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-by John Urie-
A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie
On Your Marks...
Lady Fenwick reacted as though Katie had said something highly inappropriate; she slowly put her fork down, and straightened up in her chair.
Her expression, however, was one of speculation rather than umbrage.
Then she said, “I suppose this is rather a silly question, but you ARE proposing to build this plane as a private venture, yes?”
“Yes, of course.” Katie answered quickly, taking no offense, “Even if the Royal Navy weren’t the last bastion of the battleship admirals...Hell, even I know what the chances are of getting government funds to develop a new carrier plane.” Her mouth twisted into a wry squiggle, “About on the order of the proverbial snowball in Hell.”
“The last bastion of the battleship admirals.” Pamela Fenwick rolled the words around her tongue with a mixture of amusement and disdain, “I must say Your Grace, for all the time you’ve lived in America, you’ve not lost the ability to make the classic, British understatement.”
“Uh-huh,” said Katie, a non-committal response that could have meant anything. She leaned forward, “And that’s why I wanted to talk to you this morning, Your Ladyship. Even as a private venture, I’m under no illusions as to what a tough sell this is going to be. The Royal Navy could be actively soliciting for a new fighter-plane design, and...well, why deny it? If I were a stallion, maybe...but I’m not a stallion, I’m a mare. If I try to broach this idea directly to the Admiralty, I’ll be laughed out of the place before I can finish three sentences.” These words were spoken with no trace of bitterness, merely as a statement of fact.
As was Her Ladyship’s reply:
“I’m glad you understand the situation, Your Grace. Sad to say, you’re quite right. To this day, there are officers in the RAF who can’t accept the notion of a VIXEN in charge of their Schneider-Cup team.” She was about to say more, when a dragonfly flitted across the table. She waved it off with her fork then asked, “But what’s this all got to do with me, then?”
Katie smiled and speared another bite of her french-toast.
“Everything, Your Ladyship. While I’m acquainted with a number of higher-ups in the RAF, I have no contacts whatsoever in the Royal Navy -- you do. And that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. There have to be some exceptions to the Battleship Admiral clique in the RN. If there weren’t, Britain wouldn’t be building a whole new class of aircraft carriers; two classes, if you count HMS Tenacious. What I need from you are some suggestions on who I should approach with my proposal, and who to stay away from. More than that, I need some ideas as to how to frame it.”
In response to this, the sun seemed to come out from behind Lady Fenwick.
“Ahhh, yes.” she answered with a broad smile, “Oh, yes, I can certainly assist you there. Well, first of all, you need to understand that you’ve actually got more contacts than you may realize.”
Katie’s fork froze in mid-air.
“I do?” she asked, ears working back and forth in equine perplexity.
“Oh yes,” Her Ladyship answered, commencing to attack her own plate with gusto, “It’s all got to do with one of the major reasons why the Fleet Air Arm is flying second-tier planes in the first place.” She raised a paw, waggling rapid fingers at her tablemate, “Uhhhh, I shouldn’t take a sip of that tea right at the moment. It’s liable to come out your nose when I explain.”
“All right, why?” said Katie, working hard to keep her ears from canting backwards. She was in no mood for games this morning.
“Right then,” said Pamela Fenwick, “What I’m talking about, you see, is that the Royal Navy has seen fit to turn over the matter of aircraft procurement to the RAF.”
Katie blinked, no longer nettled at the desert vixen’s caveat but grateful for it.
“Are you telling me,” she queried, speaking very slowly, “that the Royal Air Force decides which planes the Fleet Air Arm receives?” In the United States Navy, such an idea wouldn’t merely be unacceptable, it would be unthinkable.
“Oh yes,” her Ladyship answered, brightly, “I know it sounds impossible to believe when you first hear it; the Senior Service handing over such an important matter to the arm most admirals regard as upstart at best.” She took another quick bite of sausage, then continued, “But when one actually stops to think on it, it’s really all quite clever.”
“It is?” Katie asked, more confused than ever, “How?”
Her Ladyship took another bite before answering, “Well, it’s all rather to do with what you said earlier, Your Grace: ‘The Royal Navy is a bastion for battleship admirals.’ She looked up, with a wicked, vulpine gleam in her eyes, “And do these selfsame battleship admirals WANT the Fleet Air Arm to be successful?”
