"What Goes Up..."
by E.O. Costello
All characters by E.O. Costello
Most parts of a police station are hardly places of mirth and merriment.
Particularly for those caught in the clutches of the Law (justly or unjustly).
Of course, there are exceptions.
Particularly the constables' locker room.
Spring was very much in the air on this afternoon in 1934, and most of the constables were feeling the age-old instinct. Jokes and discussions varied from mild innuendo to rather more frank, with frequent reference to what was colloquially referred to as the "wedding tackle" of fellow officers. The banter was bilingual, mostly in Spontoonie with some English thrown in as spice and the occasional Chinese phrase landing with a soft crump of sarcasm.
The noise level dipped slightly as one tod came waddling out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his stocky midsection. Most of his fur was apricot-coloured, except for his "gloves," which were the usual black, and a number of spots on his chest and back showing weals and scars in varying degrees of anger. There was a comparatively fresh scar running up and down the fox's bicep, from which the stitches seemed to have been removed comparatively recently.
The other constables lowered their voices a bit more at this sight, and most gave him their respect. Most, that is. After the fox removed his towel and stood in front of his locker, a comment wafted in from somewhere indefinite.
"Aw, stop showing off, Orrin. We've all seen Kiki's sap."
The locker room echoed to a burst of nervous laughter. The fox merely feigned indifference, scratched himself, and sneered in the general direction of the voice.
"Yeah, yeah. An' we all seen yer mate's toot'pick, ain't we, boys?"
The voice, if it responded (which wasn't likely), was drowned out in the laughter that followed. The fox reached in and took out his street clothes, a worn and comfortable pair of slacks, a collared shirt, a jacket, and a flat cap. Completing the outfit was a tie of unusual design, if a splotch of random colours can be called a design. It struck the eye like a tuning fork, leaving it vibrating. A quick check of pockets, a slipping of a .38 Police Special into a shoulder holster, and a slipping of the (literal) sap up a sleeve, and Senior Constable Orrin Francis Xavier Brush was ready to go home, to the Main Island of the Spontoons. Of course, there he was known by a different name...
(Query worried-thee mate-thine injuries, sister mine.)
This question came from a vixen in early middle age. Her body was unmarked by motherhood, for she had given her vows to something unseen.
At least to most furs.
Her fur was carefully oiled and groomed, and marked by the oil with certain symbols that to most eyes would not have any specific meaning.
Their meaning was an open book to the vixen to whom the question was addressed. As well it should, for Kiki Brush (to use her "Euro" surname) was the sister of three Wise Ones, the niece of two others, and the niece-in-law of five others. She could trace a relationship in blood, and other unseen bonds, to every vulpine Wise One in the islands.
One of the three reasons she was not oiled in fur like her sister was suckling at her breast. Motherhood had been the route of personal preference for her. Far from scorn, this had the approval of the Wise Ones. After all, future Wise Ones must needs come from somewhere. Her large size in many ways marked her out physically suited for her choice, and the large sooty paw that cradled the feeding kit marked her out as emotionally suited for a mother. And the Brush family was noted, in its own right, for having the Gift in its blood.
Speaking of which, the Wise One reached into a sewing basket, and picked up a khaki shirt. The three stripes on the shoulder marked a senior constable. The large, dark stain just below it marked a constable that had been involved in a recent struggle.
(Query desire-thee status widowhood, sister mine.)
The vixen shifted uneasily in her seat, and bit her lip. She could not, of course, talk back to a Wise One, even if it was a sister that had, many years ago, wiped bottoms and blown noses.
(Painful and grevious question is.)
(Know-myself true for telling is. Sister mine, unto myself answer. Query purpose silent-thee.)
The vixen rocked back and forth in her chair. The kit, having finished his meal, had snuggled into the area between breast and shoulder, and had fallen fast asleep.
(Query desire-thee child-fatherless, sister mine.)
The only answer has a tear, the first of a series that began to fall down the vixen's cheek. They were not interrupted by the sound of a door being cheerfully opened.
(Myself home is, mate-precious! Query location-thee.)
The fact that this happy question was not answered was a point of concern, and the tod wandered into the living room, to find his mate clutching her (their) youngest kit tightly, and murmuring tearfully into its small ear. The Wise One was fingering the unmended and untreated uniform, and eyeing its owner with a firm gaze.
Constable Brush flexed his paws and glowered at his sister-in-law. Fighting the urge to crest his muzzle, he merely snapped out a request.
(Emphasis respectful query myself-thou kitchen assist.)
The Wise One laid aside the shirt, and strode with the confidence engendered by knowledge into the kitchen, following the tod, who was holding open the door with a veneer of civility. Which crumbled when the door closed.
"Now, damnit, look 'ere..."
(Negative speak Euro, Karok-son-Karok rude diminutive. Hearth-this being hearth Spontoonie...)
"Don't youse be givin' me no orders in my own damn house!"
(Negative hearth-thine. Hearth sister-mine. Query widow-thee rude diminutive.)
"Oh, so dat's it, ain't it? Now lissen, I'm gettin' fed up wit' youse scarin' Kiki 'bout my job. It ain't right pickin' onna vixen wit' a nursin' kit..."
(Query description infant wound-injury heal presently. Query prefer-thee rude diminutive myself kiss-same, heal improve.)
"Youse don't gotta kiss it an' make it better. Th' docs done a good job wit'out youse. An' as fer my job, I'm gonna do it th' way I wanna, see? I knows th' risks, just like my old man did, an' *his* old man 'fore 'im. Kiki, God bless 'er, she knows it. Yeah, I knows she t'inks about it. But she don't need no help from youse onnit, see?"
(Query change-thee rude diminutive world-ending before.)
"I'll change in my own damn time, when I damn well please. Now I gotta fix dinner. So 'scuse me." And with that, the tod grabbed a sack of potatoes, a peeler, a pot, and slammed out onto the back porch.
The Wise One pondered slowly, standing in the kitchen. Law-Guardians were difficult creatures to deal with, still less ones that were brothers-in-law. Even still less ones that had notions of justice that were unshakable.
On her way back to her hut, the Wise One thought to herself. Direct intervention by her, or her sisterhood, was pointless. It would take intervention by other authorities to convince Karok-son-Karok (she refused to use the Euro name, viewing it as uncouth) of the error of his ways. She would think about it, over dinner. Cold rainwater and warm tapioca stimulates the brain.
Dinner, for the crew of what was once the M/V "City of Sandusky" was quite the opposite of what the Wise One was planning. Namely, warm rainwater and cold tapioca. Amenities on board the vessel were somewhat limited, owing to the desire by the owners to squeeze out every last dollar of profit. Gold dollars, we should emphasize. There are aspects of the international arms business that are most conservative.
We will not dwell on the name of the vessel, largely because it has changed its name five or six times, and its flag twice, during this voyage, according to the needs of the moment.
The crew, largely international in nature (in part because some have been disowned by their native lands) took little interest in the cargo, and only insofar as the crates either served as tables, beds, or obstacles toward reaching the head.
The previous owners of the cargo, being a consortium of French officers assigned to the penal colony at New Caledonia, were glad to be rid of it, as in general naval artillery shells were of little use. Of greater use was the money received for selling the property of the French government, which could be used for either securing promotions in a more temperate climate, or the acquisition of food, drink and nocturanal company to make the fetid conditions more palatable.
The new owners felt that a floating warehouse was an efficient use of capital, and moved the ship around in international waters, the better to conduct negotiations and avoid certain inquisitive governments that might have a relaxed view toward property rights.
Down the street from where Constable Brush had his locker, the Deputy Minister in charge of the islands' militia collected his morning mail. Some of this was in the form of interoffice memoranda, which were passed on to a subordinate to dispose of. Some were letters, which required a mere perfunctory reply. And then there were the handwritten notes, looking not unlike stock market quotations.
Which, in a sense, was exactly what they were. Instead of National Carbon Company 5% Preferred, or New York Central First and Refunding Mortgage Bonds, what was for sale were the products of Krupp, Schneider-Cruesot, Vickers-Armstrong, duPont and the like. As with Wall Street, the rule was Buyer Beware. The Deputy Minister remembered all too well that his predecessor had purchased a quantity of slightly flawed Mauser rifles that had suffered quality control problems from a factory in the midst of a labour dispute. Only a few furs knew the true origin of his derisive nickname "Cyclops."
The communication in his paw promised a large quantity of 8" cruiser shells, formerly the property of a gentlefur (the bureaucrat smirked at this gibe at Sotheby's), plus an assortment of late-model grenades, and a limited supply of flamethrowers formerly the property of the German Army, but acquired during the last weeks of the Great War.
The minister frowned at the price. A substantial deposit was called for, and the total purchase price would represent nearly his entire budget (both disclosed and "black") for arms purchases for the year. Mindful of his predecessor, who was presently the Althing representative on Gull Island, the Deputy Minister indicated, on behalf of the government, a certain level of interest. The earnest money would come later.
At roughly the same time, a certain ministry in a certain nation that we need not name was also perusing this same list, with an expression of keen interest. Money was not a particular object, as unlike the Spontoons, this particular ministry had a more expansive budget for off-the-record purchases.
For this ministry, the value lay in the goods for sale, which were not traceable to the nation's own factories, and thus fell into that pool of anonymous weaponry that is very helpful for certain activities that would rapidly become awkward were certain trails followed.
The minister in charge made a few tick marks on his copy of the memorandum, and picked up the inter-office telephone to contact the finance bureau.
It was a busy morning for ministries in the Spontoons; normally the workday was essentially finished by lunchtime, allowing for private work to be accomplished. Of late in this year of 1934, activity had been picking up. More and more ministry officials were required to stay for nearly the entire afternoon, which was having something of an effect on morale, though not as much of an effect as on the morale of certain bartenders and femme-furs with "hunting licences," who saw business decline noticeably.
In this particular case, the Ministry of the Interior was burning the afternoon oil, struggling to compile a memorandum. The title was expressed thus: "Spontoon Islands Constabulary - Detective Bureau (Proposed) - Staffing (Proposed)."
In fact, the Detective Bureau had gone beyond the proposal stage, and was now at the point where facilities were in preparation. One of the former storage rooms downstairs and to the back of the headquarters building was in the process of being cleaned out somewhat indifferently by a group of custodial furs that was now being deprived of one of its most important places of repose.
The staffing was proving to be of a different degree of difficulty, owing to the same budget restrictions that pawcuffed the militia officials. The objective was to get a competent detective or two, cheap, who would be willing to move to the Spontoons. There were some sentimentalists who believed that honesty was also a requirement for the job. The various restrictions this imposed upon the job search were proving to be something of a headache.
In the end, only two detective positions would be funded. The senior detective's slot was more or less filled. A gentlefur who had been a detective, and then the head of his nation's police force, had become available because of a somewhat inconvenient revolution that had caused changes in the way the police force there was run. This gentlefur had also had his family ties suddenly removed, courtesy of a rather gruesome display of public revenge. Some of the furs on the Althing rather cynically guessed this would allow them to hire him at a relatively low annual salary, as he had nowhere else to go, and in that sense, their guess was correct. It was not for nothing that there were many shopkeepers and traders on the Althing.
It was the second slot, the junior slot, that was causing issues. There were various family groups that were interested in placing a scion in this position, judging that it would be useful to have a family member as a detective. Other furs had large and growing families, a fact likely to be known to honest and dishonest furs alike. One candidate had been confronted with evidence regarding certain tastes he indulged that would have been well beyond his means had he not had a "friend" who was a member of the Chanticleer Club on Moon Island. It was not so much the tastes themselves -- Spontoonies are nothing if not broad-minded -- but the expense and reliance on outside sources that was troubling.
