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.
My duties as best man are almost over, thank the Architect. All I have to do is make sure Reggie gets to the church on time, stand him up at the altar and prevent him from bolting if he gets cold hooves.
Strike that; Willow would likely bring him down with a tackle that would make the Penn front four proud.
Wedding dress or not.
The lines to our rear were cleared, mainly through the good offices of Chief Constable Sapper, who had graciously agreed to come up with an appropriate ruse to keep Marryin’ Sam Brunswick and his wife off our backs for as much of the day as possible. What the ruse had been was anyone’s guess (probably a fake ‘diplomatic incident’), but there had been rumors that they were on Gull Island.
Which offered all sorts of possibilities. Few of which I cared to contemplate without something strong to drink.
But I was glad that there was no sign of the scaly little nuisance.
And the weather was holding up. Very nice.
I arrived at Shepherd’s by ricksha (no sense in getting my shoes dusty) just in time to see Reggie and Lodge stepping out of the lobby, cloth bags containing their formal wear in paw. Reggie looked a bit dazed, but awake and alert.
Well, as alert as you might expect.
“Good morning Reggie, Lodge,” I said. “How’s the happy groom?”
“Hm? Huh? Oh. I’m fine, Les,” Reggie said, in a distant tone of voice. He looked nervous, and I’ll bet he was wishing he had something to drink in his paw right now.
I had that taken care of, if he asked for it.
Lodge took over the care of the formal wear while we got into the ricksha and we started off to the church.
I studied Reggie, who was staring off into space. “Reggie.”
“Hm? Yes, Les?”
“I have a flask with me.”
“Yes. Need a nip to steady your nerves?”
He licked his lips, looked away and I could hear his flag brushing against the back of the seat.
“What is it?”
Another long moment. We were one corner away from Saint Anthony’s.
“Just one swallow, then.”
“Of course.” I offered the flask and he took the prescribed one swallow, then took a deep breath.
His flag slowed down, then stopped.
As we alighted from the ricksha, Reggie put out his paw. “You’re a good friend, Les.”
We shook paws. “Thank you, Reggie. And congratulations.”
“Shouldn’t you give me those after the ceremony?”
I grinned. “Congratulations . . . on getting this far.”
We laughed, and headed into the church.
Father Merino was waiting for us. “Good morning. Mister Buckhorn, you can change your clothes in the usher’s room, over there,” and he pointed us in the right direction.
“Righto, Father. Is . . . is Willow - ?”
“She and the other ladies are in the rectory.” A distant sound of feminine merriment punctuated this observation.
I was about to ask where the rector was, but as this might elicit a “Rector? Damn near killed her” joke from either of us, I decided to keep my muzzle shut.
We stepped into the little room off the entrance and started getting ready. We were tying our ties when someone knocked.
Lodge, stationed beside the door, opened it.
The Sire and Mummy walked into the little side-room that Les and I were occupying while the Star of the Show was preparing herself elsewhere.
Hmmm, well, that's actually something of an exaggeration.
More proper to say that Mummy was propelling the Sire along with a series of pokes to the back. In times of yore, this probably would have resulted in a boiling, snorting fury, but this morning, all the Sire could produce was a baleful glare in Mummy's direction. He seemed to be under Starter's Orders.
Or somefur's orders, anyway.
He stopped and fidgeted with his monocle for a bit, polishing it. That didn't seem to do the trick, so he began fiddling with the collar and tie of his morning suit, until Mummy slapped his paw and told him to stop. The fact that he gave in with no snort at all indicated something was up.
Mummy gave a snort that must have had some meaning or other, because the Sire reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and removed a slim silver case. He contemplated it for a long minute, and then sighed. It gave me a sensation of both hearing and seeing some great zeppelin deflate. I conferred later with Les, who confirmed that it was not a figment of my imagination that Josslyn, Viscount Buckhorn was a smaller buck than when he woke up.
It took a minute to realize that he was saying something, and it might well have been important. He was mumbling something, and addressing his hooves instead of his only fawn, but it was clear that the subject intimately involved Reginald.
The mumbling eventually subsided, and the little silver case, after some hesitation, was delivered with a shaking paw.
On turning it over in my paw, it seemed not only to be a proper Bond Street job, but one that was likely an old Bond Street job. I looked closer, and saw the initials "G.R.B." engraved on it. That explained it: this had belonged to my grand-sire, George Reginald Buckhorn. That's the one I've told you that ended up talking to trees, and had to be sent to a home for the well-off bewildered.
the case revealed a small pile of engraved cards. Engraved on
the cards was the strange device:
Indeed, it flashed through my mind the sheer number of times that the Sire had squared his hooves and, at the top of his lungs, run through the catalogue raisonne of my faults of intelligence and demeanor. I'll grant you the truth is a complete defense to libel, but still, a buck can take only so many home truths addressed to one's muzzle.
There was also an irony: Gran had always said that the Sire had had the Grand-Sire put away in the home, in a sort of coup-d'etat. She never held it against the Sire. No, she was a doe of rather abrupt directness: she was originally from Pittsburgh, smoked cigars, and the only time I ever heard her squabble with Mummy was after Mummy bought the Phillies. Anyway, Gran once said to me that she couldn't really handle somefur who brought potted plants to the dinner table and expected them to lead the conversation.
Still, the Grand-Sire was a gentle, harmless buck. I last saw him shortly before I was exiled, and he was happily on the polished parquet floor of his asylum, playing with a model train and supplying the requisite sound effects.
The Sire had put him away, and the Sire was no doubt afraid that he, in turn, was going to be sent away for his health to some place redolent with aspidistras.
That explained a lot of things, actually.
