Khan With the Wind
by Mary "Stormy" Pletsch
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.
"I don't think so, Li'l," Johnson replied. "He wouldn't have gotten so angry if he wasn't still upset over it--and he wouldn't be upset if it didn't still hurt him." She looked up, noticing the receptionist's eyes on her, and decided to quickly change the subject before a nosy Mrs. Snarly intervened in her psychoanalysis of the building's owner. "I wonder where Bagheera Chivaroni fits into this," Arizona said loudly, giving the security personnel another subject to focus on.
To Arizona's great surprise, Mrs. Snarly's ears perked up at the mention of that name, and she rose from behind her desk to approach them. "You know Bagheera Chivaroni?"
"Not well," the tigress replied guardedly.
"Bagheera and I worked together under Kala Khan. He was Mr. Khan's great uncle, you know--the founder of Khan Industries."
"Shere's mentioned his great uncle many times. He thinks quite highly of him."
"Mr. Khan inherited the business from his great uncle. I came into the business under Kala Khan as a secretary. Bagheera was a model employee...started out as one of Kala's special executives, but quickly switched to automotive and worked twenty years out of the country as overseer of our Chachahuahua operation before coming back here to head the engineering department. We were sorry to see him go when he retired last year."
"Really," Arizona replied, the wheels spinning in her head.
The phone rang, distracting Mrs. Snarly. "If you'll excuse me." She bustled over to pick it up.
"We go to Higher for Hire now?" Bit asked, and received a nod in reply.
Arizona recalled the conversation Baloo and Kit had had in Louie's about Rebecca and Lungri, and got an idea. "Ms. Cunningham? You know Lungri Khan well, don't you?"
"He prefers to be called Lungri Westmoreland...and yes, I suppose you could say so."
Arizona looked her in the eyes. "I'll lay the cards on the table. I'm an old friend of Shere Khan's, and I'm personally worried at the animosity between them. It seems to me that something in their past is a very painful memory for Shere."
Rebecca's jaw set tight. "Shere Khan did a terrible thing to Lungri."
The tigress' face remained calm. She was not here to get in an argument, and she felt no need to defend Shere. It would only prove an obstacle to her goal: information. "Ms. Cunningham, the story I have received is terribly one-sided. I'm sure Lungri would be reluctant to speak to me, but I need to know his side of the story if I'm ever to reconcile him with Shere."
"I'm afraid that ship has sailed," Rebecca said. "Quite frankly, Lungri hates his brother." She went on to relate what she knew about Lungri's abandonment in a Lyonesse orphanage and his subsequent adoption by a sea captain named Westmoreland. Finally, Ms. Cunningham summed up. "Lungri was disturbed that Shere had left him behind in Lyonnesse, but he was willing to forgive that for the opportunity to rejoin him. Then he got news that Shere and his uncle were dead. When he found out that Shere was not only alive, but the wealthiest man in Cape Suzette...in fact, in all of Usland...well, you can imagine how hurt he was. Hurt and betrayed. Lungri never received anything from his parents' estate."
Arizona frowned, trying to reconcile this rendition of events with the one she had gleaned from Shere Khan. It was like trying to connect a puzzle whose pieces stubbornly refused to fit. On the floor, Li'l Bit had joined Molly in assisting Kit as he put together a complex, multi-winged airplane model. Molly's doll sat propped against the leg of a chair, and every so often, Molly would set aside a tiny part to straighten the doll's skirt or explain what they were doing. Arizona made a note to get Li'l some proper toys. She hadn't had much of a childhood on the streets of Q'ilu.
Arizona stood up and shook Rebecca's hand. "Thank you for your help, Ms. Cunningham. I'll be back another day."
Li'l Bit giggled. "You smile for man, he do anything for you. I remember this."
Outside the building, Arizona hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address for Bagheera Chivaroni's place. It was a slim lead, but if the old panther knew anything about Shere's arrival in Cape Suzette, it would be well worth the time spent. The tigress looked out the window, watching the scenery go by, and soon realized that she was rapidly approaching a new dock belonging to the Westmoreland Shipping Corporation, which had only recently expanded into Cape Suzette.
The driver pulled to a stop in a large parking lot. "Chivaroni lives halfway up the foothills, just past the wharf," he instructed them, as Arizona paid the fare. Together, Arizona and Li'l Bit walked along the quay, looking over at the hulking prows of Lungri Westmoreland Khan's ships. The first ship was called WESTY'S WISDOM, evidently a tribute to the Westmoreland name. The rest of the row, however, followed a very distinct pattern. SHERE'S LEGACY. SHERE'S PROMISE. SHERE'S DREAM. SHERE'S STANDARD. ~He immortalized his brother in the names of his ships,~ Arizona thought. ~Shere must have meant a lot to him.~
The final ship, however, sent a cold chill down her spine. It was evidently much newer, one of the super-fast express cargo carriers that had only began production a few years ago, close to the time when Westmoreland Shipping had come to Cape Suzette and opened up a competition with Khan Cargo Lines, only slightly after the time when Baloo's story took place.
It was named LUNGRI'S VENGEANCE.
She was so lost in thought that she almost missed the figure of the old panther leaning against a pole. He was talking to himself, and Arizona could overhear his words.
"So, Mr. Westmoreland is little Lungri Khan." The whitening head shook in amazement. "Looks like the kid managed to make something of himself after all. Congratulations, kid. You deserve it."
"Excuse me." The panther spun on his heel to see a tall, athletic tigress with a businesslike look in her eyes. "Bagheera Chivaroni?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Arizona Johnson. Acquaintance of Shere Khan's."
"Khan? Oh, my, yes. Former chief of the engineering department." He offered his hand to shake.
"Would you mind answering a few questions? About your work at Khan Industries?"
