Extracts from a Diary
by Amelia Bourne-Phipps
-edited by Simon Barber-
28 May, 1937
Friday 28th May, 1937 (back-dating)
It is hot on Krupmark Island. It was Wednesday when we arrived, having arranged flight over here via Mildendo and taken some time with our preparations. Despite everything I was dyed and dressed as Kim-Anh Soosay; being “wanted for police questioning” is no social stigma on Krupmark, and indeed adds some local credibility. I carried all the identification she possesses, with my Macao passport (such as it is) and even my Spontoon Hunting License – signed and stamped after all this time. Miss Devinski has already thrown me out so I have nothing to lose on that score and on Krupmark nobody cares either way, except that documentation is always useful. It is convincing as well, in that it is not the kind of documentation anyone would get unless they needed it; Nuala tells me unlicensed girls have their whole earnings and any portable goods confiscated and are put on the next steerage berth in a tramp steamer heading out of Spontoon to somewhere unprofitable. Considering Kim-Anh is currently a dangerous disguise and rather unusable now on Spontoon there seemed little to lose by signing the form – Nuala was surprised but seemed pleased when I arrived Monday lunchtime. Naturally in her profession she keeps late hours in Tourist season and is rarely up before luncheon.
Maria has never been to Krupmark before although she has asked us a lot about it. She says it is somewhere her Uncle has expressed great interest in, mostly as an awful warning of what happens without firm government. Apparently the Adriatic used to be a similar haunt of crime including some of the first Air Pirates, the place being ideally suited with hundreds of little islands in disputed territory that hosted all sorts of renegades with their stolen or war-surplus ships and flying-boats. She dressed in a practical though rather stained flight suit, as did Molly and Helen; everyone travelled light but kept their own documents (I entrusted Molly with my real passport, pedigree and such.)
Having arrived on Lars’ flying boat we had an “official” entry and this time did not have to slip ashore on the far coast in the middle of the night. It is barely six months since our last trip, and if the furs who worship at the “church” on the hill find out it was us who made off with their unholy relic and wrecked the church’s powers I doubt they would be pleased to see us. Alternatively they could be very pleased to see us, as in getting their paws on us. There were some rather explicit murals in that church that I have tried to forget. If Molly ever wants to set fire to the place then for a change I will not try and dissuade her.
Lars still has the office and warehouse we have visited before down in Fort Bob, but he has taken control of a small residential compound half-way up the hill. Definitely his work with the Spontoon Government must be paying well, and indeed he commented that it made a change to have a customer whose cheques were not liable to bounce. The compound is not exactly fortified but all the external facing rooms are double walled construction of stout wood with a foot of rammed gravel between them making them bulletproof to small arms fire and indeed proof against anything but light artillery. Any “Homes and Gardens” type magazine would be interested in the unique improvisations of Krupmark architecture assuming the residents were interested in giving away their defensive layouts. The reptilian Mr. Sstabek is still Lars’ right-hoof man on Krupmark, having helped re-establish him here when he returned from his long trip on the Parsifal last year to discover some of his other employees had decided to branch out on their own using his property as what Helen calls a “grub-stake.” I believe any survivors were suitably chastened.
Carefully fur-dyed as Kim-Anh I was a new face in town, and glad to be anonymous to any furs looking out for the feline of British shorthair pedigree who received the dubious title from a former Krupmark resident. Walking past the rather garish and biologically explicit display of the Lucky Dragon Casino I was doubly glad nobody would recognise me from Spontoon; I could have asked Wo Shin more about the setup here but the fewer furs on Krupmark who know the better (Maria quoted an old Italian phrase; “the only way three can keep a secret is when two of them are dead.”) Mrs. Wo may be Songmark but entrusting our secrets to any of Red Dorm is not something that has ever appealed. I did ask Adele Beasley who I trust rather more and who has lived for months quite high on the hill here; Adele says her host Miss Chartwell owns a variety of slaves but buys them “in the general way” and has no more specific knowledge of how they get that way than she knows how to build a car from scratch though she owns one of those as well. If the market exists there will be a Henri Fnord to get rich on it who will not be keen on giving away trade secrets to possible competition.
