home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
-by John Urie-
A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie
On Your Marks...
Katie did not, of course, relate to the McCraddens the details of what happened with Ray Parer that night. The tale stopped just before she invited him to her hotel.
But she couldn’t help thinking about it, or the nights that had followed...or him. The last time she had seen the Brumby was in Darwin, 1934 -- when she’d competed in the second London-to-Australia air-race, the MacRobertson Cup.
She could still remember the look on his face when he’d seen her and Roscoe Turner together.
A canine rumbling on her left brought her quickly back to the present. Damn, she hadn’t even gotten to the part about how she’d acquired The Republic, and she’d already talked for much longer than she’d planned.
“‘Scuse me again, Y’Grace,” said Drake Hackett, clearing his throat once again, “But we’d really best be on our way. The reporters’ll be gettin’ a bit impatient about now...an’ impatient reporters do tend to ask harder questions than one’s who ‘aven’t been kept waiting overlong.”
Katie turned and stared at the Heeler with her ears pulled back.
“What? Since when did I authorize you to set up a press briefing when I haven’t even gotten settled.”
“Since the day you hired me,” said Drake, intimidated not in the slightest by the pinto mare, “When you gave me this job, y’ promised I could have free rein to deal wi’ the press in any way I see fit...an’ this is how I see fit. Talkin’ to the reporters right after yer arrival’ll keep ‘em from pesterin’ yer WHILE y’ tryin’ to settle in.”
Katie bit back the rest of her words. Drake was right, and she knew it. But still...
“You could have at least given me some warning,” she said, immediately wishing she hadn’t. Christmas, she sounded just like a little filly who didn’t WANT to go to bed..
The Queensland Heeler just shrugged, laconically, “Don’t think I’d not have liked to...but you arrived a bit early remember?”
“Err...’Scuse me, Yer Grace.” another voice interrupted, cautiously...this one with a gravelly brogue. It was Malcome McCradden, “But if ye’ll na’ be need meself and the lads....”
“Oh yes, certainly Mr. McCradden,” said Katie to the elder otter, “Just two more things real quick. Can you have my other plane prepped and ready for an early flight tomorrow morning? My boys are gonna be pretty tired when they get here and I’d just as soon let ‘em sleep in.”
“Nae...” said Malcolme, “that should na’ be a problem.”
“Good,” said Katie, “and the other thing is, since you boys and my crew are going to be working together, I’d like for us all to get to know each other a little. You know a good pub on any of the islands here? Place where we can share a few pints tomorrow evening and maybe have a bite together?”
Predictably, it was Paddy who answered her query, “Know just the spot, Yer Grace,” he said, “Great place, it is...an’ wi’ a bit o’ luck, Shannon Pot’ll be playin’...best bloody Celtic band this side o’ Galway.” This last comment earned Padraig a light cuff on the ear from his father
“Watch yer language ‘round the Duchess, laddie.” he said.
Katie horse-laughed and said, “Don’t worry about that, Mister McCradden. If I had a nickel for every time my father, God rest his soul, said ‘bluidy’, I wouldn’t have NEEDED to go to New Guinea.”
Everyone enjoyed a short guffaw, and with that, the McCraddens, Maka-ti, and Paoluu-ti took their leave.
When they were gone, Katie turned to Shang Li-Sung.
“Listen,” she told the red panda, waving a hoof at Chu Fo And Chu Lee, the two monkeys who would be left behind as sentries, “It’s still pretty warm in here, so what about seeing to it these boys have something cool to drink while they’re keeping an eye on things? Maybe send over a few iced bottles of that Nootnops Blue stuff.”
Shang sucked at the corner of his mouth and then replied as straight faced as possible, “I would, errrr....suggest you make that Nootnops RED, Miss MacArran. A few bottles of Nootnops Blue, and someone could walk away with the entire hangar -- and the Chu brothers would only make comments to each other about what an interesting sight it made.”
He then went on to explain about the ‘active ingredient’ in Nootnops Blue, again keeping a perfectly straight face. Such, however, was not the case with Drake Hackett, who promptly doubled over in a fit of guffaws at the mental image of two stoned monkeys watching an entire building being carted away, with hardly second look.
Katie also found the revelation about Nootnops Blue amusing, though on a much more self-conscious level.
“Whoa...and I do mean WHOA, glad you told me that before I tried any of that stuff, Shang. You know what that Cannabis plant does to us equines, don’t you?”
