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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Allan Minkerton and Carlos courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
The train slid to a halt at Washington’s Union Station with a jerk, a hiss of steam and the loud howl of its whistle. Those passengers who had bought a berth in one of the sleeping compartments would take their time getting up, while those who had spent the entire three-hour trip from Gnu York in coach would have to vacate their seats.
Allan Minkerton stirred awake and got out of bed, moving as carefully as possible to avoid disturbing his wife. She had insisted on coming, as she wanted to do some shopping at Garfinckel’s. He had shaken his head at that, but also realized that having her along was good camouflage. When she had seen the look of realization on his face, she had winked at him. She’d been an excellent operative before they had married, and he was glad to see she hadn’t forgotten.
While he washed up she awoke in time for a waiter to bring them their breakfast. Sounds from the compartment behind them told him that his chief aide, Carlos, had awakened and was eating his own meal. The Argentine maned wolf was along for two reasons – he was a crack shot if shooting was required (there was no harm in supposing that the Minkerton firm’s own security might have been compromised), and he was carrying the Bouquet.
Minkerton capitalized the word in his mind. It had been Stagg’s code word for the materials that had been sent all the way from Spontoon, and after reading the package the mink had immediately reached for his telephone. This trip was the result.
Shortly after he and his wife finished breakfast a soft knock was heard. “Don Allan?” Carlos asked. “It’s nearly seven-thirty.”
“All right, Carlos,” Minkerton said. “We’ll be right out.”
Their luggage was already on its way to a suite at Willard’s Hotel by the time they left the platform and entered the station, Minkerton and his wife arm in arm while his free paw carried a slim leather briefcase. The case held a two-page summary of the Bouquet, while Carlos followed at a short distance with the entire package.
The weather was about right for Washington in November – cold and overcast, with drizzling rain that whipped about like snow on the wind. When the trio reached the station’s taxi stand the minkess gently disengaged herself from her husband and said, “I’m going on to the hotel, Allan. See you there.” They kissed and he saw her into a waiting cab.
Minkerton and his aide hailed another taxi and as the mink climbed in he said to the cabbie, “Department of Justice, please.” The canine at the wheel nodded, started his meter and the burly Packherd sedan started off. It wasn’t a long distance from the train station to the Justice building, but the raw weather made walking uncomfortable, even for someone with a mink’s heavy fur.
The cab stopped at the imposing neoclassic bulk of the Justice Department, and after paying the fare the mink and the wolf headed inside. The desk clerk stopped them, recognized Minkerton from previous visits and allowed them to enter.
Outside a certain office an officious secretary looked up and smiled. “Mr. Minkerton, you’re here a bit early,” she said.
“I know, Miss O’Dell,” the mink said, “but I didn’t want to wait around in the cold.”
She chuckled and glanced at her clock. “The Director should be on his second cup of coffee now. You two can go right in.” She gave Carlos a look that could be described as ‘sultry’ as the two furs entered the spacious office.
“Allan!” J. Edgar Rover exclaimed as Minkerton and Carlos walked in, the wolf closing the door behind them. Minkerton and the Director of the FBI shook paws, and Rover waved at two chairs. “Take a seat,” he urged, “and tell me what’s on your mind. You didn’t let on what this appointment was all about.”
“Well, John,” Minkerton said as Carlos took his overcoat and he opened his briefcase, “I recently acquired some information that I think the Bureau needs to see.” He passed the executive summary of Stagg’s work over to the stocky bloodhound, and Rover started reading it.
Rover’s eyes widened as he read, quickly flipped to the end of the document, then stared at Minkerton. “Where the hell did you get this information, Allan?” he asked in an incredulous tone.
Minkerton held out a paw, and Carlos took the bulky package from his briefcase. Choosing his words carefully the mink replied, “We were approached by a police agency that had developed a method of deciphering the codes used by Krupmark Island. Here are the deciphered and translated messages from which the summary was derived.”
He passed the Bouquet to Rover, who started skimming several of the pages. After a moment Rover waved absently toward the nearby coffee service, indicating that they should help themselves as he read.
Minkerton was stirring cream into his second cup when Rover finally looked up at him. “This is first-rate work, Allan,” he said in an admiring. “Who’s your contact, and where are you hiding him?”
The mink chuckled. “He’s with the Spontoon Constabulary, in the Pacific,” he said. “His name’s Franklin Stagg.”
The hound’s look went distant. “Stagg? Stagg . . . I’ve heard that name . . . aha! Yes, that buck from New Haven,” he said, snapping his fingers. “I recall some of his guest lectures back in the Twenties. Very keen . . . and I see he’s been keeping in practice,” he added, flipping through another few pages.
“We did try to hire him, as I recall now – he would’ve been an asset to the Bureau – but that low-Dutch bluenose in the White House was trying to make nice with those Reds up in New Haven at the time,” Rover grumbled.
