Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
As the sun started to dip into the channel between Main and South Islands, the cheetah femme paused and stepped aside to let a few others pass her by. Her nostrils flared again, catching a scent that made her tail twitch and her well-groomed whiskers quiver.
The scent easily recognizable, as her onetime partner in burlesque was a tiger, but it seemed a bit exotic – and completely male.
Now, Rosie was in love with a certain whitetail buck, but if the boys can let their eyes wander appreciatively sometimes, why can’t a girl at least look too?
She turned as the breeze-driven scent grew stronger and she bit back a gasp as a Chinese tiger, easily over six feet tall and solidly muscled, walked up the street. Other furs gave him a wide berth, but he didn’t seem to notice, talking to someone that Rosie couldn’t see. The smile on his face told him that it was probably his girlfriend.
Well, she’d just take a look at who the lucky girl was.
Rosie nonchalantly stepped back into the traffic flow and started to follow the pair, but stopped short as she saw a banded tail waving above a very familiar red panda girl.
A disgusted snort erupted from the cheetah’s nose as she muttered, “Waste of good stripes,” and went about her business.
She had something to attend to . . . and she flexed her fingers.
The water taxi from Meeting to Casino Islands was crowded, and the driver almost refused to take on two more passengers until Shin climbed up her husband and sat perched on his shoulders. The driver, a thin feline woman Shin recognized as one of Hao’s employees, laughed as the pair took the last empty seat. She started up her taxi and headed across the channel.
To get into the proper festive mood for May Day, the pair sported armbands; since they were both from Krupmark, the ribbons of cloth Shin and Fang wore were anarchist black rather than socialist red. Spontoon had a rather anarcho-syndicalist government, so actual anarchists were tolerated.
“Why are we doing this again?” Shin asked, tugging again on her armband to adjust it.
Fang chuckled as he lifted her, stepping onto the Casino Island dock and swinging her down to the pavement. She landed on her feet as he replied, “The armbands? Well, when in Rome, I think the saying goes. You said you’ve never seen the May Day festival here, and you were meeting your schoolmates. So here we are. The armbands – well, we want to blend in, don’t we?”
She looked up at him crossly, then turned her head as someone yelled her name. A small boat was coming up to the dock, piloted by a brawny fox who assisted an Irish setter girl onto the planking. “Brigit?”
“Shin!” the Irish girl said gleefully. Her eyes shone and she seemed quite happy - something that Shin had seen on the canine only a few times. “I was here, walkin’ along an’ singin’, when this fine bhoy invites me over ta Main Island.”
“You’re drunk,” Fang observed.
“Faith, sir, she is not,” the fox said in English, with an accent that mingled Brigit’s Irish brogue with the native dialect. It made understanding him difficult. “However, she’s in fine fightin’ trim. Ye’ll not see th’ sign o’ whisky on her – tis porther she’s been drinkin’, and that’s a fact.”
“She hasn’t been fighting, has she?” Shin asked, the red panda awkwardly accepting an affectionate hug from Brigit.
The vulpine shook his head. “Singing’s what she’s been doin.’ A fine set o’ rebel songs,” and he chuckled as he cast off and turned his boat around for Main Island.
“Should we take her back to Songmark, do you think?” Fang asked.
“Ye will not,” Brigit said. She didn’t seem to be staggering and her voice wasn’t slurred. “It’s just that pleased I am ta see ye, Shin – and I see ye brought himself with ye!” She shook paws with Fang after cocking an eye toward his wife. “What brings th’ two o’ ye out?”
“May Day,” Shin replied, pointing at her armband. “Everything went well with my father,” and she recounted what had happened earlier that day. When she was finished, Brigit let out a long whistle.
“Ye passed up a plane o’ yer own, an’ crossed yer Da in th’ process?” The Irish setter whistled again. “Ye took a chance.”
“Don’t I know it,” Shin said. “I don’t really think he’d disown me, but I think I came close this afternoon.”
“Can’t do much in th’ world without money,” Brigit warned.
“Better not let Miss Windlesham hear you say that.”
As the sun was setting the majority of the activities for May Day, such as the boat parade, had already ended. Events planned for the night included a hula competition and fireworks. The fireworks would be visible all around the lagoon, but people who wanted to watch the dancers would have to get seats. Bleachers had been set up overlooking the competition area, a stretch of beach near the amusement park.
Much to their surprise, Shin and Brigit found Liberty already seated, sipping moodily at a bottle of Union Maid beer and muttering darkly to herself. “Hi, Liberty, what’s going on?” Shin asked as she and Fang sat down.
The half-coyote glowered at her, focused on the red panda’s black armband (she was wearing a red cloth around her neck like a bandana), sat up straight and declared, “Anarchists. There’s a little too much anarchy around here, if you ask me. Good socialists have respect for law and good order.”
Brigit raised a brow even as she was counting the money in her pocket for another beer. “So what happened?” she asked.
“Someone attacked New Haven’s envoy to Spontoon, Comrade Wakefield,” Liberty replied as she took a swallow of her drink, then gazed down at the bottle. “He’ll be all right, I suppose – but it’s the principle of the thing.”
Fang nodded. “You’d expect him to be guarded.”
“He shouldn’t have to be,” Liberty shot back. “Especially not on May Day.” She drained her beer and expertly tossed the bottle into a garbage can about twenty feet away.
Fang nudged Shin, then jerked his chin at Liberty before giving his wife a questioning look.
She nodded, a barely perceptible motion.
He raised an eyebrow, and she nodded again. He left his seat to find a concession stand as torches were lit and the first group of dancers, a team from the Mechanic’s Union, stepped out onto the sand to the applause of the crowd.
