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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, Fr. Merino, Baron and Baronin von Kojote,
Senor, Senora and Senorita de Ciervos, Po'na (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Rosie Baumgartner, Rabbi Steinmink (c) M. Mitchell Marmel
Yr. Humble Servant was preparing for the big tennis match. One thing I did was to put a few pounds on myself. Betting, not blinis. I figured laying off the seconds was a Good Idea, at least until this meshugina duel was over and done with.
Another bit of preparation was on Willow's behalf. She wanted to watch the match, but, being the good little doe she was (since when?), she didn't want to break her promise to Merino about seeing Reggie. Personally, I thought she was taking things a bit too literally, but... I shrugged and bearded the ram in his lair on Meeting Island.
His housekeeper let me into the garden behind the Rectory. Not many folks have ever seen the garden, which is kind of a shame, as I understand Merino's been working on it for most of his thirty-five years plus on the Islands. A very pretty garden and well laid out. Even with no flowers blooming, it was the kind of place to spend a quiet afternoon, which the Padre was doing. In fact, he was playing chess with, of all people, Rabbi Jacob Steinmink! Sorta like an old vaudeville joke: "A rabbi, a priest and a bartender were in a garden..."
"Miss Baumgartner! A pleasure to see you again." Father Merino poured me a cup of tea. I reluctantly declined the pastry that Rabbi Steinmink offered. I recognized it as a Nerzmann specialty, and didn't need it on my waistline at the moment.
"A bit of discipline for the upcoming trials?" Steinmink twinkled over his pince-nez.
I grinned. "Something like that, yes." I turned to Merino. "Father, I want to ask you a favor."
The old ram moved a chess piece, and then inclined his head at me, listening very politely.
"It's about Willow's penance. I've been trying to help her..."
Merino nodded. "Oh, yes. She's told me so. It's good that someone cares enough to look out for her. It is appreciated." He waited for me to continue.
"It's about the tennis match," I continued.
Merino shot me a shrewd look. "Looking to relax the restrictions a bit?"
Steinmink hid a grin behind a bite of pastry. Willow was right. Can't get much past a Jesuit.
"It's like this," I went on. "Willow's concerned with this meshugina contest between Buckhorn and me." I grimaced ruefully. "She's made it clear--no rough stuff. She wants to make sure by keeping an eye on things, but she's worried that she's going to break her promise to you..."
"And you, as her friend and as a principal in this matter, want her to be able to watch the proceedings?"
I took a sip of tea. "Exactly."
Father Merino rubbed his eyes and watched Rabbi Steinmink make a move on the chessboard. "I realize you're thinking of Miss Fawnsworthy's anxiousness, Miss Baumgartner, and seeing as Miss Fawnsworthy has...confided in you, I will tell you that the purpose of the penance..." I knew the reason, of course, but no point in bringing it up in front of Steinmink. "...was for Miss Fawnsworthy to give up something very important to her."
"Which has caused me no end of tsuris," I murmured. A snort from the good rebbe.
Merino offered me a mild grin and continued. "Not being able to see her...um, friend, Mr. Buckhorn, is no doubt very painful, but that *is* the purpose of the penance. You will understand if I do not go into details, of course." I shot him a private smile. Looks like Merino felt the same way as I did about the family secrets.
Rabbi Steinmink wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Augustus, do you mind if I play Devil's Advocate?"
Merino raised an eyebrow, and glanced at me. "Deliberate choice of phrase there, Jacob?"
The Rebbe spread his paws, smiled and shrugged. "That is for Miss Baumgartner to interpret." I grinned a bit at this. "But I will say this, Augustus...when you said Miss Fawnsworthy could not see Mr. Buckhorn, you of course had in mind the fact that she could not, for example, have dinner with him, go to the cinema, have a walk on the beach, or the like. Correct?"
Father Merino rubbed his chin, and gazed at the chessboard. "I admit that is what I specifically had in mind."
