Desert Misstake

This is a work based on one of the most famous movies of all time. Those who have seen the movie will, no doubt, recognize some of the names and situations described. For those who haven't seen the movie, the title is at the end of this story.
If you enjoy the story, please comment. If you hate the story, please comment. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of stories from me that are complete before posting. Remember, comment, comment, comment. Thank you, in advance. A special thanks goes out to Grover and Ariel, whose help made this a better read. Thanks you two. You're the best of the best.

Desert Misstake

By Catherine Linda Michel

The scene: A hot, smoky nightclub, somewhere in a foreign desert setting. The night is sultry, the air is thick with intrigue, and Rikki's cafe is packed with the usual suspects. We open, hearing Rikki saying:

“I don't care, Sam! I said play it! If I could hear it then, I can hear it now! Play it!”

“Okay Rikki. You're the boss. You've always been the boss, but don't blame me if it gets you all emotional like it always does.”

Rikki leaned over to whisper into Sam's ear, so no one else could her what she said.

“Thanks, Sam. I've always been able to count on you to look after me, and to keep my secrets. You're a real, true friend, and I trust you with my life.”

“Thanks, boss. The trust you've placed in me will never be betrayed, believe that. So, here goes. I hope you can deal with this like you always have. In all the years we've been together, I've never been able to figure out what it is about this song that brings those emotions to life in you. I hope someday, you'll tell me the story behind it.”

“I will, Sam. Someday I will. Oh, by the way. Is that 'thing' set up for tonite? I have information that, you know who, will be here tonight, and this will be the best chance for our friends to get at him. Say, about 11PM. He and his no good pals ought to be good and drunk by then.”

Sam smiled at his boss and said, “It's all set up, Rickk...i.”

It was comforting to Rikki, that at least one other person knew her real secret, and would guard it, even to his death. At least she didn't have to pretend with Sam.

Sam began to play and Rikki stood quietly, listening to the song that reminded her of days, and a life, gone by. After a moment she began to sway back and forth in time to the tune Sam was playing, her eyes closed and a dreamy expression on her lovely face.

“May I have this dance, Miss Rikki?” Came a voice in her ear.

“You certainly may not, Chief Inspector. You know I never dance with my customers.” She replied, without opening her eyes.

“What is it about this song that fascinates you so, Miss Rikki, if I may be so bold as to ask? It seems that every time you hear it, you seem to be transported into a different place. A much nicer place, judging from the look on your pretty face.”

“You may ask, Louis, but you won't get an answer. It's a private thing for me. A remembrance of a time long past...a better time and a better place, and better people.”

The song ended, with tears beginning to fall from Rikki's lovely eyes, but she quickly dried them before they could ruin her perfect makeup. She turned to the Chief Inspector.

“Care for a belt from the bar, Louis? I hear we have the best liquor in the whole of this forsaken desert.”

“Well, ordinarily I don't drink on the job, but...if you insist. Wait just one moment, won't you please?”

“Certainly, Chief Inspector. We can't have you caught drinking on the job, now can we? She replied, with a trace of sarcasm in her voice.

The Inspector went to the bar and asked for a telephone. Upon receiving a nod from Rikki, the bartender offered a phone to the Inspector. Louis dialed a number, waited a few seconds and then said, in an officious sounding voice,”

“This is Chief Inspector Dreyfus. I am officially off duty for the next...let's say half hour. Please see that I am not disturbed at Rikki's place!” He put the phone on it's cradle, ending the short conversation and turned to Rikki.

“There!” He announced with satisfaction. “We must observe the conventions, must we not, Miss Rikki?”

“Oh, but of course, Chief Inspector.” She answered with the same mock civility apparent in the Inspector's voice. The conventions must be observed. After all, one must cover one's...What's that?”

A commotion near the entrance to the lounge had caught Rikki's attention in the midst of her tete-a-tete with the Inspector. She looked in that direction and saw several men in uniform arguing with her Maitre D, Michelle. She moved quickly in that direction and, as she neared the argument, she recognized one of the men as the new Military Attache to the Fatherland, Colonel Gruber.

