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Update 2 March 2006
Leslie duCleds created by M. Mitchell Marmel
"Inocenta Until Proven Guilty"
by E.O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel
Inocenta Until Proven Guilty
by E.O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel
Reggie Buckhorn, Lodge, the de Ciervoses, Inspector Stagg, Sgt. Brush,
Magistrate Poynter, Andre d'Arbres (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Leslie duCleds, Rosie Baumgartner (c) M. Mitchell Marmel
I opened one eye, ever so slightly.
And promptly discovered the reason Reggie Buckhorn is rarely seen before 10 o'clock most mornings.
You know you're suffering from a severe dose of morning head when you swear you can see sounds moving across the floor. The sound-waves seemed to be coming from something approaching my bed. I greeted the something with a heartfelt groan. The something greeted me in hideously riotous musical tones.
"Good morning, slug-a-bed! Rise and shine!"
The distinctly feminine voice was clearly my private secretary-companion gawdknowswhatelse, Willow Fawnsworthy. She had bounce and cheer for two this morning, and she seemed hell-bent on inflicting her good spirits on me. I was not in a mood to receive them.
I was not in a mood, mark you, to receive *anything*, let alone the vigorous pokes in the ribs that were being administered.
An effort was made to swat these away, which had the highly displeasing negative effect of forcing me to lean over the edge of the bed. Unfortunately, the law of gravity was still in full force, demonstrated by my skull connecting with the carpeting. After the assorted Technicolor stars and swirly shapes passed out of my vision, I groggily shook my head and looked up, to be greeted by the sight of Willow upside down. Willow was standing nearby with her paws firmly along the side of her skirt, keeping it close to her. As if I'd be even vaguely interested at that moment.
"Would you like me to fetch a bathrobe, Les?"
"What I'd like you to do is take that bathrobe, fold it small, and..." I bit back the heartfelt comment that was about to erupt when I realized, via the use of my paws, that my current state of attire could best be described as non-existent. My paws served to shield myself while Willow fetched the bathrobe.
Standing up to put on the robe made my head swim. This was, in part, due to what I was smelling...
"Um...Where's that deer musk coming from?"
Willow shrugged. "Not me. Try your bedclothes." I did, and instantly regretted my canine sense of smell, as there was no question Willow was dead on target. This development raised all sorts of hackle-raising possibilities.
Willow must have seen my look, for she chuckled and waved one of her paws. A sapphire-and-diamond ring was on one of her fingers. "Not me, Les. I'm spoken for." I'd forgotten that Reggie Buckhorn had proposed to Willow however many days ago it was.
This left open two avenues: one was the habitues of the Double Lotus, with whom I had shared the drunk tank. This seemed rather unlikely, as their preferences didn't extend to my type. The other was the awful spectre of...
Willow smirked, and mimic-ed a Spanish voice. "Who you?"
I'll bet she appreciated the reaction this got from me. Architect knows, I didn't appreciate it one little bit.
I found Les' reaction quite interesting, largely because he jumped about three feet in the air and whirled around, the hackles on his neck standing up and his teeth bared, ready for action. After he managed to get his heart rate down to, say, 120 a minute, he glared at me.
"Not funny, dammit!"
"To each his or her own, Les."
Les chose to ignore this, pointing a shaking finger at me instead. "YOU! You're my secretary. You're *supposed* to shield me from these sort of things! You're not supposed to be sending me on wild-goose chases in Honolulu..."
"...wild *deer* chases. You did find Reggie. What's more, I think Reggie *is* domesticated..."
Les looked at me in cold fury. "That. Is. A. Matter. Of. Opinion."
I suppose it was. I didn't share it, of course, but I was biased. Les could read my expression, though.
"That does it! I'm through with you manipulating me and making fun of me. Miss Fawnsworthy, you're fired!"
I nodded at him, and smiled. This did not seem to be the reaction Les was looking for, and he began to blink in confusion.
"Still here, Les."
