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16 May 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2005 by Walter D. Reimer
January 27, 1937
The book was old, and from its appearance had not been in the possession of a book-lover ever since it had been thrown from its shelf into a bonfire on a certain rainy day years earlier. Some of its pages were missing, while others required tweezers to separate without tearing them. But the binding was still reasonably intact, and the high-grade leather of the cover had stood up to all of the abuse the volume had suffered over the past six years.
Parts of its title was missing, but enough of the embossing was left to make out that the book was part of the official records of the New Haven General Assembly for the years 1919 and 1920. How it managed to get out of New Haven and get all the way to San Francisco was anyone’s guess.
Broome turned the pages carefully with his left paw while the right scribbled notes on a nearby pad with a pencil. When the jobber’s messenger had brought him the book his ears and brush had drooped in disappointment at the condition of the volume. However, the information within the pages was still there, although it had taken him two days so far to tease what he wanted from the seemingly endless transcripts of boring hearings.
He sat back, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes wearily before looking across his office at the squat carafe of whisky. Just the thing he didn’t need at the moment, so he settled for leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes to rest them.
“Excuse me, sir?” He opened his eyes to see his secretary looking at him across the desk. “Sorry to bother you,” she said contritely.
“It’s no problem,” Broome said as he sat up straight. “My eyes were bothering me.”
Kathy nodded and held out a note. “Here’s a message for you from our station in Tillamook.” He took it, and she stepped out of the office, closing the door behind her.
The note was from Jimmy Denton, the Intelligence operative who nominally worked for the Foreign Syndic. It read, ‘The person you wish to speak to is at Mist Point.’ The fox grinned to himself, then tore the note up into small pieces and dropped it into the special wastebasket. It would be burned at the end of the day.
Broome drew a sheet of blank paper from a desk drawer, considered for a moment, and started writing. The memorandum basically ordered him to take the earliest possible military transport (or civilian equivalent thereof) from Rain Island to Tillamook, and there take some well-deserved vacation time. Allowances would be disbursed that would enable him to take his wife and their child along.
Sometimes, he thought to himself, rank had its privileges, even in an egalitarian society.
January 30, 1937:
“Vell, boys an’ girls,” Petty Officer Johansen boomed as the recruits woke up and got out of bed, “dis ends yer first four veeks vit’ me.” He flourished a sheet of paper and added, “An’ I’ve got some good news fer ya, so gather ‘round.”
Several of the recruits were already headed to the showers, wrapped in towels or clad only in their fur. At Johansen’s announcement they paused and looked at him curiously.
The big moose chuckled. “Vat, ya t’hinkin’ I’ll bite ya? I’ve got here yer grades, an’ some news.” He smiled as thirty pairs of ears perked and the younger furs grew more attentive. “Dat’s better.
“All o’ ya have passed yer classes, an’ I’ll be havin’ a private chat vit’ dose who need ta vork on t’hings,” Johansen said. “Now, fer de good news. First, t’day’s payday, so after breakfast ve’ll be marchin’ over ta get yer money.” A pleased murmur rose among the group, and he raised a paw to quiet them. “An’ ye’re all given a pass fer de veekend.”
For an instant there was silence, and then all of the recruits cheered and headed for the showers to get cleaned up.
After a brief but thorough inspection of their uniforms and sleeping areas, the group was marched to breakfast and then to the base’s administration building, where they joined an ever-growing line of furs. When Ranua’s turn came, he followed what everyone had done; he took his identification tag from around his neck and showed it to the clerk behind the table.
The badger looked at the metal disc, then up at Ranua. “Name?” he asked in a disinterested tone.
A finger ran down the list of names, and an index card was pulled from a box. A critical gaze studied the photograph on the card, then the wirehair terrier’s features. The badger nodded and pointed to a sheet that already held dozens of signatures. “Sign there.”
Ranua signed and the badger handed over an envelope. Ranua smiled as he took it and waited until he was outside the building before opening it.
The envelope held several Rain Island banknotes, called ‘redbacks’ for the large amount of red ink used in the printing process. Both sides were decorated in intricate geometrical designs in red, black and white, reflecting the native heritage of the country. Along with the money was a receipt, and he studied this first before counting his pay.
His pay was a basic rate of one hundred dollars a month; with the Syndicate and the larger Military Collective each deducting an amount, that left him with seventy dollars. Ranua took a deep breath and started counting. Yes, it was all there, and he looked around and noticed that the base’s bank was across the street.
The place was packed when he arrived, and he recognized Halli and several others from his group already waiting on line. Eventually he was in front of the obviously overworked teller, who wearily wrote up the paperwork opening an account. Ranua had taken the time while in line to think carefully about his money, and he deposited fifty dollars into the new account. Five dollars a week for the next four weeks, he reasoned, would be an adequate allowance.
As he stepped out of the bank he turned as Matt Peters asked, “So, Ranua, what are you planning on doing?”
The terrier shrugged. “I figured I’d pick up my pass and go into Seathl,” he said. “I’ve never been there, and it might be interesting. Care to come with me?”
“Sure,” the Doberman said with a smile. “I’m new here too, so having a helping paw to find my way ‘round would be great.”
Ranua smiled. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s find out where they’re keeping our passes, and we’ll go see the sights.”
As with the bank, other furs had the same idea, and after some more waiting Ranua and Matt received their passes. The one-inch by two-inch pasteboard cards listed the person’s name and exactly when they were expected back in their quarters. Ranua bought a map of the city for five cents, and a ticket on the bus headed into the city.
