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Death and the Matron

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by newsmanfan, Jun 17, 2011.

  1. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Unless you mean 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, then nope. And thanks, he's been duely credited.
    *Sits and waits for next installment.
  2. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Nine

    “Eight ball, corner pocket!”

    “Uh, no, Fozzie. You’re not supposed to go after the eight until everything else has been sunk,” Rowlf explained patiently.

    “Oh, okay,” Fozzie said, looking sheepish. “Thank you for teaching me pool, Rowlf! Dis is really a fun game! Aaaaaaah!” With many unnecessary waves and waggles of his pool cue, Fozzie finally lined up on the thirteen and somehow managed to hit the cue ball properly. The cue cracked nicely against the ball, sending it thunking into a side pocket. “Oh! I forgot to call da shot!”

    Rowlf sighed. “That’s okay, Fozzie. It, uh, it was my ball anyway. You’re solids. I’m stripes.”

    “Hey! Speaking of stripes, didja hear da one about da zebra who got a job as a crossing-guard?”

    “Uh, no.”

    “He quit after just a week – he felt like his customers kept trying to walk all over him! Ahhhhh! Fun-ny!” Fozzie said brightly, waving his cue in the air. Fortunately the pool hall was almost empty at this bright, hot hour of the day, and he didn’t hit anyone with the careless gesture. Rowlf emptied out his bottle of IBC root beer, glad for the company even if the bear’s inability to play the game correctly was a little frustrating. He usually played with Zoot, and their afternoon games were pleasantly quiet, both of them glad for the comfortable silence they could share away from the rest of the Muppets once or twice a week. However, today Zoot had hesitantly told the piano player that he’d be attending a concert at the Conservatory of Jazz, where the young Dutch girl he’d met earlier this year was playing sax in a combo as part of a day of student performances at the prestigious music school. So Rowlf had needed another pool partner, and Fozzie was the only Muppet around to ask, except for Crazy Harry. Rowlf figured the owner of the pool hall would prefer a few bad jokes to things exploding.

    “Glad you’re having fun, Fozzie. Want another root beer?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. Is dat…is dat considered okay at dis hour?” Fozzie whispered, glancing around. Most of the other players, scattered widely around the hall, had beers or shots perched on the rails of the tables.

    “Uh, yeah. Just don’t have more than three,” Rowlf said, and happily Fozzie took their empties to the bar to get two fresh bottles. Rowlf walked slowly around the table, peering high and low at the remaining balls on their table, trying to decide which shot to take. Movement at the front entry caught his eye, and then a familiar, spicy scent, cinnamon, cloves and amber, wafted his way. Newsie’s girl? What’s she doing here? Rowlf wondered. He watched her as she went over to the desk next to the bar to pay for a table and selected a tall stick from the cues behind the desk.

    Fozzie ran into her first. Gina looked up just in time to see him approaching, and thought Oh, great. Right when I wanted to be alone. But she forced a smile, hoping he wouldn’t see the effort it cost her to be polite right now.

    “Gina! Aaaaaahhh! Did you come to play pool too?” There was nothing fake about Fozzie’s smile; Gina reflected that the Muppet bear was even more open and innocent than her Newsman. He gestured to a table a little to the right of the bar, where the large brown dog was watching them. “Me and Rowlf are playing over there! Wanna join us?”

    “Thanks, Fozzie. That’s really sweet of you…but I actually came here to, um, to work out some stuff in my head. Alone. Okay?”

    “Oh,” Fozzie said, his smile faltering. “Oh, sure, sure! But, uh, if you change your mind…”

    “I’ll be sure and come over if I feel like company. Thank you, Fozzie. Tell Rowlf I said hi,” Gina said, dredging the dog’s name from her roiling thoughts. She hadn’t seen a lot of either of them since the auction a few months back; her own schedule, up until about a month ago, had been fairly hectic. She walked to an empty table, ringed at the moment by other unoccupied ones, so as to be far enough away from everyone that hopefully no one would bother her. Setting down the tray with the rack of billiard balls, all yellowed and a little chipped in places, she thought about other times she’d come down here with some of the guys from work, and before that, from college. The cheapness of the place was the leading attraction, even if it did mean putting up with the occasional cracked slate, worn felt on the tabletops, or balls which would spin just a little off-angle. The city’s nonsmoking laws made it better, although without the former curtain of haze in the room, it was easier to see the seediness of the place.

    Sighing, she positioned the rack on the table and removed it carefully; none of the balls tried to roll away, so at least this one was level. It had been over a year since she’d been in here, and sometimes the owner had moved tables around in a pretense of getting rid of the worst ones, so even memorizing which ones had been problematic didn’t always work. She uncapped a hard cider and took a long swig, knowing alcohol in the middle of a hot day wasn’t the wisest choice, but she really just wanted to retreat from the world at the moment. One wasn’t going to hurt.

    Fozzie looked uncertainly at their table. “Did you take your shot, Rowlf?”

    “Not yet, Fozzie, why?” Rowlf kept glancing over at Gina, realizing something was truly wrong when he saw something decidedly not a root beer in her hand.

    “Could I try dat last shot over again?”

    Rowlf sighed. “Sure, Fozzie.” Happily the bear dug the thirteen out of the pocket and attempted to remember where it and the cueball had been placed. Rowlf watched Gina line up her cue; at the loud thwock! of the break, several other players glanced over, and Fozzie jumped. Lotta anger in that sound, Rowlf thought.

    “Wow, she hit dat really hard! Am I supposed to be hitting ‘em dat hard?” Fozzie wondered.

    “It’s probably better if you don’t,” Rowlf advised, imagining the balls flying all over the hall if the bear tried to put more force into his shots.

    Gina moved slowly down one rail, deciding she was just going to take practice shots in no particular order. She lined up a straight sighting on the three, plunked it quickly into a corner pocket, then followed the cueball’s rebound until it stopped and immediately took the next shot, a bank off the side rail for a double. Doing this usually used to calm her, but today she was too upset to enjoy it. I can’t believe he even thought about having that witch stick around! Why am I even bothering? she thought, hating the whole morning so far. She’d had a long, excruciating nightmare, wherein her beloved journalist had told her all he’d done with her was wrong and sinful and he was going to the land of punishment with his mother. A lot of the dream had involved her screaming protests, unable to get near, while she saw Newsie willingly bow his head and let heavy chains be draped over his shoulders, and then the smirking old hag had led him off like a chastened dog. When she’d cried out to him, it was as though he didn’t even hear her, responding only to his mother’s constant stream of invective and insult with repeated, humble, “Yes, mother”s. Waking to find him there still had been a huge relief, and his fixing breakfast for her had made her think maybe he’d made up his mind about whom he belonged with…and then that. He still can’t do it. No matter how nasty she is to him, he can’t let go. He can’t pull himself free of her.

    Thwack!

    The bartender threw her a scowl. Gina ignored him. It wasn’t as though any further damage could be done to this place. She remembered one afternoon, years before, when she and Scott and James had burst into hysterics after one of James’ shots broke a cuestick, jumped the cueball off the table, denting it slightly, and then the wildly rolling ball had knocked loose one of the table legs, nearly collapsing the whole thing. What a dump. Cheap is as cheap does, I guess. She drank more of the cider, starting to feel a little lightheaded; she’d stormed over here in a rush of adrenaline, pausing only once at a street crossing to phone the Muppet Labs guys in the failed hope that her secret weapon was ready to use. At this point, she’d happily have blasted the ghost to kingdom come – or wherever horrible old women went – and to heck with what Newsie might’ve felt about that. How can he even stand her? He’s a grown Muppet, for crying out loud! Why can’t he tell her to stuff it down her ugly old dress and get out of his life? Despairing, she missed a kiss shot, too angry to be gentle.

    “Hey! Rowlf! I did it! Didja see dat?”

    “Uh, yeah. Good job,” Rowlf said, glancing over at the table where Fozzie had indeed managed to sink the shot he’d called. He wasn’t paying much attention to his own game, his shots absentmindedly accurate but not challenging, his gaze focused on the quick, jerking movements Gina made around her own solitary table. Fozzie noticed, and bit his lip uncertainly.

    “Uh…do ya think maybe the Newsman’s busy today?” Fozzie asked.

    Rowlf shook his head. “I guess so.”

    “Or…or maybe he doesn’t play pool!” Fozzie guessed.

    “Yeah, maybe not.” Rowlf watched Gina a moment longer, then shook his head, ears flapping gently. “Something’s up.”

    Fozzie made no reply, casting a worried look at the other table. “Does she usually come play here?”

    “Not that I’ve seen. We’re closer to the theatre than we are to her and Newsie’s place, I think. She hasn’t been here when Zoot and I’ve been playing,” Rowlf mused.

    Fozzie fiddled with his cuestick, silent. Rowlf turned back to their table, gesturing at Fozzie. “Come on. If you make a shot you get to take another, remember? So pick one and try for it.”

    The bear started to line up his stick, then paused. “Rowlf?”

    “Hm?”

    “Does she look…mad to you? Angry mad?”

    “Yeah, Fozzie. She does,” Rowlf sighed.

    “Oh…I was hoping it was just me,” Fozzie said sadly.

    Gina had sunk about half the balls, out of order, barely paying attention to her shots, feeling more upset than she had when she’d come in. This wasn’t helping at all; if anything, her mind was more turbulent. Newsie…don’t you love me? Don’t you know all we’ve done so far is just the tip of things? I thought you were happy with me! She’d been his first lover, she knew, and had done her best to be gentle with him until he was used to the unfamiliar joys of completely losing all track of time, or outside obligations, or sense of self beyond the delight of every inch of his felt. His modesty, shyness, and lack of experience had been wonderful for her, and she loved it that even after he’d accepted that aspect of their relationship, she could still easily make him blush. If all it took for him to doubt the rightness of being with her was to have a judgmental, accusatory old shrike tell him he was being bad…then how deep did his love really run? Oh, Newsie…if you really feel that way…why did you stay with me this long? I thought you WANTED to be with me! Gina felt tears beginning, and wiped them away with her fingers. Her eyes were already raw.

    Maybe he’d simply been under that hag’s thumb for too long. Maybe he could never be his own Muppet now. A dog used to being beaten thinks it’s love. Women stay with abusive husbands because they don’t know any other life. Breaking free of that is scary, they say. Oh, Newsie…my Aloysius. I can’t even ever call you that again, after how many times the witch has snarled it at you! She makes it sound like a curse! Gina shook her head, disgusted. Grandmama Angie, I wish you were here. I wish I could talk to you. You’d know what to do to make him wake up. Or is that just never going to happen, no matter what? Has his mother really won? She couldn’t bear the thought of going back to the apartment. She’d have to at some point, to get ready for the show tonight. As mood-suiting as her current outfit was, it was unacceptable for running the tech booth for a charity show which hoped to draw in upper-class donors. What if she went back and Newsie was there? What would she say to him? What, if anything, would he say to her? He’d been apparently unable to choke out anything this morning. And what if I go back and he’s NOT there? What if he DOES go with Mommy Dearest? She felt ill. She swigged down the rest of her cider in a long gulp anyway.

    “You gonna order again? It’s a two-drunk minimum here,” a deep voice growled.

    Gina looked up, about to snap back something unoriginal but heartfelt, then saw Scott standing there. She relaxed only slightly. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

    “Was kinda hoping to practice a little since the Hat has sworn to wipe the table with my skinny, hipless butt, as he put it yesterday, but I can’t find an empty table,” Scott rumbled. Gina looked up at him, then around at the multitude of empty tables. She shook her head at him. Scott grinned. “Mind if I play through?” He placed a cuestick against the plain ivory ball on the table like a golf pro. “So, what we have here, see, is de pro linin’ up his shot; checkin’ da wind, checkin’ da green…Fore!”

    A couple of heads turned, but the lanky techie didn’t follow through. “This isn’t a country club. And I’d rather be alone, okay?” Gina snapped.

    “Whatever you say,” Scott agreed, not leaving. Gina stood there, waiting, fuming, but her friend simply folded his arms around his stick, rocking back and forth heel-to-toe in enormous sneakers. Although skinny enough to play a beanpole, he was over six feet, and his deadpan face and walking canvas of tattoos tended to intimidate people; even Gina, who knew better, edged away from him a little, and finally decided to ignore him. She bent over the table to reach the cueball for her next shot. The seven hit the side pocket so hard it almost bounced out again. “Doesn’t count; you didn’t call it,” Scott said.

    Gina straightened up, glaring at him. “What part of ‘alone’ are you not getting? You really are blond!”

    “And white, and skinny,” he agreed easily. “Hey, aren’t those guys over there with the Muppets? I remember the dog plays a mean piano.”

    Gina glanced at the other table; Rowlf nodded at them. Fozzie gave a half-wave, looking concerned. Scott waved back. “Don’t invite them over,” Gina hissed. “Alone, remember? Alone!”

    “Okay, whatever,” Scott said. He watched her circle the table, trying to focus, clearly upset. “You wanna tell me what’s up?”

    “Nothing’s up.” Thwock!

    “This have anything to do with Paul?”

    “Paul? No.” Ka-thwack!

    “Shoulda used the bridge,” Scott observed. “You’re too short.”

    “Funny. Real funny. Don’t you have something to do somewhere else?”

    “So if it’s not the show, and it’s not the moron producing the show, then it must be about Newsman,” Scott said. Gina stopped, glared at him, and immediately resumed her pursuit of the eight-ball.

    “You still have three balls left out.”

    “I don’t care. I’m sinking this and then I’m leaving.”

    “Did he **** you off?”

    “He…he…****** Scott! It’s none of your business!”

    “Hey. How long we been friends?”

    Gina didn’t answer. Scott mimicked her softer voice: “Oh, why, about twelve years now, Scott.” He switched to his own baritone rumble: “And how long have we told each other pretty much everything? Best friends, right?” Back to fake-Gina: “Oh, Scott, you gadjo devil! I am not telling you about what trouble I’m having getting that shy boyfriend of mine to try the Vegas-ninety-three position!”

    “You know, I am not even going to ask what that is,” Gina said curtly, unamused.

    “Good, ‘cause then I’d have to ask the bartender, ‘cause I don’t know either, and I’m pretty sure he hates me for only ever ordering plain club sodas with lime.”

    Gina gave up, standing still, head bowed, holding onto her stick with both hands, leaning on it like a staff. Scott waited.

    “He can’t let go of his mother,” Gina said finally in a quiet voice. “She’s…she’s abusive. I mean really, really nasty to him. And he’s terrified of her.”

    “Ah.” Scott considered this. “I could go get her chucked in jail. Would he freak?”

    “Scott…she’s dead.”

    He looked at her, amused for a second, then saw how serious she was. “Uh…what exactly are we talking about here? She’s…a ghost?”

    “Yes.”

    “And…she’s terrorizing him? Still?”

    “More like ‘again.’ She hates me. Thinks I’ve corrupted her son.”

    Scott considered the changes he’d noticed in behavior, subtle but significant, the times he’d been around the couple. From being embarrassed to anyone seeing them kiss, the Newsman had progressed to blushing but staying pressed close to Gina. He’d put his arm around Gina several times now in Scott’s presence, and leaned into her when she pulled him close to kiss his nose or tousle his often-frazzled hair; clearly, the Muppet had gone from innocent to happily intimate. “Maybe you have. So what?”

    “Now he thinks it’s a bad thing! She’s making him feel guilty, and he won’t just tell her off, and he spent half the night in tears because he’d slapped her once – and I found out she’d hit him! Maybe all his life until she died!” Gina smacked the butt of the stick against the floor repeatedly. Gently, Scott reached over and made her stop before the bartender complained.

    “Okay, all right, but you gotta know, most abused kids aren’t the Menendezes. Most of ‘em think they deserve it. I knew a kid in third grade whose dad used to come home drunk and pummel him ‘bout every night. He’d come in with broken arms, bruises, the whole nine yards. And I asked him why he didn’t tell the teacher, and you know what he said? He said ‘I deserved it, I was stupid.’ Gina…it’s like brainwashing. People that bull happens to most often just take it ‘cause they don’t know anything else. They don’t know they’re worth anything. You gotta have patience with your guy. I’m really sorry that’s happened to him, for what it’s worth.”

    “I know he’s worth a lot! I tell him so!” Gina argued sharply.

    “Did he live with his mom ‘til she died?” Scott guessed.

    “Yes. And don’t you dare say you thought so!”

    “I wasn’t gonna. And how long has he been living with you?”

    “Five months. Three days.”

    “Uh-huh,” Scott grinned at how fast she’d come up with that. “You’re counting down to the six-month anniversary, aren’t you?”

    “If there even is one,” Gina muttered.

    “Point is: his time under the abuse is a heck of a lot longer than his time feeling at all good about himself with you. So let it go. Just be there for him,” Scott advised.

    Frustrated, Gina gestured with her empty cider bottle, wanting to fling it hard and listen to the crash. “I can’t! There’s…there’s more to it! It’s just complicated, okay? I don’t want to talk about it any more!”

    Scott tried to take the bottle from her; she held onto it, glaring, and he backed off.

    “Rowlf? Are dey gonna fight? Should…should we go over dere and help Gina?” Fozzie asked.

    Rowlf watched the body language of the two people arguing. “No…not yet, anyway, Fozzie. I think she’s okay. That’s her friend from the Sosilly. Looks to me like he’s just trying to get her to talk.”

    “Not like an interrogative thing!” Aghast, Fozzie’s paw flew to his mouth.

    “Uh, that’s ‘interrogation.’ And no, doesn’t look that way. It’s okay, Fozzie. Come on, one more game, all right?” As the bear gathered the balls one by one into the rack, setting the triangle the wrong way on the little dot half-peeling off the table felt, Rowlf perked his ears toward the other table a few yards away, able to attune to the conversation taking place there only in the brief silences between the smacking together of chipped epoxy billiards around the room. At least the place wasn’t so crowded he couldn’t catch any of it.

    “Come on, rack ‘em. I need the practice,” Scott said. Grudgingly, Gina did so, setting them in the correct order inside the rack with a practiced hand. When she lifted the triangle away, Scott almost instantly hit the cueball dead center but with a wicked clockwise spin. Thunk. Thunk. “Solids.”

    “Showoff.”

    “Hey, like I said, the Hat thinks he’s gonna mess me up. I need every trick I can get.” Scott deliberately missed his next shot. “Whoops. Think you can make the eleven?”

    “In my sleep.” She did so, though her eyes stayed open. “If you’re going to play, play. No more missing shots.”

    He waited silently for her to line up the next shot, a difficult one along the rail which made her have to attempt the shot behind her back. At the last possible second, he said loudly, “Noonan!”

    Gina cursed. She pushed back her bangs, giving Scott a viciously vindictive look as he grinned and shrugged. “What? You told me to play.”

    “You’re an a—“

    “No, I never grew one’a those. So tell me something.”

    Gina sighed, wishing she could go get another cider, knowing her friend would guilt-trip her about it if she did. She was torn between resenting his interference and understanding all he’d said about Newsie was probably true. Maybe she was being too hurt, too selfish. Newsie was clearly in agony this morning. She felt pain in her chest suddenly. Glancing worriedly at her watch, she realized it might be too late to go back and talk to him; if he was going to work today as he’d planned, he’d have left the apartment. Should she call him? Would he even have remembered to take his phone? He was terrible about taking it with him, always embarrassed when she pointed that out, saying he wasn’t used to having anything so nice to be concerned with. Gina sighed, raking her fingers through her hair, dislodging and then refastening the hairband. She noticed Scott looking expectantly at her. “What?” she demanded.

