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by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
Frankly, the conditions were crappy. Cold, blowing wind, steady rain, occasional lightning. Definitely not tourist season. For some reason, Rosie's little ditty about 'if it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?" came to mind.
Well, these were a couple of tourists the Islands could have done well enough without.
That wasn't thunder. Not natural thunder anyway. The scream that followed wasn't the wind, either.
Brush cursed and broke into a run. I was on his heels, Bruining in my paw.
Took us two or three of the longest damned minutes of my life to reach the village. Some frightened natives cowering behind a boulder. One jabbered rapidly in the native lingo, pointing to a hut, then at a path leading out of the village.
Pounding feet announced a pair of Guides arriving on the scene. A nod from Brush, and all four of us went into the hut.
Crap. Wise One sprawled against one wall, gutshot and moaning. On the verge of shock. Brush snapped out orders. The Guides started making a stretcher from bamboo lengths and a blanket. Leaning out the door, Brush yelled at another native, handsigning the lad to run and telephone from the nearest place handy. The kid nodded and dashed off.
Brush continued cursing, switching to English for my benefit. "Bastids shot the Wise One. Grabbed Miz Catto and the kit. One guy with a gun, one with a knife."
"Katt likes playing with knives."
"Great. Just yiffin' great." Brush sighed. "Right. Path they took, goes between rocks and such. Not much room t' play. Plus they got the Cattos, and wit' this rain...Okeh. I know a path. We're gonna take it, cut 'em off a few hunnerd yards thataway. Right?"
I saluted him by touching my front sight to my forehead. And grinning a VERY mean grin.
The path we took was a lot narrower. Muddier, too. Thank the pantheon of your choice I had my jungle boots on. Durian-Face...okeh, Sergeant Brush knew the path, so we didn't need to stop to take bearings. Off to our left, we could hear some screaming and crying. Least Mrs. C. was still alive. We overtook the sobs and soon they faded off behind us.
Twenty minutes of run-walk-slip later, we reached a small circular patch of ground. Small stone tablet off to the side. Landmark of some sort, I supposed. The main path ran through the patch past the tablet and past us. South of us, some muffled sobs meant that our quarry was getting close. The twin snap of our hammers clicking back was muffled by the rain. At a nod from Brush, we melted back into the underbrush. He cupped his mouth near my ear. "Lissen up. If one guy's got Catto and th' kit, you take th' other one. I gotta take the one wit' Missus C."
A deep hissing breath. "Cuz if sumpin' yiffs up, and th' Cattos go down, I don't want no Euro gettin' the heat for yiffin up the job, savvy?"
I nodded. "You gonna ID yourself?"
"I gotta. I figgers a raised gun's an answer, right?"
We crouched in the cold semi-dark, lit only by random flashes of lightning. Even over the rain and thunder, the screams and cries grew louder. At least the Cattos were alive to scream.
Wynt was taking the point. Mean looking revolver. Long barrel. A magnum? Maybe. I briefly wondered if he was compensating. Never mind that. He was scanning around. Good thing the rain was fouling up any chance of catching our scents. He turned and nodded, stepping aside.
Mrs. Catto had lost all her clothes in the struggle. Not that those two'd care. She clutched her kitten to her. Both were screaming blue murder, and when Katt shoved her to the ground, all she could do was look up.
"POLICE! DROP IT! NOW!"
Our two bullets crossed the clearing simultaneously.
I felt a tug and a sudden pain in my side, but Wynt was sporting a sudden third eye in the middle of his forehead. He folded just like a cheap suit.
"BITCH!" Katt half-screamed, crouching behind the prone Mrs. Catto. Couldn't get a clear shot.
He raised his machete, glaring down-
I had to try. I drew a careful bead-
All I could see were spots.
All I could hear was the ringing in my ears.
All I could smell was ozone and...barbecued cat?
I shook myself back into the land of the living. An upset wailing advertised that the kid's lungs were OK. "Got the kid, Brush. How's the mama?"
"Over here. Shook up."
I brought young Catto back to his momma, wiping mud from his face as I did. Kinda hard to tell if Miz C. was clinging to Brush or the other way around, but having her kid in her arms helped calm her down.
Wynt was staring up at the rain with all three eyes, teeth bared in death's final snarl. I gave the corpse the once-over, trying not to heave both my guts. Stiletto. Wallet. Tin of condoms? What, he didn't wanna knock up Katt? I sniggered macabrely. Ah, well, not my brand anyway. (Hmph.) (Oh, NOW the peanut gallery shows up?) (We'll talk about this. Later.)
