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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
"Memorandum To File"
[Note: the vast majority of the materials presented here are the accounts preserved by my great-grandfather. However, in a pawful of cases, there are materials in Franklin Stagg's own paw. This is the earliest surviving manuscript, which was written on legal-sized foolscap, indicating it was probably written at the Inspector's room in Printer's Lane, and not at the office. I have chosen to include this memorandum partly to show the Inspector's own thinking, in his own words, and partly because of events that occurred shortly after this memorandum was written - OFXB IV.]
MEMORANDUM (Personal and Confidential)
Date: 2 January 1935
Re: "The Deer From The Surete"
I could not help but overhear some of the gossip at HQ regarding the above-captioned film shortly after it debuted here last week. This was especially true, as it was accompanied by loud laughter and cheery enquiries, directed at you, as to whether I had American relatives.
To review: the film is based on the memoirs of Henri Charles Grandcerf, le Comte des Deux-Bois, who was, indeed, an official of long-standing with the French security services. The book itself came out about two years ago, and it seems Azimuth Pictures in Hollywood bought the rights to the entire book, though the screenwriters took some decided liberties with the time and place of events in order to emphasize his (largely fictional) multi-year pursuit of Madame Onca, the "Spotted Angel." The climax of the film involves Onca's arrest for espionage during the Great War, and her ultimate execution. (I note the screenwriters did not fail to use the dramatic events thereof, which I will relate in their proper place.) M. le Comte enlists the assistance of another deer, an American officer, to lay the final trap which snares Mme. Onca. It is this latter figure, I suppose, that is the origin of much of the mirth regarding far-flung branches of my family tree.
In fact, if you read the original memoirs, as I did when I was recently a guest of the American government, and thus had a lot of time on my paws, you will discover that the assistance to M. le Comte was rendered not by an American deer, but by "a brother officer and deer of the New Haven Flying Corps." M. le Comte did not name this officer, he states in a footnote, because of "certain recent and unhappy calamities that have befallen him." I imagine Azimuth's screenwriters chose to change nationalities for marketing reasons. After all, New Havenite heroes are not in demand, these days, whereas there is always a demand for clean-cut American heroes.
I saw the film myself. I cannot really comment on the first two-thirds of it, since I have no first-paw knowledge of what is presented there, other than what I read in the Count's memoirs. However, the final one-third of the film involves events to which I was an eyewitness. As you have, seemingly, a taste for this sort of thing, I am writing this memorandum to set down my recollections of the matter, which, I think you will find, tally consistently with the Count's that are presented in his memoirs.
As you know, I was the intelligence officer for the New Haven Flying Corps during the Great War, and I was stationed there from the fall of 1914 all the way until the Armistice. The relevant events started in the first few months of 1916. This was during a period when there was much planning for a Spring offensive to take the pressure off the Russians and the Italians. As a result, more attention than normal was placed on security matters.
I had cause, at one point in February of that year, to return a briefcase of planning documents to the British. A young staff officer had very carelessly lost this briefcase, and it took me some trouble to get the contents back, intact, a story, perhaps, for another time. This courtesy and initiative were not viewed as such by the staff officer's commander, a general named Bourne-Phipps. The latter started out with an assessment of me as a "God-damned interfering chocolate-eyed tattle-tale," followed by a detailed overview of the political economy of deer, a view that my best and highest contribution to the war effort would be to use my tail as a rifle-pull, and, in conclusion, a heartily expressed wish that God would do to New Haven what He did to Sodom and Gomorroah. Hindsight has vested in General Bourne-Phipps an awesome prescience regarding this final opinion.
I was sitting in an ante-room after this interview, attempting to stop the ringing in my ears, when I noticed the first friendly and amused face I had seen all morning. It was another deer, this one in a beautifully tailored French uniform, hooves shined to a mirror finish, and the whole thing complemented by an elegantly waxed mustache. He clicked his hooves, blew a cloud of cigarette smoke, and bowed to me.
"Mon capitain, you must not take these English terribly seriously. M. le Generale's temper will fade in mere minutes, and he will turn to more important matters. Such as what he will have for lunch. A propos of which, please do me the honour of joining *me* for lunch. And, please be assured, it is not field rations. These tinned cabbages -- quelle horreur!"
