Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“What’re ye doing, Shin?” Brigit asked later that night. Red Dorm was spending a few minutes before lights out going over their textbooks, and the Irish setter noticed the red panda seated by the window, gazing out. “Sure an’ ye’re not plannin’ on goin’ over th’ wire.”
Shin snorted. “No. We’re third years; we can almost come and go as we please, I guess. I’m thinking, Brigit.”
“Thought I smelled smoke,” Liberty remarked, looking up from her notebook. She tucked her pencil behind one ear and said, “Out with it, Shin. What kind of scheme are you coming up with now? Something for Crusader Dorm?”
The Chinese girl laughed softly and left the chair by the window, settling onto her bed. “No, although the pepper sauce in their underwear idea needs work.” The others sniggered as she went on, “I . . . it occurred to me, earlier this month, that I’m a – well, a liability. No, that’s the wrong word,” she amended hastily.
“I’m a target.”
Three pairs of ears perked straight up and pointed at her.
“A target?” Liberty echoed. “How?”
Shin drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them with her paws as she explained, “I was flying south to pick up those missionaries, and I started thinking about how alone I was out there. That got me thinking that I’m a target for a kidnapping or worse.”
Tatiana’s eyes gleamed as she nodded her comprehension. “And so are we, by associating with you.”
Shin nodded. “So far, we’ve all been very lucky, but we’re in our third year now. Krupmark knows about me, at any rate. I have bodyguards here on Spontoon,” and the Russian sable nodded, “but even they lose sight of me at times.”
“And if you get caught, like Procyk and Bourne-Phipps did – “
“One of you might get caught as well,” Shin said quietly.
There was a brief silence.
“So, what d’ye want to do, Shin?” Brigit asked. “Quit Songmark, with less than a year left?”
“I think,” Shin said slowly, “that we should talk to Miss Devinski or Miss Wildford about this. Tomorrow?”
“Good idea,” Liberty said. “We can use lessons like that – all of us.”
“Tomorrow it is, then.” They packed their books away and were soon asleep. Any amount of sleep was a valued commodity at the school, so rest was snatched where it could be had.
Catherine Devinski glanced at Jayne Wildford as the two listened to Shin the next day, the yellow Labrador sitting stock-still while the feline member of the staff flicked her curiously patterned tail. The other three members of Red Dorm stood behind the red panda as she outlined the problem.
Shin managed to hide her surprise when the news that she had bodyguards caused no response from either of the two older women, and then chided herself thinking that anything could get past the staff. They’d probably assumed she was under watch from the start, and operated under that assumption the whole time.
“One of the goals of Songmark,” Miss Wildford finally said, “is to enable young women such as yourselves to solve problems. No matter the problem, there is a solution to it. Do you have a solution in mind, Shin?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Shin took a breath. “My idea was that we could ask for advanced training.”
“Avoiding capture or ambush.”
The feline cocked an eye at the canine. “Lady Allworthy asked for the same training. It didn’t do her much good.”
Shin nodded, her banded tail flicking. “In my opinion, Ma’am, Amelia was hopelessly naïve.”
An eyebrow went up. “How so?”
“From what I’ve heard about it, she put too much trust in Lars and his associates. Considering her value,” and here the red panda swallowed at Wildford’s sharp glance, “she should have anticipated that someone would take the chance at grabbing her and Molly.”
“And how did you hear about it?”
“My father has someone working there, Ma’am. It’s good practice to have an ear in a competitor’s business.”
“Hmm. ‘Hopelessly naïve,’ you said. How do you propose to avoid that, Shin?”
Shin glanced back at the others.
Shin turned back to face the Tutors. “Ma’am, we all come from areas and cultures that rely on paranoia. It took a long time before we could trust each other. That can work to our advantage.”
“’Trust no one,’ eh?”
“Except each other, of course.” A claw tapped on the table as she thought for a moment. “We’ll consider your request. You will be told not later than tomorrow morning. Dismissed.” The four younger women filed out.
As soon as the door closed Devinski said, “I was wondering when she’d realize the danger she’s in.”
Wildford nodded. “And it’s surprising that she is considering how it could affect the others. I’ll wager she was tempted to sell all three to Kuo Han at the end of her first term.”
The canine’s lips curled back from her teeth. “Good thing she didn’t. So? What do you think, Jayne?”
The feline sighed. “Catherine, if I were omniscient, life would be boring as hell. And she’s right – the best possible solution is for them to get the best possible training to avoid being caught. I’ll talk to the Syndic over on Moon Island.”
“They’ll need more weapons training as well.”
“Yes, and an emphasis on killing moves and increasing their observational skills. None of them can take the chance on leaving a would-be abductor alive from now on.”
“You think that’s wise, Jayne? Mulvaney’s practically a terrorist, Wo’s a criminal, Morgenstern’s – well, she’s from New Haven, and Bryzov’s – “
“I know,” the cross-bred feline said flatly. “But we can’t afford to lose any more, Catherine, you know that.” She glanced out a window at a pile of tumbled stones between the building and the fence.
“You’re right. You know, I noticed something.”
“Shin never suggested she leave Songmark.”
Wildford grinned. “She wants to finish what she starts – and she knows that leaving won’t solve her problem.”
“So, there you have it. Will you do it?”
“If things are as you say – “
“Will you - ?”
“No. I’m not qualified. I know just the person, though, but it’ll take a week to get her here.”
The four members of Red Dorm received a summons to report to Miss Devinski’s office after supper. They knew better than to delay, so they left their improvised sleeping bags and shelters in their room and ran for the office.
Once there, they stood at attention while the Labrador surveyed them coolly. “It has been agreed that you need this extra instruction,” she said. “The course of instruction will take four weeks, and will be conducted simultaneously with your cold-weather training.” She smiled. “Any flight time that is missed as a result will be made up after the training is completed – but before your class trip to the Aleutians. Understood?”
The four younger women nodded.
“Further, you will not be expected to fail. Since you have indicated that this training is essential to your mutual survival, failing the course will not be permitted. You fail, you start it all over again until you pass. Is that understood?”
This time there was a pause before they nodded.
Devinski’s smile broadened. “Very well. You will take a water taxi over to Moon Island and report to the gate guard.” She told them the date, then added, “You will be given orders at that time. Dismissed.”
She watched them walk out, and her smile faded.
She hoped that they were doing the right thing.
The summons came to him as he was at work in his office, and it was the type of summons that couldn’t be denied or put off. After giving orders to his subordinates so that things would run smoothly in his absence, the red panda stepped out into the streets of Hong Kong and walked through the press of the crowd to a certain side street.
There he was recognized, and ushered into a small office that was part of a larger building.
Hu Renmin emerged, somewhat shaken, nearly forty-five minutes later.