Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The B+O Railroad’s Capitol Limited pulled into Union Station in Washington, D.C. on time on a sunny late spring afternoon. A thin whitetail deer in a trench coat and fedora watched as a badger and his wife joined the throng of passengers leaving the station for waiting taxis, and took note of the photographer and two reporters trailing after the couple.
Senator McAfee took his wife’s arm, posed for one more picture, and ushered his mate into a waiting cab before climbing in behind her. The cab drove off, headed for the Hotel Harrington. Until an apartment could be found, the McAfees would be calling the hotel home.
McAfee smiled as he helped Maud off with her coat and as she tested the mattress he gave the bellhop a tip. “It’s not a bad room, Maud,” he said, “and it’ll do until we get an apartment.”
She nodded, and the two shared a kiss. Even after thirty years of marriage, the fire was still there. “Harold?”
“Any idea what job you’re likely to get?”
Her husband grinned. “Barkley offered me a seat on the Agriculture Committee,” and he recalled the hound’s reasoning. The Majority Leader had placed the call personally. “Dick Nordstrom had the seat, so it makes sense that I get it. Junior as all get-out, of course.”
Maud McAfee nodded. “I do hope you won’t be expecting me to stay here all the time.”
“Of course not, darling.” He sat down beside her and slipped a paw around her waist. “I know that all of your friends – our friends – are still back home. But you know how it is. The other wives will want to meet you.”
“I know,” she said with a smile as she nestled closer to him. “I’m very proud of you, you know. Papa thought you were crazy to get into politics.”
“I remember. He wanted me to stay in his practice.” He sighed. “But I believe that I can make a difference, and still can. Look out there, honeyfur.” He gestured at the window behind them. “Washington! Decisions made here affect the entire country.”
“I know,” Maud said. “How long, then?”
“I think we’ll be back home well before the fourth of July.”
“How do you figure that, Harold?”
“Simple.” The badger grinned at her. “This place gets way too hot in the summer. Everyone will be out of here,” and he kissed the tip of her nose as she giggled.
Wo Shin was grumbling.
That, in itself, was hardly news. The red panda was usually grumbling, as sotto voce as she could, in a Chinese dialect she felt safe in using, when starting out on yet another tutoring session.
That gods-damned squirrel.
While Shin had to grudgingly admit that Nancy had, in fact, improved both in her studies and in her flying, the word she had asked Alpha to pass on regarding Krupmark Island may as well have gone in one ear and out the other.
Something she thought was entirely possible for the blonde second-year student. The red panda fancied that she could shine a light in one of Nancy ears, and read a map by the light coming from the other ear.
Today’s lesson was for night flying, a relatively simple matter for a third-year. Shin was dressed in her flight suit and carried a copy of her flight plan in one paw. Her wariness about potential enemies was indicated by the constant twitching of her ears and occasional glances around and behind her.
So soon after beheading Shen Ming, Shin was taking no chances that someone might seek revenge. She had purposely dismissed the guards that her parents had assigned to her, at the Tutors’ direction. After last December, she didn’t need them any longer.
“About time you got here, Wo,” and the red panda glared as Nancy Rote stepped out from behind one of the De Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes. “We’re supposed to be flying by now.”
“Night flying, Rote.” Shin pointed west. “As you can plainly see, the sun’s not down yet. But there’s still plenty of light for preflight inspections.” Her smile was mocking. “Have you done the inspections yet?”
The blonde squirrel’s eyes narrowed. “Yes,” she replied in a grudging tone. She had been convinced that being made this criminal’s student was an elaborate test by the Tutors, and she still didn’t like it one bit.
“Good,” Shin said. “Before you came out, I loosened one turnbuckle on the rudder cables. Since you found it, I’ll assume you fixed it. Tell me, what side was it on again? I’ve forgotten.”
The squirrel’s fluffy tail twitched.
The red panda’s tail held perfectly still.
With a disgusted growl of frustration, Nancy dove toward the tail section of her plane. A moment or two later, and she went in search of a wrench.
You know, I could get to like this, Shin thought. Teaching can be fun.
After a few minutes Nancy poked her head up. “The left.”
“Good. Notice anything else?”
The head ducked down again. “No, I don’t see anything.”
“Good. Get things squared away and we’ll get these planes in the air.” She watched Rote packing up her tools and asked, “Alpha talk to you?”
A pause. “Yes.” She carried the tools away and placed them in the toolbox, then walked back. Shin saw that her fists were clenched. “And it doesn’t matter.”
