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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 by Walter Reimer
The darkness was warm and inviting, and she nestled in it even as light began to intrude. Anna dreamed she was flying, or swimming, ascending through the shadows into the daylight. The world rocked around her, like a strange cradle or boat on the ocean. She tried to yawn, her eyelids fluttering drowsily. She tried to yawn again and her brown eyes sprang open as memory flooded back.
She was gagged, a thick cloth mask over her mouth and leaving her nose free so she could breathe. A stretch confirmed for her the fact that she was bound paw and foot; handcuffs still held her wrists. A short, muffled cry escaped her as she squirmed momentarily in panic, but stopped as she blinked and her training asserted itself. She started to assess her situation objectively.
Hao had been trying to get her off Casino Island when she had been attacked and drugged. A bad taste in her mouth, distinct from the wadded rag, told her that it had been probably chloroform or ether. Where was she now? She wondered, looking around.
The canopy overhead was made of woven reeds and palm leaves,
the sun shining through the gaps. The boat (she recognized the motion
now, along with the mewing of gulls and the salt tang in the air) carried
fish, and as the breeze shifted she smelled a small cooking fire along
with the smell of fuel oil. From the angle of the sun, she guessed
it was sometime past noon.
A feline stood there, tail moving in counterpoint to the roll of the boat. He was wearing a loincloth and nothing else, and had a sheath knife strapped to one thigh. Another crewmember, this one a short, grizzled rat, smiled at her as he peered around the feline. She didn’t, definitely didn’t, like that smile.
Her attention turned back to the feline as he said, “You’re hungry and thirsty, maybe. Yes?” His whiskers twitched as she nodded. “You get your paws and your mouth free. Any trouble and Olaf here gets to play,” and his tail indicated the rat, who dangled a weighted leather sap from his right paw and leered at her.
Anna’s eyes went wide and instinct took over. She tried to squirm away from the pair, shoving her shoulders against the gunwale. She was at least still dressed (in damp clothing that clung to her fur in interesting places and left hardly anything to the imagination), and fear rose in her throat like bile at the thought that she was literally shanghaied. She looked over the gunwale and her heart sank as she realized that they were miles out at sea. Even if she were an Olympic-class swimmer, she’d be dead soon enough.
The feline laughed as she sat back and glanced back at Olaf, who snickered. “So you’ll behave?” At her nod he added, “Too bad. Olaf likes to play.” He bent over her, removing her gag before turning her to one side and removing her handcuffs. She rubbed her wrists for a moment and stiffened suddenly as the feline ran a hand over her. She reached for the knife on his leg.
“Bad girl!” the feline said as his paw cracked hard against the side of her face. She yelped, and he quickly cuffed her right wrist to a cleat set into the deck. “You lose one hand for that,” he growled. “Olaf,” he said as he stood up, “keep an eye on her while I get her something to eat.” He went forward and talked with two other crewmen, both canines who looked to be brothers.
Olaf squatted down on the deck just out of Anna’s reach, eyes wandering over her form as she gulped. As a canteen of water and a plate of broiled fish and stale bread was brought to her, she had to wonder where Hao was. Was he dead? Was he a prisoner as well? He was going to send her off the island with some ‘friends’ of his, but she didn’t think that these unkempt furs were those associates. He wasn’t aboard, that was certain; the boat was too small to hide another body.
Her ears rose as she heard the feline laugh at something one of the canines said, and the word ‘Boss’ appeared out of the otherwise unintelligible conversation. They were taking her to someone.
That thought caused her to spill a mouthful of water all over her shirt. She had forgotten to take several things into account in her assessment.
First, that while Ni Hao was young, handsome and very charming to her, he was nevertheless a Chinese gangster.
Second, he was a capitalist.
Third, he might be inclined to hold a grudge.
She pushed the plate away from her, all appetite gone, and curled up as best she could. She shivered as her imagination started to tell her what she might expect at the end of her impromptu trip.
* * * * * * * * *
Ni Hao whistled happily to himself as he stepped onto the left float of his Nin Hai, satisfied that the plane would make it back to Krupmark. He’d slept late with the help of two rather willing (and not too expensive) filles de joie, then settled his bill and ate a fine lunch at the hotel. The rest of the morning had been spent filing his flight plan back to Krupmark and talking with a few of the incoming pilots about the weather.
Settling into the cockpit, he flung one end of a white silk flying scarf over one shoulder and laughed as the ground crew started laughing at his jaunty pose. The Jimpu coughed to life and one dockworker untied the float and pushed the plane away from the dock. Hao waved to the ground crew and headed into the harbor.
The radio was already warm. “GFK-2 to Spontoon tower,” he said, “request takeoff clearance.”
“GFK-2, you’re cleared. Slight chop on the water, so be careful. Crosswind at six, offshore,” the tower crew replied. Hao lined up between the twin rows of buoys and advanced the plane’s throttle, watching the gauges nervously and wincing every time the floats thudded against a wave. Finally the plane was at the right speed and he pulled back on the stick, smiling as the Nin Hai lifted into the air.
