KHAN WITH THE WIND
Written 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.
Shere Khan's dark gaze settled on the ship steaming out of Cape Suzette Harbour. From his vantage point in the tallest office in Cape Suzette, he was accustomed to watching over his city like a god. Until a few years ago, he had been able to believe that nothing happened in his city without his permission; but today, the boat named LUNGRI'S VENGEANCE sliced across the waves in his bay, mocking him to stand in its way. Moments like these reminded Shere Khan that he was not a god, but a mortal. It was a lesson he preferred to ignore.
He cursed the fact that he hadn't moved his corporation into Lyonnesse years ago. ~In the mid 1920's, Khan Industries could have nipped Westmoreland Shipping Inc. in the bud.~ He found himself instinctively regretting his decision, completely disregarding the sound business logic behind it. At that time, Lyonnesse had had many long-established shipping companies and a tradition of deep consumer loyalty. It had been a market notoriously difficult for a newcomer to break into. ~Evidently dear Lungri managed it somehow...~ Shere Khan had chosen to concentrate on the development of aircraft instead, setting up air routes between various Pacific nations. He had ignored the busy steamship trade from Cape Suzette to Lyonnesse, which was already claimed by Lyon companies. Overall, it was a strategy that had served him well.
The price he had paid, though, was an ignorance of Lyon corporations. His early ventures had not had much to do with Lyonnesse, seeing as it lay halfway around the world from Cape Suzette. By the time he began doing business in that nation, Westmoreland Shipping Inc. had been firmly established. He had never given that company a second thought at the time, sure that one more Lyon ship line would mean nothing in the grand scheme of multinational business. He had no idea that Westmoreland's owner--his own brother--had a personal vendetta against him. Now Lungri had followed him to Cape Suzette, bringing his shipping line along with an intention to damage Khan Industries' cargo carrying line as much as possible. Lungri had even signed a trade deal with his major competitors' stores to transport the goods they marketed, and Khan-Mart sales had been dropping ever since.
Deep in his mind, a thought nagged at him. ~You couldn't have faced going back to Lyonnesse even if it would have been good for your business...not after what happened to you there.~ Fragmentary images flickered in his head--a splintered buggy, a burlap bag, a handwritten note--until he managed to extinguish them. His mind returned to the green strongbox in his desk drawer and what lay entombed inside it.
"That is enough." Shere Khan gritted his teeth and flung the bottom drawer open.
The strongbox was rusted with age and its hinges shrieked in pain as he wrenched the lid open. Inside, lying in a pathetic heap in the corner, were two tangled necklaces. One of them, still brilliantly shiny, bore his own initials. The other, tarnished from years of neglect, had "LK" engraved on the front.
Khan unsheathed his claws and plucked the LK necklace from the box. He smiled coldly as he raised it to the light, then frowned in frustration. Its chain was entangled with his own necklace, and the SK pendant hung suspended as well. He shook the two chains, slow jerks progressing to vigourous rattling, but they stubbornly held together.
The tiger sighed in frustration as he sat down in his chair and began to pick at the intricate knot tying the SK and LK necklaces together. It took him the better part of five minutes to loosen the bond and unthread the twin chains. Finally, though, his own necklace flopped to the desktop, leaving his brother's captive in his hands.
He held it delicately, as he would a moth, and the Venus flytrap beside his desk raised its head inquisitively. "Not tonight, my pet," Khan murmured, petting the top of the carniverous plant. The flytrap bowed its bud dutifully, its tendrils snaking out towards an unsuspecting fly on the floor.
Khan stalked over to his office window and opened a little panel, allowing fresh air to flood into his office. A fanged grin split his lips as he thrust his arm out the window, dangling the necklace high above the city of Cape Suzette. He drew back his arm, preparing to hurl it out into his city...
He could not move his arm.
Shere Khan frowned and resolved to simply drop the hated thing. The necklace flickered dimly through the years of tarnish as he looked down at it. Just one motion, and it would be gone. Forever.
He stood there until his arm was sore, but he could not bring himself to let it go. Finally, he drew both arm and necklace back into his office. The LK pendant was gently returned to its rusted green sarcophagus. Khan closed the lid gingerly, opened the bottom drawer, and laid the strongbox in the bottom. Then his eyes narrowed and he flung the drawer shut with a bang that reverberated through the office.
Shere Khan spent that night in an uneasy sleep, his head resting on his desktop with both arms curled around it for support.
Lungri Khan, on the other hand, did not even try to rest. The society party had lasted until late in the night, and it was three in the morning before he walked Rebecca to the door of her apartment building.
As Rebecca fumbled in her purse for the key, she heard the unexpected murmur of voices from inside the apartment. She looked curiously at Lungri, who shrugged his shoulders and hoisted his cane protectively. Ms. Cunningham smiled to herself--her friend usually said his goodnights at this point and took his leave. Tonight, though, Lungri was going to stay until he was certain that she was safe and the owners of the voices were nothing to worry about.
Rebecca opened her door. Kit was asleep on her love seat, evidently worn out from an exhausting evening of babysitting. Baloo sat in an armchair, drinking coffee. The businesswoman was about to make a wisecrack about Baloo managing to stay out of bed without a party to keep him awake, when she noticed the other figure in her apartment. An athletic tigress in khaki shorts and a battered fedora was curled up on her couch, sipping tea.
"Arizona Johnson!" Rebecca exclaimed.
"Shere Khan's friend," Lungri said, his eyes shadowing. He bowed politely to Baloo and Arizona, then took Rebecca's hand. "I believe it's time for me to be on my way."
"You're perfectly welcome to come in," Rebecca protested, but Lungri shook his head.
"Perhaps another time." He kissed Rebecca's hand. "I'll call you tomorrow." The bespectacled tiger nodded to the group, and said, "Good evening," before limping his way back down the corridor.
Baloo sighed as he watched Rebecca stare down the hall in the direction Lungri had taken. The pilot chugged down the last of his coffee and waited for his boss to sit herself down in the rocking chair before he spoke. "Sorry to ruin your evening, Becky. Arizona wanted to hear the last bit about the Corkney Island blockade."
Rebecca shook her head. "I don't know...I'm not sure Lungri would really like having that story getting around."
Arizona raised an eyebrow. "You'd rather have him and Shere at each other's throats for the rest of their lives?"
Baloo put his hand on Arizona's shoulder. "You know how stubborn they are, Ari...even you might not be able to get them back together again."
"I have to try," Arizona insisted.
"Okay," he said, raising his eyes in a gesture of surrender. "Where were we?"
"Lungri had just found out that Shere Khan was alive."
Lungri shook his head firmly. "It's not possible. Shere is dead. I saw the letter myself."
"What did it say?" Rebecca asked.
