David Perlmutter is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The holder of an MA degree from the Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and a lifelong animation fan, he has published short fiction in a variety of genres for various magazines and anthologies, as well as essays on his favorite topics for similar publishers. He is the author of America Toons In: A History of Television Animation (McFarland and Co.), The Singular Adventures Of Jefferson Ball (Chupa Cabra House), The Pups (Booklocker.com), Certain Private Conversations and Other Stories (Aurora Publishing), Orthicon; or, the History of a Bad Idea (Linkville Press, forthcoming) and Nothing About Us Without Us: The Adventures of the Cartoon Republican Army (Dreaming Big Productions, forthcoming.)
Red Rover by David Perlmutter
They spent the night in Emerson, in a cheap motel room just off from the highway, and then proceeded on the longer and more dangerous march to Winnipeg the next day. It was on this walk that they began filling each other in on their pasts. It took them most of the night to do this, so the amount of actual sleep they got in the process was somewhat negligible.
“You’re lucky you knew your Mom, Jack- I didn’t.” Madge said, with a surprising seriousness. “She dumped me in an orphanage in the most crummy section of the West End before I could even speak. Never knew her, or Dad, for that matter- but that was a fact of life where I grew up. I spent most of my life growing up on the street, around Ellice and Sargent. That’s where a lot of the action in town is, crime wise. Completely wide open- that is, when the cops aren’t looking! It’s a tough neighborhood, especially on Saturdays, when everybody’s been drinking, whoring and doing drugs. Not a pretty sight, but you’re probably going to see a lot of it if you’re going to be a superhero sidekick, so you better gird your loins and stiffen your tear ducts- it’s not a place for sentiment by any means. Anyway, I quit the orphanage as soon as I could think straight and I started running with a gang downtown from Sargent up to the downtown area around Portage and Main. Not the best way of living, by any means, but that was all I had then, and all I thought I was going to have, so I wasn’t in any business to complain about it. We had to steal, gamble and rumble to keep up our position as the baddest kids in the neighborhood or else we’d get killed. I had to do some other stuff with the boys as part of that whole scene, but you’re way too young to be hearing about that stuff- right now, anyway. Eventually, I got busted by the cops and they beat me up bad questioning me about what I was doing. You can probably see all the scars they left on my face and my body if you look hard and close enough at me. The third degree was a PICNIC compared to what they did to me. Talk about abusing your position! I didn’t want any more of the gang life after that, so I made up my mind that I was going to something about making myself into a better and conscientious being. That was when I decided to go straight. But I needed a job because I couldn’t stay with the gang anymore and I needed to pay the money for the new place I had rented to start my new straight life. So I started writing. Stories, articles, poetry, that sort of thing. Professional quality genre stuff, no porn or anything of the kind- I’m better than that! I don’t write too much, you understand, just a few things so I could get enough money to pay my rent. That’s ‘cause my rent isn’t too much, even with the highway robbery they charge for it here. But I figured I could make a career out of it if I set my mind down to it. I’d seen enough around the West End to know a few things about the bad things in life, and it worked out for me. I was able to get me a suite in one of those fancy apartment buildings on Woodrow Place, near the Assiniboine River, and I’ll be there as long as my imagination and my money hold out.
“Now comes the part about how the other part of my life came into being. I started going for walks underneath the Maryland Bridge, near the river, which is how those fancy pants folks out in River Heights get into downtown. One night, I noticed there was a bottle floating in the river, and I reached out to get it. Curiosity, huh? More like stupidity. I fell in the river, and, God, that water is nasty! But I got the bottle out and opened it once I got back to dry land.
“Once I was finally able to get the damn thing open, I noticed there was a note and a ring in it. Yeah, the one that was on Red Rover’s paw, but I’ll get to that. Anyway, I unfold the note and blow on it ‘cause it’s got dust on it, and read it. It said:
Whosoever finds this note and wears this ring shall gain the strength and abilities of THE RED ROVERS, the greatest heroes of this or any galaxy. We are the protectors and providers of a service that is much needed among the people of this universe. Our speed, strength, agility and endurance are of an Olympian scale, and those who choose to be gifted with the kinds of powers that we possess may gain them by simply placing this ring on their finger. But woe betide those who fail to comprehend the warnings we now issue as a caution to those who would even remotely consider the adopting of this mantle. A mantle passed down from generation to generation, family to family, and species to species, the Red Rovers are compelled to battle crime and evil wherever they may exist. In consequence, you will be forced to compromise your life and perhaps your dignity in taking up this position. You will face unaccountable danger known to few others and be expected to prevail always to the entirety of your being. We ask of nothing from you to join save by placing the ring on your hand, but you must be prepared to accept the consequences and responsibilities related to taking on this act. Think long and hard before placing this ring on your finger, for you shall be compelled to take on the tasks of the Red Rover regardless of how you feel about taking on the assignment!
