home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
Shin advanced the throttle on her Tiger Moth and the small biplane sped down the barely-dry tarmac and lifted off. She spiraled up, gaining altitude and holding at three hundred feet until the other three members of Red Dorm and their instructor joined her. Miss Blande then took the lead and the others fell into formation to either side of her. The group rose to five hundred feet and turned west
Hao had told Shin what he planned to do before she had gone back to Songmark for the night, and despite being approving of her younger brother’s actions she still felt more than a bit troubled by Anna’s subterfuge. She had liked the canine, and she resolved to be a bit less trusting of strangers in the future. Shrugging suddenly, she turned her concentration to the instruments in front of her, as well as occasionally glancing to right and left to see where the others were.
Tatiana and Brigit were to her left, while Liberty was on her right. As she looked toward the half-coyote, Liberty looked back and waved, then pointed at Miss Blande’s plane. Shin nodded.
The assignment had been to plot out a triangular course that would use only half of a Tiger Moth’s fuel. Factors such as weather, speed and altitude were to be taken into consideration, and the planes would take off from Eastern Island and return in a set period of time. Shin had fussed over the calculations, and as a result she turned her figures in last.
Miss Blande had checked all four solutions to the problem before declaring that Shin’s was the best. Her reward would be to lead her three companions in a flight that actually tested her assumptions.
As Shin watched, their tutor waved and dove, leaving Red Dorm on its own. Miss Blande would linger below and behind their planes, keeping an eye on them. Shin was now in the lead.
The red panda looked left and right again, waving with a paw for one to either close up or stay with the rest. She studied the chart on her knee, then looked at her instruments again and hoped that she hadn’t missed a zero somewhere.
Staying on course on all three legs would be tricky, since the prevailing winds were coming from the northwest. The biplanes would sideslip as a result, so all four of them would have to keep their eyes on their instruments. The course that Shin laid out required them to fly to the crater lake on the western end of Main Island, then gain altitude and head south before flying straight across South Island as the second leg. From there they would return to Eastern Island and Songmark.
Shin and the others had gained a bit of actual fame, not notoriety, following the elaborate practical joke played on the first year squirrel the previous weekend. Even Beryl had seemed impressed, and the word was that Rote had been quite vocal about Red Dorm’s plans to take over Spontoon. The tutors, on the other paw, had looked at the four girls and told them to “write it up as a project.” It had taken the better part of that Monday night before lights out to list all of the details of the planned invasion and coup, and Tuesday morning they had turned it in.
They got a good grade for it.
Their other assignment for the week hadn’t changed; they were still expected to cook and to stay within the budget set by their tutors. The four of them had each contributed to it, Shin saying (loudly enough for the tutors to hear) that she would not use her family connections to get lower prices on anything. With two days remaining, they were still well within their budget and everyone seemed to be eating well.
Liberty was still told to stay away from cooking the rice.
Brigit had, surprisingly, started asking Shin about Hao. The young red panda was a handsome devil, the Irish girl explained, and seemed like a nice sort. Shin resisted telling Brigit just how her brother had broken off his relationship with Anna, but thought that the girl would understand the necessity.
The four turned eastward at the right moment, following Shin’s lead and climbing gradually to a safe cruising altitude. She looked behind her and below to see that Miss Blande was still following at a discreet distance, and rechecked her fuel. A finger tapped at the gauge, and she fretted momentarily. The crosswind on the leg back to the airstrip would be closer to a headwind, and might disrupt her calculations. The others were depending on her sums to be right, and not for the first time she wished she had her older brother’s knack with numbers.
After they landed (nearly fifteen minutes behind schedule, which wasn’t too bad considering the weather) Miss Blande walked over to Shin and asked, “Shin, do you know what you did wrong?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the red panda replied, “I didn’t factor in rain squalls.” A line of showers had struck them as they left the mountains. “It slowed us down.”
“Correct,” the older fur said. “Just remember that everything needs to be taken into account, including shortening your course if you need to in order to maintain a safe margin of fuel. Had your planes only half a tank of petrol in actuality, you would have all crashed.” Shin didn’t have to glance behind her to know that the other members of Red Dorm were glaring at her. “Nevertheless, a satisfactory job,” the tutor said. “You all need to clean up now and get ready for dinner.”
A lookout on the roof of a warehouse north of the Ni & Sons building spotted a fragile-looking biplane headed south. She squinted at it through a pair of binoculars, then grunted and relaxed. The word Dragonfly in Chinese ideographs was all the recognition code she needed. The woman picked up a small flag, really a swatch of green cloth nailed to a stick, and waved it. Another guard post waved back.
Ni Hei stood on the dock and watched the biplane settle onto its floats and taxi towards him, its engine stopping as it approached. He threw a line to his youngest son, and Hao pulled the plane the rest of the way to the dock. Hao looked rested, and he smiled as he said, “Good afternoon, Father.”
“Son, it’s good to see you,” Hei said. “Are you feeling better?”
