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23 July 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
February 22, 1937:
Standing watches in the engine room were almost as hard on the ears, nose and fur as serving on the gun crews, Ranua reflected early one morning. The smell of hot oil and ozone from the generators were just as effective as cordite in killing a fur’s sense of smell, and the noise made most voices sound distant and muffled. His watch had just ended, and after grabbing a quick breakfast (supper?) he rolled into his hammock for some rest.
He was almost asleep when he felt a paw on his chest, and his nose wrinkled as a doe’s scent washed over him. “Ranua? You awake?”
“I am now,” he said drowsily, opening his eyes and focusing on the young woman. Sandy was a pronghorn antelope from Rain Island, and was nearly nineteen. She was also in her fur, which caused his ears to flick. “What is it, Sandy?”
She bent close and whispered in his ear. His eyes widened and he whispered, “We can’t do that. It’s against the Rules. Number Twelve, I think.” Of course, some furs had done it; in fact, it was a pretty open secret that two of his fellows were seeing quite a bit more of each other than was allowed under the Rules. He started to roll over, but she prodded him again. “What?”
“You’re – you’re not queer, are you?”
Ranua squinted up at her. “’Queer?’ What’s that mean?”
The doe blinked at him and drew back a bit, crossing her arms over her chest. “Well, um, it means that you don’t like girls.” Her ears went flat as she blushed.
The terrier smiled, then laughed. “No, Sandy, I’m not.” He indicated the braided ring of fur attached to the same cord as his identity tag. “I’m Tailfast to a girl back home.”
“Oh. So you’re keeping yourself for her then?” At his nod she gave an almost wistful sigh and leaned forward, giving him a kiss on his muzzle. “It’s a shame, ‘cause you’re awfully cute, Ranua. That girl of yours is one lucky bitch,” she said enviously.
Ranua smiled warmly at the doe as his eyes closed. “That she is, Sandy. That she is.” He kept the smile, even as he fell asleep.
Of course, there were compensations for being away from Miri for so long, but those were better kept strictly private.
Two days later came the final rotation for the recruits, and Ranua found himself part of the ship’s Support Division. Support provided most of the essential services not provided by the other three divisions, from bridge crew to cooking the food.
Standing a watch on the bridge was nothing like standing a watch on the Proudhon back at Spontoon. It was larger, and the ship didn’t respond as quickly to changes in either course or speed. With the Captain or the Exec on the bridge most of the time, the terrier felt very conspicuous. It was hard not to imagine that they could all hear his knees knocking together occasionally.
The next day came a watch in the mess, under the watchful gaze of a short, portly beaver who ran the galley with an iron paw. He was industriously mopping the main wardroom when a voice bellowed, “What the yiff is this?”
Ranua turned to see the ship’s senior petty officer glaring at him, and the terrier came to attention. Chief Petty Officer Enriquez was hard to miss, being a tall and solidly-built tapir. He leaned in muzzle to muzzle with the smaller terrier and roared, “What’s the meaning of this, Seaman?”
“What, sir?” Ranua asked.
“You trying to sass me, boy?” the tapir said, his ears flapping as he straightened up. Ranua blinked.
The petty officer’s rating was a boatswain’s mate, with an insignia borrowed from the American Navy, two crossed fouled anchors. Enriquez bore one-inch wide facsimiles of his insignia as tattoos on his ears, where one might expect to see earrings.
It was all Ranua could do not to stare.
Enriquez snorted through his trunklike nose, grabbed Ranua by his sleeve and started down the passageway, almost yanking the Spontoonie off his feet as he stamped toward the petty officer’s quarters. Once he reached the compartment, he pounded on a door with one paw. “Haakon! Get your tail out here, now!”
Petty Officer Johansen’s voice came from the other side of the door. “Vhat, Luis? I’m – OWWW!” DEMMIT!” The moose jerked the door open, one paw holding the left side of his nose and the other gripping a tiny pair of scissors. “Milikonu? Vhat de hell?”
“I want to know what you’re teaching these recruits of yours, Haakon. This one has no idea of any naval traditions or even the sense to follow orders,” Enriquez grunted, punctuating his words with a hard shake that almost set Ranua’s teeth rattling.
“Vell, vhat’s he done, demm yer eyes?” the moose asked in a peevish tone.
The tapir roared, “There’s no coffee!”
The moose’s eyes bulged and he glared at Ranua. “Vhat vere ya t’hinkin,’ lad?” he demanded. “Can’t ya folla orders?”
The wirehair terrier stared at Johansen for a moment, then replied, “Yes, sir, I can follow orders. I was never ordered to make the coffee.”
“Vell, ya see dere – vhat!” Both petty officers stared at Ranua. “Ya veren’t ordered to make de coffee?”
