2011-07-27 - Old Man

NOTE: Found while digging through a failing HDD.

After he was certain he wouldn't get caught, a pudgy boy pointed to the gray cat walking along the path in front of them. "Look at him!" He said.

His friend, a thin boy in glasses, nodded. "Yeah?"

A nasty grin came over the first boy's face. "Watch this." He said.

The park that day was beautiful. The midday heat had not yet baked everything in sight, and couples were out having fun. Some stayed with their dogs and played fetch. Others walked with their cats, and rolled around with them.

Most of the people in the park were having a good time. This cat, however, was not going to have such a good time. The boy's boot connected with Fat Cat's underside, and launched him into the air. The tabby shrieked as he fell to the ground.

When he landed, Fat Cat quickly dove to the bushes, where he hid and watched his nemesis. "You see that?" The first boy said. "Help me find him!"

Fat Cat looked down, to see a red welt on his belly. "You're sick!" The second boy said.

"Come on, man. What's your problem?"

"That wasn't a hackey, or a frisbee. That was a cat, you know?"

"And what's your point? He's nothing..." The boy laughed, and Fat Cat could hear the two walking away from the bushes.

The fat connoisseur laid low, waiting for his henchmen to arrive. If he knew what he knew now, he would have waited to send them off for drinks. "Come on..."

Fat Cat heard Wart's voice, and his claws came out. "Get over here!" He shouted to his minions.

The lizard was holding a straw, watching Fat Cat scratch his side. "Gee, Boss, what happened?" Wart asked.

Fat Cat shook himself, and then fell back to the ground. "What do you think happened!" He shouted.

Mole, who was holding the drink, chimed in. "Gee, boss. It looks like you fell asleep on an ant hill..."

The tabby cat snatched the cup from Mole, and briefly put it to his belly before taking a long drink from it. "Someone kicked me, you idiots!" Fat Cat shouted.

"You'd think we'd be more on the dishing-out end of pain, than the taking-it end, right Boss?"

Fat Cat eyed Wart, and threw the cup at him. "What are you, the philosopher now?"

Mole quickly picked the cup up. "Hey Boss, you can't litter here." He said.

"Tell me something, Mole..." Fat Cat said. "Did you see any signs in the park that said 'kitty launch'?"

"I don't think you're a kitty, b-"

Fat Cat bopped Mole on the head before he could finish. "Shut up! You have to get ready soon."

Two weeks of planning had gone into this day, and everything had to be right if Fat Cat was going to get his treasure. "Come on..." Wart said to Mole. "I've got it ready for you."

Mole tried to protest. "But I don't like that wig! It's too hot!"

The boss leaned in, and flashed his claws to the fat dimwitted one. "And I don't like that tone! If you're not ready soon, I'll make you wear the wig, and the dress every day!"

Mole took off his yellow cap to wipe his forehead, but Fat Cat snatched it from him. "Hey! Give that back!"

Only twenty minutes stood between them and the biggest heist of that week. "Think of all the caps we can get when that old man shows us where his treasure is!" Fat Cat said.

When Mepps came back with his scouting report, their plan would begin. "Are you sure you know what to say?" Wart asked Mole, as he opened the small suitcase to reveal a blond wig.

Fat Cat snapped his fingers, and got Mole's attention. "You can't forget anything. No, let me rephrase that; If you forget anything I tell you to say..." He dangled the cap in front of his claws, and slashed one end.

"No, Boss!" Mole jumped for his cap, but Fat Cat kept it out of reach. He finally threw it back to his minion, who was almost in tears.

Dale poked his head out of a bush, to look around. "Did you hear that? It sounded like Fat Cat..."

Chip looked over at his friend. "What're you talking about? Stop fooling around and get to work! You've only picked four berries, and Monty needs ten from each of us!" Chip hopped back into a bush and returned with a fat red berry in his arms. "Like this one. There, that makes five."

Dale scoffed at Chip. "I swore I heard Fat Cat somewhere." He said.

"See what a little R & R's doin', Chip? It's got Dale daydreamin'!" Monty shouted from behind Dale. The world traveler had a pack with six berries on his back.

"How's the search coming, Monterrey?" Chip asked.

"Can't complain. You?"

Chip poked Dale on the arm. "Well, if Mr. Lazy Boots here would get to work, then we'd probably be done already!"

"I'm not lazy! Every morning, I'm up for my shows at the crack of dawn!"

'Yeah... You wake the rooster before you come out, too." Monty said. "How many you got left, my little chipper?"

Chip took off his fedora, and swiped at Monty. "That isn't funny!" He said. "Why can't you guys let off?"

"Because it's fun!" Monty said.

"And easy!"

Dale threw his hands in the air, sending a berry flying. Monty jumped, and caught it. "See what your love life is doin'? It's distracting us!" Monty said.

"I didn't mention anything! Besides, what I do with Tammy is none of your business." Chip said.

"Oh, but it is, my dear Chipper. If she shows up with another casserole, I'm gonna puke!" Monty laughed along with Dale.

"Let's go see if Gadget and Zipper are done!" Dale said.

"Good idea. Speaking of berries, Dale..." Monty said. He waved the berry he caught, in front of Dale. "This is the wrong type."

'What do you mean? This one's just like the others!"

"That's where you're wrong, mate. There're two types of berries here. The ones you picked were too sour. If you want the stuff I made last month, then you'll have to get the lighter ones."

