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Update 26 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
A lightly bejeweled paw waved discreetly in front of the area of the nose was an indication to me that intelligent conversation was desired on my part. Coming to out of a rose-coloured cloud bank, I turned slightly to see that the paw belonged to my fiancee, Willow.
"Welcome back, hon. Enjoy your trip?"
"How could I? It didn't have you."
A sweet answer turneth away wrath, even the tiny portion Willow had. She merely gave an amused roll of the eyes.
"You haven't been much for conversation this evening."
"Errrr. Sorry about that. Got distracted by that dress of yours."
A faint thwip-thwip indicated that Willow was pleased I was making nice comments about her dress, and was letting her flag do the talking. And it *was* a nice dress, too, of irreproachable yet flattering cut, and a pleasing Prussian blue.
"That's fine, love. Except you've been mumbling 'Marvelous, darling' since we came in."
"And the problem with that is...?"
My beloved grinned. "For starters, the nutmunch-err, the maitre'd offered you a Nootnops Red with your sauteed mushrooms, and that's how you answered him."
I pulled a face. "Gads. I thought Andre was hors de combat, owing to the Christmas Eve party." I had heard about this from the duck who ran the cigar concession in the hotel, with few details spared, and even fewer left to the imagination. I hadn't heard the like since an enthusiastic fraternity-house chum of mine at Penn was reading, in the original Latin, from some of the spicier bits of Seutonius. Andre, from what I was told, was led off gibbering, a distinct improvement from his normal routine of insults and condescension. "How did he react?"
Willow gave a shifty-eyed smile. "He backed off four feet in one hop, popping what looked like a Nembutal as he went." I made a note to the self to remember this tactic. Willow frowned again. "Just as well you weren't among the conscious. Acorn Breath seems to have recovered his form all too quickly." This said with tone bitter. I begged details.
Willow totted up the score on a paw. "Two kicked busfurs. One waiter sent off the field for a dirty collar. One "lost" reservation. One hefty bribe, directly connected with the foregoing. And last, but not least, a series of rather cutting comments directed at Inocenta de Ciervos. If you turn your head fairly sharply, you'll see her seated right next to the swinging doors to the kitchen."
The self turned. La Ciervos was sitting alone, a frustrated pout on her phiz. Her attempt to eat soup was continiously frustrated by the whoosh of passing waiters and the occasional crump of a hurled, sotto voice insult. She looked like she remembered that she was a lady, and was bitterly regretting the status. As Willow and I were at a table for two, it was not possible to ask her to join us, even supposing we could wangle a third chair from Andre, which seemed approximately as likely as wangling one from Iosif Starling.
The ears flooped, and it was many moody mouthfuls of sauteed mushrooms that were being consumed. Cervine loyalty runs deep, though my last run-in with the beaks on the magistrate's bench made it clear to me that if Reginald made one more starring appearence in court, it would be pain and durance vile without the option. La Ciervos wasn't the only one suffering from frustration.
A shaking paw waved not very discreetly in front of the area of the nose was an indication to me that intelligent conversation was desired on my part. Coming to out of a grey-coloured cloud bank, I turned slightly to see that the paw belonged to my comrade in arms from the groves of academe, Leslie du Cleds.
Les had marched into L'Etoile d'Argent with an air of A Canine On A Mission. He was certainly dressed for the part. Somehow, I think, the restaurant's dress code didn't have leather aviator jackets in mind, though. In any event, the horizons were scanned, and the target spotted, apparently being my fiance, Reggie. Reggie's rack is somewhat hard to miss, even in a full-up dining room.
Les strode up to our table, paws clenching and unclenching, teeth gritted. He stared hard at Reggie, who seemed to be totally oblivious as to Leslie's presence just a few feet away as he slowly ate his entree. (Note to self: Take advantage of this talent of Reggie's when the moment presents itself.) In the meantime, Leslie was making funny strangled sounds, sorta like he was trying to cough up a hairball. It was only with great effort that he pointed a shaking paw at Reggie (who finally noticed that three was a crowd), and managed to render himself articulate.
