The Giant Gnat of Sinatra
- Act One -
A tale of mad exploration, in six (possibly unnatural) acts,
some Strange Interludes, and a high-pitched ‘ping’ sound,
with pie, five cents extra
© 2009 by Marmel, Costello and Reimer
(The Three Writers are © their respective parents, and damned if they aren’t
the most compelling arguments ever known for eugenics.)
(Leonard and Susan Allworthy © Walter Reimer.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is largely coincidental,
and we’ll be taking steps to correct it as quickly as possible,
but you know we’re all just so gosh-darned busy at the moment . . . >bonk<)
“Inocenta must know more of her Leslie-puppy, what he do that is extraordinary?"
Good question, that.
One that required more than a bit of thought.
Reggie and I were playing host to Leslie and Inocenta just before their wedding, with Rosie along to round out the party. Lodge had served the coffee and then had shimmered off to – well, wherever Lodge shimmers off to.
Inocenta’s question . . . well, not surprising, I suppose. But where to start?
“Hmm. I'll have to think that over, Inocenta.”
Cupcake, force of nature that she was, would not be denied. “But Willow has known Leslie-puppy longer than Inocenta! Surely Willow can tell what is most extraordinary thing Willow see Leslie-puppy do, aside from fall in love with Inocenta."
I glanced at Les. He looked nervous. I grinned wickedly. "Well . . . there WAS the Giant Gnat of Sinatra..."
“Willow! We agreed - ”
“It's either that,” I cocked an eyebrow, “or the time you got locked in your room at the Bellevue-Stagford with the seven chorus - "
Les raised a paw. “Fine, fine.”
Cupcake looked interested. “Seven of the choruses?”
“Later,” Les said.
“Ah! Leslie-puppy is blushing!”
I grinned and settled into my seat. “Now, sit right back, and I’ll tell my tale. It’s a tale of a very strange trip . . . “
Coffee around the table - Art by Seth C. Triggs - http://www.bibp.com/
(Clockwise from upper left: Willow Fawnsworthy, Reggie Buckhorn,
Rosie Baumgartner, Inocenta deCiervos, & Leslie duCleds)
Act One: Ruffles and Flourishes; or, Poppa Has a Brand New Bag (and Uses It)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
It was the best of times, because the wonders of the Orient were before us.
It was the worst of times, because I had an airsick employer on my paws . . . and he was flying the plane.
“Urp . . .”
“Les! Pay attention!”
“Mmmph . . . urp . . . m’tryin’.”
This is definitely one of those things they don’t cover in the Minkerton’s handbooks.
I wasn’t feeling anywhere too bright and perky right now myself, what with holding the co-pilot’s yoke as Les stuck his head out the open side window. The plane was definitely going to need a bath when we landed. And the sounds and smell and the guts-churning ways the plane was moving . . . well, it only made things worse.
Funny, too, the day had started out so promising . . .
We had started out from Saigon in Les’ Ercorsair after a rather nerve-wracking tour of French Indo-China.
To say that it was Big Trouble in Indo-China would have been understating the matter.
The trip had begun with a tour of rubber plantations (Les is always keen to expand the family business), and had ended with us running afoul of Hanoi Xan, the leader of one of the nastiest groups of cut-throats I’ve run into since the Deertroit Mauve Mob.
I think there are still a few bullet holes in the tail of the plane.
None in ours, fortunately.
We flew on to Bangkok from Saigon, and while I shopped and stayed in the hotel, Les went out to sample the night life.
He showed up the next morning looking distinctly queasy, a pale shadow of the confident and proud canine who stepped out at sundown.
Apparently one night in Bangkok can make a strong mel humble.
After making a few contacts with the local business leaders, and after having a half-dozen holes patched in the plane, we were off again. Our destination was Penang, in British Malaya.
Les concluded a couple of deals there and then we were on our way south to Humapore.
My Minkerton's assignment is to keep the scion of the DuCleds Chemicals fortune out of serious trouble and, so far, my score is pretty durned decent. I mean, at least Les isn't dead, maimed or forced into wedlock with any one of the number of fair flowers of the Orient he’s managed to snare with his good looks.
Does he know who I actually work for?
And I want to keep it that way.
So I felt pretty confident as I made hotel reservations at the Ruffles Hotel in Humapore.
