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by M. Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello
The Catto Comeback
by M. Mitchell Marmel and EOCostello
"You gonna be okeh?"
Brush, bless his heart, looked concerned. Well, he'd probably seen his share of shell-shock.
I nodded. "I'm gonna head straight back and...well..."
He snickered. "Can't blame yez. It's good fer ya."
I managed an outraged blush, or, rather, Grace did. "Why, Sergeant. I have NO idea what you're talking about!"
A sardonic nod. "Right. Well, yez need anything, ya know where t'call." He held out his paw. "Ya done good, Fawnsworthy."
I gave him a firm pawshake. "You, too."
A nod. "Youse sure y'doesn't wants me t' come witcha?"
I shook my head. "I'll...have my thoughts to keep me company."
Brush just gave me a slightly odd look and a wave as he turned to head back to his place.
I settled back on the cushions of the watertaxi and half-closed my eyes, heading back into my head...
We had a park bench this time, and Grace was in a familiar outfit: The black dress and veil we'd worn when we met Alan in the cemetery. The night I was named.
"I think we need to have a talk."
"Okay," I said, settling down onto the bench. "What d'you want to talk about?"
"Well, your...your conduct with...Reggie."
"Conduct unbecoming a lady, you mean?" I raised an eyebrow.
"Well, yes. I mean...I don't know what I mean."
I shrugged. "Well, I certainly have no regrets so far."
"Yes, but...but..." Grace turned to me, eyes brimming. "IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!"
The dam broke. I held myself in my arms.
*****"...I mean, I had so many choices. Finish law school, first. Then it could have been the State Police. Or the prosecutor's office. Or even find a buck to love, to marry...have fawns..."
"White wedding dress, the whole nine yards?"
A miserable nod. "And instead, I have to see my family...my Da..." Grace broke into sobs again.
I patted her back. "It's okeh, baby, it's okeh, let it all out..."
Eventually, the sobs subsided.
Looking up, Grace gave me a wan smile. "It's odd, really. D'you realize that...we never really took the time to sit down and mourn our loss?"
I nodded with a grim smile. "We've been...busy."
A miserable nod in return. "Doing the Lord's work. Holy vengeance."
"Heh," I snickered grimly. "When the Lord created the Nine, He was having a REALLY bad bellyache, I think."
Grace shook her head. "Not funny."
"No," I agreed. "Not funny at all."
This prompted a gloomy silence, which Grace finally broke. "You know," she said thoughtfully, "Mummy told us once that great challenges were great gifts given by the Lord."
"Yeah, I remember," I said flatly. "Wonder where we go to exchange THESE gifts..."
"No deposit, no return."
Another gloomy silence until the watertaxi drew near the dock.
"If...if Reggie hadn't come back on Christmas Eve, would you...I mean...you and Rosie..."
"If Reggie hadn't come back," I said flatly, "I'd be Mrs. Willow Baumgartner right now."
"How on Earth you would have explained *that* to Da, I don't know..."
I gave a hafl-amused, half-dismayed hissing snort. "True enough." I grinned at my twin. "Good thing Reggie came back, then, eh?"
Grace gave a dreamy smile. "Oh, yes." She looked askance at me. "Still, your behavior..."
I sighed. "I wasn't thrilled with your hysterics back in the Brushes' bathtub either, you know."
"But me no buts. Pull that stunt at the wrong place and time and we'll BOTH get killed. Savvy?"
Grace looked unhappy. "We'll have to have another talk later. We're near the dock."
"Hey, we made the paper!" I held up the Tillamook Diviner.
"Oh?" Franklin raised an eyebrow from across the table in our cabin aboard the Clipper. Not made up as a bed, worse luck. Nertz. Apart from that, our departure from Tillamook had been smooth as silk, with Jimmy being a real help with the luggage and all. Franklin had slipped him an envelope. A nice tip, judging by Jimmy's grin as he hefted it. Bless my little Franneleh's heart, he'd also disappeared at the terminal briefly, coming back with a mysterious little paper bag...
"Yeah," I said. "The gossip pages."
Twin winces from Franneleh and Cisseleh.
