Chapter 1: Chapter One
The expression on Quackerjack's face was one of pure hatred as he stared down at the newspaper in his hands. "A Whiffle Boy fan convention?" he shouted, even though there was no one there but Mr. Banana Brain to hear him. "As if that big contest last year wasn't enough, now he gets his own fan convention?" The enraged duck leapt to his feet, crunching the newspaper down roughly into a little ball that he then tried to bounce like a basketball. When it didn't bounce, he kicked it with all the force he could deliver in his clown shoes, and it ricocheted off of the far wall. "Whiffle, piffle! That pixilated wimp gets everything! Even his own movie!" He stomped over to the table where Mr. Banana Brain was sitting, staring back at him.
"The movie sucked," the doll seemed to say to him.
Quackerjack's eyes widened in horror, and he collapsed melodramatically against the table. "Et tu, Mr. Banana Brain? You watched Whiffle Weenie's movie?"
Mr. Banana Brain remained impassive. "Don't be silly, Billy. Sisquail and Egret gave it two thumbs down."
"Really?" Quackerjack ran over to retrieve the wadded up newspaper, and un-crinkled it so he could find the movie review section. It was only then that he remembered the movie came out a few months ago, and the review would not be in that paper. He scowled as he instead saw once again the giant full-page advertisement for the Whiffle Boy fan convention, scheduled for the upcoming weekend in one of St. Canard's more posh hotels. "Bah," he said, about to toss the paper again, until some print below the giant picture of Whiffle Boy caught his eye. "What's this?" He brought it closer to his beak for a second read. "'Convention special guest Brant Strongbill, who played our weasel-whomping hero in the blockbuster hit Whiffle Boy: The Movie, will be appearing on opening day for a meet and greet with all of his and Whiffle Boy's fans. Be there or suck eggs with the Weasel Kid!'" he read aloud. "Oh, really?" A mischievous gleam lit up in Quackerjack's eyes. "Whiffle Boy's gonna appear in person, is he, Mr. Banana Brain? Well then," he giggled madly, "maybe this little convention of brain-rotted video game groupies will be worth attending."
Quackerjack reached into a drawer and pulled out a toy flamethrower. Not surprisingly, when he switched it on, it spewed out fire like its non-toy counterpart. He proceeded to light the newspaper on fire and skipped merrily over to a metal wastebasket on the other side of the room and dropped it in, unmindful of the few other things in there that also caught fire but luckily burned themselves out. "First your ugly picture, then you, Whiffle Boy! We're going to watch you go down in flames." Quackerjack giggled again as he watched the fire dance and its soot blacken the wall behind the can. "But this time I'll make sure Darkwing is too busy to stop me from getting revenge." He snapped his fingers and ran over to Mr. Banana Brain, already bored with his little bonfire. "Any ideas?"
After a moment of silence and staring into Mr. Banana Brain's smiling face, he heard the doll suggest, "Give the Fearsome Five a call, Paul!"
Quackerjack gave a thoughtful pause. "The Fearsome Five's kaput, though." Although they had never officially dissolved, after Negaduck had double-crossed them by stealing their powers with the mystic eye of Quackzecoatl, none of them were willing to work with him again. Since he had been the definitive leader that held the team together for the most part, they had pretty much gone their separate ways after that. Quackerjack had not even been in touch with Megavolt, who he had been closest to out of the group, recently. He wondered if Megavolt would be interested in joining him in a fun game of "whack-a-Whiffle-Boy". It had been a while since he had seen him, and his help would be useful when Darkwing showed up to ruin his fun, which he inevitably would. Picking up Mr. Banana Brain, Quackerjack said, "Well, it's worth a try. Thanks, you're a doll!" He kissed the banana toy on the head and stuffed him into his pocket, and then skipped merrily over to the nearest phone and dialed. He frowned when he did not hear it ringing on the other end; apparently he did not notice that he was using one of his toy phones that actually was just a toy. Angrily, he slammed down the receiver.
"Worthless phone company! No wonder I never pay my bill." He sighed. "Guess I'll have to do this the old fashioned way." Quackerjack headed to the door and picked up a motorized pogo-stick. "I hope he's cleaned out that lighthouse since the last time I was there."
An impromptu visit from Quackerjack was about the last thing Megavolt expected that afternoon. The rat had been relaxing contentedly in his living room in front of a large panel with at least seventy-five light bulbs plugged into it, of various sizes and glowing at different intensities. He was deep in conversation with several of them when he thought he saw something jump past one of his windows out of the corner of his eye. Curious, he looked over, but it was gone just as soon as it had been there. "Probably just a bird," he muttered, figuring that nothing else would be up that high. He resumed his conversation with the 60-watt incandescent that had been so rudely interrupted when he saw it again, and that time he could have sworn he heard it laugh. "What the…?"
There it was again, and that time he saw the "bird's" tail, which looked suspiciously like the tails of a familiar jester hat. Frowning, Megavolt went over to the window and pulled it open, where a grinning Quackerjack bounced up to greet him. "Hiya, Megsy!"
Megavolt followed Quackerjack's bouncing motion with a nod down, and then back up. "What are you doing here?"
Continuing to giggle as he bounced down and up again, Quackerjack replied, "Waiting on you to let me in, of course."
The look on Megavolt's face changed from bemusement to mild annoyance. "The door is down there." He pointed to the base of the lighthouse.
"You," Quackerjack bounced down, "didn't," he shouted from the ground, "answer!" he finished on the bounce up.
"Because I didn't want to be bothered!" Megavolt sighed. "That dumb Quackerware salesman's in the neighborhood today, and I have important things to do."
Still pogo-ing, Quackerjack asked on his next bounce up, "Even too busy for an old pal?"
"Augh. I'm not carrying on a conversation like this!"
"You already are," the toymaker retorted when their faces met on the next bounce.
Megavolt's response was to slam the window shut, but that did not stop Quackerjack from continuing to pogo up and down outside it. The next time he reached window-level he waved and shouted, "I can still see you!"
The shade came down next.
"Party pooper! When did you get so grouchy?" When Quackerjack did not get a response, he began lobbing super-balls at the window, thoroughly interrupting Megavolt's attempts at reinstating the conversation with his light bulb panel, to the point that the rat began sparking at the fingertips. "I can bounce here all day, you know!" he heard Quackerjack add, followed by another assault of super-balls on the window pane and a round of childish, maniacal giggling.
Thoroughly aggravated, Megavolt groaned, "Oh, fine!" The rat turned and stomped all the way down the stairs to the ground floor and opened the door. "You win. Come in."
"Woo-hoo!" Still on his pogo-stick, Quackerjack bounded past Megavolt, through the door, and ascended the stairway in little bounces. Megavolt followed him up, although when they reached the living room, he forcibly yanked the pogo-stick away from the duck, knocking him into an ungraceful heap on the floor before he could bounce all over the place and break anything. Since the motor was still on, it shook Megavolt around a little before he found the "off" switch. Quackerjack was back on his feet in a snap, unfazed. "Long time, no see, Megsy!" He pulled the rat into an impulsive hug. "How've you been?"
"Fine, I guess. Darkwing hasn't bothered me in almost a week now, so that's a plus. He was on a nice roll there for a while. Did you know that jerk even showed up at my high school reunion?"
Quackerjack blinked, and while it was not a comparison he would have wanted, he had almost the same reaction that Gosalyn had when her father had told her about fighting Megavolt at the high school prom. "You went to high school with Darkwing Duck?"
"No! Uh, well maybe I did, but not like he was in school with me as Darkwing. I think he's someone from my class, but I can't remember who," Megavolt explained. "Darkwing showed up at my prom, that's the first time I fought him."
That revelation rendered Quackerjack speechless for a moment, which was no mean feat, although he recovered quickly enough with a quip about it. "Don't tell me he stole your date."
"I didn't have a date," Megavolt retorted, and when he saw Quackerjack's beak open to make another snappy remark, he cut him off preemptively. "He was trying to stop me from blowing up the school."
"St. Canard High?" Quackerjack inquired with an arched brow.
"Guess you failed, with it still being there and all."
If looks alone could have fried, Quackerjack would have been on fire with high voltage. "Yes."
Ignoring the rat's glare, Quackerjack clapped him on the back. "Well, better luck next reunion! That's in five years or so, right?"
"Yes," the exasperated Megavolt groaned. "Now can we please not talk about Darkwing Dork anymore? I'm still sizzling over the last time I had to deal with him." His fingertips sparked to underscore the sentiment.
Quackerjack quirked his head to one side in a curious look. "Oh, that wasn't the last time you saw him?"
Megavolt shook his head. "No. I got stuck helping him clean up a mess he made by screwing around with some weird experimental weapon that created three energy creatures out of one of those kids that's always following him around. I thought I'd be able to harness their power, but that was impossible, and they were too destructive to control. I wound up having to help that idiot keep them from destroying everything in sight." He sighed. "I felt so dirty, but I kept thinking of my poor light bulbs and what they'd do to them!"
"Well, aren't you the popular one? Darkwing hasn't bothered me in weeks. He must like you." Quackerjack winked and waggled his eyebrows.
"That is not even the slightest, remotest, tiniest, or in any other way even a little bit funny," the rat informed him with a glower. "Working with that egomaniac ranked up there with working for Negaduck; no, wait, Negaduck showed me more respect, I think. Darkwing asked for my advice, tied me up, ignored it, and then made me watch him pretend to be Whiffle Boy to lure that dumb kid's energy monsters back to—"
The mention of Whiffle Boy changed Quackerjack's mood from amused to enraged in a flash. "Whiffle Boy?"
Megavolt thrust out his hand to stave off the rant he knew was forthcoming at the mention of the toymaker's loathed adversary. "Believe me, I didn't enjoy watching him act out his stupid video game hero fetish. He barely even won."
It was as if the rat had not even spoken. Quackerjack began bouncing around the room, furious, nearly foaming at the mouth. "I hate Whiffle Boy. Hate him, hate him, hate him! Have I ever told you how much I hate Whiffle Boy?"
"Only nine hundred twenty-three thousand and seventy-five times," Megavolt replied, rolling his eyes behind his goggles.
"Well let me tell you again," seethed Quackerjack. "I loathe him. I despise him. I want to see him burned into fiery ash and then resurrected like a phoenix just to be burned again, and again, and again, and I want him to suffer slow and agonizing deaths in torturous flames each time while I do the happy dance on his grave!"
"And? What else is new?"
Quackerjack leaned closer to Megavolt, pointing his finger at him wildly. "That's actually why I'm here."
Megavolt blinked. "Because you heard I had to watch Darkwing pretend to be Whiffle Boy?"
"No! Because I need your help destroying Whiffle Boy!"
"How? He's a video game character. Just find the factory that makes his games and trash it or something." Megavolt walked back over to his panel of light bulbs.
"It's not that simple, Megs, he's everywhere! I need to make a statement that'll get noticed."
Caressing a night-light in the upper left corner of the panel, Megavolt suggested, "Blow up Whiffle Town then."
A maniacal grin spread across Quackerjack's beak. "Actually, I'm going to do one better than that. I'm going to get my hands on Whiffle Boy himself and make him pay."
Looking up from his light bulbs, Megavolt gave Quackerjack an odd look. "You do realize that Whiffle Boy is just a bunch of pixels in a game, right?" He paused, wondering just what the nutty duck was planning. "Did you get your hands on one of those digitizer things they use to make the games or something?"
Quackerjack shook his head, the bells on the tails of his hat tinkling as he did so. "Even better! There's a Whiffle Boy fan convention in town this weekend, at the Hotel Swanlord. We're going to crash it and take Whiffle Boy as our prisoner."
"Quackerjack," Megavolt said slowly, taking steps toward him with a look on his face that indicated he thought one last loon had flown over the duck's cuckoo nest, "You can't just kidnap a video game character."
"Well duh! I'm not an idiot, Sparky." Quackerjack frowned irritably, while Megavolt tensed all over and began to glow with unspent energy at the use of his loathed nickname.
"How many times have I told you not to call me that?"
"Then don't be so condescending," he huffed back with his arms folded across his chest. "Anyway, Whiffle Boy will be there. It says right here in one of these flyers." He fished a convention flyer out of his pocket that the wind had cruelly deposited across his bill mid-pogo on his way to Megavolt's and thrust it toward him. "He's even signing autographs."
Dubious, Megavolt took the flyer and read it over. "You mean Brant Strongbill? You're going to abduct him?"
Quackerjack's eyes lit up with malevolent glee. "See, now we know his real name! Whiffle Boy is toast!"
"I thought that movie was as bad as the next guy, but Brant Strongbill is just an overpaid actor with a nice beak and a good agent," Megavolt argued.
"But he is Whiffle Boy! Just look at any movie poster for that abomination." Quackerjack pulled out a folded up poster from his other pocket, depicting the Whiffle Boy movie advertisement with some creative graffiti done by Quackerjack on the figure as well as several holes from darts that had been hurled at it, and waved it in Megavolt's face. He pointed to the tagline at the bottom that read "Brant Strongbill IS Whiffle Boy! Coming to you this summer! Suck eggs, Weasel Kid!"
Megavolt was not convinced. "I'm telling you, Brant Strongbill is just some rich actor…" The rat's voice trailed off as wheels began to turn in his head. Rich actors had rich families, rich friends, and rich employers who wanted to keep them safe, individuals who would pay handsomely to anyone who guaranteed their safe return. The ransom of someone like Brant Strongbill could go a long way to funding his Light Liberation Crusade, and give him some nice pocket change to boot. Maybe indulging Quackerjack's irrational hatred of Whiffle Boy wouldn't be such a bad caper after all.
"So whaddya say, Megsy? Will you do it? Will you help me whomp Whiffle Boy and destroy his totally undeserved fan convention?" Quackerjack looked at him with eager eyes.
"Yeah," Megavolt said, a smile slowly spreading across his face as he held up a sparking fingertip. "Let's enlighten some of those dumb Whiffle Boy fans."
The whoop of cheer that Quackerjack let out was loud enough to startle the birds off of the lighthouse roof outside. He pulled the rat into a big hug, dancing with glee. "Oooh, thank you thank you thank you! I knew I could count on you to help me out! Now I just gotta convince the others."
Casting him a puzzled look, Megavolt asked, "The others?"
"The rest of the Fearsome Five. Well, not Negaduck, not after that nasty trick of trying to take away my wackiness and all," he sniffled, still quite put out by that, "but I think Licky and Bushy could be a help. The convention will be big, and you know that dumb Darkwing will show up to ruin our fun. The more of us there, the harder it'll be for him to butt in and stop us. Besides," he added with a grin, "the Fearsome Five was fun."
"When we weren't getting our hides handed to us by Darkwing Duck, maybe. Besides, without Negaduck there'd only be four of us, not five."
Quackerjack let out a playful sigh. "You're so literal sometimes. So we'll be the Fearsome Four, or maybe the Felonious Four, or—ooh, the Criminal Quartet, I like that! –or something like that if we go with a new name. It'll just be fun!"
"Well I don't care if you drag Bush-Brain or Drippy along or not, but what makes you think either of them cares about Whiffle Boy or a convention of video game nerds?"
With a shrug Quackerjack replied, "I'll think of something. See you on Saturday!" The crazy duck then grabbed his pogo-stick and bounced out of the lighthouse without another word, leaving a bemused Megavolt staring after him as he departed.
Completely unaware that he was about to have another visitor at his greenhouse, Bushroot was surprised when he heard a rapping on the door at the far end from the bench he was working at. Spike was a deterrent to the vast majority of curious passers-by; even the meter-readers hated going onto his property, as the fly trap was as diligent as a watchdog about unwanted guests. One exception to that rule was Liquidator; it was not unusual for the water dog to drop—or was that drip?—in to his place for a social visit, but Liquidator was already there that day. Although the Fearsome Five had been effectively disbanded some time ago, Bushroot and Liquidator had remained in touch. Despite the fact that Reginald Bushroot the botanist and Bud Flood the salesman would have had very little in common in their pre-mutation days if they had met, the fact that they were now both mutated anomalies, not to mention super-villains with the same enemy, gave them a fair bit of common ground that had forged a partnership between them much like Megavolt and Quackerjack's. One thing Bushroot and Liquidator did not have in common, however, was that while Bushroot was content to stay in his greenhouse much of the time, Liquidator was a drifter, quite literally, and never stayed in one place very long. Bushroot supposed that it was hard for someone so fluid to put down roots like he did; he could not imagine voluntarily uprooting himself and his plants for anything other than necessity. Life as an outlaw had done that often enough with his stints in jail and being on the run, and Bushroot had never liked it. That and Spike never took proper care of his plants when he had to make an unplanned or extended leave. His pet fly trap was loyal and well-meaning as the day was long, but far from the brightest begonia in the bunch.
Liquidator sometimes stayed with Bushroot for days at a time. A greenhouse was an ideal environment for one made of water, as even if it evaporated off of him, it rained again soon enough to replenish it so he did not lose it for good. He also kept Bushroot's plants well watered when he was there, a favor in lieu of rent Bushroot supposed, but then he would up and disappear when it struck him to do so. Bushroot had long since given up trying to predict the water dog's mercurial moods, and was no longer surprised to either find Liquidator there, or not. He had no idea where it was that Liquidator actually lived when he was not pooling in the greenhouse for refuge, he had mentioned several places with the sort of familiarity one might a home, but Bushroot did not know if those were anything more than hideouts or novelties any more than he knew exactly where they were.
Knowing that Liquidator was there already, resting in the shade of one of his potted dwarf banana trees, made the knock on his door that afternoon all that more of a surprise to Bushroot, especially since Liquidator rarely bothered with knocking anyway. "What the…?"
"Bush-y!" a familiar, and entirely too happy, voice called out as the door swung open, "Oh Bush-y, are you home?"
The plant-duck set down the flask of experimental fertilizer he had been about to measure out back onto his bench. "Quackerjack?" He looked over to see that it was indeed his former companion-in-crime. "What does that clown want?" he muttered, and waved for him to come over while Quackerjack skipped over to his bench in a manner that Bushroot regarded right away as dangerously enthusiastic.
"How's it going, Bushy?"
"Uh, fine I guess. Long time no see. What brings you here?" Bushroot asked, while Spike went over to investigate Quackerjack, sniffing carefully at his unusual shoes and puffy pants.
The nudge of Spike's nose near his rump made the nutty duck jump a little. "Hey! I don't like anything with sharper teeth than my wind-ups anywhere near there, pal," he warned, wagging his fingertip at the animated fly trap before turning back to Bushroot to answer. "I was wondering if you might be interested in a little 'reunion' of sorts with your old pals from the Fearsome Five. A new caper for old times' sake."
"A reunion," Bushroot repeated, his face impassive. "Hmm, let me think about that. Uh, no." He turned back to his bench.
Quackerjack pouted. "But you don't even know what I've got planned."
Bushroot's beak pursed into an irritable frown. "I know that the last time I was a part of the 'Fearsome Five', our 'fearless leader' stole our powers from us with a magical artifact and then turned on us and left us to rot. I know that I had to work with that obnoxious, arrogant caped buffoon that flaps his mouth in the night to get said powers back, and still wound up in a jail cell to escape from yet again at the end of it all, which took an extra couple of days that left five of my growing plants under-watered and nearly dead by the time I got back to them," he informed him bitterly. "So you can forget about it. I've got better things to do." His frown deepened. "Like wash my hair, or clip my leaves."
Ignoring Bushroot's clearly unwilling tone, Quackerjack hopped up onto his bench and sat on the end of it, swinging his legs back and forth, unmindful of the fact that he nearly up-ended a rack of test tubes which Bushroot had to scramble to move to a safe spot. "Aw, but that was Negaduck, not me!" protested Quackerjack. "He's not even involved. This is just us. The Fearsome Five minus one. No Negaduck. Believe me, Megsy and I aren't too happy with what he tried to pull either."
"Then wouldn't we be the 'Fearsome Four'?" Bushroot pointed out, much like Megavolt had. He cast a quick glance over his shoulder over to where Liquidator was snoozing—de-formed into a barely noticeable pool under the tree, apparently fast asleep now—and then added, "What did Liquidator say?"
"I didn't talk to him yet. I was hoping you could tell me where to find him. Do you know where he lives? He always just kinda showed up, I guess Negaduck knew, but I never asked."
"I see him sometimes," Bushroot answered noncommittally; he figured if Liquidator wanted to get involved he could speak up for himself.
"So since it's just us, are you game?" Quackerjack pressed.
"Depends on what the 'game' is." Bushroot resumed measuring out his fertilizer while Spike began to nibble on the heel of one of Quackerjack's clown shoes as they hung in front of him.
He didn't seem to notice, and continued trying to recruit his former compatriot in crime. "The game? It's the game everyone's always talking about: Whiffle Boy!"
That was enough to get Bushroot to set his flask back down and do a double-take. Like everyone else who knew Quackerjack, Bushroot knew how much he hated the popular video game, its star, and its whole genre of electronic entertainment wholly on the basis of said game and star. "What?"
"We're going to whack Whiffle Boy once and for all!" He bounced off the table, grabbing Bushroot by the shoulders, bouncing with excitement. There was a tearing noise as he did, as Spike still had his shoe, but Quackerjack was oblivious to it. "Megsy is in, so how about it?"
"You and Megavolt are going after a video game star," Bushroot repeated, making sure that he had understood the crazy toymaker correctly.
Quackerjack nodded an enthusiastic yes, his eyes wide and teeth bared in a big grin.
The unnerving look made Bushroot think that not only was Quackerjack becoming more unraveled as time went on, but that he was taking Megavolt, whose own sanity was questionable at best, right over the edge with him. "Uh, I don't know how to break this to you, Quackerjack, but Whiffle Boy is a fictional character. How can you attack something that doesn't exist in our reality?"
The jester-garbed duck let out a beleaguered sigh. "You're just like Megs sometimes, always over-thinking things." He pulled the same flyer he had shown Megavolt out of his pocket and held it up. "We're going to nab him here. He's making a personal appearance to sign autographs." Quackerjack giggled with mad glee. "We'll never have a better chance to get him and get revenge!"
"Brant Strongbill?" Bushroot repeated dubiously. "And Whiffle Boy is your pet peeve, not mine. I don't care about video games. I don't even play them."
Quackerjack threw an arm around Bushroot's shoulders. "See, I always knew you were a super-villain of taste."
Bushroot was not convinced. "But what did Brant Strongbill do to you, other than play Whiffle Boy?" He paused for a moment, and then added, "And okay, he starred in some other really bad movies, but I'm not sure that's worthy of using our super-powers to avenge our sensibilities on. Especially if it'll bring Dark-ego Duck out to harass us."
"No no no, you don't get it, Bushy! Brant Strongbill is Whiffle Boy." A zealous look filled the toymaker's eyes. "Now we know who his secret identity is, and I can finally get even with him for ruining my toy business now that I know where to find him."
After staring back at Quackerjack for a long moment, Bushroot decided that the energy it would take to debate the reality of Quackerjack's conviction with him would be wasted, and instead went with the simpler smile-and-nod approach. "I see."
"So what do you say, will you help us?"
"Why should I?" The wary look on Bushroot's face intensified.
Quackerjack eyed the plant-duck with hopeful exuberance. "Because you're my buddy?"
"I thought I was his 'Buddy'," Liquidator's voice chimed in from behind. Bushroot and Quackerjack both turned to see the water dog forming into a languid stretch underneath the banana tree. He yawned and then glided over to join them.
"Funny," Quackerjack quipped back, making a face at Liquidator's pun on his real name before glancing at Bushroot. "You didn't tell me he was here."
Bushroot shrugged. "You didn't ask that; you asked where he lived. Besides, he was asleep."
"But, the Liquidator is wide awake now, and intrigued by this fascinating plan involving the infiltration of a convention of pre-teens and video game nerds fresh from their arcades and mothers' basements so that we can attack," he struck a dramatic pose emulating Quackerjack's nemesis, "Whiffle Boy!"
Quackerjack either did not realize that Liquidator was making fun of him, or simply did not care. "It'll be a blast, guys! Just like I was telling Bushy here, it'll be like the old days of the Fearsome Five again."
"But with less chainsaws and threats of gratuitous bodily harm," Liquidator finished.
Bushroot cast the water dog a curious look. "How long have you been awake?"
"Long enough to hear all the whiffle-whomping details." Liquidator turned toward Quackerjack. "But, I'm still waiting to hear one important one—what's in it for us if we go along with this?"
Quackerjack pulled Mr. Banana Brain out of his pocket. "Fun and games, James?" he had the doll suggest.
Liquidator and Bushroot exchanged unconvinced looks. "Are these games profitable to today's on-the-go super-villains?" asked Liquidator.
"There'll be plenty of easy pickings to get loot from at the convention. If there's one thing I know about video game fans, it's that they have money to burn, or they burn it all on their stupid brain-rotting games and sequels that do the same thing as the original with snappier graphics." Quackerjack frowned, his tone laced with bitterness. "The kids probably have rich parents, the ones who should've been buying my toys for them in the first place."
Picking up the flyer from where Bushroot had set it aside on the table, Liquidator read it over quickly. "It's at the Hotel Swanlord? 'Simple luxury, with elegant taste. From Whiffle Boy to fan boy, here you're all family,'" he said, parodying their snooty television ad.
"That's a yes then?" Quackerjack nearly bounced with enthusiasm.
Liquidator held up a hand. "Ah, ah, ah, read the fine print; I've committed to nothing just yet."
"And I think you should be committed," Bushroot said with a shake of his head. "Thanks for the offer, but I'll sit this one out. Like I said before, I'm not interested in video games. There's nothing there for me. Good luck with your whiffle-whacking." He gave Quackerjack a dismissive wave, and returned his attention to his lab bench.
Quackerjack pouted. "Aw, but you'll miss all the fun!"
"What fun?" countered an incredulous Bushroot, "You tormenting a bad actor in front of a bunch of kids in costume with fake laser guns?"
"That doesn't sound like fun to you?"
Bushroot and Liquidator exchanged looks once again, their expressions indicating that they did indeed not think that was the grand fun time Quackerjack seemed to think it would be.
"Well, what if I gave you real laser guns to fire back with? I could make a zapper better than Whiffle Weenie's any day, especially with Megsy's help."
"You still haven't given us the bottom line," Liquidator pointed out. "Revenge might work for you, but we want loot, loot, loot!"
Bushroot nodded along with the water dog. "What kind of seed money are you talking here? What's your plan?"
Pleased that the other two super-villains seemed to be coming around, Quackerjack smiled confidently as he explained. "We sneak into the convention, undercover so no one recognizes us, until the opportune moment when we strike and grab Whiffle Boy. Then we make him pay, with his money and his hide!" His grin widened to one more maniacal.
Liquidator sneered. "Just remember to save the dresses for Megavolt, and leave the tasteful outfits to us."
Quackerjack beamed, thrilled. "So does that mean it's a 'yes' for you two?"
"The offer is valid for as long as it amuses me, and has potential for profit," Liquidator confirmed. "What are we supposed to do once we're undercover amongst the throngs of adoring Whiffle Boy fans?"
"We wait for Whiffle Boy to make his appearance and then," the clown duck's serious façade dropped in favor of a gleefully maniacal look, "it's playtime!" He bounced up, and grabbed a startled Bushroot, who was not expecting the sudden move, by the shoulders. "We grab him and take him prisoner, and then he's at our mercy, him and all of his money." Quackerjack then relaxed, releasing Bushroot, and started pacing in front of him and Liquidator while the startled plant-duck gave him an irritable look for his exuberance. "You two and Megavolt can help me keep the area secure, and keep jerks like Darkwing Duck from nosing in on my revenge. And once we've got Whiffle Boy, we can demand a huge ransom. Those adoring fans won't be able to stand letting anything happen to their hero," he said mockingly, "so you can probably shake them down for everything they've got. And he'll have to pay us his royalties too, ooh, that's a nice sum I'm sure." He shrugged. "But you guys can have most of that, as long as I get to handle Whiffle Boy himself and exact my revenge without interference."
Considering the plan and its payoff, Liquidator and Bushroot nodded to one another. "All right," said Liquidator, "I'm game for your game, but the following terms and conditions apply: I set the ransom amount. None of the rest of you know marketing like the Liquidator!" He folded his watery arms with confidence. "Bushroot, Megavolt, and I split the profits thirty-thirty-thirty percent, you get Strongbill's—I mean, Whiffle Boy's—hide and the final ten to cover your expenses. Once we have him, we keep Whiffle Boy locked squarely away until the loot is in hand and don't do him any permanent damage until we've got it all." He frowned. "No one'll pay anything if they see you chew his arms off with your teeth, or stick a G.I. Mole grenade in his beak."
"Sure," Quackerjack agreed. "I've waited this long for revenge, I can hold off until we all get what we want out of it." He turned toward Bushroot. "What about you, Bushy? Are you going to come wet your whiffle with us?"
With a nod Bushroot replied, "Yeah, all right. But I'm warning you now, if I wind up mulched, weed-whacked, or whiffle-stomped because I agreed to go along and help you with your stupid grudge, I will send a grove of angry conifers to your front door as soon as I re-grow."
"Oh, relax, Bushy! It'll be a blast!" Quackerjack stepped between him and Liquidator and threw his arm around the plant-duck's shoulder and then the water-dog's in an impulsive show of camaraderie, his gleeful grin taking on a dangerously sinister look. "Especially for Whiffle Boy!"
The line to get into the convention room at the Hotel Swanlord was so long that it wove all the way out the swanky establishment's front door. Drake Mallard was certain that it was at least a mile long, because he was standing in it for hours and was very bored and irritable as a result of it. Launchpad and Gosalyn were both with him, and more enthused about the convention than he was. While he loved a good game of Whiffle Boy as much as any duck, he loathed the crowds and overinflated convention ticket prices, not to mention the company he had standing in line.
"We're almost there, neighbor!" Herb Muddlefoot piped up from behind him. "I can see the door now."
"It's about time," Tank said in a grouchy tone from beside his father, scowling in a surly manner as usual. It was one time where Drake found himself empathizing with Tank rather than wanting to smack him. He almost hoped the kid would plow through the line and pave the way in, even though that was hardly a hero-approved thing for him to wish for.
Drake sighed. "Color me thrilled."
"Aw, cheer up," Launchpad said from beside him, clapping him on the back. "It'll be fun. You and Gos can play in the contests, and there's all the people selling the cool Whiffle Boy stuff you don't see in stores—"
"You don't even play Whiffle Boy, LP."
Launchpad shrugged as if that fact was unimportant. "I saw the movie. And boy, was it great! I can't wait to get Brant Strongbill's autograph."
Gosalyn looked up at him. "Launchpad, I think you're the only person in this whole line that would say that."
Launchpad blinked in surprise. "That they want Brant Strongbill's autograph?"
"No, that the Whiffle Boy movie was great." The girl made a sour face. "Everyone thought that sucked."
"I thought it was pretty cool…"
"The colors on Whiffle Boy's costume were totally off," a plump pig in the line in front of them said in a whiny tone.
"And the princess' hair wasn't supposed to be short and curly, I mean come on," a buck-toothed rat that looked as though he had not seen a comb or sunlight in two weeks piped up beside him.
Honker Muddlefoot, otherwise quiet except when he and Gosalyn had been chatting while standing on line, chimed in, "Not to mention that the Weasel Kid looked rather like a black-footed ferret."
The rat let out an irritable snort. "And the gun! Oh, the specs were totally off from the game. Even the comic was closer than that. It at least only had a fin and the pin-striping off." It was clear from his tone that he did not consider the comic up to the high standards he expected from Whiffle Boy either.
Dismayed only somewhat, Launchpad frowned. "Well I still liked it."
"Only because you never played the game," insisted Gosalyn.
"You never played Whiffle Boy either, huh Launchpad?" Herb asked. "I never could keep up with Tank and Honker on those things. I even got them a TV upstairs to play it on just so I could get some time to watch Pelican's Island without having it pre-empted by Whiffle Boy."
"Can't miss the thousandth re-run of that," Drake muttered sarcastically.
Herb chuckled, oblivious to the mockery in his neighbor's tone. "Heck no! They're classics."
"Speaking of classics, keen gear, check that out!" Gosalyn exclaimed, and pointed to a duck in baggy jeans and a vintage Whiffle Boy T-shirt from the game's first release holding up what looked to be an excellent replica of Whiffle Boy's zapper. There was a large box at his side with more, and her eyes widened as she realized he was selling them.
The nerdy rat on the line in front of them whistled approvingly. "Now that's what they should've used in the movie." They watched as the gun guy then struck a pose and executed a shot in perfect Whiffle Boy style, and to their surprise a bright beam of light burst from the gun, bouncing off the nearest window harmlessly, but spectacularly.
Hopping with excitement, Gosalyn turned toward her father. "C'mon Dad, what do you say? Can I have one?"
"Well they are pretty cool, I gotta say," Drake admitted before adding with a frown, "but they're probably expensive."
"Oh sure, it's not too expensive when it's one of your toys." Gosalyn pouted.
Launchpad smirked a little. "She does have a point."
"Don't help, LP." Drake gave him a sharp look.
While they continued to bicker, Honker walked over to the duck selling the zappers. "Excuse me, Sir, but how much are those?"
He grinned down at Honker. "Cool, huh? These are my own design, the most authentic you'll see outside of a movie studio prop—and designed precisely to the game specs to boot," he boasted. "My roommate and I make these. We hand-craft and paint each one. The laser in these was developed at St. Canard University's engineering lab; he's a grad student there. I'm in theatrical design myself." He pushed a lock of his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes and showed Honker the mechanism for the laser and several other features on it. "They take a while to make, and normally we charge $150, but because we want to be cool to Whiffle Boy's fans we're selling them here for just $100 each."
Honker blinked and glanced over his shoulder at his father, whose expression was less than enthusiastic upon hearing the price. "Oh. Sorry, I think that's out of my price range."
"And I know it's out of yours," Drake informed Gosalyn sternly.
"But Dad, they're really cool!" Gosalyn dashed over to Honker and the gun-seller, who carried his box over to their spot in line in the hopes of making a sale or two. Gosalyn reached into the box. "Can I hold one?"
"Sure thing, kid."
As soon as she grabbed one, she twirled the zapper in her hands like an expert and bared her teeth fiercely, brandishing it like a pro. "Prepare to suck eggs and eat dust at the hands of Gosalyn Mallard!" She pulled the trigger and shot a beam into the crowd. It ricocheted off of Herb Muddlefoot's watch to the polished marble surface of the hotel lobby's fountain, and then all the way to some well-dressed canine woman's designer sunglasses as she led her two sons toward the line. They snickered at their mother's misfortune while she cast an irritable glare in Gosalyn's direction. "Sorry!" Gosalyn called out.
"With aim like that, you don't need to apologize. You're a natural," the gun merchant quipped, and then smiled at her. "Hey, wait a minute… you said your name's Gosalyn Mallard? Are you the same one who was in the championship at Whiffle Town with Darkwing Duck?"
"That's me!" Gosalyn beamed.
"Well… it's not really profitable, but heck, I thought you were pretty cool competing with Darkwing Duck and all. I totally had my money on you." He smirked and gave her a blaster and a high-five. "Complements of Blaster-Bill Inc."
Drake frowned, his ego almost causing him to forget he was just supposed to be Drake Mallard and not Darkwing Duck at the moment. "What about me?"
"Oh, are you her dad or something?" When Drake nodded a yes, he said, "Well, I can't give 'em all away, but I'll give you a discount to $75 each, and your friends here too."
"Awesome!" Tank said, and swiped one from the box before Herb had a chance to say no. "Pay him, Dad."
With a sigh, Herb pulled out his wallet while Honker also picked out a zapper. "I don't suppose you give volume discounts."
"Sorry, can't go any lower on these. I'm a starving student," the zapper seller replied with a shrug. "Loans are killer. They're almost enough to drive you to a life of crime, I tell ya."
Herb gave a small nod as he handed over the money for Tank and Honker's zappers. "I understand. I sell Quackerware, you know. It's kind of the same. I'm only allowed to go so far in giving customers good deals."
"What about you, Launchpad? Are you getting one?" asked Gosalyn.
"I think Launchpad has enough potential for destruction without arming him with a laser sight," Drake remarked.
Launchpad smiled, taking the teasing in stride as he generally did. "He's probably right. Cool guns, though."
"Thanks," the duck selling the zappers said as he put away the money and picked up his box. "Remember, Blaster-Bill Inc.! And kick some weasel ass in the competitions, Gosalyn!" He then headed further down the line to make more sales.
Drake made a mocking face as he left. "Hmph. I think he under-estimated Darkwing's role in that competition."
Upon hearing that, Gosalyn stuck her tongue out. "Real supportive, Dad."
"He probably just did that because he knew everyone on line would see it, and it'd get him sales," Drake went on to say. "If Darkwing was here, I bet he'd have given him the same line, and free gun."
"Gee, I guess it's too bad that Darkwing wasn't here then," Gosalyn replied with mocking sweetness. "I guess I'll have to take his kind words, praise, and free tail-kicking laser gun at face value!"
Luckily for the sanity of those around them, their argument was cut off as the doors to the convention opened, and the line began to move inside.
"I feel ridiculous," Megavolt sulked from where he stood, disguised in a frumpy floral print dress with an equally hideous curly brown wig on top of his head and a string of fake pearls around his neck. "This is the most degrading costume you've made me wear, ever!"
Clad in a bellhop costume, Quackerjack chortled at his "client". "Last time you complained about the princess dress. There's just no satisfying you, Megsy! And I'm not putting you in a mini-skirt. Not with your legs."
Megavolt scowled and adjusted his large "purse" that was an elaborate disguise for his battery pack. However, he was used to having it on his back rather than his shoulder, and certainly not having it hidden inside a tacky and shiny white vinyl bag that was not, in his opinion, nearly as tasteful as his yellow jumpsuit. "I'd prefer pants!"
"And I'd prefer to not be bottled like my once profitable product in my competitor's packaging," Liquidator lamented from inside his disguise—a five-gallon jug ready to pop onto a water cooler. He was not amused that Quackerjack chose a Koo-Koo Fizzy Water jug for him to hide in, but he had not been able to argue with the fact that it would be unlikely to rouse suspicion.
Bushroot, wearing a bellhop costume like Quackerjack with his purple hair tucked completely under the hat, which also shaded his eyes and features, sighed. "I'm not exactly enjoying this either."
"At least you made a tip," argued Megavolt.
"And that woman must've packed half of Duckburg into her bags before she threw them at me to carry to her room for that two bucks," Bushroot groused in return. "I'm not used to that kind of heavy labor. I keep oaks for that."
Quackerjack pushed his luggage cart, which held several suitcases filled with toy-weapons, into the lobby, while Bushroot pushed his with the Liquidator water jug beside him. "Looks like the thirsty convention-goers are that way, Reginald," Quackerjack said, enunciating his name the way a snooty hotel-goer might speak to a lowly bellhop. "Don't keep those goofy gamers waiting!"
Bushroot shoved the cart toward the convention doors while Liquidator bubbled impatiently in his bottle. "Yeah."
Clearly enjoying his role-play, Quackerjack then turned to Megavolt. "So, Mrs. Voltagia, what's your room number?"
Megavolt stared at the bellhop-disguised duck as though he had lost whatever marbles he had left. "What did you just call me?"
"'Mrs. Voltagia', you know, the name you registered a room under so you and your friends could have a luxurious hideout from the convention and any unfortunate incidents that might occur there?" He gestured to their disguised gear and smirked. "Or would you prefer I call you 'Maggie'?"
"You registered a room to me as Maggie Voltagia?" Megavolt repeated incredulously.
Quackerjack grinned. "Think of it as getting in touch with your feminine side."
"I'd like to get you in touch with some high voltage—"
"Shush, you have to register at the desk now. Just play along."
A snooty duck in a crisp suit greeted Megavolt as he approached. "May I help you, Madam?"
"I, uh," Megavolt then cleared his throat to assume a more feminine-sounding tone, "that is, I have a reservation."
"Maggie Voltagia." Megavolt winced as he finished saying it, and he could have sworn he heard Quackerjack snicker under his breath. Oooh, he was going to fry him in the tail feathers but good once it was all over!
The clerk behind the desk nodded and then checked the computer. "Ah yes, here you are. Will we be billing to the card the reservation was made under?"
Since Megavolt did not have any credit cards, whoever got that bill would not be him, so he readily agreed. "Yes, that will be fine."
"Very well then, sign here." He slid a paper over the counter, upon which Megavolt left an unintelligible scrawl. A moment later the clerk handed him a sleeve with card keys.
Megavolt noticed there were only two. "May I have four?"
"Four? Madam, this room is for a single reservation. Now I do see that it has two double beds, so technically four are permitted in the room, but the reservation states that—"
Megavolt reached over the counter and roughly grabbed the clerk's sleeve. "You don't understand, I need extras! I'm terribly forgetful!"
While the clerk gave "Mrs. Voltagia's" oddly masculine hands a strange look, Quackerjack nodded. "She already forgot where she parked."
The clerk wrenched his arm away and proceeded to shuffle behind the counter, chalking the incident up to the behavior of a rich eccentric. She's probably a crazed Whiffle Boy fan, he thought as he programmed two more key cards and passed them over. "Very well. Here you go. Room 823. Have a nice day."
Taking the key cards, Megavolt adjusted his purse and folded his arms huffily. "Bellhop! My luggage to the eighth floor, please! Snap snap!"
Quackerjack raised an eyebrow, but did as his role demanded, and wheeled the luggage cart to the elevator. "Sure, now you get into your role."
"Tote my bags, and no lip out of you, young man!" Megavolt retorted as they stepped through the sliding doors. Once they were inside, he passed Quackerjack a key. "So, who's paying for our room? I didn't think you had a credit card."
"I don't. But wouldn't you know, despite being presumed dead, Bud Flood still has excellent credit?"
Megavolt laughed. "You stole one of Liquidator's credit cards?"
"Of course not." Quackerjack giggled. "One of my teddy bears did."
The elevator opened and they headed to their room, unpacking their gadgets and weaponry once inside. "So what now? Can I get out of this stupid outfit?" Megavolt tugged at his wig with growing impatience.
Quackerjack slapped his hand away from the wig and then straightened it. "Stop screwing around with that, or I'll have to find you a hairpin. It'll look fake."
"It is fake!" Megavolt protested. "And I guess I'll take that as a no."
"Megsy, we can't look obvious when we head in. Darkwing could be anywhere waiting to show up and get in our way."
"Did it occur to you that maybe Darkwing Duck has better things to do than hang out at a Whiffle Boy convention?"
"No," Quackerjack snapped back testily. "He went to Whiffle Town for the competition, didn't he? Not to mention how you said he's been following you around, even to your high school reunion." Quackerjack snickered again, apparently finding the notion of Darkwing being an old high school rival of Megavolt's quite humorous.
"What, are you jealous?"
Quackerjack reported with a raspberry as he loaded the cart with some unpacked toy weapons. "Hardly. You can have Darkwing all to yourself. He does nothing for me."
Megavolt's eyes darkened. "That joke is even less funny the second time around."
"I have to disagree," Quackerjack chortled, and then retrieved Mr. Banana Brain from his pocket to add his two cents. "And Banana Brain makes three."
"That's only two, because I don't agree, you idiot!" Megavolt groused at them both, while Quackerjack pushed the cart toward the door.
"Are you coming, or are you going to play with your wig all day?"
After adjusting his battery pack purse again, Megavolt stomped out into the hallway and looked at the pile of stuff on the cart. "That's subtle."
"I'm not done," Quackerjack informed him. He then bounded down the hall to a cart that had a serving dome on it. He wheeled it over, lifted the dome, and made a face at the dirty dishes underneath before dumping them into a nearby laundry cart. He then loaded the toys under the dome, piled so high that it barely sat level. "Good thing whoever's in that room is a big eater."
Megavolt just shook his head. "So what now?"
"Now, we infiltrate." Quackerjack pushed the button for the elevator. "Whiffle Boy is supposed to appear around four, so I'm going to scout the room and get into position. You find Licky and Bushy and get them their keys, and keep an eye out for Darkwing. When I spring the trap on Whiffle Boy, follow my lead." The elevator doors opened and Quackerjack wheeled the food cart in with a maniacal grin on his face. "Let's see how Whiffle Boy likes my games."
The first place that Gosalyn, Honker, and Tank went to once they got inside was the game competition. It was not an official tournament like the one Gosalyn and Darkwing had played at Whiffle Town, merely a small contest for prizes sponsored by the game company. There were three separate divisions delineated by age—child, teen, and adult—and the same top prizes were awarded to the winners of each. Gosalyn gloated that winning the "geezer game" was the only way her father could win first prize, since he couldn't compete with her. Honker politely stayed out of it while Launchpad just laughed the banter off. Drake, struck in the ego again, assured her that if he chose to compete in the adult rankings, he would surely win, and with a higher score than hers. However, he went on to inform her, he was abstaining this time, since he wanted to make sure he had enough time to see all the highlights of the convention, including a vendor with some rare comic books dating back to his own childhood, rather than show up a bunch of adult fanboys that wouldn't stand a chance against his elite Whiffle Boy skills anyway.
