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1 August 2008

Stranded Angel
  Autumn 1936
Part 16C
A story by Simon Barber
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, and other characters by Freddy Andersson,
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories

Stranded Angel
  Autumn 1936

Part 16C
by Simon Barber

A story of Angelica Silferlindh, from Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
and other characters by Freddy Andersson;
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott

and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories
Art by Fredrick K. T. "Freddy" Andersson

Oharu © Reese D’Orrycott, Angelica and Kama © Freddy Andersson,
others free for Spontoon usage.

“I’ll never believe those tropical hula films again!” Angelica Silfverlindh’s teeth chattered with cold as she helped pull the native fishing-boat up the beach. “Hulas! Lazy tropical lagoons! Sunshine!”
    “Missy Angelica try good fast hula now, make warm and shake the water off?” Tobonule the village girl seemed immune to cold as well as sarcasm. “Ho! Good fishing this night!”
    The time was six in the morning. To Angelica these days it always seemed to be six in the morning. She had heard that the mind glossed over such experiences, but to her they seemed to pile up in a great wall of dark and damp. It was an hour and a half to dawn with a stiff Northerly wind that made Spontoon Main Island in September seem less the setting for any tropical paradise and a better match for any mystery beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night.” She shivered, her saltwater-soaked fur providing little protection under the oilskins after a night’s fishing on the open sea.
    “Come to Main Village, we go swim in big pool! Tobonule urged, the otter’s energies seemingly inexhaustible. “Is free any time to all village furs, since big compost-power machine running all time.”
    Angelica cast an eye Southwards towards Main Village, over a mile and a two hundred foot climb over the ridge. A soak in the hot pool that took off-peak power from Professor Kurt’s “Bio-Reaktor” was a tempting idea – but adding an hour and more to her day really was not.
    “No… got to get to sleep …” she mumbled, swaying slightly. “Can’t leave little Kama on her own.”
    Tobonule nodded approvingly, waving as Angelica staggered up the beach towards the village. The lithe otter’s tail slapped playfully as she turned to the pair of hare bucks who were helping with the fishing after a Summer as bell-hops on Casino Island. “All good. Angelica she good Tailfast girl, with Kama to care for. Plenty more room in hot pool! You show Tobonule what Euro lady give big tips for?” With that she winked and invited the bucks for more than a swim. But then, some offers were too good to refuse.

Alfred Silfverlindh by Fredrick Andersson

“He refuses. And he was the last one on my list.” Alfred Silfverlindh, Angelica’s father, stood in the hallway of his home crumpling a newly arrived telegram in his paws. “Will nobody bring my Angelica back to me?”
    “You’re working too hard, Sir – you’re wearing yourself into a shadow.” Marta, hid devoted maid, carefully tidied the telegram away with the rest. Angelica had had plenty of time to come home by now had she wanted to; her father had decided to hire someone to try and persuade her. Although the local Gothenburg business directory had no category for “Adventurer”, his business had a lot of contacts around the Pacific sourcing the bananas they imported. Contacts there had provided him with half a dozen fairly local fliers who had taken on odd jobs in the past, and in that part of the world by repute some jobs were extremely odd. But for some reason the prospect of dragging Angelica away from an adopted Native family and a local Priestess’s protection seemed more than the money was worth.
    “Ah, Marta. You’re so good to me.” Alfred looked out at the stormy evening skies outside. “It’s late. I’ll be off to bed. You lock up please – and breakfast at seven-thirty, please. Those banana fritters of yours are quite delicious.”
    “Yes Sir!” Marta curtseyed, her neat black and white maid outfit matching her fur and equally spotless. They were back in the town house for the Winter; the Summer house on the island was locked and shuttered against the storms that swept up the fjord with only a caretaker to call once a week, weather permitting.
Marta, the Silfverlindh family maid - by Fredrick Andersson

