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-by John Urie-
A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie
("Mature situation...or mature dialogue, anyway.")
(Lady Pamela Fenwick is the intellectual property of Richard Bartrop.
Used here with permission.)
On Your Marks...
Once again, the great female question was under discussion, the subject femmes have mulled, debated, considered, disputed, and pondered since time immemorial. It is a sacred discourse, one which no male has ever been allowed to join...and woe be unto he who listens in where he has no business, lest he suffer the fate of Actaeon. This topic is for femmes, and femmes only:
Which species’ males makes the best lovers?
“Mustelids?” said Sheryl Brancuso, a panther from Florida, as she raised a skeptical eyebrow. “What’d you do, kiddo? Dip into some of the cargo?” She squirted a dab of shampoo into her hair and commenced to kneed it into a lather. “Mustelids? Come on, already. They’re lousy in bed.”
“What do you mean lousy?” retorted her co-pilot, Gabrielle ‘Gaby’ LaCloisse, a snowshoe hare from Quebec. She reached over for the long brush and began to scrub her back. “They can keep going for hours at a stretch, non?”
“As if anyone can tell.” the panther femme retorted, sourly. “C’mon, mustelids are hung like Goddam birthday candles, for crying out loud.”
“Not necessarily.” said a new voice, and both femmes turned towards the speaker.
And promptly committed that gravest of all shower-room sins, dropping the soap...along with their jaws.
In this case, however, it was a forgivable trespass. How often is it that one sees the founder of the company they work for entering the employee shower room?
Much less none other than Katie MacArran, 14th Duchess of Strathdern. It did little for Gaby and Sheryl’s peace of mind that when Katie removed her robe and hung it on a peg, she revealed a figure that gave both of their complexions a quick, emerald tinge.
“Don’t forget,” Katie was saying as she twisted her shower into life, “wolverines are also mustelids...and they’re anything but poorly equipped.” She stepped under the water, closing her eyes as it whooshed down into her face.
“At least, one of ‘em is, anyway.” she added, with a low horse-chuckle.
The two other femmes also chuckled, finally starting to relax a little.
And presently the conversation resumed.
“Lupines.” said Sheryl, in a creamy, knowing voice, “Now there’s a species that satisfies, Gaby. Mmmm, there’s nothing like the feel of a big knot swelling up inside you.”
“Oui...and then nothing else, eh? They just turn and lay there until they finish.”
“Not all of them. Depends on their skill.”
“She’s right, kiddo.”
And that was how it went for the next twenty minutes, a high-born aristocrat she might be, wealth and power she might possess in quantity, but at the end of the day Katie MacArran was still one of the girls.
When she emerged from pilot’s ready room a few minutes later, clean, fresh, and smelling faintly of vanilla, both Toby and the McCraddens had already taken their leave. “Daffyd’s got an electrical problem with a Catalina,” the packrat had told her after she’d landed, “and it’s driving him Batalina. If it’s okay with you, I’m gonna head on over to Superior after the Other Plane’s put up, and see if I can help out.”
“Sure, go ahead.” Katie had told him, pleased. Anything that would help put her crew and the McCraddens on the same page was, “fine and dandy with me, Randy”, as Toby himself might have put it.
Now, entering the hangar once again, she observed the tall, dignified, (or it was indignant?) figure of Rabaissu waiting for her, along with Shang Li-Sung
Kate knew that she shouldn’t; she had already paid the big lion back, and in spades, for his inappropriate remark the day before.
But who could resist such a perfect opening?
“Where the hell have you been?” she demanded, putting her hooves on her hips in a pose of mock severity, “I just finished showering...and the whole time there was NO ONE watching over me.”
In response to this, the big lion just straightened up with his jaw setting even more firmly.
Shang, meanwhile, coughed once, muttered a hurried excuse about seeing to the water-taxi, then stumbled rapidly away, shaking uncontrollably and with a paw clasped tightly to his mouth.
