Spontoon Island
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Katie MacArran
-by John Urie-

A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie

Part One.
On Your Marks...

Chapter 25

When Katie arrived at the water-taxi dock, she immediately began to rethink her decision to send Drake on his way.  Of the several boats gathered near the quay, none of them matched the canine’s description, and all were flying small red flags. ( which meant they were already booked. ) She was about to give up and try one of the other taxi docks, when she noticed a small crowd gathered near the end of the pier and heard fragments of what seemed to be a loud discussion, wafting towards her on the breeze.  Curious, she began to move in the direction of the cacophony.

“I ‘ready TOLD you Ma’am,” an exasperated voice with an island accent was saying, “This taxi reserved for ‘nother lady.”

“Uh-OH!”  thought Katie, and immediately quickened her pace.

“Pouf!  Nonsense!” a second voice answered, this one haughty, feminine, unharmonious, and heavily accented in French, “Whoever she is, she is obviously not coming, so you will take me to the Hotel Marleybone tout-de-suite, garcon.  I have someone waiting pour moi.”

“Wait I think that’s mine!”  Katie cried, attempting to push her way through the onlookers.  At first she might as well have been trying to bull her way through a wall of rubber.  But then someone said, “Hey, that’s Katie MacArran.” and the crowd opened as if it were being unzipped.

When it did, the first thing pinto mare saw was a water-taxi.  It was white, it had a striped canopy...and in green lettering near the stern was the name, ‘Sea Horse’.  Standing at the wheel  was a Spontoonian bearcat, regarding her with the expression of someone beseeching his guardian angel to please get a move on.  It was the other occupant of the water-taxi that garnered most of Katie’s attention, however.  She was a dark, slightly dumpy European red squirrel of perhaps the same age as herself, dressed for the occasion in burgundy crepe-de-chine...or in her case, perhaps DRAPE-de-chine would have been more appropriate.  The outfit covered her completely from throat to foot.  On her head, she wore a drooping, flowered hat the size of a sombrero, and on her feet, a pair of high-button shoes with spike heels.  As if that weren’t enough, the whole ensemble was topped off with a long feather-boa in bright blue. All in all, it was about the most inappropriate attire for the tropics that Katie had ever seen.  The squirrel femme looked as if she had been whisked directly to Spontoon Island from a Paris salon, without having had time to change.

Smelled that way too.  As Katie moved closer, she became aware of a strong odor of perfume...the good stuff she had to admit, but gad-zooks, what did this lady do, SHOWER in it?  Now she was glad Drake wasn’t with her.  With his canine sense of smell, he’d be retching into the harbor about this time.

The thing that turned Katie’s stomach however, was the state of the squirrel-femme’s hair and tail; she’d seen Nanking street beggars who looked less unkempt.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” she said, stepping forward and keeping her voice as diplomatic as possible, “But that taxi is reserved for my use.”

But the squirrel femme was obviously not in a gracious mood today.

“Well, that is too bad Mamzelle cheval.” she said, waving at Katie as though batting away a mosquito, “This is mon taxi now.  You shall have to wait for another.”  And then to the boatfur, she added, “You may cast off now, garcon.”

Katie’s ears slammed back against her scalp, and she sincerely wished she had her shikome-zue handy.  TWICE in one morning! 

( On reflection, considering how things had turned out with Athena Moorefield, maybe it was a GOOD thing her cane-sword wasn’t available.  )

“No,” said Katie, speaking as though to a recalcitrant child, “That is MY taxi, and YOU will have to wait for another.”  Before the squirrel-femme could respond to this, Katie reached into the pocket of her flight suit and extracted a platinum money-clip, which she held up for the taxi-driver’s consideration.  “A hundred American if you leave with me instead of her.”

To the accompaniment of an excited murmur from the crowd, the bearcat was up and onto the dock so fast, the floor of his boat might have been spring loaded.  Always as good as her word, Katie instantly peeled off a Franklin and gave it to him.

The squirrel-femme began to peal too, pealing forth in shrill outrage.

“Why you gauche little...! You vulgar...!  Your consulate shall here of this, Mademoiselle cheval!  Ave vous any idea WHOM you have just insulted?  Je suis le Comtesse Henriette Josephine Lauzee De Vitrines!”

Katie MacArran didn’t know whether to laugh or to groan.  She had never met the Countess Henriette de Vitrines...but she had heard of her; there wasn’t a peer in Britain who didn’t know that name -- and who didn’t snort in contempt whenever they heard it.

