Spontoon Island
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Katie MacArran
-by John Urie-

A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie

Part One.
On Your Marks...

Chapter 45

Katie MacArran almost didn’t recognize Eastern Island.  While the place had not exactly been devoid of activity when she’d departed, earlier in the day, now it was practically a beehive.  A thousand species, in a thousand types of coveralls, seemed to be swarming everywhere, and from nearly every hangar, the sounds of mechanics on the job could be heard through the half-open doors and windows.  Here, was the hiss of a blowtorch...there, the clatter of an engine crane...and everywhere was the cacophony of a hundred different kinds of tools and machinery at work.  At times these noises were punctuated by a wordless outburst, whenever somebody discovered they had grabbed the wrong size wrench or neglected to look out for someone else’s tail. 

None of this was surprising to Katie or Jack Finlayson.  In air-racing, such apparent disorder came with the territory...and it always seemed to clear itself up by the time the starting flag dropped.  Two of the crew members who had aided in the successful, last minute rebuild of the Supermarine S.6 engine back in 1929, had been ready to cut each other’s throats only the day before.  To see them working together less than 48 hours later, you would hardly have known they were the same pair.

The actual air around the Schneider Cup hangars had also changed since Katie had last been here.   While the temperature was still pleasant enough, the refreshing tang of sea and salt had been replaced with the pungent odor of oil and engine fumes; an unappealing effluvia to most furs, but heady perfume to Katie MacArran.

And also to her escort, the pinto mare noted with surprised amusement.  Though Major Finlayson was doing his dead-level best to conceal his excitement, she could not help noticing the slight quickening of his breath, the tiny rippling undercurrent in his voice as he spoke, or the sudden purpose to his stride.  The raccoon could keep telling all and sundry that he was through, finished, and done with the air-race game... but now, Katie knew better.   Even though it was almost six years since Jack Finlayson’s last turn around the pylons, he had not yet purged the last drop of racing-fuel from his blood.

Not hardly.

When they’d arrived at the gate separating the race hangars from the rest of Eastern Island, Katie had wondered for a moment whether the Major would be allowed through, since he was not an actual member of her or any other Schneider-Cup team.

As things turned out, she needn’t have worried, (or in this particular case, hoped.) As a former winner of the Schneider-Cup himself, Jack Finlayson had been granted a lifetime hangar pass by the Spontoon Island Air-Racing Association; the gate sentry had taken one look at his passport, and not only granted him immediate entry, but favored him with a crisp salute.  (Katie, he’d just waved through indiscriminately.)

The two of them had just entered the racer’s area, when their heads were turned by a familiar rumble-and-thrum, coming from somewhere around the southern end of the island.  Everyone else also turned to look, and then Katie saw the long, sleek form of a Schneider-Cup race-plane lifting into the sky, this one painted in the bright, sassy hue of the interior of a papaya.

“That,” noted Major Finlayson, dryly, “Is the Dutch entry.”

“Riiiiight.” said Katie, grinning sardonically.  Riiiiight, an orange plane for the House of Orange.  She had heard that Her Majesty, Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands was a co-sponsor of Anthony Fokker’s Schneider Cup Racer and here, apparently, was the confirmation.

Katie and the Major received plenty of attention as they passed by the front of the other race-hangars, not because of the pinto mare’s looks, not even because of the presence of the legendary Jack Finlayson.   No, rather everyone was agog at the emerald-green passenger, riding on the Duchess of Strathdern’s shoulder... which was just the way she wanted it.  Let them keep their attention on Lonnie and they might not be so quick to wonder what Her Grace was doing here, in the company of  Jack Finlayson, less than half a day after both of them had arrived. 

Dammit, that was ANOTHER thing she could have used, Katie now realized;  “Well, if you insist Major, but it’s going to look just a little bit suspicious, your wanting to see my plane so soon your arrival.”

Whhhhyyyyyyy didn’t she ever think of these things when she was supposed to?  ‘Damn, damn, and Hellfire!’, as her grandfather had used to say.

