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12 December 2005
Let's Doe It [Lets Fall In Love]
Willow Fawnsworthy created by M. Mitchell Marmel
Reggie Buckhorn created by EOCostello
"The Bells Are Ringing, For Me and My Doe"
by E. O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel
"The Bells Are Ringing, For Me and My Doe"
by E.O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel
Reggie Buckhorn, Lodge, Baron and Baronin von Kojote,
Andre d'Arbres (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Rosie Baumgartner (c) M. Mitchell Marmel
Rosie and I showered (Separately. Sorry.) and dressed for dinner.
I decided on one of my new dresses. Rosie was a bit more problematic, mainly because her tail-cast didn't accessorize well with any of her outfits. Both my Plan A (wrapping Rosie in strategic locations with linen bandages) and Plan B (using nail polish to paint her cast) were politely but firmly declined. Pity, really; I'd never seen a paisley tail-cast and I was eager to give it a try.
Rosie was surprised when I told her dinner was on me. "I thought we were going to eat at a restaurant. Of course, any excuse to lick you all over is fine by me."
"Ass," I chuckled. "I've made reservations at L'Etoile."
"We're going to eat at Lover Boy's hotel? If the good Padre finds out, our tails will be in matching slings."
"Oh," I said airily. "I called ahead. Reggie isn't dining there tonight; the maitre d'hotel was quite positive about it. Soooooo...if we use the restaurant entrance instead of the lobby entrance, we have less of a chance to see Reggie. And even if we do, it's certainly not planned." I sketched a halo over my head.
Rosie wasn't buying it. "Be better if Les came along. Where the hell *is* he, anyhow?" She looked speculative. "You don't suppose Cupcake still..."
"No, the Ercorsair took off for the Orpingtons bright and early. Dunno what his flight plan was from there." It was strange that Les would bolt without leaving a message. Guess going muzzle-to-muzzle with Inocenta de Ciervos in bed has that effect on folks.
I don't know whether the flight from the Spontoons to Honolulu was uneventful or not. Frankly, I wasn't paying much attention to my surroundings at all. The stewardess, bless her heart, thought I had a fear of flying, and offered me some drinks. Under ordinary circs., these would have been consumed with a light heart, and probably even lighter mind. I decided the prudent policy was to remain stone-cold sober. If I knew the Sire, and I believed I did, there would be a reception committee upon my arrival in Honolulu.
When I returned from the aeroport after delivering Mr. Buckhorn to his flight, I tidied up the suite, and pondered the facts. Obviously, Mr. Buckhorn's departure had something to do with Sir Josslyn Buckhorn. This was shown by his cryptic remark regarding an apparent elevation of his sire to the House of Lords.
The key point in this would be how Mr. Buckhorn became aware of this fact. I know that, comics and sports aside, Mr. Buckhorn is not a diligent reader of the daily newspapers. Furthermore, any public discussion of the upcoming New Year's Honours List would be mere uninformed speculation. As the Elele focused on Spontoon news, I checked the morning and afternoon editions of today's Mirror, which turned up no relevant news articles. Clearly, then, Mr. Buckhorn had received word by other means.
Mr. Buckhorn was not aware of the news when he went down to dine in the hotel restaurant, but he was aware of it when his meal was interrupted. This suggested the possibility of a telephone call or a written message. A telephone call, while it would be private, would be prohibitively expensive, even for Mr. Buckhorn's parents. A check with the hotel switchboard showed that no calls had come in for Mr. Buckhorn all day.
A discussion with the desk clerk, however, indicated that Mr. Buckhorn had received not one, but two cables early this afternoon. I was displeased to learn that I had not been made aware of these. As Mr. Buckhorn's valet, it is my duty to be aware of such things. Mr. Buckhorn had not shown me these cables, which implied that either he had them on his person or that he had left them behind somewhere in his emotional state. The psychology of the individual suggested that the latter course was most likely the one consonant with the facts.
Assuming that the cables were left behind in L'Etoile D'Argent, they would either have been disposed of or intercepted by another party. While the first course was a highly likely one, I was aware of Mr. Buckhorn's opinion of the maitre d'hotel, which, unusually for someone of Mr. Buckhorn's sunny disposition, was redolent of brimstone.
It was incumbent upon me, as Mr. Buckhorn's confidential employee, to get one or the other cables back, and I headed down to the hotel restaurant to speak to some of the kitchen staff.
*****Now, I don't think much of Lover-Boy's brains, but I do know he considers the maitre d' at L'Etoile d'Argent to be a grand-slam mamser redoubled in spades. And if Reggie had been present, I woulda given him the Kewpie doll. My hackles raised at Tuxedo Boy's leer. Enough oil there to keep West Texas pumping for a week. Willow simply turned up her nose at Greasy Squirrel, and took her seat.
The joint was pretty quiet, only a few tables occupied. One couple was the Baron von Kojote ad his missus. Looked like he was on a tight leash this evening. The Baron hid his puss behind a menu, but the Baronin looked alarmed at seeing Willow and started getting a little fidgety.
Andre came back and smoothly removed the other place settings from the table, assuring us that he knew "Monsieur Buckhorn" would not be joining us tonight. Woulda been nice to hit the oil in that smirk with a lit match. Too bad my Ronson was in my other jacket.
Willow was getting a little edgy, what with Oily hovering around. She was starting to cast covetous eyes on the steak knife in my place setting. Can't say as I blamed her, but I would have used something a bit more to the point. Say, a large chair.
Our salads came. Andre took them from the waiter, and made a point of giving us each a "salade pour une." Willow drummed her fingers against the table. It was clear that she was getting a little close to the point where she was going to do something which might put her out of action for another six weeks.
The Baronin saw Willow's temper heading into the yellow, and she hastily made her way over to our table. "Por favor, you allow me to interrupt, si?"
Willow waved a paw. "Please do."
"The maitre d', he is bothering you, si?"
Willow favored Andre with a poisonous glare. He bowed and smiled back at her. "Okay, Baroness, you hit him low, I'll hit him high and..."
"No, no, no. Please. You no understand. I am knowing what is the going on. I am having the tea this afternoon in the hotel, yes? I see your friend, Senor Buckhorn, he come down to the late lunch."
Willow and I each raised an eyebrow at each other. Willow couldn't help but giggle. "Did he look well?"
The Baronin wrinkled her nose. "I am not in favour of the heavy drinking, and I believe that Senor Buckhorn, he was showing the effects of the...eh, how you say...ah, ranygazoo last night."
Willow smiled, a smile that was wiped off her face by the sight of Andre openly smirking.
"I would go over to see Senor Buckhorn, but I see he not feeling well, and he have the telegrams to read."
Willow's ears shot up. "Telegrams?"
The Baronin nodded. "Telegrams."
It was then that we all heard Andre chuckle nastily. "Mais oui, the telegrams..."
It was just as well that L'Etoile d'Argent was riven by factions. It was apparent that the kitchen staff was not fond of the floor staff and vice versa. This may have been exacerbated by the incident shortly after Mr. Buckhorn arrived in the Spontoons, when he convinced a rather large, French-Canadian sea mink that the restaurant served a high-quality poutine. This, of course, was not true, and there was a misunderstanding among the patrons, floor staff and kitchen staff that led to what the Mirror called a "grand punch-up." I was told that the chef, a rather large black French poodle of equally black temper, blamed Andre for the whole incident, and regarded the issue of poutine as a gross slander upon his culinary talents. Diplomatic relations were said to be greatly strained.
I had had cause to pass along compliments from Mr. Buckhorn to the chef regarding the latter's abilities with vegetarian cuisine. Mr. Buckhorn has a habit of adding monetary elements to the verbal elements of his compliments, the practical result of which was that the chef thought Mr. Buckhorn was a buck of taste and breeding. It would be disloyal of me to attempt to encourage him otherwise.
I broached the question of the missing telegrams, and my belief that perhaps they had been found in the restaurant. This brought a torrent of gesticulations and Parisian argot. From what I gathered, Andre had been worse than usual these evening, and had gloated to the chef that he was short one "gourmand de champs" for the foreseeable future. Speaking as a vegetarian, I found this remark to be in rather poor taste. The chef took this in an evil frame of mind, viewing the loss of a client as a serious matter indeed. The chef asked me if I carried any weapons with which to injure the maitre d'hotel. I suggested to him that if necessary, my means would be rather more subtle. The chef sighed, and nodded. He also indicated that I was likely to find "la femme cerf charmante" outside, enjoying a fresh garden salad. I put the fact of Miss Fawnsworthy's presence and Andre's knowledge, together and got a blood-chilling result. I made haste into the dining room. It was apparent that I was too late, for Andre was holding up two squares of yellow telegram paper with a great deal of sadistic glee.
"Eh bien, this is the how you say, red-letter day. At last I have my restaurant free from that antlered imbecile. Oh-ho, he think he can make merry with Andre over the poutine, but there he is very much mistaken."
A quick glance at Willow. She had gone quite pale, her paws folded in front of her, the only signs of life a throbbing vein in her neck and her slow blinking at the mamser.
The Baronin, bless her, was a lot more active. "Why don't you shut your muzzle, you..."
"Why do I not shut the muzzle? I, Andre d'Arbres, do not shut the muzzle because I celebrate the fact that Reginald Buckhorn has been called home by his father. It says here in the telegram. He goes to work for the nut-factory, Andre is thinking. Bad luck on the F.R. Buckhorn & Sons. Their loss is Andre's gain."
He looked down his muzzle at Willow. "Ahhhh! The lady, she has not been informed of this happening, this taking of the English leave by M. Buckhorn? That is not the surprise. He use the lady deer, and when he is done -- pouf! -- the new mistress, she is found, the old mistress, she is discarded."
Willow gulped slowly, closing her eyes. Andre's smirk widened. "Ah, well. It is often the case with the secretary. The unofficial duties, yes? Well, perhaps M. duCleds can take up where M. Buckhorn left off-"
"ENOUGH!" The Baronin banged a clenched fist on the table, making the silverware jump. "Why are you doing this?"
Andre folded the telegrams away into his jacket, and examined his claws with a sneer. "Mais naturalement, I am the maitre d'hotel. It is in the manner of the job. It is nothing personal, Mlle. Fawnsworthy. It is strictly the business. With a soupcon of pleasure, of course."
Dead silence in the living room. Some of the other customers had cleared out; the folks who stayed behind moved to the far corners of the dining room, expecting the worst. The Baron was glaring through his monocle, but his better half motioned him to stay put and he did, fuming.
After about a minute in which you could hear a pin drop, Willow reached down and opened her purse. I held my breath and tensed up. If Willow was going to start awarding extra navels to Oily the Squirrel, I wanted to make sure he didn't get away. Andre the Chickenscheisse started sweating a bit, but all Willow did was take out a few bills and place them neatly on the table. She stood up, folded her napkin with great care, and then turned on her hoof, marching out of the restaurant, not saying a word, just staring straight ahead.
Andre pocketed the bills with a smirk, and made to walk away. I grabbed him by his tailfur, and dragged him back to the table.
"This isn't over, nutmuncher. Not by a long shot."
Andre gave a long, ragged sniff, like someone tearing a bandage. "Eh bien, ma petite, perhaps you can get the flat-tailed gentleman to arrange another duel for you. After all, you were such the raging success with the last one, no? Perhaps you can flash your undergarments for us all again. Not, I am imagining, that you would mind that."
My claws were stopped a foot from Andre's throat by the Baronin's paw.
"No, Fraluein Baumgartner. Do not make the martyr of this schweinhund. We will think of the other means of dealing with him."
Andre curled his lip. I'll bet he gets a lot of practice at that. "Ah, well, mais oui. You need the time for M. Lodge to do your thinking for you both. Three minds with but the single thought. Otherwise there would be the strain. Run along then, mes enfants. Make with the plotting. You will find that it takes more than a ci-devant baroness, a Sapphic pusher of watered drinks, and a small, overproud valet to take on Andre d'Arbres." And with a wave of his paw, he marched out of the dining room, kicking a busfur under the tail while he was at it.
There was a snapping sound from behind us. The Baron, in his rage, had bent a knife completely in half, snapping the steel. You could tell that this doggie didn't want to heel. He wanted to fetch. Real bad. I know enough German to know that he wasn't wishing Andre a Happy Hanukkah or a long life.