Katie wanted to smack her forehead. Damn, and damn again! It wasn’t just clever, it was brilliant; the battleship admirals turn naval aircraft procurement over to the RAF, knowing full well that the Royal Air Force will reserve the best planes for it’s own pilots.
Whatever’s left over goes to the Royal Navy...
....and with only second-rate planes in their squadrons, the Fleet Air Arm remains unable to perform up to it’s full potential....
...and then, “See? Didn’t we TELL you that aircraft carriers are a waste of time and material?“
Brilliant, simply brilliant.
“I’m beginning to understand,” the pinto mare told her tablemate,“exactly how long a row to hoe I’ve given myself here.”
“Well, yes you have, I shouldn’t wonder,” the desert vixen replied, cheery as a schoolmistress handing out a particularly difficult reading assignment. “But it’s not as bad as all that. The Admiralty, don’t you see, has given itself quite a large Achilles’ heel by turning over the matter of aircraft procurement to the Royal Air Force. They may expect the RAF to allow the Fleet Air Arm only the shorts and leavings of our aircraft factories...but they cannot MAKE it so.” Her eyes narrowed slyly again, “If, say, the RAF were to decide that yes, the Royal Navy’s carriers should be equipped with a first rate fighter plane...well, the battleship admirals will be quite powerless to prevent it, won’t they?”
Katie’s response to this was a short, knowing horse-laugh. If there was one thing she had learned about hidebound military officers in the past few years, it was that they all possessed the most extraordinary talent for painting themselves into a corner. She took another bite of her french-toast and then reached for the teacup.
“So, what must I do to make that happen?” she asked.
Her Ladyship was about to answer, when she was interrupted by a chittering sound from a nearby monkeypod tree. Katie turned, and was astonished to see a bushy-tailed snowball come skittering towards the end of the branch closest to the wall. For a second, the animal sat poised on the end of the bobbing tree-branch, measuring the distance, then it leaped forward with, paws outstretched, easily clearing the five foot space. Another second, and it was scampering down the garden wall, and coming to a halt sitting up on it’s haunches before the two femmes, looking from one to the other with an air of hopeful expectancy.
Katie recognized the animal immediately. He was an Abert’s squirrel, a species she had encountered many times as a filly in Colorado. (There was no mistaking those long tassels on the ears.) However, she had never seen one quite like this; white as a sackful of goose-down, and with eyes like Maraschino cherries.
“Ah, there you are, Ishmael.” Lady Fenwick greeted the squirrel with a bright eyes and a bright smile, and then began searching through her pockets. “A bit late this morning, aren’t you?” Her paw came back into view, holding the irregular, brown sphere of a hazelnut, which she cheerfully tossed to the snow-furred rodent. Ishmael immediately took the nut in his mouth, and went scampering off to a corner of the garden, searching for a place to bury his treat for later.
Katie blinked several times at this spectacle, then turned and said to her tablemate, “Christmas, what’s an Abert’s squirrel doing here, in the Spontoons?”
“You're close,” said Lady Fenwick, waving a finger, “But Ishmael’s actually a Kaibab squirrel, close relative of the Abert’s, one of a rather sizable colony here in the Spontoons -- all of them albinos, like himself.” She waved her fork at the rodent, who was now busily smoothing over the ground where he had planted the hazelnut. “No one’s quite certain how the first ones got here, but between the large number of macadamia-nut trees and the swarms of adoring tourists, they all do quite well for themselves. It’s one of the few instances in which being an albino gives one an advantage over his darker fellows.” Another wave of the fork, “But, never mind. You were asking me how best to present your case for the new carrier plane to the RAF, yes?”
“Yes,” said Katie, “What should I do?”
“Well, first of all,” the desert vixen answered, “May I assume that the, errrr...The Other Plane is powered by an American made engine?”
“You may,” said Katie, and then, knowing exactly where Pamela Fenwick was going with this, she added, quickly, “But that’s only a temporary situation, Your Ladyship. Have you heard about the new aircraft engine Bristol will be introducing next year?”
Lady Fenwick nodded at once.
“Ah yes, that new sleeve-valve radial, the Hercules. Yes, I have, Your Grace. An excellent design by all accounts. Only...” her eyes compressed by just a hair, “D’you think Bristol will allow you the use of a Hercules for your proposed new carrier-plane? The ink’s not even dry on the patent.”
