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Posted 12 August 2012
The Gift
by Walter Reimer
A letter from Rosie Baumgartner to Willow Buckhorn - 12 November 1937
(This letter may imply certain mature adult situations)
Part 2

The Gift
© 2012 by Walter Reimer
- images by Stuart McCarthy, Sinuke, & Katie Lezotte -

(Willow Fawnsworthy Buckhorn and Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of Mitch Marmel; Grace Stagg, Reggie Buckhorn and Franklin Stagg courtesy of Eric Costello.)

Part Two

(Rosie Baumgartner's letter to Willow continues...)
November 12, 1937

        A whitetail buck, a cheetah and a raccooness walk into a diner . . .
        Stop me if you’ve heard this.
        About a week or so after The Affair of the Thundering Herd, things had started to get back to what passes for normal around this place.  K’nutt started stuttering again, B’onss blew most of his fur off when he tried to fix the stove, and Nick and Vicky went back to their usual selves.
        Best of all, your father’s heart rate finally slowed down.  He had been flagging so much I was worried he’d sprain his tail.
        Anyway, about a week or so later the sun finally came out so people started eating back out in the biergarten.  I was taking a short break when this doe walked in.  I was worried the tsuris was starting up again.
        Cute girl, if you like the chilly kind.  Maybe a couple years younger than you and dressed in a very severely cut gray suit.  Sort of the New Woman if she joined the Army.  Unlike you, she was a roe deer, not a whitetail.  No flag, grand old or otherwise.
        Cute though, like I said – made me get a tingle inside.  Definite Lotus material.
        She walks straight up to me and clicks her heels (hooves polished like they were like glass) and asks, “Are you Rosalie Baumgartner?”
        German accent.  I couldn’t recall any long-lost relatives.  I don’t THINK I have any cervines in my family tree, though I’ve heard strange stories about my great-uncle Morris.  But that’s for another time.
        “That’s me.”
        Another heel-click and she offered me an envelope.  The instant I took it, she turned and walked off.
        Now I’m no prude (as you know), but I caught myself staring at her.  Whoever her furdresser is, they’re worth every penny.
        I shook my head and looked at the envelope.  It was addressed to two people, actually.
        Miss Rosalie Baumgartner.
        Inspector Franklin J. Stagg.

        The envelope was sealed with a single blob of cream-colored wax.
        I sighed and slipped it into a pocket.  I know, I should have opened it – but it was addressed to both of us, so I’d wait until Franneleh came home.
        I’d almost forgot about it by that night.
        “Yes, Rosie?”
        I held up the envelope.  “It’s got both of our names on it.”
        He studied the seal for a few moments, then managed to pop it open without breaking the wax (I need to learn how to do that).
        Inside was a simple note, paw-written in ink, inviting both of us to dinner at the Marleybone at seven o’clock the following night.  White tie was requested, something that made Franklin snort.
        Adding to the mystery the note was signed “Baroness von Triesen.”
        Franneleh looked at me.  “Well, if this be Triesen, let us make the most of it.”

