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 Three -
A Friendly Game of Football;
- or -
Excess and Oh's
Inocenta clapped her paws in delight. “Oh! Is Reddy Blue thing, yes?”
Les gave a sidelong look at Reggie. Reggie had taught Inocenta The Red and the Blue and Drink a Highball along with the rest of the University of Pennsylvania songbook. Inocenta also had Les’ old class ring re-engineered as her engagement ring.
No prizes for guessing where the puppy-fawns were going.
“Rum thing about Ivy League furs. Put a whole lot of ‘em in the same room, and sooner or later you get the old ranygazoo up and running at full blast.”
Les nodded. “Explains why Congress is the way it is. Anyway, Willow, the sooner you get on with this, the sooner my embarrassment will be over.”
The Bey looked pleased and offered an appropriate venue (the Palace’s polo field) as well as a prime contract for the company. Arnie, apparently, was on his own to pony up the money to cover the wager. It seemed he was paid well enough, but a thousand dollars was still a bit stiff for a bet.
Sammy called one of the harem girls over, whispered some instructions to her, and as she ran off said affably, “She’s gone to get a team ready. Will twenty-five be sufficient? I only have thirty guards and somebody has to watch the shop, you know.”
I replied that he was being more than gracious, and that twenty-five would be enough.
He looked very pleased at that and signaled for dessert.
After dinner I was on my way up to my room when Arnie caught up to me. “Hey, Dynamite, wait up,” he said.
“What do you want?” I asked, immediately on guard.
For a tiger, he had a shifty look that could make a fox jealous. “How about a side bet?”
He smirked. “Tell you what. I’ll be taking your money – and I’ll up the stakes another five hundred – if you throw in your pretty little secretary.”
Fifteen hundred dollars, versus one thousand dollars and my secretary (who might have very distinct feelings on the matter)?
I smiled, recalling the night in Monaco. Which reminds me, I wonder if that guy’s stitches are out yet.
I stuck out a paw.
“You’re on, pal.”
“Good afternoon, ladies and germs, and welcome to the Isore Palace Polo Grounds for a game of football pitting the Harem versus the Guards! It might be a bit of a blustery day today with clouds on the horizon, but for right now the going is very firm underfoot.”
Hey, I’m no Grantland Mice, but I can mix a metaphor as well as anyone.
It was a very nice day but the skies were promising to open up on us at any time.
The Harem, led by Les, took to the field, the girls dressed in red and blue silks. The team was an assortment of furs of all different types and builds, and their warm-up exercises had some of the Palace staff (who were the audience) staring quite openly.
The Guards were all tigers, and all dressed in Princeton orange and black.
It was actually hard to tell at times where the uniform ended and the tiger began.
It was hard for me to keep a straight face and a pleasant demeanor, because even after all these years I still bleed Collegiate blue.
As a guest I was seated with the Bey, the Rhum Ba and the Rhum Baba on silken cushions in the Royal Box which, not coincidentally, was located at midfield and had the best view in the place. Several favored courtiers were sitting just two rows lower than us. Talk about luxury – we could watch the game, talk, and have treats served to us along with dishes of chilled sherbet or drinks.
Makes me wish every football game had this type of service, but it’d probably be restricted to those who can afford it.
The Harem won the coin flip and elected to receive. The referee, an orangutan, blew his whistle to start the game.
The Harem receiver, a slim tigress, caught the ball on the 5 and managed to get as far as the 32 before being tackled. Les trotted onto the field and set up as quarterback. His first play was broken up by a safety blitz as Arnie tried to settle old scores; his second was a pitch-out to the right that enabled the running back (a muntjac doe) to run for a first down.
Four plays later they had to kick it away, and I settled back.
I knew it was going to be a long day for the Guards when a slim mouse nailed a drop-kick field goal from 50 yards out on the first possession.
The Guards went three and out on their first possession, then intercepted Les’s first pass and ran all the way in for a touchdown.
