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Update 8 September 2005
The Willow Pages
Willow Fawnsworthy created by M. Mitchell Marmel
"Contrition: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore"
by M. Mitchell Marmel
"Contrition: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore"
From the Diaries of Willow Fawnsworthy
edited by M. Mitchell Marmel
(With thanks to E.O. "Johnny Toon" Costello
for his help in dialogue and Spontoonie translation...)
November 14th, 1936
Oatmeal. The breakfast of penitents.
Just the thing before morning Mass.
I regarded the bowl of grey mush. Nourishing, filling, not particularly appetizing. No milk, no sugar, no honey, no butter. About as plain as food can get. Glass of unsweetened pineapple juice. Vitamin C, but sour as hell.
And I've got six weeks of this to look forward to at breakfast.
Could be worse. Could be poi. I've tried that precisely once. That...stuff could only appeal to native Polynesians.
Or pregnant females. Mmm. Pregnant. Visions of Reggie and me, bouncing fawns on our knees. Reggie and me. Making fawns. Reggie...that idiotic, stupid, magnificent, BEAUTIFUL hunk of venison. I can hardly wait... Ooops. Almost committed the ol' solitary sin, there. Control, Gracie, control.
Thoughts of sins turned to thoughts of gin. No liquor for six weeks, either. I sighed and put pen to paper:
"November 14, 1936
Good news and bad news.
Good news: I finally unburdened myself. I feel a little better now.
Bad news: I'm grounded for six weeks. No booze, fun, et cetera. Padre's orders.
See you at Christmas.
I put the missive in an envelope, sealed it with a smooch and set it aside, stretching. Time for Mass at St. Paul's, then I'd drop it off at the Double Lotus myself. Nobody'd be up this early in the morning, anyhow.
The grey sky echoed my grey mood as I left the hotel. From the corner of my eye, I noted a familiar ricksha driver. The ghost of a grin touched my face, and I had to surreptitiously dab a tear from my eye. What sweethearts my friends are! Po'na was making a deliberate effort not to notice me, so I obliged him and walked on without breaking stride.
Routine Mass at St. Paul's. Brisk walk to the Double Lotus, then back to the hotel and got caught up on official duCleds correspondence. This took up most of the morning until lunch. A plain salad with a simple lemon juice and ground black pepper dressing, with a side of spring water. Plain food. To quote Rosie, "Oy."
With lunch over with, I started to yawn. Frankly, after the emotional rollercoaster I've been through (and especially after that confession yesterday), I felt like I could sleep for a week, even though I'd actually gotten something vaguely resembling a good night's sleep after getting back from Meeting Island. Bed looked good, so I stripped to my skivvies, snuggled under the sheets and snoozed.
I must have needed it, because the next thing I knew it was dark out and I was awoken by an amorous tomcat meowing in the bushes under my second-story balcony. I growled a bit, threw on a robe and threw open the sash, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a certain cuddly cheetah, grinning mischievously? "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Willow is the sun."
I grinned back. "Ass. Come on up."
A nod. "Can do." And she did. Didn't bother with the stairs or elevators, either. Cats and trellises, go great together. Leaping lightly from the railing, large handbag dangling from one shoulder, Rosie curtseyed. "Milady."
I snorted. "You got my note, I see."
Rosie nodded. "Yeah, I figured I'd stop by and say hi. You know, it's a mitzvah to visit the afflicted and prisoners and such."
I rolled my eyes, grinning. "Well, I'm about to get dressed and go to evening Mass, so..."
Rosie smiled. "I'll go with. See how the other half lives."
"You sure you won't catch fire or something in there?" I teased.
"Nah, long as they don't sprinkle holy water on me, I'm good," Rosie riposted as I shrugged into a dress. "Rowr."
"Behave," I admonished. "I have to be a good girl for six weeks."
"Hey, I can dream, can't I?"
"I can't believe you asked Father Timothy if he knew...brukas?"
"I can't believe Father Timothy KNEW baruchas, let alone with near perfect pronunciation," Rosie said ruefully, taking another bite of dinner, served in my suite. She'd opted for plain food as well, so she dined on grilled fish and we shared a carafe of spring water.
I sniggered. "Lesson to be learned: Never mess with Jesuits."
Rosie sighed. "Yeah..." She finished her fish and moved over to the sofa. "The fire feels good." She stretched her feet out and wiggled her toes.
I settled down next to her and warmed my hooves. "Okay, your turn."
Rosie looked puzzled. "My turn?"
"What do you mean?" Rosie asked.
I sighed. "Ever since...well, you've been looking at me like...I don't know what. And it's not just poor little Willow's breakdown. You look like you have a guilty secret. Those things will tear your guts out. Trust me. I know. I have the scars to prove it."
A long silence.
"I love you."