“…and I figure, this has gotta be a joke. What kind of moronic idiot would set me up for such a stupid scheme like that? And, of course, I’M WRONG! Completely dead WRONG!
“The room starts filling up with smoke and fog and whatnot. My body starts getting bigger and taller, and I get great big muscles all over me, the kind you’d never be able to build up even if you went faithfully to the gym every day! In other words, I get transformed into Red Rover like you saw her last night. And involuntarily, I was her for the next half hour while I busted up a cocaine smuggling ring in the downtown core! The cops had been looking for that thing day and night, and the cruddy crooks kept eluding them. And here I go and find the place where they’re hiding out just by putting the ring on, watching it blink and hear it bleep, and following the path! Of course, they aren’t exactly thrilled to see me. I tell ‘em who I am, and that I am going to bring them in, and they start scrapping with me. There was one point where I was fighting the thugs where the ring came off and I turned back into me, and I got punched a couple of times before I could get it back on and finish the job. So that’s the secret- as long as I have the ring and twist the top of it, I can be the Rover, and when I don’t have it, I can’t. Of course, I can decide when I want to do that and all. There’s no evidence that there’s some sort of alien intelligence controlling the whole deal, after all! The Red Rovers may be an intergalactic thing and all, but nobody’s been checking up on me or anything. And it’s not like the thing has control of my life, anyhow. But it’s pretty handy when I get into scrapes.”
Having spoken rapidly without a pause, Madge at this point took a breath and exhaled. Then she looked at Jack, who had been setting spellbound listening to her story, his once prevalent desire for sleep fervently gone.
“Well, that’s my story,” she said. “What about you? How did you get up here? That is, before I met up with you?”
“It’s a long story,” said Jack. “And it’s kinda complicated. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
“Can’t be any more boring than mine was,” Madge answered. So Jack began his origin tale.
“I’m from North Dakota- Fargo, specifically. Even more specifically, in the south part of town right on the Red River, looking over to Moorehead in Minnesota. But I’ve travelled around most of North Dakota, and Minnesota, too, because my Mom was always busy with her work and I followed her around, mostly because I was too young to do anything else and she couldn’t very well leave me behind and keep her conscience. Or so she kept telling me. She didn’t make a whole lot of money, but we had enough to live somewhat comfortably around near Island Park. It was all right except for the fact that we occasionally got fire bombed due to Mom’s politics. She was always arguing with the neighbors over politics, very deeply and harshly, in fact, and that was why the bombing took place. That, and the fact that the cartoons didn’t care for us, either. But we were more likely to be hurt by our fellow dogs, since the Red River valley had been ceded to the dogs in one of those incredibly brief periods of cessation of hostilities. At least, it used to be, anyway.
“Then, one night after I had gone to bed, I started smelling smoke and seeing a big orange light in the window. And I thought, what in the world is going on? I immediately went to go and talk to Mom, ‘cause I knew she would have an answer to the problem, like she always seemed to have for things like that.
“Mom filled me in right quick. She burst into the room, shouting something about the Hammond Weed had come to town to help the local cartoons, who had come under the cover of the night through Moorhead, to kick the dogs out of the city so that they’d have an initial base of operations on the Red River where they could prepare to go up north and take Winnipeg the same way .
’The whole place is going up!’ she told me. ‘We got to get out of here!’
’Should we go to Moorhead?’ I asked innocently. ‘If we hid well enough from them, they’d never be able to find us….’
“’No!’ she said. ‘We have to go north!’ I knew what she meant. She had secretly stashed a raft on the banks of the Red River, and we headed up the river, Huck Finn style, to Grand Forks on it. If the Hammond Weed was taking Fargo, Mom reasoned, then it was likely they’d spare Grand Forks, even though Grand Forks had an old U.S. Air Force base that they could easily use for aerial bombardments on Winnipeg if they desired that.
“We thought we’d be safer there, and we were right for a little while. Then things got worse. Mom was wrong about them avoiding Grand Forks. Totally wrong.