At this, Drake Hackett became instantly somber, “Cor...too bloody right, I forgot about that Y’Grace.”
“Well, I DON’T know what Cannabis does to horses,” said Shang, rolling a paw in the air, “so perhaps you could explain?”
It was Katie who told him.
“Give an equine a some Cannabis, Shang and he’ll go out for a morning walk and end up running twelve miles, without even realizing what he’s doing. No one knows why it affects us like that but it does.”
Shang started to snigger, but the expression one both Katie and Drake’s faces quickly forestalled him.
“It’s not funny, mate...not really.” said the Heeler, “I remember one o’ the blokes competing for Hungary in the ‘36 Olympic marathon...Angoston Delanthy. Kizberer horse, he was. Anyway, he got the bright idea of takin’ a few whiffs o’ cannabis before the race started to give himself an edge over the other competitors.” He looked at the ground, grimaced and looked up again.
“Well, he got that edge all right. Took off at the starting gun like a cheetah with ‘is tail on fire and was way ahead of everyone...till he came up on mile number five. That’s where he keeled over, dead as the Gibber Desert. Poor bugger went down so fast, you’d ‘ave sworn someone shot him. Autopsy showed his heart had literally burst open.”
“Dew Neh Lo Moh.” breathed Shang, his mouth falling open in a mixture of awe and horror
“We had the same thing happen at the Agua Azul mine in Venezuela,” said Katie, “Though I didn’t see it happen...but Drigo did. There was this criollo horse, Juan Carpenteria. He was the just about most productive worker we had in Agua Azul...and Drigo could never figure out how he did it. He knew Juan liked to smoke Cannabis, but so did a lot of the other guys, so he just never made the connection. What Drigo didn’t think about was, Juan was the only HORSE workin’ there who liked that stuff. Then one day he was walking back to his shack after work and dropped dead of a heart attack right while he was just opening his door. That was when someone finally told Drigo how Cannabis affects us equines, and Drigo later told me.”
She smiled and her eyes gleamed for just a second.
“And, in case you’re wondering, no...I never DID try it myself.”
Leaving Shang to see to the needs of the pair of primates, Katie went with Drake out the hangar gate. Low, flat clouds were beginning to scud across the sky now, cooling the temperature and bringing the promise of rain before noon. Neither Katie nor Drake were surprised by this. At this time of the year in New Guinea, you could practically set your watch by the start of the afternoon showers.
“The staff’s all in at the Blue Pearl Cottage,” Drake told her as he closed the gate to the hangar and locked. “Y’ clothes are hung and the larders all stocked. Everything’s ready f’ your arrival. Suite’s all set at Shepherd’s for when the crew gets here too.”
The first thing Katie had done upon getting clearance to fly the Little Engine in the Schneider had been to have Drake reserve lodgings for her and her crew. It was no mean task, given that most Spontoon hotels were booked solid for race week two years in advance. As always, however Drake’s canine instincts had served him well; he had managed to dig up a recently vacated suite of rooms for Zeke and the race-crew at Shepherd’s, one of South Islands better establishments, and for Katie herself, he had managed to secure the use of a summer house called the Blue Pearl Cottage, whose current lessee would not be attending the Schneider Cup this year -- or any other race in the immediate future. ( This, owing to a forced vacation on another island, McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, for his involvement in running a fraudulent bearer-bond scheme. )
“Cor, wait’ll you see the place.” the Heeler was assuring her, “Yer’ll love it. It’s like a real-life storybook cottage. Not that big, but it don’t feel cramped at all. Nice an’ clean an’ airy, and y’get a wonderful view of the lagoon an’ the Main Island, right out y’ front door. An’ there’s plenty of hot water, too.”
“Is the radio all set up?” Katie asked, as the pair of them began to stroll easily down the road.
“All set, and sounds great.” said Drake. Wherever she went these days, Katie always liked to have a radio nearby. It was her touchstone, her anchor...the place where she could always go when she needed a familiar voice. She had heard you could catch re-broadcasts of the most popular American programs here, as well as the BBC world service As a matter fact, Jack Benny and his crew were supposed to be doing a live broadcast of his show from over on Casino Island sometime next week
A gecko lizard skittered across the macadam and vanished into a space between two rocks. On either side of the wide, slightly meandering road were low, squat buildings in stucco the color of pancake batter. Around each one sprouted a profusion of native plants, mostly wild, but all of them kept well trimmed. To Katie, it all but typified the Polynesian culture; do it right, but don’t do anything more than you absolutely need to.
