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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 by Walter Reimer
The sun slid behind a bank of clouds, setting to Hao’s left as he banked his plane a bit further north. Ever since passing beyond the Spontoon Islands proper he had carefully timed each turn, one eye on his compass and the other looking below for landmarks. A glance down from his vantage point showed a mass of coral atolls and small, largely uninhabited islands below him. He smiled as he shifted in his seat in order to ease a crick in his tail. Not too long now, he thought to himself.
An ear, laid back against the slipstream of his plane, flicked, and he turned to his right in time to see another plane moving up to fly alongside him. The aircraft was a twin-engine seaplane, sleek and fast, painted a variety of camouflage colors. Its fuselage bore a black roundel bordered in white and sporting a pair of wings. The plane’s local number – 41 - was blazoned forward of the insignia, and an identification number starting with the letters “NS” was on the plane’s rudder.
Hao waved, and the Rain Island Naval Syndicate pilot waved back, slipping back slightly to let Hao take the lead. A second RINS fighter seaplane formed up on his left, throttling back to keep pace with the slower Nin Hai.
It wasn’t until a third plane appeared behind him, however, that Hao finally smiled exultantly.
* * * * * * * * *
Anna slipped back from the rail and coughed before gratefully accepting a cup of water from one of the two canine members of the boat’s crew. The small fishing boat rocked in the waves as it made its way under sail to the northwest, and the combination of the motion and her own unease had sent shock waves through her stomach. Had she felt better about the trip, she wouldn’t have lost her lunch and dinner.
She felt like her shoes had come up during this latest trip to the boat’s side.
The sail overhead luffed, and Olaf and the other canine hastened to trim it back at the feline captain’s shouted orders. With the sail shortened, the boat picked up a bit of speed and Anna’s headfur was blown awry by the wind. She set her cup down and smoothed it back.
A soft chuckle, and she shrank back against the side of the boat as she turned to see Olaf grinning at her. The rat nodded to himself and went back to work, and she relaxed just a little bit. Just then the feline pointed at the sky to the east.
Anna craned to look, then yelped as a load of fishing net was unceremoniously thrown over her, and she felt two of the crew sit on her as a patrol plane flew past. The smell of fish filled her nose, and she retched as the danger passed and the nets were pulled away.
After rinsing her mouth out and drinking some more water, she curled up and tried to go to sleep.
When the sound of airplane engines awakened her, it was well after sundown. Her eyes adjusted to the gloom of a moonless night and saw that the boat was dead in the water, its sails furled as a seaplane taxied to a halt a short distance away. The boat’s motor started then, and it closed the distance.
There was a sound of hatches being opened, then a sudden painful glare of unshielded acetylene lanterns. She was handcuffed, gagged despite her struggling and roughly jerked to her feet by the two canines as the feline barked out something in Spontoonie. She still couldn’t make out what was being said, but caught the word “Boss.”
There was a reply, followed by a chuckle, and a figure appeared at the open hatchway. As he stepped into the light Anna looked him over.
His fur was a black and dark brown pattern, with a black raccoonlike mask over his eyes. He was unshod, wearing a pair of ragged shorts and a fisherman’s vest. A battered, graying ball cap sat on his head as he gestured toward her and growled a few short commands. From the deference shown to him by the boat’s captain, Anna guessed that the tanuki (she recognized what he was, having seen Japanese fishermen around Vladivostok before her assignment to Spontoon) was the “Boss” she had heard about.
Swaying against the rocking of the boat, Anna cried out as she was nearly jerked off her feet, and she started to struggle against the furs who picked her up and poised her on the rail. Raucous laughter erupted from the furs as she tried to maintain her balance against the paws that held her, and she became painfully aware that her contortions were the source of their amusement.
Another few words from the tanuki and she yelped as strong paws grabbed at her. She started struggling but stopped, freezing in position as one of the canines produced a knife. She closed her eyes in angry embarrassment as the sound of ripping cloth and a shout of hoarse male approval caused her ears to go flat against her skull.