Coming abreast of the French team’s hangar they were hailed by a crisp, gravelly voice, from the direction of the main door.

“‘Allo?  Mamzelle le Duchesse MacArran?  A moment of your time, s’il vous plait?”

It was one of those questions that is not a question, and when Katie and Major Finlayson turned, they saw striding towards them from the hangar, a graying hedgehog with a barrel chest, accompanied by a small phalanx of furs in mechanics coveralls.  She recognized him immediately; they had at the ‘35 Coupe Deutsch de Meurthe and the Switzerland Circuit of The Alps.  Back then, he had seemed like a nice enough rodent, if a slightly erratic sort, but now his face was turned downward in a deep scowl.

Claude Venzine was hooves down the most experienced fur at the ‘38 Schneider Cup...present company included.  He had served as an assistant mechanic for the victorious Marcel Prevost at the 1913 Schneider, and had been part of every French Schneider-Cup crew since.  He had also been crew chief to Jean-Guy Perreaux when the fox had won the 1936 Thompson Trophy and held the proud distinction of having participated in more air-races than any other crew chief still working. The James Gordon Bennett Cup, the Pulitzer Trophy, The King’s Cup, The Istres Paris-to-Damascus Cup, the MacRobertson Trophy, even the 1909 Reims Air-Race.  Venzine had been there for all of them.

He and Jean-Guy Perreaux were almost the perfect team.  As they old saying went, ‘The hedgehog knows one big thing, while the fox knows many little things.’  That was Claude Venzine and his pilot in a nutshell; the vulpine’s attention to detail perfectly complimenting his crew chief’s singularity of purpose. 

And speaking of singular purposes, M. Venzine appeared to be on a mission this fine afternoon.  Striding directly up to Katie, he put his paws on his hips and lifted his chin, regarding her with the look of fine haughtiness that only the French have mastered.

Mes apologies for the interruption, ma Duchesse Catherine,” he said, his tone anything but apologetic, “but I must protest, et protest most vociferously, your actions vis-a-vis La Comtesse Henriette de Vitrines, earlier today, over the water taxi.”

Katie folded her arms and gave the hedgehog that baleful, one-blue-eyed look that only SHE could perform.

“Oh, you do, do you?”

“Mais oui!” Venzines snapped, his chin thrusting out even further, “Just when we thought we were RID of that merde-eating bitch for the day, YOU had to show up et ruin everything!”

“C’est vrai,” chimed in one of the mechanics, a canine of some indefinable breed, “We were stuck wiz La Comtesse Corncrake for another two hours, thanks to you!”

It was here that Katie noticed for the first time that Monsieur Venzine’s eyes were twinkling, and the corners of his mouth with trying very hard NOT to turn upwards.

She immediately got into the spirit of the occasion.

“My...My apologies, Monsieur.” she said, clasping her hooves and regarding the ground like a penitent about to receive his due punishment, “I-I did not realize... a long flight you understand, and I needed to get to my cottage.  Of course I would not have wished the bushy-tailed frump upon any of you.”

“Well just do not let it happen again,” the hedgehog admonished, wagging a finger at her, and then everyone had a good laugh at the absent countess’s expense, after which the French crew chief sloughed away his air of hauteur and became his familiar, avuncular self.

“Always a pleasure to see you, Mamzelle Le Duchesse.” he said,  “et even more of a pleasure to see you back in competition at long last.  Vous have been sorely missed.”

“Why I thank you, Monsieur.” said Katie, holding out a hoof for the spiny rodent to kiss.   A French fur of the old school, he did so while bowing stiffly from the waist.  As he straightened up again, Lonnie intoned in, a cheerful squawk. “Do-in’ the Lam-beth walk.”

“Ah, et ou est this, then?” said Venizine, tilting his head sideways in fair imitation of the parrot’s own mannerism.

“His names Lonnie,” said Katie, reaching up to stroke the bird’s cheek.