And so, bento-style box perched precariously on a pile of folders, a deputy under-secretary of the Ministry of the Interior was spending some hours indoors pawing through files for what seemed like the dozenth time, and getting no closer. He was not a happy fur.
Nor was the fur currently in the bathroom which was, ironically, down the hall from the future Detective Bureau. A conference was currently being engaged in, though minutes would have been somewhat useless, as one side of the conversation was largely composed of gasps and gurgles. This was largely owing to the fact that Constable Brush had the interlocutor by the back of the head, and was repeatedly forcing the head in the toilet. As we have previously alluded, the quality of the janitorial services at the headquarters of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary are indifferent at best. This may have affected the mindset of the fur being questioned.
Brush took his time. He was looking for certain information regarding the location of a certain stash of narcotics. Ordinarily, this would be of little interest to the S.I.C., except that certain tourists had been getting it into their heads that doing things under the influence of powerful drugs was perfectly acceptable. Which it was not to certain "hunting licence" holders, who had appealed to their umbrella organization for assistance. This was forthcoming. The organization in question paid a substantial amount in taxes, both in coin of the realm and in off-the-books taxes in kind.
A wad of paper towel applied roughly to a muzzle, plus the flushing of a toilet, signalled the start of another round of questioning. The fur in question, a rat with a noticeable American accent, had started out defiant, but his resolve seemed to be weakening.
"Look, I'm...I'm tellin' ya, I don't know nuthin' from nuthin' about no smack, honest!"
"Aw, jeez, what big words ya know. "Honest." Say, who taughtcha dat one?"
"C'mon, cut me some slack..."
"Only slack yer gonna get is th' slack of me belt 'round yer neck iffen ya don't give out. Where is it?"
"I don't know! I don't know! I don't deal in smack no more!"
""No more," hey? Howzabout you spill out..."
"Lookit, I know some stuff 'bout other things..."
"Yeah? So what?"
"Lookit, cut it out, an' I'll tell ya somethin'"
"I ain't in th' mood fer fairy stories. I'm kinda in the mood, though, fer givin' ya a bath. Yer dirty 'round th' ears." Which, incidentally, was true. See above re cleanliness of HQ toilets. A paw reached for the chain to flush the toilet, the sight of which provoked a squeal of fright, and a messing of trousers.
"Lookitlookit, somethin' big is comin' down, but it ain't no drugs. Please, listen, don't do no more, just listen..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
"No, LISTEN! Word on th' street is dat there's a hot load of guns. Real big stuff. Great war machine guns, mebbe a few flamethrowers. Furs have been talkin' 'bout gettin' a piece of th' action..."
Constable Brush listened. This wasn't the first time he had heard such a story, but he knew there was a brisk trade in this sort of thing. The world was a dangerous place. And could become more dangerous, Brush mused, if certain furs whose names were in good odour on Krupmark got their paws on them.
Brush didn't need a notebook, but mentally filed away the details the gonef spilled. At the end, Brush mused. What he heard was plausible, but was going to require a bit of checking.
The rat looked up at him, hopefully, with water (?) slicked fur. "So, ya gonna let me go?"
The fox looked down his muzzle, which promptly crested. "In a bit. Looks t'me likes ya need t'use dis joint." In a few moments, and with the aid of a large switchblade, the rat's trousers and briefs were down around his ankles. Given that his paws were cuffed behind his back, this was one way to allow him freedom.
Brush left the bathroom door wide open, and went to wash his paws at an outside tap. A few minutes later, he could hear one of the lady constables start to laugh and jeer in the distance, and smiled to himself. This was one fur who was learning that being a crook wasn't the way it was depicted in the Weimerarner Bros. films.
On the bridge of the motor vessel, the captain read a flimsy that had been handed to him in a sealed envelope. (This had been a new procedure, owing to the misuse by a crewman of what could be referred to as "inside information." His employment was speedily terminated. As was the crewman himself.)
The directions were terse. He was to proceed to the Nimitz Sea and await further orders regarding sailing. In the meantime, certain reliable crewfurs were to be given practice in the care and use of heavy machine guns. The captain raised an eyebrow at this, but quickly relayed orders carrying out this edict.
The militia official was in his office, well after dark. This would have caused comment on Meeting Island, except for the fact that the lights were doused in his office. The purpose he was staying behind for would have caused more comment. It was not related to a femmefur other than his wife. That sort of thing barely raised an eyebrow, though it raised many a skirt. There were many behind-the-paw smirks over the Chief Constable's choice of playmate, for example.
The purpose of the night-time work was largely to keep an eye on an envelope, which was lodged in the cleft of a nearby double-palm. The white of the envelope contrasted nicely with the dark, and allowed for an easy bit of surveillance.
Near eleven, a shadow flitted near the tree. The official blinked, and raised a pair of binoculars to view the fur attached to the shadow. The fur in question was wearing a red scarf around the hat-brim, as per instructions; the nearest light-source confirmed that. Some tailfur motions were made as well, in accordance with instructions.
A few seconds later, the envelope, and the fur/shadow, was gone. The earnest money had been paid.
Nights in the Brush household could be fragmentary affairs. Sometimes it was the late shifts. Other times, it was the requirement to feed infant kits. Still other times, and these were much rarer, it was tears.
Kiki Brush was a proud vixen, and in part this pride came from running the house her way. A deal had been made with her mate-precious (she used no other term, since no other term fit); the house was her domain, and the job was his domain. And her mate-precious had always kept his word to her. Certainly, she knew he appreciated the sight of a lush tail -- what tod didn't? -- but there was only one bed he stayed in. And her paw-smacks about the ears and muzzle were taken with a meek grace and compliance.
Which, in the final analysis, was part of the problem. It was not a question of an obedient mate. It was not a question of a loving father. It was now at the point where if her mate-precious were to be taken away from her, it would leave a gaping, raw wound where none could see. Though not a Wise One herself, Kiki Brush's blood carried enough to sense things, and what part of her soul was irrevocably attached to that of her mate-precious.
And this was what caused the tears. In spite of the not-so-subtle prodding of her sisters, she refused to force her mate-precious to take a desk job, or other, less hazardous duties. She had, on the night before she exchanged vows with her mate-precious, had sworn to the pantheon that she would honour her promises to him.
She never said a word, even when other constables would bring him home bloodied or unconscious. She took pride in his achievements, but knew that someday his luck might -- or had to -- run out. And it was the Knock on the Door that she feared the most.
Crying helped. Sometimes.
For his part, Constable Brush was also in a dilemna. He had sworn oaths. Not to the local pantheon, but to the Althing (a rather less impressive group). He was going to uphold the laws as his father and grandfather had done before him, even if his primary purpose was not to protect the family stills hidden in the Uplands. And he was not a tod to go back on his word.
But hearing the quiet cries of his mate-precious (he used the term almost as fervently as she did, though less publicly) made him miserable. Outside of his little home office, home was where he forgot his work and did his chores, played with his kits, and did whatever his mate-precious wanted. Not in that order. He could guess the cause of the tears, but he was stymied. He, for one, knew no way out of his current situation that wouldn't involve turning his back on the S.I.C., which was unthinkable.
Embracing or nuzzling his mate would make matters only worse, at least tonight. So the good constable tried to shut the quiet noises out as best he could, and get some sleep.
The rival bidder was informed that the Spontoon militia had placed an attractive offer for the merchandise. Ordinarily, this would have been met with a shrug, and perhaps some mild sneering as to what a backward group of savages could possibly want with some naval artillery shells. No doubt some totem or other rubbish.
This time, though, the reaction was more thoughtful. A mere counter-bid, while likely effective, lacked a certain level of satisfaction, a certain elegance. What is more, there was still the question of the actual efficacy of the merchandise.
There was, of course, a way to address the matter of raising the bid, testing the viability of what was being purchased, and dealing with a rival that was acting above itself. Some ideas slowly formed, and were jotted down with a smile.
There were days where the job was a positive pleasure.
Night patrol, for Constable Brush, could be a blessing or a curse, and sometimes even both. The dark afforded more opportunities for him to pursue his own methods of keeping the peace. Unfortunately, on occasion the dark also required him to baby-sit a constable that was better suited for filing papers in some obscure office.
This night was doubly lucky. It was a good night for arrests, and was made easy by the fact that his partner for the night was a rangy old tabby, a crony of his father's. The cat was of the view, shared by Brush, that the nightstick and the sap were much more efficient in keeping crime down than speeches by the Chief Constable.
The other piece of luck came when an unwary Euro tourist, who had likely misjudged the strength of the local booze, was staggering unevenly down a Casino Island street. She was being followed at a short distance by a shifty-eyed fur, who may have been after her purse. Perhaps. He was just on the point of reaching out for her, with a happy gleam in his eye, when the cat stepped out of an alleyway, cigarette in mouth.
"Hey, buddy? Got a light?"
The sight of a constable was as unexpected as the blow to the back of the head from Headache Maker, Constable Brush's favourite implement. One shot, behind the ear, and the fur went down silently. He was rolled into the alleyway, and left there for whatever scavengers of the night were around and about. The older constable satisfied himself by confiscating a solitary match, which he lit on the footpad of the unwary (and unconscious) denizen of the underworld.
"Meh. Yer ol' man woulda done better, Karok." The elder liked to use the native name, out of deference to the father, who was also named Karok. The younger Karok took the criticism in stride, with a smile, and then looked thoughtful.
"'ey, lemme ask ya sumpin. My ol' man ever get it from my ma about bein' on th' job?"
"Karok, your old man has been gettin' it from your ma since the day he married her. I mean, lookit, she's gotta wrist thicker'n his neck..." An exaggeration, though Constable Brush's mother was noted for being able to crush conch shells with her bare paw, something that never failed to liven up a luau.
The cat blew out a cloud of smoke, and eyed the younger fox. "Kiki givin' ya trouble?"
The fox lit a cigarette of his own. "Naw. You know her, she don't say nothin'. But my goddamn in-laws been workin' on her. I seen it in her eyes."
"Get another job?"
"As what? I know two things: bein' a cop, and brewin' sour cocoanut popskull. And that don't pay dese days, not like when Granpa was around."
"So. Why don't you get a desk job?"
"_____ that. Shufflin' paper? No way."
The older cat took a puff, nodded, and smiled to himself. He liked the younger Karok's attitude toward desk jockeys, which matched his own. "Well, there's always the gold badge route. How about this new gig openin' up, the detective gig?"
"Yeah, right. You know how the upper guys feel about me."
"I dunno. Sapper likes you." Sapper was their immediate boss, the Chief of Patrol, who cared more about results than procedure. It made him popular with the constables.
"Yeah, but Pickerin' don't." Pickering was the Chief Constable. In spite of being another fox, he was generally regarded as being overly impressed with himself, his voice, and possibily his virility. "An' I ain't referrin' t'me tie, neither." Though that, too, was a point of tension with the Chief Constable, who loved his uniform.
"Dunno, Karok. Nothin' ventured, y'know? More pay, too. Better class of fur, too, not hangin' round with bad influences."
"Heh. Speakin' a which, you heard anyt'in 'bout some sorta gun racket goin' down?"
"You mean what Slipper Charlie told you in the WC?"
"Yeah. Is he on the level?"
