Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2012 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
She had been enjoying acting as Isabella’s tutor.
The Mixtecan star-nosed mole spoke the same Spanish dialect that she did, and she secretly savored being able to speak with someone without another listening in (although she doubted that, considering the Tutors). Even when she spoke Spontoonie there was always a chance someone was listening in. And the polyglot she shared with the rest of Red Dorm was exclusive to them, making it a fairly effective code but useless for conversation with others.
Isabella was also a fairly quick student, although she occasionally groaned at the amount of work the New Havenite was giving her.
Her pilot skills were improving as well, and Liberty had more confidence that the younger girl would be able to pass her license examination. Whether or not the mole’s fellows in Crusader Dorm would also be able to pass was not a consideration.
Well, not to her, anyway, apart from the knowledge that if any of the other three girls failed, it would affect all of Red Dorm and not just Shin, Tatiana or Brigit.
Collective responsibility was sometimes a heavy burden to bear.
“Come left to three-zero-zero,” she said, “and decrease altitude to one thousand.”
From her position seated behind the mole she could see the junior girl’s nose tendrils writhing a bit as she acknowledged the instructions. The Tiger Moth biplane was a forgiving beast and responded well to the controls, although Liberty’s canine nose scented a whiff of burned oil. The engine would require maintenance after they landed.
Isabella, of course, would be doing most of the maintenance.
The half-coyote was certain she could have guided the plane to a landing with her eyes closed, but it wasn’t her plane to fly. The Mixtecan mole descended to a landing at the Eastern Island airstrip, taxied to a halt, and shut off the engine.
Isabella climbed out of the cockpit to find Liberty standing there waiting for her, her paws on her hips. “Si?”
The slim canine regarded the stocky mole for a moment, then tugged open her flying suit and took her leather helmet off. “You’re improving,” she said crisply.
“Si, verdad. If you were not improving, I’d tell you,” the New Havenite said tersely. “However, I feel that you are doing well enough that you will pass your flight test. Besides, you are a star-nosed mole – you’d know if I was lying.”
Isabella had to concede this, despite the fact that her talent wasn’t as refined as her police chief father’s. She was forced to admit that as far as she knew Liberty hadn’t lied to her since she’d started tutoring her. That fact alone was more than a bit unsettling.
The two young women pushed the Tiger Moth into its hangar and slowly performed maintenance on its single engine before heading back to Songmark for a quick cleanup. Isabella had her regular classes, while Liberty had an hour of free time.
‘Free’ was a relative term. The third year students still had classes to study for, as well as their final projects to work on. That final project in itself – to develop a viable business plan that would pass the Tutors’ exacting standards - was ordinarily a difficult prospect for a Trotskyite Communist to think about.
But Liberty had had an idea, and she was sure that it would work.
“You’re getting better.”
Nancy Rote raised one eyebrow as she glared at the red panda femme. “I don’t believe you.”
Wo Shin shrugged. “I don’t care what you believe. I’ve been assigned to teach you what you need to know to pass your pilot’s license,” she explained (for what she fancied was the ninetieth time). “If I say you’re getting better, you are.
There was a pause as the Chinese member of Red Dorm gathered her patience. She considered teaching the blonde-furred squirrel part of her own training in managing her anger.
She was fairly sure the Tutors were taking that into account.
“I am going to explain this to you, Rote. One. Last. Time. If you fail your pilot’s test, I will have failed as well. And that includes losing face here at Songmark. So, don’t you think I’d have a personal stake in making sure you pass?”
The squirrel frowned in thought. “Put that way, I can see where your own self-interest would be served by teaching me what I need to know.”
“Good. Now, do the problems I set for you, and I’ll check your answers and work tomorrow afternoon. I have something to do.”
“Plotting a bank heist?”
To her surprise, the red panda replied, “Not today. I’m picking up my brother and his wife at the airport.” Leaving the squirrel to gape at her, Shin turned, flicked her banded tail contemptuously, and headed out of the building.
She was halfway to the airport before she finally stopped seething. Stinking little tree-rat, she thought, if she weren’t Songmark I’d...
Shin stifled that thought. It had never been proven that the Tutors weren’t mind-readers, and she was too close to graduating to test that theory. But the fact remained that if the squirrel hadn’t been a fellow student, Shin might have killed her outright within a week.
It might be explained as improving the overall intelligence of anthros everywhere.
The other fact was that the girl was married to an honest-to-goodness, certified, dyed-in-the-wool Cranium Island mad scientist. Shin didn’t relish the idea of ending up in a specimen jar somewhere. But there had to be a way of ramming an actual thought into that blunt object Rote called a skull...
An idea formed, and Shin started to smile as she entered the terminal.
“Hello, my love!” and she squealed with laughter as Fang grabbed her by the arms and scooped her up into an embrace. “Hard day?”