He had obviously heard of Rabaissu’s ordeal at the paws his wife, after he’d returned to the Tapotabo. And speaking of Rabaissu,
“C’mon, kitty.” Katie said to the lion, “I’ve got a meeting waiting...with a vixen I had better NOT keep waiting.
The Spontoon Aero Club was located midway between Songmark Academy and the Air Race hangars. Originally, it had been nothing more than a none-too-well refurbished hangar itself...but with the arrival of the Schneider Cup Air Race in the Islands, ( and it’s subsequent renaissance ) all that had changed and quickly; something more befitting to such a prestigious event was called for. And so, the great German architect, Walter Gropius of Bauhaus fame, had been commissioned to design a new home for the Spontoon Islands Aero Club.
Depending on who you talked to, it was either the most beautiful or the ugliest structure in the Spontoons, a cubist affair, with a statue of a Schneider-Cup seaplane out front that looked like the ultimate tribute to the art of origami. When the new structure had been unveiled, the reaction abroad had been decidedly mixed; the Americans had loved it, the British response had been ambivalent, the French had turned their noses up in haute derision, the Italians had turned jade-green with envy, and the Germans had outright loathed the place, not only for it’s decidedly non-gothic design but for the fact of the architect’s known leftist sympathies. (Which, of course, meant that the Rain Islanders had praised it to the high heavens and back again.)
It looked woefully out of place, here on Eastern Island, a locale that was largely industrial in nature, with the exception Songmark Academy -- and even Songmark was largely given over to labs, workshops, and hangars.
Even so, no one would ever dream of relocating the Spontoon Aero Club to say, Meeting or South Island. This location had been THE gathering place for aviators almost since the day the first plane had landed in the archipelago.
There were times when tradition trumped aesthetics
And there, waiting beside the airplane statue, with her arms crossed in the manner of a stern schoolmistress was the diminutive figure of Lady Fenwick. Seeing her, Katie made a quick glance at her watch. No, she wasn’t late; in fact, she was a few minutes early. Even so, there was no missing the fact that Pamela Fenwick’s right foot was beating a steady, impatient tatoo on the stone walkway.
“Your Ladyship,” said Katie, bowing slightly as she approached.
“Your Grace,” the desert vixen answered, bowing back...and then adding in a voice that could have chilled a steel furnace, “How nice of you to have been so punctual.”
“Think nothing of it,” Katie answered, already wanting to get this meeting over with. Bad idea; she should have had it out with Her Ladyship, the day before, in Shepherd’s and been done with it. “I was thinking,” she said, trying her best to sound gracious, “that we might have our talk over breakfast. The wife of my crew chief tells me that Luchow’s over on Meeting Island, is a splendid place for the morning meal.”
“Oh yes, she’s quite right.” Lady Fenwick answered, the sardonic arch of one eyebrow reminding Katie that this was only her n’th sojourn in the Spontoons, and so yes, she was quite familiar with Luchows...and how could you NOT be aware of that, Your Grace?
“Excellent.” Katie answered, trying not to bite her tongue. If the peculiar English talent for insulting someone without actually saying anything was an art, Lady Pamela Fenwick was clearly a Grand Master.
“Well...I’m was no amateur either, sister.” Katie silently reminded Her Ladyship, behind a forced smile, “So DON’T push me too far.”
“If you’ll come this way, I have a water taxi waiting,” she said. In response, Pamela Fenwick made a gesture of ALMOST looking at her watch...as if she were really looking for an excuse to beg off, but had decided against it, at the last second.
“Oh you’re good, Lady Fenwick, you’re GOOD.” Katie thought, but did not say.
The water taxi ride to Meeting Island was every bit as frosty as their initial meeting. Pamela Fenwick spent the entire time regarding the scenery, as if Katie, Shang, and Rabaissu had all turned invisible. And just to add insult to insult, the one furson in the boat whose presence she seemed willing to acknowledge was Laluu’pa-ti, the taxi driver.
“You’re GOOD, Lady!” Katie thought to herself once more, then settled back in her seat and tried to recall what she knew about her guest.
