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-by John Urie-
A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie
On Your Marks...
Katie would later say of New Guinea, “It’s so hot, you want to take off your skin and walk around in your bones.” More than anything else, it was the island’s torrid climate that would prompt her to entitle her memoirs of the place, ‘Gold From Hell.’
The pinto mare’s first visit to Papua (New Guinea’s easternmost province) came in response to a telegram from the manager of Iso River Minerals, the New Guinea gold mine left her by her sire. The manager, a cheetah named Walter Watt was inquiring if she could see her way clear to fronting some money to purchase two gold dredges.
“Pretty much worked over surface.” the cable said, “But with proper dredges, should be able start producing more than ever.”
That, in fact, was pretty much a common theme in the New Guinea of the early 1930s. With almost all the surface gold extracted, most of the island’s prospectors and three-furson mining companies were pulling up stakes and moving on. Taking their place were large mining consortiums such as Bulolo Gold Dredging which, as the name implied was tooling up to bring in dredges that could extract the gold that lay below the surface in and around the Bulolo river. Towards that end, the company was had purchased a Junkers G-31 tri-motor, then the biggest airliner in the world, and was in the process of modifying it as a cargo-carrier . To fly and maintain the behemoth, Bulolo Gold had engaged the services of Guinea Airways, the island’s largest and most well-organized air carrier.
Now Walter Watt was proposing a similar venture for Katie’s mine.
Which was why she was insisting upon coming out herself. If there was one subject Katie MacArran knew well, it was the transport of mining equipment via aircraft. Furthermore, she didn’t entirely trust Walter Watt. The big cat had asked for an ‘advance of cash’ to purchase the dredges, this despite the fact that his employer held a stake in the largest manufacturer of gold dredges in the world.
Something about that did not feel right.
Bringing with her a pair of geologists, Katie flew from London to Cairo, and from there to Karachi, where they boarded a P & O steamer to Darwin, Australia. After a three-day wait, they managed to wangle seats on a plane to Port Moresby on the southern coast of Papua...planning to catch a flight from there aboard Guinea Airways to the northern Papua settlement of Lae, and from there to the Iso River gold-fields.
That hope quickly turned out to be a forlorn one. For some reason, every time Katie tried to book passage aboard a Guinea Airways flight, it was already full up. At first, she was willing to accept this. Then, three days later, a Guinea Airways Junkers she’d been told was booked solid only an hour before lifted off for Wau with three unoccupied passenger seats clearly visible through the windows.
Something was rotten in Port Moresby.
Later that afternoon, a brush-tailed opossum in shorts and a sleeveless bush jacket, buttonholed Katie MacArran under the lazily turning fans of her hotel’s front lobby.
“Understand you’re not havin’ much luck gettin’ a flight into Lae r’ Wau Y’Grace.” he told her in a meandering Aussie accent.
“To put it mildly.” said Katie, trying to step past him
And then stopping in her tracks when the marsupial added, “Well, there’s someone ELSE can take y’ in there, Miss. Skip by Lae and take y’ all the way to Iso if y’fancy it.”
The pinto mare turned swiftly around.
“The Battler.” said the opossum. “He’s just landed a few minutes ago.”
Katie’s ears went straight up to the ceiling.
“The Battler? Who’s he.”
“Battlin’ Ray Parer.” the opossum replied, looking at her as though she’d just misspelled C-A-T, “You’ve not heard of him?”
“No,” said Katie dryly, “I can’t say that I have.”
But perhaps she should. According to the opossum Ray Parer might not have been the most successful Bush pilot in New Guinea, certainly he wasn’t the most well-equipped, but he was definitely the gutsiest. It was said that he’d fly any plane as long as the propellor turned, and was willing to set down anywhere that there weren’t trees in the way. He also held the distinction of having flown further into New Guinea’s interior than any other pilot.
