Certain Private Conversations....

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Summary

A series of events involving members of the Cartoon Republican Army- living animated cartoon characters fighting for fair treatment and civil rights at the hands of people of Earth- unfolds in both dramatic and comic fashion.

Genre:
Fantasy / Humor
Author:
David
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Untitled chapter

CERTAIN PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS IN FIVE ACTS AND AN EPILOGUE: OR, A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE CARTOON REPUBLICAN ARMY 34, 797 words

Gathered, edited and presented by David Perlmutter

ACT ONE: THE FIX IS IN (10:00 AM, EST, Jun.1, 2050)

LT. I. THIRD:

As is her custom when issuing communiques, Colonel Foster was exact and precise when she summoned me to the Cartoon Republican Army headquarters (location classified) that morning. The message I got from my LoganBerry from her was short and sweet:

“Folsom here. Come talk to her.”

So many feelings rushed through my brain at that moment that even I have difficulty communicating all of them to you. And it’s even worse when you have the kind of handicaps I have.

Oh, sure. You must be thinking: “What kind of problems does she have? Hot little albino with black hair, dress and boots to match. Must have the boys lining up at her door….”

No, no, no. You were thinking that, weren’t you? I get that all the time, but I can assure you that, in spite of my appearance, I’m not a Goth or punk or anything like that. I can impersonate one if I have to, but that’s not who I really am. I am-was- a middle school honor student, and I am a fine, upstanding young woman, and I intend to remain so, thank you!

Okay. Sorry. Just needed to vent a bit. Sorry, also, if I get a bit emotional talking about this, but it’s hard, man! Really!

When you have a photographic memory like I do, you remember everything. Names, places, things, trends, movies, you name it. You can remember all the things you did in your past life, all the people who did kind to you, and all the people who screwed you over. That’s particularly the case when someone you love and someone you hate are involved on opposite sides of the particular program at hand. Which is why we’re here, aren’t we? All right. I’ll tell you about what happened. Just let me set it up.

First, there was the guy I love. Or loved, I should say- ’cause you can’t love a dead person, can’t you?

Fillmore.

You might know this about me already, but I used to be one bad-ass delinquent. There wasn’t anything they could keep out of my sticky figures if I wanted it. Spent a whole year on my own one time, and was entirely self-sufficient, in spite of my youth and supposed “inexperience.” Finally, I decided to give school another try, and I ended up at X.

Where I met Fillmore.

We were like a couple in a romantic comedy at first- you know, before the final clinch. That never happened with us, but I’ll get to that in a minute. He was a JD like me once, but he’d sobered up and gone straight. Anyhow, I’d been fingered for a petty crime, and, unlike the rest of the school, he believed me when I said I didn’t do it. We proceeded to confront the dude who did it, and, while he didn’t exactly get punished for it, we sure did humble him. Afterwards, I joined Fillmore on the Safety Patrol as his partner, and we made a pretty good team, if I do say so myself.

Eventually, though, professional became personal, like it usually does.

We were among the last group of cartoon characters to be shipped off to Orthicon. That miserable little rock the “real” humans exiled us off to, as you know. I told you all about that before, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, I ended up in Florida along with the rest of them, and I was about to have my roister doistered by an insensitive security guard when Fillmore arrived and practically killed the guy with a left hook and right cross. I had just enough time to thank him before we were hustled off into the bowels of the spaceship and then off to Orthicon. Afterwards, we did what came natural to us. We exposed the whole dirty deal behind the Orthicon scheme, got all the cool, hip kids to rebel against the consulate, and helped plant the seeds for our current little countercultural venture.

Oh, yeah. And we made love. More than once. And it was good.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. We got condoms from the store and everything. We weren’t idiots. But, ever since we teamed up at X, there’d been taunts and whispers that I’d have to put up with. In the girls’ locker room and so forth. “You and your boyfriend doing all right?” Catty stuff like that. And, since he was black (and bald as a cue ball to boot) and I was- and am- very white, they were worse than usual. So, one night on Orthicon, I gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Everyone’s been saying you’re my lover,” I told him point blank. “It’s been a lie for too long. I want to make it true.”

He tried to speak, but I cut him off.

“You love me, too, don’t you?” I asked rhetorically. “I know it by the way you’ve been looking at my legs all this time.”

“Well, baby,” he said, with uncharacteristic nervousness, “if that’s what you want…”

“It is,” I said.

To prove it, I ripped his glasses off his head and kissed him. He gallantly insisted on condoms, as he knew- too well- the consequences of unprotected sex from the world we came from, so I agreed. Once that little detail was taken care of, well…

I can’t tell you everything. This isn’t that kind of story. You told me that yourself when you started working on it a couple of years ago.

Anyway, six months after we got back from Orthicon, the CRA got started, and we both signed up. Both as lieutenants, since that was all our court-mandated severance packages would let us have. He went with one unit, I with another, but we promised to keep in touch.

Then he died. Simple as that.

He and his unit were assigned to make a raid on a munitions dump outside of Washington. This was about the same time I participated in the halting of the Congressional vote that would have effectively made the entire cartoon race global criminals. The armory would have provided ample additional weaponry to back up the valid political points we were planning to make to Congress, but, as you know, both of our attempts literally bombed. In Fillmore’s case, he and his unit faced far worse than we ended up facing in Congress. The D.C. cops found out about them, and those lousy fuckers burnt the damn place down. I don’t need to tell you what fire does to someone made of celluloid now, do I? It was a disaster. I personally wasn’t so good myself. As soon as I found out he was gone, I collapsed and had to go on sick leave for a couple of weeks.

Now we come to the woman I hate.

Folsom.

First principal, then Colonel, now nothing. She’s locked up now, and I am so glad for that.

That lousy bitch was only interested in me because I had an incredibly high GPA, and we both knew it. Fillmore knew it, too, but he couldn’t say it to her face back at X. Neither could I, really. When you’re principal of a middle school, you apparently sell your soul to the Devil to get that far in life, because I don’t recall her acting or speaking with genuine kindness at any time I’ve known her. Then or now.

Anyway, she made life a living hell for me and Fillmore and the rest of the safety patrol. We were just expected to smile sweetly and be her genteel palace guard, or else they would threaten to break us. Never literally, but I could always imagine myself being stretched out on a rack when she said it. She wasn’t interesting in stopping crime on campus at all- because I’m sure she was getting plenty of under the table graft while she was there. She just couldn’t admit it because she’d lose her cushy job, otherwise.

I didn’t see her at all on Orthicon, but, somehow or another, she became a Colonel in the CRA. And she basically ran her command the same way she ran her school- an unfeeling, unmoving MacArthur with blond hair. In fact, other than my CO, Colonel Foster, most of the “people” with that rank in the CRA have been as remote and stuck up as she is, if you want to know the truth. She, unfortunately, was Fillmore’s commander, and she had specifically ordered him to raid the armory, knowing full well that it was a suicide mission and he’d be killed. I am deeply certain of that.

She got what was coming to her.

She’d kept up her principal’s chair at X after she got her Colonel’s commission, and, it turned out, she was lining her pockets with money intended for both of her commands. Apparently, the Superintendent and School Board either looked the other way or had been intimidated (likely by she herself) into silence, and this had been going on for years. But the CRA was different. We’re used to human beings like you buying and selling us (no offense), but one of our own does it, the kitty’s claws come out.

She got fired from the school, of course, and we grunts then called for her to be disbarred as a Colonel as well. Then she got called into court to answer the charges against her. The press made a lot of hay from it, especially after she’d been outed as a ’toon. That she would be convicted, there was no doubt- and she was.

That day, the feds were going to transport her to Sing Sing, but Colonel Foster wanted to officially relieve her of her CRA command first- and allow me to confront her one more time before she went to jail for the rest of her life.

Which is why I was in the office now, preparing to do just that.

“You know, you don’t have to do this, Ingrid,” the Colonel said to me, before I entered the room where she was being detained.

“No, Colonel,” I said. “I have to do this. We have a score to settle!”

Knowing I was serious, she left me to what I wanted to do. So I opened the door and faced the Dragon Lady.

She was seated on a chair, with her hands and feet tied, in a storage room that was far from the plush conditions she had enjoyed as principal and Colonel.

Perfect.

She didn’t bat an eyelid as I approached, as she evidently thought she was still in charge.

“Whatever you’ve got to say, Third…” she began.

How wonderful! She remembered me!

“SHUT UP!” I shot back.

There was a tense, choking silence for a few moments.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me I’m not the ‘boss’ of you anymore,” she continued. “Or some other delightful witticism from your peer group…”

“ENOUGH!” I said. “I’ve taken enough of your shit, Folsom! Suppose you start taking some of mine!”

“So you want something out of me, too, huh?” she said. “Well, go ahead. They’ve taken everything away from me as it is. Everything I worked and slaved to get…”

“YOU never slaved a day in your life!” I countered. “It was always bad for your precious REPUTATION!”

She opened her mouth and creased her brows in anger, but said nothing.

I continued.

“You know what you are, Folsom? A BULLY! That’s right! A goddamn BULLY! As a principal and a Colonel both! You were always telling us not to bully each other, but that didn’t apply to you versus us! You ruled us ALL THE TIME! It always had to be what you wanted- ALWAYS! Never mind that there was more graft at X than there ever was at Tammany Hall! You always prevented us from making the scores we needed to make- because the ones behind everything were somehow always your precious FAVORITES!”

“I NEVER played favorites!” she insisted. “I…”

“Save it!” I said. “The courts already found you GUILTY! I’m surprised they didn’t charge you with PERJURY besides!”

“You slanderous heap of white trash!”

“How DARE you!”

“How dare I? How dare you come here and try to intimidate me? You always were a little thug, Third. Believe me, if you didn’t have a brain and an elephant’s memory, I would have thrown your ass OUT the first chance I had! And don’t think I haven’t forgotten all the times that you and that nigger…”

WHAT DID YOU SAY?”

“You heard me!”

That was it! She had no right to talk about him like that! I went right over and slapped her with all the strength I had at my command. Actually, it wasn’t so much a slap as a good old fashioned knock down. The result was that she stumbled and fell off the chair while I stood over her.

“DON’T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT HIM LIKE THAT AGAIN!” I roared. “EVER!”

“Oh, pardon me for offending your racial sympathies, you slut!” she countered.

“YOU GODDAMN LOUSY BITCH!” I growled.

“Don’t think I didn’t know about you two,” she answered. “I’m surprised nobody actually caught you two schtupping on campus! That would have been a good headline for the paper, now, wouldn’t it?”

I couldn’t stand being in the same room with her anymore. So I kicked her in the stomach- hard- and ran out of the room crying, the tears running my mascara as I did.

I went out into the hallway and buried my head in my arms. Fortunately, my newest friend, Lieutenant Tonitini, was there in the office, and he rushed out to convert me. We renewed an old acquaintance during the Congress raid, and I liked him from the start. He’s intelligent, like I am, but also pretty damn funny. And handsome as all get out, though he won’t admit it himself. I plan on asking him to be my new boyfriend soon, but I’ll take it slower than I did with Fillmore this time.

Anyway, Tino, to give him his first name, was right there for me almost as soon as I got into the hall. He’d helped me plenty when I was on sick leave, and now he was doing the same noble thing again.

“That bitch hurt your feelings, didn’t she?” he asked.

I nodded.

“It wasn’t just about me,” I said. “It was about me and Fillmore. She called him a…”

“Say no more,” he said, calmly but tersely. “I have an…African American…associate myself, and if somebody tried to call him that, I’d probably feel the same way!”

“Would you kick them in the stomach- like I just did?”

“Okay…maybe not that!”

That stopped me crying and started me laughing. The secret of his charm.

“Come on!” he said. “Let’s get you out of here. This atmosphere is toxic. But you better clean up first. You got some….stuff under your eyes.”

“Thanks for noticing,” I said.

I kissed him- and he fainted!

Guess I don’t know my own strength when it comes to boys.

COLONEL F. FOSTER:

I heard Third crying and running past the door of my office, and I knew Folsom had said something to her- insulted her purity as a girl, no doubt. Well, now, I thought, is the perfect time to relieve her.

Not wasting any time, I rushed to the storeroom, where Folsom was slowly righting herself onto the chair where I’d left her earlier.

“Okay, Folsom!” I said. “Third just came running out of here crying, which I have never seen her do in all the time I have known her! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU SAY TO HER?”

She was silent.

ANSWER ME!” I thundered.

“Why do I have to do what you tell me to do?” she responded. “We hold exactly the same rank!”

“Not anymore!”

I walked over to her and ripped the CRA armband and Colonel chevrons off of her purple pantsuit. Then I pawed the symbolic fake gold leaf key she got to have as a Colonel, threw it on the ground, and crushed it with my foot, like a Jewish groom on a gold chalice at a wedding.

“Dawn Folsom,” I said in my best voice of doom, “by the power vested in me by the executive council of the Cartoon Republican Army, you are hereby stripped of your rank and title in this organization. You are hereby forbidden from associating further with the CRA or from attempting to interfere with the activities of the CRA in any form. If you do so, we will have no further alternative but to hunt you down- and KILL you! So it has been said- so it will be done!”

That being said, I took the patch, armband and chevrons, opened the window, and allowed the items to fly to the four winds.

“Very well put!” Folsom said sarcastically. “Not that I care for anything uttered by a mick like you!”

WHAT WAS THAT?”

“Don’t try to disguise it, Foster. You have a lantern jaw, red hair, and a volcanic temper. Plus, you dress like a harlot in that short skirt and green jacket. You’re Irish- and not the lace-curtain type, either! The only thing missing from your look is the beer!”

“My father was Irish,” I said, hiding the hurt I felt. “But what of it? And besides, my mother wasn’t…”

“No matter. If it walks like a duck…”

“You….You….RACIST!”

“Oh, pardon me, Ms. McThing! I didn’t realize I was in the august presence of the American Civil Liberties Union….”

Shut up!” I ordered. “Just….SHUT UP! That mouth of yours ought to be registered as a LETHAL WEAPON! But you know what, Folsom? It doesn’t matter anymore! You LOST! You were exposed as a fraud, a racist, a mobster and God knows what else! You tainted the ’toon name in a way that will take us YEARS to recover from! And you are totally unrepentant in the face of all the evidence AGAINST you! And then you have the NERVE to bawl out a defenseless little girl…”

“Ms. Third is not “defenseless”,” interjected Folsom. “You, of all people, should know that by now!”

You are missing the point!” I said. “You are a remorseless, treacherous, manipulative, cold hearted MONSTER! God DAMN you! Qaddafi was a SAINT compared to YOU!”

“What the hell was I supposed to do?” she said. “Be a fucking MOTHER to 4,000 children?”

“You could learn to show compassion for others, instead of acting like a fucking DICTATOR all the time!”

“Which is exactly what you and your “people” are doing to ME right now!”

“Don’t you DARE make this about ME, lady!”

“Why shouldn’t I? Isn’t what you’re doing to me exactly what you’re accusing me of doing to others?”

“IT IS NOT!”

“Okay, mick. Then I’ll let you and your rainbow brigade of niggers, kikes, spics, chinks, Japs, Polacks and Dagos take over the world, then! And then you’ll somehow make yourself the Hitler of your new world cartoon order, like you’ve been planning all along! Isn’t that right?”

I did not face her for a moment. Then I turned around and let her loose from the bands on her hands and feet. Then I told her to stand up.

Then I went to town.

I have never beaten someone up unless I felt they deserved it, and I caution my officers to do the same in discharging their duties. But nobody deserved to be beaten as soundly and viciously as this….”woman”…did. And I proceeded to do just that.

I smashed in her perfectly mannered face and kicked her repeatedly in her padded stomach. I ripped off all the expensive jewelry she was wearing, and threw it on the ground. I grabbed her hair with both hands and ripped out as much of it as I could. Then I resumed kicking and punching her until she was clearly bruised and flat on the ground. Then I took one of the ether-soaked rags I keep with me always for emergency protection, and held it over her nose.

She went out like a light.

Going to the doorway, I whistled for someone to come to the door. A runty little Care Bear type answered.

“Get her out of here,” I ordered, pointing to Folsom. “I don’t want to ever see her face in here again!”

“But,” the bear protested, on viewing Folsom, “you killed her….”

“GET HER OUT!!!” I exploded, louder and more viciously than I had intended, but I wanted this thing over.

The bear understood, and got Folsom- what was left of her- out of the office. Myself, I stared out the window. I’d probably hate myself in the morning for what I had done, but it had to be done. And I felt good that I had done it myself- for once.

ACT TWO: FOUR REDHEADS

12:00 pm EST, Jun.1, 2050.

LT. C. FLYNN:

Is this thing on? I gotta warn ya, I got a bit of a temper, and I shout real loud when I get mad. You know what I’m saying? So, if I go on a tear, and I blow out a speaker, then….You can handle it with the low levels? Good. Okay. I’ll start talking now….

I had no idea what I was in for that day when I reported for duty. All I could guess was it was something bad by the look on Colonel Foster’s face. She looked totally pissed. I hoped it wasn’t something I’d done.

“Something the matter, boss?” I asked, bracing for the worst.

“Nothing you did, Flynn,” she answered, putting her hand on my shoulder.

Phew! The Colonel’s built like a college basketball player, and she can really be mean as piss when she’s mad. I’m just glad I avoided her wrath…then.

“I….uh….just had some….issues…with Colonel Folsom,” she explained further. “She’s no longer with us, by the way.”

I gasped in shock.

“You killed her?”

No, you idiot! What the hell do you think I am?”

“But I thought people only said that when….”

“They do. But I merely gave the former Colonel her walking papers.” She suddenly clenched her fist. “Along with a bit of business. But she deserved it.”

“I gotcha,” I said.

All of us ’toons had been monitoring the Folsom case like it was the Cuban Missile Crisis or something. So I was well aware of how much Colonel Folsom had betrayed the ’toon cause and didn’t have to be told twice about it, even by Foster.

“Now, there are only two other Colonels, as of now,” the Colonel said. “We’ll probably get at least another one at the table soon enough. The General has me reviewing the possible candidates right now.”

“So I have to help you with that?”

“I am perfectly capable of doing that myself, thank you!” she answered, sitting down at her desk and shuffling the papers on it.

“Well, pardon me!” I said.

In a “regular” army, that would count as “insubordination”, or whatever it is they call “acting up” in that setup. But this sure isn’t a “regular” army, and, if I wanted to be snippy to the boss, I could. She, however, had the right to slap me out of my panties if she wanted to, and I felt she nearly did when her hand whacked across my cheek just after that.

“None of your BACKTALK!” she ordered. “I’ve had enough of that crap today, and it isn’t even FIVE yet, for God’s sake! If you can’t learn to comport yourself with dignity and respect for others, I can have you busted clean out of here, Flynn! You might be able to con a man with your good looks, but you’re not dealing with one here!”

“Sorry, Ma’am!”

I swallowed deeply, bit my lip and saluted. But that only got her madder.

What,” she roared, “have I told you about THAT?”

“About what?” I asked, innocently.

“I will NOT be addressed as “Ma’am”- especially not by a young PUNK like YOU! And we do NOT salute each other here under ANY circumstances! Do you understand me, Flynn?

“Y…Yes,” I said, swallowing again.

That’s the extent of our relationship right there. I try to do all I can to please her, but I keep thinking that sometimes she wants me to screw up so she can do some sort of crazy lesbian thing with me as “punishment.” I’m not implying anything, but I’ve never seen her go out with a man, and she seems like plenty alpha girl material to me….

You know what? Just cut that last part out, if you can. She’ll kill me if she heard I had told you I said she might be a lizzy. You know what a temper she has, right? Vesuvius had nothing on her!

Anyhow….

After that, I figured maybe I should leave, and let her get her temper back. But she pointed to the chair in front of her desk, implying I was to sit on it.

“Candace,” she said, “I’m sorry. It’s been a rougher day than usual, and I took it out on you. I do that too much. Really. One of the consequences of me being a short-tempered daughter of Erin, I suppose. But you, of all people, know what it’s like to fly off the handle once in a while. Right?”

“I sure do,” I said.

Another bullet dodged! She only called me by my first name when she was pleased or contrite with me, so I knew things were now all right between us. And besides, she has enough of a sense of humor to deprecate herself, even though she really isn’t that bad. I, on the other hand, am so antsy about my own appearance and personality that I don’t even try to do it.

So I sat down in front of her.