The base was a few miles away from the city limits, and after driving past several rather rundown-looking bars and ‘houses’ (Petty Officer Johansen had given them a very detailed lecture two nights ago concerning them, and Ranua was determined to take the advice to heart), the landscape changed to rolling hill country dotted with farms. The bus emerged from a pass between two mountains and headed down the slope toward Seathl.
After leaving the bus station, all Ranua could do for several minutes was stand there and stare, looking around and feeling quite lost. Seathl was the largest city in the country, its capital and economic center. Several of the buildings clustered to the south of the bus station had their tops lost in the low late January overcast. The streets were busy with traffic; pedestrians mostly, here in the middle of the city, but there were sounds of cars and other vehicles several blocks away.
Matt said, “Wow. Noisy place.”
“Big and crowded, too,” Ranua said, his friend’s voice shaking him out of his trance. He pulled his map out of a pocket and opened it. “Okay, we’re here, facing Haywood Square . . . I guess we can start there,” and he and Matt crossed the street and headed over to the broad grassy plaza that served as the center of the city.
The Governing Syndic’s headquarters dominated the north side of the square, while smaller syndics and businesses (like the bus station) were on the west and east sides. The south was open, facing a stand of trees and totems that both furs recognized as a sacred grove. The plaza itself was about fifty yards square, laced with walkways and dotted with trees. At the center stood a statue on a broad stone base, a statue of a bovine gentleman in an old-fashioned suit.
Ranua walked over to the statue and read the inscribed bronze plaque set into the base. “William ‘Big Bull’ Haywood, 1869-1928. ‘One Big Union of All the Workers.’”* He looked up at the life-size effigy, recalling what he’d learned of Rain Island’s history.
Haywood had been born in Utah, and had been sent to work in the mines as a child after his father had died. He had worked hard to organize the workers in the United States and had founded the International Workers of the World, one of the first unions in America. He had suffered imprisonment and beatings, and was about to be deported to Russia when he had emigrated (if you count jumping bail and running across the border to be emigrating) to Rain Island in 1922. The nation welcomed him as one of its intellectual founders, and he enjoyed his freedom for just a few years after that, dying of pneumonia contracted while he was in prison in America. “You know, I’ve read about this statue,” the terrier said, “and I’ve always wondered something.”
“What’s that?” Matt asked.
“Well, this statue’s solid bronze, right?”
“I guess so,” the Doberman replied with a shrug.
“And the base is granite.”
“So why is he called a ‘Wobbly?’” Ranua blinked as Matt stared, then started laughing. “What?”
Matt gained control of himself and said, “Haywood helped found the IWW, and they were nicknamed the Wobblies.”
“Oh,” Ranua said, starting to laugh along with him.
Since neither of them were very familiar with the place, they set out to see first what a tourist would want to see. Much of the city was made of brick, while several buildings were crafted from native granite quarried inland. One, the Sterling Hotel, stood on a hill overlooking the city and its fjord and boasted an amazing innovation, a rotating restaurant on its topmost floor. “I can’t get over these buildings,” Matt said in an awestruck tone.
“Tallest things I’ve seen outside of mountains,” Ranua agreed in the same tone of voice.
They stopped at a small diner near the hotel for lunch, and when they walked in the waitress, an overweight basset, sang out, “Lock up your daughters! The Fleet’s in!” She wore a slightly stained apron over a faded blue skirt and white blouse, and her headfur looked slightly askew, as if it had been set but had been knocked off-center. A small pin on the apron announced that her name was Carla. Several furs seated at tables or at the counter turned at her words and looked curiously at the pair.
As the two younger furs looked embarrassed she laughed and said, “Come on in! You two just off the base?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ranua said. “Our first pass.”
“And probably looking for something other than Navy grub,” she said as she waved them to seats at the counter. “The special today’s a hamburger sandwich, with coleslaw and a drink. Only seventy-five cents.”
“That sounds fine,” Matt said. He looked at Ranua, who said, “Sure, I’ll have that too.”
The waitress scribbled down their orders and laid out silverware and a bottle of catsup. “What do you boys want to drink?” she asked.
“Orca-Cola,” Matt said promptly.
“Your funeral,” the waitress joked, and she looked at Ranua. “Come on, boy.”
“Coffee, please.” Carla nodded and returned a few moments later with a glass of something dark and fizzy for Matt and a mug of steaming coffee for Ranua. The terrier spooned a bit of sugar into the mug, stirred and sipped. He put the mug down, making a face. “That’s . . . that’s a shock. I’ve had coffee before, but not like this.”
“Yeah,” Matt said as he sipped at his soda. “My Dad told me to stay away from the coffee in Seathl – he said you can’t find a decent cup anywhere in the city.” He chuckled. “Care to try a sip of my pop?”
“No thanks, I’ve tried that before,” Ranua said, spooning a bit more sugar into his coffee.
The hamburger was hot and grease from the meat made handling the toasted bread a bit of a challenge. It was served with lettuce, onion and tomato, and the coleslaw was fresh. Ranua added some catsup, and was pleased to see that it added some spice to the sandwich. He made a decision to stop by here again if he got another weekend pass.
He changed his mind after they had walked several blocks and his stomach abruptly started to ask just what it was he thought he had put down his throat.
*The official motto of the IWW (which still exists).