"That the passenger liner GOLDEN FUTURE sank on October 13, 1905, with Shere and Kala Nag Khan aboard."
Baloo growled. "Someone's been jerking you around, Lungri ol' pal. Kala Nag Khan was a big noise in Cape Suzette right up until he died in...oh, it musta been the early twenties..."
Lungri's eyes were wide with shock and his face slowly grew as white as the clouds outside. "This can't be happening."
"Believe it, Lungri." Baloo paused and flung a trunk in the corner open, rooting frantically through the miscellaneous clutter inside, until he came up with a yellowed newspaper. It was folded open to an article which proclaimed WHISTLESTOP JACKSON TO ATTEND WAR BOND RALLY.
Kit looked curiously at the paper. "1917? You saved that all these years?"
"Yeah. Because of the feature on Whistlestop." He turned to the tiger. "Jackson was my hero. But what I really think you're going to be interested in is the front page." Baloo refolded the paper to its original shape, and the headline screamed up at Lungri in big bold letters. KALA NAG KHAN ACCUSED OF WAR PROFITEERING. The photograph showed a gaunt Siberian tiger, evidently the great-uncle Lungri had never met. The real shocker for him, though, was who was depicted at Kala's right-hand side.
He was no longer the child that Lungri remembered, but a bright young executive with a full head of slicked-back brown hair and an immaculately pressed suit. Despite the years, Lungri would know the face anywhere. It was, after all, so very similar to his own. He was looking at the image of a grown Shere Khan.
The transformation of Lungri's features was frightening to watch. The eyes, wide with shock, snapped shut, open again, and narrowed into slits. The shaking hand that held the paper dropped it and balled into a fist. Seconds later, the fingers flung open and five razorlike claws gashed the air. The long tail lashed back and forth like a whip. In his anger, Lungri resembled Shere Khan more than ever. A low hissing snarl expressed the emotion of a moment when twenty years of grief were transformed into twenty years of betrayal.
Rebecca reached out and took his wrist. He looked at her, startled, then bowed his head and let two fat tears roll from behind his glasses. Baloo and Kit stood there awkwardly, not sure what to do. Wildcat wordlessly offered Lungri a tissue, which he accepted.
"He _knew_," Lungri choked, his voice raw. "Kala must have sent me that letter, and Shere let it happen!"
Rebecca nodded. "We can check the library if you like, but I'd suspect that the GOLDEN FUTURE made Cape Suzette safely."
"That won't be necessary." Lungri's head shot up, his eyes bright with anger. "First he backstabs me, his own brother, and then he invents this underhanded scheme to cheat honest people like you out of their livelihoods. If only those islands weren't his!" He cursed like the sailor he had been. "We can't even find the deed that shows that they're his and not mine."
"Wait a minute," Baloo mused. "How come you don't know your own inheritance?"
"I didn't get an inheritance because my parents' will was lost in the shipwreck," Lungri repeated automatically. Then his face brightened with realization. The tiger sprang to his feet and began pacing the room with the help of his cane. "If Shere arrived safely in Cape Suzette, then so did the will. He probably has it with him. Furthermore, there's no reason for him to take the Corkney Islands deed out of the library if it proves that the islands are his. Logically, I should have been the one to inherit them because _I_ was the one who was helping my father search for the pirate treasure that was supposedly buried there..." His hand raised in a defiant fist as he stood tall and bold at the front of the room like a general commanding an army. "We're going to find that will. We'll prove those islands aren't his and we'll break that blockade."
Baloo gave Rebecca a hug while Kit cheered and Wildcat tossed squares of notepaper in the air. They were all so happy to have a plan of action that they didn't notice Lungri's expression, or hear his last words under the hubbub.
"And this," Lungri hissed, "will teach him to betray me."
A cleaning lady walked into the Khan Industries building that night with a mop in her hand and her hair done up in a bun. No, not a cleaning lady...a businesswoman named Rebecca Cunningham dressed in a maid's uniform. Rebecca walked up to Mrs. Snarly, Shere Khan's receptionist, and said, "Excuse me? I'm new here, and I've been assigned to clean the...uh...deed room. Where Mr. Khan keep all his legal records."
"Twentieth floor, second door on the left," answered the old lady.
"Thank you," replied Rebecca politely. As she boarded the elevator, she noticed the security guards in the lobby. ~Thank goodness I don't have to sneak the papers past them,~ she thought as the doors shut.
Rebecca felt very self-conscious as she walked down the hallway, hoping that no one would question her presence, hoping that no one would see her at all. She opened the door Mrs. Snarly had indicated and found herself standing in a long, narrow room that ran down the length of the twentieth floor and featured huge filing cabinets that reached from ceiling to floor on all all four walls. "This will take forever!" moaned Rebecca.
She was about to slam her mop on the floor in exasperation when she noticed the cabinet nearest the door bore a label: V.I.P. Current Projects. She tugged on the drawer labelled "C" for "Corkney Islands" and soon discovered a huge file folder bulging with documents. Rebecca quickly riffled through it. The deed to the Corkney Islands was inside, but not the will. She did, however, find several references to that document, and ground her teeth in frustration. All the while, though, her mind was going at top speed. ~If I were Khan, where would I keep a secret will I didn't want anyone to know about?~ She hit upon a sudden, daring possibility, and she checked her watch to see if she had time to attempt it. ~Twenty to twelve. Twenty minutes to go.~ She paused, thinking, and decided to take the gamble.
On her way out the door, Rebecca passed by a pile of folders which were in a box labelled TRASH. Her eyes caught a glimpse of something and she stopped to get a better look. One of the folders bore the heading HIGHER FOR HIRE.
Rebecca knew she didn't have time to indulge her curiosity now, but she felt she certainly had a right to know if Shere Khan was keeping folders about _her_ business. She picked it up and tucked it under her arm, almost as an afterthought. The petite bear walked brusquely down the hall and boarded the elevator, paused once more, then pressed the button for the top floor.
The doors opened onto the massive penthouse office. Rebecca felt very small as she snuck past the tiger's-head fountains and beneath the tropical foliage to the silent monument that was Mr. Khan's desk. She slowly pulled open a drawer, and began riffling through pages. "I can't believe I let Baloo and Lungri talk me into this!"
She went through drawer after drawer, finding nothing, trying to leave everything exactly as she had found it. Ms. Cunningham looked nervously at her watch, and then decided to try the final drawer at the very bottom of Shere Khan's desk. She had to throw all her weight backwards to force it to move, but finally the drawer opened with a groan of complaint that came from years of resting, undisturbed, in a closed position.