"Gotta say, I've been hearing stuff, too. Kinda worried about a few little toys sticking to paws in the transaction. Last thing my old lady needs is me coming home with a hole in my gut. Same for Kiki, I'll bet."
The fox scowled, and looked down at his footpads. "Yeah."
The cat tossed away his butt. "C'mon, Karok. Slipper Charlie's gotta buddy who hangs out down near the China Pier. What say we take five, get some lo mein, and have a little chat, hanh?"
Slipper Charlie's friend was in the middle of taking payment from a customer who was temporarily short on funds, but had other means of payment. He was not best pleased when the transaction was interrupted, but he knew the reputations of the constables who wanted to talk with him.
"Lookit, all I know is that a big boat is comin' in, later this week. You know, word came down from Eden in Paradise about it." This was the sardonic local slang for Ft. Bob on Krupmark Island, an area whose nightly entertainment would indeed be livened up by a shipload of munitions.
"You plannin' on buyin', Smokey?"
"Hell, no. What do I need it for? I'm an honest businessfur."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Three parts Kentucky bluegrass to one part dope. Sure."
The militia official did not have his mind fully on his work for the next day or two. A successful transaction would solve a number of pressing issues, and lighten his workload a great deal. A lost bid would not be a disaster, but there were scenarios he could envision that would be deeply unpleasant for him, and many others, should the Spontoon Mirror get its paws on it.
So the agony column of the Elele (Spontoonie edition) was carefully examined. Buried among the subtle (and not so subtle) requests would be the news he was looking for.
Luckily, the wastes of the North Pacific are pretty desolate and unoccupied, which meant that a picked group of the crew could practice firing the Bruining and Maxim heavy machine guns with relative security and serenity (not shared by the wildlife in the area).
While the furs in question would in no sense be qualified to storm Vimy Ridge, a few days of constant practice in the fresh air not only gave them a sense of working together with the equipment, but the break in routine and the aforementioned fresh air improved morale. In these matters, one thing can feed on another.
The other bidder occupied himself not by examining the agony columns of his local newspaper (such an institution did not exist in his culture, and was regarded as a mark of barbarity); rather, a more direct approach was used.
This involved graffiti in the mel's room of a well-known bar in the red-light district of the capital. Among the various critical analyses of the attributes and talents of assorted furs of one sex, the other, or perhaps neither, a subtle message could easily be hidden and overpainted.
Besides, the whiskey in this particular bar was first rate, and wasn't watered, like in some other bars in the area.
The art of conversation is important to a constable. Not only how to express one's self, but when and in what manner. One addresses a patron coming out of the fancier hotels on Casino Island far different from a native on the Main Island, let alone a drunken pilot relieving himself against a wall on Eastern Island. It is all a matter of degree, and sometimes adjectives.
Constable Brush had been spending a significant amount of both his on-, and off-duty time, running down the rumours about the Big Sale. For the most part, he could rely on the information gathered, as many furs in the darker areas of Casino Island were somewhat wary of lying to Constable Brush. At least in a manner that he could directly cross-check. Bruises on the "funny bone" were not amusing.
The rumours all checked that something was indeed going to go down, and very shortly. The goods were coming in by sea. It was going to be a large and profitable shipment. Nothing was known about the eventual customer or customers, but there were the usual suspects.
The usual suspects. One of them made Constable Brush crest. He was not overly fond of the Althing, even if one of his paternal uncles was a deputy minister in the Ministry of Public Works. There were things the Althing did that in his mind came very close to crossing the line in what was Right and what was Not Right.
Constable Brush's line was quite bright, which sometimes dazzled the viewer as to which side the use of Headache Maker fell on. Be that as it may.
Still, there was one advantage. Constable Brush's family had been on the Islands since his forebear had jumped ship from a whaler, and as a result he was tied by blood or marriage to nearly every fox on the island that had been there longer than five years. Some string or other could be pulled.
A little thought, and a mental climbing of the family tree, shook down a second cousin. "Shook down" was a double-edged expression in this case, because the cousin was running an enterprise out of his desk drawer that would not have pleased his bosses had they known. Perhaps a visit was in order. To catch up on family.
"Darling, I've managed to get away. I'm yours. Meet me at the pier. Fifty-thousand kisses to you."
"[untranslateable female anatomical reference] like no other in the North Pacific. She doesn't say "no." You know her number."
The Syndicate was pleased. Selling the same cargo twice was very good business, and improved profit margins substantially.
A small, dark, ancient vixen lay on a small, dark pile of blankets in a small, dark corner of a small, dark, windowless hut in a small, dark corner of a small, dark Uplands village.
Her age seemed prodigious, though a record buried deep in the Meeting Island bureaucracy suggested she might or might not have been in her late eighties.
Age, and a lack of mobility, had caused her to shrink, and she was much smaller than she had been seventy-two years ago, when her twin sister married Patrick Brush (a/k/a Kraic-son-Kalak). She barely moved; she did not even blink, for her eyes were sightless, and had been for years. What she ate, indeed whether she ate at all, was an interesting question. It was usually silent in the hut, save for the padding of the young vixen the village appointed to look after K'ii-daughter-Krya (no Euro name, of course).
For the last few days, though, the hut had been crowded. Sitting around the hearth were a half-dozen vixens, of varying ages. All were Wise Ones. They were related to Kiki Brush, Orrin Brush, or K'ii in one (or more) ways.
The first night, the matter had been discussed, by means of the eldest reciting the facts in a voice loud enough to carry over to the pile of blankets. Since then, silence. The vixens meditated in their own way, tending the fire in the hearth. Their job was one-third done. The first third was to recite the facts. This was done. The second third was to create the conditions for peaceful meditation, by helping clear the air of any distracting elements. This was being done. The last third was to listen. This would happen in all good time, and the Wise Ones were very patient. Wisdom would come when it did, and not a moment before.
Six pairs of eyes quietly stared into the fire for three days and three nights. No questions were asked, merely minds laid open.
On the third night, from the pile of blankets, a harsh noise disrupted the dark. From the elderly vixen, a rattle in the throat gathered and was heard. Her comrades looked up, looked at each other, and then padded over. They quietly sat down, and lent their ears to their elder.
The rattle slowly died away, and there was silence. This was replaced by a slightly scratchy voice. To the great surprise of the Wise Ones, it was in Euro, a tongue that K'ii had disdained all her life as a harsh, uncouth and barbarian tongue. She understood it perfectly well, but had long refused to speak it. This night was different. The Wise Ones heard, and heeded.
"From over the waves
Over many morrows
Comes many dangers,
From east there comes a shattered heart,
shattered soul, shattered hoof.
A struggled passage, a struggled start:
a wandering soul, a strange new roof.
From north there comes a glowing trail,
Demon hatchlings in prisons frail.
Forged in fire, forges fire
Destroyer of huts, and funeral pyre.
From west has come the liar sweet
Innocent eyes that mask deceit
Beware! The fur that beguiles a fool.
In wicked paws, the unwitting tool.
In south, O sisters, pledge your trust
As now I journey, from dust to dust
Truth is found in compass dial
Some near to paw, some off a while
The north, in darkness, shall be struck
A stroke of courage, a stroke of luck.
Thus will join the east and south
With courage bold and silent mouth.
The incubus planted with cunnning guile
Will reap success for quite a while.
Until Babel's tongues are rendered loose
And cast the shadow of a noose.
The Gods tonight, give you this boon
Through one who shall be silent soon
The future is cast in a still night shrouded
Through eyes that see, though they are clouded.
He who speaks with uncouth mouth
O ye sisters! Do not disdain!
Block not the boldness from the south
Or my words shall fail, in effort vain.
And with that, K'ii was no longer of this world.
*****Constable Brush, for his part, was spending the night at the offices of both the Elele and the Mirror, paging through the shipping news. For good measure, he made sure to take the local agent for Lloyd's out drinking. On one side, pineapple juice. On the other, a potent pineapple brandy, which proved quite suitable for loosening tongues and revealing sources of corporate information not normally available to outsiders...
The gunnery practice on board the steamship was continuing, and gradually getting more and more efficient. One problem that seems to have been overlooked by those in charge was that the gun-crews began to get cocky. And perhaps a bit careless in their attitude. A fort is only so impregnable as the soldiers defending it, not the tools they use in its defence.
Payment was not made in the men's room mentioned earlier; indeed, it is usually quite inadvisable to carry large sums of cash on one's person in these kinds of areas. Rather, a series of cheques was cut at a bank whose owner was rendered friendly to the government largely by the means of substantial overnight deposits of government funds at low rates of interest. Only an accountant of rare insight and diligence would have been able to trace each and every cheque both from its source, and to its ultimate destination.
By contrast, the other payment was almost charmingly direct and primitive. It involved a suitcase being carried by a "traveler" at the Eastern Island seaplane terminal. The suitcase was placed on the floor, to better examine both a map, and a rather shapely Pan-Nimitz stewardess. Not necessarily in that order. The stewardess was indeed eye-catching, as her attention to a recalcitrant garter caused a number of onlookers to pay close attention to her. And not to the fur that casually switched suitcases.
Constable Brush returned home bleary-eyed, operating on a few stolen moments of shut-eye during his shift. The last thing he really wanted to see was the sight of one of his aunts talking to his mate-precious.
To his surprise, though, the aunt merely acknowledged his entrance, patted Kiki on the shoulder, whispered a few words, and strolled out of the house without a further glance at Constable Brush. He marveled: this had been the first time in years this particular aunt had not boxed his ears as a matter of general principle.
Kiki, for her part, had the youngest kit in two large paws, and was busily scrubbing the soft kit-fur with a damp rag, accompanied by giggles and squeals from the young one. It made for much more pleasant noise in the house, and Kiki was about to make this observation when she noticed that her mate was seated at the kitchen table, his head on his arms, fast asleep.
The Syndicate board of directors examined the ledger entries. All was in order, for both sets of payments.
The cargo would be delivered, as per spec. The Syndicate always adhered to the letter of its promises. To all parties.
And so it was that a letter was transmitted over the oceans to a wandering steamship which promptly ceased its wandering and set out on a specific course with great purpose.
An unfortunate bout of scheduling had Constable Brush on an early shift the next day. To compound this, he was tagged with a rookie constable, one who could quote the Constable's Pawbook, and that would be about the use of him in a stand-up fight. Anything Brush needed to know about being a constable, he learned from his old man, and his old man, too. Early lessons in life sink in deep.
The freshly-minted constable, when not ablaze with all sorts of technical questions, was eagerly looking around, hoping to make quota. A trip to the Eastern Island terminal was viewed as a good idea, if only to prevent the young whippersnapper from giving the Ministry of Tourism agita.
The little ferret eagerly scanned the departure lounge, while Constable Brush bought a packet of Lucky Strike at the concession stand. Thus occupied, he was not able to stop his partner from bounding across the wide room to scold a passenger for dropping litter on the floor.
Luckies were forgotten for the moment, as a vulpine growl indicated that once again, intervention was necessary. Relief for the passenger was short-lived, however. Two steps from the litter that was being picked up, The Penny Dropped.
"Weeeellllll, Happy Harry. Goin' on holiday, Harry?"
"Uh...yeah. Lookit, I gotta flight t'catch, so couldja tell Junior G-Man here to write me up, an' drop it off at my place? I'll pay ya when I gets back..."
"Yeah, yeah, I heard dat one before, Harry. What's yer rush? You ain't th' type what sweats, normal-like."
