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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!)
Attorney General Palu glowered at Shin. “Are you aware, young lady, that Inspector Stagg is currently taking a rest outside of our borders because of those papers?” he asked.
The red panda’s eyes widened. “Really? I certainly hope that he makes a full recovery,” she said earnestly. “He seemed like such a pleasant old thing, a true gentleman.”
The goat grumbled. The interview was not going well at all, apart from establishing the chain of events that led to the scandal. He tapped the stack of documents and photographs as he growled, “This is what sent him off sick, and I can't help but think that you intended that, young lady."
Shin sat up straighter in her seat, her paws firmly in her lap as she asserted control over her anger. “Sir,” she said stiffly, choosing her words carefully, “I swear to you that I never intended, and do not intend, any harm or distress to Inspector Stagg. I have encountered him exactly twice, and have both times come away with a favorable impression of him. I acted as my father instructed me, no more and no less.”
The mole thought her statement over for a few minutes, then looked at Palu. “She tells the truth,” he said softly.
Palu threw up his paws. “We’re done here. Mrs. Wo, thank you for your time. You may go.” The red panda rose, smiled and left the room as Palu studied the stenographer’s transcript. He snorted. “I’d never be able to get an indictment from any of this, let alone an arrest,” he said in a defeated tone as he rubbed his eyes.
Only after she was well out of the courthouse and on a water taxi back to Eastern Island did Shin take a deep breath and relax. Her thick banded tail swished and an easygoing smile slowly came to her muzzle. She hadn’t expected it to be so easy to fool a mole like that. Sincerity, then, was an important key.
She checked her watch and was mildly concerned to note that it was almost lunchtime. She would have to study harder and make up the class she had missed as a result of her deposition, but that would not bother her.
As she was eating lunch Miss Blande walked over to her table. Shin sat up as the older woman said, “Good to see that you’ve returned. Report to the hangar with the rest of your dorm after lunch, dressed more appropriately.” She walked away before Shin could say a word, and she made faster headway through her poi after adding a bit of soy sauce. Even as she was swallowing the last spoonful, she headed upstairs and changed into her coveralls, wrinkling her nose at the ingrained smells of oil and other fluids, and jogged out to the hangars.
The rest of her dorm was already out there, and they gave her curious looks as she fell in beside them. Shin gave a tiny shrug, a flick of her tail telling them that she would explain later. She had started teaching them the basics of the nonverbal code she liked to use for certain business transactions. “Well, since we’re all here now,” Miss Windlesham said in her usual brisk tone, “we’ll be flying today, so I want you to perform all the necessary preflight inspections of your planes.” She stepped back, and the four girls scattered to the Tiger Moth biplanes.
After half a minute, Liberty and Tatiana hissed the word “Sabotage” almost simultaneously. All of the planes had been tampered with in some manner. Shin found a landing gear strut loosened, but inspected the rest of the aircraft before getting out the tool box. A rudder wire was loose, and so were two small but important fittings in the engine.
She wiped her grimy paws on her coverall, and went to get the tools she needed. One wrench she needed was missing, and she looked around to see Liberty using it.
The red panda walked over to the half-coyote. “How long are you going to need that?” she asked, pointing at the wrench.
Liberty looked up from the magneto she was tightening. “A couple minutes,” she replied gruffly.
“Anything I can help you with?” At the question the canine paused, looked at her and said, “You’ve got the wrench I need for the oil plug. If you tighten it, I’ll help you with yours.”
“Sounds good,” Shin said as she started to reach into the plane’s engine.
The pair of them worked on each other’s planes, then inspected them again to make certain that they were sound and ready to fly. Brigit and Tatiana did the same, and Miss Windlesham nodded approvingly when they were done. “Good,” she said. “Now, let’s fly, shall we?”
The class spent most of the afternoon flying, and after refueling and servicing the planes Miss Windlesham told them, “It’s almost time for dinner. Be back here as soon as you’re finished.”
