Wars were easy. Everyone wore a uniform and stood on their side of the border, squared off, and then charged. At least, that's how it was supposed to go. There was often a bit of goofing about that messed it up slightly. False flag operations, sneak attacks behind enemy lines, flanking assaults. But in general, it was all nice and clean.

Gang wars never worked out quite so neatly. Organised crime was very organised, but also very clandestine, so the enemy didn't wave their flag, wear clearly identifying uniforms, and attack from the front. They tried to look like respectable businessmen, and rarely announced that they were fighting you. Even in the most uncivilised of wars between states you knew there was a war going on, but criminals never seemed to officially declare war. You had to put the pieces together and realise 'Oh, these seemingly unconnected murders of my associates were in reality all conducted by the same organisation. I guess it's war.'

To make it all the more confusing, sometimes the person murdering your associates /was/ one of your associates, or someone who had taken to be one of your associates. In-fighting was always the worst. There was no organisation you could point at and say 'Ah ha! The enemy!' You had to figure out who was loyal to which subgroups, which subgroups were involved in what, and so on.

But what really got to Delmer was when he was hired to do something and then framed by the man who hired him. That just wasn't fair. Now two of his comrades were in jail and it was up to him to get revenge on the man who had betrayed them. It was lucky that he was still around to do that. Had Clyde not insisted on stopping for some ice cream before heading to the docs they might all have died in the explosion. Dag nab it, Capo Biscotti was really cheesing Delmer off with his violent antics and his sudden but inevitable betrayal. But revenge would be his! That lime in the door stunt was just the beginning. Soon it would be a lime tossed down the chimney. A lime mixed in with the lemon shipment. A horse's head with a lime in the mouth on the man's pillow. Yes, Delmer would get his revenge on Biscotti, as sure as his name was Delmer 'Walleye' Ravioli. 'A pox on you, Biscotti! A pox on you and your kind!' With that, Delmer heaved a lime into the fire place and headed back into his study to plan his next lime-based attack on his vicious enemy.

That same evening, almost at the exact same time, Gar was receiving instructions Capo Biscotti. Instructions for violent antics and inevitable betrayal. It seemed their lime-throwing nemesis had recently acquired a black market manse in town, and it had the potential to go up in flames at a moment's notice, so long as someone used the moment to spray the walls with gasoline and toss in some sparks. Biscotti was explaining to Gar that someone was going to do just that, and whoever it was should be using the sparks he had just handed Gar, but who it was he didn't know. He also didn't know when it was going to happen, though if the person doing it happened to be in the area at two a.m. sharp, that would probably be the most convenient time for said person. But, and Biscotti said that he couldn't stress this enough, he had no idea who was going to do this (though Gar /was/ the one now in possession of all the necessary tools) or why (though Biscotti thought it might have something to do with a young bakery assistant's loyalty to his bakery-owning boss).

For his part, Gar felt he had a pretty idea who was going to be doing what when that night, and he set out in search of a barrel of gasoline.


Though they had been walking without rest since well before sunrise, the south-bound travellers felt lively as they approached the town of Sawbill. Lively enough for another argument.

'We're coming upon Snook's and my old home now. We could stop at the house to see if mother would give us a bite to eat.'

Fin sighed. 'I thought your mother sold you two into slavery? You think she'll just give you food now?'

'No, she /tried/ to sell us into slavery, but instead we used the opportunity to buy ourselves into freedom. And it doesn't have to be for free. We could do some chores. You could chop wood. There's always wood to chop there.'

'Thanks for volunteering me, but I think I'd rather just wait until we got to town so I can buy some lunch. Alternatively, you could ask your brother if he thought to shove some of our provisions in his pocket before igniting everything.'

'I wouldn't shove things in my pockets and then light it on fire!' protested Snook. 'I'm not /stupid/.'

'What, so that's /my/ fault? You can't hold me accountable for what Snook does. He's crazy.'

'Good of you to warn us of this fact now that he's had his pyromaniacal fun. Anything else you forgot to mention? Does he turn into a werewolf during the full moon?'

'Where's an acorn when you need one?' Hilfa asked, casting about for a non-human nut she could throw.

'What would you do with an acorn, little girl?' asked a voice from above. The group looked up and spotted a Cheshire cat resting in a nearby tree.

'I wanted to throw it at this lunkhead', replied Hilfa. The, turning to the others, 'Is that cat talking, or is craziness inherited?'

'Both.' said Fin.

'Hey!' said Snook.

'That's talking.' said Melville.

'My, you are a saucy wench' commented the Cheshire cat.

'How is it that you can talk?' inquired Hilfa.

'All Cheshire cats can talk, girl. Don't you read?'

'I do', she replied, 'but you have to recall that in Tanenbaumian fiction, cats /don't/ talk. Perhaps down south they have talking cats in their no doubt ridiculous stories.'

