Spontoon Island
home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
comic strips - editorial - souvenirs - Yahoo forum
5 October 2009
  The Giant Gnat of Sinatra
by Marmel, Costello & Reimer
A tale of mad exploration...

The Giant Gnat of Sinatra
© 2009 by Marmel, Costello and Reimer

(The Three Writers are © their respective parents, and damned if they aren’t
the most compelling arguments ever known for eugenics.)

(Leonard and Susan Allworthy © Walter Reimer. 
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is largely coincidental,
and we’ll be taking steps to correct it as quickly as possible,
but you know we’re all just so gosh-darned busy at the moment . . . >bonk<)

- Act Five -
How to Succeed in Hunting, Without Really Trying

        “Good heavens, that’s a rum go,” Reggie said breathlessly.  He was leaning forward and hanging attentively on my story.  “Savages shooting arrows at you and Les?  Gracious, it’s like one of the Fawn’s Own Papers I read as a child.”
        I smiled gently at my beloved.  He was flagging and looked as if he was about to spring into action against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
        Inocenta looked as if her next step would be to book passage for the Dutch East Indies and try conclusions with the Ookabollawonga.
        “And you and Leslie-puppy no find the Gnattie?” she asked.
        “Keep listening,” I urged, “and I shall, as they say, Tell All . . . “


         The hotel was named the Ithadtobeeyoo, and it wasn’t much to look at.  It was a two-story wooden building that despite the location (on a river mouth surrounded by exotic rain forest) had a certain Wild West feel to it.
        But it had hot baths and mosquito netting, definite selling points in its favor.  Other amenities included a bar and a small desk in a corner by the office where an agent for the local shipowners went about his business.
        After getting cleaned up I went to the agent’s desk and found that there were several small steamships that plied the trade routes between Sinatra and the larger islands in the region.  I selected one that had regular routes headed north to Doubi Doubi Dou via the mining town and port of Buyezadrink, and booked passage for our entire party (Ali and the others had to get home to their families, after all).
        I guessed that Willow was upstairs and taking a well-deserved rest, so I decided to go out and look around the town.
        As long as I kept my wits about me, what could go wrong?


        To tell the truth, I was sick and tired of tramping through the jungle.
        It didn’t matter whether the jungle in question was Indo-Chinese, Malayan or Sinatran. 
        I wanted to be somewhere civilized, with electricity and hot and cold running water.
        Radio and cars.
        A city, maybe, like Gnu York.
        If only . . . I’d be leaving today.  I want to be a part of it.
        Gnu York.
        Gnu York.
        I fell asleep dreaming of bagels.

         I woke up a few hours later and after cleaning up went to Les’ room.  Repeated knocking elicited no response.
        That got me thinking.
        Very doubtful, as our sojourn here on Sinatra hadn’t been planned.  We were expected in Batavia after leaving Humapore.  And I doubted that Hanoi Xan had a clairvoyant on retainer.
        We were fairly well-protected, and I hadn’t seen anything that made me suspicious.  Of course, Ohmigoshgolli wasn’t the island’s capital, so it was possible.
        I went downstairs and asked the desk clerk, who smiled, nodded his head and giggled.
        I asked him again, and he smiled, nodded his head and giggled.
        I was about to ask him a third time when the shipping agent seated nearby piped up.  “He doesn’t speak English, Miss.”
        I had been contemplating giving the clerk the rubber hose treatment if all he did was smile and nod and giggle again.
        I described Les to the agent, and he said, “Yes, the gentlefur arranged for a voyage up the coast to the capital for three days from now – the earliest time available.”
        That was the first good news I’d heard in a while, so I thanked the man and started to head out to look for Les.  As I did, a man reeled out of the hotel bar and although we were the only two standing in the lobby he managed to bump into me.
        He was a rather tall and well-built stallion and while in another milieu he would have turned my head, the sight and smell of him turned my stomachs instead.
        The guy was wearing denim bib overalls and a shirt whose color was difficult to ascertain through the layers of grime and dirt on it. 
        He also reeked.
        “Hi there, Missy!” and he breathed a fourteen hundred-horsepower breath in my face.  “Care to help me celebrate?”
        I took a step back, and shifted the grip on my purse.  “No.”
        “Ah just struck it rich!  Ah'm steeped in oil, miss!" 
        “A very good reason to stay upwind of you, then,” I said.  “Some advice – get a bath before you ask another femme,” and I started to turn away.
        The stallion put out a paw and grabbed my shoulder.  “Big Jake offers ya a dance, Missy, ya better take him up – “
        The corner of my eye caught a glint of steel in his other paw, and I acted.

