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Posted 28 December 2010
The Gaze: The Glass Goose
Story & art by Warren Hutch

Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch


    Shortly after eluding their shadowy pursuer, Mrs. Pearl and Miss Early stood in a modest room in a modest hotel off of the main drag, a bit away from the noise and activity of the dock. The somberly clad feline stood and took in the details of the room with her glittering eyes.

    It was a smallish room, with slightly mildewed stucco walls painted a sea foam green. Long banks of wooden shutters lined the wall across from the small foyer she and her companion now stood in, built of native wood stained a dark brown and hinged at the top, meant to be propped upward by a hinged spar that attached from the bottom edge of the window frame. Currently they were closed, with bars of the harsh Spontoon sunlight coming into the dark room between the slats. She noted that the shutters had very simple locks comprised of a hinged plate that could be held in place with a wooden peg. Rattan blinds hung in tight rolls from the upper part of the window frame, with a long wooden pole hung from the wall supporting long curtains of colorful native cloth on wooden rings, which were currently drawn back to either end of the room.

    A long shelf ran the length of the wall beneath the window, deep enough to sit on, and for that purpose a few threadbare green velvet cushions were scattered along the length of the polished native wood. A low teak tray with a light blue glazed water pitcher and two yellow glass tumblers rested next to a cracked leather room service menu with a stylized pelican, the hotel's name and logo, on the cover.

    In the corner at the far end of the shelf, a few pink and white seashells and a dried starfish with a broken arm accented a white and blue glazed ceramic pot that contained an arrangement of livid red and orange native flowers and dark green fern fronds. The pot was of a much copied far eastern design, with a picture of an elegant snow leopard in flowing robes playing a flute among pine branches on a mountainside.
    Mrs. Pearl's eyes narrowed a bit as she peered inside to see a silvery microphone, with a thick wire snaking out through a hole in the base of the pot and out through a hole in the wall where the shelf made a corner with the wall and window frame.

    All the furniture in the room lined the wall opposite the windows. Two twin size beds with their headboards against the wall were neatly turned out with linen sheets, each bearing a comforter of colorful native woven cloth. Carefully patched mosquito netting hung from a flimsy looking frameworks that hung from the ceiling over each bed.

    Between the beds was a dark stained mahogany night stand with a cheap slip-cast ceramic lamp in the shape of a curling seashell coated with a runny aqua blue glaze and a rice-paper lampshade decorated with pressed fern leaves. There was nothing but a couple of dead silverfish inside the lamp, which plugged in behind the night stand to a cracked outlet plate.

    A scuffed black telephone sat off to the side, accompanied by a small wooden picture frame with a yellowed sheet containing a directory of numbers to dial in various languages beneath the fingerprint-marked glass.  She looked through the shell of the phone and noted the telltale signs of a crude tap in the receiver, its wire woven in with the normal phone line that snaked into the wall.

    Beyond the beds, a couple wooden suitcase stands leaned folded against the wall in the corner next to the door into the adjoining bathroom, which stood slightly ajar. She looked through the wall and noted the wooden floor gave way to checkered aqua and white tiles, with sea foam green fixtures. No tub, she was disappointed to note, but rather a shower stall with a green canvas curtain, suspended from a similar contraption to the hangers for the mosquito nets. A molded glass light fixture with a seashell motif hung from the ceiling with one burnt out bulb, the glass shell drilled with tiny holes and concealing yet another microphone.

    Someone had gone to a bit of trouble.

    The brown furred tabby snapped back into focus as her lapine companion picked up their luggage from where the grinning, bobbing Spontoonie bellhop had left them and laid them on the beds, then turned to face the feline expectantly.
    Mrs. Pearl met her eyes, holding a finger to her lips for quiet as she walked into the room and began speaking with a casualness that belied her pensive expression. "This is nice. We definitely have to thank somebody on Mister Frankenthaler's staff for setting us up with such a nice room."

    The rabbit doe nodded and cracked her knuckles with a scowl. "Yeah. I'm durn happy t'see they got their mosquito nettin' in good shape. I hear tell th' bugs 'round here are a caution..."

