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!)
“Come in – what!? What are YOU doing in here?”
“You must have a short memory, Rote. Remember? The Tutors want us to help – “
“ – Help you and the others to be able to pass your pilot’s tests. You want to pass, don’t you?”
“Just so I can put YOU behind bars, where you belong.”
“Fine. Get your books and come with me.”
“Usted es un revolucionaria!”
“Verdad. Pero ahora soy usted profesor particular. Así pues, abra su libro de textos de la aerodinámica para paginar setenta y tres . . . “
“Esli mi’ bili odnimi, to Ya sorbal bi’ vashe gorlo vnye.”
“Ya nye poproboval bi’ evo, esli Ya bil vami. Pokazhitye mnye vash otvet dlya tovo chtobi’ sprosit’ schest’desyat, pozhal’sta.”
“Magairle . . . “
“I can’t understand you.”
“I don’t speak Gaelic that well.”
“An’ would ye be wantin’ ta learn a few choice words? Now, let’s go through th’ problem again.”
“Come here and take a look.” As the canine complied, the feline added, “I think you have the solution to your math problem.”
From the window they could see Red Dorm paired off with members of Crusader Dorm. They were going over the latter’s textbooks to prepare them for their exams.
Each senior dorm member was at least ten feet away from their junior counterparts.
The two Tutors looked at each other, and started laughing. “Well, that’s one solution,” Miss Devinski said.
“That distance might be a problem when they take them up for flying lessons,” Miss Wildford pointed out, and they laughed harder.
“I don’t get it, Sir,” Sergeant Brush said. Less than two weeks into the New Year, Chief Sapper had invited the Detective Bureau – both of them – to report to the Foreign Minister’s office for a briefing. “Dunno why the Chief’s callin’ us in. We ain’t done no fishin’ in a while.” He gave his superior a puckish smile.
Inspector Stagg responded with a slight, wintry smile of his own and kept walking. He held his head down somewhat as the north wind whipped at his muzzle. “Things have been too quiet, Sergeant. Therefore, I expect that may change.”
Probably for the worse he thought to himself.
“Inspector!” Foreign Minister Teiva rose from his chair and waved the whitetail buck to a seat. The other chairs in the office were occupied by Chief Sapper, the Chief of Patrol and a slim Alsatian with close-cut fur. Although dressed in a dark suit, he had a military look about him. “Come in, please. Sorry, Sergeant – I’m afraid there’s not enough chairs.”
“No problem, Minister,” the fox said. “I been sittin’ ‘round too much lately.”
Teiva nodded, and asked Brush in Spontoonie, “Mate-yours comment regarding too-long-in-seat?”
“Truth-telling,” and Brush blushed a bit. The two shared a chuckle.
“Getting down to business, Inspector,” the Foreign Minister said as he resumed his seat, “this is Captain Jean Remarque, of the gendarmerie in the French Sandwich Islands.”
The canine offered a pawshake to the buck and said in accented English, “I am here on behalf of my government, Inspector, as well as the International Police Commission.”
Stagg raised an eyebrow. “Interpol? Is Spontoon a signatory?”
Teiva frowned and glanced at Sapper. The bulldog shook his head. “You should have gotten that memo. I’ll have a word with the Interior Minister before lunch. Captain Remarque has some information from Interpol.”
“Certainement, M. Teiva,” the canine said, “Inspector, you are perhaps acquainted with Krupmark Island?”
“Un peu, Capitaine,” Stagg replied wryly. The others exchanged concerned looks.
A nod. “We have information regarding one of the inhabitants of that island, a certain Ni Hao. It is reported that he will be getting married. Here, on Spontoon.”
Stagg half-turned in his chair to look up at Brush, who had a concerned expression as he said, “I ain’t heard nuthin’ ‘bout that, Sir. Th’ weddin’, sure, but nuthin’ ‘bout th’ islands. I’ll start shakin’ the bushes.”
“Very well, Sergeant.” Stagg redirected his attention to Remarque. “Captain, you have us at a disadvantage, if you learned of this on Crocque-Monsieur before us. We are, after all, on Krupmark’s doorstep.”
Remarque smiled. “We are not engaged in the competition, Inspector, hein? Your reputation is well-known, and highly regarded. We learned of this not through our contacts at Fort Bob, but via an informant in Marseilles.”
Stagg frowned. “The Corsicans?”
“Oui. It is said the Union Corse are sending a representative to the wedding.”
The whitetail buck blinked. “I was unaware that our young friend’s family’s influence stretched so far. Does Interpol have any information on other, ah, wedding guests?”
