PART 3 - THE GLASS GOOSE
Miss Early cocked an ear and
gave her a smile. "Don't fret about that none, darlin'. I'm watchin'
The she cat thought for a
moment, then replied. "Water taxi. Maybe we can get the driver to take
us directly to Pier Seven for a little extra and avoid any more... well
Aggie swallowed hard and spoke in a
"D-don't you want we should tail 'em, B-b-boss?"
A hulking male dog stepped
forward and stood with his head bowed and his eyes cast downward. He
was a drab, greyish tan male with a blunt, wide muzzle, docked ears and
tail, and dark brown hair shorn back to the same centimeter length as
his fur. A loose set of brown coveralls wrapped his muscular frame. He
was shod in cheaply made leather boots with metal studs poking forth
from reinforced toes, which matched a thick spiked collar held closed
by a metallic lock around his sinewy neck. His voice was soft, almost a
whisper, but so deep the other two almost could feel it in the heels of
their shoes. "Vhat is your command, if you please, your excellency?"
It was a flying boat of a fairly
common type, painted a bright, sky blue, with artistically rendered
fluffy white clouds mimicking a glorious tropical sky over green and
brown islands painted at the waterline. The effect was slightly ruined
by the glaze of harbor grime that crept up the sides of the hull. Near
the front, by the craft's registration number SP-P-713, the nose was decorated
with the white outline of a waterfowl taking flight with blotchy
highlights indicating it was made out of some shiny, polished material,
accompanied by flowery cursive writing declaring the aircraft's name as
"The Glass Goose" with
dark blue edging under the white script. Underneath, in block letters,
the names "G. Riley, Captain" and "L. Pike, Chief Engineer" were
At this, the heavyset rabbit turned
in his chair with a shocked look on his face. A beat later, the shabby
furred lapine grinned from ear to long, upraised ear, as he exploded in
raucous laughter, displaying the tiki face scrimshaw carved into his
prominent buck teeth. The rabbit doe and feline stared at him, ears
levered back aghast, looked at one another, and then back at him as his
belly shook with mirth.
He draped his arm over the back of his seat and fixed them with a bemused gaze. "You pretty ladies fly in Glass Goose? Must REALLY want to see da mermaids!" He wiped a tear from his eye, glancing around, then leaned forward conspiratorially, laying a stubby finger alongside his wiggling nose. "Lissen. You pay extra, ask for blue flag tour. See a whole lot more of mermaids. Maybe tell dem all about it when you back at da Double Lotus, if plane don't break and sink in ocean."
Mrs. Pearl took this in for a
moment, blinking in consternation, as Miss Early's brow furrowed
suspiciously, glancing at the driver and at the bright blue plane. The
rabbit female cocked an ear. "Double Lotus?"
The driver nodded, chuckling to
himself. "Yeah yeah, nice fancy lady likes lady bar. Can't say how good
da drinks are, of course. No males allowed. Didn't know you pretty
ladies tailfast. Would have given honeymoon discount. Too late now, pay
da full fare plus roaming cost for extra distance."
As these words sunk in, Mrs.
Pearl's face flushed a bright red as her tail went fully frizzed behind
her. Miss Early drew herself upright and crossed her arms in front of
her, rolling her eyes. "Guess again, tubby. I don't swing crosskin."
The feline rounded on her
incredulously. "Did... did he just imply that you and I are lesb..."
The rabbit doe cut her off impatiently. "He didn't imply nothin', darlin'. He jest came right on out an said it. Now calm down and pay th' feller. It ain't like he's th' first t' think it." She turned and looked appraisingly at the seaplane bobbing nearby. "Again, I'm more worried about th' other stuff he said, like about th' plane breakin' up and sinkin'."
Fuming, the she cat fished around
inside her pocketbook and pulled out twenty dollars, which she handed
to the driver with her icy blue eyes flashing. "Here. Cost for the
trip, plus "roaming charges" plus a little more to keep this trip and
your speculations about our private affairs to yourself, MISTER Kapua."
