The Boeing Model 80 slowly lined up on the Eastern Island runway, oriented itself and descended. Its wheels touched the surface, bounced twice, and settled down as the pilot throttled back the engine. The fabric-covered biplane was painted a riot of gaudy tropical colors that proclaimed it to be the property of Island Charters, a small concern that flew parties of tourists around the Spontoons and those neighboring islands big enough to have a landing strip.
Luck of the Dragon: Pilgrimage
© 2008 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Among the ten furs who had shared the passenger cabin were a young red panda woman and her husband, who had almost been too big to fit in the cabin and who had complained the entire trip from Mildendo Island. “My back’s killing me,” Wo Fang growled, putting his paws in the small of his back and arching backward. There was a series of popping sounds as his back realigned.
His wife snickered. “I’ll give you a back rub when we get home,” Wo Shin said. “Honestly, Fang, the plane wasn’t that bad.”
“Felt like it to me.” They gathered up their luggage and headed across the tarmac to the Customs shed.
Both of them had weapons. Since their vacation had been spent on Krupmark and at the only slightly less dangerous Mildendo, firearms were as essential as sunburn cream or swim suits. After making sure that the guns were safely put away, they stepped out into the bright summer sun.
“Another scorcher today,” Shin remarked as they started past the few rickshaw drivers and headed for the water taxis. “Will you have to go straight back to work?”
The Manchurian tiger winked. “Depends on what you want to do.”
“Well, I had thought of a nice, secluded beach, lots of shade and just the two of us.”
“Work can wait, then,” the big feline chuckled as they stepped into the waiting boat.
The taxi was less than a hundred yards from the dock when Shin sat up. “Hmm, that’s interesting.”
“What?” Fang craned his neck and squinted. “That New Haven girl? What’s she doing on South Island?”
“Waiting for us, apparently,” Shin replied as she waved and the half-coyote waved back.
As soon as the water taxi tied up Shin stepped over the gunwale and said, “Hi, Liberty! Come to give that black eye of yours a partner?”
At the definite reply the red panda flicked an ear. A slight motion of her fingers was copied by the New Haven woman, and she nodded. “Fang, let’s go get the house aired out, shall we?”
The tiger nodded. He had seen the signals as well, and knew what they signified.
Once they were inside the small bungalow Shin dropped her single suitcase by the kitchen table and said, “Okay, what’s going on, Liberty?”
“I . . . need a favor.”
There was a soft thump as the red panda’s thickly-furred tail hit the floor. “Excuse me? You want to ask me a favor? Have a seat and explain. Tea?”
Over tea she explained what was going on, and for several moments Shin just sat in thought. She looked over at her husband, who shrugged. “What do you want me to do?” Shin finally asked.
“Aren’t you going to put a price on it?” the New Havenite asked in a derisive tone.
“Tell me what you want done, first,” came the reply. “We can discuss my price later.”
“All right then. I want you to ask around – quietly – to confirm my theory that Comrade Trotsky is going to Hawai’i. And I will need help in getting there to protect him.”
“’Cause it’s a cinch New Haven won’t give you any money,” Fang commented, and he smiled at her as her ears laid back.
Shin sipped at her tea, then refilled the cup. “The cost of my help,” she said after a few moments, “is a favor. Redeemable at any time.”
Liberty raised a brow. “What’s the favor?”
“If I knew what it was, I’d tell you now,” the Chinese member of Red Dorm shot back. “That’s my price. Take it or leave it.”
Liberty thought it over as she looked into the depths of her teacup. The Chinese girl was a criminal and a money-grubber; what kind of favor should she want from New Haven? And what would the favor entail? “One condition.”
“That the favor doesn’t compromise the principles of the Revolution.”
Shin turned a dazzling smile on Liberty. “Why, Liberty, I’m glad that you brought that up. Done.” The two warily shook paws. “You’re better at bargaining than I thought.”
“I’ve been watching you.”
“Fair enough. I’ll talk to my older brother and see who we know in Honolulu and points south. Can you describe him?” She nodded as Liberty described Trotsky, and she stroked one cheekruff with a paw. “I’ll do what I can, then. But while we’re waiting, I have some mischief to take care of.”
“What? More trouble for that Rote girl?” Fang asked.
“No, we can torment her together during term.” She picked up her suitcase and opened it, pulling out a large roll of canvas that had been folded over. “’Voila,’ as Madeleine might say.”
She unrolled it and displayed it to her husband and the half-coyote. Fang studied the canvas and whistled. "Hmm! Cute girl. Who is she?"
"Yes, who is it?" Liberty asked.
Shin smiled. "Oh, that's right, you've probably never seen her. It's Stagg's girlfriend."
Her husband’s eyes went wide. "No kidding? Didn't think the old dried stick had any sap left in him."
"The old bastard's full of surprises," she agreed. Liberty just stared with a mixture of surprise and loathing on her face.
“Um, I think I will head back to the Embassy. Will you let me know, Shin?”
“Of course. I always hold up my end of a deal, Liberty.” After the New Havenite had gone Shin beckoned Fang closer and whispered in his ear.
