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## November 2004 ##

"Telephone Inspector Stagg!"
Incidents in the life of Inspector Franklin Stagg
 as reported by Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush
& edited 

by EO Costello

"Intermezzo Affettuoso"

24 December 1934 2305

It ain't hard t'tell when it's Christmas, 'specially 'round Casino Island. Power comp'ny has a helluva time keepin' up wit' the demand fer lights, an' all the casinos 'n hotels are gearin' up fer Christmas dinner. The Roast Beef of Ol' England sorta made a comeback here, guess. Lotsa noise, 'n bustle 'bout, wit' last minnit shoppin'.

On th' Main Island, and, 'course, where th' natives hang their hats, it's sorta a quiet day. In my village, up in th' hills, it's just 'nother day. 'course, me 'n th' wife, we live down near th' Euros, so natch th' cubs are waitin' fer Father Christmas, wit' his team a' seahorses drawin' his half-shell.

Got t'thinkin', though. My boss, Detective Inspector Franklin Stagg, he ain't got no family. Them Reds back where he comes from, they killed 'em all, when he got 'way. First Christmas he's had, where he ain't in some cell, in a few years. He don't hardly know anyone 'round here, leastways no one who'll give 'im th' cheer o' th' season.

Now th' wife, she's smart. I ain't t'proud t'say she's th' brains of th' outfit. She sees me lookin' out our winder, to'ard Meetin' Island most of th' aft'noon, an' she knows what I'm thinkin'. Right after dinner, she plunks down a basket. I can smells th' bread in there, an' there's a vac bottle, too. I got th' hint.

I finds out recent-like that Stagg got hisself a room in an ol' bookshop, at Number 4, Printer's Lane. Sure 'nough, there's a soft light outta the shop, an' I sees ol' Jacob Nerzmann talkin' with a fella lookin' fer a last minnit present. Herr Nerzmann sees me enterin' the place, sorta smiles over his pince-nez, an' goes back t'showin' some pretty book. Me, I finds where th' door t'Stagg's room is, though I gotta remember th' lil' alcove it's in. Gives it a knock, an' I hears Stagg 'knolwedge it.

Th' room's kinda dark. Ain't no light on, 'ceptin' what comes from th' fireplace. Stagg's in th' leather chair, pulled up right to th' fireplace, an' he's sorta leanin' on one paw, starin' at th' fire. He sees it's me, tho', an' he uses his walkin' stick to get up, an' turn up th' gas a bit. He makes with his paw, lettin' me have th' chair, while he goes over t'his cot. Ain't much room in th' place, see, but he waves off sittin' in th' chair.

"Th' missus, she figgered on fixin' up a dinner for ya, sir. I mean, hotels can't do everythin'."

Stagg makes wit' onea his small smiles, an' looks in th' basket. Takes out th' bread, the bottle, an' a small bara Cadbury's. He opens up th' vac bottle, gives a sniff, an' looks sorta nostalgic.

"Pea soup. It's been quite some time since I've had it. Do you mind, Sergeant?"

"Naw, go 'head. I'm fixed up 'ready."

Stagg pulls outta small bowl an' a spoon from his sink, an' pours some soup inta it, an' tucks inta it, wit' th' bread. Gotta say, first time I've actually seen him eat wit' any sorta feelin' since I knows 'im.

"Dunno who talked ta th'Chief, but th' Christmas bonus came OK. Wife's already got it figgered, tho. Three growin' cubs 'n all. Every time I turns my back, onea them's grown an inch."

"That's always the way it is with children, Sergeant. Yes, the Chief's secretary came by with mine, last night. For some reason, she wanted to do the delivery herself. I don't know who was our advocate, Sergeant, but I do have my suspicions."

I wuz gonna ask Stagg what he wuz gonna do wit' his bonus, when I looks at his right paw. I can sees in th' gaslight he's wearin' a plain gold weddin' ring. Decided I ain't gonna butt in, but somehow, he sees what I'm lookin' at.

"A replacement. Mine was taken from me. Probably melted down to finance world revolution. I actually bought two. The other is next to the idol Mr. Blackpaw made."

I looks up. Light's good enough, I sees th' carvin' Stan made, wit' a doe protectin' a fawn, th' one th' priestess from my village gave 'im. There's a small gold ring, a doe's ring, right next t'it.

Stagg finishes up his bowl. (Cleaned it out, too, wit' th' bread.) "I was thinking, you know. This is the first time I've celebrated Christmas without any snow. Even when I was in prison during the last three Christmases, I could see snow on the outside bars. It's almost another world."

Stagg's searchin' fer another few words, so I keeps my muzzle shut. After 'bout two, three minnits, he looks up at me.

"There are times, Sergeant, when I wonder how you put up with me. Or how anyone does, for that matter. With all of my queer moods, and all. Have the constables settled on a nickname for me, yet?"

Helluva question t'ask. "Don't worry, Sergeant, you're a confidential source. Long ago, back during the war, the men in my unit referred to me as 'St. Frankie of Ass-Sit.' One of the more talented plane mechanics made up a stained glass window, in which I featured prominently with a bottle of seltzer water and a disapproving look. Blasphemous humour. He was labeled a genius by the rest of the unit, of course. That was my Christmas present to me, 18 years ago today."

Made me laugh, which wuz good, 'cause it got me outta answerin' th' question. Current front-runnin' name is "Ol' Black Magic." Stagg, though, looks serious-like.

"It's not been easy, getting used to a strange land. No matter how hard I try, I can't let go of home. Nor Diana and the girls. There isn't a night when I don't see them in my dreams. Never a word. Just a look of deep, questioning sadness. It's a constant fight against despair, Sergeant. I look back on what we worked on the last few months, and I think to myself: why are these fights over such meaningless things?"

Stagg sorta sighs, and rubs his eyes wit' his paws. "Well, I don't think you came here to see me wallow in self-pity. There's nothing like a lecture from a repentant sinner to drive the furs out of a church. I wear the chains I forged in life, as the man wrote, and I have no one to blame but myself."

"If there's one thing that I have been grateful for, Sergeant, it's you. It's not probable that I could have designed a subordinate who could give me as much loyalty and assistance as you've had..."

"Hell, sir, it's my job."

"I'm not referring to you in a professional sense, Sergeant. Competent professionals can be found anywhere. It's a matter of training. I think those master detectives we read about in the paperback novels take their assistants for granted. But someone who can truly give moral and emotional support, well...if I have seen far in our cases, Sergeant, it's because I've stood on a giant's shoulders. All of which is a pompous and long-winded way of saying 'thank you.' I don't have a more tangible means of expressing it other than a paw-shake, I'm afraid..."

"Works fer me." He takes my paw, an' gives it a good, firm shake.

Th' clock in' the shop strikes th' half hour, an' Stagg looks out.

"Well, I should probably get along, Sergeant. Even if there's only a half-dozen or fewer, Father Merino will be holding midnight Mass over at St. Anthony's. Please thank Mrs. Brush for the Christmas meal, it was very thoughtful of her."

Stagg shrugs on his jacket, puts on his hat, an' takes up his stick, turnin' down th' gas. We walks outta th' shop, an' down Printer's Lane. Ain't no one 'bout, just us, th' few blocks t'St. Anthony's, in th' night. No fog, no lights, no nuthin', just a lotta stars in th' sky. I says g'night when we gets there, an' turns t'go back home, when Stagg puts a paw on my shoulder.

"One more thing, Sergeant. Look in on your cubs when you get home. Give them each a hug. And thank Him that you can do that."

It ain't an order. But it's one thing I'm gonna do anyway.

"Intermezzo Affettuoso" art by Kjartan