Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
Shin decided to get an early start on maintenance the next morning, and considered the sacrificial plates on the Conwing to be a priority. The zinc blocks were heavily corroded and had to be replaced before the salt decided to start snacking on the engine mounts. Fang had things to do at the hotel but would be joining her before noon.
The first zinc plate hit the concrete with a clang, nearly eclipsing an unfamiliar voice. “Hello? Anyone at home?”
Shin ducked her head out of the Conwing’s port engine to squint at the silhouette in the office doorway. With the morning sun behind the visitor, the red panda could see that the stranger was a rabbit, and female, but other details would have to wait. “Yeah,” she called back as she climbed down the ladder, the wrench remaining in her paw.
She had other weapons on her, if it came to that. “What do you want?” she asked.
The rabbit doe jerked a thumb back toward the entrance. “Saw your sign. New business?”
“That’s right,” she replied warily. “What about it?”
The rabbit took a few steps further into the hangar, the change in light revealing her to have a fur pattern somewhat similar to a calico feline and a slim, athletic build. Her accent betrayed her as a native English speaker, from England. “Just wanted to know if you were hiring. I’m looking for a job.”
The wrench was slipped into a pocket of her jumpsuit and Shin self-consciously rubbed a greasy paw against her thigh. “A job, huh? I don’t need a secretary just now.”
The rabbit smirked. “Kind of guessed that, but I’m not here for a pencil-pusher job.” She looked around at the Fokker and the Conwing. “Conwing missed a bet, using those Ravenwing engines.”
“Oh?” Shin glanced back at the unwieldy-looking seaplane, while still keeping the rabbit in her peripheral vision. “Why?” she asked, giving the rabbit a measuring look.
Aware that the red panda was testing her, the rabbit jerked her chin at the plane. “Should have used KV Bulldogs, but those Curtiss knockoffs are usually cheaper. Problem being, they’re a poor fit for the Conwing, leaves it underpowered.” She started to take a step toward the plane and stopped. “May I?”
Shin waved her on. “Be my guest.” She slipped the wrench out of her pocket and kept it at the ready as the rabbit ascended the ladder
“Good Lord, this thing’s a right mess,” the rabbit said as she looked over the aircraft. She glanced back at Shin, her ears dipping. “You’re selling it for parts?”
An eyebrow lifted. “It’ll be airworthy before Speed Week’s over.”
The long ears dipped again and stayed down as the doe’s eyes went wide. After a long moment she shook her head. “If you say so.” She jerked her chin at the Fokker. “What about the Swiss cheese?”
“That’s already airworthy,” Shin replied in a tart tone. Her eyes narrowed at the doe’s frankly disbelieving expression. “Are you going to show me what you know, or try to talk your way into a job?”
“Right.” She started giving the Ravenwing inverted V-12 engine a visual inspection. “Spark plugs are probably fouled,” and she paused as she ran a finger along the valve cover, “and the head gasket’s probably going to go on you, sooner rather than later. Overheats at – “
“Low speeds, yeah. Volstead’s a better engine designer, paws down.” Shin cocked her head. “What’d you say your name was?”
“Juliana Mayfield,” the rabbit said in an absent tone. “My Da was in the RFC for the War, and he’s taught me mechanics. Even took me up a few times to let me fly.”
“Uh huh. What plane?”
Mayfield glanced down at her. “Avro Tutor.”
Better than the Tiger Moths she had studied on. The red panda suppressed a brief pang of jealousy. “So,” Shin asked, “what brings you all the way out to Spontoon?” She thought that she already knew the answer, but asked anyway.
“There’s this place called Songmark,” the rabbit said as she continued her inspection, “and I want – “ Shin interrupted her with a most unladylike snorting bark of laughter. “What?”
“Have you put in an application?”
Mayfield nodded. “And the fee. They certainly want a lot, don’t they?”
“It’s worth every penny.” Shin cocked her head. “So, what do you want?”
“A job,” and the rabbit gave her a cheeky grin. “The year doesn’t start until the third week of September, so I figured I’d do something to earn a bit of spending money.”
“And why’d you pick me?”
Again, the easy smile. “I asked around. You’re a Songmark graduate, and I figured that you could give me a few tips on the place while I was working with you.”
Her suspicions rose again, but she kept her expression guardedly neutral. “I’ll tell you what,” she finally said. “You help me with this today, and after I pay you I’ll think it over. Deal?”
The rabbit thought it over and replied, “Not much of a choice, then. Deal. Give me that wrench, will you?”
Shin complied, deciding that after they stopped work she would go have a dish of ice cream.
Vicky Knox finished clearing away another table, giving the surface a final wipe with a towel before carrying the tray of dirty dishes back into the building. She gave the tray to B’onss, wiped her paws and started to go back to the open-air biergarten.
The vixen paused as she caught sight of her boss leaning against the counter. “You okeh, Rosie? Not feeling well?”
The slightly buxom cheetah gave Vicky a tired look. “I’ll be fine, just feeling a bit under the weather.” Her spotted tail shook as she took a breath and straightened up. “Everything going okeh outside?”
“Yeah, no problem.” The fox looked at her employer and friend. “You’ve been ‘under the weather’ for a few days now, Rosie. Maybe you should go see Doc Meffit.”
“What? During Speed Week? We’re way too busy.”
“It’s not so bad in the mornings,” Vicky said, and she grinned. “Don’t make me sic the Inspector on you.”
“Please, he’s got enough on his plate without worrying about me. I’ll call the Doc and see if he can see me in the morning.”
Song Sodas was usually used as a reward for Songmark students who did better than merely ‘satisfactory’ or ‘acceptable.’ It was the only part of the school outside the perimeter fence, and well away from the guard dogs.
Shin gave a little shiver at the thought of the guard dogs and concentrated on the dish of French vanilla with chocolate syrup. The dessert was quite tasty. She had deliberately chosen a seat against a wall, facing the two doors that led to the outside and to the backrooms and the school.
Miss Devinski stepped out of the school-side door and Shin resisted the urge to stand up. “Miss Devinski,” she said.
The yellow Labrador gave the red panda a hard glare. “I was told you wished to speak with me, Mrs. Wo,” she said crisply. “Something about counter-signing a loan?”
“Nothing of the sort, Ma’am,” Shin said. “One of the Parkesson girls must have relayed the message.”
“You might be correct,” Devinski said, taking a seat facing the red panda. Her tone indicated that the Chinese woman wouldn’t know who had relayed the message. “Now, what do you want to talk about, Shin?”
“A very nice young woman. I look forward to her attendance here. What about her?”
“Did you send her to me for a job?”
The canine gave her a brief smile. “No. Miss Wildford did.” She cocked her head. “Can you tell me why? Make it quick; your ice cream is melting.”
Shin frowned as she thought. “It can’t be because you trust me.”
“She is enrolled. Anything happens to her – “
“And I’m the first person you look at, of course.” Her thick tail flicked. “You want me to keep her safe until she can start classes.”
Miss Devinski’s expression never changed, but her tail flicked a fraction of an inch.
Shin read the signal correctly, and nodded.
The older canine woman stood up. “You did well tutoring Patricia, Shin. Was that all?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you,” Shin said, and returned to her ice cream as Devinski went back into Songmark.
Xiu squinted, shading her eyes with a paw as the silhouettes of the Spontoon Islands came into view. Her husband, wearing sunglasses and with his baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, was busy with the GH-2’s controls, so she leaned forward and adjusted the frequency from Radio LONO to the Eastern Island control tower. “GFK-3 to Spontoon tower, come in Spontoon.”
“We read you, GFK-3. Can you give us your position?”
Hao reached out and tapped the map. “We’re about here,” he said.
“Right.” She glanced at the compass and pressed the button on the microphone. “North-northwest, at twenty-five hundred feet and about fifteen miles from the western end of Main Island.”
“Roger, GFK-3. Increase altitude to three thousand and turn until you’re on relative heading two-twenty-five. The air’s a bit crowded today, over.”
“Roger, ascend to three thousand and heading two-two-five.” Hao nodded and he started to adjust the heading.
“GFK-3, we’ll guide you into the pattern, just leave your radio set to this frequency.”
“Roger.” She sat back a bit and looked at her husband. “How am I doing?”
He half-turned and grinned at her. “Great. They didn’t ask you to repeat anything.” He winked to take any sting out what he said next. “Advantage of a good English school, huh?”
She wagged a finger at him. “I have that paddle in my luggage.”
Hao chuckled. “We’ll see about that. Peng-wum will have rooms set up for us at the Grand – the same ones we had right after we got married – “
“Very romantic,” she said.
“ – And this time he set ‘em aside before the Speed Week rush. No having to scare the Euros out of there,” and they both laughed as they recalled the ‘outbreak’ of ‘Giant Patagonian Striped Ear Mites’ that had managed to scare the previous tenants out of the suite.
The sun rose higher as they drew closer to the atoll, the control tower giving them instructions on where to slip into the traffic pattern over the lagoon. Xiu glanced out and down, looking through her window on the starboard side. “It looks more crowded now than it did last year.”
“I imagine so,” Hao replied. “The Spontoonies try to outdo themselves every year to draw in more tourists. Makes a lot of sense, actually.”
She nodded and suddenly froze, her tail bottling. “What’s that?”
He craned his neck to look. “That’d be the Republic, big airship. It moves cargo, and drops by here every now and then.” He reached over and tweaked her tail. “Pay attention, please, Xiu. I don’t want one of those racers coming up on us. This plane can’t get out of its own way, let alone anyone else’s.” She laughed at that and sat back, her paw rubbing her belly. “Anything wrong?” he asked solicitously.
“Just wanting to get on solid ground.”
The Meeting Island Hospital’s director of nursing read the last page of the file and closed the folder. The duck smiled at the red panda seated at the other side of the desk. “Your records are impeccable, Miss Kung, even taking into account those that are lost because of the Japanese occupation of Nanking.” She extended a paw. “Welcome to our little family.”
Dressed in her best white nursing uniform, Kung Fei-cui smiled warmly. “Thank you very much, Ma’am.”
“You’re staying at the nursing dormitory here?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Until I can get enough money to get a small apartment.”
“And your file shows that you’re trained on general nursing and obstetrics. I’ll give you the rest of the day to relax, and your shift will start tonight at seven.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”