Luck of the Dragon: Hobson's Choice© 2008 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Shin looked at the horse calculatingly as she stepped into the shade of the porch. The red panda leaned against the railing opposite him and crossed her arms over her chest. “You want to hire me? Seriously?”
Gallup looked surprised at the question. “If I wasn’t serious, I wouldn’t have made the offer,” he said in Cantonese. “Now, I see that you’re attending school.”
“Yes,” she replied in the same dialect.
He switched back to English. “When is your term over?”
“In about another month,” she replied. “Depending on circumstances, I may be able to get away for weekends.”
The equine nodded. “I’m sure we can work things out. We’ll be basically ministering to the villages southeast of here – Keelapy, Howes and the other islands. Do you know that area?”
“Not very well,” she admitted. “Only been down that way once.” She had tagged along with Hao and his crew the spring before she had started at Songmark. “I can get maps of the area though, and I’m scoring well in navigation.”
“Good,” he said with an approving nod. “We won’t be able to pay you what Fisher and Cobb paid you, but you’ll get at least the minimum that a commercial pilot gets.”
Shin nodded, her eyes going hooded as she thought. Minimum scale was exactly what she’d expect to get at the Union Hall from any business deal. And she was willing to put up with it, if only to log more hours on that plane. “Sounds like a good offer, Mr. Gallup,” she finally said, offering a paw.
“Splendid,” he said, taking the paw and shaking it. “I’ll get something written up – one of our members is a lawyer – and you’ll start after you finish up your classes, okay?”
“Some people have all th’ luck, they do,” Brigit grumbled after Shin finished telling her dorm-mates what had been going on. “Here ye go ta Cranium – an’ come back in one piece, mind – an’ get a flyin’ contract in the bargain!” The Irish setter suddenly chuckled, her tongue lolling. “Faith, it must grate on ye, Shin, ta be ferryin’ a lot o’ missionaries hither an’ yon.”
“Yeah,” the Chinese girl sighed, “and the pay’s not the best I could hope for. It’s not much of a choice – either put up with a bunch of silly missionaries, or sit outside the Union Hall - but I do get flying time, and that’ll do nothing but help if I look for a real job.”
Tatiana had merely looked disappointed when Shin had returned, and the red panda had seen her slip a few shells to Brigit.
She wasn’t offended; far from it, she looked forward to meeting a certain friend of a friend and collecting on the bet she’d placed on herself.
It was a form of insurance.
Liberty snorted. “Don’t let her fool you, Brigit. This is obviously part of grand scheme of hers to make herself rich while ferrying parasitic bourgeois to inflict their obsolete and misguided superstitions on unsuspecting primitives.” The New Havenite smirked. “And probably open up new smuggling routes for her criminal family.”
“Oh? And what are you doing this summer, Liberty?” Shin asked sweetly. It was too soon for things to escalate.
But she couldn’t help herself.
“Any Trotskyites looking for a like-minded pilot to take them around and dazzle the natives with an example of dialectic?”
The half-coyote snarled and started to reach under her bed for her Kilikiti bat.
“Now now, none o’ that,” Brigit warned. “We’ve agreed, so, that we’ll no’ be fightin’ until after th’ exams’re done. An’ don’t be thinkin’ I’m after taking one side or t’other,” she said as Tatiana moved to stand with her, “I’ve a few grievances o’ me own ta settle with all o’ ye.” She eyed the Russian, who returned her gaze calmly.
“She is right,” Tatiana said. “We have come so far, I am certain that the others are losing money betting on us.” The sable smiled slightly. “Are they using anyone you know for their betting, Shin?”
The red panda looked at her, then relaxed just a bit as the moment seemed to pass. “Not that I know of, Tatiana. I might ask, but they’re awfully close-mouthed about their clientele.”
“Sure an’ it’s not Beryl handlin’ th’ bettin’,” Brigit chuckled. “That one’ll take fifty cowries outta every shell, she will. ‘Handling charges.’”
The others chuckled at that, even Liberty giving a sour smile.
“That reminds me,” the New Havenite said suddenly. “Where are we going to do this? Certainly not here.”
“True,” Brigit said.
Shin frowned. “And nowhere in public, either. The Constabulary would love to put me in jail, at least. And maybe lock the three of you up too, just for fun.” The others looked at each other as she sat down, cupping her chin with a paw. “We’ll need to find a spot where no one can watch us.”
“That piece of beach where we were dropped by th’ third-years seemed out o’ th’ way,” Brigit commented. The Irish setter relaxed and picked up one of her textbooks.
Tatiana nodded. “That may be as good a place as any, Shin. Liberty?”
The half-coyote shrugged. “Anywhere’s fine with me.”