Katie, in fact, owned a tenuous connection with The Battler. Like her old companion on the Graf Zeppelin, Sir Hubert Wilkins, Ray Parer had participated in the 1920 England-to-Australia air-race, competing in a DeHavilland DH9, an aircraft in such a sorry state of repair that newspaper wags had dubbed it the De-LAPIDATED DH9.
For all that, Ray Parer and his co-pilot, a Scottish Deerhound named John McIntosh had somehow managed to not only finish the race, but had even scooped up the second place slot.
The money for the purchase of the Battler’s plane had been fronted by a Scots Whiskey baron named Peter Dawson, who that very next year would see two of his largest distilleries bought out by Katie’s sire.
When Katie MacArran heard that, she should have been determined to meet Ray Parer.
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked the opossum, “You expect a fee...is that it?” So far, EVERYONE who had approached her with an offer of help since her arrival had been willing to do so only for cash on the barrelhead.
But the Aussie marsupial just drew himself up indignantly.
“You know why they call Ray Parer The Battler, Y’ Grace?”
Katie half closed her brown eye, regarding him out the blue one.
“Tough guy?” she asked. The opossum just folded his arms.
“He is that...but that’s not how he got the name. In Australia, a Battler’s what we call a bloke whose luck always runs against ‘im, but what never gives up and always carries on with a grin, no matter how long the odds are against ‘im – and who’s always there to give ‘is mates a paw up, never mind ‘is own troubles.”
To this Katie said nothing. She was too busy looking properly contrite.
“Ray’s done me more turns than I can ever hope to pay ‘im back for.” the opossum was telling her, “But I can bloody well pass on ‘is good will to someone else whenever I get the chance. And that’s why I’m here, Y’ Grace. You want to get to Wau or Lae? He’s yer bloke.”
Ray Parer turned out to be a fellow equine. In fact, he was a Brumby, the Aussie version of a Mustang.
Dark bay in color, he shook his head at once when Katie broached the subject of booking a flight to Lae with him.
“Why bother stoppin’ off there? I can fly y’ directly to y’ mine at Iso if the ground’s not too wet.”
Katie immediately decided that she liked this stallion..and not just for his attitude. He had a rugged, handsome, chiseled face and the most winning smile she had ever seen.
He also had some information to impart.
“Reason you couldn’t get a flight on Guinea Airways is coz Bulolo Gold told ‘em not to give it to yer. And they’re the ones paying the piper, so Pard Mustar had no choice but to do what they said.”
The reason, as the Brumby spelled it out, was because of the small claim-holders in the Bulolo River gold-fields selling out to Bulolo Dredging.
“As things are right now, they’ve got the Bulolo river claims about in their pockets, and they’re planning to go after the Iso river gold-fields next....but then along comes the owner of the biggest claim in Iso, with plenty of cash in her pockets, the heir to Combs Mining Machinery, and the designer of the Combs whirlpool dredge on top of it. If you think Bulolo wants the likes of you makin’ it to Iso, y’d best think again. Miss MacArran.”
To this, Katie just said five words, “Get me to my mine.”
As it was, she was forced to leave one of the two geologists she’d brought with her in Port Moresby; Ray Parer’s DeHavilland DH9C could only accommodate two passengers -- and even then they had to strap the geologic survey gear to the outside of the plane.
Then they were up and off the runway, winging their way north and to the west, through the towering peaks of the Owen Stanley Mountains and towards the Iso river gold-fields.
Katie’s geologist, a packrat name Mickey Corcoran, spent all of the flight crossing himself and mumbling prayers with his eyes closed. Katie did not. The steep valleys and high passes of the Owen Stanleys reminded her of the Stanovoi range in eastern Siberia. Good God, had it really been only a year since she’d made that crossing on the Graf Zeppelin? It seemed like ancient history now.