“So where do you have this press briefing set up?” she was asking.
“Outside the gate, in this banana warehouse near the docks.”
“Why there?” asked Katie, not disapproving, but merely curious. Drake respond to this with his own version of the one blue eye.
“Coz when the Althing says no press ‘round the race hangars, they MEAN no bloody press round the race hangars. You can’t even INVITE one of ‘em in here, not unless y’ get permission to do it from every other competitor. Stems from an incident they had two years ago where this bloke supposedly came in to talk to the British Team’s crew chief...and then on his way out, went in an started pesterin’ the Italian mechanics for some inside word on their new plane. The Eyeties lodged an official protest with SIRA, and ever since then the only way a reporter’s allowed through that outside gate’s with the permission of each and every team. Needless to say, it’s never been granted.”
“I can imagine,” said Katie, chuckling.
“As for the banana warehouse,” Drake went on, “it’s mostly empty right now. Exporters was trying to get as much of their product onto the ships as they could before race week started. Speed week always plays hob with the cargo ships’ schedules, coz of all the liners comin’ in. It’s also cool in there. Bananas don’t take kindly to excessive heat, y’know.”
“Right.” said Katie. She picked up a pebble and tossed it into the water. “So, give me the details, Drake. How many reporters are we talking about? Who’s friendly and, who should I watch out for?”
Drake was starting to answer almost before she could finish.
“I counted 25 when I left, Y’ Grace. Don’t think there’s likely to be any stragglers. Four radio mikes at the podium...one from NBC, one from Radio Lausanne, one from the BBC, and one from radio station LYRC, which broadcasts from here on Spontoon.” He scratched once at his nose. “Always best t’ be gracious wi’ the local press, y’know.”
Katie did know and nodded her approval. The heeler went on.
“Now, I’ve told ‘em to keep the questions brief an’ to expect short answers; ‘Her Grace has just come off a long flight...blah, blah, blah...and she still has to file her flight report with the tower...blah, blah, blah...’.”
“Which I do.” Her Grace noted, with a sly expression
“Which you do.” Drake nodded. “That’s the other reason I wanted to do this now. If you want keep yer answers short, NOT call on anyone in particular, or just cut things off in a hurry...well, who can deny that yer legitimately pressed for time?”
Katie looked sideways at the canine, with another approving smile and nod. ‘That’s what I like about you Drake, you never miss an angle...but speaking of not calling on anyone...” She let the rest hang unspoken. He would know what she was talking about.
“Well,” he said, “there’s a bloke there from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, third row on the right, beaver wearing the hat wi’ the fancy band.”
“‘Kay, handle him with kid wraps.” said Katie, sighing inwardly. To this day, the Pulitzers had never forgiven her for humiliating them in the Dole Derby. If anyone was likely to ask her a question about the ‘35 Thompson Trophy Race, it was their reporter...or one from two other organizations that were even more hostile to her.
“Colonel McCormick got any of his boys there?” she asked. Colonel Robert R. McCormick was the editor and publisher of the virulently anti-British, pro-isolationist Chicago Tribune. He was also of the opinion that ‘femmes should keep to their proper place.’
“‘Fraid so,” said Drake, sounding slightly guilty, as if it were all his fault, “and not just any one of his reporters. It’s everyone’s favorite little water-shrew. B.T. Derrick.”
Katie forced herself not to wince, and then asked the obvious question.
“Any Hearst reporters gonna be in the crowd?” This was a somewhat tricky proposition; the pinto mare’s relationship with William Randolph Hearst ran hot and cold these days. This was in no small part thanks to her known views regarding Fascism, the Nazis, and the Japanese military establishment...views with which the golden bear mostly ( and vehemently ) disagreed. But however much he might differ with Katie politically, on the subject of aviation, they had always seen eye-to-eye...and this was an air-race, not a political event. ( Not officially, anyway.)
“Two Hearst reporters.” the Heeler was saying, “One from the New York Journal-American, t’other from the San Francisco Examiner.”
“Any idea if they’re gonna be friendly?” Drake’s mouth spread in a canine grin.
“Lemme put it this way...one of ‘em’s none other than Lady Hay-Drummond-Hay.”
“Excellent.” said Katie, pleased. Lady Drummond-Hay would walk out on Hearst with no notice before she’d pen one negative word about Katie MacArran...her traveling companion on the Graf Zeppelin’s world voyage. “Any other friendlies in that crowd?”