"Whatever Dad, you just know I'd beat your score into weasel dust," Gosalyn retorted as she got in line.
"Don't tempt me to order you to put every cent of any prize money you get straight into your savings account!" Drake called out over his shoulder as he and Launchpad departed.
Gosalyn frowned. "I hate it when he fights dirty," she muttered to Honker.
"I bet you won't even win anyway," taunted Tank.
"Oh yeah?" she challenged. "If I played you here I'd win every round on the first try."
Tank leaned over Gosalyn with an aggressive look. "Hah. You only won because I didn't play in the tournament."
"You'll be playing in the teen division anyway, Tank," Honker pointed out. "You turned thirteen last week. You can't compete against Gosalyn by the rules here. Child division is ages 12 and younger."
Sneering, Tank replied, "Good, 'cause I don't want to play with a bunch of babies anyway."
Elsewhere in the convention, Drake and Launchpad browsed the various booths and displays. "So, DW, I was wondering, how come you didn't invite Morgana to come along to this with us?" Launchpad asked as they moved between booths.
"You really think a Whiffle Boy convention would be Morgana's kind of thing?" Drake replied. "I mean, you know she's got kind of weird taste."
"Heh heh, compared to some of these people, Morgana's downright normal," Launchpad said, looking over the crowd for a moment. "But uh, don't tell her I said that. I don't want to be turned into a walrus or slug or something."
Drake shrugged. "It's not really a date kind of place anyway. I'm supposed to meet her later this week for dinner, hopefully at a place I get to pick." He raised an eyebrow as they passed a booth that sold Whiffle Boy costume helmets and hats. "Though she might look cute in the princess' hat."
Launchpad chortled with him. "You really think you could get her to wear that?"
"No," admitted Drake, "and she'd probably turn me into pudding for asking. She wouldn't be caught dead or undead in that."
"Too bad. It looks good on that lady," Launchpad said, looking at a tall, slimly-built duck in the booth that appeared to be in her early twenties, posing by the vendor's mirror with the princess hat on.
Drake followed his gaze and elbowed his friend with a sly look on his face. "Maybe you ought to go and tell her that."
Caught off guard, Launchpad blinked in surprise and then shook his head. "No, that's okay. I'm not really looking for a date. Especially not at a place like this!" He made a sheepish face. "I don't even know that much about Whiffle Boy." He leaned a little closer to Drake and added in a lower tone, "Besides, the ones that aren't taken probably don't look like that, but more like that." Launchpad then pointed to a sour-faced rat woman in a floral print dress, sporting a white vinyl purse the size of a yacht.
Drake cringed. "Ech. She looks like Megavolt in a dress."
"Maybe his sister plays Whiffle Boy," Launchpad said as they continued to walk.
"Does Megavolt even have a sister?" Drake wondered.
Launchpad shrugged. "You went to school with him, so you'd know better than I would."
"I have no idea. Heck, I'd be surprised if Megavolt even knows whether he has a sister or not with how fried his memory is. Besides, I'm more worried about Quackerjack showing up here than Megavolt."
"Yeah," Launchpad said with a concerned look on his face. "Do you think he'll try anything? I mean, we know how much he hates Whiffle Boy."
Drake met Launchpad's eyes with a serious look in his own. "Why do you think I agreed to come here with Gosalyn?"
"Because you like Whiffle Boy just like she does?"
"Maybe so, but I also don't think that if he knows about it, that crazy criminal clown will pass up a chance to do something dastardly to an event focused on his electronic enemy." Drake lowered his voice and continued, "Believe me, I didn't stand in line for hours with the Muddlefoots only because I like Whiffle Boy. If I wasn't worried about trouble, I'd have just let Gosalyn go with them."
Launchpad gave an optimistic nod. "Well, at least we haven't seen any sign of him yet."
"Nope, nothing unusual at all, well aside from the standard weirdos you see at a gathering like this. But I've got my eyes wide open for the slightest sign of crazy criminal malevolent mischief! No crooked convention-foiling caper will escape my scrutinizing surveillance," Drake finished on a determined note as he and Launchpad walked right past Bushroot wheeling a cart from one end of the room to the other in his bellhop costume.
Scanning the crowd for Gosalyn and Honker, Launchpad mused, "No sign of Gos yet. I guess she's still in line for the competition or still playing."
Drake smiled. Despite his earlier ego blustering, he was quite proud of Gosalyn and was rooting for her to win, knowing how happy it would make her. "Yep yep yep, that's my girl. She won't give up until she takes home first prize." He looked around. "Hey, I'm getting thirsty. Did you see any food vendors here that don't charge an arm, a leg, and your firstborn for a drink?"
After a quick look around, Launchpad shook his head. "Nope. But there is a water cooler over there." He motioned to a clear spot between booths a short walk away.
"Thanks." Drake walked over and helped himself to a cup, and then returned to Launchpad's side as he took a drink. After swallowing, he made a face.
Curling the edges of his beak a little, Drake replied, "It tastes off."
"Really? What's it taste like?"
"Kind of... dirty," Drake said with an odd look, swishing the pristine-looking water around in the cup with a puzzled expression on his face. "Oh well, I guess you get what you pay for. The cooler must need a new filter. I'm still not paying four bucks for a drink though, no matter how stale the free water is." He chugged the rest of the cup in one big gulp, and followed Launchpad to the next interesting booth.
Honker was standing in the audience area of the Whiffle Boy game contest while Gosalyn energetically played at one of the arcade machines on the stage. The contest was simple, each contestant played once on the machine provided until they lost all their lives, and whoever had the highest score on it at the end won the prize. Simply surviving the game through to the end was not enough. To get a high score, one had to know the locations of the secret bonus power-ups and levels, and play through them as well. Naturally, Gosalyn was an expert on those too, but playing the game so thoroughly meant that she was and would be playing for some time.
Unlike Gosalyn, Honker had not played in the competition. He was not bad at the game, but he knew that Gosalyn and probably a bunch of others were better than him at it, so he did not bother signing up. He did not mind waiting for her and he hoped that she would win. Gosalyn had fun plans for the prize money, intending to purchase more games they both wanted, and as her best friend Honker would reap the benefits of being able to play them when she bought them. Since no one was allowed on the stage except the contestants playing—a measure to avoid cheating or distracting a player into losing their turn unfairly—Honker was a little bored while she was up there. Introverted and shy as he was, he did not feel comfortable talking to other kids he did not know, and of the kids around that he recognized from school, none of them were his friends.
He was waiting for Gosalyn to finish when he felt a rough shove to his back. He turned around and saw his brother wearing a mean-spirited smirk. "What do you want, Tank?"
"Just wondered what you were doing."
"I'm waiting for Gosalyn. When she's done we're going to check out the rest of the convention."
"You're so lame." Tank pulled out the blaster that Herb had bought for him while they were on line and shot Honker in the chest with it. Since it was just a toy, all it did was make a zapping noise and flash a laser-style light beam onto Honker's shirt. "You don't even have any friends other than her here to talk to."
Honker frowned. "Actually I don't mind waiting, and besides, you don't have any other friends with you either. You came here with me and Dad." He looked around. "Where is he?"
"He's over there talking to some other parents or something. And I do so have friends, 'cause I'm cool and you're not." Tank sneered and waved to another boy around his age, a canine with long ears and unruly dark hair brushed more to one side than the other. "Eddie, c'mere. This is my dorky brother I was telling you about."
The dog walked over and stood at Tank's side. He was taller than Tank, but with a lanky build compared to Tank's stocky one. "Haha, I guess you win," he said, staring at Honker in a way that made the younger boy feel intimidated. "He is dorkier than my brother. He's just a preppy mama's boy. He's," he pointed to Honker, "one hundred percent nerd."
While Honker frowned, Tank laughed with his friend. "Yeah, totally. Guess what he's doing? Waiting for his stupid girl friend to finish trying to win the kids' competition."
"He has a girlfriend?" Tank's friend Eddie asked incredulously.
"Oh, no way. Honker'll probably never get a date in his whole life. I mean his best friend. More like his only friend. She's a girl, which fits for a wimp like him. She could beat him up easy."
Both of the older boys laughed again, while Honker glared at his brother. "Shut up, Tank." He muttered under his breath, "Gosalyn could beat you up."
"What was that?" Tank leaned over menacingly in Honker's face, making him flinch.
Tank waved a fist at his brother. "It better be."
Eddie glanced up at the stage, where Gosalyn was still playing intensely at the game console, and then at Honker. "Even if she wins, I bet she won't beat my high score. I hold the current number one slot in the teen division. I don't think anyone will beat it," he said with an air of superiority, folding his arms across his black t-shirt.
Nodding, Tank said, "Yeah, he beat me, so he's really good." Apparently Tank could accept defeat if it came at the hands of someone other than his little brother or his little brother's best friend. "He also showed me some new power-ups I didn't know about."
Honker shrugged. "I'm sure Gosalyn knows them all. She reads the strategy guides more often than her homework."
"Who doesn't, except for a total dork?" retorted Eddie.
"That'd be my brother!" Tank and Eddie indulged in another round of mocking laughter, and then Tank turned to his friend with his hand out. "So since I win, pay up."
"Sure." Eddie pulled the ten bucks he had made the my-brother-is-dorkier bet on and handed it to Tank, who happily pocketed the cash.
"Where is your brother anyway?" asked Tank. "How's Honker worse than him?"
Eddie looked from Tank to Honker, and then back to Tank. "Well he's older than me, not younger, so he's not such a total wimp like your brother is. He's a junior in high school, and I'm just a freshman. But he's not cool at all. He dresses real preppy and hangs out with the dorks in advanced classes and stuff like that. He gets As because he studies a lot, thinks being class president makes him cool," he rolled his dark eyes, "and he's even on the school safety committee."
"What's that? Some kind of hall monitor group?" Tank asked with a disgusted look.
"Oh, your school doesn't have one?"
Tank shook his head. "I don't think so."
"Like you'd know if they did," muttered Honker.
Luckily for Honker, Tank did not hear the snide quip, and instead he gave Eddie a curious look. "Where do you go?"
"St. Owlstine's. I live over in the 'burbs across the bay. Anyway, I know Rill—that's my brother—does all that stuff just to brownnose the teachers, but they eat it all up, and Mom thinks he's perfect or something." He made a face. "Makes me sick. And it gets her on my case a lot more about my grades."
"Oh, I hate that too! Mom and Dad are always saying how good Honker is and how he never gets in trouble," Tank said, enunciating the praise mockingly. "Boy did they have to eat their words the time he was arrested. Now that was awesome."
Eddie looked at Honker in disbelief. "You were arrested?"
"It wasn't my fault. It was a misunderstanding," Honker clarified with a slight edge to his voice. He looked over at the stage imploringly, wishing that Gosalyn would finish soon. How much longer could she take?
Meanwhile, Tank continued to tell the story. "Yeah, they thought he was a pathological liar or something. It was great. He said he saw stuff in the museum being stolen, but they thought he did it. Threw him in a cell and everything, and Mom and Dad had to bail him out. Eventually they had to drop the charges because he didn't do it, but it was really funny when it happened."
Honker glowered at Tank. "Yeah, real funny."
Tank made a mean face at his younger brother and then turned to Eddie. "Come on, he'll be here all day waiting for her to finish. Let's go do something. I'm bored just standing around."
"Did you check out the test plays for new Whiffle Boy: Weasels on Jupiter game over at the development booth yet?"
Tank shook his head. "Not yet. Sounds cool though."
"I didn't get over there yet, but I heard it's awesome," Eddie said enthusiastically. "Great graphics and new nuclear space blasters."
"All right! Let's go check it out." Tank looked over his shoulder at Honker as he and Eddie headed off into the crowd. "Later, loser."
Bushroot was bored out of his gourd as he pushed a sweeper across the rug of the main convention room in keeping with his hotel staff disguise. Actually, he wished he had a gourd with him, at least that might have made him feel less out of place. As it was, he found the hotel lobby plants rather boring to chat with. They mostly whined about how ill-mannered patrons plucked at their leaves, sat on their pots, tossed garbage around their roots, or most disgusting, poured their drinks or peed in them when exceptionally drunk. While Bushroot was naturally sympathetic to such disrespect of his fellow flora, he had enough complaints of his own that he did not feel like listening to more of it after the first hour.
The patrons of the convention he had seen ranged from unremarkable to stereotypically laughable, such as ones in inappropriate or ill-fitting costumes and the ones who seemed like they had absolutely no life outside of Whiffle Boy. Bushroot overheard a couple of girls gushing in graphic detail about the things that they wanted to do to Whiffle Boy, including sexual positions he had never thought of and was fairly sure were anatomically impossible for anyone without some kind of mutant powers. When they went into detail about how they also wanted to see Whiffle Boy perform some of those acts with his arch-enemy the Weasel Kid in "hot hate sex", however, he shuffled out of earshot to preserve the remainder of his sanity.
The vendor area was slightly more interesting, with table upon table of memorabilia and obscure Whiffle-Boy related items being sold at rates that made Liquidator's average deal look reasonable. Bushroot could not believe what they charged, and what fans would pay, for things like a first-run game cartridge signed in metallic silver ink by Whiffle Boy's creator. Another vendor was selling videos of fans dressed up and acting out Whiffle Boy scenes in some kind of bootleg movie that clearly had a dollar-store budget if the preview showing at the booth was any indication. Of course there were the usual vendors selling action figures, pens, pins, comics, game accessories, toy zappers, and all of that. It made Bushroot glad that his plants did not play video games. He did not envy the parents paying for all that junk, although it was obvious that some could afford it. He saw more than one rich kid whip fifty dollar bills out of his wallet like it was nothing. Bushroot smirked. Well, if the ransom of Brant Strongbill fell through, he knew where to recoup some losses. Those cash boxes in the vendor room were getting nicely stuffed with money he could put to much better use.
Bushroot pushed his broom unobtrusively over to the water cooler he had set up as Liquidator's watch point, and rapped on the plastic. "How's it going in there?"
"Cramped and boring, hardly the accommodations advertised at this fine establishment," was the water dog's grumpy response.
"It's not much better out here if it's any consolation." Bushroot leaned on the cooler and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Some of these people scare me. They're weird. And this is coming from St. Canard's resident mutant plant-duck."
"Ah, so you also heard the fascinating technological debate those two had about the particle acceleration rate of Whiffle Boy's zapper versus the Weasel Kid's weapon, hmm?" Liquidator shifted his eyes toward a particularly animated pair of fans arguing by Blaster-Bill Inc.'s table.
Bushroot raised an eyebrow under his bellhop hat. "I'd take that over the girls theorizing on Whiffle Boy's sexuality, experiences, and preferences."
"Four out of five super-villains question your statement that there are girls of legal age here that aren't mommies to the Whiffle Brats." Liquidator let out a snicker of bubbles and then made a face. "Or at least ones that don't look like Megavolt in a dress."
Bushroot followed Liquidator's gaze out into the crowd. "Actually that is Megavolt in his dress."
"I slosh corrected."
Megavolt joined them a moment later. "How're things going? Nice and cool in there?" He smirked at Liquidator.
"Feeling daring and cheeky? Want a powerful wave of refreshment guaranteed to give you a short-out you'll never forget? Keep taunting the irritable water-villain in his bottle."
"Don't tempt me to pull the plug on you," Megavolt retorted, and then got down to business. "Has there been any sign of Darkwing or his pals?"
"I saw a big chump of a duck that looked like Darkwing's sidekick from a distance, but I'm not sure if it was him or not," Liquidator said, leading Bushroot to sigh.
"Great. If his sidekick's here, Darkwing probably is too. We know he plays Whiffle Boy."
Megavolt rolled his eyes in recollection of his recent aggravating experience with Darkwing and the fake Whiffle Boy game. "Yeah. Don't I know it."
"So where's Quackerjack?" asked Bushroot.
"Getting into position." Megavolt handed two of the key cards to the hotel room to Bushroot. "These go to the room we got for stashing stuff. 823."
Bushroot stuffed one into his pocket and glanced at Liquidator, wondering how he was going to fit his key in the cooler. Liquidator answered for him before he could ask. "Put it in a cup and pour it a cold one."
With a puzzled frown, Bushroot did as Liquidator asked, and he and Megavolt both gave the water in the cup a wary look as it sloshed up and around the key, taking on a life of its own separate from the bulk of Liquidator himself. "That is so creepy." Megavolt gave Liquidator a funny look. "Has anyone here drank you?"
"Only a select few convention-goers have been lucky enough to taste the full Liquidator experience," he replied, swirling around restlessly in his jug. "And some may be unlucky when it doesn't agree with them, if I'm feeling especially mean. Forget Montezuma, the Liquidator's revenge is the gastrointestinal disturbance you really want to watch out for!"
Both Megavolt and Bushroot exchanged disgusted looks. "Now that's something Darkwing deserves, full of it as he is," said Bushroot.
"I'm not sure I want to witness it though," Megavolt said, wrinkling his nose and straightening as he adjusted his battery purse again. "I'm heading to my post now. I'm covering the south exit. Licky, I take it you're covering here?"
"Yeah, he's got here and I'm taking the west doors," Bushroot confirmed. "We ought to get into position."
"Yes, you ought to!" Quackerjack's excited whisper cut in from behind. He was still wheeling his serving cart from the hall, although Megavolt noticed that it sat evenly now, no longer over-stuffed with toys. He figured that Quackerjack must have been setting up his booby traps as remote-controlled playthings to spring into action when the time came.
With a zealous look in his eyes, Quackerjack asked, "Do any of you need more weapons? I've still got a couple of modified zappers under here." He giggled. "These dumb video game couch potatoes think their little Whiffle-blasters that they're zapping around here are cool, well, wait until they get a taste of these."
Liquidator's face in the water cooler sloshed as if he was shaking his head no. "Thanks, but I prefer the tried-and-true super-soaker."
Bushroot gestured to a pair of oversized decorative potted palms near the doors he was going to cover. "I've got my backup over there. Them and a few special seeds I planted in their pots with them."
Quackerjack gave the plants a curious look. "Do they want one? I could give one to each…"
"Better not. Broad-leaf types don't always have precise aim."
"Oh." Quackerjack seemed disappointed. "What about you, Megsy?"
Megavolt held up his hands, his purse swinging backwards rather comically in the awkward movement. "I'm a walking zapper."
"It never hurts to have a backup to your battery." Quackerjack shoved one of the blasters into his hands. "You know how Darkwing loves to short you out."
Grumbling at the reminder of the numerous times Darkwing had used such a tactic to defeat him, Megavolt replied, "And where am I supposed to carry this? My battery takes up this whole thing." He patted his purse.
"Improvise!" Quackerjack suggested cheerfully.
"Okay, fine." Megavolt thought for a moment, and then lifted the skirt of his dress and stuffed the zapper into the top of one of the boots he was wearing underneath. While they were feminine-style boots, he had flatly refused to wear the heels Quackerjack had initially suggested on the grounds that he could not walk in the things, much less execute a kidnapping and ransom plan in them. As he was bent over stashing his weapon, Megavolt heard Bushroot snickering and more giddy bubbling coming from the water cooler, and he looked up and glared at them both. "Don't you have some soil to sweep up by the west doors?" he snapped at Bushroot.
"Sure, Madam," the disguised plant-duck sneered back, and pushed his broom over toward his post.
Quackerjack clapped his hands together in anticipation. "All right, let's all get into position. Whiffle Boy will be on stage in twenty minutes, right after they make their dumb announcement about who's in the lead for the convention game competition, like it matters since we're going to put an end to the convention anyway." He bounced gleefully next to his cart. "It's almost playtime!"
Megavolt nodded and headed for his post, pausing only a moment to spark a warning at the water cooler that he could have sworn made a sarcastic wolf-whistle in his direction as he departed.
As the time drew closer to four o'clock, the crowd at the convention began to gravitate more toward the stage at the end of the hall, leaving the booths and tables emptier than previously. Although fan opinion of the Whiffle Boy movie was low, the notion of meeting the actor who had played Whiffle Boy, Brant Strongbill, was a different story. Love it or hate it, he had actually portrayed their hero—albeit in a poor cinematic representation compared to the award winning games, many thought—so they were eager to meet him. He was scheduled to come on stage and give an introduction, and then do a question and answer session where fans could ask him whatever questions they wanted. Afterward, he would take a seat on the stage and sign autographs for a few hours, according to the flyer. Smiling maniacally from where he had positioned himself near the stage in his bellhop costume, pretending to be tidying up after the crowd, however, Quackerjack had no intention of letting the show get farther than the introduction. He was nearly bursting with excitement as he waited for the opportune moment; the hour of revenge was finally upon his hated enemy, Whiffle Boy!
With a cue card in hand and unaware that anything was amiss, a nicely dressed convention administrator came up on the stage to announce their special guest. "May I please have your attention, everyone?" he said into the microphone, causing a hush to fall over the crowd. "Good afternoon, Whiffle Boy fans of St. Canard! It's wonderful to see you all here, and we hope you've been having a great time with your fellow Whiffle fans socking it to the Weasel Kid." A convention-goer in a nearly professional quality Weasel Kid costume made a playful growl and shook his fist in the air from the right side of the crowd not far from the stage, making much of the crowd as well as the announcer laugh. "Well, you can take that up with Whiffle Boy in a few minutes, my furry friend. But before we bring him out on stage, I'd like to announce the current standings of the First Annual Whiffle-Con Playoffs."
A round of applause, whoops, and cheers sounded throughout the audience. "Now remember folks, the competition is still open for contestants until eight o'clock tonight. If you haven't played your turn yet, you still have a chance to topple these reigning Whiffle-Champs from their thrones before the deadline. For the rest of you who have played, thank you for making this quite an exciting competition. We've got a crowd full of true Whiffle-Boy experts here!" He paused and looked down at his cue card. "First up, the child division! Our current number one contender for ages 12 and under is," he paused dramatically and smiled, "a familiar name, folks. Certainly those of you who were at Whiffle Town for the big contest will remember this name: Miss Gosalyn Mallard!"
"Wahoo!" Gosalyn hollered, jumping with glee and hugging a slightly startled Honker, who had to grab his glasses. "I'm winning, Honk! Yes! I rock!" She turned toward Drake, who, along with Launchpad and much to Drake's dismay, Herb, had caught up with them. Tank and Eddie were also nearby, although Tank kept enough distance from them to make it clear he was not hanging out with his dad or his brother. "What do you say to that, Dad? I told you'd I kick weasel tail," she said triumphantly.
"Yep yep yep, I knew you would all along. You are my daughter, after all."
"Right," she replied with a wry smile. Gosalyn then stuck her tongue out at Tank, who had looked over upon hearing her name, for his remarks earlier.
On stage the announcer continued, "Next up, the teen division, for our Whiffle-Con players between the ages of 13 and 17. Holding the number one slot for the teen division is Mr. Eddie Flood."
Tank's friend Eddie let out a loud cheer and threw up his arms in excitement at being named officially as the current winner. He exchanged a high five with Tank, and then with a couple of other boys that they were hanging out with.
Elsewhere in the convention hall, the name caught someone else's attention; a super-villain incognito in a water cooler who shared the boy's surname. Nobody noticed, of course, but the water inside it began to bubble, and Liquidator's eyes were wide with shock. No, it can't be him, can it? They don't even live in St. Canard, the stunned Liquidator thought, suddenly feeling more confined than ever in that five gallon jug. From his position he could not see nearly enough of the crowd to be sure, but if it was even a possibility, he had to act fast…
"And finally," the announcer went on, "the current number one contender in the adult division, ages 18 and up: Mr. Sam Paddlesworth!"
Another gleeful cheer rose out of the crowd, that time from a skinny duck in his late twenties who wore thick glasses with a Whiffle Boy helmet over them, giving him a somewhat comical look. It became more comical when he waved his blaster—another successful sale by Blaster-Bill Inc.—in the air and shot it toward the ceiling with a victorious cry of "Whiffle Ho!" His friends and those surrounding him cheered with him and congratulated him, and the announcer smiled patiently at the audience while he waited for the excitement to die down.
Once it did, he took up the microphone again. "Congratulations to all three of you! But don't get too comfortable in those winners' seats yet. Remember folks, if you haven't played, you've still got a chance to grab that seat for yourself! Only time will tell if Whiffle-Con is saving its best players for last." He smiled. "And speaking of Whiffle Boy's players, let me now take the chance to introduce the one who had the chance to play Whiffle Boy like no other, on the big screen! Will you all please give a hearty Whiffle-Ho welcome to Mr. Brant Strongbill?" The announcer then bowed toward the right side of the stage, where Brant Strongbill, in full Whiffle Boy regalia, strode out onto the stage brandishing his blaster with the confidence only a super-powered video game hero could have.
He twirled his zapper around his thumb and approached the podium. "Thanks," he said to the announcer, and then smiled at the crowd. "It's great to be here. Whiffle-Ho!"
An energetic round of applause, accompanied with whoops, hoots, and hollers thundered through the crowd, drowning out every other noise in the room. The costumed Weasel Kid, eager to continue his role-play, hopped up and down and shot his weapon—a nice replica of the Weasel Kid's—up over the heads of the crowd in Strongbill's direction.
"Oh-ho!" Strongbill exclaimed, pretending to dodge the fake shot. "What's this? I thought I smelled the foul stench of weasel in here," he said in a melodramatic tone, and raised his blaster. "Well I have only one thing to say to you—suck eggs!" He then fired his blaster, which was not quite as cool as Blaster-Bill Inc.'s and only flashed from the tip with a sound effect rather than shooting projectile show lasers, back at him.
The costumed Weasel Kid clutched the side of his head and shouted, "I'll get you for this, Whiffle Boy!" and then pretended to fall over. The crowd erupted into laughter, while Quackerjack laughed for another reason—malicious delight. His moment of triumph had at last arrived. Pulling off his bellhop hat, he replaced it with his favored jester hat and kicked off the costume shoes as well. He retrieved his regular clown shoes from where they were concealed among his cleaning supplies and put them on also, already feeling much more like his wacky self even though he was not able to change completely into his jester clothes. Quackerjack then picked up the other item he had stashed with his shoes, a dual-chambered toy bazooka he had designed especially for this occasion.
Up on the stage, Strongbill concluded his introductory speech. "So, Whiffle-fans, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your very warm welcome." He glanced at the costumed Weasel Kid. "Yes, even you, goofball Weasel Kid fans," he said with a note of friendly jest. "Let's open up the floor to questions." He gave a dazzling smile to the crowd. "Who wants to be first?"
Quackerjack chose that moment to make his grand introduction. "I do!" he exclaimed, and fired his bazooka-like weapon at the stage, sending a high velocity projectile straight at Strongbill. It beaned him on the helmet, shattering on impact, and covered him in a gooey yellowish mess. The stunned actor realized a moment later that he had shot an egg at him, but he did not have time to get a word in before Quackerjack leapt up onto the stage in an agile bounce. "Nice to meet you face to face, Whiffle Boy," he sneered with thinly controlled rage that showed through his smile and otherwise humorous façade. "It's nice to see it in person before I smash it in and make you pay for ruining my life." Quackerjack leveled his gun at Strongbill. "It's play-time!"
"Who are you? What is this?" Strongbill glanced out over the equally startled crowd and backed away from what he assumed was an insane fan.
Down in the crowd, Drake tensed and exchanged looks with Launchpad and Gosalyn. "It's Quackerjack!"
"You were right, DW!" Launchpad said in an anxious whisper.
"I knew that nefarious nut-job would turn up here! And it looks like he's going after Brant Strongbill."
"We've got to do something," agreed Launchpad.
Drake leaned down to Gosalyn. "Cover for me, Gos. Darkwing Duck is needed to cramp this creep's criminal caper!" He then vanished into a nearby booth.
"But Dad, I want to—" she started, but Drake was already gone, "—help." She frowned with dismay.
On stage, Quackerjack fired a few more eggs at Strongbill. "How does it feel for you to be the one sucking eggs for once?" he taunted.
With a scowl, Strongbill wiped the eggshells and goo off as best he could while ignoring the sting to his body and the larger one to his pride. It was then that he remembered something he had been told back when he had been filming the Whiffle Boy movie, something about a crazy former toy-maker that had a grudge against Whiffle Boy. There had been enhanced security all around the set at the time to avoid any disruptions. He had not worried much about it back then, and since nothing had happened during the filming or premiere of the movie, he had not given it a thought since. Now he wished he had paid more attention. No longer interested in maintaining an act, he shouted, "Security!"
"Security's all tied up right now," Quackerjack informed him gleefully. He turned his insane grin toward the crowd and called out into the microphone, "Isn't that right, my fearsome friends?"
That was the cue for Megavolt, Bushroot, and Liquidator to spring into action. Throwing off his hat and jacket and literally growing out of his bellhop pants, Bushroot climbed onto the pot holding one of the potted palms. He sent them out into the crowd while a thick tangle of vines began growing out of the pot parallel to him, weaving across and blocking the west doors so no one could escape. Liquidator burst out of the water cooler in a powerful rush, sending the empty jug careening into the crowd. He formed himself into a tall and imposing form and then summoned a wave to topple the two closest booths, which sent those standing nearest to them to scatter in a panic. Completing the chaos, Megavolt released a burst of high voltage in a full circle around him in the center of the crowd, shocking those nearest to him and knocking two out cold. Glad to finally be free of the miserable purse containing his battery pack, he ripped it out and threw the torn bag aside after putting the battery pack on his back like normal, over his loathed dress.
A full scale panic erupted in the crowd as the three super-villains showed themselves in tandem with Quackerjack advancing on Strongbill up on the stage. Quackerjack pulled a set of his deadly wind-up teeth from his pocket. "Now it's time for you and me to have a little chat, Whiffle Boy." He thrust the teeth toward Strongbill's face, but the actor instinctively blocked the move with his arm. The teeth grazed that instead and tore through his costume, and Strongbill's eyes widened in alarm behind his helmet as he realized how serious the situation was.
Quackerjack switched the setting on his gun and fired several shots out into the crowd. Instead of eggs, miniature sets of his chattering teeth shot out, frightening everyone further. In the second that Quackerjack's attention wavered, Strongbill broke into a run, but Quackerjack was not about to let him get away so easily. "Oh no you don't!" Pulling a remote from his other pocket, Quackerjack pressed a button that summoned a small fleet of toy soldiers that he had planted in an empty box on the side of the stage. When whatever they shot hit Strongbill in the leg and torso, it stung and drew blood, and the actor stumbled to the side and right into Quackerjack's clutches. "Tag!" Quackerjack cackled as he grabbed him. "You're it."
He did not have the chance to taunt him further, however, before another theatrical entrance pre-empted his show. A cloud of purple smoke erupted on the left side of the stage and a familiar voice boomed throughout the convention hall. "I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am the power outage that erases your unsaved game! I am Darkwing Duck!"
"Darkwing!" Quackerjack sneered at the caped crime-fighter. "So glad you could come play with us."
"You'll never get away with turning this into your own criminal convention, Quackerjack!" asserted Darkwing. "Now let him go or suck gas!"
Quackerjack made a tsk-tsk noise. "A big Whiffle fanboy like you ought to know the appropriate phrase is 'suck eggs'. But if it's all the same, I'd rather just chew you out." He then threw the teeth he had used on Strongbill at Darkwing. They chattered viciously as they sailed through the air and landed on his fedora. Darkwing swatted them away before they could do him any harm, but no sooner had he dispensed with them than he found himself surrounded by Quackerjack's toy soldiers. They fired at his legs and feet, forcing him to leap back in the opposite direction from Quackerjack and Strongbill to avoid injury.
"Sorry I can't stay to play with you right now, Darkwing, but Whiffle Boy and I have unfinished business." Quackerjack let out a mad giggle and pulled a handful of jacks out of his pocket. He loaded all but one of them into the canister of the bazooka that had previously held the eggs, and then thrust the weapon roughly against the actor's midsection. With a cruel smile he threatened Strongbill, "Now go where I say, unless you want your Whiffle-guts waffled right here on stage." As a demonstration Quackerjack then threw the remaining jack in his hand off the stage and onto the floor below where convention attendees scurried to and fro in terror. There was a bright flash and a loud bang as the jack hit the floor, and Strongbill realized grimly that they must have been loaded with gunpowder or some other type of explosive. The crazy villain was right; he had no choice but to do what he said. Numbly, he followed Quackerjack's nudging toward the edge of the stage.
A quick shot of a net canister from his gas gun allowed Darkwing to entrap and incapacitate the toy soldiers surrounding him, but to his dismay he was in a position to see both Quackerjack getting away with Strongbill and the havoc being wreaked throughout the entire convention hall at the hands of the other villains. Normally Darkwing liked to think that he could hold his own against the Fearsome Five—even if they seemed to be down to four and missing Negaduck, though he was hardly going to complain about that!—but there was too much going on and too many people in peril at once to help them all. While Quackerjack was abducting Brant Strongbill, out in the crowd Darkwing saw vines and ferns overrunning the vendor booths and absconding with valuables while larger trees literally shook down frightened Whiffle-Con attendees. At the far end of the room Darkwing spotted Bushroot planted at the door, sprouting and directing more plants from the pots to terrorize convention-goers and keep them from escaping. Darkwing could also see Liquidator tearing through the crowd as a wave, frightening and intimidating everyone in his path, stopping only to either change direction or launch a different attack at someone or something in his way.
Then Darkwing heard Launchpad's alarmed voice above the din of the crowd. "DW!"
And there's Megavolt, Darkwing realized with dread as he spotted his sidekick facing off with him. The rat, wearing a tattered dress and disheveled wig which Darkwing belatedly figured must have been a disguise to get into the convention unnoticed, had Launchpad and a small group cornered. Launchpad stood in front of them and was trying valiantly to protect them, and to Darkwing's horror he saw several children in the group huddled behind his sidekick. It was only a small comfort that he did not see Gosalyn among them; he only hoped that she was safe wherever in the crowd she was.
Megavolt advanced toward Launchpad, smiling viciously and arcing electrical energy between his fingertips. "I think deep-fried dumb sidekick is on the dinner menu tonight!"
Pragmatism forced Darkwing to make the hard decision of leaving Strongbill to fend for himself in favor of helping Launchpad and the innocents behind him, even though choices like that never sat well with him. I never thought I'd wish Gizmoduck was here to give a hand, he thought grimly, and cast a parting glare at Quackerjack. "Don't think you're getting away with this, Quackerjack!" he warned, and then vaulted off the stage to deal with Megavolt. "I'm pulling the plug on your cooking plans, Sparky!" Darkwing shouted, accompanying his announcement with a flying web kick.
Gosalyn, still with the Muddlefoots, saw Darkwing leap off the stage to fight Megavolt, who let out an angered shout of obscenities at Darkwing's intervention and at being called "Sparky". Her eyes widened in horror when she also noticed Quackerjack shoving Brant Strongbill off of the stage toward who knew where. She turned to Honker with an urgent look. "Honker, we've gotta do something! We've gotta either help Darkwing or stop Quackerjack ourselves."
"You're not going to do any such thing," Herb said sternly, although it was clear that it was rooted in concern. "We're gonna stick together where it's safe. Your father'd be beside himself if anything happened to you, Gosalyn. Until we find him—"
"Aaahh!" A holler from Tank interrupted them, and they saw that he had been grabbed by one of the numerous vines slithering throughout the hall. "It's got me! Help!" He began to flail as another part of the vine tangle began probing in his pockets for his wallet or any other valuables.
Eddie, who had still been with Tank when the chaos broke loose, stomped down hard on part of the vine holding Tank. "Let him go!" Unfortunately for Eddie that only antagonized the plant and alerted it to a new target. A vine flicked out and wrapped around his ankle, knocking him to the floor.
Gosalyn saw it happen and rushed over to help. "Hey! You let them go, you jungle reject!" With instincts she had honed in her stint as Quiverwing Quack, she grabbed a box-cutting knife that she spotted in a vendor booth and plunged it into the green limb holding Tank. Herb took a kick at the plant as well, but he was as out of shape as he was well-meaning. He hurt his foot worse than the plant, and wound up on his rump for the effort. However, the combined efforts of him and Gosalyn did open a window of opportunity for Honker to grab one of the vines and coil it around another to get them out of the way, and just as Honker had hoped, the plant partially tied itself into a knot and dropped Tank. Tank had just gotten back onto his feet when he heard Eddie yelling.
"Help me! Tank! The freaking thing's got my ankle!"
Tank muttered a few words that normally would have earned him a stern reprimand from Herb, who Honker was now helping up, but before any of them could reach Eddie, a surge of water flooded past them. Tank and Gosalyn were thrown backwards by the wave, and Honker and Herb instinctively shuffled back to avoid being knocked over themselves. Gosalyn was the first to recover. "Hey, are you okay?" She looked around wildly for her friends, first spotting Honker and Herb, and then Tank, who was soaked from head to toe like she was, but otherwise all right. The vine plant and Eddie, however, were both gone.
Neither was seriously hurt, though. Liquidator was already on his way to return the former to its master to be healed and redirected, while the latter was being taken to the same individual for safe-keeping. The water dog forced his way through the crowd and what was left of the convention booths to the west doors where Bushroot was stationed. Bushroot approached Liquidator as he arrived, giving him a puzzled look when he dropped a plant and a teenage boy at his feet. "Today only, I have a very limited and special buy one, get one free offer," Liquidator told him. "Your plant needs the tender loving care of Bushroot brand Miracle-Gro to be an effective pickpocket once more, and the boy needs to be put somewhere safe and secure immediately. As a super-villain on the go, I don't have time to explain, but I don't want any harm to come to him, so act now." Liquidator's voice took on a note of urgency as he glided back toward the fray.
Bushroot glanced down at Eddie, who was disoriented and clutching his midsection as if he was either sore, wanted to puke, or both. "All right," Bushroot agreed, pausing a moment to direct some of his loot-laden plants to the carts where the goods were being stashed before turning back to Liquidator. "But who is he?"
"He's my son," Liquidator replied, and then without another word he dove backward into the crowd once more.
Stunned, Bushroot stared for a moment at Liquidator's watery wake before turning his attention to the boy at his roots. Although he knew that Liquidator, or rather Bud Flood as he was prior to his accident, had an ex-wife, Bushroot had never heard him mention any children. However, mid-crime was not the time to ponder the matter, so for the time being he just honored Liquidator's wishes and summoned one of his stronger vine tangles to him. "See that janitorial closet?" Bushroot gestured to a door not far from where they were. Ironically it was the same closet he had gotten the broom he had earlier when he had first taken on his disguise in the convention hall. "Lock him in there and no matter what, don't let him out or anyone but me or Liquidator in. If you need any help, bring in as many plants as you have to, or get me."
Eddie finally started to regain his bearings and realized that not only was he no longer anywhere near Tank or his friends, but instead he was at the feet of a super-villain that was giving orders to have him incarcerated. He looked up in a panic, having been too out of it from the dizzying water ride across the convention hall to hear anything but bits of Liquidator and Bushroot's conversation, including Liquidator's statement of who he was. "Hey!" he protested as he stared at Bushroot and saw the vine that the plant-duck had summoned approach. It gave its master an obedient little salute and then wound around Eddie's limbs, hoisting him up. Eddie let out a yelp as he was lifted into the air, the arrogant bravado he had shown at Tank's side to Honker earlier all gone now, and struggled fiercely.
Ignoring the boy's protests, Bushroot told his vine, "Keep him quiet, too." It obliged by curling a stem over Eddie's mouth, and Bushroot watched as the plant carried him to the closet and secured him inside as bidden. Bushroot then knelt at his injured vine's side, caressing the wound Gosalyn had given it with tenderness. "Now, to fix you up."
Across the room, the furious Megavolt had gained a temporary advantage over Darkwing and Launchpad. While Megavolt had taken a few more painful Quack Fu belts from the caped crime fighter, Darkwing had failed to consider the conductivity of the metal folding chair he had leapt up on to gloat over the fallen villain's groaning form. In a moment of irony that Quackerjack would have no doubt found hilarious if he had witnessed it, Megavolt had just been close enough to touch the leg of the chair with his middle finger while Darkwing was standing on it. The resultant yowl and thump of the zapped Darkwing then falling off of the chair and onto the floor had been music to Megavolt's ears. When Launchpad, after shooing those he had been shielding away to find a safer spot, knelt to see if Darkwing was all right, Megavolt nailed him with a painful burst of electricity as well.
It had not been enough to keep the heroic pair down and out for long, but it was enough for Megavolt to recover and get back on his feet. "It's been fun, Darkwing, but I have to enlighten these Whiffle-dorks into giving me their money." He grinned, sparking more electricity between his fingertips. "My Light Liberation Crusade isn't going to fund itself, you know!"
Gritting his teeth, Darkwing rose to his feet. "The only LLC you're going to incorporate is yourself into prison, Megavolt!" He thrust out his gas gun. "Now surrender or suck gas!"
Megavolt grabbed a cord that ran along the floor, one that once powered the vendor booth that they stood in which was now destroyed. "Eat amperes," Megavolt retorted, channeling his energy into the cord and causing the stereo it was plugged into behind Darkwing to explode. Instinctively both Darkwing and Launchpad hit the floor, saving them from injury. Darkwing then saw an opportunity as Liquidator rushed past behind them. The watery villain was gone as fast as he had come, but he had left something key to defeating Megavolt in his wake—a watery trail.
"I'm on a low-voltage diet, Sparky, so you can have my portion," Darkwing quipped back as he fired his grappling hook. It grabbed onto one of the still-standing cubicle-style walls of a vendor booth not far from Megavolt's side, and Darkwing used it to pull himself up and over. Megavolt reacted just as Darkwing predicted, and sidestepped to a more advantageous position—one right in the middle of Liquidator's residual puddle.
A confident grin lit up Darkwing's masked features as he made a casual landing, enjoying the sight of Megavolt sizzling and shaking as he shorted out from stepping into the water while still sparking from an attack. "Yep yep yep, you never learn, Megavolt, do you?" He shook his head in a condescending manner at the villain. "Your felonious fantasies are fated to fizzle as long as Darkwing Duck is around to protect the populace!" Darkwing folded his arms arrogantly, clearly pleased with himself.
Furious and more than a little sore from his short-out, Megavolt remembered the blaster that Quackerjack had given him to stash in his boot. "Darkwing," he groaned in disgust, reaching for the concealed weapon beneath his dress. "Don't you ever shut up?"
Darkwing's eyes widened in an offended glare; he did not expect to be mocked after delivering such a dazzling defeat. He was about to fire back a witty retort as Launchpad joined his side.
Meanwhile Megavolt grinned, for apparently Darkwing did not expect what he did next either, which was to pull out Quackerjack's modified Whiffle-zapper and fire three shots in rapid succession at the hero and his sidekick. Darkwing barely had time to let out a "yipe!" before leaping out of the way of the unexpected attack and toward cover. "I didn't see Blaster-Bill Inc. selling those!"
Unfortunately while Darkwing was lucky enough to avoid being hit by Megavolt's zapper, Launchpad was not. Darkwing's loyal sidekick let out a loud yowl of pain as one of the lasers struck him directly in the arm, just above the elbow. It seared through his bomber jacket and feathers and deeply into his flesh.
Pleased with that shot, Megavolt got to his feet and took a few more pot shots at Darkwing where he was crouched behind an up-ended table for cover. "Game over, Darkwing! It was a blast, though!" Megavolt cackled before running off into the crowd to continue his looting with the others.
Ordinarily Darkwing would have pursued, but a quick look over at Launchpad told him that his sidekick's wound had to take precedence. "LP!" Alarmed, he knelt at his friend's side. Launchpad was wincing, doing his best to hold it together, but it was obvious from the unnatural way he clutched his arm that the wound was too serious to put off tending to. "LP, are you okay?"
"Yeah. Fine." Launchpad forced a reassuring smile. "Go on and get him, DW. I'll bandage it or something." He started to relax his fingers from where he held his wound, but the way his eyes widened and the way he shook and swallowed when he tried to do so made it clear that he needed real medical attention, and fast.
Darkwing glanced out at the chaos in the crowd, still far from under control. Screams rose everywhere and Darkwing could still see plants looting and terrorizing as well as Liquidator roughing up some hapless convention-goer. He also knew that even though he could not see him, Megavolt must be up to no good, and the fact that he did not see Quackerjack did not make him feel any better. Brant Strongbill was nowhere to be seen either, and it was an easy guess that he was in the demented duck's clutches, enduring who knew what for the crime of portraying Whiffle Boy in a movie. "Don't you move, LP. Just take it easy. I'll get you help."
