Once upon a time there were two very close friends named Harriet and Tordis… who were also the keenest of rivals! When Harriet was crowned Queen of the Maple Syrup Festival in upstate New York, Tordis surpassed her by being winning the Miss Macintosh Apple Harvest Beauty Pageant. When Tordis' excellent grades earned her a full engineering scholarship to prestigious Clarkson University in Potsdam, Harriet did much better, receiving one to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. The competition between them never ended!
It culminated one fall afternoon, though, when Tordis told Harriet she could beat her in a foot race. "Not likely!" Harriet had sneered. "Yeah, you're pretty athletic, but not very speedy. I've won medals in the one-hundred meter dash, while you can only plod along on the track. Tordis? More like Tortoise, if you ask me!"
"Well, I didn't, Hare, and I wasn't talking about a sprint!" Tordis shot back. "I could beat you easy in a cross country race where you have to follow a path through the woods!"
"No way!" Harriet answered. "I mean, maybe if you had a couple miles head start or something, but otherwise, no, you wouldn't stand a chance!"
"I don't want any head start, not even of one hundred yards!" said Tordis. "If I had that kind of a lead, it would be physically impossible for you to ever pass me!"
"You don't know much if you think that!"
The argument raged on for a while, until the only thing to do was to settle matters by having the race Tordis had suggested, one that ran for miles through the countryside. The contest generated much interest, with bookmakers taking bets from excited spectators. As she was known to be much slower than Harriet, however, not many people placed their money on Tordis, despite the potential for a tremendous payout, should she win.
Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Gwyneth "Snow" White, and Rapunzel all chose the safe option and put bets on Harriet. The Wolf, however…
"My money says the Tortoise crosses the finish line first," he told his bookie, notorious gangster, Papa Bear.
"Her name's Tordis, not Tortoise," Papa Bear growled.
"Cute ring to it," remarked The Wolf. "Nordic, is it?"
"How the heck should I know?" Papa Bear said shortly. "You going to place a bet or not?"
The Wolf nonchalantly passed over a thick sheaf of bills and received his ticket.
Papa Bear smiled. Nearly everyone else had bet on the fast girl, he reflected, so he was very glad to receive this wager. "That stupid mutt always comes out on top, and half the time it's completely by accident," he told his wife later that evening over dinner. "It's going to feel great putting one over on him at last. Not to mention getting all that cash off him!"
"But with if the slow girl wins?" Mama Bear asked anxiously. "By giving such tremendous odds, you'll have to shell out a fortune if she does. The bets on the other side aren't enough to cover nearly that much and we need money for, um…." She looked anxiously at Baby Bear, who had paused eating his porridge and was listening intently. "For our donations to police charities."
"Don't worry about it," Papa Bear grunted. "I'll take care of The Wolf if anything goes wrong."
"You won't 'take care' of anyone. If word gets out you don't pay winnings promptly then no one will ever place a bet with you again!"
"There's nothing to worry about!" Papa Bear roared loudly. "I've never actually seen either of the contestants, but I had them checked up on, and that Harriet's set all kinds of running records. There's no way she can lose!"
"Don't shout at me!" Mama Bear roared back even more loudly. "And you'd better hope you're right, because the cops aren't going to be happy if their charities don't get proper funding!"
It was a crisp, autumn morning, come the day of the race. Brown leaves blew aimlessly in the brisk breeze, the bare tree branches waved forlornly. The two contestants, each wearing a jersey top and running shorts, energetically stretched their legs.
"I'm going to win, you know," Tordis said, pushing her arms against a maple tree.
"Tell me that at the finish line," Harriet replied, briskly jogging in place.
"To your positions!" shouted the starter. The two damsels grimly placed themselves on the dirt track. "Three, two, one, go!"
Off they went! Of course, Harriet immediately gained a tremendous lead on Tordis, who plodded along, gamely hoping the old adage about the race not being to the swift was in fact correct.
Harriet looked back, but Tordis had disappeared far behind. "Wonderful!" she thought happily, but then clutched her side. "Ooh, a cramp! I knew I shouldn't have stayed up so late, dancing at that freshman mixer last night!" she complained.
She wearily sat on a convenient tree stump. "I'll just close my eyes for a minute, and then get on with the race," she promised herself.
"Aha!" Tordis exclaimed several minutes later, spotting Harriet snoring loudly. "If she stays asleep long enough, I'll easily win this race!"
She anxiously scooted along her way, expecting at any moment for her friend to come racing up behind her. Perhaps if she had paid more attention to what was ahead instead, she would have spotted the rope strung mere inches above the ground between two trees.
"Oof!" she exclaimed, sprawling onto the soft turf.
"Gotcha!" shouted The Wolf, jumping out from behind some bushes.
"Eek!" exclaimed Tordis. She had never met The Wolf before, but she had heard of him, including how much he enjoyed tying up damsels. And he was tying her up now! Before she could recover from her fall, he had her legs trussed together and her hands knotted behind her back!
"Sorry, baby," he explained, "but I put a big bet down on the race, so I need to make sure the Tortoise wins!"
"But I'm the Tortoise, I mean, Tordis," she attempted to explain, but the Wolf stuffed one cloth into her mouth and tied another over her lips, so he couldn't understand her.
"Relax, baby, it'll all be okay," he promised, carrying her a short distance away from the path. Small twigs snapped under his paws; the muffled snort or snarl of some passing animal faintly reached her ears. "You'll be comfy on this log until enough time has passed that I'm sure things will go my way." He frowned in surprise, for Harriet was showing signs of wanting to stand up again, so he retrieved another length of rope from his jacket, tying one end to the rope surrounding her wrists, and the other end to a small branch extending from the log. Not that Harriet took that development submissively; she tugged energetically, hoping the dead branch would snap. Surely it would, if she just tried hard enough!
"In the meantime," The Wolf continued, sitting next to her and showing her a thin, blue book, "I'll read you some of Shakespeare's sonnets, since I heard you like that kind of stuff."
"Mpfff!" Harriet was the one who enjoyed listening to Shakespeare; Tordis found him boring enough to put her to sleep, well, almost. However, she could only listen quietly as The Wolf began reading.
Tordis, realizing she would never break the dead branch by pulling on it, arched her back and groped with her fingers, thinking that if she could grab the limb she might be able to crack it off. Or perhaps she could untie a knot! Although she strained muscles she had forgotten she had, she could only brush out and grope empty air.
She shook her head, but that did nothing to dislodge the cloth silencing her. She tried to extricate her bound arms to pull of her gag, but she could not wriggle loose. If only she could explain matters, she knew she would be set free at once, since she was the one The Wolf wanted to win the race! Unfortunately, no matter how pointedly she looked at The Wolf and made noises clearly indicating she had something important to tell him, he completely ignored her protestations and continued reading.
He paused in the middle of the nineteenth sonnet as Harriet, appearing highly alarmed, dashed by on the path. "Can't untie you just yet, baby," he remarked. "We need to give her a bit more time, I think."
"Mpfff!" Tordis' only hope now was that Harriet would decide to take another nap, but that seemed quite unlikely to happen.
At least on the bright side, Wolfy will lose whatever bet he put on me, she though angrily. That'll serve him right!
The Wolf, completely unaware anything had gone wrong with his plans, calmly returned to the book and the nineteenth sonnet.
Tordis' legs needed a good stretch from being tied, so it felt good to be running on the path once again. Wolfy isn't so smug now that he realizes his plan went all wrong. Serve him right for tying me up!
She frowned slightly, thinking about The Wolf's actions after he had untied her. She had informed him he had captured the wrong contestant, but, to her surprise, he had not appeared particularly concerned, merely suggesting that she return to the race.
Her feet pounded into the ground. Even if The Wolf took a shortcut through the forest to the finish line, it wouldn't do him any good; Harriet had probably crossed it by now! Despite the fact that she had almost certainly lost, though, Tordis resolutely continued ahead.
The Wolf's reaction must have been pure bravado, she concluded. Probably he had been quite disappointed to hear his plan had failed. Really, she couldn't be angry with him, since if his things had gone right, he would have tied up Harriet, and she would have won the race, thanks to his help! She had heard that The Wolf lived in a luxurious penthouse in Syracuse; perhaps she ought to go over in the evening to cheer him up, since he would probably be quite sad about losing so much money from betting on her!
She smiled, remembering The Wolf kept calling her the Tortoise instead of Tordis. Perhaps she could find a tortoise outfit to wear for the evening, or a turtle one, anyhow; that was practically the same thing. Admittedly, it was hard to imagine looking particularly alluring dressed as a tortoise, but she recalled a large costume shop that had a tremendous inventory, so she would definitely see what they had to offer.
She happily imagined the evening. Maybe he could read her some more of those sonnets! It had come as a surprise to her, but, kept from distractions while listening to them, for the first time she had been able to concentrate properly on the poetic words, eventually discovering she was enjoying herself. I'll bring along some rope, so he can tie me up again when I go, she promised herself, just in case he doesn't have any handy, a thought that showed she most certainly did not know The Wolf very well at all.
She rounded a gentle curve and saw a small crowd clustered about the finish line, cheering her on. "Tordis is the winner!" several of them shouted as she crossed.
"I won?" she asked in disbelief, receiving a small trophy, a bouquet of roses, and a fifty-dollar gift certificate to Falstaff's Athletic Apparel. "But how's that possible? Where's Harriet?"
That was the question everyone wanted answered. Eventually someone shouted, "Here she comes now!"
Harriet dashed up beside her, completely out of breath and very red in her face. "No fair!" she shouted. "The only reason you came in first is that as I was running along, a great big bear blocked my path and he tied me up and wouldn't let me go until he saw you pass!"
"Well, The Wolf tied me up, so we're even!" Tordis answered.
"Yes, I know he did," said Harriet. "That bear kept mumbling about it while he had me there. Apparently he'd been watching Wolfy and saw him tie you up, and he thought you were me and I was you, so he tied me up to counter Wolfy!"
"Hey, good job winning the race, baby." The Wolf emerged from the thick trees and gave Tordis a congratulatory hug. "You did good too, baby," he told Harriet, hugging her also.
"Wolfy," asked Tordis, speaking slowly, for she felt things had worked out suspiciously well for him, "did you know who I really was all along?"
"Just a sec, baby. I need to see Papa Bear about a bit of money I've got coming to me," explained The Wolf, despite the fact that his bookie was not to be seen anywhere. "Be right back, okay?"
"This isn't over," Harriet announced, looking enviously at the trophy, roses, and gift certificate.
"I think it is," Tordis replied. "I've had enough of racing for now."
"Who said anything about racing?" Harriet responded mysteriously.
The story properly should end with a telling of events that occurred a few minutes later: how Papa Bear sauntered to the finish line, only to discover Tordis had won the race after all and that he had to loosen his money belt and pay The Wolf a handsome sum of money intended for other purposes. It was a devastating blow for him being once again bested by The Wolf, particularly when he had taken such care to make certain that would not happen. He scratched his furry head, trying to understand what had gone wrong, as well as to think what to do with his other rather more serious problem this payout created.
However, I think we will skip over those inconsequential details and move to events that transpired later that evening in the parking garage far below The Wolf's penthouse.
Tordis wore a novelty green minidress decorated in a shell design, complete with a layered ruffled skirt, along with matching gloves and high-heeled boots. Wolfy's going to be so thrilled to see his Tortoise, she thought happily. Of course, it might not be too obvious that's what I'm supposed to be, but I suppose that's not too important.
Tordis was not the only person in the parking garage, however. Harriet crouched behind a car, watching intently. She wore a scanty white dress with a rouged trim, a thin black belt and collar, and tall bunny ears. When she spied Tordis press the elevator call button, she sprang into action and easily overpowered her startled friend.
"Hare! Stop it!" Tordis exclaimed. "Let me go! What are you doing here?"
"The same thing you are, apparently," Harriet remarked, taking the rope from Tordis' hand. "Well, how convenient. I know what to do with this!" She quickly bound and gagged Tordis and then shoved her inside a janitor's closet. "Have a nice time," Harriet taunted as Tordis struggled viciously and mewed angrily. "You may have won a meaningless racing trophy, but I'm heading up now to collect a real prize!"
MORAL: When friends compete, the result most often is a tie.