“One bloke from the Sunday Herald,” said Drake, “squirrel in the brown and red Hawaiian shirt. ‘Nother one from the New York Post; she’s the cougar in the floppy sun hat.” His ears went rigid and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. “But watch out for that Fisher with the French accent in the second row, the one in the beret. He may dress French, and talk French...but he’s actually French-CANADIAN; Jacques Lassier, freelance journalist out of Toronto, currently working on retainer for the Daily Mail.”
Katie nickered caustically, “My...my, isn’t Lord Castor-oil, excuse me, Lord Casterley getting clehhhhh-ver in his old age? Good job spotting his ringer, Drake.”
“‘S what yer pay me for, in’t it” he responded with another curt shrug. “Oh, and by the way...Did yer know that his LARDship’s here himself f’ speed week?”
Katie’s ears shot upwards like railroad semaphores. No, she hadn’t known that. “Really?”
“Yep,” said Drake, “Dj’yer see that sailing yacht over by the first ocean liner off of Casino when y’ were coming in? The brigantine wi’ the black hull, flyin’ the Union Jack? That’s Casty’s tub.”
“No.” said Katie, frowning. She’d been too busy concentrating on the liners themselves to pay much attention to anything moored beside them. “I...no, wait I did see a sailing ship over that way, now I think of it.”
“Yeah,” said Drake, “An’ His Lordship’s raised at least one stink already with the Spontoon Island Racing Association since he’s been here. Tried to get in to visit the Italian race-team’s hangar, and got turned away for the reasons I just told you about. Member o’ the French team wouldn’t go along with ’im is what I hear. Anyways, Lord Casterley went straight to the Althing, got all worked up about how important he was an’ how dare they treat HIM this way? Almost got kicked off Spontoon for ‘is troubles, so the story goes. He’s had a minor row with the harbor patrol, too. Keeps demanding that he be allowed to move his little floating castle over closer by the race course -- and they keep telling him, ‘No’.”
“Same old Casty,” said Katie, shaking her head in disgust, “Still so Goddam full of himself.”
“That he is.” said the Canine, “But on the positive side, I also spotted Walter Winchell in the group.”
Katie allowed herself a short, happy whinny. That WAS good news. Walter Winchell had been her steadfast champion in The Thompson Trophy incident. More than that, he didn’t care for Adolf Hitler any more than she did. ( Not surprising, since he was Jewish. )
“Any foreign press gonna be there?” Katie asked. Drake ticked off their numbers on his fingers as he replied:
“One bloke from the Paris Temps, one from TASS and another from Lausanne Radio, Switzerland...but here’s the really odd bit. There’s a German and a Japanese reporter there, too.”
“You’re kidding.” said Katie. Sending reporters to ask hostile questions of furs they wanted to discredit was not usually the Nazis’ or the Japanese’ style...especially the Nazis. More often, they just skipped the interview and went right to the smear. “You catch either of their names?” the pinto mare asked.
“I did, that.” said Drake, “Let’s start with the Japanese bloke. He’s a macaque monkey, name’s...”
“Takeo Shinmyo?” asked Katie, smiling. Now, it was Drake’s ears that swivelled forward and locked upwards.
“Cor...how’d you know that Y’Grace?”
“He was Lady Drummond Hay and my guide, during the Graf Zep’s stopover in Tokyo.” There was more, much more she could tell, but she didn’t feel like going over it at the moment.
“Oh?” said Drake abashed not in the slightest that he hadn’t already known this, “Splendid. Explains what HE’S doin’ there, anyway.”
“Yep,” said Katie, and then frowned slightly, “But what about the German reporter? Who’s he?”
“German Shorthaired Pointer.” said Drake, “also here by way of Japan...soooo maybe he’s someone y’know from there as well. Name’s Sorge, Richard Sorge...Tokyo correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung.”
Katie pursed her lips and shook her head.
“Nope...never heard of him.”
There was a short peep from somewhere up ahead, and then a small tractor came around the corner, driven by chunky stoat clad in RAF Sergeant’s stripes. As Katie and Drake swiftly moved aside to let it pass, the mustelid waved heartily and called out, “Howway tha’, Your Grace!”
“Howway tha’!” Katie called, waving back. He was a former members of the R-100 assembly crew, though she couldn’t recall his name at the moment.