The deceased's fancy six-shooter was a few yards away. Yup, one of the new Magnums. I stashed it in my purse, handling it with a pawkerchief. Connecting him to the Wise One shooting was kinda moot by now, but what the hell, nice neat file, nice neat ending.
Katt's machete was blackened where it hadn't melted.
Native gods 1, Deertroit Mauve Mob null.
Worked for me.
Just a wallet and an envelope in his suit pocket. Guess Katt was the catcher in this little partnership.
Brush looked up at me. "Gotta get somewheres safe, yknow?"
I nodded. "Nearest cop shop?"
Brush quirked his mouth. "Round here? They're shacks wit' phones. Missus C. and her kit need attention, pronto. Hope Kiki's inna good mood. I hate surprisin' her."
We made one helluva parade. Soaked sergeant, filthy feline (and child), and drenched doe stylishly accessorized with matching mud.
A Guide flagged us down, and Brush snapped out some Spontoonie, jerking a thumb back at the clearing. As the Guide hurried off, Brush favored me with a snarled grin. "Told 'im to pick up the trash. We gotta be consid'rit campers, right?"
All I can say is, God (or gods, take your pick) bless Kiki Brush. After her initial exclamation at what showed up on her doorstep, she stepped right up and took charge of mother and son Catto. Brush tried to say something and got a firm smack on his ear to keep him quiet.
Kiki yelled out something over her shoulder, and in a minute or so, three junior versions of Brush showed up, gawking at the naked Euro and earning firm smacks on their muzzles. A torrent of Spontoonie erupted, with Brush trying to get a word in edgewise and getting smacked on the ear for his troubles.
I like Kiki's style.
Mrs. Catto and son were bundled off to the kitchen area, and the cubs were put to work stoking the fire in the large hearth and pouring water into a big kettle to heat. The littlest one trotted up and handed his father a towel, gratefully accepted. I got a rather small towel. This earned Small Fry a gentle swat on the tush and another set of directions, which seemed to take the little fella aback somewhat. He tried to explain something, but Kiki was having none of it. With another gentle swat, Small Fry trotted off and came back a few seconds later with a largish bedsheet, the implication being that it wasn't a good idea to stand around in drenched clothes. I could see the point.
The trio of youngsters were ordered out of the main room. Brush turned a bit red, mumbled something about needing to make a phone call and padded off to another room.
Don't think Rosie'd think much of my striptease technique, even if she'd like the results. Ah, well.
At one point, Small Fry peeked around the doorjamb. He was yanked back, and a rather sharp cry indicated that his brothers didn't like his curiosity. Or his manners. I snickered quietly to myself. Little dickens.
Leaving my sodden raiment in as neat a pile as I could manage, I grabbed my handbag and, resplendent in bedsheet sarong, I headed for the room whence Ol' Durian Face had padded off to. I figured Kiki wouldn't need much help in giving Mrs. Catto some much needed TLC.
Brush was at his desk, wearing only a towel around his midsection and a stogie in his mouth, his duds lying on the floor in a pool of water. His dear old mother would have been outraged. The fox himself turned even redder than usual, and he reached to tighten the towel.
"Relax," I grinned. "I'm engaged."
"Yeah, I knows. T' dat Buckhorn guy. I heard 'bout th' proposal..."
I sighed. That had been, what six weeks ago? Damned six weeks again. I sincerely hoped I wasn't going to be looking at a different crisis every six weeks for the rest of my existence.
Brush gave my handbag the fisheye. "Party Boy know you pack heat in dat 'ting? He know about th' Minkerton's buzzer?"
I grinned faintly. "As of last night, he does. Didn't want to...well, in case..."
Brush's return grin was sharp but approving. "Gotcha." He waved a paw. "Grab a bollard, over dere. I gotta bring th' Chief in on this. Thank God I ain't gotta deal wit' dat damn sheep-..., well ya know, no more..."
I interrupted before things got out of paw. I wasn't dressed for that kind of conversation. "Listen, a favour..."
"Leave me out of this."
"Th' hell fer? Ya done yer job. Society ain't gotta worry 'bout one queer torpedo no more."
"Yeah...well...um. You know...I mean...you got in enough trouble over Minkerton's help recently, haven't you?"
Brush eyed me curiously. "Yeah, well, that was Pickerin'. Sapper's a dif'rent boss. He's a pro..."
I shook my head. "Just....leave me out of it. Right now...just as soon that the whole world doesn't...well..."
Brush, who had one paw on the phone, raised an eyebrow, nodded and jiggled the hook to get an operator.
