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The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
Damn that little Krupmark whore.
Franklin Junius Stagg, Detective Inspector, Spontoon Islands Constabulary Service, was, if nothing else, a gentlebuck. He would no more swear at a lady than strike her with his paw.
However, nothing prevented him from holding an agonized internal dialogue. Certainly, it matched the sheer physical agony shooting from his stomach to his chest and down his right arm. Certainly, the red mist that filled his vision in the dim lamplight of Printer's Lane, augmented by the steady cold rain, lent voice to his bitter unspoken tirade.
Painted little hussy. Her and her thricebedamned clan. They KNEW. They knew, damnit, what this would do. Put a weapon in my paw. One they DAMN well knew I couldn't use. I could never use it, except on myself. Damn that Jezebel. Oh, God, it's 1929 all over again. Why ME, damnit? Why is it I always have to clean up after some damned fool makes a mess? What the HELL was Pickering thinking? Damned fool.
Stagg mechanically used his keys, opened the door, and stumbled through it.
If I can get some rest. Some rest. Maybe it'll go away, the pain. File. Safe. Must tell Brush. I must. Dropped my cane. Help me, Jakob, I...
"Inspektor! Weib! Ruf der Doktor an! Schnell!"
A moan from the stricken buck. "Ro-o-sieeeeee..."
"-what the hell are you doing?"
Willow smiled at me sadly. "Well, I can't kill you because I love you too, and I'm not wealthy, so the only thing I can offer for your silence is my body-"
My mouth went dry as Willow's frock hit the floor and she unbuttoned her brassiere. "Willow...you don't HAVE to..."
Her smile turned loving. "I know. I want to."
Somehow, my suit found itself on the floor, too. Couldn't remember unbuttoning it. No matter. Willow's eyes burned with love and passion as I stepped out of my step-ins and stood naked before her. "Rosie. My one and only love," she whispered.
"I...love you, too," I whispered back, taking her in my arms. Willow's mouth met mine with hot passion as we sank to the carpet in front of the roaring fire, our loins locked in a lover's embrace-
Goddammit. Another lovely dream shot to hell.
Somebody damned well better be dead, or whoever's calling at this ungodly hour of the morning damned well will be.
"H'lo?" I mumbled sleepily, moving about in my (alas) otherwise unoccupied bed.
"Ya, zo?" I answered in my best Yiddishe accent.
"<This Frau Nerzmmann is! Inspector Stagg, very ill is! Please immediately come!>"
"On my way," I snapped, immediately awake.
Slamming down the phone, I was halfway to the lobby with cheetah speed before I remembered that my usual sleeping attire consisted of no attire whatsoever...and I was about to go out in nothing but my spots and my purse. Ooops. Didn't want to scandalize the desk clerk, after all. Not to mention the rest of the Islands. Not that I mind showing off the Baumgartner bod, even with the odd extra blini or two, but...
Two minutes later, sketchily suited and raincoated, I was on my way through the lobby.
All I can say is, God bless the watertaxi operator who was up and about at this hour and this weather. He more than earned the healthy tip I gave him.
As I rushed towards Printer's Lane, I absently noticed that everything was closed for the evening. Huh! Lüchow's was shuttered. Must not have reopened after the holidays. Wonder what happened. Never mind that, the bookshop is up ahead. No lights. What the hell? Sign on the door. "Nach Doktor Meffit's." Ah.
I've seen some bad sights in my life, but one of the worst, and one I shall carry to the grave, is seeing Franklin's frail form lying on the examination table, stripped to the waist, with...wires? Going to some sort of device beeping and spitting out a thin tongue of paper? God, he had to...bare patches of skin mixing with the burn scars...
"He's alive," Doc Meffit grunted, waving an absent greeting. He noticed my curious look at the wires on Franklin's chest. "Heart monitor," he explained. "Better than the one at the hospital." He grinned wryly. "Specializing in diseases of the rich pays off..."
I nodded absently, moving over to squeeze his hand. No answering squeeze. "Out cold," Meffit said. "According to my handy ECG, here-" Another bewildered look. "Electrocardiograph." I nodded again. "-he has acute angina."
I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. "Can't be, doc. I've seen it. Gotta be at least as long as-"
The mephito-medico shot me a dirty look. "ANgina. Chest pains. Not a heart attack, but bloody painful."
"Ah," I nodded, turning at a feminine gasp. Cicely Lopp, Pickering's secretary, was standing palely in the doorway. "M-Miss Baumgartner! How-"
"Alive, for now," I assured her.
A relieved sigh and a tear. "Oh, g-good-" I found myself holding a shaking bunny. I patted her shoulder. "It's okay, kiddo. Okay."
Franklin's eyes opened wide. He emitted a gasping breath, then lay still, his eyes glazing over-
What's happened? Have I been out all night?
Stagg wandered through a landscape that was at once filled with mist, and shot through with sunlight. It was only after taking a half-dozen steps that he realized there was no pain in his right hoof. There was no pain anywhere. For the first time since those awful nights in 1932...in the Central Prison basement...he was-liberated? He lifted his right hoof, and stared in mute astonishment at its clean, healthy, whole appearance.
Odd. Spontoon doesn't have a beach like this. I think. How did I get here? And where are my clothes?
Stagg looked down at his unclad form, which was shimmering as if clothed in robes of finest samite, winking whitely in the sunlight. He wandered through the mist, and realized with a start that he was not walking on solid ground, but in the air, crossing the distance between the banks of the white mist as easily as if he were crossing a street.
I can't be here. It's impossible. Surely not.
Stagg looked around. He could vaguely see, wandering through the mist, other forms, quietly going about their business, as if it were the lunch hour on Asylum Street. Stagg blinked up at the sky.
Well, wherever I am, it's quite beautiful. I wonder if anyone will notice me? It would be helpful if someone gave me directions. Where do they put the information booth?
The Inspector's search for a telephone box was interrupted. His heart stopped as he saw three familiar figures on a mist-bank some yards away. Stagg nearly jumped up.
DIANA! HELEN! MARGARET! OVER HERE! OVER HERE, IT'S ME!
Stagg waved frantically at the figures. After a few seconds, they turned and Stagg felt his heart swell with joy as their three faces lit up. The smallest one had to be gently restrained from dashing forward.
Hang on. There's only three. Where's Grace? What's happened to Grace?
The old buck bit his lower lip, confused. This could be cleared up.
Obviously a mistake. Maybe I don't see her. Diana will tell me.
At this moment, Stagg was brought up short, as if he had walked into a pane of glass. With a growing sense of bewilderment, then frustration, and then anger, he realized he couldn't walk over to where his wife and fawns were. He began to pound on the invisible barrier.
DAMNIT! WHAT'S GOING ON? RELEASE THIS BARRIER AT ONCE, DO YOU HEAR ME?
His anger was fueled by the sight of his mate tightening her jaw in equal frustration, and the sight of his youngest fawn bursting into a silent wail and a welter of tears. Stagg took a few steps back, and rammed as hard as he could against the barrier, which would not yield.
A sad voice from behind broke in.
"It's no use, you know."
Stagg whirled around, to confront a figure shrouded in grey mist...which could have been a rabbit, and, then again, might not have been. The figure was holding what looked like a book lit from the inside.
"Lower this barrier. NOW."
"I could not - even if I wished it, Mr. Stagg. It will only be lowered when it is your time. And it is not."
"It simply is not."
"For the love of God! I'm finally free of all that's gone on-...down-... well..." Stagg pointed helplessly and vaguely in the general direction referred to.
"I am sorry. This is the way it is. You are needed. You are to be returned. So it has been written, so it shall be done."
"NO! I WON'T GO-"
"There is no choice in the matter."
"NO! PLEASE! NO!"
Stagg whirled, to see his mate, nose against the invisible barrier, her eyes wide with grief and fear, clutching the two fawns to herself.
The buck turned again to confront his interlocutor. The rabbit was gone and the grey mist was spreading. And spreading. And spreading. Until it filled the sky, and began to generate rain.
One desperate glance over his shoulder at those enormous doe eyes, then Stagg was falling...and each inch further down, the pain in his chest, arms, hooves and head increased.
It's not fair!
It's NOT FAIR!
What have I done?
Why can't I be free?
I don't want to go back-
Stagg's eyes snapped open reflexively. He could make out the blurred image of a familiar cheetah, could hear her voice echoing...
"Tov m'oad! Doc, ya did it! He's jumpstarted-"
You HEARTLESS HEATHEN HARLOT.
How could you DO this to me?
A sharp stick in his arm, and blessed darkness descended.