home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
A cold, metal table, in a cold, concrete room.
Lit by a lone bulb, swinging on its electric gallows.
A form, covered with a white sheet. Mostly white. There's some splotches of red on it, where liquid has soaked through.
I don't want to go over to the table. But I am. I can't stop myself. There's nothing stopping the click of my hooves. Or my paw reaching for the sheet. Or pulling it back...
Showing Reggie with three gunshot wounds to the chest, and staring up at the light with sightless eyes.
It was that last bit that had me curled over the rim of the toilet, shaking and puking my guts out. Some rough-tough Minkerton's op I am. But I don't care. The toughest op in the world would crack after any number of nights running with that kind of a nightmare.
As I was rinsing out my mouth, I thanked my lucky stars that Reggie was still among the living. Well, at least I thought so. From what I was told by Lodge, Reggie was giving it the old college try with keeping Phlute busy, occupied and otherwise out from underhoof. Lodge also told me that somehow Reggie wasn't putting his full heart into it. To be sure, the results were there, but there was also a significant ear-droop about the proceedings that hadn't been there before.
Lodge. Lodge. That's it.
I know enough about myself to know how to step outside of my own fur, and take a good hard look. What I saw when I did that was a doe that was not using her head. What was needed was a cool, clear, rational mind. And no fur fit that particular bill more than Lodge. And besides, since when was it wrong from a fiancee to visit her fiance's residence? Talking to Lodge wouldn't raise a hair on anyone else's fur. Self-pride be damned, I needed a second opinion.
Lodge answered the door of the suite, and bowed me in with his usual grace and efficiency, and a tray of tea and Zepps cookies were produced in a twinkling.
"I regret, Miss Fawnsworthy, that Mr. Buckhorn is otherwise occupied. He was loading a bag of golf clubs into Mr. Po'na's ricksha with the assistance of the Minkerton's gentlefur about an hour ago."
"What the...Lodge, what on earth is Reggie planning on doing with...no, wait. I withdraw the question. It's best I don't know."
"A sound policy, Miss Fawnsworthy. It ensures a sufficient level of deniability should the Constabulary wish to make enquiries."
Constabulary. Constabulary. I fiddled with my teacup. Lodge caught that signal, and returned it by a discreet cough.
"I take it, Miss Fawnsworthy, that there is something you wish to discuss with me."
I chewed on that question, and a Zepp, before opening up my purse and pulling out my Minkerton's badge. I handed it to Lodge, who scrutinized it carefully, with barely a flicker of the eyebrow.
"I realize you may have opinions about Minkerton's, Lodge..."
"Mr. Buckhorn's parents engaged Minkerton's to keep an eye on him during his years at the University of Pennsylvania, Miss Fawnsworthy. They went through a number of agents, as they tended to develop liver trouble and recurring headaches after a few months."
I'll just bet. Hazards of the job. Lodge returned my badge.
"I take it, then, that Mr. duCleds was in your charge? And that the developments with Mr. Buckhorn were merely an unplanned, but highly fortuitous, turn of events?"
"Yes to the former, Lodge. And I've got very strong feelings about my luck regarding the latter."
"I have no doubts on the matter, Miss Fawnsworthy. There is a purpose, Miss Fawnsworthy, in revealing to me your occupation? One is humbled by the confidence, but also puzzled as to the purpose."
I put Lodge into the picture regarding Wynt and Katt. No notes or anything, just a slow, faint slapping of his tail while he was thinking.
"Professionally, you are concerned with the safety of Mr. duCleds. Emotionally, you are concerned with the safety of Mr. Buckhorn. Do I interpret your feelings correctly, Miss Fawnsworthy?"
"It's a pretty clinical way of putting it, but yes, Lodge, you have it."
Lodge thought a bit more.
"I must say, Miss Fawnsworthy, that even though Mr. Buckhorn has a very lively past, it was only in Samoa that he aroused passions that put his physical well-being in jeopardy. I have served him for a number of years now, and I cannot immediately recall any events that would arouse the ire of the criminal underworld in the United States. To the contrary, he was a very good customer of a number of bootleggers. It would have been bad business to eliminate such a patron."
"But the yeggs might decide he's a plump target of opportunity, couldn't they? Or what about Sir Josslyn?"
