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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!)
There wasn’t much sound in the classroom except for the scratching of pencils, the occasional rustle of papers and heavy sighs as the first year students struggled through their final exams. Shin nibbled at her lower lip as she rechecked her calculations, then grimaced as she wrote the answer to the difficult navigation problem in her exam book. Starting one term behind all the other girls had made it that much harder to catch up to them. Only after Miss Wildford gathered up her completed test did she dare hazard a glance around the room.
She wasn’t the first to finish, nor the last; the Japanese girl, Rumiko, and Brigit were still poring over logarithm tables and scribbling madly. Liberty and Tatiana both looked at her, their own expressions mingling hope and dread. Finally all pencils were down and the first year class was allowed to leave.
Throwing herself down on her bed with a theatrical groan, Shin said, “That was rough.”
The other three girls enthusiastically agreed with her, Brigit asking, “What? Didn’t ye try to cheat, Shin?”
The red panda flipped over on her back and gave the Irish setter an obscene gesture with an almost languid paw. “As it is, I saw two clear chances to try, Brigit,” she said wearily. “But I didn’t.”
“Why not?” Liberty asked.
“Two reasons,” Shin replied. “One, they might have been offered to me deliberately in order to catch me cheating; two, I want to get through this without cheating or doing anything unfairly.” She glanced up as Tatiana chuckled.
“Are you always so good?” the Russian sable asked.
That elicited a laugh from the red panda. “Hardly. I’m nicer than my little brother, but a terror compared to my older brother. At least my Mom and Dad think so.” Which reminds me … she thought, sitting up as Miss Wildford entered the room.
The four members of Red Dorm stood up as the older female looked at each of them. After a long moment, she smiled. “Congratulations, you have all passed,” she said, although there was something in her tone of voice that expressed skepticism. “All the first years are invited to the Bow Thai for dinner.” She walked out, and the four girls looked at each other.
“We all passed – “
“Summer holidays – “
“Bow Thai? What – “
“Can’t wait to get – “
The four paused, then started to cheer.
Later, as the sun slowly settled into the Nimitz Sea, Shin was walking back to the Songmark compound when she saw Adele. She’d had a wonderful dinner and had laughed as the second-year girls needled Liberty by casually dropping phrases and words taken from Liberty’s own long monologues about her political philosophy. The look on the coyote’s face had been priceless when she had finally figured out they were making fun of her. But she wanted to catch up with the lepine before summer vacation started in earnest.
The rabbit looked happy, and at the red panda’s approach she turned and waved. “Hi, Shin!” Adele said. “How did your finals go?”
Shin smiled. “We all passed, which is great,” she said. The two walked on for a short distance and the red panda said quietly, “I was wondering if you wanted to work at the Lucky Dragon this summer.”
Even in the semidarkness of a tropical dusk Shin could see Adele blush. “No, I’m not interested,” the rabbit said fervently. “I’ll take my chances on hiring out to a cargo company or something. It’s no reflection on you, Shin, believe me, and I think your folks are wonderful people, but, well, Krupmark’s not for me.”
“Oh.” They walk on for a moment, then Shin raised her voice and asked, “How are you feeling, Adele?”
The rabbit flinched and rounded on the red panda. “Will you keep that quiet?” she hissed angrily, waving her paws at Shin. “I feel fine, thank you. God, it’s bad enough you keep throwing that in my face every time I catch you bringing liquor into the school - ”
“Good. I was just wondering when you were going to pay my Mom.”
Adele’s eyes went wide. “Pay her? For what?”
“’For what?’” Shin echoed, as if she hadn’t heard her right. “A certain treatment, I think … those things don’t come cheap, you know.”
“How much?” This question asked in a wary tone.
“Fifty dollars.” Adele stopped walking. “Fifty?” she repeated. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Besides, how do you expect me to pay it off, even if I do decide to try?” She snapped her fingers. “There’s nothing you can do about it.” She started to walk off.
“Oh, I think you’ll pay it off, with interest,” Shin said, and the curiously flat tone of her voice caused the lepine to stop a few paces away.
“Why?” Adele asked.
Shin walked toward Adele, resisting the urge to start a fight with the older girl. “My family is in business,” she explained, “and always has been, despite what you might think. We have ways of making sure that people settle their debts with us.”
“Are you threatening me?” Adele asked.
At the question Shin chuckled. “No, nothing of the kind,” she said. “But you’ll find your stay here at Songmark cut very short – as soon as the Daily Mirror comes out next week.”
“What do you mean?” The rabbit’s eyes started to widen again. “What happens on Krupmark, stays there.”
“Who told you that?” Shin asked derisively. “My older brother’s a bit of an amateur photographer …” Adele’s ears shot straight up. “Ah, I see you’re not that stupid,” Shin said with a smile.
“You’re lying,” Adele said, but there was a twist in her voice that seemed to say that she was hoping Shin was lying.