"Yea, lissen it's...is that you, Myrt?. Yeah, it's me, I gotta...hunh? Oh, yeah, damn, lotta stuff happenin', clean forgot. How is...oh? Damn, that's a relief."
He cupped the phone. "Guides got th' Wise One t'Island Hospital in time. Still in surgery, but Meffit sez she's prolly gonna pull t'ru."
"Meffit's in charge?"
"Yeah. Makes me feel better, y'know?" That made two of us.
"That's swell, Myrt. Y'hear anythin' more, gimme a buzz, hear? I gotta talk t'...jeez, what th' hell, ya readin my mind or somethin'? Naw, it ain't like dat, Kiki keeps me in line...[uneasy glance at me]...yeah, put me t'ru."
Brush sat up straight in his chair, nearly at attention. "Afternoon, Sir. I...yessir. Yeah, she's okeh. She's real shook up an' all, an' so's th'kid. Yeah, I'm at home, closest place that was safe, Sir. Yeah. Thanks. Naw, Mrs. Brush, she's lookin' after th' two right now. More of an expert, I figgers, y'know? Yeah. Th' torpedoes? Got 'em both, Sir. Well, one anyhoo, twixt th' eyes. Woodja believe a bolt o' lightning nailed th' other? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I know, gonna make people think. Hell, Sir, it's got ME thinkin', y'know? Yeah. Yessir, got th' gun right here. Yessir, I had a Guide take care o' th' stiffs. 'keh, I'll have 'em shipped t'Meffit's shop, yessir. Yessir. I'll get a report in soon as I can, yessir. Say, Sir? How we gonna play this wit' th' Mirror? Th' Elele's gonna keep their yap shut, seein' as how a Wise One got one, but...yeah...yeah. Yessir, me 'n th' Inspect'r, we've had a few rounds wit' Crane. Ya wants me t'...? Yessir, ain't no problem, I'll do it right now. Yessir. Yessir. Thanks, Sir. Jeez, all I can say is I'm sure glad I ain't dropped th' ball on this one. Yeah. Right, I'll drop by yer place wit' the paperwork. Afternoon, Sir."
"Hey, Myrt, patch me t'ru t'...hell, just a sec..." Brush opened a small filecard box, and riffled through it expertly. "Yeah. Put me t'ru t' CAsino 93, Myrt..."
Brush drummed his fingers on the desk while he waited. The perking of his ears told him that his party had picked up.
"Af'noon, Mr. Crane, this is Sergeant Brush of th'...yessir. Yeah, that's...un-hunh, yeah, that's right, this is 'bout th' Wise One. Lissen, anyways ya kin see keepin' this on th' Q.T. fer, say, a few days? Naw, naw, lissen. Straight up, lemme tell ya: pair o' Deertroit torpedoes tried to whack Miz Catto an' her kitten t'day an...hell no, I ain't leadin' ya on. Yeah, there's two stiffs on th' way inna meat wagon t'Meffit's right now. Look, see? Th' Chief says it's okeh fer me t'give ya th' lowdown on what wents down t'day, but ya gotta keep quiet fer 72 on it, see? Aw, jeez, cut me slack, Mr. Crane. Y'knows I play it...yeah, awright. Yeah, I'll drop by yer shop. Hunh? I'll ask th' Chief 'bout givin' ya a copy, sure. No, I ain't spoken t' th' Inspect'r. Naw. Naw, ya bet I'm gonna bring him up t'date, soon as I get a chance. Yeah. So, we gots a deal, Sir? Awright. Yeah. I'll keep in touch."
Brush rang off, and ran a paw over his brow. For about the next minute or so, all he did was smoke his cigar and think. After a while, he remembered I was there, and reached into a desk drawer, and pulled out a bottle of pineapple brandy and a pair of somewhat clean glasses. I figured the booze would kill anything lurking on the glass, so I took the snort that was offered, clinking glasses.
Kiki Brush came in as we were downing a second round in silence. Her mate turned red again, and closed up the towel around his waist firmly. This semi-guilty action earned a smirk and an affectionate smack on the ear.
Funny (amusing, not peculiar) to see the rough, tough Sergeant Brush totally cowed by his much larger wife. Not exactly forced on him, though, if you catch the difference.
Some back and forth in Spontoonie, and some gesturing outside the den. Brush broke off to tell me that Mrs. Catto and kitten had been washed off with hot water from the kettle, toweled off, and sent to sleep in the master bedroom, with the aid of a native concoction guaranteed to make them both go safely, and deeply, nighty-night. God knows they needed it.
Mrs. Brush turned to me, and said something softly and pleasantly to me, pointing with her thumb outside. I peered outside to see a large tub, with some steaming water inside.
