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.
That night we all had a pre-wedding supper at Willow’s friend’s restaurant. The place was very nice, almost homey, and the weather was beautifully mild.
All quite thrown away on Josslyn, who fussed over the herbivore cuisine until the chef, a tall Russian rabbit, came out and showed him that the canned tomatoes were none other than Buckhorn’s Garden Special. The fact that the establishment was a customer made my mate subside, but only somewhat.
Like Etna, the volcano merely slumbered, with occasional bits of vented steam showing life.
The other guests at the dinner included the Baron von Kojote and his wife, who we met last year. The Baron was very gallant and kept himself in check mainly through the good offices of his wife, who was several months pregnant. Seated alongside them were Leslie and Inocenta duCleds and her parents, Don Carlos and Dona de Ciervos.
Willow looked very happy, but also a touch apprehensive, and was looking upstairs every few minutes.
Almost as if she were dreading having someone show up unexpectedly.
The food was wonderful, despite Joss’ grumbling, and the company was diverse and fun. The Baron and his wife regaled us with the events of the duCleds wedding, some of which was obviously edited. Much of what was hidden seemed rather odd, and was perhaps associated with the Baron’s experiences in the Great War.
Most of the time, however, Leslie looked uncomfortable while Inocenta giggled and blushed as they relived the happy day.
We were invited to attend their second wedding (Leslie had acquainted us with an agreement where they would wed in a Catholic service here, then another service in Wiltmington), but one look at Joss’ face made me very tactfully decline. I mean, it’s just across the river.
At one point, Rosie got up from the table and went back to the kitchen, returning seconds later and looking angry.
“Willow? Could I . . . talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure,” and my future daughter-in-law got up. They disappeared into the kitchen.
What was that all about? I wondered.
As soon as I got over to her she hissed, “We’ve got a problem.”
“Here,” and as soon as we were out of sight of the table she stuck a bottle under my nose. “Take a whiff.”
I unstoppered the bottle and obliged her.
My eyes went wide as saucers. It was perfume, all right.
But NOT attar of roses.
“That – “
Rosie nodded. “That little indefinite got the wrong stuff.”
We tracked down K’nutt, who by this time had started sweeping up in the back storeroom. Basically moving one pile of dirt to one side of the room, looking surprised, and moving the same pile to the other side of the room.
If there was a Nobel Prize for pointless behavior, K’nutt would win it, paws down.
“K’nutt,” Rosie said.
She beckoned, and when he got within range she grabbed him by one ear. “What is this?”
“No, what’s this in my *other* paw.”
“Very funny. Where did you get it?”
“Did you get it from Hung, or Hong?”
She drew him closer, eliciting a whine as she twisted his ear. “Did you get it from the otter with the attar, or the possum with the blossom?”
“W-Well, R-Rosie – “
“I th-thought th-this w-w-was b-better.”
“I l-likes c-cocoanut perfume.”
She let the little nudnik go and turned to me as he beat feet away from us. “I should have gone with my first impulse.”
“Much as I’d like to, no. I wanted to go myself to get it for you, but Franklin might have gotten curious.”
“We can’t have that,” I said. “And by this time I’m sure the shop is closed – “
“And since tomorrow’s Saturday, and it’s not yet tourist season – “ Rosie supplied.
“Mr. Hung won’t be opening up until late, if at all,” I sighed. “Well, it was a nice idea while it lasted – maybe we can slip a clothespin over his nose when he isn’t looking . . . “
Rosie laughed. “All isn’t lost yet, Willow. We’ll think of something.”
My goddaughter returned to her place at the table along with her friend, both looking outwardly at ease and smiling.
I knew better.
My left foot eased over as the Baronin von Kojote told us about her father’s ranch in the Argentine, and lightly touched Gwladys’ hoof.
Gee barely reacted, and glanced in my direction as her husband harrumphed disapprovingly about something Allan said.
Another hoof-tap, and Willow flicked an ear. Shortly thereafter Rosie glanced in Willow’s direction, while nodding at something Reggie said.
All nice and discreet.
Allan never even noticed; at the time he was deep in conversation with Leslie about the relative merits of various types of ammunition, while the Baron listened avidly. Don Carlos and Lord Josslyn were talking about the shortcomings of young people in this day and age.
So no one noticed when the four of us got up and headed back to the kitchen.
When we got there I got straight down to business. “What’s the matter, Willow?”
My goddaughter quickly and clearly outlined the plan she and Rosie had hatched to block Franklin from catching his daughter’s scent. I secretly deplored the necessity (why no one will believe me when I say he’s stronger than he looks, I’ll never know; I’ve only known Franklin for over thirty years) but I agreed that it was a good plan.
“So now we can’t get it, and I’m not sure what to do next,” Willow said.
“That won’t do,” I chided her. “Recall your training, Agent. ALWAYS have a backup plan.”
Agent Fawnsworthy glared at me, then nodded. “The only way is to get some from Mr. Hung – by any means possible.”
Rosie said, “Sounds like fun. I’m in.”
“How are your knees, Gee?” I asked Agent Ritterherz.
“About as good as yours, Vee.”
We started to make plans.
By the time we returned to the table, the outlines of a plan had come together. There were risks, of course, but Rosie volunteered to act as lookout.
Grace has excellent friends.
One stumbling block was how to ditch the men without making too much of a fuss, but when we got back we found that it had been taken care of.
“Vee,” Allan said as I sat down, “Leslie’s invited me and the other men up to his suite for drinks and perhaps some cards. Can you find something to occupy yourselves for a while?”
I gave my husband a kiss. “I think we can come up with something.”
Inocenta and her mother left us at the same time as the men did – it was about eleven o’clock by now, and a busy and stressful day tomorrow. Josslyn didn’t seem to want to go, but Don Carlos and the Baron linked arms with him and bore him off, protesting, stage left.
I wished him a pleasant night, and he gave me a look capable of turning fresh milk into yoghurt instantly.
I shrugged it off, having become quite inured to my mate’s attitude over the years. Adding insult to injury, I added that we were not intending on a bachelorette party.
From what Willow told me, one was quite enough to suffice her for the rest of her life.
We headed over to Casino Island and checked out the establishment. Mr. Hung lived over the shop, it seemed, and all the lights were off. A quick check around the back showed that the windows were locked as well as the doors, but several windows were open on the second floor.
Too high for me, I’m afraid – I was never much of a climber.
The back alley behind the shop was dark enough to hide the fact that four women in dresses were casing the joint.
We all went back to Rosie’s apartment over her restaurant to make plans.
“Vee,” I asked, “lock-picks?”
“Apart from hairpins, no Gee,” my oldest friend and fellow agent admitted. “Rosie?”
“I was in burlesque, not cat burglary.” She muttered a few choice words in mumbled Yiddish, then brightened. “I do, however, have a plan . . . ”
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
Back last Christmas I had been at the Meeting Island Jail as a guest of the Althing. I remembered that in a bit of pink fog, since Reggie had just proposed.
Earlier in the week, I had seen the inside of the place again, but I had been so hung over that I hadn’t noticed.
So here I am again, reading the graffiti while my best friend, my godmother, and my future mother-in-law shared a cell with me.
All very good for female solidarity and family feeling, but the wedding is only nine hours away. Time’s a-wasting.
And the waiting isn’t doing me much good.