This collection of (hopefully) humorous tales is to be categorized as a Beyond Uber. All characters are created by me though some of them may remind you of someone.
This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top-right corner and find something else to read.
All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:
- This is a compilation of some of the best moments from the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency-series plus a new vignette. Thus, all but April & May have been published in the earlier Harrison-Starr collections/anthologies.
List of contents:
1: You're On The Air, Man!
2: A Thousand And One Nuts
3: I'd Like A Flappy Moccymellyato, Please
4: Trial And Reward
6: Oh, Puck…
8: April & May
- Thank you very much for your help, Wendy Arthur & Phineas Redux :D
As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D
Description: To celebrate April Fools' day, here's a compilation of some of the funnier moments from the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency-series. Relive what happens when the mop-topped firebrand Stella Starr and her business associate slash main squeeze Regina Harrison get mixed up in all sorts of wacky situations with all the usual elements - zaniness, rapid-fire banter and tons of sweet lovin'. It might look dangerous, but don't worry… they know what they're doing!
1 - YOU'RE ON THE AIR, MAN!
Written by Norsebard
"Reggie, hurry up, they're coming back from the break now!" Stella said, sitting in the couch in their office. Fiddling with the buttons on the boombox, she turned up the volume until it was at a level they could both hear.
Regina quickly ran back from the bathroom and threw herself into her swivelchair. At once, she picked up the telephone and dialed a number.
'Hey, hey, hey, welcome back to the Super-Sixties Quiz Show on your favorite radio station, All Sixties, All The Time, man. My name is Doug and… oh, hey, we have a caller on line three already… hey, you're on the air, man,' the DJ said in his characteristic, lazy voice that once again made Stella think of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.
"Hi, Doug, I'm Reggie. Can girls be in your quiz show, too?" Regina said with a snicker. Leaning back in her swivel chair, she put her endless legs up on the desk and sent Stella a thumbs-up.
'Sure thing, man… uh, sister. If you have knowledge of the music and the stars from the sixties, you can play. Hey, I was there, but I can't remember anything, man. Kinda goes with the territory, huh? Uh, anyway, are you ready for the first set of questions?'
"I'm ready, Doug. Fire away."
'All right. Hey, man, I better explain the rules first in case we got some new listeners out there. Okay… you get three easy questions, okay? If you answer those correctly, then you get three tough questions, okay? And if you answer those correctly, you get three insanely hard questions. Ain't that fun? I came up with the questions an' I think it's fun. Are you ready for the first set of questions?'
Stella let out a loud belly laugh over the convoluted explanation, but an exaggerated wink that played on Regina's features made her clamp her hand over her mouth and settle for biting her tongue instead.
"Uh, you already asked me that, Doug. I'm ready," Regina said, playing with the cord for the telephone.
'I did? I can't remember, man. Uh, okay, here's the first easy question. John, Paul, Ringo, who's the missing Beatle?'
"George," Regina said, looking at Stella who sent her a thumbs-up in return.
'Right! Okay, onto the second easy question. The Beatles, The Village People, The Rolling Stones, Bill Haley and His Comets. Which two of these four bands didn't have their first number-one hit in the sixties?'
Regina grinned, thinking that she had the right answer. "Village People and…"
"And The Rol-"
"NO!" Stella howled, jumping up from the couch. On her way up, her thigh connected with the edge of the table which pushed it back nearly a foot and a half. Hopping back and forth on the good leg, her eyes rolled around in her head while her face turned an unhealthy shade of red. She tried to hold back a Tarzan-like primal scream, but a few squeaks did escape before she could stop them. Once the pain had receded enough for her to speak, she whispered "Bill Haley!"
"The other one is Bill Haley and His Comets, Doug," Regina said, suddenly losing some of her cockiness.
'That's right, Reggie. Okay, two down, one to go of the easy ones. Are you ready?'
"I'm ready," Regina said, sending several kissies and a silent 'thank you' to Stella who had hobbled over to the filing cabinets to have something to lean against.
'Who was it the Beach Boys wanted help from in their unforgettable hit from 1964?'
"Uh, uhhh… who they wanted help from… Uhhh…?" Regina said, continuously glancing at Stella who was frantically mouthing a name - but she couldn't read Stella's lips well enough to figure out what it was her friend was trying to tell her.
"Rhonda! For cryin' out loud, Reggie! It's Rhonda!" Stella whispered, grabbing a handful of her hair and very nearly tearing it out.
"Miran…" Regina started to say, but she shut up instantly when Stella headbutted one of the filing cabinets in frustration. "No… oh, I got it, it's Rhonda!"
'That's right, Reggie! That's three out of three of the easy questions. Congratulations, you've won the five-CD box set 'All Sixties, All The Time's Greatest Hits of our Favorite Decade!' .'
"Oh, wow, thanks, Doug."
'No, thank you, man. Pardon… sister. Are you ready to continue? Are you up for it?'
"Yeah, yeah! This is fun!" Regina said, snuggling down in the chair.
At the same time, Stella was rubbing her aching forehead and wiping the tears out of her eyes. Sighing, she shuffled back to the couch and sat down, pushing the table even further away so there was no risk of hitting it again.
'Okay, here's the first of the tough questions. Name this tune,' Doug said and played a brief excerpt of a cheery pop song from the early sixties.
Scratching her chin, Regina bared her teeth in a grimace that very much signaled that she was lost.
Stella, mirroring her friend's actions, began to hum the brief excerpt again, knowing that she had heard it before. "Uh… uh… uh… oh, hmmm-hmmm in blue hmmm… Venus In Blue Jeans!" she whispered, nodding like crazy.
"Venus In Blue Jeans," Regina echoed into the telephone.
'That's right! Venus In Blue Jeans was a big hit for Jimmy Clanton back in 1962. All right, here's the next question: What does the night have?'
Rolling her eyes, Regina clamped a hand across her mouth and stared at Stella.
This time, the blonde investigator already knew the answer: "A thousand eyes," she said, grinning.
"The night has a thousand eyes, Doug."
'Oh, hey, that's excellent, man. Or sister. Yes, in 1963, Bobby Vee had a worldwide pop hit with The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. One more correct answer and you'll win a ceramic ashtray with plenty of room for when you have all your friends over for a talk and a Dutchie.'
Regina furrowed her brow, not sure how she should respond to that. "Okaaaaay…" she said after a few seconds.
'Here's the final one of the tough questions: In the intro to Tighten Up, a soul hit from 1968 for Archie Bell and the Drells, Archie names the State they're from. Which is it?'
"Oh, Good Lord," Regina croaked, looking with worried eyes at her friend.
At once, Stella jumped up and began to pace the floor. "Archie Bell… Archie Bell… Archie Bell…? Mmmmsheesh, I don't know! Pick a State, Reggie… any State!"
"Whaddaya mean, pick a State! It could be any of 'em!" Regina said with her hand across the telephone.
"Texas!" Stella suddenly shouted, spinning around on the spot and pointing at Regina. Unfortunately, she hadn't noticed that she was too close to the couch to try such acrobatics, and she ended up losing her balance and falling sideways onto on it, sending her glasses flying in the process.
"Texas," Regina said into the telephone, watching her friend add insult to injury by falling off the couch and landing on the gray carpet, shaking her head in disgust and slamming her fist down onto the floor.
'Texas, that's right. Congratulations, you have won a ceramic ashtray! Do you want to move on to the insanely hard questions? If you do, you have the chance to win a genuine 1969-vintage Afghan vest, worn by a major rock star at Woodstock!'
"Oh, you know…" Regina said, looking at Stella who was still patting down the couch and the carpet to try to find her glasses.
When she couldn't find them, she gave up and let out a guttural groan. Clambering to her feet, she plopped down on the couch and clutched her aching thigh, back, butt and forehead.
"No, Doug, I think I'll hold here. It's just too strenuous to continue," Regina said and swung her legs down from the desk.
'A wise decision, Reggie. The insanely hard questions are so insane that even I can't answer them… and I created them!' Doug said, making Regina roll her eyes. 'Hey, you got our box set and an ashtray… that ain't bad, man. Uh, sister. Leave your address with the producer… that's also me, man. Peace, Reggie, it was a whole lotta fun playin' with you! We'll be right back after these messages.'
"Peace, Doug," Regina said and cast a compassionate eye at Stella who, for some reason, didn't seem to be celebrating the fact that they had just won a five-CD box set and a ceramic ashtray with room for all their stoner friends - not that they had any. "Thanks for the help, Stell. I couldn't have done it without ya," she continued, holding her hand across the telephone.
Stella's only reply was a moan that segued into a whimper and eventually petered out as a long, slow sigh.
THE END of YOU'RE ON THE AIR, MAN!
2 - A THOUSAND AND ONE NUTS
Written by Norsebard
"Just a bit forward, Stell… no, too much, a bit back," Regina said as she and Stella tried to wrestle a four-by-six-by-two-foot cardboard box through the door to the office.
"Will you make up your flippin' mind, fer cryin' out loud!"
"Naw, won't work… we need to get it vertical… just a little more… just a little more."
"Will… you… hurry… up… and… get… through… that… door… this… thing… weighs… a frickin'… frackin'… freckin'… ton!" Stella said through clenched teeth as she struggled to hold up her end of the cardboard box.
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying," Regina said as she walked backwards into the office. "Watch the doorst-"
"Owwwwch!" Stella howled, having - rather predictably - stubbed her toes on the metal band going across the floor.
"-step. Too late… never mind."
"I'm… dyin'… dyin'… gotta… let it… go…!" Stella said, huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive going up Mount Everest.
"We're here, drop it," Regina said and put her end of the cardboard box down on the floor. "And watch your toes!"
Stella was more than happy to comply, and she let go of the heavy package at once. Jumping back to avoid having her toes flattened by the box, she whacked her elbow against the opened door instead, squealing out a strained "Oooooh!" as the electric impulses sprinted up and down her arm.
"Watch the door, Stell."
"Ha. Ha! And another ha! Ouch…" Stella said, furiously rubbing her elbow.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, yeah," Stella said and flexed her fingers to see if they still worked. When everything was hunky-dory, she rolled her shoulders and strode over to the box. "Let's get this big thing opened. Where's the box cutter?"
Regina walked over to her desk, reached into the top drawer and found a small plastic tool. "Right here, dahling."
"Let's get to it, then."
Three minutes later, Regina and Stella stood in the middle of the office. Each wore identical, confused expressions while staring at a barely recognizable set of wooden sticks, a pair of red cotton cushions that had been folded up not once, not twice, but three times, and a huge pile of small plastic bags with screws, nuts, washers, a set of Allen keys and assorted other doodads and thingamajigs.
"You know, Reggie, I coulda sworn I bought a chair. This doesn't look like a chair to me," Stella said, scratching her upper lip.
"Well, we already knew we had to put it together ourselves."
"Yeah, but… look at this," Stella said and swept her hands across the confusing mess on the floor.
Regina crouched down and began to sort through the various items. "There's gotta be a manual somewhere. Come on, let's look for it."
"Okay, we got the manual. Now we need a manual for the manual," Stella said, sitting on the floor and turning the single page of instructions over in her hand.
After scratching her hairline, Regina rolled up her shirt's sleeves and took off her expensive wristwatch so the cover-glass wouldn't suffer any scratches. "Stell, Rome wasn't built in a day. We're clever women, we can do it. We'll have it assembled in no time."
"I'm gonna write that down," Stella mumbled and looked around for a pencil.
Two hours later, they had created an abstract masterpiece, which, according to Regina, was fit for the Museum of Modern Art - Stella just thought it was fit for the scrapheap.
Two further hours later, they had finally assembled the chair, and Stella immediately christened it by gently lowering herself down into it and placing her rear end on the plush cushions. "Ohhh… lovely stuff. Magnificent softness… oh, the smell of wood… oh, the wonderful feeling of a job well done," she said dreamily.
"Mmmmyeah. Though, I wonder…" Regina said, holding something in her hand.
The tall former model turned around and showed Stella a handful of screws. "Where these screws were supposed to go…?"
"I, uh… ah, it's probably nothing. You know how they always overstock the bags. They're worried people are gonna sue them if there aren't enough screws… or something."
"Yeah. You're probably right."
Stella's eyes popped wide open at the groaning sound that emanated from the wooden frame, and she slammed her hands down on the armrests to have something to hold onto in case the chair collapsed. When nothing further happened, she raised herself up from the chair as cautiously as she could. "Uh… on second thoughts, perhaps we better give it another check," she said and took the Allen key.
Another forty minutes later, the chair was finally secure enough for Stella to carry it over to her desk. Grunting, she kicked aside the overturned plastic milk crate she had been using since she had thrown away her old swivelchair, and put her new chair down on the gray carpet.
Regina went back to her own desk where she swung her legs up on the table top. Studying the manual for the chair, she chuckled when she read a particular paragraph. "You know, Stell, it actually says here that the assembly is estimated to take forty-five minutes."
"That's roughly how long it took us, right? On the third try, I mean."
"Yeah," Regina said with a throaty chuckle. Stretching up, she moved the telephone over to her and put her hand on the receiver. "Hey, Stell? What do you want for dinner tonight? Chinese, Thai, Italian… what?"
"Hmmmm, dunno. What 're ya thinkin' of tonight, Reggie?"
"A can of Slurrpy Carbonated Mineral Water and a light salad. It's already in the fridge."
