PART 29 - BAD DOGS
Klaus Ravenholt looked up with bloodshot eyes from the burning pile of code books and documents that blackened and smoked in a porcelain washbasin next to a brass-fitted porthole in his elegant stateroom. His grey-furred hands were clenched around the base of an electric fan he held to blow the smoke outside, that was having absolutely no effect on the cloud of haze that hung in the room.
In one corner, the shivering form of the Spontoonie vixen Kaleia huddled at the end of a settee, weeping and whimpering in terror and clutching a ragged blanket around her shoulders, a thin leather collar locked around her neck. At her side, the drab-furred maid Marta sat impassively, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes downcast. The hulking dog Zoltan stood by the door, still wearing the garish lavalava he'd been given on Spontoon. He watched his master feverishly waving the fan at the flaming documents with dull, expressionless eyes.
A gust of wind blew in the porthole, throwing a gout of ashes and soot up into the wolf's face and causing him to cough and blink. With a snarl, he spun, yanking the fan's cord out of the wall and hurling it across the room to shatter the glass of an old painting depicting a stately wolf in 17th century finery. The crash and clatter of the impact caused Kaliea to cover her head and let out a shriek.
The seething wolf's ears laid back against his skull as he roared a command across the room to his maidservant. "<MARTA! KEEP THAT LITTLE RED BITCH QUIET OR I VILL SILENCE HER MYSELF!>"
The female canine's brow furrowed, and she edged closer to the shivering vixen, reaching out to grasp one of her hands and give it a gentle squeeze. She laid a finger to her lips and gave a shake of her head as the young female looked at her with red-rimmed, brimming eyes through a tangled, straggling curtain of dark hair. With effort, Kaleia choked back her sobs, sniffling wretchedly as she gave the maidservant a halting nod.
The wolf turned and stalked across the room to a locked cabinet, taking out a key on a chain from his vest pocket and unlocking it. He pulled out a heavy case and hefted it over to his desk, where a second key concealed in the heel of his shoe opened the latches and revealed a typewriter-like device with several intricate dials set in the top. He looked down at the device with a sigh, and then cast about the room, his eyes lighting on a large bookend carved from a heavy black stone in the shape of a perching raven.
He stepped over and picked it up, then snapped his fingers at the hulking dog abiding by the door. "<Zoltan, you vorthless lout. Come here and smash this device. Now!>"
The towering canine cocked his head, and walked across the room, taking up the bookend in his huge hand. He brought its heavy base down on the machine with a crunch, sending springs and letter keys in all direction as the wolf stepped back and shielded his face. Kaleia bit her lip and crouched in her seat, a soft whine escaping her throat as Marta reached up and laid her hands over the young vixen's ears. The red-furred female slouched against the canine's bosom with a little whimper, causing a flicker of pity to cross the maidservant's impassive features.
As the hulking canine brought the stone raven up to slam it down on the device again, a yelp of dismay sounded outside the reinforced door, accompanied by a loud thud of a body hitting bulkhead. The wolf blanched, as Zoltan's brow furrowed slightly. The massive dog set the bookend down and turned, walking across the space and taking up a position by the door with one of his clipped ears cocked inquisitively.
The wolf flinched as a knock came to the door, and a female voice called out from outside: "Count Klaus Ravenholt, we know you're in there. We have subdued the crew of this vessel and have you surrounded. Surrender peacefully and send out the young vixen your people have wrongfully abducted. If you cooperate willingly, we can guarantee that the Westinglish Crown, the government of the United States of Sylvania, and the Spontoon Althing will be prepared to treat you with respect due your station."
The wolf stood, trembling with a mixture of fear and rage, his mouth opening and closing for a moment. A scowl settled on his features, and he strode across to the cabinet, drawing forth a flat leather case with his crest embossed on the lid. He brushed the shattered remains of the typewriter device off the desk and onto the floor, and opened the lid, revealing a red velvet interior cradling a pair of finely crafted weapons. A silver plated Luger with accompanying clip occupied the top left corner, then an ornate dagger with a pommel decorated with intricate knot-work running from the left corner to the right, then an empty space in the outline of an second Luger with clip.