    Marta waited till she heard the bedroom door close upstairs, and quietly padded over to the locked cupboard that held family documents. There were no secrets to be kept from an inquisitive maid who was the only live-in servant; not two days after she had finished supervising the annual move she had found where Alfred had stowed that very exclusive portfolio of prints showing exactly what Angelica was doing these days.
    “Very nice.” She relaxed, sitting on a neatly folded towel in the comfort of the big porcelain stove still glowing with embers. Putting a white dusting glove on her left paw, she delicately turned the pages as carefully as any archivist with a precious manuscript. “So. That’s the high and mighty Miss Angelica. How are the mighty fallen.” She shook her head. That was definitely Angelica: she recalled those three small dark spots of fur on her back from bathtimes (the daughter of the household normally yelling at her maid to bring more hot water and take away the banana-scented soap) and the incredibly skilled oriental artist who had drawn the portfolio had surely portrayed everything in exact detail.
    “I can see why you don’t want to come home. I don’t think anything like that ever happens around here,” Marta turned to her favourite page, where Angelica and a pretty canine girl were doing things she had always thought of as being saved for a husband and a wedding night. “As if you’re going to leave all that! Poor Mr. Silfverlindh still hopes you’ll come back and help with the business. And one day … give him grandchildren to carry it on.”
    At that Marta flushed, glad of her precautions. Maids were meant to keep things clean, not visa versa. “She’s better off and happier where she is … doing that.” But her father wanted her home. “If he could believe she really wants to stay out there. But how? He’d have to hear it from someone who really knows Angelica – and someone he trusts himself. Someone not afraid to take the trip out there – if it was made worth their while.”
    A pair of feline ears perked up. She had helped Mr. Silfverlindh with a lot of his correspondence in the past two years, and a certain name occurred to her.

“Mister Holdsworthy? We have not met. But my daughter spoke often of you.” It was a week later that Mr. Silfverlindh stood in his hallway shaking paws with a ruggedly handsome hound clad in the rough tweeds of an English country gentleman.
    “Miss Angelica. Topping girl. Remember her well.” The Right Honourable Henry Holdsworthy winked at the pretty feline maid standing on the stairs behind her employer. “A natural flyer, your daughter. Quite a handful, though! She’d break out of school, get into all sort of scrapes just to watch us at the old aero club. Never seen anyone take to flying lessons so quickly.”
    Looking down at the Adventurer, Marta was a little disappointed at him at first sight. But then, she reflected, it would have looked rather odd for him to be striding through the business district of Gothenburg clad in full flying suit, helmet and goggles with a pistol strapped to his waist as in all the films.
    “Yes. Well. She used those flying skills to get to the far side of the world, the Spontoon Islands to be exact. Now she’s stuck there. She won’t leave her aircraft and come home.” Alfred sighed. “What I want is someone to bring her back to me.”
    Mr. Holdsworthy stroked his chin reflectively. “Could be mechanical trouble? Deuced awkward getting spare parts or decent engineers in some of those backwater islands.”
    “No, no.” Alfred pulled out a well-thumbed copy of the previous month’s “Spontoon Island Birdwatcher” which kept track of everything moving in Spontoon airspace – except, oddly enough, birds. “Her aircraft’s been seen flying. If she’s short of fuel she knows she just has to write to me and I’ll wire her funds. I’ve checked, and the islands have suppliers.”
    “Hmm.” Mr. Holdsworthy thought deeper. “Man to man, sir – do you think she’s become … romantically involved? All those island beaches, moonlight and palm trees, Natives wearing not much more that a teatowel – famous for romance there sir, famous for it.”
    “I hardly think so. My Angelica’s a good girl! Not that sort at all.”
    Above and behind the master of the house on the stairs, Marta winked back at the aviator. She had the job of cleaning the rooms and emptying the wastebaskets, and had a feline’s usual curiosity. She had read years of discarded drafts of Angelica’s letters to her friends, and discretion had never been Miss Angelica’s strong suite. She had written a lot about the “dashing, handsome Mr. Holdsworthy, war ace and adventurer.”
    As for being a Good Girl … Marta shook her head silently. How Mr. Silfverlindh could still think that after seeing what she was doing in the portfolio (the final few pages of it, definitely of her own free will) she would never know. And as far as romance went, the “dashing, handsome Mr. Holdsworthy” seemed to know rather more about Angelica than her father.
    “Well…” the hound mused “my professional engagements don’t have anything I can’t put off till next month. All the way to Spontoon, though? And back with a passenger who might need some persuading. That’s a tall order.”
    “And her aircraft. It was a big investment, and I want it back.” Alfred replied promptly. “I paid for it to be painted banana yellow with the company logo; by Christmas I’d like it painted up and pulling advertising banners around the skies, earning its keep.”
    Marta clapped a paw to her muzzle, barely restraining herself. She remembered Angelica’s reaction to finding out just what was planned for her shiny new silver aircraft the day after she had flown it down fresh from the factory. There would have been a screaming row about it had her father not already left for Hammerfest in Norway where he was promoting bananas as an athletic food at the hammer-throwing festival. Before he had returned, Angelica and the Silver Angel had gone.
    “Yes, but do you see, Sir, that makes it a lot harder. Putting her on a liner is one thing. Flying back all that way alone with her in that … intimate little cockpit ? The Lindberghs did but they of course were married.” Mr. Holdsworthy’s voice held just the right amount of respectful concern, but Marta could see his tail twitch.
    “Quite right, Sir, quite right.” Alfred paced back and forth. “And if you flew back with the aircraft having put Angelica on a boat, unchaperoned – well, anything could happen. She could change her mind and jump ship at the first stop.” He stood deep in thought for a few seconds. Suddenly his ears and whiskers perked up.
    “Marta! Marta!” Oh, there you are.” He turned to see his devoted maid standing behind him, now devotedly dusting the landing. “Marta – how would you like … let’s call it, a free cruise and holiday?”