Lying in the bottom was a green strongbox, the metal gleaming dully in the light. Rebecca's hand clasped the small silver wire handle and lifted it into her lap. She tried the latch once, then again, then a third time, applying more pressure with each attempt, but the box was obviously locked. She scanned the inside of the drawer, but the key was nowhere in sight. A glance at her watch informed her that she had only nine minutes left...not enough time to search the office.
So close, and yet so far. Rebecca threw back her head, wanting to scream...and a bobby pin poked her in the back of the neck. Her eyes lit up and she quickly pulled a pin out of her bun, carefully fitting it into the lock. After a few attempts, there was a satisfying thunk.
She pried open the lid. Inside lay a roll of parchment with a slim silver chain lying over it. Rebecca brushed away the chain as she removed the document. Hardly daring to breathe, she began to unroll the paper.
WILL--AKELA AND MATKAH KHAN
"Yes," she whispered, and began to close the lid of the strongbox. It was as stiff as the drawer, and as she leaned on the lid to force it shut, the initials LK shone up at her from a circular pendant.
Hurrying to the elevator, she stuffed the will into the HIGHER FOR HIRE file folder as she travelled down one floor. When the doors opened, she got off with file in one hand and mop in the other.
There was a guard waiting for her. "You're not supposed to be here," he said. "This floor's been cleaned already." Then he noticed the file in her hand. "Hey, you! Stop, thief!" He pulled out a walkie-talkie, but before he could say anything, Rebecca banged him on the head with the mop. She turned and ran for the north corner office. Rebecca slammed the door behind her and opened the window. "That fat bum better not be late."
For once, Baloo was right on time. As the city clock struck midnight, the Sea Duck came flying around the corner of Khan Industries, towing Kit behind on his airfoil. Rebecca held the folder out the window, and Kit took it from her hand as he flew by. "Got it, Papa Bear!" cried Kit.
"Good work, Little Britches," responded Baloo. In seconds the Sea Duck had disappeared into the night on its way back to Higher for Hire.
Rebecca swallowed hard. It took all of her nerve to walk past the fallen guard, down the hall to the elevator, and out the lobby doors. She left her pail and mop in the elevator, so that she could hide her trembling hands in her pockets, safe from the gaze of the security guards.
Lungri sat at Rebecca's desk with the folder in his hands. "Well, this is it. The moment of reckoning." He opened it slowly, as the document entitled WILL--AKELA AND MATKAH KHAN came to light after so many years. He picked it up, skimming the words as the Higher for Hire crew watched with bated breath. "'To our son, Lungri Khan: the house and property. The lot...the field...the Corkney Islands!' We've done it! This is all the proof we need."
"Well, let's go bust up a blockade!" cried Baloo.
"We'll teach him to mess with us!" laughed Rebecca.
"Wait," said Lungri. All eyes turned to him. "It's not that easy. We don't know his plans, and that's dangerous. I think you and Rebecca should pay Shere a little visit and tell him about the 'discrepancy' in the will. See what he has to say. Whatever you do, _don't_ let him know I'm in town, or that I've found out the property is mine."
"Can do," said Baloo.
"Oh, and one more thing. Before you go, do you think Wildcat could build me a small radio transmitter?"
"What do you want that for?" asked a puzzled Kit.
"One of the most interesting parts of a business conversation always takes place after the visitor leaves," said Lungri with a smile.
"Here you go," said Wildcat. He handed a metal gadget to Baloo. It had wires, springs, and knobs sticking out at all angles, and a rough antenna sticking out of the top. "Cute little fellow. His name's Harold."
"Radio's set, Lungri," announced Kit. "With a flip of this switch we'll be able to hear anything Mr. Khan says."
"All you have to do is clip Harold somewhere in the room. Then he'll hang around and tell us anything he hears, like, over the radio," explained Wildcat.
"Make sure no one sees you place that," Lungri warned. "Whatever you do, don't tell my brother that I'm in Cape Suzette!"
"No problem, Captain," laughed Baloo, as he slipped the transmitter into his pocket and climbed into the car beside Rebecca. With a puff of dust, the sedan drove off towards Khan Industries.
The elevator rose on its way to the top floor, carrying Rebecca and Baloo. "That was close," puffed Rebecca. "I thought we'd never make it past that secretary."
"Yeah. Thank goodness Khan let us up. He's probably edgy about the islands, seeing as they belong to someone else."
"And not a word to him about that 'someone else'." The elevator stopped at the top floor and the doors opened onto Shere Khan's office.
Mr. Khan was waiting for them. "Ah, Miz Cunningham and Mister Baloo. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"To the Corkney Island Blockade," snapped Rebecca angrily, walking across the room in a huff and slamming her hands, palms down, on his desk. "What makes you think you can restrict airspace whenever you like?"
"That airspace is restricted for an important reason."
"Yeah, makin' money for you," muttered Baloo under his breath. Khan cast an angry look at him.
"What I am doing is prefectly legal," continued Shere Khan calmly. "There is a law stating that the airspace above Lyonnesse's islands and territories is controlled by the owner of the property beneath."
Off to one side, Baloo had backed up against one of the massive pots containing various tropical plants. He clipped Wildcat's radio transmitter onto the rim of the pot and flipped the switch to the 'on' position. "Mission accomplished," he whispered.
"Maybe so," replied Rebecca to Mr. Khan, "but no one has been able to find the deed that proves you own it."
"I have the deed." He made a motion, and his scrawny assistant came forward holding an official-looking piece of paper with DEED--CORKNEY ISLANDS written at the top.
Baloo crossed his arms. "You know, I have a friend in Lyonnesse with a long memory. Seems to him that you had a brother somewhere."
Shere Khan bowed his head. "Lungri is _not_ part of my family. He was a worthless, shiftless hobo who ran away before the will was distributed. As the only Khan who bothered to be present, the lawyer passed on his property to me." Rebecca remarked that instead of staring his guests in the eyes, as he was wont to do, Shere Khan's gaze looked out the window, towards the bay. "It is a tragedy," Shere Khan said softly. Rebecca almost believed that he was sincere until she remembered Lungri's tears of agony earlier that afternoon. "As I was saying, the blockade is completely legal. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience. Good day." With that, Mr. Khan turned around in his chair, back to his company.
"Looks like our little visit is over," remarked Baloo.
Back at Higher for Hire, the radio suddenly clicked in, and Shere Khan's voice came on. "Lungri is _not_ part of my family. He was a worthless, shiftless hobo type who ran away before the will was distributed."
"Hobo?" demanded Lungri. "I left in search of _him_!"
"Good day," said Shere Khan over the radio. Soon there was the click of elevator doors closing.
"Here it comes!" cried Kit.
"Now I know who got ahold of the will. Fortunately it will be of no use to the freelancers. There's only one person who could possibly get in my way now..."
