Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
©2003 Walter Reimer
Illustration by Jim Groat (mature for violence) - added 4 July 2011
Later that day, the sun already high in the summer sky, Peng-wum walked out on the dock where the family’s K-85 sat. Frank, a tall and almost cadaverously thin feline, waved as he finished the preflight inspection, and the panda waved back. “Peng-wum!” He heard his father call, and he turned as Hei walked up to him. “Where is your first stop, son?” the elder Ni asked.
“Casino Island, Father,” Peng-wum replied. “The Keystone’s a good plane, but I need something faster.”
“I understand. Could you drop this in the island post for me?” Hei handed over a large envelope. Peng-wum glanced at the address and smiled. “Of course, Father,” he said, and the two said their farewells.
As soon as he and his two assistants had boarded, the K-85’s single engine came to life and the plane eased away from the dock.
During the flight to Casino Island, Peng-wum alternately fretted, drumming his paws nervously on his soft leather briefcase, and jotted notes in a small notebook. “Want something to drink, sir?” Ahmad asked as he slipped out of the cockpit.
“No, thank you Ahmad,” he replied. “How are the flying conditions?”
“Straight into Spontoon, no worries, insh’Allah,” the Algerian fennec replied with a grin as he broke out two bottles of soda and went back to the cockpit. Peng-wum smiled, then frowned and took a pad of stationery from his briefcase. He picked up his fountain pen and started writing.
Three hours later the plane landed at Spontoon, taxiing over to the nearest available space on the dock. “Are we coming with ya, Boss?” Frank asked.
“No, Frank. You and Ahmad are flying home as soon as you get the plane refueled. I have things to do,” and Peng-wum headed for the post office.
He posted his father’s letter, and sent two of his own; they would find their way into the mail packet on the S.S. Lahaina Roads before it headed back to Hawaii, and from there they would go to San Francisco by airmail. He then visited the wireless office, not trusting the wireless set on Krupmark (owned as it was by another, competing business concern), and sent out seven telegrams to various places. Finally he walked down to the air terminal and booked a flight to Hong Kong. He glanced over the schedule and nodded approvingly. He had managed his time effectively; the Vostok Airfleet flying boat would be leaving in three hours.
He had time to visit the business district, and spoke at some length over tea with two of his father’s business associates before heading back to the dockside, where a big Sikorsky S-42 sat at its moorings.
The flying boat was comfortably roomy, and Peng-wum settled in among the other passengers, a wholly unremarkable figure in a business suit as the four big Klimov (actually Pratt & Whitney Hornet, built under license) engines started, idling while the towboat pulled the plane toward the seaplane lane. The plane lumbered into the air, then began to head westward as it climbed to a cruising altitude.
The setting sun cast long shadows through the windows as
Peng-wum leaned back slightly in his seat and dozed off, lulled by
the drone of the engines.
The Sikorsky landed late that night, and Peng-wum was awakened by a stewardess shaking him gently. “Excuse me, sir,” the mouse said in Russian-accented English, “we’re taxiing to the dock now. You need to get all of your things in order.”
“Thank you, Miss,” he said as he closed his briefcase and buckled it. He waited until nearly all the other passengers had disembarked before standing up and heading for the exit.
On the dock a feline waited, dressed in a suit identical to Peng-wum’s; he gave a signal with one paw, and the panda returned it. The two smiled and shook paws as they headed for the Customs shed. “Was your flight comfortable, sir?” the feline asked in a rural dialect that wasn’t easily understood by the English authorities.
“Very smooth,” Peng-wum laughed. “The Tsarists may be completely unprincipled feudal aristocrats, but at least they know how to run an airline.” The two laughed as they approached the Foreign Arrivals table.
“Anything to declare, ah, Mr. Ni?” the officer asked, taking Peng-wum’s passport and studying it.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I am here on business, and I should be leaving tomorrow, or the day after.”
The official closed the Spontoon passport and handed it back. “Enjoy your stay in Hong Kong, Mr. Ni.”
The panda and the feline hailed a taxi and headed into the city, then up into the heights overlooking Kowloon. The cab pulled into the driveway of a spacious villa, and the feline held the door as Peng-wum stepped out of the vehicle. “Please, sir, this way,” the feline said as he escorted him inside.
