The Hooded Menace
A (Somewhat?) Melodramatic "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" Story
By Jeff Pierce
Somewhere in the metropolis of San Francisco, a clock chimed the hour--8:00 p.m. The sounds were muffled by the thick fog which lay like a white blanket over the city and its bay. Even the Golden Gate Bridge, usually visible above the gloom, was shrouded by the mists. Boats upon San Francisco Bay carefully felt their way through the water, foghorns mournfully announcing their presence. In the midst of this dark, damp night stood a rocky island located a mile or more from the nearest shore.As one approached this island, vague shapes emerged out of the fog: walls and towers of stone, with dark windows that, if a light could strike them just so, would shine with a dull metallic gleam, reflected off of bars of iron. A single red light blinked off and on from the top of a rusting water tower in the middle of the island. Imposing, impregnable, inescapable, the compound stood like a silent sentinel guarding the Bay.
This was the island of Alcatraz, once the home of the most famous maximum-security penitentiary in the United States. For decades, the most dangerous and infamous of American criminals came here to pay their debt to society. For some of them, it was the last place they ever lived. Eventually, the relatively small size and advanced age of the prison caused the Justice Department to close it down in favor of building entirely new facilities elsewhere. Long abandoned as a correctional facility, Alcatraz is now a tourist attraction, with the U.S. Park Service conducting guided tours through some of its wings. But not all of Alcatraz is open to the public, however; and in those areas which are off-limits and unmonitored by humans, the old prison still performs its traditional function.
You see, the animals of the city have need of a place where their own criminals and malcontents can be safely incarcerated. Watched over by members of the all-volunteer Small Animal Protection Service ("S.A.P.S." for short), which is the closest thing the city's animals have to a true police force, these non-human threats to society serve out their allotted punishment. Some stay only for a short time; others remain for years. All of them, however, must bow to the dictates of Justice and to a harsh reality: escape is virtually impossible. Even if one could get outside the walls and evade the patrols, it is extremely unlikely that anyone could survive swimming the considerable distance to the mainland against the Bay's currents and cold temperature. Although many have tried, the undeniable fact is that nobody, animal or human, has ever been known to successfully escape from Alcatraz, and live to tell about it. Until now.
* * * * *
"Warden Crighton! Warden Crighton!" The black-furred mouse with the grey mustache and spectacles hurriedly roused himself from his bed and, flinging a smoking jacket around his pajamas, went to the door to answer the urgent summons. In the background, he could hear shrill whistles being blown and many persons running about.. Opening the door to his quarters, Crighton saw one of his junior guards named Grayson, a lad of only eighteen, panting and desperate in front of him.
"What is it, son? What's wrong?" asked the warden.
The young chipmunk gulped a couple of breaths and answered, "It's a jailbreak, sir! We just discovered it. Prisoner 087 and a few of his former cronies have broken out of their cells and are heading for the beach."
"WHAT?! How could this have happened?" Crighton demanded as he dashed to his office to coordinate the efforts to capture the escapees. His young subordinate filled him in as they ran through the corridors.
"It seems that some acid was smuggled in to the prisoner, which he used on the lock of his cell. When one of the guards came by to check on him, the inmate rushed through the weakened door of his cell and forced the guard at knifepoint--"
"One of the knives from the prison mess, sir, also smuggled past security. Anyway, the guard had little choice but to release 087's buddies and lead them to the service entrance, where they overcame the guards stationed there."
By now, Crighton had reached his office, where the Chief of Security was waiting. The warden gave his top guard a stern look. "I've heard there's been some serious breaches of prison security procedures, Chief. There'll be a inquiry into this, I promise you. Now, what's the situation?"
The subdued-looking rat who was Chief of Security answered, "The escapees were last seen heading for the boat docks, sir. We've already alerted the land and sea patrols to concentrate their efforts there."
"Did you make them aware of the dangerous nature of these escapees?"
"Yes, sir. They have orders to use whatever force they deem necessary to apprehend the fugitives."
Suddenly, shouts rang out across the fog-dampened air and entered through Warden Crighton's office window. They were shouts of surprise, dismay, and anger. Crighton, the Chief, and Grayson all went to the window and looked out to figure out what was going on.
"What's happening out there?" the Chief called out to his guards below..
"An old-fashioned jailbreak, you uniformed stooges!" came the jeering answer from a most unexpected direction--almost directly above the heads of the S.A.P.S. officers!
"There he is, sirs! Up and to your right!" shouted Grayson.
Looking up, the two senior officers in charge of the animal prison on Alcatraz Island saw their escaped prisoner and his cronies. They were in a shallow wicker basket being carried by a large bird. A dark, hulking shape shouted, "Sorry I can't stick around any longer, losers! Don't worry, though--here's a going-away present!" With that, he threw something long and sharp right at Crighton and his subordinates. The three animal officers threw themselves aside as the crude spear flew through the open window and imbedded itself in the floor of the warden's office. The Chief picked himself up and cautiously made his way back to the windowsill and looked out. Nothing could be seen of his attackers.
"They're gone. I don't believe it; the first successful escape from Alcatraz!!!"
"Look, sirs," said Grayson, "there's a note attached to this spear. It's addressed to you, Mr. Crighton, sir."
The warden took the note from Grayson's hand and, sitting down in his chair, proceeded to read it. It was short, sweet, and to the point. After a few moments, Crighton put the note down and slumped back in his chair with a defeated look. "And I thought he was doing wonderfully well in his rehabilitation work. Why don't my progressive policies of prisoner reform succeed?"
"You've had a lot of other successes, warden. Don't blame yourself for this," the Chief answered.
"What did he say in the note, sir?" Grayson asked.
Crighton looked at them and said, "He told us he's going to get revenge on the person who put him in Alcatraz in the first place, then rebuild his organization and (I quote) 'make this city green at the gills', and he dared anyone to stop him. Inform all S.A.P.S. officers in the city of what's happened here, and tell them to keep on the lookout for Prisoner 087 or any of his gang. Tell them to exercise extreme caution; these fellows are playing for keeps. And one more thing, Chief," he added as his subordinates were about to go carry out their instructions.
"Yes, sir?" the rat asked.
"Get word of this to the Rescue Rangers, too. They of all people need to know about this as soon as possible. See to it."
"Yes, sir!" the Chief answered.
After his officers had left, Crighton went back to his window and looked out over the fog-covered bay that surrounded Alcatraz Island. Now that he had shattered its aura of inescapability, Prisoner 087 might become bold enough to try almost anything, much less carry out the threats he had enclosed in his note to the warden. Crighton sighed and offered a silent prayer of safety to the citizens of the city, and above all, to the young woman who would soon be the target of the escaped convict's deadly attentions....
* * * * *
"Just one more little adjustment...there, it's finished at last!"
Gadget Hackwrench sat back and admired the object lying on the workbench before her. It was something that had been inspired by one of Monterey Jack's tall tales of adventure while in South America. Homely though it might look, it was to be the newest weapon in the Rescue Rangers' crimefighting arsenal. She stretched and looked up at the clock on the wall of her workshop. *Just coming up on 9:00 pm,* she thought. *Guess it's time to call it quits.*
As she put away her tools, Gadget noted how quiet Ranger Headquarters was. Usually at this time of night, either Monty would be whipping up a late snack in the kitchen, or he, Dale, and Zipper would be firmly planted in front of the TV set--especially on a Saturday night, which this was.
But the Rangers had just returned that afternoon from a particularly grueling case in Argentina that had taken a full week to wrap up. As a result, their nerves were a bit frayed, which was evident by Chip and Dale's "discussions" being more frequent and more heated than usual. On top of being exhausted from both the case and the jet-lag, this put everyone in an uptight mood. Obviously, the group needed to take some time off to rest and unwind.