Despite Mickey Corcoran’s constant entreaties to the Almighty, by New Guinea standards at least, it was a fairly routine flight. The weather was clear, and Ray Parer able to hold course merely by following the Kokoda track, the miner’s trail that bisected Papua. Occasionally, the Brumby would wave a hoof and point out this or that landmark to Katie. At one point, they came upon a log staircase ascending one side of a steep ridge. These, said Parer, were known as The Golden Stairs, drawing a short horse-laugh from Katie who knew well from her grandfather the ironic humor of prospectors everywhere. Later, they passed over a steep gorge traversed by a bridge constructed of wire-ropes.
“What’s that called?” asked Katie, pointing...and in a perfect, poker deadpan The Battler replied, “The Wairopi Bridge.”
It took several seconds for the horrible pun to sink in, and then Katie groaned loud enough to be heard over the engine. Battling Parer just shrugged and said, “Don’t look a’ ME, Y’ Grace. I’M not the one who named ‘er.”
When they reached the high plateau of Ioribawa, Ray Parer broke away from the Kokoda track and turned northwest, following the course of a meandering river to a sharp fork, then left over a pair of ridges to another river.
“That’s the Iso River below us.” the Brumby, indicating downward with a thumb. “The gold-fields are about another ‘arf hours flying time from here.
“THAT’S a river?” asked Katie. She’d seen creeks in Colorado that were bigger that this.
“She runs mostly underground for the next few kilometers or so.” said Parer, “then later, where the Morgan joins ‘er, that’s where she really broadens out.”
The Iso gold fields were located in a jungle-covered valley that appeared to be much narrower than it actually was, owing to the sheer, vertical cliffs that rose on all sides. At the far end of the gorge was a distinctive spire of rock, squat at the base and tapering upwards to a height of perhaps 200 feet.
“That called clarinet rock.” said Parer, “See how she look like a clarinet that’s been stood on end? It’s what marks the far boundary of your claim here.”
This was not good news to Katie. The cluster of huts and sheds gathered near the base of the tower all looked as if they had just suffered through an artillery bombardment. There were holes in every roof and sections missing from every wall. Half the stilts of one hut had collapsed and it was slewed sideways at an awkward angle, as if trying to doze off.
When she got on the ground, Katie MacArran was going to be having some VERY serious words with her mine manager.
First, however she had to get on the ground. And there seemed to be no place to land a plane here. When she said as much to Ray Parer, he just laughed and pointed.
“Cor, Y Grace. I thought you was a flier y’self. Don’t you see that patch o’ nice level ground down there?”
Katie felt the blood drain away from her ears. That patch of nice level ground was about the size of a tennis court...and it ended at a five foot bluff overlooking a particularly swift section of the Iso river.
Her confidence did not improve when the Brumby pulled out a bottle of BEER .
But then instead of opening it, Battling Parer dropped it over the side of the DeHavilland, watching it fall to the earth below and shatter on impact.
“Good,” He said cheerfully, “Ground’s hard enough today so’s we can land.”
Katie MacArran was no stranger to dicey landings. But she had never gone through one quite as harrowing as this. When the DeHavilland’s wheels touched the ground, and began to roll towards the edge of the so-called runway, Mickey Corcoran wasn’t the only one praying. The plane would never stop in time. They were going into the river. That was when Katie discovered that for all her experiences as an aviatrix, there were still a few tricks for her to learn...such as the maneuver known as the ground loop. Perhaps five yards away from the lip of the runway, Ray gunned the engine slightly and pulled left on the stick. The DH9 immediately slewed sideways, and came to a stop at a right angle not three feet away from the edge. Katie was shaking as the Brumby helped her down from passenger compartment...and it wasn’t entirely from fear.
Goddam, but this bastard could FLY!
Almost as soon as they hit the ground, a pair of Papuan natives were the were there, tree kangaroos in torn khaki shorts who immediately pegged a pair of chocks under each wheel.. Within moments, a crowd of prospectors had begun to gather around Parer’s plane, all of whom addressed him by his nickname, Battler.