The Rebbe smiled slyly. "But surely, you didn't mean 'see' in the literal sense, did you? I mean, it would be entirely possible for Miss Fawnsworthy to see Mr. Buckhorn at a distance, or in a window. You meant, surely, 'see' in the sense of direct personal contact."
Another eyebrow raise from the Jesuit. "Talmudic reasoning."
"But naturally, Augustus. Force of habit. Bear in mind that Mr. Buckhorn will be competing against Miss Baumgartner, and the matter has already received wide publicity on Radio LONO and in the newspapers. As long as Miss Fawnsworthy is not capable of contacting Mr. Buckhorn in any way, directly or indirectly, would watching the proceedings through, say, a high-powered pair of binoculars truly violate the spirit of her penance?"
The old ram closed his eyes, and thought. Steinmink gave me a quiet wink, and had a bit more pastry while the wheels were turning. Finally, Merino opened his eyes.
"One could make all sorts of arguments as to whether the physical act of seeing Mr. Buckhorn is different from the social act of seeing Mr. Buckhorn. Seeing as I did not make it totally clear at the outset, I'm prepared to let Miss Fawnsworthy see the proceedings.
"But," and here he raised a finger and looked sternly at me, "it must be clearly understood this is to be at a distance, as Dr. Steinmink says, with no means of communicating with Mr. Buckhorn, if she wishes to adhere to the principle of the penance. I will tell her so when she goes to St. Paul's later tonight. So, Jacob, you win. At least in one sense."
Father Merino made a move on the chessboard. "Mate in three."
The Rebbe looked startled, and peered at the board. He then slapped his forehead.
"Aaaach! I should know better than to try to distract you, Augustus."
The best thing I can say is that I now have some idea of how Napoleon felt after Waterloo.
It was a great day for tennis. Low 60s, sunny, not a cloud in the sky and not much breeze. Which, considering my short-short skirt, was a Good Thing. Suffice to say Willow wasn't the only one watching the proceedings with field glasses.
Of course, not all of them were trained on Yr. Humble Servant. Lover Boy came out in a white collared shirt, flannels and blazer, and looked for all the world like he was ready for the Open at Hilly Forests. He had the lady herbivores on his side, and not a few carnivores and omnivores, too. Inocenta de Ciervos, alias Cupcake, was escorted off the court. Apparently, bribes had changed paws to make sure she was to be a ballgirl (shocking!), but it was felt that this would be too much of a distraction. Nertz.
The umpire, in his high stool, tapped the microphone. "Quiet, please! Quiet!"
I looked around behind me. Yep. My luck (or lack thereof) was holding.
"Eyyyy, boss. Atsa some kinda short skirt there. It'sa gonna be some distraction."
"Well, Benelli, no doubt that's the end in view."
"Look, my wife can't get me to be quiet, what makes you think you can?"
Some shushing from the crowd did manage to get the schmuck duck to at least concentrate on his cigar. Lover Boy won the coin toss, and got to serve first, and I got on the balls of my footpads, ready to receive it. I was still there when the first serve whizzed past me.
"Eyyy, whatta just happened?"
"Mr. Buckhorn got an ace, Benelli."
"Eh, atsa not gonna do him any good. Miss Baumgartner, she gotta pair."
Okeh, so my shirt was kinda-sorta tight. That was STILL out of bounds. A glare at them got them to shut up, at least for a few seconds. Two more serves from Lover Boy, and at least I managed to get the racquet on 'em. Too bad they didn't go very far.
A smoke ring from the duck. "Anyone who thinks there's love at 40 obviously hasn't been married."
One fwack! and one zoom! later, and it was 1-0 to the whitetail buck. And things went sort of downhill from there...
A short summary of how things went: Reggie serves, Rosie fails to get a racquet on the ball. Ace.
Rosie serves, Reggie returns, Rosie hits the ball into the net. Point to the buck.
Reggie serves, Rosie gets the ball over the net, but out of bounds. Point to the buck.
Rosie serves, misses two serves in a row (out of bounds or in the net). Double-fault.
