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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Thirty One

       Last updated: Monday, August 23, 2004 22:28 EDT



The environment surrounding a small galago.

Mostly darkness, thugs and the bouquet of fresh seafood.

    "Fluff, they've stopped me going off this floor. Thank goodness I got the chainsaw as far as the bushes under my window first. Now if you can get that garden line up to the bathroom, I'm sure I can haul it up."

    "Si, Senorita. The line is ready. She is attached to the strong line of fishing, which is already attached to the window catch. You will just have to haul it up. You are sure you cannot climb down the same way?"

    Virginia shook her head. "I know it is a rope to you, and as easy as falling off a log, but I'm too big. I can't climb down that string, Fluff. I don't think I could climb down four stories anyway. But we need to do something. I can't just leave Chip to be punished dreadfully for something he didn't do—and that creep made me sign those proxy forms. Those forms will allow Talbot Cartup to use my votes at the HAR Company Shareholders meeting!"

    She still seethed every time she thought about it. "I don't know what he's planning to do with them, but it won't be anything good. I'm going to haul that chainsaw up and see if I can cut my way out of here, tonight."

    Fluff shook his head agitatedly. "There are a lot of guards, mi Virginia. They have guns."

    "That's their problem," she snarled, the fury at being helpless for so long boiling up. "They have a disadvantage. They need to keep me alive. If I die, the shares get spread out through a whole slew of second and third cousins. I don't have that to worry about. I'll kill anyone who gets in my way."

    Fluff was still dubious. "Even if, as you say, they do not wish to kill you, they can shoot you in the arm or the leg. How could we flee then?" He took a deep breath. "No. Better it is by far that I go to our comrades, and bring them to your aid."

    "But Fluff. You can't go on your own!"

    Fluff took a deep breath. "Senorita. Indeed, I will go. Of course I will go! But... It is not at all certain I am where I have to go? It makes no matter. Let it not be said that Don Juan el Magnifico de Gigantico de Immaculata Conception y Major de Todos Saavedra Quixote de la Mancha would not go to the help of his comrades-in-arms! Only... is it possible that I could have my second-best waistcoat from your cupboard? I would feel better if I was smartly dressed."

    The blue and silver waist-coat did make the seven-inch-tall Caballero stand taller. It also made him stand out.

    "Er, Fluff, it does make you so much easier to see," said Virginia, after a suitable amount of admiration. Fluff adored admiration.

    The galago held out his little black-palmed hands. "Virginia, if it is that I am going to die, I would not be looking scruffy." He spun on his toes, doing a perfect swirl of his soft-fluffed tail. "Anyway, I do not plan to travel out in the garbage-truck after all. They are searching. They stick the long sharp rods into the garbage."

    "Then how? I mean, there are detectors on the fence, if you tried to jump over. And if you hit it..." She shuddered. "That's five thousand volts, Fluff."

    "I shall go out in the parcel of the security-guard. They are stealing from the kitchen, with the help of the cook. She is leaving the box with the food in it, just outside the scullery door. The guard with the nose that is broken and the one with the ears of the bigness," he said, supremely un-selfconscious about his own huge ears. "One of them collects it and takes it out of the gate with them. They search everything, but no one searches them."

    Virginia discovered that the little piece of petty thievery took place just after dusk each day, when the day-shift changed over with the night-staff. The security guards didn't go out every night, but those two Fluff had watched for a week now. One or the other went out every night. It would give Fluff the hours of darkness to escape and find the rats or bats. Well, at least to start doing so. Galagos were nocturnal, and in the dark Fluff at least had some advantages to make up for his size.



    It had seemed like such a good idea until he had actually closed the box-lid on himself. Now, Fluff wondered if he had not traded in his biggest single advantage, which was not his delicate, sensitive ears, or his big eyes, or his soft fur, fine waistcoat and good looks, but his ability to leap thirty-five feet. Inside a cardboard box, containing several pounds of virtually unobtainable wartime luxuries, his leaping was a little curtailed. If someone put their hand into the box, there was nowhere to jump to. Besides... the box smelled of seafood. He was not fond of the smell. It was also cramped and cold.

    The box was picked up. The other disadvantage Fluff now saw—or didn't see, rather—was that he had no idea where he was. He wanted to escape before he found himself in confined quarters, like a car or a house. But not too soon, either. He wanted to be well away from Shaw House.

    He comforted himself with the knowledge that the thief could hardly admit that he'd carried Fluff through security with his stolen goods. The staff assumed that he was somewhere out on the golf-course, hiding. Let them go on thinking that.

    On the other hand, the thief could just kill him. Fluff had no delusions that, trapped inside something where he could not get away, that could not happen.

    "You skiving out again, Kurt?" demanded a voice.

    They must be at the gate.

    "Yeah, I've got nice bit of crumpet in town. I got to keep her in service or next time I go there I'm likely to find some other bastard's ass in my way."

    "And that box is candy just to keep her sweet?"

    "Hold your lip, Stett, if you know what's good for you. It's just some kitchen scraps."

    "Ha. Let's see what kind of scraps the kitchen is throwing out these days. Come on, let's have a look."

    Fluff tensed. Why tonight of all nights? "I'll cut you in for a twenty, Stett. You make trouble and you're a dead man walking."

    The threat obviously didn't worry Stett, by his bored tone. "Make that fifty, Kurt. It's a good racket you and Ridell have going. It's worth fifty."

    "I don' get that much."

    "Fifty, Kurt."

    Fluff barely restrained himself from yelling: "Give it to him!"

