Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Kara Karoksdottir and Sergeant Brush courtesy of
M. Mitchell Marmel and E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Water and mud splashed up around the second year student’s running feet as they made their way around Eastern Island, shouldering full packs as part of an exercise. Their tutors had claimed that they were looking soft and thought that a nice run between their morning classes would help “toughen them up and burn off that excess fat.”
While a few might have been out of shape before entering Songmark two years earlier, it was a safe bet that none of them were not in top condition by now. And as for excess fat, no such thing existed.
And running through knee-deep water while wearing their heavy boots was guaranteed to give them a workout.
Shin spit and dragged the back of a paw across her muzzle as Tatiana’s foot came down hard, sending up a muddy spray. “Watch where you’re going,” she muttered between breaths.
“Nu, you almost tripped me with your tail,” the sable panted. Tatiana lengthened her stride slightly to put more distance between her and Shin.
As they finished the run and recovered, Shin glanced up at the sound of an aircraft engine. Several of the other girls looked up as well in time to see a brightly-painted single engine seaplane soar overhead, heading for the landing lane in the lagoon. “Hmm,” Shin said.
“What?” Liberty asked.
“I was wondering what my family’s plane’s doing here.”
“That belongs ta yer family?” Brigit asked. “I’d thought ‘twas that logy GH-2.”
“No, that’s Hao’s,” the red panda said absently, watching as the plane banked and descended out of sight. “And Hao doesn’t fly like that.”
Everything that was in her yearned to go and look, and she actually got to her feet before a sharp word from Miss Windlesham sent the whole group running back to the school to get cleaned up for their next class.
After paying the mooring fees for the K-85 and getting through Customs, Hei turned to see that Peng-wum was on time and waiting for them.
He smiled at his two sons and said briskly, “Hao, please take my bags to the Grand. Peng-wum, who’re the best lawyers here?”
The change in their father’s demeanor didn’t bother either of them. They’d seen it before.
Hei was all business right now.
Hao merely nodded and scooped up the single small suitcase while Peng-wum replied, “That’d probably be Vison’s on Meeting Island, Father. Their prices are a bit high, so I’m told.”
“As they always are,” his father said with a hint of a smile. “I want you to go there and set up an appointment for me. I have a stop to make, and then I’ll meet you at the Grand for lunch.”
Peng-wum nodded and headed for the taxi rank, leaving Hei alone. He watched his sons walk off, then looked at his watch and headed south.
The road forked, and he took the right-paw route that ended at a complex of two-story buildings surrounded by a high fence. Two young women, both canine, stood guard at the gate. From the way they held themselves Hei was certain that they didn’t need weapons to bar anyone from entering without leave.
He also knew better, and wasn’t about to try to go in. So he smiled as he walked up to within ten feet of the entrance and said, “Good morning. I was wondering if I could speak with Miss Devinski, please. My name is Ni Hei.”
The two girls looked at each other; one nodded and loped off while the other continued to watch Hei. He returned her suspicious glare with a smile. After a moment, he turned to study a large flowering frangipani set a few dozen feet away from the gate, touching a leaf here and there and occasionally bending to smell a flower.
He turned at the sound of footsteps and bowed formally as a yellow-furred canine stepped through the gateway. “Good morning, Mr. Ni,” Catherine Devinski said. “Prudence tells me you want to speak with me, so I gather that you’re not here to collect Shin.”
“Unless she’s failed, which I very much doubt,” the red panda said with a smile. “Her last report to me about her grades showed that she was doing quite well. However, I would appreciate it if you would pass on a message to her.”
“Why not let her see the message you put on that bush there?” Devinski asked, gesturing toward a series of apparently randomly broken or disturbed leaves on the frangipani. He knew she would spot the signals; she was saying it aloud for the benefit of her students.
“That’s just to let her know I was here, should you refuse to relay the message,” Hei replied. “Please tell my daughter that if she has a pass this weekend – and only if she has a pass, for I will check – she may wish to talk with me.”
Devinski’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to talk to her?” she demanded.
Hei glanced at the two canines, then spoke rapidly in Chinese. Devinski’s features were unreadable as she listened, then nodded curtly. “I’ll relay the message, but be warned that if she isn’t allowed to go and leaves anyway, she will not be welcomed back.”
The red panda nodded. “I would expect nothing less, Miss Devinski, but I feel that Shin will not want to jeopardize her education.” He chuckled. “She had better not,” he added, “and you can pass that on to her as well, please.”
Hei courteously bowed to Devinski and the two gate guards (one of whom tittered softly) and headed back up the road to hire a water taxi.
The Grand had been redecorated since his last visit, and the overall effect was very pleasing given the tropical climate. The chef was a professional, as well; Hei’s bamboo shoots had been stir-fried until they were cooked but still had some snap to them, and were seasoned perfectly. He savored the taste for a long moment, then swallowed and said, “After the meeting, Peng-wum, I want to go to Pangai to say hello.” The appointment didn’t give him enough time to be with his daughter-in-law and grandson, so meeting with the lawyer would come first.