“Yes, I believe so.” Katie answered, after a short pause,“I’ve always had good relations with the boys at Bristol, Your Ladyship.” She paused, reaching for the syrup, “Especially since the Desula rescue. That’s what got them the contract to build the Beaufort, you know.”
For the very first time since they’d met, a trace of chagrin flitted across Lady Fenwick’s sharply point muzzle.
“Ah yes...Desula. I’d quite forgotten about that, Your Grace. And yes, that will go a long way towards bringing Bristol on board with your proposal.” She took another sip of tea, while Katie experienced a wave of confusion. Why would the subject of Desula be an uncomfortable one for Her Ladyship?
“But what you absolutely must do,” the desert vixen was saying, “if you’re going to win the RAF over to your proposal, is to make one thing abundantly quite clear: You must be able to demonstrate that this plane can be built WITHOUT siphoning off any of the funds or resources currently being applied to the Hurricane and Spitfire.”
Katie tried to stop her ears from going backwards, but they were a little too fast for her this time.
“As if I would ever do such a thing.” she said, straightening up in indignation “Good God, Your Ladyship, no one knows better than I do the importance of those two planes.”
Lady Fenwick took no umbrage at this, merely looked a little tired.
“Yes, of course you do, but it’s not enough merely to SAY so, Your Grace; you’ve got to be able to SHOW the Royal Air Force that it can be done. Draw up a production plan, proposing where and how the new plane will be built. The best thing would be if you’re prepared to open up a new production facility, rather than re-tooling an existing plant to build your new aircraft.” She paused, taking a long sip of tea, “That’s a tall order, I’ll grant you, but if you can do it, you’re halfway home already.”
Katie thought for a second, then nodded, slowly.
“Yessss, I believe that;s possible." She brightened as a thought occurred to her "In fact, I know just the place -- the old airship works at Howden, where we built the Republic. It’s just been sitting idle all these years. Easy as hell to refurbish as an aircraft factory.” She winked, “And I should know.”
Lady Fenwick raised a cautionary ear.
“You can obtain the use of it, then?”
Katie’s grin became sardonic.
“I should...I own it. Came with the Republic when I bought her. We used the property as collateral against some of the loans I took out to get the International Airship Company going, but they’ve long since been paid off, so I’m free to use the old Howden Works any way I see fit.”
“Ah, excellent.” Her Ladyship nodded in beaming approval, but then another ear went up, this one in curiosity, “But if you don’t mind my asking, why is it that you’ve held on to this property for such a long time?”
It took Katie all of half a second to answer.
“Partly out of sentiment, and partially because it’s an almost ideal location for any kind of production facility; right near a major railway junction. We almost set up Combs Mining Equipment UK there, but Sir Henry Strakosch talked me into going with Cardiff instead. ‘Both a seaport and close by the pits,’ he told me...and of course, he was right.”
“Hmmm, makes sense to me.” Lady Fenwick nodded again, but this time uneasily, and Katie knew why. Though the desert vixen was hardly in any sort of dire financial straits herself, even she could not afford to let such a valuable piece of property sit idle for years at a time. That the 14th Duchess of Strathdern both could, and would, was a stark reminder of just how much wealth Her Grace possessed.
A lot of that had to do with the fact that for the past three years, Katie MacArran had been making a great deal more money than she’d been spending. While the other members of her class had been using their wealth to fuel sybaritic lifestyles, she had been enjoying a very different existence. In Spain, in China and especially in Abyssinia she had frequently lived much rougher than during her years in New Guinea. Even after her return to America, her lifestyle still remained well below her means; she owned no yacht, no private railway car, no villa in south of France. What she DID have was an extremely ample cash reserve, one that had allowed her to weather the Recession of the previous March with barely a shudder. THAT was why the pinto mare could afford to let Howden languish for as long as she had.
And also why, unknown to her table-mate, she could afford to refurbish the place as an aircraft works almost entirely at her own expanse.
“However,” Pamela Fenwick was wagging a cautious finger “It shan’t be enough merely to convince the RAF of all this...not unless at least a few officers in the Fleet Air Arm are actually lobbying for a new carrier-based pursuit plane.”
“And that,” said Katie, raising a finger of her own, “is why I asked you to join me here, this morning, Your Ladyship. Which of these naval officers should I approach with my proposal...and whom should I stay away from?”
