Saturday, May 31, 2008

You Have to Feel Sorry for John McCain

Well, not really, but you have to have a bit of pity for the poor fellow. I mean, here he is, sounding off about how well things are going in Iraq. Mosul, for instance ...

Suicide bombers strike in Mosul.

Oops. Well, at least The Surge is working so well, McCain says we're down to pre-Surge troops levels.

McCain caught in obvious lie, infers that 20,000 troops are just a matter of verb tenses.

Oh dear.

Suicide bomber strikes Iraqi police checkpoint.

Um, Johnny ... ?

Hey, look on the bright side, we're spreading democracy and respecting the Iraqi people ...

Marine reassigned for handing out John 3:16 coins.

Iraqis protest proposed Status of Forces Agreement.

Well, shit.

Like I said, you really have to pity Ol' Johnny-Mop. Foreign policy and national security are supposed to be his strongest suits.

Critic's Dungeon

Hi there, and welcome to a new and rather occasional feature of my blog, the Critic's Dungeon! Here amid whips, chains and various implements of torture I shall look over the latest films and give you my opinion of them.

So here we go with Iron Man.

I had to see what all the shouting was about, so I went to my local theater and paid a matinee price ($6.50); I figured it certainly wasn't worth any more than that. I was not disappointed in my assessment. I didn't even spring for the popcorn with the artificial butter-flavored grease.

As for the movie, it was a very moderate amusement for a two-plus hour flick. The special effects were nice, but nothing to write home about, and only once did I actually laugh aloud (the scene where Tony tries to fly, pancakes face-first into a wall and gets hosed by a robot wielding a fire extinguisher).

Everything else raised a dry chuckle as the film recounted the story of Tony Stark, the egotistical, narcissistic rich alcoholic (played so well by Robert Downey Jnr. you'd think he was almost typecast). At the end it was heartening to see that his "reformation" at the hands of the terroristas didn't put that big of a dent in his narcissism. It also gave the filmmaker an excuse to end the picture with the trademark song by Black Sabbath.

And Stan Lee showing up as Hugh Hefner was cute.

Quite frankly, I could have gotten more mileage out of a repeat of The Simpsons Movie. At least I laughed at that.

I give Iron Man 2 whips.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Aarrrgh ... Cats

Two hundred sixteen dollars and fifty cents.

That's about 5.5 full tanks of gas at today's price. And what has this $216.50 got to do today?

Paid a vet bill, that's what.

Allow me to explain. I have three cats in my house, two males and a female (all fixed; the younger male has been declawed) that act as familiars and are my emergency hurricane food supply in case the canned goods run out and fresh game becomes scarce. I figure a nice sage and rosemary stuffing and then hoick 'em onto the barbie ...

I digress.

Anyway, the older male (a 13-year old Seal Point Siamese named Rama, after the royal title of the Kings of Thailand) started spraying. He's fixed, and he started spraying. After a few instances of this I decided to haul his scrawny ass to the vet.

Come to find out he has a urinary tract infection; the veterinarian (a very nice woman whose practice includes any wildlife people happen to find - she had a baby raccoon and a bobcat kitten there in addition to the usual dogs and cats) put him on antibiotics and a special diet.

Hence the $216.50; putting him down would have cost only $75 and I still would have had to pay the larger figure.

And, to add insult to injury, I shall be taking the other male (a thoroughly neurotic cinnamon-colored creature with a Persian coat) and the female (a tiger-striped gray Domestic Shorthair who's morbidly obese) for examinations over the next month or so.

Gosh, that barbecue's looking awfully attractive as an alternative.

A Historical Turning Point

(Yeah, it's a day late.)

May 29, 1453. Sometime that morning the armies of Mehmet II, Sultan of the House of Osman, gained a bridgehead through the walls of the ancient capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople. Shouting the name of Allah, the soldiers swept in.

The last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI, threw off his Imperial regalia, shouted "Is there no Christian here to cut my head off?" and plunged into the battle, never to be seen again.

By the time the tiny Christian army had been annihilated the city was in Turkish hands. Thousands were massacred or enslaved, homes, churches and palaces were looted. The Sultan forbade the destruction of the mightiest shrine in all of Christendom, the Basilica of Saint Sophia, and had the 900-year old church converted into a mosque to the glory of his god.

555 years ago, yesterday.

The loss of the moribund Eastern Empire threw the Balkans open to the Turkish advance as far as the gates of Vienna, and for another 300 years the Habsburgs would tremble at the idea of another Muslim avalanche. Rome panicked and the Pope called for a crusade.

Which didn't happen.

In Russia the idea of Moscow as the 'Third Rome' began to circulate; "Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands and will stand forever."

The influx of Greek refugees, bearing with them the accumulated knowledge of centuries, infused the intellectual life of Europe and stimulated the Renaissance and, a few hundred years later, the Enlightenment.

The Ottoman Empire would stand until 1920, until it was replaced by modern Turkey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday - Comedy Ahoy!

Sometimes as I peruse the collective mind of Humanity (leaving aside the porn; I'm a grownup) I run across the most astoundingly funny bits of information. Examples? I'm SO glad you asked.


A customs officer in Narita, Japan decided he wanted to improve the ability of his airport's sniffer dog. Violating policy he tucked 142 grams of cannabis into a random black suitcase.

The dog didn't find it.

And he forgot which suitcase it was in.

The customs officer got a reprimand, and Customs is asking for the drugs to be returned, pretty please.


The Wachowski Brothers are not a high-wire act; they are a pair of Hollywood directors (their most famous effort is a little thing called The Matrix) and they decided to do a remake of the 60's Japanese anime Speed Racer.

Now, I recall the cartoon from the days of my ill-spent youth, and I loathed it. The animation was crappy and the stories were thinner than tissue paper.

But raping childhood memories is apparently what Hollywood does now, with live-action or CGI remakes of Underdog, et. al. As Joel and the Bots asked rhetorically, "How many of God's laws does this violate?"

Well, Pajiba unveiled the weekly trade roundup, and Speed Racer is in at #5, having only grossed $36 million. It cost $250 million to make, which puts the flick on track to be a bigger bomb than Waterworld and Gigli combined.

That made me laugh.


And finally we have this by the Great and Powerful Driftglass, who over on his blog has taken time out from excoriating the Right (which is always fun) to do his inimitably literate thing on the Hillary Clinton campaign. Read it - anyone who can juxtapose a personal detail, the Clinton campaign, Star Trek, Hamlet and Rosemary's Baby is Da Bomb.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bush's Last Memorial Day Liveblogged

Still, it was too early in the day for me to damage my liver with alcohol (although I've made some truly kick-ass margarita), but I settled down with a sandwich and a flagon of soda to see what there was to see.

1055: CSPAN almost missed the start of it, but there is El Presidente, saluting as the National Anthem is played. He doesn't look as bored as he did last year, and at least he saluted properly. On his way up the steps after the wreath-laying, he pauses to say something to Bob Dole.

1059: The Amphitheater. Very nice Army sergeant singing in a splendid alto.

1104: Ruffles and Flourishes, then Hail to the Chief. Bush comes out and there's that damned smirk again as he gives a nod of acknowledgment to the applause. With a 27% approval rating, where do they find people to applaud him? Hire them from Rent-A-Crowd?

1108: Admiral Mullen talking, citing a school essay by a third grader. He said 9/11! Drink, everyone!
Talks about the "precious gift of freedom" and asks rhetorically "how do we prove worthy of their sacrifice?" One might bring up bringing the troops home, but that might not sit well with this crowd. Talks up care for veterans (nice touch, considering).

1112: SecDef Gates now, and lunch is sitting in my stomach like lead. Once again, the stupid meme of "our way of life is under attack," as if Al Qaeda's army will be tramping up Pennsylvania Avenue to dictate terms to an America under occupation. Then he fellates Bush rather publicly.

1115: Bush is up, and there's that smirk again. Then he has the nerve to talk about valor (Bob Dole - why is he starting to look like Caspar Weinberger?), and segues into the Humanizing Moments.
Talk about the debt we all owe to our fallen, and to our veterans. If that's the case, Bush, why not DO something for the veterans, like give them good care and educational benefits?

There was more, but I got disgusted. Thankfully this is Dear Leader's last trip to the podium for Memorial Day.

Wishing People Harm

Sigmund Freud is famously said to have opined, "Every dream is a wish." If that's so, then what are we to make of these little tidbits?

