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by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
The lady bunny was Cicely Lopp, the secretary for Franklin's boss, Chief Inspector Pickering. She saw me giving her the fisheye from across the waiting room sofa we were sharing and she correctly guessed how I felt.
"If it makes you feel any better, Miss Baumgartner, it was Mrs. Nerzmann who telephoned me with the news."
I nodded. "A little. I know what side Frau N. is on." Seeing Miss Lopp's quivering nose and knotted-up handkerchief in her paws, I could see what side she was on, too. "Official? ...Or personal?"
Miss Lopp blushed prettily, which told me volumes. "A...little of both. When the Inspector moved to Printers' Lane, I left instructions with Mrs. Nerzmann to call me if the Inspector was having any difficulties." She sighed unhappily. "When the Inspector doesn't show up for work later this morning, I'm going to have to tell the Chief Inspector something...and I'm dreading it."
I shrugged. "The guy's taking a sick day. This is big news?"
"You don't understand," Miss Lopp said, a tear forming in one eye. "He's been looking for an excuse, any excuse, to do down Inspector Stagg. I don't want to do that to him..."
She looked at the closed door separating us from Meffit and Franklin, gave a long gulp, and gripped the handkerchief in her paws hard enough to turn her knuckles white. I didn't have to be a doctor to diagnose the symptoms.
She looked up at me, sharply, and then looked down at her feet. After about fifteen seconds, she nodded, and spoke quietly.
"I came so close about a year ago. Right after the Chief took away this horrible murder case from the Inspector. The poor buck felt so badly for the families, it was awful to see it." One look at her face and my obvious question, "Why didn't you?" died on my lips. I settled for a silent nod, which she returned.
"That's what separates him from Pickering, you know," Miss Lopp continued quietly. *He* (indicating with her head toward the door) actually gives a damn. The Chief...well, so long as he gets to wear his pretty uniform in front of the cameras..." More twisting of the handkerchief.
"Not fond of your boss, hmmm?"
For someone of her species, the lady bunny had a lot of fearlessness. "He's a disgusting, two-faced piece of slime. You should hear him carry on behind closed doors about the Inspector. And *you*, I might add." I raised an eyebrow. Oh, to be a fly on THAT wall! Miss Lopp continued. "This from someone who's cheating on his wife with some little curly-fleeced hussy. In his office, I ask you!"
"News to me," I said with a wry grin. "Guess she doesn't come into the Lotus. Oh, well."
Miss Lopp looked down at her feet again. "The Inspector isn't like that. He's always polite, raises his hat, stands aside for me. And he always looks so sad. There are times when I've badly wanted to hug him..."
Exactly what drew me to him in the first place. I could sympathize.
"His personnel file has some old pictures of him. I copied one of them. He's in a military uniform, it must have been taken 20 years ago. He looks so handsome in it..."
I gave an amused snort. "Something to dream on?"
The bunny nodded. I knew that feeling, too. In spades.
"What?" A look of alarm from Miss Lopp.
"Just come here." I drew the lady lepine to me. "Just let it all out."
Hey, I'm a bartender. Soaking up tears with my shoulder is part of the job description...
A few minutes later:
"My friends call me Rosie."
"Mine call me Ciss. Rosie?"
She grinned a bit at this. "Thank you for the shoulder."
"Umm...that's not an invitation, is it?" Sis looked at me a tad anxiously. "I mean, I'm not-"
I let out a belly laugh. "Sweetie, I don't do that with someone who doesn't want to."
She snuggled up to me as I leaned back against the padded arm of the sofa. "Thanks. I just need-"
"Same here, sweetie. Same here."
Someone must have tucked a blanket around us while we nodded off, because the next thing I knew, grey light was shining in through the window and Frau Nerzmann was bringing in hot cocoa and some of her incomparable pastries. Must have brought them from the bookstore in the rain, God bless her.
*****"Extreme gastritis, which, on top of whatever stress he's under, prompted the angina attack. In conjunction with his generally rundown condition..." Doc shook his head. "He needs rest, relaxation, some good food..."
"No argument from me, Doc," I nodded. "Try telling HIM that."
