Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
Small red and orange puffballs of tracer ammunition floated up to the GH-2 as it spiraled over the island’s barrier reef, causing the Mixtecan plane to dodge the incoming fire. The machine gun fire stopped when the gunners recognized the signal that was being flashed to them, and signaled that the plane was cleared to land. Since the plane landed without any obvious damage, the furs on the machine guns relaxed, guessing that they wouldn’t be punished.
“Dew neh loh moh! What the hell was that all about?” Hao asked the short, thin chipmunk that helped them tie up the plane. The red panda’s anger showed in his bottled tail and clenched fists, one paw hovering near his shoulder holster.
The fur shrugged. “I think the crews are a little on edge,” he said, “after what happened a few days back.”
The question collected a chuckle as the chipmunk started toward the Family offices. “Well, I heard a guy up in the Bazaar say that someone caught a guy sneaking around. When they finally broke him, he told them he’d been dropped off by boat north of the mountain.”
Hao looked a bit startled. Apart from certain very quiet operations (according to rumors), hardly anyone lived north of Mount Krupp. The north shore was of the island was marked by an odd combination of tidal mud flats and razor-sharp reefs of volcanic rock. “Who was he?”
A shrug. “Damfino. They put what’s left of him on display up in town if you want to look. A fellow said the clothes on him look Jap, though.”
“Japanese?” Hao asked, his ears flicking as he started thinking furiously.
The rodent shrugged again as he opened the door for the Boss’ youngest son. “Could be,” he said, “but I wouldn’t know a Jap uniform from my Aunt Mildred’s nightdress.” He walked off as the door closed, leaving the red panda alone with the lion who helped Hei run the business.
“I want to go see,” Hao said half to himself.
“Peeping Tom,” Clarence chided with a grin. “He’s not going anywhere, according to Jeff. Come, let’s go upstairs and see your parents. They’ve been waiting for you.”
Marco smiled down at them as they went up the purposely creaking wooden staircase, and shook Hao’s paw as he let them into Hei’s office. The ferret looked pleased to see him, even though his usual weaponry (two revolvers and a knife) had been augmented by a short-barreled shotgun. Hao cocked an eye at the extra firearm before entering the office.
“Hao! It’s good to see you,” his father said as he got out of his chair. His mother smiled and nodded as he bowed to her before shaking his father’s paw. “Excellent work, by the way,” Hei said.
“Thank you, Father,” Hao said, “although Peng-wum deserves all the credit.” He smiled as he sat down, lacing his fingers together in his lap. “If everything’s worked according to plan, Manny won’t know there are strings on him until it’s far too late for him to do anything about it.”
“Good. This gives us a significant inroad into American businesses. It could go a long way to recovering our losses from both Wu Tang and last winter.” Hei waved away an errant fly as he sat down behind his desk. “The branch office idea was brought up by our contact on Meeting Island. As long as the business transacted there is completely legitimate, there should be little difficulty in granting a lease on some property and getting a license – after all, with Peng-wum’s marriage he’s a full Spontoon citizen.”
“Why do you need to go there then, Father, if everything’s arranged?” Hao asked.
Hei replied, “I haven’t been there in over a year, Hao. And I haven’t seen my grandson yet,” he added with a fond smile. “Now, you go relax, and we’ll leave for Spontoon tomorrow.”
“Right, Father.” Hao stood as he asked, “Do you know anything about the stranger? Jeff said he may have been Japanese.”
“He was found three days ago,” Peng offered. His mother folded her paws into the sleeves of her robe. “His uniform was Japanese, but whether he actually was or not – I hadn’t heard.” Peng had lines of communication her husband and sons didn’t, mainly through the private networks maintained by the various madams on Krupmark. It was practically an axiom that men tended to talk, while women pretended to be deaf.
“That could end up being a problem, I guess,” Hao observed. “What are the people on the hill doing about it?”
“We don’t know,” and Hei glanced at his wife, who nodded. “People are a bit jumpy, though, and you know what that means.”
Hao snorted. “Yeah, it means holes in my plane if those gunners hadn’t been drunk, drugged or crosseyed. That stranger might have company if they’ve nicked the paint. And I found out something while I was at Spontoon,” and he related what was happening in southern China.
Hei scowled. “There’ve been rumors that something’s up, and Clarence and I have already taken a few steps. By the way, we’ll be taking the Keystone back,” and at his father’s words his youngest son’s ears perked. “I want to get some flying time in.”
“What? You think I can’t fly my own plane?”
“No, Father, but it’s been a while since you’ve flown,” Hao said.
“No time like the present then. We’ll see you for supper.” Hao took the hint and left the office.
The crowd just north of the Thieves’ Bazaar was a small one. It seemed that all of the fun was over, and therefore there wasn’t much to attract the employees, drifters and shopkeepers or to keep them tormenting the prisoner any longer. Hao shouldered a slightly-built feline aside and looked at the fur in the stout wooden cage.
The man was canine, rather short from the look of him, wearing a stained, dirty and somewhat tattered uniform blouse and trousers. The blouse hung open, showing that the man had been stripped after his capture, but allowed some shred of dignity after being searched. All buttons, zippers and insignia had been cut away, and the pockets had been ripped open.
Otherwise there were signs that the man had been roughly handled by whoever had conducted the interrogation. Patches of fur had been burned away, and matted fur at the tips of his fingers and toes showed where his claws had been ripped out.
Hao knew a few words of Japanese, but realized that the man wouldn’t answer his questions.
The dead don’t talk, after all, and the canine looked as if he’d been dead a full day.
The young red panda shrugged and wandered off into the Bazaar to buy some more ammunition for his pistol, and to find a buyer for his plane’s cargo.
His cargo, as usual, was canned food and some cloth; it was only on flights coming back from places other than Spontoon that he carried less legal items. He knew he was very likely being watched by the Constabulary while he was there (particularly by that blowhard fox), so it was important to look innocent.
As innocent as possible, he corrected himself.
Some of the shopkeepers benefited from his cargo, knowing that while the red panda drove hard bargains he could usually be counted on to be fair. After settling his last deal, Hao paused in front of Ninamuri’s, a small eatery run by a pair of Japanese. The place also sported a small bathhouse at the rear.
A nice hot bath – and the attendant young ladies – would be welcome.
The remains of a light snack sat on a small table beside the bathtub, and Hao sank back in the steaming water and sighed contentedly. The girl in the tub with him giggled as she leaned back as well, letting him rest his head on her shoulder as she rubbed his shoulders. One of his paws toyed with a glass half-full of whisky, and his ears twitched as the doorknob rattled.
His other paw tensed on his pistol as he said, “Come in.”
The door opened and one of the young felines who looked after the bath customers bowed to him, then stepped aside as a huge shadow filled the doorway. “Hao,” came a rumbling voice.
“Julius,” Hao said, relaxing just a bit, “come on in. How’ve you been doing? What brings you up here?”
Julius Malanakanakahea shrugged as he stepped into the room. The bull was a business acquaintance of Hao’s from Samoa, usually running a few illicit cargoes of weapons north to avoid the British or French colonial authorities. He had made quite a bit of money financing several sides of the latest blood feuds in New Tirana and other parts of the Albanian South Indies. “Business isn’t too shabby, Hao. I’m just passing through, on my way to Vanirge.”
“Vanirge? What do they want guns for down in Vanirge?”
“That’s not my business,” the Samoan said, wagging a finger the size of a bratwurst at the red panda. “I saw you come on in here, and thought I’d drop by to say hello. How’s your sister? Still married to that striped troublemaker?”
Hao grinned. Fang and Julius had fought several years ago (over Shin, by all accounts) and Julius had lost. The bull still carried a few scars across his nose from the Manchurian’s claws. “Yeah, she’s still married to Fang,” he chuckled. “Look, can I get you anything while you’re up here?”
The red panda cocked his head in thought. Julius flew a Fokker Trimotor, which made sense in view of his three hundred pound girth and the samples he generally carried. Once deals had been struck, the cargoes usually traveled by water. “Hmm. I think I know a guy who owes me a favor or two. Let me get dried off and we’ll go see him, okay?”
The Samoan nodded and slipped with surprising grace out of the doorway, closing the door behind him.
The next day saw Ni Hei fussing over the family’s K-85 while Jeff stowed a pair of suitcases and Hao looked on with a pair of dockpaws. The elder Ni poked around within the plane’s single Pratt and Whitney engine, then nodded. “It looks ready, and in good condition. You and the others have been taking good care of her, Hao,” he said as he slowly clambered down from the wing and wiped off his paws.
“Thank you, Father,” and Hao signaled to the others to cast off the lines that had held the plane fast to the dock.
Hei strapped himself into the pilot’s seat and started the engine, cocking his head in a listening posture as he adjusted the fuel mixture to his satisfaction. Waving Hao to the copilot’s chair he started to taxi the plane out through the channel that had been dynamited through Krupmark’s barrier reef.
The Keystone-Loening soared into the air and slowly climbed to five thousand feet before Hei steered the plane toward Spontoon.
Hao relaxed. His father had been a licensed pilot for years, and this was his plane – but he still felt nervous when anyone else was flying. As the seaplane leveled off Hei sat back in his seat, smiling happily. “An excellent job taking care of her, Hao.”
The praise warmed him. “Well, some of the parts are getting harder to come by, which means paying more at Superior.”
“Really? Hmm, I may have to see about getting something newer, then. In the meantime, I’ll contact an agent and retain a lawyer when we get to Spontoon,” Hei replied. “It’s important that this be done properly,” noting the look of distaste on his youngest son’s muzzle.
“Yeah, but lawyers?” Hao asked.
“Lawyers are necessary in the legitimate world,” Hei reminded him.
“So’s government,” Hao grumbled, “but we don’t have to like it.”