PART 12 - EYE TO EYE
Pier 7 was bustling with activity by the time Dorothy Pearl and Jane Early came walking down the ramp and up to the wing of the Glass Goose. They looked up to see Loretta Pike perched on one of the plane's twin engines, tightening something on the propeller linkage.
Her grey eyes widened in the dark band of her mask as the young engineer did a double take upon spotting the tan furred doe walking up the gangplank, before she shook her head in recollection and gave them a smile and a wave. "Good morning! Nice day for flying, huh?"
The tabby and doe shifted their packs on their shoulders and waved back. A bright smile crossed Dorothy's face. "Beautiful! How's everything going, Miss Pike?"
The raccoon kicked a crepe soled boot over the engine faring and spun around, sliding down the wing and dropping down beside them. "Well, we had a pretty busy evening, as Miss Early here will probably tell you when you see her."
The rabbit cocked an eyebrow. "Huh... I reckon by that y'mean y'all had a visit from a couple o' familiar faces last night."
Loretta nodded matter of factly. "Yeah. We did. And a few unwelcome guests who were seen off by the boys in blue."
A look of concern crossed Dorothy's face. "Nobody hurt, I hope."
The raccoon shook her head with a rueful expression. "Well, my faith in a rational universe took a bit of a beating, but no serious injuries otherwise."
The feline looked over at her rabbit cohort with a wry look on her face, an edge of sarcasm on her voice. "I'm surprised! Are you sure it was our Jane here who paid you a visit?"
The tan furred doe gave her a glare and opened her mouth to reply when Loretta spoke up in a low voice as she dug her toe on the planks. "W-well, okay, one guy had a concussion and two black eyes."
The rabbit's scowl of annoyance deepened as Dorothy gave her a smug grin. "Ah, that sounds more like it..."
The raccoon averted her gaze and cleared her throat nervously. "Uh... that one was from me... I... I kinda threw a baseball bat at his head in the heat of the moment..."
The feline's ice blue eyes widened in surprise as a grin spread across Miss Early's face. "I knew thar was a reason I liked you gals. Y'all know how t'party."
The raccoon swished her tail and spun on her heel. "Well, anyway, you're waiting in the office." She blinked and shook her head. "I mean she's waiting... Um..."
She threw up her hands
with an exasperated breath and pocketed the wrench she was holding.
"Come with me."
Jane chuckled as they fell into step
behind her. "No need t' git hung up on pronouns, darlin'. I
The raccoon shook her head with a sigh and beckoned them to onward. She paused as they passed by the Glass Goose's hatch and opened it, gesturing inside. "Feel free to leave your bags here in the plane. Gwen and I will stow 'em for you. It shouldn't be too long before we're ready to take off."
As the cat and rabbit set their packs inside the door, a cheery voice called from up the pier. "Ahoy there! You ready to experience all the thrills and wonders of the Pan Orient Ocean and the mysterious Nobikini Atoll?"
They turned to see Gwen waving to them, dressed in a spotless canvas flight suit over a white shirt and a navy blue scarf, her sandy hair braided tightly back to her head.
The raccoon, cat, and rabbit approached her with smiles on their faces. Loretta gave her partner a salute as she passed with Jane in tow, headed for the door to the D Tails Excursions office. "Gee gee's all checked out and refueled. I'm gonna go in and wash up, then I'll join you in the cockpit for preflight."
Gwen nodded and turned her smiling face to Dorothy as the feline stopped and stood before her. "So, Miss Riley, your partner tells me you had a little bit of excitement out here last night."
The vixen rubbed the back of her head and gave a strained laugh. "Uh... yeah. You could call it that. It was all I could do to get to sleep after I finally got home. Thank goodness for Nootnops Blue."
Dorothy cocked an eyebrow and was about to pose a question, when a harsh cry rang out over the docks, causing both females' heads to whip around in alarm.
A grisly figure came charging out of the alleyway, his ragged, reeking trench coat trailing behind him as he raised a machete in his left hand to strike, a single orange eye and bared fangs glaring out of a weave of bandages over his face. More than a few of his teeth were absent in his gaping maw.
With a flick of her
wrists, the Widow's Tears appeared in Dorothy's hands as she spun to
face their attacker, and she snapped off two shots, striking with
uncanny accuracy directly above where his thumb gripped the handle.
The first shot shattered the grip right at the pommel, the second
shot snapped the blade off and sent it spinning to the dock where it
embedded in the thick wood.
