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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 by Walter D. Reimer
Pilar turned to face the larger male canine who had spoken to her. He was medium height and build, but taller than she was; a nondescript brown fur color with no distinguishing features about him. In the same deep voice he said, “You are looking well, Comrade. Are you enjoying yourself?”
She relaxed slightly from her position of attention as he gestured for her to be at ease. “Comrade,” she replied, “my assignment from Moskva Center was not to have a good time, but to make contact with and maintain surveillance of a subject who may be a threat to the people of the Soviet Union.”
“That shows you have remembered your orders to the letter, Comrade Simonova,” the erstwhile Soviet trade attaché to the Spontoon Island Independencies remarked in an affable tone. “And what else did your superiors in the GPGB tell you, Comrade Lieutenant?” he asked.
“Comrade Colonel, my orders were direct from the Comrade Director himself, not from the head of the Directorate for State Security,” Pilar, born Anna Dmitrievna Simonova in Smolensk, replied in a brittle tone. “My orders also include a provision to kill him if he is found to be a threat. That is specifically left to my personal discretion, Comrade,” and her ears dipped slightly as she said this last. It wasn’t usual for the head of the NKVD to have a personal interest in a single fur, or to personally assign a State Security officer to watch him.
“Quite so,” the attache nodded. “And what have you learned so far, Comrade? How to gamble like a decadent aristocrat?” And his gaze grew icy as he spoke.
Anna’s tail drooped and hung still as she replied, looking straight ahead, “My assignment stated that I must make contact and learn what he knows and what his motives are, Comrade Colonel. I could scarcely walk up to him and ask him directly. I must watch him carefully, and gain his confidence before I begin to learn about his business.”
The attaché looked down at his paws, then back up at Anna. “And Comrade Bearia himself gave you these orders?”
“He did, Comrade,” she replied, thinking back to the cold, cavernous office in Moskva. “I was also instructed that I would report to him personally, although I should keep you apprised of any developments.”
“I see.” The trade attaché studied his paws again. Spying in the Spontoon Islands was fraught with difficulties, not the least of which was the level of competition. There were intelligence officers from at least four nations on this one island, and he was sure that the Althing was watching all of them very carefully. Perhaps that is why Bearia assigned her, he thought. He looked up at her. “So, initial contact has been made,” he said briskly.
“And when can you anticipate any information?”
“Perhaps two days, Comrade.” Anna smiled. “He likes me.”
“Then your work may go smoothly.” The attaché stood and brushed past Anna on his way to the door. His paw rested on the doorknob as he turned and said quietly, “I will expect another report by the end of this week, Comrade Lieutenant.” Before she could reply, he eased the door open a fraction of an inch, glanced down the hallway, and slipped out of the room.
The trade attaché made his way out of the hotel, wrapped up in his own thoughts, and thus didn’t see a vague shape slip out of an upstairs window.
* * * * * * * * *
The Tropic Breezes Hotel was a short distance away from the Grand Hotel, near the amusement park. Its size, price and amenities were geared toward a lower-paying clientele, such as college students on vacation.
A burly mastiff was in bed, snoring softly as moonlight shone through his open window. He rolled over on his back and murmured something indistinct as several dark shadows briefly silhouetted themselves across the window.
When the first paws grabbed his arms and legs and a strong paw clamped itself over his mouth he came awake thinking it was a prank being played by his buddies. That idea died a harsh death as he blinked awake to see an automatic pistol staring him in the face. His eyes widened as the dim light in the room illuminated what appeared to be a fox, a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. The fox grabbed a pillow, folded it around the pistol as the mastiff struggled, and pressed the steel muzzle of the gun against the canine’s right knee.
There was a sharp report, barely muffled by the pillow, followed by a scream that continued until the hotel staff battered down the door to confront the blood and the smell of gunpowder.
A short while later, in a small bar frequented by what could politely be described as “unsavory” furs, the fox sat in the shadows, nursing a beer as his three assistants sat around him. One of them, a feline, grinned as he remarked sotto voce, “Well, now I know why certain people call you ‘Ni Kap,’ Boss.”
The shadowy vulpine smirked as he flicked some ashes from his cigarette, then drained the last of his beer. He had just ruined what would have been a very promising football career, as well as the mastiff’s vacation. He’d live, but he’d never enjoy it. “Yes, but those same certain people don’t say it too loudly, Ranjit,” he said quietly, one paw toying with his battered Princeton cap.
The Siamese blanched, his ears dipping. “No disrespect, Boss.”
“I didn’t think you were being disrespectful, Ranjit,” Hao replied in the same quiet tone, implying that the Siamese’s nine lives might experience a rapid reduction if he had. He lit another cigarette, the flaring match illuminating his face momentarily, and stood, keeping in the shadows. “It’s late. Let’s all get some sleep. We meet again on Thursday, usual place, eight o’clock.” The small group dispersed, taking separate routes and not all departing at the same time.
* * * * * * * * *
“Yes, the silk sarong for this one,” Ni Peng said, eyeing one of her new ‘hostesses’ critically. The Burmese smiled as she was given a wraparound dress with a bird-of-paradise motif, and she bowed to the lady of the house. The proprietress of the Lucky Dragon smiled back, cocking her head as one of the waiters rushed into the changing room and whispered urgently in her ear. Her eyes widened and she turned to look at him. Without another word Peng headed for the door that led to the casino.
A table had been overturned, and two pilots were fighting (literally) like cats and dogs. Cards and chips were scattered around on the carpet, and two spilled drinks were soaking the material. So far, they were only using their fists, and they continued to fight as the bouncers struggled to separate them. Peng shouted at the two to stop, even as the bouncers succeeded in pinning the two combatants’ arms behind their backs. “Now, what is the meaning of this?” Peng asked in the sudden silence.