“Here now, here now, what's all this ruckus?” Rikki asked her Maitre D.

“These gentlemen demanded entrance and the best table in the house, Miss Rikki. I was trying to explain to them that the table in question is always reserved in case...well, in case you know who happens in.”

Yes Michelle, I am quite aware of for whom that table is reserved. After all, I am the one who reserved it, am I not?” Rikki said, with a half grin on her face. “Let me show these gentlemen to an alternate table. I'm certain I can find something suitable for them.”

Rikki looked at the uniformed, self important sounding men and gestured into the club.

“If you will but follow me, Colonel, I will personally see that you and your friends receive a table suited to your obvious importance, along with the first drinks being on the house.”

She turned to walk away, but was stopped by the Colonel's hand gripping her upper arm. He leaned near to her ear and whispered.

“Do not overestimate your own importance, Fraulein Rikki. You remain in business only by reason of your seeming ambivalence toward either cause in this conflict.” He released her arm and she turned to him, a forced smile, on her lips only.

“Oh I quite comprehend upon which side of the bread my butter rests, Herr Colonel, but please do not grab me so crassly and with such force? You know how easily I bruise, do you not?”

“Ah yes I do, Fraulein Rikki. How could I forget, seeing as how I was the one responsible for your present...condition?” The Colonel replied, a sneer barely evident in his tone. “I expect results soon, my dear Rikki. If none are forthcoming soon, I'm afraid that our 'other option' might become a necessity. Do you understand me, Rikki?”

Rikki's fixed smile almost became a rictus, but she managed to maintain her reserve and, with a nod to the Colonel, she began to lead the men to a large table which was capable of accommodating them all, comfortably.

“Here you are, gentlemen. She said, her smile wavering, but not totally disappearing from her lovely face. Please be seated. Your complimentary drinks will be here shortly. Is there anything else I can do for you? And with that statement, she glared directly into the Colonel's eyes.

“Not for the present time Fraulein,” He replied. But if we think of anything, we will be certain to let you know exactly what it is. Until then, thank you for your hospitality. Rest assured, your co-operation is duly noted and appreciated by myself and my superiors.”

He turned to his companions and muttered something in a foreign language, at which they all chuckled and looked, pointedly, at Rikki's amazing figure, as she walked away from them. She heard them and understood what the Colonel had said, but gave no indication of her knowledge, continuing her slow, deliberate strut back toward the bar and the Chief Inspector.

The Chief Inspector had stayed at the bar, watching the interplay between Rikki and the uniformed 'invaders' with a carefully neutral expression upon his face.

As Rikki returned to the bar, he saw, upon her face, a look of disgust.

“Oh dear.” He whispered, sotto voce. “I sincerely hope that foreboding look on your pretty face is not meant for me? Surely I have done nothing to deserve such an unlovely frown?

Rikki sighed heavily and then tried on a small smile for the obsequious official.

“No, Louis. You've done nothing do deserve my displeasure. At least not tonight. No, it's those scum, masquerading as human beings, for whom my frown is intended. They make me sick, and I would rather not have them in my place, but what can I do? If I deny them entrance, they will simply trump up some charges against me and close me down. Would you be so kind as to arrest them for me, if I asked you nicely?” She asked him, with a mock simper.

“Ah, mademoiselle, if only I could. Well, I suppose I could, but I am afraid that it would be a matter of mere moments before I was looking at them from the wrong side of the bars. Like it or not, my fair Rikki, they have power and they do not hesitate to use it. I suggest we drown our mutual sorrows in something alcoholic.”

Rikki sighed again and, with a wan smile, stepped up to the bar with the Chief Inspector.