Her Ladyship responded with a small, thoughtful growl. “Hrrrr, let’s take the second group first, shall we? First of all you shall want to keep your new fighter plane well and far away from Admiral Sir Tom Phillips...and by that I mean, you’ll want to make certain he only learns of your proposal AFTER it’s been approved.” She growled again, louder and more vexed this time. “Otherwise, it’s likely to end up hung by the red tape until dead.”
Katie nodded and nickered, slowly and deliberately. “Mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh. Yeah, I figured there’ll be at least one of those types I’ll have to deal with. Who else should I stay away from?”
Lady Fenwick chewed her lip for a second and looked away. When her eyes met Katie’s again, they were situated above a lopsided expression.
“Much as I hate to say it, you absolutely don’t want to put this idea to Winston Churchill.”
Katie gaped as if Her Ladyship had just revealed she was actually a male.
“CHURCHILL? You can’t be serious.”
Lady Fenwick sat backwards in her chair, a droll expression on her face.
“Let me put it this way: Just before I left for the Spontoons, I attended a dinner party at the Savoy. Winston was there, and with my own ears, I heard him say to Admiral Sir Roger Keyes that the only way an aircraft can sink a ship is by dropping a bomb straight down one of it’s funnels.” She sat up again, dark eyes flashing in the sun, “Still think I’m joking, Your Grace?”
Katie’s ears seemed to wither under her gaze.
“Uhhhh, I think this french toast is beginning to taste remarkably like a helping of crow. And you’re right, Your Ladyship...Churchill’s out.”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenwick, letting out a long, rather wistful sigh. “Please don’t misunderstand me. Mr. Churchill’s a great fur, and Britain’s best hope against Herr Hitler...but when it comes to naval tactics, he’s not just re-fighting Jutland; he’s still at Trafalgar.”
It was the perfect observation to break the tension and the two femmes shared a quick laugh. Then Her Ladyship said, “As to whom you DO want to approach, there are three naval officers in particular that come to mind. The first is Captain, the Lord Louis Mountbatten, extremely bright chap, and very forward in his thinking.
Katie’s ears went up and pointed at each other.
“CAPTAIN Mountbatten?” she said. Her Ladyship had to be joking. What kind of influence could an officer of such low rank possibly have?
Katie quickly found out.
“Cousin of the king and son of a former First Lord of the Admiralty.” Pamela Fenwick answered, reading her tone...and for the second time that morning, the pinto mare tasted crow in her mouth. Ohhh, yes...if those weren’t some valuable connections, there wasn’t any such animal.
Lady Fenwick nodded dryly and then went on.
“The next officer on your list should be Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham; soon to be appointed C-in-C of His Majesty’s Mediterranean fleet, and one of the most aggressive officers in the Royal Navy. Lately, he’s been keeping a close eye on Italy’s new navy. Thinks that naval air power is the key to checking Mussolini’s fleet...which doesn’t have any of it’s own; Il Duce thinks carriers are unnecessary.” Her speech took on a bad, Italian accent, “‘In-a the Mediterraneo, the land based aircraft, they can-a do the job just as well.’” She shrugged, speaking once more in her own voice, “Or that’s what Musso thinks, anyway.”
This last bit of news was more than a little pleasing to Katie. Anything Signor Benito did to sabotage his own military machine was just fine by her.
But...had there been a note of bitterness in Pamela Fenwick’s tone just now? Yes, there had, but why?
“Right,” said Katie, filing that bit of news away for later. “I’ll definitely keep him in mind. And who’s the third officer I should contact.”
Her Ladyship sat up a little straighter in her chair, speaking the name as if announcing an arrival at Court.
“The absolutely most important one of all, Admiral Lord Rissington.”
But Katie just blinked.
“Uhhh, Admiral Lord Rissington?” Katie answered, ears swiveling once again, “ I’m...sorry, I-I-I don’t recognize that name, Your Ladyship.”
Lady Fenwick just smiled..
“Ah yes...you might know him better as Admiral Lord Edmund DeSharell, yes?”
Katie’s ears immediately stopped what they were doing.
“Ohhhhh, yes...now that’s a name I had BETTER recognize, Your Ladyship. He saved my father’s life, after all...and they were quite close friends until my sire’s untimely passing.”