Then she noticed the flatbed trailer behind the tractor...and the aircraft engine secured to it by a pair of stout chains
“Whoa!” she said, letting out a low whistle, “That’s the new aircraft engine from Napier...the Saber. Ink’s not even dry on it’s patent.”
“Mmmm,” said the Queensland heeler, watching the tractor disappear up the road, “Can’t say I’m surprised the pommies are runnin’ it, Y’ Grace. Everyone I’ve talked to says the British team’s jumping the gun wi’ that new race-plane of theirs. ‘Give her another year and she’ll be a cracker, but right now she’s a prang waiting to happen.’ is what one o’ their mechanics told me on the sly.”
“Well, you know why they’re rushing it, don’t you?” asked Katie. Drake did know, and nodded to indicate that he did.
“‘Coz the Germans won the last two Schneiders an’ the pommies don’t want anyone doin’ a three-timer, ‘cept themselves..” He half grinned, half grimaced, “That...and coz of her Ladyship, Pamela Fenwick. That vixen’d sooner douse herself with paraffin and strike a match than see a Schneider go off with NO British plane flyin’ in ‘er.”
Katie put her hooves on her hips and horse-laughed. Curiously, she had never met the Lady Pamela Fenwick...but she had heard of her; it was hard for any race-pilot NOT to have heard of ‘the Patron Saint of British air-racing’, as the Lady Fenwick was known informally.
“Y’ should know.” said Drake, pulling at his nose as though trying to lengthen it. “she’s none to happy wi’ you right now, Y’ Grace.”
Katie’s ears went up in surprise. “ME...why?”
The canine shrugged, helplessly, “She thinks that instead of building yer own Schneider plane, y’ should have thrown in wi’ the British Team. Y’ve heard what she’s like, I’m sure; ‘All f’ Britain, or nothing a t all.’? Well, if anything that’s an UNDER-statement.”
Katie wanted to groan. There no more stout pillar of the British Aviation than she was. In fact, the RAF was one of The Little Engine’s two co-sponsors, ( though not the venture’s senior partner, and certainly not openly. )
“If Lady Pamela Fenwick knows what’s was good for her,” Katie quietly told herself, “she had better NOT publicly call my loyalty to Britain into question.”
“Tell me about this new British race plane,” she said, “Who’s the builder? Gloster?” Katie knew it wasn’t Supermarine. They were too busy trying to get their new pursuit plane, the Spitfire, into production to put forth a new Schneider-Cup racer just now. As far as the Duchess of Strathdern was concerned, the company had it’s priorities exactly right.
“No...Napier’s running it themselves.” said Drake, “The Napier-Heston Type 5a is what she’s called. Big plane...I’ve seen ‘er in a couple of test flights.”
They turned and continued on their way. Traffic on the road was getting thicker now. Furs of passing by in one direction or another, some in greasy coveralls, wheeling carts and dollies stacked with aircraft parts; other’s bare-chested locals in shorts or lap-laps, carrying crates hoisted on shoulders or sometimes balanced on their heads Occasionally, a topless femme would walk past, and Drake would try very hard NOT to look, much to Katie’s secret amusement.
“What sort of questions can I expect from the press?” she asked. They had gone over this several times already, but that had been before Drake had actually met with any of the reporters.
“Pretty much what we talked about earlier,” the Heeler answered, “‘D’you think you’ve still got the edge after not racing for almost three years?...How d’you feel about racing against the Fascists and the Nazis? ...What prompted you to get back into air-racing again?...What d’you think y’ chances are?’...an’ of course, they’ll have lot’s o’ questions bout yer new race-plane.”
“I should HOPE so,” said Katie, throwing a wink in Drake’s direction. The Heeler pulled once at his nose, and looked at her.
“On that subject, Y’Grace, Y’ can probably expect at least one question about the German Mystery Plane.”
Katie exhaled quickly through her nose, then stopped in her tracks.
“What the...?” she said turning to give Drake the blue-eyed look, and sounding much like a radio with someone fiddling with the dial, “What do you mean ‘Mystery Plane’? Ilsa Klentsch isn’t flying the Blitzen? And why wasn’t I told about this earlier?”