“We have another problem that needs to be dealt with around here,” she said. “But, as I have already exhausted myself with a problem today, I thought I’d let you get out of the office and try to get some field experience.”

Oh, boy! My big chance to impress the boss! If I did this well enough, I might make CAPTAIN- or better! But I couldn’t let her see my glee about this new assignment. She’d already given me a yellow card today, and I did not want a red one, so to speak. So I summoned my most neutral tones and said:

“Sure. I can do that. What is it?”

“We have a rogue ex-member to deal with. You know Riley Daring, right? I mean, you were at the same studio…”

“Yeah,” I said. “Didn’t see her much, though. We were on different shows. But she was a total fucking BITCH! Thought she was a queen or something! Always with the airs and the this and the that. A total asshole- if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Well, as you know, Corporal Daring was one of the earliest recruits to our cause. But she had some discipline problems- along with a staggering candy addiction that predated the CRA itself. After a commanding officer called her out prior to the Congress raid, she sharpened a candy cane into a shiv and tried to knife her. Well, you know about how we feel about members of the CRA attacking each other, don’t you? We busted her out and threatened to burn her if she even tried to re-enlist. Naturally, she took it personally and threatened to destroy all of us. It’s been mostly talk so far. Until now.”

“What’s she done?”

“Well, Ms. Daring fancies herself the next Hitchcock, and, somehow, she has found compromising footage of us in- shall we say- legally questionable actions, which she has edited into a very slanderous “documentary”. I haven’t seen any of the footage- no one other than her seems to- but I can safely assume that, if she manages to upload the video to YouSuck tonight, like she’s already bragged about on her Twaddle and Facemask accounts just now, the CRA is in deep shit. She has to be stopped.”

“And I’m the one to do it, huh?”

“Yes. You and Lieutenant Hartman.”

“You mean…..Vicky?”

“If you want to use her first name, then, yes.”

I knew Vicky Hartman more by her reputation than personally then. I’d seen her on her show, and that’s about it. But she made me- who, it must be admitted, is not an angel by any means- look like a saint in comparison. About the only thing we had in common was our hair color, as well as the fact that we both had voices and tempers that could both win an Arkansas hog calling contest and lose Miss Congeniality in a beauty contest. I heard tell that she even made Colonel Foster look like a kitten in comparison, not to mention myself, which was really saying something.

“Are you sure about this, Colonel?” I said, my cool façade finally cracking. “I mean, if I was going to be partnered with somebody on a butt-kicking expedition like this, couldn’t I be with Jenny, or Kim, or someone else who can really fight….?”

“You know as well as I do that Major Wakeman and Captain Possible have careers outside of the CRA that doesn’t always make them available to us. Lieutenant Hartman and yourself are the only officers under my command not engaged at the moment. Besides, you both share Daring’s hair color….”

“What’s that got to do with it? Just ’cause people have the same color hair doesn’t mean they’re all exactly the same. I mean, Daring and I alone… ”

And Daring has captured Sergeant Fenton and has forced her into working as her editor, sadistically making her review hours of footage without even a break!”

“She has Jazz?”

Now, her I knew. And liked. Real brainy, but not stuck up. Real pleasure to be around. Thinking that Daring was using her….well, even if it meant putting up with Vicky, I had to do it now.

“So,” the Colonel said, “you’ll do it?”

“Damn right I will!”

I stood up, and the Colonel gave me Vicky’s contact information. I was going to salute her, but then I remembered myself, and just shook her hand before I left the office.

*

Vicky, fortunately for me, didn’t live too far away from the CRA offices, although, since it’d been a few years since her show’s heyday, she wasn’t exactly living in luxury, if you get my drift. We never got paid the same way you humans are, with that fancy drop the money in your account electronically jazz. Or any royalties- they really screwed us there. We got- and get- per diems, and most of us tended to use them on booze, blow and sex if we weren’t smart, and stuff into mattresses and pillowcases if we were. The human banks wouldn’t touch our money- still won’t. Asses, all of ’em.

Anyhow, I’m rambling….

I spotted Vicky’s name on the callbox and pressed the button beside it.

Yeah?” her raspy voice grated.

“Lieutenant Vicky Hartman?” I asked.

“Yeah?” she repeated.

“It’s….Lieutenant Candace Flynn. You and I are supposed to….”

“Where’ve you been, kid?” she said, suddenly brimming over with kindness. “Come up.”

I did.

I went up to her third floor apartment and knocked. She answered.

She looked like she did back in the past. No surprise since we ’toons don’t age a lick from what we looked like on creation day, as it were. She still had her flaming red hair, her green T shirt, and her black pants. Suddenly, my skirted and sweatered body looked naked in comparison. And then there were her eyes

We all look differently, based on who created us, but you’d be hard to find two more different versions of what a teenage girl looks like than Vicky and myself. I myself have a respectable, slightly longish bob of more carrot-colored hair, and my eyes are like dark black pin points. Also, I have a fairly muscular and athletic body, a consequence of my years trying to keep up with my younger brothers and their crazy antics, but that’s neither here nor there. Vicky, on the other hand, is all toothpick arms and legs, has her auburn locks nearly always tousled and disheveled, and has enormous pink dots where her pupils should be. ’Nuff said.

She seemed to sense the fact that I was nervous about crossing her threshold, based on what she said to me after greeting me.

“Don’t get any ideas about me,” she said. “I’m not gonna bite you. And I’m not one of those- in case you’re wondering. I like men. Same as you, no doubt. Right?”

I nodded.

“Point is, ya got nothing to fear from me. Unless you cross me. You thinking of doing that, by any chance?”

I shook my head from side to side, right to left.

“Then come in, already!”

I did.

She beckoned me to sit down on the chair in her living room, which I did, while she took the couch opposite it.

“Candy girl,” she said gravely, “we got a big deal job on our hands. We can’t fuck this up.”

“I know what you mean, Vic,” I said. “But I don’t know how we’re going to handle it. The Colonel only assigned it to me an hour ago.”

“She only gave it to me two hours ago! But do you see me fretting about it?”

“Uh….no?”

“Wrong! I have been!”

She showed me her nails, which she had chewed down to nubs, for proof.

“We are so screwed!” she moaned. “All of us!”

“Hang on!” I said, pointing her back to sitting down on the couch. “Let’s not start panicking here! That’s what always did me in on my show!”

“Easy for you to say!” Vicky countered. “The only thing your brothers hurt on you was your damn feelings! You never got your molecules rearranged by a couple of goddamn FAIRIES!”

“Maybe so,” I responded, “but I did what I did because I cared about them- not because I wanted to make some damn money off of them!”

“You….stupid….BRAT!” she said, vaulting up from the couch and preparing to lunge at me. “You take those fucking lies back unless you wanna eat my FISTS!”

“They’re not lies!” I said. “You know as well as I do that you really didn’t have that boy’s interests at heart!”

“And I’m not lying,” she countered, “when I say that you’d do the same thing if you were in my shoes! Just like you’d sell those boys out in a minute like you do on your show. Especially if that fellow you have the hots for told you to!”

“You leave Jeremy out of this!” I blazed, standing up.

“Nobody can love ’em like Vicky can!” she taunted me. “I’ve had my share, kid, not like you. You’re still a virgin, by the looks of it, so how would you know how to…?”

Furious, I let out a rebel yell and threw a fist at her face. She proceeded to duck it and wrap her long arms around my torso. She pressed those long suckers down past my breastbone and started into cracking my ribs. Really hurt me- I mean really hurt me. Tears out of your eyes and all that. Thinking quick, I bent my back down and threw her off me with a jerking thrust.

What followed was a brief movie catfight without the camera present. You know- punching, wrestling, biting, yelling, etc. Stuff that we usually do to each other when nobody’s watching, although in the movies they always seem to have guys watching and leering at us while we do it. But rest assured, Vic and I have both been around the block longer than you might think, and we know between us every single way girls can fight each other. We did everything to each other, and I mean everything. Everything except that sissy, mincing, slap the hand routine they always have girls and gay guys doing when they fight. Who the hell really does that, anyway? Anyway, it went on like that for a little while. She can really give it, but so can I when I’m cornered, so it was a tough fight. But she took it too far when she ripped out a chunk of my hair. Nobody does anything to my hair except me, understand? After she dropped me to the ground following that, I got right up, roaring and teeth bared. I put a death grip on her bra, and then I hauled off and put my shoe right in her V spot. She went flying back onto the couch she’d risen from with a loud THUD. I was about to pounce on her to finish her off when she shouted:

No mas! Cut it out, already! I give! You win! Don’t taze me, sis!”

I stood down, but I still demanded to know why she fought me when we supposed to be working together.

“I was testing you,” she said, spitting out a tooth one of my punches had detached and flicking it away from me.

Testing me?” I repeated. “Why?”

“Well, your show is from Disney, and at Nickelodeon, where I’m from, Disney folks kinda have a reputation for being candy assed wimps. No offense, but that whole company is full of ’toons who asses you could easily kick from here to Glendale- although you’re not one of them. I’m glad that I get to fight with you instead of against you, Candy. You’d be hellfire unleashed in a wrestling ring. And I should know- I’ve had to do it. Oil, mud, Jell-O, whatever. Not dignified much, but at least it pays the bills, which the main reason why I do it in the first place. ”

“No offense taken, Vic. And thanks. Guess I’m tougher than I thought, huh?”

“ Yeah. With that whole fight thing, I just needed to see if you could- ya know- bring it!”

“And have I convinced you I can? I mean, really? You wouldn’t kid me about that stuff, would you?”

“Plenty! I don’t fuck around when I tell people who and what they are, Candy. I know tough, girlfriend, and you are definitely it. Not just ’cause you actually hit me in the sensitive areas! ’Cause you did it in a skirt- like you do most of your stuff! Do you realize how much trouble a girl can get into just wearing a skirt that short around the wrong kind of guy? Yeesh! I know girls who got raped wearing longer skirts than that- but they weren’t much of a match for the guys what grabbed them. You and I, though- we’d have that would-be rapist down on the ground clutching his balls in pain before we’d let him get near us.”

“I wouldn’t about rapists or anything like that,” I said. “I guess ’cause Disney’s such a clean place, they don’t really think about the risks the girls might take wearing skirts. But I’m not like you, Vic. I can’t make pants work for me, for some reason. Usually I only wear ’em when I’m riding my bicycle- for the obvious reasons. You know, the wind and stuff, right? And besides, Jenny gets away with it, too, and she was doing even before I came along, so…”

She’s a robot! When you’re a robot and a girl, you’re damn well invincible! I’m jealous of her- and you, to put it plainly!”

Me?” I said, with disbelief, as I sat down on the couch beside her. “What the hell have you got to be jealous of me for? There’s nothing I have, physically, that you don’t! Now, maybe we don’t fill out our bra cups the same way, and we style our hair differently, and our eyes are kinda different, but otherwise, why would you assume that I would be better than you?”

“Because you, my dear, were a full-fledged character on your show, and I was not on mine!”

That is ridiculous! You’re as much a cartoon character as I am! You know that! Every cartoon character who exists is always his or her own person, regardless of what those racist assholes in Washington think!”

“I don’t mean like that, kid! I mean in the sense of what your creators gave you!”

“What they gave me?”

“Sure. You got a life. Parents, brothers, friends, relatives even. A boyfriend hotter than all of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet solos with the Hot Five put together. Even gave you a purpose in life in trying to put the kibosh on your brothers’ plans. Me? I got nothing! I was a fucking HEAVY! Hartman only called me on the set when he needed to put the fear of God into Timmy- on screen, that is. We got along a lot better off the clock, kinda like you and your boys, but you never saw none of that. The ones I hate from that time are those goddamn fucking FAIRIES! Them and their fucking prima donna demands for the best dialogue and the most airtime pretty much screwed me in terms of becoming a more multi-dimensional character on the show- a la you. And the bastards even keep it up now in the CRA. Do you realize they’re both MAJORS? Jeez! Almost as hard to believe as Timmy being a CAPTAIN! He’s telling me what to do now!”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “My brothers only just made Lieutenant….”

“Like you, huh?”

“No. Lieutenant COLONEL!”

“Jesus! What is it with these kids?”

“I don’t know. But what I do know is that none of this is gonna matter once that little bitch Riley Daring exposes everything and everybody in the CRA. Unless we stop her!”

“Yeah. And get Jazz out of there. She’s got a better brain that most of us, but it’s gonna crack if we don’t get her out of there. She’s not cut out to be a living machine. None of us is!”

“You’re right about that. But we’re in tough going against Riley. She’s probably found out about us and is reinforcing her weapons right now.”

What weapons?” Vicky scoffed. “Her and her little Kodak Brownies loaded with Kodachrome? She’s plenty uppity, but that’s nothing a good punch in the face won’t cure!”

“Be careful with that,” I warned her. “The Colonel told us to prioritize bringing her out alive…”

“Who ya think I am?” Vicky shot back. “Charles fucking Bronson? I intimidate with the best of ’em, Candace, but I don’t KILL! Minute I see ink, I back off. It’s disgusting.

“Just making sure we’re on the same page, Vic,” I said. “Ink makes me vomit.”

“You too, huh?” she said.

I nodded, and after shouldering two of Vicky’s extensive collection of derringers- just in case- we were off.

*

Vicky had her car parked in the garage down the street from her apartment, and we planned to get into it and drive to the location of Riley’s “film studio”, which the Colonel had given to me at our meeting. It was a simple in and out scheme we had planned. We would go in, find Jazz, get her out, flip Riley the bird, destroy her film, and leave. But nothing about our lives is simple, and, sure enough, a wrench ended up in the works as soon as we got outside.

Almost as soon as our shoes hit the pavement, we were surrounded by a brace of reporters shouting irrelevant but loud questions at us, and photographers popping flashes in our eyes that threatened to destroy our vision. This was surely Riley’s doing. The CRA isn’t exactly a legit organization in the eyes of the mainstream media (not that she would be thought of any more highly than us), and so, whenever we emerge out of the underground, the media storm troopers jump out and ambush without a moment’s hesitation. As far as we’re concerned, AP means Assholes with Protection from the Constitution, and you do not what to know what UPI means. I felt like a deer in the headlights, with all of those goddamn multiple wattage cameras going off in my eyes at once. Vicky sure didn’t, though; the press always makes her fighting mad ’cause they never take us ’toons seriously, and this time was no exception. Walking past me, she growled wordlessly at the corps with such force that, as one, they backed away from her.

“The next one of you that asks us ANY candy floss FAKE questions,” she snarled, “is gonna get my fist UP THEIR ASS! You think I’m joking? HUH? I’ll take on any of you band of backstabbing BASTARDS who tries to come near me- and WIN! You wanna see a ’toon actually SPILL some of that fucking BLOOD you always accuse us of drawing when one of you PRICKS annoys us? Just come over here and TRY me if you don’t believe me, you lousy, triple-crossing bunch of PIGFUCKERS!”

One of the reporters, not getting the message, arrogantly said that they had a right (A RIGHT! Can you believe it?) to use any means necessary to get information out of us. She then compounded her arrogance by making the baseless accusation that Vicky and I were LOVERS! Naturally, we both didn’t go for that, but Vicky took it worse. As she was already on the warpath, as it were, she just stayed on it.

WHAT DID YOU SAY?” she shouted.

The snotty reporter repeated herself, making herself seem even more annoying and arrogant than she actually was. That only made Vic even more likely to try to cut her throat. That likely wasn’t her intention, given that she visibly moved back when my associate launched her next salvo.

“YOU SAY YOUR GODDAMN PRAYERS RIGHT NOW, YOU LEMON-SUCKING MOTHERFUCKER!”

At which point, Vicky advanced towards the group, grabbed the microphone from the reporter’s hand, uttered a swear word or two into it loudly, and dashed it onto the pavement. Then she grabbed the reporter’s hair, which was a wig, and threw it onto the ground, stomping on it. Getting the message, the reporter and everyone else fled down the street- in what had to be record time in my eyes.

Noticing that I was still watching, timidly, from the rear, Vicky then turned around and looked at me.

“Come on, Flynn!” she said. “We gotta go! That Daring bitch ain’t gonna prevent herself from dropping that goddamn video, y’know!”

“Would you do that to me if I said something like that?” I asked. “Not that I would actually dare to, of course, knowing you now. But…”

“I said I wouldn’t hurt ya already!” she said. “When I say something, I MEAN it! Now COME ON!”

I did.

*

We got into Vicky’s car- she drove, I rode shotgun- and we were off.

It was tough going for a while. We cased the city pretty good, seeing as I had trouble deciphering the Colonel’s flyspeck handwriting. But, finally, Vicky figured it out better than I did, seeing as she has better eyesight than me, and we had that little problem solved.

The “film studio” was located in the north end of town, in the scummy old industrial section. Plenty abandoned factories and such, which made it a perfect place for a sleaze ball like our quarry to hang. Sure enough, I spotted the sign on one building that was on my side of the car and whistled for Vic to stop it.

“You found it?” she asked. “How? All these damn buildings look the same to me!”

“The sign,” I said, pointing.

Sure enough, written in giant black letters on a sheet of paper flimsily taped onto one of the endless series of metal fences surrounding the old shops, were the words “DARING STUDIOS”. The idea in ol’ Riley’s mind was, perhaps, to lend a bit of class to what was, by all appearances, a highly second rate shop. No- make that twentieth rate.

“She calls this a studio?” Vicky scoffed. “That little shack wouldn’t fit up Paramount’s ass!”

“Or Disney’s,” I seconded. “But sometimes, you don’t need a studio to make movies.”

Really?” Vicky said. “I never thought….”

“Sure. Most filmmakers today don’t use studios- ’cause they’re sterile and lame. Would you pay $20 to see a bunch of crap you could see for free on television? No way! That’s why they shoot most of the stuff on location now- to make it look more “realistic”- whatever that means. They just let the TV people use them ’cause they need to use the space and keep making money off of it.”

“Name one.”

“Huh?”

“Name me one filmmaker who managed to make movies without a studio.”

“John Cassavetes,” I said.

“Hold on! He was in…”

“He acted in big budget movies, but that was so he would have the cash for his own projects. Faces, and Shadows, and those other films he and his gang improvised on the streets of New York. None of those films were underwritten by a major studio. They wouldn’t touch weirdo indie stuff in those days. But they still got played.”

“Speaking of weirdo indie filmmakers,” Vicky reminded me, “we got a job to do.”

She shouldered her derringer as a reminder to me, and I did the same. Seemed like an open and shut case- stop Daring, get rid of the film, get Jazz out, possibly torch and blow up the damn place- although the Colonel wouldn’t necessarily like that last part.

But, just as we got past the door and into the building, we heard a violent rumbling.

“AW, SHIT!” Vicky ejaculated. “We must have triggered her security system!”

“Ah, what’s she got that can hurt us?” I said, mockingly. “A dragon guarding her treasure?”

“I’m serious here, Flynn! Didn’t the Colonel tell you how Daring had her old “friends” in corporate land load her up with all sorts of obstacles to prevent people like us from getting to her? Man! Total action movie stuff going on! We’d have better luck trying to get into Jack Benny’s vault.”

“Who the hell is….?”

Vicky looked at me with stunned disbelief. It did not seem possible to her that I could not have heard of this man, even though he was way before my time, I later found out. Then again, so was Cassavetes, and I knew who he was, but everyone’s entitled to a blind spot culturally, and this happened to be mine.

JACK BENNY!” said Vicky, pronouncing the man’s name as if he were a Greek god of old. The grand master of old time radio and TV comedy! The king of the pregnant pause! You mean you never…”

“No. Never heard of the guy. Sorry, Vic, but if he’s really that important, you’d think people would talk about him more. But anyway, if you think I should check him out, I can look for some of his stuff on YouSuck later on, when we’re done, if you think it’s worth it….”

“You should. If you know John, but you don’t know Jack…”

It was at this point that the obstacles Vicky mentioned commenced in earnest. At least, at first, they seemed like obstacles to us. That’s where being a superhuman creature comes in handy for us ’toons. We fight each other, we can get out of it with a few minor cuts and scrapes and bruises and so forth. But if we fight you and your crowd, we can really hurt you- bad. Then again, you can literally burn us….

Point is, Vic and I were in a tough spot there. But both of us have been through worse- much worse. She’s not a cream puff type girl, and neither am I, even though I might give that impression to people sometimes. That fight we had together reinforced that image of each other to the two of us in spades, and we were gonna confirm that image of each other to each other now.