“Of course, Father.”
Three pairs of ears twitched as a musician started to play the piano in the hotel’s casino. Hei lowered his tea cup and remarked, “You’ve been making some changes.”
“Not me,” his oldest son said. “Dan Lupino thought it was a good draw for more customers, and the numbers bear him out. It’s a sacrifice of about a fifth of the casino business, in exchange for attracting couples who want to listen to music and dance.” He smiled. “We also get a radio show here in the mornings that attracts more customers.”
“If Lupino thought of it, he’s managed to surprise me a little. I’m just glad he’s running Shepherd’s now. What morning show?”
“I haven’t seen it – “
“I have,” Hao said as he sipped at a Nootnops Red with ice. “The Euro station – LYRC or something like that – broadcasts from the stage. It’s called ‘The Breakfast Club’ - music, jokes and so on.”
Hei looked dubious. “I’ll have to listen to it sometime. Hmm. Don’t look now, my sons, but someone’s headed this way.” As Peng-wum and Hao turned, he asked, “A friend of yours?”
“Father, please don’t insult me,” Hao growled in Chinese before he smiled and said, “Hello, Brush.”
Detective Sergeant Brush scowled at the trio. “Well yez know who I am,” the stocky fox grumbled, “so I ain’t gotta flash my badge at yez. An’ I know yer older brudder, too. I wanna know what th’ hell yez is doin’ here.”
“Having lunch, Sergeant,” Peng-wum said with a grin. So far, no one had raised their voice. The other diners didn’t act as if anything unusual was going on.
“Har har. I’m bein’ nice witcha so far. What are yez doin’ here?”
Hei’s ears perked. “I’m here to visit my grandson, Sergeant,” and he smiled pleasantly at the vulpine. “I’m sure there’s nothing illegal in that.”
Brush looked unconvinced, and he didn’t take his eyes off Hao as he said, “No, there ain’t. But that better be all yez is up to. An’ I’m makin’ it my bizness to keep track of alla yez.”
“Good,” Hei said. “Just to let you know, then: I have a two o’clock appointment with a lawyer on Meeting Island, and then my son will be taking me over to Pangai to visit his family. Is that sufficient, or should I write it all down for you?”
Brush’s ears laid back and he muttered something Spontoonie. Neither of the Nis had done anything on Spontoon that they could be charged with, and now he could see where the Ni children got their attitude. He turned and stalked out of the restaurant as Hei signaled a waiter for the check.
“Sorry about that, Father,” Hao said with a chuckle. “We try to keep the riffraff out of the place.”
Hei laughed. “I’m curious as to what he’ll say to Stagg, and if so what will happen.” He wiped his muzzle with a napkin. “But there’s no use dwelling on that. I’m going up to my room and get a nap before the appointment. Peng-wum, you and Hao will have to find something to do before you come with me to the meeting.”
Kara Karoksdottir turned out to be a rather attractive vixen. While Peng-wum and Hao sat in an outer office Hei walked in and as her secretary closed the door he extended a paw. “Miss Karoksdottir, thank you for seeing me on short notice.”
“It’s not a problem, Mr. Ni. Now, your son said that you’re interested in opening a business office on Casino Island. What kind of business?”
“I see.” The vixen looked at him critically. “Most investments are handled by the local banks.”
“I’m aware of that. However, most of those concerns deal with investments to the east – America and so on, like the Merle Finch offices. My business’s focus will be oriented more toward China, Japan and Australia. My son has a copy of our prospectus.”
She nodded. “And you’re here because - ?”
“There is a need to lease office space on Casino Island, which I’m sure you know is a tricky business for a non-Spontoonie. I will be talking with the Finance Ministry tomorrow about licensing, and to make things easier everything will be in my oldest son’s name.”
A delicately tweezed eyebrow rose in unspoken question.
“He’s a Spontoon citizen by marriage, which should make some of the hurdles a bit easier to jump over,” Hei explained, gesturing with his paws as he spoke. “Now, how much would your retainer be?”
Eyebrows rose. “One thousand, just for finding an office?”
Karoksdottir smiled. “Oh, a hundred of that’s only to cover my due diligence. The rest is insurance.”
“To cover my legal fees after I get arrested for helping the Ni Family from Krupmark Island,” she said evenly. “Yes, your family name’s known, sir. You might even say it precedes you. I did a little checking after your son set up this appointment.”
“However, if the Finance Ministry’s willing to grant your son a business license here, you could as easily get an office deal worked out with some other firm,” she said, studying her claws. “And I’m certain that your son will be watched closely for any illegal activity.”
“Of course.” Now it was Hei’s turn to smile, as he fished his checkbook out of his jacket pocket and started to take the cap off his fountain pen. “I believe you said one thousand?”