Liberty felt something hard and cold brush against her arm and she looked up from her brooding as Fang gave her a fresh bottle of beer. “You trying to get me drunk?” she asked accusingly.
“No,” the tiger replied as he gave one to his wife before sitting down, “just trying to cheer you up a bit.”
The New Havenite bit back a comment and started drinking. The Union Maid label made great beer every May Day, and it was a cooling respite from the warm weather.
The dancers were graded based on the amount of applause they received when they finished their routine, and the crowd laughed and cheered as a small team from the Althing (mostly middle-aged bureaucrats and secretaries) came out in grass skirts to demonstrate what was described by the master of ceremonies as “The Dance of the Reluctant Bureaucrat.”
None of them were professional dancers, the ones who would be entertaining tourists in just under a month, and none of them were in good physical shape. But they were performing for their fellow workers and their enthusiasm was appreciated. When one of the dancers did an outrageous parody of smothering under an imaginary mountain of forms, even Liberty had to laugh as the crowd roared.
With the dance competition over (a small troupe from the Hotel Worker’s Collective won with their “Dance of the Lecherous Tourist,” with a solo performance by a strapping young canine bellhop that left Brigit and Liberty’s tails wagging), specially fitted barges began firing skyrockets into the air. Most of the clouds of sparks from the fireworks were red, in honor of the holiday.
The next morning Shin and Fang met with the others to say goodbye to Ni Hei as he and Hao returned to Krupmark. While Hao finished his preflight inspection of the K-85, Hei gathered his daughter into his arms and said, “Take care of yourself, Daughter. And if I don’t see you next month, Happy Birthday.”
“You’ll see me, Father,” Shin said. “Fang and I might sneak a weekend away from the hotel business and come home.”
“She’s right,” the tiger said. “It gets awful boring here with no gunfire.” He chuckled as the older red panda shook paws with him.
“Who’ll mind the place when you’re gone?” Hei asked.
Fang replied, “I have a few good assistants that I can trust to keep an eye on the place and keep it running.” He snorted. “Listen to me – I sound like a businessman.”
“You are, and you’re doing a great job.” Hei hugged his daughter-in-law, and smiled as Nailani gave him a kiss. He shook paws with his oldest son and helped Hao undo the lines that kept the seaplane moored to the dock. He swung into the cockpit and waved before closing the door as Hao started the single Wasp rotary.
While watching the plane leave, Fang asked Shin, “What else do you have planned for the weekend?”
His wife paused in mid-wave and she thought a moment before replying, “Relax a bit – we won’t have a moment’s peace the rest of the month before finals, I can tell you that. And I need to think about a practical joke for Liberty to play on a first year.”
“Why can’t Liberty think up one herself? If she’s Songmark, she should be capable.”
“She is. She just has very little sense of humor about such things,” Shin said with a smirk. “She might think itching powder will be enough, while I might think of fleas.”
The tiger grinned at her and hugged her tightly. “You’re evil,” he said before kissing her. “I think that’s what I like about you.”
“Hah. You love that about me,” Shin said. “Now, we need to get back to the Kahuna so I can start on the rest of my weekend.”
The Keystone-Loening had been in the air for just over ten minutes when Hao noticed a change in the compass heading. “Aren’t we going back home, Father?”
“Yes, we are, but we need to stop and see someone first.” Hei shifted in his seat as he eased his tail. “I sent a telegram a day ago, and today’s the day we’re due to meet him.”
“So where are we headed?”
“O Cay.” At the name of the island Hao’s ears stood straight up, then lowered slightly. The island (and its two companion islets, Doe Cay and Ho Cay) had been drop points for smugglers for many years. More frequent patrols by the Naval Syndicate had forced most of the smugglers to restrict their operations to islands farther west. Hao knew about the place, of course, and usually avoided it for just that reason.
After another thirty minutes of flight the island could be seen, and as Hei piloted the plane down for a landing both red pandas saw a large trimotor floatplane anchored just offshore. “That’s Julius’ plane,” Hao observed.
His father nodded. “He brought him,” he said as he eased the plane into a landing and taxied to the beach, grounding the nose of the K-85 in the soft sand. Hao stepped out first, nodding warily to the bull as Hei emerged from the plane to greet the other fur.
This was a strange-looking fellow who looked like a cross between a cat and a bear. He squatted in the sand near the tree line, dressed in dark trousers and a white shirt with sandals on his feet. The two sized each other up for several moments.
Finally the man dragged a negligent paw over his thick, wavy dark brown fur and after shaking paws with Hei asked, “What do you want?” His English had a strong accent that Hao couldn’t place at first.
Then he suddenly realized who his father was talking to, and his ears stood straight up.
Hei spoke in low tones to the binturong, his gaze never wavering from the other’s eyes. Finally the Javanese’s long prehensile tail flicked across the sand and he asked, “And what do I get in return?”
“I have heard you are not exactly welcome on Krupmark,” Hei said slowly. “That would change for you.”
The binturong considered the offer, then his smile showed betel-stained teeth as he nodded. He stood and bowed slightly to Hei before wading out to the waiting plane, Julius following him.
Hei stood and watched their plane take off, then walked over to the Keystone. He and Hao pushed the plane away from the shore, and as he climbed in Hao asked, “Are you sure you wanted to do this, Father? Pramana’s – “
“Just another person we do business with, Hao. I don’t care what his hobbies are, so long as he helps us get what we want.”
“So we’re not going legal?”
Hei shook his head. “We are, but it’s a slow process. Mikilani will likely be grown up by the time we’re fully legitimate again. For the foreseeable future, we have to walk two roads, son.”
ending this section: "House Rules"
to be continued in the section, "Hobson's Choice"