Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
It had taken her quite a bit longer than she’d anticipated getting all of her former fellow students to show up at one place all at the same time. Tatiana, for example, had been in the Main Island jungles, when she wasn’t spending time at the small house she and Millicent shared.
Brigit had thrown herself into her business plan, and more often than not could be found at the RINS base on Moon Island.
Both of them assured her that they would make it. That left a certain Trotskyite canine.
The staff at the New Haven Embassy, recalling their last encounter with the red panda, was courteous enough. They explained that Liberty hadn’t been seen since she had announced her graduation from Songmark, and passed on to the Ambassador his part of Ni Hei’s message. They had no idea where she was, or so they said.
Shin didn’t believe them, and she had her own ideas where the half-coyote might be.
The red panda dressed nondescriptly and made sure that her three weapons were tucked away inconspicuously. The weather was warm, so she decided to forego a jacket. “Where are you off to?” Fang asked as she checked herself in the mirror one more time.
“Nope.” She blew him a kiss and headed for the water taxis. Fang shrugged and poured another cup of coffee.
Her Spontoonie informants had told her that Liberty was seeing someone named Walking Fox, in a settlement on the north coast of Main Island. The water taxi had to travel the entire way across the lagoon to reach Main Village, the route skirting east of both Casino and Meeting Islands. From there she’d make her way on foot.
The lagoon was a little choppy today. The water taxi slowed and kept a respectful distance as the crash boat roared past to aid some hapless boater. The driver snorted disdainfully and Shin asked, “Tourists?”
“Probably,” the otter said as he advanced the boat’s throttle. “Some of the early arrivals. Missionaries,” and he shook his head in disgust. “They’re staying at the Temperance Hall on Casino.”
“Quakers?” Her sometime summer employers, the Gallups, were Quaker missionaries.
“Doubt it. They’re pushier than Quakers.” He glanced back at her and grinned, the sunlight glinting off a gold cap on one fang. “Dunno who they are, but word is they’re trying to get to Sacred Island.”
“Yeah. They’ve got it in their heads to do an exorcism there.”
Shin winced. The Spontoon Althing and the Wise Ones were always deflecting, dissuading, or outright deporting misguided Euros who had quaint ideas about changing the native faith or disregarding Sacred Island’s importance to the Spontoonies. “So I suppose there’ll be a lot more boating accidents this season?”
The otter nodded. “At least until they get the hint and leave.”
She paid the man as she stepped off the boat, adding a good-sized tip for the information and the smooth ride. The red panda smirked at the otter’s wink, and flirted her banded tail at him as she started walking north.
The Bus, the motorized jack-of-all-trades that carried passengers and goods back and forth across the island, jounced alongside her. “Heya, Missy!” the driver shouted. “Need a ride?”
“Negative ride-requiring, Driver-of-Motor-Wagon,” she replied in Spontoonie, and the man nodded and tapped the gas pedal. The heavily-laden truck backfired and belched a gout of acrid blue-black smoke as it passed her and headed up the road. The walk was excellent exercise and she wanted – no, needed – to stay fit.
Shen Ming’s threat before he died might have some substance to it, after all, and just because he and his clan were dead didn’t mean that there were no more enemies to face. Shin patted a paw against her thigh and kept walking. While it was hard for a non-Spontoonie to stay for very long on Main Island, it could be done.
“Fair Sun-youth,” she said to a shopkeeper after she had reached the village, “Query location longhouse Fox-Seen-Walking?”
The coyote blinked at her for a moment before giving her directions. His Spontoonie was accented, indicating that he didn’t often speak it. That wasn’t very unusual this far north where Haida, Tlingit and other tongues saw more use.
There were only a few stands of palm trees on the southern and western sides of Main Island, the northerly part dominated by pine and cedar, and Shin felt her hackles rising. Part of her wanted to climb one of those trees and see what might be following her, or just to see how things looked from overhead.
She really had to get back in the air. There was a business to start up, after all.
The longhouse she’d been directed to was a fairly large one. Whoever this Walking Fox was, he was from a prosperous clan. The red panda suppressed a giggle, imagining Liberty’s reaction if she was told that she was seeing someone who fit the local definition of a bourgeois.
“Fair day, creature-with-ringtail-outlander,” a woman said pleasantly. The coyote femme was dressed in barkcloth and had a baby on her hip. She had been sitting out in front of the longhouse, nursing her child. “Query purpose-here?”
Shin nodded, just as pleasantly. Manners were important. “Fair day, canine-femme-honored-mother. Self seek Fox-Seen-Walking, also [Liberty Morgenstern]. Query-respectful know-thou location-having?”
The coyote smiled and shifted her baby to her other hip. The infant squirmed and started sucking his thumb as the mother said, “Truth is, self knowledge-having. [Liberty] relates school-mate who is creature-with-ringtail.” She gave an easy grin, showing one missing tooth. “Possess-thou no horns, neither demon-marks having.”
Shin chuckled. “Truth-telling, self perhaps-relate of-her same. Query-respectful whether [Liberty] at-longhouse within?”
“Truth is, within is.” The older woman’s grin turned a bit sly, and she jerked her head at the longhouse, then winked at Shin.
The penny dropped within seconds; no one could ever accuse her of being slow on the uptake. Gathering up her ringed tail to avoid jostling anything, she gave the woman a half-bow and padded past her.
The longhouse had been partitioned off into a few rooms with cloth curtains of various patterns. Most of the family, it seemed, was out.
But there were sounds coming from behind one of the curtains, and Shin’s ears perked as her grin grew wider.
“That was a dirty trick to play, Wo,” Liberty growled as the half-coyote and the red panda headed for the docks. Although she was mad at Shin and the red panda was on guard for any attack coming from her, the two didn’t stop looking around or behind them for potential sources of danger. “Throwing a bucket of water at me and Walking Fox like that, when – “
“I said ‘Excuse me,’ Lib, but you and your friend weren’t listening,” Shin said, “so it seemed like the thing to do. Besides, you could’ve been killed.”
“You and Walking Fox were so – involved – that you didn’t even notice me. Word might get around that you helped out in killing Shen, and Zell would be disappointed if you disregarded her training.” Mention of the Rain Island lynx made Liberty’s ears go flat, but she acknowledged the truth of what Shin was saying with a nod. “So?”
“Yes, I’ll be there. The others?”
“Tatty took some persuading.” The Chinese girl chuckled. “I managed to avoid three different traps to get to her.”
“Two of them deadfalls, and the third a pit-trap. She was playing for keeps.”
“She give you any reason why?”
“Said she wanted some privacy. That mouse who adopted her just sat there, like she was carved out of stone.” Shin’s tail twitched. The priestess gave her the creeps.
Liberty merely grunted quietly. “I’ll accept a ride with you – “
“You’d have trouble trying to swim to Meeting Island today, the tides are running out.”
“ – if you’ll answer a question.”
The canine’s ears went back. “Without a price, or strings attached? You’re not Wo Shin! Who are you, really, and what have you done with her?”
The red panda laughed as Liberty smiled. “C’mon, what’s your question?”
“Did you read your father’s letter to me?”
Shin shook her head. “The seal was intact, if you noticed.”
“I did, but I know you might have had a few tricks you haven’t shared with the rest of us.” The two walked on in silence until they were aboard the water taxi for Meeting Island.
Using the engine noise to mask her voice, Shin asked, “So?”
“What was in your letter?”
Liberty glanced at her, then looked around before dropping her voice to a whisper. This required her to practically stick her muzzle in Shin’s ear, something that the red panda clearly seemed to resent. The taxi driver, catching the movement from the corner of her eye, winked at Shin and returned her attention to the lagoon traffic.
Liberty finished talking and sat back, leaving Shin blinking at her. “Really?” she asked.
The half-coyote nodded.
“Wow,” was all the red panda said, and stayed silent for the rest of the trip.
The four of them had agreed on three basic rules.
First, no husbands, boyfriends, wives or acquaintances. That point had been accepted with only a minor objection from Brigit, who had wanted “Mikeen” beside her.
Second, they would not talk of their business plans, in a desire to keep the conversation light.
Finally, there would not be a repetition of the food fight they’d indulged in when celebrating getting their pilot’s licenses. Granted, that had been fun, with Inspector Stagg and his vulpine shadow becoming targets of opportunity. But they no longer had Songmark acting in loco parentis for them, so there was the possibility that they would all end up getting arrested.
Liberty insisted on the least expensive entrée that the Grand had on its menu, prepared simply and hardly seasoned at all. Shin had ordered steak, as had Brigit, and Tatiana was eating fish. The three had silently agreed not to tease the New Havenite about her abstemiousness, and when Liberty had asked for a Union Maid beer with her dinner, the others had followed suit.
A dance floor and a small stage separated the dining room from the casino of the hotel. Stagepaws placed a dazzlingly white upright piano on the stage along with a stand microphone, and a feline in a faultless tuxedo stepped up to the piano to scattered applause. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the man said, “a round of applause, please, for your entertainment tonight. From Seathl, Rain Island, the Grand Hotel Spontoon presents – Michelle!” He bowed and backed away as a woman stepped out of a side door and made her way to the stage. The compere took his seat at the piano.
The woman was a spotted skunk, her luxuriant fur a mixture of shades of brown, wearing a purple silk gown and matching opera gloves. She acknowledged the applause and stepped close to the microphone as the pianist began to play a recent song, I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck.
“Sure’n she has a fine voice, she has,” Brigit observed as a warm contralto filled the room. “Ye hire her, Shin?”
The red panda raised a demurring paw. “No. My older brother’s doing, I think. It brings in more customers, even in the off-season.”
“Since those fat tourists aren’t here yet, she has time to practice,” and heads turned to stare at Liberty. “What?” she demanded. “Weren’t we taught to practice until we get it right?”
“Da, eto pravda,” Tatiana agreed. “So, you will be leaving soon, Liberty?”
The Trotskyite blinked at her, then nodded. She glanced at the Irish setter. “Are you going back to Ireland, Brigit?”
“Aye an’ I am,” Brigit replied. “I’ve ta see ta m’Aunt an’ talk with certain people. A dhrink with th’ Bhoys, y’understand?” Her blue eyes gleamed a bit. “Shin?”
“I’ll be staying here,” the red panda said. “Fang’s sworn to put a kitten in me.”
“So he’ll be busy, I’m after thinkin’,” Brigit giggled, joined by the other three young women.
“What about you, Tatiana?” Shin asked.
“I have somewhere to go,” the Russian sable said cryptically, “and things to do.” There was a brief silence, and the singer on stage began singing Sweet Leilani.
Tatiana raised her half-empty glass of beer.
The others raised theirs as the sable said, “I have said this before: Pawlnoi zheezni – to a full life.” The others hesitated, sensing she had more to say, and Tatiana said, “We are Red Dorm, comrades and friends.
“We succeed while others fail.”
The others repeated the words as they clinked their bottles together and drank.