The Baroness went over to him, and stroked his ears. "No, Heinrich, you are not to lose the temper. I know how you are feeling, and you are right, but..."
The Baron flashed a set of fangs. The Baron's dentist knew his job. "There will be the repercussions, the revenge for this behaviour, this I swear on the blood of my ancestors and..."
A gentle throat-clearing rang out like a fanfare. Two doggies (and one kitty-cat) turned to the source, which, of course, was Lodge. He was holding out a key.
"Miss Baumgartner, this is the key to Mr. Buckhorn's suite. I should very much like to exchange keys. Will you please give me the key to Miss Fawnsworthy's suite? I shall look in on her, and then, if it pleases you, I will serve you, the Baron and the Baronin some coffee."
In this case, it was four minds with but a single thought. I made the switch with Lodge. "Light off that brain of yours, Lodge. I wanna hear those little grey cells sizzle."
Lodge bowed. "While M. d'Arbres was in the midst of impugning each of our characters, I was already formulating some plausible scenarios. I hope to be able to present you with some suggestions for action shortly. May I please be excused? I wish to have a brief word with the chef before I leave."
After about twenty seconds with the reception committee, I got to wondering whether my father recruited some of his underlings from the ranks of the maitre d'hotels of the world.
Certainly, this chap didn't look like Andre, at least physically. He was a rather smallish, chubby skunk done up in a high collar and striped trousers. He looked like Dr. Meffit, and acted like Mr. Jackal. He had been presented with the rare opportunity to boss about the son and heir of the head of the firm, and he was loath to pass on any second of that opportunity.
All done perfectly correctly, mind you. It's just that I don't relish having instructions given to me twice over, in a very slow voice, and with a turned-up nose. Now, I am an honest, truth-telling buck, and I will tell you that it is highly unlikely that I am in the running for the Chancellorship of Oxford University. However, this chap was treating me in a way I hadn't seen since my nanny explained to me why sticking two-penny nails in an electrical power point was a Bad Thing.
The memorandum of instructions was printed, triple-spaced, in large type. No word more than two syllables. I half-expected to be given a box of crayons and be sent off to the corner with an injunction to stay inside the lines. The self seethed. I knew that the Sire would be given full particulars in the next report, and no doubt he would look over his copy of the memorandum with glee. For all I know, he might have even drafted it.
No expense was spared, of course. Reginald Buckhorn was planted firmly in the Royal Suite at the Grand Oceanic, with complimentary basket of fresh vegetables, fruits and macadamia nuts. The F.R. Buckhorn & Sons Harvest Bounty Basket, four guineas. I didn't touch it, as the contents would have turned to ashes in my mouth. Nor did the panoramic, night-time view of the beach cheer the soul. I was alone in the suite. Go back with a red pencil to that sentence, and draw three lines under the word "alone." Circle it, too.
I began to pace the floor. I could come to but one conclusion, and that was that I was a jolly ass. Here I was, with a perfectly charming, intelligent doe right within paw's reach, and I had dropped it. I had left the note, of course, but I knew in my heart of hearts that wasn't going to do much. I recalled the chap Minkerton from Madama Butterfly. That didn't end happily. Well, hardly any operas do. The only time I was happy at the end of an opera was once when I was in Bayreuth, and someone finally put the kibosh on Valhalla. All that fuss, and the place gets knocked down anyway. Probably for a motor-car dealership.
But to return to the issue at paw. There was no denying it. I had not behaved as a gentlebuck should. And of all the things that could bother me, that would bother me the most. And here I was, hours away by flying boat from the Spontoons. Hours away from Lodge and his advice. I paced, and began to think.
And my head hurt.
So did my heart.
There are six cracks in the ceiling above my head.
I know this because I kept counting them.
Over and over again.
This highly important activity was interrupted only once. A soft knock on the locked door and Lodge's voice asking if I needed anything. I didn't mean to be rude, but silence was the only thing on my mind. I let out a negative grunt just to show I was alive and that breaking down the door to rescue a suicidal doe wasn't necessary. Eventually, I guess, he padded away.
At least Rosie had enough sense to know when I needed to be alone.
