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Stranded Angel
Summer 1936

A story by Simon Barber & David Reese Dorrycott & Fredrik K T Andersson
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, a character by Freddy Andersson,
(including characters from his comic strip "Silver Angel")
& featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon Barber's Songmark Academy stories.

Stranded Angel
Summer 1936

Part 6
by Simon Barber

featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories
and Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip

Angelica Silferlindh, Jan Van der Veldt, and Kama © Freddy Andersson
Oharu © Reese D’Orrycott.

If there was one thing “Slim” Jan van der Veldt really disliked about the Spontoons, it was the stupid airs and graces the Natives gave themselves. Main Island they treated like other countries treated exclusive estates with golf courses, mansions and country clubs; membership only and no trespassers. It took all his skills of bluff and concealment to slip onto the Main Island and travel around without inviting the ire of the constabulary too often – and when he was carrying nothing more than a pocketful of hot pearls, it was just about possible. Carrying a bigger item – he had to grit his teeth and fork out the money for a Guide like any tour-boat tourist.

    “Main Island the finest for adventurous folk!” The guide was an annoyingly cheerful border collie canine, his two-tone fur mostly revealed by the bark cloth costume. “Mount Kiribatori, ten thousand feet high! Volcano craters, trackless forests with mysteries from forgotten times! Tours very cheap, special rates off-season!” His black and white tail wagged happily as he extolled the cultural and scenic delights to be found for just a few dollars more.

    Jan wrinkled his muzzle, putting up with the annoying canine pulling the rickshaw. He was not riding in it; in fact he grudgingly lent a paw pushing it up the steepest parts of the path from Main Village, past the reservoir and then walking behind all the way down to the village where the silver aircraft was pulled high up on the beach.

    “Is good you help a fellow Euro,” the guide prattled on, his paws skidding as he braced against the heavy, sloshing load. “All Spontoonies pull together – don’t see Euros do that much.”

    “You don’t see much, boy,” Jan held his temper in check with an effort. Generosity was not something he was famous for. At times though, a roving life mostly spent outside the law had taught him the value of buying practical insurance in the form of escape routes and damage limitation. Some of that was buying favours to be called on in time of need – and some was in buying silence where it was inconvenient to close mouths in more permanent ways.

    “Ho, yes. Guides see many things! Deliver many things with rickshaw, flowers, champagne for pretty lady. You bring biggest present I ever see!”

    Jan kept his mouth firmly shut as he entered the village through the main gates, rather than slipping in through the steep woods. His “Present” to Angelica should kill two birds with one stone, getting the troublesome housecat out of danger range for all concerned  – and there were dearer ways to remove a pressing danger than fifty gallons of eighty-five octane aviation spirit.

Out on the beach, Angelica paced nervously. Last night had been a brief diversion, having seen Casino Island and reminding herself of the life that should be hers. Her ears flattened. It WAS hers, by right! She was awaiting the post fur to arrive on his bicycle, hopefully with an affordable quote from Superior Engineering on a full tankage of high-quality fuel.
    “What WAS I doing last night?” She remembered all too clearly, shuddering as reaction set in. “Yes, I got the money I needed. That crocodile though - he looked as if he wanted to take it out of my hide.” She had the money, but now realised what she had done to get it – turned her only profitable employer against her. She only had a few days fishing left, and had no chance of finding anything so valuable again to use as a bargaining chip. The size alone would have made her lucky find as valuable as twenty ordinary pearls, regardless of its precious colouring.

    She stopped, her tail going rigid as another unwelcome thought struck her. Just two nights ago, she remembered with equal clarity the party with Prudence and her friends in the private valley just over the ridge. “What’s happening to me? Since I got here I’ve been robbed, stranded, and my poor baby can’t run on the Native fuel. I could deal with all that. But…” Her ears went right down. The really disturbing things were happening in her head; she had willingly gone over to that party and extremely willingly enjoyed everything on offer – at the time. And last night despite her usual common-sense and Jan’s explicit warnings she had laughed at a major criminal boss to his snout and walked off with his money. Somehow, she doubted “Baron” von Krokk was the forgiving kind.

