Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Doctor Meffit courtesy of E. O. Costello. Thanks!)
“I must ask, Doctor: Is this trip really necessary?” Ni Hei said, his voice muffled by the black rubber mask covering his muzzle. It bothered him that he still needed oxygen.
“Yes, it is, Mister Ni,” the Canadian skunk assured him for the third time that day. He watched as the red panda dressed.
The clothes he had come in with from Krupmark Island had been very carefully aired and cleaned, as well as very thoroughly searched. Meffit had heard from one of the constables that nothing had been found.
For some reason, that didn’t reassure him.
When Hei was finished dressing, Meffit gestured toward the waiting wheelchair. An orderly and a constable stood nearby. “I am having you moved to my private clinic for several reasons, one of which is the fact that I can monitor your recovery more closely. The other – ”
“The other is security,” Hei said bluntly. “You don’t want a shootout or a bombing here.”
“Quite right. Very perceptive of you.”
Hei lowered himself into the wheelchair as the orderly held it, wheezing only slightly. “Not as perceptive as you may think, Doctor. But I have a question.”
“Are you not worried for your own safety?”
Meffit scowled. “I’ve lived next door to the New Haven Embassy ever since their revolution. They may not be the best of neighbors, but I haven’t had any bombs thrown at me.”
“Ah. New Haven. I’ve encountered a few of them, apart from the Inspector of course.”
“Trouble?” Meffit’s curiosity was overriding his dislike of the man.
“Only briefly,” and the Chinese red panda smiled around the mask, blinking near-sightedly at the doctor.
“That reminds me. You have an appointment with an optometrist this afternoon. Your daughter arranged it.”
Hei nodded, looking relieved. “Good. I have to tell you, Doctor, I’m looking forward to having my glasses back. My arms aren’t long enough to read well,” and he chuckled as the orderly placed the oxygen cylinder in a stand mounted on the back of the wheelchair, released the brake and turned him around.
Meffit sighed. This wasn’t going to be easy.
An ambulance had been arranged, and was backed up to the entrance of the hospital. There were four armed constables waiting there, along with his daughter. “Father,” Shin said, bowing slightly in respect. “How is he doing, Doctor?” she asked the mephit.
She was certainly more polite than she had been when Hei had been flown in from Krupmark three weeks earlier. She was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and was holding her left arm rather oddly. The skunk surmised the sleeve concealed a weapon of some kind.
It didn’t bother him. He’d encountered people like that, on the Western Front and in Abyssinia. Under more ordinary circumstances, he would have approved of such caution. “He’s doing just fine, Mrs. Wo,” Meffit replied. “It’s only a short distance to my clinic, but – ”
“You don’t want to wear him out,” she said, nodding. “I understand.” She bent down and kissed her father’s cheek before he was helped to his feet and assisted into the ambulance. Two constables climbed in with him.
As Meffit started to get in beside the driver Shin said, “I’ll meet you there? I have a few things I need to discuss with him.”
I’ll bet you do, eh, he thought acerbically. Aloud he said, “Of course. I’m told that Inspector Stagg will also meet us there. He has some more questions for your father.”
He could see her rather visibly bite back what she really wanted to say and smile at him. “That’s fine, then. Drive safely.” She stepped back as the ambulance drove off, leaving her standing there looking at the other two constables.
“Don’t look at me, boys. I haven’t done anything,” and with that she took off after the ambulance at a purposeful jog. About fifty feet away she yelled, “Yet!” and sped up her pace.
Shin was barely winded as she slowed her jog to a brisk walk. The ambulance was still parked outside the doctor’s home.
The sugar glider who acted as Meffit’s nurse glowered at her as she answered the door. “Creature with ringtail outlander desire see father?” she asked in Spontoonie.
“With respect, emphasis-desire wanting, affirmative, carer-for-sick,” Shin replied respectfully. The shorter marsupial scowled and led her to the back of the house.
The private clinic included a small sitting room, and Shin paused at the doorway. “Inspector,” she said to Stagg.
For his part, the whitetail buck merely nodded. “Mrs. Wo.”
“I have a few things to discuss with my father – privately.” Through the open door at the far end of the room, she could see Hei being seated in a chair while Meffit fussed over him. He wasn’t using the air tank just now.
“I should imagine you do.” The cervine got to his hooves. “Shall we go in and see him together? I believe Doctor Meffit has him sitting comfortably by now.”
Shin forced a smile. “After you.” After all, his cane could be a useful weapon.
Stagg looked her over. “No, after you, Mrs. Wo. The weapon in your sleeve may have escaped the notice of the casual onlooker, but not me. And I know your opinion of me.”