"Certainly, miss. What would you like to know?"
"You worked for Shere's great-uncle, correct? Do you remember when Shere first arrived in Cape Suzette?"
The suspicion instantly returned to Chivaroni's face. "Who wants to know?"
"_I_ want to know."
"I don't know anything."
"Listen, buster," Arizona snapped. "You were sitting in Louie's the other day listening to Baloo tell his story. Today, I find you hanging around Lungri's docks. You've got some involvement with both Khan brothers, and I want to know what it is."
Bagheera cringed. "I never thought Lungri Khan would amount to anything. When I heard he was a business type, I wanted to get a look for myself. Seein' all this...well, it makes me feel a lot better."
"Why are you so concerned about Lungri Khan's welfare? How do you know him?"
"Listen, lady, if you're with the cops, you're about twenty years too late. Kala Nag Khan's been in his grave since 1921, and most of his special executives' have joined him. I'm the last one left, and you're not getting anything out of me."
Arizona narrowed her eyes and leaned over, her voice a harsh whisper. "That just makes me more determined to get the truth out of you, if you're the only one left to tell the story." Bagheera's back pressed against the railing of the dock as he leaned back, trying to get away.
Suddenly, Arizona took two paces backwards. "I can be reasonable." She reached into her pocket and withdrew five one-hundred dollar bills. "Tell me what you know, and this will be yours. I promise you, I have no intentions whatsoever of calling the police."
He looked at her suspiciously and reached out for the money, which she jerked away from him. "_After_ you tell me."
"Why do you want to know?"
"As you may not be aware, Shere and Lungri Khan hate each other. Their stories of their separation are very, very different. I want to fill in the blanks."
Bagheera sighed. "I'm afraid that you've come to the right person, then. If only it were otherwise." He turned and gestured for her to follow.
Chivaroni, Johnson, and Li'l Bit made their way to the panther's modest home in the foothills. Bagheera put some water on to boil as Arizona and Li'l Bit looked around the house. Pictures of Bagheera and his family adorned the walls, as well as several photographs of Bagheera and Shere Khan. There was also an old one of the panther with a tall, thin Siberian tiger who looked much like Shere. Chivaroni placed a mug of steaming coffee beside Arizona and settled into an easy chair.
"This isn't something I'm proud of," the panther confessed, and began his tale.
As she listened, Arizona wondered if perhaps getting Bagheera Chivaroni to break his thirty-year silence wasn't going to do him as much of a favour as it was going to do the Khan brothers.
"They'll pull through," his sergeant informed him. "One of em's only got a few scrapes and bruises. The other one wasn't so lucky--his leg was broken quite badly."
The beagle in the sergeant's uniform bowed his head. "She didn't make it."
"And the father killed on impact." His eyes returned to the image of a dented motor car and the scattered splinters of what had once been a buggy owned by Akela Khan, schoolteacher. "With these newfangled automobiles coming out, I'm afraid we're going to be seeing a lot more of this. A shame." He shook his head sadly, then pulled himself together and continued with the task at hand in a manner befitting an officer of the law. "So what happens to those kids?"
"The will mentions a Kala Nag Khan of Cape Suzette, uncle of the deceased, to be the only living relative. We've attempted to contact him."
"Cape Suzette's halfway around the world. Hmm. I suppose we can place the cubs in the local orphanage until he arrives."
Lungri used the end of his cane to trace figure eights on the floor. "We're gonna be business partners, Shere. This is just a...a...a butt cycle..."
"Bust cycle," Shere corrected.
"Yeah. A bust cycle. We just gotta ride it out and we'll be all right, as long as we're together. Together we can make it...make it through..." His brother's eyes were still downcast. "Make it big."
That got his twin's attention. "Khan Brothers Incorporated."
"Khan and Khan, the richest guys in the world." Lungri smiled to see the grin come across his brother's face. He didn't personally care about money so much, but Shere had barely smiled at all since the accident. ~I can follow Shere's dreams if they'll put a smile back on his face.~ "Wanna seal the deal?"
"You told me that when two people make a deal in business, they sign a contract, right?" Shere nodded. "Well, we haven't got a contract, but we do have these." Lungri pulled his necklace off from around his neck. "Put out your hand." The lame cub dropped his necklace into Shere's outstretched palm and said as formally as he knew how, "With this necklace, I, Lungri Khan, swear to stand by you, Shere Khan, my brother, through thick and thin, 'till the end of the world." Shere's hand closed around the necklace, squeezing tightly. Lungri thrust out his hand and tilted his head. His brother paused, smiled, and removed his own necklace. "With this necklace, I, Shere Khan, swear to stand by you, Lungri Khan, my brother, through thin and thick, until the end of the earth." Lungri accepted it. "Anything I forgot?" "Yes." Shere raised the necklace, letting the pendant dangle and watching the sun flash off the initials LK. Then he bowed his head and placed his brother's necklace around his neck. Lungri nodded and did the same. "That concludes the deal. We are now partners."
He had built his business up from simple buggy manufacturing to marine shipping and the new automobile, branching off along the way into raw material production and merchandising. He was Cape Suzette's business magnate, but he had the potential to become more--much more. His business could do it. He was already looking at expanding into nearby coastal cities, and in a few more years...
There was only one thing his business did not have. An heir.
He would _not_ abandon it to his squabbling executives! He would _not_ allow his life's work to falter and fade away! He had devoted his entire _life_ to his business. To Kala, Khan Industries came before everything. He needed someone who shared his vision, his skill, and most of all, his devotion--someone who would continue to nurture the business after he was gone. Finally, an opportunity had presented itself. At first he had been determined to avoid being saddled with the responsibility of raising a child. However, he had come to change his mind after reading one of the profiles which the orphanage had provided.