"That's not what I'm thinkin' of tonight, Reggie," Stella said surly.
"Didn't think so. So… what'll it be?"
"Chine… no… no, pizz… no, Thai. Definitely Thai. Hold the bamboo-thingies."
Sighing, Regina turned around in her chair and looked at her friend. "Stell, you can't have Thai without the bamboo sprouts. How many times do I have to tell you? I remember once I was headlining a show in Bangkok. We wanted some local chow and the chef brought in something that looked like roasted do-"
"Ah! Timeout!" Stella said and held up her hands in the familiar T.
"Then what'll it be?"
Stella leaned back in her new chair; it didn't creak which made her smile. "Ohhhh… I dunno. Lemme think about it."
"Sheesh. And there goes the rest of the afternoon," Regina said and pushed the telephone back across her desk.
Regina turned around to shoot the mop-topped Stella one of her patented two-hundred watt smiles - it proved to be enough to melt the surliness straight off the senior investigator's expressive face. They held the look for a moment or two before they grinned at each other and returned to matters at hand.
THE END of A THOUSAND AND ONE NUTS.
3 - I'D LIKE A FLAPPY MOCCYMELLYATO, PLEASE
Written by Norsebard
"Hurry… hurrrrrrrry, Reggie!" Stella Starr said through clenched teeth. The movements of the car in general and the potholes on the boulevard in particular made it very, very difficult for her to keep it all inside, but she forced herself to think positive thoughts and focus on a dried-up river bed in the middle of the driest part of Death Valley.
"I'm not a magician, Stell! I can't will one into appearing, you know!" Regina Harrison said, making their leased Mercedes SLK duck and dive through the heavy late afternoon traffic.
After driving on for another two blocks, Regina suddenly spotted a small café on a corner of the boulevard. "Hey, that looks promising… hang on," she said and took the corner into the parking lot on two wheels. "All right… we're here!" she continued as she slammed on the brakes to make the silver-metallic sports car go into a nosedive in front of the shop.
"Thank God!" Stella said and jumped out of the car faster than Regina could spell her own name - and for once, the inherently clumsy investigator with the wild, uninhibited dirty-blonde hair didn't have any problems getting out of the low-slung car.
Storming through the door of Juan Manuel Romero's Tea & Coffee House, Stella sent a silent plea to the barista who was standing behind the counter busy adding a touch of whipped cream to an order.
The barista - a latina in her mid-twenties with friendly eyes and a very expressive face - just nodded and pointed at two doors a bit further into the establishment.
After remembering to look at the icons on the doors so the situation wouldn't get any worse than it already was, Stella tore into the Ladies' room and shut the door behind her.
Regina entered the coffee shop at a more sedate pace. The sweet aroma of ground coffee and tea leaves was very strong which made her tastebuds snap to attention. She soon decided that it was as good a place as any to get a little late-afternoon snack.
They hadn't visited the small shop before, but looking around, she could see that it was a nice, cozy - and clean - establishment held in earthy tones. It had five regular tables, two tall tables for standing customers, a jukebox playing muted, but spirited, Argentinean music, and a long, very elegant cherrywood counter that dominated the room.
Smiling at Regina, the barista took the cup she had been working on and put it on the counter, prompting a customer - a woman in her late thirties - to stick her newspaper under her arm and go up to the counter to retrieve it.
Once the barista had served the customer, she turned to Regina and sent her a wide, charming smile. "Good afternoon, I'm Manuela. How may I help you?" she said with just the faintest hint of a South American accent.
"Hello. Well, I better wait for my friend to come back from the Ladies', but we'll have two coffees," Regina said and found one of her credit cards.
"Miss, this is J.M. Romero's Tea & Coffee House… we're famous for our wide selection of high quality coffees. Currently, we have twenty different types on offer," the barista said, polishing a small section of the counter.
"Oh… in that case, I definitely have to wait until my friend gets here."
"Perhaps I could tempt you to a slice of cake as well?" the barista said and pointed at a refrigerated display case on the counter that held more than a dozen different cakes of all sorts. A small blackboard placed on top of the display case promoted the 'Afternoon Special= 1 Coffee + 1 Cake $7.98 until Five PM.'
Nodding, Regina checked her watch, which read a quarter past four. "I think we can come to an agreement," she said, looking at the many colorful cakes and pastries.
Two minutes later, Stella came out of the Ladies' looking like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. Spotting Regina studying a display case, she closed the door behind her and walked up to her best friend.
"Made it," she said, breathing a sigh of relief.
"Glad to hear it. You know, you wouldn't have been in that situation if you hadn't bought a triple Slurrpy! Cherry Cola for the movie. How much is that, anyway? Half a gallon?"
"Oh, ha ha. Well, when I'm at the movies, I need some popcorn. And I can't eat popcorn without something to drink. So there," Stella said and wiped her lenses with two pieces of toilet paper.
"Uh-huh? Anyway, look at this… they've got an afternoon special. A cup of coffee and a slice of cake for eight bucks. See anything you like?" Regina said and pointed at the refrigerated display case.
"Oh, wow, they look fantabulous…" Stella said and pressed her nose against the glass to look at the delicate offers. "Wow… there's so much to choose from…"
The seventeen different cakes in the display case were lined up in four rows of four plus a straggler on its own at the bottom. The first row saw slices of apple, pecan, peach and cherry pies; the second had walnut, lemon, hazelnut and raisin sponge cakes; the third had Othello, Black Forest, strawberry and chocolate spread layer cakes; the fourth had Danish pastries with four different frostings: pink, white, chocolate and apple jelly, and finally, all alone on a row on its own, a Boston Cream donut.
"Oh Gaaaaaaaaawd, I can't choose," Stella said and slapped her hand across her mouth. Shaking her head, she began an eenie-meenie-miny-moe chant, but even that couldn't get her anywhere. "Have you decided, Reggie?"
"I want the lemon sponge cake."
"Oh, that does sound good. But so does… and… and… and…" Stella said, pointing at the various slices. "No… I want an apple pie… no, a cherry pie… no, the Boston Cream donut, it's unfair that it doesn't have anyone to talk to down there. No, I take it all back, I want the slice of Othello layer cake. Or maybe the Black Forest layer cake… Uh, have you decided yet, Reggie?"
Rolling her eyes, Regina moved forward and tapped her index finger at the lemon sponge cake. "Uh-huh."
"Oh, yeah… all right. Two lemon sponge cakes, please," Stella said to the barista who was waiting at the display case.
"We only have one of each, Miss. It's late in the day," the barista said in a slightly flat voice.
"Ohhhh! All right, I'd like an… uh, uh, uh, uh, the donut," Stella said and pointed at the plate that stood by itself on the fifth row.
Drawing a sigh of relief, the barista opened the refrigerated display case and took the plates with the lemon sponge cake and the Boston Cream donut. "And now for our prized selection of coffees. We have Bombon, Caramel Machiatto, Cappucino, regular Latte, Chai Latte and several variations, Chocolate Dalmatian, Cinnamon Spice, Doppio, Espresso Romano, Gaucho, Greek Frappe, Guillermo, Kopi Susu, Macchiato, Mazagran, Medici, Melange, Mocha, Pocillo, and a very special Ristretto we've just got in from Italy. Oh, and in addition to those, I can mix you anything you'd like."
Staring wide-eyed in terror as the barista reeled off the many different types of coffee, Stella tried to keep track of the foreign names. At first, she was able to keep up fairly well, but after the first dozen, they began to jumble together, and by the twentieth, she couldn't even remember her own name.
"Uh… I'd… I'd… I'd like the… uh… I'd like the… Reggie, what are you having?"
Chuckling, Regina reached over and gave Stella a little squeeze. "A Caramel Machiatto, Stell."
"Oh, I can't remember what that was. Uh… oh, I got it," Stella said with a smile. "I'd like a Flappy Moccymellyato, please."
The barista's smile slowly faded from her face and was replaced by a deep frown. A few seconds later, her expressive eyebrows began to play across her forehead. A few second after that, her lips slowly withdrew to reveal an impressive set of pearly whites.
"Uh…?" Stella said, wondering what was going on.
Pulling back from the counter knowing that an explosion was imminent, Regina put her hands on Stella's shoulders and began to steer her towards the door. "I don't think they have one of those, Stell."
"What? What did I do? I just asked for a coff-"
Reaching under the counter, the barista suddenly produced a hammer used to grind coffee beans. "A couple a' jokers, huh? You wanna know what I feel about jokers… HUH?! Get out of my shop!" she howled, swinging the hammer in the air.
"What? What? Whutwhutwhut?" Stella said, throwing her arms in the air.
"I'll explain in the car… we gotta leave now, Stell," Regina said and opened the door to prepare for a hasty exit.
"But what about my donut…?"
"Now, Stell!" Regina said as the barista came out from behind the counter.
"All right, all right… if she doesn't know how to make a Floppy Mickymochyato, I wish she'd just come out and say so instead of going all Freddy Krueger on us…! Sheesh!" Stella said on their way out of the door.
Outside, they watched the barista slam the door shut and turn the little OPEN sign to CLOSED. Once she had done that, she moved away from the door, but not before showing them a hand gesture that didn't leave room for misinterpretation.
Scratching her hair, Stella shrugged and began to shuffle back to the Mercedes. "Well, call me confused. One moment, everything was fine, and then… ka-boom."
Regina unlocked the Mercedes and opened the door to allow Stella to sit down. "Stell, I think this is her equivalent of the piece of paper you have in your desk drawer that says 'People who ask for Mr. Harrison Bleepin' Starr!'," she said with a dark chuckle.
"Oh… okay. Well, I never behave like that," Stella said and pulled the seat belt down.
"Nooooooo, of course you don't," Regina said in a sing-song voice as she closed the door.
Knowing sarcasm when she heard it, Stella made a face and stuck her tongue out at her friend, earning herself a loud giggle as Regina walked around the car to drive home.
THE END of I'D LIKE A FLAPPY MOCCYMELLYATO, PLEASE.
4 - TRIAL AND REWARD
Written by Norsebard
Stepping out of the bathroom, Regina Harrison flicked off the light with her elbow and closed the door with the heel of her boot. "You're sure it's okay that I leave a little early today, Stell?" she said and walked over to the hallstand by the front door.
"Oh, sure, sure… no problem," Stella said, looking up from her indispensable Rubik's Cube.
"I mean, it's not like we've had anything at all to do today, right?" Regina said as she put on her fashionable trench coat and flipped her hair out of her collar.
"Yeah, tell me about it. Nah, it's just fine, Reggie. I'm busy with the paperwork and stuff anyhow."
Stella recognized the tone of voice as being one, possibly one-and-a-half, notches below full-on sarcasm, and she looked up from her Cube and flashed her friend a wide, toothy grin.
"See ya tomorrow, Stell. Watch your neck if you're planning on sleeping on the couch," Regina said and opened the door to the parking lot. A chilly breeze and several drops of rain quickly entered the Harrison-Starr office and swirled around Stella's jeans-clad legs.
"Brrrr! Don't steal all my heat, Reggie! The radiators are hoppin' already!"
"Sorry," Regina said, but the smile on her face proved that she probably wasn't. With a quick wave, she stepped out into the late October afternoon and closed the door behind her.
Putting away the Rubik's Cube, Stella got up from her chair and watched her friend step into the silver-metallic Mercedes SLK and drive out of their parking lot.
Once she was sure Regina was gone, she let out a little whoop and turned on her laptop. "Fashion Express here I come! Oooh, imagine that… Stella Starr… using a fashion web site! Sheesh, Reggie must be rubbin' off on me," she said excitedly as she pulled the laptop in front of her chair.
Five minutes later, Stella scrunched up her face and tapped the funeral dirge on the desktop with her short fingernails. Trying the web site just one more time for good luck, she once again found herself staring at the same, sublimely annoying error message that she couldn't make heads or tails of - 'Shopping cart showing -1 items. Cannot proceed to checkout without Error in MySQL line 809.'
Groaning out loud, she rubbed her face repeatedly, hoping that it would make her come up with the golden solution. After trying that twice, and trying the web site just one more time, she gave up and reached for her telephone.
'You're calling the customer service for Fashion Express dot com-' an automated female voice said at the other end of the line.
"Hello, my name is Stel-"
'You're the twelfth caller. Please hold.'
"-la Starr… whut? Hold? You want me to hold? I'm number WHAT?"
The only response Stella got was a dreadful muzak rendition of Barry Manilow's Copacabana playing in her ear.
By the seventh time Copacabana started, she was ready to eat her chair - wooden frame, screws, cushions and all. The song suddenly faded down, but just as Stella took a deep breath and got ready to say her piece, the automated voice took over: 'You're calling the customer service for Fashion Express dot com. You're the tenth caller. Please hold.' - Then Copacabana started over for the eighth time.
Stella's face wasn't its usual pale pink color anymore, it was dark red. "Listen to me, Sista!" she barked into the telephone. "I'm gonna tell you wotcha gonna do! Why don't you take your fuh… fuh… fuh… flippin' web site and your flippin' hotline and shove it up your fuh… fuh… shove it where the flippin' sun don't shine! I'm done! I'm SO done with you and your flippin' miserable web site and your-"
"GAH!" Stella howled, suddenly realizing that she had heard a human voice instead of the automaton. "Yes! Yes! Hello! I'm Stella Starr and I'm having a problem with your web site!"
