Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Epilogue: Gadget Unchained
The Sweepers had searched the tree house thoroughly and left an equally thorough mess behind them that took days to straighten out. The only exception, ironically enough, was Gadget's workshop, the scene of the crime itself. The search of that area had been greatly delayed while the Sweepers waited for two experts in mechanical devices.
One was a mechanic from the local toy store. The other was a much-vaunted expert who worked as a consultant for the Rescue Aid Society but proved difficult to contact. The Sweepers eventually gave up on waiting for this expert entirely, after the RAS finally admitted that the expert in question was none other than Gadget herself.
In the end, the Sweepers had settled for sending in the mechanic to make sure no one touched anything dangerous, while their searchers tiptoed around the room looking for clues. They had no way to tell that Gadget had gotten there first and they found nothing except Gadget's favourite wrench with a little blood and some chipmunk hairs on it. They had taken it away with them.
Gadget eventually decided not to ask for it back. It was a wrench, well, her favourite one actually, but it had almost killed Dale and to bring it back into the house was to tempt fate. Not that she was superstitious or anything.
Dale complained that several of his comic books were missing. Chip, exercising newfound restraint, told Dale that they were just misplaced and they would turn up all the sooner if Dale worked on straightening the place up. Gadget, however, held her peace and wondered.
No one else mentioned missing any property, though Chip looked particularly put out when he finished tidying his study and Monty was heard to voice the opinion that being searched by the police felt a lot like being burglarised.
It had been very different from the homecoming party Gadget had envisaged; the party that Lawhiney had, in fact, got. She went to bed after a simple, subdued meal with the others, curled up in her own bed sheets for the first time in far too long, and slept the sleep of the just.
Life being what it was, that was not quite the end of it.
The next morning Gadget woke late.
Lawhiney had clearly preferred a regular lay in, or perhaps simply hadn't been able to work out how to wind Gadget's alarm clock; a creation of Gadget's own devising that had been modified twice to bring it in line with what the residents considered acceptable noise pollution. The second modification had left a pair of Monty's winter socks over the bells, like rabbit ears.
Gadget showered and dressed sleepily. She was about to go and get breakfast when she caught sight of herself in the mirror and stopped. The lavender dye of the jumpsuit had probably just faded in the laundry but, for a moment, when Gadget looked into the mirror, she could have sworn it was the grim grey Shrankshaw issue uniform she had worn for months.
Two minutes later the jumpsuit was in an untidy heap on the floor and Gadget was admiring herself in the mirror. She was wearing the blue and white summer dress she had thought fondly of in Talpidae's office. She added a dash of lipstick and a smile and went hunting chipmunk.
On her way to the kitchen, she heard a knock on the front door. It was the postman.
"Morning, Gadget." The thin grey haired vole behaved as though she had never been away, handed her a letter addressed by her own familiar handwriting, tipped his hat, and went his way without a backward glance.
"Morning." Gadget said to his retreating back, when she had finished staring at the letter.
She took the desperate letter she had written in Shrankshaw prison with her to the kitchen, searching for breakfast rather than chipmunk. Strictly speaking, it was addressed to Monty but she could see no point in giving it to him now when she no longer needed rescue. It had only been three days since she mailed it, but it felt like a year had passed.
It was, she thought, just like a holiday where you went away and came back before the postcards you had sent your friends arrived.
Gadget leaped a clear inch into the air.
There, completely unexpected, just when she had given up all hope, was her long awaited welcome home party.
"Aw, you guys!" She complained as someone crowned her with a party hat. "You didn't have to do this!"
"Like you'd have forgiven us if we hadn't!" Dale laughed at her.
"We got you a cheesecake." Monty said. "A little too sweet for my taste and I'm not sure that ricotta stuff really counts as cheese, I must say."
"Which is the only reason it's still on the table." Chip pointed out.
"You're so funny, Chipper!" Tammy laughed.
It was a smaller party than the one Lawhiney had received, but enough friends were there to make the kitchen look crowded. Tammy, her mother, Jennifer, Buzz and Sparky and the Rangers clapped and cheered as Gadget cut the cake.
"My favourite! Strawberry!" Gadget grinned as she took the first bite.
Two months later Shrankshaw prison still hadn't been shut down. The corrections department swore that this was due only to dire necessity and perhaps it was true. More prisoners had been paroled and granted release in the last two months than in the previous two years.
Privately, Warden Phelps suspected that this was because without any working industries inside Shrankshaw, the prison was making a dead loss instead of breaking even as it was supposed to. Every inmate unnecessarily confined represented an additional expense. She was also beginning to doubt that the board would ever really close the place down. They were stalling, hoping that things would blow over and they could slap down new paint and new linoleum to cover up the crumbling substance of the building and carry on as normal. Phelps knew she should do something but the day-to-day problems of running the prison kept her too busy to consider just what.
Such a problem was before her now. The hallways were reverberating to the chants and cries of the locked-down inmates. Phelps covered her ears and hurried through the corridors to join her deputy.
"HAGGS! HAGGS! HAGGS!" The chants echoed in her head as much as they did in the prison.
