Murder at the Chanticleer Club
By E.O. Costello, M. Mitchell Marmel, and Walter Reimer
(© 2011 E.O. Costello, M. Mitchell Marmel, & Walter Reimer)
(Characters © 2011 their respective owners)
Doc Meffit’s a pro at what he does, so iffen he’s got any, like, opinions about Coyote an’ how he ended up dead, he’s keepin’ ‘em to himself. He talks to Stagg while he’s washing his paws, voice real professional-like.
"Yes, well, there's no mystery at all regarding the cause of death. Asphyxiation, pure and simple. There were no other marks on the body that would be associated with a violent death. Of course, I have to wait for the tests to come back from the lab regarding the levels of alcohol in the blood, and any poisons, but it's my belief that, leaving aside the fact that alcohol may have lowered the late Mr. Coyote's inhibitions, and may have made his movements sluggish, it was the way that he was tied up that was the direct cause of death."
Stagg scratched at an antler. Seen that before; he’s thinkin.’ "Was there any sign of violence on the body? Bruises, or such?"
Meffit harrumphs a little, not at Stagg, but at Coyote, lyin’ on his slab. He ain’t gonna complain ‘bout there bein’ no satin sheets here.
Miz Baumgartner stayed outta the room, said her stomach was upset.
Don’t blame her.
Meffit’s still talkin’ while he dries off. "The only unusual thing about the body was that there were still traces of what appeared to be candle-wax matted in the fur on his, er, chest. As to how or why they got there, I don't wish to know that."
You an’ me both, Doc.
"Hmm. Interesting. Not much evidence of a fight. Were there any traces of sexual activity in, say, the last 48 hours of the deceased's life?"
Meffit nods. "I found two separate traces of activity. One in the deceased's body, in the obvious locale. The other, rather interestingly, was a sample that was on the collar that the deceased had been wearing, only apparent when I examined the collar. Matching traces were found on the deceased’s neck and muzzle." He holds up th’ bag with th’ collar innit. "The ligature marks on his throat match the collar exactly."
My ears perk up. "Got a handle on what species?"
"I took swabs of both specimens, and examined them under the microscope. Both samples were very similar, indicating they possibly came from the same source. I'll need some more testing, to be sure, but I have reason to believe that the semen samples were not only mammalian, but of mustelid origin."
"How can ya tell, Doc?"
"Size and structure of the individual sperm cells differs from species to species. There's no way currently to pinpoint one individual in a species as opposed to another, but one is able to at least pinpoint the species."
Me an’ Stagg walk out of Doc Meffit’s shop an’ wash our paws. Can’t stand th’ smell o’ carbolic soap, an’ this place stinks of it. I try to give my boss the Q and A. "Kinda looks like Marten wuz in 303 right 'round th' time Coyote got tied up, don't it?"
Stagg nods, non-committal like. "There's no question that Marten was at the scene, while Coyote was still alive. I think some fur knew of this fact, and took advantage of it."
"Whoa, now. Ya figger Marten ain't done it?"
Stagg dried his paws thoughtfully. "I don't think Marten has told us everything he knows, but what he has told us, I am thinking, is the truth. But to eliminate him altogether is another question entirely. I need more facts, and there is one probable area where I can get these facts."
"Ah, I forget: Mr. Nelson of the Club has invited Miss Baumgartner and the two of us to dinner tonight, on the Club, of course."
I could feel my tailfur bottle out; ain’t had it do that in a year’r more, since that little Ni brat told how he cut a guy’s tail off. Stagg eyes me. "Any particular reason, other than the high quality of Mrs. Brush's cooking, that makes you wish to pass up this chance, Sergeant?"
I give a blush. It’s embarrassin.’ "Lookit, sir, it's like I told ya. I gots a funny feelin' 'bout that joint. It ain't th' folks there, though I ain't none too fond of 'em t'start wit'. Straight up, I think them Ruins got somethin' t'do wit' it. Betcha ten shillin's MIZ Baumgartner's actin' different 'cos she's near 'em."