He introduced himself with his full title, and led me to a farm a few miles away in distance and far away in mood from the war. His Tonkinese soldier-servant served a really quite delicious meal of stir-fried lemon grass and water chestnuts. Once the plates were cleared, and the Tonkinese had securely locked the door, Deux-Bois lit a cigarette, and proceeded to business.
"I will not conceal from you, mon capitain, that I am connected with the security services of my country. Your gallant little nation has stood with us since the start of this war, and I feel comfortable in speaking with one such as you. This comfort is increased by my knowledge of your actions. I know of your efforts regarding the breaking of the Boche's codes, and certain other...shall we say, lively activities. This recent matter with that young fool's briefcase, it is a case in point. Eh bien, I have a proposition for you. You may refuse, naturalement, and you shall lose only an afternoon's time. But I think I know my brother deer, and he will not refuse a challenge to his intellect, hein?"
I took out my notebook. Seeing this sign, M. le Comte beamed, leaned forward, and related to me the following:
Madame Jasmine Onca had been the sensation of Paris for a number of years before the War. It was thought that this "jaguar formidable" had emigrated from Central America, but wherever she came from, she had quickly grasped the essentials of that profession whose sisters are known as "les grandes horizontales." She was, allegedly, a singer, but her stage career was cut short thanks to the generousity of a string of admirers. These admirers furnished her with an ample supply of jewels, money, clothes, and a residence in a supremely fashionable faubourg of Paris. There was, of course, the usual suicides, duels and bankruptices, not to mention embezzlement scandals and other crimes, associated with relationships of these types. Eh bien, caveat emptor. There was to be no sympathy for these roués.
M. le Comte continued. As often happened, not only did Mme. Onca live beyond her lovers' means, she lived beyond her own, and shortly before la guerre broke out, she had to leave Paris to escape her substantial debts. C'est le fin? Non. A mere few months after la guerre commence, she returned to Paris, flush with cash. Creditors were paid, one hundred centimes to the franc, and she resumed her previous occupation, in her accustomed manner. Only now, of course, she exhibited a marked taste for officers. Now, there can be no denying (M. le Comte said with a smile, adjusting his uniform) that a French officer is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but there can be serious implications, particularly when an officer is attempting to arrange les rendez-vous for a date in the future. Officers besotted with champagne, or more primitive urges, can be shockingly indiscreet. Eh bien, a call is placed to lui-meme, Grandcerf, to investigate matters.
Mme. Onca, though, appears to have all the cunning of her fabulous species. Her apartment is searched with minute care while she is out, and there is no trace of any official documents, notebooks, or the like. All of her meetings are watched carefully. Helas, the vast majority of them provide only displays of her occupational prowess, which, it is to be admitted, is formidable.
Only one of her habits is regular: at precisely 10.30 each morning (most unusually, she rises well before noon), she visits a very chic cafe near her residence, and enjoys some tea at one of the outdoor tables, clement weather permitting, naturalement. There are a number of regular patrons there, who enjoy the view not of the street, but of Madame herself, who takes care to dress in a fashion most becoming. Le patron of the cafe is greatly pleased, as this, naturally, means he does a full business at what otherwise would be a slack hour of the day.
M. le Comte had set a number of his men on the matter. The waiters are carefully searched. The table-litter is carefully searched. The bill is examined with care for numerical ciphers. The table each day is carefully searched. No notes of any kind are found. She does not converse with any of the other patrons, and there do not appear to be any regular signals of the kind involving purses, mirrors, handkerchiefs or the type. And thus, the Surete is at an impasse.
M. le Comte offered me the following: he would arrange for me to obtain two weeks' leave in Paris, and a room at a nearby hotel, and would suborn the patron of the cafe to give me a table near Mme. Onca that would permit me to observe her. Such a proposition would have caused a near-riot among the members of my squadron, who would have done nearly anything for such a noble cause. I took a rather more detached view of the matter; I had earned my squadron nickname of "St. Frankie of Ass-Sit" the hard way. I accepted, and in a few days, the investigation commenced.
