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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!)
(C.F. Crane courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
Shin had chosen the time carefully, because she didn’t want to disturb either the tutors or her seniors at Songmark. Waiting for the right time took nearly a week. That right time was also one of the few days that the third year students had a brief respite from the hard lessons that their tutors were putting them through. So, with the thick packet of documents and pictures securely under one arm, she knocked on a door jamb and waited.
The door opened and a slim, short mouse looked up at her with a smile. “Why hello, Shin!” Beryl Parkesson said brightly. Despite all the physically and mentally taxing activities that a Songmark third-year had to go through, Beryl still looked unruffled. “What can I do for you – for all of you?” she amended, seeing the other three members of Red Dorm standing behind the red panda.
“Hi, Beryl,” Shin said, keeping her tone and expression neutral. It was no secret that she didn’t like the British girl (and she could hear Brigit grind her teeth in an effort not to growl), but she was resolved to be as pleasant as possible. “I was wondering if you had a few minutes to discuss some business.”
At the last word, the mouse’s smile grew wider, and she ushered the four into her dorm room with a sweep of her paw. Once they were all inside Beryl sat on a chair, and Shin sat on a bed facing her. The other three members of Shin’s dorm stood slightly behind her, Tatiana looking a bit nervous. Liberty also looked uncomfortable, for two reasons: being present at a capitalist, if not criminal transaction; and the look on Mrs. Oelabe’s face after the New Haven girl’s medical examination.
The mouse and the red panda studied each other for a long moment before Beryl asked, “What sort of business?”
Shin smiled. “A simple cash transaction. Cash, for this,” and she rested a paw on the parcel.
“And what might that be? The Crown Jewels of Cranium Island?” Beryl snickered.
“Hardly,” came the answering snicker. “Swindles are more your line of expertise, I recall.” Shin opened the package. “Just this,” and she passed over the top five pages.
The mouse’s gaze flickered as she read the contents, and she looked up at Shin. “Turned informant, have we?” she asked in a pleasant tone that belied the insinuation.
The red panda didn’t even turn a hair. She knew that was what it looked like. “I think you know me better than that,” she said evenly. “Let’s just say I want my paws clean.”
“Hmm.” The mouse looked through the documents again then asked, “Anything else?”
A few pictures were offered, and Shin was pleased to see Beryl’s ears quiver. “Very nice,” she said, turning one picture around to look at it from a different angle. “Who would have thought that Chief Pickering was so . . . athletic,” she mused with a smile.
“He surprised me too,” Shin giggled. “How much will you pay for them?”
The blunt approach made the mouse’s ears droop momentarily. “I was wondering how you were going to broach the subject,” she said in an offpaw manner. “About as subtle as a brick through a window.”
Another smile. “But just as effective as scribing lines with a glasscutter.”
“True.” Another examination of the papers was made, and Beryl drawled, “Well, I can see maybe one hundred shells.”
“Give them back then,” Shin said. “They’re worth five hundred if they’re worth a cowrie.”
Beryl’s eyes narrowed slightly, and the sample pages pointedly never left her paws. The package Shin held contained, at a rough guess, about five hundred pages. “These are copies. Two hundred.”
Shin glanced back at her fellows. “I wonder why I’m wasting my time,” she sneered, and turning back to Beryl she said, “You don’t need to know where the originals are, trust me. Four hundred.”
“Trying to get your own back after losing that bet, Shin?” Beryl teased. “Three hundred.”
The red panda smiled. “Of course I am. I think I know you well enough, and you know me well enough, that we can reach a bargain. Three-fifty.”
Now the mouse’s features hardened. Should she try to take it from Shin? No, and that was why the Chinese girl had brought her whole dorm with her. One second-year girl she could beat.
Four was another matter entirely.
“Three hundred, and that’s final.” Her gaze held the red panda’s as she spoke.
Shin met that gaze without flinching, thrilling inwardly at the prospect of obtaining so much money from Beryl. She’d had to forego her usual allowance until her father and older brother put the family’s business back on a stable footing. And to be truthful, she was glad to be rid of the package.
Her wide, banded tail flicked once. “Done,” and she extended a paw. As she and Beryl sealed the agreement she said, “Payment to be in cash.”
Beryl’s usual smile vanished. “You honestly don’t expect me to have that here, do you?”
Shin smirked. “You have the same low opinion of banks that I do.”
She had a point. Beryl sat back and said, “Get out, all of you. I’ll let you know when to come back in.”
Shin stood and walked out, the rest of her dorm following her, and Beryl closed the door. She looked at the sample Shin had given her, and she considered.
Beryl thought primarily in terms of profit and loss, and three hundred shells was a substantial amount. However, information and photographs like this could cause a great deal of commotion, if placed in the right paws. And that commotion could be highly lucrative, promising a good return on her investment . . .
Her smile became one of pure delight, and she turned to where she kept her money concealed.
When she had carefully counted out the amount, she went to the door. It opened to reveal Shin standing just a foot away, the others standing behind her. “Three hundred, I believe?” Beryl asked.
Shin nodded wordlessly, and the mouse held out a thick wad of banknotes. Beryl was blocking the door, so it was impossible for Shin to survey the room and note any weak spots that might give away the money’s hiding place. The red panda took the money and gave it to Brigit, who verified that each of the notes was genuine. Liberty counted them, despite the expression of distaste on her muzzle, and when both she and the Irish girl nodded Shin passed the package to Beryl. “What will you do with it?” she asked.
“None of your business, Shin. It’s mine now,” Beryl said, and she closed the door.
On the way down the stairs Liberty pressed the wad of currency into Shin’s paw. “Here, take this,” she said disdainfully. “I don’t want to hold it any longer than I have to.”
“No problem,” Shin said as she stuffed the money in her pocket. “Thanks, all of you. You know,” she said suddenly, “we’ll need to relax a bit when we get our pilot’s licenses.” It never occurred to her to say if. “I vote we have a celebration afterwards.”
Brigit perked up, while Liberty looked dour (her usual expression) and Tatiana looked thoughtful. Seeing their expressions, Shin said with a dismissive gesture, “We have plenty of time to think it over. Let’s go get ready for Kilikiti practice.” She patted the thick wad of bills in her pocket and smiled.
Beryl was, if nothing else, a very practical young woman, and never one to overlook the opportunity to turn an honest (or even flagrantly dishonest) profit. Her slim, finely furred tail swished as she read page after page of the material, and she smiled again as she looked at the large collection of photographs. She made mental notes of a few of them, resolving that she and Piet might try what was being depicted.
She wrapped the materials in their brown paper and thought for a moment. These would cause quite a lovely stir, true, but who should she give this to? And who would give her the best return on her investment? She was certain that there was no way she could recover the money she gave Shin; after losing the bet she’d had with the mouse, the red panda had studiously kept away from her. Which suited her just fine, since as a famous American had once said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’
Beryl was certain that the frequency was a great deal higher than that.
Later that day she hailed a water taxi going to Casino Island. After stepping onto the dock she headed straight for the offices of the Spontoon Mirror, and asked to see the publisher.
The secretary behind the desk snapped her gum and chuckled. “Whatcha want to see him for?” she asked. “Mr. Crane isn’t in the habit of letting just anyone step off the street and talk to him.”
The mouse smiled pleasantly and held up a carefully selected photograph. As the secretary’s eyes bugged out, Beryl said, “I think he’ll want to see what I have, don’t you?”
The secretary nodded dumbly, even as she reached for her telephone.
In minutes two reporters came out to the lobby. The taller of the two, a mouse with meticulously-groomed white fur, asked in very proper British tones, “Excuse me, Miss, but may we see the picture?”
Beryl held up the photograph, prompting the second reporter, a hamster, to say in a pronounced Welsh accent, “Cor, what’s that in the front of the picture?”
The white mouse covered the hamster’s eyes. “Shush. Remember your manners.” He looked down at Beryl and smiled. “Will you excuse us a moment, Miss?” Before she could reply, the mouse had hustled his compatriot out of the lobby.
Within minutes the afternoon editor was studying the picture, and he whistled. “Not bad. Come on, I’ll take you to see the Chief.” The feline led Beryl past the secretary and into an elevator.
The editor knocked on the office door and the occupant said, “Come in.”
“Excuse me, sir,” the feline said diffidently, “but this young lady’s here to see you. She’s got something I think you really need to see.”
“Oh? Is that so?” Charles Foster Crane asked, rising from his desk and waving Beryl to a seat. The tall, thin avian adjusted his tie as he sat back down and asked, “Now, little lady, what do you have for me?”
Beryl smiled and laid out two photographs and a few of the documents. Crane glanced at them, then abruptly stared, his feathers fluffing out slightly as he studied the sample. When he was finished, he goggled at the mouse. “Where . . . where did you get these?”
“Whether I answer that,” Beryl said, “depends on how much you would be willing to pay for the rest of this collection,” and she patted the wrapped packet.
Crane sat back with an easy grin. “Ah, an aspiring young entrepreneur,” he said. “A young lady after my own heart. Well, Miss -?”
“Miss Parkesson, we have a standard contract for people who provide us with useful information. You get a quarter of the full purchase price now, another quarter after the materials have been verified, and the remaining half after it goes to press. We don’t want you sharing this out to the other papers, you see,” Crane said, his smile never faltering for a second.
“I assure you, Mr. Crane, that my choice of your paper was very deliberate,” Beryl said, “and your contract’s provisions sound agreeable to me. Now, what would you consider a fair price for this?”
“Hmm,” Crane said as he studied one piece of paper again. “Shells, dollars, or pounds sterling?’
Beryl promptly looked shocked. “My dear Mr. Crane!” she exclaimed. “Do you think a British subject would want anything but the true coin of the realm?”
“Just asking. Hmm. Fifty pounds.”
The mouse shook her head, her thin tail moving in time. “Hardly. I could get that at the Elele or the Birdwatcher.” She smoothed out a fold in her Songmark jacket as Crane considered again.
The bargaining went on for nearly a half hour, and ended with Beryl agreeing to part with the package for the sum of one hundred fifty pounds. The contract was brought in, signed and duly witnessed. Only when she had the first installment of thirty-seven pounds – over three hundred Spontoonie shells - in her paws did Beryl relinquish her hold on the documents.
Leaving Crane to send one of his reporters to check out some of the information, Beryl left the building with a light heart. A tidy profit, indeed. Changing her mind suddenly, she decided to head over to the Temple of Continual Reward and try out a new system she had been mulling over.
One week later, while on a break from her morning classes, Shin passed several other students giggling at a newspaper. She peered over one’s shoulder, blinked, and suddenly snatched it away. “Hey!” one of them, a thin badger, objected.
“I’m senior to you,” Shin explained, “and you shouldn’t be looking at stuff like this.” She looked at it a bit more closely.
It was the morning edition of the Mirror, and its front page bore only two words and a single photograph. The photograph was demonstrably that of one Abel Pickering, the Chief Constable of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary, and the picture showed him accosting a very attractive young ewe in a grass skirt.
The two words, in two-inch high black letters, screamed out, “SHEEP AHOY!”
Shin tossed the paper back to the first-year students and went upstairs, laughing loudly.