Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
The Fokker trimotor had been a bit abused in the months since it had last flown. Sitting a short distance from the grass airstrip at Fort Bob, the big plane had been hit with rocks, empty bottles and not a few bullets since Fang had brought the plane and a small team of Rain Islanders to Krupmark as part of the ultimately successful effort to kill Shen Jintao and Shen Ming.
The matte gray paint job that Julius Malanakanakahea had given the cargo plane had grown faded and stained. Changing that was the last thing on the list of things that had to be done to it.
The first thing had been changing the insignia and numbers on the fuselage.
“I’ll be glad when this thing finally gets to Spontoon,” Hao remarked to the pilot that he’d hired to fly it. “It’s costing us a lot to keep it guarded and maintained.” He eyed the Alsatian from under the brim of his baseball cap. “You sure you can fly it?”
The canine plucked the stub of a cigar from between his teeth and waved at the plane. “This heap? No trouble at all, and you’re paying enough to keep things sweet.” He grinned toothily and patted a pocket, where a brand new American passport rested. Part of his price had included a new identity, with a small fur dyeing to match the photographs. His grin faded just a touch as he saw his copilot checking the port engine. That had been the part of the deal that the canine hadn’t liked much.
The rat wasn’t really a criminal, but an inhabitant of the gray world that skirted the ragged edge between law and lawlessness. He was headed to Spontoon as well, but was to slip aboard a boat headed for Hawai’i. The Hawai’ian nationalists were the ones paying his way, and the Nis had arranged this leg of his trip. The rodent would act as navigator, copilot and radio operator for the Alsatian.
He would also kill the man if he suddenly decided to change his mind. And Hao had made certain that the Alsatian knew it.
The Alsatian tore his gaze away from Hao and addressed the rat as the rodent loped over to them. “We ready to go?” he growled, and when the rat nodded the canine stuck the cigar back in his mouth. He started to say something, but his ears went back and he trudged over to the plane.
Chocks were pulled away as the three engines turned over, coughed, caught, and started. The plane eased forward, then bumped and jounced its way to the end of the airstrip. The guards that had been hired to watch over the Fokker since Easter dispersed as the big plane began to accelerate forward.
Hao watched as the trimotor lumbered aloft, banking to the left to avoid Fort Bob and the walled enclaves belonging to the ruling clique. Planes that took off facing north and banked right usually risked collecting bullets as they passed over the settlement, so heading west at first was the safest thing to do.
Once he was certain that it was beginning to come around on a Spontoon-ward heading, Hao lit a cigarette and headed for the telegraph station. He’d let Peng-wum know, and he would have Fang and Shin waiting for it.
Then he and Xiu had to get to Spontoon, him to pick up a cargo, and her to settle in at a safe place until she had their baby.
Fang looked up as the phone started ringing, and he returned to his coffee as Shin waved him to stay in his seat. “I’ll get it,” and the red panda picked up the pawset. “Yeah? Oh, hi, Peng-wum . . . yes . . . really? That’s great. When’s it – oh?” She turned to look at the clock over the kitchen table. “Ah, okay. Got it. Bye,” and she turned to face her husband as she hung up. “That was Peng-wum.”
“Uh-huh,” the Manchurian tiger said. He glanced at the sports page of the Mirror. “What’d he want?”
“He wanted to let us know that we have a plane coming.” She rested her paws on his shoulders and slid them around to his chest as she leaned over, hugging him. “Julius’ Fokker.”
Fang half-twisted and looked at her. “He say how much time we have?”
“About two hours.” Her tail batted at his. “I’ll be glad when we get it over here. Two planes are better than one, and the Fokker will be more reliable after the main spar’s replaced.”
His tail wrapped around hers. “I never understood why you and Liberty didn’t like that other plane. Rain Island uses it for short-haul freight – “
“It’s a bear to maintain,” Shin said. “When Conwing builds things right, it’ll last for years. That beast sitting in the hangar is a Conwing C-5. Guess what?”
Fang’s whiskers bobbed up and down as he drank the last of his coffee. “The assembly line were drinking that day?”
She giggled. “Probably. You know how much Rain Islanders love their beer.”
The message had been delivered, with a cover note detailing his observations, and an Ad-Hoc Peer Review Committee had assembled. The island had no actual government, but interested parties would gather to debate questions or resolve any problems. After action was decided upon, the results would be observed and meticulously studied and archived before the group would disband to deal with a new issue, or go off to resume their own individual researches.
Professor Fu Yong-le alighted from his coach two days later, folding his paws into the sleeves of his ornately-embroidered robe. A Servitor followed at a respectful distance, carrying his notes and the written decision of the other six members.
When he had entered his home, the qilin clapped his paws and a lithe feline dressed in black approached. The li hua mau bowed deferentially and asked in flawless Court Dialect, “Your orders, Exalted Lord Fu?”
The qilin smiled in real pleasure. Diligent training had given the feline a gently modulated voice and his use of the sadly obsolete Court Dialect was a pure delight to the ears. He decided that the man would read poetry to him after dinner, but for now said in the same tongue, “First Servant Lin, relate to me the condition of the unworthy creature in the laboratory.”
“Indeed, Exalted Lord. The creature has been fed and bathed.”
“That is satisfactory. Prepare the laboratory. I shall have need of it tomorrow morning.”
“At once, Exalted Lord.” Lin bowed again and padded off soundlessly. Fu walked into a small chamber and sat, thinking back on the decision that he and the rest of the committee had made. He adjusted his hearing down to complete silence and smiled as he folded his paws in his lap and closed his eyes in thought.
There would be a reply to the message, and the subject who had brought it would carry the response back to Krupmark Island. Modifications to the carrier would be required to ensure that the message reached its intended recipient. His own area of expertise was insufficient to guarantee this, as he readily conceded. That young fawn Forrester had developed some interesting ideas based on a combination of judicious brain surgery and sound, but had died before publishing his work. They were still clearing the jungles of the minions who had run amok and killed the whitetail buck.
Fu frowned. Westerners could be so sloppy at times.
But there were a few . . . ah, yes, Professor Sternberg and his associate, what was his name? Shardin, yes, something like that. They had published some truly interesting work in that area.
He would send a message to them after his evening meal, and he settled back to meditate in the silence he craved.
“He’s overdue,” Shin growled, scanning the sky to the west with binoculars. The couple had gotten to the terminal in plenty of time to wait for the plane. “Might be headwinds, we get those about this time of the day.” She lowered the binoculars and added, “But he might have flown off – “
“I doubt that,” Fang said. “You know who was flying with him.” His wife merely nodded and went back to looking for the plane. She suddenly craned forward and reached out with a paw. “That him, do you think?”
“Here, let me see,” and she passed the binoculars to him. He peered through them. “High-wing monoplane . . . yeah, three engines. And I’d recognize Julius’ plane anywhere.”
The tiger smiled. “It leans to the left, even when it’s airborne,” and his smile widened as she started to laugh. “Remember I used to fly with him from time to time.”
“I remember.” She also remembered that Fang had killed the three hundred-pound Samoan bull after he had tried to waylay Fang and Shin during a weapons sale on Mildendo Island. Fang had insisted on doing the job himself, because Julius had been a friend of his. The matter had been life and death, and the family couldn’t afford to leave a live traitor behind them.
Shin thought that it had been a shame that Julius had to die. She had sort of liked the bull, and when Fang fought him over her she hadn’t quite known who to cheer for at first.
Until the tiger had laid the bull’s nose open with his claws.
The trimotor banked and started heading for the Eastern Island runway, and the tiger and the red panda walked around the terminal to watch it land.
Whoever Hao had hired to fly the plane was good, and the big Fokker touched down on the second bounce before easing its tailwheel onto the tarmac and gradually coming to a stop. Near their vantage point the fire crew relaxed just a bit as a pair of handlers drove out to meet the plane and tow it to the ramp area. Fang glanced to his right and his ears perked as a trio of Customs officers emerged from the terminal.
He nudged Shin. “Customs.”
“Kind of figured, yeah.” The flight plan purportedly stated Mildendo as its last stop before Spontoon, and the fuel tanks had pretty much the right amount of fuel to justify that. She and Fang watched as the plane, its two outboard engines idle, taxied to the ramp and stopped. The center engine shut down and the handlers moved it to the correct position before chocking the wheels. “Now we see if those papers are any good,” she murmured in Cantonese.
The canine and the rat had clambered out of the Fokker and gave their passports and other papers to the Customs officers. One read through them while the other two climbed aboard the plane and started the inspection. After several minutes the officials clambered out and the third took their place, searching for anything the first two might have missed.
Finally the papers were returned to the two pilots, and Shin exhaled with a relieved smile. She and Fang headed over to the gate and the rat nodded as he walked past. The mercenary would be heading south to help with the mission he’d been hired for, training the Hawai’ian nationalists to fight the Americans and put their King back on his throne.
The Nis were assisting in the endeavor, but not so one would notice.
The Alsatian was walking toward the terminal, and his ears perked as Fang made an unobtrusive Tong sign. The fingers of his free paw and his tail made the agreed-upon countersign, and he walked up to them and took the cigar from his muzzle. “You Ni Hao’s kin?” he asked gruffly.
“That’s right,” Shin replied.
His head jerked back toward the Fokker. “There’s your plane. All in one place, too.”
“Glad to hear it.” She used her tail to signal Fang, who pulled a slim bank book from a pocket. “The agreed-upon amount, deposited and waiting.”
The pilot took the booklet, glanced at the figure written within it, and smiled widely. “I’ll be checking this out. If it’s not all there, you’ll know it.”
Fang smirked, his tail twitching a bit. “There’s a diner over there, named Mahanish’s – “
“I know it.”
“If it’s not all there, I’ll be waiting.” The Alsatian’s eyes narrowed as he met Fang’s gaze. A long moment and he stuck the cigar stub between his teeth again and walked off.
“Good, that’s done,” Shin said.