"Look, c'mon. Jeez, there's th' flight. C'mon, c'mon, here, damnit, here's ten pounds, take it from that, okeh?"
"Phew! Nice, crisp bill ya got, Harry. Wheredja get it?"
"Look, I gotta...hey!"
"No. Ya don't gotta. Well, lemme rephrase dat. You *do* gotta. Wit' me."
"But my flight..."
"_____ yer flight, Harry. C'mon. I wanna talk..."
The small canine was partially carried, partially shoved toward the janitor's room, off the passenger terminal. It was a small room, and three would definitely have been a crowd.
A finger was aimed at the young constable.
"Write up yer report."
"On yer litterin' arrest. Spellin' an' penfursship count. So take yer time."
"But reports aren't written until the end of the shift, unless they involve a felony offence. That's Chapter 7, Paragraph 23(j) of the..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Th' Constable's Pawbook. Say, where does ya find dis in dat book?" With that, Constable Brush kneed Happy Harry hard, between the legs. The canine yelped, and dropped to his knees. Instantly he lent an ear to Constable Brush. Which was unavoidable, as the latter had it in a paw, and was twisting.
"Now lissen up. Ya wanna tell me what's a fur doin' wit' a nice crisp ten-spot, when he's on th' slate at damn near ev'ry bar on Casino and Southie? You ain't had a ten-spot in months, Harry. S'matter, a rich uncle died?"
"I don't gotta talk t'you, Orrin."
"That's right, sir. Chapter 2, Paragraph 9 of the Constable's Pawbook states that upon reading a suspect his rights, he has the right to remain silent."
"Yeah? Zat so? Even when I does dis?" Brush flexed his wrist, and an ear bent in a way it was probably not designed to do. The other wrist was clamped firmly around a muzzle, the better to keep things quiet. The ferret's eyes bugged.
"Golly, you can't do that. The use of physical coercion is prohibited to members of the Constabulary...that's Chapter..."
A fierce eye was flicked at the ferret, who gulped and lapsed into silence. After about fifteen seconds, Constable Brush growled.
"Ya wanna tell me what Chapter 11, Paragraph 4 says? Take out yer lil' book, an' read it t'me..."
The ferret fumbled in a uniform pocket, and took out the book, flipping to the page with shaking paws. Eventually, he found the cited section.
"Ummm...a constable's partner shall be held responsible for all actions of the other partner, whether or not warning has been given."
"Dat's right. So yer on th' hook if I does dis, see...?" And with that, the paw that had previously had the ear-hold was used against both eyes, with a delicate skill that would have aroused the imagination and admiration of Surly, no doubt inspiring a squealed "nyuk-nyuk!"
The younger constable shivered, and put his rule book back in his pocket, and watched while his partner quizzed Happy Harry as to what his hurry was.
The militia bureaucrat was reading the agony column of the Elele. This time, for personal and not professional reasons. Sometimes the most surprising offers could be read there.
He nearly spat out his coffee, though, upon reading this message:
"Darling, your kisses a few nights ago weren't enough. I must have more, more! If I can't have your love, something drastic will happen. The usual place, and hurry!"
It was nearly a minute before he was able to compose himself, and recall where the emergency rendezvous was, as well as the pass signals.
The younger constable was learning things not in the Constable's Pawbook. Such as the creative uses of a janitor's sponge.
Happy Harry's cognomen was becoming increasingly a case of false advertising. He was one extremely unhappy canine. Or, more accurately, a scared canine.
He did not have much to tell. He didn't want to go, not on the eve of the biggest commission he could probably earn in years, enough to pay off all his debts. But his bosses told him he had to scram, and scram that day, or else things would get hot for him. And not from them. The ticket was free. It came with expenses, and the promise of a nice holiday in Los Antelopes, complete with a "tour gide" who was neither squeamish nor prim. But it was today, and only today, that the offer was good.
Brush wanted, obviously, to know more. But in spite of the use of ammonia to go with the sponge, he got little more than the fact that there was a delivery scheduled, very soon. And one that required Happy Harry, as the local representative of his firm, to be somewhere else. Far away.
Harry's muzzle was shoved into a sink full of warm water, and left there.
Constable Brush and his shadow trotted out of the storage room, and out of the terminal proper. A water-taxi was grabbed.
"Meetin' Island, an' step on it."
The passwords were exchanged at the usual meeting place. Given the fact that the messenger was a rather shapely springbok, the frank nature of the words would have been pleasurable had the social circumstances been different.
As it was, the message was chilling.
"Twenty-five thousand more. By midnight."
"Gods, what for?! We paid you in full, as per the contract."
"So you did. This is, however, a new deal."
"Stuff the new deal, I just want what I paid for, delivered to me."
"Indeed. Also irrelevant. We are negotiating now about the delivery."
"If the money is not paid by midnight, delivery will be made. To your doorstep. The usual place. That is all."
The Syndicate received word of these negotiations via a confidential channel almost immediately after the interview terminated.
The Directors were content. They had already been paid, and the money demanded was a mere extra, something that would boost the dividend fractionally if it came off. If it did not, no matter.
The Directors were of the view that the goods the Syndicate sold must be tested from time to time, to allow future buyers to assess their worth...
The younger constable asked to go on sick call as soon as he reached HQ. Constable Brush, by means of a foot, propelled him on his way.
The constables gathered around the desk sergeant knew that something was up with "Iron," when he didn't stop at the desk to either gossip or snap some frank and funny comment. Instead, the fox went on the bounce to the office of the Chief of Patrol.
Chief Sapper was nose-deep in paperwork, which he generally disliked, and blamed on the Chief Constable, who had a mania for memoranda. Thus, any excuse to down pencil and pad was welcomed.
Senior Constable Brush spilled it. Chief Sapper scratched his bulldog jowls, and grunted.
"Well, Orrin..." (As the door was closed, the Chief felt that formalities could be dispensed with.) "I mean, what you say and all may be true..."
"Hell, 'course it is!"
A calming paw was raised. "Oh, no, no, don't get me wrong, Orrin. But we're still missing a few facts. You're quite right, things do look odd. I've heard the rumours about something big going down. Most of that's belly talk from the usual lot..."
"Not dis time. I feels it."
Chief Sapper fiddled with a pencil, and tapped it against the desk. What was necessary was something he hated to do. It was distasteful, but it had to be done. He pushed away from his desk, and stood up.
"Right. Let's see the Chief Constable."
The fussy feline that was the Minister of the Interior was appalled. The Minister who had overall charge of the militia was less appalled. She was used to quiet deals being made in the dark. The Minister of Finance, to round out the trio, was appalled.
"Absolutely not. D'ye think money grows on trees? Twenty-five thousand pounds?! In just a few hours? Gods preserve me, that would bust our payroll, and I'm not facing the unions again. No, no. Last year was quite enough, thank you."
"But what are we going to do?"
The feline fussed with his tie. "Preposterous. Nothing more than a bluff, I tell you. A way to squeeze extra money out of us."
"What makes you think it's a bluff?"
"Well, I....I....hrmph, well it is, that's all!" Hardly logical. Ipse dixit, as the fans of debate would call it.
"Well, how is the delivery supposed to be made?" The only calm Minister in the room was still thinking practically.
"Well, we're supposed to get word exactly how it's being broken down, Minister."
"Well, some of that is in eight-inch shells, isn't it?"
The Minister of Finance goggled. "What the hell are we buying eight inch shells for? Paperweights?"
"Scrap, artillery-grade steel on the one paw, and top-quality cordite on the other paw. Both things that are highly useful, and a pain in the neck to get on the open market. Do you think we can order this stuff from Monkey Ward?"
"Well, what else do you have on this list, if I may ask?"
The minister turned back to her deputy, who gulped and read off a somewhat appalling Devil's Laundry List of assorted implements of mayhem, that came in a variety of sizes and shapes.
The cat began fussing with his glasses and his tie at the same time. "Well, good heavens, there's no telling how they can deliver that sort of thing, is there?"
The Minister conceded the point. "Well, look, we still have some time. I'll call Moon Island and talk things over with the commander there..."
*****The Chief Constable was sitting rigidly behind his desk, an expression of tight-jawed tension on his muzzle. Now was not the time he wanted to see anyfur, and *damn* Miss Lopp for letting this maniac in. Matteradamn who he was in the United States, he couldn't simply barge in and...
"I'm telling you, damnit, some blasted maniac let fly with machine guns at me."
"There must have been a half-dozen or more spitting lead at me. Right out in the open!?"
"And for God's sake, are you going to say anything but "uhhh-hunh" at me? What do you wear that uniform for, anyway?!"
The need for an answer was obviated by the entrance, without knocking, of Chief Sapper and Senior Constable Brush. Chief Constable Pickering stirred uneasily in his seat, his eyes bulging a bit.
The previous visitor, dressed in the best that Abercrowbie and Finch could supply in the way of flying gear, turned on the newcomers.
"Well, at least you two look intelligent. I've just been shot at with machine guns, as I was flying in."
Constable Brush's ears perked up. "When? Where?"
The visitor huffed. "Obvious questions, but at least that's the first sign of life I've gotten all afternoon. Those blasted idiots on Moon Island were taking mandatory break. Mandatory, I ask you."
Chief Sapper coughed, which steered the conversation back.
"Hmmm? Oh, right. It was about two hours ago, north-northwest of here. Large cargo ship."
"Any markins?" Constable Brush was leaning forward, which caused Chief Constable Pickering to swallow hard and bug his eyes out even more.
"Well, I didn't notice any, Constable, but I didn't exactly stay around to chat. I'll be damned if I'll have a conversation with a Maxim, thank you very much."
"Yes, about a half-dozen or so, letting fly at me. Good thing I could steer away. As it is, Superior will have to tend to some holes."
Constable Brush and Chief Sapper looked at each other with a wild surmise. In each, as before, The Penny Dropped.
Chief Sapper turned to his superior, who was starting to shake slightly, and was sitting even more rigidly behind his desk.
"Sir? Constable Brush was just speaking to me about a problem, and I think this story here may be an important part of it. I would like permission to..."
The Chief Constable squealed out in a voice higher than normal.
"I don't give a damn what you want to do, just go do it, and get out of my office! Now!!!"
Chief Sapper blinked in astonishment. This grew when he turned around to discover that Senior Constable Brush had vanished in an instant. The visitor, with a loud harrumph of irritation, intimated that he could be found at the Marleybone, and stalked off. Chief Sapper followed him, closing the door.
He thought he heard a whimper, and a giggle, a few seconds after he did so, but he thought it might be his imagination. At least, he hoped so.
On board the steamship, preparations were being made. There had been some dispute over whether to fire upon a private plane, but the plane had come so close, and seemed to linger, that precautions had to be taken. Evidently, the pilot was of sufficient skill that he could dodge the heavy machine-gun fire. This, in some respects, was justification for the action.
In any event, the question was likely moot. The Syndicate's orders would be carried out at dawn tomorrow morning, and the Syndicate reported that there was little, if anything, in the way of naval or air support that the Spontoons and their allies could gather, even assuming they could find the ship in time.
The Rain Island Naval Syndicate was, in fact, going to do its best to locate the vessel, based on the description given by the pilot of the private plane. However, the tools available for the job were scanty.
There were two seaplanes, a squadron of three bombers and three torpedo bombers (all biplanes), plus one trainer which could act as a scout plane. There were no significant vessels within recall range, as all ships were either in for repairs or on anti-pirate patrols. A few crashboats were available, but these were of limited value against a large vessel.
