On the very top floor of the Anaheim Pond within the spacious confines of his office, Phil Pomfeather sat at his desk working on a lawsuit at his computer, while yelling at someone on his cell phone about his dry-cleaning being late.
“I don’t care about your schedule! I don’t care about how busy you say you are! When I say I want my suits done today, I mean today, post haste! Do you even know whom you’re dealing with, pal? I could have your business so fast, you wouldn’t even know what hit you…What? Uh…yeah, I can hold…”
Running his free hand through the still-thick brown hair that tapered to a long rooster tail in the back, the stocky man leaned back in his chair, casually picked at the lint on his lilac-coloured business suit and started humming away to the Latin beat that began to play over the phone. Ah, life was good. He had a pretty little case against Wiener World that would bring in a very nice sum of money (assuming he won of course), his team was still the hottest ticket in town and he had just signed them all into doing a nice respectable gig promoting baby diapers. Yep, it just doesn’t get better than this, he thought, smiling.
After all, one had to admit that being the combined manager, lawyer and PR agent for a bunch of alien ducks for the past three years hadn’t been too bad. When they had first come down to Earth to come play hockey, the general public couldn’t get enough of them. And thanks to his advertising savvy and in small part, their incredible playing skills, the demand for appearances from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim showed no sign of decreasing.
His happy little thoughts were short-lived. The doors to his office were suddenly thrown open and the leader of those alien ducks, Wildwing, stormed in, dragging a little man behind him. “Hey!” protested Phil, dropping his phone. “Can’t a guy work in peace and quiet around here?”
Wildwing ignored him. Stopping in the middle of the room, he coldly pushed his victim stumbling towards the desk. The man managed to make it two steps before falling to the carpet.
Phil just sat there, dry-cleaning forgotten. He knew who Wildwing had brought in; Dr. Matthias had been with them a little over two months, having replaced the one before, who had only stayed for less than a year. He had in turn, been a replacement for the first doctor, who had been hired when the Ducks first started playing at the Pond. And both of the previous two had been fired at Wing’s rather pointed requests. And now, it seemed, so would this one. Man, this guy is picky, Phil thought.
Not that he had a problem with Wildwing. No, of course not. He was one terrific goaltender, after all; in fact, he was one of main reasons that the team had stayed so popular. So far no other team goalie had managed to keep a shutout as long as he had, and even Phil wasn’t blind to the fact that Wing had a leadership quality that not only made him the team captain, but also an authority figure that nobody in the Pond ever considered questioning. Not even his two over-sugared siblings, Nosedive and Jadestar, dared disobey their older brother’s order once it was given.
It was just…well…the mask he wore made Phil just a bit uneasy. It was somewhat difficult having to deal with someone whose face was completely obscured, not knowing what he was feeling, or even if he was looking at you. Add to that that the Mask gave him an expression of permanent annoyance, and Wing’s no-nonsense attitude, and you had yourself one very unapproachable duck.
But now here he was, faced with the aforementioned duck, standing there with arms crossed, snarling at Phil to get rid of Matthias at once or he was going to do it himself.
It was extremely abnormal for the ordinarily reserved Wildwing to be acting like this. But certainly it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few soothing words, so Phil decided to try his hand at calming the irate captain. He threw his hands up, put on his best slick salesman voice and said, “Baby! Wildwing! Can’t we talk about th—“
Phil jumped. Whoa. This had to be serious if Wing was justifying raising his voice…
He cleared his throat and tried to busy himself with organizing the papers that were scattered around the desk. “So…” His voice sounded weak. He coughed and tried again. “Uh…What was the problem?”
Wildwing refused to say anything more, instead opting to glare vehemently at the scrawny physician. Phil noted that he seemed to be having a problem restraining himself. What the heck happened?
Matthias in the meantime had managed to pick himself up off the rug. He looked more than a little upset at the indignity of being half carried to the top floor of the Pond, not to mention the fact that he was being fired. He straightened his lab coat around his gaunt frame and pulled himself up to his full height, which Phil noted, allowed him to come up only to Wing’s chest. “You can’t do this!” he cried. “Do you know who I am? My contract is for two years! You can’t break that! I’ll sue!”
Phil gave a short laugh. “Sorry, babe, but you apparently didn’t read your side of the agreement.” He gestured towards Wildwing, who hadn’t even moved. “That particular duck there made certain I put a tiny clause into your contract.”