    “Play?” Angelica almost jumped out of her fur as a voice piped up from behind her; she had sworn she was alone on the beach, and the sand crunched loudly under her paws as she walked. Claws popped out in reflex, she spun round – and looked down into the curious face of a small native kitten.

    “Kama. How do you DO that?” She waited while her heart slowed to normal. The kitten giggled, looking up at her as if she was a circus act about to put on another fascinating trick.

    Angelica scanned the empty white coral road that lead South over the ridge to Main village. No post furs in sight, she told herself. “Oh, Kama,” she sighed. “Whatever am I going to do?”

    Kama held up a fuzzy hand, motioning towards the beach point.

    “You want to go for a walk? But you’re always running around the island anyway?” Angelica gave up, fuzzled the kitten’s head fur and accepted the small paw in her own. She could see the road just as well from out there, she told herself – and right now, there was not a lot else for her to do.

From across the village, Mama Popoluma caught sight of the odd couple heading towards the beach, and smiled. “Kama, she likes her Euro friend.” She turned to a badger girl who was listening attentively, her striped fur combed in the discreet markings of a priestess in training. “All the time Kama never speaks. All village folk thought she could not; she listen and understand very well, but speaking? Not until Missy Angelica come along! So we all very happy with Missy Angelica.”

    Ote’he nodded, making mental notes. “We’ve asked our Shishou” –  she backtracked, hurriedly explaining the Cipanguan word, “our teaching Priestess, about her. She mostly says “find out.” I’ve seen Kama around, but I don’t know her family.”

    “Ah,” Mama Popoluma nodded sagely. “Kama, she child of the island, not of one longhouse. Ask other priestesses of her family. She not the only one like so.” She pointed out to sea, where a lone tomcat stood vigil with a shark spear in his fine-lined boat as fishing boats returned to the village. “Shark Hunter has no family, he kitten found on beach after storm. Gift of the Spirits! When he small, the Spirits talked to him all the time, as they do with Kama.”

    “I’ve heard stories about him,” Ote’he followed her gaze out to sea. “He can tell where sharks are – without even seeing them. And he can tell if they’re hunting fish or furs.”

    “Yes! He no Euro big game fisherman, kill Spontoonie fish to show off with friends, waste fish meat and put stuffed skin on wall. Shark Hunter he only defend when Mister Shark come in to take villager lives.”

    “I’d heard that, too.” The badger’s nose twitched as the wind changed and the aroma of baking fish wafted across the village ready for the evening meal. Nothing would be wasted; the skin had been sent off to the Eastern Island fish tannery to be cured and made into grips for hunting spears, and the inedible parts were already returned to the life of island via the village compost heap. “He’s handsome.” Though few could tell her fur apart from her sister Nuimba, Ote’he’s costume and tastes were rather different.

    Mama Popoluma gave a wide smile. “Truth speak! We hoped Missy Angelica she like him; both nice-looking cats, no Island family. They look good together we think, give village plenty fine strong kittens.” Her ears drooped slightly. “We give Missy Angelica best we have, as guest. But nothing we have is good enough.”

    Ote’he’s own ears flattened right to her striped skull. She had admitted to herself that the curse they had placed on Angelica had been over-done, and it was becoming increasingly embarrassing that she could not describe to Oharu exactly how they had done it. She remembered how all three had felt at the time; watching the haughty house-cat use the Sacred Lake for her swimming pool, and then casually defile it as she turned to leave. It had been Tehepoa who had first called on the Spirits to mete out punishment, but Ote’he and her sister had been scarcely a heartbeat behind him as they very willingly lent every piece of their outraged anger to push that request onward. The resulting call had been a rather confused one that none of them had been entirely in charge of as it interacted with three separate intentions – hence none of them could remove it.
    “Nothing we have is ever good enough for her,” she agreed, ears still flat down. The particular curse that had hit Angelica was something she now wished she had never started – but even so, the sight of that Euro feline caused her fur to bristle as she walked around the village with her snout turned up at everything she saw. Cursing her with a week’s severe tail itch would have been justice, and a GOOD thing to do, she told herself defiantly, smiling as she imagined Angelica hardly able to sit down in her shiny flying toy. Had she done something like that, revocable and less extreme, Oharu might not have invoked her own curse of cutting her and her sister off from direct touch with the island spirits.

