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.
One more day.
I had a long and blissful good night’s sleep (Grace was skipping and pronking gleefully through gauzy pink clouds, and wasn’t much help), and after a short breakfast with Reggie I headed out to Luchow’s alone.
I had to talk with Rosie about Da.
It was vital that he not know it’s me.
Much to my surprise I saw Gwladys at a table, deep in conversation with a very familiar minkess. “Hello, Aunt Vee,” I said in a low voice as I approached the table. Of course it’d make sense to have Allan bring Vee out here to Spontoon.
She stood godmother for me when I was christened.
(When I was christened.)
You *know* what I mean, dang it.
“Just call me Vee, Willow,” she said. “Gwladys and I are catching up on old times.”
“Old – ah. I hadn’t known you two knew each other, Agent Ritterherz.”
Gwladys chuckled. “Long before you were born, my dear. Vee, would you believe that this young girl is marrying my son tomorrow?”
“Seems like only yesterday I was helping her mother change her diapers,” and she laughed as I blushed.
“Hi, Willow!” and Rosie walked up to our table. “Want anything?”
“Just some tea, Rosie, and some talk later,” I said. “Gwladys, Vee, this is Rosie Baumgartner, a really good friend of mine. Rosie, Gwladys Buckhorn and Vee Minkerton.”
“Pleased to meet all of you,” my cheetah chum said. “I’m glad you stopped by, Willow. We need to talk about the reception.”
“Oh! About that – “
“I’m not going to be able to get things in order here, make it to the church on time, and get – “
I held up a paw. “It’s okay, Rosie. It’s handled.”
“Yup. Chef Joseph is throwing the party at l’Etoile.”
Rosie’s eyes went wide and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Well! That’s one problem solved. Will Andre be there?”
“If you mean that snotty waiter,” Gwladys said, “I didn’t see him last night at dinner.”
This observation prompted a pair of snickers from Rosie and me. I left it to Rosie to explain what happened to the nutmuncher, and we all had a good laugh over the denouement.
“Sounds like some of the fun we had, Gee,” Vee said, and that started them on some of the ‘war stories’ you sometimes hear old Minkertons agents telling when in their cups. These were a lot of fun, though, and the tale of the Mixtecan colonel and the briefcase was priceless. Rosie and I listened avidly until a voice interrupted.
Trust Cupcake duCleds to show up just as the story was getting good.
Another round of introductions, along with compliments and questions about the state of her puppy-fawn. Inocenta grinned and patted her belly as she pulled up a chair and sat down.
“Oh, it is magnifico that the wedding is to be here between the Willow and the Reggie-buck,” she declared. “Soon, Leslie-puppy tells, we all go to Delahare for the big church wedding there, and – oh! Que splendido! – the second wedding night!
We all snickered at that, and I hoped that Leslie was taking his vitamins.
“Ladies,” Gwladys said with some authority, “this young woman,” and she pointed at Willow, “is getting married tomorrow, and her hair is an absolute rat’s nest. In fact, I’d say we all need to go to the salon.”
“But, Gwladys,” Willow protested with a grin, “I have a fitting for my gown this morning.”
“Nu?” I asked. “We’ll all go with you to see the dress, and then all go to the salon.”
“And we stick the menfolk with the bill,” Vee added.
“True, ladies,” Gwladys said. “That’s what they’re good for at weddings anyway.”
I hustled away from the table to let Vicky know that I’d be away for a couple of hours.
One table I passed had a family of foxes, early tourists from England I think. The eldest child was making a fuss about his breakfast. His mother admonished him, “Now Basil, eat your food like a big kit.”
The kit, mashed breadfruit smeared on his muzzle, grinned cheekily and said in a clear upper-class ‘posh’ accent, “I am NOT a kit. I’m a FELLA!” He grinned again. “Boom-boom!”
Of course, as soon as we were done with the fitting, the other ladies had to pick out appropriate dresses for the wedding, and after that we repaired to the salon. Hooves and claws were buffed and polished to a high sheen and headfur was immaculately coiffed in anticipation of the Big Day.
As soon as I could I took Rosie upstairs to her apartment over Luchow’s. “Rosie, we have to talk.”
“Um . . . large weather we’re having?”
“Very funny,” I giggled, and we both started to laugh. “Seriously, though, we have a tiny cloud on the horizon.”
“More like a large one, with a beautiful rack.”
I nodded. “What do you think?”
Rosie thought a moment, paw to chin. “Hmm . . . we could have you wear a helmet – or even full armor, but it’d be fairly heavy.”
"It won't matter," I said firmly. "I could be wearing armor plate and it'll feel like feathers."
Rosie gave me a wink. "Feathers ... hmm, that'd be nice, but your Dad would likely have a heart attack." She thought a moment more, then smacked her fist into her palm. “I have it! Wait here.” She stood and went into her closet for a moment, then emerged with an object wrapped in a cloth. “Here, you can wear these.”
I opened the bundle and recoiled. “Absolutely not.”
Resting on the cloth were a pair of false teeth.
Really bad false teeth, designed for a feline. The teeth were askew and larger than normal, and a couple were missing.
What *was* Rosie doing with a pair of false teeth like that?
Do I *really* want to know?
“I think I’ll just go with a heavier veil, as we agreed in the dressmaker’s,” I said. “These would make me look like the legendary Saber-toothed Doe.”
“I think they’ll look charming on you,” Rosie teased. “We do your headfur up in a bun, run a bone through it . . . “
“It’s all the rage in New Guinea.”
“I said No, Rosie. Where did you get these things, anyway?”