'What kind of problem, Miss?'
Moving forward on her chair, Stella frantically adjusted her glasses. "Uh, buh, I'm… uh, trying to buy a scarf but there's a problem with the checkout. It gives me an error message that says that I have minus one items in the shopping cart even though I'm one hundred percent certain I've clicked on the scarf!"
'All right. What's the catalogue number for the item you're trying to buy, please.'
Realizing that the number was so tiny on the screen that she almost needed a magnifying glass, Stella pulled the laptop really close so she could get every digit right. "Well, okay, it's… it's really long, God, I… okay, it's number five-eight-five-four-seven-two-three-six-eight-nine-seven-seven-seven-six-seven-four-three-nine-one…! Didya get that…? Please don't make me repeat it!"
'I got it, Miss. Please hold.'
"Oh God, not the Copacabana again… anything but the Copaca-!"
'Miss, just to verify, the item you're trying to buy is a hot pink down jacket in size extra-extra-extra large, yes?'
"What?" Stella said, nearly falling off her chair. "No, no, no, it's the silk scarf designed by Mai Sjoblom! In Royal Blue with streaks of gold! It's right there on your web site! It's a Christmas present for a very choosy woman so it has to be correct! God, Reggie would freak out if she got a hot pink down jacket…"
'I'm sorry, Miss, but the scarf is no longer-'
"Ohhhhh no, don't say it! Don't say it!"
'I'm afraid the Mai Sjoblom scarf is no longer sold by us.'
"Ohfercryin'outloud! There's a flippin' picture of it on your web site…!"
'A technical glitch, I'm afraid, Miss.'
"Oh, crud. All right… never mind. Thank you for your help," Stella said and put the receiver back down on the telephone.
Leaning back on the chair, she let out a long, slow sigh and tried to reach for the heavens to see if anyone would take pity on her. When nothing happened, she pulled herself upright and started on her second task.
"All right," she mumbled, moving back to the web site's home page. "Money back guarantee… returning products… how to return a product… okay," she said and clicked on a link that said 'Two-Week Money Back Guarantee! Information here.'
After the page had loaded, Stella tried to follow the instructions but had to admit defeat halfway through, thinking that they might as well have been written in Venusian.
"If I get the Copacabana, I'm gonna scream… or hurl… or maybe scream, then hurl," she mumbled under her breath as she punched in the digits on her old-fashioned landline telephone.
'You're calling the customer service for Fashion Express dot com,' the automated female voice said at the other end of the line. 'You're the third caller. Please hold.'
"Third is better than twelfth. Eh, I'll hold," Stella said out loud and got comfortable.
After three complete cycles of The Girl From Ipanema, she was about to change her mind when she heard a click on the line, followed by a female 'Hello?'
Thinking it was the same woman who had helped her before, Stella sat up straight and assumed a friendly voice. "Hi, it's Stella Starr again. Listen, I need help with your money back guarantee. I have bought a pair of skinny jeans that don't fit and now I want to ship 'em back to you, but I can't quite work out your web site. Can you help me?"
'Lady, you shoulda thought about that sooner. It's not my fault you can't get your ass screwed down into our jeans.'
"Buh… uh… I'm… I'm sor-" Stella said, feeling a giant, neon-yellow question mark come to life above her head.
'Why'd the hell ya buy skinny jeans for, anyway? Did your boyfriend pressure you into buying 'em? I mean, Jesus, who looks good in skinny jeans, huh? Rail-thin actresses, that's who. Lady, the asses on us regular folks just can't fit into those pants.'
"Uh, but, I mean… it wasn't my a-"
'If you're really serious about pursuing your money back guarantee, you're gonna make my day even more miserable than it already is. You know why? 'Cos I'm gonna hafta go through a mountain of paperwork just because you can't follow the instructions on our web site. They're in English! You do read English, don'tcha?'
"I. Beg. Your. Pardon?!" Stella barked, feeling the giant question mark above her head pop away and turn into an equally giant exclamation point - this time in bright red.
'Maybe you don't and that's cool, too, but just don't buy stuff from a web site that's in English. Okay? Do you still wanna go through with it?'
"Yesssssssss," Stella hissed.
'Jesus… all right. Stuff like that makes me cranky. I've warned ya, lady.'
Stella just stared at the receiver but soon put it back to her ear and took a very, very deep breath. "Cranky? Cranky? Let me tell you something about being cranky! First of all, I wanted to buy a very good friend of mine a Christmas gift but then it turns out that there's something wrong with your flippin' web site! Then you force me to listen to Copa-crappy-biff-boffin'-bana four hundred and ninety-five times in a row… and then you tell me you don't even have that item! And now! Now! Now you tell me that you're getting cranky because I call you and try to claim my statutory rights for some piece of fuh… fuh… fuh… flippin' crap you've sold me that cost me forty-nine ninety-five bucks and that I only wore once where I got so flippin' wet that I nearly got pneumonia 'cos I couldn't get my hand into my flippin' pocket to get my flippin' keys so I could get out of the fuh… fuh… fuh… flippin' rain!"
'You wore the jeans?'
'Well, in that case, you've wasted not only your time but my time as well 'cos you've forfeited your rights. The money back guarantee is only valid for clean, unsoiled products.'
"Unsoiled? Whaddahell do you think I did with 'em? Ate a stack a' chili bean burritos and let rip the Apocalypse Fart?"
'Rules are rules. You have forfeited your money back guaran-'
"Okay… O-kay… O-k-a-y! That does it! I'm officially mad. No, I'm not just mad. I'm emm aye dee. Get it? It spells Mad. Mad like in so flippin' furious I wanna come over to your flippin' warehouse and dump those flippin' skinny jeans down your flippin' mail box! That's the kinda mad I am! That's Emm Aye Dee! Mad!"
'Oh, will you calm down, lady? So you can spell… whoop-di-do. It ain't got nothin' to do with me so leave me the hell out of it! Call me back when you've calmed down! Jesus, I'm gettin' a rash just listenin' to ya!'
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I'm gonna… I'm gonna…" Stella said and put the receiver down on the telephone with surprising tenderness. "I'm gonna… kill something. Yes. Ha, ha, ha… Ha! I'm gonna kill something! Ooooh, I'm gonna… kill… something… Ha, ha, ha! Kill… Ha! Ha…!"
Jerking up from her chair and shuffling into the center of the office, she began to twist and turn in place like she had been possessed by an evil spirit. Clenching and unclenching her fists, she felt an explosion bubble up inside her but she didn't know when it might come nor how long it would last when it arrived.
Outside, Regina drove the Mercedes back into the parking lot and double-parked in front of the door to the office. "Can't believe I left without my wallet…" she mumbled as she got out of the low-slung sports car and strode over to the building.
The very same split second Regina stepped into the office, Stella went bang and turned into an extremely loud and awesomely colorful supernova. The rage and fury that exploded out of the petite woman came in volcanic volleys that threatened to blow out the windows and take the roof clean off the building.
Again and again, Stella sent out waves of acid mixed with fire and brimstone that coagulated into burning hot walls of air that were so thick and heavy with vitriol that Regina seriously considered donning the kind of protective gear technicians used when they checked the fuel rods in atomic power plants.
After a while, the volcano slowly died down, leaving a very tired and very raw Stella Starr standing in the middle of the floor with spittle on her chin and glasses that were misted up so badly she couldn't see anything at all.
"Stell?" Regina said and hung her trench coat on the hallstand, knowing that it would be a while before she could go home.
"Reggie?" Stella croaked.
"Yeah, it's me. I forgot my wallet."
"What happened, hon?" Regina said and dug into her pocket to find a handkerchief.
"Oh, you know… just the usual fun and games."
"Uh-huh?" Regina said and used her hankie to wipe Stella's chin. After putting it away, she pulled her friend into a warm, comforting hug. "Hey, how about we call for a Meaty Mama and some fries and stuff? Wouldn't that be fun?"
"I guess… maybe a Cherry Cola?"
"Definitely. C'mon," Regina said and helped Stella over to the couch.
Once the fiery investigator was safely seated, Regina took off the misty glasses and gave them a quick wipe-down on her blouse. "There you go, Stell," she said and kissed Stella on the forehead.
"Thanks, Reggie… people have been so mean to me after you left," Stella croaked as she adjusted her glasses. "Sheesh, it's scary…"
"You can tell me all about it in a little while. But first, it's pizza time," Regina said and took the telephone from her own desk.
Taking a deep breath, Stella shook her head slowly. "You better watch out, baby. There's a mondo-weirdo thing goin' on with the phone right now… I think it's some kind of zombie bug that eats good manners or something."
"Uh-huh?" Reggie said, thinking how much she liked Stella calling her baby and letting it show in a broad genuine smile. Then she heard the pizza guy come on the phone and concentrated on ordering their food.
THE END of TRIAL AND REWARD.
5 - HULLABA-HOOP
Written by Norsebard
A few days later.
"All ready, Stell!" Regina Harrison shouted after she had finished plugging the cable for the portable TV and DVD into the wall socket. Taking a step back, she cocked her head and eyed the TV closely. A few seconds later, she stepped back to it and pushed it an inch to the right so it was perfectly level on their plush gray carpet instead of tilting a little to the left.
'You're ready?' Stella Starr said from the bathroom.
'You're ready… now?'
'Okay, okay… I can't believe you talked me into doing this… I mean, Holy Cannoli!'
When nothing had happened after a further fifteen seconds, Regina went over to the bathroom door and tapped her knuckles on it. "Stell?"
'Yeah, yeah, yeah… sigh'. Two seconds later, the door handle was depressed and Stella stepped out of the bathroom. She only made it half a step into the office of the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency when she stopped dead in her tracks and stared at the outfit Regina was wearing.
The tall, former model had donned a black Rokkstar Track & Field windbreaker with a white stripe across the chest as well as loose, Zumba-style sweat pants - that sat indecently low on her hips - in deep purple with gold highlights. Finally, she wore a matching purple sweat band around her head to keep her long, dark hair out of her eyes. As usual, she looked as if she had just stepped out of a cover of a fashion magazine.
Stella briefly looked down at her own exercise outfit, thinking that it had looked a lot better on the mannequin in the shop - she was wearing a powder blue body suit that looked puffy around the top because of the sports bra she wore underneath, a pair of knitted dark blue leggings and a mismatched pair of wrist bands; one red, one yellow.
Chuckling, Regina put a hand across her face, pretending to be shielding her eyes. "Stell, you know what? With those leggings, your outfit looks almost exactly like the dancing costume from… that movie with the welder… what was it called?"
"Flashdance," Stella mumbled.
"Flashdance, yeah. Though wasn't that a darker color?"
"Dark blue. Okay, so I had a baby-crush on Jennifer Beals back then and I guess I've harbored one ever since so when I found this outfit in a sports equipment store I thought I'd be able to look just a little bit like her if I bought it but I look like I always have and nothing like her not that anyone could because that was probably the sexiest she's ever looked…" Stella said in a single stream of words. "Oh, who cares."
"I care. It's an okay outfit, Stell."
"Yeah. Wait a minute, how old were you when that movie came out?"
"Like I said, it was a baby-crush," Stella said and pushed her glasses up her nose.
"Must've been. C'mon, Stell… this is gonna be fun," Regina said and began to warm up by shaking her limbs and pulling her legs up towards her.
"Well, if you say so… Reggie?"
"Why do you always look so dazzlingly sexy no matter what you wear? And why do I always look like a-"
"Cute, little number?" Regina said with a broad grin.
"Wasn't exactly what I was gonna say," Stella said with an embarrassed smirk as she went over to stand next to Regina, "but thanks, anyway."
"You're welcome. Stell, you should stretch a bit before we start," Regina said and mussed Stella's unruly mop of dirty-blonde hair.
Reluctantly, Stella began to perform a few stretching routines to get her limbs, muscles and cartilage ready for the torture she was sure would follow. After bending down and touching the floor twice and doing a few hops - on the first one, she cleared the carpet by nearly two inches - she was ready. "That's it. Anymore of this and I'll be bombed out before we even start," she said and used her wrist bands to wipe a few imaginary drops of sweat off her forehead.
"Good. Now… let's go. Here's Tiffany Reilly's Full Body Workout for Women, Medium Impact Class," Regina said and took the remote she had put behind her on Stella's desk. Pressing play, she put the remote back on the desk and waited for the DVD to start.
A few seconds later, the DVD opened with an establishing shot of a set made to look like a fitness club. Scattered around the set, five athletic women in identical skimpy gray sportswear were stretching their limbs and preparing for the exercise program.
As soon as Stella saw the fit women, she pushed her glasses up her nose and broke out in a wide grin. "Now, I could get used to this, actually… mmmm!"
Before long - and to the sound of canned applause - the famous fitness expert Tiffany Reilly stepped in from the left side of the screen in a white sports bra and a pair of bicycle shorts that were so tight Stella was convinced they were banned in Iowa and neighboring States.
'Hello, I'm Tiffany and you're watching my brand new Full Body Workout for Women, Medium Impact Class. I hope you all have your stair stepper ready because we're about to start.'
"We do!" Regina said gleefully as she put two twelve-inch high stair steppers down on the carpet; one in front of herself and one in front of a slightly downhearted Stella.