Minkerton’s ears went back. “You don’t know that for certain, John.”
“The hell I don’t,” the bloodhound said bluntly. “Someone told the AG to deny Stagg asylum – who could pressure him? Moosevelt, that’s who,” and Rover touched one of the switches on his intercom. “Sylvia, have Clyde come in here, please.” He released the switch and looked at Minkerton. “I want to thank you for this, Allan,” he said as a thin, intense-looking ferret walked in, “and my counterparts across the Water will probably love to be able to collar a few of these.”
He picked up the thick file and gave it to the ferret. “Clyde, get this broken down as fast as possible. All regional offices get their share of it, and we’ll send the international stuff out to the people who need it.” The ferret nodded and carried the papers out, and as the door closed Rover grinned. “So, Allan, anything else?”
Minkerton shook his head. “If anything else comes from Spontoon, I’ll be sure to let you know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get over to Willard’s before my wife decides to spend all my money.” The two laughed.
After Minkerton and Carlos had left, Rover sat back as the ferret walked back in. “I’ve got the boys working on those papers,” Clyde said. “I looked at some of them – they’re dynamite.”
Rover nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Sometimes Minkerton strikes me as too smooth for his own good, but you can’t deny his ability or his sources.” He grinned. “Besides, he gave it to me. I’ll be the one looking good for the newsreel cameras.”
*EXECUTIVE CIPHER 702*
27 NOVEMBER 1936 1520GMT
ADDRESSEE: FRANKLIN STAGG
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY
MESSAGE BEGINS FRANKLIN STOP BOUQUET VERY ATTRACTIVE STOP DREW MANY ADMIRING COMPLIMENTS STOP CONSIDER TAKING UP INTERIOR DECORATING STOP MESSAGE ENDS
C/O MINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY
“Peng-wum!” At the sound of his wife calling his name, Peng-wum stopped what he was doing and peered over the side of the longhouse’s roof.
“Yes, Nailani?” he asked. His smile grew into a grin when he saw Hao standing beside his wife. “What’s the matter?”
Nailani glanced at Hao, who said, “Father sent me. He wants you to come back with me for a couple of days, if that’s all right,” and he glanced back at his sister-in-law. Nailani stuck out her tongue at him, and the two laughed.
“Well, if you want me to come with you,” Peng-wum said, “come up here and help me out. I want to get the roof re-thatched before the weather really turns bad.” He waved a paw at the makeshift ladder, in reality a log with a series of footholds notched into its surface.
Hao laughed, shed his light jacket and started up the ladder. He started passing bundles of thatch to his older brother as he asked, “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Peng-wum nodded. “It’s nice having to do things with your paws, rather than just sitting behind a desk and thinking all day,” he admitted. He winked and added, “And Nailani says that all this exercise is giving me a lot of energy.” He waggled his eyebrows and both of them started to laugh.
With an extra set of paws the work went faster, and soon both red pandas descended the ladder and Peng-wum laid it beside one wall of the longhouse. Shortly thereafter Peng-wum, now in trousers and a shirt, kissed his wife and child good-bye and walked out of the longhouse with his younger brother.
As Hao started the GH-2’s engines Peng-wum asked, “So, what are you not telling me? About Father’s summons, I mean.”
Hao’s smile had a mischievous look to it. “Well, we busted those two safes open as you know, and the bigger one had a gold mine in it. Papers.”
“Little projects that Leon and Susie were working on,” Hao said. “They had the same ideas we had about Kuo Han, for example. And they managed to get close to Chief Pickering here in Spontoon.”
“Really?” Peng-wum smiled. “I wonder if we can use that to our advantage.”
“I don’t know,” Hao said as he shoved the throttles forward and the seaplane started to accelerate to its takeoff speed. As he pulled the nose up and the Garza-Huacatl took to the air he remarked, “That’s what Father wants you home for.”
“You wanted to see me, Father?” Peng-wum asked nearly two hours later. The two brothers had encountered head winds during their flight, and the air at Krupmark now bore a stronger chill. He sat down at the chair his father indicated, and looked surprised as Ni Hei gave him a cup of tea.
“Yes, Peng-wum, I did,” Hei replied as he sat behind his desk. “There are three things needing doing, and I wanted to get them out of the way together and quickly, so that you won’t be away from your wife and child too long.” He smiled. “How are Nailani and Mikilani?”
“Doing well,” his oldest son replied. “What things?”
Hei nodded. It was very in character for his son to get down to business, and he felt a surge of pride. “First, I want you to look over the documents we recovered from Leon. Second, there’s this request from Shin,” and he flicked a finger at one corner of a telegram. “Third, your mother wants your help on an appropriate gift for Nailani.”
“What’s the request from Shin?” Peng-wum asked, and Hei passed him the telegram. He read it quickly, then laughed. “That’s easy, so I’ll get that taken care of first.”