Dammit, why me?
Why the hell do I meet a nice buck and then get him snatched away, first for six weeks and now maybe forever?
Nobody but Grace Stagg to blame for the six weeks, I suppose. But goddamnittohell, is Reggie going to gallop off, flag waving, every frigging time that blivet bellows? I mean, a buck has to stand up for himself.
Be fair, Grace. He did stand up, once. Even if it was more running away instead of fighting. Somehow, I can't picture Reggie spending the rest of his life wandering a beach picking up driftwood. Can't picture him flying a desk and reading asparagus harvest reports from Argentina, either. Poor bastard. Miserable either way.
Why can't I have what I want? Just once?
Fucking Red Fist. Should have killed the lot of them...
Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slow. Slow. Can't lose control like you did at Halloween. No more medication. No more voices in the head.
Oh, God. Why can't I talk to Da? He'd understand. Not like Merino. But I can't. DAMMIT.
I'm in love with an idiot.
And that's just it.
I'm in love, with an idiot.
He needs me.
And I need him.
Count the cracks, Grace. Slow your heartbeat. Unclench your paws. One...two...three....
I looked down at the delicate coffee cup. "I'm not in the mood for coffee. I want-"
"Squirrel blood, ja?" the Baron offered.
"Si," agreed the Baroness.
"Yesssss," I breathed happily. "Fresh from the tap. Feed the remains to the sharks. The rest of the Islands will thank us."
Lodge cleared his throat. I turned. "Sorry, Lodge. I don't think the stuff would agree with you. Would you settle for holding him down while I tear his throat out a strip at a time?"
"If I may suggest, Miss Baumgartner," Lodge replied mildly, "your suggested... admonishment has a flaw or two."
I raised an eyebrow. "What? Can't be murder, the treerat don't qualify as a sapient being."
An eyebrow raised minutely. "Be that as it may, and legalities aside, might I suggest your method is, shall we say, too rapid?"
The Baron shrugged. "Ja, but keeping a body around and draining it once a week gets to be tedious, nicht wahr?"
Lodge smiled faintly. "Indeed. What I propose is somewhat less bloodthirsty-"
"But, I trust, no less efficacious," Lodge continued firmly. "It concerns the Christmas party for the staff and friends of the Double Lotus."
I looked puzzled. "Er, Lodge, there is no such thing."
"There is now," Lodge said with a look of smug satisfaction.
"WHAT?! Lodge, you're picking one hell of a time to throw a party!"
"My apologies, Miss Baumgartner. I have omitted a salient fact. The chef at L'Etoile d'Argent had informed me that the party scheduled for the restaurant for tomorrow afternoon has been canceled. This left the dining room available between one and four on the afternoon of Christmas Eve."
I twitched an ear. "Be kind of tricky getting a reservation."
Lodge bowed. "I've taken the liberty of booking the room already."
"Isn't that gonna tip off acorn-breath when he looks at the reservation book?"
Lodge quietly shook his head. "I foresaw that obstacle, Miss Baumgartner, and I therefore took the precaution of making the reservation under a psuedonym, namely that of Alice B. Tokapi."
Dead silence in the room as I exchanged wicked glances with the Von Kojotes.
I turned back to the beaver. "Lodge?"
"Yes, Miss Baumgartner?"
"I want to have at least one of your children."
I managed to get the little guy to blush. "I am flattered, Miss Baumgartner, but may I suggest we table that particular suggestion?"
I chuckled. "Very well, Lodge. Okay, folks, ideas?"
The Baroness grinned. It was an evil grin. I heartily approved. "The party, she needs a theme, no?"
"Ja!" The Baron interjected eagerly. "Ancient Rome! Togas, wine, revelry-"
His eager grin got bapped gently off his muzzle by his frau. "Sorry, mi amor, but this will be a ladies only event..."
I nodded. "It's a good idea, though, especially with the wine and togas..." I gave the Baron a hug and a smooch, prompting a growl at the Baron by his lady when he seemed to be a bit too eager to return the favor. "No time for that, Baroness. You have to help me make a bunch of phone calls. And you, Baron...Lodge, get the Baron a typewriter and paper. We have invitations and a menu to write!"