Dyes & Gulls
© 2011 by Walter D. Reimer
Laura hadn’t memorized the contents of any guidebooks regarding Gull Island, but she was sure that none of them ever mentioned how fast the inhabitants were with their paws. Of the eighty-three bottles of rice wine George had unearthed, seventeen had gone missing by the time the cache was under lock and key at the Exchange.
After breakfast (Laura was unsure if they’d have enough for a cup of coffee at this rate) George went off to the museum and she set off.
The Gull Island Mercantile Materiel International Exchange was a reinforced former warehouse superintended by unsmiling armed guards. Laura presented the receipt from the previous night and discovered that the morning’s inventory didn’t match the number she had seen stored away. Ten bottles had apparently grown legs and walked off.
Proof that evolution was a fact.
Still, enough of the bottles remained for her purposes.
The central trading area was a large sunken pit, and when she walked in to observe the action a bell rang. “What’s that?” she asked. “Start of trading?” There must have been two hundred furs in the building, every one a Gull Island fox.
“Nah,” one broker replied. “It’s for the traders to go to their corners.”
Four traders entered the pit as a scantily-clad femme paraded around with a paw-lettered sign that declared the commodity being traded and the opening bid.
The four foxes flexed their fists.
The bell rang.
Laura watched as the crowd cheered deafeningly and the quartet in the pit traded.
Traded blows, that is.
Off to one side a table had been set up with radio equipment, and a sign over it announced to all and sundry that it belonged to the local station, LUKR. Shouting into the microphone was a mustelid wearing a blazer and an egregiously bad headfur toupee.
“They do this all the time?” she shouted the question to a howling spectator.
“Sure! We all do!”
The man spared her a glance. “We all have lots to trade, and we take our chances, same as everyone.”
Laura turned back to the action as the quartet became a trio.
“Interesting,” she murmured, a speculative look on her face as the trio became a duo.
She had to admit that the Exchange was like nothing she’d ever seen before, and she’d been to the Chicago Mercantile.
One of the two remaining traders went down for the count to the cheers of the crowd. Fistfuls of money were changing paws, and Laura took note of that, as well as the fact that there several bookie stalls lined up along the south wall of the building.
She was placing a few bets before it was her turn to enter the pit when the crowd quieted and she could hear the radio show.
“ – And from the floor of the Exchange, this is Trevor Weasell, speaking to you live courtesy of Gull Island LUKR Radio,” the short mustelid in the tatty wig announced. “We just saw Lot #10 fairly traded, with this reporter SURE he has not seen a better day of trading in this venue in MANY a year!" He paused and added, “The market is BULLISH today!"
"Hey, watch yer language, buddy!" someone yelled from the crowd.
Weasell soldiered on, undeterred. “So far to-day, the featured trader has been Ali, the Komodo Klubber, proving once again by his prowess on the trading floor that he indeed earned his name as the Dutch East Indies' todweight champion."
The crowd of onlookers, bettors and traders cheered as a muscular fox with black and dark brown markings reminiscent of a Doberman or Rottweiler stepped out of the trading pit. He raised his fists and yell, “I AM . . . THE GREATEST!”
"And INDEED he is, ladies and gentlemen!” Weasell said into his microphone. “This reporter is thrilled to be here with him today."
"As you should be, chump!" Ali said, his English accented. "I am the fastest with the shimmy, on the trading floor of GIMMIE." He pointed an accusing finger at the mustelid. "You shut up now, or I'll knock your toupee halfway to Spontoon!"
“Er, right Ali. We pause now for station identification.” This was followed by a recording of three cash registers playing G-E-C.
Lot #11 was called, and the trading was a six-way matchup over a load of phosphate. Laura took advantage of the fracas to watch Ali’s fighting style.
She noted he had a vicious right cross.
Finally her turn came.
“Lot #12,” the pit boss, a burly fox wearing a striped shirt and carrying a cattle prod shouted. “Fifty-three bottles of rice wine, vintage 1921! Trading it’s this lovely lady!” The crowd cheered as Laura stretched and limbered up her tail.
