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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Franklin Stagg sat and regarded the machine he’d called 'Medusa' for a moment before running a paw over tired eyes. Using the notes from his first attempts to crack the Rose cipher, he had set the wiring between the two typewriters and started typing. Thirteen repetitions later he was no closer to solving the code. Laboriously he moved wires between the various relays, determined to try again.
“Blast!” he blurted, jerking his paw back as there was a bright spark and a snapping sound. He glowered at the device while sucking on one finger.
“I’m beginning to regret that I named you Medusa,” he murmured to the machine. “My middle name’s not Perseus . . .” After examining the injured finger by candlelight, he started again. After the second typewriter finished chattering, he studied the result.
It still looked like gibberish, but he rubbed his eyes again and studied it more closely. He sat back and sighed.
He felt somewhat foolish. Of course Rose was encrypted, but that had been no guarantee that the original language of the messages was in English. This telegram was in Spanish, or at least had several words in it that he recognized as Spanish. He would have to acquire a dictionary from Herr Nerzmann.
Nevertheless he tried again, setting aside the decrypted message and selecting another one that he had tried to decipher manually. When he read it, he blinked and he felt his heart skip a beat.
12 JUNE 1936
CONSOLIDATED PHARMA REPORTS NET PROFIT LOSS THIS QUARTER SUGGEST SELL SHARES INVEST BERK PHARMA
Stagg pulled the message from the typewriter and laid it aside, then wearily shut down the machine. He had found the correct relay settings for the Rose cipher, and he realized that he had to decipher the entire stack of intercepts in order to build up a coherent picture. But that could wait.
Now, if he tried very hard, he might manage to get three hours’ sleep before he had to get for work. Whether the ghosts that perpetually troubled his dreams would allow him that indulgence was another matter.
Sometime during the night Hao had sensed someone enter the small bungalow set at the far end of the hotel’s grounds. He had tensed only slightly, the paw under his pillow reaching for his pistol, but he relaxed as the scent told him it was Anna. As he lay there, his breathing not changing to betray the fact he was awake, he heard her undress and get into bed with him. He felt her arms around him as he went back to sleep.
The next morning they met Peng-wum at the hotel’s small restaurant for breakfast, where Fang joined them. The big Manchurian tiger grinned at Anna as he clapped his brothers-in-law on the shoulders and exclaimed, “It’s been too long, you three. Peng-wum, you look thinner – has Nailani been starving you?” He laughed as he sat down and the waitress approached with menus.
“No,” Peng-wum laughed, “I’ve been starving myself.” He stretched and regarded his menu. “Amazing what fresh air and simple exercise can do,” he remarked.
“Huh!” Fang grunted. “You should see Shin.” The waitress took their orders and walked off as Hao turned to Anna.
“Where’d you go last night?” Hao asked. “We missed you,” and he sipped at his coffee as he looked at the canine.
Anna smiled as she stirred milk into her coffee. “I got separated from you and Peng-wum,” she said, “and since I knew where you two were going, I decided to wander about a bit. You know, I have never really had the opportunity to see much of this place.” She shrugged. “By the time I was ready to head down here, the water taxis had stopped running, except for one that had just dropped off a person at the hospital.”
“Well, you had him worried,” Peng-wum laughed, tousling his younger brother’s headfur. “Seems he likes you.”
The group laughed as Hao blushed, and Fang said, “So, you are here until Shin comes down for the weekend. That’s great; we’ll all be able to get together for - what? The first time since we got married last year.”
“Yes,” Peng-wum said, looking at his coffee. “Ever since you and she killed General Won, and Hao and Anna killed Wu Tang.”
“That reminds me,” Hao said after putting his own cup down and setting it aside as the waitress arrived with plates containing fried eggs and popatohi – fish fried with garlic and herbs. He started eating as he said, “The police here have learned about Wu Tang.”
“I’m not really surprised,” Peng-wum said, shrugging as he regarded his plate. “We didn’t exactly keep it a secret, you know.”
“Good morning, sir!” Phil McCafferty exclaimed over his own breakfast that morning as Ni Hei walked into the Lucky Dragon. “Have ye had good huntin’ with those papers?” The Irish fur lifted his coffee cup and took a long, slurping swallow as the older red panda sat down at his table.
“I have to congratulate you, Doctor,” Hei said with a smile. “You did a superlative job, and you are welcome to remain here for as long as you need until, ah, the next stop on your trip.”
A forkful of sausage paused, then McCafferty put the morsel in his mouth and chewed. “An’ where might that be?” he asked around the mouthful.