    She kept an eye on the distant figures out on the sand spit; out there they were cut off, and could only return to the village unless a boat took them off. Angelica seemed to be teaching Kama how to skim stones or shells; she could see the trails of splashes across the calm water. “Well, she likes Kama at least. She can’t be all bad. I wonder how Kama does it, cancels our curse just by being there?”

    Mama Popoluma’s expression was wistful as she looked out to the two distant felines. “Kama loves sky-boats, always she wave at them when go by. Spirits they love Kama. When Kama want to go fly with Missy Angelica, then oh yes, she flies.”

Half an hour of skimming stones and shells at the end of the sand spit was quite enough for Angelica, though Kama still clapped her paws and squeaked happily at every good throw. Suddenly she caught sight of movement on the road into the village; certainly a wheeled vehicle of some sort. The post fur occasionally borrowed a cart for large deliveries, she told herself as her tail and spirits rose.

    “That’s all for now, Kama.” She looked down to the kitten, whose ears and whiskers suddenly drooped. “Tell you what – I’ll give you a ride. How about that?” At Kama’s excited nod she swept the small kitten off her feet and swung her round a few times in an “aeroplane ride” before hauling her up onto her shoulders and jogging back along the beach to the village, her eyes fixed on the two figures now entering the far end.

    When she saw who it was, her own ears drooped. All the pearls she had found that morning had been dutifully handed in; she no longer needed to deal with Jan or his boss, and had nothing for them. Angelica put Kama down on the sand gently, patted her on the head-fur and shooed her towards a nearby longhouse.

    “Well, if it isn’t our little Miss Tycoon,” Jan’s black-tipped tail swished, though he grinned at the sight of Angelica’s ears going down. “Miss High Roller. That was quite a performance last night.”

    Angelica’s fur bristled. “I did what I had to. You’ve made more than enough profit out of me to afford it!”

    The lion walked forward, nodding towards a quiet corner of the village where they could not be overheard. “Oh, yes. I know that. The Bass he don’t see it quite that way.” His voice dropped. “You bought fuel to get out of here yet?”

    Angelica shifted uncomfortably. “I’ve sent off for a quote. I haven’t heard back from Superior on Eastern Island yet. I can’t fly there and ask them, the tanks are empty. I won’t be free from the pearl fishing till tomorrow.”

    Jan looked her directly in the eyes. “I’ve fifty gallons right here. Won’t get you to Hawaii, but it’ll get you to Superior. Use it. Use it right now. You don’t have a tomorrow. Don’t stop to pick up anything. I’ll help fuel the plane. If you’re not gone by tonight…” he shook his head. “Last time I see the Bass so mad with a fur … don’t ask me what happen. That fur, he wasn’t around no more. Nobody ever did find him.”

    Angelica felt a sensation like cold water running down her back, clear to her tail-tip. It’s worse than I thought, she told herself starkly. Suddenly she nodded, and running back to the surprised Guide now resting between the rickshaw poles, she pointed towards her aircraft. “Let’s fuel her up! Now!”

Fifty metres away, Ote’he watched the furious activity around the Silver Angel. Unfortunately rickshaws were not tracked vehicles (now there’s an idea, she smiled to herself recalling the covers of some of the more extreme pulp comics she had seen on Casino Island – especially the one with the Motor Cossacks ) and once on the loose sand beach it sank axle-deep under the weight of its load. After a minute of learning some interesting words in what she assumed were Swedish and Afrikaans, the badger nodded her approval as the heavy fuel drum was tilted out onto the beach and rolled directly towards the aircraft like a log, hardly sinking at all.
    “Tehepoa,” she called softly to the fox, “They may be making a flight. Miss Angelica cannot fly the aircraft – but maybe he can.”

