On The Savanna

12 Nov

Another extended allegory of modern satire.

I

Ruddy Gull stepped out one of the several openings in the fence around Moralardo. The increased options for egress and entrance were courtesy of the rhinoceroses, Lippy and Beaky. On the whole, the former fence now more closely resembled random piles of dry thorn bushes scattered around the outside of Moralardo.

Ruddy wandered up to the stump standing in the open space in front of Moralardo. He hopped up onto it. Surveying the various individual animals, most of whom belonged to herds, he squawked and flapped his bedraggled wings to gain their attention.

He clacked his beak.

Ruddy Gull’s beak was a sight to see. The upper half was bone white and shiny as if it was well-polished. The bottom half was gray and mottled brown with little patches of green. Bent and missing a small chunk on one edge, it did not appear to match the upper half of his beak in any way.

“Hearken you animals to my voice! I am sounding the alarm!” Ruddy said. “There is a great crime being committed under our vary noses! I’m talking about the vote count. This process is illegal and it seeks to disenfranchise the lawful leader of the two lands, the Great Baboon!” He took a deep breath and continued, screaming at the top of his lungs, “This must be stopped!” 

One or two of the grazers looked up from the small piles of fodder they were feeding on. Chewing absently they looked curiously at the old bird with the mis-matched beak and many places on his body that were missing feathers. A couple glanced at other herd animals that were also observing the gull and then, looking at each other, they shrugged.

“Your rights are being ripped from you as I speak!” Ruddy went on. “If we do not act now, with all possible speed, a political disaster of unimaginable dimensions will occur within days!”

A hyena peeked around the edge of the thorn bush pile to see what the furor was. When he saw Ruddy Gull and heard what he was saying, he quickly withdrew.

“This is an illegitimate process, they aren’t letting our legitimate observers oversee the counts!” Ruddy went on. “They won’t even let them into the areas where the counts are happening. We have the legal right to question every vote registered against the Great Baboon!”

Two gazelles eyed each other, nodded as one, and moved farther away from the raucous noises of the scraggly old bird.  

Ruddy didn’t seem to notice, “We have designated our vote watchers to supervise this referendum. The leaders of the Land of the Antelope won’t let them do their jobs! That is intolerable! It’s illegal!”

Marked Monitor lizard, moving as quickly as he was able, left the enclosure of Moralardo and, after grabbing a beetle off the nearest brush pile with his tongue, he hurried towards Ruddy Gull, munching as he went.

“Our Great Baboon was all set to win another term as leader when the cheating Antelope pollsters decided to steal his victory from him!”

Reaching a point just behind the stump, Marked Monitor lizard swallowed, cleared his throat, and said, “Uh, Ruddy, can I have a word with you?”

Ruddy glanced back and whispered, “Just a minute Marked, this is important.” He went on, “They are even counting male-insect ballots! That’s illegal! That’s never been done before!”

“Um, Ruddy, that’s not quite true,” said Marked Monitor. “Male insect ballots have always been counted. You need to talk with someone about this.”

“Not now, Marked, I think I’m getting to them!” Ruddy said. He continued, “These are fraudulent votes. They should not be allowing them! We have to protect the integrity of our elections! We can’t let them get away with this!”

“Ruddy,” Marked Monitor said, “I need to talk to you right now.”

Ignoring him, Ruddy shouted, “They know that their only chance of winning is by counting these illegal male-insect ballots! It must be stopped now!”

“Ruddy!” sounded a voice, shouting at him from the edge of Moralardo. The gull turned to see Wild Boar standing there.

“Not now, Boar,” Ruddy protested, “I’ll be with you in a minute! I’m about to grab them with the logic of my argument!” Ruddy Gull turned back. There were many fewer animals standing out before him than when he started, “You have to share this critical knowledge with your friends and neighbors,” he shouted. “Don’t let the cheaters win!”

Wild Boar hurried up to Marked Monitor lizard and said, “Why didn’t you stop him?”

“I tried,” replied the lizard, “but you can see he’s not listening!”

“Only by rising up by the hundreds and storming the balloting centers can we hope to save the truly lawful reign of the Great Baboon!” screamed Ruddy.

“Ruddy!” Wild Boar yelled, pushing him off the stump with his head. 

“What?” the gull yelled back at him from the ground. 

“You need to stop!”

“Why?” Ruddy stood up. “This is important!”

“It’s embarrassing, stop it now!”

“But why?”

“Because they haven’t started counting yet.”

Ruddy Gull stared at him for a full minute. “What?” he asked.

“The process hasn’t even started yet. They start the counting later.”

Ruddy Gull looked out at the few animals who were left on the expansive plain. He sighed. “Too bad,” he said, “I was doing so well. I almost had them!”

“Sure you did,” said Wild Boar winking at Marked Monitor lizard.

II

“I need my spiritual advisor!” Dump the Baboon with the Orange Butt said. He lay sprawled upon the ground within a small enclosure surrounded by thorn bushes and roofed over by a spreading acacia tree. Gathered around him were Mewanka, Dump Junior, I Forget His Name, White Mamba, Wild Boar, Marked Monitor lizard, and the Little Gray Weasel.

“What was that you said?” asked Wild Boar.

“I need my spiritual advisor!” the baboon repeated.

“You have a spiritual advisor?” asked Little Gray Weasel. “I thought I was your primary advisor. I’m hurt!” He brought out the round white stones he always carried and held them up for the baboon to see, “See? How round they are. How well they roll on the ground. Fancy a game?”

“Not now!” The baboon replied. “I need reassurance! I need my spiritual advisor!”

“How about we send some orphans to the river and watch them try to swim?” asked the White Mamba.

“Not now. Get me my spiritual advisor, immediately!”

“Who?” asked Dump Junior.

“MY SPIRITUAL ADVISOR!” the baboon shouted.

“You have a spiritual advisor?” Dump Junior asked.

“Why am I surrounded by idiots?” asked the baboon.

“Uh, sir,” said Marked Monitor.

“What?” asked the baboon.

“You personally chose everyone that’s here.”

“So? What’s your point?”

“Uh, nothing, I guess,” said Monitor.

“Another idiot!”

“Dad, who is your spiritual advisor?” asked Earache, otherwise known as I Forget His Name.

“How many times do I have to tell you, don’t call me dad!”

“I’m sorry, da—ah, oh Great Baboon, who is your spiritual advisor?”

“Piranha Shrike, of course.”

“Who’s Piranha Shrike?” asked Earache.

“MY SPIRITUAL ADVISOR, AREN’T YOU LISTENING?”

“OK dad—“

“Ssssss” said the baboon.

“I’m sorry, oh Great Baboon, If you’ll tell me where she is, I’ll go get her for you,” said Earache.

“So why are you still her? Get her!”

“Um, oh Great Baboon, uh, where do I find her?”

“She’s a piranha shrike,” said the baboon.

“Okay, what does that mean?”

Barred Bush Lemur slowly slid down the trunk of the acacia and said, “Shrikes are predatory birds, some of whom impale their victims on thorns so that they may consume them at their leisure.”

“Oh,” said Earache, “I see. Sooo—where do I find her?”

“She’s piranha shrike,” said the baboon. “She likes fish! Look down by the river!”

“Gotcha da—ah, oh Great Baboon.” I Forget His Name ran out of the enclosure.

Dump, the Baboon with the Orange Butt, looked at Barred Bush Lemur and said, “I thought I told you to stop sneaking around!”

“Yes, indeed you did, but I felt explanation was needed to avoid further confusion.”

“Yeah, maybe,” said the baboon. “That’s what I get when I am surrounded by morons!”

“Uh sir,” said Marked Monitor. 

“What?” shouted the baboon. 

“Nothing, forget it.”

“Go get me Ruddy Gull,” said the baboon.

“Who? Me?” asked Marked Monitor.

“He didn’t request two pronouns,” said Little Gray Weasel. “He said go get Ruddy!”

Marked Monitor lizard shot the weasel a thinly disguised look of hate, and left.

“Daddy?” said Mewanka.

“Yes, my sweet daughter?” answered the baboon.

“Do I have to call you Oh Great Baboon, like Earache does?”

“Of course not, dearest,” he patted the ground close to him, “come sit by me.”

“Yeah, Mewanka,” said Dump Junior, “we don’t have to call him Great Baboon like—“

“But you do!” said the baboon, quickly interrupting Dump Junior.

“What?” asked Junior. 

“You will address him as Oh Great Baboon,” said Little Gray weasel. 

“But I’m named for him,” argued Junior.

“Not as Oh Great Baboon, you’re not!” said the weasel.

Earache came running in, leading a medium sized bird of red and black coloring. “I found her, da—Oh Great Baboon!”

“About time,” said the baboon. 

Earache reached behind himself and jerked at something, saying “Ouch!” as he did so. “She pushed me into the thorn bushes, several times before I was able to persuade her you wanted to see her. I’m still pulling thorns out of my backside.”

“Nobody cares,” said the baboon. “Come here Piranha, I need healing your touch!”

The bird hopped forward and began pecking the baboon, “Wokka, wokka, be tell juice, be tell juice, bunk raptcy, bunk raptcy, cheetoh, cheetoh!” she chanted. “Shine down on the Great Baboon, oh shine! Victory for the gods, victory for the gods! Name aster me, name aster me!”

“What’s she saying?” Junior asked Mewanka.

“She’s speaking in tongues,” said Mewanka.

“Who’s tongues?” asked Junior. 

Mewanka shrugged.

“Cass inos success, cass inos success! And now for something completely different,” said Piranha Shrike. “Oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang! Shaboom, shaboom! Oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang!” 

Marked Monitor lizard entered and said, “Ruddy’s coming.”

“Thank you Piranha,” said the baboon. “I feel much better!” He looked around the enclosure, “Everybody out! Now!”

As all the others hurried to leave, Mewanka looked at Dump the baboon and said, “Me too, daddy?”

“Yes precious,” he said, patting her, “you too, now!”

III

Ruddy Gull and Marked Monitor lizard entered the small enclosure where Dump, the Baboon with the Orange Butt, was sitting on the dirt floor. The space all around him was littered with fish bones. 

“What’s with all the bones?” Ruddy asked Marked Monitor in a whisper.

Answering back, even more quietly, he said, “The Great Baboon loves fish, mackerel, really big mackerel. Harpy eagle has been bringing them to him. He loves his Big Mackerels.” 

The baboon looked up at Ruddy, “It’s high time you got here! Now Marked, tell Harpy to bring me my mackerel. Then go find Dappled Ass, my physician, while I speak with Ruddy gull alone!”

“Yes, Great Baboon,” Marked Monitor said. Then he sneezed, “’Ah-choo’!”

“What’s the matter with you?” demanded the baboon.

“Nothing, nothing at all, I’m fine,” the lizard said. 

“Good! Go get Dappled Ass!”

Once he had left, Dump said, “Ruddy, I need you to fly over and see Valor, the crocodile, right away!”

“Oh, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea—“ Ruddy started to argue.

“You’re not here to think!” the baboon yelled. “If I tell you to do something you will do it, or I will tell everyone what I know about your disgusting habits!”

“No, no, I’m not saying I won’t do it,” Ruddy quickly added. “You just tell me what you need, I’ll do anything you want!”

“That’s better!” Dump said. “I need Valor’s help in this choosing thing. He helped me last time and I need it even more now.”

“I’m not certain if he will be willing to assist—”

“Why not?” demanded the baboon, his voice rising.

Ruddy jumped back, “Since you’ve stopped having the herd animals come to Moralardo—I mean since he’s no longer getting prey-ments—I’m just not sure.”

“You will tell him if he ever wants increased access to more animals from me in the future, he needs to make sure I stay in power!”

“I understand,” Ruddy Gull replied.

“And no stops along the way to fool around!” the baboon added. “I need him to get right on this! There’s not much time, they’re going to start the counts soon.”

“No, no stops, cross my beaks!”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt suddenly sat up, “What was that noise?” he asked.

“I heard it too,” agreed Ruddy. He motioned with his head, “It was over there in that grass.” 

“Take a look!”

Ruddy gull rushed over to the space he had indicated and stuck his head down into the dry grasses. He rustled around for a few minutes. Then he emerged and said, “It was just a lizard, a little one—kind of a yellowish white lizard. He got away, but I’m sure it’s not important.”

“It better not be,” said the baboon. “Now go talk to Valor, chomp, chomp!”

“That’s not funny,” said Ruddy quickly. “I never like the way he looks at me when we’re talking. I don’t trust him.”

“Nobody trusts him. But I’m not asking you to trust him, I’m telling you to get him to help me! Get going!”

Ruddy Gull hurriedly left.

A few minutes later, Marked Monitor lizard re-entered with Dappled Ass, the baboon’s personal physician. 

“Great, oh yes! Finally,” said Dump. “Dappled Ass you’ve got to help me!”

“What’s wrong?” asked Dappled Ass. 

“This new counting to choose a leader has got me perturbed. I’m worried!” Dump said. “I can’t be defeated now! I just can’t!”

Dappled Ass looked at Marked Monitor lizard and said, “You need to give him that gourd over there so he can take a drink from it.”

Marked Monitor glanced at the gourd and asked, “What’s in it?”

“It’s a mixture of spring water, various special ingredients, and crushed adders.”

“Adders! You mean snakes?”

“Yes. It’s allowed to ferment for a few days to produce an ale. It will make him feel much better. Stronger and more under control.”

“So it’s adder ale?”

“Yes, he takes it all the time.”

Picking the gourd up, the lizard said, “Ew! It smells terrible!” Then he abruptly sneezed again and dropped the gourd. The container rolled over on its side. Blackish colored contents spilled out all over the floor, seeping into the soil amid the bones.

“You clumsy reptile! What is wrong with you?” yelled the Baboon with the Orange Butt. 

“I’m sorry, boss,” the lizard said. He looked at Dappled ass and said, “Is there any more?”

The ass nodded, “There is a lot of it, we keep a big store of it on hand for the Great Baboon’s use.”

“Where is it?” asked Marked Monitor lizard. “I’ll go get get it.”

“Don’t bother,” the baboon said. “I’ll have one of the rats get it!” He whistled and a large rat appeared at the entrance to the enclosure. 

“Si?” the rat asked. 

“Go get another gourd of the Adder ale,” said the baboon.

“The goo-urd? Si, si, cabron, right away!”

“Cabron?” Marked asked. 

“It’s an honorary title they have given me,” said the baboon. “I think it means Boss, or Commander, or something like that.”

“I see,” said the lizard. He leaned back and, turning his head, he sneezed again.

“You sound as if you might have caught something,” said Dappled Ass. “It’s possibly a cold. Do you have chills or a fever?”

“No chills. I don’t know about a fever,” said Marked Monitor. 

“Let me check,” said Dappled Ass, placing his hoof on the lizard’s head. “Yes, you’re awfully warm, especially for a lizard in the shade.”

“You better get out,” said the baboon. “I don’t need you to get me sick!”

As the lizard was leaving the rat wandered back in, pushing another gourd in front of him.

“Bring that to me, right now!” said the baboon. 

The rat nodded, “Si, cabron!”

IV

Honey Badger heard her name called from outside her burrow and she emerged to find Newt and Lark awaiting her. 

“I wasn’t expecting to hear from you today,” said Honey Badger.

“I got a hold on some information that I thought might interest you,” replied Newt. “So I had Lark fly me over.”

“I’m exhausted,” said Lark, “you need to lose some weight or engage a larger bird as your partner.”

“So what’s up?” asked the badger.

“I happened to be hanging out in the brush inside Moralardo,” said the Newt, “and I saw Ruddy Gull approaching the area where the baboon was. I snuck in to a closer position and I heard Dump order Ruddy to go ask Putrid the crocodile for help in the choosing.”

“I expected as much,” said Honey Badger, “but it’s good to get confirmation. We’ll have to warn everyone.”

“What do you want us to do now?” asked Lark.

“Much as I hate to impose,” said the badger, “I need someone to go warn Blue Wildebeest to be on alert for possible interference in the voting.”

“As long as I’m not hauling Newt with me I think I can do that.”

“Not to worry, I have another task for Newt,” answered Honey Badger.

“What’s that?” asked the little amphibian.

“There is one character who so far has eluded all attempts to link him with the baboon and Putrid, the Mud turtle.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I just need him to be closely watched. I figure he can’t go any faster than you can.”

“Thanks a lot!”

“Ha-ha, sorry. Truly, if I could find out who he talks to, how he operates, it would help a lot.”

“I can do that. Do you know where he is?” asked Newt. 

“I’ve got Bateleur out searching, he shouldn’t be hard to find. Once we know his location, I can have the eagle take you there, if you’re willing.”

“Sure, if I can survive being carried all over by Lark—“

“Be very careful what you say next,” warned Lark.

Newt glanced at her and said, “I think I’ll just shut-up and wait to hear from Bateleur.”

“Good decision,” said Lark. “I’ll head on out to inform Blue now. After that I’ll go back and keep an eye on Moralardo.”

“Sounds good,” said Honey Badger.

– – – – – 

Meanwhile, at Moralardo the Baboon with the Orange Butt was napping when Marked Monitor ran in to his enclosure.

“Oh Great Baboon, I have disturbing news,” he said. 

“What are you doing here?” the baboon asked. “I thought Dappled Ass said you were sick?”

“I’m feeling better, sir. Besides he said there’s no chance it’s the disease because Dappled Ass says that it doesn’t exist!”

“Fine, fine. So what is it now?” asked Dump groggily.

“Remember that part of the forest you set off with thorn bushes and started sending the last of the fodder to?”

“Yeah, I figured if I couldn’t get the animals to come here any more because of those lies spread by the badger, I’d still get their votes with food delivered them personally.”

“Well, my assistants keeping an eye on the region say it’s not working.”

“What do you mean?”

“My observers report that the female residents of the forest have already voted overwhelmingly for the gnu and now male votes are trending toward him too!”

“You’re saying the male ballots in the penned sylvan area are going to Blue?”

“Yes sir, and it’s a big voting block. There are many types of herd animals there. They have a bunch of proxies. It could cost you the election!”

“We’ve got to find some way to stop them counting those votes!” shouted the baboon.

“It may be too late for that, Oh Great Baboon.”

“Try anyway. What about calling a meeting?”

“Why would we do that, sir?”

The baboon jumped up and screamed in his face, “SO I CAN TELL THEM WHO THEY SHOULD BE VOTING FOR!”

“I’ll see what I can arrange,” said Marked Monitor.

“Who was in charge of penning off that area to make sure it stayed in my control?”

“The Fence secretary, East Pond otter.”

“Fire him!”

“Right now?”

“Yes right now! What do you think? I can’t have these losers on my team! Who hires these morons?”

“Uh, sir?”

“What?”

Marked Monitor lizard shook his head and said, “Nothing. I’ll go fire East Pond otter and then arrange your meeting. Is there any special place you want to hold it?”

“How about at the place where we had those fire sessions?”

“I’ll see if it’s available.”

“No, you’ll make it available. Take I Forget His Name to help you.”

“I should be able to handle it without his—“

“Just take him! Get him out of my hair!”

“Yes sir,” responded Marked Monitor, then he sneezed.

V

Honey Badger and Blue Wildebeest stood together out by the Fire Sessions meeting place along with dozens of herd leaders. Kalahari Macerating bustard and Harpy Eagle stood in front of the assembled animals, looking nervously about them. 

“Here comes more trouble,” the lead impala said. They all looked up to see a distant figure in the southern sky, flapping madly. The aerialist moved upward, or down toward the earth, coming dangerously close to colliding with the ground, several times. Finally, the erratic aeronaut resolved itself into Ruddy Gull. 

At last arriving at the place where the bustard and eagle were standing, he made an inept, though ultimately successful landing. Both of the female birds moved a few steps away from where he alighted. 

“Where is everyone?” Ruddy demanded.

“We don’t know,” answered the Harpy, “how did you find out about this?”

“A tweeter from the baboon caught up with me on my way to the—“ Ruddy stopped and looked around. He realized that all the surrounding animals could hear what he was saying. “—it caught up with me somewhere near Moralardo.”

“He was on his way to Musk Cow lake,” Honey Badger whispered to Blue Wildebeest who nodded in reply.

“Where’s Marked Monitor?” asked Harpy. “He was supposed to be here.”

“He’s sick,” Ruddy answered and then he leaned toward the other two and whispered “the disease”, in a scarcely softer voice that could be clearly heard by all. 

“How about the baboon? Is he coming?”

“Nope,” Ruddy answered. “Same problem.”

“The Great Baboon is—“ she stopped and looked out at the other animals. “So who is in charge?” she asked Ruddy.

“I understood Junior was supposed to handle everything,” Ruddy said. 

Harpy nodded, “That explains a lot.”

A small bird, bright red and black in color, flew in and began tweeting to Ruddy.

“It’s from Wild Boar,” Ruddy said. “He’s at the salt fields near the lake. He’s wondering where we are.” 

“He’s at the salt flats, you mean Fish Seasonings?”

Ruddy nodded, “Evidently that’s where he was told to go.”

A second red and black sparrow flew in behind the first one and also reported to Ruddy. The gull dropped his head, shaking it from side to side.”

“Now what?“ asked Harpy Eagle.

“This one is from I Forget His Name,” Ruddy said, “he’s at the place where they’re growing new young trees to replant after the fires.”

“Four Saplings?” asked the eagle. “He’s supposed to be here. Why is he there?”

“Those were his instructions.”

A third seedcracker, also in bright red against black, fluttered in and tweeted loudly to the three large birds.

“What did that one say?” asked Harpy. “Now who is it from?”

“Little Gray Weasel,” the gull said, his head dropping down again. “He’s waiting for us at Fur Sashes.”

“Fire Sessions!” the eagle shouted, “We were told Fire Sessions as the place to meet. Look!” She indicated the other animals, “They’re all here! Why are the others all scattered across the country? Fish Seasonings is far to the south, Four Saplings is east, Fur Sashes is way west of here. This is crazy! How did it happen?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where is Junior?”

“I have no idea.”

“They seem to have some problems with communications,” Blue said to Honey Badger. 

“At a minimum,” she answered.

“Fine!” Harpy Eagle said to Ruddy Gull. “You and I will just have to handle things here.” She looked at the little tweeting finches that had brought the messages. “Send replies to weasel, Earache, and the boar and tell them to go back to Moralardo.” 

Looking at the bustard, she said, “Let’s get started.”

Kalahari Macerating bustard took two steps forward, croaked and squawked, then she said, “Listen all to a message from the Great Baboon!” She paused and looked back at the eagle, who nodded. “It will be delivered by Harpy Eagle.”

Harpy Eagle took her place in front of the assembled animals and said, “The Great Baboon wants you to know he values all the support he has received from his subjects.”

“All the ones whose votes he paid for,” said Blue.

“He recognizes that a choosing of a leader is a complicated process that is fraught with dangers.”

“Here we go,” Honey Badger said.

Harpy Eagle fixed a stare at Blue Wildebeest as she continued, “Because of this, he warns that some votes may be compromised.”

“What votes are you talking about?” asked Honey Badger.

“Well, that’s hard to say exactly without a proper investigation,” the eagle answered, “but say for example the large numbers of male ballots reported in the Penned Sylvan area. Where did they all come from?”

“From male voters,” a hartebeest replied. “Many of those votes were from my herd,” she added.

“But how can you be sure they were legal?” asked Harpy.

“Why wouldn’t they be?” the hartebeest replied.

“Because the baboon did well there in the last choosing.”

“And now you’re worried that he might lose?”

Ruddy Gull stepped forward and said, “We just want to make sure all the votes that are counted are legal ones.”

“As long as they are for the baboon,” said Honey Badger.

“That’s not fair,” Harpy said, “we’re trying to ensure a fair election—“

“We can all see what you are trying to do,” Blue Wildebeest said. “I’ve heard enough.” He turned and walked away. Most of the other leaders and Honey Badger joined him. The few that were left, gathered together and spoke to each other for a few minutes. An eland left the group and walked toward the three birds. 

“We have one question before we go.”

“Certainly,” said Ruddy. “What is it?”

“Where is the baboon going to deliver the next load of fodder to try and bribe us?” Then the Eland started laughing before receiving an answer. He and the rest of the herd animals left.

“That went well,” said Kalahari Macerating bustard.

VI

“Oh that this should happen to me!” wailed the baboon as he lay upon a bed of grasses. “The greatest Leader in the history of our land reduced to needing the help of rats!”

“Those rats are taking good care of you, daddy,” said Mewanka from her place near the entry to the baboon’s enclosure. “You won’t let me come over there and take care of you, so they are the next best thing, unless you want me to find The Fanny.”

“Who?”

“The Fanny, your other daughter.”

“Oh—her, ah choo!” the baboon said while sneezing. “No, I don’t want her here, you stay and make sure they do everything they can to keep me comfortable.”

“I will daddy. You know, don’t you, that that one rat was a physician in his homeland, he’s the one who suggested this treatment,” She continued, “You’re feeling better aren’t you?“

“A little, what are they doing?”

“He has his workers fill hollow reeds with cool water and then they sprinkle it on your fevered brow. He says if they can keep your fever down you should be okay.”

“Yes, that helps.”

“Dappled Ass said he would send an assistant to help take care of you too.”

“Tell him not to bother if he won’t come himself. This rat seems to know what to do.”

“You know that rat is a physician,” said Mewanka.

“Yeah, yeah, you told me already!”

“He came here because he was in danger back—“

“Nobody cares! More water reeds, more water reeds now! I’m getting hot again!”

“Yes, daddy, I’ll go get the rats,” said Mewanka running out.

“That damned lizard, he did this to me!” the baboon said, talking to himself. “I ought to fire him as Chief of Stuff!” He sneezed. “And I would too, if I could find any other animal who wanted the job!” The Baboon with the Orange Butt started coughing then, just as Mewanka returned with a large rat.

“Oh daddy, let me help you!” Mewanka said starting to move to his side.

“No!” the baboon yelled. “You stay there, let the rat help me. I can’t afford to let you get sick. Who will  make sure that they take good care of me then? I need the best care! You have to stay well so that you can make sure I get it!”

“Yes daddy.”

The rat moved up close to the baboon and felt his head, “Si, es verdad, we need more agua, pronto. I will be right back with the water reeds,” he said.

“Well hurry up!” said the baboon, starting to cough again.

“Si, si, cabron!” the rat answered. 

“Isn’t it nice that he addresses you by your important title that those rats have given you, daddy? You know, he was a well respected animal in his homeland—“

“Nobody cares!” yelled the baboon. 

“Oh daddy, I feel so helpless seeing you like this,” said Mewanka. “Should I go find Maliciosa?”

“What for?”

“I just thought—“

“Don’t think!” The baboon coughed some more, then he said, “Mewanka honey, if I die from this disease I want you to promise me something.”

“Daddy you’re not going to die,” she said hurriedly.

“Who knows? It would be a terrible tragedy for the land if I did. But I want you to promise that if I do pass on, you will make sure they build me a great monument on the highest mountain.”

“Yes daddy,” she answered.

“I’m not done yet!” he snapped. “I want them to preserve my body and place it in a shrine on the mountain top—“

“Yes daddy—“

“Still not done. I want there to be flowers and gifts brought up to that monument all year long by representatives off every group of animal—“

“Yes daddy—“

“Still not done,” he said. “And I want food brought to me every day, my favorite food. I want big mackerels and those eggs I like, those eggs of the puffins—“

“Those little birds that live near the ocean?”

“Yes, those are my favorites, it gets those birds really angry, but those are what I want, eggs of mad puffins. Oh, and—and—those little chickens that live in the cane forests in that region of our land where Mud turtle is from.”

“Chickens daddy?”

“Yes, they are highly sought after, a real delicacy. They’re hard to catch in those canebrakes but I love them. Yes, make sure they bring me those Cane country prized chickens!”

“Yes daddy—“

“Still not done. And I want all of those representatives who come to my shrine on the mountain to crawl up to it—“

“Crawl daddy?”

“Yes, crawl!” snapped the baboon. “They should come to honor me on their worthless bellies! After all I’ve done for them, it’s the least they can do for me!” The baboon began coughing again. “Oh, where’s that rat and the water reeds? What’s keeping him?”

“Here he comes daddy, he’s got some helpers with him. They’ll sprinkle you with droplets of cool water now.” 

“Hurry up!”

The rats entered and began sprinkling drops of water all over the baboon. “How is that, cabron? Do you feel better now?” asked the physician rat.

“Yes, but more water reeds, get more water reeds!” said the baboon.

“Si cabron,” the rat answered. “I will find more of my country’s hard working rodents to assist me. They will listen to me. I will send many more of them to bring back the cool water.”

“Good, do that!”

“What ever you need, oh cabron!” said the rat.

“See daddy,” said Mewanka, “they’re taking such good care of you.”

VII

Newt returned to meet with Honey Badger after a few days observation of Muck Mud turtle. They sat beneath the huge acacia that shaded her burrow. 

“I can tell you it was an interesting investigation,” Newt said. “This Muck is one twisted character.”

“In what way?” asked Honey Badger.

“Well for one thing, he talks to himself all the time, and not just mumbles, I’m talking about full conversations.”

“What kinds of things does he say?” 

“I can recite entire exchanges for you, Newts have photographic memories.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Honey Badger.

“Oh yes, our hidden talents are largely ignored by the mass of our world’s other creatures. It remains a mystery to me why we’re not better recognized for our multitudinous and various expertise.”

“Indeed! What was Muck talking about?”

“One key soliloquy I recall was this: ‘They laughed at me, oh, yes, they did! But I’ll show them yet. They have not begun not cower beneath the power of Muck, no, no! I’ll show them very very soon! That I will! They will yet bend to me!’”

“Wow! That’s some twisted stuff.”

“Oh it gets better,” said the Newt. “Another rant went: ‘I’ll tie them up in knots! The baboon was just the beginning. They haven’t seen anything near what I can do to gum up their works! I’ll bring this whole country to a standstill! The nonsense with this ridiculous baboon was just my opening salvo! Yes indeed, Muck, you devious old turtle, they’ll see! Dump was only an expedient, a means to my ultimate ends!’”

“So what is he up to?”

“One thing I can tell you,” the Newt said, “is that the baboon and his machinations are not the real focus of Muck’s campaign. The baboon is his distraction. He’s trying to keep us looking one way while his schemes proceed unobserved elsewhere.”

“Like what schemes?” asked Honey Badger, obviously worried about what Newt was going to say.

“Muck has a mate, she’s a Swamp Water buffalo, from the land south of Musk Cow lake. Her name is Lame Cow, though I didn’t see that she was hobbled in any way.”

“She’s not a Cape buffalo, like the one the lake is named for?”

“No,” said Newt, “Swamp buffalo are similar but supposedly more docile. And they are native to that other land.”

“Why is she significant?”

“At first I didn’t even notice what was happening, but then after a couple days I figured it out.” Newt laid a few small dark seeds on the ground. “Her whole family has emigrated over to our side of the lake, they live in Muck’s Cane country. They move back and forth between their homeland and Cane country and they bring these.”

Honey Badger picked some of the seeds up. “What are they?”

“They are flowering plant seeds. The plants produce quite a few seeds and lots of animals eat them,” said the Newt. “But I don’t think they’re planting them for their edible seeds, or the pretty flowers.”

“So why are they planting them?”

“The pods of the plant that are left behind when the flowers die have a milky sap. Animals chew on them. They get drowsy and what’s more important, they seem to want to keep coming back for more.”

“The pods are addictive?” asked Honey Badger.

“Yes, at least psychologically if not physically.”

“The plants cause animals to become addicted, and Muck’s mate Lame Cow and her family control the spread of the plants in our land.”

“Exactly,” said Newt. “And, as their name implies, swamp buffalo eat the plants that are found underwater in swamps.”

“So that’s why Muck wants the baboon to increase the size of the swamp!”

“That’s what I think.”

“Great work, Newt!” Honey Badger said.

“I’m not done! Wait until you hear what Muck is up to—!”

“There’s more?”

“Quite a bit,” said Newt. “As you might guess the swamp buffalo and crocodiles don’t get along. But that hasn’t stopped Muck from working closely with Putrid. He meets with him almost daily.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask, but what do they talk about?” asked Honey Badger.

“You already know about baboon providing prey for the crocodiles.”

Honey Badger nodded.

“Evidently Dump, the baboon, is even more indebted to Putrid than just for Moralardo.” 

“What else does he owe him for?”

“I couldn’t always get close enough to hear what they were talking about but I know that Putrid worked to provide the baboon with the fodder he’s using to bribe the animals to try and win their votes in the current choosing.”

“Yes, we guessed as much.” 

“And Putrid’s agents started all sorts of rumors about Highland Cheetah in the last choosing which may have led to the Baboon with the Orange Butt getting elected.”

“His agents?”

“Freshwater crabs,” Newt said. “They spread out from the lake, talking to other animals, spreading rumors that are started by Putrid and the other crocodiles.”

“Okay, but how is Muck involved?”

“He’s the intermediary. To save Dump having to be seen talking to Putrid all the time so they can coordinate, Muck, or his helpers, shuttle between Musk Cow lake and Moralardo with messages.”

“Who are his agents?”

“Other reptiles, lizards and snakes mostly.”

“That makes sense,” said Honey Badger.

“And dangerous for me,” added the Newt, “I had to keep a sharp eye out for Muck’s snakes!”

“You’ve performed your service admirably.”

“That’s newts for you,” he answered, “as I said, as a species we’re remarkably talented.”

VIII

Mewanka entered her father’s enclosure and saw him sitting up. “Daddy are you feeling better now?”

“Much better, dearest, yes,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “What did that rat doctor give me, anyway?”

“He said it was something he was trying out,” Mewanka said. “He wasn’t sure it could help, but he said it couldn’t hurt.”

“Whatever it was, it seems to have worked.”

“Maybe we should offer it to other animals who are sick?”

Dump the baboon stared at her, “Why would I do that?”

“It was just a thought.”

“So what’s going on in my Two Lands?”

“Well the choosing is almost over,” Mewanka said.

“WHAT?” the baboon yelled. He jumped up from his grass bedding. “I forgot all about that!” He ran to the entry of his personal paddock. “Call all the rats over here, get the hyenas, and all the wart hogs!”

“What’s wrong daddy?”

“We need to rebuild the thorn brush wall around Moralardo. I need guards posted at all entries until they are closed, we don’t have much time! Hurry up!”

“But why daddy?” Mewanka said. “I don’t understand.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt took a hold of his daughter’s shoulders with both hands. “Listen honey,” he said. “When I win, those losers will storm Moralardo! They’ll try to take it all away from me! We’ll be outnumbered!”

“But if you’re the winner, how can we be outnumbered?”

Dump the baboon jumped as a voice behind him said, “It’s simple.” He turned to see Barred Bush Lemur standing there. “You know Barred,” the baboon said evenly, “one of these days you’re going to do that to me when I have a club in my hand and I’m going to spin around and beat the holy bejesus out of you!” He glanced at his daughter, “Before I realize who it is, of course,” he added.

“I shall try and avoid that situation,” Barred said. “As to why your father is concerned about being out numbered,” he went on, “we live in a representative republic. That means each animal’s vote can carry different weight.”

“You mean the animals don’t all weigh the same? I know that,” said Mewanka. “An elephant weighs more than a baboon!”

A slightly pained look passed over Barred Bush Lemur’s face briefly. “No, that’s not what I meant.” He said, “For example, there are about five hundred baboons in our land, they vote and whoever gets the most baboon votes is the candidate that their proxy will vote for.”

“And they’ll vote for daddy because he’s a baboon like them?”

“Not the point I’m trying to make,” said Barred. “There are about fifteen hundred elands here, their votes will also be tabulated and their proxy will register his, or her, one vote. Thus five hundred baboons have the same voting power as fifteen hundred elands.” 

“Hmm, I think I see what you mean,” said Mewanka. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

“Of course it’s fair!” said the baboon. “How do you expect me to win?”

“But that means more animals could vote for your opponent and you would still be chosen as the leader!” said Mewanka.

“Which is exactly what happened last time,” said the baboon.

“Actually that doesn’t appear to be the issue this choosing,” said Barred.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt leaned toward him, “What do you mean by that?”

“All early reports seem to imply that you are losing,” said the lemur.

“WHAT?” yelled Dump. “Quick, get those rats over here, all of them, get the hyenas, and all the wart hogs! Hurry up!”

“Why daddy? If you’re losing they won’t come to storm Moralardo, will they?”

“It’s all the more reason they will be coming!” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. 

“But why?”

“They’ll be coming to take me into custody!”

“Your father has made some injudicious alliances and decisions,” said Barred.

“You mean he’ll be arrested?” Mewanka asked.

“More than likely,” answered the lemur. “In point of fact almost certainly, along with many of his associates.”

“I’m not going to allow that!” The baboon said. “I’ll pardon all of them, and I’ll pardon myself!”

“You can do that?” asked Mewanka. 

“Of course, I’m the leader, I can do anything,” answered the baboon. 

“Um, sir, that might not work out as well as you hope,” said Barred. 

The baboon looked at him, “Why not, smart guy?”

“Because when you accept a pardon you relinquish the opportunity to Take the Filth.”

“What’s Take the Filth?” asked Mewanka.

“When you are brought before a court of law, and asked a question that might incriminate you in a crime, you can Take the Filth, and refuse to answer.”

“But then you’re saying that you’re guilty.”

“Exactly,” responded Barred. “Accepting a pardon is considered an admission of guilt. Therefore you have already incriminated yourself and can’t Take the Filth.”

“So what?” asked the baboon.

“Well it means that if you can’t Take the Filth, you either have to admit to a crime or lie. If you lie, you negate your original pardon and you can be found to be culpable in a new crime of lying,” Barred said. “You would then be liable to imprisonment despite being pardoned for previous crimes, or it you chose not to lie, you are an admitted criminal.”

“I still don’t see the problem,” said Dump the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “Now if you’re done showing off, help me gather everyone up and start rebuilding the wall around Moralardo!” He ran out and they heard him yelling to the rats, hyenas, and wart hogs.

“Barred,” Mewanka said. “You make it sound like my father is a criminal.”

“I simply pointed out the obvious,” he answered. “The conclusions are apparent to anyone.”

IX

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stood at the entrance to his enclosure and yelled, “I Forget His Name, get over here!”

I Forget His Name ran to the entry and said, “Yes fath—uh Oh Great Baboon?”

“Where’s Marked Monitor lizard?”

“Um, Monitor lizard?”

“Yes, my Chief of Stuff, I want him now!”

“Is there something I can do for you?” asked Earache.

“You? Yes, you can go get Marked Monitor and bring him over here right now!”

“Uh, the thing is Oh Great Baboon, you see, he’s in quarantine.”

“What for?”

“Because he has the disease, remember, he’s the one we think gave it to you.”

“Are you stupid? Of course I remember. I remember everything!”

“Well if you have the disease, you’re supposed to be quarantined for fourteen days, two weeks.”

“I don’t remember hearing that.”

“Yeah, you should probably be doing that too.”

“No way in hell! I’ve got things I want to make happen. Who came upon with this two week stuff?”

“The Elder Meerkat, he says the only way to stop spreading the disease is to quarantine those who have it.”

“Oh, him! Nobody listens to him,” said the baboon.

A voice behind him said, “Actually sir—“

“Dammit! Him again? Where’s my club?” the baboon said, turning around to face Barred Bush lemur. 

“Violence against my person will not change the facts,” said Barred.

“Maybe not,” the baboon growled, “but it will go a long ways toward improving my mood. Besides I don’t have to believe in facts.”

“Facts are indisputable, that’s why they are facts,” said the lemur.

“Oh yeah? Well I’ll dispute them if I want to! And I want to!”

“The Elder Meerkat has been the best source of information on how to deal with this disease and slow its spread through the land.”

“My source, Dappled Ass, says there is no disease,” answered the baboon. 

“Closing one’s eyes does not change what is before you,” said Barred.

“Do you have any idea how irritating you are?” asked Dump the baboon. Turning to Earache he said, “Go get Marked Monitor, now!”

“Yes, Oh Great Baboon.”

“And you,” the baboon said to Barred, “get lost!” The lemur clambered methodically up the trunk of the acacia and disappeared into the leaves. 

Earache returned with a sniffling, droopy-looking Marked Monitor lizard. “What can I do for you, Oh Great Baboon?”

“I want a parade!”

“A parade?“

“Yes, you know, crowds marching, cheering for me, clapping for me when I speak, the usual! And make it spontaneous!”

A voice from the tree said, “Spontaneous means—“

“Shut-up!” the baboon yelled. “Go start getting my parade together,” he said to Marked Monitor.

“Having a parade, right now, with all that is going on, I don’t think that it is a good idea, sir—“

“I don’t keep you around here to think!” the baboon snapped. “I keep you to do stuff! Now go do it!”

“But sir, we’re not supposed to gather in large groups—“

“Who says?”

Marked looked at Earache, who shrugged. “Well, there’s the Elder Meerkat for one—“

“Him again? I don’t want to hear him mentioned anymore by either of you, is that clear?” They nodded. “Now, get out there! You can start by getting a hold of those monkeys with the big noses, the Proboscis Boys, they really like me.”

Speaking from within the safety of the foliage of the over-spreading acacia, Barred said, “They do not so much like you as they like what you say about them.”

“Somebody get me a rock!” the baboon said. They heard rustling from above them as the lemur scrambled to escape the baboon’s wrath. “Now, where were we?” asked the baboon.

“You were planning your spontaneous parade,” said Earache.

“Are you still here?”

“I thought I could help,” Earache said.

“I doubt it,” said the baboon. “Just stay out of the way.” He turned to Monitor, “I want flowers, lots of flowers strewn in front of the paraders. And bright colored birds flying everywhere. We need the hyenas, the wart hogs, the boars, and bushpigs, oh, and all the rats, have them march with the others.”

“Anyone else you have in mind to participate in this parade?” asked Marked Monitor, stifling a cough.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot, get that mixed animal group, the White Naturalists too! They’re big supporters of mine!”

“I don’t think that is a good idea.”

“Why not?” asked the baboon.

“They won’t want to march with any non-native animals. Like the Southern Cane rats for example,” said Marked Monitor. “You’ll have to invite one or the other.”

“No, I want them both, and the polecats,” said the baboon. “In fact, have my Secretary of Snakes, Plump Polecat lead them. He should also see that all the cobras and other snakes show up. Oh yeah, and get Piranha Shrike to lead them all in a prayer for me!” 

“Is that all?” asked Marked Monitor. 

“No, it’s not! Make sure you invite my good friend, Shorn Manatee!”

“Where do I find him?”

“He works the river and coast as a reporter for the Red Fox, check with the Goliath frogs. They should know where he is.”

“Okay,” said Marked Monitor, “and how soon do you want this spontaneous parade to start?”

“I want it to start right now!”

“That’s not possible. I have to get messages out to all the groups you want to show up.”

“Don’t tell me what’s possible or not! Just do it! No! Wait!” the baboon said.

“What?”

“Get my tweeters, I’ll send them out to everyone.”

“But nobody can understand them!” protested Marked Monitor.

“Do you like your job?” asked the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“I’ll get the tweeters.”

X

Shorn Manatee dragged his bulk up out of the water and onto the riverbank. He surveyed the gathering of animals who had arrived to hear his daily report. 

“Friends,” he intoned, “I have the sad duty to report to you that we are facing unprecedented threats! Our beloved leader, the Great Baboon, is under assault from all sides and we must hurry to his aid and support the rightful leader of the Two Lands.”

Off to his left, a large Marabou Stork standing in shallow water, took a few tentative steps in Shorn Manatee’s direction. 

“Our citizens are witness to larceny and base thievery openly practiced upon our long held policies! We must repel these illegal acts! It will take all of us, standing up for our beliefs in core values, to repel this spurious attack!”

“What attack are you talking about?” asked the stork.

Glancing at the large bird, the manatee continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “This perfidy cannot be allowed to occur!”

“Are you talking about the choosing that just occurred?” asked the stork. “I didn’t see any of this perfidy you just mentioned.”

“It is both subversive and yet pervasive,” the manatee said, speaking directly to her. “You would probably not even notice it unless you were alerted to the underhandedness of our spurious opponents!”

“I don’t think you are using that word correctly,” the stork said. “Spurious is not necessarily negative, though it tends to have that connotation. It refers to something that is fake. So you if you speak of fake attacks or fake opponents aren’t you really talking about neutrals or even allies?”

“If you would like to cultivate a following of listeners,” the manatee said evenly, “you might want to talk to Red Fox to see if he can offer you a platform.”

“No thanks,” said the stork. 

“Then if you don’t mind,” Shorn Manatee continued, “I’d like to get back to work.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the stork. “I didn’t realize this was your job. I thought you were just blathering in a general manner.”

Shorn Manatee harrumphed, then he turned back to the scattering of listeners who stood before him. “Friends this is our call to action! This choosing is being stolen from us right under our noses! The herd animals have allowed dead animals to vote! That’s right, dead animals are stealing this election from the Great Baboon!”

“First,” said the stork, “even if dead animals were voting, they might have the greatest right to do so, since it is because the baboon has ignored this disease that most of them are dead. But you know, as well as anyone, that all voting was overseen by representatives of both the Land of the Elephant and the Land of the Antelope.”

“These herd animals represent our greatest danger!” Shorn went on as if he hadn’t heard the stork. “They are social animals, working for the benefit of their herd, that’s socialism! Socialism is the most dangerous form of government that can exist!”

The Marabou spoke up again, “I would think that anarchy was much more dangerous because that means there is no oversight by any government. At least socialism seeks to provide for everyone in theory.”

“Socialism means that they will come and take all you own and give it to the government!” the manatee went on. “It tries to make everyone the same, that goes against the basic principle we all recognize of protecting the individual’s rights!”

“If they were socialists I doubt that they would’ve participated in a vote at all,” said the stork. “At the best definition of the herd they might be seen as democratic socialists which means they expect an elected government to work for the benefit of all.”

Shorn Manatee stared at her. “Don’t you have some dead thing to go scavenge?”

“No, not right now.”

“I would think that all you scavengers would be supporters of the Great Baboon. Look at the sumptuous repast he has provided to you with his policy of ignoring the disease!”

“I voted for the wildebeest,” said the stork.

“That’s just you, I bet all the other carrion feeders are rabid proponents of the baboon’s policies.”

“No, I don’t think so. His ignorance is the problem,” the stork countered. “With so much death occurring at once the scavengers can’t keep up. It leads to other dangerous diseases being stimulated within the decay and general putrefaction.”

The manatee turned away from the stork, shaking his head. Speaking to his listeners he said, “These illegal acts by the herd socialists are nothing more than pathetic attempts to mask the fact that the baboon actually won this election!”

“You are aware that no one is saying that but the most rabid supporters of the baboon, aren’t you?”

“We will prove the truth of our contention yet!” said the manatee. “Right now, the baboon has his most trusted and highly qualified colleague hard at work, gathering all the evidence we need to expose this act of treason against the two lands!”

“Who’s that?” asked the stork.

“Ruddy Gull is in charge of the investigative team,” said the manatee.

The stork snorted, “That crazy old fowl? Good luck! Are you sure you can keep him from spending al his time chasing young birds?”

Two Speckle-throated Otters were standing up on a low rise listening to the exchange. One turned to the other and said, “So you come here every evening to listen to this Shorn Manatee?”

“Yep,” the other one said.