“No, just long and irritating.” She giggled as they kissed and the Manchurian tiger set her back on her feet. “Peng-wum, Nailani, how are you two doing?”
“Just fine,” the Spontoonie rabbit replied. “Hao and Xiu’s flight should be touching down about now.” There was a sound of engines.
Shin recognized the noise and grinned at her sister-in-law. “I never bet against a rabbit’s hearing.”
The Clipper had touched down in its regular lane and was being towed to the dock as they stepped outside to watch. Hao and Xiu were the third and fourth people off the plane, and they waved before heading down the dock to Customs. “C’mon,” Fang said. “We’ll go on in and wait for them.”
The Customs check seemed to drag on interminably. Eventually the two younger red pandas emerged from the Customs shed, Xiu looking tired from the flight and Hao lighting a cigarette. “Hi, guys,” he said as the smoke wreathed him.
Xiu was gathered into a group hug by Shin and Nailani while Fang and Peng-wum greeted Hao. “How was your honeymoon?” Fang asked as they gathered up the luggage.
Hao waggled a paw. “Not bad, apart from talking to the police. Her fault,” he said as they looked startled.
“Your fault?” Nailani asked.
“I can explain.”
“Later,” Peng-wum said. “Right now, we need to go over to the Grand for lunch.”
“Good!” Xiu said. “I’m hungry.”
“Yeah, you look a bit skinnier,” Shin teased. “Couldn’t you at least feed her, Little Brother?”
Hao smirked while the others laughed, and linked arms with his wife as the group walked to the taxi rank.
They had lunch at the Grand’s restaurant, and afterwards the hotel manager, a short and nervous-looking rat named Chen, came up and cleared his throat diffidently. A younger copy of the man stood a short distance away, a folder in his paws. “Excuse me, Mr. Ni?”
Hao and Peng-wum looked up at the same time before the older red panda gestured for the rodent to take a seat. “Please, sit down, Mr. Chen. Hao, Xiu, this is Mr. Chen, the hotel’s manager.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Xiu said.
“Thank you. I have an agreement here,” and the younger rat gave the folder to him, “setting up a long-term lease for one of our suites.”
“A long-term lease?” Xiu asked. She looked around. “We’re living here?”
Hao seemed a bit surprised as well. “I was expecting more talk about this after we got back, Brother,” he said to Peng-wum.
“True, I know we talked about it,” and the older red panda took off his pince-nez glasses and wiped them with a clean corner of his napkin. “Nailani convinced me otherwise.”
The rabbit chuckled. “Call it a wedding gift. You two need a place of your own, and neither of you are really allowed on Main Island.”
“Why not?” Xiu asked.
“Tell you later,” Hao said.
“And you’re not taking up one of the bungalows at the Maha Kahuna,” Shin interjected. “Bad enough Fang and me are cutting into the profits by staying there.” She jumped and glared at her husband as the big Manchurian tiger reached behind her and pinched the base of her tail. “What was that for? You know I’m right.”
“Of course I do, my ringtailed beauty,” Fang said with a chuckle, “but you have a very pinchable rear, you know.”
As the others sat and looked on uncomfortably, Shin and Fang crested and snarled at each other. A sharp rap on the table, and they turned away from glaring at each other to see Hao tapping a butter knife against the table. “What?” Shin asked.
“Either take it outside now,” her younger brother said, “or wait until nightfall so we can sell tickets.”
There was a pause, and the couple burst out laughing. “You’re right,” Fang said. “We’d have to sell tickets. But not now – tourist season, love?”
“Yes. Speed Week would be better.”
“Fine. Mr. Chen?” The rodent looked relieved that there wasn’t going to be a fight, and started to go over the details of the leasehold.
The terms were fairly generous, with the rent coming out of Hao’s pay. The suite included a small kitchen. “Do you know how to cook?” Xiu asked Hao.
“English girl’s school, remember?”
“Yeah. Sorry. Yeah, I know how to cook. Mother and Father insisted we learn.”
“No telling how long a woman will put up with either of them,” Shin giggled, and Nailani dipped her ears at her sister-in-law.
Hao smirked. “And I recall her saying just that too, Shin.” He put a dark-furred finger down on a part of the agreement. “What’s this ‘safety and breakage deposit?’”
Mr. Chen promptly started looking nervous. “Um, well, sir, that is, er, knowing your line of work – “
Hao raised a paw. “Never mind. It’s a good idea, but I’ll try to keep business away from here, okay?”
“That’ll be fine.”
Hao and Xiu signed the leasehold agreement, and Peng-wum called for a toast.
The door to the seedy hotel room rattled as someone kicked it. Another kick, and it was a close race to see whether the bolt or the hinges gave way first.
It was the bolt, but it was a near thing.
“Constabulary!” A loud, gruff voice yelled. “Yer unner arrest!”