    Her friend and former leader nodded curtly. “They can’t be going too far on that much fuel. I’ll bet it’s Eastern Island, sure as anything. I can’t catch them up but I can get a head start. Tell the Shishou.” With that he hiked his tail over the saddle of one of the new Eastern-Island built bicycles the village held in common, and pedalled furiously out of the village.

    Ote’he waited a few minutes, picked up a digging stick and bucket for shellfish and wandered casually towards the beach, her eyes focused on the incoming tide but her ears very much swivelled towards the aircraft and the two furs furiously pumping fuel into it. Angelica was on top of the wing with the fuel hose clutched like a lifeline desperate not to spill a drop, while the cursing lion swung the handle of the rotary pump sealed onto the upright barrel. Their guide looked on with his tongue hanging out happily in the typical border collie manner, enjoying the entertainment value of Euros working hard while Spontoonies looked on.

    “That’s it. We’re dry,” Jan grunted, tilting the drum to get the last cupful of aviation spirit. “You fly, girl. Don’t stop, don’t come back. And I was never here.” He turned to the guide, fishing a one shell coin out of his pocket. “Get rid of the can. Cut it into tourist souvenir art but don’t bring it back with me.” He had “arranged” its delivery to Main Village by various devious routes; the Baron never set claw on Main Island but being seen carrying fuel that direction would have been sure to excite his suspicions.

    “Thank you!” Angelica looked down on him. She knew Jan was a crook  and she was sure his gift to her somehow profited him, but for whatever reason, she was grateful. The fuel looked as good as she hoped to buy from Superior; customs sealed European refined eighty-five octane that should certainly solve her problems.

    For a second she looked down at the lion, her tail twitching. Jan was more than a crook; he was a crude and boorish colonial who was absolutely not her type. Still – he was a powerful and extremely compatible feline, and one she felt extremely grateful to at the minute. The last fur I was with was another girl, she told herself, feeling her skin crawl at the memory. And the one before, and the one before that, all in  the same night … whatever Jan’s like, at least he’d at least break that run…even if it’s not good, it’d at least  be natural…

    She wrinkled her snout. Last night she might have done that. Today there was no more time – from what Jan had said her time had almost run out. She waved, and then as the lion boarded the rickshaw to head back uphill she swung herself down from the far side of the cockpit to run across to Mama Popoluma’s hut, grateful that the villagers did not lock their doors.

    “There you are. Come to mommy.” She felt in a seam of her sleeping mat for the envelope of money, tucking it into her lava-lava. Her best dress was too tight to fly comfortably in, and she promised herself a clothes shopping spree as soon as she reached Honolulu. The hut was empty, Mama P having just headed off to market that afternoon with all her kittens and for a second she looked around, feeling slightly guilty as she remembered all the nights of shelter and good meals she had been given there with no question ever asked of repayment.

    “I’ll wire her some shells when I get to Hawaii,” she decided as she brushed the sand of Spontoon off her fur. “And a really nice thank-you postcard.” Her nose twitched at the delightful scent of roasting fish as the shark was slowly baked in the village oven; that was one meal she would be glad to miss out on if it meant being in the village at dusk. She had planned her escape route a hundred times and ran through it once more in her head; South-Southwest with Howes Atoll just under her port wing and then straight ahead to Hawaii, flying blind with the directional radio aerial if she had to. There would be bright city lights to home on in on, she thought happily.

    Another minute brought her back to the Silver Angel; she noted with satisfaction that the incoming tide had almost reached her floats. “Controls check, magneto check, battery check, fuel systems check,” she ran through the litany, her heart racing as she prepared for takeoff, feeling as nervous as her first solo in Stockholm harbour.
    “Come on baby … I’ve got you the fuel you need – let’s get out of here!” The magneto switches were on and the self-starter battery showed a full charge thanks to some helpful villagers and their bicycle dynamo; hesitating only to draw a deep breath, she hit the starter button.