    “What do you see in him, anyway?”

    “What?” She couldn’t believe she’d just heard that. Her grip on the cuestick tightened.

    “Well, you know, you wouldn’t ever go back home with me…or Alex, or Buddy…and Alex at least was a good-lookin’ guy…so what made you pick the Muppet over any of the rest of us?” Scott’s expression was so guileless she knew he was leading up to something annoying. Forcing herself to calm down enough to speak, Gina waited until Scott took his shot, and jostled his elbow.

    “Not that it’s any of your d—d business, but he’s perfect,” she snapped.

    “How so? I mean, first there’s the height thing…he’s, what, three feet?”

    “Three-foot-six. You’re a horse’s a--.”

    She smacked another striped ball into a corner, the rebound going too far to properly set up the next shot as it should’ve. She knew she was striking too hard, but couldn’t make herself be any gentler.

    “Okay, so you being two feet taller doesn’t cause any…uh…problems?”

    “Scott,” she warned, and he held up both hands, grinning.

    “Hey Rowlf…if Gina’s mad at dat guy, why is he smiling?”

    “I think he’s trying to get her to see something, Fozzie.” When the bear looked confusedly around the room, Rowlf shook his head. “Uh, not like that. I mean see something inside…inside her heart.”

    “Ohhh,” Fozzie said, brightening. “About Newsie?”

    The bear’s instinct for personal relations always impressed Rowlf. How did a Muppet who’d never even gone steady know these things about other people? “Yeah. About Newsie.”

    “Good things?”

    “I hope so.” Rowlf continued to listen; Fozzie gently rolled the cueball back and forth on the table with his paws, understanding the dog was eavesdropping…but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing this time.

    “Okay, so his being short doesn’t bother you, that’s great. What about his skin?”

    “Since when are you a bigot? You should talk, you walking sketchbook!”

    “I mean, what is that? He always looks…kinda fuzzy. Yellow and fuzzy.”

    “That’s golden, and…and…I like the way he feels. Um.”

    Scott raised his eyebrows. “So that’s really his skin? The first time we shook hands I thought he was wearing gloves! Is he like that all over?”

    Gina could feel her cheeks reddening. “Yes,” she muttered. Angrily she shook off the feeling. “He’s a Muppet. That’s just how he is. Knock it off, Scott. I’m not titillating you with the details of our love life!”

    “Huh, huh. She said ti—“

    “Scott!”

    “Fine,” he replied easily, changing topic. “So what do you like most about him?”

    “Most?”

    “Yup. It’s the nose, right?”

    “You’re an –“

    “Yeah, yeah. Or is it the glasses? Or the retro-geek coats? He looks kinda college-rock.”

    Rowlf snickered. Fozzie leaned in, though of course he couldn’t hear any of the prying discussion. “What? Is he telling her jokes?”

    “Sort of…”

    “Oh! Rowlf, can you remember ‘em for me if they’re good? I can always use new jokes!”

    “They’re all about the Newsman, Fozzie.”

    “Oh…” Fozzie frowned. “Dat doesn’t seem very nice!”

    “I think there’s a point to it. Shhh…”

    Gina stood her ground, glaring up at her fellow techie. “Since you won’t leave me alone until this ridiculous discussion is over, fine: I love his mind. I love his dedication to his work, and to his friends, and to his ideals. I love his generosity and his thoughtfulness and his gentleness and even his modesty! That enough for you?”

    “And his short, nearsighted, golden-fuzzy-skinnedness?”

    “Yes!” Gina tossed her cue onto the table, getting on tiptoe, where even though she wasn’t quite in Scott’s face, she could get her point physically across better. “And I don’t give a rat’s butt what you or his mother or anyone else thinks about that! And it took me a long time to gain his trust and I won’t let his horrible parent take him away from me, not after all we’ve already been through!”

    “Oh, yeah?” Scott growled.

    “Yeah!” Realizing she was being played, Gina stopped. Scott broke into a wide grin. Relaxing, shaking a little with residual ferocity, Gina sank down again, putting one hand on the table rail. “I feel awful,” she confessed.

    “Did you tell him where you were going?”

    “No…no, I didn’t.”

    “Call him.”

    Gina sighed. “He never remembers to take his phone. And…and if he’s working right now, it would embarrass the heck out of him for me to interrupt. I don’t want to do that to him.”

    Rowlf felt a tap on his shoulder. “Fozzie, I’ll tell you everything they said in a minute,” Rowlf promised.

    “Uh, no…I think we might have trouble!”

    “Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Rowlf looked around, and then saw what Fozzie was gulping at. Circling around the tables at the edge of the room was a gray, grim, oddly gliding Muppet in a shapeless dress with a scowling face. Even worse, trailing nervously in her wake came a skinny, mop-headed Muppet with large round shades. “Oh man. Is that Scribbler?” Rowlf asked, surprised to see the tabloid hack out in the daytime. He’d assumed the scandal-loving reporter only crawled out at night with the other insects.

    “I think so! And is that…is that…Newsie’s mom?” Fozzie shivered. “Rowlf, she looks…um…scary!” he whispered.

    “I think that’s because she died a few years ago, Fozzie.”

    “Oh!” Fozzie pulled off his hat, hiding his face behind its ineffective shield.

    “There she is! The brazen hussy – out in public, in full view of everyone, with that tattooed heathen!” Mrs Crimp hissed; Scribbler dodged before she could elbow him again. She’d done that once already, and he hadn’t liked the dread cold feel of it. Uneasily he studied the redhead having some sort of a heart-to-heart with the tall skinny guy; that was the chick who’d swung him like a politician heaving mud, all right. He wouldn’t forget that face…or that arm. He kept well below the level of an adjoining table and out of her line of sight. “That’s the shameless floozy who’s made my boy into a disgusting pervert! Now do your duty, Mr Scumbler, and show my Aloysius I was right all along!”

    Scribbler experienced a quick succession of conflicting thoughts. Humiliating the Newsman with shots of his girlfriend, out with another schmoe… Why can’t this biddy remember my name? Old cow, ordering ME around! I only came out here with her because she said it involved Newsie…wait. Did she just call him Aloysius? ALOYSIUS? Hee, hee, hee! Well, maybe this is a good thing after all. He wasn’t sure what to make of the weird grayish-skinned woman who’d cornered him on a stakeout outside an exclusive uptown gym, hoping to get a shot of Trump’s new girlfriend…with her girlfriend. All of a sudden, here was this harping old biddy going on about public morals and the obligations of the press to correct misbehavior and how her son was involved with an unfaithful, unsuitable, immoral girl half his age. Scribbler had tried to brush her off, and that was when she’d given him an elbow the first time, and he’d been so startled by the extreme cold radiating from her that he’d shut up and listened a little closer. When she’d said the Newsman was her son, and that his girlfriend was being scandalous… “Lady, I’m still in, but they’re not kissing,” Scribbler complained now. He made several quick notes on a small, scroungy pad: Seedy place for a tryst…guy’s too skinny, maybe rich?...maybe the chick likes tall men better? ‘Standing close together, eyes full of secret understanding’ – yeah, that’s good. But I’d love a photo op.

    “Wait,” the gray lady promised, her wide jaw set and her thin lips primly clamped as they watched the two people talking quietly.

    “You’re really smitten this time,” Scott observed.

    Gina nodded, rubbing the felt of the table. It felt enough like her Newsie’s skin to make her feel even worse about having run out this morning. She should be stroking him, holding him, apologizing right now. “I love him, Scott.”

    “Well, I’ve seen the way he just gazes up all adoring at you. Trust me. You’re the best thing he’s ever experienced and he won’t let you go.” Gina threw an uncertain look at her friend. Scott smiled. “He loves you. He’s just kinda thrown for a loop, if this stuff with his mother is still going on. Just…go slow with him.”

    “I always do,” Gina sighed. “I just…I just wish he’d…I don’t know.”

    “You wish he’d grow a—“

    Gina took a threatening step closer, and Scott grinned, breaking off mid-sentence. “So, keep telling him how good he is for you. How good he is, period. He’ll man up.”

    “I hope so. I…I do have a plan B. But I think it would be better for his sake if he could tell her to take a hike,” Gina sighed. Scott opened his arms and gave her a smile. Gratefully, Gina allowed him to hug her, long arms clasped respectfully around her shoulders, no lower. She smacked his bony back. “You’re still an a--.”

    “How can I be one when I don’t hardly even have one?” he protested. Gina smiled, but then heard the sound of a camera snapping frames. She let go of Scott, turning around, her gaze sweeping the mostly-empty hall. That sound reminded her of…

    “Oh I don’t believe this,” Gina breathed, spotting Scribbler…and right beside him, the smirking face of the spectre she least wanted to see.

    Before Gina could even take a step in that direction, before Scott realized what was going on, and before Rowlf and Fozzie could reach them, Mrs Crimp vanished, reappearing instantly behind another player at another table, a large and somewhat inebriated man, the very second he thrust his arm forward for a strong shot. The ghost shoved the man’s arm, and his stick hit the cueball at an uppercut angle; the ball sailed over three tables, coming down right at Gina. Scott saw it, and shoved her aside, but Gina, startled and unbalanced, smacked into the pool table, her lower back painfully striking the old wood rail. D—it! she thought, enraged: the witch does want me dead! She tried to grab the edge of the table, missing, hipbones shooting fire along the previously-injured cracks. Before her head could hit the floor, Scott caught her around the shoulders, one hand cupping the back of her head, dropping to his knees.

    And the camera whirred, with Gina and Scott staring into one another’s eyes an inch from each other, lips parted in surprise.

    Gina fought to get up. Rowlf gave her a hand, and she launched herself at the hack. Mrs Crimp had disappeared again. The burly pool player was hurrying over, looking chagrined at his wild shot. Fozzie hung back a step, dismayed. Scott got his gangly legs under him with difficulty and turned in time to see Gina halfway across the room, in pursuit of a guy even skinnier than he was.

    “You son of a –“ Gina yelled.

    “Hah hah hah! Whadda headline! ‘Secondhand Newsman!’ Whadda scoop!” Scribbler cackled, dodging under tables where Gina had to go around. He raced out the door well ahead of her. Gina burst onto the hot street, casting furious looks all around, but in every direction saw only overheated people trudging along and vendors drinking their own water supplies. No Scribbler. What the--! Is he a ghost now too? She thought, and cursed long and loud. No one even glanced at her; it was too hot to care.

    She stomped back inside the pool hall. Rowlf, Fozzie, and Scott gathered anxiously around her. “Are you okay?” Fozzie asked.

    “I’m going to kill him,” Gina vowed. “This time I really am going to kill him. Rowlf, can you track him, do you think?”

    “Uh, sorry,” Rowlf apologized, looking abashed. “There’s so much hot-garbage-smell out there right now I’m lucky to know where the fire hydrants are!”

    “What the heck was that about?” Scott asked.

    “Nothing good,” Gina said, catching her breath, wondering how the heck Mrs Crimp had known about Scribbler’s rivalry with Newsie. She met Scott’s concerned gaze, picturing just how that pose must have appeared…how it would appear, no doubt, as soon as the little hack got it into print. Fozzie clutched his hat, looking frightened. Rowlf softly shook his head, and patted her arm in an attempt to reassure her; at least these two knew nothing improper had been going on, she hoped. She tried to calm her heart, which felt as though it was going to burst through her chest. Woozily, she leaned on a table; her back hurt and her hipbone was screaming. The three friends, human and Muppet alike, stood by her, casting worried looks at the door, as if expecting bad news to come whistling in any second. Gina drew deep breaths. “Nothing good,” she repeated softly, and tried not to show her pain.

    Her fear of losing her Muppet journalist hurt worse than the fall, anyway.
    -------------------------------------------------------------
  3. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Okay... So the deed's done... But I doubt Scribbler will get away with it Scott-free. And then there's the added fury from a redheaded gypsy to contend with as well. Give 'em heck Gina!

    More please?
    newsmanfan likes this.
  4. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    (Passing hat around) Yes, thank you. Yes, we are taking up a collection to send Fleet Scribbler on assignment in Anartica. Or to the wilds of Outer Zanduan. Permanently....yes, we do take checks. Thank you.
    newsmanfan likes this.
  5. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ------------------------------------
    Would a bounced check work? Hah!
    You guys made me crack up. Thank you!
    More soon. Few days. Promise!
    ------------------------------------
  6. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Ten

    The Newsman paced the Central Park entry lobby of the Museum of Natural History, waiting for his camera team to arrive. He checked his watch. Twenty minutes late. Guess Tony’s driving. The sloth was steady and dependable: Newsie could depend on him to show up late every time. The trick was to ask him to be wherever he and his camera were needed about half an hour before the actual shoot-time. Why am I bothering? I have no idea what to say today. It was the first time in a very long time he could recall coming to film a report without a script in hand…at least, among those times he had the opportunity to plan ahead and write his own news script. Why did I let Mother distract me from my work? Irresponsible! Unprofessional! he berated himself.

    “Boy, do you look like someone scarfed up all your Cheerios,” Rhonda remarked, cocking her head to one side to study him. Newsie barely glanced at her before looking around for the camerasloth.

    “You’re late,” Newsie muttered. “Where’s Tony?”

    “Tommy.”

    “Right. Tommy. Isn’t that what I…never mind.” He sighed, seeing no sign of the technician. “I guess we should go figure out what we’re filming.”

    “You didn’t write a script?”

    Newsie scowled, unable to meet her incredulous stare. “Uh. No.”

    “I have never ever seen you pass up the opportunity to write your own story! What gives?” Rhonda demanded.

    “I…nothing. I just didn’t…didn’t…really have time.” Embarrassed, Newsie started toward the grand stairway and the third level of the museum where the Muppet exhibit would be opening in a few short hours, at the start of the following day. He wondered whether he’d even be there for it, or if Death would decide the only solution was to drag him off with Mother to wherever it was dead Muppets went.

    Rhonda scurried around in front of him. “Wait, wait, wait! You blew off writing a special report because you didn’t have time? And then you show up here all fidgety and looking like the world’s about to end? Newsie!” she squeaked, concerned. “What is going on?”

    He swallowed back a sour lump in his throat. “Nothing. Come on. Let’s go look around the exhibit. Maybe I’ll figure out something to film.”

    Exasperated, the rat sighed. “Fine, whatever. But you aren’t doing it like that!”

    Newsie glowered. “I see. Saved up a few more insults about my looks or my clothes to use today?” he accused her.

    “What? Will you let it die already?” Rhonda snapped. Newsie flinched at her word choice; only an instant, but Rhonda’s beady eyes became even beadier as she narrowed them to peer closely at his face. “This discussion is not over, buster. But as I was gonna say, you look like the rain over the parade in that outfit. You need a power tie, at the very least, to keep from sending our audience to another channel. Gray is dull, dull, dull!”

    “When I wear colors, you complain they’re too loud! Now it’s too dull! Make up your mind!” Newsie growled.

    “That’s because your idea of color makes Ted Turner’s movie mutilations look positively tame,” Rhonda shot back. “Go on up to the exhibit. I’ll grab something and meet you there in five, okay?”

    She was gone with a flick of her tail before the Newsman could come up with a retort. Reluctantly he headed upstairs, his thoughts still centered around his mother and the awful accusations she’d made instead of the job he was supposed to be doing. Why would Mother keep saying Gina isn’t being faithful? Gina loves me! She’d never do that! Yet as he climbed the broad marble stairs to the third floor of the museum, Newsie’s stomach churned unhappily. No. Mother was lying. It wouldn’t be the first time. He recalled the one teacher he’d been smitten with, in seventh grade, a pretty young intern named Carmen who taught geography and wore a red raincoat on drizzly days. When Newsie’s mother had interrupted him trying to make a Valentine’s card for the teacher, hand-cut and with sparkly sequins pasted on, terrible consequences had ensued. Mrs Crimp accused Carmen before the school board of stealing an unusual artifact from the school trophy hall, and kicked up such a fuss that some other parents believed the mad story…one bad word led to twenty more…and poor Carmen was dismissed from the school before the year was even over. All because he’d had a crush. Ever since he’d had a bit of a thing for redheads… Isn’t this the same? Good grief, Mother’s jealous! She can’t stand it when I like someone other than her! Not that he’d ever had much success in conveying filial devotion to a woman as demanding and critical as Mother. This is just the same. She’s throwing a hissy fit because she can’t stand how I feel about Gina…so she’s making up terrible lies. Just ignore it! he told himself.

    He stopped walking, realizing his feet had carried him into the closed exhibit; he didn’t even remember showing the guard his special Muppet press pass. Had there been a guard? Uncertainly Newsie looked around. That weird assistant of Dr Van Neuter’s, the blue hunchback, was lurking around the mummy, apparently taking notes. No one else was in sight. Hanging back, as yet unnoticed by the hunchback, the Newsman slowly looked up at the Muppetasaurus Tex at the center of the gallery. It clutched a smaller skeleton in its forepaws, half-crouched, looking over its shoulder at the entry to the exhibit, its spiked tail raised to…wait. Newsie blinked.

    He didn’t remember there being another fossil in that particular display! It looked…it looked almost as though the M. Tex was feeding on one of the crested Muppet lizard-chicken things…but…but hadn’t those been on the other side of the room?

    “Aaaaagh!”

    “Geez, sorry,” Rhonda exclaimed, jumping back; Newsie clutched his tie, eyes wide, breathless after being tapped on the arm. The rat gave him an irritated look. “All right, monsterphobe, dial it down a notch, huh? Here, I got you a tie.”

    “I…I have a tie,” the Newsman argued, showing it to her. His heart was still relocated somewhere just past his sinuses, and now the pounding hurt his brain.

    “No, you have what looks like a dead eel strung up to dry too many months. Put this on,” Rhonda said, swiftly unknotting his gray tie and slapping another around his neck. It was bright cranberry red, and tiny embroidered bones in ecru thread were scattered all over it. “Cool, huh? Special for the exhibit. I’ll spare you the docent’s joke about a tie-in.” When Newsie hesitated, still feeling uneasy about the apparent changes to the exhibit, Rhonda sighed, and knotted it expertly for him, tucking it into his jacket. “There ya go! Very smart. It practically screams educational coolness.” Stepping back, Rhonda judged the look thoughtfully. She sighed. “You really don’t look your best in gray; it’s too cold a color for you. Ever thought about a warm chocolate brown instead?”

    “My old coats were all brown,” Newsie grumbled.

    “Did I say plaid? Did you hear me say plaid?”

    Giving up, Newsie gestured nervously at the M. Tex. “Uh…does that look…different to you at all?”

    Rhonda glanced at it, and nodded. “Yeah, the dead chicken-thing? Nice touch. Hey, let’s film that! It wouldn’t give away the surprise to film just the chicken-thing in its claws, right?”

    “How did it get there?”

    “Newsie…don’t you know everything in the museum comes to life at night?” Rhonda teased, grinning. She saw he wasn’t laughing, and shook her head. “Honestly! That crazy curator probably put it there! Why don’t you go ask his assistant-crazy?”

    “Never mind,” Newsie growled, irritated. Unfortunately, the assistant in question suddenly spotted them, and headed for them in what might best be described as a loping shamble.

    “Awwrah ruh roonga hoffuh magongah!” Mulch said excitedly, waving some papers in their faces.

    Rhonda took a step behind Newsie. Newsie blinked at the papers the blue thing shoved against his nose. “Er…hello again, Mr…Mulch, right?”