"Explain to me this concept of the Ruins, Sergeant." Stagg folds his arms and listens close.
"See, sir, it's like this. Y'know, back long, long time ago, 'fore somethin' whacked happen’d 'round these parts an' they 'bandoned the joint, there wuz two temples. Th' one fer th' dames, that's on Eastern Island, right under where them young dames get their flyin' lessons. Th' opposite one, if ya gets my drift, that's on Moon Island."
"Anyhoo, I dunno 'zactly how they gots it, but some rich ol' guy who had a thing fer diggin' up stuff found th' joint, back when we wuz still run by th' Brits. He had a native guy that he wuz wit', if ya fallas my meanin', and he puts up th' dough fer th' native t'buy th' land 'round where th' Ruins wuz. Anyhoo, ever since then, th' land has sorta passed in a small circle o' paws, an' bout 20 years 'go or so, they forms th' Chant'cleer. Few other stuff-diggers been workin' on 'em since then, they sez, so I'm told, they're done real nice."
"And your issue is . . .?"
Damn, it’s hard talkin’ ‘bout this, an’ I clench up, fists an’ jaw. "I don't hold wit' muckin' 'bout wit' dat stuff, sir. I figger there's a damn good reason somethin' bad happened all them years ago, an' I'm all fer leavin' stuff 'lone. There's somethin' screwy 'bout them Ruins. Mucks 'round with folks' minds." I make with the finger round the ear.
Stagg doesn’t get mad at me. ‘Stead he thinks it over while fingerin’ the head of his cane. Finally he makes with a tap on the floor and turns to me.
"Go home for dinner, Sergeant. You know I would never put you in a situation where you weren't comfortable. I'll bring you up to date with whatever Miss Baumgartner and I find."
"Thanks, sir. But lissen: you keep an eye on that kittie o' yours. Iffen ya don't watch out, she's gonna go funnier'n usual, just youse watch."
"I'll bear that in mind, Sergeant," Stagg remarks. Same dry voice.
Dinner had been arranged quietly.
A member (not Eddie – he would have said something) had sent two cigarette lighters by courier, one to me and one to Franklin.
Brush didn’t get one. Betcha he’s just as happy.
The lighters were enameled in black with a silver Chanticleer, and a number was engraved on the bottom of the lighter. Really posh. The messenger had also left a note (on really high quality letterhead) from Eddie that dinner was at eight, and that the Inspector could wear his suit, as that counted as his uniform. I was expected to wear dress “suitable for dinner.”
Now, I read the Club's rules a while back, and this was a perfect opportunity to dress up nice. Hadn’t had a chance to do it in awhile, after all, so I pulled out all the stops. White tie and tails, complete with top hat.
Franneleh gave me the eye.
And a soft whistling snort.
Hee! There’s those little hearts and flowers again, and that gorgeous pink fog.
"Rosie, one request?"
"Under no circumstances are you to sing Falling in Love Again."
I chuckled and gave him an affectionate thump on the back before hugging him.
When we got to the Club I took off my top hat and took aim at the statue of the buck in the foyer, figuring a game of ring toss might be a dandy way to start off dinner.
But before I could throw, another hat flew past me and landed on target precisely. Whoever threw it had had a lot of practice.
Franklin and I turned to see a youngish, chubby bird. He was dressed to the nines in a really well-tailored evening dress with tasteful accessories, including a white rose in the lapel.
Skill with the tossed hat (Inspector Stagg, statue, Rosalie Baumgartner)
(from "Murder at the Chanticleer Club" by Costello, Marmel, & Reimer)
(Larger file here - 434 KBytes) - art by Darius Koopa (at SoFurry art archive)
Too bad he had to open his beak. Last time I heard yodeling like that was when Toni and I shared the bill with a guy who did Shakespeare recitations.
"'pon my word, our hallowed precincts are honored with the arrival of the gendarmerie!" A few others in the lobby flinched and nervously departed for other rooms.
