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## November 2004 ##
Incidents in the life of Inspector Franklin Stagg
as reported by Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush
by EO Costello
Illustration by Kjartan
11 December 1934 1135
Well, ya can believe it's been an awful quiet two weeks 'round here, ever since th' Chief blew up at me, Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush, an' my boss, Detective Inspector Franklin Stagg. I mean, okeh, Stagg 'n me, we busted a few guys that had knocked over th' Sun King Casino, and, yeah, we showed up the security there real public-like. But it ain't fair ta stick us in th' freezer, 'specially since that lady skunk an' her two confed'rates 'fessed up.
'course, wit' things bein' quiet 'round here, off-season 'n all, just a whole lotta routine paperwork, an' lil' stuff that I usually fix up. A few smash 'n grab robberies, a few knife fights down near the docks, mostly stuff I know 'bout, that I don't gotta bother Stagg 'bout. Matter of fact, Stagg's been workin' from home, an' I didn't know where that wuz.
One thing 'round here ain't changed. Th' Chief's secretary, Cicely, she's real people. I mean, real easy on the eyes an' all that, like bunnies usually is, but she's a good kid, an' real nice. She poked her lil' pink nose inta the 'tective's office this mornin', an' ast how I wuz doin'.
"Warmer 'n Siberia, leastways. Chief still wanna trade us up fer an old typewriter?"
She makes with a giggle. "I'd give it another week or so, Sergeant. I'm sure after Christmas, he'll forget about it. I hear he's going to have something nice in his Christmas stockings..."
I'll just bet. An' I know what's fillin' up them stockin's, and it ain't no oranges 'n chocolate, neither. "Say, I wanna give some paperwork to th' Inspector, an' talk wit' him 'bout somethin', but I don't know where he's at. I mean, you know what's what 'round here, Ciss. Where do I find 'im?"
"Oh! He's just a few blocks from here, Sergeant. He's renting a room at Printers' Lane, from Mr. Nerzmann. He's hasn't invited me there, though." She giggles 'gain, an' blushes a bit. Kiddin' 'round, course. I think.
"Thanks, Ciss. Tell th' front desk I'm out talkin' ta Stagg. You can tell th' Chief I got carried off by Keyho-Raha-Raha. That'll make his day."
11 December 1934 1150
They calls it Printers' Lane, 'cause that's where they used ta print up th' newspapers an' other 'ficial stuff, back in th' old days. Mosta that's gone elsewhere on Meetin' Island, so Printers' Lane got taken over by bookstores. Serious stuff, usually, not th' stuff they sell ta th' tourists. Two, t'ree story buildin's, brick, an' some shady palms. Quiet 'nuff that ya can hear the pages turnin'. Nerzmann I seen oncet or twice. He's one of them old-time Germans, went out to th' colonies, an' left in the 1914 War to go other places. He ended up here, an' started buyin' out all th' old libraries the Brits left. Trades lotta books 'round the whole Pacific, so he's gotta damn good used bookstore, prolly best 'tween Frisco an' Shanghai. Somehow, I ain't surprised Stagg's livin' there.
Nerzmann is standin' on a stepstool when I enters, swishin' his minkie tail, an' lookin' fer a book in a bookcase. He blinks when I ask him fer Stagg, but then he makes wit' a little bow, an' points out a door I sure wouldn'ta seen, 'tween two bookcases, an' under another, in sorta an alcove. "I am pleased to see you, Herr Brush. I have been told many things about you. You are expected." I knocks on' the door, an' I hear Stagg tellin' me ta come in.
Sorta funny lil' room. On th' one paw, I don't think it ain't bigger'n 'bout fifteen by fifteen feet, an' it's got just a lil' sink an' onea them pull-an-let-go WC jobs, an' with an old army cot, a wood writin' table wit' chair, an' a leather chair, ain't much floor space, neither. Thing is, it's gotta small workin' fireplace, an old Asian rug, an' a kinda nice old-time pressed-tin ceilin'. Leather chair's right by th' fireplace, too. It ain't much, but it does feel like home.
Stagg smiles. Even 'lone like this, he's wearin' his suit 'n tie. Habit hard ta break, I guess. He waves me over ta th' leather chair. "Well, you've finally tracked me to my lair, Sergeant. Welcome. It may be small, but it's a bargain when you consider the side benefits, such as peace and quiet, free access to all the books in the store, even after hours, and last but not least, Frau Nerzmann's apfelstrudel."
