Dyes & Gulls
© 2011 by Walter D. Reimer
After more conversation Mororua said, “Okay. Ya drive a hard bargain, sister.”
“I’m a hard bargainer. Ask Ali,” and the ‘roo femme massaged the knuckles of her right paw meaningfully.
“I caught that on the radio!” Lur’paka exclaimed. “Youse fight rough!”
“He was nothing. A real hard bargain is dealing with Tiny,” and she smiled fondly.
Lararua grimaced. “I don’t wanna know nothin’ ‘bout that.”
Lur’paka, however, clapped his paws together. “I got it! I got it!”
“You do? What is it?” Mororua asked eagerly.
Mororua slapped him.
Lur’paka whined and said sullenly, “I got it now.”
“No, that headache – and a plan. We dress Tiny up as a lemur.”
Laura cocked an eyebrow. “Tiny?”
The huge fox poked his head out from behind a tree. “Bonk-bonk?”
She smiled at him. “Not right now, dear. But come over here, there’s a good lad. We have something in mind.”
Tiny loped over as Mororua climbed up on Lararua’s shoulders. The two maneuvered behind Tiny, who simply loomed over Laura, smiling gently down at her.
“What on earth are you two doing?” Laura asked the two monochrome foxes.
“We gotta get Tiny set up fer this,” Lararua replied. He held still as Mororua started gently slapping Tiny, aiming his blows for the side of his head.
“’Scuse me, this usually takes a bit,” Mororua said. “It's like onea dose games where ya try to get the BB in the bear's eye, know what I mean?"
“Er, yes,” Laura said. She glanced down. “I expect blood flow becomes a problem at times.”
“Yeah yeah, sure sure,” Lur’paka agreed. “It’s a long ways to his feet.”
Laura let this pass.
Finally Tiny started showing signs that his vocabulary might increase, and Mororua dismounted from Lararua’s shoulders. “Lararua,” Mororua said as his brother rubbed his aching back, “you and Lur’paka go get Tiny ready.”
“Ready?” the butter-colored fox asked.
“Yeah, go and get him dressed up to look like a lemur.”
There was a pause.
“What’s a lemur look like?”
Mororua smacked the younger fox across the muzzle. “Go check the damn library. And quick – he’s coming back!”
True enough, George was headed back, engrossed again in his notebook. As a result, he didn’t spot Lur’paka leading Tiny away into the nearby woods. Lararua went off in another direction.
Apparently to find a library.
“George!” Laura said. “Where’ve you been, Skippy?”
“Took a short break, love. Goin’ over me notes.” The two kangaroos hugged each other, then he looked around. “Where’d the others get to? I had another story for ‘em, an’ it was a corker too!”
Mororua’s nosepad and ears promptly went pale and Laura asked, “Which one was it?”
“That time you an’ me went to Rhodesia.”
“Oh my yes – that was a good one,” his wife said cheerfully. “But this fella was telling me something.” She lowered her voice. “A secret.”
The buck’s ears canted forward. “A secret? Tradition, folklore, fable?”
Laura turned to the dark-furred fox. “Well? Tell him.”
Mororua jumped a bit and hemmed and hawed before saying, “Yeah, well . . . er, there’s this secret tradition, yanno . . . old legends, from way back before Europeans showed up.”
“Right!” George was scribbling furiously. “’Any idea how far back?”
“Oh, hundreds of years, they told me,” Laura supplied. “Isn’t that right?” and she favored Mororua with a glance.
The white-blazed black fox jumped a bit. “Oh! Yeah, yeah! Older than our oldest legends, really secret stuff.”
George flicked an ear. “As far back as that? That stuff’s usually esoteric knowledge, open only to the initiate.” His look at his wife was questioning.
Laura deflected this with a smile. “I can be really persuasive, George – you know that. Besides, all he gave me was a hint. The others went off to see if you could be initiated in the mystery.” She winked at him. “Recall that time we went to Eleusis?”
“Do I!” George grinned fondly at his wife. He turned to face Mororua. “What do I have to do to get initiated, Sport?”
Mororua dithered, “Well, er, ah, that is, ya gotta be pure of heart an’ all – and’ there’s trials to do, too!” he said as the penny finally dropped. “An’ th’ first one is – ya gotta bathe in the ocean. In th’ altogether,” he added hastily.
“Right!” George gave Laura a kiss. “Gotta go, love,” and bounded off for the nearby beach, shedding his shirt as he ran.
