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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter D. Reimer
©2003 by Walter D. Reimer
Bright sunlight threw slivers of light and shadow across the hardwood floor through the half-open blinds as Hao stirred awake. He groaned, rolled over and sat up, the sheets pooling around his waist. As usual, his fur had gone in every direction, matted into weird whorls and stiff patches. His ears were always the worst after a sound night’s sleep; the white fur on their fronts was matted, while the russet fur behind the ears stuck straight out behind his head. Hao shook himself, blinked at the light coming through the windows, then stared at the bedside clock. It was approaching lunchtime, so he groaned and headed for the bathroom.
An hour, a bath and a lightweight cotton suit later, he was having lunch on the hotel’s veranda when he saw the slim canine woman seated nearby. She was pretty, looking slimmer and shorter than a greyhound – possibly a whippet, lustrous long dark headfur, body-fur just a shade lighter and deep brown eyes. She was dressed in a light cream sundress, with a matching broad-brimmed hat resting on an adjoining chair. As he watched she gestured for a white-jacketed waiter in a grass skirt, spoke a few words Hao couldn’t catch, then returned to studying her menu. The loud braying of a ship’s horn caught his attention.
The hotel had a view of the harbor, and he saw tugs guiding a cruise ship into dock. He shaded his eyes with a paw and smiled as he made out the ship’s silhouette. The S.S. Lahaina Roads was the brand-new pride of the Matsen Line, full of tourists from California and Hawaii. His muzzle widened in a grin as he thought of all the money those tourists would bring to the casinos and restaurants, with some of his family’s businesses getting a share as well. He stretched, his dark-banded tail flicking back and forth. The police would be out in force, so a random pocket-picking or purse snatching was out of the question. The last thing he wanted to do was irritate his father further.
Hao glanced up as the waiter placed a chilled rum punch at his table. He frowned up at the feline, who smiled and jerked his head toward the whippet woman. She smiled at Hao and raised her glass.
The red panda grinned back, and slipped the waiter a five-dollar bill. He picked up his drink and stood, then walked over to where she sat. “Thank you for the drink,” he said in a pleasant tone before sipping from the concoction.
“You’re very welcome,” she replied in soft, accented English. One of his furry ears dipped slightly as he tried to recall where he had heard her accent before, but he liked her forwardness – and the drink. “My name’s Ni Hao,” he said, bowing just slightly. Straightening he said, “I didn’t catch your name, Miss - ?”
“Arroyo,” she said with a smile. “Pilar Arroyo.” She extended a paw and he shook it gently. “I’ve only been here a few days,” she admitted, a shy smile still wreathing her muzzle, “and you seemed a friendly sort.”
Hao’s tail rose, its tip draping over one shoulder as he replied, “I try to be friendly; it saves a great deal of trouble. You say you’ve only been here a few days, Miss Arroyo? There’s quite a lot to see here on Spontoon.”
“I’m not really interested in wandering around with a lot of fat Americans,” she said lightly, “and please, call me Pilar, Hao.” The white patches over Hao’s eyes rose. Wherever this woman was from, she knew that Chinese names were last name first. “Well,” he chuckled, “what would really interest you, Pilar? There is a museum of sorts, over on Meeting Island.”
Pilar chuckled, her large ears flapping slightly. “Museums aren’t my style,” she said. “I didn’t come all the way from Manila to look at dusty artifacts or tramp around old ruins. I want to try my paw at some of the casinos.”
Hao grinned, thinking as he took another sip of the rum punch. Manila, eh? Now he knew where he had heard that accent before; she did, in fact, look Filipino, almost stereotypically so. And she was interested in gambling. Well, well, well … “I live on Kuo Han,” he said smoothly, “and I come here on vacation from time to time. I could show you around.” He smiled as he made the offer.
The young woman laughed. “I’d be glad for the company, Hao.” He scrambled to take her chair as she started to stand up, and she picked up her hat and a small clutch purse that had been under the hat. “Where shall we start?”
* * *
A Saunders flying boat sideslipped as it descended then splashed as it met the waters of the seaplane lane and started to slow down. The towboat chugged out to meet it as another flying boat circled overhead, patiently waiting its chance to land. The circling plane was painted in brilliant white, the biplane wings and its boat hull yellow, and the cowling around its single Pratt and Whitney ‘Wasp” engine was blue. The boat hull of the seaplane was enclosed to hold as many as six people comfortably. Stylized Chinese dragons emblazoned its bow.
In the copilot’s chair, Hao’s assistant Hank (looking well-cleaned and far better dressed) picked up the radio microphone. “GFK-1 to Spontoon Control,” he said peevishly, “are you going to give us clearance or do we have to ditch? Over.”
There was a pause, probably while the control tower crew laughed, then a voice spat from the speakers, “GFK-1, slight headwind and almost no chop in the lane. Coast patrol reports no debris, and as for ditching, you can stay up there till your fur falls out if you want. You’re next in line, and remember that if you have any more remarks to offer, it’ll cost you more when the tow boat comes for you.” The fox grimaced, then double-clicked the microphone key to send a bare acknowledgment. Putting it back in its bracket, he looked at the pilot and said, “Not a word.”