“Nope,” said Drake, taking her questions not necessarily in order, “Not this year, she isn’t. The Germans are bringing in a new race plane for the ‘38 Schneider...comin’ here straight off her trial runs in the North Sea. She’s been the talk of Casino Island ever since the Huns first made the announcement.” He grinned again, “Least she was ‘till you showed up in the Little Engine. Anyways, this new German racer’s being brought to Spontoon aboard the Graf Spee, one of the Kriegsmarine’s new Panzerschiffe, what the Royal Navy calls a pocket battleship. She was actually supposed to have been here already, but got delayed in the Mediterranean.”
“Lemme guess.” said Katie, with a puckish look on her face, “She was held up going through the Suez, right?” Anyone who thought the British practiced fair play as much as they preached it was about as astute as bucket of mud.
“Sorry, wrong guess.” said Drake, looking equally impish, “Taranto, Italy, when she stopped to take on fuel. The Eyeties kept her there for two days, demanding the right to search her for this deserter they claimed to have seen sneakin’ aboard. Course what they really wanted was a look-see at the new German race-plane...and the Graf Spee herself, while they were at it. Word is old Adolf himself had intervene before she was allowed to weigh anchor. An’ the Italians never did get to search her, in case you’re wonderin’.”
“I was,” said Katie,“But one more time, Drake; why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“‘Coz there’s nothin’ more to tell, Y’Grace.” the canine responded quickly. “What I’ve just said is all that ANYONE knows about this German Mystery Plane, ‘cept for one other thing I’ll get to in a sec. But the Huns are really holding their cards close on this one. For the last two weeks, the only way any German national on Spontoon Island’s been allowed to send a message home is if it goes through the German consulate. AND every message in and out of that consulate’s bein’ transmitted in this new, fancy code they Nazis’ve got called Enigma. Last week one of their mechanics had a few too many Pineapple Krakatoas, and said what I’ve just told you about the German Mystery Plane coming right off her sea-trials. Next day, he was on a plane back to Berlin...under arrest! Since then, no one’s breathed a word about the new German race-plane.”
Katie raised an ear, prompting him, “Except for...”
“Except for she’s definitely not a jet aircraft.” said the Heeler, “SIRA laid down a ruling last week that only piston engine planes will be allowed to compete in this year’s Schneider...and the German’s never raised so much as a squeak about it. Y’don’t ave to be Duck Tracy to figure out what that means.”
Katie snorted softly. That the Luftwaffe wouldn’t try to enter a jet was pretty much a given anyway. But Mystery Plane? Hell’s Bells...she thought that had gone out with ‘29 Thompson.
“There is one other thing I can say, though,” Drake was telling her, “If you bring up the subject of her new plane to Ilsa Klentsch, you don’t get any answers, all right...but you DO get a very smug expression.”
“She’s here?” asked Katie, surprised once more. “She’s not with her plane?” She couldn’t imagine not having stayed with The Little Engine all the way to Spontoon.
“Flew back ahead of it.” said Drake, “Not her idea, though. Orders from the Lufthartsminstrie in Berlin, so I hear.”
“Oh.”said Katie, who sometimes forgot that not every pilot was as free to follow their bent as she was.
“Probably just as well, anyway.” Drake concluded, “As of right now, the German Mystery plane’s not scheduled to arrive ‘till after the Pilot’s Reception. Wouldn’t do for Fraulein Flugkapitan Klentsch to be the only race pilot not to attend.”
The Schneider Cup Race Pilot’s Reception, held each year at the Spontoon Aero club, was the event that marked the unofficial start of speed-week. Sponsored by the Spontoon Island Racing Association, it had blossomed from a modest get together in 1934 to the huge blowout it was today. According to one wag, the pilot’s reception was always held before speed-week actually started, because, “otherwise the pilots will NEVER recover in time for the qualifying runs.”
They turned and continued on their way. Up ahead, fronting a shallow semicircle of macadam they could see a trio of hangars, the first two flying the respective tricolors of France and Italy, the third sporting the Rising Sun of Japan. All three appeared to have been freshly scrubbed, and the French hangar looked as if it had recently been graced with a fresh coat of paint. Around each of the three, except for the presence of the ubiquitous gate-guards, there seemed to be dearth of activity. Katie remarked upon this to Drake.
“That’s coz folks ‘round Spontoon keep Spanish hours,” he said, “at least during speed week; late t’ bed and late t’ rise, work afternoons into the evenings. Things won’t really start crackin’ round here ‘till after about three...and then it’s like bloody Grand Central Station.”
Katie half sighed, half snorted. An early riser since she was a filly, she was going to have to make some serious adjustments. There was also a more immediate concern.