    Mrs. Pearl nodded as she walked up to the shelf and plucked one of the tumblers up off of the tray and filled it with lukewarm water, then continued down the length of the shelf to the flower pot. She leaned in and inhaled the soft perfume of the freshly cut native blossoms. "Mmmm. These are gorgeous! They're looking a little wilted, though."

    With that, she poured the glass into the pot, and was rewarded with a faint crackle and snap, accompanied by a smell of smoke. Setting the glass down next to the seashells, she crossed over to the bathroom, motioning for her cohort to follow her. Pushing the button on the wall caused the light above to come on, with one bulb doing little to brighten the dimness of the room and the other throwing no light at all.

    The tabby pointed upward to the glass dome and twirled her finger, giving her companion a meaningful look and receiving a curt nod in response. Miss Early reached into the pocket of her coat and produced a set of wire cutters, which she handed to her companion. The rabbit doe crouched down, wrapped her arms tightly around the feline's stocking clad legs, and lifted her up with a faint grunt, holding her up toward the light fixture with her booted feet set wide to balance their awkward position.   

"Bugs in the Hotel" Jane Early lifts Dorthy Pearl - from "The Gaze: Glass Goose" - art & story by Warren Hutch    The brown furred she cat unscrewed the dome as quickly and quietly as she could and pulled it down and away from the bare light bulbs. With a deft flick of her wrist, she snipped the wire from the dead bulb, and then replaced the glass dome as Miss Early held her steady and nodded in approval. When the corroded brass screws were back in place, Mrs. Pearl was gently lowered down to her feet.

    The rabbit doe leaned in and gave her a conspiritorial smile. "Y'all been eatin' regular, darlin'? Seems like y'all've lost a l'il weight."

    At this, the tabby rolled her eyes and beckoned her companion to follow her back into the room. "Well, we've been pretty busy lately, not a lot of time for a good meal. Maybe you ought to give room service a call."

    She cocked her head towards the phone and pointed at it, handing the wire cutters back to Miss Early. With a nod, the tan furred doe sat down on the bed, turned on the lamp, and picked up the receiver, gently unscrewing the black plastic mouthpiece.

    As she shook the receiver disk into the palm of her hand and studied the wires trailing from it, the sound of a phone ringing on the other end was heard, and a female voice with a slight Far Eastern accent answered. "This is the operator. How may I connect your call?"

    The rabbit doe inclined her long ear toward the handset and affected a casual tone as she noted an extra wire trailing from a blob of fresh solder on the back of the metal disk. "Hmmm. Yeah, uh..." She glanced across the room at Mrs. Pearl as the feline raised her hands behind her head to unpin her hat, then shrugged. "uh... gimme room service?"

    There was a brief pause before the operator replied. "One moment, please."

    As the click of the call being connected cut through a brief hiss of static, she nipped the extraneous wire, then gently replaced the works of the phone and screwed the black plastic cap back into place.

    Another voice, this time male, came over the phone as she winked at her feline companion and raised it to her ear. "Kitchen. What would you like to order?"

    At this, the rabbit doe placed her palm over the mouthpiece and called across to the tabby as she laid her hat carefully on the shelf by the window. "Would y'all like me t'order somethin' t'eat, Missus Pearl?"

    The feline shrugged noncommittally as she began to unbutton her jacket. "I'm not really too hungry. It's too hot for me to have much of an appetite."

    Miss Early gave her a concerned look and turned her attention back to the phone. "Uh.. How about y'all send up some fresh fruit, and somethin' cold t' drink."

    The voice on the other end of the line replied briskly. "We've got casaba and honey melons in season right now, and we've got a fine range of wine, beer, and soft drinks. I recommend either Nootnops Blue or Nootnops Red, which are bottled locally."

    The rabbit twitched an ear and glanced at her companion. "Uh, nothin' hard fer us. Jest send us up some o' them sodee pops and some honey melon."

    The voice on the other end replied with a confirmation. "All right. That'll be some honey melon slices and two bottles of Nootnops Red, for room three-eleven. It will be up shortly. Thanks for your order."

    The tan furred doe nodded in satisfaction."Yeah, thank y' kindly. Later."

    As soon as she'd hung up the phone, Miss Early shrugged out of her jacket and tossed her cap onto the bed next to her duffel bag, followed almost instantly by her shirt and tie. With her suspenders hanging down over her hips, she began to unwind the sweat stained cloth binding wrapped tightly around her chest.

    Unlike most females of her kindred, she was all hard, lean muscle, with almost no fat at all save for two notable deposits that bounced free when she cast aside the last of the bindings and stretched with a luxurious sigh, cracking her neck and shoulders with a blissful expression on her face.

    Across the room, Mrs. Pearl rolled her eyes and half turned away, laying her dark jacket on the bed and crossing to the window bench. Dark leather straps crisscrossed the forearms of her grey blouse. With a casual flick of her wrists, the spring loaded devices on the inside of each arm flipped a compact automatic pistol into each hand, a matched set that fit her delicate grip nicely.
    She double checked the safety catches, popping the magazines loose to engage the disconnect, and laid the tiny pistols out on one of the faded green cushions, where the sun gleamed through the slats in the shutters across the royal blue metal surface and pearl handles. A hint of silver glistened in the top of each grip, a stylized eye emblem, with a sapphire accented teardrop beneath it.

    The feline became engrossed in unbuckling the hideout rigs, only half hearing when the springs on one of the beds creaked under Miss Early's sleight weight, followed by the clunk of her hobnail boots hitting the floor, then a soft rustle of khaki and the rattle of suspender buckles.

    The sound that finally grabbed Dorothy Pearl's attention was the creak of one of the shutters, followed by the rustle of palm leaves on a salt and hibiscus-tinged gust of wind that rushed unexpectedly into the room, banishing the slightly dank stuffiness that had lingered there.

    She spun on her heel, tail frizzed to twice its normal diameter with alarm, to see the tan furred rabbit doe leaning forward over the window sill, with nothing on her taut, athletic body save for white gym socks and a pair of flimsy cotton boxer shorts. An appreciative whistle sounded from the street below, to which Miss Early smiled wryly and replied with a wave that transitioned smoothly into an upraised middle finger. 

"Jane at the Window" from "Gaze: The Glass Goose" Dorthy Pearl & Jane Early - art & story by Warren Hutch
Jane at the Window - by Warren Hutch (larger file here - 908 KBytes)

    A hot blush spread across Mrs. Pearl's cheeks beneath the faint tabby stripes. "Holy Mackerel! What... What are you doing? Don't stand by the window like that! People can see you!"

    It was Miss Early's turn to roll her eyes as she allowed the tropical breeze to ruffle her sand colored fur and close cropped, orange hair. "So whut? I saw plenty o' folks wearin' not much more n' this on the way over." Her voice took on a mock sinister tone. "What happened to "The Gaze sees all?", darlin'?"

    Mrs. Pearl stood rigid with flaring eyes and fists clenched down at her sides, as the rabbit doe casually reached around back, slipping her fingers beneath the elastic waistband of her sole garment and scratching down beside her fluffy tail.

    The flustered she cat drew herself up imperiously. "I don't know how it is where you come from, Miss Early, but these days a lady doesn't... put herself on display like that."

    The tan furred rabbit snorted and turned to fix her companion with a laconic gaze. "Where I'm from, darlin', gals got enough sense t' not drop dead from heat stroke wearin' a black suit in a hundred degree tropical zone. Seriously, y'all better shuck them duds fer somethin' lighter 'fore y'all keel over."

    The tabby's eyes flashed in anger. "Not until you close that shutter, thank you very much!"

    At this, the rabbit heaved a sigh and reached up, releasing the blind and allowing it to drop down over the window, The porous screen billowed in the tropical gusts but shut out the outside. Under her companion's glare, Miss Early proceeded to brace up the shutters and lower the blinds in front of them.

    When the last shade was in place, she crossed her arms in front of her and stared back at the feline with lips pursed impatiently. "There, y'all happy now?"

    The tabby stripes between the she cat's ice blue eyes deepened as she sullenly averted her gaze. "I've got two more fu... T-two more years before I can even LOOK happy. If I'll ever actually BE happy, well who knows?"

    The rabbit's expression softened as she reached up and laid her hands on Mrs. Pearl's shoulders. Her voice took on a soothing tone. "All right, Dorothy. What's REALLY buggin' y'all?"

    The feline sniffed and wiped her moistened eyes with the back of her hand. With a sigh, she shrugged out of her companion's gentle hands, crossed over to her jacket, its dark charcoal outline making a silhouette against the bright native cloth of the bedspread, and pulled the photograph from one of the inside pockets.

