The Giant Gnat of Sinatra(The Three Writers are © their respective parents, and damned if they aren’t
© 2009 by Marmel, Costello and Reimer
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<)
- Act Two -
Playing the Palace;
- or -
Reggie pondered nostalgically. “Oh, I’ve had a few close-run escapes like that. I’m sure Lodge has told you about how we had to leave Samoa.”
Les raised an eyebrow. “Is this the one involving the shark-spears, or the one involving the pitchforks?”
“Shark spears. The pitchforks were back in Amish country.”
Inocenta perked up. “Inocenta hear of this Amish country before. They have the tasty pie there, yes?”
Reggie and Les both had to take a long drink of water, as they both had something go down the wrong way. What are the odds? I decided to get things back on track.
“Anyway, Les and I left civilization behind in Humapore, and flew off to the Dutch East Indies...”
Well, that’s the story.
We took off from Humapore.
We ran into a storm.
Les started looking sick about ten minutes into the storm, and I started looking around for an airsick bag.
Finding one was easy.
Luckily using one is easy, too, despite the useful instructions printed on the side – in French, Italian and Hebrew – that add up to “In here, Slob.”
What wasn’t easy was holding it for Les while he flew the plane.
Granted, I’ve done worse for Minkerton’s, but there is something about ‘above and beyond the call of duty,’ you know.
The plane jinked hard, up and to the left, and I almost lost my grip on the bag.
I closed it up as well as I could and put both paws on the controls. “Les!”
“One grunt for yes, two for no, okeh?”
“I’m going to set the plane down.”
“Hell, I don’t know where yet! Let me look at the chart.” I switched on a small, dim red light and grabbed at the chart. Les had been holding it in his lap.
As luck would have it, it wasn’t damp.
With a shaking paw, Les indicated our position, as near as he could make it out to be, then put both paws back on the controls, hung his head out the window and heaved his guts again.
I tried to ignore him and started warming up the radio. As soon as it was ready I started calling.
The guy who answered spoke English with a nice Dutch accent. While he was sympathetic, doubts remained whether he could be of help. “Roger your Mayday, Tom Dog,” he said (the plane’s tail number was NC-P31TD, which was not only the year Les graduated but the number of touchdowns he scored in his college career at Penn – my boss, John Vain – and the fact that eight of these came in a 77-3 drubbing of Collegiate has nothing to do with my attitude, heaven forfend and perish the thought). “If you can leave your microphone open, I’ll try to get a position fix on you and guide you to the nearest safe harbor. You say you fly a seaplane?”
“No, a float plane.”
“Ah, understood. Please keep your microphone open.”
Les had started up again, so I gave the guy on the other end a good five minutes of Gastric Serenade.
Set to strings, it might make the Top Ten in Gnu York, but then they like the avant-garde there.
When the guy came back on the air, he sounded a bit whoopsy in the tummy too.
Probably out of sympathy.
“Got your fix, Tom Dog. You’re about ten miles out from us. Turn to course oh-nine-oh relative and you should see some lights.”
I eased the wheel over, and soon we started to see a dim haze through the clouds. “Control,” I asked, “are there any mountains in the way? I hate abrupt stops.”
A laugh. “If you stay on course, Tom Dog, you won’t hit anything but water. I’ll phone up the harbormaster.”
(Inocenta stroked Les’ ears.
“The poor Leslie-puppy. It is to be sure that Inocenta herself will take good care of him if he have the whoopee-tummy again . . . “
The vigorous and timely application of my hoof to Reggie’s shin prevented the outbreak of any comedy that would have had consequences.
“Yes . . . well, to continue . . . “)
It didn’t take too long, and the rain had slackened off to a fine drizzle by the time we set the plane down. Good thing, too, as it was starting to get dark.
I say ‘we,’ since Willow helped me a lot.
By which I mean she steered and followed my directions as much as possible, and the plane set down neat as you please.
I’m going to offer her flying lessons for Christmas as a present – she’s got a fine steady paw on the controls.
Two dockpaws tied the Ercorsair fast and we climbed out to face the harbormaster, an odd, feline-looking guy with thick fur, a long tail and wearing a stained white undershirt and what looked like a black skirt. The two dockpaws were the same species, but wearing only loincloths and broad conical straw hats.
