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6 October 2005
Let's Doe It [Lets Fall In Love]
Willow Fawnsworthy created by M. Mitchell Marmel
Reggie Buckhorn created by EOCostello
"Let's Not Duello On The Subject"
by E. O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel
"Let's Not Duello On The Subject"
by E.O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel
Reggie Buckhorn, Lodge, Po'na (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Rosie Baumgartner (c) M. Mitchell Marmel
"Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers"
Lyrics by R.P. Weston, Music by Hermann Darewski
(c) 1914 T.B. Harms
After an antler-shriveling experience like that which I had just endured, the tissues were in need of restoration in a place where, for preference, the loudest noise would be the click of ice upon teeth. Vigorous investigations were conducted, with the result that I was soothing some clanging ganglions at the Jolly Smuggler, tucked away on a silent side-street of Casino Island.
To my surprise, the bartender (a stout little quail) upon my arrival produced a generous ration of gin and tonic, and set it down in front of me. I resolved to drink first and ask questions later. The curate of the bar was already preparing a second echelon for me; I was pleased to see that this operation involved passing a bottle of tonic water somewhere in the general vicinity of the glass of gin, without indulging in any vulgar familiarities. I was halfway through the reinforcements when the buck-ticker ceased doing the cha-cha-cha in the chest, and I could take stock of my surroundings.
As it turned out, there was little to take stock of, as I was the only patron at this hour of the day. My arrival had stirred to action another quail, who hopped up onto a piano stool and began playing "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers" with a practiced air. (#)
"Jolly remarkable you chaps know what to fix a fellow without even asking. I mean, I'd hardly set hoof across threshold when the life-restorer was being prepared."
The bar quail winked as he polished a glass. "Oh, you're well-known among the bartenders here for your preferences as well as," here he coughed discreetly, "your warmhearted support of our profession." A click of silver on mahogany showed the quail to be correct on all counts.
"Quite so. If bartenders didn't exist, we'd have to create them. I've said as much to your colleague over at Shepherd's." The thought of Shepherd's made me shudder, and the bar-quail set about making a third G&T, while the piano-player set about making a second rendition of "Sister Susie." (#)
"My mate over at Shepherd's says you were getting a right barracking just now."
I thumped the flat of my paw against the bar. "Yes, dash it! I can't think why, either. There's more to this than meets the eye, you mark my words. I mean, two prelates, a police detective, a mephito-medico, and someone who I'm led to believe is a member of your profession, all ganging up on me at once."
"Oh, right, that would be Miss Baumgartner, over from the Double Lotus...."
"Well, it was jolly well conduct unbecoming a bartender on her part, poking me in the nose with a claw and warning me off my doe. You ought to get the members of the local union to form a hollow square, snip off her apron-strings, and drum her out of the profession!"
The bar-quail discreetly made no comment on this suggestion, busying himself with work on a fourth installment, while the third installment of "Sister Susie" was in progress. (#)
"This was about Miss Fawnsworthy, then?"
"Good Lord, how did you know?!"
"It's like this, sir. Folks around here can't help but notice when a public-spirited personality like yourself and Miss Fawnsworthy get together. I mean, after all what your sire went through...no offence, sir..."
"None taken. The Sire is a twenty-six minute egg, to be sure."
"Glad to hear it, sir. I mean, about you not taking offence. See, these are small islands, sir, and we don't get all that many whitetail bucks staying for long periods of time. I mean, there's you, there's Inspector Stagg over on Meeting Island, and the list gets kind of thin after that. So when you and Miss Fawnsworthy are together, well, it's as natural as mixing gin and tonic. Err, speaking of which...?"
The Fourth Division was hurled into the breach, to the accompaniment of "Sister Susie."(#) It was thoughts of Willow, or perhaps the fact that the pianist seemed to have a decidedly limited oeuvre, that was starting to set the buck-blood bubbling in the breast.
