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Posted 31 January 2011
The Gaze: The Glass Goose
Story & art by Warren Hutch

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


    There was a commotion at the Pelican hotel as the tabby and her rabbit doe companion came walking up the crushed coral path from the main thoroughfare. As they entered the lobby, Mrs. Pearl's luminous eyes darted back and forth beneath her veil, taking in the scene.
    The hotel lobby was all dark wood paneling and white stucco, decorated in a tropical take on Art Deco stylings, with cleverly designed wall sconces designed to look like stylized pelicans with their bulging beaks holding the lightbulbs. Up above, large ceiling fans lazily spun, circulating the air in from the open veranda out front. A woven rattan mat covered the floor in front of the front desk, with it's banks of guest mailboxes and glinting brass keys hanging from a hook in front of each one, flanked on either side by large ceramic pots containing lushly curling fern plants, and painted with flying, large billed sea birds. A cracked leather couch accompanied by a long, low coffee table strewn with aged La Vie and Worldview magazines and fresh tourist brochures was tucked into an alcove next to the well worn stairs leading up to the rooms. A blue and yellow parrot perched on a large brass ring by one of the open windows facing out on the veranda, muttering "Do you have a reservation?" again and again to itself between squawks and bobs of its head at the turmoil that surrounded it.
    There were several uniformed Spontoon constables in evidence, mostly doing crowd control as a gaggle of curious tourists and locals milled about, discussing the goings on as if they were at a sporting event.
    A constable came rushing up to the feline and Miss Early with the hotel's manager, a thin, white furred fox of Tundric extraction who dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief he pulled out of the breast pocket of a dark jacket monogrammed with the hotel's pelican heraldry.
    He turned to the uniformed Spontoonie police dog and nodded at the brown furred tabby. "These are the occupants of the room in question, Constable. Both of them."
    A puzzled look crossed the canine's face as he laid eyes on Miss Early. "Didn't we just run you in?"
    At this, the rabbit's ears drooped, and she cast a rueful glance at her feline cohort. "Aw crap..."
    She shook her head and composed herself and then looked impassively at the law officer. "Uh... y'all must be mistaken, officer. I was out all afternoon on Casino Island with my friend here."
    Mrs. Pearl flicked an ear, her gaze intensifying as she looked the constable in the eyes. "Would you care to explain what's going on? What about our room? Who got "run in", as you put it?"
    The constable's brow furrowed as he felt an urge to tell her everything he knew. "There was a violent confrontation in your room, ma'am. A burglary gone bad, by the look of it. We're not sure how many more there might have been, but we've got a fox, a dog, and a cat in the hospital and we've got a female rabbit in custody who's the spitting image of your companion there, and who claims to have been one of the occupants of the room."
    She broke eye contact with him, leaving him blinking uncertainly and shaking his head distractedly, as she looked over at Miss Early in alarm. The rabbit pursed her lips and let out a curse under her breath. The feline turned her attention back to the constable with a serious look on her face. "Can we go to up to our room?"
    With a distracted blink, the dog cleared his head and looked at her gravely. "I think that would be a good idea. I'm sure the Detective would very much like to talk to you."

    Their quaint tropical hotel room was a shambles when the constable led them through the door, causing both females to stop and gasp. The mosquito nets were torn down, their hangars dangling ragged shreds as they hung at odd angles over the overturned beds. The colorful curtains had shared a similar fate, ripped off of the rings of the cracked shaft of the curtain rod. The lamp and vase were smashed, the shade trampled and the flowers scattered and crushed. The suitcase and duffel bag were turned open and their contents scattered across the scene. The night stand smashed to splinters. The bench shelf by the windows had been swept clear, the cushions torn open and the cork pellets filling them scattered across the savaged rattan mats on the floor. There were several dents in the walls, with cracked indentations in the plaster.
    A knot of constables stood around a tall, dark-haired male feline with his hands crossed behind his back over his pensively waving tail, talking among themselves and looking out the gaping hole left in the bank of windows. Several of the room's shutters were smashed out, the broken fragments hanging from the wooden hinges over the crumpled shreds of the rattan curtains.
    Mrs. Pearl nodded do herself as she noted the kindred of the male in charge and continued scanning her surroundings with her uncanny vision, her icy eyes gleaming beneath her veil. The fact he was a cat would make it much easier for her to clear things up.

    As the constable crossed the room to speak to the plainclothes detective, Mrs. Pearl's glittering gaze fell on something incongruous on the floor in front of her. She crouched down and plucked a glass eyeball up off the floor, looking at it quizzically as it looked back.
    She was jarred out of her reverie by a polite voice calling from across the room. "Excuse me, ma'am. That's evidence you're handling."
    She looked up at the feline detective and met his warm amber eyes as he turned, caught off guard by how handsome he was. The tabby stood there, her mouth slightly agape and her eyes glimmering as he walked across the room to where she and her lapine companion stood.
    Before her gaze his light colored linen jacket vanished into nothingness, followed by his olive brown slacks, his subdued native patterned shirt and dark tie, his cotton tank top, his native patterned boxer shorts, garters and black socks, and finally his neatly polished oxblood-colored shoes, the leather wallet in his pocket containing his brass Spontoon Detective's badge, and the shoulder holster tucked under his left armpit that cradled a .38-Special with a tiki figure carved into the rosewood grip, each item of clothing becoming insubstantial and quickly ablating into the air, leaving every inch of his chiseled, ginger furred frame deliciously exposed to her before she realized what she was doing.

"Charmed, I'm Sure" (Detective Mike Tillawei, Miss Jane Early, Mrs. Dorthy Pearl)  (from The Gaze: The Glass Goose) - art & story by Warren Hutch
Charmed, I'm Sure - by Warren Hutch - (Larger file here - 783 KBytes)

    A hot blush spread across her faintly striped face as her tail began to lash back and forth in tight curls behind her, her glittering eyes unable to pull away from his physique. So... long. It had been so long.
    Jane cleared her throat and nudged her elbow. "Uh... Missus Pearl? Earth t' Dorothy, are y'all still with us?"
    The detective let out a warm chuckle as he held out his hand. "While you're busy making eyes at me, I'll just take that one from you, please."
    The brown furred tabby shook her head, causing his clothing to reappear before her, and stammered out an apology, as she pressed the milky white sphere into his palm, her touch lingering for a moment before she pulled her hand away. "Oh... oh my. I'm sorry, Mister..."
    He took the glass eye and slipped it into the pocket of his jacket, giving her a nod in greeting. "It's Detective. Mike Tillawei, Spontoon Detective Service."
    As he reached up to pull out his badge and flash it, Mrs. Pearl's faintly luminous eyes caught the glint of a gold band around his left middle finger. Her ears drooped slightly in embarrassment, tinged with an uncomfortable sense of disappointment, as she gave him a halting nod in greeting. "My name is Dorothy Pearl. I was renting this room with my traveling companion, Miss Jane Early."
    As she indicated the rabbit doe standing tensely beside her, the handsome cat did a double take, and interrupted the brown furred feline with an exclamation, staring at Jane with an expression that was equal parts confusion and suspicion. "Wait a minute. What are YOU doing back here so quickly?"
    The tan furred doe shoved her ball cap back on her head and gave him a cagey look. "I ain't got no idea what y'all're talkin' about, mister. I was with my compadre here th' whole dang day."
    Mrs. Pearl cleared her throat and interjected before the ginger furred cat could reply. "Can you tell me what happened here, Detective Tillawei? We've been on Casino Island all afternoon, and only just got back a few minutes ago."