Lungri listened to the transmitter with his head in his hands until Shere Khan's voice died away. He remained in that position until Baloo finally broke the silence in the room with, "So, Lungri, when are you gonna go to the island and boot him off?"
"Baloo, I can't just 'boot him off', as you put it."
"What do you wanna do, throw him a going-away party?"
Lungri frowned, his brow furrowing and his face obviously pained. His eyes glistened with moisture and he whispered in a halting voice, "When I was a child, Shere tried to get me out of his life forever. When he finds out that simply sending me away wasn't enough to stop me from claiming my share..." Lungri looked up at Baloo and Rebecca. "What he said, about being the most powerful man in Cape Suzette, is it true?"
Baloo nodded. "Uh-huh."
Rebecca finally let her curiosity get the better of her. She pulled out the HIGHER FOR HIRE folder and opened it.
"MEMO--Garth and Biff
25 April 1935"
"Why, that's around the time when you got your inheritance, Baloo," Rebecca said. Lungri took the folder out of her hands for a look.
"Inheritance?" Baloo asked, confused.
"You know," Kit said. "Your great uncle Happy Hartley, or Huey Hoover, or whatever his name was."
Baloo gulped. He never had told Rebecca, or even Kit, where that money had really come from. He looked around, nervously, and made his decision. "Becky? I, ah, got a little confession to make."
Rebecca's face wore an expression that was an odd combination of exasperation and "oh-dear-NOW-what?"
Baloo told the story in a rush of words. "Well, Becky, what that money really came from was one day I was flying and I saw Shere Khan's plane in trouble and so I saved his life and he made me this deal to give me anything I wanted to show his gratitude as long as I kept it all a secret. That's how I was able to buy the Sea Duck...and the fridge...and the roller coaster...and the limo...and the trainyards...and..." His face turned redder and redder with embarrassment as he listed all he'd asked for in the way of reward. When he finally finished the major items, Baloo looked around again, as if expecting Shere Khan himself to pop out of the garbage pail or the couch cushions and denounce him. "Not that it did me much good anyway. Those stupid kidnappers laid my ransom so high that it took all I got from Khan and more! I'm just lucky ol' Shere was able to give me the deed to Higher for Hire to put everything back to the way it was...man, I was so relieved to see that..."
"Oh, Baloo!" Rebecca exclaimed.
Lungri was frowning. Baloo looked at him apolegetically and said, "I'm sorry, Lungri, but you see, sometimes Khan can be a decent guy."
The tiger's eyes blazed blue. "Not this time." He slammed the memo down on the table top. "According to this, those kidnappers' of yours were two enforcers in the pay of none other than Shere Khan."
Rebecca shook her head. "I don't understand."
Lungri waved his cane angrily. "Baloo was taking money from Shere, so Shere decided to send his goons to put a stop to it." He slammed his fist on the desktop.
Kit bit his lip. "I don't get it though. Why go to all that trouble? Why not just say he'd given out enough?"
Rebecca thought hard. "You didn't sign anything, did you?"
"Nope," Baloo replied. "Khan just said he'd give me anything I wanted and I could take all the time I needed."
"Still, if he considered that a verbal contract...it's almost as if, even though he wanted out, he was willing to do anything to avoid going back on the deal," Ms. Cunningham mused.
Lungri growled loudly and all their heads turned to him. "Shere had _no_ problem breaking the deal he had with me."
"Look, this isn't about Shere Khan's integrity," Kit interrupted, in an attempt to forestall a fight. "Right now we have to concentrate on breaking the Corkney Islands blockade." The others nodded their agreement, and silence reigned for several long moments as they sat there deep in thought.
Finally, Lungri asked a question. "Can we get the freelance pilots of Cape Suzette on our side?"
"You bet!" cried Kit. "And we know exactly where to go to find them all."
"Things are getting worse," Wiley Pole told Louie. "It can't go on like this much longer."
"Yeah," moaned Louie. "You're not the only one who ain't got dough, Joe. With all the pilots flat busted, this shack ain't pullin' in any profits. If someone doesn't do somethin', Wiley, it's all over." He looked around the room. "And someone had better do something soon."
"And we're the ones to do it," announced Baloo as he, Lungri, Rebecca, Kit, and Wildcat came walking in. Kit waved the will like a victory banner. "Accordin' to this sheepskin here, the Corkney Islands belong to Lungri here!" A cheer erupted from the once-dejected airmen.
"You mean His Highness-and-Mightiness was moochin' land off your pal?" asked Louie in disbelief. "And with all that moolah of his, too."
"Well, then," said Wiley, waving a finger under Lungri's nose, "you go to Khan's and tell him you're taking your islands back!"
"Not so fast," cautioned Lungri. "You see, Shere Khan is my brother. He betrayed me long ago in order to get my share of our parents' inheritance. Legally, I could claim the island, but I know Shere wouldn't hesitate to finish me off if I tried." A brief flash of pain stabbed its way onto his face before vanishing beneath his determined front. "That's why I need your help to get rid of him."
"I think I speak for every pilot here when I say you've got our help," Wiley offered. A chorus of cheers arose.
"Smashing! Now, I know of a way to drive Shere's men off the Corkney Islands, but I can't do it alone. Everyone, refuel your planes and follow us!"
"We're coming up on the island chain now," announced Kit from the navigator's seat of the Sea Duck.
Baloo picked up his radio. "Okay, guys! We're going to circumnavigate the Corkney Islands, nice and wide so Khan's boys don't see us, and land at Hedgerow Airport just outside of Lyndon."
Two hours later, the Sea Duck rolled to a stop on the tarmack of Hedgerow International Airport. Baloo and Kit were watching the other freelance pilots touch down, one by one, when a slim lady lynx darted out from the terminal building and gave Lungri a gigantic hug.
Rebecca looked her over with a critical eye and felt her stomach sink in a completely irrational way. She had to admit that the feline woman was beautiful. She had long, straight, jet-black hair worn loose over her shoulders, wide green eyes, and a perfect figure. Her clothing consisted of a stylish embroidered blouse and classic knee-length white skirt. She was a good ten years younger than Lungri. Following her came two cubs, whose eyes lit up at the sight of Lungri. "Daddy!" they cried, each one clinging to one of the tiger's legs.
Kit couldn't help staring with interest at the older one, who was a pretty white tiger girl of about fifteen or sixteen, and Baloo half chuckled to himself at the look on Kit's face. The younger cub was perhaps eight or nine and looked more like an ocelot than a lynx. Lungri turned to the Higher for Hire crew with a warm smile and said, "I'd like you to meet my family."
Rebecca's face sank, though she tugged her lips into a brave smile. The first thing out of her mouth was a rather dull-sounding "You never told me you had a wife."
Lungri's eyes clouded over for a moment as he softly murmured, "My wife is dead."
