© 2008 by Walter D. Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner and Chauncey Fleetik courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of Eric O. Costello. Thanks!)
(Keith Lawton and the Chang Brothers courtesy of John Urie. Thanks!)
“Good morning,” Rosie said cheerfully as she walked up to the patio gate.
Shin stood there, her features expressionless. She was dressed in light tan trousers and a matching blouse, her headfur drawn back and clasped in a barrette at the back of her head. Her tail had been carefully brushed.
There was no sign that she had three weapons of varying levels of lethality hidden on her.
“And all ready for work, I see. Good. I’ll admit I didn’t expect you to be here,” Rosie added.
The red panda smiled at the cheetah. Her eyes remained unreadable. “I honor my business deals. Where do you want me to start?”
“I thought about that. I planned on putting you in the back – washing dishes – but I’m afraid you’d end up killing my handyfurs and the cook.” She chuckled as Shin’s smile soured. “So you’ll be helping Vicky with the customers. That involves – “
“Taking their orders accurately, either in writing or by memory, serving quickly and show some respect.”
Rosie’s ears laid back. “You’ve done this before?”
A nod. “I waited tables at my family’s business on Krupmark. Then I dealt cards and tended bar. You have to do what you have to do.”
Yeah, I’ll just bet. “Okay. There’s a pad and a pencil on the counter. Let’s get started.”
Although the real reason for Speed Week was the actual Schneider Cup race, there were plenty of activities for the tourists to spend money on, from betting to taking part in various attractions.
There were wrestling matches, dance competitions, speedboat and motorcycle races (inspired, some said, by a celebrated duel the previous winter), and other activities. Of course, the race entrants themselves were a featured attraction as they put their planes through their paces. Rain Island offered tours of the Moon Island base and the Orca, prompting two of the other warships to follow suit.
The number of bar fights by sailors went up, reaching a high by Wednesday, and the Constabulary had their paws full for a while before the Naval Syndicate offered a transport barge as a floating jail. The offer was eagerly seized upon until the Australian and British commanders could reassert control over their subordinates.
The work was really very easy, and Shin twice caught herself actually enjoying it. Most of the customers to Luchow’s were tourists from the better hotels, or members of the race delegations. They could at least be counted on to keep their paws to themselves (unlike the usual customers at the Lucky Dragon).
Her first day had been a trial for her, working under the watchful and suspicious gazes of the cheetah and her regular waitress, a vixen who was reputedly good with a knife.
She resisted the temptation, although she’d been practicing.
The shocker came in the early evening when she glanced over at the small reserved table to see an almost nauseatingly familiar whitetail buck sitting there, glancing at a menu.
And the table was in her half of the patio.
Calling up all of her anger-management training she walked over to Stagg, forced a smile and managed to say, “Good evening. May I take your order?”
Inspector Stagg glanced up from his menu and took in the sight of the red panda standing before him.
Rosie had warned him beforepaw, so he was able to keep his expression carefully neutral.
He nodded in response to her question. “I will have the stuffed mushrooms, a green salad with tangerine vinaigrette, and a glass of ice water, please,” he said in his usual quiet, dry voice as he held the menu out to her.
“Yes, sir,” Shin said, taking the menu and walking back to the kitchen to place the order.
She noticed Rosie staring at her as she posted the order for the lepine cook. “Problem?”
The cheetah’s expression hardened. “Not yet.”
“What, you think I’m going to poison him?” The red panda snorted derisively. She scooped up a measure of ice cubes, picked a glass at random, filled the glass and added water from a pitcher. “That’d be pretty damned silly of me to try, wouldn’t it?” She took the glass of water out to Stagg, who acknowledged her service with a nod.
“Ya really think she’d try for him?” the vixen asked Rosie.
The cheetah shrugged. “For all I know, she’s got a bet down that she won’t.”
The next day Shin and Vicky were contending with the lunch crowd when a commotion erupted at the patio gate. Heads turned to see an elderly goat berating one of a coterie of six much younger furs who all held small leather portfolios bulging with papers. Shin could understand maybe one word in ten (most of it was in two languages she didn’t know, but recognized one as possibly German), but the feline he was yelling at was visibly wilting.
The goat turned and waved a paw in the direction of Eastern Island, and Shin felt her ears perk up.
She recognized him.
“Do you know who that is?” she asked Vicky.
The vixen growled, “Yeah, someone’s who cruising for a lump on his head. I’ll get rid of – “
“No. Wait, let me try first,” and the red panda walked off toward the goat, who was by now practically frothing at the mouth. “Excuse me?” she asked pleasantly.
He didn’t seem to notice.
“Hey, excuse me,” said in a louder, sharper tone.
“Hey, you Da Shabi!” she shouted, loudly enough that the goat actually paused in mid-tirade and glared at her. She matched his glare and said, “Doctor Kypriakos, if you’re done yelling there’s a table for you over there,” and she pointed, “so either have some lunch or shut the hell up!”
The man blinked at her, then a slow smile spread over his face. “Yes, young lady,” he said in slightly accented English. “We came for lunch, so we shall eat. Come, gentlemen,” and he followed Shin to the table.
She doled out menus and retreated to the small waiting area where Vicky stood, looking impressed despite herself.
“Well, you took care of that pretty good,” the vixen said. “Just who is that guy, anyway? Friend of the family?”
Shin shook her head. “I recognized him from my school textbooks. That’s Stavros Kypriakos.”
“And who’s he when he’s at home?”
The red panda chuckled. “He’s Rain Island’s chief airplane designer, an absolute genius if the books are right. Rain Island’s fielded their first-ever Cup racing plane this year, so he’s probably as nervous as a cat with puppies about now.”
“And I’m sure you have a bet on it.”
