Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Dr. Meffit courtesy of E.O.Costello. Thanks!)
“No,” Shin grumbled, “but when I’m usually here it’s nowhere near as crowded.”
The terrier chuckled and blew through his mustache. “That’s Speed Week for you; supposed to be rushing about and yet here we sit, waiting. Skies will be crowded like Grand Central at rush hour.”
“Yeah.” Shin looked so glum that the other pilots chuckled. “And it’s just a check flight.”
“Oh?” the terrier asked, glancing at the others. “Not a cargo run?”
“Not yet. Getting the plane airworthy first.” She stretched a bit in her seat. “It’s a Conwing C-5, so it – what?” she asked, noticing the looks the others were giving her.
Another pilot, this one a feline wearing the blazer of a company representative for Shoshone Skypaths, leaned forward. “A Conwing? You’re a brave girl, you know that.” Across the room, a bulky bear crossed himself ostentatiously and mumbled something in Italian.
Shin cocked an eyebrow at the man. “Bravery has nothing to do with it,” she said firmly. “The airframe’s in good shape.” She glanced up as the clerk called a number, and sat back when she realized it wasn’t her number being announced. “It’ll fly.”
“Will it stay up, though?” the terrier jibed. “That’s the great question.” A few of the others nodded.
“It should,” Shin said defensively. Another number was called, and the terrier grinned as he got to his feet and headed over to the clerk. She relaxed, noting that there were only three people remaining in front of her.
She did wish that she had brought a book or something, and resisted fidgeting again as one of the other pilots dozed off.
When her number was finally called, it was almost lunchtime, and she hurried through the process of getting the flight plan filed. The fox behind the desk seemed to take his own sweet time making sure that everything was in order before approving it, and closed the window to a concert of groans from the others in the waiting area. “Sorry guys,” the fox said, “but we gotta eat too, you know.” A volley of good-natured insults were heard as Shin left the office and headed back to the hangar.
The seats had been delivered, she noted, and they had been stacked off to one side near the office area. The red panda quickly got out of her uniform and back into her jumpsuit while reading the invoice, then spent a moment recording the purchase in her ledgers. Shin muttered a soft Mandarin epithet at the remaining balance before leaving the office. “Juliana!” she called out.
The rabbit was seated near the water entrance to the hangar, eating a box lunch, and she twisted around and waved as Shin walked over to her. “Engines are done, and the seats came in,” she said, her mouth full.
Shin nodded and glanced at the Conwing. “One of the vendors come by?” she asked, turning back to Juliana. Her tail pointed at the small box.
Juliana nodded. “There’s one for you, over there,” and she ate another strip of deep-fried fish as Shin retrieved her own meal. She glanced over at the red panda as Shin opened the box and sniffed at it suspiciously before sampling a tiny bit. “What’s wrong?”
“Just checking,” Shin replied. “You can’t be too careful.”
“You’re awfully careful,” the Englishwoman said. “One might think you believe someone’s out to kill you.”
Shin smiled. “Yes.” The blunt affirmative caused Juliana’s ears to go back and the red panda added, “I’ve been shot at, and it sort of makes you awfully careful. And that’s another thing you have to know about Songmark.”
The Chinese woman ate part of her lunch, correctly identifying it as pastefish, before saying, “There are some people in the world that would pay any price for a trained Songmark girl. One tried to acquire me – and I shot him dead myself.” Her tone was quite matter-of-fact. Shin sighed and gave the rabbit a wan smile. “It’s a dangerous world out here, Juliana. Songmark trains its students to deal with that.” She glanced back at the floatplane.
“Let’s finish up lunch and get this heap into the air, okay?” she asked around another mouthful of pastefish.
Doctor Meffit smiled as his nurse showed the cheetah into his surgery. “Ah, Miss Baumgartner. Come in and take a seat, please,” the skunk said in a friendly tone. “I don’t usually see you in my professional capacity. Thank you, Nurse,” and the sugar glider closed the door behind her. “Now, what seems to be the problem?”
Rosie shrugged, her tail flicking back and forth listlessly. “I haven’t been feeling okeh for a few days, like I’m coming down with something.”
The mephit nodded. “Well, I’ll perform an exam, and take a blood sample. When was your last physical?”
The cheetah frowned for a moment. “About three years. I think.”
“Then you’re overdue. Do you need Nurse, in case – ah,” and he rolled his eyes as the cheetah got up and started taking off her blouse. “I forgot what you used to do for a living. Well, once you get into the gown over there, please have a seat on the exam table.”
A few passers-by on water taxis craned their necks as a floatplane eased out of its hangar. Its engines were idling, the propellers turning slowly. The slim rabbit finished closing the hangar doors, then scrambled along the dock and half-stepped, half-leaped onto one of the floats and clambered into the plane. The red panda at the controls advanced the throttles, and the plane started moving away from its dock while slow wakes built up around the tips of the pontoons.
