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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Payoffs© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
*EXECUTIVE CIPHER 424*
19 SEPTEMBER 1936 0054GMT
ADDRESSEE: ALLAN MINKERTON
C/O MINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY
MESSAGE BEGINS ALLAN STOP FISHING PARTY ASSEMBLED STOP PLEASE INVITE REMAINING GUESTS TO CLAMBAKE AT DESIGNATED SPOT STOP A BIG CATCH IS HOPED FOR STOP MESSAGE ENDS
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY
STATION 7 TO STATION 11 PRODUCT ACQUIRED UNABLE TO SHIP BY AIR ENROUTE BY SEA RENDEZVOUS 21 SEPT AT 0700 179 W LONGITUDE 45.3 N LATITUDE SMALL ISLAND COVE FACING SOUTH IF NOT THERE FOR PICKUP BY 1200 SAME DATE NO SALE STATION 7 SENDS
The converted fishing boat rolled in the long swells of the open Nimitz Sea under a slightly overcast sky. There had been two rain squalls so far, as the ship played a brief game of hide-and-seek with the occasional real fishing boat or Naval Syndicate patrol vessel. Cover stories were in place for the entire crew, but not the two passengers. It would have been difficult to disguise either the obese wolf or his sister.
“Filthy weather,” Leon Allworthy grumbled from his seat in the boat’s wheelhouse as the boat wallowed slightly in the trough of another wave. He was dressed for the occasion, in a khaki safari suit that just barely managed to fit over his paunch. “Can’t this thing go any faster?” he asked peevishly as he squinted out the windows at the predawn sky.
“Shut up, Leon,” Susie snapped from her own chair, a bucket firmly between her feet. She was similarly dressed, but the outfit looked a great deal better on her figure than his. She had more right to be irritated than he did, because she occasionally suffered from seasickness. “It was your idea to hire this boat, and to come along with us. You could have stayed home and put your feet up,” she brutally pointed out, “leaving me to pick up this tender bit of flesh for you.”
“Oh, and let you have her first?” Leon shot back, drumming his claws on the head of his cane. “My dear, you can’t have all the fun. Besides, it’s a rare opportunity for me to actually see some of my business associates in the flesh, as it were,” and he gave a low chuckle. “And there’s nothing like a bracing ocean voyage with the prospect of some good business afterward. Do you recall that one sojourn in Bombay? We had the most marvelous time.”
Susie smiled, then chuckled quietly. “I recall having a wonderful night in that Rajah’s harem while you fleeced him soundly at cards. Who knew that his eunuchs were more than they seemed? Of course, on this trip the company could be better,” she remarked. The boat was crewed by ten furs, of various descriptions and unsavory reputations. All were armed, but Leon’s two bodyguards stood close to their employers.
“Yes,” he said musingly, “indeed it could. ‘Alas, for the snows of yesteryear,’ dear sister. But still, it looks like a splendid day, and the proceeds of the sale could allow us to stir forth from our house more often. Say, to Monaco?” He grinned as she smiled and clapped her paws in delight.
“Excuse me, Boss,” the bear at the boat’s wheel said, “we’re nearin’ th’ position ya marked onna map. There’s an island, dead ahead.”
“Ah. Let me see,” and Leon lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and scanned the island. “Hmm. Small place, some trees – ah! There we are; a tent set in among the trees. Do you think there may be a reef, Gus?” he asked.
The bear grunted, looking through his own binoculars. “Probably,” he agreed. “Th’ waters ‘round here are fulla them. Oy!” he called to a deckpaw. “Break out a boat.” Turning back to Leon he asked, “Who’s goin’ ashore, Boss?”
Leon thought a moment, then said, “Myself, Susan … “ he named a total of five additional furs, including his bodyguards. “I think that should be sufficient.”
The boat came to a stop and dropped anchor just outside the island’s encircling reef and as the ship’s boat was put over the side a lookout pointed and shouted a warning. Leon, now out on deck, raised his binoculars to see an equine wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt step out of the tent and wave. At the fat wolf’s signal, a deckpaw waved back and the equine went back into the tent. As he ducked inside, a brief flash of a red feathered crest could be seen, and Leon’s tail wagged at the sight. So, it was true …
The tide was running to its height, and even with Leon’s weight the boat slid over the reef as if it were greased. As it neared the shore two furs jumped out to drag it as far up the sand as they could. Once everyone else was out of the boat the two wolf bodyguards helped Leon out. “All right,” he said as one started to brush him off, “there’s no need to go all grandmotherly on me, Willard.” He patted the wolf’s cheek as he started to make his way laboriously toward the tent, leaning his weight on his cane but still finding it hard going on the soft sand.
