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-by John Urie-
A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie
On Your Marks...
She was in the construction shed, giving instructions to the workers who were in charge of assembling the R-100's three engine pods, when Neville Norway came up and took her by the arm. “‘Scuse me just a sec, lads. Katie’s needed in Dr.Wallis’ office right away.”
“Wh-What’s going on, Neville?” Katie asked, but the lapin just said, “You’ll...have to see for yourself, Katie,” and hustled her quietly away towards the office stairs.
But when she entered the office, Barnes Wallis wasn’t there. Instead she saw a delegation of three furs, two of whom she didn’t know. But the third was a brown rat whom she recognized immediately as Ewan Barclay, the head of her father’s household staff.
Then she saw the expressions on their faces.
And the black arm-bands they were wearing..
Katie staggered back against the wall...felt her breath coming in tiny sips of air
“No...”she said, shaking her head as if trying to force herself to wake up. “No...please, no.”
Because the noble families of Europe so often intermarry, they are frequently plagued by a host of congenital problems. Hemophilia, to cite one example is known as the disease of kings. Many members of the European gentry are also epileptics. The son of Tsar Nicholas II suffered from both afflictions.
Then there was the MacArran clan, whose stallions are prone to cerebral aneurysms. Ian had been in The Gellion’s Bar, his favorite Inverness pub, enjoying a lively conversation with a tiger about the upcoming salmon season. The big cat had turned to greet a new arrival, and when he turned back again, Ian was laying crumpled on the floor. It all happened just that fast.
“And...I-I’m afraid that’s not all, Miss MacArran.” said Barclay, clutching his hat tightly. “Colin’s gone missing.”
“Gone missing?” said Katie blinking through her tears. “Wha-What do you mean g-gone missing?”
What it meant was that somewhere between the cities of St. Tropez and Monte Carlo, Colin MacArran had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. The last anyone had seen of him was in Nice, France. After that...who knew?
Which meant that Katie was now all alone at the helm. With no idea where to turn, she made two transatlantic phone calls....the first to Jim Spanaway, the second to William Randolph Hearst.
That being done, she climbed in her WACO-10, the better to get home quickly...and found she could not remember how to start the engine.
She ended up taking the train to Inverness, and from there proceeding by motorcar to Strathdern...crying inconsolably every second of the journey. Oh, Colin where WERE you?
It was when she arrived back in Strathdern House that she found out. Colin was still in Nice.
Cooling his heels in jail.
Jim Spanaway supplied the details. Colin had gone to a party hosted by his close friend Josslyn Hay, the new Earl of Errol, and had borught with him a young mink-femme he’d met on the beach the day before. During the course of that party, he’d proceeded to ply her with champagne, and then he’d taken her back to his room.
“Colin swears he didn’t know she was only fifteen,” Jim was telling her, in the grim, dark voice he employed whenever he wished to make it known that he was NOT overstating the situation, “but the police aren’t buying it. She was a virgin before he had his way with her, and he can’t deny knowing that. And I’m afraid that’s the least of his troubles right now.”
What WASN’T the least of Colin’s troubles was that the girl’s father had come looking for her at the party...and one of the guests, whose tongue had been thoroughly loosened by Moet et Chandon ( and who didn’t like Colin anyway, ) was only too happy to identify whom the minkette had left with and tell her father exactly where to locate him. Even so, the mink didn’t find his daughter and her lover until the wee hours of the morning.
When the enraged father barged into the room where Colin and the girl were sleeping it off, Katie’s brother had awakened with a searing hangover...and in an extremely foul temper.
“Colin probably would have killed that mink if some of the hotel staff hadn’t come rushing in to pull him off the poor guy. He’s trying to claim that he was acting in what he believed was self defense...thought the mink was there to kidnap him, but that’s an even tougher sell than his other excuse. The girl says she started screaming ‘C’est mon PERE!’ and begging Colin to stop the second he went after that mink...and not one, but THREE other guests swear they overheard her. She’s also got a black eye of her own...real dandy, so the gendarmes say.”
It didn’t get any better from there. The girl’s father, it turned out, had been one Monsieur Claude Soraigne, a well-respected Parisian art dealer with many connections amongst the European elite To make matters worse, the French Ministry of Justice was flatly refusing to let Colin return to England for his father’s funeral, even under guard. When Katie asked the family solicitor Nigel Smythe why this was so, the old deer mouse just pulled off his pince-nez and began to polish them, sighing deeply.
“It’s because they’re afraid His Majesty’s Government will decline to allow Colin to be extradited once he’s back in Britain....and I daresay their fears are somewhat justified.”
Katie’s ears formed a steeple. “What...why?”
“Because,” said the rodent, donning his spectacles once more and looking straight at her. “the instant Colin’s hoof touches British soil, he’s legally the 13th Duke of Strathdern. That alone might not be enough to preclude his being extradited back to France, but he’s also the last stallion in his line, you see. The British aristocracy might rarely speak with one voice, but they do agree on one thing. At all costs, a peerage must be preserved.”
“Did my father know about any of this?” Katie asked, fighting back the tears, “Did he...make any changes in his will right before he...b-before he...?”
“No,” said, Smythe, jumping in quickly, before Katie could start crying, “There’ve been no changes.”
That was a load off Katie’s shoulders. Ever since she had learned of Colin’s arrest, an unspoken fear had been gnawing lazily at the back of her mind. Had her father known what happened to his son before he died? And had the strain of that knowledge, coming so hard on the heels of his wife’s death, been the catalyst that had triggered his fatal aneurysm? Ian had always sworn he’d leave Colin nothing but hid title and Strathdern House if anything like the Nice incident ever happened again. If he hadn’t made any changes to his will, it was a pretty good sign that she could lay this fear to rest.
Overwrought by grief as she was, and the stress of having to make all the arrangements herself, Katie did not express these feelings to Nigel Smythe.
She would later come to wish that she had. Someone else was going to seriously misinterpret the nature of her inquiry when he found out about it. For the moment however, she just asked the solicitor, “What can I do?”
“Best just let me deal with Colin.” said the mouse, laying a reassuring paw atop hers. “I daresay you’ve got enough to do, taking care of everything else.”
It would not be long before Katie would want to cut off her hoof for the offense of allowing Nigel Smythe to touch it. In the meantime, she had to put together a wake, choose a coffin and headstone, write an obituary for the papers, compose a eulogy for the burial service, and somehow persuade Grandpa Joe to stay home, despite his repeated protests that he was NOT too ill for another Atlantic crossing. ( Which wasn’t what Mary Fallon Spanaway was telling her. )
Then, only two days before Ian’s wake was scheduled, something totally unexpected occurred; all the charges against Colin MacArran were dropped without explanation, and he was free to return to Britain for his father’s funeral
This time, Katie learned the particulars from William Randolph Hearst...and what she heard set her teeth permanently on edge.
“According to what my furs in Paris and New York tell me, a couple of the associates of one of Colin’s American customers, Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, paid a courtesy call on the girl and her dad two days before the charges were dropped.”
“Wh-What did they do?” Katie asked, in shaky voice.