They seemed pretty much at home in the fading daylight, and I learned later that they were binturongs, native to the Dutch Indies.
Fortunately I had come prepared, and pulled a small English to Indonesian phrasebook from my pocket. I flipped pages to the question Do you know of a good hotel? and asked, “Kapal terbang saya penuh belut.”
The guy gave me a double take and craned past me, staring into the depths of the cockpit. He withdrew, shaking his head.
I repeated the phrase and he flicked an ear at me.
“No eels in airplane. Why say ‘My airplane full of eels?’”
I blinked, first at the news that he spoke some English, second at what he said I had just said to him.
I looked at the book again, then flipped pages and pointed at the phrase I need a porter for my bags.
He looked at the Indonesian translation, looked at me, shrugged and tried to kiss me.
I fended him off and gradually we arrived at a consensus. I wouldn’t try to use the phrasebook again, and he wouldn’t try to kiss me.
As he led us to the Customs shed I tossed the small book into the water.
Last time I buy anything from Alexander Yalt Press.
“Name is Manamana,” he said as he stamped our passports and made a few notes in a huge ledger. “Welcome to Doubi Doubi Dou.”
“Doubi Doubi Dou?” I asked.
“Ja,” he said. “Is capital of island. Sultanate of Sinatra.”
“Can we get a cab to the hotel – that is, if there is one?” Willow asked. She’d gotten a bit wet out on the dock as the rain had petered out, and her headfur was laying damply across her shoulders.
“Ja, ja, is hotel,” Manamana said. “You think we barbarians?”
Further questioning of Manamana enlightened us. There was a small hotel not very far away, run by a Dutch family who had been in the Indies for a couple generations. Les supervised a porter in getting our bags and I engaged a rickshaw to get us to the place.
The hotel went by the name of the Splendide. From the looks of it, I hope that referred to the interior. The exterior was stucco (let’s face it, so were we) and showed signs of mildew through the layer of whitewash.
Les walked up to the door and rapped on it, then knocked louder after getting no immediate response.
From an open window above our heads a quavering voice in Dutch-accented English proclaimed, “We’ll all be murdered in our beds!” Someone in the same room shushed her, and after a moment the door swung open to reveal a feline mel with a striped fur pattern.
“Ah-LO!” he said cheerfully. “Did you just get in?”
Les looked like he was about to start twitching.
“Yes, we just landed and we could use two rooms. Do you have any to rent?” While Les had been speaking the feline wandered around him and started to collect the bags. Les looked at me and asked the man, “Excuse me?”
The feline kept offloading our bags, chatting amiably to the rickshaw driver.
“Excuse me?” Les repeated, a touch louder.
“The excuse me is inside, to the left,” the cat cheerfully volunteered. “Willem! Maurits!” he called out as he gathered up our luggage and headed for the door.
Was it me, or was steam starting to come out of Les’ ears?
We followed the man into the hotel’s small lobby where two younger copies of him relieved him of the bags. He gave them a few terse instructions, smacked the larger of the two in response to some backtalk, and headed for the front desk, leaving Les and I standing there.
The place was certainly homey, snug and cheerful-looking with a few items of native artwork and some things that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Delft or Hoorn sitting on shelves or on small side tables. A very nice place, proving again you can’t judge a book by its cover.
A small kitten, obviously the youngest scion of the house, sat eating a bowl of ice cream. He finished the bowl, industriously licked the spoon clean, and gazed levelly at us.
“Quakers stink,” he said with a cheeky grin, and ran out of the room.
How did he know?!
We learned from Mr. Fischer (the older feline who had brought our bags in) that his family had run the establishment as part of their house for some years now. The older woman we’d heard was his mother, who was starting to get a bit senile.
We could hear her moving around upstairs, the footsteps interspersed with comments like “U krijgt niet het hout, weet u het, vriend,” but eventually the sounds died down.
I hope she fell asleep.
I hoped the old lady Fischer was talking about had fallen asleep. I hate to admit it, but this doggy felt like he’d been through the wringer (at least, his stomach had been) and I was ready to get some sleep in a half-decent bed.
Hell, a rug on a floor would do.
Fischer had us sign the register. “Will you be staying long?” he asked hopefully.
“Maybe a day or two,” I said. “We’re headed for Batavia.”