“Some cruise! Some holiday!” Marta grumbled the next day to Lotte the downstairs maid as she sorted through her clothes drawers. “Dragged half way around the world and back with that … Adventurer. Not that anyone cares about MY reputation, of course not. Jammed into boats and aircraft with him … it’s rainy season out there, and I hate she smell of wet dogs.” She sniffed. “And when I do get there, what’s my reward? I get to argue with Little Miss Nose-in-the-air. WE might end up having to ship her back here locked in a banana crate.” A small smile came to her face. “That’d be interesting. We’ve her father’s permission to do it, if all else fails.”
    Lotte, a placid bovine girl from the pastoral Baltic isle of Gotland, looked at her with placid brown eyes. “Mister Silfverlindh, of course he’s wanting her home. Was saying while ago, was time she looked for a husband. Would be nice to have kittens about the house again.”
    “Husband? Ha! What you don’t know is she …” Marta stopped, her mind racing as new possibilities opened up before her. Of course Alfred wanted someone at home to look after the company and provide for its future. But if Angelica’s tastes had changed to the extent that portfolio showed … there would be no Silfvherlind wedding and kittens, in Gothenburg or anywhere else. Not from Angelica. Someone was needed though, who was willing to make sacrifices for the good of the firm.
    “I’m going, it’s my duty,” Marta packed six maid uniforms, one for every day of the week, a duster and a nice dress for Sundays and holidays. “But I don’t have to like it.”

