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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!)
(Sgt. Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
That memorable day’s afternoon edition of the Mirror recorded a personally delivered, hotly worded denial of any wrongdoing on the part of the Chief Constable. While some of the students at Songmark gossiped and giggled and shared rumors about what was happening, Shin and the rest of Red Dorm remained quiet. They had after all seen all of the materials, and knew that what had been published was only the barest tip of the iceberg.
However, Shin was seen to smile a bit more, and seemed unusually happy when the festivities marking the Chinese Year of the Ox began.
Word had also started spreading around that the respected head of the Constabulary’s Detective Bureau had taken unexpectedly ill. At this, several people at Songmark looked at Shin who merely remarked, “I only met him twice. Seemed like a nice old guy, apart from his law-and-order fetish,” whereupon she smiled sweetly and went about her business.
The Attorney General of the Spontoon Islands, Timoté Palu (although there were some who called him Tim), was not a very happy man. The Althing’s executive committee was reacting badly to what Mr. Crane – a Euro, of all people – had broadly hinted at as a major scandal in the Constabulary’s highest office. The Interior Minister had repeated the denials that he had received from Chief Pickering, while telling the assembly that he had complete confidence in Pickering and stating that Crane was just causing trouble. Shortly thereafter, Palu had received a letter through his office mail.
The first thing Timoté Palu had done after reading both the letter and the attached receipt was to silently beseech the gods to grant him patience. The second thing that the goat had done was to pick up his phone and ask to speak with the sole remaining member of the SIC’s Detective Bureau.
“I dunno, Sir,” Sgt. Brush had said. “I ‘spect he hid it somewheres ‘til he could confirm it.” He sounded a bit distressed, having been told only that morning that his superior had taken ill.
“There’s no time for that now, Sergeant,” Palu grumbled. “With Stagg out of the country, we have no idea where he could have put it. But, and this is important, Sergeant: I want that file found as fast as you can.”
“Yes, Sir,” the fox said, and the conversation ended there as Orrin Brush put the phone down and lit a cigarette. Now, where would the Inspector have put the thing? he wondered, and after finishing up the day’s business he had left to start retracing Stagg’s hoofsteps.
Several hours later he had come home empty-pawed. He had interviewed the Nerzmanns, several police and a few others he could think of, and all to no avail. Recalling a very old story he’d read as a kit, he had even stopped by the post office, thinking that Stagg had mailed it to himself.
He sat down at his desk in his den and lit another cigarette, toying with the thought of having a drink. Shaking his head clear of the notion, he fished out his notebook and started going over what he’d learned.
Abruptly he sat up, going over his notes from his conversation with the night shift’s desk sergeant. He had seen Stagg go out that evening, carrying a bundle under one arm and muttering something about dealing with sins. He hadn’t understood what the old buck was saying.
Sins . . . Orrin Brush’s ears stood straight up as he realized now where his superior had hidden the parcel, and again he damned everyone associated with Krupmark. He snatched up his small index card file and started flipping through the cards. He wasn’t sure, but he thought that his wife’s cousin’s wife’s second son worked for the Attorney General’s office, and could give him some useful assistance.
Two hours later the two foxes met outside the door of Saint Anthony’s Church on Meeting Island. The younger fox’s tail shivered as a distant bell chimed midnight. “I don’t know, Karok,” the fox said in a doubtful tone, “breaking into a church....”
“Never mind about that,” Brush said as he tripped the lock on the door and peered into the gloom. “We’re on the side of the angels here.” Nevertheless he surreptitiously crossed himself as he stepped into the darkened church. Passing a flashlight to his relative, he switched his own on and started looking.
About half an hour later Brush paused, leaning on the altar. He and his relative had gone through the entire church and had found no trace of it. He had even searched the altar itself, resolving that he would go to confession later to apologize. The fox sighed and turned to go, his flashlight playing along one wall. He abruptly stopped.
Along that wall were three wooden booths; the church’s confessional. Gesturing for the younger fox to check out the two penitent’s booths, Brush opened the door of the priest’s booth and looked inside. Everything seemed to be in place, but he looked under the seat for good measure. When he did, he almost laughed out loud.
Under the seat, shoved far back against the stone wall of the church, was a bulky parcel wrapped in brown paper. He eased it carefully out from under the seat (after all, it could have been Father Merino’s supply of non-sacramental booze) and opened it, examining the contents to assure himself that this was what he was looking for.
Palu’s home phone started ringing about one o’clock that morning, and a tired and harassed-looking goat grumpily got out of bed and trudged into the living room to answer the instrument. “Yes, Palu here . . . yes, Sergeant? You found it! Where was it? Oh . . . oh, that would explain a lot of things, I suppose . . . yes, bring it to my office now. I’ll be there shortly. Goodbye.” He put the phone’s pawset down on its receiver and yawned, scratching under his ribs as he headed back to his bedroom to get dressed.
The morning sun greeted early risers with the eagerly-awaited edition of the Mirror. This edition’s front page was dominated by a picture of Chief Constable Pickering at his news conference the previous day, with the caption, “PICKERING, EWE ARE LYING!” The tagline beneath the headline read, “Mirror exposes lies, leaks and lucre!” and purported to recount how confidential information regarding Constabulary operations and informants had been channeled to Krupmark Island direct from the Chief’s desk.
