Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and associated characters courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
Timote Palu looked unhappy.
It could be remarked that Attorney General Palu’s unhappiness was a natural state of affairs whenever he had to deal with Inspector Stagg. The goat had seriously considered tendering his resignation after the Pickering Papers Affair the previous year.
And now this.
The whitetail buck himself sat beside Chief Sapper as the caprine read over Stagg’s report. “So, Inspector, you were unable to find enough cause to arrest Mr. Ni?”
“That is, unfortunately, correct, Sir,” Stagg replied.
“And no record?” This question was directed at Chief Sapper, and the bulldog shook his head. Palu sighed a deep breath through his nose and said, “Then I can see no reason for arresting him, either. The fact that he was brought here under emergency conditions means that Spontoon cannot deport him as an enemy alien – at least, not yet.” He planted his elbows on his desk and clasped his paws before him. “I will speak with the Interior Minister regarding deportation proceedings if it looks like his, ah, condition is being used as an excuse to stay.”
Stagg jotted a note on one of his index cards. Doctor Meffit could easily spot if Ni Hei was faking still being unwell, based on the skunk’s experience as a Medical Officer in the Great War. Chief Sapper said, “There’s another matter, Tim.”
“Ni Hei’s asked his daughter to approach the Interior Minister. He wants to pay for the constables guarding him.”
A bushy eyebrow raised. “If I have anything to say about it, Chief, we’ll bankrupt him.” The goat caught Stagg’s look and asked, “Yes, Inspector?”
“I confess I hadn’t thought of that, Sir. Making the cost of his security so onerous that it would force him to leave might satisfy all concerned.”
“Thank you, Inspector. I’ll talk with the Minister today.” The usually dour goat smiled. “Thank you both for coming.”
While walking back to the Constabulary, Sapper noticed that Stagg was looking down at his hooves as they walked. “Thinking, Franklin?”
“Yes, Chief.” The buck took several more steps before continuing. “Mr. Ni’s family might be more of an aid to us than - ” He let his voice trail off.
The bulldog considered that. “So you think that we shouldn’t try to force him to leave?”
“I think that Ni Hei may have already taken that into account. Unfortunately, I do not speak Chinese, so I could not understand what he was telling his daughter. Nevertheless, we must accept that as a possibility.”
Ni Hei was sitting up in his bed the next morning, reading a copy of the Pacific Times while breathing through a rubber mask over his muzzle. The oxygen tasted like rubber, and he didn’t dare inhale too deeply.
It would start him coughing again.
The red panda reached for a pencil and circled part of an article describing a visit and speech by the American Secretary of War, Smedley Butler. The former Marine Corps general was visiting the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and had made a speech to an assembly of officers at the Pearl Harbor naval base.
In the speech, the bulldog described threats facing the United States in the Pacific, and the need for a larger and stronger navy and air force. His list of threats included Canada, Japan, Vostok Island and, interestingly enough, Rain Island. The Rain Islanders might have something to say about that, Hei thought.
Still, a larger military meant more planes, more ships, and the increased industry and money that required both. Hei pursed his lips against the oxygen mask. The plans that Peng-wum and Manny Carpanini had set in motion might, if successful, be more lucrative that his son had estimated. Which meant more money, which (in America, at least) could translate into greater influence.
He would have Shin relay a message to Peng-wum when she visited him later.
There was a soft knock on the door and Dr. Meffit came in. “Ah, Mr. Ni. I’m glad you’re awake.” The skunk’s expression was still clearly disapproving, despite the fact that the red panda had been a model patient. He hadn’t complained about the room, the food, or anything else. Leaving aside what he did for a living and where he came from, Meffit couldn’t have wished for a better patient or guest.
The red panda hadn’t even complained about the very painstaking and thorough physical examination.
The skunk was keeping Athena well away from Ni Hei and had explained to her in no uncertain terms where the fellow had come from. She had gulped and promised to stay away from the clinic area.
“Good morning, Doctor,” Ni Hei said as he took off his pince-nez and set aside the newspaper. Shin had gotten him new eyeglasses and he was enjoying the ability to see unimpaired.
“I have a visitor for you,” the mephit said.
“Is it Inspector Stagg?”
“No,” and he stepped aside as a short, stocky equine stepped in. The man was dressed in a gray suit with no tie, and his ash-blonde mane was braided in a style Hei had seen worn by people from Vanirge.
The stallion stepped forward and offered a paw as Meffit left the room, closing the door. “Mr. Ni, my name is Kalolo Olesson. I’m with the Interior Ministry.”
“Are you here, sir, to talk about my offer?”
“’Offer?’” The stallion’s tail swished a bit as Hei explained, then smiled widely. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ni, but the Minister is likely still deciding whether to allow your daughter to talk to him. I’m afraid I’m with another part of the Ministry.”
“Oh? Which part?”
“It’s actually a joint office. The North Pacific Import-Export Bank.” He smiled again as Hei’s eyes went wide.
The furs on the Hill knew of the Bank, of course, and only a very few people like Hei knew about it. The ‘Bank’ had two customers – Spontoon and Rain Island - and only one depositor – Krupmark Island. Hei had told Hao once that the people on Krupmark lived on sufferance, paying tribute to the Spontoon Althing and Rain Island’s Governing Syndicate in exchange for a (somewhat) free paw. The payments were usually described as ‘taxes’ by the ruling cabal, preferring the word to ‘blackmail’ or ‘Danegeld.’