Henriette de Vitrines was the daughter of a wealthy French shipping magnate.  A member by birth of the upper bourgeois class, she had married into her title an early age...and promptly begun acting as she’d been born the Comtesse de Vitrines.

She was also, despite the fact that she was still legally married to the Comte du Portes, the mistress of the French Minister of Justice, Paul Reynaud, whom she reportedly had wrapped around her little finger. (God only knew why.)  Just several months previously, she had persuaded M. Reynaud to move out of the Paris flat he shared with his wife, and into a bachelor’s apartment, where she could have him all to herself..

A chattering society lady of both towering and ludicrous ambitions, the Countess de Vitrines was also said to harbor visions of one day running France in the manner of Madame Du Pompadour, the legendary mistress of King Louis XV.  Rumour had it that she was constantly scheming to unseat Premier Edouard Daladier, in favor of her ‘friend’.  True or not, the story  had earned Madame de Vitrines the bitter and undying enmity of Daladier’s mistress, the far more discreet Marquise de Crussol.

And the Marquise wasn’t the only one who despised her.  If possible, The Comtesse de Vitrines was the only femme Lord Casterley loathed more than Katie, this despite that fact that she was every inch the ardent pro-Nazi that he was. 

Which sentiments, Katie reflected, might also explain the Countess’s presence here for speed-week.  Might Premier Daladier have engineered her invitation to the Schneider in order to get her as far away from Paris as possible while he dealt with the Czech crisis?  Or to at least keep her and Madame Crussol from getting in each other’s faces?   It was hardly an impossible scenario.

Still keeping Madame de Vitrines fixed in her gaze, Katie returned the money-clip to it’s pocket

“Oh, yes?” she said, coolly, “Well, Je suis the Duchess of Strathdern, so forgive me if I’m not especially impressed with your title, Countess.”

“Or with how many high-ranking ministers you’re yiffing.” she would dearly loved to have added, but of course did not.

The response to this was a slipstream of derisive, chittering laughter, followed by a sneer that fully displayed the squirrel-femme’s protruding, orange incisors.

“Pouf!  You expect moi to believe so crude a falsehood, Mademoiselle cheval?  If vous est La Duchesse de Strathdearn, je suis le Roi du Siam.”

Katie was about to respond to this with something she would probably regret later, when a voice called out from somewhere inside the crowd.

“Monsieur Reynaud?  Oh, she’s over here, Monsieur Le Ministerre.”

On hearing this, Henriette de Vitrines underwent a startling metamorphosis, transforming in a heartbeat from queenly bitch, to tittering coquette. (Or, to put it more properly a bad burlesque of one.)

“Allo, Paul?” she practically squealed, as she climbed out of the boat and began to push through the crowd, “Yoo-hoooo!”

Katie moved aside to let her pass and then just shook her head in disbelief.  Madame de Vitrines actually USED that expression?  Christmas, she thought Yoo-Hoo was chocolate drink.

Just then, someone else came out of the crowd; a black Anglo-Arab stallion in an RAF Officer’s tunic.  Before Katie could say anything, he grimaced and began to make fast shooing motions with his hooves -- first towards her, and then in the direction of the water-taxi.

Katie’s eyes widened as she realized what was happening.  With an amused horse-chuckle, she bounded into the taxi with the bearcat only a scant step behind.  Katie helped him cast off as the motor grumbled to life, and the boat was good ten feet from the dock by the time Countess de Vitrines reappeared, calling after them in her birdlike voice.

Birdlike that is, if one stopped to remember that seagulls are also birds.

“Bring that taxi back, garcon!  At once, do you hear!?  Order him back, Mademoiselle!  Order him back this instant or I shall have you arrested for...HOW DARE YOU MAKE SUCH A GESTURE TO MOI?!”

“If that’s how she reacts to a thumbs up,” Katie wondered aloud to the taxi pilot, “I wonder what would have happened if I’d given her the finger.”

“Uh...doan’ think you wanna know that, You Grace.” he answered, kicking the throttle up a notch.

“I suppose you’re right.  I don’t “

Behind her, Henriette de Vitrines had shifted her attention, and her pique, to the RAF stallion who had lured her away from the water-taxi...subjecting him to a tongue lashing in rapid, unintelligible French, which he weathered with a look of amused boredom.