'All right,' Tiffany Reilly said from the DVD as the camera moved down to show her aerobics shoes that - judging by the caption and the logo on the shoes - had been provided by a fairly well-known manufacturer. 'Here's how we do this routine. Now watch me as I go through it at half speed. When I say Go, we'll do it at full speed. Are you with me? Here's the routine at half speed.'
While Tiffany performed the stepping routine, Stella stared wide-eyed at the TV, trying to keep up with the increasingly convoluted choreography. By the seventh step, she had lost track of what she was expected to do and let out a long, slow growl. "Oh, who the hell can follow that kind of… Reggie, am I stupid or is that-" she started to say but cut herself off when she noticed that Regina was following the program to the letter. "Never mind."
"You don't have to follow it religiously, Stell. Just find a sequence that works for you," Regina said and gave Stella's shoulder a little squeeze.
On the DVD, the camera pulled back to show Tiffany getting ready for the real work. 'Girls, are you ready?' she said. When the five athletic women all nodded, Tiffany clapped her hands and shouted 'Go!'.
A pumping beat started playing, and soon, all six women were hard at work on the stair steppers, occasionally letting out whoops and cheers to keep their spirits up.
Regina matched them step by step by going up, going down, moving right, going up, going down, moving left, going up, going down, shaking her left leg to the left, going up, going down, shaking her right leg to the right, going up, going down-
By then, Stella was miles behind, having stopped after going up for the first time - instead, she was completely and utterly mesmerized by the sight of the graceful, long-limbed Regina employing all her many skills to keep up with the complicated program.
Realizing that she hadn't blinked for nearly half a minute, Stella shook her head and returned to her feeble attempts at keeping up. She tried going up, going down, going left, going right, going up, going down-
Then Regina unzipped her Track and Field windbreaker and threw it onto the couch, revealing a black, formfitting sports bra and acres upon acres of smooth, gloriously tanned skin.
Oh-point-five of a second later, Stella didn't pull her leg high enough and failed to clear the front of the stair stepper. Losing her concentration, not to mention her balance, she nearly took a fumbling swan dive over the top of the stair stepper and onto the floor, but by flailing her arms in the air and letting out an "Ooooooooooooh!", she managed to stay erect - just.
"Are… you… all… right?" Regina said around her routine.
"Yeah, yeah… damn, girl! Couldn't you have warned me or something?"
"About what… Sheebus! That your torpedoes would make an appearance!"
Going up, going down, moving right, going up, going down, moving left, going up, going down, shaking her left leg to the left, going up, going down, shaking her right leg to the right, Regina just smirked and shot Stella a cheeky look. "Are… you… saying… I… still… got… it…?"
"Ha flippin' ha! Never mind! How long is this nonsense, anyway?" Stella said and resumed her own program. Instead of trying to follow the impossibly complicated setup Tiffany was going through on the DVD, she just went up and down with one leg at a time.
"Get outta town!"
Sighing, Stella looked towards the heavens. After a few seconds, her eyes sort of slipped down to watch Regina's upper body instead.
Once the first part of the exercise was over, an animated hourglass counting down from five minutes was shown on the DVD while Tiffany talked about the importance of stretching between the three steps of the Medium Impact Class.
"Yap, yap, yap," Stella croaked, staggering over to the couch where she promptly flaked out.
Chuckling, Regina shook her limbs and sat down on the carpet where she began to stretch her buttocks and calves. "Stell, may I offer you some advice?"
"On whether it's got anything to do with what I put in my mouth," Stella said and threw an old crumb at Regina while she shot her an Evil Eye.
Regina grinned and pretended to catch the crumb. "Okay, let's forget that for now. Anyway, the second part of the program should be easier for you… it's the Power Band, remember that?"
"Oh… the elastic band you stick under your foot?"
"And around your legs and back, yep."
Stella shivered, remembering quite vividly the instant waxing she'd suffered when the Power Band had slipped out of her grip and had nipped every single one of the little hairs on her right arm. Grimacing, she massaged said arm and sat up straight. "Okay, but I need something before we get to that," she said and got up from the couch.
A short while later, she came back from the conference room with one of their bags of disguises. Diving into it, she quickly found a black-and-red ice hockey goalie mask to protect her eyebrows and two pale green latex veterinarian gloves that reached up to her elbows. "All ready and I'm so there! Get it? Get it? So there!" Snicker! Snicker, snicker, snicker!
A few minutes later - fully equipped and ready for anything - Stella got down on her knees and tucked her Power Band in under the knitted leggings. "Yeah, baby!" she exclaimed in a voice muffled by the ice hockey mask. "Watch out Miss Universe, Stella Starr is on the case!"
"D'ya think you've got enough protection there, Stell?" Regina drawled as she put her Power Band under her shoes and began to pull it up rhythmically, giving her biceps and pectoral muscles a good workout.
"Mmm-hmmm… you betcha!" Stella said and took a good grip on the two handles. With a deep breath, she managed to pull the Power Band up to her chest and hold it there for a few seconds, bringing out a surprising amount of muscle tone in her arms. Groaning and shaking from the exertion, she let go of the elastic band and let it fall down limply. "O… kay," she said, huffing and puffing, "that's one."
"Nineteen to go," Regina added, switching to a backhanded grip for the next set of ten pulls.
"Yeah, right. In your dreams, Reggie," Stella said and shot her friend a pointed look through the mask. "I'll be satisfied with… with… wi- HA-CHOOOO!"
"Thanks… oh… ewwwwwwww… I sneezed all over the inside of the mask…!"
"Oh Jeez, Stell!" Regina said, pulling a horrified face and a quick shimmy-shake to get rid of the willies that were crawling all over her skin.
When she noticed Stella trying to wipe the inside of the mask with one of her latex gloves, she put the Power Band away and went around Stella's desk to grab their indispensable box of tissues. "Here you go… Stell… here…" she said, holding the box in front of Stella who didn't respond at all. "Stell?"
"I can't see a thing… my glasses kinda got coated…"
"Oh fer Chrissakes!" Regina howled and had to shimmy again. "C'mon, let's go into the bathroom so you can get cleaned up," she said and took Stella by the hand.
"Thanks, Reggie… you're my pal. My best pal. My only-"
"You're on your own the second we cross the doorstep," Regina said strongly, keeping a safe distance from the mask and the glove Stella had used.
Five minutes later - minus the mask but plus a freshly washed face - Stella came back into the office only to see Regina performing magic with an extra-large fitness ball. The former model was horizontal in the air, keeping her abdominal muscles on top of the ball while she held onto her own desk to keep the balance.
"Whoa, you're… you're really Supergirl, ain't you?" Stella shouted, grinning broadly at the sight of Regina's shapely rear end pointing straight up. "While you're trying to learn how to fly, I think I'll do something fun for a change and take the hula hoop," she continued and went over to fetch the last of the fitness accessories.
On the DVD, Tiffany Reilly and her five athletic companions were enjoying themselves with fitness balls and hula hoops as well, but Stella just waved her hand and let out a "Pfffff! They don't know how to do it properly! Reggie, you may not know this, but back in day, I was a hula hoopin' champion! Yessiree, I won the Golden Hoop. I beat nine other girls from my neighborhood in the finals… can you believe that?"
"I'll… believe… anything… you… say… dahling," Regina said through clenched teeth.
Stepping into the hula hoop, Stella pulled it up and prepared to give it a spin. "Awwww! Thanks, Reggie! Yeah… those were the good old days. Of course, I was five years old at the time…"
Regina looked up at her friend and grinned. "Careful… Stella… it's… not… like… the… old… ones… it's… got… weight… in… it…"
Unfortunately, Stella was too preoccupied with thinking about her glorious, award-winning past to hear what Regina said. Letting out a whoop, she gave the exercise hula hoop a mighty spin, expecting it to react just like the hoops she had used as a girl.
The first indication that something was wrong came after a complete tour. Once the hula hoop came back, Stella started moving her hips to make it stay up, but she hadn't counted on the added weight so it pulled her a step to the side.
Undeterred, she increased the pace of her gyrating hips, thinking that she was merely a bit rusty after not touching a hula hoop for years. As the hoop gained momentum, she did, too, matching the centrifugal force with her own.
"Look at me, Reggie!" - wobble - "I'm hula hoopin' " - wobble, wobble - "Oh, this is so much fun!" - wobble, wobble, WOBBLE - "… but why is it…" - wobble, WOBBLE, WOBBLE - "… pulling me to the side…?" - WOBBLE, WOBBLE, WOBBLE!
Side-stepping frantically, Stella tried to get the hula hoop back under control only to find it possessed by a power greater than hers. Before long, the hoop led her on a guided tour around the office, bumping into the desks, the filing cabinets, the coffee table, the hallstand, and finally the TV that nearly keeled over.
"Yikes, I'm-" - wobblewobblewobble - "I c- can't control-" - wobblewobblewobble - "the damn thing…" - wobblewobblewobble - "Mayday! Mayday! Stella…" - wobbleWOBBLEWOBBLE - "Stella in distress! Stella in distr-"
"Watch out, Stell, you're comin' straight for me!" Regina howled and tried to get off her fitness ball - but it was much too late.
"I'm going dooooooooown!" - WOBBLEWOBBLEWOBBLE - "Ooooooh!" - KER! - "Yeoooow!" - FUM! - "Ooooof!" - BLE! CRASH!
Once the dust had settled, Stella groaned and moved her nose out of Regina's gloriously tanned belly button. Crossing her eyes to see if her beak was still attached, she gave it a little tweak to make it snap back to its original shape.
"Oh, Stell!" Regina growled, trying to push the fitness ball away so she could get fully over onto her back. Doing so, she accidentally bumped her elbow into the desk which sent a full stack of files down on top of them with a rolling phlum! "Oh. Just. Perfect."
"And they say exercise is good for you… pah, what a load of sh…" Stella mumbled as she sat back on her thighs and began to pat down the carpet to find her glasses that had gone flying in the crash landing.
Sighing, Regina took pity on her friend and reached up to her cleavage where Stella's frame was neatly placed across the two tanned globes almost like it had been put there by an unseen hand. "Here ya go, Stell. Caught 'em with my boobs."
"Thanks, Reggie… you're my pal," Stella said and pushed them up her nose. "Wait… you caught them with your b-" she continued once they were in place.
"Oh," Stella said, taking them off again to polish the suddenly steamed-up lenses.
On the DVD, Tiffany Reilly went into a goodbye-speech where she thanked her five athletic companions and the many sponsors who had made it possible to create the DVD, and soon, the end credits began to roll.
"Boy, an hour just flies by when you're having fun, huh…?" Stella mumbled, looking at the sorry state of the office where the hallstand had been knocked over, the items on the coffee table had been distributed all over the carpet, the vase with the dried flowers had fallen down between two of the filing cabinets - and last but not least, the week's worth of paperwork that needed to be sorted again.
Inside Regina's chest, a chuckle was formed that soon bubbled to the surface where it burst out of her with a bang. It was soon joined by many, many more, and before long, she reached up and pulled Stella down next to her to give her a good, old-fashioned crushing hug to have someone to share her laughing fit with.
Wrapping her arms around Regina's inviting torso, Stella soon succumbed to the infectious laughter and began to laugh out loud herself - all the while showering the former model's throat, cheek and lips with a string of little, loving kisses.
THE END of HULLABA-HOOP.
6 - OH, PUCK…
Written by Norsebard
DEEP sniff! - "Ohhh… can you smell that, Reggie?" Stella Starr said as she pulled Regina Harrison to a halt outside an establishment on the Bay City Promenade called Victor's Amusement Arcade.
Sniff, sniff - "Yes. Popcorn," Regina said, swinging their entwined fingers back and forth.
"Mmmm-popcorn," Stella said in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Homer Simpson. "Slurrpy Cherry Cola, too. And you know what? It smells like fun. Plenty of good old fun."
Victor's Amusement Arcade was one of a group of stores located on the promenade at the bay that gave the city its name. During the winter months, hundreds of colorful lights were turned on at eight in the evening, bathing the two-mile long curved path along the waterfront in romantic red, yellow and orange light.
As always, the promenade was awash with couples who were enjoying an evening away from their obligations, so to get some privacy, Stella pulled Regina over to the wall of the arcade where she promptly snuggled up next to her tall friend. "I was thinking that it could be a really great way to end our date if we went in there and got some popcorn and a couple of sodas and maybe tried one or two of the machines and stuff…?"
"Sounds like a plan. My treat. After all, you paid for the cab down here," Regina said and put out her arm.
Grinning from ear to ear, Stella took Regina's trench coat-clad arm and waltzed into the arcade - she only just made it past the entrance before she stopped with a surprised look on her wide-open face.
The interior of the arcade was far larger than she had expected: it was an entertainment palace with rows of slot machines and video games, and they even had several old-fashioned amusements like throwing hoops, dunk the sheriff, the wheel of fortune, and a shooting gallery with soft darts. In the center of the arcade stood a machine that practically cried out for Stella to play with it: air hockey.
"Ooooooo!" the mop-topped investigator said while she adjusted her glasses several times to make sure she was seeing what she thought she was. "Ooooooo-OOOO! OOOOO! Air… hockey!"
"G'wan, Stell… I'll get the popcorn and the sodas," Regina said with a chuckle. After spending so long with Stella, she knew there were times when it was better for all involved if the easily excitable private eye was simply unleashed.