"But...Oh, Lungri, I'm so sorry...but then...?" She looked at the lady lynx questioningly.
Lungri followed her gaze and couldn't suppress a chuckle. "Rebecca, I'd like you to meet my sister, Estella."
Baloo was flabbergasted. "You mean Shere Khan has a sister too?"
The tiger shook his head. "Stella's the daughter of Captain Westmoreland and his wife. And these--" he indicated the cubs "--are my children, Kubla and Ghenghis Westmoreland."
The white tigress, Kubla, shook hands with the Higher for Hire crew. "Pleased to meet you."
"Hi," said Ghengis, his eyes on the Sea Duck all the while. "Does this thing have any guns? For fighting Houns or Thembrians?"
"Listen, kiddo," Baloo said with a grin, bending over to the boy's level, "I don't need no guns to outfly a bunch of Thembrians."
"This way," Lungri said, waving to the pilots and moving towards a fleet of long black cars. "We're going to the docks. Except..." He paused, deep in thought. "Baloo. You said they have fighter patrols up. They'd likely be flying a regular pattern, correct?" Baloo nodded. Lungri turned his head. "Wiley. I'd like you to take your plane up and scout out the fighters' patrol pattern. After one fighter patrol flies overhead a certain place, how long does it take for the next one to come along? With luck, we should be able to sneak the boat and the Sea Duck into Pirate's Cove without them even knowing we're there."
"Wilco," Wiley said with a salute.
"The rest of you, follow me."
The cars took the group to a small harbour owned by Westmoreland Shipping Inc, according to the large sign over the driveway. Lungri led the group to a large white boat. "All aboard! They'll never suspect a sea arrival."
"Destination, Captain Westmoreland?" asked a young crab in a sailor suit.
"Pirate's Cove, Plage d'Or Island, Corkney chain," he ordered.
"What about you?" asked Wiley.
"The Higher for Hire crew and I are taking my speedboat to scout the island on foot," Lungri explained.
"What about the Sea Duck?" Baloo wondered.
"Your plane will be safe here."
"No! I mean, shouldn't we take her instead?"
"It's risky, Baloo. You told me yourself they have fighters, and your plane is unarmed."
"Yeah, but what if we needed to make a quick getaway?"
"Good point. I wish we could get an aerial overview, but Khan's men would notice any aircraft passing overhead."
"What about something smaller?" asked Kit. "I could get a bird's-eye view from my airfoil if I left the Sea Duck before it got too close to Khan's patrol."
"Perfect!" Lungri exclaimed.
"Then we take the Sea Duck down low so it doesn't show up on Khan's boys' radar," Baloo said.
"Ssh!" Kit hissed, holding up a field radio. "Here comes Wiley's report!"
An hour later, the Sea Duck was airborne. "There it is, Little Britches," Baloo said, pointing out Plage D'Or Island through the windshield. The Corkney Island chain stretched out below them, and the largest island was clearly visible. Kit could even see the cove where the boat would drop anchor.
"Ready, Skipper." Kit grabbed the tow rope, slipped his airfoil beneath his feet and flew out behind the plane. When the Sea Duck began to descend, Kit let go of the rope and angled his airfoil for best range speed, soaring over the ocean towards the island.
Baloo took the Sea Duck down, easing out of his dive only four hundred feet above the water. He scanned the skies for fighters, but Wiley's report had been accurate enough. There was a half-hour window between fighter patrols, and according to Wiley, the last one had gone by this point ten minutes ago. The skies all around were empty save for the occasional seagull, and the Sea Duck landed gently in the cove without incident. "Now what?" asked Baloo.
"Rebecca," Lungri said, "I'm leaving you in charge. Your job is to keep everything running smoothly. You pilots, Louie, I want you to gather the supplies off the boat and bring them to Wildcat. Wildcat, I want you to sort through the things they bring you. Your object, eventually, will be to make a great big bang. Estella, I want you to monitor Khan's radio transmissions and keep your eyes open for fighter patrols. Get Kubla and Ghenghis to help you. Kit will land here after he finishes his overview."
"What about me?" Baloo wondered.
"You're coming with me. We need to find something."
"Do you have a plan?"
"Yes, and if it works, Khan's men will be all washed up."
Several minutes later, Baloo and Lungri were hacking their way through the dense jungle. Baloo carried a machete while Lungri used his cane with almost equal effectiveness. "What are we looking for, anyway?" asked Baloo.
Water gurgled nearby. "We're getting close," Lungri said. He pushed aside the bushes and emerged on a sandy beach. "Aha!"
Baloo looked up and gasped. Ahead of them was a steep, craggy hill, evidently the tallest point on the island. Between them and the hill, however, was a massive lake nestled in the hollow at the bottom of the surrounding hills. The lake was not completely natural; Baloo noticed a sturdy dam had been built in the pass between two hills. However, that dam had not been tended in a long time; water was flowing over the top of the dam and down into the river below. A narrow footbridge spanned the pass over the river, close to the water-covered face of the dam.
"Lungri, what is this?"
Lungri smiled. "Shere Khan's downfall."
"How'd it get here?"
"My father and I built the dam." He smiled smugly. "Folklore has it that pirates once used this island to bury their treasure. One of the legends claims that treasure was buried in the riverbed. We built the dam to give us the ability to shut off the flow of water for a few days at a time so we could search the riverbed." He sighed. "The last time we were here, we got called home suddenly and left the waterflow shut off. My parents were...killed...a week later and I haven't been back until now. The water built up into that lake until it was high enough to overflow the dam."
Suddenly there was a snapping in the bushes behind them. "It must be Khan's men!" cried Baloo.
"Duck!" Lungri whispered. "We can't let them find us!"
Baloo and Lungri hit the dirt behind a scrawny little shrub. "Man, I can see through this thing," Baloo moaned, peering through the plant. "We're finished."
"Sssssh!" Lungri hissed.
A person stepped through the shrubbery and tripped on Baloo's nose. He fell into the sand, rolled over and sat up. "Papa Bear? What are you doing on the ground?"
"Kit! How come you aren't at the cove?"
"One of the fighter patrols came along early! I had to land in the forest so they wouldn't see me."
"There's an awful lot of forest," Lungri cautioned. "You're lucky you landed here. Now tell me--have Shere's men built an airstrip here?"
"Yep. It's about three miles downstream."
"Perfect! Just as I thought."
"I get it now!" said Baloo. "If we break down this dam, the water will wash out the airstrip."
"Won't they just build another?" Kit asked.
"That's the trick, Kit. They can't. That spot is the only area that's not either heavily forested or hilly. If we flood it, Shere's men will have to fly here from an airfield on the coast. It'll take them quite a lot of gas to get there and back..."
"And it'll cost Shere Khan so much money, he'll give up this scheme!" Baloo crowed.