As soon as he was at a comfortable altitude, for both the plane’s engine performance and himself, he set a northwesterly course and relaxed just a bit. His scarf fluttered gaily behind him and his eyes gleamed with satisfied merriment.
Serves her right, he thought to himself. Anna was not taking a slow boat to China, but the boat was slowly heading for a definite rendezvous. And he deserved a slight measure of revenge for her deception, after all.
The red panda flung his head back and laughed up at the bright noontime sky as he recalled the previous night. Anna had been bundled up and put aboard the boat, and as it chugged away another downpour masked the sounds of its engine. The crew was good and very familiar with the waters around Spontoon. They could evade the coastal patrol and ease into the fishing grounds with no trouble.
He and Wei had walked back to the warehouse district, and Wei scratched his head in disbelief for the third time. “Let me get this straight,” he had said. “You’ve got two first-line fighter planes and you want to sell them to me. What the hell would I do with them?”
Hao shrugged. “Sell them back to Russia, maybe, or Vostok Island?”
Wei shook his head. “No, the Tsarists wouldn’t be interested; they’ve got very good planes – Seversky makes them, so I’m told. And the Bolshies – they’d have a dozen people down here trying to kill me. No, Hao,” he concluded, “it just wouldn’t be worth it.”
“Can you think of anyone who’d be interested?” Hao asked. “Come on, Wei, I’m going to have half the Russian secret police here trying to have my hide if I don’t get rid of those planes.”
“Hmm.” Hai Wei paused to think as another rain shower drenched them. The Shar Pei was still wearing his oilskins, while Hao had shed his sodden clothes in favor of a native-pattern grass skirt as soon as the boat bearing Anna had slipped into the night. While he ordinarily favored Western fashions, Hao found that the island dress was preferable on rainy, humid nights. Besides, a change of clothing could also throw any police informants off his trail for a short while.
Wei suddenly grinned and said, “Come on. I think I know someone …”
Hao smiled as he saw the Radio LONO DF towers passing below and to his right, and adjusted his heading toward a slightly more northerly route. The talk he and Wei had had with Wei’s acquaintance had been long and sometimes had degenerated into argument, but eventually a deal had been hammered out. A deal that was mutually beneficial, and would get the NKVD off Hao’s back.
* * * * * * * * *
The breeze coming in from the beach was cool, moderating the growing heat of the day as the curtains stirred. Shin stretched languorously as sunlight streamed past the curtains and through the window of her room, and her muzzle gaped wide as she yawned. Her movements roused the sleeping form beside her, who shifted and growled softly, “It’s too early.”
She laughed and punched the tiger on the shoulder. “Wake up, you slug, it’s almost noon or just after.” She leaned over him and ran her paws over his back and shoulders, tracing the lines of his stripes. “Or is my widdle kitty all worn out?” she asked in a teasing, little-girl tone.
One blue-green feline eye opened and regarded her for a moment, and she laughed as it closed again and Wo Fang said, “And if I say yes, will you leave me alone?” His tail flicked up, batting at her rear end. She grabbed the tail and playfully nipped at it, causing him to shiver. “No,” she said. “We’re going to be married in a few days, Fang, and I don’t intend on ever leaving you alone.”
He rolled over to face her, a paw cupping the side of her face. “Ever?” he asked, his thumb rubbing one of the white patches on her face fur.
She smiled at him happily and nuzzled into his paw. “Ever. Now, shall we send out for lunch or forage around the house?”
Wo Fang cocked an ear at her. “Hmm … your mother’s probably at the casino, and your father’s most likely in his office and will be until Peng-wum gets back. I vote we forage,” he chuckled.
The two climbed out of bed and made their way to the kitchen,
burdened a tray with cold roast chicken, bread and a steaming pot of coffee,
and returned to their room before anyone noticed them. Settling back
onto the bed, Shin blew across the surface of her coffee cup and sipped,
then made a face. “Phew,” she remarked. “You could float a
handful of nails on this.”
Shin sniffed at the coffee again, and took another sip. “From the smell of it, I’d say it was Ahmad,” she replied. “He likes it strong. And it’s probably about eight hours old, too.”
“In that case, I’m definitely for the whisky, then.” Fang plucked a bottle from the nearby nightstand and poured a small amount into his still-empty cup then tipped some of the liquor into Shin’s coffee. “This should make it taste a bit better,” he said.
She sipped at the mixture a third time and nodded. “Yes, a definite improvement,” she declared. She snuggled closer as they finished their meal in silence, and after setting the tray aside she asked, “Where do you think we should have the wedding?”
Fang looked at her and replied, “Why not here? All our friends are here, and your parents don’t belong to any church on Spontoon.”
“I know,” she said, “but the biggest Chinese population around here is on Casino Island, with the other Euros. We could have it there, and be very traditional about it.” She started to giggle, causing Fang to glance at her and ask, “What’s so funny?”
“I was just thinking,” she said as she rolled over on top of him and touched her nose to his, “at least the bride doesn’t wear white in a Chinese wedding.”