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12 June 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
My first month here is over, and it’s certainly been an experience. I had to cut my first weekend pass short after my first lunch in Seahtl made me a bit sick. Sunday I felt better, so I went back into the city.
Seathl’s huge, Miri. A guy could lose his tail in there if he gave it half a chance, so I kept my map close at paw and took my time. I prayed at the grove south of Haywood Square, and when I opened my eyes I saw that there were a lot of other people there too. I wandered around until it was time to leave (they close the gates of the base at seven, so if you’re late you get in trouble). I’m looking forward to our second month.
I got your letter yesterday, and Happy Birthday! I wish I could have been there for your party – it sounds like you had a lot of fun. Please tell your parents Hello from me, and I hope that you stay well.
Like I said two weeks ago, nearly all of the people in my company are the same as the Guides. The Tillamookans call theirs Scouts, and the Rain Islanders call them Pioneers. Either way, they’re just as well-trained as we are. We get to test that this month. Our first two weeks will be spent outdoors, doing survival training. After that, we’ll be aboard an actual warship.
I miss you, and I keep our locket close to my heart.
I’ll write later.
Mist Point, Tillamook
February 5, 1937:
The weather was quite mild on South Tillamook, and Natalya and Ephraim were sleeping in at the hotel. Broome had taken the opportunity thus presented, selecting a suit that he hadn’t worn in a few years. After getting dressed, he gathered up the battered old book he had brought with him and headed for the Seven Springs Resort near the coast.
The roads were well-maintained, with smooth pavements on either side, and there was very little traffic. The book under his arm felt heavy, and he shifted it a bit as he walked. He had been told that the buck he wanted to talk to was staying at the Seven Springs, and was probably getting anxious about leaving to go back to Spontoon. Since time was wasting, Broome was determined to meet him.
His ears perked as he saw a tricycle cab heading toward him, and he recognized the driver. He waved to Jimmy, and the elk swerved to pick him up. To his surprise, Jimmy had a passenger; a whitetail buck carrying a silver-headed cane was in the cab’s seat. While Jimmy braked the cab to a halt Broome heard him say, “Sorry, sir, but there's another fare."
Broome leaned down and looked under the cab’s fringed canopy, making eye contact. Yes, it was indeed Franklin Stagg, and he thought amusedly about the Mountain coming to Mohammed. "Good morning!" he said. "Mind if I join you?"
The buck looked him over before saying in a quiet voice, "Be my guest," as he made room for the vulpine. Broome stepped into the pedicab, sat and placed the book on his lap. He laid a paw possessively over it as the cab started moving again, and tugged at his collar as if it were choking him.
Stagg leaned over and massaged his sore right hoof, and Broome added that fact to his mental file. The fox sat straight, looking out at the sea. There was a companionable silence for a few minutes, until Stagg asked quietly, "You will pardon my asking, sir, but how long have you been in military intelligence?"
So much for being unobtrusive. Broome turned to face his interlocutor slowly, and smiled. "Evidently, a little too long. What brings you to that conclusion?" he asked.
"Well, your bearing, hairstyle and posture, not to mention the U.S. Naval Academy ring on your right paw all indicate a military man.” Broome looked down at his paw and smiled sourly. “The fact that you're wearing a suit that has recently been taken out of storage indicates that you're making an effort not to be too conspicuous," Stagg added.
An amused grin flickered across Broome’s muzzle. "That explains the military man, then. And Intelligence?"
"I should think that it is a little beyond coincidence that you would be carrying a volume taken from the library of the New Haven General Assembly. That binding is quite distinctive. Let me guess: 1919 vintage?"
The vulpine smiled, and uncovered the book. Stagg gazed at its battered leather cover with a melancholy look before saying, “As you know, I'm sure, who I am, perhaps you will...?"
“Of course. My name is Richard Broome. I’m the vice-commodore in charge of intelligence matters for Rain Island."
One of Stagg’s eyebrows lifted quizzically. "Curious. I would have guessed U.S. Naval Intelligence."
A mild snort from the fox. "You'd have been right, from '05 up to a few years ago. They let me go, and I moved out to this neck of the woods."
Stagg looked a little uneasily behind him, toward the hidden driver. Broome waved a paw. "Jimmy's one of the boys from our embassy. He told me you were here, and I was determined to have a chat with you.” He smiled. “And, as I’m sure he told you, we are on our way to the Triton Cafe. I realize that we're borrowing the Hollywood cliché of taking you for a ride, but I assure you, all but your waistline is safe at the Triton. The food there is splendid."
“He mentioned berries and cream,” Stagg said, flexing the fingers of his right paw on the head of his cane.
Broome chuckled. “Best on the island, bar none.”
Stagg contemplated his empty bowl some time later before smiling in relative contentment. Broome had already finished his helping, and was now gazing out at the nearby beach, watching the seabirds picking their way around the volcanic stones littering the strand. The berries had been perfect, fine ripe raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, smothered in rich cream. Stagg thought ruefully at what he'd done to his appetite for dinner.
Broome had maintained a very polite silence through the meal, apparently disdaining to talk business while eating. His discretion was admirable, the old buck thought. More fool the U.S.N.I. was for letting him go.
The buck opened the conversation. "I'm a little old for packing up and moving yet again, Commodore..."
"...Richard. That said, in spite of the views held by the Spontoon government about me."