'Who? The Pesce? Don't be ridiculous.' The cat laughed. 'The Pesce think cats are evil because we eat fish. Now I ask you, what good are fish if you don't eat them, hmmm?'

'Oh, by no means am I an apologist for the Pesce.' quickly insisted Hilfa. 'I find them downright uncivilised. But they do seem the sort to write such nonsense. I mean, talking cats? Why, there's no such thing!'

'Um...hello?' put in Fin. 'You're speaking to one right now. See?' He pointed up at the cat, quite unnecessarily, as they were all well aware of its presence.

'Ah, but what you all fail to realise is that I'm no more real than the zombie trout so worshipped by your kind. I'm nothing but a dream.'

'But we're not asleep.' Melville pointed out, thinking that as the adult, he should inject some reason into the situation. 'Therefore, you are real. And we don't worship zombie trout. We worship Dag and his mighty minions.'

'/Her/ mighty minions are zombie trout. Only, they don't exist. I should know, for I've been to the Isle of the Gods and spoken to them.'

Hilfa was still unwilling to except that cats could talk. 'But you're not real. And you said they're not real. So how could you have spoken together?'

'Well, you're real, are you not? And this young man is real, correct? And you two managed to speak. It is the same with unreal things.'

'But we're real and we really spoke. You're not real, so you should not have really spoked. Spake. Spoken.'

'You are still a child, so you should only spake when spooken too, and yet you spiked without first waiting for another to spork to you, did you not? And if a child can spuck without being first spooked to, an unreal cat can sprack with an unreal zombie trout, most assuredly!'

'Are you making fun of my poor inflection?' asked Hilfa suspiciously? 'Because English is a tough language, you know. It used to have all these declinations and then it rid itself of them for some words and not for others, so now it's all irregular. Very confusing. And children are allowed to speak without first being spoo--/talked/ too. It's only grumpy old farts who insist otherwise.'

'Well, perhaps I am a grumpy old fart. My age is a imaginary number of immense magnitude. Something like a million times i plus three, I should think.'

'Only males can be old farts, and you sound female.'

'And I suppose you've made an in depth study of the voices of male and female talking unreal cats of an imaginary age? Maybe I lost my voice swimming to the Isle of the So-Called Gods and had to steal the voice of your great uncle Stewie. I /did/ call you a "saucy wench". Is that something a /female/ talking unreal cat of an imaginary age would say?'

'You haven't any balls.' commented Melville, peering up at the branch where the cat sat, eliciting a hiss from the confounding creature.

'Maybe I've been castrated by the bastard trout! Fine, I'm female, what of it? Does that make me an old hag instead? An old witch? Begone, you lot!'

Realising he hadn't said anything for a while, Snook jumped in. 'Will you come with us? We're travelling to Sawbill to find a swordsmanship school where I can learn to be the bravest fighter in all the land! I promise not to light you on fire.'

'What a generous offer, young scallywag, but I said "begone" because I wish to be rid of you, not because I wish to accompany on your mad journey. And I'm fireproof because I'm not real.'

'Cool!' exclaimed Snook. He pulled out a handful of sparks and threw them at the cat, who promptly exploded into flames.

'You little scamp! I should string you up, douse you in lime juice, and sell you to the icemen to be used as an ice cream flavour. Cheeky little boy with lime sauce flavoured ice cream. It would go over great.' As she spoke, the flames rapidly died out leaving her looking the same as before Snook's little experiment.

'Please do.' was Fin's reply. 'He's already burnt our supplies and he's liable to chop us up for polar bear bait next. You're welcome to him. I'm told he costs a quarter flounder, but we'll let you have him for free.'

'No thanks. I don't think my fur could take another scorching like that last one.'

Snook reached into his pocket.

Glancing at Snook and then the other three, the cat suddenly vanished, leaving behind a hollow voice in the air: 'Remember. I don't exist.'

'What a bizarre hallucination.' commented Melville. The others nodded in agreement.

'Perhaps we should stop for a quick nap before we reach town.' suggested Fin. 'I don't like to be surrounded by crooks when I'm so tired I'm hallucinating.'

The others agreed and within minutes, they were all sleeping in the soft grass beside the path. While they slept, Dunbar the Gracious crept by, noted their lack of supplies available for stealing, and continued on his way, annoyed.


Dunbar the Gracious was a grade A doing of good deeds. When he was a dozen months old he gabbled his first word, 'Give!' as he gave his green dessert to his dying grandfather. When his age hit double-digits, he donated all his birthday gifts to the denizens of the district grade school. At a dozen years, war began and he decided to go gather goods for the domestic defence against godless destroyers of the deep south.

Dunbar gradually discovered that greedy dealers of goods didn't give gladly. So Dunbar decided to ditch good deeds and departed the ghetto to go grifting.