     The male feline's brow furrowed as he looked at them with narrowed eyes. "Is that so? Both of you?"
    A quizzical look crossed the female feline's face. "Of course. Miss Early has been with me the whole day. If you need corroboration, you can talk to the hotel's concierge, or the water taxi drivers who took us out and back. Their names were Mister Kapua and Mister Palaulu, boat numbers: Two-oh-three-seven-oh-four and five-seven-five-five- seven-oh-two, respectively."
    The cat pursed his lips, a pensive look crossing his face as his tail waved sinuously behind him. "You'll excuse my skepticism, ma'am, but you seem awfully glib with those license numbers."
    Mrs. Pearl's eyes glittered as a faint smile came to her lips. "I've got an eye for detail."
    The detective crossed his arms in front of him. "Well, the details and the numbers aren't adding up here, Missus Pearl." He looked at the tan furred rabbit with searching eyes. "A rabbit doe who looks exactly like you and who also happens to answer to the name 'Jane Early' was arrested in this very room for assault and battery, destruction of private property, and disturbing the peace, several hours ago."
    He began to slowly rock back and forth on his heels as he looked them both over. "The only possible explanations are either you somehow smuggled an identical twin sister in past the hotel staff and the customs officers on East Island."

     He paused, his amber eyes focusing on Miss Early as she fidgeted. "Or else you got on the water taxi with your friend here this afternoon, jumped off somewhere in the middle of the lagoon and swam back, slipped into the hotel and trashed this room whilst beating the tar out of three full grown males, then waited around for the constables to show up and turned yourself in, and THEN somehow escaped from the holding cells down at the station, found a change of clothes and met up with your friend, then came back here."
    The feline and rabbit glanced at one another, then Miss Early spoke with a resigned tone to her voice. "Well, I guess th' only thing t' do is t' git on over t' the station with y'all and count heads, huh?"
    The cat stood for a moment in thought, stroking his chin as he considered the two females.
    He gave a nod. "Yeah, I suppose that'd be the quickest way to settle this."
    He turned crossed the room, snagging a short brimmed fedora up off of the emptied shelf beneath the bank of windows and turned, calling out instructions to the uniformed constables in Spontoonie.
    Jane leaned in and whispered to her cohort. "Y'all okay thar, Missus Pearl. Y'all seem a l'il... distracted right now."

     The feline pulled her gaze away from the ginger furred detective and cleared her throat, looking at her companion with a furrowed brow. "Not... not at all, Miss Early. Just thinking about my... um... our next move."
    The rabbit doe gave her a wary look, her voice dubious as she spoke. "Uh huh..."
    Her expression became conspiratorial. "Y'all gonna work yer mojo on this feller?"
    The brown furred tabby drew herself up and spoke in an outraged whisper. "MISS Early, I would never even THINK of..."
    She caught herself, her ears levered back as a thoroughly nonplussed expression crossed the tan furred doe's face. She lowered her voice. "I... I mean... I'll have to see. I haven't looked at his aura yet. I don't like to use The Gaze on the good guys. Hopefully we can get you out of jail without..."
    She stopped as Detective Tillawei approached them, settling his hat on his head. "All right, the boys will straighten up here. You ladies ready to go?"
    Mrs. Pearl cast a glance at Miss Early, sighed and nodded. "Please lead the way, Detective."

    They walked down the thoroughfare toward the docks, striking west toward the rapidly setting sun. The crushed coral gravel of the road gave way to the broad planks of a boardwalk that overlooked a long stretch of beach along the island's north coast, its churned-up sand covered in the footprints of throngs of tourists who'd spent the day enjoying the pleasures of sun and surf. Now the teeming crowds had narrowed down to the barest scattering of lingering couples and solitary beachcombers. Come the high tide, even their traces would be wiped away to a blank slate, ready to be drawn upon by more cavorting feet the following day.
    As the electric lights began to cast their warm light in pools down the darkening boardwalk in response to the lights of the resorts twinkling to life, Mrs. Pearl took the opportunity to study the Detective's aura as she and her companion walked in step behind him.

     Her regard for him went up as she saw patterns familiar to her eyes. Those of police detectives she had known in Vale, the loyal, tenacious, hard working, dependable foot soldiers of justice who worked so tirelessly under her husband's guidance in the war against organized crime. The ones who never took payoffs from the mob. The ones who'd stand between an innocent and a hail of bullets without blinking. The ones who had turned up in the pouring rain with hats in hand at the funeral, each one wishing in his heart he could have been standing there to do just that on that terrible day in June.

    She felt a twinge of guilt in her heart at the memory, ruefully cursing her weakness at so brazenly ogling him back at the hotel. She could see he was an honest cat, and deeply devoted to his wife. She fought to keep her eyes from misting over at the thought of what similarities she would have seen in her Edison's aura. There were too many painful ways Detective Tillawei reminded her of him.
    She blinked out of her reverie and perked up her ears as Miss Early cocked an ear of her own and called out to the back of the male feline's head. "So Detective, who're these other fellers whose tails, me (or my shadow), allegedly kicked?"

     Tillawei turned and looked thoughtfully at the rabbit doe for a moment, then shrugged. "No harm in telling you, I guess."

    He shifted the shoulders of his jacket and began to describe them. "One of them was a fellow I've had some dealings with before, none of them good. He's a fox with a glass eye who goes by the name 'Aggie'. Sells dope down at the Red Light Dock on Casino Island." He shook his head. "I can't help but feel sorry for the miserable little creep, though. I've never seen anyone as badly worked over as he was when we found him at the scene."
    He sniffed as if expelling a bad odor from his nose. "The other two I don't know. One's a neko. He had the tattoos and docked pinky that says he's one of those yakuza scumbags who get dumped off the boat from Kokoro with the rest of the trash once in a while. We couldn't tell where the tattoos ended and the bruises began on him."
    The two females gave each other a sidelong glance as he continued. "The third male was a Stepplander, one of those poor dogs with the docked tails and collars that you see in the newsreels, marching in the wolves' big parades behind the horses." The detective let out a pensive breath. "He's big as Mount Kiribatori and twice as solid from the look of him, but even then, before the two of you showed up the biggest mystery of the night was how he could still be breathing after getting tossed through a wall and hitting the pavement three stories below."
    He looked searchingly over his shoulder at them. "Any of that ring any bells, ladies?"
    Miss Early gave the Detective an impassive shrug. "Cain't rightly say. Y'all got any idea what a bunch o' sidewinders like that'd be doin' in our hotel room?"
    The feline detective shook his head, his lips pursed and his brow furrowed suspiciously. "Can't say. We'll make sure to ask 'em when they regain consciousness."
    Miss Early smiled as he looked away, cracking her knuckles before jamming her hands into her pockets, casting a smug glance over at Mrs. Pearl, who rolled her eyes and shook her head, softly tsking to herself.

    Eventually the boardwalk gave way to more crushed gravel paths, leading around a hooked span of land that pointed back around toward Casino and Meeting Islands as they glittered with light across the lagoon. A cluster of low buildings lit with electric lights could be seen in the distance, tucked into the small bay formed by the curving peninsula. The path they walked was lit by guttering lanterns hanging from bamboo poles, much more dim than the lights of the sprawling main drag that ran along the row of resort hotels but still attracting clouds of fluttering insects.
    The rustling silence was broken by the faint sound of a solemn church bell that rang in the far distance over the hush and rush of the tide, its trailing last note superseded by the sound of several clear, melodious female voices that were raised on the night air as the sun vanished over the horizon.
    Mrs. Pearl cocked an ear and listened, a wistful look on her face. "That's beautiful."
    At her side, Miss Early nodded. "Yeah. I normally go fer stuff with a more drivin' beat, but that's right purty."

     Detective Tillawei's expression became reverently thoughtful as he perked up his ears. "That's the Wise Ones singing the Evening Song. They're saying goodbye to the sun, until it comes back in the morning. They'll sing a song to welcome it when it returns."
    They all paused, none of them wanting the crunch of their feet on the gravel to intrude as the melody rose from scattered voices, some near and some far, twining in sweet harmony until the last note trailed off as the last smudge of crimson faded from the dark velvet above.
    Tillawei sighed, then resumed his businesslike expression and waved them along. "It also means it's getting rather late, and I'd like to wrap this up and get home to my wife before she starts to worry about me. So if you please, ladies."
    With a nod, they fell into step behind him, the crunch of their shoes providing a counterpoint as the insects of the nearby palm forest began to creak and chirp.

