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Update 20 April 2006

Leslie duCleds
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

Part Five

      As Zero Hour on 30 December approached (watches being syncrhonized and all that), the mood Chez Buckhorn became rather tense.  On my part, I knew that the stakes were high.  Failure would result in being enclosed in the embrace of Inocenta de Ciervos.  Which would be warm.  The same, I suppose, could be said of Hell, too.

      Lodge, for his part, was showing extreme emotion, by which I mean to say that I could see that his whiskers were quivering.  Any fellow member of the Valets' Guild, upon seeing this, would remark that Lodge was barely in control of his emotions, that he was simply beside himself.

      I took the precaution (while Lodge wasn't looking) of removing key parts from the suite's telephones, thus rendering them inoperable.  As any Field Marshal on the eve of H-Hour can tell you, security for one's top secret plans is of the essence.

      As I was tuning my banjolele, Lodge made one last effort.


      "Yes, Lodge?  Oh, and hand me that box of banjolele picks, there."

      "Certainly, Sir.  I was hoping that these would not be used, tonight."

      "You hope in vain, Lodge.  You hope in vain."

      "But Sir, surely this is a desperate move..."

      "Lodge, does the prospect of running a household that has Inocenta de Ciervos as its chatelaine have any appeal to you?"

      "I admit not, Sir.  However, I fear that your proposed scheme of operations is likely to produce exactly such a distressing result."

      "My mind is made up, and my purpose firm, Lodge.  Tonight, Reginald Buckhorn goes over the top.  Death or Glory."

      "I see, Sir.  Before you embark on your scheme, Sir, could you please replace the parts you have abstracted from the telephones?"

      "Aha!  You've noticed, have you?"

      "It was deduced, Sir, while I was trying to order your dinner from the kitchen.  I believe Chef Joseph is under the impression that there is a prankster in the hotel."

       I waved off Lodge with a steely paw, and stated that iron rations, namely a tin of Buckhorn's Salted Acorns, had been consumed and the troops were ready.  With firmness of purpose, the (figurative) cuffs were shot (my costume being sleeveless but with elbow-length gloves), the lace headpiece straightened, and the last adjustments to the instrument of wooing made.  The coming of dusk meant that Zero Hour minus 45 minutes had arrived.  I removed a small silver whistle from my decolletage, blew a muted note, and headed out to the stairs, down to the garden.



      *Another* restless, sleepless night.  If I don't get eight hours of uninterrupted shut-eye
soon, they're going to take me away in a giggle suit with the cuffs that tie across.

      I tried all night.  I tried all morning.  I tried all afternoon.

      I even tried thinking of Pamela Fenwick, now back in Jolly Olde England after our brief fling in Istanbull.  But her face became that of a certain Latin cervine...

      I found myself staring at the ceiling.  Even with my eyes shut, I found myself thinking of one thing.

      What *do* the backs of a doe's ears feel like?


      "I like them."

      "Me, too."  Willow was referring to the two new frocks I put on the duCleds tab after sheketing Daddy Deerest. I had chosen a pair of nice, conservative outfits.  Not for me, mind, or even for Willow.  For *him*.  I thought he'd like me dressed like this.  Neither of us mentioned this, but we shared a secret smile.

      I looked in the mirror again.  "Yep. 'Course, a second opinion'd be nice, from a male point of view.  Wonder where Lodge is at the moment?"

      A respectful cough and a tap on the door showed that Lodge's mysterious powers were held in check by chivalry.

      Willow smiled.  "Timing AND good manners."

      I nodded.  "A true gentleman's gentleman." Secretly, I don't think I would have seriously minded him seeing me deshabille.  Hell, I used to show the marks much more.  Brief thoughts of a better, brighter world ruled by hyperintelligent cheetah cubs with cute flat tails and buck teeth flashed through my mind...but for the moment, I was aiming for spotted fawns.  Ah, well.  I answered the door in my best purring fashion, and invited The Brains of the Firm in.

      I batted my eyes at Lodge, and I could see him blush.  Cute lil' guy when he blushes. Willow, of course, was lying on the bed, chin in paws, and watching the game amusedly.

      "Come on in, boychik.  All work and no play makes Lodge a dull beaver..."  I gave my best eyebrow wiggle.  I think I could see Lodge's whiskers quivering.  Hee!

      "Actually, Miss Baumgartner...and Miss Fawnsworthy...I came to ask you for some advice."

      Willow's eyebrows did a dance.  "You?! Advice?  Andre d'Arbres will be slinging hash, next."

      Lodge coughed.  "I would request, Miss Fawnsworthy, that you hold that thought for the future."

      I sat down in a chair, and crossed my legs sweetly.  "All right, Lodge.  Tell Tante Rosie what's eating you."

      Lodge put his paws behind his back, and thought.  One could hear the whir of well-oiled machinery.

      "You realize, of course, that I am bound by many confidences?"

      "Not to mention stuff you can't repeat in polite society."

      "Be that as it may.  Would it be acceptable if I spoke in hypotheticals?"

      I looked at Willow, who shrugged.  "Sure, Lodge."

