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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
“What’s that ye’ve got there, Shin?” Brigit Mulvaney asked several days later as the Chinese member of Red Dorm entered their shared room with a bulky package. Liberty and Tatiana were seated facing each other going over some of the navigation problems set for them by the tutors. The problems were especially hard, and were supposed to help them all get ready for their pilot’s exams in late March.
The red panda set the parcel down on the bed as she replied, “I’m not sure. Father and Mother sent it to me, and only said that it was a ‘late Christmas present.’” In reality, the package had come to Fang at the Maha Kahuna, and he had relayed it to her. There were some instructions on the outside wrapping, if one knew how to read them.
As Shin started to open the parcel, Liberty glanced up from the textbook she was reading. “I didn’t think Chinese believed in Christmas,” she said, “or in any other non-Chinese holidays.” She kept her tone carefully neutral.
“We don’t,” Shin said, “unless it means we can . . .” her voice trailed off as she read over the cover letter. The other three members of her dorm were treated to the sight of their fellow student’s tail suddenly hitting the floor with a thump as her jaw fell open.
“What is it, Shin?” Tatiana Bryzov asked.
At first the red panda seemed to be at a total loss for words, but after a moment she gathered her wits. “Come here,” she said after shaking her head a few times, “and take a look.” The others gathered around as she lifted one of two identically-wrapped packages from the larger box. The cover letter was written on rice paper, with an edible ink; she’d eat it later.
Nearly an hour later the four looked at each other. “How long did ye know about this?” Brigit asked Shin.
“Not my family,” she demurred. “Father thought that it was a waste of money to try, since many of the constables have what he calls a ‘moral squint.’ But apparently Fat Leon and Susie didn’t think so.” She quickly supplied the others with short, accurate, and completely biased profiles of the two.
“They were both caught and hanged last year,” she concluded, “and, if anyone should ask my opinion, they fully deserved it.” She flipped through a few of the Dexigraphed copies of various documents and her ears stood straight up. The papers were reflex prints, white letters on a black background; the photographs were copies of other pictures.
Liberty snorted as she leafed through a few pages of documents, then glanced at a trio of black and white photographs. “Bourgeois corruption,” she said, and studied one picture again, shaking her head as her tail wagged dangerously close to locking to one side. “Oh my . . . very corrupt,” and her voice took on a slightly breathless edge.
“Da,” Tatiana chimed in, blushing at another series of pictures.
Shin started to gather up the materials as she said, “According to the letter, my father got these things after Leon and Susie died, and he’s given them to me.” She patted the unopened packet. “We’ve been looking at copies. What do you think this might be?”
She had to ask the question again, after the laughter died down. Finally she said, “Now, we can guess what’s in this, based on the copies we read, but there’s no way to be sure, right?” The others nodded and she said, “Good. That way none of us can give any accurate answers if anyone should start asking.”
Needless to say, Shin knew where the main police station was on Meeting Island. She also knew its exact interior layout and was able to guess from that information how it was constructed and where its weak points were. But attacking the building (let alone dynamiting it) was not her concern as she, dressed in her school uniform, entered the station late that afternoon.
The desk officer looked up from his report as she walked in and asked, “May I help you, Miss?”
“You may,” she replied with a cheerful smile. “Can you tell me if Inspector Stagg is in today?”
The constable nodded. “He’s always here, Miss. Doesn’t usually take days off.” A paw reached for the phone. “Who shall I say is here to see him?”
Shin smiled warmly and waved her tail in an airy gesture. “I’ll announce myself. Don’t worry, I know the way.” She walked down a side corridor and past the stairs leading to the Chief’s office without another word.
“Excuse me, Miss, you can’t go in there!” another constable said, the commotion causing Inspector Stagg to look up and Sergeant Brush to stand and head for the door. The fox opened the door just before a red panda girl in an impeccably tailored Songmark uniform was poised to knock on it. She withdrew her fist with a smile even as Brush glared at her. “Good afternoon to you, Sergeant,” she said in clear Spontoonie, “and blessings to you and your family.”
