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 news that Da would be the man walking me down the aisle was both the best possible and the worst possible.
Best possible, in that it had been a dream of mine (and Grace’s): All Saint’s Cathedral in New Haven City, Father looking so smart in his uniform, Mother, Hellie and Maggie crying . . .
But that’s all it was now – a dream.
The worst possible aspects of it were daunting. My father had always had keen powers of observation, and a father knows the scent of his fawns like the back of his paw.
One whiff, I knew, and the jig would definitely be up.
And I didn’t want him dropping dead of heart failure at my hooves when the shock that his oldest daughter survived the Revolt finally hit him.
Somehow I had to find a way out of this, and I was still thinking about it (dressed now) when there was a knock at the door.
I put my eye to the peephole (not too close; Minkerton’s trains you to be wary of heavies on the other side, ice pick or similar at the ready), and almost jumped out of my fur.
“Allan! What a surprise!” I said as I opened the door to let my real boss in.
Les only thinks he’s my boss.
“Agent Fawnsworthy,” the graying mink said gravely, then gave his usual puckish smile. He glanced back, then pulled the door closed behind him as he said, “It’s good to see you again, Grace.”
I felt my accent shift, from Gnu Guernsey to New Haven. “Good to see you too, Allan. How’s Aunt Victoria?”
“Vee’s fine. Step back and let me take a look at you.” I complied and he looked me over before shaking his head. “What is it with Minkerton’s femmefurs? First Vee and Gwladys, now you. I’m starting to think Granddad was right after all.”
“You didn’t have to hire me.”
“Yes I did. You know what the word ‘giri’ means?”
“It’s Japanese. One of its meanings is ‘burden of obligation.’ You put a heavy obligation on us, m’girl. If your father weren’t here, *I’d* be the one walking you down that aisle.”
I think my eyes gave me away, because he whisked out his pawkerchief and offered it to me before I could start crying. He offered a shoulder too, and for a while I just clung to him until the storm had passed.
“That’s better. Now, I can hear the sound of feminine connivance from here, as Agents Minkerton and Ritterherz were deep in conversation when I left them -”
I held up my paws. “No more bachelorette parties, Allan. I had one just last night that should last me for the rest of my life.”
A mustelid brow rose. “Really? I look forward to hearing all about – “ He turned at a knock at the door, and I hurried over and looked. I gave him a paw signal that the person at the door was friendly, and opened it to reveal Lodge.
“Good afternoon, Lodge.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Fawnsworthy.” He saw Allan standing in the living room, and one brow rose expressively.
“Please come in, Lodge. May I introduce Allan Minkerton III – my real employer.” At Allan’s worried look I said, “It’s all right, Allan – Lodge is Reggie’s valet. He quite literally Knows All.”
“Ah.” The two shook paws.
“I am pleased to meet you, Sir,” Lodge said, and turned to me. “I have come to extend an invitation to you, Miss Fawnsworthy. Mr. Buckhorn informs me that his parents have invited the two of you to dine at l’Etoile d’Argent, at six o’clock.”
I grinned. I wondered if The Blivet had any tricks up his sleeve after his wife and I managed to so thoroughly rattle him last year. “Lodge, please let Mr. Buckhorn know that I will be happy to accept, and will be downstairs on time.”
The beaver gave a gentle slap of his tail against his legs and bowed his way out. As soon as the door closed Allan said, “How’s your principal doing?”
“Les? Now that’s he married, he’s quite safe. I doubt an armored division would be willing to go up against Inocenta.” I giggled. “And now that she’s knocked up, he’s not straying very far at all. Marriage and fatherhood’s enough of an adventure for him, apparently.”
There was no sign of that dreadful squirrel maitre d’ when Josslyn and I made our appearance at the restaurant. Instead, a pretty young minkess wearing a very stylish peach evening gown greeted us warmly. Her smile faltered just a bit when we gave our names.
“Oh, of course, Ma’am, Mr. . . . er, Buckhorn’s party.”
My mate lifted one eyebrow, and the minkess stammered, “Th-the other members of y-your party have yet to arrive.”