Lodge raised an eyebrow. "Sir Josslyn Buckhorn has many violent passions and emotions regarding his fawn, but I think it unlikely that he would hire third parties to do the foul deed. It is readily apparent to my mind that he would wish to do the deed himself."
I nodded. I'd only met the blivet once (which was enough), but Lodge had his finger on it.
"As for the other theory, that is always plausible, and I thank you for advising me of the curious activities of these gentlefurs. I shall bear them in mind. However, there is one other possibility that occurs to me. Have you been in touch with the Constabulary, Miss Fawnsworthy?"
"Sergeant Brush. He doesn't like me all that much."
"Indeed? I would have thought association with Inspector Stagg would have given him a high opinion of your species..."
(Ohgodohgodohgod, steady...Lodge doesn't need to know the full story.)
"...but mentioning Inspector Stagg brings up an interesting point. May I be excused for a moment, Miss Fawnsworthy?"
On my nod, he shimmered off, shimmering back a few minutes later with a copy of the Mirror that was all too familiar. There was that happy snap of ex-Chief Constable Pickering busily frisking that ewe dressed up (well, half-dressed up) as a constable. I was wondering if Lodge had the ewe in mind, but he flipped away from the photos, toward a longish article in the middle of the paper. He folded the paper over, and placed it in front of me.
The article was an overview of Chief Pickering's career as Chief Constable, with some of the highlights. Quite a few of them featured either Da or Durian...sorry, Sergeant Brush. I had to shake away some feelings of pride in the matter, and read it over again.
It was a week or so before I returned to the scene of the crime.
Well, for starters...
Actually, no. There's no way for me to describe it. You'll simply have to experience it for yourself. Ready? We'll begin.
1) Find a multistorey hotel having a swimming pool directly next to it.
2) Rent a room overlooking the pool, say about 4 or 5 stories up.
3) Tear out the railing from the balcony overlooking the pool.
4) Place a 150 pound tackling dummy on the edge of the balcony.
5) Strip naked.
7) From the other end of the room, run as fast as you can, tackling the dummy around the knees, and give yourself an additional push from the edge of the balcony.
8) Twist around in midair so you land backfirst.
9) If you've done everything properly, you'll land in the water.
9a) If you land on the concrete next to the water, you probably won't be in any shape to read the rest of this story, so read on first before tackling this experiment.
Anyhow, let's just say that everything, well, aft of the waterline was one big bruise, head to toe, especially my poor barely-healed tail.
What's that? In the movies, the hero is up and around right away? In the movies, bubbeleh, the hero has a stunt double. We're talking real life, here.
So anyway, I woke up moaning in agony, only to discover I had a roommate. Stagg was on a tatami next to me. Presumably the staff had schlepped him in, thinking that the two intrepid lovers should recuperate in each other's company, with true love helping to heal all.
This bit of meshugas lasted all of half an hour...
"Oy. My back."
(sweetly) "What's the matter, Miss Baumgartner? I thought cats always landed on their feet."
"Yiff you, you mamser. I can't even lift my tail."
"You can't get it to rise, Miss Baumgartner? Not to worry. Lots of furs in your condition have that problem."
(snarled) "Try jumping off the cliff again, and see what happens!"
"Which part of that remark contains the threat, and which the promise?"
The remainder of the week was spent in separate rooms and a chilly silence.
After about a week, the bruises had healed enough for me to get out and about. Regular massages and soaks in the tub really helped; Yu Fin (the panda masseur) is a sweetie and knows his stuff. Too bad he's taken; I woulda given him a tumble out of gratitude (and, yeah, to stick it to Hat Rack next door, paper thin walls, remember?). Yu Fin had seen it all before, though, and gently but firmly let me down. Nertz.
Anyhow, I got up that morning, stretched, and said, loud enough for my next door neighbor to hear, "My! What a lovely day. I think I'll go for a swim in the tidal pool. It's so nice and sunny out, I don't think I'll bother wearing a stitch of clothing. After all, there's no need to."
"PAH!" from next door.
An evil grin from me.
And off I went.
Actually. my recent landing strip is a really nice pool as these things go. One of the Seven Springs at this joint pops out of the rocks near the ocean, and things get mixed up so the temperature is just right. Even a natural snack bar, if you're into raw crab and such. Yum!
