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Update 6 October 2006

Speed Week!
The 1,001 Mornings of Reggie Buckhorn
Character by EO Costello in collaboration with Simon Barber

"Reggie-o Aeronautica"
by Simon Leo Barber

Reggie's furthur adventures during Speed Week, August 1936,
 shortly after the wager and boat-race with Lady Pamela Fenwick - as recounted in "Around the Bend"

Reggie-o Aeronautica
By Simon Leo Barber
(Reggie Buckhorn, Lodge © E.O. Costello. Used with thanks!)
Speed Week, August 1936

According to the dashing adventure films they shoot around here, a fur’s life can get exceedingly complex exceedingly rapidly. It’s a wonder the average tourist has time to write a postcard before they are sucked into some web of international conspiracies, ancient Native cults and generally something involving volcano sacrifices, insanely giggling fellows of the highest Scientific brow, or preferably the lot, with a swooning damsel to add grace and charm to the scene.
    I, Reggie Buckhorn, have ever been quite happy to leave such things to the class of tourist whose idea of a relaxing holiday is to don polo-boots, jodhpurs, pith helmet and wade off into the trackless jungles bravely waving a machete and daring all dangers (fierce beasties those jungle mosquitoes, from all accounts). A leisurely saunter between the beaches, restaurants and cocktail bars of the more civilized of the Spontoon islands has ever been my choice of entertainment.
    Which was why I found myself filled with equal measures of surprise and sheer terror, both shaken and stirred (with a sensation as of freshly crushed ice sliding down the Buckhorn backbone) as I stood at the controls of a mighty juggernaut of the air, plunging through the atmosphere towards the finish line of Speed Week with presumably cheering crowds down below drowned out by the terrifying bellow of half a dozen straining engines. Not the way that Lady Buckhorn’s favourite fawn generally spends a quiet afternoon, as I reminded myself repeatedly. Not that it did any good.
    So how, might one ask, did I get into such a terrifying predicament? As ever, it had all started SO promisingly…

“Lodge!” I addressed that worthy as he entered my suite at Shepherd’s Hotel with a tray of the preferred tissue-restorer and plentiful ice “now is the time to reflect and relax. Although the Spontoon Speed Week has doubtless entertained many worthy folk, having contributed my share I can with a clear conscience leave it to its own devices.” Only the day before I had caused such a flutter in bookmaking circles by being first across the finishing line with a stately fox-powered galley, while the dynamic but impatient Lady Pamela Fenwick ended going nowhere but a sand bank despite the hundreds of fuming horsepower in her engine and its fumingly energetic fennec owner.
    The Gentleman amongst gentlemen’s gentlemen gravely dipped his muzzle in assent. “That might be wise, Sir. One should not push one’s Guardian Angel too far, and indeed Providence has been working hard of late on your behalf.”
    It was a jolly unusual day for the diary, when my valet and his employer were in complete agreement. Though Lodge is a fount of wisdom and good advice without equal, he does often look askance at some of the japes and scrapes a fun-loving buck may find himself innocently falling into. Having heard my intention to sit the rest of Speed Week out, he favoured me with a magisterial nod of approval.
    Of course, it was far too good to last.