"I said, 'You're fired!'"
"So I gathered."
Les was trying to puzzle out why I wasn't weeping, or begging for my job back. Obviously, he wasn't up on how much I had won betting on Reggie's recent duel, which would probably be enough to carry me through to late spring, by which time I'd be Mrs. Buckhorn. Nevertheless, I felt I had to carry out my duties, one last time.
"Well, as my final act, let me read you your messages. One, the insurance company called about the claim on what's left of the Ercorsair, and they want to get an explanation of what you meant by a "clam accident." They think there's some sort of typo there. Two, Superior Engineering called, and said they have a good deal for you on a slightly used plane, and they can salvage some of the gear from the Ercorsair..."
Les sat down on the edge of the bed, and ran a paw through his hairfur, digesting both of those bits of news. I waited just the right amount of time for a good, dramatic lead-in.
"Oh, and your Uncle Pierre sent a wire. He'll be here the day after tomorrow, flying out from San Francisco. He wants you to make some arrangements for a hotel room for him, a place to have a meeting, and...oh, yes, some "local entertainment.""
I was wondering if this would get a rise out of Les. Indeed it did. Three feet of rise, as a matter of fact, as he repeated his earlier hackle/teeth/stare routine. I gathered from this that Les held his Uncle Pierre in some sort of awe-struck state. I left the messages and the telegram on Les' bed, and turned on my hoof to get started on my packing. Maybe.
"Willow!" The high-pitched, puppy-like squeak indicated that Les had found his voice. Barely. I turned back, folded my paws in front of me, and gave him the Demure Doe look.
"Willow, you've got to reserve a Pierre for the hotel. I mean, the hotel Pierre for the room. No, wait, I mean a hotel uncle for my RoomPierre. Damnit, you know what I mean."
"Well, Les, I do, but I'm afraid I can't do anything about it."
Les' voice went up another notch, as if he'd been inhaling helium. "Why not? Why not?"
"You just fired me, remember?"
"You can't hire me, you just fired me."
Les put his paws to his ears, and gave a long, drawn-out squealing whimper, rocking back and forth. This was followed by some hurried negotiations, the gist of which was that I was allowed to charge some new clothes to duCleds Chemicals (using the impending visit as an excuse), and I was also to be given a much more generous expense allowance. Having "successfully" completed this negotiation, Les fled into the bathroom, slamming the door. The sound of a shower, turned up high, indicated that Les was trying to scrub himself clean. At least physically. I had a pretty good guess as to what he was thinking, though.
Deer. Deer. DAMN all deer.
I swear Willow fixed that whole charade with the messages, knowing what my reaction was going to be. I think she also knew a few other things, too. One of which was Inocenta de Ciervos.
This was another doe, a Spanish deer, who was probably in her *very* early twenties, with a cataract of long black hairfur curling down her back, and a figure that indicated that she was an extremely healthy and vigorous specimen of her species. Her parents, who had a good deal of money from some source or other, were now living in what used to be the suite Willow and I shared. Someone hadn't told Reggie Buckhorn this, and a night-time visit by same ended up, I gathered, causing no end of trouble. I can say this with some authority. Someone hadn't told me, either.
The clock struck 11.30 as I finally finished showering and dressing. I decided, before proceeding any further, to have a few words with Reggie. I figured he was in one of his usual haunts, the bar at Shepherd's Hotel. Sure enough, he was there, engaged in the act of tossing acorns into the air and catching them with his mouth.
I was going for the bar record of thirty-seven in a row when some blighter coughed with a noise like a bark, causing the self to collect #37 in the eye, and another chap at the bar to collect ten shillings. I was in the mood for mild reproof when I saw that my interlocutor -- or intercougher, as it were -- was none other than my brother-in-arms from the University of Pennsylvania, Leslie duCleds. Or, at least, I thought it was Les. The bags under his eyes were obscuring his form.
