Spontoon Island

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Exciting Air Adventures

by Bruce Grant

Junkers F13 (variant)

The Italian Job

Episode 1

Spring, 1935

The Nimitz Sea,
somewhere near the Spontoon Islands



The drone of the engine had been the only sound in the venerable little seaplane’s cockpit for many hours. The pilot, a short brindle-furred feline wearing a brightly coloured flying jacket, looked at his watch and snarled quietly. Less than an hour to sunset. It would be getting dark soon; the sky overhead was already slowly turning a deeper shade of blue. After a quick scan of the instruments he turned to look at the much taller, exotically beautiful lioness dozing restlessly in the co-pilot’s seat alongside. His thick, black-banded tail curled round and gently brushed the bare fur of her leg below her wrinkled safari shorts. 

“Andrace? Time to wake up, lassie.” 

The lioness sat up with a jerk against her seat harness as her eyes snapped open. She purred questioningly, staring out at the setting sun and the empty sea passing by thousands of feet below. After a few seconds she shook herself and slumped back in her seat. 

Namma gani? Uh… the time, what is?” She blinked and flicked her ears, her eyes coming back into focus as the last cobwebs cleared from her head. “My turn to fly, Sandy?” Her voice was a deep, husky growl, her accent partly something Mediterranean, partly something else that couldn’t easily be pinned down. 

“Ye’ve been asleep near four hours, lass. We should be seein’ Spontoon within the hour… an’ we’ll be flyin’ on fumes in two.” 

Andrace flicked an ear back and grunted. She looked down at her feet, then back over her shoulder, where the tiny cabin normally furnished with four comfortable seats was piled high with fuel canisters, all of them now empty. The only fuel they had left was the diminishing amount in the plane’s own tanks. A tangle of jury-rigged tubing, connections and stopcocks snaked about the floor, then led forward around their feet and behind the instrument panel. 

“We both did those fuel calculations…” The lioness murmured hesitantly, reluctant to remind herself as well as Sandy of what they had finally agreed on two days before as they passed by Rain Island. Given good weather and calm seas, the cruising speed of their old Junkers seaplane would take them from Tillamook to the Spontoon Islands in eleven or twelve hours nonstop — which was uncomfortably close to the endurance limit of the plane, if nothing went wrong and they stripped out every piece of heavy equipment it didn’t actually need to fly. That, a very special but very heavy cargo, and most of their bulky luggage, toolkits and spare parts, were sent ahead on a commercial flight, replaced weight for weight with as much extra fuel as their maximum take-off limit allowed. 

Flying on a parallel course to the sparse chain of islands linking Tillamook to the Spontoon group, they’d planned two or three stops for brief rests, if they could find the tiny islands the charts claimed were there. So far their luck — and a dearth of crosswinds to push them off course — had mostly held. The “non-stop” part of their flight, though, hadn’t: the engine had refused to restart at their last rest stop, and laborious repairs with their cut-down tool kit had put them hours behind schedule. Their best guess at fuel consumption, though, still left them with a little leeway if they had to search for the islands at the end of their journey. 

“Try the radio, lass,” Sandy suggested, “see if we can pick up yon radio station yet. I’ll come up another couple o’ thousand feet, see if that puts us in range o’ their transmitter.” 

Andrace nodded as Sandy nudged the throttle lever, then she turned her attention to the radio set. It was old and cranky, like the rest of the plane’s equipment, but they’d made sure it still worked before setting out on this longest and most risky leg of their flight. While she waited for the tubes to warm up she fished around in the top pocket of her safari shirt, pulled out a crumpled leaflet they’d picked up in Rain Island, and turned the tuning dial to one of the frequencies it advertised for Spontoon’s best-known station, Radio LONO. Only static came from the speaker. The lioness huffed, clamped a set of headphones over her ears and twiddled the radio knobs, listening intently. 

“Nothing yet. I’ll try the other frequencies, then the D/F loop.” 

“Ye sure it hasna’ jammed again? Mind, it’s nae been the same sin’ we hit yon seagull ower Lake Constance.” 

Andrace shrugged. “The knob turns. I’ll try a full sweep, see what I can pick up.” She hunched forward over the radio, eyes narrowed, whiskers bristling, tail thumping heavily against the floor of the cockpit. Several minutes passed, before the lioness sighed and leaned back in her seat. 

“Something’s there… could be a voice, maybe someone singing, but it’s too faint to make out. Turn into it — straight south-west — for ten minutes, and we’ll see if the signal gets any better. Maybe we’ll even spot one of the outlying islands, to starboard if we’re still on course.” 