“It was only a few days after they hit Fargo that the Hammond Weed came up north to Grand Forks. They were presumably on our trail, since they would have noticed that we’d have escaped and they would have wanted revenge on us. But they also would have wanted to wreck the place like they usually did. That’s their modus operandi- they come into a city, turn out and kill the folks who were living there, and then destroy everything left in their path. It makes it easier for them to scare people, like the unfeeling, unsympathetic barbarians that they truly are. As it was, we were staying uptown, near Columbia Mall, when it became déjà vu all over again and we had to run off. It was a bit of a struggle because we had to go all the way downtown to get to the Red River and possible safety. It was said later on that the Hammond Weed and all the people fleeing from them, including me and Mom, caused the biggest disruption of traffic on DeMers Avenue since the flood of the Red River there in 1997, back in the days of the human beings. But I didn’t notice that at the time. Finally, we arrived at the bridge that connects Grand Forks with East Grand Forks across the river in Minnesota. The Sortie, I think it’s called. And that was when it happened.
“We got to the center of the bridge and found out that we were surrounded. Not just by the Hammond Weed, who were on the bank of the river where East Grand Forks is, but by the local Grand Forks mob, a bunch of dirty dogs and wolves if there ever was such a thing, who had come out of the bushes around the town square near the river bank in Grand Forks to help the Hammond Weed ambush us. The Weed gets away with a lot of what it does by cutting deals with local hoods and crooks like that, usually in exchange for giving them some sort of position of power in the Weed organization later on. Before anything else could happen, everyone except us had pulled out a gun and had started emptying them into Mom. They had no conscience at all, and no sense of my feelings about the whole thing or what I wanted to happen there. They just STARTED SHOOTING! They ripped holes into her, and the blood leaked out onto me and into the river. I tried to be calm outside, but inside I was absolutely shattered, completed devastated, but I knew I had to get away before they started shooting and killing ME next! So I got up on the ledge and, before anyone could stop me, I jumped into the Red River. I didn’t think I’d make it, seeing how high up the bridge was over the river, but I made it. The water was real cold and it shocked me right to my core as soon as I hit it, even with my fur coat and all, but I made it. I swam for a few miles before I got tired and had to climb out. I rested by the side of the road for a whole night, worried that the hoods and the Weed would start coming after me, but I didn’t hear anything or see anything of them. Then, I started running, covering as much as I could every day. I worried all the time that the crooks would come after me, but they never did. They cared about what happened to me just as much as they cared about what happened to Mom- NOTHING AT ALL! Then I crossed the border and I met you. That’s all I can tell you.”
And Jack, remembering his loss, put his paw in his mouth to stave off crying. Madge stooped down and put her own paws around him, which immediately made him calm down. The fact that she was now intending to be his friend and his guardian- and remain that as long as he needed her to be- was becoming something that neither of them could no longer deny.
“You won’t have to worry about running anymore, kid.” she said. “I’m here for you. And so is Red Rover. You’ll be safe from everybody trying to harm you, especially those jerks in the Hammond Weed, as long as me and her have something to say about it!”
Madge would not have said those words with such confidence had she seen a motorcycle with North Dakota license plates and a surprisingly spacious sidecar that, entirely unknown to both of them, happened to be tailing her and Jack, and would continue to tail them as they made their way towards the metropolis of Winnipeg. The fact that this machine was an old but efficient Harley Davidson model from the days of the human beings, and was well maintained thanks to the funds that its driver made from the profits of the various criminal enterprises which he conducted in Grand Forks, made the arrival of these creatures, the villains of our story, in Winnipeg at or around the same time as Madge and Jack an eventual certainty. And with that, the creatures on the motorcycle collectively hoped, would come their destruction and any chance of warning the city of Winnipeg and its citizens of what lay in store for them.
