Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
The next day for the third years was, for the usual Songmark student, a return to normalcy.
Which meant that they were rousted out of bed before the sun came up and offered hot breadfruit mash and milk for breakfast. After eating they changed into their flying suits and boots, formed up and marched outdoors for a run at low tide on the beaches around Eastern Island. Miss Devinski told the younger women that their trip to Alaska had counted as a vacation, and on no account were the students to loll about lazily when there was work to be caught up.
With her injured shoulder, Shin felt every step of the run. Fortunately, after showers and a change of clothing, the twenty students were in class most of the rest of the morning, getting caught up on the academic portion of their curriculum.
One by one, each student left the classroom for a medical examination. “You’re next,” Rumiko hissed at Shin as she retook her seat.
So are you, the Chinese red panda thought to herself. Even for a Japanese, Rumiko acted insufferably superior towards Chinese furs, and the feline hadn’t forgiven Shin one bit for beating her in a swimming contest earlier in the year.
That was fine with her. Any time the girl wanted a rematch, she was game for it, bad arm or no.
Her shoulder twinged and she amended the thought to include But not today.
Mrs. Oelabe checked her over. “Are you exercising, Shin?”
“Good. Although the damage isn’t as severe as it could have been,” the older feline said seriously, “you have to be aware that you now have a weak shoulder joint, Shin. It could dislocate again in the future.”
“But not today?”
Oelabe smiled. “Are you planning on scaling Mount Kiribatori this afternoon, Shin?”
Shin smiled back. “Only if ordered to, ma’am.”
An eyebrow lifted. “Well, we’ll have to see, won’t we?” The school’s matron glanced out at the downpour just outside the windows. “Off you go, then, and tell Tatiana she’s next.”
Shin went back to the classroom, her banded tail swinging as she massaged her sore shoulder. It was mending; she could sense it.
Now if only it would mend faster.
The sable slipped out of her seat at Shin’s whispered direction and the red panda started flipping the pages of her textbook, trying to find where the tutor for the class was currently lecturing. Taking notes with her sore paw was good exercise, but nevertheless she was grateful when the class ended and lunch was served.
After lunch and a quick change into flying suits everyone marched out to the airfield for flying lessons. The sky was a dark gray and rain came down in sheets.
At least it wasn’t as cold as it was in Ounalashka.
Flying the big Junkers floatplane took up the rest of the afternoon, and over dinner the Tutors told the third years that they were excused for the weekend, but were sternly advised to be back before the gates closed Sunday evening.
Later, up in their room, Red Dorm sat and looked at each other. Finally Brigit cleared her throat. “One more week, I make it.”
“Then winter holidays,” Tatiana agreed.
Liberty kept silent. Everyone knew that as soon as she left the school grounds she would make a beeline for the New Haven Embassy.
Shin did another lift of her Indian club and asked, “Dinner Saturday night?”
“Where?” Liberty asked.
“Anywhere you like, Lib, just as I promised,” the red panda said. “So long as it’s NOT fish.” The others all chuckled, although the half-coyote still looked at her dubiously.
“Faith,” Brigit said, “I’d be easy enough pleased as long as there were somethin’ in the wettin’ house. M’throat’s drier than our damn textbooks.”
“You’re right about that,” Shin agreed. “I could use a drink – no, two drinks.” A pause. “How about the Grand Saturday night? It’s off-season, and they could use the business.” The sable and the setter nodded, and Shin glanced at Liberty.
The other canine member of Red Dorm sat and thought for a moment, then said, “We help with the cleaning up afterward.”
Shin chuckled. It was a small price to pay. “Done.”
“Then we’re unanimous?” Tatiana asked, and the others nodded.
All of the third years were gone before the gates closed.
The headquarters of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary included a fairly small shower and locker room area for constables who were going on or off duty. Police work was sometimes a dirty business, and people liked to be clean and their fur groomed before changing back into street clothes.
There was only one fur in the locker room when Orrin Brush walked in. The burly fox in the rumpled suit and loud tie had his treasured blackjack dangling from his right paw, which was unusual.
As was the crashing sound as he struck one locker door with the sap, denting the thin steel slightly.
The canine changing out of his uniform flinched, but only momentarily. “Query-thou, Karok-son-Karok, whether use headache-making implement on me?” he asked, his Spontoonie accented.
“Heh. Fervent-desire exists, Wei-son-Piao,” Brush said quietly, venom edging his voice. He switched to English. “I’d use it on yez in a heartbeat, if I’da caught yez.”
“Lucky for both of us, then.” The Shar Pei finished emptying the locker of his personal effects and closed the small grip.
The fox’s tail twitched. “Bad enough yez got caught shakin’ down that guy over on Casino, Hai, but onea yer own? Another Chinese? Yeah, ye’re damn lucky I didn’t catch yez first.” He leaned against the locker he’d dented. “Or onea dem Tong guys.” A soft chuckle. “Yez about done?”
“Then get outta my sight. Ye’re stinkin’ up the place.”
“You first. I know you like hitting people from behind.”
Orrin Brush’s hackles rose at that, but he had orders.
Very specific orders.
With a growl, he stepped aside as Hai Wei, former sergeant in the SIC, left the room. After the Shar Pei had walked past, the Spontoonie fox spat on the departing man’s shadow.
Hai Wei tossed his grip onto the couch as soon as he entered his apartment, then stepped into his small kitchen for a beer. He opened the bottle of Union Maid and took a long pull at it before slumping down into his favorite chair. He stared moodily at the far wall as he drank.
The canine had been called into the Chief Constable’s office earlier that morning. In addition to Chief Sapper, his immediate supervisor, a bull who was the Chief of Patrol, was in the room.
As was Inspector Stagg, which made Wei nervous.
Confronted by the complaint from the shopkeeper, he had no choice but to tell the truth and admit that he’d tried to get some protection money. He explained that he needed to cover some debts until his next payday, but that cut no ice with any of the men in the room.
Fortunately, the shopkeeper had declined to file charges, which saved Wei from any time in jail.
Unfortunately, it didn’t save his job.
His beer finished, the Shar Pei took stock.
He had enough money in his bank account to see him through to the first of February, if he economized. His family ran a small business and a farm on South Island; maybe he could get a job before he suffered the further indignity of being evicted from his apartment. Other problems manifested themselves after he finished thinking about the state of his finances.
The loss of face would make a lot of other obstacles difficult, but not completely insurmountable.
After dark, he left to go get some dinner, and to talk with a few people.
Hao hugged Xiu, the two of them whispering to each other as their parents looked on and grinned. “Hao,” Peng said, “we do have to leave, you know.” She and Xiu’s mother chuckled.
Hei and Renmin shook paws. “Hao, time to go,” his father said.
Hao’s tail waved in response and his parents boarded, Peng still laughing.
Finally they parted, Xiu smiling up at him. “Take care of yourself,” she whispered.
“I promise. I’ll see you in January.”
She nodded, then a sly grin crossed her face and she leaned close again. “Remember what I said about getting anything shot off.”
“I’ll be careful,” he whispered back. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” They stepped away from each other, and Xiu watched as her fiancé climbed aboard the waiting Shoshone Skypaths seaplane. She waved when he saw his face at one of the plane’s windows, and they gazed at each other as the plane was cast off from the dock and its four engines roared to life.
Xiu watched as the plane taxied away and across the harbor to its takeoff point. The propwash ruffled her banded tail and caused her long cascade of curly headfur to stream behind her.
Her parents stood beside her, Qing hugging her, as the plane slowly took off.