Luc© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)Chapter One-hundred-seventy-eight
He had assured her that he’d be home as quickly as he could.
And the barefaced gall of the man wanting to see him in his office, of all places, was breathtaking. In mystery novels, meetings like this normally took place in dark alleys.
The man, a deer of medium height and build, was waiting outside the door of his office, smoking a cigarette. He compounded the insult by smiling and extending a paw. “Good morning, Senator.”
McAfee clenched a fist. “You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here!”
The deer backed away a step. “Please, Senator!” he protested. “Let’s go inside – unless you like airing your laundry in public.”
The badger glowered and unlocked the door, ushered the man in and locked the door behind him. Once they were in the inner office McAfee whirled and grabbed the cervine by the lapels. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t bash your muzzle inside-out!” the badger roared.
The deer’s ears laid back. “Try it, Senator,” he said in a level tone. “Do you honestly think those were the only pictures?” He stepped back as McAfee released him, and brushed his lapels down before adding, “If anything happens to me, those pictures go to the two biggest newspapers in the state – and they don’t like you much, do they?”
The badger snorted, stepped behind his desk and sat down heavily in his chair. “All right,” he said in a sullen tone, “how much do you want?”
His unwelcome guest managed a fair imitation of a shocked look. “You misunderstand, Senator! We want to help you.”
“’We?’ And just how do you ‘help’ me by threatening me with dirty pictures?”
“Some of my associates believe in insurance,” the deer said pointedly, “and Eileen’s the best there is. She usually lives in Minneapolis, but works in St. Paul.” He grinned. “In certain circles, she's known as the Tail of Two Cities.”
“I never want to see her again -”
“You won’t, don’t worry.”
“I can imagine not. So, this is all insurance.” McAfee leaned back and rested his paws on the arms of his chair. “Insurance for what?”
“So, we’re going to talk business?”
“I don’t have a choice, do I?”
The deer let the question pass. “You were elected in nineteen thirty-six.”
“So you’re up for re-election in nineteen forty.”
“Yes.” The badger’s expression was guarded.
“You’ve made no secret, Senator, of the fact that you want to expand your horizons and run for national office.” McAfee didn’t respond to that; it was pretty much common knowledge, and one of the things that didn’t endear him to the newspapers.
The deer sat down and gazed levelly at the badger. “My associates want you to run for United States Senate, Mr. McAfee.”
The badger blinked. “What?”
“I believe it’s a special election in April, to fill a vacant seat.” The deer smiled as the badger put a paw to his muzzle.
McAfee said nothing at first, thinking furiously. Ever since Nordstrom had been forced to resign due to bad health the previous month, he had thought seriously about running. But money was always his biggest obstacle . . . and here was this nameless deer, offering to help him.
Cervine ears perked. “Eh?”
Claws tapped together. “No one does something for nothing. You’re offering to support my candidacy.”
“So obviously you want something in return. What is it?”
The deer smiled and replied, “Aren’t we counting our chickens before they’re hatched, sir? You haven’t won yet.”
“Let’s talk about that then. Suppose I run, and I lose. What then?”
Again, the smile. “You won’t lose. Trust me on that.” McAfee glowered at him and the deer asked, “Do we have an agreement, Senator?”
Their eyes met and there was a brief silence.
Finally McAfee’s gaze wavered.
It wasn’t as cold as the Aleutians, but the salt spray coming over the vessel’s bows reminded her of nor’easters off New Haven’s coast. Liberty rubbed the spray from her muzzle instinctively before it had a chance to freeze, although it was unnecessary. Cold it may have been, but not chilled enough to freeze.
Her muzzle wiped clean, she returned to her job of helping haul in nets full of fish. The village’s fishing fleet took it in turns with the other villages along Main Island’s northern coast, and would be out until the thirty-first. “Just in time for Hoopy Jaloopy,” Walking Fox had said.
Liberty had heard of the year-end festival of course, and had even attended one. She scoffed at the religious connotations to it – imagine, sympathetic magic in this day and age - but objectively agreed that it was useful for the native population to defuse their frustration at the capitalists who descended like locusts on the Spontoons every summer. Besides, it was rather fun, and the huge bonfire had helped chase away the chill that night.