The bird gave me the approving eye. Hadda resist the urge to strike a pose. I knew him, of course, but I wasn’t sure he had me spotted (though I was showing a certain amount of spots). "Clear evidence that the standards of the Law are improving by leaps and bounds. Zounds, sir, are you not going to effect the introductions?"
Franklin turned a bit red and shuffled his hooves uneasily.
I decided to rescue the situation. “Long time since the dining car on the Chief, eh, Lucileh?”
My little bombshell caused Franneleh’s ears to go straight up, and light dawned on the fat fowl.
"Sweet Ebenezer, as my sainted grandfather would say! Rosie Baumgartner, how wonderful to see you here! And so pleased to see that you took my advice! But yes, since you so obviously beg the question, there is but one Lucius Grebe. To have two would either test the sanity of the world, or threaten the supply of good food and ardent spirits. It is truly magnificent to renew old acquaintances, as the Inspector and I, we too are also comrades of old, are we not?"
Have I mentioned that Franneleh is so cute when he blushes?
Well, get used to it because I’ll keep saying it.
Grebe continued, grinning broadly. "Ah, my dear Inspector. You have not lost a soupcon of your New England modesty and old-fashioned spirit. I speak as one born in the most snow-kissed faubourgs of Boston. Really, now, what an extraordinary circumstance! I had no idea until now that the Spontoons were as fortunate as they were to not only have me present, but you two as well.” He beamed at Franneleh. “I am instantly transported to a new level of comfort, knowing that someone of your vast experience in arresting me is present." He stuck out a pair of elegantly manicured paws. "Would you like to put the pawcuffs on me now, Inspector? Strictly professionally, and for old time's sake, of course."
I guffawed, making Franklin wince and Grebe beam. "So you and Franklin are . . . acquainted?"
Grebe grinned greatly. "D’accord, my dear Mlle. Baumgartner. My time in the groves of academe led me often on the path that led straight to the paddy-wagon. Many times, it was through the good offices of the Inspector here, that I was hauled off to pain and durance vile, there to meditate upon my many sins. Not repent of them, mind. That was not on the program."
"You didn’t tell me you were in New Haven, M’sieu Grebe."
Least I didn’t recall hearing of it.
"Lucius to you, my dear, please! I confess to being devastated that I did not relate that to you. Yes, I was a sparkling ornament ere the moontide on the boulevards of New Haven. Not for me the dusty tomes of an evening, a circumstance which caused much anxiety to my tutors at Collegiate. Speaking of which, I knew one of the Inspector's daughters quite well. Ah, Grace!"
Good thing neither of them caught the look on my face.
Mental note to self: Drop a line to Willow viz: her erstwhile classmate.
Grebe was still . . . effusing, I guess. "How little you knew, Inspector, of the truth when you stood at the baptismal font. Yes, indeed, to know her was to love her."
You could have heard a pin drop just then.
Franklin’s ears went right down and stayed there as a faint but ghastly smile flitted across his muzzle. "Not in any biblical sense, we can safely assume."
"You have not lost any of your native wit, Inspector. No, the flower of the Class of '29 was not for the likes of me, nor any other fur. A rare vintage, indeed. But lo! I see my reverie causes you grief." Grebe's expression sobered, for the moment. "Rest assured, I speak of her in fondness, as anyone else would. For me, only the happy memory of her. For you, heartfelt condolences."
A brief and awkward silence.
“Erm.” I broke the silence. “Lu, we were invited here,” I flourished the engraved lighter, “and we were waiting for -”
Grebe brightened. "Ah! Your host, is moi-meme! It is my pleasure to have you both here. Largely because it causes agita in the souls of some of the other members. Really, this Club can be frightfully stuffy at times, and is constant danger of descending into the worst sort of Boston Brahmin type of gathering, where the inmates are ensconced behind their Evening Transcript and glass of port."
He took his hat from its hook, took me by the arm, and led us both off to the dining room.