NAME: Shere Khan AGE: 12 HOBBIES: Playing Monopoly, following the stock market, running lemonade stand, gardening GOALS: To be the richest man in the world.
The other one was much less promising.
NAME: Lungri Khan AGE: 12 HOBBIES: Sea stories, piano, exploring (Used to like soccer till I broke my leg) GOALS: To find a family for my brother and I.
Kala Nag Khan's fur gleamed ghostly pale in the dim light of his office as he stalked over to the corner. A blood-red Venus flytrap opened its jaws in hungry anticipation. "I can't take them both in," Kala informed the plant. "Not only is having two heirs redundant, but on my passing, my property will be divided between them. DIVIDED!" Kala swatted his hand against the window pane and caught an unfortunate moth between his claws. "I didn't devote my lifetime to building up this company only to see it divided. Whole and strong, it can triumph. Divided, my competitors will destroy it. And as for partnerships...." He smiled coldly. "Well, you remember, my pet, the fate of my former partners." The moth fell from Kala's claws into the hungry maw below.
The white tiger stroked the plant's head. "Partnerships will just never do. I will have young Shere for my protegÆ, and Shere alone!"
He was ready. His first step was sneaking off the orphanage grounds--a difficult task. Nana Goat ran her institution with a gentle but firm hand.
Shere briefly considered asking Lungri for help. His brother, ever the adventurer, would not be lacking for ideas. ~No. I'm going to give him the surprise of his life. I felt miserable until our partnership. Now it's my turn to pay back my end of the bargain. I'm going to find us a place to live.~
The little tiger walked out into the play yard, where a group of muddy boys was playing a rowdy game of soccer. "Hey, Shere! Wanna play?" called a ten-year-old rhino.
The game did look like a lot of fun...but Shere Khan had bigger plans that could not wait for a roll in the mud. Besides, he'd never convince anyone to give him a job if he looked like a little hooligan! "Certainly not," he sniffed, drawing his suit jacket closed.
A buffalo wrinkled his nose at Shere. "Aw, forget him. He's snotty." The crowd returned its attention to the soccer ball.
Shere looked wistfully after the tumble of boys. They were thundering towards the goal at the far end of the yard when suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He ducked his head and ran towards the goal as fast as he could, completely ignored by the children immersed in their game.
Ignored, that is, until a mighty kick from the buffalo sent the ball screaming for the net...and an orange furry hand nonchalantly knocked the net over as the tiger cub strolled by, whistling innocently and looking the other way. The soccer ball rocketed out into the street. "Nice going, Shere!" yelled a chunky bluejay sarcastically.
"Oh, dear," said the playground monitor, a motherly Holstein cow.
Shere shrugged, the picture of cute innocence in his smart navy suit. "It was an accident." He looked like a boarding school's prize pupil in the midst of a rag-tag mob.
"Settle down, now," said the cow. "I can go and get your ball back for you." She stepped out into the street as the rest of the boys began to reassemble their makeshift goal.
"Go away, Shere," said the buffalo in an obnoxious tone of voice as the little tiger headed across the yard.
"Exactly my intention," Shere replied under his breath.
Neither the cow nor the other children saw him slip away from the orphanage grounds and into a nearby alley. However, his departure did not go unnoticed by the two black panthers who sat in a car across the street, carefully observing the playground.
"There goes a tiger cub now!" reported a young Bagheera Chivaroni.
His partner, middle-aged in a brown suit, leaned back in the driver's seat. "Ok, here's the deal, Baggy. You talk to him. If he's Lungri, you nod. Then you keep him busy while I bag him. Got it?"
Bagheera swallowed hard. "Got it."
Shere strolled casually down the middle of the sidewalk as if he owned it. ~Well, one of these days I will.~ He started to whistle, a jaunty tune that died on his lips when he considered the magnitude of the task ahead of him. ~I have to convince someone to adopt Lungri and I. No good college is going to accept two street rats from the orphanage. I am not going to spend my life living like this. Lungri's right--this is just a bust cycle. We can work our way up. Maybe someone will take us in if we work for him. I bet I know enough already to hold down a job at the bank, even if it is only running errands...and I could learn about money, too, so I could get promoted. No one's going to hire a cripple like Lungri, so it's up to me to take care of him. This will be the surprise of his life!~ The tiger cub was so engrossed with his thoughts that he never noticed the twenty-year-old panther until a voice caught his attention.
The panther was leaning casually against the alley wall. Shere stopped dead in his tracks and looked around. The neighbourhood looked distastefully run-down, and he could no longer see the orphanage behind him.
"Kid, you know where a guy could get a decent meal in this town?" Bagheera got down on one knee and looked Shere in the eye, a friendly smile glued to face. "I'm new here and I'm awfully hungry."
Shere raised an eyebrow. "There's a hundred places to eat in Lyndon."
The stranger focused his attention below Shere's collar. "Nice necklace, kid. LK. What's that stand for?"
"Lungri Khan." Bagheera nodded his head vigorously. "He's my..."
Shere never finished the sentence before a burlap sack descended on him from behind.
His partner, a slim cougar, nodded. "Now we walk up to the orphanage and ask for Shere Khan."
"No. We ask for either cub."
"But I thought the boss just wanted Shere."
"He does. But since Baggy and Mike have eliminated Lungri, Shere's gonna be the only one left. Now get going."
"Lungri?" Nana Goat's voice came calling up the stairs. "Someone to see you, dear!"
Visitors? Lungri's ears perked up and he hobbled to the door as quickly as he could. ~Maybe we're going to get adopted!~
Nana ushered him to the small lounge attached to her office. "I'd like you to meet Sudo Nimm and A. Nony Muss."
