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Update 12 April 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
Another night in the Casino Island jail. At this rate, I'm going to need to lease a cell.
Any chance of sleep?
I looked across the way. In the opposite cell, Carlos de Ciervos was standing with his paws behind his back, glaring at me. Seeing that I was watching him, he brought one finger up to his neck, and with a grotesque sound effect, drew it directly across.
Another sleepless night.
DAMN all deer...
****It's a mitzvah, of course, to visit the sick, afflicted and prisoners.
In Les' case, of course, he was all three...
"Morning, Les. You look like death warmed over." I handed over the package with clothes and such. Willow had forbidden me to take over the broad striped prisoner costume left over from Hallowe'en. Nertz.
"I love you too, Rosie," Les growled grumpily as he began to dress. "Where's Willow?"
I essayed an innocent smile. "She and Reggie are...still recovering from your little stunt yesterday."
Les raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Recovering?"
I nodded. "Honest to God. She laughed so hard she actually strained herself and it hurts her a little to breathe." A wince from Les. "Reggie is taking care of her. Nothing serious, but she wanted to get some rest."
"Good to see one of us is," Les muttered with a sour grin.
"H'rm," I quirked a smile. "Bad night?"
Les pointed over his shoulder. "Ask him."
I glanced over at Papi, who let loose a stream of Castillian. I don't speak Spanish, but I have picked up some Italian from Toni (and some Italians WITH Toni, but that's another story) and I got the gist of it. Not very complimentary, but inventive and surely heartfelt.
Didn't know you COULD make castanets out of them.
Ah, well, time for another round of Intimidate the Herbivore. I bared my teeth and loosed some broken Italian in his direction. "<SHUT you face or I shut FOR you!>"
Papi was taken aback for a moment, but came back swinging. Hafta admit, the guy has guts. (Perforated by some slugs from Von Kojote at one point, or so I've been told.) Now, I'm no prude, but when he started implying that my weekend recreation involved the Sixth Fleet, I decided enough was enough.
(sproing) "SHEKET B'VAKA SHA!"
Damn, I gotta bottle that.
Not being as familiar with the Spontoon legal system as Les or Lover Boy (okay, Reggie), I'll just give this a quick once-over. Thanks to me, Les looked pretty much okay. I think his tired face helped with his case; not that it needed much, as we drew Poynter, who, from all accounts, is a sweetie, even if his eye tends to roam a bit.
Cupcake also looked delish in a pinafore outfit and braids, courtesy of Mami. Some might say she was playing the jailbait card a bit too heavily, but I certainly wasn't complaining. Yum. Neither was Magistrate Poynter, for that matter.
Papi, alas, looked the worst for wear. Mami Deerest showed up shortly after my 'sheket', escorted in by the screws, who escorted me out before things could heat up any further. Mami apparently took up where I left off, though.
To make a long story short, Les and Cupcake got mild chidings and small fines. Casino Island, after all, is not all that unfamiliar with public near-nudity, so this was only a little worse.
Papi, on the other hand, got a tongue-lashing and a stiff fine from Poynter, free lance ventilation being generally disapproved of. His hogleg was impounded for the duration of his stay and, "in the interests of preventing future incidents", he and his family were booted out of the Grand. This started another heated row between Mami and Papi, which took a couple of bailiffs to quiet down. Papi threatened dire consequences. It amused me, later, to see him carrying all the heavy items out to the curb for the freight wagon to haul to Shepherd's.
Best line of the morning went to Cupcake. Poynter asked her, "Well, young lady? Have you learned your lesson?" Cupcake nodded vigorously. "Si, si, You Honor! Next time, Inocenta making damn sure door is bolted!"
Heh-heh-heh. Works for me.
DAMN all deer...
I was back in my room. I'd eaten, showered, drawn the blinds, double-bolted the door and unplugged the phone.
NOTHING was going to prevent me from getting some well deserved sleep.
I was lying in bed, tossing and turning.
Thinking about *her* body against mine, warm and full and the music starts running through my head...
Cervine of Spain I adore you.
Right from the night I first saw you,
My heart has been yearning for you;
What else could any heart do?
Cervine of Spain I'm appealing,
Why should my lips be concealing
All that my eyes are revealing?
Cervine of Spain, I love you.