"Thanks, Reggie!" Stella said and flew over to the machine in a flash so no one else would get there ahead of them. When she lined up at the blue side, she noticed a small sign on the part of the rim facing her that said Playing equipment is rented at the change booth. "Oh, biff-boffin', where is that… where is… oh, there it is. Shoot… if I leave before Reggie gets back, someone else is gonna snatch it from us… Oh, Reggie, hurry back to me," she mumbled, crossing her legs like she needed to use the little girls' room.
Fortunately, Regina was soon back with a huge box of popcorn and two paper cups of soda; a regular cherry cola for Stella and a Slurrpy Athlete's Favorite for herself. "Slurrpy has a new taste out… it's diet," Regina said as she put down the two cups on the rim of the playing area.
"Well, I'm sure that a new diet soda is wonnn-derful for some people… uh, we need to get the puck and the whatchamacall'em over at the change booth…" Stella said and pointed at the small booth at the opposite wall of the arcade.
Two minutes later, Stella grabbed a handful of popcorn and stuffed it into her mouth. "Yoummphf readymmphf?"
"You said 'you ready,' right?"
"I was born ready," Regina said and screwed on her game face. Eyeing her opponent's side of the playing field, she gave the puck an easy whack with her mallet to set the game in motion.
Stella barely had time to take a long suck from her straw before the puck came flying towards her, but she maneuvered her mallet over to intercept it and sent it back to Regina. "You gotta be a little bit faster than that, Snookums. I luuuuurve air hockey and I-"
"Goal for red!" an electronic voice said from the machine.
"Whut?" Stella said, looking down at the puck that had slid behind her goal line without her noticing. "Hmmm. Okay. You wanna play rough, eh? I can play rough. Hell yeah, I can play rough. I can play so rough you gonna wish you was never-"
"Goal for red!" the electronic voice said.
"Whut?!" - Stella looked up at Regina who was grinning from ear to ear. "I think there's something wrong with my mallet… okay… okay, I'm with it now."
Concentrating hard, Stella hit the puck with her mallet and watched it fly across the game area. Whack! - barrier - Whack! - barrier - barrier - Whack! - barrier - Whack!
"Goal for red!" the electronic voice said.
Stella looked long and hard at the cheeky puck and sucked equally long and hard on her straw to get over it. Wordlessly, she gazed at Regina who was still wearing the same wide grin.
Whack! - barrier - barrier - Whack! - Whack! - barrier - "Ha!" - Whack! - "Ooooh!" - barrier - "Ehhhh…" - barrier - Whack! - "Ha!" - Whack! - "Ahhh…" - Whack!
"Goal for blue!" the electronic voice said.
"Har-har! Yippie!" Stella shouted and threw her hands in the air while she performed a little victory dance. "Oh-yeah, oh-yeah, oh-yeah, oh-yeah…"
Regina and Stella both reached for the popcorn at the same time and took the opportunity to tickle each other's hand down in the box. Winking at her best friend, Regina took a modest handful and prepared to receive Stella's next shot.
Whack! - barrier - "Uh-huh…" - Whack! - barrier - "Mmmm…!" - Whack! - Whack! - barrier - "Yeah, baby!" - Whack! - barrier - "Oh, crud…" - barrier - Whack! - barrier - "I got it, I got it, I-" Whack!
"Goal for red!" the electronic voice said.
"- didn't get it," Stella said and pulled out the puck. "Right. Okay. Okay… right. I can see I need to get down and dirty here," she continued, rolling her shoulders.
"Uh-huh?" Regina said, once again taking a handful of popcorn.
Stella nodded and got ready to whack the puck. "Yep. All right. Here goes."
Whack! - Whack! - Whack!
"Goal for blue!" the electronic voice said.
"Aw yeah, I'm on a roll! Three whacks and it's in!"
Regina chuckled and got ready to receive the next shot from her agitated friend. "That's funny," she said and cocked her head to make her perfect hair fall down her shoulder in a perfect cascade. She deliberately held back the rest of the sentence until Stella had lined up for her next shot. "That's what Steve always said," she said at the exact same moment Stella hit the puck with her mallet.
The former model had hoped the use of shock tactics would give her an advantage in the play, but what she didn't count on was Stella's reaction.
Over the course of a split second, Stella popped her eyes wide open, then slammed them shut and went into a full-body tremor that started at the soles of her sneakers and ended at the tips of her dirty-blonde mop of hair. While the tremor traveled up her body, it caused her right arm to spasm which sent the mallet on a collision course with the puck. In turn, it gave the puck such a violent knock that it flew off the playing field altogether and sailed through the air.
By the time the tremor had reached Stella's vocal cords and sent a heartfelt, horrified "Oh, GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAG!" through her parted, twisted lips, the hockey puck had flown a good twelve feet - right into the paper cup of a six-foot-and-change man in biker boots, blue jeans and a leather vest that didn't do a good job of covering his bare, hairless torso.
The man, whose trunk-like, heavily tattooed arm was wrapped around a bubblegum-chewing twenty-something doll in a tight dress, was given a thorough soda-shower that left him dripping wet from head to toe. Letting out a surprised grunt, the biker slowly wiped his face and eyes free of the sticky stuff as he turned around to find somebody to get even with.
"Oh… puck…!" Stella croaked, looking at the hulking man. "Reggie…!"
"Act natural," Regina whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
"What good is that gonna do?" Stella whispered back in the same manner. "He can see it was the hockey puck… oh shoot, he's looking at me… he's looking at me!"
Stella's eyes rolled around in her head like they weren't attached to anything. At the last moment, a random thought entered her mind and she stepped toward the biker with her arms ahead of her. "Wow, was that rude or what? Did you see that? A cheeky little fella came in and gave me a bump and stole my hockey puck and threw it into your soda! Good thing your tats are waterproof, huh?" she said strongly, patting down her pockets to find a napkin or a handkerchief.
"A cheeky little fella?" the biker rumbled.
"Y- yeah… young fella… late teens or something… curly hair or something… loud t-shirt or something… he tore out the door once he had, you know, splashed you."
"I'm gonna grind 'im into sawdust," the biker said and stomped over to the entrance to look for the mystery teen on the promenade.
"Stell… I think we should leave… now… now!" Regina whispered and grabbed the popcorn and their paper cups. She quickly - but not too quickly - went around the edge of the air hockey table and took hold of Stella's elbow.
"But I wanted to throw a couple of hoops next!"
"Stella! He's gonna throw us through the hoop if he finds out who really drenched him!"
"Uh-oh… he's coming back," Stella whispered and squinted out of the corner of her eye. "Yep, he's looking this way… I think we should hustle, Reggie."
Acting as coolly as she could - which wasn't very cool at all - Stella took her cherry cola and took a couple of dramatic sucks from the straw to calm her nerves. "Any luck?" she said casually as she and Regina walked past the biker on their way to freedom.
"No… you leavin'?" the large man said in a rumbling voice.
"Uh… yeah," Stella squeaked, stopping right in the middle of a step.
"If you see 'im, tell 'im he better not show his ugly face in here. Okay?"
"Will do, Sir. Wow, the kids these days, huh? Come along, Regina, we can't be late…"
"For our funeral," Regina mumbled under her breath. Hooking her arm inside Stella's, she nodded a brief farewell to the biker and his bubblegum-chewing girlfriend before hastily vacating the premises.
Hustling up the promenade to get to the cabs, Stella took a final suck from her straw and stuffed her face with a handful of popcorn. "So…" she said after gulping it all down, "uh… okay. You know, there's a valuable lesson in there… never mention Mr. Chiseled Jaw while I'm playing air hockey…"
"Lesson learned, Stell," Regina said, peeking over her shoulder, "lesson learned…"
THE END of OH, PUCK…
7 - REGGIE-POM-POM!
Written by Norsebard
A merciless battle of wits and strength had broken out in the office of the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency. Several exhausting rounds had been fought already, and the two prizefighters had found themselves to be evenly matched when it came to the determination, skills and winning instinct needed to come out on top. That they each possessed more inveterate stubbornness than an entire herd of crabby mules was only icing on the cake when it came to the entertainment value of the match.
In the greenish-brown corner, the tireless Paper Monster had so far put up a formidable defense that had seen it use its pointy, sharp tail to lash out at its opponent time and time again - but as the match had dragged on past the first dozen rounds, it had found itself on the proverbial ropes despite trying every suggestion in its little, black book of foul tricks to remain an active participant in the fight.
In the dirty-blonde corner, the fearless Stella Starr and her trusty ball point pen had fought back valiantly despite multiple smarting paper cuts and a mouth - and tummy - that had almost gone numb from chugging down the extra-extra-strong coffee that her supportive cheerleader Regina Harrison had made by the bucketload.
At present, the shaggy-topped pugilist wore Band-Aids on six of her fingers, another across her left nostril and a further one above her right eye. That and her dark expression of dogged determination made her look like a rough'n'ready bruiser from a filthy back alley rather than a private investigator.
As the gong sounded to end yet another round, the combatants withdrew to their corners. Stella downed another half-mug of pitch-black hi-octane rocket fuel in a single gulp, and since she needed no mouthpiece protecting her teeth for her fight against the Paper Monster, she had plenty of opportunity to wolf down most of a raspberry-frosted donut sponsored and delivered by Zeligman's Bakery as well - Zeligman's, Est. 1928: When Only The Very Best Will Do. Proud suppliers to the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency.
The laptop's screensaver kicked in to show an animated number-girl holding a sign while wiggling her hips to a pumping beat. Stella had insisted that Regina found one that used the image of a fully dressed woman rather than a traditional, scantily-clad bikini babe, but that had proven difficult to find. Though Regina had offered to use a bikini-image of herself so it would all stay in the family, so to speak, they had finally agreed on one that used a cartoon
While all that was going on, Stella's number-one, real-life cheerleader Regina waved a towel in the fatigued fighter's flushed, sweaty face. "C'mon, Stell!" - Wave, flappy-flappy-flappety, wave - "I know you can do it!" - Wave, flappy-flappy-flappety, wave - "Only three more files to go!" - Wave, flappy-flappy-flappety, wave - "C'mon, Stell!" - Wave, flappy-flappy-flappety, wave - "Show that nasty critter how Stella Starr kicks hiney!" - Wave!
"I'm… trying… Reggie… it's… tough… so… so… tough…" Stella croaked around panting, sweating and pouring down another ten-gallon drum of rocket fuel. As she put down the empty mug in the only free spot on the desk, her smarting fingers were trembling from the amount of caffeine that she had taken onboard over the past few hours. Strong fatigue rolled over her now she was inactive, and all she could do was to stare straight ahead without actually seeing anything.
Recognizing all the signs of a looming burn-out before the vital third - and final - stage of the moon rocket could be ignited, Regina swept the towel over her shoulder and moved to stand behind her sweetheart's four-legged office chair. She soon settled in and let her slender, well-manicured fingers perform a deep massage of the taut muscles in her sweetheart's neck.
Stella's eyes popped wide open at the intimate touch, and she was utterly unable to stop an orgasmic moan from escaping her throat. "Ugh… ugh… Gaaaaaawd… ohhhhhhh… no… not now, Reggie… we… need… to… wait… hold-it… stop… I… can't… lose… focus… now!"
"Ooops! So sorry," Regina said with a grin as she stepped back.
Before Stella could fully catch her breath, the gong sounded on the laptop's screensaver - and then she was thrust back into the ring fighting the dreaded Paper Monster.
Regina could see at once by Stella's uncoordinated gestures that instead of providing the much-needed boost she had hoped to provide, the massage had left the dirty-blond champion floundering. The end of the match may have been in sight, but there was still time for Stella to lose it all if they were not careful.
Something drastic needed to be done, so Regina left the corner of the desk behind to hustle into the storage room at the back of the office. The familiar sound effect of whip-whip-zippety-zippety-whippety-whip-zip was soon heard as she used her many years of experience getting dressed in a hurry at runway shows to don one of their disguises. She could not recall they had ever used that particular one, but it had been on special discount in the catalogue of Spyglass Spywear - one of their regular suppliers of disguises, surveillance equipment and other indispensable things for any serious Private Eye - so Stella had bought it just in case such a job ever came their way.
Hurrying back into the office, Regina raised a pair of spring-green pom-poms and waved them in the air. The rest of the disguise consisted of white boots that reached halfway up her calves, a pleated short-short-short skirt held in green-and-white, and an emerald-green sweater that had the swooping logo of the Bay City Four-Leaf Clovers pro-shuffleboard team on the front and rear. She jumped into position and let out a resounding: "Gimme an S! S! Gimme a T! T! Gimme an E! E! Gimme a double-L-A! L-L-A! Wots-that-spell? Stella!" she cried, jumping up and down while shaking the green pom-poms and wiggling her rear end.
"Hoooooooo-ly squid!" Stella croaked as she stared wide-eyed at Regina's disguise and in particular at the four miles of bare skin on display above the boots, below the skirt and all along her endless legs. Even as Stella was watching with wide, staring eyes, Regina attempted to do a high kick like a real cheerleader would, but - for once - it was not as perfect as it could have been though it was certainly not for a lack of trying.
When fighting Paper Monsters, it has always been unwise to take one's eyes off the opponent for any length of time - even for a good cause like gawking at the cheerleaders - and Stella discovered that much to her detriment when an evil paper clamp snuck up on her, lashed out, and gave her a nasty blood-blister. To add insult to injury, it afflicted a finger that had not yet been nicked.
"Owwwwch! Why I oughtta!" she groaned through clenched teeth while she waved her abused finger around. Even more determined than before, she thrust back into the battle with her ball point pen pointed straight ahead to act as a fearsome lance. Then she put it to good use by doodling her signature on yet another file to officially close that particular case.
"Oooooh-sweet, Stella! Two more! Two more! Two more! G'wan, you can do it!" Regina cried, going through all kinds of shimmies, shakes, weaves and attempted high-kicks as she waved, fluffed, shook and threw her impressive spring-green pom-poms.
"I'm givin' it all I got, Reggie!" Stella croaked as she delivered a few body blows to the Paper Monster and all its evil minions by flipping open the cover of the next case file. "But- but- but- this blip-bloppin' critter is one helluva tough opponent, I'm tellin' ya!"
Plenty of dust was kicked up as the battle raged back and forth. The fearless investigator ducked, weaved and doodled; similarly, the Paper Monster came off the ropes fighting, then fell back with a whimper to lure Stella into a trap. As Stella's treacherous opponent came out yet again, it tried a sneaky new approach by sending a stack of files onto the floor - fortunately for Stella's blood pressure, the paperwork had already been processed and was ready to be put back into the filing cabinets.
"Gimme an S! S!" - Shake, shimmy, dip-down-low, hop-up-high, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Gimme a T! T!" - Shimmy, shake, dip-down-low, hop-up-high, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Yip-yip-yee!" - Shake, shimmy, hop-up-high, dip-down-low, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Gimme an E! E!" - Shimmy, shake, hop-up-high, dip-down-low, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Ooooh-ooooh-eeeeh!" - Shake, shimmy, dip-down-low, hop-up-high, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Shim-shimme-nee!" - Shimmy, shake, dip-down-low, hop-up-high, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Gimme a double-L-A!" - Shake, shimmy, hop-up-high, dip-down-low, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "L-L-A!" - Shimmy, shake, hop-up-high, dip-down-low, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Wots-that-spell?" - Shake, shimmy, dip-down-low, hop-up-high, wiggly-wiggly-fly - "Stell-ll-lla!" Regina cried before she momentarily took off her pom-poms so she could have her hands free - then she bent over to scoop up the errant files.
Stella glanced at her cheerleader at just the wrong moment. Bending over in a short-short-short skirt was bound to highlight certain aspects of the bend-ee, and though the globular sights only distracted the dirty-blond prizefighter for a second or two, it was enough for one of the Paper Monster's pointy tail to lash out and provide the pre-occupied opponent with a paper cut on the right-hand pinkie.
"Owch! Oh-fer-Flipper's-sake! Mah pinkie!" Stella croaked as she jumped in her chair. "Ohhhhhhhhh-now-yer-reallllly-gonna-get-it! I'm gonna- gonna- gonna- murder that no-good, down-low, dirty- take this! Ha! And this! Double-Ha!" she cried as she flew through the case file to give it the final check-up and add her signature to the final page.
"Go-go Stella-dahling! Gimme an S!" Regina continued after placing the stack of errant paperwork on her own desk for safekeeping.
By the time the last case file had been opened and was nearing completion, the Paper Monster in the greenish-brown corner seemed to come to terms with its impending defeat. Although it kept up a mighty defense until the end by causing its formidable opponent to become greatly confused - it had inserted several pieces of paper into the folder that belonged to a different case file altogether - its resolve weakened until it had to surrender with a sulking pout. Then it withdrew to its corner to wait for a new opportunity to strike another time.
"And… and… and… I'm done! Ohhhhhhhhh, I'm done…" Stella croaked after throwing down the ball point pen following the final doodled signature. Falling against the backrest of her four-legged chair, she whipped off her glasses to give her flushed face a thorough rubbing.
In an instant, her number-one cheerleader waved the towel in her face to make it all better. "Oh, I'm so proud of you, Stella-dahling!" - Wave, wave, flappy-flappy-flappety, wave - "That was one of your best fights ever!" - Wave, wave, flappy-flappy-flappety, wave, wave! - "May I offer you a word of advice?" - Wave!
"Aw… yeah… but only if it's a positive one, Reggie," Stella said as she tried to regain her breath and composure after the ferocious match. Her hands were still trembling as the rocket fuel blasted around her bloodstream, and she had the oddest sensation in her tummy - it seemed a grizzly bear had just rolled over onto its side to check its calendar to see whether or not it was time to get up.
"Perhaps you should do the paperwork on a regular basis instead of letting it pile up like this?"
"That wasn't a positive one, Reggie," Stella said and shot Regina a dark gaze. "You know how fast-paced and hectic our line of work is. I mean, when a case comes our way, we need to act, and act pronto. That means 'now' in Eye-talian-"
"Ya don't say…"
"-and there just isn't any time for paperwork, ding-dong-darn'it!"
Regina kept up waving the towel for a few moments further until the flush had all but disappeared from Stella's face. "Mmmm-true… but then we have days like yesterday where nothing at all happened from when we got here until we went home again. Couldn't you perhaps have gone through, oh, just a couple of-"
"No I couldn't, Reggie!" Stella said and pinned her sweetheart to the spot. As she did so, the grizzly bear in her tummy revealed its bad mood by letting out a guttural growl - it had clearly discovered it had been stirred from its hibernation ahead of time. "You know full well I had to be over at Billy's the whole day… he had made a prioritized list of things to do to my Old Girl, and we needed to discuss the details!"
"You say the whole day… it was an hour and a half. Two hours tops."
Reeling at the dastardly backstabbing from her supposed number-one cheerleader, Stella needed to grab hold of the armrests to stop herself from sliding off the seat. "Oy! Are you keeping a stopwatch on me, Reggie?! I don't belieeeeeeeeve it! I'm bein' scrutinized here like a… a… booger under a microscope!"
"Oh Gawd, Stell-" Regina croaked, squirming all over from the imagery.
"I had no time for paperwork yesterday 'cos the Pacer was more important. So there!"
A few seconds went by with nothing but chirping crickets and panting, trembling prizefighters. Then Regina fluffed the towel and put it over her shoulder. "Yes, dahling," she said as she leaned down to place a small peck on Stella's lips.
"Right! And with that out of the way," Stella said as she scooped up a pile of the case files that she had worked hard on all morning. Once they had been tapped into an orderly stack, she got up from the four-legged chair and put them under her arm, "I gotta file these and then it's time for another donut and some coffee."
On her way over to the filing cabinets, she came to a halt and pressed a hand against her tummy that let out a hideous gurgle at the exact same time. The disturbed grizzly bear performed one of those classic grizzly-feats by standing up on its hind legs and roaring Now I'm Gonna Tear Ya To Shreds With My Eye Teeth For Waking Me Up Early, Ya Miserable So-and-So!
"On second thoughts," she croaked once the bear had put all four legs back on the ground, "ugh… ughhh… I think the rocket fuel's about to come back to bite me… I better have a Slurrpy Classic Cola instead. Always soothes my sensitive tummy when I've had a pepperoni too many."
"A pepperoni pizza too many," Regina mumbled out of the corner of her mouth. Picking up her spring-green pom-poms, she shook them hard to make it appear they had made the noise instead of her.
"Yeah, right…" Stella growled. She was about to let rip with a quality selection of hand-picked, gold-plated barbs when her sensitive tummy knocked on the proverbial door and told her the grizzly bear was getting mighty peeved and threatened to bust down the walls of its cavern unless something was done about its poor living conditions - and in an almighty hurry.
"Be right back!" she groaned before she hurried over to the bathroom door. The files under her arm clearly hindered her, but the snag was solved by dumping the entire stack on Regina's desk first. "And this is your problem to deal with!"
"Yes, Ma'am! Yippity-yippity-yee!" Regina cried, jumping into another high kick before she shook her fluffy pom-poms to within an inch of their lives.
THE END of REGGIE-POM-POM!
8 APRIL & MAY
Written by Norsebard
The words Joe Dancer's Bodega were written in neon above the main entrance to the establishment in question. Unfortunately, the use of the word 'bodega' twisted the facts as Joe's was a fourth-rate dive located smack-bang in the middle of downtown and looking every bit of it. Neither those minor details nor the showers that had plagued Bay City for most of the day had prevented any of the regulars from showing up, and the place was hopping even a quarter past ten in the evening.
Everything inside had seen better years: the carpet had beer stains that had first seen the light of day during the Carter administration, and it was possible to scrape the nicotine off the walls with a spatula in case anyone would want to partake in such a gut-churning pastime. The four drunken fellows who tried to throw darts certainly didn't give a damn about the brown walls as they all added their own cigarette smoke to the proceedings.
The chairs and tables inside Joe's were all different which added yet another layer of decrepitude to the whole thing. As the furniture had been destroyed in the bar's frequent brawls, the owner had simply appropriated new - or rather, second-hand - stock wherever he could find it.
Two women sat at one of those tables. Presenting an odd couple to the various barflies, they appeared to be a dumpster queen and a librarian - the latter had her long, dark hair up in a bun that she had even poked a pencil through. The two women sipped from a pair of easy drinks while keeping an unusually keen eye on the people who entered the establishment.
Putting down her rum-and-Slurrpy Classic Cola, the senior investigator Stella Starr - who wore a pair of cherry-red spectacles, a dark wig, a dark-gray shawl, brown corduroy pants and a pair of mismatched tennis shoes - peeked at a photo that she kept under the table. The woman in the photo had yet to appear in Joe's Bodega, but their info was rock-solid so it could only be a matter of time before she would arrive.
Their target worked the downtown bars to establish connections between the owners and her boss, a fence whose main source of income came from hawking hot property - and 'hot' was to be taken literally as the hardware in question were ovens, toasters and even industrial stoves.
Unusually for the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency, they hadn't been hired by an individual but were working directly for the Organized Crime Division of the Bay City Police Department. Given Stella and Regina's success rate when it came to odd-duck cases, chances were they would be able to get their hands on the woman and thus open a back door to the underworld.
The other half of the investigative duo, Regina Harrison - whose librarian disguise consisted of sensible shoes, skin-colored Nylons, a tight skirt, a gray blouse and a nut-brown frame of plain-glass spectacles in addition to the hair-bun and the pencil - let out a sigh as she took her tumbler of easy gin-tonic. It was more tonic than gin, and it wasn't even proper tonic water, but she'd had the choice between that or something far worse. "This is a waste of time, Stell," she mumbled out of the corner of her mouth.
Not that anyone would have heard her even if she had used a megaphone. The four drunken darts players did their best to out-roar each other when they missed yet another shot, and the rest of the barflies all yapped merrily about every topic under the sun. Often, glasses were clinked followed by shouts of Cheers! and even the occasional drinking chant.
Clouds of suffocating cigarette smoke continued to billow around in the rundown bar room, but at least the familiar - if unpleasant - smell covered the even-less-saintly scents that came from the stale beer, the fresh sweat and the bargain-basement perfumes worn by many of the patrons.
"Have a little faith, Reggie… have a little faith," Stella whispered back as she whipped her eyes over to the door. It opened to reveal a woman who wasn't the one in the picture. Grunting, Stella slipped the photo up under her shawl and into the breast pocket of her shirt. "My gut's telling me she'll be here. Don't worry."
"Who's worrying? I'm just bored," Regina said and let out a deep, long sigh. "And Stell…"
"What your gut's telling you is that the extra-spicy jalapeños dog you had on the way over here was too much of a good thing."
Snickering, Stella adjusted her outrageous glasses and shot her partner a long glance. "You might be right about that, ack-chew-ly… ohhh-boy, that was a blip-bloppin' great dog! Did I ever tell you how much I love hot dogs?"
"You may have… once or twice… or fifty thousand times," Regina said and took a short swig from the gin-tonic.
Before Stella could wind up her barb-gun so it was ready to deliver a full load, the door opened once more to reveal yet another woman. The latest barfly to enter the bodega wasn't the right one either, so Stella reached for the tumbler of run-and-Slurrpy Cola to wet her whistle instead.
An hour went by with no activity except for plenty of cigarette smoke, drunken chatter and grossly exaggerated laughter. Regina had almost fallen asleep during the lengthy and painfully dull stakeout, and to avoid drifting off to the land of Nod, she had played a hectic platform game on her telephone for thirty-five minutes straight. Stella had little patience for such newfangled foolishness - she kept wishing she had brought her Rubik's Cube.
Their initial drinks had long since vanished. The bar keep had insisted they bought something else if they wanted to take up space in his supposedly high-class bodega, so Stella had splashed out on a bag of roasted peanuts, a can of Slurrpy Pineapple Perfection for herself and a Club Soda Lemon Twist for Regina. The bartender had needed instructions on how to make Regina's drink which underscored the fact that Joe's Bodega was a dive.
Then things went from bad to worse for the intrepid investigators. Seeing two women without male companionship proved to be too great a temptation for a pair of lounge lizards, and the two men of dubious intentions were soon on their way over to the table occupied by Stella and Regina. The men were in their mid-thirties and the proud owners of foppish hair, neat goatees, pencil-thin mustaches and sly-fox expressions playing on their lips.
They wore outfits that had been color-coded to appear as classy as possible: both were dressed in strongly-colored leisure suits and ties that were accompanied by black shirts. The first wore a somewhat subdued Navy-blue, but the other had donned a fire-engine-red suit that made him stand out in any crowd.