She hadn’t stopped talking about Comrade Trotsky and New Haven’s Revolution to the Spontoonies she’d met. However, bowing to objective reality, she had toned down her rhetoric somewhat.
One big surprise she’d had was when she was recounting the story of how the Red Fist overthrew the corrupt and stagnant bourgeois Republic. Any mention of Inspector Stagg in a negative light, even regarding his past role as the head of the Republic’s police, was sometimes met with objections. Several furs had approached her afterward to tell her that the ‘Lawgiver-who-limps’ was not a bad sort, as Euros went.
Liberty learned fast, and subsequent retellings had carefully omitted the buck’s name and species.
She helped empty the net full of silvery, slippery fish into the boat’s hold. It was a rich fishing bank by the look of the charts. She’d been attentive, and had sent along a few tips to New Haven that might be useful.
Thinking of New Haven and home as she helped pay out the net again reminded her of Dan. Liberty wondered what he was doing – probably the same thing she was.
Inevitable comparisons between Dan Vallance and Walking Fox surfaced, and before she knew it her tail was wagging harder. She purposely ducked into, not away from, a wave and let the cold water shock her back into paying attention to her job at paw before her tail locked.
There would be time for that later.
Her shift was relieved and she ducked into the cabin for a hot mug of tea, amazed to find that her teeth were chattering slightly.
I look forward to going home, she thought. Perhaps Shin is right, and my blood is thinning out in this tropical climate.
Thinking of her Chinese dorm-mate made her think of their final half-year at Songmark. The Tutors were expecting her – all of them - to develop and present a business plan to show that they had learned the values of self-sufficiency at the school. Liberty savored the tea, allowing a smile to cross her usually dour face.
Her plan might actually succeed in shocking the Tutors.
“Liberty,” Walking Fox said, “tell-self query thou still wish accompany me?”
She smiled at the coyote, and thought a moment. “Honor-mine accompany thou-emphasis, Fox-seen Walking,” she replied carefully, giving his name in Spontoonie.
He grinned at her. “Boats-fishing soon-emphasis return home.” His tail swished as the boat swayed in the swells.
The fishing fleet docked around lunchtime as the sun tried to break through the overcast. Liberty collected her pay envelope, gave Walking Fox a discreet kiss and headed for Main Village.
Her pay was dignified with the title ‘contribution,’ and went into the New Haven Embassy’s general coffers. It was up to her to set a good example of thrift and revolutionary responsibility for her comrades, and money was required in this country. Part of her assignment to Spontoon was to learn why the atoll’s inhabitants hadn’t changed their society to a properly communist one.
The conclusion “Because they don’t want to” was dismissed as being unoriginal. Liberty had sat in on Althing sessions, had read and observed and taken careful notes in the past two and half years, but amazingly hadn’t managed to come to a different conclusion. Her father had written to her personally, urging her to dig deeper
However, it was evident to even the most muddled thinker that digging too deep, so far from support if one ran into trouble, could lead to inadvertently digging one’s own grave. Liberty had kept that opinion to herself; much as she loved and looked up to her parents, direct observation of the world around her sometimes revealed that things were quite different than what dialectic said it should be.
And she had to be careful, now more than ever. A lost month in the paws of that damned lynxess had made that fact abundantly clear. Liberty had acquired two knives as a result, and had them any time she was outside the Songmark grounds – which was more and more often as her year advanced on graduation.
She was also more careful when going around corners.
The half-coyote picked her way through the crowds gathered in Main Village’s market, pausing and raising her muzzle as she sniffed. A glance, left and right, and she saw a familiar set of white markings framed in reddish fur. Shin met her glance, and the New Havenite’s paw moved a certain way. The Chinese girl made a countersign and they moved toward each other.
Not in a straight line. They moved apparently aimlessly, carefully checking behind each other for any signs of trouble. “Hello, Liberty,” Shin said when they met.
“Shin. What are you doing here?”
“Some shopping,” the red panda replied. She cocked her head at the canine. “How was your Winter Festival?” she asked, using the New Haven term for the holiday.
“Not bad. Spent the last week out with the fishing fleet. How are you and Fang?”
Shin chuckled. “Good. Looking forward to – “