Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and other characters courtesy ofChapter Two-hundred-twenty-five
E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Many modern planes use streamlining to both maximize aerodynamic efficiency and be aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
The Mixtecan-made Garza-Huacatl GH-2, on the other paw, was only fair in the efficiency category, and a near-complete loss in terms of aesthetics.
The plane started-out as a Dornier D-2 Delfin flying boat, and the Mixtecan duo who redesigned the plane kept the basic hull form and fuselage. They added a second engine atop the high monoplane wing, but made no attempt to modify the wing (apart from strengthening it to support two engines) in order to improve its handling in the air. What resulted from the coyote and the ocelot’s paws was a small transport plane that seemed to like flying exclusively in straight lines.
The balky plane sideslipped a bit, Hao grinding his teeth as he struggled with the wheel to coax the craft into completing the turn he had to make. Beside him in the co-pilot’s chair, Xiu sat as still as she could, watching her husband. She’d told him that she wanted to learn to fly, but was now probably wishing to start learning on a much easier plane, like Father’s Keystone.
The aftermarket BMW engines were, at least, working very well. Hao managed to persuade the plane back into level flight and glanced over at his wife. “What?” he asked loudly, his sulky tone audible over the sound of the engines.
Xiu smiled and said, “Now I know why you have such strong arms.”
His grin faded as he heard a noise behind him, and he twisted in his seat in time to see Fang’s teeth flash at him in a grin. The small red lamps on the cockpit gauges gave the teeth the appearance of being bloody. The rest of the tiger was practically invisible in the dark passenger compartment. “What are you laughing about?”
“Are you sure you two don’t want to be alone?” Fang laughed. “It’s so romantic – just the two of you by the light of the gauges – “
“Shut up,” Hao growled as Xiu stifled a giggle.
“I’m still not clear on why I have to be on the same side as this,” Peng-wum said, nudging a whitewashed wooden tea chest with his foot.
“This thing’s temperamental enough without the load being unbalanced,” Hao said, “and you weigh less than that striped tub of butter. Of course,” and he grinned as he twisted around to look back at them, “I could have Fang sit in the dead center, with you sitting on his lap. You might remind him of Shin.”
Peng-wum glanced at Fang, then put one foot on the chest. “I’ll stay here, thanks.”
“Yeah,” Fang said. “No offense, Peng-wum, but you’re not my type.”
“Glad that’s settled,” Hao grumbled as he peered out the GH-2’s windshield. There was no moon, but the skies were clear, and the lights of Casino Island were a bright smudge in the distance – about another ten miles, he judged. “Xiu?”
“Yes, Hao?” He nodded, and his wife picked up the binoculars.
“You’re looking for any lights between us and Casino Island, there,” and he pointed straight ahead. The strong directional signal provided by Radio LONO could be heard coming over the earphones resting on his neck. Hula music, as always; Tilli-li had a great reputation of using her record library as a homing beacon, and the song coming up was advertised to ‘shake your socks off.’
His wife’s paw reached out and tapped his shoulder suddenly, just as LONO began playing the Hubba-hubba Hula. She pointed down and a bit to the northeast of their bearing. “Is that it?” she asked.
“Let me see,” and he took the proffered binoculars and looked. Hao started to laugh and gave the binoculars back to Xiu. “That’s for us, all right,” and he slowly eased the wheel forward to let the plane descend.
The rabbit’s ears perked at the sound of engines and looked up to see a set of navigation lights in the moonless sky. He peered across the starlit expanse of water to make sure that everyone was in position. Satisfied, he raised a conch shell to his lips and blew a long, droning note. The sound echoed across the water and was taken up by others. The rabbit then put down the shell and fished a cigarette lighter from a pocket of his shorts. A few flicks, and he lit his small boat’s fishing lantern.
Other lanterns were lit, and the buck settled back to wait. The lights would attract fish to the nets or a spear wielded by the other rabbits in Pangai’s fishing fleet.
Of course, the lights could also attract the attention of people in the air.
The droning got louder, and the lights suddenly went out. The rabbit, a veteran of a dozen clandestine landings and ‘fishing trips’ over the past years, settled back to watch.
Hao laughed when he heard Xiu gasp. The oil lamps used by the Mahokus for fishing made exceptional landing lights, especially when arranged in two neat rows against the dark water. The strait between Main and South Islands was usually fairly placid at this time of night, caught between high and low tides.