Of English-Egyptian stock, Lady Pamela Fenwick had spent most of her youth being looked down upon by her peers of pure English breeding. It was an experience with which Katie MacArran, half English Hunter, half American Mustang, could more than sympathize. Even today, after all her accomplishments, and with all of her wealth, there were more than a few members of the English gentry who regarded The Duchess of Strathdern with a jaundiced eye -- not because of her outspoken nature, not because of her habit of mixing freely with members of the lower classes, not even because of her scandalous lifestyle.
They snubbed her because of her mixed bloodlines, nothing more.
Not all of them, of course; there were plenty of other upper class Britishers of Anglo-American parentage...but there were an equal number who regarded anyone who wasn’t of pure, English stock as mongrels, or even worse. In that regard, Katie did have it one up on Her Ladyship; while her dam might have been American, but at least she’d had an ANGLO maiden-name. No such luck for Pamela Fenwick; HER mother had been what the British referred to as either ‘a native’, or ‘a wog’, depending on the company in which they spoke. (Katie, for her part, didn’t give a damn; she freely associated with furs all species and nationalities...and was frequently ostracized for it by those of her class who did not.)
And there was one other thing that Katie had in common with Her Ladyship. Also like the pinto mare, Pamela Fenwick had also found herself left wholly in charge of the family business at an early age, and like Katie, she had fought tooth and nail to preserve and expand it...until today, Fenwick Foods Ltd. was to carnivorous species what Buckhorn’s was to herbivores....AND their largest, in fact their only serious rival for the English omnivore market. As a result, there had been several minor clashes between the two families over the years. It was said that Pamela Fenwick was the only fur ever to have successfully stared down Josslyn Buckhorn. (Though, according to a tale the pinto mare had been told in L’Etoile the previous evening, it had been his son Reginald, of all cervines, who had eventually evened up the score.)
In spite of her Egyptian roots, or perhaps because of them, Pamela Fenwick was also fiercely patriotic. When the Treasury Bench had declined to underwrite a race-plane for the 1931 Schneider, thereby all but ensuring an Italian victory, it had been Her Ladyship who had come riding to the rescue, fursonally assuming the cost of developing the new Supermarine S6.B. True, a Macchi-Castoldi MC 72 had ended up taking the trophy home that year, but it only after a duel down to the wire with one of the British planes. And even then, Pamela Fenwick had refused to yield. Again and again she had thrown her money behind the British Schneider team...until, four years later, in the first Schneider to be held after the permanent move to the Spontoons, a twin engine deHavilland DH 92 Sea Comet had claimed the cup for the Union Jack once again. ( If there was ever a race Katie was sorry to have missed, it was that one. But it couldn’t be helped; she had been otherwise occupied in Cleveland at the time.)
Her Ladyship was also reputed to be the ultimate Tory femme. Waving a red banner in her presence was like waving the proverbial red flag before a bull. The question was, how did she feel about Hitler? Katie was all too aware that there were many furs of Her Ladyship’s (and her own) class who were not only wholehearted supporters of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, but ardent admirers of Hitler. Most peers, in fact, considered Bolshevism a much bigger threat to Britain than the Nazis. (E.G., Lady Nancy Astor.) With her deep-seated revulsion for anything that smacked of socialism, Lady Pamela Fenwick could very well be a charter member of that club.
Katie was also aware that her Ladyship had come to Spontoons this year with one overriding conviction -- to see to it that the Third Reich did not take home the Schneider Cup for the third year in a row. Never mind that with the rule changes, the Germans would not retain permanent possession of the trophy, even if they won; the Nazis were NOT going to accomplish that which so far only Britain had come close to achieving...not if Lady Fenwick had anything to say on the subject.
So maybe...just maybe...
Just then, the breeze shifted, and Katie became aware of something, the odor of Lady Fenwick’s perfume. It was a pleasant enough scent, dry and floral, with just a hint of peppermint, but the pinto mare could swear she’d encountered it before.