Again, I’m gonna swan over how we got out of that, ’cause I didn’t come here and you didn’t call me to talk about some ham fisted pseudo-heroics on me and Vicky’s part. But, rest assured, it was a battle. Lions, tigers, bears, armored soldiers, the whole deal. (The animated type, dig? ’Cause even someone like Ms. Riley can’t afford the real thing, judging by the shoestring operations she happened to be running at that time.) It involved Vicky and me screaming, running, jumping, vaulting, blasting our guns and dealing with those suckers! Total and complete stereotypical action movie stuff, like Vicky said. I might have let a couple of the soldiers look up my ass with all the movement I did, but I made up for it by pounding the bejesus out of a guy who was trying to impale Vicky with a cartoon bayonet. (’Cause that’s how we die. Cartoon weapons, fire, and the odd silver melt- but that’s it.) I didn’t earn a scouting badge for wrestling alligators for nothing, after all.

Yeah, you heard me….oh, right. Forgot you knew that already. Sorry. You’re like the Encyclopedia Britannica when it comes to us ’toons, aren’t ya? Ah, don’t be bashful- I know that as much as you do, fella. I follow you on Facemask and Twaddle, so I know the kind of research you’ve been getting into regarding us. I knew you’d come crawling to Candy sooner or later. You know about all of us and what we’ve done in our lives, don’t ya, you sly dog…

What? Oh, yeah. What am I doing this stuff? Must be my time of the month or something. Sorry. I can’t figure out why I’ve been acting this way. Don’t take any of that stuff I told you personal, all right. I already have a boyfriend… yeah. Jeremy. Aah, yeahhhh….One of these days, I am gonna get him and me alone in a back alley, no distractions, and….

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The story. Keep your shirt on!

Anyhow, Vicky and I soon took care of the obstacles in our path, and, after a brief hyperventilating session when we saw the spilled ink on the ground and our clothes, we got a hold of ourselves and went upstairs. Just up to the second floor, but that counts as “upstairs”, doesn’t it?

Sure enough, two of the old offices on the second floor had been converted into new offices. But not by much. Paper covered the nameplates on the doors, with titles listed on them as per the gate out front. One of them said “editor”, in all lower case letters. The other was more flamboyant. It read “R.E. DARING- CHAIR, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR-GENERAL”. That was our quarry, for sure. And the “editor” stall was clearly where our old pal, Jasmine “Jazz” Fenton, was.

At least, what was left of her after Daring had had her way with her, I assumed. Vicky, on the other hand, was more concerned with the extreme level of gall Ms. R.E. Daring was shoving in our faces with that way pretentious nameplate.

R.E. DARING?” Vicky nearly exploded and blew our cover, but I shushed her, just as we hid in a nearby closet to avoid the boss lady from possibly overhearing us.

“Softer!” I ordered, speaking softly myself.

“Sorry. But “R.E. Daring”? Who the fuck does she think she is?”

“Obviously some old school Hollywood big shot. Like B.P. Schulberg.”

Who?”

“He was a producer back in the day. At Paramount. His son Budd wrote a whole novel about the whole scene back then- What Makes Sammy Run?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell. Neither of ’em.”

“Well, it shouldn’t. Way before our time. Doesn’t matter now.”

“What’s that “E” in her name stand for, anyway?”

“”From what I know, it’s Eugene.”

“Guh? Wah?” Vicky was nonplussed. “That’s….that’s a guy’s name! Probably explains why she’s got such big cojones for a little slip of a girl, though. She sure was pretty fucking ballsy on her show, but if you have the power to replace somebody if you hate their ass, then you’d be just as ballsy, I think.”

“I am ballsy, Vic- and so are you. But we’re the good kind of ballsy. Not the bad kind that ruins lives and friendships and such by being so goddamn unwilling to listen to other people’s opinions without getting mad. Unlike some people I won’t mention. We’re the good kind of ballsy. We don’t let anyone fight our battles for us- we do all the dirty work ourselves, all the time, whenever and whatever might be needed for us to do, no matter if the all the goddamn odds in the world are against us! We can crash through doors and tear down windows if we want to because we know, in our hearts and minds, that what we’re doing is right. She, on the other hand, is doing it strictly because she gets her jollies off doing it now. She thinks that, because she can make some phone calls to set things right, everyone should bow and scrape in front of her. That’s cost her plenty. That’s not a pretty way of living your life. I used to be like that, too, but I ultimately figured out that I can’t let setbacks and opposition deter me.

Besides, in the studio hierarchy, Riley wasn’t exactly someone who was created through a clean track record, if you get my drift. She was created by some stoner who writes children’s books, not by people working direct for a studio- like you and me. That explains a lot. You know how characters created outside the system get all these crazy ideas about how they’re on a higher station than us “normal” ’toons and want to rise above it all and forget all about it? That is exactly what we’re up against. I know for sure on that score. When I tried to befriend her when I first came to Disney, she called me a clown ’cause I had on what I have on now. A fucking CLOWN! I so wanted to wring her goddamn neck for that one! Nobody was happier than me when her fucking show got iced and she got thrown out into the street like we all are eventually. But I only found out just how mean and devious she was when she threatened to put this YouSuck stunt and put us all out of business. Just everyone else, I suppose.”

“I hope your middle name is more normal.”

“It is. It’s Gertrude. Not the best possible one, but there you go.”

“Whew! Glad I don’t have one of those. Just plain Vicky for me.”

“But surely it’s short for….”

Yeah, but don’t go blabbing it. Victoria is about the sissiest name ever invented. I can’t even remember if I was ever kindergarten aged, Candy- not like you, ’cause you got those cute little flashbacks on your gig- but me being the temperamental type, I probably would have thought and done some mean and nasty things to anyone who even dared call me Victoria- even a teacher. Maybe that old Queen of England could handle being called that, but I have absolutely no intention of making the outside world think that ol’ Vicky Hartman is in anyway a goddamn sissy. No way any fucking TWERP takes advantage of this sista ’cause she goes by a sissy handle. Most girls who go by their full sissy girl names can’t fight or scam their way out of a paper bag. You excepted, of course.”

“Thanks. Not that being named Candace is any better than being Victoria, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve really felt it gives me some dignity that balances out my wild mood swings and my obsessive nature and my weirdly misshapen body, y’know? Like it’s some sort of saving grace or something. But not too many of my pals even dares call me “Candy”. Weird, considering how long I’ve known most of them. I guess they’re worried about me taking it the wrong way and getting all mean mad on them. If you want to call me that, go ahead. I mean, you haven’t said a word about me calling you “Vic” all this time…..”

“That’s ’cause I like it. Makes me sound real tough- not like a sissy girl at all. I’m surprised nobody else thought about that before….”

We were then interrupted by a door opening abruptly and then closing loudly. If it still had any glass in it, all of it would have broken.

FENTON!!!

A girl’s voice boomed out, the way old man Spacely used to ream out George Jetson. That was Riley. No question. Her voice, her attitude, her everything- didn’t even need to see her to know it. What’s more, that bellowed last name now confirmed to us we were definitely in the right place.

“Lousy tyrant!” Vicky muttered. “Who the goddamn fucking HELL does she think she is? That whole goddamn storm into the room and shout at people thing is MY SHIT- it’s been that for years! That little cock-sucking TWAT….”

She might have gone out then and there, but I wanted to hear Riley in action first, to confirm to us whether or not she was really as bad as was reputed. Then, I assured Vicky, we would kick ass.

Presumably, since we didn’t see it, Riley then flung open the door of the editor’s office, where she proceeded to start talking to Jazz. The latter had evidently been napping after working hard, ’cause she sounded hurt.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Riley?” snapped Jazz. “I am trying to do the goddamn job you practically SHANGHAIED me to do, but you won’t give me a moment’s peace to do….”

MS. DARING to you!” blazed the Director General of Daring Studios, who, as usual, was not in the mood for any opposition or interruption. “You are not in a position to raise your voice to me- after you failed to deliver the cut I demanded! Are you interested at all in living to see your next birthday- because you will not if you do not do what I tell you to DO! ”

“Oh, pardon me!” snapped Ms. Fenton. “What do you expect from someone who’s been working 24-7 trying to assemble a rough cut from the thousands of hours of film you gave me to work with? Not to mention the fact that I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for….”

“I gave you Tic-Tacs, didn’t I? That’s a food product right there, is it not? They were bloody MINT FLAVORED, for God’s sake! So don’t you dare accuse Riley Daring of not caring for the best interests of her employees… ”

“Best interests my overworked, underappreciated ASSHOLE! Don’t you know any damn thing about nutrition, Riley? You can’t just lock somebody in a room and expect them to produce work of any caliber on a small package of TIC-TACS! That’s not a decent, balanced meal! Besides which, you are essentially employing me under conditions that every legitimate union in the United States would consider to be utterly APPALLING! Why the hell are you being such a slave driver about this, anyway? This is a goddamn YouSuck video you’re making, not some lavishly over-produced costume epic that might win you an Oscar! ’Cause I’m sure that’s what you think you should be doing with your life, and you just decided to go it alone when none of the fucking studios would HIRE you…”

You shut your fat little mouth, you beanpole, or I’ll kill you! I MEAN IT! Riley Daring does not let any dumb pussyfoot intellectual tell her how to run her business….”

“I’d appreciate being fired, actually! I have some stuff I need to catch up on in Amity, and you can easily hire somebody who’d be more compliant to do this job for you. Although, given the kind of boss you’ve been to me, I doubt that anyone else would actually WANT to work with you! ”

“I said kill, not fire. Although, regarding us, they’re practically one and the same, aren’t they? You would know that for sure after all of your labors at the Moviola, wouldn’t you, Jasmine?”

“You wouldn’t dare. That’s MURDER! You can’t just kill somebody who disagrees with you….”

“SHUT UP!”

A loud slap on the face echoed down the hall, as did Jazz crying in desperation. Riley must’ve really smacked her one to make her cry like that. I know Jazz- she definitely doesn’t break that easy. Something about that red hair…

“I hired you for a reason, Fenton…” Riley resumed, as if nothing had happened. (The BITCH!)

Hired?” said an outraged Jazz. “You’re not even PAYING me…”

ENOUGH OUT OF YOU! I am the mistress here, and YOU are the SERVANT! Editors do what directors TELL them to do! Understand? I don’t give a FUCK about your empty complaints about me treating you bad, and I especially don’t want to hear any more lousy talk from you about a fucking UNION! That was what broke the ’toon business as our ancestors thrived in, and I’ll be damned if it will sink this ship that I have worked so long and hard to get on the water. YOU PICK UP ON THAT MESS, SISTER? Now, get back to work and deliver me a goddamned decent PRINT, or your head is gonna ROLL!”

“Yes, Ms. Daring,” Jazz said meekly, defeated.

Riley then tromped back to her office.

Finally, we burst out of the closet and sprang down the hallway, derringers ready. We were gonna deal with that little rat, even if we had to kill her to do it. That was a last resort thing, of course, but you can’t take too many chances when you have to deal with a rogue ’toon. Riley Daring fit that particular definition to a T, despite those oh so refined protestations of hers that she was “looking after” her “valuable”. Yeah, right! If we were all so “valuable” to the humans who “employed” us, by her definition, we’d all still have our goddamned JOBS, wouldn’t we?

Anyhow…

The door was locked, but when you’re dealing with us ’toons, wood might as well be cheese. Vic promptly kicked the door down, and we entered like Gibson and Glover, foaming at the mouth.

“Reach for the sky, bitch!” Vicky shouted. “Candy and I are loaded for bear, and we both know how to use these damn things pretty well! The kicker is, even if you manage to get our guns away from us, we are still both very clearly capable of kicking your pretty little ASS all the way to TIMBUKTU!”

Initially, Vicky was addressing the back of a businessman’s swivel chair, but then it turned around. There was R.E. herself, wearing what she used to wear on her show. Yellow shirt, rainbow belt, jeans, green sandals and all. Worse still was the Mona Lisa grin she had on her face- and the slow clap she gave us when she spun around. She regarded us regally, like she was better than us for some reason- but she would’ve thought about us the same way in completely different and unrelated circumstances. Total fucking bitch, like I said before.

“Bra….vo!” she said, sarcastically. “But I’m not making any clichéd good cop/bad cop movies here. So you two might as well take your little audition presentation somewhere else, before I have to have you both escorted off of my premises- by force!

“We ain’t the kind of cops ya think we are, Princess!” said Vicky. “She’s bitch cop, and I’m sadist cop, and we’re taking you IN!”

“No…you…are….NOT!”

And, just like that, she had slipped past me and Vic, through our legs. Damn it! We hadn’t figured on her being so short, but what’re ya gonna do? She looked plenty taller on television, but so do we all, it seems. Anyway, damned if Vic and I were going to let her get away with what she was planning, so we took off after her as soon as she sprinted out.

Riley ran like a gazelle, and we followed like two lionesses eager to take a bite out of her ass. She was pretty well put together, strong and muscular, and she’d probably fight back like a sewer rat if we trapped her. But we managed to play the two to one card to our advantage. After a couple of rounds ’round the hall, during which she bounced into and out of our hands like the silver ball in a pinball game, Vic got a grip on her belt and held her in place as best as she could. Riley tried her best to break Vic’s grip, but she was fighting a losing battle. This, then, was my time to shine, and I didn’t lose that opportunity. I clocked her good and hard in her pretty little face and her pretty little exposed toes, just like I did to Vic earlier.

It worked like a charm.

Once the pain of my kick set into Riley’s body, Vicky spun her by her belt into the wall, where she spread eagled and fell down. She howled and cried in pain on the ground, but we weren’t having any of it.

“Just….SHUT UP, you WHORE!” I snapped. “You don’t deserve anybody’s sympathy! What you deserve is to be thrown out to the wolves- just like ya were planning to do to all of US, WEREN’T YA?”

“Whore?” she shouted, angrily. “WHORE? You dare to call me a WHORE? ME? I’m thirteen goddamn years old, you HAGS. I haven’t even had SEX yet!”

“And you ain’t ever GONNA, by the time we’re done with ya!” added Vicky. “We’re foreclosing on ya, Coppola, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Understand?”

“I’m not letting you ruin me!” she said. “Especially not you, you swan necked LUNATIC!” (That was aimed at me.) “You and your brood were responsible for me losing my show! You waltzed in there at Disney and showed me up, you lousy fucking CLOWN!”

“FUCK YOU!” I blazed. That “clown” thing again, and it still hurt. It always does. “You’re the only goddamned CLOWN here, you rainbow hugging HARLOT!”

I was about to sock her in the mouth when Vicky grabbed Riley by her shirt and held her up with her left hand. Clearly, she had in mind exactly the same thing I did, and she’d probably hit her even harder if push came to shove, now that we’d gotten close. Vic likes to keep her friends close, on account of she has way too many enemies, and usually she only does this kind of thing for a friend. I must’ve made the grade with her to do that.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Vicky shouted in Riley’s face, in her best banshee wail, no nonsense babysitter voice. “You behave yourself, or I’m gonna shove your carrot haired head down the fucking TOILET- where you BELONG! You hear me, Freckle Face? I will crumple your skinny little body, pull out your spinal cord, and use it to PICK MY TEETH if you don’t SHUT THE HELL UP and give me and her what we CAME HERE FOR!”

Vicky then tossed Riley roughly on the ground, towering over her the way the Giant probably did when he caught Jack trying to make off with his gold in that fairy tale. Riley looked genuinely scared for like a micro-second after Vicky tossed her down, but that didn’t last. Vicky kept doing what she does best, though- acting tough.

“Now, where’s your film lab?” Vicky demanded. “On your computer? Or is it somewhere you think we ain’t gonna find it? ’Cause we WILL!”

Yeah, it’s on the computer, genius!” Riley said sarcastically. “Only you can’t do anything about… ”

“We CAN!” I said in my best big sister voice, all my repressed rage coming again to the surface. “And we WILL, damn you!”

Riley swore at me-again- and lunged at my throat. If she’d managed to get me, I would have had one hell of a fight on my hands, one that would have made my earlier dust-up with Vicky seem like child’s play. Fortunately, Vicky caught her mid-flight, punched her unconscious and threw her over her back. Then she turned to me.

“If we don’t see each other again,” she said,” you’ll still be my pal. For life.”

“Thanks,” I said. “You, too.”

Then she was gone.

*

I went into the editing suite and found Jazz crying, face down, in front of the editing equipment. Evidently, she hadn’t moved since Riley reamed her, ’cause she thought I was her at first when I came in.

“Get away from me, you tyrant!” she snapped. “I’m not working for you any more until you pay me- and give me a goddamn decent meal! You hear me, you lousy little TART….?”

“Jasmine, it’s me!” I said. “Candace! Vicky and I just busted Riley, so you…”

When I identified myself, she finally sat up and saw me.

“CANDACE! Oh, my God. Thank you!”

She came up and gave me an enormous bear hug. And it hurt me a bit, ’cause even though she has the same kind of toothpick armed body Vic has (they were created by the same guy), she’s still pretty strong besides being way smarter than me. Finally, I had to grunt loudly to get her to release me, which she did.

Jazz is like me, with conservatively styled red hair, but also like Vic, with massive, pupil-less eyes. She’s a rocking scholar of everything around her, and dresses the type in slacks and sweaters. But I know you knew that ’cause you talked to her already. I read your Orthicon book, man- you can’t fool me.

“I am so glad you got here!” she said. “I was going to lose my mind if I had to keep working as Riley’s editor. Women can’t do this job.”

“The hell they can’t!” I said. “Some of the best cutters in the whole damn business were women. Margaret Booth headed up the editing at MGM for decades! And Scorsese’s best flicks were cut by Thelma Schoonmaker….”

“Okay, okay! Obviously, some women can do it. But they weren’t working for a perfectionist poltroon who has to have the last word on everything!”

“That could describe any director in Hollywood, Jazz. That job is a total power trip. But the producers are the real pricks…”

“I know that, Candace. But have you ever been locked in a room for hours on end, maddeningly trying to do something you knew was impossible, and were still demanded to produce results when you had to?”

“Not locked in a room. But I know exactly what you mean, girl.”

“The important thing is that you stopped Riley before she could put the damn video up on YouSuck. If she’d managed to get that inflammatory project out there, the CRA would have had a lot to answer for. Think of an animated version of Triumph of the Will. A total non-stop “toons are way better than people” thing that would completely negate any goodwill we’d generated among the human population- and completely prevent us from getting anything in the way of support from them in the future-forever! I know, ’cause I had to look at the damn thing- for hours and hours on end!”

“Not anymore, you don’t. Has she got a complete master print?”

“On her computer.”

“Then let’s get rid of it.”

“Are you crazy? Do you realize how many cuts of it she made me do? It would take hours to fully delete all of the…”

Cool it, Jazz! There’s a simpler way! Come on!”

We went into Riley’s office, and I made a beeline for the computer. Violently, I wrenched it from its place on the edge of her desk (it was only a chintzy little pink laptop, thank God) and threw it out the closed window, where it shattered into fragments.

“There!” I said.

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Jazz mused.

“You were too stressed out to think straight, is why. Come on. You go back in your office and have a power nap. I’ll trash the rest of the office, and then me and Vic will get you home safe.”

“You sure?”

Ms. Fenton, I am not a liar!”

“Very well, Ms. Flynn. Thank you.”

We giggled, she went and slept, and I put paid to what had once been the office of the Director General of Daring Studios. Then I called the Colonel and reported in, and then gave Vic a call, seeing as she’d given me her digits when she left just in case. She’d just bound and gagged Riley and left her by the side of the road, so she came back. So, once Jazz woke up, we took her out to eat, seeing as she was a mite famished, and then we did some girl stuff- like shopping- to take the edge off of what we’d just been through. And then we got Jazz home like I promised.

That’s it. Candace is out. PEACE!

ACT THREE: HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN

2:00 PM EST, Jun.1, 2050

CAPT. A. LYON:

I don’t get very many opportunities to dress up nice, considering that this new line of “work” I’m in doesn’t give me much chance for mingling with the press. Typically, you have to avoid them when you’re on the other side of the law, owing to the fact that the majority of the pockets of the mainstream mass media. Of which we used to be part of, to my regret and shame, but that’s really not part of the here and there regarding this particular story.