“Drake, make a note.” she said, “By the time the Republic docks, I want our hangar cleaned up too, and I mean clean enough so that I can eat off the roof AND the floor.”
“Consider it done, Y’Grace.” he replied, “And might I suggest getting a flagpole up wi’ the stars and stripes flying at it’s head?”
“Absolutely.” she nodded. “And make it the tallest flag-pole, and the biggest flag you can find.”
Katie left it there. She knew Drake would get it done; he had never yet failed her.
“Where’s the other team’s hangars?” she asked. Drake responded by poking a thumb over his shoulder.
“Back behind ours. First the Russians, then the Brits, then the Germans, then the Dutch...and last but not least, The Japanese.”
Katie’s ears went up and she pointed to the Rising Sun flag on their left.
“Oh that’s the Japanese Imperial ARMY Team’s hangar.” said Drake, “T’other belongs to the Japanese Imperial NAVY.” He sniggered, and pointed at the flag, adding, “And don’t forget t’ thank those Army blokes, if y’meet ‘em.”
Katie’s look became even more puzzled. “Wha..? What the heck for?”
Drake laughed. “Coz that’s how we got that nice hangar of ours. Originally it was reserved for Japanese Naval Team, but when they found out that the Army was goin’ t field a late entry, they went straight to the Althing and demanded a new hangar, as far away from the Army’s as possible. From what I hear, it’s a chicken coop compared to what they gave up.”
“Christmas.” said Katie, shaking her head in amazement, “I knew the Japanese Army and Navy didn’t much care for each other...but THAT much?”
Drake almost laughed again, but hurriedly stopped himself when Katie’s head shake ended in laid-back ears, and a nose wrinkled in loathing.
“But don’t EVER expect me to say thanks to those murdering bastards, Drake.” she said, tossing her head sideways in the direction of the Japanese Imperial Army hangar, “Not for Goddam anything!”
Drake wisely chose not respond to this, and they continued on their way.
When they got to the fence separating the race-hangars from the rest of the Eastern Island. Katie was mildly surprised to discover that there were no reporters clustered near the tall, blue painted, wrought-iron gate.
“That’s coz I spread the word; anyone does that, and they don’t get a seat for the press conference.” Drake told her, waving a paw at the galvanized, corrugated walls of the banana warehouse ahead on the right. He waved again, this time to the cape buffalo standing sentry on their side of the fence. “Passport please?” queried the bovine, holding out a hoof to Katie and Drake The pinto mare promptly handed hers over. The buf gave it a cursory check against the names on his list, then did the same for Drake This was followed by a quick salute and shouted instructions in Spontoonian to the mongoose guarding the other side. A door in the center of the gate was promptly pulled open, and Katie and Drake ambled easily through.
“Checking our passports on the way OUT?” said Katie to the heeler as it clanged shut behind them, “Christmas...they don’t fool around with security here one bit.”
“That was Keith’s idea.” said Drake, referring to his old chum Keith Lawton, the Schneider Cup’s organizer. “Figured it’d really keep the press from sneakin’ in, if they know they’ll have just as much trouble getting out again....and he’s right. What good’s it do a bloke to nick a picture of someone’s race plane, if he knows he’ll just get ‘is camera taken away before it’s developed?”
“Good thought.” said Katie, “You seen him yet?”
“Got an appointment wi’ Keith soon’s we’re done at the tower.” the Heeler told her, smiling with obvious relish at the thought. The last time they had seen each other had been...Hell’s Bells, the last time she had seen Ray Parer.
Drake took her into the empty warehouse by way of a side entrance, pausing to let her don her flight helmet before they went inside. An experienced hoof by now at dealing with the fourth estate, Katie knew that what the press wanted was an address by an AVIATOR...and that was what she would give them, in full flight regalia.
As they went through the door, she saw right away that Drake had lost none of his adroitness as a stage-manager since the last time she’d raced. The dias upon which she would be addressing the reporters had been placed under an open skylight that bathed it in a soft, creamy illumination. The podium, she noted was a little tall for her height, but if she knew Drake, there’d be something for her to stand on behind it. Sprouting from it’s front were a quartet of radio microphones, one labeled NBC, one labeled BBC, one from Radio Lausanne Suisse and a third sporting the logo of the local radio station, LYRC. On either side of the reporters were several press photographers and on the far left, she could see a newsreel camera from FOX Pathe News
Even though it was pleasantly cool in the warehouse, she noted that Drake had left nothing to chance. Each reporter had been supplied with a bamboo fan, and iced glasses of Nootnops Red. She couldn’t help but giggle inwardly at the thought of what questions they might ask her if it had been Nootnops Blue.