“Nothing then.” said Hearst, the sardonic tone of his speech clearly audible even over 2000 miles of transatlantic cable, “But you can guess what they said:. Back off on Colin and we’ll cross your palm with silver. Don’t...and we’ll cross your heart with lead. The following night there was a small fire at the warehouse of Soraigne et Cie. Two painting valued at more than $15,000 dollars were ruined and several others badly damaged. Next morning, Claude Soraigne dropped the charges.”
“Wh-Why?” asked Katie.
Hearsts’ voice became indulgent.
“Katie...Benjamin Siegel isn’t called Bugsy because of his good looks. He sees only one solution to any problem, no matter how small...”
“No,” said Katie, speaking quickly, “That’s not what I meant, Mr. Hearst Why would a fur like Bugsy Siegel want to help Colin?”
“Oh,” came the voice from the other end, “That’s because with your father gone, Colin’s the only one who can guarantee an uninterrupted supply of the MacArran ‘product’ for export to America. Say what you like about your brother...he knows the distillery business.”
There was a brief pause, and then:
“There’s more, Katie...and you better hear it now, from me, rather than later, from somebody else.”
Katie swallowed hard and said, “Go ahead.”
What Hearst had to tell her was that Colin’s Mediterranean odyssey had been a non-stop saturnalia almost from the moment he’d made contact with his chum, Josslyn Hay...one party after another, almost never sober. and trouble with the police, everywhere he went. In Majorca, he’d gotten into a brawl with the husband of a girl he’d propositioned and was ordered off the island for his troubles. In San Tropez, he had ‘borrowed’ a speedboat and run it up on the beach in the middle of the night. In Cannes, he had wrecked his rental car, although that one might have been the other driver’s fault, Hearst admitted.
“And one more thing...that girl-mink? Turns out, she wasn’t his first.”
“You mean,” asked Katie, her head feeling as though it had been pumped full of helium, “He’s seduced other young girls?”
“Not young girls, Katie,” Hearst told her, “if by ‘young’, you mean below the age of consent. No, virgins...your brother apparently likes to deflower virgins. There’s at least two other instances that I know of, probably more...and from what I hear, he’s none too gentle.”
Katie thought she was going to faint. When she’d first learned of Colin’s arrest, she had been afraid that with her father gone, this would only be the beginning; that Colin, the spoilt libertine, had never really gone away -- he’d just gone into hibernation. The REAL Colin was still the one whom Grandpa Joe had thrown out of the house in Boulder almost ten years previously.
What Hearst had just told her went beyond her worst fears. Colin’s darker half had ALREADY returned...returned even before his father had passed. All that had been required was some distance between them.
No..that wasn’t true. Colin had behaved himself with Ian gone before. What the Hell was different this time? But now, Katie began to wonder about something else. That night when she was thirteen...had Colin wanted to do more than just ‘to have a look?’ She shuddered at the thought. Given what she knew about him now, it was more than possible.
And she felt something both cold and burning begin to stir within her.
When Colin arrived back in Strathdern, nothing was said of his arrest...not by Katie or anyone else. And although he was both friendly cordial with her, there was forced air about him that had been notably absent after their mother’s passing. And not once did Colin express even the slightest appreciation for the Herculean efforts she had made in taking care of the funeral arrangements.
When Ian MacArran was laid to rest, under a sky filled with low, scudding clouds, it was Katie who delivered the eulogy:
“Until the day he died, my father never lost his love for my mother. For as long as I knew him, he always expressed the hope that one day she would come back to him...and now, at long last, they’re together again...the way he always wanted it to be.”
It took Colin until exactly three minutes after the services were concluded for all pretense of civility to go right out the window.
“Loved our mother till the day he died, eh?” He queried, mockingly as soon as he and Katie were alone together, “And just WHERE d’ye get that idea, y’ silly goose? During the last three years of our mum’s life, da had t’least three affairs that I know of. Knowin’ him, it was likely more, and started a lot earlier than that. D’ye know we’ve got a bastard brother or sister in New Zealand somewhere? Aye, s’truth. That little episode cost da over ten thousand quid.”
If he expected this horrify or cow his sister, Colin was badly mistaken.
“So what, Colin?” she neighed, laying her ears back and putting her hooves on her hips “You know as well as I do, how lonely Dad was in his final years. I made up my mind a long time ago to forgive him if I ever heard about anything like what you just said...and this is one helluva time to let the cat out of the bag, not twenty minutes after he’s been laid to rest. Where the Hell is your sense of decency?” Her ears canted back even further, “And by the way, brother...you’re not hardly in a position to express moral outrage on the subject of illicit relationships, are you? Just how old was that Soraigne girl again?”
Colin backhoofed her across the face, snapping her head sideways, and drawing a splash of blood from the corner of her mouth. Katie spun away and began to crumple to the floor. Then, before her sibling realized what was happening, she was leaning forward into a half-crouch, with her cocked hindquarters aim directly at his face.
“You wouldn’t d...!” he started to say...and that was as far as he got.
The next day, at the reading of the will, Colin didn’t say much. Not that he didn’t care to, but it’s hard to talk with two freshly extracted teeth and cracked jaw.
In dividing up his estate, Ian had left the family estate in Strathdern to Colin, as well as the villa in Provence and all his distilleries. Katie was neither surprised, not disappointed by this. As William Randolph Hearst had pointed out to her earlier, Colin’s management of them had been nothing short of masterful.
Besides, what the Hell would SHE do with a distillery? She, who couldn’t even handle hard liquor?
Let Colin have them...that was her thought.
His money, Ian divided equally between his son and daughter...except for a portion set aside as a trust fund for his illegitimate child.
Katie got the house in Kensington, a chalet near Montreux, Switzerland, and most of her father’s other assets, which were considerable, to say the least. At the time of his death, Ian MacArran had owned a hotel in Blackpool, several pubs, an oil tanker leased to Royal Dutch Shell, a mid sized wool station in Australia and, as he had discussed with William Hearst before he died, had recently acquired a British newspaper, The Daily Observer. Except for the wool company, all of these went to his daughter.
Ian’s decision as to how to divide his considerable stock portfolio was one that could only be termed Solomonic. The British holdings went to Colin, the American stocks went to Katie. But because Ian had owned considerably more shares of British, rather than US companies, he’d made two notable exceptions.
The first was the sizable block of shares that Ian had held in two venerable British aircraft companies, Vickers and Bristol.
The second was his holdings in the R-100 project...which turned out to be a much larger percentage than Katie had ever imagined. Enough to allow her a seat on the board of directors, if she wanted it. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, Katie couldn’t help smiling at that one. Barnes Wallis...working for HER?
That was like a street-corner philosopher trying to instruct Socrates!
When the services were over, Katie’s first priority was to take stock of her new assets. It was not a job she relished, but it had to be done. She knew she would hold onto her stock in the Bristol and Vickers companies...that went without saying. And there was no question of liquidating her shares in the R-100. But the rest of it? She needed a good business advisor. Fortunately, Jim Spanaway knew of someone in Britain who could help her. His name was Eamon Mack, he was an Irish Setter, and Jim had consulted with him several times when considering a European business venture on behalf of her father.
