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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!)
(Special guest appearance by Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush by permission of E O Costello. Thanks!)
The rest of their flight was uneventful, and Adele gingerly settled the ungainly seaplane onto the relatively calm waters surrounding Meeting Island. As Peng-wum watched approvingly, Adele helped the towboat crew secure a line to the GH-2’s bow, and settled back. He found that he was relaxing, and realized that he hadn’t been completely relaxed since leaving Krupmark. He chalked it up to nervousness about his wife being on this trip.
“Trouble,” his wife said in her native language, her paw squeezing his shoulder.
“Where?” He looked around. Adele was standing by the bow, holding onto the rope for dear life to avoid falling into the water.
“There, my love. On the dock.” He followed her gaze, and his ears went down.
In addition to the usual crew of workers was a quartet of constables in their formal ‘tourist season’ uniforms, complete with solar topis and knee socks. Standing a short distance from them were two furs in civilian dress. One was a rumpled-looking fox, and the other …
Peng-wum sighed. The Ni Family had always had a gentleman’s agreement with the police on Spontoon, just like most of the other criminal organizations on Krupmark. They paid their tribute to the Althing, and (so long as nothing hideous happened) they were allowed to do business with only slight interference. “I knew it,” he muttered, taking a deep breath to calm himself. This wasn’t going to be easy.
As the GH-2 was tied up to the dock the fox turned to his superior. “Think they’ll have it with them, sir?” he asked in native-accented English.
Inspector Stagg shifted his weight, using his cane to ease the omnipresent ache in his right hoof. It was only May, and even after two years in the islands he still felt oppressed by the heat. “No, Sergeant, I expect that your informant may have left out a small piece of information. And I doubt the Nis would be so blatant.” Sergeant Brush growled, and the cervine said, “Still, we are here. We should at least make introductions.” He hobbled forward as one of the constables helped Nailani from the plane to join Peng-wum on the dock.
The red panda stepped forward to face the taller deer as the two detectives displayed their badges. Stagg pocketed the badge and extended a paw. “Mister Ni? Inspector Stagg, Spontoon Constabulary. I wish to ask you a few questions.”
Peng-wum smiled and bowed formally before taking the paw and shaking it. “I am honored to meet you, Inspector. I would be happy to assist you.” He kept his expression as placid as possible. Stagg had a fearsome reputation among the criminal element on the islands.
“Excellent,” Stagg said. “Would it be an imposition to allow the constables to search your plane?”
The points of Peng-wum’s teeth bared as his smile widened. “Would it be an imposition to produce a warrant?” he asked, and as the fox stepped forward threateningly he added, chuckling, “But of course we have nothing to hide. Feel free to search, Inspector. My wife and I are here on business – of a personal nature.”
“What kind of business?” Sergeant Brush asked in Spontoonie, looking suspiciously at Adele and Nailani.
Peng-wum’s ringed tail flicked as he kept his eyes on Stagg, and Nailani replied, “We’re picking up some things to take to my family’s village. We’re setting up a longhouse,” she added.
Brush’s eyes narrowed as he translated for Stagg’s benefit, then he pointed at Adele. “And her?”
“She’s a hired pilot, dead-ending here,” Peng-wum replied. “Adele, thank you for your service. You can go.”
“She gets searched first,” the fox snapped, and as the lepine hesitated, Nailani said sweetly, “Right here on the dock? Sounds like fun. Come on, Adele,” and she started to unbutton her blouse.
Stagg glanced at a constable who was poking through an opened suitcase, and he said quietly, “That will not be necessary, Mrs. Ni. Is the plane empty?” he asked, and at a constable sergeant’s nod he said to Peng-wum, “Thank you for your time, Mr. Ni. Sergeant, Let’s go.” He shook paws with Peng-wum again, and started to walk away.
Orrin Brush moved up alongside his superior, and when they were out of earshot he asked, “Why the soft touch, sir?”
“I expect we could find the pilot quickly enough if we wanted to ask her any questions, Sergeant. Her suitcase held a school blazer from Songmark Academy, but I expect you were more watchful of Mrs. Ni’s rather more obvious charms. Had she made good on her threat, I would have a hard time explaining it to your wife.”
“Yes, sir,” Sergeant Brush muttered as the two walked on, and Stagg added, “As I expected, they may have offloaded their cargo before reaching the islands, or never loaded it at Krupmark. Still, I confess to some disappointment.”
“Yes,” he said, pausing to rest his hoof for a moment before resuming his slow walk. “I had hoped that Ni Hao was aboard. I have some unanswered questions about that death last fall.”
Adele Beasley paused on her way to the water taxis and put her suitcase down as she collected herself. She knew that she’d done nothing wrong, but even a brief encounter with the police right after returning from Krupmark had unnerved her. She shivered, her ears drooping, and she sat on her suitcase to relax for a moment.
When she sat she felt a bulge in her trouser pocket, and remembered the packet that Ni Hei had given her. Fishing it out of her pocket she untied it and removed the brown paper wrapping.
She blinked as she stared at the tightly-folded money inside the packet, and counted it carefully. There was a total of thirty Spontoonie shell notes, and for a brief moment she just sat there, staring at the money in her paws.
