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by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
Looked like Franneleh was still steamed about his impromptu ducking. Funny, the koi perked right back up after we fed them... "Want some fish flakes?"
I shrugged. "Oh, well, worth a shot."
Franklin gave me a very peculiar look and turned back to his newspaper. "Look. Rosie. Beloved." Ooo! Little hearts and flowers. "A. I don't like dancing. B. I am *hardly* in any sort of condition for dancing. C. The dance at the Triton Cafe-" here, he indicated the newspaper ad (Dinner at eight, dancing from ten on with the music of Larry Fox and His Tillamook Twelve.)- "is the night before we leave. We'll need to be packed and ready to go." He folded the paper neatly. "D. It's formal attire...and I'm thrice-damned if I'm going to buy a monkey suit that I may wear a grand total of twice...and the second time I'll be buried in it."
I wasn't ready to give up. "A. We can simply listen to the music. B. I want berries and cream, you promised. C. The flight isn't until Saturday afternoon. Plenty of time for us to recover. D. Er...."
Ciss chimed in. "I checked with the front desk. There's an outfitter's that will rent an evening dress for you, and they'll even charge it to the room. So you won't have to pay anything, Jack, er, Inspector."
Heh, heh, heh. Couldn't wait to see how he'd try to get out of this one.
He gave it his best shot, spluttering a bit.
"What's the matter, Franklin, don't you want to take the two of us out for a night on the town?"
"Errr, hrmph, it's not that, that's not the issue at all. It's...well, blast it..."
"What, Inspector?" Ciss twitched an ear, and looked at him slyly. "What's the matter, don't you like evening dress?"
The splutter this produced showed she got her choice of cigar or kewpie doll.
"No, hang it, I don't like evening dress! I've *never* liked evening dress."
"But I'm sure you'd look handsome in it, wouldn't he, Rosie?"
This produced a purr of agreement from me, and a loud, whistling snort from Franklin.
"I'd look nothing of the sort. I'd look like a bloody fool. Look, some bucks, like that indefinite Reginald Buckhorn, can wear black tie and look perfectly natural. Some bucks, like me, will look like...well, like a head waiter on a bad night."
I couldn't help but burst out laughing at this, and so did Ciss. I had an image of Franklin running L'Etoile d'Argent, arguing nonstop with the chef. It'd brighten up the joint by the dozens, let me tell you. And Franklin would wear acorns on his breath better. I watched the insides of his ears turn bright pink, and then he snorted.
"It's all well for you two to laugh. But I don't think *you* have anything to wear, either."
"Ohhhh, but you couldn't be more wrong, boychik. While you were getting fitted up for your workaday uniform, Tante Rosie was spending some of her ill-gotten gains from a misspent youth to get a nice, new dress to show off my spots." Well, okeh....MOST of my spots. "How about you, Ciss?"
A little flicker of powderpuff tail, and a little flicker of the eyebrows, showed that she had the old Girl Guides spirit, and had come prepared.
Franklin snorted again, louder this time. "You can't make me go. This isn't a dictatorship." He crossed his arms, snorted, and glowered.
I pitpatted his head. "Nope. This is a democracy, isn't it, Cissleh?"
"That's right, Rosie. I move that a black-tie evening dress be rented for Franklin, that the pedicab be engaged for the night, and reservations made for dinner and dancing on Friday night. Is there a second?"
No prizes for guessing how fast my paw went up.
Franklin's response reminded me of someone turning the radio-dial too fast.. "Now, see here! You can't..."
Ciss rapped her knuckles on a table. "The buck is out of order and must stop here.. The motion having been made and seconded, the proposition will now be put to a vote. All in favour say "aye!""
Hey, couldn't have been done better if she'd had Rabbit's Rules of Order in her paw. Two "ayes" rang out good and clear.
"Now, just a blasted...!"
"The chair rules that as a "nay." All votes having been cast, the vote is two in favour, one against. The proposition that Franklin Stagg take his two ladies out for a night on the town on Friday, at the Triton Cafe, is hereby carried by a two to one margin."
Franklin spluttered like an outboard all the way to the outfitters. We did give him one point, though. We didn't insist on the opera hat, though we DID make him take the overcoat and white silk scarf.
Funny, really. Franklin looked at the tux...well, like it smelled bad or something. Definitely weird. I made a mental note to ask why he hated getting decked out like that.
Me, I love dressing up. Hell, you have to DRESS up in order to undress on stage, and the marks always loved it when I dressed up in a classy outfit. And then took it off. Within limits, of course. My days on the Minksky circuit taught me how to expose everything without showing everything, if you catch the difference. Kept the bluenoses off my tail on more than one occasion.