"Dash it, that's just it! It isn't jolly well right to keep a buck from his doe. It's positively unnatural!" I lowered my voice, and beckoned my interlocutor closer. "You mark my words, there's something sinister going on here."
The bar-quail fluffed his tail feathers. "Surely not, sir?"
I set chin in paw, as deep in contemplation as one can be when someone is playing "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers" fortissimo a few yards from you.
"There is quite clearly a master-mind behind this whole scheme of keeping LaFawnsworthy under wraps. Only someone with a healthy positive balance in the Brains Account could possibly co-ordinate what you so eloquently put was a 'barracking.'"
Suddenly, the ha'penny dropped, and I smote paw upon mahogany. The quail tickling the ivories took this to be a signal to play faster and harder, which he did. (#)
"Something wrong, sir?"
"I should think so! Lodge!! Of all the nerve...!"
"Your gentleman's gentleman, sir?"
"One and the same. I see that fame may be fleeting, but it's fleet-footed, too, if you know of him."
"A lot of folks speak highly of his talents, sir."
I frowned. "That's just it. I think Lodge has been playing a very deep game. Reason with me, here. Lodge has Motive: enter La Fawnsworthy, exit Le Lodge as the dynamic intellectual force in the Buckhorn household. Lodge has Means: a set of brains that I'm sure all sorts of medical schools are bidding on, when Lodge ceases to use them. Why Lodge isn't a Captain of Industry, I'll never know. For all I'm aware, he could have cornered wheat this morning in between pressing my trousers and brushing my jacket, and I'd be none the wiser. Finally, Lodge has Opportunity: this is, as you say, a small set of islands, and it would be the work of a moment to gather together a tight-knit gang."
The bar-quail sounded a little doubtful. "Little bit of a stretch, isn't it? I mean, your valet and all..."
I leaned in a little closer, emphasizing my logic with a fore-finger. "Listen. I've read enough green-backed Penguin novels to know that it's always the servant you have to watch out for. The arsenic in the crusted port and all. Something-something sharper than a beaver's tooth, as the man wrote. I'd never have believed I had the head of the Secret Seven as my employee, mending my dressing-gown, but there you are, it just goes to show you the subtle game that's being played. For all I know, Lodge may be plotting world domination while he polishes my cuff-links. Well, I'm on to him, now, and when I get back to the hotel, I'm going to take vigorous steps to..."
It was at this point in my exposition that "Sister Susie" started up again. (#) To think was to act, and it was no trouble at all to pick up the pianist-quail, lift up the lid of the upright piano, and stuff him inside, closing the lid with a bang and a jangle of discordant chords.
The bar-quail observed this philosophically. "You're quite patient, sir. Usually it's the third rendition that sets that off." He hopped down and waddled over to the piano, and knocked on the lid. "S'ok?"
Opening the lid got the cheerful answer: "S'awright!"
I shot my cuffs. "Well, as you can see, I'm a buck of action, when I set my antlers to it. And if the Secret Seven think they have Reginald Buckhorn at bay, well, dash it, they are very much mistaken!"
And with that, I turned on my hooves, bent on confrontation.
Over in Willow's new room, we were getting her settled in and unpacked when a knock came on the door. Reggie's valet, Lodge, entered, looking perturbed. "I am sorry for intruding, Madam..."
I shook my head. "Nah, I'm not the executive type." Lodge looked confused. I seem
to have that effect on people. "Never mind, Lodge, what's the good word?"
"It's about Mister Buckhorn."
I sighed. "Oy, such a pain in the tuchas...what's Nature Boy up to now?" A snigger from Willow.
Lodge's mouth twitched in the hint of a grin, then he returned to his customary hauteur. "I regret that present events do not justify a mirthful attitude. Mister Buckhorn is presently engaging in behaviour that greatly concerns me."
I raised an eyebrow. "Nu? From what I hear, his behavior concerns half the hotel staff and most of the police on the Islands. What's so different?"
Lodge looked embarrassed. "He...poked me."
Willow raised an eyebrow to match mine. "He...poked you?"