"Like these?" Chip said. He held out a berry in front of Dale.

Teasing him was so much fun. "Exactly." Monty said.

Before Monty could put the berry into his sack, Dale bit into it, and splashed juice onto all three of them. "Why couldn't Gadget get stuck with you?" Chip said, ringing out his fedora.

Dale pushed himself between the two as they walked down a small path in the park. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Both looked at Dale, and continued to walk. They picked up their pace, and Dale caught the hint. "Get back here!" He shouted.

Chip and Monty had started into a jog. "I'll race ya, Chip!" Monty said.

The traveler's pace was too fast for him, and he couldn't keep up. "I didn't say yes yet!" Chip set his fedora straight and tried to catch up.

Before he could catch up, he found Dale coming up fast. He was surprised when he fell to the ground. Dale tackled him, and had a death grip on his middle. "Gotcha!" Dale said.

"You idiot!"

"Tag, you're it!"

"We're not playing tag!" Chip said.

"The quicker we get to Gadget, the quicker we can get back and start that pie! I remember last week's! It was so good..." Dale started to drool.

"Last week? I don't remember that."

Dale flashed his eyes at Chip. "That's because you were off being 'spoon fed' an 'amazing' casserole cooked by a 'world class'-" Dale's annoying enunciating made Chip bop him on the head.

He shook off his friend's drool. "...Well you could've saved some for me."

Dale hit Chip on the shoulder before starting into a run. "Tag! You snooze, you lose!" Chip sighed. He had no choice. Once again, he started into a run to try catching the other Rangers.

The duo's bickering caught the attention of another Ranger who was taking a break from picking berries. Gadget took a drink of water and wiped her forehead. "Looks like my break's over..." She set her canteen on the wire basket's side, and looked at her outfit. Her yellow shirt and red shorts were soaked. "Only three more to go." She couldn't decide whether working in her workshop, or working out here, was a better option. In her workshop, she could build something, but out here, she could help Monty build a pie later. All in all, she decided it was a win-win. Engineering texts were great, but she needed some other things to take up her day.

A housefly in a red shirt buzzed over to her. "Did you find another one, Zipper?"

Zipper pointed into the bushes, and then to his small lips. "Great idea!" The two headed into a bush as Chip and Dale's shouting match came closer.

Such shouting was one of the reasons she asked to work with Zipper, and not the others. Last night's Karaoke took a turn for the worse when Dale and Monty found caffeine. She didn't have any earplugs, so she was up half the night. Zipper hovered over a small patch of berries. "Maybe we can get this done and they'll leave..." She whispered. The faster she finished, the faster she could get back to the HQ and start some serious work. Not that enjoying a tasty pie wasn't in the cards.

There was something in that patch that caught her eye. Gadget leaned in to grab for a berry, but she heard something coming from it. It sounded like someone. Someone crying. When Gadget peeked into the bush, she didn't find a big red berry.

What she did find was an old man laying on his face. His head was tonsured, like a monk from a book. His hair was receding, and his glasses lay in front of him. "Now I've gone done it..." The raspy voice said. Gadget started to walk forward to help him, but she tripped.

She looked up, to see the man groping around for something. With some effort, he pushed himself up, and sat. "Where is it?" Something by Gadget's leg moved, and she saw the carved wooden staff she tripped over.

The old man managed to find his way to his feet, but he did not walk yet. He clutched his left leg, and leaned on his staff. His feet were rather large. He had small ears, and his thick tail swished around behind him. Gadget recognized him as one of her cousins, a rat. His fur was dark gray, and the red shade of his eyes reminded her of a flower by the HQ she passed this morning.

"Who's there?" He asked. The old man tried to kneel down and pickup his glasses.

Gadget stood up, and handed them to him. "Sir?" She said. "Are you alright?"

The old man stopped for a second while he adjusted his glasses. The smile on his face widened. "Gatchka? What're you doing here so early?"

The mouse was unprepared for the old man's arms around her. He squeezed her in a tight hug. She felt the wool of his cardigan against her hands when she returned the hug.

"I think you've got me confused." Gadget said. "I'm not-"

He leaned on his staff, and took a few breaths. "Why are you so sweaty? Have you been out jogging, dear?"

A touch of red came to Gadget's cheeks. "'Dear'?"

"Come on. I need your help before you leave tonight." He leaned in, about an inch from her. His breath hit her nostrils. "And tonight I'll make us some pastry with those berries I told you about!"

Zipper buzzed around her, and this got the old man's attention. "Who's this?" The old man asked her. He watched the fly swarm around, and took a few swats at her pint-sized friend.

Gadget didn't know what was going on. "You said you needed help?" She asked him.

"Yes! I'm looking for that key. The one I showed you two days ago? I can't seem to find it anywhere!"

"I don't know what you're talking-." Gadget started.

The old man pointed his staff at her. "Stop playing dumb, Gaika!" His tone changed from a cheerful tone to a stern one.

Gadget tried to touch his shoulder, but he shrugged her off. "I'm sorry, but-" The old man turned away, and started to shake. "I don't know what you're talking about, honest."

"What did I ever do but take care of you, Gaika? Why would you treat me like this?" His lines then slurred into Russian, which Gadget didn't fully understand. When he stopped, the old man looked at her. "I thought I raised you better than that."

"Stuff a sock in it, you two!" Monty shouted.