“Not Comtesse Vitrines?” asked one of the crew, a ferret, “He has her voice, non?”

“Imbecile!” said Claude Venzine, with more of that mock severity, “C’est une parrot, not une vulture!”

And good laugh was had by all...including Lonnie, who responded with his version of the Glidersleeve cackle.

When the mirth subsided, Katie nodded, and turned to the raccoon standing beside her, who had stood by patiently through all of this.

“And may I present, Major Jack Finlayson of the United States Army Air Corps?”

“Ah, but of course.” said Venzine, thrusting out a paw, “The Major and I have met before, at the 1925 Schneider-Cup.  A tremendous achievement, Monsieur -- in Paris, we still talk about it to this day.”

“Thank you, Monsieur Venzine.” said Finlayson, taking the hedgehog’s paw and pumping it warmly.  “And if I may offer some belated congratulations of my own, your win in the ‘36 Thompson Trophy was one for the record books.”

“Merci Major,” said Venzine, bowing slightly once again, “and with that in mind, as I understand it, you et Jean-Guy Perreaux have not yet been introduced.  If you have a moment Monsieur, he is here now, et I know he should very much like to meet you.”

“But of course,” said the raccoon, sounding slightly nettled.  Katie for her part, could only sigh inwardly.  That was Claude Venzine for you, formal to a fault.  Why on earth he thought he needed Finlayson’s permission to introduce him to the French team’s pilot, himself a Thompson-Trophy winner, was a mystery to her.  Whatever the reason, one of the mechanics, a ginger tabby-cat, promptly disappeared inside the hangar and reappeared momentarily with a wiry red fox in tow.

In terms of physique, Jean-Guy Perreaux was like a slightly larger, somewhat more burly version of Finlayson himself.  As always, he had a Gauloise pegged into one corner of his mouth and a glint in his eyes that was visible from ten yards away.  As he came closer, Katie noted with amusement that the buttons of his coveralls had been hastily fastened, that his hair was rumpled in all directions, and that he had an incredibly silly smile wrapped around his muzzle.  You didn’t have to be Shang Li-Sung to figure out what M. Perreaux had been up to when he’d received the summons to meet Major Finlayson, especially given the lipstick stains dotting his collar, and the faint odor of perfume wafting about his furson.

She had to bite her lip before addressing him.

“Hello Jean-Guy.” she said, extending her hoof for him to kiss, “So wonderful to see you once more.”

“Oui, c’est always a great pleasure,” said the fox.  When he took her hoof and kissed it, the act was performed both quickly and tentatively, as though someone he might not wish to observe the act was watching from a window....which she probably was.

“And this,” said Katie, indicating her escort once again, “Is Major Jack Finlayson of the United States Army Air Corps, whom I’m sure you know by reputation.”

The fox’s response to this was not unlike that of a kit who finds a shiny, new bicycle under the Christmas tree.

“Monsieur!” he cried, “Quelle honneur!” and then grabbed the Major by the shoulders and kissed him almost violently on each cheek.  This time Katie had to pinch a knuckle to keep from laughing.  Same old Jean-Guy...still as irrepressible as ever.  NOW she understood why Claude Venzine had insisted upon securing Finlayson’s permission before introducing them.

“A pleasure...I’m sure.” the raccoon replied though a face like a wooden war-mask.  The expression was not lost on Perreaux, who coughed into a fist and looked down for a second

“Ah, but you must forgive my over-exuberance, Major.” said the vulpine, instantly contrite for having been so reckless. (Another thing that was vintage Jean-Guy Perreaux.) “It is not every day that one meets one of his heroes, eh?  It was your performance in the ‘25 Schneider that inspired me to take up air-racing myself, don’t you see?”

“Oh, think nothing of it.” said Finlayson, waving a dismissive paw.  It was hard for anyone to stay angry with Jean-Guy Perreaux.  In fact, it was darn near impossible.

“How are you coming along with that engine overheating problem?” asked Katie.

It was Claude Venzine who answered her.