I smiled slightly. "Well, I love you too, but..."
Rosie looked...well, sad, mad, I don't know, some sort of ethereal look all mixed in. "No, no, NO, dammit! That's not what I meant. If one of us was male, and it doesn't matter which, I'd marry you right this second and start making babies. Hell, around here, we could get married and find suitable donors."
My mouth quirked. "Wouldn't play in Boston, but I'm damned if I might not say yes..."
Rosie shook her head. "Don't play with me like that. Don't play with YOURSELF like that. It'll never happen, and you know it. At the risk of sounding corny, your destiny lies elsewhere, and so does mine..." She held up a paw. "I see that look in your eyes. No, we are NOT going to find a priestess and get Tailfast this second. Much as I want to. You're..."
I smiled bitterly. "Crazy? Insane? Meshugah im ganz?"
"No, goddammit, no. I don't think so. I think you're...vulnerable to anyone showing you a bit of genuine affection and love."
I cocked my head. "You're jealous of Reggie, aren't you?"
"Reggie..." Rosie sighed. "I'm torn about him. On the one paw, I think he's the best thing that's happened to you in a long time. On the other paw, if he weren't around, we could be Mrs. and Mrs. Baumgartner."
"Whatever." A sad grin from Rosie, then a sniff, then it was my turn to offer comfort to a weeping friend. I held Rosie as she shook and cried herself out, my heart pouring out love and comfort as best I could. Eventually, the storm subsided.
"Better?" I handed Rosie a tissue.
"(honk) Yeah, a little." Rosie dabbed at the corners of her eyes. "(snif) You'd make a pretty good bartender, you know that?"
"Heh," I grinned. "Sure never gonna make a good priest."
Rosie sniggered. "Nope. You'd pro’lly have better sermons than most, though."
I nodded. "True."
"You're best at being a friend, though." Rosie sighed and looked up at me from my lap, where she'd wound up. "So. This six weeks business. That apply to Reggie too?"
My ears drooped. "That especially applies to Reggie."
Rosie whistled and sat up. "Whoa. Rough."
I nodded miserably. "Yeah."
"You want me to tell him?"
I nodded slowly. "Best if I don't even see him," I sighed. "Father Merino was right. This is going to be REALLY tough."
Rosie nodded. "With all you've been through...well, no wonder you're looking for comfort and affection..."
An uncomfortable silence. "Go on," I prompted.
Rosie had gotten up and started to pace, a bit nervously. "About what?"
"Why am I looking for comfort and affection?"
Rosie moved about the room, closing blinds and locking the doors. She looked at me seriously. "What I'm going to say isn't leaving this room. And what I'm going to show you will be destroyed before we leave here."
An icy paw clutched my stomachs. "Go on."
"Do you trust me?" Rosie asked, looking at me intently.
A small nod.
"Okay, Grace, where would you like me to begin?"
(mmit, girl, wake u)
Splash! Cold water in my face. My head was in Rosie's lap. "Zai gezunt. Thought I lost you there for a minute."
I felt tears in my eyes. "H-how..."
"Shhh. Just rest. Rosie's here, and no-one's gonna hurt you, okay?"
"It started in September, when you came storming in fuming over that 'Frankie' song." Rosie was standing in front of the fireplace like a lecturer, complete with pince-nez glasses. Made her look like a cute schoolmarm.
"Now, your explanation was okay, but I was curious anyhow, so I filed it away in the back of my mind. When I went to Frisco in October, I looked up an old pal of mine, Moishe Minksky. You may have heard of the burlesque chain?" Another nod from me. "He got me the costumes at a good price, said business was from lousy, they were losing theaters all over the place, and happened to mention New Haven."
My knuckles tightened around my waterglass. "Go on."
"I told him Stagg was in the Spontoons now. That, he didn't know. He remembered the Odeon, they used to own it, and they had that show, 'Who's a Tonic'..." A twisted smile from me and a nod. Rosie continued. "Apparently, Chief Inspector Stagg brushed the song off, but his wife, may she rest in peace," a wince from me, "was royally pissed off and got the Archbishop to raise hell over...You never did tell me there was a nun lyric in there."
I looked at her sourly. "Would you have mentioned it?"
Rosie shrugged. "Maybe not. 'Course, I made a good living shaking my moneymaker for the marks for seven years, so...Anyhow, Minksky quietly had the song replaced after a couple of weeks, though the fuss had died down by then." She looked at me again. "I figured only someone from New Haven who was close to the Stagg family would go off like that over that song."
I smiled sardonically. "You're a regular Nancy..." I bit down an obvious ethnic epithet. "Nancy Mew, Girl Detective, aren't you?"