Speakin' of which, there's a soft knock on th' door, an' Frau Nerzmann herself pads in, wit' a small tray, an' some tea an' the apple strudel. Which, I gotta say, is worth th' pricea rent on its own. I hands over ta Stagg th' paperwork I brung, which he looks over. "You have something else on your mind, Sergeant. I mean, aside from whether to ask for another slice of apfelstrudel."
"Yeah, well, my kid brother, Frankie? He's a badge over on th' Main Island, in my home village. Somethin' goin' on there, real unpleasant. Old lady there been gettin' these idols, an', well, they're all messed up 'n that. Got her scared real bad. Frankie, he knows 'bout you, of course, an' he wants that we should, y'know, ask 'round. Wants ta keep it on th' Q.T., though. Sez he's got good reasons."
Stagg raises a 'brow. "Did he give you any hint at all why he wants this quiet?"
"Dunno, but it ain't like Frankie. I mean, he's like me. Y'know, talktative."
"I hadn't noticed, Sergeant."
He was kiddin'. I think.
11 December 1934 1500
It ain't far, as th' bird flies, from Meetin' Island over ta th' Main Island, but gettin' ta my native village is a hike, 'specially with Stagg's busted hoof, so we took it slow 'n easy. Most of th' villages, if ya look at a map, are down near th' water, but my village is sorta perched on onea the mountains near th' Falls, offen the south parta the Island. Name translates out as "Mist-Path-Village." Goin' inta th' village, you pass by a few things, 'cludin' a sorta spooky, silent head carved outta volcanic rock. Ain't onea them modern things, it's the real McCoy. They say it's 'bout 1500 years old. Folks just refer to it as "Stone-Watcher-Village-Guardian."
Even though I'm dressed like a Euro, folks know me, so they ain't surprised, but I don't think hardly nobody in my village seen a deer 'fore, so most sorta peep outta the huts, with a worried look. Anyhow, I see Frankie at th' end of th' village street.
"Sir? Don't mean ta be rude or nothin', but ya mind if I speak th' local lingo? Might make folks rest easy."
"I understand, Sergeant. After all, I'm merely a visitor."
("Peace be unto you, brother-mine. Problem rests hut which?")
("Unto you in return peace, brother-mine. In hut of Elder Urok-daughter-Anok problem rests. Wise-One comfort to Urok-daughter-Anok is giving. Is existing beside you outlander?")
("True for telling, brother-mine. Show unto brother-thou and outlander hut of Urok-daughter-Anok.")
Frankie leads me 'n Stagg inta onea the huts, near the end. There's some wailin' an' cryin' that ya can hear outside, an' it gets louder when we gets in. Urok is sittin' in one corner, backed up 'gainst the wall, an' she's shiverin' an' cryin'. There's a preistess kneelin' down beside her, talkin' real quiet like. Wearin' the whole feathers-an-fur-paint thing.
("Peace be unto you, Wise One. Being myself Karok-son-Karok. Being this creature with horns outlander superior myself is.")
Th' priestess looks up, sees me, an' nods, an' gives a long, searchin' look at Stagg, who removes his hat, an' gives a lil' bow.
("Unto you in return peace, kin-child. Additionally unto thou peace, creature with horns outlander.")
("Being in distress Urok-daughter-Anok. O Wise One, explanation distress?")
Th' priestess nods, an' walks over 'cross the room, where there's a sheet. Unner the sheet there's a bunch of five idols. Urok, seein' the idols, wails again, an' huddles. I bends down an' looks. Four idols are all banged up an' slashed. Only the fifth idol is whole. Stagg musta noticed somethin', cause I turned kinda pale seein' the fifth one.
("Beg from thou, Wise One, permission speak creature with horns outlander in outlander tongue?")
("Permission granted unto thou.")
"Th' four idols here, they're spirits representin' sorta a hearth spirit, ya know, somethin' protectin' the home, an' that. Fifth idol, well, that's a death spirit."
("Underside idols examine thou, Karok-son-Karok.")
I does. ("Fire spirits damnation author is.") Stagg sorta looks over my shoulder, an' sees what's written, well, gouged, on each of th' bases. "SPOTO."
