link if آپ would like to access the first chapter.

--------------------------------------------------

Off the Shelf
A Penguins of Madagascar fanfic
Chapter 2: "Career Change"

Liz glanced at her daughter in the back نشست through the rearview mirror of her silver Subaru Outback. "So, have آپ named your little دوستوں yet?"

"Yes." Chelsea held Skipper up. "This is Mr. Penguin." And then held up Marlene. "And this is Mrs. Penguin."

"No, no, sweetie. The brown one is an otter. Remember the story I told آپ in the gift shop?"

"I know she's an otter, Mom. But she changed her name when she got married."

"Married?" Liz said.

"Married?" Skipper and Marlene whispered.

"Mr. پینگوئن, پیںگان and Mrs. پینگوئن, پیںگان are madly in love." The child held Skipper and Marlene سے طرف کی the backs of their heads. "They kiss each other all day!" Beak and lips then collided repeatedly as she moved Skipper back and forth to smooch the وٹر, اوٹار as though he weren't a پینگوئن, پیںگان but a woodpecker.

Liz laughed. "Well, آپ certainly have an interesting imagination." She thought for a moment and then turned the radio on, tuning to a local love songs station.

Chelsea smiled as Lionel Richie and Diana Ross sang about endless love.

A few blocks later, Liz glanced at her fuel gauge as she approached a gas station she sometimes stopped at. She was glad she did—it was nearly on E. "Hope my boss won't mind waiting just a little longer, but I need to stop for gas," she کہا as she put her turn signal on. "Better a few منٹ مزید than not get there at all."

"Can I stop in the bathroom?" Chelsea asked.

Liz turned to her back نشست passenger. "You have to go? Why didn't آپ go at the zoo?"

"I didn't have to go then."

Kids never do. "All right," Liz said. "I'll take آپ inside."

A منٹ یا so later, Chelsea set the interspecies couple down in the middle of the back seat, their flippers and arms positioned around each other in an expression of love that knew no taxonomic bounds. She then followed her mother into the gas station.

Skipper let go of Marlene, and Marlene released Skipper. The two stared at each other without a word, فر, سمور and feathers trying and failing to conceal their blushing, both too in shock to realize that they now had an opportunity to get away from the humans early.

After a full minute, the پینگوئن, پیںگان finally broke the silence. "Well, that happened," he said. He didn't اقدام at all.

"Yes," Marlene said, still not blinking. "Yes, it did."

They stared at each other for about twenty سیکنڈ مزید until they simultaneously burst into laughter.

Skipper playfully poked Marlene's arm. "Mrs. Penguin!" he said, barely able to breathe. "You're my—you're my wife!"

"We kiss each other all day!" Marlene added, laughter tears filling up her eyes. "All day! It's all we do!"

"There aren't enough hours in the دن for all our kissing, Marlene!"

"We'd need a thousand lifetimes because we're so madly in love!"

"Ha! Oh, Marlene, my sides are splitting!"

"My lips are splitting, what with all our kissing!"

Skipper smacked a flipper against the نشست of the car. "Stop it! Stop it! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

After a منٹ یا so, they were able to bring their laughter under control.

Marlene licked her lips. "Actually, I think my bottom lip is splitting a little. I know that a kiss can be called a peck, but kissing shouldn't really involve actual pecking like that."

"Let me see."

Marlene opened her mouth and pulled her lower lip down slightly.

"It's not too bad. Just a small cut. I'll be مزید careful اگلے time, Mrs. Penguin."

Marlene laughed lightly. "Well, as awkward as that was, if I have to be paired with another stuffed animal سے طرف کی a little girl, at least it's with you. I'm so glad it wasn't Julien who went into the Zoovenir دکان after me."

Skipper nodded. "I hear you. But that kid's gotta go easy on us before we end up with a son named Harry."

"Harry?"

"Do آپ have a better name for a potter?"

"A what?" She thought for a few سیکنڈ and then it came to her. She shook her head. "No, no, no! That's not even possible! We're adopting!"

The car doors opened, and Skipper and Marlene quickly embraced each other just like Chelsea had left them. They closed their mouths and kept their eyes open.

Chelsea sat down in her booster seat. She patted Skipper and Marlene on their heads but otherwise let them be for the moment.

Liz turned around to check that Chelsea's نشست بیلٹ, پٹی was buckled and then started the car. The radio came back on, about two منٹ into Savage Garden's "I Knew I Loved You." Two مزید songs followed, Johnny Rivers's "Swayin' to the موسیقی (Slow Dancin')" and Faith Hill's "This Kiss," before the station went to a commercial break.

"Borough's Best Automatic Car Wash isn't just a name," a man کہا to begin the first commercial. His voice was deep and tough, but he was trying to sound friendly.

"Hey, it's my boss!" Liz said. She turned up the volume a little.

"Our KomondorKlean brushes remove مزید dirt with a gentler touch."

Suddenly, Skipper felt a feeling in his gut he hadn't felt since Alice had mixed up the fish and the spoiled fish buckets. He glanced at Chelsea for a moment to be sure she wasn't looking at them and then looked back at Marlene. "Something's wrong, Marlene," he whispered.

"What?" Marlene asked.

"That voice. I know that—"

"Tell them Mr. X sent آپ and receive a free upgrade when آپ purchase a bronze یا silver wash."

Skipper nearly jumped as his suspicions were confirmed. "Officer X! He changed careers again! This changes everything. We can't wait until tonight to get away. We'll have to knock them out at a red light and escape now."

Marlene's eyes widened. "What! آپ can't do that. آپ can't knock out a little girl. Especially not a sweet one who loves us."

"She'll be fine. Kids are very resilient."

"Skipper!"

"I'll be gentle."

Marlene let out a little growl and grabbed Skipper سے طرف کی the neck. "And let me be gentle. Don't do it یا Mrs. پینگوئن, پیںگان will file for divorce."

Suddenly, the car stopped. In their disagreement over tactics, Skipper and Marlene hadn't noticed that the car had already pulled into the car wash parking lot.

Marlene gripped Skipper tighter and shook him. "Skipper! We're here! What do we do?"

"We have no choice. Looks like I'll be paying آپ half my مچھلی in alimony."

Marlene sighed. "I'll do it."

"What?"

"You can't hit girls, Skipper. But I can."

"Marlene, آپ have no experience with—"

Whack.

Whack.

Plop.

Plop.

"Well, uh," Skipper said, "I guess now آپ do have experience."

"Don't worry," Marlene کہا as she pulled on the door handle, "I was gentle, and kids are very resilient. They'll be conscious again in half an hour." She pushed the door open. "Let's go!"

Marlene and Skipper jumped out the left rear door.

The first thing they saw were his boots.

The former animal control officer, former exterminator, former temporary zookeeper, former fishmonger, former convenience store clerk, former dentist, former florist, and current car wash manager couldn't believe his eyes. "I hate the zoo."

"Run!" Skipper yelled. The two took off toward the street.

X started after them, pulling a squeegee out from behind his back. "Every job! Every time! But not anymore!" He wound up his arm and released the squeegee; it struck the fleeing پینگوئن, پیںگان and otter, knocking them down, before returning to X like a boomerang. He laughed as he went over to the animals, who were conscious but dazed. "We have the best automatic car wash in the borough—it's in our name—but sometimes a good پرانے زمانے, قدیم شکل squeegee is all آپ really need."

Skipper and Marlene could offer no resistance as X picked them up.

"This اگلے part really sucks," X said.

Through blurry vision, Skipper could see that X was carrying them toward a row of vacuums. The پینگوئن, پیںگان groaned, half from the cheap pun and half from the squeegee strike.