“He’s never led me wrong, Katie.” the mountain goat assured her.
Eamon Mack turned out not to be an independent consultant, but an employee of the venerable firm of Martin & Martin Financial, founded 1840. He was somewhat younger than Katie expected, somewhere in his mid 30's, but other than that, he fit her expectations to a ‘T’. After motioning for her to take a seat, and offering her a cup of tea, he got right down to business:
“Well, I daresay, yer father was quite astute in his choice of investments, Miss MacArran.” he said, removing his monocle, and at the same time extracting a silver cigarette case from a drawer in his oversized desk, “Er, sorry will yer have smoke? No? Right, then...as I was saying, rarely have I seen such a diversity of holdings. His Grace was obviously one farsighted horse. Right now, there’s very little that I’d consider selling...especially the shares in Bristol Aircraft. As I understand it, they’re about to introduce a new pursuit plane, the Bristol Bulldog. S’posed to be the new standard in pursuit aircraft, though you’d know more about that than meself, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“That’s what I hear as well.” said Katie, “Though I really have no interest in warplanes. Doesn’t mean I object to them on principle, Mr. Mack.” she added hastily, seeing the look on his face, “I won’t sell my stocks in Bristol over the Bulldog. I’ve just never wanted to become fursonally involved in designing a warplane, so I really don’t know that much about them. For all that I’m aware, this could be the plane that ends up sending Bristol into bankruptcy.”
“Ah...I see.” said the Setter, nodding at her through his cigarette smoke. “Now, there is the matter of yer late father’s most recent acquisition, the Daily Observer...or to put it properly, his most recent creation. You see, what your father did was to purchase a small but highly respected and venerable weekly newspaper, bring in some new blood to manage it, and infuse it with enough capital so as to accomplish two things. First, as the name suggests, the Observer is now a daily publication, and second, it now enjoys a much wider circulation than before...though it’s sales still lag behind many of the other Fleet Street publications. From my experience, this sort of thing carries both a high risk and equally high potential. And to be perfectly honest, this needs the evaluation of someone a bit more well versed in the newspaper business than myself. If you wish, I shall be happy to seek the services of such an expert.”
“Thanks,” said Katie, managing a smile, “But I think I know someone who can advise me.”
“He left you The Daily Observer?” said William Randolph Hearst, when she called, “Oh, for God’s sake Katie, don’t even think about selling it. Ian couldn’t have made a better choice for editor than George Stafford. I should know...your father hired him on my recommendation. And the rest of the staff and reporters are all top notch, too. Go down to their offices and meet them, why don’t you? I promise...you WON’T want to part with The Observer if you do.”
“I think I’ll do that.” said Katie.
Hearst’s prediction turned out to be 100% correct. Katie came to Fleet Street, she saw, and she came away mightily impressed, not merely by George Stafford’s brilliance and energy, but by his sense of vision as well. A tiger by species, he described the paper’s philosophy as ‘fiscally conservative, socially liberal.’
“And where I see us going in the next few years,” he told her, “Is for us to direct the British Press’s ability to dig up facts towards more a meaningful purpose than mere gossip. Instead of reporting upon which aristocrat is sleeping with which other aristocrat’s wife...I rather see the Observer reporting upon which minister is lining his pockets at the British Public’s expense. Investigational journalism, we call it. Now obviously we cannot just start printing these kinds of stories immediately. The miscreants in His Majesty’s Government, and they are always there, will come down at once on The Observer with both feet and both paws. But, d’you know that if you put a frog into a pan of water and increase the heat very gradually, he’ll not realized he’s being cooked until it’s too late? That’s how we proposed to operate.”
At that moment, there was a knock on the door and a small ram entered, bearing a message.
“Sorry to disturb yer, Mr. Stafford,” he said, in heavy cockney accent, “But this telegram’s just arrived from Australia. Seems Bume and Rang ‘ave pranged their plane, sir. Total write off, sir.”
“Oh, blast it.” growled the big cat, in a ‘that’s-ALL-we-need!’ tone of voice. He took the cable, read it, then shook his head in disgust and crumpled it into a ball.
“What’s this all about?” asked Katie, leaning slightly forward. Someone associated with The Observer had crashed an airplane? This, she had to hear.
Stafford sighed wearily and explained.
Bume and Rang ( Boomerang ) was the pen-name of a pair of canines from down under; two itinerant reporters who went bouncing around Australia’s interior in a decrepit Bristol Tourer, chasing stories, caging fuel, getting in and out of scrapes, running the occasional mercy mission...
...and then reporting on their adventures in a weekly column for The Observer entitled, ‘Notes From The Outback’
“One of our most popular features, Miss MacArran.” said Stafford, and then sighed bitterly, “Or, should I say...it WAS.”
Katie couldn’t help but laugh. Anyone with nerve enough to tool around the Outback in a plane as prone to overheating as the Bristol Tourer sounded like HER kind of furs.
“Well, we certainly can’t afford to lose a column that popular, Mr. Stafford.” she said, and then began to tap her finger against a cheek. “Let’s see...let’s see. What would be a good aircraft for...? Oh, I know. Why don’t you send them back a cable saying there’ll be a new DeHavilland Moth Biplane on it’s way to them just as soon as I can make the shipping arrangements? Or, if they can find one for sale locally, just have them send me the bill.”
“Why, I’d be most happy to, Miss MacArran.” said a surprised George Stafford, beaming.
Having settled her affairs in London, Katie returned to Howden...but not only to resume work on the R-100. In the same outbuilding where she had assembled the Rapid Century, she began putting the Boilermaker Special back together...only this time with a hired gang, not members of the R-100 crew, though she never objected whenever one of them offered to pitch in on his off-duty hours.
One afternoon, Dr. Wallis dropped by the shed, as much to see how Katie was coping with the loss of her father as to take a look at her Dole Derby racer. In the days following Ian’s passing, no one had been more supportive of her. Even so, Katie had refused to allow him to reduce her work-load on the R-100, by even the smallest fraction. ( and now, she had the clout to make that declaration stick. )
She needed to keep busy.
“Hmmm.” said the elk, strolling around the Special while puffing slowly on his pipe, “Very clever, Katie To compensate for the loss of manoeuverability, by way of the extended wingspan, you’ve made them gull wings.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” said Katie, as much in appreciation of his genius as his words of praise. One look at the Boilermaker Special’s wing design and Barnes Wallis had immediately grasped their purpose.
“But if I may enquire,” he went on, taking another puff, “What is that you intend to DO with this aircraft, once you’ve got her ready to fly again?”
Katie blew a tuft of forelock from her eyes, and began to climb down the ladder from where she had been working.
“If I knew the answer to that question, Dr. Wallis,” she said, “you’re the first one I’d tell it to. Getting the Special ready to fly again just... It just FEELS like something I need to do right now.”
