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28 July 2010
Speed Week!
Lady of Nîmes
Part Thirteen
by John Urie

Keith Lawton, organizer of the Schneider Trophy races held on Spontoon Island,
tells the story of Denis Conlon's entry in the 1935 race.

The Lady of Nîmes

by Drake Hackett

Special to the London Daily Observer
(Part Thirteen)

Sunday, August 22, 1938

When Keith arrived at the Jersey Lightning’s Hangar, he found that a appalling breach of etiquette had taken place.

They had started the shouting match without him.

“It was Professor Krypriakos against, three of Mr. Whitney’s mechanics, the crew chief, the pilot, and of course, the gray wolf himself.”  He took a sip of lager, “Bit of a lopsided contest, that.”

“I would imagine so,”  I said, trying not to sound sarcastic. 

“As well y’ should,” Keith said, raising his glass in a solemn gesture, “Old Prof Stavros should have at least let Whitney bring in at least a COUPLE more furs before starting in on him.”

Grrrrr, now my beer DID come out my nose, followed by a stream of words I will not repeat here.

When Richard Whitney saw Keith arriving, he and his pack quickly switched the focus of their attack.

“With everyone yelling at once, it was hard to make out what the Devil anyone was saying,” Keith’s mouth became a wry, crinkled line, “Which was probably just as well, but what I did was, handle it by way of the old tried-an-true.”

By which Keith meant he simply stood there and let everyone shout themselves hoarse before saying anything himself.   ‘Letting ‘em waste ammunition,' he calls it, and it’s a trick that works quite well, I’ve used myself now and again.

When my friend did respond, it was in soft but very firm voice.

“Mr. Whitney,” he said, addressing the wolf and ignoring the others, “I should remind you that there is an entry form in my filing cabinet, with your signature on it, which says quite plainly that the signatory of said form agrees to abide by all Schneider-Cup rules...and those rules give me, or any other member of the SIRA board, ( here he nodded at Professor Krypriakos. ) the right to call in any race plane for an inspection if we see a possible safety hazard. “

“Safety hazard?”  I raised an ear.

“Oh yeah, mate” Keith answered, with a soft, grim growl, “But little did I know at that moment just how right I was.”He fanned a paw in the air.  “But never mind that f’ now.  Mr. Whitney pretended not to hear me, just on kept telling me that if I didn’t let his plane go right then, his attorneys would make sure that this’d be the last race I’d EVER be in charge of....rarf!, rarf!, rarf!   I just let him rave on while I waited for Sergeant Brush to arrive.  By then it was obvious, to me anyway, that my next order was not gonna be complied with unless I had some weight behind me.  Stavros Krypriako might be able to take on five blokes all by himself in an argy-bargy, but not in a physical confrontation.”

“You really thought it might have come to that?”  I felt my ear go up again.

Keith shrugged, “Didn’t know to be honest, but I did know that I didn’t want to take any chances of something like that happening....and you know the rule mate, if y’ put enough force on display and show that y’ not afraid to use, chances are you wont HAVE to.”

After about ten minutes of this, Mr. Whitney finally calmed down enough to ask Keith what safety hazard he was talking about.  But he refused to be drawn out, just said, “Can’t say just yet.  Please just be patient for a moment.”

But Mr. Whitney, as the reader will no doubt have surmised for himself was anything BUT patient, and started in all over again, this time threatening to call ‘furs I know well’ in Australia and have Keith passport pulled.  It was all my pal could do to keep from doubling over with laughter when he heard that one.

Finally, Sergeant Brush arrived, along with, ( Keith was profoundly grateful to note ) not a merely one or two, but FOUR Spontoon constables, all of them with builds like concrete bunkers.

“Got here’s quickly as I could, Mr, Lawton.”  He said, by way of greeting, “Me an’ the guys hadda break up a fight back a’ one of the bleachers.”

“Not anything serious, I hope.” Keith answered, keeping his exasperation to himself as best he could.  This, on top of the trouble he was having with Richard Whitney was just what he DIDN’T need right now.  But the Sergeant only laughed and waved a paw at his constables, none of whom had even so much as a strand of fur out of place. “Does it LOOK like it wuz anytin’ serious?  Nahh, nuttin’ broken an’ no one hurt serious-like, an’ the dozen or so jerks what was makin’ all the trouble are all coolin’ their heels nice an’ quiet-.”  He frowned and pulled at an ear. “Only real problem is there wuz so many of ‘em –  more’n the cells can really hold fer any kinda length o’ time-- so the Judge’ll prolly just let em’ off widda small fine in the mornin’.”

Three years later, recalling the Sergeant’s words, Keith Lawton was still shaking his head in amused disbelief.

“I swear Drake, if I’d SCRIPTED Brush’s words, I couldn’t have done better.  That was all it took to get Whitney and his lot to pipe down right. sweet quick.

It was also Keith’s cue to begin with, ‘No more NICE dog!’

“Excellent, Sergeant.” he said, in a voice clipped to nearly military standards, “And now Professor Krypriakos and Misters Cedric and Daffyd McCradden are going to perform an inspection upon the Jersey Lighting....”

“You will NOT....!” Whitney shouted, but this time Keith refused to be interrupted

“...and I would like you to make it clear that there will be NOT interference from any of her crew.”