    She then walked back to the rabbit doe and gravely handed it to her. "Just this. Brought back some memories is all. It was taken at the Spring Cotillion in thirty-five, just after Eddie proposed."

    She averted her eyes, the ice blue irises softening in the lingering tears. "I try to set it aside and stay focused on the task at hand, but I still miss him, sometimes so bad I can't stand it...."

    Miss Early nodded solemnly. "I know it, darlin', and I'm sure that wherever it is he's lookin' down on y'all from, he know's y'all're keepin' him deep in yer heart."

    The tabby female nodded and let out a heartfelt sigh, and began to undo her cravat, taking care to remove the glittering jewel brooch and lay it carefully on the cushion next to her pistols.

    When she turned back to face her tan furred cohort, she gave her a  melancholy half smile as her delicate hands reached up to unbutton the onyx buttons down the front of her grey blouse. "There are times, though, where I really want to strip out of these damn widows' weeds and run down the street as naked and carefree as those Spontoonie girls posing for photos down by the docks."

    Her smile faded a little as she looked down at her open blouse. "And it makes me feel sort of guilty for thinking that way. Like I'm... letting him down..."

    The rabbit doe gave her a lopsided grin as she turned and laid the photograph down next to her cohort's brooch and pistols. "Well, I'd also be willin' t'bet that wherever yer husband is, it's air conditioned. I'm sure he wouldn't want y'all walkin' around broilin' like y'all were down in the other place." 

    Mrs. Pearl gave her companion a fragile smile as she slipped the silk blouse down off of her sweat matted shoulders, revealing a lighter, dove grey slip underneath that was dampened with her perspiration. Miss Early stepped forward and took the blouse and draped it in the crook of her arm, walking around behind to begin undoing the eye hooks on the taillet of her companion's charcoal colored skirt. The tabby took hold of the span of dark lace running along the slip's décolletage, peeled the grey satin away from her chest, and lightly shook the sodden fabric to send some air down her front.

    She cast a rueful glance over her shoulder to the rabbit doe. "As usual, when you're right you're right, Jane. I was positively roasting out there. I guess in all the rush I didn't really prepare too well for this trip."

    The dark skirt slid down the grey satin of the slip and to the floor in the tan furred rabbit's hands. The feline stepped lightly out of both it and her patent leather shoes.

    The athletic doe gathered up the skirt and cast a grin up to her companion. "Maybe we can find y'all one o' them Spontoonie sarong thingies in black."

    The feline cocked an eyebrow with a wry smile as she looked over at the cushion cradling her brooch and pistols. "Tempting, but I don't think I'd have many places to hide things."

    Miss Early let out a chuckle as she stood, folded the skirt neatly, and crossed the room to lay it atop of the jacket on her cohort's bed. "I reckon that's the idea, darlin'."

    She shrugged as she crossed over to her valise and began rooting around inside. "But I s'pose it wouldn't be practical. We'll have t' do a l'il shoppin' while we're here."

    She pulled out a tightly rolled bath towel, which she unfurled and draped across her shoulders as she headed toward the bathroom. She paused at the door with a cocked ear, giving Mrs. Pearl a nod. "I'm gonna hit the shower. Just y'all relax and unwind fer a spell. Be out in a bit."

    With that, she stepped inside and closed the door behind her.

    The brown furred tabby gave her an absent minded nod as she shrugged the spaghetti straps of her slip off of her shoulders. She let it cascade down to the floor, and stepped out of the resulting pool of sodden, dove grey cloth, stretching a slender body crisscrossed by black lace and satin with a grateful sigh. She unbound her dark hair and let it tumble down over her shoulders.

    Just then breeze caused the rattan blinds to billow and rattle in the muted sunlight they provided, causing the feline's shoulders to bunch up as she ran her fingers through her flowing locks. A low, rumbling purr sounded from her chest as her faintly striped tail waved sinuously behind her.

    After basking in the gentle, soothing wind for a few moments, the tabby crouched down and gathered up her discarded slip, shaking it out and throwing it across the foot of her bed next to her suit in hopes that it would dry out a little. She leaned down and flipped the latches on her suitcase.

