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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
Baron and Baronin von Kojote, led by Miss Baumgartner, soon threw themselves into the organization of the Double Lotus Christmas Party. I preferred not to know the details of what this would entail. In my view, the less I knew, the better. I contented myself with the preparation of a large pot of coffee, which I left with the conspirators.
A smaller vacuum flask of coffee was also prepared, and I went out into the evening in search of Mr. Po'na. I had hoped that the passing of approximately twenty-four hours would find Mr. Po'na conscious. A few of the more junior members of the ricksha drivers' union pointed Mr. Po'na out to me. He was curled up in the back of his ricksha, looking somewhat the worse for wear. I gently shook his shoulder, which produced a rumble and an irritated paw-wave.
"(Fire-God speed with thyself take. Po'na-self surf-head has.)"
I gently cleared my throat. "(Self apologies repeated make. Creature with flat-tail outlander being is.)"
Mr. Po'na blinked awake, rather startled. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and stared at me.
"(Impossible emphasis surely is thyself Spontoonie speak enquiry incredulous.)"
"(Prefer-thou myself Euro-speak enquiry.)"
Mr. Po'na sighed and nodded. I opened the flask, and poured Mr. Po'na a cup of coffee. Apparently, he had enough experience with the beverage to recognize its therapeutic qualities. Mr. Buckhorn has spoken of them often. This reminded me of the subject at paw.
"Has anyone made you aware, Mr. Po'na, of what has happened today?"
Mr. Po'na gave me a rather bleak look. "Po'na-self today surf-head painful has. Po'na-self additionally ill is, additionally swears god-oath pineapple brandy negative consume time forever emphasis."
"Ah. Then you are not aware that Mr. Buckhorn has been called away from the Islands?"
Mr. Po'na was not so aware, and looked concerned. "Willow-doe knowledge have Reggie-buck Spontoons leave?"
"I regret to say that the maitre d'hotel at L'Etoile d'Argent found out about Mr. Buckhorn's hasty departure, and informed Miss Fawnsworthy in a rather frank and merciless manner of this fact."
The act of sipping coffee was interrupted. Mr. Po'na flattened his ears as he digested this news.
"Po'na-self Spontoonie war-club use head creature acorn-eater outlander. Po'na-self fetch."
A praiseworthy intention, though I forestalled this. "I would think that inadvisable, Mr. Po'na. You have contributed already through the consumption of the brandies --" here Mr. Po'na winced, "and I do not think Inspector Stagg would look lightly upon such an assault. In any event, Miss Baumgartner and others are taking matters in paw." I briefly outlined the strategy involved. Mr. Po'na shuddered, and had some more coffee. After sipping in silence, he pondered.
"Willow-doe head-ill is like unto harvest festival time?"
"I do not believe that Miss Fawnsworthy is suffering a relapse, Mr. Po'na, but I believe it wise that there be someone close at paw in case there are any developments. Here is the key to her suite, and here is twenty pounds. I believe you will find some sheets for the sofa in the main room in one of the closets, and I have taken the liberty of packing you a small breakfast."
Mr. Po'na sighed somewhat wearily, but took the key, the flask, and the small food-bag, and trudged up to Miss Fawnsworthy's suite. I felt confident that Mr. Po'na would keep me apprised of any noteworthy happenings, and I headed back to Mr. Buckhorn's suite.
I must have dozed off (again) while counting ceiling cracks because my trusty "Big Gentle Ben" alarm clock ("Will Wake A Hibernating Bear!") said 5.30 in the morning. Christmas Eve. 18 1/2 hours left of the Six Weeks. Like it mattered anymore.
I got up for a wash and a brush. As I opened the door to the main room of the suite, I was greeted by a thunderous snore and the sight of a pair of well-worn footpads connected to a pair of black socks. Po'na had discovered that the sofa in the main room was quite comfy and long enough to take his lanky frame, and he was making the most of it. Poor thing. I'll bet he was still feeling the after-effects of the brandy.
An empty flask of coffee and a small bag containing a neatly wrapped sandwich and a piece of fruit were on the table next to him. The hospital corners on the sandwich wrapper spoke eloquently that someone small and flat-tailed was on the job and keeping an eye out for me.