        His offer was about as far as he got before the steel plate in the base of my purse made contact with his skull.  I completed the pivot that gave my swing a bit more power, turning it into a rather neat pirouette as he staggered and fell to the floor as if poleaxed.  The knife he’d had clattered to the floor.
        He would be out for a while, I judged, and I didn’t want to wait around for him to wake up so I could question him. 
        A glance to make sure he was still breathing, and I said to the desk clerk, “You might want to call Housekeeping.”
        He just smiled, and nodded his head, and giggled.
        I walked out to look for Les.


        Yes, I had this place pegged right; a definite Wild West feel.  There were mining consultants and oil wildcatters wandering around and the natives seemed very happy to have them (and their money) as guests.
        After a few hours of walking around the town I decided that a visit to a bar would be good.  I was thirsty and I figured that I could talk to some of the non-native workers over drinks.
        Just so long as it wasn’t date wine.  That stuff was more potent than the bathtub hooch I had when at Penn.
        A great argument for Prohibition.
        One bar near the docks had a sign on it that announced to anyone who could read English as the Dew Drop Inn. 
        (I think every town on Earth has one, actually.)
        I went in and found a spot at the bar, and when the bartender spotted me I asked, “You got beer?”
        The guy was a wolverine, short, stocky and mean-looking.  “Sure.  Yank, Dutch or English?”
        “You got Schmidt’s?”
        “Sure do.”  He rooted around in an old-style icebox and took out a bottle, popped the cap and gave it to me.  “Two bits.”
        I put my money down and drank.  Ahh, like sweet nectar on a hot day.
        There was a soft roar and I looked out the open doorway to see rain coming down in a gray curtain so dense I could barely see a hundred yards.  Well, I had left my poncho back at the hotel, so I decided to stay and enjoy myself for a bit.
        More and more people kept coming in, gathering around the bar or at tables and talking shop.  Several were using dynamite to open up new ore seams, and I gravitated over to them to talk a little shop.  They looked suspiciously at me at first, but when I showed them that I knew the difference between a toothpick and a duCleds Industries “Little Spark” blasting cap, I was allowed into the conversation.
        A lot of the talk centered on how best to use another family product, our patented Type B stable dynamite.  Thank the Lord for all those days I spent on breaks from school as Father and Uncle Pete took me around to talk with the experts and workers. 
         “Prove it,” one challenged, and tossed me a buff-colored stick of Type B. 
        I caught it, despite the three beers I’d had.  “Prove what?”
        “Prove it’s stable.”
        I shrugged and pulled out the box of blue tip matches I’d been given in Humapore.  I struck one and touched it to one end of the stick.  After a long moment the waxed casing smoldered and started to burn.
        “Now, this amount of explosive could probably blow this building down,” I explained as the contents started to flame, “but Type B is stable stuff – we guarantee it.  The only thing that’ll set it off is a direct shock,” and I rapped the table with it, very hard.
        A couple people jumped a tiny bit.
        I smiled.  “But it’d take a blasting cap to get it to go boom,” and I spilled a bit of beer on the table and snuffed the smoldering end of the stick in the fluid before putting it in my pocket.  “That enough proof?”
        The guy who tossed the dynamite to me smirked and tossed me a blasting cap.  “Yeah, it is,” the cougar said.  “Bartender!” he yelled.  “Another round!”
        More beer, and a few started calling for something stronger.  I was encouraged to join them in drinking toasts to their success, which led to another, and another...
        Things started to get a bit hazy after that.
        I do recall stumbling out of the bar to get something to eat.  Whatever it was I had, it added to the effects.
        The streets were wide enough, but I recall bumping into a lot of people.
        One guy, a short binturong in a short-sleeved white shirt and a native kilt, sidled up to me.  “You stranger here?  Lookee good time?”
        I blinked stupidly at him.  “Good time?”
        “Yes, yes!” he said.  “My name Willi.  I got best girls in Ohmigoshgolli.  Come, you see!” and he started to shepherd me along to a seedy-looking hotel near the native market.
        I recall a lot of musks, and at least three women of undoubted charms and dubious origins.
        And nothing after that.