Reggie seemed a little puzzled, so I joined in.
"No, buck. Try again."
Leslie turned to me with a wild, hunted gleam in his eye, and repeated the opening conversational gambit.
"No, doe." I pointed over to where an elegantly coiffed lady sheep was having some stir-fried shoots. "That ewe."
I can't tell if Leslie's eyes bugged out, since there were a pair of Ray-Bans obscuring them, but the jiggle-wobble of the lenses told me that might well be the case.
"Very funny. Har-har. Here's another joke for you. You're fired!"
I brightened up. "Yay!" This seemed to confuse both Leslie and Reggie at the same time. Both of them exchanged a few rounds of confused "What" and "Eh" cries and looks, before Reggie seized the initative.
"I say, Leslie, you seem a bit heated..."
Les pointed a shaking finger at Reggie's nose. "Don't play dumb with *me*, you goggling specimen."
Reggie leaned back a little. "I assure you that I'm not playing dumb. As my sire would opine, it's the role I was born to play. In twenty words or less, what's gnawing at your vitals?"
Two paws down on the table, and a canine nose right up to a cervine one. "Inocenta. De. Ciervos."
Reggie fiddled with his tie a bit.
"Oh. Ah. Er. What, she forgot the words to the song...?"
Leslie ground a tooth. "Did it ever cross that vast desolate landscape that allegedly contains your intelligence that teaching Inocenta de Ciervos the University of Pennsylvania fight song might have consequences?"
I looked at Reggie, who furrowed his brows for a second, and then grinned a bit in embarassment. "Oh. Yes. Well. You see, I thought..."
Les snarled. "You thought. You *thought*. Attendez, Aristotle. Make way, Montaigne. Look sharp, Karl Marx. Presenting Reggie Bloody Buckhorn, THINKER!"
"Oi! Be fair, Leslie. I mean, surely you wouldn't turn down a request from Inocenta de Ciervos, would you?"
For some reason, this question made Leslie pale beneath his fur. Reggie inclined a bit with his rack. "I mean, she's right over there... " Leslie shifted his head slightly, and much sharper wobble of the Ray-Bans indicated that he had indeed seen Cupcake de Ciervos, who was busily waving her paw and cooing at Leslie to get his attention. "...and you can see how she obviously feels about you..."
Les put both his paws on the table, and leaned in again. He was on the verge of delivering some heated remarks when we were made a party of four.
My train of thought was derailed when I felt a tap-tap-tap on my shoulder. I tensed, waiting for the inevitable "Allo!" that would seal the fate of my sanity. A feeling of blessed relief came when the dread phrase didn't sound off. Instead, I got another, harder, set of shoulder taps, and a hissing cough.
I turned to find myself face-to-face with a sneer, whose support system seemed to be composed of a squirrel in black tie and dinner jacket. This particular sneer was of the outraged variety.
I decided to see his outrage, and raise him one exasperation.
This seemed to surprise Squirrely-Boy a bit. "Er..."
I continued. "What in the vast uncharted Stygian depths of your ignorance could you POSSIBLY want?!"
The squirrel looked around rather nervously, as conversation had ceased in the dining room, and various parties were looking on. He finally hissed at me through closed teeth.
"Tie? TIE?!" This was the limit. "What in the blue blazes are you bleating about? I'm not WEARING a tie, you chittering cretin."
"M'sieu, the patrons of this establishment-"
I removed my Ray-Bans and shot Pompous Git a look of bleak exasperation. "Do I look like I'm planning to eat here?"
"No. I'm not. I'm busy with other things. Now go away."
I turned my back on Pompous. "As for you, Buckhorn-"
A paw landed on my shoulder. "M'sieu. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
I turned back around. The smile on my face was a mean one as I grabbed Snooty McTwit by his bowtie.
"You first. Connard."
