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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, Inspector Stagg, Sergeant Brush, (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Rosie Baumgartner, Leslie duCleds (c) M. Mitchell Marmel
Les and I more or less hit the first oasis of refreshment we saw when first we landed on Casino Island. The Spontoonie chap in charge of the joint was in no doubt as to the party political platform of Leslie duCleds, as this was enunciated by means of a paw lifting up mein host by the shirt, a goggle-eyed stare, and a snarl. Said platform consisted largely of placing a bottle of Glenfinich on the bar with a glass and shooting anyone coming near either with any water-containing substance.
I meekly paid for this, and gave Les some elbow room. He did not seem in the mood for conversation, and I felt it was probably all for the best that the fewer antlers he saw right now, the better. Shift ho for a distant table. As for myself, I was rehearsing what I was going to say to Willow, as our impending encounter was sure to be a slightly awkward one. I had hopes that past efforts on my part might smooth things over, but I was prepared for the worst.
I downed some British gin to give me Dutch courage that I wouldn't take French leave. Who says Brits aren't European-minded?
11.40. If I was going to make Midnight Mass, I would have to leave now. My heart wasn't really in it. Just going through the motions. Not the sort of attitude to take to Mass, but, hell, I was lucky to be out of bed. Is despair one of the seven deadly sins? I'd have to ask Father Merino in Confession.
As I trudged past the front desk, the clerk handed me my messages. No telegrams, damnit. I shoved the three envelopes into my pocketbook to deal with later. Much later.
Many of the lights were off on Casino Island, so it was a bit easier than normal to see the stars in the sky. The weather had cleared since the afternoon. I checked to see if there was a bright star in the East. Nope. I smiled sourly to myself. Guess wise men and virgins were in short supply in these parts.
The walk from the Grand to St. Paul's isn't that long, but if you have your head and heart down, it can seem like the Final Mile.
My temperature was going down in tandem with the level of scotch in the bottle. By about the fourth glass, I decided that I didn't want to do twenty-to-life for killing Reggie Buckhorn. Ten years (with time off for good behaviour) for banging his empty fool head with a Hillerich & Bradsby was sounding more and more like the way to go.
The bar owner meekly tiptoed toward me.
"Sir? Bar-self day-zero close door. Enquiry yourself bottle home-take."
I tried wrapping my woozy, sleep-deprived mind about that one. I wasn't exactly in any condition to be playing three-card monte with my verbs and nouns. One of the other patrons, seeing my condition, helpfully translated.
"Drink up, mate. It's five to midnight, and the bar closes tonight at midnight."
I took the bottle to pour myself a final one, and spilled a gout of it when I heard a shrill, panicky whistling snort come from behind me.
"Ye GODS! Is that the time?"
Reggie had stood up from his table, knocking it over. He bolted out the door (managing to get his rack just clear), bolted back in again, got his luggage, bolted back out again, bolted back in again, put down his luggage, went over to me, shook my paw, thanked me for being a lifesaver, bolted back out again, bolted back in again, picked up his luggage, and bolted back out again (banging his rack in the doorway).
The door had hardly closed on Reggie's anguished yell for a ricksha when the bar owner started closing up shop for the night. I made my last double linger, as I was hardly in any position to be moving nearly as fast as Reggie was.
The fact that most of the lights were turned off on Casino Island made the candlelight at St. Paul's stand out all the more. It looked like a soft oasis in an otherwise gloomy and dark desert.
Father Tim was on the steps of the church, chatting with the small knot of parishoners that had gathered there. Father Merino was likewise on the steps, looking out into the night. He turned, and must have seen the expression on my face, for he furrowed his brows, and walked over to me.
He had just put a paw on my shoulder, when a shout came out of the darkness.
That was a conversation-stopper. Considering that someone was bellowing my name at a volume that would have done credit to the wild wolves of the prairies, it shouldn't be surprising. Everyone on the steps, priests, parishoners, and yours truly, turned to the source of the hullabaloo.
Reggie staggered into the candlelight. Apparently, the combination of running and yelling my name had taken a lot out of him, for he had to bend over double, paws on knees, catching his breath.
On the one paw, I wanted to grab him about the chest and hug the breath out of him.
On the other paw, I wanted to grab him about the throat and choke the breath out of him.
If I had a third paw, I would be mildly concerned about what Father Merino thought. Technically, I was breaking my promise to him. The Six Weeks were up in...three minutes and 14 seconds.
Father Merino saw me look at my watch. He gave me a poker-faced look, but with a glint of humor in one raised eyebrow.
"I think your watch is running slow, Miss Fawnsworthy."
With that, he walked into St. Paul's to help officiate at the Mass.
God bless that ram.
I did not get the Look of Gladness from Willow. This was a glare redolent of rolling pins and bruised feelings. She was obviously struggling to keep her temper in check in front of the knot of curious parishioners. She pushed her glasses up on her muzzle, gave a brief snort, and glared at yours truly a bit.
"What the-" a glance at the audience- "DEVIL do you think you're doing? Running and screaming like that? Running off in the first place? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?!"
"Look, Willow, I have something dashed important to tell you."
