from a diary:
by Simon Barber
Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
encounter the world after Songmark Academy -- beginning July 1937.
by Simon Barber
Art by Kjartan
Friday, 6th August 1937 (written later)
Dear Diary: just when things were looking well and we had everything planned – our plans were shot down in flames again. I am currently out of sight of land and heading up the coast towards Newfoundland, sure enough, but not in the Storm Bird.
Yesterday morning we were enjoying a late breakfast after our moonlight stroll through the eldritch moonlight (“Eldritch” is a word Senator Lovecraft seems very fond of) when a letter came in from our hosts of the previous night, the Pendletons.
Oh my. There is a downside to the movie industry that they do not discuss in “Film Frolics”. We had not met the hosts’ daughter Penny Pendleton, and now we know why. She had been taking summer classes at a respectable drama school in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, and was not expected back till September. As it happens, she ran into one of the “talent touts” who keep an eye on such places and arranged an interview with a film studio keen on talent-testing young hopefuls. Unfortunately that turned out to be Mr. Sanchez of Studio DAKKA, who seem to be less reputable than one would wish.
Penny Pendleton, the letter said, returned home after a week on Mr. Sanchez’ yacht taking some screen tests she rather regrets – and has decided one traditional route to screen stardom is not for her. Her family asked Mr. Sanchez to destroy the films, and he claims he has so done. Nobody quite believes this. So the Pendletons, having hosted us four Adventuresses, asked us if we could discreetly help. Bringing in the Police would be socially somewhat embarrassing.
We were just discussing the matter after breakfast when Helen’s fur rose in alarm and she announced “He’s back”. A second later I confirmed it; a certain polecat working for the Authorities was on Knob Hill taking an interest in our affairs again. Evidently Mr. Hoover puts more trust in hard photographic evidence than the exotic talents of one particular agent who is not reporting what he wants to hear.
Just to check, while I stayed in with Miss Cabot discussing what we might do for the Pendletons, Maria and Helen took the Packard downhill to check on the Storm Bird. They returned an hour and a half later, looking glum. At least three Agents are watching the seaplane slips, Helen says, and it looked as if we would not be getting out of Boston as easily as we arrived. I guessed that Mr. Hoover is still convinced this is Molly Procyk, and that she is somehow carrying on her family’s criminal enterprises. That would explain why we have not been hauled in for official questioning; first he wants to trace her local contacts and to keep her in town until he does. As she has been protected by Spontoonie citizenship for three years, he has evidently been waiting to get his claws on her a long time and will not want to let her slip away on the Storm Bird.
Miss Cabot sighed, and noted that Mr. Hoover works too hard – considering he is well known for his passion to “eat, drink and be Mary”. She did note it might be possible to kill two birds with one stone – if she cannot leave on our own aircraft and we have been asked to investigate Mr. Sanchez – he has a yacht and travels widely.
By lunchtime yesterday we had a plan, and everything was coming into place. This is not a job for four, but for two; while Helen and Maria hopefully flew out unmolested by the G-men, Miss Cabot and me were making our introductions to Mr. Sanchez. At least, Kim-Anh Soosay was – it feels very strange to be a half-Siamese girl again, and utterly exotic in Boston. The Cabot family need not worry about their adopted heir’s reputation; Molly Procyk’s passport took care of paperwork and the maid costume renders one quite invisible as a person. I have a matching one of my own in my valise.
Our story was that we had been working at the drama school and made friends with Penny Pendleton (who indeed provided us with background information on the establishment) and learned that she was auditioning for a movie studio. As soon as we could get away, we followed her to Boston, hoping to catch up with her.
Luck was certainly with us – it seems that very morning Mr. Sanchez put his other two hopefuls on a train South to have another branch of the studio in Florida “take up their contract options” and he is currently without any star-struck hopeful starlets to audition. He was very pleasant, inviting us onto his yacht, Eldorado, in the harbour for champagne and caviar, while regaling us with tales of how girls of quite humble origin have gone on to fame and fortune. He said he regretted having to leave town and head North, but he was being called away on business “North of the Border” otherwise he would love to give us a screen test.
That was a cue if ever I heard one. I rather breathlessly confessed that we had not exactly asked our current employers for time off, but had jumped on the first bus we could – and we would be very grateful for a trip. That much was perfectly true. We were generously given an hour to check out of our hotel and get our bags, as he genuinely was sailing on the tide.