        After a couple hours I was wet (despite my poncho and a lot of timely dodging under overhanging eaves), nearly lost and almost determined to leave my employer to his own devices.  I had talked to a few people, described Les as best I could, and tried to refrain from identifying myself as his keeper.
        Finally one kitten pointed to a seedy dive, grabbed the coin I gave him and ran off.
        The sign was in the native script so I went up to the door and pushed my way in.
        Almost wished I hadn’t, and my grip tightened on my purse.
        I’m no shrinking violet, and I’ve seen the inside of a bordello before (most recently in Hong Kong), but this place was awful.  Floors unswept, a distasteful fug of musks in the air and a general air of decrepitude.
        One guy, a short binturong who should have been carrying a sign labeled ‘Pimp,’ looked up from a corner table where he was talking to two women of decidedly ill repute.  They both gave me the eye as the bearcat asked, “You wantee good time, sister?  Me girls do number one for you?”
        “No,” I said.  “I’m looking for someone,” and I was about to describe Les for the tenth time when a familiar and unwelcome voice hit my ears.
        “Hey there, sister!  What brings you to this den of iniquity?  Nothing good, I hope?”
        Spaulding, with Morbo in tow, shouldered his way in and surveyed the room, sniffing deeply.  “Ah, Paris in the Spring!” he declaimed, and lit another of his venomous cigars. 
        Oddly enough, it made the place smell better.
        “Actually, Captain, I’m looking for Mr. duCleds,” I explained.  “I haven’t been able to find him.”
        The schnauzer nodded sagely.  “Well, Bo Peep, I suppose we could go looking for your lost lamb – “ he turned as the door opened.  “Look at what the cat dragged in!”
        My flag and ears drooped as George Patagarang stepped in, looking around as if he expected to buy.  My guess was that things weren’t nearly as patched up between him and Laura as they should have been, or he was trying to get a bit of revenge for her foray among the inhabitants of Yingtongtiddle i-Po.
        Willi the Pimp started rubbing his paws like a rug merchant.  “Hello!  Hello!  You lookee for good time?  Willi got bestest girls in town, yes!”  He waved a paw at the two girls who had been seated at the table with him.  “Here Florence and Edwina, they good girls, best grade,” he said in a loud voice.
        The two ‘girls’ (they looked to be almost the same vintage as my late and unlamented Uncle Prescott’s mate) primped as best they could and smiled.  Florence was feline and Edwina was a kangaroo, showing that Willi at least had some variety in his stable. 
        Spaulding examined both of them with an appraising eye.  “Edwina.  She looks like she still has some bounce.”
        Willi grinned and nodded.  “You no be sorry!”
        “That depends on how much my doctor will charge,” the schnauzer said, and was about to say more when a blood-curdling scream came from upstairs.
        It was Les.
        I almost drew my gun but refrained when I saw him, half-dressed, come hurtling down the stairs.
        He dropped and rolled the last ten steps, coming to rest upside-down with his back against the bar, his tail waving feebly. 
        “Bertha!” Willi shouted.  “You no show man good time?”
        At the top of the stairs appeared . . . an apparition.     
        Let me try to explain.
        Picture a vixen.
        Picture her over six feet in height, and weighing in at about four hundred pounds.
        Now picture her naked.
        Yep, “Ewww” is right.
        Bertha made her ponderous way down the stairs.  “Sorry, Willi,” she said in a thick Louisiana Cajun accent.  “I think he sobered up.”
        “I’m not surprised,” Spaulding said. 
        Neither was I.
        “Crikey, she’s a big ‘un!” George said.  “If she stands still long enough, some bloke’ll come along and plant a Union Jack on her and install a Governor!”
        “Bertha?” I asked.
        “Yeah, that’s me,” the vixen said.  “Usually I go by Bertha Butt, one of the Butt Sisters.”
        There’s more than one of them?!
        “But my stage name was The Big Easy back on Bourbon Street.”  She eyed me up and down.  “What’s with you, cutie?  Lookin’ for work?”
        “Hardly.  I’m already employed – by him,” and I poked a hoof into the ribs of the drunken sot at my feet.
        “Him!” she sneered.  “What’ve you got that I ain’t, dearie?”
        “It’s not what you got, but how it’s arranged,” Spaulding remarked.  He would have said more, but turned his head and I saw his jaw fall open.
        I looked.
        Morbo stood rooted to the floor, looking up at Bertha.  The look in his wide eyes was . . .
        I half expected to hear the love theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.
        Bertha was returning the look.
        The vixen came down the stairs rapidly (I’m sure gravity helped a lot), and when the two of them met in the middle of the floor I swear the earth shook when they collided, like two trucks on a busy street.
        With hardly a backward glance at his employer, Morbo linked arms with his new lady and they headed for a first-floor room.
        Which was probably a good thing.  I doubted the stairs could handle both of them at the same time.
        I was astounded by this turn of events, and so was Spaulding – all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, and Morbo had to walk into this one.
        George watched them go before asking Willi, “Who’s that girl over there?” and he pointed at a slim ursine seated at the makeshift bar, nursing a beer.
        Willi the Pimp smiled, and I got instantly nervous.
        “Eee, sir has good eye!  That is Huggi, yes yes, Huggi.”
        “Well, crikey!” the ‘roo enthused.  “She looks right enough.”  The two fell to haggling, and George finally concluded the deal and escorted the bear upstairs as I started to rouse Les.
        “C’mon, Lover Boy, time to go to bed,” I said, assisting him to his feet.  He stank of vixen musk and stale beer.
        Thank God I had insisted on putting him on an allowance after that night in Monaco.
        He goggled at me, squinting.  “Hi . . .”
        “Hi yourself.  Let me get you back to the hotel.  You need a bath.”  I wanted to hold my nose, but needed both paws to hold him up.
        We walked out into the street, and Les muttered, “Curry ice cream . . . what was I thinking?”
        “You weren’t.”  I figured talking might keep my mind off the stench coming off him.
        I started actually hoping it would rain.