“Wish I could say the same to you and yours, you little troublemaker,” Brush growled. “State your business, then get out of here before I run you in.” He reached out to bar her path.
Amazingly she slipped straight past the burly fox and smiled sweetly at him. “My business is with him, not you, and your luck might suffer if you get in my way.” She walked over to Stagg’s desk. “Inspector Stagg, good day,” she said brightly. She held a large packet under her left arm.
The buck studied the young woman briefly before half-rising from his seat and saying, “Good day, Mrs. Wo. What can I do for you - apart from the obvious answer?”
Shin promptly looked offended. “Inspector!” she exclaimed. She sat down and smiled as he followed suit. “I am - I don’t know what to say. I must confess I’m shocked. Do you honestly think my family would actually wish you ill?”
“As if ya don’ wish anythin’ else,” Brush muttered. Stagg shot him a glance, and the fox subsided as Shin merely smiled.
The whitetail buck regarded the red panda a long moment, a scrutiny that the young woman returned in kind. “I have no illusions regarding you or your family, Mrs. Wo,” he said. “Particularly if your younger brother is any example.”
“My brother is a unique case, Inspector,” Shin said with a hint of defensive pride in her voice. “And, as for illusions, that’s as it should be,” she added firmly, causing Stagg’s ears to twitch slightly. “You don’t trust me, and I don’t trust you. That is quite an equitable, and may I say a very traditional arrangement. In fact, if you really think about it, if it weren’t for people like my family you wouldn’t have a job.” She smiled again, shifting the package to her lap and placing her paws on it. “And, in the spirit of that tradition, I have something for you.”
“What is it?” Brush asked suspiciously.
“Nothing for you to see, Sergeant,” Shin said, giving him a sidelong glance that was reminiscent of Hao’s expression. To Stagg she said, “This was sent to me by my father, with instructions to pass it on to you, sealed as you see.” She smiled again. “I have no knowledge of the contents, so questioning me about it will not help you – even if you parked a star-nosed mole in my lap.”
Stagg frowned and held out a paw for the package as Brush said, “Careful, sir. God only knows what it might be.”
Shin stood as Stagg placed the package on his desk. “I give you my word – “
“ – that there is nothing harmful there,” she continued smoothly. “Think of it – ah, think of it as a New Year present. Good day.” As she turned to go, she smiled at Brush and said in Spontoonie, “Bless you, Karok-son-Karok, for your effective work at protecting him. You did an excellent job taking care of that bloody-pawed canine outlander.”
Brush frowned. “Did your family know anything about him? If you or they did, you’re not walking out of here. Answer truthfully, Shin-daughter-Hei.”
She nodded. “I swear in the name of the Lawgiver and on the spirits of my ancestors. Is that suitable?” At his grudging nod she added, “My father was very pleased that the outlander assassin failed in his mission due to your actions. The consequences on Krupmark if he had succeeded would have been terrible. The one who sent the killer was too impetuous, and he is now dead, again thanks to you,” she said in a polite tone.
She slipped past him then, and was about to leave the room when Stagg held up a paw. “Wait, Mrs. Wo.” As she paused he added, “One more thing.”
Stagg took three pieces of blank paper from his desk and uncapped his fountain pen. “I want you to take this receipt back to your father, or at least keep it somewhere safe.”
“Of course, Inspector,” she said. Stagg swiftly wrote identical receipts, and all three of them signed the papers. “Sergeant, you take one, and I will forward the third to the Attorney General. Thank you, Mrs. Wo, and have a pleasant day.”
She bowed, smiled, and left the room. Brush watched her go, shook his head and turned back to Stagg. “Pretty strange, sir. Th’ Nis ain’t usually givin’ gifts out – an’ th’ start o’ Chinese New Year’s still almost two weeks away.”
“Yes, it does seem odd, given what we’ve heard of them. Well, I suppose we can take what this is at face value for now. Let’s get back to work, Sergeant, and I’ll honor Mr. Ni’s wish when everything’s done,” he said.