Not exactly having a hotel to quit, we spent the time going through rendezvous plans with Maria and Helen; radio times and frequencies (should we get the opportunity, we noted the Eldorado has a transmitter) and contingencies of where and how to meet up between here and Newfoundland. Miss Cabot said farewell over the telephone to her grandmother, and then we were back on the dock with one valise apiece in our paws and a hopeful expression on our faces. We both wore “plain, respectable” outfits we had bought on our first shopping day for a few dollars, quite inconspicuous and hopefully the very image of two less well-paid girls who might have worked as maids at a respectable drama school. Such things the Spontoon film industry teaches you!
Eldorado is a rather nicely appointed motor yacht of perhaps sixty
feet, with a mast that could fit an emergency sail if really needed
but on most days only holds up the radio aerial. There is a
Spanish-speaking crew of six, from Panama or somewhere Central
American by their species and accents (one is a tapir, a rare breed
in Boston or indeed Spontoon) who do all the hard work. Mr. Sanchez
waved us down below to a small but well-appointed cabin and told us
to “keep outta sight” till called for. No Customs barrier, no
documentation and not a G-Man in sight – as it happens, exactly
what we wanted.
**** Mr. Eddie Sanchez, owner of the yacht, Eldorado (Larger file here - 523 KBytes) ****
Art by Kjartan - characters by Simon Barber
two hours we were well away from Boston, outside the three-mile limit
and heading North up the coast, much to our relief. The weather was
nicely clear, with visibility right to the ocean horizon and the tops
of great ocean liners visible as they head to and from Europe. There
was a definite lack of five hundred-horsepower FBI “cigarette
boats” arrowing towards us in pursuit or G-Men standing in the bows
of borrowed Naval torpedo-boats heading us off. The yacht pulled in
behind a wooded island for the night, with the lights of a fishing
port visible some miles away as evening fell.
Dear Diary: it was a most... interesting evening. Mr. Eddie Sanchez certainly is good with a camera, or at least he knows all the right words. I expect the name on his birth certificate is probably “Eduardo” but Hollywood is funny about such things even for furs behind the cameras.
Our cover stories seem to be holding up, but possibly Eddie is simply not that interested in checking and takes us at our face value. He did ask where we had been working before, and I used the tale that we had worked for years for an employer on a Pacific Island before recently arriving in Boston. Technically it is even true. Then he asked if we would be willing to take some trial pictures “for the European market” and I had no objection to that either.
I can now report that what folk whisper about “casting couches” is quite true. I can also vouch for the surprising truth of what Nuala Rachorska told me about marsupial gentlemen – though indeed in her profession she would be expected to know such details. I expect it would be rather a shock to most girls. It is one thing to visit another room on the Ark as they say, but another to discover it is a double room.
This morning, we were away at breakfast time, with the crew working efficiently enough. It seems the yacht is not Eddie’s personal one but belongs to the company, and no doubt gets plenty of use. Eddie was very keen to hear about how Miss Cabot and I acquired our distinctive markings, something he evidently recognises. As Kim-Anh Soosay any kind of “exotic” background is easy to explain, but Miss Cabot’s Chicago accent does not fit the picture so well. The story we had worked out was we were both tricked and on our way to Kuo Han when we were rescued by the Spontoon authorities - the story would be hard to disprove since famously such things never go to public trial as slavers are never taken prisoner but “disappear” instead.
Eddie is quite fascinated by the idea and says we have decidedly passed our screen test – if we are interested in being slightly type-cast he can arrange for a suitable film. It is all very gratifying, but nothing that the granddaughter of the Cabot family needs as a career, nor a Songmark graduate either. We noticed where in his cabin he keeps all the exposed films, and with the aid of a mirror Miss Cabot made note of the combination while carefully looking the other way. The day passed pleasantly enough as the Eldorado made a steady fifteen knots up the coast. Our destination is the French colony of St. Pierre and Miquelon, the small islands which are all that survive of their Canadian empire. Molly told me much about them years ago; in Prohibition the islands were a great centre for the rum-runners and they gained something of a reputation. One wonders how much of it is deserved, or survives now the bootleggers have had to find other things to do. I have been to perfectly civilised French colonies before, recalling my trip to the French Sandwich Islands when I escaped from being detained after getting my flying license. We are due to arrive there tomorrow – and if we manage to make off with Miss Pendleton’s photographs and negatives, I think Eddie will be rather unhappy with us. Vanishing into a crowd in Boston is one thing, but from the maps St. Pierre and Miquelon are definitely small and sparsely settled islands which might be hard to hide on.
Still, we shall see what happens. In the meantime, Kim-Anh Soosay is quite enjoying an airing. Doubtless Miss Devinski would disapprove, but it is all in a good cause.