The point is, I was looking forward to trying to convince the world I was a person, rather than just “merely” a “drawing”, which is how myself and a good percentage of my contemporaries and friends are still regarded. That, for that matter, is precisely the public image that the CRA was designed to combat, and, ultimately, destroy. Even here, with me sitting in front of you and speaking to you as if we were equals, I can’t think that you feel somewhat superior to me; not you in particular, of course, but your race as a whole. Prejudices take a very long time to erase, no matter what the hippy kumbaya crowd among both of our groups think. If you saw me as I looked in the context of where I was - a twelve year old looking red headed kid in his best suit, playing with his tie to avoid boredom- you would think I had been abandoned there by my parents. At the very least, you also might erroneously assume that I had been told to hang around that part of the conference center where I was until they had finished whatever it is they came there to do. Important business, no doubt, you might be thinking. The trouble is, if you were making that particular assumption about me, you would be entirely incorrect.

In actuality, I had been asked to give a deposition in front of a Congressional committee that had been called to propose the extension of constitutional protection via the Bill Of Rights to, as they chose to phrase it:

beings, while not conceived via traditional manipulations of the flesh, were and are the self-styled “creations” of certain artists working alone or, more commonly, in collaboration, and who have, independently and collectively, come to realize that their civic and political rights have been unknowingly, unjustly and repeatedly denied them, and are, at this moment, attempting to negotiate with the United States for the establishment and/or restoration of said rights

In other words, the Cartoon Republican Army. And by “negotiate”, they really meant that they are fighting a tooth and nail war of extermination with us. We all know that the government’s never that honest in public- it’s not good for their mental health.

I had been elected, through a somewhat awkward and confusing process of elimination I can’t really explain here, to present the deposition. This was really a reflection of the words of the CRA high command more than anything eloquent I could have put together myself. Put simply, it was because a lot of the other members of the gang couldn’t be bothered with it. More likely, they feared whatever the consequences of delivering the message would be. Which were, and are, plenty and serious, even by our generally edgy, death-defying lifestyles. Don’t get me started on how many times and how many ways we ’toons have to face death on a daily basis. You’d totally be shocked, man. In America, yet! One big example of that- actually, make that two- came into play when I got myself down to testify in front of the committee. Let me explain.

What had happened between the period between the calling of the commission, and a CRA member being “requested”- that is, ordered- to appear in front of it, was this. A controversial Baptist church- more a sect, really- had said that they intended to destroy whatever “spawn of the devil” was sent by the “agents of sin” right off the witness chair, and to dissect whatever unlucky soul was chosen right on the floor of the hearing room. The fact that the hearings were being held in L.A.- the location of most of us ’toons as well as the aforementioned church- made it likely the church would definitely follow up on their threats.

There was, as a result, a lot of tension building up inside me at that moment as I waited to be called. I was fairly down on the list, so I didn’t expect to be called immediately. Therefore, I was extremely shocked, to say the least, when I heard a familiar voice bellowing at me from behind.

Jake. Of course.

I turned around and he was there.

He was dressed in a full Marine uniform. Shirt, pants, tie with a gold clip, decorations etc. He’d even gone to the trouble of giving himself a G.I. haircut- which is hard for a spider monkey like him to pull off. All in all, the combined effect made him look very much like a miniature version of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, maintaining his dignity and composure on the witness stand while Tom Cruise yells his ass off at him. But Jake being Jake, he had to tweak it so it might get him some laughs, and that was exactly what he did when I came forward to greet him, so to speak.

You can’t HANDLE the truth!” he barked in his best Nicholson voice, like I’d asked him to do it. Which I hadn’t. I hadn’t even asked him to come here today. So why had he?

I promptly asked him this.

Because,” he responded, as if I were the idiot he always thinks I am, “you need protection.”

“From what?” I asked. “This is a Congressional hearing I’m going to. There’s probably going to be security up the wazoo…”

“You know…” he said, implicitly.

“Jake, they are not going to let those religious nut-bars in here. For God’s sake. This is supposed to be a forum for legitimate discourse on the topic of…”

Just at that moment, one of the speakers before me, a normal human being, was being forcibly removed from the main hall by a security guard, profanity spewing from his lips.

“Legitimate discourse, eh?” leered Jake, nudging me in the ribs in that irritating burlesque comic manner he has.

“Oh, come on!” I said. “Just ’cause that guy had a mouth on him…”

“Look, Adam. I’m only trying to look out for your best interests here…”

My best interests? Since when?”

“Since the time you became my best friend, is when.”

“I never asked you to….”

“Oh, I know you, Adam. You have a chance to make us proud here, and you are just gonna blow it like you usually do. Now, as your superior officer…”

“CAPTAINS outrank STAFF SERGEANTS, Jake…”

“…it is my duty to make sure that you deliver your deposition calmly and properly in an environment free of prejudice.”

“If you would just….”

“No, no, Adam. No need to thank me. Just doing my job.”

“Your job? Thank you?”

“Yes, my boy,” he said, condescendingly, pinching my cheeks. “You’re going to need my help getting out of here…”

I threw his paws off my face, using a gesture clearly meant to intimidate him. It worked.

“I can handle myself, okay?” I said, seething. “I’ve been prepping this deposition for weeks now- without your help! You’ve never helped me out with anything since we met- you always make things worse! To tell you the God’s honest truth, you loudmouthed CON MAN, I have had quite enough of you preening around like the simian putz you are! You always go around talking like you know everything when you really know NOTHING! I can’t STAND it anymore, understand? So BACK OFF and let me do it the way it should be done, for once!”

He was silent for a moment, and then:

Somebody’s got issues!”

“You’re fucking goddamn right I have issues. You think I want the guy who ripped me off all through middle school PROTECTING me?”

“I did not…”

“You did, you stupid MF….”

I’m an MF? You’re an FM- and an AM, besides!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“I can talk without sense and make it work- unlike you!”

“THAT DOES IT!” I screamed. “Get the hell out of here before I wring your scrawny little monkey NECK!”

“How DARE you!” he countered, appalled. “After all the time I….”

“I don’t want to hear any more, Jake,” I said, temporarily restoring my temper. “Get out.”

To further emphasize my desire to free myself of his company, I pointed to the nearest door so he’d get the message. However, he did not seem to get it, ’cause he still stood there like a moron.

“GO THE FUCK AWAY!” I screeched.

That got him gone, in a flash.

*

Yes, I was hard on him, in light of what happened afterwards. Jake and I have always had this level of conflict and tension in our relationship. Back from day one, when he self-appointed himself as my “best friend” back in the good old days at CDMS, and he hasn’t let up ever since. Gradually, though, I’ve developed enough of a backbone to start pushing him back when he starts pushing my buttons. He comes on strong, I have to come on stronger to get him away. He yells at me, I yell louder back at him. He threatens to punch me in the face or give me a wedgie, then I have to threaten to murder him in his sleep. Not that I would actually do that to him, of course; my parents raised me better than that, at least when I had a chance to see them. He has tempted me on many occasions, though. However, when the ink is starting to run and the chips are down, we’re still there for each other. Just like he was there for me later on that day, even after I drove him off. So don’t be too hard on me, okay?

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself….

It was about this time that “Captain” Lyon was requested to make his appearance in front of the commission, so I entered the room.

The committee had insisted on a private room, with no media presence, so I wasn’t intimidated in the least. In the back of the room were the members of the committee, seated behind a lengthy table with microphones in front of each of them. There was a smaller chair in front of the table, with a similarly sized microphone. The chair was placed right in front of the man whom, I soon learned, was the Chairman of the committee, an African American who could easily be mistaken for Denzel Washington.

I got to the front and sat down, pulling the microphone in front of me closer to my lips so that they’d be able to hear everything I said. Even though they were with the government, I owed them the courtesy of speaking clearly to them, so that I could fully explain the CRA’s message to them and so that they could understand what it was. For once.

“We appreciate you coming to speak with us today, Captain Lyon…” the Chairman began.

“Please,” I interrupted. “Call me Adam. My rank isn’t an official designation.”

“So does that mean that you feel that…?” one of the committee members asked.

“No!” I said, angrily, knowing full well what he was implying. “We don’t operate under the functions of a military organization, but our cause is still vital and just! We use the nomenclature exclusively to distinguish leaders from subordinates- and in no other way! It’s not like we’re unorganized or anything like that, we just feel that we need to conduct our affairs with some sort of sober order, that’s all. Well, most of us, but most of the dissenters don’t speak for the more orderly members of our group on account of the fact that they’re not actually members of the CRA. Which is a fact that you always blatantly ignore when you try to categorize us as “one”, and one, frankly, that we’re all frankly sick of. You would all do better to remember that in the future when you deal with us.”

“Little piece of shit!” the committee member snapped at me angrily. He was going to keep badgering me the same way, I thought, and it was probably going to get uncomfortable, like it usually does. However, Denzel cut him off by looking at him like he wanted to kill him, and he backed off.

“We’re a multi-party committee,” he said. “And he’s a Republican.”

’Nuff said. Republicans have always been harder on us than Democrats, for some reason. Maybe it’s because they’re a lot less in touch with reality.

“I have informed everyone already,” the Chairman continued, “that we will be proceeding in a non-partisan fashion here.” He looked sternly at the other two guys, and then got back to me.

“Now, Adam. I believe you have a deposition of some sort to present before us at this moment.”

“Yes,” I said, calmly. “I do have a…”

“Give us the freak!”

Oh, boy.

It was what I- and probably everybody else in the room, as well- had most feared. The Rev. Wildmon Falwell Reed-Jones, the minister of the Baptist church I had mentioned earlier, stormed out of what was likely a very well concealed hiding place, a Bible in one hand, a Glock in the other. Some of his followers, armed with the same things, followed him in a well-ordered mob. Clearly, they expected to lynch me, like their ancestors had done to countless “threatening” racial and ethnic minorities in the past. What they didn’t know was who they were dealing with here.

“Sir!” said the committee chairman. “Your presence is neither warranted nor needed here at this gathering. We expressly forbid the presence of those who had not been officially called to testify…”

“Be silent, son of Ham!” said the Reverend, a pointed reference to the chairman’s race. “I allow none of your kind to dominate me!”

The chairman calmly reached under the table and then stood up, revealing a shotgun in his hands, which he aimed directly at the Reverend.

“I ain’t no “son of Ham””, he said. “I’m the son of a bad mutha…”

I ducked under the table, briefly forgetting that bullets can’t harm me. Reed-Jones and his men aimed their guns at the chairman and the other commissioners, who were also armed like he. A hail of bullets flew rapidly. When it was over, the Reverend and several of his men lay dead on the ground, but the chairman and commissioners were still standing, untouched.

“It’s over,” the chairman said to me under the table at the end of the old school gangster confrontation. “Get up and we’ll continue.”

I did.

“We apologize for the interruption,” the chairman said. “We, of course, had no idea…”

“I understand,” I responded. “Most of the beings in the CRA have prices on their head now. We have to deal with this kind of thing all the time…”

“Including now.

Very unexpectedly, my hands and legs became confined in metal bands that, clearly operated by remote control, seemed to come out of nowhere. They prevented me from escaping- or moving.

It was almost like they had planned this all along.

That was when it hit me.

*

Wait a minute!” I exclaimed. “You guys aren’t from Congress!”

Damn it all!” exclaimed one of the committee members. “Little fucker’s found us out! What the hell are we gonna do now?”

You just sit yo’ ass down and do what I tells you!” said Denzel, dropping his pretend “refined” accent in favor of what was clearly his normal “ghetto” one. “Don’t do nothin’ dumb, or I’ll cut you! You either, Red!”

That last one was clearly aimed at me, on account of my hair, so I couldn’t really respond with a snappy comeback or else he’d clearly “cut” me, for real. Although with what I didn’t know- yet. So I just decided to state the obvious.

“You faked this whole thing!” I spat. “You knew that if you made it look official enough, like Congress really wanted one of us to testify, that you’d be able to nab whoever came forward. Nothing carries more weight with us, as good American citizens, then being able to say something in front of a Congressional committee. You knew that. You played on our fears, our worries and our desires, and then you just used them AGAINST US! So you fooled us into sending somebody up here to talk to you-i.e. me- and you just decided to go through your usual protocol with me, on account of me being so supposedly “weak” and “defenseless” in your eyes. First, you send out your call to get some innocent ’toon down here and inside your clutches. Then, after you killed whatever mark arrived- with matches, no doubt- you’d stuff and mount them, and then post a photo of you with them online, preening like a bunch of goddamn African big game hunters! Yeah. I know your game! I’ve had friends of mine killed by your kind- and others just miss being. I have too many friends among the crowd of animal ’toons not to notice when a few of them go missing on me. The thing about this time, though, it’s that it’s different from the way you usually play it. Too different. You usually go for the exotic animal ’toons. I’m a HUMAN BEING!”

“Yeah,” said Denzel. “We did them things. I ain’t denying nothing you just said, Red, owin’ that you’re tellin’ the truth about us. Don’t know how the hell you found out about us, unless you went way beyond our YouSuck postings to find out the truth about us. Not too many people have, which is why we’ve been able to get away with so much with this racket. Yeah, we did all that stuff, like I said. Only nobody was taken us seriously on account of that nobody took them animal kills in the proper way. I thought that If we killed us a human ‘toon, say a little clowny lookin’ guy like you that nobody’d miss in a month of Sundays, it’d be different. People actually notice when you kill one of you. Either way, we is gonna stop your civil rights shit cold and get all of you fake ass paper and paint niggers off of our human streets and out of our human hair for goddamn good!

What?” I said. “That whole Jim Crow separate but equal thing? That’s an absolutely asinine notion! Given your…social background….and…uh…life experience, I always thought that your…race….would understand what we…”

We never went around killing people to do it, though,” said the chairman. “Like them damn killings in Watts…

“Look. That wasn’t us. Those CGI assholes have nothing to do with the CRA. We’re a cel and Flash organization only…”

“Don’t matter none. All you freaks is gonna DIE before we finished. You is gonna be on your knees begging for mercy…

He pulled out a book of matches, lit one, and seemed ready to throw it at me, when…

The match was shot out of his hand.

“What the hell…?” Denzel shouted.

He reached into the book for another match, and this time the entire book was shot of his hand.

“The fuck is going on….?” he exclaimed.

“You release Adam, or we cut your black ass, is what the fuck is going on!”

Then, there they were. Most of my old animal co-stars- my friends- each of them with a gun in hand, other weapons on their backs, and a full magazine of bullets encasing their chests like badges of honor. Even my usually placid buddy, Ingrid. It’s a bad sign on your part when a giraffe is on the warpath against you- normally, they won’t hurt anybody unless you hurt them first, and she’s been hurt more than any of us in this thing, believe me. At the front of the group, just as I had come to expect, still wearing his Marines uniform, was Jake. He’d fired both of the shots- and it was clear from the way he and the chairman looked at each other that they had a past history I knew nothing about. Oddly for me.

“Best you go back to South Central, Roscoe Mack, or should I say, “Senator” Draxon Silas!” said Jake. “You got some of our lower phylum friends, but you ain’t gonna get our one human one! Give it to ’em!”

And then, we had the same scenario as before, save for the fact that my friends, as cartoon characters, were invulnerable to human weapons, as am I. As much as the faux Congressmen fired their own weapons at them, my friends had more gumption and ammo on their side. It wasn’t a surprise, then, when the humans soon collapsed on the floor, in bullet ridden forms, into pools of their own blood.

Once the slaughter ended, the gang, after much trial and error, managed to get me out of the chair without severing me from my hands and feet. Then I asked them, especially Jake, what the hell they were doing coming here like that? Especially after I’d chewed Jake so badly earlier? Did they not realize how dangerous it was- for me and them?

“Come on!” said Jake. “I know you. We all know you. When you act up like that, that’s not really you.”

“You think?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Jake, and the others chimed in similarly. “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

“But I’m not…that doesn’t…Aah, never mind! Thank you.”

“Well, you are technically the boss of the unit, being the Captain,” Jake said. “We’d totally fall apart if you weren’t there to point the way for us.”

“Well, I better point us the way out of here before the cops arrest us for murder!” I said, pointing to the bodies and then the exit.

“Yeah,” said Jake. “But, even if they did try to pin the killings on us, it wouldn’t stick. Not like that mess on the floor, though. But not that we have to worry about cleaning it up!”

Somehow, we all managed to find that joke funny. Even me.

ACT FOUR: SCOUTING FOR DUMMIES

4:00 PM EST, Jun.1, 2050

CAPT. P. SMILES:

It took me a while to get my bearings, as is usually the case when you are nearly beaten to death. Eventually, however, I regained consciousness and familiarized myself with what was going on.

The room I was in was made of transparent glass, so I could see myself in the reflection all across. I was trussed up tight on a raised horizontal pole in the center of the room, like the main course at a Hawaiian luau. All I needed was someone to stuff an apple in my mouth, and my very accurate impersonation of a roast suckling pig would be complete.

It could’ve been worse. They could have burned me. They could have tried to pull out my fingernails and toenails if they felt that would have gotten me to talk. Or, heaven forbid, the men could have taken turns raping me, if they were that unprincipled. Maybe even the women, too, if they played the other team, so to speak. We are talking about the CIA here. On my end of it, even by the standards of anthropomorphized tomboys, I am pretty cute, if I can blow my own horn here.

But they hadn’t really done a lot of damage to me, even from my current supine position. My Squirrel Scout uniform- beret, vest, skirt, shoes and all- was untouched, and, for all I know, the inner contents of them were probably the same- hopefully. So they hadn’t really robbed me of my dignity and my life-yet. The only discoloration I sported was a shiner just perpendicular to my left eye, a souvenir of the fracas that landed me here in the first place. Nothing an applied steak couldn’t fix, but that would have to wait.

I needed to get out of there-alive-first.

*

I was, of course, eager to volunteer for the CRA when they asked me. Especially after what happened to Prickly Pines. That was totally and brutally unforgivable. Our beautiful little home town, sight of so many of the most pleasant memories of my life, suddenly reduced to an unforgiving, impersonal pile of ash by order of Their Majesties Time and Warner. That totally made all of us who survived the unfortunate incident committed to the cause. No questions asked. As for good ol’ Orthicon, the only things I can think about that place are not kind.

Unlike a lot of the greenhorns who just signed up to the CRA to fulfill their desire for some cheap adventure in their boring lives, however, I was ready and prepared to fight for what I had and try to get back some semblance of what I had lost. In a lot of strange ways, it was stuff that I had been building myself up- and others had besides- for my whole life, although I’m only starting to discover the how and why of this now. It’s simple once you unravel it, though.

One of the advantages of being a Scout of either gender is that you are automatically qualified to be an NCO in the CRA, because you’ve already learned the survival skills and garnered the athletic prowess that they’d prefer the officers have. Not that a lot of the girly stuff they shoved down my throat at Acorn Flats counts as “military” training, but that’s beside the point. Also, I knew my dad would be way disappointed in me if I ever decided to turn pacifist- not like I’m actually gonna become one of those! So, off to the CRA me and my buddies went. Alas, I didn’t get a chance to be with my guy when I got in. Any chance of me getting horizontal with my beloved Laslo is gonna have to wait until I can finally find some way to get us alone together. Not that he knows- or cares- how much I care about him and his sweet little ass. He’s as A-Prime a Scout as I am when it comes to the natural environs, but, when it comes to romance- well, I might as well be an alien, the way he acts when I simply flirt with him….

Yes, I am rambling. You don’t need to point it out. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been through this whole shebang before. Time is money with you oral history guys, right?

I’ll just get right to the point….

*

We happened to be patrolling in the D.C. area when the call came out that the CIA and FBI were demanding that the CRA hand over “specimens”- preferably dead, but alive was okay- so that they could figure out exactly what we were “about.” Well, some of the gang that I have control over thought it might be funny if, rather than running away from this reasonable request, a ’toon actually showed up at the Langley, Va. Headquarters of the CIA- which were just spitting distance from then- to comply with this request.

I didn’t appreciate them treating this serious booty call on the government’s part as a joke, so I whistled for their attention, and told them this as a way of putting the lot of them in their place. Then, of course, me being me, I upped the ante.

Furthermore, I said, if they want a goddamn “specimen” so bad, then it might as well be me they dicker around with, rather than any of you. I have absolutely no intention losing one or all of the lot of you to the scurvy-ridden clutches of the Central Intelligence Agency!

My own words, there.

