by E.O. Costello
Dr. James Meffit, Det. Sgt. Orrin F.X. Brush, Det. Inspector Franklin J. Stagg, Fr. Augustus Merino SJ, Rabbi Steinmink, Charles Foster Crane: all characters created by E.O. Costello
“If You Want the Rainbow (You Must Have the Rain)” lyrics by Billy Rose and Mort Dixon, music by Oscar Levant, © 1928 Remick Music Corp.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would not have had as much involvement with the Black matter as I subsequently developed. In the first instance, my services are much in demand by my patients, and my client roster here in the Spontoons is comprised in no small measure of elderly and wealthy “Euros” (as foreigners are called here, regardless of origin) who have a highly developed sense of hypochondria. Profitable to be sure, though it takes a great deal out of one’s day, especially since what these furs really need is a conversationalist, not a general practitioner. Be that as it may; it is the reason I dress up in my striped trousers, dark jacket and pince-nez, no matter how much the natives here laugh at me behind my back. The Euros expect it, and I suppose it affords the natives more ammunition for their thesis that we’re all mad as hatters.
In the second instance, a substantial amount of my remaining time is taken up with official and quasi-official duties. I am also the Medical Examiner and Coroner of the Spontoon Independencies, and have also been put in charge of supervising the inoculations of young furs, inspecting the water supply, and so forth. This, incidentally, is the reason the natives don’t laugh at me to my face. That, I suppose, and the fact that I am a skunk.
But under ordinary circumstances, as I said, it leaves me rather little time for myself. To be sure, I can well afford my nice bespoke suits, and my table is well-laid with china, silver and linen. For one, I’m sorry to say. It is the one time of the day when I wish I had someone to lead the conversation. These islands attract few mephitesses, for some reason that eludes me. (Outside of one rather elderly specimen that had the misfortune to encounter a number of lobsters in an elevator some time ago, under circumstances that have never been satisfactorily explained to me.)
P’ina, my housefur, was just about to serve the soup when the bell rang. I didn’t have much appetite for my consommé anyway, and of late these dinners alone had been getting on my nerves. Even the prospect of a hysterical elderly patient was more promising.
To my surprise, it was Detective Sergeant Brush of the Constabulary who followed after P’ina into the dining room. The good Sergeant is a native, to be sure (even if his accent betrays his distant familial origins in Gnu York), but he has always treated me with respect, and is probably one of the few natives that doesn’t mimic my speech patterns or walk when I’m not looking (so they think).
“Good evening, Sergeant. Have you dined, yet? If you haven’t, please join me. I am sure Chief Pickering would not mind.”
The detective rolled his eyes. The Chief Constable was a somewhat prickly character, and to my mind over-fond of his uniform. My nurse reported to me a rather extraordinary story, recently, about the gentlefur which I do not intend to repeat in front of polite company, and she was scolded for telling such ribald stories. In any event, a gentlefur who would be likely to find fault in nearly anything, purely for the pleasure of asserting his superiority. Hence the eye-roll.
Sergeant Brush stood on tip-toe and peered into the silver tureen. P’ina bowed.
(“Meal-liquid-first being-is Euro-speak mussel chowder additionally utilize spirits Euro ardent port name is.”)
A swish of a vulpine brush, and a glance in roughly the direction of the Main Island, a few miles away.
“It is quite all right, Sergeant, I shall not tell your mate you had something other than what she packed for you.” Indeed not. Sergeant Brush’s mate, like many of her ilk, was quite a bit larger, quite a bit stronger, and quite a bit well-versed in arcane methods of understanding mels. It’s the Wise One blood, you know.
P’ina quickly set up a second place with a series of noiseless movements. Even if Sergeant Brush was not wearing white tie as I was – indeed, quite the opposite, his tie had a colour scheme that defied ready description – I welcomed his company, so I raised no objection when he didn’t get down to business until the fish course.
“Say, Doc, y’read th’ Mirror much?”
I shuddered. The Spontoon Mirror was one of the two newspapers here in the Spontoons. Unlike the Elele, it had a more Euro than native audience. Also unlike the Elele, it had a positive taste for showing rather scantily clad lady furs on the front page, on the most amazing pretexts imaginable. Though I must say, the photographs are well-composed.
“I see it occasionally, Sergeant. Why?”
He passed over a folded bit of newsprint apparently torn out from the newspaper. As I unfolded it, I discovered that it was an advertisement for a forthcoming attraction at the Grand Hotel’s casino. The attraction was billed as “A Night in New Haven.”
For a pair of diametrically opposed reasons, this gave me cause for alarm. The New Haven embassy was literally next door to my residence here on Meeting Island, much to my irritation, since the residents are over-fond of using amplifiers and luridly coloured banners to make their political statements. The ambassador, a fur of dubious hygiene and even more dubious antecedents, is not someone for whom I have a high degree of respect. One can only imagine what reaction they might have to a revival on their doorstep of pre-Revolution New Haven.
On the other paw, I do have a high degree of respect for another fur for whom this show might stir emotions; it was also the reason, I strongly suspected, Sergeant Brush was taking this matter up with me. His superior was Detective Inspector Franklin Stagg. The Inspector, at the time of the Revolution, had been the chief of that nation’s police forces. The usual panoply of blood-spattered vengeance was brought to bear, and the Inspector was, in chronological order, tortured, put on show trial, nearly executed, and when he somehow managed to escape, had his family brutally and publicly executed. It had been approximately four years since those events had occurred, but his emotional and physical strength was by no means assured, even with the great distance from his former homeland.
Inspector Stagg is many things. To me, he is an honest, hard-working and professional policefur, and one who makes my job easier. That alone would justify doing what I could for him, but the fact is, the tragedy-spattered arc of his recent life is something that rouses my inner feelings. I looked again at the advertisement. This, I reflected, was not good.
“Has the Inspector seen this, Sergeant?”
A grim look from the fox. “Hell, he ain’t gonna say nuttin’ t’me, see? Y’know how dem deer play it close t’th’ vest when they wanna. I just figger I’d better put th’ whatchamaclit, th’ keyvivie, up t’certain folks, see?”
I did see. “Have you spoken with Father Merino about this?” Father Augustus Merino was the pastor at St. Anthony’s Church not far away on Meeting Island. A very quiet, dusty little church; most of the Catholics in the Spontoons go to the much showier St. Paul’s, Casino Island. The quieter church, and stronger cleric, at St. Anthony’s was much more necessary for the old buck.
“I wuz gonna, Doc, after, well, after th’ dinner yez give me.” Sergeant Brush was doing full justice to the double helping of asparagus and hollandaise sauce he had put on his plate.
“Never mind, Sergeant. I’ll take care of it myself. I’ll have P’ina wrap up some pastry for you to have later. I don’t wish to be the cause of trouble between you and the Chief.”
A hearty belch obscured the sotto voice comment regarding Chief Pickering. Just as well.
As was often the case, Rabbi Steinmink from temple was ensconced in a comfortable easy chair, giving some lazy attention to a chessboard. Father Merino, in his sober cassock, had been roused from a post-prandial doze in his easy chair by my entrance. I explained my mission, and showed him the clipping (as I knew full well Father Merino wouldn’t touch the Mirror with a ten-foot pole). He seemed quite taken aback. So, for that matter, was Dr. Steinmink, who softly tsk-tsked.
“While I’m sure one can’t schedule attractions around the vulnerabilities of one fur, it does strike me, Augustus (and James) that this would seem a little…provocative?”
A raised eyebrow from his counterpart. “Inspector Stagg is not the only New Havenite in these islands, as I am sure Dr. Meffit could testify at length.” Indeed. “It could be provocative in more than one way, even at the same time. Still, your point is well-taken, and I am glad, Doctor, that you and Sergeant Brush have enough decency to think of a friend. The warning is appreciated. I am sure this will come up in confession.” A sigh and a pinch of the eyebrows indicated that confession was often quite exacting with the Inspector.
Rebbe leaned back in his chair. “Well, Augustus, if you want me to get the lay of the land, I can always get a ticket. My wife doesn’t approve of the theatre, as such, but in this case…”
At this point, I gently coughed. “Well, I wouldn’t impose upon you, Rebbe. I was thinking, perhaps, I might see it on opening night. I need to get out of my house, more. Change of pace and all.”
Father Merino looked at me, looked down at the advertisement, and then raised a silent, eloquent eyebrow, placing the advertisement down with great care on the table, so that Dr. Steinmink couldn’t miss the prominent placement of Fannie Black in the advertisement. Not that Rebbe could miss her striped tailfur. Or the fact that my ears were turning a deep red. Gentlefur that he is, he said nothing, but quietly folded up the advertisement and handed it back to me.
I could tell that the maitre d’hotel at the Grand was slightly surprised to see a fur show up at opening night for the new attraction in full white tie. Even if the Grand is upscale, it does not pretend to be Monte Carlo. Unlike its neighbour, Shepherd’s, which takes pride in attempting to be a little four-star slice of Euro-ism plunked in the middle of the North Pacific. It did not make me self-conscious, though I could tell some furs were looking at me with amused puzzlement.
The stage dressing was comparatively simple. There was a back-cloth that had a lovingly rendered depiction of what I took to be the Green in New Haven. From some references I had heard the Inspector made, I could pick out All Saints’ Cathedral and the General Assembly building. The scene was flanked by some advertisements for products I didn’t recognize, such as Hull’s Lager, Edw. Malley & Co., Locomobile, The New Haven Morning Sun, and so forth. A small flagstaff was at far left, with a blue and green flag. In the center rested a large bass on its stand, a piano, and a contraption that looked like a cymbal on a stand. And that was it. I reflected that the transport of the act would not be difficult, even going this far into the North Pacific.
Promptly at 10.00, the house lights dimmed, and onto the stage walked four furs, all dressed in black tie. A pudgy little beaver strolled up to the bass, a lean and angular wolf sat down at the piano, a tallish cat stood in front of the cymbal contraption, and another, quite smaller, cat strolled on carrying a violin.
