darkened, one of the chairs in a tower on the Audubon Bay Bridge spun around. After it stopped Quiverwing Quack stepped out of it, ready to begin her duties for the night.
She climbed the ladder to the computer platform. The main screen was flashing a red marker, indicating that she had a call on her tip line. Most of the calls that line received were cranks. Honker had programmed the computer to discard all obvious junk. That eliminated about 99% of the incoming calls, giving Quiverwing a chance at sifting useful information from the remaining messages.
She touched the screen's red marker. The date and time of the call flashed on the screen as the sound began to play.
Her eyes widened when she heard the description of the very criminal she had been thinking about, the one who nobody could seem to remember clearly. Talk about synchronicity! She listened to the message twice, then tapped the word "search" at the top of the screen. A form appeared, listing the characteristics classified by her system. She entered the details contained in the message, tapped "start", and waited while the mondocomputer did whatever it did.
As she waited, she thought about the call. The speaker had sounded familiar, but she could not place the voice exactly. An alto voice with no perceptible accent...
A window popped up on the screen: "Sorry, no results here. Want to try the police files? It couldn't hurt." She grinned as she tapped "Yes". Honker had programmed the interface, so even the text messages seemed to speak with his voice.
The computer ground on longer this time. It now had to deal with the slower computer that housed the St. Canard police files, and had more records to search though, too - Quiverwing only kept records on major criminals; she didn't bother with every shoplifter and tax evader that came along.
The computer chimed, indicating a positive result. She was disappointed to see that most of the matches were Beagle Boys. It couldn't be them. They mainly haunted Duckburg, and never worked alone; three seemed to be their quorum. Those orange shirts and number tags were pretty hard to miss, too.
She scanned down the list of names, calling each non-Beagle up to see the image and summary information available in the file. Thus occupied, she did not hear the chairs spin on the main floor below.
An eight-year-old blonde duckling stepped out of the chair. Glancing towards the Ratcatcher platform, she saw that the motorcycle was still there, and froze. She heard her mother tapping on the computer screen and muttering to herself up on the computer platform. Good, Noelle hadn't been spotted. Quietly she sneaked across the room, listening for any pause in Quiverwing's keyclicks.
She climbed into the sidecar and scrunched down into the footwell so she would not be seen. She was bored at home, and her mother never let her come with her when she fought crime. It wasn't fair - after all, Grandpa Drake had always let Gosalyn come along! Well, if Noelle didn't ask, then her mother couldn't not let her, could she? It was a pre-emptive strike. More than once she had stowed away, and then she had even been able to help out! For some reason Mom never seemed to realize what a help she was, so Noelle would keep at it until she did. Dad wouldn't miss her; he had put her to bed already, and would be under the impression that she had stayed there.
Only a few minutes passed before she heard Quiverwing climb down the computer platform ladder. Footsteps approached. The motorcycle shifted slightly, then began vibrating as the motor growled. Seconds later it shot forward, with Noelle braced in the sidecar.
Baka strolled from one store in the downtown strip mall to the next, wearing a long coat and a black mask across his eyes, and holding a shoulder bag. This place was perfect; it was busy enough at night that all the stores stayed open, and seedy enough that people were trained to mind their own business.
He entered the store and went directly to the front counter. The ursine cashier grinned and started to say something in a sarcastic tone. Baka cut him off by staring into his eyes. The cashier's face went slack as his pupils dilated. Baka said, "You're supposed to give me the money in the register."
"The boss takes the money to the bank."
"He told me to take it in early."
The cashier looked at him for a moment, then said "Okay." He tapped a few buttons, opening the register door with a ding. He started counting out the cash in the drawers.
The other employee, an avian who had been idly arranging the stock on the shelves for lack of anything better to do, glanced over and saw the money being transferred. She had been employed there long enough to know that the store's owner would never send someone else in his place. Quietly she ducked into the back and pressed the silent alarm.
Quiverwing cruised around the city in her Ratcatcher. She had nowhere in particular to go at the moment, but just being visible was a good crime deterrent in any case. As she rode around, she glanced down every so often at the small display screen in the Ratcatcher's control panel.
After less than an hour of this she heard the welcome bleep of an alarm. A point across town was flashing red on the display map. She glanced around, saw that there were no other cars nearby, pulled a highly illegal U-turn in the middle of an intersection, and started towards the alarm source.
Baka was walking out of the next store, his shoulder bag weighted down by a heavy load of coins, when he heard the rumble of a motorcycle approaching. He did not pay attention to it; many people rode motorcycles here.
He did pay attention when a shapely, redheaded avian woman wearing a green leotard and a short cape sprang off the vehicle. She scanned the mall, then locked glances with him. He tensed and stared at her, but she glanced away to reach back over her shoulder and draw an arrow out of a quiver on her back.
"Let me guess, you're the new villain on the block, right?" she said as she nocked the arrow. "I have to tell you, a trench coat and an eye mask isn't the best costume I've seen, even this week!"
He stalked toward her, staring into her eyes. Her gaze, however, was focused down the length of her arrow, and not on his face. "What're you doing?" he drawled. "I didn't do anything."
"Uh huh. Then what's with the goofy Beagle Boy mask?" she replied with a smirk.
"It is not goofy!"
"Hate to tell ya, but when they were handing out fashion sense at the Villains' Union you must have been in the john." She drew the net arrow back, preparing to let it fly. "Drop the bag and put your hands up."
Frustrated, he glared at her. She still wasn't looking at his eyes! He started to lower his shoulder bag to the ground - then suddenly jumped forward and swung it up at her head.
She dodged back, and ten pounds of coins connected only with her bow and hands, knocking them to the side. She dropped her archery equipment and in one quick move kicked out at his leg. Unfortunately, his long coat obscured her target, so she could not tell exactly where to aim. She landed only a glancing blow to his shin, tearing a gash in the inner lining of his coat. She pulled back her foot, which was tangled in his coat, went off balance, and toppled backward. He fell on top of her.
She grasped his neck and was about to dig her thumbs into pressure points when she saw his eyes. They were so vividly green that they seemed to glow. As she stared, his pupils contracted. A fog settled into her mind.
"Let go of me," he said. She complied, wondering what the heck he was doing on top of her. Quickly he untangled the coat from her foot. He stood, picked up the sack of coins, and swung it again at her. She did not see it in time to dodge the blow, and her reflexes were not quick enough to block it. It smacked into the side of her head, sending her sprawling.
Satisfied that that would shut her up for now, he glanced around. People were staring. There were too many of them to use his power on. He backed away a little, then glanced behind himself. Quiverwing's motorcycle. Grinning, he jumped into the saddle and gunned the motor.
The Ratcatcher had just begun to pull away when something shoved his leg away from the footpedal. Looking down, he saw a duck girl standing in the sidecar, drawing one arm back. Before he could react she swung her fist into his stomach. Unprepared for the blow, he yelped. In the moment of distraction she swarmed up onto the seat in front of him and tried to pull his mask off.
He seized her wrists. Struggling to free herself, she drew in a breath to shout. She stopped, however, when she glanced up and saw his eyes. Her pupils dilated, and she fell silent.
"Shut up!" he growled as he shoved her back down into the sidecar. He revved the engine again. Noelle was just able to crouch down in the sidecar seat before the vehicle lurched down the road again.
Quiverwing was staring after the receding vehicle. She should do something, she knew, but what was she supposed to do? It must have something to do with these things she had brought with her. She picked one of the arrows out of the quiver and clumsily threw it after the motorcycle as if it were a spear. It fell to the street in a messy splatter of glue.
Several hours later, Quiverwing understood what had happened. She had seen everything, but only now was it beginning to make sense.
She was in a holding cell. The police had taken her in. They couldn't have believed that she had committed any crime, not with so many witnesses, but she had been so disoriented - heck, she must have been acting like she was drugged. Well, that's how she felt. Her brain was still foggy.
What had happened to her? She thought back. The last few hours seemed like a dream. The last thing she could remember clearly was scuffling with a cat wearing a long coat and a mask across his eyes. His eyes had seemed unnaturally bright, and when she had looked at them everything had gone ... vague. It was as if he had drugged her just by looking at her.