"Relax," I grinned. "I'm the only one who got named. Lessee... Big, beautiful Burley-Q babe Rosie Palmer performed a sizzling samba at the Triton Cafe last pip emma...Huh, what do they know, it was a tango...Rosie, late of the boffo act 'Spots and Stripes Forever', was partnered with an anonymous busty bunny for the torrid tango...ah, they got it right that time...and a dapper deer dude was enjoying the whole show!"
Looks of utter horror from Franneleh and Cisseleh.
I leered at Cisseleh. "So, whaddaya think, Ciss? Sez here the Triton'd love to hire us on..."
"You could grow a pencil moustache-"
"Spoilsports." They still looked stricken, so I reached out and patted their paws reassuringly. "Don't worry. First off, nobody much reads the Diviner gossip pages back home. Second, they used my stage name. Who knows Rosie Palmer on Spontoon? Nobody."
Ciss didn't look convinced. "Rosie...we have to talk."
Sudden drop in my tummy. "Um. This...this isn't going to be THAT speech, is it?"
Ciss grinned. "Well...no, not like that."
Cisseleh turned serious again. "But...what with the Pickering business, we do have to be discreet. I mean, it's perfectly okeh for Chief Sapper to sleep with his secretary-"
"What?!" I yelped.
Franklin chuckled drily. "Chief Sapper's secretary is Mrs. Sapper."
"Ah," I said. "Um, where's that leave you, Cisseleh?"
"Oh," Ciss said mysteriously, "Things have been Arranged. I'll be fine. But, Franklin, Rosie, we can't go pulling little stunts like we did last night back on Spontoon. Not until the Pickering mess dies down, anyhow."
"What happens in Tillamook stays in Tillamook, eh?" I said wryly.
"Welll...least as far as I'm concerned," Ciss said ruefully. "You two are fine. Hell, nobody 'cept Mrs. P. would have cared much about A.A. getting into the lanolin, 'cept she was sending info to Krupmark. THAT cost lives."
"And he was committing peculaton with the Chief Constable's discretionary fund, but that's a relatively minor point," Franklin frowned.
I sighed. "Right. Discreet it is." I brightened a bit. "Hopefully, I'll be able to take over Luchow's. Plenty of room on the second floor for a great big discreet bed with discreet shades."
Ciss giggled. "And discreet room for three?"
Have I mentioned that Franklin is cute when he blushes?
TORPEDO TUBES EMPTY STOP REPORT TO FOLLOW STOP
Lodge answered my quiet knock on the door of Reggie's suite. I put my finger to my lips and Lodge nodded, motioning me inside. "Might I enquire-?"
Grace gave him a slightly haggard look. "Mrs Catto and her child... are safe. Her attackers... are in the morgue."
A grave nod from Lodge. "Just so, Miss Stagg." He gently escorted me through the drawing room, just becoming light with the rising sun. "Mr. Buckhorn is finally asleep. He... had a difficult night." A discreet glance over to the liquor chest, utterly empty now.
I raised an eyebrow. "Er-"
Lodge's grave expression lightened just a touch. "He threw each and every bottle out the window." He looked at me. "I believe he may have, as they say, gone on the wagon for good."
"H'm!" I said. "Well, well. Um-"
Lodge nodded and took a key from his chain. Unlocking the safebox, he handed me the letters, seals intact, and my engagement ring, then ushered me towards a nice, warm fire burning in the fireplace. I mentally blessed the unknown architect who realized that even tropical hotels could use fireplaces on occasion.
Into the blaze went the envelope, and all my confessions were soon burned to a crisp. A few vigorous thrusts with the fireplace poker destroyed what was left of the evidence. I gave a nice, long sigh when that was all done.
Now for the ring. I held it at arm's length. A stray ray from the rising sun gleamed through the saphhires and diamonds, bringing them to sparkling life.
(What are you waiting for?)
I turned to see Reggie standing tentatively at his bedroom door. "Hello, Reggie."
I will always prize the look of pure relief and joy on his face. "Are-are-you-"
I smiled at my beautiful buck as I stepped back inside my head. "I'm fine, Reggie. But I think Grace could use a hug."
(I love you, Willow Fawnsworthy!)
(I love you too, Grace Stagg!)