The other Rangers were close, and she hoped she could use her friends to help out. "You're right. I'm sorry... Grandpa." She was surprised when the last word came out of her mouth. "What did you lose again?" She was a Ranger, and the Rangers helped people. That was the rule they lived by.

If this old man had lost something, then it was her duty to help him find it. "It's my key!" He said. His sad tone disappeared, now replaced with a singsong gate.

Gadget heard the others coming behind her. "What're you doing over there, Gadget love?" Monty said.

The old man shrunk back, and eyed the group as they gathered around Gadget. "Who are these people?" He asked her.

"These are my friends." Gadget said.

The old man stepped out from behind her, and offered a hand to Chip. "Then I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Jasper." He smiled at the fedora-clad chipmunk.

"And who are you?" He asked, pointing to the Hawaiian-shirted hooligan.

"I'm Dale!" Dale pushed by Chip, and shook the old man's hand vigorously. The old man chuckled when Dale let go.

Finally, he turned to the world traveler. "I'm Monty! Monterrey Jack, to be precise." Monty said, offering his hand.

Jasper seemed very happy at hearing this, because he took off his glasses and took a better look at Monty. "What's up, Jack? You lookin' to make yourself free?" He laughed, and hit his staff on the ground. "Well I wish you had more friends like this when we lived back in New York, Gaika."

Monty looked at Gadget. "Who's Gaika?"

She whispered in Monty's ear. "I don't know. Just go along with it. I think he thinks I'm his-"

The old man cut her off. "We've got to get going! It was nice meeting you, but we've got to get home for that pie tonight."

"Wait a minute... Grandpa." Gadget said.

"Grandpa?" Three voices said in unison. One of the berries fell out of Monty's bag, and rolled by the old man.

"Ah, look at this one." Jasper picked up the berry from the ground. "This will make for a good pie, don't you think?" He said, wobbling over to Gadget.

He was as tall as Chip or Dale, and he had to reach up to rest his hand on her shoulder. "Didn't you say you lost something, Grandpa?" Gadget said.

The old man chuckled. "Yes. My key! I can't remember for the life of me where I put it!"

"Well, I'm sure my friends can help you find your key, can't we, guys?"

"...Sure!" Chip said, leaving them little room to protest.

"You said you saw the key this morning, didn't you?" Gadget asked.

"Well, I set it on my counter before I went to bed, and then I couldn't find it this morning." The old man said.

"That's where you last saw it?" Chip asked.

Jasper looked around, like he had seen his key appear behind Gadget. "Hm... I went out this morning to listen to the birds, and when I came back, it wasn't in my pocket!"

Monty leaned in to nudge Chip. "Somethin' ain't right here, Chipper..."

Chip nudged him back. "Stop calling me that!"

"Oh, right. Forgot." Monty said.

"Do you remember what you were doing this morning?" Chip asked.

"Funny you should mention it! I was walking to meet up with my niece, but she already found me!" He patted Gadget's shoulder again, and the inventor gave a nervous laugh.

A few seconds later, the rest of the Rangers came in tune, ranging from 'Oh boy, this is embarrassing' laughter to 'What is he talking about' confused laughter.

"Don't worry, Jasper." Chip said. "The Rescue Rangers are on the case!"

"You bet!" Dale said.

The old man smiled at this, and put his glasses back on. "Then let's get going! My house isn't too far away from here."

Before they left, Monty pulled Gadget aside. "Can I talk to you... Gaika?" Monty said.

"I'll be right back." Gadget said. Gadget fell back from her position next to Jasper, and was now with the rest of the Rangers, who were huddled together.

"I've got a bad feeling about this, Gadget love." Monty said.

"What do you mean?" She said. "It's a case isn't it?"

"You're right, but Monterrey brought up some points." Chip said.

"Which are?"

"You notice how Jasper couldn't make up his mind about where he left the key?" Chip said.

"And what about your name, Gorky?" Dale said.

When Gadget looked back, she saw Jasper waiting for them. He was leaning on his cane. "Why are you all the way back there?" Jasper asked. "Come on. I've got some cheese we can all share for lunch!"

He smiled, and sniffed the air. "Roquefort." Monty's instincts kicked in when he heard the word 'cheese', and especially Roquefort.

"Chee~se!" He shouted. "I agree with old Jasper! No time like the present!"

"That's the spirit, Jack!" The old man said.

"Where'd you get it?" Monty asked. He was now beside the old man, with Chip, Dale, Zipper, and Gadget behind him.

"I got it a few weeks ago from a friend in France. It's great. Have you ever tried it?"

"Yes! It's one of my favorites! I can still remember sitting over with a friend in London, chomping on a platter we found at a dinner party!"

"Oh, so you're a world weary man, eh?"

"I've been to so many places, it'd be hard to name 'em all!"

"I'm the same way, or at least I used to be. Back when I was a young buck, er, pup." He chuckled.

"What're you guys still doin' back there! Let's go! " Monty grabbed Chip with one arm, and Dale the other. Gadget took the old man's shoulder, and the Rescue Rangers were off to solve another mystery.

Near the fountain in the park, Fat Cat was working on solving another mystery; how to fit their patsy into his dress in time for the meeting. Mole was half-dressed in a wig and tight-fitting shoes, but the dress posed a problem. He was too large for it. "Boss, I don't think this is going to fit! You're sure this was the same one I wore last week?"

Fat Cat stood behind Mole, tying a small bow in back. "Stop complaining!" He shouted. "Now hold still and suck in that gut!" After a few seconds of struggle, their job was done.

