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3 December 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, Baron and Baronin von Kojote,
Senor, Senora and Senorita de Ciervos, Po'na (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Rosie Baumgartner (c) M. Mitchell Marmel
"Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers"(c) 1914 T.B. Harms
Lyrics by R.P. Weston, Music by Hermann Darewski
A few days had passed, and nothing on the proposed knockdown-dragout between Yrs. Truly and Lover Boy. I was vaguely hoping Reggie's short attention span would let the whole meshugas blow over. Not likely, though. Once a notion stuck in that peabrain of his, a gallon of nitro wouldn't blow it free. At least he was keeping out of Willow's and my hairfur; we'd managed to kill ten days of the forty-two. Thank heavens for small favors.
For her part, Willow was looking a bit better. Mini-Reggie seemed to be working, and she was sleeping well. Personally, I gave up on stuffed animals around the same time I discovered the real thing, but hey, if it kept her on the side of the angels, who was I to stop her?
"Your instructions, Lodge, are clear. No rough stuff."
I looked up from sharpening my claws. "Willow? Define 'no rough stuff'?"
"No claws. No hooves. No teeth. No blunt instruments, sharp toys or things that go bang or boom."
I sighed. "Well, there goes the ol' box office."
Willow fixed me with a sharp look. "This isn't a question of entertainment, Rosie."
I snickered. "Speak for yourself."
Willow took a breath but was interrupted by a gentle interjection from Lodge. "Am I to assume, Miss Fawnsworthy, that it is your preference that this matter be resolved via competitive, but non-violent, means?"
Willow nodded at Lodge, and smiled. The smile didn't last long when she caught me rolling my eyes. "Rosalie, darling...surely you don't want to have to fight a second whitetail deer...*do you*?"
I thought for a moment. "Would vanilla pudding be involved?"
I raised my paws in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'll go along with the program, at least for now." I turned to the little guy. "Might be best if I tagged along with you, Lodge."
"It is not conventional, Miss Baumgartner, for a principal to attend such negotiations..."
"Is it conventional, boychik, for a guy to poink a girl in the nose and challenge her to a duel while he's in his undies?"
Lodge pondered this. "Well, I am aware that my former employer on a number of occasions was forced to commence the requisite procedures while in a state of minimal wardrobe. There was a case regarding the wife of a general when we were in Crete, for example..."
"While this sounds like a great story, Lodge, I think we'd best be moving along."
Daddy Buck and...a distinctly Kraut-looking wolf hove into view. Fritz introduced himself as the Baron von Kojote. He noted me giving him the fisheye and chuckled. "Please do not discomfort yourself, Fraulein Baumgartner. I find the antics of the little Austrian corporal just as distasteful as you do yourself. It is one reason I am here." Hard to stay mad at a guy who clicks his heels and bows while gracefully taking your paw.
I looked around. No sign of Cupcake. Wolfie smiled. "Fraulein Inocenta is under the watchful eye of Frau de Ciervos. She will not be getting up to the mischief tonight." Well, there's a first time for everything.
The Deutscher doggie turned from me to Lodge. "You have been thinking, mein herr, about the proposals for the combat?"
"Indeed, Baron, though you will appreciate that it is very difficult to steer a zeppelin and fire a rifle at the same time. There is also the matter, of course, of locating the zeppelins in and of themselves."
Daddy Deerest raised an eyebrow. "Heinrich? You suggest the zeppelins?"
Wolfie mit the shrug: "Ach, call it the nostalgia if you like. I find these aeroplanes today to lack the simple, slyph-like movements of the zeppelin. A duel of zeppelins, it is both the rarity and the gracefulness, nicht war?"
Lodge shook his head gravely. For a guy in his profession, he looked awfully like some sort of League of Nations diplomat with his striped trousers, high collar and tie. Put that boy in a top hat, and he'd probably do better than most in Geneva.
"I fear, Baron, and Sr. de Ciervos, that we are back to the starting point of negotiations. It is clear we need to re-think our approach to this matter."