"We need to hurry, though. If Shere's men find the dam and think about the lay of the land, they'll place armed guards here and then we'll never get rid of them. Let's move!"
Each pilot grabbed a bag of tools or a few sticks of TNT, and one by one they set off for the dam, following Lungri's lead. The lame tiger clutched a brown briefcase in one hand and carried his cane in the other.
"It's gigantic!" gasped Rebecca once they had all reached the dam. "How are we ever going to destroy that?"
"I'm gonna make a real big bang," said Wildcat, peering though some odd gadget he'd found in one of the tool bags. Sticks of dynamite lay scattered around him like a Halloween candy haul.
"Wonderful!" cried Lungri. "But it will take more than a bomb to open this dam. All right, men, grab a tool and start weakening the foundations and supports. Be careful! Use the bridge to chip away at the bottom without going into the river itself. The current is very strong."
Lungri's son Ghenghis made a grab for an axe, only to have Lungri yank it out of his hands. "No. Not you."
"Aw, Dad, c'mon. I can help."
"You certainly can. We need you to climb that tree over there, the tall one, and watch for planes or Shere's men. Yell if you see anyone coming." The ocelot cub grinned and ran off, followed by his sister.
Estella looked up from the field radio. "I've found the pilot squad's frequency. It's business as usual so far."
The pilots set to work, prying at the concrete blocks, chipping away at the stone seal and melting through support cables. Gradually small leaks began springing through the dam. When Wildcat was done with his bomb, Louie carried it gingerly over the footbridge and placed it in a ledge which some of the freelancers had carved into the middle of the dam. Kit glided down the face of the dam on his airfoil, placing sticks of dynamite, as Wildcat spooled out detonator cable back to the detonator box that sat on the beach.
"Are you sure that bomb will do the trick?" Baloo asked Wildcat skeptically. "That dam is awfully big--we're gonna need some serious ammunition."
Suddenly machine gun bullets strafed across the dam. Baloo ducked and swallowed hard. "That wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"Planes coming!" Ghenghis yelled, scrambling down the tree. "Lots of them!"
"Khan's Goon Squad found us this fast?" Louie gasped.
A squadron of aircraft shot by overhead, wheeling for another pass. "Those aren't Khan's men! Those are pirate CT-37's!" Kit cried. "Karnage must still have been hanging around."
Don Karnage's Tri-Winged Terror landed in the lake, followed by a squadron of his men. "So, Baloo and Khan come back!" said Karnage. "Well, Khan will rue the day he cris-crossed myself! Capture them!" The pirates jumped out of their aircraft and charged.
"Now what do we do?" asked Rebecca.
"We're gonna fight 'em off, that's what!" cried Louie. He grabbed some rocks and flung them at the pirates. Kit glided on his airfoil, buzzing the pirates' heads as they scrambled out of their aircraft and charged down the side of the hill.
Mad Dog dashed at the group, waving his sword, but Wildcat fended him off, countering his blows with a monkey wrench. As a pirate strayed near Estella, she clapped her earphones over his head and cranked the squelch knob on the field radio, sending off an ear-splitting squeal of static that made the pirate fall to his knees in pain. Pirates chased after Louie, who paused only long enough to grab some fallen fruit before he fled across the footbridge. As the pirates pursued him, he began to throw the fruit at them. Some of them, blinded, staggered into the rails and into each other; others slipped on the squished fruit and went sliding right off the bridge. Rebecca grabbed a staple gun and began firing it like a pistol, sending pirates scattering with staples in their tender noses. From their lookout tree, Lungri's children pelted the pirates with hard green nuts. The freelance pilots followed suit.
Lungri dashed down to the water's edge, followed by Baloo. "What are you doing?" Baloo asked. "Those pirates will stop us from destroying the dam! We gotta fight 'em off!"
"We can't fight them off by ourselves, Baloo! There are just too many of them! Even Wildcat's staple shooter is no match for swords and guns." Lungri ran on, stumbling over rocks, swinging his cane and his briefcase wildly.
"What are you doing?" Baloo puffed, hurrying to keep up.
Lungri rounded a large boulder and Baloo, pursuing him, found himself in a low-ceilinged cave. Most of the cave's mouth was flooded by water, and futher back in the cave, Lungri was pushing an old rowboat into the water. "It was my father's," Lungri said, gesturing towards the boat. "We used it for treasure hunting. I'm taking it downstream to get help."
"What should we do?"
"Hold off the pirates until I get back!"
Baloo nodded, running back the way he had come. He took a glance over his shoulder and saw the lame tiger paddling the boat down the river with all his might. Only after Lungri had vanished from sight did Baloo wonder who he was going to ask for help.
The pilots fought hard, but Lungri was right. There were just too many pirates with too many weapons. Before long, they were forced to give in. One by one, the pirates herded the freelancers, the Higher for Hire crew, and Lungri's family into a group on the beach. "Ah, Baloo," smirked Don Karnage, as the last prisoner was brought in. "So nice to see you again. It is a shame you will never get the chance to ruin this dam type of wall. Now... why ever would you want to blow it up?"
Gibber whispered in his ear.
"What do you mean, 'for a fireworks display'?" raged the pirate captain. Gibber looked at him blankly. "Never mind." Karnage surveyed his prisoners with an ugly smile. "Soon you will be the ones that are blown up. Hey, wait a minuet! Where is Khan?"
"Right behind you," came the rumbling voice. Baloo's head whirled around to see none other than Shere Khan himself, at the head of an entire squadron of panther pilots.
"We're done for," Baloo moaned softly.
Estella clapped her hand on his shoulder. "Not yet."
Shere Khan turned to his men. "This should teach me to give you coffee breaks. Now drive those pirates off my island." The panther pilots advanced, pistols drawn, as Shere Khan stepped back out of the fray.
"Attack!" yelled Karnage. "I want Khan at any costs!"
As the pirates and panthers clashed, Shere Khan snuck over to where the freelance pilots stood. "Mr. Khan?" gasped Baloo in confusion.
'Shere' Khan pulled a pair of glasses out of his suit pocket, slid them on his face, and winked. "Lungri Khan to you."
"Lungri?" Rebecca asked in bewilderment. "How?"
"Never leave home without a good suit," Lungri said with a wink, patting the briefcase he carried. "Now, the dam."
The detonator lay half-buried in sand where it had been dropped during the fight with the pirates. Kit bent over and retrieved it, dusting it off before handing it to Lungri.
"Is it all right?" the tiger asked Wildcat.
Wildcat crossed his eyes, curled his tongue over his lip, and ran his hands over the wires. "Yep."
"Are you _sure_?" Rebecca pressed.
"Then clear out." Lungri pulled the lever up and shoved it down. The dam blew up in a flash of light, sending a torrent of water down on the panthers and pirates fighting below.
"I'll get you, Khan!" yelled Karnage as the water swept him downstream towards the airstrip.
Lungri, Baloo, and the rest only cheered.
Back at Louie's Place, the pilots celebrated. "Here's to Lungri Khan, the best business partner a freelance pilot could have," said Wiley, as they all downed their fruit punches.
Lungri bowed. "Thank you all for a most exciting vacation."
"You're leaving?" Rebecca's face fell instantly.
The tiger nodded. "You must remember that I have a shipping company to run." He took her hands. "Be sure to drop by the next time you're in Lyndon." He grinned widely. "And you know, I just might consider expanding my shipping line into Cape Suzette." Kit smiled, and Lungri pulled his white captain's cap over his eyes. "Don't think you're getting rid of me this easily," the shipping magnate laughed.
"So, you're taking a flight home tomorrow?" Rebecca asked, and received a nod in reply.
"With your very own pilot, no less." He winked at Baloo.
The grey bear pondered a moment, and then frowned. "But what about ol' Khany? Um, I mean..."
Lungri's face became grim. "Yes. I need to make sure none of you suffer repercussions for helping to break his blockade."
"How're you gonna do that?" Kit asked.
"Never mind," he said as a gleaming claw caught the clasp on the back of the SK necklace. It slithered down his jacket into his hand and lay there limply, glinting helplessly in the light. "Rest assured I'll settle this matter for good."
In the highest office in Cape Suzette, an angry Shere Khan paced the floor. "What a time for that blasted dam to burst. It will cost too much in fuel to fly my pilots in from Lyonesse, and there's nowhere else on the island chain to build an airstrip. I was spending enough money as it was to maintain a constant paramilitary presence there."
The elevator pinged and a bedraggled Captain Quarry limped in. "It was no accident, Mr. Khan. Baloo, the freelance pilots, and this other guy blew it up. They're still partying at Louie's."
Khan snarled. "They won't be in a party mood after I sue them!" He unsheathed eight glittering claws. "Quarry, you are dismissed." He pressed a button on his intercom and demanded an immediate meeting with his legal team.
"What happened when Lungri confronted Shere?" Arizona asked.
Baloo could only sigh. "Your guess is as good as mine. He wouldn't tell us. All he said was that he'd taken care of it and Shere Khan would never bother us again."
"But he did face Shere down..."
"In his office. Yeah."
Arizona grumbled a curse. "So the only people who'd know are Shere and Lungri, and neither of them are talking."
"Don't think anyone else would wanna talk about it either. Lungri says he scared the pants off that scrawny assistant of Khan's..."
"Assistant?" Arizona's eyes lit up.
The thin, nervous tiger would, in most cases, be too frightened of Mr. Khan's wrath to say a word about the things he knew from working as the business mogul's personal assistant. His loyalty to Khan Industries was unquestioned, and his fear made wonderful insurance. He had only met one other person as terrifying as Shere Khan--the bespectacled tiger who looked so much like his boss.
That is, until the tigress with the whip had turned up on his doorstep and demanded to know what happened on a certain night in 1936.
One look at her face, and he was only too happy to tell her.
"Do you have an appointment?" Mrs. Snarly demanded in her nasal voice. The newcomer, a tall tiger in a brown suit, stopped in mid-stride and turned to face her. She gave him a toothy smile and laid down her knitting, still brandishing a long, skewer-like needle in one hand. "Your name, please?"
"Hmmmm...I'm sorry, you're not on the list. I can schedule you in two weeks from Thursday." When she looked up, she noticed with some shock that the uninvited guest was already on his way to the elevator.
The receptionist darted in front of him, hands outstretched to bar his way. "Mr. Westmoreland, if you persist in this behaviour I'm going to have to call security." A burly tomcat in a bellboy's uniform approached and took a position behind her, frowning his disapproval.
The tiger straightened his slightly out-of-style suit jacket and lowered his glasses on his nose. His entire posture seemed to change from that of a run-of-the-mill business employee to someone powerful and regal. His back was straight, head held high, drawing on some inner core of iron and fire. The cane lay in waiting, held in a tensed left hand, and on the right hand four razor-sharp claws gently flexed and unflexed in a fatal rhythm. Over the gold-rimmed glasses, a pair of ice-blue eyes glittered like shattered glass and pinned Shere Khan's employees to the spot.
"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear." The voice was deeper, cold, with no trace of its original harbourfront accent. He paused for effect, noticing that the tomcat's knees were trembling and the receptionist had let the knitting needle slip unnoticed from her hand.
"Lungri Westmoreland KHAN."
He smiled with satisfaction as the elevator doors shut behind him.
Shere Khan knew there was something amiss the second he stepped from the elevator. It took only moments more for him to notice the figure that stood silhouetted in his office window. Its back was to him, and it was gazing out across the city in the same manner that he often affected, proud and yet comfortable in its dominance, standing there as if it owned the place.
Only this was HIS office. Shere Khan struggled to hide an expression of shock. His office had been deliberately designed to overawe all who entered it, and the effects were generally most satisfying...except in the case of that foolish pilot Baloo, who didn't have the sense to be overawed. Shere smiled in satisfaction at his thin, lanky assistant, who was gripping his tail nervously at the sight for all of the fact that he was already in his boss' presence.
As Mr. Khan stepped into the room, his surprise melted quickly into anger when the figure refused to even turn around in acknowledgement. Khan snarled, biting down on his teeth and unleashing his claws with a slicing noise. His assistant nevously jumped to one side as Khan passed, shaking with fury. The thin cat turned to the silhouetted figure in time to catch the barest flicker of an ear, its first movement. The assistant knew that despite the stranger's lack of reaction, he was listening to them, fully aware of what they were doing.
The silence cracked as the figure spoke in a voice that was almost wistful, yet tinged with bitter irony. "Someday, my son, half of all this will be yours."
Shere Khan slammed his paws down on his desk. "Who are you and what do you think you are doing in my office?" demanded Cape Suzette's captain of industry, in the greatest display of sincere emotion he'd shown in years.
The figure at the window cocked his head in response. "I'm afraid you're just going to accept that I have every right to be here, _Shere_."
"You have five minutes to vacate the premises before I call security," Khan informed him, crossing his arms.
He laughed. "Oh, shut up, Shere."
"You can't talk to him that way!" protested the flabbergasted assistant. He turned to his boss, judging his reaction. "He can't talk to you that way!"
All the fur stood up on the back of Shere Khan's neck. Both sets of claws ground into the desktop. Khan's flunky withdrew a notepad and scribbled a message: "Refinish desktop tomorrow."
Khan's shoulders hunched a little, his muscles gathering in a primordial preparation to spring. He began to stalk towards the uninvited guest as a cat might approach a bird, his eyes dangerously black. The assistant cringed and jumped away. The failure of the Corkney Island blockade had done nothing for Mr. Khan's mood, and this stranger's arrogance was the final straw. Shere Khan growled, his threat to call security completely forgotten.
In a flash, the silhouetted figure turned around. He, too, had his claws unsheathed. His left hand gripped his cane like a sword. His lips were pulled back in a snarl and his eyes, unlike Shere's, were almost colourless now, sparkling like broken river ice. The yes-man cried out with fear and scrambled to take cover in the shrubbery. He crouched behind some bushes, whimpering, his eyes screwed shut and his hands over his ears. The fronds wove a green barrier between himself and the warring tigers.
The stranger's right hand seized a silver pennant dangling from his neck and tore it free in one powerful downward yank, throwing the circular object onto the oak desk. It slid to a stop directly in front of Shere Khan, who looked down at it in annoyance, then back to the invader. The bespectacled tiger gestured to the necklace and nodded.
Shere picked it up and turned it over. There, glittering back at him, were his own initials, done in the same style he had made into his company logo. A style and design chosen by his father. A necklace given to his brother years ago.
Shere Khan raised his eyes to meet the icy gaze of the stranger, and his face slowly drained of all its colour. "Lungri." The voice was almost a whisper.
"Remember me, Shere?" His brother's words were angry and bitter.
Shere attempted to remain calm, but in his heart he knew that this situation, like his childhood kidnapping, like the pirate invasion of Cape Suzette in 1934, was rapidly getting out of hand. "So, Lungri, what brings you to town? You're only thirty years late." His tone was biting.
Lungri smirked, misreading his Shere's words. "Thirty years, but I'm here, Shere. You can do what you like, but there are some people in this world who refuse to lie down and die." He seized a half-filled water glass off the desktop and raised it in a toast. "To the freelance pilots of Cape Suzette." The lame tiger downed the contents in a single swallow.
Shere snarled, "So you were behind that."
"I chipped in." Lungri closed his fist and the glass shattered into pieces.
"You'll be replacing that," Khan informed him.
"You can afford it. Or rather...we can afford it."
Shere's blood turned cold. "What?"
"Oh, you've forgotten, Shere? I never got my share of our parents' inheritance. The whole thing went to you. So did Great-Uncle Kala's estate, I see. It's rather interesting to note that according to the law, half of all this--" he waved his arm around, indicating not only the office building but also a sweep across the Cape Suzette landscape below "--is rightfully mine."
The words hit harder than a physical blow. ~Half my empire gone in one fell swoop.~ "You would never win that much in court," he snapped, half bluffing and attempting to sound more confident than he felt.
"But I could make your life _extremely_ unpleasant, Shere. For a _very_ long time. So let's talk business." His voice was uncharacteristically cruel, as heartless as Kala's had ever been.
The assistant tentatively raised his head, but cringed once more when his superior spoke. Shere Khan had been intimidating, displeased, even angry before...but never like this. Peering from behind the screen of vegetation, the assistant could see the Khan brothers glaring daggers at each other, perfectly matched twin furies.
Shere's voice was a hiss. "I will _never_ trust a deal with you again."
"You don't have a choice." A cold-blooded smile split Lungri's lips in an expression previously unfamiliar to the normally jovial face. "Unless you want to learn how it feels to be on the receiving end...to have your own flesh and blood tear your world apart."
"There will be no deal."
"Then we'll see if you can build a world out of wreckage."
"You wouldn't dare."
He turned to walk out, as if backing down from the confrontation, but his nonchalant tone was worse than an explicit threat. "Oh, I managed to do it, Shere. I built a life from _nothing_. Surely you can too. You're so much _more_ than I am." A casual hand combed through the long, arcing whiskers.
Shere's mind raced as possible outcomes flickered through his head. None of them were pleasant. For the first time in his life, someone else had him in a stranglehold.
"You'll regret this," he bluffed, desperately.
Lungri whirled around and raised his watch. "In ten minutes my lawyers will initiate the first lawsuit unless I phone to tell them otherwise."
Shere ground his teeth in fury, but there was nothing he could do. "What are your terms?"
"You'll find they're very reasonable." Lungri walked right up to Shere's desk and rested his hands on it, facing his brother. "You give me the deed to the Corkney Islands and give up your underhanded attempts to gain a monopoly on Cape Suzette. If you're going to triumph over the freelancers, you're going to do it fairly and all above the table. We will both continue as if this blockade affair never happened. That's all I'm asking for. In exchange, I will conveniently forget that I ever saw our father's will."
Shere's eyes narrowed. "Where _is_ our father's will?"
Lungri laughed in his face. "Nice try, Shere. I'm not going to tell you. But rest assured...there are very many copies out there now, in the hands of very many people."
"I could have you charged for theft."
"You could also explain everything about the document in question."
Lungri had him cold, and he knew it. Shere Khan frowned; one thing bothered him still. "That's _all_ you want? Just those worthless islands?"
"Why would I want to take over your businesses? I can build my own from scratch. I don't need your things. I'll take them if I must, but I don't need them...and I don't need you."
It stung, more deeply than Shere would ever show. "Deal." The two tigers clasped hands for a brief second, each one squeezing brutally hard, and then dropped each other's hands as if they'd each touched some sort of vermin.
Lungri limped his way to the elevator. His keen ears picked up a quiet threat uttered while the elevator opened. "God help you, Lungri, if you go back on _this_ deal."
Lungri tossed a parting shot back over his shoulder. "Sorry, Shere, there's no way for you to cheat your way out of this one." The elevator doors clanged shut.
The assistant gulped. Shere Khan seemed to have forgotten his presence, and he was going to keep it that way. It was safer. He made sure that he was far away from that horrible flytrap that frightened him so, and hunkered down into a ball to get what sleep he could.
Lungri Westmoreland Khan watched the floor numbers slowly count down as the elevator descended. "Go back on _this_ deal?" he repeated quietly to himself, puzzling. He bowed his head and sighed bitterly. "You're as cruel as ever."
Shere Khan's knees folded and he staggered backwards into his oversized chair. "Cheat my way out of this one?" He racked his brain, but could not for the world discern what his brother could have meant. Memories of childhood Monopoly games and picnics on the Corkney islands played on an internal cinema screen. The old echoes began anew, repeating themselves in his mind.
"...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!"
Unbidden, Shere Khan's hand slipped into the bottom drawer of his desk, knocked the strongbox lid open, and wound his fingers around the chain of a second sterling silver necklace. The initials LK gleamed dully in the light.
"Lungri, what happened to you? What made you turn on me?"
He stared at the elevator doors for a long time.