The song "One Particular Harbour" is by Jimmy Buffett.
Tale Spin is the property of Buena Vista/Disney, borrowed for non-profit purposes. All new characters are the property of the fan fiction series Tale Spin: High Flight and the author of this story, and may not be used without permission.
The Air Taxi's nose gently grazed the dock, leaving a spray of foam in its wake. An athletic tigress paid the pilot and began her saunter down the dock towards the ramshackle building. At her heels, a wide-eyed kitten turned her head from side to side, attempting to take in all that was Louie's Island: the surge of the sea against the rocks, the lush jungle vegetation, the cries of tropical birds, and finally, the bizarre edifice that was Louie's Place itself. Li'l Bit cocked her head inquisitively and studied the structure before her, with its thatched roof, intricately carved right wall, patchwork of additions, and what looked for all the world like a crow¹s nest sticking up through the top.
"Arizona? That a boat?"
Arizona Johnson laughed heartily. "I think it was, once. Louie just kind of...improved on it."
As the duo approached, they could hear a slow, wistful ballad curling out from within the depths of the restaurant like the smoke from a chimney. A rough but pleasant voice sang along.
"I know I don't get there often enough
But God knows I surely try
It's a magic kind of medicine
No doctor could prescribe..."
Inside the bar, Baloo grinned and waved two fingers at Louie, ordering another round of Pineapple Fizzies. His friend was playing the piano to beat all. Kit licked a clump of ice cream off his spoon and swayed his head to the music. In the corner, an old black panther, considerably whitened around the muzzle, sipped his drink slowly and stared down at the counter, his eyes fixed on nothing.
"I used to rule my world from a pay phone
Ships out on the sea
But now times are rough, oh, I got too much stuff
I can't explain the likes of me..."
Arizona took a deep breath of salt sea air. "I'm up for a big, frosty Mango Fandango... with extra lemon. What do you say, Li'l?"
Li'l Bit's attention was taken away from the rows of seaplanes that bobbed on either side of Louie's dock. "Cold juice?" Her mouth watered, but her eyes were quickly drawn to a colourful toucan preening itself on a palm tree. The tropical island was very, very different from her former home of Q'ilu, and she sought to take in as much of this new environment as she could. Her curious paw traced over the prow of a beautiful, shiny yacht with the name LUNGRI'S PRIDE emblazoned on the side.
Inside, the song played on.
"But there's this one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within.
A most mysterious calling harbour
So far, and yet, so near
Where I see the days as they fade away
And finally, disappear."
On the right side of the dock, several of Louie's grease monkeys were carefully tending a Khan Incorporated trimotor. Three of them clambered one over another to fill the plane's tanks with avgas while another washed the windshield and a third drew the dipstick from the oil tank. The craft's pilot and copilot, looking smart in their Khan Industries flight jackets, waved to Arizona as they sauntered towards the building.
Suddenly, the head pilot froze in his tracks. His companion turned to him questioningly, only to receive an elbow in the ribs and a gesture towards the yacht. The copilot scowled at the sight and turned abruptly on his heel, muttering to himself. The pilot-in-command gestured to one of the monkeys and handed him some money. Moments later, the monkey returned with a tray of drinks for Shere Khan's men. Arizona's keen eyes noticed the exchange and she looked curiously at the yacht, wondering what had prompted this behaviour. LUNGRI'S PRIDE bobbed innocuously at her moorings; upon a second glance, the words WESTMORELAND SHIPPING INC. were noticeable, written in smaller letters underneath the boat's name. They meant nothing to Arizona.
"Arizona! What you wait for?" demanded Li'l Bit.
The pianist suddenly broke into a fast tempo, his hands pounding the keys, and after a few seconds Louie's band had picked up their instruments and joined in.
"But now I think about the good times
Down in the Caribbean sunshine
In my younger days I was so bad
Laughin' about all the fun we had
I seen enough to feel the world spin
Mixin' different oceans meetin' cousins
Listen to the drummers and the night sounds
Listen to the singers make the world go 'round..."
Arizona Johnson opened the door to Louie's Place and saw a sight that made her jaw drop open.
She had been around the world to legendary places, see wonders beyond belief and treasure beyond imagining, lived a thousand adventures that would make anyone's mind spin--yet nothing she had done could have prepared her for this moment.
Shere Khan, dressed in a tattered brown corduroy jacket and a white captain's cap, sitting at the piano and playing to beat the band.
Baloo saw her at the last moment. He held out his hand in a silent signal to stop, but her attention was riveted on the tiger at the piano.
Abruptly, the music fell silent.
He turned to face her, slowly and deliberately, and although the face was eerily reminiscent of Shere Khan, the differences were distinct. This tiger wore gold wire-rimmed glasses that sat across his nose under a pair of wildly bushy brown eyebrows. A few streaks of brown hair remained in his ruff, as did a few tufts above his ears, and a long striped tail swished from side to side behind him. Long white whiskers sprouted on each side of his nose and hung in rainbow-shaped arcs. Aside from these features and the worn clothes, though, the pianist was the mirror image of Shere Khan. A pair of glittering ice-blue eyes locked with hers.
"Ari! That not the tiger we meet in Q'ilu!" Bit stated.
An eyebrow lifted warily and the stranger frowned. "I...I'm sorry," Arizona said. It took a lot to fluster Arizona Johnson, archaeologist and adventuress; and at the moment Arizona was quite flustered. "You look so much like..." Baloo's hand closed over her mouth before she could say anything more.
"Hey! Don't you touch her like that!" the kitten said suspiciously.
"Drop it, Ari," Baloo hissed in her ear.
Had Louie's eyes not been focused on the drama before him, he might have noticed that one of his oldest and quietest customers had, quite uncharacteristically, lowered his glass. The elderly panther was regarding Shere Khan's double with unusual interest.
The pianist reached out and wrapped his left hand around the handle of a highly polished oak cane, a deep sadness reflected in his eyes. He climbed wearily to his feet and limped to the window, seeming to have aged ten years in the moment. Arizona could not help but marvel at his likeness to Mr. Khan in age, stature, and the proud way he held his head high in spite of his half-crippled leg.
Kit hopped up onto the sill and looked into the tiger's face. "Gee, Lungri, she didn't mean it. It was an honest mistake." Behind him, the old panther raised his eyebrow and nodded to himself.