Thinking of Trade Secrets, when I visited Nuala on Monday to get Kim-Anh’s “hunting license” signed at last, she directed me to Madame Maxine’s establishment where the proprietress would be expecting me to instruct me in many things I would need to know. I had to explain I needed the paperwork for identification but had absolutely no intention of needing the practical advice! Could I have spared the time it might have been interesting to hear what she had to say, though. She is famed as being to be able to offer advice and assistance with just about anything.
On Krupmark at least nobody will be shocked at the idea. Not that the locals would on Spontoon for that matter, but I was doing what I could to keep Lady Allworthy’s name as clean as possible; it is Kim-Anh who would be captured and indeed an exotic half-Siamese dancer should attract some interest. It would be mortifying to discover nobody wanted to buy! When we arrived Lars had to go “up the hill” for a few hours and make some arrangements with furs he said he generally has little contact with. On returning he said things were now in motion though he seemed to think little of my plan or at least my prospects of success. Although I am no star-nosed mole, I quietly used some of the ritual Saimmi has taught us for such situations and he was certainly telling the truth about that.
We had several days on the island before things could be set up involving Kuo Han. Lars showed us around his warehouse where he has some “new lines” in, both in commercial bulk and as one-off specials whose owners have probably been court-martialled for losing them. He has a consignment of that Vostok built crop-sprayer Molly was to happy to test awhile ago, which filled with water she has been knocking ripe fruit off high branches with on South Island. I had thought it looked a little incomplete, having a screw thread on the front that did not seem to connect to anything, and various empty fittings for expansions that hardly seemed necessary on a glorified garden sprayer.
I should have known better. Lars tells Molly more than she tells us, and Molly would never have been so happy knowing her gift was just a useful gardening implement meant to be loaded with quassia chips or derris extract against greenfly. There is now what looked like a mechanic’s grease-gun screwed onto the front of the complete article plugged into the liquid tank, plus a battery and a quart sized cylinder of compressed oxygen. The five-gallon rucksack tank is pressurised by the paw-pump that had been on Molly’s cut-down version, but that pressure is just used to squeeze three pints of odd silvery-grey fuel gel into the “grease-gun” part which has valves at each end and a spark-plug at the back end.
Lars took us out in his aircraft half an hour’s flying to a remote sand-spit far from prying eyes to demonstrate. It is a well-engineered piece of equipment – pulling the loading lever charges the heavy chamber with fuel, and the first pressure on the trigger injects pure oxygen at the back of the “charge”, still kept in by the spring-loaded valve at the front nozzle. The second trigger pressure ignites the whole mass, which departs through the front valve at about two hundred feet a second.
It is definitely spectacular. Rather than squirting a hosepipe stream of fire, it is more like a solid slug moving twice as fast as a tennis serve burning white at the back, accelerating like a rocket – and on contact the whole charge splashes in an incandescent mass ten feet across. Stray splashes in the lagoon carried on burning underwater, and the coral sand it hit was turned to quicklime by the heat. I am not sure what the Vostok patent fuel consists of, but it looks as if it involves magnesium powder and some form of oxidant built in; possibly the same stuff they sell in two-ounce tubes at Eriksson’s Outdoors for starting camp fires. Lars presented Molly a complete unit with his complements - and she was extremely appreciative. If not quite right there on the spot, then as soon as we returned to his compound at Fort Bob. I was wondering what she would think was a suitable engagement present; presumably having been brought up with furs who see jewellers’ windows as a source of ready cash given a handy brick she thinks little of diamond rings.
We had a camera along and took some fine souvenir shots of Molly hosing incandescent fire around the place, laughing her head off. If the Germans ever established a “church” involving emulating Valkyries with fire and lightning I think she would be a very enthusiastic churchgoer. Jasbir tells us that Buddhism involves personally trying to emulate rather than worshipping the deity – and Molly emulates a winged destroyer rather too well for comfort. Lars says the original Vostok pamphlet has cartoon instructions showing one can first coat a resistant target such as a pillbox or tank with one or two shots of unlit fuel before firing an ignited shot at it; certainly the Vostokites are making the most of their chemical industries against vastly outnumbering Soviet hordes perpetually poised just across the seas.