As the grotesque
assailant hurtled forward, carried by momentum toward the two
females, Gwen's dark furred hand slipped into the pocket of her
coveralls, and came out with a band of dully burnished brass gleaming
across her fingers. Dorothy leaped back out of his way as he
blundered between them, catching a brass knuckled right cross in the
face from Gwen. The impact spun him as he toppled to the ground, the
haft of the broken machete flying out of his hand and clattering
across the dock.
The hapless feline landed on his back with a sickening crunch from his splinted tail that caused him to yowl in agony and form a rigid arc with his body between his shoulders and heels, his clawed left hand scrabbling and tearing ragged trails in the tar stained wood beneath him. He flopped onto his side with a thud, a strangled moan escaping his throat. He froze in his feeble attempt to rise as Dorothy aimed her chilling gaze and both pistols at his head.
Gwen looked down at him incredulously, slipping her brass knuckles back into her coverall pocket. "Who the heck is this now? Son of the Mummy?"
She looked up as Loretta and two Jane Earlys came thundering out onto the pier from the office. The rabbit wearing the Cactusburg Buckaroos cap pushed it's leather bill up and looked down at the huddled creature at their feet with a furrowed brow. "Tarnation. Whut happened t' this poor bastard?"
A grin spread across her duplicate wearing the tiki logo ball cap. "Four o' me happened to him, last night. This feller's one o' my dance pardners from my li'l hoedown at th' hotel."
Dorothy averted her glimmering eyes with a grimace of disgust. "Ugh... How pitiful!"
The doe in the tiki logo cap pursed her lips as she looked down at him. "Yeah, I don't reckon I left him lookin' that purty."
The feline shook her head ruefully. "No, I wasn't looking at his face, I was looking at his aura." She straightened up and nodded down at him, pushing her pistols back up into her sleeves with two muffled clicks. "Come on, bring him inside, quickly."
The neko let out a stifled moan as the identical rabbits hoisted him to his feet and dragged him along behind the tabby as she briskly hurried inside the D Tails Excursions office. The vixen and raccoon followed, with looks of consternation on their faces.
They were brought up short by Dorothy, blocking the door with a gleam in her ice blue eyes. Loretta's brow furrowed as she watched Jane drag one of the office chairs into the center of the room and shove the miserable neko down into it, causing him to let out a howl of agony as he accidentally sat on his broken tail.
She faced the brown furred tabby with a note of indignation on her voice. "H-hey. Now wait... wait just a second, Miz Pearl. What are you and Miss Early planning on..."
The feline gave her a thin lipped smile and cut her off. "We're just going to have a little talk, that's all. It's probably better if we have some privacy." She nodded in the direction of their sea plane. "Why don't you two girls go get the plane ready, we won't be long."
The raccoon looked at her suspiciously for a long moment before speaking. "All right, but if me and Gwen end up having to mop in there, it's going on your tab."
She glanced at her partner, who shrugged helplessly, then turned and walked off shaking her head with the vixen in tow. The sandy haired female looked warily over her shoulder as Dorothy shut the door with an emphatic click.
The neko slouched wretchedly on the office chair, his wild, bloodshot eye flicking frantically back and forth around the room for any avenue of escape. On either side of him, the unbeatable tan usagi does stood, their tight grip, impossibly firm for a mere female, on his shoulders.
The dark clad tabby female turned away from the door, and her ice blue eyes began to sparkle in concert with the glittering jewel at her throat as she addressed him. "Look at me..."
As soon as the wretched feline turned his head at her voice, he was transfixed, his orange eye instantly dilating to a black moon as his swollen right eye even tried to open and stare. He felt his will slipping away like sand through open fingers under the gleaming scrutiny of those eyes.
She spoke, her voice level and clear. "What's your name?"
He swallowed, a dry, croaking sound in the back of his throat, and answered. All he could do was answer. "K-kurogata Ichi."
The female nodded, and continued her questioning. "Who sent you? Who gives you your orders?"
A shiver ran thru the male cat's frame. He couldn't refuse to answer. He couldn't lie. In fact, he couldn't stop himself from giving more information than was asked. It was as if a bottle had been unstoppered, and all his secrets were going to pour out. "Count Klaus Hienrich Karl Ravenholt, Beta of Steppeland. I was attached to his espionage cell here in the Spontoon Archipelago under secret arrangement with the great Shintora Shogunate."