        Suddenly there was the sound of breaking glass and we turned to see George go flying through the second-floor window, screaming “She’s a GUY!”  He landed on the overhanging roof for the first floor, bounced, and landed in the mud.  He got to his feet and ran off, apparently none the worse for wear.
        I suppose he could always chalk it up as a valuable exploration experience at his next PRICK meeting.
        I somehow managed to get Les back to the Ithadtobeyoo and upstairs to his room. 
        The desk clerk smiled, nodded his head, and giggled, then helped me get him up the steps.
        Getting him out of his clothes and into bed posed no problem, as Les was wearing his shirt and his boxer shorts, and nothing else.
        As I tossed the sheet over him he reached out to touch my elbow.  “Did . . . did I shee George there?”
        “Yes, Les.  I think he was looking for some tit for tat against Laura.”
        His head wobbled as he nodded.  “Tit for . . . tat.”  He leered drunkenly at me.  “In that casshe . . . TAT!”
        I couldn’t believe it.
        Literally could not believe it.
        Les hadn’t made a pass at me since my first week on the job.
        I bit back the urge to say something about talking like Texas while being equipped like Delahare.
        His dignity had been bruised enough.
        I said, “’Strong drink giveth the desire, but taketh away the ability.’  Go to sleep, Les,” and with that I left, slamming the door closed.
        Something had fallen out of his pocket while I had gotten the door open, and I picked it up and looked at it as I headed for my room.
        It was a stick of dynamite, scorched on one end.  It had a blasting cap stuck into the unburned end.
        Bertha might have been a firecracker in more ways than one if Les had had his wits about him.
        I doubled back and put the thing on his bedside table, then chuckled as I walked back down the hallway and a low rumble on the roof announced another rain shower.  “There is no joy in Mudville,” I said to myself.  “Mighty Leslie has struck out.”