*****Back at Eastern Island, Ciss gave us a quick wave before zipping through customs, heading off lickety-split, powder-puff tail a-quiver. I grinned. "There goes one kid eager to go back to work!"
Work. That reminded me.
Where was I going to be working now?
Tending bar at the Lotus? Not as interesting as it had been. After all, I had new and different things attracting my attention.
But I hadn't heard from anyone (except Ciss) since I'd left. I was worried. I mean, I wouldn't be out anything if I didn't get that lease on the restaurant.
Well, yes, I would. I'd be out a whole lot of pride. And hope.
"Um...Miss Baumgartner?" Franklin gently tapped me on the shoulder. Yep, we were back home, all right. And in public, Franklin had to keep up appearances. Oh, well. There'd be plenty of times for all that formality to drop.
Among other things.
I turned politely to him. "Yes, Inspector?"
"Look, err...is it all right if we go directly from here to Meeting Island? I...well, you see..."
I grinned. "You're raring to get back into it, aren't you?"
Franklin gave me a small smile that meant millions. "Well, I've been well healed."
Damn. Spontoon's got pink fogs just like Tillamook. Weird weather system.
We cleared customs quickly. Franklin had his new luggage sent to the Nerzmann's, which left a small empty feeling in my guts. But, nu, where else would he send it? The Lotus, along with my luggage? I came this close to suggesting that, but...we had to keep up appearances. Dammitl.
On the water taxi to Meeting Island, Frankln had his head down, thinking. He seemed to be in a good mood, 'cos his flag was moving slightly.
Good thing he did have his eyes closed, though, or his good mood mighta been spoiled.
I spotted another boat across the harbor, an SIC boat, marked with a flag. Dangerous cargo flag? Yep. There was His Royal Jackassedness his own self, Chief, no, make that EX-Chief A. Arsloch Pickering, his paws manacled, being led off the boat onto a larger ship. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I permitted myself a moment of schadenfreude.
Wonder what happened to his little chippie, the lanolin lovely? A smart one, that one. Probably landed squarely on her hooves with a packet of ill-gotten gains. Maybe she'd start out again with a millionaire. Or a good looking gardener. Who knows? None of my business, really.
Grace was definitely in dire need of a hug. I could tell by the lock she had on Reggie. 'Course, I'd have done the same thing in her shoes...
Eventually, the three of us came up for air. Reggie was holding the engagement ring, a rather odd look on his face. I came up front and gave him a smile. "Penny for your thoughts, love."
Reggie looked at me. "Er. Grace?"
(Hmm. Yer up on deck, twin. Good hunting.)
From the back of my head, I could see Grace's inner self twisting a bit of her veil nervously. "Yes, Reggie?"
"Well, that is...I mean to say...hell and damnation, you'd think I'd do better on the second try...!"
I could see where this was headed, and hid a private grin.
Reggie, bless his heart, blundered on, after taking a long, deep breath. "Right. Look. It's clear I can't live without you. I mean you. Well, both of you. You know who I mean...ach!" Reggie smacked his forehead, and breathed deeply again. He took the ring, and for the second time, slipped it home to where it belonged. "Grace Victoria Stagg, will you..."
A burst of radiance inside my head, as Grace's outfit turned instantly into a wedding gown that would shame Cinderella at her best. Accompanied by a heart doing a damn good imitation of a kettledrum. Shoot, it drowned out the rest of the question. "YES! YES! YES!"
Guess things just caught up with the two of us.
The next sensation I had was that I was wrapped up in a very warm envelope. I had a fleeting thought as to how much postage it would require to mail me. Eventually, I blinked awake, to find that it was late morning, I had been asleep on the sofa, and I was securely tucked in under a blanket, and supported by two large pillows. There was still a bit of warmth from the fireplace, where the remains of the fire glowed slightly. I looked up at the ceiling and sighed. We were here, and we were safe. It was a good feeling.
A respectful cough came from near by, and I turned my head to find Lodge.
"Ah. Good morning again, Miss Fawnsworthy. Miss Stagg,"
"Good morning again, Lodge." "Yes, good morning again, Lodge. Errr...where's Reggie?"
"Mr. Buckhorn is back asleep in his bedroom. He left instructions to lay out some things for you for when you awoke, as he imagined you would be up before he arose. Shall I draw a bath for you?"
