Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Dr. Meffit courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
(Songmark Academy and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
After lunch, Dr. Meffit walked from his clinic to the Spontoon Constabulary office and asked the desk sergeant, “Is Inspector Stagg in?”
The stocky feline nodded. “One moment, Doctor,” he said as he lifted the phone’s pawset. “Hello, Cicely? Is the Inspector in? Okeh.” He replaced the pawset and said, “He’s right back there, Doctor. Miss Lopp’ll tell him you’re coming.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” and the skunk walked back to the Detective Bureau.
“Doctor Meffit,” the whitetail buck rose from his seat to shake paws with the physician before gesturing to him to sit down. “Is our mutual problem causing trouble?”
The mephit gave the cervine a wry look at the question. “I think that Mr. Ni may attempt to escape, Inspector,” and he recounted the conversation he’d had with the red panda. When he was finished, Stagg sat with his head bowed over his walking stick for several moments.
He looked up. “Technically, Mr. Ni isn’t in Constabulary custody, Doctor. He hasn’t been charged with any crime,” and he glanced up as Sergeant Brush walked in. The burly fox nodded to his superior as Stagg continued, “And I doubt he will. Despite the fact that they – supposedly – planned and executed two murders, Mr. Ni’s not committed any offense in Spontoon jurisdiction. Please let him know that if he wishes to leave, he will not find me trying to hinder him.”
Orrin Brush snorted. “Just tell th’ guy fer me not t’let the door hit ‘im where the Good Lord split ‘im, Doc.”
Meffit couldn’t resist chuckling at the jibe. Stagg’s ears flicked. “However, your information may find more receptive ears in the Finance and Interior Ministries, Doctor. My thanks for getting this information to me in a timely fashion.”
“My pleasure, Inspector.”
At least Marco knew how to drive, Peng-wum thought sourly as the Ford truck jounced and rolled like a small boat in a heavy sea. The elderly vehicle creaked and rattled as it made its way up the road to Fort Bob, and one or two of his bodyguards were starting to look a bit seasick. While actually avoiding the worst of the holes. The short feline who was driving shifted gears, causing the transmission to emit a grinding shriek in protest.
The plan was to skirt around the settlement on the south to the designated meeting place, and to avoid the Thieves’ Bazaar altogether. The large crowd that frequented the place was still buying up whatever they could to rebuild their homes.
The crowd could become an angry mob within moments, whether through anger or incitement by others. Those facts hadn’t escaped the red panda’s notice, or Fang’s.
Some areas of Fort Bob weren’t being rebuilt. A few furs said that the idiot who was building the trolley line had ideas of extending the route beyond the Bazaar, while others said that the surviving people on the hill were going to keep a buffer zone clear of houses in case there was another explosion.
One of Hao’s crew had reported that betting was still ongoing about the family, with the odds that the Nis would be massacred running at 3 to 2. Hao had some bets placed immediately, and Peng-wum had put down a few of his own.
The rutted track that barely met the definition of ‘road’ joined the one leading to the airport, then hooked south to follow the line of the runway. “There it is,” Fang said. The big Manchurian wasn’t riding with his brother-in-law; there wasn’t enough room inside the truck. The tiger was standing up in the bed of the vehicle, hanging onto a pawhold screwed onto the roof. He’d leaned in to speak through the partly-open passenger’s window. “How do you want to play this?”
“We be quiet and respectful,” Peng-wum said. “Nothing overt unless they start it.”
“Okay. I’ll pass the word.” The six bodyguards had been carefully selected for their maturity and steadiness. There was no sense in starting a war.
The truck stopped in an open area facing a large one-story structure. There was no wall around the place, but the broad lawn and carefully-tended gardens hinted at more effective defenses. The only visibly fortified structure was the building housing the generator, judging from the engine noises coming from it.
There were several trucks and cars already parked there, along with all-too-familiar Dusenberg limousine. Each vehicle had its own small gaggle of gunsels, a few of whom looked curiously at the battered Ford while others openly sneered. While they were armed, no one was flashing a gun.
A tall canine with a military bearing walked up to the truck as the bodyguards dismounted. He stood at parade rest and asked crisply in French-accented English, “Who is M’sieur Ni Peng-wum?”
“I am,” Peng-wum said as he climbed out of the truck and adjusted his tie.
“Tres bien. Je suis – er, I am Henri, the chief bodyguard here. You may enter with two guards, and you will leave your weapons with the girl inside.” He looked at Fang suspiciously. “Nǐ míngbái ma?”
“Shi de,” Fang said.