        “Why did Leslie-puppy not tell Inocenta that he like the femmes with big bones?”
        Les, who at this time was taking a fortifying sip of his brandy, did a spit-take that would have impressed W.C. Fields.  “What?”
        “If Leslie-puppy want, Inocenta work hard to gain the weight,” Cupcake said with a straight face. 
        Rosie practically stuffed her napkin into her mouth to silence her laughter, while Les spluttered, coughed and tried to explain that he had been quite drunk at the time and was really unable to tell whether Bertha was capable of causing a total eclipse of the sun or not . . .
        Finally he got it across to his bride-to-be, and while she seemed satisfied that he was very pleased with her just the way she was, he gave me a very Sour Look (CDT 45-x).
        “All right,” he said.  “You’ve had your fun, Willow.  Get on with it.”


        Oh . . . God . . .
        W . . . Willow?
        My tongue . . . is asleep.
        And my teeth . . . itch.
        Wh . . . where is my Dypso-Seltzer?
        . . .
        Oh God, DON’T FIZZ!
        To Hell with it, I’ll drink the pieces . . .
        Oh, God.
        What the Hell did I –
        Vixen musk.
        Bleargh . . .
        Curry ice cream – what was I THINKING?
        . . .
        Where are my pants?
        I start to move, ponderously.  Sort of like trying to dock the Ile de France, but I managed to get cleaned up and dressed.  The loss of my pants bothered me, but my wallet and, more importantly, my money belt were still tucked away securely. 
        I just wished the pounding in my head would stop.
        At that instant a series of knocks very reminiscent of a coastal defense battery opening up right beside me caused me to grab my ears and whimper.
        The door banged opened, and I was surprised to find myself on my knees.
        “Hello, sleepyhead!  Rise and shine!” Willow caroled with enough volume to wake the dead, then kill them again.  I managed to pry my eyelids apart far enough to see her entering with a tray laden with coffee and food.
        Coffee?  Yes.
        Food?  Urp . . .
        She dodged me as I bolted for the bathroom.

        It took a little while, but I finally got enough coffee and food down my throat to keep me alive, and enough Dypso-Seltzer to raise the Titanic to clear my head.  While I ate, Willow gave me a short digest of what happened.
        When she finished she asked, “How do you feel?”
        “I think I’d need a high-powered telescope to look up far enough to spot a snake’s belly.  But I think I can manage.”
        “Good,” she said briskly.  “I confirmed our trip with the shipping agent.  By the time it leaves you should be back to normal.”
        I nodded, a stray memory swimming its way up from the alcoholic murk, and I eyed her.  “Um. Willow. Did I . . .?"
        "It was the booze talking."
        "Ah.  Well . . ."
        Willow grinned.  "Already forgotten."  Her grin turned wicked.  "For now."
        I decided to stay in my room for the day, barricaded with coffee and aspirin.  Willow agreed and graciously decided to stop tormenting me.
        That didn’t deter others, however.
        A rock sailed through the open window and hit the floor.  I got up and went to investigate, ready to dodge out of the way if a supplemental communication should wing in my direction.
        A short binturong I vaguely recognized from last night was there looking up at me with an expression of outrage.  Spaulding and Coustard flanked him, Spaulding looking uncharacteristically downcast.
        “You owe Willi money!” the pimp shouted, and my ears went back with more than pain.
        “What the hell are you talking about?”
        “You disgrace Bertha!”
        “Why?  I let her finish first?”
        For some reason that caused Coustard to start laughing, and I made a rude remark in French that made him laugh harder.
        Spaulding said, “He’s mad at both of us.”
        “Oh?  What the hell did you do?”  I didn’t really want to know, but I was near death anyway so you could call it morbid curiosity.
        The schnauzer shrugged.  “I walked into the place with Morbo.”
        I blinked, suddenly realizing that Spaulding didn’t have his giant shadow with him.  “What?”
        “Morbo and Bertha have left for Batavia.  He’s taking her to Trenton to meet his folks.”
        “They’re getting married?”
        I definitely hoped none of their kids went to Rutgers.
        Spaulding nodded.  “Seems they had something in common, apart from the obvious.  Bertha went to Purdue.”
        “. . .”
        He nodded.  “She said that she had to leave in her freshman year after the annual game against Ohio State.”  He paused and relit his cigar.  “According to her, they’re still cleaning out the Old Oaken Bucket.”
        I didn’t wish to know that.
        I redirected my attention to Willi the Pimp.
        “What do you want?”
        “Hundred dolla.”
        I bit back the instinctive rejoinder, and we haggled.
        I finally talked him down to ten dollars, and he caught the bills as I threw them down to him. 
        “Now,” I said, “if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have to get through my hangover,” and I moved to back away from the window.
        Coustard piped up.  “Perhaps you should consider going out on ze boat, M’sieur duCleds.  Ze Pazific Ocean, it is quiet and peaceful." 
        "It won't be, if you don't shut your yap in a sec."  I retreated from the window, burrowed under the covers and tried to sleep it off.