Two other traders entered the pit, and Laura sized them up. Her ears hiked up as Ali joined them after getting instructions from another fur, very likely his sponsor or employer.
He glared at her accusingly, medium brown eyes set in dark fur. "That you should bust my trade/ is surely a pity/ I’ll punch you ugly/ and then slap you pretty," he said in a belligerent tone.
Laura merely smiled and pulled two objects from a pocket that turned out to be tightly coiled lengths of canvas two inches wide.
While she waited for the bell, the femme kangaroo wrapped each tape around her paws and partway up her forearms.
The bell rang, and the crowd went wild.
“Hello, Laura!” George said as he stepped into the hotel room. “Found a few leads at the museum. You want some dinner?” He paused and blinked. “You orright, love?”
Laura smiled. “Of course, George. Let a sneaky left get in under my guard, is all.” She flexed her paws. “Just some good exercise.”
“So you’ll’ve worked up an appetite.”
She nodded and slipped an arm around his waist, her tail rubbing along his. “Now, let’s see about some dinner, shall we? And maybe, afterward . . . “ she whispered in his ear and grinned as he smiled at her.
By the close of trading, she’d made three hundred pounds clear profit on her lot of rice wine. As well as winning by two TKOs and a submission; this had gained her an additional seventy-five pounds from the bookies. Her last opponent had been much shorter than she was, and had told her she wasn’t too big to fail.
Laura didn’t believe anything or anyone was too big to fail.
She smiled to herself as they stepped into the nearby diner.
Well, maybe Tiny was too big to fail...
“Overdrawn?! What the bloody hell d’ya mean, overdrawn?” Laura fairly shouted the next day.
Secure behind his metal grille, the teller smiled smugly. “I mean, Ma’am, that your account with the Bank of Australia is overdrawn by the amount of one hundred ten pounds.” The smile widened. “I’m afraid someone might have gotten hold of your account number, Ma’am.”
“But I deposited three hundred pounds yesterday!”
“I guess someone got hold of your account number,” the teller repeated. “No honest people left in the world, I’m afraid to say.”
Laura recalled that George had written their account number on the check he had cashed, and briefly toyed with the idea of making the teller eat his ledgers. However, the thought of how costly a night in a Gull Island jail might prove to be brought her up short.
She left, not at a run, but at a very brisk walk, to the nearest telegraph office. She hurriedly sent two cables, marked URGENT; one to the Bank of Australia, explaining what had happened and ordering an immediate freeze on the account and the establishment of a new one.
The other went to Barry Sheldrake at PRICK, asking him to advise the Institute’s members to avoid Gull Island.
Those two tasks done, she set off to find George, which turned out to be easy. She found him seated under a tree, notebook in paw, listening avidly as the three vulpines told him various legends about the island and its earliest inhabitants.
He was scribbling notes as fast as he could.
Tiny was lounging under another tree, looking disinterested.
The foxes took a break and passed a jug of water around, and Laura asked, “Talking legends, George?”
“Sure thing, Laura! These blokes gotta lot of legends.”
The ‘roo femme smiled at her husband. “Well, it seems only fair that you share one of ours.”
George’s eyes lit up. “Which one, sweetfur?”
“Oh, I don’t know . . . Why not tell them about the time you and I were in America, looking for those Indian burial mounds up in Appalachia?”
“And those hill-folk goats . . . “
“Right. Tell them about that. I’m going to take a walk.” Laura walked off while George launched into his tale.
As she passed Tiny she muttered, “Word of advice, lad – you do not want to be around for this. Care to take a walk with me?” She batted her eyelashes at him.
Tiny looked up at her in confusion, then got to his feet. “Bonk-bonk?”
She grinned and took his paw. “Well, when a handsome bloke asks so politely, who am I to refuse?”
They headed off to a deep stand of undergrowth.