No one would ever consider Mole the prettiest little girl, but with his limited talent, Fat Cat knew this part of their trick would work. Their stooge looked in the cheap mirror Wart held to check his appearance. "Boss..." Wart said. "I don't think this is going to work. I'm laced up tighter than a catcher's mitt!"

"Take my advice Wart, it's either you, me, or Mole here... And we're too thin to fit." Fat Cat said.

Wart set the mirror down, and straightened Mole's hair. "...Let's go with that..."

"I don't know about this, boss. What if Jasper doesn't recognize me. Remember last time?" Mole asked.

"So what if he follows us back to the factory? We sent him off without a problem, didn't we?" Fat Cat said.

"Yeah, but he's still creepy, boss. I think he's going crazy."

"Tell me something, Mole." The connoisseur straightened his jacket. "Who was the one who approached us two weeks ago?"

"The old man." Mole said.

"And who was it, who thought he was chatting with his niece?"

"...Jasper." Wart cut in.

"Hush!" Fat cat said. "I don't want you giving him any answers. Who was it, Mole?"

"The old man?"

"Correct. And what possible reason would he have for mentioning a treasure to his niece?"

"Uh, playing hide and seek for it?" Mole asked.

"No! He probably wants to give it to us!"

"Oh, I guess that makes sense."

"It makes perfect sense. If we take the treasure off his hands, we're doing him a favor before he kicks the bucket."

"So you're saying we're taking advantage of an ailing man?" Wart said. "I like it!"

Fat Cat could feel the sun beating down on them. Their appointed time was approaching. "Now let's go over it one more time... What will you say when he sees you, Mole?"

Mole cracked a smile, and folded his arms, like a dandy. "Hey, Grandpa..." Mole said.

"And what else?"

"Uh, that I want to see the treasure first?"

"Excellent." Fat Cat said.

"But what if he doesn't want to show it to you?" Wart said.

Mole slammed his fist into the dress. "Pound him!"

"No, you idiot!" Fat Cat was about to punch Mole, but Wart stepped in front of him.

"Keep your cool, Boss. Now I've got to straighten this out again." Wart said.

"He might have a point, though." Fat Cat said. "We have to prepare for... Other possibilities. If you don't succeed, take it and run!" Fat Cat and Wart laughed, as they watched a very confused Mole trying to make sense of their scheme.

Jasper led th Rangers to a simple two-story tall tree house. A cheap rope ladder gave the old man his only means of getting up or down. He stepped on the ladder, and then back off. "Good, it's safe. But don't let that fool you, it's a long way down!"

Due to the ladder's small size, only two were allowed to climb up at the same time. The first two were Dale and Monty. "You think he's telling the truth about that key?" Dale said.

"He'd better be." Monty said. "If he's lyin' about that, then he's probably lyin' about the cheese too!"

When they climbed to the top, they stood in front of a small door, much like those in saloons. It swung from side to side.

"Give us a second..." Jasper's voice boomed from below. Monty and Dale looked over the park. Most of the view was great. One sight, though, caused them to think again. An alley cat, a yellow alley cat with a hat, looked out from the bushes.

"Is that who I think it is?" Dale said.

"I'm afraid so..." Monty said. "This might get interesting."

"You two go up next. " Jasper said to Chip. "I'll go up last and haul it up." Zipper continued to fly by Gadget, and Jasper laughed. "I guess you don't need to climb up, do you?"

He took Gadget's hand and put it on the rope. "And be quick about it! I feel a chill in the air." He said.

As the two were climbing, Gadget looked down at the old man, who was leaning against the tree. Did he fall asleep? "So..." Gadget said. "What do you think?"

Chip looked down at her. "I don't like the feeling of this. Something's strange about him."

"Not him, I meant the view."

Chip was a bit higher up than Gadget, and he stopped his ascent. "Why'd you stop, Chip?"

"We've got company."

Gadget looked down. "I'll come back and get Jasper, don't worry."

"That isn't who I'm talking about. I think I saw one of Fat Cat's goons." Chip said.

The two continued climbing, and when they were at the top, Gadget saw Monty and Dale also looking at the bushes. "You guys saw him too?" Chip asked.

"Yeah." Monty said. "Look what he's got around his neck."

Chip noticed a small pair of binoculars around the alley cat's neck. They were caught and his hat was wrapped around them. "I wonder if he's spying on us." Chip said.

"You guys start looking for the key, and I'll go get Jasper. Fat Cat can't be far behind."

"Sounds good." Monty said. "Dale and me'll take the first floor, and Chip can take the second."

"Good idea. I'll join you guys after I get Jasper." Gadget said.

"Hm?" Gadget shook the old man's shoulder, and he blinked a few times. "Oh my, I must've fallen asleep again..." He yawned.

"You head up first, I'll be right behind you." Gadget said to Jasper.

Something in the bushes moved around, and the old man noticed the sound. "Ooh, I need to get one more berry for our pie!" He started to stumble over to the bush where Mepps was waiting, but Gadget stopped him.

"I'll come back for it later. Let's just get you inside." Gadget looked behind Jasper, into the bushes. Two enlarged eyes were locked on her.

Gadget had to protect him, whatever Mepps' plan might be. "Good idea." Jasper said.

The cleanliness of Jasper's house surprised Gadget when he showed her inside. A staircase to her left, led to his bedroom. The living room was in front of her, with a small kitchen in the corner. The search for the key wouldn't be too hard, she thought.