        The next night we showed up at the Marleybone, Franklin in his best suit and me wearing something a bit off the shoulder.  The suggested white tie was growled at, and I didn’t press the issue. 
        The roe doe was waiting for us in the lobby, smoking a cigarette in a long holder.  She saw us and gave a small bow.
        “You are Baroness von Triesen?” Franklin asked.
        The doe smiled.  “No, Herr Inspektor,” she said in an almost condescending tone.  “I am Angelica.  I am the Baroness’ . . . secretary.”
        ‘Angelica,’ huh?  Didn’t look like there was much in the way of angelic anything about her.  Named with as much accuracy as Inocenta de Ciervos was. 
        (By the way, how IS Cupcake anyway?  Have you heard anything?)
        I’ll bet she didn’t take much dictation, if you know what I mean.
        But I’ll bet she spent a lot of time on her boss’ lap.
        “And where is the Baroness?”
        “This way . . .  please,” Angelica said.  Her ‘please’ was delivered in a tone that showed she rarely used the word.  So we followed her into the restaurant.
        About ten steps from the table the doe was leading us to, Franklin started to slow down.
        When the Baroness turned in her seat he stopped, eyes wide as saucers and his tail flagging as if he’d seen a ghost.  She looked up, and I felt my jaw drop open.
        I had seen her before.
        Younger, she was beautiful.  Now, pushing the high side of whatever, she looked – well, simply magnificent.
        I wished I looked that good, and I felt my tail twitching in that certain manner.
        Franklin finally collected himself.  “Doctor . . . Doctor Livingston, I presume?”
        The vision chuckled.  “Ah, Franklin.  Ever the charmer.  And Miss Baumgartner.  A pleasure indeed.”
        At that moment, the little wires connected. 
        "The pleasure's all mine.  But please, call me Rosie . . . Bernyce."  I took a guess; after all, 1926 was a long time ago, and I hadn’t caught her name back then.
        Bernyce gave a silvery, delighted laugh that went straight down my spine.  "Ah!  Wonderful.  Franklin, she's a treasure." 
        Franklin was still somewhat at a loss for words.  "Er . . . yes, yes, a treasure indeed.  This is quite a surprise, Bernyce."
        Bernyce cocked her head.  "I can't imagine why.  I mean, you DID get the book, yes?"
        "Oh, yes," I purred.  "I'd call it an instant classic."
        The lady gave me a wicked grin.  "Like Lady Catterley's Lover?"
        I grinned back.  "Better.  I get to meet the author . . . "
        She stood – well, more like flowed, a smooth controlled motion that brought her up put of her chair to stand toe-to-toe with Franneleh, gazing slightly up into his eyes.   She put a paw against his muzzle and asked softly, “How long has it been?  Nineteen twenty-six?”
        Franneleh nodded.  “The Otterholt Trial, yes.”

Mrs. Bernyce (Wallingford) Pratt - Sketch by Stuart McCarthy - Character by Walt Reimer
Mrs. Bernyce Pratt (nee Wallingford) (New Haven -1926)
"...an effortlessly beautiful raccoonness...." (Larger file here - 257 KBytes)
Sketch by Stuart McCarthy - http://duraluminwolf.deviantart.com/