The rabbit doe and feline glanced
at one another again in consternation as he eased his boat up to the
As they rounded the corner, the
sounds of two female voices in a level toned but insistent argument
reached their ears. They were greeted by the sight of a shapely, sandy
haired vixen perched on the top tier of a wooden ladder in front of an
elaborate carved sign hanging over a bank of windows at the front of
the foremost shack. She held a large white scallop shell in one hand
and a hammer in the other.
The raccoon rubbed her temples with
thumb and forefinger as she responded to the vixen. "I don't care. Just
nail 'em back up there and quit complaining about it."
The female fox gestured in the air
with the hammer. "They'll be off by Morning Song tomorrow once the bars
close down tonight, and then it'll be your turn to climb up here and
put 'em back."
The raccoon drew herself up and
crossed her arms in front of her. "Then I'll put 'em back. Then it'll
be your turn again, and so on so on so forth."
The vixen shrugged. "I say we just
leave 'em off. That's how Takky made it in the first place."
The raccoon rolled her eyes.
"Against our express instructions, or I guess I should say against MY
express instructions. I should have known what we'd be getting when you
volunteered to model for it."
The vixen raised her nose and
huffed. "Well I like it, and it was a bargain at twice the price."
The raccoon waved her comment away.
"That's neither here nor there. If you like it so much, pay back the
cost to our promotions budget and hang it over your bunk for all I
care." She cut the air with a flattened hand, bringing it emphatically
down on an upraised palm. "Bottom line is this... If you leave the
shells off, we don't get any white flag traffic."
The vixen tossed her head. "Sure,
but it attracts the blue flags like flies, and they pay more."
The raccoon stamped her foot
impatiently. "Yeah, and the 'maids get a bigger cut of that, AND we
need BOTH the white and blue flag tours if we're gonna make payroll and
put gas in the tank. So I repeat, quit your bellyachin' and nail those
shells back up over 'Finny Gwennie's' floatation devices before they
chase away any more church groups."
The female fox grumbled under her
breath as the sound of her hammer tapping rang out over the deserted
dock. The raccoon nodded to herself in satisfaction.
Her eyes went wide as the tentative
sound of Mrs. Pearl's voice sounded out next to her. "Um... Excuse us.
We'd like to talk to someone about chartering a flight or two."
At this a sound like a tea saucer
breaking sounded from above as shards of broken seashell clattered to
the planks of the pier. The vixen looked down from atop the ladder, as
surprised as her raccoon companion. "Oh golly. Customers!"
She hurriedly hung the hammer over the edge of the sign by its claw end then planted her hands on the top step of the ladder, kicked her legs back over either side like she was dismounting from a pommel horse, and slid down the back of the ladder in one fluid move, landing lightly on the balls of her bare feet. She turned and gave them a bright smile, pulling her leather work gloves off of her dark furred hands and extending one in welcome.
As she took the vixen's proffered
hand, Mrs. Pearl glanced up bemusedly at the source of the pair's
contention. The large sign was beautifully carved in bas relief,
probably by a local craftsman, and depicted a creature who was from the
waist down a sinuously curving tropical fish with orange and gold
scales and flowing fins in a rainbow of colors, and from the waist up
was the perfect, saucily smiling likeness of the sandy haired, mellow
orange furred female who stood before her shaking her hand, although
the carved version was quite au natural save for a real scallop shell
nailed by carefully drilled holes to cover one of her buoyant looking
breasts. The other was uncovered, and quite lovingly detailed by the
look of it, marred only by a protruding nail and a couple of small
holes. Flowing, art nouveau
styled text in Westcommon and Jardinais exhorted customers to
"See the legendary mermaids of Nobikini Atoll!"
At her side, Miss Early looked up
and snorted in a burst of sudden mirth. "Nobikini Atoll..." The rabbit
grinned at her companion, but then her brow furrowed and her ears
drooped slightly as the feline cocked an eyebrow at her. "Dang. Guess
that ain't gonna be funny fer another ten years or so..."
The tabby nodded her head,
her piercing blue eyes gazing from behind her black gauze veil. "Missus
Dorothy Pearl, and this is my assistant Miss Jane Early."
She released the vixen's hand and
turned to shake the raccoon's. After they'd both shaken the tan furred
rabbit doe's hand as well, Loretta motioned toward the door. "Won't you
please come in?"