She sat Jasper down on his couch. "Monty." Gadget said. "I'm going to head upstairs. Where's everyone else?"

"Chip's upstairs, and Dale's looking in the kitchen."

"Alright. Would you mind checking outside every few minutes? Fat Cat's either planning something for us, or for Jasper."

"Can do."

Monty handed a pillow to Jasper, and took his cane to set it against the wall. "Oh, thank you." He said.

"Let's see..." Monty said. He started to search around the table near the couch. Just a small glass and tablet. Nothing much. "You finding anything, Dale?" Monty asked.

Dale looked up from the cupboards by the window. "Nope. Now if I was a key, where would I be?"

"Don't know..."

Jasper coughed, and sat up. "If you were."

"What's that, Jasper?" Monty asked.

"Your friend said 'if he was'. He should have said 'if he were'."

"You hear that, Dale? Sounds like 'ol Jasper here is a teacher!"

Jasper chuckled. "That's because I used to be one!"

"Really?" Monty said. "I couldn't tell."

"Hand me my staff, will you?" Monty followed Jasper over near the door. There, Monty looked at four pictures, lined like a diamond.

The old man turned and looked at Monty. "See this first one?" His words were slurred, like he was still sleeping. He tapped his staff near the top picture.

It showed a younger rat with a small girl on his knee. "You know who that is?" Jasper asked.

"No." Monty said.

"That was me, back when I used to travel. First time out of New York. Ugh. I had so much fur back then!" The old man cleared his throat, and ran his hand over his balding head. "And you know who the girl is?"

"...Your niece?"

"Correct. It was just after Greta died..." The old man was contemplating his words, like they were a soup in his mouth. "She was my sister... When she died, I had to give up my college plans to take care of Gaika."

"...How'd she die, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Her mind started to go after she retired. Seems to run in the family."

"I'm sorry. How old was she?"

Jasper sighed. "She was getting up there."

"So you took in... Gaika? You took care of her?"

"I had to. Wouldn't let her rot away in those terrible orphanages."

Monty wanted to change the subject. He saw a second picture, to the right. It was of two people, and it looked like it was from the fifties. Two rats, each dressed in pressed shirts, holding their mortarboards for the camera. "Who's this other fella with you?" Monty asked.

The old man laughed, before taking the picture down. "That's my old pal Rupert. Man, we could party all night back then!"

"You guys graduated together?"

"Yep. We were going to teach in the same school. I graduated with honors, too. It would have been great, but he was called off to teach linguistics in California, while I stayed in New York." Jasper set the picture back.

"Have you kept in touch with him?"

"No. I don't even know if he's still alive. We're both getting up there, so I suppose..."

"No need to talk like that, mate. You'll do just fine for ten more years or so!"

The old man took off his glasses, and wiped tears from his eye. "But would I want to? I saw the pain she was in last week, and I can't live with myself knowing I'm doing that to her. She's got her own life to live, and her own dreams to chase... And what am I? Just a vampire who's sucking all her talent away."

"Come on, now. Say, what's this other picture?" Monty pointed to the bottom picture.

The picture showed Jasper, in the mid eighties, a few years ago. He was smiling, and his hair was balding.

"Oh. That was me when I volunteered at the local schoolhouse. They needed help, and I had free time, so I thought why not?"

"Do you still do it?"

The old man laughed. "Are you mad? It's Saturday!"

Something was confusing Monty about the old man. One minute, he was malaise, while the next, he was jovial.

The last picture the old man showed Monty was that of a younger woman. She was a mouse, like Gadget, but with very defined curves. She wore a red dress, and held Jasper's arm. "Who's this?"

"Oh, that's one of the photos my friends took of me. Got into a big fight, too. During college, my friends gave me a lot of baloney about dating, so I jumped in. Problem was, the girl they set me up with was also dating Rupert. We almost came to blows out in the parking lot of the restaurant. Luckily, we realized how silly it was, and found out our so called friends were setting us up."

Jasper started towards the couch again. "I'll tell you, Jack..." He said. "Don't get old. It does things to your head. Sometimes, I find I've gone an entire day and can't remember what happened. I don't know what I've done... Or what I may have done wrong. That's the worst part of it." He touched the couch, and then turned to the stairs.

"Where're you going, Jasper?"

"I'm going to head upstairs and take a nap."

"Alright. If you want I'll bring you up some tea. That sound good?"

"Fine by me, Jack." The old man started toward his stairs. "Thanks for listening."

Fat Cat noticed the sun being blocked out by a few gathering clouds. "Finally..." He said. He waited alongside Molita and Wart. He could not remember the last time the park had been so hot.

The brief thought of taking a dip in the fountain hit him. He smelled the sweat mixing with his suit. "Look over there, Boss!" Fat Cat's eyes opened, and instead of daydreaming about the fountain, he saw Mole an inch from his face.

His alley cat henchman was running along the mid day concrete, dodging a dog who was trying to bite his tail. "Help me, Boss!" Fat Cat thought Mepps' whiny voice would scare off any dog.

Time was important, so Fat Cat snatched the wig off Mole's head, and soaked it in the fountain. As Mepps ran past him, Fat Cat snapped the wet wig on the dog's face, giving the canine a bruise on his nose. The dog turned his tail, and ran away. "And don't come back!" Mole shouted.

Fat Cat was annoyed, and pushed the wig back on Mole's head. "So? Is he coming yet?" He asked Mepps.