Nimm and Muss were complete strangers to the little cub. Nimm was a heavy-set leopard, and Muss, a tall, lean cougar. He gave them a quick once-over appraisal, then looked around for his brother, who was nowhere in sight. "Shere? Nana, where's Shere?" His mind was a whirl of sudden panic. ~I can't get adopted without Shere!~
"He only needs to talk to one of them, ma'am," said Nimm. "Say, Shere."
Nana frowned. "I sent Holstina to call him. He'll be here as soon as she finds him. In the meantime, gentlemen, may I introduce Lungri Khan." Lungri nodded politely, his hands sweaty on his cane as he looked out the window for Shere.
"Lungri?" Muss repeated blankly. He turned to his companion with an odd expression on his features. "I thought we were supposed to get Shere..." A quick elbow in the ribs caused him to close his mouth.
Lungri could take no more. He spun around and darted out of the room, remarkably fast despite the leg brace. "Shere? SHERE!"
Nana looked back apologetically. "Excuse me," she said, and bustled after the cub.
The leopard hauled on his partner's ear. "Those other two lummoxes must have kidnapped the wrong kid! We gotta get to em before they finish the job!"
By the time a settled Lungri and an embarrassed Nana had returned, Sudo Nimm and A. Nony Muss had vanished without a trace.
Suddenly there were thumps, bangs, footsteps in the corridor. A loud voice shouted, crisp and clear, "Freeze! Police!"
It gave Shere renewed hope, and he began to bite and claw at the bag again. "Here! I'm in here! Help me!"
The room door swung open and the sounds of a scuffle reached the tiger cub's ear. There was a loud crash, a mumbled curse, a slow, deliberate pace of someone getting nearer...then the bag swung sickeningly before it was carefully lowered to the ground. A set of razor-sharp claws gashed it open. Bright light and sweet air rushed in. Shere gulped it down, driving the musty, choking scent of the bag from his lungs. He blinked in the brightness and opened his eyes.
Standing before him was a tall, gaunt Siberian tiger with eyes of icy blue. His suit was obviously expensive, as were the diamond cufflinks that glittered in the light and the buttons that appeared to be cast of pure gold. His pants were pressed into knife-edge creases and his claws were black as gunmetal.
Across the room, the younger panther was suffering the pains of having his hands secured behind his back by a cougar in a police uniform. A chunky leopard wearing a trenchcoat and detective's badge stood guard over the brown-suited panther, who glared up at him and muttered expletives while he tried to find a comfortable position for his cuffed hands.
Shere stood up, brushed himself off, and gamely straightened his suit jacket. "Shere Khan, at your service, sir. I...I owe you my life."
The white tiger's eyes glittered like the points of a thousand icicles as the pale lips broke into a toothy smile. "I am Kala Nag Khan, owner of Cape Suzette's largest corporation, and your great-uncle." He offered his hand for the boy to shake. Almost in a trance, the little hand rose. Kala shook it, slowly and steadily. "I'm here to take you two boys to come live with me." Shere's eyes grew wide, as if he was beholding his fairy godfather.
The spell was broken when the cougar issued a warning to the younger panther, who was glaring murderously at little Shere. Shere winced and looked up at his uncle, his face clouded by confusion. "Wha...what happened? Sir."
Kala snarled. "These two are a pair of would-be treasure hunters who hoped to eliminate you and your brother so they could buy the Corkney Islands."
Shere paused, assimilating the information. "What would they want those for? There's nothing there but rivers and trees."
"Come now, surely you've heard the legends of pirate treasure buried in the Corkney Islands."
"Yeah, but I never believed them. My brother did, though. Lungri was over there with Dad every chance he got, poking through the bush looking for chests of gold. He never found anything, either. I stayed home with Mom and ran a lemonade stand, and I have thirty pounds to prove it," Shere bragged, reaching into his pocket and coming up with a handful of tattered bills.
A pat on the head and a fanged grin were his rewards. "Clever boy! That is quite an accomplishment for a child your age."
"It's only the beginning, sir," Shere informed him.
His uncle chuckled. "I am very glad to hear that."
Nana winced at the volume. "I'm afraid we are." Even upstairs, Lungri had no problem hearing the panther's thundering voice. He grabbed his cane and snuck downstairs as stealthily as his leg brace would allow.
"One of your people stopped me and asked if I'd seen him," Bagheera explained. "I said no. But later today, when I was down on the docks, I saw a kid who looked like the picture they showed me. He was trying to slip on board a ship. One of the sailors caught him and made him leave but the next thing I knew, he was shimmying up a rope. Giving the whole business another shot, I guess."
Lungri's mind was a whirl of questions. ~A ship? Shere, leaving on a ship? Why? Why didn't he come to get me? Why didn't he tell me?~ However, they were all drowned out by an overpowering cry emerging from deep within his heart: ~I HAVE to get him back!~
"A ship?" Nana was saying. "Oh, dear!"
Lungri stuck his head out from under Nana's skirts. "What was the ship called?"
Nana tried to shoo him back into the house, but he could still hear the answer clearly. "I think it was the HASTA LA VISTA."
"Hush now," Nana said. "I'll send Holstina and Dave down to the docks to check all the ships."
"You better hurry," Chivaroni warned. "The VISTA sails in an hour."
Nana hustled Lungri upstairs to his room and closed the door gently. However, she had underestimated the cunning and tenacity of the little tiger cub.
Lungri didn't want Nana to worry. He pulled out a sheet of paper and scrawled a note.
NANA-- Going to check out HASTA LA VISTA. I'll be back as soon as I find
As the mother goat bustled down the stairs to her office, Lungri opened his window and snagged the nearby clothesline with the rounded handle of his cane. He looked back at the note on his bed, touched Shere's necklace for luck, and jumped. A strong push off the window ledge sent the cub careening across the yard towards the pole at the other end.