Hao walked out of the Ni & Sons building and paused, sniffing the air. There had been quite a few gunshots earlier, but they were safely up the hill from either the family’s building or the Casino. Now there was a smell of something burning, and a thin wisp of smoke trailed upward near Fort Bob.
There was no mistaking the smells of burning fur and flesh.
He saw the familiar shape of a lion walking down the road, and the red panda waved. “Clarence! Good morning!”
The British expatriate grinned. “Hello, Hao. Good night last night?”
Hao chuckled and stretched. “Not bad. Slept like a rock, as they say.” He sniffed again and asked, “Any idea what’s going on up the Hill?”
“Ah,” the lion said. “Well, Senor Juan Zuniga apparently felt that he had enough strength to try for bigger game.”
“Who’d he try?”
“He and his gang attacked Lars Nordstrom’s last night.”
Hao laughed. “Lost, I take it?” Since regaining full control of his organization, the deer had taken steps to consolidate his position. Of course, the Nis had matched those moves out of prudence – no telling when Nordstrom would feel himself strong enough to make a move against the Chinese family, no matter who their patron was.
“’Lost’ isn’t the word for it, I’m afraid,” Clarence said, the tuft at the tip of his tail whisking dust from his shoes. “Most of his support vanished when Lars’ boys attacked. Zuniga was taken alive, and they shot him.” A shrug. “Actually, they shot him so full of holes that there was more of him missing than accounted for. They had to cart him away in a bucket.”
“Ouch. What about that stupid bull that tagged along with him?”
“Oh, ‘Dirty’ Sanchez? He was wounded. They dragged him out into the middle of the Bazaar, doused him with petrol and set him alight.”
“So that’s what that was. I thought I smelled something like burning garbage earlier,” Hao said. Clarence headed into the office, while Hao continued on his way into the Casino for breakfast.
He got a plate of sausage and eggs from the cook and, with a mug of coffee in one paw, took a seat at the bar and started to eat. As he sipped at his coffee he glanced up at the painting covering the bar’s broken mirror.
The mug hit the bar, some of the beverage sloshing out as Hao started coughing.
Luckily Sally was walking past. She thumped her paw against his back until he stopped choking and asked, “Are ye all right, Hao? What happened?”
Once he got his breathing under control he pointed up at the portrait. “Where did that come from?”
“Oh, I bought it in the Bazaar,” the vixen replied. “We needed something to cover the mirror until it’s replaced.”
“Any idea who it is?”
She tipped her head. “No. Do you?”
He looked at the painting a bit more critically. “Hmm. Could be.”
Shin sat on a fallen palm log, looked at her watch again and swore quietly to herself. If she tried hard enough she could just make out the sound of hymns in the local dialect, but she wasn’t in the mood to try.
Watching the waves and listening to the sounds of the surf was preferable.
The Gallups had contacted her on the first of July, asking if she could fly them to the small island of Stubatoa that weekend. A consultation with the Tutors followed, and she received a pass.
But now with the sun already past noon on Sunday, she was starting to get a bit nervous. The plane was fueled and ready and the Songmark gates would be closing at sundown . . . flight time . . . weather conditions . . . Customs . . .
She grumbled another string of curses, this time in Gaelic and Russian as her banded tail swished. Although she had some leeway in the event circumstances made her late returning to the school, she didn’t want to be late.
Term was almost over; she didn’t want to do anything that might lower her or the Dorm’s grades. As it was, the others were looking forward to settling accounts with each other after their exams.
She found herself cheered by the thought of Liberty with a bloody nose.
“Shin!” The sound of her name cut through her pleasant thoughts and she turned to see young Billy waving at her. “We’re ready to go!”
“Coming,” and she stood up, brushed sand from her flying suit and joined the group.
Billy’s father shook paws with another missionary, an Anglican platypus from Adelaide, and said to Shin, “I’m sorry we kept you waiting, Shin. How did your meditation go?”
She found herself smiling (it was well-practiced). “Pretty good, William. I’ll go get the plane ready.”
“First here’s someone you should meet. This,” and he indicated the platypus, “is Father James, from Australia. Father, this is Wo Shin, our pilot.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the man said, and Shin shook paws with him.
During the flight she did what she could to maintain as straight a course as possible to save time.
The control tower at Eastern Island, however, had other plans; she found herself diverted to join a few other planes waiting to land. “Spontoon Tower, what’s the problem?” she asked.
“Some silly Yankee holiday, Two-Nine Yoke,” came the reply. “We’ll have the lane cleared as soon as we can.”
Landing and getting the plane cleared through Customs took more time, and Shin resisted the urge to start gnawing on her claws or the tip of her tail as she waited.
“Are you sure you don’t want to join us for dinner?” Esther asked.
“No, thank you,” she replied again. Her stomach was still rumbling, but she’d ignore it until she got back to her dorm.
Finally she was free to go, and she ran as fast as she could for Songmark.