"T...telling me what?" A weak voice from the bed.
"That you need a vacation, Franklin," I smiled. "Welcome back to the land of the living."
Stagg gave me a cold look. "Miss Baumgartner. Doctor. Miss Lopp. What's going on here?" He winced at the effort and laid back on the bed, catching his breath.
MISS Baumgartner? Uh-oh. Cecily's ears drooped and she did a fast fade out the door.
Meffit to the rescue. "Good morning, Inspector. You're at my clinic. You were brought here unconscious. You've suffered an acute angina attack complicated by extreme gastritis, probably brought on by stress. Your heart stopped briefly, but I resuscitated you. You've been sedated for the past few hours."
Stagg grunted. "I see. Well, I'm feeling better, so, if you could bring my-" he glanced down at the covers- "clothing, I'll be on my way."
"I...don't think so, Inspector. You're still a sick buck." Doc was firm but friendly.
"Doctor." Stagg's tone was cold. "I have my duties to attend to, and-" an inexplicably chilly look at me- "I am apparently needed. So, my clothing, please?"
Doc Meffit sighed. "I'm sorry."
Stagg glared at Doc. "I CAN perform my duties wrapped in a sheet, you know." He winced again and laid back against the pillow, beads of sweat on his brow.
Meffit's mouth quirked up one millimetre. "I'm sure you can. However, that's not an option. You have just suffered a mild cardiac episode and you WILL rest."
It's the first time I've ever seen Stagg look mean. "Or-?"
"Or," Meffit said evenly, "I telephone Chief Pickering." He looked innocent. "I'm certain that the Chief would love to see that you get all the leisure time you could handle."
"BLACKMAIL," Stagg spat, in a voice rather louder than anyone usually hears him. He clenched his paws, and closed his eyes.
Meffit shrugged matter-of-factly. "Call it what you will."
Stagg sighed and sank back against the pillows. "How long?"
"Six weeks," Meffit said. I choked back a laugh.
"One week," Stagg growled, and the haggling began.
"Done." Meffit looked smug. "One other thing, Inspector, I insist that, for the sake of complete rest, your...vacation take place away from Spontoon." A shocked look from Stagg. "That way, you...won't be tempted to cut things short by any, ahem, 'emergencies.'"
"Doctor." Stagg's tone had almost become pleading. "I'm not wealthy. Where am I supposed to go?"
"Waukegan Spa, South Tillamook," Cicely's voice came briskly through the doorway, followed by the rabbit doe herself. "At the Althing's expense. Room, board, tips, and...with Miss Baumgartner as your, well-"
"Attendant," I finished smoothly, suppressing a snigger.
If looks could kill, all three of us would be smouldering ashes on the Doc's carpet. Stagg sank back on the bed with a martyred sigh. "It would seem I have no choice."
"None whatsoever," Cicely said briskly. There were hidden depths of courage and determination in that little doe. "The Finance Minister has personally taken an interest in your well-being."
I raised an eyebrow. Stuff had to have been going on behind the scenes well before Stagg's collapse. With a microscopic grin, I said, "Okay, Cisseleh. Can you arrange transport on the QT for this?"
"Already working on it," the bunny assured me.
"You're a jewel," I said appreciatively.
"That's funny. I don't look jewel-ish." I don't think the Inspector caught that bit of wit. The mephito-medico hid his grin behind a light cough.
I snickered. "Okeh. Next thing is to see what you can do about burying this news. Does the blivet in the Sam Bruin belt-"
"Blivet?" Cicely interrupted.
I grinned. "200 pounds of wet manure in a 100 pound sack."
A lepine guffaw. "Which he thinks don't stink."
Snickering, I continued. "So, does the blivet get a daily memo or briefing or such?"
The bunny frowned. "He never reads it. Waste of my time." She then grinned nastily, quickly catching my drift. Good girl.
"Okay, then. I'll head back and get the Inspector's things packed." I shot him a mischievous look over my shoulder. "I'll be sure to put the hair shirt on top."
The look of pure, cold fury on Stagg's face was quickly obscured by another Mickey Finn via the arm. Good mephit, that Meffit.