Perhaps two hours later Laura came back in time to hear George say, “They didn’t want to do anything to us directly, so they asked their children to distract us from the work. Pity we didn’t find anything – but I would’ve, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!” He grinned as he looked at his audience.
The three priests didn’t appear to be very appreciative.
Lur’paka was curled up in a fetal position, sucking his thumb. The other two, Mororua and Lararua, looked like shell-shock patients. Lararua, particularly, was in a bad way, drooling and gibbering quietly to himself.
“Looks like you’ve got their attention, George.”
“Too right! Nothing like a good audience. ‘Scuse me, I’m going to see about a bit of water,” and George got to his feet and headed for their equipment. “Gonna go over my notes too.”
Laura watched him go, and as soon as he was out of earshot (even for a ‘roo) she crouched down a bit and said quietly, “Listen good, you little con artists – “
“We’re priests,” Mororua mumbled.
“Con artists,” she repeated firmly. “Now, you’re going to give me back all the money you’ve swindled from my poor, oblivious fool of a mate. Or else.”
Lur’paka quavered, “Or what?”
Laura smiled, baring her teeth. “Or I’ll have him tell you his favorite story.”
Three pairs of eyes turned terrified looks at her.
“About how he found the Lost Golden Bed of Trendelenburg.” She savored the look they gave her. “It’s one of his favorites, and he never tires of telling it.”
The three were on their feet in an instant.
“Is – is it anything like the one he j-just told us?” Lararua stammered.
The three foxes stared at her.
They went into a huddle.
"We'll give you back 500."
Laura looked skeptical.
"You sell your sanity cheap."
"He forgets parts and has to go back to the beginning."
“He loses his place laughing, and has to start over."
"He does the funny voices, too."
Laura yawned elaborately.
The trio of foxes went back into their huddle. Their heads collided in their mutual haste and they all staggered back a few steps before resuming their conversation.
"1,250, and that's our final offer."
Laura made a show of considering it.
“In cash,” she said.
“CASH!?” the three foxes chorused.
“You heard me.”
“B-but... he gave us checks,” Lur’paka whined.
“That’s your lookout. Cash, or... “
“Or what?” Lararua asked.
“I leave him here.”
Another huddle ensued, three vulpine tails semaphoring frantically. Suddenly Mororua waved for order, clouted Lararua across the back of the head, and said to Laura, “Waitaminnint. Dere's a catch."
“See, we gots a, like, tradition here. We string a mark along, then go for a big finish.”
“Yeah!” Lur’paka said enthusiastically. The butter-furred fox said, “It’s an old tradition, goin’ back a while.”
“How far back?”
“At least the Great War,” and Lur’paka whined as Mororua hit him.
“My husband’s not going to leave here unless he’s found something,” Laura said. “No ruins?”
“There’s our uncle’s house. It always looks a wreck.”
Laura shook her head, then thought for a moment. “He might be satisfied,” she said carefully, “if he had any proof – any proof at all... do you have a lost tribe of lemurs in the jungle?”
Mororua looked up at her in surprise, then a sly look crossed his muzzle. “Dat’s an idea, sister! Lissen up youse guys, we gotta come up wit' a lemur fer this dope.”
The black-furred vulpine flinched. “Err, yeah, this guy I mean.”
“Better. Do you have a lemur?”
"Suuuuuure. Sure, we gotsa a lemur. Ain't we, Lararua?"
"You bet, Mororua!"
"Yeah yeah, sure sure!" Lur’paka agreed, nodding his head so vigorously he got a pain in his neck.
“Look here,” Mororua said to Laura, “we finds him a lemur, we call it even, ‘kay?”
Laura chuckled. “No, not ‘’kay.’ Cash on the barrel, you lot set him up, and I’ll get him out of here.”
The fox rubbed the white blaze on his head. “Make it an even thousand, can’t ya?”
“Eleven hundred or I leave now.”
All three foxes went back into a huddle. “What’s to make sure he goes with ya?” Lararua asked.
“Oh, he will.”