He nodded, gave us our room keys and showed us upstairs. We met his sons Willem and Maurits as they were coming downstairs, the larger one (Maurits) looking a bit vacant.
The rooms were next door to each other, with a shared bathroom. Thank the Lord for running water. As her employer, I called dibs and rushed through what I had to do, before flopping down onto the bed and drifting off to Dreamland.
Les grabbed the bathroom before me, and when I didn’t hear him repeating his earlier performance aboard the Ercorsair I relaxed a bit. At least whatever was tying his stomach in knots wasn’t pestering him much on the ground. He did look tired, though.
About as tired as I was.
As soon as he signaled that the bathroom was free I took care of the things I needed to take care of, and got ready for bed.
Before I switched the light out I made sure that the door was locked and that my Starr 9mm was ready to paw if necessary. This island – the Sultanate of Sinatra, the guy on the radio had called it – seemed all right at first blush, but you never know.
Be prepared, as the Fawn Scouts say.
The next morning dawned with an explosion of noise right under me as what was apparently a re-enactment of the Battle of Amiens started up. From the voices (at the tops of respective lungs) I guessed it was Willem and Maurits, having a frank and open exchange of political views.
Accompanied by the sound of the occasional breaking of dishes.
Their father’s angry bellow interrupted hostilities and there was much scampering of feet and yowling associated with what could only have been the crack of a leather belt.
Discipline, it seemed, was swiftly restored.
Les looked quite a bit better after a solid night’s sleep, and we trooped down to breakfast.
The meal we had (Mrs. Fischer and apparently a daughter were the cooks) was filling and delicious. It featured an egg dish so good, that I . . . that I . . .
(That you could plotz.)
(Not the word I had in mind, Rosie, but I’ll adopt it.)
. . . an egg dish so good I could plotz.
For some reason, though, every dish came with a side order of slices of some indeterminate meat-like substance, pan-fried. It looked a bit like scrapple, and tasted a bit like the Leberkäse we had encountered on a trip through Munich.
Sort of a pork and ham pate.
Being of a vegetarian bent, I just left it alone.
Les liked it.
The daughter put down two small bowls of – well, something. It was all chopped up, sort of yellow and orange, and smelled a bit citrus-y.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Lemon curry,” she said.
Les looked at me.
I looked at Les.
Actually, it wasn’t all that bad – spicy, but not enough to make my tummies ask what the hell was going on.
Breakfast was great, and as I sat back with my second cup of coffee my ears perked up. So did Willow’s.
Engine noises, specifically aircraft engines.
Maurits lumbered into the room, stammering while pointing at the door and finally managing to say, “It is Balloon!” before stumbling back outside.
Willow and I looked at each other, then got up to take a look.
Well, that is something you don’t see every day.
Hovering over the town and heading our way was a small airship, shaped sort of like a Great War barrage balloon, with two engines laboring under the strain of carrying an . . .
The damned thing was carrying an oil derrick.
Its pace was stately, little better than a fast walk, but I estimated it was nearly two hundred feet up. If the cables broke, it would definitely ruin someone’s day. I mean, the first 195 feet wouldn’t be the problem.
It’s always that last five feet that’s tricky.
A tall, beefy bobcat strode by wearing shorts, a short-sleeved shirt and a cowboy hat, and would pause occasionally and wave a red flag that he kept tucked under one arm. When he waved it the airship would change course slightly.
Naturally I had to talk to this guy.
Turned out he was from Oklahoma, and he and his firm were prospecting for oil.
“So there’s oil here?” I asked, thinking that somebody from Royal Dutch Shell and I needed to have a long talk when I got to Batavia.
“Everyone thinks so,” the bobcat growled, squinting up at the gasbag as it followed him like a giant inflatable puppy. “Mah outfit got permission from the Sultan to drill around the north part of the island. This whole area might be one big field.”
I waved away the dollar signs that seemed to magically appear as another fur, a squirrel who was dressed pretty much the same as the bobcat, ran up and pressed a slip of paper in his paw.
Willow, who had been listening and looking up, piped up. “So, what kind of oil?”
“Black gold. Ain’t no other kind of oil, Lady.”
“Ah. Not baby oil, then?”
The squirrel grinned. “Nope. But we are drilling.”