A temporary answer to his quandary came in the form of Gosalyn and Honker. "Dad!" Gosalyn gave him a big hug and then noticed Launchpad's position and injury. "Oh no, Launchpad, what happened? Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine, kiddo," Launchpad said through gritted teeth. He tried to get up to a standing position, but without proper use of his arms to balance himself, he only shuffled on the floor until Honker helped him up.
"Megavolt shot him. He's shorted out, but he's got some kind of Whiffle Boy gun that shoots real lasers," Darkwing warned them. "Quackerjack must've made it as some kind of sick joke on Whiffle Boy."
"That's not the only thing he's done, Sir," Honker said with a sigh. "We just helped a group over there put a huge teddy bear that was kicking with razor claws and stealing from people out of commission."
Gosalyn nodded angrily. "That creep loaded this place up with nasty toys. I don't know where he went though, but he had Brant Strongbill with him. I saw them heading behind the stage before we got personal with one of Bushroot's plants that tried to get Tank and his friend."
"Are Tank and Herb all right?" asked Darkwing. Normally he would not be inclined to express concern about the Muddlefoots, but even as annoying as he found them, he certainly did not want to see any harm come to them.
"Dad and Tank are fine," said Honker. "But we—"
"Good," Darkwing cut the boy off. "Because I need you and Gosalyn to get Launchpad out of here and to the emergency room."
"No 'buts', LP. You're hurt and I won't let you lose your arm, which you might if you don't see a doctor and soon," Darkwing argued sternly. "Bushroot has plants at every exit, but he's only guarding the one set of doors. I'm going to clear our way to the fire escape instead. By now I'm sure the hotel knows what's going on and the police have been notified. Make sure you get Launchpad out and to the hospital and as many of these people as you can out, too. If they're only after loot, Quackerjack and his pals will probably cut and run once we break through their defenses."
Gosalyn looked up at her father. "What about you, Dad? You need help, and so does everyone else stuck in here with those super-powered jerks. And Brant Strongbill too, Quackerjack's still got him."
"I know, Gos." Darkwing sighed. "We just have to hope that whatever Quackerjack's doing to him, it's not fatal, and we can rescue him once we get all these people out of here and these guys defeated." He shook his head. "I never would've expected them to plan something like this, especially without Negaduck."
"At least he's not here." Gosalyn frowned as she went to Launchpad's side while Honker took the other.
Darkwing made a face. "Yeah well, let's not jinx ourselves by asking for it; we've got our hands full as it is."
The four of them made their way toward the fire escape. As they did so, several other frightened Whiffle-Con attendees spotted them and joined them, creating a small group that attracted unwanted additional attention from nearby plants and toys under the villains' control. Darkwing could not really blame them; they were frightened and wanted out of there as badly as he wanted to get them and everyone else out. Fortunately, some were more helpful than they were a hindrance. One dog with a take-charge attitude told Darkwing that he had been in the army for six years, and he certainly held his own against an aggressive fern that tried to get the better of the group. Another member of their entourage was a duck woman with a mean-looking face that turned out to be quite adept at brawling; Honker mused that Tank would probably like a girl like her and was actually glad that his brother was not with them to get pointers. A third, who had been at the convention as a vendor selling Whiffle Boy costume items, tossed them his stock of Whiffle Boy helmets to wear for safety before he joined them in finding a way out. Eventually they managed to overtake the last plant guarding the door, a particularly nasty vine tangle that kept generating new limbs seemingly out of nowhere, by getting it to overwhelm itself. Darkwing had everyone throw whatever they could at it while he sent a teenage boy with them to sneak over and open the door.
In reality it had taken only seconds, but it felt like an eternity to Darkwing before the door came open. Being a fire exit, a loud alarm immediately went off as it did, signaling everyone in the hall, convention-goer and villain alike. Without wasting time, Darkwing then shoved the kid, a lanky canine boy, out the door first. Gosalyn and Honker, steadying the injured Launchpad, were ushered through next, followed by as many of the crowd as Darkwing could direct out until Liquidator showed up to stop him.
The water dog rose into a tall and intimidating form in front of the caped hero. "Stop unwanted leaks from your convention with a Liquidator brand power-wash!" He unleashed a powerful wave of water out on Darkwing that slammed him hard against the wall, and he sneered at the pinned duck. "Guaranteed to scrub away unwanted crime-fighters, or your money back!"
Darkwing rolled to the floor, stunned and sore, while Liquidator moved to block the door to keep anyone else from escaping. However, thanks to the alarm everyone in the hall now knew of the potential escape, and the power of a panicked crowd all moving in one direction proved too much even for one of the most powerful super-villains of St. Canard to handle. Sheer numbers overwhelmed Liquidator—and nearly trampled Darkwing, desperately trying to get upright again as frightened people pushed past him in the hopes of getting out—and the villain was pounded down into a thick puddle as Whiffle-Con attendants stomped and sloshed over and through him.
Out on the floor, Megavolt and Bushroot saw the tide turning, and they decided to play their hand by using the distraction of the escaping convention-goers as a way to secure the loot they had gotten. Now that the west doors were being ignored, Bushroot had his plants smuggle the carts of loot out of them while Megavolt directed the plants and toys still cleaning up valuables on the floor toward the exit with their hauls.
Unable to rise back up and stop the escaping crowd, Liquidator changed tactics. He flattened himself to an innocuous puddle and let the masses pile over him while he flowed back and out of the way of the crowd. Behind Darkwing now, he then rose into his water-dog shape watching the hero, allowing him to think he was secure in his victory as the convention-goers fled. He had one last trick up his proverbial sleeve, and he grinned as he had not had a chance to try it on such a large scale until that moment. It would not stop them from escaping, but it would give them a miserable time on their way out and buy him and his fellow super-villains a little time to get the most of their now-quashed looting caper. Closing his eyes and remaining still, Liquidator focused his will and used his powers to call to all of the water that had been recently under his control, especially that which had been drank by unsuspecting convention attendants while he had been undercover. The water took on characteristics akin to his thoughts, and Liquidator began to visualize all of his water to be nauseating, roiling, and hot.
Moments later, random individuals throughout the crowd, both in the room and outside, clutched at their sides in agony and doubled over, including Darkwing Duck. All of a sudden the flapping terror of St. Canard felt like it was his guts that were flapping, and twisting and burning. He let out a strangled gasp as he crumpled to the floor, clutching at his side.
"Darkwing Duck!" A few concerned individuals in the crowd that were altruistic enough to care more about the fate of the hero that secured their escape rather than their own immediate sense of self-preservation called out to him. Two of them came over to hoist him up and carry him out with them, while Liquidator surveyed his handiwork with smug satisfaction. He had not realized that Darkwing Duck drank him; it was a shame he had not paid more attention to the faces of those that had, he thought, otherwise he might have learned his secret identity. Regardless, he could punish him now. He focused specifically on Darkwing that time and made the water in his system as restless and painful as he could, eliciting a delightful groan of agony from the hero as he did. Liquidator was still savoring the sight of that when Quackerjack came up behind him in the now practically-deserted convention hall.
"Licky! What did you do?"
"I told you, the Liquidator's Revenge is the gastrointestinal misery of champions," he replied to the other villain with a cruel grin. He noticed that Quackerjack had Brant Strongbill with him, tied to a serving cart with jump ropes. The actor's bill was gagged and a Mr. History doll was bound to his chest, prattling off boring historical trivia in a monotone to sap his will to do anything but sleep.
Quackerjack let out a gleeful giggle. "Will it kill him?"
Liquidator frowned as Darkwing's benefactors got him outside. "Probably not, results vary with distance," the watery villain said with a note of disappointment. "I can guarantee pain and suffering to at least a small degree, however, enough to buy us time to relocate our valuables to better location, location, location."
"I was thinking the same thing," Quackerjack agreed, and held up Mr. Banana Brain. "Let's get the loot to the warehouse hideout on the south side, Clyde. This convention's finito, Benito!"
"Far be it from the Liquidator to argue with the fine fruity opinion of Mr. Banana Brain! Inform the others that it's time to make the great escape, and I'll make sure they know the ransom price is right." He gestured to the fire door and the escaped Whiffle-Con attendees beyond it.
"Make it nice and big, too. We know how popular Whiffle Boy is with how many losers were at this convention." Quackerjack sneered in disgust. "They ought to pay through their beaks to have his hide back in one piece just for having such bad taste."
Liquidator nodded agreeably. "Certainly. The Liquidator aims to please." As Quackerjack began to push the cart with the unconscious Strongbill on it back toward the exits where Megavolt and Bushroot were helping the plants get away with their ill-gotten gains, Liquidator added, "And tell Bushroot to send the special package directly to the greenhouse to Spike. Experts agree that there's no need to have that sent to the warehouse."
Quackerjack gave him a suspicious look. "What is it? Is it valuable?"
"You have my ironclad guarantee that it's not loot of any monetary value or interest to you or Megavolt, just something for Spike to play with. Besides, independent surveys say that Spike can't tell the difference between loot and a chew toy, so only a fool would give him something valuable."
That explanation satisfied Quackerjack; like the others he knew that Bushroot's fly trap was not the most discriminating in what it munched on. The stitches in his clown shoes were a testament to that. "All right. Catch you at the hideout then, Licky!" Quackerjack then broke into a run as he pushed the cart with Strongbill on it, and made it do a wheelie on a smooth patch of floor as he headed for the opposite end of the room.
When he arrived, both Megavolt and Bushroot greeted him with optimistic and pleased looks. "Darkwing's taken care of?" It seemed as if Bushroot thought that was almost too good to be true.
"Yup! Playtime may be over for us, but it'll be over for Darkwing longer." Quackerjack grinned. "Licky did something to him. I think he drank him by accident." He giggled again, amused by the mental image of Darkwing doubled over in pain. "And to think, he complained about my brilliant water bottle disguise."
"It might've had something to do with the brand logo on it," Bushroot pointed out.
"Besides, we all complained about your stupid disguises," said Megavolt, obviously still bitter about the ugly purse, wig, and dress, the last of which he still had on, although it was now tattered and burned from the fighting and short-out.
Quackerjack stuck out his tongue. "They worked, didn't they?"
Megavolt just glowered back at the duck and returned to the more important matter at hand. "Well if he took care of Darkwing, then we should be in the clear. I shot the sidekick pretty good with this earlier." He patted the zapper that was now stuffed into a makeshift belt that he had made out of an electrical cord.
Casting an anxious glance at the door, Bushroot suggested, "We ought to get out of here while the getting's good then. Now that all the people are out, the police are bound to show up."
"That's what I came over to tell you. We're going to rendezvous at my hideout on the south side," said Quackerjack. He bounced up and down where he stood gleefully. It had been a while since a caper had gone so well, especially with Darkwing involved.
"All the loot goes there too, right, and him?" Megavolt gestured to Strongbill.
With a nod Quackerjack held up Mr. Banana Brain and had him answer, "That's the plan, Stan." He then turned toward Bushroot and added in his normal voice, "Oh, and Licky told me to tell you that his special package goes straight to the greenhouse to Spike?" Quackerjack gave him a curious look, along with Megavolt who did the same.
Bushroot realized that Liquidator meant for him to have his son, still hidden in the janitorial closet and guarded by his plants, taken to the greenhouse to be watched by Spike for safe-keeping until he could get to him personally. Given the cryptic wording of the request, it also seemed that Liquidator wanted to keep the matter between them and not involve Quackerjack and Megavolt, at least for the time being. "Sure. No problem," Bushroot said as if it was no big deal.
Megavolt gave Bushroot a dubious look. "What is it?"
"Oh, he just found something he thought Spike would like, that's all. Nothing you guys would want," Bushroot answered with an uneasy smile, hoping that they would leave it at that, which they did.
Megavolt shrugged and muttered something about how it'd be nice if someone thought of his light bulbs that way sometime, to which Quackerjack responded by handing Megavolt a sturdy box to "keep them safe in", which seemed to appease him. Meanwhile, Bushroot instructed one of the indoor palm trees to put a tarp over Eddie once the vines brought him out of the closet, and then he telepathically asked his vines to take the boy back to the greenhouse and have Spike watch him but not hurt him.
While the villains inside coordinated their escape with everything they had stolen, outside the hotel things were more chaotic. As Darkwing had suspected, the police had been called when the convention hall had first been sealed off and the vicious plants blocking the entrances and exits had been spotted. Once the fire door opened and the convention-goers started to escape, law enforcement and emergency teams descended upon the crowd. Some attempted to circle the building and pursue the escaping villains and plants, but Quackerjack, Megavolt, and Bushroot were too fast and too practiced to be caught so easily, especially with so much else going on. Darkwing had not been the only one suffering from the malady dubbed "Liquidator's Revenge"; at least twenty others had been afflicted with something similar and some had been hit much harder than the caped hero. EMTs tended to some of them, and others that had sustained injury in the trashed convention. Fortunately most of the injuries were minor, and the few serious ones, such as Launchpad, were shuttled into ambulances and off to the hospital fairly quickly.
Honker had gone with Launchpad to the emergency room. Gosalyn originally intended to go as well, but when she saw that her father had fallen ill, she stayed behind to make sure that he would be all right. Darkwing was just starting to feel normal again after the initial bout of Liquidator's internally-based attack when the watery villain made an ominous reappearance at the fire exit door. He had waited until Bushroot, Megavolt, and Quackerjack, as well as their ransom object, were safely out of the hotel before making the ransom demand. Once the moment arrived, he rose into his water-dog form and slammed the metal fire door loudly against the side of the building to get the crowd's attention.
"Listen carefully, Whiffle Boy fans, for this one time exclusive offer to get your convention movie star hero back in one piece," he announced as a dread-filled hush fell over the crowd. Law enforcement drew their guns, and a few fired, which only made Liquidator laugh. "Super-villains everywhere agree, discharging firearms at the Liquidator may induce side-splitting laughter from your target and make you look like an idiot to all of St. Canard." He sent a wave of water out into the crowd and focused for just a moment to re-surge the pain he had inflicted earlier into those that had drank him. Gosalyn caught Darkwing as the effect made him groan and hunch over once more.
Liquidator continued, "So if you're serious about making a deal to secure the safe return of one Brant Strongbill, the coalition of Liquidator, Quackerjack, Bushroot, and Megavolt require payment in the sum of fifty million dollars in small denominations of unmarked bills, delivered right here to the front steps of the Hotel Swanlord in exactly three days' time for pickup. C.O.D. only, no refunds and no exchanges. The health and safety of the hostage is guaranteed only if Darkwing Duck is bound, gagged, and incapacitated in plain sight of the pickup and payment is made on time. Late fees of ten million dollars a day apply up to and including two additional days, in which the late fee is forfeiture of Whiffle Boy, a.k.a. Brant Strongbill himself." He bowed toward the crowd. "Thank you for shopping with Super-Villains 'R Us. Have a nice day." Liquidator then collapsed with a splash and flowed back into the building, vanishing before anyone could follow or trace him.
"Fifty million dollars?" Darkwing choked out angrily as the spasms in his gut faded with Liquidator's disappearance. "Those scheming scoundrels have another thing coming if they think they're going to get away with this." He rose to his feet, feeling better. "I'll put a stop to their rancid ransoming racket!"
"I'll help you Da—I mean, Darkwing," Gosalyn said, full of determination.
"Gosalyn! There you are!" Herb Muddlefoot's worried voice broke in from behind. She and Darkwing looked over and saw both Herb and Tank approaching. Both were unhurt, although it was clear from their rumpled feathers and clothing that they had tangled with at least a couple of the plants, toys, or panicking crowd members that had been running amok inside after they had been separated. Herb gave Darkwing an admiring nod. "Well I guess her dad'll be glad to hear she's safe and that she was with you, Darkwing Duck. He brought her here, but I haven't been able to find him yet. They're our neighbors, good people, and I'd hate to see anything happen to them."
"Of course, Mr. Muddlefoot," Darkwing said with a quick nod. "Thank you for your concern, but the young lady and her father are both fine. You just missed him; he went to find out how Launchpad and your son are doing."
Gosalyn nodded along with Darkwing to help with the cover story. "Honker went with Launchpad to the hospital. Megavolt shot him with a laser." Herb's eyes widened in alarm, and Gosalyn realized that Herb thought that Honker had been shot, so she added quickly, "I mean Launchpad was, not Honker. Honker's just helping out."
Herb breathed a sigh of relief, and then frowned with concern for Launchpad. "Oh, well that's my Honker, always such a helpful boy." Tank made a disgusted face as his father praised his absent brother, while Herb shook his head. "I hope Launchpad's all right."
"It was nothing life-threatening. He'll be fine," Darkwing assured him with a note of impatience as he scooted backwards. "Anyway, I've got a fiendish villainous scheme to foil and a hostage to rescue, so I have to be going now."
Oblivious to the not-so-subtle hint that he did not want to converse further, Herb continued to babble at him. "Of course, Darkwing! Boy, am I glad you were there. Our gooses would've been cooked for sure without you to help. Those crazy super-villains better watch out." He flexed his arm and made a fist in a gesture of admiration and cheering him on. "You go and give them what-for, Darkwing! Oh boy, wait 'till Binkums hears about this, what a day!"
Much to Darkwing's relief, a senior police officer on the scene chose that moment to come and speak to him. "Darkwing Duck, I'm Officer Tibull. May I have a few minutes of your time?"
Darkwing straightened in a self-important manner. "Of course, Officer. The daring dashing hero of St. Canard is always willing to assist the authorities in any way possible."
"Good. I need a statement from you and I have some questions. To the best of your knowledge, were you able to get everyone other than Brant Strongbill out?" Officer Tibull paused and glanced at the door. "We've got officers in there now sweeping through the damage and looking for any unconscious injured that may've been overlooked in the chaos, but if you know of anything we ought to be concerned about in there, now'd be a great time to tell us. Also, are there any traps left?"
"I think every trap that could be sprung was sprung while we were in there," Gosalyn interjected sourly. "It was crazy."
The policeman gave Gosalyn a polite but dismissive smile. "Thank you, Miss. I'm sure it was. You're very lucky to have such a heroic friend."
"Yep yep yep, all in a day's work for Darkwing Duck," boasted Darkwing, which led Gosalyn to roll her eyes as he continued. "I'm pretty sure that everyone's out. The hall looked empty when I left and I wouldn't have left anyone in trouble behind. I didn't see anyone too injured or otherwise unable to escape."
"Except for Mr. Strongbill, of course," Tibull said as he made some notes.
An indignant frown flashed across Darkwing's face. "What? I didn't leave him behind on purpose! I'm the hero! I was saving everybody else! I may be the terror that flaps in the night, but even I can't be in two places at once!"
Officer Tibull held up a hand to disarm the irate super-hero. "Nobody's saying you did, Mr. Darkwing. I'm just trying to sort out what happened and make sure everyone's accounted for."
"Everyone is most certainly not accounted for," a sharp female voice interrupted from next to them. Both the policeman and Darkwing, as well as Gosalyn and those around them, turned and saw an angry canine woman, well-dressed in expensive clothes and short dark hair that had been freshly styled in the hotel salon that morning, waving a manicured finger at them. "My son is missing and nowhere to be found in this crowd." She fixed her glare on Darkwing. "If you got everyone out, then where is he?"
Darkwing rankled at the woman's accusatory tone and glared back at her. "I got everyone I saw out."
"Then maybe your eyes aren't as sharp as you think," she snapped back before turning back to Tibull. "Officer, your man Lt. Pinfeather down there said you were in charge here, correct?" She gestured to a policeman near the street holding a clipboard and directing crowd members and EMTs around a cordoned off area set up for triage of injuries and ambulance access. When Tibull nodded an affirmative, she continued. "He told me to check with you, that you had a team of men inside and looking for anyone missing. Well that includes my son. Lt. Pinfeather already confirmed that he wasn't on any of the ambulances, so he should be here somewhere. Since he's not out here, that means he's got to be in there." Her tone grew shorter and more agitated.
"Relax, Ma'am. We're doing everything we can to ensure everyone's safety."
She frowned at what she obviously considered an empty reassurance. "Well I see plenty of men with guns out here and a so-called super-hero standing around. Why aren't they in there checking, or pursuing those maniacs that caused this?"
"Hey! I'm not just standing around!" Darkwing protested, both to her and those around in general, feeling angry and defensive at the insinuation. "And I'm telling you, I didn't leave anyone in there!"
Officer Tibull stepped between Darkwing and the upset mother. "Please try to remain calm, Ma'am. Do you have a picture of your son?"
Another boy approached them, one Darkwing recognized vaguely as a face he had seen in the crowd of Whiffle-Con. He was about sixteen or so, and bore a slight resemblance to the woman yelling at him. "Would that be him?" Darkwing pointed behind her.
She whirled around to check and then turned back toward Darkwing with an irritable expression. "No, that's my other son, the one who can't find his little brother." She waved agitatedly in the boy's direction. "Rill, come here and tell them where you last saw Eddie."
Tank frowned and exchanged a look with Gosalyn, who had the same unsettling thought—that they had not seen his friend Eddie since he had been washed away with the vine plant inside. "You don't mean Eddie Flood, do you?" Tank asked, turning everyone's attention to him and bringing the woman to his side in a flash.
"That's my son's name. Do you know him?" She held out her wallet, already opened to the picture of Eddie that she kept in it. It was a school photo, where like most kids he looked unusually neat and well-groomed, but it was unmistakably Tank's friend in the image.
"Yeah, I met him here at the convention today," Tank answered.
Eddie's brother Rill then spoke up. "I saw you guys hanging out," he said to Tank. "Was he with you when everything went down?"
Tank nodded, and Eddie's mother eyed him with urgency. "What happened? Where'd he go?"
"We don't know exactly," said Gosalyn, taking a step toward them. "One of those plants was attacking him and Tank and while we were fighting it off, Liquidator ran right through us and then they were just gone."
"What?" Eddie's mother and brother exclaimed in unison, while Darkwing looked over at Gosalyn, surprised to learn that she had met the missing boy.
Anxious looks clouded both Tank and Gosalyn's features. "I figured the wave just knocked him far away or something. It was hard to follow what was going on," Tank admitted.
"We'd just stop fighting one thing and another'd be after us," Gosalyn added, while Eddie's mother became hysterical.
"You're telling me that Liquidator abducted my son?"
His brother was not as vocal, but equally emotional as a hateful look darkened his face. "That bastard."
Officer Tibull picked up his walkie-talkie and signaled one of the officers inside. "We've got a second confirmed missing. Teenage boy, canine, age—"
"Fourteen," Eddie's mother stated.
"—fourteen, name of Eddie Flood." He glanced at the mother for confirmation, and when she nodded he continued. "Last seen with Liquidator in the middle of it all. Comb the place, make sure he's not hiding somewhere." Tibull put his walkie-talkie aside and attempted to reassure her again. "Ma'am, in all likelihood your son is fine and just found somewhere creative to hide and hasn't realized it's safe to come out yet. Give me your name and a number I can reach you at, and we'll contact you as soon as we find out anything."
"Brooke Flood," she told him, and then recited her cell phone number. Tibull wrote the information down and gave her a sympathetic look.
"I'm guessing you weren't at the convention, Mrs. Flood?"
She shook her head. "I just got here. I was in the hotel; I went to the spa while the boys went to the convention."
"How responsible," Darkwing muttered. Although he knew he was being petty, his pride was still raw enough from her remarks earlier that he could not resist the dig. It had its intended effect, and Brooke Flood glared at him with wounded indignation.
"Well, the only hostage they mentioned in their demands before they fled was Brant Strongbill," Officer Tibull said in an attempt to defray the tension and her fears. "One of the perpetrators, Quackerjack, has a documented grudge against the Whiffle Boy franchise, so that's most likely his doing due to Mr. Strongbill's role in the film. The rest of the crimes were more in the line of intimidation and robbery."
The policeman's walkie-talkie went off again, and after a quick answer he put it back in his belt and put his notepad away. "I'm needed inside. Darkwing Duck, you can give your statement to Officer Krop." He gestured to a burly porcine officer standing about halfway across the crowd. "Thank you for your time, and try not to worry, Mrs. Flood. We'll do our best."
"That's it?" she snapped after him as he departed. However, he either ignored her or did not hear her, so she turned to Darkwing instead. "What about you, Darkwing Duck? Do you buy that? You're the super-villain expert in this town after all."
The sarcasm in her tone ruffled his feathers again, but he did his best to push that aside for the sake of the missing boy that needed his help. "Yes, I am. And yes, ordinarily, I would agree with Officer Tibull that it's unlikely that Quackerjack or his cohorts would take a second hostage without bothering to ask for money for him when they asked for fifty million dollars for the first. Unless of course they're planning on surprising us with a buy one, get one free deal when we pay up. Do you think Liquidator would make a bargain like that, Mrs. Flood?" He gave her a pointed look as he enunciated her name.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Darkwing folded his arms and lowered his voice. "I mean that as the expert on St. Canard's super-villains, I picked up on the fact that you, Liquidator, and your missing son all share the same last name. So who exactly is Bud to you, and your children?"
To Darkwing's surprise, it was Rill Flood, rather than Brooke, that answered, and with a furious shout at that. "What are you talking about? Bud Flood was my father, and that murderer Liquidator killed him!"
The boy's vehemence as well as his statement caught Darkwing off guard, and he looked between him and Brooke with surprise. "Wait, what? Killed him? Kid, Liquidator is Bud Flood. These super-villains aren't born with those names you see in the news any more than my birth certificate reads 'Darkwing Duck'."
"That's a lie." Rill's eyes narrowed angrily, and from where Tank and Gosalyn watched and listened, Tank had the thought that Eddie's preppy older brother that he and Eddie had mocked earlier looked almost tough when he was mad.
"It's the truth. I was there," asserted Darkwing. He suddenly felt sympathy for the boy as he realized that Rill genuinely believed what he was saying, which meant that someone had fed him an awful lie to cover up an equally awful truth. He glanced at the mother, wondering how complicit she was in it.
"Where?" demanded Rill.
"At the Koo-Koo Fizzy Water factory where he had the accident that turned him into Liquidator," Darkwing told him.
Rill shook his head. "No. That's the stupid life insurance company's story, and they're just saying that so they don't have to give Mom and us any money. If he was alive, we'd know it. He'd have told us, he'd have seen us, he'd have—"
"Rill." Brooke said her son's name softly, with closed eyes and a tired and heartsick voice. "He's not lying."
Rill faced his mother with a horrified and betrayed look. "What? What are you saying? You think Dad's alive?"
"I think—I think it's possible that yes, he could be Liquidator," she admitted with a heavy sigh.
"What?" Rill's anger focused solely on his mother. "How can you say that? You know what kind of monster Liquidator is!"
"A monster made of water that looks a little like your father when he takes form, well without the bad rug anyway."
"But he can look like whoever he wants to," argued Rill. "He probably just does it because he hated Dad enough to kill him and would rather make him look bad than look like whoever he once really was. I mean, come on Mom, Liquidator's part of the Fearsome Five. And what he did here…" He shook his head. "You really think that's Dad?" His voice rose to a high note of incredulity. "I know he wasn't exactly perfect, but…"
Brooke frowned. "Far from it. Come on Rill, if you can accept that your father was killed by a thug he supposedly hired to poison the Koo-Koo Fizzy Water factory and who knows how many others to pad his bottom line, is it really so hard to imagine that maybe, just maybe, he might have gotten his own hands dirty and used the identity of Liquidator to cover his tracks? To keep the company from being sued out of existence, to keep your and your brother's inheritance from being eaten in fines and legal fees, and to get away with doing whatever the hell he wanted for the rest of his life?"
"But why?" Rill faced his mother with an uncomprehending expression.
"Why does your father do anything he does? Because he's a selfish and greedy bastard," Brooke said bitterly. "He doesn't need more reason than that. All him being Liquidator would mean is that he does more of his own dirty work than we thought."
Curling his hands into fists, Rill stared down at the ground. "If you thought he might be alive, why didn't you ever say anything to us?"
Brooke eyed her son with a heavy look. "What good would that've done? You and your brother were already hurt enough, and there was no real proof either way. On one hand we have an official death certificate from St. Canard's municipal office, but it's not good enough for the life insurance company to pay out with, not when his credit cards and social security number trigger active every so often. Identity theft?" She shrugged. "Maybe, or maybe he's stealing his own identity. Again, with no body, warm or cold, to haul in for identification other than Liquidator, a known liar and super-villain, who's to say? So yes, I let you believe your father was dead so you could move on and not live with the doubts I did about it. Besides, he might as well be. It's not like he's bothered to come to see you and confirm otherwise." Brooke blinked a glint of angry tears out of her eyes and then looked at Darkwing. "Until now, anyway. Until he decided to abduct one of his sons. So tell us, Darkwing Duck, do you think the Liquidator you know would be capable of harming his own child?"
Darkwing looked back at her with a surprised look. "You're his wife; I ought to be asking you that."
"Let's get one thing straight. I'm Buddy's ex-wife. I left him over five years ago and moved myself and the boys to Renardsville," Brooke informed him with a sharp look.
"Custody issues?" Darkwing questioned with a raised eyebrow.
Brooke shook her head. "That was probably the only thing we didn't fight over. He was always a career man, and happy to have the boys every other weekend and a couple weeks in the summer and leave rest to me." She sighed. "And I don't know what he's capable of. There was a time when I would've told you he'd never do something like poison drinking water, extort innocent people, commit armed robbery and fraud, or heck, even cheat on me, but I was wrong about all of that so…" Her voice trailed off and she frowned. "I'd like to believe he wouldn't hurt Eddie, but I'd like to believe I didn't spend sixteen years of my life married to a hardened criminal, either."
"You can't really think that Dad would hurt him, even if he is Liquidator." Rill was incredulous as he stared at his mother. "He's still Dad."
As a parent, Darkwing wanted to agree on principle, but he had seen enough of the darker side of life to know it would be folly to assume that applied to everyone. The Gosalyn in the Negaverse that wound up with Negaduck as a guardian was proof enough of that. With an earnest look and a strengthened resolve to rescue the two hostages and bring the villains responsible to justice, Darkwing promised, "I'll do everything I can to make sure your son is returned to you safely, Mrs. Flood."
Things were no less chaotic at St. Canard General hospital. There was always a bit of a frenzy whenever the super-villains acted up, but it seemed that the Fearsome Five—even when they were just four—had the knack for filling the emergency room with more severe and creative injuries than any other group. F.O.W.L. might have been larger and perhaps more efficient at run-of-the-mill terrorism, but when it came to scale, the Fearsome Four-to-Five managed to hold the record for most mass destruction. The head administrator of the hospital, a flustered rat in a doctor's coat that she rarely wore, helped direct patients arriving via ambulance into the overfull emergency room. She had already re-assigned a number of the hospital's doctors and nurses to tend to the sudden influx of patients, reducing other areas of the hospital to a skeleton crew.
"What the hell happened?" one of the newly arrived doctors asked an EMT wheeling in a canine covered with lacerations and what appeared to be bite marks on a stretcher. "Is the news right, did the Fearsome Five really attack the Whiffle Boy convention?"
The EMT shook his head. "Only in this town."
"Good thing Darkwing Duck was there, or this would've been worse," another EMT, a blonde duck, said with a sigh as she adjusted the IV on another patient who had passed out from a head injury given to him by one of Bushroot's palms.
The hospital administrator sighed. "Too bad he didn't have all the Justice Ducks with him, or we might not have so many in here now."
A third patient that was nursing a nasty burn wound on his arm courtesy of Megavolt's borrowed laser gun, and who was being escorted in by a young boy that had rode with him in the ambulance, frowned when he heard that. "Hey now! Darkwing did his best. I'd like to see anyone else in here fight the Fearsome Five, Four, whatever, and do any better."
"This is his sidekick here, Dr. Cuddli," said one of the EMTs that had been on the ambulance with Launchpad and Honker as he escorted in a duck woman in serious need of stitches due to a run-in with Quackerjack's razor-claw-bear. "I wouldn't make him mad."
The doctor turned to Launchpad with a mildly apologetic look. "No offense intended. What happened to you?"
"Megavolt shot him with a laser," Honker told her.
Dr. Cuddli took a brief look at Launchpad and the way he held his arm, and then nodded to one of the nurses. "Get him into one of the rooms as soon as you can." She gave Launchpad a faint smile. "If it's this bad, Darkwing Duck will need all the help he can get as soon as he can get."
It was close enough to an apology for Launchpad to accept, and he gave her a grateful smile as a nurse ushered him and Honker to one of the exam rooms. A minute or two later, a petite mouse in scrubs came in with a clipboard to be filled out with his history and information, which Honker was stuck doing. Launchpad joked that it was probably for the best since his handwriting was not so hot on a good day anyhow. Once that was taken care of, she fastened a patient armband to Launchpad's wrist and scurried off again. It was another half hour before anyone else came in to see them, which made Launchpad feel rather stir crazy. Nothing made him feel more useless than sitting like a lump on an exam table waiting around and doing nothing when Darkwing needed his help somewhere else.
Finally the curtain shifted and a duck nurse came in. "Hello. I'm Heather, and I'm going to be taking a look at you before Dr. Fawndlin," she greeted him in a friendly tone as she reached for his arm. "What have we got here?" With gloved fingers she gently pulled the scorched fabric of his jacket back to get a close look at the wound without jostling it too much. "Ouch."
"To say the least," Launchpad quipped in a way that elicited a smirk from the nurse.
"How'd this happen?" She peered at him over the top of her thin rimmed glasses.
"We were at the Whiffle Boy convention and Megavolt shot him," Honker told her.
"That's an odd looking electrical burn," she said with a mildly puzzled look before releasing his arm. "Better you than your son, though, right?"
Launchpad smiled at her. "Oh, he's not my son. Honker lives next door to me."
A slight look of recognition lit up on the nurse's face as she took a second look at Honker, who nodded along with Launchpad. "Honker… Muddlefoot, by any chance?" she asked.
"Yes, Ma'am," Honker replied politely.
"Please call me Heather, most of the nurses here prefer to be informal with the patients and family," she said with a friendly smile. "I thought you looked familiar, but since I thought you were his son it didn't register. My parents are friends with yours; I remember you and your brother from one of their big summer barbecues a couple years ago."
Honker gave her a curious look as if trying to place her. "Who are your parents?"
"Reed and Mary Bushroot," Heather replied as she pulled some sterile gauze packets out of the cabinet above the bench.
Launchpad blinked in surprise at the last name while Honker nodded and answered. "Oh yeah, Mom and Dad's friends from the St. Canard Gardening Society."
"Bushroot," Launchpad repeated, looking from Honker to the nurse with an odd expression. "Is that any relation to the Bushroot that—?"
Heather stiffened for a moment and then faced Launchpad with an impassive look. "Yes. He's my brother. But if you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about him. It's bad enough to have to help treat and take care of people he and his friends have hurt knowing who's responsible for it." She looked at Launchpad. "We're going to have to take your jacket off to clean that out and treat it. Do you think you can get out of it, or is it too painful?"
Wincing a little, Launchpad said, "It does kinda hurt. But I think if I'm careful I can."
"If you're sure. There's no need to be a hero, you know." She held up a pair of scissors. "We can cut the sleeve off and get the rest of it after you're bandaged and the morphine kicks in if you prefer."
"But I am a hero," Launchpad argued with a smile despite himself. "Or at least the sidekick of one."
Heather's eyes widened a bit. "Oh, I'd heard that we had Darkwing Duck's sidekick in here. I didn't realize he was in one of my rooms." She helped Launchpad wriggle his uninjured arm out of the jacket and lifted the garment up around the wound to make it easier for him to get it the rest of the way off. Launchpad grunted a little and winced again as the fabric jostled his burn, but he still managed to slide the injured arm out of his jacket.
"Guess I'm probably someone you'd rather not have to take care of either, huh?"
She passed his ruined jacket off to Honker. "Our job here is to treat, not to judge." Dabbing at the edge of the burn with some treated gauze she added, "And I don't doubt that Darkwing Duck means well." Her features softened a bit. "I'm sure you do too. I heard you told off Dr. Cuddli out in the hall. You impressed several of the nurses with that, you know," she confided in a low tone, and then glanced at the wound. "How's the pain?"
"Pretty bad," admitted Launchpad.
Heather nodded. "I thought so. I'll be right back." She walked out past the curtain, leaving Launchpad alone with Honker. He gave him a funny look.
"So your parents are friends with Bushroot's parents?"
"I, uh, I never realized that actually. I mean, my parents have a lot of friends from the gardening club, and I'm sure it's not that uncommon a name."
"You went to a barbecue at their house a couple of years ago, though?"
"Um, that was probably one of Dad's barbecues," Honker clarified. "He invites a lot of people to those. You know that, you've been to them."
"I think I would've remembered seeing Bushroot at a barbecue." Launchpad's beak wrinkled a bit in a frown. "Though I guess he probably wasn't green then."
It was Honker's turn to shrug. "She said it was a couple years ago. You probably didn't live there then. Dad's last really big one was when I was seven. It was a couple weeks after my birthday."
After a quick glance at the curtain to make sure he wouldn't say anything rude in the nurse's earshot, Launchpad asked, "So are Bushroot's parents weird?"
Honker shook his head. "Just old, really. Older than my parents anyway. But they'd have to be to have her and him."
"Oh she's not that old, she's probably my age," Launchpad said, and then smiled. "Then again, at your age, we're all old, huh?"
"You and Mr. Mallard don't act as old as Mom and Dad," Honker conceded with a smirk.
Their conversation ended when Heather returned to the room with a syringe in hand. She swabbed Launchpad's arm and injected him, and then instructed him to lie back. "It should start to take effect in a few minutes," she said, and began assembling the things she would need to clean out the wound. "So if you don't mind my asking, Mr. McQuack, how did this happen? You said that was something Megavolt did?"
"He had some kind of gun that shot lasers, some Whiffle Boy gun. DW and I think Quackerjack made it for him. He'd already shorted him out when he pulled that out and zapped us."
"And they really attacked a fan convention just to capture Brant Strongbill and ransom him?"
Launchpad nodded. "And to rob everyone else who was there."
Heather shook her head. "Unbelievable."
"Yeah," Launchpad agreed with a chuckle. "If I'd known I'd need to be able to play Whiffle Boy, I'd have practiced before the convention."
"Not a fan?" Heather asked, and then looked at Honker. "Did he just take you?"
"No, actually he went with my friend Gosalyn and her father Mr. Mallard. They're all our neighbors," Honker explained.
"Ah." She probed the edges of Launchpad's wound with her gloved fingertip to see if his anesthetic was working yet, and when he did not react, she began to clean it while Launchpad watched.
"So is it bad?" he asked.
"It's serious. Dr. Fawndlin will be able to tell you just how serious, but I don't think it's so bad you shouldn't recover with full use of your arm, as long as you do what you're told and take it easy while it heals." She gave him a pointed look. "You're going to need to tell Darkwing Duck you need a medical leave for at least a little while though." She took a few final dabs with the gauze. "What do you do for a living when you're not sidekick-ing?"
Launchpad smiled. "I'm a pilot."
"Ooh. I'm not sure you'll be able to do that for a bit either. At least not while you're taking any of the narcotics they'll likely prescribe for the pain while this heals." With a smile she asked, "Have you ever considered a safer line of work?"
"Flying's my life," Launchpad replied earnestly. "I can't imagine doing anything else. Just like I can't imagine not helping out DW."
A somewhat wistful look crossed Heather's face as she peeled off her gloves and stepped back, her blue eyes intent upon him. "Somehow I'm not surprised that's your answer. But it's kind of a shame. Not that it's not noble to help others, that's very admirable but…" Her voice trailed off for a moment. "Well, I'd hate to see you wind up back in here again in worse condition, with something that can't be fixed. I know all too well what kind of damage those super-villains can do. Working here, I see it all the time."
"Yeah, but someone's got to stand up to them," Launchpad replied, eyeing her with a perceptive look. "And you shouldn't feel responsible for what your brother or his friends do."
Heather stiffened a little and turned away, caught off guard by how easily Launchpad had discerned her feelings. "The doctor will be in shortly," she said, picked up his chart, and hurried out of the room.
When Brant Strongbill came back around into the world of the conscious, the first thing he realized was that he was definitely not at Whiffle-Con any longer. He was staring down at a dingy concrete floor, and could feel that he was tied to a chair with some multi-colored plastic-coated rope. A jump rope, he realized after a moment. His head was throbbing and it felt like he had taken a pummeling akin to something one of the characters he had played in an action movie would have endured. Not Whiffle Boy, though, ironically enough, the captive actor thought as he remembered what had happened to him, and the crazy bellhop clown duck that had accosted and then abducted him. He felt like a fool for not paying more attention to the warnings about that nutcase Quackerjack who hated Whiffle Boy so much.
Strongbill was not alone in the room. The four super-villains that had conspired to kidnap him were also present. Quackerjack, Megavolt, Bushroot, and Liquidator were all gathered around a table not far away, divvying up the loot they had stolen and discussing the success of their scheme.
"You guys cleaned up better than Ammonia Pine," Quackerjack said with a hint of envy as his gaze wavered between the pile in front of him and the comparatively larger piles in front of his three accomplices.
With a grin Liquidator replied, "A deal's a deal, and ten percent of what we got today is still a steal!"
"Not to mention you've still got your Whiffle Boy-toy over there," Bushroot pointed out as he sorted through his loot pile, while Megavolt let out a cackle of glee.
"And the ransom money when it comes in," he added. "Talk about a windfall to light up my life!"
Quackerjack grinned. "Speaking of which, I think I'd like some playtime with my new pal to light up mine!" He turned and looked over at Strongbill, who he noticed was now awake. Quackerjack began to head toward him, but a watery hand on his arm stopped him in his tracks.
"Before you go off to play, remember which terms and conditions apply to our agreement." Liquidator gave him a no-nonsense look. "We specified that no Whiffle Boys would be seriously harmed in the making of our ransom. Whatever you do to him better not be too damaging until we have the cash in hand, lest you void the deal due to what's prohibited."
A frown formed on Quackerjack's large beak. "There's no need to be such a party-pooper, Licky. I know what I'm doing. I've got three days to play with him, after all, and you all know how creative I am!" He let out a mad giggle and gave Strongbill a mischievous, and to the actor, ominous, look.
With as much courage as he could muster tied up and helpless as he was, Strongbill said, "You four are making a big mistake."
The super-villains stared back at him in amusement. "Which of your movies did you rip that tired line off from?" Bushroot asked with a sneer, while Strongbill glowered back at them.
"I'm serious. You think no one will come after you just because you're the Fearsome Five?"
"Fearsome Five? You can't even count. There's only four of us here," Megavolt mocked him in response.
"Well, Whiffle Boy never was that bright," Quackerjack quipped back to the other villain. "It doesn't take much brainpower to point a laser gun and fire."
Strongbill struggled in his jump rope binds, although it was to no avail. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he snapped. "I'm not Whiffle Boy!"
Narrowing his eyes, Liquidator glided over to Strongbill and leaned over him with a menacing look. "Do you land roles in feature films due to your looks and muscles rather than your brains? Are you overconfident in your acting abilities? Super-villains everywhere agree that nine times out of ten, taunting a captor will induce needless misery and suffering." Liquidator leaned closer, making Strongbill flinch in the face of his threatening stare, and his lips curled back in a sneer. "Silly actor, that didn't convince anyone that you're not ready to wet yourself." He then sprayed some water into his face for emphasis.
While Strongbill sputtered and tried to shake off the water with a vigorous shake of his head, Quackerjack bounded over and joined them, giving Liquidator's watery shoulder as rough a shove as he could. "No fair, Licky, he's my hostage! I wanna play with him!"
"My apologies," Liquidator conceded with a fluid bow, backing away. "Your play date with Whiffle Boy is guaranteed."
Quackerjack grinned with glee while a nervous Strongbill stiffened in his binds. He was helpless to do anything but watch as Quackerjack pulled out a set of his wind-up teeth. He thrust them toward Strongbill's face, and he wrenched back instinctively, shutting his eyes. "He said you can't hurt me!" he protested in a panic.
"Oh, it's just a little love bite. That's not permanent damage. It'll heal." Quackerjack giggled and zoomed the teeth in close, and then pulled them away again at the last second. "Besides, these three days are just the warm-up. Once we've got the fifty million, all's fair in playtime and fun."
"You're crazy," Strongbill gasped out, feeling a renewed surge of dread.
"Wow, you're observant, Whiffle Boy," Megavolt remarked with heavy sarcasm as he drew his fingertip across a thick wad of stolen cash.