“This is Not the way I’d thought of a voyage to the Mysterious East.” Not four days later, a very irritated black and white feline stood surrounded by baggage in a draughty corner of the brash new concrete airport terminal. The only decoration on the raw grey walls was a collection of brightly coloured posters (mainly in red) exhorting the proletariat to overthrow Tyranny and Repression in the name of Ioseph Starling, to increase non-ferrous metal production to surpass the Five-Year Plan and to please, please bring in their quota of beetroot this harvest-time. “I thought furs went East on the Orient Express?”
    “Ay yes, those were the days, before the crash of ’29,” Henry Holdsworthy mused, putting away his Russian phrasebook in a pocket of his well-worn Ulster overcoat. “The white-gloved waiters, silver-service meals with vintage wines, the fleeting travellers’ romances, the elegantly arranged murder always solved by the official train sleuth just as we pulled into Istanbul. I recall it well – alas, a long time ago now.”
    Marta looked up at the tall hound: her impression of him had not improved in the past week. “And that’s another thing. Aren’t you a bit young to be a “war Ace” ? I thought the war finished in 1918.”
    Henry winked at her. “Quite right, dear girl. I recall the year I joined up, so well. In the newspaper that week was a cartoon, with a vicar spotting one of his choirboys going in to join up. “You’re going to tell them you’re old enough to enlist?” He says, “Haven’t you heard in my sermons where Liars and Deceivers go in the end?” And the boy pipes up: “Yes Sir! To the Front!” It was much the same with me.”
    “I believe some of that,” Marta replied acidly. Probably the liar part, she added to herself. She had often looked through Angelica’s old aviation books while dusting them and imagined the romantic, scenic route East. The Imperial Airways flying boat met the Orient Express at Istanbul, swooped across the Mediterranean, over the Pyramids and down the Red Sea to India. From there, it followed exotic shorelines and jungle-clad ruins out to Humapore and points East. A domestic flight from Stockholm to Leningrad and then crossing seven time zones before she won clear of Ioseph Starling’s Soviet Union was not quite the same.
    As the huge “Maxim Gorky” passenger and freight aircraft rolled to a stop on the runway outside, the tannoy blared into life and Henry Holdworthy strained his ears to listen and translate. Apart from being more direct on the map the Russian route was half the price of the British Empire coastal run, and the shortage of windows in the aircraft was supposedly compensated by it having its own built-in cinema showing uplifting films to the workers in transit.
    “Cheer up, dear girl! Could be worse. Last time I was on this run they showed “Building the Turksib Railway” three times back to back. This time it’s “Attack of the Moon Capitalists”, though you might not be too surprised who wins.” He paused, checking tickets. “Oh, and on your travel documents I had to put your occupation down as “Revolutionary Agitator”; Servants are illegal in the Soviet Union. Very bad form, they think. If anyone asks you about those maid costumes, say they’re disguised for infiltrating and subverting bourgeoisie establishments. They love that sort of thing around here, don’t you know.” He winked broadly.
    Marta groaned inwardly as the uniformed flight attendant led them in to departures, checked their tickets and gave a safety briefing. In the event of any in-flight emergency they must ruthlessly seek out and zealously purge the counter-revolutionary elements in their midst who were doubtless responsible. It was going to be a very long flight.

Hsien, slave dealer - by Fredrick Andersson

Far off in the Spontoon Islands, other people had their problems. The rain hammering on the damp palm trees and running down the windows was not a major one, but to the plump Burmese feline reclining on cushions and smoking a water-pipe, it certainly was not helping.
    “Foolishness.” He spoke quietly.
    The jade-green reptile, native of one of the Kanim Islands, flicked an eye membrane. “Master?” He queried.
    Hsien sighed. “One more of our Collection Agents believed they could do better on their own. Incorrectly. Now most will never live to learn the error of their ways.”
    Hsien had not survived so long in his profession by getting his own paws dirty, indeed they were meticulously manicured. If a certain customer discreetly requested a certain age, sex and species of slave Hsien would find a way of passing the information to independent “Collection Teams”, none of whom knew where the orders came from or what became of the “merchandise” after it was deposited at a given time and place. Hsien’s “Delivery Teams” worked in the same way; although Kuo Han was a main customer some of the addresses around the world they delivered to would have greatly surprised people.
    At least, that was the way it was supposed to work. Furs got greedy though, and they got impatient. Yang and O’Grady had been very successful until they tried to go into business for themselves. The local authorities did not exactly arrest slavers, and nothing ever appeared in the newspapers – although if the Nimitz Sea sharks and crabs could write they might have filled the letter pages with praise for all the free fresh (indeed, often still kicking) food they were being given.
    “Yang I believe is still alive, He may wish to communicate with ourselves.” Hsien shut his accounts book with a pistol-like snap. “Tell him we have no vacancies for fools. If he wished to follow O’Grady – he can follow to where he is now.”

