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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Cicely Lopp was nothing if not a conscientious secretary, but she really considered asking for a raise after sorting the mail for the Chief Constable that morning two days before Christmas. He was definitely not going to like what he read, the rabbit thought as she deposited the papers on his desk and walked out.
Chief Pickering barely acknowledged her departure, since he was reading the morning paper. Finally he set aside the English-language edition of the Elele and started going through his mail.
The first thing to catch his eye was a telegram from the Director of the American FBI, J. Edgar Rover. Rover was congratulating him on the fine job that he and his force was doing, which was allowing the FBI to round up so many criminal gangs in America. Pickering raised a brow at that, pleased at the telegram but mystified as to why Rover would be thanking him. He looked at the next telegram.
This one came from the legendary New Scotland Yard, from none other than Chief Inspector Seacoon of that agency’s investigative branch. It read in part: “Thanks to you and your efforts at codebreaking, we are putting a serious dent in the criminal element, both here in England and in the Empire.”
Codebreaking? The fox laid the telegram aside, now thoroughly confused. He picked up the third message, which hailed from the Surete in France. He blinked at it as he read it: “WELL DONE STOP VERY PLEASED TO SEE YOU ARE KEEPING YOUR PAW IN STOP HAD HOPED YOUR WARTIME EXPLOITS WOULD SERVE YOU WELL STOP GRANDCERF.”
‘Wartime exploits?” Who was this Grandcerf fellow, and what the hell was he talking about? As Pickering thought, an idea suddenly occurred to him, and his tail started to fluff out as his ears laid back. He reached a paw toward the stack of mail and reports and picked up the topmost message.
This was a short internal memo from Finance Minister Hoanui, asking when he might anticipate reward checks from other countries.
That did it.
“Lopp! Get me Stagg! Now!” The rabbit’s ears twitched as he screamed the last word, and she sighed. She got up from her typewriter and headed downstairs to Stagg’s office.
Pickering was pacing around his desk, fuming, when the door opened and Stagg and his shadow started to walk in. “Yes, Chief?” the buck asked.
The fox marched right up to Stagg, preventing him from entering the office, and snarled loudly, “Aren’t you a little old for whitetail rut, Stagg?”
Stagg looked shocked at the blunt question, while Brush’s ears went back. “Sir?!” the buck asked in an incredulous tone.
“Because I’m getting yiffed by you, right now!” Pickering shouted. “How dare you go over my head, you damned prima donna?”
“Hey now - ” Brush started to interject.
“Shut the hell up!” Pickering barked. “Keep your muzzle shut, Brush, or you won’t have to worry about your Christmas bonus, ever again!” The burly detective closed his mouth and glared at the Chief, while Pickering rounded on the still-shocked Stagg. “Well, I’m waiting, Stagg. Explain yourself.”
“How did I go over your head, sir?” Stagg asked stiffly.
Pickering’s fists clenched. “You damned well did, you Goddamned son of a buck! I don’t know what information you got, or how you got it, but you didn’t tell me about it, did you?”
Stagg straightened up and looked ahead. “No, sir, I did not.”
A little silence ensued, as Pickering caught his breath. “Well?” he said.
“I’m waiting, damn you! Tell me now.” The fox listened, tapping one foot irritably while Stagg explained about the work he had done off-duty, and the supply of information to Minkerton. At the mention of the company, Pickering cut him off. “So, you sent it to Minkerton, but not to me,” he growled. “Why?”
Stagg started to reply, but Pickering cut him off with an angry wave of his paw. “Never mind; I don’t want to hear it. Just go. Get out of my sight, and take your damned shadow with you.” He walked back into his office and slammed the door in Stagg’s face.
The whitetail buck stood there, the door scant inches from his nose as his paw gripped his cane so tightly that his knuckles showed white under his fur. “I think, Sergeant,” he said softly, “that we should take the Chief’s orders.”
“Yes, Sir,” Brush said, his voice a low growl as he fought to keep his temper under control. It might cost him his job, but beating the Chief senseless was looking fairly attractive to him at the moment.
As the two passed Lopp’s desk, the rabbit stopped them and said in a soft voice, “I’m really sorry about this, Inspector. I guess it’s a good thing that he’s going on vacation tomorrow.”
“Be a damn shame if’n he fell outta water taxi, huh Sir?” Brush said, but subsided as Stagg turned to look at him. The buck merely nodded at Lopp and went downstairs.
