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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and Lars Nordstrom used by permission of Simon Leo Barber. Thanks!)
Hao stood in the lobby, paws fidgeting with his hat as he saw Pilar come down the stairs. “Good morning,” he said in a cheerful tone. “Would you like some company for breakfast?”
The dark-furred canine smiled and took his proffered arm. “Love to,” she replied. As they headed for the restaurant she remarked, “I was amazed at how fast I fell asleep. This place is really quite relaxing.”
He nodded. “I’ve been to America, when I was younger,” and he winked as she chuckled, “and I never seemed to be able to sleep. Too many noises – it was just too distracting.”
As they entered the hotel’s dining room Pilar paused and looked at a stack of newspapers. “Oh my,” she said.
“What?” Hao asked, craning to look. She pointed at the headline. “Someone was shot last night, not far from here. Hmm … the paper says it was a college student,” she murmured.
“I’m not surprised,” Hao remarked, and as she looked at him he added, “The world’s a dangerous place, and crime touches here as well as anyplace else. I expect he got the wrong people mad at him – he seemed like the sort to attract trouble.”
“I guess so,” Pilar said thoughtfully, and they entered the restaurant, taking a table out on the veranda. The sun shone down and a breeze fanned the flowering frangipani just below the porch’s railing. After giving their order to the waiter, Pilar shaded her eyes and pointed. “Who are they?” she asked. “Is there a mission school here?”
“Mission school?” Hao echoed, looking in the direction she indicated, then chuckled as he saw a group of blue-jacketed young women headed to the church district. “Those are students, all right, but not from any mission. That’s Songmark Academy, heading for Sunday services. They’re a girl’s school, of sorts,” he amplified, winking. “My sister’s been wanting to go there ever since she hit her sixteenth birthday, but it’s awfully expensive.”
“Must be an interesting place, for your sister to want to attend so badly,” Pilar remarked as her ears perked. “So, you have a sister. Any brothers?” she asked with a grin.
He nodded, smiling. “An older brother. He mainly stays close to home, helping Father run the business. I expect he’ll inherit it when Father retires. Do you have any family, Pilar?”
“Three older brothers,” she replied, ears dipping. He laughed at her expression, and she laughed with him as the waiter returned, setting down plates of fruit and fresh breads, and a carafe of hot coffee. Hao politely poured a cup of coffee for Pilar, and as they ate she asked, “What does your family do for a living?”
Hao swallowed the piece of honeydew he had been chewing before replying, “Banking and investments. We’ve got branch offices scattered around Asia. There’s even one in Manila, on Bonifacio Drive near the river. Do you know the place?” he asked, buttering a slice of bread as the church bells mercifully stopped ringing.
“Oh yes,” she said enthusiastically. “I used to go to watch matches at Rizal Stadium.”
He smiled as he lifted his coffee cup and sipped. “I watch the matches there at times myself, when I’m down there on business,” he remarked.
Hao took a bite from his bread, chewing thoughtfully as Pilar ate her breakfast.
Rizal Stadium was nowhere near Bonifacio Drive.
* * * * * * * * *
“You what, Peng?” Hei fairly shouted at the breakfast table the next morning. “You gave your blessing to Shin and that, that … foreigner?”
Peng touched her muzzle fastidiously with a napkin, bearing up under her husband’s understandable distress. She waited until he stopped yelling and heaping verbal abuse on her, Wo Fang and Shin. After about thirty minutes he paused to catch his breath, and she took advantage of the opening. “Are you not going to ask why, my husband?” she asked in an even tone.
Hei’s ears went back and he opened his muzzle to shout again, then stopped. He glared at her and nodded. “Yes, I want to hear your reasons, Peng.”
“Good.” She finished sipping the last of her tea, giving him more time to let his anger cool to what she thought would be a manageable level. She said slowly, “You and I both know that Shin is a willful girl, and always has been. When she wants something, she will not stop until she has it, true?” She smiled as Hei nodded slowly. “I knew that she loved him, and I believe that he is not after her money. If pushed to it, I think she would leave the family if you and I tried to stop the marriage.”
Hei’s muzzle gaped in shock. “Leave the family?” he rasped. “Really?”