    There was a horrifyingly familiar silence. She swallowed hard, and pressed the button again. Nothing continued to happen. “Oh no!” Her voice rose to a wail. “This can’t be happening!”

    Her heart pounding, she checked the switches again and prepared to shut the cockpit door – just as a small kitten clambered up into the aircraft. “Kama! What are you doing here? Shoo!” Angelica hesitated, her tail twitching. She’s been good luck to me here, she reminded herself, and right now I need all the good luck I can get.

    “Would you like to fly today? Really fly, Kama?” She kept her voice even, but her whiskers twitched.

    Kama nodded vigorously. “Fly!” She leaned over and pressed the starter button.

    Eight hundred and fifty horsepower bellowed into life, as smooth and confident as on any factory test stand. Sand blew out in a sudden gale behind the prop as the silver machine slid raspingly across the beach and took to the water like a duck, the water rudders now giving control as Angelica taxied out onto a takeoff run.

    Before opening the throttle all the way, she looked across at the native kitten, now securely strapped in and peeking over the control panel with bright and eager eyes. Kama clapped her small paws together, and looked round inquiringly.

    “This time – we’re doing it. Come on baby!” For the first time in more than two months Angelica opened the throttle all the way, feeling the Silver Angel respond instantly and the pace of the floats cutting wave-tops quicken. “Forty knots … fifty … airborne!” The long-missed sensation in the pit of her stomach was a familiar friend as she gently nudged the stick back, climbing evenly with the waves falling away below and the island suddenly spreading out revealing its coves and sand spits as she climbed to two hundred metres and turned Southwards.
    Kama was looking out of the window wide-eyed, her tail thrashing in joy as she looked down on her native village and the familiar woods and hills. Then they were over the reservoirs with Main Village below them, and the other islands of the chain spread out in full view. It was a clear day with only high cirrus clouds, and the central waters gleamed beneath them.

    “Okay …” Angelica swallowed, remembering her flying manners and warming up the radio. She contacted the Eastern Island seaplane terminal, where a very surprised controller gave her landing permission. Then she glanced at Kama, who was squeaking and giggling happily, bouncing up and down in the seat. Her own ears dipped.
    What am I going to do with her? Taking the kitten for a ten minute joyride and back was one thing, but she was never going to return to that village again. South was her route; as soon as she filled the fuel tanks she would be off without a glance behind her. Suddenly an inspiration struck her
    “Kama?” She looked over to where the kitten was eagerly pressing her nose to the passenger side window as they banked to enter the approach path. “Would you like a nice boat ride after this?” The small head nodded, and Angelica breathed a sigh of relief. Problem solved. As soon as I get the fuel I’ll just hand her to a water-taxi girl, tell her to take her home, give a nice tip – after all, I won’t need any more Spontoonie shells, ever again. She’ll be back in time for the meal tonight. Spontoonies were very good with children, she knew – there would be no trouble getting her back safe and sound. By which time the Silver Angel could be a hundred kilometres away.

    With a great sigh of relief Angelica put the Silver Angel down just where she planned, in a smooth landing that pointed her towards the landing bays and concrete ramps of Superior Engineering. Her ears dipped at the sight; despite their wonderful reputation they had not managed to fix her aircraft so she could fly it. For a second she felt an unwelcome thought intrude – what if I really AM cursed? The best Engineers in the world couldn’t fix that.

    Angrily she shook her head, taxiing in towards the dock. So, the engine had only started third time, when Kama was onboard? That was easily explained though – although the fuel tank itself had been empty until an hour ago, there would have been a residue of the old contaminated batch in the pipes that had to be flushed through before the engine could start working with the tank of good European aviation spirit. It made perfect sense.