Nevertheless, the Syndic in charge of the Moon Island naval station approached the matter with the professionalism that one would have expected of a task force commander. The seaplanes, torpedo planes and the trainer were sent out in a fan-shaped search pattern, with the bombers kept in reserve for unexpected developments. In addition, Eastern Island tower communicated with all incoming planes to be on the lookout for any large vessels heading toward the Spontoons.
As few, if any, of the local fishing vessels carried radios or signaling gear, it was felt that it was not practical to employ them in the search.
Chief Constable Pickering, for his part, seemed curiously invigorated. Out from a file cabinet came a plethora of memoranda for emergency procedures. Many of them were even consistent.
The Interior Minister and the Chief Constable had something of an acidic debate over the measures to be taken in light of the pending emergency. Since there was no indication what, if any, actions were going to be taken, and where they were going to be taken, evacuations were simply out of the question.
Indeed, it was made lucid at an emergency meeting of the ministers that for the time being, the public would not be given news on the pending matter, so as not to cause panic.
The Althing, however, overlooked the fact that most Spontoonies noticed that the Spontoon Islands Constabulary was on full alert, with all leave cancelled, and the entire force mobilized. Along with the activity at Moon Island, many knew something was up.
The Pantheon was addressed many times that night.
Not the least of which in the Uplands, always an area that took the native Pantheon very seriously. Dinner at the Brush house was a comparatively simple affair compared to most nights. The two older cubs, sensing that their mother was pre-occupied, and noticing the empty place where their father usually ate, kept quiet.
The youngest cub, being of an age where his supply of milk and sleep and the changing of his nappy were the most important elements of a day, was oblivious to all of the events going on. This included his mother kneeling down in front of the little table that held a collection of carved wooden idols.
A pair of strong black paws shuffled the idols about on the table. Law-Guardian and the Fire God were brought to the front, and carefully rubbed with paws before being set into place.
At the point in time where Kiki Brush was kneeling before the household gods, her mate-precious was in the middle of some heated bargaining with not one, but two of the local fisher-folk.
The bargaining was made somewhat easier by the fact that both fisherfurs were related to him fairly closely (second cousins). The smaller of the two even bore a strong resemblance to the constable, differing only in clothes (or lack thereof) and length of head-fur.
At length, paws were shaken and some crisp bills were passed over. A larger sum to the taller fox, who went to start the engine on his fishing vessel. The doppelganger went to fetch a canoe, and began to carry it to the fishing vessel with practiced ease.
*****The three bomber pilots sat in the ready-room at the Moon Island base. Their planes were armed and fueled, and could be airborne in a matter of a few minutes. Each pilot had his own chart of the area, but they were all looking at a much larger chart standing on an easel, covered by a sheet of glass.
One airfur had a pair of earphones clamped over his head, and was listening intently for any communications. His partner waited alongside him, grease pencil in paw. From time to time, he cast nervous glances at both the clock and the outside window, where the Sun seemed intent on rushing toward its inevitable path.
Conversation stopped when the radiofur frantically waved a paw, and began scribbling down notations on a pad. He listened further, and checked over his work with the repeat of the signal. The message was translated from Morse code, and nearly tossed into the paws of the partner, who had to fight his way to the easel to mark the location.
Seconds later, three furs pounded hell-for-leather toward their waiting planes, as the radiofur frantically began signalling to the other planes the news.
Senior Constable Brush looked up from the deck of the (Sea-Guardian Appeal) and shaded his eyes with a paw.
Three planes were taking off with a roar from Moon Island, within seconds of each other.
He nudged the skipper of the vessel, who immediately began to study the planes with a seasoned eye, judging which way they were headed. Once he knew this, he snapped out an order to the fur at the tiller, and immediately the engine of the fishing vessel roared into life, vibrating the ship from stem to stern.
On board the steamship, the crews began to prepare.
One group was topside, armed with the machine guns.
Another group was gathering bags and assorted luggage, and storing them in an accessible place on deck, where they could double as sand-bags.
A third group began to shift around the boxes of cargo. Unfortunately, the manifest was confused and unclear, and it was a sweating, swearing and cursing group of seafurs that attempted to locate where the additional ammunition for the machine guns was located, as well as certain other pieces of equipment that might be handy tomorrow morning.
The equipment that was not desired was not repacked, as it was felt to be a waste of time, especially since dinner call was approaching.
Something else was approaching as well.
The torpedo bomber that had sighted the vessel was piloted by a fur who was judged to be the best in the squadron. Certainly in terms of navigation and scouting, he had already proven himself this afternoon. However, he also stayed on station, and relayed terse updates to Moon Island while dodging in the clouds as high as he could. This had the effect of keeping as much of the element of surprise (especially if the ship's radiofur was competent), as well as vectoring in the bomber squadron.
The two other torpedo planes raced to Moon Island to refuel and arm, while the two seaplanes, with their superior standoff capability, loitered in the area.
A yell from the forecastle of the steamship, and a frantic ringing of the ship's bell, provided the crew with just enough warning of the incoming visitors so as to be able to bring the weapons to bear.
The trio of bomber planes came in with tight discipline, plunging rapdily from cruising altitude with a wail of engine noise.
They were met by a fierce hail of machine-gun fire from all parts of the deck of the steamship. Coloured tracers arced through the air, which could be seen by the pilots, who nevertheless bore in on their target, even as they could feel the planes shudder from the impact of bullets.
The skipper of the steamship, with a keen sense of timing, waited until the critical moment to signal the engine room one way, and the tiller another way. In the space of a pawful of seconds, the steamship lurched to one side.
The providence of this move was shown by the fact that the lead bomber missed the steamship by mere yards, his bomb sending up a geyser of spray. His two partners pressed home their attacks, but with similar results. While the ship shook, and was soaked, it was essentially undamaged.
The seaplanes, hovering out of range, reported the results to Moon Island, where the ground crew was frantically preparing the two torpedo planes, and preparing for both the incoming third torpedo plane, and perhaps the bombers.
Perhaps. The three bomber pilots were busily nursing their craft back to Moon Island, one of them warily eyeing his engine, which was starting to give signs that it had been either strained by the attack or hit by the ship's defences. A quick glance out the window, and a judgement was made as to timing for a second run.
Constable Brush, for his part, wished that he could march to the sound of the guns, but things seemed maddeningly out of range.
Experiencing more of a sense of calm was the skipper, who immediately took notice of the fact that two torpedo planes were moving as fast as possible along the same course as the fishing vessel.
This news was passed along, for whatever it was worth, and Constable Brush seemed slightly mollified.
The light was getting dimmer as the small party moved out from the small Uplands village. Two Wise Ones in front, fur carefully oiled, but also dusted with ashes. Likewise, two Wise Ones in back. In between, a Wise One whose fur was liberally coated in ashes. She was carrying the mortal remains of Kii.
It was time to return what had come from nature, back to nature.
A short walk from the village lay a stony clearning, its ground broken and steep in spots. It was fortunate that in death, Kii's weight was negligible. Any burden was purely spiritual.
The bearer of the remains had just knelt down to place the body on the ground when an angry noise was heard nearby.
The funeral party turned, and on a nearby rock there perched a small, non-anthropomorphic white squirrel. These had been introduced into the Islands only 40 or so years before, but they thrived on the Main Island, and especially in the Uplands. Some Spontoonies were made uneasy by the staring pink eyes of these squirrels, but to a Wise One, this meant nothing. "Returned Ones" were the means by which messages were delivered.
The squirrel started, and continued to chitter. The Wise One in charge of the body straightened up, and walked toward the squirrel, who skittered away a few feet and stopped, chittering some more.
The Wise Ones asked no questions, but continued to follow their guide, until it led them to another area a little further from the village. Half-hidden by some vines was a large, flattish rock. The vines were cut away, exposing the stony bier, on which the old Wise One was gently laid, her footpads pointing to where the sun would rise on the following day.
The squirrel had found a small mushroom, and was eating it. The Wise Ones politely left it to its dinner, and padded back to the village.
The attack by the two torpedo planes was pressed home with stolid resolve, in the face of the need to come in "low and slow" in the teeth of fierce machine-gun fire. One "fish" went wide right. The second fish exploded prematurely, but close enough to the vessel to give it, and its crew, a bad rattling.
The two planes limped home, one trailing smoke, and the other becoming increasingly stained by blood.
Constable Brush swept the horizon with a pair of German binoculars that had been "borrowed" from the lost-and-found locker at Police HQ. He, and the skipper, had a vague notion where the ship now was, but they needed a bit more information before attempting a risky rendezvous in the dark.
The pilot that had first spotted the ship gulped the last of his coffee, and began to run toward his plane. Orders had been given that the attack by the two torpedo planes would be the last. He chose to turn a Nelsonian eye toward these orders, an action that had the not-so-covert support of the ground crew, the tower crew and, truth be told, the commander of the base, who cursed out the pilot, even though his heart was not in it.
The constables started to get fidgety. They had been lined up for inspection by the Chief Constable, who was having some difficulty getting things in shape, as periodically equipment was coming in and being dumped on the floor, causing a scramble to select the best equipment. Usually, this meant the equipment that was either not rusty, not mouse- or moth-eaten, or smelled powerfully of cosmoline.
The Chief Constable himself had a tin hat that was magnificiently shellaced, and he had taken the trouble to put on a fresh uniform with Sam Browne belt, all his brass gleaming. This was something of a contrast to the Chief of Patrol, who was in a plain uniform, and the senior sergeants, who were dressed in equipment from the Great War which made them look like something out of a music-hall act. One Welsh Terrier, with the fine voice of his breed, had started singing the lyrics to "Fred Karno's Infantry," until he was told quietly by Chief Sapper, and loudly by the Chief Constable, to shut up.
Eventually, some semblance of order was brought to bear, and there was a count-off against the roll. This had to be done three times, as discrepancies kept showing up as constables were sent off on errands. Eventually, all were present and accounted for. With one exception.
"Where the hell is Brush?" bawled the Chief Constable at Chief Sapper, in a voice that could be heard yards away, let alone the three feet that separated the two.
"Which one, sir? We have nine on the force." A true statement; Brush was a common name in the Islands.
"You _______ well know which _________ Brush I'm talking about! The one that's Senior Constable, or will until I tear stripes off his uniform and his miserable hide when I get a hold of him! Where the ________ is he?!" Ordinarily, the Chief Constable prided himself on his ability to give polished lectures, but tonight was something of an exception.
"Detatched on assignment, sir." Chief Sapper, who had been in the Kaiserschlacht in the spring of 1918, had seen worse than this night, and worse than the Chief Constable. He had his paws deferentially behind his back, and was ignoring the fact that his ears were starting to ring from the volume of noise coming from close by.
"What ________ idiot sent him off an assignment?!"
Chief Sapper coughed. "Ummmm...you did, sir."
"WHAT?!? Are you telling me to my muzzle, that...!?!"
"You'll recall, sir, that Constable Brush and I were in your office at the time that gentlefur came in to complain about being shot at. You gave him an order, sir, which he left to carry out immediately."
"Order?! What order?!"
"You told him, and me, that you didn't give a damn what he wanted to do, just do it and get out of your office. I realize you were busy, sir..."
At this, one constable in the front row guffawed, and was put on report by the Chief Constable for improper behaviour on parade. By the time this was sorted out, two constables came in with armfuls of Mauser rifles, which were distributed. The Chief Constable having stalked off to have words with the Militia Minister, Chief Sapper gave orders as to which parts of which Islands were to be manned, and how communications were to be maintained.
