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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Peng-wum sat quietly as the family plane was towed to the dock, and glanced behind him again. At the far end of the passenger cabin he could catch a glimpse of several packages, and he wondered how he could explain the delay in flying time to the fur he was here to pick up. In the distance he could see the ungainly form of Hao’s Nin Hai biplane, and wondered how his brother was doing.
It was a bright spring morning at the seaplane terminal, and the air and sun already promised a warm day. Adele Beasley, dressed in a floral print dress, sat on a bench overlooking the docks, sighing quietly to herself. The plane coming to get her was overdue by a half hour, and she was beginning to get worried that her fabled bad luck was creeping up on her again. Her ears stirred in the light breeze, and she brushed at their fur with a negligent paw. She briefly wondered what would happen if Shin’s offer turned out to be just some elaborate practical joke, and shivered at the thought of explaining to the Songmark staff how she’d been forced to rely on charity to see her through the Easter holidays.
“Excuse me? Adele Beasley, I presume?” The voice spoke English with an odd accent – the same accent as Shin’s - and Adele turned and looked up. A male red panda stood over her, and the white patches on his face, framed in russet fur, helped accentuate his smile. He was dressed in denim trousers, work boots and a flannel shirt.
Adele got to her feet and replied, “Yes, I’m Adele Beasley. Are you one of Shin’s brothers?”
The panda nodded, then bowed politely. “I’m her older brother Peng-wum,” he said, offering a paw. She shook it and he said, “I docked just a few minutes ago. I apologize for being late, but there were some headwinds.” It was a lame, almost flimsy excuse, and he knew it, but he hoped that she would accept it at face value.
She reached for her suitcase, but Peng-wum was a shade faster, scooping up her luggage. “I’m awfully grateful for the ride, and for the job, Peng-wum,” the rabbit said as he started around a corner of the terminal, forcing her to trot to keep up with him.
“It’s no problem, really,” Peng-wum remarked. “We hire all the time, and we’re looking forward to having you as our guest.” He smiled as he stopped and gestured with his tail. “There’s our plane.”
Adele, like many people, had always expected the worst from Krupmark and its inhabitants. She had anticipated that the plane she would ride on would be held together by prayer and baling wire, with a crew made up of escaped criminals and pirates. However, Shin’s offer and her brother’s manners were causing her to question those beliefs.
And now their plane caused her to stop in her tracks. “Oh my.” The seaplane rode lightly at its moorings, its cabin and tail bright white, its biplane wings and boat hull yellow, and the cowling on its single engine was blue. Red Chinese dragons emblazoned its bow. “That’s your plane?” Adele gasped. “It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you. It’s a Keystone-Loening K-85,” Peng-wum explained, opening a door. “My father bought it about ten years ago. Feel free to take a look at it – in fact, you can preflight it while I get it refueled.” Adele didn’t wait for a second invitation. She practically swarmed over the plane, poking her nose into the engine cowling and checking the struts and wires bracing the biplane wings. Peng-wum chuckled as she bent over, then busied himself with the refueling hose.
A short while later Peng-wum announced, “We’re ready to go if you are,” as he wiped his paws with a rag. By then Adele was already seated in the pilot’s seat, looking at the instruments and testing the controls. “Like it?”
“Oh yes,” she said enthusiastically.
Peng-wum laughed. “Then fly us to Krupmark.”
The rabbit’s voice quavered, “Really?”
“Of course. You have your pilot’s license, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, yes of course … “
“Well then,” Peng-wum said as he cast off the last mooring line and pushed the plane away from the dock, “you can fly it.” He clambered over the cabin and opened the copilot’s door, then eased himself into the seat. He stuffed several folded newspapers behind his chair as he added, “The flight plan’s already filed, so warm up the radio and let’s go.”
The rabbit’s paws trembled slightly, but the look in her eyes was like a kid’s at Christmas. She then looked the controls and gauges over more critically, nodding as if going through a checklist in her head. She switched on the radio set. “What’s our call sign?” she asked.
“GFK-1,” he replied. She nodded and keyed the microphone. “GFK-1 to Spontoon tower.”
“Spontoon tower, go ahead.”
Adele swallowed. “Requesting takeoff permission. Flight plan is already on file.”
“Roger. Almost no wind, no debris sighted in the lane. Good flying.”
Adele placed the microphone back in its cradle and hit the electric starter, her ears laying down as the Wasp engine roared to life. Peng-wum sat back and relaxed as he watched her taxi into the seaplane area, then settle her paw on the throttle. “Be careful,” he admonished quietly.