“A capital Idea, my dear Chief Inspector. We might as well attempt to numb our insides. Perhaps, if we imbibe enough of this excellent liquor, it will allow is to ignore the gentlemen who have attempted to darken an otherwise delightful evening. Marque? Two of the best for the illustrious Chief Inspector and myself, if you please.”
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The bartender quickly filled two decorative tumblers with a bottle he obtained from under the bar, as opposed to the dozens stacked behind it. When he was done, he returned the bottle to it's, apparently, secret hiding place. He placed the tumblers in front of Rikki and the Chief Inspector. They picked the drinks up and, turning slightly toward one another, raised their glasses in a sort of toast, glancing with distaste, out of the corners of their eyes, at the uniformed intruders.

“Here's looking at you, kid.” Rikki said.

“Here's to the most beautiful woman in all of Morocco.” The Chief Inspector replied, lifting his glass to Rikki.

At his words, a pained look came over Rikki's face, and she hesitated, with her drink halfway to her lips.

“Rikki!” cried the Chief Inspector. “What's wrong? Have I inadvertently said something to insult you?”

Rikki sighed heavily yet again and answered.

“No Louis. It is something you said, but not the way you said it. Will you forgive me if I retire to my apartment upstairs to regain my composure? I won't be more than a few moments?”

“But of course, my dear! Please take all the time you need. I shall await your return with bated breath and anxious heart...oh, and perhaps another drink or three?” He said, smiling.

“”Yes, of course Louis, of course. Marque? Until I return, the Chief Inspector's drinks are on the house, as well as those of the unwelcome guests over there. I will return as soon as I can. Please inform Michelle that he is in charge until my return?”

Receiving the bartender's affirmative nod, Rikki took her leave from the Chief Inspector and made her way to the stairs that led up to her apartments, above the lounge. She held her emotions in check until she reached her front door, flung it open and, with a heart wrenching sob, flung herself into the room beyond, slamming the door behind her.

She collapsed on her sumptuous bed, face down, sobbing as if there were no hope for her, and stayed there for several minutes, crying harder all the while. Finally she began to calm herself and rolled to her back, staring up at the ornate top of the bed.

Her mind drifted back to a time just one short year ago, when she had been visited by the very same Colonel Gruber, with an offer.

One year ago:

“Herr Rick," He had begun, "My superiors badly need information about the Resistance, and they believe you are the...person to obtain it for them. They have instructed me to 'recruit' you, as it were, with the promise of great rewards for the right information, that will help us crush their resistance to our, obviously better way of government. They are very aware that your club is often visited by these same resistance members, and they want you to 'chat them up,' I believe that was the term they used, and pass any information to them, through me, of course. What do you say,Rick? I know you have no allegiance to them, or to us, but surely you must be able to recognize that we will win in the end?"

Rick remembered looking straight into the Colonel's eyes and telling him, politely of course, to go to blazes and to take his whole corp of flunkies with him!

“What makes you think I'd ever side with the likes of you and your ilk, Colonel? Everything you stand for makes me want to throw up! You and your superiors only want to rule with an iron fist, with no personal freedom at all for the people. Oh sure, I make nice with the locals. It's good for business, but I'll never back you and your pals. I'll be cordial, but that's it! Got it?”

“Oh I 'get it' Rick. I was rather hoping you would see the wisdom in siding with us, without using means to force you to, but so be it.”

With that, he removed a small vial from his pocket and threw it directly at Rick, who tried to duck away from it, with no success. It hit him directly in his chest and promptly broke.

“What the hell was that, you no good son of a...”

That was as far as Rick got. Whatever was in that vial rendered him unconscious within mere seconds. He awoke some time later, strapped to a table in some room, with the Colonel and another man leering at him.

“Well Rick. Welcome back to the land of the living.” The Colonel said. “I have had you awakened to offer you one last chance to co-operate with us, of your own free will. Trust me when I say we have the means to force your co-operation, and actually, I am somewhat anxious to see it work upon you, my little banty rooster.”

“I told you before and I'll say it again, in case your hearing is not what it should be, you uniformed ass! I'll die before I ever co-operate with you or any of your bunch. Now do your worst, and be damned for it!” Rick spat back at the Colonel.