It was Peng’s turn to glare at him now. “Really, Hei, you are sometimes so obsessed you can’t see past your own muzzle,” she declared. “She’s not a little girl anymore, and we don’t live in Tientsin. This is a modern age – people marry for love now.” She sat back as he stared at her, shocked by her tone of voice. “Now, it comes to one question: What do we do?”
Ni Hei looked down at his empty plate, then looked up at his wife. “Does she have to get married immediately?” he asked. “Do I have some time to think it over?”
Peng nodded. “Of course you do,” she said with a smile. “Shin’s a sensible girl; she wouldn’t let herself get pregnant.” She stood up and straightened her robe. “Shall I tell her that you’re thinking about it?” she asked.
“Yes, please,” Hei replied in a numbed tone, and he sat back, a paw cupping his chin as Peng left the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Peng-wum sat in his office the same morning, going over a series of bank drafts he had to wire out to Wangchung. It was a considerable sum of money, nearly a quarter-million American dollars that would go into buying up investment companies and banks. Hopefully (and Peng-wum was certain that Wu Tang had consulted astrologers about it – he was very traditional) the combination of resources and capital would bring the Wu and Ni families a great deal of profit. He frowned, still unsure if it was such a good idea. The worldwide economic slump was still threatening positions all over Asia, and the network being contemplated would be as frail as a pile of jackstraws at first. One failure, anywhere, and the entire edifice would come crashing down around their ears. Not a pleasant prospect, surely.
The red panda sat and looked at the pile of drafts, then at his ledgers, then smiled suddenly as an idea dawned. Grabbing a blank sheet, he dipped his pen into its inkwell, thought a moment, then started writing quickly. Father didn’t need to know.
Two hours later Peng-wum left the Krupmark telegraph office, a wide smile on his face. Determined to reward himself for a job well done, he sauntered down to the beach area, where the casinos were smaller and the houses less reputable than the Lucky Dragon.
He walked up to one of the houses and gave a certain password; recognized as a regular and a business associate, he was let in to see the manager. As he was shown into the office, the gaunt and unkempt dhole behind the desk stood and grinned. “Peng-wum! Great to see you, sir. What brings you out into the sunlight?” he asked in a singsong Indian accent, then laughed. “Usually this time of day you’ve got your snout in a book.”
Peng-wum laughed with him, and accepted a cup of coffee. “I would like to see Nailani, if that’s okay,” he said, using the colloquialism with a bit of difficulty.
“Nailani?” the manager echoed, then smiled, running a paw over the unclipped reddish-brown fur on his neck. “Oh yes, your girlfriend. Well, this time of day she’ll be either down at the beach or up in her room. I’m sure you know the way.” He winked, then laughed as Peng-wum smiled, his ears dipping slightly in embarrassment.
He set the coffee aside and left the office, and after the door had closed the manager returned to his own paperwork, muttering under his breath, “Don’t know what she sees in him … “
At the sound of her name being called, a gray-furred lepine looked up from her bath in the strip of sea between the beach and Krupmark’s breakwater and squealed “Peng-wum!” She kicked up an extraordinary amount of spray then fairly flew up the beach to hug her boyfriend. Peng-wum froze at her public display of affection, then hugged her back, his paws going around her waist as the other girls on the beach giggled and whispered among themselves. “I didn’t expect to see you until later, love,” she said, her native accent sending chills down his back and causing his tail to quiver.
“I was curious to see if you had any free time, Nailani,” he said, gazing into the rabbit girl’s deep brown eyes. He smiled as she giggled. “For you, lover, all my time is free.”
Several hours later, Peng-wum drew himself up into a sitting position on the bed and regarded his lover as she smiled languorously up at him. The air was rich with musk, despite the open window and the breeze coming in off the sea. He smiled, reaching out to run a finger over her knee, just where he knew she was ticklish. “You know, I’ve been wondering … “ he let his voice trail off as she squirmed, giggling. “What?” she asked.
“Would you like to get married?” he asked, a scared look promptly crossing his face, recrossing it and then settling down for a while. Nailani sat up, a shocked look on her face. “Ni Peng-wum,” she said, a paw cupping his face gently, “if I could get out of my contract with Fat Leon, I’d marry you in a heartbeat.”
“Suppose … I managed to get enough to pay him off?” Peng-wum ventured. She looked hard at him. “Are you sure?” she asked.
He nodded, and she smiled then burst out laughing as he turned over and started tickling her. Her laughter subsided as they kissed.
* * * * * * * * *
“Damn it, I can’t find it anywhere!” Shin said, rummaging among cases and crates in the family warehouse adjoining the Lucky Dragon.
Wo Fang stood silhouetted against the open doorway as he stood watch. “What can’t you find, Shin?”
“That box I had on the plane!” she replied, sounding a bit frantic. “I lifted it from some rich broad’s luggage down at the docks the other day, and I was like a Nervous Nellie all day while waiting for you and Hank to come get me.” She shoved another crate out of the way and hissed an imprecation. “I was so worried the police would catch up with me.”
“Did you look in the plane?”
“Of course I looked in the plane, tiger of mine,” she snapped, and dove back into the pile of cargo, cursing vehemently in Chinese.
Wo Fang watched her for a moment, still impressed that such a young girl could have learned such language so fast despite her protective parents. “Well, when did you see it last, my ringtailed beauty?” he asked.
She laughed ill-humoredly. “On the plane, naturally. Hmm.” She closed her eyes, thinking. “We took off and then I came forward, and Hank … “ her voice trailed off and she opened her eyes, looking at Wo Fang.
* * * * * * * * *
Hank stood in the outer office silently, unresisting as one bodyguard frisked him for weapons while another stood by just in case. He was nervous, and his jerkily swaying tail betrayed that. “He’s clean,” the first guard said, and the second rapped on the door to the inner office. The door opened slightly, and a low-voiced conversation ensued. The guard then opened the door. “He’ll see you now,” the cougar growled. Hank squared his shoulders and walked in.
He stopped about two feet from the desk as the stag behind the desk asked, “What’s your name?”
“Hank Carter, Mr. Nordstrom,” Hank replied, and Lars Nordstrom leaned forward in his chair slightly, fingers lightly touching the open jewelry box on the desk. “And what is this about, Mr. Carter?” he asked, his voice soft but his hazel eyes cold, like chips of agate.
“Well, I work – worked, that is – for Ni and Sons, and I – well, the box is a gift. Of sorts,” he finished lamely as two of the bodyguards in the room chuckled at him.
“I’ve heard of you,” Nordstrom said in an offhand manner, then smiled. “A gift? Well, two things, Mr. Carter – I don’t know you well enough to accept gifts from you, and I’ll have you know that I’m not that kind of stag.” He smiled again, even chuckled as the others laughed.
Hank felt his anger rising and suppressed it firmly. “Call it a payment, then,” he said in a brittle tone. “Your outfit does runs out to Macao and points west around this time of night. I want to be on that plane.”
The stag’s antlers bobbed as he nodded. “Now it’s a payment,” he mused. “Tell me, what do you really want, Mr. Carter?”
The fox drew a breath. “I took that,” he said, indicating the box, “and if I get caught here on Krupmark the Nis will have me killed. I want the hell off this island, and I want to be a pilot again.” He stood his ground as the guards laughed again.
“And that’s all?” Nordstrom asked. “You don’t want to join my operation?”
“If you’ve got a pilot’s position open, sure, I’d like to join up with you, sir,” Hank said. “If not, let me find a position with one of the air freight lines.” He stood there uneasily as Nordstrom sat back, thinking over the offer. Finally Nordstrom asked one of the guards, “What time does the next flight go out?”
The canine checked his watch. “About thirty minutes, Boss.” Nordstrom looked up at Hank and said, “You’ve got thirty minutes to be on that plane. Jack here will get you on board. Oh, and Jack,” he added as Hank and the canine turned to leave.
“Tell the pilot to use the usual route. The weather should be good for it.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said, and ushered Hank out.
Two hours later and fifty miles west of the island, the cargo plane leveled off at four thousand feet and one door opened. An unconscious fox tumbled from the opening, and the plane continued on its way to Macao.