Pickering threw the four messages into his wastepaper basket, still fuming about Stagg. “Damn sonofa . . .” he muttered as he picked through the rest of the mail and the reports from the previous day, then slammed his fist down on the desk. At the first opportunity, he thought, he’d get that prima donna off his back and out of his fur. The chewing out he gave him was only a taste of things to come, and as he thought back to it he felt better.
He picked up the phone and dialed. “Hello, honeyfur, it’s Abel . . . yes . . . listen, do you mind? . . . good . . . great, I’ll be right over.” He hung up the phone and went to the door. He’d send the secretary out for a while, and he could relax a bit before his vacation started.
“Father, I don’t want to go!” Shin said, an almost desperate tone edging her voice. The gun at her hip had seen a lot of use in the week after Christmas, and a long scar in her fur along one arm showed where she had received a near-miss. Her fur would grow back, but for a week or two she would have something to boast about.
Otherwise, it hadn’t been a good week at all. The revelation that the island’s security had been violated had thrown some into shock, as had the news that police were cracking down on their business activities over most of the world. The week after the first of January brought another disruption when the death of one of Krupmark’s ruling elite was announced. Several buildings still smoked from the fires that had gutted them, and a few gun battles were still going on despite the efforts of the ruling clique to restore some semblance of order.
All three of the Ni children, Fang and their ‘holiday guest’ Brigit Mulvaney had been in the thick of the fight. Brigit was unharmed, which made Shin feel a bit better. She knew that the tutors would look very unfavorably on her if the Irish girl had gotten hurt.
“My mind’s made up, Daughter,” Hei said sternly. “You are going back to school and complete your second year.” He nodded to Peng-wum and Hao as they entered the room, and resisted reacting to how his youngest son’s eyes lit up at the sight of the Irish girl standing off to one side. Her smile was noted as well. “I want you to do this, Shin.”
His daughter’s expression drew into a sulky frown. “I hate leaving all of you here to fight for our home,” she said.
“Things are calming down, Shin,” Peng-wum said.
“Can I at least leave Fang here to help you out?” Shin pleaded, and her father’s ears dipped.
“Do not whine, Daughter,” he said, gathering her in his arms. As she returned his hug he stroked her headfur and said, “Everything will be all right, and Fang has to go back to work. Peng-wum needs to get home as well, to look after his wife and son.”
She sniffled and hugged her father tighter. “I want to stay and help . . . our enemies are – “
“Are safely watched, or are safely dead, my dear child,” her father soothed in Chinese. “Now, go back to school, and make your father and mother proud.” He grinned as she looked at him. “Besides, do you think you can walk away from all the money I’m paying that place?”
Shin giggled, wiping her nose with a paw. “That’s better,” Hei said. “Now, go and say good-bye to your mother. Peng-wum, I want to speak with you.” He headed up the stairs to his office, his oldest son following.
Peng-wum found a chair as his father sat down behind his desk and looked at some papers. The older red panda finally said, “Son, I have some things for you – and Fang - to do. But first, have you been able to estimate our losses?”
“I can’t give you a close estimate, Father,” Peng-wum replied, looking uncomfortable. “But I’d guess that it’s close to thirty percent.”
Hei shook his head in disgust. Peng-wum’s guesses were very similar to other peoples’ close estimates. “Thirty percent is bad, but not disastrous. We can salvage matters.”
Peng-wum nodded, and Hei added in Chinese, “I also want you to ask our usual contacts on Meeting Island. Hao is interested in that Irish girl, and I want to know all about her.”
“Yes, Father, but shouldn’t Shin - ?”
“Shin is biased toward her brother, and your mother and I have already had words about Hao.” Peng-wum understood. With his marriage to Nailani and Shin’s marriage to Fang, Hao was the last opportunity to marry into what his parents considered a respectable Chinese family.
“It will be as you say, Father.”
The sun gleamed off the painted dragons on the bow of the Keystone-Loening as it banked over Eastern Island and settled into a holding pattern. Other planes were already circling the island, waiting their turn to land.
Once the plane had landed and was secured at its assigned dock, Shin, Fang and Brigit climbed out of the plane with their luggage. Peng-wum would see to the plane’s maintenance before taking a water taxi to Pangai. “Well, will we see each other later this month? The Year of the Ox will be starting soon,” he said.
“Good,” Shin said vehemently. “I’ve had enough of the Rat to last me a lifetime. Come on, Fang,” and she gathered up her suitcase.
Fang lingered behind at Peng-wum’s gesture and at his look he nodded. Things would be set in motion, but the Manchurian tiger would wait until his wife had calmed down sufficiently.