“Oh, I have several,” Shin assured her. “The British are supposed to be favored, but I like the look of the German plane so most of my bets are going there.”
Vicky blinked and looked at her curiously. “Wait a minute. Ya got enough money to bet?”
“Father gave me my allowance early.”
“So why are you still here? Why didn’t ya pay Rosie off and leave?”
Shin winked, grinned, and went to the table to take orders as the goat’s companions (probably either junior designers or actual students from Seathl) scribbled notes and argued among themselves.
Shin didn’t bother to tell either Rosie or Vicky why her continuing to work at Luchow’s suited her, and it went beyond simply honoring a business deal. How to explain such a civilized concept as ‘face’ to barbarians?
She had gained face by tweaking the cheetah, and lost some of it when making the deal for the pool table at the Double Lotus. Working for an enemy, without rancor or repercussions, would only gain her more face.
Reputation was essential.
Kypriakos noted the red panda looking over shoulders at various diagrams and sheets of calculations, and a bushy eyebrow quirked. “Young woman? Come here, please.” When she walked over he gave her his order and then asked, “You understand any of this?”
She decided that it was best to be courteous. “Yes, sir. There is a problem with airflow over a wing, there, and a power-to-weight ratio there,” and she pointed to two of the pieces of paper.
“And where are you a student?”
At the word the caprine’s eyes went a bit wider. “So. Thank you,” and he began to study a sheet of equations offered by a young canine.
Shin served the drinks, then the meals, while the group of Rain Islanders studied their papers and argued about some obscure point or other. Finally she walked back over to the table and placed a piece of paper on the table.
“Ah, the check,” the goat said. He picked up the paper and stared at it. “This is blank.”
“Yes. I paid for your lunch, Doctor.”
His eyes narrowed. “And what will you want in return?” he asked warily, obviously expecting her to ask him to join his class.
Shin smiled. “Your autograph, sir.”
Kypriakos stared at her for a moment, a paw reaching up to stroke the short beard at the end of his chin. After a few moments he chuckled, took out his fountain pen and signed his name to the paper, adding a flourish and the date before giving the autograph to Shin. “Thank you,” he said.
The red panda smiled widely at the autograph and put it in a pocket. “No, Doctor, thank you.” The autograph would be useful when giving her report to the Tutors at the end of the summer, as well as flaunting it in the faces of her fellow students.
Thinking of returning to school also reminded her that the Gallups were doing missionary work south of Spontoon, and were expecting her to pick them up at the end of the first week of September.
“Shin!” Rosie called out the next day as the red panda started setting up the patio for the breakfast crowd.
Shin looked at the older woman, then at the chair in her paws. Very slowly and deliberately she put the chair down and walked over to the cheetah who said, “Vicky tells me you had enough money to buy yourself out of having to work here. What gives? I know you’re not hanging around because of my great personality.”
The Chinese girl snickered. “I’m not. But like I told you, I honor my business deals, whether you believe it or not.” She shrugged, as Rosie’s expression was clearly disbelieving.
She chose not to tell the cheetah that, even if working for her had angered her, her eyes had remained open and she had taken notes on how Rosie ran Luchow’s. The notes might come in handy in revising her business plan.
“Well, you're paid up in full, so you're free to go. Any time now,” Rosie said, and busied herself in the kitchen.
Shin, grinning faintly, hung up her apron neatly and strolled out the door.
Her first stop was Eastern Island, where an avenue of flags led to the collection of hangars where the Schneider Cup racers were housed. The green and two-tone blue tricolor of Spontoon (pieced together by a schoolkit for a competition two years earlier) had pride of place.
A few of the planes were out while admiring crowds stood at a respectful distance and took pictures. A lot of interest was given to the Rain Island entry, and some wags were already calling it “The Flying Forest.”
Apart from the red and black-striped metal engine cowling and a few exposed struts and bracing wires, the plane was built of laminated Sitka spruce, sanded glass-smooth and varnished to an almost blindingly bright gloss. Kypriakos was there, looking over the plane and running his paws over the craft’s smooth, sleek lines.
The canopy wasn’t set too far back from the engine, like many racers. In fact, there were similarities between this plane and its immediate predecessor, the KV-9 fighter.
The silver German entrant, by contrast, was a massive plane that seemed to exude the same sort of confidence that her flight crew and pilot had etched on their muzzles.
Shin took a taxi to Casino Island, where she laid another bet on the German plane and then stopped at the temple to burn a few joss sticks.
“Shin! What happened? Did you finally kill her?” Fang asked cheerfully as she walked into the lobby of the Maha Kahuna.
“Ha, ha. No, you big lunk. I left, then went to look at some of the planes.”
“Well, at least you don’t have that hanging over your head,” and they kissed, his greater height forcing her to stand tiptoe to reach him. “Why don’t you go home and relax a while? I’ll be around a little later,” and the tiger winked.
Several minutes later his ears twitched as he heard her scream.
“Yes, dear?” he asked in a mild tone as he walked into their bungalow. She was standing in the bedroom, staring at the wall facing their bed and rage showing in every bit of her expression.
Finally she tried to speak. “Where – where did – “
The Fleetik original of her that had lately graced the pool table at the Double Lotus had been neatly framed and hung on the wall.
“Oh, that,” Fang said nonchalantly. The Manchurian tiger’s tail swished as he looked at the painting. “It was delivered after you left this morning. I thought you might like it here.”
“Look at it this way – where else would you want it to be? And, my darling ringtailed beauty, he really captured your face.” He seized her by the shoulders and pulled her up to him.
At first she struggled a bit, but then relaxed and melted into his kiss.
Finally she started to laugh. “You’re right.”
“Yeah. It’s no longer hanging over my head – it’s hanging on the wall.”