In response to this Katie stood up and blew the (handsome, dashing, mmmm-m-m-mm!) Anglo-Arab horse a kiss.  Raising a hoof, he pretended to catch it in midair, then pantomimed the act of putting it in his breast pocket.

Then he waved to Katie...with his LEFT hoof.

So that she could see the band of gold encircling his third finger.

“Awwww NUTS!” she thought to herself...and whatever further thoughts she may have been harboring were abruptly truncated by the voice of the taxi-pilot.

“Where to, You Grace?” he asked.  With a start, Katie realized she’d never told him.

“Shepherd’s Hotel, please.” she said.

“Right away, You Grace.”

As Countess de Vitrines chitters of indignation began to fade away behind her, Katie turned her attention to the pair of large naval vessels anchored off Rain island on her right.  They were, respectively, the aircraft carrier Hiryu of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and an American flattop, the USS Saratoga -- ‘Sara’ as she was affectionately known to her crew. 

Over the past few years it had become a speed-week tradition for the navies of the competing nations to send a warship to ‘show the colors’ as it were.  This year, for the first time, the British, American and Japanese navies would all be represented by aircraft carriers.  (The H.M.S. Courageous was not due to drop anchor until tomorrow...having had a much longer journey to make from her home port than the other two flattops.)   Katie frowned slightly as she stared across the water at the Hiryu, wishing she had a pair of binoculars.  Not that there was much to observe.  From this angle, all that was visible was the folded wingtips of planes parked near the edge of the Japanese carrier’s flight deck.

But that was enough.  Katie’s frown deepened as she stared upwards at the Hiryu.  You didn’t have to see the full length of those wings to know they belonged to a squadron of biplanes.  That made them Aichi D1A1 ‘Susie’ dive-bombers...an aircraft she knew all too well. (Without thinking, she began to rub at the spot on her right leg.)  But soon, she knew, that was going to change.  The Japanese were already working on a greatly improved replacement for the Susie, the Aichi D3A ‘Val’...and the Imperial Japanese Navy also supposedly had new and better fighters and torpedo bombers on the drawing board as well.  Unlike another navy she could mention, the I.J.N.  was a huge devotee of maritime air-power.

Something was going to have to be done about that...and without even planning to, Katie had stumbled onto perhaps a partial solution while building the Little Engine.  And that was why she wasn’t 100% bothered by the prospect of her inevitable encounter with Lady Pamela Fenwick

But that meeting would come in it’s own due course.  Right now, the sun was shining, the water-taxi was rocking gently, and this was the first time that Katie had been able to truly relax since her arrival on Spontoon Island.

And so, unzipping her flight tunic to the top of her cleavage, she closed her eyes and leaned back on her elbows, stretching herself out on the gunwales and enjoying the feel of the sunshine.

And missing a great many things that were taking place.

For example, as the Seahorse passed close to one of the air-cargo docks, Katie did not see the meerkat pushing a dolly piled with sacks of rice turn to look at the hot-potato in the water-taxi below...and dump his load off the end of the wharf in the midst of his distraction.  Nor did she see him turn hastily away from the scene of the crime...only to find himself face-to-face with a VERY unhappy dock-boss.

Nor, when the Seahorse passed near a Rain-Island gunboat, did she observe the jackal and the gnu, perched on a scaffolding hung over the side, giving the hull a fresh coat of paint.  Likewise, she did not observe the jackal perform a fast double-take to stare at her as she went by...or the sickened look on his face when he felt his paintbrush stop against something solid.

Which turned out to be his partner’s face.

Though Katie did not see what the gnu did in response, she DID hear the splash that resulted from it.

When the Seahorse passed from the channel separating Eastern and Moon islands and into the lagoon between South and Casino, Katie still had not opened her eyes.

That was why she did not see the pilot of the other water-taxi turn suddenly to enjoy the passing scenery.

...and without meaning to let go of the wheel....sending in his boat into a sharp L-turn and halfway swamping her.

AND thoroughly drenching his two passengers, both of whom just happened to be cats and so were not especially pleased by this turn of events

Katie also was unaware, a few moments later, of the paunchy, middle-aged, Bearded Collie, blowing kisses at her from the poolside terrace of a Casino Island hotel.

Until his actions were abruptly halted by the sudden, unexpected application of a folded parasol to the back of his head...planted there courtesy of his wife, whom he had mistakenly thought was not yet finished dressing.

She did however, become aware of still another rather heated conversation, somewhere up ahead on the right.  Though the words remained entirely indistinguishable, at least one of the voices most certainly was not.

