The long summer vacation had only just begun and already the Get Along Gang were bored out of their minds. Montgomery Moose racked his brain trying to come up with something they could all agree to do as a gang but it was tough going.
"Let's see, we've stripped and painted the clubhouse, alphabetized Zipper Cat's baseball cards, helped Bingo clean out his room . . . "
Everyone's gaze fell upon the hapless beaver, who was already examining his sneakers for only he knew what and blushing like a beetroot. Even Bernice Bear, who was something of a neat freak, felt she'd met her match when confronted with Bingo's bedroom.
"...and baseball isn't an option either." added Dotty Dog. "Not since we let you know who in to bat!"
"Aww come on guys, the ball can't have gone that far!" protested little Portia Porcupine.
"Yes it could, we searched for hours and still couldn't find anything."
"At least this time the bat survived, I think." said Zipper, checking it for signs of damage. "Yep, looks OK." he grinned, holding it up like an Olympic torch. He was still grinning a moment later, although in a slightly different way, after it broke off just above the handle and knocked him cold.
Montgomery sighed, "We could always look again I suppose, there's not a lot else to do. Portia, that swing of yours is a real asset but you've gotta learn to control it!"
Meanwhile Dotty was taking care of the bump on Zipper's head
"OW! - That stings!"
"It's just a little iodine, Zipper, honestly, you're such a drama queen!"
"I am not.", he mewled.
"You are too, almost as bad as Woolma sometimes. OK, how many fingers am I holding up?"
"Three, and you're just a big fussbudget!"
Dotty lost it a little at this."How many fingers am I holding up NOW, Zipper?!"
Zipper was just reaching for the remains of the bat when Bingo intervened.
"Hey time out guys, shouldn't we be looking for that ball? It was mine to begin with, remember?"
Bingo's autographed baseball was one of his most cherished possessions, he thought he'd seen the last of it after bribing Zipper with it in one of his harebrained schemes. But Zipper had lost it back to Bingo in an ice-cream eating contest at Hoofnagel's. They'd tossed a coin to decide who would pick the flavor and it came down tails, Bingo's lucky side. Some of Catchum Crocodile's sneakiness must have rubbed off on him, however, because he chose Choc n' Lime. Zipper hated Choc n' Lime, it always gave him indigestion and he'd be picking splinters out of his teeth for days. So he forfeited the contest and ordered a Strawberry Sundae instead. It gave him the hiccups.
Half an hour later the gang was about to call off the search for good, when Dotty spotted something that almost made her chin hit the floor. One of the skylight windows of Sophie Seal's Bulk Laundry, a good way off, had a hole in it. Sophie Seal became a friend of the gang after half her workforce quit when their lottery syndicate hit the jackpot. Dotty and Montgomery had pooled their talents for engineering along with Braker Turtle's computer programming skills and come up with a few gadgets to ease the resulting burden on the other workers. Sophie had borne the lucky winners no ill will and had wisely left the door open for anyone who wished to return. Which, bored with having too much free time on their hands, most of them did.
"So, you're the ones who try to wreck my laundry, eh?" Sophie frowned at the Get Along Gang. "Well you can come in and look for baseball but try not to make any more holes in roof, plate glass wery expensive! Most of workers on lunch break, so it not too busy right now but stay away from machinery OK?"
Everyone promised not to touch anything and stepped inside. It didn't take them long to locate the ball. It was stuck in the rafters not far from where it had crashed through the skylight. Even using their famous "pyramid" manoeuver, the gang couldn't reach far enough to grab it and Sophie didn't have a stepladder tall enough. Things were looking hopeless when suddenly, Bingo had one of his bright ideas.
"We could always knock it down with something." he said.
"Like what?" asked Woolma. She was fussing with her hair as usual and was patting an errant curl back into place when, in her hand mirror she spotted Bingo about to execute his plan, and let out a yelp. Zipper saw him too and sprang into action, grabbing the slingshot before Bingo could fire it into the ceiling.
"You can have this back when we're done hear!" He stuffed the weapon into his tracksuit pocket and glowered at Bingo. "Sheesh! Dumb as cement, an' I ain't lyin'! "
"Don't you have a long pole or something to, you know, open the window when it's hot?" Portia ever observant, had noticed that each skylight had a small lever next to it. Sophie slapped her forehead.