In the sidecar were two of the highest ranking members of the nefarious Hammond Weed. Most of the space was taken up by a giraffe named Jenna, wearing an oversized black zoot suit and its accompanying hat, with a typically elongated neck, though this neck was far more flexible and mobile than those of her fellow ruminating ungulates. That was because she was a cartoon character and not an organic being, as were all of the members of the Hammond Weed, or at least all of those who truly mattered and held power in the organization. Created for some long ago television series designed to entertain the long defunct human population, Jenna was not content to simply eat leaves off of bushes and wait contentedly to be mated with, as likely would have been her fate had she been a “real”, organic being instead of a cartoon character made of flexible and pliable ink, paint and celluloid. She was instead, a passionate foot soldier in the fight between the dogs and the cartoons for control of the planet. Her rapid ascent in the ranks had been a consequence of her general cold blooded nature, evident inside her lengthy bones from the earliest days of her creation, which made the killing of anyone- friend or foe- who stood in her way a natural and entirely justifiable act. With her ability to expand and distort her body- including her lengthy neck- to limits and bounds impossible for any human or organic dog to combat, just like all cartoon characters, she was, therefore, a formidable and dispassionate enforcer of the Hammond Weed’s peculiar style of “justice”, and she had been justly rewarded for her many and sundry fights and kills in the name of the Weed. She was now an executive vice president in the Hammond Weed hierarchy, and she held a large tommy gun in her hooves for proof in case anyone thought otherwise. For, in addition to her sundry physical abilities, she was also a crack shot, something that many, including most recently Phyllis Mongrel, assassinated in part by her hoof on the Sortie Bridge, had only found out when there was absolutely nothing they could do to stop her.
The same was true of the creature sitting in Jenna’s lap, a petite but muscular pink furred rabbit named Barbara, wearing an equally well tailored green pantsuit and hat to match. Barbara, like Jenna, had fought her way up through the ranks through both bullets and physical distortion of her frame, which allowed her to survive in ways that were clearly responsible for the death of others. She had also, like her companion, been created for some long ago television series but had “gone bad”, like Jenna, as soon as she realized there was no future for her in Hollywood beyond the heavily limited and circumscribed positions which were the only available work for cartoons in the movie capital. Racism was something that she had felt the sting of early on in her life, and she had reacted by both taking pride in her cartoon stock while at the same time continually dating out of it to avoid being “shacked up” within any male cartoon character whom she considered to be her mental inferior, of which there were many. Consequently, while Jenna preferred to remain chaste to concentrate on her activities, Barbara dated frequently and often, so much that she was known as much for her prowess as a lover as she was for her skill as an enforcer and assassin. While her position on the Weed board was minor compared to the considerable power and authority and Jenna, Barbara was quick to remind Jenna, whom she was often paired up with on missions like this in spite of the constant unvarnished hostility that existed between them, that things could change in a heartbeat if the giraffe was not careful in her step. Jenna retained a dismissive attitude towards all of Barbara’s threat, though Barbara, with her keen rabbit vision, could see in Jenna’s eyes- when that was possible- that she was indeed scared of her, as were most cartoons whom she confronted. To non-cartoons, in particular her many lovers, that made her incredibly attractive, however, and she was quick to use this ability to her advantage. Nevertheless, Barbara was incredibly insecure, always worried that some rival- like Jenna- would come gunning for her when she was not ready. This accounted for why she had come on this trip armed with a small hand gun in her outside coat pocket, along with an assortment of knives and razor blades that she could easily discard from the inner lining, in case she was caught in a situation that, at least in her eyes, she was at a disadvantage within.
The third member of the group was the motorcycle driver, clad all in black, including his helmet. He stopped the motorcycle and removed his helmet, revealing a not unattractive lupine visage. His name was Melvin D. Burlap, and he was the undisputed leader of the Grand Forks mob. Though not a cartoon character by any means, he shared with Jenna and Barbara a tenacity that had much to do with how he had come to gain the great levels of power he now assumed. Burlap knew the city of Grand Forks, as well as many of the cities and towns in North Dakota, like the back of his paw, and so he was an ideal ally for the members of the Hammond Weed he was now acting as chauffeur for. This unusual situation, in his mind at least, was occurring because Jenna and Barbara, acting as “advance agents” for the mysterious figure who headed the Hammond Weed organization, had entered Grand Forks in spectacular fashion, and, after having a roaring good time “tearing the place up” metaphorically, gave Burlap, as the old human gangster cliché went, an “offer” he very well couldn’t “refuse” on pain of his death along with the “tearing up” of Grand Forks metaphorically. Knowing full well of the awesome power of the Hammond Weed, Burlap knew that he would have to comply if he wished to save his town- and his considerable fortune- from being ruined. So he agreed to a deal: they would spare Grand Forks on condition that he and his boys would be allowed to participate with the Hammond Weed in their eventual looting and pillaging of Winnipeg, since that city, with its vast financial resources, seemed to have more money in it than any of them had ever seen in the entirety of their lives. This arrangement between them had been formally cemented by the joint “hit” that they had just conducted on Phyllis Mongrel, a considerable thorn in both of their sides, but Barbara, heavily attracted to Burlap through his appearance and money, had privately resolved, in her mind, to make a similar more private “arrangement” with him as well.