"For the last time, I'm not Whiffle Boy!" Strongbill let out a frustrated groan. "I just played him in a movie! My name is Brant Strongbill. It's not even a stage name, for crying out loud. I'm no more Whiffle Boy than I am The Exterminator, Steel Man, or anyone else I played."
Quackerjack eyed their hostage with a dubious look and held out Mr. Banana Brain so he could give his two cents. "A likely story, Dory." Lowering the doll, Quackerjack continued, "Really. With so many identities, Whiffle Boy, no wonder it took me so long to find out who you really are."
Strongbill looked from Quackerjack to the other three super-villains with an imploring expression. "You can't all be this nuts. All of you don't seriously believe I'm a video game character, do you?"
Liquidator stopped scooping his loot into a sack just long enough to answer. "For the right price, the Liquidator will buy into just about anything."
"And fifty million dollars plus the convention loot bonus here is enough to get me to see the light," Megavolt added with a grin.
Strongbill gave Bushroot a desperate look. "What about you, plant-guy?"
Frowning slightly at being addressed that way, Bushroot said, "It's not easy being green, but enough green does make life easier when you're a mutant plant-duck."
"I don't believe this." Strongbill rolled his head back and slumped in his binds as he realized that even if the other three did not believe that he was Whiffle Boy, they were still content to go along with Quackerjack for their payoff. His hope that they were all crazy and that he might be able to break through to a glimmer of sanity in one of them and end the nightmare with a dose of reality was dashed.
Quackerjack snapped his wind-up teeth again, that time against Strongbill's torso. They tore through the Whiffle Boy costume he was wearing, and the edges of the sharp teeth tickled against his feathered skin beneath. The sensation made Strongbill jump and yelp in a frightened way that amused Quackerjack quite a bit, and he beamed. "Oh my, I think Whiffle Boy is ticklish, Mr. Banana Brain! What do you think of that?"
"I think we should tickle his feet with a quill, Phil," was Mr. Banana Brain's answer.
"Oh, I love the way your devious little mind works," Quackerjack said back to his toy. He then skipped over to a rack of shelves that contained several boxes of toys and toy components, and began rooting through them. Soon Quackerjack found what he was looking for, and with a cruel and mischievous grin on his face, he held up a large and brightly-colored yellow feather that looked like it belonged to some medieval costume.
Over at the table, an unimpressed Bushroot finished shoving the last of his loot into his sack and slung it over his shoulder. "On that note, I think I'll call it a day." While he did not find his role in Quackerjack's scheme objectionable enough to bow out of it, Bushroot also had no particular desire to watch Quackerjack torment their hostage for hours on end, either. "I suppose we can trust you to keep an eye on your new pal for the next couple of days until we have to coordinate the pickup and drop-off?"
Quackerjack was halfway back to Strongbill with his feather in hand when he answered. "Sure, Bushy. We'll have a blast, won't we, Whiffle Boy?" He grinned at Strongbill again, who in turn looked imploringly at the other villains once again. As bad as they were as a group, he was certain things would be worse stuck with just Quackerjack alone.
Ignoring the desperate look from Strongbill, Liquidator faced Quackerjack. "Provided you stay within the rates and limitations of our deal, right?"
Making a mock expression of seriousness that made a comical contrast with his jester hat and the rest of his attire, Quackerjack held up his hand, complete with yellow feather. "No dismemberment, I solemnly swear."
Megavolt gave Quackerjack a knowing look. "Uncross your fingers behind your back, Quacky."
Pouting, Quackerjack pulled his other hand from behind his back and held out his fingers uncrossed as ordered. "No dismemberment, really. I promise."
After exchanging a look with Megavolt and Bushroot, Liquidator specified, "Add no disfigurement, disembowelment, or any other disqualifying acts, and you have a deal."
Quackerjack sighed melodramatically. "Fine. No dismemberment, disfigurement, disembowelment, or anything else that you'd find disconcerting, Mr. Wet Blanket. I promise, with Mr. Banana Brain as my witness, even!"
"We'll only make him wish he was dead, Ted," the doll assured.
Not entirely convinced by Quackerjack's promise to behave, Bushroot casually suggested, "You know, maybe one of us ought to stay here with Quackerjack in case something goes wrong, like if Dumbwing shows up and tries to rescue Strongbill, I mean, Whiffle Boy."
Liquidator picked up his sack of loot and looked to Megavolt. "I have business elsewhere that I need to take care of. Are you willing to act now and accept this opportunity for a limited time?"
Since he was not in any particular hurry to leave, Megavolt agreed. "Sure."
Hearing that Megavolt was going to keep him company delighted Quackerjack, and he ran over and threw his arms around the rat in an impulsive hug, the feather tickling the back of Megavolt's neck a little as he did so. "Oh boy! This'll be fun, Megsy, just like old times! Oooh, you'll be so glad you stayed for this party. Playtime's always more fun with more playmates!"
It came as only a slight relief to Strongbill that one of the other villains was sticking around for the three days ahead. He felt a sinking sensation in his stomach as he watched Bushroot and Liquidator pick up their sacks and leave, and Quackerjack turn his attention back to him once more with that cruel smile and dangerous gleam in his eyes. "Why are you doing this?" he asked as Quackerjack approached.
"Why?" Quackerjack repeated, staring incredulously at Strongbill. "You have the nerve to ask me why? Because I hate you, Whiffle Boy! I hate you and everything you stand for!" He was nearly screaming as he finished answering.
"Everything I stand for?" Strongbill stared back at the crazy duck, truly at a loss. He had met some nutty fans in his time, but Quackerjack, even if he was more of an anti-fan, took the cake. "Look, I'm sorry you like the Weasel Kid so much, but—"
His sentence was cut off with an insane burst of laughter. "You think this is because of the Weasel Kid? Oh Whiffle Boy, you really are stupid, aren't you? I'm not a Weasel Kid fan. I only teamed up with him at Whiffle World out of necessity, but I don't like him. He's part of the problem, not the solution."
Quackerjack's words sent a shiver down Strongbill's spine. "The solution?"
"The elimination of you, and everything associated with you, Whiffle Boy."
As if to emphasize his point, Quackerjack pulled a toy gun out of his pocket and aimed it right at Strongbill's face. In that moment the actor felt a fresh rush of panic, worrying that Quackerjack's accomplices had been too quick to trust him, especially when he noticed Megavolt tense behind him as if he was debating whether or not to intervene. Strongbill's heart pounded as Quackerjack then pulled the trigger, and although a second later he felt a strong impact that knocked him backwards and made him see stars, the main thing he felt was pain around his left eye. When he opened his eyes again, he saw that the gun had shot out some kind of super-fast inflating boxing glove that packed quite a wallop.
Giddy with amusement, Quackerjack tossed the gun aside and twirled the feather that was still in his other hand. "You make such a satisfying splotch noise when you're hit."
"Psychopath," Strongbill muttered under his breath, along with several choice profanities.
That time it was Megavolt who responded, with a none-too-gentle zap of voltage into his shoulder. "Now now, that's no way for a children's idol to talk!"
"For shame, Whiffle Boy," mocked Quackerjack. "I think we need to lighten you up." He got down on his knees in front of Strongbill. The actor instinctively tried to kick at him as Quackerjack reached for his left foot, but through the binds he could do little more than wriggle. Quackerjack looked over at Megavolt. "Megsy, would you encourage him to hold still? Mr. Feather's gentle touch just won't make it through these silly space boots."
Megavolt was enjoying himself more than he had originally expected; he had forgotten just how much fun Quackerjack could be when he got on a roll. "Sure thing, Quacky." He held up a sparking fingertip toward Strongbill. "Voltage doesn't disfigure, dismember, or disembowel, but it sure stings."
Strongbill leaned his head back in defeat and went still, allowing Quackerjack to remove his boots. "What did I do to you that you hate me so much?"
"You're so full of yourself that you don't even know," Quackerjack said with a disgusted glare up at him. "I'll tell you what you did. You drove me out of business. I used to make toys for a living, you know. Toys that kids had a blast with, toys that made children happy without rotting their brains. You and your stupid video game ruined all that. Now kids would rather sit around getting fat and lazy while they watch your ugly pixilated mug take pot shots at the Weasel Kid instead of picking up a fun toy gun like that one and playing with each other. Their parents would rather buy your stupid game to keep them quiet, to the point where I can't do what I was meant to do anymore." He threw Strongbill's Whiffle Boy boots over his shoulder and scowled more deeply as he ripped off one of his socks. "And your socks stink, too. If Liquidator was so intent on squirting you, he should've hosed them."
"Maybe parents would rather pay for video games than E.R. visits after a round or two with your toys," Strongbill retorted with a glower.
It was the wrong thing to say. "You think you're real witty, don't you? And you're so smug. Well, if you're so happy about ruining my life, I'll give you something to smile about, starting with Mr. Feather here. I'll make you smile until it hurts, and we'll see who's laughing then." Quackerjack then started to tickle the bottom of Strongbill's webbed foot while an amused Megavolt looked on.
At first Strongbill was determined not to give Quackerjack the satisfaction of so much as cracking a smile. With a forced look of angry defiance, he began to twitch involuntarily in response to the tickle, trying to wrench away. Quackerjack's grip on his leg was firm, however, and there was nothing he could do to get away from it or stop it. It was not long before the sensation overwhelmed him, and his laughter reflex kicked in involuntarily, which angered and humiliated Strongbill even more. The unceasing tickling touch soon became its own form of torture, and laughing so hard and struggling with no relief made his sides ache and left him gasping for breath. "S-s-stop!" he pleaded.
"What's that?" taunted Quackerjack. "Is the great Whiffle Boy begging for mercy from me?"
"Stop," Strongbill gasped between breaths, "please!"
Megavolt grinned at his conspirator in crime. "I think he is, Quacky."
Quackerjack watched his nemesis suffer with giddy delight, relishing every moment of it. "Oh my. Should I be the better person and grant Whiffle Boy his wish?"
"Sure, if you want me to think you've gone really crazy," quipped Megavolt.
Quackerjack laughed at Megavolt's response, while Strongbill struggled to get another plea out. "Please stop." His voice was strained and weak through his involuntary laughter, and he was at the point where it was hard to even see between the spasms from laughing, the stitches in his sides, the abrasion of the jump ropes tying him down, and the torturous tickling sensation on his foot.
The long moment that Quackerjack took to stare back at him and answer felt like hours to Strongbill. "Say pretty please."
"With sugar on top," Quackerjack specified, his grin widening.
Panting and with considerable effort between tickle-induced laughs, Strongbill managed to gasp out, "with sugar… on… top."
Quackerjack still did not relent. "And a cherry, you can't forget the cherry."
"Cherry, cherry too," Strongbill struggled to blurt out. "Please with the cherry stop!" Somehow he was able to get that last sentence all out in one rushed breath.
"Well, since you asked so nicely." Quackerjack slowed the tickling and finally stopped it in a way that made even giving him relief torturous. He watched with satisfaction as Strongbill recovered, gasping and trying to catch his breath. "That was fun," Quackerjack said as he rose to his feet once more, tossing the feather aside carelessly. "And just think, we've got three whole days yet to come up with even better games. I don't know about you, Whiffle Boy, but I can't wait."
While Quackerjack dissolved into yet another round of malicious giggling, Strongbill closed his eyes thinking that they were going to be the longest three days of his life.
The sight of Morgana Macawber waiting in the living room of 537 Avian Way was both a welcome and surprising sight as a tired Darkwing, now changed back into his Drake clothing after a quick stop at the tower, spun in on one of the blue chairs while Gosalyn came in on the other. "Dark! Oh Dark, I heard what happened on the news," she said, pulling him into a concerned embrace. Drake did not even have time to open his beak to ask what she was doing there before she answered for him. "I hope you don't think it was too forward of me to just open a portal into your home, but I was so worried about you when I heard you'd fallen ill, and that Launchpad was shot. I'd never invade your privacy over something trivial, but I was afraid if you were too ill I should see if I could help—"
"It's okay, Morg. I'll be all right," he said as he returned her hug. He was far more touched knowing that she cared that much than anything else.
"What happened to you?" Her green eyes looked down at him with concern.
Gosalyn frowned. "When the Fearsome Five, or Four, whatever they're calling their dumb group, attacked everyone, Liquidator found some way to hurt everyone who drank any of his water from inside."
Morgana blinked in surprise as she looked at Drake. "You drank Liquidator?" Her beak wrinkled a little. "Oh Dark, I don't even want to think about where that water might've been…"
"I didn't do it on purpose," Drake said with a sullen frown.
"Yeah, he just cheaped out and drank some free water from the cooler that Liquidator was hiding in rather than paying for a bottle from a vendor," Gosalyn clarified.
Rounding on his daughter, Drake waved an irritable finger in her direction. "There's nothing wrong with adhering to the virtue of frugality, young lady!"
"Hey, I got my gun for free. That was frugal." Gosalyn patted the gun from Blaster-Bill Inc. that she had managed to keep hold of despite all the chaos at the convention.
Morgana put an arm around Drake's shoulders as she led him to the couch. "You need to take it easy, Dark darling. How are you feeling now?"
"Better than before," the tired Drake replied. "He either can't affect me from a distance, or isn't bothering to do it. I thought about drinking more water to try and flush him out of my system faster, but—" His sentence was cut off by a poorly stifled snicker from Gosalyn. "What's so funny?" he demanded.
"Sorry, Dad," she answered sheepishly, her beak twisting to hide the ill-timed amusement. "It just struck me as funny that you'd be peeing out Liquidator. I mean, I'm sure that'd really pi…" She shut her beak in time to stop herself from using vulgar language that would undoubtedly get her in trouble.
Unfortunately the unspoken pun amused Morgana enough that she also found it difficult to keep the hint of a smirk off of her beak, and Drake's sarcastic nature was such that he could not help but chortle a bit himself. "Yes, I'm sure it would piss him off, Gos, but I'm not going to risk adding water to his arsenal to find out."
Morgana redirected the conversation to a more tasteful and productive path. "Healing spells aren't really my forte, but I could probably brew you up a decent purgative potion right here without too much trouble," she offered. "I'm still learning what Normals typically keep in their kitchens, but whatever you don't have I could probably find a working substitute for, even if I have to borrow a thing or two from the Muddlefoots. They have a very well stocked kitchen, I recall."
Drake's stomach flip-flopped; it was not that he did not trust Morgana, but her food and potions rarely agreed with him. Gosalyn, meanwhile, grinned with excitement. "Keen gear! You're making Dad a barf potion! Can I help?"
"Well, technically, a purgative could make it come out either way, but let's not dwell on that. I'm sure your father is miserable enough as it is. But I'd be glad to have your help." She gave Drake's shoulder a fond squeeze. "I'll whip that up in two flicks of a bat's wing, and then I'll start on a batch of Aunt Nasty's Chicken of the Bog soup for you. No medicine works better than that for overcoming the effects of dehydration. It's our staple every time someone in the family comes down with the Ghoul Flu."
The anxious look in Drake's eyes multiplied ten-fold at the notion of being fed some of Morgana's family's classic home cooking. "Uh, gee, that's okay. You don't have to go through all that trouble. I've got some sports drinks in the fridge. That should be fine once the tainted water's out of my system."
"Nonsense, it's no trouble at all," she assured him. "The soup's got electrolytes and protein and lots of other nutrients in it; it'll have you bouncing back faster than that bottled stuff. You just relax, Honey Wumpus. You need to rest a bit and recuperate so you can go after Quackerjack and the rest of them and rescue that actor like I know you will sooner than you probably should."
At that, Drake frowned. "Technically, I'm not supposed to," he said, and when Morgana gave him a curious look, he elaborated. "The police were there when Liquidator made the ransom demands, and they informed me when I was leaving that the matter was under their 'official jurisdiction' and I was not to 'endanger the hostage' with any 'rash vigilante rescue attempts'," he finished in a mockery of Officer Krop's supercilious tone. Drake was still fuming about the matter, as he was not only concerned about Brant Strongbill's welfare—not to mention that of the still-missing Eddie Flood—but he was also highly insulted that the police were treating him like a hindrance rather than help. He had argued with Officer Krop back at the crime scene, but he had been brushed off with little more than a "don't call us, we'll call you" for whenever the police finally did come up with a rescue plan, and a warning that there was a cell waiting for him if their wishes were ignored.
Gosalyn was disgusted by the police's attitude toward it as well, and looked up at Drake with an equally frustrated look. "Aw, come on, Dad! You're not going to just sit around for three days, and wait for them to ask you to show up and sit there tied up and gagged while those creeps pick up fifty million dollars and run?"
"Of course not!" Drake said indignantly before slumping down on the couch. "But I am going to wait at least long enough to get Liquidator out of my system, and for Launchpad to get back." He glanced over at the door, wondering how his sidekick was doing.
"I hope he's all right," said Gosalyn. "That line at the E.R. must be longer than the one for the Splash and Blast at Whirling Water World!"
Making a face, Drake put a hand over his still unsettled gut. "Did you have to say 'whirling water'?"
Morgana placed a gentle hand on Gosalyn's shoulder. "Come on; let's get to work on that potion."
"All right! I can't wait to see this stuff," Gosalyn said, and followed her into the kitchen.
In the alley next to Quackerjack's warehouse on the south side of St. Canard, Liquidator and Bushroot made sure there were no witnesses to spot them as they went to the nearest manhole leading into the city's sewer tunnels. Bushroot's beak wrinkled with distaste at the notion of going in. It was among his least favorite ways to travel, being underground with no natural light and a smell that made fertilizer delightful by comparison, but given the circumstances it was the most efficient way to get back to the greenhouse without being seen. Liquidator pulled the lid off and gestured for him to climb in, and after tossing his loot sack down, Bushroot climbed down the ladder. Liquidator's sack came next, followed by the water dog himself, who slid the cover back into place above them.
"I assume you're coming back to the greenhouse with me now?" Bushroot guessed.
"Absolutely! And as a reward for your generous offer of hospitality, you qualify for a free ride there on the Liquidator express through St. Canard's sewer system," Liquidator replied as he stepped into the water flowing past them from the nearby storm drains. Using it to magnify his size, he scooped up both loot sacks with one massive watery arm, and then grabbed Bushroot with the other. "All aboard!"
With a startled look on his face, Bushroot wrapped his vine arms around Liquidator's neck and held on tight as the water dog lowered himself into the current and used its momentum along with his own energy to propel them at a fast speed through the sewer system. It did not take them long to reach their destination traveling that way, which suited Bushroot just fine since he did not like the sharp turns, low ceilings, and having no real idea where he was while they were moving. It was also difficult to hold more than a brief conversation traveling like that, as the roar of the water echoed loudly in the tunnels, and he had to keep his head tucked down against Liquidator's solid water shoulder to keep from being sprayed repeatedly in the face with back-splash.
Finally they arrived at the exit nearest to Bushroot's greenhouse property. After a quick discreet check by Liquidator to ensure that all was clear, he motioned for Bushroot to climb out and join him. Once they were out of the sewers, Bushroot wiped the excess water off of himself and shook it out of his petal hair, making a face as he did so. "Did you drive like that back when you still needed a car to get around?"
"Only when I was sure I could get away with it," said Liquidator. "Gecko didn't save me that much on my car insurance when I had my old Jaguar X-Fang. Any tickets would've had it at rates even I'd call extortion."
Bushroot picked up his loot sack again, and he and Liquidator started to head up the long hill toward his greenhouse. "I wouldn't know. I used to drive a little commuter car."
"Ah, a green choice for a green kind of guy."
Giving a little shrug, Bushroot said, "Yeah, that and with what the university paid its research staff, I couldn't afford much else. Most of what I made went to taxes and upkeep on my greenhouse and its property. I ended up selling the car to a no-questions-asked guy downtown shortly after I became, well, this." He gestured to himself. "It's not like I could drive around and not get pulled over in it anyway. Kinda like my old apartment that I lived in when I wasn't here. I let that go too." Bushroot sighed as he thought about little mundane things that now seemed like they were a lifetime ago, and a different life altogether. He looked at the silhouette of his greenhouse up the hill against the dark evening sky, housing a remnant of his companion's former life. "But I guess you know all about what that's like."
Liquidator glanced over at Bushroot, his fluid eyes intense in the twilight, but he did not say anything.
"You never told me you had a family," Bushroot said, meeting his stare.
Bushroot curled his leafy fingers more tightly around the sack of loot he carried as they climbed the hill. "You could've trusted me."
"But I do trust you. The Liquidator wouldn't ask just anyone for help with something so personal and important," he replied. "This offer was not extended to Quackerjack and Megavolt, if you noticed."
"I mean before it became necessary," Bushroot clarified. "You never said anything at all. The only reason I even knew you were married once is because of a couple of offhand remarks you made about your ex." He gave Liquidator a puzzled look. "Didn't you miss your son?"
"Sometimes, but the lifestyle of one of St. Canard's Most Wanted doesn't allow for the luxury of domestic harmony, as you well know. But, that's not all." He held up his finger melodramatically. "Even if Brooke wouldn't sic the police on my trail out of spite if I saw the boys and she found out about it, it was for the best that they didn't see me."
Surprised to learn that the boy in the greenhouse was apparently not Liquidator's only son, and that he had so easily distanced himself from them, Bushroot gave the water dog an incredulous look. "They're your kids, Buddy."
Liquidator stared up the hill at the greenhouse for a moment before turning back toward Bushroot. "When we were working for Negaduck, remember how he used to always intimidate and threaten us, and warn us not to double-cross him?"
"Do I ever," Bushroot said cynically. "Ranting and raving and waving that chainsaw at us all the time… only to turn around and double-cross us and steal our powers when he got the chance." The plant-duck's features darkened at the memory.
"Didn't it seem odd to you that I put up with that? I know at first I thought it was odd that you did. Quackerjack and Megavolt, his overpowered power tool could kill them if he caught them off guard, even if Megavolt's electricity and Quackerjack's toys could give him a run for his money in a fair fight. But you, well you were run through a mulcher and sliced and diced under the blades of a lawn mower, and lived to tell about it."
"And as I've told you before, it hurt like all Hell," Bushroot retorted. "Not to mention it was made clear that after mulching me, he'd torch my greenhouse and all of my plant friends in it." With a frown on his face as he remembered Negaduck's warning, Bushroot gave Liquidator a curious look. "Though now that I think about it, a chainsaw isn't much of a threat to you…"
"No. When Negaduck waved his favorite low-vibration, mass-carnage tool of destruction at us, when it came to me it wasn't me he was threatening, at least not directly." A dark look flashed through Liquidator's eyes as he recalled the conversation with their former leader.
"We have a deal, Negaduck," Liquidator had told the duck who held the prestigious and villainous title of Public Enemy Number One as he shook his hand. "Joining your organization for mayhem and profit is an offer the Liquidator can't refuse!"
A smile that would have almost been charming if not for the poisonous undertone to it crossed Negaduck's beak. "Good. I knew an enterprising type like you would see the value to be had in being a part of my team. We'll be unstoppable. No force in the city will be able to stand against us, least of all that buffoon Darkwing Duck."
"Liquidating him would be my pleasure," he had said with a cruel grin, "not to mention all the cold, hard cash!"
Negaduck laughed. "Then it sounds like we'll make a good team, Liquidator. Just remember," he said, his eyes seemingly as dark as his mask as he spoke, "don't even think about double-crossing me… or else." Negaduck patted his chainsaw meaningfully.
Unimpressed by that threat, Liquidator sneered and folded his arms. He flowed to a taller height that towered over the comparatively short duck, refusing to be intimidated. "A flooded engine will stop even the most dedicated power tool in its tracks."
With a smile like ice, Negaduck replied, "Not before it goes through a couple of Floods, Bud." Then, without another word, he pulled a photograph out of his jacket. If Liquidator had still had blood, it would have run cold when he saw that it was a picture of Rill and Eddie. They were sitting at the picnic table in their backyard in Renardsville, eating hot dogs while their mother carried them sodas from the deck, all of them completely unaware that they were being photographed by a stranger.
"You've got nothing to worry about," Liquidator replied in a noticeably more subdued tone. "The Liquidator is known for honoring his warrantees."
Calmly putting the photograph away, Negaduck nodded. "Good. Then we won't have anything but a good time and a profitable crime." The leader of the group that would soon become the Fearsome Five then departed, pleased to have another villain added to his ranks.
"He threatened your kids," Bushroot guessed, snapping Liquidator out of the unpleasant memory. He gave the water dog a sympathetic look. "No wonder you thought the less said about them, the better."
With a slow nod, Liquidator answered, "In marketing, personal information is valuable; as a super-villain, even more so. As such, I prefer to maintain as low a profit margin as possible when it comes to extortion from my peers."
Bushroot smiled at him as they crested the hill. "Thanks for trusting me, then. It means a lot."
Liquidator returned his smile. "Every good super-villain needs a partner in crime they can rely on." He chortled a little. "Where would Quackerjack be right now without Megavolt, after all?"
"Probably scraping that poor actor's guts off of the wall," Bushroot muttered with a roll of his eyes. "I just hope Megavolt can keep him from doing anything too sick to him."
"Let's hope he's listening to the soothing soft-light bulbs for advice tonight," Liquidator quipped as they reached the door of Bushroot's greenhouse.
Bushroot opened it and stepped in first, calling for Spike. The fly trap ran over, excited and panting, and the plant-duck patted him on the nose as he greeted him. "The vines should've brought you a friend, Spike. Where is he?" Spike gave a vigorous nod and then pointed one of his arm-leaves deeper into the greenhouse's main chamber. "Take me and Liquidator to him, boy."
Spike took off like a shot, and Bushroot and Liquidator followed him into the main chamber. After taking a moment to set their loot sacks down, they joined up with Spike by a cluster of rose bushes and flowering vines. Eddie, whose hands and feet were still bound by the vines, sat right in front of one of the trellises with a frightened glare on his face as they approached.
"What do you want with me, you green freak?" he shouted at Bushroot, his voice betraying a measure of fear in his anger.
Although Bushroot was used to such insults, they still stung and grated at him whenever he heard them. "I'm a plant-duck, thank you very much. And if you've got questions, I'm sure he can answer them for you." Bushroot gestured to Liquidator.
As Eddie's gaze shifted from Bushroot to Liquidator, his face paled and he instinctively tried to back up, although in his binds he was able to do little more than wiggle ineffectively. "Stay away from me, murderer," he warned as Liquidator came closer. "I won't let you kill me without a fight."
A surprised look crossed Liquidator's fluid features. "Kill you?" he repeated. "If I didn't kill you when you broke my brand new, state of the art stereo system and all of its speakers four days after I bought it, what makes you think I'd kill you now?"
Eddie's expression changed from scared to shocked when he heard Liquidator speak in a voice similar to his father's and mention something that he had done years ago, when he had been only eight years old. "What? Dad…? Is this some kind of a trick?" He stared at Liquidator in a mixture of horror and confusion. "It can't be… you're dead!" His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You killed him!"
Liquidator went to Eddie's side and looked down at him, shaking his head. "I'm not dead so much as re-processed and re-packaged," he explained. "But I am your father."
Eddie was not convinced. "That's not what the police told us. They said you pushed him into a vat of poison water that killed him and dissolved his body. So how could you—?"
"In an unfortunate act of fate, my life as Bud Flood was cut tragically short when Darkwing Duck cornered me in the Koo Koo Fizzy Water factory, and I wound up in a vat of contaminated water. It did dissolve my body, but it didn't kill me. It turned me into," he made a dramatic gesture with his hands, "the one and only Liquidator!" He lowered his voice and continued. "The overblown pride of the donut-consuming police force of St. Canard gave me the opportunity of a lifetime when they covered everything up in their embarrassment at being shown up by Darkwing Duck in solving the drinking water scandal. They couldn't say what really happened without also investigating him for my murder, since I 'died' at the scene of the crime. But nobody in city politics would risk a one hundred percent career-damaging scandal like that, one involving the possibility that that they've been turning a blind eye to a vigilante that uses deadly force on citizens without a trial. When I resurfaced as the Liquidator, they just blamed me for my own death to close the case for good and stop the questions."
"So you're not two different people?" Eddie said, trying to reconcile the conflicting stories. Liquidator shook his head, and Eddie did not say anything for a long moment as he tried to process what he had just been told. "Then you're," he stared up at Liquidator apprehensively, "Dad's ghost?"
"No!" Liquidator exclaimed in frustration. "I'm not dead, Eddie. I just did an impromptu trade-in on my body."
"He was mutated, not killed," Bushroot clarified for him.
"Yes, exactly. Thank you," Liquidator said to Bushroot, while Eddie continued to stare at the watery criminal that was telling him that he was his allegedly deceased father.
"Whoa. Dad's alive… and he's a super-villain," Eddie muttered in shock, while Liquidator gave him the same fond smile that Eddie remembered his father to have. That was enough to convince him that Liquidator was telling the truth, and he smiled back at him, overwhelmed with the notion that he had his father back. "Wow," he said after a moment. "I know some jerks at school who won't hassle me anymore now."
With a gleam of happiness and amusement in his fluid eyes, Liquidator reached down and lifted his son to his feet. "That's my boy, always spotting opportunities," he said with a note of pride. He glanced at Bushroot, who was watching them with a look that seemed glad for them that their reunion had turned out to be a pleasant one. "He's one of the only ones who could give me a good run at a cutthroat game of Monopoly, you know," Liquidator told the plant-duck.
"You must be proud," Bushroot said wryly, and motioned for the vines still binding Eddie's arms and legs to release him.
Eddie watched with amazement as the vines untied themselves, dropped to the ground, and slithered off to another part of the greenhouse. "Wow! That's wild."
"Bushroot is the master of all plant life like I'm the master of all things aquatic," Liquidator explained as he pulled his son into a wet hug. "I expect you to behave while we're here, and to leave his plants alone, lest you wind up with a case of poison ivy that even the cooling power of calamine lotion won't ease."
"Okay," Eddie said to Bushroot, who nodded back to him with a friendly enough expression.
"Don't worry. They won't hurt you. Not even Spike here. He likes you, actually. Right, boy?" He patted Spike's head, and the fly trap nodded and panted at Eddie, who eyed him with a wary look before turning back to his father.
"Why are we here, Dad? I mean, if you were alive this whole time, why'd you just grab me at Whiffle-Con like that and not before? And why didn't you get Rill too?"
"Your brother was there? I didn't know that." Liquidator frowned, hoping that his other son had not been harmed in the chaos at the convention, either. "I didn't even know you were there until that announcer called your name as a Whiffle-Champ. That's why I made sure I found and grabbed you. I wanted to make sure none of my offspring were harmed in the making of our loot there."
"He's probably fine," Bushroot interjected, "but I'll turn on the news and see what they're saying about it while you two catch up."
After a quick nod to Bushroot, Liquidator turned back to his son. "How is your brother?" he asked, looking Eddie over. "Grown as much as you?" A faint smile crossed his watery features. "Last time I saw you, you were barely tall enough to get onto the good rides at the theme park without an adult present." He held out his hand in an approximation of his son's former height. "And I see that your mother's been lax about making sure you get a haircut every six weeks as recommended," he said as he then tousled Eddie's unruly mane of dark hair.
"Hey, it's cool," Eddie protested, smoothing his now wet hair into place. "I like it like this. And why do you care?" He eyed his father's new water form with a dubious look. "Since when do super-villains follow dumb rules about haircuts?"
"CEOs everywhere agree that the heirs to a controlling interest in a Fortune 500 company should not look like slobs," Liquidator replied on a stern note.
"You come back from being dead for a year and a half, and you start complaining about my hair?" Eddie said incredulously, growing angrier as the full truth and implications of the fact that his father had not been dead, but alive and living under a new identity all that time began to boil to the surface. "What gives you the right to bitch at me like that when you don't even tell us you're alive?"
Liquidator raised an eyebrow, both stung by the accusation and annoyed at his attitude and vulgar language. "Want to find out how much fun it isn't to be grounded by a super-villain father? Continue to mouth off like that and find out." He regarded Eddie with a warning look before resuming a more even tone. "You're mad, angry, one hundred percent furious. I don't blame you for that, but it's not as simple as you think. I couldn't tell you and Rill that I was alive. The only way to maintain the status quo for everyone involved was for everyone to believe that I, as Bud Flood anyway, was dead and that the Liquidator had nothing to do with his actions beyond being hired by him before he killed him. A dead man can't be sued, only his estate, which lawyers that I can easily afford with Liquidator's income," he gestured to the sacks of loot over in the corner, "can protect from most of those judgments since it's hard to drag a dead man into court. A dead CEO can't be made to answer for his actions on behalf of a company, and other board members who may or may not have been involved in his plans, and who certainly won't talk with the threat of the Liquidator hanging over them, can easily scapegoat his name to protect their interests and profits—profits that keep the company afloat, and profits that'll put you and Rill through college without loans that could drive someone to super-villainy to pay them off when they graduate." He met Eddie's eyes with a softer look. "Hurting you and your brother was an unfortunate side-effect of that, and I am sorry."
Folding his arms sullenly, Eddie frowned. "What a line of crap, Dad. You just admitted that you played dead so you could keep running your company and boss around your board members without going to jail. And will you quit talking like you're in a marketing campaign already?"
"You sound like your mother." It was clear from Liquidator's tone that he did not mean it as a complement. In fact, Eddie's remark had reminded Liquidator of an argument he had had with Brooke in which she had expressed a similar sentiment about his habit of using sales puns in his speech. Back then, he had chalked it up to her having lost her sense of humor, perhaps because back when they had been dating, she had claimed his wit was one of the things she loved about him.
"Yeah, well, I am related to her," Eddie retorted sarcastically. "And you didn't tell her, either, did you?"
Liquidator gave Eddie a pointed look. "Please, you ought to know that I'd have told you and your brother before I'd deal with her." He left it unsaid that another big reason it had been profitable for Bud Flood to remain dead while Liquidator lived on was that Liquidator did not have a hefty judgment of alimony and child support decreed by a divorce court hanging over him. The latter he did not resent much, since he had no problem seeing the boys provided for. The former, however, infuriated him since Brooke had not worked a day in the years they had been married, and the courts felt she was entitled to a large enough part of his earnings to maintain her pampered lifestyle rather than force her to actually cut back or get a job. Dead, Bud Flood's life insurance should have provided them all with plenty, and although Liquidator was aware that it had not paid out, in the interim he had sent one of the Flood Water Company's board members out to Renardsville with a company-backed check to ensure that the bills for the house and Rill and Eddie's school tuition were paid for.
"So if you had to keep it such a big secret, why'd you change your mind now?" demanded Eddie, his dark eyes still full of anger.
"Because I knew what'd happen at that convention hall, and I didn't want to see you cut to ribbons by one of Quackerjack's teddy bears, fried by Megavolt, or—"
"Have the shit choked out of me by one of your green pal's plants?" Eddie cut him off.
Liquidator frowned and pointed a warning finger at Eddie. "Even your evil neighborhood super-villains have better manners than to curse in front of their parents. But yes, the situation I rescued you from was exactly what I didn't want to see happen when I heard you were there. Knowing you and your brother are safely in Renardsville makes it much simpler to go about my business here in St. Canard. Finding out you were there forced me to act fast before time ran out."
Eddie looked up at Liquidator, still frowning. "Would you have ever told us you were still alive?"
"Once the need for stealth and secrecy expired," Liquidator said, thinking once again about the threat Negaduck had made. At least now that he was no longer working with him, that was not much of a concern, since he doubted that Negaduck had any further interest in his former henchmen for good or ill anymore. "But now that the secret is out," Liquidator smiled at Eddie, "it's good to see you again. I've missed you."
"I missed you too, Dad," Eddie admitted, still glaring stubbornly. "That's why I'm still pissed at you. Just because you're a super-villain now, you don't have to be such an ass—" Eddie quickly amended his words as he saw Liquidator's ear rise and his eyes narrow in a pre-emptive warning. "…such a jerk about it to us."
Supposing that he had earned that barb, Liquidator let it go and assumed a tone like he would have used on a dissatisfied customer. "How about I offer you a deal to make it up to you?"
"A deal?" Eddie eyed him suspiciously, but not without interest.
"You've got it!" Liquidator grinned with confidence. "As you may or may not have heard by the fine press put out by the media, the one and only Liquidator has a wide array of unique and unusual powers that allow him to acquire just about anything he wants. Therefore, for a limited time only, I'm willing to offer you, Eddie Flood, a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask for something you've always wanted, even if—no, especially if—your mother has already told you 'no'."
A smile tugged at the corners of Eddie's mouth. "Really? Anything?"
"You name it, and it's yours—within reasonable limits of physics and feasibility notwithstanding, of course," he added as a quick disclaimer.
"All right, you're on, Dad. How about a car? A sleek black Mouserati with—"
Liquidator cut him off with a loud burst of laughter. "Nice try, but no. This offer is not valid for anything you can't legally operate for the next two or more years." He held up a finger and added, "By the way, the offer is also void for alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs of both the legal and illegal variety, so don't bother."
"Nice load of fine print there," he groused. "If you're gonna put all those conditions on it, I ought to get more than one thing." Eddie looked up at him with a sly look. "I mean, you did miss my birthday and two Christmases."
"You drive a hard bargain." With a wry smile, Liquidator put his arm around his son's shoulder. "But then, I wouldn't expect anything less from a boy of mine!"
Grinning victoriously, Eddie said, "Well for starters, how about one of those cool Whiffle Boy laser guns I saw when you attacked the convention? The real ones, I mean. Not the fake but real-looking ones that were being sold at the convention, but the ones I saw some of Quackerjack's toys shooting?"
Liquidator considered the request. "One of Quackerjack's authentic Whiffle Boy inspired laser weapons, complete with full destructive capabilities?"
"Yeah, those were awesome!"
"All right," Liquidator agreed. "One Whiffle Boy laser gun, on the condition that you agree not to shoot at your brother, me, any of my super-villain associates or their friends," he gestured to Bushroot's plants, "anyone at school, or your mother with it," he finished, sounding as though he had debated adding the last one. "Also, you're not to otherwise use it in a manner that'll add to your juvenile record." He gave him a meaningful look; while Eddie had never been in serious trouble, he did have a few black marks for misdemeanors like vandalism and getting into fights with peers.
"Sure," Eddie agreed, his grin spanning from ear to ear. "And can I look through the stuff you grabbed at the convention? If there's any cool game stuff…"
Nodding, Liquidator retrieved his loot sack and emptied it out onto one of the empty benches in the greenhouse. "Browse at will and help yourself, but the cash and jewelry are mine, unless you find some specific piece you want."
Eddie immediately began pawing through the ill-gotten convention spoils. "Oh, 'cause this necklace is so you, right?" He held up a very feminine diamond necklace on a gold chain that had been stolen from someone in the convention hall. "Can you even wear this stuff?"
"Smart-ass remarks may void this offer at any time," warned Liquidator. "Pete's Pawn Shop will pay plenty for that lovely round-cut diamond accented with sapphires and emeralds."
"Okay, fine," Eddie conceded, and resumed looking through the pile. "So how long are we staying here, anyway?"
Liquidator watched as Eddie picked out a few games that had been taken from vendor booths. "Your stay at this relaxing indoor garden retreat will be approximately three days, long enough for us to collect the ransom of Brant Strongbill."
Eddie was about to pocket an expensive cell phone he had just picked up when he gave his father a surprised look. "You guys are holding him for ransom? That's what Quackerjack wanted with him?"
"Quackerjack engineered this whole scheme," Liquidator verified, while Bushroot approached from behind.
"Which means we ought to hope it doesn't go off the rails," the plant-duck interjected as he joined them, before turning to Liquidator. "The news said there were no fatalities and only a handful of serious injuries at Whiffle Con, so your other son is probably fine. They didn't bring up any names of who was hurt other than Darkwing's sidekick Launchpad McQuack, and mostly they talked about Brant Strongbill and his ransom, and…" Bushroot's voice trailed off as he considered how to phrase the last bit, and Liquidator gave him a curious look.
"But wait, there's more?"
"They also mentioned that Eddie Flood, son of Sparkling Crystal Pure Flood Water Company's former head Bud Flood, who was 'presumed murdered by the Liquidator last year', was also missing from the convention. But that's all they said about it," he said, while Liquidator let out a low groan.
"Action news, cramping the style of St. Canard's criminal element like no other," he lamented before turning to Eddie. "Since the police are looking for you now, you need to stay on the premises and lay low until the operation is a done deal. Nobody can find out where you are, not even your mother or your brother for now. You can go home to them afterward."
Eddie stopped picking through the loot and looked up at his father and Bushroot. "Wow, so I get to be on the run with you?" He grinned. "That's awesome! Will you show me what it's like to be a super-villain?" he asked, his dark eyes full of enthusiasm. "Can I meet the rest of your friends? I mean… since I know they won't hurt me 'cause you're my dad… that'd be really cool to say I met the whole Fearsome Five!"
Not nearly as thrilled at the prospect as Eddie, Liquidator shook his head. "Tell me you're not failing math too badly to not realize there were only four of us there. The Fearsome Five was a super-villain organization run by Negaduck, and as you may have noticed, no Negaducks were utilized in the pulling off of this caper."
Eddie gave Liquidator a curious look. "Did you guys boot him out of the group or something?"
"During our last heist together, it became clear that working for Negaduck was no longer in our best interests, and the decision was mutual," Liquidator explained in a tone that allowed for no further questioning on the matter. "The rest of us are now merely business partners operating in a joint venture. As for you tagging along, no. It's safer if you stay here. Super-villain style fun and games are not for minors."
"Oh man, that sucks," Eddie pouted. "I wouldn't get caught; I'm good at that. I could help you out, Dad! It'd be fun." He gave him a hopeful look. "You said you wanted to make things up to me…"
Liquidator's sharp look deepened into a stern frown. "I reiterate, must be eighteen or older to play!"
Bushroot raised an eyebrow. "Well, at least you didn't say 'mature audiences only', otherwise we'd have to stop working with Quackerjack," he quipped before turning to Eddie. "Your father's right. Being a super-villain's not all it's cracked up to be. You have to deal with arrogant super-heroes like Darkwing Duck, and that's no walk in the forest, believe me."
"But you have super powers and can do all these cool things! I mean, with your plants you can get whatever you want just like Dad, right?" He gave Bushroot a sly look. "I bet you grow weed like crazy here, huh?"
A no-nonsense look crossed Liquidator's fluid face. "This greenhouse is a strict non-smoking area, as any area around you better be."
"Potted pot plants are nothing but trouble, actually, so you won't find any of them here," Bushroot told Eddie. "If you think potheads are crazy when they get the munchies, you should see the marijuana plants themselves go through fertilizer." He made a face.
Eddie shrugged. "Well, it still must be cool to have powers like that. I think it'd be awesome to be able to do stuff like you guys."
Liquidator put his hand on Eddie's shoulder. "You're already getting a laser gun with full sighting and blasting capabilities, as well as a few free bonus days off of school while this ransoming deal pays off. Don't push it."
Sighing in a way that made it clear that he was disappointed, Eddie said, "Oh, all right. But this only covers my birthday. I'm still thinking of what I want for the two Christmases."
"Ah ah ah, that handful of stuff you grabbed from my loot is at least one Christmas," Liquidator countered with a wave of his finger.
"But that still leaves one." Eddie smiled at his father.
With a sigh of his own and a fond smile mirroring his son's despite himself, Liquidator nodded. "That's my boy."
Drake Mallard was curled up on the couch in the fetal position with his eyes closed and a rag on his forehead while Morgana was in his kitchen stirring the soup she had made for him. Gosalyn was in the living room with him, reading a comic book and keeping him company. She looked up from the pages when Morgana poked her head from around the corner. "My Chicken of the Bog soup should be ready in just a few more minutes," she told him with a sympathetic smile. "It should have you feeling better in no time." She sighed. "I'm sorry the purgative potion was so hard on you, Dark. I feel terrible about that."
"It's okay," he said with a weak groan. "It builds good abdominal strength to pray to the porcelain god like that."
"At least you got the chance to say you flushed Liquidator down the toilet," Gosalyn offered with a giggle.
Drake groaned again, albeit with the hint of a smile, when the front door opened. Launchpad, wearing only an undershirt instead of his ruined jacket and sporting a large white bandage on his elbow, came in with Honker a couple of steps behind him. "Launchpad!" Gosalyn exclaimed, jumping up and running over to him. "Are you okay?"
He nodded. "Oh yeah, fine. They said it'd heal okay."
"He's not supposed to pilot for a few weeks, though, not until he's off of his pain medication, anyway," Honker said.
"Yeah," Launchpad said with a frown. "They said it'd be dangerous for me to fly taking this stuff." He held up a prescription bottle that he had been given. "They said it'll kill the pain, but it'll make me light-headed and dizzy and affect my ability to safely operate heavy machinery."
Drake sat up with a wry look on his tired face. "So what you're saying is that it shouldn't affect your flying at all."
Ignoring the barb, Launchpad instead looked at Drake's disheveled state with concern. "DW, you look terrible, and I'm the one that just got out of the hospital. What happened? Is this from what Liquidator did to you?"
"Morgana made him a puke potion to get Liquidator's water out of his body, and he spent the last two hours locked in the bathroom barfing his guts out," Gosalyn explained.
"Among other unpleasant things," added Drake. "But at least I think he's out of me, so he can't get to me that way again."
Morgana emerged from the kitchen, soup ladle still in hand. "Oh, Launchpad, you're home. I thought I heard more voices out here. How are you doing?"
Launchpad smiled, upbeat as usual. "I'm okay. Like I was telling them, it's just a bad burn. The doctor said it'd be fine, though, as long as I take it easy and don't strain it too much, and let it heal."
"Which also means you really shouldn't be doing much sidekick stuff, either, Launchpad," Honker reminded him.
Darkwing frowned with concern and rose to his feet. "No sidekick stuff?"
"Aw, you know doctors. They're always over-cautious."
"The nurse told you the same thing," Honker pointed out.
Launchpad waved his good hand dismissively. "I'll be fine. Don't worry, DW. I'll help you as much as I can." His optimistic tone faded. "Even if I can't fly the Thunderquack for a while."
"You could teach me to fly the Thunderquack," Gosalyn suggested, looking hopefully at Launchpad.
"And I could also take ballet lessons and go dancing with Grizzlikof, but that's not going to happen anytime soon either, so forget it," Drake interjected.
Morgana smiled and twirled her ladle. "Well, Launchpad, you're just in time for a helping of Aunt Nasty's special recipe Chicken of the Bog soup. I made some for Dark, and I'll get you a nice big bowl, too. Sit down and relax, and I'll bring you both some. It's just about ready."
"Thanks, Morgana," Launchpad replied, while Honker excused himself to call his parents and let them know he would be home soon, and Morgana headed back into the kitchen. A minute or so later, she emerged with two steaming bowls full of soup. She handed one to Drake, who eyed it suspiciously, and set the other on the coffee table in front of Launchpad, who sniffed it without a second thought. "Smells good!"
Drake peered into the bowl. The soup was creamy, with grayish chunks floating in it as well as flecks of dark green and black. "That's chicken?" He lifted the spoon cautiously, while Launchpad dug in with his good arm and slurped a big spoonful.
"This is great! Reminds me of my mom's homemade cream of turkey soup," he said, which made Morgana beam at the complement.
"Oh, thank you, Launchpad! I'm glad you like it. Aunt Nasty will get a big kick out of knowing that normals enjoy it too."
"In all fairness, I'd hardly call Launchpad normal, or his palate discriminating," Drake said as he blew across his spoon to cool it. The gray chunk on his spoon that was allegedly chicken still gave him pause for actually tasting it, however.
Launchpad swallowed his soup. "What? I like all kinds of good food."
"You also like Herb Muddlefoot's coconut burgers."
"They are oddly… appealing," Morgana conceded with a diplomatic smile, and then gave Drake an encouraging look. "Go on, try it. This one doesn't bite. I promise. It doesn't even have teeth."
"Most chickens don't." Drake lifted the spoon to his beak, and then asked with apprehension, "This is just chicken, right?"
"Technically speaking, it's hen of the woods."
"Hens are chickens," said Gosalyn.
"Right." Drake thrust the spoon into his bill and swallowed. "It's," he smiled despite himself, "not bad."
"Thank you, Dark!" Morgana folded her hands with pride and then answered Gosalyn. "Actually, hen of the woods is a tasty wild mushroom. Aunt Nasty calls it her Chicken of the Bog soup because hen of the woods grows so well in her swampy yard, along with three of the six herbs that go in the soup. I did have to make a few substitutions there, but I believe the right blend of rosemary and garlic chives still taste enough like devil's weed and goblin-wort in a pinch."
Remembering the mushrooms that Morgana had been growing on the case where he had met her, Drake paled and felt his stomach churn again despite the soup's pleasant flavor. "Tell me no relatives of yours are in this soup."
Frowning, Morgana exclaimed, "Dark! Really."
"Just checking." He offered an appreciative, if not somewhat anxious smile. "Thanks."
She leaned down and gave him a gentle kiss on his forehead, brushing off the unpleasantness with a caring smile. Dark would always be Dark, she mused, and she would not have him any other way. "You're very welcome."
Back at the warehouse, Quackerjack sat on a chair close to his prisoner holding a paddle-ball toy. Rather than bounce the little ball against the wooden paddle, though, he was busy bouncing it against the side of Brant Strongbill's head, just as he had been doing for the past fifteen minutes. Strongbill had hoped that the crazy duck holding him captive would get bored with the game, but no such luck. He had even turned on the radio for backup music to bop the ball along to a beat with, and to Strongbill's dismay, it was not even what he considered good music.
"How long are you going to do that?" the aggravated actor asked.
"Until I don't feel like it anymore, or until Megsy gets back," Quackerjack replied, grinning like a little kid as he bounced the ball in tune to the fast drum solo playing. Had it not been so excruciatingly annoying, Strongbill might have been impressed at Quackerjack's skill with the paddle ball, but having several more tunes literally pounded into his head prior to that precluded that.
He winced as the ball nearly hit him in the eye. "How long do you think it'll be?"
Quackerjack shrugged. "However long it takes him to get dinner. It should be anytime now, unless he got lost trying to find Hamburger Hippo again." He frowned, thinking of one of the more irritating downsides of Megavolt's notoriously fried memory. "One of these days we really ought to steal him a GPS," he mused, and then looked at Strongbill with a mischievous look. "Why, aren't you having fun?" He made a particularly hard bounce with the paddle-ball.
"A blast," seethed Strongbill.
Giggling at his frustration, Quackerjack replied with a sneer, "Poor Whiffle Boy, you must be feeling so impotent without your little blaster."
Fortunately, Strongbill got his reprieve when Megavolt walked in a moment later holding two bags full of fast food and a tray with four drinks on it. Since the actor had not eaten since his lunch at the hotel that afternoon, the smell of the greasy burger joint food was like heaven to him, and it distracted him from making any kind of retort to Quackerjack. He eyed the bags hungrily while Quackerjack finally stopped bopping the paddle ball against his head and joined Megavolt at the table.
"What all did you get?" Quackerjack asked as he began rooting through the bags.
Megavolt shrugged. "Burgers, fries, and ketchup. I remembered you like a lot of that," he said with a hint of pride.
"Too bad you forgot I don't like pickles on my burgers," Quackerjack sighed as he unwrapped a burger and pulled two of the offending condiments off of it. He tossed them at Strongbill, and one landed squarely on the bound actor's bill while the other grazed the top of his head with a ketchupy trail before falling onto the floor behind him.
"Sorry," Megavolt retorted sarcastically, picking up a container of fries. "Next time, you go steal the food and I'll babysit our hostage."
Quackerjack swallowed a big bite of his burger and then frowned at Megavolt. "No, he's my toy to play with! You get to be the errand boy. It's not like you're not getting paid well for it, Mr. Thirty Percent Cut. Besides, food runs are good exercise." He poked Megavolt in the belly to accentuate his statement, and an offended glower crossed Megavolt's features.
"Are you calling me 'fat'?" he said incredulously, to which Quackerjack giggled.
"No, but you'll get that way eating this junk," he teased, and rooted around in the bag some more. "Oooh, you did get me a lot of ketchup packets!" He jumped with glee and pulled out a handful from the bottom of the bag, which Megavolt had dumped the entire container into on the way out. He had not robbed Hamburger Hippo exactly, but since he had gone up to the counter in his super-villain costume, the cashier not only assumed he was going to, but preemptively told him to take whatever he wanted if he would not hurt anyone. Megavolt had reasonably taken his order of food and then, somewhat less reasonably, also took all of the condiments he could carry. The other bag he had brought had a nice assortment of relish and mustard as well as some salt packets lining its bottom.
The tantalizing scent of the food, made stronger by the greasy pickle still on his beak, was too much for Strongbill to resist, and he shelved his pride in favor of sating his hunger. "Can I have some of that?" he asked, causing Quackerjack and Megavolt both to turn and look over at him. When he saw the devilish smile on Quackerjack's face, however, it made him wonder if he had just made a mistake.
"The great Whiffle Boy is hungry? I thought the only thing you craved was the fat, juicy taste of Weasel Kid's defeat," Quackerjack taunted.
"Of course I get hungry, you nut job!" Strongbill snapped back. "I'm just an ordinary guy like you or him!" He frowned, and then added as he reconsidered his words and their implication that Quackerjack and Megavolt were normal, "Biologically, anyway. I guess," he finished, unsure of even that as he looked again at Megavolt and thought of his ability to channel electricity.
Unimpressed, Quackerjack put his hand on his hip. "Well, I'm sorry. We're fresh out of roasted weasel burgers. You probably wouldn't like our food."
"Please," Strongbill said, his voice taking on a pleading note. "Don't starve me. The water guy said you can't hurt me. Starvation has to count."
Quackerjack stuck out his tongue. "'Water Guy' is a big wet drip about having fun with you, and furthermore, he's not here." He tore open the very end of a ketchup packet and placed it in his palm, pointing it at Strongbill. "But since I'm a sport, here you go!" Quackerjack then slammed his other hand down on top of it, blasting the contents out of it right onto Strongbill's face and chest. "Oh no! Whiffle Boy's been shot, Megavolt!" Quackerjack said, striking a dramatic pose. "Whatever shall we do?"
Megavolt glanced over, smirking. "Well, he's a weenie, so..." He held up a sparking fingertip. "Roast 'em!" The rat then discharged a burst of voltage that shocked Strongbill from his head to his webbed feet, making him yelp and shake in the chair. When he recovered, Quackerjack and Megavolt were both still laughing.
"Not bad, but it needs some relish." Quackerjack then squashed a relish packet to splatter onto Strongbill just like he had the ketchup.
"Make sure he cuts the mustard, too." Megavolt handed Quackerjack a mustard packet.
Quackerjack giggled. "Oh, where would I be without you?"
The condiment assault was doubly miserable to Strongbill because along with the disgusting feel of it on his clothes and feathers, he was also so hungry that the tastes of it that dripped along his beak made it even worse. "Can you please let me have just a little? Some fries? Anything?" His voice took on a note of desperation.
"If we stuff some fries in your mouth, will you shut up?" Megavolt retorted, and glanced at Quackerjack. "Does the Weasel Kid whine this much?"
Quackerjack shook his head, the bells on the tails on his jester hat jingling as he did so. "No. Of the two evils, he's definitely the lesser compared to Whiffle Wimp there." He sneered. "Not that that's saying much."
The imploring note in the actor's voice amused Quackerjack to no end, and he looked from Strongbill to Megavolt. "Is he begging? What do you think, should I give him a little something to go with his toppings? I mean, he won't be too much fun if he's completely starving and dehydrated, right?" He picked up one of the cups.
"Not my Koo-Koo Kola!" Megavolt snatched the drink out of Quackerjack's hand. "You can give him your Grape Fizzy-Bomb if you want, or your shake. This came out of my loot."
"Hamburger Hippo, ooh, you're such a big spender, Megsy… especially considering you stole it. You're lucky I'm not offended you're such a cheap dinner date." He stuck out his tongue at the rat and then grinned deviously at Strongbill, waving the cup like a prize. "Do you like Hamburger Hippo's thick and chocolaty Shiver Shakes?"
Strongbill's beak watered. "Yes." He panted out the word desperately.
Quackerjack took a few steps toward him, swirling the straw around in its plastic holder provocatively as he eyed the bound actor. "So rich and creamy, sweet and satisfying…" He lifted the straw up to his beak, but did not quite put it in. "How bad do you want this, Whiffle Boy?"
"Yes, you are," Quackerjack mocked him back. "A bad, bad boy! I'm not so sure you deserve a thick and chocolaty Shiver Shake."
Megavolt re-warmed his fries with a zap from his fingertip before popping them into his mouth as he watched. "Your acting is getting better, though. You've almost got me convinced that you really would kiss his tail feathers for that shake."
Quackerjack snickered. "Hmm, but do I really want Whiffle Boy to kiss my… oh, wait! You're a kids' idol. I almost forgot. Shame on me for nearly using naughty language!" He approached Strongbill's chair, holding the shake just out of reach as he leaned in close to his face. "Tell you what. I'll let you have this if you just say the magic word."
"Please?" The milkshake was so close that Strongbill could see the condensation on the outside of the cup. His stomach rumbled again, and even though he had the acid aftertaste of ketchup mixed with his own sweat and a hint of mustard and relish in his mouth, the thought of the sweet and cool chocolate shake was still heaven to him. "Please," he repeated, begging. "Pretty please with sugar on top, and a cherry, and whatever else you think goes on it. Pineapple, nuts, whipped cream, the works…"
Quackerjack giggled at his desperation. "You're starting to think like me. I like that." He dangled the shake under Strongbill's beak, just out of reach for him to grab the straw with it. "Since I'm feeling generous, and since you asked so… pathetically," he smirked, "just this once I'll be nice. Here you go." He pulled the cup downward and wedged it between the actor's knees, the only way he could hold it with his hands still tied down. When Strongbill looked up at Quackerjack with an agonized look, he just smiled back at him with false kindness. "Well, you're going to have to work for it. But we both know you're flexible. You heroes have amazing moves." He raised his arm and made a fist in the mockery of Whiffle Boy's "Whiffle Ho!" pose. "Let's see them in action, if you don't want to starve to death. And good luck sucking up a fresh Hamburger Hippo shake through a straw. 'Thicker than all the competition' isn't just a claim that dumb heroes like you can make, you know! But never fear… I know that if nothing else, you have an amazing ability to suck." Quackerjack then dissolved into a fresh round of giggles as he rejoined Megavolt, also laughing, at the table. The two villains watched as Strongbill struggled to bend over and grab the straw with his bill, and then once he managed that, as he attempted to suck whatever he could of the thick milkshake through the straw while they ate their burgers and drank their sodas at leisure, enjoying the show.
The next day had Drake feeling much better physically, although that was only a small relief given everything else weighing on his mind. Morgana had stayed the night with him. She fell asleep with him on the couch where they ended up spending the night after dozing off, but while that had been nice, it had not been much help beyond moral support. Drake was still angry, at the situation, at the criminals who engineered it, and at the police who treated him like part of the problem rather than part of the solution. That bothered him most of all, or at least the most personally, that he had done so much for the good people of St. Canard and received so little credit and trust for it.
He brewed a pot of coffee and once it was ready, went back out into the living room to turn on the morning news. Gosalyn was up and bounded down the stairs with more energy than it should have been legal to possess that early in the morning, while Morgana stirred from her sleeping position on the couch with a tired look. "Oh my, I must look dreadful," she muttered, poking at her hair.
"You're fine," Drake assured her with a wan smile. He was about to turn the TV on when he heard a loud series of thumps in the hall. He and Morgana looked up, and Gosalyn peeked through the kitchen doorway to see Launchpad gripping the railing with his good arm about halfway down the staircase.
"Heh heh, watch that first step, it's a doozy," he said as he righted himself, blinking a few times.
"Launchpad, are you okay?" Gosalyn called up to him.
"Sure thing. Just tripped." He wobbled the rest of the way down the stairs.
Morgana gave him a concerned look. "Is your arm all right?"
Launchpad held up his bandaged arm. "This? Oh yeah, just great. I barely feel a thing. Those pills really do the trick." He sniffed the air and caught the scent of Drake's freshly brewed coffee coming from the kitchen. "Coffee's done? Oh thanks, DW, that's just what I need," he said as he collided with the doorjamb on his way in. "Whoa. I must need it more than I think." He disappeared through the doorway while Gosalyn flopped down in a chair and turned on some cartoons.
Drake had other ideas, however, and promptly changed the channel to the news network.
"Hey! What's the big idea, Dad?"
"It's Sunday; the better ones were on yesterday. Besides, I want to see if the police are any closer to pulling their heads out of their hindquarters yet, or if they made any headway on the case overnight."
Taking a bite of her toaster pastry, Gosalyn frowned. "Oh, fine. But if it's boring stuff, put it back."
The tail end of a commercial finished, and Tom Lockjaw's face appeared on the screen a moment later. "Good morning. This is Tom Lockjaw here with the latest on the Whiffle Boy Kidnapping Caper," he opened as an image of Brant Strongbill in his Whiffle Boy movie costume appeared on the screen behind him. "Our reporter Tara Tadboil is at downtown St. Canard's Hotel Swanlord, the scene of yesterday's daring abduction of Brant Strongbill from the now game-over Whiffle-Con after it was trashed by four of the Fearsome Five. Tara?"
A prim deer woman in a red suit appeared on the screen. "Thank you, Tom. The game may be over for Whiffle-Con, but the excitement's done anything but die down ever since Brant Strongbill was taken by Quackerjack and his cohorts, three of the other Fearsome Five members: Megavolt, who the crazy former toymaker has been known to partner with in previous crimes, as well as mutant research scientist Reginald Bushroot, and the infamously opportunistic Liquidator. The biggest question on everyone's mind is 'why', although it's pretty clear that the number one motivation is nothing but cold, hard cash. A ransom sum of fifty million dollars was demanded by Liquidator, the last of the perpetrators to flee the scene of the crime, before departing. The police remain tight-lipped on whether or not they intend to pay the ransom to guarantee Mr. Strongbill's safety, and speculation is running wild while emotions run high. Some say that Quackerjack, who's hated the Whiffle Boy game series for years and who's made targeted attacks against it many times in the past—from destroying boxed games en masse to sabotaging a live contest in Whiffle Town last year—has no intention of freeing Mr. Strongbill at all and intends, in fact, to murder him in cold blood in a brutal act of defiance."
"Why ask for money then, Tara?"
"Excellent question, Tom," the reporter replied. "Some have speculated that the money is a smokescreen, or that it's Liquidator, who made the demand, and the rest of them who intend to take the money and run. But others aren't so convinced on that." The camera panned away to reveal a slim and strikingly beautiful duck woman with black-blue hair and deep blue eyes, dressed in tight but tasteful and expensive clothes. "With me here is none other than super-model Luna Darkfeather, Brant Strongbill's understandably very upset girlfriend. Ms. Darkfeather, what do you have to say about this terrible situation?" Tara finished, pointing the microphone at her.
Luna sniffled. "Oh, it's awful, Tara. I'm so frightened for him. I came here with him for the weekend, and we were staying right here at the Swanlord, thinking we'd have a nice visit to St. Canard, and then this happens. I feel so guilty. I mean, I was getting a deep tissue massage when those horrible criminals were rampaging through the convention hall, and I had no idea!"
"She and Brooke Flood ought to do lunch," Drake muttered with a roll of his eyes. "That spa seems to be the gathering spot of the vapid and the clueless."
"Dad! She's worried about her boyfriend. Cut her some slack. She didn't know."
Back on the television screen, the model's eyes clouded with tears. "I wish I could see him now and tell him how much I love him. If you can hear this, I love you, Brant baby! I'm pulling for you." She gave the camera a determined look. "The police aren't talking about their plans, but I'm getting the money together myself just in case. I'll get you out of there if the police and that Darkwing Duck hero-type guy can't pull it off."
"'Hero-type-guy'?" Drake rose to his feet and slammed his coffee mug down on the table, shouting incredulously. "I'm not a stereotype! I'm a brilliant, quick-witted, able-bodied foiler of evil that's fought and defeated these super-villains time and time again! Who does that simpering silicone super-model think she is?"
Launchpad chuckled from the archway between the living room and hall, holding a bowl of cereal. "Relax, DW. Models don't get famous for their brains, you know?"
Drake shook his head. "The irony of you saying that is pretty telling."
"Dark!" Morgana flashed Drake a disapproving look.
Launchpad just waved the dig off; he knew Drake well enough to not take his sarcasm to heart, but Drake apologized anyway. "Sorry, LP."
Back on the screen, Tara Tadboil was back in control of her microphone. "As you can see, this has deeply affected not only Mr. Strongbill's fans, but his loved ones also."
"And we all continue to hope for his safe return," Tom Lockjaw finished for her as the screen panned back to him. "But Brant Strongbill's welfare isn't the only question in this increasingly puzzling case. A temporary sickness affected a handful of Whiffle-Con attendees, including Darkwing Duck himself, according to witnesses, and stuffed St. Canard General with more than the usual injuries from a super-villain attack like this. With symptoms some describe as being like food poisoning and what others called in more descriptive terms as having their guts boiled from the inside out, doctors concluded that it was the result of drinking contaminated water created by the Liquidator. Most have made a full recovery, although anyone with untreated suspicious symptoms is urged to see a doctor as soon as possible."
"Yeah, 'cause not everyone has a witch to brew their own barf potion!" Gosalyn said with a grin in Morgana's direction.
Morgana raised an eyebrow. "Be that as it may, some of what doctors give, normal and monster alike, can be rather vile from what I hear."
"I dunno, what they gave me wasn't so bad," Launchpad interjected. "It made me feel kinda good, actually." He slurped the last bit of milk from his cereal bowl, but accidentally dropped it as he finished it. "Whoops. Good thing this is carpeted," he said as he picked it up.
Tom Lockjaw continued his report on the television. "There's also speculation as to why criminals like Liquidator, Megavolt, and Bushroot got involved in what looks on the surface like a grudge-based attack on Whiffle Boy from Quackerjack. The simplest explanation is the money, considering the value of everything reported stolen yesterday. Although reports are still being filed, we can say that it's a substantial sum. However, the disappearance of one of Whiffle-Con's attendees, fourteen-year-old Eddie Flood, raises a question that there may also be more personal motivations for Liquidator at least, given that he's the prime suspect in the disappearance and suspected murder of the boy's father, water mogul Bud Flood, last year. Police have refused to comment on this development, officially listing the boy as missing until more solid evidence comes to light. If you've seen him, you're urged to call the crime prevention and tips hotline." A picture of Eddie Flood flashed on the screen behind Tom Lockjaw while he continued to talk. "Possible reasons for the involvement of Megavolt and Bushroot in the crime beyond profit remain nebulous, as does the answer to the question many have wondered about this high profile case—is the Fearsome Five now the Fearsome Four? Where is Negaduck?" Tom gave a dramatic pause before continuing, and an image of Negaduck's scowling face appeared on the screen behind him. "Some have theorized that he's actually a silent force behind it all, while others argue that it's too far from Public Enemy Number One's M.O. to get involved in something like this."
Drake sat back on the couch, mulling over the situation as the anchor moved on to a different story. The news had not told him anything he did not already know, and much to his irritation it was clear that they knew even less than he did about it. "Negaduck has nothing to do with this insanity," he muttered, rolling his eyes that the media and, most likely, the police would think otherwise. Anyone who had dealt with Negaduck at all should have known that he would have shown himself by now if he was involved, if for nothing else than to take the credit and the loot. Brant Strongbill and Whiffle-Con were not big time enough for Negaduck to bother with. An actor's ransom, if he wanted it, was not something Negaduck would have needed to bring out his goons for, especially since Drake was fairly sure that Negaduck was still on the outs with them after the fiasco with the mystic eye of Quackzecoatl. They had not worked together since, to his knowledge, and he highly doubted that Quackerjack's grudge against Whiffle Boy was anything Negaduck would consider worth his time and effort even if he did want to bury the hatchet and scheme with them in some twisted reunion. If anything, Drake was convinced that Quackerjack was in charge of the caper, given its crazy motivation and seemingly random play-out. Although Liquidator had taken control of aspects of it, Drake believed that had more to do with the watery villain's greedy and domineering personality than anything else. Without Negaduck to boss them around, Liquidator, as a former corporate head, would easily surface as the group's go-getter. Bushroot was too meek to assert himself into any form of leadership, and Megavolt, while aggressive when he wanted to be, was not nearly as ambitious unless light bulbs or appliances were involved.
But psycho-analyzing them isn't going to save Brant Strongbill or get Eddie Flood home to his mother and brother, Drake thought anxiously. I need to do some investigating and figure out what's going on without the police getting underfoot. But how do I do that when I don't have my sidekick or his ability to fly the Thunderquack for me?
"Earth to Dad! This is your bored daughter speaking," Gosalyn practically shouted at him. Drake blinked in surprise, wondering when she had gotten up and walked over, even as she waved the remote around wildly. "They're talking about recycling old siding to save landfill space. Can you please officially call this boring so I can put a decent cartoon on?"
"Sure," he said with a nod, and rose to his feet. Gosalyn switched the channel almost before he finished talking, while Launchpad gave him a curious look.
"DW? You okay?"
"Yeah, just thinking about how I'm going to handle this case. I'm short one pilot and sidekick, and I've got to worry about dealing with cops who think they'll get extra donuts if they solve this without my help."
Morgana also stood up. "Did they actually say that?"
"No, but they might as well have," he grumbled sullenly. "I'm going to have to be careful about investigating this one for now. At least I can drive the Ratcatcher solo."
"I can still go with you, DW," Launchpad offered. "I'm fine, really."
Drake raised an eyebrow. "As attested by the doors you've walked into, stairs you nearly fell down, dishes you almost broke, and the smooth linoleum you probably tripped over when we weren't looking, right?"
Launchpad frowned. "Aw, it's not that bad. And the linoleum wasn't smooth. There was something sticky on it."
"The medicine is affecting you, LP," Drake said with a sad, but firm smile. "I can't let you fly like that, and it's not really a good idea to go after criminals like that, either. Listen to the doctors and get better."
"Even you?" Disappointment was evident in Launchpad's voice as he looked back at Drake like a kicked puppy. "I thought you at least would understand. You hate sitting around when everyone else is making a big deal about some little injury."
"Yeah, that's Dad, Mr. Understanding," Gosalyn remarked from her chair.
"Don't help," Drake snapped back at her before turning to Launchpad. "And you, stop moping. It's not forever, it's just until you're able to walk sort of straight again, at least for the non-piloting sidekick stuff."
Launchpad pouted. "I don't need my arm to walk."
Drake just stared back at him. "No," he asserted, to which Launchpad grumbled, but did not argue further, while Drake started to pace. "I will need to get some help, though, while LP's out of commission."
"Gee, I could call Gizmoduck for you," Launchpad suggested.
"Oh, so you want to punish me because you got shot and can't fly. Thanks a lot," Drake said with heavy sarcasm. "Besides, he's not a pilot except for his own suit, is he?"
"Just trying to help." The gleam in Launchpad's eye showed a hint of guile that only those who knew him well would have even imagined that he was capable of. Gosalyn caught it and giggled, proud of how she and her father were obviously rubbing off on Launchpad after so long together.
Morgana moved a little closer to Drake. "I could help you, Dark."
He met her gaze with an anxious smile. "Uh, that's really nice of you to offer, Morg, but I'm not sure being a sidekick would really suit you…"
"Why not?" she asked, looking back at him. "I am one of the Justice Ducks, right? We've worked together as a team before. It might be fun, a little change of pace."
"Oh, I can't ask you to do that. I mean, there's more to being a sidekick than flying a plane… which you can't do, right?"
"Well, no," Morgana admitted. "But I have magic. Portal magic. And if you really need a plane, I could probably ask my father for permission to use the Macawber family jet. It's not a Thunderquack, but it's familiar-piloted and good for traditional travel, plus it camouflages well. It's black and shaped just like a bat like Eek and Squeek here."
Drake gave her an incredulous look. "A bat-plane? I can't fly in a bat-plane! I'm Darkwing Duck!" He gave her a pointed look. "Not to mention that your father hates my guts."
Morgana frowned. "I could probably convince him. But like I said, I have portal magic in a pinch."
"Launchpad does more than get me from Point A to Point B," Drake argued with a sigh. "He gets right in the fight with me, and gets rough and tough with these vile violent villains like I do." He moved his hands in an emulation of Quack-Fu moves.
"You're saying I can't handle myself?" Morgana raised an eyebrow, while Launchpad and Gosalyn exchanged "uh-oh" looks.
Drake also realized that he was treading on dangerous ground with Morgana, and gave a hasty reply of reassurance. "Oh no, no, not at all. I mean, of course you can defend yourself. I just meant that when it comes to criminals like the former Fearsome Five…"
"I helped you fight the Fearsome Five," she countered archly. "Remember?"
"But you're not a, ah, physical fighter, sweetie. I mean, you have your magic, but, well, you know that sometimes you kind of miss with spells and," Drake swallowed as he saw Morgana's frown deepen to a glare, "uh, what I mean is that I just don't want to see you get hurt!" he blurted out desperately.
The fire in her green eyes cooled a bit, but she remained stubborn on her point. "Risk is a part of the job. I can accept that as well as you or Launchpad or even Gosalyn and Honker can." She gave him another pointed stare. "You let them rush headlong into danger. Why not me?"
"To be fair, he can't really stop me," Gosalyn offered, while Drake turned around and pointed a frustrated finger at his daughter.
"What did I tell you about 'helping', young lady? And we'll discuss your inability to follow rules some other time." Drake turned back to Morgana once more. "Morg, I just don't think it's a good idea. If anything happened to you, I'd be beside myself. And do you really think you'd enjoy riding around in the Ratcatcher sidecar? Wearing a helmet wouldn't be very comfy for Archie, Eek, or Squeek…"
Morgana folded her arms. "This isn't about fashion, or any of the other reasons you mentioned, is it?" She stared at him angrily. "You still don't trust me."
"No!" Drake exclaimed, and when her eyes lit up with anger, he hurriedly amended, "I mean, yes! Yes, of course I trust you! You ought to know that!"
"Just not enough to let me come along," she huffed.
"I just don't want you in the hospital next!" Drake yelled, with enough emotion that it even startled him as it came out. Morgana, as well as Launchpad and Gosalyn, stared at Drake with surprise at his impassioned outburst while he took a step closer to Morgana. "Launchpad's already been hurt, and I guess it just reminded me that sometimes, when I say we're going to get 'dangerous', it really can be." He sighed and looked at her with rare and honest raw feeling. "We've been lucky so many times that it's easy to forget."
His words soothed her temper, and she put her hands on his shoulders. "Oh, Dark." She fell silent for a moment. "I wish you would let me help you… but if it upsets you that much, if you're that concerned," she paused, smiling ruefully, "I'll respect it."
"Thank you." Drake placed his hands over Morgana's, mirroring her smile with an affectionate one of his own.
"This time," she added with a twinkle in her eyes.
Morning brought Brant Strongbill an aching back and neck and an even more unpleasant situation that he could no longer put off bringing up to his captors. The few hours of sleep he had gotten when exhaustion took over had only been a brief reprieve from the crazy nightmare he found himself stuck in, but they had been enough to leave him with the overpowering need to get to a bathroom, and soon. He almost regretted begging for that shake, even though it had been worth every suck he had labored with to get it through the straw, famished as he had been. Unfortunately, now he was paying the price for ingesting liquid and being unable to relieve himself for hours on end.
He looked over at Quackerjack and Megavolt. The former was still asleep, curled up in the corner on a pile of blankets after having stayed up extra late to torment him with his imitation of water torture—dropping water balloons on his head while hanging from the rafters above. The latter was sitting at the table talking quietly to a light bulb. Strongbill had not even bothered to ask why he was doing that, or what it was saying back to him, figuring it was wiser for him to just stay quiet and either sleep or pretend to do so. Quackerjack would wake up sooner or later, and he certainly did not want to encourage him to wake up early. Unfortunately, the battle of wills waged with his bladder was a losing one, and Strongbill realized that he no longer had a choice unless he really wanted to humiliate himself.
"Hey! You! Megavolt… right?" he called over to the rat.
Megavolt looked over at him. "What?"
Strongbill winced, and decided to just blurt out the request and hope that he would not torment him with it. "I need the bathroom. Badly."
Megavolt blinked back at him, as if that was a possibility that had actually not occurred to him. He did not say anything, however.
"Please," Strongbill implored. "I've been tied to this chair for hours."
Rising to his feet, Megavolt cast a glance over at the still-sleeping Quackerjack and gently set the light bulb in his hand down with a pensive look on his face. "Okay," he said after a moment of consideration. The warehouse's bathroom had no windows through which Strongbill could escape, and untying him long enough to take him there was not much of a risk given that he could zap him unconscious in a flash if he tried anything. While Megavolt did not particularly care that their hostage was uncomfortable, if he soiled himself, he would have to smell it, so that made it an easy decision. "It's straight back that way," Megavolt said as he began to untie the jump ropes binding Strongbill to the chair. "Don't even think about trying to escape, unless you want to experience being flash-fried." He sparked his fingertip in warning, to which Strongbill nodded in mute agreement.
The sound of their voices was enough to wake Quackerjack, and as he rubbed his eyes and looked over to see what was going on, his beak curled into a horrified expression. "Megsy!" He was on his feet and at their side in a flash, and he ripped the partially untied jump rope out of Megavolt's hands. "Whiffle Boy is our prisoner!" he exclaimed harshly, staring at Megavolt as if he had lost his mind. "You don't untie him!"
"I know that; I'm not an idiot," Megavolt snapped. He tugged the jump rope back from Quackerjack, and jarred Strongbill in the chair in a way that made his full bladder feel even more miserable. "I'm not letting him go. I'm taking him to the bathroom."
"You're what?" Quackerjack looked back at Megavolt in surprise, and then glanced down at Strongbill with an amused look. "The great Whiffle Boy has to pee? Funny, I don't remember a 'restroom level' in that game of yours I got sucked into at Whiffle Town."
Strongbill's expression could not possibly have been any more pained and desperate. "Look, I've really gotta go. You've had me tied to this chair since yesterday. I'm serious."
Quackerjack's grin grew wider and more malicious. "Oh, dear. That must be very uncomfortable." He giggled.
"Oh, don't do this." Strongbill lowered his head and winced pathetically.
"Yeah, really," Megavolt said with a note of impatience, and resumed loosening Strongbill's binds. "There's other stuff you can do to make him miserable."
Quackerjack flashed the rat an incredulous pout. "Are you sympathizing with the enemy? Besides, I think really having to go and not being able to for a long, long, longtime is pretty good torment. I can't think of much worse than that that doesn't break the rules." He stared down at Strongbill with a cruel look as he finished speaking.
"And I can't think of much worse ways to spend my day than hanging around while you let Whiffle Boy sit in his own stinking mess because you had to 'punish' him by not letting him go to the bathroom. I'm not cleaning it up, and I'm not going to stick around and smell it all day, either." Megavolt glowered at Quackerjack. "You can bet that Liquidator and Bushroot won't when they show up, either."
"You ever get a whiff of Bushroot's compost pile in that greenhouse of his? Bad smells obviously bother him," Quackerjack retorted sarcastically. "But fine, since you're being so stubborn about it." He made a dramatic sigh, and then waved a finger in front of Strongbill's beak. "You're lucky that Megsy has such delicate sensibilities." He nodded to Megavolt. "Go on." Quackerjack then went over to the box that had still had some water balloons in it from the night before and picked one up while Megavolt untied their hostage. Grinning at Strongbill, Quackerjack began squeezing and jostling the balloon, making the water inside slosh as loudly as possible to make his situation that much more uncomfortable until he got his relief.
Luckily it did not take Megavolt long to finish untying the binds. Before Strongbill could even finish standing up, Megavolt already had his wrist in a rough grip and was sending enough of a warning tingle of voltage through it to let him know that no tricks would be tolerated. It seemed that the actor was telling the truth, though. He moved quickly, albeit awkwardly, toward the bathroom that Megavolt led him to, and when they got there, Megavolt opened the door and shoved Strongbill through into the dark little room, slamming the door behind him. "Don't take too long," he warned.
There was some shuffling around inside, and a moment later Strongbill's voice came through the door in an agitated note. "The light's burnt out. I can't see, and the switch is dead."
Megavolt folded his arms as he leaned against the door. "It is not burnt out," he informed him haughtily. "I liberated that bulb. There was no need for it to toil needlessly in such shoddy and lonely conditions."
"But there's no window in here either," Strongbill complained. "How do you see?"
"Glow sticks," Quackerjack called over as he turned on the television, curious if anything was being said about them on the news. "I have them in all the cool neon colors."
"Be glad you can't see that toilet anyway. It's nasty," Megavolt said as he cast a mildly critical look at Quackerjack.
Quackerjack made a face back at the rat. "Sorry it's not up to your pristine standards, Mr. Tidy Bowl. Next time I'll partner with Ammonia Pine before I have you stay over for a caper. And tell him to hurry up. His whiny girlfriend with fake breasts is on TV crying about him."
"They're not fake!" Strongbill yelled, just before a flush sounded. The door opened a moment later, and Megavolt grabbed Strongbill's arm with an already sparking hand, making him jerk back and stumble as an urgent look of a different type crossed his features. "Luna's on TV?"
"She loves you and misses you so much," Quackerjack said, striking a soap opera-esque heartsick pose and fluttering his eyelids for effect. "She's going to get all the money to save you from us meanies if the police and Darkwing Duck, the 'hero-type-guy' can't do it."
Hearing Darkwing called such led Megavolt to chortle as he pushed Strongbill back onto his chair and zapped him again to keep him weak while he tied him back up. "Wow. Even the bimbos don't respect Dimwing."
"Luna's not a bimbo," Strongbill said sourly. He flexed in vain against his binds once the sting of Megavolt's zap wore off while Quackerjack flashed him a mocking look.
"Right. I'm sure you love her for her brains."
Strongbill just glowered back at him. "You're an asshole."
"And you're using foul language again, Whiffle Boy." Quackerjack picked up the water balloon he had been bouncing around to torment him with earlier and hurled it right at his face. It exploded as it struck his bill, making him sputter and mutter even more colorful words under his breath while Megavolt skittered back.
"Watch it with the water, will you?" he snapped irritably at the other villain. He wiped the bit that had gotten on his jumpsuit off and then shook the droplets off of his gloves, which fortunately were waterproof.
"Sorry, Megsy." Quackerjack shrugged, and then bounded over to one of his many boxes of toys to find something new to torment Strongbill with, already having gotten bored with the television and the news report on it. Megavolt, meanwhile, sat down and listened when he heard his name mentioned as an accessory to the crime.
"That's funny," he said with a glance over at Quackerjack, who was holding up a whoopee cushion in one hand and a toy boat in the other, trying to decide if either had any sort of potential to torture Whiffle Boy with further. "They just said on the news that they have no idea why I'm here," Megavolt said, and scratched his head while Quackerjack returned the toys to the bin and began rummaging again. "Hmm… do I?"
Quackerjack's jester hat-covered head popped back up out of the bin and he stared back at Megavolt, while Strongbill just watched the two with a sense of horrified curiosity, mostly because it was hard to hear the television over the chatting of his two captors anyway from where he sat. "Ransom money?" Quackerjack reminded Megavolt. "Helping out your favorite old pal get revenge on his worst enemy ever?" He straightened and tapped himself in the chest importantly. "Does that ring any bells?"
"Oh yeah." Megavolt resumed a contented smile and turned back to the television while Strongbill leaned his head back with a renewed sense of hopelessness.
A minute or so later, Quackerjack found something that inspired him. It was not a toy, exactly, but something that could be one if used with a little ingenuity. It was a black permanent marker that he used to mark the bins and boxes of his things that he had apparently dropped in the box at one point and forgotten about. He uncapped it and tested it with a scribble on the side of a nearby box, already thinking of what unflattering tattoos he could give Whiffle Boy, when Megavolt spoke up again with another confused look on his face. "Hey Quacky, did you know Liquidator had a son?"
That tidbit caught the other villain off guard also, and Quackerjack blinked back at Megavolt in surprise. "What are you talking about?"
"The news just said that some kid that was Bud Flood's son disappeared from Whiffle-Con, and they think Liquidator had something to do with it."
Quackerjack gave the marker a twirl in his hands. "Weird. He never said anything to me. Oh well." He shrugged as his interest in the matter passed in favor of something far more entertaining than Liquidator's personal life—abusing Whiffle Boy. He went over to Strongbill and stood in front of his chair, brandishing the marker like a fine artist pondering how to go about creating his next masterpiece. "Tell me, Whiffle Boy, do you have any tattoos?"
Strongbill stared back at him irritably. "You're going to draw on me?"
Quackerjack's large beak curled into a frown. "You didn't answer me." He swished the marker across the front of the bound actor's bill, creating a squiggly black mark. "Do you have any tattoos or don't you?"
Letting out a beleaguered breath, Strongbill replied, "No."
"Oh, good!" Quackerjack beamed. "That means I have a blank slate!" He glanced over at his shoulder at Megavolt, who had lost interest in the television and was talking to the light bulb he had left on the table instead. "Megsy, wanna help me design some special tattoos for Whiffle Boy?"
Megavolt stared at his light bulb. "Do you mind?" he asked it, and paused as if waiting for an answer. A moment later, he gave a slow nod and turned back to Quackerjack. "Sure. He'd like a nap anyway." Megavolt then carried the bulb over to a little box where he set it inside carefully, and joined Quackerjack at Strongbill's side. The two of them discussed some of their more inspired ideas, ignoring Strongbill's complaints and mutterings, and then proceeded to carry them out, much to the two villains' amusement. Quackerjack had just finished scrawling a cartoony stick-figure rendition of a Whiffle Boy-style figure kissing a weasel's hindquarters on the side of the actor's large beak when Liquidator and Bushroot returned to the warehouse.
"Do I even want to ask?" Bushroot said in an incredulous tone as he was greeted with the sight of Megavolt holding Strongbill's head still while Quackerjack went to town on the side of the actor's beak with a marker like a naughty kid doodling on a wall.
Liquidator, meanwhile, shook his head slowly. "The surgeon general recommends not asking. The answers may be hazardous to one's mental health."
"My god, you two really are the sane ones," Strongbill lamented, while Megavolt held his head tighter and Quackerjack scowled, his marker slipping as their hostage spoke.
Rounding on Bushroot and Liquidator, Quackerjack snapped the cap back on his marker. "Thanks a lot, guys. You made me ruin some beautiful artwork."
"Oh, but the flaws of his pain only increase the value," Liquidator replied sarcastically.
"Really?" Quackerjack brightened, while Bushroot rolled his eyes and Megavolt let go of Strongbill's head to go join the others.
Liquidator, amused that his sarcasm had been utterly lost on Quackerjack, peered over at Strongbill to see what kind of shape he was in. The actor was filthy, clearly tired, and even more obviously distraught, but was otherwise in one piece. "I see that our game hero still has at least a ninety percent full life bar. Good."
"Told you!" Quackerjack retorted, and stuck his tongue out at Liquidator for doubting him. Megavolt, meanwhile, gave the watery villain an odd and inquisitive look, which he noticed when he turned away from Quackerjack's immature gesture.
He stared back at Megavolt and waited for him to say whatever he was thinking, and then frowned impatiently when he did not. "Is there something on your mind? Don't just stare, ask the Liquidator now!"
Megavolt shook his head as if clearing out the cobwebs, but he had already forgotten what it was he had wanted to say. "Uh, I had something I wanted to ask you… I think." He glanced at Quackerjack. "Didn't I?"
"The kid thing?" Quackerjack said offhandedly, while Bushroot gave Liquidator a startled look.
"Oh, yeah. Thanks," Megavolt said, returning his attention to Liquidator once more. "You have a kid? They said on the news something about Bud Flood's son being at Whiffle-Con, and they think you kidnapped him."
"Ah, more avid viewers of Action News, I see. Do you believe everything you see on TV?" Liquidator quipped back with his usual glibness. He glanced at Bushroot for a moment, who seemed to shrug a slight bit, and then Liquidator resumed a more serious expression as he regarded Megavolt and Quackerjack. He supposed that since they had asked and they already knew that he was Bud Flood, unlike most of St. Canard, he might as well tell them as well. Unlike Negaduck, he doubted that they would ever be a threat to Eddie or Rill. Brant Strongbill being in earshot was not something Liquidator was pleased about, but he was not worried about the actor blabbing, mostly because the police preferred their own version anyway, and without their corroboration he would have tabloid credibility at best even if he ever did say anything. "As a matter of fact, yes. I do," Liquidator told Megavolt, to which he and Quackerjack exchanged interested looks.
Quackerjack also noticed that Bushroot did not react, and that intrigued him more than Liquidator's admission to once having a family outside of his corporate lifestyle prior to his life of super-villainy. "You knew?" he said to the plant-duck with a raised eyebrow, but before Bushroot could respond, Liquidator answered for him.
"The present for Spike to play with," he explained, "was my son Eddie. He was at Whiffle-Con. Obviously, I had no idea he was there. My ex and our sons live over an hour from St. Canard. When I found out, I had him recalled from the floor as soon as our chaos went on full sale."
Megavolt just nodded, while Quackerjack shook his head in disgust. "I'm disappointed in you, Licky."
Liquidator's dark fluid eyes narrowed at Quackerjack's judgmental tone. "Perhaps if it was Mr. Banana Brain in harm's way, you might understand the motivation a bit better."
Making a face at his snippy remark, Quackerjack retorted, "Not for that, for the fact that your kid was at Whiffle-Con at all." His features took on an exaggerated look of dismay. "What kind of parent are you? You let your kid play Whiffle Boy? Video games rot brains! And Whiffle Boy? Your kid plays Whiffle Boy of all games?"
"Oh, I see." Liquidator's sly smile returned. "Well, I'm sure that's all his mother's doing. She's had custody since the divorce." He leaned closer to the toy maker with a conspiratorial look. "You really ought to have a chat with her about that. Remind me to give you her number sometime."
That seemed to mollify Quackerjack. "Good. I'm glad I wasn't wrong about your good taste and sense."
"Speaking of which," Liquidator said in his most charming let's-make-a-deal tone, "I owe my errant son a belated birthday present, and you just happen to have the perfect toy for him as a gift."
Quackerjack's face lit up with excitement. "Really? Which one?"
"Do you still have any of those zappers we used at the convention yesterday? The ones that shoot real lasers?"
"The Whiffle Boy one?" There was no mistaking the note of disappointment in Quackerjack's voice.
Liquidator smiled confidently. "Ah, but if he gets a Whiffle Boy gun that's better than the game itself, he'll be bored with playing the game version and want to have real fun without video games in no time at all. It's a win-win. Real life fantasy versus pixilated mind-rot." He pointed a watery finger at the duck with his best salesman grin. "Your toy will save him."
"Well, when you put it that way…" Quackerjack bounced with excitement. "You got it!" He ran over to one of his boxes to find the Whiffle Boy zappers, while Megavolt gave Liquidator a curious look.
"How old's your son?" he asked with what seemed like alarm or concern.
"Fourteen," answered Liquidator.
"Oh." Megavolt relaxed. "No need to worry, then. I had a complete understanding of the physics and destructive capabilities of lasers at that age," he said, as if everyone had been the high school brainiac science nerd that he had been as a teenager. "He probably won't cause too much mayhem and destruction with it."
Meanwhile, Bushroot wrung his leaf-hands together a little. "I just hope he doesn't let Spike get hold of it."
"He won't," Liquidator assured Bushroot. "He's received full disclosure and a list of terms and conditions on the possession and use of a Whiffle Zapper."
Speaking up from where he had been remaining silent bound to his chair, Strongbill said on an incredulous note, "You're giving one of those guns to a teenager? I take it back; you are as nuts as the rest of them."
"Experts recommend the hostage keep his trap shut, lest the teenage boy be offered the opportunity to use his unoccupied home and most valued possessions for target practice," Liquidator warned, and then turned to Quackerjack, who approached him with the gun in hand.
"Here you go, Licky. That'll be two hundred and fifty. No tax, because, well, I wouldn't pay the state anyway, and a slight discount because you're a fellow super-villain."
Liquidator eyed the toy zapper with a discerning look. "How much did this cost you to make?"
"You can't put a price on my and Megs' combined genius."
"I also doubt that it comes with a warrantee or return policy, so two hundred flat."
Quackerjack frowned. "Two hundred ten, cash only, and a case of your bottled water."
With a nod of agreement, Liquidator quirked one ear slightly out of curiosity. "Deal. But why the water?"
"I get thirsty and the tap water sucks in these warehouse hideouts," Quackerjack replied.
Liquidator nodded again; that made more sense than most of what Quackerjack came up with. He produced the cash and handed it to him. "I'll deliver the water tomorrow."
Smiling agreeably, Quackerjack pocketed the cash and handed Liquidator the zapper. "Enjoy. Tell him to take a pot shot at Darkwing Duck sometime for me." He looked over at Strongbill. "Since we can't shoot Whiffle Boy… yet, anyway."
"Who was it?" The anxious Drake practically ran Gosalyn over as she replaced the phone on the receiver.
"A telemarketer," she answered with a groan. "Sorry, Dad. If it was someone important, I'd have told you."
Drake sighed. "I just thought the police might…"
"Call Drake Mallard's house? Duh, why?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I guess I'm just feeling jumpy and stir crazy. I hate knowing those criminals are getting away with this, doing who knows what!"
Gosalyn frowned and looked over at Launchpad, who was sitting on the couch watching Pelican's Island. "Maybe we should call Morgana back over to keep you company."
"Morg's got enough to do. She has a restaurant to keep tabs on, even if she does have a staff running it for her," Drake answered automatically. "But I think I will go to the tower and see if I can come up with some plan of action there." He went over and sat in one of the blue chairs.
"Keen gear!" Gosalyn bounced enthusiastically. "Let's go! C'mon, Launchpad!"
That got Launchpad's attention in a hurry, and his face brightened with more excitement than he had shown ever since Drake had told him to follow doctor's orders and abstain from sidekick duty earlier that day. "All right!" He clicked the remote to turn the television off and sat in the other chair while Gosalyn jumped into her father's lap.
Drake gave Launchpad a stern look, especially as he stumbled over his own feet prior to landing in the chair. "You're still not going out, Launchpad. You can help us brainstorm, but you're not going near the Thunderquack or any other equipment that you might break," he sighed, "or break you."
"Geez, DW, you make it sound like I can't even walk and chew gum at the same time," Launchpad said glumly as he reached to tip the statue that would take them to the tower. Unfortunately, he proved Drake's point as he did. Not realizing that his shoe was sticking out just a little too far as the chairs began to spin, the force yanked it and his sock beneath it off as the chairs whirled around and transported them to the tower, one bare webbed foot and all.
As they stood up, Drake glanced at Launchpad with raised eyebrows. "Nice shoes," he remarked before heading to change into his Darkwing costume.
"Ha-ha," was Launchpad's reply as he found a spare set of foot gear that he kept at the tower, while Gosalyn began to pace anxiously.
"What are you going to try, Dad?"
Ignoring Gosalyn's question, Darkwing emerged from his dressing area and went to the computer. "No messages from S.H.U.S.H. or anything," he muttered, although he had not expected any being that they usually contacted him via Flashquack anyhow. Still, he knew that the police knew he worked with S.H.U.S.H. and that they knew how to contact him, so he had hoped that if they wanted to include him in whatever they were planning as far as rescuing Brant Strongbill from Quackerjack and the others went, that they might use S.H.U.S.H. as a go-between to reach him. After giving his computer a disgusted look, Darkwing went over to the tower's window and looked out over the bay and the city skyline. The sun was setting, which meant that an entire day had been wasted where he sat around and did nothing. Darkwing Duck could only rest on his laurels for so long, and that time was up. With a determined frown on his beak, he turned away from the window and went toward the Ratcatcher.
Launchpad and Gosalyn exchanged looks and followed Darkwing over. "Where are we going?" asked Gosalyn.
"We are going nowhere," Darkwing informed his daughter sternly, and then gave Launchpad a look that let him know that also included him. "I'm going to do some investigating."
"But DW, the police said if you interfered with their investigation…"
A sly smile crossed Darkwing's masked features. "Funny thing about that, LP. They told me that if I got in the way of them trying to find and rescue Brant Strongbill, or apprehend the villains responsible for his abduction and thusly put him in danger, that there'd be a cell waiting for me. So, being the honorable crime-fighting, law-abiding citizen that I am, of course I'm not going to go against their wishes. However," he continued with a gleam in his eyes, "nobody ever told me not to try and find or rescue Eddie Flood. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to look for him. And if I just happen to stumble across his dear old dad or any of his Fearsome Friends in the process… no harm, no foul!" He hopped on the Ratcatcher and turned it on.
Obviously disappointed to be left behind, Gosalyn asked, "But what about us?"
Darkwing replied with a knowing look as he adjusted his helmet, "You get to babysit Launchpad, of course!" With that, he revved the engine and roared out of the tower and down onto Audubon Bay Bridge below.
"This sucks," Gosalyn said as he left, folding her arms.
"You're telling me," Launchpad said with a frown. "I should be with him. Instead he makes it out like I'm useless, and have to be watched like I'm not even an adult." He punched at the wall, but misjudged his angle, banging his knuckles in a way that would have been much more painful had he not been on narcotic painkillers. Instead he just shook his head and glowered at his hand.
Gosalyn sighed. "You're not useless, Launchpad. You're just… a little clumsier than normal." She lowered her voice. "And that is your good arm, you know…"
"Yeah, yeah," Launchpad said, although not with any real argument or sarcasm, knowing that Gosalyn was just concerned. "But there's gotta be something we can do."
Pursing her beak thoughtfully, Gosalyn thought about how her father had bent the rules and wondered how they could do the same and help out, only including his rules in the ones to be bent as well. Thanks to her well-practiced deviousness, it did not take her long to come up with something that might prove useful. "Hey, you know how Dad's wondering what the police are doing about everything?"
"And while they said not to call them, they'll call him, and all that… they didn't say anything about us asking." Gosalyn grinned. "Why, you weren't even there, Launchpad. You were at the hospital when they said that stuff to Dad. So you even have plausible deniability!"
"What about you, Gos? You were there. You can't deny it. And DW did say you had to stay here."
Gosalyn shook her head. "No, he said I had to babysit you. So if you're going to the police station, then I'd better go with you, right?" Her eyes were bright with enthusiasm. It was contagious, and Launchpad smiled with her.
"Guess so. Come on," he said, and headed for the chairs to take them back to the house since they could not fly the Thunderquack anyway. Anxious as he was about not being able to work as Darkwing's sidekick, Launchpad knew he was in no condition to fly. As he sat back down on the chair, he picked up his discarded odd sock and shoe and muttered, "At least I can pick up the mates to these now."
"Yeah," Gosalyn said from the opposite chair, and then added, "But, uh, maybe we ought to take the bus instead of the car."
The first place Darkwing went to look for any sign of Liquidator's missing son was a rather obvious choice. So obvious, in fact, that he doubted that Liquidator would be stupid enough to take him there, but Darkwing also knew that Liquidator's thinking was as slippery as the watery villain was himself, and that he might just pick somewhere obvious thinking that Darkwing would not bother just because it was obvious. Hence, the Ratcatcher pulled up in front of the Flood Water Company bottling factory. It was one of Liquidator's known hideouts, hardly subtle, but he was too arrogant to give it up, as it had housed his cushy CEO office back when he had been just a non-mutated criminal making profit though ill means. Due to the late, and growing later, hour and it being a Sunday, the place was dark and shut down with only a couple of cars in the lot. Security guards, Darkwing presumed. He decided to avoid any security personnel and keep his presence as low-key as possible. Anyone working there was effectively on Liquidator's payroll, even if they did not know that Liquidator and the supposedly dead Bud Flood were one and the same. As such, any answers they gave, even if they cooperated with him, could not be trusted.
Using as much stealth as possible, Darkwing was approaching the building when he noticed that at least one of the cars in the lot was a bit expensive to belong to a security guard. "Moosades Benz? Security either pays better than I thought, or one of Liquidator's well-paid high execs is here working weekends," he muttered to himself. Darkwing also noticed that it was parked in a reserved slot, right near the front of the building. Raising an eyebrow, he paused beside it and peered through the window to take a look at its interior. It was clean, without even an empty coffee cup or water bottle to be seen inside, leaving Darkwing no hints as to who it might belong to. He then decided that there was nothing all that suspicious in and of itself about a well-paid corporate drone putting in overtime on a weekend, and he headed toward the large glass front doors of the building. As he got closer to the steps, however, he noticed something—or rather, someone—that was definitely out of place lingering by them: a teenage canine.
A smoke bomb discharged, startling the youth, who spun around just in time to hear Darkwing announce from behind the murky cloud, "I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am the curfew I'd bet you're breaking! I am Darkwing Duck!" He dispelled the smoke around his shadowy figure with a dramatic wave and took a step toward the boy, who he now recognized as the same one who had been with Brooke Flood back at Whiffle Con—Eddie Flood's brother, Rill. "Heh. You are not the Flood I'm looking for," Darkwing said, giving him a puzzled look. "What are you doing here?"
"Probably the same thing you are. Looking for my brother… or my father, or both," Rill admitted with a sigh. "But this place is locked up tight and I think security must be on a coffee break. I tried to get them on the buzzer so I could get in and nobody answered," he said, gesturing to a phone box on the wall near the doors.
"Why would they let you in? You don't work here, do you?" asked an incredulous Darkwing.
Rill shook his head. "No. But I'm Bud Flood's son. Dad once told us that Eddie and I could come and get let in anytime we wanted." His face took on a wistful look in the darkness. "He said that he'd like to see us running it one day, so we had free access to come and visit whenever we wanted to. I mean, I never tried since…" He halted for a moment. "Well, the board members told us that his will was specific about our rights and interest here." Rill peered through the glass into the darkened building. "Of course, that was before I knew… well, I guess you always knew, huh?"
"Yes." Darkwing nodded.
"Right. You were there, like you told me and Mom at Whiffle-Con."
"Does she know you're here?" Darkwing asked with a pointed look. "It's awful late for someone your age to be out alone, and on a school night no less."
With a bitter chortle, Rill replied, "I don't think I'm making it to school tomorrow, considering Mom and I are still here in St. Canard and not back in Renardsville."
"You didn't answer my question."
"I have my cell; she can find me if she wakes up and wonders where I went. She'd crashed back at the hotel when I left."
Darkwing glanced back at the expensive car in the lot. "That's your car, isn't it?" He let out a low breath. "Must be nice to have that kind of money to give a car like that to a teenager."
"Uh, actually that's Mom's car," Rill admitted with an edgy look. "I borrowed it. I figured if by some chance I found Eddie here, she wouldn't mind."
Darkwing eyed Rill suspiciously. "You are old enough to drive, aren't you?"
Rill looked away. "Well, um, I have a permit. But I'm a safe driver," he added hastily. "I did really well in Driver's Ed. And this was kind of an emergency."
"That the police and trained professionals such as myself are handling," Darkwing countered in an admonishing tone, despite the fact that he had previously gone on at length to Launchpad and Gosalyn about how inept said police were. "You shouldn't be here. You should go back to your room before your mother wakes up and freaks out that her other son is missing." He sighed. "Although I don't know if I should let you drive back to your hotel illegally."
Folding his arms stubbornly, Rill said with a frown, "I don't need a lecture from you. You're not my father, even if he is no one to talk about breaking laws."
Darkwing caught the bitter note in Rill's voice, and decided to switch tactics rather than push it. With an adult, he would not have bothered, but when it came to kids, he had a soft spot, as his adoption of Gosalyn attested to. Taking a step closer to Rill, he said gently, "That can't be easy on you."
Rill met Darkwing's masked eyes with a hard and cynical look. "What they said when he died, that was bad enough. I always figured that they were just putting all the blame or whatever on him, since he was dead and couldn't defend himself. I thought Liquidator and everyone else—like the board members of this place—used him to get off the hook. But finding out that Dad is Liquidator… yeah, that was kind of a shock." He looked through the window glass at the dark lobby and its vacant front desk inside. "I don't know why he took Eddie and not me too. Maybe he didn't know I was there or something, or maybe he thought Eddie'd be more okay with things than I would." Rill's jaw clenched hard. "I don't know. It's not like I got the chance to ask him about any of it." He stared at the ground as hot tears of emotion welled up in his eyes, ones that he desperately wanted to hold back, especially in front of Darkwing Duck. "You know," his voice grew shaky, "he used to tell us that old saying about it not being winning, but how you play the game, was just something losers said to make themselves feel better. That winning was what mattered, and that real success only came to the winners. Funny, I never thought he meant this, that it was okay to sink this low. Because it's not."
"No, it isn't," Darkwing agreed. "And he shouldn't have put either you or your brother in the position to learn that by setting the wrong example."
"I don't think he thought much about me or Eddie, at least not compared to his business," Rill said flatly. "Otherwise he'd have at least let us know he was alive, right?"
Darkwing could not think of anything else to say that would make Rill feel anything but worse, so he just stepped closer to him and nodded toward the parking lot. "I don't think he or your brother are here. Come on, you need to go back to your mother."
Rill sighed heavily. "Yeah, all right. But promise me one thing, okay?" He looked at Darkwing as he fished the car keys out of his pocket.
"If you find Eddie and Dad… I want to see him. Not just Eddie." The hint of a sardonic smile curled the corners of Rill's mouth. "To be honest, I wouldn't mind little a vacation from Eddie, because he's kind of a pain in the ass, really. But he's still my little brother."
Darkwing raised a brow beneath his mask. "Your father happens to be one of the most wanted super-villains in St. Canard, especially after what he and his pals pulled off yesterday. If we catch him, he's going to be bottled and shipped off to the super-villain prison faster than you can say 'limited time offer'. There won't be any time for family reunions."
"Then I'll just have to go and see him there." Rill straightened with a hard look on his face. "I have to see him face to face and see for myself that he's really… that he's really everything everyone says he is, and that he is my dad."
The sad knowing look of experience formed on Darkwing's face. "Do you think that'll give you the closure you need, kid? I hate to have to be the one to tell you it, but things like that don't ever resolve that easily. You might just wind up hurting yourself worse." He paused. "All of us have things in our lives that are really hard to get past, to move on from, to forget."
"Is that why you do what you do? Because of something bad in your past?" Rill asked, his dark eyes meeting Darkwing's masked ones.
Darkwing did not answer, but led Rill back toward the parking lot instead. "Come on. Your mother'll tear her perfectly coiffed hair out if she thinks you've been nabbed by a super-villain too. Go on back to her, or I'll warn the cops that you're out driving without a license. As a super-hero, I can be pesky about laws being broken, you know," he finished with a smirk.
"All right." Rill pressed the unlock button on his key and the headlights of the expensive car flashed. "Good luck, Darkwing Duck. I hope you can find them."
Back at Quackerjack's hideout, Brant Strongbill was still quite the miserable hostage. Ignoring the ache in his back, the abrasion burns on his wrists and arms, and his rump that was completely numb from being tied to the chair for so long, he was also tired, hungry, and thirsty. On top of that, he felt like he needed a hot shower more than he could ever recall, and that was even after having once been covered with slime for a movie role in which his character had been fighting goober-spewing aliens. Quackerjack had given him a brief reprieve from torment, but only because the other three villains had called a conference. Prior to that, he had been enduring more of Quackerjack's brand of insanity, the latest of which had been being forced to lick what seemed like a thousand envelopes that were postage paid "business reply mail" to who knew what that Quackerjack had gotten from who knew where. His tongue felt dry and sticky, and Quackerjack's cruel guzzling and slurping of water in front of him had just made it even more miserable. He thought bitterly that the tap water that Quackerjack had complained to the water dog about earlier must not have been that bad, if he was willing to drink it just to torment him. Unfortunately Strongbill was in no position to do anything but contemplate his misery, so he sat there in irritable silence listening to the four villains holding him hostage converse.
"We need a plan for the pickup," Megavolt insisted, mostly to Quackerjack but to Liquidator and Bushroot as well. "Have you decided how we're handling the exchange yet?"
Bushroot nodded along with the rat. "The whole hotel area's going to be crawling with police. Even if they do have Darkwing tied up like we insisted, we'll have to watch out for traps. We can't let them see us coming."
"Trust me, I've thought about all that," Quackerjack assured them.
"Oh?" Liquidator gave him a dubious look. "Three out of four super-villains are not reassured. What's your plan?"
"The same way we got into the Swanlord last time. Disguised!" he exclaimed, beaming as if it was an obvious and brilliant solution to the quandary.
Megavolt was not as enthused. "I am not wearing another ugly dress."
"Maybe this time he'll pick out a pretty one for you," Bushroot said with a snicker, while Liquidator bubbled in amusement next to him.
"Maybe he'll take one of yours that you made for your potato," Megavolt snapped back at the plant-duck, clearly not amused.
Bushroot glowered at the mention of the sore subject, while Quackerjack snorted with laughter. "Bushy doesn't have the figure for it, and those roots'd put runs in any stockings or tights I could find," the toy-making villain quipped before resuming a more serious expression. "But fine, if you're going to be such a spoilsport about it all, no dresses this time."
Liquidator rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "A disguise won't work for me. Any kind of contained liquid will be suspect, so the water cooler ploy won't work again."
"There's a fountain out in front," Megavolt suggested, but Quackerjack did not seem to like the idea, for he reached over and swatted Megavolt upside the head.
"See, that's why you don't get to think of the disguises, Megsy. A fountain? Aside from a water bottle, that's the first place Dope-wing will look, or tell the police to look. I'll be surprised if they don't drain it ahead of time to make sure no more water appears in it."
"Well I can't just hang out in the crowd in my trench coat and gloves without looking one hundred percent out of place," Liquidator pointed out. "And unless it rains the night before, any unusual puddles will also be mopped up sooner than you can say 'squeegee'."
Bushroot folded his vine arms as he considered the logistics of the situation. "The forecast isn't calling for rain, so we can't count on that. But that reminds me… the hotel's lawn and shrubs in the front always look well tended. I bet they have a sprinkler system."
"Oh, great. You want to turn on the sprinklers and guarantee that I'll be shorted out?" scoffed Megavolt. "And they'll think that's just as suspect."
"Not if they're turned off when we get there," Quackerjack argued, and then turned to Liquidator. "You think you could scout the place and find out if you can hide in the sprinklers before the drop?"
Liquidator grinned with confidence. "Easy as one-two-three."
"Then we'll do that for his secret entrance," Quackerjack said decisively.
Megavolt raised an eyebrow beneath his goggles. "I don't want a drop of water on me."
"We'll station you far away from that," assured Quackerjack.
"And how are you going to turn them on without looking suspicious? If water spouts from the ground when the timer's not on, they'll know it's Liquidator," said Megavolt.
Quackerjack only paused a moment to think of a solution before he smiled again with renewed zeal. "Not if someone who looks like they're supposed to be there turns it on."
"Like who?" asked Bushroot.
"Like the guy in the Lawn Medic truck!" Quackerjack declared, putting his arm around Bushroot's shoulders as a trust-me grin spread across his beak. "Also known as your disguise, Bushy."
Bushroot stared back at him. "Lawn Medic?"
"Oh, that's subtle," Megavolt said with a derisive snort. "I'd never suspect Bushroot, the plant-duck, in the Lawn Medic truck."
Quackerjack frowned at Megavolt. "It's so obvious that it's too easy! Darkwing will rule it out."
"Isn't Darkwing supposed to be tied up?" interjected Bushroot.
"Like we can trust that," Quackerjack scoffed.
Megavolt made a face. "He has a point."
"We can trust that the cops will make it look like Darkwing's out of service to assure that no bad actors are harmed in the making of our ransom, but we can also guarantee that St. Canard's police force will try any trick they can to get us in the grand slammer, including a phony tie-up job on Darkwing or a decoy," pointed out Liquidator.
Bushroot frowned. "Besides, I'd never associate myself with something like Lawn Medic. Do you know how many chemicals are in those unnatural super-green lawns? It makes my volatile experimental formulas look safe. While that stuff helps certain types of grass, it's deadly to lots of other plants. Ask a dandelion what it thinks of Lawn Medic and you'll hear language that makes Negaduck's angry rants at us sound tame."
Quackerjack's grin widened, and he gave the plant-duck a playful noogie before bouncing up and clapping his hands excitedly. "See, that's why that's the perfect disguise for you, Bushy," he said, ignoring the off-put look Bushroot gave him for his exuberance. Facing Megavolt, Quackerjack continued, "Darkwing knows us well enough to know that someone like Bushy would hate Lawn Medic. He'll dismiss it."
With a sigh Megavolt said, "Okay. Let's assume that those two go as planned. Licky hides in the sprinklers and Bushroot hides in a Lawn Medic truck disguised as a landscaper that turns on the sprinklers like someone working that job would. What about you, me, and Whiffle Boy?"
"You'll be easy. You'll be selling balloons."
"What?" Megavolt looked at Quackerjack as though he was making even less sense than usual.
"Balloons," Quackerjack repeated, drawing out his words for effect. "You'll be walking around selling balloons to people in the park across the street." He made a walking motion with his fingers as he spoke to illustrate the point. "We can wire your battery pack to channel the juice in through a hidden wire so it's not on your back, and we'll disguise it like a helium tank. No one'll think it's strange for a balloon vendor to be toting a couple of them around."
"I'm selling the balloons and you're the one full of hot air," Megavolt muttered as he shook his head. "But okay, it's better than that stupid wig and dress and tacky purse from last time at least."
"What about you?" Bushroot asked Quackerjack.
"And the hostage? Do you have a guaranteed low-key way to get him to the drop before they get the drop on you?" Liquidator asked with his watery ears raised in anticipation of the answer.
Quackerjack glanced over his shoulder at the bound Strongbill. "Leave Whiffle Boy to me. I'll get him there in one piece and in a big, dramatic entrance to keep the attention off of all of you."
Megavolt, Liquidator, and Bushroot exchanged looks. "How?" asked Megavolt.
"Easy." Quackerjack met their dubious gazes with confidence. "I'll drag him in tied up and tethered to my super turbo pogo-stick! We'll literally bounce into place from where we'll be hiding a couple blocks away right before the exchange time."
"Pogo-stick," mused Liquidator. "That sounds very…" It seemed that for once, the former salesman was at a loss for words as he stared at Quackerjack.
"Very you," Bushroot finished for him, shaking his head also. "So crazy it might just work."
"Well at least someone here has confidence in me," Quackerjack said, and stuck his tongue out at Megavolt, who sneered back at him, unimpressed.
"Good. Then he can spend tonight here with you while I go home and check on my luminaries after leaving them all alone overnight."
Bushroot blinked and looked between Megavolt and Liquidator with an alarmed expression. "Hey, I never said…"
Quackerjack frowned back at Megavolt. "Oh, I see how it is. Fine. Leave me for your light bulbs. See if I care."
Irritated by Quackerjack's sulky response, Megavolt threw up his hands in frustration. "You always have to make it personal, don't you?"
Bushroot backed away and grabbed Liquidator's wrist. "Uh, maybe we should let you two work this out in private…"
"No. You're staying here to babysit tonight," Megavolt said to Bushroot before turning back to Quackerjack. "I'll be back tomorrow morning. I really do need to check back home." He scratched the side of his head. "I'm sure I forgot at least two or three things that need to be taken care of."
"Hmph. Well, go then. Don't let me hold you up. Bushy and I can have just as much fun with Whiffle Boy as we did." Quackerjack turned around in a huff so that his back was to Megavolt. "And that just means more Hamburger Hippo for me tonight, since Bushy only likes fertilizer."
"Well, I do like the occasional Hippo burger, but that's really rich for my soil," Bushroot muttered, before he realized that Megavolt truly was serious about leaving and that they thought he was indeed staying. "Hey wait, Megavolt…"
"I've had it," Megavolt snapped in Bushroot's direction, although he was looking at Quackerjack as he said it. "Have fun whacking your whiffle tonight, Quacky. I'll see you in the morning." With that, Megavolt turned on his heel and stomped out, muttering under his breath and sparking at the fingertips as he departed.
Quackerjack turned around just in time to make a childish face at Megavolt's departing figure, and then shook his head. "Boy, you'd think I stuck my remote-controlled super-ball down the back of his pants again with how he's acting. He's really grouchy when he doesn't sleep well, you know that?" he said to the others.
"But I can't stay," Bushroot said, shooting Liquidator a pleading look. "I have a houseguest, and Spike can only be trusted by himself for so long before he might do something stupid…"
"Which means he has something in common with someone else we know who's at least fifty percent more volatile and dangerous than the stupid-but-sane fly trap kept by your friendly neighborhood plant-duck," Liquidator said with a shrug and a mildly apologetic look. "I'd volunteer to stay for the fun, but I have an overdue birthday present to deliver." He gestured to the Whiffle Boy zapper he purchased from Quackerjack earlier.
Quackerjack grinned at Bushroot. "It'll be fun, Bushy! We'll have a blast playing with Whiffle Boy!"
Bushroot's uncertain look etched more deeply onto his features. "Uh… okay." He looked at Liquidator again, almost as desperately as Strongbill had at them previously.
With a small shrug and smile of consolation, Liquidator put his wet hand on Bushroot's shoulder. "Not to worry, I'll look after your leafy friends and make sure they're all fully watered. You have my iron-clad no-wilt guarantee! I'll be back tomorrow after a stop at the Swanlord to check on their sprinklers, and if you agree now, I'll even bring you some of your fertilizer coffee in a thermos."
"Okay," Bushroot said with a half-smile.
Liquidator grinned. "It's a deal. Have a," he glanced at Quackerjack, "crazy night!" He bowed with a flourish and picked up the Whiffle Boy zapper, and then swished out the door.
While Bushroot watched Liquidator leave with a combined sense of disappointment and apprehension, Quackerjack skipped over to the table and hopped up to sit on the edge of it, swinging his legs in a hyper fashion as he did so. "So, Bushy, it's just you and me, and Whiffle Boy makes three!" He glanced over at Strongbill, who was giving them both a wary look. The actor was not sure if the plant-duck was any better than the rat when it came to secondary company with his primary captor.
Bushroot joined Quackerjack at the table, figuring he might as well make the best of being the one to babysit Quackerjack and his playtime with their hostage. He looked over at Strongbill and his disheveled state, and wondered what all Quackerjack had done to him that he had not witnessed before deciding that he probably did not want to know. "So, uh, I take it you've been having fun with your chance to get even with Whiffle Boy?"
Quackerjack nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, yes! And don't let grumpy-puss Megsy fool you; he had fun too. We were tag team shocking him and making him play with his food last night. It was a blast." He gave Bushroot a thoughtful look. "I wonder what you could use your powers to do to torment Whiffle Boy?" he asked, and then his eyes lit up with a cruel and devious look. "Could you grow a thorny vine to—?"
"I am not slipping him a vine there, or in any other orifice," Bushroot said preemptively, causing Quackerjack's smile to deflate into a pout. "No bodily harm, remember?"
"Okay," Quackerjack said, still sounding disappointed, until he looked up at Bushroot again. "You could grow some vines to tie him up with though, right?"
Giving Quackerjack a suspicious look, Bushroot nodded hesitantly. "Yes. But you already have him tied up."
Quackerjack grinned again. "But I don't have any jump ropes long enough to tie him up and suspend him from the ceiling over those rafters with," he said, pointing upward. "And my jump ropes wouldn't hold his weight well enough to handle what I have in mind."
"Which is…?" asked Bushroot.
Pulling a yo-yo out of his pocket, Quackerjack expertly threw it out and rolled it back up on its string, repeating the action at different angles. "Whiffle Boy caused me to lose my toy business… so I think he ought to experience what it's like to be toyed with." He rolled the yo-yo out sharply in Strongbill's direction with a cruel grin.
"You want to turn him into a living yo-yo?" Bushroot guessed.
"Yes-yes!" Quackerjack echoed enthusiastically. "What do you say? Will you help me, Bushy?"
After taking a moment to consider the request, Bushroot supposed that there were far more objectionable things that Quackerjack could have asked for, and that being a yo-yo would be no harder on Strongbill than a long and unpleasant carnival ride. "All right."
"That's the spirit!" Quackerjack bounced off of the table, grabbed Bushroot by the wrist, and dragged him over to the side of the chair by Strongbill. "I knew you had a playful side. You really don't indulge it often enough. You're so serious sometimes."
"Well, in the past when I played around with Darkwing, he paid me back by having Stegmutt 'put out the Bushroot' if you remember."
Quackerjack made a face. "Ugh, well that day is one I'd just as soon forget too," he said, feeling a pain in his jaw as he remembered the incident with his teeth and Gizmoduck's drill. "But Dumbass Duck isn't here to ruin our fun or save Whiffle Boy now, so what's the harm?"
Bushroot could not help but smirk a little at Quackerjack's rude name for their loathed adversary. "Heh, well, I guess you have a point there…" He motioned to the floor, and a moment later, a thick and sturdy green vine sprouted through it and grew toward Strongbill. "One Whiffle Boy fresh on the vine, coming up."
Frustrated and more than a little nervous as the vine began to wind itself around his legs, Strongbill glared at Bushroot. "So I guess you think this is funny too." His look then changed to one more apprehensive as the vine split off in different directions and began to wrap around his arms and torso as well.
"It could be worse," Bushroot said, giving the actor an almost apologetic look.
"How?" argued Strongbill. "You're going to use me as a yo-yo!"
"Didn't you hear what he said 'no' to before, Whiffle Boy?" Quackerjack mocked Strongbill. "You've got the 'nice guy' of the team here tonight. He didn't even grow that vine as poison ivy!"
As the vines finished tying up Strongbill and began to grow toward the ceiling rafters, Bushroot blinked at Quackerjack in surprise. "You really think I'm a nice guy?"
"Well, no," admitted Quackerjack. "But you're less sadistic than I am, and probably Megsy and Licky too."
"So was the Marquis de Quack."
"Hah," Quackerjack retorted, sticking his tongue out the end of his long bill while Bushroot readied his vine to hoist Strongbill up. "Wouldn't you want to get revenge on your worst enemy and torment him to an untimely demise?" Quackerjack then let out a dramatic gasp and put his hand over the end of his beak, feigning an innocent "oops" expression. "Oh wait… I forgot! You already did that. But I guess someone needs to make fun of you in front of your girlfriend to get you mad enough to mete out brutal choking death by beanstalk."
Bushroot's beak curled into a glower. "You're an ass, Quackerjack."
"And you're too concerned about poor widdle Whiffle Boy," Quackerjack countered snidely. "I didn't kill him yet, did I? So lighten up and give him the heave-ho already!" He gesticulated the motion of raising their hostage up.
With a roll of his eyes, Bushroot muttered, "Fine." He moved his hand and the vine rose. "Going up!"
Quackerjack giggled. "Ding! Second floor: menswear, sporting goods, and ooh, blunt objects to ram your head against!" he called out playfully as the vine bumped the back of Strongbill's head against a beam near the ceiling. The actor let out a grunt of pain and a colorful and choice obscenity, to which Quackerjack folded his arms in a mockery of disgust.
"Such foul language. Bushy, be glad you have no children idolizing this awful example of kids' entertainment." He shook his head, the tails of his jester hat flopping to the side and the bells tinkling as he did so. "I can only imagine what Licky's boy must be like if he's another unfortunate Whiffle-zombie."
A somewhat wry look crossed Bushroot's green face. "He's a lot like him, actually, only a little less smooth at the art of scamming you and making you like it."
"Oh, so you like it when he scams you?" teased Quackerjack.
"That's not what I said," Bushroot huffed back, and waved his vine to drop Strongbill down on his first yo-yo trip.
Quackerjack bounced with glee. "Going down!" He drew out his enunciation of the second word to sound like something on its way to crashing and burning, before Bushroot drew his hand back to tell his vine to stop it short before impact.
"I hate you both," Strongbill informed them as the vine jerked him sharply, just inches away from where he would have hit the floor.
"Oh well," Quackerjack said with mock sadness, and looked from Strongbill to Bushroot. "In that case, I guess we might as well be complete jerks then, huh, Bushy?"
Bushroot just shrugged and motioned to his vine to take Strongbill back up. Quackerjack's pupils followed their hostage's movements as Strongbill was drawn up and then dropped back toward the ground just as quickly before being hauled back up for another round. Quackerjack let out another giggle as the old song "Free Falling" came on the radio to add another layer of indignity to Strongbill's situation. Strongbill himself was amazed that he was actually able to notice and lament that fact as he was yanked back and forth and up and down like one of his crazy captor's toys. The thought that he only had to make it another day and a half to the exchange and his chance at freedom was the only thing that kept him from losing his hope and snapping completely.
St. Canard's police station was always a hub of bustling activity, even late on a Sunday when most other places in the city were winding down. The arrival of Launchpad and Gosalyn barely got a second look beyond the uniformed canine woman at the front who directed all visitors to wherever they needed to go. "Can I help you?" she asked in a sharp, no-nonsense tone as she looked from Launchpad to Gosalyn and back to Launchpad, where her stern gaze remained.
"Yeah. I'm here on behalf of Darkwing Duck. I have some questions from him for you guys," said Launchpad.
The mention of Darkwing Duck caught the attention of others nearby, and it seemed that there was a pause in the activity around as several policemen and others waiting there for other reasons stopped what they were doing to stare. "You know Darkwing Duck," she repeated, staring at him even more heavily while another officer that Gosalyn remembered from Whiffle-Con joined her.
"That's right," Gosalyn insisted, taking an assertive step forward. "Darkwing Duck wants to make sure that Brant Strongbill is being saved from those crazy creeps that took him hostage."
The woman behind the desk gave her a friendly, if not patronizing smile. "Oh, are you a Whiffle Boy fan?"
"She is, but that's not why we're here. Well, in a way it is, but it's not really. We're here because Darkwing needs to know what all you're doing to save Brant Strongbill so he doesn't get in your way or anything."
"This is his sidekick, you know. Launchpad McQuack. If you don't know who he is, you should," Gosalyn said stubbornly. "So what's going on?"
"Easy, Gos," Launchpad said in a low voice, cringing a little inside at the way she was arguing with the police. While he understood the sentiment, he also knew that rankling the police in their own station was a bad idea.
"Your daughter's quite the firecracker," the officer that Gosalyn recognized from Whiffle-Con, Officer Krop, said with a sharp look in her direction. "I hope she'll be so energetic in school tomorrow, given the time." His tone was calm, but with an unmistakable edge to it as he spoke to Launchpad, who caught it and frowned a little at it.
"She's not my daughter, but yeah, she will," he assured him.
"Not your daughter?" the female officer said with a curious look.
"I'm watching her while her father's out."
"And while you run Darkwing Duck's errands?" Officer Krop said with an arched eyebrow. "He's not her father, is he?"
The way the policeman eyed him made Launchpad uneasy. "Her father's at work," Launchpad replied in a brush-off to the question. "And I'm here because Darkwing's doing what he's supposed to be doing, protecting the city." He held up his injured arm. "I'd be out there with him if I could."
The woman behind the desk glanced at Gosalyn again. "Not while babysitting, I hope."
Launchpad frowned at her tone. "Of course not," he lied, feeling even more uneasy as he thought about the truth, that Gosalyn tagged along every chance she got, often despite her father's best efforts. "But I still do my best to help out my friends, so that's why I'm here… and watching her."
"And Launchpad's my friend, and I wanted to come," Gosalyn spoke up. "I want to help Darkwing too, so help us by telling us if you got any leads or who he can talk to about what you're doing to stop Quackerjack and his Fearsome Five friends." Gosalyn leaned heavily on the front of the desk, almost to the point where she looked like she was going to climb across it.
Officer Krop leaned back toward her with a humorless look on his face, which led Launchpad to tug the back of Gosalyn's shirt with his good arm to get her off of the desk. She did, but she continued to give the police behind it an expectant look while Officer Krop spoke. "I'm afraid that information is too sensitive to pass out to the public, even the well-meaning ones." He fixed his gaze on Launchpad. "The level of press involvement in this case because of Mr. Strongbill's high profile makes it complicated enough already. Since you are Darkwing Duck's sidekick, I'm sure he told you what we told him at the scene: we're handling it. We're not doing anything to jeopardize Mr. Strongbill's safety, but we do have all the manpower we can allot assigned to this case searching for him and those responsible. If there are any leads, you'll certainly hear about it. There are reporters all over the place ready to broadcast the scoop." He cleared his throat and glanced at a badger quietly taking notes on a nearby bench. "Isn't that right Prescott?"
The badger sheepishly lowered his notepad and glanced back at the officers, Launchpad, and Gosalyn. "You got it, Officer."
"Prescott Torpret of the National Inquisitor," the female officer said with a sly smile in his direction. "He's dutifully capturing all the details of that case that he can get his hands on. He's agreed not to bother any of our force on duty if we let him hang around our waiting area. I'm sure you two will get at least an honorable mention in his next update."
Unimpressed, Gosalyn stared back at them. "What about Liquidator's kid that he ran off with? Did anyone find him?"
Officer Krop's round nose wrinkled irritably, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Launchpad, who gave Gosalyn's wrist another not-so-subtle tug in a non-verbal warning to back off while Krop answered. "If you're referring to Eddie Flood, who was rumored to be abducted by the Liquidator, he's still missing as well. But unless you have any information pertaining to his whereabouts, I'm not at liberty to discuss any more than that with anyone but his parents or immediate family. He is a minor, after all, young lady, and as any responsible adult would tell you, we take the laws protecting the information regarding children very seriously."
Realizing that they were not going to get any more information, Launchpad nodded back to the police and took a step backwards. "All right. Well, thanks for your time," he said in a tone that was respectful but still obviously disappointed. "Come on, Gos. Let's get back home."
"You can tell Mr. Darkwing that we'll be in touch," Officer Krop said with an insincere smile on his face that only started to seem genuine when he added, "The demands for the hostage's release do specify that he needs to be tied up and completely useless at the scene, after all."
The sneering undertone in his voice made Launchpad want to reach across the desk and punch him, and for the moment that he thought it was a good idea, he was glad his arm was too injured to act on it. Launchpad was not usually a violent individual, and perhaps it was either because of the medication or because Darkwing was not there to say something himself that he even felt the urge, but all the same he did. "Yeah," he said with narrowed eyes. "Gos, now."
"I bet Darkwing will figure it out and save them before you do," Gosalyn said defiantly as she and Launchpad headed for the doors. "Just you wait and see!"
The stern glare on Krop's face etched deeper as they left, while Prescott Torpret scribbled down Gosalyn's words verbatim with just the hint of a smirk on his face.
Megavolt was a block away from his lighthouse when he saw the lights flashing outside of it. Frowning, he hit the brakes as he recognized the color and pattern as the kind that came from police cars. After he let out a catchy string of obscenities that he had picked up from Brant Strongbill the previous night, he turned onto a side street and parked his car in one of the legal spaces so as to not attract any attention—as if the vehicle's unique paint job did not stand out enough already. The police were too engrossed in their investigative work at Megavolt's lighthouse to notice, however, and they also did not see him as he crept along the darkened streets and onto the neighboring property to get an idea of what was going on.
"I told you," one officer posted outside said to his partner, who was also supposed to be guarding the perimeter and watching for any signs of Megavolt or any of the other super-villains in the Fearsome Five. "He ain't here. We've spent the last forty minutes wasting our time. None of these guys are stupid enough to hide a hostage in their own property. They aren't gonna go anywhere we'd be looking for them."
The other policeman shrugged and drank from his coffee cup. "Well, at least we're making some good overtime. And it's not every day we get a warrant to come onto a super-villain's house's property."
"This Megavolt's a whack-job. You hear what they said they found when they first went in? Thousands of light bulbs in all shapes and sizes, plugged into weird panels or sitting in padded boxes?" He made a crazy sign with his finger against the side of his head. "Took too many amperes to the brain, I think."
"As long as his amps ain't going in my ass, I'm not gonna bitch too much," the other officer said with a shrug. "Personally I'm glad we got this gig and not the one poor Coban and Tundo and their guys got. There ain't enough overtime to get me to go on Bushroot's property after what happened to my partner last year when the Fearsome Five took over the city. Fly trap bites on both ankles and poison ivy on the family jewels from a vine that went up his pants." He shuddered. "No thanks."
Shrugging, the first policeman said, "I don't know, if you ask me, the real shit job went to the guys looking for Liquidator and that kid in the sewers. Talk about a wild goose chase. There's miles of sewer tunnel in this city. And the crew checking out the warehouse district's got their work cut out for them, too. Huge area, and Quackerjack moves around. Last I heard they'd investigated five that turned up dry, with three more to go that they got warrants for with no dice yet. At least once we call this place clean, we're done."
"Then we are," a sharp female officer's voice shouted from the doorway. "We just finished up inside. There's nothing there but enough light bulbs to power every Christmas tree on the coast, and a bunch of other junk. Nobody around, no sign of Megavolt or that anyone's even been here in a week or so except for some food in the fridge that hasn't gone bad yet." She paused. "At least I don't think so," she finished as she joined them, while another policeman emerged and closed the door behind him. "With no light in it, it was kinda hard to tell, but nothing stunk to high heaven or jumped out at me anyway."
They went through my fridge? Megavolt thought indignantly. They better not have eaten my stuff, or they'll be the ones getting a microwave-style reheat! His fingertip sparked irritably as he thought about how he was not up to hitting another Hamburger Hippo for his next meal. He was not even sure last night's had fully digested yet, it had been so greasy. Megavolt considered jumping out of the shadows to fry them and give them what for, but he thought better of it and swallowed his pride along with his bile. Even if he could shock them senseless, it would just complicate things all around. It was better if the police did not get any fresh leads as to where he or any of the others were, he figured, so he remained hidden until the police wrapped up their investigation and left. Once they did, Megavolt went into his lighthouse and saw that they had rifled through all of his things, although at a glance it did not look like anything was missing. He was relieved that none of the light bulbs were crying to him for help, aside from one lava lamp that complained about being molested by the policeman who had left greasy fingerprints all over its surface. Picking up a rag, Megavolt fastidiously scrubbed them off while offering it a sincere apology for what it had been through.
After he finished, he went toward his kitchen and passed by his phone, which was not hooked up anyway. The sight of the phone jolted his memory slightly, and he recalled what he had overheard the police saying about investigating the other properties owned by the Fearsome Five. He tried to remember if Strongbill was being kept at one of those, but his memory grew foggy again, and he could not remember for certain. Megavolt smacked the side of his head twice to clear the cobwebs, and then he remembered that Quackerjack had told him that he had not used that particular warehouse for anything other than laying low in the past, so the odds were that the police did not know about it. That wasn't all, though, Megavolt was fairly sure. There was something about the other places, was it the sewers or Bushroot's place? Bushroot's place… wasn't there something there, too? Unfortunately, Megavolt drew a complete blank on that, and he frowned as he tried harder for a moment to remember it with no luck. Then he recalled that Bushroot was with Quackerjack anyway, and he breathed a sigh of relief and headed on into the kitchen to vent to his toaster about the mess the police had left in his home.
Fortunately for Liquidator, he made it Bushroot's greenhouse before the police did. He gave Eddie his Whiffle Boy laser blaster right off the bat, and Eddie had immediately run outside to find something he was allowed to shoot at to test it. After blowing up a rock in Bushroot's field, and nearly causing Liquidator to evaporate with panic when it created a light show high on the hill for any passer-by to see, he quickly shooed Eddie back inside and promised to take him somewhere more suited for target practice the following day. Eddie grumbled about that and argued with him, but when the telltale sound and sight of police sirens and lights appeared on Bushroot's drive a moment later, the debate ended. Liquidator grabbed his son and what he could immediately see of the bags of loot and shoved them all into the greenhouse's one small bathroom. It had no windows, so once he shut the door, Eddie would be well concealed. Liquidator told him not to make a sound until he said the coast was clear, and Eddie nodded in mute agreement before the door slammed shut. Although the police would have been there to help him had they seen him, the truth was that Eddie was having too much fun to be "rescued" yet. Unlike his brother, he had come to easy terms with their father's super-villain status. Of course, Liquidator's bribes of presents and apologies had gone a good way toward that. Much like his father, Eddie hardly had the strongest moral compass of the Flood family tree to begin with.
While Eddie hid in the bathroom, Liquidator sank low to the ground as a puddle. He positioned himself innocuously beneath Bushroot's garden hose, spread out where a puddle of water would not look out of place as flashlights began to shine in through the panels. "The lights are on, but it don't look like anyone's home," the first officer said to his partner, who was shining the light in a few feet away.
"You could probably say that about Reggie Bushroot himself, never mind his greenhouse," chortled the other cop. "Or any of the Fearsome Freaks for that matter."
The sound of them outside and the lights shining in got Spike's attention, and the fly trap raced across the floor, splashing right through Liquidator and snapping viciously at the first policeman through the transparent panels. "Holy shit!" he shouted. "I think he heard you! Or one of his friends did."
The other officer, and the duo that had been on their way to check the back of the greenhouse, hurried over when they heard his shout. They stared at Spike, who was still snapping and slobbering against the greenhouse wall in a ferocious way, in a mixture of apprehension and horror. One of the ones who had just arrived let out a low whistle. "Damn, that thing's nasty."
"Yeah… no way are we going in there. I'm not even sure our bullets can stop that thing."
"Maybe we should shoot it just to be sure," another one of the police said, raising his gun, but his partner slapped his hand down in a swift motion.
"Are you crazy? If you don't kill it, you're going to piss it off, not to mention possibly bring every plant inside and maybe even the field and grass we're standing in to life to come after us. This is a simple search op. Don't get trigger happy."
One of the others shined his light inside and walked further down the perimeter, trying to ignore the unnerving sight of the salivating and angry Spike as he followed their movements from inside. "It doesn't look like there's anyone in there anyway. The lights are probably for the plants. But I don't see anything in there that doesn't have leaves. Not even Bushroot himself. That thing's probably just guarding the place, like a dog or something."
The one who had been admonished for almost shooting Spike frowned. "We were asked to check out the whole place, but…"
Another one of them looked at Spike, and then at his fellow police incredulously. "Uh, I won't tell if you don't. Besides, I really don't think Strongbill's here." He looked inside also, past Spike, and like his colleague he saw nothing living but plant life. "No sign of Quackerjack, Megavolt, or even Liquidator, really. I mean, there's some water by the hose, but it's the hose and it is a greenhouse. They're all humid and this many plants use a lot of water."
Two of the others nodded in agreement. "Yeah, and until they issue us some weed-whackers or class-A machetes, we're not really equipped for this kind of thing," he said, gesturing to Spike. "We'll do a final walk-around and call it clean if we don't see anything. Sound good?"
The rest of them all mumbled their consent, and the group disbursed for their search. Spike continued to snap and grunt in frustration, jumping at them from various places behind the greenhouse's panels, but they soon decided that nothing but Spike was there and left, much to Liquidator's relief. He waited until the police cars drove away until he fully re-formed and freed Eddie from his spot in the bathroom.
"So," he said with a grin of pride at his younger son, "how does it feel to be the newest accomplice to one of St. Canard's most wanted super-villains?" He waved his finger. "Remember, this would be at least three times more damaging than anything else already on your juvenile record, so we'll keep this incident to a strict privacy agreement between us in the future."
Eddie grinned and twirled his new Whiffle Boy gun while Spike ran in agitated circles, joining them as if to ask why they were not chasing the police cars down the road like he would have. Liquidator absently shot the plant a squirt of water, which he slurped up happily, while Eddie responded to his father. "This is so cool. I'd have loved to have seen the looks on their faces when Spike made them crap their pants."
Liquidator chortled despite the boy's coarse language. "It was one hundred percent humorous. Forget the Slothman Shield, if you want to prevent anyone from entering your home, nothing tops a Bushroot brand ferocious fly trap for securing your security! Now available through Fearsome Four Industries for the low, low price of whatever we feel like charging in protection money."
"I bet you'd have ripped them limb from limb, huh?" he said to Spike, patting him on the head. "I wouldn't mind having a pet like him. Do you think Bushroot could make me one?" Eddie smiled up at Liquidator. "I still have one Christmas left, right?"
"Can you imagine the look on your mother's face if you brought one of those home?" Liquidator scoffed incredulously.
"Aw, she'd get over it. And it eats anything, right? Not just the raw flesh of intruders?"
Spike seemed to realize that they were talking about him, and he looked at them with his mouth open, panting happily as Eddie continued to scratch at his mane of reddish foliage-hair.
"I think Reggie feeds him compost… or leftovers," Liquidator said, looking Spike over as he tried to recall what he had seen Bushroot feed him or what he had seen him eat. He then met his son's eyes with a more serious look. "But she'd still be bent out of shape like a Pretzel King special if you came back with one of these with no warning." He envisioned the look on Brooke's face as a Spike-like pet traipsed through her well-decorated living room, tracking mud on her expensive carpets and chewing on her velour drapes. It brought a mean-spirited smirk to his fluid features. "I'll see what he says," he told Eddie with a conspiring gleam in his eyes.
Eddie's grin grew almost as wide as Spike's. "Awesome!"
When Drake spun into his living room on the blue chair, he was surprised to find Launchpad and Gosalyn still awake. He had been out for some time after shooing Rill Flood home to his mother back at the Flood Water Company building, but all of his investigating afterward had turned up squat. Since he was just one duck, he had not had enough time to thoroughly investigate every suspected super-villain lair in the city, but all of the ones he did check out had little other than dust, shipping boxes, and bird poop from the wild inhabitants in their rafters. Darkwing had also been listening to the police broadcasts so he knew that they were also covering some ground. He had heard that they were searching Megavolt's lighthouse, Bushroot's greenhouse, and certain buildings traced back to Quackerjack and the Flood Water Company that they had been able to get warrants for. That not only saved him time, but it also left the areas not covered by those warrants free for him to check out unhindered. Although technically it was against the law for him to do that, Darkwing was well practiced enough at apprehending criminals that he always made sure that he delivered them to the authorities with enough evidence to convict them or at least enough probable cause to let them get the warrants to collect it.
That night, however, Darkwing was disappointed that neither the self-proclaimed "experts" of St. Canard's police force nor he was able to turn up a viable lead as to the whereabouts of Quackerjack, Liquidator, their accomplices, or their hostages. Failure always left him in a foul mood, and now that it was late enough for him to be tired to boot, he was downright cranky. "You're still up?" He glanced at the clock before looking back at Launchpad and Gosalyn. "Young lady, you have school tomorrow."
A bit taken aback by his brusque greeting, Gosalyn said, "Oh, our night was fine, Dad. Thanks for asking. How was yours?"
"I'm in no mood for your smart mouth right now." Drake rose from the chair and approached them, while Launchpad leaned over and whispered to Gosalyn.
"I guess that answers the question of whether or not he found anything, huh?"
Gosalyn nodded to Launchpad and said to her father, "I'm not really all that tired anyway." She paused and then asked, "So you weren't able to get any clues?"
"No," Drake admitted miserably. "It's like they've vanished. There are still a few places I can try and check tomorrow, but—" His sentence was cut short by a yawn that forced its way out. It was contagious, and Launchpad also yawned and stretched, clumsily bumping the lamp behind him with his elbow as he did so.
Drake winced as he saw the lamp wobble but fortunately not topple over and then he glanced over at the television, which was playing a late night monster movie. "So what are you two still doing up?" He gave Gosalyn a sharp look. "You know you're still going to school, even if you're dead tired tomorrow morning."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. We were just watching a movie and waiting on you. We couldn't sleep."
"I'm kind of used to being out with you, anyway," Launchpad added with a trace of disappointment in his tone. "And we didn't have much luck with our own investigating, either."
"Your own investigating? I thought I told you to take it easy and you," he said sternly to Gosalyn, "to keep him out of trouble."
"We didn't get in trouble."
"Yeah, we left before that happened," said Launchpad. Before Drake could ask, he went on to explain. "We dropped in at the police station to try and get some idea about what they were doing and planning to do. But Officer Krop just gave us the same runaround he gave you and told us that they're handling it." He left out the bit they had implied about Darkwing being useless, since he did not want to fire up Drake any more than he already was.
Gosalyn folded her arms across her chest in disgust. "I don't think they have any clue where they are or how they're going to stop them. They're full of it."
"Unfortunately that's nothing new," said Drake. He sighed and took a few steps across the rug. "Not that I'm doing any better."
"So you had no luck at all?" Launchpad asked.
"Not really. I ran into the other Flood kid, the one that isn't missing, at the water bottling headquarters, but I didn't find out anything from him except that he suffers from an unfortunate case of Muddlefoot Syndrome."
"Muddlefoot Syndrome?" Gosalyn asked, exchanging a bemused look with Launchpad.
"Yes. It's a rare and puzzling condition wherein someone strangely normal, polite, and well-adjusted is spawned from a genetic background of obnoxious and/or irritating individuals," Drake said wryly. "Honker is the first documented case of it and it was named for him."
Gosalyn chortled. "Ha-ha. I'm sure he's so honored."
"Anyway, after I sent the Flood boy home, I scouted around the building there, but it was a waste of time. The place was empty. Then I checked more warehouses and distribution centers than I can even remember offhand and still turned up nothing." Drake paused and frowned, pulling a small set of wind-up teeth out of his pocket. "Well, that's not entirely true. Quackerjack must've hid out in one of those places at some point, because I found these when I bumped into some boxes and they fell off of them and bit me on the tail feathers. But I think they'd been there a while since there was no other sign of him around recently, and nothing that makes me think they took Strongbill there."
Launchpad glanced at the clock and tried to force some optimism. "At least we know we'll find out something by Tuesday if nothing else turns up. That's when the ransom deadline hits."
"I just hope Brant Strongbill can last that long… and that Liquidator doesn't land his son in water too hot to handle in the process." Drake shook his head and gestured toward the stairway. "Come on. We all should get some sleep."
Brant Strongbill was still hanging on, but by the time dawn came on Monday he looked worse than ever. Although Quackerjack had technically abided by his word that he would not do him any harm that could jeopardize their ability to collect a ransom, the crazy former toy-maker was clever enough that it did not cramp his style that much. The more time passed, in fact, the more it seemed to Strongbill that Quackerjack had begun to enjoy the challenge. As it stood, Strongbill felt absolutely vile. His clothes were filthy after two days of wear through Quackerjack's abuse without being able to change them. On top of that, he had also not been able to bathe, not even after being splattered with food, soaked with water balloons, drawn on, and worst of all puking on himself thanks to Quackerjack and Bushroot's yo-yo game. He was certain that he did not smell much better than dead, but Quackerjack was happy to see him miserable and Bushroot either did not share Megavolt's fastidiousness about such things, or he was not assertive enough to argue with Quackerjack about it.
Strongbill had only been out of the chair twice in the last day, both short bathroom breaks, but he had not been given enough time to wash or to even try and wipe his clothes and feathers off. Not that he would have been able to in the tiny pitch-black bathroom anyway, as it was difficult enough to find the toilet paper, let alone any soap or towels. Being tied in the same position for so long also left him with a fierce ache in his limbs and a wicked crick in his neck, and his feet and rear end had gone numb more than once. The only good thing about the whole yo-yo game had been the fact that it, and the puking it induced, had gotten his blood pumping hard enough to alleviate it a little, but trading one misery for another was hardly anything to be pleased about.
After Quackerjack had gotten bored with the yo-yo game, he had Bushroot grow him a tomato plant that provided him with a seemingly endless supply of overripe tomatoes that Quackerjack proceeded to throw at Strongbill for various reasons. He started off that new game with one tomato for each star the Whiffle Boy movie got—which, as Bushroot pointed out, was a whopping one and a half—but Quackerjack graciously rounded up so that he did not have to "cut any of Bushy's friends". He then threw one tomato at Strongbill for every Whiffle Boy game that had come out and one for every console it had been released on. Next he threw one for each action figure that had been released, and another for each type of Whiffle Boy toy-related merchandise that he could think of. He also threw one tomato for each style of Whiffle Boy T-shirt that had been for sale at the convention, and then one for each size they had been sold in. But that was still not enough to satisfy Quackerjack, and he continued to toss tomatoes for things like the Whiffle Boy hats, pins, pens, and other baubles that he had seen at Whiffle-Con. Finally, when Quackerjack could think of nothing else Whiffle-related to throw a tomato at his nemesis for, Bushroot picked up three tomatoes and hurled them at the actor with a declaration that they were for the terrible acting and plot of Exterminator III, which, while not Whiffle Boy-related, had been one of Strongbill's films.
When the tomato game concluded, Quackerjack said that all the smushed tomatoes had given him a craving for pizza. Bushroot had been glad for the excuse to leave and, with a reminder to Quackerjack to not go overboard, headed out to get it. Quackerjack took Bushroot's words somewhat literally, and put on a pirate had and began insulting Strongbill in pirate talk. He filled up buckets of water and dumped them over Strongbill's head, giggling "Whiffle Overboard!" every time he did so. When Bushroot returned with the pizza—pilfered from a local parlor with the help of some of his plants—he and Quackerjack took their dinner break while the hungry Strongbill, who had only eaten a couple of mouthfuls of mushy tomato since his shake the night before, watched them longingly.
That night Quackerjack was not feeling generous enough to share his dinner with his bound enemy, though. He told Strongbill that a tough hero like Whiffle Boy shouldn't eat fatty foods like pizza if he wanted to keep his "heroic figure", and gave him a cruel substitute instead: pre-packaged Speedy Slim shakes. Neither Strongbill nor Bushroot had any idea why Quackerjack, slim and active as he was, even had a supply of those on hand since they tasted so terrible, but Strongbill was in no position to ask and Bushroot did not want to. One large funnel and six chalky and sickly-sweet shakes later, poor Strongbill was no longer hungry but still just as miserable, especially without any water to chase the diet shake aftertaste off of his tongue. He passed out not long after that, and awoke dreading yet another day of torment.
When Strongbill opened his eyes, Quackerjack was nowhere to be seen and a bored-looking Bushroot was watching the cheap television set up in the hideout. As Strongbill shifted to try and ease the soreness in his neck, Bushroot heard his chair creak and turned around. "Oh, you're up, huh?"
"Unfortunately." Strongbill looked around anxiously for Quackerjack, but when he still did not see him, he asked Bushroot, "Where's that crazy clown?"
"He went out to get some coffee," said Bushroot. When he saw Strongbill relax upon hearing that, he warned him, "Don't think of it as too much of a reprieve, though. He's probably going to get one of those espresso mocha things from Starchucks, and believe me, he's only worse caffeinated."
Strongbill frowned at the plant-duck. "You don't have much room to talk with your damn vines and tomatoes."
"Don't take it personally. I'm really only in this for the green." Bushroot paused and then added, "Well, I do think that some of your movies suck, but that's not that big a deal to me."
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to let me go into the bathroom and wash off, then?"
"Sorry," Bushroot said as he shook his head no. "I don't want to hear Quackerjack whine about it when he gets back. But, uh, I could get you some water or food or something, if you want. I'll keep it between us," he offered, unable to help feeling a little sorry for the actor in his wretched state.
"Yeah, that'd be good," said Strongbill, and Bushroot nodded and brought him a cup of water. Since the actor's arms were tied down against his body on the chair, Bushroot had to stand right next to him and bring the cup to his beak for him. When he did, however, Strongbill surprised Bushroot by grabbing his free wrist once the plant-duck's arm was close enough to reach. Startled, Bushroot dropped the water and gasped while Strongbill glowered up at him.
"You're not so tough when you don't have your pals or your plants to back you up, are you?" he said angrily, tightening his grip as much as he could in his bound position while Bushroot instinctively tried to wrench away. "And it's pretty stupid to let your guard down around someone you've been tormenting, super-villain. Didn't they teach you that in evildoer school?"
Furious at how his attempt to be nice had been repaid, Bushroot summoned a vine from the floor and had it curl around Strongbill's neck, choking him hard and forcing him to let go of his wrist. It did not take long, and Bushroot glared at Strongbill as he continued to let the vine choke him even after he was well out of his reach. "Well if that's how you want it, we can go back to playing rough. Have it your way."
When he heard the shout, Bushroot turned around and saw Quackerjack rushing toward them with the largest size Starchucks cup in his hand. "You weren't supposed to start the fun without me."
Bushroot stepped back and had his vine release Strongbill, who gasped and choked in the chair. "Sorry, but he was getting a little fresh and needed to be taught a lesson."
"So that's what you meant by 'playing rough'?" Quackerjack asked with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. "Oh, Bushy, I never knew you had that side to you."
"That isn't what I meant!" Bushroot retorted, not appreciating Quackerjack's crude sense of humor that time. "I was giving him some water and he tried to grab me." He shook his head at Strongbill. "I don't know what good you thought that would do. Did you really think you'd be able to get away?" A sneer formed on his bill. "I think you've been watching too many of your own bad movies."
Strongbill just glared back at him, although beneath his indignant façade he feared that his act of desperation had motivated them to be even worse to him. Quackerjack, meanwhile, gave Bushroot a playfully recriminating look. "Silly Bushy, he's not like your plants that need daily watering. He got plenty to drink last night." He grinned at Strongbill. "Those yummy-nummy Speedy Slim shakes in sickening strawberry, vile vanilla, and choke-it-down chocolate are a complete meal and drink all in one!" Quackerjack then took a sip of his coffee, enjoying the nasty look that Strongbill was giving him. "But, since thirst is obviously driving you to desperate acts of idiocy, Whiffle Boy, maybe I can take a little pity on you and give you some water."
While dread filled Strongbill's eyes and Bushroot watched Quackerjack to see what he was going to do, Quackerjack set down his coffee and headed over to the utility sink. He picked up the bucket from the day before and began to fill it again, and while the water was running, he popped the pirate hat back on over his jester hat. Once the bucket was full, he carried it over to Strongbill, still grinning like a fiend, and looked over at Bushroot. "Arr, matey! Methinks our swabbie here wants to sail the seven seas again this morning. What say you?"
With a cruel smirk that matched Quackerjack's, Bushroot made a swishing motion with his leafy hand. "Whiffle overboard!"
Giggling with glee, Quackerjack dumped the contents of the bucket over Strongbill's head. The day's playtime had officially begun.
Unlike poor Gosalyn, who had been woken up for school by her father bright and early as promised, Launchpad slept in until almost noon. He probably would have slept longer if the painful throb in his arm, reminding him that it was past time for his medication, had not woken him up. After he took his pills he saw that his bandage could use a change as well, so he headed for the bathroom. Launchpad did not see or hear Drake around, and he figured that he must be downstairs, so he decided to just change the dressing by himself. Even though Drake or Gosalyn had helped him with the task each time so far, Launchpad did not think that he would not be able to do it without help, and given how adamant Drake had been so far about his injury putting him out of commission, Launchpad did not want to give him any more reason to think that he could not take care of himself.
He did not have much of a problem cutting the dressing off or cleaning his wound, but once he got the ointment on it and had to re-wrap it, he found that part was far more difficult to do than he had expected. Doing things with one hand was harder than it looked, and although the hand on his injured arm was fine, it was not in a position to be of much use, either. Launchpad spent the better part of the next twenty minutes grumbling and grousing as he fussed with the gauze and bandages with little success. He wound up contorting himself in increasingly complicated positions in an effort to utilize things like the sink, medicine cabinet, and even the towel rack to assist him in holding the gauze in place while he vainly tried to tape it down.
Eventually Drake heard the clanging and banging upstairs, and when he came up, he found Launchpad in a position that made his back ache just to look at it. "LP… what are you doing?"
"Just changing my bandage, DW."
"You look like a mummy trying to do advanced yoga." Drake shook his head and grasped Launchpad's forearm. "Let me give you a hand."
"No, that's ok. I almost had it."
"What, the towel rack? You were halfway to tying yourself to it. You should've just called me to help you with this."
Launchpad sighed. "I'm a big boy, you know."
"Yeah, and you're also being a big baby about this. There's nothing wrong with asking for a hand if you need it," Drake said as he taped the last part of the bandage into place.
Launchpad moved his arm to test that the dressing was comfortable. "I know, but I don't want to bother anyone with stuff I can take care of myself. I really don't need a baby-sitter."
"Ah, don't worry, LP. I know that." Although Drake knew that Launchpad was not actually offended that he had dubbed Gosalyn as such the previous night, he also knew that feeling helpless did bother his sidekick. "I promise I won't send Binkie Muddlefoot over to watch you if I have to run out before Gos gets home," Drake joked.
"Aw, well, Binkie's not so bad. She makes good cookies at least." Launchpad and Drake left the bathroom and headed downstairs. "So have you heard anything new about the case yet?"
"No," Drake said as an irritated note crept into his voice. "And there's nothing new on the news, either. After I battled the fierce monster that is my daughter after about three hours of sleep to get her on the bus this morning, I checked the news and there was nothing, so I crashed on the couch for a couple more hours and then when I woke up there was still nothing but the same old talking head babble." He sighed. "Obviously the police haven't found a thing, or Tom Lockjaw would be all over the TV going on about it."
"Yeah, probably," Launchpad said, just before the phone rang and interrupted them. Drake immediately rushed over and picked it up.
A business-like female voice answered him on the other end of the line. "I need to speak with Launchpad McQuack. Is he available?"
Drake glanced over at Launchpad, curious as to who it was calling for him. He did not recognize the number on the caller ID aside from it being a St. Canard one, and whoever it was had addressed him too professionally to be a family member, friend, or prospective girlfriend, which he imagined if Launchpad had, he would know about. He then thought it might be someone looking to hire Launchpad for piloting services since he did take odd jobs for cash sometimes, although he had done less of it in recent months given how busy crime-fighting kept them. Drake asked the caller to hold on and handed Launchpad the phone. "Some lady calling and asking for you?"
"Huh. I wonder who that'd be," Launchpad mused as he took the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello, Mr. McQuack. I'm Detective Araucana, and I'm working on the Strongbill ransom case."
Launchpad's eyes widened as he looked over at Drake, who eyed him with curiosity that doubled as soon as he responded. "Hi there, Detective. What can I do for you?"
"I know you have connections to Darkwing Duck, and I'm sure you're aware that there were certain demands made in the ransom pertaining to him. While it is our policy not to give in to kidnapper threats and demands, we do have to play along to a certain extent to ensure the safety of innocent civilians. Since Mr. Darkwing hasn't shared his real name or address with us, I'm afraid I have to ask someone who does know him to get in touch with him for us… unless of course you have that information and would like to share it with me?"
Launchpad made a face. "Uh, sorry. I can't. If DW wanted everyone to know who he was, he'd take off his mask," he said while an anxious Drake moved even closer, practically stepping on Launchpad's feet in his attempt to overhear the other side of the conversation.
"I figured as much," the detective replied. "But since you do know him, I'd appreciate it if you could relay a message to him and ask him to meet with me to discuss a collaborative effort to rescue Mr. Strongbill and apprehend his kidnappers."
"You want to meet with him, to work with him?" Launchpad repeated for Drake's benefit. "But I thought you guys didn't need his help. That's what Officer Krop said last night."
There was the hint of a chortle on the other end of the line. "Well, Officer Krop can be a bit bristly when he pulls double shifts, so I apologize for that. We do have orders and I'm sure he was following the ones he was given. But I assure you that I do have clearance to discuss case details with Darkwing Duck and work with him. If he's interested in cooperating with us, we'd be very thankful for his assistance. He can meet me in the park on the East side of town this afternoon around four-ish if he's willing to help."
"Around four in the park on the East side," Launchpad said, both to verify it and pass the information along to Drake at the same time. "I'll track him down and let him know."
"Thank you, Mr. McQuack. Your help is most appreciated," the detective said before hanging up.
While Launchpad put the phone down, Drake folded his arms smugly. "So… St. Canard's expert law enforcement can't handle this without me after all! I guess Officer Krop bit off more donut than he could chew with four super-villains, a high profile hostage, and a kidnapping all at once."
"Actually, she never mentioned Eddie Flood. Maybe they don't think him disappearing is part of the thing with Brant Strongbill."
"Well regardless of what they think, we both know that Liquidator snatched his son from that convention." Drake headed for the blue chairs so fast he was practically running. "But at least they're letting me do my job in peace now."
Launchpad sat down in chairs along with Drake. "It's about time they let us do something."
Drake gave Launchpad a pointed look as he reached for the statue that activated the chairs. "Yeah, it is. But remember, you're still out of commission, LP. You can come with me to the tower while I get ready if you want, but you're not coming along."
"Not even to hear the plans?" Launchpad was crestfallen.
"They won't take me seriously if they think my judgment is flawed… like in allowing my obviously injured sidekick to tag along and risk further harm to himself, or compromise the case because he's not up to the task."
Although Drake had not meant his words in an offensive way, a hurt look flashed through Launchpad's eyes nonetheless. "You think I'm going to screw up."
"That's not what I said," the exasperated Drake replied.
"It's okay, DW." There was an off note in Launchpad's voice as he stared straight ahead instead of looking at Drake. "It's not like I haven't heard it before. Working for Mr. McD as long as I did, I got used to it."
Drake felt a pang of guilt as he realized that he had inadvertently hit Launchpad in a sore spot. Being compared to Scrooge McDuck that way was not a nice feeling, for while Drake knew that Launchpad held a great deal of fondness and respect for the billionaire, he also knew from things Launchpad had said that McDuck was gruff and what complements he did give were paid as sparingly as he paid out his cash and often in a backhanded manner to boot. "Look," Drake said in an apologetic tone, "I'm sorry if it came out wrong, LP. I just don't want them to think that I—I mean, we—can't handle it. They've already hassled us so much and—"
"Forget it. It's all right." Launchpad looked over at Drake with a weak smile. "I probably ought to be around when Gosalyn gets home anyway. I'll head back here when you leave."
"Thanks," said Drake, relieved that the misunderstanding had blown over. "I'll keep you in the loop."
Launchpad nodded back to him. "No problemo."
Brant Strongbill's indoor plank-walking came to a merciful end when Megavolt returned to the warehouse. After Quackerjack filled Megavolt in on all the "pirate fun" that he had missed, Megavolt told him and Bushroot about finding the police at his lighthouse, complaining at length about how they had pawed his food and molested his light bulbs. Bushroot wrung his leafy hands anxiously as Megavolt went on to say that he had heard the police say they were investigating other known hideouts of the Fearsome Five as well, but Quackerjack did not seem overly concerned.
"The police have never been much of a challenge to play hide and seek with. Even with big-beak Whiffle Boy here crying and whining the whole time, they never found our hiding spot last night."
Looking over at Strongbill, Megavolt remarked, "Yeah, he's even more of a mess than he was when I left. What did you guys do to him? And why does it smell like pasta sauce in here?"
Quackerjack grinned. "Oh, that's from Bushy's tomatoes."
"What, did you throw them at him for every bad movie he's been in?"
"Are you kidding? We'd still be throwing them if that was the case," Bushroot quipped. He shot a snide look at Strongbill, who glowered back at them despite his exhausted and demeaned state.
Ignoring their remarks about Strongbill's acting, Quackerjack removed his pirate hat now that the "Whiffle Overboard" game was over. "We were throwing them at him for all of his woeful whiffly crimes against decent childhood entertainment," he told Megavolt. "But now that you're here, we can come up with something even more fun."
Before Quackerjack could say anything else, though, another familiar voice broke into their conversation from the direction of the door. "All play and no work makes Quackerjack a distracted super-villain, but never fear! With the Liquidator on your team to take care of business, your ill-gotten profit margins are guaranteed."
Quackerjack made a face at the jab, but called out a jovial greeting to the water dog anyway. "Welcome back, Licky."
"Yeah," said Bushroot, glancing at the metal travel mug in Liquidator's hand. "Is that my coffee? I could've used that a couple of hours ago. He had Starchucks." He jerked a green thumb in Quackerjack's direction, while Liquidator's fluid eyes widened with sympathy. Like the others, he knew all too well how caffeine only enhanced Quackerjack's trademark wackiness.
"My apologies. Scouting the Swanlord's sprinklers took more time than I anticipated, especially since I got a late start. Unfortunately it took an extended conference to cover all possible contingencies in arguing with my son to not follow me to the 'cool super-villain meeting'. I was forced to negotiate a deal in which I left him somewhere out of sight where he could covertly indulge in destructive target practice with his new Quackerjack brand laser weapon while I took care of business at the Swanlord and met with you."
"Where'd you take him?" asked Megavolt. "The police are all over the place. They even raided my lighthouse last night!"
After taking a sip, Bushroot set his fertilizer coffee down and looked at Liquidator. "Megavolt said that they went to my greenhouse, too. Did you run into them?"
Liquidator nodded. "Yes. It was one hundred percent inconvenient. Fortunately, I had time to stash our stash, hide Eddie, and lay low so that all they saw was Spike. It seems that angry animated fly traps are an apt deterrent for pesky police when it comes to entering a super-villain domicile, and they just wandered around outside before leaving." He raised a fluid eyebrow. "Speaking of which, Eddie wants one of those now, too."
"A Spike?" Bushroot said dubiously.
"Well at least it's not a Whiffle Boy game," Quackerjack huffed. "You should give it to him. Pets are a far better thing for a kid to play with than a brain-rotting video game." He then handed Liquidator a set of wind-up teeth. "You can give this to him, too. I'd have loved to have ones as versatile as these when I was a kid."
Never one to turn down a freebie, Liquidator took the teeth. "Thank you. Provided he remembers to floss after every crime, I'm sure they'll last him a long time."
"I can't believe you're encouraging your son to act like one of you," Strongbill said with disgust. "What the Hell is the matter with you?"
Receiving a lecture from their captive did not impress any of them, but Quackerjack was the first to respond. "Oh come on, Whiffle Boy. I know you're a goody-goody, but even you've got to know that little super villains for the future are made and not just delivered by the evil stork."
Liquidator, meanwhile, just gave Strongbill a nasty look before turning to Quackerjack. "Surely somewhere in your vast toy box you have a gag to silence mouthy hostages?"
"Oh! I know just the thing." Wrongly inspired, Quackerjack ran over to one of his boxes while the other three villains watched and Strongbill tensed up in his seat. A moment later Quackerjack proudly held up a pink bunny sleep suit meant for a Quacky Patch Doll. "I think the legs are just long enough to get around that big beak of his."
"You should talk," the grouchy Strongbill snapped, while Megavolt shook his head at him in disbelief.
"I ought to shock some sense into you just so you'll realize that it's smarter to keep your beak shut. Unfortunately I think the energy would be wasted and he'd enjoy it too much," he said, referring to Quackerjack, who had started tying the doll clothes around Strongbill's beak. When he was finished, the head part of the little suit was laying on the dead center of Strongbill's bill, face down so that it looked rather like a sloth with the way its ears hung down over either side. While Quackerjack struck a pose presenting his handiwork, Liquidator snickered, causing a flurry of bubbles to ripple through him.
"Ah, another touching Kodiak moment for the tabloids."
Encouraged by the remark, Quackerjack ran over to retrieve a camera from yet another one of his boxes. "Great idea!" he said as he thrust it into Megavolt's hands. "We need to preserve this moment for posterity." He then stood behind Strongbill and made rabbit ears above his head with his fingers, grinning the whole time. "Make sure you get my best side!"
The gagged Strongbill could only whimper in indignation as the final shreds of his dignity were taken away with each click of the camera.
Darkwing made sure he was in the park early enough to see Detective Araucana arrive and he waited until she sat down on one of the benches before he made his trademark dramatic appearance. She looked up, startled, as a smoke bomb discharged and Darkwing's voice sounded from within the cloud, "I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am the anonymous tip that cracks your case. I am Darkwing Duck!"
The detective, a tan-feathered chicken with dark brown hair, gave him an amused smile as he dispelled the fog with a wide swish of his cape and stepped forward to greet her. "The Darkwing Duck, it's a pleasure," she said, standing and extending her hand to him. "I'm Detective Henrietta Araucana. I'm glad Mr. McQuack was able to relay my message to you."
"Darkwing Duck is always willing to lend a hand to the law in apprehending the city's crazed cutthroat criminals," he said proudly. "What can I do for you? I presume you need my expert advice in engaging these felonious foes in life-threatening hand to hand combat? Or perhaps my unmatched expertise in tracking down their loot-filled lairs or uncovering their well-hidden weaknesses?"
Araucana gestured for him to take a seat. "Actually, I'm here to talk to you about serving as a decoy."
"A decoy?" Darkwing's pride deflated, leaving a sullen edge to his tone. "What do you mean?"
"The villains are in deep hiding and we haven't been able to get a solid lead on where they're keeping Mr. Strongbill. They're either moving around, or using a place that none of them have ever been suspected to use before. I presume that you haven't been able to find them, either, or else we'd have heard about it by now?"
Darkwing frowned. "You presume correctly."
With a nod, Araucana continued. "We plan to rescue Mr. Strongbill at the ransom drop, which is when they'll creep out of hiding and show themselves. To make sure they do, we want to make it look like we're conceding to their terms, even though we're setting our own traps for them. We've got arrangements to have the cash, which Ms. Darkfeather is going to hand over in a show of good faith, but we don't plan to let them get away with it. However, since they also specified that they want you there tied up and visibly not a threat to them, I need to ask for your cooperation in that matter."
Although it was not exactly a surprise to Darkwing that the police were making such a request, it still chafed heavily at his ego. "It'll be much easier for me to thwart these evildoers not tied up at the scene."
"Tied up and gagged, if you want to be precise," Araucana pointed out with a wry gleam in her eyes. "It seems our villainous pals appreciate your wit about as much as Officer Krop does." While Darkwing's face took on a sour look, the detective continued in a more business-like tone. "But that's beside the point. You've had enough run-ins with these guys that they know you, and they'll be able to spot a fake Darkwing from a mile away. Our undercover guys can do a reasonable facsimile of your costume, but it's difficult to get all of that and a duck of your height, age, and build to fill in on short notice. Our force is only forty percent avian to begin with, and all of our duck guys your age are built more like your friend Mr. McQuack. These villains are too smart to fall for that, and we don't want to put an untrained civilian in danger by using him as bait. While technically you're also a civilian, we know you're tough enough to handle yourself if a hitch gets thrown in the works."
The detective's complementary tone worked as intended, and Darkwing's ruffled ego smoothed down some. "Yes…"
"And regular binds shouldn't be much of a problem for a duck who wears buzz saw cufflinks, I wouldn't think." Araucana winked, while Darkwing's eyes widened in surprise behind his mask. "Oh yes, we may not know who you are, but we do have a file on you, and we know a fair bit about your abilities from our own interactions with you. That said, what'd be even more valuable to us would be if you'd share some of your advice on how best to ambush these villains at the scene. We don't know how they'll show themselves, and while we'll take the obvious precautions like shutting off the fountain out front, keeping an eye on the shrubs and trees in the area for unusual movement, and looking out for power surges or toys in places they shouldn't be, we'd rather be ready for them. All of us want to see these guys locked away in the super-villain prison with the key thrown out once and for all, and I think that's one thing you agree with us on, am I right?"
"Of course I do," said Darkwing.
"Great." Araucana smiled at him. "So let's talk, shall we?"
While Darkwing brainstormed with Detective Araucana, their foes back in the warehouse were ironing out the final details of their plan for the next day. Strongbill had a break from torment while that was going on, since Quackerjack was busy helping Megavolt tinker with helium tanks that would make up the rat's balloon vendor disguise and Bushroot was fueling the Lawn Medic van that Liquidator had slipped out and "borrowed" for them earlier.
Once all of that was taken care of, though, Quackerjack wasted no time resuming playtime with Whiffle Boy. He enlisted Megavolt to join and play "Truth or Shock" with them. Quackerjack explained that "Shock" was substituted for "Dare" in their twist on the classic game because there just weren't many fun dares to offer someone that had to stay tied to a chair. However, he boasted that he could think of plenty of embarrassing questions to force Whiffle Boy to answer, such as if it was true that the Weasel Kid beat him up and stole his lunch money as a child, if he wet the bed, if Whiffle Boy's big laser gun was a symbol of overcompensation, and if the princess knew that he was sleeping with some whiny supermodel under his other name.
Throughout all of this Megavolt was given the important job of Shock Enforcer, which came complete with a toy badge that Quackerjack provided from his box of costumes. He was charged with the task of shocking Strongbill every time Quackerjack decided that he was not telling the truth, which was pretty much every time he gave an answer that Quackerjack did not like. The only upside of it for Strongbill was that the bunny suit gag had to be removed in order to play, but given that Quackerjack recorded all of his answers to go along with his "scrapbook photographs", it was no less humiliating for him, especially when he overheard Liquidator remark about the high profit margin of such blackmail material.
Once the amusement value of watching that wore off for Bushroot and Liquidator—which for the former was as soon as he was done fueling the Lawn Medic truck—the two of them left Quackerjack and Megavolt to their whiffle-zapping fun. When they got back to the greenhouse, Bushroot selected a fly trap to mutate into a Spike-like pet for Eddie. Although he had his reservations about one being kept as a house pet without a plant-duck to supervise it, Liquidator was just as persuasive a customer as he was a salesman, and Bushroot gave in and agreed to the favor after Liquidator assured him that any damages it incurred would not be his responsibility as long as he could guarantee the pet would not chew on any family members. Since Spike only bit others on command, aside from when he would nip at fingers when offered treats, Bushroot was not too worried about that. He did warn Liquidator as they parted that he could not make any promises about the safety of Mrs. Flood's carpets or shoes, though, to which Liquidator replied that all ventures came with risk and it was worth it to cross that last missed Christmas off of Eddie's list of owed favors.
While Bushroot brewed the formula he used to mutate plants like Spike, Liquidator picked up Eddie from target practice, which had taken place at one of Koo Koo Fizzy Water's distribution warehouses. Liquidator bubbled with mean-spirited glee when he saw the sad and soggy remains of what had been thousands of dollars worth of his competitor's merchandise before his son spent the better part of the afternoon shooting lasers at it. Eddie himself was soaked with casualty spray from the afternoon of bottle-blasting, but he was otherwise fine and was grinning from floppy ear to floppy ear when Liquidator arrived.
When they returned to the greenhouse, it caught both of them off guard when two exuberant fly traps, Spike and another one, barreled toward them as they came through the door. Bushroot was hot on their root-heels frantically shouting for them to calm down. Spike obeyed his master after the moment it took for Bushroot's exasperated order of "SIT!" to sink in, but the other one, a little smaller and sporting a ruffle of pinkish-gold foliage on its head instead of the red-orange that Spike had, completely ignored him. It made grunts similar to Spike's as it attempted to tackle Liquidator, but since the water dog was not the sort that could be tackled, the fly trap splashed right through him. When it stopped, it turned around and gave him what would have been a confused look if it had an actual face.
Bushroot was on top of the errant plant a moment later and he grabbed the lighter green foliage that formed the ruff around its equivalent of a neck. "Sweet Pea, you can't just charge at everything! You and Spike need to listen to me!"
The fly trap let out another grunt that sounded sort of like an agreement except for the excited inhale it made at the end of it, which was more reminiscent of a hiccup. "Sorry about that," Bushroot said to Liquidator and Eddie. "They're always a handful the first few hours. And some never quite get it." He cast Spike a sharp look, who just panted back at them with his tongue hanging out. Relaxing his grip, Bushroot let go of the other fly trap and scratched at the top of its head while shaking his own as he looked at Liquidator. "I hope you know what you're in for keeping one of these guys around."
Eddie's eyes widened as he realized that his father must have asked Bushroot to make him one like he said he would the previous night. "That's mine?" He looked at it and grinned. "Awesome!"
Liquidator nodded. "You were owed one final Christmas gift, but I believe this makes us even now." A moment after he finished speaking, Liquidator's usual glib smile changed to a surprised and rather disconcerted look as he felt something nibbling—or was that slurping?—at his fluid behind.
Horrified, Bushroot swatted the fly trap helping itself to a drink from Liquidator's watery posterior with a leafy palm to the nose. "Stop that! Oh, you seedlings have no manners, I swear! You don't drink Liquidator without asking first!"
"Feeling violated, awkward, disturbed? Don't wait! Find pants or a convenient water-holding receptacle now!" Liquidator collapsed into a puddle and flowed over to a new spot out of both Spike and Eddie's fly trap's reach.
Eddie, meanwhile, doubled over laughing. "Oh man, I don't believe you just drank my dad's butt." He reached over and patted the fly trap on the nose, and it panted happily for him, enjoying the attention after Bushroot's reproachful swat. "He's funny," Eddie said to the plant-duck, who was still shaking his head at his latest creation.
"Yeah, funny like Quackerjack," Bushroot retorted while Liquidator glided back over, keeping a wary eye on Eddie's new pet as he did so. "Actually, though, it's a she," said Bushroot. He looked down at her and smoothed his leaf-like hand through her pink and gold-hued foliage with a proud look. "Her name is Sweet Pea."
"You made me a girl one… and named her 'Sweet Pea'?" Making a face at the name, Eddie ran a finger over the jagged edges on her mouth that formed her teeth. "Can't we name her something ferocious like 'Shredder'?"
Bushroot shrugged. "Well, she was the healthiest specimen I had for mutating." He offered Eddie a conciliatory smile. "And they are pretty flowers like her." He leaned down and cooed affectionately to Sweet Pea, tousling her foliage. "Isn't that right?"
Happy now that Bushroot was no longer angry at her, Sweet Pea let out a series of squeaky grunts and rubbed against both his and Eddie's touch. Her hiccup-like inflection hit a high note, causing her to make a noise that sounded like "Swip-pee! Swip-pee!" which in turn led Bushroot to chuckle.
"That's how I came up with her name," he said, and then stood back up while Sweet Pea nuzzled against Eddie to ensure that she still got attention. "Besides, 'Shredder' sounds like some cartoon villain or something. Don't let her being female fool you… the females are every bit as ferocious as the males. Maybe more so. You should've seen the nip she gave Spike when he got fresh." He glanced over at his fly trap, who seemed to grin back at him as if he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Kneeling next to Sweet Pea, Eddie looked her over. "Yeah, you are pretty badass," he said, poking at one of her larger teeth with his fingertip. He jerked it away quickly when she made a playful nip at him. "No one'll mess with you, that's for sure."