"But Lodge, I...we don't have any clothes with..."
Lodge gave a discreet cough. "Mr. Buckhorn had had me obtain your various sizes from when you ordered clothes some months ago. You will find a complete outfit in the bathroom on hangars. Mr. Buckhorn also instructed me to leave your Valentine's Day gifts there as well."
I perked my ears. Good heavens. Reggie, bless his heart, was capable of just about any zaniness in romantic matters. Well, we'd just have to see. Lodge left us a cup of coffee and a tin of Buckhorn's Zepps cookies, and drew my bath.
The clothes themselves, I suspect, were Lodge's doing. Sensible choices, pretty much duplicates of what I had ordered previously. It was what was on the counter....
Laid out on the counter was a matching set of silver-backed and silver-handled brushes and mirror, plus paw and hoof tools. Each of them was engraved with a simple, small "W." Mummy had had a similar set, and I remember seeing them on her dresser many times growing up.
"What, no 'G'?"
"Hush, you. He simply didn't have enough advance warning."
"Franklin?" I was whispering in his ear, so formality didn't count.
"Before we get to your office, can we stop by somewhere on Meeting Island? There's something I need to check up on..."
All I got in response was a paw squeeze. Worth millions.
I had to remember not to move at cheetah speed once we got to Meeting Island. After all, Franklin was much better, but his hoof...well, for my part, I was walking on hot bricks by the time we got to Vison and Partner, down the street from SIC headquarters.
Afterwards, Franklin told me we'd only been waiting to see Kara Karoksdottir for six minutes. I dunno, felt like six weeks to me. Now I knew what Willow went through...
Kara met us with a solemn look, and my heart dropped down through my stomach. It went past my knees when she handed me a thin envelope without a word. Finally, she spoke.
"I'll take a rack of toast with strawberry jam and an orange juice, please."
Betcha didn't know a cheetah could squeal that loud.
Neither did Franklin.
Neither did Kara.
Neither did the people in her office.
Neither did anyone else within a five mile radius.
I nearly undid all my good work by giving Franklin a bone-crushing hug.
I nearly undid a few other things when I gave Kara a hug and a kiss.
There it was, in black and white. By resolution of the Althing dated yadda yadda the leasehold at Six Court Street yadda yadda Rosalind Baumgartner yadda yadda for an initial term of seven years yadda yadda percentage rent yadda yadda. The rest was obscured by pink fog.
Kara tried to say a few things, but she cheerfully gave them up when she saw that I wasn't paying a damn bit of attention. She shook Franklin's paw, and congratulated him on his recovery.
And, with a small smile, she said a few other things to him.
Franklin's ears turned bright red.
He wouldn't tell me what she'd said, the fink.
I'll get it out of him, sooner or later.
It was a short walk down Court Street to the SIC HQ. There was a small knot of constables in the lobby of the building, at the desk sergeant's station, when I led Franklin in. Franklin was quietly hobbling back to his office when one of the constables stepped away from the pack.
"Um, Inspector? Welcome back, sir. It's good to see you again. How are you feeling?"
Franklin stopped, turned to face the constable, and broke into a smile. A larger one than I usually see, and I'll bet a larger one than most furs see.
"I'm feeling like a bit of honest work, Constable. Thank you for asking."
The other constables stepped forward and shook paws. Even the desk sergeant came down from his throne and did the honours. Franklin looked like he was home.
Sort of. Just short of his office, he stopped, puzzled.
"Where did this door come from?"
He was right. There was a new door in the corridor that had led to the office of Franklin and Durian Face. It was a freshly varnished one, and a small porcelain marker attached to it indicated that it lead to the "Detective Bureau."
Opening the door revealed Cissleh, busy putting the finishing touches on her small desk. She looked up and smiled.
"Good afternoon, Inspector. Your briefing memorandum is on your chair, and Sergeant Brush will bring you up to date on what's been going on during your holiday. Welcome back!"
As if she didn't know.
Well, her wink and nose-crinkle said different.
Franklin pointed around with his cane. "When did all this happen, Miss Lopp?"