"Hello, ladies," the first of the two men said in a buttery voice. Smiling, he put a hand on the backrest of the vacant chair opposite of where Stella and Regina sat. "You've been alone for far too long. Let's join you."
As the men sat down to begin the ancient game, Stella could only stare wide-eyed at the over-dressed fellows - in fact, she stared and stared and stared at the two men. "You're twins…" she said as she stared a little more at the fops.
"Ah, that's a very astute observation, Miss," the man in the Navy-blue suit said. He had sat down opposite Stella and took the opportunity to send her a lop-sided, roguish grin that was sure to make the knees knock and the temperature to rise for eight out of ten prospects. "I'm Sherman Custer. And this is my brother Herman. Herman, say hi to our esteemed guests."
"Hello, ladies," Herman Custer - the man in red - said in a voice that was identical to that of his identical brother. Similarly, he sent Regina the same lop-sided, roguish smile that had always served the Custers so well. "I'm sure such pretty ladies have pretty names. Should we guess, or are you going to tell us?"
"April," Stella growled.
"May," Regina added.
"Oh, my! April and May!" Herman and Sherman said as one before Sherman continued on his own: "Isn't that just the classiest, cutest thing ever! Let's buy you wonderful ladies some real drinks. How about we start with some champagne? After that, we can see where the enchanted evening might lead us."
Regina grunted and leaned forward. She cast a sideways glance at Stella who didn't seem to know how to shoot down Sherman and Herman without hurting their feelings - not that the fiery investigator had ever really taken something like that into consideration.
"Guys, listen," Regina said quietly so they wouldn't draw too much attention to themselves and potentially blow their cover, "I hate to break it to you, but we're not interested. Okay?"
"Awwww," Sherman said and briefly looked at his brother before he turned back to Stella though she had yet to join the conversation. "But you haven't even gotten to know us yet! All right, let's forget the champagne. How about Herman and I bought you a couple of Irish Coffees instead? That's a proper drink for old pals and those who wish to get to that stage."
While the fop spoke, Stella used her fingertips to tap the funeral dirge on the tabletop. "Buster and the other Buster… or Custer… or whatever. Lissen here and lissen good!" she finally said in an insistent, but surprisingly restrained voice. "You're barking up the wrong couple-a trees, ya get me? You're not even in the park! Regg… uh… May and me here are working."
"Oh," Herman said, instantly leaning back and assuming an expression that proved he had fully misunderstood April/Stella's words.
It only took April/Stella nought-point-two seconds to figure out where the conversation had gone off the rails. "Not. Like. That," she growled while she sent plenty of death-glares at the twins.
"Ohhhhh," Herman said, once again assuming the well-rehearsed role of the suave lounge lizard. "That's a load off my mind. For a moment there, I thought that… never mind. Sherman, the Irish Coffee?"
"I'll get a tray," Sherman said and got up from the table despite identical annoyed outbursts from April/Stella and May/Regina.
Sitting by himself, Herman crossed his legs in a gentlemanly fashion and took out a silver cigarette case. He lit up at once - a King-Size Filter - before he offered the investigators his lighter. "Would you care for a cigarette? No? You're missing out on a great experience. They're imported from Rhode Island," he continued as he sent out a cloud of pale-gray smoke.
Stella and Regina shared a long, dark look. There were times were the investigatorial business was like trekking through the sewers of Bay City: they would inevitably end up facing tunnel rats while wading through piles of-
"Ah! Here we go!" Sherman said as he put down the tray on the table. It took him no time to distribute the four mugs that had been prepared with plenty of strong coffee, brown sugar, Irish Whisky, long-necked spoons and fair-sized globs of whipped cream.
Stella's jaw worked overtime at the sight, not to mention the speed with which the hot beverages had been made. It had taken the lazy bum of a bar keep an eternity to mix a simple Club Soda Lemon Twist, but it seemed the lizards had a direct line to the fellow behind the counter - or perhaps they just lined his pockets in advance. She took several deep breaths before she could finally speak: "It's not in my nature to be rude-"
Regina let out a cross between a grunt, a groan and a muted snicker. It earned her yet another death glare that she responded to with a two-hundred watt smile.
"-but I'm gonna have to let you fellas down easy," Stella continued. "You can attempt to butter our bread 'til the cows come home, but there ain't no way… and I mean no frick-frackin' way… you'll get anything out of it but an empty wallet and a stain on your reputation. Or your blip-bloppin' suits there, for that matter."
While Stella spoke, the door to the bodega opened to reveal the woman they were there for: the liaison between the fence and the owners of the various bars. The woman wore a neutral baseball cap and dark clothing to be able blend in everywhere, and she carried a plastic bag in her left hand and a smartphone in her right. She cast a quick glance around the establishment without appearing to do so. When everything seemed normal - i.e. noisy and rowdy - she strolled up to the counter and waited for the bartender to come to her.
Stella groaned long and hard under her breath. She offered Sherman and Herman a dark look before she turned to Regina to try to make eye-contact. The other investigator had noticed the woman as well and sent a casual nod back as if to say time for stage two of our plan.
Nodding back, Stella immediately got up from the chair and moved away from the table. Before she could get too far, Sherman reached out and put a firm hand on her arm.
"I must admit I do like it when ladies play hard to get," the lizard said in his trademark buttery voice. "It's always a challenge. We love challenges, my brother and I," he continued; the sly smile on Herman's features seemed to suggest he agreed with him.
Stella kept an eye on the fence's female associate while trying to compose an answer that wouldn't draw any attention to the strange-looking quartet. She went through a list of several worthy options before she arrived at the one that always worked: "Custer-Buster… unless you really wanna experience life as a floor mop, I suggest you get your hand off me Enn Ohh Dubya. If you want me to paint you a colorful picture, just say the blip-bloppin' word and I'll create rrrrrreally spiffy body art!"
For once, Sherman Custer lost some of his composure, and he pulled his hand back like it had been burned. His eyes darted from his brother to May/Regina to April/Stella to May/Regina and back to his brother before he cleared his throat and reached for the mug of Irish Coffee instead.
Regina broke out in a wide smirk as she watched Stella moved up to the counter. Since the Irish Coffee was there, and not to mention free, she reached for the mug that Sherman had put on the table at her spot. "Hmmm," she said as she gave it the tiniest of stirs using the long-necked spoon. "There's too much whipped cream for my tastes. Hope you don't mind switching the drinks, Herman… thanks," she continued as she swapped the mug with the one Sherman had put in front of his brother.
Given the fact that neither of the twins reacted to the trade, she assumed the mugs hadn't been laced with something nasty. Her many years of dealing with the type of suit-wearing, land-based piranhas that inhabited the modeling world had taught her plenty, including always to be alert when a stranger offered her a free beverage in such an environment.
While that was going on, Stella strolled over to the bar counter and shuffled up onto one of the impossibly tall stools. That she happened to sit next to the woman with the plastic bag and the smartphone was a complete coincidence - or not. A brief, sideways glance at the telephone didn't help her much. Although it did display a photo of some kind of kitchen appliance, the image was just at the wrong angle for her to make out any details. The plastic bag seemed to contain a square object, but the bag wasn't sheer enough to offer any clues.
A bowl of pretzels and mixed nuts called out to her, so she scooped up a handful and began to chew on the snacks while she pretended to be waiting for the bartender to finish up at the other end of the counter. While she was still chewing, Sherman Custer slid up next to her and offered her a broad, cocksure smile. She replied to the smile with a grunt and a Class Seven death-glare, but even that didn't affect the lizard.
"I apologize for my behavior before, April. I forgot my manners. It won't happen again," he said in a voice that had gained another three inches of butter - but not a grain more of sincerity - since the last time they had spoken. "Can you forgive me? Please say yes, or you'll break my heart."
"I'm really a sensitive, modern man," Sherman said as he clutched his hands to his heart. "The emotional well-being of a true lady such as yourself is paramount to me."
"We got off to a bad start. Let's try again. Better yet, please let me make it up to you. I have so much to offer a lady such as yourself. All you have to do is to accept my sincere apology. To give me a new chance to show that I'm really-"
"Hey, creep!" the woman next to Stella suddenly said. The target of Stella and Regina's surveillance jumped off her own bar stool to get up close and personal with the visibly rattled lizard. "Why dontcha shut your stinking trap, man? Cantcha see the dame here don't want nothin' to do with ya, ya slimy piece of shit? Back the hell off or…" the woman continued while she poked an aggressive index finger into Sherman's expensive, Navy-blue suit.
Crunching loudly on the pretzels and the nuts while the situation unfolded behind her, Stella mouthed a long and highly inventive blue streak that contained several of her favorite '…ucker' words. Though she wore a wig and the crazy, cherry-red spectacles, she tried to keep her face away from the target so the woman wouldn't be able to recognize her later on in case they needed to continue the surveillance elsewhere. It was all to no avail when the hard-of-thinking Sherman Custer decided to give as good as he got.
"No, you listen to me, you boozehead!" Sherman said and jumped off the bar stool. Stella could only groan and shake her head as the lounge lizard continued: "Butt out of our conversation! Miss April and I are speaking like adults and we certainly don't need any interference from… from… from cheap trash like you!"
A split second later, the woman working for the fence went off like a factory producing Fourth of July firecrackers. With Stella caught in the middle, she took a wild swing at the foppish fellow whose equally foppish twin brother jumped up from his chair to join the fray while yelling something unintelligible.
"Ohhhhhhhh!" Stella howled as all hell suddenly broke loose all around her. It seemed the patrons had been waiting for the daily brawl, because the entire bodega turned into a free-for-all in no time flat. "Stella in distress! Stella in distress! Regg-gg-gg-ie! Helllp!" she cried before she had to duck another wild swing that was headed directly for the side of her face. She had no idea who threw the punch - or why she of all people had become the primary target all of a sudden - but the result was that her wig and cherry-red spectacles were knocked clean off her head.
The two items sailed through the air before the wig ended up splashing into the bowl of dishwater the bartender had behind the counter. The cherry-red plastic frame was lighter so it continued for another three feet before it bumped into a bottle of vodka; after the hard stop, it broke into three pieces that all fell onto the filthy floor. The bottle of strong liquor teetered on the edge of its shelf for several long moments while pandemonium reigned around it. It had nothing better to do, so it decided to join the spectacles on the floor to create a little vodka-cherry magic.
As the bottle ended its life in a crash-landing, the various battles inside Joe Dancer's Bodega only intensified. With all the insane brawling going on around her, Stella was reluctant to move from her relatively safe spot at the counter: all she could do was to clutch her head to protect her contact lenses and her shaggy mop of hair.
A few moments of frantic activity later, Regina ducked and weaved through all sorts of hurled furniture and swinging fists to get to her main squeeze. "Stell! I'm here!" she said as she had her eyes out on stalks to avoid any splashes, punches, kicks or worse.
"Aw, thank the Great Pizza Chef In The Sky, Reggie!" Stella said as she slipped off her bar stool. She needed to wait for a gap in the brawling before she could move from the counter. A groan escaped her when a quick glance at the madness around them proved that the target of their surveillance was long gone. "Thanks, Snookums… you're my friend. My best friend. Shoot, my only friend in a blip-bloppin' eeeeeevil world that only exists to-"
"Later, Stell! We gotta hustle before this gets out of hand!"
"Hoooooly squid-in-sunflower-oil, Reggie! Before it gets outta hand?! Tell me, whaddaya call all this, then? A friendly disagreement?" Stella cried as she had to duck a bottle of liquor that performed a perfect parabolic flight from one end of the bodega to the other. It hit a support beam with a resounding Ka-rrrrunch! that sent an amber liquid all over the wall, the floor and a couple of patrons sitting there.
"Get to the door, Stell! The door!" Regina cried as she pointed at the glass door that had miraculously survived in one piece.
"I'm gettin'! I'm gettin'! I'm gone!" Stella cried back before she set off for the exit. Just as she reached for the door handle, her expression changed from one of relief and hope to one of shock and surprise - all within a second.
Coming to a screeching halt that made Regina wham-bam-slam into her from behind, she only had time to let out a "Ohhhhhhhhhhh shiiiiii-!" before the glass door was smashed by a door-buster wielded by a seemingly seven-feet-tall and three-feet-wide Bay City police officer dressed in full riot gear.
"Take cover, Stell!" Regina cried. A faint Zippppp! sound was heard as the two investigators dove behind the nearest table. A bump, a groan and finally an "Oooooh! That's gonna leave a bruuuuuuise," came from the graceful model as she gave her knee a furious rubbing. The important joint had headbutted - or knee-butted, to be exact - the round table's central support, and the impact had been strong enough to tear the nylon stocking.
Up at the smashed door, the black-clad trooper and a dozen of his colleagues swarmed into Joe Dancer's Bodega and fanned out into a crescent like they had been taught. They all wore sturdy uniforms that consisted of reinforced boots, triple-layer protective clothing and vests that were stabproof, fireproof and bulletproof. In addition to those important items, they all wore gloves, masks, goggles and small two-way radios plugged into their ears so they could remain in contact with their team leader and the officer in charge.
Everyone had their nightsticks and riot shields at the ready as they rushed into the establishment - the shields were used to herd the brawlers into the center of the floor where they could be rounded up more easily. To document everything that went on during the charge, every officer wore a video camera attached to the right-hand shoulder of the Kevlar vest.