Not surprisingly Molly and Lars share a room, and I had one to my own next door with Helen and Maria sharing another at the far end of the building. The first night was somewhat disturbed, what with my worries about the rescue trip and the fact that all the armour was on the outside walls of the building; the partition between my room and Lars’ was notably thin and Molly being notably - energetic. On the second night I slept rather better but awoke with the first light of dawn as we have been accustomed to in Songmark. I recognised Molly’s tread in the corridor, evidently returning bare-furred from the toilets. She winked and pointed next door, putting a finger to her muzzle for silence, and winked as she waved for me to follow.
"Lars's Luck" -art by Kjartan
It seemed a perfectly proper thing to do at the time. Lars has been the perfect host, and was evidently putting himself to a lot of trouble on our behalf. For Molly, she had always liked the idea of me joining her in a herd as is mentioned in biblical times. It is a very natural deer thing after all, and though she knows I always planned to marry Jirry she sticks to her ideas with commendable fortitude.
Lars was fast asleep, and certainly a handsome sight in the early light. If he spent more time practicing his hula dancing I think he would win the Spontoon competitions rather than take second or third and certainly he has the rather well-toned physique for it. I confess my tail went somewhat sideways, recalling a certain beach in the Kanim Islands and indeed a well-appointed hotel room on Casino Island. Both of those occasions had been after awfully dangerous adventures that we had been lucky to survive. I had noticed such things have rather an effect on me. That morning, my head was still full of risks and dangers I was preparing for – and the effect was much the same.
I fear I was most unladylike. Which was rather way I became Lady Allworthy in the first place, not two hundred yards away. Knowing that whatever happened I was never likely to be on Krupmark again added a certain something, and indeed I made the most of my opportunity. Miss Devinski would have approved of that sentiment if not indeed the cast list involved. “Carpe Diem” she agrees with, but “Carpe cervine”, decidedly not.
One definitely notices that Nature has well equipped deer to live in herds. I would not have thought Molly the type to share her good fortune in general, and healthy stags can certainly keep a considerable number of does very happy with their situation – indeed had Maria and Helen joined us I doubt anyone would have been disappointed. Not that Helen has ever liked Lars, but herding cats is proverbially difficult.
Lars had a great deal of business to do in the day and in gratitude we all helped out, even Helen who is the least happy of us with the location and company. Although on Krupmark furs do not have to worry about paying commercial insurance (nobody would insure them) they do have “protection” overheads. Some of that is in tax-like tributes to furs living higher up the hill, and some is in straightforward guarding from the competition – and here everyone is in competition. Someone once compared Krupmark society to a bucket full of snapping crabs, where the main social urge is to claw one’s way to the top and “devil take the hindmost.”
Lars invited us to pick from his sale stock and we all equipped ourselves with the new version Fedorov Avtomat, the oddly organic looking gun whose body is a single cast piece of patent magnesium foam that floats on water. Apparently the troops call it the “peanut” as it looks a little like a raw peanut pod, more so than a regular weapon. There are many fascinating features such as a barrel shutter that only opens when the safety catch comes off, helping keep mud and debris out of the bore. It is a definitely handy small-calibre piece, well suited for confined spaces as it is compact with no sharp angles to snag on clothes or surroundings and it “points” instinctively. Helen and Maria proved to be excellent shots with it though today none of us needed to put those skills to practical use and confined ourselves to potting some driftwood targets down on the shore.
I recall Beryl once persuading some hapless tourist to invest in Krupmark on the grounds that it was a crime-free zone. Having no written laws that can be broken she might strictly speaking be right – I would call it more of a “free-crime zone” myself. As I recall thinking on an earlier trip here, the good thing with going about armed here is that one does not have to worry about hitting innocent bystanders should one need to spray lead around, as there are none. They are sure to be guilty of something heinous or they would not be here.
The most hazardous part of local life we saw was the traffic; not that there is much even compared to Casino Island but furs driving rather poorly maintained lorries flat-out with no traffic regulations or even common-sense make life on the main streets rather tense. There are no pavements. It certainly encourages a fur to keep one’s eyes wide open, and encourages quick reflexes dodging. The “run” from the docks and the airstrip to Fort Bob tends to be made with the throttle pushed to the floor, possibly to discourage rivals or random marauders jumping onboard or having time to plan anything more elaborate. Almost anywhere else on the planet the drivers would be summonsed for driving like a maniac, though Maria seemed to think it was perfectly normal technique. This may be a continental thing. We have heard (and not from Beryl) that in France every police prefecture retains the professional services of a medically certified maniac with whom juries make fair legal comparisons.