The sea-blue eyes focused on the sparkling water for a moment, and then the stranger nodded his head and half-turned to Baloo and Arizona. "My apologies. Lungri Westmoreland, at your service."
"Arizona Johnson." They shook hands.
"A friend of yours, Baloo?" The pilot nodded, and Mr. Westmoreland smiled. "Well and good." The middle-aged tiger checked his watch. "Oh, dear. A business meeting in less than an hour. I suppose I should take the PRIDE and head out for Cape Suzette. Good day, Ms. Johnson." He took a few steps towards the door, leaning heavily on the cane, and then looked back over his shoulder. "Is Rebecca busy tonight?"
Baloo paused. "Well, um....yeah, she is. She's working really hard on landing a new contract for Higher for Hire, Incorporated."
Lungri's face fell. "Oh. I suppose she'd be too busy to go to dinner then."
"Yeah, afraid so. There's a lot more to be done to finalize our new partnership."
"What are you talking about, Baloo?" Kit demanded. "Miz Cunningham works way too hard. I think a night on the town would do her good."
The tiger's face brightened, and he nodded sharply. "Well, then! I'll be seeing you around, Baloo." He smiled and waved to the assembled crowd, and as he left the restaurant, Arizona witnessed a most amazing sight. Every freelance pilot in the house climbed to his feet and raised his glass to Lungri Westmoreland.
In the corner, the elderly panther got to his feet as well, and elevated his mug. Only Louie overheard the words he spoke beneath his breath. "Seems you managed to make something of yourself after all. Here's to you, Lungri Khan."
"Boy, he big noise around here," Li'l Bit said.
Frowning, Louie pulled his attention away from the panther and forced a smile onto his lips as he addressed Li'l Bit. "Long story, kid. In fact, it's so long, you gotta eat ice cream while you listen."
"Ice cream?" Within seconds, the kitten's eyes were opened wide at the full splendor of a Krakatoa Special. She almost hated to sink her spoon into the mounds of frozen taste delights...almost, but not quite.
Baloo lowered his glass from the customary toast, but the hints of a scowl remained on his face. "What's gotten into you, Papa Bear?" Kit asked. "You're the one complaining that Rebecca needs to loosen up more."
The grey bear shook his head and sighed. "Wish I knew, kiddo. Not only is Lungri there a freelance pilot's hero and a personal friend, but he's the first boyfriend Becky's had that's not either a criminal, a ghost, or a smarmy fancy-pants pretty boy. So why is it buggin' me so much?"
"I don't think he's exactly her boyfriend, Baloo," Kit observed.
"Hey, chill out, cuz," Louie advised. "This partnership thing's got you all tense. You need to unwind yourself. Sit down, my man, and treat yourself to one of Louie's tropical treats."
"Would someone please tell me what that was all about?"Arizona demanded. "Why does that guy look like Shere Khan's twin brother?"
Baloo sighed again. "That guy _is_ Shere Khan's twin brother."
Arizona's mouth opened and closed comically, but no sound came out. "You better be makin' yourself comfortable, pretty lady," Louie said. "We told you it was a long story."
The most intelligent thing Arizona could think of to say was, "I never knew Shere had a twin brother! I...I mean, we went to boarding school together for all those years and he never _once_ mentioned..."
"There's a good reason for that," Baloo sighed. "Believe me, I was just as confused as you when the whole thing started. I guess it musta been about two or three years back now. Kit and I were on a cargo run, delivering beans to one of Lyndon's major accounting firms..."
In the background, the old panther moved forward a few barstools to listen.
A small, plush yacht bobbed on the water near the rugged coastline of the Corkney Islands. Its sole occupant was relaxing in a deck chair, his feet resting on the rail, and his right hand idly holding a fishing pole over the side. He was a tall, middle-aged tiger, and were it not for his long whiskers, bushy fur, tail, and wire-rimmed glasses, he would have been the spitting image of Shere Khan--if one could ever imagine Shere Khan in a raggedy brown corduroy jacket and khaki pants, with a battered captain's cap on his head. Around his neck hung a silver chain with a pendant, upon which was emblazoned the SK sigil of Shere Khan Industries.
"Ah, this is the life," sighed Lungri Westmoreland as he adjusted the pillow behind his back.
He was startled out of his reverie by the roar of a low-flying fighter plane. Had he been closer, he might have been able to see that the insignia on the craft's tail fin exactly matched that of his necklace. Startled, Lungri looked up and watched the craft descend to land on the largest of the Corkney Islands.
"I suppose the current owner must have built an airstrip. I wonder whatever for." He chuckled to himself. "If they're in search of the pirate treasure supposedly buried on the Corkneys, I hope they have better luck than I ever did."
A few minutes later, a whole squadron of fighters and a few transport planes touched down. A frown creased the tiger's face. "A large-scale effort indeed. Hmph. I wonder, if I had inherited those islands, would I have done the same?" He spent several minutes gazing over the starboard rail, lost in old memories. Finally he sighed regretfully, shook his head to clear it, and resumed fishing.
The tiger in the yacht was not the only one who noticed the Khan planes. Two pirate CT-37's passed by the other side of the island, watching the frantic activity on the ground as panthers scurried to and fro, constructing crude buildings, adding lights to the side of the airstrip, unloading boxes, organizing the aircraft. "Now what could Khan's men possibly be doing here?" wondered Don Karnage out loud.
Gibber scratched his head, leaned out the side of the cockpit, and observed carefully. His face brightened as the squadron touched down on the makeshift aerodrome, and he whispered into his radio.
"I know they are landing, idiot! My wonderfully calculating mind thinks this may be worth a closer look." Karnage grinned wickedly and set a course back to the Iron Vulture.
"You sure this is the right place?" asked the young panther pilot. "Doesn't look like much to me."
Another pilot, wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses, nodded in agreement. "Why would the boss want a hole like this? There's nothing here but rocks, trees, and the river."
The squadron leader had a military bearing and a highly polished nametag that read QUARRY. "It's not our job to question Mr. Khan," Captain Quarry snapped. "He gives the orders, and we follow through. Right now, our orders are to stop any planes, except ours, from flying over this island."
