Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg, Sgt. Brush and other characters courtesy of
E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The constables looked at each other, and one smothered a snicker.
Brush smiled. “Nah. I hears ya been dippin' inta more'n th' till at th' Dragon.”
“It's still the off-season, Brush,” the tiger reminded the fox. “No neighbors to gripe about the noise, unless you heard us all the way over on Main.”
“Yeah. Improve yer eatin' manners.”
Fang laughed. “You been talking to Shin?” He hitched up his trousers and leered. “Maybe getting tips on how to please your wife?”
The two constables stopped suppressing laughter and started looking a bit worried. Few things were liable to really set Orrin Brush off, but alluding to his wife or family was a sure bet to start a fight.
The fox crested, but only slightly. “At least I figger my kids are my own. Yours are gonna be like a game a' 8-ball. Stripes or solids.”
A shrug that was only partly faked nonchalance. “Seen my nephew? Red panda and rabbit. Drop-dead cute.”
“An' eyein' penny gum machines already, I bet. But hey, I could chat all day, but I got somethin' fer ya, and it ain't tickets ta th’ policefur’s ball.”
“An invitation t'chit-chat wit' th' Inspector. Ya don't even gotta RSVP. Clothin' optional. Not dat dat would bodder you or yer mate.”
“Will you two kiss or something already?” Shin yelled from the bedroom. “Fang!”
Without taking his eyes off the fox, Fang shouted, “Yeah?”
“Go with him. I'll still be here.”
Brush chuckled. “Ya want cuffs to preserve your rep, or does ya leave dat to yer mate?
Fang rolled his eyes. “Look, I got time to put on a shirt?”
“Have yer mate toss out a shirt. I want dese guys t'keep an eye on youse.”
The tiger rolled his eyes again and turned to call out, only to catch a thrown shirt straight to his face. It was a loose cut, fit him well, and had a floral pattern that made Brush’s taste in neckties look positively bland.
“Hey, Sarge!” one of the constables said. “Mebbe she shops where you do.” He took a half-step back as Brush glared at him.
“She’s got some arm,” Brush observed. “She oughta call dat dame in Fillydelphia.”
Fang pulled on the shirt and buttoned it. “Let's go. The season's starting soon, and I need to make sure the hotel's ready for customers.”
“Must be hell countin' all dat silver after dey leaves.”
The tiger merely shrugged again.
Shin grumbled as someone started pounding on the front door again. The red panda got up, pulled on a robe and walked barefoot to the door, growling, “I’m coming, I’m coming – “ She jerked the door open and blinked. “Liberty!?”
The New Havenite glowered at her. She was wearing her full Songmark uniform, and appeared a bit uncomfortable wearing the pleated skirt. With the weather warming up to summer, the school blazer would be completely inappropriate by noon. “You going to let me in?” she asked, her flat native accent very much in evidence.
“Sure, sure! Come on in,” and she shut the door as Liberty walked in. “What brings you out here, and in full rig too?”
“My Embassy got a call from Miss Wildford,” Liberty said, clearly unhappy about being contacted there. “They want all of us, in uniform, in their office at eleven o’clock. Exactly.”
Shin’s eyes went wide and she glanced at the kitchen clock.
It was eight forty-seven.
Liberty shook her head. “I have no idea. That’s part of the exercise, I guess.”
She said this to Shin’s retreating back as the red panda whirled and ran for the bathroom, shucking off her robe as she went. “I’ll be right out!” she shouted. “Help yourself to tea!” Then there was the sound of swearing, and water thudding into the tub.
The half-coyote took her blazer off and hung it carefully from the back of a chair. She glanced at the kettle, then at the sink.
An almost vulpine shifty look twisted her muzzle.
Moments later there was the sound of a toilet flushing, and a startled yowl from Shin.
“Good morning, Mr. Wo.”
Fang again positioned the chair Inspector Stagg indicated so that its back was to the wall and he could see both the whitetail buck and the fox. Brush merely smirked and sat down as Stagg fiddled with his ubiquitous stack of index cards.
“Morning. What’s this about?” the tiger asked.
“Thank you for coming in to assist us with our enquiries.”
An eyebrow quirked. “Shin told me that she told you everything. Why bother me?”
“When there is more than one fur who can provide the Constabulary with information, it is good practice to interview all of the furs. There may be details that emerge from another fur's point of view. Additions or omissions. And so forth. I do not think I am revealing any guild secrets in that regard. You can find it in most detective novels.”
