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 Six -
Load One Quarter of a Ton, and What Do You Get?
What’s Mine is Yours
“Sounds like three refugees from a vaudeville show,” Rosie said. “You know, the kind of act that closes on opening night?”
Reggie chuckled. “Well, they do represent new Loews in entertainment. But they’re no more unusual than this one chappie I met – “
I shushed my beloved fiancé. “Whose story is this, anyway? You’ll get a chance to tell yours, Reggie. Let me finish.”
It only rained on us once on our way up to the works, but it rained the entire two hours.
Willow was looking – well, it’s a bit hard to describe.
Sort of a cross between depressed and homicidal.
And I had a sinking feeling that the latter mood was focused on me.
Which could be rather unfortunate, considering what I recalled about that night in Monaco.
The mine operator had been told ahead of time that we were coming. The operator was a stocky equine individual with roan fur, an almost brutally cropped mane and a nasty scar over his left eye.
The office belied his appearance, with maps on the walls and papers stacked neatly. He shook paws with us and greeted us perfunctorily. “Ya’ll are welcome to go down to the mine,” he said gruffly in response to our request to look things over. “But you’ll have company.”
“Yeah,” and he spat his quid of tobacco into a brass spittoon by his desk. “Couple of Brits come down early today to see the works and see about buying in.”
That intrigued me, and it’s always good to size up the competition before I make any business decision. So, with Willow in tow, we headed up a hill to the mine entrance.
Workers, both native and imported, glanced up at us curiously as we inspected their setup before stepping into the mine itself.
My eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and I stared.
Les looked shocked as the couple turned around.
His demeanor caused my training to kick in.
Subject One was male, lupine and weighed about four hundred pounds, give or take. He was sweating heavily into his safari suit and leaning on a cane that obviously had to be steel-cored to take that kind of pressure without snapping.
Sword stick, maybe?
It would make sense.
Immediate assessment was that he could be hiding an arsenal in his suit.
Subject Two was female, also lupine and bore a strong family resemblance (too close to be daughter – sister, maybe?). Where he was amazingly fat, she could have been a Parisian model. She was wearing an identical safari suit, expertly tailored.
Immediate assessment was that she was far more dangerous than the male.
The man spoke, his voice a deep bass rumble. “Ah, Mr. duCleds! We meet again. Am I to infer that the charming young doe is the secretary who immured you in the Ruffles bar?”
Les looked worried. “Er, yes. Willow, this is Leonard – and Susan – Allworthy.” Then, to Allworthy he said, “You caused us a bit of trouble with the police.”
The wolf smirked. “That was my intention. It’s always good sport to keep the forces of the Law guessing as to my and my sister’s whereabouts. The irony of you finding us here, however . . . how you manage to come here, even, in spite of all the obstacles I threw in your way,” and he shook his head in sorrow. “Seriously, one cannot bribe decent minions anymore. I blame the corrupting influence of Hollywood. Gad, sir, in my grandfather's day, you could buy a whole village for a barrel of porter.”
Les gaped. “You mean – you hired the Ookabollawonga?”
“Yes, and the fur who accosted your secretary.” He sighed. “Poor Manuel, but no great loss. He was from Barcelona, you see.”
“I thought his name was Big Jake,” I put in.
Susan gave a short and humorless laugh. “Multiple personalities – he kept trying to charge us a group rate for his services.”
“Indeed,” Leonard rumbled. “And your compatriots cost my man his best woman, as well. Still, I suppose one must look upon it philosophically – there are plenty of fish in the sea, even if they are Bertha’s size.” He looked at us again, and his eyes narrowed.
“Still, you encountering us again, even if it is completely random chance, would make even the most seasoned officer green with envy. Don’t tell me you’re one of those tiresome people who tries to solve crimes as a hobby.”
I had my purse ready, and trusted my training and reflexes to have my Starr drawn before either of them could get the drop on us.
“No, I’m not,” Les said. “So let’s just forget we saw each other again.”
“And let you warn the police as to our location?” Susan asked, her tail swishing. She snorted. “I think that would be rather inconvenient. You two could disrupt the plans my brother and I have for this island.”
She glanced at her brother and said, “We were going to acquire a Gnat, either by our proxies or by taking it from one of the explorers. The money – and the clandestine acquisition of these mines – would give us the ability to overthrow the government of this island and make it a place fit for us to live in.”