        Leaving Les to his own devices for the day left me at a loose end, so I decided to look around a bit more.  Just to get out of the hotel, mind you – I was in no mood for any escapades after saving Les from a fate worse than death.
        Particularly when that stallion I put down might have friends lurking about.
        I discovered that the influx of non-natives had attracted foreigners to set up shop in hopes of profiting from Sinatra’s mineral wealth.  Apart from the bars and stores there was a music hall.
        Sort of a rough, raw place at the end of a dead end street, run by a guy named Hunt who hailed originally from the Bowery.  Hunt’s hall faced the waterfront and I saw Krupa Island in the distance. 
        Yeah, yeah, I know.
        I had an excellent example in Les of what happens when one goes on adventures.
        But the place looked quieter than Ohmigoshgolli.  Hiring a boat wasn’t necessary, as there was a good solid bridge connecting the island with the town. 
        The village on the island was called Bitnik, and it seemed like a very quiet place, with a few temples and a community of fishermen.  I actually felt calmer as the temple bells rang.
        Which made the sudden syncopation of drums and saxophones all the more jarring.
        I went to look for the source of the sound, and followed the drums to a temple that looked south toward the next coastal village of Ohbyjingo.  I was a bit surprised to see a tiger sitting at the edge of the estuary, puffing on a cigar while contemplating the curling smoke.
        “Er, excuse me?” I ventured.
        The big cat smiled at me.  “Hi, little sister.”
        At least he spoke English.  “If you don’t mind my asking, are you meditating?”
        “Sure.  Just grooving to the smoke on the water.”
        I decided to leave him alone.  Besides, the smell from his cigar was a bit . . . odd.  Might not be completely tobacco; maybe mixed with catnip.
        More drum and saxophone music came from the temple and I went to look in on what was going on.
        The inner sanctuary was cool and dark, lit only by scattered lamps as a group of tigers sat in a circle, some beating small drums while two played a melody on saxophones.  Jazz, and very good stuff.
        I sat down and one of the big cats asked, “You here to jam with us, Little Doe?”
        He nodded, and looked attentively as another tiger stood, recited some poetry to the rhythm of snapping claws and brief riffs on the drums, and sat down to scattered applause.
        Now I understood.
        I ran across this bar once, in Gnu York, which played great jazz and the patrons were so relaxed you could have set off a bomb and they would think it was part of the floor show. 
        And I could say without fear of contradiction that this place had the best jazz in the whole Dutch East Indies.
        Each of the robed tigers would either play music or recite something, and the atmosphere was pretty peaceful.
        Finally it got around to me.
        I thought a moment, and inspiration struck.
        I took a breath and started to snap my fingers to get the right rhythm going before saying:

“Orchid in my paw
How delicate I saw
I lift it to my jaw
No flower there no maw.”

        I snapped my fingers a few more times as one of the drum players rattled his fingers against the taut skin amid a chorus of approving nods.
        “That’s a doe in the groove,” one said.  “What brings you here, sister?  You into the scene?”
        “I’m searching – “
        “Ain’t we all, sister, ain’t we all.”
        “ – for the King Coal Gnat.”
        That seemed to impress the tiger.  He leaned toward me and said, “Let me slip you some G-2, sister, no jive --"

“A bug as black as night
You'd like to get in sight
To see it in the light
Take the third path to the right.”

        He sat back, snapping his claws.
        I decided to take his advice and left the sanctuary.

