Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
The sound of Maureen’s grinding teeth that afternoon was music to Brigit Mulvaney’s ears.
To set the Ulster canine’s teeth further on edge, the Irish setter added a bit more feeling to her voice as she swung into the chorus of Come Out, Ye Black and Tans:
“Oh, come out you Black and Tans,
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wives how you won medals down in Flanders
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away,
From the green and lovely lanes in Killashandra.”
The four girls, all dressed in flight suits, laughed as they headed away from the open classroom window where the first years were trying to study aerodynamics. Although it was long after Saint Patrick’s Day, the song was guaranteed to irritate at least one member of Crusader Dorm – and such an opportunity wasn’t to be overlooked.
They grinned at the ironic applause from the third years at the gate and walked to the airstrip, where their de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes waited.
The setter fell in beside Shin and asked, “So, me fine master criminal, what’s th’ plan?” She grinned to take any sting out of her words. The opportunity for a weekend off with the added incentive of putting one over on some unsuspecting dorm had appealed to all four of the girls.
The Chinese girl grinned back. “First, we assess the size of the problem, then figure out who has the right skills,” she replied. “You know, so we can divide the tasks up accordingly.”
Liberty flicked an ear. “That’s logical,” she said. “Straight out of the Songmark textbook.”
“Well, ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,’ right? And isn’t it odd that so many operations start that way?” Shin riposted sweetly. “Like revolutions and crimes.”
The New Haven girl flushed but said nothing as Red Dorm lined up to be inspected by their tutor before dispersing to preflight their aircraft.
Aerobatics were scheduled for the afternoon, and Shin relished the feel of the wind on her exposed fur and the rush of blood to her head as she pulled the plane up and over into an Immelmann turn. She glanced around and saw the other planes pulling into formation to either side of her, and saw Tatiana gesture to the left and above them.
That Spanish flying school was up in the air again, she noted; a flight of ten Dewoitine monoplanes were flying in formation and would cross their path.
Torn between outrage that the competing school should be sharing her airspace and envy that they were flying a better aircraft, Shin briefly wished for one of the Polikarpov fighters that Hao had been forced to destroy. The Soviet fighter could fly rings around the French castoffs the competing school were flying, and she smiled at the thought of having one of the girls from the Ave Argentum in her sights.
There would be time for that later – as well as for planning to make it look like a complete accident.
After the evening meal, Shin gathered the other girls together. “Okay,” she said, “I think I have things thought out enough that we can start.” She grinned. “All Songmark passes are on letterhead paper, with a watermark. In addition to Miss Devinski’s signature they have a stamped number.”
“Right,” Liberty said.
“So we need paper, a copy of her signature, and a stamp,” Tatiana said. “Brigit, do you still have that last pass?”
“Aye,” the Irish girl said. It was a rhetorical question, as Brigit was known for keeping mementoes. Even with periodic searches by the Tutors, she could manage to keep one hidden. “And I’m a fair paw at copyin’ as well.”
“Nu, so am I,” the sable added. She didn’t have to say where she got the training; the other girls either knew or suspected by now.
“Now we’ve got two forgers,” Shin said with a grin. “Let me get the paper – after all, I’m supposed to be the thief, aren’t I? – and Liberty?”
“You’re our best typist.”
The half-coyote nodded. “True. I suppose you want me to type up the passes.”
The red panda laughed. “If you don’t mind.”
“What was the phrase I heard once? ‘There, but for the grace of God,’ I think it was . . . Were our situations reversed, sir, you might find yourself on Krupmark.”
Ni Hei’s offpawed statement echoed in Rosie’s mind and inspired her subconscious as she tried to sleep that night. She curled up a bit closer to Stagg and gradually began to dream.
It was night in New Haven City, a chill night following an autumn downpour that left standing pools of water to reflect the wan light of the streetlamps. The bells of All Saints’ Cathedral had just finished chiming seven o’clock.
One puddle broke and splashed into glittering droplets as a foot landed in it, the water almost causing the running man to skid as he raced along the darkened streets. He was canine and stocky, but fear gave him the impetus to run despite the burning in his lungs.
His name (his true name, for he had several aliases) was Alvin Harrier, the fifth member of the Red Fist’s Committee of Nine.
And he was running for his life.
All the others were dead, along with their families. Harrier was determined to survive and eventually seek revenge.
But his first priority was to get the hell out of New Haven.
He had run, dodging down alleys and side streets in the rain to throw his pursuers off his trail, heading for a warehouse down by the docks. There, he knew, was a small office where he could hide, change clothes and identity (for the office was a bolthole, prepared for just such a contingency) and stow away on a ship that could land him in New York or Boston.