I quietly washed and brushed up, and having thus refreshed myself, I moved quietly back into my bedroom, turning on the desklamp. The running water had stimulated the flow of thoughts. Shouldn't I be stepping out of my hooves, and looking at this objectively? After all, I'm the Minkerton's doe in these parts.
Had Lodge thrown in the towel? Not likely, from what I had seen of him, and from what Reggie had said of him. What Lodge wanted, Lodge probably got. One way or another. And the duel had proven him to be on my side, or neutral at absolute worst.
At 6.00, I made a quiet telephone call to Shepherd's front desk. Reggie had not, in fact, checked out, and Lodge had not ordered any trunks or the like to be brought down. Interesting.
I tiptoed out of the room and picked up the Mirror and the Elele from outside the front door. Po'na was still sawing wood at a tremendous pace. I wondered if there was a Mrs. Po'na to break him of that habit.
The Elele, as usual, was mostly about non-Euro matters. The Mirror was silent, except for one small article in the "In Transit" column. A reporter recounted with glee Reggie's leap to catch the 5 p.m. flight to Honolulu, and indicated that it was a good thing he only had a medium-sized bag with him.
Significant? Not necessarily. It told me that Reggie had been in a royal fluster, but I had seen that for myself. I knew that Reggie could get a shirt or such from a tailor. Wonder if bucks buy their clothes off the rack. Or even use that phrase? Nevermind.
Reggie was probably on the last flight out yesterday. I imagined that flights out of Honolulu would be thin on the ground today and tomorrow, what with the holiday. And if the blivet was hoofing the bill, there would only be a few hotels where Reggie would be staying. So, only a few places to have watched.
But who to do the watching?
Minkerton's? Nix. Company policy: don't use company resources for personal matters. And if this wasn't a personal matter, I don't know what is. It would take days to clear it with Gnu York, even if Allan went along with it. Buckhorn & Sons? Under Daddy's hoof. Useless for my purposes.
Les. Hmm. Flew the coop for the Orpingtons (good one, Grace). Would he stay there? Nope. He'd need his scambled eggs and bacon of a morning, and they probably don't serve either there. If I were him and I wanted to give Cupcake and her daddy the slip, I'd double back. So...refuel in the Orpingtons. But that would make him low on cash. Honolulu's the next nearest place with banks he could use...not to mention the Hawai'ian branch of duCleds Chemicals where he could raid the petty cash drawer. And what could be more reasonable than to have Leslie duCleds' private secretary wire him at the Honolulu office? Perfect.
I pulled the phone close, and dialed.
"Pacific Postal Telegraph, please...yes, I'd like to send an urgent telegram to Honolulu, please. Leslie duCleds, c/o of duCleds Chemicals (Hawai'i), 2 Bishop Square..."
The front desk telephoned at the obscene hour of 6.30, indicating that I was to present the buck-self at the front door of the local branch of F.R. Buckhorn & Sons at 7.30 sharp, there to report to Mr. Strype, who, I gathered, was the muck-a-muck that browbeat me last night.
Lodge, thankfully, had packed the necessaries. A small note indicated that he had omitted to pack the chamber-pot, and hoped that I would make do without it. I had no idea what Lodge was talking about. He has a strange sense of humour, sometimes.
The local branch referred to was already a bee-hive of activity, with all sorts of respectful Johnnies circulating about, telephoning and such. On Christmas Eve, yet. The parallels to a famous story were made more evident when I saw Mr. Strype descend from a high stool toward the back of the main chamber. Shooting his cuffs and adjusting his tie and collar, he strode toward me, the aforementioned Johnnies parting like the Red Sea before him. Put one in mind of a Busby Barkley routine. Well, they were wearing more clothes, but you get the idea.
In any event, this worthy padded up to me, gave me an ironic little bow, smiled, and spoke up in tones that poured forth like Buckhorn's Golden Syrup (2/- the tin).
"And how are *we*, this fine morning?"
