Luck of the Dragon: Hobson's Choice© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Here’s th’ report from Moon Island, sir,” Brush said the next morning, laying a short memorandum on his superior’s desk. “Th’ bullet I dug outta th’ tree matches what th’ guy had in his gun.”
“Hmm.” The whitetail buck studied the report carefully, then passed another, slightly larger memo to his vulpine sergeant. “Doctor Meffit has rendered his professional opinion as well. Our friend died of simple asphyxiation, and his death was self-inflicted. An incident similar to one death at New Haven’s Central Prison many years ago, if memory serves.” He looked up at Brush. “You look like you have some news, Sergeant.”
“Yessir. I got th’ word from onea th’ constables on Main that Wo’s older brudder had a knife thrown at him. Him an’ his family’re okay.”
Stagg frowned. While Main Island was off-limits to Euros under most circumstances, there was no way to keep a determined fur from getting to the place – as the Catto case earlier in the year had proved. “Why isn’t the man in custody?”
Brush looked sheepish and rubbed the back of his head with one paw. “Yes, Sergeant?”
“Well, sir, see, it’s like this – Ni married inta th’ Mahoku clan, way out on the west end o’ th’ island. Constables’re kinda few an’ far between out there most o’ th’ time, an’ folk there has a way o’ takin’ matters inta their own paws when family’s involved.” He caught the look in the older buck’s eyes and sat down at his desk. “Th’ constables are keepin’ an eye out for any more. An’ it seems that Ni visited a friend o’ his – ‘business associate’ – on Casino yesterday.”
Stagg nodded, his eyelids dropping as he thought. Finally he said, “Sergeant, I’d like you to take a water taxi over to Main, and ask Mr. Ni if he would like to come talk to me. It may be that he has learned something, and I would appreciate more information.”
“I’ll get right over, sir,” and Brush left the office.
Stagg tapped his fingernails against the two reports, thinking over what Brush had told him. The apparent vigilante justice in the remoter parts of the Spontoons disturbed him.
“Our reports, ma’am.” Brigit, the leader of Red Dorm for the day, stepped forward and gave Miss Cardroy the two reports, then stepped back in line with the other three young women. All four stood quietly as the older feline woman pored over their work.
Finally the older woman looked up. “They are adequate,” she announced. “You may go. I believe you are all flying this morning.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Irish setter said, and the younger women left the office.
After a few minutes Miss Cardroy smiled as Miss Devinski walked in. She handed the reports over to the only canine member of Songmark’s staff and said, “They really went through the incident with a fine-toothed comb.”
“So I see.” Devinski read over the portion of Liberty’s questioning and chuckled. “Our little girl from the Worker’s Paradise of New Haven’s really quite good at questioning people, isn’t she?”
“She’s the Daughter of the Revolution, remember. ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.’”
Both women laughed.
Ni Hei and his wife looked up from their meal (technically her supper and his breakfast) as Hao walked into the room, yawning widely. “Good Morning, Father, Mother,” he said, and kissed Peng’s cheek before sitting down at the table and helping himself. “I guess I overslept.”
“Nonsense, it’s only eight,” his father said. “Feeling better?”
“Quite a bit better, thank you Father. Now, what was this about a deal for an alliance?”
“Glad you remembered,” Hei said as he pushed his bowl away and placed his paws on the table. “The Jade Phoenix has been in contact with the Red Talons. They realize now that your killing Lee was in self-defense, and they want to smooth things over.
“However, they heard that an alliance is being planned between the Red Talons and the Black Dragon Tong in Hong Kong, and they want to be part of it. Jade Phoenix would stand to gain by having two powerful groups at their back.”
Hao nodded as he ate his breakfast. The rice, sausage and fried egg had been seasoned lightly, and it tasted great. “Something tells me it’s not that simple, is it, Father?”
“No, it’s not. You are a member of the Red Talons.”
And the Hu Family are affiliated with the Black Dragon.”
“Right.” Hao kept eating for another moment, then his eyes went wide and his chopsticks fairly flew out of his paws.
“Something wrong, dear?” Peng asked in a nonchalant tone.
Their youngest son swallowed what he was eating, then took a sip of his tea before saying, “Let me get this straight. In order to stop all this, I have to get married? I thought I had the opportunity to refuse if - ”
“It’s the only way, Hao,” Hei said evenly.
“Oh, that’s just great,” Hao said disgustedly. He shoved back from the table and stood up, his paws clenching. “So, in order to stop a Tong war, I have to get married to someone I’ve never seen before.” He paused to massage his left paw; clenching it had tugged at the sutures. “A girl – Mother, I’ve only seen one picture of her!”
Hei raised an eyebrow, and Hao rounded on him. “This is nothing but a business deal for you, isn’t it Father? Neither of you are showing me any consideration! For all I know, she’s probably ten times my weight and three times as old as me!”
“No, it’s not just a business deal, Hao,” Hei said patiently. “Your mother and I – “
“Gah!” With an irritated wave of his paws Hao left the room, slamming the door behind him.
His parents sat there in silence for several moments before Peng asked, “That went well, didn’t it?”
“Better than I hoped,” Hei said with a chuckle. “I was afraid for a second that he’d start shooting.” He cocked an ear at the sound of a door slamming. “I wonder where he’ll go. Up into town, do you think?”
Peng shook her head and gave her mate a demure smile. “I know exactly where he’s going.”