It was a fastener, not a decoration. The lower half of the young female's tail had been severed at some point in the past, and was now worn as a taxidermied prosthetic.
The unconsciously self-conscious way she moved it was further confirmation, as the dark masked female swung hastily around and indicated two chairs reupholstered in bright native cloth. "Please, have a seat. Would you like something to drink?"
The vixen hurried over to a
chugging icebox in one corner, throwing open the door and releasing a
cloud of steam into the muggy air. She smiled a winning smile and went
about listing its contents with the verve of a beauty pageant
contestant giving her acceptance speech. "We've got Nootnops, Colala,
Foxie, Doctor Fortiscue's Fizz, or plain old ice water."
Her partner pulled out a rolling
office chair from the battered desk facing the two padded chairs and
sat down, leaning forward and expectantly interweaving her dark furred
fingers, her grey eyes gleaming in the dark face mask. "So, what can we
do for you ladies? Are you interested in a sightseeing tour? I can
promise you that an island tour, day trip, or even multi-stop junket
aboard our amazing aircraft is one you'll never forget. And you'll find
our rates quite reasonable."
The vixen chimed in, her voice
brimming with enthusiasm. "Perhaps you've heard about the mysterious
mermaids of the exotic Nobikini Atoll. We offer you a unique view of a
pristine island lagoon with its colorful reefs and beautiful marine
life, a truly magical experience never before seen by westerners until
At this, the raccoon's grey eyes
rolled impatiently, and she took on the air of someone humoring an
over-imaginative kit. "Yes yes, of course Gwen. It's definitely a...
She grinned at the rabbit and she
cat, then glanced over at her partner, her smile becoming a bit fixed.
With a kick to the wall she rolled herself rapidly sideways over the
scuffed hardwood floor, grabbed the refrigerator door and slammed it
shut, cutting off the cloud of billowing steam.
She cast a scowl up at the vixen as
she berated her through clenched teeth. "Close that up, dummy. You want
the condenser to blow out again?"
A whispered argument ensued.
"Well they didn't say if they
"Well maybe they're not thirsty."
"Well maybe you can take a long
walk off a short..."
The two young females caught
themselves and glanced up at their potential customers with nervous
smiles. An awkward silence ensued, as the brown furred tabby gazed
about impassively with her gleaming eyes. She had been studying her
surroundings ever since she'd sat down, scarcely heeding their sales
pitch, or their bickering, as she absorbed all the details around her.
The desk was mahogany, but battered and dented with numerous signs of repair. A cheap desk set sat atop it, of fake red and gold leather with one of the pens missing from the brass pen holders. An art deco styled travel clock. Marbleized cardboard for the blotter in a swirl of black, red, and wine tones. A wire inbox with stacks of bills and notices, atop a nearly empty outbox with a few invoice slips and envelopes. A hotel ramikin with a natural sponge in a small puddle of greyish water for wetting stamps. At the front of the desk blotter, two charming hand carved name plates with a tiny, flower framed portrait of the girl who's name it bore, declaring Gwen Riley the President and Loretta Pike the C.E.O, with subheadings in Spontoonie.
Inside the desk's top drawer, the
usual clutter of stubbed pencils, gum eraser wheels with small brushes,
brass paper clips, matchbooks, and a box of 12 gauge shotgun shells,
which presumably went with the break action sawed off crowd killer
stowed in the large desk drawer next to a half empty bottle of
Glenberry Glade Aged Bourbon and two shot glasses with their bases
glued to poker chips from the Laughing Parrot casino.
On the wall next to the radio, a
large map of the local island chains was tacked to the wall, festooned
with colored pins and marked up with pencil, a knife-whittled stub of
which hung from a thumbtack by a string off to the side, next to a
metal yardstick with etched numbers and matching steel protractor
hanging on a tack of their own.
Surmounting these, a photograph of
the vixen and raccoon standing in front of a heavy wooden gate, all
smiles, with a cryptically smirking female leopard and a towering,
white furred she-bear with an even broader grin, the four of them
dressed in dark blazers with the note emblem on the breast pocket with
white blouse and dark tie, medium tone knee length skirt, and patent
Next to these highly prized
mementoes, various and sundry framed licenses, titles, and certificates
from the Spontoon Althing and the Sylvanian Government granting G.