Brigit was the Red Dorm leader for the day, and she raised a paw. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” she said, “but it’ll be dark soon.”
“Will it?” Their tutor looked amused. “Then you’ll have to fly in the dark.” She dismissed them then, and Red Dorm looked at each other, then headed back to Songmark.
Later that night, Shin was brushing out her tail after her shower. Night flying was definitely a lot trickier than flying during daylight, and she had relished the opportunity. She put her furbrushes away and turned to see the other three members of Red Dorm looking at her interestedly. Tatiana asked, “So, what happened, Shin?”
“Yeah,” Liberty chimed in. “You’re still here, so you didn’t get arrested.”
The red panda chuckled at the New Havenite, then explained what had gone on. All of them laughed when Shin told them about the goat’s reaction to her not having been ashamed about anything. “There was nothing they could pin on me,” she said reasonably, “because all I did was deliver some papers to the Constabulary. They can’t even pin anything on Beryl, which is a shame,” she added with a sly grin. “I haven’t had so much fun since I tried to convince the tutors to let me shoot off fireworks on the school grounds for the New Year.” Shin’s idea of ‘fireworks’ – setting off dynamite in a certain first-year dorm – might have appealed to Molly, but not to the staff.
“All the cops were trying to do was figure out exactly what happened,” she explained. “Police like that kind of thing – everything nice and neat.” She stretched and yawned.
“An’ o’ course ye know enough o’ th’ law here ta skip through without a scratch,” Brigit pointed out, and all four laughed.
“Bring the prisoner in,” Magistrate Cockerel said quietly a week later, and a hush fell over the reporters and spectators in the courtroom as a sergeant escorted the fur into the dock. After showing the fox to his seat, the sergeant took up a position behind him.
Abel Pickering sat slouched forward and staring at the pawcuffs that restrained him. Since his arrest the Constabulary had been forced to put him in solitary in order to keep other prisoners from trying to kill him. Of course, that hadn’t prevented his erstwhile attackers from regaling him throughout the long nights with stories of what they would do to him if they had the chance. As a result his eyes were red and puffy, and he looked disheveled from the lack of sleep.
His clothes were a far cry from the usually spruce uniform most people were accustomed to seeing on him. All of his property had been burned and his bank account emptied by his wife shortly before she left the country for America, so he was forced to accept clothes from the Constabulary’s abandoned property bin. Because of this, he hardly cut a dashing figure in a shapeless beige linen suit that was a size too big for him, and the mismatched shoes – one black, the other brown - seemed to cause him some discomfort while walking. The wardrobe also lacked a belt, tie, suspenders or even shoelaces, in case the fox decided to use them in an attempt to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Magistrate Cockerel cocked an eye at Pickering’s court-appointed attorney. Thomas Vison stood and glared disapprovingly at the fox, the mink having been ordered by the Court to take the former Chief’s case without any compensation. “Your Honor, my client has been offered a deal by the Attorney General, and has accepted,” he said.
“I see.” The rooster flipped through a few pages of the brief. “Hrrm, it says here that in exchange for a guilty plea the Althing will drop the official misconduct and misuse of official position charges, and all but the ten most egregious of the embezzlement charges. Apparently,” he said, “the Althing wants this cleared away as quickly as possible, for the sake of all concerned.” He glanced at the prosecutor, who nodded, and he looked at Vison. “Is your client ready to make his plea?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” and the mink gestured at Pickering to stand up.
The fox stood as the hush in the courtroom deepened, and the chain connecting his pawcuffs clinked as his paws gripped the railing of the dock. “Arthur Abel Pickering,” the Magistrate intoned, “this Court is prepared to hear your plea.”
Pickering swallowed and slowly straightened up. “I wish to plead guilty, Your Honor,” he said in a subdued but clear tone. “I was an idiot, and I – I’ve made a mess of everything. My life, my career, my reputation. If – if I could take it all back, I would,” he said, his voice breaking at the last word. There was a little silence as he regained his composure, and he said, “I will accept whatever punishment the Court sees fit to impose.” He sat back down, looking down at his paws.