Lodge nodded; obviously, he was still shaken by the action. "Twice. In the ribs. Rather firmly. With a forefinger."
"Well," I said slowly, "I can see where that might not be particularly pleasant..."
"Indeed, Miss Baumgartner," Lodge said. "Although, naturally, I could not say as much to Mister Buckhorn, I do not care to be poked or prodded or otherwise pushed with a fingertip."
"Quite right, Lodge," Willow said. "But I get the impression there's more?"
"Quite so, Miss Fawnsworthy," Lodge said with a soupcon of agitation. "After prodding me in my ribs, Mister Buckhorn said...'Aha!'"
"'Aha!'?" I said. "And this has what to do with the price of eggs in Cipangu?"
"It..." Lodge swallowed hard, trying to maintain composure. "It...strongly suggests that Mister Buckhorn has been...thinking." This last was spoken in a tone of voice usually indicating a rogue golem was terrorizing the shtetl.
I raised my other eyebrow. "Nu, so this is a bad thinng? He does a little thinking maybe..."
"Miss Baumgartner, you fail to comprehend the gravity of the situation," Lodge replied firmly. "I greatly prefer Mister Buckhorn NOT to think whenever possible. You see, when he operates normally, he causes...problems. If he happens to take the effort to think about a situation, he causes...calamities. I greatly fear that he may be contemplating something alarmingly creative."
I looked concerned. "Malicious?"
"If I may, Miss Baumgartner, I do not believe that is part of the psychology of the individual," Lodge assured me. "At least, not intentionally so. One draws parallels to recent events in Samoa, for example..."
I nodded. "See, Willow? Remember our little talk? Nature Boy DOES have some functioning brain cells. After all, he did graduate from an IV League school."
Willow nodded grimly. "So, what does this mean?"
I sighed. "At the very least, I think it's a given that our little warning this afternoon didn't take."
Lodge nodded even more grimly. "I greatly fear this is so, Miss Baumgartner. One gets ominious preminitions of Old Testament-like incidents. It is quite clear to me that Mister Buckhorn may even redouble his efforts to see the object of his afflictions. I mean affections, I beg your pardon, Miss Fawnsworthy, I misspoke."
It was Willow's turn to sigh. "Not good. What are we going to do?"
I grimaced. "For now, all we can do is wait and see..."
I spent the next day or so in my room, with the door carefully locked. I laid in a supply of gin and tonic and salted acorns, and thus having achieved temporary self-sufficiency, I began to plot.
The objective was clear: I was going to see Willow Fawnsworthy, come hell or high water, Catholic and Anglican clergy, rozzers, mephito-medicos and barmaids notwithstanding. And, of course, notwithstanding a certain valet whose name shall not be changed, because he dashed well isn't innocent.
Speaking of which, I had been keeping said valet on his toes, by occasionally sneaking out of my room, and not-so-sneakily peering at him from around corners. I had the pleasing sight, this morning, of startling him sufficiently so that he dropped my breakfast tray with a thunderous crash. Good. Consternation to the enemy.
But as I paced my room, I could clearly see the problem of achieving my objective. A frontal assault was well-nigh impossible. I mean, a frontal assault on La Fawnsworthy's suite, not La Fawnsworthy herself, of course. I had every reason to believe that the suite was being watched, and in any event, it would be very difficult to sneak past the front desk at the Grand, especially during the off-season, when the traffic in the lobby was sparse. A sneaking whitetail buck catches the eye.
Clearly, then, the suite was only going to be carried by a flank attack, via the second-story window. Ah, but you say, Reggie old bean, there you make your bloomer, surely the Secret Seven have considered this plan of action?
Ah, say I in response, indeed they have. And, knowing their judgement on my mental capacities, they have initially ruled it out as an insane tactic that only someone whose quotient of nuts is greater than that of a Christmas fruitcake would attempt. Which means that, of course, it is the obvious tactic. Which means, of course, that it's so obvious that I'm going to miss it. Which means I won't do it. Which means I *will* do it. Which means that I'll do the opposite. Which means I'll do the opposite of the opposite of what I'm supposed to be doing in opposition to the obvious tactic. And then do the opposite. And, hopefully, if they're as confused as I am, they'll still be thinking it over.