With the score 6-3, the Guards set up to kick the extra point, but the play was broken up by one of the girls, who displayed Olympic gymnast form as she vaulted over a lineman into a pawstand and leaped to block the kick.
Losing her silks in the process.
There was a delay as she ran off the field to replace her uniform, and a longer one as the guys on the field gathered up their jaws.
On the next offensive series, I noticed something.
I leaned close to the Rhum Ba and whispered, “What beats me is how the residents of a harem in the Dutch East Indies know how to do a double-reverse.”
She chuckled. “You’d be surprised what you can learn in a harem, sweetie.”
I was already learning a lot, actually.
And making plans to write to the National Football League to suggest that they make ‘intentional groping’ a penalty offense if they ever made plans to hire women on their teams.
If there were such a penalty, there’d be very little offense as both teams were guilty of multiple infractions on almost every play.
On one play the running back for the Guards fumbled, and the Harem recovered.
Not a pretty sight, but then it’s never a pretty sight to see a femme rhino force a player to cough up the ball by kneeing him one.
From his reaction, she hit him hard enough that I was amazed he didn’t cough up anything else.
Towards the end of the first quarter the rain we had all anticipated started. It came down in vertical sheets, turning the field into a morass.
I only hoped that Les was enjoying himself.
“Devil curse you, Infidel Dog! How come you didn’t pick up that pass rush?”
I was NOT having fun at this point.
This had started out as a friendly game to settle a bet.
It was turning out to be a repeat of the Penn-Princeton matchup from 1930.
Far from being the demure lasses of the silent films, these girls were demonstrating a level of organization, toughness, and sheer brutality that you wouldn't expect from slim young femmes dressed in thin silks.
An additional drawback was that I was playing out of position.
One of the girls, a beagle femme with a Brooklyn accent, seemed to have anointed herself coach. While we were in the huddle she poked me in the chest and said, “Okeh, Infidel Dog. Drop back, Glimmering Shadow there will run a flare pattern, aim one right for her tits. Break!”
“Hold on a minute!” I protested. “I’m getting tired of being called ‘Infidel Dog’ all the time.”
She put her paws on her hips as the first fat drops of rain started falling. “Look, ya ain’t Muslim, are ya?”
“Er, no - ”
“And you mean to tell me you ain’t canine?”
“I am, but - ”
“So what the hell are you arguing about, then? Run the damned play.” She raised her voice. “STOP DRAGGING TAIL, INFIDEL DOG! HUSTLE, HUSTLE!”
I hustled, and the result of the play was a first down as Glimmering Shadow (a thin wallaby femme) caught the ball, ducked under a guard’s grab at her and ran nine yards upfield.
The rain started bucketing down as we tried another pass play. The storm actually smacked the ball down into the turf, causing Arnie to taunt, “Hey, the dog’s throwing dead ducks!”
We got back into the huddle, hunching over as water sluiced down our backs. “Look, Infidel Dog, if you can’t read the blitz – “
I gave the beagle the Evil Eye. “Look, I don’t know how you got it wrong, but I played fullback for Penn, not quarterback.”
There was a pause.
Then every one of the girls smacked their foreheads with their paws in unison and the beagle said, “Why didn’t you say so, dammit?”
“You didn’t give me a chance. It’s been ‘Infidel Dog’ this and ‘Infidel Dog’ that. And when I start to say anything, you’re against it.”
“Well – “
“And even if I’ve shortened it and condensed it – “
“But – “
“- you’re against it.”
“Okeh, fine! You made your point, dammit. We shift formations to the wishbone, with Gentle Breeze there as your lead blocker.”
Gentle Breeze was the rhino femme who had kicked one of the Guards. She grinned at me and I gulped audibly.
I eyed the beagle. “Uhhhh...where are you from?”
"It was either this or stewardess on the Ocean City trolley. This pays better." She squinted up at the rain. I squinted up at the rain as well.
I didn’t want to look down any lower than the player’s chins, as the rain was soaking their silks down and plastering them to their bodies.