In a bastion of the veddy British Empire, what could go wrong?
The Ruffles Hotel is my kind of place. Sure, you can have your camping out in the woods, or living it up in a saloon a loud shout from a miner’s camp or a wildcatter’s rig, but sometimes you have to get away from it all.
And if ‘getting away from it all’ means having your every whim catered to by silent servants in a place that has a well-deserved reputation for five-star service, then that’s what’s on the menu.
Two days in my room with the hotel’s doctor and a pretty nurse near at paw set me right. It seemed, thankfully, that the aftereffects of my sojourn in Bangkok were now mercifully behind me.
What did they put in the Pad Thai anyway? The guy at the restaurant said that the fish had been imported, so it might have been the piece of cod that passed all understanding.
In fact it didn’t even pass sublimely.
It was more like Gorblimey.
I felt better though, so it was high time, I reasoned, to stir out and see and do.
Willow, unfortunately, was having none of it.
My secretary looked at me primly over her glasses, then turned away from the typewriter. “No.”
“Why the hell not?” I demanded.
“Because,” she said in tones that indicated she had either reached the end of her tether or was convinced I was five years old, “the doctor said you haven’t got all of that out of you yet, and suggested at least another day of rest.”
“Well, dammit, Willow …”
Her demeanor changed to a bright smile, which managed to hook me fairly effectively. While I can fend off a hard sell, I have a bit of trouble when a good-looking femme (of whatever species) makes that kind of eyes at me.
In fact, I made a pass at Willow about a day after I met her.
She let me down – pretty gently, in fact – and we’ve been friends ever since.
“But … if you take a seat in the bar’s lounge and stay off your feet, I think we can compromise,” she said. “Besides, that’ll give you a chance to look around for businessmen to chat with while I get these reports off to Delahare.”
My eyes narrowed. “The bar?”
She shrugged slightly, doing things to her dress that I was in no real shape to appreciate at the moment. “If you like. I imagine the hotel will bring you your meals.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Willow. I’m starting to go stir-crazy in here.”
She smiled at me again, and I went to get dressed.
Before she changed her mind.
I was actually happy to see Les go, and after his footsteps receded toward the elevators I made a discreet phone call to the concierge. Les was not to set foot outside of the hotel, for any reason short of the place being on fire.
I conveyed this in a tone that brooked no opposition and the concierge, perhaps familiar with the exploits of wandering businessfurs with roaming paws and an eye for the ladies, agreed with me.
That taken care of, I addressed myself to my work with a will, intent on getting things sewn up and sent off expeditiously.
All work and no play, and all that.
Why, that good-for-nothing …
I should have known she’d get the staff on her side, and no amount of money offered could get me a cab or even get me out the front door.
The back door was out, too.
So I find myself ensconced in the hotel bar at the Ruffles, my muzzle in a stiff Bourbon and water (the bartender didn’t bat an eye) and waiting for my lunch when I heard a small commotion stir up the overall somnolent atmosphere.
A group of furs were entering, four members of the staff accompanying three furs to a small table not very far from where I sat. One of the three was a wolf.
Actually I should clarify that.
It looked like the staff were accompanying three furs.
It did, in fact, look like six furs, as the wolf was a real porker of a guy. Maybe three hundred pounds (on the high side, too), and walking with a cane as he lumbered along. From his wheezing he looked like he was about to keel over, which should have spooked the two small bellhops walking in front of him.
He moved a bit to one side, panting as a chair was made ready for him, and I felt my ears perk up.
The second fur was a woman, a wolfess, and she was a fever dream brought to life. Statuesque, stacked, and dressed tastefully and simply in a safari suit and skirt. She had legs that, as far as I could see, ran from her feet all the way to her neck.
From the look of her, my guess was she was related to the fatty.
The third in the trio was a badger in pinstripes and thick spectacles, lugging a briefcase that should have had “Lawyer” stenciled on the side. I’ve seen plenty like him back in Wiltmington and in other parts of the world, and they all resemble each other.
The Guy Who Forgot to Say When was settled into a chair, which groaned somewhat under his weight while the wolfess fussed over him like he was a puppy. Finally he waved her away. “Begone, my dear,” he said in a rolling basso profundo that I swear might have set my glass rattling if it hadn’t been in my paw at the moment. “I shall rest here while you conclude our business.” He then turned away from her and demanded, in the same voice, a gin and tonic and a menu.
