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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!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush by permission of EO Costello. Thanks!)
Printer’s Lane on Casino Island was a quiet place even on most days of the week. On Sundays it was as quiet as a tomb.
“Sir? Sir, are you up?” Sergeant Brush asked in a quiet, respectful tone, rapping gently on the door that blocked off part of Nerzmann’s Book Store and constituted Inspector Stagg’s home. The mink proprietor of the store glanced back at the fox from an adjoining stack before continuing to place books on the shelves. Before Brush could ask the fur if he knew his superior was awake, the door opened.
To Brush’s surprise the door was not answered by the older buck, but by a young feline dressed in a white short-sleeved shirt and dark blue shorts. He said, “Excuse me,” and squeezed past the startled fox, but before Brush could stop him a quiet voice said, “Sergeant.”
Stagg was dressed in his usual rumpled white suit, one paw gripping his cane. His eyes had strain lines around them, as if he hadn’t been sleeping well. “Good morning, Sergeant. Punctual, as always. Shall we go?” He stepped out of his contrived apartment and nodded gravely to Herr Nerzmann, who gave a small bow in return.
As he stepped out of the room, the fox noticed a few stacks of tightly bound pieces of paper on the desk. He tried to look more closely, but Stagg closed the door. Smiling at his subordinate he said, “I’m just doing something to pass the time, Sergeant. Idle paws are the Devil’s workshop, and all that.”
“Yes, sir.” The two left the shop and stepped out into the hot July sunshine.
As Brush brought him up to date on what happened during the night, Franklin Stagg listened with only part of his attention. “You plannin’ on stoppin’ by Saint Anthony’s today, sir?” Brush asked, and the question brought Stagg away from the neat stacks of telegrams on his desk and what connections he might find within them.
He paused, asking himself again whether he should tell his subordinate what he was truly doing. Again, he thought better of it. Better to let him in on the idea if it bore fruit, rather than be disappointed. “Yes, Sergeant,” he replied. “I think I shall, and you can catch up on the Elele.”
The fox’s ears dipped and he self-consciously patted the newspaper tucked under one arm. “Yes, sir.”
Saint Anthony’s saw the usual number of celebrants for a typical Sunday Mass. Less than twenty furs were in the church as Stagg bowed over his cane, crossed himself and walked in. Brush stayed outside, taking a seat on a bench near the door and flipping open his copy of the paper.
A young Irish setter girl abruptly straightened from her kneeling position in the front pew as the breeze wafted a particular scent over her nose. Her hackles rose as she glanced around and she growled softly as she spotted Stagg walking up a side aisle toward a stained-glass window. She watched him kneel, and her curiosity shouldered aside her usual distaste of policefurs.
The window showed seven figures; a doe and three fawns, and three deliberately evil-looking furs hovering over them. She looked at them, then at Stagg’s back as he bent in prayer. Her brows furrowed and she faced forward, looking up.
The Lion of God looked down at her, paws curled gently around the nails in His palms. His look of quiet suffering showed great skill on the part of the craftsman, and Brigit shuddered before bowing her head again, lips moving as she prayed silently, thinking to herself Well, at least he’s not Protestant or English, so.
Father Merino was almost finished putting on his vestments as one of the altar boys poked his head around the corner. “Father,” the avian said, “I think you should see this.” The ram glanced around the corner and sighed.
“Get me the sacramental wine, please,” Merino said. He always needed to fortify himself when a Songmark girl came to Mass. Confession was usually afterward, and from the look of the Irish girl she may have had a lot on her soul.
Stagg left soon after the Mass was concluded, and as he paused on the steps and let his eyes adjust to the sunlight, Sergeant Brush stood and tucked his paper back under his arm. The pair then headed for the water-taxis that would take them to Meeting Island and their office. Brigit came out an hour later, and walked toward the casinos and hotels. Summer holidays were coming soon, and she needed to get a job lined up before Songmark closed its doors.
Peng-wum glanced up from his paper as the water-taxi eased up to the docks near the seaplane terminal, and checked his watch. Nearly twelve o’clock; he already missed his wife, and promised himself that he would conclude any outstanding business at Krupmark and get home as quickly as possible. He paused, a smile stealing across his usually solemn face. Home, for him, was anywhere Nailani was.
It had taken him most of the morning to wash the palm oil from his fur and brush it back out. Gone, too, was the minimal clothing he had worn for the past several weeks, and he now resembled many of the Euros (but not the tourists) who frequented Casino Island
Much to his satisfaction, Superior Engineering had done its usual expert job at maintaining the GH-2. He signed off on the receipt as one of the workers told him, “It’ll fly, right enough, and fly well too. Just don’t try aerobatics in it.” He had laughed along with the terrier, and added jokingly, “What a pity – I was going to enter it in the Schneider Cup this year.”
He checked the plane over, then filed a flight plan before stopping by a small restaurant for lunch. The cook recognized him and a spirited conversation in Chinese ensued before two bowls were set down in front of the red panda. The egg-fried rice and fragrant stir-fried chives were delicious, and he dawdled longer than he should have over his final cup of tea. Finally he settled his bill and went to the plane.
