Spontoon Island
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Katie MacArran
-by John Urie-

A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie

Part One.
On Your Marks...

Chapter 29

The voice, when it came, cut through the hubbub of the hotel lobby like a barracuda through a school of sardines.

“Ah, there you are, Your Grace.  I rather suspected it would only be matter of time until you put in an appearance at Shepherd’s.”

Katie turned slightly, and saw someone advancing toward her; a buff coloured fox-femme of asymmetrical proportions; a body almost small enough for a toy dog, together with ears almost too large for a full-grown wolf.  Though they had never before met, Katie knew instantly who it was, the indefatigable Lady Pamela Fenwick, in furson, and in all her glory.

Well, it had to happen sooner or later...but Katie wished it had been at least a wee bit later.  She had other things to attend to at the moment.

One thing the pinto mare had to give Pamela Fenwick -- unlike many another female peer she knew, Her Ladyship was every bit as formidable looking in furson as she was in her photographs.  There it was; that same ‘show-me’ stare, the same steel in the set of her jaw, as if Lady Fenwick were daring the viewer to make a disparaging remark about Britain,  ‘Just TRY it.’

As befit her species, the desert vixen was both quick and deft in her movements.  She seemed to flow through the crowd the way a stream passes between and around the rocks in it’s course.  When the last furs between her and the petite vixen finally moved aside, Katie had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.  Her Ladyship was clad in a blue tunic of the type worn by RAF officers, complete with epaulets, a Sam Browne belt, and breeches of that indistinguishable hue known to military tailors as ‘pinks’.  Topping off the ensemble was a pair of highly polished riding boots with patent-leather tops.  Katie wondered what Lady Fenwick would say if she knew that her outfit was almost an exact copy of the one favoured by her ex-paramour, Roscoe Turner.  All that was missing was a pair of diamond-studded aviator’s-wings.

“Probably run out and burn those duds if I told her,” the Hunter/Mustang mare mused to herself, but of course she would say no such thing.  The diminutive fennec vixen was in high enough dudgeon as it was.

That was when Katie noticed Her Ladyship was carrying a riding crop, and felt her teeth going on edge.  Like all equines, she found such items to be mildly disconcerting...and wondered for a second if Lady Fenwick hadn’t planned it that way.

“Tell me, Your Grace,” said the vixen, slapping the crop against her hip and pronouncing the second word as if attempting to make it rhyme with ‘traitor’, “do you support British Aviation?”

Katie MacArran let out a silent groan.  She could see what was coming next as clearly as if she were holding the script in her hooves:  Katie would answer in the affirmative and Lady Fenwick would demand to know that if this was so, then why wasn’t the Duchess of Strathdern lending her expertise to the British team instead of striking out on her own.

Then around and around they’d go.  And judging by the small group now gathering around them, Katie wasn’t the only one here anticipating a lively, if fruitless discussion

With a quick, discreet movement, she reached into a pocket and extracted two items, one of her business cards, and a pencil.

“Your Ladyship,” she told the fennec, turning the card over and writing quickly upon the back, “This is really not a good time.  Perhaps you could meet me for breakfast tomorrow morning at say...9' O’Clock at the Aero Club?”  She replaced the pencil and held out the card to Her Ladyship.

In response to this, the tiny vixen seemed to gain three inches in height.

“Don’t think to put me off, Your Gr...” she started to say, but then stopped abruptly and looked up from the card...her expression now questioning rather than challenging.

On the back, the pinto mare had written: “Not here.  Too many ears.  Must talk PRIVATELY!”

The last word was underlined twice.

“Very well,” said the vixen, taking the card, but with an expression that was beginning to smolder again, “9 O’Clock tomorrow morning at the Aero-Club.  I shall be there.” 

Her Ladyship moved aside to let Katie pass, giving her a look with ‘And YOU had better be!” written all over it.  Had Pamela Fenwick known the Duchess of Strathdern a bit better, she wouldn’t have bothered.  It was a point of honour with her never to miss an appointment.