The Sire’s attitude throughout my childhood, for example.
He was afraid of me.
Looking at him now, he was shuffling his hooves, and refused to meet my eye. The blood stirred. Here, thought I to myself, was the point at which Reginald could get his own back. And who would say nay? Not Willow, to be sure, who had already banged a full dinner plate against his rack and engineered a massive food-throwing ranygazoo in his direction (soul-stirring, that), and certainly not Mummy, who was starting to tap a highly polished hoof against the floor and give her mate the suspicious eye. The time was ripe for a Quality Assortment of home truths to be delivered.
I did consider, though. Maybe the vote wasn't unanimous. What would Grace think?
Unlike Willow, Grace I think was a doe of more generous spirit, and would be more likely to see the champagne flute as half-full, rather than half-empty. The aforementioned home truths and dinner plate-upon-antler banging would be as a foreign tongue to her, and I don't think she'd take news of her mate exercising his age-old buck rights to challenge the leader of the herd very well.
I suspected this was not the last time I would have to contemplate both Grace's and Willow's point of view on a topic of interest. I wonder how she handled it. In any event, I know how she would want me to handle this, and to think was to act.
I stuck out a paw.
The Sire flinched and jumped slightly, rather surprising for a fur of his heavy girth and even heavier conscience. It took him a few beats to realize that the paw that was extended was flat and open, not clenched and rising. You'd think a buck with an Oxford Blue in boxing would instantly recognize the difference, but I suppose he was distracted.
In any event, after looking at it apprehensively for a few seconds, and studiously checking my phiz (which was open, placid and friendly), he hesitantly took the paw, briefly shook it, and then dropped paw, ears and muzzle, and deflated further. There was a further mumble, and he skittered off elsewhere.
Mummy pecked me on the cheek. "Well, that went better that I thought it might. You handled that well, Reggie. I told Josslyn that's how you would react, but he didn't believe me."
Didn't tell her how close it was, of course.
Watching Reggie at the card game the previous night, I learned something about my fellow Quaker.
He had deliberately baited his father as a method of bluffing him, causing Lord Josslyn to raise the ante higher and higher before they finally called each other. His straight flush beat what his father had, and I thought I might have to call an ambulance.
For either one of them.
Note to self: Do not play cards with Reggie if he’s serious about it.
Lord Josslyn and his wife left the room and we finished getting dressed. The service was due to start at ten o’clock, and so far everything was on time.
At five minutes to ten we stepped out and walked down the aisle to the altar, where we took up our positions and waited. Father Merino was there as well, wearing his best vestments. The same small hired string quartet that had performed at my wedding was tuning up.
Gradually the place started to fill; my in-laws and my beloved Inocenta, the Minkertons, Lady Gwladys . . .
Where was Lord Josslyn?
I looked around, and I saw him off in a corner by the rectory door, talking to the altarkit. I might be wrong, but I swear I saw money change paws.
But since Inocenta was cooing at me, I might have been distracted.
Architect, but the place was filling up fast.
At ten o’clock on the dot, the quartet struck up a prelude, and Rosie as maid of honor came down the aisle, looking quite nice in a cream dress. Gwladys, Vee Minkerton and my wife were all dressed similarly.
I realized I hadn’t gotten the bill for that yet.
While the string quartet played a few more tunes I stood near the altar (no sign of me bursting into flames yet, but then I’ve been here before) and I had the chance to look around.
Mami and Papi de Ciervos, Inocenta . . . Gwladys and Joss; is it just me, or does he look wistful all of a sudden?
Hang on. I’m gonna have to list by what side they’re sitting on, starting, of course, with the bride:
Franneleh (his helmet’s already resting on the front pew, so I know he’s around somewhere).
The Brushes. Kiki’s looking HUGE now, and Durian Face is spit and polish in tropic white. Wears it well. No sign of his helmet, though.
The Baron and the Baronin, holding paws.
Doc Meffit and Athena.
Vee Minkerton and her husband. They were last-second invites to give Franklin some moral support.
On the groom’s side . . .
Well, Reggie’s up here with Leslie, both looking dapper. Lover Boy’s looking a tad glassy-eyed, but that’s to be expected. I’d expect him to look empty-headed.
Anyway, his folks.
Mami and Papi.
Inocenta, making eyes at her Leslie-puppy and sighing at each wag of his tail.
Lodge. The poor little guy’s sitting all by himself, watching the place stolidly.
And more coming in, all dressed up. I recognized the local head of Imperial Distiller’s, almost in tears as he took a seat on Reggie’s side.
The gin salesfur was accompanied by a delegation of bartenders, several of whom were already dabbing at their muzzles with pawkerchiefs. Made sense; Reggie was their best customer for a couple years. I saw one pair of soft brown eyes just peering over the top of a pew, and recognized Fausti. Someone told me he had been concocting a special drink in honor of the wedding, but that the Militia had confiscated the recipe.
Looked like every girl from the Double Lotus, dressed to the nines. I hoped they would mind their manners.
The string quartet caught a signal from Merino, who moved to stand before the altar. The music started, the old traditional from Lohengrin, and everyone stood.
The doors at the end of the aisle opened.
Okay, Willow, deep breaths.
Seconds to go.
Don’t lock your knees! You’ll keel over for sure.
Everything’s in place.
Just beyond that door is my . . .
And the soft tap of a cane.
Oh God. Grace?
(Yes, it’s him.)
“Miss Fawnsworthy? Good Morning. I’m Inspector . . . Inspector . . achoo! Sdagg.”
Poor Da. I hope that one day he forgives me for this.
Why de blazez did zhe haff do uze addar of woses?
“Exguse me, Mizz Fawnzwordy . . . I’m zorry.”