Later, his subordinate stepped out and closed the door behind him as he left for home, and Stagg reached for the package. The receipt copy for the Attorney General had been prefaced with a cover letter from him and placed in the interoffice mail. Now it was time to see just what it was he had.
The buck examined the package’s exterior minutely. It was bulky, perhaps eighteen by twenty-four inches and nearly six inches thick, and wrapped in thick brown paper. It was tied up with string and sealed with wax that bore a Chinese seal. He gently opened the package (taking care not to break the seal) and started to read the cover letter.
It was a brief note: “This information has come into my possession, and I assure you that I had no prior knowledge of it. I want no special favor or consideration for myself or my family, nor do I harbor any hope that you would so far favor me. You will know how best to handle this information. Ni Hei.” Stagg frowned as he started to go over some of the documents.
After ten minutes he suddenly hunched over the desk, paws knotting into fists as his stomachs seemed to turn into furnaces and unseen claws drove into his chest. His eyes watered from the pain and he spent several minutes gasping for breath as his duty warred with his shock. Visions of what had happened in a faraway place seven and a half years ago boiled up in his memories, along with the fear that he was watching history repeat itself.
With an effort he unclenched his paws, and noted distantly that the fingertips of his left paw were tingling. He wrote a note for the attention of the Attorney General, and tucked it securely within the package before resealing it. But what to do with it now?
He could take it straight to the Attorney General, or the Interior Minister … no; both the Minister and the Chief Constable held a great deal of animosity toward him, so those actions would look like retaliation. And the last thing he wanted was to step into Pickering’s shoes.
He lurched to his feet and grabbed up his cane. Somewhere safe, he had to find a safe place to put the package . . .
“Good night, Inspector,” the desk sergeant said as he watched the buck limp past. To his mild surprise, Stagg did not pause to say goodbye, but instead muttered something about “dealing with these sins appropriately” and walked out the door.
The tingling in his fingers grew into a numb feeling that crept up his left arm as he left the station, trying desperately to act as if there was nothing wrong. The landscape and the street grew blurry and almost surreal as he walked, and the mild late January weather felt like a blast furnace on his fur.
In his mind he saw it: Judgment Day. He was in the dock before the puissant Lord, with all the people he had known in New Haven arrayed as witnesses against him. Pride of place, of course, was given to his wife and daughters, and the silent, reproachful looks they gave him stabbed at his chest like knives.
He hid the package, then, making certain that it could not be found, and every step back to his home on Printer’s Lane seemed like an eternity of pain. It was the Via Dolorosa, and he was bearing his own private cross to Calvary Hill.
Jakob Nerzmann scarcely looked up as the irregular rhythm of hooves and the sound of the front door opening heralded the arrival of his sole tenant. What did attract his attention, though, were the facts that Inspector Stagg did not greet him, and the sound of his cane clattering to the floor of the shop, followed by a heavy, sodden sound.
He poked his head out between the stacks and gasped. “Inspektor!” He shouted, “Weib! Ruf der Doktor an! Schnell!”
“Was ist los, Jakob?” Frau Nerzmann asked as she came from the kitchen. She gasped at the sight of her husband gently rolling Stagg over onto his back. The buck was breathing irregularly, and traces of blood flecked his lips and nose as his chest rose and fell. Without another word the minkess grabbed at the phone and started dialing, while Nerzmann loosened Stagg’s tie and collar. The actions seemed to rouse the buck somewhat, and the mink listened as the whitetail whispered brokenly, “Rosie…”
Shin tried to contain her giggling, then gave up the attempt and laughed raucously as she fairly skipped back to the water taxi stand. If the package contained what she thought it contained, it would cause a scandal.
Revenge wasn’t one of her favorite things, particularly after General Won. But she had to admit that if this had been her father’s plan, it was certainly an interesting way of taking revenge.
Now, what to do with the first package? As she thought of it, she smiled, and started laughing again.
Her smile and her laughter made it hard for her to get a water taxi, as the drivers all looked at her as if she were insane.