“I had to talk to a few people,” Shin said, “and they’re willing to take a chance on us.” She held out a bill of lading to Liberty. “Here, sign it.”
Luck of the Dragon: Pilgrimage
© 2008 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Sure. You’re listed as lead pilot, thanks to that drooling defective over there,” and she jerked a thumb at Fast Eddie. The fox was sitting against a dock piling with his eyes tightly closed, apparently quite unused to daylight. Shin winked. “Word of advice, for free – never sign anything when you’re drunk or hung over. You might end up regretting it.”
“I’ll remember that,” Liberty said as she carefully read over the contract, and looked over the cargo manifest. It was all very innocuous, perfectly legal.
It made her instantly suspicious.
“You the copilot?”
Shin shook her head. “Cargo handler. I need the practice for third year, but you and Brigit need the hours in the air for your logbooks.”
“You’re being awfully generous.”
“Oh, I expect to get some money back from this trip.”
“True, ‘tis a fact ye don’t get paid much, bein’ in a missionary position an’ all,” Brigit joked as Shin gave a wry smile at the jibe.
“Yeah, and there’s one problem with the missionary position all the time,” the Chinese girl said.
“What?” the setter asked, grinning.
Shin matched her expression. “It’s boring after a while.”
Heads turned and their laughter died as an accented voice called out, “Is there room for one other?” and Tatiana walked up, dodging the truck as it pulled away after offloading the plane’s cargo.
“You?” Liberty said. “What are you doing here, Bryzov? Come to gloat?”
“Nyet,” the sable replied. “I – I want to go with you.”
“What, to save Comrade Trotsky?” The half-coyote’s tone was derisive.
“No, to help you save him. Look, we are Red Dorm, and responsible for each other. You know as well as I that the Tutors will demand reports after the summer.” She shrugged. “Besides, if you all die doing this, I shall lose points.”
“We die – you lose points. That certainly sounds fair,” Shin said sarcastically. “C’mon, you can help us get this tub loaded.”
August 4, 1937:
The four of them took turns navigating, bickering over their sums until a consensus had been reached. Nevertheless, they made good time and raised the island of Oahu on schedule. Apart from a two-hour turn at the controls, Shin was true to her word about letting others share the flight time.
The others suspected that she was going to dwell on this fact when the end-of-summer reports were filed at school.
Brigit was still grumbling, having found out that nearly a week earlier some of her countryfurs had tried to kill the brother of the British King-Emperor and had failed. “Some furs have all th’ luck,” she would mutter through clenched teeth.
Their erstwhile employer had been content to stay in the cargo hold, his ears firmly plugged as he slept off the remnants of his hangover. He was part of the cargo handler’s job, making sure the fox didn’t suddenly start thrashing around in the DTs and unbalance the plane.
Brigit was at the controls and Liberty was in the copilot’s seat as the plane eased into its landing approach. “The tower reports that you shouldn’t have any trouble,” the half-coyote told the Irish setter.
“’Tis a fair day, ta be sure,” Brigit said as she set the big plane down gently. It skipped twice before settling in the water, and she cut the throttles down to idle as they waited for a towboat. “Have ye given any thought as to how ta find him, now that we’re here?” she asked as Shin and Tatiana clambered out onto the bow to secure the tow ropes.
“One or two ideas,” Liberty said. “I’ve been here before.”
“Have ye now?”
“Yes. I had to get to Spontoon somehow, you know.”
“I’d think ye’d prefer ta come through Rain Island. Sure an’ they’re good Socialists – oh, I forgot.”
“Right. They’re what you’d call heretics.”
Hawai’i was not Spontoon, so there were no pilot’s longhouses for short stays. The two rented rooms (not the best, with a connecting bathroom) at a small hotel near Honolulu’s red-light district would have to do.
One room was solely for Fast Eddie, with the doors locked from the outside.
“Okay, we’re here,” Shin said. “Now what, Liberty?”