Reggie serves, Rosie gets the ball over the net and in play, Reggie hits it back, hard, in play, Rosie hits the ball into the net/out of bounds/misses. Point to the buck.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I suppose getting gallant applause from the audience as I left the court was something of a moral victory. I heard someone in the audience, a guy with a fruity voice like Noel Cowherd, comment that it was "an awfully bad show not to let the lady have a chance," and that no gentlebuck beats a lady 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.
Since Willow was watching from far away, I had to keep my claws retracted when I shook hands with the winner, else he'd have acquired the nickname "Lefty" the hard way. I also had to refrain from smashing the racquet over his thick skull. Not that he would have felt it, mind you. I was under no such constraints, thankfully, toward the heavy wooden bench that was set permanently between the rows of lockers in the ladies' changing room..
"Bad game?" I enquired sweetly.
Rosie snarled. "What was your first clue?"
"Er...the mortal remains of the tennis racquet you just chucked into the trash can?"
Rosie peered into the can, and grimaced. "Someday, they'll start making those things out of aluminum, so they simply bend around locker-room bench posts."
I gave Rose a sympathetic nod. "Well, at least you gave it a decent burial."
This got a sour grin. "Well, can't leave my distant ancestors' remains in a hotel waste bin." Rosie peered into the trash can with a dreamy look. "I wonder how deer guts would work to string my next tennis racquet?"
I waved an admonishing finger. "Behave. At least you got some exercise."
"The only thing that got exercised out there was my temper," Rosie growled. "If I heard one more word, just one more word, out of that fercachter duck and that cackerkop mutt, I was gonna do something with a tennis ball that'd require six proctologists and a steam-powered winch to fix."
"Randolph wasn't there?"
Rosie snorted. "He was, indeed. You didn't see the commotion in the second set?"
"I saw something, but not clearly."
"Started chasing a ball girl. Frisky little devil, ain't he?" Another sour grin. "Well, the only horns he'll have in jail are the ones on his empty fool head."
I giggled. Reindeer are cute, even if they aren't as cute as whitetail bucks. Mmmm, and Reggie did look *so* nice when he was serving. Didn't tell Rosie that, of course.
I had been counseled by the Baron and Sr. de Ciervos to be brisk, business-like and to the point with the tennis match, all of which proved to be sound advice. Save for an interval early in the second set, when my neighbour Randolph tried to "assist" the ball girl, everything went like clockwork. Paws were shaken at the end of the match, though I had a strong suspicion that La Baumgartner would have preferred to use her paws to more productive ends, viz., the choking of yours truly.
My brain trust joined me in cocktails back at the suite after the match. Further counsel was given to keep a relatively low profile and act in a sportsbuck-like fashion. In these matters, I was given to believe, Image was All.
Conversation was somewhat constrained by the presence of Lodge, who, as I've noted before, was in the camp of the enemy. Discreet plans were whispered for training sessions with the motor-bicycles, cocktails were drained, and I was left to confrontation or not, as I saw fit. Lodge murmured his congratulations, and I gave what the Baron would no doubt refer to as a "korrect" reply. Lodge coughed.
"You should have a doctor look at that cough."
"I beg your pardon, Sir. It was merely a means to effect an opening to a conversation. Your concern for my health is appreciated."
"There is the matter of the clothes hamper, Sir. It is getting rather full, and I am concerned about the scent."
The self bristled. "What's wrong with buck-scent?"
"Nothing, Sir, in moderation, I assure you. However, I think you will find yourself running short of clean, unscented attire in a few days if nothing is done."
"Nothing of the sort, Lodge. This is all part of my plan."
"Plan, Lodge. A scheme. A modus operandi. A course of action."
"I am gratified, Sir, that you have located your thesaurus. I had feared you had lost it under a pile of unwashed underlinen."
"Very droll, Lodge. In any event, I propose to carry out this plan, scheme, modus operandi, what have you, until I catch the culprit that nicked those boxer shorts."
Lodge sighed. "Really, Sir, the laundry has taken responsibility..."
"Piffle, Lodge. I suspect someone, at this very moment, is using them for some foul purpose only to be whispered at."