Only...when? When she’d been buttonholed by Her Ladyship in the lobby of Shepherd’s Hotel. No, not then, Her Ladyship hadn’t been wearing ANY scent at the time. Okay, then what about during her clash with the Comtesse de Vitrines on the water taxi dock? No, that hadn’t been it either; the squirrel-femme’s perfume had held a totally different bouquet. But she had definitely come in contact with this particular scent sometime on the previous day.
The boat touched the dock, and Laluu’pa-ti moved quickly to tie up.
Luchows turned out to be close enough to the dock that they could dispense with the rickshas and walk. It was a charming place, painted a cheery yellow-creme, with tall, gabled windows, and an oversized flag of the Spontoons hanging above the door; the type of restaurant you saw attached to railroad depots all over central Europe.
At the door, they were met by a convivial, slightly zaftig cheetah femme, who identified herself as Rosie and led them through the restaurant towards the private garden terrace. Halfway there, Katie spotted a tall, ascetic-looking white-tail buck, seated at a corner table and quietly sipping coffee, a silver-headed cane laying across his lap. As they passed, she observed Shang Li-Sung nodding almost imperceptibly to the cervine, who immediately returned the gesture. Under normal circumstances, Katie might have made a note to ask the red-panda about it later on, but right now her brain was too busy fending off all the tantalizing aromas wafting through the dining room. By the time Rosie finally ushered her and the Lady Fenwick through a door and into the private terrace, the pinto mare’s stomach was stamping its hooves like a spoiled filly and demanding to be fed right NOW.
“All right, here we are,” said Rosie, laying menus before each of two chairs pulled up before a table set with fresh, pastel linen and plates decorated with the Luchow’s logo. The flatware was gleaming and the napkins had been folded into crowns. Well, why not? The restaurant was, after all, entertaining not one, but TWO participants in the Schneider Cup on this fine morning.
“Now, I assume you ladies will want a few minutes before you order.” Rosie told them after the two had seated themselves. She pointed to a chain with wooden peg at the end, drooping from a hole in the wall. “When you’re ready, just give that a pull, and your waitress will be with you in a flash. In the meantime, is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Yes, a pot of tea please.” said Lady Fenwick, then looked at Katie, “Coffee for you, Your Grace?” she added, spitting out the word ‘coffee’ as if it were bile.
“No, tea will be fine for me as well,” said Katie, and then added with an air of high confidence “Darjeeling if you have any.” Just to let her Ladyship know she wasn’t QUITE the uncultured ruffian.
It was after the tea was brought, that Shang took his leave, while Rabaissu remained standing at the threshold; it would be his job to watch the door while the red panda made certain no one listened at the garden wall.
Looking at him, standing there in a pose of high, African dignity, Katie felt a shaft of guilt for having needled him in the hangar earlier.
“Have you had breakfast yet Rabaissu?” she asked. The big cat immediately shook his head. “Okay, “ she added, brightly, “then why don’t you go ahead and have something to eat on me while Her Ladyship and I talk? Just make sure you keep an eye on the door, ‘kay?”
“As you say, Mistress.” the lion responded, and then laid an arm across his chest and bowed out.
The second he closed the door, it was as if someone had thrown a switch. Lady Fenwick’s air of high dudgeon vanished in the air like a magician’s cape.
“Well now,” she said, as reached for the tea and began to pour for her host, her tone not just cordial but conspiratorial, “May I assume that this meeting has something to do with the Diva project?”
Katie MacArran did not respond to this; to have done so would have required her to be able to close her mouth.
“Oh yes, I’d rather known all about it long before you’d come aboard.” the little vixen went on, commencing to pour for herself, “After all, Reginald Mitchell, God rest his soul, was hardly in a position to relate the details of his conversation with Major Finlayson to Air Chief Marshal Ballory HIMSELF, yes? And so...Oh, I’m sorry. One lump or two?”
Katie blinked, stared, then stuttered.
“Uh...t-two...but...y-you’ve known all...all along th-that the Little Engine is a....? Then why the cold shoulder in Shepherd’s yesterday and all the way here this morning?”
Her Ladyship dropped the cubes of sugar in Katie’s cup, one by one, regarding her with the sly humor that only a fox can muster.