“And we would have gotten away with it, as well,” Leonard said, “were it not for your meddling and that of your stupid dog!”
Les’ ears went back and he crested, growling. I felt I had to agree with him, but the fatty’s sister suddenly smacked him on the shoulder.
“Idiot! We’re canine as well, you know!”
“Hardly, my dear,” Leonard said primly. “We are wolves, members of a bloodline that stretches back a thousand years. And, need I remind you, we are English – far better in every way from this - this mongrel of an American.”
"I'll have you know my ancestors were French."
A lupine smirk. "And how, dear boy, does that buttress your argument?" His eyes hardened and he said, “Now that we have met again, I propose that you and your employee come with us.”
“I don’t think so.”
Susan grinned. “Oh, yes, please resist. It’ll make this fun. You’re money on the hoof, duCleds – in a manner of speaking.”
Allworthy chuckled. “My sister has a wonderfully direct way of cutting to the bone of the matter, Mr. duCleds. You would fetch me a high ransom from your family and company, once they heard I had you as my guest.” He favored me with a glance. “Both of you.”
My blood started to run cold.
Les chuckled. “Don’t be so certain, Mr. Allworthy.” He had stuck his paws in his pockets while the wolf was talking.
His attitude struck me as odd. A bit too confident.
Susan noted it as well. “What have you got in your pockets?” she asked warily.
“Oh, not much,” Les replied. “Just this,” and he extracted a small box of matches from one pocket. “Just a little example of American ingenuity.”
Fat Boy was not impressed. “You think returning my gift to you will change my mind?”
“Not at all,” Les said, “but this might.”
His other paw extracted the stick of dynamite he’d had when I rescued him from the clutches of Big Bertha.
Two pairs of lupine eyes went wide as saucers.
(The Allworthys - Leonard and Susan - meet duCleds dynamite)
Art by Seth C. Triggs - http://www.bibp.com/
I think mine did, too.
Les said in a professional, almost disinterested tone, “For your information, this is a full stick of duCleds Type B, with our patented ‘Little Spark’ blasting cap. Oh, and by the way, another example of Yankee ingenuity. The fuse is only long enough for about five seconds’ burning time.” He pulled a match from the box and lit it, holding the flame about six inches from the fuse. “Now, I think my secretary and I will be leaving.”
Susan looked about to explode, her tail snapping and her eyes flashing as she started to slowly gather herself into a crouch.
Not to attack us, but to bolt from the mine if Les lit the dynamite.
So much for family feeling.
Leonard started to laugh. “Gad, sir! A fur of great courage, to risk his own life in order to save himself. Very well,” he said with a nonchalant flip of his free paw, “you may both go – but do not make the mistake of encountering us again, Mr. duCleds.”
I started to back out of the mine as Les said, “Don’t worry. If I see either of you two again it’ll be exactly far too soon.”
As we retreated I spotted a small placard that had been tacked to the wooden frame supporting the entrance.
It read Safety First.
I plucked it off the support and tossed it at Susan. “Here’s your sign,” I said, even as I fished my Starr out of the purse. I kept it low and out of sight of the miners.
No need to spook them unnecessarily.
Les grimaced and dropped the remains of the match, flipping his burned paw in pain before snatching another match out of the box. “That was quick thinking, Les. Quite a performance.”
He managed a grim smile at me. “Sometimes you just have to get ‘er done.” The paw holding the dynamite shook a tiny bit, though, as he added, “I’m not sure what I would have done if they’d tried to call my bluff.”
“I’m sure whatever you did would have brought the house down.”
That got me a soft snorted chuckle. I could see that Les’ nosepad had gone a touch pale, so I refrained from further conversation.
We made our way back down to Buyezadrink, where I tucked my pistol into a pocket and Les shoved his paws back into his pockets again. My quick draw skills didn’t draw any comment from him, as he’d seen them before in Saigon.
Les insisted on going down a few small side streets to throw off anyone following us, which made good sense. I didn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean anything.
A brief stop at a native shop for food and we got safely aboard the Drifting Lotus without further incident.
No, no stops at bars or bordellos.
And no return engagements with the Allworthys or any other international gangsters. At least, none that I could spot, and I subscribe to the Interpol International Criminals Spotter’s Guide.
I would have to write in that I’d met both Allworthys. I’m sure that would earn me a few points from my fellow crime-spotters.
Plus we had to alert the authorities.
Despite our relative safety aboard the ship, Leslie kept the dynamite close at paw, citing the need to not tempt Fate any further. He kept at least one eye on the dock and didn’t relax at all until the crew had cast off and the steamer headed north to Doubi Doubi Dou.
Once he was certain that we weren’t being pursued, Les stood on the deck, and very carefully separated the blasting cap from the stick.
"I'd rather be known as ‘Dynamite,’ than ‘Lefty.’"
With that, he took the blasting cap and hurled it over the side of the ship as far as he could throw it.
Which was not far enough to prevent a nearby hovering gull from mistaking it for a snack.
"Scree-eark!" followed by a muffled bang as a rose-colored shower of feathers was blown near the ship.
My employer turned to me, his ears dipped in embarrassment.
“Um . . . I hope the seagulls don’t hold a grudge . . .”
And that, boys and girls, is how the infamous Allworthys met their match.
Held to the fuse of a stick of duCleds' finest.
Inocenta gave a delighted squeal and hugged Les hard enough to make his eyes bug out. “Magnifico! Quien es mas macho than my darling Leslie-puppy?”
I smothered a laugh when I recalled that Les had looked about ready to either faint dead away or wet himself like a – well, like a puppy in the minutes after our encounter.
But it all worked out, and I read in the papers last year that both Allworthys had gone to their reward.
I can’t believe I did that.
But I did.
I faced down two vicious, wanted criminals with a match and a stick of dynamite.
I need a stiff drink.
Luckily I keep a flask in my kit for just such an emergency, and a couple belts of good single malt made me feel a whole lot better.
I wondered if the unfortunate gull had kept his feathers numbered for the same reason.
After a day on the water (and half a day on the boat) we arrived at Doubi Doubi Dou to find two things of interest. First, my Ercorsair had been overhauled and refueled at the Sultan’s orders. It raised my estimation of him – which was easy, because as a Princeton fur he couldn’t exactly go lower.
Unless he had gone to Collegiate.
The second interesting thing was the words that seemingly all of the natives (who were in a very festive mood) were chanting. Ali and the others were very excited about it.
When Willow and I stopped by the Hotel Splendide, Mr. Fischer was quite happy to start spreading the news. The Rhum Ba was expecting a baby, and the chant was the title for a male child of less than legal age.
Which made some sense, as the Rhum Baba had been known as the Baba-Lui before she came of age.
Chanting was supposed to persuade the gods to give the Royal Family a male heir. I would have to surmise that it’s no sillier than any other way of guaranteeing a boy or girl.
Willow and I dismissed Ali and the other natives, who accepted our tips as their just reward. Although they had been paid well and in advance by the Bey, every little bit helped.
And I’ve seen quite a bit of poverty in my travels thus far.
We stopped off at the local police station and explained things to the sergeant on duty, who immediately rang up the Palace and sounded the alarm. The orangutan hung up the phone and told us that the Sultan wanted to thank us personally for sniffing out a plot.
As we left I heard the constable muttering about “rounding up the usual suspects,” and I was tempted to drop nickel on the three writers.
So Willow and I shouldered our gear and headed up the mountain to the Palace of Isore, where I rang the bell at the gate.
Arnie answered it. “You again? I thought for sure you’d get killed out there!” he said as he opened the gate.
“No such luck,” I growled at him as we walked past. “Care for a rematch?”
The tiger scowled. “Hell no. Those girls in the harem play too rough for my taste.”
“I’m with you there, Arnie. Imagine what they’d do if Harvard recruited them.” We both shuddered at that prospect. “Is the Sultan in?”
“Yeah, and when Old Blue Eyes heard your news he called out the Army. Any luck finding the Gnat?”
I shook my head. “Nope. Saw the Bingkros Bee, but no sign of the Gnat.”
Too bad, really.
An extra fifty thousand dollars (along with a touch of fame) would have been a good way of forgetting about this place.
Up to this point I had managed to keep the Gnat alive and quiet so Les wouldn’t tumble to the fact I had caught one.
Now that we were back in what passed for civilization I realized I had a quandary. As I said earlier I wouldn’t allow my name or picture to be spread out in the papers or on the radio, because of the reactions of Certain People.
