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  • JT Bird

The City That Barks And Roars = CHAPTER TWO


– Chapter Two–

Brothers, where art thou?

Frank and Chico dart from the cafe to a black and white rust bucket parked across the street - but still get drenched by the rainfall. Chico manages to climb inside however he’s guaranteed an unpleasant ride; the pint size police-mobile was designed to accommodate stumpy penguin drivers rather than monkey passengers.

‘I hope we don’t get into a chase with this thing, we’d be better off pursuing on foot,’ quips Chico, writhing around trying to find a position of comfort. His head presses firmly against the roof.

‘Quit complaining, kid, or you can pursue me on foot all the way back to the station!’ snaps Frank, slamming his foot on accelerate. Pungent smoke pours out the exhaust - further evidence that this car’s best days are over. Somehow it commences a brief drive back to police headquarters over in central Kingdom.

‘Can I ask some more about your partner?’ quizzes Chico, adopting a serious tone for once. He wipes condensation off the window to catch a peek of rush hour; the streets of Noah’s Kingdom are crammed with hordes of workers, fighting their way to early morning meetings. A trio of elephant businessmen stampede across the road like warriors charging to battle.

‘Lucas Panda, great cop. We joined the force together, he was my partner for mmm, nearly five years. Long time. Never married though, no kids, family, nothing. And tonight, was meant to be his big retirement party over at The Bear Pit. Instead, he’s vanished cause I wasn’t there for him,’ explains Frank, tightening his grip on the steering wheel and trying to hold back the rage. ‘I don’t get it, kid, we weren’t running heavy cases, just small fish, couple of bank jobs, some gang trouble, no major crime. Could be a crook with a grudge from the past, or Luc was up to something on the side.’

‘Did he owe someone money? Mixed up with the wrong crowd?’ prods Chico, carefully trying not to overstep the mark.

‘When I say great cop, kid, I mean great cop. Clean as a whistle, one of the nice guys. He wouldn’t get involved with backhanders, not his style, trust me, straight as an arrow. A law-abiding panda.’

Chico whips out his flashy new notebook, a birthday gift from his aunt, and flicks to a fresh new page. He scrawls one word at the top, with a flashy pencil that came with the book - Lucas.

‘What do we know so far?’ he asks, pencil primed.

‘Worker heard hell breakin’ loose around six am. She was on her way back from a shift at the nearby milk factory. Checked her out, she’s clean. But we got no actual witnesses,’ says Frank, trying to get his new partner up to speed. ‘Pigs found a trail of blood, led from the Widow Road down through some woods and ended up at the river. Looks like he was attacked by the roadside and made a run for it.’

Widow Road. Up by the racetrack, right?’

‘That’s right, kid, up by the racetrack.’

‘What about the cuts to his mac?’

‘Can’t be certain, but our boys down in the lab reckon they came from some kinda dog.’

Chico squeezes one last word in the bottom corner of his first page of notes - Dog?

Frank smashes his horn and angrily waves at the driver up ahead. ‘What are you… a camel?! Get moving buddy, jeeze!!’

‘You’re pretty angry for a bird.’

Frank huffs and wags a wing at the cocky passenger. ‘When you get to my age kid, you’re not angry…you’re just grumpy, there’s a difference. I say what I think, just my style, it’s in my blood, I’m a penguin, we’re a passionate species. I mean wow you should meet Mrs Penguin, jeeze Louise, now that’s one scary animal right there. Last week I forgot to pick up her groceries from the store, boy she hit the roof, nearly tore my beak off. I always said, my wife should’ve been a cop.’

Chico grins, and feels a sudden warmth towards the cranky old penguin – maybe he isn’t so bad after all.

‘So, tell me about Chico Monkey. Crime solving run in the family or what?’

‘Nope. Mother was a teacher, father put out fires. But they passed away not long after I was born. So, I grew up with my Aunt Sally, and no, she’s not on the force either. She’s a prickly head chef at The Leaping Lobster, comfortably West Bay’s tastiest restaurant.’