It quickly became obvious to Katie that it was an alias that was more than well deserved. Not a single miner spoke to the Brumby in a tone that wasn’t respectful, and when he told the miners who Katie was and explained the purpose of her visit, everyone instantly offered to help unload Mickey Corcoran’s instruments. At first, the geologist was worried they might damage his gear, but his worries turned out to be wholly unfounded. Years of working in a place where replacement parts for EVERYTHING were unavailable had taught the miners of Iso to treat every piece of machinery with the utmost care and respect.
And then her sharp ears caught one of the miners, someone with a Mexican accent of all things, asking Ray if he might have room for another piece of gear on the return trip.
“My Combs Whirlpool dredge is broke and I gotta send it to Moresby to get it fixed. Can you help me out. Battler? I’m kinda strapped right now, not bein’ able to work my claim and all, but...”
The Brumby was just promising to help, when Katie interrupted
“Hold on,” she called over the top of the crowd, and was immediately met by a phalanx of vexed looks. It didn’t bother her. They probably thought she was going to countermand Ray Parer’s promise.
“Lemme see what I can do with it first.” she said. This was met with a ripple of harsh laughter, and a caustic inquiry from the still-unseen Mexican.
“You know how to fix a Combs Whirlpool, Senorita Duchessa?” he asked.
Katie put her hooves on her hips, “I INVENTED it, amigo. That good enough for you?”
The crowd began to undulate as someone pushed their way to the front. He turned out to be shorty, wiry, fiftyish coatimundi, wearing huarachis, a wilted Panama hat -- and very skeptical expression.
Until he saw her.
“Madre de Dios!” he said, jaw dropping almost to the ground, “Christ, I heard that one of his daughters married a Duke, but I always though that was just... Shit, you’re Calico Joe’s grandkid, ain’t you?”
Katie hurriedly searched the mental catalogue of the stories her grandfather had told her as filly.
“That’s right.” she said, “And you’d be Drigo Chavez, worked with him on that dig in Montana and then a whole bunch more afterwards...am I right?”
“Si, that’s me.” said the coati, all smiles now and not a little abashed. “An’ lissen, I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“Forget it.” said Katie, waving a dismissive hoof, “I know the kind of bullshitters that show up around gold strikes. Now, let’s have a look at that dredge.”
The good news was that Drigo’s gold-dredge was easily repaired. The bad news was that it would be only a temporary repair at best.
“I hate like Hell the idea of you having your claim down while you wait for the repairs to get done.” Katie told the coati, when she had finished, “So I’ll have a replacement dredge sent up as soon as I get back to Moresby.”
Drigo Chavez looked slightly embarrassed and slightly insulted. “Look, I don’t need no charity...”
He was cut off by Katie’s angry snort.
“Charity, Shmarity!” she said, giving him a dose of her one blue eye, “That dredge is only nine months old. It should NEVER have quit on you like that....and I invented it, so that makes it my responsibility. If there’s one thing I learned from Grandpa Joe, it’s that when you put piece of mining gear on the market, you stand behind it...all the way, okay?”
“Okay,” said Chavez, appearing no longer insulted, but much more embarrassed. Meanwhile, the rest of the miners, who had gathered around the shed where Katie had been working began to murmur and nod at each other. Katie decided to take advantage of the situation.
“Any of you boys Walter Watt?” she asked. This was met by a ripple of derisive chuckles.
“Wally WHAT?” said a wallaby, deliberately speaking the last name loudly, so that she would know he hadn’t mispronounced it by mistake.”Yer’ll find him up at the Iso mine’s big house, if yer can call that thing a house, but what d’yer want with him, then?”
Katie suddenly realized that while Parer had told them she was the Duchess of Strathdern and explained her reason for being there, he had never told them she owned Iso River Minerals. When Katie corrected this oversight, the effect was as if she had opened a Fibber McGee closet. In a flash, it seemed like every miner in the camp was trying to sell her their claim...except for Drigo Chavez, who managed to restore order by an effective if unorthodox means.
He fired a gun into the air.