"Is that legal, sir?" worried the young pilot.
"Let Khan worry about that. It's his problem."
Kit looked out the window of the Sea Duck to watch its wing slice through a nearby cumulus cloud. A thin wisp of white puff trailed out from behind the wingtip as the yellow seaplane flew on.
"How far are we from Armitage City, Little Britches?" Baloo asked, and Kit returned his attention to the map in his lap.
"About thirty miles, Papa Bear. We just have to fly over the Corkney Islands." Kit gestured to the chain directly in front of them.
Suddenly a fighter plane appeared beside the Sea Duck, seemingly out of nowhere. "This is restricted airspace," the pilot informed them over the radio. "Clear out or you will be shot down."
"Hold the speaker," protested Baloo. "Shot down under whose orders?"
"Shere Khan's." Baloo looked again and noticed the S.K. insignia on the plane's tail fin. "The Corkney Islands are part of his property."
Kit grabbed the speaker away from Baloo and depressed the button. "Well, those islands may be his, but the airspace above it isn't. The only way air vectors can be closed is by order of the government. Let us through!" He released the speaker and settled back in his seat, confident in his knowledge of air regulations.
"Khan takes care of legality," snapped the panther pilot. "We just fly. Now turn back!" The fighter fired a warning shot across the Sea Duck's nose.
Baloo narrowed his eyes, ready to try to pass the lone pilot. "Three o' clock!" cried Kit. Baloo turned his head to see an entire squadron of Khan fighters approaching. Kit tugged on his sleeve. "We can't outfly all of them, Papa Bear," Kit said, and Baloo knew he was right.
Baloo sighed and reluctantly turned the Sea Duck sixty degrees port. "Look, pal," Baloo said over the radio, "I don't wanna get into a fight with you guys, but I got a load of cargo to deliver to Lyndon, Lyonnesse. The flight route to Lyonnesse goes right over your boss' island. How'm I supposed to make my delivery?"
The young panther sighed, feeling genuinely sorry for the crew of the Sea Duck. He'd met Baloo at Louie's years ago and had idolized him. "Follow the coastline down until you reach the end of the island," said Khan's pilot. "Panther Four and I will escort you. Please don't try to come closer than twelve nautical miles, or we will be forced to shoot you down."
"Here comes another plane!" cried Kit. He scrambled up on his seat to see what the panther squadron would do.
The plane flew on over the island, unchallenged.
"Hey!" Baloo hollered. "Why'd they let him over and not us?"
A look of dawning realization came over Kit's face as he noticed the tail fin of the other aircraft. "Look. It's a Khan cargo carrier!"
"Well, how do you like that? Khan's only letting his own planes through."
Kit looked down at the Corkney Islands, positioned right off the port wing. "Are we going to just give up?"
"We don't have any choice, kid." Baloo glared at the two-plane formation off his left side. "But you can bet your aileron that old Baloo's gonna check this out some more."
Don Karnage, Mad Dog and Dumptruck landed their planes in a small cove on the opposite side of the Corkney Islands and spent a good hour hacking their way through the underbrush with their swords. "Who is it?" Mad Dog asked as they snuck up on the makeshift airstrip. "Who? Who?"
"It is Shere Khan's pilots," Don Karnage whispered. "Now. What would someone as rich as Khan want with an island full of trees?"
Dumptruck pondered, and suddenly his face lit up. "I know! I know! Shade." The bulky pirate crossed his arms and smiled proudly. Karnage smacked his forehead. Some of the panther pilots evidently overheard, because they turned their heads towards the pirates in the shrubbery. "Aren't you going to thank me?" Dumptruck continued, certain that he had just experienced the greatest brainstorm of his life. Karnage grabbed each of his companions by the arm and dragged them down onto the ground. The panthers scanned the bushes; then, satisfied that the noise had only been a forest animal, returned to their business.
"Shut up your mouth, ninny poop!" Karnage yelled as quietly as he could. He was holding Dumptruck's muzzle shut to enforce his words when an idea occured to him. "Uno momento. The island might be worthless...but its owner is not! If we kidnapped Shere Khan we could ask for a reasonably enormous fortune in ransom money!"
"I don't think Khan is here, Boss," said Mad Dog into his radio, as they flew above the island.
"I will do the thinking here. I am the only one qualified! So keep your flapping tongue somewhere quiet, like in your closed-up mouth!" Suddenly Karnage's ranting was replaced by a tone of excitement. "Look! Down there in the boat! Is my wonderfully accurate eyesight having an offer day, or is that Khan himself?"
Oblivious to the air pirates flying overhead, Lungri Westmoreland reeled in his fishing line and cast it out again.
The tranquility of the island waters were shattered by a formation of CT-37 fighters passing overhead. Three of them touched down in the water behind the yacht, watched curiously by the middle-aged tiger. Assuming they were part of the island squadron, Lungri settled himself back in his chair and pulled his hat down over his eyes, oblivious to the pirates taxiing closer to the stern of his vessel. Quietly, Karnage climbed up on the back of the boat, followed by Mad Dog and Dumptruck. "Allo, Mr. Khan!" said Don Karnage.
Startled, the tiger dropped his fishing pole and climbed to his feet with the aid of his wooden cane. "Wha...whe... Who are you?"
"Come, come. Have you been getting forgetful in the head? Do you not remember Don Karnage, Prince of Pirates?"
"I'm telling you, I've never seen you before in my life." Lungri crossed his arms. "How do you know my name was Khan?"
"I've been a frequent visitor on your lovely cargo planes. Call me your best customer."
"Planes? I don't know who you think I am, but I don't have any planes. Now get off my boat!"
"Such manners," scolded Karnage as he drew his sword, and the two pirates behind him pulled out blunderbusses. "I will leave, Mr. Khan. And you are coming with me!"
On board the Iron Vulture, Karnage was grinning at his captive, who was locked in the brig. The tiger had a sheet of paper and a pen, but the page was blank. "If I were you, I would write a letter to my men. Shall we set the ransom at...oh, say, one hundred million dollars?"
Lungri's jaw dropped. "One hundred mil... I haven't got that kind of money! I don't even have fifty million dollars!"
"Come now, Mr. Khan. This is only a drip in a bucket for you. No more of your games!"