The red panda’s expression immediately grew wary and calculating. “Yes?”
Olesson smiled. “We’ve learned that Shen Jintao had died, and that you and your family were the ones who’d done it.”
“We had help.”
“We know. How do you think we learned of it so quickly? None of our regular contacts have reported yet.” The equine perched one hip on Meffit’s desk, letting the hoof dangle a bit. “Still, you and yours are to be congratulated. We weren’t sure anyone was going to be able to take that old wolf down – and it leaves us with a question.”
Olesson examined his fingernails critically. “What is the attitude of the Ni Family regarding Krupmark’s relations with us? In other words, your actions have earned you the right to take Shen’s place – ”
“I never wanted that.”
“Oh?” A frown. “Then what was the point in spending so much money and causing so much damage? Naval Syndicate patrol aircraft reported seeing fires a full day afterward.”
“I am sorry for the loss of life, but that could not be helped,” the red panda said in a brittle tone muffled by the mask. “Shen had a hold over me and my family since nineteen twenty-nine. I wanted that hold gone. His . . . heir,” and he resisted the urge to spit.
“We’ve heard about Shen Ming. So. If you didn’t want his place, what was the point?”
“I wanted my family free!” Hei’s exclamation caused him to start coughing, wheezing heavily into the mask. He bent forward in his seated position, trying to catch his breath. The effort exhausted him and he lay back, gasping until he could say, “I will have us in debt to no one, Mr. Olesson.”
“I understand.” The equine nodded and stood up.
“You – will you try to kill me now,” Hei asked, “or will you make it look accidental?”
Olesson actually chuckled. “Neither, Mr. Ni. It would be bad for business, you understand. I hope you recover, and if you choose to discuss our conversation with those people, you’re welcome to do so. Yes?” he asked as Hei raised a paw.
“Don’t think that I shall renege on our own, ah, contributions to the Bank,” the red panda said, and he smiled as Olesson looked surprised. “I will insist that we continue to contribute until I leave Krupmark.”
“But you just said – ”
“I know what I said, Mr. Olesson, but I am enough of a realist to know what would happen to anyone who broke the compact between us and your customers. Either the Naval Syndicate will appear offshore, or I would find myself the subject of very unwanted attention.”
The stallion’s smile broadened and he offered a paw. “A realistic and pragmatic attitude, Mr. Ni,” he said as he and Hei shook paws. “I will leave you now. I don’t want you to get overtaxed.” He left the room, and the doctor returned.
As Meffit checked his pulse and listened to his chest, Ni Hei decided that he really wanted to go home.
Another May Day was passing, and Moscow still basked in mild afternoon sunshine. The annual parade was over, and everyone could see that Comrade Starling had been pleased with the military display and the floats presented by the various ministries and soviets.
Two furs, a canine and a bear, met in the bear’s office for a round of vodka and a chat.
The bear set two small glasses full of the clear liquid on the small table a short distance from his desk, and lifted one. “To your health, Dmitri Kirillovich.”
The wolf picked up his glass. He stood tall in his Red Army uniform and said, “To Comrade Starling’s health, and the continued success of the Revolution, Lavrenti Pavlovich.” The two grinned and tipped their heads back, downing the vodka in one gulp before exhaling explosively.
Lavrenti Bearia set his glass down and sat, gesturing for his brother-in-law to take a seat. “So, my friend, how have you been? How are Maria and the children?”
Dmitri Simonov smiled fondly. “Maria is fine, and the small ones look forward to seeing their Uncle Lavrenti, as always.”
“And . . . Anya?”
The canine’s features hardened and he reached for the bottle. He poured and downed another glass of vodka before saying, “She has good days. There are even days when she recognizes me and her mother.” A third glass was only partially consumed, and Simonov brooded over the remainder. “There are days, though . . . ”
“I understand, my friend,” and Bearia reached across and gripped the canine’s shoulder. “Do you still want revenge?”
Simonov crested. “Had you and Comrade Starling approved, that boy and that entire island would be ground beneath my heel.” His free paw reached up to brush a fingertip across the three diamonds of his rank. “Is there not something that can be done, Lavrenti Pavlovich?”
Bearia sat back after pouring another vodka as his sister’s husband drank again. Dmitri was a good sort, devoted to Starling, the Red Army and his family, in that fairly unshakeable order. It was only his oldest daughter’s abuse at the paws of that Chinese bastard that caused him to go so far as to defy Iosif Vissarionovich to his beak.
Thankfully, the Chairman had forgiven him. It was asking too much to ask the Red Bird to actually forget, and it had taken a lot of fast talking on Bearia’s part to get that much.
“Perhaps I can persuade Comrade Starling.”
Simonov looked at him, a wolfish gleam in his eyes. “Da?”
“Well, perhaps not an army, nu? We need them here, to forestall our class enemies to the east and west. But perhaps a few of Comrade Blokhin’s comrades may fancy a trip to an exotic tropical climate.”
“Why not Blokhin himself?”
Bearia chuckled. “Blokhin is too dedicated to his work to take even a day off, let alone a trip like that. If – if, mind you, Dmitri Kirillovich – it is approved, we shall send competent people.”
Simonov refilled his glass and raised it to his brother-in-law. “To your health, and your success, Lavrenti Pavlovich.”