Pat Robertson suggesting that Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez be asssassinated, and the US Department of State in Washington be nuked?

Ann Coulter suggesting that someone should poison a US Supreme Court Justice with rat poison in his creme brulee?

Liz Trotta of Fox clumsily conflating Senator Obama with Osama bin Laden and chuckling over both of them getting killed?

A concurrent thread runs through these three, and so many others. These people are all right-wing shills for one cause or another, and they are signalling.

Hate groups have increased by 48% in this country, ladies and gentlemen. Lots of people just waiting for The Sign, the signal they need to start making bombs and stocking up on ammunition. Leon Czolgosz, the guy who shot President McKinley in 1900, got his signal from reading articles in anarchist newspapers; William Hinckley got his signal from the movie Taxi Driver and shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster.

Member of the ACLU that I am, I support the First Amendment that gives these assholes the right to spew their noxious venom and thinly-veiled threats. But people need to show some restraint, lest they be hauled into court for incitement to murder.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New TV Hit "Republican Idol"

"And lo, the Great Old One will summon a favored one to His lair, and the favored one shall gibber and speak eldritch conjurations, beseeching the Great Old One for some sign of His favor ..."

- Bylaws of the Republican Party of the United States,
Section 922 Paragraph MMCVI, Vice-Presidents

Well ... maybe not.

Three men went up to Senator John "Bomb Iran Before I Get Too Old" McCain's rancho de tequila up near Sedona, Arizona to be interviewed for the possible plum assignment of being McCain's running mate and Vice-President, should he get elected and not drop dead of old age prior to the Inauguration. Let's call the roll, shall we? Oh, and please bear in mind once more that I am a Republican.

1. Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida. Hmm, Florida's first homosexual Governor (don't let the trophy chick fool you - poor girl's got "Beard" written on her forehead) might get McCain Florida, as well as the Log Cabin GOP vote. But the Base might like him despite his proclivities forthe reason that he managed to cut property taxes in his state, thereby relegating every city and town in Floriduh to piss-poor levels of services that will keep the population pig-ignorant and happy for years to come.

2. Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana. Got a lot of things going for him - young, charismatic, socially and fiscally conservative, and a Republican in a Democratic state. But the state's well-deserved reputation for blatant, in-your-face corruption might be a handicap, along with the identification of the Republican Bushite regime with the ongoing horror that is New Orleans after Katrina. And let's not go into the conniption fit The Base will have at the sight of a brown-skinned man on the ticket (Jindal is Indian-American).

3. Willard "Mitt" Romney, Former Governor of Massachusetts. Hoo boy, the Mittbot. One wonders if they've upgraded his OS to Vista yet, because he'll have to do some mighty fast flip-flopping to squat behind McCain. But I trust Mittens to listen to his Magic Mormon Underoos and his bank book before leaping into the swimsuit competition.

Swimsuit competition?

Of course. McCain, bless his flabby little GOP degenerate heart, will want to see how all three "measure up" to his lovely young wife. I think Crist is a shoo-in for the evening gown contest.

One guy who's probably feeling like a bridesmaid is Mullah Huckabee. Too fucking bad, Huck. As I've said before, Huckabee is my Exhibit A when I hold forth that no ordained minister should EVER be allowed to run for any higher political office than that of Hen Teaser.

Stay tuned to see who gets voted off.

"Say Goodnight, Dick."

"Goodnight, Dick."

Dick Martin, of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.


Have fun at the party.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"A Busy Half-Century" #8

Part Eight: Proclamation Day


St. Athanasius Hospital

April 24, 1935:

The deputation gathered in the hospital’s spacious lobby, three men and two women. One of the men was the Chief Syndic, an elkhound carpenter named Anders Engstrom, and one of the women was Georgina Springs, a lynx who was the Clarion’s star reporter. The other woman was the patient’s granddaughter, and one of the other men, an antelope, was an interviewer for radio station ZYPR in Seathl.

Sally Hall looked up at the lobby’s mosaic of the hospital’s patron saint and shivered. “I never liked this place, and I know Gramp doesn’t like it either. But the doctor thinks it’s necessary, so we agreed to it.” She smiled graciously at the Chief Syndic. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Engstrom. I know you’re very busy so soon after being sworn in.”

The elkhound smiled. “Even if I had something to do, Mrs. Hall, there’s no way I’d miss this. Shall we go on upstairs, then?”

“This way,” and the woman led the group up the stairs to the second floor.

The room they sought was on the south end of the building, a private room with a view of the mountains that buttressed Seathl’s southern end. A nurse sat in a chair just inside the door idly doing a crossword puzzle while her charge, wrapped in a blanket, dozed in a chair by the window. The rodent looked up as Hall and the others walked in, and she smiled. “He’s been waiting for you,” she whispered.

“Damn right I have,” the elderly canine by the window rasped. “You’re late, Sally.”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with your hearing, at any rate,” Sally said as she walked over to her grandfather and kissed his cheek. “Happy Birthday.”

Greg Montgomery smiled and patted his granddaughter’s paw. “Thank you, Sally. Tell me, are Sid and the children dropping by later?”

“Try to keep them away!” she laughed. “Marie and Jack sent you a card, I see – and some lovely flowers too.”

“Yeah, she apologized and told me she couldn’t make it,” the former President said with a wistful smile. “But Jack brought their kids around yesterday just the same.” He seemed to notice the others and asked, “Who are these people?”

Sally pointed to each one. Georgina Springs from the Clarion – “

“The Clarion? Is Gus Biber still running it?”

Springs shook her head. “His son Hank’s running the shop now.”

“And this is Elan Flint. He’s with the radio station.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” the antelope said as he shook paws gently with the old man. “If you have the time for an interview later this week – “

Montgomery laughed softly. “Son, I’m ninety today. There’s not much time left, you know.”

“And this, Gramp, is Chief Syndic Engstrom.”

At the mention of Rain Island’s newly elected leader the canine started to struggle out of his chair, causing his granddaughter to gently restrain him. “A pleasure to meet you, sir,” Montgomery gasped as he settled back in the chair, breathing hard.

“The pleasure’s all mine, sir,” Engstrom said. “And call me Anders, please. Happy Birthday, Mr. Montgomery. Many happy returns.”

Montgomery chuckled. “Anders it is, then – so long as you call me Greg. We’ve both been in the same seat. Now, what can I do for all of you?”

Georgina Springs said, “Elan and I were sent to get an interview from you, sir – you know, how things here look from your point of view.”

A grin. “Kind of blurry, but that’s the cataracts.”

The lynx femme laughed. “I meant, well, you were our first President, and you were the one who made the Proclamation from the Assembly steps that day.”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you something,” and he beckoned her close before saying, “I was this close to wetting myself – hadn’t done that since I was a pup,” and he laughed as she blushed. “So, you want some wisdom from a dying old man.”

“Gramp – “

“Sally, you know perfectly well what Dr. Carson said after my heart attack last year. Good thing I haven’t passed away yet, but that’s marked out for me by the Lord – I can still watch my great-grandchildren growing up.” He smiled fondly, then looked at the lynx and the antelope. “Well.

“You want to know what I’ve seen, and what I see now,” he said as Springs whipped a notepad from her back pocket and started taking notes. Flint just watched intently. “Well, we were scared to death, every damned one of us although we tried not to show it. I was so sure I was going to be executed that I told Arlene and our kids to leave. She didn’t want to; ‘Where would we go?’ she asked.

“But it worked out for the best. Look here, though,” and he blinked and looked at them, his eyes a bit milky from the cataracts, “me an’ the others weren’t starry-eyed dreamers. We saw that things were wrong, and did the best we knew how to set them right.”

Elan Flint spoke up. “Don’t you think that took courage, though?”

“I suppose it did.” The old man ran a paw through the thinning gray fur under his chin. “When you reorganized everything in ’20 – that took courage too. No way of telling which way the country was going to jump. I haven’t been paying much attention to the radio or papers lately – no offense – so how are things going, Anders?”

The Syndic grinned slowly. “Since ’20, there’ve been only two strikes, and those were just to draw attention to local issues like roads and such. We’ve done okay, even with the Depression.”

Montgomery nodded. “Solidarity.”

“Seems that way, yes. We did have one flap in the GS a few months ago when the member for Williamton married his lover.”

“Why would that cause a flap?”

“They’re both men.”

Montgomery chuckled and shook his head. “Times sure have changed, but remember this, Anders – we wrote total equality into the Constitution, and it’s still in the Contract. Equality is equality.”