"What ho, Brother duCleds! Care to slay the fatted orange juice with me, this fine morning?"
Les blinked at this. "Huh? No G&T?"
Indeed not. I explained to br'er canine that certain recent circs. held out the prospect of banishing forever the boredom that found relief only in getting chummy with Bacchus. These circs. were directly tied to Willow Fawnsworthy, Exhibit A in the doe form divine. I was about to launch into a detailed solilquy on Willow's virtues, of which there are many, when I could see the fleeting form of pain cross the canine phiz.
"There is the apple of discord between yourself and Miss Fawnsworthy?"
"Aside from the fact that she tricked me into firing her, and then hiring her back in a more expensive billet, no, there's no bloody discord between myself and Willow Bloody Fawnsworthy."
The curate at the bar, sensing from Les' mood that cheer was in order, passed over two glasses of orange juice. I could tell from the slight discoloration of one that said curate had thoughtfully added some mixer to Les', so as to lessen his state of agita. A generous ration of silver was forthcoming to show what I thought of this professionalism. Alas, it didn't seem to work, as the canine brow remained furrowed.
"I don't know what it is. 'Tween Willow driving a bargain with me, you driving me to drink, an' Inocenta de Ciervos driving me insane..."
The ears perked, with the old ancestral reaction to danger. "Errrr...you've met Senorita de Ciervos?"
The question produced a growl. "I've known her."
"Well, if you only know her, what's the..."
Glower with growl. "You don't understand, you bloody nuisance. I've *known* her."
Confusion reigned in the bean for a minute or so, until dim memories of Sunday School roused themselves. "Oh, I see. You know her not in the sense that you know her, but that you, in fact, know her in the sense that knowledge, as it were, has been gained allowing you to know her, rather than know her?"
"Shut up before my head explodes."
Fitting ending for a duCleds, but I refrained from asking where one would put the powder. Some questions are better left unasked. In the silence, Les sipped at his juice-and-extra.
"You've met Inocenta, I take it?"
"Yes, but I don't know her."
"Oh, for the love of---Urgh. Listen, how did you get out of it?"
"Running didn't help. Ran into her sire. Quite literally. That was how the whole duel thing started, see..." I gave duCleds a quick resume of the matter, which started with Senorita de Ciervos stripping me to my boxers, and ended up with a duel with the Bespotted Brunhilde Baumgartner. Les had been out of town for the festivities. His loss.
Food for thought for the canine. "So the old man likes his gunplay of an early morning?"
"Only if sufficiently provoked. Luckily for me, cervine solidarity runs strong. Anyway, things passed so that Senorita de Ciervos was not able to pick up the thread of the plot until after I posed The Question to Willow. So Reginald Buckhorn is off the market, meaning La Ciervos is a free lance."
The expression of worry crossed the canine phiz, temporarily displacing irritation. One gathered that Leslie duCleds was looking out across the vista of his choices with a wild surmise, like stout Crowtez viewing the Pacific. One gathers said vista did not merite un detour, as they say in the Guides Rouges.
"I say, Les, I'm a little confused..."
"Oh, all right, I'm a lot confused, but this little matter confuses me further. With reference to the situation regarding La Ciervos, would you prefer to be in it, or out of it?"
Les obviously had not pondered the question in this light, as he dropped his glass on the barroom floor, turned quite pale, did an about-face, and marched shakily out the door. The curate of the bar polished an unbroken glass, and nodded sagely.
"There's a chap, Mr. Buckhorn, who's under the influence of passion."
"Can't be anything else, Quentin, he only had one. Speaking of which, some more sunshine in a glass for yours truly..."
"Sorry, Mister duCleds," Cedric McCradden apologized, "but the plane is pretty much a writeoff."
I winced. "So that...er, my secretary informed me. What happened?"
Young Mr. McCradden flushed a bit. "Basically, sir, when you impacted the runway, the main spar cracked dead center below the cockpit. Any repairs would entail having to totally dismantle the aircraft, as it is a monococque design and all..." He waved at a largish crate on a workbench. "We salvaged the Bruinings, some related hardware, the instruments and radios, and," he smiled thinly, "a cylinder head gasket from the spare parts kit behind the seat."
"Save that," I said dryly. "I'm bound to blow a gasket at some point."
"Yessir," Cedric said. "What shall we do with the airframe and engine?"
I sighed. "I daresay that's up to the insurance company." I wandered sadly over to the stricken Ercorsair, where an intent little raptor was speaking into the microphone of a wire recorder while a rather sad-looking goose held a clipboard.
The raptor turned an eagle eye on me. "Ah! Mister duCleds, I presume? Merlin Parkins, Mutual of Ocelot, and this is my associate, Jack Fowler."
"How do you do?" I said, politely. The goose gave me a glum smile and nodded.
Parkins continued briskly. "I've already gone over the wreckage of the aircraft in question. Now, your claim said something about 'clam conditions'. I take it that was a misspelling?"
"Nope," I shook my head. "Clam."
Parkins looked at me searchingly. "As in the bivalve?"
"Yep," I grimaced. "A large one."
The raptor looked puzzled. "Er...how in the world would a clam cause an aeroplane wreck?"
"It's not easy," I sighed, looking sadly at the remains of what, until recently, had been one of the better aircraft I've flown. "Seems a rather large seagull was using the runway to open his dinner. Large seagull, large clam. The main course impacted just in front of the starboard tyre, and chunks of shell caused a puncture and the subsequent wreck."
The goose looked almost cheerful as he quietly sniggered a bit. I shot him a bitter look, and he returned to glum taciturnity.
Parkins sighed. "A large clamshell. Unbelievable."
I snorted. "Check with the control tower. They gave me an advisory about the gull, but I didn't have much choice except trying to land."
"I did," Parkins said with a faint grin. "They support your story, so we have no reason to declare the incident anything but an accident and to reimburse you, less the deductible."
"Fine," I nodded, as the raptor reached into his pocket for the check. He paused. "Er, there is ONE final formality, Mr. DuCleds."
I raised one eyebrow. "Oh?"
Parkins looked a trifle abashed. "Well, in cases of an airman having an accident, company policy requires a mandatory safety lecture before we can issue the check."
The goose turned pale at this.
I sighed. "I've already been lectured, thanks."
The goose shot me a grateful look.
"Sorry," Parkins said, "company policy."
The goose wilted again, shrugged and gave me a "Well, you tried" look.
Merlin Parkins took a breath and launched into his spiel:
"Mutual of Ocelot, the insurance company with policies having the sharpest clawses, is concerned with safety at all times. Thus, we present a short safety lecture for airmen who've had a mishap. My associate, Jack, will demonstrate as I cover each point..."
"...and remember to be careful when hand-propping as the propeller can kick back and hit you. Nasty bump there, Jack..."
"...you MUST keep your tail and tailfeathers clear of the turning prop at all times! (BZZZZZZOWNT!) Don't worry, Jack, they'll grow back..."
"...when checking the fuel tanks, use a proper dipstick, and NEVER use a match or cigarette lighter to look inside. Ah, Mr. McCradden, very quick response with the extinguisher, there. Good show."
"...proper operation of the control surfaces by firmly wiggling them during the preflight check. Obviously, that aileron was not fastened properly. Oh, stop sobbing, Jack, you only bruised that toe."
I learned very little from the lecture, but at least Jack escaped with his life.
Parkins handed over the check with a cheery "Don't spend it all on horseradish!" Jack stalked out the door, muttering something under his breath about stuffing a box of weasels down Parkins' trousers. I wished Jack well.
*****"...a virtually new Birchcraft Model 18, been retrofitted with Volpine tricycle landing gear, seats 8, range 2,500 miles and.." Cedric smiled shyly, "...it can be fitted with floats as well."
For the first time that day, I smiled cheerfully. "I'll take it."