The situation was fraught with all sorts of promise and possibilities. Alas, some of these included the aforementioned trip to chokey for Reginald. It was thus that the self stayed resolutely in situ while Andre d'Arbes took a wild swing at Leslie duCleds with a leather-bound menu. Leslie took a vastly less wild swing at Andre's eye, producing a pleasing sound effect. Alas, I was not able to determine the full effects of this demarche by Leslie as a paw firmly dragged me under the table.
I was initially very disappointed in Willow for taking this precipitous action, until I remembered that I had been remanded to her custody by the magistrate. She was, I reflected, only doing her duty.
Willow briefly vanished, to reappear with our bottle of wine and glasses. She filled each of our glasses. I complimented Willow on her foresight and initiative.
Her response was a raised glass. "To your health, Reggie!"
"And to Andre's lack of it!"
We drained our glasses, and held paws while we enjoyed the floor show, which judging from the crashing and thumping sounds that were breaking out all around us, was composed of chaps being shown the floor.
I figured the least I could do was bring Les a change of clothes before his day in court. From his basement cell, Les was snarling sotto voce insults at Andre in the cell opposite. Apparently, they'd been at it all night; each of them was holding the bars for support whilst barracking each other in French.
The duCleds ancestors would be proud of the boy.
My erstwhile employer broke off a detailed description of certain social habits of Andre's third cousins to glare at me.
"About time you got here. Where have you been?"
I shrugged. "Packing."
"Packing? What the hell for-" Les slapped his forehead. "Oh, no..."
"I've typed up a memo for my successor, so she will know-"
"Have a heart, Willow! I've been under a lot of stress-"
"Ha!" from across the way. "The wearing of the horrid aviation jacket would stress such a tiny mind unbearably, indeed."
Les glared at Acorn Breath. "Si je veux n'importe quelle merde de vous, je serrerai votre tête." He switched back to English. "So shut your goddamned piehole." He switched back to me with an imploring look. "Willow, for heaven's sake, have some mercy on me. I'm a very, very, VERY tired boss. If I don't get some sleep soon, I'm going to go mad."
I remained impassive. "Here's a change of clothes, Les. After the hearing, I'm planning to go window shopping. New consignment of purses from Florence in one of the local shops, and..."
"(sigh) Okay, okay, I can take a hint." With as much grace as he could muster through gritted teeth while unbuckling his trousers, Les told me to go shopping, charge it to the duCleds account, and let him have some sleep after the hearing.
I took this to mean that I was re-hired, again. "Will do," I shot over my shoulder as the turnkey escorted me out. "I'll find something for your Uncle Peter to do while you're sleeping..."
A loud yip and whine from the cell indicated that Les had apparently forgotten his social calendar.
That, or something had gotten caught in his zipper.
Oh, well. Back upstairs to meet Reggie.
Wonder what purse will go with my new dress?
And can the local shop armorplate it?
*DAMN* all deer, anyway.
No way in hell that Willow Fawnsworthy had merely gone to secretarial school. That doe was an obvious Harvard Business graduate. That, and she was messing with what little was left of my mind for the sheer pleasure of it.
I had a wash and brushup, with my change of clothes making me somewhat presentable. Huh! Got Žcureuil de crone de merde's tie in my pocket. I dropped it on the floor, stomped on it a few times, then flung it across the hall. "M'sieu! They require a jacket and tie in this establishment!"
The squirrel's suggestion as to what I could do with the tie was unprintable in any language.
Two constables kept Nutbreath and myself apart all the way up to the courtroom. Something of a full house. Guess we're a good draw. For a change of pace, Reggie was sitting on the other side of the rail; the constables, obviously, knew him and allowed us a brief chat.
"I say, Les! You've run into a bit of luck."
"I'm going to die right this second?"
Reggie frowned. "Would that be lucky?"
"It would be for me," I sighed. "What's the supposed good news, then?"
Reggie rubbed his paws together. "You drew Magistrate Poynter, the old one. Nice chap. Old Etonian and Magdalen College, Oxford. Veteran of many a Boat Race Night in his days of youth..."