*****The pilot of the last torpedo plane was of the view that his status as the best pilot in the squadron had to be defended not only every day, but on every flight. The near-miss by one of the other torpedo planes had stung his pride slightly. Not in a bad way; he would be the first fur to stand a round if that proved to be the best score of the night. But while there was any chance of success, he was going to take it.
There was some luck on his side, as there was an early moon and few clouds in the sky. Armed with this, and what was generally regarded as the best brain of BG2 navigation in the R.I.N.S. ("By Guesses and By Gods"), he was going to spoil the dinners of the blighters on the steamship.
*****At the moment, the steamship was occupied in frantically checking for damage. A long rope ladder had been scaled over the side, and a fur with a signal lamp awkwardly tied to his chest was over the side, scanning the ship. The near-miss had, luckily, missed the screws and rudder, though it caused a small rupture in one of the fuel tanks, and the bright gleam on the water showed that the great steel beast was bleeding, slightly.
Closing in rapidly from the southeast, the pilot flew at near wave-top height, scanning the area frantically for any sign of his target. The ship was largely blacked out, except for one thing: there was a bright blob of light bobbing at the side of the ship.
With a snarling growl of triumph, the torpedo plane homed in, just as the crew of the steamship heard the noise of the approaching motor.
The early night sky was lit up with tracer fire, coming from both the ship and plane. The small blob of light was seen to scramble up, and then drop sharply, extinguishing itself at water-level. The rest of the crew were standing to with the machine guns, and had no time to mourn.
The pilot pressed the button to release his torpedo, but to his rage, the plane's weight remained the same. The attack was broken off, the plane circled around, and yet another run was made.
With the same result. The pilot had to content himself with a brisk burst of strafing. The fact that this started a small fire aft was of cold comfort to him. He continued to fire until the machine guns clicked empty, and he turned for home.
On the eleventh try, the torpedo finally cut loose, and eventually struck a small reef square on. This would not be in the report, of course. There would be a number of things not in the report, such as the post-mortem on the armourer's efforts.
The skipper did not need the fancy German binoculars to spot the tracer fire, and the small gout of flame. Constable Brush followed his pointing finger, and picked up the points of light. The other native fisherman, who had excellent night vision (the better to poach lobster pots), kept his eyes on the target, and began to think as the boat churned forward, turning slightly to meet its target.
Some of the older furs on the islands, recalling the Gunboat Wars, had quietly taken to rocky shelters, or began to dig slit trenches. Kittens, puppies, kits and the like were shushed, and swaddled in blankets, to keep them warm and quiet.
At the Marylebone, a fur from Shanghai was attracting a great deal of attention with a terrific run at baccarat. All eyes were on the table, which meant that no one saw the femmefur with a hunting licence lift his watch.
Final preparations were being made for the grand opening of Shepherd's Hotel down the street, though neither the chef nor the owner seemed to have their full mind on the job, as talk of souffles and sauces seemed at odds with constables with tin helmets and Mausers in the garden.
On one part of Moon Island, preparations were being made for dawn tomorrow, as all but one of the pilots slept on cots while their planes were being repaired. Doctor Meffit had been called from his clinic on Meeting Island to attend to the wounded torpedo pilot. An ugly leg wound, but nothing that a few weeks' recovery wouldn't fix. If there were a few weeks.
Dr. Meffit, it was noticed, was wearing a complete Canadian Army battledress. Few knew he had been in the Fusilliers de Mont-Royal.
On another part of Moon Island, the occupants of the Chanticleer Club were enjoying a midnight supper and improptu cabaret. The theme was "White Nights of Petrograd," featuring a former Guards officer with a resonant baritone and remarkable grace with ballet moves.
*****The steamship crew had stood down, but they were plainly exhausted from the activity of the last few hours. A few of the more enterprising furs were cleaning the machine guns, but most were sprawled on the deck, and not a few had gone down below to snatch a few hours' sleep.
The fur who had vanished in the attack was presumed dead, though he was not grieved for, as this would probably result in his share being split pro-rata among the survivors. Outside of this, he was forgotten.
So was the ladder that he had used.
The crew and passengers of the fishing vessel, having spotted their quarry, kept it in careful sight; a benefit of having multiple pairs of eyes with good night vision. The fishing vessel itself was a small speck upon the sea, and in general one that was not expected.
But it was still too large for the purposes at paw. The captain slowed his vessel, keeping it on course. The distance between the two vessels was rapidly chewed away, mostly by the larger engines of the steamship.
It was a tricky bit of timing, but one that eventually had to be faced. Orders were given to the canoe-master to prepare to launch his craft, with one passenger and associated kit. The canoe was a rugged, sea-going affair, with outrigger attachments that could be removed and disposed of with no great loss; the value was in the canoe's workmanship itself.
The passenger checked his equipment. He was traveling light. Instead of his beloved Headache Maker, he had chosen his second-best sap, one whose loss would not be mourned. The more complicated piece of equipment was a jury-rigged pair of gloves, which had powerful magnets glued onto it. Not an impressive piece of worksfurship, but the best a connection at Superior Engineering could put together on about one hour's notice.
There was a look of brief anxiety, replaced by a look of grim determination. This was a throw of the dice not known on Casino Island.
The radium dial on Constable Brush's watch read 0315. The skipper of the canoe had conserved his energy by focusing on steering his craft, not powering it. The glowing algae in the water, and the stars above, was all the equipment he needed other than his muscles and his eyes.
The crew of the steamship that were on deck were mostly sprawled on the deck, in a manner rather like the illustrations for Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The fresh air of the deck more than compensated for its hardness. Here and there, pinpoints of reddish-orange light marked where one fur or another, with more energy than most, was having a smoke, perhaps a last one before dawn and the return of the R.I.N.S.
In the infirmary at Moon Island, Dr. Meffit finished washing up. The injured pilot, as was guessed, was likely to recover.
Drying his paws, the skunk looked out the window, toward the sea. In his own mind, he was debating where he should be in a few hours. The Rain Island flight surgeon, who was also drying his paws after the operation, spoke up.
"Look at it this way. The boys here at the base are my responsibility, really. Your place is with your people, they've got first call on you. Whichever one of us needs the help more, we'll go there. Deal?"
A quick, business-like shake of the paws was all that was necessary. A shared heritage supplied the rest.
At Meeting Island, Chief Sapper and one of the senior patrol sergeants were having a smoke in a stairwell.
"Sir? Straight up, d'ye think ol' Iron knows what the hell he's doing?"
"God only knows, Sergeant. He has a way of evening out the odds in the end."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure there's a lot of folks at the Casinos who think the odds will even out at the roulette table. But they always pay in the end, don't they?"
"Let's think of something more pleasant, Sergeant."
At 0355, Constable Brush pulled on his gloves and flexed his paws in the leather. Somewhat clunky, but they could be disposed of at will.
The canoe master steered his craft carefully. With an expert pair of paws, he unlatched and dropped the port-side outrigger, which slid noiselessly into the water. In all likelihood, there would only be one chance, and perhaps not even that, if the frail craft were sucked against the massive steel cliff looming only yards away.
At the last second, Constable Brush saw something that would save him worry. The rope ladder which had been left carelessly over the side, by the fur sent to inspect the damage from the air attack, was dangling softly against the side of the ship.
In a blink, the gloves were shucked, and Constable Brush steadied himself against the canoe, the skipper leaning the other way to balance.
The end of the ladder was three feet up, and moving rapidly. It would take a skilled jump to reach the bottom rung, and without swamping or tipping the canoe.
Constable Brush's life of constant activity and exercise saved him, as he managed to barely grab the bottom rung with one paw, quickly swinging up his other paw, and bracing himself with his footpads against the steel.
The sound, to Constable Brush, of the footpads striking steel, was similar to a pair of cannon going off. But no head peered over the side to investigate. With a deep breath, the ascent began.
*****The crewfur, anonymous to us, who was smoking a last cigarette against the railing did not have his mind on the upcoming job. Not exactly, anyway. He was looking forward, rather, to the spoils of battle. Something of an arch-traditionalist, you might say. His knowledge of the Spontoons was limited to the fact that the femmefurs, when they wore anything, wore a little bit of grass skirting, and that there was a lot of booze to be had. A fur armed with a good machine gun could get a lot done in an afternoon, and without having to pay for it, either.
The crewfur enjoyed a brief fantasy of his proposed afternoon. It was well that he enjoyed it, since it was the last thing he considered.
He did not see the slung shot that arced behind his head.
Constable Brush briefly considered throwing the crewfur overboard, but the small and expanding puddle beside his head told him that it was unlikely the crewfur would be giving any more trouble, any time soon.
The deck was dark, though the moonlight did allow for some furs to be seen sprawled on deck. With some careful movement, at least he could avoid tripping over somefur in the dark.
A quick recon showed a hatchway leading down. Down was danger, but it was also the only way to find out what, exactly, he was up against. And for that matter, all of his brother and sister constables as well.
He had almost reached the ladder down when a fur behind him belched, and growled.
"'ey! Whatcha t'ink yer doin', mate?"
The constable thought. A fight at this moment would not be a good idea. The semi-truth would, however, suffice.
"Gotta take a piss, ya mind?"
Brush hoped that his voice would not be recognized. An international crew, and likely a pick-up one at that, was his best hope.
"Well, don't _____ mark your _____ territory on my bunk, or I'll bend you over and _______ you, ya stupid _______ canine."
Brush sniffed the air. Only the lash seemed to be missing from the storied trilogy of naval traditions that the crewfur appeared to be intimately familiar with. The muzzle crested, but he fought back the urge to retaliate. With only a loud grunt, he descened the ladder.
A rancid smell near the bottom of the ladder indicated the location of the "honey bucket." Constable Brush added his share. The action had more than one motivation, since it gave him a chance to look up and down the passageway without attracting too much attention.
What he saw concerned him. The passageway was a maze of packing boxes, with excelsior and straw strewn everywhere. Some boxes were open; the top one revealed some round drums of ammunition for a submachine gun. Another, some mortar shells. Still another, some uncharged French-model grenades.
Putting back one of the latter, Constable Brush thought furiously. This was a decent-sized ship, and even the pawful of packing boxes he saw here would cause major headaches for the SIC. And he didn't even know what might be in the cargo holds. Where were the cargo holds, anyway?
Zipping up, the tod quietly padded through the maze of boxes, ears twitching.
On Moon Island, the pilots were up early and sipping coffee. Ground crews worked to arm the bombers and torpedo planes, while the seaplanes waited at their berths, already fueled and armed. The plan was to have the seaplanes locate the steamship, and then send the combat planes in for a combined strike.
The pilots watched the horizon, willing the sun to come up faster.
Out of prudence, the fishing fleet had moved nearly all of itself to the far side of the Main Island. More than a few noticed the (Sea-Guardian Appeal) was not at her usual berth, and brows furrowed.
That craft itself had put a few miles between the path of the steamship and itself. The skipper, in answer to a question, snapped that he would sooner or later see the steamship quite well, and the tending of the engines was a matter of more current importance.
The passageways of the steamship were poorly lit, and Constable Brush repeatedly barked a shin on heavy packing crates. The smell of grease and powder was nearly overwhelming. Occasional sampling of boxes revealed land mines, more grenades, a few heavy Maxim machine guns of Gunboat Wars vintage. And enough pistols to arm every Spontoonie until they looked like one of the cartoon banditos. All they would be missing would be a sombrero.
The fact that so many boxes were open, and contents taken, meant but one thing. Their use was imminent. And Constable Brush had a good notion of the relative firepower of his own Constabulary. The main strength of the R.I.N.S. was hundreds of miles away, and he did not like to think what the Islands would go through until help came.
Like it or not, Constable Brush mused to himself that he would have to do something about it. (Forgotten, for the moment, were the R.I.N.S. planes.)
He closed his eyes, and murmured his Paternoster. After a few seconds' thought, he added a request to the Pantheon to look after his mate and his kits. Given his faith, and the faith of his mate, he thought that was about as fair and equitable an arrangement as he could make on short notice.
Opening his eyes, he discovered that perhaps Someone (or Someones) were listening. Staggering toward the Constable, and bouncing off the crates unsteadily, was a fur somewhat the worse for wear. The probable reason lay in his paw: a large bottle, from which he was taking messy slurps. It was unlikely that his thought process was swfit.
The Constable stepped up to him boldly, and posed the question direct.
"Got a light, buddy?"
The squadron leader looked at his watch. 50 minutes before dawn. The seaplanes were due off in five minutes, and then 30 minutes after that, his squadron would take off. He ran a pre-flight check for the fifth time in less than an hour, to keep his mind occupied.
The fur blinked in confusion at the apparition of the stocky fox that had suddenly loomed out of the darkness, where no stocky fox should have been. He opened his mouth, which presented a ripe target for a sooty vulpine fist.
In short order, the fur slumped, hit his head on a crate, and collapsed to the deck. The bottle was saved, with hardly a drop spilled. It was about two-thirds full. A quick sniff revealed that it was some type of powerful distilled spirit. Likely produced in the engine room with heaven knows what materials.
A quick search of the fur's pockets revealed another essential tool: a box of blue-tip matches.
The Constable now had a bottle of flammable liquid and a box of matches. He needed one other ingredient. With a silent plea of forgiveness directed at his mate-precious, there was a small tearing sound, and a portion of his shirt-tail was soon soaked in spirit and stuffed in the neck of the bottle. (An examination of the now-"sleeping" fur's clothes indicated that they were soaked from various sources, and would probably not burn as well as the high-quality cotton used by the Spontoon Constabulary.)
A quick look around revealed one nested area, where a number of packing crates were open and assorted packing material strewn about. As good a place as any, it was reasoned. A match was lit, a quick prayer murmured, the incedinary was primed, and then thrown against the far wall of the steamship, above the nest.
There was a satisfying sound of breaking glass, and an even more satisfying sound: a faint whoosh as the alcohol, likely somewhere in the area of 160 proof, caught fire and spilled over the packing crates.
A hasty retreat followed, followed by more matches thrown at random along the passageway.
As the fox reached the bottom of a hatchway, he heard a series of sharp reports. Most came from the area he had fired, as boxes of rifle ammunition (had he known) began to "cook off." However, one report was of more pressing concern.
It struck the metal ladder a few inches above his head, and was fired by a fur leveling a Luger a few feet away.
This fur began to take slow and careful aim at the Constable, but nearly at the point of pulling the trigger, a small explosion and a gust of heat spoiled his aim. Further attempts to correct this were rendered moot by a large wooden lid hurled in his general direction, followed by a hurled vulpine body armed with a sap.
The seaplanes took off on time, circled Moon Island, and then proceeded in a tight search pattern north-northwest of the island, where intelligence had guessed the location of the steamship.
The search had been in effect for only a few minutes when "Salmon One" spotted something off to starboard.
A pall of smoke.
Constable Brush tucked the now-bloody sap up his sleeve, and wielded his "liberated" Luger. Climbing the hatchway, he could hear commotion up top. Taking a deep breath, he yelled.
"C'mon, ya bastards! Get a fire control crew ready! 'e's still down 'ere!"
A half-truth, he grinned, as he began to scale the ladder as fast as he could.
One group of furs on deck was attempting to hook up a set of firehoses to fight a fire that could be seen licking through a small hole blown in the deck. Other furs were racing about the deck, searching frantically for something, and usually finding the crewmates. A large searchlight was snapped on, and a bolt of light began careering crazily around the deck, searching frantically for something, and usually finding the crewmates.
There came a cry: "Dere he is! By th' port side!"
This happened to be where the fire-control crew was valiantly attempting to control the blaze. Unfortunately for them, this also became the place were a brisk round of suppressing fire from pistol and machine-gun was directed. With screams of terror and rage, the damage-control efforts were abandoned, and the firehose, riddled with holes, flapped ineffectually around the deck before oozing to a stop.
"Salmon Two," having been alerted by Moon Island Control, also headed toward the sighting, while "Salmon One" remained at a respectful distance. The latter began radioing reports to the base.
At the base, the ground crew made the final preparations, and the chocks were pulled away. "Swan One" through "Swan Four" took to the air, and began to circle the base, where they were held by Control.
The searchlight was still operating, in spite of being the target of some wild firing. The laws of chance indicated that sooner or later, given its wild swings, it would light upon an authentic target.
Constable Brush, about ten yards from the fantail, was pinned in a cone of dazzling light, which turned his fur nearly white, and temporarily blinded him. He could do the only thing possible in the circumstances. He turned toward the fantail, zig-zagging as best he could, under an angry drone of demonic fireflies. A few clipped his tailfur, knocking him off-balance, but it was not quite enough to stop the momentum of a fox hurling himself over the fantail.
The pilot of "Salmon One" could not fail to see the searchlight, and noted the small figure diving over the end of the ship. His attention, however, was directed to the bright orange glow that could be seen in the middle third of the ship, in a small area near the port bow that previously been the site of the firefighting.
More than the wild gunfire that was erupting all over the ship, this struck him as being a danger signal. His radiofur began a frantic report as the ponderous craft turned tail and ran.
"Salmon Two" followed suit, even as its radio began to tick.
The pilot of "Salmon One" was perhaps wiser than he knew. The fire that Constable Brush had set was reaching a set of packing crates marked prominently in German, and bearing marks indicating manufacture in 1918. These were flamethrowers, as used in the spring offensives of that year.
When these had been loaded on the ship, it was thought reasonable and wise to store the fuel for these close by. Subsequent developments could not have been foreseen.
Constable Brush discovered, as he struggled to the surface, two things. His tail hurt like hell, and there was a nasty taste of fuel oil in his mouth. He had a liberal coating of it on nearly every surface.
As he paddled away from the ship as best he could, the sluggish thought occurred to him: oil and water do not mix.
Nor does fire and high-octane fuel.
With a near-silent whoosh, the fuel caught fire, incinerating nearly everything in its path, inclusive, almost, of a nearby bulkhead.
On Meeting Island, Chief Sapper, Doctor Meffit, and the Chief Constable were in the latter's office, each with a pair of binoculars. They had picked up the burning ship a few minutes before, and were studying the wounded vessel intently. Each let out an involuntary gasp as a small tongue of flame shot out through what was now the closing minutes of the night.
A fugitive memory of the Western Front stirred itself in Doctor Meffit's mind. He dropped his binoculars and yelled.
"Hit the dirt!"
The Chief Constable turned to him with an annoyed look, and was on the verge of saying something brusque when Doctor Meffit tackled him, knocking him to the ground, though his fall was broken by the prone form of Chief Sapper, who had taken the more prudent course.
The wisdom of this action was borne out by the fact that the area of the cargo hold that was rapidly being heated, and melted, by a roaring, high-octane fire contained the cordite charges for some dozens of eight-inch naval artillery shells. These had been stored separately, as a safety precaution.
One that was in vain.
In the bright light, a woozy Constable Brush wondered why the hell they were *throwing* the searchlight at him.
This was an honest mistake of perception, coming from being approximately a few hundred yards from where a few tons of the best cordite that French industry could produce was detonating.
Constables in slit trenches on the Main Island, and R.I.N.S. personnel in similar trenches on Moon Island, first saw the bright flash. The laws of physics decreed that they would not hear the sound, nor feel the wave of heat and vibration, until a few seconds later.
The steamship, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist at this point.
On Moon Island, nearly every window was instantly shattered, and radio communications were broken (as was the aerial, for that matter). At the Chanticleer Club, the dawn was greeted in a way that that organization's namesake never once would have dreamed of.
Some windows were broken on the Main Island, mostly at the point nearest Moon Island, but it was on Casino Island that the tourists got the best view of a gigantic finger of fire stabbing toward the heavens, lighting up the waters for miles around. The brand-new clock in the tower of Shepherd's Hotel stopped at the moment of the explosion.
In a village in the Uplands, a small group of Wise Ones looked upon this false dawn with impassive faces. They had seen the Fire God and her works many times before.
At S.I.C. HQ on Meeting Island, Chief Sapper peered out of the now-glassless window, as the black cloud of smoke arced into the sky, fed by some flashes at its base which were now vanishing.
Thus, he did not take part in the one-sided conversation that was taking place behind him, as the Chief Constable began to loudly berate Dr. Meffit, ignorant of the fact that had the skunk not shoved him to the ground, he would likely be picking pieces of glass from the front of his face, not the seat of his trousers.
Dr. Meffit took the verbal abuse with stoic calm, having seen and experienced worse during the Great War. He was reminded of the fact that the Chief Constable's annual physical was in six weeks. He resolved to himself to have a word with the chief proctologist at Island Hospital. Perhaps there was a need for a specialist.
The pilot of "Salmon Two" circled back over the explosion site. It seemed to him that this was a mere pro forma exercise, in light of the prevailing evidence. Nevertheless, R.I.N.S. doctrine mandated a search, so a search there would be.
At least one advantage of the seaplane was it could loiter in the area, and the pilot, who reasoned (correctly) that Moon Island was preoccupied with other things, did a slow and careful search. His patience and his adherence to the rule book earned its just reward.
The co-pilot, squinting out a window, pointed down.
"Hey?! What's that floating?!"
The manager/docent of the Chanticleer Club was a hardened soul, and was used to all manner of fits of temper from his high-strung charges. Much as he was himself shaken by the violence of the explosion (his duties started early, as some of his charges were, ahem, early risers), his patience was being worn thin by the level and language of the complaints he was receiving.
And whatever the circumstances, it was clearly a violation of the Club Rules to be out of the rooms dressed in the manner some were. Oh, indeed, sir, the directors would hear about what happened this morning. You have my word on it, sir.
"Salmon Two" touched down on the water, and the engines were killed. The radiofur was sent out with a rescue hook to collect the floating object. The pilot and co-pilot, a minute or so later, heard a startled yell.
"Hey! This guy's alive! An' it's a local!"
This time, the rule book was ignored, as the two pilots clambered outside for a closer look. The radiofur, with a few pawfuls of seawater, had rinsed some of the coating of oil from what was the muzzle of an indeterminate species. It took a number of pawfuls of seawater to clear both the face, and the side of the oil, water and blood soaked uniform, revealing the figure to be a fox in the service of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary. The pilot whistled.
"Hunh. So that's how the fire started. Funny, didn't think the local cops could pull off something like that."
The co-pilot, of a more practical and less contemplate bent, grunted. "Yeah, yeah, but let's get the numbtail back home. Don't want his medal to be posthumous, hanh?"
The radiofur and the pilot, stung back into reality, lifted Constable Brush carefully into the seaplane. With Moon Island Control out, Eastern Island was raised. Eastern Island Control, in turn, set in motion the welcoming committee, which consisted largely of Dr. Meffit and his assistant.