"I ain't gonna repeat th' word out loud, sir. If ya take my meanin', it ain't a nice word ta describe a villager."
("Explained I have unto creature with horns outlander inscription unclean.")
"Is it the inscription itself, Sergeant, that's the problem, or the implicit threats in the idols themselves?"
"Off-paw, I'd say th' idols, but th' word, well, ya know, that's gonna hurt like hell."
"Could you ask the priestess for permission to examine the idols out in the light, and to take rubbings?"
("Beg from thou, O Wise One, permission examine inscription unclean outside of hut creature with horns outlander.")
("Permission granted unto creature with horns outlander.")
So Stagg took the idols, an' went out inta the light. I spent about the next half-hour or so tryin' to comfort Urok, tellin' her that the creature-with-horns-outlander (sorry, Stagg) would help her, an' he meant good. After a while, I guess she believed me, an' onea her other kinfolk took over the comfortin'.
Stagg was sittin' on a rock, his stick laid out next ta him. He'd taken a few sheets outta his notebook, an' rubbed a pencil 'gainst the underside, where th' words were carved. He was comparin' the sheets, an' lookin' at th' idols.
"Sergeant, do they produce idols like this in your village?"
"Sure, all th' time. Mostly for home, though. Why?"
"I've noticed a few things. For one, the work here is quite finished. You can see that the wood is stained, even on the underside, and there's been finishing wax applied. For another, whoever did this tried, but failed, to obscure some sort of maker's mark on the underside. If you compare the different rubbings here, you'll see different parts survived the mutilation. Put them together, it creates sort of a whorl pattern, like a nautilus."
"Hunh. Well, yeah, I know that mark. One of th' villagers, he's a professional wood-turner. He does work fer th' tourist trade. Uses th' village pattern an' all that. He's down over on Casino Island."
"See if we can have permission to take the idols with us."
("Beg unto thou, O Wise One, permission remove idols unclean need.")
("Permission granted unto thou.")
Stagg started wrappin' up th' bundles in th' sheet when th' priestess touched my shoulder. ("Creature with horns outlander diviner is?")
("Wise One, creature with horns outlander diviner in culture outlander. Divination evil deeds profession is, like unto same Karok-son-Karok.")
Th' preistess looked at Stagg 'gain, who was finishin' up th' knot. ("Creature with horns sad is additionally lame is. Explanation sadness also lameness?")
("Wise One, evil men murder kinfolk, murder mate, murder children creature with horns outlander. Evil men likewise cripple creature with horns outlander, cast out creature with horns outlander native land.")
("Explanation is wound scar evil spirit creature with horns outlander. Fortunate is idols unclean nullatory effect. Go thou in peace, Karok-son-Karok. Creature with horns outlander blessing has.") She whispered somethin' else ta me, an' made a lil' gesture, too. Told her I'd do it.
12 December 1934 0810
Things wuz slow in th' office 'gain, so Stagg 'n me had breakfast at his place. He had th' idols laid out inna row.
"The whole thing seems so motiveless, Sergeant. Who in the village would want to do this?"
"I gotta hunch it ain't a villager, Sir. Prolly gotta do with th' water project. See, there's a buncha small-scale buildin' they're doin' ta firm up the fresh water supply on th' Main Island. They're buildin' a holdin' pond on th' side of th' mountain, few hunnerd yards outside th' village, an' part of th' pipe system, it's gotta come down. Urok's hut is onna wedge a flat land, right where the line needs ta go if they wanna practical one. So they needs it, but they ain't cutta deal yet, wit' either bidder."
"There's one Euro-backed firm, Trans-Pacific, that's got the contract right now. Local firm, Island Hydro, they been competin' for water rights. Stiff fight in the Althing over it, 'specially givin' a Euro outfit contract rights. MacAllister's th' local heada Trans-Pacific, an' Tom Urocyon, he's th' guy behind Island Hydro, he's from th' village down-slope. Hate each other's guts. Besides, people talk in th' village. Folks look 'round. They'd know somethin' was up. Any villager did it, well...all I can say is, things'd get real lonely real fast."
12 December 1934 0945
We wuz on th' way over ta th' woodshop in a water-taxi, when Stagg, who had th' idols wrapped up in his lap, turns ta me.