Kama & her pet - by Fredrick Andersson
Not three miles away on Main Island, Angelica Silfverlindh was less worried about the weather than the supper.
    It was Friday night. She had woken at noon, bathed and fed Kama while pointedly ignoring the impossible sea-cucumber pet that bounced and frolicked around the hut. She had done her limited laundry and then settled down to work with her share of the morning’s catch for the evening meal.
    “Fish!” Kama sniffed happily, the four-year old kitten’s eyes wide in the firelight from the firepit beneath the big cooking pot.
    “That’s right, Kama. A proper stew! I think I’ve got all the ingredients.” Angelica had looked out at the hammering rain that morning and decided against trying to copy the Polynesian styles of the village. Instead she was doing her best to “reverse engineer” the nourishing English Winter soups and stews that had kept her going at Saint Winifred’s where she had shared two baffling years with Amelia Bourne-Phipps, now also a temporary Spontoonie.
    “They used cheap cuts of beef or mutton as a base … I can’t get that here, so it’s fish as usual,” she explained to the attentive kitten. “Also carrots, potatoes and … the other root.”
    Apparently in Renaissance Scandinavia, a combination of religious zealotry and a simple spelling mistake had led to a humble starchy vegetable being declared the Root Of All Evil, and anyone who spoke or wrote its name was instantly burned at the stake – and the penalty for growing or possessing it had been truly horrible. Even in the modern Nineteen-thirties the Swedish word “palsternacka” was enough to cause Scandinavians deep alarm and unease, though nobody remembered exactly why - possibly because the scribes who wrote the law books had been burned at the stake before they finished writing the sentence. Having the root (parsnip in English) declared legal had been a long process and expensive in trained legal staff.
    “I think that should do it. Just needs to simmer for an hour, and that’s our supper!” Angelica relaxed by the fire, stroking Kama’s long head-fur while the rain beat down on the thatch above them. “Oh, Kama. I’m worn out. I know I only woke six hours ago but … I’ll have to get to sleep after we’ve finished supper. This night fishing is running me ragged.”
    “Mother?” Kama looked up at her with those impossibly deep eyes. Angelica had toured her family mines years before; she remembered being shown a flooded shaft that had been abandoned a century before . The undisturbed water had been so clear that she could see fifty metres into its depths – and Kama’s eyes were like that.
    “That’s all right. I’ll do it for you.” Angelica hugged her adopted daughter. Deep inside her, something seemed to turn over. She knew that Kama had been the village’s child, welcome at every fire and never short of a meal or a welcoming family. If Angelica left she would just go back to that. …
    “No.” She spoke aloud. “Ada would be left to look after her alone. She’d do it for me. Even if I never came back – if I’d told her I was never coming back.” She sat bolt upright, remembering the time not two months before when she had planned to use Kama to fly away in the Silver Angel, and effectively dump her in Hawaii before heading back to “civilisation.”. True, she would have done her best to return Kama to Spontoon but such things were never guaranteed. Her ears blushed.
    Kama purred, and cuddled closer. Angelica relaxed again, looking out at the rain dripping in the dusk from the eve of the new thatched hut the locals had built for her and her kittens. Inside the pot slowly simmered and a kitten purred happily against the warm flank of her tired mother.
    Angelica found herself smiling, despite everything. Things could definitely be worse.