She sat up and opened her eyes, shading them with a hoof.

There, anchored almost directly athwart the entrance to South Island’s northern bay, (a place where she clearly did not belong)  was a two masted brigantine with a black hull, perfectly matching Drake Hackett’s description of the Casterley yacht.. 

And there, beside her, was a motor launch, flying the distinctive pennant of the Rain Island Naval Syndicate, an anchor superimposed on a half black, half red field, the two colors split diagonally.

You didn’t have to be Horatio Hornblower to figure what was going on.

It was none of Katie’s business, of course.  She needed to get to Shepherd’s, check in at the Blue Pearl and then have a nice long bath.  She really didn’t have time for this.  Furthermore she couldn’t possibly pick a worse moment for this kind of petty encounter; right on the heels of her clashes with Athena Moorefield and Henriette de Vitrines.

She didn’t hesitate for a second, “Take me over by that yacht.”

As the water-taxi drew closer to the two larger vessels, the first voice Katie heard was the familiar harsh yowling of Lord Casterley.

“How many more times do I have to tell you lot?   I CAN’T move my boat...the bloody anchor’s caught up!”

Katie told the taxi-driver to step on it.

“Sir,” came the reply from the patrol boat’s commander, a tayra who, for some reason, was addressing Casterly through a megaphone, even though he was perhaps five feet away, “Sir, if you don’t move your vessel within 5 minutes, we will be issuing a citation.”

“Now listen here, you...!”

“At least Casty’s telling them the truth about the anchor,” Katie observed to herself, “or if he isn’t, he’s sure making one helluv’ an effort to LOOK like he is.”

Near the bow of the yacht, she could see no less than five furs attempting to haul up on the anchor chain, with three more on the capstan.  One of them, she noted, was wearing a chef’s uniform.  Casterley was genuinely putting every paw into the effort to free the yacht’s anchor.

“Except of course, his own,” Katie noted, dryly to herself. “Might have to take OFF that yachting cap he’s wearing and get his nice, clean, sea-island shirt a little dirty.”

“And that,” she reflected, “is the difference between you and me, Casty.  If it were MY boat got stuck like that, I’d be right there in the thick of things.  On second thoughts, no...I’d never have the gall to drop anchor right in the middle of a roadstead like that.”

Now, Katie was able to make out the name of Lord Casterley’s boat, and it was all she could do to keep from whinnying in derision.  The yacht was called the Raj Forever, the first word being a  fashionable term for British Colonial Rule.  Looking at it, there was no doubt in her mind that His Lordship had chosen it fursonally.  It was just the kind of high-pawed jingoism for which he had long been noted.

Cupping her hooves to her face, Katie stood up and called across the water

“Ahoy the Raj!”

For a second, Casterley appeared not to hear her.  But then the grey cat’s ears went back and he turned fiercely in her direction, his features darkening so rapidly that Katie would not have been surprised to hear another growl of thunder.

Meanwhile, the bearcat had slowed the Sea Horse and pulled her up sideways about five yards from the Raj Forever.  Glancing over, Katie could see him grinning broadly, anticipating the show to come.

And who was she to disappoint him?

She cupped her hooves to her face again.

“What’s the trouble then, Your Lordship?” she called, sweetly, “Having trouble getting it up?”

The taxi driver immediately folded into a fit of laughter.  So did the skipper of the harbor-patrol boat, who nearly dropped his megaphone in the water.  The rest of his crew was similarly affected.

In sharp contrast, not a single of the member of Casterley’s seemed to find Katie’s comment amusing...but that, it appeared, was only by dint of a supreme effort.

As for His Lordship if he was stung by any of this, he gave no outward indication.  His ears even managed to swivel forward again.

His tail however, remained locked into a rigid pole.  It was a sign that Katie had learned to read a long time ago.

“Ahoy, the Sea-Horse.” he called, in hale voice that was one part syrup to two parts raw ammonia, “Is that you, Duchess Catherine of Strathdern?” 

For some reason, Lord Casterley had gotten it into his head that Katie hated it whenever anyone called her Catherine.  While it might once have been true, the pinto mare had long since become accustomed to being referred to in that manner.

“Yes, it’s me Your Lordship.” she said.  In response, Lord Casterley’s manner became even more oily.

“Well then, how did your press briefing go?”

Now it was her turn to look smug.