It was a long walk down the stairs to the tidal pool. At the foot, I looked up to the top of the cliff. Did I say fifty feet? Closer to a hundred. And those rocks and boulders down below ain't made of marzipan. Dear Jehovah, what was I THINKING?
The answer, of course, was that I hadn't thought, I'd reacted.
And if I hadn't, well, I'd've have had one helluva unpleasant conversation with a more than mildly meshugginah doe who'd just lost her daddy. Brrr.
And- what else?
I sat on a convenient rock and dipped my tootsies in the pool. Once again, the nightmare played itself over in my mind.
Would I have done it? Would I have jumped after him?
I mean, I had, sorta, but...
I HAD, hadn't I?
I mean, was I trying to rescue him?
Go after him?
I slipped into the water, feeling the gentle caress against my body. Nice. Birthday suit trumps bathing suit every time.
Floating on my back, I emptied my mind. Just relax. It's over now. Nice blue sky, clean air, coupla clouds scooting by.
I fell into a light doze. I'm sorta naturally buoyant, anyhow, so I could do that.
(flash of light - he hit me - no right - i was only trying to - trying to what - help him feel better by - by what hitting him where it hurts - but i didn't mean to-)
Eh. Couple tears, the pool won't notice the extra salt.
Wonder how Lover Boy felt when he apologized?
Great. Now I'm using REGGIE as a role model?
I AM losing it.
Dunno how long I was floating there. I suppose it was a pretty good show, 'cos a sudden amused snort woke me up.
I sat up, splashing. What the yiff-?
Huh! Towel on the rocks. Couple of neat white bundles on top. Something weighing them down. I could see someone with a flag and a rack slowly making their way across the rocks and pebbles back to the steps going up.
A gentle wave of his free paw as he started climbing the steps.
The first bundle was a fat towel with some fur brushes on top. Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten that going back up the steps in wet fur wasn't much fun.
The second bundle turned out to be one of the resort's thick floofy terrycloth robes. Weighed down with a flower. With the stem neatly nibbled down to just the right length.
Bless his furry little flag.
Since he'd gone to all that effort, least I could do was to make myself nice and pretty for him. Besides, I kinda thought he'd be taking his own sweet time up the steps.
I toweled off, did a quick brushup and slipped the robe on. Brushes in one pocket, flower artistically arranged in my headfur and I was ready for a night on the town. Or at least that's how I felt.
Like I figured, I caught up with him about halfway up the steps, at a landing.
I gave him a tentative little smile. "Hi?"
He turned. "Rosie, I-"
Next thing I know, we were both up against the wall, slumped down on the landing, sobbing "OhGodI'msorry" over and over again into each other's shoulder.
Good thing the robe was terrycloth. It got a real workout, soaking up tears.
It was on the second reading that I think I caught what had stuck in Lodge's brain. Just short of two years ago (quite a bit before I got here), Da and Sergeant Brush had managed to rescue an heiress, a Stephanie Catto, that had been kidnapped right after she'd given birth. She'd managed to hide the kid right next to Da's place, where he could find it. Mother and kitten were reunited, and were staying in the Spontoons until the legal affairs involving will contests and the like in the United States were settled. Legal affairs in Los Antelopes, no less. The article said that the Cattos were living in an undisclosed location away from the Euro areas.
"Do you know much about this, Lodge?"
"Only what I have read in the Mirror, Miss Fawnsworthy. And I'm sure you will agree that anything in there should be taken cum grano salis."
"True enough, Lodge. But the article implies the legal wrangle is still going on, doesn't it?"
"So it would appear, Miss Fawnsworthy. There is one other point, Miss Fawnsworthy, that I should bring to your attention."
"The Mirror, it should be noted, has a limited circulation. Unlike the Elele, it does not have a Spontoonie edition. It is generally sold only in the Euro areas of the Spontoons, such as Casino Island, Eastern Island..."
"...and Moon Island."
"Indeed, Miss Fawnsworthy."
"Where Wynt and Katt could have read this article."
"Assuming they had access to the newspaper in question, and read it in the manner I do."
I thought that one over. You don't get to be a top hitter for the Deertroit Mauve Mob by being a dummy. And what I knew about Wynt and Katt told me those were two very smart, very ruthless furs.
"I wonder why Sergeant Brush hasn't figured this line out."
"It is, to be sure, a tenous link. After all, one could argue that Mr. Crane, the publisher of the Mirror, is an equal target. He is from Los Antelopes himself, as you may or may not know."
"Yeah, but he hasn't already survived one attempt on his life."
"That we know of, Miss Fawnsworthy."
"True. But money is the root of all evil, Lodge."
"I beg your pardon, Miss Fawnsworthy, but you are misquoting the Biblical phrase. It is Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.""
"Well, I've got something in this purse that'll pierce themselves with many sorrows even better if they try anything funny, Lodge."
"I do not doubt it, Miss Fawnsworthy. I was told about the windows in your hotel room the night you had your...ahem..."
"Say it, Lodge. Breakdown."
"One does not wish to offend, Miss Fawnsworthy."
"You're too valuable, Lodge, to waste anger on. Thanks a million."
"Of course, Miss Fawnsworthy. Shall I tell Mr. Buckhorn...?"
I thought about that for a minute. "I wasn't here, Lodge, and this conversation didn't happen. Strictly need to know for Reggie."
"Very good, Miss Fawnsworthy."
A few hours the next day in the library reading two year-old copies of the Mirror and the Elele filled me in on the whole Catto affair. It didn't shed much light on what was happening now, but it gave me the impression that Mrs. Catto was one smart, tough, resolute gal. Hell, she wasn't an op, and she doped out how to beat a couple of thugs. And survived the beatdown they gave her. I'd like to meet Mrs. Catto.
Hopefully, under happy circumstances.
Dunno how long we were sitting there. Didn't matter. Didn't care. I could sit there forever.
I know it's supposed to be the gal sitting in the guy's lap, but, hell, I do have a bit more padding and it was more a close cuddle anyway.
It was very quiet for a bit, and then I felt his paw on the back of my neck, skritching it, and then a soft kiss on the top of my ear.
I looked up. Franklin sighed, and skritched my neck again.
"It's just like what I said back on Christmas, about pride. I've done myself over and over again because of it, and I've damned well done it again."
He sighed, a good long one, and closed his eyes. "You know...after Christmas...I wanted to, that night, you know. I honestly wanted to. I saw Dr. Meffit about...it. A couple of days after Christmas. There may be some, well, hysterical elements to it, but I just think my body is too far gone to do....what I...and I DO want to..."
He looked down at his hooves. I gave him a good tight hug.
"What the hell does Meffit know? He ain't infallible."
Stagg took a paw, and lifted my chin. "Rosie, there's another problem. Let's suppose I opened your robe up right now, laid you down and put the most beautiful spotted fawn into you-"
"Twins," I breathed, moving a paw towards my robe's belt to loosen it. "I'm greedy."
His paw gently stopped mine. "Look. We both know...I'm not in the best shape. What I've gone through...I honestly don't think I have more than a few years left."
"Franklin. Junius. Stagg. I am not accepting that."
"Rosie, we have to face the facts. In a few weeks, I'll be fifty-two. My sire, who was a damned sight healthier at this age, died at sixty-four. If I live another ten years, it'll be a miracle."
I wrinkled my brow. That was only half the family line. "What about your mother?"
Franklin winced. "She...she died giving birth to me."
Oh. My. God. "Franklin- I didn't know-"
Another earscritch. "No reason you should have."
"My God. It must have devastated your father."
A long silence. "Actually, I get the feeling my father was somewhat relieved." Another pause. "And so was his wife."
Yahweh, protect us. "Dear God. You mean you're a-"
A deadpan look. "Yes. And a cheap one, too."
I collapsed, sobbing again.
This time with laughter.
"OhGodohGodohGod-oh, fugg..." I just shook.
Eventually, I looked up again. Franklin was just sitting there, deadpan, when s-l-o-w-l-y, his left eyebrow went up.
I collapsed again.
When I regained a little bit of control, I looked up, and there was Franklin, deadpan. This time, it was the right eyebrow.
Back to the giggles. Oh, Lordy. It's amazing the things you find funny.
"Oh, heh, heh, hee, oh, God, I sprained something laughing..." Wiping my eyes, I leaned back into Franklin's arms, ruffling his headfur. "Say, shouldn't this be red?"
A slight grin. "Probably, yes. But at least my parents didn't beat me."
No. Just the rest of the world. I left that unsaid.
