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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Payoffs© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
Adele Beasley sat at the third year student’s table at Songmark and smiled happily to herself. She was back from Krupmark (hopefully for good, she told herself), the tutors had accepted her report of her activities with no truly probing questions (so far), and she was now a third year student. That fact alone would have served to cheer her up.
Several of the first years had caused a stir when they had all stood up and began singing a little tune written by Beryl Parkesson. The verses grew more scurrilous by degrees, and everyone had had a good laugh (apart from the tutors, who sternly corrected the group, and the group themselves, who almost sank through the floor in embarrassment). As she tucked into her food, she started thinking about what had happened over the past few weeks …
The instant she had said, “I accept,” Miss Chartwell’s smile evaporated, to be replaced by a more natural expression of stony contempt. “Well then, you need to finish cleaning yourself up, and you will pack. I will meet you out in front within fifteen minutes.” She stood, and snapped her fingers as Lord whined again. The two dogs walked to the door and stood waiting as Adele stepped out of the tub. “Excuse me, Miss Chartwell,” she said.
“Um,” Adele said diffidently, hardly surprised by the woman’s change in tone but still having a few concerns, “what about the pictures? And my contract?”
The canine paused a moment, then raised a finger. “Thank you for reminding me.” She crossed to the door and opened it. “Peng, come in,” she ordered. The tone of voice and the meek way in which the matriarch of the Ni Family responded drove home to Adele that this woman was a big wheel in what passed for Krupmark society. “Peng, what are the terms of your contract with Adele?”
Peng blinked, and replied, “She will get back the pictures taken of her, and she’ll be paid as soon as she works off the last of her debt.”
“How much was the debt?”
“Fifty American dollars,” Peng said promptly. “She still owes us ten dollars.”
“Hmm,” Miss Chartwell said as her eyes narrowed. She glanced back at Adele, who was vigorously toweling off, then turned back to Peng and said, “That debt is erased, now.”
The red panda’s eyes went wide, then as the canine glared back, Peng lowered her gaze. “Yes, ma’am. At once.” She walked out of the room, calling for Sally. “There,” Miss Chartwell said as she unnecessarily smoothed a fold of her gown with a paw, “your contract is now voided. I hope you will not disappoint me.”
“I’ll try not to, ma’am,” Adele said as she finished drying her ears and headed for her clothes. As she passed Lord, the hound gently nipped her on the hip. She yelped, and the canine woman sternly ordered the dog back to her side. As Adele dressed, she could hear Miss Chartwell telling Lord, “Don’t be greedy, Lord. She’s not for your sole amusement.”
The remark made a chill creep up Adele’s back, but she had made a decision and was determined to carry on. She dressed hurriedly, packed her few belongings and announced, “Ready, ma’am.”
“Excellent. Come,” Miss Chartwell said, and Adele followed her out of the Casino.
The woman’s car was waiting for her, a 1930 Duesenberg Model J that looked out of place in the rustic atmosphere of Krupmark (to say nothing of the barely serviceable roads). Flanking the car were two huge Percherons dressed in suits, and Adele wondered where they had found enough cloth to cover the pair. One had a roan coat, the other piebald, and both were extremely well-muscled. Despite her weariness and apprehension, Adele’s tail twitched in appreciation.
Miss Chartwell nodded to the roan. “Sasha, is everything ready?”
“Yes, Mistress,” he replied in accented English. “Did Mistress enjoy herself?”
She chuckled. “I think you and Kolya will find out, Sasha,” she said as Peng hurried up to her with a thick sheaf of photographs. Miss Chartwell accepted the bundle and glanced at a few of them. “Very nice,” she remarked. “Let Peng-wum know that his skill is improving. Adele, here are your pictures,” and she passed them over to the rabbit as she stepped into the car.
“Thank you, ma’am,” the rabbit said as she took a seat. To her discomfort, the two dogs sat on the floorboards facing her. Lord yawned, revealing excellently cared-for teeth, and she gulped. “Kolya,” Miss Chartwell snapped, “drive on.”
“Yes, Mistress.” Adele’s ears raised slightly at the use of the title, and she looked over the pictures in her paws. Yes, they were good, clear pictures, and her fur bristled at the thought of them showing up anywhere where the tutors or her friends could see them. Miss Chartwell glanced at them and smiled appraisingly as the Duesenberg made surprisingly easy going up the road to Fort Bob.
The house was on the far side of the town, looking as if it had been transported there straight out of the pages of The Great Catsby. The grass around it was well-kept, as were the rest of the grounds. Smaller or less grand homes were a short distance to either side of it. The big touring car pulled up smoothly to the front door to be met by a lean male cheetah wearing only a collar. His fur was meticulously brushed, and he bowed as he opened the door. “Mistress, welcome back,” he said quietly. “Will you have dinner?”
“Thank you Nik. Yes, dinner in my room, twenty minutes. Adele, follow me,” she said in tones that were amazingly reminiscent of Miss Nordlingen’s. The rabbit hastened to follow her, the two dogs jumping out of the car in front of her. As she walked up the stairs she couldn’t resist looking back to stare at the cheetah, and nearly tripped on the steps. “Excuse me, Miss Chartwell,” Adele asked, “but these – “
Her amused smile was definitely more sinister than her pleased expression. “Why yes, my dear,” she said matter-of-factly. “I buy, sell and own slaves. Much cheaper than hiring labor from the town, and so very attractive, wouldn’t you agree?” Her look told Adele that she had noticed her staring at the cheetah and the two horses.
“Um, well, I guess that’s so,” Adele said slowly. “But isn’t slavery illegal?”
The canine laughed. “Of course it’s illegal, in some parts of the world, my dear,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. You might be very surprised at what happens right under your nose, if you only knew what to look for.”
Sergeant Brush blinked awake as the Short L-17A started to bank into its descent, and glanced out the window at the harbor of New Penzance. The other members of the Constabulary had gone back to Spontoon with the Naval Syndicate ship, Magistrate Poynter and the surviving crew of the fishing boat, but Inspector Stagg had accepted Inspector Thompson’s offer of a flight to the Gilbert and Sullivans to observe what the Scotland Yard detective called “the final act.”
The L-17 had not originally been designed to land on water, and demonstrated its shortcomings by bouncing twice before two of its engines idled and the third began to propel the craft to the docks. As it was made fast to the dock, Brush glanced back at the prisoners.
Leon Allworthy sat hunched over, looking disconsolate as his ample girth spread over two seats. His shoelaces, tie and belt had all been taken from him in order to prevent him from injuring himself. Certain other items, all capable of inflicting cutting or stabbing wounds, had been removed from his clothes. His sister, strapped face down to a stretcher because of her bullet wound, had also been searched thoroughly. A thin wire garrote had been found woven into her fur, and she had snarled insults at the two officers who had performed the search.
Brush looked over at Inspector Stagg, who appeared to be asleep in his seat. “Sir? We’re here,” the fox said, and the buck came awake, blinking as he stretched and looked out the window. As he unbuckled his seat belt, Inspector Thompson walked up the aisle and said, “Inspector, we have everything arranged for tomorrow morning. Might I offer you and your sergeant dinner at my club?”
“Thank you, Inspector,” Stagg said quietly. “That’s very generous of you.” He and Brush stood and left the aircraft, pausing on the dock as the two wolves were taken off the plane and led into a waiting paddy wagon. The lorry, escorted by two furs on motorcycles, chugged off to the nearby prison, a grim-looking fort set on a hill overlooking the town. “They’ll be secure until tomorrow,” Thompson said, “the prison’s part of our military base here.”
As their car made its way through the streets of New Penzance, Brush found himself staring out at the buildings and the people. He had rarely been away from the Spontoons, but he had insisted on accompanying Stagg when Thompson made his offer.
The dinner at Thompson’s club went over smoothly. The food was excellent, and the other members were polite enough not to stare at the strangers in their midst. Afterward, Thompson drove them to the Naval base and arranged quarters for the two for the night.
The next day Brush came awake as a knock sounded on his door. He must have been nervous, as his paw was holding his revolver before he was even aware of the fact. “Yeah, what is it?” he asked.
It was Stagg. “Sergeant, it’s traditional to hold these proceedings at dawn. I suggest you get dressed for the part.”
“Oh. Yes, sir,” and the fox got up from the bed, holstered his pistol and headed for the bathroom.
The sun was just starting to peer above the horizon as a squad of soldiers and constables made final preparations to the gallows. Squinting up at the sturdy wooden structure, Stagg said absently, “This will be the third execution I’ve attended, counting my own. Of course, there is scant probability of Lord Allworthy repeating Madame Onca’s performance. For one, this is a hanging–“
“An’ fer second, who’d want ta see him nekkid?” Brush concluded with a short laugh. Stagg nodded as the two wolves were escorted out of the cellblock where they had been housed. Leon shuffled along, obviously missing the use of his cane, while Susie limped and cast a venomous glare at Brush. An Anglican priest in somber black robes trailed them, reciting passages from the Bible that the Allworthys ignored.
As the group passed by Stagg and Brush, Leon stopped and turned to the buck. “Inspector Stagg,” he said, “far be it from me, even at this juncture, to cast aspersions. However, I do not think you will find it hard that I wish a plague on you, you horned rat.” His lips curled back in a snarl as he said the last two words.
Franklin Stagg regarded the obese wolf with an almost sad look in his eyes. Raising his hat he said in a soft, dry voice, “Fate has already cursed me far beyond your power to do so, Lord Leonard. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Leon growled wordlessly and the group proceeded to the foot of the steps. As he was helped up the stairs Susie said loudly, “I want the hangman to tie my legs together.”
Brush snorted and called out, “Heh, first time fer ever’thin’, annit?” He just grinned as the she-wolf hurled a variety of choice curses in Spontoonie at him.
The buck and the fox stood as hoods were placed over the two wolves’ heads, followed by nooses of stout hemp. As the priest continued to intone prayers, the prison superintendent made a brief chopping motion with his paw and the executioner yanked back on a lever.
A constable was affixing a death notice to the gate of the prison as Inspector Thompson walked out with Stagg and Brush. “Well, that’s that,” the gazelle said, “and again I want to convey my thanks and those of His Majesty’s Government, Inspector Stagg. Well done.” The two shook paws, and Thompson added, “The Pequod’s refueled for a return trip to Spontoon. You can leave right now, if you like.”
“Thank you, Inspector,” Stagg said. “I think that our work here is done, so we’ll head back. I appreciate the opportunity to help bring those two to justice.”
STATION 7 TO ALL STATIONS STATION 11 IS NO LONGER IN BUSINESS STATION 7 SK
This ends "Luck of the Dragon: Payoffs"
to be continued in "Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker"