(all guest starring characters are copywrite their players)
The contents of my glass swirled as I tilted it. Ice clinked and chattered among the other sounds in the bar; loud conversations, sports on the overhead t.v, and the rhythm and blues coming out of the jukebox. I took another slow pull from my drink. Orange juice and vodka mixed rolled over my tongue. The polar bear who tended “Lenny’s”,the only place I ever go to get a stiff drink, looked at me with some disbelief as I sat on my stool, actually trying to enjoy a drop to drink instead of seeing how fast I could toss it back.
“Never thought I’d see the day someone drink conservatively before ever gettin’ drunk. Usually the guys I see come in here get themselves sick one or twice before learning.” I grimaced. I had been sipping the same screwdriver for about ten minutes. I’d take slow pulls, and if I felt myself getting dizzy from the alcohol, I’d hold off and wait for it to pass. I’d heard all sorts of stories about what people did when they got soused, and the last thing I needed was to get a reputation for being one of those private eye’s that spent his entire paycheck on an all-night drinking fest that usually ended up going down his throat, then right back up again. I tossed back the last of the drink, letting the after effects run their course. Then I paid up and left.
The evening was running into twilight as I went down the street with my hands in my pockets. Some evenings I just enjoy wandering around the town, watching the night life come out. The strangest and most fascinating things sometimes seem to happen at night. I was just reflecting on this when all of a sudden a large moving truck came around the corner. The brakes squealed a bit, causing me to look up in alarm. The driver looked like he was trying to fight the wheel, and losing. I watched tensely as the truck swerved around the road, then rammed a telephone pole! I felt my insides tighten as I heard the sharp crack and crash of breaking glass. My brain finally took control of my legs again and I ran up to the drivers side door. It was party open, but it looked like the driver, a tan gryphon in a jump suit, had knocked himself out. I stepped up on the fender of the truck, shaking the guy by the shoulder, vaguely aware that several people had come out of various buildings and were staring. One guy shouted that he was going for the paramedics.
“Hey, you all right?!” I said as the gryphon started coming around. “Urrgh, yeah. What in the......ah man, not again!!” He’d just surveyed the damage to his truck, and now it looked like the guy was about to go into conniptions.
“You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck. Why sweat it over some stupid moving freight box?” I raised an eyebrow at the guy.
“Humph! It probably would’ve been better if I HAD broken my neck; my boss’s gonna KILL me! This’s the third truck crashed this week, now I’m gonna get fired for sure!” I started to ask what he meant, when the telltale sound of a siren came out of the dark. A boxy ambulance screeched to a halt as a couple of PM’s burst out the back. After checking the driver over, and coming to the conclusion that he didn’t get hurt enough for the insurance company to buy the hospital doctors new limos, they took him to the county general for observation.
Being the first guy on the scene, I was obligated to go with him and sign a report to what I’d seen. Lawyers can be a real pain in the *obscenity deleted*. I was just about to leave when a porcupine in a long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up, pulled down red tie, and black slacks barged through the hospital doors, looking somewhere between ticked off and worried sick.
“Where’s Mackey?! What happened?! Don’t tell me another truck’s going to the scrap yard!!” The nurses began their usual routine of “Sir, please calm down, don’t disturb the patients, etc.” I could see that the situation was shaping up to be ugly, so I pulled the living pincushion aside.
“Sir, I was the first one on the scene of the accident.......,”
“ACCIDENT?! Ah great! Chalk up another wreck!!” The porcupine pulled out a hand calculator and started doing what looked like his taxes, for all the world. I tried to restrain a frown, but it was hard.
“Mackey’s gonna live, so I’m SURE that gives you some relief. But what’s this I hear about a bunch of other wrecked trucks?” The porcupine looked me over.
“What’s it to you?”
“Well, I’m a private investigator. Here,” I handed him my card. He glanced at it with an appraising look.
“Mike Fang......never heard of ya.” That didn’t surprise me. I’d only been on the news once, for about two minutes.