"You can't drill for baby oil!" the bobcat growled.
"I know, I know,” the squirrel said mournfully. “I blame the worldwide conspiracy of Big Baby for that." He brightened and winked. “But, you know, you can drill for babies. It's rather simple. You start off with some candles, perhaps some violin music..."
He was interrupted when the bobcat took a swing at him with his red flag, followed by the feline waving frantically as the blimp went off course.
The squirrel soldiered on. "...and hope your lady love says drill here, drill now."
The bobcat growled, and the squirrel waved as he went back to his business. He turned, flourished his hat and shouted, "Drill, baby, drill!"
I shook my head and decided to change the subject. “So what’s with the blimp?”
The bobcat grinned. “The BF Flyer? Great way to get heavy equipment into areas that don’t have no roads. The Boss got the idea from reading Gold in Hell. He figured if some dame could do it, why not him?”
“Good point.” We both paused and watched the broad gray shape as it moved overhead. “Bit slow, though.”
“Slow and steady, the Boss says. Funny thing to say, considering.”
“Yeah. The Boss’s a jackrabbit.” We both chuckled at that, then he went about his business, waving his flag from time to time and the airship following his lead.
I glanced at Willow. “I think a visit to the palace is in order. I want to talk to the Sultan.”
We headed back to the hotel and got freshened up. When Les is in this mood there’s very little I can do but play the secretary role to the hilt and get ready for long, boring meetings.
I asked Mrs. Fischer about the Sultan and she smiled. “Oh, we hardly ever see him,” she said. “He prefers to stay in his beloved Isore.”
“Eyesore?” I asked.
“No, Isore,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s the name of the place,” and she went back to her cooking.
Les came downstairs then and we left the hotel to go adventuring.
Mr. Fischer volunteered Willem to go with us and show us the way through Doubi Doubi Dou to the palace, which sat on a hill overlooking the town, surrounded by jungle. The kid looked a bit glum about it, but Les offered to pay him a few dollars under the table and he cheered up considerably.
It was a warm day and getting warmer when we stopped to get some water. The sign was in several languages and read Yaki’s General store. Two ewes ran the shop, ethnic Chinese from the look of them, and gave their names as Suki and Teri.
I just smiled, determined to remain pleasant.
The heat grew as the sun climbed higher, and we hiked up the well-maintained dirt road to the top of a hill. When we got there, Willem gestured to the west at another hill perhaps a half mile away.
“Isore,” he said.
Les and I looked.
It was well-named.
Oh Brother, was it ever.
Even from this distance I could make out about a half-dozen architectural styles, none of which matched.
We looked upon it with some awe – and deeply offended sensibilities. Somewhere there are architecture critics examining photographs of the place, gritting their teeth, and murmuring “How much longer?”
“Looks worse up close,” Willem volunteered. “Sultan very educated fur – wanted palace people can talk about.”
“He succeeded,” Les said. “But why?”
“He did it . . . his way.”
Willem was right.
The palace’s looks didn’t improve the closer we got.
Finally we reached the main gate. It was a solid wood affair with a bell pull made of braided wire rope off to one side.
Both halves of the gate were painted bright red and labeled OUT.
I rang the bell, waited, and then rang again.
“Quit yankin’ my chain, okeh?” came the reply in English, and a small window in the gate swung open to reveal a tall Sumatran tiger in a trim khaki uniform with about a pound of gold braid on each shoulder. “Nobody gets in to see the Sultan, no way, no how. And traveling salesmen ain’t allowed.”
The last thing I expected, way out here in the Dutch East Indies, was a Sumatran tiger talking with a New Guernsey accent.
I introduced myself and Willow, and gave the cat my card. I explained why we made the walk all the way up from Doubi Doubi Dou, and the tiger nodded.
“I’ll talk to the Captain, who’ll prolly throw you out anyway. So come on in,” and he opened the gate to let Willow and me in.
The courtyard was huge, with a long driveway leading up to the main house, carefully manicured gardens and fountains. Servants padded around, intent on whatever servants to an Eastern sultan should be doing.
After a few moments another tiger, this one wearing a bit more gold braid on his uniform, walked up to us. He nodded pleasantly to Willow before looking me up and down with an air of thinly disguised contempt.
