Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!)
“Ahem. I beg your pardon, sirs,” the manager of the Grand cleared his throat, and his quiet voice made Stagg and Brush stop as they crossed the hotel’s lobby. The fact that the rail-thin wolf had placed himself directly (but politely) in their path had helped. “I’m afraid I cannot allow you to leave.”
Stagg raised an eyebrow at that, while Brush’s hackles rose. “Oh yeah?” the fox asked. “I don’t see no army at yer back.” He subsided, bristling, as Stagg asked, “Why not, sir?”
The wolf gave a polite cough behind the back of one paw and gestured. “Our reputation would suffer significantly, sirs, if we were to allow you to leave our establishment looking like that,” he said.
The whitetail buck glanced down at the pastry filling and flakes of crust that still adorned his suit. “The reputation of the hotel as a whole, or the quality of its desserts?” Stagg asked.
“Our reputation, sir,” the wolf said, “as well as your own. It would simply not do to – “
“To have two Constabulary officers walk out of here looking like badly-frosted cakes,” Stagg finished, brushing at a bit of pie crust on his jacket. “Very well. What do you suggest?”
The wolf smiled – not ingratiatingly, but a genuinely pleasant smile. “We’ve had experience with this sort of thing before, gentlemen. Our laundry is at your disposal – as is a ground-floor room with shower.”
“All th’ comfort’s o’ home, hanh?” Brush said, finally brushing the cherry from his headfur.
“One ordinarily doesn’t find free service at a hotel for people who aren’t guests,” Stagg observed.
“Of course, sir,” the manager said smoothly, “but as I said, we’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before, and we promise fast and efficient service. Will you please come this way, and we can get your clothes cleaned while you wait.”
Stagg looked down at himself, then glanced at Brush. “Lead on . . . Mr. Lupino,” he said quietly.
The wolf almost visibly flinched, but recovered himself quickly and said, “I hoped you wouldn’t recognize me, Inspector.” He gave a little shrug. “Although, knowing you, it was a pretty vain thing to hope.
“Dan Lupino?” Brush asked skeptically. “I thought yez was runnin’ Shepherd’s.”
“Not until May first,” Lupino said. “After Mom died, well, the banks had a field day with the books. By the time the fur stopped flying, Shepherd’s was all I had left – and that was in receivership.” Another shrug. “I had to get a job somewhere, especially with a new wife and a cub on the way.”
“Wife and cub?” Stagg asked. “I take it, then, that - ?”
“A real shotgun wedding, Inspector,” the wolf replied. “It didn’t make the Society pages. Like I said, I had to get a job, and things like that make you grow up real fast.” He smiled suddenly. “It hasn’t been all bad, though. Angelica’s been wonderful, and little Tommy’s almost two. Ever seen a wolf with fur like a mink’s, Sergeant? He’ll break hearts when he’s old enough,” and he chuckled a bit shamefacedly.
Brush grinned, and Stagg said, “I shall make it a point to read the Business pages of the Elele to see when you take over ownership of Shepherd’s, Mr. Lupino, and I wish you the best of luck.” He gave a quiet smile. “Now, about that laundry service . . . “
Two hours later Stagg adjusted his cuffs and picked up his cane as he and Brush left the hotel. Lupino had been as good as his word regarding the service; their clothes were clean and pressed, and the small room they had been offered had included a shower. Brush had seen for the first time the network of burn scars marring the older buck’s fur, but kept any comments firmly to himself.
“I will have to say this about Miss Morgenstern,” Stagg said dryly as they walked to the water taxi rank, “she has excellent reflexes.”
“Good right cross with a pie, too,” Brush remarked. “Should we say somethin’ about it to their tutors, sir?”
“Based on their reputation, Sergeant, I think that they already know,” Stagg replied.
Shin held her peace and remained standing as still as possible later that day in Miss Windlesham’s office. Her dorm-mates stood on either side of her as the feline scowled at them. They had stopped at Mahanish’s, just a short distance outside the gates, to get cleaned up from lunch. They had tried to be discreet, but apparently a third-year had spotted them.
I’ll kill them, Shin promised herself. Just let me get my paws on them . . . She stifled the thought and kept a straight face as the tutor glared at her.
“Does anyone have an explanation for their behavior?” Miss Windlesham snapped. Shin nodded, and the feline said, “Yes, Shin?”
“Miss Windlesham, we were celebrating the fact that we are now licensed pilots,” Shin said, “and . . . “
“And you started throwing pies around the restaurant,” Miss Windlesham said curtly. “Quite the little Max Fennec production. All that would be missing would be the Fleastone Kops,” and the tutor arched a brow as Brigit blinked. The Irish setter was holding her muzzle firmly closed, as if trying to hold something in. “The manager of the hotel has said that no charges will be filed because there was no property damaged,” the older feline said, placing her paws on the desk.
“However, your behavior was less than exemplary, so you will be restricted for two weeks.” There was a collective drooping of tails as she added, “During that time, you will all have extra work and extra exercise to concentrate your enthusiasm on. Dismissed,” and Red Dorm left the office.
As soon as their door closed Brigit started to chuckle to herself. “What’s so funny?” Shin demanded.