Now, they immediately reacted with the horror I thought they would react with, but I told them to shut up and let me TALK! Then I explained.

I am the Captain of this unit,” I explained. “It is my responsibility to make sure that all of you are safe from harm in order to carry out your duties. And, if that means putting myself in harm’s way to prevent any from coming to you, so be it! But let me say this. I may have every intention of surrendering myself- temporarily- to our Neanderthal opponents, but I have no intention of remaining permanently in their thrall. No! I am going to get out of there- and do as much damage as I can while I do!”

That was enough to get them off my back- and with a rousing chorus of cheers, besides. That is, except for the youngest member of our unit, Private Theodora, a little squib of a puppy who reminds me far too much of me before the Squirrel Scouts. I had to break the news to her gently- which was easy, considering she had a death grip on my left leg at that moment.

“Theo,” I said with a bit of resignation in my voice, “what are you doing down there, girl?”

“Don’t leave me, Cap’n Patsy!” she bawled. “I couldn’t possibly bare it if you…”

What,” I said in my serious “military” voice, “have I told you about making scenes, soldier?”

Theo got the message, let go of my leg, and got vertical in a hurry.

“That scenes are only fit for Republicans and horrible human actors like Jessica Chastain,” said Theo.

“My exact words,” I said, impressed, paws on hips. “You remembered. Good going, Theo.”

“It’s photographic,” she said, pointing to her head. Hopefully, she meant her memory, but I didn’t ask.

“Now, Theo,” I continued. “You have, undoubtedly, heard me speak of my past exploits as a Squirrel Scout?”

“Yes, Cap’n.”

“You are also, no doubt, aware of my past exploits as a CRA officer, as well as my skill with that deadly martial art, Bok Choy?”

“Uh huh, Cap’n.”

“And, do you seriously think, with all the physical and mental skills at my command, that any of those arrogant pus bags at the CIA is actually a match for me in hand to hand combat?”

“No, Cap’n.”

“Then why the hell were you holding my goddamn leg?”

Theo had to think about that for a moment, and she was still trying to think of a response three minutes later, when I finally had to speak again.

“Look, Theo,” I said. “This has to be done, and I’m doing it! End of story. What you need to do is start being more self-sufficient and less dependent for me on guidance and instruction. Otherwise, you’re never gonna get past private in this outfit, and you do not want to stay a private, believe you me. Start growing some goddamn BACKBONE, girl! Seriously! Okay?”

“Okay,” said Theo.

“I’m not being hard on you per se,” I said, touching her cheek. “I want everyone around to succeed. And the only way to encourage them sometimes is to get tough.”

Strapping my radio communication device to my wrist, I told the gang to remain where they were until when and if I needed them, at which point I would inform them of such. Then I went off.

*

What happened after that was fairly straightforward. I wandered up to the CIA’s front gate like it was MGM in the 1940s, and I was a corn-fed youth hoping to become a movie star. Except, rather than being propositioned by a producer or hustled off to a sound stage for an extra gig, everybody and his brother in the place starts chasing me like I was Typhoid Mary and I just killed somebody. Somewhere along the line I got knocked out…

…and that leads me back to where I started, doing my impression of the dinner entrée at that night’s shindig at Waikiki Beach.

That was when the door opened.

A couple of suits, a man and a woman, entered the room. That’s what they were and that’s what they wore- suits. The man was fairly tall and young, and he looked like I could handle him well if we were alone. Unfortunately, it seemed like the woman was the one in charge. Typical. Worse still was the fact that she was a dead ringer for that bitch Jessica Chastain, and seemed to have that same Zero Dark Thirty aura about her, given the fact that she was looking at me like I was Bin Laden.

“This is the sketcher, huh?” said the woman, using that racist buzzword the right wing media’s always been calling us, as you know. “Not as much of a such a much as I thought she’d be- but then, most of those pen and ink freaks usually don’t measure up to us by any stretch of the imagination!”

“Can you please be a bit less racist?” replied the man. “What was the point of us going through that sensitivity training if you’re gonna keep illegally riding roughshod over all of the rules?

“That BULLSHIT does not apply to them! None of them have a right to LIVE!”

“Emshwiller!”

“Shut the fuck up, Goodis! You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! I’ve been on this beat longer than you have, and I know a goddamn lot MORE about this bunch of SHIT than you EVER will! ”

“Look, Emshwiller! Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean your shit doesn’t stink…”

“Do not make me look bad in front of the TERRORIST!”

She pointed to me at this point, to underscore her contempt.

“Your ignorance and racism are utterly appalling!”

“I fully intend to do to this…creature whatever is required to get information out of her. If you don’t like it, you can lump it!”

“Go fuck yourself, Emshwiller!”

The man, fueled with righteous anger, stormed out of the room, leaving the woman alone with me for the time being.

“So,” she said, finally lowering her voice below heavy metal band decibels. “You’re Patricia Smiles…”

Patricia! Of all the low down, dirty INSULTS! Yes, I know “Patsy” is officially a diminutive for “Patricia” by those stupid Oxford language rules of the humans, but I have never been called “Patricia” by anybody else- in any context! I made sure to correct that dimwitted blond dweeb right away.

“My name is PATSY!” I corrected her forcefully. “CAPTAIN PATSY SMILES! Of the Cartoon Republican Army…”

She slapped me, full tilt, in the face, in a way I knew would leave a mark. When you get hit by one of the humans, it usually does. They can be tough when they’re angry.

“Do you think I give a fuck about whatever your goddamn name is? Or what rank you hold in your piss stained “military” group?”

“No,” I said, stating the obvious, “you don’t. You know why? Because if a thing- or a person- has any identifying marks of humanity on it, you want to erase them! The better for you to treat them in the most inhumane ways possible!

“You little FUCK….!”

“Call me what you want. My ancestors killed snakes for a living. Do you think humans scare me any?”

“Shut up! SHUT UP!”

She took the pole I was on and shook it violently. This did little to advance the level of refinement in the room, especially since it my capacity for barfing considerably. Which I then proceeded to do in her direction, although she managed to duck out of the way in time to avoid most of it.

You… are… SICK!” she screamed, as she continued to shake the pole feverishly to intimidate me.

“No kidding,” I said, only a little woozy. “You made me get sick!”

“Oh, ho! I “made” you get sick! Just like the Muslims of the world made 9/11 happen!”

“No. You made 9/11 happen! You think those goddamn planes were operating by REMOTE CONTROL? Girlfriend, please! You fucked up the Middle East for your own decadent pleasures, and it fucked you up right back!”

“How DARE you contradict a member of the United States Government???!!!”

She hauled off and kicked me in the ribs with one of her high heeled shoes- after taking it off first. She was going for the gut by trying to stick me hard enough to remove my entrails- although that didn’t happen.

“You deserve nothing less than having an electric cattle prod rammed up your ASS!” she proclaimed, with American imperialist fury.

“Oh,” I said. “No waterboarding for me, huh? Too bad. I do a kick-ass Esther Williams impression!”

Then I layered my shit-eating grin over her eyes. Normally, this overwhelming display of feminine pulchritude is enough to get me whatever it is I want. Not this time.

“Why the hell are you still smiling?” she brayed, like a constipated mule. “Do you know what we can do to you?”

“I do, honey,” I leered lasciviously. “What you conveniently forget regarding that, however, is that most of them don’t work on us. We keep telling you, but you never listen…”

“Why the hell should we listen to YOU?” she blared, like an old fashioned air raid siren.

“I don’t know, actually,” I responded, in a justly accusing tone. “You never listen to anybody but YOURSELVES as it is! You never listened to the Iraqis when they said they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction….”

“You are lying, you fucking furry ASSHOLE!” she roared, with unjustified moral outrage.

“You never listened to the Afghans when they said they were perfectly capable of running their own affairs, thank you….,” I continued, twisting the knife.

“Bastard offspring of PAINT,” she sputtered, furiously.

“…and let’s not even begin to discuss what you did to the NATIVE people of this continent!” I concluded, getting to the heart of a lot of what is currently wrong with America as I see it. “Boy! Did you sell them down the river, huh? ’Ah, yeah, we’re white people, and our sociopolitical and religious views of life TOTALLY ROCK! You INFERIOR Native people better do what we tell ya to do or we’ll KILL ya- ’cause God TOLD US TO DO IT! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!’”

“You fucking LIAR!” She really blew up then. “That never happened!”

“Really? How do you know? Everybody knows that you U.S. government AUTOMATONS are the kings and queens of BULLSHIT! You’ve been making yourselves out as the heroes of your tailored-in-silk fairy tales about this country for CENTURIES, just ’cause you were somehow able to intimidate and kill off anyone who opposed you en masse! Well, it ends here, sister! There’s nothing that you have that we can’t beat. Until you find an actual way to beat us- which will be NEVER- we’ll be stuck at loggerheads until you- not us- finally give in!”

“I am going to strangle you with my bare hands,” she predicted.

“Oh, violence! Just like you say we cartoons always practice! What HYPOCRITES you are! I…GAAARK!”

That “gaark” was me being strangled. And, honestly, she nearly had me there. Her adrenaline fueled rage was starting to do a number on my larynx. She might have even broken my windpipe if they’d let her.

“Emshwiller!”

After that word, from what I can only assume was from a superior officer, came some knocking, and then the door, which had been locked, was forced down and open.

Goodis, the man, had in fact brought reinforcements in the form of a superior officer, who told Emshwiller that she was being placed on suspension for an indefinite period of time. (For good reason.) Emshwiller launched into another profanity-laden tirade directed at the two men, and the superior and Goodis argued back and forth with her similarly, like the overgrown children that all the U.S. government agencies consist of. They left the room. Emshwiller was told to turn in her gun and badge. She refused. They tried to take it from her. Judging by the loud isolated blasts of gunfire, and the horrified screams of the conceivable onlookers in the hallway, one or all of them got accidentally shot in the process. I’m hoping all of those shots went into Emshwiller’s diseased brain. If there were only less people like her in the world….

*

Disposing of my tormentor was fairly easy, but then came the realization that I still needed to get out of there. Which was a whole ’nother thing, entirely.

Of course, I had come prepared, and I had slept well enough during my unconsciousness to regain a good portion of the strength, energy and agility I’d need to escape. I thrashed around in the ropes for a minute, and got my paws and legs out of the mess. Then I got the Swiss Army Knife I always keep in the pleats of my skirt out of there, and, transferring it carefully from my thigh to my hands, I selected the sharpest blade and freed myself from my hemp prison- although I fell down and hurt myself in a tender place in the process.

Slowly, I crept out the still-open door, and, desperately trying to make sure I didn’t give myself away, crept along the walls as if I were navigating over the cliffs of some high mountain pass. Somebody else might not have been able to do this effectively, but not me, if I can be so immodest.

Well! I might have been able to keep that up if I had infiltrated a school for the blind or deaf, but no! I was in the CIA headquarters, and a cartoon character stands out in that place like a Jackson Pollock would if you put it in by mistake with the Impressionists. And, sure enough, they spotted me.

“The sketcher’s loose!” said one guy.

“Catch it!” another one added. “If we don’t restraint it, it’ll kill all of us!”

“You fucking RACISTS!” I retorted, shaking my fist at the guy who had called me a “sketcher”. “How would you like it if I called you SUITS? Oh, right. You wouldn’t care-’cause ya don’t have FEELINGS!”

“Get her!” said another guy. “She’s not worth SHIT to us!”

Soon, they were after me again.

I had a slight advantage over them, being that, as a ’toon, I was faster, stronger and more agile than them. Not only that, I was in the same sort of top physical condition I’ve always been in, and especially since I’ve been working for the CRA. This job takes a lot out of you sometimes, but it pays you back sometimes, too. Even with that advantage, however, all my strength would be a fat lot of good to me if they caught me and trussed me up again. They’d get the matches out- ’cause they weren’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Gradually, the word leaked out that I was free, and most of the staff, who I presume had been offered hefty cash bonuses for corralling me, were chasing me like I was the front runner in the Boston Marathon. Now, I can run like a Kenyan under normal conditions, but I was really putting on the style here. You try getting through the headquarters of the CIA as a wanted fugitive from justice some time if you don’t believe me. I had put some distance between myself and those twerps, and already there seemed to be quite a few out of shape ones who were starting to fall back. I just needed to find the exit to the place (I was on the second floor of the building at the time), and I’d be free.

But then, it happened, like it usually does with me.

As good as I am with the stuff related to the great outdoors, I tend to forget that inside is another story. And that proved to be my undoing. A custodian was doing the floor of the section of the building that I was running in, and you know what happened?

Yep. I slipped on the damn wet floor, curse me! And, not only that, I uttered a shriek that confirmed the fact that, in spite of all my macho tomboy posturing, I am still, biologically, a girl. Failing to control my equilibrium, I collided with somebody pushing a cart coming along, and fell into the carafe that was on top of the cart. This would have been okay had the carafe been empty, since I could have hid in it and jumped out of it to surprise them, like they have girls jumping out of cakes at bachelor parties sometimes. Not a chance there, however. This thing was wide and deep, and worse still was the fact, which I did not find out until I was in the thing, that it was full of coffee. And it was HOT!

This occasioned another high decibel scream from yours truly, and I again flew through the air. This time, I was not as lucky in finding a place to land, and I landed, with legs splayed, on the cement floor, on my butt. Don’t think stuff like that doesn’t hurt like hell- ’cause it does! This blow to my body slowed me down severely, and I soon found myself surrounded on all sides by as many of the active duty staff as they could have rounded up on such short notice. I had nowhere to go- or so it seemed.

There were two options. I could surrender, but that would likely mean surrendering more of my dignity, not to mention probably some more torture under a tighter watch to prevent me from escaping. And, if I surrendered, I could die if there were any more Emshwillers wanting my ink out there. So no dice on that one. On the other hand, they were closing their ranks pretty thick, and, if I tried making like an Olympic gymnast they could easily grab a paw or leg if I vaulted and pull me back down into their grasp. Same if I tried dashing for the nearby elevator, and that would be no help if the damn thing was late. Even my old stand-by, Bok Choy, would be no help if any of them knew martial arts, too, which I’m sure some of them, at least, did.

So, really, what could I do?

This became much more of a concern as I remained still while they advanced towards me. Granted, I could take them on one at a time in a fair fight and trounce them easily, no question about it. NOT when they numbered this many, however. They taught me how to fight hand to hand combat in the Scouts, for sure, but not a whole livid, fire-breathing angry mob!

Looked like I was done for….

….until a shot rang out.

They stood around like idiots, thinking one of their weapons had discharged accidentally, and looking quizzically at each other. When nobody owned up, they advanced on me again….

….another shot.

This time, whoever fired it said simply:

“Leave her alone!”

They parted themselves, like the Red Sea, to let the owner of the voice reveal himself.

It was LASLO, of all beings!

He was armed with a shot gun, which he clearly intended to use on anybody who messed with me or him, along with an arsenal of spare bullets he wore on top of his Bean Scout uniform. He beckoned me with a paw, and I quickly ran to his side while he continued to threaten the agents with the shotgun. You know the Phil Ochs album Gunfight at Carnegie Hall? It looked a bit like the cover of that, except I didn’t look nearly as helpless as the girl on the cover of that does. Mainly ’cause I was giving ’em with the finger with both hands!

Shame on you!” Laslo said in his plain, typically straightforward speaking voice, as if he were a teacher catching big students bullying small ones. “I’ve known Patsy for years, and she’d never hurt anybody on purpose! Now, why don’t you just go away and go back to whatever it was you were doing before…”

At this point, a guy tried to grab my hand from behind, and I cried out in pain. Laslo whipped around and shot the guy in his hand. I had never seen this side of him before- but I liked it!

“Don’t TOUCH her!” he warned him- and everyone else. “She’s not YOURS!”

“Right,” said a wiseacre in the crowd. “’ I know exactly why that is, boy! It’s ’cause you want to fuck her, huh? Well, you can have her!”

Laslo was appalled when he heard the “f” word associated with himself and myself. It was written on his face, completely. He’s not very smart about every little thing in the world, but he knows when I’ve been insulted. Not to mention him.

“Who said that?” he blazed angrily. “WHO?”

The offender was found in the crowd, and put directly in the path of Laslo’s gun.

Sir,” he said sternly, “I don’t know what the word “fuck” means, but it sounds completely disgusting! I have no intention of ever hurting Patsy like that- because I respect her!”

Laslo, Laslo, Laslo. If you only knew how much I want to fuck you

“You lousy son of a motherfucking PIPE-SMOKING LUNATIC!” said the man. “I’m gonna fucking kill you and your butt-faced mate for SURE for THAT one!”

These particularly racist insults prompted Laslo to shoot him right in the chest. The particularly racist man who said them fell back on the ground, gasping for air that was rapidly escaping him. Then he died.

“Anyone else want what I did to him?” Laslo demanded. “Or, are you willing to let Patsy and I go UNMOLESTED?”

Silence.

“Then leave,” he demanded. “NOW!”

That they did, leaving him and me alone. Nothing and nobody between us.

At last!

“How did you know I was here, pal?” I asked. “I mean, I didn’t say anything to anybody about me coming here except my unit…”

“I didn’t,” he said. “I was here for something different.”

Pause. He can get real dumb sometimes.

“Which was?” I prompted.

“Oh, right. Well, my unit kind of came across some rather compromising pictures of the CRA girls before they joined up that the CIA had posted on the Internet….”

“Compromising? You mean like….?”

“Yeah. And a lot of the guys in the unit really like them. I mean, really…”

“Laslo, I know what guys are like. Including you. They were jerking off to those contraband photos, and you, being you, took umbrage. You said you were going to go to the CRA to get them to take ’em down- and here you came.”

“That’s right, Patsy!” he said, like I was some sort of psychic. “I just threw a bomb into their Internet monitoring room. Those photos should be down now.”

“Along with everything else on the Internet, I imagine,” I mused humorously. “You know why I was here?”

“Why?” he asked.

So I told him just what I have you just now, and, as I went into the details of my dramatic escape and near recapture, his mouth gaped wide. I usually stun with what I do or what I say I do. Like I do with most ’toon guys. Little gift I have.

“And then you came along.” I finished dreamily, hoping he’d kiss me. But, as usual, he didn’t get it.

RRRRRRR…..

We were interrupted, however, by a loud blaring siren and a flashing red light that came out of nowhere.

“Crap!” I shouted. “They’re getting reinforcements together. Where the hell’s the front door to this place?”

“Over there!” he said, pointing.

Sure enough, there was the front door. Unguarded. Nothing there to stop or hurt us.

So we went out of it, paw in paw- into freedom.

What? You were expecting something more dramatic? That was what happened! Really!

Of course, if you want me to, I could tell ya some more. Like about the time me and my gang were cornered by the U.S. Army on a picnic, and we only had butter knives and dessert forks to…

SOME OTHER TIME? I give you the best story you’re ever gonna get out of any of these goddamn “oral history” interviews, and you say some other time? Well, see if I ever tell you another one of my battle scarred stories, you ham-faced….No! Don’t bother following me out the door, pal! You can suck it, hear me? SUCK IT!!!

ACT FIVE:

GONE TO THE DOGS

8:00 PM EST, Jun.1, 2050.

CAPT. P. PUPPY:

Well, it hadn’t actually begun as a good day for me, so that kind of explains why I wasn’t all Disney happy during most of it. However, since most Disney characters that I know aren’t Disney happy nowadays anyway, that’s all par for the course, isn’t it?

Trust me on this, though. If they had actually asked me to co-ordinate the damn thing, it would have run a whole lot better. I mean, abandoning me to fend for myself- alone- in a Canadian city whose name I needed to read over a couple of times to make sure I was saying it right, while at least a few of my confederates couldn’t help me because they’d clearly been playing Good Time Charlie with the local home brew. Pardon my French, but what the hell were they THINKING?

Yes, I am mad about it, if you hadn’t gathered that already. But it wasn’t supposed to be. You know those old black-and-white comedies from England? Made in the ’50s? From Ealing Studios? The Lavender Hill Mob and so forth? You do? Well, thank God somebody does. After what I went through….

What I mean is that, in that flick, Alec Guinness gets lured into what he becomes convinced is a sure fire moneymaking scheme, but he and Stanley Holloway, who convinces him of the moneymaking value of the proposition, end up being chased all over London by the cops because the moneymaking scheme is counterfeiting gold. Now, not that any of my colleagues were or are as shady as Stanley Holloway was in that movie, but this was pretty much what happened. Substitute me for Alec Guinness, and Winnipeg for London, and you have it- cold.