"You are assisting the redoubtable Inspector with his enquiries? Capital! Capital! I for one am thrilled to see that the management has called upon his talents. The last doubloon in your possession can be placed on the certainty that this place is a seething cauldron of jealousies beating in hearts beneath starched shirtfronts." He continued on and didn’t seem to care who was listening to him. "I know you of old, Inspector. You are an Old Testament fur, one bringing fire and sword. You might well come to the conclusion that we are here enacting the more vivid and theatrical aspects of that indelible work of literature."
"Not the Gomorrah part, though," I grinned.
The bird laughed and clapped his paws. "Bravo! Indeed not, fair lady! Alas, I think the management is of the view that that particular act of urban planning is in the offing unless this gets solved, and instanter." He favored Stagg with an arch glance as he added, "Best not to look behind you as you leave, my dear Inspector. Hate to have the lovely lady turn into a pillar of salt."
Stagg glanced at me anyway, just in time for me to see him blush.
He’s so cute when he does that.
"Blush not, dear Inspector. You should learn to cast aside your native reticence of an evening. Ah, but of course. Your time in this charming fauborg, this veritable Walden, is short, and you are not here to listen to my prattle. You prefer wisdom? Who does not? I therefore dispense one piece of it to you, like the coins cast to the crowds by the ancients: Seek ye the truth, cherchez le maitre d'hotel. More, I shall say not. My lips are sealed. A rare thing, here."
Grebe was one helluva talker. Just like I remembered him. He chattered away on everything from the latest Broadway shows to Club gossip. I kept my ears open (never know what you can learn). He paused only to talk with the head waiter when we got to the dining room.
Spiffy place; I used to think the l'Etoile d'Argent was the best restaurant around, but this joint’s fair competition.
Franneleh took advantage of the brief break in the conversation, and he leaned in close to whisper, "It’s gone from ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ to the love that won’t shut the yi– "
"Franklin!" I whispered in a tone that might have passed for shocked, if I hadn’t spoiled it by grinning.
Stagg grinned tightly. "Sorry. You’ve . . . met him, I take it?"
“Toni and I were heading west after we got out of burlesque,” I said quietly. “That was back in 1930, and we met on the trip. He suggested that we try our luck on Spontoon if Hollywood didn’t pan out.” I gave my squeeze a little squeeze. “I did have much better luck here, so he was right on that score . . .”
Franneleh smiled back at me warmly.
The pink fog got a little thicker.
Just then, the waiter escorted us to our table.
The dining room was paneled in the same dark wood as the rest of the building, with high floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a view of the gardens at the rear of the club. We settled down with the menus.
I raised a brow. Wow, high class stuff here. "Last time I saw things like this being offered, it was at l’Etoile d’Argent, at Shepherd’s."
I kept my voice down, but I cleared my throat when I stopped talking.
I was starting to sound a bit gruff. Sorta like Brenda, back at the Lotus.
Lucius was studying the wine-list with a highly critical air and gave a lot of complicated instructions in French to the wine-captain. "There is, of course, a very good reason for that." He didn’t say anything else because he started discussing uncorking the wine with the wine-captain.
Meh. We don’t sell wine or beer at Luchow’s. Not for lack of a liquor license, mind. Good food is enough of a draw.
Franklin nodded and whispered to me. "No prices listed, either."
I was about to add something when I sniffed something – no, someone – familiar. "That scent –" I looked around and suddenly raised my menu to block him seeing me. "It’s him."
"Who?" Franklin asked.
"Andre d’Arbres," I hissed. "The Maitre d'Hotel at the l’Etoile."
Lucius, having satisfied himself regarding the wine, gave a sly smile. "Bravo, again! Really, dear Rosalie, you excel yourself. No doubt being in close quarters with the Inspector has had positive effects." He gleefully eyed the discomfort on Franneleh’s face and the cheer on mine.
I snickered. "Had no idea that the tree rat was off-center. I figured he was just rude."
Franklin nodded, raising a paw to gain the waiter’s attention.
The mouse was at the table as if by magic. "Yes, sir?" he asked politely.
My buck glanced at his menu. "I will have the endive and watercress, with raspberry vinaigrette. And a glass of mineral water. And the lady - ?"
"I’ll have the veal au poivre, and a glass of the house red."