“We continue to make progress, Mam’zelle La Duchesse, slowly but surely.  We have just added surface radiators to the wings for example.  Thought it will not entirely solve the problem, it shall certainly improve the situation.”

Both Katie and the Major nodded at this.  Surface radiators were exactly what the name implied, almost wafer-thin and mounted flush with the skin of the aircraft, they were incredibly effective at dissipating heat.  The Macchi-Castoldi MC. 72 had been almost completely covered with them.  Katie herself had fitted her earlier race plane, The Pony Express, with surface radiators but she would not use them here.  Unlike her predecessor, The Little Engine was a war pursuit plane prototype... and surface radiators and enemy gunfire most definitely did not mix.

“As a matter of fact,” Perreaux was saying, “We are shortly going to make a test flight wiz the 120.S to test the effectiveness of these new measures,” He gestured towards the hangar, adding, “Perhaps you would care to observe?”

“I’d love to Monsieur, but I can’t.” said Katie with real regret, “I was just going to show the Little Engine to the Major... and anyway, the last thing any of us want right now is for Countess de Vitrines to show up and find me inside YOUR hangar.”

Perreaux slapped his forehead with the heel of his palm, and all around him there were groans and unpleasant faces.

“Zut, I had forgotten about her, Mademoiselle la Duchesse.  Oui!  Oui!  C’est vrai.  There will be trouble enough wiz that dowdy potato sack should she find out we were even talking to you.”

“Non souci, Jean-Guy.” said Claude Venzine, clapping him lightly on the shoulder, “We are only talking to La Duchesse Strathdern to protest her treatment of La Comtesse over the water-taxi.” He looked at Katie and winked, “Is that not so, Mam’zelle?

“Absolutement, Monsieur.” she answered immediately, “And you may consider me properly chastised for my actions.”

They were halfway to Katie’s hangar when Lonnie abruptly flapped his wings and took off for parts unknown.   The pinto mare wasn’t bothered by this.  As she had earlier told Jack Finlayson, the parrot always returned, and anyway... given the similarity of the Spontoonie topography to that of his home island of New Guinea, it was only natural that he should want to go exploring for a while.

When they arrived at Katie’s hangar, Shang Li-Sung was there waiting for them. (She had sent him on ahead as soon as they docked.)  Though the place was still vaguely familiar, it had undergone an even bigger sea-change than the other hangars since Katie had earlier departed.  A new flagpole had been erected, with Old Glory rolling at its head, a fresh coat of pastel paint was covering half of the wall facing them, the dock had been freshly scrubbed, new skylights had been installed on the roof and there was even some gardening work taking place on the exposed patches of earth.

Drake, as always, had known how to get things done.  By tomorrow, the Little Engine’s temporary residence would be a jewel of a place.

None of the workers were present now, nor did Katie want them there.  What she had to discuss with Major Finlayson was for his ears only.  Even the two sentries had been sent away for the moment.

This had been done because Katie knew that her discussion with Jack Finlayson was liable to become quite animated and she didn’t want it overheard.  Certainly, it was not because the presence of the two armed monkeys would have agitated the raccoon; there had been armed sentries in the Supermarine hanger during ‘29 Schneider as well.  Even now there were guards with rifles stationed in front of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy hangars...which was nothing on the German and Italian sentries, all of whom were carrying submachine pistols.

But for sheer paranoia, nobody could top the Russians.  On the way over from South Island, Shang had told her and the Major that until only the day before, the Soviet team’s hangar had sported a machine gun emplacement on the roof. 

“When the Spontoon Island Racing Association heard about it, that was where they drew the line.” the red panda had said, “They told the Soviets, point blank, that if the machine gun wasn’t removed with three hours, their plane would be removed from competing in the Schneider-Cup.  Needless to say, they got rid of the gun, though they reportedly did it very reluctantly.”

In another time and place, this news might have shocked Katie.  Now, it only depressed her.