“Oh, you’ll find out for yourself soon enough, your Lordship.” she said, “and speaking of the press, would you mind terribly if I send one of my correspondents out to cover what’s going on here?”

That was all it took to shatter the grey cat’s thin facade of bonhomie.  If there was anything he couldn’t stand, it was being given a taste of his own medicine.  His ears immediately snapped backwards again, and his voice became a scalding hiss.

“If I see one of your filthy yellow-press reporters coming within a hundred yards of my yacht,” he told her, baring his claws for emphasis, “I’ll run down his boat like a lizard in the road.”

“Now, Your Lordship,” said Katie in the placating tone one might use with an upset kitten, “You wouldn’t really do a thing like that would you?  Especially after threatening to right in front of the harbor patrol?”

Casterley swallowed hard and glanced over at the patrol boat, whose skipper was regarding him with a grim, stony countenance.

“Myself, I would never make a threat like that.” Katie was saying, in that same soothing tone, “F’rinstance I would never say anything to you like...like...Ohhhhh...” She closed an eye and tapped a finger against her muzzle as if thinking hard, “I would NEVER tell you that if you so much as harm a whisker on one on of my reporters’ faces, I’ll order the Republic to drop her excess water ballast on the Raj Forever when she arrives.”  She paused, enjoying the look of horror on the grey cat’s face.  The Republic carried upwards of six tons of water in her ballast tanks. 

“No, I would never do a thing like that.” she continued, “If the Republic were to vent her excess water ballast on your boat when she comes in for her landing, I assure you it would be entirely an accidental occurrence.  And now, good day, your Lordship.  I have many things to attend to.”

Without waiting for a reply, she motioned for the taxi driver to take her on her way.  And was further pleased to note that by the time Lord Casterley recovered, the water taxi was too far away for her to make what he was saying.

Shepherd’s Hotel turned out to be conveniently located only a few dozen yards from the water-taxi dock.  Leaving a nice tip with the driver, whose name was Laluu’pa-ti, she dismissed him for the rest of the day, but with the caution that she would require him again, bright and early the next morning.

Then she turned and headed in the direction of the hotel.

Shepherd’s lobby might almost have been transplanted wholesale from New York City.  The ceiling, both high and vaulted, was held up by four massive red-marble columns.  As for the architecture, it was pure art-deco...sharp, angular, and rendered in various shades of pastel.  Only that fact that the stylized figures on the walls were clearly recognizable as native Polynesians gave any hint to the fact that Shepherds was located in the tropics rather than midtown Manhattan.

It was a big enclosure.  The lobby was easily the size of an auditorium and the front desk could have passed for the Long Bar in Raffles’ Hotel, Singapore...an establishment from which Katie had once been barred for having the nerve to bring a ‘native’, meaning Shang, into the lobby while she’d been in the city, looking for more mine-workers.

That policy had swiftly been reversed when the next day, the hotel’s supply of MacArran Scotch and Delhi Gin had been abruptly cut off.  A similar fate had befallen Rangoon’s only nightclub, the Silver Grill, when Katie had not been allowed to pass through it’s hallowed doors on the grounds that she was an unescorted female.

It may have been at least partially in memory of those incidents that when Katie entered Shepherd’s lobby, the crowd didn’t just part; it MELTED aside for her. 

Although certainly her looks and the outfit she was wearing might have had something to do with it...to say nothing of the fact that THIS could only be the pilot of the golden race-plane that had touched down earlier in the main lagoon. 

It was a busy place this morning, no surprise with race-week about to get under way.  It seemed as if every bell-hop in the lobby was either wheeling or loading a luggage cart.

Katie looked for the concierge desk, and sighed wearily when she found it.  There were several others ahead of her.  Never a subscriber to the theory that rank or social status carried with it the privilege of cutting ahead  in line, she resigned herself to waiting her turn.

But before she could take even a single step in the direction of the concierge desk, she felt someone tugging at the sleeve of her tunic.

Turning, she saw that it was a young Canadian Hunter filly, perhaps 12 years old.  She was a black grey in colour. with four white socks, and she was holding in her hooves two things; a pen and an autograph book.

“Uhhhh, e-excuse me, Y’ Grace,” she said, speaking in the hesitant voice of Oliver Twist asking for more gruel, “But...m-might I have your autograph?”

Actually, there was nothing Katie felt less like doing at the moment than signing autographs.  If she signed this filly’s book, you could bet the farm she’d never get out of Shepherd’s without signing at least a dozen more.  That was how it always worked; signing the first autograph was like taking your finger out of dike. 