"...and he's going to sing the "Eton Boating Song" before he sends me up the river?"
Reggie's giggle grated on my nerves, damn him. I hadn't meant that as a joke. "Oh, no, no, Les. It's just that he recognizes that a chap has high spirits now and again. I speak from experience. He's a fair minded...ah, here he is now!"
I turned to see a pair of pince-nez perched on a pooch puss. The genial greymuzzled canine waved to the audience to be seated, and had a seat himself, shuffling through the papers while whistling "The Grenadier Guards". Even at this early hour, Hizzoner had what looked like a gin and tonic. I wondered wistfully if he'd brought extra.
Poynter cleared his throat. "Harrum. Err, let's see. Althing versus Leslie Donnedieu duCleds and Andre Baudoin d'Arbres, charge is breach of the peace. Hmmm!"
He flipped through the papers, looked puzzled, and turned to the bailiff.
"I say, are you sure this is right? I don't see Reggie Buckhorn's name anywhere here."
The court officer pointed out Reggie, who cheerfully waved to the bench. The Bench cheerfully waved back.
"Oh! I say, there you are, dear boy. Not before me this morning, eh?"
"No, not today, Your Honour!"
"I say, you're not feeling poorly, are you? I *do* enjoy your cases, you know..."
A cough from the bailiff brought Poynter back to the case in paw. A constable took the stand and gave a blow-by-blow accounting according to the testimony of various witnesses. In morning's glare, things did not look good for me. In particular, any right-thinking judge would view the bit about the knee in the groin with a jaundiced eye at best. As the constable finished, the magistrate turned to me for my side of the story. Well, at least things couldn't possibly get any worse.
You know, I'm going to have to stop using that particular expression.
Inocenta decide she no leave her Leslie-puppy to go to the prison on the account of Inocenta. Inocenta was being thrilled by the fight, and seeing the great manliness of Leslie-puppy in giving the what-for to the mean squirrel, and the others who fight him. Inocenta in particular like when Leslie-puppy get his shirt ripped. Magnifico! Inocenta go to Mami, and say that she, Inocenta, must go and make the speaking for Leslie-puppy. Mami, she say that this must be done, and if Inocenta no go, she go herself, for the mother of Inocenta is greatly impressed by the manliness of Leslie-puppy additionally.
Inocenta make the phone call to the policia, she find out the magistrate who make the judgement on Leslie-puppy. Inocenta think: older magistrate...therefore - younger doe, si? Inocenta pick out the plaid skirt, the white silkie shirt, and the little navy jacket. And furthermore Inocenta make her hairfur into the braid. Mami inspect Inocenta, and scold Inocenta for forgetting the little straw hat. Mami say that Inocenta is the ship spoiling for the pesatas of tar. Inocenta learn so much from Mami.
So Inocenta is in the courtroom. Poor Leslie-puppy. He look *so* tired. It make Inocenta want to give him the massage with the paws to make him feel better. Inocenta make the face at mean squirrel. Inocenta, his how you say little cart she fix but good.
The magistrate, he is old fashioned gentlefur. Inocenta know that he will not be impolite to her, so when he ask about the events that happen, Inocenta raise her paw in the fashion polite and get his attention.
La Ciervos had the magistrate's attention. She had Andre's appalled attention. She had my attention. She had Willow's attention. She had the attention of every fur in the gallery. She did not have the attention of Leslie D. duCleds, who was busy holding his ears and rocking back and forth, in the throes of some deep emotion.
"Excuse please, gracious sir, but is it the permissible for myself to speak to you?"
Magistrate Poynter polished his pince nez, set them back on his muzzle, and cut loose with a 500-watt smile.
"But of course, my dear! Err, is this regarding the, you know...?" The magistrate made a sort of general paw-waving motion that took in, in the philosophical sense, l'affaire duCleds-d'Arbres.
