Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and characters courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel and E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
The chicken salad was delicious, served on a leaf of iceberg lettuce with toast on the side, and LaFarge took care to thank Mrs. Forrester for the meal. Pearl beamed happily at the praise as she gathered up the plates. “Will you boys be wanting anything else?” she asked. “I have some cake left over from dinner last night.”
The alligator grinned up at her and patted his stomach. “Ma’am, I’m feeling tight as a tick right now. If I have anything else I might bust.”
The canine femme chuckled and headed back inside. LaFarge turned to his host, who was filling his pipe. “It was a great lunch.”
Forrester nodded, puffing the pipe alight before waving the match out and dropping it into an ashtray perched on the patio rail. “Pearl always likes to impress guests,” the reporter said.
“Not hard to do, with cooking like hers,” the alligator replied.
The reporter smiled. “I’ll tell her you said that, it’ll make her day. Now,” and he blew a smoke ring, “McAfee.”
LaFarge nodded. “You said it was strange that he suddenly got enough backing to go statewide.”
“So,” and his voice lowered, “should I talk to King Cann?”
Forrester blinked, and he glanced around, suddenly nervous. “You mean Izzy Blumenfeld, and no, I don’t think you should.” Another furtive glance, and he leaned forward and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Ever since the Liggett killing, reporters know to give him a bit of a wide berth. Since Benson took office, Blumenfeld’s kept out of politics. Not his strong point, really; he prefers his bread-and-butter stuff. I’m happy about that, since it means my wife and kids can sleep nights.”
“I got you,” the alligator said. According to the FBI, Blumenfeld’s operations included such things as real estate and gambling. “Who should I talk to, then? Just to start?”
The canine sat back, nervously tapping the mouthpiece of his pipe against the table as he thought. “Tommy Banks, maybe. The Irish have the organization to do it.”
“That raises another question,” LaFarge said. “If – if – he got his money from, let’s say unusual sources, why?”
Forrester’s ears perked. “Why what?”
“Why go to all the trouble and expense to get McAfee into the Senate?”
The reporter paused mid-puff, and made a show of examining the glowing ash in the pipe’s bowl. His ears had risen slightly and he asked, “You sure you’re not a reporter yourself?”
LaFarge chuckled. “Not me. I’m just plain folks, but I clean up all right – at least, that’s what Huey told me a while back.”
The tiger sat and brooded as the water taxi made its way back to South Island, his twitching tail the only outward sign of his anger. The driver of the boat glanced back at him and asked in Spontoonie, “Creature-with-stripes-outlander emphasis-bad converse with Lawgiver-who-Limps?”
“True-telling, Arau-son-Wa’pa,” Fang grumbled. Stagg had figured out that Shin’s story had a hole large enough to drive a truck through. But the more he thought it over, the more his mood lightened.
Even if he admitted everything, there was no sign of his would-be murderer. Shin had made very sure of that. Sure, the story might not hold water, but Stagg had nothing he could directly lay at their feet. When the water taxi stopped at the dock, he tipped the driver well, receiving a blessing from his fellow feline, and Fang headed for the Maha Kahuna.
First things first, and that was a decent shower and a change of clothes. He was expecting to do some business today to get ready for the tourists that were expected. Confirmed reservations had been arriving by mail and telegram, and all of the signs pointed toward a very profitable season.
There were even rumors around the airport and among those in the know on Meeting Island that Speed Week was going to be, as one person put it, “spectacular.” Fang wasn’t sure what could top last year’s race, but it would be a good draw.
The second item on the agenda, after a shower and change, was breakfast. He walked up to the front door of the bungalow set aside for him and Shin –
And stopped, his claws extending.
The door was slightly open.
He hadn’t had time to get a weapon when Brush had brought him in for questioning, but there were several options available. He slipped a paw behind a window box and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. The tiger stepped to the side of the doorway and shoved the door open with the barrel of the weapon.
He went in low and made sure that the room was empty before straightening up. His feline ears flicked at a sound from the bedroom. “Shin? Shin, is that you?”
“I – In here,” came his wife’s voice from the bedroom, and his tail bottled.
It sounded like Shin was crying.
Fang stepped gingerly into the room, looking all around before approaching the red panda. Shin was still in her Songmark uniform, the blazer draped over a chair. The Manchurian tiger was concerned; Shin wasn’t paying attention to the fact that her back was unprotected, and she hadn’t cried like this since her father had given her a choice between marriage or Songmark.
He sat on the bed and rested a paw on her shoulder, feeling her sob. “Shin? Honey? What’s wrong?”
The red panda drew a long, shuddering breath. “N – Nothing.”
“’Nothing?’ C’mon, Xiaochou de lian, tell me.” He used his usual name for her, Clown-face, as a soft term of endearment as he gently rolled her onto her back and pulled her, unresisting, into a seated position on his lap. She hugged him, and as he stroked her back he repeated, “Tell me.”
She hiccupped and her tail pointed at a piece of paper on the nightstand. He reached over and picked it up.
Wo Fang had been raised on the streets. Thanks to orphanage schools and missionaries, he could read Chinese rather well, and had taught himself to write. English he spoke fairly well, but had trouble reading and writing it.
The paper was in English, in very fluid calligraphy, so he found it to be rough going. Shin had stopped crying and was wiping her eyes by the time he asked, “So, this says that you graduated?”
“What are you crying for, then? I thought you’d be happy – “
“I am happy, you big lug,” she said, sniffling. She cupped his face in her paws and kissed him. “I graduated.”
“Why the tears, then?” She shuddered as he grabbed her tail and tugged.
Shin replied, “I’m happy,” she repeated. “I made it. Three years of school, and I made it.” A thought hit her and she looked up at him. “And I’m – I’m a bit scared,” she admitted.
“Yeah. I wrote that business plan, and now I actually have to make it happen.” Her expression sobered. “That’s not going to be easy.”
Fang chuckled. “If it was easy, I’ll bet your teachers wouldn’t have approved it. But it’s a good plan, so you said Hei told you. And you know I’ll be here to help you.”
She snuggled closer. “I know.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “What else? What about the others? Did they graduate?”
His wife nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“And you’re going to miss them, right?”
Shin’s breath caught in her throat, and the red panda nodded after a few moments. “I . . . I’ve invited them to dinner. At – at the Grand.” She looked up to see him nodding. “You think it’s a good idea?”
“Must be something wrong with it, then – ow!” She glared at him. “That hurt.”
Fang smiled. “You know, Julius and I had a talk – before.”
“I said that I was going to put a kitten in you after you graduated.”
She grinned nastily. “Right now?”
Fang snorted a laugh. “No. Right now I have work to do, and you have to get cleaned up. You have to call the Grand and get a table for tonight.”
A group of armed furs stood on the Ni & Sons dock and on the roofs of the nearby buildings as the GH-2 taxied to its mooring. Loyal employees were manning the guns and had stopped road traffic to prevent potential snipers or bombers.
Despite what Peng-wum had said (and the Nis had spared no time – or expense – spreading the word around), many people on Krupmark considered Ni Hei to be one of the island’s rulers. Any hypocrisy, whether actual or supposed, was believed to be standard for the people who lived on the Hill.
Others were sure that the perception of Ni Hei as one of the ruling clique would lead to action by someone, and planning for that had kept a few people up nights.
Peng saw her husband walking down the dock arm-in-arm with Xiu, and she resisted going out to meet him partway. Despite all of the precautions, things were not perfectly safe.
Nor would they be.
She waited until her husband stepped into the building and held out her arms. “My beloved husband,” she said in Chinese, her voice breaking.
“My beloved wife,” he said, his voice raspy and soft, so soft as they embraced. They kissed so long that Mei Ling and Clarence were glancing at each other as they waited for their employers to surface.