"Free vacuum with every wash," the man of many careers کہا as he grabbed the hose on one of the vacuums. With a quick button press, the unit roared to life with industrial-strength suction power. The motor strained only slightly when instead of air being sucked through the nozzle, a penguin's back was sucked against it, preventing escape. X set Skipper down—he couldn't اقدام beyond the length of the hose—and did the same with Marlene with a vacuum three units down from the one Skipper was attached to, preventing any possibility of the two working together to free each other. "That ought to hold آپ until animal control arrives to see I'm not crazy—I mean, to give me my old job back. And to take آپ away!" He pulled out his smartphone and started to dial Supervisor Eubanks's direct line but then stopped and opened the camera app instead. If anything happened before animal control arrived, this time he would at least have proof.

He was about to take a picture when something metal crashed behind him. He turned around.

Six blue eyes stared from the سب, سب سے اوپر of the storm drain at what was in front of them. A pair of sunglasses stared back.

"Kowalski," Private said, "isn't that former animal control officer, former exterminator, former dentist—"

Private suddenly found Kowalski's flipper in his beak. "Don't say the D-word, Private," the dentophobic پینگوئن, پیںگان said. "But yes, it's him."

"The reinforcements!" X shouted as he charged toward the three penguins in the drain. He pulled out his squeegee again and launched it.

Kowalski and Private ducked for cover. Rico just opened his beak and swallowed the squeegee.

And then regurgitated a chainsaw.

X stopped dead in his tracks.

"Private," Kowalski said, "go help Skipper and Marlene. Rico and I will take care of the former oral butcher."

Private nodded. "Got it."

Kowalski and Rico jumped out of the drain, and Rico tossed Kowalski a crowbar. They took two steps toward X, and X took off toward the entrance of the main building.

He was almost there when an elderly man standing سے طرف کی the door gripped the door handle. X knew him—he was a regular on Tuesdays. He was frail and moved like a sloth and probably should have دیا up driving a decade ago, but he loved to brag at the senior center about having the shiniest car in the parking lot.

It would be another three منٹ before old Edgar, age ninety-eight, would make it all the way into the building. There would be no escaping inside for X from the two weapon-wielding penguins right behind him.

"Kowalski! Rico!" Skipper shouted to them, now free of the vacuum. "Forget him! Let's blow this popsicle stand—er, car wash!"

Rico revved his chainsaw menacingly at X one last time and then he and Kowalski followed the others down the storm drain.

"I hate the zoo," X repeated as Rico pulled the grate back over the drain. He would normally pursue, but he knew Liz and Chelsea were waiting for him. He looked toward Edgar for a moment, who had managed to open the door about a foot and was staring at him. "Afternoon, Edgar," he کہا with a small wave.

"Afternoon," Edgar said.

"You're probably wondering what just happened here."

The old man laughed as well as he could with his chronic shortness of breath. "Nah. I fought the penguins in the war."

♦ ♦ ♦

Skipper climbed into the penguins' گلابی car, joining Marlene and Private in the back seat. "Excellent timing, boys! آپ really saved Marlene's and my tail feathers back there."

"It was a true team effort," Kowalski said. "Private's observations through binoculars, my expert analysis, and Rico's mad driving through the sewer system all got us here. X was a surprise, but he's always a surprise."

"You'd think in all this time آپ would've come up with an X detector یا something. Get on that, will you?"

Marlene sighed.

"Hey," Skipper said, "I don't like that sound. What's wrong, Marlene?"

"We need to go back."

Skipper's eyes widened. "What! آپ want to go back up there? With X? I'm sure سے طرف کی now he's found another squeegee. یا worse. Much, much worse. Besides, he's probably already found that Chelsea and her mother are unconscious in the car, and he knows we're responsible."

"Chelsea is exactly why we have to go back up there, Skipper."

"Huh?"

"That little girl didn't do anything wrong, but she's going to feel so sad in a short time when she wakes up and finds her new stuffed دوستوں are gone. She loves us. I don't want her to be sad."

"I don't want her to be sad either, but we can't go live with her. We're not stuffed toys."

"We don't have to go live with her, Skipper. But I do know something we can do. And how to get X out of the way."

Skipper was still hesitant. "I don't know."

"What if I gave it a cool mission name?"

♦ ♦ ♦

منٹ later, behind the dumpster کی, ڈمپسٹر of the پیزا restaurant that was اگلے to the car wash, The One and Only Ray's Pizza, Private sat down in the driver's نشست of the penguins' car.

"Any questions?" Marlene asked.

Private pulled a pair of goggles over his eyes. "Nope."

"Hey, Private," Skipper said.

Private turned to him. "Yes, Skipper?"

Skipper laughed. "Don't forget to wash behind your earholes!"

Private started the car and began to drive away. Operation: Gentle Touch had officially begun.

In the car wash parking lot اگلے to Liz's car, X had his finger on the 9 button of his phone, beginning to dial 911 after finding his employee and her daughter unconscious inside, when he heard a small motor followed سے طرف کی two short blasts of a car horn. He turned toward the noise, seeing a پینگوئن, پیںگان wearing goggles waving at him from behind the wheel of a گلابی toy car with flowers painted on it. "Penguin! I knew آپ no-good birds were responsible!"

Private tooted the horn twice مزید and then started driving again, heading in the direction of the automatic car wash machine.

"All right, let's move!" Marlene کہا to the others behind the dumpster, seeing that X was now in pursuit of Private in the adjacent parking lot. The others nodded, and they all hurried through the small flowerbed that separated the two properties.

Private stopped the car a few feet into the car wash machine. He jumped out and entered deeper into the machine on foot. X was right on his heels.

"C'mere!" X yelled as he reached for Private, barely missing him as the پینگوئن, پیںگان disappeared behind an eight-foot-tall vertical brush. "You won't wax me this time. That's a three-dollar upgrade."

As X started walking around the brush, Private jumped into it for cover. The long blue and red fibers, shaped and sized like locks of فر, سمور on the corded کوٹ of a "mop dog," hid him well. X passed right سے طرف کی and started walking to the brush across from it.

Like a بادل passing سے طرف کی the sun, the amount of natural light entering the machine suddenly became less. X turned his head toward the car wash entrance as the گیراج door that closed off the machine at night slammed shut. He did the same in the other direction a moment later when the door that closed off the exit came down. "Hey!" the manager yelled as he started running toward the closed exit door.

Private began counting in his head. Forty-five سیکنڈ to get into position. One Winky, two Winky, three Winky, four Winky. Still hidden among the fibers, the پینگوئن, پیںگان began making his way up inside the brush. Eleven Winky, twelve Winky, thirteen Winky. When he reached the top, he emerged from the fibers and sat on سب, سب سے اوپر of the brush. He whistled to draw X's attention.

"There آپ are!" Getting out was no longer a priority. X charged back to the brush and thrust his hands into it, grabbing the brush's core. He shook and shook and shook. When Private didn't fall down, the manager started climbing up.

Forty-three Winky, forty-four Winky, forty-five Winky.

Private jumped down just as the brushes began to rotate and the water jets turned on. Kowalski had been successful hacking the keypad outside that customers used to enter their wash codes.

X would normally say that KomondorKlean brushes have a gentle touch. When he was attached to one, though, all he could say was, "Aaaaaaaahhhh!"

Round and round and round he went, blasted سے طرف کی streams of water with each revolution. Fifteen terrifying سیکنڈ passed before the brush released him, flinging him off as if he were mud on a Jeep. He landed farther down the car wash, in a space where no brushes یا water jets touched him.

Not that he would know, however, since he was no longer conscious.

Private looked at X for a moment and then waddled back to where he had parked the car سے طرف کی the entrance, being careful to avoid becoming entangled in any machinery himself. He blew the horn twice, and Skipper and Marlene opened the entrance door. Private put the car in reverse and drove out.

