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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 Walter Reimer
“No sign of him anywhere,” Wo Fang said disgustedly, stalking into the warehouse with three of his hired guns. They had spent nearly six hours combing the island and asking around at Hank’s usual haunts, but there had been no sign of the fox. “I can’t believe he would do anything so stupid – but if I find him – “
“Kill him,” Shin said bluntly, pouring him a drink of whiskey. She handed the bottle off to another fur after pouring herself one, and sipped at the drink moodily. “He’s somewhere on this island,” she said, staring into her glass, “and I doubt he could catch a plane or a boat.”
“True,” Fang agreed. “He’s hiding somewhere, must be.” The fox was probably holed up in the woods, or in one of the houses down on the beach. The tiger shrugged mentally. Hank would be found, soon enough. He drained his glass and extended a paw to Shin. “It’s nearly three in the morning, and I’m headed to bed. You coming?”
Shin looked at the outstretched paw, then up at her love, and grinned. “Race you,” and with that she bolted for the door.
Two of the furs snickered at Fang, who grinned back and started chasing the girl, finally catching up to her and slowing to a walk, arms around each other as they laughed. Fang started steering her toward his rooms as he asked, “So, have you heard anything from your father yet?”
Shin shrugged. “No, not a word. Mom says he’s thinking about it.” She aimed a kick in passing at a beer bottle lying in the street, ears perking at the sound of gunfire from somewhere down the road. “I don’t want to elope.”
“I don’t want to elope either, my love,” Fang said, “so let’s see what your father decides first.”
* * * * * * * * *
As the day wore on into the afternoon, Hao’s sudden sense of misgiving about the young canine on his arm ebbed. After all, he thought, Pilar may have gotten confused; Manila was quite a large city – and she did say that she lived near Olangapo. They walked along, Hao pointing out some sights he thought might interest her, and she seemed interested in everything he had to say. At one point they found themselves on a hill overlooking the harbor area, and Hao gestured down the slope. “My family’s got some warehouses there, by the docks,” he remarked offhandedly.
“Really?” Pilar turned her dark brown eyes on him. “Interesting. You said your family was in banking and investments; why do you need warehouses?” she asked with a warm smile.
Hao shrugged. “Sometimes we handle cargo for other businesses,” he replied, and it was true as far as it went. Smuggling and the occasional theft by piracy, for later sale, did constitute cargo handling for other concerns. Of course, those other concerns were usually heavily armed and hard bargainers. It made business a bit exciting at times. “Still interested in that concert?’ he asked, glancing at his watch. “It’ll be starting in about an hour or so, and we’ll be there just in time.”
Pilar grinned at him, her ears twitching as an errant fly orbited them. “Do we have enough time to get there?” she asked teasingly.
“Sure. This isn’t a very large place,” Hao said with a laugh.
They arrived and took seats on the grassy plaza stretched out in front of the bandstand just as the group started playing. It was composed of about twenty musicians from America, all dressed in identical white suits and each seated behind a small music stand bearing a pair of intertwined initials. The music they performed was a fast-tempo piece that simply urged people to get up and dance. The bandleader, a rail-thin weasel wearing round wire-rimmed glasses, flourished a clarinet as a baton and would occasionally play a solo. During a break in the concert, Pilar commented, “So that’s the latest from America? It’s simply wonderful, don’t you think?”
“It’s not bad,” Hao said, scratching at one ear while looking at her. The audience was mainly composed of tourists, most of who seemed to keep a wide berth around the Chinese panda and the Filipino canine. He tentatively placed his paw over hers and gave a gentle squeeze as he watched to see how she would react.
Pilar’s ears dipped as she blushed, looked away, then gazed back and leaned toward him. They kissed, the kiss deepening as the band returned to the stage and started to play a slow love song.
Anna was amazed by her reaction to his actions. As they separated she could hear her heart pounding, and sternly ordered it to stop. She was an officer in State Security, damn it, and she had a job to do.
But he was handsome, a perfect gentleman, and his scent buzzed in her nose. She leaned in and they kissed again, her free paw sliding up to rest on his chest. When they finally broke the kiss Hao blushed, his ears dipping. Despite herself and her professional detachment, she thought he looked cute.
Hao thought she was beautiful, and far above the usual run of girl he’d met and chased. He smiled and, blushing again, looked down at his watch. “Would you like to have dinner with me, Pilar?” he asked with a rather uncertain grin, looking finally like the seventeen-year-old he was.
If she were capable of purring, she would have. “Love to, Hao,” she replied.
They had dinner that night at the hotel, eyes only for each other and holding paws whenever the occasion presented itself. After dinner the dance floor was set up and a band started to play. Hao sipped his coffee, then set the cup down and smiled at Pilar. “Would you like to dance?” he asked, noting her tail wagging in time to the music. “I’m not much good at it, but …”
“I’m not much good at dancing, either,” she chuckled. “Come on, let’s disgrace ourselves together,” and he got to his feet as she stood and allowed him to lead her out onto the dance floor.
Fortunately, the dance was a slow one, and they were able to take their time. After two dances, Pilar suggested, “It’s late. I really should get back to my room.”
Hao smiled down at her and said, “All right.”
He escorted her upstairs and as she opened the door she paused and asked him, “Would you care to come in for a drink before bed?” He grinned and followed her into the room, looking around as she she set aside her hat and purse. “Very nice room you have,” he remarked awkwardly as he laid his own hat down. He turned toward her and hugged her as they kissed.
