Dyes & Gulls
© 2011 by Walter D. Reimer
George groaned and gingerly peeled the sheets away as Laura chuckled and set the breakfast tray down on the bedside table. The smell of fresh coffee and breakfast chased away the smell of ‘roo and fox musk – or, at least, Laura hoped it did.
Although she liked the occasional extramarital fling (and Tiny had been anything but – more like a caber toss than a fling) she loved George as her husband and the father of their joey. George was a swell fur.
The flier suppressed a chuckle as she thought that, reminding herself of an expedition to Ceylon that included an encounter with what one swami called an Indian hornet call. It had worked, amazingly, and worked extremely well.
George was a very swelling fur, for certain, after that encounter.
Laura swept aside the mosquito netting and looked down at him with her paws on her hips.
“Rise an’ shine, love! Skippy, I do believe you’re getting old!”
“Wha... why’s that, Laura?”
“You’re showin’ a lot of tattletale gray, mate. My, oh my.”
“Ha, ha, real funny love. I think I need a bath more’n I need coffee – although that smells great.”
“Hmm. Need someone to scrub your back?”
He smiled at her, half-turned and his tail snaked toward her. It was her turn to grasp it as he walked to the bathroom.
The breakfast and coffee were cold when they emerged.
At least the geckos hadn’t disturbed either of them during the night.
Over another breakfast (complete with fresh coffee) Laura glanced at her husband. “Skippy.”
George was engrossed in his notebook, but finally looked up at her. “Yes, love?”
“I’ve been looking at the checkbook.”
“Over the past two days we’ve spent – rather, you’ve spent – almost eight hundred pounds. And so far we’ve nothing to show for it.”
George bobbed his head nonchalantly. “Don’t worry, Laura my girl, I’m feeling lucky today.”
“Yeah! Look here,” and he tipped the notebook toward her. “I’ve dug here, and here – and from what I saw yesterday there are indications there’s something under all that guano.”
“Huh, what? No! What I need is to get up high, so I can see if there’s anything visible.”
Laura had to concede that his suggestion did make sense, and at least it wouldn’t cost too much.
“You feel well enough to traipse about, climbing trees?”
Her husband stretched, his bathrobe falling partway open in the process. He grinned and sketched a bow at her whistle and replied, “Right as rain, love. Nothing better’n a night’s sleep an’ a lovely shower,” and the two shared a chuckle. “But I’m thinking we’ll go visit the bank – “
“For what?” she asked with a wary look.
“We need a bit of money for lunch, love.” Laura nodded, and he added, “After the bank, we’ll go ‘round to the site I was digging at and find a good vantage point.”
Laura rather doubted that sensible actions would continue to prevail.
The Gull Island Financial Transactions main branch was a stout affair made of stone and faced with stucco. Inside there was a slight smell of dry rot and somnolence, with a single teller nodding over his ledgers.
George rapped on the counter and the teller stirred. “Pardon me, mate, but I need a few bob. Who do I make me check out to?"
"We don't take checks here."
Laura looked around. George asked, "No?"
"Nope. It ain't safe. S'pose I get a rubber check?" The teller, a short canine with a fox’s fur colors, shrugged. “Dat would be unettique."
“Don’t you mean unethical?”
The teller squinted up at him. "What's ethics?"
"It's a county in England," Laura replied tartly.
“Look, this is a bank, right?” George asked, a trace of asperity edging his voice.
“Sure it is,” the teller agreed equably.
“Then why won’t ya cash a check? The money’s good – our account’s in the Bank of Australia.”
The teller sat up. “Foreign bank, eh?”
“Well, I’ll cash it then. Just make it out to the bank here – just use the initials, it’ll save time. But I’ll need yer account number on it, and there’ll be a transaction fee.”
George completely failed to catch the gleam in the fur’s eyes. He made out the check, signed it with a flourish, and collected the ten pounds he had asked for. “C’mon, Laura dear.”
After cashing a check at a store near the waterfront, the Patagarangs headed back to where George had been digging. The day was warm, but humid from the previous night’s storm. The breeze blew George’s scent back past Laura’s nose.
The kangaroo femme found herself pedaling with renewed energy.