At this, something in the Buckhorn bean snapped. I had slept miserably the night before. I had not had a drink in well over a day. I had been rushed about, bothered about, and, last but not least by any stretch of the imagination, I had been forcibly separated from my doe. On top of all of this, like the proverbial cherry on the two scoops of arsenic-laden ice cream, I had this little nuisance looking up at me, smirking, and talking like my nanny.
Now you must keep in mind. The buck-self had about six or seven inches, about forty pounds, and a lot more exercise than this Strype chappie. Placed alongside the buck-temper, this was not a happy combination.
To think was to act, and it was the work of an instant to reach down with one paw, grab this bounder by his tie, and lift him up to eye level. And keep him there. And, for that matter, give him the benefit of a baleful, blood-shot stare. I could see out of the corner of my eye that all work had stopped. The general temper (or lack thereof) of the Sire was legend at F.R. Buckhorn & Sons, and anticipation was keen as to whether the offspring was a chip off the old antlers when it came to the ranygazoo.
I kept silent for about twenty seconds, while Strype began to sweat, and gulp. Which was somewhat difficult, considering the grip I had on his collar and tie. Words, when they came, were very slow and bitten off, carefully.
"We. Are. NOT. Bloody. Well. Fine. This. Morning."
Strype gulped. "I...I...I'm (ulp) terribly sorry to hear that..."
"Ahrhrm. Hear that, *Mr. Buckhorn*. Was there something wrong with the hotel, sir?"
"To blazes with the hotel."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Buckhorn."
"Forget the bloody hotel."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Buckhorn."
"You know what my problem is, *MISTER* Strype?"
"I'll take that as a 'no.' My problem is that I am dealing with a pompous little nuisance who is swaggering about far above his station, and is treating the buck *who shall be his future employer* like a three-year-old buck-fawn."
I brought him a little closer, and gave him a good whistling snort.
"Now. You are going to get a cable message pad. You are going to take down a message for Sir Josslyn Buckhorn's attention. This message will clearly inform him that there has been a change in plans."
The eyes of Strype went as wide as his, well, stripe. It didn't take a genius (Lord knows neither of us qualified for that title) to figure out the steam-main explosion of wrath that the proposed message would generate at the head office.
"Mr. Buckhorn? S-sir?"
"I-i-f it's all the same with you, sir, I'd r-rather not."
This show of deferential defiance was not going to be left unchallenged. Fortunately, there was a large armoire off to one side. A few steps, with squealing skunk in paw, revealed that the armoire contained a variety of coats and the like as well as a few walking-sticks. Out went a walking-stick, in went an officious skunk, and the stick was duly inserted in the door-handles of the furniture. I turned around to discover that coffee breaks were taken rather early at F.R. Buckhorn & Sons. They were also taken under desks, it would appear, or out on window-ledges. Evidently, the self was going to need to handle the messaging solo.
The offices of The Imperial Telegraph Company were close at paw, given that this was the heart of the business district, and Empire had its eyes and ears everywhere. A small stack of blank forms was collected.
The first cable went to Mummy. This was easy, and I got it in one.
"CHANGE IN PLAN STOP IMPORTANT ENGAGEMENT TO ATTEND TO IN SPONTOONS STOP IMPERATIVE [I learned that word from Lodge, it's one of his favourites] ACTION BE TAKEN NOW STOP FURTHER DETAILS TO FOLLOW STOP LOVE REGGIE STOP ENDS."
That was shipped off at the super-urgent rate. Now came the harder one. The Sire's. The business approach was taken first:
"PRESS OF URGENT MATTERS REQUIRES STAY IN SPONTOONS STOP WILL CABLE WHEN SCHEDULE CLEARS STOP REGGIE BUCKHORN STOP ENDS"
Upon thinking this over, I realized that the Sire would no doubt think that the only thing requiring clearing in the Spontoons would be my head, not my appointment book. One saw the point, and the vulnerability in this line of argument. The draft was scrapped, and another tack was taken:
"AWFULLY SORRY BUT CANNOT COME AT PRESENT TIME STOP UNEXPECTED PERSONAL MATTER HAS ARISEN STOP WILL COME AS SOON AS ABLE STOP SIGNED YOUR SON STOP ENDS"
A perusal of this draft showed that it, too, was flawed. Appeals to the Sire's sense of fatherhood and an apologetic tone would not be received well, and would likely trigger explosions.
I sat back at the desk, and drummed my fingers on the table. I wondered if the Sire had ever had to send anything to the Grand-Sire along these lines. The Grand-Sire had gone a little dotty in his old age, and used to have earnest conversations with trees. Personally, I saw no harm in this, but the Harley Street chappies did, so it was off to a restful country home for George Buckhorn. Hmm. What *would* the Sire do, if the situation were reversed? The answer came in a flash, and was sent out in a flash, urgent rate.
"RATS TO YOU FATHEAD STOP REGGIE STOP ENDS"
Brevity is the soul of wit, as the man said.
The Honolulu office of duCleds Chemicals boasts many modern conveniences. In addition to blessed, blessed air conditioning, there's a small kitchen for staff use and an office set aside for the duCleds family to use when they're in town. I was stretched out on the executive sofa, ready for the first solid bit of sleep I'd had in days.
One minor error: forgetting to tell the secretary I was not to be disturbed.
This omission was brought home to me by a gentle shake on the shoulder. I barely managed to choke back a series of frank Anglo-Saxon words. Instead, I treated the hired help to a prolonged and heartfelt groan.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. duCleds. Urgent telegram for you." Said missive was held out for my bleary-eyed inspection. I managed to get ahold of it on the second attempt, and opened it. The telegram made no sense to me whatsoever. It was gently pointed out to me that I was holding it upside-down. Turning it around didn't help as much as one might think.
"BELIEVE REGGIE IN HONOLULU STOP NECESSARY FIND OUT WHAT HAS HAPPENED STOP CABLE RESULTS BACK URGENT STOP FAWNSWORTHY STOP ENDS"
By golly, Willow *was* becoming like an older sister. A weird, nagging older sister.
The telegram made no damn sense -- what was Reggie doing in Honolulu, anyway? Why couldn't she ask his valet? I balled up the telegram, tossed it under the sofa, and attempted to go back to sleep. I'd give her request the attention it deserved. In, say, twelve hours.
I think I'd been blessedly unconscious for all of five minutes when my shoulder was shaken again. "Unless someone is trying to flush pure sodium down the executive washroom john, leave me alone."
"It's another urgent telegram, Mr. duCleds."
This one was much shorter and to the point.
I gritted my teeth and, sitting upright, held my head in my paws. It's true, then: getting involved in the affairs of deer is hazardous to one's sanity. Among the trio of Reggie, Willow, and whoever it was that tried to take me two falls out of three in bed, I could see my quiet holiday evaporate. I told the secretary to fix me up a pot of coffee, and I went in search of a shower.
After disposing of Mr. Strype, I headed back to the Oceanic, and checked out. It was probably the prudent thing to do, just in case the Sire decided to send his goon squads out after me with orders to bring me back alive. Or not.
The striking of eleven in a nearby clock-tower made me realize I had not eaten in nearly a day, so a sidewalk cafe was located, and a bowl of tropical fruit salad was disposed of in short order. That fulfilled one pressing need. Items two and three on the agenda: getting Willow something for Christmas, and getting back to see said doe in person, in a timely fashion.
What to get Willow? What to get Willow? The first thought that flashed across the bean was salted acorns. The buck-self shuddered. The last time that had happened, complications and a near-riot had ensued owing to poor ordering on my part. I resolved to give anything to do with foodstuffs the miss-in-baulk.
There was a nearby bookstore which looked rather tempting. Willow struck me as the kind of doe who liked to curl up with an improving book. However, I knew nothing of her tastes, and my tastes tended to run to green-backed Penguin crime novels. Not the sort of thing one likes to have in a Christmas stocking.
I was chasing down the last bit of mango in the bowl, when the eyes clapped on to a rather discreet storefront just across the street. A smallish glass window, with the name of the firm in gold lettering. The front display was a tasteful arrangement of blue silk that showed off one or two samples of the company's wares. It was but the work of a moment to nip across the street and poke the muzzle in.