    She cut the engine, letting momentum carry them towards the boarding dock. “There we are; your first flight. Did you like that?”

    Kama nodded happily, holding out a chubby paw. Angelica took it gently, scenting the kitten’s neutral smell. A nasty twinge touched her conscience as she looked down into those trusting eyes. Oh stop it, she told herself firmly. I’ve given her a flight now, and I’ll give her a fine boat ride back. I told her before I was going as soon as my aircraft is fixed. Well, now it is. She could see two water-taxis waiting for customers about a hundred paces along the jetty; plenty more were passing within hailing distance.

    “Hey!” A voice from the jetty cut into her thoughts and she turned to see a Spontoonie canine wearing an armband proclaiming “Port Warden.” “You can’t park that thing here! This is a commercial passenger jetty. If you want Superior, their moorings start over there past the green flags.”

    Angelica sniffed. You don’t have to be nice on the way out if you’re not coming back, she reminded herself. It was a phrase she had almost forgotten, living in a palm thatched hut. “Well, I’m a passenger aircraft. I have a passenger. See?” she opened the door to show Kama, who treated the official with a wave and a kittenish sharp-toothed grin. “Out you get, Kama, you run and play while I get us some fuel.”

    The kitten happily swarmed down the ladder, chased a loudly complaining seagull off its perch and began to explore the bustling waterfront. Angelica gave the officious Port Warden a triumphant smile and hit the engine starter, ready to taxi up to where Superior had her fuel all waiting and surely were looking forward to her money.

    There was a definite lack of eight hundred and fifty horsepower awakening, as Angelica hit the starter switch again and again. The instruments were fine; her magneto had no red status lights and the engine-powered generator had recharged the batteries as they flew. Nothing was obviously wrong. But nothing worked.

    As Angelica moaned, she saw the official come towards her with slow, deliberate steps, cracking his knuckles as he walked. His tail was held stiffly, yet a gloating smile was fixed on his muzzle.
    “If you need a tow-boat, that can be arranged. For a price,” he added. “You can’t moor here. More than my job’s worth, letting you moor here.”

    “Please?” Angelica looked around but there was no assistance to be had; only the officious official who shook his head as he took out his notebook and his sinister smile enlarged. Suddenly she had a desperate idea. “Kama!” She called out to the kitten who was playing with a giant polychrome sea cucumber that was crawling up onto the shore from the abyssal depths beyond the reefs “Kama, would you like another flight?”

    Instantly Kama stopped petting the nice holothurian and ran back up the jetty, her eyes wide with excitement. In a few seconds she was up in the cockpit while Angelica shut the door in the face of the Port Warden. “There you are, Kama – do you want to start the engine again?” Her heart was pounding as the small paw pressed the starter button – and the Silver Angel’s great engine sprang into life, its tone full of robust mechanical health.

    For a few seconds Angelica sat frozen rigid, her ears confirming the engine was running as smoothly as it ever had. Then her ears went right down. “It’s not the fuel, after all. That barrel Jan gave me was as good as I can get anywhere. So …” her own eyes widened. She had been laughing for so long at the idea of the curse – but the unwelcome, final proof was here, sitting right next to her. Everybody else could fly her aircraft. She could only fly it with Kama there. “A pilot? Can I hire a pilot?” She wondered out loud. Her two hundred shells seemed a lot less to her now, if they had to pay not only for top quality fuel but a qualified pilot to go out to Hawaii and pay his round trip home. She was sickeningly certain she did not have enough.

    “Off we go!” Kama must have sensed something in Angelica’s voice, for she looked at her Euro friend strangely. The Silver Angel took off, circling the main waters while her thoughts seethed in turmoil. Suddenly she looked down at the kitten. By all accounts Kama sometimes vanished into the jungles for a day or two, and nobody worried about that. There was no family expecting her back that night. Of course she would get back; once in Hawaii she could have a first-class ticket on one of the luxurious Dornier X airliners or a China Clipper. A longer trip would be such a treat for her, Angelica told herself through gritted teeth. Just land and refuel, keep Kama in the cockpit and … fly straight off. Nobody in her village even saw her getting onboard, I’ll bet. They’ll just think she’s gone off into the jungle again for awhile. And I don’t have any choice. From what Jan said I have to get out of here right now, and she’s the only way I can do it. She could land and refuel, then be off again in twenty minutes.