“Lissen yiffers,” he said, re-holstering the weapon “that’s not what the lady’s here for...least not yet, okay? Let her go talk to Wally first, huh?”
When Katie marched off in the direction of the Iso River Mine, Drigo promptly fell in step beside her. That was when she noticed the gun still tucked in his belt.
“Think we’ll need that?” she asked.
The coati shrugged. “I hope not, but you never can tell with that yiffer, Wally. The guy goes through yiffin’ moods, depending on how much he’s had to drink. A few shots a’ rum an’ he wants to be everyone’s best friend. A few more, an’ he wants to kill the whole Goddam world. And if he’s got a yiffin’ hangover...”
“Hit the bushes?” asked Katie, remembering her brother. To her surprise, Drigo grinned and shook his head wryly.
“Naw...that’s what I hope we’re gonna find. When Wally’s got a hangover, he’s as meek as a yiffin’ newborn lamb. He’ll give you anything you want if you promise to go away an’ leave him in peace.”
Katie laughed and told Drigo the story of her manager’s request for money to buy gold-dredges. The coati quickly stopped and took her by the arm.
“Whoa...I hope you didn’t give it to him.”
“When I can get gold dredges myself for a whole lot less than he can?” said Katie, “Not hardly, Drigo; don’t forget who I am. And that’s part of the reason I’m here. That whole thing sounded really fishy to me.”
“It should,” said the coati, jerking a thumb over his shoulder, “Coz NOBODY’S gonna bring any yiffin’ dredges up the Iso valley. You saw how close The Battler came to goin’ off the edge a’ that runway...an’ that was with dry ground, a small plane, an’ the BATTLER at the stick. No way you’re gonna get a yiffin’ Junkers plane like Bulolo Dredging’s got up here..an’ that’s the only thing that can carry a big enough dredge to work this place.”
Katie’s ears went back and forth.
“Then why the yiff did they go out of their way to keep me outta here?” she asked, and then related what Ray Parer had told her before they’d left Port Moresby. The coati blinked and let out a low whistle.
“Cacafuego, I got no idea on that one...but if that’s what The Battler says is goin’ on, it’s what’s goin’ on.”
Katie pursed her lips, “Well never mind about that for now, Drigo. What’s more important is that you just confirmed what I was afraid of. If I’d sent him that money, Walter would have pocketed it, am I right?”
“No,” said Drigo, angling his head in the direction of Clarinet rock and buildings clustered around it’s base. “more like he woulda DRUNK it. But it’s the same thing, far your concerned. None a’ your money woulda been spent on what it was supposed to buy.” Something seemed to occur to the coatimundi at that moment. Shrugging off his pack, he opened it and removed an oilcoth, which he unwrapped to reveal second, short-barreled revolver. “You know how to shoot?” he asked, offering it to Katie.
“No,” said the pinto mare, and then held out a hoof, regardless. “But Walter won’t know that, so give it to me anyway.”
Drigo showed her where the safety was, and told her, “Don’t aim the yiffer unless I aim mine. And if then I shoot, you shoot. Can you do that?”
“I can,” said Katie, not certain at all that she could.
They were met at the gate of Iso Minerals by a burly carabao with a double-barreled shotgun.
“Aw shit.” Drigo groaned under his breath when he saw who it was. “It would have to be THAT asshole.”
Before Katie could ask the coati what he meant by that she found out for herself.
“Just ‘old it RIGHT there, Drigo,” he said, unslinging his weapon and waving it menacingly back and forth. “Wally’s in a meeting right now...so you can just take that lit’l tart o’ yours, an’ turn round an’ get steppin’.”
He punctuated his final words by curling his upper lip against his nose and exposing his gums. Katie’s own nose wrinkled and her ears went back. She recognized what this meant. It was a private message -- from one hoofed species to another.
When a hoofed male curls the upper lip into the nose like that, it’s a display is known as a flehmen.