*****I was starting in on another pitch-and-catch streak, and had made it up to thirty-one, when my thought process was interrupted again by a cheerfully trilled "Allo!"
I caught the acorn in the eye, and truth be told was a little glad of it, because clapping two eyes on La Ciervos herself might have been too much of a shock for the self. Mark you, there was nothing at all declasse about her attire. To the contrary: with her long, frilly dress, parasol, and beribboned hat, she would have been welcome at the King's Garden Party. Once, at least. I made a move to put a table between myself and the Cervine of Seville before anything further happened.
"No, no, no. You no need be afraid of Inocenta. Inocenta find out that Reggie is to be married to the Willow. Felicitations." This said about three-quarters heartedly, with a look of disappointed longing at the self. I made sure the table was, in fact, between us, in the event she decided to change her mind.
"Errrr. Yes. Rather. Well, you know, there are other fish in the sea."
This conversational gambit caused a few blinks. "Please?"
"Other fish. In the sea. Out there." I helpfully pointed out toward the Nimitz Sea, through the windows of the bar.
Still more blinks. "Why you suggest Inocenta find the fishie to make love to? I like swim, but not for making love." She looked somewhat thoughtful. "Not fishie, anyway."
The blinks were catching. Now I was doing it. "Eh?"
La Ciervos blinked sadly and a bit moistly. "Inocenta no can have Reggie. Inocenta no want have fishie. Inocenta want..." This was met with a very large sigh and a heaving of a lace-enclosed bosom, which in a buck of less self-control might have led to alarming consequences. The self was as adamant, though, and I silently informed Old Nick to hop it behind my flag.
"Out with it, young Ciervos. Let there be no secrets between us. Confession is good for the soul." This said with confidence, and no little curiousity.
Another heaving sigh from the doe. "Inocenta want adorable little puppy Leslie."
Those were three adjectives that I never thought would be applied to Leslie duCleds, at least not since the days when he was last photographed reclining on the hearth-rug. Which I hoped for his sake was not recently.
"Let me get this straight: your soul may belong to Him above, but your heart belongs to Leslie, as the man said?"
Not very artfully phrased for someone whose first language isn't English, but she got the gist of it, and moistly nodded, and sniffed a bit.
"And you're looking for a few pointers on winning your way into the duCleds heart, right?"
An instant perking of ears and waving of flag. "Si! Si! I want to make Leslie puppy having the warm feelings for Inocenta."
"Ah. Simplicity itself. Just pop upstairs to my suite, and bend the ear of my valet, Lodge. The wisdom of Solomon and the stature of Napoleon all in one. You can't go wrong."
A disdainful toss of the long black hairfur. "Poof. Inocenta de Ciervos does not ask the advice of the servants in this matter of the heart. I no care for the Lodge like *that*." And with that, she snapped her fingers. I was astonished. This was like a dying patient informing a Harley Street physician to stop bothering them, and fetch the bottle of Marmel's Magnesia, and be quick about it. My astonishment was brought up short by a vigorous poke in the ribs with the parasol nib.
"No. You, the gentlebuck, you tell Inocenta how the Leslie puppy heart will win, yes?"
This was moving in very deep and not entirely safe waters. One false move, and it was back to the pistols-for-two, coffee-for-one routine for Reginald. What was needed was something light on the heart and cheery for the soul, and which was decidely non-controversial. Light dawned in the bean, and it was a gladdened buck that motioned La Ciervos over to the piano, to which self seated himself.
"Right. Listen carefully to what I say a few times, until you've picked up the tune and the lyrics. Ready?"
Frankly, I don't understand those rich playboys who pay people to work on their vehicles. To me, part of the fun is actually getting your paws dirty.
The plane was nearly perfect for my purposes. The nose had been lengthened from stock in order to accommodate the nose gear, and that long nose would be PERFECT for mounting the Bruinings side-by-side. I had my head happily in the wheelwell, taking measurements for machinegun mounts and sniffing the intoxicating scents all aircraft have:
Nearly new leather upholstery.