She decided it would probably make no difference and went to mount the lectern. She was halfway up the steps, when a voice called, “This way, Your Grace.”
Katie turned halfway with a Mona Lisa smile and laid a hoof on one hip, striking an insouciant pose, as though she were descending the ladder from her race-plane rather than climbing the steps to a podium. Immediately, a quartet of flashbulbs popped, and she tilted her gaze upwards, as though there were open sky overhead rather than a tiled roof. Catherine MacArran, 14th Duchess of Strathdern was no novice at playing to the cameras.
It was not the largest gaggle of press-photographers that Katie had ever faced. When she had stepped off the Pan-Am Clipper upon her return from China a year earlier, they’d needed a double police cordon to keep them at a reasonable distance. That was one photo of Katie that shouldn’t have taken well; she’d been hobbling on crutches at the time. Who would have imagined it would end up on the cover of Life magazine and become the most famous image of her yet published?
She gave the photogs two more poses, then resume her ascent to the podium, ignoring their pleas for ‘just one more’. They’d get more chances when she was finished...and besides, the furs with notepads were waiting their turn.
Stepping briskly up to the lectern, Katie was greeted with a brief round of applause, to which she responded with her famous shy smile, and deferential nod.
She then tapped the mikes to check for feedback and began to speak, pausing here and there to let the reporters taking notes keep up with her.
“Ladies and gentlefurs of the press...thank you for coming this morning. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.” This was followed by a few more perfunctory greetings, and then she got down to the brass tacks.
As a rule, Katie MacArran did not work from a prepared text, nor were her speeches ever wholly extemporaneous. Long ago she had learned that she worked best from a rough, written outline, fleshing it out as she went along. And that was what she did here.
“Though this will be my first time competing in the Schneider Cup, it is not my first association with this contest; not hardly, as I like to say.” she paused here, smiling and saw several of the reporters smile back. ‘Not hardly’ had become such a routine expression in her speeches that these days she made it a point to use it as early on as possible; that way the press wouldn’t spend half her address waiting for the other horseshoe to drop.
“In 1929,” she said, “I was privileged to be part of the team that developed the Supermarine S.6 race plane...the aircraft that took home the cup for Great Britain. In 1925, I was fortunate enough to see Jack Finlayson win the Schneider for America.” She paused again here, but this time the interval was a longer, more dramatic. “And in 1913, when I was a little filly, it was my privilege to be able see the very FIRST Schneider-Cup Seaplane Race, in Monaco...and it was then and there that I first knew I was one day going to become a race-plane pilot myself. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I’m here to compete in the ‘38 Schneider. It is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”
This was greeted by a furious scribbling of pencils and, Katie was pleased to note, a big thumbs up from Drake Hackett, standing off to the side. As well he should. She had just given the press a daisy of a headline. She smiled and continued with her address.
“Which brings up the obvious question: Why have I waited so long? Well, ladies and gentlefurs, don’t think for a minute that I didn’t WANT to enter the Schneider Cup before now. After Britain won the race in 1929, it was my hope to compete in the ‘31 Schneider.” Here she smiled ruefully, “but, by the time 1931 actually arrived, well, we all know that I had a more pressing concern to deal with...saving my airship from demolition.” Here she sought out and found the reporter for the Daily Mail, the ‘French’ fisher Jacques Lassier. And leveling him in her gaze as she spoke, she added, “And in the end, I have to say, it was a sacrifice effort well worth the effort...in spite of all the slings and arrows that came with it.”
She smiled again as she said this...but this time wickedly, and only to herself. Lassier now knew that SHE knew who he really represented. Old Casty would be none to happy when found out that his ringer had been made...or with what Katie had said to him.
“THAT’LL teach you not to slip your reporters into my press briefings, you Fascist-loving bastard!” She silently told the absent publisher. There had been several instances when Katie MacArran the 14th Duchess of Strathdern and Henry Abingdon, Lord Casterley had crossed swords in the years since their first conflict. But it would always be their initial clash that rankled most deeply with His Lordship. ( Which was why Katie never missed an opportunity to remind him of it. )
And to think it had all begun with a simple, three-word headline...
Heston Napier Type-5 Racer:
( Landplane variant of the Type-5a )