Riley and L. Pike permission to run a business on Spontoon territory on
extended visas with full legal status, and declaring them fully
qualified pilots for a variety of aircraft.
On the right of the door, a file
cabinet that appeared to have been painted and re-painted a couple
times, judging from the tree ring like patterns around it's manifold
dents and chipped corners, with the expected folders full of important
papers inside. An adding machine with some missing keys sat tangled in
it's paper tape in the bottom most of the cabinet's three drawers. A
wooden duck decoy sat on a stack of papers atop the file cabinet,
painted sky blue with clouds similar to the seaplane out back. Over the
decoy in a frame on the wall, a colorful Spontoon fifty shell note,
mounted beneath a much more drably printed Sylvanian hundred dollar
bill. A yellowed sheet of note paper hung from a thumbtack nearby, with
the words "In case of emergency, break glass." in scrawled pencil.
Past the file cabinet, in the
corner opposite the radio, the chipped, dented white surface of the
icebox, with it's laboring cooling coil humming on top. The vixen had
already obliged Mrs. Pearl with a view of the contents, so she didn't
bother to gaze inside. An old bell jar half filled with coins of
various countries sat up against the compressor, rattling slightly as
it ran. She noted that in the four inches or so of space between the
file cabinet and the ice chest, a baseball bat with a tape-wrapped
handle had been secreted.
Next to the ice chest around the corner from the back wall, a small window looking out onto the sky blue seaplane outside, bobbing gently under a much more brilliantly azure tropical sky. A collection of soda bottle caps, loose screws, tiny shells and interesting stones had accumulated on the windowsill, and a Colala branded bottle opener had been bolted to the window frame.
Beside the window, framed under
glass, a set of technical drawings of the aircraft, with details
regarding some kind of modification to the hull, with various notes on
water pressure and material load bearing that Mrs. Pearl didn't have
the expertise to decipher. The signature of the draftsman, or in this
case, draftswoman, declared that Loretta Pike had made this document.
Next to the technical drawing, several more certificates from the
Spontoon Althing's Aeronautical Safety Commission and the Ministry of
In the front right corner of the
small room, taking up the space between the wall and the door outside,
another office chair sat next to a low stand on casters that supported
a fairly new looking typewriter, with a supply of foolscap visible
inside a low metal box with a lockable latch on the front resting on a
shelf beneath the stand's top surface.
Hanging on the back of the door was
a calendar from last year, that hadn't seen the page turned since
December of 1938. The artwork was of a winter scene with paired off
members of several kindreds ice skating together in old fashioned
finery on a pristine country lake among pine trees. A set of coconut
halves tied together with bright red cotton twine hung from the same
tack as the calendar.
The two young entrepreneurs traded
a puzzled glance, and Gwen Riley tentatively cleared her throat. "Uh...
Missus Pearl? Is everything all right?"
At this, the rabbit looked at her
sharply and held up a warning hand. "Jest keep quiet for a second while
th' lady looks y'all over."
Suddenly, the she cat's roving gaze
settled on them, and sent a shiver up both girls' spines and down the
length of their tails. The fur on Gwen's shoulders bristled as her hand
instinctively groped back behind her to reach between the ice chest and
file cabinet. She stopped as the rabbit shifted in her seat, uncrossed
her legs and propped a booted foot on the edge of the desk with a
She fixed the vixen with a hard
stare and gave a slight shake of her head. "Ut! I wouldn't..."
Meanwhile, the tabby peered at the
two females with her uncanny vision, taking a full accounting of that
which was hidden from view, and there was much to see in that respect.
The raccoon carried a lock back knife with a horn handle in one of her back pockets. In double seams and inside pockets all over her coveralls, and concealed in the hems and stays of her undergarments, were all manner of small serrated blades, lengths of coiled steel wire, screwdriver heads with the handles cut off, and rat tail files. A tight roll of bills was tucked down into her cleavage, about as big around as a female's thumb, and comprised of the currency of several countries, with a majority being Spontoon shells, Sylvanian dollars, Westinglish pounds, and Jardinais francs. The core of the preserved tip of her tail held a small compartment with a slender saw blade and a tiny spool of thin wire.