That was when she had become confused. She couldn't remember how to work her bow and arrows - she had thrown one at him as he drove away on her motorcycle!
And she'd seen him fighting with a child on the Ratcatcher. Noelle!
"HEY!" she yelled, grabbing onto the bars of the cell. "GUARD!"
Half a minute later, a policeman came up to her cell. She said, "I'm all right now. Let me out."
"Just a minute, Quiverwing. What in the world was wrong with you?"
She said impatiently, "I don't know. That guy who robbed the stores messed with my brain somehow. He's also stolen my motorcycle, and kidnapped-" she bit back a name - "kidnapped a duckling girl. Has he been arrested?!"
"No, not yet. We got a report, and a list of eyewitnesses-"
"I'M an eyewitness!" she snarled. "I have to get that girl back! Has he given any ransom notices, or anything?"
"Will you LET ME OUT OF HERE?!" she shouted. "I am NOT under arrest. Am I?"
He took the keys out of his pocket. "Easy, easy." he said as he selected one and fitted it into the lock. "Right, you're not under arrest. But you looked like..." Being an admirer of hers, he hesitated to tell her what some of the others on the force had believed.
"I looked drunk. Or worse. Right?" she said, stepping out of the cell as soon as he swung the door open. "If that's what you suspect, you can have a blood sample. After I get that girl back!" She stalked down the hallway and out of the station.
The next morning, Honker was surprised to find himself alone in bed. That did not worry him, though; Gos occasionally got wrapped up enough in a case to pull an all-nighter.
He put on a robe and went into the kitchen. The paper wasn't on the table. He opened the door and picked it up from the porch. So, Noelle must still be asleep. If she were awake, she'd have gotten the paper and decimated the comics and sports sections. He separated out a few sections, set them on the table, and poured a cup of coffee.
Several pages in, he found a small article about the events of the previous night. Someone had been robbing shops in a strip mall, and had escaped Quiverwing, who had not seemed to be in her right mind. Honker paused, then reread that paragraph. The paper sometimes skewed its stories, but - why would Gos act like that? He read the last part, which mentioned that Quiverwing had been taken to the police station.
That would put her in a foul mood, he knew all too well. She got along with the police better that her father had, but she still had occasional "conflicts" with them owing to her unorthodox methods. He was glad he had seen that article, so he would be prepared for her mood when she returned home.
Across the Audubon Bay Bridge, another person was reading the same article.
So, the guy had struck again. The description the paper gave was vague, but it matched what she'd seen. Male cat bends people's brains, robs them, then walks away scot-free. But this time he had taken someone's kid!
Dang it, the more she thought about him, the more sure she was that she'd seen his face before. It must have been a long time ago, because try as she might she couldn't place it. She thought back to the events in the Quickie Mart. Nothing about him was really out of the ordinary. Except, now that she thought about it, he had spoken with an odd accent. It seemed to be from the southeastern states somewhere.
A Southern drawl? Her eyes went wide, and she jumped up off the sofa and ran over to the bookcase. She shoved a few large books around, then pulled one softbound volume out. She opened it and turned pages impatiently for a minute. Then she set the book down on the dinner table, sat down, and started back at the beginning.
She thumbed through a few pages of photo collages, then another section with various groupings of people. When she reached pages filled with small photographic portraits, thirty or so per page, she began scanning carefully, looking at each face.
She had looked at about a dozen pages before she saw what she had been looking for. She stared, noting minor details about the person, as much as was possible considering that the image was in black and white.
"Walking down memory lane?"
Jen startled. Terri smiled down at her. "Sorry."
"'S'okay," Jen replied.
"Old flame? Anyone I know?"
Jen shook her head. "No. Just someone I thought I remembered."
A soft cry came from another room down the hallway. Both Jen and Terri looked up. Terri went into the hall.
Jen looked back at the picture in the yearbook. The details looked right ... but he had a different expression. As if a different person were wearing the same face ... which was silly, she told herself. Or maybe not. A person could change a lot in eighteen years.
She took out a residential phone book. Glancing at the yearbook to check the name again, she turned some pages. Then ran her finger down a column.
His name was there.
It couldn't be another person with the same first name; how many people were named "Bakarashi"? So, he still lived in town. That didn't prove anything. And he resembled someone she saw rob a store. Again, big deal.
She realized that her heart was pounding. It was a possibility, however remote. And if it actually was him, then she could help get that little girl back. She could tip Quiverwing off - but, of course, she'd have to make sure she had the right cat first.
How in the heck would she do that? Just call him up and pretend to be a census taker? Ask him if he had started supplementing his income, and, if so, how? Yeah, right. Plus, if she did anything funny it might make him nervous, and he might harm that little girl.
Terri walked into the room, interrupting Jen's train of thought. Far from being annoyed, Jen was grateful. Putting a pen into the book to mark her place, she closed it. "Let's see," she said, holding out her hands.
Terri handed her the bundle. Terri's daughter, having just been fed, stared up with a serious expression as she chewed on her fingers. Grinning, Jen babbled nonsense words at her, making her giggle.
It was nearly noon. Dexter was parked in front of the television, half paying attention to the screen as he worked a puzzle on the floor. Still not a peep from Noelle, though, and she was rarely one to miss Saturday morning cartoons.
Honker went over to her room and opened the door. There was a mass under the bedcovers. At night he might assume that was her, but in the light he could easily see that the shape was wrong.
He frowned in annoyance. Noelle, he had thought to himself any number of times, had a Houndini complex. She would 'escape' when she got the chance, whether she had reason to or not. She had even been known to slip out to go a few doors down and visit one or the other set of grandparents, though he or Gos would have given her permission had she asked.
He picked up the telephone and dialed. After a minute he said, "Hi, Mr. Mallard. Is Noelle over there?"
"No. Is she supposed to be?"
"Um, no. She's slipped out again," he sighed.
"Reminds me of someone else."
"I know." One of Drake's favorite themes was drawing parallels between Noelle and Gosalyn. "Let me see if she's at my parents' place then."
One phone call later, Honker was concerned. He did not know when Noelle had left. Maybe Gos had her. That didn't make much sense, but stranger things had happened where his wife and daughter were concerned.
He said to Dexter, "Stay here. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Okay," the gosling said with a quick glance up, then went back to the puzzle.
At least Honker could be fairly sure Dex would behave himself. He was much too absorbed in the jigsaw puzzle to be distracted by whatever his parents were doing. Honker sat in one of the blue chairs, dialed seven ones on the telephone, and pressed the pound key.
Moments later he was in the Audubon Bay Bridge tower. He had been planning to use the computer to contact Gosalyn - that was a function he had specifically programmed in - but it looked as if that wouldn't be necessary, as she was asleep on the control panel. "Gos?" he said. No response. He tapped her on the shoulder. "Gos?"
She startled awake and looked up at him. He was surprised. Her face was stained, and her eyes were red. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She looked back down at the computer control panel, away from him, and made a small, soft sound. She put one hand to her forehead.
"Gos? What is it?" he asked, now worried.
She spoke in a low voice, interrupted often by irregular breathing. "Last night - Noelle went out with me. She snuck into the Ratcatcher's sidecar again. And someone took the Ratcatcher - and her too." Her voice dissolved into sobs.
"Oh, no…" Not knowing what else to say, he knelt by her and put an arm around her shoulders.
After a moment she brokenly continued, "I went all around town - trying to find out where he was. Trying to find the Ratcatcher. And - I put out an APB with the police, too." She bit her lip. Fighting to keep control, she shook her head and closed her eyes tightly. "They found the Ratcatcher, but not her."
Honker rubbed her back and waited for her to regain control. When she could speak again she said, "I didn't know what else to do, so I came back here. I told the computer to tell me if there was anything in the newsfeeds. The police haven't found her either."
"Okay." he said softly. A glance at the screen showed that it had pulled up no results yet. "Gos, come home. I'll set the computer to pipe anything it finds to us."
"But I can't do anything at home!" she choked out.
"Right now you can't do anything here." he replied. Besides, he doubted that she was collected enough to do anything at all now. However, he didn't say that, as he knew how she would react. Instead, he guided her to the chairs and punched the button.
Dexter looked up when the chairs began spinning. Then he jumped up. "Mommy!"