DAMN all deer...
Along about six in the evening, I sighed, got out of bed and started dressing. No point in even trying to sleep, even if I felt near death. H'm. When death is near, draft animals are put away painlessly. I could put away one thing painlessly. This convoluted but basically sound line of reasoning led me to a small bar near the hotel.
"Deer! Deer! DAMN all deer!" I muttered into my bourbon.
"A bit too late for some of us," a quiet voice said from near my elbow...
There was a lot of banging, crashing, and assorted barracking from across the hall that took up a good chunk of the afternoon. I should mention that Shepherd's has two suites on its top floor. One of them is mine, of course. The other belongs, or at least, belonged, to another cervine chap, Randolph. Quiet fellow...couldn't get a word out of him edgeways. He apparently vacated the premises the day after Christmas, along with a significant selection of hotel silver. He left behind a large box of horns (the car type, not deer) as an offering. I can't say I think the hotel was amused.
I do what I always do in such situations, when the G-2 is required; namely, send Lodge out to make discreet enquiries Downstairs. That worthy returned with the look concerned. Upon debriefing, the nerve-making news that Clan de Ciervos had set up camp scarce hoof-beats away from the gates was imparted.
"Ye Gods, Lodge! This means that Miss de Ciervos is close to paw...!"
"That fact did not escape me, Sir."
"Well, yes, that brain of yours absorbs knowledge like a sponge. Lodge, having Miss de Ciervos close to paw means she might decide to go after my paw, and the rest of what is attached to it."
"A most disturbing circumstance, Sir."
"Disturbing is hardly the word for it, Lodge. It's enough to make a chap flee for the relative peace and quiet of the French Foreign Legion." Lodge agreed with me that, given a choice, the F.F.L. would be more soothing to the nerves than having Inocenta de Ciervos on the prowl nearby.
Lodge was dismissed, with orders to seek inspiration from his Muse as to how to keep the Master's tailfur out of the gunsights of La Ciervos. The more I brooded, though, in the comfort of my armchair, the more concerned the self became. This was clearly not a time to wait for Lodge, but a time for action. To think was to act, and I ventured forth into no-deer's-land, to see what was up at the front.
Actually, what was coming up was a very large and heavy trunk, being pulled, somewhat unsuccessfully, by Senor de Ciervos, who was huffing and puffing like a cranky locomotive. My Fawn Scouts training kicked in, and I proceeded to do my good deed for the day, and gave the trunk the final heave-ho which allowed it to be brought forth to the door to the suite. Senor de Ciervos cautiously stepped to the side, opened the door and dangled his hat. The hat was immediately whisked out of his hand by a flying teacup, expertly bowled. Discretion got the better part of valour (for both of us), and the door was slammed shut. It seemed like the thing to do to leave Fort Zinderneuf to the insurgents, and the head of the family was invited across the hall for some stimulating refreshment.
Since Christmas Day, Lodge has had the key to the locked cabinet which contains the booze Chez Buckhorn. Orders from La Fawnsworthy, who has imposed a ration on yours truly of two drinks per day. The burden has been light on my shoulders, but it was clear that Pere de Ciervos was in need of something stronger than orange juice. It was two glasses of neat scotch whisky before he could start to engage in conversation.
"Poof! We face, my friend, the crisis unimaginable."
An ominous start to the conversation. I begged particulars with trembling heart.
"Inocenta, she make the threats dire to myself. She make the demand that she be allowed to see this, this how you say, "Leslie-puppy." If I, Carlos de Ciervos do not allow this, she will stop at nothing to get the Reggie-buck. Is the blackmail foul and dishonourable. I suspect Senora de Ciervos has made the engineer of this."
I choked on my glass of orange juice, and immediately made a quick calculation as to whether I had exceeded my ration of drinkies for the day. Willow, alas, had made no provision for emergency rations. And this was, without doubt, an emergency.
"Ye Gods! That's...b-but I...b-but she...it's...I..."
Senor de Ciervos looked at me sympathetically. (Without offering me a sip from his whisky, alas.) "I am knowing that you have the engagement with this Miss Fawnsworthy, no?"
The ears were gripped in a frenzy of fear. The sight of self with La Ciervos would probably cause a reaction on the part of La Fawnsworthy that would make the celebrated incident with the tiki-head umbrella stand a mere light-hearted fancy.
