by M. Mitch Marmel & E.O. Costello
© 2010 By E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel.
All characters © E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel.
The sun was starting to come up as our plane touched down at Spontoon, and my dear Josslyn was...
Well, actually he was starting to worry me somewhat.
He wasn’t exactly hopping with eagerness or rubbing his paws in glee like he did last time.
He had the air of a fur about to take the Last Walk, which concerned me a bit. He has been acting a bit oddly of late, and while it makes for a quieter life at home it’s not like Joss at all.
Still, he managed to berate the porter as he offloaded our bags, and maintained an air of impending eruption all the way through Customs.
When we got to the water taxis, however, he queried the drivers extensively and studied them before setting hoof in the selected boat. He held on for dear life the entire trip, glaring at the driver as if expecting him to turn into a certain dapper fish-hawk.
For some reason he went through the same process when selecting a ricksha to take us to the Marleybone Hotel, the best hotel in the islands (with apologies to those at Shepherd’s). After choosing one that didn’t have a fox waiting beside it (surprisingly hard), he repeated his ominous glowering as we were checked into the hotel.
The bellhops still fell over themselves in their eagerness to either get out of his way or help him with the bags, and we got up to our rooms with no trouble.
“I’m tired,” Joss muttered as soon as the door closed. “Call that benighted blot if you want. I’ll be asleep,” and with that he closeted himself in our bedroom, closing (but not locking) the door behind him. I merely shook my head and turned to help my maid with setting the room in order when there was a knock on the door.
The caller was a bellhop, bearing a note on a small tray. I gave him a tip and opened the note as soon as I could.
As soon as I read it I fished my cigarette lighter from my purse, touched the flame to one corner, and watched the paper burn to ash in the ashtray, the pad of my thumb absently rubbing the engraved Minkerton’s logo on the lighter.
“Celestine,” I said, “do ring down for some tea, please? We can expect some company in an hour or so.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” she said. “Will His Lordship - ?”
Her question was answered by a loud wheezing snore coming from behind the closed bedroom door.
“I don’t think that His Lordship will be joining us, Celestine.”
About forty-five minutes later Celestine opened the door in response to the light tap on it and in breezed two of my oldest and dearest friends. “Allan! Vee!”
Allan Minkerton III gave a grin and accepted a light buss on his cheek before his wife Victoria and I hugged tightly. I’ve known them for years, even before I met Joss.
Actually, Allan is the reason Joss and I met. Years ago I used to work for him as an operative in his firm, and was assigned as a secretary to the young heir to the Buckhorn fortune. Falling in love with him wasn’t part of the assignment.
But Nature, it’s said, will always find a way.
That same Nature found my fellow operative, Victoria, happily married to our boss.
And with three delightful children, no less.
So, over tea and small sandwiches (just a light snack before dinner), we caught up on old times.
After a few minutes, though, Allan excused himself. He stood up and he and Vee exchanged a few whispered words. I heard Vee whisper, “Tread softly, dear,” and smiled as he left.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“Oh, Allan has an old friend living here, semi-retired I think you’d say. He’s going to drop by to say hello.”
“Uh-huh.” An ‘old friend’ of Allan’s was likely to be anyone from a fellow operative to a gangster or spy – or any combination thereof. “Are we safe?”
The minkess seated across from me laughed. “Of course, Gee.”
The coffee was black, unsweetened, and almost strong enough to melt holes in sheet steel.
In short, perfect to clear my head.
As if Franklin’s words hadn’t done enough to sober me up.
“So, he asked you to escort Miss Fawnsworthy down the aisle?” I asked, still trying to clear my head. “And you accepted?”
“Yes,” my beloved said, his paws clasping and unclasping nervously over the head of his cane. “I could have refused, I know, but something caused me to accept.”
I smiled. “I think it’s very sweet of you, my darling,” and I kissed his cheek. “And you’ll look wonderful in your uniform.”
He gave me the fish eye. “Yes, about that.”
“Oh, come on now, Franklin. Let’s not go through this again.”
“I – I –“ he spluttered and finally grated, “I’ll be damned if I’ll stand there like some tailor’s mannequin while people stick pins in me!”
“That won’t be a problem.”
“I said, it won’t be a problem. The tailors around here can work from an existing suit, and a constable’s uniform – well, you see them everywhere during tourist season.”
I could see that this failed to mollify my Franneleh.
“You’ve *seen* the uniform, I trust?”
“And who hasn’t? White shorts and short-sleeved shirt, helmet and Sam Bruin belt . . . “
"Rosie, I do not wish to look like an ice cream salesfur. And NO, I do NOT have tutsie-fruitsie."
I could see that my Franneleh was not in a Good Humor. "Could be worse," I mused. "You know, you *do* have some nice gams..."
"No. I have *no* ‘gams.’"
I was warming to the subject. “Long shorts and knee socks... Just to show off those nice knobbly knees ..."
“GAH! I have not worn knee socks since Queen Victoria ruled half the world.” He looked at me sternly. “And I don’t propose to start now.”
Eventually we settled on what his uniform would be. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll take one of your suits to the tailor’s. All you have to do is stop by there tomorrow afternoon to make sure it fits.”
“It’ll be done that soon?”
“Sooner if I pay a bit extra, and of course you need it by Saturday for the wedding.”