“Well Mr. Fang, for the past three weeks, a *bad word*-load of my trucks have been breaking down, crashing, stopping then not starting again, every and any kind of malfuncion! I’m the manager of the local branch of HeftyHaul, you see.” I was tempted to say “never heard of it,” but I couldn’t because it would have been a lie. HeftyHaul was one of the city’s biggest moving companies. The delivered just about anything to anywhere, from office supplies to livestock to home furnishings. There was an old joke around town that one time they put a load of antique furniture in a truck that had just been used to transport a load of cattle across a bumpy road right after eating.
“Well, seeing as how I’m not currently engaged in any investigations, I could look into this for you.”
“I dunn......ah, what the heck. How much’re you chargin?”
The porcupine had something of a fit over my price, but when I pointed out he was going to just keep losing money unless he fixed his problem, he saw the light. The next day I went to talk with the drivers of the wrecked trucks. The company garage was the usual mess you see all the good auto shops in; greasy tools laying around, open tool towers with countless ratchet heads in them, faded posters advertising high performance motor oils and batteries, the usual junk. The drivers were all crowded into what looked like a lounge. Some of ‘em were watching t.v. on a fuzzy set with rabbit ears, while others were sitting around griping about their pay. As I approached the door, I could hear one of them complaining LOUDLY.
“Ain’t this the livin’ end?! I haul a good hundred tons of stuff a day, almost break my back once a week, and now they wanna cut my pay in half!” A skinny lion was pacing around, his mane matted with oil and crud.
“Jerry, give it a rest,” A Gila Monster, or whatever those lizards are called, pulled at a cigarette as he flipped the t.v. channels with a remote while he lounged on a scuffed up couch.
“Some days I think you’re just full of wizz and wind. If you’re so fed up, go talk to the boss already.” The lion looked at him like he was nuts, then resumed pacing. I leaned against the door frame and rapped my hand on it. Everyone looked my way instantly. Is it just me, or is that unnerving?
“Yeah?” A zebra shuffling a deck of cards said, looking like he was about to deal a hand of solitaire.
“Hey, you guys got a minute? I’m a P.I. your boss hired to find out what’s been happening to the trucks.”
“Oh great! That spiny (here the lion said something that I had to stifle a laugh at) takes away our money and give it to some stupid flatfoot! No offense.” I shrugged; I’m used to people thinking I’m a lazy good for nothing that’s in this biz just as a dodge to get out of a “real job”. The Gila monster shifted a bit, pulling at his jump suit.
“Well, there isn’t much to say. Couple weeks ago our machines started bustin up. Now usually well get a few minor problems every now and again; flat tire, change the air filter, that kinda thing. But now we’re gettin screwed up transmissions almost daily, ignition switches go “pow!” on a regular basis. Heck, for all the cash the boss’s boss is sinking into the rigs, he’s gonna wind up making the mechanic a rich wolf.” I nodded, jotting all this down in my notepad.
“Mmmhmm. Well, I hope I can straighten everything out. Could I talk to the mechanic?” The three truckers looked at each other.
“Well,” said the zebra, “yeah, if you can find him. Striker, or Specs, as he calls himself, is a freelance mechanic. Comes and goes whenever someone pays ‘im. Don’t know where he lives.” I nodded.
“So, who hires him to work on your trucks?”
“That’d be Bart,” the lion said, cracking open a soda with an extended claw, “He’s the one OUR manager answers to. Sort of the middle kangaroo between the manager of the local branch and the corporate H.Q. He’s a real slime ball. Got an office somewhere uptown, calls in all his orders on phone. HE’S the one that arranges all the deliveries and stuff. What’s his face, the porcupine.........,” here the zebra snickered. The lion put his hands on his hips and frowned.
“Man, you have the WORST time with names,” The striped horse guffawed. The lion shook his head.
“......... just parcels out the orders to us.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll try and get you guys an answer to your problems soon as possible.”
“Hey man, take your time,” the Gila grinned, “This is the longest vacation outside of Christmas I’ve had in a LONG time!”
It was getting on towards evening as I searched the directory in the large marble building for Bart’s office number. I’d tried calling ahead to schedule an appointment, but it never worked out. I kept getting the old “suicide disconnect” pulled on me; they’d keep telling me “please hold, your call is being transferred,” in a mechanical voice. Then, they’d play the worst possible music for me to listen to as I waited. I tried to hold out as long as I could, but I kept giving in and hanging up when ever “Cat’s in the Cradle” started assaulting my pointy ears.
