Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
Stagg remained uncharacteristically quiet, even for him, almost until lunchtime, while Brush took care of the paperwork. The office clock chimed the half-hour before noon and the whitetail buck said softly, “Sergeant.”
“You may want to close the door. I want . . . to talk to you.”
The Spontoonie fox’s ears swiveled a bit as he stood and closed the door. The Inspector had obviously been thinking quite a bit since leaving the Moon Island base. “Yes, Sir?” Brush asked as he lowered himself into his chair again. “What’s the matter?” He had the fleeting notion that he’d done something wrong, but dismissed it just as quickly.
“First, I want to apologize, Sergeant.” He forestalled any questions with an upraised paw. “While ordinarily I would have taken you into my confidence, I did not do so regarding a certain project. I had my reasons for doing so, but that’s a poor excuse. Will you accept my apology?” Stagg asked, offering a paw.
Brush took the paw and shook it. “Yez got no need t’apologize, Inspector,” the fox said. “It don’t matter what you were workin’ on, if you felt I needed to be outta it, it’s okeh.”
“Very good of you, Sergeant, but I want to bring you in on this now.” Stagg scratched at an antler and said, “It has to do with Sergeant Hai Wei.”
Brush raised an eyebrow. “You mean former Sergeant, right, Sir?”
“Yes, I suppose ‘former’ is the proper usage. Sergeant Hai volunteered for an assignment, you see.” He paused.
No one would ever accuse Orrin Brush of being slow on the uptake. His brush fluffed slightly as his ears went back. “Wei wasn’t dirty?” he asked, keeping his voice low. No telling who might be walking past the door.
Stagg nodded. “No, he wasn’t. Everything was carefully contrived, but I didn’t bring you in, Sergeant, because I wanted your reactions toward Sergeant Hai to be authentic. Everyone knows your feelings toward corruption in the Constabulary.”
The fox scowled. “I’ve seen my share o’ dirty cops.”
“As have I, Sergeant. Rest assured on that.” A bare ghost of a smile tugged at one corner of the buck’s mouth. “His fight and incarceration last Christmas wasn’t planned, but only served to increase his credibility with his employers.”
“If they find out, Sir – “
Stagg nodded, his ears drooping. “He knows the risks very well, and I made sure he understood what he was getting into. Despite Mr. Ni’s Parthian shot, revealing several smuggling routes to me, I feel that the Spontoons would benefit from learning more about illicit traffic into and out of the islands. Sergeant Hai’s latest report has described an odd type of boat that’s apparently been built with the assistance of the Ni Family – “
“Them again,” Brush growled. “So much for goin’ straight, hanh?”
“Remember that there are Mr. Ni’s sons – and we must not forget his daughter,” Stagg pointed out. “Nevertheless, an Olaf Sigurdsson was seen aboard the fishing boat the sergeant was on, and he transferred to the new craft. I have made an inquiry to the Ministry of Justice in Vanirge – “
“I know him, Sir. Accountant, dirty as hell. But he ain't wanted for nothin', nohow, here.”
“Hrrm. A pirate accountant, then. That was the purpose of our going over to Moon Island to talk with Ensign Milikonu. Ranua will relay the description to Seathl to see if their naval architects can identify it.”
“So, she disappeared.” President Huey Long said. It wasn’t a question, merely a statement of fact. He took a long pull at his cold glass of lemonade as the alligator seated beside him nodded. “And Rover’s boys couldn’t find her trail?”
Claude LaFarge shook his head. “None of their informants know anything.” The gator shrugged and took a drink from his own glass, then refilled it from the nearby pitcher. He gazed at the contents of his glass for a moment before saying, “Sorry, Huey.”
The Catahoula gave the alligator a sharp look, then grinned and reached over to slap LaFarge’s thigh. “Hell, Claude boy, don’t worry about it. This was planned out, so whoever that girl was could disappear – hey, it’s a big country, ain’t it? – if anyone ever came nosing around.” He snorted. “I don’t think that fellow McAfee’s smart enough to set something up like that himself. Who’d you say that girl’s pimp was?”
LaFarge lowered his glass. “She called him Mikey. Director Rover let me take a look at the files here in Washington, and I came up with Michael Lindstrom. The G-men are looking for him.”
The tourist season for nineteen thirty-eight was promising to be a profitable one, with the streets of Casino, Meeting, South and Eastern Islands already crowded with people who had come from as far away as Great Britain and America’s Atlantic Coast to enjoy the tropical climate.
With the Spontoonies eager to separate the ‘Euros’ from their hard-earned money, of course.
Almost lost among the tourists on Meeting Island on a late July morning was a female red panda, making her way to the courthouse. She was doubly wary, keeping her eyes open for any sign of someone stalking her. Paws that carried purses, cameras or shopping bags could just as easily have knives or pistols, and the violently colorful shirts worn by many of the tourists could be thoroughly disorienting – or distracting.
Because the courthouse was a prominent landmark, an array of small privately-owned food carts and kiosks would appear in front of it to feed the government bureaucrats and the passing tourist wanting to sample local cuisine on the cheap. As was usual, the group of carts had attracted a group of furs who idled around, chatting or looking to hire themselves out as a cicerone.
The proprietor of one food cart grinned at the young woman. “Hi, Missy! You want try local delicacy? Is fried conch, very cheap,” he said, gesturing at an array of spitted meat that had been battered before being fried in oil.
Shin smiled. The ‘fried conch’ was probably pastefish, seasoned to perk up its otherwise bland taste, and battered out of recognition before being cooked. “Fair height-of-Sun,” she said in accentless Spontoonie. “Query-respectful knowledge location of <Nootnops Neddie>? Desire converse between self and same.”
The vendor scowled and gestured with the tongs in his paw. “Desire converse Etini-son-Gustaf, may Fire-God char his tongue? Look for where shade from Sun is thickest,” and he went back to tending his ‘conch fritters,’ grumbling about losing money.
Grumbling, that is, until a ten-shell note appeared on the counter near his paw. He turned to see a fluffy, banded tail gently waving at him as the young woman moved away.
The banknote vanished into the man’s till with a swift sweep of his paw and he went back to hawking his wares without missing a beat.
The fox matched Fang’s description of him: “Look for the scrawniest vulpine there, wearing a plaid shirt and a suit coat and pants too big for him. He makes Brush look distinguished.” The fox was taking up the best part of the shade under the hangman’s tree near the courthouse entrance.
A steel-toed shoe reached out and prodded one badly-repaired sole. “Hey.”
The fox didn’t stir. “You Nedward Gustafsson?”
One of the others lounging in the shade hawked and spat carefully into a filthy glass beer bottle. “Yeah, Missy, that’s him.” The weasel tipped his broad-brimmed hat up and eyed the red panda appreciatively. “Sure you need him? He’s not half a worthless son of a – “
A thin paw reached out and shoved the hat back down over the weasel’s face. “Shut it an’ go back t’sleep, Hiro, or I won’t spot ya another cowrie.” The fox sat up. “Ya Wo Shin?”
“That’s me.” Her tail suddenly whisked to one side and she half-twisted to her left, a knife appearing in her fist. “Paws off,” she warned the feline who was about to try for her purse.
“Yeah, you’re Fang’s wife,” Neddie said as he got to his feet. “Let’s amscray. Ya can stand me a Nootnops Red and tell me what I can do fer ya.”
The popular soft drink got its name from the fact that one of its ingredients was mulberry juice. Shin watched as the fox downed three bottles of the beverage in succession, red stains showing moistly around his lips and muzzle. Finally he sighed and said, “Fang told a bit about what ya need. I can ease ya through part of that, no sweat, but a bit of the paperwork’ll need a lawyer.”
“He told me. Know any good ones, that won’t cost me my tail and both legs?” Shin asked skeptically.
Neddie’s ears flattened. “Matter of fact, I do. I do jobs for him, get paid for it too,” he said defensively.
Shin nodded. “Okay. So, how much do you want for this ‘helping me?’”
“I swear, try to help a gal out,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Look, Fang’s a okay guy, right? Ya trust him, right?” She nodded warily, and he said, “As a favor to him, I knocked down my price a bit.”
“Fifteen shells. A day.”
The red panda raised an eyebrow. “Fifteen, huh? What’s your usual rate?”
“Twenty, plus meals and vigorish. Might haveta grease a paw or two.”
“So, five shells, meals and, ah, ‘tips’ off, eh?” She grinned. “Tell you what. Fifteen, and I’ll see you the meals and vig. Deal?”
Neddie smiled and extended a paw. Shin took it, and they shook on the deal. “Right, then. First thing, you need to get us a water taxi over to Eastie.” Shin rolled her eyes at him, and allowed him to lead the way to the taxi rank.
On Eastern Island, the fox led her to a small neighborhood of bungalows established by expatriates from several nations. It was both close enough and yet far enough from the airport to be convenient without being too close to the noise of planes passing overhead. It had been there for several years to compensate for the lack of space for the Euro population of the Spontoons on Casino or Meeting Island.
“Here we are,” Neddie said, stopping beside a mailbox with a small sign that read Cruickshank in English and Spontoonie. He opened the gate in the picket fence and beckoned for her to follow him up the crushed gravel walk to the cottage’s front door.
The night was perfect, moonless and cloudy, as the small motor launch chugged back to its dock at a lake west of Minnetonka. Had anyone chosen to notice, four people had been aboard the boat when it had left the dock.
Only three furs disembarked.