“I will,” she said, a note of tension in her voice as she advanced the throttle and the plane started to speed up. It rose, balancing on its outrigger floats and keel, then lifted clear of the water. As it rose, Adele brought the plane around to the right in a gradually ascending turn. “Wow,” she said, breathing out gratefully, “this is great.”
Peng-wum chuckled as the plane gained altitude, passing over a large sailing ship. “When you reach two thousand feet,” he said, “set course two-eight-two for the first leg. We’ll be there in about two hours.”
Adele grinned and eased back on the control yoke. “This sure handles well,” she observed.
“Thank you. Father fitted it out as something to take us on trips and such, but it’ll also move light cargo.” He drew a pair of pince-nez glasses from a pocket and reached behind him, pulling a newspaper out at random. “Do you mind if I read while you fly?” he asked, slipping the glasses onto his muzzle.
The rabbit shook her head. “May I ask a question?”
“Sure.” The red panda opened the Intercontinental Tribune and flipped ahead to the business page.
“How did your family end up on Krupmark? I mean, Shin seems like such a nice girl,” Adele remarked.
Peng-wum smiled wryly. Now I see what Shin meant in her letter, he thought to himself. “We were on vacation from China,” he explained, “and stopped at Spontoon for refueling when we were abruptly stranded. We had no income, no way of making a living – and the Spontoon authorities wouldn’t let us stay.” He folded the paper over to a specific page. “So we moved to Krupmark and started over.”
“I see,” the lepine said as she brought the plane around to a heading that would take them to Krupmark. “How did you get stranded?”
“A local warlord wiped out our entire clan,” Peng-wum replied, looking over his pince-nez at Adele, who abruptly blanched and said nothing more for a while.
After a few minutes, the extreme western tip of Main Island came into view, and Peng-wum looked up from his second paper. “Come right to three-one-five,” he said. “After that it’s a straight run to Krupmark.”
“Okay,” Adele replied, paws resting lightly on the control yoke as she leaned the plane into a shallow banking turn. Peng-wum smiled at her. “Having fun?” he asked.
“Oh yes!” she exclaimed. “This is the first time I’ve flown a seaplane before – for any length of time, that is. I’d like to log this time in my logbook after my vacation, if that’s all right,” she added, looking almost breathlessly happy. She was having an adventure, and it was starting out right!
“Be my guest,” Peng-wum replied, taking a pencil from a pocket and jotting a note on his newspaper. “I’m sure you students are anxious to get in as much flying time as possible.” He grinned as she nodded vigorously and returned to his paper. A news item caught his eye, and he circled the brief notice twice.
The plane passed over open ocean for nearly an hour, then over waters dotted with small islands and atolls. Finally, as the sun was reaching its highest point, Peng-wum pointed to a small hump on the horizon. “That’s Mount Krupp,” he announced. “Excellent flying,” and he smiled as she blushed at his compliment. “We stay on this heading until we can see our dock, then I want you to descend in a clockwise spiral,” he said, pantomiming the direction with a paw. She nodded and remarked, “It’s still pretty far off.”
“Yes. About another half hour or so.”
Soon the island could be seen clearly, and there were signs of a settlement; a cluster of buildings near two airstrips, and another collection of buildings hugging the shoreline. Waves could be seen curling and breaking over a barrier reef some distance off shore. There were some docks, and Peng-wum pointed. “See that one on the right?” he asked. “Start your turn now.”
“I see it,” she replied, and started banking the plane. She suddenly stared and yelped, “There are machine guns on the roofs!”
“Sure,” the red panda said casually. “We like to be secure here. People know this plane, though, and we shouldn’t get shot at.” His tone of voice reassured Adele slightly, who was starting to think that this place might prove to be a bit too adventurous. But she steeled herself mentally, recalling her training and determined not to fail.
The K-85 landed within the island’s barrier reef without incident, and Adele taxied the plane to the Ni Family dock. Two furs, a canine and a feline, came out to tie the plane fast, and as the engine idled to a stop Peng-wum turned to Adele. “A very good flight,” he said approvingly. “Your tutors have certainly done a great job.”
Adele smiled as she stepped out onto the dock and reached for her suitcase as Peng-wum handed it out to her. She waited as he climbed out, then started to follow him toward a two-story building. “Welcome to Ni and Sons,” the red panda said, glancing back at her as she followed several feet behind him, clutching her luggage.
“I thought it was called the Lucky Dragon,” she said.
A chuckle as he waved to an older female panda as she opened the back door of the building. “That’ll be the Casino; it’s across the road. Shin should have told you that we’re also in banking and investments. Mother,” he said as he walked up to Peng, “This is Adele Beasley.”
Adele smiled, stepped forward and caught her shoe on a slightly raised plank. She stumbled, twisted in an effort to recover herself, and fell into the water with a splash.