"Just what are you doing with Mini-Reggie and that large hat-pin?"
"Me do voodoo. Heap big ju-ju." Rosie vigorously prodded the plush in its posterior.
We both cocked an ear. No distant yelp from Shepherd's. Rosie sighed and put Mini-Reggie down. "Guess I shoulda played a couple extra days in New Orleans. Still don't have it down quite right."
I grinned. "Still sore about the match?"
Rosie picked up the Mirror. "Coulda done without the shot of me eating grass going for one of Reggie's returns. Good thing I listened to my mother when she told me to wear clean underwear, never know when I might get hit by a bus."
I nodded. "Course, if a bus hits you, chances are the underwear won't be clean for long, but..."
"True." Rosie regarded the picture. "I HAVE gotten twelve fan letters and three marriage proposals..."
I chuckled. "Anyhow, we need to start thinking about the race. Only three days off, now."
Rosie snickered. "No worries. I was on the boardwalk an hour or so back."
I cocked my head. "And?"
"Well, there I was, thousands of miles from the nearest salt-water taffy, when along come the Dover Boys... with Fearless Freep going along on the beach on his motor-bicycle and Daddy Deer and the Deutscher Doggie trotting along behind him."
"At least SOMEONE'S doing some training. You could stand to do some, too."
Another cheetah snicker. "Not like this. He took a wrong turn and took a long ride off a short pier. Musta thought he was riding a submarine. Good thing the Red Baron's a good swimmer."
I giggled. "Oh, dear."
Rosie snorted. "It gets worse. A couple of fish got ahold of Reggie's billfold and started playing keep-away with it." A puzzled look from me. Rosie grinned. "What, you never heard of carp-to-carp walleting?"
I groaned. "Nevertheless, I want you to do some dry runs around the track..."
Race Day. Time for a little payback for the hatrack. Willow had gotten me to do some practice laps, so I figured I was more familiar with the course. I'd even done a lap or so without the engine. Wound up going faster. Yay, cheetah legs!
Okay, prerace checklist:
New BMW motor-bicycles -huh?
There certainly were a pair of motor-bicycles there, but they weren't new and they certainly weren't BMWs. Proud lettering on the fuel tanks proclaimed, "THE HEFFALUMPDUMPALOON MOTOR COMPANY, MILWOOKIE, WISC., USA".
A somewhat abashed Baron explained. Apparently, Reggie's aquatic excursion had resulted in salt water going where where gasoline and oil generally were supposed to go, thus rendering his bicycle's engine hors de combat. These machines were the only other matched pair on the Islands.
I shrugged. "Well, the controls appear to be the same, so I have no problems. Unless the gentlefur wishes to concede..."
The gentlefur did not. Neither did Reggie, for that matter.
I had a fairly simple strategy: Go reasonably fast but not all-out, and take it easy in the curves. (Sound advice for other places as well.) I figured B'rer Bambi was going to continue his current level of expertise with motorized vehicles (i.e. somewhere halfway between miniscule and nonexistent) and spend most of his time bouncing off the haybales. Not to mention his rack making things tricky at speed (not that we were gonna be going all that fast). Long as I kept my pretty little nosepad clean, I should be able to even the score, no problem.
Good crowd for this shindig. SRO on the nearby roofs, and folks were standing on packing crates and the like well back of the haybales that marked the course. Guess they didn't want to get TOO close to the action. Good bit of action on the side: one guy was giving 5:3 that Reggie was going to go flag-over-antlers at some point. I put a little on that proposition.
One spectator had me bemused: A seagull that was perched on the handlebars of Reggie's bike. Was he planning on hitching a ride? Daddy Deer tried to shoo it away, but it screeched at him, hopped up and down on the handlebars, and poked at him with its bill. Discretion got the better part of valor for the old boy, and he awaited developments. The bird gave me the evil eye next. I can take birds (preferably roasted with a nice matzoh crumb stuffing) or leave 'em alone, but this one decided he didn't like kitties, period. I kept a pawful of claws on standby, just in case.