“Poached salmon, my good fellow, with hollandaise sauce,” Lucius boomed, following up with a long and complicated label in French.
The waiter bowed and was about to leave when Franklin added, "Please ask the squirrel gentleman at the bar to join us, if you please."
The mouse looked startled (Lu looked delighted), but dutifully went to Andre and whispered a few words. The squirrel did a double-take as he saw us, and walked to the table.
"Oui?" Andre asked, studiously ignoring me. I took to buffing my claws.
"I wish to ask you a few questions, Mr. d’Arbres. Please, have a seat," Franklin said.
It was a good thing I wasn’t eating soup at the time, or it would have come out my nose. Franklin, inviting *him* to sit with us?
There goes the ol’ Baumgartner appetite. Pity, I was looking forward to the veal.
The squirrel put up his nose. "Anywhere else, Inspector, but not here, in front of that . . . that barmaid," he said, his voice dripping with condescension. There was no way we could let bygones be bygones, not after what I did to him back on Christmas Eve*.
(*For details, see “The Bells Are Ringing For Me And My Doe.”)
I leaned over and hissed, "Rats to you, nutmuncher. Least now I know where the squirrel hides his nuts."
Grebe, for his part, was beside himself with glee and eagerly awaited developments.
We bristled at each other.
Franklin raised a paw. "Miss Baumgartner. Mr. d’Arbres. Please. There's no need to descend to personalities. Instead, pray let us speak about more elevating issues – such as menus."
Andre stared at him as his ears stood up. "Menus?"
"Yes. I cannot help but notice a marked similarity between the offerings of this club’s dining room and those at Shepherd’s. One might also think they came from the same kitchen," my buck said evenly, in his usual quiet tone. "And the same similarity persists into the wine selections."
The squirrel shrugged. "Alors, both establishments use the same suppliers." A Gallic shrug. "Naturalement, there will be the similarities."
"Even the same recipes?" I asked, with a malicious grin. "Veal au poivre is one of Chef Joseph's signature dishes."
The squirrel’s tail quivered, a stricken look on his face. "You would – you accuse me - ?"
Grebe, pondering the vintage in his glass, murmured darkly: "Le steal, c'est l'homme meme."
Andre's face darkened. "I do not have to stand here an' be accused by- by- zis BARMAID!" Huffily, he turned on his tail.
Franklin opened his mouth to speak, but I placed my paw on top of his. "Never mind, Inspector. We'll simply come by Shepherd's...say, during the luncheon seating...and ask the same questions. Loudly."
Franneleh’s mouth quirked. "And mentioning just where we had asked the questions in the first place?"
I gave my beloved my best adoring look. "Why, that's pure evil, Inspector. I love it."
Andre's tail bristled as the squirrel paled. "What you propose is... is the BLACKMAIL!"
"You got it, nutmuncher. Now, sit down and answer the nice Inspector's questions, or we start having little chats with the management of Shepherd's. And Chef Joseph."
Lucius sat back in his chair. Whether he was deriving more pleasure from the vintage of the wine or the vintage of the blackmail was an open question.
Andre sat, a numb expression on his face.
Franneleh said, pokerfaced, "Well, Miss Baumgartner, it would seem that sometimes a dozen soft-spoken words are more powerful than forty snarled ones."
I regarded my claws. "Just so, Inspector."
Silent merriment from Grebe.
The arrival of the entrees punctuated the awkward silence that followed. Franklin slipped his notebook from a pocket, very discreetly of course. My veal was excellent but my attention kept being drawn to the polite but firm interrogation right next to me.
Lucius was also having trouble keeping an eye on his plate.
"You were here at the Club last night?"
"Oui," Andre replied sullenly. "In the dining room here between eighteen hours and closing."
"Which was when?"
"The hour of one in the morning," Andre said, and he flicked his ears.
Franklin nodded. "Did you know the deceased, Mr. Coyote?"
"Mais oui. He was an excellent writer." The squirrel took a breath. "Around seven-thirty I see him with another man, a weasel. Sailor, poorly dressed for the ambience," he added with a haughty sniff. "They have dinner, and then drinks. They argued – quite some little time, both at the table and at the bar."