Lars’ working office is rather like any other small business, except that more of it is written in code. On his desk he had a sheaf of a dozen photographs, portraits of various furs. There were quite a few species, a bull, a warthog and one of those bats with the amazingly convoluted ears and muzzles that look almost like a pawfull of fleshy leaves. Lars noticed me looking through them and explained they were overseas customers for a business transaction he had in mind. Naturally one does not ask questions about Krupmark business.
"Suitors" - art by Kjartan
In the evening Lars held court with Mr. Sstabek and his other employees, and announced the “deal was going down” the following day, that being the Friday. It had been a tricky piece of double-cross to set up, but even Helen grudgingly approved the plan when she heard it. Getting Kim-Anh “captured” would not be a problem – all he would have to do was make sure I took a walk outside his compound unguarded and the right furs would be waiting to grab me. The tricky bit would be getting to the right market in Kuo Han; there are all sorts of unfortunate things that can happen to a captive there. Plus, having Lars’ agent managing to report back my location to the “outside team” of Molly, Maria and Helen without blowing his cover. The details were complex but I recall we all agreed they seemed as sound as could be arranged in the circumstances. The stoat who was to “betray” us to the slavers and fail to capture Molly bowed and said it would be a pleasure.
It is rare that we start off on such a risky business, and I have to be as prepared as possible mentally. Helen and I performed the Spontoonie “sunset song” which might be the first time in a very long while it has been done on Krupmark Island, after which she and Maria retired to their rooms for an early night’s sleep. Quite right; they may be chasing me all the way across the Western Pacific and back, and that night was the last one they had any guarantee of nine hours sleep in a bed. One gets used to the occasional cries, shouts and random gunfire of Krupmark Island; I recalled thinking that one really could get used to almost anything. Furs in the Great War learned to sleep through artillery barrages with water and mud up to their tails, by all the stories.
My first job was to call Molly in to help with the finishing touches to Kim-Anh’s fur dye; even with a mirror it is much easier with two to make one match a passport. Kim-Anh’s markings are at least symmetrical; folk with more random dyed disguise markings have been known to betray themselves in a hurried transformation by matching exactly what is in the mirror, with right and left sides reversed compared to their passport photographs. Molly agreed that Lady Allworthy would raise far more interest at any sale but the idea was that I get to an auction and fail to make the “reserve bid” which will be set impossibly high for Kim-Anh, letting Lars’ agent remove me from sale to be offered elsewhere. The last thing I wanted was to actually get sold off, as Kim-Anh or otherwise.
Recalling our chase over the Casino Island rooftops last year following the foiled raid in the Kanim Islands, I can tell there is certainly a lot of money in the awful business. That gang had their own flying boats and an extensive (and expensive) organisation, which we were glad to scotch. And that was just for Pacific Natives, not pedigree Euros who by repute can command fantastic prices. Although Helen always had her suspicions of Lars, she had to admit at the time he helped the authorities decisively flatten that gang. The one who fell six storeys off the hotel rooftop was flatter than most.
Having finished, Molly stood back and admired her work as the dye dried. We could already hear Maria snoring at the end of the corridor, as indeed a Songmark girl learns to make the most of whatever chance to sleep she can get. And of other opportunities too – Molly grinned and pointed next door. I can say we had a most pleasant evening, with no disappointments for anyone. Lars did say he knows Molly is leaving with me, and indeed that was the plan as we are scheduled to head over to Europe in July for an indefinite time and he may never see her again. Everyone made the most of their opportunities.
Dear Diary – I am leaving you with Helen, who as part of the “outside team” will have more chance to pass it on. Tomorrow I go “over the top” as decisively as anything Father did in the Great War – and at least he had the Regiment around him and a fair idea where he was going!
(Editor’s note: the Diary breaks here – from later accounts it can be deduced that things did indeed go hideously wrong. There seems to be good reason why almost nobody shipped to Kuo Han comes back.)
to be continued in "Back Into Daylight"