The will to carry on fighting soon left the brawlers, and the bar-room bust-up came to an end as suddenly as it had started. Down on the floor, Stella let out a sigh of relief as she clambered to her feet.
After experiencing the positive sensation for a moment or two, it dawned on her that they had failed their simple task. All they'd had to do was to keep an eye on the fence's associate and report any suspicious activity to their contact at the Bay City Police Department - but what they had accomplished was to lose sight of the target person altogether while getting caught up in someone else's mess.
Soon, Stella's mood plummeted into her mismatched tennis shoes. She rubbed her brow and let out a long sigh. "Oh, isn't this purr-fect. Just purrrr-fect. We had one job… and we blew it. Crud. Reggie, can you tell me why we allllllways get mixed up in these kinds of wacky situations? Huh?"
"Frankly, no," Regina said as she got back on her feet. A thorough inspection of the skin on her knee proved she had managed to steer clear of any collateral damage like ugly bruises. "At least we can scratch bodega brawl off our bucket lists…"
"Uh… yeah," Stella said and let out a tired snicker. Her contact lenses had remained where they were supposed to be, so she had no problems surveying the damage to the bar. The only table that hadn't been crushed to kindlewood was the one they had been hiding under - so far so good. There were nasty scrapes, bloody noses and black eyes everywhere, but it didn't appear like anyone had been bumped off during the wild, uninhibited brawl. "Huh… volatile buncha people," she mumbled before she wiped her nose on the back of her hand. It left a glistening trail that was soon transferred to the dark-gray shawl.
A few members of the riot police noticed the two investigators and began to move toward them in a threatening fashion, but after receiving a transmission into their ear-pieces, they returned to the real brawlers to keep them in check instead.
Sighing, Stella reached under her shawl to find her smartphone. The proper number was soon found in the registry, but she hadn't expected to hear a nearby ring tone responding to the call - in fact, it sounded like it came from out on the sidewalk. She turned around at once to see for herself. "Wa-hey! Lookie there!" she cried while she performed a frantic wave at the well-dressed figure out on the street. "C'mon, Reggie! You can admire yourself later!"
"I beg your pard-" Regina started to say, but Stella was already out of the door. Rolling her eyes, she finished checking her abused knee for a second time before she followed the fiery investigator out onto the street at a slightly more sedate pace. "Hi, Mary-Jane!" she said once she had clapped eyes on their old friend Mary-Jane Moynes.
Though the worst of the showers had died down, an intermittent drizzle had stayed behind to rain on the people of Bay City who had gone back onto the streets thinking it was safe to do so. The street and sidewalk remained shiny and reflected the lights from the many neon signs and illuminated windows in the neighborhood. The flashing red-and-blue lights atop the many police cars added to the mix and created quite a spectacle.
Mary-Jane had recently been promoted to Chief Inspector of the Organized Crime Division so she didn't participate in as many stings, raids and busts as she had done earlier, but this one had been too good to miss. As a direct result of her desk job, her angular face had filled out just a tiny bit, but her strawberry-blond hair was just as striking as always, and the burnt-orange pant suit she wore over a mother-of-pearl blouse made even the notorious fashion-snob among the three women break out in an impressed grin. "Hello, Miss Starr. Miss Harrison," she said and shook hands with the two private investigators.
"Oh, we're using code names on this assignment," Regina said with a grin. "I'm May, and this is April."
Mary-Jane looked from one of the women to the other; it was clear she wanted to add a quip or three, but she followed her instincts instead and kept everything to herself. "Huh. Right. Anyway, I need a status report."
Stella mumbled something; then she mumbled a little more. Then she finished off her short speech by shrugging - and mumbling.
Mary-Jane was no stranger to the mysterious ways of the mop-topped Private Eye, so instead of asking for clarification directly, she simply turned to Regina and offered the model a smile.
"Well, the target was here," Regina said as she moved over to Stella to wrap an arm around the mortified woman's shoulder. "And we were ready for her. Stella carried out close surveillance like we were told, but a pair of twin brothers decided to try their luck with us. A brawl started and the target used it to sneak off. Out the back, I presume, because she didn't come past us."
"Uh-huh?" Mary-Jane said with a grin, fully expecting to hear that Regina had pulled a joke. When nothing of the sort came, the grin turned to a grimace when she realized she needed to take it at face value. "Okay. A pair of twin brothers tried to chat you up?"
Stella nodded. "That's-pretty-much-it-yep," she said in a mumble that made it sound like it was a single word.
"Right. Twins. Right. So… what did they look like? Are they still here?"
"I'll tell you in a minute, Chief Inspector," Regina said, using her superior height to take a quick inventory of the patrons who had all been handcuffed and were being escorted to a paddy wagon. "Yes, they're still here. Herman and Sherman Custer. You can't miss 'em," she continued as she pointed at two individuals halfway down the line of arrested barflies. Their elegant leisure suits had been torn, and - perhaps worse - their foppish hair had been ruffled.
"Herman and Sherman?" Mary-Jane said in a monotone as she turned around to see for herself. She let out a long grunt when her disbelieving eyes confirmed the tall tale. "Right. There's always something weird going on with you two… always. Don't go anywhere while I talk to, uh… Herman and Sherman. Perhaps they were hired by the target to play interference."
"It's possible, but I don't think so, Chief Inspector," Regina continued as she reached over to give Stella a new sideways hug. "The entire brawl started when one of them got into an argument with the target person. The other jumped in to assist his brother."
"Hmmm. All right. Let's find out for certain," Mary-Jane said and strode over to the twins to dive head-first into the sordid details.
While Mary-Jane Moynes went off to have a word or two with the identical twins, Regina pulled the pouting Stella into a proper hug. "Cheer up, Stell. We may have lost a day's work, but at least we can go home without broken noses, black eyes or our teeth in a plastic cup."
"Huh… when you say it like that, it doesn't sound so bad," Stella said as she scratched her shaggy haystack of hair. "But Reggie, this could have been a big opportunity for us. We worked directly with the po-leese! Now we're gonna get a red mark in their case file instead…"
"Oh, Mary-Jane knows us too well. It won't come to that, I'm sure of it," Regina said and leaned down to offer Stella a small peck on the hair - when she moved back, she crinkled her nose at the smell of cigarette smoke that clung to their hair and clothes.
A sudden commotion from the line at the paddy wagon made the two investigators look over there. A pair of identical grunts were let out at the sight of a pair of identical twins creating a big, dramatic scene involving themselves, Mary-Jane Moynes and plenty of shouting and nodding in the general direction of Stella and Regina.
The embarrassing incident went on for a while and drew attention from all and sundry - even Atomic Stella noticed. The firebrand living inside the peace-loving Stella Starr began to flex her muscles and warm up her vocal cords to prepare for a possible appearance. The time seemed to have arrived when Sherman and Herman hurled several insults across the sidewalk followed by fire, brimstone, spittle and even a pair of identical hand-gestures that couldn't be misinterpreted.
Stella narrowed her eyes as her ears continued to be verbally assaulted by the venom spewing from the two brothers. A moment later, she began to chew on her cheeks as well. Then she slammed her hands onto her hips. Then she began to bop up and down on the balls of her feet. When all that proved insufficient, she stomped off toward the Chief Inspector and the two Custers.
"Ohhhhhhh-boy… here we go again," Regina said in a groan. She looked skyward for a little divine intervention - like a thunderstorm - but nothing came. Instead, she set off after her fiery partner to at least try to calm matters down before the countdown clock to the inevitable nuclear detonation would reach zero. "Stell… Stell… Stell, wait up… Stell? Remember that new pizza parlor we drove past? You said it looked, uh, awesomely yummy… how about we-"
"Not now, Reggie! I have a little message to deliver!" Stella said over her shoulder as she stomped along the sidewalk in her mismatched tennis shoes from the 'dumpster queen' disguise. "Oy! Oy, you there! Oy! Mista Fop One and Mista Fop Two! Herm and Sherm! Perm and Germ! Squirm and Worm!" she barked at the top of her lungs.
Mary-Jane and Regina just had time to lock eyes and shoot each other a silent message of sympathy before the little timer reached 0:00 and Atomic Stella came out to play: "I got a bone to pick with you two! Yes, that would be you and you!" Stella roared as she pointed at the twins. "Because of the brainless behavior displayed by you biff-boffin' nincompoops, Reggie and me… that's her over there, even you can't miss her… wasted an entire evening's worth of close surveillance. That's hard work, Custer-Busters! Who knows when we'll get the chance to get close to our target again?"
One of the twins - it could have been Sherman, but it was hard to tell since they both had split lips and bleeding noses - mumbled a comment about Stella's lineage that wasn't exactly smelling of roses.
"Whassat?!" the fiery investigator barked in such a booming voice that it made an entire pack of pigeons take off from further down the street. "Ya wanna repeat that so I can hear it? Please? No-no, I insist!"
Regina and Mary-Jane Moynes shared another look before the former stepped forward with the proverbial lasso ready to reign in the stampeding, and certainly bucking, bronco. "Stell… isn't this a- Stell! Stell, isn't this a good time to call it quits?"
"I told ya… not now, Reggie!" Stella said, unable to stand still from all the atomic energy that coursed through her veins. She paced to the left, then to the right, then to the left, then to the right all over again. "Why, I oughtta… I oughtta… I oughtta dish out a knuckle sandwich you frick-frackin', biff-boffin', flip-floppin', blip-bloppin' Buster-Custer-riffin'-raffin'-Ding-Dongs will remember for a while, but I'm not gonna! I'm not gonna! Or maybe I will! Hooooooo-boy, I gotta think! Gotta think! Reggie, whadda'you think I should do?"
"Take a step back-"
"You know what I think?" Stella continued as she spun back to face the twins and deliver a Class Seven death glare at the same time. "I think I oughtta teach Berm and Sperm here a lesson or two about gettin' in the way of hard-working, self-employed private investigators who don't have a steady income and depend on getting hired to do the jobs that noooooobody else wants to get their fingers on 'cos they allllllways end up with that certain smell, catch my drift? Huh? Huh? Huh?!"
By now, several of the riot officers flocked around the unbridled Stella to take notes on how to address arrests and various other types of unsavory types. One of them looked to Chief Inspector Moynes for guidance, but the senior officer could only shake her head slowly - then she decided to step in before the whole thing would escalate further and make the eleven o'clock news. "By the way, Stella… didya know Lonnie Dee's All-American Diner has a Law Enforcement Special on the menu at this time of the day? They sure do. Hot coffee and a fresh donut or a warm blueberry muffin for three dollars. My treat," she said in the most casual voice she could muster given the severity of the situation.
Stella came to a screeching halt in the middle of a somewhat rude gesture. Her energy levels continued to snap, crackle and a pop for a while before the words had fully filtered through to her. "Ooooh… donuts and blueberry muffins?" she said over her shoulder.
Regina had to conceal a relieved grin at the news. She sent Mary-Jane a broad smile to support the notion.
"Yup," the Chief Inspector continued while she matched the model's grin with one of her own. "They even have the Harlequin donuts you tried at the Meet The Police day last summer."
"Oooooooh… they were so yummy," Stella mumbled. Nodding, she took a big step closer to the twins who backed up so fast they tripped over each other's feet. As they lay there in a heap of torn, color-coded leisure suits, foppish hair and white bandages on various parts of their faces, she put her hands on her hips and leaned down toward them. "This. Is. Your. Lucky. Day. Phlegm and Clem. You better look over your shoulders, ya hear? One of the shadows might be me, Stella Starr. That's Starr with two Arrrrrrrrrrr's. See ya some time when ya least expect it!"
Regina let out a sigh of relief as Stella withdrew from the one-sided verbal sparring and strolled back toward her. She sent Mary-Jane a big thumbs-up before she wrapped an arm around Stella's shoulder so they could continue the stroll over to the side street where they had parked the Pacer. "Good news, Stell. I know exactly where Lonnie Dee's All-American Diner is… I did a photoshoot there a couple of years ago. It's not too far… only four or five blocks further downtown."
"That's nice, Reggie… y'know, a Harlequin donut or a blueberry muffin sounds pretty yummy right now. I dunno 'bout the coffee, though… I got a pretty good case of heartburn going already. Maybe they have a Slurrpy Cherry Cola Extra Cherry instead?"
"I can't say… but let's find out. The night is young and the Pacer is fully gassed up and ready to go," Regina said and leaned down to place a kiss on her fiery partner's blond haystack - then she crinkled her nose all over again at the lingering smell of cigarette smoke.
Snickering, Stella moved to the left so she could give Regina a full-sided nudge. "Yeah. And we're together. That's the most important part. Thanks, Mary-Jane! I'm proud to include you in my list of friends! Race you to the donuts!" she said and offered the Chief Inspector a broad wave and an even broader grin.
Mary-Jane grinned back. "You're welcome, Miss Starr… and we have lights and sirens on our vehicles, you know. We can get there in a flash."
"Ooooooh! Now there's a challenge worth taking! C'mon, Reggie!" Stella said before she took off toward the Pacer in a hurry.
Regina's satisfied expression melted at the news; she let out a sigh that soon turned into a tired chuckle. "Stell, Stell, Stell…" she mumbled under her breath as she shook her head - even so, she strolled off after her easily excitable partner to get to the next stage of the evening's entertainment.
THE END of APRIL & MAY.
THE END OF HARRISON-STARR's APRIL DAY CHUCKLE-PACK
Back to the Academy