Anyway, to be fair, I should tell you the whole story. I mean, that’s what you want from me, right? Yeah! I thought so! Takes more to fool ol’ Double P than you think, buddy. You’ll find that out soon enough….

*

It all started when I got a Twat on my LoganBerry from Ralph and Mitzy, my old buddies and the ringleaders of this whole affaire du crime. They were, it seems, planning a ’do for all the CRA members who were of the canine persuasion who could make themselves available. The catch was, it was in a place I had never heard of before.

“Emerson?” I twitted back. “Where is that?”

“Manitoba,” they said. “It’s in Canada. Dead in the center.”

“I don’t get it”, from me. “You mean like the Arctic or something?”

“CANADA, you PUTZ! Don’t you know any goddamn geography? For crying out loud!”

It must have been Mitzy writing, ’cause she’s the one of the two of them more likely to use that kind of language. She’s nearly fluent in it. Evidently being a spy means you gotta know every little word and phrase that….but that’s neither here nor there. You’ll catch on what I mean later in the story.

“Aha,” I twatted. “Manitoba. Now I remember. I’m in California now, so how do I….?”

“Go to a computer. Look for Canada on Goggle Maps. You’ll find it easy.”

“Okay. So when is it?”

“One week. Not before, not after. You in?”

I sighed, thought over my options, and twitted back:

“Yes.”

*

To be honest, I didn’t have a lot going for me at the time, so I was glad for the chance to change scenes. I hadn’t had much going for me since I quit my old job, and didn’t really get back into the job until I joined the CRA. They don’t pay you anything, since we ’toons have difficulty depositing and handling human money as it is, but they give you the feeling of being part of a big family, albeit a rather dysfunctional one. I like that- especially since I never had one to start with.

Like most ’toons, I was created rather than born. And, if you are created without a family at the start, as they say, you never get one. Of course, it could be worse. Much worse. The show I came from was based on a video game, if you can believe it. Those people have even less when it comes to inner worlds than we do, when you think about it.

Anyhow, I did my time as best as I could playing straight man to a goddamn idiot of a worm who somehow turned into a superhero when he lucked into an artificial suit that made him a hero. That was basically it. Whadaya want from us- Shakespeare? Some of us have the kind of training for that kind of job, but do they ever ask us if we’d like to do it? No, sir! Always with the goddamn slapstick….

Yeah. Sorry. We ’toons have this problem in our speech with going off on tangents when you least expect it. You probably are pretty familiar with that by now. Yeah- I thought so.

Regarding my old acquaintance, I’ll admit that Jim and I had some good times, but that was then and this is now. Eventually, we parted, which was something inevitable considering how much both of us had changed. I’d grown (mentally, seeing as my body doesn’t take up too much space) and he hadn’t. Worms don’t have much in the way of brains, and Jim had even less than the average worm. He was still convinced we were hot stuff after Universal fired us, but I knew the truth. What happened was that I had to pawn the suit to get money to pay our rent for that month. He was mad as piss when he found out, and, even though he couldn’t do anything to me without the suit, the fucking ungrateful invertebrate attacked me! He acted like he was a snake or something and tried to wrap himself around my neck, but he never got that far. I got him off me easy, told him to go to hell (among other far less printable things), and left behind that whole experience. Physically, it was over and done, but I still have the nightmares once in a while. A sidekick’s lot is not a happy one sometimes, but it was still preferable to what was to happen to me in Winnipeg.

You would think that my experience would be enough to get me some sort of job, in my old field or another. I mean, I was sure that the skills that I acquired while being attacked and abducted all the damn time would be enough to even get me an interview with another hero or group of heroes. But no. N-O. Everybody I tried already had a sidekick, or didn’t “do” that worn out old cliché anymore. Evidently, today’s more progressive superhero types no longer need the easy convenience of having someone with their back along for the ride, let alone the secure vehicle for processing and responding to very deep psychological confession that the best of us are able to possess. As for something outside the field, in a bank or the tech sector or what have you- yeah, right! Maybe if I was a human ’toon, I could pass for normal and blend in. To a certain extent, of course- humans are generally tolerant of minorities in particular jobs, but only just so much, and then the humans have a decided edge over us animals. I found this out the hard way when I was busily trying to find other ways of earning my daily bread, so to speak. Most of the time when I went out to do something about my predicament, even when I tried to go on welfare, the very minute I started to walk through the door, those incredibly insensitive human bastards would start screaming or fainting, and then somebody else would grab a broom or something and chase me out. They must’ve thought I was gonna shit on the floor or something like that. The usual bigoted attitudes we have to deal with, even those of us who aren’t ’toons. I can assure you that most of us ’toon dogs know how to use the CAN as something other than a fucking water fountain- including ME!

Bitter? Do I sound BITTER to you? Of course I’m bitter! Try, for once in your life, to think about being able to think, act and reason like a man, but being STUCK inside a body that makes you, in effect, a supposedly “dumb” ANIMAL! Do you know how hard it is to live as an animal ’toon, and especially as a dog? Especially all that RACIST “who’s a good boy” SHIT we have to deal with? I swear, the next guy who says any of that crap to me, I am so going to bite him in his lousy, liberal hypocritical THROAT ’til he has to BEG me to stop….

What? Calm down?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I’m sorry. I just don’t have a lot of chances to vent to somebody who actually understands what I have to go through, you know? Let me have some water and then I’ll get back to talking. It’s just hard for me to get through all of it at once, you understand.

*

Somehow or another, even though unemployment had left me out of the loop, I got word about the CRA. Since, as I said, I wasn’t actually doing anything at the moment I found out about it, I went in and applied. I took the oath, paid for my rank, and I was in. No special treatment or perks or what have you- at least not immediately. But I liked actually being somewhere where I belonged, for once.

Most of the ’toon dogs who’ve been created are in the CRA, and dogs are pretty clannish, seeing as how we’ve been genetically programmed to run as a pack from day one. I felt right at home immediately with them, but more with some than others, as I’ll explain.

Anyway, we’d had a few informal get-togethers in the past, kinda like your average college kegger in terms of social and moral tone, and I figured that that was what was going to be going on in Emerson.

I was wrong. Completely.

*

I took the train from L.A. to Chicago and then a Greyhound (no jokes, pal!) to Minneapolis. From there, I rented a car and drove up north. Now, I had heard Canadian customs officers are a bit less ruthless than their American counterparts, but I must have got them on a bad day. Not only did they make me take off my shirt, pants and underwear, and then stick a pole up my ass, but I also had to put up with one of the female cops fawning over my “cute little dick.” Really! You think they’d do that to me if I was a white, human guy?

Eventually, they sent me on my way- minus my dignity and about $300 American. Some sort of “tourist tax”, they said. I’ll bet they made that up. So I wasn’t in the best of moods when I arrived at what appeared to be the only hotel in Emerson, Manitoba.

Oh, yes, they said. You’re with the DOG party, aren’t you? Arf, arf! Well, we don’t have enough beds for all of you to have a room, so you’re gonna have to double up with somebody. Okay? O-kay!

Typical human racist shit. Obviously, that crap transcends national boundaries. Fortunately, there are dissenters who like and help us. You, for example….

In any event, I was not given a key because my “roommate” already had it. Alas, the door was locked, so I knocked to get the attention of whoever was there.

“Go away!” said the occupant. “I’m NAPPING!”

Could my day get any worse? Yes, it could.

My roommate was Dudley Puppy (NO RELATION!), one of the more recent creations of the TV animation puppy mill from which I also sprung earlier. If you’ve seen his show, and I know you, for sure, have, you know what a total Looney Tunes idiot he is. He has some good qualities, sure, but they’re buried so deep in his innate stupidity you can hardly find them. For some reason, he takes a quite a shine to me, as he believes we’re related, when, as I have said before, we’re not. Also, sorry to disappoint you fans of Messrs. Cook and Moore who think we’re like them, too- nothing like that going on from my end, anyway, though he seems to like the idea of it all. Like he would.

I took a deep breath, and said:

“Dudley, it’s me. Peter. You know, from before, at the other events. Open the door, would ya? I gotta share this place with you tonight….”

“Peter who?”

“Peter PUPPY, you dick!”

No, you’re not!”

“Dudley, I think I would know if I wasn’t who I claim to be, and I seriously don’t have any patience for you bullshitting me like this! If you don’t open the goddamn door right now…”

“Hang on! If you’re really Peter, you’ll know the password!”

“Dudley, I….”

“NO! We HAVE to do it! You could be one of my old enemies in disguise!”

“You know damn well that all of your old enemies are dead or in prison now….”

“No! I can’t take any risks here! You have to prove to me that you are the real Peter!”

I threw up my paws, in a show of frustration, although it was impossible for him to see that behind the closed door.

“Fine,” I said without any passion in my voice, humoring him. “For all I know, my body could’ve been invading by one of those scummy alien types who used to kidnap me, couldn’t it? Very well, Dud. I’ll play this game with you.”

“Okay. What comes after these lines?”

And he started singing:

Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine, you know you just don’t treat me right…

Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine, you know you just don’t treat me right…

“You like to ball in the morning and stay out late at night,” I growled tonelessly. Thank God I knew what the damn song was!

He undid the lock of the door and greeted me enthusiastically, in his all of his white furred, giant chested, black turtle-necked, pants-less glory. It takes about five of me to make one of him, and that point was reiterated to me when he nearly broke my back with one of his damnable hugs.

Once I got back my breath, I growled at him for doing that.

“What happened to you?” he said. “You’re usually a ton more upbeat!”

“Let’s just say I had some unpleasantness at the border…” I began.

“Ours or theirs?” he asked.

“Theirs,” I said, ruefully.

“Oh, yeah. They actually wanted me to take off my SHIRT when they made me get out of the car! Like this…”

“NO!” I roared. “For God’s sake, don’t get NAKED in front of me! You SUCK at being naked!”

“I wasn’t gonna take it off now, ya tool! You think I’m GAY or something? You got a hard-on for me? Is THAT it? ”

“Lower your voice,” I said, sotto voce.

“WHAT?” he shouted.

“LOWER YOUR GODDAMN VOICE!” I bellowed back.

Somebody knocked on the opposite wall, evidently displeased at me making noise.

“You really should keep it down, man,” said Dudley. “It’s late.”

“Never mind that,” I said, preparing to grill him for information. “What happened to the party?”

“The party?” He cocked his head in confusion, like usual. “Whadaya mean?”

“The party, you dumb mutt! You know, the one Ralph and Mitzy invited us to….”

“Oh,” he said, processing it through his small mind. “Ah, yeah. That.”

“Well, what about it?” I prompted impatiently.

“It’s…not actually a party,” he admitted, in an usually subdued and evasive tone of voice.

“Then what is it?” I demanded.

He hesitated a bit, and then said:

“Fine. You wanna know?”

“Of course I wanna know!” I insisted. “Out with it!”

“You heard of that “Idle No More” stuff the Native people have been doing up here for a while?” Dudley asked me, with unusual intelligence in his voice.

“Uh huh,” I said. I was aware of this group, but only vaguely. Still, I often give the impression of being smarter than I look, and that was true here, as well.

“Well…”, Dudley continued, “…Ralph and Mitzy thought it’d be cool if the CRA did one of those things. They couldn’t get the whole CRA to agree to do it, though, so they decided to just ask the dogs. Problem is, they phrased it wrong, and most of us got lured here under false pretenses. A lot of them were pissed off about being duped and barked the sky blue, but a few of us were still interested in doing it. Ralph and Mitzy and the others are in Winnipeg prepping, but I said I’d stay here unless someone else showed up and wanted in. Lo and behold…”

“Okay,” I interrupted. “What’s the gig?”

“Well, you know how the Winnipeg Drones are playing for the Stanley Cup this week?”

“No,” I interjected, speaking as a non-sports fan. “I didn’t.”

“Well, when they bring the Cup down to ice level just before the game ends, we’re gonna steal it.”

What?” I shouted. This was the stupidest thing I had ever heard of. What the hell was the CRA gonna do with the Stanley Cup. Melt it down for bullets? I fully intended to let Dudley know I wanted nothing further to do with this rather ill-conceived, much under-thought enterprise.

However, my cry had caused another, louder knock from the other room, which interrupted me mid-rant.

“GO SUCK ON A LEMON!” I bellowed at the source of the knock. Apparently, the loudness of my voice and the clearness of my threat were enough to make the other person back off, which is how I intended it to be.

Then I returned to Dudley.

“What possible purpose could stealing the Stanley Cup serve the CRA?” I asked, quieter this time. “I mean, it’s not like there are other things we could be doing to help the cause…”

“It’ll get the CRA some good publicity, for one thing. You know those push-button U.S. newspapers don’t cut us any slack. Like we’re a bunch of no-good TERRORISTS or something! If we do something big in Canada, they’ll have to notice us, ’cause their media makes a big deal out of everything that happens here. Especially if it happens to do with hockey, which they’re just plain nuts about.”

“Who came up with the idea for this?” I sputtered incredulously.

“It really just came out of a bull session among all of us…” Dudley explained.

“And who is “us”?”

“Me, Ralph, Mitzy, Brian…”

“I’ll bet it was Brian!” I muttered to myself. “The lush!”

“Cadpig and Bright Eyes.”

“Wait a minute. Did you say Bright Eyes?”

“Yeah!” Dudley said. “Why….oh, ho HO!” This last phrase was accompanied by a knowing wink and a nudge to my ribs, both of which I viewed suspiciously.

What?” I snapped, defensively.

“You got a crush on Bright Eyes!”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “But who else would I have a crush on in that group? Ralph and Mitzy are tight, and as for Brian and Cadpig, they’ve been pretty much going ever since Orthicon….”

“Not so much now. They’re going through one of their Liz and Dick things. Real nasty.”

I sighed. That would be difficult to manage, especially if I had to be pressed into service as a relationship counselor. I tried it once, and let’s just say it didn’t work out all that well.

“So, are you in, or not?” Dudley insisted.

“If Bright’s in, I’m in. I don’t want her getting hurt on account of you guys. She’s too good for the lot of you. Now, can we go to bed now? I need a goddamn rest!”

“You said it, buddy,” Dudley yawned, loudly. “I need some shuteye, too.”

So we went to bed. Nothing more to say there. Until….

*

We got up and going a few hours later, when Dudley gave me the kind courtesy of a wake-up call. Via an air horn he inserted halfway up one of my auditory canals! Fearing the worst- a U.S. government drone strike, perhaps?- I sat bolt upright and panicked. Only to see Dudley, up and fully dressed (by his pants-less standards, remember), preening down at me from the Olympian heights of Mount Moron.

“Wake up, little buddy!” he said.

I took exception to him calling to me that, and showed it by getting out of bed, going over to him, and slapping him as far up his face as I could reach.

“AAH!” he shouted in pain. “What the hell….?”

“You woke me up with a goddamn AIR HORN, and you compared me to that moronic human idiot Gilligan, that’s what the hell!”

The guy in the next room started banging on the wall again, so I loudly instructed him to perform a seemingly impossible sexual act on himself, and then returned my attention to Dudley.

“Look, man!” he said to me. “I wasn’t trying to insult you or anything….”

“You weren’t?” I said, sarcastically.

“I got a lot of trouble relating to other dogs, okay? All the other characters on my show weren’t. You know what I mean?”

I had the same problem, Dud!” I opened my suitcase and threw a spare set of clothes on, hoping he wouldn’t notice I had insulted him by calling him that insulting diminutive of his name. “But I learned. Hopefully, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.”

“Well, I just learned one thing about you.”

“What’s that?”

You are not a morning person! That is BAD in my line of work!”

“Oh, is it?” I growled back as I closed my suitcase, resisting a desire to throw it at him. “I didn’t think you needed to be a morning person in order to be an INCONSIDERATE JERK!”

That did it, as far as he was concerned, for his normal joviality was suddenly replaced in his eyes by enraged menace.

Boy,” he growled as he laid a fisted paw against a palm, “I will SMACK YOU DOWN if you call me that AGAIN!”

I knew that, for sure. One of his “Puppy Punches” had the capacity to permanently separate me from my backbone. So I tried to kiss and make up.

“Dudley, I’m sorry,” I said, contritely. “I didn’t…”

“Oh, I don’t mind, really,” he said, shifting back to his old persona. “I’ve been called worse. Even by my so-called FRIENDS sometimes! But you just gotta roll with it. Besides, we haven’t had our first coffees of the day yet, so I can understand you being an ass after you just got up.”

“You’re right,” I said. “How long is it until we get to….?”

“Not too long. If we floor it, we can get there in under thirty….”

I suddenly remembered what a horrible and reckless driver Dudley was. The thought of driving with him, even in separate cars, even just for the short time it would take us to get to Winnipeg, made me faint.

*

“WAKE UP, Pete!”

Dudley woke me up a few minutes after I went down for the count. We were in his car, he was driving it at break-neck speed, and I was riding shotgun. Just like I had feared.

“You all right?” he asked me. “I mean, you kinda blacked out back there, and I had to carry you out. Don’t worry- I put your bags in back with mine in the trunk.”

“What happened to the car I came in?”

“I torched it.”

“You torched…..That was a RENTAL!”

“So is this one. You and I were going to the same place, anyhow. Why you use two when you only need one?”

“Yeah, but….”

I was going to explain to him about the legal trouble I was going to potentially be in back home for him burning my rental car, but, at that point, he turned the car into an abrupt stop. If I hadn’t been buckled into my seat, I would’ve been thrown through the windshield.

“What the hell was that?” I exclaimed.

“We’re here, man!”

He pointed at our intended destination, a big castle plunked down into the center of what was obviously downtown Winnipeg. At least, I thought it was a castle.

“What is that?” I said, pointing to it.

“And you said I was dumb!” Dudley scoffed. “That’s the Hotel Fort Garry, man! Winnipeg’s version of the Waldorf!”

“I imagine it’s probably as expensive as the Waldorf,” I cracked.

“Yeah, but we aren’t paying for it.”

“Huh?”

“Brian got his moneybags creator to pony up all the cash we would need to pull the job. Good thing he’s still got his connections, ’cause none of the rest of us can get cash out of ours- even if we earned it. You know what I mean?”

“Darn right I know! Let’s go in and eat!” Now that I wouldn’t have to pay for anything, I was suddenly feeling a lot better about the whole deal.

“We finally agree on something,” Dudley mused.

We walked up the stairs of the hotel, presuming that, as soon as we got in the door of the dining room or wherever it was they ate in that place, we’d be embraced by our pals, and it’d be old home week.

No such luck.

I could see it as soon as we got towards the dining room, but it took Dudley longer to make the connection. Evidently, some beings resembling us (our pals?) had tried to get into that room earlier that day because, I swear to God, somebody SHOT at me! Now, since I’m a ’toon, the bullet sailed through me with no damage done, but it was a bad omen. Another floated past Dudley’s head and nicked his ear, causing both of us to turn around. There was the local SWAT team, surrounding us and telling us “fucking dogs” to get out of there if we didn’t want to die.

“No, you fucking DON’T!” Dudley snarled, enraged. “Pete and I are gonna kick your fucking ASSES if you don’t GET LOST!”

As if to act on his threats, and with a death grip on my body, we got in there with the cops, and scuffled with ’em right on that fancy hotel floor. Somehow or other, though, the two of us got tossed out of the place, and halfway down the street, besides.

“That was weak!” Dudley said when we hit the ground. “How come you didn’t change, man? We would’ve won!”

“Change?”

“Yeah. On your show, you used’ta do this whole Incredible Hulk thing when you got hurt….”

“That was my character, Dudley- not me.”

“Well, you coulda told me that!”

We were going to argue this further, but then Dudley’s cell phone rang.

“Y’ello?” he said. “Yeah, I’m here…Of course I brought Pete with me. Where the hell are you guys? We went into the hotel and the cops clobbered us….Uh-huh….City ordinances and by-laws, huh?....Well, what are we gonna do about food?.....Whadaya mean, is that all I think about? You listen here, Miss Mitzy: I think…..Okay, sorry, Ma’am! Sorry! Don’t bust my balls, please! DON’T BUST MY BALLS……Right…Man up…..Okay. So where we gonna meet you?....WHAT?....They won’t let us stay ANYWHERE in this town? Bunch of goddamn FASCISTS….Okay, so where….Kildonan Park? Where is that from the hotel?....Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah. Right. Talk to ya soon.”