I raised a paw and was recognized by the wolf with a gracious smile. "Sorry to stick my nosepad in..."
Wolfie waved a paw airily. "It is nichts, Fraulein. Bitte, you have our ears."
"Well..." I said, a somewhat puzzled look on my face. "What exactly is the point of this dueling thing? I mean, the method of carrying it out. What's it supposed to show?"
The older deer stroked his chin. "Ah, well, in the tradition, it is showing that God aids His own in the combat, yes? The one who is in the right will receive the divine assistance, and win."
I could foresee trouble in God choosing between Lover Boy and myself. God loves
idiots, and He only knows how much that would be stacked against me.
"So the whole shindig is based more on victory, and proving the Lord has placed his bets on one side, nu?"
Wolfie pondered. "A grossly informal method of putting the principle, but ja, that a good summation is. Victory and such being ordained."
Hoping to tap the Lodge brain cells, I turned to him. "You said you have experience with your old boss on this. You know of anything along those lines?"
Beaver Boy put his paws behind his back, and thought. I could swear I heard the soft whirr of well-oiled machinery. Beats me how someone like him could stand someone of Lover Boy's brain-power. Anyway, it didn't take him more than a few dozen seconds to recall something.
"Baron, do you recall a dispute between the opera critics for two rival Parisian papers, about fifteen years ago?"
The wolfie furrowed his brow. More whirring machinery. Something clicked in his mental card-file.
"You are referring to when M. de Chevre of the Paris-Matin referred to M. Taureau of the Cahiers du Musique as the 'fathead who understands the wearing of the horns and not the playing of them'?"
"You follow my line of thought, Baron."
The buck nodded. "Ah! Yes. I, too, am recalling that. There was something in the unusual about the method they use to settle the dispute, is that not so, Heinrich?"
"Ja. There was the issue of the sizes between M. de Chevre and M. Taureau. It was felt there was being the unfair advantage. As the matter regarded the appreciation of the music, the seconds for the gentlemen came up with the arrangement alternative. They play the record on the gramophone, and the first one to lose the composure must quit the job of music critic and leave the city."
This sounded promising. "You remember what they played?"
Lodge thought. "If I remember correctly, gentlemen, the initial suggestion was a performance by George Formless."
The wolf frowned. "Ja. Tasteless, I was thinking. It was unnecessary cruelty, and the second who suggested that should have been disciplined. No, no, I recall now. Someone found the cylinder recording of "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers" (#), and placed it on the gramophone. I was not there for the affair, as I was involved in a similar proceeding that morning in the Bois du Vincennes, but I understand it was the great test of nerves."
An acknowledgement from the beaver. "My former employer was...ahem, 'romancing,' a member of the chorus of the Paris Opera at the time, so I was in attendance. The matter took approximately 90 minutes, and 26 consecutive renditions of the song, before there was a resolution of the affair. M. Taureau sank to his knees, gripped his ears, and bellowed for mercy. The last I heard, he was working as a piano teacher for children in Bognor Regis."
Papa Deer shook his head. "There is the lesson in all of this, no? The critic, he always come to the bad end."
Wolfie began to think. "Hmm! So! Perhaps, in this, there is the test of the endurance and skill, not necessarily in the use of the pistol or sword, but in other matters, ja?"
Lodge nodded. "I believe, Baron, it would be advisable not to limit the matter to one action, but to have a series of contests, spaced out over time. This, I think, will eliminate the matter of chance occurrences, and provide a more satisfactory result."
"Ja. There is the wisdom in what you say. But there is the problem, of course, of finding the actions compatible between the two principals, hein? I do not mean the offence, Fraulein, but I am believing there is the significant difference in what you and Herr Buckhorn do for fun."
"You'd be surprised," I murmured to myself.
"Pardon?" the wolf enquired politely
I shook my head. "Nothing," smiling sweetly at him to let him know that his manners were appreciated.
Papa Deer, again: "What athletic pursuits do you have, Fraulein Baumgartner?"
I suppressed my first impulse to respond "horizontal jogging". Wrong company for that.