Exiting the lobby, Katie waved to the crowd of rickshaw boys milling about the front of the hotel.  Curiously, they were all native Spontoonians, even thought the islands were supposed to have a sizable contingent of Chinese expatriates.  That was probably just as well, Katie reflected.  When she raised her hoof, there was none of the bickering and squabbling to be seen when you hailed a rickshaw in Hong Kong or Singapore.  The nearest rickshaw boy, a squat, muscular donkey, simply picked up his wheels and trotted over.  For this he was given a few envious looks by his compatriots, but that was all. 

“Where to, Missy?”  the burro asked, pulling the rickshaw up before her.

“The Blue Pearl Cottage, please.” she answered, climbing in and settling herself into the seat.

“Righ’ away, Missy.” said the donkey, and swung neatly around and down the driveway, and then turned left, in the direction of North Bay head.

It was just starting to get busy on the North Coast Road, though it was hardly jam packed as of yet.  Nonetheless, it quickly became apparent that to Katie that she was far from the only celebrity out and about this forenoon.  Before the rickshaw made the center of the bay, she had spotted amongst others, Jack Bunny, Noel Cowherd, Katherine Hopbern, Laurence Bullivier, bandleader Paul Whitetail, former boxing champ Max Bear ...and here came a rickshaw carrying someone she was not especially pleased to see, a lithe, female serval-cat chatting in animated Italian with her companion, a thickly muscled Miura bull.

To Katie’s infinite relief, they passed her by without so much as a sidelong glance,

It didn’t surprise her that Mariella Scarponi would be here in the Spontoons for speed-week.  Everywhere the parties went, that cat was sure to go.  She wondered for a moment if the Italian film-star ( Katie refused to think of her as an ‘actress’) had ever figured out who had sent her that little ‘surprise package’?  Or to be more precise, had the Fascist authorities ever puzzled it out?  Though Katie had covered her hoofprints well, she was fully aware that she had struck fairly close to Il Duce himself with that little escapade -- and Benito Mussolini was not given to half-hearted responses when someone offended him fursonally. (Of course, at the time she’d made that little gesture, the Fascists had <i>already</i> put a 50,000 Lira price on her head, so what difference had it made anyway?)

It was when the rickshaw was approaching the Topotabo Hotel that Katie first heard it, the faint, unmistakable drone of aircraft engines; Wright-Cyclones by the sound of them, which could mean only one thing, the Boeing Clipper was on approach.  Shading her eyes with one hoof, Katie turned and looked to the South.  Yep, there it was; a four-engine seaplane approaching fast from the direction of Hawaii.

As the rickshaw driver passed the front of the hotel, the aircraft grew steadily larger and the thrum of it’s engines became steadily more noticeable.  By now, everyone was stopping to look, and several were pointing at the approaching Pan-Am Clipper.  Nothing unusual there; the Boeing 314 was a magnificent aircraft.  For a moment, the plane disappeared behind Mt, Tamboambo, and then it was descending smoothly towards the seaplane landing lane between Eastern and Moon Islands. Touching down with the delicacy of a lover’s first kiss, the Clipper drew spontaneous cheers from several of the spectators...including Katie.  It had been a perfect landing, perfectly executed... especially impressive in such a large aircraft.  Whoever was piloting that plane, he knew his stuff.

Katie checked her watch.  Right on time, too.
“Let’s see.” she thought, performing a few quick calculations, “Major Finlayson will need to claim his luggage, get checked in through customs, and get settled in at his hotel before he comes calling.  Good...I should have more than enough time for a bath and a change into something less flamboyant before he and Air Chief Marshal Ballory show up.  Unless the Air Marshal chooses to come on his own first, which I doubt will happen.”

She looked out towards the bay again, wondering if the package she’d requested the Major to bring was also on board that Clipper.

Leaving the Topotabo in his wake, the rickshaw driver quickened his pace as he angled right towards the North Bay Head.  Now the road began to narrow, and the traffic became noticeably less congested.  By the time they were within sight of the cottage, Katie practically had the road to herself, a situation that she found more than a little pleasing.