The two aftermarket BMW engines roared to life and after taking off he set the wireless set to Radio LONO, letting the sound of ukulele music serenade him all the way to Krupmark.
The GH-2 performed flawlessly, and as he taxied to the family dock several furs came out to tie the plane fast. Two of them he immediately recognized, and wondered what they were doing here. “Hao, Anna,” he said, pausing to give the slim canine girl a brief kiss on the cheek, “Why are you two here? I would have thought Father would have you out doing something.”
“Father had me running a few errands – you know, this and that,” Hao replied. “Shin was here a few weeks ago,” he added, and his older brother frowned.
“Nothing wrong, I hope?”
“Not as far as she told us,” Hao said, shrugging. “If there were, do you think she’d say anything?”
Peng-wum laughed. “No, she’d try to get out of it herself first, then she’d probably ask Fang. So, how’s business been?” he asked, walking along the dock to the office.
“Not bad, actually,” Hao replied, falling in beside him. “We’ve done fairly well with the Big Fish’s connections, but you should ask Father that.” The younger panda smiled. “No matter how hard you and Father try, I still can’t get the hang of the numbers end of the business.”
His brother clapped a paw on his shoulder. “You need to try harder, little brother. After all, I have to spend most of my time at Pangai with Nailani. At least until the cub’s born.”
“She must be getting bigger every day by now,” Anna observed, and Peng-wum laughed. “Of course, but it’s wonderful to see,” he said.
Ni Hei looked up and grinned as his oldest son entered the office. “Peng-wum!” he exclaimed, and the two embraced. “Well, you look very fit. How is Nailani?”
“Just fine, Father. I only came here to see if there was anything that needed doing, and I’ll have Hao and Anna take me back.”
“Good. But you don’t have to leave immediately, do you? Your mother would want to see you, and I’d like you to look over the books.
“I can stay the night, of course,” Peng-wum replied. “It wouldn’t be proper of me to leave so quickly.” He grinned suddenly. “And naturally I’ll look things over, Father. Hao says that things are going well in our arrangement with Carpanini.”
“Yes, they are,” Hei admitted. “We’ve been moving increasingly large quantities through intermediaries on Mildendo and transferring the money through our various branch offices. One new outlet is our investment in Boing.”
“Boing? That aircraft company in Seathl City?”
“Yes. They’ve shown a great deal of promise, building planes on contract to the American government. With some improvement, they may actually amount to something over time, so it seemed a good investment,” Hei explained. “I’ve also started looking over designs from the Marten Company – a replacement for the Keystone.”
“Tired with it already, Father?” Peng-wum asked with a sly smile.
Hei laughed and sat back down at his desk. “Hardly,” he replied, “but we might want to consider it nevertheless – a new plane with greater range and carrying capacity means we could bypass some of our more, ah, unenthusiastic middlemen.”
The next day the GH-2 emerged from a rainsquall and descended onto the seaplane lanes. Peng-wum looked over Hao’s shoulder as the younger fur guided the plane in for a landing. “You know,” he remarked, “this plane has some trouble with turns, especially when loaded.”
“You noticed that too?” Hao asked, setting the plane down on the choppy water. “The wing length is all wrong.”
“Maybe you could donate it to Songmark or the Technical High School?” Peng-wum teased, and gasped as Hao swerved the plane, causing the older Ni to grab at the cabin doorway.
“No way,” Hao said. “It’d look too much like a bribe. Besides, I like this plane. It’s very sturdy, isn’t it Anna?”
The canine girl nodded. “Yes, like I said, almost Russian.”
After tying the plane fast to the dock, Hao and Anna made their farewells to Peng-wum, who headed for the water taxis. Hao gazed up at the hotels and looked at Anna. “How about dinner?” he asked.
Some time later, Hao sat back and lit a cigarette as Anna asked, “So, what do you want to do tonight?”
“Hmm. Take over the world?” He laughed. “No; I’ll leave that for more energetic Euro types,” he said as she laughed with him. “I was thinking that we might go to the amusement park, or a nice swim on the beaches down at South Island. Sound good?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Anna agreed, “but I didn’t bring a bathing suit.”
Hao grinned as he sat up, then stood. “Great. Neither did I.” He chuckled as she blushed, then stiffened as a paw tapped him on the shoulder and a fox’s scent reached his nose. He turned to face the fur, who flashed a badge in his left paw.
“You Ni Hao?” the policefur asked.
“Yes. And you are?”
“Detective Sergeant Brush, wit’ th’ Constab’l’ry. We needs ta have a lil’ chat.”
The tone of the fox’s voice and the paw on his shoulder caused Hao to frown; he twitched to the left to get the paw off his shoulder and as he tensed he saw Brush smile. He glanced down as the detective twitched his right paw and a blackjack appeared as if by magic. “Heh. Y’wanna play, go right ahead,” Brush murmured.
Hao looked at the fox, then relaxed and smiled. “Of course, sir.” To Anna he said, “I’ll meet you later, my dear.” With that, he started walking to the door, the slightly taller fox keeping pace with him.