“Ah, Rick. If you only knew what is about to happen to you, I think you would sing an entirely different tune. Well, what will be, will be? Still no? Very well Rick. Doctor? He's all yours. I await your unveiling with great anticipation Rick. I believe you will see the wisdom in co-operation when you next awake.”

As the Colonel turned to leave, a gas surrounded Rick and, once again, he fell unconscious.
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When Rick awoke again, he struggled to get free, but he felt weaker than usual. He was strapped down so securely to the table upon which he was held prisoner, that he really could not accomplish much at all in the way of an escape attempt.

He busied himself with thoughts of what he was going to do to the Colonel, if and when he caught him alone, without his flunkies to back him up. Eventually, a door opened and the Colonel returned to the room, along with the doctor.

“Well, Rick! Once again, welcome back to the land of the living. I believe that you will see the error of your decision, once you see what has been done to you. Doctor? If you will? Let's show our reluctant friend the results of his rejection of my so-generous offer!

The table upon which Rick was help prisoner, began to tilt and continued to do so until he was standing upright. The Colonel walked over to a wall to a sheet covered piece of furniture.

“Are you ready for this Rick? I believe you will be quite shocked at what you are about to see, disheartened as well.”

Rick started to curse at the officious oaf that was smiling at him, but the very first words out of his mouth shocked him!

“You miserable excuse for...” What the hell? His voice sounded all wrong. Too high and soft. He tried again.

“Let me off this damned table...” Again, that voice so soft and feminine was issuing from his throat!? “What the hell have you done to me you ape!”

Ah Rick my...boy. I think you already know the answer to that rather crudely worded question, but, as you wish. Look at this then, Rikki!”

The Colonel ripped the sheet from where it was attached and looked intently, maliciously, at Rick, and there...in that mirror...was...no! It couldn't be! Rick looked again, aghast at what he saw reflected back to his horrified eyes, for there in that mirror was one of the most beautiful women Rick had ever laid eyes on!

“Doctor?” the Colonel said in a smug, self satisfied sounding voice. “ I believe we can release our reluctant guest. I doubt if he is in any shape to endanger either of us.”

The doctor began to loosen the straps that held Rick prisoner, and when he was done, Rick stood there, gazing into that mirror, a look of terror spreading over his now-beautiful face. He raised a hand to his face...hand too small...face too smooth...not possible! He took one more hard look at the impossible reflection in the mirror and fainted dead away.

When Rick woke again, he found himself in a different room and clothed in some kind of robe. The doctor and some other man were in front of him, smiling.

“Well, Rikki.” The doctor said. “You are awake finally. We were beginning to think you liked being under hypnosis. Now then. You are going to find that you are going to be unable to act like your old self much anymore. We have programmed your mind to accept being Rikki, and your movements, gestures, and even your emotions are going to amazingly close to those of a woman, born a woman. Unfortunately, we were unable to gain the information we believe you have, about the resistance. Apparently your mind is much stronger than we had anticipated. It is likely that your strong will is the only reason you survived the process of your transformation. Always before, it failed.”

He paused to chuckle.

“Frankly, we never expected you to turn out this beautiful, but that is to our advantage as well. A lovely woman always has an easier time getting information from a man, don't you agree? Well, no matter. We were forced to leave the rest of your mind as it was, since all our attempts to completely re-program it only led to what appeared to be the beginnings of a total shutdown of all of your mind. We couldn't have that now, could we?”

Just then, a door opened and the Colonel entered the room.

“Well! Good day Rikki! I trust the good doctor here has explained things to you. You are shaking your head,indicating no...or it is something else? You may speak freely, my dear. Oh doctor? Please release Rikki's bonds. I'm certain she won't try anything foolish.”

The doctor crossed the floor to Rikki and untied her from the chair, to which she had been bound. She, for that's what she was, now, gently rubbed her wrists and fingers, trying to regain some feeling in them.

“I'm terribly sorry about having you tied so tightly, Rikki, but it was necessary, until your re-programming was as complete as we dared to make it. Even in your present form, and may I say that it is a very lovely form, indeed, there was still a small chance that you might have tried something foolishly heroic. That time has passed now, and you will find it impossible to attempt to match strength with even the weakest of men.”

“You bastard! What, in God's name, have you done to me, and why?! Why not just kill me and have done with it?”

“Well, Rikki, we did consider that, but when we finally realized what a strong will you possess, we changed our plans just a bit. We were just going to send you back to the Cafe as the new owner, completely unaware of who you had been, but we came to the realization that you would serve our purposes much better as you are right now. You still remember who you really are, and you still have the knowledge you had. That will enable you to function as our mole much more easily. You still know who to contact, where to find them, and how to approach them...the resistance, that is, of course.”

He pulled up a chair and sat down very close to Rikki.

“You see, you need that knowledge so you know what information we will require. You'll find it just that much easier to re-make all the contacts you had, and to regain their trust. You will be able to tell anyone who you used to be, if you want that humiliation, and I don't suggest you do it. That is a good thing, Rikki, don't you agree? I mean, telling anyone that you used to be a man could be very embarrassing, I would think, and who would believe you anyway?”

“What makes you think I'm going to co-operate with you, even though you've somehow done this unspeakable thing to me? I still refuse to become your stool pigeon, and you can't make me betray any secrets.”

“Ah, but that is where you are very wrong,my dear Rikki. You see, we are the only ones who can return you to your former self, which we will do, if you're a good girl. Once you have helped us break the back of the resistance, we will transform you back to your old, male self, pay you handsomely, and arrange for your transportation to anywhere you wish to go.”

He paused to look at Rikki very intently.

“Please don't think you can act against us, my dear. If you try, we will simply leave you the way you are. You will never be the old, confident, brash, male Rick you once were. You will be forced to live out your life as a female. A fate which, I am certain, would be worse than death, for you. So you see,you have only one alternative, if you want to be a male again. Work with us, for us. Get the information we need, and everything can be put back the way it was, although I must say, the loss of your present beauty would be considered sacrilege by all men, everywhere.”

For a moment, Rikki did think about forcing them to kill her. She would rather be dead, than stuck in this unfamiliar and, to her, embarrassing form, but then a thought occurred to her. Suppose she played along with these bastards? She still had all her contacts in the resistance and could set these jerks up for them! After capturing them, they could be forced to re-transform Rikki back into Rick and the resistance would have a new technology to explore...the process itself, but who could she trust with the knowledge of who she really was? Then it came to her. Sam!

Of all the people, in all the world, Sam would believe she really was who she said she was, and would take that secret to his grave, If necessary, while helping her get back at these sons of the Fatherland! Oh yes,she thought to herself, I will have my vengeance on these invaders. She coughed a few times to let them know she'd heard what they'd said, and appeared to be considering her options. Finally, she looked at the Colonel and said,

“Okay, you son! I guess you win after all. I'll be your little spy and I'll get you your information, but if you cross me after I've done all that, I promise you, there isn't a place in the world where I won't find you, and take my revenge out of your miserable hides! Swear that you will return me to my real form and life when this is all done. Swear it, by all you hold holy and dear!”

The Colonel smiled and extended his hand to Rikki. Swallowing her distaste for even having to touch the pig, she allowed him to grasp her hand. I do so solemnly swear, Rikki. If you like, I will have it written down, and I will sign it in front of whatever witnesses you approve of. Of course what I'm signing will have to be kept from them, unless you want it known why I'm signing such a document.”

Knowing what she wanted to plan for these sons of the Fatherland, Rikki allowed herself to seem to be accepting of the deal. There followed a quick, but thorough briefing about how to contact them when she had information for them. Then she was allowed to stand and was led from the room by the doctor, who left her in yet another room which held what seemed to Rikki to be a complete female wardrobe, including things like makeup and jewelry.

“Don't worry my dear.” Came the Colonel's voice from the doorway. “You'll find that you know how to wear all the clothing and how to use the makeup. You'll also watch, and memorize everything females do. How they act, how they walk,their gestures and all of that, and incorporate those things into your new life. Why, you'll even learn how to flirt with men! Won't that be an exciting new thing to learn? He smiled, sardonically at Rikki. “Yes, my dear, you will learn all those things and more, and you will, at least act as if you were born to them. It is, after all, the only way to ensure that your secret remains safe, is it not?”

The Colonel started to leave,while chuckling to himself, but he stopped and turned back to Rikki.

“Oh, you are free to leave whenever you want. You may take any or all of the things here. Someone will help you carry them to a conveyance and then to the Club. Oh, by the way. You've been here for over two months! We have made arrangements for you to take over the Club, following poor Rick's tragic accident. Yes, Rikki. Rick is dead. Have a nice, new life!” And, with that, the Colonel walked away, whistling a merry little ditty, obviously very pleased with his own cleverness.

If Rikki was angry before, that last bit left her infuriated! She slammed clothes and everything else into some suitcases that had been left there for that purpose, and called for someone to help her carry them out. A couple of soldiers showed up almost immediately and, without a word to her, picked up the suitcases and indicated to her that she should follow them.

She followed them to a rather non-nondescript looking door which, when opened, led them into a short passageway and, eventually, to the street. Before they allowed her to see where she was, however, she was blindfolded and then led to a vehicle into which she was urged. She heard noises that indicated that the luggage had been loaded into a compartment in the vehicle, and then heard the vehicle start up, and felt it begin to move. She sat back and contemplated her fate.

Present day.

When Rikki came out of her dazed, emotional state, she quickly went into her bathroom to repair the damage to her makeup, and to change clothes. She wanted to be downstairs to witness her revenge.

Oh, she had passed information along to the invaders. Almost true information at that, but never quite what they wanted to hear. She blamed her failure to obtain the final proof they wanted, on the suspicious nature of the resistance. According to her, they still didn't trust her completely. The Colonel had no reason to doubt her, although he was getting more and more disappointed and frustrated by her seeming inability to find the one final bit he wanted.

In the meantime, she had really been passing information to the resistance about the invaders plans...real information about their troop movements and strength, their plans and their real purposes. She had gleaned all that information by doing exactly what they wanted her to do...except she did it to them, instead of to the resistance.

Tonight was the night. Her plan would come to fruition in this very Club. Her trusted and loyal friend, Sam had arranged everything, and she giggled with the anticipation of finally getting her old body and life back. All that remained was to make certain the invaders were good and drunk.

When she made her way downstairs, she found Chief inspector Dreyfus anxiously waiting for her.

“My dear, dear Miss Rikki! You were gone so long I had begun to worry about you! I was just about to come upstairs and check on you, but you look fine! Beautiful as ever...maybe even more so. You have a glow about you I've not seen before.”

“Oh Louis, I'm so sorry to have caused you any concern. It was just a 'woman thing,' you know? I'm fine now,so let's get back to the drinking, shall we?”

She took his arm and they re-entered the bar area. At the bar, she informed the bartender to continue providing the scum at the corner table with all the alcohol they wanted, at no charge. He looked at her, questioningly, but did as she asked. After all, she was the boss.

Rikki and the Chief Inspector continued their seeming attempt to get as drunk as they could, but Rikki, sly as ever, was pouring her drinks directly into a secret hole in the bar, which emptied into a basin behind the bar, so she actually drank much less than it appeared. Nonetheless, she continued her charade for the benefit of the crowd, the Inspector, and the sons at their table. She made certain that they saw her with many drinks, so they wouldn't have any reason to get suspicious.

Suddenly, right at Eleven o'clock, the main doors leading into the Club from outside, burst open to reveal several armed men wearing masks. The burst through the doors and began firing at the group of men wearing uniforms. They seemed to be leaving the Colonel for last though, carefully aiming their fire as accurately as they could.

In a matter of seconds it was all over. All the uniformed men, save for the Colonel were dead or dying. The Colonel himself was slightly wounded since there is no way to pick out one man in a crowd to not shoot at. His wound wasn't critical however, but he had lost his firearm sometime during the firefight and was looking very piteous, holding his wounded arm, trying to stop the bleeding.

The rest of the patrons of the Club were deathly silent for a few seconds after that, but broke into a loud babbling of noise once they realized it was all over. Some goggled at the dead and dying men. Some even went so far as to walk over to them and spit on them! Clearly they were not beloved to the people of the city.

Rikki walked away from the bar toward the wounded Colonel and, after a second or two, so did the Chief Inspector. Rikki approached the Colonel and stopped a pace away from him, while the other patrons backed off, giving her plenty of room. Looking him over with a contemptuous stare, she said, quietly.

“Well, well, Colonel. It appears that your plans have failed completely. You seem to be the only one of your cohorts left alive. I guess this means that I can take you up on our deal. Oh I wouldn't bluster too loudly Colonel. This room is filled with people who hate your guts. You wouldn't want all of them to know what you did to poor Rick, would you? As loved as he was, that would probably get you executed where you stand. So be a good boy and let's go find your precious doctor, and get me back to who I'm supposed to be, hmmm?”

“Our deal is off, you bitch!” The Colonel shouted. “You failed in every way, and there is not a chance in hell that you will ever be anything other than what you are now. In fact, I'm going to kill you!”

So saying, he reached down the outside of his pants leg apparently going for a hidden firearm, but as he began to bring it up into line to shoot Rikki, a shot came from behind her, hitting the Colonel squarely between his eyes, killing him instantly! Rikki turned to see Louis with his gun still pointed at the Colonel, and a smile slowly breaking onto his face.

Rikki screamed.

“Noooooooooo!! Louis, what have you done? He couldn't have killed me with that little peashooter he had hidden down his pants! You've ruined everything!!”

She pushed past Louis, crying and wailing at the top of her lungs, but Louis just continued smiling. He carefully put his gun away and then, finally acting like the officer of the law he was supposed to be, he yelled.

“Clear this room! There has been a terrible crime committed here and I intend to find out just who is responsible! Michelle! Get everyone out of here as quickly as you can. I don't want anyone trampling all over this crime scene...oh, and see that those weapons are secured, will you please? We don't want anyone who shouldn't have one, getting one, now do we? Oh, and have a drink sent over to me as soon as possible. I have the feeling this is going to be a long, thirsty crime investigation! Oh dear! I seem to have inadvertently dismissed all the witnesses. Oh well, no harm done then. Oh bartender...?”

Meanwhile Rikki had retreated to her apartments once again. Without the Colonel, she had no chance of ever finding that doctor again, and that meant she was stuck in this female form, most likely for the rest of her life! She was still bemoaning her fate when there came a knock on her door.

“Go away!” she cried. “I don't want to see anyone!”

“But Rikki, my dear,it is I, Chief Inspector Dreyfus!” Came the answer. “I'm afraid I must question you about the terrible thing that happened in your Cafe! I promise I will be brief and will bother you no longer than is absolutely necessary, but I must observe the customs, no?”

Rikki rushed to the door, intending to give Louis the tongue lashing of a lifetime, but as she opened the door, he pushed his way in and closed the door behind him!

“How dare you, Chief Inspector!” She screamed. “You ruined all my careful plans, and now you want to question me? This is all your fault, and I will never forgive you!”

“Calm down, my Cherie. I must tell you something very important and I need your silence while I do. Once I am finished, and if you wish it, I will leave this place and never bother you again. Please hear me out?”

Through her anger and grief, Rikki sensed something important was about to take place,so she allowed Louis to speak his peace.

“Very well, Louis, but make it quick and then leave my sight, forever!”

“As you wish, Mademoiselle. First of all allow me to tell you that I know of your secret. I have always known, almost from the start, who you really were, and as much as I wanted to disbelieve it, I could not. You were and are, too much like a certain gentleman of my acquaintance...Rick, by name. Yes, Rick. I know that is you inside that blindingly beautiful shell.”