Having decided on my objective, and the basic means of achieving my objective, I now needed the specific means of achieving my objective. Here were deeper waters. Ordinarily, I would simply have Lodge make a few 'phone calls, and in two shakes of my flag, the necessary would appear, neatly wrapped. This, obviously, was out of the question. I had no intention of tipping my paw to the master-mind. I would need someone of brain and courage, and someone who would be far less likely to drop nickel on me to the rozzers or the like. There was only one way to fight Lodge's demonstrated tactical brilliance, and that was through the unexpected use of native cunning.
Rummaging in my closet, I produced a dark fedora and a long cloak that I had pinched from a coat-check room in Paris a few years back. It was pleasingly pitch-black and silk-lined, and altogether very Phantom of the Opera-like. I only regret I didn't have one of those masques to go with it. I pulled the hat down low over my eyes, wrapped the cloak around myself, and strode out of my room.
I had almost reached the front door of the suite when I heard a surprised, spluttering cough come from behind me. Turning, I saw Lodge with a look that was six parts puzzlement to one part fright. He knew not what to make of current events. I decided mystification was in order.
It was the work of a moment to stride up to him, and in a suitably low, sepulchral voice, growl at him.
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of bucks? The SHADOW knows!"
And with a dark, sinister laugh, I swept from the suite. It was a very pleased and happy whitetail buck indeed that swept past the front desk, and out into the mid-afternoon of Casino Island. A few hundred yards, covered mysteriously, and I approached the post where Po'na, pursuant to standing orders, was, well, standing, keeping an eye on the Grand Hotel, where Willow was held prisoner.
Po'na, obviously thinking mosquito season was running late this year, swatted at one of his ears, and continued drinking a Nootnops Red.
Po'na twitched his ears, and began looking around for what must have seemed to him to be a very husky and well-voiced mosquito.
Po'na turned around, and dropped his Nootnops in shock. He was game, though, and recovered quickly. He leaned in, peering at the narrow space between top of cloak and bottom of fedora. I winked, and clambered into his ricksha, and pulled the top down.
"The Park. Make sure we're not followed. I think we're being watched."
Po'na opened his mouth once or twice to make a response, but eventually picked up the handles of the ricksha and proceeded hence. In short order, we went through a series of back streets and alley-ways, and I was convinced that Po'na had foiled any would-be watchers. He parked the ricksha in a secluded spot in the Park, and squatted down between the handles of the vehicle, facing me.
"Po'na, have you been made aware of recent events?"
The worthy native son scratched an ear. "Gentledeer referring is, gentledeer-self ears pulled, likewise nose claw-with poinked..."
I waved a paw, demonstrating he'd said sufficient. I wasn't going to have that rehashed again. "Po'na, there is a dark conspiracy afoot. Willow is being held prisoner."
Po'na flattened his ears. "Negative possible is. Po'na-self lady-deer careful guard. Po'na-self lady-deer see Euro-temple go, early sun, early moon."
I held up a paw. "True for the telling, Po'na, but there is a dark conspiracy nonetheless to keep me from seeing Willow. Do you think that just?"
Po'na drummed his fingers on the handles of the ricksha. "Po'na-self, negative think just is. Po'na-self desire gentledeer tell..."
"Your spirit of loyalty pleases me, Po'na. I knew I could count on you."
"Po'na-self posses need urgent inform gentledeer..."
I smote paw on knee. "I knew it! Blast, then we must act tonight. Now or never."
Po'na held up a paw. "Po'na-self request urgent inform gentledeer..."
"And so you have, so you have. Listen, is there a clothing store nearby?"
"Affirmative is, gentledeer. Po'na-self insisting is tell gentledeer..."