“We have to find him. If the ship he’s on hasn’t come in yet, we wait.”
“And if he has come in?” Tatiana asked.
“Then I make a phone call or two,” the New Havenite replied. “The Revolution has friends here.”
“How is that possible?” Tatiana asked.
“There are some on these islands, native-born, who never wanted the Yankees here,” Shin interposed, Liberty nodding agreement. “They want their King back on his throne.”
“Krupmark does business with them?”
Shin put her best poker face on. “Maybe,” she replied.
The shipping office at the port of Honolulu was helpful, and the harbormaster’s office reported that the Vanirge-registered freighter Asni was scheduled to dock early the next morning, around 2 AM.
“Well, that gives us some time, at least,” Tatiana said as they walked down the main street in the city. “I think we should eat and get some rest.” The others nodded and she added, “How about that restaurant there?” and she pointed to the intersection of Bethel and King Streets.
The sign over the door read The Elm Street, and its façade was glass and dark wood that seemed a bit out of place in the tropical environment.
In fact quite a bit, and deliberately, out of place.
“Looks like a good spot,” Shin observed. “Of course, it’s not Chinatown,” and she raised her nose to sniff at the scents coming from only a few blocks away, “but I’m with you, Tatiana. Brigit? Liberty?”
“So long as they have somethin’ in their wettin’ house,” Brigit said.
Liberty shook her head. “I’ll go elsewhere.”
“Why? Know something we don’t?”
“Yes. I’m not going in there.”
The half-coyote grimaced. “You’ll find out. I’m not setting foot in there,” and she walked off.
The red panda flicked the tip of her banded tail. “Let’s see what’s got her tail twisted,” and the three crossed the street.
At their first sight of the restaurant’s interior all three of them understood Liberty’s reluctance.
Or, perhaps, repugnance.
From floor to ceiling the place was crammed with memorabilia and relics from New Haven. Here, a theater poster. There, some advertising signs. In one backlit glass case, there was a complete uniform from the Great War-era New Haven Flying Corps and next to it was a recruiting poster, showing a square-jawed squirrel in the same type of uniform: “Defending the Right of Small Nations against the Might of the Large.”
“I can see why this place would make Liberty foam at the mouth,” Tatiana remarked as a waiter dressed in a white shirt and sharply-creased black trousers seated them in a high-backed booth and passed out menus. “Look to your right, Shin.”
The red panda looked, and started laughing.
Hanging on the wall was a framed front page of a tabloid newspaper (the New Haven Star) bearing a picture. A canine was being led away in pawcuffs by a ramrod-straight, poker-faced deer in plainclothes as the headline proclaimed Red Fist Fingered – Nutella Killers Captured.
The picture’s caption identified the cervine as Chief Inspector F. J. Stagg of the New Haven State Police.
“Huh!” Shin said when she stopped laughing. “He looked better back then – see how his antlers are straighter?”
Tatiana glanced up from her menu. “I’d heard the Red Fist sawed them off, after they caught him.”
“Really? Bet that must’ve hurt,” Shin smirked.
“Hello, ladies! Can Ah getcha anythin’ ta drink?” Three sets of eyes turned as a smiling waiter came to a stop by their table. The coyote was broad-shouldered, almost to the point of straining against his shirt buttons, and his cheerfully wagging tail indicated that he was genuinely glad to see them.
Brigit shifted in her seat. “Sweet Mary o’ th’ Isles, I thought someone’d want us ta die o’ thirst. What have ye got?”
“Hull’s India Pale Ale, Hull’s Pilsner, and Hull’s Milk Stout, Miss. All brewed on the premises.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Shin observed, eyeing an advertising poster. “I’d imagine shipments from New Haven have fallen behind a bit.”
The coyote gave an easy grin. “You’d be right. So, what’ll it be?”
The three looked at each other; Brigit replied, “Two pitchers o’ Pilsner – one fer me, an’ th’ other fer th’ two o’ ye,” she added with a grin at the red panda and the sable.