The stairwell echoed my clattering footsteps as I jogged up the floors. Bart had his office on the 15th, so I’d decided it was time for my workout. I’m no health nut by ANY standards (my usual dinner is completely devoid of anything green), but I still value keeping fit to an extent. It’d probably help if I went more often than once a week to the gym, but I’d be in a different line of work if I had that kind of free time. I was panting hard by the time I got to the fifteen, and paused to catch my breath, compose myself, and wring the sweat out of my bandanna.
The corridor was the usual bleach white you see in most office buildings. I don’t know what they’ve got against color; must be unprofessional or something. The carpeted floors muffled my footsteps as I searched for Bart. Finally, I found him with his door JUST cracked open. The ‘roo was in a sport coat and violently red tie, pacing a bit around a sparsely but expensively decorated office. The smirk on his face, combined with the fact that he was using one of those headset phones, told me just what species I was about to meet: arrogantus jerkus.
“Well I’m sorry,” Bart was saying, looking anything but, “but fifty thousand is as low as I’ll go. Hey, if you wanted to make money, you shouldn’t have called me.” he paused for a minute, then his grin widened as he got a look of smug confirmation. “I thought you’d see it that way,” with a cocky shake of his head, the ‘roo hung up. I cleared my throat loudly. He spun in his chair as if he’d been zapped with static electricity.
“AH! Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.” I wasn’t in TECHNICALLY, unless you call standing outside with your hand on the door “in”.
“Excuse me,” I said, stepping in and tilting my hat back. “You must be Bart. I’m a private investigtor...,”
“Oh yes,” the kangaroo said, interrupting, “Phil said something about his hiring you. So, what brings you to my office?”
“Well, I was looki.......,” his phone rang. Bart held up his hand as he pushed a button on his headset. “Y’ello. Uh huh.......uh huh......,” he went on for about five minutes, then hung up.
“You were saying?”
“I was just about to ask you about the mechanic you..........,” The phone rang AGAIN. As the ‘roo answered it, I stuck my head out into the hall to see if he was signaling anyone to call him so he could dodge my questions. I wandered around his office for a second as he turned his back. Finally, I located the base for his phone; the part that plugs into the wall. I waited for Bart to hang up. Then, I CASUALLY leaned against the desk and pressed the hang up button on the pedestal, blocking his calls. The ‘roo went around his office, picking up several documents and stuff, obviously trying to get rid of me by appearing too busy to talk. Nothing doing.
“I was asking you if you have the address of that freelance mechanic you hired to fix the trucks at the local branch in town.”
“Ohhh, I’m sorry, no can do.” the ‘roo said suavely “I’m afraid company policy is not to disclose employee information.”
“But Striker’s a freelance, not a empl.....,”
“I’m SURE you understand. Well, if you’ll excuse me........,” With that last shot, Bart “escorted” me out the door. He shut it as I tried to turn around. Irritated, I still got my last laugh as I heard him pick up on a phone call.
“Hey, stop yelling! What do you mean you’ve been calling me for the last fifteen minutes?!”
I shook my head as I went down the stairs. NOW what?! I’d already tried looking up Specs in the phone book. He apparently didn’t have a listed number, or didn’t live in the city limits. It was getting on near dusk as I shuffled down the sidewalk, taking in the sights and smells. Then it hit me. I ran back to my office, which wasn’t too far off, grabbed my car, and headed for the unemployment office. Ten minutes, and ten dollars, later, a clerk handed me a transcript of Striker’s last known place of permanent employment.
The Helium Club. I couldn’t help but grin widely.
“Looks like I get to go out on the town.”
The lock of my car’s door clicked as I slammed it shut. The club looked just as inviting that night as it always does. A square mile of land all told, the main building was a 'quonset hut' (those half cylinder buildings the military uses as hangers and storage) the size of a football field and 5 stories tall. A few smaller buildings surrounded it. I rummaged through my pockets until I found my membership card. I handed it to the front guard, who scanned it while I could feel a magician or someone probe my mind. I restrained the urge to use a mental discipline I’ve developed to shove the invasive conscious entity out of my mind. The doorman nodded, the probe stopped, and the door clicked open. The place was in full swing, as usual. My hobby wasn’t as little known anymore. In fact, I would be surprised these days to find out if more than half the city DIDN’T inflate. Still, much as I would have liked to stop for a quick bloat, I couldn’t. I don’t mix business with fun; too easy to get distracted.