    A patter of running water sounded from behind the bathroom door, soon accompanied by the muffled tones of one of the incomprehensible songs about "throwing elbows" in the "pit" that her rabbit cohort would sometimes sing to herself in unguarded moments.

    The feline smiled bemusedly to herself as she unsnapped the garter clips on her stockings and opened the clasps on her girdle, unwrapping it from around her slender torso and tossing it into the case, followed soon after by her black lace brassiere. She grabbed up a dusky purple satin dressing gown from among the tightly packed garments and shook it out, slipping it on over her shoulders. 

    Before she drew it closed, she looked down at herself and took stock. Miss Early had been right about other things, she had been losing weight. Her ribs were beginning to show, her skin stretched a bit tighter, her fur a bit duller, a bit darker.

    As she had progressed into the strange, shadowy world she now inhabited, when she paused long enough to look at herself in the mirror, she noted that the soft, pampered curves of a Noreaston socialite had given away to the hard, sinewy edges of something she didn't know the name of. Definitely not as pronounced as her rabbit cohort's amazing physique, but striking in its difference from the girl in white she had been on the morning of that terrible day, with its afternoon in red that had left her a female in black by nightfall.

    And there were scars now, unbrushable flaws, bare patches, and blemishes in the former sleekness of her fur. Here, where a bullet had grazed her left shoulder from the gun of a panicked mob torpedo. There, where a gangster's moll in mortal terror had slashed at her with a switchblade across her collarbone. Around back, where some shotgun pellets had lodged and had to be dug out by her lapine cohort with an Alpine knife sterilized over a burning sterno can in the back of a deserted speakeasy, while the feline nearly bit through a rolled napkin to keep from screaming.

    She sighed, and tied the dressing gown loosely closed, shaking her head. She planted her foot on the bed to roll her dark colored stocking down her thigh and over her knee, noting another spot of discolored fur where some sulfuric acid had dripped off of a table and burned through both skirt and garter before she'd slipped the ropes that had bound her to a nearby chair. Her drooping ears perked up as a knock came to the door.

    She stood up, absently rolling the stockings into a ball and tossing it into the suitcase, and crossed over to the cushion on the window shelf where her weapons lay. Plucking the eye shaped brooch up and palming it, she turned back toward the door with a swishing tail as another knock softly broke the silence.

     Her glittering eyes narrowed as her gaze extended through the door. A male canine stood expectantly, dressed in a lava lava, deck shoes, a round cap, and a white, high collared coat with the hotel's pelican logo embroidered on the lapel.
    In his hands he carried a tray with a covered plate, a couple of sweating bottles of a mellow red soft drink with a red and white label, a church key with a tiki-face handle, a couple of tumblers, and a stainless steel bucket full of ice. She looked through the dull metal of the cover and saw succulent green slices of melon arranged on a plate with some purple black native berries scattered around them.

    She studied the male beneath the clothing, again decorously stopping herself from peering beneath his loincloth. It was embarrassing enough for her to be standing there staring at him wearing little more than a dressing gown. His hide was mottled in brown and white with long drooping ears that were pierced for earrings but lacked any adornment, probably since he was on the job. His fur thinned over his belly and inner thighs, the skin beneath a deep tropical tan, with a tattoo of stylized ocean waves around his protruding navel in dark, black ink. He wore sea urchin spines decorated with tiny glass beads pierced thru his nipples, which struck the Sylvanian female as seeming like a rather uncomfortable fashion statement.

    The feline's ears flattened slightly as she noted needle marks running in tracks under the fur of his forearms, although overall he was still youthful, and his physical conditioning was sound, marking him as having just started down the addict's path to self destruction.

    Her glittering eyes shifted focus and concentrated on the dog's aura. At his core he was a cocky young idiot who's life was slipping more and more out of control without him even being aware what was happening. She noted hints of nervousness and deception at the forefront, deep undercurrents of superstition and blithe ignorance, with the cravings of his new, to him urbane, habit ever present, but not so relentless yet as to make him the sort of hollowed out ghost she'd seen more than she would have ever cared to in her battles with the criminal underworld back in Sylvania.

    Still, signs indicated trouble, and he would have to be dealt with. Gently, if she could manage it, because he was just a pawn. She glanced at her pistols. No need for the Widow's Tears to weep today. Just the power of the Eye of the Guardians glittering in her hand would be sufficient.

