Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
“Hao? Wake up, we’re here.” The red panda blinked up at his brother, then peered out the windows of the train as it pulled into the Oakland station. The station and the surrounding town looked drab and forlorn in the dim early-morning light, but the light layer of fog would hopefully burn off as the sun climbed higher. “The conductor will be coming around soon.”
Peng-wum looked better rested after the twelve hour train trip from Los Angeles. The idea of going home, even by a roundabout route, certainly seemed to appeal to him. He was already dressed.
Hao yawned and sat up to stretch, scratching under his ribs as he looked out the window. “How far are we from San Francisco?”
“Not far. I figure we’ll take a taxi to a hotel, then get a plane schedule.”
“We could have gone straight back. I know this place in Honolulu – “
Peng-wum’s laugh interrupted him. “I know; we’ve both been there. But neither of us have ever been to America, and I figure it’s worth a look. Besides, we can get a feel for whether we can expand our legitimate business, now that the Massacre is over.” His tail twitched angrily as he referred to the events of the past Christmas season. The Nis had suffered a drop in business as a result of all the police raids (as had almost all of the mid-level entrepreneurs on Krupmark, and several of the furs who lived up on the hill were rumored to have taken losses) and while things were looking up again it had still been a setback.
“And it’s cheaper to go this way.”
Peng-wum smiled. “Exactly.”
Much of San Francisco looked amazingly new, having been rebuilt after the massive earthquake that had struck the place over thirty years earlier. After checking into a moderately-priced hotel the two brothers discovered that there was a Shoshone Skytrails flight to Seathl the next afternoon. However, the visas required to cross from the United States to Rain Island required several hours.
It appeared that the Americans were suspicious of having two socialist countries at either end of the continent (although what kind of threat New Haven could pose apart from the odd troublemaker Peng-wum couldn’t guess). When the last stamp was affixed to their passports it was well after midday, leaving the two brothers only a few hours to see some of the sights as well as to make contact with the San Francisco branch of the Businessman’s Association.
With the country still struggling to come out of the Depression, there were opportunities to invest that could reap lucrative benefits later. Over dinner Peng-wum remarked, “I’m going to tell Father that we can start thinking about setting up here now.”
“Won’t the money stay here in America? He won’t like that.”
“I know, and the cash flow will be one-way for a while. But as time goes by the flow will start coming out our way.” Peng-wum grinned, gesturing with his chopsticks. The food was better here than in Los Angeles, probably because its Chinese community had been established longer. “Despite its problems, America’s got plenty of money – it’s only just that they share some of it with us.”
“Okay. Now, why Seathl?”
“Rain Island’s less paranoid than America about foreign companies opening up business on their soil. Shin had the idea that we could open an investment office there.”
Hao looked skeptical. “Since when is Shin thinking about business? She’s in school.”
“Part of that schooling is she has to set up a business plan for herself,” Peng-wum explained. “She’ll be starting her third year soon – if she’s lucky enough not to get arrested for some prank or other – and she told me once that her tutors won’t look kindly on her just relying on her inheritance.”
Hao nodded, a sudden pensive look coming over his face. “What are you thinking about?” his brother asked.
The younger red panda shrugged. “That girl I was telling you about – the one Mother and Father had the matchmaker pick out for me? I was just thinking about her.”
“Don’t look at me like that. I was wondering when I’ll actually meet her.”
Peng-wum chuckled. “Traditionally, you wouldn’t see her in the fur until your wedding night,” and he laughed as a half-horrified look came over his brother’s face. “Calm down. I expect you’ll meet her before then. Trust Father and Mother, Hao. They wouldn’t do something that rotten to you.”
Seathl, spreading up the mountains and hills that surrounded its fjord, was a surprise to both brothers. Not only was there very little sign of the sometimes overt racism they had seen in America, but the Rain Islanders were eager to invest their money and to attract business. Japanese-made cars could be seen on the roads, and it was well-known that Boing was expanding the aircraft plant it had built south of the city.
Shin’s observations were apparently right on the mark, and Peng-wum took some notes on what was needed to set up an office in the city. Hiring staff would not be a problem either, since there was a solid Chinese minority in the city.
To Hao’s astonishment, there were no Tongs in Seathl. The various businesses had instead collectivized in order to present a united front to their competitors. They even elected their own delegates to the Governing Syndicate, as did all municipalities and collectives in the anarcho-syndicalist nation.
It also explained why Harper hadn’t asked about any Tong activities.
They waited two days before boarding another Skytrails plane, this time a Sikorsky flying boat, for the final leg of their trip. The plane would take them to South Tillamook where they would stop briefly, then fly on to Eastern Island.
Peng-wum saw her first as he and Hao left the Customs shed at the Eastern Island terminal. He dropped his luggage and ran to his wife, who stood dressed in a white blouse and a dark blue skirt and waved frantically at him. The two collided, hugging each other tightly as they kissed. They held the kiss so long that their paws started to wander and several Euros turned away in embarrassment.
Hao laughed and gathered up the discarded bags. It still astounded him how passionate his older brother was around the rabbit.
Peng-wum whispered to his wife as they broke the kiss, “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, love,” Nailani said, grinning as she stepped back a pace and looked him over. “No holes, so I guess everything was a success,” she joked, and Hao walked past them to reserve a water taxi.
“Yeah, we managed to bring it around,” Peng-wum said as he slipped an arm around her waist. They kissed again as he started to lead her toward the taxi rank. “Why are you wearing that?” he asked after coming up for air and gesturing at her clothes.