Rosie nodded somberly. "I probably have that coming." She sighed. "Anyhow, I did some research on Inspector Stagg." She opened her shoulder bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "'Statted these articles from various sources in the San Francisco library. Here in 'The Town is Talking', a funny paragraph about how Stagg needs to watch his back because his eldest daughter is a crack shot and is going to law school so she can take his job." A searching look. "You punched a very neat hole in the doors over there."
I regarded the now-repaired doors ruefully. "I'll have to take your word for that. I was...elsewhere at the time."
"Some articles on the Stagg...executions. No photos," Rosie added hastily, seeing my expression. "They mention that Stagg's eldest daughter was missing from the executions but was presumed dead." Another searching look. "There's the cenotaph at St. Anthony's."
I looked doubtful. "A lot of does look alike."
Rosie shook her head. "Do your hair right and lose the glasses, you look a fair amount like Grace Stagg. Anyhow, there's the business with Reggie's dad." Rosie looked at me over her glasses. Nearly irresistable. "That took a lot of planning and genius."
I shrugged. "Lady Gwladys helped."
"Mmmh-hmmm." Rosie paused. "Finally, there's that Soviet guy who drowned-"
Weird. Didn't know my head was hollow and black. Just a coupla windows where my eyes are. I looked out. Apparently I'd gotten to my feet and was disrobing for some reason.
"-what the hell are you doing?"
My body finished unbuttoning my blouse. Distantly, I heard my voice saying, "Well, I can't kill you because I love you too, and I'm not wealthy, so the only thing I can offer for your silence is my body-"
The room flashed white as Rosie slapped my muzzle hard. Damn, but cheetahs can move fast. "Not happening. Sorry."
The shock brought me back behind my eyes. "thanks...I needed that..." I collapsed on the floor and began weeping uncontrollably.
Amazing how fast Rosie can switch gears. She was by my side, wiping my eyes and holding me until my shuddering sobs stopped. "It's okay, baby, it's okay, let it out."
I don't remember much about that night, except that Rosie got me into a flannel nightie and tucked me in, slipping in alongside of me and holding me.
Mercifully, I can't remember having any nightmares.
November 15, 1936
Sunday dawned sunny and warmer. As I walked out of the bedroom, Rosie was fully dressed and tickling the keys of the baby grand in the suite's parlor. Breakfast had been laid out on the table, and as I walked in, the cheetah grinned at me and sang:
See the obese tourist clan
Waving dollars in their han'
They pay good money to us, so we must salute 'em
Whiney little tourist boys
Think our tikis are their toys
If it's tourist season, then why can't we shoot 'em?
I applauded. "I think you have your next Top Ten hit."
Rosie bowed. "You're too kind. It'll go over well next Hoopy Jaloopy." A puzzled look on my part. "I'll explain some other time. Ready for the ceremony?"
"Ceremony?" I looked even more confused. "We getting hitched after all? You got me pregnant, didn't you? You rotter!"
Rosie sniggered. "Okay, if you can make wisecracks like that, you're feeling better."
I nodded. "Yeah. Feels better getting things out in the open."
"Speaking of which-" Rosie flourished the sheaf of papers. "I figured you'd want to watch."
"Damn tootin," I said grimly as Rosie's evidence flared up in the fireplace. I grabbed the poker and stirred the fire thoroughly to make sure the pages burned completely.
Rosie looked satisfied and waved at the table, set with oatmeal for me and a halved-grapefruit for Rosie. "Now, d'you think we can continue our little talk without you collapsing on me again?"
"I suppose so," I nodded seriously, settling down at the table across from Rosie.
"Okay," Rosie said. "Now, since I managed to put you into shock yet again, I take it my detecting was pretty accurate?"
I grinned ruefully. "I'm going to recommend you to Allan Minkerton."
A raised eyebrow. "THE Minkerton?"
I nodded. "My boss."
Rosie frowned. "Then you're...How much...nevermind, he probably knows enough."
"Yeah," I agreed. "He christened Willow."
Rosie nodded. "Good enough. Anyone else have a clue?"
I mused out loud. "No, I don't think so...I've been fairly careful..."
"Humph." Rosie snorted. "How about Romeo? Whapping him with an
"Reggie?" I thought carefully. "I...don't think so. At the time, I told him about seeing the...the footage...and that I just thought it was too cruel to make fun of the poor buck."
"I've always said that the best lie is the partial truth," Rosie approved. "And he went for it?"
I nodded. "I'm pretty sure he did. Reggie's a sweetie, but I don't think he's particularly bright."
"Your boy graduated from an I.V. League school," Rosie warned. "He's got some brain cells, even if he doesn't apparently use them." She sighed. "We gotta get you two hitched. If nothing else, a husband can't be made to testify against his wife..."
"Thanks," I said dryly. "Hopefully, there'll be more to it than that."
