Chapter 2: Scouting
“Alright, boys, now here in Guatemala we have two rules.” The flat-headed commander, younger and thinner, smirks as he paces and looks at his four-teammates. “Firstly, we are on a surveillance mission, so no explosions. Yes, Rico, that was explicitly directed at you.” He glances at his recruit. “And secondly, there will be no frolicking around with the local dames.” He now looks at another, younger recruit. “Manfredi.”
“But Skipper!” Manfredi now whines and takes a step forward. “What’s the fun in this then!? No explosions, no women! Next you’re going to tell Kowalski and Johnson they aren’t allowed science!”
“Actually he won’t.” Johnson adjusts his glasses and looks at his teammate. “Part of this mission is to take scientific samples.” He and Kowalski share a subtle low-one.
Skipper looks unamused at Manfredi. “Is that insubordination I here?”
Manfredi rolls his eyes and returns to his spot in line. “No, sir.” He grumbles. He crosses his flippers and continues to murmur a few more words under his breath.
“Then if this is taken care of, let’s get started.” The leader nods and rubs his flippers together. “We’ll be meeting first of all with...Um…” Skipper thinks on this.
“Harvey, sir.” Kowalski nods.
Skipper points at Kowalski. “Yeah, that guy.” He nods. “He will get us set up on more particulars and then we can officially start this thing.”
Johnson nods and gets out a map and a compass. “Um, I think the camp is seventy degrees south from here.” He says, tilting his head and pushing his glasses back up on his beak as he watches the compass. “No, no, I meant west, sorry.” He then nods.
“Well is it south or west, Johnson?” Skipper sighs and rubs his face.
“Definitely east, sir.” Johnson nods.
“East!” He exclaims and grabs the compass from him. “I thought you knew how to read this thing, Johnson!” Skipper taps it some before shaking it and watching it move. “Ah well.” He then shrugs and tosses it towards Rico, who catches it in his mouth and swallows it whole, much to Johnson’s horror. “We’ll just follow the river like the old explorers.”
“That was brand new!” Johnson exclaims as Rico burps with a giggle.
“It’ll still be new, just nice and polished later when you get it back.” Skipper shrugs. “It was a piece of junk anyway, doesn’t work.”
Johnson just stares at him open-beaked, aghast. Kowalski pats his shoulder. “We can find a new one when we’re back in New York...” He whispers to him with a nod. Johnson nods, but then glares at Manfredi as he hears his teammate snickering.
“What?” Manfredi smirks.
“It’s not funny.” The scientist growls slightly as he glowers.
“Sure it is! Your little compass-thingy just got gone, Johnny!” He laughs. “I doubt you’ll ever see it again.”
Johnson snorts and crosses his flippers. “Kowalski and I will find a new one.”
“Of course you will.” Manfredi nods and puts his arm over the scientist’s shoulders with an obviously faked knowing-look.
“Knock it off.” He snorts and pushes him off.
Manfredi still smirks and gets in fighting stance. “You think you can take me, nerd?”
“Manfredi.” Skipper shoots him a stern look.
“Stick in the mud.” The cryptographer grumbles and drops the stance, annoyedly crossing his flippers.
Skipper nods tersely. “The map.” He holds out his flipper to Johnson. Johnson hands it over with a sigh. Skipper unrolls it against a tree and looks at it.
“Sir…” Kowalski clears his throat.
“Not now, Kowalski.” Skipper waves him off.
“I said not now.”
“But, sir...Your map is upside down.” He clears his throat.
Skipper glances at him and then looks at the map and leans away from it and turns it around. “Of course it was. I knew that.” He rubs his chin and looks at the map and traces along the river on the map and glances around. “Manfredi, Rico, scout out ahead. Look for a river.”
“‘Mon, ‘Fredi.” Rico grunts and grabs his friend’s flipper and drags him off with him.
Manfredi nods and waddles with him and looks around. “You think maybe we could sneak a small kaboom?” He chuckles.
Rico looks at him with a wide smile, but then frowns and thinks. “‘Ipper no.” He shakes his head. “No kablamo…” He sighs.