“This?” and the young red panda femme pulled the cast-iron jutte from her sleeve. “I don’t think it’d do any damage to you, Inspector. Your head’s too hard,” she added with a sweet smile.
Charming sense of humor, Stagg thought to himself. He turned and walked out of the room, his back to Shin. She chuckled quietly and followed him in.
The room faced east, looking out over the gardens, and beyond the fence at the rear of the property stood the slightly weather-beaten New Haven Embassy. Inspector Stagg very carefully avoided looking at it. “Mr. Ni, are you feeling well enough to answer more questions?”
Hei nodded. “Whenever you’re ready, Inspector, but first I have a question for you.”
Stagg raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“Having two constables posted to watch me must be quite expensive,” he said, measuring his words carefully to avoid engendering a coughing fit. “Perhaps I could hire private guards?”
Meffit glared at the red panda. “Certainly not! There’s no way you’ll have hired thugs traipsing around my house!” He would have said more, but subsided as Stagg raised a paw.
“Dr. Meffit is quite correct, Mr. Ni. We have to be considerate of his safety as well. The constables, I’m afraid, stay. Whether it suits you or not.”
“Oh it does suit me, Inspector. I know how much my life’s worth right now.” He looked past the buck. “Shin?”
“Stop glaring and take a note, Daughter.” He waited until she had slipped a notepad and the stub of a pencil from one of the pockets of her shorts. “I want you to ask – ask, mind you – for an appointment with either Chief Sapper or the Interior Minister. Preferably both. Tell them,” and Hei looked up at Stagg as he spoke, “that I am willing to pay for the constables that have watched me since my arrival here.”
Shin gaped at her father. There had been as many as four constables guarding her father during the three weeks since she, Liberty and Brigit had brought him from Krupmark, and that was per shift. The SIC worked three eight-hour shifts per day. Gods...
“Father? Are you serious?”
“Do not anger me, Daughter!” His response was peremptory, in Cantonese, and caused him to start coughing. She paled at his outburst and nodded.
Stagg’s expression was grave. “That would be looked upon as a bribe, sir.”
Hei recovered his breath with an effort. “Speed Week entrants . . . regularly,” and he paused to wheeze, “pay for the . . . SIC . . . to guard their planes, Inspector. What I ask for is no different, and I have no criminal intent.”
“So you say. I cannot stop you from making the offer, Mr. Ni, but it will be scrutinized very carefully.”
“I expect nothing less.” He smiled at Shin. “Shin, we’ll talk later. For now, go and see if you can make those appointments.”
“Will you be all right, Father?”
Ni Hei smiled again, and nodded. “I’m in very capable paws, Daughter.” As she left the room she heard him say, “Now, Inspector, where did we leave off?”
After yet another informative but wholly unsatisfactory interview with the head of the Ni Family, Inspector Stagg typed up his report of the investigation the following morning. Miss Lopp had already transcribed his notes of the questions and answers, saving him some time.
It was the report accompanying the transcript that was giving him heartburn.
Thankfully, it wasn’t giving him too much heartburn. His last experience with that family had come close to killing him, and it was only by Rosie’s tender loving care that he had managed to recover, and even improve, his health. He sat back and studied the report’s concluding chapter.
“In conclusion, I cannot prove or disprove the veracity of Ni Hei’s claims that he and his family committed murder. The fact is that many furs contemplate murder at some point in their lives, whether through anger or desperation, but very rarely act upon those impulses. Still, I cannot completely discount the fact that both Ni Hei and his daughter answered my questions under oath, swearing that they acted in concert – Wo Shin, in fact, stated that she had drawn up the original plan that resulted in the alleged deaths of Shen Jintao and Shen Ming. They also swear that they acted to eliminate a direct threat to kill or enslave members of their family. Again, these claims must be taken at face value.
It must also be taken into account that normal police procedures would be problematic in this case. Krupmark Island is not within any recognized jurisdiction, making obtaining the testimony of reliable witnesses or evidence gathering impossible.
Despite my personal misgivings, along with discounting any animus I may harbor toward Ni Hei and his family, I am forced to conclude that I cannot provide sufficient probable cause to charge either Ni Hei or his daughter with murder, or conspiracy to commit murder.
Signed, Franklin J. Stagg, Detective Inspector, SIC.”
The whitetail buck gave a soft snort as he read the final sentence, then took the sheet from the typewriter, signed it, and added it the rest of the report.
“Could you arrange an appointment for me, please? I need to deliver this report to Chief Sapper and Attorney General Palu.”