“That’s far enough,” a voice called from the tent, and Leon paused, breathing hard. “What’s the meaning of this?” the wolf rasped. “Have you come to do business, or leave me out in the sun to expire?”
“Yes, we have business to transact,” the voice said as the sides of the tent suddenly fell away and a dozen furs in Constabulary uniforms ran out, aiming rifles and pistols at the group on the beach. A fox in a rumpled suit stood framed in the tent’s doorway, his own revolver drawn.
Everything happened very quickly as the constables charged at the surprised group. Two attempted to resist and were battered down with rifle butts; one was shot and received a minor wound in the arm as he raised his Luger. Two constables each covered and quickly disarmed Susie and Leon as the voice said, “That business will become clear in due course.
“But for now, Leonard and Susan Allworthy, you are under arrest,” Inspector Stagg said as he stepped out of the tent’s shadow.
Susie rounded on her brother. “You idiot!” she howled, and started to struggle as pawcuffs were applied to her wrists. The other furs were also put in cuffs as the whitetail buck limped forward. “Arrest, eh? What are the charges?” Leon asked as his paws were cuffed in front of him. His bodyguards were already with the other prisoners, forced to sit a short distance away.
“The charges are attempted kidnapping, and conspiracy,” Stagg said. “Of course, other offenses may come to light.”
“No doubt,” the wolf sneered. “And since when are these islands under Spontoon jurisdiction? You’re out of your element here, my dear Inspector.”
The buck appeared unmoved. “So, you’ve heard of me,” he said dryly. “I’m glad. It’s nice to know that one’s reputation spreads. As to jurisdiction, sir, these islands are within the territorial claim of Rain Island, which is a Spontoon ally.”
Leon hawked and spat. “Hardly. And I shall not be held by you or your vulpine assistant for very long, Inspector. The crew of that boat there has doubtless seen what has transpired, and they are radioing for assistance.” True enough, the boat’s remaining crewmembers were busily weighing anchor as smoke belched from the small smokestack.
“I had hoped that they would,” Stagg said. “Constable Winkleman, if you please.” The equine Leon had seen earlier reappeared, raised a squat pistol and fired a flare that went arcing high into the sky, burning redly as it went.
As Stagg and Leon studied each other a siren was heard across the water, and a Naval Syndicate patrol craft came speeding around a neighboring island, heading toward the fleeing boat. Scattered shots rang out from the fishing boat, to be answered by two dull booms from the RINS ship’s main gun. The three-pounder’s shells ripped through the wheelhouse and stern of the boat, which promptly lost headway as smoke started to billow from it.
At the first explosion Leon had turned to look, and now he looked back at Stagg who remarked mildly, “I naturally deplore the loss of life. It would have been easier if they had surrendered.”
“Gad, sir!” Leon said as his ears laid back. “I must admit I am impressed with you. Your reputation does you scant credit. Now, do your conditions for arrest involve my sister and myself stifling in the bright sun?”
“Not at all. Sergeant, escort Lord Leonard and Lady Susan to seats in the shade,” Stagg said.
The fox nodded, nudging Susie in the back with his pistol. “C’mon, ya heard him,” he growled. She turned a hateful glare at him, but kept her mouth shut and walked up to the treeline, where some small campstools had been set up. “I have nothing stronger than water to offer either of you,” Stagg said almost apologetically as he gestured for Leon to take a seat, “but a man in your condition really shouldn’t have anything stronger in this climate.”
Leon grunted as he settled himself, placing his cuffed paws on the head of his cane. “Polite,” he observed. “Quite out of character for a policefur. Tell me, Inspector, where did you go to school? Harvard?”
Stagg merely smiled as he sat down about six feet from Allworthy. “I regret to disappoint you, Lord Leonard,” he said, stressing the title just slightly. “I attended Collegiate in New Haven.”
The wolf grinned, accepting a tin cup of water from a constable. “Ah, Collegiate,” he said, with a nod and a knowing smile. “You probably spent far too much time enjoying the delights of distilled spirits and feminine companionship – or otherwise,” he added insinuatingly. Brush bristled at the implication, while Stagg remained unmoved apart from his paw tightening its grip on his cane.
The buck’s stoic demeanor seemed to irritate Allworthy, who leaned forward and added in a low voice, “Make no mistake, my horned Collegiate friend, I have eluded durance vile before, and shall again. After all, ‘stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.’” He leaned back with a smug look on his muzzle. “But then, as a Collegiate fur, you probably read little poetry apart from what could be found on the most public private walls.”
Now Stagg did smile, just slightly. “To Althea, From Prison, by Richard Lovelace,” he said, and cocked his head as the wolf’s ears dipped. “And as to what sort of companionship one chooses at school, intimate or otherwise, I will defer to your greater experience in such matters, my Lord.” Again, he put a tiny stress on the title, making it almost an insult. “However, more modern poetry was more to my instructors’ tastes at Collegiate.
‘Their hearts the living God have ceased to know
Who gives the spring-time to th’ expectant year.
They mimic life, as if from Him to steal
His glow of health to paint the livid cheek.’”*
Allworthy listened, ears canted forward alertly as the implication of the verse sank in, and he darted a quick glance at Susie. She was busy glaring at Brush, a look that the fox was returning in kind, with compound interest. “So, you knew?” he asked.
“I guessed,” Stagg said with an indifferent shrug.
The wolf’s features drew into a worried frown. How much did this buck really know? He smiled to conceal his emotions. “I met Oscar Wilde once, did you know that?” he asked, and as Stagg cocked his head he added, “I assure you it’s true. He had gone to Oxford with my father, and was a guest at the house when we were in London. He told my father … let me see, how did it go? Ah … ‘if young Leonard continues to be a greedy and vulgar little pup, I fear he will have no alternative than to become a Member of Parliament.’”
To Sergeant Brush’s complete surprise, the remark actually caused Stagg to chuckle before he said, “I fear that I have no rich store of anecdotes to regale you with, my Lord – “
“There is no need for that, Inspector.”
“Pardon?” Stagg asked, one eyebrow uplifted.
“My sister and I have no need of our title,” Leon amplified. “‘All pomp and majesty I foreswear / My manors, rents, revenues I forego,’” Allworthy said, adding, “At least, for the foreseeable future. But who can say what the future will bring?”
“A deep cold winter, with yet no hope of spring,” Stagg offered extemporaneously, shifting his paws on his cane. He sat back a little and rested the walking stick across his thighs.
“Sir,” Leon said as he stiffened at the implication in Stagg’s words, “you have no guarantee of that.”
“You think so?” Stagg asked. “I have you, and for now that is sufficient. You will not harm another, or leave a family to grieve at the loss of a loved one.”
Brush glanced away from Susie to watch as Allworthy sparred with his superior. Why was the Inspector doing this? he asked himself as the obese wolf countered, “You only think you have me, for now. There is a very good chance that the crew of that boat notified my compatriots back on Krupmark. And if, sir, you drag me in fetters back to Meeting Island to stand trial you will find that I have certain friends who will not take this insult lightly.”
“I regret that I’ve been threatened by experts, sir,” Stagg said quietly as his paws tensed on his cane, “and I am still here. As for your friends, name them and we shall see.”
A heavy chuckle, causing Leon’s jowls to quiver as his belly strained at the jacket of his safari suit. “Gad, sir,” he remarked, “you are one of the most remarkable furs I’ve ever met, with a quite impenetrable sang-froid. Even if everything goes as you think, I shall reserve a final option to myself. ‘But life, being weary of these worldly bars, / Never lacks the power to dismiss itself.’”
As Stagg regarded him wordlessly, ears perked as the sound of plane engines could be heard over the sounds of surf and wind through the palm trees. Leon looked triumphant and Susie smiled wickedly as he said, “And that will be here for my sister and I. Inspector Stagg, I would say that it has been a pleasure having made your acquaintance, but I fear that it would be a most horrible lie.” He heaved himself to his feet and nodded to his sister, who also stood. “Now, if you or your sergeant could kindly remove these uncouth restraints, we shall be on our way.”
Stagg sat, unmoved. “I regret that you may be misinformed, Lord Leonard.” He looked past Allworthy, who turned, stared, and finally hung his head in stunned resignation.
The plane was a Short L-17A, bearing the insignia of the Royal Air Force and modified as a seaplane. The trimotored biplane was just settling to a landing within the island’s barrier reef and its doors were already opening to disgorge a squad of constables, rifles at the ready. As the plane came to a complete halt, the name of the craft could be made out just under the pilot’s window: the Pequod.
While the others turned to look, Susie glanced back at Brush. As expected, he was watching her, or more precisely her gently waving tailfur. When Stagg started to stand up, Brush looked away, and she seized the chance.