Franklin turned serious again. "Rosie...there are some things in life that only a father's love can give. I...I never had that when I was a fawn. I swore that when I had fawns of my own, they were going to know a father's kiss, a father's encouragement, a father's...love. Not even...you can't replace that, ever, not even with the most loving mother in the world. And when I lost my...well, my heart shattered, is all.
"A kitten-fawn...all right, then, twins born a year from now will have their Da taken away when they're young. Never mind me for a moment, think of their little hearts to lose a loving father at such a young age."
I was very still for a few seconds. "And it's better they're never born at all?"
Franklin gulped. "Rosie...Rosie, I do love you, you knmmmmmph." This last was cut off suddenly by my lips on his.
Oh, yeah. Off the cliff and beyond. Anywhere, baby.
Eventually, we came up for air.
I was relaxed in Franklin's arms, doing a little thinking. "Hmmm. Frannileh?"
"You always do what they tell you?"
"Beg pardon?" Franklin looked mildly startled.
I ticked it off on my fingers. "From what you've told me... Your Da wanted you to sit down and shut up, so you did. Mostly. They wanted you out of the house and into school early. You went. They wanted you to get a law degree. You did. Diana, may she rest in peace, wanted you to marry her. You did. The War came and they wanted you and you went. Folks-" I deliberately avoided naming his eldest doe. Didn't know if I could keep a straight face. "-wanted you to stay in New Haven, and you did."
"Go on," Frankin said, his face suddenly still.
"Since you were born," I said, "you've been traveling on a steady straight line-"
"I'd hardly call the past few years a straight line," Franklin objected.
"Nu? Did you come to Spontoon because you wanted to? Or because someone asked you?"
The flush in Franklin's ears told me the whole story.
"So, mostly, you've been traveling a path someone else set for you." I cocked my head and looked at him. "Ever consider jumping the tracks?"
"I..." He looked thoughtful. "Hm."
"Look," I said. "When you came to Spontoon, you figured you were gonna die alone, unloved and forgotten, right?"
Franklin looked stricken and nodded tightly.
"Well," I said lazily, giving him a loving scritch behind the ears, "you know that's not going to happen now, right?" Another tight nod. "So, what do you want to do about it?"
A long, intimate silence. I cuddled up to him. "Hmmmmm?"
Inspector Franklin Junius Stagg, SICS, LL.B, S.W.A.K., nodded firmly, gripped his cane and stood tall and proud. "Right. Come on, Rosie. Let's go up to the room and...try to change some history, shall we?"
Didn't quite work out. At least not entirely.
But no tears or fury, this time. We both agreed that it WAS going to happen at some point, and we fell asleep in each other's arms, nuzzled close.
I awoke to something sticky on my hip.
Franklin was blushing crimson. "Oh, dear LORD. I'm sorry, Rosie." He gave me a sheepish grin. "That hasn't happened since I was a youngster."
"S'okay," I grinned, giving him a smooch on his nosepad. "Proves there's hope for ya. Want me to lick you clean?" Franklin's deepening blush was answer enough. "Okay, spoilsport, lemme get a towel, then."
One up on Meffit. That's a therapy you ain't gonna be taught in med school.
I smiled as I fetched the towel.
"So, nice dream?" I said, rubbing the affected area down.
Franklin just grinned and nodded.
"Dreaming of me?" I smiled.
I raised an eyebrow. "Diana? Aw, that's sweet."
A tight headshake.
I looked puzzled. "Well, what, then?"
Franklin leaned over and whispered in my ear. It was my turn to blush, and my tail locked over full bore. Owtch. My buck has quite an imagination.
"Whew!" I gasped. "Well, we're simply going to have to track down a willing doe and try that out sometime."
Franklin looked sly. "Your friend Miss Fawnsworthy?"
"Definitely not," I said firmly. "She's quite happily taken."
"Heh. I suppose so," my beloved said with a faint grin.
I snuggled back up. "Frannileh?"
"Make a deal witcha."
"Okeh, listen. I'll stop hocking ya all the time-" An adorable look of confusion. "-stop nagging you all the time, all right?" A cervine nod. "But in return, you gotta let me help you. And YOU gotta help you, too. Okeh?"
I continued. "And we'll worry about our kids if and when the time comes. Deal?"
A faint smile. "Deal."
We hugged on it.