The villa was built in a late Edwardian fashion, with a colonnaded porch running around it. Inside, however, it was a reflection of the owner’s personal tastes. The furnishings were all of Chinese manufacture, and Peng-wum’s nose twitched at the faint smell of incense from a small altar. He paused and bowed to it, and straightened as a thin, quavering voice remarked, “I see that exposure to the West has not corrupted your spirit, young Ni.”
Peng-wum turned and bowed to the elderly canine that stepped forward, hobbling as he supported himself with a cane. “I am honored that you would receive me at so late an hour, and on such short notice, Mister Hai,” he said formally.
The Shar-Pei smiled, his folds of skin hanging from a frame nearly skeletal with age, and coughed as the feline assisted him into a chair. Peng-wum remained standing as a mark of respect. “Your telegram was very short, and there is much that you do not tell me, young son of my dear friend Ni Hei,” he said.
“My father sends you the most respectful regards, Hai Fat, and remembers that you helped him in his time of need. Much of what I wanted to say could not be trusted to the wireless, sir,” Peng-wum replied as he brushed his ears with a paw. “I come to you with some news, and a business proposition. One that, I hope, will be mutually beneficial.”
He started talking, and it was well after midnight when he completed his presentation. The old canine nodded, asked few questions, and then retired for the night. Peng-wum was offered a bedroom, and he was able to sleep until morning.
He received his answer after breakfasting in his room, and by the end of the day was on his way back to Spontoon.
* * * * * * * * *
Hao sat on the balcony of the room, watching the sun go down as he held paws with Pilar. Their dinner hadn’t yet arrived, but there was plenty of time. He leaned over and lifted her paw to his muzzle, lips brushing the back of it gently as she blushed and smiled. “Hungry?” he asked teasingly.
She laughed. “Starving,” she said. “I can’t understand what’s keeping room service.” The canine leaned over, placing her head on his shoulder. “I wish … “
“What do you wish?” Hao asked.
“I wish you and I could stay like this forever,” she said, a bit haltingly, as if she was dragging the words out of her mouth bodily. “But we can’t. I will go home soon, and you have your father’s business to help with. But I’ve enjoyed the past few days with you,” and she smiled as his arm went around her shoulders.
“I’ve enjoyed it too, Pilar,” he said quietly. “I really have. You’re – “ A knock on the door interrupted him, and with a chuckle he disengaged from her and stood. A brief glance at her, and at himself, and he nodded. She was dressed in a thin robe, and he was wearing boxers and a t-shirt; he thought they were dressed well enough. He walked to the door and unlocked it. Opening it up, he said, “About time …”
His voice trailed away as the muzzle of a pistol pressed to his chest. As the brown-furred canine pushed the handgun against him, Hao backed up, paws rising as the canine entered the room and closed the door with a backward kick of one foot. “Hao?” Pilar asked, “What is – “
“We have company,” Hao said as he backed further into the room, stopping about three feet from the canine.
The fur remarked in an icy tone, “So, Lieutenant, I see you are now interpreting your orders to include sleeping with the enemy.”
Hao glanced back at Pilar, a shocked look on his face as she crossed her arms over her chest defensively. “I-I used my discretion,” she said in a quiet voice, eyes staring at Hao, imploring him to understand. He turned back to face the fur with the gun, keeping his paws raised and visible.
“Your discretion? I’ll tell you what I think, Comrade Lieutenant,” the canine said in a cold, matter of fact tone. “I think that being so inexperienced and so close to this capitalist has corrupted you. You will be going back to Vladivostok; unfortunately, my report is already there.”
Pilar said nothing. Hao asked, “Vladivostok? What’s this all about?” He thought a moment, and blinked. “It’s about those fighter planes, isn’t it? Look, I paid good money for those two planes. Not my fault the local commissar got greedy. You communists aren’t supposed to bother about money, anyway,” he added in an indignant tone.
The gun’s muzzle elevated, pointing at Hao’s nose, and he shut up. “You will be going back as well,” the canine said, “or I may just shoot you now. It will save a great deal of trouble later.” The canine’s expression never wavered as he lowered the pistol, aiming at the panda’s chest and stepping closer.
“Yeb tvoyu mat’!” Pilar screamed in a panic-stricken, almost crying tone. The Russian imprecation caused the canine’s gaze to waver toward her, and Hao saw his chance.