It is the way in which ungulates test the scent of a female to determine whether or not she’s in heat.
And also an advertisement of sexual arousal.
“He can finish his meeting after I’M finished,” said Katie. She would deal with this lecher when she was done with Walter.
“‘Scuse me...what’d I just say?” answered the bovine, stroking the butt of his shotgun as though it were a certain, intimate part of his anatomy, “Get the Hell out of here, Sheila...before I decide to run you off the hard way.”
“I need to get in there and talk to Walter....” she started to tell him.
The carabao responded to this by cutting her off with a coarse suggestion that she was more than welcome to come inside...after she let HIM make an entrance of his own. That did it, as far as Drigo Chavez was concerned. He might not know what a flehmen meant, but the buf’s words were unmistakable to any species. In an instant, his gun was out of it’s holster and leveled at the carabao. So was Katie’s.
But not before she was looking down both barrels of the shotgun.
Christmas...she’d barely arrived and it was already starting. She bit her lip, forcing herself not to show any fear
“I own this mine.” she told the carabao, not even flinching. He responded by drawing back the hammers of his weapon.
“She does, Dan.” said Drigo Chavez, also keeping the buf leveled in his sights. “An’ she’s Calico Joe Combs granddaughter. You pull that trigger, dumbyiff, an’ you’ll get strung up just like JoJo did for shootin’ Tommy Strings.”
“You pull that trigger an’ you ain’t even gonna last THAT long, mate.” said an irate voice behind Katie. She looked over a shoulder and saw Ray Parer standing there, also aiming a pistol at the carabao.
Now outnumbered three barrels to two, the buf’s attitude immediately morphed into full submission. Lowering his weapon and his eyes, he mumbled something that might have been an apology. Katie promptly holstered her pistol, but said to the others, “Mind keeping those guns on this guy fer a second?”
“Now, just a yiffing minute!” the carabao protested, suddenly all innocence, “I lowered my...”
That was as far as he got before Katie came through the gate and whisked the shotgun out of his hooves.
“Now, hold on,” the bovine tried to tell her, “I was only doing my...”
It was then that the butt end of his shotgun slammed into his groin.
“That’s for making lewd suggestions to me.” said Katie, watching him fold him in half like a lawn chair. She butt-stroked him again, this time upside his tee-shaped head. The carabao dropped forward onto all fours. Ray and Drigo winced.
“That’s for pointing a gun at me.” she said, then walloped him in the ribs, making a sound like cracking plaster. The carabao cried out in pain and fell forward on his face, breathing like a bellows with a hole in the side.
“And THAT was for no apparent reason...and you’re fired. If I see you again when I come back out the gate, it’ll be the other end of this shotgun that gets used on you. Matter of fact, it’d be best if you’re not anywhere around this valley by the time I’m done up with Walter.”
Still cradling the shotgun, she turned and walked away with Drigo and the Battler on either side.
She did not look back, even once.
The only words spoken on the way up to the big hut was an observation made by Drigo Chavez to Ray Parer. “She’s Calico Joe’s get all right.”
Halfway there, Katie changed her mind...opting to first inspect the outbuildings and talk with some of the mine workers.
Amongst the things she found were:
Privys that looked ( and smelled ) as if they hadn’t been emptied in months.
A dispensary almost as dirty as the outhouses...with an empty medicine chest, except for bottles of quinine tablets six months past their expiration date. And one empty brandy bottle.
A cookhouse run by slovenly pair of orangutans -- equipped with exactly one utensil, a can-opener.
Mining implements scattered about like so many jackstraws, all of them rusty and many with broken handles..
Every piece of machinery either broken down or on the verge of breakdown.
And most of the miners just lolling around, doing nothing...those that weren’t in the throes of malarial chills.
It was this final discovery that locked Katies ears into a permanent backwards position. With Ray and Drigo following close behind, she marched angrily off in the direction of the big hut.