The penguin takes his eyes off the road for a second to twist and face his passenger. ‘I’m yet to meet a great chef whose temper wasn’t short.’

‘She’s pushy, terrifying at times, but she means well, and keen to see me prosper. Just trying my best to not disappoint her. I’d give anything to be a hero, like my dad, and do Aunt Sally proud.’

‘I’m sure if your aunt were here right now, she’d tell ya she’s proud already.’

‘Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure. Fishing for compliments from Aunt Sal’s like squeezing blood from a rock.’

‘What about a dame, got yourself a dame yet, kiddo? Charmed any gorgeous gorillas, cute miss chimpanzees? Or maybe you’re still too young for all that jazz and heartache.’

‘Not yet, but I’m working on it,’ responds the monkey bashfully, staring into the distance and reflecting on his life; he had promised the pretty monkey who lived across the street back home, that he’d take her for a milkshake and dance. Probably a trip to Mickey’s Diner, the most popular haunt in West Bay - but those plans had been scuppered by his assignment in the city.

‘Plenty of time, kiddo, plenty of time. You’re still a young buck. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet a lucky lady on the job?’

‘Yeah, maybe,’ mutters Chico, clearly not convinced.

‘I mean, we pinch all kinds of dealers, thieves and nut jobs. Maybe one of them will take ya fancy hey, kid,’ yaps Frank, honking the car horn to celebrate another attempt at humour. Chico smiles, nods and gently shoves his grumpy partner.


****


‘Spare a gold coin for a struggling ostrich, could ya sir? It’s my birthday.’ A beggar is camped outside headquarters with a collection tin rattling on his feathery lap.

‘Jeeze, big bird, every week you say it’s your freakin’ birthday,’ snaps Frank, marching past and reluctant to part with donations.

Chico’s heart is better positioned but there’s nothing to share in his pockets – the best he can do is a shrug. ‘Hey grouchy, why can’t you chuck him a coin?’ remarks Chico as they charge towards the entrance. The building is truly unremarkable – just ten levels of brown brick planted on the corner of Tail Street. Pockets of officers are mooching around outside, inhaling fresh air and gossip.

Frank pushes open the door and gestures his partner to enter. ‘Charity starts at home, kid. Bills to pay and a lady to spoil.’

Chico is slightly taken aback by Frank’s reluctance to demonstrate kindness. ‘Wow, it’s like working with a ray of sunshine,’ he utters, striding into the tower. ‘You should try lightening up a little. Life’s more satisfying if you’re generous and carry a smile.’

Frank sniffs and scoffs at the cheeky attack. ‘Lighten up he says. One more wise crack, kiddo, and it’ll be lights out for you.’


Neither had noticed the bench across the road. The young panther with crossed legs in the long pink dress and floppy blue sun hat, watching their every move. She had perfectly feigned curiosity in a trashy fashion magazine, when really her eyes were latched on the pair of detectives. Her paws, sheathed in red silky gloves, slide into pockets till one comes across costly sunglasses. She delicately pops them on, despite the gloomy weather, and hails a passing taxi.

Frank and Chico exit a packed elevator and stroll onto the busy fourth floor of Kingdom Police Headquarters. Rat-a-tat-tat - the sound of busy typewriters fills the air. A sea of officers caked in navy blue are hunched over desks writing reports (officers tend to be pigs but there’s a mixture working today, and even a few detectives – just look for the cheap suits and tired bloodshot eyes).

‘Ok, teams of two. We search every inch of forest and Widow’s Road. Knock on door, twice if you have to. We need clues and witnesses. And don’t head back till we have one or other,’ harps Officer Yuriko Wolf from the corner, huddled with eager pigs and a disinterested looking rat. A crinkled map of Hare’s Forest is pinned to the wall behind her – a red dot marks the spot where Lucas was stolen.

A short-sighted mole races passed, both squinting and nodding in the general direction of Frank as she does so. ‘Morning Frank,’ she says hurriedly, before darting back to her desk via a collision with various colleagues.