"And what else?"
Andre looked thoughtful, then shrugged. "Sometime . . . twenty-one or twenty-two hours, perhaps, he leave with M. Coyote." His ears dipped and he asked, "The argument earlier – pouf!"
I looked up from my veal. My buck raised his ears and they pivoted toward the nutmuncher. "Another argument? Mr. Coyote strikes me as quite argumentative."
"Oui, d’accord. M. Coyote, he has the argument with another mel before the sailor weasel comes in. Very loud, almost caused a scene."
I swallowed my bite of veal (yummy!) and asked, "And this would be-?"
The squirrel’s tail twitched. "Norman Desmann."
Franneleh cocked his head. "The name...sounds familiar. Silent pictures, if memory serves."
"Oui! Yes, you have it exactly," Andre replied. "He was the great actor in the silent films. Now, sadly, he has the reversal of the fortune, ne c’est pas? So, when he hear of Coyote’s new film, he spend a while at the bar, trying to convince Coyote he could act in the film."
"I see. And would Mr. Desmann still be on the premises?"
"Oui." Andre looked around surreptitiously before saying, "He is almost always here, you see."
"I...see." My beloved nodded. "I believe that will be all for now, M. d'Arbes. Thank you."
Gratefully, the squirrel rose and scuttled away.
I took a sip of my wine. Not too much, and I promised myself only one glass. "Well! This boychik liked his arguments, no question. Desmann next, nu?"
"Indeed," Franklin smiled. "However, I believe we should finish this delightful dinner, then head for home. From what M. D'Arbes says, Mr. Desmann won't be going far."
After dinner, Grebe took me by the arm. "You decorate these hallowed halls, my dear. I should put you on my guest list. The looks of annoyance you are provoking are pearls beyond price."
I grinned, and purred back at him. Even though I’m taken and Grebe wouldn’t be interested, flattery will always make kitty purr.
It’s in our nature.
"Aw, I betcha say that to all the gals-"
A faint, whistling snort and a pawing of hoof behind us.
We both turned to Franklin blushing deep red (again! Hee!) as he put away his notebook.
Lucius quirked an eyebrow. "A change of mood? He should return as well, should he not?" he murmured to me.
"Oh. Oh. Definitely," I breathed.
June 10, 1937
Brush was a little relieved when we left him on the dock the next day.
Sort of like the way the sea’s a little bit below the sun.
He looked even more relieved to see that Bob and Ray weren’t around. I bet hell’s a-poppin’ when those two get started.
"Norman Desmann?" Eddie asked. We were in his office, real nice just like everything else we’d seen. "Well, he has a permanent room here, ever since he, ah, had to leave California three years ago." Franklin shot him a glance and the greyhound went on. "Well, from what he told me when he came here, he had had a run of bad luck, and the G-Men were after him for some back taxes. But I imagine you'd prefer to hear it from the gentlefur himself. His room is 112, down the left-paw hallway."
"Mr. Norman Desmann? Inspector Stagg, Spontoon Islands Constabulary. We’d like to ask you a few questions."
The door opened (like a cinematic reveal).
There he was, and I almost felt my heart skip a beat. See, I enjoyed watching the old silents when I was younger and you can’t miss that lean muzzle and upper-class bearing.
Looked a bit shorter than the hero he played. You know, The Highwayman (The Scourge of the Rich and Champion of the Poor!). But I guess you’re more familiar with the radio shows now, I suppose.
Seeing him in the flesh, and in color, was a bit surprising. His headfur was sandy blond but starting to go gray, and he was dressed in a velvet smoking jacket, trousers and slippers.
All he needed was a fez and a meerschaum pipe.
"Ah, yes. Pray do come in. How may I be of assistance?"
I blinked, and looked at Franneleh.
Desmann was such a he-man in the movies. But his voice . . .