Now the red panda laughed in earnest, and it was an unpleasant sound. “You think so? Hmm, maybe you are that stupid. Come up to my room and I’ll show you.” She loped up the stairs, Adele following at what she thought might be a safe distance.
Once in the room she shared with the rest of Red Dorm, Shin took down the photograph of her parents and eased the backing away, revealing another picture. She held it out to Adele, and the rabbit felt her ears and tail droop.
The picture was a small one, but it was damning. It was a color Finlay-process shot that showed her and the elkhound from Vanirge she had ‘entertained’ the night before she had left. That it was indeed Adele was shown by the quality of the picture and the Songmark blazer draped over her shoulders. “My God,” Adele whispered.
“Yes, it is a nice shot, isn’t it?” Shin remarked, looking at it with a discerning eye. “I picked the best one. Now, I’ve met Thorvald once or twice, and I still can’t get over how you – “
“Enough!” Adele fairly shouted, clapping her paws over her ears. After a pause (in which the rabbit seemed to try to slow her breathing and heart rate) she asked in a defeated tone, “What do you want?”
“Me? Want?” Shin was a picture of innocence. “Look,” she said in a more businesslike tone, “you owe my Mother a debt. I want you to discharge that debt, and Songmark insists on students living up to their obligations, doesn’t it?” She waited until Adele nodded miserably, and said, “Now, I have an idea – oh, stop that, Adele,” she said as the rabbit moaned. She waited until Adele calmed down a bit before continuing.
“Have you met my sister-in-law, Nailani?” Shin asked.
“Sure. I flew her and Peng-wum here.”
Shin smiled. “Good. Nailani worked at one of the ‘houses’ down on the Beach. She worked there under contract, earning money for a dowry.” Adele blinked, and Shin added, “I’m sure we could work out an equally sound arrangement – one that benefits you and my parents.”
“Would your parents agree to it?”
A shrug, and a wave of a thick banded tail. “All I can do is ask, of course. But think about it – you work off your debt, you get paid – hell, Dad might hire you on as a pilot.” Adele cocked an ear at that. “We could always use a pilot, and you’ve flown both of our planes.”
“Yes, I guess I have,” Adele admitted. “I prefer the single-engine one, though.”
“The Keystone? Yeah, I like it too – learned to fly on it and Hao’s plane,” Shin said. “So, what will it be? Summer job, or be the star of your own picture review in the papers?”
Adele growled and stepped toward Shin, then slumped, defeated. “I don’t have much choice, do I?” she asked. “Will I get those pictures if I do?”
“Of course.” Shin smiled and handed her the picture. “I meant all of them,” Adele said with some asperity.
“Oh.” Shin looked sheepish. “Well, yeah, I’m sure we can include that in the contract. I’ll wire my parents tomorrow.” Adele looked at the photograph glumly, and Shin said, “But tell me, seriously: how did you …”
The rabbit sighed, then essayed a smile at the memory. She said, “Well, it was like this ...”
The next day Shin relaxed in the stern of a water taxi after sending off a telegram to her father. Adele may be cursed with bad luck, she mused to herself, but she was a Songmark student. Hard work, dedication and an adventurous bent were essential parts of the curriculum. Of course, the rabbit had gotten herself into this (with some help, and Shin chuckled) and it was up to her to use her wits and abilities to get out of the problem.
She was in her room, packing her suitcase, when Brigit walked in looking very pleased with herself. “Hello, Shin,” the Irish girl said. “I’ve got a good job this summer.”
“Oh? Tell me about it.”
“Well, I’ve hired on at an air cargo company,” she said with a gleam in her eye. “’Tis not piloting, but I can get experience that’ll come in handy later on.”
“Pay well?” At Shin’s question Brigit waggled a paw. “Not as well as I’d like,” she admitted, “but pay isn’t the only thing I hope to get from it.”
“Well, I’m happy for you. I’m spending the summer with Fang down on South Island, and I’m going to learn what I can about running a proper hotel,” she said with a chuckle, emphasizing the word as Brigit giggled. Running a legitimate hotel was probably a lot harder than running a place like the Lucky Dragon – less gunplay and more paperwork. “Where are Tatiana and Liberty?” Shin asked, glancing around.
“After ye left, Tatiana said she was staying with someone, packed up an’ left. Liberty – ah, you won’t be believing this.” Brigit shook her head, her setter tail twitching with amusement. “Seems that our fine New Havenite’s gone and hired on at a farm on Main Island – as a laborer, if you please. An’ at no pay! She was proud out of it, so!” she said as the red panda gaped.
Shin shook her head. “Bets?”
Brigit’s eyes gleamed. “That she comes back here in September, still alive?”
“Yes. I’ll give odds of three to one.”
“Done.” The two shook paws on the wager.
Adele was alone in her room several days later, wondering what to pack as Shin stopped on the threshold and knocked. “Oh, it’s you,” the rabbit said sulkily. “Come on in.” Shin walked over to her, a telegram in her paw. “Well, what’s it say?” she asked.
