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by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
Normally, the hotel delivers a batch of newspapers in the morning and the evening to our suite. We don't bother with the Fillydelphia Bulletin. In Fillydelphia, nearly everyfur might read the Bulletin, but here in the Spontoons, it's usually one or the other of the local papers, the Elele or the Mirror, and the Honolulu papers. A few times a week, we get the Los Antelopes newspapers, to keep us up to date on U.S. matters.
I checked through the bundle this morning, twice. For some reason, the Mirror wasn't there. No great loss, except they have a good comics page. Still, it was on our bill, and I was determined to get what was paid for.
The front desk was a little evasive when pressed. "Are you certain, Miss, that you want the Mirror this morning?"
This was starting to get annoying.
"Look, is Mr. Buckhorn on the front page?"
"Oh, no, Miss."
"Is Mr. duCleds?"
"Oh, no, Miss."
"Am *I* on the front page?"
"Certainly not, Miss."
"Then have a bellfur bust his tail and get me a copy of the Mirror, *now*. I think you know what happens when I get impatient."
Judging from the squeak of fright, and the hurried ringing of the bell that could be heard just before the other end hung up, I guess he did. This was confirmed by the fact that in three minutes flat, the hotel concierge himself delivered a copy.
"There have been problems with getting copies this morning, Miss Fawnsworthy. The edition is sold out."
One glance at the front page showed me why. At photo left, the Chief Constable of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary, in his nice uniform, was making a play for a rather coy -- and amazingly youthful looking -- ewe, who was dressed as a Spontoonie. I use the term guardedly, since the fact that Spontoonie dress is pretty abbreviated anyway, and Chief Pickering was using his paws in a fashion to suggest that what little there was, wasn't going to last very long.
Some comedian at the Mirror had furnished the somewhat obvious headline: "SHEEP AHOY!"
I tipped the concierge, left the other papers in front of Les' door, and took the Mirror back to my room. It made for enlightening reading. Certainly, the cover photo was bound to get some of the Spontoonies in a total uproar, Pickering being a Euro and all. And some of the photos on the inside didn't leave much to the imagination, either. Even if a lot of imagination went into perhaps the setting up. Frisky little devil, Da's boss.
It was at that point that my blood froze. Da's boss. Oh, no. Was it going to be 1929 all over again? I gulped hard, but then shook it off. No. This was just Pickering having some vigorous playtime. Whatever his taste in fantasies, there didn't seem to be anything, strictly speaking, illegal. Assuming, of course, the ewe was of age. Hard to say, but there was a look in her eye that suggested she wasn't San Quentin Quail.
I left the Mirror on top of the pile of newspapers, and telephoned Durian Face. Not in. Not then, and not all day. I was wondering if he was giving me the brush off, but it seemed like hardly anyone was answering phones at the SIC. I asked Po'na around lunchtime what was going on. He shrugged, and intimated that things were like a knocked-over anthill over at the SIC. He didn't look all that unhappy about it, either.
Pickering's blusterous denials made the afternoon Elele, and I figured we were in for a long one. I'd seen a lot of these back home in New Haven in the 1920s. The General Assembly seemed to be a magnet for all sorts of sex, booze and bribery scandals, one of them even involving my Uncle Prescott. (No such luck in bringing him down, alas. Would have been a lot better off for a lot of furs had it done so.)
I made good and sure, though, to get up early the next morning. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Mirror had a lot more up its sleeve. The Staggs had been newspaper publishers for generations, and you can't be descended from seven generations of them without something ending up in your blood. So I kept a careful watch for the copy that belonged to us.
"PICKERING, EWE ARE LYING!"
Sure enough, the Mirror evidently had a whole dossier on Pickering, and it detailed all sorts of things beyond making whoopee on his office desk with the ewe. Succinctly put, a whole lot of cooking the books.
My heart sank. Pickering was out, and I didn't know anything about any of the other candidates. Even if Da was sick, he was getting better (I hoped!), and he had the experience of being the top fur...no. No way in hell would he ever take the job. Not again.
And it was my fault, too. I should never have talked Da...well, that was water under the bridge. Still, there was going to be hell to pay at the SIC, and it certainly was going to make Sergeant Brush's life miserable for the next bunch of days, with all the chaos going on. Wynt and Katt were out of sight, out of mind.