Ratchet came running in. "Cap'n, our new radar is working beautifully. We've just detected a small cargo aircraft approaching us from off the starboard bow. What would you like us to do?"
"Do you need to ask? Capture it!"
"Becky's gonna pop her pearls when she hears about this!" Baloo moaned. "It took us two extra tankfuls of gas to fly around Khan's goons."
Kit sighed. "The Corkney Islands run along almost the entire length of Lyonnesse."
"An' we're four hours late, and caught in this stinking fog besides--can't see anything past our nose. Today can't get any worse."
"I'm not sure about that, Baloo. Iron Vulture, twelve o' clock!"
Baloo pulled back on the stick, but the inside of the of the beak was already looming through the fog as it closed on the cargo plane. "We're inside. Oh, man..." Reluctantly, Baloo landed.
Karnage walked onto his balcony high above the hangar. "Allo, Sea Duck!" He took the steps down to the hangar floor and sauntered up to Baloo's plane while Baloo and Kit sat in place, watching him. Karnage leaned on the side of the seaplane, looked up at its pilot through the side window, and spoke in a conversational tone. "Tell me, what riches have you brought me?"
Baloo laughed. "We've got a hold full of...nothing! You're out of luck, Karny. We already delivered our cargo."
Karnage snarled; then he paused to reconsider. "But I now have the chance to get rid of you forever! This is indeed my luckiest day!"
"Come out of dere vith yer hands up,"demanded Dumptruck, as he brandished his blunderbuss. Mad Dog amused himself by shooting out the Sea Duck's running lights, to Baloo's indignation, but the Sea Duck's crew both realized that they had no chance of outfighting the ring of pirates who were surrounding their aircraft. They slowly opened their doors and descended from the seaplane.
"Now, let me see," mused Karnage as two burly pirates hustled Baloo and Kit to the brig. "Should I boil you in vinegar, or feed you to the sharks pieces by pieces?" Kit and Baloo exchanged nervous glances.
They arrived at the brig. "Inside!" ordered Dumptruck.
"I will be back," Karnage threatened, "when I decide what to do with you." Baloo and Kit were pushed inside, and the door slammed behind them.
A figure emerged from the shadows in the far corner of the cell. "Who's there?" It demanded.
"Who are you?" Kit asked.
The shape stepped into the light, revealing a middle-aged tiger in a battered corduroy jacket. "Lungri Westmoreland." He shook both of their hands. "I was on vacation when these hooligans kidnapped me and sank my yacht. The head pirate seems to have mistaken me for someone else." He shook his head. "And I thought piracy had gone out with sailing ships."
Baloo laughed. "I only wish. Name's Baloo. I fly cargo, an' this here's my navigator, Kit Cloudkicker. The pirate captain is one Don Karnage, and..." Baloo snickered. "We've given him more than our share of trouble, I guess."
"And he's given us more than his," added Kit. "How're we gonna get out of this?"
"Check the bars."
"It's no use," Lungri informed him. "I'm afraid they're in tight. Those metal walls are terribly solid, too."
"That's no good to Karnage if we have the keys," Baloo grinned. He elbowed Kit and Lungri, then pointed. Through the barred door of the cell, a large ring of keys was hanging on a nail in plain sight.
Lungri slid his cane and his right arm through the bars. Gripping the cane by the bottom end, he stretched out with the hook. He pressed his body as close to the bars as he could, but the end of the cane was still a good two feet short of the key ring.
Kit studied the ring. "Let me give it a try." He pulled out his airfoil, slid it between the bars, and snapped it open. With a flick of his wrist, the airfoil flew across the room, hooked the key ring, and returned to Kit like a boomerang with the keys swinging from the end. The airfoil clattered into the bars with a bang, depositing the keys just a short distance from the bars.
"Nice work, Little Britches," congratulated Baloo, as Lungri reached out with his cane again and put the end of it through the keyring, dragging it closer until he could bend down and scoop up the keys.
No sooner did Lungri have the keyring in his hand then a burly pirate came shuffling down the corridor. He tripped on Kit's airfoil, grumbled to himself, and kicked the offending metal object to one side of the hall. The antlered moose ambled to a position in front of the door, his eyes barely registering the prisoners' presence as he turned about and settled back against the door with a *whoof.* He was completely oblivious to the missing keys--Karnage had told him to guard the cell door, and guard it he would. That was all he really needed to know--or so he thought, until a powerful blow from above sent him crumpling to the floor.
Baloo unlocked the cell door as Lungri carefully withdrew his cane from between the bars and grinned at the fallen pirate. The three began moving towards the hangar. Kit paused only a moment to scoop up his airfoil and give it a cursory examination for damage before he took the lead.
Upon reaching the hangar, the trio took cover behind one of many stacks of crates that stood in piles around the periphery. "How are we going to escape?" wondered Lungri.
"The yellow plane is mine," said Baloo. "We'll fly her right out of here...that is, if we can open the beak and get past those bozos."
"I've got a plan," Kit whispered.
A few minutes later, Lungri snuck out to the middle of the hangar, hiding behind pirate fighters and stolen heaps of cargo. Suddenly he stepped into the open and purposely knocked over a pile of boxes. "Oops."
"Khan's escaped!" yelped Hal. Jock and Gibber came running to help their compatriot capture the escaped prisoner. Lungri hooked his cane around Hal's foot and tripped him. He bonked Gibber on the head, and swung his cane like a baseball bat to send Jock flying.
Meanwhile, Baloo had reached the Sea Duck and started the engines. Kit ran to the lever that opened the mouth of the vulture and pulled it down. Lungri hopped into the plane as it taxiied towards the opening beak. "What about Kit?" asked Lungri, leaning out the passenger's window to keep an eye on the bear cub standing by the egress.
"Oh, he's fine," Baloo assured the tiger. "Grab the tow rope, and toss it to him as we go by." Confused, Lungri shrugged and took the rope Baloo had indicated, standing by the rear cargo doors as they opened.
Up on the balcony, Mad Dog looked down and saw three unconscious pirates and a Sea Duck on the move. "Captain! Captain! The prisoners are escaping!"
Don Karnage and several of his men came running. "What?" Karnage cried. "Get them!"