"You can refuse to answer this, of course, but why are you called Orrin and Karok at the same time? I was under the impression that, well, you followed Euro customs."
"I do. An' I folla my village customs, same time. No big deal. When I'm on the job, I'm Orrin Francis Xavier Brush, just like it says down at th' registry office, an' how they know me at St. Paul's. In th' village, I'm Karok. When Urok goes shoppin' off-island, she's Mary Margaret Redtail. Puzzled th' hell outta my great-great-grandpa, when he jumped ship offen his whaler back 'round hunnerd an' twenty years ago. He figgered though, he got the besta both worlds, so he stuck with it."
"Quite unusual. I was led to believe the customs, well, relied on imagination."
"Yeah, well, y'know, we're up in a small village, an' kinda isolated. One thing leads t'another. Folks take it serious-like, lot more'n others. You ask me, I figger folks like th' comfort a history gives, nevernomind 'bout how it comes 'bout."
"Another question you can refuse to answer: Spoto?"
"I didn't wanna say nuthin' front of my kin, see? That's th' word the Brits would use ta describe, y'know, th' common folk. Denigratin', like. Word hung 'round, an' it's a damn good way ta start a fight in some parts. My village, well, they sorta view it as an attack on th' soul. No fists, just tears. From most of 'em, anyhow."
Stagg just sorta shakes his head, sad-like. Don't say nuthin', just looks down at his hooves.
12 December 1020
There's a lotta places on Casino that sell knicknacks an' other stuff ta th' tourists. Some real trash, stuff I bet gets shoved in attics. Other stuff, well, it's near works o' art. I'm biased, natch, but Stan Blackpaw (as th' Euros know him), is th' best I know on th' Island, an' he makes a good livin'. Bit of a rush, right 'bout now, with Christmas comin' up, but he sees me, so he gets a clerk ta deal wit' th' customers, an' goes up ta talk.
("Peace unto you, villager-brother. Myself offer thou service?")
("Unto you in return, peace, villager-brother. Provide-thou respect assistance myself and creature with horns outlander. Identify respect idols these?") I unwraps th' bundle an' shows Stan th' five idols.
("Fire spirits damnation author is! Grevious insult myself and likewise kinfolk actions these!")
("Idols products these thy paws?")
("Unclean emphasis vandal-blasphemer obscure him sigil mine. Affirmative products these paws mine. Desire illness grevious vandal-blasphemer suffer. Purpose vandal-blasphemy knowest thou, villager-brother?")
("Myself, thy villager-brother, answer seeks with creature with horns outlander. Idols these sent Urok-daughter-Anok. Village-sister same emphasis grief emphasis pain.")
Stan looks real unhappy at this. Urok ain't his family, but in a small village, that don't make no difference. I mean, she might as well be his aunt or even mother. "Inspector? What can I do to help you?"
Stagg's been lookin' over th' stock, th' various idols on th' shelves. "Well, if you could consult your records, if you keep them, and tell me who might have purchased five or more idols, in that combination, that would help. I am also interested in these idols you have on the shelf. Is this your village pantheon?"
Stan tells 'nother clerk ta run down th' books an' check up like Stagg says. "Yes, Inspector. That's "Hearth-Shield," and "Soul-Harvest," which you've already seen. The others are "Newborn-Shield," "Table-Plenty," "Fortune-Plenty," "Watchful-Law," "Fisherman-Shield" and "Mother-Compassion." We, ah, keep "Mate-Union" below the counter, for obvious reasons."
"How interesting. Your figure of Justice has her eyes open. And her ears, if she's actually blowing that conch horn. Different from my experience."
"Ah, yes, here we are. Well, we've had a number of sales of multiple items at once...I'm afraid Mate-Union is our runaway best seller, but not many have bought at least four "Hearth-Shield" and one "Soul-Harvest." In fact, only two in the last year. Hmph. MacAllister and Urocyon. ("Soul-Harvest both take emphasis expeditiously, Karok-son-Karok.")
Stagg rewraps th' idols, an' starts ta stroll out. "Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Blackpaw. I'm sorry to trouble you with such a distasteful matter."
("Pleasure emphasis mine service to thou, creature with horns outlander.") "The pleasure is mine, Inspector."
("Emphasis thankfulness to thou, villager-brother. Respect additional service render villager-brother?")