His paws moved almost too fast to be seen, the left swinging down and across to bat the gun to his right, where his right paw caught it. His right paw wrapped around the pistol’s grip, pinning the canine’s paw around it as Hao’s left paw, holding the canine’s wrist, jerked to his right as he twisted. The canine stumbled forward and to his left. Hao’s left paw slid down the canine’s forearm and into the crux of his elbow; pushing down, the arm folded, following its natural bend. The pistol came up and its muzzle stopped just under the canine’s chin.
Hao’s right paw squeezed.
The Tokarev fired almost deafeningly loudly, the sound eclipsing Pilar’s startled cry. The 7.62-millimeter bullet literally took the top of the canine’s head off and smeared it on the door and nearby wall. Hao released the canine as the gun fired, letting him slump to the floor, and turned to face Pilar.
She made a tiny, strangled sound in her throat and backed away a step. Hao’s face was a set mask, his brown eyes dark and dead looking like a shark’s. His upper lip was curled in anger, baring his teeth, and flecks of blood spattered his fur and undershirt. Before she could react he stepped over to her and grabbed her by the shoulders. He shook her once, hard, and hissed, “Don’t start panicking on me yet, Pilar – if that’s your name. The police’ll be here soon and we need to –“ His expression changed, and he nodded. “Come on,” he said, urging her toward a chair by the room’s small writing table.
Pilar groped for the chair and sat, then numbly accepted the glass of whisky Hao poured for her. “Two sips of it,” he ordered, and she complied. When she set the glass down she yelped and recoiled as he slapped her once, hard, on the right side of her face. Tears welled in her eyes as she looked up at him and he said in an even, almost callous tone, “It’ll be more convincing.”
Hao went to the door just then as startled cries and a woman’s scream could be heard in the hallway. Of course, the dead canine’s blood was seeping under the door. Hao opened the door, pulling it open with some difficulty, and shouted, “Quick! Someone call the police!” He left the door open and headed back to Pilar. “Do you have a gun?” he asked in a soft tone.
She nodded; “Where is it?” he asked. A shaking paw lifted and pointed at her purse. Hao scooped the purse up and headed into the bathroom. Opening it, he shook his head at the Tokarev, then took it out and slipped it into the overhead tank for the water closet. He then closed the purse and placed it back on the nightstand just as the hotel’s detective shouldered through the doorway, followed by two police officers.
Hao started talking in the native dialect, fast and almost frantically. “Thank God you’re here! I was staying here with this girl you see and this guy I don’t know who the Hell he was – “
“Calm down, please, sir,” the detective said, and escorted Hao to the bed as the two constables examined the corpse. One of them pulled the door open further to let his sergeant in, and a short conversation ensued. The sergeant then walked over to Hao. “What is your name, sir?” he asked in the native language as the house detective attended to Pilar, who was taking another sip of her whisky.
“Ni Hao, Sergeant,” he replied in the same tongue. “I live on Krupmark Island, and I’m staying here at the hotel, Room 27.”
“I see. And why are you in here, in Room 23?”
Hao blushed, and smiled abashedly. “I met this young woman, and she and I – well, you know,” he said.
The sergeant chuckled and nodded, jotting a note on his pad. “Do you know who he was?” he asked, jerking a thumb at the dead canine.
“I don’t know. He came in here waving a gun, saying that she was his girlfriend. He slapped her, then pointed the gun under his chin. I tried to stop him, but he was too fast,” Hao said, closing his eyes and lowering his head, then looking at his paws. The sergeant nodded, careful eyes taking in the scene before he walked over to Pilar. “Miss – Arroyo,” he said in English as the house detective whispered her name in his ear, “is that what happened? Have you seen this fur before?”
Pilar had heard Hao’s description of the event, and her amazement at his account cut through her panic, calming her considerably. Now she knew why he’d slapped her, although that probably wasn’t the only reason, she reflected. She allowed her eyes to go unfocused – seemingly as an effect of her shock and the liquor she was drinking, and replied, “I’ve never seen him before in my life, sir. It – It just happened so fast,” and she started to cry.
She accepted a handkerchief from the house detective and wept as the sergeant said, “Well, this is now a crime scene, Miss Arroyo. Until we conclude the investigation, I’m going to suggest that you get another room.”
Pilar sniffled, and nodded; the sergeant said to Hao, “I’ll need a written statement from you, Mister Ni.” He leaned close and said, “Take her to your room; I have to talk to her after she’s calmed down.”