Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
(Duchess Katie MacArran courtesy of John Urie. Thanks!)
A tractor chugged up to the Fokker and the two burly cougars riding it dismounted and affixed a tow bar to the plane’s undercarriage. After making certain that it was securely attached to the tractor, the driver walked over to Fang. “Where does this go, um?” the feline asked.
The tiger smirked and jerked a thumb at his wife. “Ask her,” he said. “She’s the owner.” The cat’s ears flicked and he looked at Shin.
“Tow it over to Hangar K-5,” Shin said, suppressing a proud grin.
The driver frowned. “Those hangars are all reserved for race crews, Ma’am – “
“I know. But not K-5; that one’s owned.”
Shin nodded. “Just take it on over, and we’ll meet you there.” She offered her arm to Fang, who took it and started walking over to the hangar area of the airport. After a moment, she could hear the tractor’s engine change in pitch as the driver put the machine into gear.
Her grip tightened slightly on her mate’s arm. “Thank you.”
“For getting the hangar set up, silly,” Shin said, smiling up at him. “Any more time out in the elements and that Conwing would have been good for nothing but spare parts.”
The Manchurian tiger glanced down at her and chuckled. “Any hope of getting the thing in shape for this year? I know you’re itching to fly again.” Getting the hangar had been a problem at first. Many of the buildings situated next to the Speed Week buildings and seaplane slipways had already been going at a premium even before the various nations’ race crews started splashing out for rentals. Still, Fang had a few contacts with the Businessmen’s Association, one of whom had an ‘in’ with the Tourism Ministry.
Still, it had proved to be a bit costly, both in terms of money and favors.
Shin sighed and she replied, “A lot depends on how bad off both planes are. The Conwing’s got some water damage, and the corrosion plates need to be replaced, along with an engine overhaul. Some barnacles on the floats, too. The Fokker – “ She glanced behind her at the plane “ – is a little banged up, but it shouldn’t take much.” Her tail caressed his. “Thank you for keeping it in one piece.”
The tiger flicked his whiskers at her. “Don’t worry, you’ll pay me for it.”
“Oh? In cash or in kind?”
His toothy leer reminded her of the customers at the Lucky Dragon. “In trade, Clown Face,” he growled in a low tone, then grinned as she laughed.
The hangar had three openings, a regular door leading into the office and two hangar doors, one of them opening out onto a concrete apron that sloped into the harbor. The tractor chugged up to the landward entrance and came to a halt, the engine huffing as it idled.
The driver dismounted and walked over to Shin. “So, this is yours, then?” He nodded at the sign by the door that proclaimed that the building housed Flying Dragon Aerial Tours, Inc. The sign was fairly simple, black paint on white; anything more complex or artistic would have to wait.
Shin nodded and produced a key, then opened the office door and went in followed by Fang. A few moments later and the landward doors started to open. Husband and wife pushed the doors apart wide enough to admit the Fokker. The Conwing sat on the apron at the far end of the hangar, angled nose-first toward the closed door. Fang huffed as he finished and turned to the driver. “You going to back this crate in?”
The feline eyed the opening judiciously before nodding. “Piece of cake. I’ll have you and Freddy guide me, okeh?”
Shin watched as the plane was slowly and laboriously turned around, lined up and backed into the building tail-first. The red panda’s ringed tail jittered as she watched, part of her relieved that she now had both planes in one place and the other part nervous about her future steps. When the plane was finally parked, she moved in close to chock the wheels while Fang helped remove the tow bar and tipped the tractor crew. They chugged off and the sound of the engine died away.
Fang turned to see Shin gazing up into the Fokker’s starboard engine. “Anything wrong?” he asked.
“Could you boost me up, dear?” Her husband obliged and Shin stuck her muzzle in the engine cowling. He could hear her sniffing and he lowered her as she grumbled, “Oil leak, probably a weak gasket. I’m going to have to get up in there before it gets worse.” She felt his arms tighten around her and she looked up to meet his gaze.
“I told you that you don’t have to do this yourself,” he growled.
She grabbed him by his cheekruffs and pulled him in close to kiss him. “You’re being very sweet, my widdle kitty.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’re making me suspicious,” she added, and they both started to laugh.
“C’mon,” Fang said as he set her on her feet. “Let’s go over to Casino and get a drink.”
“Something cold. It’s going to be a hot afternoon.”
They spent some time locking up the hangar. “”Until we can post a guard of our own on the place,” Shin remarked, “we’ll have to make do. What do you think?”
The tiger put a paw to his chin and thought. “Deadfall, maybe, like the sash-weights we have at the house. There’s bits of scrap steel around here that should be heavy enough.” He glanced at her. “Maybe run a hot wire to the locks?”
“Shocking,” Shin giggled, “but how would you turn it off so you don’t get killed?”
“I’ll think about it. For now, let’s get that drink.”
The water taxi ranks were crowded with tourists and Speed Week fans, and it seemed that every small boat with an engine had been pressed into service. The lagoon held several ocean liners and was also fairly stiff with small boats and lighters. After getting a seat, the tiger and the red panda studied the bigger ships, aided by the collapsible binoculars in Shin’s purse. One of the ships was flying a rather oversized swastika flag.
Casino Island was full of people as well, but Shin and Fang finally managed to get a table at one of the cafes overlooking the lagoon. “We could have gone to the Great Pagoda and had the whole top floor to ourselves,” Fang observed. He was drinking an Orca-Cola fortified with lots of ice, a tot of rum and a slice of lime, while Shin was drinking Union Maid beer.
“Yeah, we could have,” Shin said after swallowing a mouthful of lager, “but think of all these fat, happy tourists down here. All those bulging wallets.”
Fang raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t.” He chuckled as his wife gave him a shifty look. “Well, nothing like keeping in practice.” He started to lift the glass to his lips again.
And froze, his and his wife’s ears perking at the sound of an engine.
The sound of aircraft engines was a familiar one around the Spontoon lagoon, and the sound of very powerful race plane engines had become commonplace the closer Race Day had come. Shin had been sure that Songmark students were learning how to tell not only the size of the engines, but what nation was operating them. She had been doing it on her own, for practice, and was able to spot the British and Italian entrants apart from their sound.
This engine, though, sounded different.
Fang turned to Shin, who already had her binoculars out. She stood up and scanned the skies, then pointed and said, “There it is! It’s beautiful,” and she gave the binoculars to Fang.
It took a moment, but he found it, and he had to agree with his wife.
The plane was beautiful, an Art Deco sculpture without a single superfluous line and looking as if it were made of gold. “Wa ch-ao,” he said as he gave the binoculars back to her, “who do you think’s running that plane in the Schneider?”
“No idea,” and as she looked back at him her eyes gleamed, “but I’m going to find out – and place some bets!” She started to go, but paused as Fang caught her sleeve.
“After our drinks. I’m still thirsty.”
GIFT ARRIVED SAFEHao smiled and gave a single nod as he passed the slip of paper back to his father. “I’m very glad that we got rid of that thing, Father. It was tying up too many people.”
His father nodded, taking a shallow breath before moving his oxygen mask aside and saying, “You’re right, Hao. Are you and Xiu ready to go?”
“She has things packed and ready,” Hao replied. He suddenly got a wistful, faraway look in his eyes. “I’m going to be a father.”
Hei grinned inside his mask. “Still not used to the idea?”
“I don’t think I ever will.” He left unspoken the fact that he never expected to live long enough. “I hope I don’t have to go through what you and Mother had to do.”
His father nodded. There wasn’t much he could say to that.
After taking a brief trip to Meeting Island to have her older brother send a message to Krupmark about the plane, Shin started asking around about the gold racer she and Fang had seen.
It had been rumored for several years that millionaire noblewoman Duchess Katie MacArran would compete in the Schneider Cup, but every year the rumors had proved to be exactly that. This year, though, saw the mare in the flesh in a dark blue silk flying suit emerging from the gold race plane that she had named The Little Engine.
Shin had immediately insisted on going to the fur she knew that handled bets for her, Fang in tow. “Are you sure about this?” he asked as she signed a betting slip for fifty Spontoonie pounds. “She might not win, you know.”
The red panda glared at him as if he’d just grown two heads. “It’s Katie MacArran, Fang. She probably designed that plane out there. Just from looking at it, I know that she’ll beat the Germans, paws down.” She gave the slip to Lin, who winked at Fang as he tucked it into his ledger.
“How about the Brits and the Italians?” Fang asked.
His wife chuckled. “Why do you think I only bet fifty? If I thought she could beat all of the racers, I’d clean out the bank accounts.”
“And if you lose?”
“I’ll take it out of the till at the Maha Kahuna.”
He crested at her. “You’d damned well better not,” he growled as they threaded their way through the crowded streets and back to the water taxis. They almost instinctively crossed to the opposite side of the road to avoid the Constabulary building and he added, “I’ll add some stripes to that rear end of yours if you do.”
Her eyes narrowed as she crested back at him. “We’ll see about that, widdle kitty. In the boxing ring.”
“Yeah. We will.”
“Good afternoon, Miss. Anything to declare?”
“No.” Her English had a Chinese accent.
“Are you visiting for business, or pleasure?”
The red panda in the chintz dress glared at the shorter quokka, who resisted the urge to wilt under the woman’s unusual blue-green eyes. “My work visa’s in my passport. I’m here to work at Meeting Island Hospital.”
The marsupial nodded, dropping his gaze to the woman’s papers and looking at them again. Yes, all appeared to be in order, and he reached out to collect his stamp. Two thumps onto the ink pad, and two thumps to mark the visa and the Kuo Han passport. He folded the visa back up, placed it in the slim booklet and offered it to her. “Welcome to the Spontoons, Miss Kung.”
Kung Fei-cui practically snatched the passport out of the quokka’s paw. “Thank you,” she said with about as much warmth as a block of ice. She grabbed up her suitcase and headed out of the terminal as the Customs officer breathed a sigh of relief and signaled for the next person in line