Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and other characters courtesy of E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
Vicky Knox flicked her ears as she heard her employer and friend’s hiss, accompanied by the skitter of claws on the countertop. “Careful, Rosie, these counters ain’t cheap,” the fox admonished. “What’s the problem?”
“Have a look,” the slightly plump cheetah growled. A pair of familiar red pandas was coming in. “That little shiksa and her shtarker father are here.” Her tail thrashed back and forth. “Well,” she said, “I don’t see his sons, and what the hell’s he doing in a wheelchair, I wonder.”
“Didn’t the Inspector tell you?”
Rosie smiled fondly. “Franklin doesn’t usually like to talk shop when he’s off the clock, and I don’t blame him a bit. Of course, if something is bothering him, he’ll spill. Why? Have you heard something?”
The vixen nodded. “A couple of constables came in for coffee a few days ago, and I got the whole story. He got poisoned, and it messed his lungs up.”
Rosie smirked. “Too bad. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Go out and see what they want, okeh?”
“Sure, Rosie,” and Vicky picked up a pair of menus before stepping out into the biergarten area.
“Good morning,” and the red pandas looked up as the fox walked over to them. She stayed just out of reach and held out the menus, and withdrew her paw as soon as Shin had taken them. “What brings you here?” she asked Shin.
Shin passed a menu to Hei as she replied, “My father wanted to have lunch here.”
Shin shrugged. “I had a table reserved at the Great Pagoda. Father?”
“Hm?” Hei was poring over the menu and trying to ignore his rumbling stomach. “What, Daughter?”
“Why did you want to come here for lunch?”
Hei smiled. “The food’s excellent,” and he held out the menu to Vicky. “I’d like a hamburger sandwich, medium rare, with a small salad and a glass of iced tea with lemon, please.”
Vicky nodded slowly as she took the menu. “All right. How about you, Shin?”
“Um, chicken salad on toast, please, water with ice to drink,” and she gave the vixen the menu. “And thank you, Vicky.”
“Remembering my name,” and Shin smiled.
Vicky returned the smile. “How could I forget?” she asked. “You didn’t burn the place down last summer.”
“That reminds me,” Shin said with a chuckle. “Could you ask Rosie if she needs an extra set of paws for Speed Week?” Her expression became serious. “I did learn a lot about running a restaurant.”
The fox gave her a skeptical look. “I’ll tell her, but don’t be surprised if you hear her yell ‘No’ at you. Going into the business for yourself, then?”
The red panda smiled. “I should be graduating soon from Songmark, and I’ll have to find work, you know.”
Vicky chuckled and walked back to the diner, gave Nick the order, and started getting the drinks. “What’d they say?” Rosie asked. Her curiosity had almost impelled her to go out and ask for herself.
“He says that our food’s excellent.”
That merited a disdainful sniff from the zaftig cheetah.
“And Shin wanted to know if you’re hiring for Speed Week.” The vixen fancied that she could hear a sproing! sound as Rosie extended her claws. “I told her I’d ask. No harm in asking, is there?”
Rosie sat down on one of the counter stools. Her tail hadn’t stopped twitching since those two had come into her establishment. “No, no harm in asking – and no harm in saying No either, nu?” She stood up. “I’ll tell the little schmundie myself in just a minute.”
Vicky nodded and took the drinks out. A few more customers arrived as the clock tower at Shepherd’s chimed the noon hour, and both women were busy for a time.
Shin felt it before her nostrils flared. “Father,” she said quietly.
“Hm?” He was about to take another bite of salad.
Hei glanced around. “I don’t see – ah, there he is. Your advanced training was very useful indeed, Shin.” As soon as the whitetail buck stepped into the biergarten, the red panda waved.
Franklin Stagg’s ears dipped as he acknowledged the red panda’s wave with a nod. The Nis’ table was nowhere near the table reserved for him, and he wasn’t interested in talking to either the father or the daughter. After the nod, he limped to his seat and sat down as Rosie bustled over to him.
