Dyes & Gulls
© 2011 by Walter D. Reimer
George still looked more than a bit hot under the collar as the plane soared over Main Island, headed north.
“You might have warned me, Laura,” he said, still feeling with his tongue to see if any of his fillings had melted from the effects of his lunch.
“And what would have that done to your spirit of adventure, George love?” she asked sweetly, and looked out the window as George sat back, glowering at her.
Lou’s plane was well-maintained, and the canine was obviously an experienced pilot. While George sulked Laura divided her time between gazing out at the wide blue Pacific and leafing through a small PRICK guidebook on the Nimitz Sea’s lesser-known islands.
Gull Island was actually quite a small place, a bit under eight square miles. About ten thousand people lived there, mostly foxes and a small minority of canines. The two populations had interbred quite a lot over the centuries.
Laura guessed that the fur patterns would be rather interesting, and was pleased she’d brought enough film for her cameras.
The capital and major port of Komo was a drowsy town, the harbor bustling with fishing boats and freighters participating in the furtherance of the island’s principal industry. A good portion of the island consisted of guano deposited there by seabirds over millions of years and hardened into phosphate-rich rock. The material was essential for fertilizer and other industries, and the islanders would insist on top dollar.
The sun was dipping close to the horizon as the plane landed and the Patagarangs were escorted to Customs by a half-dozen smiling kits, all with their paws out for change. George was happy to oblige, Laura less so.
Especially after one older cub tried to steal her wallet from her back pocket, camouflaging his attempt by placing an importunate paw on the base of her tail.
The cub was flipping his errant paw in pain (kangaroo tails are quite strong) and the couple hailed a pedicab to take them to the cheapest hotel in the town, just a place to sleep in rather than to actually stay. They were on expedition, not vacation.
Laura had been on quite a few of the former, and nowhere near enough of the latter.
A fox with dark brown spots on his apricot fur sat on a piling near the dock, crooning a song in a low voice. Laura’s ears flicked as she tried to sort out the various Polynesian dialects the lyrics were constructed from.
The song was pleasant, even cheery:
“Be our guest, be our guest
Put your wallet to the test
Just fork over all your money
And let us do the rest . . .”
The pedicab pulled to a stop and the driver, a tall and well-built fox wearing only a pair of shorts and boots said, “That’ll be two pounds ten, Mac.”
“Two pound ten?” Laura echoed.
“Yeah, for luggin’ you and all your gear,” the man replied.
“Here y’are, Sport,” George said, pressing a wad of money into the vulpine’s paw before turning to help Laura unload the cab.
“Here!” the fox protested. “You gave me too much money. It’s not going to cost all this. Have you got two tens for a five?”
“Just so happen to have it.” George dug into a pocket and gave him the bills, accepting one in return. A pause, and the kangaroo said, “Just a minute!”
George scowled. “Just a minute. Fifteen dollars just went south, Sport. You gave me a lot of your fast talk, an’ now I’m out money.”
The fox looked scandalized. “Are you accusing ME of cheating? All right, here’s your five, give me back my two tens.”
Bills changed paws again, and Laura paused to watch as George started to sputter.
“Look!” George said. “Here’s two tens, give me back my five!” The driver mounted his cab and started to pedal off as the ‘roo laughed. “You did it to me, and . . . he did it again . . . HEY! WAIT A MINUTE!”
George bounded off after the pedicab.
Laura started laughing as she collected their baggage.
The hotel might have been named The Ritz, but any resemblance to any actual Ritz stopped at the name. The room’s wallpaper was yellowing and starting to peel, and the roaches were kept at bay by a pair of geckos. Being nocturnal, the geckos had yet to put in an appearance, but they had left behind ample evidence of their activities.
“The Ritz? More like the Zitz,” Laura muttered after they’d had dinner at a nearby eatery.
“Aw, c’mon, love, it’s not so bad,” George said happily. “Better than Penang.”
“Anywhere was better than Penang,” his wife agreed. She looked up and saw him headed for the door. “Where are you off to?”
“No time like the present to start looking around.”
She walked up to him and ran her paws up his chest, stopping to grasp the lapels of his shirt. “You do know, love, it’s got dark outside – and that bed looks comfy.”
He caught the look in her eyes and a slow grin grew on his muzzle. “Lookin’ to ‘jump’ into bed, then?”
Laura turned away and she looked over her shoulder coyly at him. Her tail reached out to him and he grasped it in his paws. “The mattress looks nice and ‘bouncy,’ honeyfur.”
George’s grin got wider as she led him to the bed.
Halfway through the night, the geckos showed up, requiring the Patagarangs to use their mosquito netting.
The next morning after breakfast they passed a maid leaving their room. The woman looked like she had an Alsatian on one side of her family and she grumbled, “There’s an extra charge for new sheets, you two.”
George blushed. “Gotta remember to trim my toeclaws tonight,” he mumbled.
The maid glowered and stomped off. She rounded a corner and shouted, “And air the room out!”
Both of them laughed.
“I’m thinking we should check out the town hall,” George said, “and see if they have any records.”
“Records of a legendary lost kingdom of lemurs?”
“Orright.” It was standard PRICK procedure, after all – learn everything you can before setting foot on the ground.
Of course, George should have done it before they left Sydney.
The seat of Komo’s government (motto: “The Paree of the Nimitz Sea!”) turned out to be located next to a school and a bait shop. A sign by the door read Available for Parties. Ph. Eli 755.
“G’day!” George called out as he walked in, the screened door banging almost as loudly as their front door at home. Laura followed him in as he started poking around the offices, looking for an employee.