They found Walter Watt seated behind a big desk, leaning back with his eyes closed and a blissful expression on is face. The smell of rum on his breath was so strong, Katie could detect it from the doorway. At first she thought he was unconscious...except the big cat was purring contentedly, and the one paw he held below the desktop appeared to be moving.
This was soon explained by the young deer-buck whose head suddenly popped up from under the desk with blinking eyes and a curious expression.
Walter Watt’s eyes opened too...slits at first, then wide, furious orbs, rimmed with red.
“Oi!” he snarled grabbing for a desk drawer, “Just who the bloody yiff d’you...?”
Katie answered by leveling the shotgun at the wall to the right of the cheetah’s head, and...
The round loosed a scene that would have made Mack Sennett cry for joy. The nearly naked young buck screamed and fled out the door, almost knocking over Ray Parer in the process. Katie, who had never fired a weapon before in her life, was propelled backwards into Drigo Chavez, who tumbled over in a perfect somersault. Had Walter Watt been anything more than a drunken poltroon, he could have easily had all three of them covered with the gun he’d just taken out of his desk.
But he WAS a sniveling rummy, and so before he could raise the weapon, Katie had regained her footing and was thrusting the shotgun underneath the desktop.
“Lose that gun or lose your balls....your choice, asshole.”
The pistol clattered to the floor of the hut. Katie could see other miners gathering at the windows now, attracted by the sound of the shotgun blast. None of them appeared to be armed, but who knew?
“Wh-Who are you?” asked Walter shaking as badly as Grandpa Joe had when she’d last seen him. Christmas, what would he think if he saw her now?
“Me?” she said, speaking loudly enough so the crowd of onlookers could hear, “I’m Katie MacArran...your FORMER boss, yiff-face. Yeah, you heard me...FORMER. Coz you’re fired, you Goddam, butt-yiffing, pissant fraud!”
The cheetah tried to raise his paws in protest. “Fraud? No..I-I never tried to...”
“Shut the yiff up and keep those yiffing paws where they’re at!” shrilled Katie, and then pulled the shotgun out from under the desk, pointing it right between the cheetah’s eyes. With every subsequent word she spoke. her voice became that much more high and angry, “You think you can run MY Goddam mine into the ground? And THEN try to con me outta 20 grand for gold dredges? And GET THE YIFF AWAY WITH IT!?!”
“Put your paws top of your head and get up!” she said, in a bark that would have been more appropriate to a canine than an equine species.
“I, uh...think you oughta do what the lady says.” said Drigo, a nasty grin creasing his muzzle, “Coz if you don’t, me an’ The Battler here gonna swear you went for your gun again an’ she had no choice.”
Walter Watt got up from behind his desk for the last time. “C-Can I at least do up me zip?” he begged.
“Not like you got anything to hide, is it mate?” observed the caustic neigh of Ray Parer.
With that, Walter ‘What’ Watt was unceremoniously paraded to the front gate of Iso River Minerals company, where a large group of miners working the other claims in the valley were gathered. ( They had also heard the report of Katie’s shotgun. ) The second Wally Watt passed between the gate-posts, he was sent sprawling by a hoof planted firmly in his backside, courtesy of his former employer.
“Get out of Iso.” she growled, “Get out of New Guinea. If I ever see you on my property again, I’ll blow your head off so yiffing fast you’ll catch cold from the breeze before you die.”
The cheetah scrambled to his feet and went flying down the track with the velocity for which his species had long been noted -- while the throng of miners all laughed and whooped and applauded.
Later, back at Drigo Chavez’s hut, she confessed to both him and Ray Parer in a quavering voice.
“I...I can’t believe I DID that.”
“Well, maybe not Y’Grace,” said The Battler, offering her a cup of brandied water, “But it was bloody well the proper thing to do.” He shook his head, snuffling in disgust. “Gettin’ guns pulled on you -- twice, and at your OWN bloody mine. Ain’t a bloke here in Iso won’t recognize that you were well within your rights.”
