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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
It had started slowly.
A whispered conversation, hastily hushed up as she approached. Small crumpled notes with dates and times on them were found, as well as sketchy maps of the various islands. All of which served to pique the target’s interest.
“I still say that we have to start the coup on the winter solstice,” Shin told her dorm-mates the next day at Song Sodas. Red Dorm had excelled in their flying lessons, and their tutor had reluctantly granted them a pass to the small café just outside the fence.
A certain squirrel was seated at a separate table with her own classmates, and the red panda noted that one, then the other, of the girl’s yellow-furred ears flicked as she focused on the latest tidbit of information. Great. Shin leaned forward and whispered a bit loudly, “All of the religious people will be on Sacred Island then. If we act quickly, we can take over Spontoon within a few days.”
Liberty nodded. “We’ll have to take out the Althing too,” she pointed out. “A bomb might be needed.” She smiled and said, “Leave that to me. I know a few people.”
Brigit snorted. “I bet ye do, Liberty. It’d make sense, it would though, ta have some at yer beck an’ call if’n ye’d be needin’ them. We might have to shoot a few policefurs,” she added, cracking her knuckles and grinning.
“Shin, you’re from here,” Tatiana pointed out, “so we leave it to you to decide when it needs to be done. But we could have a People’s Republic established here by January.” The four smiled and clinked glasses as Shin murmured, “To success.”
The others seconded the sentiment and drank down their sodas, then left the small shop. As they headed back to their dorm, Liberty asked, “Do you think she bought it?”
Shin giggled. “Did you see her ears? I think she’s hooked. The next few days will tell, but I think we might have interested her.” She resisted the urge to rub her paws together, and the others laughed as they went upstairs.
The next day the weather was not conducive to flying practice, so Shin and the others were faced with more classroom work, as well as continuing tutoring Patricia. The prairie dog still needed some remedial work to keep even with her fellow first years.
That afternoon the four were out in a chill rain, clad in swimsuits and oilskins as they stood at the end of the Eastern Island dock. “Rescue swimming?” Tatiana asked. “In this weather?” She shut her muzzle as their tutor walked up.
Miss Cardroy nodded. “Who wants to go in first?” she asked, and with a sigh the Russian sable shed her oilskins and dove into the water. The others followed suit, and when they had all surfaced their tutor ordered, “From here to Moon Island and back, twice. Go.” The four started swimming, Tatiana in the lead with Shin lagging behind as her thick tail soaked up water.
Shin fought to stay with the rest, feeling the strain in her shoulder muscles as she swam. She was in no danger at all, since there was at least one water taxi hovering near their route. It was the principle of the thing, the desire to keep up or even surpass her fellows.
Miss Cardroy lowered her field glasses and allowed a smile to flicker across her muzzle as she saw the red panda actually catch up to Brigit and keep pace with the Irish girl, who was in third place but staying up with Liberty and Tatiana. Red Dorm had apparently managed to settle (or at least set aside, temporarily) their differences and work towards common goals.
Later, four very wet and cold young women luxuriated under hot showers in their dorm before heading back downstairs for more classes. This afternoon it was navigation, a subject they’d be seeing a great deal of as they prepared to take their pilot license exams in the spring.
As Red Dorm sat down for the evening meal Shin felt her stomach growling and realized with a sense of resignation that she no longer really cared if their meal was poi or the best item on the Grand Hotel’s menu. As long as it was hot and filling, she’d eat it. As she added soy sauce and started spooning the pasty stuff up, Brigit touched her elbow and pointed with her chin. Shin looked in the indicated direction, and smiled.
The first-year squirrel was sitting at the next table, not so close as to be obvious, but close enough to hear anything that the red panda and her cohorts might say. Liberty had noticed it as well, and leaned over to Shin as she asked, “Have you contacted your father on Krupmark?”
Shin nodded. “I can count on his support, even to supplying men and weapons,” she replied, and Liberty nodded as she returned to her meal. The young squirrel, they had both noted, had been listening very attentively.
The next day a trio of telegrams were transmitted from the firm of Ni & Sons (carefully neglecting to say that the firm was based on Krupmark Island) to three aircraft companies, Marten Aircraft in Baltimore, Boing in Seathl, and the Seversky Company on Vostok Zemlya. The three telegrams were largely identical, giving general specifications and requesting cost estimates for the construction of several long-range aircraft for cargo transportation. The bid was not restricted to flying boats, and allowed for technical innovations in engines and materials.
As the three telegrams were sent out, they passed a single, short telegram coming from the telegraph station at Spontoon. When the operator saw where it had come from and who had sent it, he immediately sent it by runner down the hill to Ni & Sons.
When the kitten reached the door of the building he was stopped by a tall she-wolf whose attire included a slung shotgun and two pistols. “Hey, bambino,” the Sicilian woman said, “what’s that you got there?”