Saturday 7th August, 1937
A vigorous day! Last night the Eldorado stood out well clear of the coast and travelled non-stop while Kim-Anh Soosay and Molly Procyk (no relation to the Procyk bootlegging family, she explained to Eddie) found out more about the film starlet experience. At least in one part of the industry. It is a good thing we took care with what was in our valises; I noticed they have been carefully searched and Kim-Anh’s Spontoon “Hunting License” examined before being replaced. The old tell-tale trick of a stray hair sealing the envelope still works perfectly well.
By lunchtime we were in sight of land again; a rather bleaker and rocky coast mostly inhabited by seabirds. Being in range of Newfoundland, Eddie spent some time on the radio – and we made careful note of where he keeps the key to the transmitter. As long as Miss Cabot and I spend enough time sunbathing on the sheltered rear deck and talking excitedly about the Hollywood Blockbusters we hope to star in, we seem to be keeping well enough in character that nobody watches us too carefully. By all accounts Eddie rarely travels without company.
Thinking of which, I certainly hope Miss Penny Pennington is as thorough with her “precautions” as we have been taught to be. Eddie was reassuring us that marsupials are not compatible with furs like us – which is true in some senses, as far as it goes. I have seen one obvious marsupial mix on Spontoon but he was utterly exotic, and a one in several thousands chance. In some ways it would be far better to marry a reptile or an avian (I recall that Brigit Mulvaney of Red Dorm dating avian gentleman, as she is Catholic and has one thing less to worry about and to confess that way). Considering how very different marsupial girls are, the results would be … tragic.
I managed to take a look at the charts while Eddie was otherwise engaged with Miss Cabot – there are three, or one could say two-and-a-half inhabited islands in the Colony. The main town of St. Pierre is further out into the Atlantic on its own small island of the same name, while Miquelon and its Siamese twin are larger and would be separate from each other but for a narrow sand spit that links them. On the chart they look not unlike a brassiere. I also managed to secrete some packs of ship’s biscuit and tins of fish in our valises – starlets are not expected to have much in the way of common-sense and we had not taken any of our usual equipment with us. Apart from Molly’s set of files and lock-picks in the handle of our valise, naturally.
By the evening we were docked at St. Pierre, its small harbour now mostly home to cod-fishing vessels rather than sleek rum-running “cigarette boats.” One can see the town has been prosperous recently; the harbour wall is new ferroconcrete and many of the houses are nicely rebuilt and neatly painted. Above the town is a towering radio mast; naturally the colony needs to keep in touch with home and France is indeed the next land to the East-South-East. That seems to be Eddie’s goal in coming here – I speak some Spanish after three years working alongside Carmen Velasquez and overheard him saying to the Captain something about taking the book with him. There is also a cable station; not something an island this size would commonly have, but it is where the direct cable to France runs according to the books.
As in Boston, Eddie told us to stay in the cabins and out of sight – and he would see us later when he had finished his business. This time we only did half of our instructions – as three of the crew went ashore with him, we took our chances. While I kept watch, Miss Cabot was back in Eddie’s cabin in ten seconds (the lock being a simple three-tumbler model, and she remembers everything Molly Procyk was taught by her Father’s employees) and paying her attentions to the safe. That took about ten seconds with the combination, and for another three minutes we were looking through the contents – which included a lot of film.
Oh my. Studio DAKKA will definitely not be screening its films in Peoria any time soon, at least not anywhere public. There were a dozen dossiers with prints and negatives of starlets’ “screen tests” – including the one we wanted, Miss Penny Pennington. We took that one and left the rest – for all we know the other girls are very keen on having such a film career, and would be heartbroken if we spoiled their chances. Our own photos were there as well – I took Miss Cabots’ set but left those of Kim-Anh Soosay. It seemed only fair. We made sure to cover our traces (fortunately the envelope with Miss Pennington’s pictures was not on top of the pile), wiped clean our paw-prints from the safe and made ready to depart.
While Miss Cabot grabbed our valises I made my way to the radio room and as soon as the set warmed up managed to send a Morse message to the nearest Radio Drop * where Helen and Maria can pick it up. Had it been one of the times we arranged, I might have got in touch with the Storm Bird directly. As it is, we will just have to get to the rendezvous, sit tight and trust in our ride arriving.
Then – farewell to the Eldorado. Although our valises look perfectly ordinary, they are completely waterproof with a rubber lining – and our clothes went in before we went over the side. A chilly swim; this August weather may be as warm as it gets but it is still the North Atlantic! Two hundred yards in our bathing costumes brought us to the far side of the harbour away from the busy cod-fishing vessels. The Southern side slopes gently away in shelves of bare rock that would make poor anchorage at low tide; we scrambled off the beach and took shelter in a scrubby grove of Arctic willow to dry out, change clothes and plan our next move.