Several minutes’ searching produced no one. “I can’t understand it,” George remarked as he leaned an elbow on top of a carved tiki. “You’d think there’d be someone here, but the place’s deserted.”
“Mid-morning fishing break.”
The two kangaroos looked at each other. The voice, low, gravelly and laconic, had seemingly come from empty air.
“Beg pardon?” George asked.
“I said, it’s the mid-morning fishing break,” and the tiki sprouted a graying paw that reached up and pushed the buck’s elbow away.
George stepped back in surprise and Laura asked, “Who are you?”
The tiki moved a bit, revealing that it was actually a very aged fox. “I’m the town clerk, Missy,” he said in his sepulchral tones.
“And the mid-morning fishing break?”
“Too old to do that now,” the man replied. “I usually just take a nap. Until I get bothered by big-footed outlanders.”
George’s ears dipped. “Can you tell us about any legends?”
The man blinked at him for a second. “Well, there’s my cousin. Won the school record at Kilikiti, he did, way back in ’06 – “
“What he means is,” Laura interrupted with a glance at her husband, “is have you any records of any ancient civilizations? Anything from before you were born?”
“Oh, ah. You might want to try the museum.”
“Of course! The museum!” George said exultantly, smacking a fist into his palm.
“Oh, ah. Yes, the museum.” The tiki settled back down to finish his nap as the Patagarangs left the town hall.
After consulting a phone book it was discovered that the museum was a former one-room schoolhouse of clapboard construction located behind the bait shop. A sign on the door read Museum.
A young tod with a beagle’s fur markings was lounging on the steps, obviously sunning himself. “Looks like he’s missing the fishing break, too,” Laura observed.
“Nah,” the young man said, his eyes still closed. “Whatcha want?”
“We’d like to tour the museum, mate,” George said. He dug a card from a pocket. “George and Laura Patagarang, PRICK.”
The tod’s eyes opened. “What’d you call me?”
“He means we’re with the Paul Revere Institute of Concatenating Knowledge,” Laura interjected.
“Oh.” The fox relaxed and took the card. “Explorers, huh?”
“Yeah,” George said. “Care to show us around?”
“A pound each.”
Laura tapped a small sign nailed to the wall. “Why does it say ten pence admission, then?”
The tod looked at the sign, then at her. “You’re waking me up and asking me to work on my break.” He got to his feet and pulled a battered dark blue cap out of a back pocket. When he put it on, they could see the word Guide embroidered on the hat.
“Pay up and come on in, or go away,” he said.
“All right, all right,” Laura said, reaching for her wallet.
The interior of the schoolhouse had a variety of items on shelves and mounted on squat wooden plinths. The tod-fox gestured at a ceramic piece, his voice changing to a bored-sounding singsong tone. "This is the paw-made crown of O'Yakubu the Incontinent. He was the last paramount chief of the tribes of this Island, and . . . "
Laura said, "Here, isn't that a chamberpot?"
The fox looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He cleared his throat with a short, harsh bark. "When he died in 1899, he was without a successor, and therefore ... "
"I'm pretty sure that's a chamberpot. I mean, crikey, it's got the handles and all... "
"Look, weren't you paying attention?” the guide’s tone grew irritated. “I said he was O'Yakubu the Incontinent. Now, then – “
"Didn't that reduce his dignity?"
"Not half as much as people, forty years on, pointing out the obvious that he was wearing a thunderpot on his head. Any further questions?"
Laura shook her head. George was gazing at all of the exhibits absorbedly, jotting occasional notes on his pad.
"Now,” the guide said, “these are tiki idols from the classical period of Gull Island culture - "
"Here, this one says United Cigar Stores on it," and Laura jerked a thumb at a wooden idol about three feet tall.
The guide glared at her. "Ahem. The classical period of Gull Island culture was marked by - "
"Visits to cigar stores?"
"Look, in point of fact, the smoking of various herbs is an important part of Gull Island culture, even today."
Laura cocked her head. "Which herbs would those be, then?"
"Look, there's a pair of canines two houses down who can answer that question for you,” the oddly-patterned fox said exasperatedly. He took a breath. "Now these are..."
"Crikey, what a set!"
Laura rolled her eyes.
Leave it to Skippy.
"Yes, this is one of the most complete grouping of images of fertility idols to be found in the North Pacific... "
"No, I mean, look at what that femmefur has right there,” George said. “Surprised that sheila isn't walking like Groucho Barks, with a... "
"You really are a frightful Philistine, aren't you?"
"No, mate, I'm Australian."
The fox looked Heavenward briefly. "Are you. Oh, dear, I stand corrected." He walked on to another exhibit and said acidly, “Fine. Here's another example of our culture. Why don't you make some smart-arsed remark about this? Go ahead. Belittle a native culture. Forget about our feelings. Go ahead, put your big, coal-barge like feet all over us. Imperialist swine."
"It's bloody lovely!"
"Blood? Blast that janitor, has he been – huh?"
"Now this here's the prize of this here institution, I reckon,” George exulted. “Mate, this is at least four hundred years old!"
The tod blinked.
"It's obvious, isn't it, mate? Look at that rough-edged work, showing the mark of crude tools."
"Oh, um, well... somefur dropped it last month," the guide mumbled.
"Look at the simple, primitive use of perspective in carving the furs."
"And... YES! Glyphs!” George caroled. “The first newly discovered Trans-Oceanic Polyphonic Glyphs in decades! What a bloomin' mystery, mate! Only a few hundred lines known, y'know."
The guide looked bewildered. "Do tell."
"When translated, what secret will this reveal?"