All characters are copyright of Disney. I own nothing. But anyway, welcome (almost a decade later) to the sequel to Closer than a Brother. Many thanks to Silver Shadow for reading and critiquing this and not criticizing me when I let it ferment for five or six years.
Once on a case in Paris, Gadget mentioned the Ethereal Theory.
"If you believe in the Ethereal Theory...everything happens for a reason."
This story takes place over the course of a couple of years, and references the 2008 financial crisis (mostly in the United States) and the BP oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Ethereal Theory
Fat Cat looked out over the ocean from his hiding place near the bow of the British steamer Sunset. In a few days time he would be at the Tanzanian port of Zanzibar, and from the thence cross to Dar es Salaam, where next Thursday he would join a human mining crew from the old capital as they journeyed to the Tulawaka gold mine. This was Lady Clutchcoin's latest venture: a quarter share in a Tanzanian gold mine that had suddenly boomed. And word from the British tabloids was that the Clutchcoins had also bought into a small Tanzanite mine near Tulawaka, in Mererani. As the richest cat in town, Fat Cat would make sure he got his full cut of the profits.
And as the most successful businessman in town, he would have to check the map of Tanzania again – the names were still all unintelligible to him. It wouldn't do at all to have the map hanging on his casino wall if he couldn't brag about it intelligently.
In the still of the evening, the ship's bell began ringing frantically. Above him, sailors began shouting and appearing out of nowhere, scrambling to reach their posts. Fat Cat quietly ducked further behind his crate and listened to the snippets of conversation whipping past him in the dark air.
"On the radar..."
"Coming right as us!"
"Now, now, what's this?" Fat Cat asked hypothetically to no one, looking out over the water expectantly. In answer to his question, a glowing submarine surfaced on the port side of the ship. It was visible for only seconds, but the humans made full use of the time, shooting frantically at it. The ringing shots from the guns made only dull dents in the submarine's hull before it had submerged again. The shooting around Fat Cat stopped, and the humans slowly drew away from the rails, silent and fearful as if they'd seen a ghost.
Fat Cat was about to turn away when he noticed a smaller replica of the submarine bob up, right beneath his position at the ship's bow. The hatch opened, and a rodent emerged, shot a grappling hook at the rail of the ship, and shimmied up.
"It can't be-" Fat Cat murmured angrily. "Those Rescue Rangers can't find me here!"
The rodent clambered up next to him, apparently not frightened by the sight of his natural enemy. In fact, he spoke. "Did you say 'Rescue Rangers'?" His voice was smooth and British.
"What of it?" Fat Cat asked guardedly.
The mouse reached inside his wrinkled suit coat and extracted a handkerchief, which he dabbed his brow with. "Shall I say we perhaps have a common acquaintance?"
Fat Cat frowned.
The mouse continued. "And a common dislike for them?"
That was the ticket. "Yes, actually. The morons – always ruining my plans."
"And mine. Especially Gadget."
Fat Cat waved a paw dismissively. "I don't bother with names."
"Perhaps you should like to know mine anyway. My name is Jules Crissen." He offered his paw.
"Fat Cat," the cat replied, stooping to shake the proffered paw.
"I have heard of you from the Rangers," Jules said, straightening his coat.
"I see they have widened their circle of enemies to include their own kind," Fat Cat purred, still deciding what he thought about this apparition of a mouse who had appeared almost out of thin air.
Jules shivered slightly in the evening air. "Perhaps you would be so kind, Fat Cat, as to show me where I might get out of the weather. I'm afraid it's been a long week, and I would enjoy a rest."
Fat Cat paused for a moment before deciding that there was an edge to Mr. Crissen's voice that brooked disgust and vengeance. "But of course," he replied debonairly, bowing and showing the way with his paw. This mouse was, for the time being, accepted. "You know what they say: the enemy of my enemy can only be my friend!"
Fat Cat and Jules descended silently into the bowels of the steamer, eluding all human eyes. "I'm afraid it's not much, but do make yourself comfortable," Fat Cat crooned, showing Jules into a little nook in the side of the ship. Several makeshift beds made of rope and rags were scattered around a stool that served as a table. A mangy cat and a mole were sleeping on two of the beds. "A few of my...henchmen; if you don't mind the term, Mr. Crissen."
"Not at all," Jules smiled, setting delicately on a stack of folded rags.