I walked into the office. Sitting behind the desk was just the guy I was looking for, which is a bit of a surprise; since when has a dog sought out the company of a cat? Some people think it’s amazing that we get along. Personally I think it’s one part willpower over an old, rather dumb instinct, one part believing in the church’s teaching “love your fellow man (or in this case, cat)” and ten parts old fashioned friendship.
“Paper work’s a kick in the butt, ain’t it?” I said, leaning against the doorframe with my hat tilted slightly. Looking up from an accounting book was a well built, steel gray Manx cat. His icy blue eyes looked like they’d been chipped from a glacier, thought they were anything BUT cold. Some white around his mouth and face showed he was of a mature age, but still on my side of the hill.
“Hey, Mike, how’ve you been?!” He slapped the book shut, causing the plaque bearing the words “Alden MacManx: Manager”, to jump slightly, and got up to shake my hand and slap me on the back. I grinned and gripped his hand firmly.
“Doing good Al. Hope your likewise.”
“Hey,” The cat said, gesturing at the desk, “business is booming! Though I pity my poor writer’s cramp. I’ve been signing forms all day. Say, it’s about time I went on my rounds of the club, care to come with me?”
“You bet!” I followed Al as he went all over the club, checking that shelves were stocked, equipment was in good repair, and that customers were happy. There were quite a few people there that afternoon, and as it got later, I didn’t doubt that the place would fill to capacity. Al would stop and jaw with some of the customers every once and a while, making sure they were getting what they wanted. Just then, someone wearing the club’s logo on his shirt came up and tapped the cat on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, Mr. McManx? We’ve just gotten a shipment of tanks in.”
“Ah, good. Thank you, I’ll go take care of it.” As we walked toward the storage area, I couldn’t help but notice that Alden was trying to hide a smile and not doing a good job of it.
“What’s so special about this shipment?”
“Oh, nothing special. It’s just that as the manager, I feel it’s my duty and obligation to.....test the merchandise before putting it out for sale.” My face broke into a toothy smile and I couldn’t repress a snicker. “How selfless of you to take such a heavy responsibility!” The cat nodded sagely, then started laughing himself. He led the way through a pair of double doors that opened into a large warehouse style storage room. Huge piles of crates with labels like “Handle with Caution!” and “Contents under Pressure! Do not jar!” filled the entire area. A large loading door was open, with a rabbit in a UPS suit looking around with a clipboard in hand. Al signed for the shipment, and the guy wheeled out a three crates with tanks in them; just enough to top off whatever the club would use up today, most likely.
Al grabbed a crowbar and pried off the lid of the first crate. He looked like a kid opening his Christmas gifts, and I couldn’t help but chuckle as he threw packing material around as he dug through the stuff to get at the tanks.
“Hmmm, this looks like quality merchendise.....,” the cat said in an appraising tone.
“It certainly does,” I snickered, picking up one myself.
“Of course, I have to make sure it isn’t badly mixed.” Snickering, Alden went to a maintenance closet. When he came out, he’d changed out of his business suit into a loose t-shirt and shorts that looked a heck of a lot more flexible. I raised and eyebrow and kept grinning as I watched the cat plug a hose into the valve of his test tank, stick it in his belly button, and crack it open. The telltale sound of gas hissing through a narrow opening came out, not to mention the lower, slightly hollow tone coming from Alden’s stomach. The cat’s belly stretched and swelled, the shirt tightening quickly, and then getting pushed up by his growing gut. Al’s hands and feet were puffing out quickly, and he was making what sounded like a cross between a purr and a laugh. He lost his balance and fell over on his back, rubbing his bloated hands on his still growing stomach, laughing even harder. I myself was finding it hard not to snicker as the Al reached about 30 ft all around. His stomach was a large, grey and white blimp, his chest was also puffed out slightly. He also had swollen limbs and puffed out finger and toes.
“*SNORT* Okay, I think this is a good batch. Go ahead and turn me off, okay?”