The Sea Duck rolled by Kit and Lungri threw the rope. Behind him, the Iron Vulture's motley crew was charging across the hangar in hot pursuit. As the rope pulled taut, Kit unfolded his airfoil and allowed the Sea Duck to pull him off the beak and into the air as he cloudsurfed behind the yellow plane. He waved to Don Karnage, who stood shaking his fist in anger on the end of the mouth. "Get your tailpipe back here, you stinking pilot!" hollered Karnage. He ground his teeth in frustration, knowing that by the time his men were ready for takeoff, the Sea Duck would be long gone.
Baloo hit the switch that activited the winch on the rope, pulling Kit into the plane. "Good show," smiled Lungri. "I wondered what that silver wing was used for."
"You mean my airfoil," said Kit. "It comes in handy."
Baloo looked at his watch and groaned. "Becky's gonna have a fit."
Kit gasped. "What _are_ we gonna say to Miz Cunningham? You've told her four pirate stories already this week."
Baloo decided that he would rather change the subject. "Lungri, where should we drop you off?"
The tiger sighed. "This was supposed to be my vacation. The insurance will cover the loss of my yacht, but now I suppose all I have left to do is go back to Lyndon."
"Back _there_?" The pilot groaned, unwilling to face Khan's blockade again.
"Um, Baloo?"Kit asked. "We can't do that. We haven't got enough gas."
"Lungri? How'd you like to see Cape Suzette?"
"Cape Suzette?" The tiger's eyes clouded over.
"Is there something wrong with that?"Kit asked.
Lungri shook his head. "My apologies. I have some rather bad memories associated with Cape Suzette."
"Oh. I'm sorry." Baloo paused, trying to think of something to say. "I always found the city a nice enough place."
"It wasn't me personally. I...lost my family in an accident there. Nothing could have helped that."
"We're based out of Cape Suzette. That's why I asked."
"Never mind, Baloo. Going to your base would be fine with me. I've actually never been in Cape Suzette myself."
The grey bear grinned. "You're gonna have to do me a favour, though."
Lungri caught the twinkle in his eye and smiled back. "And what might that be?"
"Explainin' to our boss what kept us late this time!"
"Where are they?" demanded Rebecca Cunningham, as she paced back and forth across Higher for Hire, Incorporated's office.
"Maybe they ran into pirates, Mommy," suggested Molly, "just like yesterday."
"A pirate named Louie, no doubt," muttered Rebecca.
Suddenly the whine of propellers cut through the quietness of the harbour. "There they are now. Just wait and listen to the stupid fish story he's going to tell me."
The door swung open and in came Baloo. "Hiya, Beckers! What's new?"
"New? Hopefully your excuse. I've heard four pirate stories already this week."
"Yeah, but this time it's the truth!"
Rebecca just nodded. "Whatever you say, Baloo..." She was just getting ready to begin a high-volume lecture when a handsome middle-aged tiger walked through the door.
His coat was old and fraying at the sleeves, but his khaki pants were pressed to a razor-sharp crease and the captain's cap on his head was spotlessly white, with shiny gold braid gleaming in the light. He carried a polished oak cane in a very stylish way, and his fur was combed into a neatly trimmed ruff. She thought that his gold-rimmed glasses gave him an air of intelligence and class. He was looking around the hallway with Kit beside him, getting a sense of his surroundings...and then his eyes fell on Rebecca and locked with hers. Rebecca's lecture was instantly forgotten. The tiger himself unconsiously raised his hands to straighten the jacket and button up a pocket he had left hanging open.
She could barely hear Baloo's voice. "Rebecca, I'd like you to meet Lungri Westmoreland. Lungri, our boss, Rebecca Cunningham."
"Pleased to meet you," Rebecca said automatically.
"My pleasure,"Lungri said, catching her hand in both of his. He looked down at his clothing, rather embarrassed. "Please pardon the attire. I left my suits at home...you see, this was supposed to be my vacation...I was, ah, fishing..."
"We met Lungri in the Iron Vulture,"Baloo explained.
The tiger nodded. "I was forced to endure the hospitality' of those pirates until your employees managed to rescue me. I'm very grateful to you all." He smiled at Baloo and Kit.
Molly dashed over, tugging at the corner of his coat. "Wanna see my dolls?"
"Not now, honey," said Rebecca, still smiling shyly at Lungri.
"Oh, it's no trouble, Miz Rebecca," said Lungri. "I had a little girl--she's a teenager now." He smiled down at her. "I'd love to see your dolls, Molly."
"You would?" A cherubic smile came across her face. "Come on!"
Wildcat walked in as Lungri allowed Molly to lead him to the corner where her toys were piled. "Miz Cunningham," the mechanic reported, "the Sea Duck's almost out of gas, and our pump is pretty well empty."
Rebecca checked her desk calendar. "The Khanoco tanker doesn't come until tomorrow. Why don't you pour in the refill drums Baloo keeps in the cargo hold?"
"Okay, but I don't think air will keep a plane flying."
"That's all that's in them."
"Empty?" Rebecca cried. "Baloo, how could they be empty? Wildcat filled your tanks before you left."
"Yeah, that's the real reason I was late. Shere Khan's got another scheme going. I'll tell you all about it."
As Baloo explained, Lungri was completly engrossed in meeting Molly's dolls: Millie, Karen and Lucy. "Millie has a necklace," Molly informed him, pointing out a small chain around the doll's neck.
"Hmmm. Twenty-four carat gold, right?"
"Not really...but I pretend it is."
Lungri picked up both Molly and the doll. He examined the glass pennant. "Emerald," he said. "Beautiful."
Molly giggled. "You pretend real good." From her position in Lungri's arm, she caught sight of the shining silver emblem around his neck. "Oooh, pretty." She caught hold of the pendant and carefully examined it. "S.K.," she read, tracing the initials with a pudgy finger. "What's that mean?"
Lungri looked out the window, his attention far away. "Shere Khan," he whispered, so softly only Molly could hear.
"I don't believe this," snapped Rebecca angrily, once Baloo had finished his story. "Where does that weasel get off restricting airspace?"
"As far as I know, the only way to close air vectors is by the orders of a nation's government,"Kit mused. "There's gotta be some kind of legal loophole. I don't think he's dumb enough to blatantly break international aerospace law...unless he doesn't think anyone has the guts to challenge him."