"Nu, there have been worse reasons to marry," Rosie chuckled. "I may even try it myself at some point." She leaned back and grinned. "No hurry, though." A sigh. "Okay. So your cover is pretty tight, long as you keep your yap shut." She gave me a stern look. "And that includes being able to take jokes about your Papa without cracking a frown. Capeesh?"
I nodded, miserably. "I think so."
Rosie nodded back, satisfied. "Good. Because if those mamzerim in New Haven...what?"
"Nothing, nothing," I smiled wanly. "It just struck me how many nifty curses there are in Yiddish."
Rosie rolled her eyes. "Ahem. As I was saying, if those mamzerim find out Stagg's oldest hasn't assumed room temperature, said oldest gets a great big bullseye painted on her as well. Get it?"
"Got it," I nodded.
"Good." Rosie looked thoughtful. "Now, the business with wotsisname, Rakhsov. Who the hell names their kid Rahksov? Nevermind. We know that someone from New Haven was trying to buy a hit, nu?"
"Yeah," I said grimly. "My Russian is quite good, thanks."
"But your Papa and his assistant, Brush, don't know that?"
I shrugged. "No reason for them to make the connection, but who knows? It's not like I can go up and ask them..."
Rosie nodded slowly. "Be a good idea to let your Papa know, or Brush at the very least."
"Yeah. But how?"
Rosie looked thoughtful. "Well, I'm pretty good in Spontoonie. How's about this?..."
(Peaccce be unto you, Karok-ssson-Karok. Information myssself possess creature with hornss outlander consstable concern. Requessst urgent myssself meeting yourssself half turn of hour Dock Two placcce.)
I nodded admiringly as Rosie hung up the receiver of the payphone. "Nice."
"Think he'll come?"
I shrugged. "Only one way to find out." I hefted the pair of spiny objects. "Got 'em."
Rosie wrinkled her nose. "So you have. Yick. Well, let's get things rigged..."
(thirty minutes later)
The nice thing about Spontoon in the depths of November is that, with little traffic, the docks are pretty much deserted at night. So, the approaching figure was fairly obvious and, blessedly, appeared to be alone. I faded back to the far end of the darkened alley and kept watch, one sensitive ear cocked to catch the conversation at the other end.
"Ssergeant Brussssh?" Rosie's hiss was as sibilant as any reptile's.
The fox paused and began to turn towards the darkened alleyway. A metallic click. "Pleasssse do not turn around."
Brush complied, keeping his paws in sight. "Y' called me?"
"I came to deliver a messsage."
Brush sighed. "I figgered as much. Kay. Spill it."
"Insspector Ssstagg is in danger. Thhhe boar, Raksssov wasss hired to kill him by thhhe New Havenite."
Brush stiffened. "...An' th' dame, this Nuki-Nuki?"
"One of ourss. She left thhhe island sshortly afterwardsss."
"Un-hunh. An' who th' hell, 'f I can ask...?"
As both Rosie and I agreed, the best lie is the partial truth. "Thhhere are people in America... who sssympathize withhh Ssstagg. Of courssse, if you were to call, sssay, J. Edgar Howler, you would get naught but denialsss..."
Brush snorted. (Emphasis anger blood-oath sworn myself creature with horns outlander protect. Others likewise creature with horns outlander guard. Myself kill method paws assassins potential...)
A return snort from the alleyway. (Myssself acknowledge sssstatements thhhou. Peaccce be unto you, Karok-sson-Karok.)
Rosie, having finished the script, did a fast fade down the alley, clicking her unlit cigarette lighter shut as her cloak billowed behind her. As she passed me, I gave her an anxious glance and whispered, *He following?*
A surprised yelp and a splat down the alleyway, as Brush hit the tripwire sending the two overripe durian fruit splattering smack into his muzzle, followed by the sound of the bespattered muzzle hitting the ground. Hard.
(FIRE-GOD TALE-BEARER DEVOUR SLOW SPEED, LIKEWISE PAIN EXTREME WITH!!! TALE-BEARER OFFSPRING WATERSCUM LEGITIMACY NEGATIVE!!!)
Rosie grinned and shook her head as we made our escape. *Nope*
A rapid dash back to the Lotus. "You sure you don't want to come back with me?" I asked hopefully.
Rosie leaned over and gave me a peck on the end of my nose. "No. As the Good Book says, 'Lead us not into temptation, because we can find it for ourselves'. Or something like that."
I sighed. "I suppose you're right." A quick hug, then alone back to my hotel for the first truly untroubled sleep I've had in...
Quite a while.
November 16th, 1936
Oatmeal. The breakfast of penitents.
But somehow, even with grey cold mist back outside my rooms, the plain repast of oatmeal and unsweetened pineapple juice was a feast.
"You know," I murmured to myself, "I don't think that I don't half love that woman..."