“A splendid day!” I addressed the scenery an hour later, the scenery in question being the refreshment marquee set up on the grass by the Rainbow Bridge on Casino Island, watching the parade of sleek furs and sleeker machines just offshore all labouring hard to excel and entertain. “What could be finer? The sun is shining, the bar-fur a jewel of his profession and the supplies of healthy sapphire gin unceasing!”
    Toby Trotter, my companion of the hour, gave a qualified assent though with more than his usually long face. His yoyo-like engagement with Sophie van Assendonk was currently “off”, the ass having made a silly ass of himself again the previous day with far too many cocktails followed by what I thought myself was a perfectly good comic imitation of a tipsy Dutch sea-captain. His (then) fiancée had turned out to have a favourite Uncle who was in the profession and she took it badly. “And you’ve done your share of the entertaining yesterday. Quite the stag of the hour.”
    “Myself and my stalwart Native vulpines, to be sure,” I assented. Just then the marquee shook as some eight-hundred horsepower monster of a racing engine bellowed by above us drowning out the cheers of the crowd, with the pilot and the rest of the aircraft presumably hanging on behind it. I’ve heard aeronautical types mention that some of these Schneider Trophy air-flivvers turn their noses up at plain petrol and drink exotic cocktails full of alcohols. A shocking waste, if you ask me. “And we conquered la Fenwick’s noisy contraption with calm and quiet rowing, a healthy exercise that rattles nobody’s windows. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – though as many betting gentlemen will tell you, that’s where the smart money goes.”
    I noted that Toby was no longer listening to the words of Buckhorn wisdom but was staring past me with the avid attention of one who unexpectedly sees a long cool drink in a parched desert. Turning, I followed his gaze and quite excused the fellow’s manners.
    Although the Speed Week spectators were turned out in a variety of cool summer outfits ranging from Paris fashions to flower leis, I spotted a pair of daintily hoofed damsels modestly and plainly bloused in purest white shirts and tennis skirts, with matching sunshades. One was a goat Miss with long, elegant ears that almost reached her shoulders, while the other was a short but sturdy mare that one might have thought of Shetland pony stock apart from the elegant zebra-striping revealed on what of her fur was discreetly in the fresh air. An unusual mix; had I paid more attention in school doubtless I could have recounted how the Shetland Vikings voyaged as far as Zululand or alternatively the Zulu nation raided the Scottish shores for damsels to invite back to a homestead with more Winter sunshine. Which is just about anywhere, after all.
    “Mister Buckhorn!” The caprine Miss turned her attention my direction. “I saw your wonderful triumph yesterday, in the boating. May I have your autograph?” Her long eyelashes fluttered beseechingly.
by Simon Barber
Yvonne De Chevrette & Reggie Buckhorn - art by Simon Barber
(larger art file here)

    Well, what was a fellow to do? In one minute flat the already sunny day was looking up considerably as Toby and yours truly had each gratefully acquired an opposite number seated gracefully opposite, hanging on our every word while the bar-tender scurried to fulfil an order for a brace of cocktails (an “Old-fashioned” for the goat Miss and a “New-fangled” for her equine chum. It always does to get the important facts straight in such a report.)
    “But of course you’ll think me awfully forward,” the goat miss blushed charmingly. “I’m Yvonne de Chevrette, and my friend Lucy Clarington-Ndogo - of the Eastern Natal Ndogos, a cadet branch of the family. We were pals at school together, and we’ve been out to see the world ever since.”
    “Your good health!” I toasted them, impressed. “To a pair of charming and enterprising ladies of quality!” Miss Yvonne seemed a perfect English rose albeit of Continental ancestry; a lot of perfectly respectable French furs settled in England after their Revolution went rather wild with the industrial turnip-slicer, and never went home.
    “Oh, we do our poor best. In whatever … enterprise we happen to have going,” Her companion was looking meltingly at Toby having acquired his autograph presumably to keep her jolly pal company; apart from fleeing from a record number of grim and sturdy debt collection agencies on his tail Toby holds no Speed week records. After my misadventures awhile earlier with the lovely doe Lorelei and her exceedingly devoted ewe friend, I was happy to see that this pair of femmes were not, as it were, a pair.
    “Yes, Mr. Buckhorn. Although … our finances are slender, we do our best to keep moving on and seeing the world. There are just so many fresh fields and pastures new to be seen.”
    “Ripe for the grazing.” Her pal Lucy gave a brief flicker of a smile very different from the adoring gaze she was giving Toby – I told myself I must have imagined it. But I could hardly complain; my own wanderings across the world had been rather like the bouncing of a billiard ball propelled by Fate and caroming off obstacles laid by a capricious Destiny, and doubtless such a pair of fair damsels had to move out of the range of blackguards of all description.
    It was a most pleasant half hour of charming and witty company before Miss Yvonne and Miss Lucy finished their drinks and herded each other off to see the shows. Toby put away his cheque book, which for some reason he had found himself showing to Miss Lucy, and I paid the bill with a light heart and hooves that danced as if on clouds as I strolled out into the sunshine to take the air. Spontoon has no lack of air and the Tourist Ministry are never stingy with it.
    “Oh brave new world that hath such creatures in it!” I declaimed – learning snappy lines from William Shakesbill, the Bird Bard of Stratford was one of the few things that I retained from school days in the Buckhorn bean. Even now, I can hardly argue with that sentiment. Except that for some things, one needs to be exceedingly brave to get by when discovering just what creatures really are sharing the neighbourhood.