Engstrom smiled. “I’ll remember that.”

“I was sad to hear about New Haven, though, back in ’31,” Montgomery said as he leaned forward and Sally plumped up his pillow for him. “Thanks, hun. They were good friends. What became of their Embassy?” With the advent of the People’s Republic, the Red Fist (formerly the Party of the People’s Will) had shunned Rain Island, calling them ‘revisionists.’ The Embassy building was abandoned and soon fell into disrepair.

The elkhound sighed. “They still refuse to talk to us,” he admitted, “so we seized their building against back taxes last year. We took it over and it’s being turned it into a school.” He smiled suddenly. “We can always use another school.”

“Good, good. Glad to see it’s getting some use. Well, let me see, where was I? Oh, yes. From where I sit, young lady, the future of Rain Island looks quite bright, and you can quote me on that if you like.”

The lynx grinned. “I will, count on it.”

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll ask all you youngsters to leave for a moment. I want to talk to the Chief Syndic for a bit – in private,” and he gave Sally a glare.

She stuck her tongue out at him as she left, closing the door behind her as the others filed out.

“Yes, Greg?” the elkhound asked.

“Man to man, tell me the truth – things are going well?”

Anders laughed softly. “I make it a rule to tell the truth as far as I know it, Greg. Things could be better, but that’s the Depression. It’s hit everyone equally, but we’re looking after each other, just as we should.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

“Things could be better with Vostok, though, but we have our eyes on them.”

“Hmm. They never did like us much, I’m afraid. And probably less now,” and both men chuckled.

“There is one thing now, personal, a favor,” Montgomery said.

“I’m listening.”

“The doctors say I don’t have too much longer, and I have to admit I’m tired. Promise me something,” and he took the younger man’s paw in a strong grip. “Promise me that if I go near June you won’t cancel or change anything.”

Anders Engstrom searched the elderly canine’s face, his expression solemn. After a long moment he returned his predecessor’s grip and said, “I promise.”


June 11, 1935:

Another night, another round . . .

The nurse, a badger femme who fitted her spotless white uniform a little too tightly to be seemly (she was getting a new, slightly larger one next week) walked along the silent corridors. At every room she would step in, the cork soles of her shoes making little to no sound as she looked in on each patient and made sure that they weren’t in any distress.

She stepped into ex-President Montgomery’s room and smiled. The canine was curled up, sleeping soundly. She watched him until she was certain that he was breathing regularly before slipping out of the room.

The clock at the end of the hall chimed twelve times.

The canine was the last person on her floor, so she retraced her steps and headed back to the nurse’s station for a cup of tea. Over a steaming cup she passed the time talking to one of the other nurses on the floor, who told her with several giggling pauses about the young skunk in her care who was recovering from mange.

“Honestly, Marge?” the badger asked.

“God’s truth, Jessie. Here he is only seventeen and he makes a grab at me,” the weasel giggled again. “And his fur’s only half grown in!”

“I’m sure he’ll be quite handsome once he gets over it completely,” Jessie said. She eyed the clock and said, “I’m going to start my rounds again. Let me know if he gets grabby again.”

“I will.” The weasel sat and smoked while Jessie walked away.

A loud buzz and a small flashing light appeared on the room tally. Room 28 needed assistance.

Marge saw the name beside the room number and immediately reached for the phone to call the on-duty doctor on the first floor.


The phone started ringing, and as the big clock over the mantelpiece struck two Sidney Hall slouched out of the bedroom he shared with his wife. He snatched up the pawset and said, “Yeah, Hall residence. Huh? What?”

He shook his head to clear the last of the sleep from his brain and said, “We’ll be right down.” He hung up and stood for a moment, drumming his fingers on the phone as he chose the words he would use to break the news to his wife and children.



June 12, 1935:

A squadron of Naval Syndicate fighters flew over Haywood Square as the cruiser Orca’s guns boomed in salute to the country’s fiftieth birthday. A makeshift stage had been set up along with stands and bleachers for the crowds who could make it into the capital for the Proclamation Day celebrations. Red and black flags and bunting were hung everywhere, and a band had been playing throughout the day.

In front of the Governing Syndicate’s building the Anarchcracy’s flag flew proudly from the top of its staff, the slightly smaller blue and silver of the Rain Coast Republic flying beneath it to symbolize the new overlaying the old.

At the moment, fifty years ago, that the Republic was proclaimed the band played a brief fanfare as Anders Engstrom stepped up to a bank of microphones. His voice would go out over the radio to reach every island in the archipelago, while a loudspeaker broadcast his words to the crowd.

Beside him was a shaman, a few dignitaries, and a tall femme canine in the maroon and green of the Naval Syndicate. The elkhound pulled a sheet of paper from a pocket, unfolded it, and began to speak.

“My friends. Fifty years ago, at this very moment and not far from where I’m standing, a group of courageous furs took the fateful step of separating these islands from the Dominion of Canada. Our country has seen a lot of history in this very busy half-century, but the person who had seen all of it was the man who stood on those steps over there and despite his fear made the proclamation that every schoolchild knows.

“I speak of Gregory Montgomery, the first leader of our nation. I am sorry that he cannot be with us here today, and that he is no longer among us. Former President Montgomery passed away very early this morning while in the hospital.” He paused as the crowd reacted to this news, then said, “I have asked Strong Enemy, the shaman of the Tlingit, to offer a prayer for him, and I ask now that you offer your own prayers.”

The shaman moved to the microphone and sang in his native language, calling upon the gods to give the family peace and the departed soul rest. Several in the crowd wept, while others remained silent out of respect.

“Thank you, Strong Enemy,” Engstrom said after the prayers were over. “I spoke with Mr. Montgomery back in April when he had his ninetieth birthday, and among his last words to me were his view that Rain Island’s future looked quite bright. If it does, ladies and gentlemen, it’s because he and his compatriots set it on a path to a bright future all those years ago.

“He also asked me, as a favor, to see to it that his passing – if it came near this anniversary – should not detract from the day or its celebrations. Let Gregory Montgomery pass, a simple man, a man of the people, a man of Rain Island.” Engstrom stepped back from the microphones as the crowd started to applaud, then cheer, and cheered louder as the band struck up a march.

A parade composed of military and civilian syndicates wound its way around the square, and the sky that night was lit by fireworks.


June 16:

In unconscious imitation of the Proclamation Day parade, a funeral cortege made its way slowly through the streets of Seathl from the Anglican church on Maple Street to Haywood Square, a horse-drawn hearse bearing the coffin draped in the blue Republic flag heading the procession. Behind walked the Montgomery family, the Governing Syndicate and the ambassadors of Canada and the United States. An escort made up of soldiers from the Army Union and sailors from the Naval Syndicate flanked the hearse.

To the sound of a muffled drum the cortege passed the sacred grove at the south end of the square while passers-by stopped to watch. Men removed the hats out of respect as the coffin moved past them and some women touched pawkerchiefs to their eyes.

The procession circled the grove and past the square again, returning to the church and stopping at cemetery. There was a pause as the participants moved to the gravesite, and the military escort removed the coffin from the hearse.

Borne on brawny shoulders the remains were brought to their final resting place.


Station ZYPR broadcast

June 16, 1935


“With the passing of Gregory Montgomery the curtain falls on the revolutionary era of Rain Coast, and of Rain Island. We can only guess as to the bright future he saw for us, but we can rest assured that he saw it. So, with confidence in our people and heads held high, we walk together into that unguessable future knowing only that whatever it may be, it will be faced by brave men and women who believe in the vision that people like Montgomery gave us the power to see.

“This is Elan Flint, reporting. Good night.”


"A Busy Half-Century" - #7

Part Seven: Plague and Plebiscite

February 4, 1919:

A small block of ice, about the size of a fist, sat and melted in a bowl until it was about two-thirds its original size. When it was judged melted sufficiently, a paw reached out and turned a small spigot. A thin drip of chilled water came from the spigot and landed on a cube of sugar held suspended over a glass of a clear liquid. As the sugar-laced drops struck the surface of the liquid, it began to turn a cloudy light green.

The beaver sat and regarded the fabled Green Fairy as it grew within the absinthe. After several moments he turned off the water and removed the filigreed spoon that had held the sugar, then sat back and sipped at the liqueur.

A knock on the closed door.

“Gustav? Gustav, are you there?” The voice was a woman’s, sounding worried.

Worried? For him?