Sandy nodded and banked the seaplane slightly to the right. They sat without speaking for a few minutes, then Andrace put on her headphones again. 

Umetoa! Listen to this!” She grinned and turned on the loudspeaker. 

“— was the famous Euro Ukelele player, George Formless, with his newest record, ‘When I’m Falling Out of Windows’. Well, he might be famous on Euro stations, but not this one!” The female voice, faint and slightly staticky, gave way to a thud that sounded suspiciously like a gramophone record being dropped into a waste-paper basket. 

“For all you lonely fliers out there heading this-a-way, if your watch is broken, it’s nine o’ clock. Beep, beep, beep… uh, how many bleeps should I bloop? Ah, never mind! You’re listening to Radio LONO, the Voice of the Gods. I’m Spontoon Tilli-li, your hostess for the evening, and now let’s hear some real ho’oki’i ho’olele music!” The signal cleared up a little as a swing band launched into an enthusiastic rendition of what might once have been a native dance tune. 

Andrace roared exultantly and slapped Sandy between his shoulders almost hard enough to catapult him out of his seat. “We did it! Keep on this heading, and we’ll be there! And safe at last!” 

As if on cue, that was the moment the radio chose to expire with a brief pop and a fading burst of static. 


Interlude: three weeks before…
Watery late afternoon spring sunshine came through the windows of a roomy but bare and anonymous office, striking the eyes of a tall, handsome grey wolf striding towards the desk in the corner and making him blink. If either of the room’s occupants had looked outside, they would have been rewarded with a clear view looking down onto the Brandenburg Gate. Traffic noise came faintly through the thick window glass. As always, Berlin was busy. The wolf saluted, in the old style still favoured by naval officers, and sat down. 

The stout, elderly bear sitting behind the desk returned the salute absently, cleared his throat and pushed a thin file folder across the desktop. The label on the cover promised the great displeasure of the Führer upon anyone unauthorised even knowing of its existence. The wolf opened the folder and leafed through the contents; it took only a few minutes. 

“Your opinion, Kommandeur Bindung?” the bear asked gruffly. 

“In my opinion, Herr, Willi should change the combination of his office safe,” the wolf replied blandly, ignoring a stifled outraged splutter from the other side of the desk. “He may be one of the State’s favoured aircraft designers, but that is no reason to be careless with the only complete copy of plans for such a revolutionary new fighter aircraft. I was looking forward to giving it a test flight when it was built.” 

The bear sighed heavily. “Nevertheless, the plans were there last night, and gone this morning. And that dussel at the local security office was so sure he had stumbled on a plot to steal money!” 

“What do we know of those behind the theft? The report here —” the wolf poked a claw at the folder “— is remarkably reluctant to go into any detail.” 

“Those Italian gangsters, the ones in Sicily; corrupt businessmen; smugglers…” the bear shrugged. “The names are all in the file, but the only thing we are sure of is that these are all go-betweens. Your mission, Bindung, is to discover the instigator of this machination, quietly put a stop to it, and recover the plans. We have suspicions, but…” 

“…But where a certain threat to the security of the Reich is concerned, all bets are off?” the wolf suggested. The bear grunted and nodded. 

The wolf smiled lazily, rose to his feet and half-turned towards the door. “As always, Herr Oberbefehlshaber, you may consider the job as good as done. I will be in touch, through our office in Genoa.” He snapped off a half-salute — Kriegsmarine style again, of course — and strode quickly out of the office, his tail wagging jauntily. Before the door closed again, the bear heard him talking to the secretary in the outer office. The old ursine smiled wryly: no matter how many times that puppy Jakob flirted with her, Feldwebel Geldpfennig flirted right back; the pretty young marten seemed to be immune to the charms of his best agent. 


Twilight was drawing in over Spontoon, and one small bay along Main Island’s north coast was already edging into the shadow of the old volcanic crater in the middle of the island. A faint noise broke the silence; the sound of a single aero engine, coughing and spluttering now and again, then picking up for another minute or so. A keen-eyed observer might have seen a tiny speck appear to the north-west far out over the Nimitz Sea, black against the rich blue of the darkening sky. The engine noise became clearer, and finally the speck resolved into a small single-engined seaplane, apparently only just managing to stay in the air. 