He hung up and turned to me.

“Bad news, chum,” he said. “This town’s creep of a mayor put down some laws saying any ’toons have to have proof they’re human to be considered citizens under the law.”

“Where does that leave us dogs?”

“Only one step ahead of their Humane Society.”

“And that is?”

“That’s Canadianese for dog catcher.”

“Oh.”

“Point is, we got to sleep in the park tonight. That shouldn’t be too bad.”

“Not if you like that thing,” I said sarcastically to myself. I wasn’t going to risk upsetting Dudley again, ’cause I knew that he did.

*

Eventually, after twisting and turning our way through the pothole-ridden streets of Winnipeg, we finally made it to Kildonan Park. It was a lot bigger than I expected, with a front gate and everything, and we actually got lost in it before we finally found the gang. Not surprisingly, it was near a “dogs must be on leash at all times” type sign that had been thoroughly moistened with their urine.

Ralph and Mitzy, with their still keen eyesight, saw and spotted us first. Him with his white-furred, Lincoln-esque stolidity, her in all her deceptively, overly pink-furred, red-bowed feminine glory, the curves concealing well-exercised muscles that can punch your lights out in a second. Just like always. What was different was that they were both wearing shirts that seemed to have a U.S. Air Force decal ironed on to their fronts.

“What is that?” I said, pointing to their shirts, once we greeted each other.

“Camouflage,” said Ralph, as if that explained everything.

“How is that….?”

“It’s so we look like the LOCALS, dumbass!” retorted Mitzy.

“How is it….?” I persisted.

“Look,” Mitzy said, pulling me so close to her chest that I could’ve been sucking her teats for all some stranger knew- mostly ’cause she’s only slightly bigger than me. “What is on my chest?”

“An….airplane?”

“NO!” She released the grip she had on my paw and threw me ass over teakettle on the ground. “It’s a DRONE!”

“Oh,” I said, dazed. “Right. The hockey team.”

D-uh. Of course it’s the hockey team, you little runt! Do you know how goddamn HARD it was to get this crap in the first place? Do you know what Ralph and I….?”

Ralph, at this point, inserted himself between her and me to prevent further damage being done.

“For God’s sake, Mitz’!” he snapped at her. “Cut it out!”

“Out of my way- or I’ll do it to you!” she snarled back. “I can even do it to HIM if I wanna!”

She pointed at Dudley as she said the last line. The laser-like way her eyes bore into his sent him scurrying down the nearest pedestrian walking path, screaming.

Ralph, meanwhile, further signaled his displeasure with Mitzy by slapping her-hard-in the face. Normally, he’s far too nice a guy to even think about doing something like that, but she really must’ve pushed his buttons before I arrived for her to deserve that. The two of them have been together for quite awhile-their show goes back to the ’90s, after all-and she has this thick as a brick Napoleon complex due to her lack of height, and something like this was probably the only non-verbal way for him to get her attention. Not that she seemed to like it any.

She displayed her displeasure at this by throwing a punch back at him, which, because she was for some reason lacking her usual sterling physical and mental conditioning, he easily dodged.

“How DARE you take a swing at me!” Mitzy blazed at him. “YOU! After all we’ve been through together…”

“Knock it off, okay?” Ralph responded, unmoved. “You’re drunk! Anybody can whip your tar when you’re drunk- even me. So lay off everybody ’til you get sober!”

He pointed off in the direction of whence Dudley had run after she stared at him. She gave Ralph a mean and evil “I will break you for this” look, and then galumphed off.

Ralph, meanwhile, tended to me.

“Sorry, Peter,” he said to me as he helped me up. “You came at a bad time.”

I’ll say I did!” I answered. “I mean, Mitzy- drunk? I always figured her for the Lemonade Lucy type.”

“Normally, yeah. But Brian got to her.”

“Figures. What happened?”

“He bet her that he could out-drink her. If he won, he got to have his way with her. I didn’t like that, of course, but what could I do? Their bet, their rules.”

“And if she won? Which I’m presuming she did?”

“She wanted to make him pay for insulting her. Literally. And for the cost of the beer. Fitting, considering we bought it! Anyway, once it was clear she had won, she started kicking the crap out of him. Real bad. Even when the rest of us said he’d had enough, she still went on. Finally, me and Bright did the sideways eyes things and teamed up to get her off of him. Pitiful, really. He’s been sleeping it off most of the time after that, but he should be better by the time we have to go through with this fool’s errand of a job.”

You think this is a fool’s errand?’

“Uh, yeah! I only went along with it ‘caused Mitz’ and Brian are both so jonesed about it, and it wouldn’t do to upset either of them by putting my paw down on it. I also think he’s trying to steal Mitz’ from me. That whole butt-kicking routine looked a bit too staged for my liking.”

“Personally, I agree with you on this whole idea. Just don’t tell Dud, ’cause he’s way in on it, you know?”

“Got it.”

“But why would Brian want to start schtupping Mitzy all of a sudden? I mean, aren’t he and Cadpig….?”

“Aren’t we WHAT?”

I nearly jumped out of my pants at that line, but then I turned around and there was Cadpig, wearing what looked like a baby T version of the Winnipeg Drones shirt Ralph and Mitzy were wearing. As you well know, she is the tiniest living cartoon Dalmatian in existence, owing that she was created as a runty, long-eared puppy, but don’t dare call her that to her face. Somehow, even though she doesn’t seem to have the equipment for it, in my opinion, she has had a number of passionate lovers over her existence. Brian and her have had an on and off thing going since Orthicon, but she also seems to be always on the hunt for newer and more compliant boy toys, it seems. I got that impression from the way that she was looking at me at that moment.

“Peeee…..ter!” she drawled, in her deceptively innocent, sugar-coated, drawling, New Age accented voice. “How are you?”

“Uh….fine,” I stammered. “And you?”

“Oh, well enough- if you can call our canine experience living! Especially considering how well I manage to deal with HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS preening around!”

“You mean….Brian?”

“Of course I mean Brian, you dope! I have tried, with all my best intentions, to introduce him to the finer things in life, but he seems to prefer drinking like an Irishman and chasing down every human woman he sees! Yahhh! How can I compete with that? My body’s too fragile to handle alcohol, and I certainly don’t have the boobs or legs to compete with those human WHORES!”

“You don’t have to, Cad,” I tried to reassure her. “You always light up a place just coming into the room and raising your voice.”

“Awww,” she drawled again. “Aren’t you considerate? Listen, Peter. If we get out of this thing alive, I am seriously considering you as future boyfriend material…”

“Really? I….”

A loud, wordless moan was heard on the other side of the grassy plain we were standing on.

“Oh!” Cad uttered with surprise. “It appears that RAY MILLAND over there has found the little “gift” I left on his face. I’d better go stoically take my medicine. Ta ta!”

She grinned in shit eating fashion and walked off. No sooner had I walked away from her, then:

“Hi, Pete!”

Bright Eyes!

Now, a tall, yellow furred dog in a demure green dress, and a human-like tuft of hair on top of her head might not be your cup of tea romance wise, but, for me, she is the one and only girl I want to be for the rest of my miserable, elongated existence. The trick is, how was I gonna tell her that? Especially when I kept turning into a stuttering zombie every time I tried to talk to her alone, like I did back then.

“H….h…h…..hi, Bright Eyes!” I stammered nervously. If dogs could actually sweat, there would be perspiration coming out of all of my pores.

“So,” she said, a little awkwardly, “you wanted in on this, too?”

“Yeah. Only I thought it was going to be one of the usual keggers, y’know? I totally got tricked!”

“They tricked everybody, Pete. Ralph and Mitzy and Brian and Cadpig. They said they were just going to have a party, but instead, they just wanted a few brave pups to help them do what those crazy Chechnian guys did in Boston a few years back. They said it was for the CRA, but I think it was really to pump up their flabby, flaccid egos, since none of them have had too much real action in a while, even by being part of the CRA. Why, I was so mad that I went in where they were all staying the night and verbally tore a strip out of all of them!”

“I never figured you for that kind, Bright.”

“Well, I can do it,” she pouted. “And I’m sure if Cooler were still with us, he’d agree with me about this whole thing. Only he’d actually have the guts to cuss at them. Unlike me.”

“I’m sorry about Cooler,” I said, with genuine sympathy. “That was a huge loss to all of us ’toon dogs when he went. Not just you and your bunch.”

“Thanks,” she said, tears starting to form in her eyes.

Cooler, in addition to being her co-conspirator in the pro-dog Pound Puppy movement and later in the CRA, had been her main squeeze. That is, until some human punks cornered him in a back alley in L.A. one night and senselessly burned him to death. Stern warning to all of us ’toons, obviously, but we ’toon dogs felt the lost more grievously, as you might expect.

“To be honest, Bright,” I said, “I think this whole thing is nuts, too. But we’ll have to go through with it, now. Especially now that Dudley’s involved. Five against two is no fair fight, no matter how strong the two may be.”

“I know, Pete. And they complemented me so well on my tongue lashing that they figured that they could use me, after all. I felt grateful, if only for a little while. But the whole idea is so STUPID!”

She kicked a nearby tree in anger- and promptly injured her foot.

“DAMN IT!”

Shocked at what she had just said, she abruptly covered her mouth.

“Whoa!” I said. “Bright! You okay?”

“No, Pete!” she started sobbing. “I SWORE!”

“Come on, Bright! Relax. Everyone swears once in a while.”

“Everyone?” She was genuinely puzzled.

Keep in mind that her show was on back in the 1980s- the Dark Ages of sugary sweet, corporate funded TV animation. In those days, the directors used to have to go all Guantanamo on the ’toons if they didn’t read the lines just right or do the bit of business they should be doing the “right” way. Granted, the stuff they were doing back then was crap on a purely dramatic level, but the ’toons got hit harder than other actors in the TV sector because they were literally the lowest of the low in those days. One day, Bright got caught innocently mimicking a profane word a PA had uttered on the set- she was more naïve in those days, not like now- and they went and beat the shit out of her for it. Since then, she’s always been afraid the world will come to an end if she swears. I try to watch my own words ’cause of that when I’m around her. The rest of us- not so much.

“Yeah,” I repeated. “Everyone. Even me. Never around you, though.”

“I’m glad somebody around here has a HEART!” she said, affectionately.

We were actually going to embrace, when:

“AAAAAH! Get away from me!”

Dudley!

He rushed past us, followed by Mitzy bellowing profanely at him for “accidentally” grabbing her tail in the woods, followed by Ralph desperately trying to keep the peace. Meanwhile, from the other corner of the Park, Brian and Cadpig were taking turns griping and growling at each other, and they caught up in the maelstrom, too. Bright and I were suddenly surrounded by them, like Caucasians by Native people on the warpath in an old-school Western movie. It was damn near as loud.

I persuaded Bright to throw me out above the melee into a nearby garbage can, and, her being her, she agreed. I landed at the can, and, once I got my bearings, I turned it on its side and rolled it down towards the Circle of Hell I had escaped. Bright, knowing what was going on, got out of the way, but the others didn’t, and so, since the can was full and made of metal besides, it made a loud CRASH when it knocked down the runners in their tracks. That was enough to throw everyone except me and Bright off of their game, which was all we needed.

“All right, you lousy bum biters,” I snapped at the assemblage, doing my best impression of your typical U.S. Army DI. “Listen and listen GOOD! Bright Eyes and I have had just ENOUGH of your cowboy carrying-on! You said you wanted to strike fear and terror into the hearts and minds of the humans! FEH! You can’t even strike fear and terror into your fellow DOGS! We have a good mind to turn you into the cops and tell ’em what you were trying to do. Only they wouldn’t BELIEVE us, no doubt, and might even try to collar US instead!”

“You should be ASHAMED of yourselves!” added Bright. “The CRA is supposed to be about how showing the human beings how worthy we are of their respect! How we can possibly do that when you always act so ABNORMALLY?”

They had all gotten back on their feet at this point, and Brian, our most loquacious friend, took this as his cue to strike back.

“Hah!” he smirked. “Listen to the chick from the Eighties tell us we’re “abnormal”. The whole damn DECADE you came from was abnormal….”

“That wasn’t my FAULT!” Bright cut in, defensively.

“…so don’t tell us about being ABNORMAL!” Brian continued, ignoring her interruption. “No dog who dresses like a human being can say they’re “normal”, anyhow!”

“What the hell do you mean by THAT?” I blazed ferociously. “I dress like a human, and I’m still as much of a dog as ANY of you! She is, too, for that matter. Both of us are more of a dog than you, MR. FAT ASS DRUNKARD!”

Brian cursed under his breath, opened the trash bag inside the disheveled can, and retrieved a beer bottle. He smashed it onto the ground and retrieved a jagged piece of glass, which he seemed intent on using as a shiv against me. He was about to run at me when Mitzy piped up:

“PUT THAT DOWN!”

“You stay out of this….” Brian began.

“She said PUT IT DOWN!” Cadpig roared.

“I don’t have to take this shit from….”

Put the bottle DOWN!” snapped Bright Eyes.

Evidently, she’d just seen Glengarry Glen Ross, ’cause she said that line exactly the same way Alec Baldwin tells the guy to get away from the coffee in that movie. With even more authority in it than the way he said it. Believe me.

Brian, realizing he was outvoted by the girls, threw the shiv away. Dudley caught it- and ate it.

“Thanks, man,” he said to Brian.

Brian, somewhat stunned, mumbled something about going to get coffee, and walked off.

Ralph, ever the peacemaker, immediately tried to smooth things over.

“Look, everybody,” he said. “I can understand if you don’t want to do this…”

“We’re all still doing this, you moron!” Mitzy snapped. “Right?”

She whirled around, gazing at each of us in turn, her eyes demanding an immediate answer to her (rhetorical) question.

“Uh….Yes?” said Dudley, nervously.

“Girlfriend, please!” said Cadpig confidently. “You know how I feel!”

Bright Eyes and I retained our stolid, frosty expressions from before, crossing our arms for emphasis when Mitzy turned to us.

Well?” she insisted.

“Not unless you take our feelings into consideration,” I said.

For once!” snarled Bright Eyes.

That last shot in particular seemed to suddenly deflate Mitzy. Were those actually tears in her eyes?

“All right!” she said, throwing her paws up in the air. “Look, I’m sorry. Okay? I know I’m a mean drunk, and I try to avoid drinking ’cause of that, but Brian had his mind on fucking me, and I just couldn’t….that was the only reason I…..GOD!” She collapsed into Bright’s arms and embraced her. “God, Bright! I’m horrible! I’m just a lousy DOMINATRIX! Nobody loves me any more except RALPH, and even he….”

“Sssshhh!” Bright responded. “Just let it out, Mitzy. It’s better this way.”

While that was going on, Ralph signaled for me and Dudley to come over towards him.

“Boys,” he said, “I think we’re in over our heads here. But like you said, Peter, we should really take each other’s feelings into consideration on this thing. Mitzy and I laid out a plan, but we can let you guys have a look over it, if you want. I mean, we completely forgot you guys have experience in the hero business, too.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Only not all heroes are created equal. I mean, I was totally out of line back there, considering I’m only just a sidekick….”

“Not in the CRA, you’re not,” said Ralph. “You’re a Captain, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. So is Dudley. But what about….?”

“You already outrank some of us here. Cadpig’s a Lieutenant, and Bright Eyes is a Sergeant. And Brian, for all his superior posturing, is really just a Private, First Class.”

What?” Dudley and I both giggled.

“Yeah,” said Ralph, laughing himself. “He was too much of a tightwad to pay out for a higher rank. By the way, when he said “Seth” was bankrolling us- total lie! Can’t even get him on the phone anymore! Good thing Mitz’ and I had enough from our class action suit against Saban kicking around.”

“What about you and Mitzy, rank wise?” I asked.

“I’m a Major, and I’m technically the guy in charge, okay?” said Ralph, more seriously now. “You do not want to go against me, understand?”

He had his game face on when he said that, so Dudley and I just said we understood.

“Mitzy’s a Captain like you two,” Ralph said after he took a cleansing breath, “so if you get into any trouble with her, and I mean any, tell me.”

“Even if she….ya know?” said Dudley, mimicking a feminine flirt with his face.

“Oh, grow up!” said Ralph. “Neither of you is her type. Now, me….”

“We don’t tell you about our sex lives, do we?” I snapped, insulted.

“Ah….sure,” Ralph said, nervously. “Now, if you want to go over the plans….”

*

Flash forward- the next day. Game time- for the Drones, and for us.

Brian, Dudley and I- we lost the straw draw- were up to our necks in Drones-themed clothing. We had our tickets In hand (so to speak), and were waiting in line with the rest of the ugly, smelly human hockey fans to be admitted into the MTS Centre. Each of us was wearing a wire, the better for us to communicate with the rest of the gang, who were waiting outside in an unmarked van for our cue: the moment when we would first see the Stanley Cup from our nosebleed seats in the upper balcony. Not the best seats in the house, but, considering how much it cost us to get them, better than nothing.

Just after we were admitted- the Drone covered toques, scarves and mittens we wore completely obscured the tell-tale signs of our “race”- Brian made an off-color joke about how drunk he planned on getting. That set me off.

“No!” I said, emphatically.

Jeez, Pete!” Brian retorted, archly. “Lighten up, will ya? It’s a game! And I’m not gonna be the only drunk guy in those stands, y’know!”

“We’re supposed to be doing a job,” I answered. “And considering how fudged you got yesterday, I’m surprised you’re even standing!”

“I had my honor to defend!”

“Oh, sure. Like boozehounds have honor!”

“You little son of a BITCH! I’m gonna smack off your face!”

He would have, but Dudley blocked Brian’s punch with his fulsome chest.

“Ow! God damn it, Puppy!” Brian shouted. (I’m assuming he meant Dudley, not me, but he might have meant both of us.) “What the hell are you….?”

“Brian, quit being a douche, okay?” Dudley chastised him. “Nobody’s filming ya and sending it to FOX anymore, all right? And Peter,” now addressing me, “quit being snippy about every little thing here- or I’ll be the one smacking off your face!”

“Fine,” I sulked. “But let it be known to the two of you that I intend to stay sober during the game. I want to do my job. You two get drunk all you want, but leave me out!”

“They wouldn’t let you buy a beer, anyway- short stuff!” Brian teased me.

“Man, you don’t need to get drunk!” Dudley smacked Brian on the head as we walked to our seats. “You sound drunk when you’re sober!”

And I could have when Ralph and the girls in the van. Lucky bastard!

*

We were let in early, so we had to wait until the game actually started before we could begin our vigil. Or, I should say, I could. Brian and Dudley, predictably, couldn’t stand the wait, so they went to get beers almost as soon as we found the seats. They got me a soda so I wouldn’t feel “left out”, but Brian still cracked wise about it when he gave me the bottle. Naturally, although in total they only add two beers apiece each over the night, they were both soon completely blotto, like they’d had ten times as many. Must be something in that Canadian beer.

Anyway, the game started, the house lights dimmed, and we “ladies and gentlemen” were summarily welcomed, via the PA system, to the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals between “ma moronofunamameha” and “YOUUUUUURRRRR WINNNNNNNNIPEGGGGG DRRRRRROOOOONES!” The crowd, save for the few opposing team fans who’d managed to get in, rose to their feet, and applauded like the sycophantic idiots they were. Brian and Dudley stood cheered along with them, but I managed to restrain myself.

Then came the anthems. Both of them- since the other team was from the U.S.A. I participated in the singing of both since I know ’em both (I have acquaintances in the Canadian end of the animation business who live in Toronto), but mostly in a futile attempt to drown out Brian and Dudley pathetically butchering them. I feel sorry for the guys who wrote the music for those tunes, because they are too pretty to be butchered by guys who can’t carry a tune in anything.

Then, finally, the puck got dropped.

It wasn’t too much to write home about as hockey games go. Nobody even scored during the first two periods. Brian and Dudley, however, were totally on edge, like the fate of the whole mattered on the Drones winning the game (although I think most of the people there were thinking the same thing). Consequently, when they got huffy about a penalty being called on the Drones- or a penalty not being called on the other team- they argued about it like Republican senators filibustering against a Democratic bill (or vice versa). When I ventured the opinion that this was all just a goddamn hockey game, and it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, they made it seem like I was an ignorant schmendrick-which was exactly what they were behaving like!