Right now, other than the half-empty glass of pineapple brandy in my paw, that was the best damn idea I'd heard in days.
Brush assured me that if any of his cubs played Peeping Tom, I was to let him know, and he'd tan their furry little bottoms. I mentally shrugged. Young foxes will be young foxes. Still, the courtesy was nice.
When I unwrapped the bedsheet, I noticed a small red stain. A chill ran down my spine as I felt my side. Whew. Small gash, hardly worth noticing. Looks like the heavy silk jacket had done its job, at least partially. But if that slug had been a couple of inches over...
I made it to the outhouse just in time.
Best damn bath I'd ever had. Even if the tub was a little on the small side and I had to fold my legs.
The house was quiet. Except for the drumming of the rain on the roof.
And some quiet murmurings and creaking noises from the den.
Heh. I could use some of that myself.
Well, when I got back to the hotel.
Let's see, first I'll break out the maple syrup, then-
(No. You. Will. Not.)
(I beg your pardon?)
(You heard me. You will NOT be fornicating with MY Reggie.)
(Now, see here, missy. I saw him first.)
(Don't care. There'll be no fornication before Reggie and *I*get married.)
(Oh, REALLY? Well, *I* plan to yiff Reggie's BRAINS out as soon as I get back to the hotel.)
(Not going to happen.)
(Oh, no? After all, you're scarcely in a position to enforce your wishes-)
At this point, my entire body froze up.
Entirely. Couldn't lift a finger.
And, of course, my nose picked this precise perverse instant to start itching.
Obviously, I was going to have to have a little word with myself.
The last time I'd seen the inside of my head like this was when Rosie'd dropped her little bomb about Grace* 'Course, then my eyes were open all the way, and there was more light in the joint. Still, I had to be hiding around here somewheres.
I looked around a little, saw something glimmering in the corner. I headed that way.
I was...I didn't know what to expect. A schoolmarm? Avenging angel? Valkyrie with helmet and breastplate?
Didn't expect a teenager sitting on the floor in her white Confirmation dress, knees drawn up to her chin.
Grace glowered up at me. "For heaven's sake. Put something on, will you?"
I gave her the ghost of a grin and held my arms rigidly at my side. "Can't move a muscle, remember?"
An exasperated snort and eyeroll, and I felt the room shake slightly as the figure in the bath relaxed, to any outside observer half-asleep in the tub.
"Heh. If that little guy comes back in, he's gonna get an eyeful."
Grace was unamused. "Another reprobate. Well?"
A floofy robe appeared. Slowly, deliberately, I pulled it on, doing a striptease in reverse. Leaving lots of cleavage and leg showing, I tied the belt around me and leaned against a wall, looking down at myself. "Okay, Grace, you got my attention. What's eating you?"
"You know bloody well what is, quote, eating me, endquote. Other than your use of vulgar slang.. You've behaved disgracefully."
I raised an eyebrow. "By your lights. Not mine."
Grace bared some teeth and glared at me. "Your lights ARE my lights."
I leaned back, a little thoughtfully. "Are they? I'm not so sure." I fished in the pockets of the robe, pulled out a pack of Dunhills and my Minkerton's lighter. "I'd offer you one, but you don't look old enough to smoke." Grace seethed as I puffed a cigarette alight. I blew a neat smoke ring at her. "Now. What's this about YOUR Reggie? He's proposed to Willow Fawnsworthy, little missy."
"He's mine. I was here first." Grace pouted. "And you're not fornicating with him any more. *I* will be cleaving unto him-AFTER we are married in the eyes of God and Man."
It occurred to me that, quite possibly, Grace Victoria Stagg might be ever so slightly insane.
The immortal Groucho once said "A cigar is the best prop out there. It gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth." I used my Dunhill to think, puffing out some neat smoke rings into the three-ring emblem shown on the New Haven Flying Corps roundel. "Just checking-it WAS okeh to put a bullet through Wynt's head, right?"
Grace tossed her head. "Certainly. We were acting under color of earthly law. The fur was a killer and the mother and child were in immediate danger."
I nodded agreement.
"And we were striking down the unrighteous under God's law. The Lord will not suffer a sodomite to live."
Oooookay. Definitely more than a few fuses popped, here.
I thought furiously. "So, killing a killer is all right, but...fornicating outside marriage isn't?"
I nodded, pinching out the cigarette and putting the butt in my pocket. Wouldn't do to go littering the inside of my head. "I'd best go and surrender to Brush, then."
I shrugged. "Well, WE'VE killed, which makes us killers."
"But those-we were RIGHTEOUS avengers!"