I nodded. "Quite all right, it's good that you have such a sense of urgency. Now, listen carefully. I want you to go into that store...here's ten pounds...and get me a black pullover sweater, a black t-shirt, and a pair of black trousers, and come back here with them, and I'll give you some further instructions."
Po'na, with an air of puzzlement (lot of that going around) took the ten-pound note, and padded off to the clothing store. He returned about twenty minutes later with the needful and the change, which I told him to keep.
"Right. Now, then, let's go to Hairpin Cove. There's a beach there that I'm told is quite secluded..."
Po'na opened his mouth as if to say something, and then sighed, and we proceeded hence to Hairpin Cove, which was indeed deserted at this hour and season. I picked up the package from the clothing store, and pointed toward a nearby clump of bushes.
"I'm going to change there. In the meantime, I need you to get something from the fire department."
Po'na blinked at me in astonishment. I decided to try to clarify.
"Reggie-self need Po'na-you toddle-off hence chappies helmet-wear hoses water-squish joint."
The native worthy looked at me somewhat sarcastically. "Po'na-self negative requiring gentledeer effort-making Spontoonie-speak. Additionally request gentledeer polite negative attempt Spontoonie-speak, reason hurt Po'na-ears. Gentledeer needing is item, flame-warriors?"
"Errrr, yes. Quite. I need you to fetch a two-story ladder from them."
"Gentledeer requesting is WHAT?"
"Errrr, ladder. Ladder. You know, a..."
Po'na covered his ears. "Aaaaah! Po'na-self pleadingly additionally urgently gentledeer request negative Spontoonie-speak. Po'na-self knowing is item gentledeer requesting is. Po'na-self requesting *purpose* is."
"Well, you're going to *tell* the fire department that it's for a fire drill. You know, practicing a rescue. And that's the truth of it, Po'na."
Po'na held his head in his paws for about a minute or so, and I could hear him make some sort of an extravagant appeal to his native pantheon. What he was requesting, I'm not sure, but he eventually sighed, and toddled off, leaving me to my wardrobe change.
Which proved to be somewhat problematic. In planning the operation, I had overlooked a fundamental point. I was now reminded why Lodge never stocked pullover sweaters in my wardrobe. There was the problem of what one had to pullover, viz. antlers. I have a rather splendid rack, well-cared for, with a lot of sharp points. These sharp points, I'm sure, were designed for something or other way back in the distant ancestry, but for the moment, their purpose was to tangle up the sweater something fierce about the bean. And black sweaters being black sweaters, it was dashed well difficult to see out to try to correct this. I stumbled around a bit, and at one point landed in a shallow lagoon, which left me with an increasingly heavy pullover sweater than was blinding me. Preparations had thus reached something of a snag. Many snags, in fact. I was still struggling with the sweater when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Po'na-self fire-warrior tool obtained has. Po'na-self lucky is, Po'na-kin fire-warrior supervising is. Er. Po'na-self desire gentledeer question make?"
"If you're wondering where I am, Po'na, I'm in here, somewhere. Just follow the sound of my voice. See if you can't get this blasted thing off of me."
Po'na used a small knife to free me, which obviously made the sweater hors de combat for the upcoming operation. The black t-shirt was obviously out as well, unless Paris had suddenly decreed the Moth Look was the height of fashion. While I could have worn the black trousers and opera-cloak, I really didn't think I could carry off the Doglas Fairbanks look, much as it might have been appropriate. No mustache. And for that matter, no sword. I was a flummoxed buck, but deliverance was at paw. Or, rather, in paw. Po'na was holding something out to me.
I took it, and examined it. It turned out to be a solid black lava-lava. I had always wondered what angry Greenwich Village poets would wear if they ever retired to the South Seas and took up beachcombing. Now I knew.
"Is this what Spontoonies wear, Po'na, when they have to sneak around and perform daring feats of derring-do?"
Po'na thought about this for a minute, and was going to say something, and then merely nodded.