He drew back, looked at her, and started laughing.
“Shin’ll help ye? That’s surprisin,’ considerin’ how ye near broke her jaw,” Brigit said later over lunch. Liberty had finally explained to her what the problem was.
“She almost cracked two of my ribs with that little Shaolin trick,” Liberty shot back, taking a drink of her ice water. “But she’ll ask some people.”
“Have ye thought o’ askin’ Tatiana?” Brigit asked. “If she’s in th’ NKVD, she ought – “
“No,” came the flat reply. “I’ve compromised myself enough by asking Stagg and Shin for help.” Inwardly the canine shuddered. She didn’t know what repelled her more – the fact that Stagg had a girlfriend, or the mental image of the two of them having sex.
Demons, after all, shouldn’t be like normal people.
The Irish setter put a fingertip to her chin and thought. “If I should go up ta Tatiana,” she said speculatively, “that’d no’ compromise ye, would it? ‘Twould be me, talkin’ ta a fellow Songmark student.”
How far can I go? I know my orders, but will the Nine . . . “Why do you want to help?”
“We’re Red Dorm, we are,” Brigit said.
“Nu, Trotsky may be in trouble? Too bad,” Tatiana Bryzov said with a flip of her paw. “It’d devastate Liberty, but it’ll be worth seeing the look on her face.”
The Irish member of their dorm nodded. “So?”
“So tell her answer is no.” The sable turned on her heel and walked away from the setter, headed for a taxi to take her back to Main Island.
“I should’ve expected it. Thanks anyway, Brigit.” Liberty looked at her paws. “Wish I’d strangled her when I had the chance.”
The Irish setter chuckled. “Then ye’d have had two black eyes – one from me as well as from Shin.” She laughed at the half-coyote’s sour smile. “We’ll have to see what Shin digs up.”
Shin left messages for both Brigit and Liberty to meet her the next day at a small restaurant in the Chinese quarter of Casino Island, ostensibly for lunch. When the two canines showed up, a waiter took note of them and showed them to a back room.
“Hi,” Shin said. “Have a seat.” She said something in Chinese to the waiter, who nodded and closed the door behind him. “Lunch will be a few minutes, we won’t be disturbed – and anyone who’s caught trying to listen in will have their ears cut off.
“First of all, Liberty, you’re right. He is headed for Hawai’i. A fur matching his description booked passage on a passenger freighter headed for Honolulu.”
The New Havenite nodded, her gaze intent as she listened to the red panda. “When is he scheduled to arrive there?”
“He left Vanirge two days ago. Figure he’ll arrive in Honolulu in about five more days, maybe a bit longer than that.” She smiled. “So, when do we leave?”
Liberty blinked. “We?”
“Sure. You’re going to need help, Liberty,” and she looked at Brigit, who nodded. “Never mind Tatiana for the moment. She’ll get what’s coming to her when we get back into class for our last year.”
“How did you know - ?”
“We have to get there fairly quickly, and discreetly. If someone’s after Trotsky we need to find out, preferably before he arrives. Ideas?”
“Clipper?” Brigit asked.
Shin laughed. “Clipper tickets are pretty steep, and it’s tourist season.”
The three of them subsided into gloomy silence as they thought over their options. Suddenly the Irish setter got up from the table. “Excuse me, I’ve an idea,” and left the room, leaving the red panda and the half-coyote looking at each other.
Lunch had arrived by the time Brigit returned, smiling widely. “Got it all set up,” she said.
Shin spooned some rice into her bowl, then a helping of stir-fried vegetables. “Do tell.”
“I saw an advert at the Union Hall,” Brigit explained. “A company’s lookin’ fer a relief pilot’r two an’ a couple cargo handlers fer a run down that way. Offer’s been open a few days.”
“What type of plane?” Liberty asked.
“One o’ them big-bellied Rain Island planes – a Pelican.”
“Well, I hope you put our names in for it,” Shin said.
Brigit looked at her coolly. “Ye wantin’ another beatin,’ Shin? ‘Course I did, so.”
“One beating a month is fine – and try that little stunt again and I will definitely break yours first,” the Chinese girl said evenly. The two studied each other for a moment. “Any idea what the cargo is?”
Brigit shook her head.
“What matters,” Liberty said, “is that now we have transportation to Hawai’i. Any idea who the assassins might be?”
“I owe my brothers part of my allowance,” the red panda grumbled, “but the usual professionals aren’t in on this. Which means secret police or amateurs.” She smiled unexpectedly. “I’m hoping for amateurs, personally.”
“They’d be less trouble,” Brigit agreed.
“Tatiana? Is something bothering you?”
“Ah. That means that something is bothering you, but you will tell me when you consider yourself ready.”
“Nu. It is like this . . . “
. . .“. . . I see. Tatiana, you know your own mind, of course. Whatever decision you make, I will support. However, do you not have a duty to your friends?”
“They are not my friends.”
“Well . . . “
“And you are collectively responsible for each other.”
“I hate it when you are right.”