I shrugged. "Well, isn't that for Earthly judges...and Heavenly, maybe...to decide?"
The room stiffened up again. I smiled beatifically at my twin. "That won't work. either, sweetums. Somebody's going to come in eventually, and if we've gone catatonic...well, I suppose Reggie can come and change our diaper in the sanitarium."
The room relaxed again. "Damn. Your. Eyes."
I raised one sardonic eyebrow. "Too late."
I'd toweled off and was resplendent in another clean bedsheet when the distaff Brush emerged from the den wearing a serene expression and a slightly disheveled dress. I sketched her a salute with my index finger, and we shared smiles. She grabbed a pawful of clean clothes and headed back into the den. Soon, the sound of typing could be heard in the land.
Just as that bath had been the best I'd ever had, the large bowl of steaming pea soup fresh baked bread were the best I'd ever had. Brought back memories of winter days when bowls of soup awaited cold fawns playing around in the snow, me toting my sisters around on a sled...
(Just like the old days, isn't it?) Grace sounded wistful.
(Yup. Best stay quiet, though, dunno what, if anything, Kiki can pick up...) Mrs. Brush was looking at me thoughtfully, chin in paw. Her sons were looking at me as well. One of them rather less innocently, which earned him a firm rebuke and a smack on his ear. His two siblings giggled, which cost them a smack on the ear each.
In the middle of the meal, Kiki got up and returned with my clothes, carefully cleaned, and began hanging them on racks by the fire to dry. She held up my jacket, sticking a finger through one hole and raising an eloquent eyebrow. I shrugged. "Moths."
An amused snort from over my shoulder, and a quick burst of back-and-forth Spontoonie. "She sez, 'Uh-hunh, a moth that smells of cordite?'" Brush grinned, collecting a bowl of pea soup and a smooch from his missus. "She's seen enougha my stuff comin' back from fights t'know what a bullet hole looks like. She's pretty good at gettin' bloodstains out."
I nodded back. "Just a nick, fortunately. Already stopped bleeding."
After lunch, my clothes were sufficiently dry to get changed back into, which I did. Out of sight of young Master Brush, whose leer at my undies drying had earned him a swat and banishment from the table. I walked into the den to find his father had finished typing up his report. He handed me my handbag without comment, lighter by one Magnum, one wallet, one knife and one tin of condoms.
Nodding at me, Kiki Brush said some things in a soft undertone to her mate, who eyed me. I eyed him back, one eyebrow raised. Brush weighed his words.
"Kiki wuz tellin' me...well, ya reminder of someone."
Brush eyed me carefully. "Well, th Inspect'r. Same sorta look in th' eye. Same sorta attitude, y'know?"
(Told you so.)
I managed to keep my cool and come up with the partial truth (the best kind of lie, after all). "I'm flattered. He did kinda inspire me into going into this line of work."
Brush looked at me closely. "Y'ever met him?"
Partial truths, Willow. Partial truths. "I've read about his cases, and Rosie's told me about him."
Brush nodded. "Didn't ask her for an intro?"
I shook my head. "I've seen the window at St. Anthony's. I'm a near dead ringer for the oldest fawn." I remembered how Da had shied away from the roomful of does during the Rahksov case. Best not to bring that one up. "I figured that showing up looking like the ghost of his dead daughter...well, I don't think he'd...react very well."
Brush had the oddest expression on his muzzle. "I...dunno. O'l Black Magic might just s'prize yez. He does that, y'know."
I frowned. "Er...Black Magic?"
Brush grinned. "Sort spooky ol' guy, way he figgers stuff out."
Huh. Spooky. Yeah. Like he ALWAYS knew who had been at the cookie jar. Lesson learned: Don't go after cookies after you'd had jam. He taught me about pawprints from that.
I turned my attention back to Brush, who was continuing. "Poor bastid. Gettin' dealt a pawful like dat. He's a good fur, th' Inspect'r, an' he don't deserve it."
Amen to that, Brer Fox. "They both are," I nodded. "Rosie and...the Inspector. I...think they'll be good for each other."
Brush cracked a crooked smile. "Hope so. He could use a break now and again." He sighed. "Iffen y'got all yer stuff t'gether, Miz Fawnsworthy, I figger y'wanna head back t'Casino Island. Kiki'll take carea th' Cattos, don't ya worry none."
"I'm sure they're in very good paws, Sergeant." A translation was made to Spontoonie, and the femme fox gave a little bow.
As we left, I could feel her looking at me, still puzzled. Still curious...
(*see "Contrition: It's Not Just For Breakfast Any More")