He lifted the pistol out and slapped the clip into the handle, chambering a round as he bounded across the room. He snarled at the door. "A vulf of the Beta class does not cooperate vith veak and decadent lesser beasts."
He jerked his head at his hulking dog thrall. "<Zoltan, the spy hole!>"
With a stolid nod, the canine reached up and flipped up a rectangular hatch in the reinforced door with a clack. The wolf poked the pistol's barrel through the opening with a sneer on his grey muzzle.
A voice sounded from outside. "Uh oh! Git down, darlin'!"
Ravenholt fired several shots through the slot, prompting a terrified scream from Kaleia as she buried her face in Marta's shoulder. A pregnant silence filled the room as the last of the ejected brass casings jingled on the floor.
The wolf withdrew the pistol and called through the door, his lip curling back over his fangs. "Now I vill tell you MY terms, Sylvanian. I vill return your precious little red trollop to you piece-by-piece until you clear avay from this door and allow me access to the radio room, followed by safe passage to vun of the ship's boats. If you interfere vith me in any vay, I vill give you a piece of her that maybe she can't quite live vithout."
At this, Marta went white under her drab fur, and her clipped ears laid
back as a look of shock broke over her face. She hugged the shivering
vixen to her, gaping at her master as he spun on his heel and strode
across the room, his ears laidback and tail bristling. He plucked the
knife from the red velvet of the case and flipped it around to grip it
by the blade, hefting it to toss to his maidservant. "<Marta! Take
this, cut something off of the little wretch and give it to Zoltan to
send out the slot. Ear, finger, tail. I don't care. Ve'll show these
clever little Sylvanians that I am not to be trifled vith. Make sure you
keep her muzzle clamped so I don't have to listen to her
The drab canine's eyes flared and she drew in a ragged breath, her next word sticking in her throat as it came out.
A dangerous expression settled on the wolf's face, as the dagger's pommel dipped. "<Vhat did you say to me, bitch?>"
Marta looked helplessly over at Zoltan, who rounded on her with disbelief dawning on his broad face. She set the cowering Kaliea aside and stood with shaking knees, her fists clenched at her sides as she looked the wolf in the eyes. "<No. I vill not harm this girl, or allow you to do any harm to her, if... if you please your excellency.>"
With a savage growl in the back of his throat, the wolf flipped the dagger over in his hand, his sinewy fingers tightening on the grip. Marta recoiled, interposing herself between the trembling, whimpering vixen and her master with outspread hands, as the twitching aristocrat advanced on her. "<I do NOT please, you stupid mongrel slattern. If you cannot obey you are VORTHLESS to me!>"
With that he cleared the distance and striking low with the blade buried it in Marta's belly. She let out a strangled scream and grasped the hilt, wrenching it out of his grasp as she dropped to her knees, her grey eyes glazed in agony and her tongue lolling.
The wolf stood over her, panting in rage as he glared down at her huddled form, a darker blot seeping out to stain the dark fabric of her dress around the silver dagger. His family rune glittered brightly on the pommel wreathed by her crimson-stained hands.
The weeping, dark-haired vixen lifted her shaking arms to support her wounded
Then the screaming started.
The cohorts flinched as a muffled cacophony of shrieks, wails, and hoarsely pleading Steppesprecht exploded from inside. Dorothy wheeled around, her ice-blue eyes glittering in the dim light of the hallway as Jane pricked up her ears, straining to hear through the thick steel of the bulkhead. The tabby recoiled, her jaw dropping in horror and her tail frizzing like a bottle brush as she stared through the impenetrable door.
Jane gave her a searching look. "Whut's happenin'?" Her brow furrowed. "Dorothy! Whut's goin' on?"
She turned and stared hard at the door. "Dang... Wish I could see thru stuff right now."
The feline turned toward her with a haunted look on her face, and answered in a throaty monotone. "No... No you don't..."
Jane's ears dipped, as she reached up and laid a hand on her cohort's shoulder, turning her protectively away from the door.
It went eerily silent, and a moment later, the flat clack of the lock opening sounded in the echoing metal hallway. Jane and Dorothy took a step back from the door, dropping into a ready stance with pistols and fists, as it swung slowly open.
The hulking form of Zoltan stood filling the doorway, tears rolling down his blunt muzzle as his broad shoulders shook. The black stone raven hung in his hand, something wet, dark, and crimson dripping off of the corners of its heavy base, before it slipped out of his nerveless grasp and klunked to the deck at his feet.
He spoke in a small, lost voice, barely a whisper. "If you please, my
poor Marta is hurt. Please help her. The little red female is here. She
is unharmed. Marta protected her. She vas... i-is a good dog."
Jane divided into two -- then four -- identical does. One turned to Dorothy with a grim look on her face. "I'm gonna go rustle up Heywood. Hopefully he knows where thar's a medical kit on this tub."
With that she turned and sprinted from the room, her loose shirt fluttering around her.
Another stepped forward and pulled Kaleia to her feet, returning the hysterical vixen's eager embrace as she sat off to the side on the couch, cradling the young Spontoonie girl and rocking her tenderly.
The remaining two set to work on Marta, one propping the canine's lolling head on her lap as the other knelt beside her. She worked her fingers into the slit in the blood dampened material of the maidservant's dress and the thin wool shift underneath, and ripped them wide open, laying her drab furred belly bare and exposing the bleeding wound where the dagger jutted out. She pulled the wadded cotton wrappings from her pants pockets, hastily folding them into a pad. She pressed it against the canine's wound, the off white cloth turning a dark red as a shudder ran along the drab furred she dog's athletic frame. Jane took a deep, steady breath, and carefully gripped the handle on the dagger.
Her duplicate looked up at her with a furrowed brow. "Y'all ain't 'sposed t' pull that out in the field."
She twitched an ear and scowled up at her in response. "If'n y'all know th' address of a convenient hospital I'd appreciate y'all sharin' it, darlin'."
With that, she pulled the blade straight out in a single, smooth motion. Marta's grey eyes snapped open as a ragged, choking cry surged up from her throat. She thrashed as the Jane supporting her head grasped her shoulders and held her down. The tan furred rabbit pursed her lips and kept a firm pressure on the wound, as Marta's convulsions subsided with an agonized groan.
The duplicate doe shushed the trembling canine and stroked her perspiration-beaded brow. "Shhh. It's alright, darlin'. Jest rest easy."
Jane looked up from her ministrations and gave Dorothy a curt nod. "The wound was deep but it seems purty clean. Best we can do is git her stable n' hope th' cavalry shows up sooner rather n' later. I reckon this gal's got about a fifty-fifty shot, but this bein' the nineteen-thirties n' all I'd suggest a li'l prayer might be in order."
Zoltan leaned against the door, staring at the intent huddle around Marta, then wiped his eyes with the back of his arm as a soft sob escaped his throat. A sad, weary expression settled on his blunt face, and he turned and trudged across the room to the desk, gazing down at the wreckage he had left there. He reached down and lifted the silver-plated pistol from the pooling blood, taking it in his huge, sinewy hand and working his finger through the trigger guard with difficulty. His eyelids rolled closed, and he opened his mouth, laying the barrel on his tongue.
Two shots rang out, and a flinch ran down the dog's massive frame. His eyes snapped open, and he looked at the shattered pistol in his hand, the hammer mechanism blown cleanly off and the clip sliding out of the grip onto the floor, the catch similarly destroyed. He looked over to see Dorothy standing and facing him, her feet spread wide, the Widow's Tears smoking in her delicate hands as her ice-blue eyes gazed at him with alarm. He turned to her, a pleading look on his face, and dropped to his knees.
His voice was a soft moan. "Please... I am a bad dog. I deserve to be put down for vhat I have done to my master."
She holstered her pistols and walked toward him, her hands spread wide, and took him into her arms.
Zoltan laid his heavy head on the feline's shoulder and wept like a puppy.