Peng-wum picked up a weathered leather portfolio and said, “We understand. Fang, Li, you will be coming inside. The rest of you – ”
“We know, Boss,” a thickset rabbit said. “We play nice,” and he grinned, revealing one prominent gold incisor.
The three of them walked to the entrance and Li opened the door for Peng-wum to enter. Fang stepped in first.
“Welcome to the Krupmark Country Club,” a slim canine femme wearing an eyepatch said. Her tone was forced and obviously rehearsed. “Please check your weapons here, ‘cause no weapons are allowed past this point.”
“What about yours?” Fang asked, pointedly eyeing the woman’s sawed-off shotgun.
She smirked. “I work here, honey.”
“Point taken,” and Peng-wum drew his revolver from his suit pocket and gave it to the smiling Annamese girl behind the counter. She expertly tagged the gun, put it away, and gave him a claim ticket. “Thank you.”
Li and Fang surrendered their weapons and the canine femme ushered them through the interior doors to the main room.
The main room was, by island standards, opulent, with carpets covering the hardwood floor and a full bar along one wall. Other doors, he knew, led to a kitchen, conference rooms and smaller rooms where a fellow with money could spend some time with a woman.
Another door led to the slave quarters.
“Mr. Ni, welcome,” and the red panda found himself shaking paws with a tall red-tailed hawk in a three-piece suit. Beside him knelt a gray-furred mouse wearing nothing but a collar. “Welcome to the Club. I’m Oscar Winger, the proprietor.”
Peng-wum smiled. “I’m pleased to meet you at last, Mr. Winger. My father’s spoken highly of you.” Apart from the fact that you’re American, he thought. “Is this the girl?”
“Yeah. Edith, stand up,” and the mouse obeyed, looking down at her feet. “Isn’t she a cutie?” She blushed furiously, clearly ashamed of her status and her unclothed state.
“Yes. I can understand why you wanted her.” The hawk had used part of the Ni’s smuggling network to get the girl to Krupmark, all the way from New York.
“Oh, she’s more than just a pretty ... face,” Winger chuckled. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders, isn’t that right, girl?” He patted her on the head. “She has a college degree in business.”
“Very good. I take it the others are already here?”
“Yes. They’re having lunch. Is there anything you want? The cook’s not bad, and I promise that nothing’s poisoned.”
The red panda nodded. “I’ll have what they’re having.”
“Steak it is then. Edith, go tell the cook. How do you want it?”
“Medium, please,” Peng-wum replied. “And the same for my associates.”
The hawk flicked a talon across the mouse’s ear. “Hop to it,” and the slave scurried off. “She’s still new, you know. Well, come with me, gentlemen,” and he led them to the boardrooms. “Mr. Ni, the others are waiting for you in here. Your associates can eat next door.” He waited expectantly.
Peng-wum paused, determined to not show any fear in front of Winger. Anything could be waiting behind that door.
He took a breath, squared his shoulders, and went inside.
“So . . . are ye goin’ ta try it?”
“It’s a good plan – “
“ – and Father hasn’t actually agreed to pay Spontoon what they’re demanding – “
“Health care should be freely available.”
“ – and there remains the difficulty in getting the time off,” Shin concluded, giving the rest of Red Dorm an amused glare. Trust the others to critique her plans on the fly like that. “We have to present our business plans, and there are finals, of course.”
Tatiana shrugged. “We shall pass the final examinations, konechno.” The sable glanced around the table. “And there is Crusader Dorm.”
Liberty said, “Isabella will pass her finals.”
“Ye sound sure o’ her, Lib,” Brigit said.
The New Havenite nodded. “She and I have come to an ... entente, of a sort. And she learns quickly. What about you and Maureen?”
The Irish setter looked like she’d bitten into something sour. “She’s havin’ a speck o’ trouble getting’ her sums right, but her pilotin’s improved, it has.”
“Svetlana . . . nu, she may be a ballerina on the ground, but she is anything but in the air,” Tatiana said. The others snickered and the sable added, “I think she shall pass, but not with the highest of marks. Shin?”
“How’s Nancy doing?” Liberty asked.
The red panda frowned. She usually referred to Nancy Rote as ‘that damned squirrel’ when she even bothered to talk about her. “I think she’ll pass,” she grumbled. “I just hope Alpha passed on what I told her.”
“What was that?”
“To stay away from Krupmark Island,” Shin said. “And I made sure the Tutors know I sent the message. I don’t want her ending up like one of the people we liberated, and me getting blamed for it.”
“Saint Patrick preserve us all,” Brigit teased, “Shin’s developin’ a ... a conscience!”
The Irish girl and the others started laughing as Shin spluttered a variety of profane denials.