Pausing at an intersection to let a phosphate truck rumble past, George caught sight of the burned-out shell of a building. Waving down a passerby the buck asked, “G’day, mate! What happened there?”
“That?” the man replied, then elaborated, “that’s Old Man Ho Boi’s. Very popular restaurant in Komo until last month – so sad.”
“Oh, it blew up before it caught fire,” the fur said cheerfully. “But it was a blessing for the poorer furs in the town.” He smiled at the memory. “They were running around yelling, ‘Hallelujah! It’s raining mein!’”
There was a stand of very tall palms swaying in the wind near the dig site. George stood and gazed up at them appraisingly, his paws on his hips. “Bit dodgy at the top, but climbing should be easy,” and he started rummaging through the equipment for a set of crampons, a length of rope and a pair of binoculars. “Coming up with me, darlin’?”
Laura looked up, thought for a moment, then shook her head. “No, love. I’ll stay down here and sweep up the bits.”
He kissed her. “Very funny, m’best girl. Well, here goes!” He strapped the crampons to his boots and took off at a bound to the nearest tree. A leap, and he started scaling the slim trunk. When he reached the top of the tree he used the rope to rig a harness that would help keep him from falling. “No sign of cocoanut crabs. Fair dinkum view up here, Laura!” He started scanning the area with his binoculars.
“That’s nice, George. See anything yet?”
“Give us a moment.” He was moving the binoculars slowly, carefully surveying each area before moving on. Laura watched him as she laid out their first-aid kit and judged which survey stakes would make the best splints. A soft shuffling sound made her turn away from her preparations.
It was the three Priests of the Great Legend. Mororua, Lararua and Lur’paka all looked quite haggard, their fur ungroomed. They were leaning against each other for support as they weaved their way down the road, holding their heads as if they were fragile eggs.
“Well, g’day!” Laura called out, causing all three crossbred foxes to moan in pain.
Lur’paka whimpered, and Mororua grumbled, "Stop breathin' so damn loud." The smack he gave his younger counterpart elicited a high-pitched yelp that caused both of them to start whimpering.
Lararua disengaged himself and sat down on the side of the road. He bleared up at Laura, then rolled his bloodshot eyes erratically to the left. "Tell dat butterfly in da next field t'stop flappin his wings like dat, will ya?" His eyes fixed on Laura. “I... do I know ya, sister?”
“You should,” she said. “You traded your big brother to me for that rice wine you’re feeling this morning.” Spitefully, she raised her voice. “How are you feeling?”
Three anguished whines greeted this question.
“Not so loud,” Lur’paka whimpered.
“Oy! Laura!” George called out, and his wife turned to see him pointing toward the interior of the island. “There’s something out there!”
“That’s good, George. What’s it look like?”
“Could be walls – maybe a buried building,” Skippy said as the buck started down the tree. “Not too far off, either.”
“Sounds good – careful, love!” Laura exclaimed as George’s crampons slipped and he tumbled the last five feet to the ground, emerging on his feet and brushing himself off. “You orright?”
“Yeah! Take more than that to stop me, Laura!”
The doe nodded to herself, acknowledging the truth in that statement.
George spotted the three foxes. “’Lo, you lot!” he called out with a complete disregard for their debilitated condition. Ignoring their groans he asked, “Yer legends say anything about anything buried off that way?”
Mororua took his paws off his ears long enough to shudder and replied, “Might be. I’ll have ta, uh, consult the Elders.” He slapped Lararua across the back of his head and snarled, “Ogay allcay emthay upay, savvy?”
His younger brother stumbled off down the road. George turned to his wife and said, “Let’s go take a look, Laura. Won’t do any digging ‘til he comes back.”
The two kangaroos loped off to the site George had spotted from the tree. “I’d reckon it’s only about a hundred yards.”
Laura nodded and grinned at him. “Race you?”
George matched her grin and the easy lope changed to a ground-eating sprint. Laura won the race, but her husband was a mere two bounds behind her. Both had hardly been winded by the run.
“Let ya win, love.”
“Says you, lover.”
The pair looked over the site, noting that the vegetation over whatever was underground seemed stunted compared to the surrounding undergrowth. “Looks like there’s something there,” Laura agreed. “We just wait till that gormless vulpine comes back.”
“Don’t call him that, Laura, it’s not good manners. They’re priests, after all.”
