Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
UWNCE OKRBG WAQVD EBZLI OVAJV RVVKL XMTYR BJRSA
Ni Peng-wum glowered at the brief enciphered message on his desk. Using one of the brand new Rain Island electromechanical code machines (securely locked away in a very safe place) was a lot safer than using some of the older codes, but it could get a bit complicated. The furs who had developed Krupmark’s earlier ciphers had all been liquidated after Inspector Stagg had broken their work using a primitive, paw-made version of the machine that the red panda had acquired. Several of the criminal enterprises still hadn’t entirely recovered from that debacle.
The Ni Family had managed, precisely because they were willing to think ahead and plan for the long term.
The decrypted text was on the same strip of flash paper, written in pencil under the cipher: BFURS COMIN GHANOI AIAUG TONGS SCURI TYNIH EISA
The machine couldn’t render numbers yet, so far as the red panda knew. Letters and context had to fill in the blanks for him – ah.
‘B’, obviously, meant ‘two’; ‘AI’ was equally simple, the two letters being the first and ninth respectively. The final two letters were meaningless padding, inserted to create even five-character groups for the machine. Peng-wum adjusted his pince-nez and sat back.
Two furs were coming from Hanoi, in French Indochina, in about two weeks. The local Businessman’s Association would be providing security for them.
Peng-wum idly wondered who they were. The French ruled Indochina, despite several native Vietnamese nationalist groups trying to win the country’s independence, but Hanoi was close enough to China to make it a distinct possibility that the arrivals were Chinese. The Nis and a few other concerns on Krupmark did a good business through Vietnam, primarily through the Chinese enclave of Cholon, down in the southern city of Saigon.
It was good of his father to let him know. While the local Tongs would be providing security for whatever they were up to, he’d stand by to help if the subject of money or weapons came up. He opened a desk drawer and took out a small box of matches, selected one and struck it alight.
The lit match was touched to a corner of the slip of flash paper, and he averted his eyes as the cipher was consumed, leaving very little ash.
They had buried her after sundown, naked as she had been born, because there were no funeral homes on the island. There were, however, looters and furs who might not think twice at taking advantage of a free meal. The windswept hill Frieda had chosen as a burial site still had a few mourners there, saying their final goodbyes as the stars began to be seen.
Xiu stood with her arm around Hao’s waist as he stared at the rectangle of freshly-turned soil. A few clumps of flowers had been placed on the grave, but there was no marker. Hao’s face was solemn as he gazed silently at the grave. Xiu stayed by his side, respecting his silent grief.
Finally Hao stirred, stepping slightly away from Xiu and pulling a pawkerchief from a back pocket. He wiped at his eyes and blew his nose before saying quietly in Mandarin, “She . . . she was a good person.”
“I never heard you speak disrespectfully of her,” Xiu replied in the same dialect. She hesitated, and asked, “And Stephanie?”
He looked away, but only for a moment. “She scares me more than Madam Baader did,” he mumbled, his ears and tail dipping slightly, “but for different reasons.”
Xiu merely nodded, and watched as Hao turned away from the grave and started to descend the hill. In the dim light she saw their bodyguards practically appear out of thin air to surround them, weapons held casually but ready. She could see Hao’s paws and tail move here and there, directing the guards, and she resolved that she had to learn how to do that.
After all, she was his wife, and she carried their child. She’d also told him that she would go where he went, and hadn’t she already killed two people for him?
Soon, she’d be leaving Krupmark for the relatively safer Spontoons. Hao would be away on family business, and she needed to learn to look after herself.
“What do you think?” The wirehair terrier in his dark blue Naval Syndicate jumpsuit looked up at the taller wolf. His superior officer nodded at the piece of paper in the ensign’s paw. “Ours?”
Ranua Milikonu sighed as he glanced at the eight five-letter blocks again. “It’s definitely an electromechanical cipher, Paul,” he replied, using the wolf’s middle name as he insisted everyone use, “but I’m not certain if it’s from a Medusa engine.” He looked up at the lupine. “Where did we get this?”
