Spontoon Island
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14 May 2007

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Nineteen

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

July 10, 1937

        “I don’t like this,” Halli said, looking at Niho, Jack and Bill in turn, “I don’t like this at all.”  Her look was determined and her short rabbit’s tail flicked rapidly from side to side.  The shaded bulb hanging from the ceiling cast a pool of light on all four of them in the darkened room.
        “Okay, so you don’t like it,” Bill said, the beaver’s face breaking into a sly grin.  “Are you going to bet or not?”  Jack scratched behind one of his ears, his own cards facedown in front of him.
        Jack had suggested it as a way to keep them all awake as long as possible the day before they had to start night patrol missions.  Halli protested that she knew next to nothing about poker, and couldn’t help seeing the predatory gleam in the men’s eyes.
        She had accepted the offer as a challenge.  After all, it was an incentive to learn something new, and learn it fast.
        Before she lost all her money.
        So far she had managed to hang on, losing only two dollars of the ten she had brought to the table at the base’s club.  And there was currently three dollars in the pot.  She glanced at her cards again; two fours and an ace, and she considered whether bluffing would work or not.
        She reached a decision and the cards went facedown on the table.  “I’m out,” she declared.
        “Just leaves you and me,” Niho said to Bill, who nodded.  The antelope threw a five-cent piece into the pot and said, “Call.  Two pair, sevens and fives.”
        Bill grumbled and threw his cards on the table, and Niho chuckled as his paws reached out to rake in the money.  “Your deal, Jack,” the beaver said.
        The other beaver stretched and yawned behind one paw before starting to gather up the cards and shuffle the deck.  He dealt out five cards to each of the players, and tossed in three cents as his opening ante.  The others followed suit and picked up their cards.
        Halli puzzled over her cards, thinking hard.  Niho, who was sitting to Jack’s left, looked at his cards and said, “I’m in,” adding a five-cent piece to the pot.  The antelope pulled two cards from his hand and laid them on the table.
        The rabbit tossed in a coin of her own and put three cards down, and Bill completed the circle.  Jack nodded and doled out cards from the deck to each of them.
        Halli looked at her cards and quickly smothered her surprise.  If what Niho had told her was true, she might win this hand.
        The bets went around again, Jack managing to surprise everyone by betting half a dollar.  Niho, Halli and Bill kept pace with him.
        “Another ten,” Jack said as he tossed the coin into the pot.
        “You drinking something in that mug besides coffee, Jack?” Bill asked.
        “The bet’s ten,” the other beaver said firmly.  “You in, or not?”
        “I’m thinking.”  The antelope looked at his cards, looked hard at Jack, then put his cards down.
        “Ten, and five more,” Halli said.
        “I’ll see you, and raise you ten more.”
        More coins hit the growing pile.  “Ten, and ten more.  Call.”
        Jack smirked as he matched the bet, then laid down a pair of kings.
        Halli’s ears dipped. 
        He reached for the pot and Halli said, “Not so fast, Jack.”  Her expression changed to one of pure delight as she laid her cards down.
        Three nines and a pair of fives.
        Jack’s face fell and he stared as the rabbit reached out and gathered up her winnings.  Bill started laughing gleefully and teasing his partner, while Niho just shook his head and drank the rest of his Orca-Cola.  Halli thought he was covering his disappointment well; earlier in the evening he’d told her that he was looking forward to winning back the five dollars she had won several weeks ago.
        “You sure do learn fast, Halli,” Jack grumbled, reaching for his coffee and taking a deep swallow of the beverage.  He smacked his lips and started to rake in the cards.  “Niho, your turn to deal.”
        The antelope waved the idea off with a paw as he yawned.  “I’m giving up and going to bed.  See you all, um, tomorrow?  No; later today, four o’clock sharp.”  He collected his money as he stood up and walked a bit unsteadily out of the room.
        “Mind you don’t fall off the dock,” Halli called out, grinning as she picked up the cards.  “Okay, who’s in?” she asked as she inexpertly shuffled the deck.  Coins hit the table as she started to deal.
        The game dragged on until nearly four o’clock in the morning, and furs were starting to show up at the nearby mess hall as the last hand was dealt out.  Bill won, and Halli realized that she was still managing to stay slightly ahead.  Granted, her winnings amounted to just two dollars, but that was two dollars more than she started with.
        She also realized that she liked playing poker.
        By four-thirty the mess hall was open, and the game ended as they got up from the table.  Breakfast followed (with no coffee) and Halli made her way to the dock.
        Once home, she flopped onto the bed without bothering to remove her clothes.  After several minutes, she roused long enough to set her alarm clock before drifting off to a sound sleep.