One of the fighters, a terrier wearing a Pan-Asian flying jacket, licked a trace of blood from his muzzle and glared at Peng. “He cheated,” he said sullenly, jerking his chin at the tabby, who wore a battered and frayed black suit.
“You’re lying, you lousy – “ And the two started struggling against the bouncers’ grasps. Peng scowled, and raised a paw. Turning to the waiter she asked, “Have they settled their bills?”
“Not yet, Madam Ni.”
“I see.” To the bouncers she said, “Take them – one at a time – to the cashier. They will split the cost of the damages. Then throw them into the water so that they may sober up.”
As she turned away the tabby hissed, “You ringtailed whitefaced … “
He never finished the insult, because Peng whirled, the back of her paw striking the feline smack in his nose. As blood dribbled from his nostrils, Peng nodded at the bouncers holding him.
“Break his arm,” she said loudly enough to serve as a warning to the other patrons, and began directing waiters to clean up the mess.
After perhaps half an hour, a sense of normalcy had returned to the casino. The musicians were working hard, playing a fast, bouncy tune imported from America the previous year (something called the “Carioca”) while couples danced and people drank or took their chances with their money. Peng sat at her table in the balcony, looking out over the crowd. She smiled contentedly and sipped at her tea, then smiled as she saw her daughter enter the casino.
The smile drooped slightly as she saw the big Manchurian tiger accompanying Shin, and wondered again what Shin saw in Wo Fang. Shin looked up at Peng and waved, then started trying to drag the tiger up to the balcony. Fang walked with her, looking greatly amused.
Peng embraced her daughter and accepted a kiss on her cheek. “Shin,” she said, “I’m so glad you’re back. Did everything go well?”
Shin grinned from ear to ear. “Perfectly, Mother.” She looked over her shoulder at Fang, who was pouring himself a small brandy at the nearby bar, and her smile faltered slightly. “I – we – have something to tell you, Mother,” she said, a note of uncertainty creeping into her voice.
“Yes?” Peng asked, a wary look in her eyes. She had guessed it, but waited for it to come anyway.
“I–that is, Wo Fang and I–um,we,um,wereinloveandwewanttogetmarried,” Shin concluded in a rush, her banded tail fluffing out to practically three times its normal size as the full realization of what she said hit her. She clapped a paw over her muzzle, her gaze fixed on her mother and tears already starting to gleam in her eyes. Fang wisely kept silent, coming forward to stand beside her and resting a paw on her shoulder.
Peng sat there a moment, then lifted her teacup and sipped, lacquered claws clicking on the delicate porcelain. After she drank she regarded the cup. Strong, but delicate, and very beautiful – just like her daughter. Peng looked up at Shin. “Do you truly love him, my daughter?” she asked.
Shin sniffled and nodded, leaning her head onto Fang’s paw. Peng glanced coolly up at Fang. She had never made any secret of the fact that she distrusted him as a foreigner. “And you?” she asked warily. “Do you love Shin?”
The tiger’s usually fierce manner melted and he smiled fondly at the younger panda. That told Peng all she needed to know but she still waited for him to speak. “Madam Ni,” he said formally in flawless Mandarin, “I love your daughter, and have for a year. I wish to marry her, if you and your husband agree.” He smiled. “If you have any reservations about my motives, for I know that your daughter may inherit substantially, I have my own money, and – “
“Fang, please,” Shin protested, but subsided as Peng raised a paw. “Shin, Fang is right to say this,” she said. “Your father will immediately suspect that he merely wishes to gain access to your money. So, Fang? Are you prepared to forego my daughter’s inheritance, if her father disowns her?”
Wo Fang looked down at Shin’s hopeful face, and smiled. His gaze not moving from Shin’s he replied, “Yes, Madam Ni. I have my own money, and I can always find good work to keep your daughter well and comfortable.” Shin started to cry and she hugged the tiger as Peng considered.
Her marriage to Hei was an arranged one, in keeping with all the proper traditions of their families; in other respects (notably in their line of work) they were thoroughly modern. Her distrust warred with the obvious love her eighteen-year-old daughter was showing the tiger, and her own desire to keep the family together. And the family had to stay together; they had survived the disaster that marooned them, and countless other troubles and problems. “You will have to face your father, Shin,” Peng finally said, and her heart warmed as her daughter’s eyes filled with hope, “but you have my permission to get married.”
* * * * * * * *
Hao squinted out the window at the morning sun, and cursed softly in Cantonese as the sound of church bells assaulted his ears. Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest; if so, why make so much noise? He got out of bed and went to the bathroom, turning the taps on to fill the tub. It wouldn’t do for Pilar to see him looking like a kind of short-nosed fox.
It took over an hour and three bathtubs of hot water to get all of the dye, pomade, and artificial scent out of his fur, then he selected a lightweight white cotton Palm Beach (the latest fashion) suit to wear. It promised to be a warm day, so he grabbed a hat from a closet shelf, put it on, and checked his appearance in the mirror.
As he looked himself over, he smiled at the thought of the person he was meeting. Pilar was certainly a nice young woman.
Several rooms down the hall, Anna examined herself critically as she finished dressing. The fabric of the sundress and its matching broad-brimmed hat looked and felt so much different from her usual attire, her uniform or the simple rough fabrics of everyday wear in her home country. She allowed herself a small smile at her reflection in the mirror. She was enjoying herself, and Hao was such a nice young man …
She shook her head and glared. She had orders, and a job to do. Reaching for her purse, she opened it and looked inside at the Tokarev automatic pistol nestled among her money and assorted odds and ends. She snapped the purse closed and left the room, headed downstairs to breakfast.