New rubber tires.
CLONK! My head impacted the inside of the wheelwell.
Leslie-puppy very eager to see Inocenta. So eager, he hit his head on the aeroplane coming out. He rub his head and look at Inocenta, so Inocenta shows him her pretty dress, and her pretty hat with the ribbons. Inocenta also do what Mami teach her, make with the warm smile, and the batting of the eyes, and the flickie-flickie of the deer flag. Mami say that if you do it right, there is no man that can resist you. Leslie-puppy, Inocenta see, is very aware of Inocenta, as he stare at Inocenta with big, wide eyes.
"Allo, Leslie!" Inocenta say. Poor puppy, he can only squeak out a greeting to Inocenta. He overcome with the emotion on seeing his Inocenta again. Inocenta see his big, shiny new machine. Mami says the men, they love their machines, and it is good for the ladies to flatter the men about their machines, it make them feel all strong and masculine, so Inocenta do this, and point with parasol at the big aeroplane..
Leslie blink at Inocenta. He confused. He look so cute when confused. He eventually figure out what Inocenta mean, and he nod. Inocenta think of the nice thing to say about aeroplane.
"Is very big." Leslie-puppy, he nod at this.
"Inocenta is very impressed. Is good, this being bigness, no?"
Leslie-puppy turn funny colour at this flattery. He no doubt shy at the flattery, he no want to admit that he is moved by Inocenta making the nice comments about the aeroplane. But Inocenta, she know better. So Inocenta continue. Inocenta think: is good to express the wish to share the interests with Leslie.
"So, very soon, you ride Inocenta, si?" Leslie, he do the funny thing with the head-wobble, like he try to figure out, so Inocenta help.
"Si, you give Inocenta nice long ride, one afternoon, you make us both happy?" Leslie, he lower jaw, look astonished. He look a little around, see that the other gentlefurs with their tools are looking over at Leslie and Inocenta. They are no doubt with the jealousy that Leslie have the lady deer giving him the attention. I toss the hairfur at them. They are of no importance to Inocenta.
"No be surprised, Leslie. Inocenta, she look forward to good ride with Leslie. Inocenta have the great confidence in Leslie. She know that Leslie have the good paws, make the ride enjoyable for both, yes?" Leslie look around, he see that the other gentlefurs, they have the keen interest in this. There is the snickering, Inocenta hears. It is not good, so Inocenta let them have what for, and wave the forefinger at them.
"Poof! You are all the jealous types. You are not knowing how to use the, how you say, stick like Leslie can. Leslie use stick better than all of you. Leslie have best stick in the Spontoons. There is no ladyfur in the islands who would not want the ride with Leslie. But, I, Inocenta, will make it so that I am the only lady fur he rides. So there!" I snap the fingers at them, and this have the effect. They all look at one anothers, and look at Leslie with the expressions of the great surprise. Leslie, he is speechless at what Inocenta say. He no doubt surprised that Inocenta have the great confidence in his skill. He is so modest.
Inocenta prepared for this. She learn song from Reggie. Reggie say to Inocenta that this song have meaning for Leslie-puppy. Inocenta try to remember words, and then smile at Leslie.
"Come all the classmen loyals
in the halls and campuses through.
Lift up the hearts and voices, si
for royal reddy blue!
Harvards have the redness
Collegiate the colours too
But for the nice Pennsylvania
We show the reddy blue!
Ole! Ole! Pennsylvania!
Ole for the reddy blue!
Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!
Ole for the reddy blue!"
Inocenta think she have this right. Inocenta do the thing with the paw going in and out like Reggie teach her. Leslie, he is very moved by this. He speechless, and make with the wide eyes at Inocenta. Inocenta very pleased, and decide this moment to make the departure. Inocenta blow the big kiss at Leslie, turn, wave the deerie flag and trot off.