“Well we must keep up appearances for the Germans’ sake, mustn’t we? Were I to be sociable with you in public, what with MY known sentiments and all, it might set a few tongues wagging, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Katie fell back in her chair, stunned...then threw back her head and whinnied with laughter.
“Oh, I take back everything I thought about you earlier, Lady Fenwick.” she said to herself, “You’re not just good, you’re terrific.” She silently crossed a pair of hopeful fingers. If Her Ladyship knew about the Diva project and, more importantly, endorsed it, then at the very least, she held NO warm feeling for the Nazis.
“So what shall we talk about?” queried the desert vixen, plopping a sugar cube in her own tea and reaching for the milk.
Katie took a small sip of her own tea, then picked up her menu, a three page affair with an art-deco cover.
“If you don’t mind, Your Ladyship,” she answered, “I’d rather not discuss that until after we’ve ordered. I always make it a point not to talk business on an empty stomach, you see. Little something I picked up from the Chinese.”
“Please yourself.” said Lady Fenwick, picking up her own menu, and eyeing her tablemate over the top. “But this is to be a business discussion, then?”
“Of sorts.” Katie answered, and then began busily perusing her menu as if to say this was all Pamela Fenwick was going to get out of her until the food arrived. “Anything to recommend?” she asked, looking up for just a second.
“Well, I’m rather partial to the LEO omelette myself.” Lady Fenwick replied, “That’s...”
“Lox, Eggs and Onions, I know.” Katie told her, quickly...and then added, trying not to sound nettled, “I’m actually quite familiar with New York City cuisine, Your Ladyship. I have a suite there in the Pierre Hotel.” She lowered her menu halfway. Okay, here we go: “That’s one thing I’m really going to miss about America.”
Had Pamela Fenwick been drinking her tea at that moment, it would have come shooting out of her nostrils. As it was, she almost knocked the pot over.
“You’re...returning to Britain?” she asked, staring with her ears pricked up.
“Yep.” Katie nodded. “Win, Lose, or Did Not Finish, when the Schneider is over, I’m moving back again.” She lowered a hoof beneath the table and crossed her fingers. “Much as I love America, Your Ladyship, I feel that I’m needed in Britain. Our government’s policy of appeasement towards Herr Hitler is madness...sheer and complete madness. And the opposition, especially Mr. Churchill, need every friend they can get.”
There...she’d said it.
Lady Fenwick did not respond immediately. She simply turned and looked at the garden wall for a second, as if a window had suddenly appeared there that would allow her to see all the way to her estate in the Lake District.
Then she sighed, and slumped her shoulders.
“You know,” she said, speaking in a tone of weary resignation that was completely out of character for her, “not all that long ago, there I was, railing against MacDonald and Labour for promoting the notion that Britain was a third-rate country.” She shook her head, sadly, “Who could have possibly known back then that one day it would be the TORIES who should attempt to make that notion a reality?”
Katie nodded somberly, but she wanted to whoop. This was just what she had been hoping to hear.
“Tell me, Your Grace.” said Her Ladyship, studiously eyeing the pinto mare. “When did you first realize what a rotten policy this was? For me, it was when Chamberlain appointed that nonentity, Kingsley Wood as Air Minister. How about you? What was YOUR moment of epiphany?”
Katie should not have been surprised by this; Lady Fenwick had been butting heads with Sir Kingsley almost from the moment he’d taken office. He was a Germanophile, a Francophobe, and made no secret of his sentiments about air racing...and the role of femmes in aviation. Even so it had never occurred to the pinto mare that his appointment might have been the last straw for Lady Fenwick and His Majesty’s Government.
For Katie’s part, she had never liked or trusted Chamberlain’s government...or Baldwin’s before him, not after the Dear Vicar had broken his pledge not to let the RAF fall behind the Luftwaffe in air strength. But the final break for her had been...
“When the PM rejected President Roosevelt’s offer to convene that conference in Washington...you remember that? It was to discuss the Austrian situation.” Now, she also shook her head, but in aggravation, rather than sorrow, “I can understand Whitehall’s reluctance to get cozy with Stalin And I don’t trust France all that much either, not with that revolving-door government of theirs...but snubbing FDR in favor of Hitler? Come ON, already!”
