With a tiny roar and adding a bit more oomph to his pull, Bear got the big heavy doors open on the second attempt. He threw a strained gaze for the Owl and Rabbit to file in before the door pushes shut, and quickly jumped in himself right after them.
Reflecting the warm yellow light from the crystal chandeliers, marble tiles in black and white decorated the floor of the bank’s lobby in a chequered pattern. In gold-plated frames, paintings of badgers in stately poses greeted them from the walls and made it easy to forget that the room had not a single window except for the glass dome in the center. There were animals dispersed throughout the room, some standing in queues and others leaning back on sofas, sipping drinks.
A young badger took their coats at the door and, as tradition demanded, they started brushing their feet on the thick carpet to get rid of all the dirt. Putting in stomps every here and there, they brushed their feet back and forth, horizontally and vertically, then in a circular motion, clockwise and counterclockwise, for a good minute. One might think, Owl said between the brushes, it shouldn’t be really necessary. But when in a bank, Bear explained, stomping, you do as the badgers do, and being a badger is synonymous to being very clean. Rabbit declared that he is now synonymous to being a badger and sat down.
Two up and one left, two right and one up, after finishing the cleansing ritual, Owl started traversing the lobby, going from tile to tile in a wild L-shaped pattern in her mismatching gumboots. For, according to Owl, there was no other way how one should be traversing chequers. One up and– “Excuse me, sorry!” she said, pushing through a crowd of closely huddled prairie dogs drinking coffee, and got two tiles right. She ended up standing in the middle of a queue that led up to the cashiers.
“That’s a very lovely hat!” she said, looking up at a raccoon wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet. It was black and had a heavily tinted visor.
“Whmhm, hmmf-hmmf!” the animal replied, wagging his striped tail in appreciation.
“Hmfffff?” Owl wondered, heavily lisping on the ff’s.
The raccoon lifted the visor with his tiny paw. Two glimmering eyes on a black backdrop and a whiskered muzzle emerged from behind it. “I’m sorry! Awfully bright here, isn’t it?”
“Do these come in other colors?” Owl asked, her big eyes keenly aimed on the helmet. She was thinking magenta.
“I’m sure they do,” the animal said. “Would you like to try it on?”
Owl hooted excitedly and nodded.
The raccoon took off his helmet, revealing a smiling face under it.
“It’s really good in the rain, or when it’s shining really bright” it said, “and especially good when it’s shining really bright and raining.” He passed the helmet to the owl, “but that doesn’t happen that often.”
With a feathery bamf, owl landed on the floor after accepting the helmet.
“And tad heavy,” the racoon added, “but you get used to that quickly.”
Owl was about to put on the helmet when at the very edge of her perception she heard someone calling her name in owlish. She looked for where the voice was coming from and saw Bear waving from the other end of the room.
“Ooh!” she hooted to the smiling raccoon, “I’m being called!”
She jumped up on her little feet and returned the marvelous hat. After making a deep bow, she proceeded towards Bear, making sure she wouldn’t do two lefts and then two ups or any other obvious blunder as she was getting there.
“Hello!” Owl said to the marten standing next to Bear and Rabbit. The marten was about the height of Rabbit but thinner and looked very focused. He knocked discretely at the door they were standing beside and a “come-on-in” came from behind it after a short pause. He pushed the door open and motioned the animals inside with a wave of his paw and a subtle bow.
The hubbub of the bank’s many visitors died instantly as the door closed behind them.
“Welcome, welcome, please sit down!” Badger called from behind his massive lush desk. He rocked in a chair that could have easily housed a whole family of badgers. “We have been expecting you!”
The short fur on bear’s forehead glistened in wrinkles from the momentary surprise and then straightened out as he sat down. What did Badger mean by expecting, he wondered to himself.
“How’s the project? The dalmatian hopper, was it? Any news?” Badger asked cheerfully with a smile that spanned from the backside of his head to the backside of his head on the other side.
“It’s going well, that’s why we are here–” Bear started .
“Of course, of course,” Badger said, “Exciting times! So, as you know, I have a job for you, paw washes paw, that kind of thing. You help me, I help you, everybody wins, buy low, sell high, stock markets, market stocks, tax percentages, interests. Times seven, give or take.”
Bear nodded and threw a look at the other two. Clearly, Badger knew his banking. Rabbit joined in on the nod but Owl was still struggling with getting on the chair.
“There are books that need to be delivered to my good nephew in the south end branch, and then I thought – hey, didn’t those three come from the south?– You did come from the south, right?”
“Very south” Bear nodded.
“What kind of books?” Owl asked, pausing in her struggle for a bit.
“Number books,” Badger said.
“The ones where you sum and multiply numbers?” Owl asked.
“Percentages, mainly. Low, high, times twenty three or so.”
“Are they any good?” Owl asked, books being one of her fiercest passions.
“They are very good,” Badger said, nodding. “And very secret. And this is why I need trustworthy souls.”
Bear nodded understandingly. His eyes were growing bigger and bigger. While he wasn’t sure of the exact nature of the events, they seemed to be aligning just nicely.
Badger beckoned to the marten who was still standing at the door.
“This is my assistant,” he said as the marten came over.
“A pleasure to meet you,” the marten said and bowed politely.
With Owl finally on the chair, the three responded with a very coordinated paw wave.
“The nature of our task?” Bear asked.
“A clear-cut escort mission,” Badger said. “My assistant escorts books and you escort my assistant.”
A knock came from outside, stopping Owl’s excited hoot in the middle.
“COME ON IN!” Badger shouted from the top of his lungs – so loudly that Rabbit had to turn his ears backwards.
A narrow gap opened and through it a tiny head of a young badger protruded. He couldn’t have been older than two or three.
“There is a raccoon at the cashiers,” the young badger said, his eyes drifting around the room in curiosity.
“I’m very pleased to hear that!” Badger said confidently.
“He says it’s a rubbery,” the young badger said, inspecting the ceiling decorations.
“He has a helmet.” The young badger’s glance paused at Rabbit and then jumped on to Bear.
Badger hummed thoughtfully, rocking in his chair. “A helmet?”
“He is asking for cookies!” The young badger seemed to be rather happy filling the role of the messenger.
“Hmmmm…” Badger hummed louder.
“Could you kindly ask if the raccoon would like some fries?” Owl injected. The furry head disappeared for a second and then popped back.
“He said he would love that very much with the cookies”
Owl hooted at Rabbit, who hopped down from the chair and brought the neatly packaged Opossum’s Dream fries to the young badger and quickly ran back.
“Give him the cookies!” Badger called to the young one and turned to Bear. “Do we have a deal?”
“What do we get in exchange?” Bear asked.
“What do you want to get in exchange?”
“A credit line for repairs of our Dalmatian Hopper,” Bear said.
Badger laughed heartily. “So be it,” he added after a pause.