He nodded at Xiu, who leaned over and faced into the passenger compartment and yelled, “Hang on! We’re landing!”
Fang grumbled, “You don’t need to tell us.” The abrupt shift in the plane’s level flight and the change in the pitch of the engines had told him and Peng-wum that something was going on. Everything now depended on just how good Hao was at persuading the Garza-Huacatl to land without acting like a submarine. The red panda was a bit out of practice, after all.
The plane sideslipped a bit, leveled out scant feet above the water, and edged down. A wave slapped against the hull, making a sound like a sledgehammer had just hit it, and with a jarring splash Hao set the balky plane down.
From the cockpit, the rows of fishing lamps were a bit of a blur, but Xiu distinctly saw one rabbit dive out of his boat when the plane’s wing got a bit too close to him for comfort. The landing made her teeth chatter, and she hoped she wasn’t too obvious about breathing a sigh of relief that the plane was down safely.
She glanced at Hao, and grinned to herself as she saw him give a relieved sigh as he taxied the plane around and headed northeast for Pangai. The fishermen either extinguished their lamps or started moving their boats around. No one, it was hoped, would be the wiser.
Of course, Hao was never one to merely hope. He knew that someone would report seeing lights, and guess that the plane had landed somewhere, and that same nosy fur would likely call the Constabulary, who would contact the Naval Syndicate, who would send planes and the harbor patrol....
Sometimes it wasn’t worth the effort, but he wanted to get his father back home and safely away from that horned nuisance and his stupid subordinate.
Lined up toward the beach, Hao cut the engines and let the plane’s momentum crest the surf line and come aground, sand rasping against the hull with a hissing, crunching noise. For a moment, all that could be heard was the slap of wavelets against the plane.
Hao said sarcastically, “You can stop wetting your pants now, we’ve landed.”
“Ha ha,” his older brother said as he started unbuckling himself from his seat. Fang was already up. “What do you want done with this box?”
“Just don’t get it wet.” Hao gave Xiu a kiss as he got out of the pilot’s chair. “After that, well – “
Peng-wum nodded in the semidarkness. “As we discussed. Might be a bit tricky.” Hao glanced at him and he added, “It could take a bit more time than you like.”
“So long as it gets there,” his brother said.
A group of Peng-wum’s in-laws were waiting for him, along with Nailani. They murmured approvingly as he kissed her and nuzzled his son. A few others applauded as Shin practically leaped into Fang’s arms, legs wrapping around his waist as they kissed.
A solitary red panda sat a bit apart from the others with a small pile of things stacked nearby. “Father?” Hao asked as he walked up.
“Hello, Hao,” Hei said softly. He gave a surprised sound as his youngest son knelt on the sand and embraced him. Hei returned the embrace, holding his son close. “What’s wrong, son?”
Hao sniffed and looked up. “I’m just glad that you’re okay, Father.”
A soft chuckle, and Hei rested a paw on Hao’s head. “I’m not completely well, Hao, as you should know. I also have some rather heavy luggage to be put aboard.”
Hao nodded as he stood up. “Peng-wum’s been telling me. Those are air bottles?” he asked as several of his kinsmen-by-marriage started to pick the steel cylinders up.
“Yes. Unfortunately I’m going to need them.” A few tribesfurs had switched on flashlights, and he asked, “What is that box for?”
Hao suddenly fidgeted. “I, well, I’m sending a message,” and he explained what had happened. “I have to get those idiots off my back somehow, Father. Pretty soon it’ll start interfering in business, and there are enough things going on.”
Hei nodded and started to stand. Hao helped him up and the older red panda patted him on the shoulder. “You did right, Hao,” he said, surprising the younger man. “It’s a touch theatrical, but I think the Russians understand dramatic gestures. How are you sending it?”
“Peng-wum will get it sent on its way,” Hao replied. “Do you have anything you want left behind?” Hei could see a flash of teeth. “Something for Inspector Stagg?”
Hei chuckled. “No, but I did leave a few things behind.” He looked east. “Harbor patrol?”
“I expect them, or fighters from Moon Island,” Hao said. Xiu flicked her flashlight at him, their agreed-upon signal that the plane had been refueled and was ready to go. “I have you sitting in the middle.”