Both girls were in excellent physical shape. The vixen was the taller of the two, with a swimmer's physique and measurements that were not much exaggerated by the carving out front. Her mellow orange fur was bleached across the shoulders and arms from long days in the tropical sun, and by the patterns of fading it could be seen that she often forwent the bathing suit she wore beneath her coveralls. The raccoon was more stocky and tightly packed, but still graceful in her bearing and well suited to her curves. While her partner showed signs of extended time outdoors, the nicks, singed spots, small scars, and rough patches on the fur of her arms, hands, and knees, showed that the dark masked female spent her hours in workshops and repair bays.
Gazing past the physical into their
auras, Mrs. Pearl was gratified to see two very capable, honest, and
intelligent young females. She could sense they were unsettled by her
scrutiny, but also a fair bit stressed by other matters, probably
business related. Gwen was the dreamer of the pair, her mind brimming
with ideas, schemes, and plans, while Loretta was practical almost to a
fault, a careful thinker and a diligent problem solver. It was clear
they were as fiercely devoted to one another as two sisters from
different mothers based on the subtle spiritual linkages her vision
revealed. These two would serve her purposes nicely.
Mrs. Pearl's gaze softened as she
gave the nervous proprietors of the tour company a reassuring smile.
"I'm sorry about giving you both the eye. I had to make sure you could
be trusted, and I'm glad to say that you passed my little examination
with flying colors."
Miss Early relaxed her posture with
a lopsided grin as she waved at the framed documents on the wall in
front of them. "Heck, darlin' I coulda told y'all that right off soon
as I laid eyes on them diplomas up thar. Any gal that comes outta
Songmark is guaranteed t'be top notch talent, and right straight
shooters as well. One o' my best friend's granny was a Songmark gal."
At this, Loretta's natural mask
shifted upwards on one side as she cocked an eyebrow and looked at her
incredulously. "Flattering as it is, that story doesn't add up, ma'am.
Songmark's only been open for nine years. How could anybody's
grandmother have graduated from there?"
The rabbit's ears drooped as she
furrowed her brow and shuffled her feet and murmured to herself.
"Right... Nine years. Meant t' say grandaughter. Dunno whut I was
Gwen crossed her arms in front of
her and leaned against the front of the icebox, while Loretta rolled
her chair back across to behind the desk and leaned forward with her
fingers steepled in front of her. "Neither do we, and if you'll excuse
my being brusque, I think maybe it's time you two came clean about who
you are and what you want with us."
The brown furred tabby nodded
gravely. "Of course. For starters, since I'm a guest in your
With that, she lifted her arms and
flicked her hands sharply downward, her twin pistols snapping into her
hands with a clack. The vixen and raccoon tensed, then relaxed again as
she deftly popped the magazines and taking care not to point them
aggressively, laid them gently on the blotter pad atop the mahogany
desk with their muzzles pointed at one another, then folded her hands
in her lap once more.
The raccoon's grey eyes narrowed in
her dark mask as she studied the pistols in front of her. "Very
nice. Holt nineteen oh eight Vest Pocket, point twenty five ACP
caliber, with the post nineteen seventeen magazine safety disconnect,
if I'm not mistaken."
The feline nodded and smiled.
"You're not. I hope you'll take my disarming as a gesture of goodwill
on my part."
Gwen turned her attention to Miss
Early. "What about you, bunny? You got anything you all wanna lay on
The rabbit shrugged, showing her
upraised palms. "I ain't packin' no hardware, darlin'. Don't need none.
I could climb up on that thar desk if'n y'all like, but I reckon it'd
make conversation a li'l awkward."
The vixen nodded warily. "All
right, so lets get the conversation started."
With a nod, the feline replied.
"Have you ladies heard of the HMS
Millwray?" The raccoon glanced at her partner then back at Ms.
"That was a Westinglish ship. We
know a few pilots who flew search and rescue on that one. It... it sank
last month with all hands."