An excited murmur and camera clicking from the crowd. I turned around. What the hell?
Not only had Lover-Boy been getting advice on motor-bike technique. but it looked like Cupcake had done his wardrobe. Thigh high mirror-polished black leather boots, black leather jodhpurs with a silver stripe down each side, tight black leather jacket, black leather gloves, silver goggles and a black leather helmet with rack vents. I was in awe. How Nature Boy CAN you get?
A shrill wolf whistle (well, cheetah whistle) from Yrs. Truly. "Oi, Buck Dodgers! You forgot your beam thrower!" I yelled, drawing laughs from the crowd among the snaps of the camera shutters.
Our Hero regarded my overalls cooly. "Why, Miss Baumgartner! I didn't know that the dress code was provided by Marks and Spanner...."
I snorted, tightened my belt a notch and turned my back, slapping my tush. "Like the view? It's all YOU'RE going to be seeing this afternoon..." Whoops and cheers from the audience. Leather Boy snorted and turned his attention to a new arrival.
Svetlana Sobol'yeva, a real looker of a sable, came strolling up to Team Reggie's bike. She used to be a ballerina in St. Pete before the Revolution... and a whole lot more, if you get my drift. She kept herself in nice clothes (at least publicly) by acting as the local agent for Vostok Vodka ("Boldly Goes Down Where Arkangelesks Fear to Tread"). She was Posing with a carboy containing a clear liquid.
Lodge furrowed his brow. "I must admit, Miss Baumgartner, that I had overlooked this possibility."
"What's that, Lodge?"
"If I'm not mistaken, it is Mister Buckhorn's intention to use those gallons of ardent spirits for the race."
"Chug-a-lug?" I asked hopefully.
"I believe that it is the intention of Mister Buckhorn and his advisors to fuel the motor bicycle with the vodka. Mister Buckhorn has mentioned that Vostok Vodka is 187 proof,and you will observe that Baron von Kojote is making adjustments to the engine."
I frownded. "Izzat legal?"
Lodge shrugged. "There is nothing in the rules against it. It will give Mister Buckhorn a somewhat unpredictable advantage in speed."
I snorted. "Alky bike plus alky rider means he'll hit the haybales that much faster. We'll let him have his fun."
"As you wish, Miss Baumgartner. Someone else, it would appear, intends to voice objections..."
I looked over. Comrade Sobol'yeva was posing cheerfully with the Baron while hewas fueling up the contraption. The Baron was obviously enjoying this a good deal. Too much, since he didn't see the impending arrival of the Baronin, who added booze, bimbo and Baron, and came to the inevitable conclusion.
The Russkie cutie was chased off, the near-empty carboy being hurled at her fluffy tail with pretty decent accuracy by the Baronin. Lover Boy was soon short one advisor, as the Baron got led off by his ear to the multi-lingual strains of commentary by one angry Argentine maned wolf. I'd seen the habitués of the "bald-headed row" get caught by their wives before, but this was the first time I think I would have needed a translator for the fun.
Ah, well. Consternation to the enemy and all that. The only two who took this calmly were Reggie and the seagull, who were eyeing each other suspiciously. Old friends?
Personally, I grieved for the waste of all that vodka, first going into the engine of my motor-bicycle, and the lees being given the heave-ho by the Baronin. The Baronin was not impressed by her husband's argument that his relationship with the local representative of Vostok Vodka was purely business. I had met Mlle. Sobol'yeva before, when she attempted to get me to switch from Delhi Gin to Vostok Vodka. Only a quick-thinking salesfur for Imperial Distillers, Ltd. saved the quarterly projections for his firm by suborning some bartenders to serve me gin, and only gin. Still, I watched the puddle evaporate from the shattered carboy with a sense of loss. Mlle. Sobol'yeva evidently considered herself well out of it that the Baronin hadn't tried to do anything further. Some spectators were disappointed, in that they were hoping for an undercard.