        “It is good seeing you again, dear friend,” and her arms slid around him to hug him as she kissed him gently on the cheek.
        “I’m flattered that you still remember me,” he said.
        “You know I could never forget you.”
        My turn next, and she kissed me on the lips.  Chaste and dry enough, but enough to start this kitty’s tail swishing.
        “Come,” she said, “let’s have some dinner, shall we?”  She glanced at Angelica, who clicked her hooves and stalked off to a neighboring table.
        Franneleh gallantly seated both of us before sitting down.  “I had asked you to destroy that picture, Bernyce.”
        Her smile was wistful.  “You know, Franklin, I was going to.  I truly was, but when I wrote that memoir and selected the photographs I found I couldn’t bear to part with it.”  She laid her paw over his.  “You’re still as handsome as ever.”
        If he and I didn’t love each other, I’d be jealous.
        She looked at me and smiled.  "He stated once, rather forcefully, that he hated formal wear and that he looked absurd wearing it.  A rare instance where he was completely wrong.”  She nodded in his direction, and winked.  “Though I would gladly have helped him remove it."
        “I do own a mirror,” Franneleh said dryly.
        She wagged a finger at him, smiling impishly.  Now I knew (or guessed) how she stayed so young.  “Now, now, you surely remember that I never put much stock in outside appearances, Franklin.”
        A waiter came over, and took our drink orders. 
        I took a sip of my wine.  “I take it you got out of New Haven before everything went kersplat.”
        Bernyce nodded, then sighed.  “I could see which way the wind was blowing after poor Anthony – sorry, Governor Nutella - was assassinated.  My sons and I – “
        “I had forgotten you had children,” Franneleh said.  “How are Reginald and Stephen?”
        “Quite well, thank you.  I was visiting Stephen in San Francisco when I received word that you’d been found and had received my memoir.”  She turned her gaze on me.  Her eyes were a greeny-gray, and very warm.  “I’m very pleased that you read my book, my dear.”
        I grinned.  “You certainly got around.”
        A soft chuckle.  “I did indeed.”
        “I’m surprised the Japanese aren’t mad at you.  They always strike me as being easily insulted, especially when the big cheeses there are involved.”
        "Insult?  Rubbish.  If anything, His Imperial Highness is described in a manner that only asserts what kind of stallion he was."  Long pause.  "Quite an imagination, too.  He never gets credit for that."
        Franklin sipped at his water.  “I take it that your wanderings after the Revolt resulted in your patent of nobility.”
        Bernyce said, “A bit before that, actually.  When I did the Grand Tour, I spent some time as the governess to a great-nephew of the Prince of Liechtenstein.  The family still has a soft spot in their hearts for me.”
        Heart, yes.  And . . . ?
        “I settled down as a Baroness last year,” Bernyce was saying, “but I took a trip to America to visit Stephen.”
        “What of the rest of the family?” Franklin asked.  “Your brother and sisters?”
        “Therese and Julia both live in Canada with their husbands now.  Very civilized country, compared to their southern neighbors.  As for Rodney – “ she waved dismissively.  “You do know he stayed in New Haven.”
        Franneleh blinked.  “Stayed?”
        “Oh yes.  My dear older brother and I never saw eye to eye on anything, least of all politics.”  Again with the silvery chuckle.  “I suppose you’d call him the red sheep of the family.”
        I joined in with her in chuckling at her joke.
        Appetizers over, we settled down to eat our main course and Franneleh said, “Your being in America doesn’t explain this trip.”
        “It doesn’t?  I’ll have to explain, then.”  She touched a napkin to her muzzle and said, “After I found out where you had gone, I engaged a detective to find out your address.  Hence the book’s arrival.  When I was in San Francisco I heard Stephen remark about Spontoon being a very nice place, so I simply had to come and see you.”  She glanced at me.  “Both of you.”
        “I’m flattered,” I said.
        She smiled.  “Of course, I do recall you from New Haven, Rosie.  I took in a performance of Spots and Stripes Forever once or twice – and of course I do recall your visits to the Academy.”
        I felt my ears go hot, especially as Franneleh’s eyebrow raised.  The Academy was a sort of upscale joy house in New Haven City way back in the Twenties, in case you didn’t know.  From what a couple guys told me the place used to be her house.
        Franklin was looking at me with keen interest.  “The Academy?  You never said you’d visited the place.”
        “Er . . . you never asked?”
        Bernyce asked, “Whatever became of your stage partner?  De Pantera, I believe?”
        “She got married.”  I wasn’t going to tell her to who.
        “How wonderful!” she said.  She reached over and took Franneleh’s paw.  “Enough of ancient history, though.  Tell me what you’re doing now, old friend.”
        Franneleh gave a shy smile and looked at me.  Bernyce followed his eyes and her smile got a LOT wider.
        She nodded approvingly and murmured, “You always DID have exquisite taste, Franklin,” sitting back as the main course approached.
        While we ate I shot a glance at Angelica.  She sat rigidly, eating a salad and occasionally sipping at a glass of ice water.  Coals to Newcastle, if you know what I mean.  Now, I know she’s a doe, but this dame came across like a predator.  She watched the entire room, and I guessed that ‘secretary’ included ‘bodyguard.’
        Franneleh asked, “How long will you be staying in Spontoon, Bernyce?”
        “About a week,” she said.  “Angelica has heard of a place here called the Double Lotus, and is keen to visit.”
        Franklin almost choked on his glass of water and my ears went *perk*.
        I knew there was something about the girl.
        I glanced back at Angelica and she smiled at me.
        “I’ll be happy to show her around.”
        Bernyce beamed.  “I’d hoped you would.”
        Franneleh recovered his poise.  “Same old Bernyce.”
        “Some things never change, Franklin,” she said.  She pressed a paw to her breast and sighed theatrically.  “A fallen woman with a checkered yet colorful past, still holding a place in her heart for the buck who said No to her.”  She chuckled.
        I sniggered.
        “Disgraceful, aren’t I?”
        Franneleh reached over and took her paw.  “Far from it.  Bernyce, it’s been many years, and a lot has happened.  I will confess that much of what happened in New Haven before the Revolt was buried.”
        “As it should have been.”
        “Be that as it may, your book reminded me of the one bright spot in my entire career at Collegiate.”
        Willow, I swear to you now I almost started crying at that.
        “My asking you to dinner?”
        “No.  Dr. Bartrop’s class, and the – “
        “The recitation, yes.”  Her eyes sparkled.  “You spoke so wonderfully.  None of the other young men there could hold a candle to you.  And I’m not referring merely to your accent.”
        “What did you see in him?” I asked.
        Bernyce turned to me.  “The eyes, my dear.  Few people have more expressive eyes than cervines.  And, while they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I always looked for the beauty of a person’s soul, reflected in their eyes.”  She looked back at your Da.
        “And you are one handsome man still, Franklin dear.”
        Franneleh’s cute when he blushes, and he went a cheery shade of red.  He gently coughed behind his napkin as Bernyce and I smiled at him.
        We enjoyed our dinner, and it wasn’t until the coffee that Franneleh said, “I fear that we must be going, Bernyce.  I have to get to work tomorrow.”
        “Of course, of course,” she said, signaling for the check.  “Will – will I see you both again?”
        It isn’t often when Franklin smiles.  He smiled this time and said, “I think that can be arranged.”