Officer Thelma Eagle swoops in through an open window - she has the wonderful advantage of avoiding morning traffic (birds of prey are extremely valuable to the police force due to their flair for surveillance. Tracking criminals from the sky is an invaluable talent).

Hudson Rhino is leaning back in a swivel chair with both arms folded behind his head, and ever since the penguin walked in, he’s had a smile from ear to ear. ‘Hey, Frank the Mac, what time you call this?!’ hollas the rhino loudly. ‘Vulture wants you in her office pronto and she don’t sound happy. Enjoy.’

Frank nods to acknowledge the beefy rhino and promptly responds. ‘We still on for poker tonight big boy? I fancy some more of your coins.’

The rhino laughs. ‘Tonight’s my night penguin, feeling real lucky. I’m gonna win cash, your precious mac and your wife.’

Quick as a flash the penguin returns fire. ‘Hey, I’ll pay you to take Mrs Penguin, how about that? Trust me, twenty-four hours and you’ll be paying me double to take her back.’

A speckled pig in uniform looks up from his desk and spots Chico inspecting the office. ‘Hey Frank, who’s the new guy?’ asks the pig, pointing her head at the newest recruit.

Frank turns to Chico, puts an arm around him and makes an announcement to the entire office. ‘Everybody listen up, this is Detective Chico Monkey, drafted in from West Bay to help on the panda case. First day on the job, so let’s try and treat him with a bit more respect than you show me. And yeah, that includes you ya chunky rhino scumbag.’

Chico gives a small wave to the crowd, most of which have already returned to doing their work. He clears his throat, pretending he wasn’t offended.

Chief Vultures den. The stern looking bird is perched behind an extremely tidy desk – she takes great pride in her ability to avoid hefty piles of clutter. Her eyes are sunk behind a thick pair of spectacles and she’s packed in a tight black dress which only adds to her intimidating presence. She’s stubs her fourth cigarette of the morning into a glass ash tray shaped like a nest.

‘Thought you quit smoking, chief?’ jests Frank, picking his seat. The frosty vulture lets the spectacles slide down her beak to reveal her beady eyes. She prods her head forward and studies the uncomfortable visitors.

‘I quit having insects for breakfast, that’s enough quitting for now. If I quit smoking, you’d probably all be dead by now,’ responds the vulture. ‘And you must be Detective Charlie Monkey, welcome, and sincerest apologies you’re stuck with this incompetent penguin, but there we go, that’s life, deal with it. Any questions?’

‘Actually, they call me Chico, ma’am.’

No response. Only silent eye contact.

‘No questions, ma’am,’ says Frank, butting in to save the day.

The monkey gulps, prickling with discomfort - but incessantly tapping his feet and stroking his beard seems to help with calming the nerves. ‘Err yeah, Charlie’s fine, no questions ma’am. Just keen to get started.’

‘Splendid. Well, there’s a beaver waiting downstairs and he’s itching to speak with someone about some missing friends. See if you two can help,’ says the chilling boss whilst reading the notes on her desk. ‘Oh, and any word on Lucas, do we have any leads? I’ve got a meeting with Mayor Leopard in an hour and he’s bound to push for an update.’

Frank sits up and straightens his back. ‘Nothing major yet, chief, but we’re working on it. Apartment was clean, and nothing from friends or neighbours. Fat Chinchilla might have something though, I’m meeting the greasy snitch at the palace later today, and we’ll shake him down. But hey, we’ll catch this guy, ma’am, don’t you worry.’

‘Glad to hear it, good luck, and keep me posted. And do make sure you get this monkey a badge.’ The vulture’s quite done with looking up from her desk. Frank and Chico take the hint and quietly depart her lair, like a pair of dismissed naughty schoolboys.