At the end of the day, it all came down to one thing... the Czech crisis.   A year ago, the idea of the Schneider-Cup competitors turning their hangars into armed camps would have unthinkable in the extreme.  But now, in the late summer of 1938, with the Wehrmacht massing on the border of the Czech Sudetenland, here was a very real possibility; by the end of Speed-Week, half the nations represented here might find themselves at war.  If Hitler’s legions rolled across the Czechoslovak frontier, both France and Russia were bound by treaties to come in on Prague’s side... and if that happened, Britain would almost certainly join them.  No one spoke about it, but everyone knew it was there.  It was the proverbial elephant in the living room.  As Winston Churchill would later so nicely phrase it, “Most European leaders like to take their weekends in the country, while Herr Hitler prefers to take his countries at the weekend.”

That was precisely what had happened when Germany had re-occupied the Rhineland and annexed Austria; in both instances the Wehrmacht had marched on a Saturday.  And as it so happened, the Schneider-Cup competition was always held on the last weekend in August -- one of the favorite holiday weekends for both the British and French ruling classes; Whitehall and the Quay D’Orsay would be veritable ghost-towns by the time the green flag dropped.

It was a temptation that the Fuhrer, not the most mentally stable of all individuals, might not be able to resist... and also a thought that no one here for Speed Week wanted to contemplate, but one that none of them could avoid.

Katie, though she did not relish the prospect of a war with Nazi Germany, wasn’t terrified by it either... only saddened.  Having served as a combat pilot in both Spain and China, she knew much better than most what such a war would mean for Britain -- and for the rest of the world. 

Right now, however, she had other business to attend to.

Among the other improvements that had been made while she was away was the installation of a new lock on the hangar’s side entrance, a much stouter one than the original.  Fortunately, Shang was there, and produced a key almost at the exact second she noticed this.  (Katie didn’t know whether to thank him or sack him.)

She sighed, opened the door, and ushered the Major Finlayson inside.

The scene that greeted them was one of the sort that artists dream about.  The Little Engine, facing away from them in a 3/4 view, was almost perfectly framed in a shaft of sunlight, descending through one of the overhead windows.  At the same time, the tropical humidity in the enclosure was generating a light, almost imperceptible haze that imparted a silken quality to the scene.

It was more than enough to quicken Katie’s pulse and flare her nostrils.  It was as if she were seeing the Little Engine for the first time, as if she had only just now been informed that SHE had been chosen to pilot the racer in the Schneider-Cup.

Beside her, she heard a low whistle.  Yes, Jack Finlayson was feeling it too.

Or that was what Katie thought... until she heard him say, “Gold?  Why a gold race-plane, for crying out loud?”

The pinto mare swiftly returned to earth... almost.

“Shang?” she said, turning halfway around.  “Go see if you can find Drake and tell him I want some photographers in here right away.” She gestured towards her race-plane, adding, “With a little luck, this light will hold up for a while... and I can’t turn down an opportunity for a picture this good; it’s front-page stuff.”

“At once, Your Grace.” the red-panda responded immediately, then turned and went out the way he had come.

Jack Finlayson arched an eyebrow.

“Think that’s wise, sending your security fur away like that?”
Katie shrugged.

“Actually, I was debating whether to do that or not all the way here,” she waved at her plane again, “And this just kind of made the decision for me.  Shang knows the Little Engine is a pursuit-plane prototype, and there’s nobody works for me who’s better at keeping secrets...but I’d just as soon the fewer ears overhear our discussion, the better.”

“Hmm, alright,” said the Major, frowning “But you still haven’t answered my question.  Why gold?”

By way of response, Katie took one of the buttons of her shirt, holding it between a thumb and forefinger for the raccoon’s scrutiny.

“Well, first of all, gold’s not exactly something that isn’t associated with me.” She winked with her one blue eye, “Second of all, it’s to annoy the Nazis; their race-planes are always done up in silver... so mine’s gold.  And which one is the more valuable metal?”

Jack Finlayson snickered and shook his head, “All right... but if I know you Miss MacArran, that isn’t the only reason you’re flying a gold race-plane.  Am I right?”