"Great work being the bait, Private," Marlene کہا as she walked up to the car.

"As always, soldier," Skipper added.

"Thanks," Private replied.

"I have to ask," Skipper said. "How were his puns?"

"He made only one. He said, 'You won't wax me this time. That's a three-dollar upgrade.'"

Skipper put a flipper to his lower beak. "Hmm. It's a little better than the vacuum one he made to Marlene and me earlier, but still pretty weak."

Kowalski turned to Skipper. "Actually, Skipper, the joke's on him. My hacking set the car wash to run every available option. Undercarriage wash. Tire shine. The wax is being applied right about . . . now."

Skipper laughed. "Good thing he wears sunglasses to protect his vision from his shiny new look!"

"Rico," Private said, "did آپ finish your part of the mission?"

Rico mumbled and gestured that he had regurgitated a plush پینگوئن, پیںگان and a plush وٹر, اوٹار for Chelsea and put them in the unconscious child's arms.

"Well," Skipper said, "we don't have long here. The little girl and her mother are going to wake up any minute. Let's go."

The penguins and Marlene climbed into the car. Private remained in the driver's seat, with Skipper اگلے to him and Kowalski, Rico, and Marlene in the back. The وٹر, اوٹار waved goodbye to the sweet girl who would soon wake up as they drove past Liz's car on the way out of the parking lot.

As Private stopped at the end of the driveway, a city bus was driving سے طرف کی on the same side of the street. "Hey look, Marlene!" he said, pointing at the bus after noticing the ad that was on the side of it. "Isn't that—"

Skipper's left flipper cut off Private and his right stretched to the back نشست to cover Marlene's eyes. "Nope."

"Hey, c'mon," Marlene کہا as she pushed Skipper's flipper away. "Let me see."

The bus had already passed, but the back had an ad for the same advertiser as the one on the side. It was still close enough for Marlene to make out the most important words. And the man's face.

"Enrico Guitaro!" Marlene exclaimed. "He's coming back to Central Park in June!"

♦ ♦ ♦

Thirty-seven منٹ later, X opened his eyes. His vision was a bit blurry, but he could feel that he was sitting down somewhere comfortable.

"Mr. X!" Liz said. "Are آپ all right?"

X rubbed his head. It felt sore. And . . . waxy? "Liz? Where am I?"

"You're in my car. A customer found آپ passed out in the car wash, and he and I carried آپ here. What happened?"

As his vision began to unblur, he saw Chelsea standing اگلے to her mother, holding her toys. He jumped a little in his seat. "The penguins! The penguins! And the otter!"

Liz pointed at the stuffed bird. "There's just one penguin. Chelsea's souvenir from the zoo. آپ hit your head pretty hard; you're probably seeing double."

"Four penguins!"

"Or quadruple. Just relax. The paramedics should be here any منٹ now."

Chelsea was too young to understand everything that was going on around her, but seeing her mother's boss that way filled her with confusion and worry. She hugged her پینگوئن, پیںگان and وٹر, اوٹار extra tight for comfort.

Boiiiing!

Maybe a little too tightly.

"Aaahh!" X shouted as the head of a plush وٹر, اوٹار struck his chest and bounced into his lap.

Chelsea gasped. "Sorry, Mr. X! I didn't mean to!"

Liz looked at the plush وٹر, اوٹار head in her boss's lap and then at the now-decapitated plush وٹر, اوٹار in her daughter's hands, a vibrating spring where a neck used to be. "Oh, honey. I'm so sorry. I really thought they were making better-quality otters now." She thought for a moment. "It won't be easy, but I might be able to fix her. Commence Operation: Sewing Kit!"

Chelsea looked up at her, confused. "Huh?"

"Call me crazy, but Mr. پینگوئن, پیںگان strikes me as a military man," Liz کہا with a smile as she pointed at Chelsea's other plush. "He'd say that difficult things are always less challenging with a good mission name."