        The next day I got a few minutes clear and went to the Marleybone.  Angelica was waiting for me in the lobby, and again I felt a little twinge.  Fraulein Doe-ralumin isn’t exactly my type (too thin and probably not interested in cuddling) but she’s still attractive as hell.
        She was standing ramrod-stiff, facing down the ex-soldier at the front desk.  I felt the urge to salute.
        Lord knows my tail was trying to.
        “Hi, Angelica.  C’mon,” I said, “and I’ll show you around the Lotus.”
        “I should appreciate that, ja.”  She gave a slight smile and picked up a small leather bag, a bit larger than a purse.  She was wearing a different suit, a gray worsted that wasn’t as severely cut as her suit last night.
        When we got there I gave Eglantine, the big tigress that watches the door, a big hug and said, “Good to see you again, doll.”
        She grinned.  “Ain’t been the same without you around, Rosie.  Who’s the new gal?”
        “This is Angelica.  Angelica, this is Eglantine.”
        The roe doe sized her up as they shook paws. 
        I mean sized her up like a side of raw beef, and Eglantine was blushing as she gave her the once-over right back.
        We went into the Lotus and I introduced her around to the regulars, then had a tall cold one at the bar.  (A drink!)  Covina was the bartender and she wiped a glass clean while asking, “Who’s the new girl, Rosie?  Already nosing around on your buck?”
        I gave her a smile.  “Not on your life, Covina.  Would you stray on Brenda?”
        The Malinois thought it over, then smiled and shook her head. 
        I headed back to Luchow’s after I finished my drink.  Angelica was sipping a beer and talking animatedly with several girls, so I thought things were okeh on that score.

        Brush showed up the next morning, his ears down.
        Uh, oh.
        “Th’ Inspector gettin’ up?” he asked as he got his cup of joe.
        “Of course.  What’s up, Brush?”
        A sigh and a blush.  “Yez know a doe named Angelica von Neihardt?”
        Now my ears were going back.  “Yeah.  What happened?”
        “Desk sergeant gets a call last night.  Seems there was some kinda commotion on the beach near th’ amusement park over on Casino.  Constables found one Eglantine Smith and the von Neihardt dame out on the beach, starkers.”
        That was an eyebrow raiser; I mean, the bust, not that they were down to fur.  “What’d they get arrested for?”
        Another blush, so I had to guess what they’d been up to. 
        “They got court this morning.  The little doe mentioned your name, an’ th’ desk sergeant tipped me off when I called in.”
        “I see.  She’s working for a tourist over on Casino.  I’ll call so she can arrange bail.”  I leaned in.  “Not a word of this to the Inspector, okeh?”
        He looked at me, then nodded.
        Good guy, Brush.

        “They would not let me keep my whip,” Angelica said in a grumpy tone.  “That is most unjust.”
        First time I heard real emotion in her voice.
        “It has been in my family for generations,” she added.
        They wouldn’t let her keep the rope either, but I kept quiet about that.
        Eglantine had gotten out of jail with a happy grin and a promise to write Angelica. 
        Made me wonder.
        But not too much.

