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’s what certain types call the civilized hour for eating if you’ve slept in and missed breakfast, and don’t want to wait until lunch. Inocenta had suggested that we host the happy couple.
I really thought that the happy couple would still be too busy, well, being happy.
Judging by our run-in back in February, Reggie already had at least some idea of what to do.
So I called Lodge, half-expecting him to call back and say that the Buckhorns were still busy, and was pleasantly surprised when Willow came to the phone. She was delighted to accept, as she wanted to talk to me.
She also wanted to invite Rosie over.
I agreed, guessing why she wanted to talk to me.
Brunch was a wonderful light repast, and we all had a wonderful time talking. Rosie told us about a time she and Aunt Toni performed at a rather risqué wedding reception. The story had Reggie and me blushing, and the girls laughing.
Finally Willow said to Inocenta, “If it’s okay with you, Inocenta, Rosie and I need to talk to Leslie in private.”
My lovely wife smiled and nodded. “Si.”
I guess she didn’t mind, now that Willow’s safely married. It means that, technically, her ‘Leslie-puppy’ won’t be inclined to look in her direction.
Of course, I do know the penalty if I do stray.
“Fate worse than Death” doesn’t quite describe it, either.
We stepped into a side room and I said, “Let me guess, Willow: You’re quitting as my secretary.”
She snickered. “I can’t very well go bouncing around the world with you any more, Les. I mean, you have Inocenta now.”
I smiled at that. “Okay. Resignation accepted, Big Sister.”
“Thanks – Little Brother.”
Rosie applauded ironically. “Now tell him the rest of it, Willow.”
I looked at her quizzically. “The rest of it?”
Willow looked a bit sheepish, and she dug a paw into her purse. “Yeah. There’s something you didn’t know,” and with that she pulled a small leather case from her purse and opened it.
A card, bearing her photograph.
A badge, bearing the All-Seeing Eye.
The legend on the card and the badge both read Minkerton’s Detective Agency.
My ears went straight back as I stared at the picture on the card, then at Willow, then back at the card. It looked genuine, but could have been a practical joke.
Unless . . .
I started thinking about all the adventures Willow and I had had over the past couple of years.
I started to laugh. "So THAT explains Hodeermybad. And Cairo."
Willow took the badge case away from me and slipped it back into her purse. “And Monte Carlo, Les."
"Yeah. Y'know, I wonder if his stitches ever DID heal up."
"Could be worse. I could have shaved all his fur off. I considered that."
We all laughed at that. Rosie said, “I suspected it after she put all those shots into the portico doors.”
I had missed that, but now that I thought back to Hodeermybad, I recalled her being quite a good shot with a pistol.
“So,” and I eyed Rosie, “are you a Minkerton too?”
The buxom cheetah laughed. “No, Leslie. I’m just this gal, you know?”
“Lodge,” I said, “do you think you could ring up the kitchen and order some tea, please?”
“Very good, Sir. For yourself and Mrs. Buckhorn?”
I smiled at that. ‘Willow Buckhorn’ – the blood stirs. “Please order for three, Lodge. We have company coming.”
“Yes, Sir. Who, may I ask?”
“You may ask.” Seeing that no more information was forthcoming, Lodge merely slapped his tail against his trouser legs and shimmered off to make the call.
I went back to my (our!) room, and helped Willow change.
Funny how helping her change involved that carrousel again.
Cleaning up afterward, though, was – well, a very pleasant experience.
We presented ourselves, myself in a fine white linen and Willow in a very sharp sundress, to find Lodge waiting at the table. Each place was well-appointed with the best china service, and a steaming pot of fragrant Darjeeling and a tray of delicious treats stood near at paw.
I seated Willow and said, “It’s good etiquette for the guest to be seated before the host sits, isn’t Lodge?”
I nodded, and folded my arms across my chest. “Lodge?”
My beaver valet blinked at me, then looked at Willow, who smiled and nodded. After a pause, he gingerly took his seat and said, “I’m honored, Sir.”
“Nonsense, Lodge,” Willow said. “You’re part of the family.”
“Well, Madam,” he said quietly, “I had rather entertained the idea that, since my employer – “ he nodded in my direction “ – no longer requires my services, I had planned on turning in my notice – “
“No,” Willow said.
“But, Madam – “
"I said no, Lodge. Honestly, what would we do without you?"
That required support. "She's right, you know, Lodge." Of course she is.
Lodge looked down at his empty cup and took several breaths before saying, "Deeply gratifying, Sir. And Madam. But surely...?"
"You look pensive, Lodge," Willow said.
“Erm, yes. Madam does not intend for me to change diapers, does she?"
I raised a brow. "You've had issues with nappies, Lodge?"
"In the past, Sir. Before my employment with you."
"Well, dash it all, I should hope it was before me!"
"I would rather not get into details, Sir. The memory is still raw."
Willow suppressed a snicker, and my heart went out to Lodge. Seeing as his previous employer was the elderly Count de Conejo, I'll BET the memory's still raw.
“Be that as it may, Lodge,” Willow said. “Reggie and I have discussed this, and we feel that a full household requires a butler. Would you be interested in that?”