She sniffled, trying to pull herself together. "What?" she said in a miserable attempt at a cheerful voice.
He climbed up into her lap. "Why're you crying?" he asked worriedly.
"Mommy's not crying," she said, hugging him closely. "I'm just tired. I need to get some sleep."
"Don't cry, Mommy." Sympathetic tears were beginning to form in his own eyes.
"I won't, Dex." She released him, and set him back down in front of the puzzle. "I'm just tired. I'll be all right after I take a nap." She forced a smile, then went off to her bedroom.
In a bus station, a cat picked up a pay phone and deposited a few coins. She dialed the number she had written at the bottom of a grocery list, then drummed her fingers nervously on the phone book as she listened to the dial tone.
When she heard someone pick up on the other end, she put her free hand over an ear to shut out the noise. She heard a voice say "Hey."
Her mouth went dry. Even though she could barely hear him over the station's noise, she recognized the drawl she had heard the other night. She was right! Forcing herself onto the script she had rehearsed in her mind while telling herself that this was not a completely stupid idea, she said, "I know who you are," in a low voice.
"So what?" was the defensive reply.
She chuckled in her throat, or gave it a good try anyway. "I know what you did to Quiverwing last night. That's a good start. So is taking a hostage. You're going to use her to make sure Quiverwing stays out of your way, aren't you."
Jen paused. He would admit it on the phone, to someone who knew his identity? Jeez, she'd better be careful with a guy like this. And being careful involved showing no weakness. "I've been looking for a partner. I'm pretty good at dealing with Quiverwing myself."
"I don't need a partner," he said in a tone of annoyance.
"Think of it as an alliance, then. Two people can pull off things that one couldn't handle."
He paused, then said, "Who are you, anyway?"
"You might know me as Black Spandex," she lowered her voice a little and looking around the station again to reassure herself that nobody else was listening.
"Black... Hey, I heard of you. Years ago, though."
"Exactly. I've been keeping a low profile, waiting until the right moment to come out of retirement."
"What the heck. You free now?"
"Come to C-9453 New Tucker-Chamblee. I can't hear you over all that noise. You at a bus station?"
"Yes." she answered. "I'll be there in a half hour."
"Okay. See ya."
Jen hung up the phone, feeling more than a bit disoriented. Well, now she was committed to her plan. She had expected to find that she was wrong, that he was not the person that she had suspected. Now that her suspicion was confirmed, she'd have to go through with the act. Crud.
As she got into her car she thought about it. If it weren't for his hostage, she would just have phoned his name and address to Quiverwing's tip line. But if she backed out now he might get nervous, and nervous kidnappers sometimes killed their hostages.
Oh, heck. She'd pulled off the "Black Spandex" act once before. She could do it this time. She'd better be able to.
Terri looked up from her book as Jen entered the bedroom. Jen asked "What're you reading?" as she went over to the closet and began rummaging through the boxes and bags on the top shelf.
"Bechtel. What're you looking for?"
"Just something I put up here a few years ago. Old clothes." She thought she had packed her old costume in one of these plastic bags. Quiverwing had taken the one she had been wearing at the time, but Jen had previously made a spare.
"Oh. Good luck. It's a mess up there."
"I know, I know. I'll clean it out when I get the chance." Jen looked in one bag, then closed it and shut the closet door. "I'm going out for the afternoon. Be back later."
"Okay. See you later." Terri smiled at her.
Jen smiled back. Then she left, holding the bag tightly.
Soon afterward Jen was tapping on a door and feeling very self-conscious. This was an area of town she avoided even in daylight, and... an apartment building?! She had the feeling she was walking into a trap. Not to mention that she was wearing her Black Spandex costume. It was under her clothes, out of sight for the most part, but the hood was over her head, and she was wearing goggles to hide her bright blue eyes. She had felt like an idiot, changing in a gas station restroom, but she couldn't have changed at home.
The door opened, and a cat motioned her in. Like herself, he was wearing a nondescript shirt and pants. Staring curiously at her goggles, he said, "You look like a diver."
"That's why nobody can tell who I am."
The apartment was rather small. Black Spandex got the impression that he only cleaned the place once or twice per year, as evidenced by the general disorder. It wasn't really dirty, nothing that would attract bugs - it just looked like the place hadn't been picked up in a while. "Where do you keep the girl?"
"In there." He jerked a thumb toward a door just inside a short hallway. "I have to keep shutting her up."
Trying not to show her alarm, she asked, "How?"
"I confuse her and tell her to be quiet. It works a few hours, and then she starts being a pain all over again."
Obviously, he was already exasperated with the kid. Not good. "Have you tried to ransom her yet?"
"Nah." He shook his head. "I was thinking, I'll tell 'em that they better keep their hands off me or I'll off her. That way I don't have to worry about 'em."
"Well, you could do that too." But then he would have to keep her for a good long time. Changing the subject, she asked, "What're you going to do next?"
"First I gotta tell 'em that I want 'em to leave me alone 'cause I have her. I'm trying to figure out how," he admitted.
He didn't know how to ransom someone? "How about telling her family?"
"I don't know who her family is. She won't tell me."
"How about telling Quiverwing and the police?"
"Then they might arrest me."
"But… if you don't tell them, how do they know to leave you alone?" she pointed out.
"Oh, yeah," he mused.
Spandex paused, then said, "I know a way to get through to her. It'll put a message on her computer, so she'll hear it without being able to trace the call." She had added that last detail on the spur of the moment. She didn't know whether calls could be traced from messages - Quiverwing had had a pretty amazing computer, the last Spandex had heard - but it sounded authentic enough.
"Okay! Let's do that. What's the number? Oh, crud." He glanced back, hearing a sound from the room Noelle was in. He got up and started toward the door.
"Hold up," Spandex said quickly, stepping between him and the door. "Let me take a crack at her. First, I'll set it up so you can give Quiverwing the message." When he looked back, she picked up the phone receiver and began dialing the tipline number.
He took the bait. She finished dialing the number, then handed the phone to him and went to see the girl.
A small, blonde duckling less than ten years old was lying on her side on a futon improvised from some spare blankets in a dusty, box-filled room. Her wrists and ankles were tied together with plastic cord, and a cloth gagged her mouth. She began trying to yell when she saw Spandex.
Spandex had to force back an angry scowl. What kind of jerk would treat a kid like this?! She knelt down and, on an impulse, raised her goggles to reveal her blue eyes. She said to the girl in the gentlest voice she could manage, "I'll take off your gag, but you have to promise not to scream. All right?"
The girl just glared back furiously. Jen said, "I want to help you. I promise I won't hurt you."
The girl glared back for a few more seconds, then nodded almost imperceptibly. Jen reached around and untied the gag behind her head. The girl drew in a big breath. Jen clamped her bill shut before she could yell. "Hey! What'd I just say? Keep calm."
"I am calm," the girl tried to say.
"All right." Jen removed her hand. "What's your name?"
"That's a pretty name. Has he hurt you?"
"No... I don't think so," she said after pausing to think. "He tied me up and put me in here a while ago, and he keeps, um, doing something to me."
"What does he do?" Jen asked in a low voice.
"He looks at me, and then I can't think. Hey, are you gonna untie me?"
"Um... does he do anything else? Make you eat or drink anything?"
"No! He hasn't given me anything. I told you, he just looks at me. His eyes go funny, like this." She opened her eyes exaggeratedly wide, then squinted. "But he doesn't blink, it's just his pupils. And then I can't think any more."
So he was hypnotizing her. She had feared something much worse. "Listen, he'll keep on doing that every time you start yelling. If you can just be quiet, he won't. And I can help you better."
"Can you get me something to eat? I'm hungry," the duckling pleaded.
"All right. I will just as soon as I can. And if you promise to be quiet, I won't put the gag back on you. Okay?"
"That thing tastes like socks. Okay. For a little while."
"Thanks, Noelle," Jen said she touched her blonde hair. "I'll get you back to your parents as soon as I can." Then she lowered her goggles and stood to leave.
Baka was right outside the door. "What'd you tell her?"
Spandex shrugged and said flippantly, "Girl stuff. Things to keep her quiet. Hey, have you given her anything to eat?"