(Certain People, incidentally, who might take a very dim view of the news that I was still among the living.)
A servant led us to the rooms that we’d had before the hunt started so we could freshen up. I was pleased to see that several vases full of fresh flowers had been placed in my room.
I could use a snack, and so could my little passenger.
As soon as the door closed I removed the cover on the cage and looked the Gnat over.
The little fellow immediately started buzzing Shuffle Off to Buffalo, which I took as a hopeful sign that it had survived the journey. I placed some flowers in the cage for it and it was soon feeding contentedly.
Well, I imagine about as contentedly as an insect can.
Sounds down in the courtyard drew my attention and I looked out a window in time to see the Patagarangs drive through. George of the Jungle was the first out of the car, looking rather less spiffy than he might have after traipsing through a rain forest and then encountering a transvestite prostitute.
Laura, on the other paw, didn’t look very happy at all.
Five will get you ten that she had found out about her husband’s attempt to get some of his own back at her.
I have to admit that I felt a lot of sympathy for her, and glanced back at the Gnat as it started humming the wishing song I had improvised.
I started to smile.
The Sultan, his wife the Rhum Ba and his daughter the Rhum Baba were happy to see us and pleased that we weren’t hurt. Roxie (the Rhum Ba) looked extremely happy with herself, and we all extended our heartfelt congratulations and best wishes that her child would be a boy.
There was another guest in the room with us, a reptilian mel about medium height with skin like polished leather patterned in several shades of brown. He wore dark glasses and a dazzling white silk suit.
“Friends,” the Bey said, “may I present Mr. Montague Pitao, who’s flown all the way here from Goa. He’s with Vercotti and Company, theatrical agents to Obscurity Records. Barry Schloque sent him out here to see if the Gnat had been found.”
Les said, “I have to tell you that we didn’t find the Gnat, Sultan – “
“Sammy. I don’t know if George and Laura had any luck - ?”
Skippy shook his head. “No luck.”
“A sshame, a definite sshame,” Pitao lisped, his long forked tongue flicking out as he spoke. “I flew all the way here, check in paw. Misster Vercotti will be mosst dissappointed.”
I smiled again, and caught Laura’s eye. With the guys occupied talking to the Sultan, an idea had surfaced. To make sure that the lines to our rear were cleared, I caught Roxie’s attention as well.
The menfolk let us leave, as they discussed alternative means of acquiring the Gnat (and the money).
“Well, Willow?” Roxie asked as I closed the door to my room. “What’s on your mind?”
I grinned at her and asked, “Laura, how would George react if you found something that he was looking for?”
The ‘roo femme snorted. “I guess he’d rather tear his ears out by the roots than admit I beat him at something.” She winked. “I mean, apart from leg-wrestling.”
My grin widened. “Then we’d better have some tincture of iodine and bandages nearby,” and I whisked off the light cloth that covered the Gnat’s cage.
There were two loud thumps as two sets of jaws hit the floor.
The Gnat apparently decided to prove his bona fides and started buzzing Tea for Two.
Roxie recovered first. “W-willow, you found it!”
“No, I didn’t find it,” I said. “You did,” and I pointed at Laura.
“Yes, you. You found it while walking through a garden in the village of Bitnik. Have you got that?”
She blinked at me uncomprehendingly, but I eventually got it through to her. We went over the story a few more times – the village, the temple, the tigers and the garden – with Roxie helping until Laura had the tale down pat.
Finally she asked me, “Why aren’t you - ?”
“I don’t want it . . . and you deserve to step out from behind your husband.”
Laura’s eyes welled up and she hugged me, hard. “Anything,” she said as soon as she collected herself, “you need anything at all, Willow, you contact me through the University. They’ll know where I am,” and she wiped her eyes.
“Okeh,” Roxie said. “Now that we got the story straight, let’s spring this surprise on the boys.”
We were talking things over with Pitao about heading back into the jungles when the women came back in, Laura holding a small cage in her paw and wearing a wide smile.
I thought George was going to pass out.
“Laura? What? How?” amounted to all the coherent words he managed to get out.
Laura just smiled as the Gnat started buzzing.
You wouldn’t think any bug could make sounds like that.
Then the Gnat segued into Waltzing Matilda.
Skippy looked fit to be tied. I guess he wasn’t used to letting his wife take center stage for anything. One wondered how their wedding had come off.
Pitao looked in on the Gnat as Laura told us how she encountered the insect and kept it alive until she could unveil it. The mel then said, “Magnifessent, Mrss. Patagarang. The fifty thoussand dollar check iss yours.”
The applause was general.
Except for George.
“So, now the truth comes out,” Les said sarcastically. “Any more secrets, Willow?”
Reggie glanced at me.
I knew what he was thinking, and I wasn’t ready.
I waggled my eyebrows at Les. “Silly boy. You know a woman has to have secrets. Now, where was I? Oh, yes . . . “
A huge party was thrown that night to celebrate a successful hunt.
Of course, every party needs a pooper, and George was playing the part to the hilt. He was sulking so badly that one could imagine a small storm cloud permanently hovering over his head. With itty-bitty flashes of lightning.
Finally, matters came to a head sometime around the dessert course. Skippy growled something to his wife that I couldn’t catch (but made her ears go straight back and stay there). He then threw his napkin onto his half-eaten dinner, got up from his table and stormed out of the room.
There was an embarrassed silence.
“What’s eatin’ him, doll?” Roxie asked.
Laura shrugged. “He says he’s going out on his own - to find a Gnat.” She regarded her dessert, a thin but very rich slice of hazelnut ganache. “I hope he doesn’t get hurt.”
“You don’t seem too worried,” the Sultan said.
The kangaroo smiled mirthlessly. “My darling husband’s lucky to find his tail with both paws and a map.”
But I could see from her paws twisting her napkin that she thought she should be out there with him.
After dinner, Roxie walked up to me and Laura. By then the party had dragged on until almost one in the morning.
I know that I was very drunk.
Les was right, by the way – that date wine is great stuff, but someone should let the League of Nations know about it.
I do recall staying away from the curry ice cream, though.
My fellow whitetail doe linked arms with us and said, “C’mon, you two. We’re going places and doing things.” She looked over her shoulder and called out to her husband, “Be back soon, dear. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
As we walked out of the dining room she muttered for our benefit, “That actually covers quite a bit of ground.”
I didn’t wish to know that.
She steered us into Laura’s room and my ears perked up as the door opened to reveal a member of the Palace guards seated at the foot of the bed. He stood up hastily and started to apologize, but stopped as Roxie raised a paw. “At ease, Lucky. Ladies, I want you to meet Lucky. Well, his real name’s Mahmud.”
Lucky was a very well-built fellow, a Sumatran rhinoceros about my height and wearing the native kiltlike garment along with his guardsman tunic. He had two horns on his muzzle and was covered in short reddish-brown fur. He smiled a bit bashfully and said, “Hello, ladies” in accented English.
“Why’s he called ‘Lucky?’” Laura asked.
Roxie grinned. “Show ‘em, dear.”
The rhino’s smile broadened and he whisked off his kilt.
. . .
Yeah, he was definitely lucky.
Some guys can talk a big game, of course, and most do because it’s in their nature to brag, but Lucky here was the Real McCoy.
“Like him? I nicknamed him Lucky because he’s a natural seven.”
Laura found her voice first.
“Crikey! He’s a beaut!”
“Glad you think so,” Roxie said. “He’s yours for the night.”
The ‘roo turned to stare at her.
The Rhum Ba added, “Or at least until your hubby shows back up. If I know Sammy he’s sent out search parties to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.”
“Sure. Consider him a gift.” She winked. “He’s quite good.”
She nudged me with her elbow, which was a good thing as I was rooted to the floor staring at the size of Lucky’s, er, original factory-installed parts.
“You can join in, if Laura’s inclined to share.”
Roxie walked out, closing the door behind her.
“Um, er, ah . . . “ I stammered.
Laura tore her gaze away from Lucky. “Huh?”
“Hello, I must be going. I came to say I cannot stay, I must be going.”
“No, please. Stay.” She smiled. “There’s safety in numbers, you know.”
“Err . . . “
“I’m . . . Laura, I’m saving myself for marriage . . . “
She smiled gently. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun,” she said. “Besides, didn’t I hear that you went to Radcliffe?”
Rosie broke in at that point. “You little SCAMP!” she said gleefully. “You were holding out on me!”
“I didn’t DO anything,” I said defensively. “I went to bed.”