“Things couldn’t get much worse for us,” a thin and scarred hound confided to his sole surviving comrade as they sat in the back room of the Devil’s Reef, just up from the Old China Dock on Casino Island. “The only reason we got out, is the Police didn’t know about our end of things. Kelly and O’Grady didn’t get the chance to talk.”
    His companion, a slender monkey, winced. “We should go into another line of work, Yang. If we go back to Yunnan gun-running for the warlords again, if they catch us with cargo for their rivals – we might trade our stock for our lives. Well, it’s been known to happen. But O’Grady, they tied him up and put him in a life-jacket after they’d shot him – they didn’t want him to drown quick. The sharks got him, piece by piece.” He shivered. “I don’t want to meet my Ancestors in pieces.”
    Yang Chi, for that was he, considered. “We need cash to set up back home. One more capture could do it. I’ve still got the list from last month.” He tapped his head significantly; for obvious reasons  nothing was ever written down.
    Lin Po his companion looked dubious. “Think the Boss will buy from us now? When that White Russian screwed up, the Boss left him out in the cold. Didn’t last long after that.” The Spontoonies might have used police, militia or other forces to hunt slavers, but certainly had quiet Government backing to deal out punishments not in the official legal code. Lin Po had read that code, and there was nothing in it mentioning being bound in wire and left for the land-crabs.
    “One more capture,” Yang Chi insisted.”There’s five on the list, three on Casino or Meeting Island, two on Main. We can’t get to Main, but most Natives come here from time to time. We’ll just have to chance our heads and grab whichever we see first – any way we can.”

“Saturday Morning! The one day I have all to myself!” Angelica stretched out on her sleeping mat, welcoming the dawn. Even on Sundays she had to sleep late knowing she would be out on the boats by nightfall; Saturday was the only civilised day.
    Kama gave a sharp-toothed kittenish yawn as she awoke and hugged her mother good morning. She patted the clay-lined pond over by the door, and something vaguely green and cucumber-like splashed out, a ring of tentacles wriggling happily.
Angelica, Kama & pet, Ada - by Fredrick Andersson
    Angelica practiced ignoring it. There was obviously no such thing as an amphibious sea cucumber, let alone one of a species that should live hundreds of metres down, and therefore a long way from the generally shallow Spontoon coastal waters. And such primitive creatures had no brain, just a simple nerve mesh – training them to do tricks was obviously impossible.
    She stretched. “I’ve even been paid again. We could go to Casino Island if you like, Kama? Buy you something pretty ? How about that?” She averted her eyes at the sight of something that should definitely not be sitting up on its tube feet “begging” like a puppy.
    Kamma nodded, feeding her pet a fish scrap. Whatever Angelica liked, she liked – with the possible exception of some Scandinavian preserved fish. High out of her reach on a roof beam was a crock of maturing “lutefisk”, the white fish in lye slowly pickling for Christmas delicacies.
    An hour later they all stood on the water taxi dock of Main Village. Angelica was dressed in her new Lava-lava dress that Mama Popoluma had sewed; Kama wore a small one cut from the same piece of fabric.
    “Plane!” Kama pointed up at a collection of specks circling high above. Angelica nodded, shading her eyes as she looked up. Having been air-minded for year, she recognised ten Potez fighters that had been sold as surplus to the new Flying School on Casino Island that Ada had mentioned in no very friendly tones.
    “I don’t know when we can get to fly again,” Angelica’s tail drooped as the water taxi arrived. “I earn a decent wage by Native standards, but it doesn’t go far when you’re buying aircraft fuel and spare parts. I’m just glad Ada can look after Baby.” She shuddered at the thought of the Silver Angel still drawn up on the open beach, and starting to fall apart in the Winter storms.
    Suddenly her ears perked up. “Ada goes to Casino Island to her temple on Saturdays! Maybe we’ll see her after the service.” She blushed. “I’d love to see her. Just to talk to.” It was ten days till her Curse was due to manifest itself, but she realised she was starting to miss Ada Cronstein’s simple company as a friend.
    Kama squeaked happily as they boarded the taxi, and dipped her bucket overboard to refresh her pet’s water. The sea cucumber waved one of its front tentacles, evidently catching the holiday mood.
    Angelica winced and looked the other way as it climbed up Kama’s proffered arm to perch on her shoulder like a parrot for a Pulp Magazine alien pirate. Having an impossible pet was bad enough on Main Island where nobody cared – but on Casino Island it could get embarrassing.