He caught the look and chuckled. “Ah.”
Of all the dirty, under-pawed tricks . . . I bet she’s ugly enough to sink a damn ocean liner . . . and all Father can think about . . .
Ni Hao paused in the middle of the road leading down to the Beach and sighed, feeling the anger drain out of him and leaving a residue of resentment. He was wrong; he knew his parents had his best interests at heart. And everyone was telling him that Hu Xiu was actually quite attractive.
Well, he’d have to see her for himself.
“That’s good business sense, too,” he murmured. Squaring his shoulders he resumed walking to the Black Sheep House. The resentment was still there, but some time with Madam Baader and her girls would allow him to manage it.
Inspector Stagg sat back and looked up as the office door opened and Ni Peng-wum walked in, followed by Sergeant Brush. “I was told that you wanted to see me, Inspector,” the red panda said. He gestured at himself with a paw and added, “Please excuse my appearance.”
The oldest Ni child was dressed in a pair of shorts and a loose-fitting shirt, with soft-sided shoes on his feet. Brush had obviously caught him at work; there was quite a bit of dirt on the clothes as well as his paws.
“Just a few questions, Mr. Ni,” Stagg said, “regarding the attack on you. I am very interested in what happened and why.”
“Of course,” and Peng-wum told him and Brush everything that he had learned, from Lee Lo-sung’s attempt on Hao’s life to the steps being taken to stop things before hostilities flared into open warfare.
He did leave out a few things, like why Hao and Lee had come to blows. There was no need in telling the policeman about the family’s ties with the American Mafia.
When he was finished, the whitetail buck studied his notes, adding a word or two before asking, “And this arrangement is designed to satisfy all parties? How . . . Shakespearean.”
Peng-wum smiled. “Yes, sir.”
“Yer brudder know ‘bout this?” Brush asked skeptically.
“I expect he’s learned of it by now. My parents wouldn’t keep this from him.”
The heavyset fox chuckled. “I’d love ta be th’ fly on th’ wall fer that,” he said, and to his surprise Peng-wum laughed along with him.
“So would I, Sergeant,” the Chinese man said. “Inspector,” he asked, “have I answered your questions?”
“For now, Mr. Ni. Other questions may need answers as they arise.” Like how the various enterprises on Krupmark managed to communicate so easily with Spontoon. The old ciphers had been compromised, so communications from the radio were no longer safe.
As usual in the island nation, there was much more going on than met the eye.
Another question was why Peng-wum was being so forthcoming.
“By the way, how are your parents?”
“They survived the attack on them,” Peng-wum replied. “There was only minor property damage.”
Stagg nodded. “Sergeant, please take Mr. Ni back to Pangai.”
Peng-wum showed no sign that he was perturbed in the slightest by the fact that Stagg knew where he lived. “With respect, sir, I will find my own way home,” and after bowing formally to both detectives he left the office.
“D’yez think we can trust him, sir?”
“As far as it goes, he answered all my questions,” Stagg replied, scratching at an antler.
“Shin? Come here, please.” The red panda broke into a run and stopped a few feet from Miss Blande. She and the others had just gotten out of their flying suits, leaving the work of cleaning the clothing to a group of first years who had the detail and clearly resented it. “I have something for you to deliver,” and the tutor gave her a sealed brown envelope.
Shin turned it over in her paws and froze at the sight of the address. She looked up at the older woman as Miss Blande added, “You are to deliver this into the paws of the person it’s addressed to, seals intact. Do not try to open it. Answer all questions put to you truthfully, and be back here before two o’clock. Is that clearly understood?”
“Clearly, ma’am,” and Shin ran for the water taxis.
The trip from Eastern to Meeting Island didn’t take very long, and neither did the short walk to the Constabulary headquarters. But as she entered the building she felt like her feet were trying to drag her away.
Fang hadn’t left her a message yet, and she was worried about him.
And she didn’t have enough time to go to South Island and see for herself that he was all right.
She put on her best smile and smoothed out her Songmark everyday uniform of canvas shorts and cotton shirt before walking up to the desk sergeant. “Is Inspector Stagg in?” she asked. “I have a message for him.”
“I’ll call his office. Wait here, Miss.” The sergeant spoke softly into his phone while Shin studied the ‘Wanted’ posters on the far wall. At times she would smile as she noted an acquaintance or two from Krupmark.
After a few moments the desk sergeant said, “You can go on back, Miss. I’m told you know the way.”
“Thanks.” She set off down the hallway.
New door, better décor and paint. Things were looking up for Old Chap-jong and his fluffy pal. She knocked politely, aware of the passage of time and carefully restraining herself from using her fist.
“Come in, Mrs. Wo,” and Stagg opened the door for her. Behind him a young rabbit femme was penciling notes on a typewritten memo. “Please come with me,” and he led her into his office.
“Well, if it ain’t Miss Victim,” Brush sneered. He looked amused to see her there, although his paws flexed as if they yearned for the comforting heft of his blackjack.
“Sergeant,” she said simply. “Inspector Stagg, Miss Blande asked me to deliver this to you, and to return to Songmark by two o’clock.”
“Hmm. I see it’s sealed.” He shot a sharp glance at her, no doubt recalling another sealed envelope conveyed to him by her last January. “The seal’s unbroken.”
“Yes. I was told not to try to open it.”
“I recall your testimony to the Attorney General. So,” and with that the buck opened the envelope.