Ni Hei folded his paws together and sat back, eyeing the wolfhound as he said quietly, “The tour company tells me that there is to be a Christmas parade in Hong Kong this year. The Governor General is expected to attend, after services in the cathedral. Part of the fee for your services is transportation, either to Hong Kong or back to Vanirge.” He watched McCafferty’s face as he spoke.
The Dentist put his fork down, a faraway look coming to his eyes. Hei could almost imagine hearing wheels turning inside the wolfhound’s head as he considered the assignment. “Hmm … well, p’raps a week here would do well,” McCafferty said, giving the red panda a wink.
“Fine,” Hei said. “I’ll let you finish your breakfast. You let me know when you wish to leave, and arrangements will be made.” He stood up and left the casino, Marco falling in beside him as he walked. The ferret kept one paw on his gun at all times until his boss was safely within the office.
Once upstairs, Hei thanked Marco and closed the door, looking at the stack of thick envelopes on his desk. He glanced through the collection and realized that they were each labeled with a date. The contents of each envelope seemed to cover a weeks’ time, so he chose one at random and opened it.
The envelope contained a stack of messages, some memos and, to his surprise, several color photographs. He glanced at the pictures, then grabbed his pince-nez and looked closer, his mouth falling open.
“Fang! I’m so glad to see you!” Shin whooped, racing up to her husband and throwing herself at him. Fang woofed as he caught her and kissed her while the rest of Red Dorm stepped off the water taxi. The tiger set her back on her feet and she immediately dove at her brothers, trading hugs before turning to her fellow students. “These are my brothers, Peng-wum and Hao,” she said breathlessly. “Brothers, these are Tatiana, Liberty and Brigit.”
The three girls sized up the two men warily. Peng-wum was taller and looked like he’d been losing weight, while Hao appeared naturally thin. Hao also had an odd sense of boyish charm about him, something that made Liberty’s hackles rise and Tatiana to suddenly feel the urge to be in a defensive stance. “Pleased ta meet th’ two o’ ye,” Brigit said finally, and smiled at the two young men. She looked at Shin and raised an eyebrow. “Are ye sure ye planted that fer Nancy?”
“Absolutely,” she laughed. “With any luck we should spot her sometime today. Fang, did you do like I asked you?” she asked her husband, and she chuckled as he nodded.
“Yes, dear,” he said with a laugh. “But I thought that first year students weren’t allowed out without supervision.”
Liberty grinned. “That’s true, but it won’t stop her. I think we’ve managed to convince her that we’re planning a coup and hiding an army in the jungle,” she said, and the two male pandas blinked. The rest of Red Dorm snickered as the two brothers looked at each other, while Fang just smirked.
“It’s a practical joke,” Shin explained as she saw the look on her brothers’ faces. “What? You actually thought we were planning a coup?”
Hao looked nervous suddenly, while Peng-wum cleared his throat. “Well, Shin,” her older sibling said, “there was some talk of it about two years ago . . .”
Her eyes bulged. “You’re kidding.”
“Afraid not,” Peng-wum said as the group walked along the dock. “It was dropped after some talk – nothing came of it.”
“Who was involved in the planning?” Liberty asked. “You?”
Peng-wum laughed. “No, not me. But I was asked to figure the odds.”
“What were the odds?” Tatiana asked.
“Five and a half to one, against,” Peng-wum replied as they walked over to the hotel. Shin suddenly paused and gave Hao a questioning look. Her younger brother gave a tiny gesture with his tail, and her question remained unspoken. It was sensible, actually, that Anna and Tatiana should not be allowed to meet.
Mikala knew that what she was about to do was slightly more than dangerous. If she was caught, she could be killed, or worse – and she knew (not directly) just how much worse being allowed to live could be.
She had spotted him at a bar on Meeting Island, the same Samoyed who stood guard at the Soviet Embassy the previous night. After several minutes of observing him, she made her way over to him.
Sergeant Mikhail Rostov considered himself a very lucky fur. Lucky because he had drawn Embassy duty on a tropical paradise like Spontoon, where the weather was warm and the women very attractive, and very lucky because one woman had apparently found him attractive and had sat down beside him.
The woman was feline, dressed in a lava-lava in the native fashion, and her musk made his nose twitch. Her presence almost made up for the lack of vodka in the bar, but there was plenty of beer. The woman gently nuzzled his ear (ignoring the bartender’s disapproving look) as she suggested going somewhere less crowded and more private. He readily agreed, since he was lonely and she was very nice.
At some point, he recalled having another drink, but didn’t recall much beyond that. He woke up in an alleyway behind a Chinese restaurant, his head aching and nearly all of his money missing. He did, however, feel a bit less depressed, and he supposed that he’d had some fun the previous night.
Mikala finished bathing in her apartment and started toweling off. The canine had provided her with a bit of information, and she felt that she had enough now to take to South Island.