Monday, June 06, 2011

"Dyes and Gulls" - Chapter 1

Dyes and Gulls

© 2011 by Walter D. Reimer

One.

University of Woolloomooloo, Australia

April 1, 1938:

“Lemuria!”

This exclamation was accompanied by the banging of the small house’s screen door as it slammed shut. The sound failed to wake little Robbie, who was lying in his crib not ten feet away.

At nearly two years old, he was used to it by now.

Laura Patagarang, seated beside the crib, looked up from her copy of See! Magazine. She took her attention away from the leading article (‘How I Survive My Marriage’ by ‘L.P.’) with some difficulty before focusing on her husband. “What, George?” the brown-furred kangaroo asked. “Have you been on to the doctor again?”

George Patagarang blinked at her. “What, love?” he asked in a confused tone.

“Well, you said ‘lemuria.’ I hope they can vaccinate you for it. And do stay away from the baby, please. It might be catching.”

Her mate blinked again, then laughed. “No, Laura, you got it all wrong. I was talking about Lemuria, the ancient lost kingdom of lemurs. I have a lead on where to find it.”

“Do you now?” Laura asked, going back to her magazine article.

“Yes, I do,” George said. “And I think we ought to head out to the Pacific immediately.”

One ear twitched and swiveled in his direction. “Pacific?”

“That’s where my lead says it is.”

“Wouldn’t it make more sense that a lost kingdom of lemurs would be, say, near Madagascar or somewhere else in Africa?” she asked in a tone of voice that would make most respectable skeptics doubt the existence of Morris chairs. “I mean, lemurs are native to Africa – “

“Ah, but that’s what they’d want you to think,” George interrupted with an airy flip of his paw. “Simple misdirection! Classic!” He waved a sheaf of papers at her. “Crikey, if this ain’t the find of the century, I don’t know what is!”

Laura’s muzzle writhed momentarily as she bit her lower lip to keep from saying the obvious riposte aloud, and held out her paw for the papers. George gave them to her and headed for their bedroom, loudly declaiming about packing their tropical kit. With a sigh, the ‘roo started reading over the papers.

Halfway through the first page Laura put the papers down and rubbed the spot between her ears, momentarily disarranging her shoulder-length headfur. Her head usually started to hurt whenever her explorer husband (a graduate of the University’s Exploration College as well as the Paul Revere Institute for Concatenating Knowledge, where he was a frequent guest lecturer) got an idea in his head. Despite his reputation and the accolades given to him by PRICK, George could be a bit muddled at times.

“Laura love?” George suddenly poked his head into the room.

“Yes, dear?”

“Have you seen my solar topi anywhere? We’re going to need it.”

“I have it there, on the windowsill,” she said.

He bounded over, as kangaroos are sometimes wont to do, and pulled up short. “What’s with all this dirt in it?”

“Well, your mother sent those lovely flowers – it didn’t seem right to let them wither for lack of a flower pot . . .”

“Oh, very funny,” he grumbled at her as he unceremoniously dumped the contents of the pith helmet out of the open window. “Now I’ll have to clean it.”

“Just do it quietly. Robbie’s asleep. Um, George? About this lead you uncovered.”

“Yes?”

“Well, love, correct me if I’m wrong but one of these is a magazine article from Astounding Adventures Magazine.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” George said cheerfully. “Perfect cover to reveal a truth by hiding it in a fiction magazine, right?”

Laura sighed. When George got an idea in his head there wasn’t enough gelignite in the world to shift it. “Skippy,” she said patiently, using his nickname, “do you think it’s really wise to go pranging about the Pacific looking for a mythical kingdom that by all rights should be in Africa? Where is this ‘lead’ supposed to be, anyway?”

“Place called Gull Island,” he called out from the bedroom. There was a sound of suitcases being stuffed. “Again, a classic piece of deception.”

“Is it?”

“Sure, love! Any fool can see it – you run the words together and it becomes ‘GullAYEland,’” he said, stressing the second syllable. “And as everyone knows, an aye-aye is a type of lemur.”

Laura decided to let his implied assertion that she was a fool pass. She’d get back at him later for it, before letting him go to sleep.

She held a degree in Business and was in charge of the family’s money, after all. Under her watchful eye they didn’t have to worry about being thrown into the street. Little Robbie’s future education was being secured despite his father’s occasional manic dashes to other countries.

Being thrown out of the University faculty for willfully allowing her husband to be an idiot was another matter. Losing tenure was something she didn’t want to have happen.

With a sigh, Laura put aside the sheaf of papers and got up to help George pack.

***

The University’s College of Exploration was a small but prestigious part of the school. Applicants from several parts of the British Empire and the rest of the world vied for the few open student positions.

George’s classes were usually accounted an easy grade, as the kangaroo was easily distracted – although oddly enough, he was never distracted by a young femme’s charms, no matter how much or how blatantly she displayed them.

Laura approached the head of the college the next morning, and explained George’s plan.