Gustav Biber relished the pungency of the absinthe, as well as its slightly bitter taste made dull by the sugar’s sweetness. Wormwood, after all, was part of the liqueur’s makeup.

The bitterness suited his present mood.

The doorknob rattled. “Gustav, please open this door.”

Realizing that she wasn’t going to go away and leave him alone with his grief and bitterness, the rodent stood and unlocked the door, then retreated to the sanctuary of his drink.

A pause, and the door opened to reveal a beaver femme, dressed in a black frock, her paws twisting a pawkerchief as she sniffed back her tears. “I know you’re sad, and angry, Gustav, but you shouldn’t shut yourself away.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked in a sulky tone. “Don’t I deserve a moment of private mourning?” A sip of absinthe, bitter yet sweet, like the promise of the grave. “Shouldn’t a man who just buried his entire family be allowed a moment to himself?” he asked again, this time his voice rising in anger and his broad flat tail slapping at his chair.

His sister Beatrice stood and looked at him. He was her older brother by a year and a half. “Not your entire family,” she corrected gently. “I’m still here.”

“Yes. Thank you. But where are Anna and George? Max? Where are Vati and Mutti? I’ll tell you where they are! Dead, dead and buried in that graveyard, dead of that Gottverdammt Spanish Flu!” The dam broke and he began to cry, slumping over to hold his head in his paws as he wept unashamedly.

Beatrice stepped over to him, gentle paws stroking his shoulders before helping him to his feet and leading him out of the room, past the office of the Clarion (of which he was now the owner and editor, two more physical blows – Max had taken over after Father’s retirement) and up the stairs to his room. Once there she took his black broadcloth suit jacket and shoes off and helped him to bed, drawing a blanket over him.

She sat by him, holding his paw, until he fell asleep.

Many families were bereft after the insidious disease had swept westward from its ports of entry on the Atlantic to strike furs down in the streets or in their homes. But the thing had seemingly run its course, and it was only by a gracious Providence that she, her husband and their two children had survived unscathed.

Well, almost unscathed. Jerry had lost his mother, who hadn’t been a well woman to start with, and she had lost everyone but her brother. Poor Gustav had had aspirations of becoming a novelist.

Now he’d have to grow up quickly.


April 1:

“Thankfully, Rain Coast didn’t have much to do in the War – at least the one in Europe,” Elsu Halvorsen said equably. The short wolf paused reflectively to take a sip of his sherry and licked his lips. He had just finished voting in the Assembly elections and had accepted a lunch invitation from a member of the diplomatic corps. “And with the number of contracts we had for war materiel, we managed to finish up with a positive balance in the ledgers. Still, now that the Grand Duchess and her court have conceded the war to the Communists – well, for the moment - and skedaddled to Vostok Island, Rain Coast will most likely be affected by the economic downturn the rest of the world’s starting to feel.”

The Counselor of New Haven’s diplomatic delegation, a lean rat with patrician features named Edgar Newcastle, nodded and regarded the remaining sherry in his glass with a gloomy air. “I find myself agreeing with you, Elsu,” he said. “At least you lot made money – New Haven was treated like dirt at the Paris Conference by the Big Four. It’s making quite a few furs back home wonder why we even got involved in the first place.” He sighed and held up an admonitory paw. “And don’t remind me of your analysis all those years ago. We knew the Civic Union was going to goad the General Assembly into declaring for the Allies, but we went ahead and let them do it anyway.”

The wolf, who was a rising star in the Republic’s Foreign Ministry, merely gave a wintry smile and sipped at his sherry before saying, “I won’t say ‘I told you so,’ Edgar.”

“Thank you. Now what do you make of the news from America?” Edgar asked. “All these radicals that Wilson’s trying to drive out.”

Halvorsen thought for a moment. “I expect some of them will try to seek asylum in Rain Coast, and in New Haven.”

“And that has me worried, confound it. The Socialists in our country are bad enough – no offense – but this new ‘Party of the People’s Will’ might end up becoming quite radical. The anarchist bug might be catching.”

At this point the Ambassador, who had been sitting engrossed in the newspaper, suddenly perked up. Emmanuel DiCaprino was a nice enough sort, and as disinterested as any previous envoy from New Haven. Moreover, he was quite hard of hearing, which led to the derisive nickname ‘DeefCaprino.’

It also sometimes led to awkward social moments.

“Catching?” the goat said, pencil poised over the acrostic. “Sorry, can’t catch anything, m’boy – I have diplomatic immunity.” He laughed at his own joke and returned to his puzzle as if nothing had happened.

Halvorsen and Newcastle looked at each other, and both rolled their eyes.


The whistle sounded for the end of the work shift at the railway yard in Norwood, a town just outside Seathl. The workers, grimy and sweat-stained after the long shift, were eager to get home despite the fact that some of them had to stop by the market on the way. There was some good-natured grumbling and jokes as the shift dispersed.

Among the workers walking out of the front gate was a tall and solidly-built badger with a shopping list in his trouser pocket. His wife had put the list in his pocket along with an admonition to please not forget that he had it. The admonition had been reinforced by a kiss on the cheek and the promise of a good supper when he got home.

The badger whistled a jaunty tune he’d heard a few days earlier as he walked down the road. Soon, though, his whistling stopped as he saw a small crowd gathered on the street corner. Some of his mates from work were in the group, so he paused to see what was going on, his curiosity getting the better of him.

The man on the corner was a slim raccoon in bib overalls and a none-too-clean white shirt. Stains showed where he’d been sweating, and the cuffs and collar looked a bit frayed. A small suitcase sat open on a folding stand, revealing a variety of pamphlets and flyers.

“And I’m telling you,” the raccoon was saying in what sounded like an American accent, “you workers are oppressed by the almighty dollar and by the rapacity of the bosses! Only through the solidarity of the Socialist Party can the laboring masses throughout the world prevent another war!” he declaimed as the badger picked up one of the flyers.

Crudely written and hastily printed, the single sheet of paper proclaimed the inevitable triumph of Socialism and the death of capitalism. The badger was still reading it when the raccoon cried, “You there, Comrade!”

The badger looked up and around at the crowd. “You mean me?”

“Yes, I mean you, Comrade. Tell me, do you know you’re oppressed?”

The badger chuckled. “If I don’t get to the market soon, I’ll be oppressed by my wife,” he said, drawing laughter from the others in the crowd.

The raccoon didn’t smile, but struck a dramatic pose with all the verve of a traveling preacher and said, “This poor working man doesn’t realize his bosses are oppressing him! They make him work for long hours – “

“No they don’t.”

This interjection jarred the raccoon’s soliloquy. “What?”

“I only work eight hours a day, five days a week,” the badger said to a few nods from other railway workers.

“For little pay – “ the raccoon resumed.

“Pay’s pretty good, actually,” another worker opined.

“Yeah, even with the slump we’re going through,” said another, “from what I read in the papers.”

Trying to regain the crowd’s attention the raccoon said loudly, “But your bosses make more than you, growing fat on your labor and stealing food from your children’s mouths!”

“No he ain’t.”


“Our boss ain’t fat,” a feline said. “Can’t get too fat when you’re switchin’ points in the yard.” This statement drew some approving remarks.

The raccoon decided to change the subject. “But what does your boss do for you? What do the owners of the railroad do for you, my Comrades?”

The badger paused to think. “Passes.”


Another round of nods as the badger replied, “Any worker gets a free pass each week. Say I want to take Dora – that’s my wife, Dora – and the kids to Seathl for the day. It’s free.”

The raccoon was clearly looking frustrated by now. “Well, what about your government? What about that nest of greedy politicians in Seathl? What are they doing for the masses?”

“If Ned Whitman’s getting greedy, we’ll just vote him out next year.”

“Who?” was asked, in a peevish tone.

“Ned Whitman,” the feline offered, “the Assemblyman for our district. Lives up the street from me.”

“But what has the government done for you?”

There was a pause and the raccoon grinned triumphantly. He opened his mouth to declaim on the evils of government when the badger said, “The clinic.”


“Well, when my youngest got sick last year, I just took him ‘round to the clinic.”

“Our taxes pay for it,” another in the crowd said.

The raccoon stood there and sputtered, uttering phrases like “The workers control the means of production” and “The inevitable triumph of Socialism” as the crowd slowly dispersed.

Finally, the party organizer looked up to see that he now had an audience of only one. A kitten stood looking at him as he solemnly licked at a lollipop.

The kitten took a few more fastidious licks at his sweet, said “Get a job,” and ran off down the road.


