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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark Academy and characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Rain began hammering on the roof of the school as Miss Blande led Shin upstairs to another wing of the building, commenting, “This is the first year students’ rooms. We generally house the first-years in groups of four. Now, you’ll be responsible for each other, Shin, but that’ll all be in the rulebook. Ah, here we are,” she said, stopping at a door at the end of the hall. Shin’s ears perked as the sound of a girl singing came from the room.
The canine opened the door and revealed a sparsely appointed room set up for four people. Two beds with bureaus lined each wall with a single window at one end. The singer, a canine with vibrant red fur, a long slim muzzle and drooping ears, stopped her singing and smiled. “Hello, Miss Blande,” she said in English, in an oddly lilting accent that Shin had difficulty placing.
“Hello, Brigit,” the staff member said, and added, “Shin, this is Brigit Mulvaney. Brigit, this is a new student who’ll be starting next term. Her name is Wo Shin, and she’ll be sharing your room with you, Tatiana and Liberty.” She frowned suddenly. “Where is Liberty, by the way?”
“She’s downstairs, helping in the kitchen, ma’am,” Brigit said, looking curiously at Shin. Shin returned her stare before looking around the room again, and smiled when she saw her suitcase lying on the bed nearest the door. She set her other case down as Miss Blande said, “Remember, Shin, you need to get on to the hospital for your examination before the end of the week.”
“I’ll remember, ma’am, and thank you,” Shin said, and the door closed, leaving the two girls looking at each other again. A silent, awkward moment passed and Shin decided to break the hush. “You’re from Ireland?” she asked. “I’ve never been there, but I’ve met a few of your countrymen.”
“You have, have you now?” The Irish setter asked, cocking her head to one side slightly.
“Yes. Mostly pilots, but there was one in particular, who stopped by the casino my parents operate. Tall, lean, shaggy wolfhound named Phillip McCafferty – “
Brigit’s eyes bulged. “You met Doctor Phil?” she asked in a hushed, almost awed tone.
Shin blinked. “You know him? He seemed awfully quiet, and the local bosses on Krupmark gave him two bodyguards until he left.” She sat down on her bed beside her suitcase. “Now that I think of it,” she mused, cupping her chin in her paw, “I do recall hearing that he was a dentist or something. Someone mentioned a gelignite mouthwash.”
The Irish girl’s eyes went a bit dreamy. “He’s the finest fur in all Ireland, set heart and soul against the English. Do you know where he went?” she asked eagerly, sitting down beside Shin.
The red panda’s tail twitched. “On Krupmark Island, Brigit, people are taught not to ask questions – or at least questions like that. Furs who do usually end up missing, if you understand me,” she said, and nodded as Brigit tapped the side of her muzzle and winked. “Exactly.” The two girls started to giggle.
Just then the door burst open and a brown-furred canine with definite coyote ancestry marking her features stamped in, grumbling. She stopped, slammed the door behind her and mumbled, “Capitalist oppressors,” then turned and spotted Shin. “Who the hell are you?” she asked in clear English with a Western American twang.
“I’m Wo Shin,” the panda replied. “I’ll be rooming here with you all starting in January.”
“New student, huh?” she asked, and as Shin nodded she gave a short, barking laugh. “Nothing but foreigners and daughters of capitalist big shots who should all be rounded up and put to the wall,” she grumbled. “My name’s Liberty Morgenstern,” she added, remembering her manners. She offered a paw, which Shin took. Shin briefly toyed with the idea of breaking it, then set the idea aside. Maybe later. “I’m pleased to meet you, Liberty. As I was telling Brigit, I’m from Krupmark Island, and – “
“That hole?” Liberty snorted.
“And I’ll bet it beats where you’re from,” Brigit said, grinning before saying to Shin, “Liberty’s from New Haven.”
“New Haven?” Shin echoed, and smiled up at Liberty. “That’s a nice place to be from, so I hear,” she remarked innocently.
“It’s a paradise compared to most places I could name,” Liberty declared with a frown, shooting a glance at Brigit that caused the Irish girl to bristle slightly. “My country follows the teachings of the great Comrade Trotsky and the doctrines of the Fourth International. There are no bosses there, and true freedom – no one’s enslaved by the dollar, pound or shell.”
Shin started to feel her tail beginning to fluff. She thought about telling the New Haven girl exactly what she thought of communism, or telling her about how her family made their living, but thought better of both. There was no sense in starting a fight until she knew her possible opponents better. “If that’s the case, Liberty,” she asked innocently, “why are you here, and how did you pay for it?” Brigit giggled as Liberty’s ears dipped. “But let’s not discuss that right now,” Shin said smoothly, and smiled as Liberty seemed to relax. “Where’s the other girl who lives here?” she asked.
Liberty merely scowled and walked away, throwing herself onto her bed as Brigit said, “Tatiana is off on a field trip to Vostok Island with a group of second-year girls. They needed an interpreter, so I’ve heard, and Tatiana talks Russki.”