    “Ungalah rowr rugga fuh!” Mulch insisted, tapping the papers, shoving them against the Newsman’s glasses. Annoyed, Newsie snatched the papers, holding them at the end of his long nose to peer at them through his thick lenses.

    “Uh…ah…well…I…I can’t really read your handwriting,” Newsie admitted. The papers seemed to be notes, but were all in gibberish.

    Mulch sighed, rolling his eyes. He took the notes back, shuffled them, and smacked the top sheet with a heavy hand. “Awr runga,” he explained, and began reading aloud, gesturing from the paper to the large glass case holding the partially-unwrapped Muppet mummy. “’Oggah ruh ungah, eeooo un gawagawa, erf hunga!’” He shot a glance full of dire meaning at the Newsman, who simply stared at him. Mulch stomped over a few feet to point at the mummy, its dead, sunken eyesockets appearing to gaze right through the blue hulk. Continuing to read, Mulch enunciated slowly and clearly: “’Huffuh murg gawunuggah, grah! Faffanoog blurgh, grah! Rar rahah araghah-ghaffuh, grah!’” Lowering the papers, he waited for the news crew’s reaction.

    Newsie blinked. Rhonda’s whiskers twitched.

    “Whoa, dude,” Tommy the camerasloth mumbled, catching up to them. “Like, is that a real mummy?”

    “You filmed it yesterday, genius,” Rhonda sighed.

    Angrily, Mulch jumped up and down in place, gesturing from the mummy to his notes. “Ruh uh nunga! Grffoww manoggoo tuh fooraw!”

    “I’m…I’m sure the mummy will be a star attraction,” Newsie agreed, guessing. He looked desperately at Ronda for help.

    “Don’t look at me,” she muttered. “I don’t speak lackey!”

    “I don’t either!” Newsie snapped. “And if anyone is anyone’s lackey around here, that’d be you, as my reports producer!”

    Rhonda suddenly jumped onto his hand, then his shoulder, then his nose, grabbing his glasses and hanging on even though he fell back two steps, startled.

    “All right, Golden Boy! Are you gonna tell me what’s made you into a jerk the past couple of days, or am I gonna have to cut all your air time and tell the producer you’re down with correspondentitis?”

    “I’m not being a jerk!” Newsie shouted, but the rat wouldn’t let go. A little shocked, he suddenly quieted. “…Am I?”

    Rhonda nodded slowly, staring straight at him through his glasses.

    Humbled, depressed, Newsie’s shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry.”

    Awkwardly, Rhonda patted his nose. “Okay…just tell me what’s got you all hard-bitten and edgy?”

    Newsie tried to smile at that; it came out looking more like a grimace. “I thought good reporters were edgy…”

    “Your nose is edgy. You are a nervous wreck. Now what the hey, Newsie?”

    He sighed. “Could you get off me, please?”

    When Rhonda had jumped down, Newsie found a flat, low bench near a couple of the herbivorous Muppasaurus Bovinocorpi. Unable to look his friend in the beady eye, he instead kept glancing up at the wide horns and placid jaws of the cow-like fossils. Rhonda sat on the bench in front of him, waiting, but for once seeming more intent than impatient. “It’s…er…it’s my mother. She…she’s trying to break up Gina and me.” He gulped, trying to keep down the anger still percolating since the public shouting match with his parent. “She’s always…hated,” Oh, that hurt to say, but it was true, wasn’t it? “Hated for me to enjoy anything. Hated anything that distracted me from her needs.” He fumbled for the words to continue, but Rhonda kept silent, letting him work through it. “She…she’s been horrible to Gina. Calling her awful names, being so…so rude, and mean…and…” he heaved a breath, “and insisting she’s been cheating on me with someone else.”

    He blinked back a tear, finally looking down at Rhonda. She stood motionless, staring back, and finally reached up and gave him a gentle pat on the cheek. “Uh…Goldie…ya know I have only the highest tolerance for you, right? So I’m gonna say this really gently, ‘cause I know you’ve been hit by one too many wild pitches: uh…you do know your mom is dead, right?”

    The Newsman instantly scowled at her. Rhonda sighed. “Geez, I sure hope Rizzo wasn’t right! Look, Newsie –“

    “I know she’s dead! That’s the problem!” he yelled. Even Mulch, watching from back by the mummy display, flinched. “Death sent her back here because she won’t stop nagging him! She’s convinced I shouldn’t be with Gina and she won’t leave me alone and I just yelled at her, I yelled at my own mother, and Gina thinks I can’t stand up to her and I’m too weak and she’s going to leave me if I don’t—“

    “Whoa-ho-ho!” Rhonda squeaked. “Waitaminute! Newsie! There is no way Gina would leave you, not after all you guys have gone through! Now stop! Just stop a second!” They glared at one another. Tommy shifted the camera around uneasily, unsure what to do, standing in the middle of the gallery. Mulch watched them with a baffled look on his homely face, one lower tooth sticking up as he chewed his own jaw. Rhonda gazed, worried, up into the Newsman’s unhappy eyes, the shadows underneath them longer than ever. “Start over. Go back to the part about Death getting nagged? Are we talking about the Death?”

    The Newsman sighed, thought carefully about his words, and quietly began again: “Yesterday morning, Death showed up at our apartment…” He told her all the salient facts of the story, stammering only mildly when he reached the part where he’d told off his mother an hour ago on his way to the museum. “And so I just…just came here. I can’t even imagine what Mother would think is ‘proof’ of Gina…of her…of her doing anything of the sort! So…now I’m really worried,” he confessed, and gave Rhonda an apologetic look. “I’m sorry…if I’ve been a little testy. I just…I have no idea how to handle all this.”

    Rhonda flicked her tail back and forth. “Does Gina know yet you gave the old biddy what for?”

    He shook his head, looking more mournful than the rat had seen him since he’d been told filling in for the weatherman one night recently at KRAK precluded his plan to attend a seminar at Columbia for “Innovative Verbing of Nouns in Anchorese American English.”

    “Dude,” Tommy interjected slowly, “Your mom’s dead, and she’s still grounding you? Harsh, dude!”

    Newsie shot the camerasloth a glare. Rhonda ignored the interruption. “Well then if you’re so worried about what Gina thinks of you right now, why don’t you call her and tell her what you did? I’m sure she’ll be thrilled! Heck, she’ll probably be so proud of you she’ll drag you into that tiny closet you call a dressing-room back at the theatre and smother you in a hundred kisses! Just…keep it down, okay? Fozzie thought the ghosts were back last time!”

    Newsie started, dismayed. “We weren’t that loud! Uh—er—I mean—uh, I don’t know what you’re referring to! Er…maybe Fozzie heard that ghostly dragon person!” He could feel his cheeks turning red-hot; the last time Gina had shown up in his dressing-room at the Muppet Theatre, things had become a tad…involved.

    Rhonda snorted. “Yeah, right! Nah, I’d know your scratchy voice anywhere… although it was really weird hearing you moaning…” Newsie sputtered, shocked; ignoring his discomfort, Rhonda plunged ahead. “So look, call her and tell her what you did! She’ll tell you she loves you and how cute your nose is and all that again, and maybe then you’ll relax and we can get on with the day’s shoot, okay?” Paws on her hips, she glared at him.

    Regaining some little dignity, Newsie drew himself upright. “My nose is not cute, it’s…it’s…patrician. Ahem. And…and…I can’t call her,” he fell into a mumble, embarrassed. “Er…I forgot my phone…and I can’t remember the number to hers.”

    “Oh, fer cryin’ out loud! Your own girlfriend’s phone number! Sheesh! Do you even recall your Muppet Security Number?”

    “I’ve never been good with numbers,” Newsie muttered, blushing. “Uh…I’m more of a ‘who, what, why’ sort. Not so much the ‘how many.’”

    “Remind me to recommend an accountant to you sometime,” Rhonda grumbled. She noticed the sloth going into the second part of a fidget, which seemed to be taking him a few minutes to complete. “Great. Now Tommy’s getting antsy. Look, as soon as she hears you stood up to Mommy, Gina’s gonna adore you all over again. For now, you feel like filing a report, oh glorious network correspondent?”

    “On what? I don’t have an angle left,” Newsie sighed. “I’d really hoped to interview those two experts! But with both of them prevented from attending by such weird circumstances…”

    “Newsie! That’s it!” Rhonda cried; he blinked at her, befuddled. “Weird circumstances…both linked to the curse of the mysterious tomb of the ancient Muppets!”

    Newsie stood up from the bench, scowling. “Ancient Muppet tomb curses? That’s ridiculous!”

    “Ur funga howwah!” Mulch said, pointing at the mummy.

    Newsie dared a look at the thing in the case. Its wrinkled, crumpled, gray face seemed to look back at him, and he shivered. It reminded him far too much of Mother right now. “Are you kidding? It’s perfect!” Rhonda exclaimed. “All we have to say is that there’ve been other tomban legends about mummies and curses, and now we have two scientists out of action who were involved with this whole show…”

    “’Tomban legends’?” Newsie repeated skeptically.

    “Bear with me. I’m winging it. Sure, maybe there’s no connection, but just implying there might be is so cool it’ll have everyone in town lining up to see what all the fuss is!” Rhonda insisted. Newsie’s scowl didn’t lessen.

    “It would be a breach of ethics to suggest any sort of connection between two completely unrelated mishaps to the scientists in charge, or to that –that---thing over there!” the Newsman argued.

    “I didn’t say go all TMZ with it! Just…just say the facts. You can do that, right, mister Serious Journalist?” She planted herself directly in front of him again, glaring up. “Tell the facts, and then talk about the other legends of haunted mummy cases that used to go around this place back in the day! Let the dumb believers draw their own spook-happy conclusions!”

    “It sounds more like something those charlatans over at KRAS would stoop to,” Newsie snorted.

    Rhonda looked pointedly at her watch. “You got a better idea for something to film in the next twenty minutes, hotshot? Or did you not want to get any editing time today?”

    Irritated, Newsie had to admit he didn’t have another story where the Muppet Natural History exhibit was concerned; his brain was still too astir with conflict and insecurity. He gave in with a curt shrug. Satisfied, Rhonda directed Tommy in shooting a few different angles of the mummy case, working around Mulch. Newsie paced a short line by the bench, pulling out his trusty notepad and a pen and trying to control his thoughts long enough to write some decent lead-in copy for this absurdity. What is Mother planning? What stunt could she possibly pull? There’s no way Gina is…is…no! She says she loves me! But his mother’s sneer rose in his mind’s eye all too easily, her grating voice snarling what could she see in YOU? You were ALWAYS a disappointment!

    He jumped when the hunchback suddenly stood in his way. As he grabbed his heart through his sports coat, shaking, Mulch tapped his scribbled nonsense notes again, waving them in front of Newsie. “Oorfa lagaa murf wagga!” he insisted.

    “Er…right. Absolutely,” Newsie said, desperate to get rid of the bizarre interruptions. “Thank you. Uh…we’re trying to film a news report here, so if you don’t mind, I really need a little quiet to work on this. Please.”

    Disappointed, Mulch stood aside, watching the funny-looking yellow man pace some more, his pen making quick scratches on his little pad of paper. Mulch looked over at the rodent and the long-armed cameraguy setting up around the creepily preserved example of Muppeti quidquid, almost ran over to explain to them what he’d found, then thought better of it. He glanced at the translation he’d made of the inscription scroll found in the burial chamber of the mummified Muppet. Thieves, beware! The reverential ancient Muppet tribe who’d laid this terrifying figure to rest had written: This husk is sacred to the spirit of the great shaman Mookie-mookie, and any who disturb his sleep will pay with their lives! Robbers, tremble! Kings, bow down! Muppets thousands of years hence who open the tomb and put the body on display in some weird big cave with track lighting, beware the wrath of Mookie-mookie, and despair!

    Mulch trudged off in a snit. He’d tried to read it to them. Some people simply had no comprehension of archaeological discovery! Maybe Van Neuter would listen. Stomping into the storage room full of preserved tapeworms, Mulch heard the vet humming happily to himself. Turning a corner in the labyrinth of shelves and crates, Mulch found his boss trimming the fringed tentacles of a large, restlessly seething jellyfish which appeared eager to burst free of its jar, and never mind the formaldehyde.

    “Mulch! Just look! Isn’t it just the most precious specimen of Smuckerpisces uckie wuckie you have ever—aaaiiiiiiigh!”

    Mulch frowned as the enormous and not-quite-dead jellyfish grabbed Van Neuter by the top of his head and slung him around the room. Again, just when Mulch had something important to say! Van Neuter cried out, “Mulch! Hit it! Hit it silly! Make it put me dooooooowwwwnn!”

    “Raffagah hungo moh frawh!” Mulch snarled, and angrily stomped off, the notes crumpled in his fist.

    Behind him, Van Neuter yelled, “That is so not true! It is not always about me! Mulch! Muuuuuulllch!”

    Two floors up, the Newsman prepared to give this ridiculous, cobbled-together report to the camera, checking his cuffs and tie and getting his focus as he stared into the steady red light just above the lens. Gina loves me. I can run over to her theatre as soon as the news is done tonight. She loves me. She’ll be waiting. Maybe Rhonda’s right, and she’ll be proud of – Did that claw just move? Startled, he stared at one of the smaller Muppasaurs, one of the vicious, chickenlike Velocimuppets, almost certain he’d seen one of its hooked claws twitch. He almost spoke his fear aloud, then realized Rhonda would ridicule him. Ashamed, he returned his attention to the camera, and glanced at his notes while the rat gave him a quick countdown. He was jumpy and paranoid, justly so with Mother still around someplace. He wouldn’t put it past her to use old bones to try and frighten him.

    That thought made him screw up his courage, and straighten his broad shoulders, and look squarely into the camera with a determined, grim stare. “This is your Muppet Newsman, with a special report from the American Museum of Natural History. Stories of curses have always fascinated the credulous…”

    “Perfect,” Rhonda whispered. She paid no attention to the soft clacking noises behind her except to wish that big blue guy had the common decency to be quiet while they were obviously filming…
    -------------------------------------------------------------
  7. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Eleven

    Newsie wasn’t at the apartment, although Gina found his bath towel still damp when she checked, and his clothing from this morning slung into the laundry hamper. So he had gone to work. Trying to tell herself this was a good sign – certainly better than finding him still moping here, or worse, finding no signs of him at all – Gina scrubbed quickly in a cool shower to get the heat of the day off her body, and dressed in black tights and a black-lace-trimmed babydoll that fell just past mid-thigh. She did her best to put her uncooperative hair up in something resembling a formal bun; tiny wavelets dribbled out around the sides. In this humidity, this is as formal as I get, she thought unhappily. At least the tech booth was air-conditioned. She studied herself in the mirror a moment. Will Newsie like this? She shook her head, angry at herself. As if this was just another night! But all the same…before she ran out the door, she took a second to add the black-obsidian-crystal chandelier-drop earrings that she knew he admired, which did at least make the outfit a smidgen more dressy.

    She only cared about what one particular person thought of how she looked. She could only hope he’d turn up as he’d agreed to.

    Where is Mommy Dearest, anyway? Is she going to try to maim me again tonight? Maybe I should’ve brought the hemlock, Gina thought, regretting her lack of foresight. Exorcising the theatre sounded like a marvelously swell idea. She almost grinned to herself: swell. She was starting to think like her old-school journalist… So many things she loved about him, out-of-style word usage included. Newsie was simply old-fashioned about a great many things… Maybe I just overwhelmed him. Maybe he can’t handle an adult relationship. Maybe he’s had second thoughts all along? Worried, she wasn’t looking as she ran through the lobby toward the lighting-booth stairs, and abruptly a fat suit blocked her way.

    “Oh!...Paul,” Gina muttered, glumly recognizing the large, bulbous lips, the flat nose, the huge round wet eyes of the show’s producer. Ugly though he was, his impeccably tailored suit and polished shoes (was that eelskin?) smugly proclaimed money, money, money. She wondered what his cut of this charity event would be; she couldn’t imagine him doing it out of the goodness of his tiny, cold heart. “Hi. Excuse me; have to do the light and sound checks.” She really didn’t want to have to try and squeeze past him; she had the distinct impression that to do so would get ooze on her dress.

    Paul Grouper sucked in a breath, ogling her short dress and long legs. “Mith Brouthek. While I underthtand many, ahem, artithtic types thuch as yourthelf adore a more wanton lifethtyle than I mythelf am uthed to,” he leered, “I really have to take ithue with your latetht thcandle.”

    “Thcandle?” Gina demanded, glaring at him. “I mean – what scandal?”

    “Well…” Paul leaned in; trying not to openly grimace, Gina leaned away. “It wath brought to my attenthun earlier tonight that you have apparently been, thall we thay, entwined with a member of the Muppeth, and –“

    “Entwined?” Gina repeated, rage rising immediately.

    Paul frowned. “Ath much ath it is none of my bisneth what thordid little things you indulge in when in the thecret privathy of your own intimate domithile, thurely you mutht underthtand the pothition I am in, and the harm which the thlightestht whiff of thcandle could catht upon thith event –“

    Gina restrained the urge to backhand the fishy producer. Barely. Suddenly she understood why Miss Piggy had perfected the karate chop. “You,” she hissed, her voice dropping to a dangerous whisper, “can shut the h— up. Now.”

    Paul screwed up his fleshy lips, offended. “Mith Brouthek! You will not take thuch a tone with me! I am the produther of thith show!”

    “You are a small-minded, lecherous, odious, greedy, grasping parasite on what’s supposed to be a good cause!” Gina snarled, startling the shorter man. “I’ve had enough of people trying to turn up their noses at Newsie and me! I love him, and I’m not ashamed of it! There is nothing wrong or sick or bad about loving a Muppet!” she shouted, backing the producer against the nearest wall. Paul blinked his goggle-eyes at her, clearly astonished at being addressed in such violent terms. Gina took a deep breath, still struggling with a very strong desire to dump this horrible, leering lech into the sewer, and finished with a lunge-step at him that made him flinch: “So I don’t care what backwards little bog-town you crawled out of, do you get it? And you’d better get used to seeing people in relationships you don’t approve of, because in case you didn’t realize it, Fishy, you’re in freakin’ New York!”

    Paul gaped at her, his large lips twisting wetly, soundlessly. Gina stomped again, making him fall back so she could storm past him without smearing her dress against his shiny suit. Two steps up the stairs, she heard him stutter imperiously: “Wh—I—I—I’ll thust have you know, your behavior would never be tolerated in Innthmouth! We uth thivilized thpeech there!”

    “Freakin’ old-money New Englanders,” Gina muttered, throwing open the booth door at the top of the thtairth –er, stairs – and slamming it shut behind her.

    After the third giggle heard in passing, the Newsman felt the unpleasantly familiar certainty that he was being mocked behind his back. When he turned his head to look straight at the assistant news floor manager, she promptly quieted and pretended to be checking something on her clipboard – but even his poor peripheral vision caught her assistant handing something off to someone else. Snapping his gaze that direction, Newsie glimpsed a folded newspaper before a crew member hurried away with it tucked under his arm. Newsie swallowed, ashamed without knowing why, and then swiftly grew irritated. “What’s going on?” he asked the assistant floor manager.

    She blinked blankly at him. “Firming up the story order, why? Did you have some changes you wanted to work in?”