After a few moments of getting settled, they bowed to each other, and immediately launched into a high-spirited instrumental rendition of “I Want to Be Bad.” The violin player in particular was highly skilled, even to the point of twirling his bow in his paw. He also had an infectious grin which, combined with his slightly unruly, wavy headfur, gave him a singularly comic appearance.
There was no break at the end of the song, but the trio immediately launched into “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby,” with the beaver singing in a gravelly, growling voice that was as bass as his instrument.
The quartet was seemingly about to start another number when there was a high-pitched squealing from off-stage. “Don’t push me! Hey, stoppit!” This voice belonged to a small fox, who was instantly propelled by what seemed to be a hard shove into the middle of the stage. This fox accomplished the impossible: he was dressed in a manner that was even more eye-searing in colour scheme than Sergeant Brush’s ties.
I caught my breath, however, when onto the stage strolled a whitetail buck who, in contrast, was dressed in crisp white tie, tails, silk evening scarf and top hat, and was sporting a long black cane. Which he immediately used on the head of his smaller partner, taking care to lift the small, flat hat that was protecting the canine skull. This bit of physical comedy got a rousing reception from the audience, especially that portion of the audience that lived in the Islands year-round. The comics seemed mildly surprised by the enthusiasm, though the little vulpine recovered by starting to mug, which earned him a swift kick below his brush from his taller partner.
The first part of their patter routine involved a complicated series of misunderstandings about meeting someone on Watt Street. The duo may not have realized the exact reason that their contrasting crisp elocution and broad vowels were going over so well, but one doubts comedians doubt too much when their material is “boffo.”
Somehow, the conversation shifted into how to keep warm. Apparently, the fox had “recently” been buried up to the tips of his ears in a snowdrift, and there was much discussion about the restorative properties of whiskey. The deer, disapproving of drinking, suggested vigorous exercise as an alternative. This was the cue for the quartet to play “Me and My Shadow,” during which the pair exhibited their skills in specialty dance, the cervine proving hooves could produce a satisfying syncopated sound, and the junior partner showing an amazing talent for doing standing backflips interspersed in his soft-paw routine.
As the comics-dancers bounced off the stage (the fox literally as he was picked up by the seat of his trousers and flung), the lights dimmed noticeably, and a faint circle of light was projected against the piano. After a few moments, I caught my breath as Fannie Black quietly padded into view.
She was dressed in a dark, almost Prussian blue gown that flattered both shades of her fur, as well as her headfur, which was worn up. She wore no jewelry, but merely stood quietly in the spotlight, swishing her tail. The only thing gleaming was her eyes, as she awaited her cue from the wolf at the piano.
I recognized the tune from a few years ago. Fannie Black sang it slowly and quietly, with great emotion:
What does it matter if rain comes your way
And raindrops patter all day?
The rain descending should not make you blue
The happy ending is waiting for you.
Take your share of trouble, face it and don’t complain.
If you want the rainbow, you must have the rain.
Happiness comes double, after a little pain.
If you want the rainbow, you must have the rain.
What if…your love affair should break up
As they sometimes will?
When you kiss and make up…
Oh, what a thrill!
Sadness ends in gladness
Showers are not in vain.
If you want the rainbow,
You must have the rain.
There was, according to my programme, an intermission after this. I don’t recall it. I did do something that I could not have imagined that I would do. I called over the wait-captain, and gave him some orders, as well as one of my calling cards with a message on the back. He raised an eyebrow, but any qualms he may have had were stilled by a five-pound note.
I only vaguely recall that there were some musical numbers by the quartet in the second act, followed by the comics (“Horn and Hardskull”) doing a New Haven Flying Corps skit.
Black came on again. I honestly don’t remember what she sung. I only remember a quiet voice that had total command over the room.
My reverie was broken when the smaller feline, the one that had been playing the violin, crossed over to stage left, and picked up the flag, and crossed to the center. He held it aloft, as his three musical companions on the left, and Horn, Hardskull and Black on the right, stood on stage. The mels bowed their heads as Black sang a song called “Our Home, Together.” Only when I looked at my programme later did I realize that was New Haven’s old national anthem.
As the players took their bows, one of the stagehands delivered a bouquet of flowers to the stage, to Miss Black. At first she seemed confused, and then surprised. The other cast members looked at the flowers, and then each other, with inscrutable expressions. “Hardskull,” with a practiced eye, scanned the audience and picked me out, nudging one of the felines with an elbow. The feline eyed Fannie, and whispered something back.
It was clear, what with my white tie, flowers and the card, I was descending into some sort of a caricature that one saw in the humour magazines, but caricature be damned. With the lubrication supplied by the prompt application of another five-pound note put in a willing paw, I reached the stage door.
I narrowly missed getting bowled over by the piano player, who hardly seemed to see me. The others strolled by, giving me the eye. I would have thought this would be no surprise to them, frankly. Bringing up the rear was the object of my interest. She was carrying the bouquet of flowers somewhat awkwardly, in part because she was re-reading the card I had sent.
She looked up with a start to see me, as I bowed.
“Oh! Oh. You must be Dr. Meffit, then.”
“I am, Miss Black. How do you do.”
She opened her mouth to say something, and then looked anxiously over my shoulder at something, or somefur. I turned around, but saw no one.
“The flowers are very pretty, Doctor. It has been…well, I have not had your kind of admirer in some time…” The inside of her ears flushed red.
“If you would like, Miss Black, there is a final late seating at a very good restaurant, called L’Etoile d’Argent. Perhaps you are hungry after your performance?”
“Well, y-.” She caught herself, and looked down at her footpads, and then over my shoulder again. Her voice was lowered so that only I could hear.
“I cannot do it tonight, Doctor. There is something I have to do. But thank you for your generous offer. You…well, perhaps you will be here again?”
“I am sure of it, Miss Black.”
Her smile was somewhat anxious, but it was authentic all the same, or at least I thought so. She hurried off, clutching her flowers.
A few hours later, as I undressed for bed, I considered what kind of emotions the night would have stirred in my friend. If I, someone who had had no connection with the small country, could be that moved by it, what of someone who actually had deep and visceral ties to a lost homeland?
Of course, a cynic would have sneered that I had other reasons to have had my emotions shaken by the night. The cynic would have been right, though the ancient retort that cynics know the meaning of everything and the value of nothing would have been apropos.
I was breakfasting (alone) the next morning when the telephone rang. P’ina went to answer it, and return as rapidly as his training would permit.
“Apologies-mine, healer. Law-guardian thou desire wire-voice-device speak, additionally speed rapid.”
It was Sergeant Brush. “Doc, we gotta problem.”
“Y’know dem New Haven folks, th’ ones in dat show?”
“Yes, what’s happened?”
“Onea dem turned up dead this mornin’. And looks kinda queer t’me.”
While I have privileges at Island Hospital, for my official work, I prefer to use the small annex that I had built into my clinic a few years ago. While the storage space is much smaller, on the other paw I do not find that my staff uses the refrigerated facilities for the deposit of their lunch, a deplorable habit the Ministry of Health seems to turn a blind eye to. And, if I may say so myself, you would have to go thousands of miles across the Pacific to find a facility that is as equally well-equipped. Thus, the Constabulary knew where to direct the body that Sergeant Brush referred to.
Rather to my surprise, I did not recognize the deceased. I recalled no otter among the performers the previous night, so I was somewhat at a loss for how Sergeant Brush knew the fur to be a New Havenite. No matter: if I knew my fox, he would be in time for the dictation of my report. I find constables with queasy stomachs to be a trial, but Sergeant Brush is made of sterner stuff.
The cause of death was not difficult to spot: a broken neck. Judging from the way it was broken, death must have been rapid, if not instantaneous. There were some small flecks of blood around the mouth. There were some bruises about the eyes and cheeks, but these seemed to pre-date death, as they were not as vivid as one would expect. Indeed, they seemed to be fading somewhat, indicating they were a few days old.
An examination of the body revealed some more bruises on the chest, also old. No obvious wounds, and aside from the neck, no recently broken bones, though a crook in the tail indicated a poorly healed injury some time in the distant past. Examination of the claws revealed a fair amount of dirt, but no blood or tissue specimens. The fur was dull, and the deceased seemed to be underweight, indicating a poor diet for an extended period of time. The teeth were in poor condition.
I held off on an autopsy, in light of the fact that I had no instructions from next of kin or family. If the gentlefur was from New Haven, I had an unhealthy notion of the likelihood of the extent of his surviving family. I busied myself by having some photographs taken. Experience has taught me that Sergeant Brush’s involvement in a death investigation usually led to subsequent developments.
The vulpine himself showed up approximately half an hour later, as I was finishing up proofreading my report. He brought along a small, square leather satchel, which I knew was referred to informally as a “Murder Box.”
Jerking a thumb at the deceased, he enquired rather brusquely as to my conclusions, other than the fact that “th’ stiff didn’t have no good head on his shoulders.” Ignoring the witticism, I outlined my findings. This brought forth an uneasy scratch on the back of the head, and a look of dread.
“’fraid yer gonna have ta slice ‘im up, Doc. I don’t like what I seen none at the scene, see?”
I begged particulars, and the Sergeant reached into the Murder Box and pulled out a sheaf of photographs, probably fresh from the dark-room at headquarters. He spread them out on a table for me to look at.
The death-scene showed the otter and a stepladder in an untidy mess on the concrete floor of what seemed to be some sort of prop storage room, judging from what I could see in the photographs of scenery flats, paint cans, and other theatrical impedimenta. The harsh lights from both the photographer’s flash and the bare light bulbs in the room gave the corpse a rather unflattering appearance. There were no objects around the body, nor any trace of blood. These last two facts were confirmed for me by Sergeant Brush.