“Why?” asked the first. 

“It’s something to do. I kind of look forward to the nightly entertainment of listening to his wild accusations.”

“You call this entertainment?’ asked the first otter.

“Well yeah. It’s definitely not news. This whole time that the baboon has been in charge has been kind of like watching a terrifying movie while simultaneously you’re unable to close your eyes.”

“What’s a ‘movie’?” asked the first otter.

“I don’t have any idea, but the allusion seemed apt.”

XI

”How many is that today?” asked the Cape Mountain Zebra. 

“We’ve heard from thirty-seven different groups, that should be about all of them in this district,” replied Ant Bear Aardvark. 

“Unlike most of the other regions, this one, Geo Gorge is trending away from the baboon and toward the wildebeest,” the zebra said. 

“I don’t know about that, there are several that have flipped.”

“Oh, you mean like Mushy land?”

“Don’t forget the Arid zone, Wispy confluence, and most importantly, the Penned Sylvan area.”

“That’s true, I guess. There are others where the trends of voting are cycling differently. Just the opposite of the last choosing,” said the zebra.

“Hey, you two,” said a voice from the brush behind them. The zebra and aardvark turned to see the Little Gray weasel standing there. 

“Hello,” said the aardvark, “what brings you here?”

“I simply wanted to see how things are going, with the counting of the votes,” said the weasel.

The zebra said, “You know you’re not allowed to be near the official counts areas.”

“Oh? Is that so?”

“You’re a recognized representative of the baboon,” added the aardvark. “That means you’re disqualified from approaching any of these proceedings.”

“Oh, nonsense, he and I just happen to share a love of a little game, that’s all.”

“No, it’s not all. Every animal for miles around knows you hold the ear of the Baboon with the Orange Butt.”

“But you’re a resident of the Land of the Elephant,” said the Little Gray weasel. “Doesn’t that make you a representative of the baboon?”

“Not in the least,” replied the aardvark. “I’m a duly appointed representative of the Land of the Elephant, just as the zebra is a representative of the Land of the Antelope. As such, we’re neutral as far as the choosing is concerned.”

“But are you really?”

“Yes,” said the zebra, “really! We don’t even vote as members of our species.”

“How noble of you.” The weasel looked past them, at the piles of white and black pebbles, “So how’s the count going?”

Bear Ant aardvark quickly moved to screen the piles from view, “And you know also, that we’re not allowed to share that information with you.”

“Well—I happened to hear you discussing regional changes in this choosing from the last one,” the weasel said. “I figured since I already know about those, you’d be willing to give me a little more—shall we say—in depth analysis of how the race is trending.”

“Nope,” said the zebra. “We aren’t going to do any such thing. You need to leave now!”

“Sorry,” the weasel protested, “I didn’t intend to cause trouble. I’m sure you’ve spoken with representatives of the wildebeest, so I just thought—“

“We have had none of the discussions that you are suggesting with them!” said the aardvark.

“I didn’t mean to impugn your integrity,” the weasel said. “I’m truly sorry.”

Aardvark looked at zebra and rolled his eyes. “Fine,” the aardvark said. “Now—“

“Can I talk to you privately?” the weasel asked Ant Bear Aardvark.

The aardvark glanced at the zebra who nodded. “I trust your sense of discretion implicitly,” the zebra said.

“Thank you,” the aardvark replied to the zebra. “I’ll be back momentarily.” He walked off a short distance with the weasel. “What do you want?” he asked.

“You’re a resident of our great land,” the weasel said, “the Land of the Elephant.”

“All my life,” replied the aardvark.

“Then you must realize that the stakes in this current election are quite high.”

“In what way?”

The weasel looked over at the zebra to ensure that they were out of earshot. “The very future of our two lands is in the balance!” the weasel said. “I’ll also be speaking with the Land of the Elephant representatives in the Arid zone, in Wispy confluence, and the Penned Sylvan area after I’m done here. I believe there are illegal votes being cast that must be removed in these critical areas.”

“What kind of illegal votes?”

“Well for example, votes that are uncertain, say you didn’t quite get a definite answer from several hundred voters for the wildebeest. You know, as if they were coached.”

“There were no such votes.”

“Maybe there were votes that weren’t cast properly.”

“None of those either,” said the aardvark. “That’s why we’re here, to make sure the procedures are followed correctly.”

“Maybe you might lose a few hundred votes, you know, accidentally. It happens.”

“You’re suggesting that I cheat.”

“Cheat?” the weasel said in mock outrage. “I’m not suggesting any such thing. What I’m suggesting is that you act as a patriot! That you take into consideration all that the baboon has done for his people and how we need that to continue.” The weasel moved closer, “For example, I’m certain the baboon would be very appreciative to any animal that helped him.”

The aardvark stared at the weasel for a few moments, “What does the baboon have on you?”

“What do you mean?” asked Little Gray weasel. This time his outrage was real.

“I figure that the baboon is blackmailing you somehow.”

“He isn’t,” said the weasel, “I mean he doesn’t have anything.”

“You were a trusted friend of the old Lion,” the aardvark continued, “you two were always together. Would he approve of what you are doing now?”

“I can see I’m wasting my time here.”

“Good, I’m glad it finally became apparent to you,” said the aardvark. “Now if you don’t mind leaving the area, I have to get back to work.”

XII

Ruddy Gull moved into position before Judge Brown Goose and clacked his mismatched beak several times. “If it please your Honker,” he said, “I intend to demonstrate that the illegal actions in this choosing perpetrated by the animals from the Land of the Antelope seek to rob our Great Baboon of his rightful position as leader of the Two Lands.”

“Whether I am pleased or not, is a moot point, Mr. Gull. I am more interested in the proof you intend to present in support of your motion,” replied the Judge.

“I understand, your Honker, our position is quite simple, we would like you to stop this illegal counting of votes in the Penned Sylvan area.”

“Why?”

“They might be illegal votes,” Ruddy Gull said. 

Judge Brown Goose said, “And I repeat myself, what proof have you brought in reference to this allegation of illegality?”

“Proof, your Honker?”

“We are a court, we operate on proof, Mr. Gull,” said the Goose. “Certainly you recall that pertinent element of basic law.”

“Of course. I will have that proof within days, your Honker,” replied Ruddy.

“Mr. Gull, I recognize that you have not been before a court in your current role of that as a lawful representative in some time, but surely you must remember how this works. You bring proof, I rule on that proof. What I see before me at this time is that the counting of votes is based on proof. That is why they are doing it. So I ask you again, where is your proof that I should halt their count?”

“Your Honker, I have it from a good, and exceedingly reliable source that hundreds of thousands of votes across our great country were illegally cast for the Blue Wildebeest!”

“Mr. Gull, who is this source?”

“Who, your Honker?”

“Who, Mr. Gull?”

“My source wishes to remain anonymous at this time, your Honker, to avoid retaliation by our opponents.”

“Your source has been threatened in some way?”

“No, as of not yet, your Honker, but we are cognizant of how volatile his testimony might be and wish to avoid any chance that he might be targeted.”

“I see. And he gave you this reliable information—when?”

“I was informed of these facts in my case just yesterday, your Honker. It represents an unimaginable outrage being perpetrated against our long held political system.”

“Why?”

“I’m sorry, your Honker,” said Ruddy, “why?”

“Yes, Mr. Gull, why is our system of counting all votes an outrage?”

“Because, your Honker, they are stealing the leadership of our country from the Great Baboon!”

“It would appear to me that they are tabulating votes and those votes show that the rightful leader of our land is Blue Wildebeest.”

“But the illegality, this incredible malfeasance, your Honker, it cannot be allowed to continue!”

“What illegality?”

“The illegal votes, the hundreds of thousands of illegal votes being cast for the Blue Wildebeest!”

“You are contending that hundreds of thousands of illegal votes are being cast, and that all the illegal votes are for the wildebeest?”

“Yes, your Honker, that’s exactly what I am saying!”

“And the proof of your charge that you have brought before this court today consists of—what?”

“Your honker, given twenty four to forty eight hours, I am prepared to return with dozens of examples proving the validity of my case.”

“Twenty-four to forty-eight hours, Mr. Gull?”

“Surely no more than say, eighty six hours,” replied Ruddy.

“So let me make sure I understand what you are requesting of me,” the goose said. “You want me to stop all  counting of votes in this district on the theoretical testimony of an anonymous witness, while you proceed, over the next several days, to find the proof to support that there is a reason why I should do just that?” He shuffled his position slightly, ruffling a few feathers. “Is that a correct, succinct, and complete synopsis of your motion, Mr. Gull?”

“Yes, your Honker. That is it exactly.”

“Are under a retainer for your work as a legal representative of this administration of the baboon?” asked Judge Brown Goose.

“Uh, we have an understanding, your Honker, yes.”

“Normally I would remark that I am never surprised when a competent legal representative receives remuneration for their efforts. It is certainly to be expected. In this case, however, I am shocked.” 

He continued. “I should perhaps apologize for peppering you, Mr. Gull, with pointed questions. But I am distressed by the opacity I find in your arguments.” 

“I’m not sure what ‘opacity’ means,” Ruddy Gull said. “It probably means that you can see.”

“No, Mr. Gull,” the judge replied. “It means you can’t see. What standard of scrutiny should I apply to your case, Mr, Gull?

Ruddy Gull replied, “The normal one, I guess.” 

The Brown Goose asked, “Should I apply ‘strict scrutiny,’ in considering your alleged equal protection violations?“ 

“I do not know what you mean by ‘strict scrutiny’, your Honker.” 

The Judge looked at the other legal authority before him, a district representative of the Penned Sylvan area, Ms. Errant Egret, and asked, “Do you wish to take up the mantle of constructing a reply to this motion, Ms. Egret?”

Ms. Errant Egret replied, “Thank you, your Honker. I could spend the next half an hour of your valuable time rebutting this morass of empty nonsense from Mr. Ruddy Gull, a once respected legal mind. That refutation might specifically aim rhetorically at Mr. Gull’s current incompetence, accusing him at various and sundry points of being “ignorant” of the law, living in ‘a fantasy land,’ and perpetuating wild conspiracy theories that are ‘disgraceful in a court of the Two Lands.’” She took a step forward. “But I will confine my remarks to simply this, are you kidding us, Mr. Gull?”

“Thank you, Ms. Egret,” said the Brown Goose. Turning back to Ruddy Gull he said, “You do not need to reply, Mr. Gull. Case dismissed.”

XIII

Honey Badger and Caracal were walking outside the rebuilt thorn bush fence around Moralardo. They heard a wail and various raucous screams coming from within.

“That pathetic crying must be from some of those poor orphans that White Mamba stole from their parents,” said Caracal.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Honey Badger, “I think it’s the baboon.”

“It’s not fair!” the voice screamed. “I’m the winner! I’m not a loser!”

“Yep,” said Honey Badger. “That’s him!”

They moved around to the eastern side, in front of Moralardo, where Ruddy Gull was holding another Push conference, his third in a row in as many days.

“The results of this choosing must be overturned!” Ruddy shouted.

“Why?” asked Leopard.

“What?” asked Ruddy looking at him.

“Why must it be overturned?”

“Well, because it’s illegal, for one thing!” Ruddy said.

“Actually,” said the Ostrich, “the mere fact that you have called for its overturning substantively demonstrates that you believe the Blue Wildebeast to have won.”

“No, no!” said Ruddy, “I didn’t say that! It’s illegal!”

“How is it illegal?” asked Honey Badger.

“How can you ask that? It’s obvious,” Ruddy said, “the votes in the Penned Sylvan area, Mushy land, Wispy confluence, Arid zone, and Geo Gorge, all flipped from the previous choosing when the Great Baboon won in each of those places.”

“He was chosen by extremely slim margins in several of those locations,” said the Ostrich. “And in three out of the five of those regions had voted for the candidate of the Land of the Antelope in numerous elections previous to that one. Coupling this information with his massive loss in individual votes, perhaps it was the election of the baboon that was illegal!”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Ruddy Gull, “those votes were legally counted and they certified that the Great Baboon had won.”

“Which is precisely what has happened this time,” said Night Caracal, “resulting in the election of Blue Wildebeest as the new leader.”

“It’s not the same!” shouted Ruddy.

“How is it not the same?” asked Leopard. “Because your candidate lost?”

“No, because it’s illegal,” said Ruddy. “All these illegal votes must be reversed.”

“Which votes are the illegal ones?” asked Honey Badger.

“All those votes in Mushy Land and Penned Sylvan area that were cast for the wildebeest, to name some!”

“So any vote that is not for your candidate is automatically illegal?”

“In this case, yes!” said Ruddy.

“When did you receive your extensive training in illegal vote counting from the crocodile?” asked Leopard.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” said Ruddy. “I never received any training from him.”

“So you’re self-taught in crazy conspiracy theories?” asked Honey Badger. “That explains a lot.”

“You’re missing my point!” said Ruddy.

“You have one?” the badger asked.

Ruddy said, “There was interference from socialists in this election!”

“What socialists?” asked White Rhinoceros.

“Those socialists, you know—them!” Ruddy said. “All our foreign enemies have poured their thousands of illegal votes into this election!”

“How did they do that?” asked Honey Badger.

“They had them counted with the legal votes! They were allowed to vote against the Great Baboon!”

“How?” asked the badger again. “Were they counted by the official animals at each site?”

“Yes, exactly!”

“There was a duly appointed member of each land overseeing the votes,” the Ostrich said. “Your rightfully chosen animals manned those sites along with the animal representatives from the Land of the Antelope. Are you saying the baboon selected blind representatives who couldn’t see if votes were being cast illegally?”

“These illegal votes happened!” Ruddy continued, “I can smell them!”

“Can you smell fear?” asked Honey Badger. “Raw, rank, mindless fear? Because that’s what driving your current display of public insanity.”

“It’s not fair!” the gull went on. “No animal living in the Two Lands can look at this choosing and say that it was fairly run.”

“Fair,” the Rhinoceros said, “is, in your definition, anything which results in the baboon being a loser.”

Ruddy said, “Curl-fur Mole has said that these are serious, somewhat strange accusations, that bring up questions about the fundamental fairness of our leader choosings.”

“Who’s Curl-fur Mole?” asked Leopard.

“I remember him,” said White Rhinoceros, “he was an advisor to Grand Bush Elephant when he was the leader.”

“That was ages ago,” said Honey Badger. She looked at Ruddy Gull, something dark was running down the feathers on both sides of his head. “You’re quoting an old mole who lives underground, eats worms, and can’t see past the end of his nose as your support for your argument?”

“He was a respected advisor once!” Ruddy said.

“So were you—once,” said Honey Badger. “And by the way, what’s that stuff on the side of your head?”

The gull reached up a wing and wiped off some of the dark liquid. “They said it was permanent!” he shouted disappearing inside Moralardo.

“I guess the Push conference has ended,” said Leopard. “What was that stuff?”

“My belief,” said the Ostrich, “having witnessed the gull’s attempts to push back the inevitable clock by pursuing females much younger than himself, is that he had some of his top feathers dyed a darker color, in an effort to demonstrate a more youthful appearance.”

“How very sad,” said Caracal.

XIV

It was the first time the Baboon with the Orange Butt had been seen in public since the announcement that he had lost the choosing. He looked tired and his eyes were swollen. He’d replaced the lion’s mane fur on his head with something that looked—odd.

“It is my great pleasure to announce to you all that our efforts to find a cure for this terrible disease is nearing an end,” he said. Behind him, White-headed Prancing monkey stood in front of Wild boar, Dappled Ass, Little Gray weasel, White Mamba snake, Gully Sand Harpy eagle, Kalahari Macerating bustard, and Mewanka. Prancing monkey looked as if he expected the baboon to call upon him at any moment. 

Spread out before the stump, listening, were representatives of each animal group in the Two Lands. After the baboon’s Push conference they would report back to their members with the news, if there was any, one never knew when the baboon was speaking. 

Honey Badger, Black rhinoceros and Leopard stood off to one side observing. “He looks like a stretch of bad trail through the desert,” Black rhinoceros said of the baboon. “Desolate, dry and possibly deadly.”

“Why deadly?” asked Leopard.

“Because he’s desperate,” answered the rhino. “He’ll do almost anything now just to keep from having to give in to the wildebeest and hand over power.”

“There’s not much he can do,” said Honey Badger. “Not without help, and I don’t see Muck Mud turtle anywhere,. He’s the only one who could possibly intervene to try and change everything.”

“Muck’s busy,” said a voice from slightly above them. They looked up to see Bateleur eagle sitting up in the high branches of an acacia. 

“What’s he up to?” asked Honey Badger. 

“Last I saw of him he was heading east, at a slightly faster pace than his usual plod. I think he’s on his way to Musk Cow lake, maybe to set up a meeting with Putrid to plan how to proceed now that their puppet is out of a job. I told Melodious Lark to keep an eye on him and report back.

“Good idea,” said Honey Badger. 

The baboon started up again, “I want to have my medical expert, Dappled Ass, speak to you now.” 

The ass trotted up to take his place beside the baboon, “Puff-eyed lizard has discovered an herb which shows progress in possibly curing the disease in animals who are infected,” he said, “and in preventing the disease from being passed to others. If so, this is a great breakthrough, and a testament to the efforts of our Great Baboon on behalf of his subjects.”

“I thought you said there was no disease,” asked Sandveldt Tined lizard.

“I may have been a bit hasty in that assessment.”

“Now he tells us,” said Honey Badger.

“So the Puff-eyed lizard has been working with the team that the baboon set up, led by Prancing monkey?” asked a Washed-out Tan Mole rat, a well-respected reporter.

“No, but he has been in touch with us, and we greatly appreciate his efforts,” said the ass. 

“But he could’ve told me sooner that he thought he might have a cure,” groused the baboon. “Like before the choosing, so I could’ve announced it!”

“To try and save his Orange Butt,” added Black rhinoceros to Leopard.

Another reporter, a Cape Lago Hare, asked, “When will this cure be available to all the animals in all of our Two Lands?”

“It will be ready right away,” said the baboon, “with enough for everyone.”

Prancing monkey stepped forward and said, “That’s not quite true, sir. We have to go through tests and then even if it is shown to be effective, we have to collect enough of the herb—“

“You’re not helping me here!“ the baboon shouted. 

“Helping you, sir?”

“This could save my position as leader of the Two lands!” the baboon hissed, audible to almost everyone. He waved his arm out towards the assembled listeners. “These animals won’t want to get rid of their savior, namely me, who is bringing them an antidote for this horrible disease!”

“I thought you said that the Puff-eyed lizard was developing this cure,” asked a Bat-eared Fox. “Why are you taking credit for his discovery?”

“I’m not!” the baboon yelled. “Stop listening to my private conversations!”

“Everyone could hear you,” the fox said.

“That doesn’t mean you should be listening! But, since you mentioned it, I’m the leader of these lands and I made his discovery possible. Without me he couldn’t have found it!”

“How can you say that?” asked a Sand Frisky monkey. “It appears to me that you had almost nothing to do with his find.”

“That’s how much you know about it!” yelled the baboon. “You animals have no idea of all I’ve done for you!” Little Gray weasel scampered up next to him and whispered something. 

“Go ahead,” said the baboon. 

“Our Great Baboon,” the weasel said, “has sacrificed so much for us, his people! I think it is only fitting that we name this great discovery after him.”

“You want to call it, ‘Incompetent Narcissist?’” asked Leopard. That produced a ripple of laughter from the assembled animals. 

Washed-out Tan Mole rat said, “Isn’t it prerogative of the discoverer to name his find?”

Kalahari Macerating bustard marched up to the baboon’s side and said, “You animals are ungrateful! This Great Baboon has given you his all, and yet you mock him!” She looked at the baboon and continued, “Our great leader has been vitally involved with our campaign, Apparition Wasp Speed, which has offered many incentives to those seeking a cure!”

“Is Puff-eyed Lizard a part of this campaign?” asked Bat-eared fox.

“He is now!” said the Little Gray Weasel.

“That lizard should be here bowing down to me for allowing him to join in our success,” said the baboon.  “Instead he waited to announce the success of his herbs until the day after the choosing. I bet he did that on purpose in order to avoid helping me! He’s probably a resident of the Land of the Antelope!”

Leopard looked at Honey Badger and asked, “How long do we have to wait for Blue Wildebeest to take over as leader?”

“I think it’s supposed to be two weeks,” she answered.

“We’re not going to make it,” said Black rhinoceros.

XV

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner, “ the baboon said to Wild Boar. They were walking out before Moralardo, watching the area before the stump fill up with widely spaced reporters for the various animal populations.

“Why do they keep doing that?” asked the baboon.

“Doing what?” Wild Boar asked in response.

“Spread out like that,” said Dump, “Dappled Ass said it was entirely unnecessary!”

“I believe that is precisely why they do it.”

“What?”

“Never mind,” said Wild Boar, “I don’t have time to try and explain it to you now. Here they come.”

They watched as three monkeys and a ferret emerged from Moralardo. They took up a position just behind the stump and waited.

Stepping up to the stump then climbing up onto it, the baboon surveyed the gathering. He raised his chin so to purse his lips and said, “Welcome my subjects to the Wondrous Moralardo, home of your beloved leader, me, the Great Baboon! I have ordered you here today to witness another in the fantastic events I have created as leader of the Two lands!”

Honey Badger and the two rhinoceroses stood off to the left, under the acacia, they were joined by Ostrich and Giraffe who hurried up to them. “Have we missed anything?” asked Giraffe, trying to catch his breath.

“With the baboon it’s always hard to know whether you’ve missed something or not,” said Honey Badger.

“And then even when you’re certain you didn’t miss it,” Black Rhinoceros added, “you often wish you had.”

That initiated a round of relief bringing laughter. “So what is our esteemed leader instituting for his personal benefit today?” asked Ostrich.

“No one is quite sure,” said White Rhinoceros, “it has something to do with his Two Screams court.”

As if on cue, the Howler monkey appeared and her thunderous scream echoed forth, startling the unwary, and bringing the court to order.

“I could’ve done without that for a period not to exceed the rest of my natural life,” said Black Rhinoceros.

“Good one Beaky,” said White Rhinoceros.

“Thanks Lippy,” answered the other rhino.

“If you two are done with the mutual admiration society meeting you might want to pay attention,” said Honey Badger. “I think something is happening.”

The baboon nodded to the Howler monkey, “Thank you for your announcement,” he said “Today I have made a momentous decision. I asked my two Screams court here so I can initiate a great addition to justice in our land.”

“I already don’t like the sound of this,” said Giraffe.

“Other than old Orange Butt, who would?” asked Leopard, announcing his arrival.

“Good you got here,” said Honey Badger, “you haven’t missed the main attraction.”

“Water Buffalo turds! I could always go back and walk slower,” said Leopard.

“Unfortunately, with the baboon’s continued propensity for perseverance,” said the Ostrich, “that wouldn’t be likely to help.”

The baboon said, “I have decided therefore as my first initial act of this day—“

“You realize, I’m certain,” broke in Ostrich, “that there can be only one ‘initial’ act in any given day.”

“What?” asked the baboon. Wild Boar leaned over and whispered something in his ear. “Of course I knew that!” the baboon said to him. “Now as I was saying before being rudely interrupted, I am hereby making an addition to the Two Screams court. The new justice is Cave Veldt Nautilus!”

Two rats, with a platform suspended between them, emerged from Moralardo. Upon the platform sat a large convoluted spiral shell, reddish brown on pale amber in color. From the opening of the shell protruded an array of tentacles surmounted by a dark brown mantle. Centered in the mantle, one on either side, were large, pale blue, slightly bloodshot eyes.

“Cave Veldt Nautilus will be joining Barrens Colobus monkey, Collared Mangabey monkey, Cape Vervet monkey, and Ima Crony Ferret as a member of my Two Screams court,” said the Baboon.

“Aren’t nautiluses sea creatures?” asked Washed-out Tan Mole rat.

Wild Boar stepped up to answer, “Normally, yes, but the Cave Nautilus can breathe outside of water for a period of time, and we have further discovered that by feeding him a liquid diet of fermented grains he can be sustained on land almost indefinitely.”

The nautilus emitted a rather loud ‘burp’.

“Interesting,” said Bat-eared fox, “but why add him to your court?”

“In discussion with the Great Baboon,” Wild boar went on, “I suggested an uneven number on the court was best for resolving votes.”

“But why now? Your administration is nearly ended.”

Wild Boar turned and, without replying, walked back to where the Baboon with the Orange Butt stood.

“Now, Hairless Hippopotamus will deliver the oath of office to the Cave Veldt Nautilus,” said Dump the baboon.

“Here we go again,” said Leopard.

The hippo walked out, stood before the nautilus on the platform, said some unintelligible words, and then disappeared into Moralardo again.

“How unimpressive!” said White Rhinoceros.

“Watch carefully now,” said Honey Badger, “here comes the punchline, and I’ll bet we’re the ones getting punched!”

“Now that the Two Screams court is complete with its five members,” the baboon said, “I am asking for it to rule on my petition to overturn the Male Impala votes in the Penned Sylvan area.”

“Told you,” said Honey Badger.

“Under what authority could they do that?” asked Sand Veldt Tined lizard.

“Under my authority,” said Dump. “It’s my court!”

“You didn’t tell me about that part of the plan,” protested Wild Boar.

“I don’t tell you everything!” snapped the baboon. He turned to the court members, “Well?”

The three monkeys looked at each, back and forth several times, the ferret chittered, the nautilus blinked its large bloodshot eyes. They all gathered together, the rats bringing the platform with its occupant to the others. There was a brief flurry of gesticulating among them all. The nautilus ‘burped’ again.

Looking out from the group, the Barrens Colobus monkey signaled the howler to join them.

“This should be an easy decision, you know,” the baboon said impatiently.

Cape Vervet monkey looked up at him and said, “It was. We all agree we wouldn’t touch this case with a nine-and-a-half foot striped polecat!”

Howler monkey stepped away from the group, sucked in a huge breath and screamed for all she was worth. The three monkeys and the ferret turned and scurried back into Moralardo, followed closely by the two rats with the nautilus, who had entirely withdrawn into his shell, and was rocking back and forth slowly.

Howler monkey bowed and also left.

“Oh Chimp crap!” said the baboon.

XVI

“I’m thinking of giving a party,” the Baboon with the Orange Butt said to Marked Monitor lizard, his Chief of Stuff as they were walking in Moralardo.

“What kind of a party?” the lizard asked.

“Oh the usual kind, lots of guests telling me how awesome I am,” said the baboon. “You’ll make out a list of invitees and arrange the food.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Marked Monitor said.

“Why not?”

“For a couple of reasons,” said the lizard.

“Name one!”

“First off, there is general agreement that gathering in large groups tends to spread the disease.”

“Who says that,” asked the baboon, “that meerkat?”

“For one, yes, but he’s not alone in saying that. It’s believed to be true by many others.”

“Dappled Ass says it’s no big deal,” said the baboon.

“Okay, fine. Here’s my second reason, in this case you shouldn’t be using the reserve stocks of food that we have stored away. Now that the wildebeest is the recognized leader he has a right to access some of the stored food, too.”

“Fine! He can have his share after the party.”

“That’s not the way it works, sir.”

“Why not? It belongs to me!”

“Actually no,” said Marked Monitor. “Those food stores are for all the animals of the Two Lands.”

“Oh yeah? Well then let them all attend my party.”

“That’s not going to happen, sir.”

“Says you!”

“It’s just common sense,” the lizard went on, “you received significantly fewer votes than the wildebeest. Most animals are not supporters of yours.”

“But I got more votes this time than the first choosing, doesn’t that say something?”

“It says that more animals voted in this choosing than the last one, the wildebeest received a record number of total votes, many more than you got.”

“Humph! Most of his votes are illegal!”

“There’s no evidence that that is true.”

The baboon stopped walking and peered at his Secretary of Stuff, “Say, whose side are you on, anyway?”

“I’m on your side, sir! How can you even ask that?”

“It looks to me like you’re trying to undermine everything I want to do!”

“I’m only trying to make sure you have all the up-to-date information, sir.”

“Information is over-rated.”

“We have to operate on the best information available,” said the lizard.

“Why? It only gets in the way.”

“But if we don’t pay attention to what is happening around us these events may end up putting barriers before our intended actions. That could slow us down or stop us all together.”

“Nonsense, nothing can stop me!”

Marked Monitor considered remarking to him a fact that the wildebeest had stopped the baboon, but he wisely refrained from pointing out the obvious.

The baboon went on, “Do you have any other stupid reasons why you think I shouldn’t have my party?”

“Yes, just one more,” said Marked Monitor.

“Alright then spill it!”

“Well, what exactly are we celebrating? I mean you lost the choosing—”

“Nobody’s proved that I lost!” said the baboon.

“Yes, they have, it is proved by the votes that were counted by representatives of the Land of the Elephant and the Land of the Antelope. But that may not even be the most important fact. It’s not so much a matter of proof as it is acceptance. Everyone accepts the results of the election that says the wildebeest won.”

“I don’t accept it!”

“Sir, all the votes have been counted. They are certified by every area of our land, that certification was done by representatives of both lands. They’ve been recounted as per your requests and the results haven’t changed. Why not simply accept them?”

“I want the recounts recounted!”

“It still won’t change the election results.”

“They are illegal!”

“No one found anything illegal. And believe me when I tell you, they looked.”

“Ha, fat lot you know! They counted votes in other lands! Foreigners voted in our election!”

“I haven’t heard any such thing.”

“You’re not listening to the right animals. I heard this from Tuck Hair Curl-horn oryx, he works for Red Fox. It must be true!”

“Again, I have to tell you that there is no evidence of this having happened, sir.”

“Of course there’s evidence, that’s what Tuck Hair is reporting on! You think he just makes this stuff up?”

Once again, the lizard chose not to respond.

“That’s not all,” added the baboon. “Some of the votes for me were changed to votes for the wildebeest!”

“Who told you that?”

“Nobody had to tell me, it just makes sense. Think about it! How else do you explain places like Penned Sylvan area going for that fake gnu? The animals of that place voted for me last time. Bigly! You think they would just change their minds that way?”

“Many more of them voted in this choosing and you only won the Penned Sylvan area by a small margin the first time.”

“And I won by an even bigger number this time if you change those votes back to me!”

Sighing, the lizard said, “If you say so, sir.” There was a hint of resignation in his voice.

“So start planning that party for me now!”

“Yes, sir.”

XVII

Blue Wildebeest stepped out into a large clearing already occupied by an array of other animals, evenly positioned at the recommended intervals, waiting patiently for him. He was followed at a short distance by several additional animals, each spaced widely from the next.

“Thank you all for coming,” the old gnu said, “I wanted to get started introducing you to some of the members of the team that will be assisting me as leader of the Two Lands, but first I’d like to say a few things.” He paused and looked out over the gathering. 

“What I propose to do cannot be done by one animal alone, it takes many working together to succeed.”

He gathered his thoughts for a moment. “It occurs to me that I have been at this for some time, leading others. I worked with Barrens Zebra when he was the leader and I saw the toll it takes upon an individual. It is an enormous responsibility to accept. You are looked to as a guide and a decision maker, and those decisions will impact the lives of many others. It is not something to be taken lightly.”

“Even beyond that,” he went on, “it’s not a job for egos.” Blue Wildebeest glanced back at the others who stood behind him. “If an individual enters into this role for the purpose of inflating themself, to garner accolades and acquire testimonials, they’re going to fail.” He paused. “Anyone who believes they were chosen for their own benefit needs to leave immediately.”

The wildebeest didn’t look backward again, but his meaning was clear.

“I, and in truth all leaders, are eventually selected for what they can do for the ones electing them. If that is not their clear focus, if they spend time demanding others recognize their every effort, or fritter precious time away in self aggrandizement, or personal gratification, they are useless as leaders. Actually, they are worse than useless, they are detrimental to those expecting their help.

“It has been said, by wiser voices than mine, that there is no ‘I’ in team. There is no ‘me’ either. The letters are present, but those two letters, ‘m’ and ‘e’, are reversed in ’team’. And in this case, the reverse of ‘me’ is ‘us’. It will take all of ‘us’ working together to prevail.

“Folks, we are in a war, and we dare not fail.”

The wildebeest pointedly looked left and right and then said, “Folks, listen, I mean it, you cannot declare war and then go play a game. War is not a game, it is life and death; dilettantes need not apply! We are locked in a struggle against an unthinking, pernicious opponent, one that has no plan, only attack and attack again. We cannot approach the pursuit of this war in an equally thoughtless manner by waiting for it to end. That is surrender.

“We dare not surrender!

“Too many have already been sacrificed for lack of a cohesive plan. Such a route is unsustainable. Only through study, thoughtful reflection, and science-based testing can we hope to triumph. Inaction means more dying, useless and unnecessary deaths, and too much of that has occurred already.”

He looked upward and took a deep breath. Focusing on the animals standing before him, he said, “That’s why I am telling you now, I cannot do this job. No, I’m sorry, I already know this to be a fact. I will fail.”

He paused as if expecting a response and then continued, “I cannot do this job, but we can. Only with your help, your cooperation, and your faith in me, can we accomplish the enormous task of leading our great land out of the darkness and into a new light, a new day, a stronger future.

“I have selected those I feel best qualified to work directly with me, but without your trust, your patience and your belief in the historic principles that established our land, I will not succeed. I am asking for your help. It is the only hope for hundreds who are even now threatened by our common enemy, this rapacious disease that has infected our bodies, and our hearts.

“Only by calling upon all our resources, collectively, and cooperatively, do we have any hope of achieving victory in this deadly war against our implacable foe, the enemy of everyone who lives here.

“My friends who stand behind me have agreed to work with me in the pursuit these goals. I did not require of them any pledge to me personally. But I did ask that they commit to working toward the good of all our neighbors, the residents of the Two Lands.

“Now, I’m asking that you, all of you, those who live in the Land of the Elephant, and those who live in the Land of the Antelope, everyone of you, be of the same mind, in total concurrence, in accord with us in the belief that only together do we have an honest hope that we will advance as a nation, forward towards prosperity and safety for each of us in the Two Lands. 

“It is our only route towards realization of the expectations inhabiting the hearts of each of us. Our only hope for deriving personal success for each creature in turn lies in our total cooperative effort. Only then do we attain the desired prospect of realizing prosperity, and life for all.”

“I am asking for your help. Simply that. Thank you.”

XVIII

Dump, the Baboon with the Orange Butt rushed to catch top with his daughter Mewanka inside Moralardo. 

“I’ve got it!” he chortled. “I have them beat!”

“What do you mean, daddy? Have you figured a way to steal back the leadership after losing the choosing?”

He glared at her, “Do not ever suggest any such thing to me again!”

“Which thing, daddy?” Mewanka asked, chastened by his tone. “The losing or the stealing?”

“That I lost the choosing of course! I did not lose! It was stolen from me!”

“I’m sorry daddy,” she said. “So what have you come up with?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, I’ve come up with a foolproof system so that can’t indict any of us.”

“You’re so smart! What is it?”

“Com’on I’ll show you.” The Baboon with the Orange Butt led her to his personal enclosure and pointed proudly to a pile of what was apparently garbage. “See?”

“Um, I see it daddy. What is it?”

“It’s my collection of guarantees for my most loyal supporters.”

“It is? How does it work?”

“Wild Boar told me that I can issue official pardons for anyone who committed crimes in my name, or in support of me.”

“That’s great daddy,” Mewanka gushed. “But I—um—still don’t see what these, uh, these things have to do with that.”

“Oh my poor innocent darling!” The baboon said, eliciting what was meant to be a demure smile from his daughter. “These are mackerel fins.”

“Mackerel fins?”

“Yeah, I’ve been saving them from all those big mackerels I eat,” he said picking one up. 

“Eww—daddy,” she put up her hands as if to push him away, “they stink!”

The baboon brought the fin up to his nose and sniffed, “I guess they are a bit fragrant, at that.”

Covering her nose with her hand, Mewanka said, “I still don’t get how they work.”

“It’s simple, anyone I want to pardon I give a mackerel fin to. I’m thinking of stringing them on strong vines so they can wear them around their necks. If someone sees you with a mackerel fin, no matter what crimes you have committed, you’re immune from prosecution.”

“I see,” she said, “I think. But do they have to wear them?” 

“It’s all the proof they have. Mackerel fin means pardoned”

“Who are you thinking of giving them to?” asked Mewanka.

“Ruddy Gull for one, Wild Boar, maybe even Mud Turtle. I have to think about it a little more because as Barred told me a while back, if they accept the mackerel fin, they’re automatically guilty and can no longer take the filth to avoid testifying.”

“How about Night Chameleon, your old legal representative that you had before Ruddy Gull?”

“That traitor? Not a chance. He’s a turncoat!”

“That’s what chameleons do, daddy.”

“Huh?”

“They turn their coats.”

“That’s not what I meant, he betrayed me.”

“How daddy?”

“He folded, he gave up information I told him to keep secret!”

“You mean about you and the Steamy mammals?”

The baboon held up his hands, palms out, “Hey! I didn’t realize you knew about that little indiscretion of mine. Don’t mention them in here.” He looked around quickly, “Maliciosa may be listening!”

“She already knows, believe me.”

“You think so? And I thought I was being discreet.”

“Seriously?” Mewanka asked. She shook her head, muttering, “Even I could see what was going on.” But when the baboon didn’t seem to have heard her, she decided to return to the previous subject. “So if an animal takes a pardon they’re considered guilty?” 

“Don’t worry, my dear, if I offer them a mackerel fin, it’s because I know they’re guilty anyway.”

“Hmm, who else do you think you might give one to?”

“White Mamba snake, for certain, he needs one. Your brother, Dump Junior, for another; he better take one.” The baboon thought some more. “Dappled Ass might want to get one.” Then he held up his hands, “Oh, I almost forgot Little Gray weasel, he’s going to need the protection of a mackerel fin.”

She reached out and tentatively fingered the fin the was holding. “Everyone that has one of these is immune from prosecution?”

“Yes, well, no, not totally,” the baboon said, “they are immune from being brought to trial by the country’s courts. But other courts could still indict them. It’s the best I can do.”

“Couldn’t we just move?”

“Where would we go? he asked her. “I already offered to Valor that I would build a new Moralardo over by the lake.”

“You talk to the crocodile?” she asked, unable to hide her surprise. “He’s a killer!”

“Oh, who? Not me, no!” said the baboon quickly. “I had Ruddy Gull make the offer.”

“But he said ’no’?”

“He didn’t say either way.”

“That’s just as well,” said Mewanka. “Who wants to live near the nasty old crocodile anyway?”

“Uh, yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Did you think of anyone else you’re giving a mackerel fin to?”

“Just one,” he responded. “Me!”

XIX

The Bristle-furred Gray mole, head of Feral Burrows Investigations for the Two Lands, popped up through the surface of Moralardo and looked around to see if the Baboon with the Orange Butt was nearby. Unfortunately, because he was terribly near-sighted, he could only make out blurred shapes moving about him. 

Looking up at the closest figure, Gray mole asked, “Have you seen the Great Baboon lately?”

The small figure answered, “El Jefe, Señor Cabron, no, and I hope not to see him any time soon, tambien”

The mole blinked several times and leaned in closer to the speaker, “You’re one of those southern rodents, aren’t you?”

“¡Si! I am,” the rat answered.

“Well, don’t you work for the baboon?”

“That could be said of me, I guess.”

“Then you should have a better attitude. The baboon has fed you and provided you with shelter. Do I have to report your disparaging remarks to the baboon?”

“You would do that?”

“It’s my duty.”

“I see your point, señor. It is a point of honor then. Tell me, do you know who I am?”

“No, I don’t. I can’t even see you clearly, you’ll have to come closer.”

“No, I don’t think I will, adios!” said the rat as he ran off. 

“Hey! You better come back here!” yelled Bristle-furred Gray mole. 

“What’s the matter?” asked another voice from the opposite direction. 

Turning the mole said, “Who’s that?”

“It’s Earache, the baboon’s son,” said I Forget His Name, walking up to the mole. “Who were you yelling at?”

“Oh never mind, it’s not important. Do you know where your father is?”

“Yes, I’ll take you to him.” The mole followed I Forget His Name over to the baboon’s private enclosure, “He’s inside,” said Earache. 

“Aren’t you coming in?” asked Gray mole.

“Who? Me? No, I don’t think so,” said Earache. “He hasn’t been too happy to see me lately.”

“Why not?”

“Dad, ahem, I mean, The Great Baboon, feels I didn’t do enough to help him win re-election.”

“What more could you have done?” asked the mole.

“I don’t know,” replied the baboon. “Maybe if it comes up, you could ask him for me?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” replied Bristle-fur Gray mole. He entered the thorn bush lined room. Seeing the baboon reclining on the ground in a corner he hurried over to him. “I understand you wanted to see me?” asked the mole.

The baboon looked at him, “Did I?” he asked. He shook his head as if to clear it and asked, “Who are you?”

“It’s me, Bristle-fur Gray mole, head of the Feral Burrows Investigation.”

“Oh yeah, I did want to talk to you. Did you find out how they are trying to steal the election?”

“Who?”

“Them!” yelled the baboon. “Don’t play innocent with me! You know as well as I do that those animals from the Land of the Antelope stuffed illegal votes into the count! Have you figured out how they did it? Do you have the proof we need to overturn this plot?”

“I’m sorry sir, I’ve found no such evidence, quite the contrary, this choosing seems to have been the most secure we have ever had.”

The baboon jumped up, “Not you too!” he screamed. “I’m surrounded by traitors!”

“Sir, I doubt that, seriously. Everyone around you has been hand-picked by you to do their jobs.”

“Traitors, all of them!” The baboon stomped around his enclosure, occasionally jumping up and down. “I’ll fire every damn one of them!” He stopped and stared at the mole, “You,” he pointed at the mole, “you sound just like that back-stabbing crab!”

“Which crab is that sir?”

“Clipper Crabs, my old so-called head of security,” said the baboon. “Ha! That’s a joke! He lied about this choosing, saying he certified it as secure. I had to fire him for that!”

“But he wasn’t lying—“ the mole said as another animal entered the baboon’s compound. It was Lean Masked squirrel, head of the Scent-trail Inference Aliency. 

“Good,” said the baboon, “finally, now we’ll get the real story from my Inference Aliency. Now tell me Masked squirrel, what about it? Have you gotten to the bottom of this, the greatest crime in the history of the Two Lands?”

“Which crime are you speaking of?” asked the squirrel. She looked at the mole but he just shook his head.

“The crime of stealing the choosing from me!” shouted the baboon. “What other greatest crime is there?”

“I’m sorry sir,” said the squirrel. “I have no information about that. As far as I know there is no crime associated with the choosing.”

“No information? No crime? How is that possible?” the baboon said. “It’s all over out there, anyone can see it, you’d have to be blind not to see that I won, I won! I won!” The baboon stomped out through the opening and out into the yard of Moralardo, screaming, “I WON! I WON! I WON!”

“Whew,” said the squirrel, “that was crazy! It looks to me as if he’s getting worse.”

“Yeah,” the mole agreed, “he threatened to fire me for telling him the truth.” Then he shook his head, “Fat chance of that happening!”

“What? You don’t think he can fire you?”

“Oh, he can, but he won’t do it in person. He’s too much of a coward. He’ll send one of his tweeter birds with a message that I’ve been fired, just like he has all the others.” 

“What do we do in the meantime?” asked the squirrel.

“Do our jobs I guess, what else?”

XX

Dappled Ass walked into Dump the baboon’s private enclosure. Glancing at the baboon sitting against one wall, he winced and sighed audibly. 

“It’s good you’re here,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt, without remarking on the mood of his visitor. “Can you tell me why nobody seems to realize what is happening in our land?” He stood up and wandered aimlessly to a spot under the overhanging acacia, “They just can’t see what I do. This choosing is being stolen from me right before my eyes.” The baboon looked up into the greenery spread out above him, “Can you explain it to me?”

“No, I can’t,” said the Ass.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked at him and nodded, “So you’re as baffled as I am?”

“No, I’m not baffled at all. I simply can’t explain it to you.”

“Why not?” yelled the baboon startling the ass.

“For two reasons,” said Dappled Ass regaining his composure. “First, there is no evidence that the choosing is being stolen from you—“

“What do you mean by that?” screamed the baboon rushing towards him. The ass backed away defensively. “Anyone can see that this is a subversive plot by those animals in the Land of the Antelope!” the baboon continued. “They are staging a coup! They are illegally grabbing power from the legitimate leader—me!”

“No one but you, Ruddy Gull, and a few of your most blindly loyal syncopates believe that,” said the Ass. “And as far as that goes, I don’t think Ruddy Gull actually believes the conspiracies he’s spouting, he’s just using the situation to make himself famous again. Much like you, he thrives on the thoughtless adoration of the masses.”

The baboon narrowed his eyes. “And you’re saying you don’t?” said the baboon sarcastically.

“Not at all, I crave it as much as any of you, that’s why I came here today, it’s the second reason I can’t support and prop up your crazy ramblings any more. I quit!”

“Quit? You can’t quit! I’ll fire you!”

“Okay, that will work too. Go ahead and fire me.”

The baboon shook a fist at the ass, “I will, I’m warning you!”

“I’m standing right here, now’s your chance. Fire me!”

“You’ll be sorry, you’ll see! Just watch!” The baboon turned and stalked away. “One day, very soon, you’ll come crawling back on your belly begging me to champion you again! You’ll ask me to make you famous! Only I have that power.” Turning around the baboon shook a finger in the face of Dappled Ass, “But I also have the power to destroy you!” He wandered back into a corner and plopped down. “You’ll be sorry!”

“I’m sorry now,” said Dapped Ass. “I’m going back to Red Fox and ask him if he will hire me as his medical specialist again.”

“Hah!” said the baboon, “as if that will happen. The Red Fox listens to me!” 

“I think you better check on that. He is rethinking his support for you.” 

“You’re lying! The Red Fox and I are linked together forever!”

“I think you have hit on what might be exactly the problem for him.”

“What does that mean?”

“As long as you are unable, or unwilling to see the obvious truth before you, he cannot continue to support you and your wild ravings.”

“I see exactly what is happening, there’s no problem with my sight,” said the baboon. “I can see that the problem is I am surrounded by cowards and traitors!”

Wild Boar entered the enclosure walking slowly forward to stand between the two arguing animals.

“Here! Tell this fool, Wild Boar, tell him what your investigation has uncovered!”

The boar looked at Dappled Ass and said, “Nothing, not a blessed thing.”

“What?” yelled the baboon. “What do you mean by saying you’ve found nothing?”

“Because that’s what we’ve found. There was no cheating, no lying, no plot to steal the election. Everything looks to be totally in order.”

“You’re–you’re kidding?”

“No, I don’t kid. I’m telling you the truth. The election was completely fair.”

“You can’t say that in public,” the baboon wailed, “it will finish me!”

“Then you’re finished,” the boar replied. “I just reported my findings, or rather my lack of any findings to the animals assembled led out in front of Moralardo.”

The baboon with the Orange Butt stared at Wild Boar for a moment and then he stammered, “But, but—why—why would you do that?”

“Because,” the boar said, “you told me to make a full report of the plot against you as soon as my team was finished. Well, we’re finished and there is no plot, so I made my announcement.”

“This is horrible!” The baboon cried. “I need to think, I need to come up with something!” He looked at the boar and the ass, “Get out! Get out both of you, right now! You’re useless to me!”

The Wild Boar and Dappled Ass walked out into the open yard of Moralardo. “The place is looking kind of deserted these days, don’t you think?” said the boar.

“A lot of the foreigners, the rodents who were working for the baboon, have left,” said Dappled Ass.

“Ah, rats leaving before the end of their shift. Can you blame them?”

“Blame them?” replied the ass. “Hell, no, I’m going to join them!”

XXI

Ruddy Gull stood up on the stump out in front of Moralardo, and announced, “We have located definitive proof of the attempt to steal this election from the Great Baboon!”

From the group of animals scattered out before him, Washed-out Tan Mole rat asked, “And when will you be releasing this ‘proof’?”

“Soon, very soon,” replied Ruddy. “In the meantime we have brought witnesses to the greatest crime ever committed in our land!” He turned and whispered something to an odd-looking bird standing behind him. She stepped up to the stump. “This is Yellow-billed Loon, a world traveler. She will now give you first-hand testimony as to what she saw.”

Ruddy stepped down off the stump and she took his place.

“Thank you, Rummy,” she said in a high-pitched whiny voice. 

“That’s Ruddy,” said Ruddy Gull. 

“Right, that’s what I said,” she continued. “So here I am, on vacation, I’m just minding my business, on a pleasure flight around the world, when I happen to stop for a rest on one of your trees here. She stopped and looked at them, “You know, you need more trees.” She glanced around, “There’s just not enough trees for as big a place as this is. It’s terrible looking forest.”

“It’s a savanna,” said Ruddy.

“Yeah, sure it is. Soooo anyway, as I told Runny here—“

“That’s Ruddy.”

“Of course, I knew that,” she went on. “I was just sitting in that tree, when I finally found one, a tree that is, and I saw it! I saw it all with any own eyes!”

Ruddy Gull leaned in and said, “Tell them what you saw.”

“That’s what I’m doing here, Duggy!”

“Ruddy!”

“Whatever, so I look down and I see them dumping dozens of extra votes into the count for the wild beast.”

“Wildebeest,” said Ruddy.

“That’s what I said,” she snapped. “It’s just lucky for you I happened to be there!” she said, “otherwise those elk would’ve gotten away with this!’

“They were antelope, gnus, and gazelles,” said Ruddy, sighing. 

She stared at Ruddy, “What’s gnu?”

“A gnu, a wildebeest,” 

“No!” she screamed, “you’re supposed to say, “’Nothing, what’s gnu with you?’, it’s a joke! Don’t you creatures know anything here?”

Ruddy just shook his head. 

“Where was I? Oh, yeah,” she said, “so I saw them pour hundreds of votes for that wild beast into the count!”

“Just a minute ago you said it was dozens,” said Washed-out Tan Mole rat.

“Were you there, huh? Were you? No, you weren’t! I was, so you just listen to me, Bub!” She waved a wing at him, “I know what I saw, and I saw hundreds! Hundreds of illegal votes!”

Ruddy reached out for her, “Okay Ms. Loon, we really appreciate this, I want to thank you—“

She ignored him, “You all should do a better job taking care of important things like elections! It shouldn’t be up to a visitor from another place to save your country from a terrible mistake!”

“Thank you Ms. Lo—“

“And another thing, where do you get off not having law enforcement officers watching all this like hawks?” She stopped and looked around, “There aren’t any hawks here are there?”

“Some,” said Ruddy, now—“

“Well then you make sure you protect me from them, you hear? I’m a guest! I’m here to save your ‘choosing thing’, so you better protect me.”

“Yes, we’ll make certain—“

“As I said I saw them dumping thousands of illegal votes—“

“You just said hundreds,” said Washed-out Tan Mole rat, “before that it was dozens. Which is it?”

“I said hundreds? I did not! I said thousands, and I saw hundreds, I mean thousands! I know what I saw there, buster! I’m telling the truth here and you can have me taken into custody if I’m not,”  she looked around again,  “if you have any law enforcement officers anywhere around here. You hear me? I’m willing to be arrested if I’m lying, because I’m not lying!” 

Wild Boar walked up and whispered something to Ruddy Gull, who nodded. He moved up to right behind the stump. 

“So you all just listen to me, because I was there, and you weren’t, and I know what I saw—“

Ruddy Gull wrapped his wings around the Yellow-billed Loon and lifted her off the stump. 

“Hey! What’s going on here, Buggy?” she yelled. “What do you think you’re doing? I know my rights! I’m a visitor in your land! Is this how you treat tourists here? No wonder no one ever comes! Between the way you treat us and the fact you have no trees—“

Ruddy and the loon disappeared into Moralardo. The animals gathered out front could still hear her chattering away inside.

Wild Boar walked up to the stump and said, “That will be all the witnesses we will be introducing today. Thank you all for coming.”

“Are you saying there will be more tomorrow?” asked Washed-out Tan Mole rat.

Wild Boar appeared to be considering his answer before answering, “Maybe.”

“Wanna bet?” asked Honey Badger.

XXII

Reporters were surprised when they were called to an official Push conference at Moralardo. It was the first that had been held in weeks. 

They gathered out before the entrance to the fenced compound, along with some interested observers, waiting patiently for the proceedings to begin. Few had any idea about the subject of the meeting. Those that did were merely theorizing.

Push Secretary Kalahari Macerating Bustard was no where to be seen. Nether were the usual hanger-ons like Wild Boar, Little Gray weasel, or Harpy Eagle.

Most of those in attendance were surprised when the Baboon with the Orange Butt emerged accompanied only by two hyenas.

The baboon took a position at the stump and looked out over those in attendance. “Thank you all for coming promptly at my request,” said the baboon. 

“He can’t help making everything about him,” Honey Badger whispered to Washed-out Tan Mole rat.

“We can begin now,” the baboon said. “I will take a few questions about official subjects.”

“I’d like to ask you about your response to the disease which is still rampaging across our land,” said Sand Veldt Tined lizard.

Turning to look the other way the baboon said, “Next question?” 

“I have a question for you,” said Sand Frisky monkey, to the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“I’m sure you do,” said the baboon.

“It’s about the Board that counsels our defense team about relevant foreign affairs.”

“What about it?”

“You dismissed all the long-serving, dedicated, and highly competent members of this board. Why did you do that, while subsequently, appointing all new members in their place?”

“These decisions are up to me.”

“Maybe, for a few more days, but why choose animals who have no experience in this field, including Surly Loud Banded Auk and his associate Avid Buzzard as co-heads?” asked Sand Frisky monkey. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt yawned and asked, “So what’s the problem?”

“Besides the threat to our country’s security, these two appear to be very unusual choices. They’re both best known as rampant supporters of yours,” said Sand Frisky monkey. “I’m wondering what are their qualifications?”

“You just stated it.”

“What?”

“Their qualification.”

“I only said they were ardent supporters of yours.”

“And that,” replied the baboon smugly, “is their qualification.”

“You appointed them simply because they support you,” asked the Sand monkey, “without any other qualities that recommend them for the positions?”

“Next question,” said the baboon.

“Is it true that Ruddy Gull is sick with the disease?” asked Shy Crag-going Oriole.

“Define that term for me,” said the baboon.

“What term?” asked the oriole.

“The word ‘true’, what does that mean?” asked Dump.

“It means—“

“Never mind, I don’t care!” said the baboon. “As far as my great associate, Ruddy Gull goes, he’s not feeling well, as you know he’s been working very hard on my behalf, but he’s resting comfortably.”

Sand Veldt Tined lizard said, “I heard that some leaders in the Arid Zone were so afraid of catching the disease that they all went home to quarantine after having met with Ruddy Gull.”

“That’s a terrible lie that someone irresponsibly started spreading!” said the baboon.

“So then why did the Arid Zone adjourn their meeting?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

“Because it’s an important occurrence in our country,” said Honey Badger, “a country where you’re supposed to be the leader, for a little while yet at least. Shouldn’t you know something about it?” asked Honey Badger. 

“There are lots of things I know!” snapped the baboon.

“Like what?” she asked.

“I don’t have time to share them with you now.”

“Is that because you’re spending most of your time haranguing leaders of various regions to throw out votes and declare you the winner of the choosing?” asked Washed-out Tan Mole rat.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

“What I’m talking about,” said Mole rat, “is your visit yesterday to the Penned Sylvan area, your third one in the last week, to try and bully the governor of that region to destroy votes for Blue Wildebeest.”

“We had official matters to discuss.”

“Really? Then there was the day before when you followed the Arid Zone Governor all day begging him to change that area’s results.”

“This is all hearsay!” said the baboon. 

“Maybe,” continued Mole rat, “but if it is, it is those two governors who started the hearsay in the first place. They’re the sources who told me what you’ve been doing.”

“You shouldn’t talk to traitors! Does anyone have a valid question?“ asked the baboon, vainly trying to change the subject. 

“I do,” said Washed-out Tan Mole rat.

“I meant anyone but you!” 

Mole rat ignored him and continued, “Why are you attacking the governor of Geo Gorge and also trying to undermine the leadership in Mushy land? Along with Penned Sylvan area, and Arid Zone, those are other two regions that contributed substantively to your defeat.”

“There is no defeat! I haven’t been defeated yet!”

“Oh yes, you have!” said Honey Badger. “You’ve been defeated by every animal you tried to bully, bribe, or threaten. They have all said ’no’ to your underhanded actions. Now all you’re left with is a bunch of incompetents, many of whom are trying to find a way to leave quietly, hoping you, and we won’t notice. I see,” added the badger, “most of them are noticeably absent from these proceedings.”

“You’ll see,” said the baboon. “You’ll see alright! I’ll show all of you!” I’m going to find a way to win this choosing thing yet!”

“No, you won’t,” said Honey Badger. “You’re done. At this point you better start looking for a way to avoid being taken into custody the day you leave the position of leader.”

“The Wildebeest can’t have me arrested, I have immunity as leader.”

“It’s a funny thing about that,” said Honey Badger. “The wildebeest has already volunteered that he is unlikely to pursue any kind of investigation into your actions. Though the subject of your immunity is unclear.”

“See! I’m safe!”

“No, I don’t think so,” said Honey Badger. “It’s the regions, the very ones you’ve been visiting, trying to bully them into illegal actions. That is who you should be worried about, all those animals you’ve been attacking since you lost the election. They’re not as likely to be as magnanimous as Blue Wildebeest.”

The baboon turned around and stomped off back into Moralardo.

“And that!” said Sand frisky monkey, “may have been his last official Push conference.”

“Let’s hope so,” said Honey Badger.

XXIII

I Forget His Name peeked into the Baboon with the Orange Butt’s personal enclosure at Moralardo and said, “Ah, Da—I mean Oh Greatest Baboon, there are some animals here to see you.”

The baboon, as usual, was laying down on his mat, doing nothing. “What useless animals are they?” was the surly reply.

“I think it’s all the animals who are district leaders.”

“Finally!” the baboon shouted, jumping up from his mat. “Those fools must’ve come to their senses at last!”

“Um, Oh Greatest Baboon Ever, I think—“

“They’re undoubtedly here to announce they have reversed the illegal results of this fraudulent choosing and are naming me leader for life!”

I Forget His Name looked back over his shoulder and said, “You better come talk to them.”

“You bet I will, whoever you are!”

“I’m your son who—“ I Forget His Name started to say, but the baboon rushed past him without waiting to hear the rest.

As he went across the open space of the enclosure the Baboon with the Orange Butt called for Mewanka and Dump Jr. to join him.

“Can I bring Barred?” asked Mewanka.

The baboon scowled, saying, “If you must!”

Striding out of Moralardo, with three of his children and Barred Bush lemur in tow, the Baboon with the Orange Butt saw a large contingent of various animals, widely spaced from each other, standing out before his stump. He walked up and onto to the stump. Puffing out his chest and pursing his lips. He waited to hear what the animals had to say, confident that he would at last be vindicated.

White Rhinoceros took a few steps toward the baboon and said, “I’ve been appointed to speak for the group.”

The baboon nodded, allowing himself a slight smirk.  

“We are here to register a formal protest at your actions!” said the rhinoceros.

His face falling, the baboon sputtered, “Wha—what actions are—are you talking about?”

“Yesterday, during meeting at several districts, notably the I Don’t Know and the Deplorida districts, the leaders and their family were surrounded by numerous angry hyenas and grumbling jackals.”

“So what?” asked the baboon.

“They were mostly hyenas,” repeated the rhinoceros.

“I still don’t see your point.”

“You have many hyenas working for you,” said the White Rhinoceros.

“Yes,” said the baboon, smiling. “I do.”

“The leaders of these districts believe that many of the hyenas who were threatening them are ones who work for you.”

“The leaders of these districts believe that many of the hyenas who were threatening them are ones who work for you.”

“Be careful what you say here,” Barred Bush lemur warned the baboon. 

“Be quiet!” the baboon snapped, “I know what I’m doing!” The baboon looked around and shrugged. “Maybe, who’s to say?” 

“The I Don’t Know and Deplorida districts are both ones that voted in the majority for you.”

“Yes, they are shining lights of reason within the Two Lands!” said Dump Jr.

“Thank you,” said the baboon looking at Dump Jr. “we appreciate all your support in these trying times.”

Standing next to White rhinoceros, Honey Badger said, “Oh brother! He’s a ‘we’ again!”  

Looking at the rhinoceros, the baboon asked, “Why shouldn’t our followers hold the same opinions that we do? It’s only logical.”

“Opinions about how to deal with this disease?” asked Honey Badger.

“What do you mean?” asked the baboon.

“What I mean is, these leaders weren’t discussing the choosing. They agree that’s over. They were voting on whether to follow recommendations made by Blue Wildebeest’s medical expert.”

“It’s not over!” grumbled the baboon. “Who made these recommendations?”

“The wildebeest has asked Elder Meerkat to be his medical advisor.”

“Well there you go,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “Many of our animals are tired of the continuous warnings against gathering in large groups. They want to return to normal life.”

“Are many of them also tired of living?” muttered Honey Badger.

Glancing at her briefly, the White Rhinoceros asked the baboon, “Where are your hyenas?” 

“I gave them time off,” said the baboon. “They’ve been working very hard.”

“So they might have been some, or even all of the hyenas threatening these leaders?”

“I suppose it’s possible,” said the baboon, “they have a right to their opinions.”

“And you didn’t send them out to threaten the district leaders?”

“Fath—ah, Oh Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived,” said Dump Jr., “perhaps I can shed some light on these proceedings.” He winked at the baboon as he walked up to the stump. 

“Yes, perhaps so,” said the baboon, as he stepped down and allowed Dump Jr. to take his place.

Clearing his throat, the younger Dump said, “Those hyenas and jackals undoubtedly belong to an important group which also has me as a—that is—uh, I am also a member of that organization.”

“What group is that?” asked White Rhinoceros.

“The Unnatural Stifle Association,” said Dump Jr. holding his head up higher as he moved it from side to side, surveying the assembled animals. “I am hoping to be elected as the next leader of this prestigious  organization.”

“Prestigious his butt,” muttered Honey Badger to White Rhinoceros. “And what is the purpose of this group?” she asked Dump Jr.

Jr. smiled down at her. “They—I mean we, gather to discuss current events. We offer outreach services toward those individuals who we hear are speaking against the leadership of the Greatest Baboon Ever. We attempt—ah, seek to quiet their wrong-headed opinions. If possible, we make corrections in their thinking about these vitally important matters.”

“In other words, you threaten them!” said Honey Badger.

Dump Jr. shook his head. Still smiling he said, “Threaten is such an ugly word. Let’s just say we try to instruct them in the basics of the appropriate manner of proper thinking.”

“So you threaten them,” said the rhinoceros. 

“I tell you what,” said Dump Jr. “I’ll go speak with them and maybe we can make an amicable solution to your concerns.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” said the rhinoceros.

“Why not?” asked the younger baboon, his smile disappearing.

“Because they’ve been taken into custody.”

“They’ve what?” yelled the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“A cadre of leopards was brought in to stop them,” said Honey Badger. “The hyenas and jackals surrendered without a fight.”

“The cowards!” muttered the baboon. “By what right—“ 

“You can’t go around threatening duly elected leaders for doing their jobs!” said the rhinoceros. “That’s illegal!”

“Oh daddy!” wailed Mewanka, “who’s going to protect us now?”

“So they were your hyenas,” said Honey Badger.

“That question may have been ill-advised, my dear,” said Barred to Mewanka.

“Don’t worry,” said White Rhinoceros to the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “They’re being taken before the judge later today. With any luck, they’ll be back on duty by the time you officially leave your position as leader of the Two Lands.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt turned on I Forget His Name and barked, “Well, don’t just stand there, go get the wart hogs!”

XXIV

For the second day in a row, I Forget His Name peeked into the Baboon with the Orange Butt’s personal enclosure at Moralardo and said, “Ah, Oh Greatest Baboon, there are some more animals here to see you.”

The baboon, laying down on his mat, was picking lint off his wig. “Now what do these useless animals want?” he replied without looking up.

“I think it’s some animals who are district law givers.”

“Really?” the baboon asked, rising up from his mat. “Why are they here?”

“They say they want to help the Greatest Baboon Ever to save his position as leader of the Two Lands,” answered I Forget His Name.

“Okay!” said the baboon. He hurriedly rushed out of his enclosure, stepping on I Forget His Name’s foot in the process. 

As the Baboon with the Orange Butt got out into the open area, he shouted, “Mewanka, Junior, com’on out with me!”

“Daddy can I bring—“

“No!” the baboon shouted. He glanced back at I Forget His Name who was still in the entrance, jumping up and down, holding his foot. “What in the hell are you doing?” the baboon shouted.

“You stepped—“

“Never mind, I don’t care. Come on out with us in case I need you. Hurry up!”

I Forget His Name limped along behind them.

Waiting for them all, out in the open area in front of the baboon’s stump, were a dozen or so various types of animals. The Baboon with the Orange Butt walked out to them, stopping in front of the animal at their head, a skunk. “What can we do for you today, my, I mean, our subjects?” asked the baboon.

“Oh Greatest Baboon Ever, I am Compacted Dung skunk,” said the leader. “I am the law giver for the great district of Jackass!”

“Oh yes, the Jackass district is home to many of my most fervent supporters!” said the baboon. 

“Yes, Oh Greatest Baboon ever, and as one of the largest districts, the second largest to be exact, we have many hundreds of animals who voted for you!”

“But you’re also bordered by the river where many of those illegal animals cross over into our great country,” said the baboon.

“That’s true also, Oh Greatest Baboon Ever, but thanks to your idea of piling all our dung in a wall along the river, we have severely restricted their entrance. In fact, I am one of the main depositors to your project and because of my unique skills I also volunteer to help keep our wall sturdy!” 

“Your efforts are to be commended,” said the baboon. “Tell me, are you related to Darker Carcass skunk, one of my favorite commentators for the Red Fox?”

“Yes, he’s a distant cousin,” answered the skunk, “and one of your staunchest supporters!”

“So,” said the baboon, “how can we help you help us?”

“Oh Greatest Baboon Ever, I have issued a writ contesting the counting of votes in the Penned Sylvan area, Mushy Land, Geo Gorge, and Wispy Confluence. It seeks to have any votes counted after you had a lead thrown out!”

“Great idea, we like it a lot!”

“Yes, and all these animals,” the skunk waved to the dozen or so behind him, “as legal representatives of districts that voted for you, have volunteered to support my writ!”

“Wonderful!” said the baboon. “This gets better every minute!”

“We were hoping, Oh Greatest Baboon Ever,” said the skunk, lowering his head meekly, “that you would agree to support it also.”

“Hmm,” said the baboon. “There might be some political or legal reasons why I should be careful here. I wish Ruddy Gull wasn’t sick.” He sighed, “Oh well, I guess it can’t be helped, I’ll have to ask the only other animal who might know.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt turned around and said, “Mewanka can you go get—Barred?”

Before she could reply, a voice sounded behind the baboon, causing him to jump, “You wanted to see me?”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt turned to see Barred Bush lemur standing there. “When anyone is watching you,” said the baboon evenly, “you move slower than any other animal I’ve ever seen. How the hell do you appear so fast behind me?”

Barred shrugged, “It’s a gift. What do you need me for?”

“And that’s another thing, why don’t you address me as Oh Greatest Baboon Ever, like everyone else?”

The lemur stood staring at the baboon.

“Fine!” said the baboon at last. “This skunk,” he pointed at Compacted Dung skunk, “has a writ to overturn the choosing in several districts where I lost and he wants me to support it. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said the lemur.

“So, I shouldn’t support his idea?”

“No, that’s not what I said,” answered Barred “I said it’s a bad idea, but I think you should support it.”

“If it’s a bad idea, why should I add my name to it?” asked the baboon.

“Because every other thing you’ve tried has failed and this, even though it is undoubtedly doomed, is probably your last chance of having any hope to reverse this choosing.”

The baboon leaned in toward the lemur and, in a very quiet voice, said, “Have I told you recently how much I dislike you?”  

“Do you need me for anything else?” asked Barred.

“No! Get lost!” Turning to the skunk, the baboon said, “Okay, you have our official approval of your magnificent effort!”

“Thank you Oh Greatest Baboon Ever,” said the skunk. He stood there in front of the baboon as if expecting something else.

“Can we be of assistance in any other way?” asked the baboon with a hint of impatience in his voice.

“Well, yes, since you asked,” answered the skunk, “there is one little thing, I hesitate to mention it, it’s so trivial.”

They stood looking at each other for several long moments, “And?” asked the baboon finally, now obviously exasperated.

“Oh Greatest Baboon Ever, back in my home district, the Jackass district, there is an investigation, an investigation that alleges I misused some of the food resources you sent to my district. I was hoping—“

The baboon raised one hand to quiet the skunk and walked over to I Forget His Name. He whispered something to him and the younger baboon nodded. He ran back into Moralardo.   

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stood waiting until I Forget His Name returned with something in his hands.

“Oh daddy!” said Mewanka. “Not those again! They stink!”

Taking the objects from I Forget His Name the baboon walked back to the skunk. “Here put one of these around your neck,” he said holding out an odd-looking, flat thing, hanging off a looped vine.  

“What is it?” asked the skunk. 

“It’s a Mackerel Fin. By wearing it you acknowledge that you’ve been officially pardoned by me.”  

The skunk put over his head to drape down in front of him. He sniffed, “It doesn’t smell that bad to me,” he said. “I’ve smelled worse.” 

“I’ll bet you have.”

The skunk continued standing in front of the baboon.

“Now what?” asked the Baboon with the Orange Butt.    

“Well, Oh Greatest Baboon Ever,” the skunk glanced back at the other animals standing behind him. 

“Ah!” said the Baboon. He turned to speak to I Forget His Name again, “Go get some more fins, we have a lot of guilty animals out here.”     

“Wait a minute,” said the skunk. “I didn’t say I was guilty!”

“You came here to ask me to pardon you, you took the fin,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “Would an innocent animal who wasn’t on trial or convicted of something need to take a pardon?” 

“I see,” said the skunk, hanging his head.

“Don’t feel so bad,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt waving at his family. “Before this is over we’ll all be wearing one!”

“Eww! Daddy!” said Mewanka.

XXV

“Where are we going?” asked Wild Boar.

“Out to the stump,” answered the Baboon with the Orange Butt. They were walking side by side across the open area of Moralardo. 

“What’s going on?” 

“There’s going to be an important resignation announcement,” said the baboon.

“Oh?” said the boar. “Who is it now?” 

“You,” the baboon said.

Stopping, the boar said, “Me?”

“Yes, now hurry up!”

Running to catch up, the boar asked, “Why am I resigning?”

“Because you failed in your job.”

“How did I fail?” asked Wild Boar.

The baboon stopped now and spun on Wild Boar, “You failed to stop them from saying I lost this choosing!”

“You did loose the choosing,” said the boar.

“See!” shouted the baboon. “That! That’s my point exactly!”

“I did what you wanted me to do.”

“No you didn’t!” the baboon said. “You were supposed to investigate the process of selection of the leader and find irregularities.”

“But I did investigate the process,” protested the boar. “I investigated it thoroughly.”

“But you didn’t find the damed irregularities!” the baboon shouted.

“There weren’t any,” the boar said.

“SO?” the Baboon with the Orange Butt continued yelling at the top of his voice. “If you didn’t find any, you should’ve created some!”

“That just wasn’t possible.”

“Humph!” said the baboon. “For you maybe. My lawyer should be able to take care of these kinds of things.”

“I’m not your lawyer, that’s Rudy Gull! I’m the legal counsel for the Two lands.”

“And I,” said the baboon, “am the single most important animal in the Two lands! You should’ve done what I needed you to do to protect me!”

Wild Boar shook his head, “You only have a few more days as leader, why now?”

“I still have some things I want to get accomplished.”

“What kind of things?”

“That’s not your concern any more. You’re resigning.”

“Have you thought about who will take my place?”

“Yes, Cleft-nose Ox will assume the position of legal counsel for the Two Lands.”

“My assistant? But he worked for me on the investigation!”

“That may be, but you were in charge,” the baboon said. “I think he will be more willing to get done what I need him to do.”

They continued out of the enclosure and the boar saw all the reporters were gathered out in front. 

“You called the media?” Wild Boar said.

“I thought it would be appropriate with such an important announcement.”

“But I don’t have any remarks prepared.”

“That doesn’t matter,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “I’ll stand behind you and tell you what to say.”

Wild Boar stepped up onto the stump. The Baboon with the Orange Butt moved over right behind his shoulder and whispered, “Good day, thank you all for coming.”

Turning back to look at the baboon, the boar said, “I know that much!”

“Then say it!” snapped the baboon.

Wild Boar stared out at the gathered animals and said, “Good day, I thank you all for coming.”

“I didn’t say ‘I’, get it right!” hissed the baboon.

The boar shrugged, “Now what?” he whispered back at the baboon, out of the corner of his mouth.

“It has been my greatest pleasure of my life to have worked for for the Greatest Baboon who has ever lived and the greatest leader ever in the Two Lands.”

Wild Boar hissed, “Shouldn’t that be, ‘THE greatest pleasure’?”

“Just say it!” snapped the baboon.

“Ahem,” said the boar, “I have had the enormous pleasure of working for, ah—with the Great Baboon, a leader of the Two Lands who is unexcelled in our history.” 

The baboon grabbed the boar’s tail and jerked it hard, “Hey! That’s not what I said!”

Wild Boar looked back over his shoulder, “I’m paraphrasing!”

“You’re screwing it up!”

“Who’s resignation is this, anyway?”

“Just say it the way I tell you!”

“Wait,“ said one of the reporters. “You’re here to resign?”

Swiveling back to face them the boar said, “Yes, I am announcing my resignation.”

“Effective when?” asked the reporter.

“Effective when?” the boar asked the baboon.

“Uh—today, no, soon, you’re um—you’re quitting to spend more time with your family,” said the baboon.

“Yes,” Wild Boar said to the reporters, “I will resign effective two days from now. This has been a busy time and I hope to spend more time with my family.”

“You’re ad-libbing again!” said the baboon. “Cut it out!”

“Isn’t it unusual for you to be leaving at this juncture?” asked another reporter. “I mean there is so little time left for the current administration.”

“Yes, well, I just—I just thought the time was right. I feel I’ve accomplished all I can working in service for the Two Lands.”

“And Leader Baboon?” asked one of the reporters. “Are you on-board with Wild Boar’s resigning his position at this time?”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stepped out from behind Wild Boar. He sauntered up to a  position beside him and nudged the other animal off the stump. Climbing up onto the pedestal, he raised his chin and pursed his lips. 

Looking out across the assembled throng, he said, “We see it as a great tragedy for you, my—our subjects. Not to have the Wild Boar by our side will be a great loss. We will miss his counsel and powerful words. He has been a strong supporter of our administration so far, but have no fear, we will continue to provide the best ever rule of law for our land.” 

“Have you selected a replacement?”

“Well we only just heard of this today but, yes, the assistant to Wild Boar, Cleft-nose Ox will assume his critical position.

“With only a few days left of your—“ the reporter started to say.

“Stop saying that! It remains to be determined!” said the baboon. “I have many avenues still available to me—to us—to correct this great wrong!”

“What wrong?” asked a reporter. 

The baboon glared at him and said through clenched teeth, “The wrong done to me!”

“But leaders like Mud Turtle have congratulated Blue Wildebeest on his win,” said a reporter. “The proxies met yesterday to officially acknowledge him as the new leader.”

“But I’m not done yet!” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “You’ll see!”

XXVI

Kalahari Macerating bustard slipped into the private enclosure of the Baboon with the Orange Butt. He lay in a corner on a rough pile of matting, his right hand lifted to his face. When he noticed her, the baboon quickly lowered his hand. The bustard wasn’t sure but she thought he had had his thumb in his mouth when she came in. Wisely, she didn’t mention it.

“Sir?” she began, “there are many animals calling for you to appear out before Moralardo.”

“Why?” he asked.

“They say that numerous animals have been attacked by crocodiles, a lot of them, and they want to know what you’re going to do about it.”

“What do I care? I wasn’t attacked. Those crocodiles have been more supportive of me than my own subjects are. Why should I do anything about it?”

“You’re still the leader for a few more days, sir,” the bustard said. “I think they want you to at least say something about the attacks.”

“Well then, they’re going to be mighty disappointed. I have much more important things to consider.”

“You must mean the roll-out of Puff-eyed lizard’s new vaccine against the disease, don’t you?”

“What? No, I don’t care about that.”

“But sir, White-headed Prancer monkey, your second in command, was vaccinated in public today along with his mate and several others.”

“So what? That little traitor is going to be out of a job too! Is he doing anything to stop this terrible crime against me?”

“Yes, sir, he is,” said Kalahari Macerating bustard. “He gave a wonderful speech just yesterday saying how you were fighting bravely to see that every legal vote got counted and every illegal vote was thrown out!”

“Bah! What good does that do now? Those traitors, the animal proxies certified the vote already!” The baboon leapt up and rushed at his Push Secretary causing her to retreat a few steps. “If he really wanted to help he’d see that those crocodiles got a hold of that wildebeest and his second, that damned Camel-colored hare!”

“Ah, sir, I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Why not?” asked the baboon. Turning and walking away from her, he mumbled, “Maybe White Mamba could bite them both.”

“He’s not here, sir.”

The baboon spun around and asked, “Why not?”

“Um, I—I don’t know.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt put on a crafty look and said, “I think you do.”

“Well, yes, okay, I do know, but he asked me not to tell.”

“So?” The baboon took a couple of steps toward her.

“He’s out looking for a job,” she said quickly.

The baboon laughed, “Who’s going to hire him?”

“He said something about a group of exterminators, Gnats Seized Smartly. I think he said they could make use of his particular skills.”

“I’ll bet,” the baboon said as he sat down again and started drawing pictures in the dirt with his finger. “Even Mud Turtle has deserted me!” the baboon wailed.

“But you do have some loyal supporters, sir! Take Tame Tuber viper for example! He’s out there working to save your position!”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“If you’re not going to go talk to the animals—“

“I already said I wasn’t!” the baboon yelled.

“Yes, I know, but there is another problem that you might want to address.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked worried, “What now?”

Kalahari Macerating bustard glanced back behind her as if to make sure she could make a fast escape if necessary. “It’s that, um, do you remember those flies?” 

He rolled over onto his mat, “What damned flies?”

“The ones you were using to send messages to some of your, um, helpers?”

“Oh, you mean the Tsetse males?” asked the baboon, sitting up. “What about them?”

“Yes, those, well—some seem to have been intercepted by certain members of your opposition. I’m afraid they have leaked their messages. They may be somewhat—incriminating.”

The baboon stared at her for a full minute, his mouth open. “Which messages?” he asked finally.

“The ones from Pallid Lax gander.”

The baboon slapped his head, “Those aren’t the ones that—“

“—talked about infecting all the animals in our country with the deadly disease in order to speed the process? Yes, they were.”

The baboon stood up, somewhat unsteadily, and staggered a few steps. “When you say, ‘my opposition’, which ones exactly do you mean?”

“Ah—a—pretty much—all of them.”

The baboon’s knees shook, he reached out to the sticks forming the wall nearby to hold himself up. ”What are they doing with the Tsetse males? What did you mean by saying, ‘leaked’?”

“They released the information they got from them to the public.”

“Oh, buffalo crap!” the baboon said softly as he collapsed into a heap against the brush wall.

“So how do you want to deal with this, sir?”

“I—I—I don’t.”

“You want me to talk to the reporters then? How shall we spin this? Do you want to say it’s being blown out of proportion? Do you want me to accuse the Fake gnus of planting the messages with the Tsetse males?”

“What I want you to do—“

“Yes sir?”

“—I want you to find Little Gray weasel and tell him to come here. Tell him to bring those little white stones of his. I need to go play!”

“But sir—“

“Just do it!” screamed the baboon.

XXVII

The Baboon with the Orange Butt and his daughter Mewanka were walking across an open area in Moralardo. “In case I do have to leave,” the baboon said, “I’ve been getting some stuff ready.”

“Like what daddy?” 

“Oh, you know, just the usual, stocking up on everything that was sitting around in the leader’s quarters. Then, I discovered something this morning.”

“What did you find, daddy?”

“I walked down to the river to tell those damned crocodiles of Valor’s to take it easy on the killing of our animals, at least for a day or so. After that I wandered over by our storage area. There’s not even half of all those donations made to my re-election campaign left, let alone the general surplus for the Two Lands.”

“Really?”

“I put that husband of yours in charge of taking care of that, despite my reservations. I suppose I should—no, wait!” The baboon stopped. Turning around in a complete circle, he scanned the location they were in. Seeing a tree not too far away, he said, “Let’s move away from here.”

“What is it daddy?”

“Nothing, I just want to get into an open area where no one can sneak up on me.” After a few steps he stopped and said, “Okay this is good.” Looking at his daughter he said, “As I was about to say, you better call your—“ The Baboon with the Orange Butt yelled while simultaneously jumping up into his daughter’s arms as a voice behind him asked, “You wanted to see me?”

Mewanka staggered a little under her load but she was used to carrying her father around for brief periods. Gently, she set him back on the ground.

Once he was standing again, the baboon looked at Barred and said, “One of these days you’re going to do that to me and I’m going to jump backwards and land on you!”

“I shall be wary of that eventuality,” said Barred Bush lemur. “What can I do for you?”

“Oh boy, what can you do for me?” Said the baboon, rubbing his palms together. “I’m so tempted!”

“Daddy!” said Mewanka.

“Okay, sweetie, don’t worry.” He turned back toward Barred and said, “I was just telling my darling daughter how there’s not nearly as much stored food as I thought there would be in our warehouse area.”

“Yes,” answered the lemur. That’s because we’ve been making donations to various small businesses and worthy foundations.”

“We have?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” asked the baboon.

“You told me to make sure we used the surplus food in an appropriate manner,” Barred answered.

“Yeah, I remember that now, but to just give it away? Who’d we give it to?”

“Well, 10% went to the Foundation for Indigent Baboons.”

“FIB?”

“Yes,” said Barred.

“I’ve never heard of them,” said the baboon. “Who runs it?”

“Let’ see, the Chief Operating Officer in charge of dispersing resources for FIB is your son, Dump Junior.”

“He’s in charge?”

“Yes, although he does have to answer to their Board of Directors.”

“Who is on that?”

“Your other son, I Forget His Name and your mate, Maliciosa.”

“I see,” said the baboon. “Who established this foundation?”

“I did.”

“I should’ve known. What other groups have we donated to?”

“The Council of Original Natives received 10%.”

“CON, eh? Who runs that?”

“Your daughter Mewanka is the president and Little Gray Weasel is the board chairman.”

“Who else is on the board?”

“That’s it.”

“Let me guess, you set this one up too?”

The lemur nodded. 

“Any others?”

“There’s the Company Organizing and Obtaining Kernals and Seeds, they received 20% of the donations.”

“That would be CROOKS?”

“Yes.”

“And the president of that company is—“

“I am.”

“I’m beginning to see a pattern here,” said the baboon. “And I think I like it!”

“I thought you might.”

“Are there any others?” 

“Oh yes, there are several. The lemur blinked his large eyes slowly, “There’s Review of Occupations for Baboons,” said Barred.

“That’s ROB?”

“Yes, the Chief Officer is Simply Killforall.”

“Dump’s girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Are these individuals compensated for their work?”

“Of course,” said Barred.

“Uh-huh, how is that done?”

“They each receive a stipend, weekly.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt nodded, “I see. Any other groups I should know about?”

“There is one called Friendly Animals Taking Baboons Under Their Tutelage. They have been allotted twenty-five per cent of the stores.”

“Hmm, is that FATBUTT?”

“Yes.”

“Who’s in charge of that business?”

“Currently they do not have their leadership in place,” said Barred, “but there is an offer of a directorship being tendered by Tsetse male this week, and I expect the individual to accept.”

“And who is that?”

“That would be you,” said Barred.

“You saved FATBUTT for me?”

“I did.”

“Thanks, I’m sure you considered various candidates carefully before dropping it on me.”

“No, you were my first choice.”

“I suppose I should’ve guessed that. So, let me review.  You’ve sent out a large portion of all the resources that were donated to us to establish a national surplus to v various companies all run by my family and closest friends?”

Barred Bush Lemur nodded.

“Why did you decide to do that?”

“I thought it was better than just waiting for Blue Wildebeest to come into power and distribute it to all the animals of the Two Lands, including those in the Land of the Antelope.”

“Yeah, that would be a real waste.”

“I’ll get to the rest of the stores very soon.”

XXVIII

“Hear ye, hear ye!” said a tall secretary bird in a loud, raucous voice, “the court of Judge Pard Leopard tortoise is now in session.”

“Thank you Sagittaria Secretary bird,” said the tortoise who stood on top of a flat stone. “What is on our docket for today?”

“The sentencing of Dun and Tan Hunting vulture is the first item, your honor.”

“I see,” said the tortoise, “is the prisoner present?”

“He is your honor,” said the secretary bird, indicating a large bird in the custody of two servals standing off to one side of the stone.

“Dun and Tan Hunting vulture,” the tortoise intoned, “you have been found guilty of embezzlement of campaign donations and fraud—“

“Just a minute,” said a new voice.

All the animals turned to see the Baboon with the Orange Butt striding through the dry grasses toward them followed by two wart hogs.

“I have new information about this matter,” said the baboon.

“This trial is over,” said the tortoise, looking at the baboon, “the prisoner has been found guilty, with, I might add, overwhelming evidence of that guilt.”

“But I have something very significant to say pertaining to his case,” said the baboon.

“And what might that be?” asked the tortoise.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt strode up to the large flat stone that Judge Pard Leopard tortoise was standing on and said, “This esteemed animal,” pointing to the vulture, “was the first official in the Two Lands to voice his support my candidacy for leader.”

A large elephant standing out before the stone said, “Your honor I fail to see the connection that this fact has to the present case.”

“I have to agree with District attorney Loxodonte, on this. I realize that you are the leader for a few more days, Dump, but what bearing does this fact have on these proceedings?”

“On these?” answered the baboon. “None. But I told you that to tell you this, I am giving Dun and Tan Hunting vulture a Mackerel Fin.” The baboon turned to one of the large wart hogs following him and procured a large rotting fish fin on a vine. “Once Dun and Tan Hunting vulture has this on, he will have my official pardon for all his crimes.”

“Phew!” said the secretary bird as Dump passed her, “that smells disgusting!”

Dump put the vine around the vulture’s neck and said, “You are free to go.”

“Just a minute,” said the elephant. “This vulture took donations given to him to support political activity in his district and used it to bribe animals to bring him numerous carcasses to feed upon at his leisure. That is fraud and misuse of funds!”

“That is true,” said the tortoise. “And the district attorney is rightly justified in his outrage that such a criminal would be offered clemency, but—“ the tortoise looked at the Baboon with the Orange Butt, “as leader of the Two Lands, Dump baboon has the power to offer pardons to anyone he chooses. Much as I hate to admit it, Dun and Tan Hunting vulture is free to go.”

The vulture looked around at the two servals that stood to either side of him. He looked at the baboon and said, “I knew my endorsement of your candidacy would come in handy, one day. Thank you, Oh Greatest Baboon Ever!” 

“It’s my pleasure,” said the baboon, “loyalty such as yours should always be rewarded.”

Dun and Tan Hunting vulture bowed to the baboon and, opening his large wings, he flew off.

“What’s next proceeding today, Saggitaria?” asked the tortoise, sighing.

“Another sentencing, your honor, this time it’s four hyenas who wantonly slaughtered foreign animals in a land across the lake.”

“Don’t bother yourself judge,” said the baboon.

“What do you mean? What is your interest in this regrettable incident.”

“About the supposed incident, again, none. But I have Mackerel Fins here for these hyenas too.”

“Why would you want to set free four convicted murderers?” asked Judge Leopard tortoise.

“I have my reasons,” said the baboon, “it’s my right to use my pardon power how ever I want!”

“It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they belong to that private army of Thicket Pinched-face rat, would it?” asked the elephant.

“Who?” asked Judge Leopard tortoise.

“The brother of Bat-seeking Devious rat,” answered the district attorney. “She works for the baboon.”

The judge looked at the baboon, “Is that the reason you are pardoning these killers?”

“It’s none of your business why I am pardoning them,” said Dump.

“But you heard what my bailiff, the secretary bird said, these four hyenas wantonly slaughtered animals of all ages, even the young, not to feed on them, but just because they could,” said the tortoise.

“So you say,” answered the baboon, “maybe I see them as heroes of our lands.”

“Maybe you have a warped sense of what is heroic,” said the elephant.

“Possibly the most cogent comment of the day,” said the tortoise. “Please bring out the prisoners,” he said to the secretary bird.

The four hyenas, guarded by four leopards, entered the clearing. Dump walked over to them and said, “You’re free boys. Here are your Mackerel fins.” He put one around each hyena’s neck. “As long as you wear these you’re pardoned for all actions that were taken in defense of my administration and our great land.”

One of the hyenas sniffed the decayed fish fin on the vine around his neck and said, “Wow, do these ever stink! And you better believe me when I say, I know stink!”

The other hyenas and Dump all laughed. “Don’t worry,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt, “the smell won’t stop you from getting a job. Maybe a position with someone grateful for your service, and one who is a very famous baboon, if you know who I mean.”

The hyenas all heartily laughed again as they left the clearing.

Sidling up to the tortoise the elephant whispered, “How can this be legal?”

“I don’t know,” the judge replied. “Maybe we’ll have to talk to Blue Wildebeest about looking into it.”

“Do you think he will?” asked the secretary bird.

“I certainly hope so,” said Judge Pard Leopard tortoise.

XXIX

The Baboon with the Orange Butt swung a small flat stick, sharply striking a little round white rock. It rolled along the ground for several feet and stopped an arm’s length from a hole. 

Striding up to a position nearer to the hole, he pointed at a rock, previously hit by the Little Gray Weasel, that lay in a closer proximity to the hole than the one he had hit. “Looks like I’m nearest the hole,” said the baboon. “I’ll go first.”

“Sir, I think that’s my rock,” protested the weasel.  

“No, it’s not!” said the baboon. “I remember that mine had a one little black speck on one side, and there it is, see?”

The weasel didn’t even bother to look, “I’m sure you’re right about that, Oh Greatest Baboon Who Has Ever Lived,” he said. “You always are.”

The baboon nodded, “You better remember it!” He swung his stick and tapped the rock right up to the edge of the hole. Squatting down he eyed the little white sphere, perched on the brink of falling in. He edged forward until his nose barely touched the rock and it dropped into the hole.

“I knew that would go,” he said, standing up. 

“Your grasp of the intricacies of this game is very impressive, Oh Greatest Baboon Ever,” said the weasel.

“Talk loud and carry a small stick,” said the baboon. He looked up to see Marked Multi-veined Monitor lizard rapidly heading towards them. “Oh what does this idiot want from me now?” lamented the baboon. 

Marked lizard arrived mostly out of breath. He nodded to Little Gray Weasel, and, after catching his breath, he said, “Oh Greatest Baboon Who Has Ever Lived, I’m afraid we have trouble!”

“You know, I think I’m going to change it to ‘Most Exalted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived’ from now on,” said the baboon. “It sounds better, more appropriate.”

“Yes,” said the lizard, “I think so too, Most Exalted Greatest Baboon, but I think you should listen to what I have to tell you.”

“You forgot ‘Who Ever Lived’,” said the baboon evenly.

“What? Oh yes, I’m sorry Oh Most Exalted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived,” said the lizard.

“I didn’t have that ‘Oh’ in there.”

“What? Oh, the ‘Oh’ I see my mistake—“

“Never mind,” said the baboon, “leave the ‘Oh’ in there, I like it,” said the baboon. “Now what’s this trouble?”

“The trouble is something I heard while I was out by the washing post this morning—“

“What’s the ‘washing post’?” asked the weasel.

“You wouldn’t know about that,” said the baboon. “There’s an old tree outside Moralardo, on the south side. All the limbs have fallen off and it’s just a post now. The hyenas and jackals like to gather at it and relieve themselves against it. They refer to it as ‘washing the post’.”

“—yes, exactly” said Marked lizard, “and they were out in numbers this morning when I went by there. The lizard paused. 

‘Well?” asked the baboon.

 “Um, they were all talking about how you should concede and let Blue Wildebeest get to work!”

“What?” yelled the baboon. “That’s unimaginable! The animals at the washing post have always been completely on my side!”

“They’re not anymore,” said Marked Many-veined Monitor lizard. “I’m afraid we’re sunk!”

“That’s just not possible!” said the baboon. “You must’ve heard them wrong!”

“No, Oh Exaulted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived, I’m afraid not. I stayed for quite a while, out of sight,  listening to them. They all agreed that you should back off of trying to change the result of the choosing.”

“But I won, I won by a lot! It was crooked! They brought in dead animal votes for the wildebeest! They double counted all those male impala votes! It’s not fair!”

“Muck Mud Turtle said that none of those things happened,” said Little Gray weasel. “He says the election for leader is over and the wildebeest won.” 

“Who are you going to listen to?” yelled the baboon. “He’s a traitor too! Who’s side are you on?”

“I’m on your side, you know that. But the Mud turtle is the oldest and most powerful leader in the Land of the Elephant,” said the weasel. “You have to listen to what he says.”

“No you don’t! You only have to listen to me, just me!”

“But what are we going to do about the washing post, sir?” asked the lizard.

“Don’t worry, it won’t matter anyway! I’m going to have White-headed Prancing monkey throw out the proxies votes as illegal!”

“Ah, sir, I’ve looked everywhere for the Prancing monkey. He’s nowhere to be found.”

“What a coward! Okay then, I’m going to declare Partial Law!” said the baboon.

“What’s ‘partial law’?” asked Marked lizard.

“It’s a little known power that I have,” said the baboon. “I can declare that the only laws that are to be enforced are my laws.”

“I’ve never heard of that specific power,” said the weasel.

“Yeah, it’s not well-known, like I said,” agreed the baboon.

The lizard looked at the weasel and whispered, “I think he just made that up.”

The weasel nodded.

“If you declare this ‘partial law’” asked the lizard, “how will you enforce it?”

“I’ll have my hyenas and jackals make sure it’s enforced.”

Marked Multi-veined lizard looked at Little Gray Weasel again, the weasel shrugged and shook his head. “I think we may have a problem with that too, sir“ said the lizard.