Cockerel nodded, and rustled his papers as the prosecutor and Vison stepped forward to confer at the bench. One of the reporters in the room coughed as the two lawyers nodded and stepped back. Vison motioned for Pickering to stand, and the fox complied.
“Arthur Abel Pickering,” the magistrate said, “in accordance with the plea agreement made between you and the Althing, this Court sentences you to a term of imprisonment not to exceed ten years, to be served at the Prince Kropotkin Penitentiary. These proceedings are closed.” He raised and dropped his gavel, and the constable sergeant stepped up to escort Pickering back to his cell.
Vison watched him go, then turned to the prosecutor and said, “There but for the grace of God, eh?”
The canine nodded.
Sergeant Hai Wei locked the convict back up, ignoring the hoots and catcalls from the other prisoners as they variously taunted and threatened Pickering. One stuck a paw out, trying to grab at the Shar Pei. The sergeant took hold of the man’s paw and twisted the wrist slightly while still walking down the hall until the fur in the cell started to cry out in pain, his arm bent at an awkward angle through the bars of his cell. Hai released the paw and said, “Keep them to yourself from now on, okay? That’s how you ended up in here in the first place.”
“Sorry, Sarge,” the offending fur said, massaging feeling back into his arm and wrist.
The sergeant finished his shift and took a water taxi home to Casino Island. On his way to a small restaurant, he paused at the entrance to a temple, then walked in. There, before tablets representing the Celestial Trio, he burned several joss sticks and prayed, both for himself and for the fox sitting forlornly in the jail. It seemed the right thing to do.
After dinner, he went to his apartment and changed into civilian clothes before heading into the warehouse district. He walked into the office of the island’s Businessman’s Association and said to the man behind a counter, “I wish to make a complaint.” He took care to say it in the Fukienese dialect, and his claws tapped on the counter nervously.
The mouse nodded, saying in the same dialect, “This way, sir.” The two stepped into a back room, where the mouse showed the canine to a table, then left.
Another mouse stepped forward and offered tea, which Hai accepted, and as he sipped a voice asked, “What troubles you, Wei?”
There was another in the room, sensed more than seen or scented. The Shar Pei savored his tea before replying, “The former Chief Constable was sentenced today. He received ten years.”
“A sad thing.” A shifting sound; apparently the figure was of some bulk. “Bad joss to have a policefur, and someone so high, laid so low.”
“Yes.” He sipped again at his tea, sensing that the figure had left. When he finished his tea, he walked out of the building and into the mild evening. The information, while nothing earth-shattering, would certainly have some value to the furs that he was bound to by blood and by oath. If they moved quickly enough, it might reach Krupmark the same time as copies of the newspapers, and would surely reach Hong Kong within a day.
A short spell of warm weather descended on Krupmark Island, bringing with it the early blooming of flowers and a flurry of early spring cleaning. Bedding and linens flew like flags from the roofs and windows of the various houses on the Beach as they were cleaned and aired out.
The mellow seasonal weather wasn’t the only thing making Ni Hei smile that morning. He had just come from Fort Bob and a meeting with his patron, Shen Jintao. The wolf had praised the red panda for his initiative in sending Inspector Stagg a parcel of incriminating documents that brought down the Chief Constable. “We are watching, Honored Ni,” Shen had told him in parting. “You have come far in the past several years.”
Hei had smiled. He intended to go farther.
He sat down at his desk and slit open the envelope that had reached him the previous night from Peng-wum. Inside was a packet of papers concerning one Brigit Deirdre Catherine Mulvaney, and included most of the dossier kept on her by Spontoon’s Interior Ministry.
She was a third-generation Irish nationalist, he noted, who had been sent to Songmark about two steps ahead of being caged for life in a type of convent. He glanced over some of the reports of her exploits in Ireland, and snorted softly.
He also noted that she was very strongly Catholic, although not militantly so.
Hei put the papers down and scowled in thought.