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Update 5 March 2005
Update revision 6 February 006
The Willow Pages
Willow Fawnsworthy created by M. Mitchell Marmel
"Meet Jane Doe"
"Meet Jane Doe"
When you are Allan Minkerton III, you are allowed certain office privileges that are denied other employees of Minkerton’s Detective Agency. For one thing, your office has carpeting and a working fireplace. For another thing, you can examine the case files before anyone else, and thus take personal charge of the most interesting matters. Lastly, and most importantly, you get to personally select those who work with you. This is a much for conviviality as it is for security. Few things are as dreary as a glum, overmuscled bodyguard. The sultans of old had their eunuchs guard them. A more enlightened detective agency does not emasculate its employees, physically or spiritually.
It was in this spirit that Mr. Minkerton was surprised to see his bodyguard in a gloomy state. Normally, Carlos was bubbling over with the good spirits that comes as second nature to an Argentine maned wolf. Carlos was an excellent shot, to be sure, and was willing to take a bullet to protect his superior. Minkerton was certain of this, since it had happened twice before. But Carlos was, this cool fall evening, anno domini 1933, of an air that someone had deflated his ego, and none too gently, at that.
“Carlos, please don’t act like you have a secret sorrow. If I want that sort of thing, I’ll go to the theatre and watch an avant-garde play with no plot, no set, no characterization but plenty of angst. How they review those plays in the papers is a mystery to me.”
“Ah. I am sorry, Don Allan. I have suffered two blows to my manhood this afternoon. One blow I can take philosophically. Two blows is entirely too much.”
The older mink took off his pince nez and polished them. “Really, Carlos, you’re worse than Grandcerf, sometimes. I mean, two women in one afternoon?”
“Not two women, Don Allan. One.”
Minkerton paused in replacing in glasses, which afforded him a chance to raise an eyebrow. “One? Well, I can hazard a guess as to how she bruised your machismo in one way, but two? And weren’t you at the Forge, this afternoon?”
The wolf nodded, wistfully. The Forge was, on its face, a club for those who enjoyed practice with all manner of weapons, from the common automatic, to unbuttoned fencing foils, to more exotic weapons of the East. The pleasure of shooting off an entire box of ammunition without interference or annoyance, in the normal course of affairs, made for a pleasurable afternoon. Accidents, unintentional and otherwise, did happen, of course, but it was expected that members would take their defeats like men. How members took their deaths was something of a moot point, of course.
“That is true. I was, as usual, at the firing range, when I smelled something other than the usual cordite. Preparing to fire in the next lane over was a woman.”
Minkerton raised his other eyebrow in tandem. Women were almost unheard of at the Forge, especially unescorted women.
“She saw me eyeing her. Well, senor, you know that I cannot resist the enjoyment of looking over an attractive woman, and I assure you that this was a splendid, and quite young, specimen. Mid-twenties. Yes, well worth the attention, I assure you.”
“What was her species?”
The wolf shifted uneasily in his chair. “Alas, I must omit that detail, for the present. It is part of the bargain I was forced to strike. In any event...”
“The young lady turns to face me, as she has obviously sensed my admiration. She looks me over, and, naturally, my hopes are raised. Briefly.”
“’Is the pistol for show, or do you know how to use it?’ she asks me. Well, I am astonished, you can imagine. To have myself challenged in such an overt fashion, I cannot let this pass.”
“’Ah, senorita. You are very bold and forthright. I appreciate that in a woman. Shall we have a little sport, here on the range?’”
“She is very cool, this young lady. She merely brushes her hair aside from her face. ‘I suppose I know what the stakes are, if you win. Fine. But you will have to do what I want, if I win.’”
“Now this, of course, is simply irresistible. I can tell this is a woman that promises much pleasure. So we square off. Targets at 50 yards, six eight-shot clips and six targets...”
“And she beat you, Carlos.”