“I look forward to living here and getting to know her – and both of you – a lot better,” Shin said, standing. “Miss Devinski told me that I needed to get myself a medical exam, so I’m heading over to Meeting Island for a few days. I’ll be back, but I may spend the New Year with my husband.”
Both girls’ ears perked straight up, and Liberty asked, “Married? You?”
“Me, absolutely,” Shin said proudly. “I got married over a month ago, and my husband lives on South Island. Here, I have a picture,” and she opened her case and pulled out a small clutch purse. She withdrew a small photograph from the purse and offered it to Brigit, who took it and said, “Oh, he’s a fine looking one, he is,” before handing the picture to Liberty. The New Havenite looked it over and whistled, remarking, “He looks pretty fine in that old-fashioned bathrobe thing he’s wearing. Wedding picture?” she asked, and at Shin’s nod she gave a short laugh and handed the picture back. Brigit glanced at the clock and swore in some language Shin guessed was native Irish. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“We’re due for our next class in ten minutes. Come on, Liberty,” and as the canine got up Brigit added, “We have firearms classes this time of the day, rain or shine.”
“Really? I could use those – I’m an awful shot,” Shin admitted, blushing.
The Irish girl laughed. “We’ll get on fine then,” she said. “I can help you. Nice meeting you, Shin.”
“Nice meeting you both,” Shin said, and she found herself alone in the room. She gathered up her two cases and left the school, headed for the water taxis.
* * * * * * * * *
“25th November 1935.
Yes, you read it right, my love. I’m currently in a room at the hospital, being fussed over by a doctor. The staff at Songmark had me get a physical exam, and wouldn’t you know it? Apparently one of the places we ate at in Japan gave me a case of roundworm, so until I’m cleared by the hospital, I’m staying here. If you’re smart (and I know you are), you’ll get yourself to a proper doctor as well.
I did meet two of the three girls I’ll be sharing a dormitory with. One’s Irish, and the other’s from New Haven. If she’s any example, that new police inspector the Althing hired will give Peng-wum and Hao fits. The Irish girl’s very sweet, do you recall that one Irish girl we had at the Lucky Dragon two years ago? She’s like that, but not as sophisticated as Mary was.
Back to my examination. The doctor gave me the full treatment,
and can’t find anything else wrong, except for my unwanted guests.
I had to sit through a long lecture on birth control, and there were some
things mentioned that might come in handy if I can’t get what I usually
Write me and address it to here, Room #57. I’ll be here another week, at least.
* * * * * * * * *
Saturday night on Krupmark Island began with a staccato of small-arms fire that echoed over the island as several Mixtecan cargo pilots expressed their good feelings a bit too exuberantly. Answering gunfire came from down the street after the bullets came to earth, and a merry little firefight resulted that lasted until the rain resumed.
Under cover of the downpour and the moonless darkness, two figures dressed in black made their way along the beach toward one of the houses. Warm yellow lights shone through the gauzy curtains as the pair slipped around a corner and crouched against the southern wall of the building. One peered over the sill and looked in a darkened window for several moments, then ducked down as the other whispered, barely audibly over the sound of the rain, “Is that it?”
The first figure nodded, and traded places with the second fur, who drew a knife. Peeking over the sill again to see if there was anyone in the room, the figure stood and slipped the knife blade between the two panes of the window. The knife slid until it struck the lock, and the fur twisted and yanked. The window came unlocked, and the fur laid the knife on the sill as a paw reached into its dark clothing and pulled out a small vial of oil. Quickly greasing the tracks, the fur then pushed the window open and crawled in. The other followed, leaving the window open. Wind-driven rain started to puddle on the sill and floor, soaking into the rug.
Peng-wum looked around warily, his paw gripping the knife tightly as he shook the rain from his headfur, then gave Nailani a questioning look. She grinned happily and pointed to a desk in the center of the room. “The safe’s there,” she whispered, wringing rainwater from her long ears. She was patently enjoying the excitement of breaking into her former place of employment.
“Good,” he whispered back, and as he stepped over to the desk Nailani drew a snub-nosed revolver and took up a station near the door. Peng-wum shook some of the rainwater from his fur and started looking the desk over carefully, running his paws over the wood.
He recognized its design easily, since he had a similar one in his office. At a touch the false front eased aside, and he pressed his ear against the safe as he started to turn the combination lock. His muzzle twitched as one tumbler fell, and his movements grew slower as he sought out the other four numbers.
As he worked, Nailani stood nervously, her ears twitching, and she breathed a sigh of relief as his face lit up and he sat back from the safe. He turned the handle and opened the safe door, revealing ten squat stacks of currency bills. Taking an oilskin bag from under his shirt, Peng-wum began removing the money from the safe as Nailani started to relax.
Just then, the door to the office started to open.