At this, one of rabbit does flanking the stricken feline released her grip on his shoulder and cracked her knuckles with a scowl. "Pah! Th' dang wolves again. Why ain't I surprised? Mangy, rag-tailed varmints..."
Her duplicate nodded. "I saw one of 'em snoopin' round here yesterday night."
She looked over at Dorothy. "That otter fella who was followin' us around gave him a duckin' in th' lagoon."
A pensive look crossed the tabby's face. "Hmmm. Well, now we know the players in this little drama. Lets see what was in the script." Her icy eyes glittered as she continued her interrogation. "What were your orders regarding my companion and I?"
He swayed slightly in his seat. "To neutralize you as threats to Steppeland and Kokoro's operations in the Pan Orient."
The Jane in the Cactusberg cap scowled. "Which is fancy pants spy talk fer slittin' our throats. Cute."
The rabbit in the tiki ball cap gave a canny look to Dorothy. "Speakin' o Steppeland n' Kokoro's operations, y'all might wanna ask him 'bout th' sub base. Could save us a trip."
The brown furred tabby gave a slight nod. "We'd still have to confirm. I'm not sure if Miss Riley and Miss Pike would be disappointed or relieved."
Her eyes flared brighter. "Tell us the location of the submarine base in the Jade Sea."
The neko's brow furrowed beneath the cocoon of bandages. "I... I know of no submarine base."
The tabby's eyes flickered as a pensive look crossed her face. One of the Janes, the one wearing the Cactusberg Buckaroos cap, cocked an ear. "I reckon he ain't high enough in th' chain t' know, huh Miz Pearl?"
Dorothy gave a small
shake of her head. "If he knew about it he'd tell me. It's
impossible for any feline to refuse the compulsion of the Eye."
Her expression became deadly serious as she continued to scrutinize the neko. "There is only one more thing I want to know." A wistful look came to her face. "Why do you want so badly to die?"
The stricken male feline answered in a low, slurred voice. "I... I have failed, repeatedly, and cannot live with the dishonor. There is nothing for me but death now."
Dorothy's blue eyes flared. "Life is a precious gift, Kurogata Ichi. Even your wretched, evil little life. How many people's lives have you taken to feed your empire's twisted idea of honor?"
The cat began to tremble as he sat pinned by her gaze. "F-four. Maybe five."
Her voice remained level, as the icy brilliance of her eyes flashed blue white in the depths of his soul. "There will not be a sixth, not even yours. By the ancient power of the Eye of the Guardians to compel those of the feline kindred, you will never raise your hand to end a person's life, or to do a person harm. You will never raise your voice to ask another to end your life. You will never take a step to end your life by accident or misadventure. You will never sit idle and allow death to take you. Do you understand?"
Tears began to flow from the neko's eyes, dampening the bandages on his face. His voice cracked as he replied. "I... I... I understand."
Dorothy's eyes dimmed down to their normal, albeit striking, shade of blue, and she released him from her gaze. She turned and walked across the room, grabbing the door and pulling it open. "Good. Now get out of here. I don't ever want to see you again."
The neko drew in a shuddering breath, seeming to shrink in on himself as his single undamaged eye came back into focus. He cast an accusing gaze at Dorothy, his bandages sodden with his tears. "You... you have... d-destroyed me. B-b-better f-for me to... to die quickly than... than... to... to live..."
The female feline bowed her head, giving it a slight shake. "I thought that way, once. I learned different. You will too, someday, I hope." She cocked her thumb toward the open door. "Now go."
The neko climbed painfully to his feet and meekly walked toward the door with a shuffling gait, his dull orange eye staring at the ground before him.
One of the Janes shuddered as she watched him slouch out onto the pier and stagger away, shaking her head and letting out a low whistle through her buck teeth. "Dang, darlin'. Y'all jest sentenced him t' life."
Her duplicate shook her head in tandem. "Without parole..."
The feline gave her a nod, rubbing the bridge of her nose with thumb and forefinger. "Yeah... It's better, and worse, than he deserves. The greymalkins never said this job was easy."
The rabbit in the tiki logo ball cap nodded. "Well, speakin' o' th' job, I reckon we oughta git goin'. Our job's jest beginnin'."