The Blue Pearl Cottage was located on a low bluff, overlooking the main lagoon.  As the place came closer, Katie saw that it was indeed something of a fairy-tale cottage; a riverstone chimney, a rustic, picket-fence, a rambling, gabled roof, a round-top door, topped by a gingerbread cupola and front windows that might have been transplanted wholesale from the facade of a Victorian book-shoppe. The front yard was planted with Mediterranean pines, and succulent plants; a garland of bright bougainvillaea flowers framed one wall.  This was something more than a bit familiar to the pinto mare.  Bougainvillaeas had grown practically everywhere in New Guinea

Perhaps, if Katie had not been so entranced, she might have noticed the small window just three feet left of the front door...and the pair of hot, amber eyes regarding her through the panes.  As it was, they were gone as soon as they caught sight of her.  He did not need to see any more.  She was here...and he must be ready to strike as soon as the bedroom door closed.

When the donkey pulled the rickshaw up in front of the cottage’s coral-stone walkway, Katie was half amused, half annoyed to see her household staff lined up along it’s length, like a troop of soldiers awaiting inspection. And there at the head of the line, his acknowledged place by dint of rank, was Ewan Barclay...still serving as head of Katie’s household staff after all these many years.  That should have been reassuring to the pinto mare, but instead it rankled her deeply.  Dammit!  Ewan of all rodents should know how much she detested such displays of ostentation.

She sighed, paid the driver, (and she left him a nice tip) then got out of the rickshaw and waited while he opened the front gate for her.

As Katie entered the yard, the members of her staff favored her with a casual round of applause. She felt an instant shaft of abashment.  This was no display of pretentiousness, it was one of APPRECIATION...most likely spontaneous and completely unrehearsed.

“Welcome to the Blue Pearl Cottage, Your Grace.” said Ewan, with a slight bow, “I think you’ll find everything quite in order.  All your clothes have been unpacked and hung in their proper closets, everything’s been thoroughly cleaned, we’ve got fresh linens on the beds, and the larder is fully stocked, both for your private use and for any entertaining such as there may be.”

“I’m sure you’ve done and excellent job, Mr. Barclay,” said Katie, who knew from long experience that if anything, the rat’s pronouncement had been an understatement.

“Thank you, Your Grace.” said the rodent, bowing once again, “And now, shall I have Mrs.Guarada start preparing lunch, or will you prefer to wait a bit?”

“Not just yet, Mr. Barclay.” said Katie, who was in fact ravenous.  The only thing she’d had to eat since launching from the Republic had been the sugarcane she purchased shortly after her landing -- and before that she’d only had a light breakfast. 

However, it had been even longer since she’d been able to indulge in another of her favorite creature comforts, and so she told the rodent, “First, I’d really like to have a nice, long bath.”

“Very good, Your Grace.” said Ewan at once, and then turned to speak to the gnarled, Chinese pony mare standing three furs down the line, “See to it, won’t you Hsing?”

“Certainly, Sah.” said the pony, bowing and grinning, “Good and hot, the way Her Grace like it.”

“And have the radio set up outside the door, if you would.” Katie added, “BBC World Service, if you can find it.  If not, one of the local stations will do.”

“I’d better take care of that, Your Grace.” said a gruff, wiry beaver in dark, blue overalls, standing near the end of the line.  This was Peter Grumlie, the staff’s resident handyfur, carpenter, and electrician. “Got to put it where you can hear it but there’s no chance of the cord getting wet.”  Without waiting for a reply, he turned and followed Hsing through the door, an act of impertinence that would have been grounds for at least a reprimand in any other household...and in Katie’s too, except that Goddam beaver was so Goddam good at what he did.

“After I bathe,” Katie continued, turning slightly to address still another member of the staff. “Major Jack Finlayson of the United States Army Air Corps will be joining me for lunch, along with Air Chief Marshal Sir George Gordon Ballory of the R.A.F.  They are respectively, a raccoon and a bear, so please set the table accordingly, okay?”

“Consider it done, Your Grace.” said Mrs Guarada, the perpetually sunny llama femme who served as her chief cook, “And shall I have the butler prepared in case el major y el marshal arrive earlier than expected?”

“An excellent idea, Mrs Guarada.” said Ewan, nodding his approval.