"I take it you had a run-in with the Rangers," Fat Cat prompted, fishing around and finding a bottle of milk. He held it up. "I'm afraid it's not much, but could I tempt you?"
Jules nodded. "Easily. I haven't had anything to eat or drink in at least two days."
"No!" exclaimed Fat Cat, handing Jules a cup.
"Sadly. And I fear I must blame the Rangers."
"Do tell," Fat Cat asked scathingly. He leaned against the stool and sipped from his own glass.
"You see, my former partner, one named Bubbles, and I, attempted to teach Gadget and the other Rangers a lesson. Gadget is the inventor."
"Ah! The one in that pathetic, oil-stained jumpsuit."
"Agreed," said Fat Cat, taking a draught.
"At any rate," Jules continued, "Bubbles was also a former victim of the Rangers. They destroyed his plan to become wealthy off of a group referred to as the 'Cola Cult.' Gadget took the lead in his demise, and he wanted revenge."
"At the time I met Bubbles I was under the employ of a Russian actress, one Sophia Marskov. A charming woman; no doubt you have heard of her?"
"I've not had the honor."
"Ah, well, without endangering her, we used her as bait to lure the Rangers out into a place where Bubbles could have his brother exact revenge upon them. The plan went sour however, when Gadget accidentally killed his brother."
"How unfortunate!" Fat Cat exclaimed tactfully.
"It was. For of course that lead to Chip's –he's their leader- suspicion of Sophia, which was the last thing I wanted. It did, however, allow Bubbles and me to lure the Rangers in again. This time Bubbles had his revenge: he drowned Gadget off the coast of France." Jules laughed. "It is unfortunate that Sophia will have to endure the loss of her friend, for she and Gadget became close. Poor Chip! He'll be heartbroken! And that big oaf Monterey – I think he saw Gadget as a daughter."
Fat Cat leaned forward eagerly. "Are you telling me that you've not only rid the world of one of the Rescue Rodents, but have the rest of them in your lap?"
Jules waved a paw and downed his milk. "I wouldn't say I have them in my lap."
"But they are weak and vulnerable now! Where are they?"
Jules smiled gently. "We parted in France." The smile vanished. "Bubbles was finishing Gadget off. His Cola Cult followers and I were boarding a ship bound for England when somehow the ship's safe mysteriously landed on top of us. I managed to avoid being crushed, but most of the others were not so lucky. As for Bubbles, I've not seen him since. I jumped ship on a small piece of rubbish and was picked up by a Captain Finn."
"Yes. A most peculiar anchovy that also harbors a dislike for the Rangers. He brought me this far."
Fat Cat considered this news for a few moments as Jules took a turn about the room. The Rangers, distressed and minus a key team-member made a tempting target. Surely the gold and Tanzanites would keep after his initial heist. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.
"Please, call me Jules."
Fat Cat bowed. "Jules. What would you say to having a new partner?"
Jules regarded Fat Cat imperiously. "Oh?"
"You don't like the Rescue Rangers, neither do I. It would be – mutually beneficial -if we formed a partnership."
Tempting, Jules had to admit to himself. He had gone in on the Rangers with Bubbles because of Gadget and his own firm belief in anti-feminism. He had not been a criminal; he had merely been an under-estimated idealist. But...the Rangers had aggravated him. Perhaps, if he did not take this opportunity, the Rangers would get the best of him. Heaven only knew what lengths Chip and Monterey Jack would go to in order to avenge Gadget's death. Staying with Fat Cat would allow him to keep an eye on them, if nothing else. Also, he didn't really have anywhere else to go.
"I believe that a partnership could be profitable," Jules said.
Fat Cat refilled both of the glasses. "A toast then! To our new partnership and the demise of the Rangers!"
*Tanzania, April 2010*
The office was becoming unbearably sticky and hot when four o'clock arrived on Thursday afternoon. The stench was awful – sweating humans with cheap cologne and old food, compounded with the stale scent of warm water being poured repeatedly into the window cooler. Jules didn't know how much longer he could stand it before going back to the blessedly cool and dark underground apartment that he and Fat Cat shared with the non-human miners. That was to say nothing of departing altogether for Sweden or Alaska. Jules was certain he was going to bake.
"Here you go, boss!"
"Another good haul today," added a nasal, reptilian voice, sounding pleased.
Jules looked up to regard Fat Cat's goons enter the office. They couldn't even properly be called henchmen. All of them, with the possible exception of Wart, had heads full of sawdust. Fat Cat stood to examine the day's bounty. He smacked his lips and rubbed his paws together greedily. "Let's see," he preened.