The eventual answer to Barnes Wallis’ inquiry arrived two weeks later, in the form of two unannounced visitors to Howden; Colin MacArran, 13th Duke of Strathdern and his solicitor, Nigel Smythe, Esq....the latter of which cooly informed Katie that Colin intended to contest his father’s will.
“You were not raised by Ian MacArran, nor did you know him while you were growing up.” the deer-mouse told her, assuming a suitable air of suppressed indignation, “For your entire life, you provided no help in running any of the family businesses, instead preferring to go off and play with your aeroplanes...”
Katie patiently heard him out, and then responded, not with the tearful outrage they seemed to expect, but with the sardonic insouciance that was soon to become her hallmark. “You know, Colin,” she said, addressing her brother first, “I always knew you were as a dumb as mud fencepost, but Nigel? Gotta admit, you had me fooled. I would of given you credit for at least a FEW more brains cells than to sign on to this kind of cockamamie scheme.”
And then, giving her brother a dose of her one blue eye, she told him, “I’m not just gonna beat you, Colin...I’m gonna DESTROY you.”
“Oh, you think YOU’RE going to leave me destitute?” queried Colin, regarding her with a petulant sneer, “Tell me, Catherine...just how d’you propose to do that?.”
Katie bared her teeth and said, “Who said anything about destroyin’ you financially, Colin? There’s other ways of wreckin’ someone. And many a’ them are a lot worse.”
That was when Colin finally threw the mask away, once and for all.
“You little tart!” he hissed, “You left me in France to rot...didn’t make even the slightest effort to get me out of jail. Your only question to Nigel here, so he tells me, was whether or not Da had made any changes in his will.”
His voice rose, becoming a shout.”Well now I’M going to make some changes in Father’s will!”
Katie just shook her head in disgust.
“Christmas, Colin! No wonder you like ‘em young. You’re not even outta nappies yourself.”
Colin’s eyes widened, his ears went backwards, and he took a step towards Katie.
That was a far as he got before he found himself surrounded by four burly members of the R-100 construction crew, all of them ex-Yorkshire farm workers, with arms like sumo wrestlers.
“I think yer’ve nowt more to say t’yer sister, lad.” said the leader, a Hereford bull with a body like a concrete pillbox, “So on yer way wi’ yer.”
As soon as Colin was gone, Katie did three things; she rang up George Stafford, asking him where she might find a good solicitor of her own, then she requested a meeting with George Stafford, and then she sent off a telegram to San Simeon.
But not before she finally came to the epiphany as to why she’d needed the Boilermaker Special ready to fly again.
Two weeks passed, with no court filings from Colin. That didn’t surprise Katie. If she knew her brother, he would wait for just the right moment to strike. And then there was Nigel Smythe; the distorted version that Colin had related of her exchange of words with the solicitor left little doubt in her mind that the mouse was no mere walk-on player in this melodrama. The longer the case dragged on, she knew, the more Nigel would be able to charge Colin for his services. Neither one of them would be in any hurry.
The next ten days were a flurry of activity for Katie. She conferred with her solicitors, she took the Boilermaker Special up for a couple of test flights, she delivered some instructions to George Stafford in London, and sent off an entreaty to William Hearst in San Simeon..
“Trust me, please.” the telegraph ended. Within the hour, the newspaper magnate had cabled back his reluctant acquiescence.
The next day, Katie dropped a bombshell on the front page of The Observer, announcing her intention to make the first airplane flight from London to Cape Horn, “A flight I shall dedicate to the memory of my beloved father.” she declared. Furthermore, she said, she would fly the route solo.
The reaction from the British public was predictable. Only one year after Lindbergh’s epochal flight, this was a time when trail-blazing aviators were held in the same state of adoration that would later be accorded to rock-stars. Furthermore, only two years previously, a hedgehog named Alan Cobham had created a sensation ( and got himself knighted ) by making the first flight from London to the Cape of Good Hope...2000 miles closer to London than Cape Horn, not even a solo endeavour, AND a journey that had taken 94 days to boot.
On the surface of it, what Katie was proposing was daring at best, foolhardy at it’s most likely, and suicidal at the worst. Cape Horn? Every schoolkit in the seafaring British Isles knew how dangerous Cape Horn was...and Katie would have to cross the Atlantic to get there. Was she barmy?
Barmy like a fox. Yes Cape Horn was a dangerous place, but it would constitute only a small portion of her flight...and she had no intention of descending into The Roaring Forties, where the worst of the weather lay.
And yes she would have to cross the Atlantic, but at it’s narrowest point, less than half the distance Lucky Lindy had traversed.
She would also be trying to reach a continent, not an island.
Furthermore, a quick glance at any world map, reveals that the most direct air route from London to Tierra Del Fuego, runs almost precisely parallel to the coastlines of both Africa and South America, greatly simplifying the navigational requirements needed for the flight.
And it passes almost directly over Lisbon, Casablanca, Tenerife, Dakar, Recife, Rio De Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires, all cities with large, well serviced airfields.
Not that it would be a risk-free undertaking. Far from it, and no one knew that better than Katie MacArran. Especially with such a hastily put together expedition.
And she would have to move quickly. It would be more than a little convenient for Colin if she were not to survive this flight. For that reason, she had the Boilermaker Special moved to a new and secret location even before she made the announcement of her plans.
Finally, on April 22nd, 1928, before a large crowd of well wishers Katie brought the Boilermaker Special in for a landing at Croydon Airfield, and while the plane was being refueled and given a final check by a team of mechanics, she made a brief speech, dedicated mostly to praising the memory of her father.
So far, the goddess Fortune was still on her side. The previous day the air had been filled with a combination of cold, drizzly rain and pea-soup fog...but today, the sky was clear, with only a few fluffy clouds sailing by. Perfect weather for starting an epic flight, and so Katie had drawn a large throng to her departure. Furthermore, Colin still had not yet made any formal motion to contest his father’s legacy. So as far as anyone else knew, Katie was as yet unaware of his intentions.
Her provisions for the journey were minimal at best; a small inflatable raft, a flashlight, a ‘throwaway’ Very pistol, two carboys of water, a few alfalfa cubes, two apples, and for quick energy, three Kendall Mint Cake bars. As these were depleted, she would replenish her stocks at each of her refueling stops.
With a final wave to the cheering crowd, Katie climbed into the Special, started the engine and took off, ‘southbound for death or glory,” as a reporter for Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner put it somewhat melodramatically the next day.
The first leg of the flight, London to Casablanca was wholly uneventful, though not nearly as boring as the Dole Derby had quickly become. Here, she was flying mostly over land, not open sea, and everywhere she went, she saw furs waving wildly at her plane. Passing over Spain, a country where she would one day be flying under VERY different circumstances, she saw three kits on bicycles trying to race her. When she came within sight of the Rock of Gibraltar, her heart gave an unexpected leap. Good God, no picture could begin to do it justice. No sooner had she recovered from that experience, than something even more thrilling took place. A pair of float-equipped biplanes came rising towards her from the direction The Rock and formed up on either side of the Special. Katie recognized their make and model at once. They were Fairey Seafox scout planes, and each one bore the insignia of the Fleet Air Arm.