Contents of the pockets of the deceased: one tin of Sen-Sen, half empty, St. George’s medal, missal (well-thumbed, with a mass card from St. Paul’s, Casino as a bookmark), cheap memorandum book with no entries, rosary, assorted coinage (including about half-a-dozen New Haven coins), a bundle of keys, two safety pins, a Nootnops Blue bottlecap, a heavily chewed pencil stub, mostly point and little else, a wallet containing four Spontoonie pounds, a ten-dollar US bill, a few pawn tickets, and a rather ratty check drawn on the Union & New Haven Trust Company by the Orpehum State Street Theatre Company and made out to “Nicholas Weir,” in the amount of five hundred New Haven dollars, and dated October 23, 1931. Signed by Nicholas Weir, as well.
“Ain’t much more in his room, neither.” A list was produced. A few changes of clothes in a ripped overnight bag, a cracked celluloid fur-brush, a toothbrush (little used, I suspect), a return ticket to Honolulu, and the contract with the Grand: room and board, transport back to Honolulu, and 37 Spontoonie pounds, ten shillings per performance, split among the troupe. About 150 US dollars per night, split among six performers and whoever else was supporting them backstage. The “board,” I noticed, explicitly excluded expenses run up at the bar or gambling. I could well imagine the “room” they were getting, as well.
“A sad ending, Sergeant, but I fail to see how this justifies an autopsy. In any event, who would authorize it?”
Sergeant Brush shifted his footpads uneasily. “Lookit, Doc. Between th’ two of us, see? You seen dem pics. Don’t it look funny t’youse?”
I looked at the photographs for some minutes. All I saw was an untidy sprawl, and the head bent like a broken doll’s. I shrugged.
“C’mon, Doc. Y’know I ain’t like…well, th’ Inspect’r. I don’t got nuthin’ but me hunches, see? I’m tellin’ ya, this don’t smell right. He ain’t near nuthin’. An’ why would he need a stepladder, hanh? I don’t geddit. Oh, yeah, an’ one udder t’ing. Lookit.”
He reached into the Murder Box, and pulled out a large glassine bag. Inside, carefully preserved, was a white silk evening scarf, like the kind a gentlefur wears, though it was worn and ripped.
I went back the body, laid out on the stainless steel table, and went over the head and neck area with a magnifying glass and tweezers. Fifteen minutes of work produced very little. Three white, silken threads that had been forced deep into the back of the neckfur.
I put on a smock, washed my paws, and had an assistant bring me my cutting implements. The evidence was scant, but it would be enough to ward off any busybodies from the Ministry of Health or the Foreign Ministry that would choose to second-guess me. If they dared.
A sample of blood was drawn to see what the alcohol level, at this late stage, was. Stomach contents appeared to indicate a light meal of mostly fish was eaten some hours before death. I also recognized a liquid in the stomach as Nootnops Blue; often seen in cases of death by accident in the Islands. These were set aside for some of the standard tests for poison, bizarre though that might be given the broken neck. There were marked indications of liver disease, indicating the deceased had been abusing his health through the bottle. The stomach showed indications of ulcers, but aside from that and the liver damage, the organs were intact and showed no trauma.
My assistant came back with the blood analysis: a level indicating that approximately ten hours earlier, by extrapolation, the deceased would not have been drunk, though it’s likely they would not have been far below the level of intoxication. Sergeant Brush indicated to me that the body had been found by the hotel staff at approximately seven that morning, and Mr. Weir had been seen alive by the staff just before midnight, approximately one-half hour after curtain.
The result: inconclusive. I couldn’t rule out foul play, to be sure, but there was not much, beyond the silk threads, that I could present to an inquest in an attempt to get a verdict of death by anthropicide. I somehow doubted the poison test would be helpful. (It wasn’t. No measurable traces of any common poison.)
I dictated the results of my autopsy while Sergeant Brush was making some telephone calls. He was making some efforts to locate the fellow members of the troupe, and was not having a great deal of success. As this was outside my jurisdiction, I left him to it, and changed back into my “uniform” of tailcoat, waistcoat, striped trousers and such that my clients expect of me. I had a call to pay that morning.
The elderly mephitess that was my patient this morning could be quite a trial. I may have mentioned earlier about an incident involving this patient and some lobsters in an elevator. This, in all likelihood, is some fancy on her part, and a hook upon which to hang a story that would yield sympathy, nerve tonic, and offers to submit to physical examinations. I am not sure what the motive for these offers was, though I suspect there was a lurking hope for reciprocation. She was, I am advised, quite wealthy from outliving three previous husbands, photographs of whom had been duly produced. They all looked quite tired. One imagines why. My desire for finding a mate of my own species has its limitations, which in this case were decidedly exceeded. It required nearly all of my patience to be civil and professional with the confounded femmefur, who seemed to interpret my bedside manner as something else entirely.
I managed, after about an hour and a half, to extricate myself, politely declining lunch. I had a notion of what might be for dessert, and God knows, I was not that hungry.
Looking at my pocket watch, I did see it was past my lunchtime, but I had little mood for going home for a meal alone, which was about the only thing worse than what I had recently escaped. Nor was I in a mood to deal with that indefinite maitre d’hotel at Shepherd’s. Therefore, the Grand it was for lunch.
I had no sooner entered the lobby when I encountered Sergeant Brush. I enquired where Inspector Stagg was. This brought about a grim look.
“He ain’t on t’day, t’anks be t’God. I sure hopes I kin get this mess sorted out by den, y’know? I gotta notion dis ain’t his cuppa.”
“How does it look?”
“Like spraint, iffen ya pardon me, Doc. Can’t find hide nor hair’a two of th’ musicians, an’ onea th’ comedians.”
“Your doppelganger, or the other one?”
Sergeant Brush winced audibly. “Gonna wring th’ neck of th’ yiffer who thunk that lil’ stunt up. Ain’t no wunner it went over, I hears.”
“I was at last night’s performance.”
“I don’t think the duo knew why they were getting such a hand.”
“Yeah, well, th’ little guy ain’t my doppiewhatcha, t’anks much. Anyhoo, it’s dat deer I gotta hunt down. Can’t see him none, an fer Crissake, ain’t dat hard t’spot a guy wit’ a rack like dat.”
“Do you have a dragnet out?”
“Yeah, but I’m gonna skull wit’ what I gots, see? Y’wanna tag ‘long? Sorry t’take ya outta a patient’s way an’ all…”
“My next patient isn’t for another hour or so, and he lives here at the Grand, anyway. You’re hardly taking me out of my way. Perhaps we can order in?”
“Yeah, sure. Dis way.”
A small meeting room had been set aside. In the room were three figures, all of whom I recognized. Well, two of them I could recognize easily. One figure was slumped over the table, his head in his arms. Judging from his body, I would say it was the lupine pianist of the evening before. It was obvious from his smell that he had refreshed himself neither wisely nor well, and was suffering the consequences.
Placidly puffing on a pipe, seated in the far corner of the room, was the small fox I knew as “Hardskull.” He was rather casually dressed in a button-down shirt (frayed at the cuffs) and a pair of khaki pants. He was perusing some of the local labour literature with an expression of keen interest.
My attention, though, was drawn to the other figure in the room. It was Fannie Black, who was dressed as her name might indicate. She was wearing a simple black dress, set off with a small silver crucifix on a chain around her neck. She was staring at nothing in particular. It reminded me of the “thousand-yard stare” I often saw in the trenches in Flanders.
Sergeant Brush ducked out of the room, so, at a loss for conversation, I turned to my own species.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Black, but would you like some coffee or some tea?”
She slowly turned her gaze and looked at me. Very deep eyes, deeper than I remembered from the previous night. She opened her mouth to say something, and closed it with a snap when a chuckle erupted from the far end of the room.
The fox had laid aside his reading material, and was examining me with a look of impertinent amusement.
“Tsk, tsk. I think there is someone else in this room who could use coffee more, Doctor.” And with that, he pointed the stem of his pipe at the wolf, who shifted in his chair and moaned.
“Ah, but ladies first, isn’t it, Doctor?”
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced…”
“Well, you’ve seen me as “Hardskull,” and I’ve certainly seen you as a real throwback. Been an age since I saw someone wear a boiled shirt to one of our performances. Or waited at the stage door, as well. When’s the last time you saw an authentic specimen of a “first nighter,” Fannie?”
The mephitess glanced at him briefly, and then murmured softly to me that she would like a cup of tea. I telephoned the front desk for a large pot of coffee and two cups of tea. The fox continued to be amused.
“You’ll be keeping them busy for orders of coffee, if I’m any judge, Doctor.”
“Ah, yes, I didn’t introduce myself. Well, as I really am, according to my refugee passport. #487610, Denman, Paul M. at your service.” He gave an ironical bow.
“You seem in fine fettle, Mr. Denman.”
“Yes, well, Fannie and I are the only two of the troupe, including the late Mr. Weir, who chose to keep our sorrows alive, and not drown them. Though mark you, the sorrows of the others must be very hardy to resist such a deluge, eh, Charlie?”
Charlie, it developed, was the wolf. Charles Grey was in no position to return a greeting, even if he could have understood one from me. I merely got a bloodshot look of pained feeling, before the muzzle was once again buried in the arms.
The tea and coffee things arrived in short order. Mr. Grey refused a cup of coffee with a groan. Mr. Denman satisfied himself by watching me pour tea for Miss Black.
“I had quite enough this morning. Never touch anything stronger. I’ll live to be a hundred, though why, I haven’t quite figured out yet. I don’t think Charlie, here, will be making the century mark, eh boy?”
The wolf managed to rouse himself. “Jesus Christ, what do they put in that crap, that…whatsit? Looptheloops Blue?”
“I don’t recommend that, sir.”
“Thanks for telling me now. Where the hell were you last night? Oh, damn, I must have drunk up my pay again. Lord knows, I don’t know where it went.”
“As always, Charlie m’boy.”
“Aw, shuddup. You and your yiffing superiority. And no, I don’t want another of your damn lectures.”
“Charlie is referring, of course, to my preaching of the virtues of teetotalling, Doctor.” More puffing on the pipe. “Religion may well be the opiate of the masses, but there are other things that dull the pain of existence much faster.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Opiate of the masses?”