She was still pawcuffed behind her back, unarmed and on a small island, but her instinct for self-preservation urged her to run. So run she did, pelting across the sand even as Brush yelled “Hey!”
A single shot rang out and Susie pitched forward onto her face in the sand. Stagg snapped, “Sergeant!” even as Brush and another constable ran up to the woman.
The wound was a single shot, dead-centered on her left buttock. As she was rolled over onto her side she spluttered, spat sand from her mouth and yelled, “Little bastard shot me in the ass!”
Brush gave a short and nasty laugh. “I might be a li’l bastard, lady, but I ain’t th’ one gonna be doin’ th’ midair Charleston.” As he stepped back to cover her, the constable held her still while another brought a first-aid kit. Stagg said reprovingly, “That was unnecessary, Sergeant. She couldn’t go anywhere.”
“Sorry, sir,” Brush said with only the bare minimum of contrition. “I acted wi’out thinkin’.”
“There’s a time and place for such acts, Sergeant,” Stagg said. There was a brief movement from the corner of his eye, and the weighted cane he carried lashed out, striking Allworthy hard across both wrists. The fat wolf yelped and the drawn sword cane fell to the sand. Leon sat back down as a constable retrieved the two parts of the walking stick.
Stagg stood then, and the wolf looked up at the buck, anger and now some fear beginning to settle on his features. One of the English constables walked up to Stagg and saluted. “Chief Constable Starbuck, sir, Gilbert and Sullivan Islands Constabulary. Would you be Detective Inspector Stagg?” he asked.
Stagg nodded, and the middle-aged canine smiled and extended a paw. “Very pleased to meet you, sir,” he said in crisp tones. As he shook paws with the buck he glanced at Leon and Susie. “These are your prisoners, then?”
“They are, Chief Constable. I have placed them under arrest, and have held them here awaiting a court hearing.” At his gesture, Magistrate Poynter walked out of the tent. Despite the rising heat as the sun reached its zenith, the old hound had dressed for the occasion in his black robe and peruke. A constable followed him, a pencil and writing tablet in his paws. Leon suddenly said, an edge of haste in his voice, “I demand an attorney.”
Poynter marched straight up to Allworthy and snarled, “Your charges have denied you that right, sir. You have eluded the paw of Justice long enough, and you will meet your fate." He spared Stagg a glance and asked, “What are the charges, Inspector?”
Stagg drew himself up. “Your Honor, the prisoners are charged with conspiracy and attempted kidnapping in Spontoon jurisdiction. They also have an active warrant for their arrest, wherever situate, from the British Government,” he said quietly.
“I see. By the authority vested in me by the Spontoon Althing,” Poynter said slowly as the constable behind him took notes, “I, Harold Poynter, Magistrate of the Spontoon Court of Oyer and Terminer, do hereby vacate the charges made against the defendants Leonard and Susan Allworthy, and order them remanded into the custody of representatives of the government of His Britannic Majesty.” The elderly hound then looked Leon over and growled, “And you, a Magdalen fur. Insolent, ill-bred puppy – a disgrace to the school, that’s what you are.” He turned to Chief Constable Starbuck. “Chief Constable, they are yours.”
The constable saluted. “Thank you, m’Lord,” he said, and turned to Leon, who had a defeated look, and to Susie, who was writhing on the ground in rage and pain. “Leonard Allworthy, Susan Allworthy, I arrest you both in the name of the King.” He jerked his head and several constables started to escort the captives to the waiting plane. “What about this lot, Inspector?” Starbuck asked, pointing at the other furs in cuffs.
“They’re mine, Chief Constable,” Stagg replied. “I’m reasonably certain that all of them have some sort of charges against them.”
“Jolly good, sir. Come along, lads,” Starbuck said, and led the detail escorting the Allworthys. Poynter took off his peruke and sighed. “Inspector Stagg,” he said, “my thanks. I haven’t felt this good in years.”
“I’m very glad you agreed to come, Your Honor,” Stagg said deferentially. He shook paws with the magistrate as another fur, this one in a civilian suit, made his way up the beach. “Excuse me, Inspector Stagg?”
The gazelle offered a paw. “Inspector Thompson, Scotland Yard Foreign Branch.” He grinned. “Special flying squad, rather,” and he jerked a thumb at the L-17A. “I want to thank you for getting the pawcuffs on those two. We’ve tried for years, but they always managed to slip away.”
“As Izaak Walton would have said, Inspector, it’s simply a matter of using the right bait,” Stagg said.
*Death, by Jones Very (d. 1880)