Miss Early twitched an ear. "More
like it was torpedoed, same as the USS
Hammond, the HMS Trevor
Fitzwilkin, or the SS
Celestial Ox outta the Eight Kingdoms."
Mrs. Pearl took over from her
cohort, cooly explaining as her ice blue eyes shifted between the young
vixen and her raccoon partner. "Over the past three months, at least
seventeen ships have been sunk at the hands of submarine raiders, and
it can only be assumed that they are operating from a hidden base
somewhere south of the Spontoon Archipelago. It's my intention to
discover the location of that base and see these attacks stopped."
The young raccoon female's brow
furrowed, making a cleft in the dark outline of her mask. "And you want
us to fly reconnaissance with our plane, am I right?"
The feline nodded. "Right. Your
plane is uniquely suited for scouting. We can pay you quite
Loretta sat back in her chair with
a glance to Gwen, whose face registered a glimmer of excitement, then
collapsed into disappointment when the raccoon crossed her arms in
front of her with a shake of her head. "Our plane is uniquely suited
for sightseeing. I'm sorry, ma'am. We're not interested in that kind of
work. You want to look for submarines, call the R.W.A.F, the Sylvanian
Naval Air Corps, or the R.I.N.S. Air Task Force."
Mrs. Pearl pursed her lips
slightly. "Rest assured, they've all been quite busy looking for this
nest of raiders, but they haven't been able to locate it. That's why I
was called in."
At this, the feline smiled
cryptically. "Lets just say I've got powers of my own. I can see things
others can't. Like that sawed off shotgun you've got in the bottom
drawer of your desk, or that baseball bat between the ice box and the
Miss Early cocked an ear as the two
females glanced at each other in alarm, the fur on their tails frizzing
a bit. The rabbit doe grinned at the vixen, removing her foot from the
edge of the desk and setting it on the floor. "Baseball bat? Shucks,
if'n I knew it was a bat y'all were reachin' fer and not a shootin'
iron I wouldn't'a said nothin'." She gave the sandy haired female a
wink. "How 'bout them Clippers, huh?"
Gwen shifted her posture a bit and
tucked her hands into the knotted sleeves of her coveralls around her
waist. "So...Uh... say we were willing to... um..." She cast a glance
at Miss Early. "... play ball. How much money are we talkin'?"
At this, Loretta rounded on her
with a look of annoyance flaring in her grey eyes. "GWEN! It's too
dangerous, and we're too deep in debt to get our plane shot out of the
The vixen scowled back at her
partner, pulling her hands from the coveralls and clenching them down
at her sides in fists. "I'd rather she get shot down then repossessed
by the bank, and I think I have as much a say in this as you do."
Mrs. Pearl cleared her throat to
get their attention as she opened her pocketbook. "We're able to offer
you ten thousand dollars Sylvanian, up front, with an additional twenty
five thousand if we find the raider base."
With that, she pulled out a tightly
wrapped stack of bills, and laid it on the desk between her pistols.
raccoon's eyes went wide, an expression made more obvious by the
contrast of her grey pupils against her dark mask. She composed herself
rapidly, casting a glare up at her partner as the vixen let out a long
whistle, then turned to look at her with a pleading expression.
Loretta rolled her eyes and looked
Mrs. Pearl in the eye. "Would you like to see the plane before you make
us such a generous offer?"
A smile spread across the feline's
face. "I'd be delighted."
Gwen stepped around the raccoon and
opened the side door, indicating for their prospective customers to
look inside with a smile and a short bow. Mrs. Pearl and Miss Early
stopped in the door and looked down in amazement as they peered into
the passenger cabin.
The normal rows of seats had been
replaced with two long benches running down either side of the
fuselage, upholstered in white canvas with five point harness' spaced
down their length. The floor between the benches, which glinted in the
light coming through the door and portholes, was sheets of glass in a
sturdy metal framework. The waters of the lagoon rippled gently beneath
as debris and the occasional shimmering fish floated past, with the
pillars of the pier vanishing into the murky depths far below in the
shadow of the floating aircraft.
A wide grin spread across the vixen's face. "Behold and be amazed, at the world's first and only glass-bottomed sea plane!"