Br'er Ciervos saw my anguish, and patted my knee. "I am feeling for you, my friend. I know it that you are the honourable and the chivalrous buck, and that you do not make with the does lightly. If you have given your word to this Fawnsworthy, you will not go back on it."
"But dash it all, I mean, well, your daughter? She's a force of nature, isn't she?"
The father shuddered and sipped at his whisky gloomily. "I am once again, and again some more, deeply regretting the day I send Inocenta to the convent school. Why I let Senora de Ciervos talk me into this, I know not. Inocenta come out with the good education, yes, but she come out with the pent-up appetite for the bucks. And now, I find, the doggies."
"Errrrr. Um...." Senor de Ciervos saw my discomfort, and saw into my troubled soul. "Yes. This Senor duCleds. You are knowing him, yes? What is he like?"
I explained the curriculum vitae of Leslie duCleds, putting everything in as positive as light as possible, emphasizing the nature of Penn men and all. The elder cervine looked gloomily down at his hooves.
"Si. Si. I am believing all that you say. But there is now the problem, yes? Okay. Let us speak of the hypothetical. I, Carlos de Ciervos, tell my Inocenta that I approve of the Leslie-puppy after all. Inocenta -- and Dios! her mother -- will say that I am not in telling the truth when I say this. Me! Carlos de Ciervos! My own flesh and blood will tell this to me to my muzzle! This Leslie-puppy, he would be the how you say, the fursona non grata, si? He would not the menu item for the Inocenta be. The how you say, special of the day is the Buckhorn."
The bean swam. Put in a fashion that only Andre d'Arbres could appreciate. The inconstancy of does is a force to be reckoned with, and Reginald was due for an awful reckoning very shortly if he did not trip the light fantastic with his hooves.
"Gads. We have to make sure Le duCleds and La Ciervos are joined together so that no fur may put them asunder. We need to make your daughter forget me and swoon in the paws of Leslie duCleds."
"Why *you* no make her do the forgetting of you?"
"Well, blast it, why must everything be about Reginald Buckhorn? No, the more the self is in the background, and safely out of sight, the better off for all concerned. That would seem to be the sound and statesbucklike policy." Not said was the fact that I planned to keep as much distance between La Ciervos and the self as possible, until the latter was presiding at her wedding breakfast. Without me, I might add.
Senor de Ciervos took another sip of amber stimulant. "Why no you go ask you valet? I am hearing that he is very good in the planning of things..."
I felt a rising warmth within the self, and for once, it wasn't induced by a generous ration of booze. "Now look here, my good Senor de Ciervos, Lodge isn't the only one the Good Lord was seen fit to bless with a set of brains. Of late, I've been feeling my oats..."
Confusion crossed the Ciervos phiz. "You feel you oats? Why you play with you luncheon?"
"No, no. It's an English expression. Put another way, since I've become engaged to La Fawnsworthy, I've gained new vim and vigour, and that's an unsolicited endorsement of her virtues. It's about time that there was a demonstration of who, in fact, is in charge in this establishment."
"But me no buts, and proud me no prouds, Senor de Ciervos. Give me a few minutes, and I will set the brain cells sizzling. One corker of a plan, coming right up!"
Apparently, Inspector Stagg had been on the next stool over, sipping coffee and writing in a small notebook when I had loosed my comment concerning cervines. He reached over, gently took the glass of bourbon out of my paw and had the bartender get me a cup of decaffinated coffee.
"In your current state, Mr. duCleds, I think it best that you keep away from stimulants. You seem to have been over-stimulated, lately."
Wasn't that the truth.
I sipped at the coffee when it was brought to me. The Inspector, for his part, remained quiet. I was thankful for such a small favor.
"I suppose you've heard about all that's happened in the last few days."
The Inspector nodded. "Three appearences before the magistrates in five days. I don't think even Mr. Buckhorn has managed that level of performance since he's been here. Which reminds me: he seems awfully quiet of late."
"It's his engagement to my secretary, Willow Fawnsworthy. His man Lodge tells me that she's got him on a two-drink limit per day. He's following it, too."
"It sounds like she has his heart."
Personally, I think it sounds like she has another vital part of his anatomy, but I didn't say that to Stagg.