"Si! I, Inocenta de Ciervos, have the explanation for all of this affair."
At this juncture, Andre put his tu'ppence in, and began to loudly protest that the intervention of the deer was out of order. He was silenced by a distracted tap of the gavel. "You are out of order, sir." Oddly, Les looked crushed by this ruling. The magistrate turned back to La Ciervos, with a glowing countenance.
"Pray go on, my dear, you have my full attention." I wondered how he could say this, given the fact that Inocenta was fluttering her eyelashes and giving The Very Friendly Eye to the magistrate in a way that would have spelled rolling pins on the bonce had Mrs. Magistrate been around. What followed could hardly be presented without stage directions.
"Inocenta, she eat the dinner at the restaurant in which *him* [indicating Andre with disdainful toss of braided hairfur] is making the seating of the furs. *Him* [repeated disdainful toss of above] make the comment to Inocenta that there is not the...ah, what is...oh, yes, the "kiddie menu" and that Inocenta should go to the Song Sodas if she, Inocenta, is looking for the ice cream."
The Magistrate looked irritated, and glared at Andre. "Is this true?"
Andre quivered with professional rage. I don't think he liked Inocenta's second-paw delivery of his insults. They do tend to lose a bit of je ne sais quoi in the retelling. "Mais oui, m'sieur, mais..."
"Speak English in my courtroom, blast it! Is this true? [Pointing at La Ciervos, who had turned a pert cervine nose up at the squirrel, a point duly noted by the magistrate.]
"*Thank* you." [Said with vinegar in the diction.] "*Do* go on, my dear." [Said with flowing vintage champagne in the diction.]
"Inocenta protest she have the reservation, so she get the table, after paying the gratuity to this [indicating Andre with repeated disdainful turn up of the aforementioned cervine nose], this...this...Inocenta having trouble with word, it sound like boudin..."
Personally, I thought that was the correct word, as Andre could be fairly compared with a blood sausage in terms of vile-ness. But the magistrate caught on to her meaning.
"'Bounder,' my dear? Is that the word you are looking for?"
"Pray don't mention it. Won't you go on?" [Said with chin on upraised folded paws.]
Andre was continuing to quiver with ill-concealed outrage. "Your Honour! I must protest at this gross..."
This produced a louder, more foreful bang of the gavel and a look of great irritation from Poynter. "Silence, you bloody heathen. Or I'll hold you in contempt, not that I don't already." He turned back with a snort, but his look of irritation faded upon sight of Inocenta.
"Please, You Honour. Is it permissible for Inocenta to sit?" [said with batting eyelashes].
"I couldn't possibly refuse such a charmingly framed request. [turning to court officer] Fetch the young lady a chair."
There was a brief pause while the Cervine of Seville sat daintily in the chair, and arranged her skirt and leg position to her satisfaction. Which evidently was to the enormous satisfaction of the magistrate. Les didn't have the proper angle to appreciate this, and for some reason, he had his eyes closed, with balled fists by his side, as if waiting for a punch to the guts.
The magistrate waited with great patience until all the arrangements were in place. "So you were saying, my dear...?"
"Si. So Inocenta is the outraged and the slandered, yes? So. Inocenta is having the dinner, alone, when into the restaurant is coming Leslie-puppy."
"Si! Inocenta mean *him*! [said with the warmth of a summer's morning and much batting of eyelashes, all missed by Br'er duCleds, more's the pity].
"So, Leslie-pup--...I mean, Senor, err Mister duCleds came into the restaurant...?"
"You Honor is most perceptive, yes? [a well-received compliment] So Inocenta see that Leslie-puppy, he go over to the Willow and the Reggie..."
"Ah! I was wondering if Mr. Buckhorn was going to enter into this. I was *so* afraid he was losing form. Oh, by the way, Mr. Buckhorn, many congratulations on your engagement, I'm sure!" [said with cheery wave at yours truly]
"Si. Inocenta look over, and she sees that the Willow and the Reggie, they are talking to Leslie-puppy, and Leslie-puppy, he show the great emotion, and Inocenta know that they are relating the outrage to Inocenta..."