“Hmmm, I dunno. Maybe it’d be good for employee morale if I just rolled you out of here and let ‘em see their boss looking like he’s ready to try out for the Macy’s day parade.........Ah, all right.” So saying, I went over and reached for the tank knob. It was just then my inbred clumsiness kicked in. While approaching the tank, I tripped over the hose and knocked it over! I scrambled to my feet, but it was too late. The tank landed on it’s valve and the handle broke off!
I stood up. “Oops.” I quickly tried sticking the knob back on, but no dice.
“What? What’d you do?” Alden, meanwhile, was still bloating. He was now 40 ft.
“I didn’t do anything.....deliberately. I accidentally knocked the tank over and the handle broke.”
“What?! Oh shoot!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll pay for it.” I sighed, sticking the knob in my pocket. Alden continued to swell, his limbs growing even bigger, his cheeks puffing up, and his belly becoming monstrous.
“I don’t think it was an accident.” He said suddenly.
“You heard me. You knocked it over deliberately, didn’t you?!” The cat sounded more amused than angry. I put on a mock look of indignation.
“Alden MacManx, how could you accuse me of doing something like that?!”
“Oh COME ON! EVERYBODY knows that you just love playing pranks, and I don’t doubt this is one you think this one’ll be a real hoot to talk about!” I was having an incredibly hard time keeping a straight face now. The cat was trying to argue with me while his belly and torso were quickly getting closer to the ceiling.
“Hey, don’t make me climb up there! You know I only argue face-to-face!” I said, a chuckle escaping me.
“Oh, now I KNOW you did this on purpose! I swear, I simply hint that I’m thinking of volunteering some of my time to a community service, and you want to turn me into a ride for the kids!” The expression of mock seriousness on Al’s face, combined with his huge, 75ft belly and puffed out arms and legs made him look comical at the least. I just grinned and shook my head. Suddenly, the cat stopped growing. He pulled up the tank by the hose with a bloated hand, and looked at the gauge.
“Ahhhh, out already.” Alden sighed in disappointment. I just grinned and shook my head, then plugged my ears. Al’s way of deflating is........different from mine. I just rub my throat and it blasts out real quickly. Alden, on the other hand..........
“BUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRP!” I couldn’t resist a snicker. When I turned around, the cat was getting up, lightly tapping his fist against his stomach as if trying to settle his stomach. I shook my head and fished something out of my pocket. And offered it to him.
The cat just laughed.
“Well anyway Al, there was something else that brought me by. I understand you’ve got a guy working for you called Striker. Striker Saberwolf, or something to that effect.”
“Hmmmm. Oh yeah! Specs! Yeah he invents a couple of things around the club. Inflation devices and such. Why, he in trouble?”
“I won’t find out ‘till I have a chance to ask him. You have any idea where he is?”
“Do I? Heck, he’s here right now! I had a compressor blow out on me, and then all that stupid paperwork came in, so I couldn’t fix it myself. He should still be downstairs working on it.” As if on cue, a door to the side opened. Out stepped a gray wolf about my height in a jacket, gray slacks, gloves with the fingers cut out, and a pair of goggles or something on his head. Must be why they call him Specs.
“Hey that’s him right there,” Al said, “Hey Specs! You got a minute?” The wolf strolled over, toying with a crescent wrench. “Sure thing. Oh, I got the compressor working, but you’re gonna want to wait until I can get the right part. It’s jerry rigged, but if more than one person’s on it,” Specs snapped his fingers. “It’ll break like a toothpick.”
Alden nodded. “No problem. Anyway, this’s a friend of mine, Mike Fang.” I extended a hand and the wolf took it in a grip that betrayed LOTS of hours of hard labor. It was even stronger than mine, and when you consider the fact that part of my job is getting into fist fights, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
“Mike’s a P.I,” the cat continued. “He’s got a few questions for you.” The wolf looked slightly apprehensive about that. Suddenly my instincts told me, even as I did, not to let go of his hand or I’d never see him again.
“Really...?” the wolf said, askance covering his face. “What about?”
“Well,” I started, “it’s about that freelance mechanic work you did at that place, HeftyHaul.......,” that’s as far as I got. By the second “H”, the wolf’s eyes widened and he bolted out the double doors into the main area of the club. Al and I threw each other a look and then tore after him.