"Boss..." Mepps said, gasping for breath. "I've, I've got bad news!"

"What is it?"

"The Rescue Rangers!"

Those two words made Fat Cat's eyes bulge. "Not those rodents!" Fat Cat slammed his fist down on Mole's shoulder. "They must be after the treasure too!" He walked around his three stooges, and thought about what to do.

"What are you doing, Boss?" Mole asked.

"I'm trying to decide what to do about our rodent infestation."

"Boss. I've got an idea." Wart said.

"I'm listening."

"Those rodents are always stopping our plans, right? And if they stop this one, they might get the treasure. What would we gain more from? Taking a small treasure now, and dealing with the Rangers tomorrow? Or..."

"Or what! Stop wasting my time!"

"Or, dealing with the Rangers AND taking the treasure today!"

Within a minute, the tubby tabby stooped walking in circled, and pondered what Wart said. The lizard had a point. They could do both; get the treasure, and eliminate the Rangers, but only if they played their cards right. "I like the way you think." Fat Cat said to Wart. "It's almost on par with my own genius."

"What plan are you guys talking about?" Mole asked.

"This one!" Fat Cat kicked Mole, and watched him waddle to his place at the fountain. Meanwhile, he and the others waited in a small shady space. The group had a good view of the two paths coming to the fountain.

All they had to do was sit, wait, and hope Mepps' account was correct. If the Rescue Rangers were up high in the old man's tree house, they wouldn't be coming down in one piece.

Gadget bumped her head when she came out from underneath Jasper's bed. She was in his bedroom, looking for the key with Zipper. She could feel the floor shaking from the radio. Maybe Jasper was cheering up.

"Any luck?" She asked Zipper. The fly shook his head.

Someone was coming up the stairs, and she got on her feet. "Did you see Jasper up here?" Monty came in, and he sounded out of breath.

"No, I haven't. Why?"

"Well, he said he was coming up here to take a nap."

"I thought he was downstairs, listening to the radio."

A rumbling of pots and pans falling came from downstairs. "That isn't him?"

"Nope." Monty said.

Both could hear footsteps running towards them, fast. "I found it!" Dale shouted. "I found it!" Dale came into the room, holding a key.

Gadget took the key, and examined it. It was shiny, like Jasper said. "That's great, Dale!" She said. "Where did you find it?"

"It was taped behind his radio."

"Who turned on the radio? " Monty asked.

"Jasper did. He turned it on, and then said he was going to get some fresh air." Dale said.

"Uh oh..." Monty said. "First he said he was going up here. Now, he said he was going out for some air? Is he still outside?" Monty said.

Dale shook his head. "I dunno. I came up here as soon as I found the key."

"Go check." Monty said. In a minute, Dale came back, and shook his head.

"He's gone!" Dale said.

"He couldnt've disappeared. You checked the living room?"


"The kitchen?"


"We would've seen him if he came up here. Looks like we've got a vanishing act on our hands." Monty said.

Now it was time to search for him. Hopefully, he didn't wander off. The four met with Chip in the living room. "Where's Jasper?" Chip asked.

"He's gone." Monty said. "Did you see him around here?"

"No... We'd better go find him. Monty, did he say anything to you?"

"Yeah. He said he was going up to take a nap, but I thought he would come straight up to his room and chat with Gaika here." Monty said.

"...Guys! Come look at this!" Dale said from outside.

Outside, the five gathered around the cheap ladder. "Crafty bugger, I'll give him that." Monty said. "Looks like he gave us the 'ol slip."

Chip took another look by the bushes. "Doesn't look like Fat Cat's around, but you never know. Let's split up to look for him."

"Good idea!" Monty said.

Gadget leaned down, and examined the ladder. "Didn't he say he was going to the fountain near the center of the park? Maybe he's still looking for his niece"

"Monterrey, you, Dale, and Zipper head for the fountain." Chip said.

"Good idea. Zipper'll be our eagle eye in the sky! But what're you and Gadget gonna do?" Monty asked.

"We'll stay around here. Just before I helped Jasper up the ladder, he said he wanted to pick some more berries." Gadget said.

"Then let's go!" Monty said. "Dale, you go down first."

Dale looked down at the ladder, and put one foot on. It started to sway, and Monty held it. "You sure this is safe?" Dale asked. "I got dizzy when we came up, don't know what'll happen when I go down!"

"Don't worry, Dale." Gadget said. "It doesn't look too bad. It should hold up."

Not too far away, the old man had fallen asleep by a tree. "Ugh..." He shook himself awake, and took a look around. It was time for him to go meet with his niece, and he didn't want to be late! Jasper had a spring in his wobble, because he had a surprise for her that afternoon.

"Let's see..." He stepped off the path, and onto concrete. "Now where could she be?"

His wish was granted when he heard a voice near the fountain. "Over here, grandpa!" As he came closer, Jasper noticed she was hanging around other people, like this morning. This time, though, it was a lizard in a trench coat. Gaika had the oddest way of making friends with anyone. But that was good. The more friends she had, the more they could help her. "Right here!"

Jasper returned her embrace. "How are you, dear?" He asked.

The girl chuckled in response to this, and leaned on the fountain. "My my, you've put on a few, haven't you?" Jasper took a deep breath. The cool air of the park was relaxing, and it was good to chat with his niece. Jasper was about to say something else, when his niece put her hand over his mouth, and pulled him near a shady area under the fountain. "Mmm?" He tried to speak.