My friend gave me a calculating look.
“Alone,” I continued firmly.
Reggie just looked a bit glassy-eyed.
And Rosie gave me a “We’re going to talk this over in private” look . . .
I rapped on Willow’s door the next morning, but didn’t get any response. She had been drinking a lot during the dinner party last night, so I guessed she was sleeping it off.
My own morning head wasn’t quite as bad, because I kept the date wine at a respectable arm’s-length and contented myself with helping to draw down the Sultan’s whisky supply.
I went back to my room and found breakfast waiting, a proper meal of eggs and a tasty pile of sliced and fried ham. Fruit juice to wash it all down, and I felt more than ready to face the day. Sipping at my second cup of coffee I walked out onto the balcony overlooking the Palace’s courtyard.
A party of soldiers came in through the gate, a recognizable ‘roo in the van. George had returned, and from the small cage he held aloft it looked as if he had been successful.
Of course, it looked from all the mud caked on him that he’d had a hard time of it during the night.
I left my room and saw Willow coming out of hers. She looked as if she hadn’t had much sleep. “Willow, good morning! You okay?”
She flinched. Likely a hangover, and I grinned at her as she flagged and her ears dipped. “’Morning, Les,” she said. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah. You look like you had fun last night.”
She flagged a bit more. “Last night?”
“Yeah. One of the servants said you three were up half the night drinking and playing backgammon. You didn’t bet, I hope.”
“No, nothing like that,” she replied. “You know I only bet on a sure thing, Les.”
I nodded my head. “Looks like Skippy made it back in one piece. Should we go and take a look?”
“Sure. Let me get some coffee . . .” She walked back to her room.
Why did she look a bit scared when I asked what they were doing last night?
I shrugged and headed downstairs.
When I arrived I saw George talking about his adventure while the Sultan and Mr. Pitao looked in on the new arrival. From its size, color and the noises it was making I knew that it was another King Coal Gnat.
“Ah, Leslie!” Sammy exulted. “George’s gone and found another one! And this one’s female!”
“Oh?” I asked. “A King Coal Gnatalie?”
George laughed. “Something like that, yeah. Point is, with a breedin’ pair you get better value. I mean, no tellin’ how old the little bloke might be, and it’d be poor form to send Mr. Pitao off only to have the thing die on him.”
“Quite right,” the Sultan said approvingly.
“Your reassoning iss ssound, Misster Patagarang,” the reptilian agent said, “but I fear I did not bring two checkss with me.”
Skippy waved this off. I think he was just happy to have found one, as it enabled him to save face. “No worries, Mr. Pitao. My wife Laura and I share and share alike. Speaking of which, where is she?”
“I think she might be in her room,” Willow said. “I haven’t seen her yet,” and she turned as one of the guards, a rhino, walked through the room.
I may be wrong, but I could swear I saw Willow sigh in relief for some reason.
George walked out of the room as the two Gnats started buzzing. The male started, and the female picked it up on the second chorus.
You guessed it.
Tea for Two.
I followed George at a discreet distance and listened from around a corner as he rapped on the door. “Laura? Laura, you in there hun?”
The door opened and I heard Laura yawn and say, “Hello, George. You look like you had a hard night.”
I knew for a fact that one of them had – and I fancied that it wasn’t him.
“I did. Found another Gnat, a femme.”
“Good on ya.”
“Can I – can you forgive me?”
A low chuckle. “Depends on how fast you can get those clothes off, mate.”
He chuckled and the door closed. I edged close to the door in time to hear him ask, “What’s all the musk about?”
“I missed you, Skippy, and you know how much I miss you. Come to bed, hun – and lock the door. I don’t want anyone horning in . . .”
“Too right . . .”
What followed consisted largely of moaned monosyllables, to the accompaniment of squeaking bedsprings.
I tiptoed back down the hall.
The Patagarangs left early the next morning, with Laura saying that she and Skippy were headed to the Frankee Valley to do some more exploring. There had been legends of a lost tribe of cannibal hillbillies somewhere along the banks of the Moon River.
I wished them the best, and when I got to Laura she hugged me tightly.
Her lips brushed my ear and she whispered, “Like I said, Willow – if you need anything, contact me through the University.”
They left then, paw in paw, everything seemingly right with the world.
The Gnats had started buzzing Me and My Shadow, so apparently someone was around them earlier, waxing musical.