Le patron was true to his bargain, and I was able to arrange my things as I saw fit. I decided to pose as a greenhorn, in "Paree" for the first time, and I had acquired a pawful of Guide Verts, Batdecker's and such, and began planning afternoon visits (which, in fact, I took). My nearby bag contained a camera, which was triggered by the strap being stepped on discreetly. I would thus be able to take pictures of my target, I hoped, without arousing suspicion.
Indeed, Mme. Onca, seeing a new habitué of the cafe, suspected that I was a police official. She approached me, and enquired of me rather purringly "Pardon, m'sieur, quelle heure est-il?" I made a show of being puzzled, and consulted a phrase book. Apparently, this passed muster. Peering closer at my uniform, she perceived that I was an NHFC officer, and, my squadron's reputation being what it was, she decided it would be more prudent to murmur her excuses, and go off to her table. A number of other gallants informed her as to the correct time.
I busied myself with my books, occasionally snapping a picture, especially when the noise of street traffic would drown out the soft click from the camera. Mme. Onca had her petit dejuner, and paid her bill (with gold francs, I might add), leaving me to my devices for the rest of the afternoon.
This continued for nearly a week. Deux-Bois' information was proving to be correct: there were no obvious signs of signals, such as with purses, handkerchiefs, clothes or such. She did, it would appear, have a regular claque of admirers, but none of them initially struck me as suspicious. I would thus have to rely on a careful study of the photographs that I had taken.
Some of the photographs had not come out well, largely because Mme. Onca had the typical jaguar habit of swishing her tail. Camera speeds have certainly improved since those days. I separated out the better photographs, where she had kept her tail still. Laying them out side-by-side, and using the same instruments I used for analyzing reconnaissance photos, I soon discovered an odd fact. Mme. Onca's tailfur pattern wasn't the same. I rechecked the photographs, and figured out which ones were taken at more or less the same angle. These showed that there was a definite change in the pattern on at least two of the days. At this juncture, I will implore you not to make obvious jokes about the changing of spots.
M. le Comte looked in on me to see how I was progressing. I asked him for a few photos of Mme. Onca taken before the war. He was greatly amused by this request, and enquired whether I was making any art studies. My response that I wanted to study her fur met with a sage nod, and I was soon blessed with a dossier of a number of, indeed, very artistic photographs. The only salient feature that I examined, however, was her tailfur. In each of these photos, the pattern was consistent and unchanging, giving me a "baseline" for her pattern.
I soon realized the subtlety of her plan. Only someone who had studied her tailfur up close over an extended period of time, or who had been tipped off as to when to expect changes and where, would notice such tiny changes. The message that could be supplied with need to be a very short one, but one that would convey vital information. I memorized the baseline pattern of her tailfur, and waited until the next day in which there was a change.
This came on the tenth day. As I was eating a quite delicious plate of steamed asparagus, Mme. Onca came padding to her usual place. The corps of gallants were there, as usual, but one of them left only ten minutes after Mme. Onca came in. I made a note of this individual, and took my usual photographs. I had perceived that her tailfur pattern had changed once more. Instead of visiting the sights of Paris that afternoon, I visited M. le Comte, who was deep in conference with a high-ranking Army officer.
"Eh bien, mon capitain, do you have anything to report?"
"Mon Generale, and M. le Comte, I have but a few questions to ask." I asked about the gallant who made such a hasty departure. He was indeed a suspect, being a salesman for a Swiss company, but nothing positive had been proven against him.
"Are the 29eme, 41eme and 49eme Divisions in the same Corps D'Armee, Generale?"
The General looked a little startled at this question, but indicated that I was correct. I continued. "And is this Corps scheduled for any important action in the coming weeks?" At this, the General looked quite disturbed, and asked what the source of my information was, as this was a highly guarded secret.
"Mme. Onca herself, sirs. As surely as if she had purred it into my ears." Upon which, I spread out the photographic proof on a conference table, starting with the baseline photographs, the photographs from days with no message, and the photographs that showed a change in tailfur pattern. "As you can see, all it would require is a little makeup to conceal a few spots, and thus create a simple Morse Code message, spelling out a number. And, I think you will agree, the information conveyed would be vital to the enemy." The two Frenchmen examined my evidence to confirm it for themselves.