Lungri had intended to wrap his arms around the pole and slide to the ground. Unfortunately, he was traveling at an incredible speed. He stretched out his right hand to ward off the impact--and his left hand lost its grip on the slippery wood of the cane handle. Lungri cried out as he fell....
...directly into the arms of the young panther. "Having troubles, kid?" Bagheera Chivaroni asked.
Lungri nodded. "Mister, I gotta get to the docks to find my brother!"
"I'm a busy man, kiddo..."
Lungri's face fell. He reached deep into his pockets, and pulled out a rumpled five pound note and a handful of grubby shillings. "You can have this if you help me."
The panther looked at him rather sympathetically. "What would I need a pocketful of change for for?"
"It's all I have!" Lungri's voice was desperate and perilously close to tears.
Chivaroni smirked. "What I mean is, I can give you a ride to the docks for nothing. Keep your money."
The lame cub's eyes widened. "Really? Gee, thanks, mister!"
~Poor kid,~ thought Bagheera as he held the door of his motor car open for him. ~Hey, they're not makin' me kill him, though. I gotta think of it that way. This isn't so bad, in the big scheme of things...~
"Shere Khan! Where have you been?" demanded the lady goat, as she ran forward to take hold of him. A pale hand extended itself and Nana stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes drawn upwards until they were pinned by the white tiger's icy gaze.
"Shere has been with me," he said, in a voice that left no opening for questions. He opened a black leather briefcase and produced a legal document which he held up to her. She saw the words "WILL--AKELA AND MATKAH KHAN" before her attention was pulled back to the white tiger's face. "I am Kala Nag Khan, listed as great-uncle of the twins. I have come to take custody of them."
"Certainly," Nana replied, obeying a natural urge to accommodate this man as much as possible. "There are a few papers that need signing."
Kala nodded brusquely. "Master Shere requires time to pack his belongings."
"Thanks, mister," said the little tiger, opening the door and positioning his cane on the sidewalk. He swung his feet out of the car and carefully transferred his weight from the seat to the cane. Hobbling clear, Lungri swung the car door shut and waved to the young panther, who tipped his hat before pulling away in a cloud of dust.
Lungri turned his attention to the bustling dockyards. Sailors whistled, hawkers advertised their wares, gigantic cranes swung huge loads onto and off of ships, passengers lugged suitcases. The sight was thrilling--but how was he to find Shere in all this commotion?
The ship. That was the key. Lungri began to limp along the pier, examining the names of the boats as he passed, dodging the people and vehicles and cargo as well as his crippled leg allowed.
A few blocks away, Chivaroni parked the vehicle just long enough to pick up his associates--the leopard, the cougar, and the middle-aged panther.
"Kid delivered?" the brown-suited panther asked.
"To the docks like you asked," reported Bagheera.
"You got the tickets for Khan and the kid?" the leopard asked the cougar.
"Yep," the cougar replied. "Their boat is leaving from Kidneypool in two hours. You're driving them up the coast, right?"
"Uh, guys?" the young cat interjected.
"What do you want, Baggi?" snapped the older panther.
"How are you guys going to keep Shere from recognizing you?"
The leopard snorted. "Why should he connect me with a cop' he barely saw? Specially like this." He set an official-looking chauffeur's cap on his head, pulled the brim down low, and put on a pair of sunglasses. "I'll make sure he stays in the back of the car, kay? Now, you three are done. Set yourself up in a hotel for a while. The Boss is giving you a month to get back to Cape Suzette."
Lungri's eyes searched the prow of every ship he passed. WINDS OF OCTOBER....MARY ELLEN CARTER....GREAT BIG SEA.... There it was! The HASTA LA VISTA! In seconds, a cry turned his thrill of elation to a cold fear that sat on his heart like a jellyfish. "Last call for the HASTA LA VISTA!" In the water, the tugboats schooled like sharks around the larger vessel, ready to pull it out of the harbour towards the open sea. Lungri gasped, lowered his head, and ran.
He barely noticed the people he passed. Their words became a blur.
"Hot corn for sale!"
"Do you know any good hotels?"
"Need your luggage carried?"
"I've never known a ship to sail early."
"Then you don't know Captain Westmoreland. The VISTA's his charge."
~Great,~ Lungri thought, ~just my luck I had to get the only boat in this harbour with a time-conscious captain.~ His lungs burned with every breath, and the tightness in his chest increased. He gulped down air and found it painfully cold. He used the time to scan the crowd around the VISTA, looking for Shere, but his brother was nowhere in sight. Lungri's brace grew heavier with each step, weighing him back as surely as a ball and chain. He lowered his head and charged onwards, almost blindly, towards the beacon bobbing dizzily in front of him. The words HASTA LA VISTA swam in his sights as tunnel vision set in. He ignored his screaming muscles and the pain in his windpipe that burned like swallowed fire. ~Shere....I HAVE to get him back!~
He was too late. The gangplank had been drawn and the tugboats were pulling the ship away as he stumbled to a halt.
No, he wasn't! There was an outcropping of cement, a sort of open balcony where strolling tourists could look out over the harbour. The VISTA's deck was just below that outcropping. He swallowed hard and forced his body onwards.
The VISTA's stern was almost past the promontory by the time the lame cub had scrambled up over the guard rail. He looked down at the sea crashing against the cement so many feet below and watched the VISTA's wash drive those waves askew. The boat was passing him rapidly. It was a long jump down to the deck...and a longer fall into the sea, if he missed.
~Shere. I HAVE to get him back.~
The little tiger touched his brother's necklace once quickly, for luck, and jumped.
HASTA LA VISTA had passed him.
A wildly waving right hand missed the rail on the back of the stern.