        The third path to the right led into the temple’s garden, laid out in a grid pattern that bespoke order in a disorderly universe.  The flowers were beautiful and while I did feel a bit peckish I refrained from eating any.
         The jazz sounds from the temple sounded distant, and softly died away to be replaced by the sounds of a breeze ruffling the leaves.
        I actually started to feel peaceful.
        And then I heard it.

        Wing Fat said that the Gnat’s sound was unforgettable.
        He was so right.
        I followed the sound of its wings to where it sat on a flower, going about its business.
        Sure enough, it was a big bug, and jet black.

        I remembered what Roxie said, and decided to try something.
        The Gnat copied it.  "Bzzp."
        "Boop boop."
        "Bzzp bzzp."
        "Boop boop diddem daddem waddem."
        I hummed the impromptu tune and started to sing:
“If wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets
Nowadays it’s safest if you hedge your bets
I’ve got three wishies, I bet you’ll agree
That only three wishies is enough for me!”

        The Gnat kept up with me, and I swung into a second verse:
“My first little wishie is for health
Which we’ll agree is better than wealth
‘Cause you can’t be happy – and it’s a crime
To be rich as Croesus and sick all the time!”

        The Gnat played the chorus.

        A short amount of observation revealed what kind of flowers the Gnat favored, and a quick trip to the village market allowed me to acquire a small cage that the Chinese shop proprietor assured me was good for housing crickets.
        Taking the Gnat captive was easy, and I was sure I could keep the little fellow alive.
        Not for myself, and not for the reward either.
        I prefer to keep a low profile, and Certain People in Certain Locales would definitely be cheesed if they saw my picture in the papers.
        Besides, what would I do with a King Coal Gnat?


        “You look better, Les.”
        “You think so?”
        “Yes, earlier you looked like death.  Now you just look like death warmed over.”
        “Ha, ha.  You look like you had a great time, though.”
        “Yeah, you keep smiling like the Mona Lisa.”
        “Ran across a very quiet garden.  Quite a welcome change from what we’ve been doing lately.  Well, we leave tomorrow so we may as well start packing.”
        No need for Les to know, was there?


        I was interrupted.  Sounds very much like strangling came from Les’ throat as he glared wild-eyed at me, his finger pointing at me and his paw shaking.
        I started thinking he was having a relapse from his breakdown in December.
        “YOU!  YOU . . . FOUND . . . IT!?” he managed to choke out.
        Inocenta was hugging him (probably the reason he wasn’t on his feet yet).
        Reggie applauded.  “You found it, dear!  Wonderful!  But why didn’t you want anyone to know about it?”
        “Well . . . “ I eyed Les, who seemed about to yell that I was fired.
        Luckily (for Les), Inocenta calmed him down before he could fire me.  Of course, once I was fired, I’m sure I could probably get him to re-hire me at higher pay.  I was still nominally his employee.
        If he did it this time, I might try to end up being his employer.  Rosie caught my look, and sniggered.
        “Patience, everyone, patience.  The story’s not yet over . . .”


         The steamship’s name, translated into English, was Drifting Lotus.
        A fair flower of the East, it wasn’t.
        But at least it wasn’t a slow boat to China.
        As we watched Ohmigoshgolli fall away behind us Willow remarked, “Don't think this hasn't been a little slice of heaven . . .”
        “’Cuz it hasn't.”
        “One day in Buyezadrink and then back to Doubi Doubi Dou, where we’ll make our goodbyes to the Sultan and get the heck out of here.”
        “At least this hasn’t been as bad as Indo-China.”
        “Take me away!”  Willow had a silly smile on her face.
        Sure, I’ll play the game.  “Hue?”
        “Out, fast.”
        She thought a moment, then giggled.  “Depends on what Fay Wray does.” 
        One of the sailors looked at us as if we were crazy as we both started laughing.