The little mink in the formal suit bowed to me as I entered the emporium. There was a restful hush and quiet about the place. I stood near the counter. I'm afraid I gawped a little, rather confused. The musteline was equal to the task, however, and maintained a polite and attentive silence while polishing his pince nez.
I finally cleared my throat. "Errr. I...ah...need to buy something for my doe."
The mink put his pince-nez on his nose, and made another slight bow. "Certainly, sir. What exactly were you looking for? We have a very nice selection..."
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"Blue. And white. Yes. Definitely. Blue and white."
This produced a series of slightly puzzled blinks, but semi-comprehension dawned. "Of course, sir. If you will step this way, I can show you a selection that would meet that criteria. Do you know the lady's size?"
Drat. Forgot to ask Lodge. Well, I don't know how he'd know, anyway. Then again, one never knows with Lodge. "I'm afraid I don't know. I mean, that's a sort of personal thing a chap hesitates to ask, you know..."
"I quite understand, sir." Surprisingly, it looked as if he did. He brought me over to a glass case, where a well-lit selection was on view. I gulped. Many different choices. I made an executive decision. Which is to say, I closed my eyes, and let the Fickle Finger of Fate do its work.
"Ah, I see. Very tasteful, sir."
Fortunately, Lodge had provided me with a stiff bankroll to cover contingencies and emergencies. This, in my view, qualified for the latter without a doubt. The transaction (with slight discount for cash on the nail) was effected, and the purchase emplaced in a suitable box.
"Errr, thank you. Look, dash it all, I'm sorry for being such an ass about this and all..."
The mink looked over the top of his pince nez, and shook his head.
"Many gentlefurs are very flustered and embarrassed when they make such an intimate purchase as this, sir. You are not the first, nor will you be the last. I am sure the lady will appreciate your good taste. Merry Christmas, sir."
The von Kojotes and Miss Baumgartner had had hopes of giving a pre-party in Mr. Buckhorn's suite, but I convinced them that this would be most unwise, as it would permit the constabulary to trace back the planning to them. Baron von Kojote looked rather disappointed in this. I reassured him that the menu he had selected was most appropriate for an Ancient Roman theme, and I expressed my confidence that the revelers would find the offerings highly satisfactory.
At approximately 12.50, I went down to the lobby to fetch the afternoon edition of the Mirror from the newsstand. I could see a number of energetic ladies of various species and ages milling about the entrance to L'Etoile d'Argent. They were all talking in a high-spirited fashion, evidently eager to start the festivities.
A sign near the entrance to the restaurant stated "Restaurant Reserved for Private Party." Someone had thoughtfully amended the sign to make the singular plural. At this point, I felt it best my presence should be elsewhere. The Ancient Romans believed in omens, and this certainly was one of them.
I lay back on the bed, looking at the ceiling cracks again. Not much else I could do. Les hadn't called. Les hadn't written. Now I know how his mother must have felt.
The paws on the clock slowly marched around.
The room went dark as the afternoon showers began.
At least something matched my mood.
How the hell Willow expected me to track down Reggie in a city as big as Honolulu was a mystery to me. *Why* the hell Willow wanted Reggie tracked down in the first place was an even bigger mystery. I sighed and started playing gumshoe.
The obvious places were a washout. The local branch of F.R. Buckhorn & Sons had indeed seen Reggie this morning. This was confirmed by the under-manager of the branch office. The manager was said to be closeted in a meeting. I thought this was an odd turn of phrase, until I saw a large armoire that had a walking-stick jammed through the handles. I knocked on the door, and was met with a squeal of fright, and an earnest plea not to tell Sir Josslyn Buckhorn about his insubordination. The four-star hotels were the same story. The Grand Oceanic had been the place where Reggie had laid his rack to rest the night before, but he had checked out, leaving no forwarding address or contact number.
There was one consolation: this meant that the next most likely set of locations for Reggie was the upscale bar group. At least I could refresh myself while I was looking for the Prodigal.
I did run across Tracy Lopaka, a family friend, at one sidewalk cafe on Fort Street, which gave me the excuse to have a late afternoon lunch as well as giving me the opportunity to vent some frustrations.