The hook of a child-sized cane, however, did not.
Lungri hung from the end of his cane, dangling high above the hungry ocean. Learning from his escapade on the clothes line, he quickly raised his right hand and sunk his claws deep into the shiny wood of the cane. Satisfied his grip was firm, his left hand released, lunged over the right, and did the same. He slowly pulled himself up, hand over hand, until he could grasp the rail.
On the other hand, his heart had been his mouth when he noticed the little tiger swinging precariously from the stern of the vessel. Perhaps he should have wished for the boy to fall into the ocean and let that be the end of him--the boss would certainly have considered that a good, decisive conclusion to the whole affair. However, Bagheera could not help but be glad when he saw Lungri climb aboard the freighter.
~Best for you if you don't come back, kid. But whatever happens, I wish you well.~
Now, to find Shere.
Shere deposited the bag at Kala's feet. "Hey, where's Lungri? Sir." Kala's eyes seemed saddened. "I found this on his bed." The tiger cub took the proffered sheet of paper. "What's this?" He turned it over and his eyes went wide.
NANA-- Gone to docks to check out HASTA LA VISTA.
"That's Lungri's handwriting," Shere whispered. "It appears the boy has gone to stow away on a ship." "Maybe he got kidnapped like me!" "Impossible. The police put those kidnappers in jail. I personally ensured that their sentences will be long ones. They confessed to acting alone." He gazed down into Shere's bewildered face. "You did say your brother was the adventurous type." "He'd _never_ go without me! We're partners! We had a deal!" Shere held the LK necklace in an iron grip. Kala clapped Shere on the shoulder. "Sometimes people go back on their deals. I'm sorry." Shere struggled against the facts in front of his face. ~Lungri's run off...run off without me, after all I tried to do for him...left a note for Nana but not for me NOT FOR ME...~ The tears came unbidden. Suddenly acting professional was the last thing on his mind. For the second time in his young life, loss drove away all thoughts of business or propriety, and Shere Khan broke down and cried.
Kala's voice floated through the haze of tears. "...can go down to the docks and check. Perhaps the ship has yet to sail."
As Shere sobbed, he clutched the necklace and whimpered to himself, "I will never betray anyone the way Lungri has betrayed me."
The white tiger leaned closer and frowned disapprovingly. "If you have something to say, speak up and don't mumble."
Shere Khan clutched the necklace of his betrayer and choked out his vow. "So long as I live, God help me, I will never....NEVER...go back on a deal!"
He dragged his body over the side of the lifeboat and resumed his search. ~I've been over this ship from the hold to the mast! Well, perhaps not the bridge or the captain's cabin,~ he admitted to himself, and half snickered at the image of Shere leaning back in the captain's chair, drinking out of the captain's coffee mug and barking orders at an oblivious crew through a loudspeaker. His laughter quickly died down. ~If he is on this ship, why haven't I found him yet?~ An icy cold chill shot through Lungri's veins when a sudden, irrational thought came to mind. ~What if I'm on the wrong boat?~ He looked around in panic and felt a sudden relief when he noticed the legend HASTA LA VISTA painted on a nearby life preserver. ~Just like the panther said. This is the right boat. Shere's here somewhere.~
He'd been in the open too long, lost in thought. Now a big, burly rat in a striped red shirt was thundering down the deck towards him, waving his arms to attract the attention of the other sailors. Lungri gulped and ran as fast as his bad leg would allow. Within a minute he realized that even an able-bodied child would not escape. There was nowhere to run on a ship at sea. Lungri thought hard and made his choice.
The rat, a squat lobster with pincerlike hands, and a crusty seagull rounded the corner at the head of the pack of sailors. "Where'd he go?" the gull squawked.
The lobster elbowed him and pointed. Their quarry was standing behind them, his back to the wheelhouse wall.
"Well, well," snickered the rat. "What have we here?"
"I'se after hopin' you can swim, kid, cause we's a long way past the Cliffs of Rover," chuckled the lobster.
The gull smirked. "Let's see if tigers float."
The hackles raised on the back of the cub's neck and his eyes seemed to drain of colour, going from ocean blue to icy pale. He leaned his weight against the wall behind him and brandished his cane like the pirates of old once held their swords. The little tiger spit ferociously at the sailors. The lobster was taken aback, but the rat only laughed and reached over to pick up the stowaway by the scruff of the neck.
The next thing the rat knew, he was drawing back his smarting arm and staring at the purple bruise forming where the cane had struck him. The gull yelled and charged, only to wind up flat on his back. The stowaway had hooked his cane around his adversary's foot and pulled it out from under him. The lobster rushed the cub and received four jagged scratches on his face from the Lungri's claws. There were still, however, more sailors crowding in.
"What's the meaning of this?" demanded a voice from behind. All the sailors, as well as Lungri, froze in their positions. The crowd of sailors parted in two to reveal a solidly built golden lynx.
He was on the shorter side, his coat a little worn, and his hat looked like it had been around the world several times in the scuppers of a garbage scow, but the sailors deferred to him without a word. Although his ears were tattered around the edges, the tufts were neatly combed. Two bands of gold braid circled the sleeves of the coat, and he had every bit of personal bearing to match. Lungri's heart skipped a beat as he realized he'd been found out by the captain of the ship.
"We got us a stowaway, sir," said the gull, trying to act like he was in control of the situation from his ridiculous position on the floor.
The green eyes looked Lungri over. "Yes, I see that."
Lungri's terror increased until he suddenly found himself beyond fear. He had nothing left to lose. "You're not going to throw me overboard," he growled at the captain, claws extended, cane raised. A vicious hiss came from the little throat.
"Overboard?" The lynx's eyes went to the sailors, a grin pulling at the corners of his mouth despite the disapproval in his eyes.