"If that's what he thinks," Rebecca snapped, "then he's got another think coming!"
Baloo scratched his head. "Never really understood this law stuff. What'll we do if the whole thing's legal?"
"Then we'll have to raise our charges," sighed Rebecca, "and hope we can keep Higher for Hire, Incorporated in the air."
A day later, the Sea Duck swooped down to land at Louie's on the way back from a cargo run. As its crew walked toward the door, Baloo turned to Kit and said, "Is it me, or is something wrong here?"
Kit listened intently. "There's no music!" The usually noisy nightclub was almost silent.
Baloo and Kit walked into the building. Despite the cheerful decorations, an aura of gloom hung heavily over the restaurant. The pilots who patronized Louie's Place were slouched over their drinks, hardly talking at all. "Hey, Louie," Baloo called, "what happened to the party?"
Louie waved him over to the bar. "Most of us here aren't in the partying mood, Cuz. You heard about the Corkney Islands?"
"Yeah, we saw it firsthand. The blockade, huh?"
"Yesseree," affirmed Wiley Pole.
"Khan's been bothering you too?"
"Khan's been bothering everyone!" snapped Wiley. "He's got this plan, see. He's gonna stop us from flying over the islands. The Corkney Island chain runs down almost the entire length of Lyonnesse, cutting across some of our major trade routes."
Wiley's navigator, Mack, chipped in. "Lyonnesse is one of our major international trading partners now, and most of the cargo going there is carried by aircraft. The shoals of the Corkney Islands are very treacherous for ships."
Pole continued. "With Khan's fighters prohibitin' us from flying over the islands, we'll be using a lot of extra gas to fly around them. Therefore, we'll have to raise our prices in order to cover the fuel cost. But _his_ planes won't have that problem. He'll have the lowest prices, and make a killing hauling cargo."
"While the rest of us will have to compete against each other, and Khan's boys too, for the remaining routes," Mack explained.
Wiley sighed. "With the kind of profits he'll be making from his monopoly, Khan'll be able to buy most of us out...and crush the rest. Before long, all independant airlines will vanish from Cape Suzette, and Khan will finally be the sole owner of our skies."
"Not to mention Khanoco's profits on selling aviation fuel to us,"mumbled another pilot. "You remember Khan's gas shortage a couple years ago?"
Baloo snorted. He was one of the few people who knew that Khan had engineered that "gas shortage" himself. "Well, what are we doing about it?" he asked the group. The pilots raised their eyes briefly, then lowered their heads in defeat.
"There's nothing we can do, son,"Wiley said regretfully. "I don't know anyone who can stand up against Shere Khan."
"There's gotta be something," Baloo insisted. "Some way to shine some light on Khan's shady deal."
Just then three Khan pilots walked through the door, grinning smugly, as if they owned the place. "C'mon, Little Britches," said Baloo. "We've got some serious strategy to plan."
However, Rebecca beat them to it. "Baloo, Lungri and I are going to the International Law Office to see if there's any way we can challenge this blockade in court."
"You're going?" Kit asked Lungri.
"Yes," he replied. "I run a shipping company based in Lyonnesse. If this blockade starts to apply to boats as well as planes, then my business will be in jeopardy. Besides, I owe you all a favour for saving my hide."
"What should we do?"Kit asked.
Rebecca smiled. "Your job will be to babysit Molly."
Baloo grumbled, "Babysit? Can't Wildcat do that?"
"Wildcat will be busy tuning up the Sea Duck's gas lines and tanks. As long as the routes are blocked, we'll need all the fuel economy we can get. I'll see you later, Baloo. Take good care of Molly. Oh, and here's some money. You can go downtown and get ice cream."
Molly skipped up to Baloo. "Can we go get some Frosty Pep ice cream? Please oh please please?"
The grey bear couldn't help cracking a smile. "Sure, shortstop. I'm feelin' kinda hungry myself."
Half an hour later, Kit, Baloo and Molly were walking home from the ice cream stand, each licking a dripping cone. Baloo looked up as they passed by Khan Tower. "I hope he falls out his office window," muttered Baloo angrily.
Molly pointed to the insignia carved above the doorway. "Look, just like on Lungri's necklace."
"What necklace?" Kit asked her.
"The silver one he wears. That's what's on it."
"No, Molly," said Kit. "It probably has his initials. L. something."
"Uh, uh, it says S.K."
"It won't have that logo," insisted Baloo. "You don't even know what it stands for."
"Sure I do. Shere Khan."
"Now where'd you learn that?" The grey bear scratched his head.
"Lungri told me." Molly skipped ahead, jumping a hopscotch pattern on the sidewalk squares, leaving Baloo and Kit looking at one another with puzzled expressions on their faces.
"Here it is," said Rebecca to Lungri as they sat side by side at a table in the International Law Building's library. "Airspace laws. Now let's see...Kantwait, Koala Lumpur, Liedownia...Lyonnesse!" She began to read. "'In the country of Lyonnesse, the only way air vectors can be closed is by order of the government or Air Force.' Ha! This'll teach him!"
"Just a minute." Lungri checked the book. "'Airspace above islands and territories is under the jurisdiction of the owner of the land below.' That means if this businessman owns the island, what he's doing is perfectly legal."
Rebecca moaned. "Then we're sunk."
Lungri clasped her upper arm in his hand, trying to comfort her. "We may have sprung a leak, Miz Rebecca, but we're still afloat. The Corkney Islands were owned by my family for generations. It s more likely that this character doesn't have a claim to them after all."
Rebecca looked awkwardly at Lungri's paw, uncertain about whether to shrug it off or not. She stood there a few moments, thinking, and finally spoke. "I'll go next door to check the municipal records office." When she left, part of her realized that she regretted shaking off the tiger's hand.
Ms. Cunningham walked up to the record keeper's desk. "I'd like to see the record for the Corkney Islands. Do they belong to Shere Khan?"
"One moment, please." The young bear straightened her long pink skirt as she walked into the back storeroom, which was filled, floor to ceiling, by the largest filing cabinets Rebecca had ever seen. She climbed a stepladder up to a drawer in a row that was marked KHAN: A-F. Ms. Cunningham couldn't help but notice how many of the drawers were devoted solely to Shere Khan's property, and hoped she'd be able to sway the court to her side.