The baboon leaned over to retrieve his white rock from the hole. “Why?” he asked.

“Do you remember what I told you when I first got here?” asked the lizard.

“No,” said the baboon, lining up his rock as he prepared to hit it toward the hole again, “should I?”

“Yep,” said the weasel, looking at the lizard, “we have a problem.”

XXX

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stood out in front of Moralardo. Before him, spread out across the open plain, was a large gathering of baboons and proboscis monkeys.

“Our faithful followers, it is our sad duty to tell you that the time has come for us to storm the centers of false beliefs, the lairs of those who are denying our victory in this choosing! We must march together through the Arid Zone and to the very site of the Penned Sylvan Area itself! Go now! Go and save our country from the fake gnus who would steal it from us! We will grab a few things and be with you all presently!”

The horde of listeners cheered as they thundered off. Behind the baboon, Marked Multi-veined lizard asked, “Is there something I can go get for you, Oh Exalted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived?”

Turning to walk back toward Moralardo the baboon said, “No, why?”

“You told them that you had to get a few things before you went with them.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” the baboon said.

“But you just told them that you would accompany them.”

“So?”

“I’m confused. Aren’t you going with them?” asked the lizard.

“Not on your life, it’s going to be really dangerous.”

The lizard asked, “Then why did you send them?”

“You’re really quite intelligent, you know?” said the baboon.

“Thank you sir, but—“

“That wasn’t a complement,” said the baboon, interrupting him.

The lizard looked at him, “I’m sorry? What?”

“I lied. You’re a moron,” said the baboon, “like all the rest of them.” He continued walking toward the entrance of Moralardo. 

“But you just said—“

“I told you, I lied when I said you are smart.” 

“You lied?”

“See how easy it is?”

“But—“

“Oh shut-up! Go with those other morons and come back and tell me what happens.”

“You mean the baboons and proboscis monkeys?” asked the lizard.

“Of course that’s who I mean, what a dope! Get going!”

“Yes sir.” The lizard ran off after the mob heading toward the Arid Zone. 

Upon entering Moralardo the baboon saw Dump Jr. and I Forget His Name running toward him. “Where are you two off to?” he asked.

“We’re going to join your supporters marching to save our country,” said Dump Jr.

“The hell you are!” shouted the Baboon With The Orange Butt. “Haven’t you learned anything?”

“But da—Oh Exalted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived, we thought—“ said I Forget His Name.

“You didn’t think!” said the baboon, still shouting. “That’s the problem! Haven’t you been paying attention to what I have been teaching you all your miserable lives?”

Dump Jr. said, “What do you mean, da—, oops, ah, Oh Exalted—“ 

“Shut-up! I mean you should know by now that you never go do the dirty work yourself, you get others to do it for you!”

“But Oh Exalted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived, don’t you want to lead them to make sure they do what you want?” asked Dump Jr.

“Who cares? I set them loose. They’ll screw things up enough without me being there.”

“I don’t understand,” said I Forget His Name.

“That’s obvious. Now get back inside Moralardo where you’ll be safe.”

As they were walking back in, Marked Multi-veined lizard came running up to them, “Oh Exalted Greatest Baboon Who Ever Lived, I have grave news!” he said.

Turning on the lizard, the baboon screamed, “I thought I told you to stay with those idiots! What are you doing back here already?”

“I was sure you’d want to know about this immediately, sir.”

“Fine!” said the baboon. “Tell me what it is and get back there.”

“But sir, one of the baboons you sent has been killed!”

“So?” asked the Baboon With The Orange Butt.  

“I don’t understand, sir? Don’t you feel responsible?”

“For what?”

“For the death of one of your supporters.”

“How did they get killed?” asked Dump Jr. 

“I’m not sure,” said the lizard, “somebody said she was killed by a lion, others said it was a leopard. It was a mess! There was confusion everywhere!”

“That’s not important,” said the Baboon With The Orange Butt. “It’s obvious she should’ve been more careful.”

“But sir,” said the lizard, “you sent her. You sent all of them, and now they’re rioting!”

“I didn’t send them to riot, or to get killed.”

“But you sent them as a mob without leadership!”

“No I didn’t,” said the baboon. “This isn’t my fault. I simply encouraged them to use their own judgement. I told them to look to their conscience for direction. They are just trying to save our country. They are patriots.”

The lizard stared at the baboon, his mouth hanging open.

“Close your mouth, you look even stupider than you actually are,” said the baboon. “Now get back there and report to me when it’s over.”

Marked Multi-veined lizard slowly turned around and walked off.

The Baboon With The Orange Butt looked at his two sons and said, “I’m surrounded by morons!”

“But da—“ Dump Jr. started to reply.

“Shut-up,” snapped the baboon, “I’m including you in that group.”

XXXI

“Did you hear?” Dump asked Mewanka when she entered his enclosure.

“Hear about what, daddy?”

“They trashed the Wish And Done capitol area! My heroes aren’t going to let me be cast away! They won’t let this election be stolen from me!”

“The Wish And Done area? Why there, daddy?”

“That’s where they were doing the final certification of that wildebeest winning the election. But my people know he didn’t win! They stopped it!”

Marked Multi-veined lizard followed Mewanka into the thorn bush walled home of the Baboon With The Orange Butt.

“What do you want?” snapped the baboon.

“It’s done,” Marked said, “they’ve finished!” He plopped down on the dirt. “We’re finished!”

“You didn’t address me as Oh Most Exalted Greatest Baboon Ever!” said the baboon.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Marked lizard.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean they’ve certified the choosing for Blue Wildebeest!”

“No! No, that’s not true!” shouted the baboon. “My supporters stopped it! They destroyed the place!”

“They destroyed the place alright,” said the lizard, “but the certification was done anyway.”

“How?” asked Dump.

“They decided they would return and continue, despite the destruction. Your supporters failed!”

“I can let this happen!” the baboon said. “All of you get out! I must muster them again! This isn’t over! I have work to do!”

Mewanka looked at Marked Multi-veined lizard and they exited the enclosure. “I’m worried,” she said once they were outside, “he’s getting worse.”

“Yes, I agree, but what can we do?”

“I don’t know, I’m going to go find Barred, he might know.”

Barred Bush lemur stepped out from behind the thorn bush walls and said, “You were looking for me?”

“Yes,” said Mewanka, hiding her surprise, “walk with me. We have to talk about this.”

They had not gone far when Dump, the Baboon With The Orange Butt caught up to his daughter Mewanka and Barred Bush Lemur walking across Moralardo. “They’re gone!” Dump shreiked. “They’re all gone!”

“Who are gone, daddy?” asked Mewanka.

“My birds, all my birds,” Dump lamented.

“I don’t understand,” said Mewanka, “you have birds?”

“My tweeting birds!” Dump yelled. “All my tweeting birds are missing!”

“Oh those,” said Mewanka. 

“I’m sorry, sir,” added Barred. “I meant to tell you. I spoke with them last evening and they said they were leaving.”

“But why?” asked Dump.

“They said they couldn’t work for you any more.”

“I can’t alert my supporters without them! What can I do now? How do I get them back?”

Barred blinked slowly and shrugged.

“We had an agreement,” said Dump forlornly.

“The leaders of the group mentioned that,” said Barred. “According to them, you were asking them to break the law by sending them out with messages that were inciting violence. They said your directions constituted dangerous threats for the safety and the lives of other animals.”

“Dangerous? What could be more dangerous than having my leadership stolen from me? I just told my supporters to march to that place and fight for me! They had to save the election from being stolen!”

“That was another of their points in their argument as to why they were leaving,” said Barred. “In their opinion you are delusional in your repeated accusations that the election was stolen from you.”

The baboon took a step towards the lemur, “Are you calling me delusional?”

Barred shook his head, “Not me, the birds.”

“But I’ve given them everything,” Dump whined. “I’ve made them famous!”

“Not according to them,” said Barred, “they said you’ve put them in an untenable position and left them to face the outrage of other animals without supporting them.”

“That’s crazy,” the baboon argued, “I was always there for them.”

“The tweeters said you were just using them and they had had enough.”

“They are a bunch of ingrates! How am I to speak to my followers now?”

Barred shrugged, “You could always hold a public meeting to deliver you message.”

“What? No, no that won’t work!” said the baboon.

“Why not, daddy?” asked Mewanka.

The baboon shook his head, “Because they will ask me questions. I don’t want to answer any more questions.” He sat down in the dirt. “This is a tragedy!”

“Oh daddy, don’t let it get you down. After all you’re almost done here.”

The baboon looked up at her, “What does that mean?”

“Well, the wildebeest takes over as leader in a couple days.”

Jumping up the baboon screamed, “Not you too!” causing Mewanka and Barred to step backward rapidly to a safe distance. “You’re betraying me?”

“I’m not betraying you, daddy, but everyone knows that this election is over. It’s time to plan for our future.”

“I have no future except as the rightful leader of these lands!”

Mewanka looked at Barred, who shrugged and walked away. 

“Where’s he going?” asked the baboon.

“He going to talk with some animals from the desert regions to the north. I think he arranging for somewhere that we can call our next home.”

XXXII

“Hey, what happened to you, there, bud?”

Dump the baboon, bits of ripe fruit dripping off him everywhere, wiped the mess off his face and looked up to see three hippopotamuses surrounding him. They looked at him sitting on the ground with surprised faces.

“You’re a real mess,” one of the hippos said.

“A bunch of birds just flew over,” Dump said, “they dropped rotten peaches on me. I’ve been em-peached again!”

“Huh,” said another of the hippos, “Not popular with the birds, eh?”

“Not anymore,” Dump said.

“Well go clean yourself up somewhere else,” the third hippo said, “we got work to do here and you might get stomped—accidentally, of course.” The other two hippos chuckled.

“Yeah,” said another hippo, “but don’t go down by the river, it’s loaded with crocodiles! They’d love to see you coming! They’d be licking their chops!”

“Knock it off,” said the third hippo. He looked back at Dump and said “Com’on, beat it! We’ve got a lot of work to do!” 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt asked, “What kind of work?”

The hippopotamus that appeared to be in charge, looked around and said, “We’re supposed to clean up this mess. We’re going to bust up all these thorn bushes and drag all this crap off.”

“You can’t do that!” protested Dump.

“Oh yeah? Why not?”

“Because I live here, this place belongs to me!”

All the hippos laughed uproariously at this statement. “You?” said the boss. “You’re a baboon!”

“So?”

“So old Putrid only likes baboons if they are in bite-sized pieces!”

“You mean Valor the crocodile? He gave me this place!”

Now the laughter exploded out of the three huge animals, one actually laughing so hard he fell over and rolled across the ground.

“What’s so funny?” the baboon angrily asked.

Gradually gaining control of himself again, the leader of the hippos said, “Old Putrid never gave anyone nuthin’! With him, everybody pays.”

“Oh yeah?” Dump said. “Well he gave me Moralardo!”

“What’s Moralardo?” asked the hippo.

Standing up suddenly, all the while flinging the remains of rotten peaches in every direction, the baboon shouted, “This is Moralardo, I live here and the crocodile gave it to me!”

“Must’ve been a loan then,” said the hippo. “Because he’s taking it back!”

“He is?” The baboon looked around, “But where am I supposed to go?”

“How should I know?” asked the hippo. “Where were you before?”

“Before—?” asked Dump.

“Yeah,” said the hippo impatiently, “before you were here. Go back there, or don’t. But you gotta leave, now!”

“Maybe you could ask your friends?” said one of the other hippos. The boss looked at him. “I’m just trying to help,” the hippo said. He shrugged and added, “You know, he could go with them somewheres.”

“What friends?” asked Dump.

“You don’t have friends? Com’on everybody has some friends.” The hippo glanced over to one side, “I saw a big white snake over there somewhere, I almost stepped on him. Is he a friend of yours?”

“Snakes ain’t nobody’s friends” said the boss hippo. “They’re snakes. You shoulda stomped him.”

“He was too fast,” said the second hippo. He looked back at the baboon. “So maybe some other friends?”

“They’re all gone,” said Dump. “They left. They abandoned me, everyone of them. After all I did for them, Bat-seeking Devious rat, Harpy eagle, Plump polecat, Little Gray weasel, even White-headed Prancer monkey. It’s just so unfair, I did so much for him!”

“Yeah? What did you do for the monkey?” asked the hippo.

“He was nothing until I made him my second-in-command!”

“Oh you don’t say?” asked the hippo. “Second-in-command of what?” 

“Of what?” shouted the baboon. “Of everything! I made him my second in charge of it all!”

The hippo looked at his boss, who nodded knowingly, giving him a wide hippo grin. “Sure you did, bud, you were a prince to that monkey!”

“No I wasn’t,” yelled the baboon, “I wasn’t a prince, I was the boss—leader of everything, I had it all!”

“Right,” said the hippo. “But now you gotta leave here boss! G’wan, make tracks!”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked at him. He started to say something more in protest. Then his shoulders slumped. He stared at the ground around him, littered with rotten peaches. Dump the baboon gave a big sigh, “What’s the use?” he said.

“There you go,” said the boss hippo. “Can’t fight progress.” As the three hippos stood and watched the baboon walked off, out of the thorn bush-walled area, and disappeared around the edge of the wall. 

The first hippo, who had been quiet all this time said, “Hey! I just figured it out! You guys know who that baboon was?”

“No,” said the boss, “who was he?”

“That was the Greatest Baboon Ever!”

“Really?” said the boss, “Never heard of him.”

“Yeah,” said the second hippo, “if you’ve seen one baboon—“

“You’ve seen one too many!” said the boss. The three hippos all laughed. “Let’s get busy,” he added.

To be continued?

In The Jungle

26 Sep

An extended allegory by Marc Severson

I

Disease was ravaging both the Land of the Elephant and the Land of the Antelope. The leader of those lands was the Baboon with the Orange Butt. No one was quite sure how he became leader, there was talk that the animals of the big lake had interfered in the process. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt said he had talked with the Crocodile of the big lake who had denied any part in the installation of the Baboon in his position. “That,” said the Baboon, “satisfies any concerns anyone might have.”

Which of course it didn’t.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt sat watching flies gather, one of his more common activities, as some animals of both lands approached him. “Baboon with the Orange Butt, many animals are dying of this disease,” said the Honey Badger who was acting as spokesperson for the group.

“What?” said the Baboon.

“I said that many animals are dying of this disease,” repeated the Honey Badger. 

“Oh yeah, I heard about that.”

“When?” asked the Honey Badger.

“What?” asked the Baboon, his eyes rolling around in his head, tracking the movements of the flies. “There are a lot of flies these days,” he said.

“Probably because there are so many dead animals. When did you hear about animals dying from the disease?” asked the Honey Badger.

He looked at her as if surprised to find her still standing there. “Oh, just recently,” answered the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“Recently? You just heard recently?? Animals have been dying for weeks!”

The Wild Boar, the Baboon’s constant companion, leaned in and whispered something into his ear. “Yes, yes, I know that,” stammered the Baboon to the Honey Badger. “But recently I heard how many were dying.”

“How many are dying?” asked the Honey Badger.

“What?” asked the Baboon. The Boar started to lean over.

“Why do you always have that Boar next to you?” asked the Honey Badger.

The Baboon looked surprised, “Why shouldn’t I?” 

“I understood that the Boar was supposed to help all the animals.”

“He is,” said the Baboon. “By helping me he helps all of us.”

“Hmm,” said the Honey Badger. “So what are you doing about the disease that is killing the animals?”

“It’s not really my responsibility, you know,” said the Baboon, “but just because I could, I chose to ask my bees to develop a type of honey that will cure everyone.” 

“Your bees?” said the Honey Badger. “You mean the bees?”

“Yes, that’s what I said, my bees. They’re working on it even as I speak.” The Baboon glanced over to one side and saw the Little Gray Weasel slithering towards him. The Baboon began to fidget. 

“So when is this honey going to be ready?” asked the Honey Badger.

“What?” asked the Baboon, his hands fluttering, his lips quivering. “Oh that, it will be ready tomorrow.”

“Wait a minute,” said the Giraffe, “you told me yesterday that it would be ready tomorrow.”

The Honey Badger saw that the Little Gray Weasel held a couple white round stones in his paws. She saw that the Baboon with the Orange Butt was staring at those stones. “Huh?” the Baboon said to the Giraffe. “Oh yeah, I remember, I did say that. See how consistent I am?”

“How is that consistent?” asked the Giraffe.

“Because I told you the exact same thing I just told the rest of you.” Even while talking to the Giraffe, the Baboon was staring intently at the Little Gray Weasel who was franticly motioning him away.

“But if you told me yesterday, it should be ready today,” said the Giraffe.

“No, no,” said the Baboon, looking at the Giraffe in annoyance. “I said tomorrow and I mean tomorrow.”

“I know something about honey,” said the Honey Badger, “and I talked to the bees. They said the honey won’t be ready for several days and they may not have enough for everyone for a while. They also said it has no guarantee of working.” 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt glared at her, “My bees misunderstood your question,” he said angrily. “It will be ready tomorrow, there will be plenty for everyone and it will work.” He looked over at the Weasel. “And now you must excuse me,” he said, “I things to attend to.”

The animals watched as the orange butt of the Baboon receded away from them, the Little Gray Weasel juggling the white round stones, scampering beside him.

“Where are they going?” asked the Giraffe.

“They are going to play a game where they roll little round white rocks into holes,” said the Honey Badger. “Then they dig them out and do it again.”

The Giraffe looked at her, “Why?”

“I have no idea.”

II

Honey Badger and the White Rhinoceros watched as the Baboon with the Orange Butt and the Little Gray Weasel walked towards them. 

“Looks like their game is ended for today,” said Badger. “What’s wrong?” she called out to the Baboon.

The Baboon looked up at her and said, “It’s too smoky to play. All this smoke is making the Weasel cough.”

As if to prove the point, the Gray Weasel gave a few feeble coughs.

The Honey Badger pointed off in the distance and said, “It’s because of those fires in the forest. Or hadn’t you noticed them?”

The Baboon looked in the direction she indicated and said, “Oh those. Of course I noticed them. I notice everything. It’s my job as leader.” He stood and stared at them for a few moments. “Where did they come from? I know they’re not my fault.”

“We think lightning caused them,” said the Badger. “What is your plan?”

The Baboon turned to look at her, “Plan? What plan?”

The Rhinoceros added, “Your plan to deal with the fires.”

“Oh, that plan. I went over there days ago. I talked to the animals who live in those trees. I gave them some excellent advice, I told them to pick up the leaves.”

“What?” the Rhinoceros asked.

“I told them to pick up all the leaves or they would have fires.”

“Who did you tell?” asked Honey Badger.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt pointed at the trees, “Those animals that live over there.”

“The animals that live in the trees that belong to the Land of the Elephant?”

“Yes, exactly. They should’ve listened to me and picked up the leaves. That was some of my best advice. Those leaves were laying all over.”

“But it’s the trees that are burning,” said the Rhinoceros.

“Yes,” said the Baboon, “but the fire started with burning leaves.”

“How do you know that? Were you there?” asked the White Rhinoceros.

“Well, no, not at the time. I was—“ he glanced at the Weasel who coughed again, “—busy. But it could’ve been the leaves.” 

The Honey Badger sighed. “Don’t you think you should try to help them?”

“Well, it’s not really my responsibility.”

“Why not?” asked the Honey Badger.

The Baboon looked at the distant fires, “You can see it’s a long way away.”

“More than half of those trees that are burning are Elephant land trees. You are from Elephant land. How is it not your responsibility?”

“Because it’s far away. It’s just not one of my responsibilities.”

“What are your responsibilities?” asked the White Rhinoceros.

“Oh, my responsibilities? I have many—“ 

“Name one!” snapped Honey Badger.

“Huh? That’s just not possible. I have hundreds, so many, maybe thousands, it’s impossible for me to name them all now.”

“She didn’t say to name all of them,” said the Rhinoceros, “she said to name one.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stared at the Rhinoceros. “Hey, I thought you were on my side.”

The White Rhinoceros shook his large head, “No, I have never been on your side.” He took a step toward toward the Baboon. “Answer the question!”

The Baboon stepped back, “Which question?”

“Name one of your responsibilities.”

“I don’t think that is a question, is it?” said the Weasel, coughing again. “It sounds more like a statement.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked at the Weasel and then said, “Yeah, that’s a statement. Not a question.” He looked at the Rhinoceros, “You’d have to ask me a question for me to answer it. In fact, answering your questions is one of my responsibilities. Yeah, I think it is. In fact I’m sure of it. There, I answered her question.”

The Honey Badger sighed and dropped her head between her paws. “Just give it up, Rhinoceros. He’s hopeless.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt walked off followed by the the Little Gray Weasel holding the round stones. As he left they heard him say, “Thousand, literally thousands. If you ask me about a specific responsibility I can confirm that that is one of them, but to list them all—it’s just not possible.” The Weasel coughed. 

The Rhinoceros asked, “Wasn’t the Gray Weasel a good friend of the Old Lion who died?”

“Yes,” answered the Honey Badger. “They were the best of friends.”

“And the Old Lion didn’t like the Baboon with the Orange Butt.”

The Honey Badger nodded, “They hated each other.”

“And didn’t the Weasel speak out against the Baboon being the new leader?”

The Honey Badger nodded. “He was very forceful in his condemnation.”

“And now they are best buddies,” said the White Rhinoceros.

“Big surprise, huh?” said the Honey Badger. “What a world we live in.”

III

Walking up some animals one morning the Baboon with the Orange Butt looked annoyed. “Why are you all spread out like that?” asked the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

The Honey Badger said, “It has been suggested that to slow down the spread of the disease, animals should not gather in close proximity to one another.”

“Who suggested that?”

“The Elder Meerkat, he’s been studying the effects of the disease.”

The Baboon shook his head, “Oh him. What does he know?”

“He was the one who help stop the last dangerous sickness that was spreading through the lands,” said the White Rhinoceros, “and the one before that.”

“That’s ancient history, it doesn’t apply here.”

“In what manner does it not apply?” asked the Ostrich.

“OK, maybe it does apply,” said the Baboon, “but it’s not the same.”

“The Elder Meerkat has a long history of carefully observing the effects of diseases upon various animals and suggesting ways to combat the adverse effects,” added the Ostrich.

The Baboon scowled, “You know, you’re hard to hear all spread out like that.”

“Maybe you should listen more carefully when the animals you are supposed to be leading are speaking,” said the Honey Badger.

“I always listen, it’s one of my best skills as a leader!”

“That would be one of your only skills as a leader,” said the Rhinoceros.

“What?” snapped the Baboon.

“My point exactly,” said the Honey Badger.

The Baboon puffed up his chest. “I don’t think you all recognize how much I do for you.”

“It’s sometimes hard to discern exactly how your acts of leadership are manifested,” said the Ostrich.

She was well known for her efforts as an educator and often spoke just this way.

“What does that mean?”

“Never mind,” said the Honey Badger. “What are some of your unique leadership skills?”  

“Ask the Wild Boar, he knows, he can tell you.”

“I’m asking you. What are your skills?”

“My skills?” The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked around. He looked at the trees that were still burning, at the distant hills where the weasel got the little round rocks, at the swamp beside the lake where the Crocodile ruled. He looked everywhere frantically for several minutes. Then he stopped. He stared into the middle distance. 

“Here’s true leadership for you, something only I can do. See those animals,” said the Baboon nodding toward the savanna.

The Honey Badger looked in the direction he indicated. “You mean that small herd grazing in the grass over there?”

“Yes, those. They’re fake.”

“What?” She looked at them again, “Those are gnus.”

“No, no, they’re not,” argued the Baboon. “You are wrong. They may look something like gnus but they aren’t really. You can’t tell the difference between real ones and fake ones, only I can tell. Those gnus are fake!”

“They look real to me,” said the Honey Badger.

“You’re wrong! Believe me, only I can tell.”

“Excuse me a moment,” said the Badger. She walked over to the White Rhinoceros, stopping a respectful distance away from him. Pointing to the savanna grasses, she asked him, “Can you tell me, what do you see over there?” 

“You mean those gnus?” asked the Rhinoceros.

“Exactly,” said the Honey Badger. “Thanks.” The Rhinoceros looked a little puzzled as she strolled over to the Ostrich. “Professor, what do you see over there in the grass?”

“A assemblage of gnus grazing upon late summer pasturage?” asked the Ostrich.

“I agree,” said the Badger, “thank you.” She went to where the Pea Hen was standing. “Do you see those animals?” she asked the Pea Hen. 

“Yes,” answered the Hen. 

“What kind of animals would you say they are?”

“I’m sorry?” said the Hen. “I don’t understand. Are you talking about those gnus?”

“Don’t worry,” said the Honey Badger, “that’s all I need to know. Thank you.” 

She went back to where the Baboon with the Orange Butt sat. “I just talked to every one here. All of these animals agree with me that those are gnus,” she said to him.

“See!” said the Baboon triumphantly. “That just proves my point! They can’t tell that they aren’t real. Only I can tell!” He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “You are fake! Fake Gnus! Fake Gnus!”

Several of the gnus raised their heads to stare at him. Two of them looked at each other and shrugged in that peculiar manner that only gnus have of rolling their shoulders just so. Then they went back to their grazing.

“See?” said the Baboon. “They have no response. They know I’m right.”

“Or maybe,” replied the Honey Badger, “they couldn’t care less because they recognize that you are an incompetent boob yelling ridiculous nonsense, again!”

The Baboon took a step back, “What an insult! You are such a nasty animal! I have to put up with so much already! Has any leader ever been so abused?” The Baboon strode off, mumbling to himself. “No one appreciates me, I work so hard for these animals and do they thank me? No!”

The Pea Hen walked up to stand near to the Honey Badger, “What was that all about?”

“We were discussing his competence to lead.”

“What did you decide?”

The Honey Badger looked at the Pea Hen, “I don’t know what he decided, but my original assessment hasn’t altered in the least.” She glanced off at the receding orange butt, “I said he was a total incompetent and he said ’total’ was an awfully strong word.”

“And then—“

“I answered it wasn’t nearly strong enough.”

IV

The Baboon with the Orange Butt came running excitedly up to where several animals were standing. They were spaced appropriately distant from each other. He said, “You’re all going to have to eat your words!”

“Considering how much of our jungle has burned, words may be all we have left to eat,” said the Honey Badger to the Pea Hen.

“Eh?” asked the Baboon, “I didn’t catch that.”

“It doesn’t matter. Why is it that we will have to eat our words?” asked the Honey Badger.

“Because I am almost done with my plan,” said the Baboon. 

“Which plan is that?” 

The Baboon stared at her with a disgusted look, “My great plan for dealing with the disease. What plan did you think I was talking about?”

“Oh that plan,” said the Honey Badger, “that’s good. I was afraid you might be working on some other plan that I didn’t already know of. You had me worried.” She smiled at the Ostrich. “So where’s the plan?”

“It will be ready in a couple of days,” answered the Baboon. “As I said, I’m almost done. It’s possibly the best plan ever.”

“And we’ll hear it in a couple of days then?”

“No more than a week.”

The Honey Badger nodded, “We can hardly wait.”

“In the meantime, are you available to share some of the more pertinent features of this plan?” asked the Ostrich.

“I’d like to,” said the Baboon, “but it’s very complicated. When you have the greatest plan ever made, it’s not easy to explain. It’s hard to talk about just one or two parts of it.”

“I see, so we’ll have a week’s pause in which to anticipate the components of the entire endeavor all at once then.”

“That’s right, no more than a week and half, say ten days.”

“I can see where this is going,” said the Honey Badger.

The Ostrich continued, “Allow me to make a pertinent query, in the meantime. Will your plan take into account those older animals, or possibly the congenitally infirm, who may have had previously exacerbating complications that might contribute to their untimely demise?” she asked.

“What?” asked the Baboon. 

“Do you protect pre-existing conditions?” asked the Honey Badger.

“Oh, those, yes, of course. It’s a perfect plan. They’ll be protected, if they are legitimate.”

“What do you mean, ‘legitimate’?” asked the Badger.

“Um, well, that we know they had this problem already and that it was uh, you know, uh, real.”

“And who would make that determination?” asked the Ostrich. 

“Somebody who knew what they were talking about.”

“Like the Elder Meerkat?” asked the Badger.

“No, no,” said the Baboon quickly, “he’s uh, way too busy watching out for those things he watches out for.”

“I would think he would be perfect for that job,” said the Badger.

“Not at all, no, not him.”

“So who?”

“Well, it would have to be someone who understands great plans, and is in a position to make the decision, someone in power.”

The Badger smiled at the Ostrich, who was nodding. She said to the Baboon, “So—that would be you?”

“Me? That would work, yes. I hadn’t thought about me, but I’m perfect for that job.”

“Do you have the time? Could you add it to your extensive list of responsibilities?” asked the Badger.

“I think I could squeeze it in.” The Baboon looked past her and saw that the Little Gray Weasel had arrived, carrying several small round white rocks. “Um, yes, well, if you excuse me now, I have important matters to attend to,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“I’m certain of it,” said the Badger. “We can expect your plan in—“

“My plan?” asked the Baboon, looking confused.

“Your plan to deal with the disease that is plaguing the animals of this, the place the two lands,” said the Ostrich.

“Oh, yeah, that plan,” said the Baboon eyeing the Weasel.

“We can expect this great plan in—?”

“In a few weeks, yes, it should easily be ready by then.”

“A few weeks?”

“No more than that. Say by the end of summer.”

“It’s two months to the end of summer,” said the Pea Hen.

“Perfect,” said the Baboon, “that’s plenty of time!”

As the Baboon lumbered off, the Pea Hen looked at the Honey Badger, “Do you think his plan will be ready by the end of summer?” she asked.

“I’m not holding my breath,” said the Badger.

V

Honey Badger led a group of animals toward the edge of the swamp. “He often hangs out around here,” she said. 

“I thought he said he would get rid of this swamp,” said the Giraffe. “It looks significantly larger to me.”

“I see a big patch of orange,” said the Pea Hen, “that must be him!”

The Giraffe added, “Yep, I can see him, he’s talking to the old Mud Turtle.”

“Uh-oh,” said the Honey Badger. “Is the Crocodile there too?”

“I don’t see the Crocodile, why?”

“I don’t trust the Crocodile or the Mud Turtle separately, and even less so together.”

“Here comes the Baboon,” said the Giraffe.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt emerged from a stand of tall weeds. “Ah, my people!” he said. “Have you brought me good news?”

“I doubt that,” said the Honey Badger. “Did you know that the river is at its lowest level for as long as anyone can remember.”

He shook his head, “I hadn’t heard.”

“We should probably talk later about how you stay informed, but this is more important. The river is running dangerously low and most of our animals in the two lands rely upon that river for their water.”

“Thanks for telling me,” the Baboon said, “Now—“

“I’m not finished,” said the Honey Badger. “I went passed the Stock Tank this morning and it was nearly full.”

“Well, that’s a good thing isn’t it? My animals like to know that the Stock Tank is doing well.”

“Except that most of our animals don’t use the Stock Tank for their water. It is mostly used by you, and your friends.”

“I see,” said the Baboon. “Well then maybe they should start using it.”

“You have a habit of always seeing issues in black and white,” said the Zebra.

The Honey Badger went on, “You know as well as I do that the Stock Tank is too far away for most of our animals to go for water. It is especially far for the very small creatures.”

“I can’t help that,” said the Baboon.

“Can’t or won’t?” asked the White Rhinoceros. 

The Baboon looked at the Rhinoceros, “What are you saying?”

“I think it’s pretty clear—“

The Honey Badger broke in, “Actually we’re less worried about how you’re helping and more focused on how you’re hindering the problem.”

“In what way? What do you think I’m doing?”

“I’m not thinking, I know what you’re doing. Every night you have the hyenas and the wart hogs carry big gourds full of water up from the river and dump them into the Stock Tank.”

“That’s a lie, who told you that?”

“The Ostrich, Rhinoceros, Pea Hen, and I, watched them doing it last night.”

The Baboon’s face dropped, “You did?”

The animals named all nodded.

“That’s terrible!” The Baboon said. “I’ll get to the bottom of who ordered this outra—“

He saw that the Honey Badger was staring at him with her most disapproving look. 

The Baboon’s voice continued little more than a whisper, “OK, who told?”

“I have my sources,” said the Honey Badger, “I’m not going to reveal them to you.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt slumped. He looked crestfallen, for a moment, then the Baboon puffed up his chest and said, ”So what? What if I am keeping the Stock Tank full. I told you I’m doing it for my animals. It’s so they will know the Stock Tank is doing well and they can always count on it!”

“Stop it!” said the Honey Badger. “Stop saying you’re doing things for others when you’re doing them for yourself. And stop taking water from the river when it is flowing at such a low ebb!”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” said the Baboon.

“I just did,” said the Honey Badger. She turned on her heels and stalked away. The other animals, except for the White Rhinoceros, all followed her. The Rhinoceros leaned a little closer to the Baboon and said, “If I were you, I’d listen to her.”

The Baboon thought about saying something back at the Rhinoceros, but he decided not to. He waited until the Rhinoceros had walked off out of earshot. Then the Baboon mumbled, “You’re a traitor to me, Rhinoceros, you know that?” He watched the animals disappear into the forest.

A few days later the Baboon came lumbering up to the Honey Badger. “You’ll be happy to know I solved the water problem,” he said.

The Honey Badger looked at the Ostrich who was standing a little ways away. “Really?” she said. “How did you you do it?”

“Comon, I’ll show you,” he said.

He led them toward the river. When they were a short distance from the banks, the two animals following the Baboon stopped. “Oh! What’s that stink?” said the Honey Badger.

“It’s worse than the swamp!” said the Ostrich.

“Great, huh?” said the Baboon. “That’s my idea.”

“You call that great?” asked the Honey Badger. “What on earth is it?”

The Baboon pointed to a low mound of something laying along the fringe of the river. “Whenever I feel the urge to relieve myself,” the Baboon said proudly, “I go over next to the river to do it. I’ve got a line of droppings left all along the edge of the river. I’ve told the Wild Boar, the Wart Hog, and the Hyenas to do it too. We’re building a regular wall along the river!”

“Good Lord!” said the Honey Badger. “Why??”

“It’s so when the wind blows across it the smell keeps the animals that live in that land on the other bank away from our river. It means there’s more water for my animals. I call it my ‘Executive Odor’!”

“Have you considered,” asked the Ostrich, “that the resultant alarming fragrance of collected excretions will likely ward off our own residents withal?” 

The Baboon considered that for a moment, “Yes, well, I guess no plan is foolproof.”

“Not Fool Proof!” said the Honey Badger. “Ha! There’s much truth in that statement.” She looked at the Baboon. “Did you also realize that those foreign animals that you are talking about can go further upriver or downriver to escape your ‘executive odor’?”

“I’ll just have to make it a longer wall then. “Ooh, excuse me, I have a feeling that I have work to do!”

They watched him run off toward one end of his odiferous accumulation.

“Does he actually think he can effectively blockade the entire length of the river?” asked the Ostrich.

“He just might,” answered the Honey Badger, “he evidently doesn’t lack for the required building material.”

VI

“Where did all these mosquitos come from?” asked the Water Buffalo, while using his tail as a whisk to try and sweep off his tormentors. 

Swatting one on her nose, the Honey Badger said, “They’re from the newly enlarged swamp!” 

“I thought the Orange-bottomed One said he was going to do away with the swamp,” lamented the Water Buffalo, “not expand it.”

“And you believed that?”

The Water Buffalo shook his massive head, “I hoped he told the truth about that one thing at least.”

“Nope,” answered the Honey Badger, “he’s consistent, consistently telling lies. You can invariably expect that when he says he will do something, he intends to do the opposite.” She looked over at an approaching animal, “Hello, Leopard, did you bring your claws?”

“As always,” growled the Leopard. 

“Good, Water Buffalo has some places he desperately needs scratched.”

The Water Buffalo shook his head again, much more rapidly this time, “I’m not quite THAT desperate!”

“When you are, you’ll let me know, won’t you?” said the Leopard, showing his teeth.

“You can count on it.”

“OK, you two,” said the Honey Badger, “truce. We have bigger problems.”

“Like what?” asked the Buffalo.

“For one, I’ve heard that the Wild Boar is preparing an argument that since this disease is ravaging the land, we should postpone any changes in leadership for a while.”

“He told you that?” asked the Water Buffalo.

“No, but it was reported to me by a very reliable source.” 

“That’s not encouraging for the upcoming choosing time!” said the Water Buffalo. “How do you hear about these things?”

The Honey Badger looked around. “Can you keep a secret?” she asked the Buffalo.

“Certainly,” said the Buffalo. 

She glanced at the Leopard. 

“I am the soul of discretion,” he said. 

She moved a little closer to them and said, “Every night I go talk with the Mad Owl.”

“There’s an owl that is crazy?” asked the Buffalo in alarm.

“No, no, mad, as in angry,” said the Honey Badger.

“How angry?” asked the Leopard.

“Not so much that she doesn’t do extremely careful research and double check everything she tells me before she mentions it.”

“So not very mad at all,” said the Leopard.

“I guess you could say she’s very alarmed and monumentally outraged, but that’s a rather cumbersome name: the ‘Alarmed, Angry, and Outraged Owl’. Even Outraged Mad Owl would be a lot to carry around.”

“I see your point,” said the Leopard.

“But how does she find out what is happening?” asked the Buffalo.

The Honey Badger said, “Easy. She’s an owl. They have special feathers that allow them to fly silently. They have great night vision and superior hearing. She positions herself near where the Baboon and the Wild Boar are discussing their plans and she listens.”

“That’s pretty smart,” said the Leopard. 

“She’s definitely that. And that’s not all. She knows who the Baboon listens to.”

“The Baboon listens to someone?” asked the Water Buffalo incredulously.

“Yeah, who knew?” The Honey Badger lowered her voice even more. “He goes every evening and listens to the Red Fox.”

“The Red Fox?” asked the Leopard, “Why him?”

“He says he gathers information from all over the land and digests it in short sentences, then gives the Baboon a synopsis of what the knows.”

“Wow,” said the Water Buffalo, “how is it the Baboon is still so misinformed?”

“That’s just it, the Mad Owl says she has followed the Red Fox after the Baboon leaves. From what she has observed, the Fox just finds a comfortable bush and goes to sleep until it’s time to go back to meet with the Baboon.”

“So the Fox just makes it all up?”

“Pretty much,” said the Honey Badger.

“Does this Mad Owl have the goods on everyone?” asked the Leopard.

“She might, she’s very thorough.”

“So, if she’s so smart, maybe we should ask her what to do about these mosquitos,” said the Buffalo hopefully. 

“I already did,” said the Honey Badger.

“You did? What did she say?”

“Bats!” 

“Bats?”

“Yes,” said the Honey Badger, “she said we should bring in bats. They eat mosquitos like crazy.”

“Where do we find bats?”

“I know,” said the Leopard. 

“You do?” asked the Honey Badger and the Water Buffalo simultaneously.

“Yeah,” the Leopard continued, “sometimes I cross the river to hunt in the other land.” He saw the Honey Badger raise her eyebrows. “It’s more politically correct these days not to hunt your neighbors,” he said to her.

“That makes sense,” said the Honey Badger.

“Yeah, except for my closest neighbor, the Crested Monkey, he never shuts up! He’s annoying! I’m always hunting him.”

“Why don’t you move?”

“Because one day he’s going to make a mistake, then—my neighborhood will get very quiet, fast!“ The Leopard looked upward as if imagining that moment.

“Yes, I see,” said the Honey Badger. “So, about those bats?”

“Oh yeah,” the Leopard said. “There’s a cave that I know of where they roost by the thousands.”

“Would you be willing to go there and tell them about our swamp issue?” asked Badger.

“Maybe,” said the Leopard slowly. “If someone would agree to distract the Crested Monkey for a few moments, just long enough for me—“

“No, no!” said the Badger, “I’m not helping you set up an ambush, you’re on your own there.”

“It was worth a try,” said the Leopard.

“Will you talk to the bats?”

“Yeah, these mosquitos are getting to me too. I’ll talk to them.”

“Good, now we just have to figure out how to make sure we will still have our choosing so we can get rid of this Baboon!”

VII

“Come with me,” the Honey Badger said to the Ostrich one morning.

“Whence are we bound?”

“To find a newt.’

“A what?”

“Just come along, I’ll show you,” said the Badger. “Rhinoceros and Giraffe,” she shouted, “you two come too!”

The Giraffe nodded to the Rhinoceros and they hurried after the Badger and the Ostrich.

“What’s the hurry?” asked the Rhinoceros. “I was about to have my mid-morning nap.”

“This is more important,” said the Honey Badger over her rapidly retreating shoulder.

“Why? Where are we all going? asked the Giraffe.

“How much do you know about newts?” asked the Ostrich.

“Newts? What’s a newt?” 

“An inhabitant of parts largely unknown to yourself,” the Ostrich replied. 

The four of them arrived just south of the great swamp, “He should be around here somewhere,” said the Honey Badger.

“Hey! Watch out!” called out a squeaky voice at her feet.

“Oh, there you are, sorry, did I step on you?”

“I’m used to it,” said the Newt. “We newts are often ignored until we kick up a fuss.”

“Colleagues,” said the Honey Badger, allow me to introduce you to the Ribbed Newt, half of the investigative team of ‘Newt and Lark’.”

“Investigative team?” asked the Rhinoceros.

“Yes, they spend their spare time searching out stories of interest to us all. Mad Owl told me last night that they have discovered something very important.” The Badger turned to look down at the Newt “Where’s your partner in crime detection?”

“She likes to stay in the background until she’s needed or has a scoop. She’s around here somewhere.”

“So what do you have for us?”

“This is pretty big,” the Newt began, “you know how forage and grains have been in short supply since the fires?” 

“Yes,” said the Badger, “many animals have lost their homes and are hungry.”

“We’ve discovered that the Baboon has a large stock of both forage and grain stashed away.”

“What?” said the other animals. 

“Where did he get it?” asked the Badger.

“He has a couple sources,” the Newt went on, “he sent his helpers out to gather food left behind when animals abandoned areas that were threatened by fire, he never offered any of his extra food resources as we are all expected to do, and he received shipments of extra food from across the river. He’s been hoarding it all.”

“Wait a minute,” said the Giraffe, “he’s said that he was blocking the animals from across the river from entering our land.”

“That’s what he said,” agree the Newt, “but I found out that he’s actually bringing certain groups of animals over at night.”

“What groups?” asked the Rhinoceros.

“More baboons, howler monkeys, wart hogs, hyenas, and some rodents.”

“Rodents? What rodents?” asked the Honey Badger. “The Baboon says he wants to get rid of all the rodents.”

“Mostly Thicket rats and Scrub hares.”

The Ostrich asked, “In what fashion is he able to effect their portage across the river?”

“The crocodiles and hippopotamuses are helping.”

“I was afraid of that,” said the Honey Badger.

“How do we know you’re not just making this up?” asked the Rhinoceros.

“You don’t,” said the Newt, “until you confront him and find out if we’re telling the truth. But,” added the Newt, ”if I am making it up, it’s one heck of a complicated story to weave to just try and get someone into trouble.”

“Tell me this,” asked the Giraffe, “how do you get your information?”

“Fair enough question,” answered the Newt. “First, in order to begin to answer you, let me ask you something. What happened when you first got here and looked for me?”

“I almost stepped on you?” answered the Honey Badger.

“Exactly, newts rarely get noticed unless we want to be noticed. Then too, I’m an amphibian, so I’m comfortable in water or on land. It’s a plus-plus for an investigator. I get around and no one ever sees me.”

“Makes sense,” said the Honey Badger. “So where has the Baboon hidden his treasure?”

“Let me get my partner,” said the Newt, “she’ll tell you.” He gave a surprisingly loud whistle. A dark form spiraled down from high in a tree to land on a nearby branch. “Ladies and gentlemen, the brains of this outfit, and the eyes, the Melodious Lark.”

“Melodious, huh,” said the Giraffe, “Are there a lot of different kinds of larks around here?”

“Several,” answered the lark in truly melodious tones, “for example, you wouldn’t get this kind of effort out of my cousin, the Monotonous Lark.”

“Probably not,” said the Honey Badger, “she works for the Badger doesn’t she?”

“One of his right-wing birds,” said the Lark. 

“The Newt says you can tell us where the Baboon with the Orange Butt has his stockpile.”

“I can do better than that,” said the lark. “If the Giraffe doesn’t mind me sitting on his head, I’ll point out the place to him. It’s right in the swamp here.”

“Certainly,” said the Giraffe. The little striped bird flew up between the Giraffe’s horns and directed him where to look. 

“Oh yeah, I see what you’re pointing to,“ said the Giraffe.

“Can you locate again from a different perspective of the swamp?” asked the Honey Badger.

“Yes, I think so,” said the Giraffe.

“Then I think it is time to ‘beard the baboon in his swamp’!” said the Badger. “Thanks to the Newt and Lark, we should have what we need.”

“Actually if you cite us please say we are the “Newt Lark Teams, Investigations Unlimited.”

“I’ll remember,” said the Badger, “but to be honest with you I like to keep my sources secret unless they are needed.”

“That works too,” said the Newt. “Good luck!”

VIII

An arc of animals stood scattered out before the swamp, their eyes intent upon a large, ornately feathered bird standing on a stump. 

“Who’s this?” White Rhinoceros asked Honey Badger.

“The Harpy Eagle, she’s been the Baboon’s number one consultant from the beginning. She was instrumental in him being installed in the position in the first place.”

Impala stepped forward and said, “We’ve come to talk to the Baboon with the Orange Butt.”

“Our great Leader, the Baboon,” the eagle said, “is in conference at the moment. He should be available—eventually.” 

“How long is eventually?” Impala asked.

“Soon. You can put any questions you may have for him, directly to me,” Harpy Eagle responded. 

“You speak for the Baboon?” asked Zebra.

“I am fortunate in that I have our Leader, Baboon’s, full confidence in all matters,” answered the eagle while stretching up to her full height. “Anything you want to ask of him, you can ask of me.”

“Why has he been hoarding food when our animals are going hungry?” asked Honey Badger.

Swiveling on her perch, the harpy stared at Honey Badger for a moment, “Who told you that?”

“It’s true isn’t it?”

“I believe it is an undeniable reality,” she replied slowly, “that many animals are suffering reduced availability of food resources due to the catastrophic fires that were started by foreign animals from across the river.”

“Foreign animals? What foreign animals are you taking about?” asked Reticulated Giraffe.

“The ones responsible for the terrible devastation in our beautiful land. Baboon, our great Leader, is working to secure our river and prevent incursions by those meaning us harm. In the meantime, our Leader, Baboon, will be presenting his plan for rebuilding the forest to its original magnificence. We’re calling it ‘Make Forests Fruitful For Friends’.”

“MFFFF?” said Rhinoceros. “What genius came up with that memorable tidbit?”

“I believe it was his second senior advisor, Mamba Snake.”

“He has a mamba working for him?” asked Caracal, yawning.

“Is she bored?” Rhinoceros asked Honey Badger.

“Caracal, no, she usually sleeps during the day. She’s nocturnal. Did you notice that the Harpy Eagle never answered my question?”

Rhinoceros nodded his large head as the eagle responded to Caracal’s question, “Yes, Mamba Snake,” Harpy said, “has been a valued member of our Leader, Baboon’s, team since the beginning.”