    She sighed to herself and muttered under her breath. "So much for relaxation..."

    Having taken the intruder's measure, she glanced back at the bathroom door, straightened her dressing gown so that modesty was satisfied, and assumed a nonchalant expression. Another knock, a bit more impatient, came to the door.

    She sashayed across and answered it, slipping the brooch into one of her pockets and peeking out tentatively with an innocent look on her face. "Yes?"

    A broad grin spread across the canine's features. "Room service, Miss!"

    At this, the feline opened the door and stepped into view. When he met her piercing gaze, the smile on his face faded. Hers stayed firmly in place. "Oh good. I hope you didn't have to go to too much trouble."

    Her ice blue eyes began to glitter as the canine began to talk, his own brown eyes rivited on hers and growing wide and white around the edges at the torrent of words coming out of his mouth unbidden. "N... no trouble at all miss. It's an easy job, really. Almost not like work at all. The cook makes it up and gets the ice and drinks out of the ice locker and gives them to me and I take them up to the rooms. I hope you give me a good tip and aren't cheap like most of the tourists who come here and act like they own the place. Of course, I already made a good fifty shells profit from a pal of mine who poured something on the melon slices from a little vial he had in his pocket. He told me it was just something to put you and your friend asleep and I hope that's true and it's not poison 'cos I'd probably feel bad about that, and even though you're a cat and a stuck up foreign tourist you've got a nice body and I can kind of see your melons through that fancy robe of yours and it's all I can do to keep my other tail from wagging if you know what I mean and I hope you don't because I don't want to get slapped on the face or even worse kicked down below because I can't quite believe I'm telling you all of this and I'm kind of getting frightened that you're a witch."

    He stopped, pale and shaking, as the feline clasped the front of her robe tighter and held up a hand for silence. Her chilling eyes bored into the hapless canine. "This... 'pal' of yours. Who was he? Describe him, please."

    The waiter's knuckles went white beneath the mottled fur of his fingers as another stream of uncontrolled speech escaped him. "His name's Artie Shaw, but they all call him Aggie. He's a fox. He's got a notch in his ear and one of his eyes don't look anywhere but straight ahead. Don't know where he comes from but he's not a Spontoonie. Hangs around down by the Red Light dock on Casino Island and sells heroin and opium to the night girls and gamblers. He supplies the sailor who sells to me and my friends."

    The scowling feline glanced down at the bottles of soda on the tray then returned her glare to the sweating dog's brimming eyes. "Did he do anything to those bottles?"

    The canine shook his head, unable to avert his gaze from hers. "No miss. They're sealed at the bottling plant. There's no way we could tamper with them without it being obvious."

    At that, Dorothy gave a curt nod and reached up to pluck the bottles off the tray, causing the shaken dog to flinch back from her. With his tail tucked tightly behind, he began to back away as she glared at him, looking like he was ready to run, but still riveted by the chilling effect of her eyes.

    She cocked a hip, allowing the bottles to hang down between her fingers as she clasped her robe tightly shut with her other hand. "Wait a moment. I do have a tip for you."

    He paused, tentatively raising an ear as the tray with its unclaimed plate rattled in his hands. "Y-yes, Miss?"

    A smirk came to her faintly striped features. She took a step toward him. "Stop taking drugs, and stop associating with dealers. If you talk to him again, I will know it. If you tell anyone about what happened here, I will know it. If you ever let anyone slip something into anybody's food again, I will know it. If you ever take another hit, I will know it..."

    A sob of terror escaped the cringing waiter's throat as shreds of darkness coalesced around the terrifying female, transforming her before his eyes into a looming outline of infinite blackness, the icy blue of the eyes carving fear into his heart.

    A throaty growl rumbled from the depths of the apparition. "... and you will suffer."

    The ineffable figure seemed to bunch in on itself, as if preparing to pounce. Suddenly, it surged toward him, the eyes flaring like frozen suns.


"Room Service" Laffi the waiter, Mrs Pearl (The Gaze) from "Gaze: The Glass Goose" - art & story by Warren HutchRoom Service - by Warren Hutch (larger file here - 1.1 MBytes)

    The waiter let out a yelp, tossing the tray down with a clatter and running for dear life down the hall without looking back.