“Ah! Surprised to see a fox that is red in more ways than one, eh? And from New Haven, yet, and living a paw-to-mouth existence? There’s Fate for you. Here I am, as staunch a sober-headed Socialist as you’re ever likely to meet, and the Nine have no taste for me.”
The wolf snarled. “’cause you won’t shut the hell up.”
“True for telling, Charlie. The Nine aren’t exactly known for their sense of humour, and my long history of rabble-rousing for Actors Equity availed me naught. It would have brought tears to the eyes of old man Minksky to see me get the boot from New Haven. He always said I’d come to a bad end if I kept trying to organize actors. Futile as that can be, you understand.”
I turned from this lurid squabble back to Miss Black. “Would you like anything to eat, Miss Black?”
Mr. Grey had struggled to a semblance of verticality. “Hell, what you’ve got is what she wants. Go ahead, ask her for it. She speaks four languages, and doesn’t know the meaning of “no” in any one of them.”
I could see a paw tighten around a teacup and shake, but there was no other reaction.
“I dare say you know as much about subtlety as you know about sobriety, sir.”
The wolf gave me a bloodshot stare of hostility. His brother canine merely shrugged and puffed on his pipe. “That could apply to the late Mr. Weir, as well. Only more so. I had confiscated some ardent spirits he had bought with some of our pay yesterday afternoon. He was not best pleased with me, to be sure. He suspected, correctly, that I hid it.”
“Ironically, he guessed right. I had hid a bottle of fine old whiskey in the prop room, on one of the shelves. I’m sure if the detectives were diligent, they would have located my paw-prints on the bottle.”
“A daring admission. Do the police know?”
“Why, that was why my brother fox left the room in such a hurry. Then again, he didn’t have such a charming reason to keep us company, did he?” An insolent wink followed, to which I made no reply.
There was a loud sound of scuffling in the hall, with some mutual cursing. The door banged open, and two constables brought in the gentlefur I knew as “Horn,” holding him firmly by the arms. He wore a ripped shirt and an expression of pure belligerence.
“Good morning, Stanley. What, no kiss?”
The deer pointed a finger at his partner, and yelled a series of comments that indicated what the cervine would do to Mr. Denman in preference to a kiss. The wolf winced and held his ears.
“Jesus Christ, Stanley, will you shut the yiff up? What the hell’s gotten into you, other than Fannie and a bottle of gin?”
The deer was restrained from lunging at the wolf (surely a reversal of nature) by the constables. The scene was capped by the woozy arrival of the final members of the quartet, the beaver and the two cats. The trio, smelling the coffee, asked only two questions: was it free, and was it hot? Upon receiving two affirmatives, they proceeded to empty the pot in short order.
The final member of the party, Sergeant Brush, arrived. He was carrying in his paw the little implement that I have heard he calls “Headache Maker.” He seemed eager to use it.
“Awright, let’s get this yiffin’ cotillion started. Anyfur wanna speak up, first?”
It was Stanley Horn, the deer, who spoke up first, after shrugging off the two constables who had been holding him. They went to prop up the far wall, while he rubbed his shoulders.
“All right, you’ve rounded us all up. What are you going to do, kick us out? God only knows, it’s not the first time that’s happened. If one of these other scapegraces got themselves in trouble, go talk to our noble leader. Walk into any bar, and look under the stool nearest the bathroom.”
Sergeant Brush pondered. “That’d be a guy named Weir, ain’t it?”
“Oh, so you’ve done your homework, have you? Bra-vo, my dear flatpaw, bra-vo. Go to the head of the class, though I dare say there’s a warmer place I’d prefer you go to.”
His on-stage partner, and apparently off-stage enemy, placidly tapped out his pipe against the heel of his paw. “Well, it might be crowded there, Stanley. And I’m afraid the gentlefur you referred to us our “noble leader” has made a voyage for which there is only a one-way ticket.”
The deer rolled his eyes. “Oh, skip it, Paul. You’re not trying to pick up some star-struck little piece of skirt here. Will you speak English, for God’s sake?”
It was Miss Black who spoke up. “He’s dead, Stanley. The hotel staff found him this morning in the prop room.”
For once, the troupe remained silent, and merely stared at one another. The beaver opened and closed his mouth a few times. The felines scratched their heads in puzzlement. Stanley Horn slumped into a chair. Miss Black looked down at her feet, and Mr. Denman proceeded to fill his pipe. It was the wolf who finally spoke up.
“Booze? I always said it would kill him.”
The shorter of the two cats sniggered. “Heh. Experience talking.”
“At least I can handle my booze.”
Sergeant Brush took out his notebook. “S’pose y’tell me where youse was holdin’ it last night.”
The wolf looked blearily around, and finally belched. “God-damned if I know. Five minutes after curtain, I had my pay in paw and I was gone, damnit, gone. The less I see of any of this lot, the better.”
The smaller cat laughed again. “Heh. Most of the time, you see three of us at once, don’t you, Chahl?”
The wolf made an obscene gesture, which the cat laughed off in a bored fashion. The Law interceded to get things back on track.
“Whendja last see Weir?”
“Three minutes after curtain. Nearly ran over Fancy-Pants with the pince-nez, over there. I know I have to beat everyone else here in order to get my money. We’re usually short…”
Horn let out a loud snort. “No surprise there. Damn bastard skims off the top when he thinks we aren’t looking. Well, did…”
The beaver narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, well he knew you were looking, didn’t he? Pretty mouse you hung on him in Honolulu. Good thing he doesn’t have to be on stage.”
“Shaddap, Fred.” Fred, it developed, was the beaver.
“Stan, the cops will find out that you whacked him around sooner or later, why not just tell them?”
“’cause I’ve had enough of God-damn cops running me in, that’s why.”
Denman paused in lighting his pipe. “Too much anger, not enough rational thought, m’boy. These constables seemed to have their paws full keeping you in line. Did they roust you from some cote for soiled doves, then? I realize your anger could have many sources, but I suppose the tap being turned off so abruptly…”
“Shaddap. I’m warning you.”
“Oh, please. I wear a steel skullcap, and I’m much faster than you are, Stanley. Mentally and physically. Really, if you moved your brains from between your legs, you’d be a much better fur for it. Don’t you agree, Fannie?”
The lady skunk swallowed hard, and looked from underneath hooded eyes at the fox, who merely kept at lighting his pipe.
“I’ve got brains enough to know that Weir was getting sick of you, and all your bright ideas, Paul.”
“Indeed? You are suggesting, then, that I was fomenting my own private revolution? I admit that of all the furs in this room, I am the most qualified to play the Red Fist. Who shall I liquidate first, then?”
The taller cat finally spoke up. “After you, Paul.”
“Splendid, Mike, splendid. You are a man of few words, but you make them daggers. You’re learning. String together words of more than one syllable, and we’ll make you an actor yet.”
“HEY!” This came not from the cat, but from Sergeant Brush. “Lissen, I don’t give a damn ‘bout yer lil’ spats here. I wanna know where youse guys all were, from curtain until we picked youse up. Now spill it, ‘fore I get angry, see?”
Paul Denman, the fox: reading alone in bed (the word “alone” said with a wink at Miss Black) – no alibi.
Fannie Black, the skunk: asleep in bed (sotto voice comment from one fur, noting that it was a first) – no alibi.
Stanley Horn, the deer: out for a walk alone for a few hours after the show, and then a few hours with some femmefurs who had “hunting licences,” as they are called here in the Islands – no alibi for the first part of the night.
Charles Grey, the wolf: drinking, does not know where or for how long, picked up on a side alley in Casino Island this morning – no firm alibi until his oasis located.
Fred Branch, the beaver: had a talk with Weir, he claims, between about midnight and 12.15 a.m., then went drinking on the beach alone – no alibi.
Michael Clawson, the taller cat: out drinking with Phillip Dairyman, the shorter cat. Alibi uncertain, because neither could remember where they had been drinking.
Sergeant Brush’s expression indicated that he was not terribly satisfied with the results of this questioning, which most likely would involve a great deal of questioning of local bartenders, not the most chatty gentlefurs when it came to the police.
“Awright, so which onea youse seen Weir after th’ show, hanh?”
Grey and Branch both raised their paws quickly, followed by Denman a few beats later. Grey repeated that he had been to get his money quickly, at approximately 11.35. Branch had talked with Weir between midnight and 12.15. Denman could not recall when he spoke with the deceased.
“Pawned watch, you see.”
The two felines had not been paid, and sourly guessed that they wouldn’t be, making wrist-twisting motions to indicate drinking. Horn and Black remained silent.
“Okeh, awright. Lissen, nonea youse guys go nowhere, see? We’re lookin’ inta dis t’ing, an’ until I’m satisfied ain’t nothin’ queer goin’ on, youse is gettin’ held over, see?”
Denman puffed his pipe. “I see. Pray, when will the body be released for burial? I have a keen interest in the funeral arrangements, fond as I am of religious mummery.”
There was a sharp smashing sound as a teacup was thrown against the floor, and Miss Black stood up, quivering with anger.
“If you say so, my dear. Lord knows, you and Nicky were the only ones among us who still believed in that claptrap, at least the letter, if not the spirit of it all, hmmm?”
Miss Black began to stamp her paws and cock her tail, and then suddenly realized I was there. She looked at me, swallowed hard, and then lowered her tail and her head, and rushed from the room, banging the door behind her. No one, including Sergeant Brush (or myself) made a move to stop her. Clawson offered some more monosyllables.
“What an act. Tart.”
I was a few minutes late for my patient, though given the fact that he was asleep, I don’t suppose it mattered that much. Mercifully, he submitted to the checkup with meek obedience, and promptly fell asleep again the moment it was over. I lifted him up, and tucked him back into bed again. A ninety-year old mouse is not much of a burden, which makes the behaviour of his nineteen year old “companion” all the more disgraceful. She did not stay for the visit, but flounced down to the roulette table to have her own fun. There was more than one reason I used extra soap to wash my paws after this appointment.