    Her ears pressed down to her skull as she struggled with herself. It’s not kidnapping: she wanted to come with me, and I’m going to send her back safe and sound, first class. I never had a treat like that when I was her age. But she made the mistake of turning round to look at Kama; the kitten’s wide eyes stared back with a trusting, but knowing gaze that Angelica felt look clear through her to the back of her skull.

    “Ahhhhhgggg……” she let out a shuddering snarl of defeat. “I can’t do it! Kama, I’m taking you home. Whatever happens to me. I’ve got to get you home again.”

    The kitten nodded wisely, extending a fuzzy paw to point to the North with unerring accuracy. “Home!” She squeaked, bouncing in her seat as the Silver Angel turned back to the beach it had slept so long on.

    Angelica’s whiskers drooped. She was defeated this time but still in the fight; just because she needed a passenger to fly, she told herself, did not mean it had to be Kama. Another civilised girl would not do, she told herself – she had tried to fly with Amelia and her other Songmark friends in the passenger seat, but without any luck. Perhaps it just had to be a Spontoonie? She had never tested that idea.

    “Yes,” her ears slowly raised as the Silver Angel began its descent over Main Island, the clean beach shining in the afternoon sunshine. “A free trip to Hawaii. I’ll have Mama Popoluma ask around; she seems to know everyone here. Surely there’s somebody who wants a holiday this time of year? If they can get me there I’ll pay their return boat trip. It’ll be worth it.” She still had enough fuel onboard to return to Superior Engineering, and next time there would be no mistakes. “I will be SO out of here.”

    Banking gently, the aircraft curved in to touch down on the waters of the narrow bay. There are some compensations, Angelica told herself – I won’t have Interpol after me for kidnapping, and I DO get to dine on shark steak tonight.

    Tehepoa had been on a water-taxi heading towards Eastern Island when he saw the Silver Angel take off and inexplicably return to Main Island. He scratched his head-fur, confused as the aircraft lost height and vanished behind the ridge above Main Village, obviously preparing to land. Angelica had been heard often enough asking pilots directions and landmarks to Hawaii, which was Southwards of Spontoon. She even had an aerial chart one of her friends from Songmark had given her, and surely knew how to use it.

    He sighed. One of the things Oharu had asked him to do was to return the clothes, documents and everything else that Angelica had been deprived of when she had been cursed by him and the girls. It had been embarrassing to admit that it was not just a matter of retrieving them from a cache in some hollow tree or similar – it had been part of the curse. Just as a Spontoonie curse was “Fire-spirits take you!” he had consigned all the haughty Euro trappings to the Spirits, who had literally taken them. He had not qualified the request as “but bring them back when I ask”, and indeed he could no longer ask them directly. Hopefully it would all be resolved when the main curse was broken.

    “Back to Main Village, please,” he had just told the water-taxi fur, when his ears went right up and his fur bristled at the sight of another water taxi heading out of Main Village. The passenger was a very recognisable lion; the Mr. Van der Veldt whom he had trailed the night before. His mind raced. The girls were looking after Angelica in the village, and they would surely see the silver aircraft landing and take it from there. In the meantime … there were many questions he needed answering.

    “Change of plan. Follow that water-taxi there, but not so he sees us.” He did not point, but inclined his snout significantly. “It looks like he’s making for Casino Island.”

    The taxi pilot nodded imperceptibly. He made landfall at the nearby shore as if dropping off his visible passenger, smiled with approval as Tehepoa crouched low in the spray shelter and only then turned to follow the distant taxi, his own now apparently empty and heading back in search of a new fare. The Spontoon water-taxi pilots understood a lot about “Follow that cab!” that Hollywood would never know.

Half an hour later, Jan van der Veldt was wearing his best tunic and had brushed the dust of Main Island out of his fur before heading to the rendezvous. The sun was shining, the late-season air pleasantly fresh, and the last boat-load of tour boat tourists were enjoying spending their money. Or at least they were parting with it one way or another; he grinned as his practiced eye spotted a young spider-monkey “dip” the wallet from the back trouser pocket of a porcine tourist. Money is wasted on the rich, he told himself.

    The terrace bar of the Marleybone was not somewhere he felt at ease. Its glass roof was the perfect sun-trap for cool days though, and it attracted folk of a certain social rank and species mix. Some of them were tropical furs – and others were not “furs” in any sense of the term.

    “Ah, my dear Mr. Van der Veldt,” there was the soft hiss of scales behind him, and he suppressed the instinct to spin round with claws ready. Black Lotus was the only one he had ever met who could sneak up on him like that. “And did our … export arrangements go smoothly?” As the fashion expert of the jewellery trade, she took a keen interest in their business.

    Jan gave a curt nod, mindful of the long twitching ears of the Impala barmaid who was watching him cautiously with the traditional distrust of her species towards lions. “The package should be heading out right away,” he growled. “I’ve paid enough postage. I made sure I told them it was to be labelled urgent. Most urgent.”

    Black Lotus inclined her head. Warm-bloods were usually too emotional and unstable for her tastes, but when required a few of them almost matched reptilian standards. “An efficient job, Mr. Van der Veldt. That should save us all some trouble. And it will all have been worth it for … this.” She turned to reveal the giant pink pearl that now shone like an eye as the centrepiece of her own display. “Do you like it?”

    The lion nodded noncommittally. “It suits you.” Pearls were cash to him and nothing else; they had the advantages of compactness unlike smuggling barrels of brandy, and could be hidden submerged in a ship’s bilges unharmed unlike cigars or Swiss watches. He personally preferred diamonds; you could swallow diamonds if you had to – or better still get someone else to. His slight grin came from the memory of recommending a rival do the same with pearls; the stupid canine had taken his advice and his powerful carnivore digestion had received a very expensive dietary calcium supplement.

    Not everyone was as unimpressed. There were gasps of awed astonishment from the other patrons. A young Spontoonie canine in a waitress outfit locked her eyes on the display, as if unable to believe it. “Miss? That’s the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! Is it from Japanese waters?”

    “No, indeed. Fished out right here. There ARE some privileges of being a pearl exporter,” Black Lotus preened herself, contrasting her sleek glistening smoothness with the messy fur and long floppy ears of the spaniel waitress. “One need not export … everything.”

    “Gosh!” The waitress’ tail wagged in admiration, and then with a blush picked up her tray and hurried back to the kitchens – and through them to the kitchen exit, where a certain handsome young fox was waiting to hear the answers having tailed the lion from the docks. You could fish for more than pearls in these waters, she told herself seriously – around here, information could be just as valuable.

    Inside the hour Tehepoa was on the way back to report to Oharu. He had visited Meeting Island and checked with the Althing Farms and Fisheries department; the only rose pearl officially handled from Spontoon waters that year had been a tenth of the size of Black Lotus’s trophy, and that had made the islands a hundred and twenty shells clear profit – schools, hospitals and public safety had benefited, not one greedy gang of Outlander smugglers. His ears were flat down as the evidence burned in his head. “I’ve promised to lift the curse on that Euro, and I’ll try. But she still deserved it. Every last tangle.”

    Oharu had been very surprised to see the Silver Angel taking off with Angelica at the controls, apparently alone in the aircraft. Half an hour later she nodded in understanding as the aircraft returned, and a crestfallen Angelica opened the passenger door to let a small kitten happily dive out into the shallows like a salmon returning to its native river. “So. Her, you could not take from us, whatever else you stole. There maybe hope for you yet.”


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