Now, it was Pamela Fenwick’s turn to look confused.
“He did?” she queried “When?” But before Katie could answer, she quickly snapped her fingers, “Ahhhh, wait a moment, His Grace was on HMS Warrior at Jutland, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, that’s right.” Katie answered, and then added, in slightly quavering voice, “and if it hadn’t been for Captain DeSharell and the HMS Hippocampus...” It was as far as she got before her voice cracked
Lady Fenwick said nothing to this, just nodded sympathetically. She too had been close to her father before he had died.
“Have you ever met the Admiral, then?” she asked.
“No,” said Katie, shaking her head, “But I know his sire, William, Duke of Cirencestershire quite well. He came to New Guinea while I was there, to have a look at the Ayon. Later, after I returned to Britain, he helped me catalogue my collection of their artifacts for donation to the British Museum. I've been his guest at Louisburg on several occasions, but the Admiral was always away at the time, so we’ve never been introduced.”
Lady Fenwick brightened and laughed, “Ah yes, Duke William DeSharell...the Old War Horse. Quite the amazing character, isn’t he?”
“That he is,” Katie answered, sniggering back in full agreement. William DeSharell, the16th Duke of Cirencester, was one of those outrageously flamboyant eccentrics the British have always embraced.
“Actually,” Lady Fenwick continued, “You’ve already met one of Admiral DeSharell’s sons...almost. That stallion who came to your aid at the water taxi dock yesterday? Squadron Leader Gerald DeSharell, RAF -- the Admiral’s youngest colt.”
That was all it took to get Katie’s ears to prick up.
“Mnh-Mnh-Mnh-Mhh-Mnh-Mnh. Ohhh, very good. Do you think you might be able to arrange a meeting with him for me?”
Her Ladyship did not answer right away. When she did, she did so without making eye contact, and speaking as if handling a fragile vase with her voice.
“Ahhh, that depends, Your Grace. How much are you planning to tell him?”
“Nothing about the Diva Project.” Katie answered at once, “And nothing specific. Only that I have an idea for a new plane that I want to discuss with his father.”
“Very well, then.” The desert vixen nodded, satisfied with Katie’s reply. “Then I think a meeting should be possible. Can’t make the overture publicly, you understand, but I think that something could be done.” Her ears drooped a little and she chewed her lip for a second. “Only...”
Lady Fenwick leaned in close, motioning for Katie to do the same. The pinto mare canted her head in the desert vixen’s direction, lowering her voice to a near whisper.
Her Ladyship looked around for a second, as though the walls had sprouted a thousand ears...and then there was that sly, wicked smile again.
“That filly who asked you for an autograph in Shepherd’s yesterday is his adopted daughter.” Her eyes sparkled, as she added, “and the Hackney mare with her is his WIFE.”
Katie snorted, loudly.
“Oh, Puh-LEEZE. I know he’s married, Your Ladyship. I saw the ring on his finger while the water taxi was pulling away from the dock.” She waved a hoof. “But never mind that. Is he part of the British Schneider Team, or is he here on his own?”
“Oh, he’s very much on the Schneider team,” her Ladyship answered at once, “Reserve pilot.” She frowned slightly, “Or rather he WAS...until he got tapped to fight in the opening bout of that boxing match later this week. Can’t say I’m all that happy about it, leaves me with no one in the cockpit if anything happens to Squadron Leader Forlani.” She sighed and shook her head, “But unfortunately, the logic of this decision is rather inescapable. Squadron Leader Gerald De Sharell IS RAF boxing champion, you know.”
Katie nickered, then she smiled. Unlike her tablemate, she found this bit of news not altogether unpleasant. “Ahhh yes, good for him...carrying on the family tradition.” Both Admiral DeSharell and his sire had been boxing champions at Dartmouth...and the Admiral had once beaten both the British Army and US Navy champions by knockouts She leaned forward on her elbow, propping up her cheek with a hoof, “I, uhhh...don’t suppose he has any brothers who are still single?”
To Katie’s momentary surprise, Her Ladyship’s expression became sardonic again.
“Yes, the eldest brother, Martyn is still unmarried, but I daresay he’s not a stallion you should care to know, Your Grace.” She growled once, then added, “Unlike his father, he’s better known by his title, at least in Britain -- Lord Painswick.”