"No, I guess not."
Spandex clenched her teeth. "You have to keep a hostage healthy. I'm going to get something for her."
"Okay." He shrugged.
She returned quickly, having gotten some takeout food and calmed down a bit. She no longer wanted to break Baka's neck. One of his legs would do.
She sat down by Noelle and lifted her goggles. "I hope you like Hamburger Hippo," she said.
"Do I!" Noelle replied. "Lemme at it! Uh-" she gestured with her shoulders. "I can't eat with my hands tied behind me."
"Right," Jen said. Noelle turned on her other side so Spandex could undo her bonds. It took patience, because Noelle's struggles had jerked them tight. Then she undid Noelle's feet, an even more difficult task.
Noelle sat up, rubbing her wrists and ankles. They were a little raw, but not badly marked. Jen took out some hamburgers, fries, and sodas. Noelle seized one of the hamburgers and began devouring it. Jen took the other.
Boy, Noelle hadn't been kidding when she had said she was hungry. What kind of person would tie up a child, shut her up in a stale-smelling room, and forget to feed her? An idiot. At first she had thought that this guy's simple plans had indicated cleverness. A well-designed, elegantly uncomplicated plan was much better than an overworked one. However, she was beginning to suspect that that was not the case here. This guy was not clever. He had only managed to escape arrest this long because of that peculiar trick of his. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she believed that he was actually about as smart as a sack of doorknobs.
After what she had seen, she could not let Noelle stay here alone. He'd mistreat her. Jen would have to find some way to stay here. Oh, Terri would love that! But Jen would rather explain later to Terri than leave Noelle alone with Baka.
Jen saw Noelle sneaking one of her french fries, having consumed her own. She said, "Want mine? I'm not that hungry."
She polished the fries off in about a minute. When she was done Jen said, "I'm going to protect you. That means you need to work with me. I won't tie you back up, if you promise not to leave this room until I tell you it's safe."
"All right," Noelle replied grudgingly, reaching behind herself.
"I'll get help as soon as I can. Either Quiverwing or the police."
Noelle grinned. "Quiverwing can take me back to my family."
"I'm sure she can." Jen grinned back, and patted Noelle on the head. Noelle flinched with a look of distaste. "I'll be back."
Outside, Baka said, "She's been quiet."
Spandex shrugged. "I have a way with kids. Listen, you-"
"Hey!" Baka yelled, glaring across the room. Spandex quickly turned around. Noelle had dashed out of her room, and was frantically trying to open the apartment door. Baka was across the room before Spandex could impede him. He seized Noelle by the shoulders and glared at her.
As Spandex watched, the pupils of his eyes contracted to pinpoints, and Noelle's expanded until her irises nearly disappeared. She went slack in his grasp.
He turned on Spandex accusingly. "You didn't tie her back up!"
"She wasn't tied when I went in there!" was the best reply she could think of.
"Huh!" He looked at Noelle, who was now looking uncomprehendingly from speaker to speaker as if listening to a conversation in another language. "How'd she get out?"
Yep, Spandex thought. Sack of doorknobs. "That cord you used was too slippery. The best thing to tie someone up with is a cut up towel. Got a towel and a scissors?"
"A towel? Huh," he said, looking surprised. He went into a closet in the hall and brought back a towel. Spandex took the scissors off the kitchen table. Cutting the towel into strips, she explained, "The towel's fuzz will keep it from sliding loose like that string you used did."
You learn something new every day," he replied, interested.
"I'll tie her back up." Holding the strips in her hand, she put the other on Noelle's shoulder. Baka released her.
She led Noelle back to the storage room. "Sit down." Noelle did. Feeling dirty, Jen tied the towel strips securely around Noelle's ankles and wrists. The child wouldn't be able to undo those knots, or jerk them loose - but the real reason Jen wanted to use a towel was because the cloth, being so soft, would allow her raw skin to heal. She hesitated with the last strip of towel, then sniffed the cloth. It smelled clean. She gently tied it around Noelle's head, loosely enough so the duckling would be able to close her bill around it. Guiltily she whispered, "I'm sorry. If you're quiet, I'll take it back off you later," as she stroked Noelle's blonde hair.
Noelle made a sound through the towel. Jen settled her in the makeshift bed as comfortably as she could and stroked her hair again. "Try to sleep." Before the pulling in her chest could become any worse she turned away, lowered her goggles, and left the room.
Before facing Baka again she ducked into the bathroom. She looked at herself in the mirror, and was surprised that it was frosted, so she could only see a blur. Weird.
She ran the water and washed her hands, which were shaking slightly. Her hands were clean; she only felt filthy, having to tie up that poor child. But Noelle would try to escape again, Jen could tell, and Baka was not a patient person. He might actually hurt her the next time. How could she keep that from happening?
There was nothing to decide, really. She shut off the water, and drew a deep breath as she dried her hands. She lowered her goggles, slipping on her "Black Spandex" persona, and opened the door.
Baka was leafing through a paper. She announced, "I know how to deal with little kids. I'll take care of her."
"Fine with me," he said without looking up. "She's a little pain. Always yelling and kicking the wall."
"I'll stay here and watch over her. I can sleep in that room with her."
He looked up, a little surprised. "Well - okay. If you want to."
"Say, how did you hypnotize her?"
"Is that what I did?"
"Huh? It looked like it."
"Oh. I wondered what it was called."
Spandex stopped herself from rolling her eyes. "How did you do that?" she asked again, hiding her impatience.
"I dunno. I just want to, and I do. That's all. I guess it's a power."
"Well, how'd you learn how to do it?"
He thought back. "Well, it was after I took a summer job during college. It was at an experimental lab."
"Were you one of the lab animals?" She grinned.
"Nah! I was one of the techs who does the experiments. I don't remember just what I used to do. It musta been…" He looked upward. "ten or twenty years ago. It involved chemicals and meters and all sorts of technical stuff, and taking notes about everything that happened."
Jen's brow furrowed under her spandex hood. He couldn't be smart enough to manage that now, but, thinking back, she didn't remember him being either particularly smart or dumb back in school. "So what happened?"
"We were doing some radioactive testing. Trying to find some kind of radiation that was safe, I think. Anyway, we were using bugs to test on. Piranha mites."
"Why piranha mites?"
"I dunno. Maybe they were cheap. Anyway, there was an accident and some of the bugs got loose. I got bit. A little after that, I found out by accident I could do that."
"How did being bitten by bugs make you able to ... uh, do that?" she asked, confused.
"They were radioactive bugs."
"So, anyway, if anyone tries to do anything to me, I can just confuse 'em. Make 'em dumb."
"Oh, that's what you do?"
"Yup!" he replied, pleased that she finally understood. "After I get done with 'em, they can't think straight for a couple of hours."
Spandex was getting an uneasy feeling about this. If he had once been a lab technician, then he must have been more intelligent then. What if his "shocking" people also had an effect on himself? She didn't notice any change in him after he had shocked Noelle - but perhaps the effect was cumulative, and had been building up for years.
What if the effect was cumulative in his victims too? And he had shocked Noelle how many times in rapid succession? She had to keep him from doing that any more! Even if she had to keep the child tied up for the duration, that was better than risking lasting damage.
Quiverwing would not have noticed if it had been a dark and stormy night. She had spent all of it in the tower, desperately searching for clues which might lead her to her daughter. She did not even have the distraction of patrolling the streets on her Ratcatcher because of the message she had received. Instead, she had been digging for any hint of relevant information in the records of local police activity, radio and other communications that her computer could tap into, and anything else she could find. There was a huge amount of data to sift through, but nothing about Noelle!
During the night she had also subjected the message to every test she and Honker could think of. Voice analysis. Semantics. A dozen other things. The result: the computer determined that the speaker was telling the truth to the best of his knowledge, was a male mammal of some sort, and was calling from within St. Canard. Well, big whoop! That was a huge help.
She tapped a key. The message played again:
"I have the girl. She is my guarantee of no interference. If you get in my way, she dies!" Click.
The voice and accent belonged to the cat who had taken Noelle and the Ratcatcher. Well, so what?! What else had she expected?! And why couldn't the expurgated unmentionable at least ask for a ransom so she could get Noelle back?!