“So . . . ‘Dynamite’ duCleds. We meet again, but this time the advantage is mine!”
I’ve seen Les sick.
I’ve seen Les scared (remind me to tell you that story sometime).
So Les looking startled, then very amused was no big deal.
He looked at the tiger quizzically, then smiled as light seemed to dawn. “Arnie Bannerjee. Safety for the old Princeton Tigers, Class of ’31, right?” He started to laugh. “So, the advantage is yours, huh? Why? Got yourself a linebacker now?”
The tiger glowered at him, and started to growl. “No,” he sneered. “Fifty heavily armed guards, is what I got.”
“Yeeeeaaaah, you’d need that to protect your quarterback . . . “
I watched this byplay apprehensively. I mean, Bannerjee was about half again bigger than Les and all muscle. After seeing that all they were doing was boasting and posturing (and no claws were in evidence), I figured it was safe for Les to play.
So long as they played nice.
“And what are they guarding? The harem?” Les snorted. “No surprise there. Betcha that happened after Collegiate beat you.”
“I mean, what kind of team loses to Collegiate? They lost sixteen straight games until you bozos showed up. What was the score again, 21-3?”
Slowly, the Captain started to turn red. He grumbled, “It was 2-0, and you know it.”
“I’m surprised they let you back in New Guernsey after that – or did they?”
Now that’s not nice.
For some reason, a thin red mist seemed to spring up. As a Collegiate fur, I should be stepping in about now to teach my employer and this indefinite from Princeton some manners.
The two glared at each other, but hostilities were forestalled by someone yelling, “Captain! What’s going on? Do we have visitors?”
I risked a glance to my left (no sense in letting Arnie get the drop on me), and I saw a deer wearing what looked like the standard Hollywood Hindustani Prince Costume trot up to us. His antlers were a bit short, and I recognized the species as a muntjac.
What was surprising were his blue eyes, definitely not something you see on a deer, whatever the type.
He dusted himself down (not that there was a speck of dust showing on his snowy white silk robe) and asked me point-blank, “Are you from the League of Nations?”
Before I could say anything Willow leaped in with "No, from the League of Extraordinary..." She bit off what else she was going to say, and gave both me and Arnie a dirty look.
What had gotten into her?
“You’re not from Geneva?” the Sultan asked, his ears drooping.
I assured him we weren’t, and he promptly looked angry.
“Eighteen months!” he yelled, glaring at Arnie. “Eighteen months we’ve been on that damned list!’
“What list?” I asked.
Don’t blame me; I couldn’t resist.
“Sinatra’s trying to get declared an independent nation, so the League puts all of us little countries on a waiting list. Any day now, you’ll see.”
Arnie rolled his eyes (apparently he’d heard this before), and the Sultan glared at him. “Well, don’t just stand there! Introduce us!”
The tiger shrugged. “Presenting His Sublime Majesty, Sultan of Sinatra, the Bey of Rhum, Sowatnau Welostisyoyo.”
“Call me Sammy,” the Bey said. “Everyone did at Princeton. And you are - ?”
Uneasily I made the introductions, aware that Willow and I were rather alone – and outnumbered.
All I could think of was that the League must have one hell of a maitre’d.
The Bey studied my card, then smiled at me. “Says here you represent DuCleds Chemicals, Mr. duCleds?”
“Yes, that’s right. We had to land at Doubi Doubi Dou last night, and when I saw the oil derrick go overhead – “
“Yes, yes, yes. Capital idea, that, simply capital! The Professor certainly had a good idea with that – of course, he had an excellent example to work from.”
“The Professor? Who?”
“Ah, Professor Pending. Patrick Pending, Princeton Class of ’30. Wonderful man, bit of an inventor.” The Bey sighed, obviously reliving his salad days.
Very appropriate, considering he was a herbivore.
He caught the glare Arnie was giving me and he came back to the present with a snap. “My Captain only reserves that look for other Ivy Leaguers,” he said. “I take it, then, that you are not from Princeton?”
I cautiously allowed that I went to Penn.
The Bey looked me over, looked at my card again, and then said, “What the hell. Always glad to meet another member of the Great League – even if they didn’t go to the best school. And if we’re going to become independent – if the League of Nations will get off their fat tails – we’ll need strong business contacts with the United States. Are you staying down in the town?”