She turned to her duplicate and jerked her head, beckoning her. The identical tan- furred rabbit nodded and the two stepped toward each other. In the blink of an eye, a single rabbit doe stood before a pile of empty clothes topped by a Cactusberg Buckaroos ball cap. As she stooped to pick up the discarded garments, a hesitant knock came to the door, causing both females to look up curiously.
A handsome, brown furred male fox of obvious Spontoonie extraction stood at the door, his lively mahogany colored eyes glancing around the office as a bright smile came to his face. "Oh, hello! You two Gwen and Miss Loretta's passengers today?"
As Dorothy turned to face him, her eyes glittered as she gave him a quick glance over.
Knotted around his chiseled torso he wore a colorful lava-lava made even more colorful by the flecks of dried paint that spotted it here and there. Over his broad shoulders, he wore a sleeveless denim work shirt open down the front, the blue fabric also spattered with dried paint. Around his neck a leather thong was strung with ornately carved wooden beads, and over his pale-furred chest a round amulet hung, with four brass staples holding a braided ring of of brown and mellow orange fur around a delicate, painted likeness of a smiling Gwen Riley.
These details were plenty to assure the feline that this newcomer meant no harm, and she declined to gaze deeper. Although the temptation to do so was rather powerful in this smiling fellow's case. From the look on Jane's face, the rabbit was clearly wishing she had the ability to see through cloth as well.
Dorothy blinked to focus her eyes and stepped forward. "Yes. In fact, if you're looking for Miss Riley, she's down with Miss Pike in the airplane getting it ready. We'll be taking off shortly for Nobikini." She extended her hand and cocked her head at her tan furred cohort. "I'm Dorothy Pearl, and this is my traveling companion Jane Early."
He nodded, smiling as he shook each of the females' hands in turn. "Nice to meet you. I'm Takua, Son of Tamak. Gwennie and me are tailfast."
The feline's ice blue eyes flickered as she looked him up and down, raising an eyebrow in question. "Tailfast?"
The fox nodded, holding up his amulet for them to see. "Yeah. It's a sacred custom of my people. Kind of like becoming fiancés where you come from. We braid our fur into charms and get them blessed by the Wise Ones at Long Moon and Short Moon over on Sacred Island, then we can get married."
The feline gave a wistful smile as she craned her head forward to look at the tiny smiling portrait of their pilot. "It's a fine likeness. I presume that you're a painter, Mister Takua."
The fox grinned and nodded, rubbing the back of his head bashfully. "Yeah. Billboards, mostly, but it lets me work on my own stuff in my free time."
He looked the two females over in turn. "So how about yourselves? You don't really dress like tourists, in fact it looks like you two are set to do some serious exploring." He cocked an eyebrow at them. "I hope you're not asking my Gwenny to fly you anyplace dangerous."
Jane flicked an ear and shook her head. "Not as such, we hope. Jest goin' t' check out th' Nobikini Atoll."
Dorothy gave her a sidelong glance and nodded. "Um... yes, we're... marine biologists, and we're going to look at the reefs."
The rabbit doe gave the fox a grin and a wink. "They say thar's real live mermaids a'swimmin' around thar." Dorothy furrowed her brows as she glared at her companion and softly cleared her throat.
Takua lowered his eyebrow and raised the other, as a sly grin spread across his face. "Ohhh. So you're interested in marine life! Well, you'll definitely find plenty of that out on Nobikini."
He brightened as a thought seemed to strike him. "In fact, if you ask Gwen and Miss Loretta to fly a special blue flag, you're guaranteed to REALLY see some mermaids." He leaned forward with a wink of his own, whispering conspiratorially to them. "It's an ancient native charm for attractive fish."
Dorothy furrowed her brow deeper, making the tabby lines on her forehead stand out. "You mean for attracting fish, right Mister Takua?"
He leaned back with an easy shrug. "Sure, why not?"
He turned, his smile brightening further, as a voice sounded from down the pier by the entry to the ramp. "Takky!"
As soon as he turned, Gwen has crossed the distance and leapt into his arms, kissing him warmly on the lips as he just managed to keep from being bowled over. When they finally came up for air, she pushed back from him with a smile on her face. "Weren't you supposed to be over on Pier Five doing that Nootnops sign?"
He gave her an easy grin. "Hey, Miss Nootnops is cute, but you're cuter, Papaya. I figured if I hurried I'd get here in time to see you off on your trip."
As she blushed sweetly his expression became tender as he reached a dark-furred hand up and tickled her under her chin. "You all better from last night? You seemed kinda rattled from all the trouble."