Constable Brush stirred uneasily, since his muzzle was inside a pool of sunlight, and his head, hard as it was, was not in a particular mood for that much Vitamin D. A few choice words were mumbled, and the fox stirred awake, blinking his eyes. As things swam into focus, he instantly regretted his choice of words.
Standing before him, one eloquent eyebrow raised, was a chillingly familiar figure in an equally chillingly familiar black cassock. At once, memories of being hauled about by the ear for sneaking a smoke in back of St. Anthony's flooded the Constable's already woozy mind.
"Hrmph. Ignatius, he learned *those* from *you*, no doubt. As the twig is bent..."
Brush's ears flattened still further. Things were going from bad to worse. One could get reconciled to a painfully sore head, given the choice of that and facing two awe-inspiring authority figures.
A soft grunt, a scratch of a match, and the smell of an inexpensive cigar signalled the presence of the sire of Constable Brush.
"Aw, c'mon, kid. It ain't so bad. I coulda brought some of yer aunts. Then ya woulda been in fer some real...uh, trouble."
Orrin Brush was not the only one intimidated by the senior Catholic prelate in the Islands. Brush opened his eyes to discover that his father was also being given the stern eye by the imposing figure of Father Augustus Merino, S.J.
The elderly ram turned his gaze back on what was technically not one of his flock (St. Paul's, Casino had that honour), but the ties of priest and altar-kit are never fully broken.
"Yes. Well. Moving on to higher things than vulgarity and disrespect for one's female relatives...I am glad, Orrin, to see you in one piece. I was very worried when I was told last night that you were off on assignment, and my worries redoubled when I heard the events of this morning."
The younger fox's ears drooped. "Uh, dere ain't no damage t'Saint A's or St. Paul's, is dere?"
The ram shook his head. "No, thank you for asking. St. Paul's is sheltered by some of its neighboring buildings. As for St. Anthony's, there are now a number of trees missing some branches and leaves, much to the displeasure of the squirrels. Also, Mr. Luchow lost the glass in his front door. Other than that, no, no serious problems."
The elder tod grunted. "Buncha furs hurt by flyin' glass, an' one guy got flipped in his canoe near Lookout Point, an' got a good soakin', but dat's about it, kid. Coulda been a whole lot worse."
Brush nodded. "Yeah." He then shifted uneasily in the chair that held him. He realized that his tailfur was wrapped tightly, and held carefully in a channel in the back of what appeared to be a type of lounge chair for patients with injured tails. Certainly, there was something throbbing mightily in his backside. But that was not what was causing the immediate distress. The older ram knew, of course.
"Kiki is fine, Orrin. Dr. Meffit sent her a pawritten note on your condition. I am told by one of the Wise Ones that she's in good spirits, and waiting for you."
The Constable nodded, and then nodded again a little gloomily. He looked up at the ceiling, and addressed no fur in particular.
"Well, what now? I mean, what's the big guy sayin' about this?"
The older fox gave a loud, derisive snort.
"'bout what ya'd expect, kid."
Chief Constable Pickering, once again in an immaculate suit and simonized tin hat was giving a briefing to the members of the press, and (to his delight) even a stray Movietone News film crew that, as luck would have it, was in transit that very morning.
The statement was long on the efficiency and organization of the S.I.C., and somewhat short on exact details. This didn't matter, as it was his picture that was going to be in the newspapers. Who knows, maybe even his former home town. That would show them!
Brush blinked, tightening his jaw. He could visualize it all too readily. He felt very tired.
"Didja ever wanna turn in yer badge when youse wuz on th' job?"
The older fox took his cigar out of his mouth, and contemplated it as it went out. He was silent for some time.
"Yeah. Yeah. Few times. Remember, Fadder, back 'round twenny-five years 'go, when dem smugglers got th' drop on a buncha th' boys, an' I hadda go an' get 'em out?"
"Oh, yes, Ignatius. I nearly had to give you last rites when they fractured your skull."
The younger fox blinked. He vaguely recalled a period, when he was a young kit, when his father was mysteriously around the house for a much longer period, and had stayed in bed for quite some time. Orrin and his sister Kara had been warned to keep quiet and not disturb their sire. He had always wondered exactly why. Now he knew.
A wave of sadness passed over the fox. He wondered which was worse, fatherless cubs, or a mate-precious without a mate. The cubs could survive, perhaps, but an awful realization shot through his gut about Kiki.
"You t'inkin' of walkin', Orrin?"
"I dunno, Pop. I dunno what t'do. I mean, I'm a beat-pounder. It's what I did, it's what youse did, it's what Gran'pop did. What else am I gonna do, brew up sour cocoanut popskull?"
The older fox snorted. "Aw, fer th' love of...(myself look-thou, Karok)."
Son turned to father in surprise. It was extremely rare for Ignatius Loyola Brush to lapse into Spontoonie in conversation with his offspring. Spontoonie was usually reserved for taking orders from his mate, and assorted criticisms from his Wise One relatives.
"(Law-Guardian-thou is. Emphasis fact being is. Emphasis soul-engine location thine. Negative tail-fur show destiny.)"
"(Negative. Silence-thou. Query nowledge-yourself Kii this world leave, following-world journey.")
The younger fox gulped. He of course had not been told.
The older fox nodded, and reverted back to Euro. "Some of yer aunts were dere when she passed on. Y'know youse wuz in her last words, dontcha? In Euro, wouldja believe."
"Waitaminnit. Kii spoke Euro?!"
Father Merino nodded. "Like most of the Wise Ones of her generation, Orrin, she could read it and speak it, but generally refused to use it, on general principle. A form of quiet resistence to the colonial authorities, I imagine."
"But Pop, she couldn't stand me. Last time I seen her, 'bout t'ree Harvest Festivals ago, she belted me on the noggin wit' a broomstick fer wearin' a hat."
"Bah. Youse got off lucky. *Youse* didn't grow up wit' her. Yer gran'pa...well, I ain't gonna say what happened th'day he joined th' Colonial Constabulary. All I can say is, th' breakfast he got in th' mornin's weren't th' only thing what wuz cold."
"Great. So why do it, Pop?"
"I'm gettin' t'that. Now me, I dunno from nothin' what Kii said, an' I had 'em write th' words down. I kin see dat she called th' whole t'ing wit' th' ship an' all. Most of th' rest...well, I ain't good at prophawhatchits nohow. But lemme tell ya, if Kii sees youse wit' a badge, you lissen."
"But Pop, I've put Kiki through enough hell...yeah, Fadder, hell's th'word fer it...I can't do dat no more t'Kiki. Pop, I love her more'n anythin'. I'll bet she wants me t'hang it up."
Ignatius Brush looked at his son, and shook his head. "Don't be a dope like dem dim-bulb brudders of yourse. Why d'youse t'ink she's always got yer uniform pressed? Dat is, when it ain't got blood an' whatnot on it. An' she always has a hot meal fer youse? Lookit, Orrin. She's prouda whatcha do. *I'm* prouda whatcha done. Hell, I was on th' job t'irty years, an' I ain't done whatcha did today. I wish I could sit here an' say I did, but I didn't."
The older fox desisted, as he could see his son's eyes turn moist.
"Lookit, kid. Somea my old buddies still on th' job tell me dat yer boss Sapper's gonna come by, mebbe t'morra. Don't do nothin' 'till den, hear? Give 'im a good lissen up."
The younger fox nodded, slowly, and turned to the priest, who raised a paw.
"The senior Wise One in your village is letting me visit Kiki and your cubs tonight. I'll give them your love, and make sure they know you're coming home very soon. That's what you want, right?"
Some of what he wanted, Constable Brush mused.
The Treasurer of the Syndicate was called uponby the Chariman to make his report, a copy of which was filed with the minutes. Income for the quarter was expected to rise by nine percent, quarter-on-quarter, owing to world conditions that favoured the Syndicate's products and services. In particular, the Treasurer noted the recent transaction involving a ship-load of arms, which was in effect sold twice. Upon questioning, the Chairman indicated that while the opportunities for such a venture were limited, the Syndicate would consider utilizing this strategy in the future to boost net income. In response to a further question, the Chairman indicated that details were not known as to how the local authorities had interfered with the transaction.
The Treasurer noted that a twelve percent dividend would be declared as of the fifteen of the next month, payable to the Syndicate's shareholders, in the currency or commodity of their choice. He reminded the directors of the facilities available in Geneva for the deposit of buillon.
Upon a question from one of the directors, the President noted that both of the entities that had been engaged in the recent transaction in the North Pacific had registered dissatisfaction with the outcome. He expressed the opinion that one of the entities was far too weak and backward to be of any further interest to the Syndicate, and it was felt that abandoning the market would not be a burden upon the Syndicate. As for the other entity, the President announced to the directors that their contact, shortly after registering his complaint with a representative of the Syndicate, suffered a serious head injury, which proved to be mortal. The President felt that expressions of condolence on behalf of the Syndicate would not have been appropriate, and it was the sense of the board that the President was right in so believing.
The directors then listened to a report from the Syndicate's chief agricultural expert, who gave a presentation on the prospects for the opium harvest in Central Asia...
The locker room at police HQ was ringing to the usual sound of hurled jokes. One wolf, whose slit trench-digging prowess had earned him the nickname of "The Gopher," was getting particular heat, and taunts demanding that he replace his divots. He took the attention with good grace, generally aware of the aphorism that it was better to be talked about, than not talked about.
The noise died down, when the door opened and Chief Sapper walked in with a cardboard box. More than a few necks craned as he walked down the aisle, and stopped at Constable Brush's locker. He opened it, and began to fill the box with assorted clothes and knick-knacks, including a picture post-card taped to the inside of the locker, showing a vixen with a particularly spectacular arrangement of tailfur. In a few minutes, the box was full, and the locker empty.
One constable, bolder than most, cleared his throat.
The bulldog turned. "Yes, Constable?"
"Hey, is Torpedo gonna be okeh? I mean, he's not leavin', is he?"
Chief Sapper looked grave, and raised one eyebrow. "I'm sure there are those on Casino Island and elsewhere who wish he was, Constable. Hard luck on them."
"Well, hey, we gonna see 'im?"
"Oh, to be sure. You can stop by his new office. It's the Detective Bureau. He will be understudy for the gentlefur we're bringing in later this summer."
Another voice echoed from the shower stall. "Better tell Kiki not t'dress him in his Sunday best, Chief! Blood's hell t'getta outta ties!"
Chief Sapper shrugged. "With the ties Orrin Brush wears, who'd notice?"
The laughter this rejoinder got was not sycophantic, but genuine appreciation for a boss who knew his subordinates.
Kiki Brush surveyed her domain, which she ruled completely.
The house was spotless, as it always was.
The two older boys were packed off to their mother's house, with an admonition to behave and not eat too much of Gran'ma's cooking. As if that would have any effect on growing cubs.
The youngest cub was fast asleep in his crib, having been fed generously. He was a sound sleeper, and would likely last the night without a whimper.
The house was dark, save for a fire that added cheer without heat to the room.
Satisfied that all was in order, the vixen collected a wooden chair and an implement and sat herself in the middle of the living room.
Silently, Kiki slowly counted the number of strokes she gave her tailfur with the fur-brush.
Usually, a hundred strokes gave her tail the best measure of gloss and fluffiness.
At the hundredth stroke, the front door opened.
And the Brush household was made whole again.