“No sir.” Ranua stood at attention (at least as much as he could, since the tapir’s paw rested heavily on his shoulder). From the corner of his eye he could see Alan making his way down the passageway, and tried not to react as the lynx smirked at his predicament. The two petty officers looked at each other, then each grabbed Ranua by one shoulder and headed back to the mess.
“Sit dere,” Johansen ordered as they entered the wardroom, indicating a bench that Ranua sat on quickly. Enriquez yelled, “Carson, tu diablo! Get out here!”
“What, Chief?” the beaver said, wiping his paws on his apron. He chewed on an unlit cigar as Enriquez, almost beside himself in rage, explained what was going on. When he finished, Carson slapped his forehead with a meaty paw.
“Holy Christ, Luis! What with all the new faces and changes around here, I must’ve forgot. Come here, lad,” and he beckoned to Ranua. He pointed to the spotlessly clean steel urn dominating one table along the bulkhead. “See that? That’s the coffeepot. Instructions are posted in the pantry. Keep it filled or I’ll stuff you in it. Get a move on, now,” and he gave the terrier a push to get him started.
“Vait a demmed minute.” Johansen glared at the beaver. “Ya mean to tell me dat ya didn’t tell ‘im ta make de coffee?”
“I tell you, I forgot.” Carson looked at Enriquez. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? Lemme make it up to you . . . I got it! A bottle of whisky . . . each,” he added hastily when he saw Johansen’s nostrils flare.
While the three petty officers bargained, Ranua quickly assembled what he needed for the coffee and started the urn. He nearly jumped when Enriquez put a paw on his shoulder. In a slightly less angry voice the tapir said, “I apologize, Seaman. Just don’t let it happen again.”
“I promise, sir,” the terrier said.
“Fine,” Johansen said, and turned to Enriquez. “Now, vhat de hell vere – “ His words faded away as the two petty officers headed back down the passageway.
February 26, 1937
Inspector Stagg had known exactly what type of box he wanted, but as it turned out, the precise type he wanted was not easy to obtain in the Spontoons. There were very few wine drinkers, even among the Euro hotels. It took more than a few visits before he found one shop that had an empty crate and a lid.
This afforded, however, sufficient room for a cardboard tube and a small manila file folder. Finally, nestled deep within the crate, swaddled in a pair of Marleybone Hotel towels and concealed under some cushioning straw, lay the collection of machinery, electronic parts and wires that he had called Medusa.
The whitetail buck smiled wryly and gave his creation one last affectionate pat before closing the lid on the crate. He then carefully nailed the lid closed, using the hammer gently so as to not jar the contents too much. This was followed by a label being affixed to the lid. In his careful, tiny printing, Stagg wrote simply:
"Vice-Commodore Richard Broome
c/o the Embassy of Rain Island
Meeting Island, Spontoon Independencies"
A cart should do nicely for the crate, he thought.
February 27, 1937
After two weeks aboard the Orca, the ability to luxuriate under a hot shower for more than a few minutes was very appealing. Coupled with pay day and another weekend’s leave, the end of their second month certainly looked very attractive.
Ranua rinsed off the last of the soap and reached for his towel as someone called out, “Hey, Ranua! Mail for you!”
“Okay,” the terrier said, drying off as quickly as he could and stepping out of the shower area. He took the trio of envelopes from the other fur and walked back to his bunk. After toweling off a bit further to reach the remaining water in his denser undercoat, he sat on his bed and started through the letters.
Two were from his parents. It seemed that Tamuharo had started taking actual lessons in Japanese, and was doing better in his other schoolwork. His mother and father were both doing well.
The third letter was from Miri, and Ranua smiled at what she had to write to him. He grinned and even chuckled at some of the things she wrote, and absently reached up to touch his Tailfast locket.
He froze, patting his chest almost comically before catching himself and sighing in relief. He had taken it off in order to get clean, so he wrapped the towel around his waist like a lava-lava and walked back to the showers.
He had left it on a hook, attached to the cord it shared with his identity disc, but it wasn’t there. As he looked around for it Ari asked, “What are you looking for, Ranua?”
The terrier turned to the rat and said, “My locket. I left it here, and now it’s gone.” At his words the rat’s eyes went wide as his own paw reached to his neck to reassure himself that his own locket was still around his neck, then he joined his friend in looking for it.
Several other furs saw the two Spontoonies, asked what was going on and joined in the search. Finally Ranua stood up straight, his ears dipping as he growled, irritated at himself at the prospect of losing the symbol of his and Miri’s Tailfasting.
“Hey, Milky!” Alan’s voice came from the bathroom area. “Lose something?”
The terrier tried to ignore what Alan had called him, and replied, “Yes, I’ve lost something, Alan. Want to help look?”
“No, but is this what you’re looking for?”
The terrier froze and looked toward the lynx, who had the cord containing the braided fur locket in his paw. “I’ve heard that these things are pretty much like crosses,” the feline teased, holding it menacingly over a toilet.