However, it was an ironclad rule of Katie MacArran’s NEVER to refuse an autograph request from a youngster.

And so, managing a smile, she took the pen began to leaf through the pages of the filly’s autograph book, looking for a blank one.  As she did so, the pinto mare could not help but notice that they read like a who’s who of famous aviatrixes.  There were signatures from Amy Johnson, Mary Haizlip, Jackie Cochran, Jean Batten, and of course Sofia Casadonte, (or Sophia Bianco as she was now known).  There was even an autograph from Amelia Earhart...and another from Duchess Mary of Bedford.  At the sight of these names, written almost side by side, the pinto mare felt a sharp pull at her heart.

Finally, she came to a blank page.

“Who should I make out it to?” she asked.

“Francine, please Y’ Grace.” said the filly, relaxing a little.  To Katie’s slight surprise, she now realized that her accent was not Canadian but that of a New Zealander.  She was about to sign her name when a new voice interrupted.

“Oh, there you are Francie.  Hurry up!  Your father’s waiting.”

“Just a moment, Mummy!” said the filly, “I’m getting the Duchess’s of Strathdern’s autograph.”

Katie looked up and saw that the newcomer was another Canadian hunter femme, gray, like her daughter, but much lighter in color.  What was startling about the other mare was her age...easily a few years younger than Katie.  She must have not yet been out of her teens when her daughter had been foaled.  Her accent was also that of a New Zealander, but with a Canadian undertone, as if she had lived in New Zealand for many years but had not grown up there.

What happened next that was more than a little puzzling.  The other mare seemed to catch her breath for a second, then looked from her filly to Katie and back again, as if searching for...what?

“It’s uh, really no trouble,” said Katie, speaking awkwardly, a rarity for her, and then signed the autograph book, “To Francine...Never Surrender.  C. MacArran. 14th Duchess of Strathdern.” She should probably have signed her name a bit more legibly, but there was something very disconcerting about this whole situation.

Fortunately, the filly seemed not care about any of that, responding with a happy little whinny as Katie returned the book to her.  “Oh, thank you so much, Y’Grace.” she said, finishing up with something that might have been a curtsy. “And best of luck in the Schneider!”

“Why thank you very much, Francine.” said Katie, returning the gesture as best she could.

“Now, Francie.” her mother jumped in, pretending to be stern but with a grin bursting thorough, “what would your daddy say...encouraging the RAF’s opponent like?”

Katie laughed and was about to introduce herself, but just then someone else tugged on her sleeve.  At that instant, the hunter mare hurried quickly away with her daughter, glancing back once or twice with that same look on her face..

Strange...very strange.

Just as she had predicted, Katie was instantly obliged to sign several more autographs.  No sooner would she finish with one, than someone else would hail her.  Then, just after she signed the sixth or seventh napkin, another voice called out to her, “Miss MacArran?”

But this time the salutation was both familiar and welcome.  In fact, it was why Katie had come here in the first place.

She turned and saw coming towards her from the elevator a shapely dutch-blue rabbit doe, with a pair of kits following her.  This was Maggie Bronstiel and her two children, Jake, 11 and Jessie, 7.

Maggie, a long-legged, former showgirl was one of the few femmes Katie knew who was even more outspoken than she was. “When Maggie gives someone a piece of her mind,” she had once confided to Sophia Bianco, “she never gives it piece BY piece.”

What a femme like her had ever seen in Zeke, the slender, bookish bunny who served as her race-crew chief was a mystery to Katie.  And yet, there could be no denying the happiness of their union.  Maggie adored Zeke and he adored her -- and both of them adored their children.  Jake, a huge baseball fan, could already throw a wicked curve, and Jessie was at the top of her class at school.

“Hey, Maggie.” said Katie, moving in their direction.

“Hey, yourself.” Maggie responded giving her a peck on the cheek, a familiarity that would have scandalized any other British peer, had there been one nearby.

But there wasn’t, (yet) so who cared?

“Well, you sure made a heckuva splash with your arrival here, Miss MacArran,” said the rabbit femme, in that familiar, brass-brand voice of hers, “The furs in here talk about nothin’ else.”

“Well you know me, Maggie.” said the pinto mare, grinning, “If you’re gonna make an entrance...”