“I don't bother to read detective novels. The right people never get punished.” He smiled. “So I guess you'll want to talk to Peng-wum too?”
Stagg gave him a wintry look. “That I will neither confirm nor deny. I find it interesting that you wish to ask the questions, here. You should submit your application downstairs. I am sure that with your experience, we would consider your application avidly.”
Fang’s smile vanished, recalling a similar offer made to him by the Shanghai Municipal Police during a murder investigation. He snorted, both at the memory and the question. “No thanks. I have standards.”
If he was insulted by the reply, Stagg didn’t show it. “Oh, quite. How are you feeling, sir? Is your recovery progressing?”
Oh, so that’s what this was about. Shen Ming had sent an assassin after him. Fortunately Shin had told him what she’d used as a cover story. He nodded. “I just needed a change of scenery, and some exercise.” He cracked his knuckles.
“Nasty injury, ladder falls. Almost as bad as walking into doors as a cause for visits to hospital.”
“Yeah, accidents happen. Knew a guy who slipped in the kitchen.” He refrained from adding that the man had fallen backwards onto a knife – several times.
“Hmm.” The buck clicked his mechanical pencil and began to take notes. “Describe the accident again for me, please, in your own words.”
“Well, it's been more'n a month, but I was up on a ladder dusting the ceiling fan in our bedroom. Lost my balance and crashed into the mirror.”
Yeah. It sounded hokey to him, too.
Stagg merely nodded, half to himself, and took a photograph and a diagram from a folder. He studied them for a moment before asking, “The ladder you use is an F.W. Wooley model 43, correct?”
“It's a ladder. I didn't ask to see its papers. Ask Shin; it's probably still in the tool shed.”
“It is. So, you set up the ladder in the bedroom. You climbed up the ladder.” He eyed the tiger. “How high on the ladder? In other words, where were your feet on the ladder?”
Fang thought for a moment. “Third, fourth rung. Wanted to look down on the fan blades.” He was over six feet tall, but the reply was a plausible one.
“At any point in time during the operation, before, during, or after your fall, were the blades moving of their own accord?”
That made him laugh. “You're kidding, right? You think I wanted to get bashed in the head?” He glanced at Brush as the fox chuckled.
“If you could oblige me by answering the question, sir,” Stagg said patiently. “I don't believe it is very complicated.”
It was ten forty-six when the four members of Red Dorm got out of the water taxi on South Island. Of the other two young women, Tatiana had been the hardest to track down, having spent the night meditating on Main Island.
Brigit, on the other paw, was found in her boyfriend’s apartment on Casino Island. She was still unhappy about having her two fellow students barging in on her and Michael.
“If this is what I hope ‘tis – “ Brigit started to say.
Shin shushed her. “Best not jinx ourselves,” she warned. “Quick, who’s in charge today? Does anyone remember the rotation?”
The other three paused and looked at each other.
A quick discussion later, Brigit led the others through the gate. Last-minute inspections of their uniforms followed, and it was at ten fifty-eight when Brigit reached a paw out to knock on the door.
She hadn’t knocked yet, and the Irish girl looked at the others before opening the door.
The other Tutors sat behind their desk as the quartet filed in. “Ma’am,” Brigit said, “Red Dorm reports, as ordered.”
Miss Devinski nodded. “Be seated. We see that you have followed instructions, and I am certain that you’re wondering why you’ve been summoned. Thoughts, Liberty?”
The canine thought for a moment before replying, “We have graduated, Ma’am.”
“Oh? You think so?” Miss Wildford asked. The feline’s eyes met Liberty’s. “Are you willing to stake everything on that assumption?”
Liberty blinked. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Even your Party membership?”
“Good.” She opened a portfolio. “Tatiana Bryzov-Wei, step forward.”
The Russian sable got up and came up to the table.
“Liberty Morgenstern, Brigit Mulvaney, Wo Shin. Step forward.”
Shin felt a mixture of elation and dread as she took her place beside her dorm-mates. “The four of you,” Miss Wildford said, “started your tenure here at Songmark with fights and insults, and we had our misgivings that you would learn anything.
“But over time, you learned. You learned that you are stronger together than you would be apart. You learned to cooperate. You learned to, if not like, at least respect each other.
“Together, then, you have surmounted every obstacle put in front of you, and have passed every test.” The feline gave each of the younger women a heavy-bond paper certificate, with an embossed seal. “In recognition of that, and of our pride in your progress, the faculty of the Songmark Aeronautical School is pleased to award each of you your certificates of graduation.