Had Princeton dressed out a female team that day they would have beaten us easily.
"I'd kill for some salt water taffy right about now." The beagle sighed wistfully.
"Naw, I'm Shirley," the beagle replied. “Doris, over there, is from Frankford.” She indicated a Doberman, who eyed me with a very calculating look.
“. . .”
Whatever Les had told the Harem Team had caused a bit of a shift in their formation. I recognized the wishbone offense.
So did the Rhum Ba, who grinned and winked at me.
The Harem’s first play from scrimmage had the beagle rolling out to the right and pitching the ball to Les, who tucked it under his arm and ran hard, turning the corner and gaining several yards before two Guards drove him into the mud.
Two plays later and the half was over. To mark the occasion, one of the guards fired a gun in the air.
One of the courtiers shouted, “Oh my God! They killed someone!”
The Bey threw a bread roll at his head. “Aw, shut up Dounkanyoyo, you complete moron. It’s only halftime.” He subsided in his seat, muttering darkly about UCLA alumni.
Both sides in the battle retreated to their respective locker rooms.
Actually the guards went to their barracks and the harem went to the baths.
I didn’t see which way Les went, but I thought he might still be under the mud.
The second half started on time, with the field looking sloppier and sloppier. The Guards received the opening kickoff and drove it to the 27 yard line before the ball carrier was viciously tackled down by an orangutan femme who put her long arms to excellent use.
Suddenly we heard a voice.
“Fight fiercely, Harvard! Fight, fight, fight!”
Everyone stopped dead.
Everyone in the stands.
Even the rain seemed to pause.
Everyone looked at the feathered courtier who had shouted. The duck was about to cheer some more, but belatedly noticed that he was now the center of attention.
He looked around and flinched when he caught his boss’ glare.
“Damn you, Wing Fat!” The Bey thundered. "Pay attention, or I'll have you strung up by the policies!"
“Sorry, Your Majesty,” the bird stammered, and play resumed.
The rain and mud were making it hard to distinguish the team colors.
But not the players, to whom the clothes selected for uniforms clung to interesting places in interesting ways, and made me blush fiercely.
It was definitely making it harder to catch the girls, but easier to watch them. At least the Bey seemed to think so, who gave several flicks of his flag as he watched the Harem team.
I will go on the record as admitting that the Rhum Ba and I (and, interestingly, the Rhum Baba) also flagged at the sight of the Guards.
Shirley took up her position under center and gave a laugh. “So you want to play, huh?” she sneered. “Uno, duo, trio, viendi, this time I think-a we go left endie!" the beagle chanted, and the bovine center hiked the ball.
The ball went to Doris, with me as the lead blocker; she got hit from behind and the ball left her paws. I doubled back and almost fell on it, missing as several Guards recovered the ball.
The Guards marched smartly down the field and finally scored on a three-yard run through mud that was starting to seriously run from a slick skim on the surface to ankle-deep.
Our opponents set up for the extra point kick, and as the kicker was starting his run up to the holder one of the defenders, a sleek-looking rabbit doe, suddenly leaped into the air and ripped her silk blouse open.
The Guards line gaped, standing slack-jawed as we drove forward to block the kick.
We shouldn’t have bothered.
The kicker, you see, kicked the holder, and the ball went loose.
The Guards side demanded a penalty, which caused a long delay as the referee retreated to someplace dry to read the rule book.
After about fifteen minutes he returned and explained that since he could not find a specific rule against flashing the opposing team, he ruled that there was no foul.
An urgent appeal was made to the Bey, who risked a glance at his wife and upheld the referee’s decision.
The Guards kicked off and we returned the favor, driving down the field. I’m happy to relate that I accounted for about 40 of the 67 yards the harem covered in that drive.
And I have the bruises to prove it.
As we set up on the goal line, I could see Arnie facing me with a nasty grin on his face, determined to keep me out of the end zone by hook or by crook.