Stan looks at th' note I passes him. ("Emphasis affirmative performance service, villager-brother.")
13 December 1934 1745
Me 'n Stagg hadda take care of some minor stuff, 'gain, but nothin' that kept us real off-kilter. So today, we hunted down MacAllister an' Urocyon.
MacAllister wuz at his club on Casino. Didn't like gettin' his lunch disturbed, 'specially in front of th' other club members. Glared at us like only them Aberdeen terries can.
"Yes, I bought some idols, and yes, in those amounts. What of it, damn your eyes! It isn't illegal to buy idols now, is it? Even that one with the two villagers..."
"We've had reports, Mr. MacAllister, that idols similar to the ones you purchased have been used to intimidate a villager near where you have a water project on the Main Island. May I please see your idols?"
"No. I've shipped them off, and no, I didn't keep receipts. Friends overseas who like that sort of rubbish. I don't have time for that Spoto mumbo-jumbo. Go see that idiot Urocyon. He's Spoto to the core, probably did this to spook the Spotos to his side. Now, if you're through playing anthropologists, buzz off. I'm going to finish my lunch."
All I can say, damn good thing Stagg picked that moment ta stand on my foot, 'cause I woulda fed MacAllister his lunch, all right, wit'out usin' his mouth. Urocyon wadn't much better. We found him at his office.
"Sent overseas as presents to suppliers, gentlemen. They're high-quality items, at least from an artistic sense. As to the religious sense, it's what the natives use to gull dim-witted tourists. More power to them, say I, if they can turn a good shilling from it. I imagine that outlander MacAllister is behind it. Not a subtle man, him. Just like him to frighten the natives. Of course, the people from your village missed their calling, Sergeant. They should be actors. Particularly that one who dresses up in the feathers and fur paint. "
Yep. You guessed it. Stagg stood on my other foot. Don't blame him, neither.
13 December 1934 1955
Two helpin's of Frau Nerzmann's apfelstrudel didn't help my mood none. Stagg hisself was sittin' on his cot, starin' at the row of idols on his desk.
"Great. Got two punks, neither showin' no respect fer my village. Both coulda done it. Both 'round the village, both got reasons to scare poor Mrs. Urok. Wish I knew how I could figger one of 'em was lyin'. Shoulda bought a "Watchful-Law" from Stan when we wuz in his shop. Coulda ast her for guidance."
Stagg puts his chin in his paws, an' leans on th' desk. Nothin' fer about two minutes in th' room, 'ceptin th' fire in the fireplace cracklin'. Then Stagg speaks up. "You know, Sergeant, you're right. We can, and should, ask for guidance. Do two things for me tomorrow, when you get into the office. The first is to telephone MacAllister and Urocyon, and tell them that I want to question them, at the village, around sunset tomorrow. Tell them to meet me there, at that large stone figure at the village entrance."
"What's the second thing?"
"Ah, that's for you to figure out, Sergeant. I need you to figure it out without telling me exactly what you're doing. I don't want to tip off either MacAllister or Urocyon."
13 December 1934 2340
("Story is, mate-precious. Myself emphasis puzzled. Respectful superior myself gives riddle. Mate-precious assistance myself?")
("Silly is mate-precious. Stated you superior Watchful-Law consult?")
("Pleasant silly is mate-precious. Bed portion myself direction mate-precious warm for .myself. Myself item from trunk fetch.")
When she brung it back, I knew what Stagg was up ta.
("Emphasis gratitude mate-precious. Myself favour to mate-precious?")
("Emphasis care mate-precious for mate-precious same. Dread for myself mate-precious hurt.")
Not much ya can say ta that, 'ceptin' a hug.
14 December 1934 1615
I had a pretty good look at what wuz doin', since I wuz behind "Stone- Watcher- Village- Guardian," which kept me outta sight. Pretty much bang on time comes MacAllister 'n Urocyon (glarin' at each other, nasty-like). Stagg comes limpin' along 'bout a minute after they gets there. Everyone, 'cludin' Stagg, is surprised ta see th' priestess there. I fixed that, ta give th' show a bita zip.
"I've been thinking over your statements to me of yesterday, gentlemen. I've come to the necessary conclusion that one of you is lying."
"What?! Damn your insolence, sir! Blasted cheek."
