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2 April 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2005 by Walter D. Reimer
January 9, 1937:
Ranua’s first Saturday as a member of the Naval Syndicate started early, with Petty Officer Johansen shouting for the recruits to awaken at four-thirty instead of the usual five o’clock. “On yer feet, boys an’ girls!” he yelled. “Plenty ta do t’day!”
As they stumbled out of the barracks, Ranua looked up as something cold and wet struck his nose. “Hey, it’s snowing,” he remarked.
Matt grinned. “What, you don’t have snow down in Spontoon?”
“Every once in a while, in the northern villages,” Ranua replied, blowing out and watching the steam curl away into the air. He and the others fell in as the petty officer stamped out of the building.
After breakfast, they were lined up again and they began running, Johansen keeping pace with them and occasionally bellowing the cadence.
Two miles later he called for them to slow to a regular marching rhythm, and after a few minutes ordered them to stop in front of a large building. “Get inside an’ pair up,” the moose ordered. “Ve’re scheduled to start paw-ta-paw combat t’day, an’ ye’ll have trainin’ innit ev’ry Saturday from now on.”
The building was the base gymnasium, and a large section of the floor was covered in mats. Ranua paired up with Matt at first, but Johansen surveyed the fifteen pairs of furs and made changes seemingly at whim. Ranua found himself partnered with another Rain Islander, a stocky, taciturn otter named Natuk. The two looked at each other appraisingly for a moment, but before either could speak Johansen cleared his throat.
“B’fore ve do anyt’hing else,” he said, “I’ve a challenge fer ya. I vant ta see who here can knock me down.” One or two furs brightened at that, and he laughed, and pointed at Matt. “Come at me now, lad,” he said, dropping into a crouch.
Matt kept low, circling his opponent as he sized up the much larger petty officer. The Doberman then dove low and kicked out, trying to sweep the larger man’s legs out from under him. To everyone’s complete surprise, however, Johansen leaped over the sweeping kick and grabbed at Matt’s ankle, jerking the smaller fur over to him and pinning him face down on the mats. After a brief pause, the moose let him up with a pat on the shoulder. “Ye okay, Peters?”
The slim canine nodded and Johansen said, “Good lad. Any other takers?” As the recruits looked at each other he said, “Now den, ve can’t have any o’ dat here. Ye’ve all had trainin’ b’fore, so show me vat ye’ve got.”
The Tillamookan ewe, Jane Redpaw, stepped forward, angling her body to shield her stronger left paw. As Johansen shifted his stance to counter hers, he reached for her only to end up flat on his back as she expertly threw him over her shoulder. The moose rolled and got to his feet laughing, “Good t’hrow, sailor! Come at me again.” He managed to block her next attack, and the two circled, sizing each other up. Redpaw moved to strike him in his nose, but the burly moose dodged the blow, grabbed her wrist and threw her. He walked over to her and offered her his paw to help her up, but she waved the offer aside and got to her feet. “Vell, at least two can show me vat dey know,” Johansen said as a lieutenant entered the building, “an’ here’s Lieutenant Chen ta show ye vat ye might not know. I’ll be back to take ye to lunch.”
The feline was tall and thin, and after having the recruits do stretching exercises he started teaching them the Syndicate-approved close-in fighting techniques. Ranua knew several of them, and Natuk knew several more, so they were fairly evenly matched apart from their respective heights and builds.
After more than an hour of patient, slow-motion practice, Lt. Chen had the pairs demonstrate the moves he had shown them. He watched carefully and would stop the combat the instant there seemed to be any danger of a bone breaking or internal damage. Bumps and bruises, however, didn’t count.
Ranua went into a crouch, then kicked out at Natuk, who caught at his ankle and twisted. Ranua flexed and leaped with his other foot, twisting free and just barely striking the otter in the chin with his booted toe. The terrier dropped to the mat and spun, aiming a fist at Natuk’s midsection. The blow connected, and the Rain Islander fell away from the fist in an effort to avoid being hurt too badly.
When Lt. Chen finally called time, all of the recruits were panting, and the air in the gym was thick with various musks. Petty Officer Johansen came into the room and said, “Get yerselves straightened up, an’ ve’ll come back here after lunch.”
The afternoon was a shortened repeat of their morning class, and by the time the lieutenant called a halt to the practice all of them looked tired. They marched back to the barracks and were given time to study before heading to the mess hall for their evening meal.
Ranua stayed away from the beer, ignoring Matt’s jokes about not being able to hold his liquor. Adjusting to the new types and flavors of the food was proving to be a bit of a challenge, as an embarrassing incident two days earlier had proved. He took just a hint of comfort in the fact that others were having the same trouble.
Saturday night was reserved for study, and Ranua found himself reading the leadership course’s textbook beyond the current assignments, trying to figure out why Mr. Halvorsen had included some of the examples.
Petty Officer Johansen let them sleep until six the next morning, and as they headed for the showers he said, “Make damn sure ya get good an’ clean, ‘cause after breakfast ye’re all goin’ ta church.”
Matt grabbed a towel and his soap. “I haven’t been to church in a year,” he growled as he stepped into the shower. “I wonder why they make us go.”