Manfredi gently nudges his ribs with his elbow. “Oh come on, Rico!” He grins.
“‘Ipper no no.” Rico stubbornly shakes his head.
“You’re no fun either.” He sighs and rubs his face. The cryptographer then looks around. “And I don’t see any stupid rivers...Rico, give me a boost.” He says as he goes to a tree. Rico nods and waddles over and gives him a boost up to the nearest branch. He then pulls himself up and starts climbing farther up the tree. He then wiggles along the branch and looks around. He looks down at Rico. “THE RIVER IS BETWEEN TEN AND ELEVEN O’CLOCK!” He shouts.
Rico nods below and motions for Manfredi to jump down. Manfredi looks unamused at him and starts to climb down. “I am not about to jump from this tree and expect him to catch me. It’d be my luck he’d spit up a--” He then grins. “ALRIGHT!” He shouts down and gets ready to jump. He looks at the the ground from the dizzy height. Rico looks so tiny and a little bleary. Manfredi starts to feel a little queasy and begins to rethink this plan. However, an irritable jaguarundi, who had been pleasantly sleeping on the branch above Manfredi, snarls and drops down upon his branch, shaking it.
“Woa-woah!” Manfredi exclaims as he struggles to keep his balance on the shaking branch. He looks wide-eyed at the feline and smiles hesitantly. “E-easy there, kitty-c-cat. You don’t want to do anything hasty n-now, do you?”
The jaguarundi bares his sharp teeth with a glare of death. With honed claws, the feline easily approaches Manfredi. His head is low, his rounded ears lay back against his russet head. He swipes his paw at Manfredi with a low, “Mwwraaaawwwwrrrroooowwww!”
Manfredi scrambles back on his shortening, shaking branch. His grass-colored eyes flash with panic as he glances back down at his friend and then again at the angry jaguarundi. He then lets himself roll from the branch with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. He holds his breath until he makes impact with Rico’s soft and feathery flippers. Manfredi tentatively opens one eye and glances around. “Am I dead?”
Rico shakes his head. “Nuh uh! Got ‘ittle buddy!” He says proudly and hugs Manfredi close.
“Great…” He sighs and deals with the hugging; he feels too shaken up to resist. His eyes instead gaze back up at the jaguarundi that is climbing down the tree. Manfredi looks at Rico then nervously. “Go, Rico! Now! There’s a cat coming!”
“Meow-meow?” Rico gasps and looks at the tree. “Meow-meow!” He puts Manfredi on his back and takes off sliding.
“Waaaa-aaaaa-aaaaooooo!” Manfredi exclaims as he is bumped along, sitting on Rico’s back like a jockey, holding onto his feathers for dear life. He looks back over his shoulder at the jungle cat and nudges him. “Evasive maneuvers!”
Rico slides faster and in a serpentine manner. He then hangs an abrupt left turn into a thorny thicket. Manfredi ducks down and flattens himself upon Rico in an attempt to avoid the briars that tear at them as they slide through. They then shoot out into the middle of a clearing. For a moment they just lay stay there, motionless before bursting out into tense laughter.
“Do you even know where we are?” Manfredi laughs warily as he looks back at the thicket.
“Nuh uh.” Rico shakes himself in a poor attempt to shed some of the briars from his feathers.
“I was afraid of that…” Manfredi then sighs and dusts himself off. He notices he has a few bleeding scratches but shrugs them off and sits down on the forest floor. “So we are stuck here until Skipper gets tired of waiting and starts looking for us.”
Rico gasps, but then looks thoughtful. “Kablamo?”
Manfredi gives him a weird look. “Explosions? Seriou--brilliant!” He exclaims and hops up. “But that might attract more than we want.” He rubs underneath his beak. “A flare gun would work better.”
Rico nods and starts hacking up objects. After a few, Manfredi catches one and holds up his flipper for Rico to stop. “This should do it, Rico. If not, then explosives is our plan B.”
“B!” Rico claps excitedly.
“But hopefully this will work and we won’t need plan B.” He nods and points it upwards and fires three shots. He then sighs and gives it back to Rico. “And now we wait…”