I looked at the pictures, and re-read the article. What Da would have thought reading this. He probably would have had the same reaction...
*****"Are you deliberately making me out to be a fool?" Franklin snapped from behind the screen.
"Umm...nooo," I said thoughtfully. "Why do you ask?"
"THIS!" he replied bitterly, stepping out into view.
I giggled. "Oh, my."
Franklin stood bedecked in his new suit. It fit like a glove. Mostly. The pants were cut way too loose in the inseam, and the cuffs sat bunched up around his ankles. A frosty glare. "Well?"
"Well, what?" I asked.
"Where's the bowler cap and the toothbrush moustache? Obviously, you want me to go about-" he leaned on his cane angrily and performed a rather good mock shuffle- "as Charlie Chimplin, so we need the rest of the ensemble..."
I guffawed, earning another poisonous glare. "It's not THAT bad, Franklin. We'll get Frenchy to do a couple of alterations, and you'll be ready for the Easter parade."
Of course he would have had the same reaction. Even worse. With all the stress that Da has had over the years, it would take something shocking to really put him over the edge. But this would do it. The same reaction, all right. He'd think it was 1929 all over again, and he'd be back to where he was.
But how did he know? I re-read the article for a third time. It was then that the word "dossier" leaped out at me. Yes-s. Somehow or other, there was a dossier. And there's a decent shot Da would have seen it. Anyone with a folder of dynamite like that, and with the intent to cause as much trouble as possible, would have given it to two individuals whom they thought would be most likely to use it. The Mirror, scandal rag that it was, being one. And someone that was known to dislike, and be disliked by, Chief Pickering.
"...MUCH better, Inspector. Now, how about a nice walk? We can get some air and look over the grounds."
"...and over there is the Japanese bath. We've got reservations for later this evening."
"...the rock garden. Tended to perfection and wonderful for contemplation, or so it says here in the brochure."
"...a nice lagoon down there, Inspector. Don't get too close to the cliff edge, there's no railing."
"...and here we are back at the lobby. What say we grab a quick bite and then hit the bath?"
"Can you say anything other than 'Hrumph?'"
*****I put on my best meek secretary outfit, and went over to Meeting Island to do a little Sergeant-hunting. I found him, all right. Wasn't hard. Just follow the sound of the loud cursing in Spontoonie. The victim, in this case, being a coffee vendor. The smell from the cart indicated that this coffee was highly unlikely to be good to the last drop. The only drop that was likely to result from this was that coming from Brush's blackjack.
I coughed to get Brush's attention, which allowed the vendor to take to his heels, leaving the cart behind. Brush scowled first at me, then the cart, and gave the cart a hard kick, bruising his foot but at least having the effect of knocking it over with a thunderous crash.
The conversation that followed was pretty brusque. All I got out of Brush was that he was, indeed, searching for a file that Da might have had, but it wasn't in his office or at the Nerzmann's. He wasn't in any sort of mood to think about Wynt and Katt, since the Althing was breathing down his neck to find the file, and *now*, rather than later.
Brush had to race off to find a bathroom, again. This left me thinking. I put myself in Da's hooves. I had a file like that. Could I use it immediately? Probably not. Da, if he wasn't gobsmacked by the file, would probably want to check things out in the file. But stuff like that couldn't be kept in the office, or even in his home. Where would be a safe place to hide it?
No, not a safe place. A sanctuary.
Franklin seemed bound and determined to have zero fun whatsoever, so I had to maintain the cheerful chatter at our table. Franklin contributed mainly monosyllabic grunts as he picked at his stewed seaweed. Most of which was left on the plate.
St. Anthony's was, as usual, quiet with the dust of ages. I geneflucted upon entering, and then scanned the interior. No, Da would never venture near the Altar in any circumstances, let alone with a file like that.
The pews? No. Even with the few who attended Mass, a file sticking out among the missals would catch the eye.
The lady chapel, with the Cenotaph? No way in hell. Just remind him of 1929 again.
Which left...ah! The confessional booths. Yes-s. Da would be burdened by sins, his and others. And those booths were only used once a week. And, from past experience, I knew which side was used by Father Merino. Much less risky to use a portion only used by one.