Back went Katie’s ears against her scalp, and back went her lips, exposing all her teeth.
“Yes,” said her Ladyship, reaching for the teapot again with a knowing nod, “I rather thought you might feel that way...as do I.” She stopped, as if remembering something, then fastened her gaze look on Katie’s one blue eye, “Which brings up something rather important, Your Grace; under no circumstances, should you mention Martyn DeSharell in the presence of either his sire or his brother.”
Katie snuffled and sat back in her chair.
“That,” she answered, crisply, “is one warning I won’t have any trouble heeding, Your Ladyship. I’ve never met him and don’t want to...never even seen his picture.”
Another moment of awkward silence followed, which Katie decided she had better break as quickly as possible.
“But tell me something,” she said, “Word is, Countess DeVitrines filed an official protest with the British Consulate over Gerald DeSharell’s actions on my behalf – and Air Chief Marshall Ballory had to go and take care of it fursonally. I only hope he’s not in any trouble for it. I’m sort of responsible for what happened, after all.”
The desert vixen laughed, and waved a paw of her own, “I shouldn’t worry about that, Your Grace. The Comtesse’s complaints were duly received -- and then promptly forgotten.” She let out a girlish giggle, and leaned forward with those wicked, sparkling eyes once more. “Isn’t she simply horrible?”
Katie horse-laughed, and leaned forward as well...then she and Lady Fenwick plunged headlong into that OTHER favorite topic of female discussion, immediately morphing from a vixen and a mare into a pair of felines.
“Oh my God, yes! Can you believe the way she dresses? Christmas, I’ve seen chestnut vendors who look less dowdy.”
Lady Fenwick practically squealed with glee, “Ohhh yes..and the way she nearly douses herself with perfume! Might as well paint a stripe down her tail and back if she’s going to reek like that.”
“Yeah,” said Katie, cupping a hoof to her mouth to stifle the titters, “Yeah, with your vulpine sense of smell, Your Ladyship. you must be one step away from a faint every time you meet her.”
It took several seconds of laughter before Her Ladyship was be able to respond.
“Well, yes...but there are certain advantages to that, Your Grace. If she’s anywhere within a hundred yards of me, I always know. Gives me ample time to avoid her, don’t you see.”
Another few minutes of laughter followed.
“What I can’t get over,” Katie was saying, “is the way she lets her hair and fur go like that. Can you imagine any English lady of means and title letting herself be seen with such a pelt?”
“Indeed,” Her Ladyship responded, with a solemn nod, “And that’s not even mentioning her tail.” To punctuate this, she reached down and picked up her own tail, hefting it for Katie to see, “Being a bushy-tailed species meself, I can’t for the life of me, understand how she can LIVE like that. God’s blood, that tail of hers looks like one of the locks of your lion’s mane...errr...”
The desert vixen dropped her tail, and reached behind herself, scratching the back of her neck.
“Well, I hope I’m not prying, Your Grace...but why DOES that lion of yours wear his mane in ‘dreadful locks’? Who is he in mourning for?”
Katie blinked in surprise before taking the last bite of her breakfast and pushing the plate away.
“Y-You know what he means by that, Lady Fenwick?” she said. Never before had anyone had correctly guessed why Rabaissu wore his mane that way, or...was it a guess?
The desert vixen, nodded solemnly and lowered her voice, “Yes, I do, actually. My mother, God rest her soul, was also a Coptic Christian. There’s quite the sizable number of Copts in Egypt, don’t you see?” She sighed, looking down at the table for a second, “Yes, I know what it means when a Coptic lion lets wears his mane that way.”
Katie MacArran could only stare. Lady Pamela Fenwick reportedly let her Egyptian bloodlines show roughly about as often she lifted boulders.
And it explained a lot of things.
By rights, no one should have wanted less to do with the Duchess of Strathdern, former pilot with the Loyalists in Spain, than Lady Pamela Fenwick, champion of the Tories. More than a few of the pinto mare’s oldest and dearest friends had snubbed her for that adventure. (Most painfully for Katie, her former mentor, Mary, Duchess of Bedford had stopped speaking to her.) Though most had later forgiven her, not all of them had, not hardly. And logically their number should have included Lady Pamela Fenwick
Except... as the daughter of Coptic Christian, Her Ladyship could not help but feel a kindred sprit with the furs of Abyssinia -- and a revulsion for the Fascists’ brutal conquest of that country. No wonder she held such disdain for Mussolini, or that the subject of Desula made her uneasy.
