Dyes & Gulls
© 2011 by Walter D. Reimer
Spontoon Atoll was a beautiful sight, basking in the tropical sunshine as the flying boat headed in for a landing.
George, now holding two strips of beefsteak to his face, was unable to see it.
“Well, at least now you match, George.”
“That buffalo really hung a mouse on you.” Laura grinned as George grunted irritably again. She managed to stifle a giggle.
After landing and going through Customs (George had been told to get rid of the beefsteaks, as they constituted a health hazard by now), they approached the water taxi rank. One of the small boat drivers waved and harangued the other drivers in virulent Spontoonie as they tried to step forward to give the two kangaroos a lift. His verbal battle over, he graciously waved the Patagarangs to seats and made sure the luggage was stowed away before casting off.
One or two other drivers yelled at the feline, who made a gesture that had rather arcane but clearly biological connotations. George saw the gesture and jotted a note in a small notepad he invariably carried in one pocket of his jacket.
As the taxi chugged its way to Casino Island, George remarked,
“Nothing like Spontoon, eh love? Remember the last time we stopped over here?”
The driver stole a glance back at Laura and winked.
Blushing, the ‘roo femme made sure that George hadn’t seen him. “Oh, yes,” she said hastily. “Four years, in fact.”
Four years earlier, the Althing had thrown up their collective paws in surrender and allowed the Patagarangs to explore Main Island for a week. The rumors of vast ruins that were part of a vanished civilization had turned out to be perfectly true – a set of railway bridge abutments erected by a British colonial entrepreneur in the last century.
George had a hard time living that down.
Not that Laura minded, if the gentle wink from the driver had been any indication. She had managed, with the assistance of a few Spontoonie Guides, to keep her husband from diving into Sacred Lake in order to look for clues. The Spontoonies had been quite grateful for her help.
George glanced southeast and his ears perked as the low shape of an island appeared, just over a mile distant. “Say, Laura . . . “
“NO, George,” she said firmly, her tail swishing in exasperation. “We’re going to Gull Island, not Sacred Island. You know perfectly well that Sacred Island’s off-limits, even to most Spontoonies.”
“Except on festivals.”
“Well, yes – “
“So we ask to tag along and observe,” George said cheerily. “Surely the Althing won’t mind.”
The boat driver looked back at the kangaroos, managed to hide the look of undisguised shock that flitted across his muzzle and covered the expression by shaking his head. “Creatures-from-Southland outlanders go Gull Island?”
George grinned. “Yeah, that’s right, cobber.”
“Hmm. Bad joss go Gull Island. Old tradition say island haunted.”
“Haunted, eh?” George’s eyes started to gleam.
Laura had seen that look before.
“Is true, creature-from Southland outlander. Many strange things to be seen on Gull Island.”
“Well, that’s fair dinkum,” he said. “Gull Island it is! See, Laura? I KNEW I was on the right track.”
“Right, George,” Laura said as the doe caught another wink from the driver, the feline visibly relaxing. “We’ll spend the night, then set out for Gull Island in the morning.”
“That’s the spirit!” he said, giving his mate a comradely thump on the back before slipping his thickly-muscled tail around her waist. They shared a kiss as the water taxi slowed and drifted to a stop at the Casino Island dock.
As George superintended the offloading of their luggage, Laura paid the driver and gave him a tip. The feline looked at the tip, then at her, then gave the money back. He leaned in close and whispered, “Thanks fer changin’ his mind, sister,” he said in a mild Cockney accent. “He an’ Gull Island deserve each other, bloody foxes . . . “ His voice trailed off as he took on another fare, and Laura disembarked.
The place was named the Tropic Paradise Hotel, and was a standard tourist place. The décor was closer to Hawaiian than to Spontoonie, and had two paw-carved tikis flanking the front door. While Laura checked them in, George looked at the tikis and finally came into the lobby, shaking his head. “Sad,” he declared. “Not a trace of Maori influence on those. There goes that theory.”
“And what theory is that, George?”
The boomer shrugged. “Just a thought that New Zealand colonized the rest of Polynesia, and not the other way ‘round. Oh well. So, we have a night or two here, and then move on?”
“That’s about right, love. We need to find a pilot or boat captain to take us over to the island, and then we get started.”
“Great!” He gently stroked her tail with his. “Feel like having a little nap before supper, then?”
“Just a nap, you naughty buck?”
“Well . . . “
The next day the pair of kangaroos headed over to the harbormaster’s office.
The rabbit looked up as the two entered the office. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“G’day, Sport,” George said cheerfully. “The Missus here an’ I need to get up to Gull Island.”