The vixen cast a glance at the rabbit and feline, who stood awkwardly nearby, and gave a nervous smile. "Oh... Uh... Yeah, all better. I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning. All ready for a new adventure!"
He cast her a sly grin. "After last night's 'adventure' in the hammock, I'm not surprised your tail's bushy..."
The vixen blushed brighter red and kicked him in the shin, causing him to draw in a sharp breath and bite his lip. Gwen pushed him away and turned to her passengers. "SO!" She glanced warily past them into the interior of the D Tails office. "Did your little... uh... conversation go with your... um... that guy?"
Jane let out a soft snort and muttered under her breath with a stifled grin. "Better'n y'all jest did with yers..." Dorothy flicked an ear and shrugged. "We sent him on his way once we all saw eye-to-eye. Don't worry about him."
The vixen nodded dubiously, glancing around the room beyond as if she expected to see something dangling from the rafters. She shook her suspicions away and looked at them again. "All... all right. Well, speaking of being on your way, I came to let you ladies know we've gone over the preflight checklist and should be ready to get underway as soon as everybody's on board."
The dark clad feline
nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Come on, Miss Early." She
paused and nodded to Takua. "It was a pleasure to meet you,
The fox smiled and gave her a friendly bow of the head in return. "Likewise, Miss Pearl." As his head was inclined, he gave her a searching look and cleared his throat cautiously. "I hope you don't think me too forward having only just met you, but you have the most striking eyes I've ever seen. Would... would you be willing to sit for a portrait sometime? Perhaps after you return from your trip with Gwen and Miss Loretta?"
A soft blush stole into Dorothy's faintly striped cheeks as she smiled at the compliment. "Oh my. Well... we'll.. we'll see..."
He nodded to her gratefully, as his girlfriend cocked a hip and gave him a wry look. "Don't let him bamboozle you, Miz Pearl. He used the same line on me the first time I met him."
He gave Gwen a wink as he sidled up beside her and slipped an arm around her waist, giving her a peck on the cheek. "Not true, Sweetbrush. It wasn't your eyes I noticed first." As a blush flitted across the vixen's features the fox gave her a mischievous grin and waggled his eyebrows. "Although they're as much fun to paint as any other part of you."
A giggle escaped her throat, quickly stifled as she glanced at Dorothy and Jane, a look of mild embarrassment on her face. She slipped out of her boyfriend's grasp and crossed to the office door, giving one last searching look inside before pulling a key out of her pocket and locking the door, then set out, beckoning the rest of them to follow.
Takua matched step with her and laid his arm across her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. He glanced back at the rabbit and cat, and whispered something in Gwen's ear, causing her to glance back and suppress another giggle, before shaking her head and whispering something vehemently in return.
As she and Jane followed
them, Dorothy felt a twinge of envy, watching the vulpine lovers'
casual affection for one another. She remembered how she and Edison
usually had to steal such moments of intimacy on the sly during their
much more formal courtship in Vale. A blush accompanied by a faint,
fond smile flitted across her features as she thought back to one
particularly audacious heist on their part at a masked ball on New
Years Eve back in '37.
She was brought out of her reverie by a nudge from the tan furred rabbit at her side, as the long eared female leaned in and whispered to her. "Daang, wouldja lookit' th' can on that boy. I hope whatever it is they're a'feedin' 'em round these parts is vegetarian, so th' local bucks can benefit."
Dorothy stiffened and briefly laid her ears back, blushing hotter, before she let out an exasperated breath and rolled her eyes. After a beat a she looked over at her cohort with a wicked grin on her face. " I wouldn't know, Miss Early. Our water taxi driver from yesterday had certainly eaten plenty of something..."
The rabbit rolled her eyes in turn, opening her mouth and pointing emphatically at her extended tongue. "Oh BARF! Do not want! That'd drive me all th' way over t' playin' fer the home team, darlin'."
The tabby pursed her lips, slightly puzzled, but guessed from her companion's response her jibe had had the desired effect. It was hard to tell sometimes. She flicked an ear and gave the rabbit a sidelong glance. "Well, anyway, you should really be keeping an eye out for other things right now."
Jane nodded, taking on a serious expression. "Yeah, right. We can scope out th' native flora and fauna when and if we make it back here."
The feline gave her a grave nod as they followed the two foxes down the gangplank to the seaplane.