Phelps was almost relieved to enter the solitary wing and close the door behind her, muffling, if not completely shutting out the noise.
"Haggs! Haggs! Haggs!"
Marion Cedar was standing at the door to a cell, halfway along the corridor. Phelps joined her and listened to the racket from within for a minute before venturing to comment.
Finally she shook her head sadly. "And she's been like this all night?"
"I'm afraid so." Marion Cedar confirmed.
The heavy cell door thundered under the fists of the inmate behind it.
"I'll try speaking to her." Phelps said, reluctantly.
With some wariness, Phelps reached forward and unlocked the metal shutter that covered the window. From inside the darkness of the cell, a pair of red eyes glowed at her like embers.
"Just what do you imagine this is going to achieve?" Phelps demanded in her best warden voice.
The white-furred muzzle of Margo Haggs poked out of the window. "I want everyone to know, I won't be cowed! I'm not some timid little lamb locked in amongst the wolves!"
"You aren't exactly locked in with a group of schoolgirls, either." The warden retorted. "You might be better off if they didn't know you were locked up with them at all."
"I'm not locked up with them." Haggs snarled. "They're locked up with me."
Phelps looked at her sternly. "You certainly won't make life easy for yourself by talking tough and acting like you're something special."
"You think so? But then you've never really understood the prisoners, have you? Not like I do. You see, strength is what they really understand. It's what they respect. It's what it takes to make it in their world and I have always been so very strong, much stronger than you or your pathetic system." Haggs tilted her head, as though trying to work out whether the story she had spun was pleasing, even to her own ears. "They're chanting my name, aren't they?"
The voices of the inmates could still be heard, even here with the door closed.
"Haggs! Haggs! Haggs!"
"I don't think they mean it in a good way!" Marion Cedar exclaimed.
"I wouldn't be too sure." Phelps replied sadly.
"Oh, there'll be challengers, pretenders to the throne, old enemies with scores to settle but once I've - ah ha-ha - dealt with them, everyone will know what I've always known." Haggs tone left no room for misunderstanding about just how she would deal with her enemies.
"And just what is that?" Phelps enquired.
"That this is MY prison." Haggs replied triumphantly.
Phelps looked at her a moment, then tilted her head in acknowledgement. Mentally, she was already composing her resignation letter.
"Yes." She agreed. "It certainly is."
And then she began to walk away.
Marion Cedar hurried after her friend. "You don't think she's right do you?"
Phelps opened the door to the solitary wing and the chanting was loud again. "HAGGS! HAGGS! HAGGS!"
"Yes, I rather think she is." Phelps said tiredly. "You know, I think I've had enough of this kind of work. I think I might take an interest in something else. Education, say, or perhaps an orphanage."
"I'd better shut the door." Marion said. "This chanting will only make her worse."
Abruptly the chanting ceased.
The warden and her deputy looked at one and other.
Then, faintly at first, another chant was taken up.
"RED! RED! RED!"
The warden smiled softly. "I heard we were getting another new prisoner in today."
Marion reached for the door.
"Leave it." Phelps told her. "Let her hear. Let's go and welcome our new guest."
Behind them, Haggs raged, beating at the door with her fists, trying to force her way through the tiny window.
"NO! This is MY prison! THIS IS MY PRISON!"
Three months had passed since Gadget returned home.
There was a crisp layer of snow on the ground of Central Park, thick enough to cover the grass but too thin to make snowballs, unless you happened to be a mouse.
"Aw, come on Gadget! You said you wanted to!" Dale yelled from behind an inch high wall of snow.
Gadget shook off the remains of the last snowball that hit her on the nose. She was getting creamed.
"We've been playing for half an hour, Dale!" She complained.
Dale stuck his tongue at her and wiggled it. "Having fun takes practice, Gadget! I've had a lot more than you and Chip and that's why I'm winning for once!"
Gadget sighed and pitched her last remaining snowball at the tip of Dale's waggling tongue. Dale ducked, but the snowball clipped the pompom on the top of his woolly hat and knocked it off. Dale turned and bent to retrieve it, his proudly lifted tail and associated anatomy presenting Gadget with a target too tempting to ignore.
With a girlish giggle Gadget scrambled to make another snowball, while being careful to not to present a similar target to Dale. Though she had scored ten points for Dale's hat, which counted as a headshot and should have been the highest score by the rules Chip had outlined, she had heard the chipmunks whispering between themselves and suspected that certain portions of her own anatomy scored a lot higher.
Dale seemed to take a long time about picking up his hat.
Gadget scampered forward to improve her aim and pitched her snowball, but Dale was too quick for her. The snowball, to Gadget's immense disappointment, missed.
Dale jumped up and began throwing snowballs back at her with both hands, one after the other in rapid fire.
Gadget squeaked in a mock alarm and fled. By her count Dale had scored at least thirty points before her retreat and, if she had the chipmunks private scoring system right, another fifty with the one that hit her afterwards.
"Aw, come back and play!" Dale called after her.
Gadget dusted herself off. Hot chocolate with Monty was sounding good about now.
"You aren't the type to quit just because you aren't winning are you?" Dale taunted.
Gadget pulled a face. Dale, of all people, had just suckered her! But she wasn't the type to quit just because she was losing, which she was, even if Dale had avoided the word.
Just as she had decided there was no graceful way to bow out of it, a length of silk line, the kind the Rangers used on rescues, dropped to the ground behind Dale.
Gadget stifled a laugh.
"Say, are you playing or not?" Dale called out, oblivious to the scene playing out behind him.
On a branch high above him, Chip had secured the other end of the line and was preparing to descent to the ground behind Dale for a surprise assault.
"PISTACHIO!" Chip yelled and jumped off the branch.
Chip descended to the ground in one go and began pelting Dale from behind the moment he landed.
Gadget watched the desperate battle play itself out in a flurry of snow.
When they began rolling around on each other and through Dale's arsenal of snowballs and his defensive wall, even Gadget gave up trying to keep score.
Thinking about which colour marshmallows she would like with her hot chocolate, Gadget climbed the stairs back to the tree house.
Monty had been watching from the front door, holding a mug of Stilton soup, traces of which clung to his moustache.
"That offer of hot chocolate still good, Monty?" Gadget asked.
"Put the milk on the stove a minute ago, when Dale tagged you with that last snowball." Monty replied, without giving the slightest sign he had seen where the snowball hit. "While I'm thinking of it, a post card arrived for you today, from California. It's on the kitchen table, next to your mug."
Monty lifted a bushy eyebrow at her. "Friend of yours on holiday, Gadget-luv?"
In the kitchen Gadget poured the hot chocolate and since she had seen enough of the colour white for a little while, topped it with pink marshmallows. She picked up the card as she waited for the marshmallows to melt, which was how she liked it, and looked at the picture on the front.
It was a picture of the Hollywood sign. Someone had drawn a tiny circle over the bar of the "H". Gadget turned the card over.
On the back of the card, someone had glued a picture that was worth a thousand words.
Four young children, two boys and two girls, the eldest no older than four, were seated at a table in a diner with several large platters of omelettes on cucumber slices in front of them. From their expressions, all their birthdays might have come at once. In the background a banner ran across a window with a panoramic view. The banner read: "Grand Re-opening!"
The view from the window brought back childhood memories for Gadget. It was a view of Hollywood as might be seen from a mouse-sized restaurant hidden in the Hollywood sign itself; a restaurant such as the restaurant where Geegaw had treated his young daughter to a breakfast of omelette on cucumber, a very long time ago.
Gadget smiled. The message, in clumsy, childish writing that was nonetheless still likely beyond any of the children in the photograph, read: "Tommy, Danny, Silvia and Sally say - Thank you for rescuing our Mom!"
Gadget finished her hot chocolate thoughtfully. Then she got up and went back to the front door and looked down to where Monty had finished tying Chip and Dale back to back and was busily building a snowman around them.
"Now, which of you is going to be a good boy and bite down on the bean that's going to be our snowmunk's nose?" he was asking.
"Hey, Monty!" Gadget called down as she mentally pronounced Monty the winner of their snowball fight.
Monty looked up. "Yes, Gadget?"
"I'm going to take the Laughing Dove up for a test flight. See how she handles in cold weather."
Monty waved to her. "Be careful, Gadget-luv."
Gadget waved back and turned away.
Below Monty resumed his lecture on gentlemanly conduct. "You boys concentrate on the importance of chivalry in sporting events and I might just untie you before our snowmunk melts."
The Laughing Dove was the replacement for the irretrievably smashed Ranger-plane. It had been named with Geegaw's old airplane, "The Screaming Eagle", in mind but given the nature of their rescue work naming it after a bird of prey had seemed inappropriate. "Screaming" on the other hand had seemed entirely too appropriate. Some might have said it was tempting fate, even.
Gadget had planned a long holiday after her misadventures, but after barely a week she had discovered many of the things she had regretted not doing while she was inside a cell brought her less pleasure than the hard work she would normally have been doing instead. Little by little, with a little help from her friends, she had learned to pace herself and was enjoying the best of both worlds.
Her inventions seemed the better for it. The extra time she took to think, rest and even play seemed to have matured her gift for invention and the Dove was the first clear sign of it.
A welded steel frame formed the backbone of the graceful fuselage, which was covered with a white plastic Gadget had harvested from two and half bleach bottles. Halfway along each gull-shaped wings was a rigid helium blimp, each one half the size of the fuselage. There were two propellers, one above the point where the wings met the fuselage and one at the back of the aircraft below the tail.
Gadget patted the side of the plane as a human would pat a faithful steed and let herself into the flight deck. She affixed the postcard, snapshot side up, to the instrument panel in more or less the position that a now lost photograph of Geegaw had occupied on the old Ranger-plane.
She reached beneath the dashboard and flipped a hidden switch to enable the electronics before starting the engine. Unlike the Ranger-plane the Laughing Dove had an enclosed cockpit, so she didn't trouble to put her goggles in place before powering up the engines and releasing the brakes.
The Dove, perfectly named for a symbol of freedom, soared into the wild blue yonder.
Gadget, free as a bird, grinned and took it higher.
Back to the stories