Ironic, when you consider his job here at the Sultan’s Court.
The ball was snapped and I took it, then I was suddenly flying, a high leap that took me over the defensive line and almost over Arnie’s head – and into the end zone.
Did she just throw me over the line?
I decided that I didn’t want to know that.
We started the fourth period with the score 12-10 in favor of the Guards, and a pitched battle raged between the two forty-yard lines for most of the quarter.
When we got into our huddle I shook water from my muzzle and nudged Shirley. “Look, we’re running out of time. I want to try something.”
“Oh yeah? What have you got in mind?”
I leaned closer and started to whisper.
The girls all listened in, and one or two giggled.
We settled into formation, and Shirley chanted a long count before taking the snap from the center.
She gave it off to me, and I stumbled into the mud.
But not before I pitched it to Glimmering Shadow.
The defense went after her as she swept wide to the left, while I got up and limped, hunched over as if I were injured – down the right side line toward the end zone.
I was five yards downfield when the defense figured out that I had pitched a clod of mud to the girl, and I still had the ball cradled against my belly.
Realizing that the trick was up, I tucked the ball under my arm and raced as fast as I could for the end zone.
I felt Arnie breathing down my neck, and he dove at my ankles, tripping me up with only ten yards to go.
I got up and grinned at him.
“The hidden ball play,” he growled.
“Yup, the hidden ball play,” I said cheerfully.
There was only time for one more play, so we settled into a field goal formation.
The ball was snapped, and Arnie roared and drove forward, scattering harem girls left and right. He raced up to the ball to block the kick . . .
And the mouse femme kicked the ball, all right.
Both of them.
. . .
All the guys in the Royal Box winced in sympathy (that included two elderly eunuchs, holdovers from the Bey’s father’s reign). The Bey himself had his legs crossed, a look of sympathetic agony on his muzzle and a look of fear in his eyes.
Wing Fat exclaimed, “Great balls of fire!”
You said it, fella.
The referee ruled it as running into the kicker, and penalized the Guards half the distance.
Adding insult to injury.
The ball sailed through the goalposts as time expired and the final score was 13-12.
“In Xanadu, did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure dome decree / where Les, the starting quarterback / beat the bookie’s spread by three.”
The guards were led off to be whipped and put on bread and water for twenty days. If they'd tried that on Collegiate, we'd have been in the Rose Bowl.
“Well! Hail the conquering hero!”
I was not in the mood to hear it.
Willow was standing there all bright-eyed and bushy-flagged, perfectly dry and looking as if she quite enjoyed herself.
I, on the other paw, was so coated with mud, water and grass that I could easily have been mistaken for the Wild Mutt of Borneo.
I was also bone-tired.
“Just one question, Willow.”
“Where the hell did those girls learn that?”
Willow shrugged. “You’d be very surprised what you can learn in a harem, Les.”
I was determined not to find out, either.
Just then the rest of the Harem team swept by me and I felt a paw on my shoulder. I turned to look at Doris, who grinned at me.
“Hey, cutie, wanna tie the knot, if you know what I mean?”
I politely demurred. She looked a bit disappointed but followed her teammates.
Another paw landed on my shoulder, this one feline.
I bit back my growl and turned to face Arnie, who looked clearly uncomfortable.
Hell, I sympathized.
“What do you want?” I said.
“I’ll pay the bet,” he said, “after I get cleaned up and get an ice pack.” He looked over at Willow. “Too bad I lost, sweetie. You would have enjoyed it.”
One of Willow’s eyebrows went up.
“Enjoyed . . . what?” she asked.
The mud-stained tiger smiled. “Didn’t Dynamite tell ya? We did a little side bet – he wins, I fork over an extra $500. If he loses – well, a date with you woulda been worth it, Toots.” He nonchalantly walked away at that point, tail swinging.
I looked at Les. “You. Bet. WHAT?!”
I definitely didn’t like that look.
“Homina homina homina . . . Look, Willow, it’s not what you think.”