Remarque nodded, and drew a slip of paper from his jacket. “Courtesy of Scotland Yard: Lo Fat, the nephew of Hai Fat, from Hong Kong. The American FBI has told us that one named Eduardo Barbaro – some ten others,” and he passed the note to Stagg. “I also have a personal message for you.”
“Yes?” Stagg held out a paw.
The Alsatian shook his head, and closed his eyes. What followed was a stilted memorization in French, ending with the name ‘Henri Grandcerf.’
Stagg nodded gravely. “Please thank him for me, Captain,” he said. “Mr. Foreign Minister, Sergeant, we’d better find out what we can about these – guests.”
“It won’t work, you know.”
“Hmm? What?” Shin looked up from the problem she had been reading. “Of course it will,” she said peevishly. “You’re just spending all your time glaring at me and not concentrating on the problem. Here – “
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean?” The Chinese girl asked patiently. Patricia had been so much easier; she had been scared of all four of them. The members of Crusader Dorm roundly hated them, which made teaching them a bit difficult.
Of course, that was why the Tutors had given them the assignment.
“You’re a criminal. The only benefit you’re getting from Songmark is to become a better criminal.” The blond squirrel gave a flick of her tail. Shin noted that the girl’s tailfur was as thick as her own, but kept the observation to herself.
A shrug. “Believe what you want.”
“I know your type,” Nancy added, “and I’ve sworn to put everyone like you behind bars – “
“Or at the end of a rope, I know. Heard it before,” the red panda said dryly. She decided to try something. “I hear you’re at Songmark to become some sort of flying detective, right?”
“Yes.” Nancy bared her chisel teeth. “And some day I’m going to Krupmark and come back with you in pawcuffs.”
Shin briefly considered encouraging her while alerting several people she knew to the American’s arrival. People with certain connections.
Only briefly. Like her or not, Rote was a Songmark student.
“Okay,” she said aloud. “You want to be a flying detective. You’re not going to be one if you don’t pass your pilot’s test, Rote.” She smiled as she let her words sink into the airhead’s skull. “Now, give me the answer to Number 22, and I’ll tell you a few things you need to know about Krupmark.”
“Trying to warn me off?”
Shin shrugged again. “You want Alpha to be a widow, fine with me. Number 22. Answer.”
“Dan Lupino, please.”
The concierge of Shepherd’s Hotel glanced up at the voice. The speaker was a red panda, perhaps in his mid- to late twenties, dressed in a business suit and wearing pince-nez glasses. “May I help you, sir?”
The red panda smiled. “Please let Mr. Lupino know that Ni Peng-wum wishes to speak with him.” A business card bearing the legend Ni & Sons Investments, Inc. was placed on the desk. “I’ll wait.”
The canine raised an eyebrow as he read the card, then stood up. “One moment, sir.” He headed for the private phone behind the front desk as Peng-wum glanced around the lobby. His gaze didn’t miss much, and he noted things that he could suggest to the managers at the Grand.
“Mister Lupino will see you, sir,” the concierge said as he walked back to his desk. Peng-wum smiled and gave the man a polite nod as he walked past him and up the stairs to the mezzanine.
The young wolf scowled as the red panda closed the door behind him. “What do you want?” Lupino asked gruffly. “The agreement – “
“Is still in force,” the red panda said, raising a paw slightly before sitting down facing Lupino. “Shepherd’s is yours. That’s not why I’m here.”
“Oh?” Lupino’s eyes narrowed. “Then why are you here?”
Peng-wum smiled. “I need to reserve a suite of rooms.”
“Yes. Preferably one that has two bedrooms, or perhaps two adjoining rooms.”
“Why not the Grand?”
“My brother’s fiancée and her family are coming for a wedding.”
Lupino’s eyes went wide. “Hao’s getting married?”
“Well, wish him the best for me. Let me think a moment.” The red panda waited patiently as the wolf mulled it over. “We have two suites open at the moment, both on the top floor.” Lupino smiled. “I’ll even throw in an off-season discount – as a gift to the bride’s family.”
Peng-wum grinned and rose from his chair, extending a paw. “Deal.” The two shook paws. “They’ll be here in about a week.”
“I’ll notify the staff. The rooms will be ready, and I’ll have some flowers shipped in.”
“Excellent. I’ll go over to the bank and have the room deposit transferred to your account.” Another smile. “Pleasure doing business with you again, Dan.”
“And under better circumstances, Peng-wum.” Lupino waited until the door closed behind his visitor before scowling again.