He almost ran past the door to the warehouse and as he doubled back he searched the street with a frantic gaze. Good; he hadn’t been followed. He slipped the lock on the door and ducked inside.
The warehouse was pitch dark, but he knew his way around, having worked for the shipping company that owned the place. After closing the door behind him he bent almost double, pulling great gulps of air into his heaving chest. The office he needed was at the far end of the building, and he shambled across the floor.
Only to stop as a single bare light bulb flared into life, the radiance dazzling him and stopping him in his tracks.
The door was blocked by a fur who sat on a deceptively delicate-looking iron filigree chair. A small matching table held a book and a glass of red wine.
The fur was a tall middle-aged whitetail buck, dressed elegantly in faultless black evening dress and white tie. His trademark walking stick, ebony with a carved silver knob, lay propped against the table. “I will wait until you have caught your breath before we engage in conversation, Mr. Harrier,” the deer said in a quiet, precise voice.
“S-Stagg?” Harrier panted. “You bastard . . . you butcher . . . “
An eyebrow quirked upward. “Bastardy is such an archaic concept. As for butcher, I suppose that one who disposes of dumb animals can be considered such.”
“You promised . . . “ the canine gasped, getting his wind back by degrees. “You promised to help us.”
Franklin Stagg’s lips curled in an ironic smile. “Promises are not moral commitments, Mr. Harrier. And I do not consider promises made to low ruffians as binding. And the Red Fist were, to a fur, quite common.”
Harrier groped into his sodden jacket and produced a pistol. He aimed the heavy revolver at the buck with a trembling paw. “At least I’ll have the satisfaction of killing you,” the canine snarled as his finger pulled back on the trigger.
The snarl faded into a blank look of terror as the hammer fell on an empty cylinder. He jerked the trigger a few more times.
Stagg sipped at the glass of wine, then placed the glass back on the table. “I seem to recall that you have only a fifth grade education, Mr. Harrier. But surely counting to at least six was part of your curriculum.” He started to get to his feet, one paw reaching for his cane. “Now . . . “
Harrier flinched, backing away one step as if contemplating running again.
A single shot rang out, echoing like thunder in the empty warehouse, and the canine staggered before falling to the floor. Blood began to pool around the body.
Stagg walked over to regard the corpse, then looked up into the shadows. “That was unnecessary.”
Stepping out of the shadows a buxom cheetah wearing a leather overcoat over a purple silk evening gown smiled as she slipped a snub-nosed revolver into her purse. “Why was it unnecessary, Franklin? He had to die.”
“I know, but that was very impetuous of you, Rosie. I wanted to kill the gentlefur, and rather slowly at that.” He gave a tiny shake of his head. “Oh, well. No use crying over spilled blood.”
The cheetah smirked and embraced him, purring as his paws strayed under her overcoat. “You never let me have any fun, Franklin.”
“Ah. Yes. Remind me to bring up the subject of fun. Later tonight, my dear, after you have had a chance to change. For now, there is a business matter to attend to.”
“That business with your brother?”
“Indeed. Prescott gets sworn in as Prime Minister in forty-five minutes,” he said, consulting his pocket watch. “Very tedious, I know, but this tiresome business involving my half-brother will only be a half-hour. Once he starts in on his speech, we can leave and return to the flat. I am, incidentally, eager to see the latest thinking from Paris on lingerie design."
“Oh yes,” Rosie said enthusiastically. “The latest shipment arrived today. Interested in seeing how I look in it?”
“Oh, I know you’ll look ravishing in it, my dear,” Stagg said. “I’m curious as to how sturdy it is.” The pair chuckled as Rosie helped Stagg into his overcoat and the two stepped out of the warehouse.
A large Packherd limousine sat by the once-empty curb, its massive engine idling as a gray-uniformed beaver stood by the door. He opened it and ushered Rosie in, then stood at attention as Stagg said, “The General Assembly building, private entrance, Carstairs. Quickly, if you please.”
“Of course, sir,” and the rodent hurried around to the driver’s seat after closing the door. The big car pulled smoothly away from the curb.
The imposing bulk of New Haven’s seat of government was lit up this night, as notables and members of the House entered to watch the head of the conservative Civic Union Party take the oath as the small republic’s new Prime Minister.
Prescott Stagg was a slightly older version of his brother, with a slight middle-aged paunch. He paced back and forth in the office behind the Speaker’s chair and paused to glare at Stagg as he walked in, trailed by his girlfriend and his oldest daughter.
“You,” Prescott grumbled. “You have a fine nerve, coming here.”