        The Gnat kept me entertained by imitating every tune I hummed, whistled or sang to it.  The little dickens had Tea for Two down pat by this time in hopes that if it did manage to make it onto a radio program it would cause Red Sox fans to commit mass suicide (I’m a Dodgers fan – and yes, they’re still in the National League).  I managed to keep it secret from Les and the rest of our party, and away from the crew of the steamer.
        One of the crew was an anteater.
        We spent a day on the water before arriving at Buyezadrink, which had all the rough, raw atmosphere of Ohmigoshgolli without the benefit of native temples or neighboring islands with jazz-playing tigers.  New mines had been dug in the mountains behind the town and the place was fairly stiff with mining engineers and consultants.
        Les haggled with the ship’s captain to let us use our cabin as a hotel room of sorts (it was just for one day; we would be going on to the capital the next morning) and after an appropriate honorarium had been settled upon Les and I headed into the town.
        We left Ali and the rest of our party aboard, and they seemed happy with that arrangement.
        The consultants and prospectors had discovered coal and there were indications that there might be at least one gold-bearing vein.  That made some sense, considering how close the island was to the larger island of Sumatra.  As a representative of his family firm, Les was granted permission to take me with him on a hike up to the nearest mine.
        We paused at a little place for lunch and headed out of town only to confront a rather strange sight.
        Don’t bother; I know what you’re thinking.
        But this was a bit stranger than the rest of the trip’s attractions to date.
        First, there was a camel, the large two-humped variety one sees in parts of northern Asia.  It looked quite annoyed at its three passengers, probably because their combined weight might be giving it thoughts of visiting a chiropractor in the very near future.

        One was a mink with astoundingly silver-gray fur wearing a faded seersucker suit and a battered straw boater, while another was a canine with medium brown fur and darker brown fur marking his muzzle in a considerably weathered constable’s uniform of indeterminate color.  The third was a bear wearing a motorman’s uniform and cap.
        Les stopped at the sight of the trio and said, “How’d they get out?”
        “You know them?”
        “I met them at the Palace, down in the cells,” he explained.  He looked them over with some trepidation.  “I guess they must’ve broken through the fourth wall.”
        He refused to elaborate on that cryptic statement.
        “Who are you?" I asked.
        The mink answered promptly, "Why, we're Maurice Chevalier."  As if to prove it, he started to sing:  “If a nightingale could sing like you...wouldn't sound much sweeter, than you do..."
        I was skeptical, to say the least.  "All three of you?"
        The police dog replied, "We're three furs that baffle science.  Side by side by side, the world's smallest giants and the world's largest midget."
        The bear said, "We're four of the Three Musketeers . . ."
        “He counts as two," the mink added, and he and the canine started to sing, “Just we . . . and his shadow . . . in the shade and turning blue."
        Les, who seemed to know them, asked, "How did you guys get out?" 
        A shrug from the police dog.  "Tramps like us?  Baby, we were BORN to run!"
        "No,” the ursine said, “what we really used was a plot device made from some spare parts I happened to have..."  He opened up his motorman’s jacket and a shower of trolley parts fell out.  The last item to fall out was the brass bell, which made a musical clanging sound as it hit the ground.
        “Aaaaaaaah, there's the bell now!" the mink said gleefully.  "Frankford, next stop!"
        "But we're in the Dutch East Indies!" the canine protested.
        "It's an express."
        "Exact change, please," the bear said.  "If I wasn't a motorman, I'd design games."
        “I have an idea!” the mink said.  "It’s a board game that’s based on a crossword, and uses small square pieces of breakfast meat for the tiles."
        "What do you call it?"
        The bear glowered.  “Hat.”
        The mink doffed his straw boater and gave it to the bear.  “Hat.”
        The motorman pulled a small mallet from a pocket of his jacket and rapped the mink one over the head.
        “Your hat, sir.”
        The mink put on his hat and pulled a wad of yellowed, tattered newsprint from his pocket.  “Here's the late edition of the Fillydelphia Bulletin, quoting me as saying ‘ow.’"   
        “Thank you.”
        The police dog looked down from his perch on the camel’s back at the collection of trolley parts.  "Do you have a Q?" 
        "When I'm not behind the 8 ball."
        The mink chuckled and looked at us.  "Did you get all that?"
        Before either of us could reply the trio spurred the long-suffering camel into motion and as it ambled away the three sang:
"Oh, we’re the boys in the chorus
We hope you like our show
We know you’re rooting for us
But now we have to go!"

        And of course, it did have to start raining.

          Giant Gnat of Sinatra