The rabbit giggled and tossed her headfur back. “The airport’s not a good place for a grass skirt. Besides, I figured I’d – “ she leaned close and whispered in his ear, laughing as she saw his ears stand straight up and his tail start to quiver.
“Just wait till I get you home,” he murmured as they reached the taxi rank.
“Sure you can wait that long?” Nailani teased. They boarded and the taxi started toward Casino Island. As the breeze ruffled the fur on her ears she reached into a pocket of her skirt and pulled out a piece of paper. “This came for you both. It’s from your father.”
“He’d better not want me to go anywhere,” Peng-wum growled as he and Hao read the telegram:
CONGRATULATIONS BOTH OF YOU STOP WELL DONE STOP HAO COME GET ME STOP
The last part of the message caused Hao to drop the lit cigarette he held in his paw. Hastily retrieving it and throwing it overboard he said, “That’s strange. When was the last time Father was – oh, yeah, Shin’s wedding.”
“That was a while back, too,” Peng-wum said. “He may want to come see Mikilani. He hasn’t seen his grandson yet, you know.” He squeezed his wife’s paw as he spoke, and she returned the gesture with a kiss.
Hao chuckled. “Well, I have a few things to take care of before I collect the Garza and head for home.”
They parted ways at Casino Island, Hao to collect what information his associates had managed to gather in China and to make preparations for returning to Krupmark. Peng-wum and Nailani walked to the other side of the island and hired a water taxi to take them to Pangai.
As the boat moved past South Island’s northern coast, Peng-wum gave the driver a twenty-shell note and told him in Spontoonie, “Just drive the boat, please.”
The driver did his best, although his ears twitched at the giggles and various other sounds the rabbit and the red panda made. He glanced back at them and afterward took care to avoid driving his boat near any of the others. The wind shifted once, and he almost had to bite his tongue to avoid making a comment, or singing a chant usually reserved for wedding nights and other occasions.
Behind the boat a white blouse, a blue skirt and a blue pinstriped suit jacket slowly sank into the water.
Hao grimaced as he stood at the gate to Harper’s Flying Service, a small bundle of papers clenched in his paw. He had checked into his usual room at the Grand first, then went into the Chinese section of the island to collect his information. The plane had been checked next, and Hao was pleased to see that it had been well taken care of while he was gone.
Well, here goes, he thought as he opened the gate and walked up to the door.
He rapped on the door and walked in to find the stocky rabbit marking a calendar with a grease pencil. “It’s April th’ twenty-seventh,” he grumbled after glancing at the red panda.
“So you can read a calendar, I suppose,” Hao replied as he dumped the packet on the desk that dominated the office. “Here’s the stuff you asked for.”
“How recent’s this information?”
Hao shrugged. “About a week old.” What had been collected made it obvious that the Japanese were definitely up to something in the southern regions around Shanghai. He had already decided that he’d tell Father when he got home.
“It’ll do, I guess. Good job.” The rabbit turned away from the calendar and looked at him. “There’s still plenty o’ daylight. Care t’take th’ practical portion of yer pilot’s test now?”
The red panda’s paws twitched as if they already held a control yoke. It took a lot of effort not to seem too eager as he replied, “Yeah.”
“Okay. Get a flight suit on an’ meet me out back t’the dock.” The rabbit swept the packet of papers up in his paws and stepped into a back room, while Hao headed for the building’s small changing room.
Harper’s plane was a four year old Fairchild 24C, converted into a floatplane. It was a two-seater and Hao did a careful preflight check, his tail almost wagging with the anticipation of being back behind the controls of a plane. When he was finished, he cast off and climbed into the pilot’s seat while Harper squeezed into the seat beside him.
The plane’s four-cylinder Menasco engine roared to life and after receiving clearance from the Eastern Island tower, Hao took off and listened carefully to Harper’s instructions.
At one point he had to change course to avoid a flight of DeHavilland Tiger Moth biplanes, but overall Hao handled the plane well. As he banked into a turn that would take them near (but not directly over) Sacred Island, Hao remarked, “This thing handles really well.”
“It should. It’s a good steady plane,” Harper said. He pointed. “Take us back t’dock, now.”
“Right.” As the plane banked again Hao said, “I notice your friends didn’t ask what the Chinese are doing.”
Harper gave a soft snort of laughter. “You noticed that, huh? Well, we know what’s goin’ on with them – th’ Kuomintang’s in talks with th’ Reds.”
The red panda shot a glance at the rabbit. “But they hate each other.”
“They’ve got the same enemy.”
Hao nodded, and made sure that he landed the plane as gently as possible. He really wanted that pilot’s license.
It was his payment, after all.
After he and Harper got the plane secured Hao asked, “So? Do I get my license?”
The rabbit thought a moment, then nodded. “Where’re ya staying while you’re on Spontoon?”
Harper snorted. “Big spender, eh? Okay, Ni, here’s what’s goin’ t’happen. I’ll file th’ paperwork as yer instructor, along with yer grades. That goes t’Transportation Ministry here, and it’ll be delivered to yer hotel room in about five days.”
Hao thought it over. Five days would enable him to get his plane, fly to Krupmark to pick up his father, and be back in time to have an actual, legal license to fly. “That’s fair. I’ll hold you to it, though.”
The Rain Islander laughed. “Spoken like a businessman.”