“Don’t scare the customers!” Al hissed in my ear. The idea of doing anything, like drawing my gun, that would cause a riot hadn’t even occurred to me, but I understood Al’s concern. I’m not exactly known for my brilliance under excessive pressure.
I scanned the main room of the club with my eyes. It wasn’t easy; bloated patrons were everywhere, blocking the view. Finally, over the growing belly of a female dragon, I spotted the fleeing wolf heading for the front door, trying to saunter casually, but looking like he was trying to head to the bathroom before he soiled himself. I carefully and quietly tried to follow him. Al was going around the other side, getting ready to either head him off or tell security to stop him.
Whatever the cat had planned, I ruined it. In my haste to try and catch up with the wolf, I didn’t watch where I was going. A stray loop of hose wrapped around my ankle, even as the person on the other end, a REALLY bloated alligator, was getting bigger. The hose tightened around my ankle and yanked me off my feet. I fell to the floor, knocking over three loose air tanks in the process. Specs turned and saw me. He took a running jump, and bounced off some unsuspecting ballooner’s gut, clearing the security station. The doors flew open and he was outside.
Cursing my own idiocy, I untangled my leg and scrambled after Specs. Al’d seen the whole thing, and was already outside. The parking lot was jammed with cars, but no wolf. I fumed a bit, trying to think of something. Then Al grabbed my shoulder. In a loud voice, he called out to make sure if Specs was hiding among the car’s, he’d hear.
“C’mon, I think I saw him go around the corner!” I nodded and we both darted around the side of the club. I came to a halt just around the corner, sidled up, and peered around. I watched as Specs peered over the top of a pickup bed, then vaulted out of the vehicle. I ducked down and snuck around a couple of car’s to get ahead of the wolf. Just as he came close, I stepped out.
“Specs, we just wanna talk.”
The wolf looked somewhere between fear and paranoia.
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard THAT before!” The wolf threw the wrench at me. I ducked it, and Specs took the opportunity to run up and ram me like a fullback. It knocked me to the ground, but I got up in a hurry and grabbed him around the neck in a sleeper hold. The wolf started staggering, then hauled back and plowed an elbow in to my stomach. I tried to hold on, but a second elbow hit me and I failed. The wolf slipped out of my arms and took off. He would have gotten away, except for one thing. Just as he got to his car, a sound like a bullwhip came out of the air. From my vantage point of gasping for air on all fours, I saw Alden using his natural give of being naturally part rubber. He clenched a fist, then swung his arm so it stretched like a rope. He flung it out and the appendage wrapped around Specs like a lariat. With a hard pull, the cat dragged the wolf across the parking lot, his surprised expression clearly visible. Specs tried to untangle himself from Al, but the cat then made a gesture. Purple shackles locked around the wolf’s ankles, chaining him to a nearby lamp post. I grunted as I pulled myself to my feet.
If my own clumsiness doesn’t put me out of business, magic will.
“C’mon, Specs. This isn’t going to solve anything.” Al stood in front of the wolf. I leaned against a car, still recovering from the efficient elbows I’d received to the gut. The wolf sat on the ground, nervous as a mosquito at a spider convention.
“I CAN’T.” The wolf said. “If I say one word, I’m as good as dead. They made sure to tell me that much.
“Specs, I can take care of that,” I said. “The chief of police owes me a favor. I can get you protective custody.” He shook his head. “Not good enough. This guy knows a professional hit........,”
“Specs,” Al said, looking the wolf in the eyes. “You can stay HERE. Now you know how secure the club is. You thing ANYONE’S gonna get you here?” The wolf thought, then shook his head. The cat grinned. “Good. Now, why don’t you just explain.”
“Well,” he said, “it’s not easy.........,”
“What?” I grinned, “the part about sabotaging the trucks?” The wolf looked at me with an expression that said “How in God’s name did you know THAT???” I shrugged. “Hey, it stands to reason that’s what this is about.” Specs nodded. “Yeah. Someone a couple of days ago pulled me into an alley. I didn’t see their face, but they said that if I wanted to keep my limbs intact, I’d take the job at HeftyHaul, then totally mess up the rigs. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have a choice!” Both I and Al nodded.
“S’okay,” I said, “and don’t worry. I’ve got an idea just who did the threatening.” The wolf again looked somewhat surprised. I grinned.