It is a poor lookout for anyone on Spontoon in Speed Week who has grown tired of the sound of racing engines and their devotees; their best bet would be to get a pair of headphones and a gramophone and beg space in some deep hotel cellar until either September comes or their collection of Rudy Vallee records wears the grooves out of the wax. Certainly every watering-hole is loud with devotees of aircraft and their pilots discussing past wins and future plans at full throttle and in excruciating detail.
    “All very well the Schneider, of its kind,” one such aeronautical vulpine was arguing, waving a copy of the Speed Week programme “but if you want to see something really impressive – the race they’re calling the Heavyweight Crown, that’s one to watch tomorrow. Unmodified commercial flying-boats, regular crews, fuel, everything – that’s going to be interesting. Italy now – they can build a Schneider Trophy racer with the best but they always fall down on the mass-produced designs, which is what this race is all about.”
    “They’re not going to break any records,” his companion, a skinny feline complained “except maybe for sheer noise. The Germans have a Dornier X in the race packing twelve engines, the Italians have a CA60 with eight, and the Russians are bending the rules with an eight-engined “Maxim Gorky” they put on streetcar-sized floats just for the race. They claim there’s one in commercial service just like that flying up and down the Volga but nobody from outside Starling’s Russia ever saw it.”
    “Which all adds to the fun at the bookmakers, they love a little controversy,” his chum looked smug. “Whichever way it turns out, the event will make quite a splash.”
    I raised my gin and tonic in a silent toast. If anything went wrong with an aircraft of such dimensions, I had to agree – the splash would indeed be considerable.

A quiet evening at Shepherd’s Hotel got me out of the way of the racing crowds, much to Lodge’s quiet approval. La Fenwick was evidently licking her sporting wounds, but I had no intention of being challenged by anyone else until the whole circus packed up and went back to their assorted homes and hangars. Being in theory Top Racer, albeit in an unconventional race, has its drawbacks. I well recall a rip-roaring Western silent film I watched in my school-days where the new “fastest Gun in the West” suddenly discovers his career is now like that of a tin duck on a fairground rifle range as every other in the profession craves the title and knows there is just one way to take it. No future in that career for a buck who loves a quiet life.
    “Lodge,” I confirmed as my nightcap was brought to me “In three days the greasepaint will be off the clowns, the carnival over and the greasy-pawed mechanics packing up their confoundedly noisy machines for the ride back. And then a respectable leisure-seeking fellow can take his ease without fear of being bushwhacked to volunteer for things wise actors hire stunt doubles for.”
    “Most gratifying, Sir,” Lodge put the tray down. “By all accounts the races have set many records, and the local Authorities are exceedingly pleased with the season to date.”
    “Umm.” Further conversation became impossible for a minute as something confoundedly noisy passed the window, rattling the chandeliers, the windows and one’s back teeth. I caught a glimpse of a colossal machine with a superfluity of engines, a brutalist architecture and a large red star painted on the tailplane, heading down towards the seaplane way. Evidently it was the Soviet effort the supporter of the heavyweight race had alluded to. “And furs will be able to take a quiet siesta again, without being woken up with dreams of being tied to the railway tracks with an express train on the way.”
    “Indeed, sir. Will that be all for the evening?”
    “Yes indeed, Lodge.” I raised the nightcap. “Here’s to a relaxing end of Speed Week!”
Not having a glass to raise in reply, Lodge merely nodded a dignified assent before he retired. Or possibly he had heeded the classic advice about not tempting Fate.

The next day dawned fine and hot, and while I was tackling the breakfast grapefruit the air was already throbbing with the sound of massed engines in the middle distance. If I had wanted to move to somewhere with thousand-horsepower alarm calls I would have taken rooms above Saint Pancras Station, where incidentally they do a particularly fine pink gin-sling. But I digress. The air, I repeat, was already full of noise at an unearthly early hour in the morning, barely nine o’clock.
    “Mister Buckhorn!” It was one of the waiters who discreetly slid up to the table, just as I was demolishing my toast and Buckhorn’s Seedless Satsuma marmalade. “There’s a young lady outside who wishes to see you.”
    Having checked that the young lady in question was not of the Native duck or Oriental muntjac persuasion, both of whom had caused considerable commotion in my composure not so long ago, I happily sent off my invitation by express waiter delivery. A minute later I was glad to see Miss Yvonne trotting over, dressed most fetchingly in a pale lemon outfit that complemented her fur to a nicety.
    “What ho!” I am rarely at my brightest first thing in the morning, but for such an audience one tries one’s best. “Shall I order another place setting for breakfast? I recommend the marmalade.” It always does to promote the family business, and in any case the caprine lady did not look the sort to tuck into sizzling bacon and sausages for breakfast.
    “Oh, Mr Buckhorn,” her tail was distinctly drooping. “I couldn’t eat a bite. We’re in such an awful scrape, Lucy and I.”
    Well, that is always the way to get the attention of Reginald Buckhorn, especially when such a lovely lass is concerned. “You’ve come to the right place, dear Miss! Had my parents looked into the future they would doubtless have christened me “scrape” as my middle name.”
    There came a heart-rending sniff, charmingly like that of a doe. “Lucy and I needed funds – in a moment of weakness we agreed to bet on the Italian entry today in the boating races. And we had good reason to! They were sure to win. But their chief Pilot is … indisposed.”
    “Boating races!” My ears went up in interest. Having been staying well clear of the docks lest La Fenwick attempted to grab me for a return bout, naturally I had not heard of any such. “Well indeed! What sort of boats are racing today? Nothing too energetic, I hope?” Despite her disturbed emotions she somehow found the strength and courage to order and munch through a full-sized spread of breakfast while she poured out her heart-rending tale; evidently a determined girl of hearty appetites in better times.
    “Oh … hardly. The Italian entry used to be a houseboat until it was converted. An actual houseboat, on one of the Italian lakes.” She cast me a shyly appraising glance over the coconut-jam spread toast. “The pilot is a dashing, handsome stag who looks very like you, especially as to your fine antlers. They can’t race without him at the helm, he’s the one registered with the racing committee. But – if someone else with such a noble silhouette wore his outfit and took his place just for twenty minutes the second pilot could do all the steering around the course – all you’d have to do is be there and look the part.”
    “Houseboat, eh?” I had fond memories of long Summer breaks on the Thames with my school pal Tony Travers, whose people owned a capital houseboat moored near Henley. The idea of racing one seemed odd, but just as Spontoon has crazy golf to make a break from the more striving version of the sport, doubtless the Speed Week had come up with some novelty events to please a jaded crowd tired of ever faster and noisier contests. “It sounds jolly enough.”
    A pair of deep brown eyes gazed meltingly into mine. “It’d mean so much to us. We pretty much put our shirts on this race. And I’m sure you wouldn’t like us to lose them.” A dainty paw unconsciously ran down the charming white blouse, causing the Buckhorn eyes to cross as certain notions emerged uncalled-for from the tangled thicket of ancestral emotions. Such a damsel losing her shirt would no doubt stop the traffic over a considerable area, and that would never do.
    “You can count me in!” I declared breezily. “What, standing at the straining helm of a stately houseboat as it doubtless competes with ore barges and canal narrowboats? That’s the sort of racing for me!”

The first intimation that things were Not As They Seemed, were when I was guided down to the waterfront, and discovered our destination was not the boating docks but the seaplane “slips”. My reflections were cut short by a burst of voluble Italian as the charmingly striped Miss Lucy came out talking nineteen to the dozen with a pair of furs in the rather nattily tailored Italian flying suits. General opinion is that the Italian air force has its problems, but being snappily dressed is not one of them. The “Regia Aeronautica” are reputedly the best-dressed “fly-bucks” in Europe.
    “What ho!” I looked around somewhat uneasily. “So, is this where the houseboat hangs its anchor?”
    Miss Lucy cast a shrewd glance my direction. “Houseboat? It’s of houseboat ancestry, sure enough. Started life as one floating around on Lake Maggiore, before it got a little - upgraded. But that was just the prototype.” She showed her teeth in a rather unnerving equine grin, and waved expansively at what was taking up a large acreage of the waterfront just offshore. Looking for something with window-boxes and chintz curtains, I had not cast my gaze that way.
    My first impression was that of one of those Spanish Galleons of old, or the result of a backstairs liaison between one and one of those Great War vintage bombers they pressed into service on the London to Paris routes. The thing was a triplane thrice over, with a multiplicity of engines and propellers that looked as if they had been stuck on anywhere the designer thought they could profitably hang onto the struts. The fuselage was long, square-ish and did indeed look as if it had been meant to be towed gently between canal locks by a four-footed Shire horse.
    “I say!” Was all I had time to say – before both maidens and the Italian airmen grabbed me and bundled me into an aeronautical dressing room were a handsome fellow was roaring out what might or might not have been one of the “highlights of opera.” Heaven help us avoid the rough bits, is all I can say – but the stag was evidently as completely smashed as a wine glass falling off the top floor bar of the Empire State building.
    “Signor! You shall save the day for us!” The fellow had definite trouble in focusing, either that or he was confusing me with a mirror and wondering why I was not moving in sync. “I have, just the one glass for my health, it goes to my head.” The glass must have been a cornucopia-like vessel of constant replenishment, to go by my not inconsiderable experience in such matters. “And you shall steer the helm of the Noviplano to victory!”
    Having been appealed to by two tender damsels was one thing (although I was starting to suspect a considerable thickness of case-hardened armour plate under that tender appearance) but to be appealed to by a fellow stag, sportsman and lover of the noble grape – that swung the matter, and I consented to dress up in the brand new aeronautical togs which happily fit me down to the rather customised arrangement for wrapping a helmet round a set of antlers. So it was that ten minutes later I was making the precarious crossing of an aluminium gangplank, wishing I had some of what the pilot had been drinking to steady the nerves. The Caproni Ca60 is a formidable beast with a hundred passengers for Transatlantic jaunts but by repute it has an admirable safety record – presumably because it can lose a fair few wings and engines before severely feeling the lack.
    “You are the very image of Guiseppe!!” A cheerful looking reddish boar, evidently the pilot’s understudy, came bustling up to me. “Bella. You shall sit – there – and not to be the touching of the controls!”
    Had it been up to me, wild horses could not have persuaded me to touch the infernal instruments with a considerable bargepole – to mix a phrase cocktail style. This being a commercial airliner I was about to ask when the hostesses would be around with the refreshments, when behind me Miss Lucy and Miss Yvonne came in half-dragging the dazed Italian stag between them in an impressive display of ruthless efficiency.
    “We might need him later,” Miss Yvonne snapped, and addressed the flight crew with a rapid-fire flow of Italian while strapping the sozzled one securely into the rear cockpit. They seemed to be going along with the plot, though a few helplessly thrown-up paws, dipped ears and tails showed what they thought of it all. “Now – here come the cameras. Look pilot-like, Mr. Buckhorn.”
    Indeed, outside on the jetty there were a busy team of Spontoon’s finest snapping away at anything that moved. I did my Amateur Dramatic best to look dramatic, realising that with the reflections of the sun on the glass cockpit and the Italian flying togs, it would be a hawk-eyed journalist indeed who spotted me for a “ringer”. With a sigh of relief I noted that although one of the journalists I recognised from the Spontoon Mirror was indeed avian, he was a strapping big rooster rather than a hawk.
    Just then was a loud blaring of klaxons from the control tower looking out over the bay, and with a whoop of glee the second pilot shouted something back to the two canines sat at control boards that looked like the insides of a piano built from plumbing offcuts. Pushed buttons and pulled-back levers did inscrutable mechanical things, and above me the world seemed to shudder as one after another the eight mighty engines shook themselves awake and propellers began to turn. If this was a carnival ride I would be jumping off before the music started and asking if I could have my fourpence refunded.
    “Avanti!” The soused stag in the back shouted happily from the back, struggling against the cargo straps that supplemented his seatbelt. Evidently he was all too keen on taking his rightful place at the controls, which in his current condition would be A Bad Thing. Fortunately he soon desisted, confining his efforts to a merry martial tune that rather complemented the hammering shaking the mighty aerial juggernaut as it cleaved through the waves with all engines straining. Though speaking only enough modern Italian to order the necessities of life at a watering hole I somehow recalled enough school Latin to translate a few of the lines – an ode to “Victory or death” is alarming enough without having an “and” in it.
    Happily, in half a minute the noise diminished as we left the waves below – and once away from having to look pilot-like for the cameras, I could spare some time to look around and see what was actually going on around us. Though I had little interest in the Air Races one cannot help picking up the basics here, especially when the course is marked out by thirty-foot pylons garishly marked in black and white chequerboard and generally floating on tethered barges the like of which I had expected to be captaining. We were heading towards the first turn at the Northern tip of Eastern Island – and not unnaturally we had competition.
     “Russki!” The co-pilot bit his thumb derisively and pointed to the aircraft to starboard, evidently aiming in to try and cut inside us at the turn. It was somewhat more conventionally shaped than the Caproni, making do with just the one set of wings and most of the engines tastefully concealed in the front edge except for an extra pair that sat up on top in something like a river punt suspended on stilts. The pilot could be plainly seen making vigorous paw signals to us, possibly in the cause of International Aeronautic Solidarity but more probably not.
    “Lufthansa?” I pointed to a huge shadow above us – as something the size of a thundercloud began to slowly overhaul us in the third dimension (a complex business this flying, and they say that around Cranium Island there are yet more dimensions to confuse a fellow.) The Dornier certainly was decked out in the Lufthansa colours, as was the intention of the race to have only commercial issue aircraft and crews. The fact that the Italian team were wearing what looked like military suits with insignia removed had, oddly enough, registered with me – it is terrifying what a whole morning without gin will do to a fellow.
    “Lufthansa? Ha!” The co-pilot’s snort needed little translation. But just as the Dornier was about to pass us, one of its many engines seemed to develop indigestion to judge from the way the prop stuttered to a halt, and the behemoth of the air began to lose ground. Or is it lose air? Whatever, I caught a glimpse of a rather deflated pilot in the cockpit as hatches on the huge wing popped open and brave well-braced furs with spanners crawled out into the slipstream to attempt running repairs but evidently to no avail.
    “Avanti, avanti, avanti!” The genuine pilot was singing happily behind me, as the finish line approached. The Russian entry suddenly lost ground and doubtless its pilot began to consider a career flying front-line in that Spanish fracas the newsreels keep mentioning – as we plunged over the finish line first by a nose and a spar!
    One hopes that the rear cockpit crew can just set their controls to “do what is needful” as for half a minute they were doing too much cheering to look after their posts, The co-pilot set us down in front of the main judges’ stands, and then a few niggling problems began to dawn on me.
    “I say!” I addressed the two charming damsels “it’s one thing to be seen at twenty yards through a wet cockpit glass but if folk want to hand me the jolly old prize then we’re sunk! Anyone who saw this Signor close enough to get his name on the racing license could tell he’s not me!”
    “We’ll take care of that,” Miss Yvonne cast a beaming smile “to start with you’d better change costumes again, and then get in the back. Carrying passengers is quite within the rules, these are meant to be serving commercial airliners anyway.”
    Well, it would be no buckskin off the Buckhorn nose, though the prospect of the jolly stag being disqualified quite unjustly for drunken flying he did not in fact do, rather stung. So we changed costumes again and I took a seat in first class. In another minute we were pulling up at the dock to the tune of loud cheers – though the Italians are not exactly top of the world popularity charts these days, they are several places above both Herr Hitler’s Germans and Ioseph Starling’s merry crews.
    As the gangplank drew up the door opened and there was some commotion in the forward compartment, with a gasp of consternation ashore. I kept quiet and in a few minutes Miss Yvonne and Miss Lucy came back looking again like quiet demure damsels.
    “It’s quite all right, Mr. Buckhorn.” Miss Yvonne assured me. “The second pilot’s just accepting the prize now.”
    “Second pilot?” I queried, the Buckhorn curiosity roused “That’s very fair but what about my lookalike?”
    The damsels exchanged profound glances. “He hit his head and fell down,” Miss Lucy volunteered.
    “You mean, he fell down, slipped I expect, and hit his head,” her companion gently chided. “Anyway, he’ll be fine – by the time he comes round in hospital he’ll have slept it off, and nobody any the wiser. A wounded hero, in fact. It makes for great journalism that way, and he won’t be posted to gate night guard at some Ethiopian dirt runway for letting the side down.”
    “As for his headache, he’d have got that anyway when he sobered up,” Miss Lucy gave her most winning smile, one that there should be a Speed Week prize for. “Thank you SO much, Mr. Buckhorn! You’ve really saved our tails!”
    “It was an Experience like no other,” I said in my most heartfelt voice, and meant it sincerely. As I followed them out into the light of full day with a jubilant crowd dispersing from the dockside, I was very keen to put distance between us, and sharpish.
    “Well, look who it isn’t,” Miss Yvonne’s own voice was suddenly steely.
    I braced myself, expecting to see the Spontoon Constabulary arriving in force, if not indeed a task force of Interpol having pursued from the last place the pair had found as a fresh field and pasture new (and doubtless left looking like the fields of Flanders in 1918). But it was a single, and not a hugely imposing fur at that – a slim and elegantly clad mouse maiden that I had encountered a few months before to my financial disadvantage when briefly smitten by her lovely (but alarming) doe college chum here.
    “Beryl,” Miss Yvonne’s eyes flashed. “I’d heard you were here. Who did you bet on?”
    “I have some shares in Dornier,” the mouse polished already impeccable finger-claws on her silk summer dress. “They sadly had engine trouble. Contaminated fuel, I think. What’s the price of sugar these days?”
    “Very dear, around here. It’s not just buying it but … delivering it to the right location,” Miss Yvonne’s ears dipped. “And our pilot – it was “Vino Mariani” you slipped him, wasn’t it? That’s about the only thing legal in Italy you can’t buy over here. Who got at the Russians, is what I want to know.”
    Miss Beryl shrugged. “Not me. It could just be engines designed for Siberian conditions don’t take kindly to being red-lined for that long in the middle of a Spontoon Summer.”
    “Ah, old school chums reunited. Isn’t it wonderful? Just like old times.” Miss Lucy’s black tail swished dangerously. “Mister Buckhorn, aren’t you joining us to watch the fun?” All three of them turned to look at me and switched on identical smiles of a trademarked fiendishness that they surely must have studied together from a tender age – if they had ever had such a thing.
    I decided to make my excuses and leave, before the combined wits and mischief of the three old school pals thought of another offer I couldn’t refuse. As I left the temporary truce betwixt them seemed to be wearing thin, and an atmosphere was building as of imminent thunder.

“Lodge,” I reported to that worthy as I returned home having put my gangster film-derived education to good use checking I had not been followed – even by a “tail” as delectable as Miss Yvonne’s. “Pray ask if the Hotel do room service to their deepest cellar, and if they have space to house a refugee till the end of the week. The gramophone and record collection – I can carry down there myself.”

the end
(Until his next Misadventure.)

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