“Keep your eyes open,” Shin said tersely. “Lots of boats in the water, and I don’t want to kill anyone today.” Juliana nodded and the plane picked up speed, trailing the airport’s boat with its red and yellow paint scheme and the sign on its fantail reading FOLLOW ME. “Start warming up the radio,” the red panda added. “Our call sign’s LFK-7Y.”
That earned her an irritated flick of the rabbit’s long ears. The call sign was blazoned on the fuselage and wings; how could she miss it? Nevertheless, she set the radio to the tower frequency and requested permission to get airborne.
The plane shook as it sped up to takeoff speed as if unwilling to leave the water, but it finally lifted and cleared the surface as Shin pulled back on the control yoke. As soon as she had gained enough altitude she banked the plane and started heading southeast over open water. Shin took a quick glance at the engine gauges and smiled. “So far, so good,” she remarked.
“So, I did good?” Juliana asked.
The red panda nodded as she made a slight adjustment to the heading. “Yes, you did. Now, since we’re up here, I’m going to show you a few things, starting with Sacred Island.” She banked the aircraft and pointed. “Down there.”
Juliana looked down and remarked, “Looks like a nice place.”
“I can’t say. Never been there.” Mayfield looked back at her and Shin said, “Non-Spontoonies – ‘Euros’ – are only allowed by invitation, and then only for special occasions. The Tutors could tell you more about it – maybe,” and after circling Sacred Island Shin guided the plane into a turn that would skirt the southern side of South Island.
So far, the Conwing was flying quite well. “Do I get to fly this thing?” Juliana asked.
Shin’s ears dipped as she considered the request, then nodded. “Go ahead. Our heading’s two-seventy-two, so show me what you know, and I’ll point out the sights.”
“Ah, Wo Fang,” the red panda said, “please come in. You honor my lowly establishment,” and he signaled for tea.
For his part, the big Manchurian tiger bowed respectfully and said, “You honor me by your invitation, White Lotus Chen,” and he took a seat and waited as tea was brought, along with a plate of almond cookies. “What may I do for you?”
Chen poured for both of them, and they toasted each other’s health and prosperity before he said, “You and your wife are planning to fight two days from now.” He glanced at the floor as he did so, indicating the clandestine boxing ring he had in the basement.
“Two of Lu Ting’s sons desire to . . . sort out certain differences,” the red panda said carefully, judging his words as he spoke. He and the tiger were both members of the Businessmen’s Association, but he worried how the tiger – or his Songmark-trained wife – would react. A woman who had masterminded the death of Shen Jintao and Shen Ming was no one to be trifled with.
He wondered if Fang had realized that.
“Lu Ting earnestly desires that you and your wife give up - er, postpone your bout until the next day.”
Much to the red panda’s surprise, the Manchurian feline smoothed back his whiskers and smiled. “That’s acceptable. Shin may complain, but I think she will welcome the extra day to get ready.” Fang smiled, showing just the points of his incisors. “As will I. How is the betting going?” he asked, taking hold of the teapot and freshening their drinks.
White Lotus Chen felt a bit relieved. The Ni Family were known for their practical attitude toward things, as was Wo Fang. They were still a force to be reckoned with. He took a sip of his tea and said, “The betting reflects the apparent mismatch. Apparent,” and he raised a finger. “After all, you are taller, heavier and have a longer reach.”
“That’s true. And the odds are?”
Chen grinned. “The odds are favoring you, my friend. It seems that many think you shall easily overpower your wife. Masculine solidarity, you see.”
Fang laughed at that.
Overall, Shin was pleased.
The Conwing handled as well as it had when she and Red Dorm had flown it back from Krupmark, despite the efforts of the two engines to overheat a little. Juliana had admitted that she had never flown a multi-engine plane before, but was grateful for the opportunity. Shin had pointed out that the rabbit would train on the school’s De Havilland Tiger Moths for most of her time at Songmark.
Shin had taken the controls to land the plane, and now the hangar stank a bit of engine exhaust and hot oil as the red panda and the rabbit performed a post-flight inspection. “Looks good, more or less,” Shin remarked as she carefully nudged a bucket into position under the port engine. A bucket was already under the starboard nacelle. She hadn’t started earning any money yet, and couldn’t afford the fine that she knew the Spontoonies would hit her with if she let oil foul the harbor.
Juliana wiped her paws with a rag. “So, Boss, what’s next?”
“What’s next? We check over the engines and get a start on getting those seats put in,” Shin said. “Then I’ll give you your pay. Where are you staying?”
“Well, I had thought about asking you if I could doss down here – “
“I’d say no.”
“I figured you would,” the English rabbit said, “so I’ll be staying where I have been.”
“Where’s that?” Shin asked as she started toward the collection of seats.
“The Temperance Hall.” Juliana chuckled as the red panda made a face. “I’m too young to drink anyway, and I don’t mind the hymns. Still, it does remind one of a prison, doesn’t it? All it lacks is them having you wear the Broad Arrow.”
You’ll learn, Shin thought to herself.
to be continued