After stopping off at the Maha Kahuna and changing clothes, Shin took another taxi to Eastern Island and walked up the now-familiar path to the gate. Adele was on gate duty, but Shin couldn’t think of anything to needle her with. Besides, she’d learned that Adele had acquired a friend at Krupmark, no less than a member of the ruling clique. A member of the ruling clique who was also still quite alive.
Shin realized that antagonizing Adele in the future might prove counterproductive.
She settled for giving the rabbit a smile. “Hello, Adele,” she said.
“Hi, Shin,” the third-year student said, returning the smile. Shin entered and headed up the stairs to her dorm.
“Shin!” Brigit exclaimed as she closed her bureau drawer. She had gone straight to the school after clearing Customs. “Tatiana an’ Liberty are already here, an’ no’ snipin’ at each other yet. ‘Twas a hell o’ a Christmas, an’ I thank ye fer invitin’ me.”
“Yes, it was a hell of a Christmas,” Shin replied, following up with a few words that, while in English, were not desirable in polite company. Brigit’s ears drooped. “We’ll have ta tell all about it, since it’s fer certain that th’ Tutors’ll be havin’ us write it all down.” Brigit seemed extraordinarily happy; her eyes shone and her tail was wagging as if she was trying to fan the air.
“Well, you look like you had some good news while you were away,” the red panda observed with a smile.
Brigit grinned. “I’ve made some money, an’ had some fun, but ye don’ know th’ half of it!” Shin’s father had given in and hired the Irish girl. Her Songmark training made her a very effective employee. “Why, as I’m comin’ inta th’ school I see th’ mornin’ paper. An’ would ye b’lieve what’s innit? Seems the Governor o’ Hong Kong was blown up during th’ Christmas parade! Killed on the spot, they say!” she said with a fierce glee.
“Really?” Shin asked, perking up a bit. She had been told about this, and she grinned as she opened her suitcase. “They say who did it?”
“They did not, so, but there could’ve been only one in all th’ world,” Brigit said, giving an almost love-struck sigh.
“Would it be – this guy?” and Shin passed her a pasteboard folder. Brigit opened it and gasped.
Inside the folder was a vivid color photographic portrait of one Phillip McCafferty, DDS, seated before a large Irish flag. The wolfhound was smiling and he held his fedora in his lap. The autograph on the back of the photo was in Gaelic, and read, “To Brigit: Learn all you can, and come back home to fight for hearth and kin. Phillip.”
Brigit read it twice, then closed it and held it reverently to her chest as her eyes grew moist. Her tail wagged harder, and there was an undeniable whiff of musk in the room as she set the picture on her bed and abruptly launched herself at Shin.
“Thank ye, Shin! Thank ye so much!” she exclaimed, hugging the surprised panda hard. “Why, ‘tis th’ best present a girl could hope fer.” She released the Chinese girl as Tatiana and Liberty walked in.
“Hello, Shin,” Tatiana said as she took a seat on her bed, running a paw over it as if trying to assure herself that it was real. “How did your holiday go?”
“How was yours?” the red panda asked, evading the question.
“Not bad,” the Russian sable replied, patting the bed again. “The bed feels softer than the one I had. My friend does not believe in much comfort.”
“Well, I hate to admit it, but I wish that both of you had come with me and Brigit.” At the startling admission even Liberty’s ears perked up. While the others listened, Shin recounted what had happened while she and Brigit were on Krupmark. When she was finished, Liberty whistled.
“Yeah, you could have used a few extra guns,” she said. An unaccountably mischievous look came to her eyes as she added, “But that’s what happens when you rely too much on money. People try to fight you for it. Class distinctions arise, and – “
“Oh, stuff it, Liberty,” Shin growled, and the New Haven girl chuckled. The half-coyote looked as if she’d had a fun time, even in bleak New Haven; her eyes shone and she actually seemed to smile more often.
Nearly a week later and almost an hour after reading through their reports of how they spent their winter holiday, Miss Windlesham looked up from her desk at the four members of Red Dorm. “Your reports are all comprehensive, and, as far as we can discern, accurate,” she said. “Your grades will be posted tomorrow.” As they left she said, “Shin, stay.”
The red panda shrugged inwardly, and recalled the methods she used to control herself. “Yes, Miss Windlesham?”
“Show me the scar you received.” Shin obediently removed her school jacket and bared her left arm, displaying the long furrow in her fur. The tutor examined it carefully and asked, “Did you need any medical attention for that?”
“No, ma’am,” Shin replied. “The other person did.”
A brief smile from her tutor. “I don’t doubt that,” she said, and gestured for the younger fur to put her jacket back on.