“But...how...you couldn't...” Rikki sputtered.

“Calm, calm, my sweet. Let me further explain. You were too much like Rick. In your actions, your reactions, even to his favorite turns of phrase. Here's looking at you, indeed, Mademoiselle. There were too many coincidences for you to be anyone else but my old friend, Rick. Through careful investigation, which I am capable of when the cause is right, by the way, I learned that you, that is to say, Rick, was taken from this Club and spirited away by some unknown persons. Upon further investigation, and through calling in some very old, valuable promises, I found where you had been taken.”

Louis paused for a breath. “Say, you wouldn't happen to have any liquor up here, would you? Well never mind that. So! I staked the location out and found it was visited regularly by our late, unlamented friend, The Colonel. Through my own little spy network, I also finally learned the reason why Rick was taken and the means by which his co-operation was supposedly assured. Oh I do have my sources, little one.”

Rikki began to speak up, but Louis silenced her gently. “Let me finish, please? I played along for this last year, waiting for my chance to confront the Colonel, but it never came. He was always surrounded by his henchmen. In the meantime, I became more and more fascinated by you, Rikki, until the time came when I could no longer consciously remember that you were really Rick! In short, my Cherie, I fell helplessly and hopelessly in love with you! So charming, so smart, so intelligent were you, that I found myself thinking of ways to ensure that you would never have to be that feisty little man you once were!”

“When I learned of your plan for this evening, I arranged to be here the entire evening, and when all of the action happened, I knew what I had to do. You see, my dear, I knew that the Colonel's promise to return you to your old self was impossible. There was and is no counter agent. You were always going to have to be the beautiful Rikki. I couldn't tell you that before this evening because it would have ruined my plan for vengeance, though.”

“The Colonel and his minions have killed many, many friends of mine, for no other reason than he wanted them dead. That has always infuriated me, but I knew that if I took any overt action against him at all, I would join those lost souls very quickly. Your plan dovetailed with mine, perfectly. So, tonight ended a threat to us all, and satisfied my need for vengeance. I also hoped that I might seem somewhat the hero to you, for having saved your life from that little popgun the Colonel tried to use, but alas, it was not to be! I only hope, now, that you won't hate me. I knew that if I told you of what I knew, you would try to kill him yourself, and that would only have led to much more bloodshed and violence. Besides, I could not have you placing yourself at any more risk than that you were already in, up to your pretty neck.”

Rikki stopped him there and said,

“Do you mean to tell me that you knew all this time and never let on that you knew? How could you, Louis? I thought that at least we respected one another and, although we weren't friends, as such, I thought that, at least that respect would not allow you to keep such a thing from me!? I am so embarrassed I want to die!”

“Oh please, please don't say that!” He implored. Don't you see, Rikki? I wanted to spare you from all that! I thought...I thought...Oh I don't know anymore what I thought! I must have gone completely out of my mind! Falling in love with someone who isn't even a woman in her mind...I mean his mind...Damn! Please forgive me Rikki? I will go now and never bother you again, but I had to say my piece in the hope you would somehow understand and not hate me for it.”

“Wait, Louis. Don't go. All this has me completely baffled, and I need more answers than you've given me. Suppose, over the next few days, you go over all this again and again, until I can fully grasp what you are telling me. If all you said is true, then I have much for which to thank you. Say you will, please?”

Louis sighed, looked at Rikki, and said.

“Very well, my sweet. I will do as you ask, but tell me something, please. Why on earth did you ever come to this Godforsaken place at all?”

“I came for the waters.” Rikki replied shyly.

“But Rikki, this is a desert! There are no waters!”

Rikki smiled gently and said,

“I know. I was miss-informed.”

Louis goggled at her for a second and then broke into laughter at her pun.

“Rikki, my sweet. I have the idea that this is the start of a beautiful friendship. Let's go find a drink.”

THE END

The movie title is, of course, “Casablanca”, with Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Ingrid Bergman and many more movie stars of days gone by. I trust I've not stepped on any copyright toes by writing this.



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