“Oh? And just what, specifically, was it?”
I just shook my head. “Look, it all worked out in the end, okay? I’m just gonna go get a bath and some sleep . . .”
I walked past her, and headed up to my room and a warm, deep bath.
That . . . that . . . OOOH!
Okeh, deep calming breaths. Better.
Now think, Willow.
You realize, naturally, that I can’t let this affront pass.
And you know what they say about the Alps.
“The Lord Alps those that alps themselves."
Besides, it's not how you get revenge...it's how much helpless rage you can create...
My employer was going to get a little surprise.
"Rah-rah-ree! Kick 'em in the knee! Rah-rah-ruts! Kick 'em in the...other knee!"
Good Lord, I was going to be hearing that in my nightmares tonight.
At any rate, two hot baths and a long soak in a tub of blissfully hot water set this pooch right.
The glass of whiskey helped, as well.
And with a few hours before dinner I had the opportunity to take a little siesta.
It’s useful, as anyone who’s ever tried a practical joke before, to have at least one willing accomplice.
Both to assist you, and provide deniability when you are confronted by the target of the joke.
(I don’t have to tell you that, Reggie.)
So I went to see Her Sublime Majesty the Rhum Ba (who had after the game insisted I call her Roxie), and explained things to her.
From the way she was flagging, I knew I had found my willing accomplice.
“Men, ya know? Took me six months to convince my husband that he doesn’t run things in our quarters. So, whaddaya have in mind, Willow?”
After first swearing her to secrecy, which she was all too ready to do (cervine solidarity!) we walked back to Les’ room and I put an ear (NOT eye) to the keyhole.
Yep, snoring away to beat the band.
I just hope he cleaned up first.
Roxie had a key (of course, it’s her house) and we let ourselves in to find Les sprawled out on the bed, fast asleep.
Why do men have to drool on the pillow?
Finding his clothes was easy, as they basically posed a hazard to navigation on the floor, so I whisked off the bedsheet and quietly bundled them up before the seeping mud and rainwater could get to the carpets.
Roxie looked in the closet and shook her head.
We padded out of the room quietly - hard to do when you have hooves and the floors are marble – and returned, placed one item in the closet, and closed the door behind us.
After a long bath and a short nap, I went to Les’ room and knocked on the door. “Les? Les, wake up. It’s almost time for dinner.”
A series of muffled sounds and the interruption in snoring told me that my employer had, in fact, heard me and was now awake. I could hear his toeclaws clicking on the floor as he went to the bathroom to perform various ablutions. Shortly thereafter I heard him moving around again, and finally there were footsteps approaching the door.
“Where are my clothes from the game?”
“I think they were taken away to be cleaned. Or burned.”
“Oh, ha ha. Seriously, where are they? I need to get dressed.”
“How should I know, Les? I didn’t follow you into your room, you know.”
“Have the Fischers brought our stuff up?”
“No, not yet.”
Grumbling could be heard as he padded away from the door, and I heard the closet door open.
“What the hell’s this?!” I heard him exclaim, and I suppressed a giggle.
Footsteps, coming back to the door. “Willow, what the hell is this doing in the closet?”
“What, Les? You think I’m from Krypton, or something? I can’t see through a closed door.”
All I could hear among several angry, strangled syllables was the words “Penn State.”
“Oh!” I said. “Didn’t you know? The Rhum Ba went to that school. I suppose you could wear that.”
My ears went down as he thundered, “I’LL GO NAKED FIRST!”
I grinned but kept my voice level. “Suit yourself, but I’m sure it’ll be very insulting to not have you show for dinner. The Bey might just decide that doing business with DuCleds Chemicals is a non-starter.”
An answering growl greeted this line of reasoning.
“Well, if you need me for anything, Les, I’ll be down in the dining room. See you there,” and I walked away with a light heart.
Now, if you know my boss, you’ll know that his nose for business is even keener than his nose for the ladies.