August 27, 1919:

The Assembly members arrived at their building early that morning to be met by a large and surly crowd. As the furs made their way in, they found their way barred by people who gave way grudgingly or taunted them with cries of “Do-nothing!” Once a member was struck in the back of the head by a thrown egg, and it was noted that the two policefurs present ominously did nothing to stop the attack, or try to hunt down the individual.

The Assembly building itself looked as if it, too, had been the target of the peoples’ anger. Several windows were boarded up after bricks or rocks had broken out the glass.

The session began, as always, with prayer, and as the Assembly sat a voice from the gallery cried, “Don’t just sit there! DO something!” This sentiment was echoed by others, and the noise subsided as the Moderator stood.

Rich Cable regarded the gallery and said, “They’re right. It’s been almost four months since the recession hit us. Prices are up and wages have not compensated for the rise. Outlays by the government for medical care and defense are outstripping our ability to pay, and we don’t dare raise taxes. Since the Dockworker’s Union went on strike in mid-June, other organizations have followed them. People are hot, tired and angry.” The bear lowered his gaze to regard the Assembly. “The question is what do we do about it?”

“Can’t the police restore and maintain order?” one member asked.

“Simple,” growled another. “Their hearts are with the strikers. I heard that one unit up in Shaw Island’s already walked out.” This news caused a minor stir, quieted only by the Moderator’s gavel.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s worse than that,” the Moderator said. “Ushers, will you please clear the gallery.” There was grumbling at the almost unprecedented move, and all eyes were on Cable as the gallery was emptied. When the doors were closed the ursine said, “Word was received last night that the Rain Island Naval Militia has suspended all sea and air operations. The other militias have followed them.”

Gasps were heard as the news sank in. “They’re our only defense!”

“Canada – or the Yankees – could just walk right in.”

“Or the militias could take over the government,” Cable said.

Deathly silence.

“There, I said it. Do we want our country going the same way as Russia? Or worse? So far no one’s been hurt; do we want blood in the streets?” Cable asked. Silence met his questions, and he turned and bowed slightly in the direction of the President’s desk. “Mr. President,” he said.

Jaan Harper was in his second term in office as the Rain Coast Republic’s leader, and the otter’s headfur was already streaked with gray from the stresses of the past few months. “The founders of our country,” he said slowly, “knew over thirty years ago that if they failed, they would all hang as traitors. I will not see that bravery wasted. Does the Assembly agree?”

Cable turned to see the members nodding mutely. “They agree.”

The otter stood up from his desk. “I’ll await the decision of the Assembly,” and he retreated to his office.

Over an hour later Cable knocked on the door, got no answer, and eased the door open. “Jaan?”

He found the otter in prayer, kneeling before a small icon of St. Vladimir that he’d had put in the office when his first term started. The bear waited until the President finished his devotions before saying, “We’ve come to a decision.”


“You need to come out here and hear it, for the record.”

The two stepped out of the office and Harper took his seat as Cable went to his desk and picked up a piece of paper. The Assembly members, some of whom looked distressed while others looked ready to commit mayhem, quieted and turned to face the Moderator as he cleared his throat.

“The resolution before the Assembly was as follows: Should the government of this Republic be reorganized so that it can better meet the needs of the people it serves? The resolution passed, 54 to 32 with one abstention.

“A second resolution was put forward: Shall the Assembly declare an emergency under Rule Fifty of the Constitution? The resolution passed unanimously.” He turned to Harper in time to see the stricken look on the otter’s face.

Rule Fifty was a clause in the Rain Coast’s Constitution that allowed the Assembly to declare a temporary state of emergency and give sole power to the country’s President. The fur who had headed the drafting committee in 1885, an amateur historian, had read of such a thing from the old Roman Republic. How long the emergency was to last was at the Assembly’s discretion, in order to ensure that the President didn’t usurp power completely.

Finally, Harper found his voice.

“Have you all gone crazy? What the hell are you people thinking?” he rasped, his voice rising to a shout.

“We’re not deserting you, Jaan,” the member from Little Wolf Lake said.

“But we need a steady paw on the tiller right now,” another member said.

Cable took the hint and added, “The Assembly right now has a lot of strong personalities in it, Jaan, and you know it. Besides, it’s high time we actually did something, rather than just sat here and jawboned our way into a revolution.”

Harper nodded as he jammed his paws into his trouser pockets. “Okay. But I don’t like it. How long?”

The member from Barnes Island piped up and said, “We figgered it’d be only till New Year’s, Jaan – mebbe up until the new Assembly elections come April, dependin’.”

“That long?” the otter asked incredulously. He shook his head and said, “I think we need to let the rest of the country know what’s going on. God knows they have a right to know they’re living in a dictatorship now.”


August 28, 1919:

Jaan Harper stepped up to the microphone in Seathl Square as the loudspeaker was readied, and ears went flat against skulls at the ear-splitting feedback howl when the power was switched on. When it quieted, Harper joked, “I guess that’s not the only thing in the country that doesn’t work right.”

The audience, a few thousand furs along with members of the press, laughed. “The reason I’ve taken the step of calling for a public meeting is to let you know what’s going on,” the otter said. He then outlined Rule Fifty and what it meant, and told them the results of the Assembly’s voting the previous day.

When he finished, a pin dropping would have been as deafeningly loud as the feedback had been.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Harper said, “I will be meeting with the strike leaders and with members of the unions. We need to shake this off and get back to work. Also, I’m sure you’ve heard the same news I have – that the only defense we have against foreign attack is also on strike. We have fought in two wars, and I do not wish to see us going to war against each other.

“The Assembly saw this as well, and gave me the power to hopefully set things right.

“I spent the night talking with some experts, in finance, government and military affairs, and the only conclusion I can draw is that things need to be changed. I will meet with these experts again to hammer out what must be done, and when the time comes – I’m hoping not later than Christmas – the entire country will vote on the changes.

“I swear to you, before God, that I did not want this, and will give power back to the Assembly the instant they demand it. I ask you to pray for me.” He lowered the paper in his paws. “Thank you.”



“Well, we’ll go along with it, Mr. President. Country’s mostly socialist anyway, although they don’t realize it.” A chuckle.

“Just so long as your people get back to work, sir.”

“They will. I’ve explained things to them, and they voted on it. They go back to the docks tomorrow.”

“And the other unions and syndicates?”

“Them too, Mr. President. The Education Syndicate resisted at first – teacher’s pay, y’know – but they’ll go along.”



“Admiral? Admiral? Good Lord, Jaan, if you call him an Admiral he’ll want to call himself a Duke next!”

“Then what do you suggest?”



“It’s the entrenched interests again,” one fur said. “There are people who stand to profit by things as they are. They’re afraid of any change.”

“There isn’t much choice,” Harper said, his voice sounding brittle. “We all have to change, not just them.”



“Dammit! One more time, Rich – I want the Foreign Ministry to please, please, for God’s sake make sure that both Canada and the United States know that we’re not going to be a Communist country! If we did they’d be at our throats in a second!”


January 2, 1920:

There were plans to start a radio service, but that was still many months off; until then, the papers and telegraph would have to do.

This time President Harper stood on the steps of the Assembly building, with the members arrayed behind him. The symbolism linking this government with the one that seceded from Canada was not lost on anyone in the swelling crowd. It looked like half of Seathl was present, with more from other districts and islands.

The otter hoped that the loudspeakers were working properly.

Several in the audience gasped as he moved to the microphone. His headfur had gone bone-white over the past months, and there was a rasp to his voice as he began to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen, last August I announced that the Rain Coast Assembly, in accordance with Rule Fifty of the Constitution, had suspended itself until the state of emergency was over. Yesterday, the Assembly’s Moderator informed me that that day has come, and the Assembly will be taking up its usual duties.

“However, there will be some changes that are considered necessary for our nation’s ability to grow and meet the challenges that await us down the years. Some of these changes are cosmetic, merely putting a new name and face on established customs and organizations. Others are a radical departure from what we used to know.

“Will this be easy? No, it won’t. But we wanted practical solutions to our problems, and now they’re ready to be voted on. Every citizen of this nation who is twenty-one or older is eligible to vote, and I strongly encourage all of you to do so.

“The vote will be in the form of a referendum with several parts. The first changes the name of our country, our flag and the design of our currency. The dollar will still have its value. These changes will more accurately reflect our country’s philosophy.