The cry of a seagull startled her out of her paralysis and she stood, stuffed the money back in her pocket, then grabbed up her suitcase and headed up the hill to the bank. She decided she’d have the money inspected to see if it was counterfeit before she tried to deposit it.
She decided that she liked the Nis – but she still didn’t trust them.
Halfway to the bank she paused again as a thought struck her, and she headed for a tailor’s shop. Although her bank account could benefit from the extra money, her Songmark uniform smelled most enticingly of Roger, and was a bit snug across the shoulders. A new uniform would look better on her, and help her to avoid any embarrassing questions. After all, she reflected, what happens on Krupmark should stay on Krupmark.
Shin sighed, resisting the urge to grind her teeth again. If she kept at it, she thought, poi would be the only thing she could eat because her teeth would be worn down to the gum line. A paw gripping a scrubbing brush plunged into the hot soapy water again, and she attacked the crusted pot in the sink. She pulled it out of the water, inspected it, and dunked it back in for a final time before putting it on the drying rack. Across from her Tatiana slowly and methodically cleaned the lunch plates, while Brigit and Liberty dried each item and put them away. The cooks sat by and chatted idly among themselves.
Tatiana brushed her headfur back with an elbow and muttered something in Russian. “What’s the matter, Tatiana?” Shin asked, too irritated to insert a teasing tone. “Too much proletarian labor?”
“Nyet,” the sable grumbled. “Is the first of May, the great holiday of the working class. At home I would be marching with my Komsomol cadre.”
“And I’d be marching with the Young Internationalists,” Liberty chimed in.
“There would be singing,” Tatiana added, sparing the Trotskyite coyote an only slightly withering glance.
“Yeah,” Liberty said, shaking out her towel before grabbing another plate off the drying rack. Brigit cocked her head at her fellow canine. “You can sing, Liberty?”
“Of course I can, you …” she let the sentence trail off rather than start another fight, and grabbed a small pot from the rack. Rubbing it vigorously with her towel she said, “I just don’t want to.”
“Afraid we’d make fun of you?” Shin asked, looking down as she washed another pot.
Before Liberty could snarl another insult, ears perked as Tatiana began to sing in English:
“So come, comrades, rally,
And show the bourgeois what we’re worth!
The International unites the furs of Earth!”
To Shin and Brigit’s amazement, Liberty joined in, her alto joining the sable’s soprano. When they finished, the cooks actually applauded quietly, and Shin said, “That’s really good.”
Liberty paused, rolling the words over in her head until she was sure that it wasn’t meant as an insult, and said, “Here’s one we sang on the farm last month.
“Come, every honest lad and lass
Too long we've been kept under
By rusty chains of fraud and fear
We'll snap them all asunder!
When the revolution comes,
The social revolution,
It's coming fast,
Our turn at last,
The social revolution! “
The song was set to a jaunty tune that Shin recognized as some American song (at least, she’d heard it sung by some Yankees at the Casino). “Is good!” Tatiana exclaimed, the feeling of the Proletarian Holiday and the singing overcoming her usual hatred of the Trotskyite. “Brigit, sing us something, da?” she asked the Irish girl.
“Well, sure you’ve heard me singing enough, haven’t you?” Brigit said, her tail giving a slight wag. “And I’ve nothing so good for your holiday.”
“Come on, Brigit, sing something,” Liberty said, snapping her towel at the Irish setter’s backside. “Something about struggle; today’s the day for it.” Brigit laughed as she dodged the towel, then paused and closed her eyes as she sang:
“I remember '67 well when furs like you and me
All thought we'd strike another blow to set old Ireland free.
But broken were our golden hopes; I was long months on the run
But it did good work for Ireland then, that brown old Fenian gun.
I was down then in Killaluk t'was the hottest fight of all.
And you can see he burned his arm there's a mark still on the ball
I hope the young pups growing now will hold the ground we won
And not disgrace the cause in which I held that Fenian gun.”
“Now it’s your turn, Shin,” Tatiana said as Brigit finished.
The red panda looked up in shock. “Me? But I don’t sing – at least, not in English.”
“Come on,” Brigit urged. “Sure and you must know some songs, living in a casino and all?”
“Well … “ She thought a moment, then closed her eyes as she continued to wash the dishes in the sink. After all, the cooks would report any shirking to the tutors, and they still had to get things ready for supper. As she washed her foot started to tap and her banded tail started moving to a beat as she recalled the Lucille Crowgan song. Presently she started to sing in a slightly rough alto, and as she sang she started to feel the rhythm and moved her hips in time to the music as she recalled it:
“And I'll give you somethin' baby, swear it'll make you cry.
I'm gon' turn back my mattress, and let you oil my springs,
I want you to grind me daddy, 'til the bell do ring,
Oh daddy, want you to shear 'em dry,
Oh great God daddy, if you can't shear 'em baby won't you try?
Now if dockin' was the thing, that would take me to heaven,
I'd be dockin' on the altar, till the clock strike eleven,
Oh daddy, daddy, shear 'em dry.
“How’s that?” she asked, opening her eyes.
The cooks sat there, staring, and one abruptly slid off her chair to land with a thump on the floor. Tatiana stood opposite her, blinking her eyes rapidly as she tried to translate the song in her head. Liberty just stared, her mouth hanging open, and Brigit had both paws to her mouth, whispering, “Saints preserve us …”