    “Uh…no. No, thank you,” Newsie said, bemused. Maybe he was imagining things. After all, this was his workplace, not Mrs Kandinsky’s homeroom class, and these were trained news professionals, not sixth-graders. Reminding himself he still had to view the final version of his special report in the editing room before they went live in twenty minutes, he turned and trotted down the hall away from the broadcast floor…and distinctly heard several more snickers and giggles.

    His felt was burning as Rhonda met him at the door to the smaller of the two editing booths. “Hey, just in time! I got it all cued up and –“

    “Is there anything I ought to know about?” Newsie demanded. Rhonda looked him up and down, blanched, and tried to smile innocently.

    “Ah, no, a’course not! Here, Newsie; why don’t ya come on in and we’ll look at the final playback, and you can –“

    “Why are people…laughing at me?” Newsie asked, studying the nervous rat suspiciously. “Rhonda, if there’s some practical joke Fargo’s pulled on me, you need to tell me!” He tried to glance over his shoulder at his back, failing. “Did he tape ‘Noogie Me’ to my coat again?”

    “Ah, forget him, that overblown used-car salesman wannabe! Come on in here, Newsie; look, I got ya a fresh coffee and one of those fiber cereal bars you like, so you can just watch this and then relax until air time…” Rhonda pushed him into the booth, shutting the door hurriedly. Newsie looked at the refreshment laid out for him, and then realized no one else was present.

    “Where’s Tony?” he wondered. Slow though he was, their camerasloth was also their film editor much of the time, as the station didn’t have the budget to hire another person or the time to pull the other techs away from their own assignments.

    Rhonda sighed. “It’s Tom…forget it. Look, just put your feet up and tell me what you think, okay? It would be a delightful change to actually send a finished edit to the floor for air just once!” She put her paws on her tiny hips in the unmistakable I’m-getting-frustrated-will-you-please-just-do-this posture he’d become perfectly familiar with in the past few months they’d been a team. Nodding, giving in, Newsie sat down, sipping the coffee, and halfheartedly unwrapped the snack while Rhonda settled herself on the desk right by the monitor. She tapped on the computer keyboard, and the digitized footage they’d shot this afternoon began playing back.

    “This is your Muppet Newsman, with a special report…” his voice sounded over a shot of the creepy mummy. Newsie repressed a shudder, nearly plunging his nose into his “Donnie and Marie” coffee mug. The view cut back to his standup in front of the clear plexi-case housing the dead, dry thing. “Stories of curses have always fascinated the credulous, and this museum has experienced its share of bizarre legends throughout the years: mummy cases in the Egypt room moving after hours, noises heard by guards in vacant wings… Now two new, unusual events have befallen people connected with the new Muppet Natural History Exhibit scheduled to open tomorrow morning right here.” Newsie tried to relax; he felt reasonably proud of his on-the-spot writing for this piece.

    Rhonda paused the playback. “See? That’s great, what you did there! Suggesting a link to the curse without actually saying there is one!”

    “What curse?” Newsie grumbled, taking a bite of the fiber bar. “This whole angle is ridiculous!”

    “It’s genius, and we thought of it,” Rhonda argued. Only slightly mollified by her including him in the credit, Newsie sipped more of the coffee and waited. Playback resumed, with headshots of the two unavailable experts.

    Newsie’s voiceover stated: “The Paleomuppetology consultant for the exhibit, Dr Bennigan Fargo, came down with a severe case of green fur flu after seeing to the shipping of numerous rare Muppet fossils from Texas and Mississippi.” Newsie flinched at the next shot: some…person…in a hospital isolation tent; frothy green fur and clamping, chomping, clamshell lips could barely be seen pressed against the plastic sheeting for an instant before orderlies wrestled the…whatever it was…back into its bed. Newsie stared at Rhonda in shock.

    The rat grinned. “Fantastic, isn’t it? I got Murray to slip me that outta the green fur flu epidemic report that Jerry’s doing tonight. Should be a nice bump for both stories!”

    “What is that?” the Newsman asked.

    “That was our Muppasaur expert. Direct to the viewers from Bellevue!” Rhonda squeaked triumphantly. Shaken, Newsie simply held onto his mug. Rhonda sighed. “Goldie. Baby. Crazy sells. Trust the rat, okay?” Shaking her head at her correspondent’s queasiness, Rhonda resumed the playback once more.

    “The other professional who donated both exhibits and expertise to the museum for this show, Dr Abercrombie Fish, has not been heard of since his small Cessna plane was lost over the Pacific two days ago,” the Newsman’s voiceover continued. “Dr Fish had been en route from Iowa; aviation authorities say Fish and his pilot had not filed any flight plans for an oceanic route and have no answer as to why the plane was so far off course. The New Guinean Coast Guard is still searching for possible wreckage.” The images shifted from a still of Dr Fish, a kindly-looking old mackerel in khakis, to amateur footage of the professor on a recent dig in New Brunswick, and then to aerial shots of the ocean, and finally a few pigs with bones through their nostrils plying the dark water with flashlights and stick-nets from dugout canoes.

    Newsie had to admit he was impressed. “Where’d you get all the footage?” he asked.

    “Am I your reports editor, producer, director, and overall star researcher, or what?” Rhonda demanded smugly. Nodding at her, the Newsman realized how lucky he was to have the seasoned pro working with him.

    “Very nice,” he told her, and she beamed.

    “Not so bad yourself,” she replied. “Keep watching, sunshine.”

    Forgetting about his mother for the first time in two days, Newsie relaxed a bit in his chair, chewed on the fiber bar, and kept an objective eye on the monitor. The camera cut back to him in the museum, slowly walking between some of the smaller Muppasaurs, and Newsie noted how the camera’s light threw long, stark shadows behind him and the skeletons. Creepy…and effective. On the footage, he addressed the camera seriously: “While there is clearly no connection between these unusual tragedies, their mere association with ancient Muppets will no doubt stir up more of the ever-popular superstitions about mummies, curses, and forces beyond the measurable world.” Newsie started, jerking upright in his seat, seeing movement where there shouldn’t be any. On the film, he finished, standing directly in front of the enormous M. Tex claw clutching the Velocimuppet skeleton: “For KRAK Big Apple News, at the Museum of Natural History, I’m the Newsman.”

    “What was that? Rewind it!” Newsie said, pointing a shaking finger at the screen.

    “Uh, that would be you in front of a bunch of mounted bones,” Rhonda said, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”

    “Go back! Go back! Look, there! Right…right behind me…do you see that?” Newsie gulped, pointing as Rhonda backtracked the footage several frames to the point where Newsie was walking through the exhibit. She shrugged.

    “I see bones, bones, and more bones. What the heck, Newsie?”

    “Slow it down,” he demanded, not knowing which keys to tap himself. “Play it back! Watch!” Confused, Rhonda obliged him. They watched as, in slo-mo, the Newsman strolled around one of the bovine fossils. “There! What was that? It moved! Rhonda, that thing moved!”

    She peered closely at it, bumping up the magnification. “Uh…Newsie…that’s your shadow crossing the bottom of the display. Tommy had your lighting cranked on high power to give it some cool shadows. Relax.”

    “Not that,” he growled, tapping the monitor impatiently in a different area. “That!”

    Rhonda played it back once more, slowly, and this time she saw it: just after Newsie passed by one of the Velocimuppets, it appeared to tilt its turkeylike head… ever…so…slightly. “That’s…that’s just a trick of the light,” Rhonda guessed, eyes widening. “A bad angle! Newsie…those things are dead. You’re seeing things!”

    “Tell me you didn’t see it too,” Newsie insisted, glaring at her, shivering.

    The rat gulped, but met his sharp gaze. “Uh…I didn’t see it too. Come on, how could a dead, mounted skeleton actually move? Maybe…maybe it was that kook of a curator messing with us! He looked like the type to rig up a corpse for a laugh…”

    “Van Neuter wasn’t anywhere around!”

    “But his assistant was,” Rhonda pointed out. “Now…now come on! You’re gonna give me the creeps! Knock it off!”

    “It moved,” Newsie insisted, drawing away from the screen. Had that thing been…watching him…the whole time they were filming? Looking for an opportunity to get him alone, waiting to strike? “I…I read,” Newsie gulped nervously, “their claws could disembowel larger prey in seconds…and they think the things hunted in flocks…”

    “Okay stop it!” Rhonda squeaked, clapping her hands over her ears. “Just quit it! I don’t wanna hear it! It was…it was just a trick of the light, or the camera, or that pair of psycho scientists in charge, okay? Enough! In case you’ve forgotten, we do have to be back there at the opening to cover the event all day!”

    Sobered, Newsie drew his hands over his chest anxiously. “Rhonda…what…what if I’m not?” He looked at her, frightened, and she gazed back, worried. “What if Death decides to drag me away with my mother? What if…what if he takes Gina?”

    “Newsie,” the rat said softly, putting a paw on his hand, “that’s not gonna happen. That’s gotta be against the rules or something! You’re alive, she’s alive, you’re both healthy, I’m sure you can’t be dragged away if it’s not, uh, not your time yet! Look…he showed up before breakfast, right?” Newsie nodded. “So…tomorrow when he shows up again, you just stand tall and tell him you’re not going, and you’re not going to let him take the woman you love, either!”

    The Newsman swallowed hard, blinking back wetness at the corners of his eyes. “Why would he listen to me? He’s…he’s the Grim Reaper, Rhonda! The End! The tall scary guy with the scythe!”

    Rhonda exhaled loudly, whiskers twitching. She added her other paw to his hand, coaxing him to stop clenching his fingers together and take her tiny ones in his own. “And you are the one and only Muppet Newsman. You’re the only one of us with a nose for news and the perseverance to keep doing that job year after year! So you…you stand tall. You tell that big scary guy to lay off already! ‘Cause we need you here, and Gina needs you, too.”

    Newsie tried hard not to sniffle, but his nose was already clogging, as it usually did when he became upset. Stupid long sinuses… Rhonda smiled lopsidedly at him, showing her tiny sharp teeth, then handed him a tissue. Nodding thanks brusquely at her, Newsie honked loudly into the tissue, and then another two after that. Rhonda sighed and thumped the whole box in front of him. “Pull it together, we go live in five,” she said, checking her watch. “I’m gonna run this to the control guys. Hustle, Goldie!”

    Yanking a flash drive from the computer, the rat jumped from the desk and scurried out of the booth, leaving the door open a crack. The Newsman wiped his eyes, his glasses, and his nose once more, then checked his clothing, smoothing down his jacket as he slid from the seat. Well, she’s still calling you names, but at least she backs you up, he thought. Differentiating between good-natured insults and real ones was still a new concept to him; previously, they’d all been hurtful. Mastering his composure, he pushed open the editing booth door…and several conversations suddenly paused. Uncomfortably, the Newsman looked around; a number of taller people began small talk or discussions of tonight’s show which sounded somehow false to him. Blushing angrily, he trotted past them all, heading for the news set. What the hey? It has to be Fargo! Why is he so vicious? I’m not after his job! I like being in the field! He only wanted an anchor position if he could also do live reports from other sites, like Peter Jennings had so wonderfully done. Besides, it wasn’t as if the studio was any safer than a war zone, in Newsie’s case…even here, things still fell on him. One day last month, there had been a freak hailstorm in July…inside the news studio. Over his side of the long news set desk. All right, that is IT! Gina was right…I need to stand up for myself more! She thinks I’m worth something…heck, even the rat seems to think so as well! I’ll just march right up to Bart Fargo, star anchor, and I’ll tell him…I’ll tell him…

    “Hey, shrimp!” the anchorman said, laughing, leaning down right in the Newsman’s face. Newsie was so flustered he almost snapped back That’s King Prawn! Startled, he fell back a step, looking up. Fargo smiled, his perfect pearly whites gleaming. “We’re supposed to present the headlines, not make them!”

    “What are you babbling about?” Newsie growled, glowering.

    Fargo snapped open a newspaper. Newsie only glimpsed a picture of a couple embracing before a flying rat tackled the paper from Fargo’s grip. “Aaaaah!” Rhonda shrieked, ripping the cheap newsprint to shreds and frantically stuffing the pieces into her mouth. As Newsie and Fargo and everyone else around stared in astonishment, Rhonda snapped and gulped and swallowed the entire front page. She grabbed Newsie’s hand, tugging him after her. “Come on! Get on set! It’s time!”

    “But – but – what –“

    “Straighten up! Face front! Head up!” the rat squeaked shrilly, and Newsie obeyed instinctively. He noticed the director counting down. Fargo raced past, settling smoothly into his chair up front without another look at Newsie while the theme music washed over them. He smiled for the camera; bewildered, Newsie simply stared at the lens when his own name was announced for the opening. Rhonda sighed, slumping off to the side, stifling a belch. As Fargo launched straight into the lead story, something about the horrible refugee crisis in Somalia, the Newsman tried to pay attention, but kept glancing at Rhonda, who was panting and looked ill.

    “What was all that?” he whispered to her.

    “Ohhhh I hate carbon ink,” Rhonda groaned softly.

    “Psst! Why did you do that?” he tried again.

    “Shh!” the floor manager cautioned him. Newsie fell silent, but kept shooting confused looks at his reports director. What the hey? Why would she eat a headline? Why would Fargo shove one in my face? What could possibly…

    Marcie Yung suddenly crouched by his chair, sweeping her skirt-hem away from the floor so he had a revealing view of her tanned thighs. “Want to offer a comment tonight? Air your side of the story?” she whispered, eyes gleaming at him.

    Completely flustered, Newsie forced his eyes upward to meet hers. “Er! Uh…what?”

    “The whole Muppet discriminatory thing. I think that’s a great angle to work, stir up some civil rights issues, that sort of thing,” Yung offered, and apparently mistook his utter bafflement for reluctance. “I mean…you know. If you feel up to commenting on it. I understand if you’re too broken up right now.” She gave him a sympathetic frown.

    Newsie stared at her. “What are you talking about?”

    “Shhhhh!” the floor manager hissed.

    Realization dawned, and Marcie put a hand to her perfectly-glossed lips. He had no idea why she was even talking to him; as the entertainment and gossip branch of the news team, their paths rarely crossed. “Oh, no. You, uh, you haven’t even heard yet?”

    Frustrated, Newsie jumped from his chair and hurried a little farther from the news set; it would be a few minutes and at least one commercial break before they reached the Muppet News segment. “Heard what?” he demanded. The pretty young celebrity-news reporter seemed dismayed, but then looked around, and gestured for something from one of the staffers just behind the cameras.

    Rhonda looked over just in time to see that dratted gossip-spreader Marcie handing a copy of the late edition of the Daily Scandal to the Newsman. “Oh, noooo,” she groaned, and shoved her unhappy body into motion to try and stop the inevitable.

    The headline on the front page read: SECONDHAND NEWSMAN! Muppet Reporter Dumped for Tall, Hunky Human! Muppet Community Outraged at Sexual Discrimination by Former Paramour of Once-Famous Journalist!

    The photo showed Gina…unmistakably, beautifully Gina…dipped in an embrace by her friend Scott. They were about to kiss…or perhaps had just kissed.

    Newsie froze.

    Rhonda reached him. “Newsie! Newsie, c’mon, it’s the Scandal! That’s Scribbler’s byline! You know it can’t possibly – you know she’d never—“

    “She…she…” Newsie choked. “Oh, Gina!”

    He held the paper tightly in both hands, staring at the photo. Yes, he knew d—d well Scribbler’s propensity to twist the truth…but…but…that photo! That didn’t look faked! Newsie groaned; several people swung around to watch, but he didn’t even register them, focused on that awful, terrible, real photograph.

    “I told you so,” his mother said primly. Squeals and stunned gasps flew through the studio as everyone reacted to the sudden appearance of the spectre next to her son.

    Newsie couldn’t even be surprised, too overwhelmed by what he saw in terrible black-and-white clarity. His shaking hand found the arm of someone’s chair. Rhonda tried to get his attention. “Newsie! Stop! To heck with Scribbler, to heck with this…this crazy old gray hag! Gina would never cheat on you! It has to be rigged!”

    “Get away from him, filthy rodent!” Mrs Crimp snapped, kicking the rat aside roughly. She leaned close to the Newsman, who trembled violently, the ghost’s cold breath nothing next to the shock coursing through him already. “I told you you’d regret it, you disbelieving little fool! I told you she was no good!”

    Sickened, Newsie staggered away from her, away from them all, all the stares, all the whispers, still clutching the newspaper. As Rhonda righted herself, shivering, the Newsman headed for the hallway, for the building’s lobby, gaining speed as he went. The director, irritated and bewildered, called for a commercial cut a second before the smug ghost yelled after the Newsman: “You should have listened to your motherrrrr!”

    “That’s her! I swear it’s her!”

    Gina usually ignored the audience right below the booth, focused on her work, which at the moment was simply keeping an eye on the banks of dimmers to make sure the one which had been giving them trouble earlier that week was indeed fixed as her electrician had promised. So far she’d seen nothing wrong; the lighting check was done, the sound check had been uneventful, and the house had only just opened. She was sitting tensely, waiting in the darkened tech booth, ready to execute her own lighting cues as they didn’t have an actual stage manager for this show. Overlaid on her normal show-anxiety was the fear that showtime would arrive, and her Newsman would not.

    “Lookit, I got the paper right here,” the voice whispered loudly. Annoyed, Gina flicked her eyes to the long window overlooking the stage; the back row of the audience was right beneath it, and anyone standing up would just barely be able to see in. Two people, a young man and woman, craned their necks to look inside. Sighing to herself, Gina pointedly ignored them. Couple of looky-loos who just have to see what’s in the big dark room up there, she thought. She expected that kind of thing from little kids, but these two looked college-age; too old to be pointing and staring at…her.

    Why were they pointing at her?

    Oh, crud. Scribbler!

    She shot a glare at the gapers, and they giggled and sat down out of sight. Oh, wonderful. This has to be about that d—d scandalmonger! Wait…scandal…was THAT what Paul was leering about earlier? Oh, God… Humiliated, she pressed her thumbs into her weary eyesockets briefly. Oh, no. What did that little weasel print? What if Newsie…oh no! As upset as he’d been this morning, surely that kind of harassment would make him seriously ill. Hating the necessity of it, disregarding all protocol, Gina reached for the booth phone and punched in Newsie’s cell number. Of course, it went right to his uncertain, gruff voicemail message: “Uh…erm…please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you. Uh, how was that?” Beep.

    Either his phone was off, or he’d forgotten it at home again. Desperately Gina left a message just in case: “Newsie…when you get this…call me. No – come see me! I love you. Whatever you’ve heard, it’s not true! I love you!” Hanging up, she heard snickering outside the booth again. Disgusted, she paced a minute, wondering where her sensitive journalist was, and whether he’d seen the ridiculous photo that hack Scribbler had snapped. When I find that little piece of trash…oh, hanging’s too good for that scrawny neck! I’ll tie him to the New Year’s ball rig in Times Square and have them run him up and down it every day! She checked the clock: still twenty minutes to curtain. The house was only about a third full, but typically donors liked to arrive late, so she wasn’t concerned yet about the success of the show. Maybe she could send Alan over to the KRAK studios? Deciding that was as good an idea as anything else she could do right now, Gina left the booth to find her assistant, wishing she had a gofer as dependable here as Kermit did over at the Muppet Theatre.

    She hoped none of them would believe anything under the byline of one Fleet Scribbler.

    Scott was checking out the crowd from just inside the house doors; he saw a large number of expensive-looking dresses and suits in the audience, a good sign. Last-minute panic attacks from one of the acrobats, a faulty headset in the box office, and that strange magician insisting he’d left his silk tophat around here somewhere had all been dealt with, fixed, calmed, done and ready for the night ahead. The wooden comedians had been rehearsing constantly backstage, the steel drums sounded tuned and pretty – even if their player still looked a little rabbity – and some smarmy lounge singer who pouted about his name being misspelled as “Dwayne” had been charmed into staying for his performance with the promise of the phone number of one of the female ushers. In short, all was well and ready to go.

    A murmur ran through the crowd in the lobby. Scott turned, wondering if some big-name celebrity had shown up. Instead, he saw the Muppet Newsman. Scott started to grin and hold up a hand in a wave…then saw the red-rimmed eyes behind those hornrimmed glasses, and the ragged paper clenched in one yellow fist. Concerned, Scott strode toward the reporter, but before he could ask what was wrong, the Muppet reached forward and shoved him, hard.

    Scott instinctively braced his feet, but the Newsman wasn’t tall or strong enough to push him back. “How…how could you!” Newsie choked, his voice rougher than normal. “How could you!”

    “What the heck?” Scott asked.

    Newsie smacked Scott with the crumpled paper he held. “Gina! I thought she…I thought you…I thought you were only friends!” he cried, anguished. “WHY would you do this!”

    “Wait, wait!” Scott responded, deep voice raised. Everyone in the lobby was staring at them, and the people just within the audience doors peered out to see what the commotion was about.

    “I love her!” Newsie yelled at the top of his lungs, waving the paper at Scott, straining on tiptoe to reach up as high as he could…roughly around Scott’s chest. “Did you think I wasn’t serious? Did you think I wouldn’t find out? Did you think it wouldn’t matter because I’m a Muppet?” Dumbfounded, Scott put a hand out to stop the raging, grieving Newsman, but Newsie swatted it away roughly. “How could you…how could you do this…Gina…oh, Gina…” He broke into loud sobs.

    Scott suddenly remembered that skinny guy snapping stupid photos earlier, and how seriously Gina had taken it. “Oh, man. Hey, wait, Newsie, wait, look –“

    “Don’t you call me that! We’re not friends!” Newsie shouted. Stricken, he stared up at the taller man, then pointed a shaking finger at him. “We…you made me think…you lied to me!” Gasping, he seemed suddenly to lose all momentum, sagging at the knees. “You…you tell her…if she wants you instead…you tell her…tell her…”

    “Newsie? Oh, no. Newsie!”

    Gina leaped down the last few steps, already reaching for her wounded Newsman, but he jerked away, stumbling, grabbing one of the velvet ropes separating the ticket line from the house doors to keep from collapsing. “Newsie! It’s not true! Whatever Scribbler said, it’s not true!” Gina exclaimed, horrified to see him pulling away from her.

    “I saw…I saw the photo,” Newsie gasped. “That said enough!”

    “Newsie!” Gina protested, reaching for him again; again, he flinched. “No, no, Newsie, please…how could you think I’d ever do that? I love you!”

    “Man, it’s not what it looked like,” Scott agreed. “I’d never mess with you two! You’re good for each other, and I wouldn’t –“

    “You kissed her,” Newsie accused him; swinging around to gaze hopelessly at his beloved, he said weakly, “You…you kissed him…”

    No! No, Newsie, I didn’t! Whatever you saw, it was a set-up!” Desperately, Gina tried to embrace him, but as soon as her hands touched him, the Newsman groaned and pulled away, staggering back into the center of the lobby; the crowd, larger now, stared, murmured, some laughing, some bewildered, some offended by the very public scene. “How could you ever think I’d cheat on you? Aloysius!” Gina cried, again trying to catch his arm. Newsie cringed at his true name, ducked under the ropes, stared at her with tears streaming down his face a moment, and then fled, stumbling, bouncing off of people and the front doors before nearly falling down the stairs outside.

    “Oh, God,” Gina groaned, crying as well now. Grimly Scott saw Paul Grouper heading for them, attracted by all the shouting. He shoved Gina toward the theatre’s main entrance.

    “Go. Go! I’ll run the board. Tell him I’m sorry it even looked like that. Just go!” he bellowed, and Gina didn’t look back. But although she flew down the stairs, when she reached the street and cast desperate looks in every direction, there was no short golden Muppet to be found.

    Wiping her eyes with her dress hem, not caring how many people noticed and stared, Gina stood anxiously a split second, thinking fast. The apartment? No. Grand Central? No…then there’s only one place he would go.

    Hoping she hadn’t guessed incorrectly, Gina took off at a dead run in the direction of the Muppet Theatre. If she was wrong…she might never see her sweet Newsman again.
    ------------------------------------------------------
  8. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Hee, bet I'm the only one who gets the Innsmouth reference.

    The rest of the chapter was great and I hope more gets posted soon after.

    Now run Gina!

    *Awaits climatic battle, cueing up the bustin' themesong.
    newsmanfan likes this.
  9. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    --------------------------------
    Ed, I was going to shame you mercilessly if you HADN'T got that ref! :)

    I'll write more the next couple of days. Will try not to make the wait too long...

    ---------------------------------
  10. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twelve

    Kermit hadn’t a clue which way to turn next. Screams from the audience, shouts from the green room, panic, chaos! “Scooter!” he yelled as his second-in-command ran past.

    “Hang on, chief! Animal’s got Mrs Van Der Snide cornered in the ladies’ room!” Scooter yelled back, yanking open the door to the hall which led front-of-house.

    “Oh good grief,” the frog groaned. A familiar war cry made him turn.

    “Hiiiiiii---yaaaah!” One of the stagepigs, a burly porker now sporting green tufts of fur in his ears and nostrils, sailed past and crashed headfirst into a wall; a puff of mortar dusted down on top of him. Miss Piggy brushed off her gloves before smoothing back her glossy locks. “And keep your grubby green paws off me, buster!”

    “Piggy! Are you okay?” Kermit asked, worried, but his darling showed no sign of contagion.

    “Kermie!” She rushed to him, enfolding him in a concerned embrace. “Oh, I was terrified you’d been hurt by one of these…these…sick people!”

    Relieved to see her unharmed, but feeling a little compressed, Kermit wriggled free, taking her by the hands instead. “So far, so good,” he replied, then shook his head as Zoot, his stringy hair now green instead of blue, wandered past in a daze, touching his shell-like lower lip in disbelief. “Sheesh…relatively speaking, I mean,” Kermit amended.

    The night hadn’t started this crazily. It had been a decent enough house, and even a good guest star lined up – the newly popular Carrie Louise, of talent show fame. Then the timid girl had called at ten minutes to curtain to say she was too afraid of the green fur flu to keep her commitment to the show. Animal had been ill in the scrubby weeds out by the loading dock, and though Floyd insisted it was only from too many tacos with Yo’Mama Sauce, during the opening theme, the drummer’s fluffy head of red hair suddenly turned green. Things quickly went downhill after that…

    Piggy sniffed contemptuously, glaring at the hog she’d felled. “What is wrong with all these weirdos tonight?”

    “I…I think it’s that green fur flu,” Kermit said. He allowed Piggy to grab him by the waist and sweep him to one side as Dr Teeth came howling up the stairs, pulling at the fur sprouting out of his chin like a vegetative beard, his eyes rolling in terror. “Ack! It…it…seems to make people go crazy if they catch it,” Kermit explained.

    At that moment, Animal came loping across the stage, a shrieking, shaking, well-bosomed old dowager in a ripped dress which exposed her Victorian-style corset slung firmly over his shoulder. He paused only a second to grin at Kermit and Piggy. “Hah-hah-hah! Wo-man!”

    As the green drummer carried off his protesting prize, Piggy gave Kermit a deadpan look. “How can you tell?”

    Scooter and Floyd raced past, Scooter loading up the tranquilizer rifle as they went. “Hey, Animal! Animal! Come on, man! She’s not your type!” Floyd yelled after the drummer. The two ran out the back door the way Animal had fled.

    “This is madness!” Kermit wailed. He ventured a look around the proscenium into the audience. Various green-furred…people…thrashed and howled among the rapidly-emptying seats. “What are we going to do?”

    “Did you call the CDC?” Piggy offered. “I have my cell phone on me.”

    “May as well,” Kermit agreed, and Piggy pulled out the phone and dialed quickly. Janice hurried by, ushering a bunch of chickens before her.

    “Like, up there! I think we’ll be safer if we all go roost,” the guitarist said, the chickens bawking in agreement, outrage, or terror; it was hard to tell. All of them flew or climbed into the fly loft, where they clung to the railing and peered down at the carnage.

    “Yes! Atlanta, please,” Piggy said sweetly into the phone. “Merci.”

    “I hope frogs can’t catch it,” Kermit sighed. “I’d look terrible in fur!”

    None of them noticed the Newsman coming in the back door. The noises and frantic atmosphere, in return, went largely unregistered by him. This place always suffered from some sort of weirdness. Sucking back his sobs, blinking blurred eyes, he went straight for the lower staircase, but just as he reached it, a green-furred, snap-jawed thing in a white chef’s hat staggered up the stairs, wobbling past him. “Furrren der bol der clumpy-clumpy!” the thing complained to him as it went.

    Startled, Newsie paused finally to stare at the activity backstage. Kermit and Piggy alone, embracing over by the stage manager’s desk, seemed untouched by the chaos. Everywhere else he could see, Muppets either ran away from the various weaving, flailing, green-furred creatures, or toward them with large nets or Tasers. What the HEY? Newsie dodged another creature, shaken when he recognized the gold tooth and feathered hat it sported. “Dr Teeth? What on earth?”

    Kermit spotted him. “Newsman! I thought you were off tonight for that charity show?”

    “I…I…” Newsie gulped.

    Piggy snapped into the phone, “Yes I’m sure that’s what it is! Do clamshell lips and ugly Astroturf all over sound like chicken pox to you?”

    “Well, as long as you’re here, do something!” Kermit pleaded. He shuddered, taken aback, as Zoot stopped right in front of him, opening his clammy jaws soundlessly, then removing his hat to tentatively touch the green, wavy fur cascading into his eyes. “Eeesh! Can you – can you call your news station, at least? I’m sure they have some pull with the local hospitals! We need help!”

    Zoot approached the Newsman, lifting arms which looked a great deal more furry than they had moments before, and Newsie, overwhelmed, fled down the stairs. “Oh good grief,” Kermit groaned.

    “Don’t worry, Kermit! I’ll save you!” Beauregard called, rushing the sax player, brandishing a push-broom. “Hey, you! You leave these un-sick people alone!”

    Zoot, displaying faster reflexes than Kermit had ever seen from the languid musician, grabbed the broom-handle and bit it in half. Piggy froze, then drew Kermit a few steps back with her. “Never mind the HAZMAT team,” she muttered at the phone, “Send the Marines!”

    Zoot and Beau stared at the broken broom. Desperately, Beau jabbed the stick at Zoot; suddenly enraged, the green fur flu taking over, Zoot snarled and yanked the stick from the janitor’s hands. Beau ran, yelping, and the furry monster bounded after him, waving the stick. Kermit shoved Piggy toward the back door. “Piggy – just get out of here! Run!” he shouted.

    “But Mon Capitan--!”

    “Out! Out! Go! Now!”

    Piggy looked from her poor frog to the monsters in the audience, all beginning to turn toward the stage, the audience completely vanished, although whether more had gone out the door or joined the green ranks was impossible to determine. Biting her lip, Piggy pointed out the encroaching hordes. “But…but…”

    Kermit saw them, and with a gulp, gathered his strength and sprang up into the storage loft above stage right. “Go! I’ll be fine!” he yelled at her. “Hopefully they can’t climb…”

    Piggy pursed her lips, proud of her frog, determined to assist. “Then be safe, my dear one! I’ll be back – with an army if I have to!” Turning to leave, she ran into the babbling, groaning, green Chef. “Aaaagh! Outta my way, you green egg-and-ham! Hiii-yahh!” With the monster dispatched, she trotted out the back door in search of help.

    Newsie sprinted around a drooling, gibbering thing in the center of the suddenly-appropriately-named green room. It caught his arm before he was far enough away, jerking him back so hard he almost fell. “Aaaagh!”

    “Look at me!” the thing moaned, patting the fur coming out of its wide nostrils like whiskers gone horribly wrong. “What am I going to do? I had a commercial shoot for hair gel tomorrow!”

    “L-Link?” Newsie gaped, stunned. Then he yanked his arm free. “Let go of me!”

    The afflicted hog turned away, hands to his face, bewailing his transformation. Newsie reached the door to his dressing-room, but it seemed stuck. He pulled hard on the handle, and heard squeaks coming from beyond it. “Hey!” he yelled, and pounded the door with a fist. “That’s my room! Let me in!”

    “No way! We were here first! Get your own hiding-place!” Rizzo shouted back.

    Angrily, Newsie got a good grip with both hands, braced himself, and yanked as strongly as he could; the door flew open, a group of rats tumbling out. They squeaked and shrieked and scurried back inside the dressing-room. Newsie jumped in after them, slamming the door before what appeared to be a girl Muppet with wide eyes and long green fur could wander in as well. He heard her break into song: “Ohhhhh I said Doctor! Mister MD! Oh, can you tellll meeeee…what’s ailing meeee…”

    “Good love ain’t gonna cure dat!” Rizzo exclaimed. He looked the Newsman over sharply. “You’re not feelin’ sick or anything, are ya?”

    “I’m fine!” Newsie snapped, backing away from the door as the rats produced a tiny hammer and nails from somewhere and started securing a cross-brace ripped from the wall across the door to prevent any more intrusions. Newsie dropped into his lone chair, heart stuttering, gasping. He’d run all the way here, and now this! “I’m…I’m fine…really…”

    The rats swung around to stare at him as he burst into fresh sobs.

    “Hey…okay, it’s like Resident Weevil out there, but geez! Pull it together!” Rizzo urged him.

    “Leave me alone,” Newsie cried. Ashamed, he pulled off his glasses, bent over, his hands covering his eyes. “Just…just leave me alone…”

    The rats exchanged looks. Something tried to pull on the door, and most of the rodents leaped onto the board, holding the door shut at the jambs with their entire bodies. Rizzo approached Newsie cautiously. “Uh…what’s wrong, Newsie? Other than the obvious, I mean.”

    “G-Gina…” He couldn’t speak. He didn’t want to speak. Blinking down at the rat, Newsie lifted one trembling hand, fumbling the crumpled gossip sheet from a pocket. Rizzo took the article, frowning.

    “’Impotent Impresario Demands Paternity Re-test’?” Rizzo read aloud, puzzled.

    Angrily, Newsie grabbed the paper and flipped it over, shoving it back at the rat. “No!” As Rizzo stared in shock at the photo, Newsie glared, wiping his face with his already-damp handkerchief. “Any jokes you want to make at my expense? Go ahead! I’ll – I’ll throw you to the green things!”

    “Oh, geez, Newsie,” the rat sighed, shaking his head. He looked up at the stricken reporter with sympathetic eyes. “Oh, man. I can’t believe it!”

    Newsie gulped, tears beginning anew, and wrapped his arms around his stomach. He wanted to be ill, but his throat was too dry and raw to produce anything. Rizzo kept shaking his head. “Oh, man. Dis can’t be true! Gina wouldn’t step out on you! Come on, you know dis rag, dey print da dumbest t’ings! Come on, Newsie…” Awkwardly, he patted the journalist’s knee.

    “I thought…I thought she loved me,” Newsie moaned, bent over, his voice thick with sorrow.

    “You should have listened to me!” a grating voice proclaimed.

    All the rats screamed, leaping away from the grey, chill, imperious matron suddenly standing next to the Newsman. He shivered, refusing to look at her. “Do you see now? You should have remembered that I am an excellent judge of character, Aloysius, whereas you would trust anyone who gives you the time of day!” Mrs Crimp snapped. She noticed the rats. “Aaagh! Rodents! Shoo! Shoo, you nasty things!” She produced a phantom broom from nowhere, sweeping it at the rats.

    “The flusome or the gruesome?” a rat asked, casting terrified looks from the door to the ghost.

    “Tink I’d rather take my chances out dere!” Rizzo cried, yanking desperately at the board nailing the door shut. “Lemme out!”

    Mrs Crimp grimaced as the rats managed to pull the door open and flee. “Disgusting! And you work here? Does the Health Department know about this?”

    “Mother, please go away,” Newsie begged, looking up at her with wet, reddened eyes. “Please!”

    “Oh, I certainly will! But so will you, Aloysius! Now come along!” She fastened cold fingers over his shirt-collar, but Newsie jerked away, trembling.

    “N-no! Never! Leave me alone!” he shouted, jumping from his chair, throwing himself backwards against the wall of the tight little room. His mother frowned.

    She waggled a finger in his face. “You brought this on yourself! Cavorting shamelessly with that horrible slu—“

    “Stop it!” Newsie cried, slapping her finger aside. “Go away!”

    Insulted, his mother expanded, growing larger-than-life, leaning over him. “Don’t you dare speak to your mother that way, young man! You will come home with me, right this instant!”

    “No! No!” Newsie dove past her, rolling into the green room through the busted dressing-room door. No sooner had he picked himself up than she was grabbing him by the scruff of his jacket like a furious mother cat with a disobedient kitten. “Let me go!” he cried, kicking, feeling his feet leave the floor.

    “Enough!” a voice thundered. Mrs Crimp paused, looking around; Newsie struggled but couldn’t break free of her grip. The back of his neck was starting to go numb, freezing.

    A dark blue dragon in tattered eveningwear with flashing eyes materialized before the large grey ghost. “This is MY theatre! You may not haunt here!” Uncle Deadly proclaimed. Even the green-furred Muppets remaining downstairs backed away from the angry Phantom of the Muppet Theatre.

    “This is my son! And I’ll discipline him as I see fit!” Mrs Crimp argued, drawing Newsie closer to her. He gasped, shuddering, the cold radiating from her striking him sharply. Frantically he tried to push himself away from her, his fingers rapidly losing all sensation.

    “You will harm no member of this company – including him!” Deadly stated, moving closer, gathering his arms inward as though he planned to pounce upon the rival ghost. “All are under my protection!”

    “And what are you?” Mrs Crimp sneered. “A freak! It’s no wonder my boy can’t tell right from wrong anymore, exposed to the likes of you!”

    “Begone, vicious hag!” Deadly commanded, throwing both arms out before him. Mrs Crimp fell back a step, startled, then glowered at the dragon.

    “How dare you, you little…you little…”

    “Let go!” Kicking hard against his mother’s midsection, Newsie at last regained his freedom, falling forward to the green room floor, gasping. At once Deadly stepped between him and Mrs Crimp, toothy lips upturned in a confident smile. Newsie stared up at them, frightened, shaking all over. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone? Especially now! And why was the dragon-thing helping him? They’d never even spoken – and didn’t the ragged phantom qualify as a monster? Why would a monster defend him? Trying to crawl out of range of them both, he kept staring at them, short of breath, feeling his heart trying to keep up with his racing thoughts.

    “Whatever you are, you should know better than to come between a mother and her child!” Mrs Crimp snarled, rolling up the sleeves of her housedress.

    “And you ought to be more conversant with the rules of haunting!” Uncle Deadly shot back. They circled one another, glaring. “Don’t they teach anything at the school for ugly old ex-crones anymore?”

    “Ex-crone!” Mrs Crimp cried angrily. “That’s enough out of you, you impertinent little –“

    “Fire, Beakie! Fire!”