“Gull Island, eh?” The harbormaster frowned. “We don’t have anything sailing today headed for that area, but we have a few pilots on the roster,” and he took a clipboard down and leafed through the pages. “Aha! Here we are,” and he passed the clipboard to George, who read it while Laura looked over his shoulder.
“Lou Tapau’ofa . . . sounds a right good bloke. Where is he right about now?”
“He may be at the Pilot’s Union Hall. Most of the freelance pilots are there this time of day.” The Patagarangs thanked the rabbit and followed his directions to the Union Hall.
Tapau’ofa turned out to be a fairly stout, taciturn canine with a bit of Akita blood in him, judging from his curly, bushy tail. He was dressed appropriately for a pilot taking a day off to drum up business, a loud floral-patterned shirt and khaki trousers and well-worn work shoes, topped off with a cricketer’s cap. After introducing themselves Laura said, “We’d like to hire you to fly us to Gull Island.”
“Um. Gull Island.” The canine puffed on the stub of a cigar for a moment before asking, “One way?”
“No, round trip.”
“Um.” He seemed to drift away in his own thoughts for a moment, then said, “Want money up front. Fifty pounds Spontoonie there, one hundred back.”
Laura’s ears stood straight up in surprise. “One hundred fifty Spontoonie pounds! Why so much?”
“Cost of fuel, and risk.”
“Risk? What risks, I ask you?”
“Risk of not getting back. ‘Swhy I charge twice on returnin’ leg. You take it or leave it.”
“Well – “
“We’ll take it!” George jumped in, true to his nature, and had hold of the pilot’s paw before Laura could say anything. As the agreement was put in writing, the doe started to fume quietly to herself.
George was always leaping before he looked.
The canine slipped the signed agreement into his shirt and said, “You pay money now, okay?”
“I have to go to the bank. Stay here and amuse him, George – tell him about how you found the Lost Golden Bed of Trendelenburg,” and she stormed out, her tail almost smacking a female feline pilot.
Before the door closed behind her she could hear her mate launching into his story. He told it well, and never tired of telling it.
Pity it was enough to bore the average listener to tears, if not outright suicidal depression, before he managed to finish the tale.
When Laura returned with the money (nearly half of the funds allotted to them by the University), the pilot appeared very glad to see her. He and George had the Hall to themselves.
Everyone else had managed to escape.
“So,” the doe asked as the receipt was given to her (Lou’s paw shook a bit as he gave it to her), “when do we leave?”
“Right after lunch, Missy,” the crossbred canine said eagerly. “Recommend a good place – Mahanish’s, just over thataway,” and he gestured vaguely southwest. “Just past the airport – can’t miss it.”
“Great!” George enthused. “I’m looking forward to a bit of grub right ‘bout now. Coming, Laura love?”
“Sure. Hope the prices are low,” she muttered.
The place was actually quite a stoutly-built building near the runway and frequented by pilots from all over the northern Pacific. There were rooms to be had on the second floor, with rates by the hour or by the week. George and Laura found a vacant table and perused a menu.
“What’s this ‘Five-Alarm Chili,’ then?” George asked the waitress when she came to get their orders.
“Ooh, that’s fine grand stuff, sir,” the waitress said, her broad Dublin accent belying her obvious Polynesian ancestry. “Ye’d take th’ splint off a horse with it!”
“I’ll try some, then – and a Newcastle to drink with it,” the buck said with a grin.
Laura had cocked an eye at him as he ordered the chili, and she contented herself with a green salad and a chilled glass of Nootnops Red. “Love, where’s your spirit of adventure?” George asked as the waitress walked away, her swaying hips generating a few ribald comments in at least four separate languages from the other customers.
“Where it usually is, George,” Laura replied. “Waiting to get there and see what’s there to be seen.” She smiled. “But I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about this whole thing – “
“See, that’s where you and I differ, love,” George said as the waitress sauntered back with a tray. “I still have my childlike sense of wonder.”
Childlike? More like childish, Laura thought as her salad was served. George took a deep sniff of the contents of his bowl, grabbed a spoon and started to eat.
Only to stop frozen in shock as the effects of the chili seared its way across his tongue.
The other diners laughed at the sight of the kangaroo flailing about, gasping as he nearly drowned himself in his beer and went running for the eatery’s bar for water. Laura sat and serenely ate her salad, then raised her glass of Nootnops Red.
“Here’s to the spirit of adventure,” she said, and drank. As she lowered the glass a crash of breaking crockery heralded George diving into the kitchen’s deep sink.