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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Payoffs© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The next morning Adele rubbed sleep from her eyes and reminded herself that today was the day she had to leave the Casino and the hospitality of the Ni Family. She briefly considered dressing in the same light sundress she had worn when she had left Spontoon, but opted instead for a shirt and a pair of denim trousers. After packing her suitcase, she made one more quick check to see if she’d missed anything, then grabbed up the case and headed downstairs.
Peng-wum was seated at the bar, drinking coffee with his wife Nailani. He looked up as she entered the main room and smiled. “There you are. Pretty fair flying weather this morning, although one cargo flight reported a rain squall or two. Care to add more time to your logbook?”
Adele grinned happily. Any opportunity to add hours to her logbook was not to be missed. “Of course I would!” she exclaimed. “Are you coming too?” she asked Nailani.
The rabbit smiled, then sipped her coffee. “Oh yes. Peng-wum and I are going to do some shopping, and to see about some other things,” and she and her husband grinned at each other. “We won’t be taking the Keystone, though,” Peng-wum commented.
“Why not?” Adele asked.
The red panda shrugged. “Engine maintenance,” he replied. “Besides, it really can’t carry all of the cargo we’ll be hauling.”
Adele nodded, realizing that she probably wouldn’t get a straight answer if she asked what cargo was being moved. She could always claim ignorance if it were illegal and the police stopped them. “What plane are we taking, then?”
Peng-wum chuckled. “Hao’s Garza-Huacatl.” Nailani chimed in, “Better make sure you’ve done your prayers right, Adele,” and laughed. A curious look crossed Adele’s face as she asked, “What type of plane is that?”
Nailani took Adele’s paw and said, “Come on, I’ll show you. Peng-wum, can you bring Adele’s bag with you?” Without waiting for a reply the two lepines left the Casino and headed across the street.
The sight of the twin-engine seaplane made Adele blink. “I … well, it doesn’t look all that bad,” she remarked charitably. “Do you mind if I start preflighting it?”
“Not at all,” came the reply. “Help yourself.” Nailani watched as Adele started to climb over the aircraft, nearly slipping as she stepped onto the wing stub that formed part of the plane’s hull. Peng-wum walked up as Adele climbed onto the plane’s wing and started poking into the two engines. “Well, she wants to fly it, or else she wouldn’t be getting dirty looking at it,” Nailani remarked in Spontoonie.
“Well, you know Songmark’s reputation,” Peng-wum replied. “Very paws-on people who aren’t afraid to get dirty.”
Finally the rabbit descended from the Mixtecan plane, dusting her paws off on the legs and seat of her trousers. “It’ll fly,” she said.
“I’m very glad to hear it,” and the three younger furs turned to see Ni Hei walking toward them from. “Father, good morning.” Peng-wum said, bowing slightly.
“Good morning, my son. Nailani,” and he leaned in close to brush a kiss against his daughter-in-law’s cheek. “Adele, are you going to fly that thing?” he asked. He beckoned to her with a paw. “Come here, please.”
Stepping gingerly to avoid falling off the dock, Adele made her way over to the older red panda. “I wanted to give you your pay before you left,” Hei explained, handing her a small paper packet tied with string. “The three of you had better get going,” he said to his son as Adele stuffed the packet into a pocket.
“Right away, Father.”
The two lepines climbed aboard, Adele climbing into the pilot’s seat, and Hei asked, “Are you certain she can fly that plane? More importantly, are you sure you want her to fly it?”
“Quite sure, Father. It’s a school requirement, as you know – she must get as much flying time as possible, in as many aircraft as possible,” Peng said, bowing again to his father before getting into the plane. He settled into the seat beside Adele’s as she looked over the instruments. “Ready?” he asked. “The cargo’s already loaded and balanced, so you shouldn’t have any trouble.”
“I think so,” she replied, her ears drooping slightly as she blushed. “I’ve only flown one other twin-engine plane before,” she explained as she hit the starter switches and the engines sputtered to life.
“Don’t worry,” Adele added hastily as she looked over at Peng-wum. “I know what I’m doing, and I’ll be careful.”
He smiled at her, a glance from the corner of his eyes showing his wife’s eyes widening. “I trust you, Adele. Let’s go, before the tide goes out and we have to wait.” With the lines already cast off, Adele throttled up the engines and started away from the dock. Her eyes were constantly moving, checking to either side of the plane as it taxied past the Keystone and eyeing the gauges as she adjusted the mixture on one engine. She then gazed ahead, to where an oily swell to the waves indicated the presence of Krupmark’s barrier reef. “Where’s the channel?” she asked.
“To your left,” and she steered in that direction, the plane shuddering gently against the waves. As soon as she was clear of the reef she applied more thrust to the engines and the ungainly plane lumbered into the air.
The fourth member of Shin’s dorm, Tatiana Bryzov, stepped into the bedroom and hissed something venomous in Russian. Shin looked up from her reading and asked, “What’s got your tail kinked?”