He waved us to a sofa in the sitting room. Nice place, just as well-furnished as the late Mr. Coyote’s. Desmann’s had a couple of framed movie posters on the walls ("Stand and Deliver!" for example, showing the hero bare-chested with a sword held defiantly in his left paw) and a stack of autographed 8x10-inch photographs.
From the layer of dust on the glossies, I guess there wasn’t much of a market.
"Just a few questions, sir," Franklin said, jotting the time down in his notebook. "Did you know Truman Coyote?"
"Know him, Inspector?" Desmann chuckled as he sat down in a leather armchair. "That’s an odd way of asking, especially around here. But I understand you. Yes, I knew him well. An excellent writer; a great shame that he’s dead."
"What were you two arguing about in the bar the other night, around six?" Franklin gave me a glance, but I decided to cut to the chase.
Desmann looks down his nose at me, like only a collie can. "Who says that we were arguing, er, Detective-?"
"'Miss Baumgartner' will suffice for the moment. And my witness is M. D’Arbres."
Desmann frowned, then gave a short laugh. "Oh, the head waiter. Well, Miss BAUMGARTNER, a word of advice – there’s less to that fellow than meets the eye. He’s no more Parisian than I’m Persian." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "I’ve heard he’s originally from Nutley, New Guernsey."
I felt my eyebrows go up. Note to self: Ask Andre how his relatives in Nutley are doing.
Desmann sat back with a smirk. "Truman was writing a new script for this movie he’s doing with Azimuth. One of the roles is perfect for me, so I approached him about it." He frowned. "He rejected the idea out of paw, and we started to argue." He fidgeted with one of the sleeves of his smoking jacket as he spoke.
Franklin furrowed his brow. "I should think that your voice -"
Ooh, a nerve was touched. Desmann’s face went to stone.
"My voice! That’s the one thing I can’t stand about the talkies, Inspector. Everything has to center around the voice now – the art of eloquence with a mere raised eyebrow or simple gesture will be lost. Besides, you should see what they’re doing with sound equipment now. I daresay that I could sound like William Howl if they did it right."
Franneleh nodded politely. "So you argued with Mr. Coyote. About what time did this discussion end?"
A blink, then the old paw to chin as he thought it over. "It was somewhere about seven, I think. Truman’s dinner guest arrived at about that time. Tall, fine-looking weasel in a naval uniform."
A noncommittal noise from Franneleh. "You didn’t see Mr. Coyote after that?"
"Well, I saw him and his friend at dinner, and later at the bar. They seemed to be arguing about something, but I couldn’t quite catch what they were saying."
"I see. Tell me, Mr. Desmann, why did you feel that the role, the one Mr. Coyote was working on, was perfect for you?"
Another blink at the abrupt tack. He smiled. "It’s a supporting role, you see – I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to play a young man convincingly, ha ha – but the script called for a man about my age. I thought I was a good match for the part." He shrugged. "Pity that Truman couldn’t see it."
Franklin finished his note-taking and regarded his hooves for a moment. "Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Desmann."
"I appreciate you coming to question me, Inspector. The faster you get to the bottom of this, the better."
Franneleh gave a grave nod and ushered me out the door.
My paw’s on my piece before I know it. Remember I said this place gives me th’ creeps? Waitin’ out here on th’ dock’s just as bad.
One o’ th’ wolf boys, Bob his name was (lighter fur color an’ a hair shorter than the other) comes outta the bushes, paws up where I can ‘em. Guess he’s off the clock, wearing shorts an’ a loud shirt.
Sorta like the ones we give stupid Euro tourists, only better class.
Leastways it ain’t got mottoes on it in Spontoonie.
"Sorry if I rattled ya, but I want to talk."
"Yez can talk just fine where yez is."
Bob shrugs. "No problem, Sarge. Me an’ Ray were just funnin’ around, anyway." He gives out with a grin, then goes serious-like. "Anyway, here’s how it was: Th’ other day, before Coyote got killed, I was walkin’ around th’ grounds, see – "
Hard doing t’ree things at once – writin’ stuff down, while keepin’ an eye on Bob.
An’ Bob’s paws.