That was enough to draw one final protest from Mr. Whitney, which ceased immediately when Brush undid the top button of his vest and raised his other paw as though preparing to reach inside.

“It’s something the Good Sergeant does often with furs who are being uncooperative.”  Keith winked. “No words needed, just the vest undone, and the paw ready for action.  After that, if you’re still being stubborn, don’t blink, or you’ll miss what happens next...and then you wont be aware of much of anything for a while.”

Though Richard Whitney was a relative newcomer to the Spontoons, he must have gotten word of Brush’s reputation, because he clammed up at once.  And so, while the gray wolf stood and stewed, Daffyd, Cedric and The Professor went over to the Jersey Lightning, and began to closely inspect her tail section.  It took them all of less than half a minute to complete the task, and then they turned, nodding at Keith in unison.

Keith nodded back, and then turned to Richard Whitney.

“Mr. Whitney?” He said, in a voice more like a feline purr than a canine growl.  “ I need someone to open up the tail section of that plane...”

“How DARE...?” Whitney started to say, and it was the last word he got in for some minutes.  Keith had finally reached the end of his tether.  Up went his neck fur, and back went his lips revealing not just his fangs, but ALL his teeth.

“ONE MORE WORD AND I’LL HAVE YOU ARRESTED, d’you understand?  ONE more word!  That’s better...and now whoever knows how to open up that part of the plane, you’d best get front and center and right NOW.”

Nobody moved, and then Mr. Whitney’s crew chief gave it one final halfhearted try.

“Uhm....we CAN’T open the tail section.  There’s no....”

Keith immediately cut him off.  “Fine,” he said, putting his paws on his hips, “You had y’ chance sport, now we’ll do it the hard way.  Somebody find a crowbar....”

“Wait, WAIT!”  One of the mechanics shouted, and hurried towards the Jersey Lighting.

There were a total of seven screws holding the underside of the tail faring in place, and as they were being removed, the hangar, which a moment ago had been loud enough to drowned out a sheet-metal works, was as silent as an empty cathedral.

“I looked Whitney’s way several times while this was going on.” Keith’s voice was low and grim, “And he never once met my eyes.  He knew...he knew what we were going to find.”

By now, no one was in the mood for ceremony, and so when the last screw came away, the underside panel of the tail faring was left to simply drop to the ground, making a sound like the world’s largest cymbal.

Everyone gasped, even Sergeant Brush.

No pipes extended from the engine to the pair of ‘exhaust ports’, in fact there were no pipes at all.  Instead, Keith saw a pair of funnel shaped nozzles, each one attached to a long, black cylinder.   Recovering first, Daffyd tapped a fingernail against one of them and spoke just a single word, “Empty.”

For perhaps a hint of a second, Whitney seemed to think that perhaps this would be enough to get him off the hook.

He obviously didn’t know Keith Lawton the way I did.

“Even though I KNEW what was gonna be under that tail faring long before it was opened, when I actually saw it, mate....I swear I came that close to biting Mr. Whitney.”

Which probably would have been a mercy, given the bark that followed.

“You think you can come into MY race and run a pair of rocket-boosters in your plane?!”  Keith’s  tail was stretched out and shivering like a divining rod, and he was foaming like a rabid canine.  Even Professor Krypiakos’ earlier words seemed tame compared to what followed.

“Called him every name in the book and made up a few new ones.” All the hair on the back of Keith’s neck was standing at attention while he told me this, and so were more than a few of mine.  If Denis Conlon’s having Jumping Jimmy as his sponsor could have ruined Keith, this could have destroyed him....him and the Schneider Cup.  And all because Mr. Richard Whitney wanted to sell some booze.

When Keith finally started to calm down, he turned his attention to Professor Krypriakos and the McCraddens.

“Tell me something, gentlefurs.  In your opinion, had these boosters been engaged, would it have frightened the tourists perhaps?”

A small, wicked yip got free from me then; I knew exactly where Keith was going with this.  Spontoonie Law equates frightening the tourists with terrorism.

As it turned out, Keith was TOO correct in that speculation.   Stavros Krypriakos went off like a very pistol.

“Frightened the tourists?  FRIGHTENED them!”  He spun round like a dervish on Mike Sowthern, the Jersey Lighting’s pilot. “You stupid idiotic,jack-assed, pin-head!  You’re just lucky we spotted these boosters BEFORE you tried to light them off; you,d have never kept control of your plane, NEVER....and then and you possibly more than a few of the race fans would be dead!”
“That wouldn’t have happened!” the pika tried to protest, “We planned to fire them while the Lightning was on the BACK-side of....”

“Shut up, you idiot!”  Whitney shouted, but too late, the cat was already out of the bag.

As I just mentioned, frightening the tourists is considered a terrorist act by the Spontoonies....so you can imagine how they feel about actually ENDANGERING them.  Mr.Whitney was treading thin ice, over a bottomless lake...and he didn’t even seem to realize it.

Which made what Keith told me next all the more dismaying.


(Cedric and Daffyd McCradden are the intellectual property of Steve Gallacci.
Stavros Krypriakos is the intellectual property of Walter Reimer.
Sergeant Orrin FX Brush is the intellectual property of EO Costello.)
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