A busy morning of shopping passed, even though most of it was window-shopping. “That must be the place Ada goes to for her supplies!” Angelica’s ears went up as her nose tracked down a source of delightfully pungent odours. There was a shop boasting “Euro specialities Our Speciality” with a definite scent of pickled fish wafting from its open door. In three seconds she was inside, her mouth watering.
    “Do you stock … Swedish Surstromming?” She asked the assistant, a sleek young Jackal girl.
    The black-furred girl licked her lips. “Of course, Madame! We stock Swedish Surstromming, Norwegian rakorret, Icelandic hakarl and we have a particularly pungent brand of Indian Bombay Duck – though that’s a fish too.” She winked. “We stock kosher Gefilte fish, halal Ikran Bilis from the Malay Straights – we have a very comprehensive selection.”
    Angelica had spotted a pile of tins with stained Swedish labels marked up as “Special Sale”. She examined one of the bulging tins. “Surstromming! I’ve not had this in ages! It’s illegal to carry it by air, I’m told.” The specially fermented Baltic herring had a certain reputation; even in Sweden the preferred method was to open the cans outdoors, underwater or as many muttered, not at all.
    The assistant dipped an ear nervously. “Ah. We really don’t recommend that batch, Madame. They were delayed on the ship coming here three months in the tropics. I think they might be a bit … flavoursome.”
    “That’s fine - I like this tasty.” Angelica judged one of the swollen tins with a practiced eye.
    “Really – we’d rather sell them to hyenas, or my kin could better appreciate the very special qualities of that batch,” the jackal insisted. “They’re really … extra ripe.”
    Angelica picked up one of the big cans and shook it. Everyone in the shop ducked for cover. “I’ll take three of these please , and half a pound of that nice Icelandic Hakarl for Sunday lunch.”
    The proprietor sighed. “Yes, madame. But I would ask you to handle them very, very carefully – at least while you’re in a built-up area.”

    Two hundred yards down the road, Angelica’s heart raced as she caught sight of  a familiar uniform in the distance. “Maybe it’s Ada, or one of her friends?” But when the figure approached she saw it was a mouse with a friendly, attentive expression. Angelica had seen her before. Hadn’t Ada once said something about not buying any bridges from her?”
    “Excuse me?” Angelica asked politely “Could you tell me if Ada Cronstein’s on the island? It’s the day she’s usually over at her temple.”
    The mouse’s face fell. “Oh. She’s here, but I’m afraid she’s busy all day. From dawn to dusk she’s got to sit in her Synagogue with a gefilte fish in every pocket. Today’s the Hebrew festival of Hephet-nu-Sugob, commemorating Jehovah’s reneging on all his promises to the Chosen People.”
    Angelica’s tail drooped. “That’s a pity. I’d have liked to meet her. Thank you anyway!” She turned to go, Kama in paw. A few seconds later there was a yelp and she turned to see the mouse rubbing her tail as if something had bitten it. But thee was nobody around, and even Kama had been twenty feet away and facing the wrong way. Kama was looking fierce, her snout wrinkled.
    “Well, that’s that. We’ve got everything we came for now – time to go home?” She ignored a quiet splash in Kama’s bucket. On Spontoon strange things were routine and mundane in every way.
    The kitten nodded, and they happily turned towards the docks. Which as it happened was exactly the wrong time to be there.