She no longer had any interest in arresting him. If she got him alone for five minutes, she would not leave anything worth arresting. As soon as she got Noelle out of his hands, all bets would be off.
The chairs spun around. Honker appeared in one. Quiverwing looked down over the side of the computer platform. "Any luck?" she called down hopefully.
"The police are still looking for any correlations. There haven't been any new reports. Have you found anything?"
"Just this," she said and tapped the button, replaying the message.
She had played it for him before. He did not mention that, though. As she stared at the computer screen, he looked at her.
Frankly, she looked awful. Her eyes were red, and she was exhausted. Usually Gosalyn could take a sleepless night in stride, but this was wearing her out both emotionally and physically. "Come on home," he said, touching her arm.
She shrugged his hand away. "No. Something might happen!"
"I'll keep watch. You could do with some sleep."
She turned a harsh glare on him. "I'm FINE!"
"Okay, okay," he said, holding up his hands placatingly. "A least take time out for breakfast. I'll fix something."
"All right, already," she grudged.
They took the chairs to their home. As Honker went into the kitchen he said "Your dads are taking care of Dex for now."
"Oh. Good." That would free herself and Honker for this investigation. She was a little embarrassed that she hadn't thought about him herself.
Honker quickly whipped up an omelet, bacon, toast, and coffee. He was not surprised when Gosalyn, despite her state, tore into it. When she was upset, she sometimes forgot to eat.
When she took her first sip of coffee she looked startled, then glared at the cup. "Ewwww. What is this - decaf?!"
Rats, she'd recognized it. "Um, yeah. Decaf's all we have in the house right now."
"Yuck. Why'd you buy that junk? I'm gonna get some juice."
"I'll get it," he said quickly.
He jumped up and got the pitcher out of the refrigerator. With his back to Gosalyn, he poured a cup, then slipped a small piece of paper out of his pocket. He unfolded it and dropped the tablet concealed inside into the cup. It would take a minute or two for the sedative to dissolve, but she wouldn't see it through the orange juice before it did.
When he handed it to her she said "Thanks," and took a sip. Then she turned her attention back to her breakfast.
Honker said, "Want me to make some more?"
"Nah, I'm all right. Thanks." Gosalyn was feeling a little better now. Well, a little less awful, anyway. She finished her food quickly, then stood and took another sip. "I'll be at the tower."
"Wait! - Uh, you've been up all night. Take a nap."
"Honker," she said in her patented 'I'm being patient for now, but get in my way and I'll clobber you' tone of voice, "I am a grownup. When I have a reason to, I can pull an all-nighter. And I have a reason to."
"Well, at least finish your juice."
She looked at him oddly. "Okay, if it'll make you happy." She drained the cup. "There. Satisfied?" Without waiting for a reply she set the cup down on the kitchen table, then stalked over to the blue chairs in the living room. She dialed a number on the telephone with some difficulty, as she was having trouble hitting the right buttons. The chair spun around, and when it stopped she was gone.
Honker waited half a minute. Then he turned the phone to face him and tapped the buttons. The chair spun again. Quiverwing slumped forward. Honker caught her before she hit the floor. He picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. He detached her cape from her shoulders, laid her on the bed, and drew the cover over her. "Sorry, Gos," he murmured as he stroked her red hair.
The sedative would give her a few hours of sleep. He didn't like to pull something this sneaky on his wife, but if he didn't she would wear herself down. If she needed her strength and skills to get Noelle back, and failed because she'd burned herself out earlier, she would never forgive herself.
He sent himself to the tower and climbed up to the computer platform. He had no new ideas, but at least he could keep track of the search progress. And maybe something else would come to him.
Another day. Only a day - but Jen felt as if she had been there for at least a week.
She'd spent the night in the room with Noelle. Twice she had been awakened by escape attempts. The first time Noelle had been trying to open the door, which was now locked with a key, and the second time she had been climbing up on some precariously balanced boxes, trying to get out the window, which was too high for her to reach and painted shut besides. Jen was tempted to let her escape. However, that would blow her cover. That wouldn't matter, except that Jen believed that it would take inside help to bring Baka in. With his power, he could get out of anything. Except, she hoped, a trap sprung on him by a co-conspirator.
She hoped that Noelle would please, please stop trying to escape. Jen didn't want to tie her up again, and hated even to threaten her with it, but what else would keep her still? She was just a kid; she couldn't be expected to be patient with the plan. Besides, she must be bored stiff in there. There had to be another way.
In the meantime, Black Spandex was just hanging out with Baka. She was surprised that this person, who had decided to use his mutant power to become a supervillain, had little notion of what he actually wanted to do. He had not been robbing a few small shops every night in order to build up enough money to fund a larger plan. Small robberies were simply all that had occurred to him. She couldn't resist commenting, "All the other supervillains have some sort of - well, theme they use. Take me. I'm a cat burglar and jewel thief. All mutants have their own 'thing'."
"Yeah, but they all got caught," he pointed out.
And you think you won't? "That has nothing to do with it. Quiverwing catches all kinds of criminals. You just don't hear about the penny-ante ones with no schtick because the paper doesn't print stories about boring villains."
"Well... I had a name for myself, but I forgot it." He looked upward. "It was, um... Confusatron."
Spandex managed to make a snicker into a believable cough. "That works." she said when she regained her straight face.
"Yeah, but I gave it up 'cause it didn't fit what I wanted to do."
"I wanted to be a pirate."
Spandex coughed hard for about a minute. Then she said, "Why a pirate?"
"I like pirates. It looks like fun."
She knew who must have watched too many cartoons when he was a kid. "I don't know how you could make piracy work in St. Canard. There's not a lot of shipping done by the bay. Nothing worth stealing, that is. Anything valuable is shipped by air."
"I couldn't figger anything out either. But, heck, I'm doing all right now." He shrugged.
They both startled when they heard a loud THUD in Noelle's room. Baka growled and started to get up. Spandex stood quickly. "Wait-"
"No. I'm going to shut her up." He tried to push her aside.
She did not move. "No. Look, she's just a kid. Scramble her brains too many times and you might make it permanent. Then she'd be no good as a hostage."
"Well, at least it'll keep her outta my hair."
"Hold on," she said before he could step around her. "As long as she's here, she's going to be a nuisance. The thing to do is put her somewhere else."
She thought fast, trying to phrase her idea so he would buy it. "I have a friend. You could say we're 'partners'. She'd keep her under control until we needed her again. That way, we could operate without having to put up with her at all."
There was a loud THUD from the room. Baka growled, "Fine! Just get her out of here!"
Spandex turned away to hide her incredulous expression. She had hardly believed that he would fall for such a flimsy ploy.
Spandex said, "I'll take her now. Be back in a few hours," unlocked the door to Noelle's room, and went in, shutting the door behind herself.
Noelle tried to yell something through the towel in her mouth. She did not succeed. Spandex could tell that she had been squirming around, trying to loosen her bonds, and had kicked over some boxes in the process. Good thing they hadn't fallen on her. She knelt down and said, "Let's get out of here and get something to eat."
Noelle mumbled something and nodded unhappily. She was too hungry to argue.
Jen whispered, "I'll untie you. And I won't tie you back up as long as I have you," she promised. "I'll tell you more after we leave here." She removed the gag.
Noelle closed her bill, then coughed a little. She did not draw in a breath to scream. For now, she would go along with the black cat. At least that way she wouldn't starve. Later on she'd decide if she was actually going to cooperate with her.
Jen spent some time working the towel strips around Noelle's wrists and ankles loose. The kid had jerked them pretty tight. At least they had not abraded her skin any more.
When she was free she stood up unsteadily, holding onto one of the fallen boxes for support. Jen supported her with a hand on her back. "Can you walk?"
"Yeah," Noelle grudged. "My legs're just cramped."
"Okay. Let's go." She took Noelle's free hand and tilted her head towards the door.
Noelle let Jen lead her out of the apartment building and into a car. Boy, if Mom saw her now she'd have a fit. Never get into a stranger's car or let 'em buy you food, that was the rule. Well, every rule had an exception, especially when you didn't have any other choice. Her legs were still too sore for her to run for it.
She had not made up her mind about Jen yet. She seemed nice enough, but Noelle also knew about the "nice cop/nasty cop" approach. One person would pretend to defend you from the other, so you'd cooperate with the first and end up doing whatever they both wanted. However, Jen had not tried to get her to do anything... and maybe she really was on Noelle's side. But Noelle was still wary.
She wasn't really worried. After all, Mom used to do this all the time. Grandpa Drake had told her about all the times he had to rescue Mom when she was a little girl. If Mom could handle it, so could Noelle!
Jen interrupted her train of thought by asking, "How about Hamburger Hippo?"
"Yeah!" Noelle answered.
"Okay. We'll stop by there."
Jen pulled into the lot of the restaurant. Before she opened the door she took off her goggles, then peeled back the black fabric hood covering her head and stuffed it under the back of her shirt. Noelle stared at her, startled. She had thought that "Black Spandex" was a black cat! Her face, ears, hands, and hair were black, but the rest was cream colored. And what sort of supervillain would let anyone see her real face?
They claimed a pair of stools in the front of a building shaped like a squat purple animal and ordered their food. As Noelle ate, Jen asked, "Did he hurt you?"
Noelle said through a mouthful, "Whaddaya call being tied up?"
"I know about that," Jen replied. "I mean, did he do anything besides that? Did he hit you, or do anything else?"
Noelle shook her head. "No, he didn't. I don't think he did. It's hard to remember what happens when someone keeps turning your brains to pudding, you know."
"I wish I knew how he did that," Jen mused. "Maybe there's a way to stop it."
Noelle thought as she chewed another bite of her hamburger. "I dunno, it's like he just sorta shuts my brain down, and it takes a few hours to reboot. Like he makes me almost as stupid as he is."
Jen had to smile. "He is pretty dense, isn't he?"
"Are you kidding?" Noelle replied. "Any denser and he'd have a Schwartzchild radius! 'Confusatron'? Give me a break! He ought to call himself 'Bag O'Hammers!'"
Jen laughed, then asked, "A schwartz what?"
"Oh, that's something around a black hole. In space. Inside the Schwartzchild radius, it's so dense that even light can't escape." Noelle said, then sipped her milkshake.
"That sounds like something out of a science fiction novel."
"Yeah, but they're real. Well, they're supposed to be real. Nobody's seen one yet."
Jen had to ask, "How old are you?"
Jen said nothing else for a while as they finished their food. Then they went back to the car. Before starting the engine, Jen turned back to look at Noelle in the back seat. "What I want to do is get this guy's confidence up, and set it up so Quiverwing can catch him without him messing with her head."
Noelle grinned. "Don't worry, Quiverwing'll get him!"
Jen smiled back. "That's right. And I'm going to try to help her by finding this guy's weak spot."
"His brain," Noelle interjected.
"Until then, I need to keep you. Not for long, and I'll call your parents and tell them you're all right. Could you give me their number?"
Noelle thought quickly. Did this cat know Quiverwing was her Mom? She couldn't remember. Probably not, but still - "Tell Quiverwing Quack. She'll tell my Mom." There, that would also test if she was really helping Mom or not!
"Okay. I'll do that as soon as we get home."
Terri startled when the door opened. She looked up, and was about to ask Jen where she had been, when she saw the blonde duckling with her. She paused, surprised, then looked pointedly at Jen. Jen said, "Terri, I know I have some explaining to do."
"I guess so," Terri replied.
"This is Noelle. Noelle, this is Terri, my roommate."
"Hi," Noelle said.
"Hello, Noelle," Terri said, then looked back up at Jen.
Jen cleared her throat, then said to Noelle, "Terri and I need to talk a moment."
"Yeah, go on," Noelle said offhandededly as she began looking at the magazines on the dinner table.
Jen went into their bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. Terri followed her, and closed the door behind herself. Jen started, "This is complicated. I don't know where to start."
"You've stayed out all night, and you've come back with a duck girl I've never seen before," Terri prompted.
"Okay." No amount of pussyfooting was going to make this sound good. "Has there been anything in the news about a little girl being kidnapped by a cat?"
Terri's eyes widened. She glanced in the direction of the living room, then back at Jen. "Is that her?"
"Yes. That's her-"
"You kidnapped her?"
"No! Another cat did. Someone I'm trying to take down."
Terri counted to ten as she looked at the ceiling, then said, "There are police in St. Canard whose job it is to handle kidnappers."
"I know. And there's also Quiverwing. But this guy is different-"
"Jen." Terri held up one hand. "Are you 'helping' Quiverwing again?"
Jen winced. "It's not like that! I haven't done anything illegal."
Terri glanced toward the living room. "Holding a hostage isn't illegal?"
Jen answered quickly, "I didn't take her. Someone else did. I convinced him to let me take care of her. I had to take her away from him! He was keeping her tied up."
"Jen, this makes no sense," Terri said softly, her arms folded.
"It does if the guy's really dumb. Look, Terri, I swear I'm not doing anything ... well, wrong. All I want is for you to take care of her for a little bit, until Quiverwing arrests the guy and it's safe to take her back to her family. Please?"
Terri looked at Jen levelly for half a minute. Then she let out a breath and lowered her head. "All right."
"Thanks." She stood and hugged Terri.
Terri squeezed her back. "You're not in trouble, are you?" she whispered.
Jen paused before answering, "I hope not."
Terri started to say something, then felt a bit of a bulge on the back of Jen's shirt just behind the neckline. She slipped her hand in, and drew out some black, stretchable fabric. She drew back and looked Jen in the eyes.
"It's what you think." Jen admitted.
"But you have done nothing illegal," Terri said.
Terri sighed. "That's going to have to be good enough for me," she said softly.
"Thanks," was all Jen could say as she hugged Terri tightly. It was times like this that she really loved her. Sometimes she showed more patience than Jen would have thought possible. After a moment longer Jen broke the embrace. "Uh, anyway, Noelle's a bright kid. Feisty, too."
"Who are her parents?"
"I don't know yet. I asked her her home number so I could tell her family she's OK, but she told me just to tell Quiverwing Quack."
"Have you called, then?"
"No, not yet."
"You better do that now."
When they went back into the living room, Noelle wasn't there. Jen looked around, and groaned. "She ran away!"
"No, I didn't." Noelle's voice came from another room.
Jen and Terri went into the nursery. Noelle was standing by the crib. "I was just looking," she said. "My brother used to be that little."
Terri took the baby out of the crib. As she showed her to Noelle, Jen went into the bathroom.
She closed the door, closed the lid of the toilet, and sat down. How did she manage to get herself into these things?! Consorting with criminals. Keeping a hostage. Any normal person would have had the sense not to get involved. Jen smiled ruefully. Well, as far back as high school she had known that she wasn't "normal", and she'd managed all right so far. If everything worked out, Noelle would get back to her family soon and Baka would be behind bars. If it didn't... well, holding Noelle here would keep her out of the splatter zone.
Why did Terri put up with her? Someone else might think she was gullible, but Jen knew how sharp she was. She just didn't make a point of displaying it. And she had an unearthly amount of patience.
Nuts, this would all fall into place if she only knew Baka's weakness. He had to have one. Jen got up and, without thinking about it, began washing her hands. Other villains had their weaknesses, like water for Megavolt. That was an obvious one. If you knew anything about electricity, it practically stared you in the eyes.
She glanced up in the bathroom mirror, and caught sight of herself. After a moment she grinned.
"You tranked me."
Honker could hear Quiverwing glaring at him from the ladder at the back of the computer platform. He sighed and turned around. "Yeah."
She glowered at him accusingly for a moment longer, then said, "Well, find out anything?"
"This message just came in. I'm trying to match the voice print." He got out of the chair in front of the computer controls. She sat down and tapped a key. An alto voice spoke.
"Quiverwing, this is an old friend. I have Noelle for now. She's safe, I won't let anything happen to her. And I've been with the person who took her.
"As you already know, his power is hard to beat. Basically, he can make someone temporarily stupid just by looking at them. But I think I've figured out his weak point. I don't think you can take him down alone, but I can set it up. I'm going to do that, and call you back with the time and place. Until then... please tell her parents not to worry."