“I wouldn’t allow one of those ill-tempered serpents anywhere in proximity to my person,” whispered Ostrich to Honey Badger.

“Me either,” agreed the badger. “Wish me luck, here I go again!” Honey Badger pushed forward, “Excuse me but you never answered my question,” she said.

Once again the eagle made a slow swivel to stare at the badger with her imperious eyes. “In what way?” she asked.

“Does Baboon have large stores of food stashed within the swamp here?”

“Oh, THAT question.” The eagle shifted, “I will have to check with him about that—“

“I thought you said you could answer all our questions?”

“I did answer your question,” replied the eagle icily. “My answer is: I will confer with our great Leader, Baboon, as to the possible existence of surplus food resources.”

“Here’s your chance,” said Giraffe, “his nibslicks is plodding through the high grasses toward us as we speak.”

Followed closely by Little Gray Weasel carryIng several of the white rocks he seemed to always have with him, Baboon emerged into the clearing, his broad face betrayed surprise at finding so many waiting for him.

There was a prolonged, awkward moment of stunned silence. 

“What is that on his head?” whispered Rhinoceros.

“I think it’s his hair?” said Honey Badger uncertainly. 

“What happened to it?” asked Giraffe. 

“It’s yellow, a very bright yellow!” added Rhinoceros.

“One might almost label it ‘dandelion’,” whispered Ostrich.

“To what do I owe this surprise visit?” the Baboon with the Orange Butt asked them.

Honey Badger recovered herself and said, “You have surplus food stored in the swamp. Animals are going hungry. You need to distribute it now.”

“Who told you that?” asked the baboon. 

“It doesn’t matter, you have it don’t you?”

The baboon looked around. Both Harpy Eagle and Little Gray Weasel shrugged. Clearing his throat, the Baboon with the Orange Butt said, “I believe I may have some food resources stored away. If animals are hungry they can come here and we will feed them.”

“Not good enough. You will bring the entirety of the surplus food out into the savanna and then send messengers to all parts of the land to alert our animals that they can come here for food.”

The baboon puffed himself up, “You can’t—“

“We’ve already been through that,” snapped the badger. “Do it!”

Baboon looked at Harpy Eagle, he nodded curtly, then he turned and stomped off into the swamp again, followed by Little Gray Weasel.

“Where’s he going?” asked Rhinoceros.

“More conferences,” said the eagle. “He’s very busy.”

“And the food?” asked Honey Badger.

This time Harpy Eagle did not look at her when she responded, “We will see that all the surplus is brought out into the savanna and then I will instruct messengers to go to all parts of our lands, both the Land of the Elephant and the Land of the Antelope, to inform all animals that they can come here to get food.”

“Good!” said Honey Badger. She turned to leave, followed by Ostrich and Giraffe. Rhinoceros lingered as the animals dispersed. Leaning toward the eagle he said, “MFFFF!” and then he laughed a deep rolling laughter that echoed across the savanna.

IX

“What is all that racket?” asked Rhinoceros.

“Birds,” said Honey Badger.

“Yes, I know they are birds, why are they raising such a fuss?”

“My guess is they are telling us the food is ready for distribution.”

White Rhinoceros looked at her, “You mean the old rust bucket sent them?”

She nodded, “I understand that he’s now having them tweet out all his official information.”

“Tweets?”

She nodded.

“And you can understand them?”

“Not a peep,” she admitted, “but it’s not that much less informative than talking to him in person.” She sighed. “I suppose we should go see what he is up to.”

“That sleepy cat said she wanted to come with us next time we went.”

“Night Caracal? We’ll pick her up on the way.”

As the three of them approached the swamp a piecing scream rent the air. “What was that?” asked Rhinoceros.

“I have no idea,” said Honey Badger. She looked at Caracal who yawned, and then shrugged.

Emerging through the high grass of the savanna they saw a few animals scattered around the stump where the Harpy Eagle had been situated the day before. It was now occupied by a spindly, erratically moving figure. 

Another scream exploded out at them, obviously emitted by the individual on the stump. 

“Oh, no!” said Honey Badger. “It’s a Howler Monkey.”

“Why does it keep screaming?” asked the Rhinoceros with a pained look on his huge face.

Honey Badger looked at Rhinoceros, “Because it’s a Howler Monkey. That’s what they do.”

He shook his huge head, “This day just gets noisier and noisier!”

They arrived in the vicinity of the other animals just in time to hear a large pangolin ask, “Are there stores of insects, like ants, available for some of us bug eaters?”

The monkey on the stump inhaled deeply. 

“Uh-oh,” said Honey Badger cringing, “here it comes again.”

Another bone rattling scream rent the morning air asunder.

“Okay, I’m wide awake now,” said Caracal.

The monkey took a few moments to regain her breath before replying to the pangolin, “Our illustrious leader, Great Baboon of the Two Lands,” she said, “has heard your request and even now is strongly and powerfully considering his best response to your particular needs which are his only concerns in this life.”

The pangolin stared at the monkey for a few moments. Evidently he considered asking his question again, but in the end he thought better of it and wandered away. Rhinoceros saw Brush Tail, the porcupine off to one side, apparently asleep. He wandered over. 

“You been here very long?” Rhinoceros asked. 

“All morning,” Brush Tail answered, without opening his eyes.

“How can you stand the noise?”

Brush Tail shrugged. 

“So tell me, what’s with the monkey?”

“It’s the Baboon’s new Push Secretary.”

“What’s a ‘Push Secretary’?”

Brushy Tail opened one eye and looked at Rhinoceros, “She pushes the story he wants everyone to hear.”

“And where is the bulbous butted one?”

“Evidently, he’s retreated to a place in the southeast corner of the swamp,” said the porcupine, ‘it’s called “Moralardo’.”

“Moralardo?” asked Rhinoceros. “Seriously?”

“That’s what I’m told,” Brushy Tail answered.

“Thanks.” Rhinoceros left to rejoin his companions.

“What did Brushy Tail have to say?” asked Honey Badger.

“Ever hear of a place called, ‘Moralardo’?”

“No,” she answered. “What is it?”

“Evidently it’s where old rusty butt is.”

“Hmm, you don’t say,” Honey Badger saw Reticulated Giraffe gallop across the plain and step up in front of the stump. She added, “Uh-oh! You think we should warn him?”

“Too late,” said Caracal.

“These leaves you have provided for us to eat are not fresh,” said Giraffe, “do you have some fresher ones available?”

“Get ready,” said Honey Badger looking at the monkey. 

Her scream nearly caused Giraffe to tie up his neck in a knot. Then she said, “Our illustrious leader, Great Baboon of the Two Lands, has heard your request and even now is strongly and powerfully considering his best response to your particular needs which are his only concerns in this life.”

“That’s the exact same answer she gave the pangolin,” said Caracal. 

Honey Badger nodded, “It’s likely the only answer she gives anyone.”

“Then there’s not much use our asking her anything about what the Baboon is up to,” said Rhinoceros.

“No, we’’ll have to get our information elsewhere,” said Honey Badger. 

“Where?” asked Caracal.

“We’ll go to the best source of news in the land,” said Honey Badger. 

“Where’s that?” asked Rhinoceros.

“You remember the other day when the baboon was yelling at the wildebeest?”

“Oh yeah,” said the Rhinoceros, ”you mean the gnus?” 

“Exactly, he called them ‘fake’. There’s a reason for that. The wildebeest wander all over the savanna. They have big ears. They listen and gather information and then share it with the other herd animals.”

“You’re saying,” the Caracal asked, “that the gnus are the best source of news here?”

“Right,” said Honey Badger, “they tell the truth, debunking his lies. He hates that so he calls them ‘fake gnus’.”

“Let’s go find some gnus,” said the Rhinoceros.

X

Night Caracal, Honey Badger, and White Rhinoceros plodded along through the savanna, raising little puffs of dust from the sparsely covered ground.

“I should probably check in with my cousin Black Rhino and tell him what we’ve found out,” said Rhinoceros. “I think he’d find it all very interesting.”

“Good idea,” said Honey Badger. “The more animals we have involved, and informed, the better.”

“My thoughts too.”

They wandered across the plains under the morning sun, looking at the various animals grazing on what grass was available to them. 

“There’s some wildebeest,” said Night Caracal.

“Leave it to the predator to spot them,” said Rhinoceros, chuckling.

“It’s a gift,” said Caracal. 

They approached cautiously so as not to spook them, until they were within comfortable hailing distance. Honey Badger said, “Give them a call out Rhinoceros, so we can talk.”

“It’s not really necessary,” said Rhinoceros. “They know we’re here, but I see Old Blue, I’ll call him over.” The White Rhinoceros snorted and shook his head back and forth.

A large wildebeest, still leisurely chewing on dry grass, slowly raised his square head to look in their direction. After a few moments, he began an unhurried stroll toward them.

When he came close he said, “‘Lo Whitey,” to the Rhinoceros. 

“Blue,” Rhinoceros replied.

“What brings you all out this morning?” asked Blue Wildebeest glancing at his companions. Honey Badger noticed that his eyes lingered longest on Night Caracal.

“We’re hoping you can supply us with some information,” said Rhinoceros.

The wildebeest shrugged, “If you want to believe ‘fake gnus’ I guess it’s your lookout.”

Rhinoceros chuckled, “We’ll take our chances,” he said. 

“What do you know about a place near the swamp named, ‘Moralardo’.” asked Honey Badger.

The gnu lowered his head while simultaneously emitting a deep rumbling noise.

“What’s he doing,” Honey Badger asked Rhinoceros.

“He’s laughing.”

Raising up his large head Blue said, “Moralardo, huh? I know that it didn’t exist a few days ago.”

“You mean it wasn’t there?” asked Badger.

“No, I mean it was just another part of the swamp along the shore of the lake. It was a common hang-out for crocs.” 

“Now the Baboon with the Orange Butt is hanging out there,” said Honey Badger.

“So I heard,” said Blue Wildebeest. “From what I understand, Old Putrid gave it to him.”

“Old Putrid?” asked Honey Badger. “Who’s that?”

“The big eastern crocodile that runs the lake.”

“Oh, Crocodile, why do you call him Putrid?”

The wildebeest looked at her, “You ever hear about how a croc eats?”

Honey Badger shook her head.

“He sneaks up on an unsuspecting animal, grabs them and pulls them underwater until they drown. The croc then stuffs the body down in a hole underwater until it begins to decompose. The he grabs it and shakes it until all the rotting pieces fall apart and he gobbles them down.”

Caracal made a face. “Disgusting!” she said. 

“Yeah,” said the wildebeest, “ain’t it? That’s why I call him Putrid. He swallow big hunks of rotting meat, bones and all. Can you imagine his breath? It would knock a Marabou Stork right off his lunch and onto his butt, and you know what they eat!”

“I see,” said Honey Badger. “So you’re saying that Putrid gave this place he named ‘Moralardo’ to the baboon?”

“That’s what I hear, if you can believe fake gnus.”

“I believe you when you say that he gave it to him, but I have to wonder why?”

“I don’t know. You could ask Ruddy Gull,” said Blue Wildebeest.

“Ruddy Gull?” said Rhinoceros. “Is he still around?”

“Who’s Ruddy Gull?” asked Caracal.

“He used to be a great leader,” said Honey Badger, “at least a very well respected one in the land of the Elephant. That was a long time ago. I hadn’t heard anything about him recently either. Why would he have information about this ‘Moralardo’ thing?”

“He’s always down around the eastern end of the lake these days. He appears to spend a lot of time just aimlessly wandering around the shoreline but I understand he is in tight with Putrid.” 

“Does he hang out with Mud Turtle too?”

“Not sure,” said the wildebeest. “Mud Turtle is very careful about his movements. He likes to stay in the background.”

“In dark shadows, is more like it,” Honey Badger said. She looked at Rhinoceros, “The eastern shore of the lake; that’s a long way away from here.”

Rhinoceros shrugged, “What else do we have to do?” He looked at Caracal, “You tired?”

“Exhausted,” said Caracal, “when do we leave?”

“Do you think we should pick up Ostrich, Giraffe, and Leopard?” asked Rhinoceros. They’re vested. They’ve been involved in this investigation from the beginning.”

“Hmm, I don’t know. It might be intimidating for old Ruddy,” said Honey Badger.

Rhinoceros grinned, “You think that’s a bad thing?”

XI

Ruddy Gull plopped his foot into the muck of the small pool next to the big lake. “Don’t go rushing there, now Ruddy. Our leader is counting on you. Feel around, careful, careful. There! Is that one? Ha, you slimy little devil, I’ve got you now!”  He lifted his foot out of the grayish glop. “No, no, just an old rotten leaf, false alarm.” He dropped the leaf and plunged his foot back underwater.

“Hey Ruddy, what are you doing?”

Ruddy Gull flapped several times and, jumping up clumsily out of the sticky mud’s grasp, squawked angrily. “You cranes at it again? I told you to leave me alone!” Then he calmed as he saw where the voice had come from, “Oh, it’s you.” Ruddy landed back down in the muck with a soft ‘plop’. ”Hello Honey Badger. Long time no see. What are you doing here?”

“I might ask the same of you,” replied the badger.

“Who, me?” He glanced over her shoulder, “Say, who all have you got with you? Is this some kind of a coup? Have you been talking to those traitorous cranes?”

“What cranes are those, Ruddy?”

“Those Blue Cranes, you know! Those Blue Cranes are corrupt and traitorous, everyone knows that!” 

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“Neither did I,” said Giraffe.

“Well you should!” He looked at Giraffe, “Say, who’ve you got with you? Is this some kind of a coup?”

“You said that already,” answered Honey Badger.

“I did?”

“Don’t be upset. I simply brought a few concerned friends with me. We are all interested in what the baboon is up to these days. You’re working for him aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’ve been honored in that respect!”

“We’ve heard he has a new home.”

“New home? New home? Oh yes, Moralardo!” gushed the gull. “Beautiful place, you should go some time. All of you.”

“Really? So you’ve been there?”

“Me? I go almost every day. Yes, the Great Baboon is counting on me.” 

“What’s he counting on you for, Ruddy Gull?” asked Giraffe.

“Huh? Oh for many things. I report on the dealings of those traitorous and corrupt Blue Cranes for one. And—say, you’ve got a lot of animals with you? Is this some kind of a coup?”

“That’s the third time you’ve mentioned that. Are you worried about someone staging a coup, Ruddy?” asked Rhinoceros.

“Me? No, no, I’m confident in our leader, the Great Baboon. He can handle anything.”

“You never said what else you were doing here,” said the Honey Badger.

“Here?”

“Stomping around in the mud like you’ve been doing. What are you up to?”

“Yes, well, it’s sensitive information. Very hush, hush. I can’t share it with just anyone.”

“Why is that?” asked Ostrich.

“Too important, critical, need to know, all that sort of thing.”

“Let me ask you this,” said Honey Badger. “Is it true that the crocodile gave this place, Moralardo, to the baboon?”

“Valor?”

“Valor?” asked Honey Badger. “Who’s Valor?”

“The Great Crocodile of the Lake,” said Ruddy. “His full name is ‘Valorous Eastern Crocodile, King of the Lake.’”

“Not ‘Putrid’?” asked Caracal.

“What?” asked Ruddy, spinning around to stare at the cat and almost falling in the process.

“Never mind,” said Honey Badger. “Did the crocodile, Valor, give ‘Moralardo’ to the Baboon with the Orange Butt?”

“Yes, sure he did—wait,” said Ruddy, “no, not give, no. He, uh, uh, sold it to him.”

“The crocodile sold ‘Moralardo’ to the baboon?”

“Absolutely! Giving it away is something those corrupt Blue Cranes would do. Yes, the King of the Lake sold ‘Moralardo’ to our leader, the Great Baboon. Everything was on the up and up.”

Rhinoceros leaned over to Ostrich and whispered, “To me it sounds like it was all on the down and down.”

“How much did the baboon pay for this place?” asked Honey Badger.

“How much? You want to know how much he paid?”

She nodded.

“That’s information to which, in my role, I’m not privy,” said Ruddy. “You would have to check with our great leader’s financial advisor.”

“Here we go again,” said Caracal. “Does anyone who works with this baboon really know everything that is going on?”

“I doubt it,” said Giraffe.

“Who is the baboon’s financial advisor?” asked Honey Badger.

“Cobra,” said Ruddy Gull.

“Which cobra are speaking of?” asked Ostrich. “There are a plethora of species of cobra.” 

“The uh, Mono-chinned Namibian Spitting Cobra, of course,” said Ruddy Gull, as if it was common knowledge to all.

“Of course,” said Honey Badger. “And where do we find this Mono-chinned Cobra?”

“I have no idea,” said Ruddy. “No idea at all. But if you hide in the tall grass and make sounds like a big rodent,” Ruddy cackled, “he’ll probably find you!” 

“Thanks Ruddy, you’ve been very helpful,” said Honey Badger.

“Maybe it’s time for us to visit Moralardo,” said Rhinoceros.

XII

Honey Badger and White Rhinoceros were in the lead of the group, separated from each other by several feet. “It’s a shame we couldn’t find Leopard,” Honey Badger said.

“Not necessarily,” said Caracal from behind her. “He makes me nervous,” she whispered to Ostrich. 

“I fully understand,” answered Ostrich.

A bunch of Cape Buffalo thundered by them, heading in the same direction.

“What was that about?” asked Giraffe.

“I don’t know,” answer Badger, “but it has me wondering.” She glanced back, “Here comes another one. Rhinoceros ask him what he doing.”

An older, obviously fatigued buffalo stumbled toward them.

“Hey,” said Rhinoceros.

“What?” the buffalo puffed, coming to a standstill.

“Where are you all heading?”

The buffalo took a few moments to catch his breath, “Same place you are, I guess.”

“Moralardo?”

“Yeah, maybe, what of it?”

Rhinoceros leaned over toward Honey Badger and whispered, “Cape Buffalo are the orneriest animals on earth!”

She whispered back, “Why do you think I had you stop and ask him?”

“Thanks!”

“You two want to let me in on this or,” asked the buffalo, “can I continue on my way?”

“Sorry,” said Rhinoceros, “she was just asking me if I knew what was going on at Moralardo that had everyone going there.”

“Sure she was,” said the buffalo, sarcastically. “Look, if you’re done butting in on my business, I want to get there while the fodder’s still fresh, got it?”

“Yes, I understand,” Rhinoceros said. “Sorry to bother you.”

“You should be,” said the buffalo as he thundered off. 

“How very pleasant,” said Ostrich.

“At least we know now that the baboon has still got food resources to feed our animals in need,” said Honey Badger. 

But as they came into sight of the place where the feed and fodder had previously been piled, there was nothing there and no animals in sight, except for the monkey on the stump.

“What’s going on?” asked Giraffe.

“Much as I hate to say this—“ said Honey Badger.

“Oh no! Don’t tell me!” said Night Caracal, “My ears are still ringing from my first experience.”

“Yeah, I know, but we’re going to have to ask the Push Secretary.”

“Let me get out of range a bit,” said Ostrich.

“Me too,” added Giraffe. “I nearly busted half a dozen vertebra last time.”

When they were at a safe distance, Honey Badger walked up to the stump. “Excuse me,” she said, “can you tell me where the food is for the animals in need?”

She saw the Howler inhale. A slow throbbing rumble started to spread across the savanna. It rose in volume until it was a full-throated ear-shattering scream. The monkey took a few breaths and then responded, “Our Great Baboon has decreed that Moralardo shall be the place at which his subjects will find refreshment available.” She inhaled deeply again and repeated the awful shreik.

“Thanks,” said Honey Badger as she hurried away. “It’s as we thought,” she said to Rhinoceros, “he’s moved everything to Moralardo.”

“Then let’s go!” said Rhinoceros.

“What?” asked the badger.

“I said, ‘Let’s go’—never mind.” The Rhinoceros walked off. Honey Badger shrugged and she and the other animals followed.  

A while later as they approached the area where Moralardo lay, they saw a huge pile of grass and feed standing at the edge of the lake.

“That looks like more that we found in the first place,” said Honey Badger.

“Yeah,” agreed Rhinoceros. “A lot more. Where’s he getting all this food from?”

Honey Badger saw Pea Hen nestled in some bushes off to one side. “Excuse me,” she said to the others and she walked over to the hen. With her greenish feathers she was almost invisible in the brush. “What are you doing here, Pea?” she asked.

Pea Hen looked up at her and said, “Oh, hello, Honey. You know, I’m just waiting, watching, wondering.”

Honey Badger nodded toward the pile of food. “That’s a lot of fodder.”

“Uh-huh,” she answered.

“I wonder where he’s getting it all from?”

Pea Hen said, “I hear he brings it over from the other side of the lake every night.”

“How’d you hear that?”

The hen looked at Badger, “When your mate is a peacock, you hear a lot of gossip. Much of it concerns you. Much of it doesn’t.”

Honey Badger laughed, “Thanks for the information.”

Returning to the group she said, “Let’s go over there.”

They found that the whole of the area was ringed with thorn bushes plied up the height of an elephant’s shoulder, leaving one opening into it. Two hyenas stood outside that opening. 

Honey Badger walked up and said, “We’d like to see the Baboon with the Orange Butt.”

“Not possible,” said one of the hyenas glancing at the group of animals spread out behind her. “I can go get the Harpy Eagle if you like.”

“Fine,” said Honey Badger. 

He left and returned a little while later. The huge bird swooped down from a tree. Honey Badger noticed that her feathers looked disheveled. “Yes?” asked the eagle.

“We’d like to talk to the Baboon,” Honey Badger said.

“I’m sorry,” said the eagle, “he’s very busy hosting the first of his herd parties. They are very important to him. I can get you his daughter, Mewanka.”

“He has a daughter?” 

The eagle nodded. “She has his full confidence to speak for him.”

“Alright,” she said. As the eagle lifted off, Honey Badger slid over closer to Ostrich. “Did you know that the Baboon has a daughter?”

“I do indeed,” answered the Ostrich, “and from what I understand she is rumored to be quite a beauty. She finished first in the Miss Dry Savanna pageant three years in a row.”

“Miss Dry Savanna pageant? Is that a thing?” 

“Oh yes, quite prestigious among the various primates. It was a large feather in her hair to win three times. Of course there is the fact that her father was the organizer of the pageant each year she ran.”

“Ah!” Honey Badger looked up, “That must be her now. Hmm, I guess I’m not a good judge of baboon beauty.”

“Miss Dry Savanna, three years in a row!” said the Ostrich.

“”Indeed!” said Honey Badger.

“Hey,” said Giraffe, “you’re not going to believe who’s coming!”

All the animals turned and looked at a small cluster of little creatures moving quickly and close to the ground. “Meerkats!” said Rhinoceros. “Isn’t that the Elder Meerkat the lead?”

“Have you ever known them to venture so far afield from their boltholes?” asked Ostrich.

“Never,” said Honey Badger, ”this, should be interesting.”

XIII

“What brings you here?” Honey Badger asked the Elder Meerkat.

“I had to see for myself if the Baboon was actually doing what I had heard.”

“What did you hear?”

“I suggest you ask his daughter, Mewanka,” Elder Meerkat replied. “Let’s hear her answer.”

Together they walked up to where Mewanka stood waiting. Honey Badger noticed she had what looked to be a bird’s nest on her head. 

Mewanka surveyed the variety animals standing out before her and, with a puzzled look, she asked, “Are you all here for Daddy’s party? You don’t really look like a herd.” She pointed at the meerkats, “Except you, you guys could be a small herd, and you’re so cute.”

“We’re not a herd,” said Honey Badger. We’re—”

Mewanka jumped back in, “That explains why you’re all different kinds of animals, because herds are usually all the same kind of animals, aren’t they? But since you’re not a herd, you can all be different.”

Honey Badger continued, “We’re a congress of like-minded animals and we’re here to speak with your father about this place Moralardo.”

“Isn’t it wonderful? Oh, wait you haven’t been inside yet have you, so you don’t know? If you were a herd I could let you all right in but I don’t know about a—a—what did you call it?”

“A congress of like-minded animals, and to tell the truth we don’t need to gain entrance. What we need—“

“Oh, good, because I wasn’t sure if I should let you in and daddy is so busy right now with the first herds—“

“WHAT WE NEED,” said Honey Badger in her loudest voice, watching as Mewanka took two steps back from her, “…is to find someone who can tell us how your father was able to buy this place from the crocodile.”

“Oh.”

“Can you answer that question?”

“Um, no,” said Mewanka. 

“Do you know someone who can?”

“Maybe Barred.”

“Who’s Barred?” asked Honey Badger.

“My husband,” Mewanka said, “wait here I’ll go find him.” And she hustled into the area behind the thorn bush fencing. 

Honey Badger looked back at Ostrich and asked, “Did you know she had a husband?”

Ostrich stepped toward her, “Yes, she is mated to a lemur, Barred Bush Lemur.”

“A lemur?”

Ostrich nodded, “His is part of a prominent family from another region, the Bush Lemurs. I believe the match was looked upon as being politically advantageous.”

“How romantic. Do you know what that thing on her head is?”

“No,” said Ostrich, “that is beyond my sources of information.” 

They heard a rustle in a tree next to the thorn bush wall. As they turned to see what had caused the commotion, an animal slowly appeared, methodically climbing down the trunk. Meticulous in his movements, he grasped the tree with one upper and one lower clawed limb at a time, until reaching the ground. Standing upright, after facing the tree for a full minute, he gradually turned around so as to be looking at them. 

A large lemur with a black striped, brown coat, a pushed-in snout, and oversized, dark orange, unblinking eyes stood facing in the general direction of the gathering of animals behind Honey Badger. She got the impression that he was not actually seeing them, but instead, looking past where they were. 

“Are you Barred Bush Lemur?” asked Honey Badger.

She waited. She waited a long time.

After a full minute or more had passed she decided he hadn’t heard her and she started to ask her question again, “Are you—“

“Yes,” he said in a soft whispery voice.

She nodded. “Your mate, Mewanka said you might know how the baboon paid the crocodile for Moralardo.”

His face betraying nothing of what he was thinking, Barred didn’t fidget, or glance around to the left or right. The lemur paused another long time before he answered, “Yes,” once more.

“Can you tell us?” asked Honey Badger.

After many lengthy seconds had ticked by, he said, “No.”

“Why not?”

“Restricted,” he said. 

Honey Badger waved at the animals standing behind her. “We are a large congress of like-minded animals. I believe we should be allowed to have restricted information shared with us.”

After enduring his longest pause yet, Honey Badger heard Barred Bush Lemur say, “Classified.”

“How is it ‘classified’?”

“By us,” he responded slightly faster that before.

“We believe we should know about this.”

He looked up into the sky. She saw him blink, just once. Dropping his face back down and meeting her eyes with his for the first time, he said, “Under advisement.” With that he turned around and painstakingly climbed back up into the tree, disappearing into the leaves.

“That was helpful,” said Caracal.

“Now what?” asked Rhinoceros.

“Maybe we’ll have to find that cobra after all,” said Honey Badger.

Mewanka came running back out through the gate, “Oh, was Barred here? I got held up! We’re so popular these days. Did you get what you needed?” she asked.

Giraffe said, “He was here, we did not.”

“That’s great,” said Mewanka. “Now if you will excuse me I have to get back to the party.”

“What is that thing on your head?” asked Caracal.

Mewanka reached up as if she had forgotten it was there, “Oh this? It’s my crown from the Miss Dry Savanna Pageant. Do you like it?”

“No,” said Caracal. Rhinoceros chuckled.

Frowning, Mewanka spun around and was about to leave when a voice stopped her.

“Excuse me please,” said Elder Meerkat, “one last question before you go?”

She looked at him. “Um, well, yes,” she gave him a thin smile, “OK, if it’s quick. What do you need?”

“Why does your father only want ‘herds’ to attend these parties?”

“Why? Well that’s a silly question. For the immunity of course!” And she left. 

Honey Badger saw the Elder Meerkat close his eyes. His head, shaking back and forth, dropped down upon his chest.

XIV

“What are you going to do now?” Elder Meerkat asked Honey Badger.

“I’m send all these animals home to rest up, then I’m going to go make a withdrawal from a beehive and some termite nests. Along the way, I’m going to try and pick up some information on where to find this Mono-chinned Namibian Spitting Cobra.”

“If I might offer a suggestion,” asked the meerkat.

“Absolutely,” the badger replied. 

Elder Meerkat leaned toward her and whispered something. 

“Good idea, thanks. What are you going to do?”

“She said we could qualify as a herd,” Elder Meerkat said. “I thought we’d go in and I’d see if I could find the baboon.”

“Another good idea, good luck!”

“You too!” The meerkat watched the badger go off to talk to the other animals. Gathering his little group behind him, they entered the gate to Moralardo.

Once inside, he said to them, “Stay safe. Stay away from other animals, especially groups. Don’t eat or drink anything. I will find the Baboon, try to reason with him, and then return to you. Listen for my gathering signal because we will leave immediately after that.” 

They agreed.

Leaving his companions, Elder Meerkat set off to find the baboon. It shocked him to see the large number of herd animals that were crowded into the area surrounded by the thorn bush perimeter. Most congregated at the feeding stations, which seemed to be numerous and well-supplied. 

After a bit of nervous wandering he spotted his quarry lounging beneath the umbrella-like foliage of a tree. Elder Meerkat hurried over. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt jumped up when he saw the Elder Meerkat approaching. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “You’re not part of a herd.”

“I arrived with a few of my comrades, your daughter said we could come in.”

“Oh she did? I’ll talk to her. What do you want?”

“I want to talk to you about this,” he said, waving at the scene of grazing animals surrounding them. “When I told you about ‘herd immunity’ I don’t think you fully understood the concept.”

“What are you saying?”

“Trying to establish ’herd immunity’, if you do not have a treatment, is basically only sightly better than doing nothing. It relies upon letting the disease infect as many as possible, kill off the most vulnerable, and then leave the rest who survive as an immune group.” 

The baboon said, “Uh-huh.”

“So this activity that you are implementing here is putting all these animals at risk. Further, they will go back to where they live and put other animals also at risk. This is going to increase the number of deaths. It’s a very bad idea.”

“I see,” said the baboon.

“Good, I’m glad you understand. So you’ll stop having these herd gatherings then?”

The baboon shook his head, “No, I’m going to keep doing them.”

Elder Meerkat blinked rapidly several times, “After what I just told you, why?”

Looking out over the hundreds of gathered animals, the Baboon with the Orange Butt took a few steps and then looked at the meerkat. “My animals have been forced to spread out and try to find food from a very bad place. A place where there were fires caused by animals invading our great land from across the river, a place where there was old dry grass because the river was running low.” He paused, “It’s been hard on them. They couldn’t get together with all their friends.”

“But that’s because it’s dangerous,” argued the meerkat.

“Being lonely is dangerous too. No, I did this for my animals. They need this. I’m going to keep doing the herd feeding parties. It’s worth the risk.”

“Don’t you realize—“

“Thank you for the talk, Elder,” said the baboon, dismissively. “Maybe it’s time for you to go back home now. You don’t seem to have the proper herd mentality.”

Elder Meerkat shook his head slowly, turned, and walked away from the baboon. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked around. Catching the eye of his daughter Mewanka, he beckoned her over.

“Yes daddy?” she said when she got to him. 

“Did you say that those meerkats could come in as a herd?”

“Yes, I thought—“ 

“Okay, listen, from now on, only real herds, okay, got it?”

“Yes, daddy, I understand,” she said.

“Good! I need to see that mate of yours, I have another job for him.”

“But Barred has so many jobs already, daddy,” she protested.

“He can handle this, just get him.”

“Yes, daddy. Then I’m going to go down by the lake to see how things—“

“No, no! I want you stay near the gate. I want you there,” he said, “as my—to be—ah, in case any more animals arrive. You’re the only one I can trust to do that.”

Mewanka looked disappointed, “Yes, daddy. I’ll go tell Barred to come see you.”

A few minutes later, the Baboon with the Orange Butt heard rustling in a tree near to where he was sitting. Looking up he saw Barred Bush Lemur climbing down out of the tree. 

The lemur unhurriedly walked over to where the baboon sat. He stopped in front of the baboon and stood waiting, silent, unblinking.

“How do you do that?” asked the baboon.

“What?” asked Barred.

“Manage to climb down—never mind! You’re a sneaky son-of-a-bitch, you know that?”

The lemur said nothing.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt said, “I want you to head up my team studying how to deal with this disease.”

Nodding slowly, the lemur asked, “Who else?”

“Who else is on the team?”

Barred nodded again.

“Nobody. I want to be able to say that you’re heading up a team, but I’m not appointing anyone else to it. If anyone asks you who else is on the team, you tell them it’s certified.”

“Classified?” asked Barred.

“Yeah that!” The baboon looked over at the opening in the thorn bush wall. “And remind Mewanka that I want her to stay near the gate, got that?”

“Yes.”

“Make sure she understands I’m serious about it! She stays by the gate!”

The lemur stood waiting for a couple minutes, “Is that all?”

“Yeah, get lost.”

XV

As things turned out, Honey Badger didn’t have to search very hard to find the Mono-chinned Namibian Spitting Cobra.

Licking honey off her snout with her tongue, Honey Badger approached a series of towering termite nests. Her long claws easily ripped open the side of the mounded earthen construction. Using her tongue again, she began lapping up the fleeing white insects. 

“How surprising to see you here,” said a voice from the other side of the nest. Peering around the large mound she saw an aardvark approaching. 

“Why do you say that?” asked Honey Badger.

“Because I just heard a funny looking old bird talking about you down by the lake,” said the aardvark.

“Ruddy Gull?”

“That’s sounds like him.”

“What was he saying?”

The aardvark stopped at the other side of the towering mound and looked it up and down. “It’s a big one, huh? Lots of termites inside?”

Honey Badger chuckled and said, “Tell me and I’ll share some with you.” 

“He said that you weren’t going to trick him into giving you any information he didn’t want to give you.”

“Who was he talking to when he said this?”

“Himself.”

She chuckled again, “Yeah, that would be Ruddy alright.” She looked past the aardvark. “You see any other animals down there?”

“Are you kidding? That lake is a real busy place these days. There were bunches. It’s interesting, I  saw an old turtle talking to a snake.”

“What kind of a snake?”

“I’m not sure but I think it was a cobra.”

Honey Badger scurried past the aardvark, saying, “It’s all yours!”

“Thanks,” said the aardvark, attacking the spot she had opened up. 

“No, thank you,” said Honey Badger. 

She stopped on the edge of the escarpment above the lake and surveyed the area below. There were some water birds in the shallows, a few humped-up backs of hippos showed above the water, but she saw no sign of the Mud Turtle or the Mono-chinned Cobra. But there were plenty of rushes and grass around the lake where they might be lurking unseen. 

Honey Badger paused before dropping down into the lake’s basin. She raised her snout and gave a couple long, loud whistling-like hisses. After a few moments she heard a chittering noise from some brush off to her left. 

She scrambled down the dusty slope. Arriving at the edge of the lake she browsed along the vegetation on its border, scanning for movement or anomalies. 

She approached the water birds feeding in the lake’s shallow warm waters.

“Good morning,” Honey Badger said. 

The birds looked up. “Hello,” one of them answered.

“You’re Blue Cranes aren’t you?”

“That’s right,” the crane answered. 

“I thought so. I apologize for bothering you while you are eating but have you seen a large cobra around here anywhere?” she asked.

One of the other cranes answered, “There was one talking with a turtle a while ago. They were over there,” she indicated an area of reeds and grass.

“Thanks,” said Honey Badger.

“I’d be careful if I were you,” said the crane. 

Honey Badger nodded.

Finding a place where the grasses were trampled down somewhat, she looked in either direction, side to side first, and then entered the reeds.

Now she was effectively blind, unable to see beyond the periphery of the trail. She proceeded cautiously, looking around the edges of corners before stepping forward. 

She had gone perhaps a dozen body lengths when a voice behind her said, “Well, well, it’s Madam Questioner herself!”

Spinning around she saw a large, black marked, gray cobra laying inside a small open area that had been hidden from her view coming from the direction she did. 

The Cobra raised his head, and a few inches of his body, up off the ground and surveyed her. “I wondered when you would get around to me,” he said.

“You must be the elusive Mono-chinned Namibian Spitting Cobra.”

“Guilty,” he said. “At least I am as far as that goes.” He rose up a fraction more, “Though I must protest, I rarely spit, so I wonder how that dubious attribute got attached to my appellation.”

“Must be a simple misunderstanding,” said the Honey Badger, gauging the distance that the snake had lifted his head off the ground. 

“I believe you have a question you want to ask me,” said the cobra, still slowly rising.

“Where’s your friend, the Mud Turtle?”

The snake emitted a rattling thin chuckling noise, “It takes him a long time to get anywhere these days so he left early.” Fully a quarter of the cobra’s length was now standing straight up off the ground. “But is that what you wanted to ask?”

“No, it’s not, but first let me just say this,” and the Honey Badger gave the same whistling hiss she had voiced earlier. 

Immediately she was joined by two long dark forms. “These are Ichneumon, mongooses,” Honey Badger said. “Maybe you’ve heard of them?” She watched as the cobra rapidly lowered his body  back toward the ground. “Their names are Itchy and Rufous, Rufous is the reddish colored one.”

“How nice to make your acquaintance,” said the cobra, his voice tense.

“A friend suggested I should have them accompany me.”

“A propitious suggestion, indeed.”

“So, you were interested in the question I had for you,” she continued.

The cobra waited. 

“How did the baboon pay the crocodile for Moralardo?”

The cobra gave out with his soft chuckle again. “I can’t tell you that.”

“Are you going to use the same excuse others have offered that it is classified information?”

“No,” said Mono-chinned Cobra, officiously, as he began to slide away from them. “I am not.”

“Then why can’t you answer my question?”

Continuing to back away, gradually disappearing into the reeds, the cobra answered in a whispery voice, “Because, you’re asking the wrong question.”

XVI

Their faint, acrid scent came to her, borne on the evening breeze, alerting Honey Badger of their presence before she ever saw or heard anything.

Earlier that day, Honey Badger had offered her thanks and good wishes to the mongooses, Itchy and Rufous, after leaving the lake basin. She promised them she would certainly call on them again, should she suffer any more snake related issues. Then she pointed her nose toward home and the welcoming comfort of her own burrow.  

Approaching it as dusk unfurled its shadows, she felt total exhaustion seeping down into her very core. So much effort expended, and she didn’t know anything more now than when she started. 

That was when the breeze brought her a rude wake-up call. Instantly, she was on alert: hyenas!

Fortunately, she was advancing from the south, meaning she was downwind. It was unlikely that they were forewarned of her approach as of yet. 

Lowering herself as close to the ground as possible, she surveyed the shadowy expanse in front of her. Where were they hiding?

Her burrow lay before a broad spreading tree, but hyenas weren’t climbers. Left of the opening to her home was a gully, certainly big enough to conceal several hyenas. On the right were some bushes, also a possibility. 

She felt certain they were in one of those places, or the other. At least she hoped that was the case. If there were hyenas hiding in both locations, she was as good as dead already. 

Steeling herself, she knew she would have to make a tough decision. If she could reach her burrow, she would have at least a fighting chance to defend herself. Patently, trying to approach her burrow by the direct route, was out of the question. They would be on her before she got halfway there.

No, her only choice was to circle in from the left or from the right, at least until she was at a crosswind position, before they could smell her, and then make a run for it. 

The problem was, which was the correct course, to the left or to the right? If she guessed wrong she risked walking right into their midst. 

It was nearing fully night. She hesitated, peering into the gloom for some sign that would help her decide. With a recurrence of her previous weariness suffusing her limbs, Honey Badger decided to go left. Tensing for her break, she was stopped by the sight of an erratic form in the purple sky. A nightjar came flitting, up and down, left and right, its wide mouth open to gather in all the insects it could. 

As she watched, it dipped toward the gully and then suddenly recoiled back up into the gloaming. 

“Thanks,” she whispered and Honey Badger crawled up and out of her crouch and gradually began to make her way to the right, toward the bushes. 

Now the key was to guess correctly when she might become visible to the hyenas, or when the breeze would grab her scent and take it to them. 

Scurrying from sparse covers to dips in the ground, she pushed her luck as long as she thought she could manage. It was now or never. Taking a few deep breaths, fraught with indecision, she mustered what strength she had in reserve, and broke for her burrow.

Three hyenas exploded out of the gully, bearing straight down on her. She quickly realized she wasn’t going to make it. They were too fast, she was too slow, and the safety of the opening to her burrow was too far away.

Pushing herself as hard as she could, she increased her speed but would it be enough?

The hyenas saw their initial mistake in heading straight for her and adjusted their route to try and cut her off. One was close enough that she could feel his labored breath. On an impulse she spun and slashed out with her long claws. 

She caught him on his snout, raking his flesh all the way to the bone. He yelped and, stumbling, fell directing in front of the other two. All three were caught up in a mess of flailing limbs and snarling jaws. Using her momentary advantage, she turned and dove for her burrow’s entrance. 

Sliding down into her warren, she instantly spun around and, scrambling madly, made her way back up toward the palely lit opening. She had to defend that to have any chance of surviving the night. 

Above her were sounds of heavy breathing, low snarls, and a guarded approach. She was fairly certain that if they were smart enough, one could distract her at the entrance while the other two dug into her home from behind. Her best hope was that they were as stupid as their boss who sent them.  

The baboon was behind this, of that there was no doubt. Hyenas didn’t wait in ambush to attack animals. They were opportunity killers. Usually following the path of least resistance, they attacked the weak and defenseless, killing only when it was easy. For them to try and take her, a badger, a fighter like she was, no, that was not going to happen by chance. This was by instruction from someone above them. 

The attack had all the earmarks of the Baboon with the Orange Butt’s repertoire. She only hoped she would live long enough to make him pay for ordering it.

She stared at the opening. When it was fully dark, totally black, they would come. She must be ready.

She took a deep breath and prepared to defend her home, and herself.

XVII

Honey Badger braced herself. The first animal that poked its nose down within her reach was going to lose it! 

A thump on the ground above and behind her burrow surprised her. What were those hyenas up to now? Growls and whines from in front of her entry way were followed by the sounds of a quick scuffle. Another animal whined and then snarled.

She heard the unmistakably sound of animals running away, the noise growing fainter and fainter.

Then silence.

Was this some trap to lure her out into the open? 

Honey Badger waited and listened but nothing gave her any clue as to what had occurred. She decided to venture forth and take a peek. 

Crawling up to the edge of her burrow’s opening, she scanned the darkness. There was no moon to help her out, so she was visually hampered, with only starlight to illuminate the scene.

Looking from left to right, at first, she saw nothing out of place. But, when she scanned back to the left, she stopped just left of center. Was that something there? She saw a mottled, lighter area set close to the ground. Was that an animal lying in ambush?

She extended herself a little more out of her warren, poking her head fully out into the breathing dark. It certainly looked like something unnatural that didn’t belong there.

Honey Badger held her breath, staring intently at the anomaly. Upon the instant, the form rose up and hurled itself toward her! Hissing, she threw up her front paws to fend off the attack. 

But an attack never materialized. Lowering her paws she saw a large yellowish figure looming over her. It spoke to her in a rough voice, “Got ya, didn’t I?”

“Leopard! You scared me over halfway to death!”

He growled a rumbling chuckle, “Heh, heh, I often have that effect on animals.”

“Where are the hyenas?”

“They suddenly remembered a previous engagement, they asked me to pass along their regrets.”

“How did you happen to be here?”

“That’s the thanks I get for saving your life? You want to know why I did it?

“I’m sorry, thank you.”

“No problem, I’m just pulling your stubby tail. I spotted the three clowns heading this way and followed them to see what they were up to.”

“Lucky for me.”

“When I saw what you did to that one, I considered letting you handle it yourself.”

You were watching?”

“I was up in the tree.”

“I’m just as glad that you didn’t leave it to me,” said Honey Badger, “I’m bushed and I felt pretty much outnumbered.”

“I figured. Actually, I was on my way here to talk to you when I ran across them.”

“Yeah, where have you been? I went looking for you. We made a trip to Moralardo.”

“I got hungry so I crossed the river to do a little hunting. I managed to catch—“

“No, no, don’t tell me! With my luck lately, I probably know them.”

“That would be ‘knew them’.”

“Yes, so what did you want to tell me?”

“While I was over there I got into a conversation with a flying fox,” said Leopard.

“Hmm, first bats and now flying foxes, you seem to have an odd fixation with winged mammals.”

“Not so hard to figure, the only real predator that the flying foxes have are snakes and I’ve saved them from a few. I’m not overly fond of snakes.”

“I can relate.”

“So this fox and I are just chatting and I ask a question that had been bothering me for sometime. They hang upside down in trees all day you know,” he said.

“Yes, I did know that.”

“It’s a little unnerving to hold a conversation with a someone who’s upside down.”

Honey Badger chuckled, “I’ll bet.”

“Yeah, so I wondered about when he was hanging there and got the urge to relieve himself. I asked him what did he do?”

“What do they do?” Honey Badger asked.

“As it turns out, not much. Sometimes they adjust their position a little to let it fall to the jungle floor.”

“Huh?” 

“It makes their roosts pretty easy to locate because with hundreds of them all roosting together, the whole area beneath their trees has a strong ammonia smell.”

“And you felt you needed to share this with me because—“

“Because of what he told me next—”

They heard the sounds of many hooves plodding in approach across the savanna. Both peered into the darkness. After a few moments shadowy forms passed on either side of them, heading north.

“What’s this?” asked Leopard.

“I think they’re returning from the herd party that the baboon is running at Moralardo.”

“When did this start?” 

“Recently,” she answered “stay back so they don’t see you.” The leopard ducked down. “Hey! Are you coming from Moralardo?” she called to one of the individuals.

“Yeah,” said a gazelle, “I’m stuffed, I won’t have to eat for a week! Can you believe we have to go back tomorrow?”

“Why is that?”

“The Baboon with the Orange Butt has called a general meeting to make an important announcement. I’m going to try and rest up a little.”

After the group had paraded past them Honey Badger said, “I guess we’re off to Moralardo in the morning.”

“Sounds that way,” said Leopard.

“Can you finish your story tomorrow? I need to get some sleep too and I’m certain that the baboon will have his tweets out early to alert everyone.” 

“Sure, I’ll see you in the morning. Say, since I saved your life—“

“The answer is still ‘no’, I’m not helping you set up an ambush for your neighbor, the Crested Monkey.”

“Boy! That’s gratitude for you!”

XVIII

As it turned out, the baboon had his tweeters out even before dawn broke so Honey Badger didn’t get much rest. In the gray light of predawn she wearily, and warily peeked out from her burrow, concerned that her attackers of the previous night might have returned. 

Looking right to left, she sniffed the early morning air and was satisfied that nothing lurked amid the bushes or down in the gully where the hyenas had been the night before. 

Nonetheless, remaining vigilant, she emerged slowly out of her burrow.

“Staying cautious, that’s a good idea,” said the Leopard. Spinning, she looked up and saw him stretched out across a limb of the tree that shaded her burrow.

“You slept there last night?”

“There wasn’t much use going back to my usual spot, that damned crested monkey would likely be chattering all night. He has the most annoying voice.”

He slipped out of the tree and stretched. “Want to start off?” 

“May as well,” said Honey Badger.

On either side of them, long lines of animals plodded along, heading southeast towards Moralardo. 