Obligingly, Mepps and Wart heaved two large rough bags into the human food scale. Fat Cat hungrily inspected the read-out. "Four pounds, three ounces."
The brainless help turned to the door, no doubt with designs of raiding the human fridge in the building above Fat & Crissen, Lmt.
Fat Cat narrowed his eyes for a moment, then turned and looked appraisingly at Jules. "How are we doing?"
Jules had volunteered to help out with the books in the absence of capable minds. "Averaging 20 pounds a week. Jolly decent, I'd say. We've certainly got a firm grasp on the MM." The MM, or Mini Market, referred to the worldwide market in which virtually all animals traded.
"'A firm grasp on the MM,'" Fat Cat repeated slowly, turning to the window. "I therefore will have a new casino in New York," he said quietly. "Caviar, pate, champagne, Spanish olives, Alaskan salmon...a new wardrobe..." After a moment he rallied. "And of course the power and influence to ruin and destroy the Rescue Rangers."
"What's left of them," Jules reminded him warmly.
"The thought is quite euphoric," the large feline turned back to Jules slowly and grinned wickedly. "And how are our ventures doing outside of the animal kingdom?"
Jules grinned back. "Now that is the good news. Petrol prices have climbed all across Europe and America. The silly humans are quite dependent on the stuff – we manage without well enough!"
"Bless them," sneered Fat Cat sarcastically. "And have our contacts all made their monthly report?"
Jules pulled open a drawer at the desk and brought a sheaf of neatly marked folders to the top. "They've all sent in their reports. Where shall we start?"
Fat Cat sat down on a chair opposite and templed his fingers with a relish. "I believe we should start in the eastern hemisphere this month."
Jules shuffled the folders accordingly. "Very well. Let's see, in Dubai, your contacts report that the oil rig is completely under their control. The humans are apparently under the impression that their rather large oil deposit is nearly dry. Prices have skyrocketed. On the 4th of this month, the cost of a barrel of crude oil had risen from $65 to $72. It is still rising."
Fat Cat lounged, clearly enjoying himself. "And what are my dear Americans 'paying at the pump', as they say?"
"$3.85 for medium grade, and it's still early in the summer there. Prices will continue to rise as the sweating masses begin to take holidays in earnest."
"Ah, perfect. And in Olso?"
Jules found the appropriate folder. "Hans reports that with Captain Finn's help, the salmon being captured in fjords and off the coast has dropped 47%. Again, prices have gone up." He again changed folders. "You cousin's report came in last week from France. He tells you that he has borrowed several paintings from the Louvre's vaults and is showing them privately. He says he is withholding $450 from your Swiss account this month to reimburse himself for the money you borrowed from him to start you casino."
Fat Cat hissed softly.
Jules shook his head. "He also writes that your grandmother has a cold and has asked why you failed to send her a birthday card in March."
Fat Cat hissed again. "Forget Maltese. How is Rat Capone doing?"
Jules didn't reach for a folder this time, having just read the report the day before. "Capone says, and I quote, 'Those humans is sure stupid. They's gots no idea where there bullion is goin' to.'"
"My dear fellow, your impeccable accent should never be degraded to the slang of an inner-city gangster. "
"My apologies, I am sure," Jules said and winked at his partner, reaching for the last folder. "I've not had a chance to read Captain Finn's report yet."
"Aah-" Fat Cat reached across the desk and took the folder from Jules. "I do not think reading Finn's will be necessary."
"Not necessary? You mean you are including his update with Hans' from Oslo?"
Fat Cat frowned. "Eh – yes. That is what I am doing. After all, herding salmon out of the fjords must be a full-time job. I will give him another month before bothering with him."
Jules had the distinct impression that there was something in the report that Fat Cat did not wish him to read, but pushed it aside. "So, that's the MM as well as a large portion of the human stock market securely in your fist, my friend. Tell me, how does it feel to be one of the richest creatures on the planet?"
Fat Cat preened and replaced Finn's report at the bottom of the stack. Jules carefully placed them back in the desk drawer and locked it this time, surreptitiously pocketing the key.
"It makes me feel quite generous, actually. So generous, in fact, that I think it finally time for me to condescend to grace the Rangers with my presence."