* * * * * * * * *
Peng ran a stiff brush over the thick fur of her tail that night while Hei sat in bed reading from a small red-bound book. Sounds intruded: music, songs, laughter and the occasional gunshot drifted in through the open window. A fairly typical night on Krupmark Island. “Hei, my husband,” Peng said, “what are you thinking about?”
“What makes you think I’m thinking about anything, dear?” Hei asked, smiling as he laid the book down in his lap.
“Because,” she said as she laid the brush aside and stood up, “you’ve read that same page now for nearly an hour. I haven’t seen you this preoccupied since …” She let the sentence trail away; there was no need to remind him of the day he learned that General Won Lung Ho had confiscated his family’s property.
Hei chuckled, then closed the book and laid it on the bedside table. “Yes, I’ve been preoccupied a bit lately,” he said casually, “and it’s all your fault, my wife.” She turned surprised eyes on him as he chuckled again. “I’m thinking of our daughter.”
“Oh, so that’s it,” Peng said as she slid under the covers and they snuggled together for a moment, then kissed. “Have you arrived at a decision, then?”
He slipped an arm around her and ran a paw over her ears as he looked at her. “Perhaps,” he replied. “But I’m going to wait a few days more. About time the younger members of this family learned the value of patience.” He reached back and switched the lights off, and after a brief silence he chuckled, and she giggled breathlessly.
* * * * * * * * *
Fat Leon’s ‘house’ on a Sunday night was much like Fat Leon’s on any other night of the week – loud, rowdy and full of customers looking for a bit of fun. Peng-wum gave the password and was shown into the manager’s office. The dhole looked surprised, then nodded knowingly. “So, you are here to see Fat Leon, yes?” he asked. “Nailani had told me something of your day together.”
“She did?” Peng-wum tensed, his tail almost going rigid before he relaxed. “All right then. Is he in, and can I see him?” Peng-wum asked. He was dressed in a white cotton suit the exact image of the one Hao wore in summer. The night was warm, and he wanted to look his best when talking business with an associate and competitor.
“He is right through there, sir,” the canine said, jerking a thumb toward an unmarked door. Peng-wum nodded in thanks and walked over to the door. He knocked and a deep bass voice called out, “Come in.” The red panda opened the door and stepped in.
The wolf behind the expensive carved mahogany desk was huge, almost grotesquely obese. It was rumored that he only left his chair for three reasons, and one of them wasn’t sleep. He wore a black silk suit with silver-gray pinstripes, a small flower as a boutonnière in his left lapel. “Ah, my dear friend Ni Hei’s eldest son,” he boomed in that deep voice, a cultured Oxford accent rolling off his tongue as he extended a paw adorned with rings on two fingers. “So good to see you, my lad. How are your parents?” he asked as Peng-wum shook the proffered paw.
“They are fine, sir.” Peng-wum finished shaking the wolf’s paw and sat in the chair Leon indicated with an expansive gesture. “They are fine,” Leon repeated. “That’s very good, and I hear that your family’s business is doing very well, very well indeed.” The wolf’s blue eyes fixed on the red panda. “So well, in fact, that I hear you want to buy out a contract of mine, eh?”
Peng-wum blushed and lowered his gaze respectfully. Of all the things his father had taught him, good manners was near the top of the list. “Please, sir, the young lady’s name is Nailani. I have told her that I love her, and she tells me she loves me. I wish to buy out her contract to marry her,” he said quietly. Leon listened to him, paw cupping his chin and ears canted forward.
“’What cloying meat is love, when marriage is the sauce to it!’” Leon suddenly declaimed, his voice sounding portentous as he recited the line from Vanbrugh. He laughed as Peng-wum looked up at him in surprise. “I apologize for startling you, my boy. I once trod the boards in amateur theatrics when I was your age at university,” he explained. “So, you wish to marry her.
“My young friend, it will cost you, because Nailani is quite an asset to this house, and to my business. Yes, hmm … quite an – agile – young rabbit, yes,” he added, his voice trailing off musingly. The paw that had cupped his chin suddenly slapped the desk with a meaty sound. “Five thousand. Pounds sterling, sir, not dollars.”
Peng-wum’s eyes bulged. “Five thousand pounds, sir?” he asked.
“Not one shilling less, Ni Peng-wum, not a farthing more either,” Leon intoned. He steepled his fingers and looked intently at the panda.
He thought it over, one ear and the tip of his tail twitching erratically, and he suddenly smiled. “A businessman, Mister Allworthy,” Peng-wum said. “Five thousand, in pounds sterling. Done.” And he stood and extended a paw to the wolf. As they shook, Leon asked, “When will you be paying me?”
“Two thousand tomorrow, the remainder in one week.”
The wolf blinked and his slightly graying ears went down. Chuckling to himself at being surprised by this young man, he reached out and grasped a walking stick with a silver head carved to resemble a lion’s head, and struck it hard on the floor. A she-wolf stepped in, dressed in red silk and bearing a small tray with two glasses on it. Peng-wum’s nostrils twitched as he smelled fine brandy.
The she-wolf smiled at Leon and left the room, and the two picked up their glasses. “To a successful trade, Ni Peng-wum,” Leon said, “and best wishes for you and your love.”
“Thank you, Mister Allworthy,” and the two drank.