A click signaled the end of the message. Honker saw no reaction beyond the tension visible in Quiverwing's back. Her silence worried him. It was like the quiet right before a detonation.
Without turning around, Quiverwing said through clenched teeth, "I know that voice. I know who that was."
"Black Spandex." Her hands clutched the edge of the control panel.
"I didn't think she'd dare," she growled. "Well, I'll go along with it. And when she tries to trap me- how many vertebrae are there in a cat's tail?"
"Uh, I don't know offhand. Maybe a dozen."
"Look it up, because I don't want to miss breaking any."
When Spandex returned, Baka asked, "What took you so long?"
"I made arrangements to make sure she'd stay put."
He accepted that. Spandex was becoming increasingly confident that he'd believe whatever she said, so long as it sounded halfway reasonable and she acted sure of herself. "I was also scouting out our next job."
"Yeah. You ever watch the news?"
Good. "Well, there's going to be a display of some old treasures they dredged out of the Audubon Bay. Spanish stuff. Maybe you can't be a pirate, but there's some treasure to be had."
"There wasn't anything about that in the paper." He looked skeptical.
"Of course not. If the papers printed it, everyone would try to steal the stuff."
That seemed to satisfy him. She continued, "They shipped the stuff in tonight, and they'll be setting everything up tomorrow. Tonight's when we can get a crack at it without dealing with museum alarms. And, we can get Quiverwing out of our hair once and for all at the same time!"
"Isn't that what the kid's for?"
"The police will play by the rules, but she may not. It's her job to do things that the police can't. We'll just make SURE she stays out of our way permanently," she assured him.
"Good. She was a problem last time. She wouldn't look me in the eyes until I forced her to."
"She wouldn't, eh? She's good, I've tangled with her myself."
"I'm not in jail, am I?" she replied smugly.
"Anyway, I need to get some equipment for the heist. I'll be back."
"Okay," he said as she headed for the door.
Once she was in the stairwell on the opposite side of the hall, she grinned widely. This might even be fun!
Jen spent some time in several stores, looking for what she wanted. It was easy enough to find a pair of goggles like the ones she used with her costume - they were regular swimmers' goggles made of black plastic - and modifying them took only a few moments.
She considered making her next call from a public phone, but decided against it, just in case someone overheard. She went back to where Baka lived.
He wasn't home. All right then, so much the better. She picked up the phone and dialed.
Quiverwing saw the tipline signal, and pressed a switch that allowed her to listen in. "Quiverwing-"
It was her! Quiverwing quickly hit a button to run a trace on the call. With her other hand she picked up a receiver. "You," she said in a flat voice.
The caller paused, surprised. Quiverwing said, "Well, what do you want?"
"Uh, I called..."
"Spit it out, Jen Xianpu," she said in a low, dangerous voice.
"This isn't what it seems," Jen started, now thoroughly unnerved. "Believe me, the girl's safe-"
"What do you want for her?"
"Nothing! I'm on your side!"
"Look, I just want you to come meet us. I've found out his weakness. I'll arrange it so you can take him down."
"Yes! Look, just be at the-" She thought quickly, trying to remember a building that would be empty after midnight. "the roller rink, the one on the same block by the museum, at one-"
Behind Jen, the door opened.
She startled, looking up to see Baka. Then she said tersely, "One AM tomorrow morning. Come alone." She hung up the phone.
Baka said, "Were you talking to Quiverwing?"
"I was leaving a message on her machine."
"So, what's the plan?" he asked.
"We're going to trap her tonight in the roller rink."
"Oh. Tonight, huh? Good. I can break this in." He took a pistol out of his inner jacket pocket.
She tensed. "Where did you get that?"
"I took it from a cop." He opened the chamber, checking for bullets. She tried to see if the weapon was loaded, but he was holding it at the wrong angle. He closed the chamber again. Putting it on the table, he said, "Oh, one isn't in the morning. It's in the afternoon."
"No, one o'clock right after midnight."
"Oh. Okay." He picked the gun up again.
"Uh - you shouldn't bring that tonight." Spandex said hastily. He looked at her, surprised. "If you shoot her there, it'll bring all the police down on us."
"Oh. Rats, I shoulda gotten one with a silencer."
It was a cool and breezy night. At another time, it might have been considered pleasant.
A motorcycle pulled into the alley behind a large building. Quiverwing got off the Ratcatcher and let herself in through the back door. As Jen had promised, the lock had been taped open.
It was dark inside. Well, big surprise. Traps were always dark. And she was sure this was a trap. Why else would they want to meet her? She sure wasn't dumb enough to believe that baloney about Jen doublecrossing him.
The rink was lit. Looking over the guard rail, she saw something white in the middle of the floor. She went in to get it. It was a piece of paper weighted down by an ashtray. PUT YOUR BOW AND ARROWS OUTSIDE THE RINK.
"Fine," she muttered. She walked to the rail and threw her weapons over it. "Well?" she shouted into the darkness outside the rink. "Get on with it already!"
A shape detached itself from the darkness. Before it vaulted over the rail Quiverwing could see that it was Black Spandex. This time she had her goggles pushed to the top of her head, revealing her blue eyes, and she had a small pouch attached to her costume at the hip. Quiverwing clenched her fists and gritted her teeth.
"So, you DID come," Spandex said in an insolent tone as she swaggered forward.
"Did you think I wouldn't?" Quiverwing growled back. "Where's your better half?"
She saw Spandex falter for a moment. Then Spandex said, "He's back there. I have dibs on you, though. Call it an old grudge."
"Cut the crud!" Quiverwing hissed furiously as Jen came almost within arm's reach. "You can do anything you want, since you have Noelle. Just get on with it!"
"This will be fun," Spandex declared loudly. "Fight me," she whispered urgently as she dropped into a crouch. "Go along with it."
"Like I have a choice!"
Spandex threw a punch. Quiverwing stopped it easily, as there was no force behind it. Spandex whispered, "His eyes - don't ever look at them."
Quiverwing kicked out at Spandex's legs. Spandex jumped back. "Is that how he does it?"
"Yeah. Think of a basilisk. Don't look at his eyes and you'll be all right." She feinted another blow.
"What's this all about?!" Quiverwing hissed angrily. "I don't plan on dancing with you all night!" Her blow landed with some force.
Spandex staggered back. "Take a dive. Trust me, please?" she pleaded so quietly she was doing little more than mouthing the words. "Count of three, I'll hit you with an uppercut. You go down and stay down."
Baka watched as the two women fought. It reminded him of a kung fu movie. He wished he was closer, so he could see better.
After a few minutes, Spandex landed a blow to the underside of Quiverwing's bill. Quiverwing went over backwards. Spandex looked back at him and called, "She's out. C'mon."
He stepped out of the darkness. Looking at the prone crimefighter, he said, "That was easy."
"Well, what do you expect. Without her bow and arrow, she ain't much," Spandex replied. She opened up her pouch. took out a spool of packing twine and handed it to Baka. Then she reached into her hip pack.
"Let's dump her in the bay," he said, kneeling to tie Quiverwing. "They'll never know who did it then."
"First things first," Spandex said quietly, lowering her goggles. "Look at me."
Baka looked up - and found the barrel of the gun he had stolen staring him in the face. Spandex said, "It's time we decide who's boss."
Baka snarled silently. He wasn't afraid of guns; he knew how to handle the people who held them! He glared at Spandex's eyes. His pupils contracted.
Instead of expanding as they should have, Spandex's pupils contracted. Baka's mind clouded over so quickly that he did not notice that her eyes were green, not blue.
Hearing silence, Spandex lowered the gun and raised her goggles. His face had gone blank. She dropped the gun, took the spool of twine from him, and said, "Put your hands behind your back." He obeyed.
"Get up, Quiverwing! It worked!" Quiverwing opened her eyes. Spandex was binding Baka's wrists.
"What in the world did you do to him?" Quiverwing asked. "He looks lobotomized!"