“A standard tap on the NPT cable.” Northern Pacific Telegraph ran lines from California, Rain Island and the Sea Bear Republic all over the region, except (naturally) for Cranium Island. Of course, the mad scientists there might not need to send cables, Ranua thought. It may not be gentlemanly to tap telegraph or phone cables, or to read other peoples’ mail, but military intelligence wasn’t a gentle occupation. Ranua knew that, after killing two furs since joining the Intelligence Service.
“Personally,” the wolf said as he stepped around his meticulously neat desk and sat down, “I think Seathl’s gone soft in the head. I can’t see anyone in the Naval Syndicate who’d be so daft as to sell the Medusa to anyone.”
Ranua nodded, but as a Spontoonie he thought that Scarlet had a bit of a blind spot. Krupmark Island was less than three hundred miles away from Main Island, a place where literally anything could be obtained. The young canine knew that Rain Island’s prevailing attitude was that their navy’s Southwest Group should use the island for target practice, but he also knew that Spontoon (yes, and Rain Island, on the sly) could acquire things through Krupmark that would cause comment, if not an international incident, if they tried to buy them openly. “Rule Twenty applies,” he remarked absently, “so anyone who might have had better be looking over both shoulders, or there’ll be more roses out in front of Headquarters.”
Scarlet cleared his throat, and Ranua blinked as the lieutenant asked, “If it is from the Medusa, Ranua, can we break it and see what it says?”
The terrier was forced to shake his head. “Not without knowing the initial rotor settings,” he said. “The number of possible combinations is astronomical.”
“Hmm.” Scarlet took the message from Ranua and put it into a file folder. “Yet another mystery about this place.” The wolf hated mysteries or unanswered questions. He took a sealed envelope from a desk drawer and held it out to Ranua. “When you see Inspector Stagg next, give him this for me, please. It’s from the Magician personally,” he said, referring to the Vice-
Commodore in charge of their branch of the Syndicate. He nodded, and the younger analyst got up and left the office with the envelope in his paws.
“Hmm.” Samuel Cruickshank leaned back in his chair and looked up at the clouds after Shin finished telling him what she planned to do. “Holiday excursions. Not a bad idea, really – literally getting away from it all.” He sat up and eyed Shin appraisingly. “Before we discuss anything else, however, there is the matter of my retainer.”
Shin had expected this. “I’m not exactly rich, you know,” the red panda said, “so milking me isn’t going to work. I’m going to plowing a lot of money into this venture.”
Cruickshank gave a soft laugh. “My dear, what kind of parasite would I be if I drew all the life out of you? No, it’s just a bit, here and there, and since I’m retired it won’t be much, I assure you. The Spontoons isn’t Britain – ”
“It’s warmer, for a start,” Neddie interjected.
“And the cost of living is quite a bit lower,” the red squirrel said, giving the fox a quelling glare that the Spontoonie easily ignored. “Five hundred should about cover everything, I think,” he said. Shin started coughing and he asked, “Are you all right?”
Shin recovered herself long enough to ask, “Five hundred? To cover everything?”
“Granted, Vison will ask for a great deal more,” Cruickshank said, “but he’s not retired. I am. Five hundred shells is only fifty British pounds – ”
“Two hundred fifty American dollars,” Shin growled. The red squirrel’s eyebrows rose and she added, “That’s as of this morning’s papers. The Yankee economy’s starting to slip a bit.”
“I see. That’s a matter for President Long to sort out, I suppose, but you interrupted me, young woman.” He frowned at her, and Neddie started to stand up.
Shin eyed the fox. Could the interview be over that fast? Had she offended him somehow? Her heart began to sink, and the squirrel’s ears flicked as she said, “I apologize. Sorry for bothering you.” She started to get up.
To her surprise, he waved her back into her chair. “You seemed well-mannered enough, but then you start interrupting me. But I accept your apology; I suppose it’s because you’re young.” He winked. “I was, once, as well. That fifty sterling earns you my undivided attention, Mrs. Wo; as I said, I’m retired. You’d be my only client.” He smiled as she seemed to sigh slightly. “Relieved?”
“Yes, if you want the truth,” she replied. “I need your help to get me through this tangle the Althing’s set up. Fifty pounds, for that task, seems reasonable.’ She extended a paw.
He demurred, holding up a paw. “I’m not certain how you’ve been doing business up until now, young woman, but a written contract is required.”
“Oh. I’m afraid I didn’t bring any paper with me – ”
He waved the suggestion off. “No problem. Neddie?”
“Could you go to my study and type it up for me, there’s a good lad?”
Neddie’s brush twitched. “Sure thing,” and he loped off into the house. After a few moments Shin heard the sounds of a typewriter coming from an open window.
Cruickshank leaned back and smiled at her. “Shan’t be but a few minutes. He’s actually a good typist. Worked for some Ministry or other before - ” He made a slight gesture with one paw, and Shin nodded. “I suppose that’s why he drinks so much Nootnops Red. It takes his mind off the stronger drink.” The red squirrel chuckled. “Mind you, you should read what comes out of his head after he’s had a bottle of the Blue. Rivals Ernest Hemminhaw, in my opinion, but he won’t try to sell it.”
“Did you two meet before you retired?” Shin asked.
He nodded. “There are times when knowing someone in the demimonde can be an advantage.”
“Even as a lawyer?”
Cruickshank laughed. “Sometimes, Mrs. Wo, a lawyer has to be his own detective. Information’s one of the keys to making a solid case.”
Shin nodded. “That explains Inspector Stagg,” she remarked.
“Oh, you’ve met him?”
“Once or twice,” she replied dryly.
“I’ve never met him, myself – civil, not criminal, court, don’t you know. Inspector Stagg’s legal training makes him a better detective. He can arrange facts more efficiently, I daresay. Ah, here we are. Thank you, Neddie,” he said as the fox trotted up with a typewritten document clipped to a small lap-desk. Cruickshank squinted over his glasses at what was written, and then gestured for Shin to read it.
It was a standard contract, but the red panda hesitated, pen in her paw. “It says that I am to pay you in full when you’ve fulfilled the contract. I may not have much money left over after starting this, so I think I’ll pay up front.”
“That sounds fair, Mrs. Wo,” and Shin signed it before Cruickshank added his name. He extended a paw, and after shaking it Shin reached for her checkbook. Cruickshank took the check, as well as the papers in her briefcase and told her to come back the next day.
On the water taxi her tail twitched irritably as she wondered if she was doing the right thing.
“Good afternoon, Father,” Hao said as he walked into the office. “Are you okay?”
Ni Hei nodded slowly, oxygen mask strapped over his face as he beckoned his youngest son to take a seat. His words were measured, trying not to strain his lungs as he said, “I’ve been reading Peng-wum’s notes from his meeting with the ones on the Hill.” He paused to breathe.
The older red panda nodded slowly. “I agree with Peng-wum. The ones up there feel far too . . . sure that they can buy off,” he paused for a moment, “any potential military force that comes here.”
Hao nodded. Peng-wum had shared the same concerns, and it was part of the reason that he was setting up plans to move the family elsewhere if necessary. The Casino and the other Ni-owned buildings were being moved back from the road connecting Fort Bob to the Beach to prevent bombings by competitors. “So what do you want me to do, Father?”
“I’m arranging to have a fur acquired from Fort Bob,” Hei replied. “No one we know, no one anyone cares about. He’s going to deliver a message.”
Hao started to nod. His plane was needed, okay.
What Hei said next chilled the younger man’s blood.
“You’ll be taking him to Cranium Island.”