Gleaming white tiger teeth flashed in a grin as Wo Fang banked the Keystone-Loening K-85 around again. As he settled the plane into its descent path, he remarked, “One of these days, Hank, you’ll get more than a black eye from one of those tower jockeys.” He adjusted the K-85’s trim slightly, and growled as the step of the plane’s hull made contact with the water. Spray flew up, almost obscuring the view from the windshield as the sound of the seaplane slowing to a taxi speed thundered through the hull. Fang grinned again as Hank said sullenly, “They’re too damn bossy, Fang. Just because they have their pilot’s licenses they think they can – “
“Not that again, Hank. You know perfectly well that you lost your license last year because you crashed that plane deliberately, just to make a point,” the tiger said, his long tail flicking as he throttled the engine back to idle. “Hell, I wouldn’t let you fly any more; what makes you think anyone else will?”
Hank glared, and he bared his teeth as his tail started to fluff out. Despite the difference in their relative sizes, he wanted to fight Wo Fang, regardless of the fact that the bigger tiger could kill him. Fang gestured with a paw before the fox could say or do anything else. “Go forward and get ready to make fast; the towboat’s coming.” He watched with a slight smirk as the fox clambered out of the cockpit to perch on the bow.
The towboat chugged out to meet the Keystone, Hank caught the thrown rope and wrapped it around the bow cleat and braced against the windshield as the seaplane was towed to the dockside.
As the towboat pulled the seaplane over to the dock, Wo Fang shut down the engine and sat back, glancing back toward the passenger cabin. It was a collection of soft cushions and fabrics, designed for the comfort of the owners and not for cargo or paying passengers. Lace curtains hung over the small, porthole-like windows, and a small but ornate hanging lamp swung in time to the waves as the plane rocked.
The plane was made fast and the tiger joined the fox on the dock. “Where is she?” Hank asked in an irritated tone.
“Dunno,” Fang shrugged. “She’ll turn up,” and he smiled
as he heard a ukulele band start up. “There’s a hula show going on
over there,” he remarked after craning his neck. “Let’s go watch
the girls while we wait.”
The dancers were a “Traditional” troupe from Meeting Island, and drew a very appreciative audience of camera-toting tourists whose chattering sometimes seemed loud enough to drown out some of the music. Wo Fang chuckled at times at the scattered ribald comments, and he smiled as Hank relieved one fat canine in a Filipino guayabera shirt of his wallet.
A tap on his shoulder made him look behind him, and his teeth bared in a dazzling smile as he saw a slim, short red panda girl smiling up at him. “Hey, are you going to let a girl watch the dance, or will I have to be content with the music?” she asked in mock indignation. She was wearing a watered silk sundress with a bright flower pattern.
“Shin!” Wo Fang said as his large paws scooped the girl up and into his arms. Ni Shin whooped and giggled as she was lifted, then sighed as they kissed.
As he set her on her feet again she said, “I’ve been looking all over for you and Hank, and where do I find you? Ogling the dancers.”
“Guilty,” Fang said, and they started laughing. “Come on,” Shin said, “I’ve got work for you two.” She led the two away from the dance exhibit, even as a certain canine started casting about for his missing wallet.
As they walked away from the tourist areas and toward the warehouse district, Fang said, “You look well, my dear. You’ve been successful in your shopping trip, I take it?”
Shin smiled, her banded tail held confidently. “Very successful,” she replied, “but not so that it won’t all fit in the plane. You look well, Fang.” She winked; the white patches red pandas had over their eyes were on Shin slightly peaked, giving her a perpetually amused or surprised appearance.
The tiger grinned as he fell into step beside her, his longer strides forcing her to speed up. “I’ve been well, Shin. I’m better now that I see you here. Have you seen your brother?”
“Hao? Hao’s here?” Shin frowned. “I haven’t seen him; what’s he done now?”
The big Manchurian shrugged, while Hank studiously looked somewhere else. “He got into an argument with your father, as usual. His latest business venture,” he said obliquely, and Shin nodded.
“Poor Father,” she sighed aloud, “we do keep him in the dark an awful lot, don’t we?” She reached out and stroked the fur along his right arm, and as he purred she added, “If he only knew …”
They reached the warehouses and collected their cargo; two large boxes, two bolts of cloth and a small box that Shin kept to herself. The three then made their way carefully past the crowds of tourists and back to the seaplane landing where the K-85 waited.
Hank and Fang loaded the larger items of cargo into the Keystone as Shin watched, then she stepped into the cabin and slid the small package she carried under one seat. “What’s in there?” Hank asked as he busied himself with making sure the boxes wouldn’t slide around the cabin.
Shin winked. “Never you mind; let’s just say it’s not something I want broadcast.”
“Okay.” As the fox went forward to the cockpit Shin stepped back out on the dock as Fang finished checking the engine. “All fueled and ready to go,” he said as he dusted his paws off.
“Great. We’re not expected back until later tonight,” Shin remarked as she looked up at the late afternoon sun, “so we – whoops!” She had been walking while looking up at the tiger; the toe of her shoe caught in the dock’s planking and she stumbled, pitching forward.
A hard grip and a tug nearly wrenched her arm and she was pulled off her feet into the tiger’s embrace. “Are you all right?” Fang asked. “I’d hate to have people say that I got careless and hurt my Shin.”
She gaped, and he started laughing. He kept laughing even as she hit him.