“It’s Her! Target One!” Yang dashed into the shoddy room. “Her and a kitten, coming right this way and the street’s empty!”
    Lin Po grabbed a newspaper, a rag and a bottle of chloroform. “The Gods smile on us at last.” The setup was something they had done a dozen times before – approach the target holding the paper while pouring the chloroform over the rag – as soon as they went past, turn and wrap the rag firmly over the target’s nose and mouth. Most people’s reaction was to gasp for breath in shock or to cry for help – by which time the chloroform would be working and they were being dragged into an alley or doorway. Total time, three seconds.
    Yang Chi and Lin Po were walking steadily towards Angelica and Kama, Yang holding the paper while Lin pointed at the sports results and excitedly gabbled in Cantonese about the odds of next week’s winners. They were about ten paces away and due to pass the target just opposite a narrow alleyway. Despite Hsien’s opinion, the pair were actually very good at what they did.
    Just then Kama looked up and caught sight of them. She stopped, blinked, and her fur suddenly bristled in alarm.
    “What is it, Kama?” Angelica looked down into the kitten’s wide eyes. Kama had a way of letting you know with a glance what it would take pages of text and diagrams to explain. “Oh. OH!” Exactly why Angelica felt her claws springing out was something else she would have found hard to explain.
    “Run!” Yang broke left while Lin went right, aware that somehow things had gone horribly wrong. Being caught with chloroform was not something they wanted to explain to the police.
    “You!” Angelica grabbed the first hard and heavy thing to paw and flung it with all her force at Yang’s head. The hound ducked and the bulging tin of Surstromming smashed into the wall above his head – and burst.
    The kilogram of half-rotten baltic herring had indeed been sitting in tropical heat far longer than its manufacturers had ever allowed for.The contents were mostly liquescent horror now, foaming with suddenly released vile gases – and as Yang instinctively looked up he got the lot, in eyes and mouth and nose.
    “Yiiiiii!!” His shrill yelp rang out as his sensitive canine senses overloaded like a delicate measuring flask thrown into a waterfall. Blindly he flailed back across to where Lin Po had ran to – and was gone.
    Angelica blinked, gasping for breath herself as a waft of the rotten fish reached her. Then she looked down.
    Kama was staring at the alleyway with total concentration, her ears pressed right to her skull and her tail fluffed out. Although it was a bright day for November, the alley was filled with shadows – more than that, it was filled with darkness like a flooded mineshaft fills with water, For a second longer Kama kept it up – and then she relaxed. When next Angelica looked the alley was a simple dead end, empty of everything, with no doors or windows that anyone could have escaped through.
    Looking up at Angelica’s concerned face, the kitten hugged her tight – and then burst into floods of tears.

A keen observer of the ferry docks that day would have seen a young feline mother and her kitten quietly heading back to Main Island, and drawing no particular attention. Any Main Islanders noticing a sea-cucumber bloated like a baloon and scented of rotten fish knew enough not to comment. The traffic in the other direction had been more remarkable, with half a dozen Priestesses converging on Casino Island with expressions ranging from puzzled, shocked to totally horrified. Five minutes later a certain street was sealed off by the Casino Island Police for no clearly defined reason – one reporter said he had “seen nothin’ like it since the Paris Cannon dropped that one test mustard shell on Gare de Lyons back in ‘18” – but nothing appeared about it in any newspaper.

By evening the hastily summoned Priestesses had dispersed to their regular territories, having performed what one described to the Police as “A cleansing and closing ritual”. Everyone was extremely glad it was not Tourist Season.
    Over on Main Island Angelica had walked over to Vikingstown and presented the two remaining cans of surstromming to a hyena family she knew, to their great delight, having cautioned them about not opening the cans on any inhabited continent.
    And that, it seemed, was that. But back on Casino Island Hsien cast a pawfull of polished sticks and studied the resulting patterns for an hour with great interest.
    “I am not sending any more Collection Agents after that one. Not on Spontoon. Not teams I wish to keep” the Burmese decided firmly as he put the ancient book of interpretations back on its shelf. But then his tail twitched. “Baron von Krokk, though? He wishes her ill, and wishes the money. Should I warn him?”
    His smile was calm, untreoubled as he decided. “No. Probably not.”

next - chapter 16D
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More chapters of the "Stranded Angel" story
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