"That's a very rash statement, Inspector. What's your evidence for this?"
"Well, both of you certainly had access to the requisite number of idols, both of you knew the victim, and both of you had access to the village. I find it significant that you, Mr. MacAllister, freely used a term of denigration in my presence, the same one inscribed on each of the idols."
"What? What? Don't tell me you're going to believe these dashed Sp...natives?"
"Is there something you are looking for, Inspector?"
"Justice, Mr. Urocyon."
Well, I'd prepared all day fer this. Didn't smoke no cigarettes. I hefted the conch horn th' wife gave me last night, took a deep breath, an' sounded it real good. Nice, ringin' tone, got a good echo offen th' mountain.
The priestess, she's got a stone face. Stagg started a bit, but watched th' two boyos real close. Now, MacAllister, he sorta whirls around this way 'n that, lookin' puzzled. "What's that bloody row?"
Urocyon, he turns real pale. He looks right at Stone-Watcher-Village-Guardian, an' gulps a few times.
"Something on your conscience, Mr. Urocyon? It seems you have more faith than you let on."
MacAllister ain't havin' none of this. "Damned foolishness. You've been out in the sun, sir. Turned your brains soft. If there's nothing else, I'm heading back to the landing." An' he stomps off, mutterin' under his breath. Stagg watches him go.
Urocyon recovers, but it's pretty clear he's not goin' easy. "Nice trick, Inspector. You'll never prove a thing in court. My lawyers will throw this out fast as you know."
"I never said that I was going to have charges brought. I've resolved this to my satisfaction. There's nothing quite so distasteful as the use of offensive actions against a fellow native, Mr. Urocyon. You hoped to incite fear and distrust against a foreigner using the means you knew would most cause pain to these people. And for your own benefit. Be that as it may. You can go, Mr. Urocyon. I have no further use for you. Nor, I suspect, do these villagers."
Urocyon looks at Stagg, an' then at the priestess. She just turns, slow-like, an' walks away inta th' dark, toward th' village. Stagg hisself starts walkin' down ta th' landing, leavin' Urocyon alone in th' dark.
17 December 1934 1100
They found him, muzzle up, in his office, today. Face kinda twisted, starin' up at th' ceilin'. The boys from th' meat wagon brought him to Dr. Meffit's joint, where he did his pokin' an' proddin' of th' remains. Stagg sent me ta watch.
"Well, no issue here. Aneurysm. You can see it right here. Aorta burst, death in less than a minute. Condition must have been present for some time, judging from the heart condition. Not a particularly pleasant way to die, of course, hence the facial expression." He could see I wuz lookin' doubtful. "Oh, no, you're not thinking..? Please, Sergeant, I had enough of that from the ambulance attendants. Ominious whispers about vengeance and all. The evidence is there, plain as day. A first-year medical student could spot it."
"If ya say so, Doc."
"Hrmph. Well, I'm going to indicate natural causes and an aneurysm on the death certificate. You can bring one of your pantheon to testify at the coroner's hearing, if you like."
20 December 1934 2300
Rained nearly all day an' night, but th' full moon came up just as th' clouds were breakin' up. Stagg 'n me were right by Stone-Watcher-Village-Guardian. Stagg had th' five idols in th' bundle. The priestess, in her fur paint 'n feathers, padded up ta us.
"I think it appropriate that I return these to you, so that they may be destroyed in an appropriate manner." ("Creature with horns outlander emphasis respectful request Wise One accept idols unclean destroy same manner rite appropriate.")
("Destruction myself idols unclean promise.") "She'll take care o' it."
Th' wind was pickin' up a bit, rustlin' th' priestess' feathers an' tail. Could see 'em real clear in th' moonlight.
("Knowledge myself spirit-wounds thine, creature with horns outlander. Grief-rendering mate-loss, child-loss, kin-loss alike are. Likewise grief-rendering village-loss is. Emphasis deep regret myself negatory thyself heal. Emphasis respect thy acceptance comfort totem race creature with horns gift village thyself.")
She handed over ta Stagg somethin' Stan Blackpaw had worked on all day fer five whole days. "Mother-Compassion" idol. Only with a doe, cradlin' a fawn.
It had been rainin' hard, so who's ta say what on Stagg's face wuz raindrops, an' what weren't.