Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Magistrate de Pathe courtesy of E. O. Costello. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Court is now in session!” the bailiff intoned as Magistrate de Pathe entered the courtroom and took his time shuffling papers.
“Hmm,” the avian said, glancing up finally. “Call the first case.”
“The Althing versus – “ the bailiff’s voice faltered at the sound of moans as three young women, two canines and a red panda, were ushered into the dock.
The panda was gripping her ears and rocking back and forth while partly crouched over, chanting softly, “Makeitstop, makeitstop, makeitstop . . . “
The Irish setter had both paws on her long ears, tugging on them as if she was trying to yank them out by the roots. She was humming some tune or other.
The other canine, who looked as if she had some coyote blood in her, was mumbling brokenly about “atrocities,” “torture” and “writing the League of Nations.” Her muttering was a bit indistinct, as she had a finger in one corner of her mouth and seemed to be drooling a bit.
De Pathe twitched a feathered eyebrow. “Bailiff, what are these young ladies on about? Are they insane?”
“Er, no, Your Honor,” the feline officer replied. He consulted a brief. “Wo Shin, Brigit Mulvaney, Liberty Morgenstern,” he said, indicating each in turn. “Charged with disorderly conduct in the course of a fight at the Ballyplamas Public House last night.”
“Not drunk and disorderly?”
“No, neither of them were what you’d call drunk, Your Honor.”
The rooster gave a worried glance at the trio. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, Your Honor. All of the people in the jail are acting like this.”
“Good Lord, why?”
“Mr. Aoretea was in jail last night, Your Honor. He’s last on the docket,” the bailiff added helpfully.
“Ah, I see. Drunk again?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Well, what’s that got to do with anything, least of all the horrible state these young women are in?”
“Mr. Aoretea was singing, sir – “
“Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers.”
“I hardly feel that a ditty of such a vintage could cause – “
“Your Honor’s heard Mr. Aoretea’s singing voice.”
“Oh. Ah. Er.”
“And he sang the same song for over seven hours straight.”
“Yes, Your Honor. Two constables have had to go home early.”
“Good Lord.” The avian’s expression was one of deep sympathy. He leaned toward the trio in the dock. “I am going to impose a fine of twenty-five pounds each, with the – no, on second thoughts I’m going to waive the option of jail time. I personally think that these three young women have suffered enough. Do we have anyone to pay the fine?”
“Yes, Your Honor. A Mr. Wo Fang, identifying himself as Mrs. Wo’s husband.”
Brigit kept muttering prayers in Gaelic to her namesake.
Liberty just looked . . . blank.
Shin was giving Fang an irritated look as the big tiger finally stopped laughing. “Anyone watching?” she whispered.
He glanced around. “No.”
The red panda said, “Okay, we can relax,” and all three breathed huge sighs of relief. “You two all right?”
“I will be,” Brigit said, “after I’ve had a nip an’ a nap. Lib?”
The New Havenite’s expression was her usual dour face. “I don’t know how I’m going to explain this at my Embassy. You two know word’s going to get around.”
“If it hasn’t already,” Shin pointed out.
The three went quiet for a moment, then Brigit smacked a fist into her palm. “Got it! Lib, tell ‘em the truth!”
Brigit raised a finger, looking off into the distance as if to visualize the words she was going to say. “Tell ‘em that . . . you were celebratin’ Eire’s throwin’ off th’ imperialist yoke . . . when ah, what’s th’ word . . . Yeah! Revisionists!”
Liberty brightened and finished the thought. “Revisionists and imperialist wreckers sought to stamp out the freedom-loving aspirations of the working furs there!” She unexpectedly grinned. “Thanks, Brigit!”
“And it has the benefit of fitting the facts,” Shin pointed out.
Liberty nodded. It was obvious she was liking the idea more and more. “But there’s one thing.”
“What?” Shin asked.
The half-coyote looked at her crossly. “The Tutors.”
The red panda’s muzzle fell open. “Damn! I hadn’t thought of them. We give them the same explanation.”
“Of course! It’s the truth, isn’t it? We were enjoying ourselves, minding our own business, and Maureen and her friends show up to crash the party!”
“An’ ‘twas one of their lot started th’ fight,” Brigit added. “That’s on the police reports, so it is.”
She looked up at Fang. “Think it’ll work?”
The tiger thought it over before nodding judiciously. “It might,” he replied. “Good crazy act, by the way,” he remarked. “Your idea, Shin?”
His wife shook her head. “Nope,” and she pointed at Liberty as they climbed into a water taxi.
Everyone looked at the New Havenite, who twitched her muzzle. “It seemed like the best thing to do. Making your opponent think you might be harmlessly insane can work to your advantage.”
“Judging from what the bailiff was saying,” Fang said, “everyone was affected. Why not you three?”
“We learned how to hide last year,” Brigit said, and giggled. “Maureen’s no’ had our training – wonder how she’s doing.”
“You still feel up for this?” Fang asked as their boat approached the dock at Main Village.
Shin nodded. “Been an interesting year,” she said quietly, “and it’s traditional.”
“Not like you to be so subdued,” and the Manchurian tiger pulled her into his lap and kissed her. “C’mon, cheer up. New Year’s coming soon.”
The red panda gave a short, harsh laugh. “Can’t come soon enough for me.” She slipped her arms around him and they kissed again. “I guess I’m just tired. I can’t wait to get school over with. I’m starting to get sick of looking at the others and not seeing enough of you.”
He chuckled. “Given any more thought to your business plan?”
“Don’t remind me. I have to work on it a bit more – and you know Father wants to look it over before I give it to the Tutors,” and the two disembarked as the water taxi tied up at the dock.
Liberty was already there, waiting for them, with Walking Fox standing beside her, and they headed for the clearing with a growing crowd of Spontoonies. The clearing had been set up with tents for refreshments in the event the rain came, and workers were putting the finishing touches on the effigy.
As always, the effigy was made up of branches, vines and leaves, and resembled a fat tourist of no distinctive species complete with loud shirt, oversized camera and floppy hat. Some of the mottoes scrawled on the shirt excited comment along with scattered laughter.
To cheers torches were put to the effigy and it went up with a crackling roar and a gust of furnace heat. As it burned, the onlookers threw smaller effigies depicting the objects that had caused them the most misfortune over the preceding year into the flames.
Shin hurled a small wickerwork lynxess into the fire and smiled as it was consumed, while Fang tossed in facsimiles of his ledgers and a small statue of one of the Maha Kahuna’s suppliers. After consigning last year’s problems to the fire, the two kissed as the rest of the crowd celebrated.