All right, for you folks out there that either keep score, or subscribe to Vogue, I was wearing a strapless number in a nice, dark Prussian blue (the better to go with my headfur), cut low enough to arouse interest, but not low enough to cause me problems reaching for the ketchup. Cut low on the back, showing off my pretty pattern (and hey, what's the point of having lovely spotted fur if you can't show it off, hmm?). Slit up the leg, allowing me to show a few more spots, if I felt like it. And I probably would. I hoped it was gonna be warm in the Triton Cafe. One cold breeze and the fact that I wasn't wearing anything else besides a brooch was going to be pretty obvious...
I looked myself over in the full-length mirror. Blinis be damned, I was one cuddly cheetah. And proud of it.
Ciss was, well, another knockout. Now, with some ladies, the "little black dress" wears them, instead of the other way around. Not Ciss. Didn't know you could PACK that much va-va-voom into a modest little dress and a string of pearls. Wonder where she learned to show off? Guess going native back home helped her. The flower in her hair was a nice touch.
We gave each other the once-over and the thumbs up. "Lookin' good, kid," I said.
Ciss just blinked and gasped.
I looked down. "Oh, oh. Wardrobe malfunction?"
She grinned. "Uh-uhhh. Look..."
It was a tossup as to who was gonna sprain their tails from locking them sideways-Ciss or me.
Put it this way. Franklin cleans up REAL nice.
Now, in my years in Burley-Q, I've seen more'n one guy in the Bald Headed Row. And, yeah, they went out...even to Minksky's...in black tie. Lord knows, most of 'em weren't much else to look out. Franklin, though...he looked like he'd just stepped out of a Hart, Shearling and Barks ad.
He'd brushed and slicked down his headfur, brushed himself all over...and he mighta hated evening dress but he sure hadn't forgotten to put on a black tie. Overcoat and silk scarf over his arm, ebony cane polished and gleaming... just... Wow.
There was a definite gleam in his eye and the hint of a grin. "I take it, then, you approve?" His eyes flickered downwards and his grin widened just a little bit. "Yes, I do believe you do." Whups, looked like Ciss had made the same wardrobe choices (or lack thereof) as Yours Truly, and said choice was becoming obvious.
Took a second for us to snap out of it. "Franklin. You look wonderful."
Big buck grin. "As do you two." A jaunty wave of the cane. "Well? Shall we?"
Ciss nodded weakly. "Definitely. But let's have dinner first."
Ever the gentlebuck, Franklin helped us on with our cloaks before getting into his overcoat, then gently offered an elbow to each of us. I took his right arm, the better to help with his bad hoof, and we made a very decent showing heading out to the pedicab.
Jimmy had gone the whole nine yards, too, all dolled up in a chauffeur's cap, jacket and jodphurs. He bowed and helped us into the pedicab, grinning from ear to ear. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught him flashing a thumbs-up at Franklin. Have I mentioned that Franklin is cute when his ears blush?
A little crowded in the passenger space, so I made the ultimate sacrifice so's my dress wouldn't get crushed: I planted myself firmly on Franklin's lap, sitting sideways. Didn't know his ears could get that red. Heh. The roads on Tillamook are very well kept, so any bumps on the trip were strictly cheetah-induced. Franklin, gentlebuck that he was, steadied me carefully with his paws.
It was a beautiful, crisp night, and there was nothing between us and the stars but clear, clean nighttime. No light drowning 'em out like, say, Gnu York.
Arm in arm, Stagg, Party of Three, was announced to the maitre d'hotel, who must have been kicked out of the union for not being a snotty little mamser. A brisk, efficient little snowshoe hare, he snapped his fingers and got us a nice table in the corner. Whether it was coincidence or Ciss' outfit, I dunno, but you could see us from practically everywhere in the Cafe.
I may not be a Spontoonie citizen (yet), but I still take pride in the way we do things. But even I had to admit that the Triton got out and ran circles around anything that, say, L'Argent could do. I didn't need the knife for my poached salmon. Ciss' braised carrots with dill sauce were a work of art. And, confirmed carnivore that I am, I still loved the bite of Franklin's stuffed mushrooms I tried. They even had something I'd never seen before-a little silver salt-lick. You flipped open the top and there was a little cube of salt, the size of a sugar cube. I shouldn't have been surprised, I suppose; lot of caribou, moose and deer enjoying the party too.