Willow bristled a bit. "Something that couldn't be put IN WRITING?!"
The flag drooped. Evidently the missive I had composed had not done its job.
"Errr, no. Listen, this is something dashed important..."
"You're repeating yourself."
"Well, blast it, it's something that I'm going to repeat. Listen, please!"
Willow checked her watch, softly snorted again, and glared at me. At least she was lending me one of her ears.
"It's actually something I've got for you, Willow, I..." The buck-self patted buck-pockets, which proved to empty of everything except a roll of toffee. Which, I assure you, was not the thing I had for Willow. I thought of offering her some, but decided the consequences would be painful, both emotionally and physically. I did what I normally do in these kinds of situations.
Reggie, with a fawn-look in his eye, was pleading for me to listen to him, so I let him babble. He started frantically checking his pockets, in a manner of someone trying to swat a particularly fast and crafty mosquito. Apparently, what he was looking for wasn't there. He clapped a paw to his forehead.
I wasn't in the mood. "Done with your little passion play?" Yeah, I know, wrong end of the story, but I was pissed off. "I'm going to Mass." I turned on my hoof. "I'll see you later. If I feel like it-"
The next thing I knew, I was being half-carried, half-dragged along the sidewalks of Casino Island at a pace I wouldn't have normally expected for this kind of operation. I thought about smacking him one between the antlers with my steel-lined pocketbook, but in his current condition, he'd probably notice it even less than usual. He certainly wasn't listening to any of my protests.
After a few minutes, we stopped in front of a small pub. Reggie dashed at the door, and collided with it. It was locked soundly.
"Reggie, this is one hell of a time for a drink. Can't it wait?"
Reggie wasn't listening at all. He was flagging frantically, and looking around for something. Eventually, he backed into the street and looked up at the window over the pub's front entrance. He put his paws to his mouth, and bellowed.
This was repeated, in piercing tones, about a half-dozen more times until a light went on and the window was opened. A fellow I took to be the bar owner peered out. Eventually, he spotted Reggie. Not hard, of course. Six-foot-two panicky whitetail buck yelling at the top of his lungs.
"(Fire-god thou take! Zero-day past. Negative vend thyself Euro-firewater.")
Reggie looked up at the window, flagging furiously.
"(Kumquats emphasis. Pickles raining is query.)"
This stumped the owner. Eventually, he shook a fist down at the street.
"(Sanity-loss thou is emphasis, creature with horns outlander. Request perform thy procreation act self negative possible.)"
And with that, the window came down with a bang.
"What now, Lover Boy?" Actually, I WAS kind of curious to see what Reggie was going to do, in a peverse sort of way.
Reggie glanced around frantically and grabbed a flowerpot from a line of them the shop next door had installed to brighten up the front.
The first shot went wide right. I held out a paw. "Ball one."
The second shot went high left. "Ball two."
The third shot hit dead center in the window, making a rather satisfying smashing sound. "Steeeeeerike one!"
The pub owner looked out through the remains of his window. Reggie bellowed up at him.
"OPEN THIS BLOODY DOOR, NOW, OR I'LL KNOCK THE BALLY THING OFF ITS HINGES!"
The sound of fast clattering from inside indicated the owner was cutting his losses. Or so he thought. Reggie immediately bolted inside, and started a frantic and rather messy search for something.
A cloud of distillery smell erupted at my side. It turned out to be Les, deep black circles under his eyes and a three-quarters empty bottle of scotch in his paw. Whether it was a lack of sleep or the plentitude of refreshment that was causing him to weave a bit on his foot-pads, I didn't know. I gently led him inside and installed him on one of the few chairs Reggie hadn't turned over.
For myself, I sat at the bar on a stool. It gave me a good vantage point to keep an eye on Les, an eye on Reggie, and an eye on the folks who started wandering in. The noise that Reggie had made had gotten quite a bit of attention. The pub owner protested in vain that he was closed...but soon the hissing pops of Nootnops Red and Nootnops Blue bottles indicated that he was making the best of a bad situation (at least without violating the liquor licensing laws).
Watching Reggie skitter around ducking under tables and checking behind cushions palled after a minute or so. Seen one panicked buck, you've seen them all. I remembered that I had a few messages that I had picked up on my way out, and that I had stashed them in my pocketbook. I retreived them.
Two pieces of routine duCleds correspondence. No big deal. Back they went into the pocketbook. It was the third item that was curious. It was addressed to "Fillow Wawnsworthy, Gnard Hotel" in hastily scrawled letters. I wondered how someone could badly muck up my name as all that. I opened the letter to find out.
With cross-outs and blots eliminated, spelling corrected and assorted typographical indignities omitted, this is what it read:
I tried to get a hold of you just now but the chap at the front desk said you weren't in. I know I'm not supposed to see you and all for six weeks and I forget when the six weeks is up. But dash it I needed to see you very much. [Here the pen nib changed after a particularly messy blot, indicating that Reggie had busted a pen by bearing down too hard.]
Of all the times for that blot of a sire of mine to get it into his head to call me home this takes the blasted biscuit. I just got a rude telegram from him demanding that I come home. On a flight leaving in just a few minutes thank you very much. No warning to a chap. Lodge is throwing my kit together so at least everything's all right.