So tonight, while Gadget stayed home and relaxed with some therapeutic (but practical) inventing, most of the others were enjoying some well-earned recreation out on the town. Monterey Jack and Zipper were down at the docks to get a shipment of Venezuelan beaver cheese, which the Australian mouse had acquired a taste for while in South America. Meanwhile, Foxglove had dropped by and invited Dale to take in a movie with her, which the chipmunk eagerly accepted. (The theater was showing "Invasion of the Bat-Winged Terrors", one of Dale's all-time favorite monster films.) Even Chip was out of Headquarters, although he would be the only one to consider himself "relaxing." He had headed over to the nearly precinct house about fifteen minutes ago to catch up on events since last week and to look for new cases that the Rangers could investigate.
Gadget frowned as her mind played an image of Chip atop one of the precinct house's ceiling fans, searching with his binoculars for a new mystery to solve. *I know he enjoys his work, but I wish Chip wouldn't be such a workaholic, it's really not good for him,* she thought. *I think I had better talk with him about taking a break from being a detective, even if it's only for a couple of days. I just hope I can convince him that even Rescue Rangers need time off once in a while.* Just then, as she finished cleaning up, she heard someone open the front door down below and start climbing the stairs to her workshop. "Golly," she said, "that must be Chip now. Now that's what I call good timing!"
Gadget pocketed her mini-wrench, exited her workshop, and stepped out into the corridor. "Chip, is that you?" she called as she reached the head of the stairs and looked down. Suddenly, she stopped and her eyes widened in surprise and trepidation. Just a few steps below her stood two large mice wearing orange-red ninja garb--an outfit that she thought looked familiar, though she couldn't place it right away. Only their eyes were visible...anxious predatory eyes that lit up as they spotted their prey.
"There she is! Get her!"
Gadget turned on her heel and dashed back into her workshop, bolting the door shut behind her. These two fellow were definitely _not_ door-to-door salesmen! The two intruders followed her and began to throw their weight against the door, a tactic which soon weakened the bolt that held it closed. Finally, with one last lunge, they burst inside, only to see Gadget calmly aiming a curious-looking weapon right at them.
"Surprise!" she said with a grin as she pulled the trigger and sent a large bolo flying at her enemies, who were instantly pinned together and immobilized. The blond-haired inventor then quickly picked up a nearby plunger gun and fired it at the ceiling. The line attached to the dart was tied to the bolo, which meant that before they quite realized what was happening, the two ninja mice found themselves suspended in midair above the workshop floor. Gadget looked up at them with a very satisfied expression.
"Well, guys, how do you like my latest invention? Works pretty well, wouldn't you say?" The masked intruders just glared down at her in answer. "Not very talkative, huh? That's okay, we can discuss why you're after me when I come back with the others. I'm sure they'll have lots of questions for you before we turn you over to the S.A.P.S. I hope you don't mind 'hanging around' till then," she added with a chuckle as she went to the door leading to the Rangerwing's mailbox hangar. Gadget opened it--and found her way blocked by yet another rodent dressed exactly the same as the ones she had just captured!
"Going somewhere?" the new adversary hissed as he reached out for her.
Gadget slammed the door in his face, bolted it, and leaned against it. *Yeah, but I'm not going anywhere that way!* she thought as she frantically considered the situation. With the hangar door blockaded, the only remaining exits out of her workshop were either the nearby stairs or the spiral tire slide. As a sharp blade suddenly pierced through the hangar door near the bolt lock, Gadget decided that speed was of the essence. She dashed to the tire slide and rode it down to the conference room.
Reaching the bottom of the slide, the distaff Ranger was spotted by the fourth member of the kidnap team, who was guarding the front door to keep her from escaping that way. He called out to his partners, "Hey, she's down here!" and chased after Gadget as she ran deeper into Ranger Headquarters. Many of the lights were out, and for a moment the orange-clad rodent thought he had lost her trail. Then he heard a noise in a nearby room. Taking out his own scimitar, he silently crept to a door that sported crossed eating utensils above it and cautiously peered in.
Darkness was all around him, but he could clearly hear someone breathing hard nearby. The intruder stepped inside and immediately slipped on a pool of cooking oil. And, as he tried to get up--
The would-be kidnapper staggered back and fell in an unconscious heap with a very large lump on top of his head. The frying pan Gadget held bore ample evidence of the force of the blow, which she noted with some surprise. "Golly, I hope Monty doesn't get too mad at me for ruining his skillet," she said to herself. Looking down concernedly at her fallen foe (for she couldn't help worrying she might have badly hurt him) she again noted how familiar his uniform looked, but nearby sounds of pursuit forced her to stop wondering and dash off.
By this time, the other masked mice had freed themselves and recovered their wits sufficiently to come up with a new plan of attack, since their prey was obviously more resourceful than they had anticipated. The three rodents that Gadget had evaded earlier now ran three-abreast through the hallways of Ranger Headquarters, each one brandishing his blade before him. Checking every room, they discovered their unconscious comrade, then proceeded on to the lowest level, where the bedrooms were. Hearing sounds of frantic activity as they descended the stairs, the intruders prepared to face whatever trouble might be around the corner.
They found it in the form of another makeshift defense Gadget had pieced together out of necessity. Taking Monterey's hammock, she had fastened rubber bands to either end and attached them to either side of the corridor to create a large slingshot. Her ammunition consisted of all the souvenirs that Dale had brought back from their trip to South America. As soon as she saw her enemies enter the line of fire, she let them have it with a hearty, "Say 'Hello' to Buenos Aires!" The three mice were immediately buried up to their necks in a large pile of trinkets.
"Geez!" muttered one of her adversaries. "What's she going to hit us with next, the kitchen sink?"
"Well, I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't," Gadget answered m= atter-of-factly. "I'll just leave you all to admire Dale's taste in souvenir-collecting, if you don't mind. I'm going out for a drive."
"And how are you goin' to do that, Miss Smarty-Pants?" said one of the orange-clad goons as he shoved away a bag of cacao beans that was leaning against him. "We've got you cornered!"
"Oh? I really don't think so," Gadget replied as she turned and bent down to grasp an inconspicuous handle apparently imbedded in the wooden wall next to her. The next moment, she thrust open the emergency exit door and slid down the bright yellow fireman's pole concealed inside, descending out of sight down to the garage.
Her adversaries frantically scrambled out of the pile of "stuff" as quickly as they could and looked down the shaft after their vanished prey. They then looked at each other with a knowing gleam in their eyes. They had anticipated this development, at least, for unknown to the inventor their leader was waiting in the Rangers' garage for their return. Now he blocked her last route of escape. Confident of finally achieving their goal, the three intruders slid down the pole themselves. Upon reaching the garage and looking around, they saw a very angry and frustrated Gadget squirming in the captive embrace of a large, muscular rodent with a dark blue hood over his head and dressed in a blue outfit similar to those of his followers.
"Quit fighting, you little toymaker! You're not going anywhere!" he said to Gadget. To demonstrate his point, he gave her a hard squeeze that forced much of the air out of her lungs. While the suddenly-limp inventor briefly stopped her struggles to get her breath back, the hooded hulk of a mouse turned to his gang. "It's about time you good-for-nothings all got here. Remind me to pound you for almost letting her get away when we get back to the hideout," he growled as he shoved Gadget into their arms. "Where's Seven?" he demanded of them.
One of his underlings answered, "He's in the kitchen, boss. It looks like she knocked him out cold."
"Yeah, after knocking us for a loop a couple of times, too," quipped another as he rubbed his head.
"Some help you are," snorted their leader. "How could you flunkies possibly have so much trouble grabbing one stinking girl?!"
"Sorry, boss," replied the third goon, "but we didn't think she could put up such a fight. She used just about anything she could get her hands on against us."
"Now you know why I want her out of the picture," the hooded rodent explained derisively. "She's only as dangerous as the stuff she makes. No toys, no threat. Simple."
"Then you don't know me very well, do you?" Gadget gasped as she defiantly glared at her captors. She focused on the muscular mouse in charge, and instantly understood all the unsettling clues she had noticed earlier about her enemies. "What are YOU doing here, Bubbles? You should still be at Alcatraz with the rest of your gang for the Cola Cult crimes!"
Bubbles sneered down at her. "You didn't _really_ think I'd just sit and rot away in that place, did you? I sure wasn't going to take that sugar-sweet reform stuff any longer than I had to, ugh!" he finished with a grimace. "Every day, I swore I'd get you for wrecking my chance to take over the Cult and putting me in that rotten jail cell, and now I'm going to do just that." He then gave her an especially hard stare. "And don't call me 'Bubbles.' I'm 'The Hooded Menace' now, and everyone's going to learn to fear that name!"
"Golly, that's too bad," Gadget replied. "'Bubbles' was such a cute name." Her retort was answered with a menacing growl as he stared her down with hating eyes.
"Go ahead and make your jokes, girlie! Enjoy them while you can, because _this_ time you won't have any of your toys to save you!" Then he told his henchmice, "Tie her up and gag her good and tight! We don't want her going anywhere or shouting for help on the way to the plant."
"Whatever happens to me, my friends will stop you, no matter what it takes," Gadget managed to get out before a cloth gag was secured tightly across her mouth by one of the orange-clad rodents. The other two flunkies quickly wound strong twine around her, pinning her arms to her torso and securely binding her wrists behind her back. As they did, Bubbles chuckled over Gadget's defiant words. "_Those_ clowns?" he sneered. "The so-called 'Rescue Rangers' couldn't even catch a cold on their best day! But since you brought it up, I might as well make things ready for them, too. All right, you blockheads, as soon as you're finished, let's get out= of here."
"But boss, what about Seven?" one of his followers asked him.
"Leave him here."
"But what if those other Rangers come back before he wakes up? They might make him talk!"
"Yeah," another masked mouse chimed in, "they'll make him tell them where to find us and everything!"
"I know..._and that's just what I'm counting on_," Bubbles told them as he turned his eager, menacing gaze back to Gadget and gave her a sinister, knowing laugh. The blond-haired inventor felt her spirits sink as she stood helpless before the hulking villain. She realized this repulsive rodent had murder on his mind, and she couldn't help being afraid of what he had planned for both her and her friends. *Dad always said I had a guardian angel,* Gadget thought. *I hope he was right, because I sure need one now!*
* * * * *
Meanwhile, perched atop one of the ceiling fans at the humans' precinct house across the street from the park, Chip made a last sweep of the desks below him with his binoculars. The others might consider him a bit touched in the head for wanting to find another case so soon after their Argentina adventure; but the leader of the Rescue Rangers knew they would never quite understand that, tired though he was, this was what he enjoyed doing most. Ever since childhood, Chip had been the kind of person that had to be doing something in order to be really happy. His was an active lifestyle, in contrast to the almost extreme opposite case that Dale represented. It wasn't that he couldn't appreciate "goofing off," but rather that Chip would go crazy if that's all he did day in and day out. Being on a case and solving a mystery, on the other hand, entertained Chip more than any TV show or detective novel ever could. It stimulated his mind, exercised his body, and provided a rush to his system that was almost addictive. *Perhaps I _am_ addicted to this job,* the chipmunk mused to himself. *That would explain why the others sometimes complain about me being "obsessed" with being a Rescue Ranger. All things considered, though, I think there are worse things to be addicted to!*
Tonight, however, had proved frustrating. Although Chip had spent almost forty-five minutes in the precinct house listening to conversations and secretly reading over the shoulders of the human policemen below, he had neither seen nor heard of anything that even remotely required the Rescue Rangers' attention. He could usually rely on the S.A.P.S. officer who was usually stationed here for news and hints of trouble, but tonight that officer was absent and no messages of animal crimes had been left at Ranger Headquarters. It was, in short, an altogether quiet night. Chip sighed in mild frustration and reluctantly put his binoculars away. *Oh, well,* he thought, *I guess I can go without my "fix" for another day or two. After all, a case is bound to come up sooner or later. Besides, I can take the opportunity to work the old Maplewood charm on Gadget without any interference from you-know-who. I'd say that's reason enough to call it a night's work!* So thinking, Chip scrambled up the ceiling fan and through the secret trap door above that led to the roof.
Once on the roof, Chip zipped up his well-worn bomber jacket and turned up its woolen collar against the cold and damp. Usually, from this vantage point, one had a good view of Ranger Headquarters and other parts of Golden Gate Park. Tonight, however, a typical San Francisco fog was rolling in. Already the visibility was down to about a quarter of a mile and getting worse. "I'd better get back home before I'm socked in by the weather," Chip said to himself, and headed for the Rangerwing parked nearby.
Just as he was about to climb in the vehicle, however, Chip heard a door slam and a voice cry, "Chipper! Chipper, wait!" Turning to face the pitter-patter of running feet, the chipmunk saw a familiar uniformed squirrel with brown fur and eyes rushing towards him. The squirrel's name was Johnny O'Brie, a third-generation descendant of Irish immigrants who was a good friend of the Rescue Rangers. He had joined the S.A.P.S. as a local patrolman about two months ago, after he had helped the Rangers and the S.A.P.S. tackle a dolphin-smuggling operation being run by Fat Cat. Chip was glad to see him but he noted that Johnny looked anxious, even frantic. Very unlike the happy-go-lucky appearance the squirrel usually presented.
"Hi, Johnny, what's up?" Chip asked with a smile. "By the way, you look good in that uniform."
"Chipper, me boyo! Faith, lad, but you're a welcome sight!" breathed Johnny. "Where've you been all this time? Where're the other Rangers? Is Miss Gadget all right?" he said without hardly taking a breath.
"Slow down, Johnny, you sound like a 33 rpm record going at 78! Sorry we haven't been in touch, but we were on a case in Argentina. Actually, we're kind of lucky to be back at all; it was touch-and-go there for a while! We only got back today, and we're still pretty much tired out. We needed a break from all that, so just about everyone's out and about. Gadget and I are the only ones at Headquarters right now, and I just stopped over to check out the news and watch for new cases for a while. Seems like we haven't missed much."
Johnny's eyes grew wide in concern. "Oh, no! You mean you and the others don't know yet?"
Chip looked at his friend with a confused expression. "Know _what_? What are you talking about, Johnny?"
The uniformed squirrel said, "There's big trouble a-brewin', Chipper, especially for your pretty girlfriend. There's been a jailbreak at Alcatraz. Bubbles, the leader o' the Cola Cult gang escaped tonight an' took some o' his goons with him. He left a note behind sayin' that he's goin' to get revenge on the 'toymaker' that put him behind bars. That'll be Miss Gadget, o' course. Once she's out o' the way, he plans to start a whole new crime spree with a new gang he's puttin' together. Unless we stop 'em in the meantime, that is, an' he doesn't think we can, that's for sure," Johnny concluded.
The leader of the Rescue Rangers absorbed the news grimly. "That's bad news, all right," he replied. "Gadget really was the one responsible for capturing Bubbles in the first place. I hate to think of what would have happened if she hadn't shown up when she did! I can still remember how he glared at her as he was led away, too. He struck me as the kind of guy who wouldn't mind being beaten in a fair fight by the other Rangers. But to be beaten by a girl, single-handed, using nothing but her brains and what he would consider 'toys', would probably fester in his mind a long time."
Johnny nodded in agreement. "Aye, that sounds about right. An' until we catch this fiend, it'd be best not to leave the lass alone for any length of time, I'd wager."
Chip's blood suddenly ran cold and his friend's words echoed in his ears. "Johnny, I just _did_ leave Gadget alone in her workshop almost an hour ago! I've got to get back there!"
"Hang on, Chipper! I'll come with you!" Johnny said as he scrambled to follow the chipmunk up into the Rangerwing. He barely settled into the front seat in time before Chip gunned the engines and took off into the fog-shrouded night sky.
* * * * *
As soon as the Rangerwing landed at Headquarters, Chip and Johnny jumped out and ran for the door in the hangar that led to Gadget's workshop. As they approached, they saw that it had been forced open and damaged by some kind of sharp instrument. The two rodents ran in and called out Gadget's name, but they heard no answer. Chip's fear growing, he and Johnny rapidly went through each room of the Rangers' home base, calling for Gadget the whole time. They soon reached the kitchen, where they discovered the still-unconscious form of Bubbles' follower, Seven.
"Well, at least she didn't go without a fight," Johnny remarked as they examined their captive.
"Small consolation at this point," Chip replied sourly. "At least he'll do for interrogation. Here are my handcuffs. Cuff him to that chair while I search the rest of the place. Maybe Gadget was able to leave us a clue."
While the SAPS officer dragged the orange-clad mouse and secured him to one of the dining-room chairs, Chip went to check the lower levels. He noted the pile of South American souvenirs the inventor had used in her flight, as well as her makeshift slingshot stretching across the hall corridor. Using the emergency exit to get down to the garage, he noted that the Rangermobile was missing--obviously stolen by Bubbles and his gang to make their getaway. That left only the Rangerwing available for Chip to round up the other Rangers with. But first he had to know where Bubbles was before Gadget's friends could rescue her. Scrambling back up the tree, the chipmunk went first to the bathroom medicine cabinet to grab some smelling salts and cold water. Then he went and joined his squirrel ally in the dining room. There, with a quick but liberal application of these medicinal items, Chip and Johnny managed to bring their prisoner back to his senses.
"Ohhhh...where am I?" groaned Seven.
"In big trouble, creep!" Chip answered angrily. "Where's Gadget? What's your boss done with her?"
Seven looked at the chipmunk with a dazed but still defiant expression.. "What are ya talkin' about? What boss? _What_ gadget? I don't _have_ no stinkin' gadget!"
Chip grabbed the bound mouse around the collar of his outfit and twisted hard, which squeezed the underling's neck and threatened to choke him. "I'm not in the mood to play games! WHERE IS SHE?!"
"Easy, Chipper," Johnny cautioned him. "Remember, he's got certain rights, you know. Though it'll go a lot better for you if you cooperate with us, boyo," the squirrel said as he turned back to his prisoner.
The would-be kidnapper managed a weak sneer. "Oh, yeah? What've I got to worry about? I mean, whatcha gonna do if I don't tell ya anything? Beat me up? Ya know I'm the only one who can tell ya where my boss took her. Hurt me, and you'll never find out!"
Chip gave Bubbles' henchmouse a look he seldom showed: an evil, knowing grin that one wouldn't suspect such a law-abiding chipmunk to possess. "Oh, we have ways of making you talk," he said, unconsciously using the old movie cliche. "And believe me, you won't like them at all."
"Chipper! You wouldn't!" Johnny exclaimed.
"Hey," Seven croaked, looking frantically at the snarling chipmunk, "wait, ya can't torture me! I got my rights! Think of yer good-guy image!"
The leader of the Rescue Rangers leaned close to Seven and explained the situation in a low and earnestly sincere voice. "Listen, punk. If anything happens to Gadget, there won't be a jury in the world that'll convict me! Besides," he added with a wink and a chuckle to the S.A.P.S. officer beside him, "I doubt that what I have in mind can really be called 'torture'...."
* * * * *
"Oh, John! What are we going to do?" frantically asked the platinum-blond beauty in the torn dress.
"I don't know, Marcia," grimly answered the square-jawed, dark-haired man with the shotgun. "Those monsters out there just can't seem to be hurt. If we can just make it out of here to the Army base over the ridge, we might stand a chance. Otherwise--"
"Wait, John! Listen!" whispered the woman. "Do you hear that noise? Its...THEM!"
In the darkened theater, the crowd of mostly teenage patrons sat enraptured in the B-movie being shown on the screen in front of them. Unnoticed by them, two other moviegoers sat just underneath the projectionist's booth. One was a red-nosed chipmunk in a Hawaiian-print shirt who munched popcorn in an almost robotic fashion as he watched the film. His companion, a brown-furred female fruit bat, snuggled close to him.
"Ooohh, Dale, this sure is a scary movie, isn't it?" Foxglove murmured in the chipmunk's ear.
Dale nodded and whispered back, "That's why it's one of my favorites. It always gives me goosebumps. Chip never can get a good night's sleep after I've seen it, because I stay up all night with at least one light on! I don't see why you should be so scared, though, Foxie. I mean, you're a bat, after all. You oughta be rooting for the bat-guys, right?"
Foxie shook her head. "Not really. I can't really relate to twenty-foot-tall man-eating monster bats as role models. Besides, they remind me a bit of some of my relatives in Europe."
"Lemme guess," Dale snickered, "they live in Transylvania, right?"
"How'd you know?"
Dale looked at her like she was kidding, and soon saw that she wasn't. *Okay, fine,* he thought, *I'll just stop that line of conversation right now. If I don't ask about her vampire cousins, she won't tell me...I hope!* Dale scarfed another mouthful of popcorn and turned his attention back to the film. He saw that it was coming up on a climactic moment.
"Oh, boy! Get ready, Foxie, this is where the make-up artist really earns his keep! In just a sec, Marcia's gonna back up against a wall as she hears heavy footsteps, then this bat-monster's gonna punch through the wall behind her and grab her by the shoulders! She's gonna turn around and see the monster's face and let out the loudest scream in film history! Great stuff!"
*Great, ruin the surprise for me again, Dale,* Foxglove thought ruefully. It was one of the few things the chipmunk did that made her upset. Her dismay quickly dissolved as she turned her attention back to the movie. The music was crescendoing, and she could hear the heavy footsteps coming closer...and closer...and closer. "John? Is that you out there? JOHN?" Marcia asked. She backed up against the wall with fearful eyes. Closer came the footsteps...and closer...until they were almost as loud as the music. The orchestra swelled to its full climactic height--
"Psst! Dale!!" said a voice in the chipmunk's ear as he felt a tap on his shoulder.
Dale screamed to wake the dead. Foxglove screamed, too. Marcia screamed. The whole audience screamed.
* * * * *
Somewhere in another universe, amid the flames of Hades, the demon Negaduck felt the psychic echo of that moment. He paused, absorbing it with an expression of total rapture. "Ah, I love the sound of screaming in the morning. It reminds me of my cat Smudge...as I was putting him to sleep with my chainsaw. Ah, memories...."
* * * * *
Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, the movie audience turned to the back row and yelled, "SHHH!!!" to no-one in particular. The amorous couple in the back looked at the others in confusion and consternation, their romantic moment well and truly spoiled. And at that moment, high above them, a chipmunk and a bat covered with buttered popcorn hugged each other tightly in stark terror as they looked at the chipmunk in the leather jacket and hat standing beside them.
"Chip! Don't DO that!!" Dale and Foxglove fairly shouted at him.
The leader of the Rescue Rangers offered a brief, sheepish grin at his friends before answering. "Sorry, guys, but I'm afraid we've got a real, live horror monster to deal with."
"What is it? Gadzilla? Road-Dan? Fleeblebroxians?" Dale asked rapid-fire.
"Worse than all of them. Bubbles escaped from Alcatraz, and he's got Gadget. No telling what he'll do to her, but it can't be good."
"Gadget's in trouble?" Foxglove breathed. "When did this happen?"
"Just over an hour ago, I guess. Don't worry, Foxglove, we'll save her. I found out where she's being held captive, so all we have to do is round up Monterey Jack and Zipper and get out there."
"Well, let's not stand here, dummy," Dale said as he jumped to his feet. "Let's go!"
"I'm right behind you, guys!" Foxglove said as she scrambled up to follow them. But the two chipmunks turned around and signaled her to stay put.
"Sorry, Foxglove, but I think you had better stay behind," Chip said. "You don't know about Bubbles. He's a dangerous opponent, and he's got a whole gang at his beck and call. They're armed to the teeth, and they know how to use their weapons, too. You're not a Rescue Ranger yet, and I would never forgive myself if something happened to you because I let you come along."
"Chipper's right," Dale said, putting his hands on the bat's shoulders.. "You could get really hurt on this one. You're a great friend, Foxie, and...well, I don't want anything to happen, that's all."
Foxglove blushed, but answered firmly, "I know, Dale, but Gadget's my friend, too. And you said once, 'Friends don't abandon friends when there's trouble.' I'm coming with you."
"NO!" replied Chip. "I'm sorry, but my decision's been made, and it's final. Come on, Dale, time's wasting!"
"Don't worry, Foxie," Dale shouted over his shoulder as they chipmunks scrambled for the exit. "We'll be okay, and Gadget will, too. See you later at Headquarters!"
Foxglove stood staring after their retreating forms for just a moment, then started after them. She reached the rooftop just in time to see the vague shape of the Rangerwing, illuminated by its navigational light, take off into the fog-shrouded night. "Wait!" she cried, but realized too late that they couldn't hear her over the sound of the engines. The bat watched in mounting frustration as her friends disappeared into the mists on their urgent errand. Then, finally, her mind made up, Foxglove reluctantly flapped her wings and similarly vanished into the night as well.
* * * * *
Some time later, deep in the industrial district, the Rangerwing descended into a darkened alley between two warehouses. Chip pointed to a third building across the street, which bore a faded sign that said "Popsy-Cola Bottling Plant", and a "Condemned" notice on the front doors. The chipmunk turned to his fellow Rangers. "According to the directions that thug of Bubbles' gave me, that's their hideout. I just hope Gadget's still all right. If not...." he trailed off, fists and teeth clenching at the awful thought.
"Easy, mate," Monterey Jack offered to his chipmunk friend. "Don't work yerself inta a lather over somethin' that ain't true. We'll get our little Gadget outta there just fine, and then give those yahoos what for!"
"Thanks, Monty, I needed that," Chip replied appreciatively.
Zipper then spoke up in Monterey's ear. "Yeah, I know, Zip," the Australian mouse answered, "it looks mighty suspicious to me, too. Do ya really think that technacolor truant ya caught at Headquarters was tellin' the truth about this place, Chipper? Can we trust him?"
The chipmunk in the fedora looked up at his burly friend. "Do we have any choice? Besides, I really don't think he was in any condition to lie."
Dale gave his partner a bewildered expression and said, "You know, I still don't understand how you managed to get that guy to spill everything, Chip."
"Nice choice of words, Dale, because that's exactly what Johnny and I made him do," Chip explained as he got out of the Rangerwing, plunger-gun at the ready. "I just _knew_ a taste of Monty's dried-boll-weevil-and-wheat-germ granola would loosen his tongue!"
Monterey gave him a sour look. "Well, it's nice ta know me cookin's appreciated fer a change! Okay, mates, enough small talk! It's time fer some ACTION!"
"Hold up, Monty," the leader of the Rescue Rangers cautioned. "I know just how you feel, but we can't just rush in there without a plan. If we get ourselves caught, we won't have a second chance to save Gadget. And since Johnny hasn't gotten here yet with some of his S.A.P.S. buddies yet, we'd better find out what the situation is first. Zipper, you know what to do."
"Right!" the heroic housefly said, and immediately he zoomed off to secretly scout the interior of their target. Ten excruciating minutes later, Zipper returned to give his report. Bubbles and about four other members of his gang were sitting around or dozing. The rest of the place, as far as he could tell, was deserted, with no sign of Gadget anywhere. A small hole in a second-story window could provide the Rangers with easy and unnoticed entry into the warehouse. Based on Zipper's information, and unable to wait any longer for backup, Chip, Dale, and Monterey crept over and scaled the wall up to the window, climbed through, and slid down a rope to the ground floor. Armed with their trusty plunger-dart crossbows, the three rodents and one insect crept forward through the building's dimly-lit interior. Chip was the most anxious of the Rangers, and he felt his fur increasingly stand up on end as they went on. *If ever there was a tailor-made situation for an ambush,* he thought....
"I don't like this," he whispered to the others. "It all seems too easy to me."
"Ya think they might be expectin' us? Zipper said everythin' looked fine," Monty replied.
"I know, but remember what happened the last time we took on Bubbles and his gang? Besides, I can't believe he would only have four henchlings under his thumb, especially considering his criminal ambitions. Something just doesn't feel right about this."
"Ah, Chip," Dale countered, "they don't know that we know where they are. How could these creeps _possibly_ know we're here to save Gadget?"
Suddenly, a heavy net dropped from the darkness of the ceiling above and entangled the four heroes. From the surrounding shadows emerged eight orange-clad ninja mice, all of whom were pointing various nasty-looking weapons at the trapped Rangers.
Chip turned to Dale. "Oh, just call it a hunch...."
* * * * *
A few minutes later, Chip, Dale, Monterey, and Zipper found themselves bound together, weighted down and suspended over a large vat filled to the brim with a greenish liquid. Looking down, they saw that it fizzed and sparkled brightly in the dim light, but had an odd aroma to it. "What _is_ that stuff?" Monty wondered aloud.
The hulking mouse in the blue hood and outfit called up to them and said, "It's my own creation: Avacado-Lime-Kiwi Cola. I've even got a great slogan for it, too! 'It'll turn you green in more ways than one!' Not bad, huh?" he chuckled.
"Yeah, that's pretty good! You oughta be an ad man, Bubbles," Dale replied sarcastically.
"Sorry," said Bubbles, aka 'The Hooded Menace', in a derisive tone, "but I've already got my career plans laid out. Too bad they won't be including _you_ after tonight!" He laughed loudly at that thought, and his fellow felons joined in.
"What an embarrassin' way to go, too," Monterey mumbled. "Drowned in cheap soda pop!"
"Yeah, and it isn't even a good flavor!" Dale complained.
Chip glared down at Bubbles leaning on his favorite weapon. "You couldn't just kill us outright, could you? You _had_ to set up a deathtrap for us like last time."
"Hey, I didn't get to _enjoy_ it last time, remember? Besides, a master villain should act like one," answered the hulking mouse.
"All right, then, before you do us in, answer two questions for me. First, where's Gadget?"
"I'm glad you asked." He walked over and flipped a light switch on a nearby wall. A light snapped on, and the Rangers gasped at the sight it revealed. There Gadget lay, bound spread-eagled upon a heavy block of concrete; above her hung by a large rope a similar block all set to crush the young heroine to a pulp. The mouse inventor looked plaintively up at her friends. "I'm sorry, guys," she told them. "They say 'misery loves company', but I didn't want it to be _you_."
"Aw, it's okay, Gadget, luv," Monterey soothed. "It ain't yer fault. We know who's _really_ to blame fer this." Dale nodded and gave his captors a Bronx cheer to emphasize what Monty said.
"'Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will get your tongue cut out,'" Bubbles replied, and Dale instinctively retracted his tongue in response. 'The Hooded Menace' then turned his attention back to Chip. "And what's Question Number Two?"
"Mind telling us your nefarious plans?" Chip answered sarcastically. "I think that's something else so-called 'master villains' are supposed to do."
The blue-clad rodent rolled his eyes as the joke began to wear thin. "Oh, well, like it's _really_ going to matter!" he said with a shrug before continuing. "First off, I'm going to let you all drown in this cola, like I intended to all those months ago...that is, until Little Miss Toymaker here," Bubbles said with a dirty glance at Gadget, "spoiled my fun. Once you're safely dunked, though, she'll join you on the other side soon enough. After that, my boys and I will introduce my own formula into regular soda cans when we raid the Coo-Coo Cola bottling plant. It'll cost them millions in lost sales and lawsuits, and I'll threaten to do it again if they don't pay me big bucks!" His eyes glowed with greed as he went on. "That'll give me the money to gather a whole army of henchmen, loyal only to me, and train them to be the fiercest fighters and thugs around! With them, I'll take over the entire animal crime racket in this city...then all those in this country...and finally, every animal crime ring and underground organization _in the world_!"
"Well, ain't ya the ambitious one," Monty commented.
"Yeah, but you gotta start _somewhere_, right?" Bubbles said with a grin. "And speaking of which...."
"Bubbles, please," Gadget pleaded, "it's me you really want revenge on. Leave my friends out of this, and I'll gladly let you take my life!" The other Rangers gasped at this, despite their predicament. The villainous rodent, though, merely laughed and took up his razor-sharp bottle opener as he strode toward the rope that suspended Monty, Zipper, and the chipmunks above the vat.
"I don't think so, girlie," he gloated. "Like you said, they _might_ just get me somewhere down the line if they're running around free. Besides, I'll enjoy your final moments that much more if you know they're waiting at the Pearly Gates for you. So I think I'll just go ahead and give them a nice, LONG soda bath!" He chuckled at his remark and raised his blade to slice through the cord.
Looking up at her friends, it was at this desperate moment that inspiration suddenly struck Gadget. A memory from one the Rangers' earliest cases flashed through her mind, and she acted on it. She called up to the others, "Quick, guys, remember what we did when we first met the Pi-Rats? _Everybody breathe out_!!"
Immediately, the other four Rangers exhaled as much as they could and, just as had happened on that earlier adventure, Zipper was able to slip out of the suddenly-slack ropes and fly free. Bubbles was surprised, but only for a moment. "Oh, no, you don't!" he cried as he severed the cord and sent Chip, Dale, and Monterey Jack splashing into the cola. Turning to his underlings, he shouted, "Get that insect!"
Zipper was forced to retreat as several orange-clad ninja mice started to chase after him. Gadget could only watch this in dismay as she turned to look at her friends through the glass siding of the vat. They were struggling vainly against their ropes, cheeks bulging with what little air they had. Averting her gaze, the inventor's eyes focused despairingly on Bubbles, who was striking a match and setting fire to the rope holding the stone suspended above Gadget. *Poor Zipper doesn't stand a chance against them,* she thought miserably. *Even if he does manage to get away from them, the guys will probably drown before then! And at the rate that rope is burning, I'll be dead too in just a couple of minutes! It just _can't_ all end like this! Oh, Dad, where's my guardian angel?*
Just then, as Zipper frantically buzzed around trying not to get caught, a heavy net dropped from above--the same net that had earlier trapped the other Rangers--and entangled about half of Bubble's gang. Zipper, and everyone else who could, looked up to see..._a bat_!
"A bat?" Bubbles said. "This ain't no comic book!"
"FOXGLOVE!" Gadget and Zipper cried in surprise and hope.
After Foxglove had watched the chipmunks fly off in the Rangerwing, she'd decided to disobey and had followed them through the sky, using her innate sonar sense to track them through the fog. Fortunately, they had flown rather slowly so that they wouldn't crash into unseen projections, and she'd been able to keep up with them. She had also kept back and out of sight of them so they wouldn't turn around and chastise her. As a result, however, the Rangers had pulled ahead a bit too far towards the end of their flight, and the bat had lost track of them. It was only now, after some searching, that she had found the Rangerwing again and discovered which building they had entered. It was, to say the least, none too soon, and she was turning the tide as she attacked the remaining gang members.
Foxglove swooped down in a power dive and pulled out just above the floor, knocking over six of the ninja mice and grabbing Bubbles' bottle-opener out of his hands with her feet.
"Hey, give that back!" the hooded hulk shouted at the bat.
"Come and get it, if you want it," Foxglove shouted back as she flew up into the rafters.
Bubbles turned furiously to his henchmice. "Well, don't just lie there, you idiots! AFTER THAT FLYING MOUSE!!!" He himself led the charge as the whole villainous gang scrambled to chase after Foxglove.
This, of course, left Gadget completely unattended, and Zipper took the opportunity afforded by the distraction to fly to her assistance. She knew she and the other Rangers didn't have much time left, but the knots were too tight and complicated for the fly to quickly undo. Seeing the burning rope, however, gave Gadget an idea....
"Zipper, quick! Find something to light my bonds on fire!" Zipper obeyed, and using the only thing at hand -- the half-burned match Bubbles had used -- ignited the cords that secured Gadget's wrists and ankles to her concrete bed. The ropes were actually just strong twine, and burned quickly. Within a few seconds, she was able to twist and pull enough to break free and scramble off her deathbed...just before the block above came crashing down with a dull "THUD!!"
There was no time for Gadget to congratulate either herself or Zipper. She clambered onto the edge of the nearby vat and, taking a deep breath, dove into the horribly-flavored liquid. Long moments passed before Gadget finally came spluttering up with her freed (and green-dyed) friends, who coughed and gasped desperately for air to fill their empty lungs. It was about a full minute before Monterey could choke out, "Thanks, luv. Another few seconds and we would've been history!"
"I'm afraid there's no time for thanks yet, Monty," she answered. "Foxglove's in trouble! We've got to help her!"
Dale looked at her, surprised at the news that the one person he and Chip hadn't wanted to be here was saving their lives. "_Foxie's_ here? Gosh, that movie we saw must have really inspired her!"
"It just shows you can't keep a good girl down," Gadget replied.
"I'll say," Chip said, getting his wind back. "I think we may have a new team member after all. Okay, guys, it's time to take off the kid gloves! Let's go!" Meanwhile, up above, Foxglove's dangerous game of hide-and-seek had taken a turn for the worse. Several of Bubble's henchmice had started throwing sharpened bottle caps at the bat, and eventually one connected with the bottle-opener she carried, which flew from her feet and tumbled to the floor below. Worse still, another bottle cap whizzed right at Foxglove, which she only avoided by darting sharply upward...right into the ceiling, unfortunately. Dazed, she also fell toward the ground, but she was able to pull out just enough to make a rough, but safe, landing on a pile of Styrofoam packing.
Bubbles and a dozen of his closest fiends scrambled down from the rafters and surrounded the fallen bat. Foxglove could only look up dazedly at the hooded menace above her as he said, "Get ready to join your friends in harp-land, girlie!" He raised his weapon for the kill....
"Guess again, Bubbles!" came a familiar female voice from behind the villainous mouse and his gang. Turning in surprise, they saw the entire Rescue Rangers contingent, ready to repay their enemies for the grief they had gone through this day.
"Let 'em have it!" Chip ordered. Immediately, plunger darts shot out and hit Bubbles and two of his henchmice squarely in the shout. (Guess who aimed her plunger at the guy with the blue hood?) On the heels of this assault, Monterey Jack charged in and began to take out his frustrations on the remaining orange-clad rodents. It would take far too long to give a blow-by-blow account of the ensuing melee. Suffice it to say that our heroes got their licks in, and then some. Chip personally took out two of the bad guys with some adroit swordfighting and well-placed punches. Gadget, sniping from the fringes of the battle, snagged a total of three enemies with a combination of plunger darts and bolos. Dale and Zipper helped Foxglove out of the line of fire until she recovered, then together the three of them used a handy tarp to blanket a couple of bottle-cap throwers who were about to strike at the other Rangers from behind. And Monterey had a grand time subduing the remaining ninja mice with a good, old-fashioned brawl, despite getting a few cuts and bruises in the process. When the dust finally settled, the only ones left standing were Foxglove and the Rescue Rangers.
Just then, a commotion sounded from outside, followed by the rapid tramping of many feet. The Rangers again readied themselves for battle, but relaxed when they saw it was Officer O'Brie leading a group of S.A.P.S. members. The police rodents looked about them a few moments in surprise, then began rounding up the orange-clad gang for transport back to Alcatraz. Chip shook hands with the officer and gave him a somewhat exasperated welcome. "It's about time you all got here, Johnny!" the chipmunk said. "What kept you guys?"
Johnny offered an apologetic expression. "Sorry we didn't get here sooner, Chipper. This blasted fog made it tough t' get around an' find the right address! I'm glad everythin' seems t've turned out all right, though. I'm especially glad t' see you safe, Miss Gadget," he added with a nod to the female Ranger.
"I'm glad to see me safe, too, Johnny," Gadget replied with a smile. Then she turned to her Australian friend. "Monty! You're hurt!"
"Ah, I've been hurt lots worse'n this, luv, believe me," Monterey reassured her. "These're no worse than what I've done to meself shavin' in the mornin'! Besides, it's worth it all to make sure _this_ lot won't cause trouble again. Yep, mates, it looks like ol' Bubbles'll be going back to 'the Rock' fer another long stretch," the burly Ranger boasted. Then he looked around, and his smile faded as realization hit him. "Here, now, wait a minute! Just where is that hooded hooligan?!"
Everyone else looked around frantically, but Bubbles was nowhere to be seen.
"Ooohh, spooky," said Dale. "Just like in the movie! The terror lurking in the darkness...."
"Yeah, only this isn't a movie," Chip reminded him. "Johnny, have your men spread out and search the place. Gadget, you better stick close to us so he can't grab you again. Everyone, have your weapons ready!"
"Wait a sec, guys, I need a plunger dart for my crossbow!" the blond-haired inventor told them. "Oh, there's one right over there by that support beam. Just hang on...." she said as she dashed to pick up her ammunition.
"Gadget, wait--!" Chip called out to her...too late.
"EEEEKKKK!!!" Gadget yelled as Bubbles, red-faced with anger, darted out from his hiding place and grabbed the distaff Ranger. The villain had disappeared in the confusion of battle and hidden in the shadows, waiting for an opening. Now he had made his move, and held Gadget captive with one arm while holding his bottle-opener at her neck. The threat was obvious, though Bubbles decided to make sure these do-gooders understood completely.
"I'm _NOT_ going back to that place -- not until I've taken care of her!" he shouted at the forces of animal law and order. He started to back away towards the wall behind him. "Don't any of you try to follow me, either, or else you can kiss Little Miss Toymaker here goodbye!"
Gadget strained to make herself heard despite the sharp weapon pointed at her throat. "Don't listen to him, guys! You know what he'll do to me, anyway!" But her friends could only stand and watch. They dared not try to stop Bubble's escape, not while Gadget's life was directly threatened like this.
The hooded rodent reached a far wall, then turned, opened a heavy hidden door, and dashed through it to the outside. Chip, Dale, and Zipper, who were closest to Bubbles, raced for the door, which started to swing shut as they neared it. Zipper put on a burst of speed and flew through the opening, while Chip executed a dive-and-roll and managed to slip past the descending panel. Dale, on the other hand, was just a hair too late, and got pinned underneath the door as it closed. Chip and Zipper both anxiously turned back to their friend.
"Dale! Are you okay?" they asked with concern.
"Yeah, I'm just stuck. Don't worry about me, guys, go help Gadget! The others'll get me out."
Chip and Zipper dashed off into the fog-shrouded night, following the dim sounds of running feet ahead of them. As a detective, the chipmunk prided himself on following a trail; under these weather conditions, however, Bubbles might just give him the slip, despite Zipper's help. If that happened, there was little chance of ever seeing Gadget alive again. Fortunately, as the two Rangers ran past the vague shape of a mousehole to their left, Zipper caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye.. He called Chip's attention to it, and together they doubled back to check it out. Sure enough, there was something familiar lying in front of the hole -- Gadget's pocket wrench! Somehow, she had managed to drop it as a clue for her friends to follow. Chip picked it up and thrust it into his jacket pocket, then he and Zipper went through the mousehole.
It led into a darkened factory of some sort. Several pieces of heavy machinery stood silently throughout the building, and the mingled scent of machine oil and human sweat were heavy in the air. Standing just inside, the two Rangers strained to catch some noise to home in on, and were finally rewarded by the faint sounds of receding footsteps heading away from them, towards the back. Suddenly, a cry of "Help!" pierced the air, as Bubbles took his hand off Gadget's mouth for a moment; this was almost immediately followed by the sound of one of the machines starting up. Chip and Zipper immediately dashed in that direction, frantically hoping they weren't too late.
* * * * *
Gadget struggled frantically but vainly as "The Hooded Menace" held her down with brutal strength, his hands like vise-grips around her arms. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the die-cutting tool advancing remorselessly toward her lovely head.
"Just a few more seconds, and it'll all be over at last," he gloated. "Oh, how I've waited for this!"
"You'll pay for this, you monster!" Gadget said what she was sure would be her final words on this earth. "You haven't won yet!"
"Yeah, right! Who's gonna save you _this_ time -- Darkwing Duck?"
The die-cutter closed in on Gadget...she felt the breeze of the air rushing past the tool...she turned away and closed her eyes to brace for the killing stroke....
Suddenly, just as Bubbles was about to complete his revenge, something small, fast, and green wrapped a line around his waist. Before the villain could react, he found himself being pulled off the machine's platform. He was so taken by surprise that he continued holding onto Gadget's arms and pulled her back with him as he fell. Landing with a "THUD!", the hooded mouse was sandwiched, for Gadget landed right on top of him and knocked the wind out of him for a moment. This also caused him to loosen his grasp, and she quickly broke free and ran to join her saviors.
"Chip! Zipper! Oh, thank heavens!" Gadget said as she hugged them. "Come on, let's get out of here!"
"No, you and Zipper go get the others, Gadget. I'm going to make sure he doesn't get away to cause any more trouble, either for you or anyone else," Chip replied. Both the fly and the mouse inventor looked at their leader in shock. "Chip, you can't be serious," she said to him, with Zipper vigorously nodding agreement. "He's too big and strong for you to fight alone!"
"Better listen to her, pal," Bubbles said as he got up, untangled himself from Chip's rope, and started advancing on the three Rangers. "I AM going to get rid of that toymaker tonight, once and for all, even if I have to use my bare hands! And if that means I gotta get rid of =1Fyou first...well, that's okay by me!"
"Give it up, Bubbles! There's no way I'm going to let you hurt Gadget!" the chipmunk responded.
"DON'T CALL ME 'BUBBLES'! I'M 'THE HOODED MENACE'!!!" shouted the hulking villain, madness clearly evident behind the anger in his eyes.
The detective steeled himself for battle. "Go on, Gadget, get out of here! You too, Zipper!" he urged.
Gadget shook her head and stood her ground next to her partner, while Zipper took up a position above and between them. "No, Chip, we're Rescue Rangers, too. If you're staying, then we're staying. We'll take him on together," she said grimly. Chip realized she wouldn't leave, so he simply nodded and handed Gadget her pocket wrench so she could have some sort of weapon....
Bubbles grinned maniacally and rushed at his opponents, who divided three ways-- Chip to his left, Gadget to his right, and Zipper straight ahead of him. Forced to make a decision as to which Ranger to go after, he turned toward Gadget, who retreated toward one of the crates. Chip took the opportunity to leap upon Bubbles' back and try to put a sleeper hold upon him. The hulking rodent, however, simply reached behind him, plucked the chipmunk off his back, and threw him aside like a rag doll. In doing so, Bubbles half-turned away from Gadget, who rushed up and whacked him on the head with her wrench. The villain cried out in pain and lashed out with a vicious backhand that caught Gadget flush across the side of her head, causing her to stumble back and fall unconscious to the floor.
Seeing this, Zipper went ballistic and flew all about his enemy, plucking at hairs, biting the rodent, and punching him as hard as he could with his tiny fists. To Bubbles, though, this was more akin to irritating a raging bull than actually causing him harm. Outraged, the hooded mouse stabbed the air to try and swat the pesky, heroic fly. Before Zipper knew it, Bubbles connected, sending Zipper flying hard up against the side of a crate and putting him out of the action, too.
Meanwhile, Chip recovered from his imitation of a football, and saw what had happened to both his insect partner and to the girl he loved. Livid with rage, he got up and faced his enemy. "YOU BULLY!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "That's all you are, Bubbles. You're no 'hooded menace,' no criminal mastermind with plans of domination, just a big bully of a mouse who likes throwing his weight around. You think you can intimidate everyone, don't you? WELL, NOT ME! You can push others around, people who can't fight back, but I'm not one of them! COME ON, YOU WALKING AD FOR A BRAIN TRANSPLANT, GIVE ME YOUR BEST SHOT!!" Then, almost as an afterthought, Chip added scathingly, "That is, unless you don't think you can take me in a _fair_ fight."
There was a method to Chip's madness, of course. He was not only venting his anger, but was also trying to bait Bubbles into wasting time fighting him while (a) Gadget and Zipper recovered, and (b) the other Rangers and the SAPS officers arrived to help out. Whether or not it worked depended on whether the chipmunk had correctly assumed that these insults would cause the hooded rodent to forget everything else and come after him, instead of finishing off the unconscious Gadget and Zipper. Chip soon had his answer, as Bubbles took out his bottle-opener and started swinging and thrusting at the leader of the Rescue Rangers, trying to skewer the chipmunk like a shishkabob. Such was the berserker rage of the villain that Chip quickly realized that he couldn't evade such vicious blows for very long. On the other hand, though, he _could_ turn his enemy's hatred to his advantage....
Chip led Bubbles along with his dodges amid the crates and machines until the Ranger was apparently pinned up against the base of the die-cutter. The hulking mouse let out a yell of victory as he raised his weapon for the kill. But just as the blade started to descend, Chip dove out to one side...revealing the high-voltage electrical cord he had concealed behind him! The bottle-opener pierced the cord and Bubbles was immediately subjected to a powerful and prolonged electrical shock. The villain finally recoiled from the shock, badly dazed, and walked right into the hardest punch Chip could possibly deliver. 'The Hooded Menace' took the punch, rolled his eyes, and crumpled to the floor in an unconscious heap -- a clean knockout.
"Ohhh...Chip?" came a familiar voice from the other side of the machine.
The detective went to the young woman on the floor as she stirred and tried to get up. "Gadget, are you all right?" he asked worriedly.
Gadget nodded. "I think I'll have a sore head for a week, but I'm okay otherwise." Then she saw Zipper lying nearby. "Zipper! Speak to me!"
"bzzzz." The heroic housefly was also coming around, a bit dazed but none the worse for his fight.
"Thank goodness," Gadget said to Chip with relief in her voice. "I never would have forgiven myself if anything had happened to him. Or if anything had happened to you, Chip," she added gratefully. She then turned her gaze toward the vague shape of the mouse who had caused so much trouble for her and her friends. "Is he...?"=0B=09"Out cold," Chip answered as he reached into his jacket to take out a pair of mouse-sized handcuffs.. "We'll cuff him and deliver him to Johnny. That should finally put an end to all this." He offered his hand to Gadget to help her up, but when she accepted it, he winced in pain. "OW!" he cried.
"Chip! What's wrong?" Gadget asked, full of concern.
"I think I broke my hand making that last punch," the chipmunk said with a grimace.
Gadget gave him a wry grin. "Well, look on the bright side. At least now you've got a perfect excuse to take some time off and relax for a change...."
* * * * *
At Alcatraz, the only signal that morning was arriving at last was the perception that the fog was becoming brighter and whiter than before. It wasn't nearly as bright, however, as the spirits of the five rodents and one housefly who walked outside the gates and headed for the Rangerwing.. Monterey Jack took a deep breath and relished it with gusto, while Zipper mimicked his actions.
"Ahhh! There's nothin' like crisp mornin' air!" Monty said. "I gotta admit, fer a while there, I thought I wasn't ever goin' to breathe it again. I don't think I wanta even _look_ at soda again, much less drink it!"
"Yeah," Dale agreed with a chuckle, "especially after what it did to our fur. Talk about your 'sticky' situations!"
Gadget smiled and put her arm around the bat's shoulders. "We wouldn't be here at all if it hadn't been for Foxglove. You know, Foxie, all you need is a halo, and you'd make a pretty good guardian angel!"
"Somehow, I think she'll settle for wearing the Rescue Rangers symbol, don't you?" Monty whispered to Zipper, who was perched on the Australian's shoulder. The fly smiled and nodded in agreement.
Foxglove blushed with modest pride and looked over at Dale with a grin. "Gee, thanks, Gadget. I know I wasn't supposed to be there, but I just thought Dale might need a little help."
"Dale _always_ needs just a little help," Chip chuckled and tried to give his partner and best friend a slap on the back. Unfortunately, it was with the hand that was wrapped in a plaster cast. "OW! That smarts!"
"Actually, it looked like a pretty silly thing to do, Chip, slapping me with a broken hand like that," Dale shot back playfully as he and the other Rangers climbed aboard the Rangerwing for the ride home.
"Well, what am I supposed to do with it?" Chip asked as he got into the co-pilot's seat next to Gadget. "I just can't sit around for two weeks and do nothing while it mends!"
The blond-haired inventor smiled, took Chip's injured hand, and gently placed it in her own, giving a tender pat for good measure. "Oh, Chip," Gadget said to her friend and leader, "the city's not going to fall to pieces if you take a couple of weeks off. Just sit back and enjoy each day as it comes. And believe me," she added as she started the engines, "some days it feels good just to be alive!"
Warden Crighton, The Chief, Officer Grayson, Officer Johnny O'Brie, and the Small Animal Protection Service (SAPS) of San Francisco are Copyright 1994, 1996 by Jeff Pierce.
Special appearance by the demon Negaduck courtesy of his chief agent, Kim McFarland, President of the Negaduck Fan Club.
Note: The "Darkwing Duck" that Bubbles refers to is an animated character from a television series, as opposed to the "real" Darkwing Duck who lives in St. Canard and is really peeved that his arch-enemy got a cameo in this story and not him....
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