Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and associated characters courtesy of E.O. Costello and M.M. Marmel. Thanks!)
The GH-2 wobbled a bit as it left the water, its engines roaring and small spits of flame coming from the exhausts. Hao was concentrating on getting the craft aloft, and Xiu noticed a few people waving at them in the darkness before she settled back in the co-pilot’s seat. Her husband fought the plane into a banking turn as it gained altitude, and she reached out to get his attention. “Hao, look.”
“What?” There was a phosphorescent wake cutting across the lagoon, with the boat at the tip of the wake shining searchlights toward the fishing canoes and the beach. Hao laughed. “I said that the harbor patrol would get here. Keep your eyes open for planes, Xiu. Chances are you’ll see their navigation lights first.”
“Right,” and she got out her binoculars. “Why don’t they fly without lights like we’re doing?”
In the dim red light of the gauges she saw him shrug. “In wartime, I guess they would. But they don’t want to run into each other while they’re looking for us.”
“And they’re faster than us.”
He laughed humorlessly. “I’m afraid so,” and he pulled the wheel back a bit to gain more height. “Fortunately, Spontoon gets a lot of unlisted flights, and there’s not enough planes or boats to chase them all down.” He chuckled, a strained sound as he kept the plane under control.
“I was wondering,” she ventured as he gained the plane’s cruising altitude and headed into a cloud bank.
“Couldn’t you have taken your parents’ plane?” he glanced at her and she said, “or maybe that Fokker that Fang was going on about?”
“The Keystone’s having maintenance done on it,” Hao explained, “and I didn’t want to slow that up. A flying boat with a fouled hull just looks nasty, and flies like a cow.” She wisely avoided drawing comparisons between farm animals and the plane they were currently in. “And the Fokker? Sure, it looks great and Julian took care of it, but I’ll let you in on a secret.”
“The wing sometimes comes off.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh.”
“Yeah. There’s been a few crashes. I read about one a few years ago.” He looked at her. “I don’t want to get it in the air until I’m sure it’ll be safe.”
Xiu nodded. She went back to looking out for any aircraft, lifting her binoculars to her eyes from time to time.
One of her paws strayed down to rest on her belly.
“Enfer et damnation! Maudite . . . “
Athena Meffit’s ears perked, and she set her spoon aside. The remaining berries in her bowl could steep in the cream for a bit.
But it wasn’t like her husband to swear, let alone swear in French. He had gone into the clinic before breakfast, and his coffee was starting to get cold. She rather fancied that his temper could reheat it quite effectively. The champagne-furred skunk got to her feet and, straightening her robe, went to investigate.
“James? James, what’s wrong?” she asked as she entered.
The clinic was always pin-neat, reflective of its owner’s meticulous nature and professionalism. Her mate, in his pajamas and robe, was standing by the made-up bed with his fists clenched, teeth gritted as he tried to bite back another bout of swearing.
That was okay. She’d heard him swear before.
What wasn’t okay was the fact that he was stamping his feet, and his tail was raised. These were definite warning signals for anyone familiar with mephits, feral or anthro. Athena stepped to his left, cleared her throat softly and said, “James?”
He stopped stamping his feet and his tail dipped as he hunched his shoulders a bit. “Yes?” His voice sounded a bit strained.
He relaxed as she rested a paw on his shoulder, as if he’d been wired with an electric charge and she had grounded the current into the earth. He reached up and patted her paw. “What’s wrong, love?” Athena asked.
“That da – blasted red panda,” he finally managed to say.
She looked around. “Everything looks like it’s where it should be, dear – “
“I forgot,” he interrupted. “I wouldn’t let you come in here while he was here. He left to visit his daughter-in-law, as you recall.”
She nodded. “You slept very soundly that night.” She gave him a coy look as her tail flirted with his.
He smiled a little shamefacedly. “Heh. Yes. Ahem, anyway, he’s gone, escaped.”
“How do you know that?”
He turned and showed her a letter, half-crumpled in his paw. “He said so. Here,” and he offered it to her.
Athena took the letter, smoothed it out, and tipped toward the sunlight coming from the window. Ni Hei’s paw-writing was careful, but the spelling and grammar were excellent.
I am aware of your personal feelings regarding me, my family, and my business. Despite all of those things, you acted professionally and treated me as you would any other patient. However, I feel that I should not impose myself on you any further.
Enclosed find a checque in the amount of five thousand Spontoon pounds, which I believe will cover the costs of my care and my stay at your home. Regardless of what you may think, I do pay my debts.
Athena gaped at the letter, then looked into the envelope. The flap of the envelope bore a Chinese seal in red ink. Sure enough, there was a checque inside. “Do you think it’s any good?” she asked.
Meffit nodded grudgingly. “It probably is, yes.” His ears perked and he looked past her as P’ina paused at the doorway. “What is it?”
The fox stepped aside. “Sergeant Brush, sir,” and the junior member of the Constabulary’s Detective Bureau came in.
“Sergeant, what brings you here?” Meffit asked. He gestured at the letter in his wife’s paw. “Ni Hei’s left.”
The fox nodded. “Just makin’ sure. I’d guessed as much. ‘Mornin’, Ma’am,” he said, tipping his flat cap to Athena. “Had a report last night over on Main of a seaplane landin’ near Pangai. Figgered dat the Nis’d find a way to get th’ old man away.” His brush twitched a bit. “Folks I know been tellin’ me dat Wo Fang’s back on Southie, too.”
“So what are you going to do?” Meffit asked.
Brush shrugged. “Dat’s up to th’Inspector. Ain’t told him yet.”
“Well, you may want to give him this,” and the skunk held another, unopened envelope. “It’s addressed to him.”
Brush extended a paw, then withdrew it partway. “It ain’t tickin’, is it?”
Inspector Stagg took the news very calmly. Not surprising, since he’d obviously expected something like it to happen. “And you say that Wo Fang has been spotted back on South Island?”
“Yes, Sir. Him and his mate were seen gettin’ on a water taxi at Main Village, headed that way.”
“And her older brother?”
Brush replied, “I sent a coupla constables headed over t’Pangai soon as I heard. They should – “ He paused and got up from his chair and went to the door. He opened it to reveal two rather tired-looking constables, and a low-voiced conversation in Spontoonie took place. Brush finally nodded, dismissed the officers with instructions to get some sleep, and closed the door.
“Ni Peng-wum is on Main, Sergeant?”
“Yes, Sir. He’s with a Wise One, doin’ some rituals.”
The whitetail buck’s brows furrowed. “What sort of rituals, Sergeant?”
The fox met his boss’ eyes. “Clean blood off his soul, Sir. Chases off evil spirits, like.”
Stagg accepted this with his usual equanimity. Being Catholic, he could easily see a parallel between exorcism and confession and the types of ‘rituals’ he thought the red panda was undergoing. “Having a clear conscience is a good thing,” he observed ironically.
“Do you want me to bring them in for questioning, Sir?”
The buck’s jaws worked for a moment. “I’m really not in the mood for triumphalism from that family today, Sergeant. Leave them be, for now. Anything else?” he asked as he saw his subordinate hesitate.
“Well, Sir, Ni Hei left two letters at Doc Meffit’s place. One was for him, thankin’ him for his care.”
An eyebrow quirked. “Polite of him.”
“He put in a checque for five thousand pounds, too.”
“If the good Doctor has any questions about what to do with that, you may want your mate to have a word with Mrs. Meffit,” Stagg said with a slight smile. “And the other letter?”
“Addressed to you, Sir.” Brush held up the still-closed envelope.
Stagg frowned, then waved it away. “If I read it now, it will only ruin my appetite. And that will make Miss Baumgartner get concerned, and fuss over me.” He thought for a moment. “I will have her read it tonight, just to see if there is anything that may cause me any distress.” He took the envelope and slipped it into his coat pocket.
“Mm . . .”
The tourist season was still a week or so away, which lowered the number of people who might potentially object to all the noise coming from the bungalow at the far end of the Maha Kahuna Hotel’s property.
Wo Shin stretched, wriggling somewhat provocatively against her larger husband as she ran her fingers over her well-bitten neckfur. She hugged him from behind and whispered, “I missed you.”
The tiger’s paw reached behind him and patted her behind. “I missed you too,” Fang said. “Feels good to sleep without waiting for gunfire.”
“Has it been – bad?”
“Not really. Once word got around that we weren’t going to take Shen’s place, the number of people trying to whack us dropped.” He twisted around to face her, and kissed her. “Have you graduated yet?”
“Should hear something today, I think.” Her ears moved as a knocking sound was heard, followed by a shout.
“Constabulary! Open up!”
Fang rolled his eyes and Shin growled as the knocking resumed. She pulled the bedsheet over her head and said, “It’s for you, dear.”
The Manchurian tiger lay there a moment, then sat up. Pausing to pull on a pair of trousers and put slippers on his feet, he rubbed sleep from his eyes as he walked to the front door.
He opened the door to reveal Sergeant Brush and two uniformed constables.
Fang grinned. “Brush! Good to see you! Give us a kiss!”