All seemed quiet aboard the Eldorado; at least there were no shouts of alarm or ringing of the ship’s bell. With only three sailors left aboard and the only dinghy already ashore there was not much they could have done, and even if they got on the radio it is hardly likely Eddie will be anywhere he can hear them. Although we have all wished for Cranium Island style voice radios that could fit in a pocket rather than a heavy backpack, it is just as well right now they are not in general circulation.
The next step is to get across to our rendezvous on Isle Miquelon; Isle St. Pierre is rather small to hide on without local support, and as we have not gone through Customs we will need to stay out of the way of any colonial Gendarmes. Fortunately our French is reasonable – Sophie D’Artagnan taught us a lot and although our Songmark course only taught basics of most common languages, I think everyone picked up as much as they could. Understanding what Madeleine X was muttering under her breath certainly taught us some new words.
Miss Cabot pointed out that Eddie might not check the detailed contents of his safe for awhile. We left all the money there, and most “gold-diggers” would have pocketed that rather than anything else. He may just check the money is safe, assume we jumped ship for reasons of our own, shrug and wash his paws of us and pick up another pair of aspiring starlets on his way South. On the other paw, in Songmark we learned to be cautious – and assume he will be looking hard for us with local help. Just going to the Gendarmes and announcing we had wandered off and were lost would get a local “posse” chasing us with the best intentions. We have no real idea of how long he plans to be here – sending a folder of messages should not take too long, but he may need to wait for replies. Whatever he is sending, it is going through the nearest cables not within reach of the FBI.
From what we saw of the charts, we could hike Eastwards the two miles across the island to be faced with another three miles of Atlantic between the sparsely settled West-facing rocky shore and Isle Miquelon. A nice little fishing-village with a few fishing smacks that could discreetly take us across for a dollar would be handy; sadly there is nothing like that on the map and having sampled the local bathing conditions, that is not a swim we want to take! The navigational charts indicated strong currents, though looking at the sand spit linking the two parts of Isle Miquelon we could have worked that out. Strangers wandering through rural areas in remote islands where everyone knows each other would be a talking-point for weeks, and being spotted trying to evade detection would only make things worse. At least in the colony’s one major port folk are used to strangers.
In five minutes we had dried our fur, groomed presentably and made our minds up. This is the only real port on the island, and we need a boat ride. There is the risk of being tracked down and grabbed while waiting for a scheduled ferry – and Eddie will certainly check official transports off the island. But it is a risk we have to take – that and bumping into him in the streets of St. Pierre which is a small town of at most a couple of thousand furs. The best bet is to get out of the way before the hunt for us begins.
Evidently there is too little local traffic to support a regular passenger dock, but my French was adequate to find “les bateux pour l’Isle Miquelon”. The town is an interesting mix of sturdy local stone buildings and modern asbestos-sheeting commercial sheds that were probably put up to house equipment or merchandise in the bootlegging days. As far as the locals were concerned that was all perfectly legal – they bought and sold on French territory to entrepreneurs who loaded up their “cigarette boats” and took it out of local jurisdiction. Then it was a matter of our staying out of sight till a suitable boat turned up.
It was getting dark by the time we found a fisher-fur returning home to Miquelon; a sturdy sea-otter who agreed to take us over for a Canadian dollar apiece. That was ideal – he is not based in St. Pierre, so even if the full town Gendamerie turned out to search and question everyone, this Monsieur Captain Laval will not be around to say where he took us. With any luck he might be off at the fishing-grounds for a week now. We had some interested questions from his crew, who found “being dropped off anywhere on Miquelon Island” intriguingly vague for a pair of well-dressed foreign girls this time of evening. But the islands’ history was in our favour; a lot of strange business must have taken place in the rum-running days and the locals are evidently familiar with foreigners wanting to go places and do things quietly, for cash.
An hour later we were dropped off at a deserted jetty on Miquelon Sud, the Southernmost part of the island that looks rather like a stretched figure-of-eight on the map. There were lamps lit in farmhouse windows scattered across the landscape, but apart from the small town of Miquelon near the Northern tip, the islands are bare and windswept with hardly a tree to be seen on the low rolling landscape. Not quite the Aleutians – but with only the clothes and equipment two film starlets would carry, we were jolly glad it is August and not February.
* Editor’s note: It’s not explained in great detail just what Amelia is sending to. Presumably it is some forgotten radio service like a numbered Post Box, where radio messages are transcribed and repeated for people with the right pass-codes to pick up. It would be a handy thing for World travellers never sure of just when they could get to a radio. Amelia has mentioned her comrade Beryl receiving a four-word telegram on similar lines – a name, a password, a time/place and a single code-word – in that case, “SLGM”. Not untypically for the needs of a Saint T’s girl, that decoded as “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.”