“We believe, as a nation, that we should look out for each other while still seeking opportunities for advancement, and that the workers – every one of us – have not only a say how things are run, but are the real bosses. Well, there’s a word for that, a brand-new word.
“That word is anarcho-syndicalism, and it describes the way we do things much better than ‘socialist.’
“The first part of the referendum changes the name of the country to the Rain Island Anarchcracy. There are many reasons for this change, particularly that Rain Coast is a holdover from our past, and ‘Rain Coast’ still reminds some furs of piracy and war.” He paused to sip at a glass of water while the crowd muttered.
“The second part of the referendum is a new Constitution, making changes to the old one that will reflect the changes we’re making to our nation. Voting on this will start next week, by the way, and continue until mid-March. The new Assembly elections will be held on April first, as usual.
“The third part is what we call the Military Collective Act. We are a modern nation, and a modern nation needs a modern military to defend it from foreign foes. The militias were useful and necessary in their time, but the time has come to create a more formal organization.” A few sailors in the crowd gathered together and started discussing the idea, a few waving their paws to emphasize their words.
The gathering quieted again as Harper said, “Finally, my friends, ladies and gentlemen, I have tried to do my best for you. I appreciate your patience with me these pats months, and the years preceding them. I look forward to April so I can go back to teaching school. God bless you, and God bless our nation.”
The applause started slowly but grew to a tidal wave of approval as Harper stepped back from the microphone.


“We value our friendship with your country, Ambassador DiCaprino. We trust you’ll send a full report back to New Haven.”
"Oh, never fear, I have a saucy retort for whenever that twit Prescott Stagg gets uppity, have no fear . . . say, who's that pleasant looking lass over there, the one handing out the flags?"
“Never mind.”


“Uniforms? What the hell do we need uniforms for?”
“Looking pretty for the girls, that’s what.”
“Besides, Zack, whoever we fight needs to know who’s beating their tails.”
“I suppose you’re right, at that. But where does Rain Island get off - ”
“Easy. They’re the biggest gang in the country. More people, more ships, better equipment – “
“Higher pay – “
“And they brew the best beer.”


“So, what’s the President’s new title again? Chief Cynic?” A chuckle. “We could really use a title like that in New Haven.”
“No, Mr. Ambassador, the title’s Chief Syndic – oh, never mind.”


“You sure you’re not going Red on us? A lot of stuff in this new constitution looks mighty suspicious.”
“I assure you again, Mr. Prime Minister, all we’re doing is acknowledging what’s already established. Name changes, nothing more.”


March 20, 1920:
If anything there were more people in Seathl Square than there had been back in January, waiting patiently as President Harper finished talking to the Assembly’s Moderator and stepped up to the microphone. He cleared his throat softly and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens.
“By a clear majority, eighty-one percent to nineteen percent with all districts reporting, the referendum has passed.” He paused and looked down as the crowd started to cheer and applaud. The applause went on for several minutes before he motioned for quiet.
“Therefore, with the approval of the Assembly – er, I mean the Governing Syndicate, sorry – I announce today that our nation’s new name is the Rain Island Anarchcracy, and may God bless it and all who live here.” He stepped back as a new flag ascended the flagpole to replace the old blue and silver.
The flag was a rectangle, with the upper part red and the lower black, divided diagonally. The silver Raven was still there, taking up the broadest half of the red section near the hoist. This was the new, ‘formal’ flag of the nation, to be flown from government buildings and on special occasions; a simpler version dispensed with the silver bird effigy.
The crowd cheered, and cheered again after Harper announced that new elections would be held on April Fool’s Day, right on schedule.


April 20, 1920:
Following tradition the ninety members of the newly-elected Governing Syndicate met as soon as they were sworn in to select a President. Jaan Harper steadfastly refused to stand for a third term, pleading that he hadn’t wanted the job and asking that he be let off for good behavior.
The members voted on it and agreed. With great relief, the Tlingit otter could resume his teaching post in his home district.
The Moderator finished reading the voting results for the second ballot and finally said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new Chief Syndic. Mrs. Van Hook?”
Startled, the former Ambassador to the United States stood. “By a majority vote the Governing Syndicate has nominated Abigail Van Hook, Member for Carlin, to be Chief Syndic. Madam,” and the Moderator gave a slight bow and motioned the mare to her new seat.
To applause and raucous cheers from the floor and from the gallery the woman walked forward and stood behind her new desk. She paused to gather her thoughts as the crowd died down, then asked, “Is this an April Fools joke?”
Laughter rocked the chamber. “I didn’t think so. Well, ladies and gentlemen, a new era opens for our country. Rain Coast – er, Rain Island has shown that it can change to meet the needs of its people, and it has shown today that it can lead the world by freely electing the first woman as head of state.” She paused to let the cheers die down again before adding, “I ask for your support and your prayers. May God bless our nation.”

"A Busy Half-Century" - #6

Part Six: Contracts

Washington, DC
June 12, 1917:

A gauzy curtain eased aside and a dour equine figure looked out on the south lawn of the White House as the downpour continued. It had been raining most of the day in Washington, turning a few roads into shallow streams and alleys into muddy tracks.

A quote from the Civil War came to him: “A fine old Baptist downpour.”

Thomas Woodrow Wilson smiled despite himself. If nothing else, the rain matched his present mood, not two months after the declaration of war against the Central Powers.

There was a soft knock on the door and an aide poked his head in. “Er, Mr. President?”

The horse straightened, his dark pinstripe suit a contrast against his light gray fur. “Yes?”

“Sir, your guest is here,” the aide said diffidently.

“Ah. Send her in, please.” He was not really looking forward to this interview, and he took off his glasses and polished the lenses with a pawkerchief as the woman was shown in. He replaced the pince-nez just in time, and stood, paws clasped behind his back.

“The Ambassador of the Rain Coast Republic, Mrs. Van Hook, Mr. President,” the aide announced. He stepped aside as an equine femme wearing a black dress ensemble walked in.

The two stood and regarded each other for a moment, with Wilson managing to conceal his distaste.

She was outspoken, far too much so for a woman, and although he was in favor of women’s suffrage he was of the opinion that Rain Coast had gone entirely too far.

She smoked – even in public. Filthy habit.

She was Socialist, and a Heathen (so he’d been told) in the bargain.

But Edith liked her.

His lips quirked into a wintry, formal smile. “Madam Ambassador,” he said pleasantly.

Abigail Van Hook returned the smile. She was a bit shorter than him. “Mr. President. I was told by your Department of State that you wished to see me. What can we do for you?”

The President gestured to a chair. “Please, ma’am, have a seat. I wish to discuss something concerning the war that the United States now finds itself in.”

Van Hook sat down. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“In the past two months we’ve started convoying supplies across the Atlantic to aid the British and the French. We have also started moving supplies around Scandinavia in an effort to buttress the Russians.” He paused and glanced at the window. The rain had stopped, and the sun was shining on the wet grass. “We would like to do the same thing in the Pacific.”

The femme thought. “That would require supplies being brought to Vladivostok.”

“Correct. With commerce raiders – or submarines – operating in the Pacific, we would appreciate assistance in keeping the convoys safe.”

The Ambassador fished her cigarette case from her reticule and lit one. She smoked for a few moments before asking, “Am I to understand, then, that you wish to hire some of our naval militia units to assist you?” She smiled. “That’s quite easily done, Mr. President. A standard contract can be drawn up by our Embassy’s trade agent – “

“Yes, Colonel House assured me of that.”

The mare’s muzzle twisted into a moue of distaste. “I find I do not like your Colonel House. If he was any more of a boor, you could put a snout and a curly tail on him.”

“He’s one of my closest confidants – “

“Then you should find another. In my opinion, he’s a far better author than a confidant.”

The President’s expression grew dourer. “I shall have Secretary Lansing call on you at your Embassy to set up the contracts. Good day, Madam Ambassador.”

Van Hook gazed up at him as she smoked for a few more moments, then snubbed the cigarette out in a nearby ashtray and stood. She shook paws with him and was walking to the door when he coughed softly. “Yes?”

“I had been wondering, Madam, about something one of my aides told me. Your husband has taken a job as a porter at Willard’s Hotel.”



Van Hook smiled cheerfully. “Sergei was bored, and the extra income would be welcome. Besides,” and she chuckled, “it’ll keep him off the streets and out of bars.” And she walked out.


June 15:

“Abby’s a great find,” President Harper remarked to the snickers of the others in the office as they passed her report around. “I knew she’d shock that parson’s son when she arrived, and I see that now that he needs us he actually has to be nice to her.”

“We’ve got the contract drawn up, Jaan. A total of eight militia locals will be involved. With prize rules,” the Trade Minister added. “It’d be quite a coup if we captured a U-Boat, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I don’t see that happening,” the otter replied as he signed his name to the agreement. “We need to make sure that all of our embassies, especially the one in Berlin, spread it around that we’re not declaring war. This is just a business deal.”

The head of Rain Island’s naval militia (the largest in the country, and growing large enough to be dignified with the title ‘union’) laughed. “Yeah, business – which has the added benefit of keeping some of the boys and girls out of trouble.”


At sea aboard NM-24 Cedar
1 mile off Astoria, Oregon
July 1, 1917:

Paws rummaged through a pocket in the heavy coat, coming up with two items wrapped in oilskin. One was a salt lick, and was put back into the pocket. The other was a plug of tobacco, and a piece was cut off with a penknife and lifted on the blade to the cervine’s mouth.

Several minutes of chewing later the stocky elk spat over the bridge rail and scratched one antler as he waited. His ursine first mate and the ovine helmsfur waited as well, as did the other three ships of the flotilla.

“Phil, how long are we gonna wait before they come out?” the mate asked. He squinted up at the sun. “It’s already afternoon, fer Chrissakes.”

“Orders’re orders, you know, Jack,” Phil Crow replied. “They’re supposed to be comin’ out today, so we can sheep-herd the lot to the Russkis. Look on the bright side – at least we ain’t in the second flotilla,” he added, and at the mention of the ships sent on ahead to Russia the ursine mate stuck his tongue out and grimaced.

“Cheap vodka,” Jack growled.

“Cheap women,” the helmsfur said with a grin, and all three laughed.

One of the speaking tubes to the bridge whistled. Phil uncapped it and said, “Yeah?”

“Farris, Boss, up in the crow’s nest. I see ships headin’ outta the harbor . . . looks like, uh . . . four, five, ten steamers and – yep, a destroyer or some such.”

“Great to hear it, Farris. If anything changes let me know.”


The elk put binoculars to his eyes and scanned the horizon for the oncoming ships. The lookout was right; the lead ship had four slim funnels and guns. “Jack, get your lamp and signal them. ‘About time.’”

The bear laughed as he flashed the message, then watched the blinking light from the approaching destroyer. “It says, ‘Where’s the beer?’” The U.S. Navy was a ‘dry’ service, and the Rain Coast had never restricted the use of alcohol in its militia units. Some of the larger ones had taken to brewing their own beer, notably a tasty ale that one fur said tasted like honey going down, but made your head hum like a swarm of bees.

“Tell them the beer’s on me when we reach Vladivostok,” Crow said, “and send a signal to Sequoia and the others to form up on the convoy as agreed. With luck nothing’ll happen.”

“Right, Phil.” The American warship drew closer as the Cedar turned to take its place a mile from the convoy, and its signal lamp started to flicker.

Jack grunted as he read the message. “They want to send a liaison over. What for? Don’t they trust us?”

Phil just nodded. “It’s in the contract,” he pointed out. “Didn’t you read it before you voted on it, Jack?”

“Yeah I did, but it’s a good question all the same, Phil.”

“I imagine they don’t trust us much, since ’12,” the elk said, “so this is a good opportunity to do some business, make some money and change a few minds, huh?”

“Guess so. Should I signal him to come aboard?”


A small motor launch was swung over the destroyer Grayson’s side and headed over to the Cedar. A feline clambered up the ladder that was let down for him, while his single sea bag was hoisted aboard on a line. The shoulder boards on his pea coat bore two stripes, one narrower than the other.

He straightened his coat and hat as Phil walked up to him and he asked, “Captain Crow, I presume?” At the nod he saluted. “Lieutenant Ken Miller, USN, sir.”

Crow smiled and returned the salute, then extended a paw. “Good to have you aboard, Lieutenant – er, junior grade, isn’t it?”

The feline blushed. “Yes, sir. Just got promoted last month.”

“Congratulations.” He looked up at the bridge as Jack whistled and waved. “Come on up to the bridge and I’ll show you around.”

“Will someone see to my bag, sir?”

At the question Crow paused and gave the officer an arch look. “I expect you will, Lieutenant. There are no servants aboard my ship,” and he started away, leaving the feline to gather up his sea bag and hurry after him.

When they got to the bridge Crow gestured to the ursine mate. “Ken Miller, Jack Morton, my first mate. You’ll be bunking with him for this trip.”

The bear and the feline looked each other over, then shook paws. Miller suddenly said, “Er, look, Captain Crow, I apologize, but - “

“But you’re used to having a rating do simple things for you, Lieutenant,” the elk said. “This is a naval militia, not the United States Navy. We do things quite a bit differently – here, everyone’s equal, the only differences are on the surface.”

“And the pay,” the helmsfur said.

Crow nodded. “That too. I was voted into the captain’s position by the crew of this tub. Jack? You want to show our guest around?”

“Sure. C’mon, Ken, I’ll show you where the cabin’s at and you can get your gear stowed.”

The feline looked a bit dazed. “Sure . . . Jack,” and he followed the bear out of the compartment.

The helmsfur chuckled and scratched at the wool behind one horn. “Gonna be an interesting trip, Phil.”

“Let’s hope not too interesting.”


At dinner that night crewfurs would relax and smoke and only occasionally glance at the American, who sat between Jack and Phil during the meal. For his part, Miller enjoyed the meal, especially the half-pint mug of ale that was served with it.

The feline finished drinking his beer and lowered the mug. “That was some fine beer, Cap – er, Phil,” he said, coloring slightly.

The elk chuckled. “Relax, Lieutenant.”

“Please, call me Ken.” The officer smiled. “As you say, I need to get used to being here.”

Jack slapped the American on the shoulder. “Good, ‘cause we’re on this pleasure cruise for another – what, ten days or so?”

“Yeah,” Phil replied. “The plans are to meet up with another column from Frisco, coal up in Spontoon and then it’s straight on to Vladivostok.” He glanced at Miller. “Ever been to Russia, Ken?”

“No.” He looked a bit flustered. “Actually, this is my first trip, ever.”

Jack started to grin. “Then why are you here?”

“I guess the Grayson’s Captain wanted me to get some experience. And maybe learn a few things about your setup.”

The captain and first mate exchanged glances. The young feline’s first trip out? And he’d be crossing the Line as well? Yeah, he was in for at least one experience. “Such as?”

“Well, um, I notice that you have a lot of women aboard.”

“Yeah. About a third of the crew.”

“Are they really useful aboard? Women are traditionally bad luck, aren’t they? I mean, according to tradition.”

Phil’s muzzle broke into a broad smile. “All the women here – and on the other ships – can hold their own against any man. I beat out our chief engineer for Captain by two votes.”


“Sure.” Phil put two fingers in his muzzle and whistled. “Janet! Janet, you in here?” he called out as the room quieted.

A pleasant alto replied, “I’m here, Phil.”

“Come on over here, okay? Got someone you should meet.”

Miller’s eyes went wide as a squirrel femme stood up and walked over to the table, her beer mug in one paw. He stood as she approached out of politeness and noted that, although she had a very pleasant feminine voice, this woman stood an easy two inches taller than his own five foot ten, and looked to outweigh him by about fifty pounds.

And not an ounce of it fat.

“Ken Miller, this’s Janet Waters. Janet, Ken.”

“Pleased to meet ya,” and her grip matched the rest of her physique.

“Pleased to meet you too,” and the feline surreptitiously flexed blood back into his paw. “Phil says he beat you out for captain by two votes.”

“Yeah. His and mine,” she replied.

“You voted against yourself? Why?”

The squirrel grinned. “Simple, Ken – I know more about engines than he does, an’ he knows more about leadin’ furs than I do.” She drained her mug and set it on the table, giving a soft burp before adding, “Almost time for my watch. Later, guys.”

“Later, Janet.”


At breakfast the next day, Phil sat down next to Ken as the latter yawned. “Rough night?”

“No, slept pretty well,” Ken replied, “but I woke up when Jack woke up. He had the third watch.”

Phil nodded as he stirred sugar into his coffee. The wardroom was largely empty. “Got a question for you.”


“Why are you here, on my ship?”

“Well, the contract requires a liaison, and I suppose it’s good practice . . . ah, I see now what you mean. Captain Daniels briefed me that I was going to be aboard what was essentially a p - mercenary ship,” the feline said.

“Pirates, you mean.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“No need to be sorry about it. Tell the truth and although you may hurt someone’s feelings, you won’t go wrong.” Phil smiled. “Captain Daniels the skipper of that destroyer out there?”


“Like to meet him someday, I’m sure we’d have a lot to talk about.” The elk looked up as a crewwoman walked in and gave him a slip of paper, which he read before stuffing it in a shirt pocket. “Five more freighters joined us last night,” he said, “so now that we’re all here we can get going west.”

Miller looked a bit diffident as he said, “A question, Phil.”

“Your turn, huh? Okay.”

“I know I’m the liaison, unwanted cargo, but I could use something to do.”

Phil grinned, then chuckled. “Okay. You’re now third mate and assistant navigator. If we take a prize, you get a crewfur’s share, same as all the rest of us. Deal?”

“Deal.” The two shook paws.


July 7

The flotilla and the fifteen cargo ships stopped at Spontoon only long enough to replenish their coal and oil bunkers before setting course for Vladivostok.

So far, nothing had happened.


July 9
180 degrees West Longitude:

Ken Miller sighed, stretching to relieve a sudden kink in his back. He hadn’t had such a hard day since his plebe year at Annapolis.

The day had started when a group of crewfurs dressed as pirates rousted him out of bed in his underwear and herded him onto the main deck with about a dozen other members of the crew, male and female. Janet Waters was there wearing a long overcoat, a wicked-looking sword and a three-cornered hat that looked as if it had been made out of paper. “Kneel, subjects, before the Almighty Queen of the Sea!” she had roared, and swept her sword out in salute.

The other crew members shoved and elbowed the dozen or so, Miller included, to their knees as Jack stepped out on deck, dressed in women’s clothes complete to a wig crafted from a dirty mop. A paper crown teetered precariously from the wig as he puffed on a cigar and took a seat on a hatch cover.

“Queen of the Sea!” Janet said loudly. “These youngsters have come to humbly ask your permission to travel the seas under your protection.”

“That so?” the bear asked. He took another puff on the cigar and said, “They shall have to show me that they’re ready. You there!” and he pointed at one of the pirates. “Is the baptismal font ready?”

“Yeah, Your Majesty.”

“Then dunk ‘em good and let’s get started.”

The ‘baptismal font’ was a barrel filled with filthy water from the Cedar’s bilges, coupled with a liberal swabbing of some smelly muck that Miller suspected had come from the galley at some point. There was a second dunking, and he was grateful he wasn’t the last one to hit the barrel the second time as the water had grown quite foul.

The rest of the day consisted of a series of ‘tests’ that included scrubbing the entire deck on paws and knees as the sun rose higher in the sky, with lunch made up of hardtack biscuits and water. Of course, the Queen and ‘her’ piratical crew made things as hard as possible on the hapless furs, taunting and in some cases insulting them as the day wore on.

Finally the group was on their knees again before the Queen, who had enjoyed the festivities from ‘her’ throne. “In the name of my husband,” and she spat, “King Neptune, I now proclaim that these puny excuses are now sailors, and they have Our blessing to sail the seas – without having to go through this again.”

The rest of the crew cheered and mugs of beer were brought out for everyone.


July 11:

Four days out from Spontoon the convoy entered the island chain that straggled between Vostok Island and the major islands of the Tillamook Confederacy.

“I don’t like it one damned bit,” Jack murmured as he surveyed the horizon with his binoculars. On the other bridge wing Ken was busy doing the same thing, helping out the lookouts up in the crow’s nest.

“Isn’t there any other way through to Vladivostok?” the feline asked.

“Nope, not a chance – or if we did it’d take months ‘stead of weeks,” the bear replied.

The voice tube whistled.

At the same time a lookout shouted, “Ship bearing Green Two Zero!”

Everyone looked to port in time to see a ship about five miles away moving from the cover of an island.

“Ken, go get Phil.”

“No need, Jack,” the elk said. “What have we got?”

“See for yourself. Shall we signal the Sequoia and the Grayson?”

“Hell, yes! Why the hell that damned gasbag ain’t up yet is beyond me . . . “ Phil’s voice trailed off as he studied the image in his binoculars.

“Damn!” He exclaimed as a puff of smoke erupted from the ship. “Battle Stations, Jack.”

“Right.” He motioned to the helmsfur, who started to sound short blasts on the ship’s whistle. Crewfurs ran to their posts. “Signal from Sequoia – the gasbag fouled on one of its mooring lines. They’re launching it now.”

“Good.” The AM-24 was supposed to hover over the convoy, providing the escorts with a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. “Tell them to let us know what we’re up against, and get the guns ready.”

The Cedar, along with its three sister ships, boasted armor plating as well as one-pounder and three-pounder guns. Only the Pine had hydrophones, which was why it was trailing behind the formation to listen for submarines. The Grayson was at the head of the column. Furs raced to the guns and yanked canvas covers off of them, loaded them and trained them out.

“Who the hell were they shooting at?” Phil asked.

Grayson. Didn’t hit her, though – fell short,” Jack replied. “The Yanks are charging at ‘em.” There was a drone as the AM-24 moved overhead, the crew waving to the furs below. The airship’s boat-shaped gondola sported long, thin pipes on either side.

There was a distant boom. “What the?” Ken asked, craning forward as he peered out to starboard. A column of smoke was rising several miles away. “Damn – Phil, I think they got one of our ships!”

Crow swore and started looking as a signalman reported, “Pine reports a submarine just fired on one of the freighters. They’re hunting the sub now.”

“Damage to the freighter?”

“They’re abandoning.”

“Dammit. Helm, get us within gun range of the raider. We need to either sink it or drive it off.” He crossed himself and mumbled, “I hope Gypsy’ll be okay . . . “

“Right, Phil.” The Cedar put on more speed, and her forward three-pounder fired as the range closed. A splash showed that they weren’t quite close enough yet.

The raider traded blows with the Grayson as the AM-24 maneuvered to within a few hundred yards. “They’ll get shot down,” Miller said.

“Nope,” Jack said with a nasty smile. “Those aerial militia guys are clever furs. You watch.”

A groan erupted from the feline’s throat as smoke wreathed the dirigible, but the groan died as the smoke resolved itself into six separate trails that arrowed down at the raider and struck its wheelhouse. “Rockets?”

“Didn’t I tell you?” Jack said gleefully as the raider started to come about and the Cedar joined the Grayson in pouring fire into it. Fires broke out and debris flew into the air as shells found their mark.

“So – so that’s what those tubes were for!”

“Yeah,” Crow said. “They used those to keep from setting themselves on fire. Worked out really well, looks like.”

The signalman came running. “Captain, the Pine’s reporting it drove the sub off. Captain Lee sends her regards.”

Phil smiled. Gypsy was okay, and he hoped that Joel and Tom, the captains of the Sequoia and the Fir, were as well.

The surface raider absorbed twelve hits and two volleys of rockets before it too ran for safety. The convoy remade its formation, now minus one ship, and resumed course through the island chain with the AM-24 flying overhead at an altitude of five hundred feet, the better to see anything approaching.


July 14
Sea of Okhotsk:

“Message from Sequoia, Phil. The AM-24’s spotted a destroyer and three frigates headed our way.”

The elk scowled. “How far away? Bearing?”

“Red Ten, closing at ten knots. About ten miles away,” Ken replied.

“Signal the Grayson and sound Battle Stations.” The cervine pulled his salt lick out of a pocket and ran his tongue over the deeply grooved surface, smacked his lips and wrapped it back up in its oilskin pouch before stepping out onto the bridge wing.

Grayson’s signaling, Captain,” Jack said. “’Ships approaching flying the Saint Andrew. Friendly.’” The bear grinned. “I think we’ve run the gauntlet okay, Phil.”

“Only lost one ship,” the elk said with a sigh of relief. With more ships protecting the convoy the remaining fourteen freighters would make port. He turned and looked at the feline from the United States. “Lieutenant Miller.”


The captain of the Cedar drew himself up out of his usual slouch. “Been an honor and a pleasure to have you with us, and I hope you learned something.”

Miller grinned and saluted; when the salute was returned he said, “The honor and the pleasure are all mine, sir. And yes, I’ve learned a great deal. When will I be transferred back to the Grayson?”

“Not until we reach port. Too much chance of another submarine or raider showing up.”

“Okay, Phil,” the younger man said with a smile.