    With a yell of meep, Beaker opened fire with the spectral electron-disrupting anti-Muppaspectre beam-thrower. The blue plasma beam whipped wildly into the ceiling, the kick from the gun catching the unbraced Beaker off-guard again. Startled, Mrs Crimp ducked, abruptly shrinking back to her pre-death size, as the dancing beam lashed over her head. “That’s it, Beaker! Don’t let her get away!” Bunsen shouted. Beaker stumbled across the room, failing in his attempts to wrest the gun under control.

    Mrs Crimp gaped at the scientists. “Freaks and crazies,” she muttered. “Nothing here but freaks and crazies!”

    Deadly’s gaze darted from the wildly shooting beams to the distracted invading revenant. Triumphantly, he gathered his energy and shoved hard. Shrieking, Mrs Crimp flew threw the outer wall of the theatre. “And stay out!” the dragon crowed.

    He dusted off his hands as Bunsen grabbed the beam-thrower alongside his associate, the two of them together managing finally to turn it off. Blue smoke wafted from the ceiling and walls where the electron disruptor had cut through the atomic structure of the building. Beaker put one hand to his mouth, staring at the damage. “Meep…”

    “Nice shooting, Tex!” Deadly congratulated Beaker, his dramatic tone sounding more suitable to proclaiming Friends, Muppets, countrymen! He studied the odd gun. “Just what is that instrument of destruction with which you so timely distracted the old bat?”

    “Oh! Oh…this is our latest invention!” Bunsen said proudly. He patted the gun, taking it gently from the shaken Beaker’s easily yielding hands. “This is the very latest in ghost-busting weaponry, the Muppet Labs Disint-o-ghoster 3000! Guaranteed to break apart the spectral structure of any formerly Muppet paranormal entity, and –“

    “Whhaaaaat?” Uncle Deadly roared, startling the scientists. He advanced, raising the edges of his satin-lined, though badly torn cloak. “What do you think you’re doing with that? How dare you!” He lunged at the pair, and with high-pitched shrieks, they fell over each other, tumbling for the door to the underground hall and the dubious safety of the lab.

    Forgotten, the Newsman raised himself slowly off the floor, climbing onto a sofa askew from its place against a wall. All the green fur flu sufferers seemed to have fled the confrontation, and he was alone in the room. Alone. He clutched the edge of the sofa, the nerves prickling in his hands, wishing he wasn’t feeling anything. Anything at all. Oh, ohhh…why is this happening? How could she do this? Gina, oh, Gina…I love you…I love you…what am I going to do now? What’s left now? He could feel the tears filling his eyes again; it was amazing he had any left to cry. Choking out a low moan, he sat there, dully realizing he’d dropped his glasses somewhere in all the chaos, not caring. What is there to see? I’ve seen enough! Oh, Gina…no…

    “Newsie?”

    He shivered, shutting his eyes. No, no! Leave me alone!

    “Newsie! Oh, God, Newsie…” He heard her running down the stairs. Before he could turn away, her arms were around him, he could smell that gorgeous spicy amber scent; he’d never be able to stand smelling it again. Weakly he struggled, but Gina wrapped him tightly in her embrace, dropping to the floor in front of him, her head on his shoulder. “I love you! I love you! It wasn’t what you think!”

    “Gina…I…I can’t…” he choked, but then two other voices chimed in.

    “It’s not true, Newsman,” Rowlf said.

    “We were dere! It – it was all dat scary old lady’s fault!” Fozzie agreed.

    The Newsman opened his eyes, startled. Although his vision was too fuzzy to make out more than a light brown blur and a dark brown blur, there was no mistaking those voices. Gina raised her head, gazing at him with wet tracks all down her cheeks. She stroked his hair, softly, insistently. “I would never, ever cheat on you,” she promised. “Never! It was a set-up, Newsie! Your mother—“

    “What?” he gulped, staring at her. In her eyes he saw determination, worry, and that same fierce devotion she’d had the night she first…the night they first… He swallowed hard. “What…what did Mother do?”

    Relief at once spread over Gina’s face. Rowlf stepped closer. “Uh, your ma wrecked some guy’s shot, and the ball almost hit Gina,” he explained.

    “Yeah! And dat tall guy saved her!” Fozzie said. Tentatively he put a hand on Newsie’s shoulder. “Dey didn’t kiss, I swear it, Newsie! He was just keepin’ her from hitting da floor!”

    “Ball?...shot…?” Newsie asked, confused. He looked back at Gina.

    “I love you,” she said. He saw her eyes brimming, and realized all at once what a fool he’d been.

    “I love you,” Newsie responded, his voice rough, pained. Gina blinked hard, tears coursing down, and Newsie pulled her head forward with both hands, catching her up in a deep kiss. She opened her mouth to him eagerly, their tongues brushing. Fozzie looked away, embarrassed, but Rowlf sighed, relieved.

    What an idiot he was! Gina loved him! She would never--! Crying afresh, grief surmounted by gratitude, then anger, Newsie kissed his beloved with renewed passion. Finally he had to break away, gasping, unable to breathe through his nose, clogged from all the crying. Gina gave a short, breathy laugh, and pulled one of his clean hankies from under her dress. “Here…I always carry a spare for you…” she said, managing a smile.

    “Thank you,” he mumbled, and blew his nose loudly. Sighing, Gina hugged him tight, her fingers twined in his hair as he tried to clean up a bit, his head over her shoulder. Fozzie and Rowlf relaxed.

    “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I should have tracked you down and told you what Scribbler did right after it happened,” Gina told him.

    “I love you,” he said, slowly calming, feeling wrung out. “You –what? Wait. Scribbler? My mother? What?”

    “Who do you think snapped that stupid picture?” Rowlf growled.

    Newsie blinked at them all. “Uh…tell me what happened?”

    The whole story poured out of the ones who’d been there, and as he listened, full comprehension growing, Newsie became more and more furious. Gina held him tight, feeling him trembling. She kept stroking his hair, trying to calm him, leaving small kisses on his nose, his cheeks. Wonderful though that felt, he wanted to…to…good grief, he actually wanted to hurt somebody. “They were working together?” he demanded.

    “Looked that way,” Rowlf said, nodding.

    Gina glanced around, noting the smoked, crumbling bits of plaster above. “Where is Mommy Dearest, anyway? I can’t imagine she’d leave you alone…”

    “She didn’t,” Newsie muttered, casting a dark look at the wall his mother’s ghost had been thrown through. “But that…that dragon thing got rid of her.”

    “You mean…da Phantom?” Fozzie gasped. “Wow! Boy, do you have friends in weird places!”

    “I…I have friends,” Newsie replied, softening as he looked at the two brown blurs on either side of him.

    “Yes you do,” Rowlf said firmly.

    “Could one of you find his glasses?” Gina requested. Newsie clung to her, his fingers gripping her shoulders more tightly at the slightest shift of her body, afraid to let go. She hugged him in return, deeply happy to feel his broad, soft hands on her shoulders once more. Fozzie hustled into the dressing-room, returning swiftly with the Newsman’s undamaged hornrims. Gina placed them carefully on his nose, securing them over his ears; he gazed at her with relief, anxiety, and adoration all intermixed. Kissing him again, she was able to smile, and seeing that, he smiled a little in return. “Together,” she told him.

    “Together,” he agreed, his heart at last slowing. Remembering the earlier crisis, realizing the screams and wails were now silent, he looked around at the overturned chairs, the tables all shoved together, the bits of green fur littering the floor. “Uh…where’s everyone else?”

    “Not sure. I had to sneak in past the cops,” Gina said, tucking a stray lock of hair freed of the loose bun back over her ear.

    “It’s kind of crazy up there,” Rowlf said.

    “Yeah, dere’s a bunch of beekeepers locking up all dose green monsters!”

    “Uh, those were suits to prevent contamination, Fozzie. Not beekeepers.”

    “Oh. I wondered why dere weren’t any bees.”

    “Can we get out?” Newsie wondered. At least it sounded like the flu was being wrested under control.

    “Try the stage left exit, and go behind the backdrop,” Rowlf suggested. “The medics mostly seem to be stage right, and in the lobby. Looked like they’d put all the green guys under sedation.”

    Nodding, Gina rose with a grimace, her lower back still smarting. Newsie immediately assisted, putting his shoulder under her arm, concerned. “There you are! Well, I guess you missed all the fun!” Kermit snapped, coming down into the green room. Piggy and Gonzo were with him; several other Muppets came tiredly traipsing along after. The frog stopped in front of the Newsman and Gina, casting looks of frustration at Rowlf and Fozzie as well. “I guess you missed the big story! I can’t believe you guys all hid down here while the National Guard had to—“

    “Oh, right! Because there couldn’t possibly be any other crisis going on that you ignored, huh?” Gina broke in.

    Startled, Kermit looked up at her. “What? What other crisis?”

    “Er…Newsie’s mom was here, Kermit,” Fozzie offered timidly.

    “How is that worse than—“

    But Miss Piggy laid her gloved hand gently on Kermit’s arm, and he paused, casting an uncertain glance back at her. Piggy could tell from Newsie’s and Gina’s expressions…not to mention the obvious tear-streaks on both their faces…that something terribly serious had taken place. She shook her head almost imperceptibly at Kermit, and he quieted, though he turned confused eyes to the four standing in the middle of the green room. Floyd and Janice flopped onto a sofa, sighing together. Gonzo held onto Camilla, both of them looking weary after being pursued through the catwalks by a raging chicken with green feathers. Beauregard solemnly stared at the ruined door to the Newsman’s dressing-room, shaking his head at the thought of repairs. Sam the Eagle strode down the stairs, exclaiming loudly, “And that is why we should never cut funding for our men –er, and women – in uniform! God bless the National Guard! I am proud to have witne…uh…” Seeing several annoyed looks turned his way, Sam stopped. “What?” he demanded, flustered.

    “So…what happened?” Kermit asked quietly.

    Rowlf looked at the exhausted, strained couple holding one another tightly, Newsie sagging a bit as he kept his arms around Gina. Scratching an ear lightly, Rowlf spoke up. “Well, you know the Newsman’s mother is, uh, dead, right?” Kermit nodded warily. Rowlf sighed. “Well, seems she really doesn’t like Gina…”

    It took a few minutes, and some confusion when Fozzie eagerly jumped in to relate the scene in the pool hall, as he told it completely out of order and with many “No, wait, wait, see”s. Finally the whole tale unfolded, and Piggy’s eyes narrowed while she kept hold of her frog’s hand, the two of them by then seated along with everyone else except Fozzie, who kept nervously shifting from foot to foot. Kermit shook his head. “I’m sorry, Newsman, Gina. I had no idea things were so complicated for you two.”

    “That’s a good word for it,” Gina sighed.

    “Add outrageous and ridiculous to that,” Newsie grumbled, one arm around Gina’s waist as they sat close together. She stroked his cheek, her arm draped over his shoulders.

    “So…how are you going to persuade the…ahem…person in charge to return your mother to wherever she belongs?” Piggy asked, making the word wherever sound utterly distasteful.

    Newsie shook his head. “I have no idea.”

    Gina kissed him gently. “We’ll stay together. That’s how.”

    He hugged her, deeply weary. Seeing this, Kermit and Piggy exchanged a look; how many times had they themselves sought refuge in one another after an impossible day? “You should go home and get some rest,” Piggy advised.

    “Sounds about right,” Gina agreed.

    Newsie sat up a little, shaking his head. “How? Mother will probably ambush us as soon as we set foot outside the theatre!”

    “She can’t push away all of us,” Kermit said, his froggy jaw crumpling in determination.

    Surprised, Newsie looked around at the small group. Apparently a number of the troupe had fallen prey to the flu, but quite a few sat here now unharmed, and they all gazed back at him with the same sturdy support. “What…what do you mean?”

    “We’ll go with you,” Rowlf said, and several of the others nodded.

    “Yeah, man. After what I just went through up there, a little spook hunt sounds downright relaxin’!” Floyd joked. Janice, smiling, patted his chest.

    “Come on,” Kermit said, getting up. “Let’s see if the exit is clear yet.”

    It took somewhat longer than hoped, as the CDC workers accosted them all before they’d reached the back door, and everyone had to submit to a breathalyzer test (apparently green fur flu victims had a blood-goo level of .75 or higher) and suffer a quick, painful jab of a needle with the inoculation against the bacteria, but eventually the group assembled on the loading dock. “Are…are you all sure?” Newsie asked.

    Everyone nodded, clucked, or gave out some variation of “Yep,” “You bet,” or “Let’s do it!” Feeling awash in gratitude, the Newsman stepped into the alley with his arm around his beloved and hers around him, surrounded by a phalanx of unshakeable Muppets. His friends. He looked up at Gina; she smiled, and pulled him closer as they walked. They stepped up the pace when they reached the street, but no malevolent grey parent materialized to challenge their progress. The crowd bustled along all the way to Gina’s Art Deco-era apartment building, and before parting company in the lobby, Newsie turned to Kermit.

    “I…I hope everyone recovers soon,” he offered, feeling guilty now that he hadn’t done anything to help.

    Kermit shrugged. “Well, the CDC folks said everyone who’s sick should run the full course of the symptoms in anywhere from twelve to forty-eight hours. I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

    “I’m sorry I didn’t…”

    “Vous had other matters to attend to,” Piggy said graciously.

    Gina smiled at her. Newsie, awkward with gratitude, stuck out his hand to the be-gloved pig. Piggy stared at it a moment, then broke into an amused smile and gently laid her fingers over the Newsman’s. He seemed bewildered what to do with them, throwing a look of sheer confusion at Piggy. Kermit seemed to be contorting his mouth to prevent a laugh from coming out. With a sigh, Piggy gently pushed her hand, still holding Newsie’s, toward his wide mouth, and finally he understood, and quickly, nervously, kissed the back of her glove. He looked at Kermit, hoping he wasn’t in trouble, but his boss simply stuck out a flipper for a handshake.

    “Thank you,” Newsie muttered, blushing. “Thank you both… Thank you all…er…I can get anyone into the Muppet natural history exhibit tomorrow for free who shows up early, when the museum opens,” he offered.

    “How delightful,” Piggy murmured politely.

    Kermit smiled. “Well, I know Robin’s been talking of nothing else all week! We’ll be there.” He turned serious. “And…and let us know if there’s anything we can do to help, uh, with your, uh, family problem.”

    Gina shook her head, giving Newsie’s left hand a squeeze. “We’ll deal with that. Thanks, guys.”

    “Hey, uh…do da dinosaurs come to life after dark?” Fozzie asked. “’Cause if dey do, I think I’d rather visit in da daytime!”

    “No, Fozzie,” Gina assured him. “Only in the movies.”

    “Like, you guys, just kick back and have a groovy rest of the night,” Janice said as the group began to disperse with many “goodnights.”

    “Yeah, short, yellow, and serious! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Floyd cackled. Janice smacked his rear playfully as they strolled away.

    Newsie waited until his friends had all gone, then looked up at his beloved. She’d waited patiently, knowing what he needed, and when the lobby door had closed and they were alone, she knelt and embraced him tightly. Newsie sighed, trembling all over once, tension easing finally. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled in her ear.

    “Don’t you ever, ever think I’d do that to you again, got it?” she growled at him, but the tenderness with which she stroked his hair assured him she was far more relieved than angry. He nodded, humbled. They kissed again, but then Newsie tapped the elevator call button. Gina held onto him, exchanging many soft kisses and touches, until the bell dinged and the doors slid open for them. They kept their arms around each other the entire ride up to the ninth floor, and when they at last arrived inside their own apartment, and the door was locked, and there was thankfully no sign of Mrs Crimp lurking outside the windows, Gina was on the verge of asking whether her exhausted Muppet journalist wanted dinner or a shower first when he suddenly stood on tiptoe, bending her gently down for a very involved kiss.

    Sighing happily, Gina returned it, loving the soft-scratchy feel of his fingers on the back of her neck. When they parted for a breath, Newsie swallowed tightly, his gaze anxious, searching her own. “Newsie? What is it?”

    “Would you…would you make love with me?” he asked, his voice rough, hesitant.

    Gina’s breath caught; it was the first time he’d ever actually asked aloud for anything intimate. He stared up at her, looking so afraid she’d refuse that she melted down to the carpet, enfolding him in her arms. She whispered, “Only if you will with me, my sweet Aloysius.”

    She felt him sigh, and press tight against her. Kissing even as they rose together, Newsie surprised her again by pulling her along after him, his hands on her hip and her right arm as he walked slowly backwards along the hall to the bedroom. Delighted, Gina smiled at him, and as she passed through the bedroom door, she shut it behind them.

    After all, initiative-showing or not, her Newsman was a terribly private person.
    --------------------------------------------------------------
  11. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ---------------------------------------
    Hey, Lady Ru! Is THAT better for you? ;)

    *cracking knuckles* And on to the coincidentially-well-numbered Part Thirteen, within a few days... And to quote the inestimable Tom Servo, "Okay people, don some eye protection -- we've got a lotta loose ends all flying together at once!"

    ---------------------------------------
  12. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Greatly cheers for the chapter. *Is excited and applauding over almost everything because you know, your hands start hurting after a while of that sort of stuff... Thank you, we can all sleep a bit better knowing Newsie and Gina got back together. The flu was funny, something you'd expect in an episode of the show or issue of the comics. And I eagerly await what the dead-line will bring once it manifests itself in the form of that floating Chapter #13. :scary:

    *Happy fanfic reader. More please!
  13. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Woo-hoo! Let's hear it for some ush-gush! This was great!

    I was just finishing the read on the LAST chapter when this posted, and didn't get to it until this morning, but OH! What a nice surprise!

    I'm really liking Rhonda--she may be tough, but she's got a good heart and she can care about Newsie AND the story at the same time.

    Things I loved: Uncle Deadly coming to the rescue! (I'm a sucker for a well-dressed, er, man defending his loved ones! Especially one with such a nice smile....)

    Fozzie and Rowlf coming to the rescue--together. Fozzie may not always participate himself in to the romance department, but he's a bear of great heart. And Rowlf certainly knows the power of love to calm the savage, er, muppet--nice tag-teaming there to save the day for Newsie and Gina!

    Paul was a hoot--I take it you've worked for him? (I've worked for his maiden aunt!)

    Link moaning about his hair gel commercial. Oh--poor thing! (Although, arguably, he does have more hair to gel now....)

    Kermit finally clueing in to the travails of other people's romances. I guess when your own love life has been oh-so-public, oh-so-rocky and oh-so-can't-live-without-it, you might be a little blind to the hardships others have in the romance department. Compliments to my girl, Piggy, for getting it, and for helping Kermit get some, er, get it. Get it! Get it! (Sheesh!)

    You go Big Newsie! It's about time! Gina loves you and deserves someone who will chase her back, not just allow himself to be (happily) caught. I liked the kissing in the elevator--that's what elevators are FOR, isn't it?

    Leave it to Animal to find the one woman in the audience with a corset. I've always maintained that Animal was a romantic at heart....

    More I'm sure I've forgotten--so get cracking and post the next installment!
  14. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    -----------------------------------
    Soon, soon...your author is exhausted...er, I mean busy! Uh, yeah. BUSY. No! Wait. I mean...er...uh...

    *humbly* I mean I'll post more within a couple of days...sheesh....