The wolf looked deeply chagrined. “I do not know how it could be. I shot with my usual flair. Very closely placed shots, tight within the gold. But I find that this young lady has equaled me, exactly. The spotter, he has watched the whole thing, and he assures me that everything is in order. We extended the range to 100 yards, and shot clip-for-clip. It was there, on the sixth clip, that I failed to put one bullet in the gold. She, of course, did not fail.”
“’Very well, senorita. You have defeated me honourably and, therefore, I am at your mercy. What will you do with me?’ Needless to say, I am hoping that this young lady is unrestrained in her tastes.”
“She takes her time putting away her pistol in her case. She is good with the anticipation, this little one. Finally, she turns to me with a smile...”
“’Tell your boss that I want to meet him. Tonight. Alone, or with you, it doesn’t matter. In the Trinity Churchyard burial ground, eleven P.M. I’ll be wearing mourning. And yes, I’m using you as a messenger boy. You don’t meet my standards, otherwise.’”
Minkerton, in spite of himself, smiled. To be summarily rejected, out of paw, by a woman would indeed be a new thing to Carlos. The smile was replaced by a frown.
“What were her personal details? Accent? Dress? Height?”
“I was sworn to secrecy on those points, Don Allan. I gave my word of honour on that.”
Minkerton knew that Carlos’ word of honour was not something bought cheaply. “Trinity at eleven, hmmm? Well, I should shake paws with anyone who can best you like that, Carlos...”
Even with his fur, Minkerton was a bit chilled. Not the gravestones, of course. The physical manifestation of the evening fog coming off the harbour was enough. Trinity Churchyard was peaceful and quiet, with no one to disturb his stroll. Minkerton passed the time by examining the inscriptions on the memorials. The churchyard had been closed for new burials for many years, so there was nothing modern to interfere with the comforting, old-fashioned belief in life after death. Minkerton paused in front of one of the memorials. Decades of coal fires in the city had turned the original white marble black, but it was still possible to see the expression on the face of the deceased, who seemed oddly relieved to no longer be in the world.
The reverie was interrupted by a single rose, which appeared in front of him, lightly tossed on the memorial. Minkerton briefly stiffened, and then relaxed.
“Good evening. Carlos told me you wished to see me.”
“Yes. Thank you for being so accommodating, Mr. Minkerton. We are alone, and I am not armed, so you may turn around, if you wish.” The voice was elegant and quiet, and it sounded vaguely Southern. It was certainly reassuring, so the mink turned around.
Standing a few feet from him in the darkness was a figure in mourning, dressed in black from hooves to ears. Gloves concealed the paws, and a hat with a heavy veil concealed the figure’s face.
“Do you wish to keep your identity a secret, miss?”
The figure paused, seemingly thinking. “From the world in general, yes. I imagine that in some quarters, there is a price on my head. From one person in particular, I would prefer that my identity be kept a secret, until the time is right. Can you give me your promise, Mr. Minkerton, that you and only you will know who I really am? No one else, not even your most trusted employees or your closest friends?”
“You are asking a great deal, miss. Forgive me, but you seem to be asking me to make a deal with you, when I don’t even know what the stakes are.”
The figure pondered this for a minute. “You are right. It is unfair of me to make you promise, under those circumstances.” The figure took out a pack of cigarettes, and selected one.
“Do you have a light, Mr. Minkerton?”
Minkerton, from sheer force of chivalric habit, quickly produced his lighter, sparking a bright flame. The figure peeled back her veil. Minkerton casually looked up, and what he saw made him drop the lighter in shock, the flame and its light vanishing in an instant. Minkerton could do little but grip the nearby funerary monument to steady his nerves, while the figure bent down to pick up the lighter.
A casual flick of the lighter re-ignited the flame, revealing the face of a young doe, with seemingly shoulder-length brown hair. Minkerton could appreciate, at a certain level, how this would appeal to Carlos’ tastes. This did not shock him. What shocked him was the expression in her eyes, an expression that he had seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of times before. In another set of deer eyes.
