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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 by Walter Reimer
(Lars Nordstrom and Songmark Academy
used by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Peng-wum sat in a small bar in the warehouse district, sipping moodily at a cup of tea. The bar was a favorite haven for the Chinese and Japanese who lived and worked on Casino Island, and normally alcohol wasn’t their forte. The small cubicles in the back of the establishment dealt in other substances, both licit and illicit. As he sipped at the steaming cup he glanced westward.
The sun was setting amid a vast smear of red-lit clouds, and lightning would occasionally light up the shadows as night closed in. The area around Krupmark was getting hit with a series of storms, according to reports from pilots and captains in the area, and the front seemed to be heading for Spontoon. While the K-85 could fly in that weather, there didn’t seem to be much point in risking the family plane. He had cabled Krupmark and instructed Frank to come and get him the next day.
He lifted the cup and inhaled, savoring the tea’s aroma, and thus was startled when a flat, square box thumped on the bar in front of him.
Peng-wum opened his eyes and turned to face the stag who now sat beside him. “Good evening, sir,” he said politely.
Lars Nordstrom smiled, accepting a cup of tea from the bartender. “Good evening, Mister Ni,” he replied, raising the cup in salute before taking a sip. “I happened to be in the area, and I wish to return something of value to you.” He rested a finger on the box.
Peng-wum frowned. “Something of value to me?” he echoed. “I’ve lost nothing.”
A smile and a slight dip of antlers. “Forgive me. A few nights ago, one of your employees gave me this in exchange for immediate passage off Krupmark – to Macao, actually,” Nordstrom said quietly. The red panda frowned, then both ears perked up. “Hank Carter?” At the stag’s nod he added, “I had heard that Wo Fang was looking for him for some reason …“ He lifted the lid of the box and his face remained impassive as he closed the lid hastily. “Where is Hank now?” he asked.
Nordstrom smiled. “You must understand that, while your family are competitors, I do have some values I hold dear. Betrayal isn’t one of them.” His expression hardened. “Carter – well, I might be able to give you a general place to look, to about ten square miles of open ocean, but it would really be quite pointless.”
“I see.” Peng-wum really did see; penalties on Krupmark tended towards extremes when employees tried to stab their employers in the back. He could recall his younger brother rather gleefully stabbing a dealer to death for skimming from the till at the casino a year ago. The dealer’s body had been dumped about a hundred yards off the reef line, food for sharks. He rested a paw on the box. “I am in your debt, Mister Nordstrom.”
“Please, call me Lars,” and the stag gave a genuinely friendly smile. “And I might recall that debt sometime. In the meantime,” and he stood, placing a few coins on the bar to cover the cost of his drink, “keep an eye on that box. It looks rather expensive.” He walked out, ducking slightly to avoid knocking his antlers against the doorway.
Peng-wum finished his tea and paid for it. He gathered up the box and tucked it protectively under one arm. Walking out of the building, he headed for a place he knew near the docks. He didn’t fear being attacked or robbed; he was known here.
He knocked on a certain door and waited. After a moment a small peephole opened, a feline eye scrutinized him, and the door opened. He stepped in and bowed slightly to the middle-aged Siamese who asked, “What brings you here tonight, sir?”
“I have a certain item here,” and Peng-wum patted the box, “and I want it appraised.” At the feline’s nod, he opened the box and placed it on a table. Grabbing a loupe, the Siamese looked hard at every stone on the necklace and both earrings before announcing, “It is fine workmanship. I would say it cost ten or eleven thousand pounds to make.”
Peng-wum grinned suddenly, his bushy tail swishing as he asked, “Will you give me three thousand pounds for it?”
“Three thousand?” the Siamese fairly howled. “Where would I get that kind of money?”
“The same place you always do, my friend,” the red panda said affably. “You’ve always had a good relationship with my family, and you’ve always made money on every transaction. Besides, you just said it’s worth ten or eleven. Surely you can give me one-third of its appraised value,” and his brown eyes gazed hard at the Siamese.
The feline considered. The jewelry would have to be broken down into its components. The stones could be fenced piecemeal, the silver melted down. All in all, it might fetch twice the amount he had estimated the set was worth. “Lee!” the Siamese suddenly shouted. “Bring the strongbox!”
A short time later, Peng-wum arrived at the house of a friend, and was given a guest bedroom to sleep in.
* * * * * * * * *
Thunder pealed in the distance as the storm neared Krupmark Island. Inside the Ni Family home, the climate was going bad as well. “Hei, what are you saying? What kind of choice is that?” Peng protested, rising from her chair as she saw tears well up in Shin’s eyes. She gathered her daughter up in her arms as her husband said, “That’s my choice to her, marriage or her education.” He gave a challenging glare to Wo Fang as the tiger took a half-step forward. “This is her decision to make, Fang,” he remarked in a tone that brooked no dissent.
Fang subsided, letting his claws slip back into their sheathes, and contented himself with glaring at Hei. The elder Ni crossed his arms over his chest and glanced back at his daughter. “Well, Shin?”