"We was just having' us a little fun, Westy," said the lobster, shuffling a foot. "Little brat in a mitt's costin' us time to take him back to port, so we's makin' sure he's not gonna be after tryin' it again."
"You probably scared the poor kid half to death," Captain Westy chided. "Come on, son. Put that weapon down. We're not going to throw you off the ship."
A brown eyebrow raised suspiciously. "You're just going to let me ride along with you?"
"I'm afraid we can't do that. Red, tell the mate that we're going to have to go back to Lyndon." The lobster scuttled away as the captain went down on one knee to look directly into Lungri's eyes. "Now, tell me: what did you think you were doing stowing away on my ship? Your parents are probably worried sick."
Lungri stared right back and said flatly, "My parents are dead."
Silence fell until the rat spoke. "Kid's got an attitude," the rat growled, rubbing his sore arm.
Westy noticed the bruise forming and swallowed a chuckle. ~The VISTA's most infamous brawler being outdone by a kid.~ Looking at that kid's face, though, was a sobering experience. Lungri continued, "I got news that my brother was somewhere aboard your ship, but I didn't find him before you sailed." The furry little jaw began to tremble. "He's all the family I have left and...and I HAVE to get him back!" Lungri's hands gripped the necklace tightly.
Westy clapped Lungri on the upper arm. "All right, son. I'll have my men search every inch of the ship. If your brother is aboard, we'll find him."
Kala Khan stopped a passing sailor and inquired about the HASTA LA VISTA. "Yeah, she pulled outta here bout twenty minutes ago," he replied.
Lungri. Shere stared out at the horizon over which his brother had passed. Two trembling hands gripped the necklace for comfort and found nothing but cold silver and broken promises.
"I'm afraid there's nothing more we can do," Kala said gently.
"But...but what if he comes back?" Shere was again close to tears.
"Well. You ought to write a letter. We can give it to Mrs. Goat. If Lungri goes back to the orphanage, he'll be able to write to us and we can send him tickets to come join us in Cape Suzette." Kala smiled in what he hoped was a fatherly manner.
Shere nodded. "Okay, Great-Uncle Kala, sir."
Back in the motorcar, the leopard drew his hat further down over his ears as Shere climbed into the back. Kala produced a pen and a sheet of paper from his briefcase, and moments later, a child's hand began to write. The leopard glanced in the rearview mirror, and was treated to an image of the little cub carefully inscribing words on a piece of stationery while Mr. Kala Khan stared directly into the mirror, his smile broad and cold.
He was not as striking a figure as the Siberian tiger had been, but the golden lynx commanded respect in another way. His captain's coat was worn thin at the elbows and his brass buckles had tarnished with age, but the coat was clean, neatly pressed, and worn with a pride that reflected the fire in the lynx's eyes. "Ma'am? I believe this cub is your charge." He stepped aside to reveal Lungri Khan.
"Lungri! Where have you been?" Nana demanded.
"I went to the shipyards to get Shere back."
"That panther gave me a ride to where he'd seen Shere. But..." Lungri sniffled. "But I couldn't find him!"
"Lungri, honey, the panther was wrong. Shere was with your great-uncle."
"Great-uncle? He never told me. I never even knew I had a great-uncle!"
"He's your father's father's brother. Kala Nag Khan. He's got legal custody of you two boys, according to your father's will."
"Where is he? And where's Shere?"
"Lungri, sweetheart...they had a ship to catch. They started up the coast for Kidneypool over an hour ago."
"Left?" The tiger cub's mouth formed the word, but no sound came out. He found his voice and said dully, "They left without me?"
"Your brother gave me this for you." Nana produced an envelope from her apron pocket.
I have gone to Cape Suzette to live with Great Uncle Kala Khan. If you ever come back, send us a letter and he will send you the money for passage so you can come live with us. The address is: Mr. Kala Nag Khan, CEO Khan Industries, Khan Tower, 666 Stall St., Cape Suzette, Usland 43210.
Your Brother, Shere
Lungri bolted for the stairs, followed by a concerned Nana and Captain Westmoreland. Westy peered into the boy's room to see him carefully addressing an envelope of his own.
"No thanks to these two," snapped Cougar. "Dumb lummoxes almost offed the wrong kid."
"How were we to know?" replied the brown-suited panther. "The kid was wearing the LK necklace!"
"Never mind," Kala replied. "It worked out even better than I had planned. Not only is Lungri out of our way, but Shere looks up to me for rescuing' him from the treasure hunting kidnappers'. He would do _anything_ for me." The white tiger shuffled idly through his mail and suddenly froze. Addressed in a childish hand was a letter postmarked Lyndon, Lyonnesse.
Kala slit it open with one swipe of a claw. "Lungri Khan!" he roared, crumpling the paper in his fists.
"The kid came back?" gulped Bagheera.
"Yes," Kala hissed. "You know what that means."
The young panther hung his head. "It means we have to off him for good."
"That is one way to put it." He stared out towards the cliffs. "But it would look too suspicious if dear little Lungri just vanished from the orphanage...not when he's waiting for tickets to rejoin his brother. No child would plausibly run away under those circumstances. But were that last hope to be denied..." He chuckled evilly and withdrew a sheet of stationery from the massive black oak desk.
The little tiger's ears perked up when he heard Nana's call. He'd been waiting almost two months for the reply from Cape Suzette. In a flash he had slid off of Westy's lap and taken up his cane. Lungri hobbled towards her as quickly as he could and snatched the envelope away with an eager hand. He squinted his eyes, curled his tongue out of the corner of his mouth, inserted a tiny claw into the loose flap, and slit the letter open.
Captain Westmoreland chuckled. "From the look on his face, you'd think it was Christmas morning."