Hao grinned. “A lot better.” He had somehow managed to get back to sleep after his nightmare. After awakening early, he had done tai chi exercises until his mind was clear once again. “Is there anything you need me to do today?”
“Not really,” Hei said as he turned and headed back to the building, Hao falling in beside him. “Business has finally calmed down, and our next shipment for Don Carpanini will be due next week.” He looked troubled, and Hao asked, “What’s the matter?” as his father toyed with a suspender strap.
The older fur sighed. “I dislike dealing so closely with barbarians, you know that. Any dealings with the Families in America are risky.”
The younger red panda nodded. “What do you want me to do?” he asked with a small, tight smile on his muzzle.
Hei looked at him, then smiled and put a paw on his shoulder. “Nothing, for now,” he said. “I want to think things over. In the meantime, get yourself some lunch.”
“Yes, Father,” Hao said, thinking that if he wasn’t needed to help out with any business, he might go to the Black Sheep House to have some fun. And he wanted to poke around in his Nin Hai’s engine to make certain that the seven-cylinder radial was still in good condition.
“Hi, Mrs. Nerzmann!” the proprietor of the stationery shop said as the minkess stepped through the door. The middle-aged shrew grinned at her as he said, “You’re out and about early today.”
“That is so, Herr White,” she said as she let the door close behind her. “I am thinking of buying some wrapping paper. Jakob and I are sending gifts to the grandchildren, you see.”
“Ah, that’s wonderful!” the small fur enthused as he bustled over to the counter and pointed to several rolls of brightly-colored paper. “It’s always good to see the little ones,” he said as he reached for another roll. “Of course, deliveries between here and Germany might take a long time, eh?”
“Ach, ja,” she said, “and you would not believe the cost.”
The shrew nodded. “I can imagine it. Look here, what’s going on over at the bookstore?” At Frau Nerzmann’s questioning look he said, “That buck – your houseguest – he’s been buying reams of paper like he’s writing the Great Spontoonie Novel. I decided to give him a bulk discount.”
The minkess spread her paws. “I do not know,” she admitted. “The Inspector, he has the strange ways about him, very quiet. Not to say that he is strange, you see,” and she tapped her temple with a forefinger, “but he keeps to himself. I have no idea what he would do with so much paper.” She selected a roll of wrapping paper, and paid for the purchase before leaving the shop.
On the way back to the bookstore she thought about what Stagg might be up to.
The whitetail buck’s eyes flickered open, and he began the day by wondering why his back and neck hurt so badly. A look around gave him the answer that he had fallen asleep leaning back in his chair, so his head had tipped back. Sleeping like that also explained why his mouth tasted so foul. He sat up, paws gingerly rubbing his neck. The only advantage to having neck and back pain, he realized with a start, was that it took his mind off the omnipresent ache in his hoof.
Another reason he had a bad taste in his mouth stood ready to paw on his table; an open thermos flask of coffee, now very cold and quite stale. He yawned again, and scratched under his ribs as he leaned forward to look at the small stack of closely-printed notes.
Stagg had broken the Daisy cipher two days ago, and last night had bought the thermos of coffee from Luchow’s in order to keep himself awake while he wrote an analysis of the information he had recovered. The ten pages of notes comprised that analysis.
What he had found was a network of investments and businesses that stretched almost literally around the world. Government and law enforcement officials had been corrupted by various means, which had angered him – but didn’t really surprise him, either. After all, furs were furs, and not all lived by the same ethical code.
He stretched again, closing his eyes briefly as a series of small pains rocketed up his spine, and got up. After attending to getting cleaned up and dressed for the day he carefully disconnected one of the electric typewriters from the rest of Medusa, fed in a blank sheet of paper, and started to type out a better copy of his analysis.
He typed fairly quickly, pausing to open his door and accept his breakfast from Mrs. Nerzmann. The buck set it aside to cool as he finished the task at paw, then ate the bowl of oatmeal and milk. It stayed down, and he was somewhat surprised at the small victory over his stomachs. With breakfast over, he turned to the two thick stacks of Rose and Daisy translations.
It took most of the morning to arrange the deciphered transmissions in order, and to get everything packaged properly. As he labored, he thought back to earlier, happier times, when he and Diana would wrap Christmas gifts for their fawns. Grace had always wanted books. Finally he lit a candle and dripped wax over the seams on the box containing the papers, and reached for the telephone.
The Minkerton operatives at the Spontoon Nimitz-Union office had been told to be aware that Stagg might want to send something bulkier than a mere telegram to the Gnu York headquarters. As soon as Stagg had ended the call, a runner was on the way to collect the package.
*EXECUTIVE CIPHER 700*
21 NOVEMBER 1936 0500GMT
ADDRESSEE: ALLAN MINKERTON
C/O MINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY
MESSAGE BEGINS ALLAN STOP AM SENDING YOU BOUQUET BY COURIER STOP HOPE YOU FIND ARRANGEMENT ATTRACTIVE STOP MESSAGE ENDS
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY