Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and related characters courtesy of E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
“The point is,” Inspector Stagg said patiently to Fang, “there are discrepancies in your story that cannot be explained away by a mere blow to the head. Do you intend to stick to the story you gave to the Constabulary?”
For a second Fang merely stared at the whitetail buck. The assassin that the Shen had sent to kill him was fish food. Shin had made quite sure of that, so she told him. He very briefly considered telling the Inspector that.
Putting a paw to his chin, he made a show of thinking it over before saying, “Yeah.” He drank the last of his tea and sat back, waiting. Your move.
Inspector Stagg gazed at the big tiger for a long moment, then turned away. “I see. Thank you, sir. Good morning.” He clicked his mechanical pencil once, and started writing something on a pad.
Fang shrugged and stood up. He placed the cup on the desk and said to Brush, “You might want to dust that. Update your files.” The fox bristled and started to stand, but Fang waved him back. “I’ll show myself out, Brush. See you in the funny papers.”
As soon as the door closed Sergeant Brush said, “I wouldn’t believe him either, Sir.”
“Hrrm. Belief is one thing, Sergeant. Proof is another. The point of this exercise was to let the gentlefur know that his story is met with skepticism.” He paused to regard what he had written. “How easily a jury would convict him on a charge of obstructing justice is another matter. I'm led to believe by your sister that it's a very difficult thing to convict a fur on the charge.
“I think we should pause, and consider. What, Sergeant, do we think happened? Let me know your theory.”
The burly fox thought a moment. “We warned him, two months ago, that someone might make a pass at him. I'm kinda thinkin' that someone did.”
“I agree. A fur or furs unknown entered the residence, attacked him with some kind of instrument, not a gun, Fang fought him off, and then telephoned for help in the kitchen.”
Brush nodded, and Stagg added, “Let us assume, arguendo, that Fang told us the complete and true story, and suppose further that our theory was the complete and true story. What would be the charge we would bring against Fang?”
The fox thought and replied, “Obstruction, I'm thinking. Jury'd hafta decide who had the right of it.”
The buck raised a finger. “Remember, I said that assume he told us the complete and true story, which was the same story as our theory. Obstruction would therefore not enter into it. We would be left only with the affray in his house.”
"Dem Nis gimme a bellyache. But you know DAT all too well, Inspector."
Stagg nodded, a grim smile on his face. "Quite. I can assure you on that point most emphatically. I can also assure you that the Ni family is not the first clan that has figured out a way to – so far - comprehensively defeat the process of justice. I've seen this sort of thing before. They have, however, refined it to something of an art.” He stacked up the index cards bearing his notes and tied them in red tape as he added, “Fang shall simply have to hope his defense was sufficient to warn off any further attacks.” He gave a sighing snort through his nose and consigned the packet to a desk drawer.
Peng-wum had changed into ‘Euro’ clothes over his oiled fur, and while Nailani shopped in the Main Village market, the red panda took a water taxi to Casino Island.
Beside him on the seat rested a whitewashed and very carefully sealed wooden box.
“Honored Ni,” the shopkeeper said as he walked in. “You honor my poor shop with your presence.”
“Esteemed Lin, it is I who am honored.” Peng-wum rested the box on a counter. “I need to send this somewhere. Very quietly, and very specifically, and I know that you know people who can perform this task.”
The feline’s ear (he only had the one) flicked back and forth. He had, as Peng-wum expected, picked up on the key words. “You do me too much honor. To whom am I to send this?” He grinned, showing stained and broken teeth.
The red panda smiled and patted the box. “I give you my word that it is quite safe. But it needs to be placed in a very certain set of paws.”
Then he told the man.
He had to pay extra, but did so after haggling to give the shopkeeper face. It was only good manners.
Nailani smiled as she saw him get off the water taxi. “Good, you’re back,” she said after they kissed. The rabbit doe gestured at what she’d bought. “You can carry the groceries until we can catch the bus.”
He laughed. “Yes, dear,” he said, making his voice sound like an aggrieved husband, and she giggled.
As they walked along the dusty road Nailani asked, “Did it get sent off?”
“Oh, yes.” His ringed tail, the fur oiled close to the skin and carefully combed, swayed back and forth as he walked. “It may take a few days, but it’ll get there.”
The alligator stepped off the train from Minneapolis and looked at the sign. Hopkins was a small town, small enough that when the train station had been built, the man who allowed it to be built on his land had insisted that his name be placed on the building. Ten years ago, the townspeople had bowed to the fait accompli and named the whole settlement after him.
Claude LaFarge stretched, his long tail swishing a bit before he gave the porter a tip and picked up his suitcase.
“Look, Mommy! A dragon!” He turned to see a small kitten pointing at him. The little fellow’s eyes were about as big as saucers.
His mother shushed him. “Joel, hush! He’s not a dragon, and it’s not polite to stare!” She smiled up at LaFarge. “I’m sorry, sir.”
He smiled back tolerantly. “It’s all right, Ma’am,” he said, doffing his hat politely. “I’m an alligator - from Louisiana,” he said to little Joel. He spoke clearly, so as not to confuse the child with his Cajun drawl. “Do you know where Louisiana is?”
The kitten had put a finger in his mouth after his mother had scolded him, and now he looked down at the ground as he shook his head. “Uh-uh.”
LaFarge smiled again and glanced up to see the sun before saying, “It’s that way,” and he pointed south, “way over on the other side of the country. Ask your teacher to show you on a map.” He straightened up and tipped his hat to the boy’s mother again. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am.”
The woman nodded. “Pleased to meet you. Are you staying in Hopkins long, Mister - ?”
“LaFarge, Ma’am, Claude LaFarge. I’m just passing through, and I’m supposed to meet someone – “
She interrupted him. “You say you’re from Louisiana?” At his nod she asked, “Do you know President Long?”
LaFarge replied, “I may have seen him once or twice when he was campaigning.” He tried to keep from laughing.
The feline femme smiled. “Well, if you ever see him again down there, you tell him for me that he shouldn’t listen to all those rich interests in New York that are giving him so much grief, poor man. He has friends out here, farmers and workers, and they like what he’s doing.” She took her kitten’s paw and said, “Remember now, please?”
“If I see him again, I’ll tell him, Ma’am. I promise,” and he turned away and chuckled quietly as the pair of felines walked off. He would pass on the message, of course – Huey needed all the good wishes he could get.
A battered Ford Model B drove up and stopped. The rangy canine behind the wheel leaned toward the open passenger’s window and asked, “You LaFarge?”
A paw reached over and opened the door. “I’m Forrester. The paper said you’d be coming. Put your suitcase in the back and hop in.” The canine had piebald brown and white fur, with long pendant ears and wildly disarranged headfur that had a gray stripe in it.
The alligator got in and the two shook paws. “Claude LaFarge.”
“Clay Forrester.” The canine put the car in gear and it moved off. “Gonna be a warm day, so I figure we’ll go over to the house, sit on the porch and talk a bit. You like lemonade?”
LaFarge grinned. “As long as it’s cold.”
Forrester chuckled. “It should be.” He lapsed into silence, and LaFarge gazed out the windows as the car turned onto an unpaved side street.
The house was neatly painted and rather plain, but with a well-maintained yard and garden. A wide porch stretched across the front of it and a canine femme wearing a light blue dress and an apron waved as the two men got out of the car. “I see you found him, Clay,” she said.
Clay nodded. “Pearl, this’s Claude LaFarge.”
The alligator tipped his hat. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am.”
“Pleased to meet you, and welcome to Hopkins. Will you be staying long?”
“Just a few days.”
“He travels around a lot, hun,” and Clay gave Claude a sidelong look. “We’ll be out on the porch,” he said as he started up the steps.
“I’ll bring lunch out when it’s ready. It’s going to be a hot day,” Pearl said as she went back in the house.
Claude chuckled as he took off his hat and set it on the porch rail. It was close to summer, but in Minnesota it was still cool enough to make the gator shiver at times. Down in Plaquemines at this time of year the weather would be like a Turkish bath. “I want to thank you for seeing me.”
“The paper asked, and reporters live and die at the whims of editors,” Forrester said as he sat down.
“You’re the chief political correspondent for the Star-Tribune,” LaFarge pointed out. “One of the best brains there,” and he grinned as the canine snorted derisively.
“And you want to hear about Harold McAfee.”
Forrester sat back as Pearl came out of the house with a tray bearing two glasses and a pitcher of lemonade. A gauzy lace cover on the pitcher kept insects away from the liquid, and condensation beaded on the sides of the glass. “I hope you like chicken salad, Mr. LaFarge,” she said.
“That’d be fine, Mrs. Forrester.”
Forrester poured two glasses of lemonade as Pearl went back inside. Soon, the sound of a radio music program could be heard coming from the open windows.
The lemonade was cold, and just the right balance of sweet and sour. Iced tea was a bit more to LaFarge’s taste, but this was excellent.
“Long sent you, right?”
The question made the alligator pause and he set the glass down. “Is that a problem?”
Forrester shook his head. “Kinda figured that someone might come asking around,” he said. “I read Harold’s first speech.” He gave the alligator a lopsided smile. “Anyone who’d compare Huey Long with Joe Starling is just looking for trouble, and not from the Red Bird either.”
LaFarge nodded. “Tell me what you know about him.” He refilled his glass.
The canine shrugged and sat back. “Harold McAfee. Good lawyer, far as that goes. Did well by his constituents up in Saint Paul, but a lot of us knew – “
“A lot of us knew that he had larger ambitions. Nordstrom’s retirement back last winter gave him the opportunity.” He sipped at his drink. “Funny, though.”
“Yeah. He was never able to run a statewide campaign for Senate. Never had enough money.” He scratched behind one blotchy ear. “It’s a mystery how he found the money.”