"Come on, mate. We need to look harder." A male said. Jasper couldn't see anyone, and his niece was peeking around the corner.

"I don't know where he could be, Monty. Didn't he say he liked listening to the birds?" A higher pitched voice said.

"Yeah." The first said. "Let's check near the pond, then backtrack to the house to see if he came back. Sound good, Dale?"

"Sounds great!" The second said. "The sooner we find Jasper, the sooner we can get those berries for the pie!"

The first laughed. "Is that all you ever think about?"

Their voices died down, and she removed her hand from his face. "Who were they, and why do they know about my berries?" Jasper asked.

"They listened in on us last week!" Molita put her finger on Jasper's lips. "They're trying to rob you!"

Jasper's face registered surprise. Was Gaika in trouble? "Now what've you done?" Jasper asked.

"They know about the treasure!"

Jasper couldn't believe his dear Gaika had told others about their secret! "Why did you tell them?"

"I couldn't do anything about it! They threatened me!"

The old man grabbed for his cane, and he saw her take a step back when he swung it. "No one harms my niece and gets away with it!"

Gadget took a break from looking for Jasper, and leaned against his tree. She was waiting for Monty and Dale to return. "Anything down there?" Chip asked from above.

"No." She said. "Give me a second, I'll be right up."

"I've got something to show you when you come up." Chip said. He held a small box in his hands. "I found it in the kitchen. Maybe the key fits it." He said.

Gadget remembered the key in her pocket. "Bring it down, I'll take a look." She said.

Fifteen minutes had passed since the Rangers had lost Jasper. She was worried that he might not find his way back. Gadget wanted to find him before he got into any more trouble. The wind was picking up, and Gadget decided to climb up now, before the wind could shake the ladder. She gripped the cheap rope, and put a foot onto the small wooden bits he used as footholds.

She knew it wasn't just to find Jasper's key that they signed on. If they couldn't find him, he might wander around all night and get lost, or worse, he might wander into Fat Cat's clutches. And, knowing their nemesis, he would have no troubles taking advantage of him. Perhaps that was the reason she and the other Rangers had seen Mepps this afternoon.

About halfway up, she felt something. She felt the ladder starting to sway, but not from the wind. She pushed, and found it odd the rope didn't swing. Someone was holding it. Looking up, she didn't see Chip poking his head down. She looked down, to see Jasper holding onto the ladder.

"Jasper! We've been looking all over for you!" Gadget shouted.

The old man didn't answer like she hoped, however. He swung his staff at the ladder, and it started to sway. "You thief! You're not getting my treasure!" He shouted.

What was going on? She didn't have time to climb down, and she couldn't reach the top either. All she knew in that precious suspended second, was she couldn't wait around. Gadget clutched the rope, and looked up to see if the old man's voice had caught Chip's attention.

The chipmunk was watching, with a look of horror on his face. One of Gadget's hands slipped, when she felt the ladder shake again. Jasper was putting his weight onto it, and she knew it wouldn't hold. The rope would soon break.

As Gadget fell, she wondered what happened to Jasper, that would cause him to turn like this. The air clothed her body as she plummeted to the ground. Unlike in the flying she was used to, she had many options to make a successful landing. Here, she saw only one. She tried to position herself as she landed on top of the old man.

There wasn't a thud. There wasn't a crash. There was only moaning, both from herself and from Jasper. She had landed on him, and knocked him over. Had she hurt him?

The old man started to mumble, and grab his head. "Gadget!" Chip shouted.

She looked up, to see Chip on another tree, about to make his way down. "I'm alright," She said. "but I don't know what's going on!" Gadget stood a few steps away from him as he stood up. He leaned against the tree, and before he could grab for his cane, she found herself pinning him to the tree.

He started to cough and hack. It was when she saw his eyes, that she remembered what Monty said to her earlier that afternoon. Was he sick?

She heard Dale and Monty returning from their trip to the fountain. "Get over here, you two!" Chip shouted.

Chip was standing up by the edge of the ladder. "Catch, Dale!" He threw down a box, and watched him scramble to catch it.

"What's all this about, Chip?" Monty asked.

"Ask Gadget." Chip said.

In a second, Gadget felt Monty's hand on her shoulder. "What's going on, Gadget?" She let go of the old man, and he continued to cough.

"You were right about Jasper." She said.

"What happened? He didn't do anything bad, did he?"

"I was climbing up the ladder and he tried to snap it down."

Monty looked at the ladder, and then at Jasper. "Well I'll be..." He said.

Chip climbed down from another tree, and the Rangers were with one another again. Chip took the box Dale was holding. "I don't understand it." He said, coming near Jasper. "Why would you do this to us?"

Jasper scratched his head. "Who're you?" He asked.

Monty tapped Chip's shoulder, and leaned in to whisper in his ear. "I don't think he remembers, mate." Monty said. "We gotta tell him what happened."

A few minutes later, the old man had calmed down, and listened to their story. He still looked confused, but he was squeezing his staff, and Chip could see his veins. "Gaika said you were all thieves. Why would she lie to me?"

"You sure the person you were talking to was your niece?"

Jasper looked at the box. "Yes, of course I am! She had a friend with her, too. Her friend whispered in her ear, and then Gaika told me someone was trying to steal our special key."

"...What did this friend look like, Jasper?" Monty asked.

"Well, he was a large lizard in a trench coat. Why? Do you know him?"

"I'm afraid so." Monty said.

"They're criminals." Chip said.

"So, why're you all here?" Jasper asked.

"This morning, you asked us to help you find a key." Gadget said. She took the key out of her pocket, and handed it to him.

He looked at it for a long time before wiping a tear from his eyes. "So they pulled one over on me..." He said. She put her hand on his shoulder.

"So they were after my treasure all along. That must be why she kept asking me where it was. And here I was thinking she just forgot about it!" Jasper swung his cane at the tree. "I've been such a fool!"

The old man reached into his pocket for the key. "You know what's in here?" He slipped the key into the lock, and started to turn it. With a small push, it came open. He reached in, and pulled out a small photo album. "Good as new..." He said.

Even though he had been tricked, feeling this album sent a rush of good feelings in him. All the memories those pages contained, all the places he had been with Gaika, all the adventuring he had done during his wild years.

Jasper craned his head up, as he heard a flock of birds taking off from his tree. "I suppose they have the right idea." He said, closing the box.

"Who?" Gadget asked.

"Those birds. They're heading off for somewhere better. Maybe I should take their advice and hit the road. Maybe I can still find Gaika, wherever she is." Jasper said.

"Didn't you say she lived in New York?" Gadget asked.

The old man nodded his head. "But she might've moved since then. She has a daughter of her own, would you believe it? I need to see them again, before it's too late. I'm already getting up there in years, this might be my last chance to see them beforeā€¦" He stopped.

"Before what?"

The old man laughed, and his body jiggled. "Before the autumn rates kick in again!"

"So you're leaving?" Dale asked.

"I think it'd be for the best." Jasper said. "I can't stay around here any longer." He chuckled again. "I can't believe what a day I've had, and it's all thanks to you five..."

Jasper looked at Gadget. "I suppose I owe you an apology. I thought you were Gaika, but you were just, uhm, what's your name?"

"Gadget." The mouse said.

"Thank you, Gadget." Jasper hugged her, and for the first time that day, she returned the embrace as herself.

The old man had a pack on his back, a smile on his face, and a new spring in his step. He was walking along the path towards the small bus depot, and the Rangers walked beside him. They planned to see him off on the bus depot before he left.

While he waited for the next bus, they wanted to wait with him, in case Fat Cat showed up. They had grown to like the old man, and wanted to see him off. Gadget smiled when she saw the orange sunbeam hit the old man's face. It gave him a glow, that seemed to agree with his years. "Well, this is the stop." He said.

The group watched Jasper leave. He was getting on the bus with its blue and red trimmings. A small ladder rope was lowered down and he was helped up by a few other rodents. It was time for him to leave, and he waved goodbye to everyone. No one knew if he was waving goodbye to the Rangers, or to his former life in the park.

The old man was suddenly pushed forward. "What's this?" The bus had stopped, and he looked out into the window. People were gathered around the small bus stop, waiting to get on the bus and travel upstate, but his destination was here, in New York. The bus had been comfortable. He stretched, and smiled, feeling his bag.

Was he really home? Jasper scratched his head, and chuckled. He took his bag in his hands. "Excuse me, is this New York?" He asked a passenger in front of him. The woman's nod encouraged him, and he smiled. It was good to know people were still kind, even when they didn't know one another.

He bumped into a sign as he got off the bus. "Well I'll be... It's still here!" He slapped his hand against the old wooden timetable board and hit it with his cane a few times. The times he had traveled within New York were many, and he had used this platform many times in the past twenty years.

Where was she living now? He gripped his cane, and tried to probe his thoughts. Finally, he scratched his head again. "Can I help you?" Without thinking, his hand shot forward, and the inquirer was surprised by Jasper's firm handshake. It was good to be home.

Jasper turned, and heard a snack vendor nearby. "Get your seeds here! Fresh, delicious seeds! Get 'em while they're crunchy! Not three packs left!" The old tactic was still in business, it seemed. Jasper was hungry, and decided to bring Gaika some seeds, and this would be the best place to get them. "Hello, sir!" The vendor said as he approached.

She would like them, he knew. He reached into his bag, and felt for something. He found it, and handed it to the vendor. "How about this?" The vendor smiled, and exchanged the item for a small bag of seeds. Out of towners loved to bring souvenirs with them, to exchange for things. So much simpler than money. He was right on time.

He looked up at the sky. It was getting darker. "Oh my. I'd better hurry." He popped a seed into his mouth, and spit it out soon after. "Oh dear! These are too salty..." After walking for a few minutes on the sidewalks, he found his bearings. He tapped the small wooden chest in his bag. Feeling it reminded him of his friend.

Jasper knew that something was happening to him, and he wanted to see his niece before it was too late. He might not be able to share any other moments with her, and he wanted to make sure her last memories of him were happy ones. He reached into the bag, and found his key. He slipped it into his cardigan. "There it is." Jasper turned to the row of houses, where he knew Gaika lived with a few others.

As he turned the corner, he saw a blond mouse walking down the street. "Well I'll be..." He chuckled, and passed her. Hello, Gadget He said.

The girl turned, and responded to him in Russian. I'm sorry?

Jasper laughed. Oops. Wrong person. I thought you were a friend. He said.

Did this woman live here? It couldn't hurt to ask her. Do you know where 4th and 20th is? I'm lost.

The girl looked at him funny for a second before nodding. You're here.

Great. Thank you.