I had some appointments at Island Hospital, which is not far from Constabulary Headquarters, so I dropped in to see Sergeant Brush, who was busily cursing and rubbing the area around his tailbase. His chair, it seems, had given up the ghost while he was sitting in it, and there were some choice phrases for the stinginess of the Althing. Given the general air of neglect in the detectives’ office (a former storage room), one could sympathize.
I sat down on a relatively clean surface and asked Sergeant Brush about the progress of the case. It appeared that there had been some progress, at least for some of the furs. The two felines had been seen at one bar constantly from two o’clock on, generally propping each other up. A constable had received a complaint about Branch, the beaver, throwing empty bottles into the road at roughly the same time, and had made a note of it in his notebook.
Grey had been at one bar for a brief period of time, and then had left. The bartender noted that he had counted his money, cursed, and run out. This had been shortly before midnight. Another, nearby, bar had received his business from one o’clock onward, and brisk business it was.
Of Horn, Black and Denman, nothing was known of their movements.
Hotel staff had indicated that the hallway outside the prop room had been swept at one o’clock, when there was a light still on in the room. That light was off when the body was discovered in the morning.
Found high on a shelf in the prop room was an unopened bottle of whiskey. It had been dusted for pawprints, showing those of both Denman and Weir.
It all looked a bit discouraging. “Do you think you’ll wrap this up by tomorrow, Sergeant?”
A look of worry. “Jeez, I wanna, but I dunno how th’ hell I’m gonna. Gotta brief him onnit sometime t’morra. Gonna look over th’ evidence, what I gots, t’night. Mebbe I’ll round up th’ gang in th’ mornin’. I got boys lookin’ after dem, makin’ sure dey don’t go on a bender. Gonna make me real popular, I’ll bet.”
I do not know if there is such a thing as a “second nighter,” but on a whim, I made myself such a fur, with the same white tie and tails.
The professionalism of the troupe was rather admirable. Indeed, the performance was sharper than the first night. Miss Black was in fine form. I believe she did, in fact, see me in the audience. It might well have been my imagination, but she could have addressed me with her song in the second act.
I was at the stage door again this night, but the encounter was brief. Looking over her shoulder, she shook her head quickly at me. She squeezed my paw for a second, and then was gone.
It was, perhaps, a few minutes before I regained my bearings.
The next morning was one that I had set aside for paperwork, but my mind, quite frankly, was not Ministry of Health forms. It was on, of course, the Weir case. Well, perhaps mostly. I was feeling the sting of some of Denman’s comments quite acutely.
With an exasperated sigh, I shoved aside the folders, put on my coat, and walked to Constabulary HQ. A discreet enquiry from the desk sergeant told me that if I hurried, I might be able to catch Sergeant Brush at the Casino Island sub-headquarters.
I did, and I did indeed, though it was perhaps one of the coldest greetings I had received in some time. More than one fur made a significant glance at Miss Black, who avoided my eye. They were all clear-eyed and belligerent, in their own personal fashion, and repeated their statements of the day before.
Sergeant Brush tapped his claws in irritation against the table top. “Okeh, lissen. I figger at least onea youse is lyin’, an’ I got proof.”
The wolf, who seemed more subdued sober than hungover, looked up. “Proof?”
“A word you know full well, Charlie, though I doubt in that context.”
Sergeant Brush, with a curse, cut this sally from Denman off at the knees. “Y’know what, I figger onea youse went on last night wit’out somethin’. Anyfur here care t’tell me who?”
Silence, accompanied by surprised and anxious looks. No response. I thought along with them, and suddenly came to a realization.
“Th’ boys tell me, Doc, youse was at both performances, ain’t dat right?”
Dairyman sniggered. “Oh, yeah. He applauded the singing, all right. Real hard. Liked her form, did ya?”
“Shaddap. I ain’t talkin’ t’youse. Well, Doc?”
“All of the mels, except for Denman, were dressed formally. But the quartet was dressed in black tie. Only one fur was dressed in white tie…”
Horn slammed a paw on a table. “Goddamn rubbish. I was dressed the same way both nights.”
“’cept fer dis, hanh?” With that, Sergeant Brush took out from a Murder Box the glassine container that held the silk evening scarf. One that I had seen Horn wear the first night, but not the second night.
Horn stared at the scarf for a few minutes.
“All right. I saw him. After the show. Well after the show. Don’t know when, but it was after he saw him.” With that, he pointed to Denman, who grinned.
“I thank you graciously for that alibi, Stanley. So good of you to note that Nick was alive after I left him.”
“Okeh. Youse wanna tell me what youse was doin’?”
“I wanted out, damnit, out. I’m sick of being cooped up with a bunch of neurotic half-wits…”
The beaver snorted. “Jeez, Stan, you’ve been teamed up with ol’ Hardskull too long. You’re gonna start talking like him soon.”
“…a bunch of self-pitying furs who can’t let go of the past. I want a fresh start. I don’t want to be known as some over-nostalgic New Havenite, fulfilling every God-damned punchline people chuckle about. For Christ’s sake, do you think I like having to dress up in the uniform I fought in, and sing stupid songs? All to please a bunch of drunken oafs? Or skunks looking for a quick lay…”
“Hypocrisy, Stanley, and you know it. We all know it.”
“Shut up, Paul. And what were you doing, anyway?”
“Merely setting our late and lamented leader straight about where he was taking himself, and not incidentally the rest of us, with his drinking and embezzling habits, both of which were getting to be quite a bore.”
Clawson nodded vigorously at this, until Dairyman jabbed him sharply in the ribs with an elbow.
“An’ whendja hide th’ bottle, hanh?”
“I took it from the late Mr. Weir before the first performance, and before he had managed to refresh himself. I hid it in the prop room, where I imagine you found it as I told you. Thirst is a terrible thing, Sergeant, and I’m sure it led to Mr. Weir’s accident.”
“Mebbe so, mebbe so. But one other t’ing.” And here, he turned to Miss Black. “Y’wanna explain what youse was doin’ ‘round 12.45 last night in th’ halls of th’ hotel?”
The wolf sneered. “Looking for an unlocked bedroom, I’ll bet.”
“Zip it, buddy. I ain’t found where youse was between yer first two drinkin’ holes, so if I wuz you, I’d keep yer big muzzle shut, see?”
“Sound advice, Charlie, in more than one way.”
Branch turned on the fox. “Yeah, two should take that advice.”
This time, Denman looked exasperated, and was about to make what no doubt was a cutting and nasty remark, when there was a knock on the door. Sergeant Brush yelled for the applicant to enter.
The door opened, and my blood froze when the first thing I saw that came into view was a long black cane with a silver ferrule and silver handle. I quickly turned, and saw on the faces of the troupe a look of surprise and shock. Denman and Branch in particular paled. I turned back to catch a fleeting look on the face of Detective Inspector Franklin Stagg, who bore the expression of someone who had been punched hard in the stomachs. I could tell that it was a struggle for him to master his emotions. Finally, he removed his battered hat, and bowed awkwardly to the room.
“I see that introductions will not be necessary.”
The other whitetail buck in the room stood up.
“For once, you’re right, Stagg.”
And with that, he spat juicily in the face of the Inspector.
The constables, leaning against the wall, were slow to react. Not so Sergeant Brush, who already had his arm cocked and was a split-second away from bringing down his blackjack on the back of Stanley Horn’s skull when a sharp word stayed his paw.
His subordinate turned to him with a look of surprise (and disappointment, I think). Inspector Stagg merely blinked for a few seconds, and then with a shaking paw removed a crumpled pawkerchief and wiped the spit that was rolling down his face.
The beaver sneered. “Never were much for a fight, were you?”
The Inspector finished wiping his face, and turned to his interlocutor with sad eyes. “I’ve never had much taste for violence, Mr. Branch. I don’t use it to reach my goals. I realize, of course, that you think differently.”
A narrowing of the eyes. “Whazzat supposed to mean?”
“I noticed, Mr. Branch, that you and Mr. Denman visibly paled when I entered the room. Any particular reason?”
A vulpine nod. “Well, Chief…”
“Inspector, Mr. Denman.”
“My most vivid memory of you is as Chief of the State Police, sir. I’m sure it’s the most vivid memory of a majority of the furs in this room.” The hostile looks directed at Inspector Stagg indicated Denman was speaking the truth. “To continue: if you have not already been told, I shall tell you now: Nick Weir, the manager of our little troupe, was found dead this morning of a broken neck. Your energetic friend here – would that you had him at your side in ’31 – has been busily investigating the matter and has assembled us all here. In light of your presence, I’m sure you’ll tell him of the salient facts surrounding myself, Mr. Branch, and the late Mr. Weir.”
A sharp slap of a flat tail against the floor indicated exasperation and anger, but the beaver made no move to stop the revelations.
“Indeed. Sergeant, I did not know the deceased personally, but he was, before the…troubles…a well known manager and part-owner of one of the principal vaudeville theatres in New Haven.”
“Yeah, I seen a cheque he had in ‘is wallet. From th’ theatre, dated ‘round ‘bout th’ time…well, things happened.”
“Ah. I see. Well, has Mr. Denman mentioned his past?”
I coughed gently. “Well, Inspector, he did mention to me something about a Mr. Minksky probably taking satisfaction in his expulsion from New Haven.”
The fox began to light his pipe, which had gone out. His paws shook slightly. “Yes, well. As the head of the national branch of Actors’ Equity, I did not see eye to eye with the Messrs. Minksky and Weir, to be sure. Nor did the head of the New Haven Federation of Musicians.” And with that, he glanced significantly at Mr. Branch, who scowled back and muttered something under his breath.
“It was a bitter strike, was it not? I recall the State Police were called in on more than one occasion. I believe I even arrested you, Mr. Branch.”
“Yeah, but I got off, hat-rack.”
“Quite so. Amazing how few witnesses there were in a crowd of hundreds that saw you beat that fur who crossed the picket line. One would hope you have moderated your modus operandi since then. Astonishing, not to mention ironic, that you three would work together.”
“A fur’s gotta eat, hat-rack. Especially when he gets betrayed by some yiffer who can’t pull the trigger. Ever want that decision back, Stagg? Not that it matters. I’m not the only one wandering all over the place who’d think you’d have blood on your paws, either way. Must make you sleep real good at night.”
Most of the troupe looked with grim satisfaction as the Inspector closed his eyes, and breathed heavily, gripping his stick with white-knuckled paws. He managed to get control of his emotions after some struggle, and turned to Sergeant Brush, speaking thickly.
“I take it that all of the interview transcripts and evidence are at headquarters? If so, I think my work here is done.”
He turned to go. It was Dairyman who issued the Parthian shot.
“Run, ya bastard. And I do mean bastard.”
Unlike Sergeant Brush, I could readily leave the room. It was something of a relief, frankly. All of the New Havenites in the room were producing a near-palpable hate, with the exception of Miss Black, who merely looked down at her footpads and twisted a pawkerchief in her paws.
The Inspector had turned the corner in the hallway, and out of sight of the hotel’s patrons, was on his knees, retching drily. I gripped him, and placed a paw against his neck, feeling the hammering of his pulse.
“I’ll be all right, Doctor. Just let me…”
“You are not all right, Inspector. You are going back with me to Meeting Island, you are going to my house, and you are going to lie down. I am not accepting any excuses or arguments. We are leaving. Now.”
He opened his muzzle a few times, struggling to speak, and then slumped his shoulders. I led him out the back of the hotel, so as not to embarrass him, and flagged down a Constabulary crash boat to take us away from Casino Island.
The Inspector refused, point-blank, a sedative. Furs like him, who rely on brain-work, fear sedatives. Irrational, really, but I decided in the short-term not to argue the point. A quiet, locked room was what was needed at the moment.
For him. What I needed was something to drink. Non-alcoholic, of course, but a good cup of tea was something I desperately needed, and P’ina, my housefur, was going to be otherwise occupied keeping an eye on the deer.
It was thus to Luchow’s that my footpads took me. The old German boar who ran the place had very simple ideas about food. Make it hot, pile it high, charge the minimum. It made him very popular among the bureaucrats on Meeting Island who had budgets.
He smiled, but when he saw the thunderous look on my face which must have been there, he raised a worried eyebrow, and merely drew the makings of a cup of strong tea.
“If you please, August, make that two, and on my account.” A polished voice flowed over my shoulder. Turning, I met the keen avian eyes of Charles Foster Crane, the publisher of the Spontoon Mirror.
As well and as tastefully dressed as he was, this was not a sight for sore eyes; in point of fact, he may well have been the last personality I wanted to see at this moment, aside from Stanley Horn. Still, one does not tread clumsily when dealing with an individual who, for his own amusement, could make a number of embarrassing revelations as easily as, well, ordering a cup of tea.
Crane carried both cups of tea to a back booth. We were still about forty-five minutes from the start of the lunch rush, so we had a significant amount of privacy. Crane arranged the tea things with precision, and then leaned back, watching me carefully. He chose the proper psychological moment to ask me a pointed question.
“The Inspector is recovering from his ordeal of this morning, then?”
My face must have betrayed my shock, for he gently waved a few wing-feathers while examining a teaspoon for cleanliness.
“You forget, Doctor, that my office is on the top floor of the Mirror Building, which affords me quite a view of Casino Island. Including the back of the Grand. When I see the Islands’ most prominent doctor leading away an obviously stricken Franklin Stagg…well, the merest cub reporter would sense that something was up.”
“He is my patient, Mr. Crane. I can say nothing.”
“Of course, Doctor, of course. Perish the thought that I would ask you to betray your confidences. Especially when they touch on such a raw wound in the Inspector’s pysche. One heavily salted by his erstwhile compatriots. You are surprised? Oh, come now, Doctor. It’s chick’s play to spread some silver among hotel staffs. Wonderful sources, they are. They’re trained to be observant, and the longer they’re there, the more knowledge they obtain.”
“Knowledge you can abuse.”
“You misunderstand me, Doctor. I do not use my information for unfair gain. Blackmail is disgusting; I speak as a former victim, myself. No, I seek information to use to understand furs better, to see what motivates them. You, for example. A well-educated fur, probably one of the most educated on these Islands. McGill University does not graduate dullards from its undergraduate or medical faculties. Nor did the Canadian Army dispense the M.C. to those who skulk in safe and deep trenches in the rear. And your hard work here is well-known. Beneath all of that, your professional detachment, one imagines you are a fur of great feeling, who is searching for something that all your money and success have never brought you.”
“How could you know that?”
“My dear fellow, I merely observed it for myself, the opening performance of “A Night in New Haven.” I was there, myself. Your eyes followed Miss Fannie Black on and off the stage. Tasteful flowers, too. I might have expected that kind of a gesture.”
“In isolation. Combined with the fact that you have attended both performances – yes, the waiters at the Grand accept my money, too – and add further the fact that you employ a positively antediluvian nurse of forbidding manner, plus a giggly native assistant that I know irritates you with her mindless gossip, and a thesis emerges. Add still further that you are the only wealthy Euro mel in the Islands – myself included – who has not at one point or another engaged the personal services of a femmefur, the thesis grows stronger. Would you like to meet L’yra some evening? She thinks highly of you, you know. You would be surprised that there are a few native femmefurs who would willingly and whole-heartedly…but I see I am embarrassing you…”
Indeed he was. I could feel the burning sensation inside my ears. “What’s your point of all this?”
“My point, Doctor, is that I am on your side. You need not fear that you will appear in a front-page photograph in the Mirror. One of the pleasures of ownership is that I can pick and choose my targets, and help those I consider beneficial to the Islands. You, for one. The Inspector, for another. You have noticed that I have not published anything regarding the death of Mr. Weir?”
“I do not subscribe to the Mirror, Mr. Crane.”
A wry smile. “Ah, but if I had sixpence for each Meeting Islander who has said that to me. But never mind. To continue: I am well aware that Mr. Weir’s death might involve the Constabulary, and I have no desire to increase the burden on Franklin Stagg’s soul. The advertisement I had to accept, really: turning down the Grand would have set a bad precedent, and would have caused more gossip. Best to pick one’s fights.”
“I see. And is that all?”
“Indeed not. I have a fact that I wish you to pass on to the Inspector. One of the hotel staff, a very good and reliable informant, told one of my reporters that while the prop room, the scene of the tragedy, had not been set to rights in some time, it was in a state of order at the time the body was discovered. Intriguing, don’t you think?”
Crane got up, and placed some coppers on the table. “Use it as you see fit, Doctor. Oh, and do think about what I told you. I admire your high standards, but take care you have not set them so high that you will never reach them.”
I had one other stop on Meeting Island that I considered of vital importance: the rectory behind St. Anthony’s. To my surprise, it was not Father Merino, but Father Cappell, the Irish horse that officiated at Mass at St. Paul’s, Casino Island that was robing himself for noon service.
“Oh, hullo, Doctor! If you’re looking for my senior, he’s taking the duty at St. Paul’s today. He’ll never admit it, but the small congregation he has here at St. Anthony’s can sadden him. Best to let him have a full house, now and again, eh?” He grinned cheerily. Little wonder the Catholics on Casino Island held him with such affection.
I told him of the events of this morning involving the Inspector. I guessed, correctly, that Father Cappell would know all of the details involving the Inspector’s history, and his self-inflicted torment. The grin vanished, followed by a look of concern.
“Yes, I saw that advertisement, too.” (Heavens, he read that paper?) “It’s a bad lot, those actors. Only two of them were observant, you know. I saw the poor fellow who died at evening Mass. Heavens, that must have been just a few hours before he died. Looked quite preoccupied, he did. Almost missed some of the cues. Luckily, he had that lady skunk with him.”
“Oh? They were together?”
“Yes. Saw them talking earnestly on the way out. Almost bumped into the font, they weren’t watching where they were going. She was trying to convince him of something, but I couldn’t, of course, hear what. She was trying to convince him very hard, you know. Almost in tears.”
I nodded. “I’m sure both the Inspector and Sergeant Brush would want to know that.”
“Goodness, true for telling, Doctor. Where did you say the Inspector was? I’ll stop by after Mass and let him know. If, er, you think it won’t hurt him, of course. Or that lady skunk. You know, she’s been at every Mass? It wouldn’t surprise me if she was at St. Paul’s right now. I rather wish the Inspector could make this Mass, though I imagine he’s otherwise occupied…”
Which reminded me. I needed to check up on my patient.
I found, rather to my irritation, that that indefinite little Spontoonie assistant of mine had let Sergeant Brush in during my absence. I resolved to have some words with both her and with P’ina at the first opportunity. I will not have my orders flouted with such impunity.
I also found that the two detectives had spread the evidence all over my Persian rug, and the Inspector was marking up transcripts, in tiny paw-writing, with a blue pencil. This did not fit my definition of rest, and I said so to the Inspector, and gave the Sergeant a firm glare. He shrugged somewhat insolently at me. There was little I could do in that respect, as I did not wish to invite a concussion.
“Well. As long as you are disobeying my instructions, Inspector, I might as well inform you of something.” And with that, I related to him what Father Cappell had told me, and what Mr. Crane had told me about the room. The Inspector blinked, and then took two small note-cards and added one fact to each.
“Intriguing. I thank you, Doctor.”
The Sergeant scratched his head. “I don’t geddit. I mean, a whole buncha th’ gang had th’ time t’do it. An’ it seems like they wuz cheesed off at th’ stiff fer one reason or ‘nother…”
“Yes, indeed. Personality clashes, past history, embezzlement, desire to leave…or desire to convince of something. Something…”
The Inspector thought for a while, closing his eyes. At one point, he opened them, and scanned the spread out exhibits. He selected the memorandum book, opened it, and looked at the empty pages carefully. After a few minutes, he turned on a strong lamp, and held the pages up against the light.
“Sergeant, could I trouble you for your pencil? My one is mechanical, unlike yours.”
I could see the look of exasperation directed against the self in the Sergeant’s eyes as he realized what the Inspector was going to do. He handed over the pencil in silent embarrassment.
Rubbing the pencil against the top page revealed a bold series of numbers from top to bottom. Less distinct were some letters, which were not legible, except at the bottom. The numbers were being added together. It produced a high four-figure sum, of mysterious import. The only legible item was an even bolder signature of Mr. Weir, which was partially obscured the total. The Inspector compared it against the cheque Mr. Weir had written himself, just before the Red Fist took over. It seemed, to my untrained eye, to be very close.
Franklin Stagg selected the easy chair near the fireplace, put his head in his paws, and closed his eyes. He remained that way for nearly twenty minutes. I feared interrupting his train of thought, as did Sergeant Brush. Even so, I was on the verge of touching his shoulder when he lifted his eyes and stared right at his subordinate.
“Sergeant, I want you to do a few things. Firstly, I want you to take a magnifying glass, and go over every inch of Mr. Weir’s shirt. Note all of the holes, snags and tears and describe them for me. Get the Doctor to help you, he’s good at that sort of minute examination, as the silk threads show. (By the way, most helpful, Doctor, thank you.)”
“Good. Next, have the police photographers give me photographs of the walls and ceiling of the prop room. Also give me a scale diagram of where all the furniture is.”
“I’m going to work on a timeline involving…well, involving the troupe. I find two facts highly suggestive.”
This made my ears twitch. “Oh?”
“The fact that the prop room was clean, and the fact that the light was turned off. This, combined with the behaviour the two of you have described, leads me to believe something may have happened.”
I couldn’t help myself. “What’s that, Inspector?”
He shook his head gravely. “Until the Sergeant finishes his chores that I’ve just given him, I don’t know. But his answers are awaited eagerly. Sergeant, if you would…?”
The words were drowned out by the sound of a door being opened and closed in a hurry.
I had appointments with patients that were, luckily, in my clinic, so I did not have to venture far. It did require me to walk by the New Haven embassy, next door to my residence. Some kind of radio or loudspeaker was on full-blast inside, sending a squawk of propaganda that was, mercifully, unintelligible. Deliberate, I wonder?
A messenger from the Constabulary arrived while I was finishing up the examination. Leaving my nurse to take care of the details, I unfolded the clothes that Mr. Weir had been wearing the night he died.
Neither the trousers nor the undershorts told me anything other than Mr. Weir’s laundry bill must have been minimal, though not as minimal as his tailoring bill. The clothes bore the faded label of a New Haven tailor and a haberdashery.
It was on the second examination of the shirt that I saw something peculiar. The shirt was in general frayed at the cuffs and weathered. But near the bottom of the front of the shirt, close to where the shirt-tail would tuck into the front of the trousers, were two small holes, spaced roughly an inch apart. They were very small, and puckered slightly at the inside edges. Squinting closer, I found that the shirt material where the tiny holes were was darker than where, for example, there were frayed cuffs. I thought about this for a while, and then realized firstly what might have caused the holes, and then why the Inspector was looking for just such evidence on the shirt. I took the shirt into my autopsy room, photographed it, and then carefully bundled the shirt to take back to where the Inspector was.
I did not begrudge the use of my home as a temporary extension of Constabulary HQ, mind you. Having seen what passed for their office…
Sergeant Brush had laid out on the floor, next to the other pieces of evidence, a sketch-map of the prop room where Weir had been found. The prop room was more or less a concrete/masonry box, with few features other than a frail hanging light fixture which supplied the one bulb that lit the room, and the sturdy steel shelves bolted to the floor and reaching up well above head-level for all but the tallest of furs. Little wonder that Denman had chosen to hide Weir’s liquor in the shelves, I mused.
When it was my turn, I unfolded the shirt, and pointed to where I had found the small holes and the puckering of the material. The Inspector took a magnifying glass and examined the area for a long time. He laid aside the magnifying glass and sighed.
“I was afraid of this, Doctor. And I see by the look in your eye you know where my thoughts are leading. Sergeant, I’m going to ask you to gather the actors together immediately. I’m sure what I will have to say will disrupt tonight’s performance, but I have no other alternative.”
The Inspector had gathered the group in the prop room; it was, ironically enough, the most convenient place to assemble us all. It made for quite a crowded scene. There was a whispered instruction to a uniformed constable just before the proceedings started, and that worthy quickly trotted off on a mission unknown to me.
The members of the company of “A Night in New Haven” found seats on assorted crates, or leaned against the shelving units. Beneath a mask of bored indifference lurked fear and other high emotions.
The Inspector seemed ready to begin when Clawson, the cat of few syllables, spat on the floor.
“This is dumb.”
Denman, already dressed in his loud costume, but looking hardly in the comedic spirit, sighed. “A pithy analysis, but what it has in brevity it lacks in a certain…”
Both Grey and Horn, who had been clenching their fists, simultaneously yelled at the fox to shut up. Dairyman, the more verbose feline, walked toward Denman, and gave him a hard shove in the chest, which was reciprocated. A general brawl seemed to be moments away when there was a loud metallic singing sound.
Silence descended as the actors turned and discovered that Sergeant Brush had his blackjack out. Another ringing blow against the metal of the shelves, and the troupe slowly parted from each other, muttering and glaring at each other.
Franklin Stagg sighed. “A microcosm of everything that went wrong years ago. Endless and mindless disagreement.”
His brother cervine was not impressed. “What gives you, of all furs, the right to say that? You’re responsible for what happened in ’31.”
Mutters of assent, and then silence. After a pause, the Inspector spoke quietly. “One does not have to sing “Our Home, Together” to remember all that was cherished about our home. Yes, our home. I am far away, and while my papers say one thing, my heart will never say anything other than I am a New Havenite. I’ve been offered citizenship by the Spontoons, you know. I refused it. No matter what any other fur says, to my dying day, I will repeat what I said: I am citizen of New Haven.”
“Loyalty to something I cherished, and still cherish, does not blind me to the faults that have led me, as well as all of you, here. Those of us who share a common bond have all made personal errors that eat away at us, inside.”
“You, Mr. Grey, drown your sorrows and anger in alcohol, the only thing that dulls the pain in your heart, and you need all that you earn to pay for it. When Mr. Weir shorted you in your pay, you had a boiling anger, and a desire to confront him that was already fortified by strong drink.”
“Mr. Denman and Mr. Branch both had a long history of animosity toward Mr. Weir, dating from their pro-labour days. Mr. Denman’s attempts to assert control, in part by attempting to cut off Mr. Weir’s supply of drink, exacerbated these tensions. And Mr. Branch has a history of enforcing his will with his fists.”
“As does Mr. Horn, who we know punched Mr. Weir in the face some days ago, and had a deep desire to break up the act and start fresh.”
“Of Miss Black, we can surmise from the cruel comments made about her that she had intimate relations with Mr. Weir, and a few hours before his death, had had a deeply emotional discussion with him at St. Paul’s, Casino Island.”
“And Mr. Dairyman, like Mr. Clawson, were both suspicious that Mr. Weir was embezzling funds to support his drinking habit.”
The lady mephit spoke up, quietly. “So you are saying we all had motives to murder Mr. Weir, then?”
“Not exactly. I am saying that you all had reasons to confront Mr. Weir with anger and emotion on the night he died. You are all, in a sense, responsible for his death.”
Stanley Horn let out a loud snort. “So, you’re going to arrest us all, then?”
“Let me start from the events of early yesterday evening, a few hours before the curtain rose on your debut here. Some time around 7 PM or so, after evening Mass had ended at St. Paul’s, Miss Black and Mr. Weir were observed, as I said, having a deeply emotional discussion as they were walking out of church. Father Cappell, who will be joining us shortly, saw this. Is this not so, Miss Black?”
I watched carefully as Fannie Black raised her head slowly, nodded, and then looked at her footpads again. But not before a brief glance in my direction.
“I can assume, given what has been told of you by Doctor Meffit and Sergeant Brush here, that the hours before the 10 PM start of the programme were likely filled with a number of anxious words and a descent into personalities. Is this not so?”
Dairyman spoke up. “True enough, Ch…Inspector. But come on, that’s the nature of the business. You may not have been a first nighter yourself back in the day, but you know the quirks of actors and actresses.”
“Quirks. Indeed.” The Inspector reached into his pocket and took out a small bundle of objects, the things found on Mr. Weir’s body when it was discovered.
“Aside from a few everyday items, like the pencil and memo book, it struck me that he retained a few things. Links to better times, like the cheque, perhaps his last one from before the Revolt and these pawn tickets. Treasured items, but not so treasured as these…” Here, he held up one by one the St. George medal, the rosary, and the missal.
“Mr. Weir went without many things, including a watch, surely an essential item. But he had these items. And he attended Mass. Note the St. Paul’s mass card. He had lost many things. But he had not lost his faith.”
“To return to the night in question. The performance took place from 10 PM until about 11.30, according to the Doctor here, who was at the performance.”
Grey interjected, with needless accuracy. “The first two performances.”
“Quite so, Mr. Grey. A point that shall come later. You yourself were the first to see Mr. Weir when the curtain came down, and you demanded your money. Dr. Meffit, here, saw you leave the stage in a hurry.”
“And Weir shorted me, the bastard.”
“We shall return to that, especially since the question of money will be a repeated theme. As the Messrs. Clawson and Dairyman can inform us. We have heard little about their movements before two o’clock, but given that they were in sufficient funds to drink, they must have obtained their nightly pay from Mr. Weir. Say, after Mr. Grey?”
Clawson glowered. “Whaddya you think? Guy grabs th’ dough each night.”
Dairyman nodded. “Hell, yeah. It’s every fur for himself each night. But you’ve got nothing on us, Stagg. Nothing.”
The Inspector rubbed an antler. “That is true for telling, gentlefurs, but you are omitting one salient fact: my theory has nothing to do with direct action, but the results of your actions.” The two cats looked at each other with irritated puzzlement, while Stagg continued.
“Some time between midnight and 12.15, Mr. Grey returned to retrieve some money he claimed to have been shorted.”
“I was shorted, the yiffer. Thought he could pull a fast one on me, even if I’d have a few. Told him what I’d do to him if he did that again, too. But he was alive when I left him, and there are others who saw him later, go ahead, ask them. I was back, as you said, drowning my pain when Weir got what he deserved.”
“I shall reserve judgement on the merits of that remarking regarding justice, Mr. Grey. Mr. Branch visited the deceased some time between midnight and 12.15 AM. And what did you have to say to him, then?”
“I’m not scared to tell you, Stagg. I told him I’d knock his block off and finish the job I wanted to do, if he didn’t straighten up and fly right. But I’m telling you straight: he was alive when I left him.” He pointed at Denman. “Isn’t that right, Paul?”
Denman, leaning against the shelving, yawned. “If you say so, dear boy, if you say so. And to anticipate your questions, I discussed with him the finances of the troupe, and the hole he had dug for us all.”
“He sketched out a series of numbers for you, then, totaling up debts?”
“A shrewd guess, Inspector.”
“Not a guess, Mr. Denman. This rubbing shows it. Incidentally, would you empty out the contents of your wallet before me, right now?”
The fox bristled. “I beg your pardon?”
“I believe that you have something that Mr. Weir gave you, after he totaled the figures. As you can see, the signature is even bolder on this top sheet than the numbers, indicating that it was signed on a third sheet of paper written that night.”
Denman’s shock probably obscured the confusion felt by a number in the room over this third sheet of paper. Not all in the room, though, were confused by this. And not all on the side of the Law, either, as I could see.
With his brush visibly bottling, Denman reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small slip of paper torn from a book, and handed it to Inspector Stagg, who read it out. It was an instrument purporting to assign to Paul Denman all right, title and interest in the Quinnipiac Players that was owned by Nicholas Weir. It was signed at the bottom, in heavy pencil, by Weir.
There would have been loud recriminations and violence as a result of this revelation, had the good Sergeant not brandished his blackjack so visibly. Cowed by this sight, the actors busied themselves with poisonous looks at Denman, who merely crossed his arms over his chest, and jerked his chin at the deer, who suddenly began to sweat. His brother cervine rubbed an antler.
“Indeed. You, Mr. Horn, had already come to blows with Mr. Weir some days before, had come to visit him, behind all of the others. And, one assumes, after the others had been paid. There was no more money. And, as it turned out, no more assets to distribute. Tell me, did Mr. Denman smile as you met him in the hall?”
“Yiffing bastard, you bet he did, and now I know why…that’ll never stand up in court, Denman, I’ll fight you all the way on that.”
“From the death cell, Stanley?” cooed the fox, with a nasty grin.
Horn took a step forward with fist cocked, and then saw the hush of the rest of the crowd. Sweating, he slowly lowered his fist.
“Quick to violence and headstrong, Mr. Horn. No doubt you had a heated argument with Mr. Weir. So heated that in your anger, you left something behind. Your scarf.”
“You can’t kill a fur with a scarf.”
“Experience has shown me that you can, Mr. Horn, if one is clever enough, or angry enough. And you have shown just what you are capable of. I put it to you that when Miss Black, here, encountered Mr. Weir some time after 12.45, when she was seen in the hallway, Mr. Weir was already dead.”
Horn’s eyes bugged out, and he breathed hard. In one motion, he whirled on his hoof, and delivered a ringing slap that knocked Fannie Black off the box she was sitting on.
Grey and Dairyman grabbed the deer, who seemed bent on repeated the action on the other side of Miss Black’s face. I had the choice of thrashing Horn or helping my sister mephit. I picked her up. She looked briefly into my face, turned away rapidly, and squirmed out of my grasp, sitting back on the box.
“No, Mr. Horn. She is not lying. There was staff on duty near the prop room at one o’clock, when the hallway was being swept. I think it safe to assume that Miss Black was looking, not for the open bedroom as some have said, but the empty bedroom. That of Mr. Weir. And she found it, and began to search for him. You found him dead, Miss Black?”
Whether it was from the slap, or other emotions, Miss Black’s eyes began to tear over. There were no accusations, this time, that it was an act.
Horn’s eyes were starting from his head, and his ears were flat against his skull. “She’s lying, damnit, she’s lying. So I left my scarf behind! So I hated the bastard’s guts! So he lied to me, cheated me, and kept me locked up with this batch of has beens and never was-ers. He…was…ALIVE…when I left him!!!”
So having said, he breathed in deep heaving motions at the Inspector, teeth baring. The Inspector looked at him placidly.
“I never said otherwise, Mr. Horn.”
Few in the room took this news calmly. There was a buzz of confusion that only subsided when the Inspector coughed.
“Preparations for what happened had already been made, I surmise. You will recall a third sheet of paper I mentioned, the one that is illegible on this rubbing, but was obviously made before the numbers, and before the instrument of assignment to Mr. Denman. I surmise that Mr. Weir was considering a course of action, one that Miss Black had guessed at during Evening Mass, and was emotionally arguing against.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the figure of Father Cappell quietly enter the room. With knowledge born of long experience and keen observation, he strode to a place near Fannie Black. Her shoulders were starting to shake. I wanted to still them, but I couldn’t move from my spot.
“I further surmise that Miss Black may have believed that she had succeeded in thwarting the plan, for Mr. Weir was still alive at the end of the show. But his failure to appear after the show, at a late hour, worried her.”
“The confrontation with Mr. Horn was the last straw. No amount of alcohol, even that hidden earlier by Mr. Denman, could blot out the pain that Mr. Weir was suffering. He had reached the end of the line. Despair had finally swamped his soul.”
The shirt was produced. “These holes were likely made by something like a safety pin. There were two safety pins in his possession when he died, that were found on the body. It is not difficult to imagine that he had at least one other. With that safety pin, he pinned an item to his clothing.”
The penny dropped. Horn stopped breathing heavily, as Grey and Dairyman let go of him. The others looked at the Inspector with horrified, frozen expressions of realization. All except Fannie Black, who began to sob.
“You will observe that these steel shelves are very securely bolted to the floor. They are quite strong, I imagine. They are also rather high. High enough to require a stepladder to reach up to the top shelves. Note further that the light fixtures in this room, coming down from the ceiling, are far flimsier.”
Stagg paused before continuing. “Mr. Weir climbed to the top of the stepladder. Yes, he had been drinking during the night; the blood tests showed that. Not sufficient, though, to be drunk. Nor sufficient to stop him from carrying out in a determined fashion what he had been dissuaded from doing earlier that night.”
“It was you, Mr. Horn, who gave him his weapon. Your silk scarf. A long, elegant one, suitable for evening wear, and one that the Doctor had seen you wear on the first night, but not on the second. It was that scarf that Nicholas Weir knotted around his neck, the knot to the back, where silk threads were found by the Doctor when he examined the body. I suppose he either stepped off the stepladder, or kicked it away. Death would have been quick from a broken neck.”
The sound of sobbing grew louder from the mephitess, and were not stilled by the paw of Father Cappell placed gently on her shoulder.
“It was this sight that greeted Miss Black when she entered the prop room, no doubt after 1 AM, when the hallway was clear. Her worst fear had been realized.”
There was silence for some time, before Charles Grey spoke up again. “But Inspector, I was led to believe that that’s not the way you found him. And where’s the suicide note?”
“Likely destroyed, Mr. Grey, when the fatal scene was cleaned up by Miss Black.”
Denman blinked. “Cleaned up?! But why?!” The others seemed equally puzzled.
“For once, Mr. Denman, your wit fails you? Little wonder. You turned your face from the Church so long ago, you may have forgotten that a suicide cannot be buried in consecrated ground. No matter for one who considers such things religious mummery – that was your expression, was it not? – but it mattered deeply to some fur who did not view such things in that light. And there was only one among you who felt that way…”
Detective Inspector Franklin Stagg got up unsteadily from his seat, leaning on his cane, and limped over to where Fannie Black sat, wracked in emotion. He kneeled down, and addressed her.
“And there was more to that, wasn’t there? You tried to frame the scene as an accident. What of an accident, even if it was caused by drink? A few lines of agate type in the back of the newspapers, nothing more. But a suicide, and one accompanied by a note…that’s front page stuff. And you would be dragged into it. So would you all. And the whole story would be dragged out again. The lonely exile, dead by his own paw. Yes, that sells newspapers. It would be the final act of ripping out your soul, wouldn’t it, Miss Black?”
It was Father Cappell who held the sobbing lady skunk against his chest.
I wish it had been me.
The Inspector removed his hat. “Your actions were not criminal, Miss Black. I say that with more belief than you will ever know. I do not have an arrest warrant for you. You are all free to go.”
The group parted to let the older deer through. Sergeant Brush collected the various pieces of evidence, placed them in a Murder Box, and left the room without a word. I lingered for a minute, but I could not meet the eye of Fannie Black. I followed my colleagues out of the room, and closed the door behind me.
They say the show went on that night, and for the rest of the engagement. That is second-paw knowledge, for I was not there. The ancient tradition must have been upheld. I do not know for sure: I could not bring myself to attend another performance.
They made room in the crypt of St. Paul’s, Casino Island for Nicholas Weir. The Church ruled that Weir was not in his right mind when he ended his life. He was thus allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. After some soul-searching, I decided to attend. I was the only mourner. At first, I was shocked. Second and third thoughts led me to believe that I shouldn’t have been surprised, at that.
Alone, with just Father Cappell and the deceased.
“I hold it true what’er befall
I feel it when I sorrow most
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Then never to have loved at all.”
So it is written.
It is a lie.
This I know from bitter experience.
The Mirror said nothing about the investigation or the results. I carefully examined the papers for the next few days. A note that arrived a week after the funeral convinced me I had not overlooked anything.
“Dr. Meffit: You should heed all that I said to you when last we met. All of it. Yours very truly, Charles Foster Crane.”
Perhaps. But I fear it will avail me naught.