The plane was easy to find, a Bosanquet B-2 Pelican transport seaplane that had been retired and sold off by the Naval Syndicate two years earlier. A broad wing for added lift, three engines for the requisite power and range, and a capacious hold for carrying either passengers or freight. It was painted a few dingy shades of gray and bore a sign proclaiming it to be part of Fast Eddie’s Delivery Service.
Finding the pilot proved to be another matter entirely.
The steward of the Pilot’s Union laughed heartily when the three young women entered the hall and asked to see the pilot. “Fast Eddie? Check around the bars by Jumpin’ Jimmy’s Joy Joint, if he ain’t dead yet – and tell him that he’s behind a year in his dues.”
“Jumpin’ Jimmy’s? Yech,” Shin spat as they walked out of the union hall. “Of all the places.”
“You shouldn’t have any trouble in a bordello, Shin,” Brigit observed.
Shin paused and gave the Irish setter a glance. “Brigit, you’ve been to the Lucky Dragon, right? Well, let me tell you something. Jimmy’s is practically the second-oldest bordello on Casino Island – and looks it. The only reason no one’s died of the pox or the clap at that joint is because the Althing rides herd on the girls and the management.”
“Who watches things at the Lucky Dragon, then?” Liberty asked, and Shin merely grumbled something about ‘proper precautions’ and not wanting to ‘be seen inside the competition.’
They hit paydirt at the fifth bar, moving outward from Jumpin’ Jimmy’s. It was a sleazy little hole in the wall with a faded sign saying that it belonged to Iron Balls, whoever that might have been.
Inside the air stank of smoke and musks and there was very little light as Shin waved for the bartender. “You seen Fast Eddie?” she asked.
“Why? You his wife or somethin’?” the barkeep, a scrawny feline, asked.
“No,” the red panda replied, “but I’ll pay half his bar tab if you point him out.” It looked like it hurt her to say it.
After giving her the tab and counting the money, the feline pointed. “He’s at the end of the bar, Toots,” and went back to serving watered whisky.
‘Fast Eddie’ turned out to be a slim but well-muscled red fox, dressed in faded denim jeans and a slightly threadbare plaid flannel shirt. He was asleep, slumped over the bar and snoring as he cradled a half-empty bottle in the crook of one arm.
“Brigit? It was your idea to sign up with him,” Shin said. “You wake him up.” She and Liberty fell back to guard her, wary for groping paws in the murky environment.
The Irish setter walked up to the fox, selected a spot on his flank just under his left arm, and poked him hard. “Here, ye sot, wake up!” she yelled in his ear.
At first there were no signs that she’d gotten through. Then the tenor of the tod’s snoring changed and he cuddled the bottle a bit tighter to him. She plucked the bottle from his grasp and poked him again, this time harder. “I said, wake up ye lout!”
Slowly, like a Zeppelin rising from its mooring mast, Fast Eddie’s head lifted off the counter, revealing that he had been drooling and lying in it. Smacking his lips he slowly turned to face the Irish setter, who grasped the bottle in her paw by its neck.
The fox reached out an unsteady paw and grabbed the shoulder of her shirt.
She got ready to break the bottle over his head.
He blinked, steadied himself, and promptly leaned forward, his head coming to rest between Brigit’s breasts as the others in the bar started laughing.
Brigit blushed furiously and blushed even more when she realized that both Liberty and Shin were also laughing at her. She was about to push the fox back when a tremor went through him.
His back arched and he vomited, his entire body convulsing as he emptied his stomach all the way down the front of Brigit’s shirt and spattering down her trousers and shoes. The smell was rank and acrid, and a few furs stepped out rather than feel their own gorges rise in sympathy.
Brigit, on the other paw, was stuck where she was as the fox held her shoulder, his head braced in her cleavage as his spasms became dry heaves.
Finally the storm passed; his head wobbled up, vomit still dripping from his muzzle and he said indistinctly, “Hi there, cutie.”
That was when she knocked him unconscious.
“Think he’s had enough yet?” Shin asked.
“Let’s ask him,” Liberty replied, and signaled to the water taxi driver to stop the boat in the middle of Hanamahina Bay. The half-coyote reached into the water and pulled the sputtering fox up by one shoulder. “Hey, you, have you had enough yet?”
“Huh? Wha? Yuh – yeah! Pull me in, okay?” the tod coughed. With the aid of the rope that had been tied around his chest and under his arms, Shin and Liberty hauled him into the water taxi as the driver restarted his engine and the taxi headed back to Eastern Island.
Fast Eddie coughed some more, then squinted up at Shin and Liberty. “Do you know where you are?” Liberty asked.
He looked from the half-coyote to the red panda, then closed his eyes.
“’M in Hell,” the fox muttered.
“I can see why you like avians so much,” Shin teased, “if you make canines vomit.” She giggled as Brigit crested at her. “Maybe later, girl. Right now we’ve got our pilot back – well, at least he can sign the papers – so we can get a delivery deal.” The cargo company had found another plane.
“Nothing illegal,” Liberty reminded her.
“Give me some credit, Morgenstern,” Shin said tartly. “Everything will be absolutely legitimate – not even Stagg will be able to find anything wrong with it.”