Broome toyed with a teaspoon before replying, “I think you'd be mildly surprised at the diversity of opinion on you, Franklin - if I may call you that, of course.” At Stagg’s nod, he smiled. “Certainly, some of your recent activities are of great interest. Particularly your hobby of flower arranging."
An eyebrow rose, followed by a soft chuckle, and Broome went on, “Yes, I've spoken with Allan Minkerton by phone. He gave me the whole story, including a few things he didn't tell the FBI."
"We've been friends for 30 years, Richard. He's not exactly unbiased."
"Be that as it may. It's no mean feat, even with the backing of Minkerton's, to do what you did. And taking a stand in the back row at the curtain-call was a nice display of team play."
The buck gave a soft whistling snort. "More like safety. You don't know my current superior, the Chief Constable."
So, he hadn’t been told yet, Broome thought. "On the contrary,” he said smoothly. “You have my sympathies, as well as my understanding why you wouldn't want to stick your neck out too far." Broome toyed with his spoon some more before speaking again. "How did you learn cryptanalysis?"
Stagg twitched his ears at the change of subject before looking down at his hooves and thinking back nearly twenty-three years. "Captain Sanglier. The French government assigned him as my liaison when the New Haven Flying Corps was sent over back in '14. He was a real artist at code-breaking. He showed me how it was done, and ... it was just one of those things I understood. I...well, I can simply see how these things are constructed."
"I see. And what happened to him, eventually?"
Stagg here paused, and bit his lower lip, fiddling with his cane uneasily. A sad memory came from the depths. "He was killed at Verdun in 1916, leading his unit at Ft. Vaux. They never found his body. He's possibly in the great ossuary that they've built there."
Broome nodded. An entire generation had been largely erased as a result of that foolishness, and he recalled hoping that Europe had had a belly full of war. The next war would probably be on his doorstep. “And so he didn’t survive, with no one to carry on his knowledge. But he passed what he knew on to you, didn’t he?"
A full minute of silence passed, as both furs looked out across the sands, toward the ocean. The fox ventured carefully, "You read the papers, of course. You know how things are going in China and such. Plus all of the other 'incidents' that get reported in the back pages..."
Stagg pinched his eyebrows and Broome stopped speaking. "Oh, Good Lord,” he said. “I'm far too old, and far too ill, for me to get back into the Game. It's far too late for the likes of me. Leave that sort of thing to the younger furs."
Broome suppressed a smile. He was the same age as the buck, but if Stagg wanted to play gray-furred old grandfather that was fine with him. The buck reminded him of an old man he’d known as a boy growing up in his hometown in Iowa.
The fox folded his paws in his lap, and addressed his thumbs. "I am not going to lead you up the mountain, Franklin, and offer you the kingdoms of the Earth. I know you've turned down Sapohatan when he offered you Spontoonie citizenship, and I don't intend to plough over that ground again with what I have to offer on my behalf. You spoke of younger furs, though."
Stagg wearily nodded, and Broome said in a quiet but insistent voice, “Young men don't spring from the head of Zeus, fully armed – but then you know that. They need guidance. They need training. They need a mentor. You can put all the books on cryptanalysis in the world in front of the brightest young fur you can find, and it isn't going to have the same touch as if someone is explaining it to him, muzzle to muzzle. Would you have learned as fast as you did, to the same extent as you did, had Captain Sanglier died at the Marne in '14, instead of at Ft. Vaux?"
A long silence ensued before a soft paw gesture from Stagg conceded the point.
"Franklin, we have a program in the works that we've just started. Some very bright young furs from the Spontoons are getting training under the RINS. Some of the best and the brightest in your islands. Young furs with quick minds and spirit. We might find a few in that group, or elsewhere, with the qualities that are needed,” he said.
“Then why approach me?” Stagg asked.
Broome nodded, grateful for the opening. “I’m an administrator, a pretty good one in fact. It’s why I was hired by Rain Island. Sure, I know about ciphers, but I know my limitations. But I've read about Rose, Daisy, and Buttercup. And I've read this." Here, the fox pointed to the battered volume of Stagg's testimony. "Even if you don't think so, I think I know a teacher when I see one."
Stagg looked out across the ocean again, his eyes clouded with memory.
The fox raised a paw and smoothed back his short headfur. "Franklin, I'm not going to challenge your sense of honor, or sense of decency, or whatever direction your loyalties lie toward. I'm issuing you a challenge to your intellect, as I'm sure Sanglier's superior did to him, long ago. You can answer the challenge, or not, as you see fit, and in your own time and fashion." He fished into a pocket and placed some notes and silver on the table.
"If I get nothing else from this meeting,” Broome said with a smile, “at least I've had the professional pleasure of meeting you. I wish I could say I was the one that took down Jasmine Onca and Leon Allworthy in one lifetime." He pushed his chair back and stood up, and the two shook paws. When the fox turned to leave he suddenly paused. "Jimmy, by the way, is at your disposal for the rest of your stay. Another bowl of berries, though – that’s your responsibility." He chuckled and strolled out of the cafe, leaving the deer to his thoughts.
When he returned to his hotel room, Broome carefully packed away the battered old book, and suddenly grinned to himself as he shed his suit jacket. He had come to a number of decisions while he walked back from the café.
He would wait until the officer cadets being trained were almost finished before weighing each. The last week of their training usually involved an evaluation period with the entire Command Syndic, so he would be able to make his choice carefully.