“Like father, like daughter, Mr. Minkerton. Daddy never wanted me to develop his taste for the dramatic, but I could never resist it.” The voice had changed. It was still soft and elegant, only it had switched to another accent. A New Haven accent.
“Oh my, God. I’m so sorry, Grace. We tried to get your mother and your sisters...we really did...”
“It’s not necessary. Who else would have started a fire-fight when they were taking us from the house in Branford? There are very few people on that list. You. Henri Charles Grandcerf. And Whitney St.James. And I heard three Browning Automatic Rifles in that ambush.”
“I thought we had failed. They had sent a far larger guard detail than we had expected.”
“Well, you may not have overpowered the guard, but you caused a great deal of confusion and chaos. And a few casualties. It was very convenient that one of them happened to be a young doe. A few years of Maske & Wigge at Saye-Brooke College taught me a few things. Such as the value of being a quick change artist. And, as you see, disguising one’s voice. There was a time when they thought Grace Stagg would have her name in lights.”
“I didn’t say good-bye, at least out loud. Mother, Helen and Margaret, they didn’t notice at first the slight differences in the doe guarding them. I caught their attention when we were not watched, and I changed my expression. They knew. They stopped crying. And they started praying. They were still praying when they hung them on the New Haven Green, from that elm tree.”
Minkerton closed his eyes and shuddered. He had seen the newsreel footage. He had heard, indirectly, that Franklin Stagg had collapsed in prison when the footage was shown there.
“My God, what am I going to tell your father?”
“You’re not going to tell him anything. I know my father better than even you ever will, Mr. Minkerton. I am his first-born, and he told you, I know, many times that I was more like him than anyone else in the world.”
The mink nodded, slowly, as the doe sighed and lit her cigarette, finally, and returned the lighter.
“When the Revolution came, Daddy was shattered. He felt like he, as the Chief of Police, should have done a better job. He felt that he had failed his country, and put everything he loved in jeopardy of being destroyed. You know how loyal he can be, when he puts his heart into it. If he saw me, I mean, really saw me, he would die from shame. That’s not drama. That’s a statement of fact. He has enough burdens on his soul, now. Best to have him think me dead. Otherwise, he might think I’m alive, and full of anger at him. He could live with the guilt of my death, barely. To live with my supposed hate, from his first-born...”
Minkerton nodded. All too true. “Do St.James and Grandcerf know you’re alive?”
“No. And they never will. St.James, beneath that tough bulldog exterior, is very sentimental, and Grandcerf would never yield to the illogic of keeping father and daughter separate. Especially a deer and his fawn. Which leaves you, the hard-headed mink of business.”
If Minkerton had any lingering doubts as to the identity of the doe, the descriptions of St.James and Grandcerf dispelled them. They were true to life.
“What do you want, Grace? Do you need money? A place to live? Somewhere to start over again? I mean, you know that anything I have...”
The doe took a drag on her cigarette, briefly lighting up her eyes. She blew out a smoke ring. “Daddy told me about you four. How debts were incurred, reckoned and paid off, like a banker’s clearing house. I have debts of my own to pay off. And whether my father knows it or not, and whether he would approve of it or not, I am assuming his outstanding debts, as I stand here, now. And you are my paymaster, Mr. Minkerton.”
Minkerton stared at the ground. The doe’s New Haven accent, her manner, and her methods were all of her father. It was as if he, himself, were talking. And making a request that the mink could not, in conscience, refuse.
“You know where our office is, in the Consolidated Gas building?”
“Go there at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. I will let them know that a...hmm...Miss Willow Fawnsworthy...will be arriving, and that she reports directly to my office.”
The doe nodded, finished her cigarette, and then drew down her veil. “Thank you, Mr. Minkerton. You will see Miss Fawnsworthy there, on time. Good night.”
The mink watched as Grace Stagg disappeared, at least to the world, in the gathering fog. After the fog had swallowed her up, he looked down, and picked up the cigarette butt she had left behind. This was for confirmation. After all, even the more superstitious mink knows ghosts don’t smoke cigarettes.