Miss Early let out a low whistle
through her buck teeth as she made to climb in through the door, but
was stopped as the raccoon reached up and laid a restraining hand on
her shoulder. "Ah. I'm sorry, but could you please remove your boots
before you enter?" She shrugged apologetically. "We don't want the
floor scuffed up."
The rabbit doe nodded and ducked
back out the door as the vixen and raccoon watched her warily. She gave
them a smile and removed her hobnail boots, balancing effortlessly on
one foot then another and dropping her footwear to the gently bobbing
ramp before clambering inside.
As she crouched down and knocked on
the transparent panels, her feline cohort gazed around the cabin. "Hmm.
Glass? Really? I'm beginning to understand the reservations some of the
locals seem to have about this plane."
At this, both the vixen and raccoon
Gwen tossed her head, causing her
sandy ponytail to give a dismissive flick. "Totally unfounded. Gee Gee is perfectly watertight,
more than I can say for half the crates that flit around these
Miss Early looked up from examining
the floor. "This is plexiglas, ain't it?"
The raccoon nodded with a satisfied
smile. "Right. Custom manufactured in Brothersberg by the Holm and Ross
Chemical Company, with a special laminate to increase its impact
resistance. You can bang on it all day with a hammer and it won't
crack. A fraction of the weight of an equivalent thickness of glass
The feline nodded pensively. "I
see. So it looks more fragile than it actually is." Miss Early looked
up at her and gave her a wink. "I dig this plane's style."
Mrs. Pearl nodded to herself
decisively, and leaned against the fuselage, removed her patent leather
shoes, and stepped through the hatch. As the feline felt the cool
smoothness of the acrylic panels on the paw pads of her bare feet,
Loretta crossed her arms in front of her, sulking as she looked over
her shoulder out toward the busy lagoon spreading out behind her
towards the looming hills of Main Island. "The Althing's safety board
passed us after months of testing, while we just sat here paying rent
and dock fees, but the damn boat jockeys and hotel staffers STILL have
their damn betting pool as to when we're gonna shatter and sink. We've
been slowly winning the tourists over by word of mouth, but even then
we've had to resort to cockamamie schemes like our little water show
out on Nobokini to draw 'em in."
At this the vixen drew herself up
indignantly. "The mermaids AREN'T cockamamie. It's a great idea! Takki
says it's one of the best "custom" jobs he's ever heard of, and that's
a lot coming from the nephew of the Hooey
The raccoon rolled her eyes, as
Mrs. Pearl crossed the cabin and sat herself down on one of the
benches. Her hypersensitive eyes detected the very faint outlines of
several slightly yellow stains, vigorously scrubbed away, on the white
Her ears dipped slightly as she
glanced at Miss Early and turned to face the vixen. "It must be quite a
show when you take off."
Gwen's tail flicked excitedly back
and forth as she leaned eagerly in the doorway. "Oh, it's aces! Hold on
a minute! Let me show you the light!"
She leapt lightly through the hatch
and made her way to the front of the plane through the doorway to the
cockpit. Mrs. Pearl looked over at Loretta and noted a fond smile on
the raccoon's face as she watched her partner skip lightly down the
length of their aircraft. She chuckled to herself as she climbed in to
join the others, setting her deck shoe clad feet confidently down on
the transparent floor.
Gwen's beaming face looked around
the side of the pilot's seat as she called back to the cabin's
occupants. "Watch this!"
She flicked a switch on the
instrument panel, and the plexiglas floor lit up as a floodlight
mounted in the trailing edge of the Glass Goose's front prow clicked
on, scattering a shoal of fish and illuminating bits of flotsam that
drifted lazily below.
Miss Early planted her hands on her
hips and whistled again. "Nice!" She looked up at the raccoon and gave
her a wry look. "That bulb must be a pain in the tail t' change when it
burns out though."
The raccoon shook her head with a
smug grin. "Not at all. The light is mounted up higher in the prow
where we can easily access it. A special piece of plexiglas pipes the
light down to the hull where you're seeing it right now. They've been
using glass prisms on ships for that sort of thing for years, but if
you configure the plastic right, it works even better."