Laura watched him go and Mororua muttered, “Sister, you lookin’ to emigrate? I can get ya a job.”
“Not on your life. Look, keep him busy until the sun’s down.”
“Never you mind,” the doe said. “Just do it, and I’ll knock a hundred pounds off.”
The fox brightened. “Deal.” He trotted off to watch George take his bath, and paused. “Hey!”
“You do know there’s jellyfish off this beach, don’t ya?”
“No, I didn’t. But what’s an initiation without a little discomfort?”
“Er, yeah, right,” and the fox ran off.
“Poor dear. He looks exhausted,” Laura murmured just after sundown. Lararua and Lur’paka nodded.
It had been a long day for George. After bathing in the salt water (and acquiring a few jellyfish stings to his legs and tail), the kangaroo had been required to run, still undressed, twice around the island. Scandalized matrons had expressed their displeasure at seeing a naked foreigner running past.
Said expression involving the use of brooms.
Another trial required him to match Mororua in a drinking game using the native rice wine. That one had to be called a draw, as both the ‘roo and the fox passed out at roughly the same time, only to wake up considerably embarrassed.
The time had been spent constructively, with Laura supervising Mororua’s two brothers in dyeing their fur to resemble ringtail lemurs, based on a picture Lararua had seen in the library. Tiny was similarly painted, and all three were wearing loincloths made of plaited palm fronds and flowers.
Lur’paka sneezed. “Dese flowers’re givin’ me hives.”
Lararua smacked him. “Shut it. Whadda we do, lady?”
The doe was similarly dyed and dressed in a grass skirt with a flower behind one ear. She was determined to maintain a watchful eye on the proceedings and keep the fun clean. “Stay in the woods. Don’t let him get a clear look at you. Can you two do that?” she asked.
Both foxes nodded. “What about him?” Lur’paka asked, jerking a thumb at Tiny.
“He’ll be with me,” Laura said with a smile. She gently took Tiny’s huge paw in her much smaller one and said quietly, “C’mon, love. Let’s put on a show, shall we?”
“Of all the rotten luck,” George grumbled as he made his way through the woods, following Mororua’s lead through the dense underbrush. “Laura abed with a headache – and she’s left only five shots in the camera. Too dark anyway,” he said disgustedly. “Can’t I use the flash?”
“No,” the fox replied, his white blaze the only way of spotting him in the dim light. “It is taboo.”
“I can understand that, mate. They worried ‘bout me stealin’ their souls?”
The fox nodded. “As far as ya know. ‘Sides, they mostly come out at night. Mostly.”
“These people have a name?”
“The locals call them the Strangers in the Night,” Mororua replied. “They exchange glances and move on – keep to themselves a lot.”
“So what are our chances?”
“Well . . . wait! Ssshhh!” And a paw tugged at George’s sleeve. “There’s one now,” Mororua hissed.
“Crikey,” the buck ‘roo breathed, squinting into the darkness. “Wait a tick . . . that looks a lot like a fox in a shabby costume."
Mororua shushed him again. "Er . . . uh, well . . . ya know, dat's evolution fer ya. Dat's how dis species survives in dis environment, see? It's fillin' whatcha call a niche."
"It looks like it's filling a costume."
As they watched, a vaguely fox-like shape with light gray fur and vivid white bands on its tail hopped and skipped around, until an arm reached from behind a tree and yanked the dancer back under cover. There were sounds of a scuffle, followed by a soft, strangled cry.
Two fox-shaped lemurs then appeared and seemed to do a sort of dance that involved ritualized motions. To the novice explorer, it would look like the two were trying to slap the taste out of each others’ mouths.
They faded into the darkness, but the occasional slap could still be heard.
“Have ya seen ‘nuff yet?” Mororua whispered.
“Not yet, mate,” George hissed back. “I think I hear somethin’ – over thataway,” and he picked his way carefully through the woods. Mororua trailed behind him until the two ended up crouching in a stand of cocoanut palms.
“What ya hear?” Mororua asked.
“Shh. Look.” George sounded triumphant. “Looks like a mating ritual.”
After several moments, the dark-colored fox grunted softly. “Yeah, it’s a matin’ ritual – or pay night.”
The two sat and listened, and George whispered, “Wish I could use the camera – fine time to noYEEEEEEEEEEEEEOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!”
The kangaroo’s scream scared birds into the air and he took off running at a high rate of speed, the vague shape of a cocoanut crab hanging onto the tip of his tail with one of its claws.
Mororua smoothed out his fur after it had fluffed out from the scream. He looked back at the mating ritual, then at the direction George had taken.
The fox shrugged. “Some guys got all the luck,” and he walked off.
“Hold still, you big baby.”
“Thing damn near cut the tip of my tail off, Laura.”
“You’ve had worse, Skippy.”
“Oh, yeah – ow!”
“There you go, Skippy.” Laura snipped the suture close, and wiped away a little bit of blood. She studied the work critically, then patted his thigh. “Right as rain in a few days, love.” She started packing away the first-aid kit.
Explorers had to be prepared for any emergency.
Skippy had taken off like a scalded cat, caroming off trees and tearing through the undergrowth. He’d finally managed to shake the crab off his tail after reaching the opposite side of the island.
Which gave Laura plenty of time.
Both to wash off the fur dye, and to collect a sizeable wad of banknotes (which she made sure were not counterfeits).
George had limped back to the hotel, covered in bruises, scratches and a deep wound on his tail that required three stitches to close up.
The buck groaned as he rolled over on his back and looked up at his wife. “You feeling better, Laura?”
“Oh yes,” she replied with a smile. “Headache’s all gone. So, love, you find what you were looking for?”
“Yeah!” he said with a grin. “Proof that Lemuria was here – they interbred with the foxes, and now there’s only a few left. What a find! Barry’ll be pleased.”
“I’m sure PRICK will roll out the red carpet for you.” Or would, until Laura told Barry and John in confidence what had happened. “Now, love. Are you ready to head home?”
“Homesick already, love?”
“Yeah. I want to see Robbie.”
Laura smoothed down her blouse as she stood up. “You rest easy, George, and I’ll go cable Spontoon for our plane.”
She headed down the street to the telegraph office, only to encounter Mororua. “He tell you those stories?” he asked warily.
“Sure. I was there for ‘em,” the flier replied airily.
“How – How do you - ?”
She laughed. “Oh, that’s easy enough. Tell him that's not what the latest Journal of Crypto-Anthropomorphology says, and that'll get him off track." Her tail swished. "He'll start ranting about editors, and you're home free."
The black-furred fox gaped at her as she shouldered past him and went on her way.
Their plane left the next day, lifting out of Komo’s harbor.
Somewhat lighter in the wallet than when they arrived, Laura told herself, but the amount of Spontoonie pounds in her pocket was a bit comforting. She did a few rapid currency conversions in her head as the plane banked.
They’d lost several hundred, but hadn’t lost all of their money. George’s curiosity had been satisfied (for now), and she admitted to herself that she had managed to find ways to amuse herself.
The look on Ali’s face as he looked up at her was one she’d savor for years. The Javanese fox hadn’t expected her to be as adept with her feet and tail as with her fists.
George glanced at his wife, who was looking out the plane’s window. He raised an eyebrow at the pensive expression reflected in the window. "Why so glum, love? Didja want to stay on Gull Island? Do some tradin,' maybe?"
He could see her smile. She had been thinking of the possibility that George had given Robbie a little sister. It was a ‘roo thing, despite her extramarital shenanigans.
Laura smiled. "I could’ve had class, George. I coulda been a contender.” She sat back, looked at him, and the two shared a kiss. "You know, George ... I've been thinking of a vacation."
"Oh yeah, Laura? How about - "
"I was thinking of Hawaii. I fancy somewhere sunny, nice tropic beaches, no worries . . . “ She glanced out the window again, muttering to herself, “No archaeological . . . "
She frowned, her train of thought neatly derailed. "What?"
"We could go to Easter Island, love!” George said enthusiastically. “I'll prove once and for all that the statues were Egyptian colossi!"
Laura scowled. An Egyptian connection to Polynesia, specifically Easter Island, was one of George’s pet theories. "Oh,” she said sarcastically. “We can go to Easter Island, and you can prove that the colossi there were really the work of Egyptian laborers brought in by a now-vanished race of beings from another planet - "
"Crikey! You read me mind!"
The doe gaped at him, then started to recover her voice. “Er, wait a moment – “
“You’re a bloomin' genius, Laura!" George looked like a joey who had just been given a new yo-yo. "I been thinkin' on those lines for months, and here you are, you come out with it like that!" He snapped his fingers for emphasis. "No wonder we work well together!"
"But . . ."
"Easter Island it is, love!"
Laura clapped a paw over her face.
"Now, don't go hidin' yer emotions, love. Let it all out."
The pilot’s ears twitched as George yelped from Laura’s punch.