Dr. John Eidelberger sighed when she finished. “You mean to tell me,” the ratel said wearily as he tossed his eyeglasses onto the desk, “that George wants to go leaping off when he’s already scheduled for classes this term? Yakimoto!” he shouted, and his Akita assistant looked around the half-open door. “How many classes is George Patagarang scheduled for?”

“Hee, Yakimoto t’ink George havee thlee crasses, Doctah Eiderbelgah,” the canine replied, squinting through his glasses.

“Dammit, Yakimoto! Will you stop talking pidgin?” Eidelberger snapped. “You and I both went to Oxford.”

“Sorry, mate,” the Akita said cheerfully. “We have a bunch of Americans coming through next week, so I decided to practice.”

“Practice somewhere else then,” the badger said grumpily. “Look, Laura, George’s got thlee – er, three classes – and we don’t have time to find a substitute before the end of term.”

“John, you know when he gets these ideas he just aches to go and look,” Laura said patiently. “What about Grayson? These classes are usually right up his street – like George, his specialty is finding lost civilizations.”

“True, but Grayson’s in New Guinea.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“Probably no good,” the ratel said. “He’s trying to make contact with the Ayon tribesmen and record their myths.”

“The Ayon?” Her brows knitted in thought and she abruptly raised her ears in shock. “Those are cannibals!”

“Too right. I only hope he’s not one for the pot by now.” Eidelberger glanced at a term paper on his desk. “Hmm. An Examination of Traditional Theories of the Atlantis Myth.” He scrawled ‘What a load of rubbish’ across the title page and dumped it into his OUT box. “Insolent puppy, that Farmer – hasn’t kept up on the literature. We found Atlantis two years ago.”

Laura nodded. “Whoever would have thought it’d be in England all this time.”

“East Finchley will never be the same,” Eidelberger agreed. The two paused to reflect on the adventure that had sent half of the college’s faculty to the mother country that chill winter.

“The problem is that George’s got three more classes – tell you what,” Laura said as she snapped her fingers. “We’ll do the classes all at once.”

The ratel blinked up at her. “What? Combine the three classes into one?” He thought it over and tapped his claws on the desk. “Might take some doing, but it’s possible. Think George will go along with it?”

“Never doubt the persuasive powers of a doe,” Laura replied with a cryptic smile.

***

“What the hell do you mean, ‘No?’” Laura demanded that evening after she got home. “Skippy!”

She said it her mate’s receding back again. George had apparently skipped out of doing his afternoon seminar (‘Contemporary Jungle Survival Techniques’) and had packed their tropical kit, up to and including the still and movie cameras. It made a surprisingly large pile in the middle of the living room floor.

Her heart sank. Lugging all that gear was a chore, even though it made for great muscle definition and could give her an edge in a fight. The University’s School of Business was renowned for bare-knuckle capitalist theories.

Papers on the dining room table indicated that the power was being cut off, along with the water and mail service. A stack of sealed envelopes sat near the papers, addressed to various friends, relatives, scientific organizations and magazines.

Laura estimated that George had spent nearly two pounds on stamps alone.

A small ledger in the back of her head scrawled a figure in red ink.

“I said No, Laura,” George said from the bathroom.

“You can’t back out, you slacktailed boomer. John’s told me that if you bow out now, you can forget any funding and you can definitely forget coming back this time.”

He frowned at her. “John would never do that!”

“Care to bet on that? Besides, he’s got the trustees on his side, along with Barry.”

George blinked. “Barry?”

“Yes. The head of PRICK himself. The Institute’s backing the College on this one, George – either you do this seminar or you get no funding.” She tapped a foot. “Ever again.” She started going through the outgoing mail and looked up at him when she finished examining the pile. “Oh, and another thing.”

“What?” he asked in a surly tone.

“I don’t see anything here about a babysitter for Robbie.”

“Robbie? I thought we could take him with us. Get started on a family tradition, you know – “

“He’s not even two yet!”

“Nothing like starting a joey out early,” he said, huffing a snort through his nostrils. “My old Dad used to take me camping up in the Blue Mountains when I was still a babe in pouch.”

“I know. Your Dad was a philosopher.”

“So? He knew the outdoors too.”

Laura suppressed the idea of asking him how many bushfires got started as a result of his family camping trips, and asked instead, “Who do you think we should have look after Robbie?”

Her quiet tone of voice brought her mate up short and he thought it over. “My Mum?”

“Your Mum spends all her time at the bingo.”

“Your folks, then.”

“You know Father’s been in hospital. Mum’s taking care of him.” She looked at him, eyes narrowed. “We could talk to my sister.”

Now it was George’s turn to frown. “Doris? Never.”

“Why the hell not? She’s got two kids of her own, near Robbie’s age – “

“She doesn’t like me.”

Laura let this pass. “Look, you do this my way, George. You have a seminar to give, and I’ll talk to Doris. After the end of term, we go.”

“And if I say no?”

“Then I go home to Mother, with Robbie, and you can lug all that stuff on your own.” She left the implicit threat hanging, forcing him to think it over.

Finally his tail hit the floor and he threw up his paws. “Fine!” He stomped out of the room, and Laura smiled.

Never underestimate the persuasive power of a doe.

1 Comments:

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