“Trouble with Customs,” the sable grumbled. “I had to wait until someone from Embassy arrived.” She shook out her headfur as Liberty asked, “Caught you, huh?” She laughed as the sable bared her teeth at the half-coyote.
“I just heard something interesting,” Brigit said as she entered the room. “Seems that English tramp and one of her American friends almost died a few days ago. Some kind of weird fever or some such.” A wistful look crossed the Irish girl’s muzzle. “Ah, would that were so!” she exclaimed. “Another dead Saxon.” She mumbled something in Gaelic, and piously crossed herself.
Shin glanced up at Brigit, then returned to her reading. “Must be disappointing,” she commented absently, turning a page. “That she didn’t die, I mean.”
“That’s true,” Brigit said. “Ye wouldn’t be taking up for her, are you, Shin?” she suddenly asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
Shin laughed. “Brigit,” she explained, “I take up for my family and my friends. Anyone else has to sink or swim on their own.”
Her remark seemed to mollify the Irish setter, who moved toward the window and stopped. “Out of my seat, you,” she growled at Liberty, jerking a thumb.
The New Havenite sneered. “Who says this is your seat – “ she was cut off as Brigit threw a right to her jaw, and the two started to wrestle. Shin closed her book and glanced at Tatiana. The sable shrugged, and they managed to separate the two canines before either managed to hurt the other. Tatiana held Brigit off while Shin grabbed Liberty’s shoulders and pinned her against the far wall, holding her close enough that the other girl couldn’t strike her effectively with her knees.
“Listen to me, Liberty,” Shin hissed, almost nose to nose with the half-coyote. “You know perfectly well that the window’s Brigit’s seat. She got here first, remember? We had enough fights over it – and you got enough lumps on your soft head to figure it out eventually.” She shoved away from Liberty, who growled as she rubbed feeling back into her shoulders. As Shin turned away, Liberty threw a punch at the back of her head.
Shin dodged to the right, grabbing Liberty’s wrist and expertly throwing her to the floor. Without relinquishing her grip, she twisted the arm, keeping it straight out from the New Haven girl’s body. As she grunted in pain Shin said reasonably, “I’ve been practicing over the holidays, Liberty. All I have to do is take one more step and fall backward, and every bone in your arm will break.”
“And you’ll find yourself outside the gate looking in,” an older voice said, and the girls turned to see Miss Devinski glaring at them from the doorway. As Shin let go of Liberty and stepped back the older woman added, “Classes start tomorrow, and this dorm is already on weekend restriction for two weeks. I want to see you display the same enthusiasm for fighting displayed in your studies. Liberty, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Miss Devinski,” she growled, massaging her arm as she stood up.
“Good. All of you have kitchen duty as well.” She turned and walked out as the four younger furs all glared at each other.
About an hour into their flight back to Spontoon, Peng-wum checked his pocket watch and tapped Adele’s shoulder. “Turn ninety degrees to the right,” he said, raising his voice against the full-throated drone of the plane’s two engines, “and drop to a hundred feet.”
Adele blinked at his instructions, then nodded and started to bring the plane around. As she did, she felt the controls jitter in her paws as the plane fought against being asked to bank into a turn after so many minutes of comfortably flying in a straight line. Garza and Huacatl had done a fine job of mating two engines onto a frame designed for only one, but had neglected to make the other modifications necessary to keep its original handling characteristics.
Sharp turns were problematic, especially with so many apparently heavy boxes in the cabin behind the cockpit. The plane slewed and Adele fought it onto the course Peng-wum had indicated. The red panda fished a pair of binoculars from under the copilot’s seat and scanned the sea, then pointed to the right. “There they are. Another ten degrees to the right,” he said, looking critically at the plane’s compass, “and head in for a landing.”
Adele craned her neck to see where he was pointing, then nodded and started to bring the plane onto the new heading. “I thought we were heading to Spontoon,” she remarked.
“We are, but we need to make a stop first,” Peng-wum said, giving her a thin smile. “Don’t worry; you get a bonus for the side trip.”
The GH-2 bumped and splashed as it landed, and Adele apologized as she unbuckled herself and started checking the plane for damage. Two small fishing boats came up alongside the plane and Nailani opened the cabin doors. One of the furs, an otter, dove into the sea at Peng-wum’s request to check the plane’s hull as others started unloading the boxes. Adele sat back down in the pilot’s seat and said, “I’m sorry about the landing, but the plane’s okay.” She brushed at her ears, smoothing out her headfur as she did so.
“Good. When we get this done, it’s a straight trip to Casino Island,” Peng-wum said. He turned in his seat as one of the boat crew yelled something in Spontoonie and Nailani closed and locked the doors.
“That was fast,” Adele said.
“We’re doing this in broad daylight,” Peng-wum remarked. “We have to be fast.” He glanced back to see his wife strapping herself in, and he said, “Okay, let’s get you back to school, Adele.”