Lodge blinked again, and I could see his flat tail quivering. He actually seemed to be in the grip of some emotions, and I was startled to see that we had managed to pierce his usually impenetrable sang-froid.
Finally Lodge spoke. “I . . . I am honored, Sir, Madam. I accept.”
I said, “Capital, Lodge! Now, let’s have tea, shall we? I’ll pour.”
I was gratified and honored that Mr. and Mrs. Buckhorn felt so highly of me that they would consider promoting me to butler, who is naturally the head of the household in the scheme of things.
It meant that I would have an entire staff under my supervision, something I felt more than prepared to handle after years of being Mr. Buckhorn’s valet.
The alternative, I was certain, was nappy duty.
I suppressed a shudder, and enjoyed tea with my employers.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, just perfect for strolling in the gardens that made up part of the tropical ambience at the hotel.
Josslyn sat in the shade beside me and grumbled at the sight of his son and daughter-in-law playing tennis. Both Willow and Reggie were enjoying themselves in a friendly game. I was amazed at their energy, considering.
The two lovebirds took a break and walked back to our table, arm in arm. Refreshments had been set aside for them at an adjoining table, and after tossing back a tall glass of lemonade with ice Reggie sat down. “My word, that’s thirsty work. Willow’s quite the player, Mummy.” He smiled at his bride, who was fanning herself.
Josslyn grumbled, and Reggie shifted in his seat to look at him.
“That reminds me, Father. I had the chance to have a talk with Baron von Kojote yesterday.”
This elicited no response.
“You were busy meting out some rough justice to Andre – something for which everyone heartily approved, by the way.”
A certain grim smile flickered across my mate’s features. According to reports, Josslyn had pursued the unfortunate malefactor the width of Casino Island (not a very great distance, but considering my husband’s size and age, far enough) until Andre had attempted to take a very long run off a very short pier.
The tattered wine list had been hurled after him and Josslyn had returned to the hotel, looking very winded but excessively pleased with himself. His reappearance in the dining room had been greeted with a standing ovation.
But no twenty-one éclair salute.
“So. What did you and that Saxon satyr have to talk about?”
“He’s Bavarian, actually. We discussed his father-in-law’s ranch, Father, and the idea of perhaps arranging a business contact between Buckhorn’s and the Baronin’s family.”
Joss brushed this away irritably. "What does Buckhorn's want with beef, boy?"
“Nothing, Father, but the Baronin Sophia’s family – specifically her Uncle Roberto – owns several farms. Wheat farms.”
An eyebrow quirked.
“And they’re looking for new buyers.”
My husband adjusted his monocle, sat up and looked at his fawn.
“And the Baron told me he would write her uncle to see if they’re interested in contracting with us.”
Josslyn surveyed Reggie as if seeing him for the first time, then his eyes narrowed. “Thinking to supplant me already, boy?”
Reggie looked genuinely surprised.
“Supplant you, Father? Good Lord, no! You’ve been running the business for years, while what I know about it could dance on the head of the proverbial pinhead, with room to spare for an angelic square-dance.” Reggie shook his head. “If I’m to inherit the company from you - *many* years from now, might I add – I need to learn as much as possible, don’t I?”
Again, that measuring stare, and a grudging nod.
“Harrumph. Your mother and I are leaving tomorrow for Britain. Report to your office in London by no later than the first of July, ready to start.”
He stuck out a paw.
Reggie took it. “I’ll be there, Father. Now, Willow, another set before supper?”
I walked along the dock toward the plane with Gwladys. Their luggage was already being loaded aboard, and Reggie and his father were talking.
It looked like things were on the right track.
(Thank the Lord.)
(You said it, Grace.)
“So,” Gwladys said in a low, conversational tone, “I suppose you two will be staying in London?”
“I suppose so,” I replied. “We’ll start cabling ahead for house agents later today, I think. Something nice, with plenty of room.”
“Yes.” I smiled and leaned in close. “Grandma.”
The popeyed look Gwladys gave me was wonderful. “Are you sure?” she whispered.
“I’m hopeful,” I said. “I’ll know for sure around the first of the month when I see Dr. Meffit. I’ll tell Reggie then, of course.”
My mother-in-law laughed. “You’d have to tell him sometime. After a while the evidence is hard to hide.”
I kissed her on the cheek and we hugged before they boarded. “Good-bye. Mother.”
She grinned. “Au revoir, Willow.”
I walked up to Lord Josslyn and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Eh?” He turned around and I hugged him before he could react.
He returned the embrace a bit awkwardly, then shook paws with Reggie and climbed aboard.
Reggie kissed his mother, and soon we had to back away as the mooring lines were cast off.
We waved and watched the Clipper move away from the dock, and my wife –
Great Scott, my wife!
What a WONDERFUL word that is, especially when associated with Willow.
Anyway, she said with a wistful sigh, “’And they all lived happily ever after.’”
I smiled at her. “You know, I like the sound of that. But what about people like Andre?”
“Oh. How about ‘and the people who mattered lived happily ever after?’”