    VERY happy you like! :news:
    ----------------------------------------
  15. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirteen

    They sat for a long while at the kitchen table, holding hands, saying nothing. Neither Gina nor the Newsman wanted breakfast, and neither had bothered to put on clothing other than underthings yet. Newsie’s hair was frazzled, and Gina had faint sleep-deprived circles under her eyes, making her look somewhat more like her beloved Muppet journalist. Sleep had overtaken them only after several hours of embracing, exploring, rejoicing, and gasping one another’s names, passion and anxiety about this dreaded day driving them relentlessly long after they felt weary. If this turned out to be their last night together, both of them wanted to fully demonstrate to the other how entwined their hearts and lives had grown by encouraging their bodies to follow suit.

    Gina slowly turned her coffee mug around on the table with her fingertips; she’d barely sipped the cooling coffee within. Her free hand wouldn’t let go of Newsie’s, her fingers interlaced with his. He didn’t know what to do with his other hand, and kept stroking the back of her fingers, then pushing his glasses farther up his nose, or lifting his own mug only to set it down again untasted, or nervously tapping the thin marble top of the round café table. Gina sighed, and he looked into her tired eyes, worried.

    “I think he’s late,” she muttered.

    “Is that a bad thing?” Newsie asked. Every second in his love’s presence was a diamond to him right now. He wasn’t sure if it had simply been due to the emotion of the moment last night, but he’d moved more forcefully, felt more wholly committed to the actions they’d joined in together, than he’d ever permitted himself to before, and Gina had…well…he was thankful the walls here were fairly soundproof.

    “I’d rather we got this over with,” Gina sighed. “I can’t stand just sitting here not knowing what’s going to happen.”

    Newsie gave her hand a squeeze. “It…it must be difficult for you, not having any idea what comes next anymore.” She’d relinquished the gift she’d inherited from her Gypsy family when she’d learned that would be the unfortunate price to pay for being involved with the Newsman. His natural, bizarre energy field, which one friend had declared “attracted disaster like a trailer park,” went even more haywire around Gina unless her own sensitivity to future events was contained. Gina nodded at him, rubbing the copper beads around her neck with an impatient stroke of her fingers.

    “Wish they’d come up with a way to make you falling-object-proof instead,” she said. Newsie grimaced, silently agreeing with her. He still harbored guilt over that, though rationally he knew there was little he could do to change his own dubious talent for unwittingly manifesting the worst parts of his news reports upon himself. Sometimes it seemed like they’d both been forced to take the lesser evil, he apparently doomed to suffer for his work, and Gina having to choose between knowing the future…even a little…and loving her Newsman. She rose from the table suddenly, though she didn’t let go of his hand. “This is stupid. Where is he?”

    “Maybe…maybe he changed his mind?” Newsie offered hopefully. He slid from his chair, and gently wrapped his arms around Gina. “Maybe it’s over. Maybe we’re safe!”

    “Newsie…this is the Reaper we’re talking about. Define safe.” Despite her anxiety, she tried to smile at him, and ruffled his already-fluffed-every-direction hair. Newsie started to stretch on tiptoe for a kiss when they both heard a groaning, creaking sound in the living room. They stared at one another, tense. Newsie swallowed hard. Gina threw both arms around him, hugging tight. He returned it, but after a few seconds, in mutual, silent accord, they slowly walked into the dining room, each with one arm around the other, to face whatever horrible decision Death would make when told the pair had completely rejected his ultimatum.

    A bony, shrouded figure was tapping on the small aquarium near the sofa. Immediately enraged, Gina shouted, “Leave the fish alone!”

    Newsie gulped, clinging to her, as the shrouded entity straightened up, turned to gaze impassively at them from empty eyesockets, and Newsie realized it looked…different.

    “Does he seem…shorter to you?” Newsie whispered to Gina.

    “Uhm…” Gina was equally taken aback.

    The grim figure stepped toward them, scowling. Suddenly panic-stricken, Newsie pointed out the street-view windows. “Uh – hey! Look! A war zone!”

    The skeleton whipped its skull around to look outside, then slowly turned back to the couple once more. Newsie had no idea how bare bone could appear to be scowling, but it certainly was. “That’s not funny. You think that’s funny? Do you know how many of us worked overtime that day? How many souls perished?”

    “N-no, I wasn’t trying to…” the Newsman stammered, turning crimson. “No, that’s not funny! That’s not what I meant! I was just t-trying to, er, I mean, that is –“

    “I know you reporters tend to get jaded, but come on, man!” the reaper complained, gesturing out the window.

    “But I wasn’t!” Newsie insisted, horribly embarrassed. “I just thought it might distract…er…uh…” The skeleton continued to glare at him. Holding tight to Gina, Newsie muttered at her, “Why do people think I’m trying to be funny? I don’t know how!”

    “Look, why don’t you drop the dramatics?” Gina demanded of the awful spectre. “Newsie and I have talked it over, and we’re not—“

    “Boss just sent me to tell you he’s gonna be late, okay? Torrential rains in Peru, or something. He’s busy. So you BREATHING people,” the reaper used the term with obvious disdain, “can just hold your danged horses for once, and he will kindly stop for you when he’s danged good and ready, got it?” As Gina and Newsie stared in shock at this pronouncement, the reaper shrugged, shaking its head, retying part of its shroud around its neck like a scarf. “Geeeeez…everyone’s so impatient these days! It’s what comes of letting those geeks at MIT and Harvard live long enough to develop that stupid Internet...”

    “Er,” Newsie gulped. “I thought that was Al Gore?”

    The reaper scowled, wagging a bony finger at him. “Don’t EVEN mention HIM! He’s the reason I gotta go to the Arctic next instead of attending the Summer Break party over in Maui! All the surf coffins’ll be broke by the time I get there…” With a shrug of its shoulders as though to pull on a heavy coat, the skeleton muttered under its nonexistent breath, “Stupid climate change researchers not bringing enough amoxicillin…” and vanished.

    The Newsman stared at the empty spot in the once-again peaceful living room, then slowly tilted his head up to meet Gina’s astonished gaze. “What now?” he wondered.

    Gina mulled it over. “Well…if Death isn’t going to get around to us for a while…what time does the exhibit open at the Museum?”

    “Uhm…ten-fifteen.”

    Gina glanced at the vintage cuckoo clock hanging on a nearby wall. “Good. That gives us over two hours.”

    “I have to be there early,” Newsie reminded her, “I’m supposed to meet…ah…oh…” Her fervent kisses silenced him. “But – but we haven’t cleaned up yet, and I ought to shave, and…” Newsie protested feebly, although his heart and certain other parts of him were fully acquiescent with the idea of throwing the normal schedule out the window.

    “Aloysius.”

    “Gina?”

    “Shut up, Talented Journalist, and get in here.”

    She had his shirt off before he was even able to kick the bedroom door shut behind them.

    “This is gonna be so cooool,” one of the younger frogs exclaimed repeatedly, bouncing up and down in place. Mr Ribbot shifted his bulky rear uncomfortably on one of the hard benches outside the Central Park West entrance to the Museum, clearly having third and fourth thoughts about having agreed to be one of the chaperones for the visit to the grand opening of the Muppet Natural History exhibit by the entirety of Frog Scout Troop #1936. All around the benches, young froglets fidgeted, or submitted to their troop leader, Gil Frogg, retying their bandanas, or examined street goo which had adhered to the bottoms of their flippers on this already-muggy August morning. Robin the Frog was trying to one-up his friend Ribsy with his Muppasaur trivia knowledge, while his uncle stood nearby, chatting amiably with his old ad-agency friends Gil and Jill (now retired and married and raising their second batch of tadpoles), and Piggy sat on a bench and permitted two of the older froglets to fan her with palm leaves they’d picked up somewhere.

    “You’ll have to come by soon, Phi--er, Kermit, before they lose their tails,” Jill invited, smiling. “They’re so cute at that age.”

    “I’d like that,” Kermit agreed, though he wondered when his and Piggy’s hectic schedule would allow more non-showbiz-related socializing. Still, it was wonderful to meet up with the frogs he’d once accidentally worked with, and even more wonderful to find they’d made a happy home with a new family under the boathouse in Central Park. He smiled at skinny young Dill, eldest son of Gil and Jill, and offered his hand. “Nice to meet you finally. What, er, pond are you this year?”

    Dill shook hands respectfully, his ungainly teenage throat-sac bobbing at his nervousness at meeting the famous Mr the Frog. “I’m in Dark Green, sir.”

    “Dark Green! Wow,” Kermit said, muddling a bit. He couldn’t recall exactly what the order of pond rankings in the scouts was, but Robin stepped in to his rescue.

    “Dark Green’s where I was last year, Uncle Kermit. The next one up is Mottled Slimy Green Pond,” Robin explained, modestly tapping the somewhat slimy, mottled-green sash over his shoulder; he’d chosen to wear his full-dress Frog Scout uniform, as befitting the special occasion. Ribsy shoved him aside, not wanting to be left out.

    “So what? I’ve only got two badges to go before Mottled Slimy,” the young toad said. “That’s way more than you, Dill!”

    Dill shrugged. “I’ll get there…I worry more about those guys,” he said, voice dropping as he nodded over at a small group of mice in scout uniforms. Although the mice were allowed to join now, they hadn’t assimilated well in activities like swimming and flycatching.

    Robin nodded sadly. “Uncle Kermit, some of the guys make fun of the new kids,” he whispered.

    “Well, not while I’m within hearing, they don’t!” Gil protested.

    “I’m just glad the organization finally realized the marketing advantage of diversifying,” Jill said.

    Miss Piggy, bored and wondering how long the scout troop would be examining the exhibit, resigned herself to a long morning – after all, what kid didn’t love Muppasaurs? She blinked in surprise: a red Jaguar screeched to the curb, deftly parking in between two taxis. The passenger door opened. “Awwww… Moooooommmm…do I have to?” a low voice whined.

    “Yes, youuu doooo! Dooo youuu gooood to get awaaay from those dratted videogaaames all the time! They’ll rot youuur braaaiin!” another voice, presumably the mother, snapped in reply…at least, Piggy decided, the tone sounded snappish, if the speed was rather…lugubrious. She blinked again as a large-shelled snail with chubby cheeks, tiny glasses over its eyestalks, and a Frog Scout bandana halfheartedly tied around his neck plopped onto the sidewalk and crawled, grumbling, toward the scout group.

    Piggy heard one of the little frogs sigh, “Oh, great. Melvin’s here.”

    The young snail protested again before the Jag door was pulled shut from within: “Videogaaames improoove foot-eye coooordination!”

    “Well, that maaay beee, but they’re certainly not doooing anything to work youur psuuuedopod! Now go ooon, and remember to caaall me when you’re ready to beee picked up – youuur father had a brieeef to give yesterday mooorning, so he’s going to be laaate toniiight!” The car swerved abruptly into traffic, causing more than a few horn-honks on the street. Apparently, Piggy thought, snails didn’t DRIVE slow…

    Melvin crawled along the sidewalk, passing Piggy without a glance, still grumbling to himself about a wasted Saturday at the boring old Museum.

    ---------------------------------------------------
  16. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirteen (II)

    “Oh, great. They’re opening,” Rhonda muttered, dismayed as the revolving doors began turning, the crowd on the front steps filing inside. She tapped the aardvark on the elbow. “Crowd shots! Crowd shots! Maybe if Sunshine shows up we can get him to voiceover later…” Her older cameraman hefted his equipment and began filming the Frog Scouts, various Muppets and other people, and what seemed to be an endless daycare group of children as they all climbed up the broad steps and flowed into the Museum. Rhonda scrambled to one side as an eight-foot-tall yellow bird nearly stepped on her. “Hey! Watch it!” she yelled.

    The bird paused, blinking curiously down at the rat. “Oh! Hello! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you way down there! –Careful, Snuffy, there’s a mouse on the stairs!”

    Rhonda simply shook her head as the bird continued on with the preschoolers, followed by a loping, trunk-swinging, brown furry pachyderm. “Don’t worry, Bird! I see her! Haw haw haw.”

    “Mouse, my Zumba-toned butt,” Rhonda growled, looking around in high-pitched anxiety. “Where the heck is he?”

    At that moment, a cab scraped the curbside, and the Newsman burst out of the back seat, sprinting up the main entrance stairs toward Rhonda. “Sorry,” he said immediately. His hair was still damp, and his felt looked freshly scrubbed, and there was even more of an air of tension around him than he usually projected. Gina paid the cabbie and then took the stairs two at a time to join them. “Are they…are they open?” Newsie asked, looking at all the people pouring in.

    “Give Captain Obvious here a cigar,” Rhonda snapped. “Where the heck have you been?” She then noticed Gina looking still more breathless and newly-cleaned than Newsie, and threw up her paws in frustration. “Never mind! I see where you’ve been! You shoulda taken the subway, it’s faster at this hour!” She poked the aardvark again. “Follow ‘em in, get some shots of everyone going up, then go with ‘em to the exhibit gallery on Three, okay? Just follow the crowd, and keep shooting.” Nodding, the aardvark moved slowly through the door with the rest of the visitors, balancing the camera awkwardly as the door revolved with him. Rhonda turned to the sloth, just now climbing the steps. “And look who else can’t move any faster! Come on, Tommy, you’re with us. Did you bring your question notes, Mr Professional?”

    Newsie flushed angrily. “I –I know how to ask questions without notes, thank you!”

    “News ta me,” Rhonda sighed. “Let’s get in there. Remember your press pass, at least?” Newsie tapped the laminated badge hanging in front of his tie, and Rhonda was marginally pleased to note he’d worn the bone-embroidered red tie she’d bought him yesterday, even if he had to pair it with his standard brown-plaid coat… At least his pants were a subdued red-brown which complemented the cranberry tie.

    “I didn’t forget,” Newsie said. He checked his watch, brushing the new woven bracelet which he’d asked Gina to make for him. “We should get up to the gallery. The Museum director is going to formally open the exhibit hall in eight minutes.”

    “Again, what would I do without you, Mr News Flash?” Rhonda said sourly.

    “Cut him some slack, Rhonda,” Gina growled as they all hastened toward the front doors.

    “Did you get that thing with your ma worked out?” Rhonda asked, dropping all sarcasm, giving her reporter a concerned glance.

    Newsie shook his head, focused on hurrying in, and Gina responded softly, “We’ve been given a delay of sentence. Don’t know what happens next.”

    Rhonda sighed. “I’m sorry. Look – just try to focus on this thing first, okay?”
    Newsie shot her a glare. Didn’t he always act professionally, no matter how outrageous the circumstances? He couldn’t relax, even when he felt Gina touching his shoulder. “I love you,” she murmured to him.

    “I love you,” he whispered in reply, and indicated the bracelet, deep green and blue threads interwoven and knotted with strands of his own and his beloved’s hair. “Thank you for this.”

    “I don’t know if it’ll do any good,” Gina sighed. “I can’t feel whether it’s working or not anymore.” Despite her own doubts, she’d speedily crafted the bracelet a few minutes ago during the cab ride. She was touched that her Newsman now fully believed in its efficacy, even if she herself wasn’t sure it would protect him from his mother.

    “It has to,” Newsie said, giving her a hopeful look.

    “Hey, Newsman!”

    They stopped, turning; Scott came walking up the steps, appearing somewhat unsure of his reception. “Hey…I hope you don’t still think I…”

    Embarrassed, Newsie shook his head quickly. “Uh, no. No. I’m sorry for…for what I said. Er, and shoving you.”

    “Don’t film this, you idiot,” Rhonda growled quietly at the clueless sloth.

    Scott closed the distance between them, holding out a long hand. “So…we’re all good again?”

    Relieved that the techie wasn’t holding his ridiculous behavior against him, Newsie gratefully shook hands. He fumbled in his pockets. “Er…we brought an extra pass…if…if you’d like to…”

    “The exhibit sounds awesome,” Scott agreed, grinning. “Thanks!”

    Newsie came up short, and looked at Gina, bewildered. Smiling, she held up his wallet, and pulled out two Museum tickets, handing one to Scott. Blushing again, Newsie nodded thanks at Gina, tucking his wallet safely into a coat pocket. Scott accepted the ticket, and clapped Newsie hard on the back, making the shorter Muppet choke. “Cool. Glad you two are all bolt-and-nut again. Go do your news thing, dude. I’ll hang out and look at the creepy critters,” Scott said, still grinning. Before Newsie could grasp the analogy, Gina gave him a gentle push toward the doors again.

    “Hurry! Go be you. I love you.” She smiled at him, and Newsie, reassured, tossed her a smile in return before hustling with Rhonda through the nearest door.

    A cluster of folks from the Muppet Theatre waited in front of one of the two busy ticket booths just past the information center with its impressively large globe. Newsie usually paused to admire the giant globe, which reminded him of the one in the lobby of the first newspaper he’d ever worked for, the Daily News, before he switched to broadcast journalism; he didn’t get the chance today. “Hey, man, where’s our free tickets?” Floyd called out as Newsie and Rhonda neared them.

    Newsie’s gaze swept along the crowd of Muppets, relieved to see several people there who’d recovered at least enough from the flu to be present for the big event this morning. Dr Teeth and Zoot hung onto one another weakly, still seeming a little green around the hair but otherwise their usual selves.

    “Floyd,” Kermit muttered, giving the bassist a disapproving frown before stepping up to the ticket booth. “Uh, I’ll cover the Scouts. That’s two, three, four…could you guys stop hopping for a second so I can count right?...seven, eight…geez…uh, fifteen children’s passes for the special exhibit, please.”

    “Sixteen,” Robin whispered, indicating the snail, who looked as though he’d rather not be included in the group.

    “Right, sixteen, sorry,” Kermit corrected. Piggy nudged him. “Oh, and two adults.”

    “Yes sir…would that be for the Frog Vivarium, then?” the Museum clerk asked.

    “Frog Vivarium? Er, no – the new Muppet exhibit opening today,” Kermit explained. As the clerk counted out the tickets for the group, the other Muppet Theatre performers looked hopefully, expectantly, or indignantly at the Newsman.

    Newsie slumped, realizing there was no way the Museum would let him comp in that many people…and that he really didn’t have time to argue. Seeing the problem, Gina stepped in. “Go! I’ll handle this.” She smiled again as Newsie threw a kiss at her and broke into a run, flashing his press badge at the guard before heading upstairs, Rhonda leaping only a step behind. The sloth ambled along in their wake, though he stopped in front of the guard for almost a minute, slowly trying to locate his own press pass. Gina sighed, seeing the familiar flame of auburn hair bounce out of sight around the balcony to the left. Please let this go smoothly for him…he doesn’t need any MORE stress today, she thought, and pulled as much cash from her purse as she had, then went for her bank card. Good thing payday was yesterday…

    The crowd had piled up in front of the cordoned-off special exhibits gallery just past the Hall of Amphibians and Reptiles in the southeast corner of the third floor. Rhonda’s anxiety lessened slightly at seeing the dependable aardvark filming; she nodded at Newsie, and he briskly smoothed down his hair and sports coat and stepped in front of the camera. “For KRAK Big Apple News, I’m the Newsman, here at the grand opening of the new Muppet Natural History exhibit…” he began immediately, digital footage rolling, and Rhonda blew out a breath. She ragged him a lot, but the Newsman really did know his job, and maybe the shoot today would be far better than what they’d had to deal with all week. She stood to one side, out of frame, watching in satisfaction.

    “Hey! No touching!” a prissy voice exclaimed; Rhonda looked up as a solid man in a tight suit worked his way through the crowd and held up his hands. “Yes, yes, quiet down, I know we’re all very excited but the noise doesn’t get you in any faster, now does it?” He waited, his small nose in the air, until the assembled visitors, Muppets and humans and animals alike, all quieted expectantly. “See? It really does work. Now. The Museum is proud to present…oh blah, blah, blah, you know what this is, why do I bother? Go on in, then!” With a flourish which seemed more resigned than enthused, the Museum director unhooked the velvet ropes and tossed them aside, and the crowd surged into the gallery.