"Ay! , Of course, I go fetch, excuse please." Portia didn't want to become part of the floor, so she stepped to one side as Sophie galumphed off to fetch the window pole.
Although the workers were all at lunch, there was definitely something going on. Faint sloshing sounds and the occasional whine, like some kind of motor could be heard coming from beyond a big stack of dirty linen sheets. Montgomery and Dotty went to investigate. They peeked cautiously over the top of the pile then, very slowly, turned and gawped at one another in astonishment. The robot was busy washing bedclothes from St. Elsa memorial Hospital, one of Sophie's main clients. Methodically, it picked an item out of the pile, dropped it into a large dolly tub and began to knead out the dirt. When it was done scrubbing, the robot put the clean sheet through an electric wringer from whence it dropped into a laundry cart. When it was full the cart, also a robot, sped off along a line on the floor to the drying room. Montgomery was beaming from ear to ear.
"After all this time, they're still going, now that's craftsmanship!"
"Don't forget who drew up the blueprints, bright boy!" Dotty wasn't about to let him take all the credit.
Behind them, Zipper and the rest of the gang were trying to reach Bingo's baseball with the window pole. It wasn't as easy as they'd thought.
"Left a bit, now a little to the right, up, up . . . no that's too far- phew- this thing's heavier than it looks! Back down a tad, that's it, now Woolma get ready to catch the ball when we knock it down."
The little lamb glanced apprehensively at the rather dusty beam the ball was sitting on and then at her dress. Her nice clean dress. Zipper sighed and rolled his eyes. Woolma was a good friend but sometimes she could be so aggravating!
"Just do it, O.K.! It's only a bit of dust, what harm can it do?"
Woolma nervously held out her hands and the pole bearers nudged the ball from its resting place. Much to her surprise and everyone else's, she caught it and the spider first time.
"AAAARRRGH! -GET IT OFF ME!" Woolma threw the baseball away sharpish, she hated spiders! This one wasn't too keen on Woolma either, who was frantically trying to brush the poor thing off as it scuttled all over her, trying to escape being squashed by her flailing paws.
As Dotty and Montgomery turned toward the commotion, something sailed over their heads and landed behind them in the washtub, splashing them and the robot with soapy water.
"It's a good job that thing's waterproof or who knows what might happen, it could short circuit or blow a fuse or something!" exclaimed Dotty.
"I think I'm going to blow a fuse pretty soon!" fumed Bingo."Woolma, how could you? It was only a little spider, jeez what a scaredy cat . . . oops sorry Zipper!"
"Don't mention it." said Zipper, lazily picking his teeth with an unsheathed claw. "Maybe Woolma could get it back, seeing as how you have a slight -ahem- 'problem' where water's concerned."
Bingo didn't like anyone mentioning the fact that once upon a time he'd been scared to go near the water, an embarrassing condition for a beaver, to put it mildly.
"I'm over that now, almost." he admonished, then added sheepishly, "Umm, Woolma, you don't mind do you?"
"Oh no Bingo, of course not, after all what are friends for?" She stomped off toward the laundry robot, still sore about her dress, which was now covered in dusty hand prints. On the way she passed Dotty and Montgomery who were squeezing the last of the water from their clothes.
"Just look at this!" she bleated "You know, for a laundry this place sure is dirty."
Montgomery stopped for a moment, "She's right you know, Bernice would have a field day in here, buzzing around with her little hand vac'."
Dotty grinned, "Yeah, although maybe she could use a little help from the rest of us, right Sophie?"
"Oh, umm, yes a good clean we are needing no?" She was just about to take back the window pole when out of the corner of her eye she spotted Woolma trying to retrieve Bingo's baseball from the laundry tub.
"No, no! Please not to lean over like that or you'll be . . . "- SPLOOSH! "...falling in!"
Everyone burst out laughing, poor Woolma didn't quite see the funny side but she did look silly all the same!
"Oh no, my coiffure is ruined! I'm doomed! How will I ever live this down?" Spitting a jet of foul tasting water, the waterlogged lamb was just climbing out when the robot came to life and grabbed her.
"HELP! It's attacking me! Somebody do something!"
"Hang on Woolma, we're coming!" Dotty yelled. She recalled that the rampaging machine had a safety cut off switch on its back, but when she pushed it a significant design flaw came to light. It didn't work, Dotty jabbed the button again but to no effect.
"Don't worry, we'll soon have you out of there. Just try not to get too agitated!"
"Th-th-that's e-e-easy f-for y-y-ou t-t-to say-ay-ay!" juddered the hapless sheep, who was now being scrubbed back and forth on the washboard like a fleecy rag-doll!
"Craftsmanship, my eye!" muttered Dotty and then out loud, "It won't stop, someone's gotta turn it off at the switchboard!"
"I'll go." volunteered Zipper. "It is near entrance, on the right, next to punch clock, go now!"
There came a sound like a drag racer burning rubber and Zipper was off like a shot, leaving only a short-lived impression of himself hanging in the air.
"He not called 'Zipper' for nothing, eh?" marveled Sophie. "...next to the punch clock, on the right. Aha! , Here it is!"
Zipper threw open the switchboard cover and stopped dead. Instead of the big circuit breaker he'd expected there were dozens of little ones, all alike. Which one could it be?
Meanwhile, the others, especially poor Woolma, were starting to get impatient.
"ZIPPER, HURRY IT UP OUT THERE!"
Just then he spotted the hinged panel in the top left hand corner. Flipping it open he threw the big red toggle switch beneath and every machine in the building ground to a halt.
"WOOLMA! , Speak to me!"
Montgomery and the others were all gathered round their friend, who was just coming to after her ordeal.
"Oh, my aching everything!" she groaned. "I'm never doing Bingo another favor again! "
It was at this moment that Zipper returned from his mission, screeching to a halt in a cloud of acrid smoke.
"KOFF!- WHEEZE!-I really gotta stop doing that! Hey guys, is everything O.K. in here?"
"Yeah, I suppose you could say that.", answered Woolma, trying hard to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. She was being held in mid-air by the deactivated robot. The half-drowned lamb tried to wriggle free, but her hair was caught up in something. When she saw what it was, she almost fainted. The rogue machine had stopped just short of feeding her into the powerful rollers of the automatic wringer.
"Well, don't just stand there, get me out of here!"
Sophie produced a small metal crank handle from the bib pocket of her overalls and wound the wringer back manually. Dotty and Bingo then untangled their damp and disheveled companion from the spindly arms of the robot and set her down on the floor.
"Th-thanks," Woolma stammered woozily, then she broke into an enormous grin. "Hey I'm clean again!" she exclaimed.
"And Meadow Fresh!" added Portia, taking a big sniff. "Good ol' Woolma, we knew you'd pull through!"
Woolma frowned at her pint-sized chum's interesting choice of words. If she had "pulled through" the Clubhouse Caboose would have gotten itself a lovely new throw rug, a woollen one in a yellow sundress - with shoes and hair bow to match. Soon after Sophie turned the power back on, the hooter signaling the next shift went off, almost deafening everyone. Dotty did a quick repair job on the faulty robot, the waterproof seal around its neck had perished slightly and allowed in just enough moisture to play havoc with the emergency stop button. It hadn't been Montgomery's fault after all. Sophie stood at the entrance gates and waved as the Get Along Gang cycled, skated and go-karted into the distance. Tomorrow they'd be back, with reinforcements, to give the old building a thorough dusting. Bingo had taken some persuading, but soon came round at the prospect of dinner in the works canteen when they were finished. As she hauled herself back to work, Sophie couldn't rid herself of the feeling that some business or other had been overlooked, then in a flash it came to her . . . As fast as she could, the old seal made her way to the room where Bingo's baseball still floated in a large tub of none too clean and now only slightly warm water. Sophie fished it out and made for the entrance, if she made an effort, she might just be able to call them back before they were out of earshot. By the time she made it outside, however it was too late, the gang was nowhere to be seen. Sophie turned the ball over in her flipper and looked at it closely, someone had written something on it. It was difficult to read though, the fountain pen ink had all but washed off, but it was possible that once upon a time, the smudged and faded letters might just have spelt out somebody's name.