“Yes, excellent.” agreed Katie. “If I remember correctly, the major takes his scotch on the rocks, and General Ballory is partial to pink gin. Make it Glenmaechen 25 Scotch for the major, and Delhi Blue Diamond gin for Air Marshal Ballory if you would.”

“Very good, ma’am.” said the llama-femme, nodding.  Then she also turned and disappeared through the front door.

“We’re going to want to talk privately while we eat, Ewan.” Katie told the rodent, “Shang Li-Sung will be overseeing the details when he gets here.”

“Very good, Your Grace.” Ewan answered again, but this time in a voice as stiff as cardboard.  It was typical of the rat.  As far as he was concerned, the household was HIS bailiwick and he regarded any and all interlopers as intruders upon his authority. 

And that was tough biscuits, as far as Katie was concerned.  What she had to discuss with Major Finlayson and the Air Chief Marshall Ballory was far, far too sensitive to take even the smallest risk that it might be overheard by unwelcome ears.

With that in mind, she turned without another word and strode quickly towards the front door...her way of saying that this was how things were going to be done, period.

When she entered the cottage, another member of the household was waiting to greet her.  He was a bright green parrot with an orange beak, currently seated on a perch in a corner of the living room.  As Katie came through the front door, he flapped his wings and crooned lustily if not tunefully, “Hoo-ray for Cap-tain Spaul-ding!”

That was what that Lonnie always she said whenever she arrived home.

She had found him as a hatchling in New Guinea...an orphan dislodged from his tree by a particularly violent storm.  She had later named him after the actor Lon Chaney because, as was the wont of the New Guinea Eclectus Parrot, Lonnie was an incredible mimic. He was capable of repeating not only words and phrases, but sound effects as well.

“Helloooo, Lonnie.” Katie cooed to the bird, pleased that he had arrived in what appeared to be excellent condition. “You been a good boy, huh?”  She went over to the where the parrot was perched, and extracted from her flight suit the second stick of sugar cane she had purchased upon her arrival.

“Here you go, good boy.” she said, holding it out to him.

“Whyyyyy, daddddddiiiieee?” the parrot squawked in reply, and then took the cane in his beak and transferred it to his left claw taking small bites of the treat with obvious enjoyment.  Katie watched him for a second and then turned to give the Blue Pearl cottage’s interior the once over.
It was the kind of place that immediately called to mind such adjectives as ‘snug’, ‘cozy’, and ‘charming’.  The living room was octagonal in shape, with a small fireplace rendered in the same riverstone as the chimney.  The walls were the color of light champagne, giving an effect of both warmth and cool comfort at the same time.  The furnishings consisted of a log-framed sofa with leather cushions, a pair of high-backed, wicker wing-chairs with overstuffed cushions, and a mahogany table that looked as if it must have taken a dozen draft horses to get it through the door.  Hanging on the walls were paintings of various sailing ships and several prints of Gaugin’s Tahitian works.  The far wall was dominated by a large, teakwood bookcase, stocked with what appeared to be vintage volumes of seafaring and detective novels, except for the middle shelves, which contained selections from the pinto mare’s own library; Gibbon, Locke, Cicero, Sun Tzu, and a number of more modern works, including her treasured four volume set of Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, his brilliant history of the First World War.

And speaking of Winston, where...?  Ah yes, there it was, hanging between the two clipper-ship paintings.  The landscape of the valley of Strathdern that Churchill had painted and then sent to her in New Guinea.

It had gone everywhere that she had ever since.

“Your bath ready to draw, You Grace,” came the clucking voice of Hsing from the hallway. “Radio is set up and ready.”

“Hold off for just a second, Hsing.”  Katie called, turning slightly in that direction, “I want to go take my braids out first.” She turned to Ewan, who had just entered behind her “Uh, which door’s the master bedroom?”

That one,” said the rat, pointing to door, just left of the hallway, “It connects directly with the bathroom, so you can go right in from there.”

“Great,” Katie answered, “Have Hsing let me know if the Major or the Air-Marshal arrive while I’m in the bath.”

“At once, Your Grace.” he answered with a half-bow/half-nod.

Katie turned and headed for the bedroom, doing her best not break into a trot.  She couldn’t wait to get her braids out and then get into the bathtub.

