Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg, Sgt. Brush and Dr. Meffit courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
The door closed behind him.
There were ten of them sitting at the long table, and nearly ten pairs of eyes and ears were pointed in his direction. The room was paneled in a lighter wood than the massive oak table that dominated the décor. On one wall in a gilded frame hung a considerably weathered photograph of Paul Helmuth, the Rain Islander pirate, slaver, and murderer who, according to the story, had founded Krupmark as a haven for lawbreakers of all types.
The photograph looked like it had been soaked in water at some time in its history, folded, bent, partly torn and even slashed with a knife, but the fox’s features were still discernible. At some point exposure had affected the sepia-tone photo, making Helmuth’s fur color look a bit like blued steel.
Peng-wum bowed slightly at the waist, very politely and correctly. “Good day. I trust I am not too late.”
‘Miss C,’ the flawlessly dressed canine femme who had extended the invitation to the gathering, gave a warm smile. “Not at all, Mr. Ni. Please have a seat,” and she gestured at an empty chair. “I am certain our host’s cook is attending to your meal.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he replied, and he took a seat on the only unoccupied chair in the room. He sternly reminded himself that this club was the closest thing to absolute safety on Krupmark Island. The women weren’t poxed, the whisky wasn’t watered, and the food wasn’t poisoned. Therefore, the chair wasn’t likely to be a trap.
Still, he was wary. “I thank you all for inviting me.” The seat was upholstered in dark red leather, and was very comfortable.
A dark-furred rabbit with a scarred face and one ear shorter than the other said around a mouthful of stir-fried tofu and vegetables, “You weren’t invited. Your father was.” His English was rather poor, and the little finger of one paw was missing.
“I am aware of that, Mr. Kobayashi, and I am doubly honored that my father has delegated me to represent him at this meeting.”
“Kobayashi-san,” ‘Miss C’ said in a calm voice, “do kindly refrain from speaking with your mouth full.” The rabbit suppressed a flinch and nodded at the gentle reproof.
There was a soft knock at the door and it opened to admit Winger and his slave, the mouse holding a covered tray. She placed it in front of him and removed the cover, revealing a perfectly prepared steak that had been cut bite-sized. Vegetables stir-fried in hoisin sauce sent up a small cloud of savory steam and Peng-wum’s ears flicked to hear the mouse’s stomach growling. A small carafe of red wine and a glass accompanied the dish, along with a small plate of steamed wheat buns.
Edith bowed and backed away to resume her place behind and to one side of the hawk. “I hope it’s to your liking, Mr. Ni,” Winger said.
“One moment, Mr. Winger.” The red panda picked up the fork and took a bite. He smiled as he chewed and after swallowing asked, “May I reward your girl for her service?”
The hawk chuckled. “Sure.”
Peng-wum placed a morsel of the steak on his palm and held it out. As he did so, he reminded himself that Nailani would require him to undergo cleansing rituals when he got back to Spontoon.
He’d do it gladly.
“Take it, girl.”
The mouse leaned forward, then remembered herself and looked at her owner. Oscar nodded and she stepped forward to pick the piece of steak from the upturned paw. “Thank you, Sir,” she said softly, her voice almost breaking, before putting the morsel in her mouth. She bobbed a curtsy and resumed her place.
“Doing a good job training her, Oscar,” a crossbred Chinese water deer said. “Still not interested in selling her?”
Winger shook his head. “I want to make sure I get a good return on my investment first, Mr. Yao.” He grinned as a few of the others laughed and Edith’s ears went red.
Peng-wum poured a measure of the wine, concentrating on eating first before dulling his wits with alcohol. He needed to be sharp with this group.
Although there were (now) sixteen persons who called the Hill home, a few never bothered to participate in meetings of the ruling cabal. Two hadn’t been seen in years, and it was widely rumored that they were dead and their chief lieutenants were maintaining a fiction that they were still alive so that underlings wouldn’t try to rebel.
As he ate, the others resumed their own lunches with varying degrees of table manners. The water deer, Yao, seemed to enjoy making a bit of a mess, while an almost painfully dapper wolf seated closer to the red panda was being finically neat.
Finally, the last diner was finished and the plates were cleared away and replaced by small trays of almond cookies. Girls dressed only in aprons circulated with drinks, and a few of the furs lit cigarettes or cigars. One or two of the guests took advantage of the girls’ largely unclothed state to touch various areas with their paws, as if sampling the merchandise before purchase.
When the last girl had left the room and the door closed, ‘Miss C’ said, “We are now in session. As...presiding chairman...for this quarter, I wish to welcome the Ni Family to our group. In Ni Hei’s absence, the Chair will recognize his son Ni Peng-wum as his representative.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Peng-wum said, bowing in his seat.
A gaunt boar harrumphed. He might have raised a paw, but he only had one, his right sleeve hanging empty from his shoulder. The other was expertly plying a pair of chopsticks. “Yes, Baron?” the canine femme said.
“To velcome der jung fellow I vish,” the Baron rasped, “und it is der reparations I demand.” He glared at the red panda through his glasses.