It had been awhile, and the odd blini or dozen, since I had played any outdoor sports. Usually, I had gotten good workouts from my three a day shows with Toni. I did recall a few weekends with Toni at Jay Goatsby's fancy Long Island estate. We weren't all that great at mixed doubles, but when one is in a cute little tennis outfit, does it really matter? Now, I knew that Lover Boy was fond of his daily sets of tennis, but a buck is a buck and there's no one that can resist a cuddly cheetah in a short white skirt. So I volunteered that I knew something about tennis, which was the truth. Lodge took out a small notebook.
"Then we are agreeable, gentlemen, that one of the legs of the matter will be tennis?"
Heh. You don't know the half of it, Lodge.
The wolf and the deer conferred, and a best of five sets match on the court at Shepherd's Hotel was quickly agreed to. Lodge would see to the hiring of the umpire, ballboys et cetera.
Sr. de Ciervos frowned a bit. "This tennis, it is all well and good, but there is the lack of the danger involved. There is no risk, there is no excitement, there is no thrill of the blood, yes?"
Personally, I didn't find blood all that thrilling, but I kept my peace.
Br'er Wolf began grinning. "Ah! There is the matter of the high-performance racing car. The thrill of the speed and the powerful machines going thrum-thrum-thrum!" I could see the gleam in his eyes. He was clearly suffering from a case of the Benz.
I was sort of sorry I had to break it to him. "Sorry, Baron. I'm from Gnu York City. The most automotive experience I've ever had was flagging down a taxicab. Never really learned to drive."
Lodge coughed politely. "Mister Buckhorn is much the same way. Not that he ever
permitted that to stop him."
"In any event," I continued, "there's not much in the way of paved roads around here, and, for that matter, not much in the way of motor-cars around here, let alone high performance German automobiles."
A sigh from the wolf. "Ja. Is sad. One of the few things, I am thinking, that is not civilized about the Spontoons."
Lodge, though, was thinking. "I am given to believe, gentlemen, that a consignment of BMW motor-bicyles arrived in Casino Island last week."
Instant ear-perk from Deutscher Doggie. "You speak verily?! Where?!"
"I am led to believe that Messrs. Hop Sing & Mock Duck have the exclusive distribution rights for this part of the North Pacific, but that they are having some trouble selling their first consignment. Mr. Buckhorn was looking into this matter. I, er, tried to dissuade him from that course of action. There was an unfortunate incident, some years ago, when he put a high-powered English car through the plate-glass window of an emporium on the Rue de la Paix."
The deer was unimpressed, and waved a paw. "Poof. Why is it that this would cause the comment in Paris? The crazy driving, it is second nature to the French."
"Be that as it may, sir, I would question whether the Althing would allow Mr. Buckhorn to ride a rather high-powered motor vehicle anywhere in a built up area of Casino Island. There is the matter of innocent bystanders."
The wolf began pacing back and forth. I could see that he had taken Lodge's bait, and he wasn't gonna give up any idea involving big, throbbing engines readily.
"I am knowing some of the people who are running the Eastern Island airstrip. There is the airstrip there, with much in the way of the space around it. It has the paving, and the lines of sight. It is merely the matter of finding the bales of hay to mark the course and to provide the crash-protection. No, no, Carlos, I am thinking you are right, there must be the element of the excitement and the danger in this matter, otherwise there is no honour involved. Is it agreeable to Fraulein Baumgartner, mein herr, that we have the race with the motor-bicycles, on the Eastern Island airstrip?"
Lodge and I conferred. I was all for it, figuring that Lover Boy was so clumsy that he'd manage to go flag-over-antlers in the first turn, allowing me to win in a canter. Lodge seemed to be a bit conflicted on the matter. No wonder; Lover Boy was his meal ticket.
I shrugged. "It's simple. We add a bunch of extra hay bales on the first turn and tell your...charge to roll with the fall. Nothing a bottle of iodine and some ice-packs can't fix."
Lodge didn't seem totally convinced by this argument, but he had to concede that it met Willow's demands. "You will note, Miss Baumgartner, that you will not be able to foul Mr.Buckhorn during the race."