        After that, things settled down somewhat.
        Angelica didn’t stop going to the Lotus, oh no – she just stopped making it public.  I did hear tell of a couple jealous fights breaking out over her.  Fun gal, apparently.
        Finally Franneleh and Brush managed to break that airplane parts theft ring I was telling you about.  The two of us got a few more dinner invitations from Bernyce, but poor Franklin looked so tired that I sent back our regrets.
        Which got a reply, saying that she understood.
        Finally she sent an invite.  I waved it at Franneleh.  “What do you say?  You feel up to going over to the Marleybone for supper?”
        He thought for a moment.  “Yes.  The restaurant?”
        I reread it.  “No, her suite.”
        Fortunately the Marleybone has an elevator, so your Da didn’t have to take the (public) stairs, and Angelica answered the door.  She was dressed in a very severe gray skirt, a starched white blouse and – get this – a frilly apron.
        “Hi, Angelica,” I said.  “Going out tonight?”
        “Ja.  Afterward,” she said simply, and flashed me that smile again.  She ushered us in to find that a table for three had been set up, with the food set aside on a wheeled tray.  As we walked in, Bernyce stepped out of the bedroom.
        “How wonderful of you both to come!” and she kissed both of us.  “How are you feeling, Franklin dear?”
        Your Da patted her paw reassuringly.  “I’m all right, Bernyce.  It’s been a long few days, and I’m no longer quite the buck I used to be.”
        She smiled at that, and I wondered why.
        At one point in the main course Bernyce asked, “What happened to that case you were working on, Franklin?”
        “It turned out that there were a group of furs engaged in stealing high-precision – and therefore quite expensive – aircraft parts and selling them back to the people they’d stolen them from,” Franneleh explained.  I listened as I ate, while Bernyce had put her fork down and was listening intently.
        “The trail they left was confusing, as invoices had been forged.  When parts had been stolen from warehouses on Eastern Island, the thieves left no fingerprints.”  He took a bite or two of his own meal, a well-made and fluffy vegetable soufflé. 
        “So how did you break the case?” I asked.
        Your Da gets this look sometimes.  “As is usual in these cases, someone couldn’t keep their muzzle closed.  They were in a bar on Mildendo Island, well in his cups and boasting about how he and his friends had pulled one over on the Constabulary.  He was taken in for questioning.”
        “Mildendo Island?” Bernyce echoed.  “I’ve read about it, of course.  Isn’t that outside your jurisdiction?”
        “Yes.  However, not outside the Naval Syndicate’s.  Some of the parts had been earmarked for delivery to their base on Moon Island, so they were keenly interested in what this man had to say.  He was questioned and various names were forwarded to me.”
        “And with those names you were able to develop a case,” Bernyce said.
        “Just so.  We moved as quietly as possible, and we managed to catch most of them in the act as they were breaking into another warehouse.  Several of them were employees of a private security firm assigned to guard the very places they were stealing from.”  He smiled.  “Those furs pointed fingers at the higher-ups, and we were able to catch most of those as well.  A few had rewards on their heads from several countries, a fact that made the Finance Minister quite happy.”
        Bernyce and I applauded.  “Well done,” she said, and wouldn’t hear Franneleh’s protests that it was a team effort.  “I recall the Otterholt murders,” she said firmly.  “Although it was that nice Detective Pentaleoni who broke the case, he couldn’t have done it without your support and your devotion to duty, my dear.  Why, if things had turned out differently I’m sure you would have reformed the State Police from top to bottom.”
        He looked a bit grim at the reminder, but managed a smile.
        After dinner Angelica busied herself with clearing the table (ruthlessly efficient) and Bernyce asked, “Would you care for a drink, Rosie?  Perhaps some absinthe?”
        I tried not to snort.  “I tried it once – once.  The best use for a sugar cube is in a nice glass tea.”
        “I’ll have a small glass of Pineau, then.  Angelica, after you’ve cleaned up the rest of the night is yours.”
        “Danke, Baroness.”
        We had some small talk over drinks and I could see that Franneleh was starting to look tired.  “Perhaps we should go . . . “
        “Nonsense.  I have plenty of room.”
        That brought us both up short.
        I have to admit she intrigued me – and quite a bit, too.
        But Franklin?
        He managed a smile.  “Really, Bernyce.  I had thought you wouldn’t be interested in necrophilia.”
        A dark raccoon brow went up.  “You are most definitely not dead, dear Franklin.  May I remind you that I am older than you?” 
        “But definitely healthier.”
        She winked at me.  “I don’t suppose you’ve had any complaints, have you my dear?”
        “Um, well . . . “
        “I thought not.  Franklin, will you accept a truth from me?”
        An eyebrow went up.  “I’ve never known you to lie, Bernyce.  For any reason.  You’ve always been more than forthright.”
        “Sometimes embarrassingly so, I know.”  She clasped her paws together and studied them for a moment.  “As you get older, you realize that it’s not always the obvious that attracts men and women, or keeps them together.  It’s a touch, a scent, a glance here and there.  Companionship, Franklin.”
        He was looking at me as she said this.  Hell, I knew she was telling the truth.
        “And what have you done for companionship these many years, Bernyce?”
        She smiled.  “I have compensations, my old classmate.  Reginald knew that when I married him.”  She finished the last sip of her drink and set the glass down.  “Now, you look tired, my old friend, and so does your lady.  I am offering you the hospitality of my bed.”  Her tail swished.  “Please, Franklin, don’t say no again.”
        Willow, I have to admit I was intrigued.
        Hell, I *wanted* to spend the night with her.
        But it was up to your Da.
        Franklin looked at her, then down at his hooves, no doubt thinking back to that day at Collegiate.  He got to his feet.
        He put out a paw.
        “After you, Baroness,” he said, and smiled.
        Bernyce and I each stood and took one of Franneleh’s arms and we all stepped into the bedroom.
        Oh my.
        Yeah, the bedrooms at the Marleybone are big.  We left Franklin to get ready and get under the covers as we stepped into the bathroom to freshen up.
        While we were in there Bernyce snickered and said in a confidential tone, "Incidentally, it is quite true that furs who are crippled soon learn to compensate in other ways.  Some of them *most* surprising."
        I giggled.  I knew that.
        Dressed, Bernyce was lovely.
        Undressed – wow.
        In fact, it gave me an idea.
        The Marleybone’s a really fancy hotel, and the bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a small dressing room.  Keeping my voice down to avoid tipping off Franneleh, I laid out my idea to Bernyce. 
        She wholeheartedly agreed, and we set to work.
        Franneleh looked up as we came out into the bedroom, and I swear that if he’d been on his hooves he would have scraped a hole in the floor.
        Bernyce and I had dressed as quickly as possible, and your Da was looking at two geishas, one a beautiful raccooness and the other a zaftig and cuddly cheetah.  The cream silk I was wearing set off my spots.
        We wanted the night to be special, and Franneleh looked as if he felt the same way as the two of us slipped into bed on either side of him.
        Recall me telling you about the tango I danced with Ciss Lopp back in Tillamook?  Think of that, times ten and without clothes.
        In short, we made your Da feel like a pasha (although most pashas are probably not gentlemen like Franneleh).
        Also, Bernyce is quite cuddly – and FUN, too.
        We drifted off to sleep, wrapped around each other, and I can testify, under oath, that the beds at the Marleybone are comfortable.
        And big enough to sleep three people easily.

        The next morning we had breakfast together. 
        NO, not in bed.
        But there’s nothing like hot coffee and fresh hot croissants to chase away an appetite, you know?  Especially after a good night’s, well . . . sleep.
        Of course, you and Reggie (and Grace) are probably still at it, despite your delicate condition.
        Apparently Angelica had returned sometime late, as when we woke up we discovered that our clothes – mine and Franklin’s – had been spirited away, cleaned by the hotel’s laundry and were waiting for us.  Since dinner for three had been ordered, it was obvious the hotel staff knew what had been going on.
        And I was pleased to see that Franneleh took it in stride this time.
        Bernyce, radiant in a light tan satin nightgown and robe, sipped at her coffee and said, “I must confess I had a wonderful time.”  She smiled and we both smiled back at her.  “I almost hate to see the mood spoiled.”
        I glanced at the clock.  “I can afford to be late – well, at least once.  Vicky and Nick know what needs to be done – “
        “I think the Baroness had something else in mind, Rosie.”  Franneleh was giving his former classmate a penetrating look. 
        “Hmm.  Apart from the obvious – a return to bed –“ she giggled as I snickered “ – nothing, really.”
        Franneleh merely nodded and went back to his breakfast.
        I went back to mine, wondering what he was thinking.  Your father can be so close sometimes.