“Your representatives have already approached Ni and Sons about the damage to your home as a result of our actions, Baron,” Peng-wum said. “Money has been offered, along with materials to repair your windows.” The boar scowled, but sat back. “Madam Chairperson, may I make a statement?”
‘Miss C’ looked amused. “Please do, Mr. Ni.”
He had asked for water as an after-meal drink; he took a sip and set the glass aside before opening his portfolio. A few of the more business-minded types at the table perked their ears in his direction as he adjusted his pince-nez and said, “My father, Ni Hei, is currently under medical care on Spontoon – “
“We know,” the well-dressed wolf said dryly.
“I gathered that you did, Mr. Wulfenscheim, and I apologize for stating the obvious. However, he has transmitted several messages to me, and charged me with relaying them to you.
“First, my father wants to reassure you all that his actions were directed solely against Shen Jintao and Shen Ming. In response to the threat the Shen posed to his family, it was regrettably necessary to liquidate the Shen.” That netted him several disbelieving looks.
“Second, while Ni Hei appreciates the offer made to join you all in ruling this island, it was never his intention to liquidate the Shen in order to take a seat at this table.” This caused a stir, and a stocky red panda waved his tail. “Yes, Mr. Han?”
Han Lo-tso was from Formosa, and made his living trading in – well, smuggling - arms and drugs. His English had a strong Taiwanese accent as he asked, “He did not want this?” A paw waved, the gesture encompassing everyone seated there and the power represented.
“No, Sir, he did not. The Shen were removed because my father wanted our clan free of obligations.” He smiled. “That is not to say that he didn’t wish to say a few words before he withdrew. May I continue, Ma’am?”
The woman’s smile had gotten a bit cooler. “Please.”
“Thank you. Third, while not wanting a paw in the actual operation of Krupmark Island, and wanting very much to not be beholden to anyfur, alive or dead, Ni Hei wants to inform you all that Ni and Sons remains open for,” and he smiled, “investments. We have had business dealings with nearly all of you, to our mutual profit. My father hopes most earnestly to continue to help you make money.” His stress on the word wasn’t lost on anyone; it was a far easier term than ‘money laundering.’ “With our business contacts in Asia and the United States, we are well-situated to help those concerned, ah, resolve any difficulties that they may have with their money.” A few chuckled at the careful phrasing. “And we will be pleased to help invest in business ventures here, such as the trolley.”
A vulpine with an American accent said, “I’ve heard that you have a project with the Families in New York.”
“A long-range investment, Sir. The current regime in Washington is bad for business. The recession that started last year could get worse.” The fox nodded judiciously.
“That brings me to my father’s last point, Honored Sirs and Ma’am.” Peng-wum took another sip of water. “War is coming,” and several of the council members nodded, “and while war may be both good and bad for business – witness the profits made by Mr. Nordstrom’s concern in the Albanian South Indies – there is the possibility that a conflict in this part of the world may affect us directly. We are not prepared to defend ourselves.”
“Sez you,” a huge bull snorted.
“Yes, Sir. On a recent trip to America I saw their Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. We pay taxes to Rain Island and Spontoon in return for a . . . businesslike, tolerant attitude, but the Americans allow their morals to override their sense of business. I would not want to see that fleet offshore, because they would not be easily bought off, if they could be bought off at all.”
A few furs at the table were talking in low tones, with some paw-waving. One finally asked, “What about you, youngster? You live on Spontoon.”
Peng-wum’s expression hardened a bit as he replied, “My wife and child are there, yes. My family is here, on Krupmark Island. Spontoon drove us here in 1929, and I personally distrust the Althing’s intentions. I recall the disturbances here when a member of this council tried to have Inspector Stagg killed. I can only say that we were all lucky that the attempt failed.”
“So what does your father suggest?” Han asked after whispering to Kobayashi.
“So I don’t have to help you escape?” Shin asked. At her father’s nod she said, “I can throw away the plan I was making, then.”
Her father laughed gently, careful to avoid another coughing fit. “Keep it, Daughter, it may be useful someday.” He noted that she’d come in with a rather full-looking leather briefcase and said in English, “It looks like you’ve been busy.”
Shin gave a weary chuckle. “Father, please keep your voice down. The Tutors might hear you.” She spurned the case with a booted toe. “I have to ask you a few things.”
“My business plan, to begin with.” All Songmark students in their final year were required to present the Tutors with a business plan that would illustrate how they intended to use their acquired skills. “You said you wanted to review it before I turned it in.” She dug into the satchel and held out a thick sheaf of typewritten pages.
He took it. “So, not planning on becoming an Air Pirate?” and he smiled as she ducked her head in embarrassment. “I’ll enjoy reading something other than the newspapers. What else have you got?”
“Some stuff from Peng-wum’s office. I can’t wait for him to get back here, Father. Between school, helping run the Maha Kahuna and now watching over the investment office, I think I’m going crazy.”
“I’m hopeful he’ll be back soon, Shin. Nailani misses him terribly.”
Her ears perked. “Has she visited you?”
“Yes, along with one of her uncles. He congratulated me.”
“For helping beat Shen?”
“No, for surviving the attempt.” He huffed another soft laugh.