“I’m still going to hunt you down, yes, even on Krupmark,” Rote declared. “When I get started, Wo, there’ll be no place on earth where you can hide.”
Shin sighed. “Well, the Tutors can’t blame me, then.”
“Blame you for what?”
“For ending up dead or enslaved.”
“You’re just trying to scare me away. It won’t work, Wo.”
The Chinese girl shook her head in exasperation. “Lā mǔ shì nǐ de hòu duān, nǐ zhè āng zāng de sōngshǔ,” she muttered. Aloud and in English she said, “Fine. Get in and let’s get in the air.”
Throughout the flight, Shin stayed behind Rote, watching the second-year student’s performance carefully. Part of her kept wishing that the sturdy biplane had a set of working machine guns. Getting rid of the stupid rodent would settle quite a few problems.
However, she would lose face, as well as points. Rote had been placed under her tutelage, and failure would be a blow to her self-respect. That went for allowing Nancy to go to Krupmark, unfortunately. Shin was sure that the squirrel would be sold for her fur within two day at most.
She briefly thought of how Alpha, Nancy’s wife, would react. The shrew was purportedly a certified Mad Scientist from Cranium Island. What she might be capable of, the red panda didn’t want to guess. Thinking of Alpha reminded her of her one and only trip to the island, and she shivered despite the warmth of her flight suit.
The Soviet Far East port city of Vladivostok was a very tense place to be. It was caught between two fires – on the one paw, the looming threat of a raid or an attack by the Tsarist forces from Vostok Island, and on the other the Japanese Empire. The Red Army was tensely watching the border with Manchukuo, while the Pacific Fleet stood ready to counter the inevitably futile attempt of the imperialists.
Lookouts were posted on nearby mountains and fishing boats, ever watchful for planes or ships.
Very little of that mattered to the two visitors from Moscow. From the windows of their rooms overlooking Revolutionary Prospect, Ilyumzhinov knocked back the last of his tea and grumbled, “Two days we’ve been waiting.”
Grigorchuk gave a soft chuckle at the saiga’s frustration. “Calm down, Alyosha. Remember our briefing. Krupmark isn’t France; we may not need passports, but – “
The Kazakh snorted at the Ukrainian. “Da, I recall. We’ll have to be smuggled in. It reminds me of Italy,” and the two paused, thinking back on the scramble up and down the mountains from Austria in order to reach Milan and ‘neutralize’ a counterrevolutionary who was hiding there. The rat had died, as all rats do, squeaking in terror.
It had been a good mission.
The newspaper on the table near the tea had an article from Spontoon. The Soviet Embassy there was complaining about the arrival of a Tsarist ship, the Fanny Kaplan, to the small island nation. Apart from the automatic complaint about any Whites showing their reactionary snouts, the name of the ship aroused particular protest.
Spontoon’s government, the Althing, had asked the Soviet Government to refrain from any “rash or ill-considered actions.” Briefly, Ilyumzhinov wondered who Comrade Bearia was sending to take care of the matter.
Inwardly he shrugged. It wasn’t his business.
There was a soft knock on the door, and both men drew pistols. Grigorchuk padded barefooted to take a position beside the door, and raised the pistol to head height. He nodded to Ilyumzhinov.
The saiga adopted a friendly, but slightly drunk tone. “Who is it?”
“The latest paper from Lemmingrad, Comrade?” came the muffled voice, and both furs relaxed just a bit.
“Come in, door’s open.” A short canine with a bushy, curly tail stepped in as Grigorchuk hastily slipped his gun into a pocket. The akita was the head of the NKVD for Vladivostok. “Hello, Comrade. Tea?”
“No, thank you, Comrade,” the canine said affably. “I’ve been directed by Center to tell you that all has been arranged, and you leave tonight.” He cocked an ear. “Do either of you get seasick?”
The bear chuckled.
Ilyumzhinov said, “Nyet.”
“Good. The last time we tried to infiltrate someone into Tsargorod, the idiot was so ill from the trip he was easy meat for the Okhrana. Your boat leaves at twenty-two hours.”
“Will we be met?”
“No. The boat will drop you off on the west side of the island, and you will make your way east to Fort Bob. Many of the inhabitants speak Russian to varying degrees, so you should have little trouble making your way.”
“And our target? Is he there?” Grigorchuk asked.
“Our latest intelligence says that he is.”