I thought back to Francis X. Bushmink in 'Ben Hare.' "You mean ixnay on the inningspay adesblay?"
"I'm afraid that many would feel that would be a violation of the principle of the matter, Miss Baumgartner."
Nertz. Oh, well, can't have everything. Besides, this promised to even things up with the tennis. So the Spontoon 500 (well, 5, maybe) was penciled in as the second dance.
Now, the grand finale. Lodge seemed to have an idea on this. "Would you agree,
gentlemen, that both Mr. Buckhorn and Miss Baumgartner spend a great deal of time in barrooms?"
"Poof. They are on the different side of the counter, are they not?"
I smiled nastily. "I can hold my bathtub gin as easily as any whitetail buck. Wasn't all those years in show-business for nothing. What I don't know about downing a bottle of champagne ain't worth knowing."
This wasn't idle boasting. There's a lot of mornings I had the katzenjammers from a post-show party. It had been a while, but I had no doubt that when push came to shove, I could drink Lover Boy under the table.
I also figured to clean up on all the side-bets, too, figuring that the bartenders had spread the word on his capacity, but didn't know anything about mine. Willow or no Willow, this little cheetah plays to win, by fair means or foul. I'd make it up to her later.
So there it was. Balls, bikes and booze. Sure made me nostalgic for those Long Island weekends.
Baron von Kojote and Sr. de Ciervos met me for dinner, and set before me the agenda for the mano-a-cheetah with La Baumgartner. I was rather pleased, as two of the scheduled events fell into areas about which I knew a good deal, viz: drinking and tennis playing. Not at the same time, of course.
The second item on the menu did give me pause. I mean, motor bicycles are nice things and all that. Lodge had to perform some verbal jujitsu some weeks back to prevent me from acquiring a rather spiffing German model. But I certainly had my druthers about going up against a rather desperate feline in such circs.
The Baron then launched into an excited description of tactics in motor-bicycle racing, and offered to give me some pointers on the subject. I gently reminded him that the last set of pointers he attempted to give me didn't take very well, owing to the clumsiness of the target of the pointers, namely, yours truly. The Baron looked rather disappointed. I think he was hoping to ride these devilish machines. I wondered why he hadn't already acquired one. I had a suspicion.
"I don't wish to pry, Baron, but does the Baronin have something against motorbicycles?"
The immediate ear and tail droop this question triggered was eloquent testimony to the fact that I had rung the bell, and deserved my choice of cigar or milky cocoanut. Sr. de Ciervos was curious as well.
"Heinrich, the Baronin, she is afraid you will make the injury on the Spontoonie roads?"
The Baron blushed and gulped. "It is not that. It is...well. The riding of the large-engined cars and motor bicycles and such makes me have the great thrill and...well, the Baronin wishes to avoid the scandal. The hotel rooms here, they have the thick walls, but you know how things can be..."
The things you learn. Chap I knew back at Penn was studying this sort of thing, and had a whole complex theory built around automobile eroticism. He came to a rather sticky end, when he married a girl whose father owned the Packherd automobile works. I gathered the conversation at the first holiday meal didn't go over well.
I left Sr. de Ciervos to keep a very deflated Baron company, while I prepared to visit the Althing the next day to deal with the red tape.
As I was preparing for bed, there was an awkward interlude, as Lodge shimmered into my room. I acknowledged his presence with silent dignity, as there was still a certain chill in the state of diplomatic relations.
"I wish to inform you, sir, that there is a lock on your laundry hamper."
"A lock, Lodge?"
"Yes, sir. A rather large one, of brass and steel construction, operated by a key."
"Like this one?" I held up for his inspection a bright, shiny key.
"Indeed, sir. If I may venture a guess, that is most likely the key that would fit that particular lock."
"That would be correct. It is, in fact, the only key to that lock. And the chap who sold it tome said the lock was tamper-proof."
"May I enquire as to why you have placed a lock on the laundry hamper, sir?"
"No, but as I'm sure your organization has ways of finding these things out anyway, I shall tell you. There is a pair of my boxer shorts missing."