        A couple days later, we were invited back for a brief farewell before they left for the States.  A paw-written postscript from Bernyce said that she would understand if we couldn’t make it.
        Yeah, right.
        We met in the restaurant again.  “Leaving so soon?” I asked.
        “I’m afraid I must,” she said with her familiar warm smile.  “I seized the opportunity to come here to Spontoon to see you, Franklin.  And I leave having resumed one friendship and started another.”  She grinned, and suddenly looked a bit solemn.  “And to give you something before I leave.”
        Franklin raised a brow.
        “You’re aware, of course, that Diana and I were alumnae at Collegiate.”
        “Of course,” he said in a quiet, guarded tone.
        She nodded.  “Angelica.”
        The Duralumin Doe (who, by this time, had to have a list of Spontoonie addresses the size of the Gnu York phone book) reached into a carpetbag and passed her employer a small box of carved wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  Bernyce took it and held it out to Franneleh.
        He took it, but didn’t open it.
        For the first time I met her, Bernyce looked a bit uncomfortable.  “Back in 1929 - before I left – Diana dropped by.”
        He blinked.  “She did?”
        “Yes.  She told me that she was a bit apprehensive about the future.  She had heard I was going abroad, you see, so she wanted to give me a few things for safekeeping.”
        Not a word from my buck.
        He opened the box, and slowly looked down into it, his ears going straight down.
        Bernyce’s paw crept under the table, found mine, and squeezed.  I squeezed back to reassure her as we waited for his reaction.
        I craned my neck to see.
        Looked like some old family photographs and some papers, probably baptismal records.
        Franneleh sat back and looked at us, closing the box.
        The look on his face . . .
        It was MARVELOUS.
        He looked – transfigured, is all I can say.
        He set the box aside, stood – and abruptly swept Bernyce up in his arms, kissing her as he hugged her tightly.  She returned both, in spades, and held the pose for a long moment before resuming their seats, Franneleh wiping at his eyes and Bernyce looking a bit teary.
        Hell, I shared the sentiments.
        When he could finally speak, he whispered, “Thank you, Bernyce.”
        “You’re very welcome, dear Franklin.”

        We said goodbye at the Eastern Island terminal as the Clipper was being loaded.  When she got to me Bernyce hugged me close and whispered, “Take good care of him, Rosie.  Not for me, but for you.”
        “Count on it,” I said.  “I’ll be sure to write.”
        “As will I, along with a Christmas card.”  Her lips brushed my ear and I shivered deliciously.  “Scented.”
        “Oooh, you naughty girl.”
        “Well, there’s a reason raccoons have these masks, you know.”
        She hugged Franneleh again, and she and Angelica boarded the plane.

        So, that’s all there is, really.  I have a new long-distance pen pal and favorite person (along with a standing invite for both of us to visit her in Europe – that is, if IT’S still standing).
        Your Da is having the photographs framed (you were SO CUTE as a little fawn, you know?) and he plans on giving the records to Father Merino.
        He walks around with a bit more of a smile on his face now, by the way.
        Gotta run - I think I just heard K'nutt drop something.



Bernyce Pratt-Wallingford Teasing (with a fan) - art by Sinuke - character by Walt Reimer
Bernyce teasing (with a fan)
art by Sinuke (Larger file here - 549 KBytes)

Franklin & Rosie kiss (thumbnail) - art by KatieKat (Katie Lezotte) - characters by E.O. Costello & M.M. Marmel
Franklin & Rosie kiss - art by KatieKat (Katie Lezotte)
(larger file here - 526 KBytes)
(Characters by E.O.Costello & M.M.Marmel; commission via Walt Reimer)

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