“It’s a telegram for Mister Ni,” the boy panted, and after being given a brisk search was allowed in. The elderly lion who now looked after Ni Hei’s business affairs paid the kitten for the telegram, looked at it, and headed up the stairs.
Hei looked up from his desk as the door opened and the lion walked in. “Yes?” he asked. “What is it, Clarence?”
“Message for you, sir,” the English accountant said, passing the piece of paper to him. The red panda read it, and glanced up. “This is great news.”
“Yes it is, sir.”
Hei nodded. “Thank you.” The lion walked out of the office, and as soon as the door closed Hei was out of his chair and heading for the living quarters.
Ni Peng felt a heavy mass hit the bed beside her, and she blinked sleepily only to open her eyes in surprise as her husband kissed her. “Hei, what – “ she started to say, and Hei kissed her again.
He was grinning from ear to ear. “Good morning, Grandmother,” he said, and as she sat up in shock he flourished the telegram. “This is from Peng-wum,” he said. “Nailani gave birth to a boy during the night, and both are doing well.”
She took the telegram from his paw and read it several times before giving a cry of delight and hugging him. “Can we go see them?” she asked.
“I’ll have Hao and Anna take you there,” Hei said. “I will stay here and look after things. The situation is still a bit unsettled, you know.”
Peng’s smile faltered. “But Hao is still helping the dentist,” she said.
“Very true,” he said, “but he reports progress, and it’ll be open soon enough.” He nuzzled his wife, who giggled and hugged him again, whispering “Grandfather” in his ear and laughing along with him.
That night, fireworks were lit and gunshots crackled into the darkness as the Nis celebrated.
A match flared as it was struck, and the candle wick it was touched to sputtered briefly before catching and casting a warm amber glow around the small room. Inspector Stagg’s lined face looked even more drawn in the flickering light, but candlelight was all that he could spare himself.
There were only two electrical outlets in his room, and to complete his project he had had to sacrifice his reading lamp as well as his hot plate. Connecting the two typewriters was simple, but it was the wiring between the two machines that taxed his ingenuity.
He had followed the diagrams he drew from memory as best he could, and the result was an untidy tangle of wires and relays connecting the two typewriters. His sense of irony had already bestowed a name on it: Medusa.
Whether it would turn anyone to stone was another matter.
He fed two sheets of paper into the two machines, then made some adjustments to the wiring connecting them. Then, taking up one of the already-decoded Lily telegrams, he started typing.
After a pause, the typewriter’s twin started to chatter as it typed out what he had hoped would be a plain text message. When he finished, he closed his eyes briefly before studying the result.
What he saw made him sigh in relief as a rare smile crossed his muzzle. The words all ran together on the page, but separating them would be a simple enough chore. What was important was that the device worked as he had hoped it would.
He pulled a stack of telegrams from a small box under his bed, ones coded in the cipher he had named Rose, and with the aid of his notes started to rewire the relay board.
*EXECUTIVE CIPHER 521*
22 OCTOBER 1936 2100GMT
ADDRESSEE: ALLAN MINKERTON
C/O MINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY
MESSAGE BEGINS ALLAN STOP FISHING PARTY A SUCCESS STOP AM CONSIDERING FLOWER ARRANGING AS NEW HOBBY STOP PLEASE SEND ROSES AND DAISIES STOP WILL ADVISE IF RESULTS ARE ARTISTIC STOP MESSAGE ENDS
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY
Hao had to admit that he had been impressed by McCafferty. The time he had seen the wolfhound the previous year, all the tall Irish fur had done was drink and sweet-talk Sally. Now that he had a job to do, however, his commitment to the task was almost fanatically single-minded.
That was not to say, of course, that his mood changed. The onetime dentist was still a jovial sort, singing softly to himself as he worked, or sharing jokes while shaping and setting a series of specialized lock picks that could open the Bankmaster sitting in their warehouse.
Finally, he was ready, and Hao helped him by first squirting a tiny quantity of oil into each of the four keyholes. He stepped back as McCafferty gently eased the improvised keys into the locks. “All right now, Hao me lad,” he said as his voice fell into a quiet, almost reverent tone, “let’s do it just as we practiced it, so.” The red panda took up a position on the wolfhound’s left and grasped the keys there. “When I count three, then,” McCafferty said; “one … two … three.”
Two pairs of paws turned the keys in a single motion, and Hao could feel the small vibrations as the oiled tumblers fell into place. He looked up at McCafferty, whose expression bordered on pure ecstasy. “Do you think we did it?” Hao asked.
With an amazingly feral grin on his face and a queer gleam in his eyes McCafferty nodded and said, “Why don’t ye try ta open it, Hao?”
Hao gently took his paws off the keys, then grasped the twin brass handles of the trunk safe. A single pull to either side, and the doors unlocked with solid clunks.
Hao grinned almost as widely as McCafferty, and pulled the doors open.