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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!)
Adele sat at the bar and sipped at a glass of water as the hired band belted out something with a strong jazz beat. Furs of every description danced or milled about the tables risking their money, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. She sighed and reminded herself that she was an employee now and not a guest, so she had better cheer up. She pushed away from the bar and almost fell backward, but managed to grab the edge of the bar just in time.
She was certainly dressed for the part of hostess. The room (not the same one she had over Easter) had a small closet stocked with clothes that were a fair match with her size, so she had selected a light gray skirt and a white blouse that accentuated her curves. It was comfortable in light of the summer heat.
The bartender approached and handed her a glass containing something faintly blue and fizzy. The Siamese pointed toward a lean wolf in a pair of bib overalls who sat by himself at a small table, and Adele nodded. She carried it carefully, guessing correctly from the scent that it was Nootnops Blue and seltzer. She set it down and as she turned to go the lupine said, “Come back here. Sit with me, please.”
She sat down, looking him over as she crossed her legs. He was handsome, all black fur with a slight world-weariness about him. He wore a short-sleeved cotton shirt with his overalls. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
The wolf smiled slightly. “Sit and talk, while I finish my drink. Can you do that?” His tone was just a little sly, even a bit condescending, and the rabbit felt her tail bristle momentarily.
“Well,” she said, “what do you want me to talk about?” She adjusted her short gray skirt to give the maximum amount of exposure to her thighs without actually giving everything away. She had seen Sally do it, and figured that it would work.
The scenery was obviously not wasted on the wolf, who whistled appreciatively and winked at her. She blushed slightly, inwardly pleased that her attempt at a display had not gone unnoticed. “The weather, maybe?” A chuckle. “Name’s Marvin.”
“Adele,” she replied, and for the next half-hour she talked about the differences between Spontoon and Krupmark, and how it differed from where she’d been born. “And where’s that?” he asked.
She avoided the question with a smile. “Why don’t you tell me where you’re from?”
“Oh, I’ve been here and there,” Marvin said, “mostly there, of course.” As he shifted in his seat, his shirt opened slightly and Adele saw a flash of vivid red.
“What’s that, Marvin?” she asked.
He blinked at her, the Nootnops Blue starting to take effect on him, and glanced down. “Oh, those are my roses. See?” he said, and obligingly opened his shirt further for her to look.
A patch of fur had been skillfully removed, and the bare skin had been painstakingly tattooed with three red roses, their stems intertwined. “That’s pretty,” she remarked. “Is it permanent?”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Hurt like hell, and took weeks for the artist in Manila to get it done.” He regarded his empty glass, then looked at her. The look in his blue eyes was somewhat blurry. “So, what do you want to do?” he asked.
“Me?” she said. “You’re the customer,” and she winked. “We could sit and talk about your roses, you could have another drink, or … well, or we could go upstairs,” she said, glancing up. Ni Peng, her attention attracted by the motion, looked down and nodded.
Marvin thought, then stood up and took her arm at the elbow as she stood. “Let’s get us something to drink, okay? And then we’ll go up to your room.”
Much later Adele cleaned herself up and got dressed, pausing to look at herself in the mirror. Marvin had seemed distracted until she had let him nip and nuzzle at her neck. For some reason, having his mouth on her throat had made him far more energetic, despite the Nootnops Blue. When he had left he had thanked her, but she pointed out that he’d never told her the whole story behind his tattoo.
He had grinned lopsidedly and said cryptically, “Well, you took the words right out of my mouth,” and walked out.
She studied her reflection, gave her headfur another pat-down with her paw, and again savored the mixture of musks in the room before going back downstairs.
Liberty leaned on her hoe and looked back at the neat rows of vegetables, blinking in the hot sunlight as she drew the back of a paw across her forehead. Her shirt was plastered to her fur, and she had blushed furiously while trying to ignore the admiring looks given to her by some of the male villagers. Taking a deep breath, she bent to her task again.
Her hostess had shaken her head at her attire when she had arrived several days ago. It seemed that there was a gap in her knowledge about the northern Spontoonies, but when she started to apologize the older woman (a full-blooded coyote from the look of her) had laughed and assured her that there was no problem other than her fashion sense. She had insisted that she change from the grass skirt and put on a similar skirt made of a fabric that felt quite decadently soft. To her surprise, it was actually tree bark.
The Yakan family’s farm was not very large, mostly a plot of land growing vegetables, a few fruit trees and a fairly large flock of chickens. Mrs. Yakan had three underage pups in her lodge, her husband and oldest daughter away helping with a film production company as extras. Much to Liberty’s surprise, Mrs. Yakan spoke fairly good English, so she was able to show the New Haven girl where everything was and what needed to be done.
She had assured the older woman that she was a very hard worker, quite unlike the soft bourgeois tourists and other parasites that flocked to the islands. Mrs. Yakan had cocked an ear at the use of the word ‘parasites,’ but had simply nodded rather than start an argument.
“Liberty!” At the call she looked up again from her hoeing. Her hostess came toward her, her youngest child tagging along behind her. “I need you to watch the children for me,” the woman explained. “I’m going to the market to get a few things.”
“Sure, Mrs. Yakan,” Liberty said, looking at the young coyote, who looked quizzically up at her. She extended her paw and the youngest daughter took it, her free thumb firmly in her mouth as she looked up at her mother.
Mrs. Yakan smiled and said, “She seems to like you, and Hanu doesn’t take to strangers easily. Now, Hanu, you be nice now –“ and the coyote switched to her native language, smoothing back the child’s headfur before walking across the field to the path that led down to the village.
Liberty looked down at Hanu, who looked back, still sucking her thumb. “Come on, Hanu,” she said briskly as she shouldered her hoe, “let’s get out of the heat, okay?”
As they walked, she found herself having to shorten her stride to accommodate the smaller Hanu, and almost stumbled once or twice. Finally she stopped and muttered, “This won’t work.” She laid her hoe down on the ground and scooped the child up in her arms, and Hanu clung to her as he lengthened her stride and headed down to the farmhouse.
By the time she reached the house, the child was asleep while clinging to her, still contentedly sucking her thumb as Liberty cradled her in her arm. Taka and Haku, Hanu’s older brother and sister looked up as she carried their sibling into the house and laid her gently down on a mat. Liberty made a shushing sound and sat. “Your mother went to the market,” she said, speaking fairly slowly.
Taka, a boy of about seven, nodded. “Mother told us,” he said as he looked the New Havenite over. “Will you tell us another story, Liberty?” he asked.
Liberty smiled. Couching her theories about the Revolution as stories for the young taxed her imagination, but the children seemed to like it. More importantly, they seemed to understand, and she hoped that they might learn. She motioned for Taka and his sister to sit a bit closer to her. “I’ll tell you a story about the Revolution in New Haven. Would you like to hear it?”
“Where New Haven?” Haku asked.
“It’s on the other side of the world,” Liberty said, and with that she started.
“A long time ago, when I was a little girl,” she said, “the honest and hard-working people in New Haven were very sad, because they were oppressed by an evil and bad group of furs. These forced the people to work and never let them enjoy the fruits of their labors – “
“Like stealing from them?” Haku asked, and Liberty nodded. “But the people had heroes, who only waited for the chance to rise up and stop the evil ones. Those heroes were known as the Red Fist,” and her voice softened into an almost reverential tone.
“But the Red Fist had to hide for a long time at first, since the evil oppressors had the police on their side, led by the worst enemy of the people,” and here her voice dropped lower, adding a tone of menace to her description of Franklin Stagg. Taka and Haku listened wide-eyed, and she smiled, proud of her storytelling. “Now, one day came when the people had enough, and they rose up and asked the Red Fist to join them, and lead them in a revolution. And the Red Fist did lead them, straight up to where the Chief stood with all his police around him. And do you know what he did?”
Taka shook his head. Liberty said, “The Chief saw that the Red Fist had the people behind them, and he became afraid. The police didn’t shoot, and joined the ranks of the people.
“So the revolution happened, and the evil furs who oppressed the people were driven out of New Haven. Now New Haven is a wonderful place, where no one stops the people from working for the greater good of all,” Liberty concluded with a smile. To Taka she said, “How was that?”
The young boy smiled. “I liked it. You tell good stories, Liberty.”
“I liked the good people winning,” Haku offered, and Liberty grinned.
Nearly a week later, Stagg was in his office completing a report on an attempted homicide. The assailant, a male native, had caught a Euro tourist apparently trying to force his attentions on the man’s sister. Words were exchanged, and the native had struck the tourist with what the native said was a ‘stick’ but the Euro swore was a tree limb. Stagg sighed and finished countersigning the last affidavit, then closed the folder and dropped it into his out basket.
He glanced up, then straightened in his seat as Brush walked in, a large envelope in his paws and a triumphant smile on his face. He closed the door before saying in a quiet voice, “Here ya go, sir. Just my luck my mate’s younger brother works in th’ Min’stry.” With a wink he passed the envelope to Stagg, who turned it over in his paws.
“Well done, Sergeant,” Stagg said as he opened the package and extracted two file folders. “I hope that your brother-in-law won’t get in any trouble for this.”
“Him?” Brush snorted. “Nah; th’ files’re reviewed onceta month, which I figger gives us a week ta go over ‘em.”
Stagg nodded, leafing through one of the folders, his face betraying little reaction to the contents. One brow went up. “He’s a Lord,” he said absently.
“So it claims in his biography. ‘Leonard Charles Randolph Allworthy, third Viscount Allworthy of Barrow-in-Furryness.’ Hmm, born in 1881 … attended Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford … well, that explains the key word used in the code. The Lily code could be his personal cipher,” the buck mused. He passed the other folder over to Brush as he continued to read.
Brush read through a few pages, then shook his head. “I thought Fat Leon was a bastard, sir, but his sister’s worse, easy,” he said. “Get this: ‘Tried an’ convicted in … absentia … by the House o’ Lords, 1923.’” He flipped ahead to another page. “Charges … naw, she ain’t a nice girl, sir. Not nice a’tall.”
“I tend to agree, based on the brother,” Stagg said. “Both are sentenced to death, interesting. Charges include murder, escape, incest …” The whitetail deer’s muzzle drew into a disapproving frown as he read the summary of the charges. “All in all, fifteen charges. No wonder the Crown thinks poorly of these two. Operates one, possibly two brothels on Krupmark, minor dealer in drugs in Macao and Kuo Han … hmm, another with connections on Kuo Han … all other information classified,” and his frown deepened at that. “Apparently there are things even the Interior Ministry won’t tell themselves,” he remarked dryly.
Brush flipped through a few more pages, skimming over the details on Leon’s sister before pausing and giving a surprised whistle. “She ain’t bad lookin’, though,” he said quietly, studying a picture that the file claimed had been taken not two years earlier in Hong Kong.
Stagg nodded absently. His subordinate’s attraction to women with nice tailfur was a sort of running joke. He read through the file, including the last update made by the Interior Ministry. “I must compliment the government on their contacts. Having a spy on Krupmark must not be easy, or conducive to a long and healthy life,” he said dryly.
“Prolly can’t get life insurance neither,” Brush added, closing the file. “So, what now, sir?”
“Now, Sergeant, we use our contacts in the radio,” Stagg said. “We try to confirm if, in fact, we are dealing with these two. And then we shall plan a course of action.”