“Why are they all going?” asked Leopard. “What do they think this baboon has to offer them?”

“He has food, that’s something, though I doubt he has near enough to feed everyone in the land at once. I don’t know, maybe some are going out of curiosity, others out of habit. It’s a herd thing.” 

They walked a bit.

Honey Badger looked at the leopard. “You were telling me about your conversation with the flying fox,” she said.

“Yeah, thanks for reminding me, this is the good part,” said Leopard. “The fox said he had seen an animal, the same one, more than once, walk out under the trees where they were roosting and sit down, staying there for hours.”

“But you said they relieve themselves and it filters down onto the forest floor. Wouldn’t that animal get covered with—?”

“That’s what makes it so interesting. The flying fox said it looked to him like that was just what the animal wanted.”

“Eww!” said Honey Badger. “That’s sick.” They walked a few more steps. “What did the fox say that the animal did next?”

“I asked the same question,” answered Leopard, “and he said after he was done, the animal got up, went down to the river and washed off. Then he got a lift across the river from a hippopotamus.”

“A hippo? He was ferried across the river by a hippo?”

The leopard nodded. 

Honey Badger looked around to see if any other animals traveling to Moralardo were close enough to hear what Leopard was telling her. She saw they were all far enough away that she felt confident none could listen in. Then she said, “I am almost afraid to ask this but, did the flying fox identify the animal?”

“Uh-huh. One guess who it was.”

“The Baboon with the Orange Butt?”

“Bingo!”

“Wow!”

“Oh it gets better,” said the leopard. “The flying fox decided to follow them, she flew across the river to where the hippo took the baboon. When the baboon left, she followed the hippopotamus. Guess where he went?”

“Upriver to the lake?”

“You are psychic!” said Leopard. “Not only that but it went straight to meet with Old Putrid the crocodile, himself.”

“And the hippo was giving him a report on what the baboon was doing.”

Leopard nodded, “That would be my guess.”

The two of them walked along in silence for quite a distance before Honey Badger said, “But this makes no sense!”

“Why?” asked Leopard.

“If the crocodile has such incriminating evidence of aberrant behavior by the baboon, that means he can blackmail him. If he can do that, why is he giving him Moralardo and helping him stockpile food to make him look good in front of the other animals?”

“Maybe he’s setting him up for something to come?”

“Maybe,” said Honey Badger. “Mono-chinned cobra said I was asking the wrong question when I asked how the baboon was paying the crocodile for Moralardo. Maybe the question is “What does the crocodile have on the baboon?”

“Yeah. This story would answer that question alright,” said Leopard. 

“But it doesn’t adequately explain what has happened so far.”

“Hey, what are you two so engrossed in talking about?” asked White Rhinoceros as he plodded over to join them.

“Oh, wait until you hear this!” said Honey Badger. 

She told the rhinoceros what she had learned from Leopard. 

“Whew!” said Rhinoceros. “That’s a lot to unpack.”

“Indeed,” agreed Honey Badger, “and I have no idea how to proceed.”

“I do,” said Rhinoceros. 

“You do?” asked Leopard and Honey Badger simultaneously.

“Sure,” said Rhinoceros, “you look everywhere.”

“I’m sorry?” asked Honey Badger. “What does that mean?”

“You go to the Mad Owl, share what you know and let her work. You set Newt and Lark back to work  investigating all they can. You talk to all the herd leaders to see what they know.” The rhinoceros paused for a moment. “Finally,” he continued, “you interview the one individual that you keep hearing about in relation to the baboon and the crocodile. My bet is he is involved in this all the way up his wrinkled old neck!”

“Who’s that?” asked Leopard. 

“The one animal I should have talked to long before now,” she said to Rhinoceros, nodding. Honey Badger looked at Leopard and said, “Mud Turtle.”

XIX

Animals loitered in small groups scattered in front of the entrance to Moralardo. Honey Badger saw two large trees set back a short distance from the opening in the fence were occupied. Festooning their branches were dozens of primates: apes and monkeys of all varieties, sitting upon the lower limbs. 

Walking through the milling throng, she glimpsed Giraffe above everyone else. Wandering over to him she found Ostrich, Caracal, and Pea Hen standing beside the tall figure.

“When does this circus start?” asked Honey Badger.

“No one has any idea,” answered Giraffe. 

“If we’re lucky it’ll rain and cancel the whole thing,” said a voice behind them. They turned to see Blue, the Wildebeest. 

“You bring all of your herd, Blue?” asked Rhinoceros.

“Not on your life, Whitey. I have a few leaders of each group along with me and that’s all.”

“So you haven’t brought your animals to Moralardo for a herd party yet?” asked Honey Badger.

“Nope, and I’m not going to.”

“Why not?” asked Pea Hen.

“Two reasons. First,” said Blue, “I’ve talked with other herd leaders who came back from here and they say it’s been very disruptive. The morning afterwards they find several individuals missing. They figure some are wandering off to join other herds, or the baboon is recruiting his own group of herd animal supporters. It’s just not worth the risk.”

“And the other reason?” asked Honey Badger.

“I don’t like that son-of-a-bitch baboon.”

That garnered laughter all around.

“Anyone see Mud Turtle?” asked Honey Badger.

“He rarely shows up for these group activities,” said Blue. “He likes to stay in the shadows.”

“Uh-oh,” said Caracal, “now we’re in for it! Her she comes.”

The Howler, Baboon’s Push Secretary marched out of Moralardo and stepped up onto a stump. As she began her low rumble, gathering her voice, Honey Badger said, “We shouldn’t have picked a spot so close to the front.” 

A resounding scream slashed across the savanna, shattering the gentle murmuring thrum from the animals gathered in the calm morning. 

“The Great Baboon welcomes his subjects to this, Moralardo, the animal’s great house!” she said. Then she sucked in a deep breath and screamed again to signal she was done. Stepping down off the stump she disappeared into the fenced area.

“Invariably her appearance is one of the pleasantest of experiences one might ultimately wish for,” said the Ostrich.

“Yeah,” said Leopard, “if you’re lucky enough to be somewhere else.”

“Look,” said Pea Hen.

“Oh this just keeps getting better and better,” said Rhinoceros.

They saw Mewanka coming out to stand before the gathering. “Daddy, the Great Baboon, your leader you know, he asked me to come out and tell you how great it is that you, his subjects are all assembled to hear his great news.”

“Gee, that’s just great!” gushed the Leopard.

Mewanka turned to look at him, her face alight. After a few moments her smile seemed to become something else: as if she was gritting her teeth. Her face went blank and she left to go stand next to one side of the entryway. Every so often, Honey Badger noticed, Mewanka would narrow her eyes and stare long imaginary thorns at the leopard.

Nudging Rhinoceros she whispered, “Maybe Mewanka is not as dumb as she seems.”

He answered, “Oh yes she is. But she has that innate cunning of some predators. They can recognize a threat and respond accordingly. You can never trust her.”

“Here comes the main event,” said Giraffe.

Two hyenas strode out of the entry, looking left and right, scanning the crowd. Directly behind them came the baboon, Wild Boar at his side. Bringing up the rear were two more hyenas and two sturdy wart hogs.

Honey Badger noticed that one of the hyenas in the back had a very badly torn up muzzle. 

The hyenas spread out before the baboon like a shield. Once the wart hogs took up positions on either side of the Baboon with the Orange Butt he looked at the animals spread out before him. His eyes lingered momentarily on the monkeys and apes in the trees, a confused look passed across his face briefly. Bending over he said something to the wild boar, who nodded. 

Straightening up, the baboon began, “I have brought you all here today to make an important and exciting announcement. The strong and powerful magic honey that my bees have been diligently working on, which will cure once and for all, this terrible disease brought to us by foreign animals, is nearly ready!”

He paused as if expecting cheers. A ripple of murmurs went through the groups of animals dotting the plain, but that was all. 

He looked disappointed. “It should be available to you all in a day or so. I will send out my tweeting birds to announce the exact moment that we will powerfully and strongly defeat this foreign disease.”

Honey Badger spoke up, “I visited a hive just two days ago and there was no magic honey there.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stared at her, “You must’ve been at one of the hives that was built by bees that came across the river illegally. They are not my bees.”

“No,” said Honey Badger, “it’s a hive I’ve used many times before. It’s been there for years.”

“Some of these illegals have been coming to our great land for years.” The baboon turned and looked back over the crowd. “That is something we must all be aware of, foreigners! Foreigners who are  invading our great land and taking the food out of our mouths.”

Honey Badger decided to go for another nerve, “What happened to your hyena?” she asked. “He looks wounded.”

Glancing at the hyena, the baboon scowled, and then looked at Honey Badger again. “My brave soldier was injured in defense of me.”

“You were attacked?” asked Rhinoceros.

“I am always under attack!” said the baboon. “No leader has ever had to stand for the constant attacks, physical and verbal, that I have endured.” He looked out at the assembled throng. “After all I have done for you, my animals, it’s so unfair. No other leader has done as much for his subjects as I have! I am horribly under-appreciated!”

Honey Badger heard a ‘whoop’ sound from the animals in the trees behind her. She looked back to see that the apes and monkeys each were holding little round fruits, yellow to orange to red in color. Another ‘whoop’ sounded and as one they brought the fruit up and hurled them toward the baboon. 

Caught entirely by surprise, the baboon could only just get his hands up to try and block some of the scores of incoming missiles. The fruit were universally overripe and they fell apart or exploded upon impact, flinging bits of their soft flesh and juice in all directions. 

In a matter of moments, the baboon was drenched from head to foot in fruit juice and pulp. 

With a final ‘whoop’, the monkeys and apes all leisurely climbed down from the trees and disappeared into the crowd.

The numerous animals spread out across the savanna stood in shocked silence for a few seconds and then they exploded into raucous hilarity. The baboon scraped slippery fruit off his body looking around angrily.

“What was that all about?” asked Honey Badger.

“The baboon has refused to allow non-herd animals into Moralardo,” said Blue. “It’s generated a lot of bad feelings among those that don’t qualify.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt, along with Mewanka, disappeared into Moralardo, his hyenas, who had not escaped the pelting either, stayed back, eyeing the crowd as if daring them to try and follow him. The hyena that Honey Badger had raked with her claws made it a point to keep an eye on her.

“Within the amalgamation upon the tree limbs were members of his own species, the baboons.” said Ostrich. “They took part in the general assault. I find that surprising.”

“Baboons have even more against him now that it is widely known that he meets with Putrid, the crocodile,” said Blue. “Crocodiles are one of the primary predators of baboons.”

“Why throw the rotting fruit?” asked Honey Badger.

“I don’t know,” answered Blue. “I guess you could say he’s been empeached!”

XX

They said goodbye to Blue Wildebeest and watched as he led the few members of his group away.

The savanna spread out before Moralardo, virtually deserted, except for Honey Badger and her companions.

“What now?” asked Giraffe.

“Now,” said Honey Badger, “I have to track down Mud Turtle and try and pin him down on some important facts.”

“I sincerely wish you much good luck in that endeavor,” said Ostrich. 

“Thanks. I’ll need it,” said Honey Badger.

“Where are you going to look for him?” asked Caracal.

“I’m thinking I’ll check the swamp first, then if he’s not there, I’ll go back to the lake.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe I’ll ask Ruddy Gull,” she said.

“You think he will tell you?” asked Rhinoceros.

“Not directly,” she answered, “but he’ll probably let something slip indirectly.”

“That swamp seems to have gotten larger lately,” said Giraffe.

“Yeah, searching that could take some time,” said Caracal. “Maybe you should have help.”

“It would be welcome,” the badger said.

“I guess there’s no reason hanging around here then” said Leopard. “I don’t think the ‘great’ baboon is going to recognize us as a herd.”

“No,” said Honey Badger, “I think he recognizes us as something else entirely. A threat to him.”

“What’s that?” asked Pea Hen as they were leaving.

“What?” asked Honey Badger.

Pea motioned with her beak, “That, laying over there where the baboon was standing.”

Honey Badger wandered away from the group, over to look at where she had indicated. Laying on the ground, amid chunks of rotting fruit and sparse clumps of grass dripping with juice, lay a matted, bright yellow mass. She stared at it for several moments before it registered to her exactly what she was looking at. 

Rhinoceros walked over beside her. He saw her shaking. Honey Badger was laughing quietly to herself. “What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Take a look,” she said.

He peered at the mess sitting on the ground in front of her. “Is that—?”

“Yes, it’s that thing baboon was wearing on his head.”

Ostrich and Leopard joined them. “Some unfortunate individual apparently has misplaced a significant item of personal ornamentation,” said Ostrich.  

“At least it does appear to be real hair,” observed Leopard looking at it closely. “When I first saw it on his head I thought it might be tiny roots all bunched together or some kind of grass.”

“I wonder what kind hair it is?” mused Giraffe.

“It’s fairly long,” said Pea Hen coming up to the group. “None of you have hair that long.” 

They looked at each other. “You may exclude Pea Hen and me from your current examinations entirely,” said Ostrich. 

Everyone laughed nervously. 

“It’s long, that’s true,” said Rhinoceros. “But additionally, I can’t think of any animal that has hair that color, can any of you?”  

Several others shook their heads.

“It would certainly stand out in a crowd,” said Leopard. 

“The predator weighs in with his unique observations again,” said Giraffe. 

“It’s a good observation,” said Caracal, keeping a close eye on Leopard. “Can you imagine trying to hide from hunters if your fur is a bright yellow?”

“They’ve definitely got a point,” said Honey Badger. “It’s a ridiculous color.”

The sound of a tortured scream came from somewhere within Moralardo.

“What was that?” asked Pea Hen nervously.

“Sounds like someone in great pain,” said Giraffe.

“Or,” said Honey Badger, “an exceedingly vain individual who has suddenly realized he has lost something quite important to him.”

Rhinoceros rumbled a chuckle deep in his throat.

A face peeked around the corner of the gate and was quickly withdrawn.

“Was that Mewanka?” asked Pea Hen.

“Yep,” said Leopard. 

More yelling sounded inside the compound.

Two large rats appeared at the entrance to Moralardo. They paused, staring at the animals gathered around the bright yellow hair. Tentatively, the rats approached the group, stopping often as if to see if any of the animals gathered there moved to stop them. They continued their torturously slow advance until they were within a whisker’s length of the dandelion colored prize.

One rat said, “¡Andale, pues, mi amigo! ¡Vamonos, mas rapido!”  They each grasped a corner of the mass of hair and simultaneously retreated as fast as they could, dragging it with them, disappearing back into Moralardo.

“What did that one rat say?” asked Leopard.

“You got me,” answered Rhinoceros. “Must be a special rat language.”

“Actually,” said Ostrich, “I believe it was a fairly common language of many animals living somewhat south of our current locale.”

“Yeah?” asked Rhinoceros. “How come they are here at Moralardo?”

“Evidently the baboon has foreign animals working for him,” said Honey Badger.

“Wait a minute,” said Giraffe, “wasn’t he just shouting at everyone about looking out for foreigners?”

“Yes, he was,” said Honey Badger.

“Do what I say, not what I do,” said Rhinoceros. 

“Exactly,” said Honey Badger. “His corruption and hypocrisy know no bounds.”

“You have to wonder what else he is willing to do,” mused Giraffe.

“I wish we had grabbed that hair,” said Rhinoceros, “I’d like to know what animal it came from.”

Honey Badger held up her paw with a few strands of bright yellow hair clinging to it. “Me too,” she said, “and I think know who can tell us.”

XXI

A little animal moved around in the darkness, using her small, pointed trunk to find her way. She checked to make sure that her babies were asleep. Moving as quietly as possible she moved on out of her burrow and into the light. She hoped that some beetles might be active, after nursing the young ones, she was hungry. 

She was surprised to see who was waiting for her outside. “Honey Badger, I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”

“Hello Sengi,” said Honey Badger, “how are all your little elephant shrews?”

“Asleep at the moment, they keep me busy. I was just going to look for some bugs to mash up and take back to them for later.”

“I won’t take much of your time,” said Honey Badger.

“After what you did, saving us from that bush viper, you have only to ask.”

“Well I have to admit that my intentions were not entirely altruistic, I don’t care for snakes.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed from the way you gobbled it down afterwards,” said the shrew.

“I’ll rephrase that then, I’m not overly fond of them alive.”

“That sounds more like it, they are so—so—cold blooded.”

“I couldn’t have said it better.”

The elephant shrew said, “So what’s this favor?”

Honey Badger said, “You line your nest with bits of fur you find, don’t you?”

“Yes,” answered the elephant shrew.

“Do you think that you are able to identify different kinds of hair or fur?”

Sengi thought about that, “I suppose so. I’m careful to choose certain types of furs for the nest for their softness.”

Honey Badger held out the few strands of bright yellow hair, “Do you know what animal this came from?”

The elephant shrew took the hairs and stared at them. “Not right off. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Maybe if I compare it with some other samples,” the shrew said, “I can figure it out.” She looked at the badger. “Can you leave it with me for a couple of days?”

“Certainly, I’m on my way somewhere else now and I’ll be back in the area in two or three days.”

“I’ll try my best.”

“I’ll bring you something for your trouble.”

The little shrew shook her head causing her miniature trunk to wiggle back and forth, “That’s not really necessary—“

“I insist,” said Honey Badger. “For the babies.”

She left the shrew standing out in front of her burrow and turned toward the swamp. 

As she approached the edge of the swamp, she saw a White-headed Prancer monkey high in a tree. She called to him, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes,” he shouted back.

“Can you come down here so I don’t have to shout?”

“Is that your question?”

“No, but can you come down here so I can speak to you without yelling?”

“No, I cannot. It would be . . . unseemly.”

“Can you at least come down a little bit lower?”

The monkey glanced around and found a branch that was halfway between where he currently was and the ground. He worked his way to that limb. 

Honey Badger moved over underneath the monkey’s current perch. “Why would it be unseemly for you to come down to the ground?”

“Mother would not approve.”

She looked at him, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of you being on the ground?”

“Not ‘my mother’, just Mother,” the monkey said. “It’s not that I can’t be on the ground, it’s that I can’t be on the ground near you.”

“Because—“

“It would be unseemly. You’re a female. Mother says I shouldn’t be near females without here being present.”

Honey Badger decided to pursue her original question, “Have you seen Mud Turtle?”

“Yes, I saw him a little while ago.”

“Good can you tell me where he is?”

“No, I can’t,” the monkey said.

“Why not?”

“It’s not allowed.” 

“It’s not allowed by ‘Mother’?”

“No, of course not, she has nothing to do with that. It’s not allowed by the Great Baboon.”

“You know the baboon?”

“Know him?” said the monkey, excitedly. “He says I’m his number two monkey. He has put me in charge of stopping this terrible disease.”

“You’re overseeing the creation of the honey that is supposed to cure the disease?”

“Yes.”

“This too much. I’m getting a headache,” Honey Badger said.

“Has anyone ever introduced you to our Savor?”

“Your savor?”

“Our Savor, whenever I get a headache Mother tells me to seek out the Savor for relief.”

“How do you do that?”

“Lean back and close your eyes,” the White-headed Prancer said.

Honey Badger did that. “Now what?” she asked.

“Now Savor,” said the monkey.

“Savor what?”

“Having your eyes closed, relaxing, those things.”

Honey Badger opened her eyes and looked at the monkey. “Did you know that there are flies in your hair?” she asked.

“Yes, they get stuck in the honey.”

“You have honey in your hair?” Honey Badger said. “Is that from your job visiting the hives?”

“I never visit the hives.”

“You don’t? How can you oversee their production if you don’t visit the hives?”

“I oversee, I don’t visit.”

“Why?”

“It would be unseemly.”

Honey Badger repeated her question, “Why?”

“Because those hives are full of females who are the workers, and they are run by a queen, there are virtually no males.”

“So why would it be ‘unseemly’ for you to visit them?”

“I just told you, they are all females in the hives.”

“They are insects. Your mother told you you shouldn’t visit them because they are full of females?”

“No, of course not, not my mother, just Mother, my mate, the mother of our children.”

“Aha! Now I begin to understand. You call your mate ‘Mother’.”

“Yes.”

“Does she call you ‘Father’?” 

“No she refers to me as Mr. White-headed Prancer.”

“How quaint!” Honey Badger said. “But if you don’t visit the hives, how did you get honey in your hair?”

“I didn’t get honey in my hair, I put it there.”

“Where did you get it?”

The monkey looked at her with wide eyes, ‘“From Mother, of course.”

“So Mother visits the hives?”

“Yes.”

“And she checks on the production of the honey for you?”

“No, she just gathers a bit of honey and leaves quickly a possible.”

“Why?” asked Honey Badger.

“Because they are all females crowded together in that hive. She might see them doing something—unseemly.”

“Okay. So then— I have to ask, why do you put honey in your hair?”

“So the Great Baboon will know that I am adequately overseeing the the hives and the bees.”

“But you’re not? You don’t visit the hives.”

The White-headed Prancer monkey said, “Of course not, that would be—“

And the Honey Badger said, in unison with the monkey, even as she was walking away, “Unseemly!”

XXII

From where she stood, surveying the land before her, it certainly seemed that Giraffe was right about the growth of the swamp. Honey Badger had arrived at the edge of the wetlands sooner than she expected. Traveling only a short distance from the area where she encountered the White-headed Prancing monkey, she figured the slow-moving Mud turtle must be close too.

Honey Badger was preoccupied with a heightened awareness as she approached the swamp’s edge. This was not her land, not the savanna that was so familiar to her. She scanned the confusion of vegetation that lay before her, trying to make sense of it. 

A White-bellied Pangolin slipped between the reeds in front of her, licking insects off its muzzle with its long tongue. Seeing Honey Badger, it stopped.

“I’m looking for Mud turtle?” said Honey Badger. “Have you seen him?”

The pangolin looked back the way she had come and then back at the badger. She nodded, and then wandered off away from the swamp. 

“Just as I thought, the old codger can’t have gotten too far.” Hearing muffled voices and laughter from behind a wall like mass of tall grass just ahead, she cautiously moved that direction.

Parting the reeds she saw Mud Turtle talking to a large gray-green frog. Seeing her there, the frog nodded in her direction and said, “Muck, we’ve got company,” to alert Mud Turtle. The turtle slowly swiveled his long neck to peer at her. He said something to the frog who backed into the swamp, disappearing beneath the water.

Laboriously, the turtle rotated his massive body so the he was facing Honey Badger. He stood there looking at her with rheumy eyes for several minutes before he said, “Well, well, what have we here?” in an ancient, crackly voice.

“They call you ‘Muck’?” asked Honey Badger, while cautiously stepping closer to him across the spongy ground. 

“Heh, heh,” the turtle chuckled. “It’s a nickname some colleagues have laid on me. I indulge them too much, I fear.”

“That frog is a colleague?”

“Goliath? Oh my yes,” answered Mud Turtle. “In his particular realm he is equally recognized for his leadership skills.”

“You’re saying that you are a recognized leader?”

The turtle ignored her question. “Why are you here? What can I do for you?” he turtle asked evenly.

“I came to ask you why the crocodile gave Moralardo to the baboon?”

Blinking several times, the turtle un hurriedly shook his head back and forth. “Did he?” he asked. “I don’t know that he has done any such thing. I think that Valor has seen his public image deteriorate. He is poorly viewed by most animals. It’s my belief that he is attempting to change that.”

“You’re saying he didn’t give that land to the Baboon with the Orange Butt?”

“I don’t know that he did, no.”

“What about the vast amounts of fodder that the crocodile has helped the baboon acquire?”

“You see, that kind of action simply supports the correctness of my beliefs. If the crocodile seeks to alter his perceived persona, what better way to effect that than to subsidize the efforts of the baboon in assisting his subjects?”

“But the baboon is only feeding herds of animals, ignoring animals that do not move in herds.”

“Providing for the majority sometimes means it occurs at the expense of the minority. A good leader must seek to provide for the many, over the few.”

“It looks to me like it is a choice he is making, not a necessity.”

The Mud Turtle peered at her for several moments without responding, he blinked again. When he did speak, his tone implied humor at her persistence, “I see you’ve given this issue much thought. For an animal often known to be stubborn, you are raising that attribute to the level of an art form.” 

‘I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“If you are concerned with the motives of the crocodile, why not approach Valor himself and put your questions directly to him?”

“He does not strike me as a very approachable individual.”

“I have not found that to be the case at all.”

“So you speak with the crocodile, yourself?”

“I flatter myself that I have been so honored,” said Mud Turtle. 

“I question whether it isn’t more of an opprobrium rather than an honor,” said Honey Badger. “He is an indiscriminate predator.”

“I wouldn’t characterize him as indiscriminate.”

“You have been in regular contact with both the baboon and the crocodile. It colors your opinions.”

Once again, the turtle shook his head slowly, “The same statement you deliver as an indictment might be said to actually enrich my knowledge of both individuals and enlighten my viewpoints.”

“Your opinions are not facts.”

“Facts are sometimes hard to discern clearly.” The mud turtle responded, “It’s like peering through murky water to find a morsel of food. You have to work for it.”

“And one animal’s food may be another’s family.”

“Once more I would respond that as a good leader you have to view options as what is best for the majority of individuals.”

“Why not seek to do what is best for all?”

“That is a foolish and naive response. We must be realists.”

“I happen to think that my opinion is a real one. I believe that working for the good of all is an attainable end.”

“In that, I fear, you are mistaken. Greater experience in life, such as I have, will inform you differently.”

“We’ll have to see,” said Honey Badger. “Thank you for you time and your suggestion. I’ll consider visiting the crocodile. I’m certain you will alert him to prepare for my possible appearance.”

The mud turtle’s mouth formed what looked to be an enigmatic smile.

XXIII

White Rhinoceros decided to keep an eye on things at Moralardo while Honey Badger was gone. He was standing amid a varied group of animals discussing the events of the last weeks when he saw the baboon’s ‘Push’ Secretary come out and climb up on the stump.

“Now what?” Rhinoceros said.

As usual, the monkey screamed, to announce that she had something official to relate. Several animals who hadn’t seen her emerge from Moralardo jumped half out of their skins at the sound of her shriek.

“The Great Baboon has decreed that the curative honey is no longer needed. He proclaims that there is no disease in our land and that no animals are dying except by natural causes.”

Inhaling to prepare herself for her closing shriek, she paused when Rhinoceros came thundering up to the stump and said, “Wait a minute!”

The Push Secretary looked at him and asked, “Why?”

“Why?” asked Rhinoceros. “What do you mean ‘why?’”

“Why should I wait?” the monkey asked.

“Because what you just said is ridiculous!” 

“Which thing I just said? You mean the ‘why’?”

“No! That there is no disease, cures are not needed, and no animals are dying from this disease.”

“Oh that,” she answered, “thank you for your feedback. I will pass it on to the Great Baboon.” She  inhaled again.

“Wait a minute!” said Rhinoceros.

“Again?” she asked, exhaling, then sighing audibly. “This is becoming tiresome.”

“I’m not asking you to pass on what I said—“

“That’s fine then,” she said, “I won’t. Thank you.” She opened her mouth.

“No! You are not listening!” Rhinoceros said. “The idea that there is no disease and animals are not dying from it is patently ridiculous!”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” the monkey said. “Do you want me to pass that information on to the Great Baboon?”

“What I want,” said the frustrated rhinoceros, “is to know why you made such an absurd announcement in the first place?”

She looked at him, “You don’t seem to understand my position,” she said. “As Push Secretary I don’t evaluate announcements. I just deliver them.”

“But you just spoke nonsense.”

She shrugged, “If I’m told to speak nonsense, I speak nonsense. That’s my job.”

“Don’t you see how wrong your statement is? No disease? No animals dying? It’s absurd. You’re covering up the truth, you’re lying!”

“Again, if I’m told to lie—“

“You have no opinion of your own?”

“Of course I do,” she said indignantly.

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Rhinoceros, “so you can evaluate official statements as to their facts?”

“No, but I do have the opinion that I like this job!” With that the monkey inhaled, and screamed in Rhinoceros’ face. She stepped down off the stump and re-entered the fenced area of Moralardo.

“What in the hell is going on?” asked a hartebeest walking up to Rhinoceros.

“You’ve got me.”

As they stood there they saw a Marked Monitor lizard slide out the entrance opening. It stopped in front of the rhinoceros. Its head snapped to one side. A long tongue slithered out from its mouth, licking a small beetle off the side of the stump. The lizard swallowed, then looked at the rhinoceros and the hartebeest and asked, “Is there a problem?”

“I’d say there is!” Rhinoceros answered. “What’s this nonsense about there being no disease and no dead animals?”

“The Great Baboon examined all the information at his disposal,” responded the monitor lizard, “and decided that this announcement was the proper course to take.”

“Who are you?” asked the hartebeest.

“I’m the Marked Monitor lizard, his Chief of Stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“Whatever stuff he tells me to be chief of,” answered the Marked Monitor lizard.

A Bateleur flew down from one of the trees and landed next to the other two animals. “How can the baboon make such an arbitrary decision,” asked the huge black bird.

The lizard shifted his gaze to the eagle, “That is your opinion.”

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” answered the bird.

“As is the Great Baboon,” said the Marked Monitor lizard. “And as leader of the two lands, his opinion carries more weight!” The lizard turned around and started walking back to the gateway. He made a sudden stop and his tongue again snaked out to snap up another beetle. Then he disappeared within Moralardo. 

“Doesn’t that just beat all?” asked the hartebeest.

“Maybe,” said the Rhinoceros, “maybe not.”

“What do you mean?” asked the Bateleur.

“Maybe nothing,” he answered. “I’ll see you two later, I’m going to go visit my cousin. I think it’s about time he got more involved.”

The next morning Mewanka was on her way out of Moralardo when she stopped dead in her tracks. She stood silently staring for several minutes and then she screamed, “Daddy!” 

The baboon ambled along the inner wall towards her, “What’s wrong?” he asked.

She pointed at the opening in the thorn fence and said, “Look!”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt arrived at her side and looked where she pointed. His mouth fell open. “What is this?” he said.

All across the gate, effectively blocking it off, were piled dead animals. The bodies lay in a rough stack four times the height of the baboon.

“Good morning,” said a voice.

Mewanka and her father looked up to see the Bateleur perched in a tree outside the fence.

“What’s the meaning of this?” demanded the baboon.

“Oh these?” the eagle said. “These are all animals that died from the disease yesterday. Most died alone. Some were old, some had other things wrong with them, but the Elder Meerkat says all of them would likely be alive today if not for the disease.” 

“How did they get here?” asked the baboon.

“A bunch of rhinoceroses brought them.”

“I see. Okay, you’ve made your point! Now tell those rhinoceroses to move these bodies away from the gate.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because they left.”

“What?” the baboon yelled.

“Yeah, right after they finished piling them here,” said the eagle. “But don’t worry,” he added, “the rhinoceros said that after your announcement yesterday, all you have to do is tell these animals to leave, because there is no disease, and no animals have died from it.” The Bateleur spread his wings and said, “Have a nice day!” and he flew off.

“Now what do we do?” asked Mewanka.

The baboon looked at the Marked Monitor lizard and said, “Go get the hyenas.”

All four hyenas arrived, looked at the pile of dead animals, and one of them said, “Oh boss, you shouldn’t have!”

“I didn’t!” answered the baboon. 

“Well then somebody else shouldn’t have!” said the hyena.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt, pointing at the piled bodies. “Get busy!”

The hyenas walked toward the pile. “This is going to take us the rest of our lives to clean up!” said one of them.

“Shut-up and let’s get started!”

XXIV

As the sun rose over the savanna of the two lands, the Land of the Antelope, and the Land of the Elephant, a brownish colored Bustard stalked out of Moralardo on her long spindly legs to stand before a flattish rock in front of the new gate on the south side of the fence. A large, heavy bird, she looked from left to right at the animals spread out before her and coughed.

“I wonder what recently developed revelation is about to released upon us now?” asked the Ostrich. 

The Giraffe shook his head and said, “Whatever it is, you can bet it won’t be good.”

The bustard gave a loud croak and began to speak, “I am Kalahari Macerating Bustard, the Great Baboon has appointed me as his new Push Secretary.”

“That’s a definite improvement,” said Leopard.

“Don’t be too sure,” said Rhinoceros, “she’s not done yet.”

“Where did the other Push Secretary go?” asked Bateleur eagle from the branch where she sat.

“Shhh,” said Leopard quickly, “we don’t care as long as she is gone.”

“Howler Monkey, who formerly held this position, was appointed to another post in the Great Baboon’s administration,” said the Kalahari Bustard.

“What position?” asked the eagle

“Will you stop asking that?” growled the Leopard.

The bustard said, “The Great Baboon will tell you himself.” 

As if on cue, the baboon emerged through the new gateway.

“He’s wearing that dandelion-colored thing on his head,” said Pea Hen giggling.

“On him, it’s a good look,” added Giraffe, which caused all of them to laugh. 

Hearing the laughter, the baboon looked sternly at the gathering. His narrowed eyes swept across the evenly scattered animals. He then composed himself, adopting a somewhat bland visage. “My subjects!” he announced, “I come before you with an important decree!”

“Uh-oh,” said Rhinoceros, “here comes more bad news.”

“Due to a recent rash of illegal and lawless acts, I have decided to establish a judiciary panel to—“ He paused as if unsure how to proceed. The Little Gray Weasel ran out from Moralardo and whispered something to him.

“—to adjudge, yes, that’s it, adjudge the correctness or—“

The weasel whispered again.

“—illicitness of an act or actions by one or more of my subjects.”

“Who’s in charge of this panel?” asked the Leopard.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stared at him, obviously annoyed. “The panel will be supervised by the Wild Boar.”

“Is he on the panel?” asked Giraffe.

Once again the baboon allowed his irritation to show. “If you will stop asking important questions I will explain it all to you.”

“Did you mean to say ‘impertinent’?” asked Ostrich.

The baboon looked at the weasel, who nodded. “Yes, stop asking impertinent questions so I can go on.”

“Go ahead then,” said the Leopard.

“Thank you,” said the baboon. Then he stopped, conferring a hard look on the Leopard. “I don’t need your permission!” he snapped.

“That’s okay,” said the Leopard. “I already gave it to you.” That led to more laughter among the other animals gathered around him. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt turned away from him and continued, “The judiciary panel will be comprised of three individuals. Here they are,” he stopped and glanced back at the gate. Out marched a dark gray Barrens Colobus monkey, a light gray colored Cape Vervet monkey, and a black Collared Mangabey monkey with white markings. Behind them followed the Wild Boar, the Howler monkey, two wart hogs, and four hyenas.

“These are the members of my judiciary panel,” said the baboon.

“The hyenas or the wart hogs?” asked Bateleur.

“Neither!” shouted the baboon. “The monkeys!”

“Great,” said Leopard as an aside to the others. “He’s trying to court the primate vote again.”

“In addition,” the baboon went on, “Howler monkey will act as the executive assistant to the panel by calling it to order and dismissing it when they have completed their ruling,” he said. 

“I knew we hadn’t seen the last of her,” said Leopard.

“Or heard it,” added Rhinoceros.

“I’m calling it,” the baboon announced in his loudest voice, “’The Two Screams Court!’”

“See,” said the Leopard to the Bateleur, “I told you not to ask.”

“My sincere apologies for not listening to you,” the eagle replied.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt said, “I cannot empha—empha—“ The weasel leaned in again. “—emphasize too much how important this is. We will have laws and order. My court will render decisions on the lawfulness of actions by my citizens.”

“Consequently then, they will allow those individuals to appear before them prior to their rendering a decision?” asked Ostrich.

“No,” said the baboon, “they won’t be seeing those who are indicted.”

“Well, certainly they will hear arguments from those who are accused as to their guilt or innocence?” asked the Ostrich.

“No, they won’t be listening to them, either.”

“Will they at least explain the ramifications of their pronouncements to these individuals?”

The baboon shook his head, “Not at all. They do not speak to the accused.”

“Let me get this straight,” asked the Rhinoceros, “these monkeys don’t hear, see, or speak to your subjects who are brought before this panel of yours?”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked at the Little Gray Weasel who was standing next to him. The weasel nodded. The baboon looked back at Rhinoceros and said, “Yes, that’s correct.”

“So how do they make a decision?” asked Giraffe.

“Easily,” answered the baboon. “They will consult with me and I will inform them what their decision should be.”

“You tell them?” asked Rhinoceros.

“Of course,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “How else can I make sure that the proper decision is provided? Why have a Judicial panel if I can’t control them?”

“Oh this is going to be just great!” said the Giraffe.

As they were talking another rhinoceros came walking around the thorn fence from the north. “Say,” he said, “did you all know that they changed the location of the entrance to this place?”

“Yes,” said White Rhinoceros, “that’s why we’re all gathered here.”

“Well, it would’ve been nice if someone had let me know!” said the other rhinoceros. “I’m new around here you know.”

“Who’s that?” the Pea Hen asked White Rhinoceros.

“My cousin, Black Rhinoceros,” he said.

“But you’re almost the same? How do we tell you apart?” Pea asked.

White Rhinoceros stuck out his lip, “My lip is squared off, as a rhinoceros’ lip should be, his is kind of pointed.”

“That’s it?” asked Pea Hen.

“Pretty much. He’s a shade darker gray but it’s hard to see unless we’re standing next to each other.”

Black Rhinoceros looked at the Baboon with the Orange Butt and asked, “So why did you change the entrance?” He looked askance at the White Rhinoceros and winked.

The baboon said, “The other one is block—it’s—it’s in—“

The weasel leaned over to whisper to him. 

“The other entrance is under renovation,” the baboon said.

“Sure it is,” said the Bateleur from her perch.

XXV

Honey Badger arrived at the prearranged spot where she was to meet Caracal. The long-legged cat was already there waiting.

“Did you find him?” asked the Night Caracal.

“Yes, thanks,” she answered. 

“That’s good,” said Caracal, “because I didn’t get more than quarter of the way around this place before I had to hurry back to meet you. This swamp is huge.”

“And getting bigger.”

“So what did the old Mud Turtle say?”

Honey Badger answered, “He suggested I go ask Putrid myself.”

“Hah!” the cat laughed, “that’s a good one!” She looked at the badger. “Wait a minute, you aren’t actually considering that, are you?”

“I am.”

“That’s crazy,” said Caracal. “If he doesn’t get you, one of his henchman will sneak up on you while you’re talking to him! The risk is too great!” 

“Maybe,” said Honey Badger, “but I’ve exhausted all the other options I’ve been presented.”

“Why not wait to see what Mad Owl or Newt and Lark come up with first?”

“A sound idea, and I’m confident in their skills, but I think I have to at least try this.”

“You’ll want me to come with you, won’t you?”

“Actually, no. I’m concerned that it he sees I’m not alone he’ll think I don’t trust him and then he won’t show.”

“But you don’t trust him!”

“No, I don’t. Not as far as I can throw him. But I have to make it look like I do.”

“Put me on record that I’m against this.” 

“Duly noted,” said Honey Badger.

The Caracal yawned, “What do you want me to do in the meantime?”

“I know I’ve kept you up from your usual patterns of life, but I think we should try and find out how it is that the swamp is growing. That means finding where the water is coming from. The river is at its lowest level I have ever seen. The water must be flowing in from somewhere else.” 

“And you want me to stay awake a little longer and try and locate the source of the water?”

“If you would, yes.”

“It’s okay, I’m almost used to being awake in the daytime by now.”

“Good. I think you should work your way up to the north side of the swamp and then around to the east. That seems to be where the high ground is. That would be the natural point that water would flow from.”

“I’ll do that, you be careful.”

“I will, I have to make a stop before I head for the lake. Give me a few days before you panic and send someone to look for me, alright?”

“I’m not promising anything.”

“Fair enough, see you.”

“I hope so,” said the caracal.

Honey Badger watched as the cat trotted off. Then she began pawing through the mud surrounding the swamp until she found what she was searching for. Collecting several squirming objects together she wrapped her finds in a large leaf.

Honey Badger starting walking back in the direction from which she had originally come.

This time Sengi, the elephant shrew, heard Honey Badger coming. She was at the edge of the opening to her burrow waiting. 

“Hello, Sengi,” said Honey Badger. “These are for you,” she said, unfolding the leaf and laying several long fat earthworms on the ground.

“Perfect,” said the shrew, “the babies can eat these without me having to pre-chew them. But don’t you want to know what I came up with before you pay me?”

“It’s not for what you discovered, or didn’t discover, it’s for the effort you made.”

“I’ll take them.”

Honey Badger looked at the shrew, “Did you come up with some information about those hairs?”

“I think so,” Sengi said. “It may not be good news.”

“Why?”

The elephant shrew glanced around as if afraid someone might be listening. “They were such an odd color, I decided to see if it was artificial.”

“And?”

“It was, I was able to bring back the original color of the hairs. Once I did that, their texture and color pretty much cinched an identification, at least for me. That was even though this is like no hair that I have ever used for my nests.”

“I appreciate the considerable trouble you went to. So what do you think they are?”

“Tell me something first.”

“If I can.”

“Can you tell me where you got these?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m surprised about what I think they are. And I’m surprised that you have them.”

“I’d rather not say right now, maybe later. I promise I’ll tell you how I came by them as soon as I think it is safe to do so.”

“That sounds ominous, I guess I can wait.”

“So what is it?”

The shrew motioned Honey Badger to come close. She whispered two words. The badger straightened back up quickly.

“And you’re sure?” asked the badger.

“Not certain, but with 75 to 80% confidence, about as sure as I can be. Remember, I’ve never actually handled these.”

“I didn’t expect that,” said Honey Badger. “Don’t tell anyone else, at least not for now, okay?”

“I won’t.”

XXVI

Two rhinoceros were standing outside the new entrance to Moralardo.

“So what kind of stuff were you telling that little bird?” asked Black Rhinoceros.

“Pea hen? I was explaining how to tell us apart,” answered White Rhinoceros.

“What did you say?”

“I mentioned that my lips are squared off and broad to allow me to pull up clumps of grass, while yours are more pointed, kind of like a beak, so you can snap off the grasses.”

Black Rhinoceros stared down his nose, his eyes crossed, trying to see his own lips. White Rhinoceros rumbled with a deep-set chuckle. 

“I don’t see what you’re talking about,” said Black Rhinoceros. Then he looked at White Rhinoceros, “What are you laughing at?”

“Nothing,” he answered. He changed the subject. “What I am doing is trying to figure out what else we should be doing here.”

“Here?” said Black Rhinoceros, “Nothing.”

“Nothing? You want to just stand around and do nothing?” asked White Rhinoceros angrily.

“That’s not what I said,” answered Black Rhinoceros. “I said we have nothing important to do here right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think we need to talk to some of the traditional power brokers in this land.”

The White Rhinoceros looked at his cousin, “You mean the elephants?”

“That’s exactly who I’m talking about.”

“Do you even know where the herd is right at present?”

“I know where they are,” said the Bateleur eagle from her perch in the acacia tree.

“You do?” asked Black Rhinoceros. “Where?”

“After the death of the ancient matron last year, two bulls took over and led the herd into the bush south of the barrens. They are awaiting the natural development of a new matron as leader.” the Bateleur said. “Until that happens, they are wandering somewhat aimlessly.”

“Hmm,” said Black Rhinoceros, “Then I vote we should head into the scrubland and see if we can locate the Bush Elephants herd.”

“Lead on Beaky!” said the White Rhinoceros.

“I’m going with you two,” said the Bateleur eagle looking at the White Rhinoceros, “Is that okay with you, Lippy?” 

Now it was the Black Rhinoceros’ turn to chuckle.

Having the keen eyes of the eagle with them proved to be critical for the rhinoceroses. “It’s hard to believe that I can’t find something as big as an elephant,” said White Rhinoceros a day later as they tromped through the bushland.

“Vision has never been your strong suit,” said his cousin.

“Oh, and yours is, oh, beaked one?”

“I didn’t say that,” answered the Black Rhinoceros defensively.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the White Rhinoceros. “Here comes the eagle.”

She landed on a stunted tree and said, “I found them. They are over to the right there, in that scrubland fringe.”

“Com’on let’s go, Beaky!” said the White Rhinoceros.

“Right behind you, Lippy!” Both rhinoceroses chuckled.

The Bateleur shook her head, “Rhinoceros humor—who knew?” she said to herself. Lifting off the branch she followed them.

Hub, the larger of two bull elephants, swung his trunk from side to side as he made his way through the vegetation, pushing branches out of the way while occasionally snapping some off. Eight elephants of various sizes and ages followed in his wake at a leisurely pace. Another bull brought up the rear, keeping watch.

The leading bull stopped when he saw the rhinoceroses approaching. He stood waiting as his followers scattered across the area looking for forage.

White Rhinoceros clomped up to within a body length of the leader, “Hello Hub Bull,” he said.

“Whitey,” the big animal replied watching as the Black rhinoceros came walking up. “I see your cousin is with you.”

The White rhinoceros leaned toward the bull and whispered, “Call him Beaky, he answers to that name now.”

Hub Bull glanced at the White Rhinoceros and with humor in his voice said, “Somehow I doubt that.”

“You doubt what?” asked Black Rhinoceros.

Hub ignored the question. “I’m not used to seeing you both at once. What brings you two way out here in the bush?” 

“Three,” said Bateleur from a Faidherbia tree. 

Hub looked at the eagle and added, “Three it is then. Even more curious.”

“We know your mind is occupied with caring for your herd,” said White Rhinoceros. “But we needed to talk with you.”

“Are you aware of what’s going on under the leadership of the Baboon with the Orange Butt?” asked  Black Rhinoceros.

“I haven’t followed it closely,” Hub answered, “but I am aware, yes.”

“He is acting as if he is the sole voice of the Land of Elephant,” said Black Rhinoceros.

“He is the leader of the two lands,” said Hub.

“He doesn’t act like a leader,” said White Rhinoceros, “he acts like a strutting dictator.”

“He is the duly elected leader of the two lands, the combined votes of all the animals certified that.”

“No, they didn’t,” said Black Rhinoceros.

The elephant turned on him and said, “What do you mean?”

“The proxies of each group of animals chose him,” said Black Rhinoceros. “Many of those proxies represent small populations of certain species, whereas others represent large herds, comprised of  many more individuals. In point of fact, he did not receive more individual votes than Highland Cheetah.”

“But the collected pebbles of the proxies showed he was the leader, even if he received fewer votes from the population of animals in the lands as a whole.”

“His popularity is limited,” said Black Rhinoceros. “He knows most animals don’t like him so he’s trying to buy their votes.”

“How does he do that?”

“He has brought in huge stocks of fodder from other regions and offered to feed all the herds.”

“Where does he get the additional food?”

Black Rhinoceros said, “He has outside help.”

The elephant said, “Outside help?”

“The crocodile from the lake has offered him the assistance of his animals to bring in the food,” said White Rhinoceros.

“How did he get mixed up with the crocodile?” asked Hub.

“We believe it is through Mud Turtle.”

“Muck? He’s working with the crocodile?”

The Black Rhinoceros said, “He’s involved, at least as an intermediary.”

“That turtle should know better,” said the elephant more to himself than others. “The baboon is listening to the wrong voices. He’s getting very bad counsel.”

“He openly consorts with the Lake crocodile,” said White rhinoceros. “Doesn’t it concern you that he has set himself up living on land that formerly belonged to that crocodile and no one knows how he acquired it.”

Hub sighed, “That would concern me, yes, but it is not my place—“

“This is the Land of the Elephant we’re talking about!” said Black Rhinoceros. “Your name is on it,  that gives you the right to weigh in, doesn’t it?”

Hub did not reply. 

“Where is your brother?” asked Bateleur.

The elephant looked back at the members of his herd. “Grand? He mostly keeps to himself these days,” he turned his great head around to regard the eagle, “as is befitting a retired leader.”

“As does the Barrens Zebra,” said the eagle. “He’s not worried?”

“Yes, he is. All of us are worried.”

“Then why not act?” she asked.

“What would you have me do?”

“I’m glad you asked that question,” said Black Rhinoceros. “We have some thoughts we’d like to share with you.”

XXVII

Caracal worked her way north, moving along the edge of the swamp. Reaching its northern limit, she turned east. She dropped down into a shallow trough and stopped.

Looking left, then right, she saw that it appeared to be an old stream-bed. Stretching up she saw it skirted the swamp heading towards the lake. In the other direction it trended uphill towards a distant escarpment. Behind that she saw the shadowy bluish outline of mountains. She decided to follow the  the dry water course in that direction. 

She climbed up onto the bank and began walking. Vegetation was sere and sparse. Along the way she kept a sharp eye out for potential dinner, the Night Caracal was hungry. She wondered what hunting and pursuit would be like in daylight, her preferred mode was for nocturnal stalks.

The stream bed wound around and dipped in places but was never very deep. “It can’t have held much water,” she speculated. She’d covered about two thirds of the distance to the escarpment when she scented something ahead of her. It came faint on the breeze. Water!

Animals used to droughts and infrequent rain can smell water from a considerable distance. It’s a necessary skill for survival. She sensed that the water was up toward the escarpment somewhere and she quickened her pace, for a moment. Then another scent came to her sensitive nostrils.

Wart hogs!

That stopped the Night Caracal. She considered the possibilities. It could just be that there was a family of wart hogs interested in the same thing she was, the water. Or it might be the baboon’s wart hogs sent to guard something important.

She couldn’t leave it to chance. Caracal struck off through the bushes to the right, attempting to be as quiet as she could. Gradually, she moved to the east, marking her progress by scanning the vegetation ahead of her, looking for some sign of the hogs.

She reached the base of the escarpment without detection, either hers or theirs. The water lay somewhere off to the left, close along the rise somewhere. She proceeded slowly, still working to stay quiet. Finding herself back at the edge of the shallow of the stream bed’s depression, she paused. 

Satisfied that she had not been discovered, she dropped down into the trough. Looking upstream she saw that the route there was filled in with a wall of dirt and rocks. 

The stream was dammed? Was that why it ran dry even though there was a source of water close by?

Coming up out of the bed she scanned in front of her again. Sniffing the air, she found that the water lay to her right now. Cautiously, she moved that way. 

The vegetation came to an end, an open space spread out between her and the base of the slope. To proceed she would have to expose herself. She didn’t hesitate, if they could see her, she would see them. In the meanwhile she had a task to complete: find the source of the water.

She moved forward on the balls of her feet, prepared to break and run at the first sign of discovery by wart hogs. The smell of water grew stronger, it drew her forward. Then she saw it.

Little more that a damp spot, a narrow trickle of water emerged from the wall of the escarpment, a few feet above the surface she was standing on. 

A spring. The source was a spring, apparently drawn from the distant mountains. Approaching to with in a few steps, she saw that the spring’s water dribbled down into a shallow pool surrounded by ferns and grasses. She inhaled the sweet scent. 

Looking closer she saw a furrow dug out at the low edge of the pool. Moisture, a dark patch of wet soil, covered the base of that rut. It trended off toward the swamp. “That’s it?” she said aloud. “That little puddle?” 

A crashing noise in the bushes across from her brought her head up sharply. Two wart hogs stood looking at her, obviously surprised to find her there. One snorted loudly even as she broke away, running back along the edge of the dry stream bed, heedless of any noise she made. She heard the clatter of their hooves behind her as they came in pursuit.

She had only run a short distance when two more wart hogs emerged from the brush ahead of her. That brought her up short. She hesitated for an instant and then saw her only choice now was to cross the dry stream bed. She took two steps away from the edge of the trench even as the two pairs closed in from either side. Then she reversed and ran full bore toward the ditch and jumped.

Landing on the other edge, she had given herself a head start on her pursuers. The wart hogs couldn’t jump the span, they would have to scramble down and back up again.

Resuming her race she scanned to the left to see if she could find a route up the slope of the escarpment. She saw a rocky draw, a scar leading up to the plateau. She took it. 

Scrambling up the loose dirt and gravel was slow going, but it wouldn’t be any faster for the warthogs. She had gone about a third of the way up when she heard the clatter of the wart hogs entering the cut below her. Her claws could gain no purchase in the sand, she relied upon brute strength to draw herself up. 

About halfway up she was reaching over a large rock when it shifted and she nearly fell backwards. She had to stick both her back legs straight out to the side to catch herself. The time it took to get stable gave the wart hogs a chance to close in, she could hear their heavy breathing. 

She reached up to the rock with one leg and pulled with all her might. With a noisy rumble it dislodged and rolled downward toward her. Shifting to the left gave her barely enough room to allow it to pass. The little boulder rumbled past, clunking down the trench and smashing into the lead warthog. It tumbled him backward into the one behind him. They barely escaped being crushed by the rock as it thundered by them. 

Then it came to her, there were only two wart hogs beneath her. Where were the other two? 

She didn’t have time to worry over it. It was obvious the others were climbing by another route to try and get above her. Frantically, she struggled up the slough. No square head armed with ripping tusks had appeared over the edge looking down on her. They weren’t there yet!

Pulling herself up onto level ground, her chest heaving, she looked to her left. There they came, running straight towards her. She had no time to catch her breath.

She burst to the right, sprinting with all she could muster. Ahead lay a line of deep brush and trees, safety! For a moment she thought she caught something paralleling her in the high grass to her right. She dismissed that thought as impossible, no wart hog, or hyena, could match her current speed. It was a trick of lights and shadows. 

She reached the fringe of the woodlands, and spun around to see where her pursuers were. Panting heavily, Caracal was surprised to see that they stood at the edge of the escarpment where she had emerged from the cut. They hadn’t made a move to follow her. 

Then she heard a voice from behind her that made her blood run cold.

“You should know better than to enter the hunting grounds of another predator without permission.”

XXVIII

Leopard lay on the ground outside the south entry to Moralardo. Two hyenas stood watch on either side of the entrance. The hyena on the right kept his eyes set forward, only occasionally scanning the plain before him. But the left one kept glancing over at Leopard as if nervous about his presence there. 

“I guess now is as good a time as any,” said Leopard quietly to himself. Rising up off the ground he stretched languorously, exposing his claws, then he yawned showing his teeth. After that display he sidled slowly over closer to the hyena on the left, within leaping range. 

The hyena now watched him constantly out of the corner of his eyes.  

Leopard crouched, his weight on his back hips, as if about to pounce. He saw the hyena’s eyes widen. Leopard then relaxed, and laid back down in the new spot. The hyena exhaled a loud sigh.

“So what’s the deal with the rats?” asked Leopard.

“Wh—what?” stammered the hyena.

“The rats, you know, the rats that work inside Moralardo.”

“What rats?”

“Like those two that retrieved what the baboon lost the other day,” Leopard said. He saw a brief smile pass across the hyena’s lips. 

“Oh, those rats.”

“Yeah. They spoke a foreign language. Where did they come from?”

“Across the river somewhere far to the south.”

“Why are they here?”

The hyena looked at his partner who was evidently out of earshot and not paying attention. “The baboon let them come. He said they could work for him.”

“Why foreign rats?” asked Leopard.

“I don’t know why he wants foreign ones. But rats are hard workers,” said the hyena. “They will do jobs other animals won’t. They’re easy to get along with, and generally mind their own business. They just want a chance to come here, I guess.”

“Why?”

The hyena looked at him, “They want to work, to live here, and the baboon needs helpers, workers. You scratch my back and I—“ the hyena stopped and stared at the Leopard. “Forget I said that last part.”

Leopard chuckled and sat up on his haunches. “Fine. How many rats are we talking about?”

“How many?”

“Yeah.”

The hyena looked around again, “I don’t know, a few.”

“How many is ‘a few’?” asked Leopard. 

“A couple thousand,” said the hyena.

“That’s a few?” asked the Leopard, his voice rising.

“It’s okay,” the hyena added quickly, “a lot of them don’t stay.”

“Why not?”

“They leave. Things happen, you know, life.”

“Like what things?”

The hyena looked down, he shuffled his paws in the dust, “Sometimes they lose their families.”

“They lose their families?” asked the Leopard, incredulous. “How does that happen?”

“When they’re working,” the hyena continued looking down, “from what I hear, the mamba sometimes goes down into their burrows. If he finds young ones he takes them.”

“He takes them?” the Leopard raised his voice again. “Why does he do that?”

“He’s a snake, they’re rodents, get it? He’s leucistic did you know that?”

“What’s leucistic?”

“From what they tell me, it means white but not albino.”

“Oh, I see. So this white snake is eating the young of these rats?”

“Not all of them,” says the hyena defensively. “Some he just takes and others—others get away.”

“How do they get away?”

The hyena leaned a little towards the Leopard, “They’re smart, the rats, they build back entrances to their burrows so some of the young rats escape by going out that way.”

“Doesn’t the baboon, or his helpers see that they get back with their parents if they escape?”

“I don’t think so. There isn’t anything set up to do that.”

“Why would the parents leave?”

“Some are upset that their family is gone, but mostly they have to.”

“They have to? Why do they have to leave?”

“It’s part of the deal.”

“What deal?” asked the Leopard.

“The deal they made with the baboon when they came here. They’re supposed to put down roots, raise a family that speaks our language, has our values, you know, become productive members of society.”

“But they are trying, it’s not their fault that their children are being taken by this White Mamba.” Leopard said. “How does the baboon find out that their family is gone?”

“The weasel checks up on them.”

“The Little Gray Weasel?”

“Yeah him. He goes down into their burrows and if they’ve been here a while but he doesn’t find a family there, he reports them to the Wild Boar, and he orders them to leave, or be sent away.”

“Does the Baboon with the Orange Butt know about what the White Mamba is doing?”

“Sure,” answered the hyena, “that’s part of his deal.”

“His deal?” asked the Leopard. “What do you mean?”

“That’s why the White Mamba sticks around and advises the baboon. Because he gets all the rodents he wants and doesn’t have to work hard to catch them” The hyena whispered, “It’s a real good deal.”

“Sounds like the baboon’s deals are more just ways for him to get something from others. He doesn’t seem to be holding up his end of the bargain with the rats, in fact, he’s knowingly destroying it.”

“Maybe that’s why he’s such a good dealer.”

“That’s not what I would call him,” said the Leopard. “What happens to the young rats that escape but their parents are gone?”

“Not much really,” said the hyena. “They hang around until they grow up and then go to work for the baboon. They have the same deal.”

“How many orphaned rats are we talking about?”

“A few.”

“A few again, huh? How many is a few this time.”

The hyena shook his head, “I don’t know.”

“Give me a rough estimate.”

“Oh, roughly, I’d say five hundred and forty five.”

“Five hundred and forty five! That’s your rough estimate?” asked the Leopard. The hyena nodded. 

“Why don’t they try to rejoin their parents?”

“I think they’re told by someone that their parents left them.”

“Great!” boomed Leopard, causing the hyena to jump. “They’re given no reason to leave because they think their parents don’t want them, but if they hang around, and start having their own young ones, and then the mamba gets their family, they’re sent away too?”

“Yeah, that’s the deal,” said the hyena.

“Some great deal—“ The leopard saw the Wild Boar emerge from Moralardo. He spoke with the hyena on the right for a bit, then he looked over at the hyena Leopard was talking with and said, “You! Come here!” 

The hyena looked over at the Wild Boar. He said, “Excuse me,” to Leopard and went over to the boar.

The Wild Boar started talking to him and, while Leopard couldn’t hear the exact words, he heard the berating tone in his voice. After a few moments the hyena lowered his head and his shoulders drooped. He listened for a bit longer and then walked back to his position left of the opening.   

“Who came up with this great deal for the rodents?” Leopard asked. 

The hyena didn’t respond. He kept his eyes forward, not looking at Leopard.

“Was it the White Mamba, the Baboon, who?” Leopard asked.

Speaking out of the corner of his mouth, the hyena said, “I’m not allowed to speak with you.”

“You’re not allowed?” 

Wild Boar walked over and asked, “Is there something I can help you with?”

“You?” said Leopard. “No, I don’t want anything from you.”  

The Wild Boar nodded.

“But if I do,” Leopard added, “you’ll know right away.”

“That sounds like a threat,” said Wild Boar.

Leopard turned to leave, saying, back over his shoulder, “I don’t threaten.”

XXIX

She chose to approach the lake from cover, moving through massed grasses to within a short distance of the shoreline. Pushing through the yellowed blades Honey Badger surveyed the rippling brownish water. She saw the humps of wallowing hippos with nearby spindly-legged water birds stalking through the shallows. She didn’t see Ruddy Gull, not that it mattered.

There was also no sign of Putrid, which wasn’t necessarily surprising. He was known for staying hidden until ready to make an alarming appearance.

“There is a considerable dearth of apiary products regionally available in this fragment of the province as a whole,” said a soft, susurrating voice, to the right and behind her.

She spun around to see a gigantic snake not two body lengths away. Honey Badger took a tentative step back, away from the massive reptile.

“Kindly excuse my lack of proper manners prior to commencement of social intercourse,” said the snake. “I am Seba, a python. I assure you, however, to be unperturbed by my sudden, and apparently alarming, appearance. Had I intended to fall upon you with the intent of eventual ingestion, you would be even now be within the coils of my firm embrace exhaling your last breath.”

“Thanks, I guess,” she said. “Do you always talk so much?”

“I fear that my particular species, a Variegated Rock python, is universally agreed upon as possessing that ubiquitous, and undoubtedly well-earned, reputation. Personally, since I have been witness to over twenty-five passages of the equinoxes, I possess much with which to confer about with those infrequent guests who remain in my presence long enough to allow for confabulation. You may never again meet a Variegated Rock Python as knowledgeable as myself, nor one as old or as large as I am.” 

Honey Badger continued to inch backward. “If it is all the same to you,” the badger said, “I would prefer never to meet another Variegated Rock Python, at all.”  

“I take no offense. I see you continue to harbor trepidation, and a rising uncertainty as to my ultimate objective in my initiating our current colloquy. I assure you that, unlike some localized residents,” the snake glanced toward the lake, “I do not maintain a larder of somewhat aging, née decomposing nourishment in reserve. Since I have only just recently begun digestion of my last personally caused fatality, your continued sentience is perfectly secure in my presence.”

“I’ll be the judge of that, thank you.”

“That preference is certainly your option.” The python settled back upon her folds. “What errand has brought you to this promiscuous district, our lakeside slough?”

“Do you know Mud Turtle?”

“I have a modicum of familiarity with that aged creature although we have never held a dialogue.”

“He suggested I should put some questions I have directly to the crocodile.”

“And you concurred with him that this course of action was both wise and nominally warranted?”

“No, but I’m feeling at a loss as to where else to go. My investigation is at a standstill.”

“Ah, an analytic inquest! How endearing. Perhaps you would be willing to share with me the facets of your inquiry that you have thus far uncovered?”

“I suppose it can’t hurt.” Honey Badger told the Rock python everything that had happened since the Baboon with the Orange Butt assumed leadership of the two lands.

The Variegated Rock python listened. When Honey Badger was done the snake said, “Realizing that I have no vested interest in this situation, it is my considered opinion that you are pursuing a useless endeavor in trying to elicit information from Lake Crocodile. I am also of the opinion that should you closely review, systematically, the facts you up to now have already gathered, you will see that you possess all you need to construct your so devoutly desired-for query. Simultaneously, I hold that you are ignoring an obvious source of possibly relevant information.”

“Why do you think I shouldn’t try to talk to the crocodile?”

“It serves no purpose. He will dissemble and seek to mislead, seemingly offering support, while throughout the duration of your discussion attempting to draw you closer to within reach of his massive jaws. He and I have faced each other numerous occasions over the years. I have never found any reason to grant him credence or my trust for even a single moment.”

Honey Badger nodded. “And the source you imply that I have ignored?”

“In your relating of your investigations thus far, you made it quite apparent that you have sought out feedback from numerous leaders and citizens of your land, that of the antelope, as well as representatives of land of the elephant. However, you make little mention of approaching the largest category of denizens of our planet. In truth, you have not interviewed the very creatures who could possibly aid you the most.”

“Who would that be?”

“One of their great leaders is passing your person at this very moment.”

Honey Badger looked all around her but all she saw was a very large beetle with a reddish brown back. “I don’t see who you’re referring to.”

“As has been readily apparent to me, and as it is equally so for the leader I have referenced, we often do not make the connection with the available resources surrounding us. Don’t you agree, Dos?”

“Dos? Who is Dos?”

A buzzing voice said, “I am Dos, the Goliath beetle, and I agree, indeed, Seba, you are correct as usual.”

Honey Badger glanced down at the beetle, “Was that you talking?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?” asked the beetle in reply.

“I’ve never thought to speak with an insect,” said Honey Badger.

“We are aware of that,” replied the beetle, “And in turn, I shouldn’t be speaking to you.”

“Why not?”

“Your species is accorded a very poor reputation among my people. You randomly assault insects and feed upon the products of our labors with no more thought than a criminal would have.”

Honey Badger looked at the Rock python, “Seba?” she said. The python did not reply. She appeared to have gone to sleep. She looked down at the beetle and said, “I suppose it’s too late to apologize.” 

“That would be a start. If you approach the hives of bees and request a portion of their stock rather than simply taking what you want, I believe there would be a solution acceptable to all.”

“I never considered that,” said Honey Badger.

“We know,” said the beetle.

“I knew bees could speak, but I never thought to ask?”

“Bees speak all the time and they are quite reasonable. If you make an appropriate request they will understand and react accordingly. They are always open to a well-delivered appeal for assistance.”

“I’ll try that next time, I promise.”

“Now, attend to me, as I will endeavor to advise you further,” said the snake, once more awake. “An appropriate petition to Dos, with a concomitant guarantee of personal safety and a promise to heed offered counsel, followed by a subsequent assurance that her return trip is proffered, will, in all likelihood, result in his willingness to accompany you as you retrace your steps to the scene of the greatest activity causing your disquietude. Do you acquiesce, Dos?”

“I do,” the beetle said.

Honey Badger looked down at the huge beetle and said, “I agree to those terms.”

“Let us go then,” the beetle replied. “There is nothing remaining for you here.”

“Did you want me to carry you?” asked the badger.

“Certainly not!” said the Goliath beetle. “I can fly as long as you do not go too fast.”

“Travel in safety,” said the rock python, yawning. “You leave possessed of my eternal gratitude for a bit of sensible discourse to enliven an otherwise unrelieved and monotonous morning.”

“Goodbye,” said Honey Badger to the snake. “I doubt that I will see you again.”

“One never knows,” said the python.

XXX

Ostrich walked up to Mewanka who had just emerged from Moralardo. “May I have a brief word with you?” she asked. 

Mewanka spun quickly toward her as if surprised that anyone else was out there. “Oh, yes, certainly.”

“Can you inform me as to the status of education within Moralardo as it relates to the youthful rodents who have been orphaned?”

“Education?” the startled baboon asked.

“Yes, I was given to understand from discussions with Leopard that the orphans number in excess of five hundred individuals and that your father’s administration is responsible for their growth and enculturation, allowing them full admission into our community.”

“Oh, absolutely! He takes that very seriously.”

“So how is it accomplished?”

“How is what accomplished?” asked Mewanka.

“The instruction and tutelage of these adolescents in order to make them fully functioning members of our society.”

“Oh, that. Um, I think he has someone who is doing it.”

“I see,” said Ostrich. “You mean to say that there is an education professional who has been assigned to the task?” 

“A professional, uh, yes, I think there is one of those,” answered Mewanka beginning to walk away. “And now if you will—“

“Who is it?”

Mewanka stopped, “Who? You want to know who?”

“Yes,” said Ostrich. “Who is the competent, certified academic who has been designated to accomplish this vitally important task?”

Mewanka stood staring at Ostrich for a long pause. At length she said, “It’s Brassy Tree Hawk.” 

“Brassy Tree Hawk? I am unfamiliar with her professional reputation. I thought I had knowledge of everyone within my métier. From whence does she hail?”

“Hail?”

“Where is she from?”

“Oh, yes, of course. Um, she’s from somewhere else.” Mewanka looked back towards the entry to Moralardo. “Maybe you should talk to her.”

“That would be acceptable, if you can direct me where to go in Moralardo in order to locate her—” the ostrich started walking towards the entry.

“Uh, no, you can’t go in.”

“I can’t go inside Moralardo?”

“Yes, I mean no, I mean, they are doing remodeling. It isn’t safe.”

“I am certain I can avoid those areas currently under renovation. If you will simply indicate the location of her work station I guarantee that I will proceed cautiously.”

“No, because—um, she can’t be disturbed,” said Mewanka. “She’s b-busy, uh, working.” 

“I am fully cognizant of appropriate measures to be pursued. Thus I can stand off on the verge and effectively observe, and remain unobtrusive,” said Ostrich.

Mewanka looked back at the gate and then said, “No, I think that won’t work.” She sighed, “Wait here, I’ll get her for you.”

“It is not my intent to interrupt her work.”

Mewanka took off toward the entry, “It’s okay, I’m sure she won’t mind,” she said back at Ostrich. “Wait here! I’ll get her.” She disappeared within. 

Ostrich stood there. Pea Hen and Giraffe walked up near to her, maintaining, as usual, a short distance in consideration of the continued possibility of spreading the disease. “What’s going on?” asked Pea Hen.

“She’s gone to fetch the baboon’s educational expert.

“The Baboon with the Orange Butt has an educational specialist?” asked Giraffe. “Who woulda thunk it?”

The two birds chuckled. 

“Here comes someone,” said Pea.  

As they watched, a medium sized hawk with drab yellowish brown feathering emerged from within Moralardo. She blinked several times and yawned. 

“She looks like she just woke up,” said Pea Hen.

“Educators often work long hours,” said Ostrich. “Maybe that’s what the Brassy Tree hawk does.”

“Doesn’t look very ‘brassy’ to me,” said Giraffe.

“Males have the bright colors in the bird world, Giraffe,” said Pea Hen. “They’re the attractive ones.”

“If you will excuse me,” said Ostrich, “I’m going to go speak with her.”

The other two left as Ostrich stepped toward the hawk.

Staring at the tall bird as she approached, the hawk said, “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Yes, thank you for granting me a few moments.” Ostrich stopped and said, “I am interested in hearing what educational standards you are following in your inculcation of the rodentia orphans.”

“Huh?”

“What model are you employing in your instruction?”

“Instruction?”

“Yes, Mewanka said you are the educational professional charged with the enculturation of the orphaned rodents.”

“Oh, that.”

“So can you share it with me?”

“Uh, no.”

“Why not?” asked Ostrich.

“Uh, well, because—the baboon wants to keep it a secret for now.”

“A secret? That is most unusual for an educational model. As far as the young rodents are concerned, are you thoroughly conversant in their idiom?”

The hawk drew back, “What did you call me?”

‘“Are you able to speak to them in their language?”

“Oh,” said the Brassy Tree hawk, “uh, no.”

“So you are using an immersion model of language instruction?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Do you employ mostly small group instruction? Or are you able to do more intensive one-to-one tutoring?”

“I work mostly one on one, yeah.”

“And where did you receive your training in pedagogy?”

“My what?” asked the hawk.

The Ostrich frowned, “How did you acquire your training and guidance as an educator?”

“Oh, that, well, mostly on-the-job, you know.”

“You are not a trained, certified educational professional?”

“Um, no. But I’ve been learning from others.”

“What ‘others’?”

Brassy Tree hawk looked worried, “I have to go now,” she said.

“Oh, I fully understand. You need to return to your youthful charges?”

“Yeah, that, them, uh-huh.” The hawk hurried back inside Moralardo.

Giraffe and Pea Hen returned to their previous positions near Ostrich. “Did you get your answers?” asked Pea Hen.

“From her?” said Ostrich. “No, not at all. She doesn’t even understand the questions.” She shook her head. “I fear for what is happening to those young rodents. It’s sad. They have already suffered so much and now—“

“What can we do?” asked Giraffe.

“I don’t know,” said Ostrich. “But I’m not done here as of this moment.” Then she added, “Especially as of now.”

XXXI

“Hey, here comes Honey Badger,” said Giraffe.

“It’s about time,” said Leopard. 

“Sometimes, I wish I was tall,” sighed Pea Hen. “There are so many advantages.”

Giraffe looked down at her, “There are disadvantages, too. You can’t hide effectively when you are taller than most trees.”

“I’d like to experience that for myself,” said the little hen.

Leopard said, “Not going to happen, Pea.”

She sighed again, “I know.”

Honey Badger walked up to the animals. “Hey all, how nice to see you. Has it been busy around here while I was gone?” she asked.

“We’re up to our butts, in baboons, wart hogs, and hyenas,” said Leopard.

The badger looked at the two hyenas flanking the entry. “I see there are guards, now.”

“Entry by permission, only,” said Ostrich joining them.

“Well, la-di-dah!” said Honey Badger.

“Did you solve your problems?” asked Giraffe.

“Yes, no, and maybe,” said Honey Badger. “I had some interesting interviews, and I did get some pertinent information. I’m still digesting it.”

“Sounds productive,” said Ostrich. “Perhaps you would be willing to share?”

“I’m going to wait until I’m more sure of the facts behind what I heard. I don’t want to put my bees before my hive.”

“Speaking of bees,” said Pea Hen seeing a large erratically flitting insect flying close to her, “that’s a delicious looking beetle.”

“Don’t eat him!” said Honey Badger. “He’s with me.”

“The beetle is with you?” asked Leopard.

“Yes, that’s Dos, a Goliath beetle. He’s an insect leader.” 

The beetle landed clumsily on the ground next to the badger. “Whew!” he said in his buzzing voice. “That last stretch was pretty far.”

“Sorry,” said Honey Badger. “I wanted to get back before it got too late.”

“It’s alright, I just need to catch my breath. Why is that Pea Hen staring at me?”

“Was I staring?” asked Pea, “I’m sorry. I’m a little hungry.” She sighed, “Is there a mupafu tree nearby?” she asked. 

A harsh croaking laugh came from the acacia tree, “Over there,” motioned, a large black bird with a heavy bill, “in that little clump of trees.”

“Thick-billed Raven,” said Pea Hen, “what brings you here?” 

“Cape Griffin told me there was quite a feast laying around at the old entry of Moralardo,” he said chuckling again, “I came for the food and stayed for the entertainment.”

“Entertainment?” asked Ostrich. 

“Oh, yeah,” said the raven, “this place is wild!”

“What happened to the other gate?” asked Honey Badger.

“Baboon attempted to announce that the disease was over and done with. In response the rhinos presented an object lesson to the baboon,” said Ostrich, “they left visible and olfactory proof that the disease was still quite viable, and deadly.”

“They piled dead animals in front of the gate,” said Pea Hen.

“That’s what I mean by entertainment,” said the raven with another deep throaty chuckle. “Who thinks to do stuff like that?”

“It sounds disgusting!” said Honey Badger.

“And effective! How’s the feast?” asked Leopard, looking at the raven. 

“There was a group of hyenas there for a while,” said the raven, “but they’ve disappeared. Vultures, crows, and ravens are the only ones still around. We have it pretty much to ourselves.”

“I wonder what happened to the hyenas?” asked Honey Badger.

“Certainly a reasonable conjecture, given the circumstances,” said Ostrich.

“I have to ask,” said Giraffe, “did you find out what the correct question was? The one you want to put to the baboon?”

“Not yet, but Sheba the python suggested I had all the information—“

“Sheba? You talked to the Rock python and lived to tell about it?” asked Giraffe. 

“Yes, or rather she talked and I listened. Fortunately, she had just fed before I ran into her.”

“That was lucky,” said Pea Hen. “Did you see Ruddy Gull?”

“Ruddy Gull?” asked Dos the beetle. “Why would you want talk to that crazy old bird?”

“You know him?” asked Honey Badger.

“Everyone who lives near the lake knows Ruddy,” he answered. 

“Do you also know what he is looking for in the mud? He is bringing something from there to the baboon.”

“Yes, I do. He collects snails and leeches.”

“Snails and leeches? And you;’re sure he’s not eating them?” asked Honey Badger.

“No, I’ve never seen him eat them.”

“Why would the baboon want snails and leeches?” asked Leopard.

“That I don’t know,” answered Dos. 

“Uh oh,” said Honey Badger, “what’s this now?”

The Kalahari Macerating Bustard strode out in front of the gate in long steps. She croaked loudly.

“Oh yeah,” said Leopard, “that’s right, you were gone when they made this change. That’s the new Push Secretary.”

“The Howler is gone?” asked Honey Badger, unable to conceal her excitement.

“Um, no,” said Giraffe. “But she’s not appearing as much in her new job.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask. What is her new job?”

“She’s the announcing secretary for the baboon’s Two Screams court.”

“The Baboon with the Orange Butt has a court?”

Kalahari Macerating Bustard gave them a stern look, then she coughed again. “The Great Baboon has decided to provide a wonderful opportunity for you all!” the bustard said. “It will be delivered by his devoted mate, Maliciosa.”

“Who?” asked Pea Hen.

“My guess is that information is about to be revealed to us,” said Ostrich.

XXXII

“That’s her?” asked Pea Hen as an unfamiliar baboon emerged from Moralardo. She was accompanied by two young rats, one of whom carried a bouquet of sprigs of blooming pink wild roses.

From her perch in the acacia Marsh Harrier answered, “Yep. That’s Maliciosa, the Baboon with the Orange Butt’s current mate.”

“This will be good, I can feel it already!” the Thick-billed raven chuckled.

“Has she been here at Moralardo this whole time?” asked Pea.

“No one really knows,” the harrier added. “I’ve flown over the place many times and this is the first time I’ve seen her in person.”

“What’s with the flowers?” asked Leopard. 

“An excellent inquiry that as yet remains unanswered,” replied Ostrich.

Maliciosa cleared her throat and said, “Great Baboon see his people are sad. He ask me to help. I say I am ready to make them happy. I am comink to you now to give to you great gift! You will appreciate, yes!” 

As she was speaking, without looking, she reached down. The rat with the bouquet placed a sprig in her hand. Maliciosa brought it up and began idly picking petals off the rose blossoms and dropping them. They floated down to fall gently upon on the ground. The other rat gathered them up as they landed. She put them into a neat pile. 

“It is important you listen careful to what I say because this will change your sad life,” Maliciosa continued. 

“Life changing, huh? Hmm,” said Giraffe, “why am I skeptical?”

She stared at Giraffe. “You will not be speakink until I am finishink, then you can ask question,” said Maliciosa as she plucked the last the petal off a rose and then dropped the sprig. Even as she reached for another one, the rat who had collected the petals gathered up the discarded branch and added it to the pile.

“Now if you are ready, I will tell you my secret to make happy,” said Maliciosa, tearing pink petals off the new flower. “Great Baboon and I think you will thank us greatly.”

“I wish she would get on with it,” whispered Marsh Hawk to the raven. “Some of us have important things to do.”

“Like what?” asked Thick-billed raven. 

Marsh hawk stared at the young rats next to Maliciosa and whispered, “You know, like lunch.”

The raven croaked his chuckling laugh.

“Now I tell,” said Maliciosa, “is important so be listenink carefully.” She scanned the animals gathered before her. “Ready? Here it is,” She took a deep breath, “’Have most!’” she said.

Several animals looked at each other and shrugged.

“What?” asked Pea Hen.

“What?” said Maliciosa raising her voice, “You not listenink? You ask me ‘what’? Is not ‘what’, is ‘most’!”

“No, I heard you,” said Pea. “I don’t understand.”

Maliciosa threw her denuded sprig on the ground and reached for another. “You speak same language I speak, no?”

“Yes,” said Pea. “Pretty much I guess.”

“Is not guess, is truth.” Maliciosa leaned down towards Pea Hen, “You know ‘have’?”

“The verb ‘to have’? Yes, I understand that.” 

“You know ‘most’? asked Maliciosa.

“Um, yes, most is more than some,” said Pea.

“Is not ‘some’!” the baboon said angrily. “Is not ‘more’! Is ‘most’!” She broke the sprig in her hands in half and threw it at Pea, who ducked. The rat ran to retrieve the broken pieces. “You listen now! I say again! Have most!”

“I believe what Pea Hen is attempting to explain to you is that it is not the words that have confused her but the concept,” said Ostrich. 

“Is not concept,” answered Maliciosa. “Is ‘most’! That is real. You cannot hold concept, you cannot see concept. You can see and hold most!” She stomped her foot, narrowly missing the rat with the bouquet, “Have most!”

“I’d give it up, Ostrich. You’re not getting a different answer,” said Leopard.

Maliciosa looked at Leopard and said, “Is no other answer, is only ‘Have most!’” She stared at them all, narrowing her eyes. “I make important decision, I give even more, so all understand.” She took a deep breath and smiled thinly. “I will tell you next important thing, you will listen, yes?”

“I’m listening,” said Pea Hen.

“Is good. Okay, here is next thing, you must care.”

“Care about what?” asked Pea Hen. 

“Care about most!” Maliciosa shouted. “What am I tellink you this whole time?” She threw another branch she was holding at Pea even before she finished plucking the flowers. She reached for the next one, it was the last. 

“Are those two young rodents assisting you members of the orphaned group?” asked Ostrich. 

“What is rodent?” asked Maliciosa.

“The rats,” said Giraffe. 

“What rats?” 

“The rats to either side of you,” said Ostrich.

“I see no rats,” said Maliciosa. 

“You would have to look down,” said Giraffe.

“Is no ‘down’!” said Maliciosa, “Is only most! Have most!”

“Told you,” said Leopard.

“See? I knew this would be good!” said Thick-billed Raven from his perch in the acacia.

“I don’t know about good,” said Harrier, “but it is just this side of crazy!”

“So if I care,” asked Pea Hen, “then I will have most like you?”

“No, no, no!” answered Maliciosa. “You not have my most, you have your most. My most is not your most! You still do not listen!”

“My most is different from your most?” asked Pea.

Maliciosa rolled her beady little eyes, “How we both have same most? That is stupid! It cannot be most if we share it. Think!” She angrily stripped petals off the last pink rose and discarded the branch. “Is done! I give you so much and you do not appreciate! Great Baboon is right! You are hopeless!”

She turned and stalked off a few steps. The rat collecting the petals and sprigs gathered them up into her paws and joined the other rat in following her. 

Maliciosa stopped. The rats had to jump back to keep from running into her. She turned back to the animals and said, “I give you best thing, ‘Have most’! I tell you to care if you have most. You do not listen. Now I don’t really care, do you?”

She spun on her heels and disappeared into Moralardo. The rats picked up all the petals and branches and ran after her.

“What was that all about?” asked Leopard. 

“Who cares?” answered Pea Hen.

XXXIII

Deep in her burrow, Honey Badger slept late, exhausted from all her travels. Leaving Dos Goliath beetle to discuss various issues with Blue Wildebeest, she made her way back to Moralardo alone. 

Arriving in late morning, she wasn’t surprised to see many animals gathered singly or in pairs out before the south entry. Walking up to Ostrich and Giraffe she asked, “Has anyone seen Night Caracal?”

“Wasn’t she with you?” asked Giraffe. 

“Yes, she was. But we split up and she didn’t show up at the meeting place we had agreed upon. I couldn’t wait so I came back here, figuring she’d return eventually.”

“Don’t worry about her,” said Leopard, joining the group. “She’s tough. She’ll show up.”

“I’m afraid she might’ve become sick, “ said Honey Badger. “I saw lots of animals suffering from the disease in my travels and there seem to be more dying than before.”

“An increase in infections is definitely apparent to anyone paying the slightest attention,” said Ostrich.

“Anyone except those who work for the baboon,” said Leopard nodding toward the entrance to Moralardo, “like this one for example.”

They saw the Kalahari Macerating Bustard stride out of the entry on her long spindly legs. Stopping at the stump, she emitted a loud croak. “The White-headed Prancer monkey will speak to you all now on an important matter of vital interest to everyone.”

Out of the entrance came two hyenas followed by White-headed Prancer monkey. Walking with a side-to-side, rolling gait he went up to the stump and jumped up onto it. “Our Great Baboon has charged me with the leadership of the Committee to Defeat the Disease, the CDD. It is my pleasure to announce we are introducing a new medical expert added to the staff of the committee.”

“This must mean that you have come to your collective senses and are recalling the Elder Meerkat to Moralardo, to lead the campaign,” said Ostrich. 

“What? Oh no!” said the White-headed Prancer monkey quickly. “He will remain at his colony performing his services there. Our new expert is Somali Dappled Ass. Dappled Ass has devoted his life to studying the breathing habits of numerous animals and he is accredited by the Heavy Breathers Institute of the Two Lands.”

A light gray donkey with horizontally striped legs stepped out to join the Prancer monkey. He brayed once and then said, “Thank you Prancer, it is my pleasure to join with you on this Committee to Defeat the Disease.”

“What is your plan for dealing with the increased impact of the disease?” asked a new voice. They all turned to see a dark brown seal standing up on her haunches near the back of the crowd. 

“Who’s that?” asked Giraffe.

“I think it is a Cape Fur seal,” said Ostrich. “It’s my understanding that some distant regions are sending representatives to question the actions, or lack of actions, in trying to stem the spread of the disease.”

“I’m glad you brought that up,” said Dappled Ass. “Your premise is incorrect. I have found through my studies of breathing patterns that the disease is actually going away, not increasing.”

“How can you say that when the disease is showing up in places where is previously didn’t exist?”

“That information is being propagated by irresponsible agents of the wildebeest herd,” he said. 

“Uh-oh,” said Giraffe in a lowered voice, “there they go again, claiming more fake gnus!”

“The animals who are dying from this plague would disagree,” said the Cape Fur seal. “In light of your last statement, the leaders of my land have charged me with delivering a message to the Baboon with the Orange Butt.”

“You can give the message to me,” said the White-headed Prancer.

“I was instructed to convey my message directly to the baboon.”

White-headed Prancer monkey leaned over to whisper something to the Kalahari Macerating bustard. After nodding briefly to him, the bird hurried off into Moralardo.

“Let me explain to you how it is that I know about the effects of this disease,” said Dappled Ass in the meantime. “By listening to animals breathe, I can ascertain whether or not they are likely to catch the disease. My studies indicate many fewer animals are susceptible to being infected.”

“Animals are dying because they can’t breathe,” said Honey Badger. “You can’t listen to the breathing of a dead animal!”

“Nonetheless,” answered the Dappled Ass, “I stand by my findings.”

“How do you think Elder Meerkat would respond to that technique?” Leopard asked Honey Badger.

“I think he would refer to it as ‘plop’!” answered the badger. “The sound of a huge steaming pile of manure falling out of the rear end of a tall jackass.” She nodded toward Dappled Ass, “In my opinion,” she added, “he’s welcome to stand under those findings!”

Leopard growled a deep chuckle.

Macerating bustard reemerged with two more hyenas, the Wild Boar, Little Gray Weasel, and finally, the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“Here comes Old Lemon head himself,” said Leopard, prompting general hilarity to erupt among those within earshot.

Stopping slightly in front of Dappled Ass the baboon scowled at the laughing animals and then reset his countenance to his usual tough-guy, imperious mien. “Who has a message for the Great Baboon?”

“Did he—just refer to himself—as great?” asked Giraffe, still laughing.

“He appears to fancy his personage existing in the third person,” said Ostrich. She became serious again, “That is a disturbing condition, indeed. It implies a certain removal of the need to account for his actions as they can be ascribed to a separate iteration of himself.”

“I have the message for you,” said the Cape Fur seal to the baboon.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt waved a hand somewhat limply in her direction, to encourage her continuance. 

The Cape Fur seal said, “The leaders of the various regions surrounding the southern coastlines want to let you know that no individuals from the Land of the Elephant or the Land of the Antelope will be allowed to visit their lands, no matter how temporary that stay may be. You are no longer welcome.”

The Little Gray Weasel leaned over toward the baboon and whispered something. “What reason do they give for this outrageous action?” asked the baboon.

“They anticipated your question,” answered the Fur seal. “Our leaders say it is your patent ignorance in dealing with the disease, and its subsequent spread due solely to your complete abandonment of responsibility.”

Gray Weasel whispered something else and the baboon nodded. “Do you believe my actions in appointing Dappled Ass to the CDD will change their minds?”

“You want my honest opinion?” asked the seal.

“I always ask for honesty in all things,” said the baboon. 

Leopard responded to that statement with “Ha! Sure you do!”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt glowered at the Leopard. Turning back to the seal the baboon said, “Well? What’s your honest opinion?”

“Honestly,” responded the seal, “your nomination of the Dappled Ass makes the situation worse.”

XXXIV

From their natural perch high above all the rest of the animals, Giraffe’s eyes offered him the opportunity to continually scan the landscape for changes. So it was no surprise that he was first to see the approach of the two cats. 

“I don’t recognize them from here,” he said to the others, but it appears to be a mother and child. I think the larger one is a cheetah, it moves in their characteristic manner.”

“Should we alert the herd animals that an unknown predator pair is approaching?” asked Plains Zebra. 

From the acacia, Marsh Harrier using her keen eyesight, peered off into the distance and said, “I think you’ll find they do not offer any threat.”

Honey Badger asked, “Can you identify them?”

“I think so, it looks like Night Caracal is the smaller one, the other is a cheetah as Giraffe said.”

“I see them better now,” said Reticulated giraffe, “Harrier’s right, the smaller one is Caracal.”

“That’s a relief,” said Honey Badger. “I’ve been worried about her.”

“Uh-oh,” said Leopard, “here comes Sunny boy himself.”

The others swiveled to see two hyenas and the Baboon with the Orange Butt emerging from Moralardo. Behind them came Wild boar, two wart hogs, and the Little Gray Weasel. 

“I wonder what he wants?” asked Giraffe.

“Nothing good, you can bet.” said Leopard. 

The Kalahari Macerating bustard hurried after the entourage, rushing to get ahead of them. The Baboon with the Orange Butt scowled at her as she passed him. 

Croaking to gain attention, the bustard said, “The Great Baboon, leader of the two lands, has an important announcement to make to his loyal subjects!”

Pushing past the bird, the Baboon with the Orange Butt grunted and, after raising his chin and pursing his lips, he scanned the assembled throng. “My subjects,” he said, “I come before you today to bring you a message of hope and strength.”

Leopard leaned over to Ostrich and whispered, “Now THAT would be a change!” Ostrich shushed him, “I am listening. We have to know what he intends so that we may defend ourselves from the invariably adverse effects.”

“There are many out there who want you to be scared of this disease,” said the baboon. “I am here to tell you not to be afraid.”

“Yeah,” said Giraffe, “why should we be afraid of something just because it’s killing hundreds?”

That comment generated a ripple of laughter from among the gathered animals and a scowl from the baboon. 

Honey Badger said, “I noticed that these are new hyenas. Where’s that hyena with the wounded muzzle? We haven’t seen him or his partners for a while.”

The baboon leaned back to say something to Wild boar, he looked at Little Gray Weasel, who shrugged. “They are otherwise engaged,” said the Baboon. 

“It’s not that they are sick, is it?” said a new voice from off to one side. The animals looked to see Caracal accompanied by Highland cheetah standing there. It was Cheetah who had asked the question. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stared at the newcomers for a moment before stammering, “Wh-what is she doing here?”

“Why shouldn’t I be here?” asked the cheetah.

The baboon grabbed the Wild boar and pulled him back toward the entrance. They held a brief discussion, punctuated by the Wild boar shaking his head several times while the baboon gesticulated wildly. Eventually, the boar dropped his head and re-entered Moralardo.

While they were talking Honey Badger made her way over to the two cats. “Good to see you,” she said to Caracal. “And you also,” she said, nodding to the cheetah. 

“Caracal here persuaded me to come see what was going on,” said Highland Cheetah.

“Yeah, it was either that or attack, kill, and eat me as punishment for invading her hunting territory,” said Caracal.

Cheetah chuckled, “You’re too skinny anyway,” she said.

They turned to look as the baboon returned to his former position in front of the gathered animals. 

“This baboon is a disaster,” said Honey Badger.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” said Highland Cheetah.

The baboon cleared his throat and continued speaking, “We must go about our normal lives as if there is no disease,” he said, studiously ignoring looking in the direction of Caracal and the Cheetah. 

“So you’re giving up fighting against the disease?” asked Honey Badger.

“No,” the baboon said, “I’m not saying that. I’m saying that we have already defeated the disease and we need to get back to our lives.”

“How do you reckon that this is a victory,” asked the cheetah, “if more and more animals are becoming sick every day and many are still dying from it?”

“I haven’t seen that happening,” said the baboon.

“Haven’t seen it, or is it that you aren’t looking?” asked Honey Badger.

“I see everything!” said the baboon. “Nobody has ever seen everything as much as I do. I am the most seeing leader that this land has ever had!”

That prompted a new round of soft laughter from the crowd.

The Wild boar re-emerged from Moralardo. He was closely followed by the Howler monkey and the three monkeys of the baboon’s Two Screams Court.

“About time!” said the baboon. He pointed at the Highland Cheetah. “I want her taken into custody!”

“What?” asked Honey badger. “Why? Because she was your opponent?”

“No, because I have proof that she is attempting to undermine my rule!”

“What proof?” asked Leopard. 

“You’ll see!” said the baboon. He turned back to Wild boar, “Take her into custody now!”

The boar looked at the baboon, then he looked at the cheetah standing beside the caracal. Finally, he looked at the leopard. Turning to the two hyenas behind him he said something. They shrugged. Wild boar looked at the Baboon with the Orange Butt and shrugged. 

“It appears that you have a significant lack of support for your call to action,” said Ostrich.

“I have the court on my side!” shouted the baboon. He looked at the three monkeys, the Barrens Colobus monkey, the Cape Vervet monkey, and the Collared Mangabey. “I want you issue an indictment against the Highland Cheetah immediately!” said the baboon. 

The monkeys looked at each other. They leaned in and held a quiet discussion for several minutes. The Howler monkey took a deep breath. The Colobus monkey looked at her and waved her off. She exhaled.

“Thank goodness for that reprieve,” said Leopard. “My ears are still ringing from her previous screams.”

“Hey! I’m waiting here!” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt staring at the three monkeys. “What did I hire you for?”

Turning to face the baboon, the Vervet brought his paws up to cover his eyes, the Mangabey covered his ears with his paws, and the Colobus placed his paws upon his mouth. 

The baboon screamed, jumped up and down several times, then, after reaching up to make sure his yellow hair piece was still in place, he stomped off into Moralardo. 

The thunderous sound of laughter followed him.

XXXV

Honey Badger walked up to Ostrich and asked, “What’s this all about?”

“No one seems to have a clue,” she responded, “there was just a general announcement by the baboon’s tweeters that all the leaders should appear here at Moralardo. There’s to be some important ceremony or something.”

Blue Wildebeest and Dos Goliath beetle joined them. “Big to-do of some sort, eh?”  said Blue.

“It’s not clear yet what the baboon has in store for us. Did you two have a good discussion?” asked Honey Badger. 

“It was enlightening,” said Dos. “There are some very critical issues we must face since the baboon seems to have abdicated all responsibility.”

Bateleur landed in a tree beside them. “Welcome back,” said Honey Badger, “you’re just in time for the big meeting.”

“I know,” said Bateleur, “I was the one who delivered the message about it to the baboon.”

“You did?” asked Honey Badger. “Who sent the message?” 

“It’s from the Bush elephant herd, they’re coming here with the rhinoceroses.”

“The elephants are coming to Moralardo?” asked Leopard as he arrived with the group. “Well now, that’ll be a feather in the baboon’s yellow wig!”

“I must admit to some surprise at this revelation,” said Ostrich. “It isn’t something that I would’ve predicted as being the purpose of the current gathering.”

“Well,” said Blue, “you never know about elephants. They tend to follow their own trails. I’m sure they have a good reason for asking that we gather.”

“But to support the baboon now,” said Honey Badger, “with all the sickness and death that he has ignored.” She shook her head. “I just don’t understand. Do you know what brought them to this decision, Bateleur?”

The eagle just shook his head, “I’m just the messenger. You’d have to talk to them.”

They heard the croak of Kalahari Macerating bustard from the stump and, turning, they saw two hyenas, Wild Boar, the Little Gray Weasel, and Mewanka emerge from Moralardo. Taking positions behind the stump, they all looked toward the entry. 

“One guess who’ s coming next,” said Leopard. 

“Does he always have these big ceremonies for his appearances?” asked the wildebeest.

“Yeah, ever since the empeachment,” said Leopard, “he makes just about everyone he can get a hold of show up.”

“Ha!” said Giraffe as he arrived, “I’d love to see that again. Monkeys flinging over-ripe fruit at the baboon.”

“It was mostly a symbolic act,” said Ostrich. “All it did was embarrass the baboon and force him to recognize his general unpopularity.”

“That works for me,” said Leopard. Giraffe laughed. 

“I’m sorry I missed it,” said Blue. 

“It was epic!” said Giraffe. “What a mess!”

“Sounds like a big waste of good food,” said Dos. 

“That’s the response one might expect from a fruit loving insect! Guess it depends on your perspective,” said Leopard. “In my case, I’m not that much interested in fruit even if it’s not over-ripe.”

“That’s your loss,” said the beetle.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt emerged from within Moralardo accompanied by two wart hogs, Marked Monitor lizard, and White-headed Prancer monkey. The baboon had draped long narrow green gray leaves in front of him that he had looped over his neck. They hung down almost to the ground. 

“What is that hanging down in front of him,” asked Giraffe, “is that supposed to be his trunk?”

“Who knows?” said Honey Badger.

“Where are his elephant ears then?” asked Leopard.

That brought a round of chuckles from the crowd.

“Oh look daddy!” Said Mewanka excitedly, “Here come the elephants. Think of it, they’re coming just to see you! It makes me so proud to be a baboon today!”

Everyone turned to see two bull elephants approaching from the east. They were accompanied on either side by White and Black Rhinoceros. They approached with a slow and stately walk.

“I’m going to fly up into that acacia tree,” said Dos Goliath beetle. “Those elephants never look under their big feet to see who is standing there, minding their own business, right underneath them.”

Blue Wildebeest laughed and said, “Probably a good idea.” 

Proceeding forward toward the entrance to Moralardo, the elephants did not look either to the left or right. White Rhinoceros nodded to his cousin and the two rhinos dropped back. The Baboon with the Orange Butt stepped forward and extended his arms. He announced in a booming voice, “Welcome, honored guests to this, the people’s—“

Both of the bull elephants walked past the baboon without acknowledging him. They continued on to Blue Wildebeest. “Hello Blue, thanks for coming,” said Hub. “Will you assist us in gathering all the leaders around this area? We’d like to talk to all of them.”

“Sure,” said Blue and he began motioning the various herd animals forward. Meanwhile the rhinos went from animal to animal and asked them to move up also. “Don’t crowd,” said Hub, “keep the distance prescribed by Elder Meerkat, but come close enough to hear easily.”

“What’s going on?” asked the Baboon with the Orange Butt. He turned to Wild Boar, “Can’t you do something here?”

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Tell those elephants to come talk to me!”

The Wild boar stared at him, “You expect me to herd elephants?”

The baboon turned to his Chief of Stuff, Marked Monitor lizard. “Well?” he said.

Marked Monitor lizard replied, “I don’t think this is part of my job.”

“How can it not be part of your job?” shouted the baboon. “It’s stuff isn’t it?”

“It’s elephant stuff,” Monitor replied. “I don’t know anyone who can control elephants if they don’t want to be controlled.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt spun around and watched what was happening in silent fury. He grabbed the long leaves he had draped in front of him and threw them to the ground.

When all the leaders were within easy hearing of him, the other elephant, Grand, said, “We have thought at length about what is occurring in our land; the disease, the shortage of water, the fires, and that all these things are plaguing the land of the Antelope as well. It is most troubling. We feel it is time to call for a new choosing.”

“What are you saying?” screamed the baboon. “Wait, let’s talk about this! You can’t do this!”

Hub continued without responding to the Baboon with the Orange Butt, “Since we have all major leaders here we can take a quick vote and start the process.”

“Hey, you can’t take this kind of action right here at Moralardo!” the baboon railed. “You have to listen to me, I’m the leader of the Two Lands!”

Hub turned to look at him. He fixed him with a long stare before replying, “That’s true—for now.”

XXXVI

“It was just as you suggested,” said Caracal to Honey Badger. “The wart hogs had diverted a trickle of 

water towards the swamp and away from the river.”

“Would that small amount of water have any real effect in growing the swamp?” asked Black Rhinoceros.

“If it was continuous, yes,” said Honey Badger. “Some of the water would eventually reach the river but much of it would soak into the soft ground around the swamp and help it grow.”

“Highland Cheetah said she would keep an eye on them for us,” said Caracal.

“She didn’t want to stick around for the choosing?” asked Black Rhinoceros.

“She said she’d let them know her choice.”

“I think I guess who it is,” said Giraffe.

They saw Kalahari Macerating bustard emerge from within Moralardo. 

“Now that we have set a new choosing date I’m afraid the baboon is going to be even more active than usual,” said Giraffe. “He must be particularly angry that Blue Wildebeest is running against him from the Land of the Antelope.”

“Yeah, he’ll try to muddy the waters. If he spent half as much time working to make things better as he does screwing them up,” said Leopard, “we’d be in a lot better shape by now.”

The long raucous croak of the bustard gained the attention of every animal on the plain before Moralardo. “The Great Baboon will be appearing soon to make an important announcement,” she said. 

“I can hardly wait,” said Leopard.

White Rhinoceros walked up, “Well, the Bush elephants got off on their way back to their herd south of the barrens.” 

“Did they register their vote before leaving?”

“I don’t know,” the rhinoceros said. “They did speak to Set Aardvark who is one of the election officials, so maybe. I’m certain they don’t support the baboon.”

“They made that pretty clear,” said Honey Badger. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt walked out accompanied by Wild boar, Little Gray Weasel, Marked Monitor lizard, and four hyenas. He jumped up on the stump and surveyed the assembled throng. 

“My subjects,” he announced, “it has been brought to our attention that we have not clearly defined our position as— as—“

“When did he become a group?” asked Leopard.

White Rhinoceros chuckled.

The weasel scampered up to a place beside the stump and whispered to the baboon.

“Yes, thank you,” the baboon continued, “—as regards our positions on female matters.”

“I hear he has maintained too many positions on female matters and that’s why Maliciosa is rarely around,” said White Rhinoceros. 

Giraffe and Black Rhinoceros started laughing. 

The baboon scowled at them before continuing. “So we have decided to improve the adversity of our—“ he stopped as the weasel poked him. They spoke in whispers for a few moments and the baboon nodded. “—the uh, diversity of our administration by giving females more opportunities.”

“His offering to give more opportunities to females is exactly the problem I was talking about,” said White Rhinoceros.

Leopard joined in the laughter of Giraffe and Black rhinoceros. 

The Baboon with the Orange Butt ‘harrumped’ grumpily. “As we were saying before we were so rudely interrupted, I am looking—we are looking for increased roles that females can play in our great regime.”

White Rhinoceros said, “Those increased female roles—“ 

“Stop!” hissed Black Rhinoceros still laughing, “you’re killing us here!”

White Rhinoceros chuckled and shrugged.

The three monkeys of the Two Screams court ambled out to stand behind the baboon. They were followed by Mewanka, and the Howler monkey. 

“What fresh hell is this? asked Honey Badger.

The baboon continued, “So today we are adding a new member to the distinguished Two Screams court. We are pleased to introduce you to that candidate, Ima Crony Ferret.”

A sinuous brown ferret emerged from Moralardo accompanied by a large hippopotamus. The ferret walked up to stand beside the stump. 

“Why do you refer to her as a candidate if you have already selected her?” asked Ostrich.

“We are asking her to come before you that you may ask her questions. We want you will be assured of her qualifications.” 

“That’s remarkably fair of you,” said Ostrich. “Ms. Crony ferret, what are your particular thoughts on the current disease that is rampaging through our lands?”

“That is a rather broad subject,” said the ferret. “Can you be more specific?”

“Yes, how well do you think the baboon has performed in his role as leader of these lands in regards his handling of the disease?”

“That would call for an opinion,” said the ferret, “I would prefer to avoid personal questions like that.”

“Fair enough,” said Ostrich. “From a medical standpoint, is enough being done to protect the residents of these lands from the disease?”

“I am not a medical professional,” she replied.

“Do you know the Elder Meerkat?” asked Honey Badger.

“I have heard of him but I have not met him, no.”

“Do you think that the members of the judiciary should fraternize with other individuals in different areas of government?” asked Ostrich.

“Again, that is a very general question,” said Ima Crony Ferret.

“Do you feel you owe the baboon your allegiance since he chose you for his court?” asked White Rhinoceros.

“I am grateful to the animals of the Two Lands for the opportunity.”

“So you don’t feel indebted to the baboon?” asked Honey Badger.

“That’s a personal question and I prefer to keep this on a professional level,” said the ferret.

“Oh, she’s a slick one,” said Black rhinoceros under his breath.

“Thank you Ima Crony Ferret for your forthright responses to the questions of our subjects,” said the baboon. 

“Wait a minute here,” said Honey Badger, “we’re not done with our questions yet.”

“We do not want her to think that she is not appreciated by drowning her in too many questions,” said the baboon. “She will now be given the oath of office by Hairless Hippopotamus.”

“We have not actually heard much about her qualifications to hold this position,” argued Ostrich. 

“Oh many animals gave good reports about her abilities.” 

“Like who?” asked Honey Badger.

“Her friends and family have been very complimentary,” said the baboon. “Now Hairless Hippopotamus—“

“Wait!” said Ostrich, “what are his qualifications to deliver the oath of office?”

“He’s a very quiet speaker,” said the baboon.

“Oh this isn’t going to end well,” said Leopard. 

The hippopotamus began saying something to the ferret. It was a rumbling short speech of some kind but the gathering of animals surrounding the stump couldn’t make out a single word. He finished and the ferret nodded. 

“Great job,” said the baboon. “Welcome to our government.”

“We didn’t hear any of it,” said Honey Badger. “How do we know what she was asked to do?”

“You can take our word for it,” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt, “it was the best oath ever. I asked my talented daughter Mewanka to come up with it.”

“Oh, well then, that makes me feel much better.” said Honey Badger.

“Really?” asked Mewanka. “I’m so, so glad to hear that.”

“Do you know what sarcasm is?” asked Honey Badger.

Mewanka frowned, “Of course I know what sarcasm is.”

“Oh, well then, that makes me feel much better.” said Honey Badger.

“Really?” said Mewanka, “I’m so—wait didn’t you just say that?”

Leopard broke into laughter again.

“Forget it,” said Honey Badger. “You were right, Leopard, this won’t end well at all.”

XXXVII

Honey Badger woke to the clomp of hooves above her, passing over her burrow. She stuck her nose out and saw a scattering of herd animals munching on piles of fodder. Centrally located amid them was a baboon standing on top of a wart hog. He was speaking to them but was too far away from her to hear exactly what he said. 

“Good morning, sleep well?” asked a voice from the huge tree that loomed over her burrow. Honey Badger looked up to see Bateleur eagle sitting on a branch. 

“Yes, for a change,” she answered. “I was exhausted.”

“It’s an exhausting time.”

“You can say that again.” She nodded toward the baboon and asked, “What’s going on?”

“The Baboon with the Orange Butt sent his son out with food to try and buy some votes.”

“Is that legal?”

“Probably not. I don’t think he cares though.”

“Mr. Law and Order!” she said wryly. “I didn’t know he had a son.”

“He has three of them, and two daughters,” said the Bateleur. “This is Orange Butt junior. He’s here with his current mate.”

“A buffalo chip off the old block, eh?” said Honey Badger. She crawled out and moved closer to the wart hog that Orange Butt junior was standing up on. 

“—you can’t trust the fake gnus with the leadership of our great land,” he yelled, “they are socialists who listen to Bunny Sand hares and they’’ll turn over all our resources to those socialists—they’re lying to you—the disease isn’t killing anyone—it’s nothing—“ shouted Orange Butt junior.

She walked back to where the Bateleur was sitting in the tree. “You don’t want to hear what Junior is spouting?” she asked. 

“I’ve heard it all before, he never changes. He’ll talk until he runs out of breath and falls down.”

“He falls down?” 

“He forgets to breathe and faints dead away. It would be actually pretty funny except for what takes place next.”

“What’s that?” asked Honey Badger.

“His mate, Simply Killforall takes over.”

“Simply Killforall?”

The eagle nodded, “Yeah, she’s from a prominent baboon family, the Killforalls,” he said. “Her father is Will Killforall and her mother is Marylee Killforall”

“I’ve never heard of them,” said Honey Badger.

“Not surprising,” said the Bateleur, “you’re not a baboon.”

“That’s true.” They turned at the sound of a loud ’thump’.

“Oops, there he goes, now we’re in for it.” Bateleur looked at her, “Maybe we should move a little farther away.”

“Why?” 

“You’ll see,” he said. “Uh-oh, we have to hurry, she’s stepping up on the wart hog already, com’on!” 

The eagle flew off some distance to a smaller tree and Honey Badger followed quick as her legs would take her. “Just in time,” Bateleur said. 

Honey Badger looked to see a female baboon standing up on her hind legs and stretching her arms up into the air. “THE GREAT BABOON—HAS JUST BEGUN! YOU’LL SEE—IT’S TRUE! THE REST—IS YET—TO COME!” she shouted in a raucous scream that carried all the way to where they were.

“Wow! What set of pipes!” said Honey Badger. “Where’d she come from?”

“She used to work for the Red Fox,” said Bateleur 

“The one that the Baboon consults regularly?”

“The same.” They both jumped as her voice exploded at them again from her perch on the wart hog. “It’s a good thing you woke up early,” said Bateleur. “If you were still asleep when she started up you would’ve gone through the roof!” 

“I know about Mewanka,” said Honey Badger. “And now I know about Junior. What kinds of things are the baboon’s other children involved in?”

“His next oldest son, I forget his name, is running the day to day at Moralardo.”

“Is his name something like Mewanka’s?”

“No, that is his name, I forget his name, that’s what he’s called, his father named him that.”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?”

“No, he’s got some hearing problems, I forget his name does, from his father yelling at him when things don’t go the way he wants them to. So he’s also known as Earache, because of those.”

“What about his other daughter?”

“The Fanny?” Asked Bateleur. “She’s known for a prominent part of her body, that’s why she’s named The Fanny. The whole family is kind of into comparing the colors of their orange butts and their size.”

“I see.”

“Then there’s Barrens, his youngest son, Maliciosa’s boy. She named him for the distant land she came from.”

“The others aren’t Maliciosa’s?” asked Honey Badger.

“Oh no, she’s just the latest in the line of mates that the Baboon with the Orange Butt has had. I’ve lost track.”

“How do you know so much about the family?”

“They’re from the same area I come from, up northeast of the swamp, in New Yuck. That might be why the baboon is working to expand the swamp. It’s what he’s most familiar with.”

“But it’s dangerous and full of disease. There are mosquitos, and quicksand, it’s not a great place to live,” said Honey Badger. “The initial outbreak of the disease was greatest there.”

“He likes the swamp, I guess.”

The strident voice came to them across the savanna, “THE REST—IS YET—TO COME!”

“Does she ever say anything else?” asked Honey Badger.

“Not really.”

“Those herd animals are certainly paying a high price for their breakfast, having to listen to that!” said Honey Badger. “That’s not for me. I think I’ll go ask the bees for some honey and maybe nibble on some drones.”

“They let you eat the male bees?” asked the Bateleur.

“Usually, the workers don’t care very much. They say once the drones have mated with the queen, they just sit around doing nothing, drinking fermented honey, and telling dirty jokes.”

“Bees have dirty jokes?”

“Everybody has dirty jokes! Speaking of dirty jokes,” said the badger, “if baboons have family names, as you say, what’s the family name of the Baboon with the Orange Butt?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” asked the eagle. “It’s Rump.”

“Fitting.”

“I told you they were into those things,” said the Bateleur as Honey Badger headed for the beehive.

She laughed.

XXXVIII

As usual, Raging Mad Owl emerged from her daytime roost just as the sun was setting. She saw Honey Badger waiting for her patiently in the dim light of dusk. 

“I imagine you are here for an update on what my reporters have found,” said Mad Owl.

“I’m hoping for some good news, yes,” answered Honey Badger.

“I don’t know if it is all good,”” the owl added.

Honey Badger replied, “I appreciate the effort either way.”

“Those snails that Ruddy Gull is collecting,” Mad Owl said, “are very specific. He’s only looking for one rather odd species,” she added.

“What’s odd about them?”

“The ones he is collecting have a very disagreeable flavor. A relative of the Giant Eastern snails, they are virtually inedible because their flesh is heavily imbued with sulfates. They’re only found on the fringes of very murky waters or swamplands.”

“Hmm, that is bizarre. Ruddy Gull is collecting useless snails. Is there anything else unusual or uncommon about them?” asked Honey Badger.

“Nothing I would say is significant.”

“So why is Ruddy Gull so particular about collecting only those?”

“We haven’t figured that out. That’s what I meant about the news not all being good. As to the leeches, he just takes large specimens, only the biggest he can find, it seems.”

Honey Badger asked, “Can you think of any reason why he might be collecting those?”

“Only that they are tenacious. Once they latch on to flesh, they are very hard to remove.”

“Snails that taste disgusting and tenacious leeches,” said the badger. “What the heck is going on?”

“We did discover something else you may find particularly interesting.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d like to show you but it involves a bit of a trip and you will have to demonstrate considerable faith in the trustworthiness of my ultimate intentions.”

“I’m not sure what you mean?”

“Would you trust me to carry you without harming you?”

Honey Badger thought about that. “I suppose so, if you meant me harm you could’ve done it any number of times as we talked.”

“Precisely.”

“Yes, then. I trust you.”

“Then let’s go!” The huge bird spread her wings and leapt from her perch. Gliding down soundlessly she plucked Honey Badger up from the ground within the grasp of her massive talons. 

The badger felt an inescapable surge of fear spread through her.

As the owl flapped her wings frantically to lift off with her extra weight, she shouted down to Honey Badger, “Let me know immediately if you feel the stab of any of my talons. I’m not that practiced at carrying others without worrying about harming them!”

“You’re doing fine so far,” said the badger. They slowly gained altitude.

She marveled at the feeling of flying over the gradually darkening land. They soared through the gloaming over trees and bunches of slumbering animals.

Honey Badger saw they were approaching the dark margin of the thorn bush fence around Moralardo. “Is it something at Moralardo?” she asked.

“It’s in Moralardo,” replied the owl.

On soundless wings the owl carried her passenger across the fence barrier and deep into the baboon’s homeland. No one seemed to be moving below them. They landed amid the acacia trees of a small grove. “Follow me as quietly as you can,” said the owl.

She led Honey Badger to the edge of the brake. As Honey Badger’s eyes accustomed to the near darkness of the evening she noticed a large rounded object a short distance from them. “What is that?” she asked in a whisper.

The owl replied, “It’s a boulder of tuff, a particularly soft volcanic stone.”

“It’s moving!” the badger said. “Or something is moving on it.”

“Soon the moon will rise and you will be able to see better.”

“Are those hyenas standing around it?”

“Yes, and there are a couple of baboons too. That’s why we must remain as quiet as possible.”

An orange-tinged, golden moon began to rise behind them. Gradually it illuminated the savanna. Shadows stretched across the land out before Honey Badger’s eyes. 

“What does the boulder look like to you now?” asked Mad Owl.

Peering at it, Honey Badger struggled to make some sense of what she saw. “There are small things moving all over it,” she whispered.

“They are rats.”

“Rats? Why are there rats crawling all over the boulder?”

“Because the baboons have smeared honey on portions where they want the rats to gnaw. They are shaping the boulder with their teeth. Focus on the boulder as a whole, what does it remind you of?”

Honey Badger stared at the big rock. She chuckled quietly. “To be honest, it looks a lot like the Baboon with the Orange Butt’s head, even down to his ridiculous hairpiece.”

“That’s exactly what it is.”

“What? Why?”

“The baboon is having these rats carve a likeness of him from the rock. He’s making a monument to himself.”

“You’re kidding?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“And with that stupid bright yellow hairpiece too! What a self-absorbed clown!”

“Wait,” said Mad Owl, “did you say bright yellow?”

“Yeah, he wears a bright yellow wig and I think he dyes it that color somehow. Why?”

“It was something we noticed about those snails,” said the owl. “I didn’t think it was that important at the time, but now that you bring it up, it might be.” 

“What is it?”

“You know how I said their flesh was inedible and full of sulfates?”

“Yeah.”

“If you crush those snails they make a bright yellow mush.”

“That might be it,” said Honey Badger. 

“Glad I could help.”

“Now I just have to figure out about the leeches.” Honey Badger stared at the weird scene unfolding in front of her. “Do they only work at night?” she asked. 

“Yes, this is a remote part of Moralardo. It’s usually abandoned during the day.”

“And the thorn fence is just beyond that boulder isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s it, the dark margin that you can see just past the rock. It’s pretty close.”

“Good, that gives me an idea.”

“You want to share with me what it is?” 

“I will,” said Honey Badger, “while you’re taking me somewhere.”

XXXIX

Honey Badger stood on the edge of the river outside of the east side of Moralardo. She was largely screened from view waiting patiently within a few sparse bushes and tall grass. She saw movement in the grass and Newt, of Newt and Larks Investigations emerged. 

“Hello,” said Honey Badger, “thank you for being so prompt.”

“I’m afraid it wasn’t that hard,” said Newt. “I have very little to report.”

“What happened?”

“I swam out into the river along Moralardo and you suggested but it was heavily patrolled by Goliath frogs. I couldn’t manage to examine very much without them targeting me. I had to get out of there. I wouldn’t stand much of a chance trying to escape them.”

“Goliath frogs, huh. Muck Mud turtle was talking to a Goliath frog when I saw him last.” Honey Badger looked at the river water flowing past them. “Were you able to ascertain anything of importance?”

“I did see that the river is significantly deeper along Moralardo than along most of the rest of its course.”

“That helps,” said Honey Badger, “I thought that might be the case from what I had already discovered. Too bad you couldn’t examine the river bed to any depth.”

“I couldn’t, that’s true,” said Newt, “but someone else did.”

“You have to work on building suspense young amphibian,” said a voice from the grass. “Relinquishing the advantage of surprise too soon negates the power of incipient anxiety creating a greater relief for the targeted individual upon actual discovery.”

“Hello, Seba python,” said Honey Badger.

Sliding nearly soundlessly between the yellowed grass leaves, the rock python appeared very satisfied with herself. “I am encouraged that you have continued your pursuit of the answers you seek, despite the many obstacles,” she said. “Have you at last come upon the true question you sought to answer at its precise provenance?”

“I think I’m close,” said Honey Badger. “Can you add anything to my collection of clues?”

“Possibly, I was not at all hampered by the presence of the gargantuan members of that particular branch within the class of Bufo. In point of fact, I managed to decrease their sentry’s numbers by one in the process.” She smiled. “While I normally do not indulge by ingesting the various hairless species, I may have to rethink that personal prohibition, he was a particularly tasty morsel.”

“I didn’t know snakes could smile,” said Honey Badger.

“Quite the contrary is a more accurate assessment. Who else is as likely to initiate a classic sign of pleasure more than an animal whose mouth can expand to five times the normal size of its head?”

“I never thought of it in that way,” said Honey Badger. “But now that you mention it, that makes perfect sense. But I never thought of you as a swimmer.”

“Child, you cut me to the quick!” said Seba. “Aquatic locomotion represents a most satisfying mode of perengrination since it allows a portion of my rather sizable bulk to find welcome support. There are drawbacks in that the medium does draw a certain increased amount of energy through thermal loss. Then in this particular case I had to struggle against the push of the prevailing current to arrive at this location, initially. But I believe the benefits outweigh the detriments.”

“I appreciate your efforts on my behalf,” said Honey Badger.

“In truth, your quest intrigued me,“ answered the python. “If I can aid you in any small way to effect the resolution of your inquiry, I will feel gratified indeed to have been of service. To build upon what Ribbed Newt has suggested, there are, precisely as he intimated, waters present to greater fathoms than exists elsewhere along the main tributary flowing eventually into the local lake.” 

“Were able to explore those depths?”

“Unquestionably, yes. I found clear evidence that several serious acts of mayhem had been committed recently. The confirmation came both in the form of dugouts where bodies may have been secreted against their slow dissolution and too, I personally observed a member of the family crocodylus suchus, the Western crocodile, withdrawing a personal hoard of putrescent flesh which still possessed a slight resemblance to that of an antelope.”

“That’s exactly what I needed,” said Honey Badger. “Thank you.”

“It is my eternal pleasure to have been of service,” replied the python. “I do not, as I noted to you upon our earlier meeting, generally interject myself into the political arena, preferring to confine my efforts to more idiosyncratic endeavors. However, in this case, it behooves every resident of this land to examine whether progress toward the welfare of all is being made. It is my measured assessment that the current administration pursues a personal agenda ignoring the well-being and prosperity of the greater mass of our population.” 

Raucous sounds including growls, screams, and the pound of many running feet emerges across the bordering thorn fence from within Moralardo. 

“What is going on in there?” asked Newt.

Even as he spoke, his associate, Melodious Lark came to a perch on a nearby shrub. “There’s panic within Moralardo,” she said. “Several rhinos broke through the fence to the southwest and a pride of lions came rushing in!” She worked to catch her breath, “It’s crazy in there!”

“I can readily imagine that,” said the python. “I wonder what possessed these two, normally unassociated creatures, to align themselves together in this unusual way?” 

Then it was Honey Badger’s turn to smile.

XXXX

Honey Badger stared up into the foliage of a large acacia outside Moralardo. She saw the entire family of the Baboon with the Orange Butt sitting amid the highest branches they could reach, those that would hold their combined weight.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll head out of here!” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt to her. “There are lions on the loose!”

“I know,” said Honey Badger. “I loosed them! I persuaded them to come.”

“You?” shouted the baboon. “How’d you do that, and why?”

“The ‘how’ was remarkably simple,” she replied. “You yourself made it possible because of your incredible ego. As to the ‘why’ we’ll get to that in a minute.” Honey Badger turned as Giraffe, Ostrich, and Leopard joined her. “Thanks for coming,” she said to them. “I think we will soon be joined by others, including the rhinoceroses.”

From the top of the tree, above the baboons, Bateleur eagle said, “I invited White-necked Raven to join us. I figured he’d get a kick out of this show.”

Three ravens landed on and around the baboon’s stump. Honey Badger looked past them toward the entry to Moralardo, “Here come the guests of honor now.”

They all turned to see three lionesses emerge from the interior. The largest lioness separated from the others and walked on up to where Honey Badger was. 

Nodding to the other animals, the lioness looked up into the tree. “Come down here,” she said to the Baboon with the Orange Butt. 

“Not a chance,” he replied. “You can eat one of them if you’re hungry, I’m staying up here.”

“You may as well do what she asks,” said Honey Badger. “Otherwise I’ll send Leopard up to get you.”

“This is illegal!” shouted the baboon. “I’m the duly elected leader of the Two Lands, you can’t threaten me!”

“I’m happy to go up and get him,” Leopard said to Honey Badger, “just give me the word!” He looked up at the baboons, “As I told you before,” Leopard added, “I don’t threaten.”

“It’s your choice,” Honey Badger said to the baboon. “You can come down on your own, or we’ll drag you down screaming and kicking!”

“I’ll make it easy for you,” said the lioness, “I’ll offer my guarantee that I won’t harm you.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt looked at Mewanka and then at Orange Butt Junior. “If it looks like I’m in danger, or if anything happens to me, you’ll jump down and save me!” he said. “Won’t you?”

Mewanka looked at Junior. Neither said anything. “I’ll save you!” said I Forget His Name, from another branch.

“You?” asked the Baboon with the Orange Butt. “You should’ve stopped them from getting into Moralardo in the first place!”

“Don’t blame Earache,” said Junior. “Nobody could’ve planned for this!”

“Well somebody should’ve!” said the Baboon with the Orange Butt.

“Maybe you should be go-ink down,” said Maliciosa. “We don’t want to take chance of your son, Barrens, be-ink hurt.”

“Just tell me to go up and get him,” said Leopard to Honey Badger. “Com’on, give me the go ahead!”

“No, no,” said the baboon quickly, “don’t let him! If you’ll guarantee my safety I’ll come down.”

“Your safety was already guaranteed,” said the lioness. “Unlike you, my word is my bond.”

The Baboon with the Orange Butt slowly made his way down from the tree to stand, shaking, on the ground before it.

The lioness took two slow steps until she was less than an arm’s length away from him.

“I could kill you,” she said, her voice rumbling low, just barely audible to the others. “But that would make you a martyr, and I don’t want that.”

“You—you—said you wouldn’t hurt me!” he said to her. “You promised!”

“And unlike you,” she continued, “if I say I will do something, you can believe me.” She brought one huge paw up off the ground and swatted the bright yellow hair piece off his head in a single swipe. The baboon cringed as if expecting worse.

“You placed that thing upon your miserable head as if to imply that you have the heart and bravery that it confers,” she said. “And you do not!”

“What is it?” Ostrich asked Honey Badger in a whisper. 

“His hair is made of lion’s mane,” she said. “He dyed it using the snails to try and disguise it and hoped that no one would notice,” she added. “You can see a leech attached to the underneath part of the hairpiece. The leech grabbed onto his skin. He kept it to his head that way.”

“So that’s what Ruddy Gull was doing,” said Ostrich.

“Yes,” answered Honey Badger, “among other mischiefs.”

The lioness leaned in close to the cowering baboon, “If I ever hear of you appropriating anything else of my people to try and bolster your pathetic reputation, I won’t hold myself to the guarantee I gave you today. Am I making myself clear enough to you?”

The baboon shook his head to indicate ‘yes’.

Glancing back at her companion lionesses, she nodded to Honey Badger and they stalked off, stately striding unhurriedly away from Moralardo.

Honey Badger took a step toward the baboon herself. “Knowing what I do, I would happily kill you if I had the wherewithal. But you’re not worth it. And I won’t countenance asking someone else to do it.”

“Some of us would be willing, happily,” said Leopard.

The baboon looked from the badger to the leopard and back again. “B—b—but you won’t, will you?”

“No,” said the Honey Badger, “I won’t.”

The baboon exhaled very loud, in relief.

“The offer stands,” said Leopard. “Anytime, you just let me know.”

Honey Badger chuckled. They all turned as a great crashing noise of breaking branches and thundering hooves sounded behind them. Two rhinoceroses emerged through the wall of Moralardo. It was White Rhinoceros and his cousin Black Rhinoceros. 

“Oh buffalo crap!” said White Rhinoceros, “did we miss the entry again?”

“We’re a couple of clumsy animals alright,” said Black Rhinoceros. “You never know what we’ll go stomping over next!” He looked pointedly at the baboon.

“What’s this all about?” asked the baboon. “What have I ever done to you?”

“To us?” asked Honey Badger. “Only your betrayal of trust, you and Mud Turtle. It’s what you’ve done to the rest of your people that brought this down on your worthless head.” She moved up to stand next to him. “I was absorbed trying to answer a question. But thanks to your cobra, I know it was the wrong question.”

“What question are you talking about?” asked the baboon.

‘The only question that matters,” said Honey Badger, “Why are you sacrificing the lives of your citizens in payment to the crocodile?”

“How dare you?”

“No! How dare you?” she answered. “You lured hundreds of animals into Moralardo with the promise of food. Then you stood by and watched as the stragglers, the last bloated, tired animals, drowsy from over-eating, wandered down to the river to take a drink before leaving. And what was waiting there for them? Death in the form of crocodiles!” 

“I can’t help it if they didn’t have the sense to watch out for crocodiles in the river!” the baboon protested.

“Why not? especially because you guaranteed it was safe,” said Honey Badger.

“Who says I did that?”

“I have witnesses,” Honey Badger replied. “That’s all you need to know.” She stepped away from the baboon and spoke to the other animals. “And the saddest thing about the whole sordid mess is why you did it!” She turned to stare at the baboon, “You sacrificed the lives of the animals who trusted you to save your miserable reputation! All for your ego!”

“What do you mean?” asked the baboon.

“Putrid, the crocodile, the one you know as Valor, knew your disgusting habits, the time you spent within the groves of trees where the flying foxes roost.”

“Who—who t—told you th—that?” the baboon sputtered. “It’s a lie!”

“And yet you indebted yourself to this monster, at the suggestion of Muck the Mud turtle, you became his accomplice in the murder of your own country’s citizens, the ones you swore to protect! You downplayed the effects of the disease at his direction to try and stay in power. You sold yourself to the crocodile to save face! It’s pathetic!”

The baboon stood up and looked at the animals surrounding him. “You have no proof!” he said. “All you have are accusations. I have fed hundreds, they will support me! You’ve got nothing!”

He turned and waved the rest of his family down out of the tree and they started for the entrance opening into Moralardo.

“And I know how you sealed the deal!” said Honey Badger.

The Baboon with the Orange Butt stopped and swiveled around to stare at her. “What deal?”

“Your unconscionable deal with Putrid the crocodile,” she said. “I know how you led a nearly blind female Musk Ox down to the edge of the lake and right into the jaws of death. You promised her that you would help her quench her thirst, and then you willingly acted as an accomplice in her murder by the crocodile!”

“Who’s told you all this? It’s lies, all lies!”

The baboon gathered up his family and fled into Moralardo. 

“How did you hear about it all?” asked Giraffe.

“Seba the Rock python told me about the female Musk Ox. She witnessed the whole thing. she even said Muck was there. He knew too. I think we should rename the lake because of the baboon’s treachery so we will never forget.”

“What do you want to call it?” asked Black rhinoceros.

“I think Musk Cow lake would be appropriate.”

“And the trap laid by the crocodiles at the riverbank alongside Moralardo?” asked the Ostrich. “How did you learn of that?”

“Blue Wildebeest started me on that trail when he told about the stragglers who were missing from those herds who came back from Moralardo. From there it took investigations by Mad Owl, Newt and Lark, and ultimately, Seba again, giving me the final confirmation of the deep water kill zone.”

“What were you two up inside Moralardo?” asked Giraffe looking at the two rhinos.

“Oh, we’ve been busy,” said White rhinoceros. 

“Yeah, Lippy even busted a piece off his horn.” said Black rhinoceros. “You should be hearing the sound of the baboon discovering our efforts any minute now.”

A loud scream rang out from deep within Moralardo.

“Ah, right on time!” said White Rhinoceros.

Bateleur asked, “What did you do?”

“Honey Badger suggested if we work really hard, scraping a deep groove in a large soft boulder with our horns, it would split right in half.”

“And it did,” added Black rhinoceros. “Now the two pieces are laying next to each other on the ground, they look just like a giant butt!” 

They all laughed.

“A good day’s work, Beaky!” said White Rhinoceros.

“That’s great!” said Leopard. He looked at Honey Badger. “But what do we do now?” he asked.

“All we can,” Honey Badger replied, “we share what we know, we talk to everyone we see, and in the end we hope they listen.” She looked at the various animals gathered around her, “And then, we vote for Blue Wildebeest as the new leader. That’s all we can do, but it’s the most important thing. The most powerful thing. We vote, we vote Blue!”

to be continued ???

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Arizona: Online Charter Operator Pays Himself Another $1.3 Million, Gives Teachers a 1% Raise

27 Nov

via Arizona: Online Charter Operator Pays Himself Another $1.3 Million, Gives Teachers a 1% Raise

On nearly completing my sixth novel.

30 Aug

Last night I couldn’t sleep. That is not unusual, I am threatening old, very old, I am afraid, to be seen as an emergent writer. Sometimes I worry that I won’t have enough time to write as much as I would like. Other moments I’m equally afraid I will. I say that in context as a daily concern, a weekly concern and a lifetime concern. Let me expound.

Finding opportunities to write can be problematic for a doting grandparent. If two or three or four or . . . of the little boogers are here, it is virtually impossible to put a cogent thought anywhere upon my computer screen. Ampa will always be my favorite name. I refuse to miss interacting with them despite my chagrin at another day passing without 1000 words of something being logged into eternity!

Sorry Stephen King!

That’s why my insomnia of last night was so welcome. Rather than laying there trying to force sleep I got my fat butt up and managed to produce even more than my hoped-for thousand words by 2:30 am. As I am in the downward part of the fourth novel of a series and my sixth novel overall, it was even more exhilarating.

Digression. A word in explanation of my last statement. I wrote most of a novel while riding the bus between Tucson and Sells, Arizona as a kindergarten teacher in the mid 80s. That book is yet to be actually completed. A pregnant pause. A loooong gestation indeed! I wrote my first completed novel as a submission to the Tony Hillerman mystery book contest. With the help of my daughter we managed to get into a form that resembled a novel in manuscript form and sent off just under the deadline. It didn’t win. At least I never heard back from them so I assume it didn’t. Is that a reasonable assumption?

I have since looked at it and in retrospect I am not surprised at the outcome.

My second, third and forth novels are part of a series I wrote while in anticipation of retirement. Once I had officially turned in my spurs, I finished them up.  I sent the first book, “Chaos Territory” to S.T. Joshi, as they are Lovecraft inspired works. He read it (he read it!), liked it and encouraged me to seek out publishing. For a while I looked for a traditional publisher but after a couple years I got frustrated with that process. S.T. said I should go ahead and self-publish so with my long suffering wife acting as my editor, I published first one, then two, and finally three books on Kindle and Amazon CreateSpace print on demand.

My fifth book is a departure from earlier work but something I have been working on for many years. It is a novel of prehistoric Arizona that is centered on the actual sites I helped excavate over forty years ago. That book I have sent out to traditional publishers and have discussed it with the people at IUniverse, a subsidy press. No decision on it’s final iteration has been reached either by those I have sent it to or myself.

The fourth book in my series, and my sixth novel overall, is the one I have been concentrating on recently including last night’s late work and I am uncertain as to it’s eventual fate. I believe it might be able to stand alone so perhaps I will pursue more conventional publishing options. Or I might simply let it follow in the self published footsteps of its predecessors.

End digression. Back to the concerns. They are always there, waiting.

The weekly concern is somewhat elusive. It involves the passage of time and carefully planning out my opportunities to write. Unfortunately, I am most productive while alone, listening to classical music. So any time I have the house to myself I must be ready to hunker down and mercilessly pound the keyboard. Mood cannot enter into it! As a card carrying incipient manic depressive I must force the process in those times when demons lurk.

Fortunately, I have actually read several encouraging postings that have convinced me any writing is infinitely better than no writing!

Look, Mom! I’m taking advice!

Finally, I must gaze out upon the yawning gulf that is my lifetime concern. I had intended to become a professional writer upon completion of high school. I would go to college, it was that or drop mortar rounds in Viet Nam, but I would study anything but creative writing. My teachers and professors invariably commented upon my skill as a writer, so obviously I already knew how to write.

Ah youth!

The end result of my eclectic college experience was that I became: a professional archaeologist, a preschool resource teacher, a public school teacher, a tour guide and a professional storyteller. Many of these professions occurred simultaneously I might add.

Inevitably I retired from them all (except the storytelling, that’s too much fun!) and joyfully said, “Aha! Gadzooks! Yahoo! Egad! Now I get to write!”

Somewhere there is cosmic laughter!

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I believe it was John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens to you while you are making plans.” I am certain it was my mother who said, “Ah, joy!”

I now understand them both only too well.

marcaeoloG blog post 1

6 Jul

Source: marcaeoloG blog post 1

No, I Will Not Go Gently

9 Feb

To those who say Donald Trump is our president I say this:

— over 2.7 million and counting with buyers regrets growing the ranks

— Russian intervention

— FBI intervention

— racism

— sexism

— self-confessed sexual predation

— attacks on religion

— fear mongering

— lies, lies and more lies.

There is of course, much more but this list is enough to ensure that I will never accept this man as my president. As the father of four daughters I owe it to them, if for no other reason, to resist and continue to do so as long as I am able.

Now here is a revelation: I am a Republican! I was born in 1950 but my first awareness of a president of the United States was of Eisenhower. Throughout my early years my mother, a tepid Republican and my father, a more amorphous influence but one who leaned towards Republicans, instilled in me at least in a nascent form, the ideals of the original Republicans: Lincoln, Roosevelt and of course, Eisenhower.

In the 1968 election, before I could vote, I worked for Nelson Rockefeller. When I first registered to vote I listed myself as a Republican.

For a time, seeing representatives of the Republican party such as Nixon and Reagan forced me to identify myself officially, as an Independent. Privately I said I was a “Bull Moose” hearkening back to the spin-off Progressive party that Teddy Roosevelt started in the 1912 election. However, living as I do in Arid-zona (sic) their insistence that one must have a major party affiliation to be able to vote in primary elections forced me to change back to being a registered Republican.

But I remain a Progressive, Bull Moose Republican; certainly a rare beast indeed! I like to say that you are more likely to see a real living fairy than you are a liberal Republican.

So it is with considerable disgust and embarrassment that I watch the fawning surrender of my party to a mockery of leadership and indeed humanity as a whole.

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And to those who say, “Aw comon, give the guy a chance!” my response is, “I’d love to, if only he would give me one!” If only he’d stop acting like such a jerk! If only he’d stop attacking people for his own personal gain! If only he would stop turning every opportunity for him to speak into a commercial for Donald J. Trump!

If only he would demonstrate some modicum of interest in actually being the president of these UNITED States.

But he hasn’t, and he won’t, and most damning of all, I don’t believe he can.

And, as such, I cannot, nor will I ever, accept this person as my president.

As a country, we have been Un-Precedented.

Bull Moose and the Old White Bear #1

9 Dec

“I don’t know what to do, I’m from New Jersey.” random woman on “Parking Wars”.

Polar Bear Close Up

Close Up of a yawning Polar Bear

The other morning the President-erect Drumpf met with the staff of the New York Times and blew kisses to his adoring followers as he left the building. This event was reported by several members of the Fourth estate who tweeted out their experience as no real coverage of the event was provided.

Am I the only one who finds this troublesome?

If you want to control the mass of the population of the United States what better way than to emasculate the already diminishing news producers such as the newspapers and television reporters and send out all your information by a medium like Twitter?

Am I overly paranoid? Was anyone in Germany having similar feelings in 1931?

Something that came out in passing while listening to the discussion of his visit was the exemption that the president of the United States enjoys. He is immune from being sued. I am certain this never came up previously in his discussions with his family/consultants that he would become immune to lawsuit. I am very certain of that, I am so certain that I am tremendously certain of that fact.

And in a great act of magnanimity he has said he is not going to pursue charges against Hillary. What a great guy! First off, it is not up to him. He doesn’t decide what charges to level in courts agencies like the department of Justice and the FBI do that and oh, wait, they have already said they are not going to suggest any indictments against HRC.

Whereas to her other suspect activity: her involvement in the Clinton Foundation; what would she be indicted for? Securing funds for humanitarian activities? It’s not like she bought several self-portraits of herself to put up in her various buildings around the country. Or she didn’t use donated funds to pay for bills he, opps, I mean she, had personally accrued.

She didn’t even use other people’s money to make charitable donations in his, I mean her, name. So what’s to prosecute?

It’s good that he is feeling magnanimous. After all he did receive the mandate of a full 27% of the population, even if he did lose the popular vote by the widest margin ever for an elected President.

One of the subjects he discussed with the Gray Lady’s staff was that his children were going to take over running his businesses so there would be no conflict of interest. Wow, that’s a relief! His kids are going to handle it all. The same kids he has sitting in with him when he meets with foreign officials. The same kids he has on conference calls with foreign dignitaries. Those kids. They’re going to run the hotels that he is inviting the foreign visitors to. That’s great. No conflict of interest is possible now.

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I am so relieved.

yeah, there IS a goddamn difference

20 Jul

Concise and cogent discussion. Well done!

gregfallis.com

I keep hearing comments like this:

“There’s no difference between Trump and Clinton. Both major political parties are corrupt. The only way to force change is to vote for a third party. The only way to express my disgust with the current political system is to vote for a third party. The lesser of two evils is still evil. To think there’s a choice between Trump and Clinton is an illusion; they’re both the same.”

You know what this is? Twaddle. It’s nonsense; senseless; silly bullshit. And I’m hearing this twaddle multiple times a day. I’m mostly hearing it from former Bernie supporters who now believe Bernie is a traitor for doing what he always said he’d do — support the Democratic nominee.

I’d intended to write a thoughtful, well-researched analysis detailing exactly why those sorts of comments are twaddle. Hell, I was even prepared to discuss the etymology of twaddle

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Press Release: Chaos Territory

12 Jul

Hey I got noticed!

HorrorAddicts.net

On May 5th 2016 Marc Severson released his first novel called Chaos Territory: Book One in the Chaos Series. Here is the blurb:

29602612Welcome to the Weird Wild West! Matthew Sandstrom is a Government Land Office agent in Chaos, Arizona Territory ca. 1900. He is drawn into a series of disturbing circumstances involving a family of homesteaders who are missing and a trading post that serves a mysterious tribe known as the Su’mok. When the wife of the trader at the post is found wandering in a nearly catatonic state and her husband has also disappeared Sandstrom is alerted to the dark advance of ancient dangers. Discovering that a primordial terror has been unleashed he sets out to do his best against unknown powers. With the help of some Indian allies and his friend Mose Broadaxe he challenges indescribable forces for control of humanity’s future on earth. Set in…

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Hello world?

22 Nov

What is amazing is that in addition to my ReTired Tucson Teacher and Armchair Marcaeologist on TucsonCitizen.com (http://tucsoncitizen.com/tired-tucson-teacher/ http://tucsoncitizen.com/armchair-marcaeologist/  ) and something on Yahoo I rarely visit. I also have this site which I wouldn’t have even known about had not David Moyer not started following me.

Portrait of a guy who doesn't have a clue?

Portrait of a guy who doesn’t have a clue?