That same observer might soon have recognised the plane as an old-fashioned German design, a venerable Junkers F13 that could have been anything up to fifteen years old. Before long the plane was close enough to see its much more recent colour scheme. Many of the airlines who’d bought one of these old planes generally kept it in the original mostly bare-metal finish: this far from shining example of Teutonic engineering was painted in a rainbow medley of eye-straining colours. The wings bore wide purple and lime green zigzags. Bright yellow and orange formed the basis of the fuselage colour scheme, overlaid with vivid stripes and stippling in every earthly hue that almost seemed to crawl over the corrugated aluminium alloy skin. Even the floats looked like an explosion in a paint factory. 

Fortunately, by the time the plane was close enough for its anti-camouflage scheme to inflict serious eye damage, dusk had fallen with tropical abruptness, muting the blindingly bright colours. Its engine throttled down to a mild grumble, the plane dipped closer to the water and finally made a clean touchdown less than a quarter mile offshore. It slowed down, the still spluttering engine barely ticking over, and turned towards the beach. 

A few yards from shore, the engine finally gave up the ghost with a loud rattle and a gentle but ominous-sounding clunk. Only the lapping of the waves in the surf broke the silence as the plane coasted gently in and grounded in the soft sand. Nothing moved for a long moment. 

Abruptly the door on the left side of the fuselage swung open and a tall figure — barely recognisable in the fading light as a lioness — half fell out, slid off the back of the float and splashed into the hock-deep water. 

“It’s real, Sandy!” she called into the plane. “I’m standing on solid land, we made it, we’re here!” The lioness grabbed a rope tossed from inside the cabin, tied one end to the mooring ring at the front of one float, splashed ashore and tied the other end to a large piece of wood standing up at least twice her height out of the sand. The plane’s other feline occupant, much shorter than the first, made a slightly more controlled exit. He ducked under the wing, trudged ashore and stood beside the lioness, one arm curled round her waist. 

“Ye’re sure now, lass, this is Spontoon?” Sandy asked wearily. His drooping ears and whiskers, and tail dragging in the sand, displayed his complete exhaustion. The last hour had been a nightmare of struggling with the plane’s instruments and controls as more and more of them abruptly broke down, before the overburdened engine seized up completely. Even with Andrace’s considerable strength to help wrestle with the yoke, the ordeal had been almost too much for him. 

“The compass must have drifted a little,” the lioness replied as she gazed along the deserted beach, “that’s how we reached Orpington Island first — at least I think it was. But this has to be the right island — the right shape, an old volcano in the middle, and that has to be another old volcano off to the south beyond the hills. It’s just like the chart: this has to be Spontoon.” 

Sandy raised one ear, slowly as if the effort was almost beyond him. “Is it nae a bit on the quiet side, though? I’ve seen mair life in Tobermory on a drookit weet Sunday evenin’. Did ye see ony lights, or hooses, or onything, afore we landed?” 

Andrace flicked her tail in a shrug. “Not a thing. And I still can’t smell anything either, before you ask.” As a final insult, the engine had ruptured an oil line when it seized, spilling hot fumes into the cabin’s ventilation ducts. The stink had numbed both their noses instantly. 

The lioness froze suddenly as her ears flicked backwards, twitching slightly. Moving slowly and deliberately, she raised one hand and tapped Sandy’s shoulder. “Behind us,” she whispered. “Someone is standing right behind us.” Their eyes met for a moment as they turned, first towards each other, then back towards the other half of the beach. 

A stocky coyote stood there, arms folded over his broad chest, not quite looking at either of them. There was no expression on his impassive face, not the least twitch of ear or whisker. Just as much a surprise to the two felines, though, were the coyote’s clothes. Small decorations of metal and carved bone hung from his ears and the pair of feathers tied into his hair. Wind-ruffled fur, its colour uncertain in the evening gloom, spilled out of the open front of a buckskin shirt, embroidered and decorated with tasseled fringes along the sleeves; his trousers were of a similar design, and Andrace’s eyes narrowed when she noticed a businesslike hatchet tucked into the belt. All in all, the coyote was everything a native savage should be — if you were expecting to meet a Red Indian instead of a typical tropical island native. 

Sandy glanced at Andrace for a moment. Andrace blinked, then turned to stare at the “piece of wood” she’d moored the plane to. Grotesque caricatures of deer, cougar and skunk faces stared back from the small but unmistakable totem pole that faced out over the open sea. 

Andrace cleared her throat and nudged Sandy with her elbow. “Was that a left or right turn at Tillamook, boss?” 

To be continued…

© 2002 Bruce Grant 
Illustration © 2003 Simon Barber 

  Andrace mooring the seaplane