After taking orders for soup and main courses, the waiter turned away, and bent to retrieve a discarded napkin. The sight was enough to make even Tatiana’s tail twitch, while Brigit seemed to have some difficulty keeping her own tail from imitating a native drummer against the wooden bench. “Mm,” the Irish setter murmured, “so round, so firm – “
“ – so fully packed – “ Shin observed.
“ – so easy on the draw,” Tatiana said with a toothy smile.
After the beer arrived they looked around while they drank and waited on their meals, Brigit cheerfully disregarding Tatiana’s admonition not to get so drunk that she’d fail to help out later. The atmosphere in the restaurant seemed sentimental, with some furs getting up to wander around and look at the memorabilia with wistful or mournful expressions.
Their main courses arrived after they’d had time to enjoy the soup, and after puzzling out how to approach a white clam pizza Shin judged it “acceptable” and started eating. Tatiana was making short work of her crab rolls and Brigit was silent as she ate her hamburger sandwiches.
Shin finished her meal and gave a soft belch. Sipping at the last of her beer she looked around again. “I think I agree with Liberty.”
“Well, that’s a first time fer ever’thin.’ Turnin’ revolutionary on us, Shin?”
“No. I agree with her about this place, but not in the same way.”
The bill was paid (with a substantial tip for the waiter, whose name was Andy; Brigit wrote the name down “in case I’m down this way again”) and the trio separated after agreeing to rendezvous back at their hotel in time to get some rest before the Asni arrived.
A few hours later Liberty, Tatiana and Brigit looked up from their game of Revolution Rummy as Shin opened the door. “Where have you been?” the New Havenite asked.
“Just walking around the red light district here,” Shin replied, and pulled a small notebook from a pocket. “It always helps to keep track of what the competition’s up to. I’ll send my notes to my mother when we get back to Spontoon.” The Chinese girl yawned. “How’s Fast Eddie?”
“Got some food in him,” Tatiana replied as she shuffled the cards. “He’ll live until we get back, I guess.”
“Hey! Wake up, Brigit!” The Irish setter blinked awake and yawned as Tatiana kicked the bed frame again. “I warned you about drinking so much beer.”
“Beer’s nothing,” the Irish girl declared as she sat up and started pulling on her clothes. “When we’re done here, show me some whisky an’ then ye’ll see me drunk. What time is it?”
“Just after midnight,” Shin replied. “The ship docks at Pier Three.” She glanced at Liberty and said, “I think that Liberty should take over for the rest of the operation. It’s her job, after all.”
The half-coyote looked startled as Tatiana considered, and said, “I agree.”
“Aye,” Brigit said. “Ye’re th’ leader,” she told the New Havenite.
The other Red Dorm canine nodded and after a moment’s thought said, “Okay. I think we should go down to the pier and scout out the place. We’ll rely on the skills we’ve been taught instead of weapons.”
“Those won’t stop bullets,” Shin remarked, “unless Tatiana’s learned a few new tricks.” She chuckled as the sable good-humoredly shook her head in the negative.
“Scoutin’ ‘round’s a good idea. If m’brother Eamon had done it, he’d not be in Dublin Gaol right now.”
The alarm clock rang, and a paw reached out to silence it.
One o’clock, AM.
The assassin got out of bed and took his time getting ready; nondescript clothes suited to the warm tropical night and serviceable shoes that would be useful if he had to make a break for it.
The weapon he was going to use had been disassembled and cleaned before he had taken his nap, and now he started putting it back together. It was a .38-caliber revolver, and while it would make a lot of noise when it was fired, he hoped that in a noisy dockyard setting very few people would notice.
As he loaded it he reviewed his plan.
A total of four rounds would be used to dispatch the target, two in the heart and two in the head to make certain that the equine would die. The other two rounds were insurance in case any nosy parkers happened by.
A final check of the clock, and the assassin slipped the weapon into a pocket of the light jacket he wore before he walked out of his hotel room into the night.