Dinner music was provided by a smallish bull named Bobby Shorthorn. Pretty impressive; his usual gig was one of the swankier hotels in Gnu York. I'd caught his act a couple of times when one of the Bald-Headed Row residents would take some of the gals out of an afternoon.
Here, Bobby had brought his piano, his stock of Cole Porterhouse tunes and a growly, gravelly voice. Might have brought some fans, as well; certainly, he got a lot of well-earned applause after each number.
We waved off the dessert menu; we knew what we wanted-three orders of berries and cream. Extra yum! I was already in a good mood, but nothing like a bowl of good, rich cream to make this kitty purr.
Maybe it was the berries and cream, maybe not, but...as the dessert bowls were cleared, I could feel a paw reach for one of mine under the table, give it a gentle squeeze and let go. Not so fast, buster, I'm keeping this here paw for awhile. I suspect Franklin lost his other paw the same way; Cisseleh's paws were out of sight and she'd scooched a little closer as well. A good way to pass the time until the orchestra set up.
I gave Larry Fox's boys the once-over. Sure enough, I knew one of 'em. The saxophonist, a good looking puma, had gone out with Toni for awhile. This looked like a good chance to pick up the latest, so I reluctantly excused myself and tiptoed over to the bandstand.
Puma-boy looked up, grinning from ear to ear. "Heyas, Spots! Ain't see you in an age. Man, you're a sight for sore ones! Gonna give us onea your songs tonight?"
I grinned back. "Aw, knock it off, Pete. You know most of the songs I sing aren't for swanky joints like this."
"Hey, you'd be surprised, Spots." Pete began bopping a bit. ""Lenox Avenue is known, for doin' the low-down, but they're not alone, in doin' the low-down. Fifth Avenue's learnin' how, they've got the bug, Fifth Avenue's learnin' now, and that's not all..."
I just had to laugh at that. "Awright, knock it off or I *am* gonna get on stage."
"I should be so lucky, Spots. Lookin' cuddly there, sugar."
"You're outta luck, sport. Taken."
"Yeah? Who's the lucky bum?"
"See the buck over there, the one in the penguin suit?"
"Yeah. Hey, wait, he's got some doll with him, a little bunny. Man, she looks like she's got somethin' burnin' in the oven. Hey, Spots, you'd better hustle on back, someone's poachin' on your preserve."
"Nah, don't worry Pete, she's with me. The buck's under our care. Needed some TLC real bad."
"Daymn. I gotta get sick like that."
"Heh. Listen, Pete. Do your old Spotsie a favor, willya?"
"Hey, sugar, you name it."
I nodded. "Franklin -- that's the buck -- he's got a bum hoof, and he can only slow-dance. You got some stuff tonight for a good old-fashioned cheek-to-cheek?"
Pete mock swooned. "Oooooh, you want some of that, darlin'? Yeah, you just keep your eyes on Pete, I'll give you the high sign when somethin' is comin' up. Hell, keep your eyes on Pete anyway, 'cause I'm one handsome cat, hear?"
I winked. "You're outta luck, Pete. Like I said, taken."
Pete performed a puma pout. "Awwwwwww, maaaaaan. I don't get no breaks. Looks like I'll have to make my own fun. There's a sable over there. Mmmmm-mmmmm. She's got more'n love to keep her warm."
"You always did have good taste, Pete. Thanks a million!" I left Pete to make eyes at the sable (who was making some back -- Pete was a good looking one), went back to the table, and reclaimed my paw. And whatever else could be done out of sight, under the table.
Franklin got up for a necessary trip, leaving the two of us for a bit.
"Well, Ciss? Beats laughter as the best medicine, doesn't it? Nothing like a little harem to perk up a buck's spirits."
Ciss put a paw to her mouth, and giggled. "But we're not dressed for that. Much as I'd...oh, dear. No, we'd better not say that in Franklin's hearing! He'd be so embarrassed."
I shrugged. "Eh. He'd get over it, I..."
A big, strapping wolf in a uniform strolled over. "Excuse me, ladies, Could I-" Ciss frowned at him. I did her one better. I put both of my paws on the table, smiled sweetly, and sproinged a nice set of cutlery. The doggie got the hint pretty fast, and made about as dignified an exit as you can do when you're shot down that hard. Ciss sniffed and turned her little nose up in the air. That said it all for me.
Franklin probably wondered why he got such a warm reception when he came back. Good thing they dimmed the lights a little as Larry Fox and His Tillamook Twelve began their set.
The first six were good, snappy numbers. The boys knew their stuff, played it hot and sweet, and had the joint jumping. They had to put in a break to let things cool off a bit, and that's when I saw Pete waggle his sax at me. (Yeah, I know that sounds dirtier than it really is. Sometimes a sax is just a sax, y'know?)