“Y’know, George, did it ever occur to you that this whole place is full of – “
“Hello!” George had turned to wave at Lararua, who was coming up behind with Mororua. The younger fox’s white fur looked dingy and ruffled, and Laura guessed that the older black-furred vulpine had expressed his displeasure about something or other.
“Me brother’s come back from talking with the Elders,” Mororua said. “The plot of land’s owned by the First Local Ecumenical Evangelical Church for Everyone.”
“That so? Suppose we could talk to ‘em and get permission to dig?” George asked.
“No need,” Lararua said, producing a piece of paper. “The church will deed this to you, so long as you mention them when you write home.”
George brightened. “That’s easy enough done! Laura, go get the checkbook, there’s a love,” and he and the two foxes walked a short distance away, talking animatedly.
Laura walked back to the pedicab, shaking her head. When she came back, a consensus seemed to have been reached, and she asked resignedly, “How much?”
“Two hundred,” George said.
Laura blinked. “George,” she said slowly and clearly, “do you realize that we’re almost out of money?” She finished at a shout.
George waved this away. “We’ll get it back,” he said. “Think of the fame! The recognition! The accolades! The – “
“- Sight of our son having to dig ditches for a bloody living because he can’t get into University!” Laura snapped. “Because his father spent all the money set aside for school!” Her tail shook. “Go ahead,” she finally managed to say as she threw the checkbook at him. “I’ll be over there!” She turned and stamped off to the pedicab.
George watched her go, then shrugged and grinned at the two foxes. “Women, eh? Here ya go, Sports,” and he gave them the signed check. Lararua passed him the deed to the property, which George placed in a pocket. “Right! Now for a shovel,” and he walked back to the pedicab.
Laura sat under a tree and steadfastly ignored her husband as he got a shovel and other tools from the pedicab. Lur’paka, asleep under another tree, merely snored as the butter-colored fox slept off his hangover.
She looked up as a shadow fell across her.
She looked up higher, and smiled.
Tiny smiled back.
“Not today, love,” she muttered. “I’d only spoil it.”
Tiny’s smile faded. He walked a short distance away and sat down under a third tree.
The sun was getting close to the western horizon when George, quite dirty, walked up to her. “Find anything?” she asked in a deliberately uncaring tone.
George seemed disappointed. “Just a bunch of old bottles,” he said disgustedly.
An ear swiveled. “Bottles? Rice wine again?”
He shrugged. “Could be. Worst thing is we hold title to the damned things.” He fished a canteen from the pack and drank thirstily.
Laura got to her feet and dusted off the back of her shorts. “I’ll go see what’s going on.”
She found an impressive pile of bottles, each bearing the date 1921, stacked up beside a good-sized hole in the ground. Mororua and Lararua were eyeing the pile hungrily, and both gave a guilty start when the doe walked up. “We weren’t doin’ nothing,” the black-furred fox said.
“Yeah, nothing,” Lararua echoed.
“Good,” Laura said. “We have title to this land, and those bottles.” She picked one up and shook it. “Feels full.”
“You don’t want any of that,” Mororua said hastily. “It’s an acquired taste, for them what’s connysewers.”
“So you’d pay for it, eh?” she asked with a shrewd look coming to her eyes.
“Um, well, hard-working priests ain’t got no money,” Lararua said, blushing.
“So. Who would?”
Lararua dithered, and Mororua smacked him. “The Exchange might.”
“Yeah, the Gull Island Mercantile Materiel International Exchange. All kindsa what you call’em, commodities, get traded there.”
“I see.” She turned as George walked up. “George? I’ve been thinking.”
“You’ve – we’ve – been searching for three days.”
“And so far, all we’ve found for it is this bunch of bottles.”
George nodded. “But we’re so close, love! I can feel it!”
Laura overlooked the fact that the last time he’d had this kind of ‘feeling,’ Australia nearly ended up in a war with the Albanian South Indies. “I know we are,” she said earnestly.
He blinked. “You think so too?”
She nodded. “I say we go back to the hotel and, bright and early tomorrow, you go back to the museum and go over everything. Every relic, every old record and legend you can find. Take all day.”
“What’ll you be doing?”
“Oh, I’ll think of something . . . “