I watched them go, and I snorted.
“What?” Les asked.
“Why do fools fall in love?"
(Sorry, Reggie darling, you don't have to answer that - it was rhetorical.)
Packing up to leave.
The Ercorsair was fueled and ready, and after Willow and I got our things squared away we visited the Sultan and his wife to say our farewells.
We passed Mr. Pitao in the hallway, with two servants in tow carrying his luggage and the Gnats. He looked immensely pleased with himself, and I pointed this out to him as we shook his scaly paw.
He beamed, displaying a mouthful of thin, sharp teeth that curved down his throat. “Yess,” he lisped, “I am very happy indeed, Misster duCledss. Lissten, pleasse,” and he gestured at the cage where the two Gnats were housed.
One was buzzing Aloha Oe, and every once in a while the other would flick its wing, eliciting a soft ‘ping’ sound.
“There are legendss of ssuch,” Pitao said happily. “Misster Patagarang disscovered a Gnat That Goess Ping!”
There didn’t seem to be much to say to that, so we wished him a safe journey.
As we turned to go, both Gnats started buzzing.
My hackles immediately rose.
The Gnats were playing Fair Harvard.
I guessed that Wing Fat had been at them and taught them the song. I also guessed that the Sultan would be glad to be rid of them if they played it in his hearing.
When asked, one of the chamberlains told us that the Sultan and his mate were out watching Sinatra’s tiny army going through part of its training. The venue for this was a broad expanse of high grass and low trees located behind the Palace complex.
We passed soldiers going through various unarmed combat exercises, a lot of them shouting as they struck or threw their partners. All very energetic and very convincing.
The rabbit who was breaking bricks with his paws was not someone I wanted to tangle with.
“Ah, Les!” Sammy said as we joined him and Roxie. The royal couple were seated on chairs that had been set up on a carpet spread over the grass for the occasion. “You’re just in time. Look out there and tell me what you see.”
I looked out over a stretch of grass dotted with shrubs. “I don’t see anything.”
“That’s just it! The troops are practicing the art of concealment.” He signaled to the sergeant, who shouted orders in the native language.
The sergeant looked at the Sultan, who nodded. “He’s learned very well,” Sammy remarked, “but he has to know when to quit.”
The sergeant waved.
There was a flat boom from a small piece of field artillery and the bush on our left exploded in a shower of flames and soil.
Another boom, and the one on the right was also blown to perdition.
A third boom, and there was a yelp as the exploding shrub vomited a figure who started slapping frantically at his flaming uniform.
Scattered applause drifted up from the other ranks as the Sultan turned to the Rhum Ba and said, “That’s five you owe me, dear. I told you it was the middle one.”
“Nertz,” the Rhum Ba said.
“Is he all right?” I asked. The man was now rolling about on the grass, putting out the last of the flames.
“Oh, him,” and the Rhum Ba waved a paw. “That’s Corporal Semprini – he’s used to being blown up, set afire and generally abused.”
Rosie almost spit out her coffee. “Semprini? Carlo Semprini?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “I never heard his first name. You think you might know him?”
She coughed. “Well, not ‘know’ in the Biblical sense. Carlo went by the stage name of Semprini the Incombustible. Used to be set on fire, blown up and even caught cannonballs. Toni and I saw his act once, and I thought for sure we were going to get hired on as cleanup crew rather than a dancing act.”
After Roxie paid her husband she smiled at us. “We’ve enjoyed having you with us, and I hope you’ll come back.”
I smiled. “Perhaps some day,” I said truthfully, “but we have to go on to Batavia. I’m expected there for some business meetings, and I had thought we’d push on to Manila and spend the holidays there.”
The doe’s smile widened. “Glad you brought up business. Sammy?”
The muntjac looked confused, then startled, them smiled. “Hm? Oh! Of course, dear. Les, I want you to know that if you send a representative from your firm, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll get preference regarding any contracts.”
That made me smile, and I took back most of the things I’d said about him.
Most, not all.
He was still, after all, a Princeton fur.
I have a feeling that Roxie prodded Sammy into giving such an open-ended concession to Les, as well as footing the bill for gassing up our plane.
When I stepped up to say good-bye, she gave me a wink while saying, “I hope you had a good time, Willow.”
“It’s been fun, Roxie,” I replied as smoothly as I could.
“I’m glad. Oh! I almost forgot,” and she reached into a wicker picnic basket by her chair. She took out a broad necklace made of the most astoundingly bright blue feathers. “This is a traditional gift from these parts.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “The color’s magnificent.”
“Yeah, it’s from a gull called the Sinatran Blue. Beautiful plumage.”
We made our final goodbyes and accepted the offer of a ride down the mountain to Doubi Doubi Dou.
As the truck made its way down the road we saw a billboard. The ad simply read, “Men! It can be done! Susiwong Banbang did it last night!”
This was followed by a phone number to call to get further information from the fortunate Mrs. Banbang.
The truck dropped us off near the harbormaster’s office, and drove off as soon as we had offloaded our luggage. I looked around one last time, and my jaw dropped.
Willow followed my gaze and muttered, “What is it with this place?”
The bear, the canine and the mink were walking down the road toward us, looking dusty and somewhat the worse for wear. “Hey!” I called out. “Where’s your camel?”
“She came up lame. Had a bad case of camel toe,” the dog explained, “so we had to leave her behind. We’ve walked a mile so far, looking for a streetcar, but all we can find is this,” and he waved toward a large rickshaw that had the word Desire painted on its side. “We’re headed back to the Palace.”
“I think you said that you escaped,” Willow said.
“We did, but now we’re going back.”
“It’s almost lunchtime,” the bear said.
The mink nodded sadly. “The bitter irony of it all.”
“How do you know what irony tastes like?” the dog in the police getup asked. “I always thought irony was like bronzy or goldy, only it was made of iron.”
The bear asked, “Have you had your irony today?”
“Then have some! Hat.”
“I’m not wearing one.”
“That makes it easier.” The bear then pulled a mallet from his . . .
You’ve heard this before, so I won’t bother repeating it.
“I do recall hearing someone say this would all end in tears,” the canine said mournfully. He pulled a wire coat hanger from his tunic and brandished it at the mink. “I tried to sue him.”
I refused to take the bait, but Willow’s curiosity apparently got the better of her.
The mink replied, “Well, it was a question involving false statements on his involvement in collective bargaining activities. Alas, his lawyer couldn’t find any evidence to back his case . . . no matter how hard he looked for the union libel.”
“So what happened?”
The dog waved the empty hanger again. “I lost the suit. This whole thing is an outrage.”
“Well,” the ursine said, “you could have figured that out ages ago.”
“It’s a fair cop,” the canine agreed cheerfully. “But society is to blame.”
“Noted,” said the mink.
The trio headed up the road leading to the Palace and I heard the canine say, “I never wanted to do this . . . I always wanted to be – “
His voice faded as they went around a corner.
I had hardly begun daring to think that we’d seen the last of them, when the ursine poked his head around the corner and held his right thumb and forefinger in a circle around his right eye.
“Be seeing you,” he said, and disappeared.
After that I was glad that we were leaving.
I wasn’t certain that I could take anymore.
Les and I walked into the harbormaster’s office and the muntjac behind the desk looked up from his ledger. “What you want?” he asked in a high, nasal voice.
“Where’s Manamana?” Les asked.
“At home,” the deer replied. “Me am assistant, day shift, name Ditdeededede. What you want?”
“We have authorization to leave, from the Sultan,” Les said evenly (showing a great deal of restraint, I noted).
He looked over the papers that Sammy gave us and we showed our passports. The muntjac looked at everything, squinted at his ledger and nodded once. “Ja, you okeh to go. Me stamp passports now.”
“I thought Sinatra wasn’t a country yet,” I said.
“True,” Ditdeededede said, “but is good souvenir. Good practice, too.”
I looked at Les.
He looked at me.
We both surrendered our passports so they could be stamped.
Actually not a bad design.
We engaged a dockpaw to help us load the plane, and I noted that Les was having some trouble.
Notably with a large seagull that had perched itself directly over his door and refused to budge. He finally managed to shoo it away and we climbed in.
The dockpaw untied us and gave us a push out into the harbor as Les started the engines. He then waved at us as we taxied further out into the water.
As the port town of Doubi Doubi Dou and the natives of Sinatra fell away behind us, Leslie leveled off the Ercorsair and turned to me. “Willow?”
“We shall NEVER discuss this again."
“You got it."