The bedroom was a large, airy enclosure with a slightly Moorish flavor; ceiling fans, Spanish windows, Venetian blinds, cedar doors on the closet, and a chest of drawers that might have come from a villa in Morocco.  Through the largest of the windows, a full panorama of the bay was visible, including a long, private pier and a boat-dock.   Directly in front of her was the bathroom door, slightly ajar, with the radio placed on a chair facing towards it.

Not the most elegant sleeping accommodations Katie had ever known, but far from the roughest.  As a matter of fact, she decided, the arrangement suited her perfectly.

She strolled over to the window and closed the blinds.  Wouldn’t do to get undressed in full view of the bay, even if there was no one...

Abruptly, Katie froze. 

She hadn’t heard the closet door open...but she had felt the slight rush of air as it swung rapidly ajar.
Someone with a lesser degree of training might have turned to see who was in the room with them.  Instead, Katie’s eyes darted instantly to her shikomi-zue, propped beside the headboard of the bed.  Dammit!  Too far away.  She spun quickly, kicking out hard with her left hoof...felt it connect.  But then she was unable to pull away...and she knew what had happened.  She had not hit her assailant; instead, he had caught her by the hoof.  The room spun in a crazy cartwheel as she was pitched over the bed and onto the carpet.  As Shang had taught her, she went into a liquid roll, slapping the floor to stop her forward motion, and leaping rapidly to her hooves.  Now, she saw him.   He was a lion with a coal black mane...a mane that would have looked entirely appropriate on Medusa, composed entirely of long, tangled, snaky locks.  And he was huge...at least a head over six feet, with battering ram arms, a barrel chest and thighs like the trunk of a redwood tree.  He was clad in an curious combination of khaki pants, no shoes, and a long shirt that resembled a truncated Roman toga.

But it was the long, curved dagger in his right paw that was getting most of Katie’s attention.

She lunged for her cane-sword...just managed to get a hoof on it before the big cat batted it out of her grip. Christmas, how could anyone so big move so fast?  Then the dagger swished through the air aiming for her throat, she parried it with the back of her hoof and lashed out again, aiming for the lion’s groin with a kick the could have sent a football over the Brooklyn Bridge.  But the big cat was too quick, turning halfway to the side so that the blow only glanced off the side of his hip.  Katie cocked her hoof again, but before she could strike, the lion bared the claws of his left leg and dug them into the small rug upon which he was standing.

And upon which, Katie realized too late, she herself was also standing.  Before she could move, the rug was whipped out from under her, and she was falling backwards onto the bed.  The lion leaped on top of her, clamped his paw over her mouth before she could cry out.  She felt the blade of the dagger against her throat.  She had to think fast.  Pretending to faint wouldn’t work, not with this lion.  Wait a minute!  He was across her sideways...the side of his head was exposed.  Use your knee...your knee!  Felines have thin skulls...

Katie brought her knee up, fast and hard into the big cat’s temple.  She might as well have been trying to drive a potato through a boulder.  The lion hardly seemed to feel it, except for letting out a small grunt.

And relaxing the grip on her mouth, just enough for her to twist free and scream for help.

Except she didn’t scream....she half-hissed, half-growled.

“Get off me, you big jerk...and right NOW!”

The lion obediently rose and stood back, regarding Katie with a curious admixture of admonition and African dignity.

Katie also got up, brushing frantically at herself as though suddenly covered in lint.

“I’m not in the mood for this, Rabaissu.” she muttered, angrily.  The lion, unmoved, merely raised an eyebrow.

“Will a rapist wait until you are in the mood, mistress?” he queried, in his deep, reedy, basso-profundo as he returned the dagger to it’s scabbard. “Will a kidnapper give you time to prepare?  An assassin?”

Katie pretended to ignore him...but her mind was racing back to New Guinea, her arms bound behind her back...being thrown over...

She forced the memory back in it’s box.

“And how many times I told you, don’t call me ‘mistress’?” she said, ears laying all the way back,  “Makes it sound like you’re my Goddam slave.”

Rabaissu immediately bristled. “I am nobody’s slave!”