Ranua shrugged as he stood under the flow of hot water. “Don’t know,” he said. “Maybe they want our spirits to develop along with our minds and skills.”
“Maybe,” Matt muttered.
The base church was unlike many of the churches that Ranua had seen at Spontoon or in books (he found out later that it was used primarily as a meeting hall). It was a large open space with no recognizable steeple on its steeply pitched roof, and it was roped off into three sections with perhaps twenty feet of open space between each section. One held a stern fox in a gray suit, another a bear in robes of stiff gold brocade standing with two similarly-attired acolytes, and the third had a shaman wearing a patterned woolen robe and a carved cedar mask. Ranua and the other Spontoonies headed for the portion of the hall where the shaman was waiting, followed by some of the Tillamookans and a few Rain Islanders. Matt crossed himself in Russian Orthodox fashion and walked over to where the bear and his attendants stood. The others split up more or less evenly between the bear and the Presbyterian fox.
They were joined by more furs as various divisions and commands within the base came to worship, and the hall filled up rapidly. Many of those from Rain Island seemed evenly divided between the three religions, while those from the northern parts of the archipelago gravitated toward the shaman.
Two attendants started to lightly beat drums as the shaman chanted a blessing and several of the furs sang the responses. Ranua recognized several of the words, and he followed along as best he could. From a short distance away he could hear the deep bass droning of prayers in Russian and the clear baritone of the pastor as he welcomed his own small flock.
To Ranua, it sounded as if all of the voices in the hall were basically saying the same thing, and the harmony sounded wonderful to him. He hadn’t had much time to simply lose himself in his faith since coming to Seathl.
January 23, 1937:
Natalya Broome woke up to sounds coming from the attic just above her head; sounds of something stomping around, and sounds of something heavy being dragged across the attic floor. Her eyes still closed, she reached a paw across the bed and blinked awake as she patted the side of the bed usually taken up by her husband. She rubbed sleep from her eyes, then got up and threw on a robe before checking on Ephraim.
The kit was still fast asleep, clutching his favorite stuffed toy to his chest as he sucked his thumb. She ran a gentle fingertip across his head, and looked up again as more noises came from the attic. The three-year-old, however, seemed unaffected by the ruckus upstairs, and Natalya stepped out of the room to check on the source of the noise.
The attic stairs had been pulled down, and there was a pot of coffee on the stove in the kitchen. She yawned as she poured herself a cup and made a face after she sipped at it. Setting the cup on the kitchen table, she went up the stairs.
“I thought I’d find you up here, banging around,” she said to her husband. “Richard, it’s not even nine o’clock yet.”
Richard Broome looked over at the vixen from the open steamer trunk he was poking through. “Sorry, dear,” he said, leaning over to kiss her. She returned the kiss and he added, “I was trying not to wake anyone up.”
“Be thankful you didn’t wake up Ephraim,” she said. “What are you looking for?”
“Just some papers,” the fox said. “Stuff left over from my move out here.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, when you find what you’re looking for, breakfast should be ready. And if you wake your son up, you get to quiet him down,” she teased before heading back down the stairs.
Broome watched his wife leave, and smiled as he caught a glimpse of her brush waving high over her head. Natalya was a schoolteacher, and today was her day off. He really had tried hard to keep the noise down, and he went back to his search.
His conversation with Albert had stuck with him, and armed with a name and the tiniest fragment of a memory he had come up here to do battle with the mementoes of his previous career. He dug further into the trunk, pulling out and setting aside his Academy yearbook. He successfully managed to resist opening the book and looking at his picture. No sense in getting melancholy at the passage of so many years, he thought as he dug further.
The fox grinned as he pulled out a sheaf of yellowed notes and fading mimeographed pages from a lecture he had attended in 1925. He had to squint at a few of the words, but the notes were in his own paw.
The lecture he had attended was held in Washington’s Marine barracks, and the featured speaker was one F. J. Stagg, late of the New Haven Flying Corps. The subject was on military intelligence, cryptography and the lessons learned from the Great War.
The sunlight streaming in through the attic dormer was bright enough to read by, so he sat cross-legged on the floor and started reading. Yes, all of the papers seemed intact, so he repacked the trunk and closed it before heading downstairs.
The smell of frying bacon and eggs made his nostrils twitch and his mouth water as he entered the kitchen and laid the papers aside. He came up behind his wife and hugged her, nuzzling her neck gently as she tended to breakfast. She smiled and snuggled back at him as he whispered, “Love you.”
Natalya giggled. “You’d better,” she teased, “or I go back to Mother, and you know what she’d do to you.” Natalya’s mother was a Haida tribesfur, and had a temper to match her tribe’s vaunted combativeness.
He laughed softly and kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry. I’ll never do anything to get Irina mad at me. So,” he asked as he stepped away from her and started to set the table, “what do you have planned for today?”
“I have homework to grade,” she said, “and we had planned on getting the garden ready for the spring.”
“So we had.” The toast looked to be done, so he opened the small metal frame and yanked the bread out, trying not to burn his paws. He spread the toast with butter as she asked, “What did you have planned?”
“Just some research,” he said, “and I’m expecting a package from the office.” Two pairs of ears perked as a wail sounded from their son’s room. “I think Ephraim’s awake. I’ll go in and take care of him,” he said.