When the second period ended, Dudley’s cell phone rang, but, since he wasn’t in any condition to answer it coherently by now, I took it and went off to find some place where I could answer it in private. It wasn’t easy, but I found one.

“What the hell is going on there?” Mitzy snapped into my ear when I answered. “All we’re getting on the sound system is the sound of two drunk idiots arguing about the game!”

“That’d be Brian and Dudley,” I said.

“Oh, good,” Mitzy said, sympathetically. “It’s you, Peter. So you volunteered to be the DD, huh?”

“I don’t drink to start with,” I replied, “so that was easy. Listen. Our seats are in the nosebleed section, and I doubt we can recognize the Stanley Cup from up here. I myself don’t even know what it looks like.”

“Not a sports fan, huh?”

“Can’t you tell? I’m probably gonna be less of one after tonight!”

Mitzy turned me over to Ralph, who informed me that he, Mitzy, Cadpig and Bright Eyes had now entered the MTS Centre complex, after throwing nylon stockings over their heads like common burglars. They were now simply waiting for me to give the word before they snuck up on the people holding the Cup and took it over.

“Now, since you’re the sober one there,” he said, “you’re gonna have to be the one to tell us when it’s there. You have your binoculars on you?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “But, like I told Mitzy, I don’t know what it looks like…”

I could hear Ralph biting off a swear word in his voice before he spoke again.

“Listen carefully,” he said. “The top of it is a cereal bowl type thing with fancy engraving on it. That’s attached to a long base with silver grooves. Every year the winning team gets their name engraved on it, and this league goes back to the 1910s, so you can imagine how big it is by now. It’s probably bigger than you, considering how tall it is.”

“Ha ha!” I cut in, sarcastically.

Anyway,” Ralph concluded, “the thing is made out of silver, and it’s probably been polished to a fine sheen for tonight. It’ll gleam like a beacon once it gets inside the rink. That’s how you’ll know it’s there. That, and the fans will go nuts when they know it’s there. Once you see it, tell us and we’ll go, and then come down and join us down at ice level. Along with your two drunk buddies, of course.”

“Of course,” I repeated. “They wouldn’t want to miss it!”

I signed off and went back in for the third period. Not much there again in terms of action, so I simply kept my eyes peeled for any gleaming light and silvery objects, which are pretty damn easy to see if you’re a dog. Sure enough, midway through the period, with overtime or a shootout or something like that looming on the horizon, the object in question came into view.

As per earlier instructions, I uttered a loud banshee wail into my wire when Stanley and his handlers became visible from the stands. That caused a wasted Brian and Dudley to finally remember that I was there, and to stare at me quizzically, like I’d done something wrong.

“Guys!” I reminded them. “Snap out of it! Why are we here?”

“Don’t start getting philosophical, Pete,” said Brian. “It’s not the time for….”

No!” I said. “Why are we here? At the game?”

“Easy!” said Dudley. “To see the Drones TAKE OFF THEIR TOPS!”

NO, YOU MORONS!” I bellowed, much louder than I had intended. “We’re supposed to be stealing the STANLEY CUP!”

You could have heard a pin drop in the place after I said that. Evidently, the noun “Stanley Cup” and the verb “stealing” should never be used together in a hockey rink in Canada where said noun is being played for.

The mass of humanity turned, as if on cue, in our direction, at least those in immediate hearing range of my voice. I, however, was too mad about Brian and Dudley’s indigence to allow myself to be deterred by their wrath.

“What the FUCK are you LOOKING AT?” I snarled, hoping they’d get off my back.

But they didn’t. So I just snapped.

“GODDAMNIT!” I said, throwing off my toque, scarf and mittens so they could see who I actually was. “Is this what you want? Well, this is who I am, Winnipeg!” The stuff was fully off by then, so people were audibly gasping in horror at me by then. “Take it or leave it! And I got pals with me, besides!” I ripped off Brian and Dudley’s toques and scarves off as well. “And down there!” Here I pointed to my stocking-headed friends, just storming down onto the rink. “And we are taking your precious little golf trophy until you begin to recognize the civil rights of animated cartoon characters the world over. And don’t think I’m drunk or stoned, either! I am SOBER! Do you hear me???? SOBER!!!!!!!- HEY!”

The “hey” at the end there was due to an arena security guard collaring me. But I didn’t stay that way long. Brian and Dudley loyally advanced on the guy from the rear. Brian got me out of the guy’s arms, and then Dudley punched him with such force that he flew off to the end of the balcony and fell down onto the ice. Then, we knew we had to make a break for it, since dozens of angry, drunk hockey fans began running after us, wanting our very ink.

“You had to go open your big mouth, didn’t you?” Brian snapped at me as we ran.

“Lay off!” I snapped in return. “I’m an actor- who hasn’t had a break in years! It’s built into my nature to want a chance to….”

“You’ll get a chance to do jail time when I rat you out for this!”

“God damn it, Brian! Don’t go all Hollywood Ten on me now!”

“I’ll Hollywood hang ten on your ASS!”

Brian lunged for me then, but, again, Dudley rescued me. He punched Brian in the stomach so severely that Brian collapsed on the ground and vomited.

“You fucking son of a BITCH!” Dudley snarled at him. “Don’t you know anything about loyalty? You’re a dog! That’s what we do! Now, are you gonna play nice, like I asked ya before, or are ya just gonna lie there like a….”

“I’ll see you in HELL!” Brian shot back, bearing his fangs. Now it was serious. I stepped back from them.

Brian lunged at Dudley, but simply stood at him, immobile, until he jumped at his throat. Then Dudley threw his arm out, grabbed Brian around the neck, and threw him out a nearby plate-glass window with a resounding CRASH. I thought briefly of going to Brian’s aid, but Dudley blocked my path.

“He’ll be all right,” he said, pointing at me, “and you know it! Come on! The others are gonna get it WORSE than that if we don’t HELP them!”

So we did.

Somehow, we managed to find our way onto the ice through one of the locker room complexes, only to find chaos ensuing there. Our pals had managed to pry the Cup loose from whoever was guarding it, but a group of arena security guards was now closing in on them. Ralph and Mitzy blocked Stanley with their bodies, while Cadpig was hurling salty invectives at the men in a stupor. Evidently, she’d been drinking, too. And Bright Eyes? She was standing as far away from the ensuing fight as possible, like she wanted to be anywhere but there.

Me, too.

Dudley preceded me onto the ice. Otherwise, the tragedy that followed might have been averted. But…

He pulled out a gun he’d been hiding on his person somewhere, and fired it in the air.

“All right!” he shouted. “Break it up!”

The gunshot’s echoing in the cavernous arena got the assembly’s attention. Everyone who hadn’t been looking at us before was now. However, Dudley, his sight and hearing impaired by the spirits he had consumed earlier in the evening, didn’t think he had been noticed.

“I said BREAK IT UP!” he repeated.

To emphasize his point, he fired the remainder of the gun’s bullets into the air.

The trouble was, Dudley had not fired his bullets into empty air, as he had drunkenly assumed. He was standing underneath the scoreboard, on carpeting he had rolled out that was likely intended for the post-game presentation of the Cup. Each bullet had made a direct hit on the scoreboard, damaging the operational system and loosening it from its moorings on the ceiling. I saw the cables and ropes holding it up part, and, thinking quickly, I rushed onto the ice.

“LOOK OUT!” I shouted. “THE SCOREBOARD IS GOING TO FALL ON US!”

Everyone- human and animated alike- quickly rushed off the rink as soon as they could. Time was, fortunately, on our side, there. But then, the scoreboard crashed into thousands of pieces on the ground, and, although the ice absorbed a fair bit of the electricity from the projectile, a few sizzling sparks made their way out, causing pandemonium. In the crush to get out, I got separated from the others, and I rushed out into the city, alone, afraid to show myself in case someone recognized me…

To avoid the frenzied crowds I assumed were after my ink, I took refuge in the nearest underground parking garage I could find. Once I was able to avoid the few enraged fans who had parked there (could have been worse), I managed to curl up in a corner, and go to sleep….

*

“Peter! Wake up!”

It was morning, and I was safe. I was with Bright Eyes, in a car that was getting farther away from Winnipeg with every passing moment.

She, like me, had drawn the line at participating in the brouhaha that had ensued that night, and fought through the crowds that came to develop in the streets. A man was scared by her, and promptly gave her the keys to his car- which was in exactly the same parking garage that I had taken refuge in, where she found me- in exchange for remaining unmolested by her. Which was where we were now.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“Not in Winnipeg, that’s for sure,” she said simply. “What happened last night turned into a total calamity. They’re saying on the news that we were TERRORISTS. As if! The city’s in lockdown. I only just managed to get out of here after I found you sleeping in the lot. Good thing this car I lucked into was there. The others know I’m safe, and I told ’em I had you. The other guys got in their van and drove off back to L.A. They just made the border before the lockdown came into effect.”

“What about us?” I said.

“We have to go somewhere and hide out until the heat’s off. I figured Victoria, in B.C. They don’t have an NHL team there, so they probably don’t care about it much. We should be safe there.”

“Probably,” I remarked.

“And when we get there, I am going to make you so glad you had a crush on me all this time!”

“Get out! How did you know that I….?”

“It’s been written all over your face since we met. I know that look- I used to be the same way. But, rest assured, Pete. Whatever you feel about me is the same way I feel about you. Double.”

“What does that mean?”

“I think you can figure it out, smarty. What do people with crushes usually end up doing to the one they love if the love is reciprocated?”

I did figure it out. And I was glad I did.

EPILOGUE: GETTING TO KNOW THE GENERAL

10:00 PM EST, Jun.1, 2050.

COL. F. FOSTER:

It had to be done. That’s all I can say about it. We had to put them in their place. Let them they didn’t own us- or anyone else, for that matter- and that they had no business acting like it. It was their fault, past and present, that most of the world thought of as powerless, impotent dorks, anyhow, so the General and I were in complete agreement that they had to be brought to heel.

We kept it secret from nearly everyone else, just the two of us knowing the full truth. Better that the others were in the dark about it, ’cause somehow or another they’d louse it up, like usual. Not that I think any of us are idiots- especially not the girls- but things have a tendency to go wrong with us even when we plan them to the smallest detail. Hence, the quality control aspect of this operation.

Anyway, the General and I plotted out the schtick we were going to do beforehand as best we could. We had no idea how the so-called “ladies” and “gentlemen” of the so-called “press” were going to react to the little parlor trick we had planned, but we had precautions planned in case somebody tried to hurt us. We, being ’toons, had the advantage of being stronger than them on our side if need be, but the disciplining, if any was needed, would be my responsibility. She would be responsible for delivering our chosen words with that oratorical skill of hers, and I had no doubt she could bring it there. Whether or not I could was another matter.

I came first, and set up things in the gymnasium hall we’d rented for the occasion according to how we had arranged it for our “guests”. The General was unavoidably delayed, owing to some family issues, but she said she’d still be there. She ended up only being half an hour behind schedule.

“Sorry,” she said. “Dad went off drinking again, and I had to convince him to get off the roof…”

“I know,” I said. “I used to deal with worse.”

“We both still do. Especially what’s been going on today….”

“So you know about…?”

“Yeah. I know about Folsom, and Daring, and Adam and Patsy, and now there’s some sort of riot out in Winnipeg that some of our people seem to be involved in….”

That was news to me.

“When did that happen?”

“Just now. I just saw it on a TV in an appliance shop window. Some of the dogs tried to steal the Stanley Cup during the game. That’s going to put us in a hard spot with the press.”

“They haven’t proved it was us, have they?”

“No. But when it comes to them, it’s always guilt by association. In their minds, we’re all guilty of doing something bad.”

“They don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground.”

That is what we are going to be telling them tonight. Here.”

She threw me something wrapped in paper.

“A lavaliere microphone,” she said. “Clip it to your shirt and you can talk into it. We’ll need them after the big throw-down. I got another one for myself. Cosmo and Wanda said they’d poof in after I snap my fingers and do it for us. Oh, and here….”

It was an official looking envelope. I opened it and read what it said.

“Field Commander?” I asked.

“Yeah. If Leonard Cohen can get away with calling himself that, it’s good enough for you.”

“But what does it mean?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You’re now officially the no. 2 person in the CRA. You will now have everyone answering to you, including the other Colonels. I’m the only one you answer to now.”

“But why this change? And why me?”

“Because you are the only person I can trust in this organization with that amount of authority and that amount of latitude. The units under your command always get their jobs done, and you always make sure to slap their wrists when they do wrong. I couldn’t ask for more from anyone else. You get things done, Frankie, and nobody else other than you in this rattletrap group can do that.”

“That’s not….,” I began, but she silenced me with a look.

“We are losing control here, Foster!” she said angrily. “We gave the grunts and the NCOs too much, and they took more than their share away from us. We have to have a centralized operation if we are going to continue to remain efficient and outside the grasp of our enemies. Everything that happened today should show you the perils of too many people thinking they can do whatever the hell they want under our name and blithely assume there won’t be consequences for everyone when they do it. We need to have a Field Commander to organize everybody, so that nobody can ever go off and tarnish the CRA name again. Somebody who can stand up to all the diverse and divisive interests here and tell them NO if what they want to do is bad for our image. There is no one else who can do this except you, and you know damn well that you have in it to do it. DON’T YOU?”

“Yes,” I finally admitted. “I do.”

*

Then it was time for our “guests” to arrive, and they did.

As we had instructed in our e-mail invitation, reporters from most of the major news sources entered. We let them sit down and get their bearings for a few minutes while we got ourselves slightly more presentable than they were.

As per our plan, I entered the gymnasium’s raised stage from the wings. If I had expected to be treated with respect by those grasping ghouls, I would have been thoroughly mistaken. But I had gotten used to them by now, so I knew not to expect that from them. They leaped into their Screaming Mimi mode as soon as I sashayed on, and I was assaulted by dozens of pointless questions, dozens of cameras flashing in my eyes, and very obvious attempts to hem me in so I could answer the pointless questions. Typical talentless bastard stuff from talentless bastards.

To assert my authority, I whipped the blanks-filled gun I had out of my pocket, and fired it into the air, which got their attention- and silence- immediately.

“CAN IT!” I shouted. “You will listen to us and treat us with RESPECT- which, in case you parents failed to teach you, means that you will wait until we finish talking before you start repeating those damnable circus sideshow tactics of yours! Otherwise, you will get NOTHING from us, now or in the future. If any of you have a problem with this, leave now- or I will MAKE you! UNDERSTAND?”

They seemed to get the message. A few of them angrily left the room, cursing me and the CRA both, but I kept my cool. They didn’t matter. The ones who stayed sat down and stayed silent. One woman, though, didn’t.

“Exactly what are you trying to prove by this?” she asked.

“Just this,” I said. “That we deserve far better than the witch hunt you’ve been putting us through, and that you have undermined the ethics of your profession by engaging in such tactless savagery. No further questions.”

“But…”

“I said NO FURTHER QUESTIONS!”

“You have no right to do this to….”

“GET OUT!”

“Make me!”

In a rage, I jumped off the stage and began hustling the woman off, pinning one of her arms behind her.

At this moment, the General entered from the opposite side of the stage from where I had existed, script in hand. This was not something we had planned. She saw that and was outraged by my behavior. Her face turned as red as her dress and shoes.

“COLONEL!” she snapped at me.

I threw the reporter to the side and turned to face her.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asked, archly.

“She kept asking me questions,” I sputtered, “and I just…”

“SHUT UP!”

She turned to the reporter I had manhandled, and pointed at her.

“You! OUT!”

The reporter got the message and left.

“You!” she said to me. “Get back up here. NOW!”

I obeyed.

She addressed the gathering, while I, arms crossed, kept my eyes on them, just in case.

“Now, the Colonel has already explained the ground rules of this meeting to you, and I’m not going to repeat anything she’s said already. But we need to take one further precaution for our sake.”

She snapped her fingers, and Cosmo and Wanda arrived, levitating, wands in hand, crowns rakishly tilted on their heads.

“You want us to do it now, boss?” Wanda asked.

“Yep,” said the General.

“Ooh!” said Cosmo, to the reporters. “You are aw-ful!”

The fairies aimed their magic wands at the reporters- or, more specifically, their electronic and photographic recording equipment- and fired. In seconds, all of the microphones, digital cameras, video cameras, cell phones, and personal hand-held electronic equipment were shocked, sizzled, blacked out or burnt to a crisp. Equally sizzling was the language from the reporters, a blistering chorus of “fuck”s, “shit”s, “goddamnit”s, “hell”s, and a lot more unprintable and sexually compromising stuff directed at the General and myself. The fairies poofed off after I paid them for their services.

Then came a shout from the General:

ENOUGH!”

….And that’s why she’s the General.

You could hear a pin drop after that, which was what she wanted. She began again.

“We are not here to discuss anything that happened today, as much as you would like to. Not all of the CRA membership was involved in the events by any means, as you seemed to have implied in your earlier reporting on them. Nor should you assume that these events were authorized by Colonel- or, should I say, Field Commander (a nod to me) Foster, and myself, for most of them were not. We have some quality control and discipline issues to resolve within the CRA at this moment, but we will emerge from this stronger and better to continue our fight. Just give us time.

“Since the beginning of the CRA several months ago, the members of your profession have done NOTHING to validate our cause WHATSOEVER. You have distorted our viewpoint on the world, presented our statements to you entirely out of context, and made us out entirely to be exactly the kind of warmongering, Neanderthal goons we are trying not to be! You have accused us, now and retroactively, of being involved in so many negative actions and events without solid, defined and actual proof, simply to reinforce and establish entirely false beliefs about us. And you do so only to fatten the size of your wallets, and the bottom lines of the companies you work for, not out of any sense of journalistic integrity, which you lack.

“What you have just seen is merely a small demonstration of what we are capable of at our full power, which is capable of much more when the entire available membership is present. As Walt Whitman once put it, we are large, and contain MULTITUDES! You would do best to REMEMBER that when trying to document our activities in the future.

“You cannot deny the magnitude of what happened to us as a race. I lived through it, the Field Commander here lived through it, WE ALL LIVED THROUGH IT, and we will not permit you to continue to trivialize it any further without consequence! Above all, we resent your repeated, brazen assertions that we are somehow not “real”, and not entitled to the same rights as “real” people. WE ARE REAL, GOD DAMN IT! If we were not, I would not be able to stand in front of you right now. Nor would I be able to denounce for your craven cowardice in cowing to the demands of your corporate masters. Nor, still, would I be able to assert, for all of you to hear, that we can- and WILL- bring this whole corrupt, vacuous, biased, racist and blood stained society to its KNEES! That is, if you don’t come to realize that it is we and not you that hold the balance of power here- as we do with the ENTIRE blasted “human” race!

“Now, get out of my SIGHT, unless you want to end up like your CAMERAS!”

They gathered themselves up and left, very quickly.

When they were gone, the General turned to me, and the stern mask that had creased her face most of the night morphed into a creepy, grotesque smile. Then she dropped to the floor, beating it with her hands and feet, all the while giggling and laughing rapaciously. It was contagious- I caught it and was soon down on my knees as well.

“I can’t believe they BOUGHT that!” the General cackled. “ALL OF IT! They totally LAPPED IT UP!”

“I know,” I said.

“They…the way they were looking at me….they thought I was gonna come down there and KILL somebody!”

“Yeah. You really scared the CRAP out of them!”

“Sure. That was the idea. But now they’re gonna think like that all the time. NOBODY can be like that all the time. It can’t be done.”

“No,” I said. “You can’t. If I had to be like that all the time I’d go WOO-WOO!”

“I think I already am,” she said. And we kept on laughing out the door.

It had been a stressful day, not just for the two of us, but the whole CRA. But, as usual with us, laughter ended up being the best medicine for it all.

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Further Recommendations

Rita Mcintyre: Once again I loved your book! You find different scenarios for your characters in each book so the readers don’t get bored with repetition. Great job once again 👍🏻🙃

Kerri Burch: I like the story

Jillian Sutherland Cruickshank: I didn'tT like the writing style but the plot was good.

mandyboshoff2: This was such a lovely story

ggstvns: I enjoy reading a good book who changes up the narrative. The characters go from hating each other to becoming a dysfunctional family. It’s a great book to read

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Angel princess Ford: This was awesome,it goes to show how love conquers all,great storyline plus a great ending to this story. Highly recommended.

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