Sure enough, I peered down into it with the aid of a small flashlight. Sure enough again, a bulky redweld-type folder tied together. No dust on it. Like sire, like doe-fawn.
I debated whether to tell Durian Face. A chunk of me wanted to say the hell with it, let him fight his own battles. But I wouldn't be my sire's doe if I didn't like a theatrical gesture. I wrote out a quick note, and left it care of the desk sergeant, who promised, somewhat distractedly, to give it to Brush. My duty to Society fulfilled, I went in search of some lunch.
But not from a pushcart vendor.
The Seven Springs, faithful to its Japanese motif, offered a large Japanese-style bath. While I had no problems with the customary Japanese tradition of nudity in the bath being seen but not noticed, I had a pretty good notion Franklin would be very uncomfortable being naked in front of strangers even in his prime, let alone his current condition, so the place was deserted when we made our berobed way into the room for our private session.
I decided to lead by example, and, hanging my robe neatly on a hook, grabbed a bucket of warm water and sat down on a bench, dousing myself. "Franklin? Would you be so kind as to scrub my back?"
Oddly enough, he didn't seem to enjoy it as much as I would have thought. The scrubbing was thorough but oddly impersonal, with no attempt made at wandering paws.
I washed the parts of me I could easily reach, then rinsed off with another bucketful of water. "Okeh, your turn."
Reluctantly, Franklin undid his robe and took his place gingerly on the low bench. "Let me do the work here, Franklin. You just relax."
A dubious "Hrumph." Well, that's progress, anyway. I started at his scalp and worked the soap in. Scalp. Muzzle. Shoulders (oy, so thin still!). Arms. Hands. Chest, being careful with the scars in his fur. I could still feel ribs. Gonna have to fix that, Roseleh. Stomach. Waist. Back. Flag. Legs. Hooves, being especially careful with the lame one.
At last, only one portion of Franklin's anatomy remained. During my ministrations, he'd relaxed more and more, leaning back a bit with his eyes closed. I dithered a bit. Should I? Shouldn't I?
Ah, well. In for a penny, in for a pound, nu?
I grabbed the soap and started.
As I did, Franklin's neck stiffened.
His back stiffened.
His arms stiffened.
His legs stiffened.
In fact, pretty much every part of Franklin became rigid.
His eyes snapped open, and he looked at me in anguish and mortification, the tips of his ears blushing scarlet and his jaw quivering.
I figured the "seen but not observed" approach would be best at tbe moment so, not acknowledging his pained gaze, I finished the soaping job and grabbed the bucket to rinse him. "Okeh, Franklin, now let's go soak."
In the tub, I...well, let's say the exercise involved my breathholding skills and leave it at that. Particularly since it was a resounding failure.
We simply sat and soaked in a miserable silence for a few minutes, then, by mutual silent agreement, climbed out of the tub and headed back to our rooms.
Franklin was ominously silent all the way back to our pavilion. Not even one "hrumph" escaped his lips. I tried to lead him with my arm, but he snatched himself away. I could also see his jaw working, more or less in time to the way he was clenching at his walking stick.
The first storm clouds started coming when I herded him into his room.
"Okeh, bubbeleh, what say we-"
Franklin whirled on me. I had to take a step back. Not necessarily because of his body language, but because of the expression in his eyes. It was something that I had rarely seen before. And the last time was in his daughter's eyes...
I looked confused. "What? I only want-"
"What you want. What *you* want. You want to treat me like a child. No. Worse. You want to treat me like a blasted child's toy."
"Franklin, for heaven's sake..."
"Perhaps you want to dress me up in a little sailor's costume for your amusement, and stick a balloon in my paw."
"At least dressing me up like a child matches my performance ability."
"Tchah! "Franklin, you're making too much of that. Lots of furs your age, and in your condition, have-"
"Don't bloody soft-soap me."
"I'm not soft-soaping you! Go and ask Meffit, if you don't believe me."
Franklin's ears drooped straight down, and I could see tears starting to form in his eyes. He was also starting to shake all over, like Lionel Barrymoose.
"Why....in God's name...did you have to humiliate me like that?"
"What? Franklin, the spa was empty-"
"I'm not referring to that, damnit! I don't need a blasted audience to be humiliated!"
"Look, Franklin, it's okeh-"
"OKAY?! Do you think I like having my impotency rubbed in my face like that? A reminder of the fact that I'm not a whole buck anymore? Why don't you saw off my antlers again and be done with it?"
"Oh, for heaven's..."
"What? Bah! You're blind."
At this point, the well-known Baumgartner sense of humor stepped in and promptly made things ten times worse. "Well, you should work on it a bit more. You won't go blind."
"For God's sake, woman! You think this is funny?!"
Two weeks' worth of Franklin being deliberately miserable came to the fore. I spoke without thinking. "No. Irritating."
The shaking got even more noticable, and Franklin began to breath deeply, the cords standing out in his neck.
"Isn't it enough that I've lost my family, and everything I ever had? Now, you want to take my buckhood from me?"
That did it. Now I was MAD. "Franklin, answer this one question, at least."
"What?!" he snarled.
"What size do you take in a crown of thorns?"
Franklin's eyes bulged at the question. I was too busy thinking up another smart remark to notice his paw rising up. "I'm sure I can get one in a nice shade of-"
My vision flashed white for an instant.
I fell back, a sudden soggy sobbing gulp coming from my mouth- "You-"
It look a few seconds before I could focus again, in time to come, face to face, with something that used to be Franklin J. Stagg, but was now a buck in a state of wild emotion, breathing fast, with his eyes bulging and ears sticking right out.
Dear God. What had I done? What had HE done?
Reflexively, a paw was up and claws sproinged. "You...you...you *hit* me!!"
He was breathing even faster, and I could see his paw twitching, as if he was going to come after me again, claws be damned.
I stared down at my claws.
I retreated. FAST.
I got the connecting door between us, wedged a chair under the knob and collapsed on my tatami mat.
I must have drifted off at some point, because I remember my mamma shaking a finger at me as she stirred the chicken soup on the stove. "Remember, Roseleh, these predator-prey relationships never work out!"
Thanks heaps, Mamma.
I started awake as a ray of sunlight hit my eyelids. Brrr. My cheek still stung with the memory, and my eyes blurred for a moment. Oh, God, Franklin....
I was instantly awake, ears pricked up. What the hell? No sound from the next room. Not even breathing. Oh, God. No-!
I burst into an empty room.
He hadn't died during the night.
But where the hell was he?
Movement on the dresser caught my eye. The pages of a Bible, held open with an unused ashtray, fluttering in the breeze. Looked like Franklin had been doing a bit of reading...
One of the passages was circled.
"Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away, and be at rest."
I didn't even bother tying my kimono together, letting it flap around me as I raced down the path.
*****A familiar rack was visible over the vegetation as I sped down to the cliff. Thank you, Lord.
I skidded to a halt a few feet from the edge, where Franklin stood in shirtsleeves, facing out to sea. As I watched, he bent, picked up a handful of stones and tossed one out into the tidal pool. A delayed *plop* came back up.
I decided to try and make some light conversation. "Um. Nice morning?"
Nertz. "Um...I'm sorry?"
"Look. You DON'T want to do this. I mean, this is a Japanese resort, and hari-kiri is all very romantic-"
"Seppuku. 'Hari-kiri' is a vulgar term meaning 'belly-cutting'."
"Ah. Well, anyway, you don't want to do it."
"Um...because it's a sin?"
A shrug. "I've decided I'm damned to Hell anyway."
I started to get mad again. Bad move, Rosie. "Yeah? Well...if you jump, you'll have two deaths on your conscience."
"Oh? Were you planning to leap after me?"
I dropped to one knee in supplication. "...yes. (sob) I love you, dammit."
Franklin half-turned to look over his shoulder. His mouth quirked in the nastiest, insanest grin I hope never to see again. "For richer or poorer? In sickness and in health?"
What the yiff? "Yes," I sobbed. "Until death do us part."
"Hrumph." Franklin let his walking stick drop to the ground. "See you in Hell, you heathen whore-"
With a final contemptuous flick of his flag, Franklin stepped off the edge of the cliff.