This provoked a glare through Josslyn’s monocle.
“I’m sure there’s nothing wrong, Josslyn,” I said. “It’s not quite six o’clock yet.”
Almost as if on cue my son and his fiancée entered the lobby. Reggie looked quite dapper in a beige linen suit, and Willow was very handsome in a cream gown. They were arm in arm, and he was smiling at something she said.
The smile faded when he laid eyes on his sire. “Hullo, Father, Mummy.”
I greeted them both, while Josslyn merely grunted at Reggie before coldly accepting a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek from Willow.
I expected a storm cloud to gather over Willow, but she merely smiled, linked arms with my unwilling mate and said, “Whatever happened last year is all water under the bridge, Lord Buckhorn. Would you care for a drink before dinner?” And the two of them moved on as I offered my arm to Reggie.
Josslyn muttered something that I couldn’t catch, and Willow nodded.
Much to my surprise, he waited by our table until we caught up, and actually held my chair out for me. Reggie seated Willow before taking his own chair, and the minkess offered menus.
Josslyn ordered a martini, and cast a jaundiced eye on his only son.
Reggie merely smiled and said, “Water, please.” The waiter looked a bit surprised (I know I did), but took orders for my drink and Willow’s (hers was also non-alcoholic), and an order of appetizers.
“You’re not drinking,” Josslyn said. This was a flat declaration, not a question, and dispensed with a jigger of acid.
“No, Father,” Reggie replied smoothly.
“Willow and I are holding ourselves to a one-drink daily maximum.”
“Oh, really? One gallon bucket each?”
My son refused to be baited, although I saw his flag flick a bit. “Just one regular sized drink.”
“That won’t last,” Josslyn muttered irritably. “I’ll wager your brains are still stewed after your bachelor party.”
“Oh, you’re quite mistaken, I assure you.”
A soft whistling snort erupted from my mate. A pair of diners, obviously briefed on some of the events a year ago, started to edge along their table to put the maximum amount of distance between us and them.
“Yes, Father. Wrong. My bachelor party was a largely dry affair, by mutual agreement.”
“My best man, Leslie duCleds – “
“If that’s what you call ‘best,’ I hold out no hope. The duCledses are all barking mad, even for canines.”
There was a pause while appetizers were served. Reggie sampled his, touched his muzzle with a napkin and said, “Your opinion’s noted, Father. Anyway, Les decided that I should have no access to the fruits of Bacchus.”
“And how’d he manage that, hey? Tie you down?”
“Now – “ was all I managed to say, as a stab from my mate’s eyes told me to keep quiet. I attended to my glass of white wine and my appetizer, while Willow ate hers and we both kept a weather eye on events.
Reggie smiled again, and his tail had stopped flagging. “Les chose the one place where I couldn’t be tempted.”
“And where might that have been? The jail?”
This drew a chuckle from my son. “Spot on, Father. You win your choice of cigar or milky cocoanut.”
Thankfully the aspirin and strong coffee had kept a lid on my headache.
Being polite to Josslyn Buckhorn was pushing those remedies to their limits. Despite the obvious apprehensive look on his face when I went up to him in the lobby, he was starting to return to form.
The fact that Reggie was managing to avoid returning his father’s sallies in kind was fascinating me.
High marks for keeping my beloved off the sauce.
Lord Josslyn’s fork banged onto the empty plate, and a busfur had whisked it away before the utensil had time to bounce more than once. “What’s that?” he growled.
Reggie had been nibbling on a bread stick while waiting for the main course. He put it down, took a sip of water and replied, “I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with your hearing, Father. The venue for my bachelor party was the jail over on Meeting Island. I’m sure you recall it.”
This remark was met with a cold sneer. “I wager you’re more familiar with it than I am. Who attended this party? The assorted scuff of the Earth you usually associate with?”
“If you consider the American Ambassador, a German baron, and the highest-ranking members of the Constabulary – as well as the heir to the duCleds Chemicals fortune – ‘scuff of the Earth,’ then yes,” Reggie said, still managing to keep an even keel despite the storm that was beginning to threaten.