Gin and tonic.
If his accent hadn’t given him away, his choice of tipple certainly did.
The members of the staff bowed obsequiously and scuttled off in various directions while the wolfess and the lawyer shoved off for parts unknown. That left Fat Boy sitting in his chair and grumbling to himself as his fingers fidgeted with the head of his cane.
I suppose he must have seen me looking at him, as one ear perked and he said ponderously, “Hmm! A man who seems as immured as I. Tell me, sir, have you been imprisoned here by your sister?”
I had to smile. “Worse. A secretary.”
That got a chuckle from him as he leaned forward, a tad conspiratorially. “Gad, sir! A sad fate for a fur of action such as yourself.”
I raised both ears in surprise. “And how would you know that, sir?”
Another chuckle. “You sit here, an obviously athletic man, and fidget as if you were manacled to your seat. It’s an easy conclusion to draw.”
“Thanks,” I grinned faintly. It’s been a few years since I ran for daylight in front of thousands of screaming Ivy League football fans, but I do try to stay in shape through an active lifestyle. I found myself relating that I had been ill, and offered my name as an introduction.
A double earperk from the wolf. “DuCleds! Very pleased indeed to make your acquaintance, sir! My name is Leonard Allworthy, and were I younger I would rise to take your paw. As it is – “ and he gestured at his paunch “ – my sister says that I wear my sins on the surface, where other furs would bury them in their hearts.” He paused, took a silk pawkerchief from a pocket and mopped his brow.
We chatted for a few moments. Allworthy, it turned out, was the head of a large industrial combine in Blighty, and thus was familiar with the duCleds family stock in trade. There was a pause as a waiter came by with a tray for the wolf.
Kippers, rare roast beef with horseradish, roast duck and all the side dishes.
At least he came by his obesity honestly, as he tucked into the lunch with great dedication. Another G&T came to wash it all down.
While he ate, I addressed myself to the newspaper I had put aside.
Watching him was like watching a vacuum cleaner with teeth, and I didn’t want it putting me off my own appetite.
I went to light a cigarette, and several pats of my pockets came up empty. Allworthy spotted my predicament (the first time I’d seen him come up for air while gorging himself) and he dug into a pocket of his vest. A small box of Ohio Blue Tip matches was tossed to me, for which I duly thanked him and lit my cigarette.
Finally he gave a soft belch and dabbed at his muzzle with a napkin before lacing his fingers over his belly. “So, my good sir! Are you here on business?”
“In a way, yes,” and I launched into a short explanation as to why I wanted to come out here. The conversation drifted to various sources of raw materials such as rubber, oil and the like.
“I too am here on business,” Leonard rumbled. “Confounded lawyers insist on having me show up in the all too-expansive flesh at the most inopportune moments.”
One of the men at the bar, a gaunt feline with a big nose and wire-rimmed glasses, turned away from his glass of absinthe and said in a strongly-accented nasal voice, “Here, autumn is a sad time for ze lawyers. Az ze days grow colder zere are ze fewer lawsuits to feed zem. In a few month's time, zey will begin to turn upon one anozzer."
Not giving us time to ponder this little pearl of wisdom, he launched into another. “During ze deepest part of ze winter, packs of lawyers will turn and eat ze weakest members. It may seem cruel, but is all part of nature's rich design."
I took him for some kind of explorer, as he was in a naval uniform of some sort.
Allworthy smirked at that, and drifted into a doze.
I ordered another Bourbon and water, and my sandwich finally arrived.
It was maybe a half hour later that Allworthy’s sister showed up, lawyer in tow. She nudged his calf (none too gently) with her foot.
Nicely turned ankles on her.
“Wake up, Leonard,” she said in precise tones that chilled the air around her far more effectively than the best NivÔse air-conditioner. “We’re leaving.” She paused for effect. “Now.”
Porky roused, blinked at her and sat up, giving a remarkable resemblance to a mountain shifting. “Everything’s in order, dear Susan?”
“Yes, while you were stuffing yourself. Again.”
Leonard chuckled at that and started to lever himself up to his feet. The lawyer tried to help him, and nearly ended up squashed.