Together, the forces that had killed Jack’s mother were represented on that motorcycle- and they intended, as well as conquering Winnipeg as a whole, to do the same thing to young Mr. Mongrel. But, unbeknownst to Jenna, a complication had occurred. Barbara and Burlap had fallen in love, as Barbara had hoped they would, during their stay at the Grand Forks Holiday Inn, one of several such establishments Burlap owned in the surrounding civic area for the purpose of making money. In particular, it was while they were engaged in conversation around the Inn’s spacious pool that they discovered that they were both no longer interested in criminal and terrorist pursuits, and Burlap suggested that they go “straight” following this last job, which Barbara had wholeheartedly agreed to. The sight of each other in their swimwear, in particular a very revealing bikini worn by Barbara, had firmly made this both a physical and political union. But, for the sake of appearances, they chose to pretend that they were still at odds with each other, just as they had been when they first met during the first, terse negotiations between them. This was done mainly so that Jenna and the other members of the Weed would not suspect anything, because, if word were to get out, the consequences would be dire for both of them, due to the racism Burlap’s “men” held towards his new “cartoon” girlfriend as well as the contemptuous attitude the Weed held as a strict policy against their non-cartoon “inferiors”. However, this was all the better for the final revelation of their plan to violently and firmly quit both of their ill-intended enterprises with flying colors that they had in mind later on.
Burlap stood in the wind and let it blow through the top of his gray pelt. This action did not go unnoticed by his companions, who, as would be expected, were anxious to keep going towards Winnipeg and the rewards that potentially existed there.
“Come on, Burlap!” the rabbit exclaimed. “We didn’t spare your town just so you could pose like some sort of sissy! We got a deadline to meet, and you know how strict the Weed is about meeting its deadlines!”
Burlap, seemingly ignoring the vigorously phrased insult hurled at him, inhaled a large portion of the fresh Canadian air in the wind, and then spun around with a glint in his eye. A glint that suggested that, while the Weed had folded him into the waiting arms of its organization, he was still independent minded enough to jump free of their plans any time he wanted to, and regardless of what they thought of it.
“Ladies…”, he said determinedly with an air of wounded pride, “I am not a sissy! Just ‘cause I want a breath of fresh air once in a while don’t mean I don’t want us to see our plans through by any means! I just needed some air, that’s all.”
“I’ll give you some air if we lose track of those mutts!” snapped the rabbit, getting out of the sidecar and poking Burlap with her gun viciously to disguise her true feelings for him efficiently. “How the hell are we supposed to keep track of them when you keep stopping to get some damn air every five minutes? Would it kill you to poke some air holes in that helmet of yours? Then maybe we’d make some progress in this chase! The Mongrel kid escaped from us on the Sortie, and he’s gotta go before he knows too much! If we don’t get him before he blabs all about our plans before we get there, we’re SCREWED! And you’ll be screwed even WORSE THAN THAT, BURLAP! You wanna end up dead because of the fact that you needed some friggin’ air? Huh?”
“Would you relax?” he answered. “My bike’s got a GPS tracker on them. I plugged in the coordinates before we left. And besides which, you forget that my Harley’s faster than any couple of dogs, and we can overtake them easy if you want to. But I can’t keep going without some air once in a while, though. Not that I have any intention of helping them escape, though.”
“Good.” said Barbara. “”’Cause if we lose them, you’re the one who’s gonna escape- from your LIFE! ”
“Oh, would you SHUT UP?” said the giraffe, now exiting the sidecar, to the rabbit. “Why are you so damn desperate to always put bullet holes in people? Do you get off from the sight of blood? Or is it just a way of hurting people for you besides the way that you usually do it?”
“I could’ve done plenty in both ways in Grand Forks if you hadn’t cut that deal with Mr. Wonderful over there!” Barbara responded, curtly. “There was a lot of money there, and you know it! The Weed needs money to operate more than it needs more people like him on the payroll, and you know that, too!”
“The only reason I wanted to spare Burlap and his men was because they know this territory better than you and I possibly could!” Jenna snapped, ramming her head on her associate’s face courtesy of her elongated neck. “If it wasn’t for him helping us out, we might have gotten jumped and lynched by some racist dogs in Cavalier or Grafton or some other out of the way ‘burb, and we wouldn’t even be here! Maybe if you could keep your killer instincts in check for once, Barbara, then you’d realize there are more important things for the Weed than just robbing and killing. You know very well that those things are just a means to an end for us, and NOTHING ELSE! You’d better remember that before you shoot your mouth- or your gun- off again, and I’ll make sure that you do if you don’t! Besides, Winnipeg is a big place, much bigger than Grand Forks. If you weren’t such a lunkhead, you would have noticed that!”
“Continue that line of talk, friend…” Barbara threatened “…and you and your partner will be left out here for the vultures!” She talked like she wasn’t kidding, and Burlap, playing his role beautifully, reacted with stark horror creasing his face. But Jenna was as much a hardened veteran of the Hammond Weed as Barbara, and just as versed in the various tactics which they used to confront their enemies. Therefore, she was entirely unmoved at this rather heated display of temper, which would have frightened and intimidated any one not capable of matching Barbara as an equal or superior, as Jenna clearly was.
“Don’t be stupid!” the giraffe answered, resuming her ramming. “I’m just as good a shot as you are, and you know it! I don’t suppose you want me to go to all the trouble of having to prove it to you, do you?”
Melvin D. Burlap, having exited the conversation as soon as the Hammond Weedeans began arguing amongst themselves, now re-entered it with a vengeance.
“I’m a pretty fair shot myself, ladies!” he said with a slight trace of menace in his voice, as his patience with the two of them had been worn down by their constant arguing with each other- and with him- at various points during the journey. “So are a fair number of the boys in my gang. I don’t suppose you’d want an exhibition of that, would you? ‘Cause I think that can be easily given if you don’t watch your step!”
The female terrorists returned to the motorcycle. They surrounded Burlap, who had resumed his position at the driver’s seat, and drew their guns on him. In spite of the hostility they felt towards each other, one thing that they both despised was being threatened by people outside of their circle, of which Burlap, in spite of his increasing proximity to them, was still being treated as. So it was no problem for either of the cold blooded creatures to shoot him in cold blood if he even tried to threaten them with their lives, which they considered not only impossible for him to do but also a grievous insult to the character and conduct of both of them.
“Hah!” Barbara said. “That’s a laugh. You threatening us? We’re ‘toons, buddy- we can take you mutts any day! Our forces have been torching your cities for years, and you haven’t been able to do a damn thing to stop us! How can they, when we can pull ourselves apart and together at the same time and your fellas can only pull the muscles in their arms and legs in response? You’re pretty lucky that we spared your dumb little town from being converted into a pile of popsicle sticks, so you better watch your mouth when you talk to us! The Hammond Weed don’t take too kindly to being bossed around by a petty small town mob boss, such as the likes of you!”
Before Burlap could defend himself, Jenna added her two cents.
“Listen here, Burlap!” she said. “You may be the king of South Washington Street…”
“And DeMers Avenue!” he added perfunctorily. “And Gateway Drive! And…”
“Just SHUT THE HELL UP, okay?” snarled the giraffe. “I am talking here, and nobody interrupts me when I am talking! Nobody, understand? NOBODY- unless they want to get themselves KILLED! Now you get this! We are going to continue with our plan as we devised it, and, mind you, NO SLIPUPS, or else we will in no way be responsible for what happens to you, your mob, and your town in response! You are going to drive us to Winnipeg, and the three of us are going to take a room at the Hotel McLaren, the best place in town so far as I can figure out since it’s near City Hall and everything, and that’ll get us a lot farther with our plans than we could if we were further uptown. First thing after that, we’re going to eliminate that so-called “super hero” Red Rover and that pathetic little Mongrel boy she’s taken under her wing. She would have to figure out that we were coming and threaten us on television like that, the big JERK! Then we’ll wait for our boss and her advance troops to come in from Alberta and for your boys to come in from Grand Forks. Then, and only then, will we start sacking Winnipeg, and we won’t stop until it’s down to the ground! And I swear to you, Burlap, if you pussyfoot any of this, I will squeeze you into an accordion and twist you into a pretzel, and then I’ll REALLY get around to hurting you after that! You understand?”
“Yes,” he said, his menace gone. Burlap was a fellow who knew when the appropriate time was to put his mobster face on, and now was not one of those occasions.
“Fine,” answered Jenna, her voice full of the dispassion that had caused the dispatching of the indescribably large number of beings that had met death from her hooves, her neck, and her gun. “Let’s do this!”
The giraffe and the rabbit resumed their positions in the sidecar, and Burlap allowed it to resume operation by putting his foot on the accelerator. It swiftly disappeared into a cloud of smoke, and its occupants were once again bound for the site of the bountiful number of deeds that they were planning to commit once they reached the big and profitable metropolis of Winnipeg.
Unaware of what fate had in store for them, Jack and Madge carried on walking until they reached the exterior of the great city of Winnipeg, with the glass of its great skyscrapers gleaming in the morning sunlight. These relics of the human years, as they did for so many of the remnants of the human cities, projected an image of affluence that, for many of them, was simply a dream permanently gone. Not so Winnipeg, whose affluence was still very much intact and only growing larger by the day. Walking with Madge through the small town of St. Norbert, which still served mostly as a bedroom community for the larger city, and then towards the beginning of the city proper, Jack had a beaming optimism creasing his face, not unlike that of Dorothy entering the Emerald City of Oz for the first time.
Jack and Madge continued walking up Pembina Highway until they got to the University of Manitoba, where they caught the perennially crowded #60 bus. A transfer to the slightly less crowded #20 bus and another ride later, and they were at Madge’s apartment house on Woodrow Place, where they crawled into their beds, since they were too tired, and it was too dark out, for them to anything else of substance.
The sleep that they had, however, was the last good sleep they would have for the next little while, or indeed ever, now that Jack had committed himself to the rigors of life as a superhero’s sidekick. That the profession of superhero demands irregular and uncertain hours of commitment from its practitioners is putting it only at the barest extreme of mildness.
Meanwhile, Jenna, Barbara and Burlap had checked into their room at the McLaren, which was not the extravagant luxury hotel Jenna had imagined it to be, but a rather seedy looking establishment with a large portrait of Elvis Presley on the side of it along with a list of the supposed amenities of the place. That they were somewhat disappointed with it was an understatement of the first order. Meanwhile, Burlap arranged for his motorcycle to receive protective overnight storage at a nearby garage, an arrangement he misunderstood and ultimately would come to regret. They had just settled in for the night when the loud ring of Jenna’s cell phone woke them up. As soon as Jenna was able to decipher the name on the call display, she turned on the lights at the side of the bed, sat bolt upright, got up and put the phone all the way up to her ear. Then she walked into the bathroom to speak to the caller. A long stream of frustrated words soon began to emerge from both the lips of Jenna and the muffled voice of being on the other end of the phone, as Jenna began conveying the travails and problems she was having at both dealing with Barbara and Burlap and setting up the Weed’s scheme to the other absent speaker. Since the lights were now on, Barbara and Burlap stayed up, since neither could sleep with the lights on, a habit that was common among most creatures even before the humans disappeared. They began to talk, in hushed, conspiratorial tones, both so that Jenna would not be able to hear them and so that they could finally speak to each other with the loving and caring feelings that they now obviously felt for each other (and only between each other, for the time being.)
“Who’s on the phone?” Burlap said.
“Our boss,” answered the rabbit. “The Grand Exalted Potentate of the Hammond Weed- otherwise known as the G.E.P. She’s the BIG boss! The giraffe and I are only small potatoes- real small- compared to her! We do whatever she says- no questions asked, no criticism given, no alternate opinions given- no NOTHING! If anybody crosses her, or even thinks about crossing her, they’re gone!”