The Inspector toyed with his coffee spoon. "Am I right, Mr. duCleds, in assuming that Mr. Buckhorn and Miss Fawnsworthy aren't the only cervines influencing your earlier comment regarding deer?"
I shivered, and looked down at my cup. I turned to the Inspector. "Someone tell you about what happened in my last run-in?"
Stagg nodded. "Sergeant Brush gave me a detailed briefing. He left little to the imagination."
"So Senorita de Ciervos has set her cap at you, then?"
I sighed. "She's set a lot more than that at me, as Brush could tell you."
A sympathetic eye-roll, and then some more silence. Stagg was looking at his right paw thoughtfully, rubbing a gold ring that he was wearing.
"Sometimes...well, these things do happen, Mr. duCleds. I speak from experience. My wife...well, my late wife...she was quite literally the girl next door. She was a few years younger than me, and all the time I was finishing up my law degree, and just getting started as a detective, she would arrange little parties, little picnics. "To give me a break," she said. It got to the point where the gatherings were getting smaller and smaller, and finally became just the two of us."
Would that my situation was as orderly. "When did you figure out you were in love?"
Stagg smiled, and fiddled some more with his spoon. "When Diana went out of town for a week to visit relatives, and I didn't have my regular supper with her. It was a rather sudden realization."
"So what happened after that?"
The Inspector folded his paws together, and leaned his chin on the steeple they formed. "The first really nice day in the spring of '07, *I* arranged for a picnic. Moonlight one, up near the old Killingworth Reservoir. I asked her to be my mate as she was slicing a cherry pie. We never did get around to eating it." Stagg smiled wistfully. "Turns out she had already told her parents that she was going to marry me, and that they were not to trouble over her wedding, but that she was going to take care of it herself."
"We were engaged a grand total of four days. She hired a carriage to take us up to a monastery near the Connecticut border. She had a few words with the abbot there, he was a friend of her father's. The abbot sent one of the brothers out with us to a pasture. We could hear the other monks chanting the Lauds -- this was all happening at dawn, you see. And I was joined with Diana, kneeling on a bank next to a small stream, under a tree."
I stared at my cup thoughtfully. Not much I could say to that.
Stagg got a refill on his coffee. "I've met Senorita de Ciervos. That was when Mr. Buckhorn had entered her bedroom in the middle of the night..."
I couldn't suppress a chuckle. Rosie Baumgartner had filled me in on *that* whole mess. Typical Reggie. And, sadly, typical Leslie.
Stagg gave a wry smile. "I suppose one day Mr. Buckhorn will look back on it and laugh."
"He probably has, already. Simple mind, and intervening circumstances."
"True, Mr. duCleds. But as I was about to observe, Senorita de Ciervos, for all her...well, unusual, characteristics, is a very vibrant and attractive young doe."
I was surprised to hear this from the old buck. From what I'd heard of him, he seemed to be a rather dry stick. Stagg, out of the corner of his eye, could sense my reaction.
"Yes. Well. Recently, I've started to notice that sort of thing once again. It's taken me a very long time to re-learn the capacity to receive affection. Not for Senorita de Ciervos, mind, but for...well, someone else."
The Inspector sipped at his coffee for a few minutes, and then turned to me, with a sad look in his eye.
"Don't go through life alone, Mr. duCleds. You'll hate every minute, every second of it. There is nothing like the feeling of someone else's fur touching yours in affection..."
Don't I know it. Even on the small of my back.
"...these things do happen. I read poetry, I don't write it, but I know those with a far richer grasp of English than I have, have observed that this sort of thing is often best, when it comes suddenly, and without warning. You can't plan these sort of things, like you lay out a blueprint for a seaplane. It just *is*."
My mind went back to the sonnets I had studied in English Lit a long time ago. Stagg was probably right.
The Inspector drained his cup of coffee, and paid for his drinks and mine. "I can't tell you what to do, Mr. duCleds. But I can make an earnest request. Be with Senorita de Ciervos. You'll find happiness, and the Constabulary will find peace. In that order of importance."
I was slumped over, pondering this piece of advice, when the Inspector stopped at the door of the pub, and turned to me, his hat in his paw.
"One further bit of wisdom, Mr. duCleds, and here again I speak from experience." He pointed to his head, below his antlers.
"The backs of the ears, Mr. duCleds. The backs of the ears."
And with that, he went out of the pub, leaving me to my thoughts.
I spent the next hour or so busily scribbling on a few pieces of hotel stationery, while Lodge kept Senor de Ciervos well-refreshed with refills. I stuck to my orange juice, which was stimulating the head-muscles brilliantly.
Finally, I was able to put down pencil and read over my plan of action. And it was a jolly good plan of action, if I did say so myself. And I did. And I do now. So there. I turned to the father deer, and Lodge, who was hanging about noiselessly and invisibly in the background.
"The crucial part of this plan revolves around one of my many talents..."
Lodge coughed discreetly. "Would this involve the consumption of alcohol, the crashing of motor-cars, or the playing of tennis, Sir?"
I ignored this piece of impertinence, and proceeded. "As I was saying, one of my many talents is a gift for mimicry. One can't possibly survive all those years in boarding schools without developing some talents in that line. I used to mimic housemasters, in order to get out at nights and roam free like my wild ancestors..."
Lodge coughed discreetly again. "I wish to recall to your memory, Sir, the incident at Andover when you mistook the Headmaster for the maths teacher, and treated him to an exhibition of your talents..."
I waved a deprecating paw. "Your example proves my point eloquently, Lodge. Dr. Fuchs was very much aware of my talents. The six weeks' of Sunday detention he gave me is all the proof you need. Now, to continue..."
"The essential element in this plan is to bring Leslie du Cleds and Inocenta de Ciervos together, is it not?"
"Si. Is true." Lodge nodded gravely in agreement with Sr. de Ciervos' comment.
"Right. Therefore, we must have Les be wooed by your daughter in a fashion that will leave him weak in the knees. What could be more appealing to a pooch of highly developed chivalric impulses than a moonlight serenade?"
Lodge did not quite grasp how this fit in with mimicry. Sr. de Ciervos seemed rather confused. I decided a demonstration was in order, and took out my banjolele.
I treated the audience of two to a few choruses of "Magnolia," singing them in an accent redolent of sunny Spain. Sr. de Ciervos was gobstopped. "Is uncanny. How you do my daughter?" That was a question I wanted to avoid, so I turned to Lodge, who continued to look concerned.
"Come now, Lodge, surely even you will admit that the similarity in voices is uncanny."
"I do not dispute, Sir, that there is a great deal to be said for your performance. However, I believe there is much less to be said for your plan..."
"Pish-tush, Lodge, you are consumed by negative impulses. Unlike you, I know both woo-er and woo-ee well; they are destined by divine Fate to be as one. I have every confidence that upon hearing the voice, so he thinks, of Inocenta de Ciervos singing to him by the light of the silvery moon, he will be swept up in a tidal wave of love, and will pursue Senorita de Ciervos, by which time the self will have departed the stage."
Lodge still stubbornly clung to facts. "I would point out, Sir, that you bear something of a distinctive appearence. While you are, like Senorita de Ciervos, a deer, it must be noted that she does not have antlers."
"Not much gets by you, Lodge."
"How do you propose, Sir, to overcome that obstacle?"
"By the simple means, Lodge, of disguise. I'm sure Sr. de Ciervos can abstract a tall lace hat for me in the interval, and I shall make other arrangements regarding my attire."
Lodge looked thunderstruck, and seemed rooted to the ground. "You are proposing, then, to dress as Senorita de Ciervos?"
"You grasp my idea readily, Lodge."
"And sing to Mr. duCleds?"
"Then I shall vanish into the night. The song may be ended, but the melody will linger on."
Lodge looked at me. His eyes made audible creaking sounds as he boggled.
Senor de Ciervos clapped his paws. "Poof! I am agreeing this is the idea excellent! You are quite correct, it is to be the very great success! When you do this, yes?"
"Let's see..." I consulted the desk calendar. "Tomorrow night is the 30th. Romantic serenade tomorrow night, happy confrontation on the morning of the 31st, New Year's Eve party that night. What could be simpler?"
Senor de Ciervos beamed happily. "Is foolproof!"
Lodge looked on with furrowed brows, as if to enquire whether the scheme was Reginald Buckhorn-proof. I was not going to let him rain on my parade, but let a smile be my umbrella.