“Old souvenir from my vaudeville days,” she said as she took the teeth away from me.
“It’s a lovely thought, Rosie,” I said, “but we have to think of something. Da’s nose won’t lie to him – if he thinks it’s me . . . “
“Gotcha. I asked Po’na about it earlier today, before you dropped by. His ears went back and he muttered something about ‘Now creature swift with spots outlander femme desire flowers make creature-with-horns outlander nose clog for day? Po’na ask. Perhaps creature swift with spots outlander hold breath, Po’na return’ and that’s the last I saw of him.”
I nodded. “I think we’ll have to come up with something. Po’na may no longer want to help us, after what happened back in March.”
there is that.”
He still looks bad, but the tropical setting and the obvious affection Rosie feels for him seems to have improved him somewhat.
Franklin had agreed to meet me and Allan for lunch at the Marleybone’s restaurant, and as soon as I saw him I recalled what Allan said.
“He may look old, but the fire’s still there. Somewhere.”
I agreed wholeheartedly. He walked with a cane, of course (and again I damned those vicious bastards who tortured him) but his suit was clean and well-maintained and he walked erect.
Rosie was certainly good for him, poor fellow.
He took off his hat, some superannuated, weather-beaten old fedora, and sat down with us.
“You look as well as ever, Victoria,” he said.
His voice sounded stronger than the last time I’d spoken with him.
“Bosh, Franklin. I can see gray hairs. I *do* own at least one mirror, after all.”
A brief smile twitched his lips. “’Age cannot wither her, nor custom – ‘”
“’Stale her infinite variety,’” I said, completing the phrase. “Franklin, Allan was quoting Shakestoat to me while we were courting. Are you flirting with me?”
His ears dipped. “Hardly, Victoria. I know you both too well to ever presume on that friendship. It’s just that, well, Rosie’s been rather an influence on me, and I find old impulses surfacing.”
“Like gallantry?” I asked.
A slightly wider smile. “Yes.”
I resolved at once to get to know Rosie better.
Hell, I might be attending at least one more wedding. Touch wood.
Lunch was spent fairly quietly, with Franklin asking questions about the children. Allan IV is moving up through the ranks in the organization, and I hold out hope that he’ll take over the business when I retire.
Of course, his aim could stand improvement, but Carlos and his successor were taking care of that.
Felix was still in college up in Cambridge striving to become a doctor. Diana had just passed the bar in Gnu York, a fact that had Franklin – her godfather – intensely interested.
“If she wants any advice from an old man,” he said, “have her send me a wire. Apart from my duties with the Constabulary, my time is largely my own.”
No bets on who was taking up the remainder of his spare time.
At one point Vee gave me a penetrating glance and said, “You’ll excuse me, Franklin, but I think Allan wants to talk shop with you and is just itching to have me leave.” She sniffed. “As if he could keep anything secret from me.”
“Dear, that’s not fair,” I protested. “I was just waiting to get a word in edgewise – “
“Bosh, dear,” my beloved wife interjected, blowing me a kiss as we stood and she headed for the restroom.
Franklin and I sat back down and regarded each other. “Well, I had actually wanted to talk to you about a few things, Franklin.”
A smile, and a knowing nod. “Same old Allan. What few things?”
“Was there ever any retaliation from your friends to the west about that Bouquet?”
The buck shook his head. “Nothing that I could discern, although one young lady who is on intimate terms with one of them stated that an assassin had been hired, over the objections of the ruling council.”
“Presumably the man who sent the assassin met a sad fate.” Franklin shrugged. “He who lives by the sword, and all that.” He toyed with a breadstick. “I appreciate you talking with Richard.”
“When the fur in charge of Rain Island’s spy network calls up to ask about my closest friend, you take the call. Minkerton’s has friends everywhere, high and low – but then, you’ve always known that.”
A nod. “Yes.” There was a pause as we thought back to the Otterholt Murders. New Haven in the Twenties had roared louder than most places. “He sent me an apprentice, Allan.”
I sat back. “You’re kidding.”
“He convinced me to at least teach him. Local boy, very quick.”
“Quicker than you?”
He nodded, and I gave a low whistle. “It seems that you found a place to live, Franklin. Not simply a bolthole.”
I regarded my old friend and took a sip of my water. “Allan, all I wanted to do was find a place that would take me. The Althing offered, and I came. I’ve found a friend and confidant in Sergeant Brush, a student in Ranua, and . . . “
You hear people with literary pretensions say that a word ‘hung in the air.’
I will state, under oath, that that word did exactly what they say it did.
I closed my eyes and nodded, and I felt Allan’s paw rest on my shoulder with a companionable squeeze.
“My friend,” he said softly, “Vee and I can see it in you. You’ve gotten better since the last time we visited you. Most of that’s due to Rosie, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” It didn’t surprise me that Allan knew her name.
“I’m glad for you, and you know Vee’s happy for you.”
There wasn’t anything else to say for several moments.
I broke the spell by looking at my watch. “I – I have to go, Allan. I have to go get fitted for – for – “
“A formal uniform?” Vee asked brightly. She had returned while Allan and I talked.
“Yes.” I didn’t mean to hiss the word, but it came out that way, and she had the good grace to laugh rather than be offended. “Fortunately the tailor’s shop isn’t too far away, as I have to get back to work.”
I said my farewells, and as I left Allan stopped me.
“Please write, Franklin. Vee and I want to hear from you.”
I nodded, and smiled. “Tell Dee that if she has some questions about any cases, send the briefs to me. I’ll enjoy reading them.”
And now I have an appointment.
With a tailor.