Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
Splashing briefly eclipsed the sound of waves lapping at the beach as the unkempt feline finally managed to drag himself out of the cove he’d been dumped in. Behind him two aftermarket BMW aircraft engines roared and the Garza-Huacatl GH-2 that had brought him here achieved takeoff speed and lifted clear of the water. The feline turned and shook his fist at the receding seaplane while shouting, “Koko ni modotte ki nasai, anata wa akumadesu!”
Of course, there was no answer apart from the rhythmic ebb and flow of the surf, the cries of gulls and other birds, and the sound of the wind in the foliage. The sun was hot on his back and the glare of the sunlight against the white sand beach dazzled his eyes, so the feline trudged up the beach and sat down under a tree.
He had been part of a gunrunner’s crew, beached at Fort Bob for trying to hold back the cut of his pay demanded by the captain. He had drifted around the settlement trying to cadge a meal or a drink here and there. Some of the furs who ran things on the island were putting free furs and slaves to work digging to lay the foundations for sewers and a trolley line (of all the stupid things), and he had joined a work detail on the promise of three meals a day in exchange for working. It was hard, menial labor, but it kept him fed.
That is, until he’d been taken at gunpoint from the dosshouse he’d been sleeping in.
He didn’t have anything valuable, apart from his life, but his kidnappers didn’t seem all that interested in selling him. A sealed message tube had been secured to his left paw by a number of silent toughs led by an oddly cross-eyed lion. The feline couldn’t make out exactly what was written on the tube, but he guessed that it was Chinese.
Then came the plane trip. He’d never flown before, and he had spent the first half-hour or so soiling himself and trying to talk to the three armed canines guarding him. No answers were forthcoming, and it seemed that the pilot, a red panda who spoke Japanese with a Formosan accent, only knew enough Nihon-go to curse the feline’s mother. He spent the rest of the trip fidgeting, tail bottled out in fear.
The plane had landed inside a cove whose open end faced east, and he had been unceremoniously pitched out into the clear water. When he had emerged, choking and coughing, the red panda had shouted at him in his execrable Japanese, “Shore there, you go. Bye,” and the three toughs with him had guaranteed that he hadn’t tried to climb back onto the plane.
The salt water started to dry, leaving his fur feeling matted and sticky. The man got to his feet, his tail flicking sand away as he dusted himself off. He had no reason why he’d been dumped on the island, but in the afternoon sunshine it looked rather inviting. He would have to find fresh water to drink and bathe with, and then maybe start a fire and see what might be worth eating.
He shaded his eyes as he peered across the beach at the trees that rimmed the cove, and gave a bit of a start as someone tapped him on the shoulder. The feline turned.
The scream startled the birds roosting in the nearby trees.
One of the canines shouldered his way into the cockpit and sat down heavily in the copilot’s seat before glancing at his employer. Ni Hao had been remarkably quiet during the entire operation, apart from muttering half to himself. “You okay, Tyee?” the Doberman asked.
Hao’s mumbling had been to remind himself of Shin’s story about her visit to Cranium Island – cove on the east side, don’t make landfall, take off immediately – and he hadn’t wanted to engage the man in conversation. The feline had been Japanese, after all, and after what the Japanese had done to him in Nanking the previous year he really didn’t care what happened to the man.
“Hm?” he asked, glancing away from the instruments as the canine repeated himself. “Oh. Yeah, Jack, I’m fine. You know, it’s Cranium, right? Never been near the place before, and everyone knows why.” Cranium Island was marked out on all navigation maps in big red letters that said STAY AWAY. No matter what language the map might be in, the warning was always there.
“Yeah, I know,” the former citizen of the Sea Bear Republic said over the drone of the engines. “But why’d we come, and why did we drop that guy off?” he asked as the other two men poked their heads in, ears perked alertly for the answer.
“It’s something my father wanted to have done,” Hao said, and refused to elaborate. He added, “All three of you are getting triple bonuses for this job. I’ll pay you myself if I have to.” The others grinned at each other as the red panda fought the plane around on a heading that would take them to Mildendo Island for refueling and a stop at one of the brothels.
Inspector Stagg looked up over his glasses at the wirehair terrier in the dark blue Naval Syndicate jumpsuit. “A hydrofoil?” he asked.
“That’s right, Inspector,” Ranua replied. “That’s what the naval architects in Seathl think your mystery boat is.”
“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with boats, Ensign,” and the whitetail buck glanced at Sergeant Brush, who shrugged. “Never heard of it before, Sergeant?”
“Ya got me, Inspector,” and the fox craned his neck to look at the drawing that had come with the message. When he straightened up, his smile had a nasty edge to it. “But I think I gotta handle on how ta slow th’ t’ing down.”
“Oh?” Stagg asked. “Enlighten us, Sergeant.”
“Sure, Sir. Few years ago, we had a speedboat race in the lagoon. Somethin’ about a bet between some fox dame and that Reggie Buckhorn character. Well, long story short, she loses th’ race when her boat piles it in on a sandbar.”
“I see. So if it’s spotted, we just drop a portable sandbar in its path?” Stagg asked in a dry tone.
Sergeant Brush chuckled, knowing the buck’s sometimes obscure sense of humor. “Nah, Sir, nothin’ like that. Yez drop a few logs in its path, or herd it inta shallow water. That’ll settle its hash, hanh?”
“Well, we’ll pass those suggestions on to the Syndicate, and to the harbor patrol, Sergeant. Ensign, if you’d let your superiors know, please?”
Really, the subject’s noise was getting entirely too tiresome.
The qilin reached up with his paws and gently adjusted two small, flat knobs on either side of his head. The controls lowered the sound being picked up by the microphones that had replaced his ears, reducing the input by twenty-two point five percent.
Ah, much better.
A Servitor had brought the subject in from the beach a day earlier, and the Professor had finally gotten around to making an assessment of the material he now had at paw. Apart from some slight malnutrition and dehydration, the male feline appeared to be in generally good health. That irritating noise he kept making was Japanese, of course, with a strong Kyushu accent that indicated that he was from that island.
A simple operation to sever the vocal cords, perhaps – or simply removing the vocal centers of the brain itself – should quiet him down. The Professor scratched at the base of one antler as he studied what the man had brought with him.
The tube was bamboo, sealed at both ends, and addressed to The Inhabitants of Cranium Island in Chinese. The calligraphy drew an appreciative eye; not many furs knew how to write so well these days. It was the work of a moment to break the seal, and he unrolled the paper inside.
After a few moments, several of which were merely to savor the deftness of the writer’s paw in writing the message, the qilin studied the clan chop. It was silly to think that it was coming from his brother or anyone associated with him, and no one would be foolish enough to pique his interest by using the seal of the Sai-fan.
Those who did usually ended up quite dead.
He also knew that there were many on the island that relied on Krupmark Island for materials not readily accessible through regular channels. Yes; he needed to let others know about this.
He selected a blank sheet of paper, and began to write.
It amazed Shin that bureaucrats who barely looked at her before were now smiling at her, offering her a seat and perhaps a cup of tea, Ma'am? when she was accompanied by her new solicitor. Cruickshank was known to many of the denizens of Meeting Island’s offices, and the red squirrel was greeted heartily before taking a seat beside the red panda.
To her surprise, the jovial old man she’d encountered pottering about in his garden turned into a harsh and unyielding martinet once he was in a lawyer’s office. The squirrel quoted laws and court decisions verbatim and throughout the meeting kept an expression that reminded her of a very disapproving Miss Devinski.
She hoped they weren’t related.
Despite the bellicose expressions and the verbal sparring, progress actually appeared to be made. Her business license was finally signed, sealed, and slid across the table to her. It was now official; Flying Dragon Aerial Tours, Incorporated, had just been born.
Shin found that she couldn’t stop staring at the document.
Cruickshank cleared his throat and the red panda stirred. “Hmm? Yes?”
The red squirrel gave her a gentle, almost fatherly smile. “We are discussing ownership of the islands you wish to set up cabins on, Mrs. Wo.”
She glanced at one of the Ministry officials, a squat Spontoonie otter, and he smiled gently. “What I was saying, Ma’am, is that it’s possible that these islands are in fact terra nullius – that is, owned by no one and able to be acquired by you simply by declaring it – there is the possibility that some of the native tribes in the area might have a prior claim. Fresh water, you see.”
Shin nodded. “Sources of fresh water are precious around here. Spontoon has their own sources, of course, but Moon Island has a desalination plant, and it’s being planned for other islands as well.”
“If you read Appendix C of my proposal, sir, you’d see that this is a long-term plan. It can be broken down into phases – after each phase is completed, I can move on to the next one.”
“It could take years,” the otter said, “or not at all.”
The red panda smiled. “You’re familiar with the concept of ‘Chinese time,’ I take it?”
The official nodded. “Your descendants might see this come to fruition.”
“That’s true, or with a bit of luck I could have the first part of this running in time to catch at least part of this year’s tourist season.”
“Confidence. You’ll need that.”
“Fang? You there?”
“In the kitchen,” the tiger replied. “Tea?”
“Add some whiskey to it,” and Shin mock-staggered into the room. She tossed her briefcase into the bedroom, following it with her suit jacket and tie before tugging open her shirt collar and sinking into a chair. “I’m beat.”
“You were only in meetings,” Fang pointed out as he gave her a cup. One sniffed confirmed that nearly a third of the contents were whiskey, and he grinned as she slurped it.
“Mental exercise – and don’t say it,” she snapped at her mate, who chuckled and sipped at his own tea. She drank again and sighed, “Better. Well, I got my business license today.”
“Hey, that’s great,” her husband said, raising his tea cup in salute. “I’ll start seeing about bring Julius’ Fokker over here from Krupmark. Will you have a hangar for it by then?”
Shin waggled a paw. “I should. There’s still some questions about the islands, but having a decent plane would be a help. Are you sure you can get the wing fixed?” The tiger nodded and she said wearily, “I’m just not sure that we can get – “
He silenced her with a fingertip to her lips. “Shh, my ringtailed beauty. You’ve made it this far, Shin, and I wouldn’t expect you to stop now.” He grinned. “Besides, you have something else to think of.”
Fang bared his teeth and nodded. “Oh yeah. Remember when Hao suggested that we sell tickets the next time we have an argument?” She nodded slowly, smiling as light dawned. “Well, Speed Week’s coming up, and you know that White Lotus Chen runs a boxing tournament over on Casino,” he paused as she started to giggle. “I see you like the idea.”
“I love the idea,” Shin said enthusiastically, and she bared her teeth and growled at him as she stood up.
He growled back, the threatening sound at odds with his grin and the flicking of his striped tail as he scooped her up in his arms and carried her into their bedroom.