Katie knew this of course...and in fact, she didn’t mind being called Mistress; Hsing did it all the time...but she wanted to pay the lion back for scaring her like that.  And the fact that slavery was still practiced in his country was a particularly sore point with the Abyssinian lion.

A former member of the Emperor Haile Selassie’s elite imperial guard, Rabaissu had come into Katie’s service shortly before the fall of Addis Ababa, when the Fascists had first put that price on her head.  He had followed her first to Spain and then to China, her faithful bodyguard and protector through thick and thin.  His massive size and slow manner of speaking notwithstanding, Raibassu was no hulking dimwit.  In fact, he was something of an amateur religious scholar; a devout Coptic Christian who proudly claimed that the first of his ancestors to be converted to the new faith had been baptized by the Apostle Thomas himself.  He was an expert not only in unarmed combat and with edged weaponry, but with just about any type of firearm you cared to name...and an incredibly fast learner to boot.  Within five minutes of picking up a Thompson Submachine Gun for the first time, Raibassu was not only a crack-shot with the new weapon, but could field strip a Tommy Gun at a speed almost too fast for the eye to follow.  To top it off, the big lion owned a degree of self-control that would have made a Buckingham Palace guard green with envy.  Even Shang Li-Sung was impressed with him...and Shang had been Shao-Lin monk in his salad days.

Now, he snatched up Katie’s Shikomi-Zue from the floor and tossed it to her.

“NEVAH leave this where you cannot reach it while you are alone, Mistress.” he growled, “and without exception, always be aware of your footing.  I cannot always be there to protect you, and do not forget that we are surrounded by Fascists here.”

Katie clenched her teeth and nickered in exasperation.

“Raibassu, that bounty on me was rescinded two years ago.”

The lion’s brow just arched even higher.

“Bounty?  What bounty?” he queried coolly, and Katie immediately got the point.  At first, Mussolini’s government had heatedly denied ever putting a price on her head in the first place...so could she really believe that now it had been removed?   The Duce was known to hold grudges for decades, after all. 

And it wasn’t just the Fascists.  Sure, the Japanese had practically fallen all over each other to apologize for what had happened in the Panay incident...but then they’d also claimed that it had all been an unfortunate mistake.  You just never could tell with those guys.

And that wasn’t even mentioning the possibility of a simple kidnaping for ransom.  Was Katie, or was she not in fair proximity to Krupmark Island at the moment? 

The big cat was right and she knew it.  She could not afford to let her guard down while she was here in the Spontoons, not for a moment..

“Okay Raibassu.” she told him quietly, “You got me...yeah, I should have had my Shikomi Zue handy when I came in here.  Should have had it next to the door instead of the bed.”

“You did, Mistress.” he told her, “I moved it.  Better that you had someone give it to you as soon as you came through the front door.”

Katie blinked in confusion.

“Why’d you move it by the bed instead of hiding it altogether?” she asked him, “I almost got my hooves on it when you jumped me back there.”

Raibussa’s deep, amber eyes narrowed and he uttered just two words.

“Why?  Think.”

Katie did just that, stroking her lip and pondering. 

Then it struck her and she looked up.

“Because if I’d come in here and noticed it was gone, I’d have known right away that something was wrong?”

For the first time since her arrival the big lion smiled.

“Exactly!” he said, raising a finger.

Katie puffed out her cheeks.

“All right Raibassu, all right.” she told the big cat, and then waved a hoof towards the door. “And now, do you mind?  I need to get these damfool braids out of my mane and have a bath.”

The lion’s eyes sparkled minutely, and his mouth scrunched into a puckish line.

“A bath?   Ah yes, but in the bath, you would be especially vulnerable, Mistress.  Perhaps I should stay to watch over you”

Katie stared at him for second, and then her ears went back and her hooves slapped against her hips.

“That’s it, kitty-cat...out!”

It was while all this was going on that Mary Fallon, Katie’s former nanny was coming through the front door of the Blue Pearl Cottage.

By rights, Ewan Barclay should have been bitter at her arrival.  Once upon a time, the goat-femme had served as Katie MacArran’s nanny, and as such had been subordinate to him.  Now, thanks to her marriage to Mr. James Spanaway of New York, she was one of Manhattan’s most respected society matrons...while he was still ‘in service’ as the terminology went.