Lodge's whiskers quivered slightly and suspiciously, at least to my mind.
"I am sorry to hear that, sir."
"Not bloody likely, Lodge. It was that pair of silk boxers with the hearts on them that Miss Fawnsworthy gave me. I was rather fond of them."
"I recall that, sir."
"Just as I recall that you weren't very fond of them."
"Dashed nonsense. Who would know I was wearing them?"
"Senor, Senora, and Senorita de Ciervos, Miss Baumgartner, Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush of the Constabulary, the hotel manager of..."
I tapped an irritated hoof. "I was referring to ordinary circumstances, Lodge."
"With due respect, sir, hardly anything you do qualifies for ordinary circumstances."
"What? What? What-what-what? Blasted cheek! Now dash it all, look here..."
"But sir, I..."
"But me no buts, and proud me no prouds, Lodge. When the time is appropriate, we shall have words upon this subject. Until then, I suggest you turn your talents for skullduggery into other avenues. Why don't you try taking over Cranium Island or such? Matching wits with mad scientists would seem to suit your book."
Lodge blinked. I think he wasn't quite used to the master acting like, well, a master. He bowed and shimmered away. Come to think of it, I wasn't used to acting like the master, either. It made me feel rather good. Put me in a mood to get a Jesuit by the ear and give him a few home truths. I toddled off to the bath for a good soak to ponder this. The key, of course, was kept on my person, just in case.
Lodge was still acting loyally, as he laid out the proper clothes for me the next morning. Well, mostly loyal. He laid out my opera cloak and fedora hat. Lodge is very good at that kind of subtle insolence. I decided to defy him, and wear same, just to show who was master in this household. So there.
A water-taxi over to Meeting Island brought me over to the buildings housing the local government. I realized that I didn't know where I was supposed to get the dueling forms. A brisk bit of wandering about disclosed the location of the Ministry of Information. This seemed promising, and I looked up the chap at the front desk, who was nose-deep in the Elele.
"Hallo!" The vigour of this greeting produced something of a panicked response from the deskwalrus.
"LIES! It's all lies, I tell you! I had nothing to do with the Officers' Recreation Fund! You wouldn't hit a nursing mother, would you?"
I looked confused, which in these circs. was little difficulty. "Errr, I'm looking for some information."
The deskwalrus calmed down. "Not my department."
."Half a mo', isn't this the Ministry of Information?"
"What does the sign outside say?" This asked in tones tremulous. I decided a bit of pleasantry was in order.
"Nothing! You have to look at it! Ha-ha...errr...*cough*"
A shrewd look from the deskwalrus. "Not as easy as it looks, is it?"
I shrugged and pressed on. "Now see here, I'm looking for some information!"
."Well, you've come to the wrong place, mate. We're fresh out."
This confused me. "There's no information at the Ministry of Information?"
"Well, where can I find some information?"
"Damned if I know. They never tell the Ministry of Information anything."
The puzzlement deepened. "Don't you run any information desks?"
"No, that would be the Ministry of Desks."
"Damned if I know. They never tell the Ministry of Information anything."
"Now look --"
"Look, don't bother me. Go over to the Ministry of Tourism. They like being bothered."
The chap at the front desk of the Ministry of Tourism was very difficult to bother, as he was fast asleep. It took at least four vigorous pokes on a slumbering nose to get him in a state of consciousness.
"Ooo-er! Ow, Mate, why're you botherin' me durin' me mornin' kip?"
I frowned. "I need some information."
"Nowt to do with me, Mate. You wants the Ministry of Information, you do."
"I've been there. They sent me here!"
The look blank. "Oo did?"
"The walrus at the information desk at the Ministry of Information."
"That rotter," Mate said, looking irritated. "'E *knows* it's me mornin' kip." With that, the phone was picked up, and a vigorous barracking carried on by modern technology began to ensue between the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Tourism. As things quickly began to heat up, and descend into personalities, I decided that I would try my luck elsewhere.