    There was a rustle. "Bloodsucker," muttered Kurt.

    "Have a great evening with your crumpet, Kurt. Give her one for me."

    The Security man said nothing, but the box began to sway again as he moved off.

    Some long minutes later, someone else spoke. "You 'ave got it?"

    "Yep. But it's gonna cost extra. That blood-sucking bastard Stett is onto me. He wanted fifty just to get it outa the gates."

    "We 'ave agreed on a price. 'Ow you get it out is your problem."

    "There are other restaurants."

    "Not that will buy things like this."

    "Well, gimme the money then," Kurt said irritably. "But it'll serve you right if I just stop supplying. You see where you can get this stuff then."

    "I do not think that you will stop. Not while you can make money at it," said the accented voice, wryly. "'ere. Put it in the van. You 'ave everything I asked for?"

    "Down to the two kilos of Stavanger bay prawns. You name it, cookie orders it, you get it."

    "Here is the list for tomorrow. I must get capers. The growers 'ave lost their farms with the war. But Shaw will 'ave some in the pantries."

    "I can't guarantee stuff like that. It'll cost extra."

    "For that and the sauce aux capres for the coalfish, I will pay extra. Not for other things. Now, I must get moving. The curfew is soon."

    As Fluff, stiff and cramped, struggled to open the box and flee into the night, the door slammed. By the time he had gotten out of the box, the vehicle was moving. Fluff didn't mind too much, as it was pitch dark and experience told him he could find places to hide in any car, as small as he was. And surely the farther he got from the Shaw Mansion, the better.

    He soon discovered that he was in error on at least one count. The vehicle he was being transported in was designed to be a perfect galago prison, with no place to hide. It was obviously some kind of delivery van, and he and the cardboard box were in the back. There wasn't even a door handle.

    Fluff had an awkward choice. Wait for the doors to open and bolt, or climb back into the fishy smelling box. He had no idea how long the trip would last, or where the buyer was going.



    "We need a couple of things, Miss Virginia," said Dr. Thom.

    He had a syringe in his hand. Ginny desperately wished for two things herself. One, that she was closer to her bed. And, secondly, that she could be sure the little chainsaw under it would pull first time. But she kept her cool, with some difficulty. With Fluff gone, and Chip a prisoner, she felt very much alone. "What is it, dear Doctor?"

    "Oh, I just need to take some blood from you. Just some standard checks on your medication absorption."

    "You're late with my tablets," she said sulkily, hiding her panic. "I don't see why I should help you. I need them."

    "And you shall have them, Miss Virginia. Just as soon as I have some co-operation," he said, showing just a hint of the iron fist hidden inside that apparently solicitous care.

    "Oh, all right. But I need them. I actually need more." She let him take her arm and put a blood-pressure cuff on it.

    "Oh I think we can increase the dose slightly when I get these absorption results back."

    "And when will that be?"

    "Usually about two days, Miss Virginia. Now the other matter is that Talbot Cartup is coming to have some pictures taken with you. You might want to dress smartly for the occasion."

    "I don't like him," she said sulkily. "He's old and smelly."

    The sleek muscular doctor looked at her as he withdrew the needle, the syringe now full of dark red blood. "Well, you could marry me instead, you know. But don't say anything to Talbot. Just go along with him... or I might forget your pills. Or cut down on them."

    It was a good thing, Virginia reflected later, that she'd been too stunned to speak.



    Fluff had opted for hiding in the box again. By the noises out there, they'd entered GBS City. Fluff knew it wasn't his most courageous decision, but it was the easiest. Maybe... Maybe this person would set the box down before opening it. Fluff kept the lid open and stretched and rubbed his limbs. He'd pull the lid closed at the last minute when the vehicle stopped. He wasn't going to be cold, stiff and not ready for action, this time.

    The vehicle slowed and stopped. The engine was switched off. Fluff hastily pulled the lid closed, and lay still.

    The doors opened and someone picked up the box, carried it for a distance, and put it down. "I will convey the prawns to the new safe in the chill-room. See that the rest is put away.

    Fingers inserted themselves into the box. And then there was pandemonium.

    Leaping out, Fluff had the advantage on nearly everyone else in the room. It had been dark inside the box. It was now dark out here. Galagos are nocturnal, arboreal creatures. Swinging from tree-limb to tree-limb was quite as easy as leaping from outstretched human limb to limb as they blundered about in the shriek-filled darkness.

    This place was plainly a very large kitchen. Fluff was quite capable of seeing that he had company in his arbor-human adventures. Four rats were scurrying for the doorway, with the Starvanger-bay prawns that had just recently been in the kitchen of Shaw House. Fluff decided to head after the disappearing rats. He'd wanted to find rats, anyway.

    A flailing hand made contact with his tail, and he was obliged to bite somebody. Then, as he reached the door, another leaper bounced off the far wall like a cannon-ball, and actually overtook him. The florescent lights flickered as someone had reached the main-switch.

    There was just time to catch a glimpse of blue fur before the other leaper cleared the southern outside wall. A shotgun boomed. Fluff, in panic, leaped clear over the other wall. He found himself in the middle of a road, trapped in oncoming traffic. At the last moment, he somehow unfroze from the sight of the headlights on the oncoming hooting monstrosity. He leapt straight up and let it pass under him, before hitting the road again, jumping as he touched down. He dodged another vehicle and bounded across the roadway and up a stone-pine on the far side.

    He wasn't staying there, either. There was a wonderfully convenient avenue of the trees. Fluff decided that he'd look for the rats later. Right now what he wanted was to be elsewhere. Fast.

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