"Brilliance! Po'na, that's a stroke of genius! No one will be expecting me to show up in native garb."
Po'na was clearly itching to say something, but changed his mind, and let me dress in simple native garb. Thankfully, ten sets of tennis a week and a vegetarian diet keep the buck-form in fighting trim, and I think I carried off the look well, if I do say so myself. A nearby native flower was brought into service behind a cervine ear to accessorize, and that, was that. The Euro-gear, as Po'na would say, was packed up. Po'na was to drive to Shepherd's, drop off my gear there, and then meet me in back of the Grand after dark, with the ladder. The game was afoot!
"Er, Rosie, should we be doing this? I mean, Father Merino-"
I grinned faintly as I hung up my jacket in the closet of my ground floor room and looked at the pretty doe sitting on my bed. "What the good Father doesn't know won't offend him."
Willow looked faintly distressed. "Yes, but, it's still against what he-"
"Relax. It's not like you haven't done this before." My grin widened and l licked my lips in anticipation.
"Well..." her resolve weakened a bit. "You'll be gentle, right?"
I shrugged. "Okay, but I really don't think blackberry brandy bruises all that much."
Gently, I opened the carafe and poured us both a snifter.
(Note to reader: What did you THINK we were up to? Shame on you! You should go wash your mind out with soap, already.)
I handed Willow her snifter. "Besides, if Doc Meffit gave you a "nerve tonic", it'd wind up being 80 proof with some other junk mixed in. This stuff is better for you-"
In a flash, we were by the front door, looking at the window. I flicked out the light.
"Artillery?" I hissed to Willow.
"Upstairs," she whispered helplessly.
"Crap," I whispered back. "That's right. Well, if whoever it is-"
"Look!" Willow whispered, stifling a giggle. I followed her finger, pointing to the curtains.
A distinctive shadow fell across them. "I'd know that rack anywhere."
"Reggie," I hissed back, relieved. "But what in the world-"
*Scraaaape*. "A little over to the left, there..."
Willow and I traded amused glances. "Wonder where he got a ladder?" I whispered.
A grin and a shrug. "We probably don't want to know."
I sniggered silently. "True. Okay, to the window, quietly. This I gotta see."
We stealthily made our way to the window in time to see the ladder placed against the upstairs balcony and a pair of legs heading up same. "Is he wearing-?" I hissed, mildly scandalized.
Willow could barely contain her laughter. "A black lava-lava, yeah. "
I rolled my eyes. "Oy. How Nature Boy can you GET?"
Willow looked annoyed. "Would you quit that?"
"Sorry. Er...Regimental?" I leered.
"No more than he normally is," Willow sighed, pulling me back from the window.
I raised an eyebrow. "What, no 8 p.m. show?"
Willow shook her head. "No," she said seriously, "I want to TRY and be a good girl."
I snorted. "Okay. So...now what?"
"Waitaminnit," Willow said. "I moved down the hall." She looked at me. "Did you remember to tell Reggie?"
"Do we know who is up there, Rosie?"
Fortunately, there was enough evening light to place the ladder against the balcony of Willow's suite. I counted over, twice, to make sure that it was her balcony. I whispered to Po'na to watch the ladder, and clambered up.
Everything was dark in the suite as I climbed over the rail. This time of year, hardly anyone is up and about at this hour, and what few rooms were occupied in the Grand had their curtains drawn. Willow had obviously made an early night of it; I could see her form outlined in the dark, under the covers. I tiptoed over to the bed. Amazingly, there was no furniture in the way. The last time I tried something like this, during the brief period of time I was at Andover, I managed to step on a mashie-niblick. And if you've ever bumped into a mashie-niblick at 2 a.m., well, it's not something you want repeated.
Anyway, Willow seemed like she was dozing, so I gently placed my paws about her eyes, and whispered into her ear.
Willow and I were listening very carefully, our ears twitching. In the dark and the silence, it wasn't hard to hear a high-pitched feminine squeal.