After being directed to the Ministry of Public Works, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Military Affairs, and something called the Ministry Without Portfolio, it was a very hot, bothered and annoyed buck that was sitting on a park bench, fuming in general at the government of the Spontoon Islands, which had a good deal of my money, mainly extracted in the form of assorted fines and penalties.
A rather older-looking ferret, out for a stroll, took pity on me. Raising his hat, he asked me politely as to what I was in search of.
"The Holy Grail," I replied testily.
The ferret took this retort with a smile. "In your case, that would be the Ministry of the Interior, Suite 10, Room Q."
I looked at him agog. "10-Q?"
"You're quite welcome, Mr. Buckhorn. Good luck with your duel."
He had been gone about a minute before it struck me that he knew my name, even though we hadn't been introduced. I put it down to my reputation, such as it was, and sallied forth to Room 10-Q.
This turned out to be a rather small, cramped office filled with a wide assortment of boxes and papers. A pair of rather short white mice were in charge. I addressed myself to the one that was slightly taller.
"I'd like a dueling license, please."
He blinked, and scratched his ear. He replied in a rather high, English-accented falsetto, "Wuuh, why would you need a license for drooling? I do it all the time! Hah-hah!"
This seemed to irritate his smaller, rather more jowly co-worker, who spoke in a bassoquasi-monotone.
"Please forgive my colleague. Things said to him go in one ear, and out the other. Nothing blocking it in between, you understand."
The taller mouse blinked, and stuck a finger in his ear in a spirit of exploration and experimentation. As this seemed to occupy him, the likely intention of his colleague, he was free to turn his attention to me, so I put the question direct.
"Is this the department for issuing dueling licenses, then?"
"Actually, this is a subtle part of plan I have to alter the geopolitical balance of the world, through the use of highly complex bureaucratic procedures. But to answer your question, yes, we do issue those kinds of licenses." There was a rumbling and shuffling as various boxes and such were moved about.
"Drat! I know that form is in here somewhere. We don't get many requests for it." Turning to the co-worker, he was about to ask something when he discovered that the exploration was now proceeding on two different fronts.
"For heaven's sake, will you take your fingers out of your ears?"
"I said, TAKE YOUR FINGERS OUT OF YOUR EARS!"
"Wuuh, sorry, can't hear a word you say. I've got my fingers in my ears."
A vigorous pair of yanks on the arms freed up the necessary implements. "Now pay attention. Where can I find a Form EI-6-EIO?"
The mouse grinned from freed ear to freed ear. "On a farm, of course. Ah-hah-hah-hahha...OW!"
A firm flick on the nose with thumb and forefinger indicated disapproval, and the abashed mouse began to help his smaller chum sift through the boxes. This was done largely by lightly tossing aside various boxes. After a few minutes, the taller mouse cried out happily.
"Hur-RAH! Here it is, Form EI-6-EIO, application for Affair (Honour), Two-Party Format." The mouse looked around with triumph, which was not shared by his partner, who was under a stack of about a dozen boxes and a few reams of carbon-paper forms. At least, that's where his voice was coming from.
"I will shortly be requiring a license to hurt you severely."
"Errrr, no can do. We don't have that form. We ran out last week, remember?"
The jowly mouse sighed. "I cannot fathom why. Please give the gentleman his forms, have him fill them out in triplicate at the table over there, witness his signatures, and collect the requisite license fee. It is to be hoped that the pain I am in right now will subside by then."
An hour later, minus a nonrefundable 250 pound deposit and a bill for 750 pounds, I was the proud possessor of a license entitling Reginald Buckhorn (or substitute/ champion thereof) to conduct an affair of honour at a time (or times) set forth below in Section 5, against the party or parties (or substitute(s)/ champion(s) thereof) set forth in Section 7(j) anywhere in the Spontoon Island Dependencies, all liability for harm to self being waved, and all liability for harm to innocent bystanders being assumed, and so forth, and so on. Bit unfair, really. From the noises that were erupting from Room 10-Q, it would seem that government officials didn't need such a license to settle things physically. Isn't that always the case with bureaucrats?