I never thought deer could growl, but my beloved finally agreed and left. Naturally he had to go back to work, and I had a dress to pick out. Willow hadn’t chosen any bridesmaids, so me and Leslie duCleds were going to be the only ones up there to lend moral support to Lover Boy and his blushing bride.
I couldn’t suppress a wistful sigh, though, as I heard Franklin headed down the stairs.
Worse and worse . . .
I don’t like uniforms or formal wear of any kind. Diana used to use all means at her disposal simply to get me to dress up for a formal occasion, and as soon as I could, I relegated my State Police uniform to the farthest recesses of my closet.
Until I wore it the day of the Revolt.
And how Rosie had managed to talk me into not only formal dress, but a dress uniform – and both in the same year.
Deep breaths, Franklin.
I made my way back to the Detective Bureau and settled down to do some paperwork. Tourist season was still almost two months away, so the number of cases were quite light.
The door to the outer office opened and Miss Lopp looked in. “Excuse me, Inspector? There’s someone out here to see you.” She offered me a small business card.
One look at the card and I stood up at my desk. “Send him in, please, Miss Lopp.”
She retreated and Allan Minkerton strode in. “Allan, what an unexpected surprise.”
My old and dear friend shook paws with me and sat down. “Pleased to see you too, Franklin. I was nearby, so I stopped in to say hello.”
“Well, Vee’s been pestering me for years to go on a proper vacation. The Catoctin Mountains are certainly pretty, but she told me she couldn’t bear to look at them again. I suggested Spontoon, and here we are.”
“So, Victoria’s here with you?”
“At our hotel. We’re staying at the Marleybone.”
The mink took a moment to look around the office. “Nice place, and you’ve done well for yourself, Franklin.”
“It’s a bolthole, Allan. Some quiet place where I can find a little peace.”
He laughed. “Yes, I recall the Bouquet you sent me last year. It’s good to see you’ve been keeping your paw in. Your talents shouldn’t be wasted.”
I waved this away. “Will you and Vee be staying long?”
“Oh, a couple weeks, I imagine. Are you doing anything, say, this weekend?”
I tried not to avoid his gaze. “I have a prior engagement, Saturday at ten o’clock. A wedding.”
Allan’s eyebrows went up. “A wedding?”
“Not my own, I assure you. A friend of a friend is getting married – a society wedding. I was asked to give the bride away.”
“I see. Would you like Vee and I to tag along, Franklin? You could always use the company, you know.”
I smiled. “I’d like that, Allan, and of course I’d like to see Vee again.” I gave him the details of the impending Buckhorn/Fawnsworthy nuptials (one imagines it would not be difficult for Allan Minkerton III to find a way to get invited), and as we parted he took the liberty of inviting me to have lunch with him and his wife the next day.
Well, that was brief, and relatively painless.
Don’t get me wrong, Franklin’s a good friend and one of the best furs I’ve ever known. Ever since the Revolt he’s just closed down, though.
Nice to see that he’s got friends here.
And thankfully it was a simple task to get me and Vee invited to the wedding.
Now, where’s Agent Fawnsworthy staying? Ah, yes, Shepherd’s.
After seeing Miss Fawnsworthy off to her hotel room, Mr. Buckhorn returned to his own suite. While he had been quite used to staying up all night, those had usually been under the influence of strong drink, and he wished to take a nap.
Some time after he had gone to bed the phone rang.
I must confess I should not have been surprised at the revelation that Mr. Buckhorn’s parents had returned to Spontoon, as Mr. Buckhorn is their only fawn and his wedding is only two days away. What did succeed in surprising me was his mother’s demand that I wake her son up and put him on the phone.
Setting the pawset down I knocked on my employer’s door.
Miss Fawnsworthy’s non-alcoholic regime appeared to be paying dividends. I could actually understand what he was saying.
“Mr. Buckhorn, your mother is on the telephone.”
“Yes, Sir, your mother. She insists that you come to the phone, now.”
A loud rustling from the other side of the door indicated to me Lady Gwladys’ son and heir was, in fact, arising. Not quite like Lazarus from the grave, but close enough, I judged.
I went back to the phone. “My Lady, Mr. Buckhorn will be on the phone momentarily.”
Lady Gwladys thanked me for the effort, and very graciously asked how I was bearing up. I was able to assure her that since their engagement, Mr. Buckhorn had displayed a marked improvement in both his sagacity and self-restraint.
I did not think it fair to inform her of the previous night’s incident involving her prospective daughter-in-law.
She would learn of it in due course, I was certain.
Just then Mr. Buckhorn made his appearance, tying his bathrobe around his waist. “Dash it all,” he murmured to himself, “what now, I wonder . . . Hullo, Mummy! So good to hear from you again . . . Dinner tonight? How splendid! Why, yes . . . oh, of course. Good-bye, Mummy.”
My employer hung up the phone and stood there for a moment, a look of intense concentration on his face as he drummed his fingers on the pawset. It may be unsporting of me to say so, but he looked like a buck from his ancient forebears, sounding the war drums.
“Lodge, lay out my linen suit, please – the beige one, I think. And then please ring ‘round to Miss Fawnsworthy’s room and let her know that we’ve been invited to dinner at l’Etoile at six o’clock.”
“Very good, Sir. Might I inquire if – “
He smiled at me. “I don’t anticipate trouble, Lodge. After all, he jolly well can’t disown me twice, can he?”