And it also explained something else–however much she might not have agreed with Katie’s decision to fight for the Republicans in Spain, Pamela Fenwick could not help but understand the emotions that had propelled the pinto mare into that conflict on the side of the Loyalists.
It was then that Katie realized that nearly a minute had passed without her saying anything.
Fortunately Her Ladyship wasn’t bothered by this, “But who is he in mourning for, then?” She repeated the question without any hint of irritation.
Katie shook herself slightly, then her features became both firm and resolute, “For his country; he’s sworn not to barber his mane again until Haile Selassie is back on his throne.”
“Mrrr,” Lady Fenwick’s growl was both short and defiant, “May that day come very soon for him.”
“Hear, hear.” said Katie, raising her teacup as though in a toast...and leaving unsaid what both of them knew: Earlier that year, the Chamberlain government had officially recognized Italy’s claim on Abyssinia.
The hope had been, that in doing so, Whitehall might successfully woo Mussolini away from Hitler. Instead, Chamberlain’s action had led to the resignation of his ablest cabinet member, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. ( who, incredibly, had not been consulted about the decision. )
And it had all been a worthless gesture; afterwards, Il Duce had continued with his fawning on Der Fuhrer. If Katie had merely disliked ‘Good Old Neville’ before, afterwards she had positively loathed him. Breaking the news to Rabaissu had been one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do.
Meanwhile, Her Ladyship had also taken the last bite of her meal and was moving her plate aside.
“Well, I hate to dash off rather abruptly, Your Grace,” she said, rising from her chair while dabbing her lips with her napkin, “but I’m afraid I must; that blasted Saber engine waits for no fox.”
“Of course, I understand.” said Katie, also getting up. “And thanks so much for all your help,” she added, extending a hoof.
“Oh, think nothing of it.” said Lady Fenwick, taking the hoof and shaking it warmly, “More than happy to be of assistance. Anything to help hold the British end up.” She winked. “And you’re quite right you know, the Fleet Air Arm DOES need a proper pursuit aircraft.”
Katie nodded in agreement, and then said, “Before we part company, Your Ladyship, do you happen to know if any of the casinos here are taking wagers on the Thompson and the Bendix Trophy races?”
“Oh yes, all of them are, I shouldn’t wonder.” the desert vixen responded, looking almost disappointed that Katie wasn’t already be aware of this.
Katie found her reaction to be completely unsurprising. What casino operator in his right mind would take bets on the Schneider, but not on the other two of the Big Three air races? Especially during speed week, when everyone had air-racing on the brain.
“Uh-huh, I though that might be the case.” she said, “Any one in particular to recommend?”
“Yes, the Grand Casino,” Lady Fenwick answered immediately, “Best handicappers and highest limits. That’s where you’ll want to go to make your wager.”
“The Grand...right, I’ll remember that.” said Katie, “And thank you again, for a most productive morning.”
“Not at all.”
When the waitress arrived with the bill, she also brought with her a rather unexpected surprise.
“Okay, for you and Her Ladyship, breakfast comes to $1.60 American...and for the lion, the total comes out at...” she began running her finger down the length of the check, “uhhhh...12 dollars and 18 cents.”
Katie’s jaw almost hit the floor, and her eyes nearly fell out and joined it.
“Twe...Twelve bucks?” she sputtered. (Wealthy or not, she was still the holder of a SCOTTISH title.) “For a yi..for BREAKFAST?!” She jabbed a finger at Rabaissu, still standing resolutely at his post, by the door. “What the heck did this cat have to eat?”
The fox-femme consulted her check again, “A half dozen pigs-in-a-blanket, two orders of steak and eggs, two orders of corned beef hash, three Eggs Benedict, a Denver omelette, a bacon waffle, six cheese Danish, some mango juice, and eight cups of coffee, black.”
Katie sourly regarded her bodyguard, “Had enough?”
He licked his chops. “That should just carry me over until lunch-time, I think.”
And it was obvious, from Lady Fenwick’s snickering if nothing else, that Rabaissu had just evened the score with his employer.
Lady Pamela Fenwick is the intellectual property of Richard Bartrop. Used here with permission.
Bristol Hercules engine: