Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Songmark and related characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Stagg smiled amusedly at his older half-brother. “Come, come, Prescott. You, of all furs, should embrace the idea of family solidarity,” he said. “I’m here to watch you take your oath as Prime Minister. After all, I bought the job for you – “
“Will you be quiet about that!” the older buck said, casting an eye at the Speaker, who was busily adjusting his peruke.
“Why should I?” Franklin asked. “Everyone knows it, Prescott. In fact, I’ve just come from securing various subversive elements. With the Red Fist gone, you should be able to rule quietly.”
“You were – you did – you worked with those revolutionaries?”
“So. You did have them liquidated, then.”
“Of course.” Stagg studied his fingernails critically. “You know I loathe disorganized crime.” Rosie smothered a giggle and whispered something to Franklin’s daughter. Grace Stagg merely smirked, although her blush and lowered ears indicated that what the cheetah was telling her was not for polite company.
“Hmm, well,” Prescott said. He suddenly looked sharply at Franklin and lowered his voice. “I found something missing in my last envelope from you, Franklin.”
“Oh?” Stagg looked vaguely troubled, then brightened. “Ah, yes. There was a certain expense from a particular house on Fourth Street. I took the liberty of deducting the damages from your envelope.”
“I believe the young minkess in question had to go to New York for a very specific medical treatment.”
Prescott swallowed hard. He was ordinarily took far more care in his late night adventures.
Franklin chose that moment to rub it in. “Prescott,” he said in a low voice that scarcely concealed the undertone of venom, “the only signs of life you show are due in part to your nocturnal activities. I’ve been more than happy to gratify your perversities since it gives me a hold over you. Your wife and constituents, for example, may not appreciate seeing your name on the front page of, say, the Evening Mail.”
“He – our brother wouldn’t do that,” Prescott protested.
“It depends on what the new owner might wish, doesn’t it?” and Franklin gave the older buck a small, tight smile. Prescott stared, his mouth falling open.
Leaving his half-brother to his thoughts, Stagg walked over to his daughter and smiled as she kissed his cheek. Rosie had already gone into the House chamber to take her seat with her sons, two fine six year old boy-fawns with spotted pelts and curiously sharp feline features, and their nanny.
“Grace,” he said, “so wonderful to see you. How are things at Collegiate?”
Grace Stagg smiled. “My law classes are going well, Da,” she said, “and I should graduate to become the family’s consigliere this summer.”
Stagg frowned slightly. “There’s no need for that term, my dear. We are not Italians, after all. You,” and he gently kissed her cheek, “will be a director – a term whose cheerful blandness disguises much that is spicy.”
His daughter chuckled as he led her into the House, and took the seats reserved for them beside his wife Diana and their two younger daughters . . .
The cheetah awoke gasping. She clutched at Stagg’s arms and looked around wildly as he leaned over her on the bed. Sunlight streamed through the windows of their second-floor room at Luchow’s, and slowly Rosie started to get her breath back. “Are you all right, beloved?” Stagg asked solicitously. “It seems I’m not the only one prone to nightmares.”
“Oh, Franklin . . . I’m okay, I think.” Her expression as she looked up at him was a mixture of equal parts desire and fear.
Stagg studied her face for a moment further, then nodded. One paw gently stroked her ears as he said, “I’ll fetch some water for both of us.”
Rosie watched him stand up, comforted that it had only been a dream. She curled up on her side, grumbling softly about people who lived on Krupmark.
“This won’t be easy,” Shin muttered to herself as she made final preparations, pulling a black cloth mask over her face to hide her distinctive white facial patches. The rest of Red Dorm watched as she finished dressing in the dim light coming in the window.
The red panda was costumed in tight-fitting black, the cuffs at wrist and ankle sealed with strips of black cloth. The costume had been smuggled in and carefully hidden nearly six months earlier, and would be destroyed as soon as she was done with it. A set of carefully-made lock picks made from slivers of bamboo and the occasional metal paper clip rested in her belt, and even her tail was well-wrapped in black. It would decrease the chance of leaving a stray hair behind, as well as disguising her a bit.
She briefly thought about wearing socks or slippers, but dismissed the extra equipment. Better to trust to bare feet, and the black cloth she wore blended seamlessly with the black fur on her paws.
Finally she finished her preparations and whispered, “Ready.” Tatiana eased aside the door and peered out, then stood aside as Shin slipped out of the room.
Her first obstacle was the staircase. Several of the steps had been adjusted so that they creaked, which made them very effective burglar alarms – and there was no sense in waking up the other dorms. And going out the window was not an option; the guard dogs were out, and the third years would be watching for anything out of the ordinary.