She sniffled, breaking away from her mother’s embrace and drawing the back of a paw across her nose before saying in Chinese, “Honored Father, please … don’t make me choose.” Tears practically dripped from her whiskers as she stood facing him, paws balled up in fists.
Hei looked at her, recalling the tearful ten-year-old girl who asked him why she couldn’t go home to play with her friends, the fifteen-year-old who had just discovered boys (much to her mother’s distress), and the beautiful young woman before him whose heart was tearing in half before his eyes. He looked at her, and looked at his wife, who shook her head slightly in disapproval for his actions. As a long minute dragged past his tail drooped and his shoulders sagged as he finally said, “I surrender.”
“What?” Wo Fang growled as Shin sniffled again.
“I said I give up,” Ni Hei said, stepping over to a window as rain began to strike in long spikes across the pane. “I should have known better than to try and separate you two. Shin, your application and all tuition fees were mailed to Songmark two days ago by your brother. You and Fang have my blessing,” and he placed a paw against the glass as lightning flashed outside.
“Father,” Shin breathed, and ran to him, hugging him tightly from behind as she started to cry again, this time in happiness that her father had finally relented. He turned and smiled down at her, catching a glimpse of Peng’s approving smile. “Fang.”
“Yes, sir?” the Manchurian asked as he stepped over to him. He paused as Hei extended a paw, and shook it as Hei said, “Welcome to the family.”
Fang grinned widely, only to have the smile fade into an uncertain look as Hei pulled him close and whispered in his ear, “And if you ever, ever hurt my daughter, I’ll kill you myself.”
* * * * * * * * *
Hao walked upstairs to the room he shared with Pilar – no, Anna, he corrected himself. He’d call her Pilar only until he could get her out of the paws of the Spontoon police; then he’d call her by her correct name. He knocked, and smiled at her as she opened the door. “I have some good news,” he said as the door closed and they hugged briefly.
“Really?” she asked as she broke the embrace. “What is it?” Anna gestured toward two trays on a table. “I ordered dinner, but didn’t start eating. I was waiting for you.”
“Thanks, I’m hungry. I have a connection in the island constabulary,” Hao explained, “and you and I are both in the clear. We can leave any time.” She nodded, tail wagging happily at the prospect of being able to leave her old life behind. “Have you thought about what to do to get me away from here?”
“Oh, I have one or two ideas,” Hao replied, a mischievous gleam in his eyes as he sat down and started eating. “You’ll travel light, just the clothes on your back,” he commented around a mouthful of food, “so don’t wear anything that you don’t want messed up or torn.”
She sat down and started to eat, nodding at his instructions as he added, “And you won’t be going with me. There’s no room in my Nin Hai for two, you see.”
“I understand,” she said, and smiled as she raised her glass. “To Krupmark Island, then.”
Several hours later, Anna, wearing denim trousers and a white short-sleeved shirt, left with Hao by the Grand Hotel’s back door. Winds shook the trees overhead as she remarked, “Should be a bad storm tonight. Are you sure this is the right time to go?”
“Absolutely,” he replied, and refused to answer any other questions until they had crossed the breadth of the island, keeping to smaller roads and trails cut through the jungle on the southern coast. The walk took about two hours, Anna guessed, and the wind seemed to pick up as a few small, short rain squalls blew over them. Finally they reached a small cove about fifty yards from the nearest path and Hao tugged at her shirt. “Get down,” he whispered.
“What? Why?” she asked in a bewildered tone even as she crouched down beside him. Before Hao could reply she heard the sound of a motor over the rustling of the wind through the underbrush. Suddenly a white noise roar eclipsed the motor sounds as a downpour started, the rain drenching Anna to the skin within seconds. She craned forward, straining to hear something, anything over the sound of wind and rain. With equal suddenness the rain stopped as the storm passed overhead, and her ears perked forward.
A set of paws grabbed her from behind as a rag soaked in some pungent liquid was clamped over her mouth and nose. She gasped, cried out and struggled against the paws that held her, even as her arms were forced behind her back and she felt the steel rasp of handcuffs on her wrists. The chloroform filled her lungs and her struggles grew weaker, until finally everything went blacker than the rainswept night. “Wrap her …” were the only words she heard, and her drugged mind couldn’t identify who was speaking.
“Wrap her up,” Hao directed his associates, “and gag her as well. We’ve got to move quickly and quietly.” A canine dressed in oilskins stepped up and Hao clasped paws with him. “Wei, thanks.”
Hai Wei grinned, his teeth shining wetly as lightning flashed overhead. He waited until the thunder had stopped and said, “She’s certainly pretty, Hao. If you’re interested, that offer’s still open.”
Hao laughed as he told the Shar Pei, “No, I’m not interested in selling her – although I have to admit she’d fetch a good price. That fat slob Allworthy would probably enjoy her.” A calculating expression crossed his face, and he smiled. “But, since we’re talking deals here, can I interest you in a pair of fighter planes?” He chuckled at Wei’s surprised look, threw a companionable arm around the canine’s shoulders and walked him a few yards up the beach. As the two picked their way around mangrove roots, the crew busied themselves putting Anna’s limp form aboard the small fishing boat.