Matthias glared at him. “‘Tiny clause?’”
Phil leaned back into his chair and wove his fingers together. “Yeah! You know, the clause that says if any of the ducks have a complaint against you, they have the right to cancel your agreement.”
Matthias just stood there, slack-jawed in disbelief. Suddenly he whipped around and screamed at tall white drake. “How dare you treat someone from the scientific community with such impunity?”
Wildwing didn’t even look impressed. Leaning forward, he got so close to Matthias’ face the tip of his Mask touched the doctor’s nose. “You are supposed to be a doctor, not a scientist,” he snarled. “And we are not your lab specimens. You have been told this over and over again, although it seems that you’ve decided to ignore those warnings.” His voice sent a small thread of ice trickling down Phil’s back.
Wildwing straightened out and started to leave, but just as he had his hand on the doorknob, he turned to face his manager. “I want him gone by the end of the day, Phil,” he said. “And when you’re finished with that, I want to have a talk with you. Alone.” He walked out, slamming the door.
Phil wiped his forehead and shivered. That was not something he going to look forward to. He glanced at Matthias, who was still fuming. “Do you know how important my research on those ducks is?” the doctor cried.
Phil just shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. Let’s go find your contract.”
The drive to his house wasn’t a particularly long one, but it seemed to be forever and a day before Phil arrived at his home, tired, hot and just a little disconcerted. He trudged up the walk and fumbled a bit with his key before unlocking the door. Once inside, he dropped his valise to fall on the floor wherever, and walked upstairs into the den where he made himself a glass of gin and tonic. He dropped into a leather chair and gave a long sigh.
Yeah, some talk. After he had finished putting the boots to Matthias (He still hadn’t figured out what it was that made Wildwing flip out like that), he had gone down into the main headquarters of the Pond and found the team captain alone in the library. Once there, Wildwing had wasted no time letting him know where he stood.
“I don’t want to hear your excuses, because quite frankly, I’m not even interested in them. The simple fact is, Phil, this is the third doctor that has failed to even remotely act like a professional! Either you get us someone who can do their job properly, or we get a manager who can do his job properly. You’ve got until Saturday.”
And that was all he had said. Nothing of why Matthias was dismissed, or anything. Phil leaned his head back and rubbed his eyes.
He heard the faint sound of the back door slamming downstairs, and then the panicked voice of a young girl. “Uncle Phil! You here?”
Hmm? Oh yeah, Jessie’s out of school already… Phil forced himself to get back up and go into the hallway. There, he saw his niece Jessica or Jessie, as she preferred to be called, taking the stairs two at a time, long brown hair wind-tossed around her face. He found himself having to hold his hands up to prevent her from barreling into him.
“I thought you were going to be at the Pond!” Her green eyes were wild with fear. “I went over there right after school, and Jet told me that you had come home! Are you sick or something?”
“What?” He blinked, confused. He looked down into the fierce yet anxious face of his niece and again thought of how she had come to live with him over a year ago. With her mother, his sister, being dead for almost seven years and her father in jail for his drunken attempt on his own daughter’s life, Phil had had to pull in a lot of favours from both the Illinois and California court systems for Jessica to be brought to him. His reasoning had been that it shaved a massive amount of time off the legal wrangling and red tape that would have been there otherwise and in less than a month, she arrived on his doorstep, angry and bitter at the world. Of course, not much had changed, but there were times like this that she became what she truly was- a scared and lonely little girl.
It had also been agreed that he would only be a temporary guardian and after she had healed from her injuries, she would again be moved, this time to his older brother’s ranch in Montana where she would be given a healthier environment to grow up in. But instead, she had refused to go, saying that hockey playing alien ducks were a great deal more interesting to live with than a bunch of plain old horses. After a great deal of arguing, she managed to get her way and once again Phil had to pull strings that would let her become a permanent fixture in his life.
Bringing himself back to the present, Phil found it to be a long time before he was able to convince his niece that he wasn’t about to start falling down with convulsions. Finally Jessica just looked at him, annoyed. “Okay…If you’re not sick, then why the heck are you home so early?”
They went back downstairs and into the living room, where he told her what had happened at the Pond. “I need to find a new team doctor for those ducks by the end of the week, or I’m going to find myself out of a job!”
Jessica flopped into a chair opposite her uncle and clicked her tongue at him. “Well, you did kinda screw them over with that last one…”
“That’s not the point! The point is, where in the world am I going to find a Duck-friendly physician by Saturday?” He looked at his watch and groaned, “And today’s Wednesday.” He collapsed onto the couch and covered his face with his hands.
Jessica looked at her uncle, frowning. “Saturday? Why would they need a doctor that soon for?”
Phil didn’t bother to move his hands. Jessica had to lean in closer to hear him correctly, his voice was so muffled. “The new hockey season is about to start,” he said. “If the team’s physicals aren’t done and handed in to the board, you can just forget about the Ducks playing this year!” He pulled his hands down, and looked at his niece.
Jesse just blew out a sigh. This was completely out of her realm of experience. It wasn’t like she knew any doctors…that she liked, anyways.
Phil leaned forward, making the couch squeak and snapping Jessica out of her reverie. She looked at him, startled to see him grinning.
Uh-oh. I know that look.
She became even more startled when she heard him exclaim, “Karla!”
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Karla.” He quickly lifted himself off of the couch, and threw his hands into the air. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of this sooner? It’s perfect!”
Jessica thought for a long moment. She just barely remembered her cousin, whom she had not seen since her own mother passed away, eight years ago. She had to be at least eight or nine years older than Jesse was. She frowned again. “Karla’s a doctor?”
“No, actually, she’s a vet.” He started reaching into his jacket pocket for his cell phone. “Now, if I can just remember her dad’s number…”
His niece just gaped at him. “Uncle, you can’t do that!”
Phil paused from punching in a number and looked at her. “What?”
“The ducks need a doctor, not a veterinarian.”
Her uncle looked thoughtful. “Well…” He grinned again. “You know doctors treat humans, right?”
Jessica narrowed her eyes in suspicion. ”Yeah…”
“Yeah, well, the ducks aren’t technically human, so this will work out perfectly!”
She just shook her head.
Phil caught it and quickly kneeled down in front of her. “Look, kid, this is my last chance. If I mess it up, we’re both in a lot of hot water. The way I see it, getting Karla this job will solve a lot of problems, so come on. Give me at least a little bit of support, okay?”
Jessica sighed. What Uncle Phil said about a veterinarian being more suited to the Ducks did kind of make sense. And from what she could remember, her cousin was really nice. She honestly couldn’t see Karla treating the Ducks like some strange blob in a Petrie dish.
More importantly, if her uncle lost his job, it would mean that in the court’s eyes, he would be unable to continue being her guardian. Then more than likely, the county’s social workers would come and force her to live somewhere else. That she didn’t need.
She looked down into the worried face of her uncle, and smiled. “Okay, Uncle Phil, you’ve convinced me. Let’s call her up.”
That night all was quiet, save a dark form in the shape of a cat that crept furtively along the side of the buildings that made up the Anaheim shopping center. Every so often, it would stop, scan the area with bright golden eyes and pivot its ears like mini satellite dishes to catch any sounds that were out of step with the surrounding stillness. Not sensing anything suspicious, the small grey feline continued its journey to its end in a narrow, dank alleyway between two structures.
Another cat was there, a large orange tom, sniffing in behind a dumpster. Upon seeing the other, smaller cat, it gave a warning hiss, then went into full defensive mode, with arched spine and unholy yowling, as it suddenly caught scent of the grey.
The small cat wasted no time. It morphed into a large leather-winged creature that reached out and snapped the tom’s neck with a shake of a sharp taloned claw.
Transforming again, but into a small green lizard-like alien, the creature went over to behind the dumpster and pulled out a large silver disk that was approximately a foot wide and three inches thick. Taking a handful of tools from a pocket in the dark emerald tunic he wore, the alien went to work on the disk, adjusting wires and other implements until the device came to life in a surge of flickering lights.
“One down, three dozen to go,” he muttered as he buried the disk under a pile of refuse. A low grumbling startled him, but he laughed softly as he realized that the sound came from his stomach.
“Yeesh, give me a break! Its not like-“ he broke off as he caught sight of the dead cat a few feet away. He paused, then shrugged and made his way to the still warm body.
A few minutes later, a large owl flew into the night. And all that marked the former presence of the cat in the alleyway were some tufts of orange fur and a single streak of blood.