“I have been enjoying a very adequate luncheon in company with this gentlefur,” he boomed. “Mr. duCleds, I have the honor of introducing you to my sister, Susan. Susan, Leslie duCleds, of Delahare.” He stressed the last word.
My ears twitched at that.
The wolfess looked me over with a look that could only be described as ‘predatory.’
Ever wonder how a feral sheep feels when an equally feral wolf is sizing it up for dinner?
That’s how it felt.
I stood and she offered a paw as I turned on the charm. “How do you do?” I asked.
More of a smirk, really.
“I’m afraid we’re in a great hurry, Mister duCleds. Some other time, perhaps?” And before I could say anything else she and her brother were moving through the lobby for the exits.
I admired her retreating tailfur for a moment before returning to my chair.
A few moments later I was starting to feel a bit drowsy. Too much damned sitting around; of course, the tropical heat could be felt even in the cool confines of the Ruffles, and my ears flicked at the high, irritating sound of tiny flies that had somehow managed to get past the concierge.
I wondered if they had bribed him.
My thoughts were interrupted by a wall of khaki. Blinking, I looked up at three very serious furs, all in colonial uniforms.
And somehow, I didn’t think they were selling tickets to a secret Policemen’s Ball.
The one in the center was a mastiff, maybe twice my size; the two flanking him were native tigers.
The brother canine looked down at me.
“Excuse me, sir. We were wondering if you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions.”
Last letter, waiting for Les’ signature.
Last report, duly typed up, nice and neat.
Time for a bite of lunch.
I took the elevator down to the lobby and stepped into the bar in time to see Les cornered against the end of the bar, talking to three very large policemen.
The concierge stood nearby, holding Les’ passport.
NOW what’s he gotten himself into?
NOW what have I gotten myself into?
“Look, if it’s about that girl in Bangkok, I swear she was over eighteen…”
A glare from one of the tigers shut me up, fast.
There was much talk about holding passports and watching for the detectives.
Ain’t THAT cute?
For the sixth time, I asked, “What have I done – Willow!” I motioned to her. “Tell them this is all a mistake!” I eyed the tiger. “Whatever it is.”
My nominally faithful secretary walked up to me, shaking her head sorrowfully. “I did warn you, Les.”
I did a pretty good imitation of a gaffed fish. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear with cops in earshot.
“ . . . Warn?” The word squeaked out. The cops looked interested. Mayhem seemed imminent.
It was all I could do to keep a straight face. “Sure. Didn’t I warn you that if you tried to set foot outside this hotel there’d be . . . consequences?” I gave Les my best bright-eyed and bushy-tailed look.
Great Architect, what have I done to deserve this?
Surrounded by cops.
The concierge, the rat, is holding my passport like he’d just fished it out of the men’s room commode.
And Willow has the gall to smile at me.
“I haven’t set foot outside this hotel! YOU saw to that!”
For some reason my reply only made her smile a trifle sweeter. “Oh? Then what seems to be the problem, Sergeant?”
The mastiff gave her a brief nod. “This gentleman was seen in the company of a known criminal not half an hour ago, Ma’am. We are holding him to be questioned by the detective.”
Wait a minute.
This was going to be good . . .
I pasted a Sincere Smile (CDT 721-C) on my face and beamed at the seemingly senior member of the trio, reading his nameplate. “Constable Bradshaw . . .
“ - Sergeant, I can assure you that while Mr. duCleds may have an eye for the ladies, he has never had any association with the criminal element – well, apart from certain politicians . . .”
Les’ expression shifted gears from gaffed fish to abject terror, no doubt thinking of how the Delahare papers would take this.
The sergeant was unimpressed. “It’s like this, Ma’am. This gentleman was seen in the company of a man and woman wanted by the police.” He paused and looked past me. “But I suppose you’d better be talking to the Inspector.”
I turned and was confronted by a Scots terrier. He was wearing a rumpled linen suit topped with an equally battered fedora.
He looked like a cheap detective.
Elements of a fine burr added a lilt to his voice as he said, “Now then, Sergeant, what have we here?”
The sergeant gave him our passports and he looked Les over carefully. He turned to me.
I was subjected to slightly deeper scrutiny and I was tempted to strike a pose. “Miss Willow Fawnsworthy,” he read from my passport.
“Says here you’re from America, just like Mr. duCleds.”
“What’s your connection to Mr. duCleds?”
“I’m his secretary. Mr. duCleds is traveling on business for his company, duCleds Chemicals.”
“I . . . see. I’m sure you won’t mind if we verify that, of course.”
“Of course not. And I’m sure Mr. duCleds can provide you with a description of the man and woman you’re looking for.”
“No need; we’ve been looking for them for about ten years now.” He fished a large envelope from his pocket, unfolded it, and put our passports in it. “This won’t take too long, but until you hear from me you will stay in your rooms. Sergeant, keep a guard on them until I say so.”
And I thought the Fillydelphia cops were bad.
As the sergeant bowed politely and escorted Willow, the two tigers frogmarched me to our rooms.
Musta been Drexel boys.
When we passed the concierge I asked, “Did you know you have flies in here?”
“Yes, sir,” the rodent said with a slightly pained look. “We keep trying to get rid of them, but I’m afraid that Ruffles has midges.”
One thing after another.
Took about an hour, but the detective came back, more polite, introducing himself as MacDonald, with Les in tow, no bullyboys, looking relieved.
“Sorry to inconvenience you,” MacDonald said, handing me back my passport. “When we’d heard that the Allworthys were here in Humapore we tried to move smartly. But they’ve managed to elude us again, it seems.”
“They sound like bad news.”
“Very bad, Miss Fawnsworthy.”
“What are they charged with?” Les asked.
The terrier looked seriously at him.
“Murder’s only the minor charge, Mr. duCleds.”
“And . . . there I was talking . . . Brr.“
Close call, Les. “And the woman - ?”
“Even worse than he is, if you can believe it,” MacDonald said grimly. “Fond of painting poison on her claws.”
I had the sudden urge to wash my paws. With DuCleds ‘Sani-Kleen’ lye. “Dangerous sorts, then?”
“Does oatmeal have lumps?” He gave a sardonic smile. “One of their escapades resulted in a rather large four-poster bed falling through the ceiling at the Grand Casino in Monaco, destroying the roulette table. In other words, they’re the ones who broke the bunk at Monte Carlo.”
Les looked sick. You’d think he’d learned his lesson in Hodeermybad, but I guess he missed the Kipling bit about the femme being deadlier than the mel.
Hell, I could have told him that.
“Monte Carlo, eh?” I asked.
MacDonald nodded. “It would appear that the Grand Casino there attracts all sorts of nefarious types. Back around the turn of the century an Impressionist artist tried to fleece the place, earning himself the title of the Fur Who Baroque the Bank at Monte Carlo.”
“Baroque?” I countered. “Isn’t that when you’re out of Monet?”
The terrier rolled his eyes at that.
We thanked the detective and apologized for the trouble. He was gracious enough to offer his own apologies (again) for the inconvenience and let himself out.
Les sagged against the door as soon as it closed. “Why does this always happen to me?”
I shrugged. Wasn’t polite to tell him he needed to use his larger brain more often.
Les gave me an aggrieved look. “Aren’t you supposed to make sure I don’t run into this sort of trouble?”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’m a secretary, Les, not a bodyguard.” A lie, but what the hell.
“But – “
“Keeping you out of jail isn’t in my job description.” This part was true, for both my overt and covert assignments.
Les slumped, recalling that I spoke the truth. “Just hope this doesn’t get into the papers.”
I shook my head slightly. Knowing what I did about newspapers, the best we could hope for was the usual British restraint.
FUGITIVES ALMOST CAUGHT
YANKEE INDUSTRIALIST HELPING POLICE WITH THEIR INQUIRIES
So much for a low profile.
Getting the hell outta Humapore is sounding better every second.
The Ercorsair’s fueled up and ready to go, and Batavia’s our next stop. DuCleds Chemicals can profit by greater contacts with Royal Dutch Shell.
Now to see if Willow and I can get our tails out of here without being pursued by muckrakers.
We took off the next morning, Les at the controls with me riding shotgun. The plane took off like a champ, engine sounding very good and with plenty of fuel to get us to the Dutch East Indies.
I could swear that I saw at least one fur throw his hat down in disgust as we lifted off and circled the field.