La Baumgartner was wearing a sneer on her face, and, frankly, not much else, if I was any judge of the overalls she was wearing. One too many blinis, if you want my opinion, and my taste doesn't run to felines. My attention was half-focused on a rather nastily familiar seagull, who was glaring at me from my handlebars. I made a shooing motion at it, and it gave me a look of frozen hauteur, like an untipped French waiter.
Lodge and Sr. de Ciervos stepped forward, and gave us our instructions. The course was laid out using roughly half the airstrip, with a barrier of hay bales down the centre, and room for about four bikes on either side, before further hay bales and cotton bales provided cushioning and protection for (from?) the spectators. (Rumour was that the officials running the airstrip were heavily invested in various wagers on the outcome of the match, which explained the temporary suspension of air service. Luckily, it was the off-season.)
Ten laps around the course, roughly two-thirds of a mile per lap. We were warned specifically that there was to be no Francis X. Bushmink-type skullduggery with interference and such. It was to be a clean match, and we were to come out riding.
We lined up at the start, and Papa Deer took out a large pistol. My hopes for an early end to the race were dashed as he pointed it upwards instead of aiming it at Space Cadet Buckhorn. Lodge called, "Start your engines!" With the rear wheels on their stands, we pedaled our machines to start them. My Heffalump-Dumpaloon coughed, sputtered a bit and began purring. A few moments later, so did I. There's a reason we ladies like these old one-cylinder models (said reason not being suitable for a family-oriented publication, alas). Reggie's bike shot out a streak of blue and white flame, and began rattling, which, at least, dislodged the seagull, who moved to a nearby cotton bale. With that, the old buck pressed the trigger on his gat, and we were off.
Smooth start, nothing fancy, steady as she goes, no circus stuff. I figured the Hatrack was going to have control issues and, as I rounded Turn One, I noted with some amusement that he'd managed to go around in a circle. Tres apropos.
And so it was that I had clear sailing around the first two laps, no issues, no idiotic deerbuck dogging me. I played to the audience a bit, slapping my thigh like a rider urging her mount on. Around the middle of the third lap, the crowd started cheering. For me? Well. I was riding more competently than Wrong-Way Deerigan, behind me, but...
As I rounded the far turn on Lap Three, I saw something in the corner of my eye: A whitetail buck going hell-for-black-leather and leaning at about a 45 degree angle into the turn. Only an idiot or a madman would make a turn that way at the speed he was going IN traffic. Of course, we were dealing with Reginald Buckhorn, Esq., so that was definitely the explanation. Time for this little cheetah to kick it up a notch.
I kept to the inside, forcing Captain Eddie Rackinpacker to take the slightly longer outside track. At this point, I realized that his horns made for an unfair advantage; if he got too close, they'd smack me in the head, and it's only funny until someone loses an eye. Luckily, Mister Seagull kept dive-bombing Lover Boy, which kept him from going perfectly straight in the straightaways, I made a mental note to buy that gull all the sardines it could eat. And if he kept using our favorite buck as a target, I was willing to throw in a box of prunes.
I maintained a lead of a length or two through the seventh, eighth and ninth laps. Lover Boy was staying in the game mainly because of his crazy risks in the turns. Maybe the rack was acting like a high-wire artist's balance pole? Whatever it was, the crowd was eating it up.
I started pulling away slightly on the last lap. Maybe the vodka was running out in Reggie's Heffalump-Dumpaloon. Don't know, don't care. I was in the lead and feeling good, which probably should have been a warning, because here came Deadeye Dick Seagull at twelve o'clock, carrying something in his beak. Deadeye blew his perfect record as his ordnance, apparently a large clam, hit just in front of my tire.
I crossed the finish line first. On the second bounce, near as I could tell.
As I sprawled upside-down on a haybale, my first thought was that I was kinda glad I was wearing overalls and not a tennis skirt.
Thoughts two through ten concerned the agony shooting up my spine.
To his credit, Lover boy was true to his breeding. As his bike crossed the line, he leapt off and ran to my side, calling for a medic.
The last thing I saw before I blacked out was a black leather helmet scoring a direct hit on the smug beak of a seagull.