"You're going to miss him, aren't you?" Nana said wisely.
"Yeah, well, the little scrapper reminds me...well, he reminds me of me. This port's gonna be a lot lonelier from now on." He smiled wistfully. "Kid deserves all the best."
Lungri withdrew the precious letter from its den and held it in shaking hands. Slowly he unfolded it, careful not to drop the tickets enclosed within, and his eyes widened as he read the first line.
His eyes remained wide with shock as the letter slipped between his fingers like a leaf loosed from an autumn-dying tree. No tickets fell out as the sheet of paper curled to the floor, and Westy froze, knowing something was dreadfully wrong. The lynx had barely left his chair when the tiger cub collapsed to the floor, a wail of agony splitting the air.
Captain Westmoreland scooped up the crying child in one hand and cradled him close as he held the letter with the other and read:
Dear Lungri Khan:
We regret to inform you that the passenger liner GOLDEN FUTURE, sailing from Kidneypool, bound for Cape Suzette, sank on October 13, 1905, with all hands. Shere Khan and Kala Nag Khan are among the confirmed dead. Rest assured that we are conducting a complete investigation into the causes of this terrible tragedy. We wish you our condolences in your loss. Sincerely yours,
President, Golden Passenger Lines Inc.
"Good heaven," Westy whispered, looking down at the cub in his arms. He handed the letter to Nana without a word. The lady goat gasped as she read the horrible paragraph.
When she raised her eyes, the golden lynx was staring back at her with determination radiating from his features. "No one's going to want a gimpy kid, are they." It wasn't a question.
Nana gave the captain an irritated look. "We will take care of him here until he reaches the age of adulthood," she responded in clipped tones, annoyed at the cruel phrase the lynx had used.
Westy shook his head. "I'm sorry." He struggled to rephrase the question in a more tactful way rather than using the harbourfront slang he was accustomed to. "I must remember I'm not on the wharves right now. What I mean is, the odds of a couple choosing to adopt a handicapped child aren't good, are they?"
This was the unfortunate truth. Nana shook her head no.
Westy stroked Lungri's head. "I must be crazy," he muttered to himself, then returned his attention to Nana. He spoke to her, but his words were mostly for himself. "The kid lost his parents. He stowed away aboard my ship in an attempt to find his missing brother and ended up getting left behind by his uncle. He came through all that and he came through it swingin'. Now his last living relatives are dead. There's only so much a kid can handle and I'm afraid this just might be enough to put out that fire."
Nana nodded sadly as Westy looked down at the cub's head. "I don't know what kind of a life it would be for a kid, growing up in the wheelhouse of a ship, but if I've all he's got now then I can't leave him." Lungri's sobs stilled abruptly and a tear-stained face rose to meet the captain's eyes. "Kid....you're coming to live with me."
"Couldn't find him?" Kala repeated, unsheathed his ebony claws.
"The lady goat said he was adopted by some sea captain. They'd sailed out of port weeks before Mike and I got there, and no one has a clue where they are right now."
Kala sighed. "A most untidy conclusion. However, I have better things to spend my time and money on than a search for a child I don't want found." He folded his hands behind his back and paced over to his office window. "He will not come looking for relatives he believes to be dead. Hopefully Lungri Khan will grow up with his sea captain and never dream he could have been something more."
Lungri turned his head to survey the boats bobbing at Westy's pier. One of them was his very first vessel, the HASTA LA VISTA itself. She was old and outmoded now, but she still did her part. However, the future of Westmoreland Shipping Inc. was beneath his feet. SHERE'S LEGACY was the first of a new breed.
They had come a long way since the early days, when it had been just him and Westy struggling to earn enough money to purchase a ship of their own. Aboard the HASTA LA VISTA, Westy had taught him the ways of wind and wave. Then, he had received command of a ship of his own. Now he was not only the skipper of the LEGACY, but the vice-president of Westy's company.
But there was still a long way to go. Lungri tilted his head back to gaze at the tops of those towering office buildings, and his hand closed around the pennant at his throat. "Someday, Shere, I'm going to have a place at the top. I'll make your dream come true. Upon your memory, I swear."
The funeral was completed, the will reviewed, the papers signed. Khan Industries--SHERE Khan Industries--was all his.
Below him, the lights of Cape Suzette twinkled like the bounty of a rich harvest, all strewn out before him. This was his city. He would own others. He had all the time he needed. If his mid-twenties could see him as the owner of Cape Suzette's largest corporation, what could his mid-thirties bring? Yes, someday the world could be his...
He had climbed so high, so very far from an orphanage in a nondescript quarter of Lyndon. Look at what he'd done with himself! If only Lungri were here to see.
~How long has it been since I thought about Lungri?~ He couldn't remember. ~It used to be every day.~
Beside the grand marble staircase at the rear of the office building were two boxes. One was full of Kala's personal effects, and it was on its way out. The other held his things, and they waited patiently to take their positions in the massive black oak desk. Beneath the gold-edged fountain pens and monogrammed blotters, he found what he was looking for.
Shere Khan carefully lifted the small green strongbox out from under his other personal effects and unlocked it. Lying in the bottom of the box was the rolled-up length of parchment that was his parents' will. A thin serpentine of silver twined its way over the scroll, its weight nestled beside on the bottom of the box. Khan caught the chain in his fingers and raised the pennant to the light of the window.
Kala had thought he'd thrown it out. He'd removed it on the ship to Cape Suzette and hadn't worn it since. But it had always been there somewhere, hidden away in a drawer or beneath a mattress, a silent reminder of a life long since dead.
"Why did you go?" Shere Khan asked.
The pennant glinted smugly and gave no reply.
He snarled angrily. "Break a deal and be forgotten, then!" He threw it into its coffin and slammed the lid.