"Chief Sapper gave the orders the first day he was on duty. His memorandum said, quote, he was damned if he was going to have a Detective Bureau looking like something that would disgrace a banana republic, end quote. They've just finished putting in the last of the new furniture..."
With a flourish like she was showing off her own house (H'm. Wonder what her bedroom- ...never mind, Rosie), she opened the door to the Detective Bureau's inner office.
Fresh paint on the walls. Clean windows, no broken panes anymore. And new furniture! An older roll-top desk for Franklin, and a shiny new metal desk for Ol' Durian Face. Already putting coffee rings on it, the slob. Never heard of a coaster, I suppose.
Franklin sat down carefully in his new chair, and gave a small sigh and a rub of his ears.
"Well, as long as things are in the gift-giving mood..." With that, he reached into the bag he'd been toting all the way from Tillamook. He handed one small package to each of Ciss and me, and two packages to Sergeant Brush.
Ciss and I each had small carved wooden boxes inlaid with slivers of ivory. When you opened the box, it triggered a little music chime which played a cheery Cole Porterhouse tune. Ciss gave Franklin a hug and kiss. I tried not to repeat my performance in Kara Karoksdottir's office, much as I would have loved to.
Mrs. Brush got a small carved wooden bowl. Durian Face got a bottle of Rain Island applejack.
"Heh! Thanks, sir. This'll sure be good on cold nights."
"At home." Cissleh crossed her arms over her chest.
"Hanh?" The act of lighting a cigarette was interrupted.
"And no smoking, either. Now that the windows are fixed, you don't want to stink up your nice, new office, do you?" With this, Ciss reached up and whisked the cigarette right out of Durian Face's mouth. Which was sort of left hanging open, anyway. "And I've removed the pineapple brandy from your bottom drawer as well..."
Boy, such a look on Brush's face. Bottle it, and, well... He sighed. "Aw, jeez. Whole lotta changes 'round this joint gonna get takin' use ta..."
While Ciss and Brush were thus occupied, I gave Franklin's ears a skritch.
Some changes were going to be easier to get used to...
*****HAVE READ REPORT STOP ACTIONS WORTHY OF YOUR NAME STOP
Amazing how much you can pack into a few words.
Amazing how much you can hide in them as well.
I locked away the telegram in my desk back at the Grand as a keepsake.
*****"WE ARE THANKFUL. WE WILL REMEMBER."
I opened the small box (no return address), and took out a small carving. I had to hold it up to the light to see what it was.
Someone had, quite expertly, glued together two types of the native idols found in the stores, only these had been carved of expensive woods, several cuts above what you'd see tourists buy.
There was a mother-and-child figure, kneeling, but glued to this idol was another idol, one that I recognized as the law or justice-type idol. It was holding its shield over the two figures, and was blowing its shell horn. A different figure from our justice. It had eyes wide open, and was taking active steps.
I rubbed the warm wood with a finger. It was a long time before I could turn to anything else.
(Sed libera nos a malo. Amen.)
(Yeah, what you said..)
It had been a very busy day, and Franklin's flag was, well, flagging as we walked down Printer's Lane. I'd been keeping up a stream of chatter about my plans for Luchow's and how I was going to fix things up when we arrived at Nerzmann's.
Franklin nodded, politely if a bit sleepily. "Well, Miss Baumgartner-"
"Oh, come on, I'll see you to your room, Inspector. No problem."
An amused snort. "Very well..."
We stepped into the shop and back to Stagg's door. He opened it. And stood. And stared.
I skootched in front of him to see what had caused the transfixion.
See, last time I'd been in here, there were basically a few sticks of furniture and a camp cot. Now, the commode and sink were behind a decorative screen, the walls had cheerful engravings of trees and fruit hanging on them...and there was an honest-to-God BED in there. Still pretty narrow, but much softer, and now he would have plenty of room. Plenty of room...
I was absorbing this when I noticed that Franklin had carefully placed his stick outside the door. There was a faint, whistling snort, and I could hear his hoof scrape a bit against the floor.
I'm not certain whether he picked me up, or I jumped in his arms. Not that it matters. He carried me over the threshhold, and used an elbow to close the door with a click.
What happened next?
Unlike me, for you dear reader, this is...
THE END (for the moment, at least)