Except Mary had never let her newfound status go to her head...and had never forgotten from whence she came.  When she greeted Ewan it was with the warmth and familiarity of a friend and equal, certainly not as one of THEM.

They spent a few moments reminiscing about the old days, and then Mary asked the old rodent, “So...is Katie keepin’ yer all on yer toes these days, Ewan?”

“She is that.” the rat answered, bothered not at all by Mary’s referring to Her Grace by her first name.  After all, she’d been addressing the Duchess of Strathdern as Katie since before the piebald mare been out of nappies.

“It’s all the moving around, Mary.” he went on, “Not like with her sire.  Vermont one year, London the next...or gone altogether for who knows how long.  It’s bluidy hard to keep up.”  He smiled, “Mind...I wouldn’t dream of servin’ in any other household.  Her Grace treats us all so wonderfully...and then there’s all the little amusements that come with workin’ for her.”

Mary’s head tilted sideways.

“Er, amusements?  What sort of amusements?”

At that instant, the bedroom door flew open and Mary turned to see a huge, grinning, black-maned lion being hustled into the living room by a petite, half-mustang/half Hunter mare.

“Out...Out...Out!” Katie neighed, giving the big cat another shove with every repetition of the word.  And then, giving him one more to grow on with the sole of her boot, she blared, “And STAY out!” 

She turned and stalked back into the bedroom, not even noticing the others in the room and slamming the door behind her.

“Er, what was that ye were askin’ again?” said Ewan to Mary

“Never mind.” she answered, barely able to hold it in. 

Katie had just seated herself at the dressing table when she heard the knock at the door.  At once, her ears went back again, but then she heard a familiar and welcome voice.

“Katie?  It’s Mary Spanaway, dear.”

The room decor immediately seemed to become much brighter.

“Mary?  Hey, c’mon in.  Door’s open.”

There was no one whose presence could have made her happier.  When Katie had watched the very first Schneider Cup race from her father’s rented villa in Monaco, Mary Fallon had been right there beside her.  Afterwards, she had talked Katie’s father into letting her see the trophy being awarded...and when the winner, a rabbit from France named Marcel Prevost had taken it in his paws, Katie had looked at her nanny-goat and told her very seriously, “Someday, I’m going to win the Schneider-Cup.”

Now, here she was at long last...with a plane named after the hero of the very story Mary had told her the night before the race.

Small wonder that when Mary entered the room, Katie greeted her with a long, warm embrace and a mistiness in her eyes.

“Oi, look at you then.” said the goat-femme, beaming as she stepped back and took Katie by the shoulders, the better to appraise her former charge, “Yer’ve done it, Katie.  Yer really here, competin’ in the Schneider.” She felt Mary’s hooves clasp her firmly as she added in a voice that was turning squeaky. “Oh if only yer Da could have seen yer arrivin’ here this morning, Yer Grace...flyin in from the very airship HE put yer on to helpin’ to build...an’ in that lovely new plane of yours.  Oh, he’d be so very proud of yer.”

At the mention of her father, Katie felt a bulge rising in her own throat.  She might have let her physical guard slip when Raibassu had delivered his object lesson, but only with her former nanny could Catherine MacArran, the 14th Duchess of Strathdern, let go of her emotional armor as well.

“I-I never would have made it here if it hadn’t been for him.” she said, somehow forcing her voice to remain steady, “You know that, don’t you Mary?  HE’S the one who started it.  If he hadn’t invested in the R-100 in the first place, I’d wouldn’t now be her owner...and without the Republic, I could never have made the Iso Mining Company work.  I’d have lost Combs Mining Machinery and maybe the MacArran Distilleries as well...and then there’d have been no such thing as my becoming an air-race pilot   I’m only here today because of Dad.”

The goat femme responded by placing a hoof one her hip while grasping Katie’s shoulder even more firmly with the other.

“Well, as I seem to recall,” she said, “Yer did make somethin’ of a minor effort in that direction yerself Katie...and took just a few small risks in the process.”


                To Katie MacArran