“I can understand that,” Burlap said reflectively. “That was something I’ve had to do it a few times myself. Really effective way of getting rid of the people who just feed off the fat of your organization, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but it’s not the way you think,” came the reply. “She’s got supernatural abilities most of us don’t have. She can just move her eyebrows and the person she wants to kill is gone. They either collapse into a pile of brainless meat, or their brain explodes, or they pop out of this world and into another dimension. She always likes mixing it up so that we can’t figure out what she’s gonna do next. That’s the reason she’s been leading us for so long. Nobody can touch her when we’re in the same room with her. The only reason the giraffe can get away with cussing her out like that is that G.E.P. can’t get to her over the phone line, but that’s the only time. If any of us tried to challenge or contradict her, she’d kill us in a heartbeat. Even the members of the executive board, like the giraffe and me, don’t want to deal with her when she’s pissed off. So we generally go ahead with what she wants, even if it ain’t exactly the best for us all. Why do you think we’ve been doing all that urban strip mining- to get exercise? That kind of tactic makes everybody scared of the Hammond Weed, just like the G.E.P. wants ‘em to be. Plus, it helps us get the cash we need. But a lot of times, when personal stuff interferes, we’re willing to make some exceptions. Like what’s been going on between me and you behind Her Majesty over there’s neck. Remember how I said we spared Grand Forks for a reason? Well, it wasn’t just ‘cause it didn’t have much cash for our liking. I actually got some feelings for you, Burlap. Really deep feelings. Not just like I wanna make love to you, like I did with those other fellows I was with, but the kind of feelings that make you wanna shack up with a guy permanent like. I’m sure you feel the same way since I’ve been treating you so good. I don’t know what it is, but I got those kinds of feelings and in a really bad way. I had those feelings ever since that night at the pool. I may have wanted out before, ‘cause I don’t exactly approve of everything the Weed’s being doing recently and I wanna go before I get myself out. But the thing is, you just made it a lot more important that I do it now, since I gotta think about your safety as well as my own skin now. I just can’t stand this stuff no more, and I don’t want us to be part of it if it means that one or both of is gonna die because of it!.”
“You’re not the only one with feelings that way, kid,” Burlap answered. “Not in the friggin’ least! I dig you, too. I let my boys know before we started that this would be my last job, since they ain’t exactly thrilled about you being around and they don’t want to be around anyone like me who would do a cartoon character and still be able to think like a real wolf-dog. Their words, not mine, you understand. Well, to hell with them, I say! They can get all they want out of Grand Forks, whereas I become free to travel around with you and maybe get married too. But we better keep it on the Q.T. until we get this job done. No tellin’ what will happen if we let things slip before their time, dig?”
“I can dig it,” came the response. “You can count on me to keep my lips shut ‘til it’s time, Burlap. Just make sure you do the same, okay?”
At this point, Jenna emerged and turned off her cell phone. Gnashing her teeth in anger, she got back into the bed she was sharing with Barbara. Burlap was in the one opposite, on his own, as their pre-arranged sleeping arrangements had dictated.
“I take it that was the G.E.P.?” Barbara asked.
“You take it correctly,” the giraffe answered. “She’s in one of her unreasonable moods, and she’s got another one of her typical last minute change of plans for us to digest.”
“Ah, no!” said Barbara. “Again? That’s, like, the fifth time she’s changed the friggin’ plan! When the hell is she gonna make up her mind about what to do?”
“This happen a lot?” asked Burlap.
“Every job,” answered Barbara. “Chick can’t keep her mind straight when it comes to campaigning. We always end up travelling in circles waiting for her to show up, and we can’t do nothing until she shows up ‘cause of protocol and whatnot. So we end up spending a lot more time waiting for her than we would like to. It’s frustrating as hell, but it’s gotta be done!”
“What do you mean, “chick”?” Burlap asked. “She’s a bird, huh?”
“No,” drawled Barbara, as if Burlap had asked the stupidest question ever devised and she was simply humoring him by giving him an answer. “She’s a human being, stupid!”
Burlap’s jaw dropped out of shock. There had been no true human beings in this world for over forty years, and here he was being told one was now the head of the Hammond Weed. But Barbara cut off his incredulity as she continued to speak.
“Oh, don’t be so shocked!” she said to answer his look. “She’s not one of the real kind- those ones are long gone. I’m talking about the animated ones. It wasn’t just us funny animals on the tube in the old days- in fact, those human beings started outnumbering us towards the end. There aren’t a whole lot of them in the Weed, but there’s enough of them for them to be a strong voting block. That’s how the G.E.P. got in, and mostly, how she stays in. That, and those crazy ways she kills off people she don’t like very much!”
“I see,” said Burlap, comprehending.
“If you’re done conferring…” said Jenna, interrupting, “…we have some changes in the plan. The G.E.P. will be here with the ground crew in two days now, so we have to get our quarry bagged faster than we originally thought.”
“Two days?” uttered Barbara. “I thought it would be a week before she got here!”
“She took a short cut,” was the only answer Jenna gave, as she preferred not to reveal the full extent of the conversation- and confrontation- she had just had with her mysterious employer.
“I’ll make sure the boys know about it,” said Burlap, reaching for his cell phone on his side of the dresser that separated the two beds from each other. “They can get here faster if they don’t stay overnight anywhere.”
“It’s best you do that,” Jenna said to him. “That’ll make it easier- for all of us!” Neither she nor he needed to say anything more.