It also portrayed the Chief Constable (who hadn’t been heard from since the news conference) as an unwitting dupe, a sucker for a pretty face who had used Constabulary funds to set the young ewe up with a nice apartment and an expensive wardrobe. The ewe couldn’t be found at all, either for questioning or for comment, but there had been a rumor that she had fled the country almost the instant the story first broke.
The entire Althing met in a rare closed-door session that afternoon to hear the Attorney General’s assessment of the materials recovered from Saint Anthony’s and whether they corroborated any of the allegations made by the Mirror. After satisfying themselves that they were exact duplicates of each other, the session turned to more substantive matters.
The Interior Minister resigned after only the mildest suggestion that he do so, and the remainder of the meeting concentrated on the fate of the Chief Constable, A. Abel Pickering.
When the next days’ edition of the Mirror came out, Shin took care to cut out the picture on the front page, which showed ex-Chief Pickering being led away in pawcuffs by the new Chief Constable, Charles Sapper. The bulldog had been in charge of the Patrol Bureau until the Althing’s decision to replace Pickering. Pickering himself looked much the worse for wear, his eyes vacant and his person generally ungroomed.
Shin added the clipping to several others that she had collected, and at the next available opportunity she would send them on to Fang. Her husband could be counted on to transmit the clippings to her father, who would have to act fast if he wanted to exploit the disturbance raised by the scandal. The new Chief already had a reputation for efficiency and relative incorruptibility, although Shin was certain that no one could ever be perfectly incorruptible.
“Shin?” Miss Blande said the next day as she poked her head in the open doorway. When the red panda looked up at her, she beckoned to the red panda and headed down the stairs. Shin trotted after her, pulling on her Songmark blazer as she went.
They ended up in Miss Devinski’s office, and as Shin walked in Miss Blande closed the door. The yellow-furred canine scowled at the younger girl and asked, “What have you been up to, Shin?”
Shin blinked. “Nothing, Miss Devinski.”
“Do not lie to me, young lady.” She said it in a very level, almost flat tone, but Shin could clearly hear the menace in the older woman’s voice.
“I assure you, Miss Devinski,” Shin said in her best sincere tone, “we all learned our lesson from last year. I will do nothing to jeopardize my education here.”
“Then explain this.”
A folded slip of paper scaled across the desk to her, and Shin picked it up and read it. Her ears went up as she said, half to herself, “I’ve been subpoenaed?”
“I’m sure you’ve read of the scandal in the papers,” Devinski said. “Apparently they think you may have had something to do with it.”
Shin suddenly smiled. “I did, ma’am.”
At the rather blunt assertion, both tutors’ ears went straight up. “Explain,” Miss Blande said.
Shin proceeded to do exactly that, including telling them that she had sold to an intermediary what later appeared in the newspaper. There was no need (at present) to drag Beryl into this. “I had no idea at all what was in the package I gave to Inspector Stagg,” she concluded.
“But you could have guessed, from the contents of the first package,” Miss Blande pointed out.
“Very true, ma’am, but guesses are inadmissible as evidence under the Spontoon criminal code,” Shin replied.
Miss Blande looked at Devinski, who shook her head slightly. “First Beryl, then Nancy, and now you,” the older woman said to Shin. “One would think we were running a law school here.”
The red panda smiled. “In order to play the game, ma’am, you have to know the rules.”
Miss Devinski allowed herself the tiniest ghost of a smile in response. “Quite true. However, you are at least expected to steer clear of legal entanglements while you are a student here.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve been trying,” Shin said contritely. She knew better than to point out others who had been in trouble, and had even been in jail over the past year. At Songmark, one was expected to learn from the mistakes of others. “When am I expected before the Attorney General, ma’am?”
“Tomorrow, nine o’clock,” Miss Blande said. “There is a class scheduled for that period, and you will be expected to make up the work.”
“Yes, ma’am. May I be excused now? My dorm has rock climbing practice.” At Miss Devinski’s gesture the red panda left the office.
As soon as she well out of earshot she started to laugh quietly to herself. This should be fun, she thought.
The hearing room only held four people, and they were all seated around a conference table. Shin sat at one end of the table, her legs crossed demurely, her school uniform impeccably turned out and her fur meticulously brushed. Facing her at the other end of the table was a court stenographer, a star-nosed mole, and Attorney General Palu. “State your name for the record, please,” the goat said. Taking an oath was not required, since the witness would not be believed.
“Mrs. Wo Shin,” came the prompt reply.
“Where do you live, Mrs. Wo?”
“Songmark Aeronautical Boarding School for Young Ladies, on Eastern Island.”
A patient sigh. “And your permanent address?”
“Fort Bob, Krupmark Island.”
“Are you familiar with the recent events concerning former Chief Constable Pickering?” Palu asked.
Shin shrugged. “Only what I read in the newspapers.”
“We have testimony that you delivered a package to the SIC Detective Bureau on the date in question,” Palu said, consulting a sheaf of notes. “Is this your signature on the receipt?” he asked, holding out a sheet of paper.
“It is, yes.”
“Did you know what was in this package?”
Ears perked. “Why not?”
“I was instructed not to look.”
“Do you always do what you’re told, Mrs. Wo?”
A smile. “It depends on who’s telling me, sir.”
“And who told you not to open the package?”
“My father, sir.”
The questioning proceeded, and occasionally the goat would glance at the mole, who shook his head. The witness was telling the complete truth. Nearly an hour later, an angry tone had crept into the Attorney General’s voice.
“Mrs. Wo, do you mean to sit there and tell me that you have never done anything you’ve been ashamed of?”