So, like the trouper that he is, he appeared at the dinner, and sat to the right of the Sultan. He was congratulated effusively by the Bey and his mate for his decision to honor the Rhum Ba by wearing, not the red and blue of Penn, but the dark blue and white of Penn State.
Roxie’s old cheerleader’s uniform did fit Les pretty well, actually. Well, maybe not in the chest.
It was hard for Arnie, looking a bit recovered from his football injury, to stop smirking every time he looked at Les, who made no attempt to hide his seething.
I caught the Rhum Baba trying to look up his skirt a few times, and that made me wonder what she might be up to.
Don’t get me wrong, she was a fine figure of a girl.
Oh, she was of age all right.
Just barely, which meant she was quite able to play San Quentin Quail to some unsuspecting fur’s Lothario.
And with the amount of date wine Les was guzzling, I could see him auditioning for the role.
I started noticing two things as the party wound down.
One, this date wine was pretty potent stuff.
Two, this outfit was pretty comfortable (once you got past the fact that it was a skirt – and the offending Penn State colors).
The Sultan concluded the get-together by again praising me for being a good sport, a tough competitor and being gracious enough to wear his wife’s school colors. Slightly illuminated by the wine, I nodded my head in complete agreement.
The trouble started as I made my way up to my room. I noted a great deal of satisfaction that my luggage was there, so I could finally get out of this cheerleader’s outfit.
The luggage wasn’t the trouble.
The trouble was the pair of paws on my back, and the whiff of doe-musk that set my tail wagging.
I knew it wasn’t, couldn’t possibly be, Willow.
And I hoped it wasn’t the Rhum Ba.
And I prayed that it wasn’t –
“Hello, Mister duCleds. Care to come up to my room and play?”
Oh dear Lord.
What’d I do to deserve this?
Yeah, I’d been pretty drunk, but the circumstances now had the powerful advantage of sobering me up instantly.
I turned around and looked down into a pair of soulful brown eyes.
“Ummm . . . hi?” I quavered.
She smiled up at me. “Hi.”
“Did . . . did I hear you - ?”
“Your Highness – “
She silenced me with a fingertip to my lips. “My name’s Sally,” and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Care to come play with me?”
Now, one could take that question in several directions.
At least one of those directions might end up with my head (or other, more important bits) lopped off.
I tried to fight my way past her musk and those deep eyes and said, “Well, excuse me for saying this – but you’re – “
“Young?” she asked brightly. “I look younger than I am. I’m a Baba now; I gave up being a Baba-Lui two years ago.”
My head was spinning a bit.
“So that makes you - ?”
I recall collegiate escapades (not, mark you, escapades at Collegiate) with nineteen-year-old girls.
“Would – would your parents . . . “
“Um . . . “
She took me by the paw and led me away meekly.
I know what you’re thinking, but I shall state this for the record, under oath and in court if you like.
We ended up in her room, yes.
Where we played backgammon.
Until two in the morning.
At a nickel a point.
After the game I went to my room ten dollars poorer, and only slightly wiser.
Sometime during the night the following internal dialogue ensued, as Sally started looking more and more desirable and my wine-soaked brain started paying more and more attention to her musk and less and less attention to certain facts.
Don't you dare touch a hair on her hide!
Bwahahahahaha! She's all yours, and a bag of chips! C'mon, don't be a wet blanket! She's asking for it!
She's asking you to pass the rose water, you twit.
Queer ... look at the tailfur on her!
And with that, I made my way to my room and slept the sleep of the (barely) innocent.
The next morning I was having breakfast in my room when the Sultan entered. He asked me to sit back down at my table while he settled himself on the edge of my bed. He looked solemnly down at his paws for a long moment, and I started to fear the worst.
Finally he looked levelly at me. “You are a fur of great discipline, Mr. duCleds.”
This caught me by surprise.
“Yes, you didn't object when my daughter cheated. Those indefinite harem girls have taught her how to load dice and mark cards. It's a good thing there are no casinos in Atlantic City.”
“. . .”