"My job. Me an’ Ray keep nosy parkers away from th’ members, y’know. So I’m walkin’ around, out back by th’ Ruins, see, when I see Coyote and that sailor guy."
"Yeah, yeah, that’s th’ guy. Anyway, they’re up in the Ruins, an’ Coyote’s pants are off, an’ – "
"I don’ wanna hear about it, hanh?" Damn, almost dropped my notebook, an’ ain’t no way I’m bendin’ over around him.
"Okay," Bob chuckles.
"So why didn’t ya tell me this yesterday, huh? Hidin’ somethin’?"
Guy looks angry alla sudden. "Look here. I do my job, an’ if Nelson tells me an’ Ray ta keep quiet and make sure the members talk ta ya, we do that. ‘Sides, I didn’ think it would be right ta say anything out in th’ open like. Ray an’ me aren’t s’posed ta pry."
“Okeh.” I can see that; it’s what th’ Inspector calls discretion. "What time didja see ‘em?"
"Hmm, musta been about three in th’ afternoon."
"Okay. I’ll tell th’ Inspector. Thanks."
"Just doin’ my job, Sarge."
He grins and goes back into th’ bushes.
Man, this place still gives me th’ creeps.
"Rosie." My beloved's voice was quiet.
"You shouldn’t give out a witness’ name." His voice dropped lower. "It’s not good technique."
My ears and tail drooped. "I’m sorry. I’ll remember that."
Franklin gives me this chilly little smile. "Good." He looks down at his lame hoof, then across the lobby to the lounge. "I think that a glass of water might be in order. Shall we step into the lounge?"
I brightened up a bit and took his arm. I was hoping he wouldn’t stay mad at me for very long.
The lounge was smaller than the dining room. Bit darker, too – gives the place atmosphere. Small booths lining the walls, upholstered in fine leather, and –
A baby grand piano sitting by the bar.
Even at this hour, there were a few people enjoying some refreshments. I recognized at least two or three – big wheels, with Broadway connections in Gnu York.
We took seats at the bar and Franneleh ordered a glass of ice water for himself and a club soda for me.
I looked hungrily at the piano and as soon as I’d had a sip of my soda I went over to it.
I cracked my knuckles and just ran my fingertips over the ivories before playing a note. Quality instrument.
Truly a grand baby grand.
I ran a fast arpeggio, lowest to highest and heads turned.
I couldn’t resist, so I started to sing:
Has a starring turn
She's the featured at-trac-tion
In a big volcano burn
So she stands there
As the lava seethes
She turns to the native priestess
And shiv-er-ing-ly breathes:
Oh I wish't I wuz in Peoria
Oh how I miss the calm in Peoria
The cater-pil-lars in Peoria
Can be heard to loudly snore-ia
Oh, how I wish't I wuz in Peoria
A whitetail buck
Pressed his luck
Waved off with a smile
All the lurid reporting
That’s been done on Cranium Isle
So there he went
Came back bent
With a twisted rack
And out of his sixteen mouths
You could hear the poor deer hack:
Oh, I wish't I wuz in Peoria
Oh what brains they have in Peoria
The mad doc-tors there in Pe-or-ia
Ease off on the blood and gore-ia
Oh, how I wish't I wuz in Peoria
Lost at sea
Running out of fuel
The navigator never finished
One engine out
The pilot shouts
"This will delay the flight!"
The passengers all yell together
With their main and might
Oh, how we wish't we wuz in Peoria
There is a sense of eu-phoria in Peoria, tonight
The pilot won't blow you to Gloria
The plane won't be a cream-a-toria
Oh, how we wish we wuz in Peoria
There was a bit of applause, and some laughter.
I stood up and bowed, then grinned cheekily. “Thanks, everyone. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal."
I walked back to where Franneleh was sitting. As soon as he was sure no one but me could see, he flicked his flag to show his appreciation.
He sipped at his water and asked, really quietly, “Are you all right?”
“Well, I’ve heard you sing before, and you have a very solid alto.”
“But you sang tenor.”
I looked at him.