“Yes...Austria.” Lady Fenwick replied, regarding the wall once again, this time with a short, low growl, and then looking directly at her tablemate. “Tell me something, Your Grace. I’ve read the accounts of what the Nazis are doing over there in the Observer and the Mirror. Are things really all that bad?”
“Worse,” said Katie with an angry snort. “If you think what you’ve read so far is horrible, you should see some of the stories we HAVEN’T been able to print. In Salzburg, back in May, a gang of storm troopers raped a girl bunny right in a public park and in broad daylight. According to the report our correspondent filed, there were dozens of furs in that park at the time but not one of them tried to help her. Instead, they all high-tailed it as soon as one of the troopers yelled, ‘Raus!’.”
Lady Fenwick’s menu went see-sawing to the floor, “Oh, my God.” she gasped.
“Well, hang on to your hat,” said Katie, reaching down to help retrieve it, “Coz, it gets worse. When her father went to the police about it, HE was arrested. The Nazis let him go, but on condition that he keep his mouth shut about the incident from now on. That’s why we can’t run the story; if we do, his whole family gets shipped off to a concentration camp.”
At this, Pamela Fenwick’s lip curled upward in an expression of vulpine derision. “I’m beginning to see, “ she said, speaking very deliberately, “Why you feel such an urgent need to return to Britain. But if you do then, how are you going to work on developing the Little Engine into a...Oh dear God!”
“What is it?” asked Katie, blinking in surprise at her tablemate.
“Excuse me,” said the desert vixen, lowering her voice and looking uneasily at the door, “but I’ve just realized something. Luchow’s is the only restaurant in the Spontoons that serves GERMAN food. Is this really such a wise choice as a location for our conference? Half the guests in the dining room could be Nazis.”
Katie laughed, and waved an airy hoof.
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Your Ladyship. You won’t see any of those boys in Luchow’s.” She leaned close, lowering her voice and nodding shrewdly, “Judisches geschaft.”
Her ladyship sniggered and nodded back.
“Ah, yes...forgot about that. Yes, you’re quite right.”
“And,” said Katie, “to answer the question you started to ask, I can work on the developing the Little Engine into a pursuit plane anywhere I like. In fact, since the new plane will be powered by a Merlin, doing the work in Britain will have certain advantages over doing it in the States...and keep in mind that even when the work starts, the new pursuit plane will be officially be built as an export plane, same as the NA-50.” She smiled and laid her menu aside. “Which brings us to the reason I asked you to meet me here this morning. But first, if you’re ready, I’m ready to ring for the waitress.”
“Oh yes, please,” said Her Ladyship, a note of unmistakable gratitude in her voice, “I must confess, I’m positively ravenous this morning.”
“So am I,” said Katie, reaching for the bell.
When the waitress arrived, an attractive, dark-red vixen, Lady Fenwick ordered the LEO omelette with sausages on the side, while Katie opted for the challah-bread French toast...on one condition.
“Do you serve real maple syrup or imitation?” she asked. After so many years of living in Vermont, it was the genuine article or nothing for Katie MacArran.
“Sure do, hon’.” The fox-femme replied at once “We have Buckhorn’s Canadian Estate. Er, it’s ten cents extra though.”
Katie opted to pay the extra dime.
While they waited for the meal to arrive, she and Lady Fenwick turned their discussion to the British Schneider Cup entry, the Napier Heston Type 60S.
“It’s that blasted Napier Sabre engine.” Her Ladyship was saying, with a frustrated growl. “Or as we’ve come to call it, the Napier Hydra. If it weren’t for that, the Heston should be at least be able to compete on the same level as the Bugmann/Dross Blitzen. As it is, we’ll be lucky if she finishes at all.”
“Let me guess,” Katie responded, amused, but at the same time sympathetic, “You call it the Hydra, because the minute you solve one problem, two more crop up, am I right?”
“Yes!” All the air seemed to escape from Lady Fenwick in a sigh of exasperation, “And we’ve not got the option to switch to a different engine. In the first place, the Heston’s too large for a Merlin and even if she weren’t, as Napier co-designed her, that gives them the right to insist we use their power plant.”
“Mmnh-mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh,” Katie nickered, “Where’s Henry Royce when you need him, eh? He had the S.6 engine up and race-ready in maybe half the time than it’s taken to get the Saber to where it is now. What the heck is Napier’s problem, anyway?”
“Ego, that’s the problem.” said Lady Fenwick, her tone becoming sharper with every word, “Napier absolutely refuse to do with the Saber what Sir Henry did with the S.6....run it non-stop till it breaks, tear it apart to see what’s wrong, then start all over. You even hint at the idea and they throw up their paws in horror.” She yipped in vexation, “It’s an aircraft engine, not someone’s bloody CHILD for God’s sake...oh, err, excuse my language.”
“No excuses necessary,” Katie answered at once, “I’d feel the same way, if I were you.”
There was a knock on the door, followed by Rabaissu’s distinctive basso-profundo.
“Waitress is here with breakfast, Your Grace.”
“Send her in.”
It was only when Katie was well into her second slice of toast (and Her Ladyship was on her third sausage link) that she finally got down to cases.
“When we met,” she told Pamela Fenwick, “Your first words were to ask me if I supported British aviation, remember?”
“I do,” said the desert vixen, forking up another bite of her omelette.
Katie nodded and took a bite of her own meal before continuing.
“Well, the fact of the matter is Your Ladyship, British aviation is doing quite well without my support...at least where the RAF is concerned.” She paused, waved a hoof, and continued, “Yes, yes...I know; we’re still way behind Germany in terms of production. But in terms of design, it’s Britain that holds the advantage. We have the Spitfire and the Hurricane for our pursuit planes, and soon we’ll be introducing a new bomber, the Vickers Wellington, a plane that’s more than a match for the Dornier Do.17 or the Heinkel He.111.”
“Oh yes, I quite agree.” said Lady Fenwick, reaching for the tea, “We’re quite ahead of the Nazis in aircraft design at the moment, especially with the Spitfire.”
“Thanks to Reginald Mitchell. God rest his brilliant soul.” Katie nodded solemnly, “But in one particular area of aviation, I’m sorry to say, Britain is woefully lacking.” She rapped a hoof on the table, “And it’s beyond scandalous, Your Ladyship, it’s downright absurd. How could a nation with such a long and proud seafaring tradition as ours let the rest of the world outstrip her in the area of NAVAL aviation?” She shook her head, snuffling in disgust, “Christmas...while the RAF is flying the Spitfire, the most advanced fighter in the Fleet Air Arm is the Gloster Sea Gladiator... a plane that’s not even a match for the Mitsubishi Claude...much less the Messerschmitt109. Don’t tell me the Royal Navy can’t do better than THAT for their pilots.”
Throughout this tirade, Pamela Fenwick had merely watched Katie with a studious eye. Now, she slowly put down her fork
“May I assume that you have remedy in mind for this discrepancy?” she asked.
“Yes,” Katie answered, “I believe I do. Did you happen to catch any of my flight earlier this morning.”
“I did.” Her Ladyship replied, ears working in curiosity, “And I must say, I was rather positively impressed. What aircraft was that, then? Was it your famous racer, the Pony Express?”
“Not hardly,” Katie answered, unable to suppress a grin, “The Express has long since retired on her laurels, such as they are. No, the plane I was flying this morning is known simply as The Other Plane.” She went on to explain to Pamela Fenwick how the aircraft had developed, how it had begun as a test-bed for the Little Engine before coming into it’s own right.
“And it’s also,” she told the desert vixen when she had concluded, “the plane that I propose to develop into a new carrier-based pursuit plane for the Fleet Air Arm.”
(Lady Pamela Fenwick is the intellectual property of Richard Bartrop. Used here with permission.)
Gloster Sea Gladiator: