Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and related characters courtesy of E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
The four young women made their way upstairs to their dorm room in silence. To a casual onlooker, they all appeared to be thinking, maybe planning something.
Shin sat on her bed as Liberty closed the door, and the red panda looked at the diploma in her paws again. There it was, all in black and white.
She’d done it.
She should be happy. She should be ecstatic. Three years (well, minus that term she missed, starting her schooling late) of backbreaking work, exercise, lessons both theoretical and practical, problems, obstacles - all over.
Why did she feel like crying, then?
Shin glanced at the others, her banded tail fluffing a bit when she realized that they were all feeling the same things she felt. “Um,” she ventured.
Liberty stirred and looked at her. “I’ll,” she started, then her voice trailed off before she resumed, “I’ll have to tell Walking Fox – and Comrade Wakefield,” naming the Main Islander who helped her, and New Haven’s envoy to Spontoon.
The other three twitched their ears, suddenly realizing the order in which she’d named them.
“Sure’n me Aunt’ll be happy t’hear I’ve made it through,” Brigit said. The Irish setter brushed a paw through her curly headfur. “An’ I’ll have ta tell Mikeen.” She was about to say more but closed her muzzle and glanced at Tatiana, who sat on her bed with her eyes closed. “An’ then mebbe t’church,” the canine said softly.
“Um,” Shin said again, “I suppose that, since we’re all here, I should give you these.” She took three envelopes, all sealed with her clan’s chop, from an inner pocket in her blazer (like the ersatz armor sewn in, it was an addition to the original design) and gave them to the other members of Red Dorm. “My father wanted me to give these to you.”
Liberty opened hers at one end, holding it away from her, while Tatiana merely slit it open and Brigit held hers up to the sunlight streaming through the window before opening it. All three read them while Shin waited.
Tatiana finished reading hers, then nodded at Shin and folded the letter back up before tucking it into a pocket.
Brigit blinked. Looking over at Shin she asked, “Did ye know what’s in this, Shin?” The red panda shook her head, and the Irish girl said, “Sez here, it does, that yer Da’s made o’er ta me a bank draft fer ten t’ousand Spontoon pounds, drawn on t’Bank o’ Spontoon.” She grinned. “I can start m’business, I can.”
“That’s great,” Shin said. She knew, and very likely her father knew as well, that Brigit would probably spend part of the money repaying her aunt and certain furs in Dublin before she began her supply company. “Liberty, what does your letter say?”
The half-coyote’s ears dipped as she considered her reply. “Your father is understandably grateful for my help.”
“Is that all?” Tatiana asked.
“For me, yes,” the Trotskyite said, folding the letter carefully before putting it back into its envelope and placing it in her blazer pocket. “Anything else is for others to read.” The others guessed the implication, and nodded. Her ears suddenly perked and she looked at the door.
All four scrambled to take up defensive positions, and relaxed when the door swung open to reveal Miss Blande. The Tutor smiled approvingly and placed a paper-wrapped parcel on the nearest dresser. “Here are your passports, and your logbook, Shin,” she said. “You have this room until Friday, unless you have other arrangements made.” The younger women resisted the urge to roll their eyes at that; they knew the Tutors knew that they were away from the school grounds more often than not since getting back from Krupmark Island. “You will also want to pack. Anything you don’t want to take with you when you leave may be placed by the gatehouse for donation to charity.”
As soon as the door closed Shin slipped her cast-iron jutte back into its sleeve in her blazer, and the others put their own weapons back into concealment. The red panda asked, “Would any of you be interested in having dinner tonight at the Grand? You know, to, um, celebrate?”
“I switched the thing off before I set up the ladder,” Fang said.
Stagg nodded. “Did anyone switch it on again during your operation?”
What does he think I am, stupid? “No, I was alone in the house. Shin was at school.”
“Were any of the doors or windows in your house unlocked?”
Yeah, he thinks I’m stupid. “It was a nice night. Had a window open.”
“Is the floor in your bedroom level?”
“You had a window open. Just the one, sir? And were the other windows locked?”
“Think so, yeah.”
Stagg jotted a note. “But you are uncertain, you do not know for sure if that was the only window, and you do not know for sure if the other windows were locked?”
The tiger’s tail tapped lazily at the floor. This wasn’t like a lot of the police interrogations he’d undergone in Shanghai.
Fewer beatings, for a start.
“No, I'm not certain. I lost my balance, fell, and woke up in the hospital.”
“I see,” Stagg said. “You woke up in the hospital.” He glanced at the report from the ambulance service. “What was the last thing you remember before you lost unconsciousness?”
“Calling the front desk for help. I made it into the kitchen.” The Manchurian stretched in his seat.
“So, you fell from the ladder, landed somewhere, got to your feet, went to the kitchen of your home, made a telephone call, and fell unconscious. Is that your memory?”
The red panda bowed courteously to the Wise One. His oiled fur marked with sigils and looping patterns, Peng-wum said in Spontoonie, “Manifold thanks, Wise One, for cleansing soul-mine. Tragic it would be, for mate-precious-mine and child-ours – “
That was as far as he got. The feline priestess slapped him across the face before subjecting him to a long harangue composed largely of insults, interspersed with rhetorical questions about how Nailani and their son would fare should he have been killed on Krupmark. By a neat trick of grammar, she implied that they would have gotten along fine without him, and still could if he did anything like that again.
Peng-wum knelt there and took it stoically. He expected a lot worse, actually, and allowed himself to breathe a tiny sigh of relief when the Wise chanted a final blessing and walked off into the woods, her shell, bone, and wooden amulets clacking together. When she was well out of sight, he got to his feet, dusted himself off (taking care to avoid disturbing the patterns laboriously combed into his fur) and headed for home.
It was going to be a warm day, and he put his pince-nez on and straightened his grass skirt as he neared the longhouse. Touching the sigil carved into a lintel he asked, “Nailani? Are you home?”
“Baba!” a child’s voice said in Chinese, and his father scooped him up in his arms and cuddled him. Mikilani cooed and giggled as he hugged Peng-wum.
Nailani came into the room, her hips swaying a bit and a native dress stretched taut over her pregnant belly. “Welcome home, sweetheart.”
“You have no idea how glad I am to be home,” the red panda said feelingly as he sat down on a pandanus mat. His son giggled and started playing with the tip of Peng-wum’s tail. “It was a bit touch and go, and could have gone horribly wrong.”
“So Shin told me.” The rabbit doe lowered herself to sit on a low stool beside him, and they shared a kiss while their son played. “It must’ve been really bad, to make you want to see a Wise One so quickly.”
Peng-wum nodded, a paw absently stroking Mikilani’s headfur. The little fellow was so lucky to be so young, and not be able to understand. “I couldn’t bring what I had weighing on me in here,” and Nailani laughed as he leaned over and nuzzled her belly. She slapped at his ears, but very gently.
“You and I need to go to Main Village and do a little shopping,” she said. “Do you remember what to say if you see any tourists?”
The red panda thought for a moment. He suddenly smiled and said haltingly, “Kia te puruhi o te – o te – hang about, let me think, ah - mano arewhana mui tou pito?”
She laughed and kissed him. “Your accent stinks, but we can work on that. You must be hungry,” and she started to get to her feet.
He stopped her. “I’ll get it. You need to stay off your feet for a bit.” He got up, picked up his son and cradled him as he headed for the larder.
Privately, Peng-wum was sure that “May the fleas of a thousand elephants infest your navel” sounded better in Chinese than in Spontoonie.
But the tourists wouldn’t care, and might even think it was a blessing.
Inspector Stagg had paused in his questioning to consult several reports. He asked Sergeant Brush at one point to give Fang a cup of tea, which the tiger accepted and sipped at.
He hadn’t had his morning coffee, or any breakfast.
The whitetail buck cleared his throat and asked “Have you ever fallen into glass objects before, sir, like windows in a building or in a car?”
A shrug. “I got thrown out of a window in Shanghai, back in '24. Big elk threw me.” He didn’t mention what had happened to the elk after that.
“Hmm. So you know what that sort of thing can do to one's fur, of course.”
“Yeah.” What was this horned nuisance aiming at?
“We found a fair amount of your blood on the mirror, to be sure, sir.”
“I’m not surprised. Shin told me that they had to put blood in me.”
Stagg nodded. Brush sat back, watching intently. “By the way, were you dusting the fan with your left paw, or your right paw?”
“Mmmm. You see, there are two things that puzzle me, sir, about the crime scene, that I want to talk about specifically right now.”
Fang’s ears twitched. “’Crime scene?’”
The older buck ignored the interruption. “Do you not think it strange, sir, that there were no hairs from your pelt on the mirror, especially in the areas where your blood appears?”
He shrugged again, dismissively. “I'm not a great detective. It's strange, yeah.”
“You said you were on either the third or fourth rung on the ladder, did you not?”
He thought for a moment. “Yeah.”
“If you will pardon me for a moment, sir, I wish to make some rough calculations. This will take a minute or two. Sergeant, if you could get the gentlefur a refill of his tea?”
Fang held out the cup and Brush added more of the beverage. It was a decent tea, but the Manchurian tiger wasn’t much of a connoisseur. He would have been just as satisfied with coffee or a beer. That reminded him that food and beverage vendors were due to come in to take orders. A sound as Stagg shifted in his chair brought his attention back.
“Thank you for waiting, sir. By the way, allow me to show you a photo of the bedroom.” He held up a clear picture of the room, and Fang bit back a whistle. “That is the mirror in question, the one that you said you fell against, correct? The one that pivots in the middle?”
“Yeah. Don't usually use it myself.” Which was true.
“You fell from a height of approximately 10 feet in the air, and yet what would appear to be the impact on the mirror is rather low down, as you can see from this photograph taken shortly after you were taken to hospital. In addition, note the way the mirror is tilted on its pivot. It is tilted up. If you had fallen from a height, and had struck the mirror as you did so, the mirror would be tilted down, would it not?”
Brush was grinning at him.
Fang set his teacup on the desk and stood up. “Look, Inspector, if you have a point to make, make it. I have work to do.”