Like a black figure silhouetted against a whitewashed wall.
A thought hit her, and after testing the staircase railings she used one to descend to the first floor and slid into a hallway, keeping to the shadows as much as possible.
This was much harder than the tactics she’d used when she and Fang killed General Won two years earlier. To begin with, she knew that Miss Devinski would be ready for anything, while Won had been very sure that his troops or his reputation would protect him. It had been a very straightforward matter to track him down.
His self-confidence had cost the feline his head.
Shin closed her eyes briefly and reminded herself to stay focused on the task at paw. The building was quiet, except for the occasional sound of snores coming from the various dorms upstairs as people tried to sleep. The red panda spared herself a smile as she recalled her own first year, starting a term late and desperately trying to catch up to the others.
It had taken a great deal of effort, but she had finally caught up with the rest of Red Dorm and, in her own obviously biased opinion, was well ahead of all the other second year students. One more year, and she would (hopefully) graduate.
That last year promised to be worse than the previous two combined, if the looks on the third years’ faces just before Christmas were any indication. Shin slid across the floor, keeping to the shadows and determined to do better than the year that would graduate in two short months.
Miss Devinski’s office was mere feet away, and she stopped to examine the objective from a distance. There was no sign of trip wires or loose floorboards on the approaches to the door, and there were none of the tell-tale signs that the door was rigged in any way.
The red panda drew her knees up under her, coming to a kneeling position as she considered. Miss Devinski was no fool.
But why should she leave her office unguarded?
Shin shuffled forward cautiously. Had her tail not been wrapped so tightly, it would have bottled out by now as she meticulously surveyed the door and its frame. Again, there was nothing to see, and she then studied the lock as her paws slipped two metal picks from her belt.
Repositioning herself so that she could bolt back the way she came if necessary, Shin touched one pick to the lock and brought the other in close to its tip. No spark, so the lock wasn’t wired to the building’s mains. She slid the lock picks in deeper, starting to feel out the wards.
There was a soft click as the door unlocked, and the red panda froze, ears flicking to detect if the soft sound had awakened anyone. After several moments she placed a gloved paw on the doorknob and turned it.
She eased the door open carefully, one tiny fraction of an inch at a time while she looked for any wires. Okay, little thief, she thought, what do you make of this?
People had accused her of being a thief and a criminal, and to tell the truth she had been good at it even before she came to Songmark. The past two years had helped to hone her skills but she continued to surprise the tutors by being as scrupulously honest as possible.
People still called her a thief, however.
Fair enough; she would be true to herself, then.
The office was unoccupied and dark, and still she couldn’t find any sign of traps or alarms. The knowledge didn’t make her relax a bit – in fact, it set her even further on edge.
A quick check of the desk showed that none of the drawers were locked, either.
By now, all of her fur was pushing against the black clothing she wore, trying its damnedest to stand on end.
She gathered up enough sheets of the required paper to make three passes for each of them and started to edge out of the room. As she reached the doorway she paused, staying as motionless as possible.
Coming down the hall.
Shin eased the door closed, slipping the lock so that it wouldn’t make any tell-tale sounds, and stayed as small as possible as a shadow moved through the thin slot of light that shone under the door. The shadow paused momentarily and the red panda held her breath until it moved on.
She found herself thinking with all her might: I’m not here, no-one here, you can’t see me...
After listening intently she eased the door open and peered out, finding no sign of anyone. Shin sniffed the air before gently closing and relocking the door.
She retraced her steps until she found herself at the door to her dorm where she signaled Tatiana by lightly tapping on the wood with her claws in a predetermined sequence. The door opened, and she slipped in.
“You were gone long enough,” Liberty whispered harshly. “What happened?”
“It went well,” Shin said breathlessly as she rapidly removed the wrappings and clothing she had worn. The paper she had taken was carefully stowed within a pile of notepaper in the bureau drawer that was hers. Her clothes were treated with equal care, folded in with and concealed by her other clothes. They would be destroyed later; chopped up into tiny pieces and disposed of.
Brigit asked, “Were there any burglar alarms?”
“No,” Shin replied, and the others were shocked to hear the fear in her voice.
“How much did she get?”
“Twelve sheets. I have to admit that I’m surprised.”
“She’s really quite determined – I don’t know of many girls who’d continue after finding out there were no alarms on the office.”
“Well, she does have some motivation.”
“True. But you have to admit that, knowing what a second year knows – or suspects – about us, she mastered her fear of failing quite well.”
“No question of that. Now what?”
“We see if they can deliver a finished team project by Saturday morning.”
“Fine. I’m going to bed. The first years are up early tomorrow.”