Luck of the Dragon: Hobson's Choice© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
“Inspector Stagg: Enclosed please find reports written by Red Dorm regarding the shooting incident. Please respond by return of messenger. Catherine Devinski.”
Minutes dragged by as the whitetail buck read over the paperwork, reducing Shin to doing tai chi exercises in her head. He glanced up at her, then at the clock, and wrote a short note. Placing the note in an envelope and sealing it, he held it out to Shin and said, “Please take this back to Miss Devinski, Mrs. Wo.”
The red panda forced a smile. “Yes, Inspector. Will that be all?” It was one-thirty.
“Just one more thing. Your older brother tells me that all of the members of your family are unharmed by this . . . unpleasantness. Now, you are dismissed.”
Shin froze, whether in relief or terror she wasn’t sure which.
For a fleeting split second, she had almost wanted to hug this policeman.
“Thank you, Inspector,” and she left the room, trying not to break and run for it.
As the door closed behind her, Sergeant Brush asked, “What was that all about, sir?”
“It seems that the Songmark staff has a sense of humor regarding assignments they give to their students,” and he passed the reports to Brush.
The fox read them over quickly and asked, “You don’t believe any of it?”
Stagg steepled his fingers. “What I believe has no bearing,” he said in his usual quiet voice. “It’s what I can prove that concerns me. The Nis are extremely clever furs, and they cover their tracks extraordinarily well,” he remarked, recalling what he’d said to Rosie about ‘sophisticated court intrigues.’ “It will take a great deal of work in order to catch any of them doing something demonstrably illegal.” He looked up to see Brush looking at him. “Yes, Sergeant?”
“Well, sir, one o’ these reports is from that Morgenstern girl.”
“Are you asking me if my perceptions are being clouded by what her father and his associates did, Sergeant?”
The silence spoke for itself, and Stagg gave a tight smile. “All her report shows is that young Miss Morgenstern has a rather incisive method of questioning. If things had turned out differently, she might have made a good lawyer.”
The family was all right.
Fang was all right.
If Stagg was telling the truth.
Shin sang Hard-Hearted Hannah all the way back to Songmark, submitted to a search at the gate, and knocked on Miss Devinski’s door at almost two minutes to two.
“Come in.” The canine woman looked up as Shin entered. “A bit early, Shin,” she said, “but you carried out your instructions well. Do I have a response from Inspector Stagg?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She placed the still-sealed envelope on the desk.
Miss Devinski slit the envelope open and read the note. “What class are you in right now?” she asked.
“Study hall, ma’am. For term finals.”
“Get your books and go, then. You need the study time.”
As the door closed behind the red panda, the blonde Labrador reread the note:
“You seem to have more faith in their integrity than I do. Regards, FJS.”
“So, did you learn anything?”
Tatiana didn’t say anything aloud; Shin had taught her three dorm mates the basics of the nonverbal code she used for some business activities.
Just the basics.
No sense in giving away the entire code, particularly the important bits.
The way Shin held her head as she studied her aerodynamics textbook signaled negation. “No, only that my family’s safe.”
“Good,” Brigit said.
Liberty’s fingertip flicked at a corner of one page on her textbook. The gesture meant dissatisfaction with the way things were going, and was her way of redirecting the rest of the dorm’s attention to their work.
The others went back to their lessons and their voluminous notes. The aerodynamics exam promised to be hideously difficult.
"Madam Baader!" The young mixed-breed kangaroo girl exclaimed, her skunk-striped tail thrashing as her owner reached the top of the stairs. Sounds of mayhem punctuated by a woman's screams came from behind a locked door. "I don't know what he's doing, but it sounds like he’s really beatin’ her up."
"I vill handle it, Frieda." The aging sheep coughed for several moments, then knocked on the door. "Hao? It is I. Open this door."
The sounds stopped, but there was no reply.
The madam of the Black Sheep House frowned. "Do you wish I fetch Tien to rip door off its hinges? Again?"
She waited, and the door unlocked and swung open, revealing Hao standing in the doorway. He held a leather paddle in one paw and was dressed in only his boxer shorts. A slim feline dressed only in her fur cowered in a corner by the bed.
"Anh, are you well?" Baader asked, getting a shaky nod from the Annamese girl.
"I didn't even touch her," Hao said in a sulky tone.
"Frieda, take Anh out of here. The rest of you, go." The gawkers went about their business, while the kangaroo escorted the still-trembling feline out of the room.
The elderly sheep scratched at her closely-cropped wool for a moment as she studied her customer. "Ni Hao," she said quietly, "you have not behaved like this since that schreckliche Teufel Hotman. What is it?"
Hao tossed the leather paddle onto the bed and said nothing.
"Must I have Stephanie teach you another lesson?"
Hao flinched. Stephanie was a German like Madam Baader, but the wolfess was not one of the usual employees. She was the staff dominatrix, extremely good at her trade, and was rumored to be the Madam's successor when Baader finally died.
Which, based on the way the sheep smoked, was probably soon.
"No, you don't need her."
A white-fleeced eyebrow rose. "'No,' what?"
Hao closed his eyes and took a deep breath; exhaling he said, "No, ma'am."
"Better," Baader said briskly. "Come, sit here," and she patted the bed beside her as she sat down. Hao hesitated, then sat, and Baader ruffled his headfur. "Good cub. Now, tell me what is wrong this time."
An ovine paw gently touched one of the red panda's white-furred ear tufts, then grabbed the ear and twisted. As Hao winced she said, "Lie. Now tell me."
Slowly, Hao told her everything. When he was finished, Baader frowned. "I have known you several years, Hao, und this is the first time I hear that you yelled at your mother."
"That was wrong of you, you know."
"So. What will you do?" she asked while gently twisting his ear again.
"I guess I should apologize."
The pressure on his ear grew. "You guess?" The sheep raised her voice. “Stephanie!”
Hao tugged away from her grasp, wincing, and stood up while backing away from her. “I – I said that wasn’t necessary, ma’am.”
“You said. However, I feel that it is necessary,” the sheep replied as the wolfess appeared in the doorway.
Hei and Peng stood at her usual balcony in the Casino and surveyed the damage as several girls and other workers righted overturned tables and removed a few broken chairs. It had been a rather loud early morning.
Two customers, a freelance pilot and his navigator, had been playing cards all night (apparently amiably) when they had inexplicably started fighting. They had also obviously been taking something a bit stronger than alcohol, as it required all of the bouncers and a few others to break them up.
And then only because one of them was dead.
The other, beaten unconscious, had been left out in the street to take his chances.
“Four chairs were broken,” Peng said, sighing. “I believe we can find some replacements.”
“Otherwise we try our luck at the Thieves’ Bazaar,” Hei said. His eyebrows rose as Hao walked in.
Their youngest child spoke with the bartender, who pointed up at the balcony.
Peng watched as her son walked to the stairs. After a few moments there was a soft knock on the door. “Come in,” she said.
Hao stepped in, closed the door and bowed formally to his parents. “Father, Mother,” he said in Chinese, “I must apologize for my actions. I was thinking only of myself, not of your safety or the family. Please forgive me.”
Peng smiled and hugged him; he returned the embrace as his father said, “There is nothing to forgive, my son. You can’t be blamed for thinking of yourself. Marriage is a very big step, Hao – and your mother and I both know how much you hate being pushed into anything.”
“Thank you, Father.”
Peng kissed her son’s cheek. “Come, have a seat and take some tea with us, Hao. Afterward, your father has another trip in mind – of course, if you feel up to it.”
“Thank you, Mother. My paw does feel a bit better.” Hao sat down, the expression on his face briefly revealing that he would have much preferred to remain standing.