    The Frog Scouts, by unspoken but clearly mutual agreement, swarmed around the massive posed skeleton of the Muppetasaurus Tex immediately, oohing and croaking, numerous pairs of bulbous eyes open wide as they stared up at the impressive giant among Muppasaurs. Melvin the snail sniffed audibly. “Big deaaal,” he complained. “The Velociiiimuppets could oouutruun that thiiing aaany daaay.”

    “Look! Look! Prehistoric mice!” one of the rodent Frog Scouts squeaked, pointing at a realistic-looking display of a large, hollowed-out giant Muppafern crawling with posed, stuffed examples of Muppetodontus Rodentii.

    “Wow, birds!” the tall yellow bird said, peering at a mounted, turkeylike Velocimuppet.

    “They sure don’t look as friendly as you, Bird!” observed the brown pachyderm.

    “Gee, I wonder what they’re fighting about?” the bird mused. “Maybe one of them wasn’t letting the other one play with her doll?”

    The huge brown mammothesque creature blinked and swung his head back and forth. “I don’t see any dolls…maybe it was a food fight?”

    “Maybe,” the bird agreed, poking his beak down at the mounted plants, rocks, and tiny lizards posed terrified in between the two fossil monsters captured mid-snarl at one another. Puzzled, the yellow bird looked back at his friend. “But then where’s the food? I don’t see any birdseed!”

    “Many of these rare examples of prehistoric Muppet creatures have never been seen by the public before,” the Newsman said, roving freely once the sloth had caught up and pinned a battery-powered mic to his tie. Rhonda paced the camerasloth, occasionally pointing out the rapturous children or note-taking grad student types around the room for the aardvark to focus on or for Newsie to approach. Seeing Kermit standing with Piggy, examining a stuffed Paleolithic creature, the Newsman stepped closer to them. “Even celebrities can’t resist the appeal of such a scientifically significant event! Tell me, Mr and Mrs the Frog: what do you think so far?”

    Piggy straightened up, instantly focused on the camera instead of Newsie, smiling charmingly, but Kermit nodded at him. “Hello, Newsman. Well, so far, I’d say…it’s…it’s interesting. Very, uh, interesting.” The frog looked back at the display he’d been viewing, an adorably tiny rabbit with pink fur, frazzled ears, large hind feet, and the biggest eyes he’d ever seen. It looked, Kermit reflected, like Bean Bunny’s even cuter ancestor. He checked the plaque at the foot of the glass case: Muppalepus Snarlodontus, it said.

    “What about you, Miss Piggy? What most intrigues you about this historic collection?” Newsie asked.

    Piggy struggled to say something enthusiastic. “Well of course, moi is not an expert in this subject, ha ha, however…I think the big thing over there is the largest monster I’ve ever seen!” She nodded back at the M. Tex, and Newsie agreed with a nod.

    “This exhibition of prehistoric Muppets doesn’t focus merely on old bones and strange, weird creatures,” he continued for the camera, walking to the glass case enclosing the wrinkled, dried-up mummy. “Also on display for the first time anywhere, here is the famous Muppeti Quidquid, a member of the race believed to be the possible precursor of all Whatnots!” He lingered only a moment on the drawn-tight, seemingly disapproving grey features of the mummy, too unnerved by its resemblance to his mother. “And over here, I see some young children enjoying the exhibit! Excuse me, little girl…”

    Gina was too pleased at watching her Newsie interact with the group of preschoolers to notice when an unwelcome, mop-headed tabloid reporter snuck past the guard at the entrance to the gallery, vaguely waving a laminated cereal box-top he’d glued his photo onto in lieu of the press pass his bosses were too cheap to pay for. Fleet Scribbler gazed around a moment, sizing up the likelihood of juicy stories in the room. He saw Gina and that tall blond guy both here, though they weren’t anywhere near each other at present; then he saw the way Gina was fondly gazing at the nerdy yellow reporter yapping at some kid. Drat…so they’ve made up. Wish I’d been there to photograph the blowup at the theatre. He was still smarting at having missed the very public scene he’d heard about between the two, as well as having arrived at the Muppet Theatre too late last night to get clear shots of any of the green fur flu victims. He had, however, written a particularly biting piece about the unsanitary conditions at that theatre having contributed to the fast spread of the bacteria. Then he saw Miss Piggy chatting with some small green froglets near the biggest Muppasaur ever. SHE’S here! How? Why? His heart beating a fast tango, Scribbler eased around the edge of the room, trying to get a clear view of the pig without her seeing him in return.

    The Amazing Mumford noticed someone in a better hat than his, poufy white but with strands of greenish fur decorating it. “Pardon me,” he said, easing up beside the bemused Muppet. “Where did you get that fabulous hat? Can you pull rabbits out of that?”

    “Oh, nubber doonen der booncy-booncy,” the Chef said modestly, gesturing negatively with one hand. He held up a struggling turkey in his other meaty grip. “Doons der torkey-borkey!”

    “Get me outta here,” the turkey begged the magician. “You can pull me outta yer hat all you want, buddy! Please!”

    Dr Van Neuter bounced through, beaming, greeting everyone benevolently. “Hel-lo! Welcome! Oh, isn’t this wonderful, Mulch? All these people turned out! See? I told you we should’ve put out a table with cocktail weenies and punch!” Mulch grunted noncommittally, eyeing the public with wary suspicion. Van Neuter spotted a huge brown creature gently swaying from side to side as it listened to one of the Museum employees explaining to a cluster of children the vegetable diet of a pair of M. Bovinosaurii with broad-spreading horns and heavy jaws. “Ohmygosh! Ohmygosh! Mulch! Do you see that? Incredible!” The scientist swung around to glare a moment at his assistant. “And you said studying Cryptomuppetology was a waste of time! What do you call that, then? A living, breathing specimen of the previously-only-rumored Muppet Furry Mammoth!”

    “Rungah owfh muhnunnuh,” Mulch opined, less than impressed.

    Van Neuter was on the verge of snapping back when he noticed someone else. He perked even more, charging past the mummy to grab the hand of a startled Bunsen Honeydew. “Dr Honeydew! What an unexpected pleasure! I had no idea you were interested in Muppet paleontology!”

    “Oh! Hello again, Dr Van Neuter! Beaker, remember, we met at that festival in Los Angeles a few years back?” Bunsen turned to Beaker as Van Neuter kept happily pumping his arm. Beaker meeped a greeting, looking curiously at Mulch. Mulch glowered back, the whole overblown feel of the event making him moody. “Well, it certainly is an impressive collection, Dr Van Neuter –“

    “Oh, please! We’re colleagues! Phil,” the vet beamed, forgetting to relinquish Bunsen’s hand.

    “Oh, of course! Well, Phil, actually, wonderful though this is, Beaker and I are here to conduct the final phase of an experiment in parapsychological antiterrorism,” Honeydew explained, gesturing to the enormous gun Beaker held.

    “How did you get that past security?” Van Neuter wondered.

    Bunsen began snickering. “Oh, we told them it was a…sstt, sstt, sst…a pressure washer, and that we were here to assist you in cleaning off more Muppasaur specimens!” They all looked back toward the entrance, where a guard was watching hawkishly; Sam the Eagle whispered something in the guard’s ear, and they both glared at the scientists.

    “Oh, it’s all right, they’re with me!” Van Neuter called amiably. He frowned at Bunsen, puzzled. “Antiterrorism? Do you think…” His voice hushed. “Do you think we’re targeted by one of those extremist groups – like that awful Muppet Show Purity Group, or…or…” He gulped, “The Tea Party Antieducational Committee?”

    Honeydew looked startled. “Goodness me! I should hope not!”

    “Mee!” Beaker agreed, worried.

    “Our mission today,” Bunsen explained, “is to fend off or even destroy a truly dangerous Muppet ghost which has been haunting the Newsman there! Our data indicates there is a good possibility the offending spectre will show up today!”

    Beaker meeped a comment, but then wavered a little. He put a hand on Mulch’s shoulder to steady himself, and the blue hunchback looked askance at him; Beaker quickly jerked away, intimidated by the hulking Muppet. “You two aren’t coming down with the flu, are you?” Van Neuter asked eagerly. “Because if you are, I would love to get some bacteria samples for my lab!”

    “Meep!”

    “No, no. We’ve both been inoculated. You can’t be too careful,” Honeydew said, smiling. “No…I apologize for my assistant’s weakness. We were up all night completely rebuilding this model after our previous one was, er, damaged by someone who didn’t share our enthusiasm for paranormal studies…”

    Beaker shot a glare at Bunsen. What did he mean, we were up all night? Beaker had done all the work while Bunsen snored on his cot!

    “Oh my goodness!” Van Neuter gasped, looking away, and hurriedly patted Bunsen’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Bunnie – we’ll catch up later! I simply must take care of something first!” Bunsen and Beaker stared in surprise as the tall scientist bounded over to the Great Gonzo, Camilla, and a few more chickens who’d tagged along out of curiosity, all examining the Velocimuppet skeletons engaged in a frozen fight with the M. Tex. “Look, Mulch! Birds! Birds! Oh, oh, where did I put that DNA solution…” Excitedly Van Neuter rummaged in his voluminous lab coat.

    “Awwfuggah moom frungah,” Mulch snorted.

    “How could I have left it in another coat? I only have the one, after somebody let the goat eat the dry-cleaning!” Van Neuter hissed, triumphantly pulling out a large syringe. “Ah-ha!”

    Beaker gave Bunsen a knowing look, then started silently laughing, his head bobbing up and down. “Meep munnie?” he repeated.

    Honeydew blushed. “There…there was an open bar in L.A… I…er, may have gone out after you fell asleep…” Suddenly he clutched Beaker’s arm. “Beaker! Fire it up!”

    Newsie had relaxed somewhat, constantly stealing glances at Gina, who strolled along out of camera range as he moved from display to display to ad-lib about the impressiveness of this Muppasaur or that ancient, untranslated text. He didn’t want to let her out of his sight. Rhonda nodded and pointed and signaled to both cameramuppets, getting as many excited crowd reaction shots and well-angled views of both the Newsman and the people he interviewed as she could, riding on a natural high of controlled tension. Now this was what she liked about the job: directing the action, and the Newsman by now was responsive to her gestures, instinctively switching topics and subjects in front of the camera fairly smoothly. We might make a star anchor outta Goldie yet, she thought, pleased. Then she considered putting an earpiece on him to feed him news stories while he was on-air, and grimaced. Not a chance. He’d flub it all. Well…field reporter is where the best action is, anyway. After all, a few more sleekly-done reports like this, and maybe they’d be assigned something more challenging and high-profile, like environmental protests or the juicily outraged mob sure to gather at the courthouse for the upcoming Suggs trial. She wished they could’ve filmed last night at the Muppet Theatre; Newsie really needed to get a little more chaos coverage under his belt…assuming he wore belts…

    “A-LOYsius! You disobedient boy!”

    Newsie swung around, startled; before he could respond, an enormous brown furry elephant with no ears lumbered up to Mrs Crimp. “Uh, actually, it’s pronounced Al-o-ish-us,” the pachyderm told her, looking embarrassed. “But, awww, all my friends call me Snuffy!”

    Everyone stared at the large Muppet. Silence fell around the entire room, punctuated only briefly by a woman’s alto voice raised in indignation: “—So, like, you know, maybe Jell-o, but I would never wrestle in pudding!”

    Mrs Crimp snorted at the earless mammoth, and he shuffled back, abashed. She pointed a sharp finger at the Newsman. “Look at you! You’ve dragged the name of Crimp through enough filth now, Aloysius! I see you brought her along, and you’re not even ashamed of it! Why, you practically reek of –of – dirtiness!”

    “I showered!” Newsie protested. Gina immediately joined him, and they held onto one another defiantly. “Mother, leave! No one invited you!”

    “Don’t see why not,” Floyd murmured. “All these dead things, she fits right in!”

    “I was thinking she’s got more in common with dose things,” Rizzo muttered back, indicating the sharp-beaked, viciously-toothed Velocimuppets.

    “No way, dude. That’s an insult to the toothy things,” Scott told him.

    “I have had more than enough of your shameful, disobedient –“

    “He doesn’t have to obey you any more!” Gina shouted. “He’s a grown Muppet, and you’re a pushy old—“

    Simultaneously, Newsie yelled, “I won’t let you bully me any more, Mother! You—you lied to me! Gina never cheated on me!”

    Scribbler, hidden behind the mummy case, scribbled hastily on a notepad. Maybe he could get a decent scandal for the Scandal today after all…

    Mrs Crimp scrunched her entire grey face, eyes blazing fiercely behind tiny spectacles. “I can’t believe you, Aloysius! You call me a liar, when every day you’re pretending to be moral and upstanding, and all the time you’re living in disgusting sin with that immoral—“

    “Meeeep!” Beaker shrieked, loosing the vastly widened spectrum and vastly increased power of the Muppet Labs Disint-o-ghoster 4000 at the revenant advancing on the Newsman. The startled ghost vanished, reappearing a few feet away; the dancing plasma beam instead bathed one of the M. Bovinocorpus completely…and it lowed, shifting off its platform, looking around confused at all the other creatures in its suddenly unfamiliar surroundings.

    “Oh dear! That’s not supposed to happen!” Bunsen said, startled.

    A number of things which weren’t supposed to happen did in quick succession after that, all of them bad.

    “Not the freaks again! My son surrounds himself with social rejects!” Mrs Crimp sneered, dodging again as Beaker tried a second shot, his arms almost completely wrapped around the fat barrel of the anti-Muppaspectre gun, barely keeping it aimed roughly in the ghost’s direction. The beams spattered over the Muppetasaurus Tex, then the two groupings of Velocimuppets, when Mrs Crimp popped out of the path of the sweeping rays.

    Kermit grabbed Piggy’s shoulder and ducked with her. “Bunsen! What the hey!”

    “Oh, oh! Careful, Beakie! I think we may have amped up the frequency of the Tobin waves just a teensy bit too much!” Honeydew called, ducking himself when the ray shot right over him.

    “Attacking a defenseless old lady! How dare you!” Mrs Crimp howled, dodging yet again; Beaker staggered, the gun heating up so dangerously he was having difficulty even gripping it.

    “Defenseless!” Gina said, astounded.

    Scribbler dove away from the glass case safely enclosing the mummy as a wild shot cracked the surface of it. “Hey! Press! Noncombatant!” he yelped.

    “You!” Gina cried, spotting the hack.

    The mummy case creaked and crunched and shattered into a thousand bits. The grey, shriveled thing within stood up, throwing off its fur wraps, tattered cerements of linen waving from its upstretched arms as it bellowed its anger to the ceiling, the echo thrumming all through this gallery and the ones beyond. “Frungah mogla Mookie-mookie! Ungawaaahhhh!” it shouted.

    Some of the preschoolers began to cry. Their teachers tried to comfort them, huddled in a corner away from the still-shooting plasma beams while Beaker, squealing in terror, was yanked this way and that by the growing force of the Disint-o-ghoster, its reverse-Paramuppet power core overheating.

    “Now this is out of hand!” Mumford exclaimed, producing his wand. “A lá—“

    “Froonguh amagugguh poohawah!” the abruptly-undead shaman Mookie-mookie shouted at the same time, shoving the two carved googly-eyeballs into its hollow eyesockets. A wave of force shunted out of the jade eyeball, slamming into Mumford; he screamed, propelled backwards, out of the exhibit hall and into the nearest elevator. Its doors slammed shut and it promptly dropped to the basement and locked itself there. As everyone stared, unable to react to it all at once, the shaman waved his hands in elaborate gestures, chanting, “Mooga-shaka! Mooga-shaka! Mooga-mooga-mooga-shaka!”

    As if entranced, Animal and MahnaMahna began shuffling toward the undead shaman, taking up the chant in rough voices: “Mooga-shaka…mooga-shaka…”

    Gonzo whispered to Camilla, “This way, sweetie – while no one’s looking at us chickens!” She bawked a quiet assent, but before they had crawled very far, Camilla and then each of the other three in turn squawked in pain one by one. Gonzo looked at them all, bewildered. “What? What is it?”

    “Birds! Oh, how fortunate!” Van Neuter cried, waving his now-empty syringe, completely oblivious to the growing chaos in the gallery; Mulch, on the other hand, began backing slowly away from the central display, staring up at the stirring M. Tex. Even if his boss was too focused on his pet experiment to act wisely, Mulch knew this was bad things. This was very bad things…

    “Are you getting all this?” Rhonda asked Tommy and the aardvark. They nodded, awed, staring up at the moving Muppasaurs instead of the Newsman. Rhonda whipped out her cell and hit speed-dial. “Hey! Hey Murray? I need a truck out at the Museum right away! There’s a big story happening right now! –No, no, I mean you need to send it like yesterday! Before there’s nobody left to report it—eeek!” She dodged as Beaker tumbled past, shrieking in panic, frantically and vainly trying to extricate himself from the buckled-down safety grip of the Disint-o-ghoster as it dragged him across the room like a rodeo rider entangled in the reins of a bronco, still firing randomly at everything.

    “Get out of here, Newsie! This isn’t safe!” Gina yelled, trying to push her brave journalist toward the exit, but he planted his shoes firmly.

    “A good reporter stays with the story!” he shouted back over the eerie, shrieking calls of the Velocimuppets; they seemed to be seeking one another, starting to band together. His research for this report came back to him, and he shuddered, and shoved Gina in return. “You get out! If those things are alive – Just get out, please! I’ll –I’ll be right behind you!”

    And then the enormous Muppetasaurus Tex reared up – no one had realized it preferred hunting on its hind legs – roared so loud everyone in the room who could clapped their hands over their ears, and in one swift, frightening move, it lunged forward, curled its neck down, and swallowed a screaming Fleet Scribbler whole.

    Then all heck broke loose.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------
  17. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    W00T! ! ! *Is happy exploded with the double hapter. Thank you sir.
  18. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Yay for Frog Scouts! (Not so sure about the diversity part, yet....)

    Seriously need a translator for Beaker, Mulch and the mummy. Runs to Amazon.com to look for Guinea Pig to English dictionary, um, Compost to English dictionary and, er, hmmm. Are "translation" and "mummy" mutually exclusive terms?

    Love Big Bird and Snuffleupagus--hooray for Snuffie!

    Um, please do not kill Scribbler yet--I have plans for him. You can bang him around a bit, but that line has already begun to form....
  19. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Plans for Scribbler? That reminds me, I've yet to include him in my monstrified ranks. Any good suggestions for what creature of myth he would perhaps most or best resemble?

    Also, I'm probably the only one who picked up on the fact that Bunsen's ghost-hunting weapon runs on Tobin waves. Nice reference.
    And good diversity, both with the crowd of museum goers as well as with the exhibits on display.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled story nagging. :news:
  20. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    --------------------------------
    Calm down, calm down...already writing ch 14...it may be a couple days, working around my work schedule, but I'll get back to ya!

    Oh yes. Scribbler will suffer for his, er, art... Why would I kill him? He's too much fun to torture! :eek: And I knew YOU would get the Tobin ref, Ed!

    Hope you guys feel the next one lives up to this. I have a mental flowchart tracking every action and character present, and it ain't easy! Thank you very much for sticking with it!
    ---------------------------------


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