It was a few moments before the Irish girl was able to talk; finally she said, “When she talked ‘bout th’ Fleastone Kops, all I could think of was th’ look on that buck’s face when Liberty hit him with th’ pie.” She giggled, and the red panda started to grin as Tatiana chuckled.
Finally all four of them started laughing, and Liberty remarked, “Well, it wasn’t much of a victory for the proletariat, but it – oh, to hell with it. I enjoyed it,” and she sat down on her bed, chuckling quietly to herself.
Shin gave a sigh and sat down next to Liberty. “I’m sorry,” she suddenly said, and as the others looked at her in surprise she added, “I didn’t mean to get you all in trouble. I just wanted to celebrate, and now here we are on restriction. Again.”
“We’re not expelled or arrested,” Tatiana said. “We will get through the restrictions.”
“She’s right, Shin,” Brigit chimed in, “so cheer up.”
“It’s just that I was looking forward to visiting Fang on South Island,” Shin said as she gathered her ringed tail into her lap and stroked the thick fur with a paw.
Peng-wum sat at a corner table in the Casino, watching the variety of furs enjoying the gambling while he sipped at a glass of whisky. He could understand why they gambled – life here on Krupmark was the epitome of gambling, since the stakes were sometimes literally life and death – but some of the games were so obviously dishonest. He knew the odds, which was why he almost never gambled.
“You’re looking a little down in the muzzle, Peng-wum,” Manny said as he slid into the seat beside the red panda. The otter looked rather pleased with himself. “Anything wrong?”
“Just thinking,” Peng-wum replied, taking another sip of the whisky. “You seem happy.”
“Luck’s on my side tonight,” Manny said. “Just won my third game at poker.”
“I’m glad,” Peng-wum said, reaching up to scratch behind one ear. One of the dealers spotted the motion and nodded. The otter wouldn’t be winning much after this. “I was just wondering how my wife and son are doing.”
“Wife and son?” Manny looked genuinely surprised. “I didn’t think you were married, Peng-wum. I mean, I don’t see no ring on your paw.”
The red panda smiled. “It wasn’t part of the ceremony,” and he explained what went on at his wedding. When he was done, his guest looked at him with an astounded expression.
“I just never picked you for a married man,” Manny said as a fight broke out beside the roulette table. The pair of furs fighting were a lean skunk who looked like he was recovering from mange and a feline wearing a pilot’s jacket. Manny and Peng-wum watched the fight until the bouncers, a pair of Cape buffalo who were cheap to feed but very expensive to clothe, waded into the fray. The fight abruptly ended, and the two unconscious furs were unceremoniously dragged out of the room. “Nice work by your bouncers,” the otter remarked. “What’ll happen to those two?”
“If they don’t wake up immediately, they might end up stripped naked before morning,” Peng-wum replied, shrugging. He smiled at his guest. “Nature, red in tooth and claw, is how things are run around here.”
“So I see. I’m going to try my paw at the poker tables again,” Manny said as he stood up. “Anything going on tomorrow?”
“You know how to swim, right?”
“Good. You might be taking a trip by water,” Peng-wum said, and smiled as Manny headed back to the games.
The red panda sat back and drained the last of his drink, then set the empty glass on the table. He realized, with a pang, that he was homesick for Pangai and for his wife’s embrace.
“Hao?” He looked up as his mother stood in the doorway of his room and beckoned to him with a paw. “Your father and I would like to talk with you.” He got up and followed her into his father’s office.
Hei smiled as his youngest child sat down. “Yung got in touch with us from Casino Island,” he said. “He finished your horoscope, and sent it on to Hong Kong.”
“That’s good news, Father,” Hao said. “How long should this take?”
“Good question,” Hei said. “Yung sent the horoscope to the best matchmaker in Hong Kong, a fellow named Chu Tse-ming. He has connections with some of the best families in Chinese, so we’ll just have to be patient. I doubt, though, that he’ll fail.”
“Because he never has,” Peng chuckled. “Chu has an immense reputation as a matchmaker, and any failure would be too great a loss of face. I know he’ll find someone suitable for you.”
“I hope so,” Hao said. “Peng-wum mentioned a pickup of some cargo, and wanted to know if I could take Manny with me. Do you have any objection, Father?”
Hei thought it over, then shook his head, his banded tail waving gently behind him. “I have no objections. Manny is a grown man, despite whatever opinion his father might have of him. Time to start showing him other aspects of the business.”
The letter from Don Carpanini that Manny had relayed to him was basically a letter of introduction, coupled with thanks for “taking him off my paws for a while.” From the tone of the letter, Hei thought that the American crime boss wouldn’t be too heartbroken at the news that his only son would not be coming home.
After another hour of conversation, in which some details of the upcoming trip were hammered out, Hao left the Ni & Sons building and paused, looking up at the Casino’s gaudy sign. Changing his mind, he headed down the road to the Beach and went into the Black Sheep House.
Using a matchmaker, a stranger, to find him a wife was still something new and unfamiliar. His mind seethed with questions, but he knew that a night spent at Madame Baader’s establishment would set his mind at ease.