No dash it that's wrong. Everything is not bally well all right. I don't know what I'm going to say to [Here "Willow" is crossed out twice]. I don't know what I'm going to say to you. You must think I'm an awful ass for rushing about and panicking like this.
I wouldn't be panicking so if it wasn't so dashed important. When a chap meets a doe he likes very much it sort of gets deep inside him. Makes a chap want to do the right thing so he doesn't muck things up. I may not be a blasted genius, but even I can see that leaving you in the lurch like this isn't the right thing to do. [Here the pen nib changes again.]
Well look this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell the sire how it is and come hell or high water I'm coming back to get you. Yes I know that's what a lot of chaps say. But I'm not the average buck, just as you aren't the average doe. To me anyway.
What I mean to say is please don't be mad at me and please wait for me. I'm coming back that's a promise.
[Here the pen nib breaks twice]
Because I do love you.
Well, CRAP. There went my mad.
No question about Reggie having had any assistance in writing the letter. Le style, c'est le cerf meme. It was about as honest an expression of what was inside him as I was ever going to get.
I sighed, and put the letter away. I took off my glasses to rub my eyes, when there was a knock at the open door to the pub.
A voice boomed out from the night, penetrating the fog of panic in the bean.
"Reggie-buck here is?"
Blessed be, it was the ricksha driver who had transported me over to St. Paul's. He was toting my bag.
"Bag-this ricksha-self left. Myself thou ret---"
I imagine chaps like him don't often get twenty pound tips or large smooches on the cheeks as tips. Certainly the expression on the chap's face as he retreated into the night was that this was a new one on him. A story, no doubt, for the grandchildren.
The bag was frantically searched until the item in question, blessed be, turned up, tucked between two pairs of silk boxer shorts that had protected it during the journey. I took out the box and quickly checked the contents. All secure. A long sigh of relief ensued, and the self relaxed. Now to business.
Willow was seated at the bar, on a stool. She had, no doubt, watched the proceedings with a puzzled eye. One could only wonder what was going through her mind.
What's that in Reggie's paw?
It's a box.
A small, plush box.
Oh, my God. Please tell me that's what I think it is.
I strolled over to where Willow was. Willow was taking down her hair, and I let her finish that operation. I shifted a bit uneasily from hoof to hoof, thinking about how I was going to put this. Willow smiled, put her paws in her lap, and I looked into her eyes.
And drew a complete blank.
A look of intense psychic pain crossed Reggie's eyes, and he must have felt some physical pain from the way he clapped his paw to his eyes. An anguished moan escaped him.
"Blast it all, I've forgotten how I was going to say this!"
Les was finally heard from his corner of the pub. "Tell her you love her, Reggie!"
Reggie glared at Les. "She bloody well knows that, Les. Err, at least I hope so." I gave him a warm smile and an encouraging nod.
Les, with about six doubles in him, was not to be denied. "Tell her you need her, Reggie!"
Reggie gave a poisonous glare at Les, in spite of the fact that this suggestion had the boisterous and loudly-expressed approval of the crowd.
"For heaven's sake, give a chap a chance to think here!" Reggie put the box down on the bar, and put paws to head, trying to think.
I picked up the box and examined it closely. A tiny square box, covered in plush grey velvet. Very light in weight. Almost mechanically, I opened it.
It contained a platinum ring. A diamond in the center was flanked by two sapphires, one on either side.
It wasn't showy.
It wasn't gaudy.
It was tasteful.
It was elegant.
And it was what I wanted.
I had a hard time seeing it after a few seconds, as my vision started to get a little blurry.
I was wondering why things had quieted down so much. I was half-hoping that Les had gone off to snooze under a convenient table. It was after about twenty or thirty seconds of silence that concern set in, and I looked up.
Willow had picked up the box, and was looking at the contents thereof with wide eyes...that happened to be slowly dripping soundless tears down her phiz. First things first. I took out a clean pawkerchief and dabbed at her cheeks.
Willow looked up from the box and gave me her full attention.
"Willow? Err...look, I had something very nice to say, and all that. You know, romantic stuff. But with all the hurly-burly this evening, and rushing back and forth, I...well, dash it, I forgot what I was going to say." I bit the lip, wondering what the reaction would be.
Willow very carefully put the box back on the bar, and took my paws in hers.
"I think you still remember what you were going to say, Reggie. It's just how you were going to say it, isn't that the problem?"
I nodded. That was put a lot more intelligently that I was ever going to express it.
Willow smiled. "It doesn't really matter, then. If your question is the same, my love, then my answer is the same." And with that, she squeezed with her paws, hard. She dropped her left paw, but kept her right paw in mine.
Even I could grasp (so to speak) a cue when I saw one. Fingers trembling a little, I removed the ring from its box, took a deep breath, and slipped it onto one of Willow's fingers.
Willow looked at her paw, closed her eyes, breathed deeply, gently slid off the barstool, and embraced me. The crowd in the pub gave a mighty cheer, which was a jolly good thing, as it was drowning out the queer popping noises my rib cage was making. I never knew Willow had that kind of strength.