“I’m sorry, Inspector,” Rosie said, careful to use his title rather than his name. Appearances had to be kept up. She wiped the table down and set a glass of ice water in front of him. “They came in about half an hour ago for lunch,” she explained, “and that little tramp’s had the nerve to ask if I was hiring for Speed Week.”
Stagg nodded, setting his hat aside and taking a sip of the water. “You usually do hire more staff in tourist season, Miss Baumgartner.”
“You know I do. I might break even this year if the news out of America doesn’t scare the tourists away. But I’m not hiring her.”
The buck nodded. “I take it you’ve told her?”
“Not yet. Vicky and me got busy. But I will.” She smoothed out her apron and smiled at him. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you, Inspector. What would you like for lunch?”
He smiled up at her. “You didn’t disturb me, Miss Baumgartner. I think a small watercress salad with toasted pecans, please.”
“Gotcha. Raspberry vinaigrette?”
“Yes, please.” The cheetah walked away, and Stagg caught himself admiring her retreating tailfur before sitting back and taking a sip of his ice water. Although he never looked directly in their direction, he kept the Nis, father and daughter, in sight.
Especially the daughter.
After a few minutes he saw Wo Shin signal for the check. Rosie brought it, and he could see her talking to Shin. The look in his inamorata’s eyes and her twitching tail told him that she was not pleased. Shin’s tail was staying perfectly still, apparently in an effort to save face in front of her father. The younger woman finally gave Rosie some money, stood up, and started to wheel her father out of the restaurant.
Rosie came over as he was about halfway through his salad. “Well, I gave her a piece of my mind,” the cheetah said. “She won’t ask to get hired here again.”
“She seemed remarkably calm,” Stagg observed.
“Probably didn’t want to make a scene with her mamzer Papa sitting there.”
“I’m very proud of you, Shin.”
Hei looked up and to his right to catch his daughter’s eye as she pushed along the sidewalk. “You didn’t react when Miss Baumgartner insulted you. You gained face.”
“I didn’t want to make a scene.”
He reached a paw behind him and patted one of her paws. “Still, I’m very proud of you. You said we were going to Peng-wum’s office?”
“Yes,” Shin replied. His praise warmed her, as did the knowledge that she’d stood up to the cheetah’s diatribe – some of it she didn’t understand, being in Yiddish – without stooping to her level. Even though a lot of the bystanders were bureaucrats from the Althing, word would get around. She could use that when she graduated.
If she graduated, that is. What was taking the Tutors so long?
The clerks in the Ni and Sons investment office rose as one and bowed as their boss’ father entered with his daughter. The office manager, a mouse named Ling, ushered the pair of red pandas into the back office where the ledgers were laid out for inspection. Shin offered the rodent a paw as Hei started to peruse the books. “Thank you for getting things prepared, Ling,” Shin said.
The mouse smiled politely. “I mean no disrespect, Shin, but you do need to have your work checked.”
“I know,” she admitted. “I can’t wait for Peng-wum to get back here.”
Ling nodded, as if to say You and me, both.
Ni Hei tapping a pencil end against one ledger caught their attention. “What’s this entry, Shin?” he asked. “Purchase: 5000 shares Vickers-Supermarine?” He looked up at her expectantly.
Shin looked a bit diffident as she replied, “Vickers has a new aircraft about to enter production for the British air force; the Spitfire, they call it. Based on what I’ve read of its characteristics, it should do well.” Her tail flicked and she added, “I made a balsa copy of the wing from magazine pictures and tested it in the wind tunnel over at the Technical High School. From the tests, it looks very promising.”
“But not Messerschmitt?”
She shook her head. “Messerschmitt makes good planes, yes, but this design is newer.”
“As I said, Father, it shows promise.”
He considered a moment longer and said, “You’ve got more knowledge about planes than I do, Shin, so I’ll approve this.” He smiled. “It’s a large investment, and I hope you’re right.”
“We need to regain our liquidity after, um,” Ling said, and both Nis nodded. “This may not be a slow, long-term method, but it should be a successful one.”
“Agreed.” The two younger people took seats as the older red panda started going over the profit and loss statements for the end of the upcoming quarter.