Mrs. Pearl stood up from her seat
and extended a hand to Loretta. "I'm convinced. This plane and its crew
are perfect for my mission. My offer stands, and I'll even be willing
to offer five thousand afterward if we don't find what I'm looking
Up front, the vixen climbed out of
the pilot seat and hung in the doorway, looking meaningfully at her
partner, while the raccoon thoughtfully stroked her chin.
She let out a sigh. "Well, you might be able to tell both me and Gwen are really proud of our baby bird here, but she was awfully expensive to build and has been just as pricey to maintain. We've sunk everything we've got into this little tour business of ours, and we're running in the red a lot of the time. As much as I hate the idea of putting this plane, and ourselves, in danger, I hate the idea of having to sell it off and go back to Brothersberg with my tail between my legs even more." A troubled look passed over her dark masked features, and she hesitantly turned and reached behind her.
A pained look passed over Gwen's
face. "L-lori. What are you doing?"
With deft, dark furred fingers, the raccoon caught up her striped tail and unbuckled the leather band bisecting it, detaching the bottom half.
She held it up ruefully for Mrs.
Pearl and Miss Early to see. "Especially since I've got a lot less tail
to begin with." She shook the lifeless tail tip back and forth as if
working a feather duster. "I might be able to find work as a maid with
this, but I'm never gonna find a good husband."
"Don't s-say that..."
With a shake of her head, Loretta
tucked the tail tip under her arm and reached up to take the feline's
hand. "So I guess what I'm trying to say is, yes. If my partner agrees,
we'll accept your contract."
A smile came to the tabby's face.
"I'm glad to hear it, Miss Pike." She looked over at Gwen as the vixen
came slowly forward from the cockpit hatch and came to a stop behind
her partner. "What do you say, Miss Riley?"
The mellow orange furred she fox
glanced at Loretta, composing herself, and then turned to meet the
feline's gaze, forcing a confident smile onto her face as she extended
her hand as well. "I'm all for it. It'll turn out great! I just know
As they shook hands, Loretta turned
and buckled her prosthetic tail tip back into place.
Miss Early stepped forward and
nodded towards her with a searching look on her face. "If'n y'all don't
mind me askin', darlin'... Whut happened?"
The raccoon gave a practiced,
breezy shrug. "Had a little accident in the machine shop in my second
year at Songmark..." She turned and gave a pointed glance to Gwen. "...
which was completely MY fault. I got careless, and am just grateful it
wasn't worse, and that nobody got expelled over it."
A cryptic smile crossed the rabbit
doe's face as she reached forward to shake the raccoon's hand. "Well, I
reckon if'n y'all can't end up in one piece, y'all should at least keep
it to two."
Loretta gave her a wry half smile.
"Depends on the pieces, I guess. The only reason I brought it up is so
you understand that this is a lot bigger gamble than I'd normally be
willing to undertake. I've lost enough already."
The ice blue eyes of the tabby
flickered behind her veil as she nodded gravely, clasping her
pocketbook in her hands. "I know all about loss, dear. That's why it's
vital that this mission pays off. You'll be doing countless sailors...
and their wives, a great service."
Gwen's face became serious, as she
looked shyly at their new employer. "I'm... I'm sorry. Was your husband
A wistful smile came to Mrs.
Pearl's features. "No... no. He was a district attorney." She shook her
head as her expression hardened. "Even so, it was the sharks that got
The awkward silence that ensued was
broken by Miss Early, who clapped her hands with a grin. "Well c'mon
y'all. Lets not spend all our time livin' in the past." At this she
exchanged a glance with Mrs. Pearl, before looking the young vixen and
raccoon in the eyes. "We got plans t' make, and I reckon I'd like one
o' them Colala's outta y'all's fridge."
Gwen's expression brightened up
again. "Of course! Lets go!" She dodged around the rest of the group
and headed out the hatch, her bushy tail flicking behind her.
Loretta turned and gestured for them to proceed with a wry smile, following behind the others. As she shut the seaplane's hatch, she gave her bisected tail a little shake with a rueful glance over her shoulder and followed them up the gangplank.