I stood up, and gently tugged at Franklin's paw. "C'mon. Give a lady a turn around the floor."
Franklin turned a bright red. "Um. Well, I mean. Even when I was...well, that is. I've never been a good dancer, you know, even when I had two good hooves. There's no way I could keep up with that kind of music..."
I pulled up him. "Listen to Tante Rosie. She has the inside dope that this is a nice, easy slow dance. So all you need to do is hold your lady nice and tight, and let the music do the work for you. C'mon."
Ciss helped a bit, by giving him a gentle push to encourage him. Franklin looked a bit nervous as I led him out onto the floor, where some other couples were waiting for the music to start. I could see Pete was standing next to the microphone, and watching all of this with a mock-jealous expression. He nodded at Larry, and the band struck up a bit of Rabbitwarren and Dobbin. I knew I could count on Pete to give me what I asked for. Just enough of a nice, slow first part, and then Pete steppted up to the microphone, and began singing.
"Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
'Cause I only have eyes for you, dear.
The moon may be high
But I can't see a thing in the sky
'Cause I only have eyes for you."
At this point, Franklin leaned in, and sang just over his breath. It was a lot softer than Pete's voice, but Franklin could have used a megaphone for all I could have heard Pete.
"How could I live a day without you?
I need your love to see me through.
You're not here by my side.
Maybe millions of people pass by
But they all dissappear from view
'Cause I only have eyes for you."
What else could I do but respond?
"I don't know if we're in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue.
You are here, so am I.
Maybe millions of people pass by
But they all dissappear from time
'Cause I only have eyes for you!"
Amazing what a buck can do. Even when he's holding a lady LIKE a lady on the dance floor.
Maybe Pete fixed things so that the song lasted a few minutes longer than the sheet music said.
It seemed like the song lasted forever, and damnit, I wish it had.
Some more songs for the folk wanted it good and hot had to be done, of course. Feh. They're missing the fun. But I could see Pete give us the high sign again. Ciss blushed, and whispered in Franklin's ear. He knew the drill, now, and he was led out onto the floor like a good little fawn. I went to powder my nose as the band struck up "Stardust," starting out with a clarinet that was pouring it out like a glass of whiskey.
When I came out of the ladies', I found myself right in back of two gents in uniform. One of 'em was the bright boy who'd made a move at us earlier. The other was a stocky little lynx. Both of 'em were having a good smoke. The lynx with a Lucky Strike, and the wolf with his ears.
"The buck, out there on the dance floor."
"The one gettin' the bunny hug?"
"Yeah, that's him. Sheesh. Old fart like him, goin' around in rut."
"Hell, didn't you see it, earlier? Sittin' at the table, top of the world. That little bunny at one paw, and some cheetah dame on the other paw."
"Hey, he's got well-rounded tastes."
"Yeah, you seen that cheetah, you'd know what well-rounded is. One of 'em ain't enough for him. Naw, he's gotta have two. Show-off."
"Who is he, anyhow?"
"Dunno for sure. I asked one of the other guys. He's seen this fella. Stayin' over at the Seven Springs."
"Nope. Gotta suite of rooms, and all that. On the tab of the Spontoonie government, wouldja believe?"
"Hey, nice work if you can get it, hanh?"
"Yeah, sure. He's probably one of them bigshots over there. You know, fancy car, fancy office, fancy expense account, and even fancier secretaries. Probably here for one of them "conferences." You know, one hour of meeting with some other big shots, seven hours of meeting with your secretaries somewhere else."
"Hey, maybe he's gotta a lot of heavy dictatin'."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Who sits in whose lap, I dunno. I bet that sonuvabuck is gonna need a vacation from his vacation. I know if I had that cheetah in my paws, she'd be workin' overtime, knowwhatImean?"
"Yeah, I hear you. That bunny right there looks like she's putty in his paws. You figger it's gonna be a long evening for her?"
"Oh, yeah. And jeez, lookit him. Limpin' around. Probably got gout in the hoof from all the booze he puts away. Crap. Free swanky room, free swanky eats, probably a fullup wardrobe, and secretaries that'll do anything for you, and I *do* mean anything. Crap. I'm in the wrong line of work. Whadya think he does?"
"Dunno. Mebbe he took over from Art Lupino after his wife iced him."
"Yeah. Could be. Explains how he can get about dolled up like that. Crap again. Some bucks get all the breaks."