Andre could barely contain himself. "But this is the impossible! How can she possibly know what the conversation is across the busy dining room --"
Poynter turned to him, the grey in his muzzle having turned a bit crimson. "WHAT PART OF "HOLD YOUR BLASTED TONGUE" IS CAUSING YOU INTELLECTUAL DIFFICULTY?!?" [No answer, so La Ciervos takes her cue].
"And as Inocenta say before she rudely interrupt by *that* [disdainful toss of braided hairfur, which restores judicial good-humour]...she see the history related to Leslie-puppy so enrage him, that when *that* go over, he take the paw and he go *smack-smack* on the face of the how-you-say, the 'bounder', yes?"
Poynter turned with a friendly eye to Les. "I see! And is this true, Mr. duCleds?"
Les could only respond with a silent opening and closing of the mouth, eloquent in its confusion.
"Poof! Why You Honour expect the Leslie-puppy to say about what he do? Inocenta is thinking is not what is the expression Ingles, the playing of the game, no?"
Poynter adjusted his pince nez, and chuckled. "Oh! Hear, hear, well-spoken, young lady!" [Further indication of approval by gently thumped paw on judicial bench.]
La Civeros at this point stood up and smoothed her skirt. "No-no-no. You cannot expect the Leslie-puppy to be making the speech. The Leslie-puppy, he is modest, as the gentlefur should be, no? [cries of "hear, hear" from the Bench]. No, the Leslie-puppy, he is modest about everything but the manhood."
Leslie, lost in an agonized reverie, jerked his head up as if an invisible choke-collar had been applied. With a deer-in-the-headlights look (on which yours truly is a natural expert), he looked on as Inocenta expounded on this theme, pacing back and forth before the bench.
"Inocenta have seen many times the manhood of Leslie-puppy. Inocenta experience many times the manhood of Leslie-puppy. Inocenta greatly impressed by the manhood of Leslie-puppy. It is true that Leslie-puppy should be known for his manhood, for that is a great virtue he have. He act, in hitting the squirrel, as directed by his manhood. It is true, Inocenta think, that Leslie-puppy should receive the acclaim for showing his manhood in public for the happy-making of Inocenta. And Inocenta say she receive the great thrill by this display of the manhood! You Honour surely will not punish Leslie-puppy for this, no?" [said with wide-open eyes and gently flagging tail].
Poynter was deeply moved by this narrative, and wiped his eyes. He turned to Les, and told him that if he were forty years younger again, he would have done exactly the same thing, and it was high time that young men fought to protect their ladies. Les frantically tried to interrupt, but this attempt was graciously waved off with a further ackowledgement of Les' general modesty.
Andre, for his part, was sizzling like a plate of sauteed mushrooms. "May *I* have a few words, Your Honour?"
"No. Shut your piehole."
The upshot of it was that Les was cut loose without a stain on his character; Les' expression seemed to indicate that he was ready to dispute the veracity of that statement. As for Andre, he was sentenced to forty hours of community service at the communal soup kitchen. It made me wonder who was being punished, the poor of the parish or Andre. Andre was led off by two constables, howling his rage and anguish.
Willow and I greeted Les and congratulated him. Les looked like he had survived Third Ypres. Willow appeared enchanted.
"Wasn't that a wonderful speech by Inocenta? You should be pleased, Les."
Les goggled at Willow. "Pleased?!? Pleased?!? Pleased?!?"
Willow flagged merrily and smiled. "Of course, Les. You should be congratulated, too."
"What the ____ for?"
"Well, everybody ought to be in love, Les. Isn't that right, Reggie?"
My answer was drowned out by a loud canine howl of anguish, which faded away gradually as Les bolted out of the courthouse and into the bright sunshine.
I shrugged, and gave my true love a smooch on the cheek. "Hear, hear. Well spoken, my dear."