“...make an entrance.” Maggie finished the line for her, “Hey, you don’t have to remind me, kiddo.  I used to dance in the Ziegfeld Follies, remember?  So, what brings you by Shepherd’s, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Just wanted to make sure everything was okay with you and the others here,” Katie told her, “before I head on over to my cottage.”

Maggie’s features quickly softened, and she looked slightly embarrassed.

“Aw, that’s really nice of you to come over here and check fursonally on us Miss MacArran.” she said.  Katie immediately waved a hoof.

“Don’t even think about it, Maggie.  When you’re depending on a crew of guys to make sure you don’t crash in a fireball, you BETTER make sure you look after both them and their families.” 

Maggie Bronstiel laughed so loud, that several other patrons turned to look at her.

“Well, since you put it that way,” she said, “No, everything’s great here -- with all of us.  And by that I mean with Lisa and Joanna too.  We love this hotel.  And thanks so much for putting us up here.”

“You can thank Drake for that.” said Katie, smiling and then dropping down on her haunches to speak to Jake and Jessie.

“What about you, kids?” she asked, “You two having a good time?”

“Oh, you bet, Miss MacArran!” Jessie piped up at once.

“Yeah,” said Jake, in a voice much too booming for a kit his age.”Spontoon island is REET!”

“Jake’s on cloud nine right now.” said Maggie, giving her son’s ears an affectionate tousle, “The other kits here have been giving him the green look all morning cause his dad helped build that plane of yours.”

“Oh, right,” said Katie, rising to her hooves again and pretending to look abashed. “Zeke.  That’s other thing I came here about, Maggie.  Got a message from the Republic while I was over at the tower, and she’s having some engine trouble.  She’ll be delayed until about 5 this evening.”  For obvious reasons, Maggie Bronstiel had not been let in on all of Katie’s plans.

The bunny doe sighed and shrugged, philosophically, “Well, as old as that blimp is, I can’t say I’m surprised, Miss MacArran.”  She put a paw on her hip and arched an eyebrow, “But just make sure that’s her last delay before getting here, okay?...coz I haven’t seen my husband in more than a month, and I got a real itch to spend to spend some private time with Zeke, if you know what I mean.”

Katie, who did know what Maggie meant, responded with a wink.  Jake and Jessie merely exchanged a pair of confused glances.

“Uh, but there is one thing I’m having a problem with, now I think of it.” Maggie was saying, in way that made it obvious she HADN’T just thought of it,  “There’s this...real rude waiter in the restaurant here...the Etoile D’Argent.  French squirrel...”

Katie, who’d had more than her fill of rude, French squirrels for one day, really didn’t want to know about it.

And besides that...

“Since when do YOU have problems with a rude waiter, Maggie?” she asked.  In her salad days, Maggie Akkerman had been the terror of every Maitre d’ in Manhattan. 

The bunny femme sort of  looked away and her ears flushed in embarrassment, an occurrence that usually took place about as often as a solar eclipse. “I don’t...But there’s, er...a small cleaning bill to take care of...and, uh, can you see about getting the hotel management to lift their...uh, ban on me eating there?”

“I’ll see what I can do.” said Katie, managing not to laugh again.  She was rather looking forward to hearing the details when the time came.

“Well,” said Maggie, looking at her watch, “I’d love to stay and talk some more, but I’m s’posed to meet Joanna and Lis over on the Main Island.  We’re gonna take the kits to see some of the old native ruins.”

“Okay,” said Katie, nodding, “Say hello to them for me, and be sure and tell them about the Republic being late.”

“Will do.” said Maggie, and then she was out the door, calling for a rickshaw.

Katie watched her depart, and smiled in satisfaction.  Now, she could finally go get settled in at the Blue Pearl cottage.

Well that was what she thought anyway.  Had Katie MacArran exited the lobby immediately thereafter, she might just have made the front entrance before Lady Pamela Fenwick buttonholed her.

But as fate would have it, the path to the front door just happened to take her past the cigar stand, and there, prominently displayed in the case behind the counter was a box of long, thin, almost jet black cigars, in a handsome cedar box.  The gold-leaf lettering read, Hajenius Sumatra.

Hajenius Sumatras came from the island for which they were named.  Though prized in The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies, they were almost unknown anywhere else in the world.  In point of fact, his was the first time Katie seen one in more than five years.

But she could not forget...and that was why she paused for a second.


Aircraft References:
Aichi D1A “Susie”

Aichi D3A “Val”

                To Katie MacArran