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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer

Chapter 165

Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck
© 2010 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber.  Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and related characters courtesy of E.O. Costello.  Thanks!)

Chapter One-hundred-sixty-five

        A series of telegrams were sent from Krupmark Island over the next few days.  Surprisingly, the telegrams had nothing to do with the usual business of the Ni Family, but were just as carefully worded.
        Their destinations were varied – Wangchung, Hong Kong and Nanking.


        It was raining again as Red Dorm and the rest of the third year students awakened.  Hurriedly they packed up their cold-weather gear and makeshift shelters, filled in the holes in the hillside and stumbled down to the school to get cleaned up and have breakfast.
        Shin felt a bit better this morning.  It had rained during the night but she had, amazingly, stayed dry.  The oiled weatherproofing on her odd combination sleeping bag and raincoat was holding up, and she no longer felt like a tramp as she burrowed into its musty confines. 
        The rest of her dorm were also looking rather warmer and drier as they packed the assortment of found items and jury-rigged equipment away and stripped for the short showers that were all the opportunity they had to get clean.  The twenty-hour days were beginning to take a definite toll as they moved into their fourth week of the accelerated schedule.
        By now, days were blurring together, and at one point Liberty had lost track.  Correcting her had been a struggle, especially as she still insisted on adhering to New Haven’s one hundred hour clock. 
        Shin finished toweling off and looked at her face in the mirror.  Her eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep, and she was quite beyond feeling merely tired. 
        Her only consolation was that the others were in similar straits.  Liberty barely had the energy to spare to growl at Tatiana anymore, while the Russian sable could only muster a light curse in Russian in return.  Brigit was muttering in Gaelic, her usual high spirits hammered flat by the grueling pace.
        The quartet headed downstairs for breakfast, washed, groomed and dressed in clean uniforms as befitted their status as third-year students.  The other third-years snickered, while the lower forms merely looked blankly and a few whispered to each other.  Shin’s ear flicked.
        She caught part of one conversation between two first year students, a vixen from the American South named Elena Heath and Alice Cosgrove, a goose from Canada.  The conversation could be summed up as Heath whispered to Cosgrove, “My Lord, I hope they don’t do that to us.”
        Shin wouldn’t have wished this on her worst enemy.
        Well, maybe a bit.
        Just long enough to have her enemy beg to be killed by her.  It was, after all, quite possible to kill someone by keeping them awake until their heart stopped. 
        She had never seen it done, only heard of it.
        Hot mashed breadfruit and milk constituted breakfast, and all four tucked into it ravenously.
        “Which of you is in charge of your dorm today?”  All four looked up to see Miss Blande looking down at them.
        “Um . . . “
        “I think I am, Ma’am,” Brigit said.  She started to stand up, but the feline waved for her to sit.
        “You four are now into your fourth week.  So far, you are performing adequately.”  They knew better than to feel cheered by this; adequate was nowhere near the same as satisfactory.  “As you know, you and the rest of your class are leaving next week, so we have decided to give you a weekend pass in order to rest and get your equipment ready.  I suggest – strongly suggest – that you put the time you are given to good use.”  She walked off.
        Brigit sat back and Liberty said, “At least we have something to look forward to.”
        “Da,” Tatiana said.  “Rock climbing today.”
        Shin nodded.


        “You’re having an idea,” Nailani said over breakfast.
        Her husband grinned up at her.  “Am I?”
        “Oh yes.  I know that look, Peng-wum.  Last night you thought of something, and I can hear the wheels turning from here.”  She flicked one of her lepine ears with a finger and laughed.
        He laughed with her and beckoned her to come closer.  When she drew near he pulled her into his lap, kissing her as they hugged.  “Well, I do have one or two little notions,” he admitted, rolling his eyes as she giggled.  “What’s important is what I find out when I get to work.”
        “Should I hold dinner?”
        “Oh, I don’t think so.  I don’t think I’ll get arrested until he’s absolutely certain.”
        “Hmm.  There’s a solution to that.”
        Peng-wum wagged a finger, and chuckled as she tried to bite him.  “Now, now, none of that, love.  Stagg may be tiresome, but he has his uses.”
        “Careful.  You’ll get another spanking.”
        Nailani touched noses with her husband.  “Promises, promises.”
        By lunchtime, Peng-wum knew exactly what Franklin Stagg knew about the pirated freighter.
        It wasn’t much.
        K’mala had been killed quietly when Hao was off the ship talking to Loose Mary Waimea.  Peng-wum frowned; K’mala had been a good man, and he’d be missed.  But what he’d known had died with him, so the pirates hadn’t been able to sell what he knew.
        Several minor routes and drop points had been revealed by the Malay crew under questioning, notably a drug transit point at Skeleton Cay.  The Ni Family used that islet, as did a few other free-lance concerns.  Some changes, then, were required to avoid damaging business.
        Well, most routes changed.  It was good exercise for both sides.
        He couldn’t do it himself, naturally.  His father had the ledger showing all of the Family’s operations, and in this case Krupmark was safer than Spontoon.  The operation couldn’t be compromised by anything so crass as a search warrant or snooping constable.
        Peng-wum picked up the phone, then just as quickly replaced the pawset.
        He smiled, realizing that Stagg may have had the line tapped already.  Trying to stay more than two steps ahead of the whitetail buck was proving to be a challenge. 
        So it transpired that when one of his clerks went to lunch on Casino Island, he took a particular water taxi.  The driver of the taxi paused to visit a small restaurant on her break where she had a short conversation with the shop’s proprietor about the menu items and the freshness of the tuna.
        The diner’s proprietor filled a take-out order a bit later in the afternoon, his young son delivering the meal to the United North Pacific telegraph offices.






        “Seen th’ Inspector, Ciss?” Sergeant Brush asked as he entered the Detective Bureau offices the next morning.  He had stopped by Nerzmann’s Book Store, only to find that Stagg wasn’t there.
        He had been at Luchow’s, but had left there as well.  The fox had paused to get a fresh cup of coffee before following him.
        Ciss Lopp smiled up at him, her long ears twitching.  “He came in early, Orrin.  He went upstairs to have a talk with Chief Sapper.”
        “Oh?  Ennythin’ goin’ on?”
        The rabbit shrugged.  “Your guess is as good as mine.  You know how the Inspector likes to play things close.”
        “Heh.  Any closer’n he’d be behind himself.”  Brush grinned as the secretary giggled and he went into the inner office, took his newspaper from under his arm and started reading the sports page as he sat down.
        By the time he’d finished with the sports and started reading the comics he heard the tell-tale tap of a cane and his boss’ limping hoofsteps.  He laid the paper aside as Stagg came in and said, “’Mornin’, Sir.”
        “Good Morning, Sergeant,” Inspector Stagg said.  He took his seat and glanced at the morning report on his desk.  “Miss Lopp is being her usual efficient self,” he remarked while he read the report.  There wasn’t much on it today, as there were few tourists and the slowly worsening weather served to throw a wet blanket over much of the crime in the atoll.
        Of course, that made it precisely the time someone would try something.
        Brush took a sip of his coffee and Stagg flicked an ear.  “I apologize for not meeting you at the usual time this morning, Sergeant.”
        “It’s okeh, Sir.  Kinda threw me, though – you were up pretty early.”
        “I had to speak with Chief Sapper as soon as he came in.”
        “What about, Sir?”
        Stagg regarded the fox.
        One corner of his mouth quirked upward. 
        “’Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous . . . ‘“

ending this section "Dealing a Cold Deck"
Luck of the Dragon: "Hedging Bets"