Jules leaned forward. He had been wondering if it would be another two years before Fat Cat decided that the final stages of his plan should be put in motion. "And how are you planning to do it?" he asked curiously.
Fat cat stood and paced the office for a moment. At last, standing near the greasy window with the fan blowing lukewarm air on him, he turned back to the desk. "Have you read any of the local animal rags recently, Jules?"
Wondering what sort of lead-in to an answer this was, Jules raised his eyebrow. "I never read them if I can help it. But your *helpers* do tend to leave several magazines lying about."
Fat Cat reached inside his coat and came to the desk. From it he withdrew one of the said local magazines. It was a tabloid, in English, sold generally at the airports and visitor's centers in Tanzania. On the front cover was a photograph of a dark-haired, fair-faced mouse woman dressed in all khaki. Beside her stood a smiling kangaroo rat with a hat placed jauntily upon his head.
Jules gasped and grabbed the magazine from Fat Cat's paws. "Romance in the Desert: Sophia and Jake's Film and Flirtation." He stared hard at the cover, his eyes lingering on the lovely face of the woman he could once call a close friend. "She is here?"
"Yes, she is here, and I believe she is the key to bringing the Rangers here."
Jules shot Fat Cat a contemptuous glare. "Fat Cat, I may not be able to speak to her any longer, but I absolutely refuse to allow any harm to come to her."
Fat Cat sat down and touched the magazine cover. "She would not be harmed at all, Jules!" He exclaimed. "I merely wish her to be witness to something that will force her to call the Rangers here to help. Not to help her – she will be in no danger – but to help others here. I was thinking of quietly letting the fact of my presence here and not in New York come to her attention. It would be as simple as that."
Jules did not answer, but continued to look at the picture of the woman with the captivating smile. Feeling that he may have the key in the lock, Fat Cat pressed on. "You know, Jules, it could very easily be worked out that she never knows that you know me. After I have the Rangers here… As much as I value your companionship, I wouldn't dream of standing in your way. If you wished," he paused carefully, eyeing Jules, "I would very happily set you up anywhere you like. I doubt very much if this filthy rag knows anything of the real Sophia Marskov, and I doubt even more if Jake Ross does. I have been following Miss Marskov's career since you and I met, and I understand she has had a very busy two years since you parted. She seems quite distracted."
Jules' eyes caught Fat Cat's and he glared. "How do you mean, 'distracted?'" he demanded in a voice that was cold and wary.
Fat Cat proceeded on thin ice. "I simply meant that I have noticed, in my perusal of magazines and the internet, that she has only made one film; she usually works on two films and appears as a guest on television shows. All sources report that she keeps vanishing from France and spending large amounts of time in New York."
"You mean with the Rangers. Fat Cat, I know what you are insinuating. Sophia would no more look at me as a friend again than she would Rat Capone. She holds me responsible for Gadget's death."
Fat Cat leaned forward. "But think of it, Jules! You could no doubt convince her that you've seen the error of your ways. That you've spent the past two years praying for a chance to beg her forgiveness. It would take patience, time, and charm, but my friend – those are qualities you possess in abundance!"
Something squirmed uncomfortably in the pit of Jules's stomach. He had tried very hard not to think of Sophia, and particularly of their less-than-friendly parting. He did regret his actions, only on her account - not on the Ranger's. They were nothing to him but a group of misfits who had a knack for attracting trouble. But Sophia. Sophia was a different story. Maybe, maybe…
"And how are you going to reveal your presence?" he asked dully. He felt faintly ill.
Fat Cat clapped his paws. "I believe Asani will cause a small distraction."
Jules snapped. He jumped to his feet quicker than a cadet saluting his captain. "You will not, I repeat, will not allow Asani to work his foul craft on Sophia! I forbid it!" Jules spat, glaring at Fat Cat.
Deciding that it was high time to cut this line of thought with Jules, Fat Cat held up his paws in defeat. "Forget I mentioned it. Forgive me." Quietly, he left the office, shutting the door with a click behind him.
Jules took several deep breaths and sat down again. Sophia's lovely visage smiled up at him from the desk, and he felt chills go down his spine.
He spent much of that night memorizing the ridiculous article about Sophia and Jake. He knew none of it was true, but the fact that Sophia was really here, perhaps only hours away, was a huge weight on his heart. At last, in the small hours of morning, Jules placed the magazine inside his pillowcase and dropped into a light sleep. He awoke with the dawn, wondering what on earth he was supposed to do.