I grinned to myself. Breaks indeed. And they both looked yummy out on the dance floor. Hm. A little lightbulb lit up, and I sidled up to Pete. "Might just be able to put on a little show for ya after all..."
The waltz ended. I could see Franklin looking around, mouthing "Where's Rosie?"
Ciss pointed at me, mouthing "Over by the-"
Pete's sax blared out the opening chords of "Jalousie".
I grinned, accepted a rose from the waiter and, as the band swung into gear, slinked across the floor in perfect time towards a gobsmacked Ciss, the rose clenched between my gleaming teeth...
Now, if ya do it right, the main difference between the ballroom tango and the mattress tango is one layer of clothing apiece.
Ciss, bless her little bunny tail, knew how to do it right.
We had the floor to ourselves. The other dancers just backed off and watched, jaws hitting the floor. I'm guessing that we put on the hottest show seen in the joint since it opened its doors in the first place...
At last, the band struck the final notes. Ciss wound up with the rose in her teeth. I now had Ciss' pearls around MY neck. We both were sweatsoaked, grinning like maniacs and the recipients of loud cheers, thrown roses and at least six separate marriage proposals from BOTH genders...
Arm in arm, Ciss and I proudly promenaded back to the table. Franklin was sitting there, eyes glazed, a small smile on his lips.
Ciss snickered. "Think he liked the show?."
A faint snort from Franklin and a faint hoofscrape from under the table.
I grinned. "Could be."
Around one, Larry and the boys played a few more numbers for those of us who liked to take it easy, so Cisseleh and I each got another turn around the floor. Nice, slow, long turns. Alas, though, all good things had to come to an end and it was time to head back to the inn.
Jimmy had the pedicab out front and waiting for us. Ciss, bless her little fluffy tail, didn't give a damn who saw her. She hopped in, settled herself in Franklin's lap and snuggled right in. Had a size advantage on me there; plenty of space for all of her with room left over for her paw to find a warm spot. Franklin scritched her ear with one paw and held me tight with the other.
The ride was smooth, the night was nice and so was the company. One of Bobby's numbers came back to me and I started singing, softly:
It's getting late and while I wait
My poor heart aches on
Why keep the brakes on? Let's misbehave!!!
Ciss picked right up on the tune.
I feel quite sure affaire d'amour
Would be attractive
While we're still active, let's misbehave!
I came in for the next line.
You know my heart is true
And you say you for me care...
Ciss chimed in with me.
Somebody's sure to tell,
But what the heck do we care?
Franklin looked at both of us lovingly and, in his lovely baritone:
They say that bears have love affairs
And even camels
We're merely mammals--let's misbehave!!!
All three of us, in unison:
My vision flashed white as Ciss backhanded me.
"How DARE you?"
"I - NOTHING!" Ciss glared at me, one spaghetti strap slipped down over her shoulder. "You filthy carpet-munching SLUT! How DARE you lay a hand on me?!"
My arms and legs were numb. I couldn't move. "Ciss-I-"
"I don't want to hear it! You filthy piece of SLIME! How DARE you think I'd even CONSIDER participating in your filthy, unnatural, ungodly-OOOH!"
Ciss spun on her heel and stalked off into the evening mist. I tried to run after her but my arms and legs still weren't working.
"CISS! NO! The CLIFF is that way! CISS! CISSSSSSS-"
My anguished cries blended with her horrified screams.
"NO! NO! NOOOOOOO-!"
"Rosie? Hon? Wh-whuf-wake up! You're hugging too hard."
I snapped awake, shuddering.
The room had a pleasant, mingled smell in the cool breeze coming in through the blinds.
Oh, thank GOD.
We were...well, together, with Franklin's arms gently but firmly around my waist.
I loosened my deathgrip around Ciss' midriff. "Oh, God. I'm so sorry, Ciss."
"S-sokeh. Bad dream, hon?"
"Y-yeah," my voice quavered. "I-you-were-"
"Mmph," Ciss said, squirming around to face me. "It's okay, hon. We're here. You're okay." Her arms encircled me and reached around to pat Franklin's back. "Right, Inspector?"
An amused rumble from behind me. "Precisely, Miss Lopp."
"I...I..." I just sat there and burned this moment into my memory.
No matter what happened, no matter how bad things might ever get in the future, I had this moment of pure love and pure beauty to cherish in one corner of my heart for all eternity.
And I was blubbering and mewling like a kitten from the force of pure love.
Ciss drew my head into her bosom as Franklin gently stroked the backs of my ears. "Ssss, it's okay, babe, it's okay..."
Oh, God. I loved the two of them so much at that moment.