    Soon, they found themselves walking through the white-plastered halls of the Constabulary's Offices on South Island, with Mrs. Pearl's patent-leather shoes and Miss Early's hobnail boots click-clacking on the polished concrete floor. The subdued sound of a police station at night hummed around them as the Detective Tillawei led them past the front desk.
    He gave a nod to it's sole occupant and tugged the brim of his hat as he strode past. "Evenin', Kono. Quiet night tonight, huh?"
    The burly sea otter with sergeant's stripes on his khaki uniform sleeve looked up from his solitaire game, his drooping whiskers fluttering as he replied. "Evenin', Detective Tillawei." He gave a start as he looked at the handsome cat's female companions. "Hey, what gives? Shouldn't dat bunny be down in da tank?"
    Jane bristled and set her hands on her hips. "Who're y'all callin' bunny, y'oyster- crackin' desk jockey?"
    The feline detective raised a hand for calm and pointedly cleared his throat. "This isn't the same doe, Sarge."
    The desk sergeant's whiskers flared as he narrowed his eyes. "You sure? She sure sounds like da same bunny to me."
    Tillawei straightened his tie and glanced at Jane, then smiled to the sergeant. "If she was, that'd mean you and the matron let her slip past you."
    The rabbit doe snorted, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Yeah, and I kin tell jest by lookin' at y'all that yer waaay too on th' ball t' let any suspicious characters git by."
    The otter's face creased in a scowl. "Especially when dey make dat much noise."
    Mrs. Pearl stepped up and laid a hand on her cohort's shoulder before the fuming doe could give an angry retort, fixing her with a glare from beneath her dark veil. "Now Miss Early, this isn't the time or place for this. I'm sure the sergeant just didn't realize your kindred take that word as an insult where you come from."
    Her eyes flickered as she leaned in and lowered her voice. "Lets not get ourselves any deeper in trouble, okay?"

     The tan-furred female rolled her eyes and huffed, crossing her arms with petulantly hunched shoulders. "Naw. I don't reckon we oughta. One o' me in jail's more n' enough."
    She glared over at the otter as Mrs. Pearl turned to Detective Tillawei with a bright smile. "Speaking of which, shall we, Detective?"
    The ginger furred feline nodded with a look of mild relief crossing his handsome face, and beckoned them forward. He gave a conciliatory shrug to Sergeant Kono, who stared after the receding trio with a furrowed brow.
    The burly sea otter shook his head and turned his attention back to his game, lifting a queen of diamonds from the center stack and laying it on a king of spades, revealing a two of clubs beneath it, which he lifted free and laid on its waiting ace. After a moments bored consideration of a dead end layout, he scooped up the cards and began to shuffle them.

    An exact duplicate of the tan-furred rabbit doe looked up through the bars of the station's holding cell as the trio of Detective Tillawei, Mrs. Pearl, and Miss Early came down the stairs. A burly Spontoonie she-bear in a uniform sat in a rocking chair by the door and glanced up from her needlepoint with a respectful nod to the feline as he walked by.
    The identical Miss Early was looking a bit worse for wear, with a handkerchief full of ice propped over her eye and a cut on her lip. She was dressed in a loose khaki shirt and a pair of boxer shorts, with her muscular, tan furred legs folded up to her chest as she perched woefully on the bench in the otherwise empty cell.
    She set aside the ice pack, revealing a black eye and bruised cheek, then stretched her legs and stood, crossing over to them as they walked up to the bars. "'Bout time y'all got here. My kiester was goin' numb on that bench thar."

"Janes In Jail" (Jane Early & Jane Early) (from The Gaze: The Glass Goose) - art & story by Warren Hutch
Janes In Jail - by Warren Hutch - (Larger file here - 1.1 MBytes)

    The Miss Early on the outside nodded. "'Side from that y'all okay darlin'? That's quite a shiner y'all got there."
    The cell's occupant shrugged. "Eh. Ain't nothin' we cain't fix with a l'il reshufflin'. Y'all shoulda seen th' other guys."