    The black shadows dissipated again around the slender form of Dorothy Pearl, as the muffled sound of yips and cries accompanied by the sound of a body tumbling and crashing into a wall came from the stairs. Glancing warily down the hall, she crouched down over the scattered contents of the tray and plucked the church key up from the ground, then hastily retreated to the room and slammed the door behind her.
    Miss Early came ambling out of the bathroom with the towel wrapped around her svelte, muscular frame, her roughly dried fur and hair coming to dampened points all across her body.
    As Mrs. Pearl casually used the church key to pop the cap off of one of the bottles of Nootnops Red, she cocked an ear and glanced quizzically past her feline cohort toward the door,  "Was that room service jest now?"

    The feline threw back her head and took a long pull from the bottle before she answered, gazing offhandedly at the label. "Mm. Good..." Her striking eyes rose to meet her lapine companion's. "Yes, it was room service. I'm afraid the melon was a little off, so I sent it back."

    At her cocked eyebrow, the tan furred doe gave her a searching look. "So... I reckon' we prolly wanna eat out tonight, huh?"

    The tabby nodded and handed her the other bottle of soda from the shelf ledge by the windows, then walked back over to her suitcase.

    A shabbily dressed, drab furred fox lingered at the back entrance of the hotel by the bamboo screened garbage heap, leaning against the wall with a cigarette hanging loosely from his lips as much to keep the flies away as to soothe his nerves.

    He absently rubbed something spherical on one of the cleaner areas of his faded, tropical pattern shirt as he peered down the alley with one squinting eye, while he kept the other screwed tightly shut. After pausing to examine the object, he cupped it in his palm and shoved it into his clenched eye socket, blinking to settle it into position before resuming his vigil with both eyes open.

    He let out a shout of alarm and leapt aside with a frizzed tail as the door slammed open beside him and the young Spontoonie waiter stumbled out and stopped to frantically look around the shadowy back alley. His white cap was gone and his formerly slicked back hair disheveled, and a line of blood trickled down from a welling bruise on his forehead.

     A moment later the fox recovered his wits and growled at the canine, settling his battered porkpie hat back on his head and glaring at him with one bloodshot grey green eye. The other was looking sightlessly off toward another corner of the alley. "Aslan's aching tail, Laffi! You scared the ever lovin' crap outta me!"

    At the sound of his voice, the young dog turned and let out a shrill yelp, bounding backwards until he slammed into a nearby row of rubbish bins, making their tin lids crash loudly and nearly toppling backward over them. With terror widened eyes, he cowered back from the puzzled vulpine, who took a step toward him. "What the hell is wrong with you? Did you slip those dames the mickey like I told you? Hey?"

    The shabby fox let out a stronger curse and ducked as the panicked dog grabbed one of the trash cans, hurled it at him and then fled pell mell down the alley. As he ran, he tore open his disheveled uniform jacket, stumbling off balance as he cast it off of his mottled shoulders and left it lying in the alley behind him, followed shortly by his lava lava and shoes, before vanishing around the corner at a desperate run clad only in a loincloth.

    The lurker's ears levered back as he stared, jaw dropped, after the fleeing Spontoonie youth. He cast a nervous glance up at the hotel, then crouched down and plucked his smoldering cigarette up off of the ground and took a pull, furrowing his brow in deep thought.

    At the sound of a commotion from inside he hastily stood and ducked out of sight, pressing himself against the bamboo screen as a stocky Spontoonie otter in a chef's tunic with a dew rag on his head leaned out the door, calling in the native lingo after the waiter. After futilely calling a few times, the cook shrugged and went back inside shaking his head, muttering to himself. The disreputable tod lurking behind the screen knew enough relevant Spontoonie to recognize their phrase for "junkie" among the otter's epithets.

    The fox relaxed his tense posture as the door slammed behind the receding chef. He finished his cigarette and tossed it down at the ground, crushing it out under the heel of his sandal with a sour look on his face made slightly comical by the odd angle of his false eye. "Better tell the boss..."

    With that, he cast one more glance around the alley, jammed his hands into the pockets of his baggy, threadbare slacks, and hurried away in the opposite direction to Laffi's panicked flight.

        The Gaze: The Glass Goose