"Like he didn't before." Spandex said shakily. "I just gave him a dose of his own medicine." Holding his wrists with one hand, she took the goggles off her head and showed them to Quiverwing. Mirrors had been glued on top of the lenses. "He did it to himself. I figured he could. In his place the mirrors were covered or blurred, so he probably accidentally zapped himself before and did that to make sure he wouldn't do it again. I just had to make sure he wouldn't realize what I was planning. That's what the whole fight was about. If I'd just stuck a mirror in front of his face, it wouldn't have worked, and then I'd have blown my cover, and I couldn't have protected Noelle." She finished speaking quickly as she finished tying his wrists. She gulped and finished, "If the mirrors over my eyes hadn't worked, I'd have had to shoot him." Quickly she picked up the gun and held it out to Quiverwing, handle first.
"That's all fine and dandy. Now, WHAT ABOUT MY DAUGHTER?!" Quiverwing exploded.
"Uh-" Spandex hesitated, startled. "I'll give her back to you now-"
"Where is she?"
"Uh, she's at my home. But, shouldn't we do something about him first? I mean, it'll wear off soon, and I don't think the police'll be able to handle him unless we can figure out how to stop him from doing that eye thing to them."
"All right, all right!" Quiverwing growled.
They returned to the Audubon Bay Bridge tower, Quiverwing driving the Ratcatcher at top speed, and Jen holding on for dear life behind her. Baka, belted into the sidecar, hardly seemed to notice the scenery flying by at an alarming speed.
Jen had to choke back a scream when they drove up the steep slope of one of the cable supports attached to the tower. It shot through the window and landed hard on a platform. Quiverwing announced, "We're here. You can let go of me now."
Jen realized that she had had her arms around Quiverwing's waist in a death grip. Shakily she got off the motorcycle. Quiverwing unbuckled Baka, slung him over her shoulder, and walked across the tower to one of the platforms. Jen followed. Quiverwing opened the door to the platform and put him inside. Jen held out her goggles, "Um, here. To cover his eyes."
Quiverwing took the goggles, then went over to a cabinet. She rummaged around for a moment, then brought back a thick roll of electrical tape. "Give me a hand here."
Under Quiverwing's instruction, Jen held the goggles on Baka while Quiverwing taped them onto his face. It would be a long time before he would be able to separate that tape from his fur! However, just to be sure, Quiverwing wrapped his hands from wrist to fingertips with more tape.
As Quiverwing finished by binding his feet together, Jen said, "You can leave him in there a while. Payback for him tying Noelle up."
She recognized her mistake when Quiverwing looked up sharply. "He TIED her up?"
"Yes - but it didn't hurt her. And she's not tied now!" she said quickly.
"Come on." Quiverwing stalked out of the platform base, slammed and locked the door, then strode back to the Ratcatcher. Jen was trying to fasten her seatbelt when Quiverwing took off.
They entered the dark, quiet apartment. Jen flipped on the lights. Quiverwing looked around. It was a pretty ordinary looking place.
Jen stepped into a hallway, motioning for Quiverwing to follow her. She opened a door for Quiverwing and gestured for her to enter.
Quiverwing went over to the bed. "Noelle!"
Noelle opened her eyes with a start. "Mom!" She sat up. Quiverwing hugged her tightly.
Jen, who was standing in the doorway, heard a noise behind herself. Terri had opened the door to her bedroom, and was standing there in her robe. "Jen? What's going on now?"
Jen motioned for Terri to follow her back into their bedroom. Jen closed the door and said, "That's Quiverwing. She's going to take Noelle home now."
Terri's eyes widened. Jen should be proud of herself, she thought, but she didn't act as if she was. She just looked depressed. Terri watched as Jen took off the black leotard and put on her customary shirt and jeans.
When Quiverwing was able to speak again, she asked, "Are you all right? Did they hurt you?"
Noelle replied, "Nahh, no sweat. I didn't like being tied up, but I'm okay. Didja nab that jerkhead with the weird eyes?"
"All right!" Noelle cheered.
Quiverwing heard a soft sound, and looked at the side of the room. She had not noticed the crib there. Noelle whispered, "Aw, nuts, we woke her up. Let's get out of here before she starts crying." She scooted out of the bed and started putting on her shoes.
Jen, no longer in her black costume, was watching them. She backed out of the doorway to let them pass, and followed them back into the living room. Behind them, Terri went into the nursery to soothe Heather back to sleep.
Jen held out the black fabric to Quiverwing. "This was my only spare. I don't want it anymore. If you want it, you can have it."
Quiverwing shook her head. Jen hesitated, then stuffed it into the kitchen garbage can. Facing Quiverwing again, she said with downcast eyes, "I'm sorry I had to pull 'Black Spandex' out again, but it was the only way I could see to get on Baka's good side."
"Baka?" Quiverwing asked.
"Yeah, that's his name," Noelle volunteered.
"Short for Bakarashi. He'd been robbing places for months, and nobody'd caught him yet. I figured on getting his confidence, then helping you catch him. I'm sorry I didn't return Noelle earlier, but if the news reported that I'd given away his hostage... well, everything would have been wrecked, and he'd still be on the loose. I'm sorry. I'll go to the police with you."
Quiverwing stared, not quite knowing what to say. Noelle looked back and forth between the two. "Wait a minute!" she said. "You want her to arrest you?"
Jen said softly, "I think she has to."
Noelle looked up at her mother pleadingly. "Don't! If she hadn't helped me, I'd still be tied up!"
Quiverwing finally said, "The police will need you as a witness. Did you aid him in any crimes?"
"No." Jen shook her head. "Wait. We broke into the roller rink. I suppose that counts."
"Well... I won't arrest you. But don't go anywhere. You're still a witness."
"Thanks. I won't. I'll be right here."
Quiverwing sighed. "Look - thanks for getting Noelle back. I didn't believe you were on my side at first, but I do now."
"Just promise me one thing - don't ever put that costume on again!"
"I won't!" Jen answered quickly. "Terri would kill me."
Quiverwing looked at Noelle, who was starting to look drowsy again. "Let's go home, kid."
"Okay." Noelle yawned.
Quiverwing picked her daughter up. Jen asked quickly, "Um, one thing, and don't answer this if you don't want to - but, when you were 'undercover' nine years ago...?" she glanced at Noelle.
Quiverwing followed her eyes, then looked back at Jen and nodded. She turned toward the door. Jen opened it for her, and she left.
Terri stepped into the living room. "I heard."
"Yeah ... I'm lucky," Jen said. "I was sure she'd take me in."
"You did all that, even though you thought she still hated you from years ago, and would arrest you for it." She put her arm around Jen, and kissed her cheek. Then she pulled back and looked Jen in the eyes. "You were right about one thing."
"What?" Jen asked.
"I will kill you if you ever put on that costume again," she said with a smile.
Jen smiled back. "If I do, you've got my permission to."
Less than an hour later, Gosalyn, still in her Quiverwing costume, was tucking Noelle in. The ride in the Ratcatcher had awakened the child a bit, but she was fading again. Sitting on the side of the bed, Gosalyn said softly "Noelle, tell me the truth. Did either of them hurt you?"
"No." she said. "That guy Baka was a jerk, but he just messed with my head. Jen and Terri were nice. Y'know what? It's just like Grandpa Drake's stories. You used to follow him around and get into trouble, but it always ended up fine."
"Yeah..." And now she really understood what Drake had gone through. Noelle's eyes were drooping. Gosalyn stroked her daughter's hair. She had to ask- "Noelle, is there anything you wanted to ask me about Jen and her friend?"
"Yeah," Noelle said, stifling a yawn. "Terri made little pizzas on toast. Can we do that sometime?"
Gosalyn smiled. "Yeah, we'll try it."
"Was there anything else you wanted to ask me - about their family, I mean?"
Noelle opened her eyes again. "Oh, you mean about how Heather has two mommies? Big deal, I got three grandpas."
Gosalyn paused, then smiled and stroked her duckling's hair again. "You could look at it that way." Noelle yawned. Gosalyn tucked the cover over her, and said "Goodnight. I love you."
"Love you too, Mom," was the sleepy reply.
Gosalyn kissed her daughter on the forehead, then left the room, turning off the light.
All characters in this story are copyright © Disney, except for Noelle, Dexter, Terri, Baka, and Jen "Black Spandex" Xianpu, who are copyright © Kim McFarland. This story is copyright © Kim McFarland. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only, provided no changes are made to the story or the credits.
Back to My Etchings