     The rabbit does both turned simultaneously as Detective Tillawei haltingly cleared his throat. He was looking a bit incredulous at the nearly perfectly matched rabbits standing on either side of a row of iron bars in front of him. "So... so I take it you ladies DO know one another."
    Both does glanced at Mrs. Pearl, who nodded to them before the one on the outside gave a lopsided grin to the feline detective. "Know each other. Mister, we ARE each other."
    Tillawei's brow furrowed. "That doesn't make any sense at all. Nobody can be in two places at the same time." A wry smile crossed his handsome features. "It'd certainly make my job a lot harder if they could."
    The bruised rabbit on the left crossed her arms in front of her and gave him a cagey grin. "Well, I'd be happy t' explain it t' y'all."
    Her double nodded pointedly at the she bear stolidly working on her needlepoint by the door. "In private, if'n y'all don't mind."
    A suspicious look crossed the feline detective's face. He turned as he felt a soft touch on his shoulder, and found himself raptly gazing into the ice blue eyes of Mrs. Pearl, who had raised her veil past the brim of her hat. She gave him an earnest smile as his jaw went slightly slack and his pupils began to widen. "Please?"
    After a moment's slightly dazed consideration, Tillawei turned toward the uniformed guard. "Missus Kahelekapoakuna, would you be so kind as to give us a moment alone please."
    The she bear nodded and stood, walking out and closing the door behind her.

    He looked back to see the Jane Early standing outside the cell step up to the bars, as the tan furred doe on the inside also stepped forward and vanished, her suddenly vacated shirt and boxers dropping to the floor with a soft, crumpling sound.
    Rabbit who remained outside winced and rubbed the side of her face as a black eye and bruise appeared, although half as pronounced as it was on the one inside the cell. "Ow. Tarnation, that smarts. That sumbitch sure had a mean left hook."
    Detective Tillawei's tail bristled like a bottlebrush as he intoned an oath in Spontoonie and drew his pistol, pointing it with a shaking hand at the tan furred doe who stood before him, her knees tensed and her fists tightly clenched as she dropped into a combat ready stance. Both his logical detectives' training and the down-to-earth traditions of his upbringing had never prepared him for something like this. A surge of fear running up his spine caused his finger to tighten on the trigger.
    He froze in place as the brown furred tabby female interposed herself between them, his muscles going rigid as he found himself tumbling into the gleaming depths of those ice blue eyes.
    She took a step toward him, her tail lashing behind her, and spoke to him in a low, steady voice. "Relax, Detective. Lower your gun. There's nothing to be afraid of."
    He felt his arms relax as the suddenly heavy pistol hung loosely in his slack fingers. Through a supreme effort he pushed words out of his mouth. "What... what did you... how did she..."
    The tabby replied in a soothing tone. "Nothing unusual happened here. The real Jane Early was the one with a credible alibi that put her nowhere near the riot at the Pelican Hotel. You took our statements and let us go. Do you understand?"
    The detective nodded dreamily as he slowly reholstered his pistol. "I understand."
    As she stared at his handsome face, the brown furred tabby bit her lip. Oh, the things that she could do with a male like him completely in her power like this. It had been two long years, and two more years to go. Too long.
    It was all she could do to keep her glimmering eyes steady as she banished the thought, furious at herself for even considering it. She would never be able to meet her own gaze in a mirror ever again if she bent to that temptation.
    She gave a soft, shuddering sob as she spoke to the dazed feline with a crack in her voice. "G-good. I'm sorry to have to do this to you, Detective. You're probably going to get into a bit of trouble for this, but our mission is too important to let anything get in the way. The little bit of grief I'm causing you now is worth preventing the grief of hundreds of wives, mothers, and children." A sad look washed across her faintly striped features. "When you finally get home, I want you to make sure you show your wife how much you love her, every day for the rest of your lives." She bit back another sob. "You never know how many chances you're going to get..."
    After a long pause, she let out a sigh as she assumed a businesslike expression. "Now please stay here a while to give my companion and I, a head-start. We'll show ourselves out"
    She cocked an ear towards the tan furred rabbit doe behind her, who'd been neatly folding the clothing vacated by her double and rolling it into a bundle that she tucked under her arm. "Are you ready to leave, Miss Early?"
    The athletic rabbit stepped up beside her cohort and nodded. "Ayep. Lets blow this popsicle stand, Missus Pearl."