"Just feed her at least twice a day and she shouldn't get hungry enough to bite you or anyone else," Bushroot instructed. "If you have any rodents or birds in your house, you might want to keep her away from them, though, and keep your fingers clear when she's eating. She'll need fertilizer twice a week. The kind you get in the garden center at a place like Home Despot is fine for that, and for other meals these guys will eat just about anything with meat in it, but I don't recommend anything too greasy. It makes the drool terrible, and don't even ask what it does to their breath."
While Eddie listened, Liquidator gave his son a prompting look. "You have the Flood family guarantee that Sweet Pea is in capable hands, right?"
"Sure," Eddie replied as a grin entirely too much like his father's spread across his face. "You can trust me."
As the hour grew late, Brant Strongbill's girlfriend Luna Darkfeather heard an unexpected knock on the door to her complementary suite at the Hotel Swanlord. After what had happened to her dear Brant there, she had not really wanted to stay there any longer. However, when the manager offered her their best suite and room service for anything reasonable she wanted free of charge for the duration of her stay to make up for the "inconvenience", she would have been a fool to say no. As it was, the hotel did not want any more bad publicity than they had already gotten, and having someone of Luna Darkfeather's profile publicly snubbing them would have only made what was already their biggest public relations nightmare even worse.
Luna had spent the better part of the days since the kidnapping on the phone and meeting with police and reporters, trying to find out anything she could about Brant's whereabouts and searching for anyone that could help him. She had even tried to find Darkwing Duck, but her private investigator was not able to learn much beyond what the police knew. When the investigator had attempted to get in touch with his sidekick Launchpad McQuack by pretending to be a telemarketer, some mouthy kid had answered and told him off and hung up on him. The only other time the investigator tried to call he had been informed by Launchpad's roommate that he was asleep and to call back later, so that lead had still yet to pan out.
During the ordeal Luna had made one friend, though, none other than Brooke Flood. She was also staying in a complementary room at the Hotel Swanlord with her son Rill while the police tried to find her missing son Eddie, who had also disappeared from the ill-fated Whiffle-Con. Luna and Brooke had struck up a conversation in the hotel lobby the morning after the fiasco while they had been waiting on information from the police, and since then they had bonded through enduring similar frustrating circumstances. At first Luna thought the knock at that hour might be Brooke needing a shoulder to cry on because she could not sleep, but a glance through the peep hole revealed it to be one of the police instead.
Immediately she threw the door open. "Detective Araucana! Is everything all right? Did you find him?"
"No, sorry," Araucana replied, sounding a little hoarse. "I just wanted to go over the plan for tomorrow one last time and fill you in on the latest." She smiled at the model. "You'll be glad to know that we've got Darkwing Duck working with us now. He agreed to help us out."
"Well, that's good," Luna said with visible relief. "If nothing else, hopefully he can handle those creepy super-freaks that have my Brant." She frowned as she imagined all the terrible things that could be happening to him.
"And protect you," the detective said with a sharp eye on her, which caused Luna to do a startled double-take while Araucana continued. "You'll be holding a lot of cash, so we need to be careful, especially with you being just as high profile as their hostage. You could be seen as an easy target by someone unscrupulous."
The way she drew out the last syllable of the final word sent a shiver down Luna's spine, but she brushed the feeling aside. She had to be strong when her Brant needed her help! "I told you earlier, I'm fine with that. I know the police will have me covered, especially if you have that hero guy Darkwing there, and like I told you this morning I'll do anything to help Brant." Luna relaxed as she realized she was practically yelling at the detective, and reined in her tone as she gestured for her to come in. "Sorry. I'm just worn out from all of this. I'm sure you are, too. Can I get you a drink or anything? I had some herbal tea sent up a little while ago," she offered. "You sound like you could use a pick me up."
Araucana smiled back at her and strode into the suite, accepting the invitation. "Thank you. That'd be delightful," she answered as Luna shut the door behind them.
Tuesday morning was a very tense one in the Mallard household. Darkwing had been told that he was expected at the scene of the ransom drop no later than eight to assure that they would have their forces undercover and in place early enough to fool Quackerjack and the others into thinking that they were complying. When Gosalyn made a comment during breakfast about how cool it would be to see how they pulled it off, she was surprised to have her father inform her in a no-nonsense tone that she would be going to school and not to the crime scene. Naturally she protested, but Drake was firm and Launchpad knew better than to get involved, so he just quietly chomped down his breakfast during the argument.
Once Gosalyn was on the bus despite her loud and vocal objection to it, Drake helped Launchpad change his bandages and sat down in the chair to head over to the tower. That time his injured sidekick did not even bother taking his usual seat opposite Drake to go along. Although every instinct in him wanted to ignore Drake's and the doctor's orders to stay out of danger, he also knew it would do no good to argue with Drake about it. "Good luck over there today, DW," Launchpad said as Drake was reaching for the statue. "I'm sure you'll get them like you always do."
Drake nodded. "Yeah, if the police don't screw it up for me."
"You know if you need anything—"
"If I need anything you can reasonably help with," Drake cut him off, giving his bandaged arm a pointed look, "you'll be the first one I call." He flashed his sidekick a determined and confident smile. "Now it's time to get dangerous!" Then, with a quick push of the statue's head, he disappeared from the living room and was on his way to the tower.
Sighing, Launchpad picked up the television remote. There was not much on, but he supposed at least he might get to see some of the action on the news, or if not, something else to distract him. He was just about resigned to his quiet boredom when he heard the front door open and then slam shut right after. He looked over in surprise. "Gosalyn?"
The spirited little redhead was leaning against the door with a mischievous look that changed to a startled one when she realized that she had just been caught playing hooky. "Oh… hi, Launchpad," she said with a sheepish smile. "I, uh, figured you'd be at the Tower seeing Dad off."
"And I figured you'd be at school, doing… well, I don't know. School stuff." He clicked the television off and went over to her.
"I didn't want to be there any more than you want to be here," she admitted. "We should be at the Hotel Swanlord helping Dad."
Launchpad gave her a sad smile and nodded. "Yeah, I know how you feel."
The fact that he had agreed instead of immediately telling her to go back to school emboldened Gosalyn, and she tossed her book bag aside and looked up at Launchpad with fire in her eyes. "So why don't we tell Mr. Rules-Are-Only-For-Me-To-Break to stick it and go there ourselves and help out? He might need us!"
Launchpad's gaze drifted toward the window, and he imagined Darkwing tied up while the police struggled to contend with Quackerjack, Liquidator, Megavolt, and Bushroot. Suddenly he felt more stir crazy than ever. He nodded to Gosalyn, although the motion came out exaggerated from the medication in his system. "We did promise we'd stay out of things," he said, pausing a moment to think, "but there's no harm in watching from the sidelines. There's a park across the street from the Swanlord. We can say, uh, I'm home-schooling you today or something."
"Yeah, in criminal justice! A first-hand educational demonstration." Gosalyn beamed. "Keen gear!"
"I just hope your teacher will accept that on the note, and that your father will actually sign it," Launchpad replied, while Gosalyn shrugged.
"We'll worry about that later. Come on, Launchpad! Let's get there before all the cool stuff happens." She grabbed him by his good arm and dragged him over to the chairs while he exchanged a conspiring smile with her.
"Heh heh, lead the way!"
Over in Bushroot's greenhouse, Eddie Flood was dealing with a similar parental harshing of his enthusiasm. While Bushroot waited by the door adjusting the sleeves on his Lawn Medic costume, Liquidator was still holding his ground and giving his protesting son a stern look.
"Come on, Dad! I want to go! I won't get hurt. You saw how I can handle things last night!"
"You handled things last night because you were locked away safely in a one hundred percent door and window free bathroom where no one could see you. Now I won't say it again: This offer is void to minors and those without super-villain powers."
Eddie held up the Whiffle Boy laser gun. "Who needs super powers when you've got one of these? You saw how good I am with it yesterday when I blasted a room full of Koo Koo Fizzy Water down the drain."
"Studies have shown that inanimate objects are far less challenging and dangerous than armed policemen and loud-mouthed crime-fighters," Liquidator argued. "You're going to stay here with Sweet Pea and Spike unless you want to be the recipient of a two-days-for-one-afternoon-out grounding offer."
"That sucks." Eddie kicked at the dirt floor.
Liquidator raised a fluid eyebrow. "Your customer dissatisfaction has been duly noted, and we'll discuss terms and conditions for potential future outings of the super-villain sort when I return." He flowed over to the door and paused before following Bushroot out. "Remember that any violation of our agreement will void those offers."
"Yeah, fine," Eddie muttered as his father shut the door behind him. He went over to the greenhouse wall to watch them leave while Spike and Sweet Pea followed at his heels. He stood there until Liquidator and Bushroot were out of sight and then he turned around, nearly tripping over the fly traps as he did so. Eddie gave Spike and Sweet Pea each a pat, and then grinned mischievously. "Right. Like I'm going to miss out on this kind of action. You two guard this place, okay?" He gave his Whiffle Boy laser gun a confident twirl. "I'm going to watch Dad and Bushroot and their other Fearsome Five friends kick some ass."
He reached into an open bag of fertilizer spikes that Bushroot had told him were Spike's treats, pulled out two, and tossed one to each fly trap. Spike and Sweet Pea each leapt up and caught their munchie while Eddie headed for the door, calling out to the fly traps as he left. "Don't trash the place while I'm gone!"
Darkwing was almost as dissatisfied with his assigned role in the defeat and rescue operation as his daughter and sidekick were at being ordered to stay out of it. The caped crime-fighter was, as the villains specified, in the process of being bound up in ropes by a couple of officers right in the middle of the street. Police cars, emergency vehicles, and barricades had the block in front of the Swanlord blocked off from traffic, but that did not stop people from behind the blockades from peeking over and pointing and staring, and there were plenty of them considering the posh hotel was right across the street from a public park.
How humiliating. Darkwing shot a glare at a nerdy guy in a Whiffle Boy T-shirt that snickered at him from behind one of the blockades until an officer shooed him way. Turning away, he saw Detective Araucana talking to a pretty duck that he recognized as Luna Darkfeather—not because of her celebrity status as a supermodel, but because his ego would never forget the one who had dismissed him as the "hero-type-guy" on national television. She seemed even more out of sorts now than she did then, shooting nervous glances all around and fidgeting where she stood.
Heh, I thought eye candy-type models were supposed to be confident, he thought snidely as he watched her. While a part of him did feel bad for her with her boyfriend in the clutches of Quackerjack and his cronies, it seemed to him that she should not be all that worried with so many police and Darkwing Duck around to protect her.
"And this is all the cash?" she asked Araucana, her voice a bit hoarser than Darkwing recalled it being on television.
Guess she's been melodramatically crying her eyes out off screen, too. In a moment of sympathy Darkwing felt a touch of guilt for his harsh thoughts about her, but not enough to stop them.
Meanwhile the detective motioned to the two large briefcases and the sizable backpack in front of the model. "All in small bills, as per Liquidator's demands." Her tone was businesslike, although she did not bother to keep her contempt for the villains out of it. "You'll just need to hold onto it until you get to the drop point, and open them to show that the money is in there. Hopefully that'll be enough to get them to let Mr. Strongbill go and get him safely away from them so we can recover the cash and apprehend them." She paused. "But even if it doesn't go as smoothly as that, you'll be fine. Just stay calm and do everything I told you to when we went over it."
Luna nodded and reached into the backpack, pulling out a thick wad of cash. "I can't believe it… it's all real?" She traced a prettily manicured finger over the edge of the stack of twenties, staring at it.
"Yeah. Too bad our fundraisers never work this well for raising money, or we wouldn't have to fight city hall for our raises," Araucana quipped wryly. "Maybe we ought to talk to your agent about booking you for one next time."
"Heh." Luna stared at the money for a moment longer before putting it back in the bag. She zipped the backpack closed and then straightened, smoothing her long hair back into place as she did so. "Well, if it all goes according to plan..." Her voice trailed off for a moment. "I mean, all I can think about is Brant. I hope he's," she sighed, slurring her words a bit, "safe."
Darkwing frowned, unimpressed by the model's flaky demeanor. I hope this silly supermodel doesn't get anyone killed. Why couldn't they have her be the decoy instead of me? Of course he knew the answer to that, but it did not make him any less frustrated.
Then, as if Darkwing's mood was not already hitting bottom, Officer Krop showed up to ensure that it stayed there. The porcine policeman approached Araucana and Luna, surveying the area around them with an arrogant air. "You ladies got everything under control here?"
"Sure do," Araucana said confidently. "I was showing Ms. Darkfeather here how we've got the cash set up and was about to tell her how we've got one of those new microchip trackers sewn into the fabric of the backpack here and in the lining of the briefcases."
Krop smiled at Luna in an appreciative way that made Darkwing roll his eyes. Even if Miss Pretty Pants wasn't dating Brant Strongbill, I'm sure she wouldn't look twice at you, he thought nastily, his ire now focused on what he considered the far greater of the two annoyances.
"If one of those bozos manages to get away with the cash after releasing Mr. Strongbill," Krop bragged, "we'll be able to track them down anywhere."
"Assuming they aren't smart enough to take it out of the bag," Darkwing spoke up, giving Krop an unimpressed look.
While Araucana and Luna seemed to find Darkwing's remark amusing, Officer Krop certainly did not, and he glowered at the bound crime-fighter. "Speaking of bags, I thought you had to be bagged and gagged for this mission, Darkwing Duck." He strode over to where Darkwing was bound and picked up the gag that the officers who had tied him up had not put on him yet. "I'm sure they were just being nice and giving you some extra time to flap your bill, but I think I'll be nice to everyone else and save our ears now. Those goons are due to show up soon anyway."
Darkwing began to voice an insulting protest, but Krop deftly tied the gag on before Darkwing could get out more than an angry "mmmph, ummph, UMPH!" A number of onlookers chuckled, officer and civilian alike, and Luna Darkfeather's spot on his list of annoying people was cemented when he saw her snicker along with them.
Brainless bimbo, he thought sourly. We'll see how much she's laughing when her 'Brant baby' is safe and rescued because of me! Darkwing savored the fantasy of her apologizing profusely to him and gushing with admiration and awe at his heroics while Krop's superiors admonished him for his rudeness and general incompetence. It improved his mood slightly, at least until he caught sight of two more familiar faces by one of the police barricades.
"Wow, they've already got Darkwing Duck tied up," Rill Flood said to his mother, pointing at the incapacitated hero.
"Heh. If I didn't think it was incredibly stupid of them to tie up one of the only ones who's actually defeated the Fearsome Five, I'd applaud the use of St. Canard's tax dollars in gagging him."
The backhanded compliment made Darkwing see red, and he was too busy imagining the smug woman having to eat her words to notice Launchpad and Gosalyn near one of the other barricades and a suspicious-looking balloon vendor behind them. I'll show them all! Darkwing's thoughts raced as ego and determination fueled his resolve. Those stuck up cops will still be sucking on their coffee and chomping their donuts by the time I defeat those four kooky kidnapping mischievous miscreants myself!
He surveyed the scene smugly. With my extensive experience fighting felonious fiends, I can easily predict how this little scheme will play out. He eyed the water fountain, empty and turned off just as the villains had expected it to be. Liquidator, devious drip that he is, will think he has the drop on us by making a dramatic entrance through the water fountain, spouting sales pitch threats and expecting to catch us by surprise. Megavolt will burst onto the scene in some electrifying manner while Quackerjack bounces in like he's having a ball and Bushroot will hedge his bets in those manicured hedges over there. Ironically, he did not pay any mind to the Lawn Medic truck parked right on the other side of the barricade, or the uniformed employee working on the lawn.
All I'll have to do is break free with my buzz saw cufflinks and trick Megavolt into backing into the fountain, where Liquidator will short him out and Megavolt's surge will stun him, Darkwing mused with confidence. Once his pals are played out, Quackerjack will crack like the nut he is and lose what's left of his marbles while Bushroot will just lose his nerve and wilt off like an annual in a hard frost. Easy as one-two-three! I'll single-handedly save Brant Strongbill and recover the ransom cash while the police round up those defeated deviants and throw them in the slammer.
Darkwing was feeling quite secure in his estimation of the situation as Detective Araucana approached him. "You ready, Darkwing? We're expecting them anytime now."
He nodded back to her.
"Good. We're going get into position. Good luck." She gave him a pat on the shoulder before heading off to her post. Luna Darkfeather continued to glance around nervously from where she was standing with the cash and Officer Tibull. She looked over at Darkwing and stared for a moment, but before he could guess at what she might have been about to say, Brooke Flood called out to her.
"Good luck, Luna, and be careful."
Luna spun around and gave the canine woman an odd look before answering. "Oh. Thanks."
Brooke smirked at the friend she had made over the course of the ordeal. "And if you get a chance to smack my ex with one of those briefcases, please do."
"Right." Luna's response was distracted, and Brooke figured that she was probably under too much stress to chat any more, so she just gave her a small wave and withdrew next to Rill against the barricade.
It was good that she did, for a few moments later the villains finally did make their appearance. With a loud whoop that could be heard by everyone in the area, Quackerjack burst out of a third story window of a building on the next block on a pogo-stick spewing jet-like flames out of the bottom. Brant Strongbill was at his side, tied up to the shaft of the pogo-stick with a blindfold on while Quackerjack kept an arm around his shoulders, holding a pair of his wind-up teeth against the actor's neck. "It's plaaaaaaaaytime!"
Gasps and shrieks rippled through the crowd while the police drew their guns and Darkwing started struggling in his binds. Although he knew he was supposed to stay put until Strongbill was released, Araucana had said that at the right time she expected he'd use his buzz saw cufflinks to break free. Now was as good a time as any…
…except that that they seemed to be jammed. On the first wriggle to activate them, nothing happened. Then a second try yielded no better results. "Oh, come on!"Darkwing exclaimed, although it came out as muffled noise that no one could hear or understand anyway due to his gag and the noise of the chaos erupting all around. He tried a third time to trigger his cufflinks, but again he had no luck. What was going on? He was the hero! This wasn't supposed to happen to him!
As Quackerjack bounced toward the front steps of the Swanlord, he threw the teeth he had been holding against the bound Strongbill's neck into the crowd, making the spectators by the barricades scatter. He whipped out another set and did the same with them, aiming for another part of the crowd, and then threw a third for good measure. Those went in the direction of a cluster of police cars where several armed officers were crouching behind them. Finally Quackerjack took out a fourth set, but he put that one up against Strongbill's neck like he had the first while the other villains made their grand entrances.
Screams erupted in the park where Megavolt blew up his balloons with a surge of electricity. He tore off what Darkwing saw was a hideous rainbow afro clown wig to disguise himself, revealing the usual plug hat that he wore beneath. He then slung his battery pack, disguised as a helium canister, onto his back and launched the balloon tank he had been using to his side, making more of the crowd panic and yell. Their screams multiplied tenfold when Megavolt then shot a bolt of energy at it, making it explode so violently that Darkwing realized the crazy rat must have been using hydrogen in those balloons instead of helium.
That distraction was more than enough to allow Quackerjack to hop onto center stage by the Swanlord's fountain with Strongbill and for Bushroot to turn on the sprinklers without anyone noticing. Water came out onto the lawn in a spectacular spray—far from Megavolt, as the watery villain had promised—while Bushroot grew out of the offending Lawn Medic costume and brought the flower beds on each side of the hotel's grand front staircase to life.
Come on, come on! Darkwing fought with his cufflinks and struggled in his binds, debating whether or not he should just use the ancient and painful Carpathian bone dislocation trick to get out instead. Liquidator's water swirled into a violent tornado-like waterspout before he assumed his usual shape in the center of it all. "St. Canard, are you ready to make a deal?" His glib voice boomed over the chaos while Bushroot's plants snaked wildly behind him and Megavolt antagonized the policemen advancing on them. Liquidator spotted two more officers sneaking up on the other side and shot them with a hard spray of water.
"Any police interference will void this deal and your beloved 'Whiffle Boy's' life as per the terms of our agreement." His tone was menacing, and it sent chills through both Rill and Brooke as they recognized it. It inspired a shiver of awe in Eddie, although Liquidator was unaware that any of them were there.
"And you know the Liquidator means business. He's all business!" cackled Quackerjack. He snapped his wind-up teeth at Strongbill's neck feathers, creating a puff of white fluff around them and grazing the skin beneath hard enough to draw blood. "Don't toy with us! That's my job."
Megavolt noticed Officer Krop taking aim at him with his gun, and scowled. "Of course, if we have to shock some sense into you…" He discharged a fierce blast of voltage at Krop, and the surge knocked him flat onto his behind and sent him skidding back several feet. Darkwing would have found that sight rewarding had he been able to savor it, but he was too preoccupied with his own situation to fully appreciate it.
Still at Luna's side, Officer Tibull gave her a nudge. "We'd better get their attention and calm them down now." Luna nodded back, oddly calmer now that chaos had broken out than she had been beforehand. She was already wearing the backpack and clutched a briefcase firmly in each hand as she stepped forward.
Liquidator noticed and swished over to her while Tibull shouted for everyone to stand down. "The Luna Darkfeather! I'm flattered," Liquidator greeted her with a leer as he approached. "Are you here to make me a cash offer that I can't refuse in exchange for him?" He pointed to the captive Strongbill, and Luna nodded meekly.
His fluid eyes lit up with unashamed avarice, and he swirled around Luna in an aggressive move and swept her off her feet, briefcases, bag, and all. "Then let's have a conference where you can put your money down!"
Out in the crowd, Launchpad and Gosalyn watched everything happen and exchanged worried looks. "Why hasn't Dad gotten out yet? He must know that the police aren't gonna be able to handle this?"
"I don't know," Launchpad said, glancing anxiously between them and her. "I feel like we've got do something. Something's wrong if DW hasn't—"
Gosalyn didn't even wait for him to finish his thought. "I know! C'mon, Launchpad! We need to help Dad!"
She burst into a run, and Launchpad followed hot on her heels, plowing his way through the crowd along with her. There was no time to plan, so each of them acted on instinct. Gosalyn's small size was an advantage and she was able to shove and weave through the adult spectators with little resistance. She easily ducked under the police barriers and barreled toward Darkwing without a concern about the shouting officers who were shocked to see a little girl burst onto the crime scene and head straight for their bound Darkwing decoy.
While Gosalyn ran for Darkwing, Launchpad decided to help by taking out one of the villains. It happened to be the same one he owed one for for injuring his arm. As he got closer to Megavolt he noticed that the electrical villain had spotted Gosalyn trying to help Darkwing. Before the rat had a chance to fry either of them, though, Launchpad grabbed a bottle of Koo Koo Fizzy Water off of a hot dog cart and began to shake it with his uninjured arm. He shouted to the vendor that he'd pay him back, woodchuck's honor, and then after loosening the cap he threw it as hard as he could at Megavolt with his good arm. That time Launchpad's determination trumped his innate and chemical-induced clumsiness, and luck was on his side. The fizzy water, fizzier for its shaking and rough flight, slammed right into Megavolt's back and doused him in wet carbonated pain.
The rat let out a scream as the water shorted him out, and it got the attention of the other three villains momentarily. Bushroot then noticed Gosalyn at Darkwing's side, and he brought a shrub near them to life. "Get that girl!"
Liquidator also saw Gosalyn helping Darkwing, and he took it upon himself to ensure the security of their scheme. He glanced down at Luna, still caught in his wet grasp. "It looks like our deal is temporarily off the table. However, we'll lock in your interest with your full down payment in the meantime!" He called out to Bushroot's hedge. "Leaves up! Keep our ransom safe with Bushroot bank hedge funds!" The water dog then washed Luna and all of the money she held right into the bush's waiting branches.
Bushroot cackled as he headed toward his leafy sentry. "I've always wanted to branch out into banking!" He summoned a vine to take the briefcases from the struggling Luna, and then another to chase the cops away from Megavolt, who had just gotten back on his feet and was looking for a power transformer to recharge himself on.
Meanwhile, Gosalyn figured out what Darkwing was trying to shout through his gag and grabbed his wrist. "Better trade these things in to S.H.U.S.H. for new ones," she muttered as she triggered his right cufflink. It turned out that it had just been stuck, low on lubricant, and roared to life. Gosalyn backed away just in time to avoid getting cut as Darkwing began to slice himself free.
Liquidator took advantage of that and dove at Gosalyn. She let out a shriek as the watery villain grabbed her, for Darkwing could not intervene yet as he was still cutting himself free of the ropes. "Increase your profits with a bonus hostage! Now available for the ransom sum plus the valuables and cash on everyone in this crowd, or her safety isn't guaranteed!"
"Hey!" Gosalyn kicked and yelled as Liquidator grabbed her, but it did her no good. He was far stronger than she was and her kicks had no effect other than getting her soaked.
Seeing his daughter in danger was the last straw for Darkwing. He threw aside his severed binds and gag and narrowed his eyes in angry determination. "I don't think so. It's time to get dangerous!" He drew his gas gun. "You and your pals' watered-down scheme are washed up, Liquidator! Now let her go or suck—"
"Don't you shoot at my dad!" Eddie Flood's angry shout interrupted Darkwing's threat as the boy leapt over one of the barricades brandishing his Whiffle Boy gun. Stunned and caught completely off guard, both Liquidator and Darkwing looked over just as Eddie pulled the trigger. A destructive flash of red laser light shot toward Darkwing, making the caped hero yelp and drop to the ground. The blast caught the edge of his cape, singeing it, and Liquidator stared at his son in shock.
While Liquidator was struck speechless, Quackerjack bounced toward them on his pogo-stick and tossed another set of chattering teeth in the direction of the police that ran toward them and Eddie. "Shooting Darkwing Duck; that might be the first useful thing Whiffle Boy taught anyone, kid!" He cackled in approval while the police contended with his teeth.
From where he lay on the ground, Darkwing pointed his gas gun at the area he expected Quackerjack's pogo-stick to land and shot out an oily mix that was in one of the special canisters he had loaded. "Sorry, Quackerjack, but the bad guy always gets waffled in a good game of Whiffle Boy." Quackerjack did not see the goo until a moment too late, and his pogo-stick landed right in the center of it. It slipped as soon as it made contact, toppling over both the toy-maker and his bound hostage. Strongbill and the pogo-stick slid one way across the pavement while Quackerjack went the other, and he collided into Liquidator with a spectacular splash. The force was enough to knock Gosalyn out of Liquidator's grasp, and she fell to the ground.
As soon as he recovered, Liquidator went for Darkwing himself instead of Gosalyn, while Quackerjack scurried over toward Strongbill before the police could free him. Bushroot saw it happening, and sent a vine toward the cops heading in to help Strongbill while Darkwing and Liquidator locked in a wet grapple. Gosalyn also saw it, though, and when she spotted the set of teeth that Quackerjack had been holding against Strongbill's neck chattering on their side, she grabbed them and hurled them at the toymaker before he could get to his hostage. All of her sports practice paid off, for with the same pitch that had won her many a softball game, the chomping teeth she threw landed right on Quackerjack's rump. He jumped and howled in both pain and indignation while three police officers broke past the vine, which was still fighting six other policemen, and they dog-piled onto the toymaker to apprehend him.
Elsewhere in the chaos, Launchpad caught sight of Bushroot directing away the plants holding Luna and the money. Determined not to let that happen, he grabbed the hot dog vendor's cart, which was now abandoned as its owner had long since fled the scene in panic. Grabbing it firmly with both hands, Launchpad pushed it forward and started to run, ignoring the pain tingling in his injured elbow as he charged through the thick of the crowd. There was no time to think, just act, and if Launchpad knew one thing, it was that most things could be stopped with a good crash.
"Gangway! Comin' through!" Launchpad barreled forward as onlookers parted in haste to get out of his way. He blew past the flimsy sawhorse being used as a barricade with the momentum the metal cart and his own adrenaline run had built up.
From where he was almost done recharging on a power transformer, Megavolt's goggle-covered eyes widened in alarm as he saw Launchpad and his hot dog cart heading Bushroot's way. "Bushy! Look out for the weenie!"
His warning came a moment too late, and Bushroot turned around just in time for Launchpad and the cart to collide headlong into the hedge holding Luna. Bushroot skittered out of the way instinctively, while Luna shrieked and tumbled free of the plant's grasp. Launchpad himself went head over tail feathers and skidded several feet, his injured arm scraping across the pavement in a way that would have been even more excruciating had he not still had narcotics and adrenaline in his system. Unfortunately the heating element in the cart was still on, and when it toppled over into the hedge, it caught fire, burning the bush with it.
Although Liquidator normally would have taken care of such a problem, the water dog still had his hands full with Darkwing Duck. The super-hero was pinned beneath the flowing bulk of Liquidator's body struggling for breath as Liquidator in turn did his best to submerge him. Darkwing sputtered and struggled, kicking and thrashing, but managed to get both his face and his gas gun up and out of the cascade for a moment. Gasping for air, he pulled the trigger.
Immediately Liquidator was struck with an annoying stinging sensation and he drew back, staring down at his midsection in disbelief. Small pellets of something incredibly irritating were suspended in his water, and while it was not enough to harm him, it did break his concentration. He spun and sprayed out to try and dislodge it while Darkwing inched back and glowered at the watery villain.
"Suck silica, slimeball."
Furious, Liquidator sneered back at him. "It'll take more than Dri-Rite to dry up the wet and wild power of the Liquidator!"
"You're right," Detective Araucana said from behind him, holding out a nozzle attached to what looked like a fire extinguisher. "So how about you freeze?"
Liquidator started to voice a retort that fire extinguishers were one hundred percent ineffective on him, but he never got it out before the nozzle covered him in a powerful spray of freezing gas. The water dog was barely able to flow an inch before his body started to crystallize, and Darkwing stood up brushing his hands together with smug satisfaction as Araucana hosed Liquidator down with the icy material.
"Yep yep yep, studies have shown that liquid nitrogen will put drips like you on ice every time."
"I think this is the first time I've heard of a super-villain actually freezing when we tell them to," Araucana remarked with a chuckle. "Thanks for suggesting the nitrogen tank. We couldn't have pulled this off without it." When she was done, she symbolically slapped a pair of cuffs on the now frozen villain while Darkwing beamed with pride.
Bushroot saw Quackerjack captured and then Liquidator iced, and panicked as more police came into the area. Several drew their guns and advanced on him and Megavolt while others helped Luna—and the money—to safety. Although he wanted to help Liquidator and Quackerjack, he realized the odds were stacked too high against his favor and decided to cut his losses and run before he shared their fate. "This caper has definitely outgrown its potential," he grumbled, and sprouted the grass in front of him to grow up fast and tall like bamboo. Not wasting any time, he bolted as the wall bought him time to get away. When he reached the next block he saw a duck parking his Tortuga Prius and seized his opportunity to get away. "That'll do for a nice green escape!" He raced toward the vehicle, and as he expected, the car's owner took one look at the plant-mutant coming toward him and leapt out of the vehicle in fear for his life. The keys were still in the ignition as Bushroot jumped in, and he sped off to safety while the police that had been in pursuit of him called for backup.
The plant-duck was not the only villain that had no intention of being thrown in jail. Megavolt leapt off of the transformer as he saw armed cops coming for him while Quackerjack and Liquidator were arrested and Bushroot escaped. "Oh no. No, no, no!"
Megavolt began to rant, sparking all over. "After all I've had to put up with, the dumb games, the stupid jokes, the short-outs, my light bulbs being molested, and wearing those god-awful hideous costumes, I am not going to jail now!" He roared and released his frustration in a spectacular arc of energy that sent the police after him scattering backwards.
"Oh, good. I'm working again." He glared at the cops and shot another burst of high voltage at them, and then ran across the street. The frightened spectators in the crowd gave him a wide berth as he hopped in the back of an idling taxi. "I need to get away now!" he informed the driver with a wild look in his eyes.
The jaded canine cab operator snorted. "Yeah, you got cash to pay for that?"
"No," the impatient Megavolt seethed. "So how about I charge it instead?" He then discharged a blast of voltage through the vacant front passenger seat that was strong enough to make it smoke from the driver's side. It changed the cabbie's tune in a hurry.
"Heh, sure, no problem!" He hit the gas and Megavolt sped away to freedom, leaving the sound of sirens and all of the chaos behind.
Back at the scene, Darkwing had just finished dealing with Liquidator when realized that Bushroot and Megavolt had already gotten away. He was going to pursue when he noticed Gosalyn holding up a limping Launchpad, guiding him toward an ambulance that already had Brant Strongbill and Luna Darkfeather inside it. "Launchpad! Gosalyn!" Darkwing ran over to them. "What are you…?" He fell silent when he saw the tattered state of Launchpad's bandages and the grimace on his face. "LP," he sighed, "I told you that you'd get hurt if you came along."
"You needed me, DW. That's what sidekicks are for."
"And daughters," Gosalyn cut in preemptively.
"Yeah." Darkwing shook his head, proud and touched by their actions despite himself. "But that doesn't change the fact that you could've been… and hey! Why aren't you in school, anyway?"
Gosalyn answered his question with a confident grin. "I was getting home-schooled on criminal justice."
"In case you haven't noticed, young lady, this isn't home."
"It was a field trip."
That had Darkwing forcing back a snort of laughter, and he was too thankful that they were all right and that the situation was over to be angry. "Just get him to a doctor," he said, and turned his gaze to Launchpad. "And this time try actually doing what they say."
Launchpad nodded and staggered toward the ambulance. "Heh, no problemo."
"Famous last words," Darkwing muttered. He followed them to the ambulance and eyed Brant Strongbill, who was on a stretcher flanked by two paramedics. The actor was filthy, scuffed up, and looked miserable, but he did not seem to have any life-threatening injuries. "You okay? Quackerjack didn't do anything too bad to you?"
Strongbill groaned. "I wouldn't say that. He's nuts." He emphasized the word with a wild and horrified look in his eyes. "But I'm okay. After all… I'm Whiffle Boy!" He grinned weakly, and made a tough-guy fist gesture as he closed his eyes and laid his head back on the pillow. "And I'll be back."
One of the paramedics raised an eyebrow. "I thought that was the Exterminator."
Strongbill did not answer, however, for he had already fallen asleep from exhaustion.
"Thank you, Darkwing Duck," Luna called over from where she was lying down on another stretcher. When he looked over, he noticed that she, too, looked exhausted and her voice sounded even more hoarse. She beckoned for him to come over and he did, smiling down at her with an air of superiority.
"Not bad for a hero-type guy, huh?"
"You found that insulting." Her blue eyes held a look of amusement that, to him, undermined the sincerity of her grateful smile.
"A little," he admitted.
"Then I'm sorry," she said, finishing on a sibilant note. She batted her eyelashes at him in a way that likely would have had Morgana frying his tail feathers if she saw it, not to mention probably irk the model's unconscious boyfriend as well, even if it was just based in gratitude. "You're a real hero."
Her praise was enough to puff Darkwing's ego back up, though. "Well, it was nothing. Saving the day, rescuing your boyfriend, defeating the dangerous denizens of the criminal underbelly of the city, it's all in a day's work for Darkwing Duck." He overheard a mock gagging noise from Gosalyn's general direction as he finished, but he did his best to ignore it and enjoy his glory.
"She's right, you know," Detective Araucana's voice cut in. Darkwing whirled around indignantly, but it fizzled when he saw the hen smiling and realized that it was Luna she was referring to rather than his wise-beaked daughter. "You're a real asset to St. Canard, Darkwing. I wish more people of this city would give you credit. Thanks again for all your help."
"Anytime! And if you'd like to pass that message on to certain of your colleagues, I wouldn't complain." He glanced over at Officer Krop, who was still moving awkwardly from the shock Megavolt had given him as he spoke with Brooke Flood.
The canine woman had not noticed, for she was far more preoccupied with the matter of her son. The two officers that had grabbed Eddie after he fired at Darkwing were bringing him to her now that she had managed to convince Officer Krop to release him into her custody. It was a serious matter to shoot at someone with a deadly weapon, but Eddie was a minor and given the circumstances they agreed to let him go until a hearing was held on it. Of course, they had confiscated his Whiffle Boy gun.
"Eddie! Thank goodness!" She pulled him close in a teary hug. "What were you thinking? Why did you do that? We were worried sick about you!" Her exclamations were both upset and emotional, and they tumbled out in a rush.
"I'm fine, Mom!" he protested.
"Where did you get that gun?"
"Dad gave it to me." He stared at her. "Did you know he was still alive?"
"We were both shocked to find out he was Liquidator," Rill cut in, giving his brother an uneasy look. Although he was still angry at their mother for keeping her doubts from them, he was far more upset about the truth about his father and who and what he was, especially after what he had just witnessed firsthand.
Eddie nodded wildly to his older brother. "That's crazy, isn't it? I mean, not only is Dad not dead, but he's a super-villain. Is that awesome or what?"
"'Awesome' is hardly the word I'd use for it," Brooke said sharply, casting a glare at the ice sculpture that was her ex-husband. "He could've gotten you killed. You and your brother both at that convention. I was worried you were dead. And now…" She hugged Eddie again, eliciting an eye-roll in the boy at her mothering. "Well, I'm just glad you're away from him."
A frown crossed Eddie's features as he watched two policemen lift the iced Liquidator to take him to the armored vehicle that they had just put Quackerjack in a moment before. Rill followed his gaze and frowned also, but for different reasons. He stared into his father's frozen eyes and studied the once-familiar face as he tried to make sense of the jumble of emotion that surged inside him. Do you think that'll give you the closure you need, kid? I hate to have to be the one to tell you it, but things like that don't ever resolve that easily. Darkwing's words from two nights before echoed in his mind.
"Come on. Let's get out of this place." Brooke was snappish and authoritative, but that time Eddie did not argue, although he cast a disappointed look over his shoulder in Liquidator's direction. Rill stared for a moment longer with a harsh and betrayed look in his eyes, but unlike his younger brother, once he turned, he never looked back.
Despite being frozen Liquidator still heard and saw everything, and how he felt at that moment was not something he would ever forget. The police secured him inside the armored car beside Quackerjack, who was just as miserable as his frozen companion.
"Someday I will destroy Whiffle Boy," he grumbled, slumping grouchily in his handcuffs. "This game is not over."
Mr. Banana Brain's thoughts, on the other hand, were more down to earth. "This sucks, Chuck."
Once again the former Fearsome Five, minus one, managed to fill up St. Canard General's emergency room. It was not as bad as it had been after Whiffle-Con, but busy enough that doctors and nurses were scrambling and the overtime for some of them was racking up. Launchpad was lucky that he did not have to wait too long this time, which was good, since Gosalyn was not nearly as patient a companion as Honker. She had gone off to get a soda from one of the vending machines when the nurse came in.
It was the same nurse who had attended him last time—Heather Bushroot. "Mr. McQuack," she greeted him with a halfhearted smile. "I'd say it's nice to see you again, but not under these circumstances." She looked at his tattered bandage and raised an eyebrow as she lifted his arm to examine it more closely.
"Yeah, I'm getting tired of this place too. The waiting rooms are really boring."
"Can't argue that," she said, unwrapping the tender wound. She paused as got a closer look at the dressing. "Is that gravel in your gauze?"
"Heh, I guess so." Launchpad gave her a sheepish smile. "I hit the pavement pretty hard when I crashed."
Remembering that he was a pilot, her eyes widened with concern behind her glasses. "Were you flying?"
"Nah. Not unless you count going airborne for a few seconds on impact. I crashed a hot dog cart into a renegade hedge at the Swanlord while helping DW get Brant Strongbill back from the Fearsome Five… or Four… well, you know."
"A hedge." Heather frowned. "My brother?"
Launchpad nodded, a contrite look on his face. "Yeah. Sorry."
"It's not your fault." She cleaned the wound gently with some gauze. "I'm just glad nothing worse happened. I hear they admitted Mr. Strongbill a little while ago."
"I rode with him on the ambulance. He's a little messed up, but more in the head than physical, I think." He sighed. "Poor guy. Sometimes those big name actors don't get all the luck, I guess."
"You and Darkwing Duck will practically be celebrities yourselves for saving him, for a little while at least."
"Which just proves that most celebrities really are idiots," a gruff male voice interrupted them. While Heather sighed, Launchpad frowned at the doctor who came in, a gray wolf with piercing blue eyes that leaned on a cane.
"Dr. Mowse, what brings you to the emergency room?" Heather asked as she stepped aside and discarded the dirty bandages.
The wolf physician shrugged. "Curiosity. I heard that we had another round of Fearsome Five frivolity and madness in town and that some of the more famous casualties wound up here. After I talked to Brant Strongbill and got his autograph, and let him know that he should've been embarrassed to be in Exterminator III, I came here to see if Darkwing Duck's sidekick was as stupid as I've heard or just plain crazy."
Even Launchpad was not thick or laid back enough to let rudeness of that magnitude pass, and he frowned indignantly at the doctor. "Hey! I don't think it's stupid or crazy to want to stop super-villains."
Dr. Mowse peered at him, and then at his arm, ignoring his protest. "They did this to you last time? A few days ago?" He picked up Launchpad's chart without waiting for an answer. "Wow. They have you on the good stuff. No wonder you're not feeling it." He chortled and then eyed him with an evaluating stare. "So why do you do this? For the fame? The glory? The chicks?" He sneered at Heather, who frowned back at him.
"I'm doing it 'cause it's the right thing to do and DW can't do it all alone."
"Ah." Dr. Mowse set the chart down. "Crazy, then. See, if you'd said you were in it for the fame, glory, or the chicks, I'd have just thought you were stupid because there are better ways to get those things than risking your life chasing down psychopaths with mutant powers. The fact that you seem to think chasing psychopaths with mutant powers in an effort to save everyone else from them is a good idea is just plain nuts." Launchpad stared back at him slack-jawed while Dr. Mowse turned to Heather. "Crazy sidekick here should be fine. Dress the wound with the usual stuff and I'll renew his painkillers."
He pointed his cane in Launchpad's direction before leaving the room. "And next time you wind up here, try and hurt one of those mutant super-villains bad enough that they come with you, okay? I'd really like to see what makes them tick." He then turned and limped out of the room, leaving a shocked Launchpad watching him go.
"Wow, and I thought DW had a big mouth sometimes."
"I am so sorry about that," Heather apologized. "Don't take it personally. He's like that with everyone. He's an excellent doctor, but his bedside manner… well, it leaves something to be desired."
Launchpad nodded. "It's okay."
"For what it's worth, I'm glad that there are ducks like you willing to take those 'crazy' risks." Heather finished dressing Launchpad's wound and met his eyes with a kind look. "Even if it is a shame that you wind up in here for it."
The compliment brought a smile to Launchpad's bill. "Aw, it's no big deal," he replied while she peeled off her gloves and picked up his chart.
"I'll have your discharge papers in a few minutes." She headed for the door and tripped over Gosalyn, who had not seen her and barreled into her with a soda can in each hand.
"Ooops! Sorry!" Gosalyn regained her balance and handed one of the cans to Launchpad. "So you're almost done here?"
"Yep. Just gotta get my papers and go."
"Keen gear. This place is bo-ring."
"You should've been here for Dr. Mowse." Launchpad then filled her in on what she had missed until Heather returned with his paperwork. He signed where he was told, and when he was finished she pulled off a copy and handed it to him along with two other slips of paper.
"Take care, Mr. McQuack. Hopefully I won't be seeing you again in here."
"Heh, yeah." As Launchpad nodded back he had the thought that she was kind of nice, which made it almost a shame. He and Gosalyn left the emergency room and headed for the parking lot, and he looked over the papers he had been given. One was discharge and follow-up instructions and one was a prescription. The third was just a plain piece of notepad stationery with feminine handwriting on that said, "Follow up?" followed with a smiley face and a telephone number.
It brought a smile to the pilot's face and he glanced over his shoulder, although Heather was already off in another patient's room. Now that was a follow-up he would not mind making at all.
It took the police the better part of the day to clean up the mess that Quackerjack, Liquidator, Megavolt, and Bushroot had left in their wake around the Hotel Swanlord.
The news report showed that, with Tara Tadboil once again reporting dutifully from the scene. She explained how Brant Strongbill had been rescued, and that the Whiffle Boy hero was "safe, and only a little worse for the wear" while two of his captors were safely behind bars in the super-villain prison. She then related the tale of how Darkwing Duck escaped his decoy binds with the help of "an extraordinarily brave little girl" and then how his "sidekick and a hot dog cart" had also joined the fray to save the day. Tara finished by saying that even though there was some "spectator interference" against Darkwing—her euphemism for Eddie Flood's pot shot at him—he and the authorities managed to turn the dire situation around, and apprehend Quackerjack and Liquidator while sending Bushroot and Megavolt packing.
Giving the television a look of disgust, Negaduck lifted the remote and switched it off. "Even with Dopewing half out of it, those losers manage to get defeated. And for what? So Quackerjack can whack his whiffle?" He rolled his eyes. "And they wondered why I ditched them. What a bunch of knobs."