“Call it a hunch, or an educated guess. Now, I think I can get this guy, but I’ll need your help.” The wolf looked at me suspiciously, then back at Alden. The cat nodded. Specs sighed, then nodded as well as I went into the details of my plan, telling both him and Alden everything I’d worked out.
“That’s right, an hour.” Specs hung up the phone in Al’s office. The wolf looked better for coming clean about his being dragged into this nonsense. I chewed on a toothpick as I watched Al dish out the orders to his security guards. I couldn’t help but notice the navy in the cat come out as he did, getting the men to unconsciously stand at attention.
“Okay, you three stay on the upper floors. You two take the front doors. The rest of you , put on plainclothes and look like guests. Now nobody else’ll be here, but the target doesn’t have to know that.” The guards all nodded more or less altogether and then left to take up their positions. I went with them. Specs went and sat down at the table that was easiest to see. We didn’t have long to wait. The guy was actually early, AND he brought a NASTY looking accomplice, a ten foot dragon; probably the hitman Specs had been talking about. Even though he was facing his assailants, the wolf seemed to care less, as if it was the guild that had made him nervous and not the prospect of facing the guy behind the whole mess. My perp took his seat across from Specs.
“How’d a stupid grease monkey like you catch on?” said Bart. Specs snorted at him.
“If I were in your position, I’d be a just a touch more polite.”
“And if I were YOU, I’d just shut up and get to the point!” The ‘roo, looked pretty irritated that HE was the one being manipulated now. Specs was trying to play it cool, but it was apparent he was straining.
“Okay, here’s the deal. I want a cut. And a BIG one. I’m the guy having to do all the work, so I want to see something come out at the end of this. Say..........100,000?”
“A hundred grand! Just for sabotage?! Buster, what I said to you when I dragged you into the alley’ll be a picnic compared to what HE,” Bart jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the dragon, “will do to you. I’ll have him pull off your head and toss you in the ocean!”
“That should be enough,” I said. I’d been posing as a gas tank vender while the little discussion had been going on. Bart did a double take, finally recognizing me.
“YOU! YOU AND HIM!” He pointed in disbelief at Specs, who was looking a bit smug.
“Yeah,” I said. “You know, I’ve seen a lot more imaginative insurance scams, Bart. Not to mention better planned.” The ‘roo, let out a howl of anger and made a swipe at Specs. The wolf grabbed a hidden gas tank under his chair and bit down on the hose. The auto button on the end emptied the entire tank into his belly, which swelled quickly. His shirt snapped quickly off his stomach as it pushed him away from the table, helium filling him. His hands and feet bloated, along with his arms and legs. He ballooned until he was about 20ft, then started floating away. The dragon tried to grab him, but by then the wolf was too high to reach, chuckling and enjoying his “air time”.
“Well as funny as that looks,” I snickered, leaning on the counter, watching the dragon try and grab specs like a kid trying to catch his runaway balloon at the fair, “I’m afraid now’s the time to call the cops.” The dragon took one look at me, then bounded across the room, trying to escape. Too late. Al cast the same spell he had on Specs, chaining the dragon to the side of the building.
“Well, you wanna come quietly?” I said, looking at Bart. The ‘roo glanced around, then for some bizzare reason, came straight at ME.
I sighed. “They never do.” Shaking my head, I stood ready as Bart used his natural jumping ability to bound across the room in two hops. He launched himself at me, arms wide to grab and strangle me, when..........I stepped aside. The kangaroo hit the wall and fell to the floor, knocking a water hose loose from the wall. It fell in his mouth. Bart stirred and tried to sit up, but he bit down on the hose in the process, turning on the pump. His eyes crossed as water began gushing into him, bloating his stomach very quickly. Water dribbled out the sides of his mouth as he swelled, still trying to sit up. His feet bulged slightly, but his stomach was the main attraction; getting to fifteen feet in less than a minute. I just stood back and laughed with Al and Specs as we watched the ‘roo get bigger and bigger. By the time the police came; he was 30ft around, and quite sloshy. As the police tried to drag the ‘roo out the door, Specs turned to me and noticed a pondering look on my face.
“What’s the matter?”
‘Oh nothing,” I said, “I was just wondering if I should charge the HeftyHaul guy more for getting rid of his boss.”