     Ignoring yet another confusing metaphor from her partner, the tabby reluctantly broke eye contact, leaving the male cat weaving slightly on his heels as he stared vacantly into space.
    She turned and proffered a hand to Miss Early. "Come on then."
    As the tan furred doe took the feline's delicate hand in her sinewy grasp, Dorothy took one last longing look at Tillawei.
    With that, she tightened her grip on her rabbit companion's hand, and the two of them faded into thin air as her eyes glittered over her jeweled brooch. The faint click clack of patent leather shoes and hobnail boots sounded across the concrete floor. The door to the holding cells area creaked slightly as it opened and closed, followed by the click clacking receding down the hallway.


"Shock and Alarm!" (Spontoonie Jail Matron, Detective Mike Tillawei) (from The Gaze: The Glass Goose) - art & story by Warren Hutch
Shock And Alarm! - by Warren Hutch - (Larger file here - 1.5 MBytes)

    Detective Mike Tillawei was jarred out of his reverie by the screech of a police whistle exploding in the doorway behind him. He spun on his heels to see the heavyset form of the ursine matron, puffing out her expansive chest to loose another blast as she pointed past him into the room, her normally stolid face lit up with excitement.
    He spun around again, his ears laid flat against his head and his profoundly frizzed tail trailing in an arc behind him, and goggled at the locked, empty cell. He ran over to the barred door and gave it a shake. It was solid as it ever was. Where had the prisoner gone? He clutched at his temples. What had happened?
    As the sound of running feet came up the hallway outside, he removed his hat, leaned his forehead on one of the cool iron bars, and let out a weary sigh. It was going to be a long night, and there was nothing he wanted to do more right now than go home and wrap his sweet wife up in his arms and kiss her repeatedly.

    A pair of female figures materialized out of the rapidly cooling night air over the sound of feet crunching on coral gravel as a tumult struck up in the low slung, concrete and stucco police building in the distance behind them. The brown furred feline took a final glance over her shoulder with luminous eyes, and beckoned the rabbit doe at her side onward.
    Miss Early gave her companion a searching look as they walked back through the twilight, into and out of pools of lantern light that lay at intervals in their path.
    She spoke to Mrs. Pearl in a gentle tone. "That Detective feller was really gettin' under yer skin back thar, wasn't he? I don't blame y'all, he was awful cute, fer a male o' th' feline persuasion."
    She noted a droop in her companion's ears, tail, and shoulders as the tabby replied. "He was also awfully married, and I'm still awfully… awfully in mourning."
    She flicked her tail and straightened her posture, making a fist with her swinging free hand as she cradled her pocketbook in her other arm and marched forward resolutely. "Well, we can't let ourselves get distracted from our mission anyway. This isn't a vacation, Miss Early."
    The rabbit doe let out a sigh. "I know, darlin', I know." She cocked an ear toward her companion. "But if'n y'all don't mind me sayin', it ain't healthy fer y'all t'keep yerself so bottled up all the dang time. A vacation might be the best thang fer y'all after this business is all is said n' done."
    The dark suited tabby twitched an ear and gave a shake of her head. "Maybe. But for now I wish you'd just drop it, all right? I'll be fine after a good night's sleep."
    Miss Early opened her mouth to reply, then let out a sigh as her shoulders slumped. She dug her hands into her pockets and gave a weary nod. "Sure, darlin'. Whatever y'all say. I could use some shuteye myself, specially since I didn't git a whole nap this afternoon."

    With that, the pair subsided into silence, walking along the dimly lit gravel road through the cool velvet of the tropical night, lost in their own thoughts.


        The Gaze: The Glass Goose