     "Very well.  I have a hypothetical acquaintence, whom we shall refer to as A.  A, in turn, has acquaintences that are of course hypothetical, and are to be referred to as B and C.  Am I being lucid?"

     "As always, boychik."

     "Thank you, Miss Baumgartner.  In any event, B and C have had a marked hypothetical
disagreement, which could in turn produce, hypothetically, disagreeable circumstances for A, which would in turn create hypothetical problems for a certain D, who is known to A, B and C."

      "Oooookeh.  We have four for bridge."

      "The problem is, Miss Baumgartner, that A is insisting on taking a hypothetical course of action that he believes will resolve the issue of B and C to the advantage of A and D.  His motives in this matter, we shall assume, are pure and are governed by an authentic regard for D."

      I looked over, and I could see Willow's ears flatten against her head.  "Lodge?"

      "Yes, Miss Fawnsworthy?"

      "In your hypothetical, are we assuming that A is going to take action in the near future to effect his hypothetical plan?"

      "For the purposes of this hypothetical, Miss Fawnsworthy, I think it fair to assume that the plan would be effected on such a night as this one, with A's arrival here- er, I beg your pardon, at B's residence being imminent."

      Willow drummed his fingers against the bedspread.  "And can we assume, further, that in spite of the assumed pure motives, the hypothetical plan of A is subject to a number of
unforeseen contingencies that could make the hypothetical plan go haywire?"

      "Given that A's plan involves a hypothetical impersonation of C in order to serenade B...that is another statement that is eminently fair, Miss Fawnsworthy."

     My jaw dropped.  "You have GOT to be kidding."

     Willow, if anything, looked even more incredulous.  "He's...HOW?"

     Lodge shrugged helplessly.  "I have forgotten to mention that the hypothetical A has extensive experience with amateur theatricals at University."

     My stare was intense.  "He'd bloody well HAVE to."

     Willow didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  "This...would make it incumbent upon our hypothetical D to intervene promptly if Reg--our hypothetical A, isn't going to end up neck deep in the soup?"

      Beaver-boy nodded gravely.  "You have grasped the subtleties of the situation, Miss Fawnsworthy."

      "Willow?  There's a word for this situation.  And that word is 'Oy.'"

      Willow sighed, and swung her hooves around to the side of the bed.  "Dress-up time is over, Rosie.  Change into some flag-saving clothes.  With any luck, we'll be able to save our hypothetical friend.  Who, I imagine, has an equally hypothetical, but loyal, valet."

      Lodge bowed gravely at this compliment and shimmered out just as I was unzipping my dress. Nertz.  Next time, for sure.


     The watch was checked, and as the second hand marked the exact hour, I looked up at the balcony above.  Fortunately, the balcony doors appeared to be open...


     Inocenta get bored with the throwing of the silvery creamy jug and such at Papi. *Sigh*  Inocenta is thinking she would like to see the Leslie-puppy, but Inocenta is knowing better.  Mami tell Inocenta that it is not good for the doe to make so quick with the spat, and rushy-rush into the arms of the gentlefur. One must be the aloof doe.

     Inocenta is thinking: it is not against the strategy to go and have the peek at the Leslie-puppy, no? Pouf! Is no harm there, so Inocenta go.


     I was facedown on the bed, the room dark, the balcony doors open to the clear, cool night air.  Half a moon shone down on me, which suited me, as I was feeling about half lunatic...

     My churning reveries were dispelled by a pitchpipe outside the window, followed by a husky, female, Spanish voice singing...

"When the last -- drop of sun, mi querida
Soaks the beach, in a rich golden hue
When the long -- night has come, mi querida
My hun-gry soul calls for no love but you."


     Aw, crap, he's already started.  With the room lights out, I peeked out the window.  There, indeed, was Reggie, in full Latin drag, strumming his banjolele and doing a passable Cupcake imitation.

"Dear one, let the glow of the tropic night
Find you here in the starry light
Under a tropic moon."

     Rosie squeezed over for a look.  She started to giggle, and I had to pinch her butt to get her to stop.  Around the third time, I realized she was doing it on purpose and shot her a quelling glare.  "Sorry," she murmured unrepentantly.

"Sweet one, let me murmur a love-struck whine
Feel the touch of your fur on mine
Under a tropic moon."

     "Gotta admit, he's pretty good," Rosie murmured.

     I nodded.

"Jungle flowers, and the hum of a soft guitar
Stolen hours, and the shine of a winking star, from afar"


     Ah, sweet, sweet Inocenta.  I looked out over the balcony, and there she was in the shadows, lace hat on her head, tight silken Spanish skirt...

"My love! What care I for the ser'ious things?
When tonight it's my soul that sings
Under a tropic moon."

     ...strumming a banjolele with the Penn emblem on the drumskin...


     Okay, now just what the hell is going on here?


     Inocenta go clippy-clop to where Leslie-puppy is.  Inocenta is thinking the Leslie-puppy might be seen for the glimpsing.  Inocenta no see Leslie-puppy, but someone else.  Dios!  Someone is making with the song?  Some other lady deer, trying to snatch Inocenta's Leslie-puppy from her paws!  Dios!

"Hear the calm, warm zep-hyr mi querida
Murmur soft, over beaches and bay
Then the tall, swaying palms mi querida
Look down on, as I stand here and say..."

     Inocenta is confused.  This is made with the dress like Inocenta, but this has the buck-scent...caramba!  It is the Reggie-buck!  But why is the Reggie-buck dressed up like this, and why he sing like...

     Oh-ho!  Inocenta figure out this game!


     This is why Reggie-buck no like Inocenta!

     He like to dress up like the does, and go after the bucks!

     He after Reggie-puppy!

     Inocenta kill him now.


      "Willow?  Don't you think we had better...?"

      "Shhhh...wait a minute.  The music's stopped."


      I was quite absorbed in the singing of the second chorus, so it was not until about the next-to-last line that I discovered that I had an audience.  Of one.  Comprised of Leslie duCleds. Of the City of...well, you know.

      Leslie had his paws folded across his chest, and he was tapping his foot rather impatiently. I tried a sweet, innocent grin.  It did not turneth away wrath.

      A firm, unshaking paw was held out.  I started to shake it, when a finger like unto a spear pointed at my banjolele.  I didn't know Les knew how to use one.  I passed it over.

      Les, apparently, had been taught that the best grip for a banjolele was an overhead one, held high in the air.




      OLE!  Hooray for Leslie-puppy!

      What a man!


      Willow and I covered the 20 feet at top speed.  And sister, it takes work for a deer to beat a cheetah in running.  We took in the following scene:

      Lover-Boy was laid out flat on his back  A large chunk of banjolele was crumpled against his skull, proving that some things are harder than a banjolele.  Like Lover-Boy's skull, which
appeared to be intact, even if his antlers were liberally festooned with sproinged banjolele strings like tinsel.

      Standing over him, breathing heavily in and out, with a wild-eyed gleam of satisfaction, was Leslie duCleds.  He was tapping one broken end of the banjolele against his paw, in perfect 2/4 time.

      It was only after about ten or fifteen seconds of this that he realized that there was something else providing a 2/4 beat.  Like the tap of a deer hoof against gravel.  Les looked up.

      He saw one smiling cheetah.  A cheetah that was trying very desperately to keep a straight face.

      He saw one unsmiling doe.  A doe clutching a tiki-head umbrella stand, knuckles white...

      Doe looked to buck.  Dog looked to buck. Doe looked to dog.  Dog looked to doe.

      "Um.  (Ulp) H-h-hello, Willow."


      "Er.  I can explain this."


      "Really, it's like this..."

      "No, Leslie, it's like *THIS*...!"

      Willow took two steps forward.  Les took two small jumps backward.

      "First, and foremost, Leslie duCleds, you should be advised of one thing..."

      "Errrrrr.  W-w-what's that?"

      "I QUIT!"

      I didn't think you could raise an echo on Casino Island.  Whaddya know, I'm wrong.

      Les began looking from side to side, scoping out escape routes.  "Errrr...anything, um, else, W-w-willow?"

      Willow took two steps to the side, and reached out with her paw.  "Yes.  I'm a sport, Les.  So I'll give you exactly five seconds to say your prayers and give you a head start before I disassemble you and rebuild you like a Lincoln Log set."  The snarl with which this was delivered indicated that Willow meant business. So did the tiki-head umbrella stand which Willow hurled at Les' head.  The only thing that got hit was Les' shadow.  His substance was buzzing off at high speed, destination unknown.

      Willow braced for takeoff, but I got a hold of her shoulder. "Genug!  Loz ihn geh!" ["Enough! Let him go."]

      "Take that damn peanut butter out of your mouth and talk English."

      Hee!  "Look, Willow, you'll never catch him with that skirt you're wearing, and local laws or not, it won't do for you to run after Les in your scanties.  Anyhow, we've got a casualty here."

      Willow thought that one over, and then sighed.  She went over to Lover-Boy, and began to quietly pick chunks of banjolele out of his headfur.  I went to call up Doc Meffit.  On the path to the lobby, I met Cupcake, who was bouncing up and down with excitement.  (Yum!)

      "Excuse please!  Have you seen Leslie-puppy just now?  Inocenta is looking for him so eagerly!"

      "Yeah, there's more than one doing exactly that, sister."

      Inocenta blinked at me a few times, and then trotted off into the night, in search of puppy.





      There was no way in hell I was going to be anywhere within pistol-range of an insane, love-struck doe.  The notion of ending up like a pair of French doors did not appeal to me.

      On short notice, there wasn't much in the way of hiding places that I could find.  Hiding places that even Willow wouldn't think of going to.

      At least there was the Casino Island garbage dump.  The safest and most secure location looked to be an enormous cast-iron range, which had a convenient door that I could enter and close behind me, to tuck me out of sight, and perhaps block my scent.

      Just as well, too.  I hadn't been in there more than twenty minutes when I heard chilling words from nearby:

      "Lessssssslie?   Lessssssslie?  It is I, Inocenta.  Come out, come out, wherever you is. I am wanting you now, Lessssslie!"

      As the voice faded away, but one thought crossed my mind.




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