        The clock sat there, ticking, then erupted in an ear-splitting metallic clatter as its clapper started striking the two bells mounted on top of the device.  A paw groped for the clock, wrapped around it, and the ringing stopped.  There was a brief silence.
        Halli opened her eyes and glared at the clock, then realized what time it was and rolled out of bed.  She blinked at the light streaming into the room around the ill-fitting blinds and stifled a yawn, then dropped prone to the floor and started doing pushups, finishing when she felt wide awake.
        The rabbit had a quick breakfast before heading across the lagoon to the seaplane anchorage and getting into her flight suit.  Collecting her map packet for the night she took a seat in the briefing room, looking up and smiling as the rest of the flight crew came in.
        A paw came down on her shoulder as Niho sat down beside her.  “Hiya, Halli.  Sleep well?”
        “Oh yes.  Almost wanted to ignore the alarm clock,” she replied, smiling at Bill and Jack before returning to her map.  “Looks like we’re switching with the other squadron.”
        “Here, look.”  She pointed to the map as the others craned to see better.  “Howes, Keelapy and a whole lot of very empty ocean to the west of them.”
        “Hmm,” the antelope commented as he studied his own charts.  “Yeah, looks like they’re taking the north and we get the south,” he said with a grin.  “Let’s get through briefing and we’ll get in the air.”


        Just over an hour later Halli saw on the horizon the mountains that made up the spine of Main Island.  She eased the control yoke back, increasing the plane’s altitude from five to six thousand feet and banking the plane slightly to the east.  The flight plan called for it, and she picked up the microphone as Niho looked on.  “Syndicate patrol Sugar Maple 6 to Spontoon Tower.”
        Halli’s ears twitched upward at the sound of the voice in her headphones.  The accent was a breath of home to her.  “Go ahead, Syndicate patrol.”
        “Currently fourteen miles north north-east your position, angels six, on routine patrol,” she said, speaking clearly.
        “Roger.  We’ll let you know if anyone’s coming your way, Syndicate patrol.”  Halli smiled and clicked the microphone twice before returning it to its bracket.
        She glanced at Niho.  “How’d I do?”
        He grinned.  “You’re doing fine, Halli,” he said.  “You’re not going to have any trouble on your evaluation.”  The antelope stretched in his seat and added, “Of course, if you paid me back that five you won from me, your evaluation would look better.”
        The rabbit gave him an arch look, and he started laughing.  “Relax,” he said.  “The last officer who did that didn’t stay employed very long.”
        “What happened to him?”
        Niho looked thoughtful for a moment.  “I think he’s still learning how to harvest crabs up by the Aleutians.”
        Halli nodded and returned to concentrating on her flying.
        The plane passed above the path of a larger Sikorsky flying boat headed for a landing at Spontoon, and Halli eased the KV-3 into a slightly more south-easterly course that would take them over Albert Island and then to the edge of their patrol pattern, the small collection of islets known as Keelapy Reef.

        By the time they reached the reef area the sun was starting to touch the western horizon and Halli brought the plane down to its patrol altitude.  “I’ll keep an ear on the radio,” Niho said, and Halli nodded as she steadied her paws on the controls.
        The plane zigzagged its way across the reef and then out over the Pacific as the sun dipped below the horizon and the stars came out.  As it grew darker, Halli switched the cabin lighting to a more eye-friendly red lamp, and tapped at the fuel gauges as Niho listened to the radio.
        The moon was rising as he leaned forward a bit, one paw giving the tuning dial a slight adjustment.  “Trouble?” Halli asked.
        The antelope shrugged noncommittally and picked up the microphone.  “Naval Syndicate patrol Sugar Maple 6, we’re – “ he consulted the chart on his lap “ – six miles south-west of your position . . . Yes, we’ll take a look.”  He sat back and looked at his copilot, the red light and the console lights giving him a ghostly appearance.  “That was an amateur radio operator on Howes Island,” he explained.  “He says that he saw a boat that shouldn’t be in these waters.  Might be either pirates or smugglers – he wasn’t sure.  There’s a patrol boat coming, but we’re closer.  Care to go look?”
        “Sure.  Coming about.”
        “Make the course three-oh-oh and bring us down to five hundred feet,” Niho said.  He called back to Jack and Bill, “Look sharp!  We might have something.”  The two beavers waved acknowledgement.
        The plane descended and started a weaving pattern across the sky.  Niho dimmed the cabin lights to help them pick out any sign of a wake.
        “Got it!”  This from Bill, in the starboard window.
        “Where?” Halli asked.
        “Come around to 095.”  The plane banked and described a sweeping turn as Halli saw a pale streak of phosphorescence.  Tiny sea animals and plants were being stirred up by the passage of a boat or ship, and were responding to the unwelcome intrusion by glowing.  It was actually rather beautiful to look at.  “Looks like it?”
        “Could be,” Niho said as he put his binoculars to his eyes.  “We’re in the right church – now let’s find our pew.”  He gestured, and Halli pushed the throttles forward slightly.
        Presently a dark blotch could be seen at the head of the glowing wake.  “Whoever they are, they’re making good time,” Niho observed.  “Drop our speed, Halli, and we’ll circle them.  Jack, give me a star shell when we start circling.”
        “Sure thing, Niho,” and there was a rush of wind as the port observation window opened.
        Halli brought the plane around and as she finished a complete circle she shielded her eyes as the moonlit sky briefly lit up.  When she looked, there was a boat below and ahead of them.  It looked like a large cabin cruiser and as the plane approached the curl of foam at its bows grew larger as it picked up speed.
        “Well, that settles that,” Halli said as she reached out to charge the two machine guns in the plane’s nose.  “If they were innocent they wouldn’t be running, right?”
        “Well, we might have just spooked them – “
        Just then a bright flickering flame could be seen at the boat’s stern, and a stream of orange-red streaks started coming up at them.