It took me a minute to respond, because his attitude was very surprising.
His condescending manner wasn’t, though, and I took note.
“Yes, we’re staying at Fischer’s.”
The Bey nodded and turned to Willow.
The Bey of Rhum looked me over and a certain unhealthy gleam came into his eyes. I hadn’t seen a look like that since that night in Monaco.
Which reminds me, I hope the guy’s stitches came out all right.
I put on my best demure smile, which seemed to have the opposite effect. His smile actually widened, indicating that this guy liked his does hard-to-get.
“Well, if you’re staying at Fischer’s, you’re staying at the second-best place in Sinatra. The best, of course, is here at the Palace.” The muntjac smiled. “I’d like to invite you both to dinner here, and to spend a few days while we talk some business. Would that be acceptable?”
Leslie looked tempted, and finally nodded. I resolved to be on my guard in case the Bey had wandering paws.
I could already see that he had a wandering eye.
I needn’t have worried about the Bey, after meeting his family.
Picture a dining room straight out of The Arabian Nights, complete with about thirty harem girls lounging about on cushions in one corner, a mix of species showing that the Bey’s tastes in women were as eclectic as his taste in architecture. Excellent food, too; linguine with basil leaves, which was suitable for deer. There were special dishes for Les and the other meat-eaters in the room.
Les and I sat on one side of a big square table, with the guard Captain, Arnie, facing us. The side to our right was occupied by two members of the palace staff, and the opposite side was taken up by the Bey, his wife (her title was the Rhum Ba) and his daughter (the Rhum Baba).
Don’t look at me like that.
The Rhum Ba was a whitetail doe, which surprised me. She said her name was Roxie, and she was a former chorine from Pittsburgh who had later attended Penn State. She gave her mate a sidelong look, and confided to me that she had tried to put him off when they had met at a mixer one night. “Well, one thing led to another, you know,” she whispered. “Don’t get me wrong; this beats hell out of doing three shows a night at the Odeon. Where did you go to school, dearie?”
I hesitated. If I said I was from Collegiate, all hell (as a friend once said) would be out for noon. I was tempted to say that I was from either the Alice B. Toklas School for Young Women (Motto: “Try the Brownies”) or from the New Guernsey Institute for Recalcitrant Femmefurs.
“Radcliffe,” I whispered, and concentrated on the delicious rice pilaf on my plate.
The daughter of the family, showing unmistakable signs that she was her mother’s fawn, just ate quietly and watched Les carefully.
The Bey, who had imbibed some egalitarian notions while in America, was all in favor of setting up corporations and making Sinatra a world player. He confessed that he liked to be called “The Chairman” from time to time.
Les, for his part, was staring daggers at Arnie, who was responding in kind. The storm clouds that had been gathering all day now seemed to thicken as a group of the harem girls stood up and rendered a wonderful glee club-style rendition of Old Nassau.
Suddenly Arnie leaned forward and pointed an accusing finger at Les. “You never would have managed that touchdown in the fourth quarter if I hadn’t slipped.”
“Oh, still blaming the mud, huh?” Les shot back. “You couldn’t catch me that day, or on your best day – or was your best day that game against Collegiate?”
This was a flagrant foul out of bounds, and the anger on the tiger’s face showed it. He popped a pawful of claws and dug gouges into the table.
The Bey saw it, and clapped his paws. “Arnie!” he said. “How many times have I warned you not to use the furniture as a scratching post? Save it for prisoners.”
Arnie grinned at Les. “I’m not only the Captain of the Guard,” he boasted, “I also interrogate criminal suspects.”
“And if you do that job as well as you performed on Princeton’s defense,” Les said, “I’m amazed Al Capon hasn’t relocated out here.”
“Sez you,” the tiger growled.
“Sez me,” Les growled, cresting a bit. “In fact, look here, my tenor friend, I've got a $1,000 bill that says I can scratch up a team from – from the harem girls over there! – and whip you and your guards' stripey butts.”
The music stopped.
The conversation died.
All eyes were on Les and Arnie.
“Your $1,000 bill says all that? Wow. You must have stolen it from a Harvard fur.” The tiger chuckled at his own joke before he leaned closer until the two were nearly touching noses.