"It's crazy. I mean, how does this doe expect me to find a fellow in the middle of a busy city like this? It's not like he's going to go right past me..."
The rest of the conversation was drowned out by a loud metallic screeching from down the block, and the honking of car horns. After about three minutes, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.
The fuss centered around a trolley of uncertain vintage and even more uncertain maintenance. It looked to be held together largely by chewing gum, baling wire and force of habit. At the far end, the conductor, a goat with a prominent beard, pipe and hat, was frantically ringing a bell, and yelling.
Out of the crowd emerged a cat in a Samoan mumu, who looked to be at least 300 pounds or so. And a good portion of that was muscle. Bystanders were gently lifted high in the air with one paw, and set out of the way.
"I'm coming, Skipper!"
I followed along in her wake. Quite a wake. The source of the trouble soon became apparent. A deer (what else?) had managed to get his rack stuck in one part of the dilapidated trolley, and was stuck fast. He did not seem at all eager to be helped by the cat, particularly a cat whose thumbs appeared to be bigger than his forearms. I boarded the trolley at the other end, and looked to see what was what at the business end. The deer looked as relieved to see me as I was to see him.
"Oh. What-ho, Les. I say, could you tell that offshore island there that I'm rather attached to this rack? She seems hell-bent on making it a permanent part of this vehicle's equipment."
The skipper chewed his quid. "Gotta tell ye, that'd make a fine luggage holder, yes indeedy."
Reggie shot the Skipper a poisonous glare. I used the opportunity to examine Reggie's rack, and see how it was stuck in the roof of the car. It became apparent that if I could get enough weight on the rack, it would pull down out of its stuck position.
I went into the old three-point stance that used to strike fear into the hearts of Princeton Tigers and Brown Bears on the gridiron. The Skipper obliged by ringing the bell again, and I gave Reggie a low hit, behind his knees. Reggie's lower half swung up into the air. Without any support, the roof of the trolley gave way to rack and ruin. I eventually managed to extract Reggie and his luggage from the debris. The Skipper spat a stream of tobacco juice.
"We-e-e-l, guess I'll have to call the ol' gal a convertible, won't I?"
Reggie made a bee-line for the nearest bar, proceeding to soothe his nerves in a liquid fashion. I decided to hold off on telling him that Willow was looking for him. The way he was flagging, I didn't think bringing up the subject was a good idea.
"This dashed town has the most extraordinary transit policies, Leslie. I mean, between that bloody ambulatory shack, and the way they run the aeroports around here..."
"What about the aeroports?"
Reggie slammed a balled paw down on the counter. "Every bloody seat to the Spontoons booked solid, no way of shifting anyone. And the last flight today left two hours ago. No flights tomorrow, either. It'll be days before I can get back to Casino Island."
I shrugged. "So? Wait. What's the rush?"
Reggie shot me a look of flustered despair. "I have to be back in the Spontoons by midnight tonight."
The thought flashed across my mind that if Reggie wasn't back by midnight, his head would turn into a pumpkin. Redundant, really. I held my tongue.
Reggie turned to me. "I say, Les, how did you get here?"
Uh, oh. Disaster in the making. Against my better judgement, I told the truth, anyway. "Used my plane." Didn't tell him why, of course. The fewer people that knew about that bloody Latin doe making a grab for the duCleds family jewels, the better.
"Good Lord, you have your plane handy? Les, you have to get me back to the Spontoons."
"Reggie, are you nuts? It's a five hour flight. It'll be almost 10 at night by the time we get back. Which, in case you haven't looked at an almanac, means it's going to be DARK outside."
"Les, for God's sake, you've got to get me back tonight. It's a matter of life and death."
I looked at Reggie. His wild-eyed expression and oscillating flag told me that he was in a state where being nuts was an accurate description. And as for Willow....Why me, Lord? Why me? I gritted my teeth. "Let's go fuel up the plane."
"Bless you, Les! Bless you!" Reggie shook my paw forcefully and gratefully, grabbed his bag, and headed out the door. Well, almost. His rack got stuck in the doorway.
"Errrrr, Les? Could you, well, you know...?"