I could tell that the name-dropping actually had some effect on Lord Josslyn, who subsided and glowered at his son.
Our main courses arrived, and for a longish while we attended to our stomachs rather than open (metaphorical) wounds. I reached out a tentative hoof and lightly stroked Reggie’s ankle. I was rewarded with a wink as he sipped his water.
With dinner over and our dishes cleared away with an alacrity I hadn’t seen in quite a while, a waiter appeared with a tray. To our surprise he placed a small plate of raspberry-hazelnut torte before each of us and asked for coffee or after-dinner drink orders.
Lord Josslyn glared at the waiter. “None of us ordered this.”
“Ah, vraiment, Sieur l’Buckhorn,” said a voice in French behind him.
My future father-in-law twisted in his seat and stared, looking up, higher and higher, at the apparition standing behind him.
The figure was a poodle with coal-black fur, tall and imposing, in spotless white with a butcher’s knife thrust into the belt of his snowy apron.
Chef Joseph, master of l’Etoile’s kitchen, gave a deep smile and bowed. “The dessert, a specialite d’maison, is on ze house.”
“On the house?” Josslyn thundered, at last having someone he could thunder at with relative impunity.
“Oui,” the canine said with all the well-oiled and smoothly operating arrogance of a Paris-trained chef. “The dessert is on the account of Chef Joseph, that is I.”
Eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?”
“As the gift to the parents of the groom,” Joseph said, bowing graciously to Gwladys. “And as an introduction to an offer.”
Our silence begged elaboration, and the poodle said, “It would be a great honor indeed, mon Sieur, to be allowed to hold the wedding reception here.”
“How much – “
Chef Joseph waved this away with a paw, and I think the shock of being interrupted rendered Josslyn momentarily speechless. “Lord Buckhorn, do not think of the cost, s’il vous plait. The whole shall be laid to the feet of Chef Joseph. Mademoiselle Watermaster!” he said, with a snap of his fingers.
The minkess ventured forward from her place of refuge at the front desk. “Yes, Chef Joseph?”
The poodle took the minkess aside and a low-voiced conversation ensued, with Miss Watermaster looking startled and Chef Joseph intent, with much paw-waving by the latter. She finally skedaddled for the front desk and the chef turned back to us.
“It is all, how you say, arranged. After the ceremony you shall find this place transformed! Only ze finest, and all upon my account as a gift to the happy couple!” He beamed at me, and nodded approvingly at Reggie before going back to the kitchen.
Slightly benumbed by this display of generosity (Reggie, however, looked a bit guilty about something – note to self, ask) we each ordered coffee to go with our torte.
Which, by the way, was delicious.
We somehow managed to get through the rest of the dinner without coming to blows.
I’m not quite sure how we managed, yet we did.
After we paid the bill (I insisted on paying, which caused the Sire to glower but otherwise made no objection) Willow proposed a walk in the gardens. There were three votes in favor, one against (along with a grumbled complaint about the poor quality of the gardens and the ineptitude of the gardener) so the walk was agreed upon.
I walked with my inamorata, while Mummy walked with the Sire. I should rather say ‘walked the Sire,’ as there was every indication that Mummy wished she had a collar and leash with her to get Father to walk at heel.
The night was quite mild, with flowers all around us. I was quite conscious of two things:
How ravishing Willow looked, limned in moonlight.
And the sotto voce muttering between my parents a few steps behind us.
Rather disconcerting, all in all. Rather like those new, avant-garde musical productions where the more out-of-tune the instruments are, the better. Our walk was like that – a romantic violin duet, with a dramatic but discordant rumble beneath it.
Certain memories of triggering a small-scale riot at l’Etoile were also coming to the fore.
I wonder if Chef Joseph really did know a recipe for poutine.
By the time I kissed Mummy’s cheek and wished her and Father good-night, however, the lack of sleep was starting to make itself felt. I had, after all, had very little sleep, and Willow looked exhausted as well.
I walked Willow to her door, and we kissed. “Darling,” she said, “I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you, Willow, but . . . “
“I was just tired. And sober.” I winked at her. “Good-night, love. Will I see you for breakfast?”