The puffy-haired bear riffled through a fat file folder. "I'm sorry, it's out on loan."
"Out on loan?"Rebecca demanded. "No one loans legal documents!"
"We made an exception for Mr. Khan."
Rebecca was seething as she returned to Lungri's table. The tiger set down the Lyonnesse book and looked up with concern. "What happened?"
"Old Moneybags has conveniently borrowed' the deed."
Lungri snarled and slammed his fists on the table in a manner that oddly enough, reminded Rebecca of Shere Khan. "I can't stand people like that. People who think that just because they have a little money, they can do whatever they please. I built my business from nothing, and I did it without going out of my way to trample on people who were only trying to make a living, the same as I was. It's treating my workers well that's gotten me this far..." His voice trailed off and he looked at Rebecca, blushing slightly. "My apologies. It's a personal concern of mine."
Rebecca smiled. "I don't mind." She rested her hand on his lower arm, receiving an uncertain smile from him which she felt forced to ignore. "I suppose we should get back to Higher for Hire."
"How'd it go?" Kit asked as Rebecca and Lungri walked in. "Good news?"
"If the islands aren't his, we can call the Air Police. If they are, there's nothing we can do," Rebecca summarized.
"Well, are they or aren't they?" demanded Baloo.
"That's what we don't know," said Lungri. "This individual 'borrowed' the ownership papers." He unsheathed his claws and examined them casually; it was the only outward sign of his frustration.
"I bet he doesn't own them," Baloo huffed. "He can't keep hiding those papers forever. We'll tell the cops to trace the records."
"But can we keep Higher for Hire, Incorporated in business until the records are found?" worried Rebecca as she paged through the cargo schedule book. "Half of our main routes are over the Corkney Islands."
Wildcat sauntered in, cleaning the grease off his hands with a filthy rag. "The fuel lines are as tuned up as a piano, from the tanks to the cords that make the propellers go round and round and round...." Wildcat began spinning in circles, imitating the propellers, never noticing the rumpled edge of the carpet. Kit winced as he prepared himself for Wildcat's inevitable fall, and fall the rag-tag lion did. The rag he had been holding flew across the room and hit Lungri in the face. "Sorry," apologized a dizzy Wildcat.
"Never mind," said Lungri, wiping the grease off his cheeks. "I'll just go clean the oil off my glasses." The tiger nodded and excused himself.
"Rebecca," Baloo whispered once he had gone, "I think maybe Lungri's got connections with Shere Khan."
"That's silly," Rebecca snapped, but Kit cut her off.
"Ms. Cunningham, he's got Khan Industries logo on his necklace. He showed it to Molly." Kit's voice was uncertain, as if he didn't want to believe what he was saying.
Molly ran over. "It's true, Mommy. It has S. and K. side by side in a circle, just like on the big big big big building downtown."
"Khan Tower," Rebecca gasped.
"And he told me it means Shere Khan," finished Molly.
"Come to think of it," said Kit, "there's something very familiar about him." The gesture with the claws had been downright uncanny.
Just then Lungri himself appeared in the doorway, polishing his glasses with a towel. A few streaks of grease criss-crossed the stripes on his face. "Baloo, where do you keep the soap?" Lungri asked innocently.
Without his glasses on, the resemblance was strikingly clear. "He's the spitting image of Shere Khan!" gasped Rebecca.
Baloo rolled up his sleeves and stormed over to Lungri. "Game's over, Mr. Khan."
Lungri put on his glasses, which did nothing to cover the look of stunned surprise on his face. "How did you know that name?" he whispered.
"You've blown your little cover. Where's the papers?"
Lungri folded his arms in a huff. "You've gone as crazy as that Karnage person. I have no idea what you could possibly mean."
Baloo refused to listen. "What's with the phony name? I thought you got your flunkies to do your dirty work for you. 'Lungri,' ha!"
Lungri stood flabbergasted. "But...but that is my real name! Lungri Khan!"
Baloo was struck dumb. "Lungri Khan?"
"Yes! Now would you mind telling me what this is all about?"
Silence settled over Higher for Hire, Incorporated as everyone stared at Lungri. The tiger searched each face, trying to find an answer to his question. Finally, Rebecca raised her hand to her mouth and spoke. "Do you have any family living here in Cape Suzette?"
He bowed his head. "They were killed in a shipwreck in 1906."
Rebecca spoke carefully. "I'm sorry, Lungri. I was curious. The big businessman in this town...the one causing the blockade...is also named Khan."
"Hmmm. There must be another long-lost branch of the family." He paused. "Come to think of it, I'm certain I heard once or twice about a business called Khan Incorporated, or something like that...I never paid much attention to Cape Suzette before."
"Well, you sure look alike," said Kit. "Karnage must have mistook you for him."
"Wait a minute," interrupted Baloo, not ready to give up his theory. "How do you explain that necklace?"
"That was my brother's."
"Well, it's a pretty weird coincidence that your brother and Shere Khan would have the same initials. Not to mention that necklace is identical to Shere Khan's business logo."
"Shere Khan?" Lungri repeated, in shock, as the colour drained from his face.
"The businessman with the blockade," Rebecca explained, and then she noticed the tiger's pallor. "Are you ill?"
Lungri swallowed hard. "My brother's name was Shere." He curled his hands into fists.
He tried hard to ignore the old echoes starting up once more in his head.
"...swear to stand by you, Lungri Khan, my brother..."
"...trying to slip on board a ship...think it was the HASTA LA VISTA."
"...swear to stand by you, Shere Khan, my brother..."
~I HAVE to get him back!~
"If he's on this boat, we'll find him."
"We regret to inform you..."
LOUIE'S PLACE 1938
Baloo broke off his story as Louie's genuine Bohyenian cuckoo clock struck four. The restaurant was almost completely empty now...the lunch hour rush was over, and the dinner session yet to begin. The only ones left at the tables, aside from Baloo, Louie, Bit, Ari, Kit, and the waiters, were a handful of long-distance pilots on stopover and the old panther.
Arizona studied the panther when his attention was turned to his drink. He was on his fifth or sixth glass of the afternoon, and several times as Baloo had been telling the story, she had felt the panther's eyes on their group. It was plainly obvious to her that he had been listening in.