“You are.” said Katie, nodding solemnly, “The biggest reason is misdirection; give the folks a dazzling package on the outside, and they’ll be less likely to wonder about what’s on the inside.”

The Major thoughtfully stroked his muzzle.

“Mmm, yes....you make a good point.”  He strolled casually over to the plane, running his paw along one of the horizontal stabilizers, “I see you did away with the trim tabs.” he said.

“Yep,” Katie answered, joining him, “they weren’t really adding anything except weight.  Also, though you can’t see it just from looking, that allowed us to give the tail flaps an extra five degrees of extension.”

“And that, I presume, does help?” queried the raccoon.

“A lot.” she said.  Finlayson nodded and moved on to the wing.  Here, there had been no modifications since he had last seen the Little Engine.

In appearance, there was nothing remarkable about the Little Engine’s wings.  Compared to the elegant ovals of the Spitfire they were almost ugly in appearance; harsh, sharp, and angular.  When viewed from overhead, they resembled one of the desert buttes Katie had seen on a visit to monument Valley with her grandfather.
In actual fact, these wings were very the soul of Katie’s Schneider-Cup racer, a bold, new design in which the peak thickness of the wing had been move further back from the leading edge than in any other plane competing in the Schneider... or any pursuit plane then in development, for that matter.  In addition to this, their leading edge-to-trailing-edge width had been made as narrow as possible while still retaining full structural integrity.  And last but not least, they had been constructed with a surface so flawlessly smooth, they might well have been built out of polished marble.  The result was a design that the pinto mare had christened, ‘laminar flow’ wings.

What this meant, was that when the air flowed over the Little Engine’s wing there was no mixing of the air layer closest to the wing surface with the stream of air surrounding it.  This had the effect of reducing the Little Engine’s zero-lift drag coefficient to a staggering 0.0165.  ( By comparison, the Seversky Bendix-Trophy Racer and Roscoe Turner’s Pesco Special had a CD.0 ratings of 0.0251 and 0.0274 respectively...and neither of these were seaplanes. )

Finalyson’s gaze lifted over the top of the wing, and Katie saw him focusing on the engine cowling.  She forced herself not to tense...and as it turned out the effort was unnecessary.  It wasn’t the engine he’d been studying.

“Four-bladed propellor.” he said, lifting an ear, “Now, THAT’S a new wrinkle.”

“Yes,” said Katie, half relieved, half proud. “That’s the new MacArran Aeronautics Quadrant prop.  Ink’s not even dry on the patent yet.”  What she didn’t mention was that this particular propellor had originally been by built MacArran Aeronautics’ United Kingdom division; designed and constructed under a special contract for Supermarine Aviation Works.  Supermarine had originally ordered it built for their experimental record-breaker, the Speed Spitfire... but then had opted to go with a lighter, single-pitch, wooden prop instead.   In no way was Katie going to reveal this detail to the Major, however... not yet anyway.   The Quadrant propellor had been what led her to fit the Little Engine with a Merlin in the first place.

Finlayson ducked under the wing with Katie following, their faces burnished to amber by the reflection of it’s golden surface.  She saw him place his paw against the one of the blades, stroking it lightly up and down.  Had he been a member of her race-crew, she would have sniggered, and told him what it LOOKED like he was playing with...but he wasn’t, and so she kept her mouth shut.

There was good reason for the raccoon’s action, however.  In addition to there being four rather than three propellor blades, the blades themselves were of an unusual shape.  Instead of the inward curving ‘butter-knife’ contour, common to every other prop of the period, these blades were almost straight, resembling nothing so much as a quartet of cricket-bats.  Except now, up close, Finlayson could see that they appeared to be jointed in the middle.  He turned to Katie, started to say something...and then his gaze darted over her shoulder.

And that was when his eyes turned to flint and his features froze.

“Oh boy, here it comes.” thought Katie...and this time, she was right.

“What... is THAT?” the raccoon demanded, his voice as flat as a granite slab as he pointed towards the sextet of exhaust pipes.

“Uhh, the engine?” said Katie, innocently.  She immediately wanted to kick herself again.  All this time to come up with a response to Finlayson’s inevitable query and the best she could do was come off like a schoolgirl who hadn’t done her homework.

Damn, damn, and Hellfire!

Her answer obviously didn’t sit well with Jack Finlayson.  His ears went back and his voice became a scalding growl.

“That is a MERLIN engine.  Goddammit, Miss MacArran!”

Ohhhhh, boy...now this was bad.  As a rule, Jack Finlayson almost never swore...and Katie had yet to hear him use the ‘Y’ word.

Until now.

“There is no way,” he was saying, “no yiffing way the USAAC will ever give the green light to building a pursuit plane with Merlin engine.”  He clapped a paw against the side of his head, “My God, what the yiff were you thinking?  Of all the duh... the stu... the CRAZY ideas you could have come up with, this one takes the cake.”

Katie sighed, a deep heavy sigh that seemed to weigh two tons.  Just as she had predicted, the Major was overreacting.  Why did males never seem to understand that sometimes, you just couldn’t have everything your own way?

“You finished?” she said, speaking with the infinite, velveteen patience of someone lecturing a child,  “Okay, now here’s the bottom line.  I tried every other engine in the book in this plane.” She began ticking them off on her fingers, “I tried the Wasp, the Hornet, the Twin-Wasp, the Twin-Wasp Junior, the Wright-Cyclone, The Allison...Hell bells, I even tried a Curtiss Conqueror.”  She waved a hoof at the cowling, speaking as though she were discoursing on the inevitability of time, “Nothing else worked.”

“That’s not the Goddam POINT,” said Finlayson, his voice driven to almost a shout by her tone of nonchalance, “For the second time, Miss MacArran, the Army will never accept this aircraft as a pursuit plane, no matter how well it performs!”

“Why the Hell not?” rejoined Katie, still speaking in that placating tone. (Whoa, didn’t take you long to stop feeling guilty over your little duplicity, did it Your Grace?)  “From the minute you handed me this project, were you, or were you not singing the praises of the Supermarine Spitfire all the way to the gates of heaven?  And is the Spit, or is not, also powered by the Merlin?” She paused for a second then threw down her ace.  “And did you, or did you not give me a free hoof in building this plane?”

Finalyson threw up his paws in exasperation.  For a second, Katie thought he was going to storm out of the hangar, never to return.

“How many times do I have to tell you, it’s not ME who’s making the final decision on whether or not to accept your design.  Dammit, you know the Air Corps doesn’t like liquid-cooled engines.  One bullet through the radiator or a cooling line, and you’re in the cockpit of a flying brick.”

“Yes, I know that,” Katie countered, unmoved, “But I also know that you specifically told me to concentrate first on your new pursuit plane’s offensive capabilities and worry about the defensive capabilities later.  And if that’s the case, what about the P-40 Warhawk and the P-38 Lightning.  Aren’t THEY also powered by liquid-cooled engines?”

“The Lighting has twin engines.” Finlayson reminded her, icily, “Lose one and it’s still airborne.  As for the Warhawk, it’s engine is protected by armor plating -- which you already know.” His ears went back even further, “And by the way, I ALSO specifically told you that any British involvement in this project must absolutely be kept secret.” He threw up his paws at the ceiling.  “If I go to the Air Corps with a pursuit plane design that includes a Merlin, I might as well come galloping through on a charger, crying, ‘The British are coming!’” 

Katie shrugged and shook her head.  Males... Why did they always have to make things so overly complicated?  “So you build an American version of the Merlin.” she said, “Wouldn’t be too hard.  Packard could do it, no problem.”

Finlayson screwed his eyes shut and covered them for good measure.

“PLEASE tell me you didn’t sound them out.”
Katie sniffed, “How about a little credit, huh?  Look, at least let me tell you how this happened before you pass judgement.”

                To Katie MacArran