Le Comte des Deux-Bois softly clapped his paws. "Bravo! You have a keen sense for the coup d'oeil, mon capitain." The General was more agitated, and began pacing the room. "Yes, but it is of the essence that we capture both Mme. Onca and her contact at once. But how will we know when she next conveys a message?"
"Is there one more division in this Corps, mon generale?"
"Correct. Ah, yes, I see. This means she must have one more meeting. Eh bien. I will have the contact taken care of by other means, after his rendez-vous. You will confront this Onca, and that will be the signal for us to take her. We will rely on your judgement as to the most opportune time."
And so it was that it was another two days before the final message was to be conveyed. Mme. Onca's contact was present, and, as before, left shortly after she arrived. I took my usual discreet photographs, but I left a little early. I placed myself in a position to intercept her shortly before she entered her building. She seemed startled to see me waiting at her door.
"Pardonnez-moi, Madame Onca. Quelle heure est-il, on dit? Eh bien, c'est l'heure de votre mort."
Mme. Onca was shocked that what she assumed was a gawky New Haven bumpkin spoke French, and what is more, one that knew her name. This confusion allowed for sufficient time for le Comte des Deux-Bois and a few Surete officers to approach.
"Madame Onca? You are under arrest for treason. You must come with us."
The realization of her plight sunk in, and in a fury, she turned around and gave me a resounding slap across my muzzle. It took all of the Surete officers to subdue her, and they managed to stuff her into a motor-car which screeched up to the sidewalk. Great care was taken that her tail was immobilized, as it contained evidence. The indignity of this, naturally, caused a great deal of high-volume protestations. Deux-Bois, of course, viewed this all with a sense of serene satisfaction, and as the car drove away, he softly clapped me on the shoulder.
"You have been slapped by the infamous Madame Onca herself, mon capitain. She does you a great honour. There are many who had to lay out extravagant sums for such a luxury."
A secret military tribunal was convened to judge Onca in a mere few days. The trial itself was something of an anti-climax, even if it did have its moments of drama. Mme. Onca initially denied everything, pointing a finger and hissing at "ces cerfs sales," implying that we were blackguards framing an innocent (if that is the proper word) woman. The fact that she was indeed wearing makeup to cover her spots was loudly defended as a woman's right to make herself up as she saw fit, but the series of photographs I took, as well as the confession of her contact, sealed her fate. Her demeanor then switched over to a weeping attempt to convince the court to show her mercy. This, naturally, was denied, and the supreme sanction was ordered to be carried out on her.
Deux-Bois, of course, was given the official credit for the resolution of the matter. My role had been purely sub rosa, so I received nothing out of it except the gratitude and friendship of Deux-Bois. Over the years, this proved to be of more value to me than a mere strip of ribbon.
I can see why the final act so attracted the screenwriters who dramatized the event for the film, since there was a certain operatic element to it. This is true even if the American censors cut out the more eye-catching elements. There were all sorts of rumours that certain of her lovers were going to intervene to commute her sentence, or even obtain for her a pardon. Other rumours involved a dramatic rescue by aeroplane, or suborning the firing squad to fire blanks, allowing her to fake her death and then be rescued from her coffin. As dawn approached, however, none of these plans came to fruition. Deux-Bois had invited me to see the end, and I expected more of Mme. Onca's dramatics. Sure enough, a confident Madame Jasmine Onca strolled to meet her fate, wearing a cloak. She refused a blindfold and a cigarette, and turned to face the firing squad with uncanny confidence. Just as the order to "feu!" was about to be given, she dropped her cloak, revealing that she was wearing nothing more than He had chosen to give her on her birth, and He had been indeed quite generous in this regard. I had seen her photographs before, of course, so there was nothing new for me to see, but I imagined she assumed no full-blooded son of France could see her and dare fire on her.
Someone had anticipated this, however, and a religious fanatic had been made part of the firing squad, and had been given the fatal bullet. Madame Onca saw death with an expression of great surprise. The whole arrangement, however, was an affront to Henri Charles Grandcerf, and he flicked his cigarette to the ground in great irritation.
"Pfui! Quelle histoire! Mon vieux, I protest at this gross lack of sportsmanship. It is not, how you say, one plays the game."
I was inclined to agree, but then, I suspect, few were interested in my opinion on the matter.