Down in his secret habitation, it took quite a while for Blodget's breathing to return to normal. That he had barely escaped with his life, he had no doubt. Was it worth it, that scrap of food? he asked himself. And now they're on to you. Soon they'll be prying and poking to find your hideaway. No more mouse fiction at your leisure. It'll be ears pricked and hackles up from here on in.

For hours he sat listening to the hubbub subside. He was vigilant while the last of the mess was cleaned up. And still, when all the guests had staggered upstairs to bed, he lay stiffly, senses at full alert.

No wonder, then, that he smelled the first faint whiff of smoke. Not from a campfire: everyone was here at the grand baronial hall. Not from the great stone fireplace: its last embers had long ago been doused. From where, then? The kitchen? The parlor?

Go find out. They're all asleep. So up through the tunnel he went, whiskers twitching.

The smoke came from the direction of the parlor, all right, and it was getting heavier. Good thing you're a flat little fellow and low to the ground, he told himself. The air is definitely better down here.

Then he saw the flames. Someone's cigar had smoldered on the couch until suddenly POOF! up it went like a torch. The whole parlor was engulfed.

Run, Blodget! Run for your dear little life. Head for the door and don't look back.

But they're all asleep upstairs. Everybody will burn!

Doesn't matter; save yourself. They were trying to destroy you, weren't they?

But they don't know about the fire and you do.

To his amazement, Blodget found himself racing--not away from the flames, but directly toward the master suite. Like a creature possessed he dashed into the baron's bedroom and pounced straight onto the blanketed feet of the sleeping Baron of the Crow 'n Bear.

Up shot Spanakopitus. Bolt upright and wide awake, he fumbled in his nightstand drawer, drew his .45, and fired a round at the vanishing Blodget. He stumbled through the bedroom door just in time to see the badger disappear down the hall, headed straight for the parlor.

"Varlet! Scoundrel! Stop, thief!" he cried.

If an enemy raises an alarm, is he not your best friend?

35: Redemption