Shin read aloud, “Happy to have Adele here. Will have contract ready. Will pick up August first.” She looked up at the older girl. “That’s all there is to it.”
“That’s five days from now,” Adele said absently. “Since I won’t be a guest,” she said tartly, “what do you think I should pack?”
Shin looked thoughtful. “Fur brushes, toothbrush … that should be it,” she said.
“Travel light, huh?” Adele asked, nodding. She had already planned on having several items tucked away or otherwise well hidden, just in case.
“This is Radio LONO, the Voice of the Gods,” the radio’s tinny speaker rasped a week later. “We’ve got some weather warnings for anyone in the western Nimitz Sea area. Honolulu, Midway and Wake are reporting a typhoon heading north-northwest that may pass just south of South Island. Expect a high sea state and winds above gale force. Planes and ships in the area are urged to move to a place of safety. And now, Manuku Tuiasosososopo with Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping with a male chorus.” Ukulele music and a warbling baritone started singing in Spontoonie as Fang turned down the volume and glanced out the window. Shin looked up from her newspaper. “Look like rain yet?” she asked.
“No, not yet,” he replied, “but it’s getting cloudy. Think it’ll hit here?”
She shrugged. “If it did, is there anything we can do except wait?” She lifted a cup and drank the rest of her morning tea. “What time is it?” she asked, standing up and smoothing her paws against her silk nightgown.
“Hmm, about seven,” he replied, regarding the clock over the stove. “Starting work today, huh?”
“Sure. Daven’s told me to meet with him early so he can start teaching me.” She leaned over and the two shared a kiss that lengthened until he started to purr. She laughed. “Now, stop that, widdle kitty, or you’ll end up making me late.”
“Not a bad thing, at that. But I need to get started too.”
Throughout the day the weather worsened, and small rain showers advanced around the mountains that bisected South Island. The showers evolved into lines of rain squalls, and as night fell lightning lit up the night sky, spiderwebbing across the underside of the clouds.
Shin snuggled down closer to Fang that night as the room lit up from successive flashes of lightning, followed by roars of thunder that sounded like a dinosaur passing a kidney stone. Rain hammered against the window in sheets that were driven nearly horizontal by the wind.
Somehow, the pair managed to sleep as the squall line marched over South Island, headed north across the rest of the archipelago.
The next day both Shin and Fang were out early and helping the rest of the staff assess the damage to the Maha Kahuna. Much to everyone’s relief, there had been no damage to the hotel and no injuries to either the staff or the guests, although breakfast was delayed until the stoves could be relit.
The upland villages of Main Island had received a few showers but nothing very major, as the typhoon had passed by fairly quickly on its way to Japan. Orrin Brush blinked sleep from his eyes and sipped at a mug of coffee as he watched two floatplanes being towed toward the Naval Syndicate base. He had been awakened early in the morning by an urgent phone call with a report of a confused pursuit across rooftops that had ended in a shower of broken glass and the arrest of two attempted kidnappers. He poured his now-cold coffee into the water, spat, and turned for the water taxi stand to report to his superior.
He wasn’t going to like this.
“Morning, sir,” he said as Stagg stepped out of the bookstore on Printer’s Lane. Some small branches were down, as well as leaves and palm fronds, but nothing really severe had happened. If anything, it was a briefly exciting episode that the tourists could write home about.
Stagg looked around as they walked and commented, “Reminds me of the aftermath of a nor’easter, except it’s not cold.” His lips twitched in a ghost of a smile on his drawn face and he glanced at Brush. “Something wrong, Sergeant?”
“Yeah, you’ll love this,” and the fox reported what had happened, adding, “but we’re not going to be quizzing them none.”
“Oh? Why not?”
The fox growled. “Interior Minister says we gotta keep our paws off of this.”
Stagg nodded in a defeated kind of way. It was bad when one paw didn’t know what the other paw might be doing. “Did you get a chance to search the planes?”
The fox said nothing for a moment, looked a bit shifty-eyed and then said, “You askin’ me official, or unofficial-like, sir?”
“I will ask you officially once we get to the office.”
Brush grinned, his tail snapping about like a flag as he walked. “I got a squint inside one o’ the planes before I was told to hit the bricks. Typical layout, nothin’ special, but I seen some trash on th’ cockpit floor. So I says to myself, who’s gonna miss it, huh?” He dug into a pocket and passed the buck two pieces of crumpled paper.
Without glancing at the scraps Stagg shoved them into his own pocket. “An admirable attitude, Sergeant. Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
“Yep. Heard that often enough from my ma … ”
Later that night, Stagg pushed aside his dinner plate, pulled the papers from his jacket pocket and unfolded them carefully. One bore a seemingly random assortment of letters and numbers in five-letter blocks, and he recognized it as the code he called Lily. The second …
His mouth went dry as he studied the message. It was in the same cipher, but bore a hasty pencil scrawl in one of the margins. The lettering was bad, as if the writer had jotted it down while the plane was in the air and he was distracted.
A single word. Magdalen.