At that instant, her radio crackled.
“Miss MacArran?” said a clipped and formal voice with a slight trace of Welsh, “Leftenant Andrew Bevall, His Majesty’s Royal Navy. If you’d permit us, Miss...the Navy should consider it a great honour if you’d allow us to escort you across the Gibraltar Strait.”
Katie was more than happy to oblige.
It was after taking off from Casablanca, that the first unexpected event of the flight occurred. The wind began to pick up from the east, carrying with it a scattering of sand. Then it began to rise even higher, pushing the Boilermaker Special further and further to the west. Clouds began to form around her, not rain, dust. And only when it was almost too late, did Katie come to the horrified realization that she was about to fly right into the teeth of a full-blown Khamsin. Turning quickly to the west, she ran for the coast, and when dust and sand finally dissipated, she found herself flying over open water. But her luck was still holding. Less than fifteen minutes after turning east, she came within sight of the North African coast and followed it south to Dakar. She was delayed by an extra day there, cleaning the sand out of her engine...and herself. Ewwww, this wasn’t like beach sand, it was as fine as talcum powder. It had gotten into her ears, her nose, her clothes, and even into an area best not discussed in mixed company. To make up for the lost time, Katie opted not continue south to Monrovia to make her Atlantic passage, but to fly directly to Natal from where she was. That gamble paid off handsomely. Thanks to a favorable wind, she arrived in Brazil almost back on schedule.
When she got to Rio, it seemed as if everyone in the city wanted to invite her to a party. Katie declined them all with genuine regret...and everyone understood. This was not a vacation outing after all. At Buenos Aires, the same thing happened, and again Katie sent her regrets. From there, she flew to Rios Gallegos, at the southern end of Argentina, pausing only to refuel before taking off again, this time into the place where, “Here there be dragons.” Almost from the minute she lifted off from the Rios airfield, she flew straight into a solid wall of wind and rain. It was as if divine providence had been laying in wait for her, giving her a relatively easy flight thus far merely to lure her into a trap, here at the ends of the earth. To both her horror and amazement, the Special’s cockpit began to fill up with water like a bathtub. She had to kick a hole in the side to let it drain...and almost lost control in the process. Then the rain turned to hail, stinging her face like a swarm of hornets. Then, the hail turned to rain again, and then the temperature was plummeting rapidly, and rain was starting to freeze. And so was the rain-soaked Katie..who didn’t dare take her hoof off the stick to reach for the thermos bottle. All she could do was try to hold course, try to grit her chattering teeth...and pray.
Then, coming at her through the cascading sheets of water, she saw a slowly blinking light...faint, but distinct. Immediately, she felt the chill vanish in a hot rush of excitement. Could it be...?
It was only when she was practically right on top of it, that she was able to confirm that yes, it was the Cabo Raper Lighthouse...and from the close by the base of the tower she could see someone flashing a semaphore lamp at her, “B-I-E-N-V-E-N-I-D-O-S C-A-T-E-R-I-N-A.” She had made it to the Horn, and her arrival had been duly noted!
Now, if she could only just make back.
She swung the Special around, over the waters of the strait and turned back north. Some time later, how much later she didn’t know, a town came into view. Katie had no idea where she was, and honestly, she didn’t give a damn. All she cared about was that airstrip...that gorgeous, wonderful airstrip. Without waiting for permission, she set the Boilermaker Special down. The last thing she remembered was trying to climb out of the cockpit...then all was dark and silent.
The authorities in Punta Arenas, Chile let Katie off with only a mild reprimand for making that unauthorized landing. The Special had touched down looking like ‘a frosted wedding cake.’ in the words of one observer. Besides, the city was only too happy to play host to the intrepid aviatrix who had just completed the first successful flight from London to El Cabo De Hornos.
Katie spent three days in Punta Arenas, resting up, enjoying the hospitality and some nourishing food, sending off cables to London and San Francisco, getting her plane back in order...and formulating a new flight plan. She would come home, she announced, by flying up the west, rather than the east coast of South America, crossing over at the Isthmus of Panama and turning south from there to Natal, thus completing the first successful circumnavigation of the South American continent.
And that was exactly how it worked out. When she arrived back at Croydon, it was in the middle of a driving rainstorm. Even so, there were even more well-wishers there to greet her than when she had departed. That was when Katie first made her famous greeting, the doffing of the flight helmet, together with the shy smile.
All of Britain went wild at her exploit. Congratulatory telegrams began to pour in, not only from all over the UK, but the United States and Australia as well. Charles Lindbergh sent her a note, so did President Coolidge and Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini. And from Buckingham Palace, came the highest accolade of all, “Arise, Dame Catherine.”
But all of that was in the immediate future. For Katie MacArran, the most important message came five minutes after she landed, in the form of a question from a reporter for The Daily Mirror.
“Any reaction to the news that your brother, Colin, Duke of Strathdern intends to contest your father’s legacy?”
Katie somehow managed to look suitably shocked.
When Colin first made the announcement, he fully expected to be raked over the coals by The Daily Observer. In fact, he was hoping for it. Instead, the paper only reported the dry facts of the story. Colin took that with a high measure of satisfaction. “They’re afraid to offend me, coz they know it’s going to be MY newspaper soon.” he boasted. Nigel Smythe wasn’t so certain. For some reason, the paper had chosen to run the story on it’s front page....under a large, excellently rendered photograph of his client.
Something about that didn’t feel right.
It felt even less right when that same photo began to appear over every story the paper printed regarding Colin’s contest of the will, no matter how trivial
Katie, meanwhile received her knighthood, and was afterwards invited to tea with the King of England. She took an immediate liking to George V. No stiff-backed aristocrat was this monarch. George was a big, bluff, Hanoverian horse, much given to backslapping bonhomie. Katie couldn’t decide whom he reminded her of more...her father or Grandpa Joe. Also invited to
tea was a ranking member of Parliament, a pugnacious bulldog named Winston Churchill. When he confided to Katie that he too was the product of a British father and an American mother, she took a liking to him as well.
Dame Catherine MacArran soon thereafter became the darling of London society, the dinner guest everyone just HAD to have on their list. In an unheard of breach of tradition, she was even invited to give a speech at the Royal Aero Club, the first and only time a female was ever admitted into their hallowed halls. The common folk were charmed by her too. One day, while flying her Waco 10 up to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival, Katie experienced some minor engine difficulties and was forced to set down on an abandoned RFC airfield not far from the little Yorkshire town of Malton. The trouble turned out to be easily fixed by tightening some bolts, but it was a warm day and by the time Katie was finished, she was both very thirsty and hungry. Hiking into the village, she spotted a pub, the Olde Grey Cat and immediately headed for it.
The first thing she noticed was a big sign saying, “Kindly Wipe Your Feet,” and that the doormat and boot brushes were both caked with mud. She smiled. This was something she knew quite well.
Yep, the first thing she noticed when she went inside was that all the male patrons were wearing Wellies, and either tweeds or overalls. They were farmers and farmhands from the local fields.
She immediately decided she liked this place. The wood may have been dark, the roof low, and the plastered walls night have crack or two, but the floor was spotless, the windows were clean, and the construction as solid as Stonehenge. Over in the corner, Katie could see a trio of farmers engaged in a lively game of darts. She felt a slight pang tug at her heart. Her father had been an excellent darts player, and had taught her the game during her first visit to Britain.
Walking up to the bar, she took a seat and rapped lightly for service. Presently, the barmaid arrived, a petite rabbit who recognized her immediately.
“Cor... I know you. You’re that Dame Katie MacArran, aren’t you?”
“Aye, that’s me.” said Katie, offering a hoof, “Howway tha’.”
“Uh...howway tha’” said the lapin astonished to be greeted in Geordie, the colloquial Yorkshire dialect, by a Duke’s daughter
“Aye, show some manners wi’ the customers, lass.” said another voice, and a second later another bunny appeared, this one a strapping buck in shirtsleeves and suspenders.
“Yer’ll ‘ave to excuse me little girl Jane, yer ladyship.” he said, “She’s only just started workin’ f’ me.”
“Oh, that’s quite all right, gaffer.” said Katie, smiling, and offering him a hoof, “Howway tha’”
“Howway, tha’” said the barkeep, less nonplused than his daughter, “What’ll it be then, yer ladyship?”
“Pint of pale and a ploughhorse lunch, please.”
“Coming right up.” said the buck rabbit, smiling.
A voice hailed her from one of the tables, one of the farmers, a Suffolk Punch horse.
“If yer don’t mind me askin’ Dame Katie, what brings yer by Malton on this fine day?
“My airplane’s got some mechanical problems,” she said, “and had to I set her down on that old airfield outside the village for repairs.”
That got an immediate reaction from everyone in the pub. In a trice, they were ALL offering to help her. There were so many voices, speaking all at once, that Katie ended up having to stand on her barstool in order to be heard.
“Hold it...wait! I’m already finished! And I’m not flying the Boilermaker Special!”
It was her last sentence that did it...although everyone was clearly disappointed that the famous plane was not nearby after all. Taking the first sip of her ale, Katie overheard one of the farmhands, a brawny sheepdog, telling another, “Just as well, isn’t it? What’d we know about fixin’ an aeroplane like that Boilermaker?”
“Oh, more than you think, boy.” said Katie, raising her glass in the canine’s direction, “It was Yorkshire farm-boys, just like you, helped me get the Boilermaker Special ready for her flight to the Horn.”
“Really?” said another farmhand, this one a lynx.
“Yep,” said Katie taking another draught, and a bite of her lunch, “ Some of the guys working on the R-100. Always pitchin’ in to help. Helped me build my King’s Cup racer too. Great bunch of fellas, all of ‘em.”
“The R-100's bein’ built by the likes o’us?” queried an astonished fox with a torn ear. It was one of the farmers, a brown bear in a crushed hat who answered him.
“Course it is, mate. I TOLD yer, me sister’s son, Tommy’s down in Howden, helping build the R-100.”
“Tommy?” said Katie, ears swivelling forward, “That wouldn’t be Tommy Lindsey would it?”
“Aye.” said the ursine looking surprised, “You know him, then?”
“Oh, Hell yeah.” Katie answered, “He was one of the boys I just told you about, helped me with the Boilermaker. Doin’ a damn fine job on the R-100 too. Got promoted to crew boss, just before I took off for the Horn.”
They had to draw straws to see who would get the honour of giving Katie a lift back to the airfield...and practically everyone in the pub insisted on tagging along.
While all this was going on, both she and her brother were forced to field endless questions from the press about each other. Their response left little doubt as to the fact that for all their differences, they were still siblings. Both of them invariably answered with nearly the exact same words, “On the advice of my legal counsel I must decline to make any comment...”
Katie took it all in stride. Colin, for his part, began to respond more and more testily to each inquiry from the fourth estate.
“Och, how I loathe these filthy newspapers.” he confided to his boon companion, Josslyn Hay, the 20th Earl of Errol.
He would soon have cause to feel a lot more than loathing. The very day he made that remark, his sister fired off a brief cablegram to San Francisco. The last line read, “Thank you again for your patience.”
It was the only line that mattered.
The very next day, the Hearst newspapers launched the kind of all-out attack on Colin MacArran’s character for which they had long been noted...beginning with a series of articles in which his Mediterranean misadventures were laid out in finite detail. Thereafter, on an almost daily basis, lurid stories began to appear about Colin’s activities in the Hearst Press. At first, he was unconcerned. “The British public doesn’t read Hearst’s muck.” he jeered.
No...but British editors did. Three days after Colin made that remark, a reprint of one of the Hearst articles appeared in The Daily Herald.
Then one appeared in The Sun.
And then the Daily Mirror joined what was rapidly becoming a feeding frenzy.
It didn’t help Colin’s case very much that he had resumed his Dionysian lifestyle almost directly the reading of his father’s will was accomplished. No sooner had his jaw healed, than he had decamped for week of revelry in Berlin, a city that in the days before Hitler, was the vice capital of Europe; so wide open that you could sue a prostitute if you caught VD from her. Even so, Colin made it a point to be more discreet in his Berlin activities than he’d been during his Riviera odyssey.
But not discreet enough to avoid the eye -- or the pen, of William Hearst’s reporters...or the pages of the British tabloids. Worst of all, he still hadn’t lost his taste for girls with intact hymens.
Only the Observer refused to join the fray...and when asked to comment, Katie would always repeat what she’d always been saying, “On advice of counsel...etc.”
The British Public ate it up...and it didn’t take long for them to decide with whom their sympathies lay in the battle over the legacy of Ian MacArran:
In this corner...Dame Catherine MacArran, Arctic explorer, aircraft designer, plucky aviatrix, and conqueror of the Horn.
In this corner...Colin MacArran, the13th Duke of Strathdern, gangster associate, debauched roue, and despoiler of young girls.
The first hint of trouble for Colin came when he paid a visit to Boodles, his London Club, and found that every time he entered a room, it quickly emptied. Then he began to notice that whenever he sent out dinner invitations, the only furs who RSVP’d were Josslyn Hay and the rest of that circle. When he attended a reception at London’s Savoy Hotel, he found that none of the femmes he approached wanted to dance with him. ( In one instance, he received a stern warning from her father, no less than the Duke of Kent, NOT to ask his daughter to dance again. )
And that was only how Colin was treated by his fellow aristocrats. From the British Public, the reaction was far worse. Barkeeps ignored him, maitre d’s were unable to find his reservations, cabdrivers splashed him with water ‘accidentally-on-purpose.’ And thanks to those pictures of him that had repeatedly appeared in The Observer, almost EVERYONE knew what he looked like. Soon, a joke began to make the rounds:
Q: “Why does the Duke of Strathdern prefer virgins?”
A: “It’s the only way he’ll ever ‘ave a girl tell ‘im he was her best.”
Then, a rumour began to spread; that Colin had got his American ‘friends’ to set an ambush for Katie in Monrovia...but the assassination had been foiled when she’d unexpectedly changed her itinerary.
And on the home front, Colin’s household staff was deserting him in droves. In one day, he received more letters of resignation than Katie received letters of support. The only fur who didn’t quit on him was Ewan Barclay, and that was because Colin had already sacked the rat for calling him a cad to his face...and in public.
Under normal circumstances, that kind of presumptuous behavior would have precluded Ewan’s ever finding employment in another British household. Instead, he was deluged with job offers – and promptly ended up in the service of Colin’s sister, ‘Dame Katie’, as the British public were fondly beginning to call her.
In a towering rage, Colin flew into the offices of Smythe and Brown, demanding that his solicitor “sue that bugger Hearst for everything he’s got!”
All Nigel Smythe could do was try to sooth Colin as best he could. When it came to character assassination, nobody knew the game better than William Randolph Hearst. He never once accused Colin of anything he couldn’t back up with signed and notarized affidavits from eyewitnesses.
That is...the few times he ever made anything that could even be CALLED an accusation. And every insult hurled at Colin was always couched in some such phrase as, “In our opinion...We believe...etc.”
Colin next called Katie, subjecting her to a withering diatribe in which he accused her of secretly orchestrating Hearst’s ‘campaign of lies’ as he put it, and vowing that she would never get away with it. Katie’s response was one of all innocence, insisting that Mr. Hearst had wanted to print those stories earlier, but that she had dissuaded him. ( This was true...it just wasn’t the WHOLE truth. ) The conversation ended with Katie posing a question to her brother.
“Tell me Colin...what do want to be when you grow up?”
Then she hung up on him and laughed her tail off. Never get away with it?
“I already have, dumbass.” she told the cradled phone, and then hurried upstairs to grab the suitcase she had packed for just this occurrence. She didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but it wouldn’t be long now. And when it did, she wanted to be as far away from Colin as possible -- and in as impeccable company as possible. The Duchess of Leicester’s invitation to a cruise along the river Shannon seemed like just the ticket right about this time.
The next morning, Colin MacArran, an avid cricketer and fine slow-bowler, prepared to lead his team in a match against another team from Chester.
Almost from the instant he strode out onto the field, the spectators began to heckle him, with most of the taunts coming from one fur in particular, a paunchy stoat in tweeds and wellies who’d obviously had a few too many.
The results were predictable. The first batsmen hit a two on the second pitch, and the second one hit a single. The next pitch went for a six, with the crowd giving Colin a standing ovation of derision...especially the inebriated stoat
“Don’t take it too ‘ard y’grace!” he called, “Oi think yer a fine bowler...but then, I’m a VIRGIN.”
Colin seemed, at first to ignore this...but then without warning, he wheeled and hurled a googly at the offending mustelid, somehow managing to miss not only him but everyone else in the packed throng.
Then he charged his tormentor.
Fortunately, Colin was stopped short of his goal by his teammates and no charges were filed. But the damage was done. The next day, the English Cricketers Association banned Colin MacArran from public play for a period of one year and fined him 500 Pounds.
He was also formally expelled from his cricket club.
“What am I going to DO?” Colin raged to his friend, Josslyn Hay, 20th Earl of Errol the next day.
“Well,” said the foxhound, swirling his brandy and looking thoughtful, “Seems t’ me that what you’ve got to do is get out of Britain for a while. Go to ground, get out of sight. The press can hardly slang you if you’re not there to slang. And you know how fickle the British Public are...they’ve got the attention span of a mayfly. With nothing new to print about you, even Hearst won’t be able to keep the story alive for very long. Go find someplace where no one will think to look for you and stay there until things blow over.”
Colin smiled and raised his own snifter, “Och, that’s an excellent idea, Josslyn...and I’ve got juist the place. The family chalet, near Montreux. It’s quiet, it’s private, and it’s also fairly isolated.”
The Earl of Errol cocked an ear. “Steady on there, laddie. Didn’t you tell me that your father left that chalet to Catherine in his will?”
Colin let out a short horse-laugh. “She may have the title Josslyn, but I’ve still got the key. I’ve stayed there several times while doin’ business for da with his Swiss bankers...and can ye think of any location where the press is less likely to look f’ me? In CATHERINE’S chalet?”
“Ah yes,” said the Earl of Errol, nodding in admiration, “The purloined letter...hiding in the most obvious place. Capital idea, old boy, simply capital.”
It might have been...except that Colin quickly became bored out of his mind in his self-imposed cloister. Within two days of his arrival, he was pleading with Josslyn to come and keep him company, and the canine was only too happy to oblige. Then another guest arrived...and another and another. Soon, the chalet was host to a nightly bacchanalia, during which the favorite game was to see who could come up with the most baroque method of verbally ravishing Katie MacArran. Then someone suggested a visit to Montreux, for the purpose of obtaining a little ‘female companionship’ and the idea was heartily endorsed by all.
That evening, the Montreux fire brigade received a call from Colin’s closest neighbor. There was an odd orange glow in the sky, up the mountain, and he thought he smelled smoke.
When the firefighters arrived, they found a chorus of mostly naked furs, both males and females, milling about in sheepish confusion. Behind them was what was left of the burning chalet.
All of them were thoroughly sloshed...but all of them had made it out in time. No one could say how it had started. Every guest whom the Montreux firefighters asked, responded with either, “I don’t know’ or ‘Why don’t you ask...?”
After taking Colin’s statement and those of the others, the Swiss authorities advised him to remain in Montreux, pending further investigation. Instead, he panicked and fled straight back to Britain... where he was greeted by a nearly apoplectic Nigel Smythe.
“Of all the stupid, imbecilic, idiotic things you could have done! D’you realize what this means, Your Grace? DO YOU?”
Without waiting for a reply, the deer-mouse pulled a copy of the latest Daily Observer from his desk, and slapped it on the desk before his client. After weeks of avoiding the subject of Colin versus Catherine, the paper had finally broken it’s silence.
“There,” said Smythe, pointing at the front page with a shaking finger, “Your sister has just announced that now SHE’S going to contest your father’s will. And she’s also going to have you charged with arson...says you had another drunken rage, and burnt down her chalet on purpose.”
Colin immediately became a sputtering engine:
“She...can’t contest...She’s...no grounds....ARSON? It...It was bluidy accident. Never make it stick!”
“Let’s take that in order, shall we?” said Nigel Smythe, addressing his client in a sarcastic singsong. “First of all, there’s this.” He removed a sheet of parchment from his desk drawer, and dropped it on top of the paper. “Letter from your father to your grandfather dated two years ago...in which he specifically states that if you embarrass him one more time, he intends to cut you out of his will.” He tapped a finger on top of it, adding. “Catherine’s solicitor, Gerald Whittlesly, assures me he’s got plenty more where this came from.”
“S-So what?” said Colin beginning to regain his balance, “You told me they can’t possibly contest my father’s legacy on those grounds.”
“No, Your Grace.” the rodent corrected him, with folded his paws on his desktop, and bitter patience in his voice. “I said that if she tried to contest your father’s will on those grounds, she couldn’t possibly win. I never said she couldn’t contest it at all.” His voice began to rise and tighten, “Which means that she and her solicitor are now completely within their rights to examine your father’s bloody will in it’s bloody entirety!”
Colin just gave him a thoroughly perplexed look. The look that Nigel Smythe gave him back was thoroughly vexed.
“Great God!” he said, throwing up his arms in the air, “Can you truly be that dense? Have you forgotten that little passage in your ‘daddy’s’ will that did not get mentioned at the reading?” He opened the desk again, this time removing an official-looking document, embossed with a notary’s seal.
“Here,” he said, flipping through the pages, “allow me to refresh your memory. Now, where is that...? Ah, here it is.”
Smythe held the document in front of himself, adjusted his pince-nez, and began to read aloud.
“In the event that my son Colin is arrested on a felonious charge within one year following my death, and is subsequently convicted of said charge, all my property, save such as I possessed prior to joining his mother in wedlock, SHALL REVERT TO MY DAUGHTER CATHERINE!”
The last six words were punctuated by the papers being slammed down so hard on the desktop, it upset an inkwell and caused it to roll onto the floor.
Being a dark chestnut in color, most of Colin’s skin was black in color...but now it began to turn as pale as chalk around the eyes and nose. “But...But it was an accident.” he stammered, sounding like a rebuked schoolkit.
“Oh really?” queried the solicitor, his voice oozing sarcasm, “Let’s see how this will look in court. Following a public spectacle in which you lost your temper and maliciously threw a cricket ball at a spectator, you went to Montreux and took up residence in a chalet belonging to your sister, a place where you’d no right to be. Then the chalet caught fire and burnt to the ground, and when the fire brigade arrived, they discovered you on the premises in a state of high intoxication. When questioned as to the possible origins of the blaze, everyone who was there developed a sudden case of amnesia...including you. And when the Swiss authorities asked you to remain in Montreux... instead you fled back to England!” He took off his spectacles and fixed his gaze on Colin. “Do those sound like the actions of an innocent to you, Your Grace? Well, do they?”
Colin started to answer, but Smythe cut him off.
“Well just in the event they do, perhaps this won’t. All during your stay in Montreux, you were heard to continually voice your hatred of Catherine...and to make numerous lewd and offensive remarks at her expense.”
The Duke of Strathdern’s eyes went wide and his ears laid back. Smythe saw this, and answered the stallion’s question before he could pose it.
“Not all your party guests were as fortunate as you in making their escape, Your Grace. One of them was arrested while passing through Geneva, and now he’s telling the Swiss Police everything he can remember in exchange for leniency. The Hearst press and Fleet Street tabloids are having field day with it. Were you aware that there’s new a rumour going round about you; that you tried to rape Catherine when she was thirteen? Good God, you’ve even got the Daily Telegraph turning against you.”
A horrified neigh escaped from Colin. The Telegraph was the most ultra-conservative of all the London tabloids, that paper that supposedly thought a titled fur could do no wrong.
“And did I mention,” said Nigel, planting his paws on the desk and leaning forward, with his eyes boring into Colin’s, “that the Swiss have already petitioned His Majesty’s Government for your immediate extradition?”
“They’ll never extradite me.” Colin snuffled, making one last stab “I’m...”
“The blackguard who’s trying to steal the rightful legacy of Dame Katie MacArran!” the rodent shouted, cutting him off, “And then burnt her chalet down because he secretly lusts after her. That’s the way your fellow peers view you now. I’ve heard from at least two furs whose word I trust that the King himself is taking your sister’s side in this. In case you’re not aware, he’s rather fond of her.”
Finally, at last, Colin’s head sagged in defeat.
“What shall I do?” he mumbled.
“What you’ll do,” said Nigel, “What we shall BOTH do is request a meeting with Dame Catherine and her solicitors. And if they agree, we shall each lay our penises on the table before her, give her a hammer, and hope she’s gentle.”
Katie was anything but gentle...at least with Colin.
“To begin with,” said her solicitor, Gerald Whittlesly, a hedgehog with the expression of a sphinx carved from dry ice. “My client demands an immediate withdrawal of your suit against her share of her father’s legacy...together with a written and signed pledge that you will never again lodge another such claim; your share of the legacy to be forfeited to her in the event you ever violate this pledge.”
Colin nodded and swallowed hard. If this was what Katie wanted for starters....
“Second....you are to pay all my fees, in their entirety, as well as those of your own solicitor.”
Katie’s brother agreed to this without hesitation. In Britain, ‘loser pays’ is standard procedure in civil court battles.
“Third...you are to completely rebuild and refurbish your sister’s chalet at Montreux...at your own expense, and to her full satisfaction.”
This was also agreed to at once.
And then Katie dropped the hammer.
“Third...within the month you are to transfer full title of your newly inherited villa in France to my client.”
“WHAT?!” shouted Colin, coming out of his seat like a jack-in-the-box.
“Oh, siddown, Your so-called Grace.” said Katie, irritably, joining in for the first time, “It’s not like you’ll ever be able to use the place. You know as well as I do that if you ever set hoof in France again, the gendarmes’ll be all over your ass so quick you’ll be lucky not to catch cold from the breeze.”
“Fourth,” said Whittlesly, continuing as if the exchange had never taken place, “You are to fully reimburse one Monsieur Claude Soraigne for the two paintings destroyed by the fire in his warehouse.”
In response to this, Colin stormed out of the room. A moment later, he reappeared, escorted by his solicitor, and looking half depressed, half homicidal.
“Fifth,” said Katie, who had saved the best for last...and for herself. “You’re going to pay MY inheritance tax, every pound, every bob, every pence.”
The next thing she said was “ You do that Colin, and it’ll be the most expensive kick you ever threw!”
Colin did not do that. He just started to weep.
“Might we have some time to think this over?” asked Nigel Smythe, unable to keep himself from favoring his client with a scornful glance.
Katie let her solicitor answer this one. Why should she have all the fun?
“Certainly,” said Gerald Whittlesly, smiling for the first time, “Take as long as you wish...just as long as we have our answer within the next five minutes.”
At exactly four minutes and 33 seconds, Colin MacArran, the 13th Duke of Strathdern, acceded to his sister, Dame Catherine MacArran’s terms. His attempt to secure her share of their father’s legacy had ended up costing him almost a third of what he had hoped to realize by his action.
In launching that bid, Colin had factored in both his sister’s strength of character and her intelligence. He’d never expected her to just fold up and quit.
But never had he imagined that she was capable of such ruthlessness. She had promised to destroy him and she had done exactly that. Done it without even flinching. Never even paused to consider that he was her own flesh and blood. The only other MacArran left and she had dispatched him with no more remorse than she would have wasted on a mosquito.
His reputation would never recover...never. Already, he’d been blackballed from Boodles Club, with much worse ostracism certain to follow from other quarters.
But as Katie departed in triumph from the legal office of Whittlesly and Sherrill, there was also something SHE had failed to comprehend about Colin: how far he would be willing to go to recoup his losses...especially now he had nothing to lose in terms of prestige.
Or how far he’d be willing to go to exact his revenge.