****


LeRoy Beaver manages the Shepherd’s Dam which protects Noah’s Kingdom from flooding; he and a small army of other creatures (mainly beavers) work both day and night to ensure the dam never cracks nor crumbles. Currently, he’s sat quietly in an empty interview room at police headquarters and has been for over an hour. Two cups of cheap coffee have helped him pass the time, both arriving in feeble thimbles. LeRoy’s stocky for a beaver and easily recognizable thanks to a shiny gold tooth and the chunky gold medallion hanging around his neck; the shredded denim, dusty boots and muck infested t-shirt suggest he’s come straight to HQ from a shift. He crushes the cup and bounces if off the wall.

Frank and Chico burst into the room. Before either can say a word, the furious beaver propels to his feet and slams both fists on the table.

‘Where have you been, fools? Unbelievable. Been sweating here all day and I got three beavers missing!!’

Chico jumps but Frank barely moves a muscle – fear’s not in his DNA.

‘Take a seat goofball, it’s been a busy day,’ snaps Frank, failing wonderfully to calm the situation.

LeRoy shakes his head, clearly still upset, before finally sitting down. ‘Johnny, Chuck and Benny, all missing, now that ain’t right.’ He’s a mixture of tense, angry and twitchy – not the healthiest of cocktails. Spit fires from his lips as he vents sheer irritation. ‘Something going down ya feel me, and I’m wasting time. Sat here sippin’ cheap ol’ coffee all day.’

Frank and Chico finally grab a chair, while they pull out pencils and notebooks. Eager to impress his partner, Chico sets to work scrawling down details. ‘When did you last see them?’ he asks.

Leroy sniffs and cocks his head. ‘Been three days now man, three days. That ain’t like them. They ain’t never been late to work, not one single time since I laid my eyes on ‘em, not one time. Even their cousin been calling me, asking if I seen the boys.’

His claws tap furiously on the table but there’s no more cups to launch, which might explain the vein throbbing on the side of his head ‘Something ain’t right, ya here me, and you know who they run with? That damn dog, that’s who.’ He takes it out on the table again with all his rage and fury. ‘They’re hungry for money cause working the dam ain’t enough, so they go to him, for a few extra nuggets o’ gold.’

‘Damn dog, what damn dog?’ asks Chico, scribbling furiously.

The damn dog brother, yo, there only one dog in town. You livin’ in a cave or summin’ fool?’ snarls LeRoy.

‘Salvatore Bulldog, runs a nightclub down in the dog district, real goon, paws in a lot of dirty pies,’ answers Frank calmly. Chico shrugs and sketches a quick doodle of a dog with podgy cheeks on a fresh page. He jots the word ‘Salvatore’ just below it.

‘They ever mention a panda? Lucas Panda?’ asks Chico, munching the end of his pencil.

LeRoy scratches his twenty-four-carat tooth. ‘Panda from the papers, the cop? Nah, they ain’t never mentioned no cop. Doubt the beavers be friends with any creature packin’ a badge.’

‘Anything else you can tell us, LeRoy? They talk of any problems? Mention what they do for the dogs?’ probes the penguin.

LeRoy’s on his feet again and pacing around the room, battling to control his emotions. The sleeve of his crumpled t-shirt takes the place of a tissue as he runs it across his face; he clears his throat and shrugs his shoulders, shaking himself back to macho mode.

‘Look, they never told me about no extra work ‘cause they know I wouldn’t be happy, but I’m LeRoy Beaver, I know things and I sure ain’t stupid. I let it slide ya feel me, figure they need the money, so I let it slide. But they close as brothers, they like blood to me. Yeah, they get on the wrong side of the law few times, but they’re good boys and religious nuts too, just holla Father Goat. They wouldn’t miss church for all the gold in Paradise Valley. So, you track ‘em down ya hear, cause if harm should come their way, then damn boy I’ll find who done it and drag them from the land of the living. You hear me, fool?’

It was clear this strapping beaver wasn’t one for joking, clear from his eyes that he was genuinely concerned for his friends, and equally genuine when he promised repercussions. The Kingdom Police Force was now under pressure to find a panda and discover the whereabouts of three unscrupulous beavers. Chico pined for his Aunt’s blueberry pie and relaxing nights on her porch, but he kissed those plans goodbye. He knew deep down that this city was far from done with him.

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