"Baloo," Kit reminded him, "it would be fun to stay all day, but we have a cargo run to do tonight."
"Ari? Can we finish this later?"
Arizona bit her lower lip. "Before you go, tell me one thing. How did Lungri and Shere get separated?"
"He was awfully vague about that," Baloo admitted. "Near as I can tell, it was something along the lines of Shere disappearing one day, and leaving a letter informing him that he had gone to Cape Suzette with their great-uncle. Couple months later, Lungri got a letter informing him that Shere and their uncle had been killed in a shipwreck."
"What? That's impossible!"
"That's pretty much what Lungri said when he learned that Shere was still alive." Baloo sighed ruefully. "He never has forgiven ol' Khany for stabbing him in the back like that."
"That doesn't sound like the Shere Khan I know."
"Believe it or not, Ari, but Shere does things like that sometimes..."
"_Not_ to his own brother. I know him better than that."
"Try and tell that to Lungri. Listen, Ari, why don't you come by Higher for Hire, Incorporated some day and I'll tell you the rest. We really do have to get going."
"Count on it, Baloo." Arizona nodded to the grey bear and his teenage companion as they departed.
"We go now too?" Li'l Bit asked. "Waiter teach me to play pool."
"You have a few more games, Li'l." She fixed the collar of Bit's oversized sweater. Her adopted daughter was always...
Adopted daughter? ~It's more like Bit adopted _me_,~ Arizona grinned to herself. Somehow, though, "little friend" no longer provided an adequate description of their relationship.
Louie was busying himself behind the bar when Arizona sauntered up to him. "Hey, Marcus, we need another carton of Choco Nut ice cream, and one of Razzleberry Dazzle," the orangutan called to his chimpanzee waiter.
Arizona squatted down beside him and whispered in his ear. "Louie. That old panther in the corner. Who is he?"
Louie looked up briefly, then returned to polishing the bar as he replied. "That, tiger tail, is Bagheera Chivaroni."
"He was listening to Baloo the whole time he was talking. He was very interested in our conversation. Too interested. Tell me about him."
Louie peered over at Chivaroni, who was paying his bill to one of the waiters. "Hmph," the restaurant owner observed, "that's the happiest I've ever seen him."
"Ari, hon, I built my tavern with the goal of starting a place where people could get together to enjoy good food, good friends, and good times. The kind of place where folks can have experiences they'll look back on their whole lifetimes. I've sure got those memories here, and so have a lot of other people. But Baggi...well, you work in this business long enough, you learn that some people don't come to places like mine to create memories they'll want to remember. They come to get away from memories they want to forget."
Arizona nodded as Chivaroni used the phone in the corner to call an Air Taxi. "He comes here a lot then?"
"Sometimes more than others. Specially round certain times of year. Never says much...just sits in the corner and orders drinks all night. There's somethin' hauntin' him, Ari, somethin' he comes here to escape as best he can."
"And you don't know anything about him?"
"If he talks to anyone, he talks to Khan's boys. I heard he was a Khan employee from way back. That's all I know."
"Thanks, Louie. You've been a big help."
"Don't mention it, tiger tail."
Arizona straightened up. ~I have a feeling I'm going to be stopping by Higher for Hire very shortly to learn the rest of this story. But first...I'm going to find out what Shere never told me about his family.~
THREE WEEKS LATER
This was the day.
For the last few weeks, Arizona Johnson had been making excuses to talk to Shere Khan. Over lunches, between board meetings, in phone conversations, she pumped her old friend for information on the deaths of his parents, his time in the orphanage, his arrival in Cape Suzette. Today, though, it was time for the big question.
Shere Khan glanced up from the papers he was holding. "Yes?"
"I've been meaning to ask you." She sat down in the chair on the other side of his desk, not on the corner of his desktop as she was accustomed to doing. The businessman evidently noticed this discrepancy and raised an eyebrow. "You never told me you had a brother."
Khan's frame grew rigid. "For all intents and purposes I do not."
"He's family," she argued. "You can't just turn your back on..."
"He did." There was a bitterness in those words, an unpleasant emotion for her to hear, but still more depth of feeling than was customary for Shere Khan.
She walked over to him and rested a hand on his arm. "Will you tell me about it?"
"I do not wish to think about him."
"I need to know your side," she whispered.
"So. You've met him."
"I encountered him at Louie's," she admitted. "It came as quite a shock."
"Yes. I can imagine. Well." Shere Khan straightened his lapels, as if collecting himself, and spoke. "After our parents' untimely demise, my brother and I swore to take care of one another. Not long afterwards, Lungri stowed away on a ship and I never heard from him again. That is, until an ugly little incident a few years ago when he returned to stick his nose where it didn't belong--into my business--and ruin a project of mine through methods including theft, impersonation, and blackmail." As he spoke, Khan's hands rolled into fists and he clenched them so hard that they shook.
Arizona tilted her head. "And you've never used such methods?"
"I have NEVER gone back on a deal!" Shere Khan roared, slamming his fists on the desktop. He drew a ragged breath and bowed his head, struggling to regain composure. Arizona gently took his hand and squeezed.
Abruptly, the businessman stood up and began to nonchalantly brush the wrinkles out of his coat. His entire demeanour changed back to the old Shere Khan, and he nodded brusquely to Arizona. "If you'll excuse me, I have a merger to discuss in Conference Room Nine. Good day."
As Khan walked down the hall to the conference room, he stared down at his papers, trying to ignore some old echoes of his own.
"...swear to stand by you, Shere Khan, my brother..."
"NANA--Gone to docks to check out HASTA LA VISTA"
"...swear to stand by you, Lungri Khan, my brother..."
~left a note for Nana but not for me NOT FOR ME...~
"Sometimes people go back on their deals."
"Go back on a deal and be forgotten, then!"
As she rode the elevator down to the foyer where she had left Li'l Bit, Arizona made herself a vow. ~There's more to the story than that, and I'm going to find out what it is. Whether you want me to, or not.~
TO BE CONTINUED...
Coming soon, in "Khan With the Wind, Part II": Arizona does some detective work to trail down Bagheera Chivaroni and learn the truth about Shere Khan's past.