“Si,” said Drigo, “An’ I’ll tell you something else, senorita Duchessa...that’s exactly what your grandfather woulda done. “He tapped a finger against his muzzle, “Say...uh, is Joe still around? How is he?”
Katie leaned her arms on a chair-back and sadly lowered her head -- and told him about her grandfather’s condition in a cracking voice. When she had finished, Drigo’s eyes were brimming and his mouth was a squirming line.
“That’s no way for a guy like Calico Joe to go!” he cried, slamming a fist into a wall, “NO yiffing way!” He spread his arms looking upwards as though the roof of his hut had just turned transparent “Goddam you, God! YIFF you!”
Just then, Mickey Corcoran appeared at the door of the hut. Christmas, with everything else that had happened, Katie had all but forgotten about the geologist.
“Word with you?” he asked, indicating by the nod of his head that he intended for this to be private conversation.
He led her outside, to a small sandbar beside the river.
“Make it quick.” Katie told the packrat. It was well past noon now, and half the valley was steeped in shadow. She didn’t need Ray Parer to tell her that they’d soon need to be off.
Mickey glanced around furtively, then started to lean close. Katie instantly feigned a sneeze, causing him to jerk backwards with a start.
“Don’t.” She said, gesturing as though asking for a handkerchief. “They’re watching us. Stand back casual like and fold your arms...and shrug and scratch your ears a few times while you talk.”
The rodent did as he was instructed.
“Miss MacArran, I’d need a lot more tests to be sure...but these guys have no idea what they’re sitting on. If you somehow COULD get a big gold dredge in here, this place would start producing like there’s no tomorrow.”
Katie forced her ears not to lock forward.
“Oh, ho!” she said, “Bet you THAT’S why the Bulolo Gold Company was trying so hard to keep us out of here.”
“No bet.” said Corcoran, grinning for the first time since their arrival, and then he brushed at an ear and nodded across the river, in the direction of the far slope of the gorge. “But that’s not all, Miss MacArran. The Bulolo boys probably never looked at that wall, coz the only way to work it would be with hydraulic extractors...and there’s no way you could fit one of the big compressors needed to run a hydraulic extractor on board of ANY cargo airplane...even you could land one in this...”
“Just get to the point, please.” Katie told him, trying not to look as annoyed as she felt.
In spite of her instructions, the packrat glanced around furtively before answering.
“Miss MacArran...I’d need to go examine that wall close up...but if I’m right, you take away twenty, even ten feet of it, and you’ll find some of the richest gold-bearing strata on the planet.”
Katie bit her lip to hide her excitement, then nodded slowly and easily. “How much more time would you need to make certain?”
“Two days.” said the rodent, “Three would be better.”
“All right.” she replied, “Then somehow, we need to find a way of staying on without it looking suspicious. So, let’s go talk to the Battler.”
“You’re going to bring him in on it?” asked the packrat, mildly horrified.
“Yes,” she said, “And Drigo Chavez too...though not yet.”
“Hell, you don’t need a bloody excuse for stayin’ on a bit longer.” the Brumby told her, when she related Mickey’s findings and explained her dilemma “Now you’ve given Wally What the boot, you’d be a fool to leave before you’ve hired someone ‘ere to keep an eye on y’ mine ‘till y’ can bring in a full time bloke.” But then, without warning, his gaze jumped sideways, boring into Mickey Corcoran’s eyes with a drill-like intensity.
“Only one thing, mate. I’ll not do along wi’ anything like this, less you tell me that there’s no way the blokes what have worked this valley for years can bring out that gold on their own...assumin’ she’s there of course.”
“Hell, I have no idea how WE could bring it out!” the packrat protested, lifting his paws helplessly.
“Okay, that’s good enough for me,” said Parer, “But y’ should know it’ll be longer than three days before I can get back here. Week at the earliest, and then only if it’s dry enough to land.”
“We’ll manage.” Katie told him.
Junkers G 31
Junkers W 34