Her eyes closed tighter as the last of her clothing was removed and the light of several of the hissing gas lamps was turned on her. The Boss said something in what she thought was an appraising tone, and the others laughed again. Olaf made a comment, and the laughter redoubled.
The Boss gave a peremptory order and the lights on her flickered out. Before she could react, her gag was removed and another chloroform-soaked rag was pressed to her nose and mouth. When she was limp and unconscious she was bundled aboard the seaplane. As its engines started, the fishing boat pulled away and resumed a westerly course.
* * * * * * * * *
Peng-wum stepped out of the family K-85 and inhaled deeply, savoring the saltwater tang of Krupmark Island. He was happy to be home, and he patted the small bulge in his suit jacket. The fenced necklace would pay off Allworthy and Nailani would be released from her contract. “Ahmad?” he asked the fennec as he finished securing the plane.
“Yes, sir?” Two huge ears perked up.
“You and I are headed down to the Beach. I have some unfinished business,” Peng-wum said, and he started making his way along the jetty. Ahmad finished his task and trotted along after him.
When they arrived at Allworthy’s house Peng-wum gave the password and found his way blocked by the dhole. “Please, sir, no one is permitted inside,” the canine said in his singsong accent.
“Why?” Peng-wum asked, craning to see past him. “Is he in or not? I have something for him.”
The dhole’s tail thrashed agitatedly. “Mister Allworthy has told me that he is not to be disturbed. He is with a new acquisition,” he finally said, ears laying back. Ahmad snickered and the dhole glared at him.
“Please tell Mr. Allworthy that I am here and I need to see him about our agreement last week,” Peng-wum said. “We will wait here.” The Hindu canine looked dubious, but closed the door. After several minutes he reappeared, looking a bit uncertain. “Please come in,” he said, opening the door wider and ushering the two into the private office in the rear of the building.
Allworthy was there, seated behind his desk as usual; he was also in his usual well-groomed state, but Peng-wum’s nostrils flared as he sniffed and he allowed himself a polite smile. Well, there was at least one thing that could get the fat wolf out of his chair. “Mister Allworthy,” he said, offering a paw.
“Mister Ni,” the wolf said as he shook the paw and gestured for the red panda to sit. “You are here within the agreed-upon time limit, I believe,” he remarked. “Do you have something for me?”
“I do, sir.” Peng-wum drew a stack of banknotes from his suit jacket. “I have the remainder of the money owed on Nailani’s contract.” He smiled, again politely, as Leon Allworthy’s ears stood straight up in surprise. “You are a fur of some talent, young Mister Ni,” he finally said, collecting himself with difficulty. “May I ask - ?”
Peng-wum winked, and Allworthy let the question die with a soft chuckle. “Indeed, it was a silly thing to ask. Shall we conclude our business then?” he asked.
“With respect, sir,” Peng-wum said as he bowed in his seat, “I would appreciate it if Nailani were here as a witness. This does, of course, concern her quite closely.” He sat quietly as Allworthy considered the request, then rapped his cane on the floor. The she-wolf who was his chief factor and madam poked her head in. “Yes, Leon?”
“Susie, have Nailani come here, please – that is, if she’s not busy with a client,” and he chuckled as she retreated, closing the door after her. He said to Peng-wum, “I must insist that she finish all business before her contract is ended. It would be bad for my establishment’s reputation otherwise.”
“I understand completely,” Peng-wum replied. He gestured with a paw to Ahmad, who walked over to the coffee service in one corner; after giving Allworthy a questioning glance, the fennec prepared two cups and set them on the desk.
The wolf and the panda sipped at their coffee as the clock on the wall stolidly ticked off the seconds. Five minutes later there came a knock at the door, and a lepine dressed in a short skirt and a swimsuit top stepped in. Nailani’s eyes widened as she saw her employer and her lover seated together. “Peng-wum,” she began, “what’s going on?”
“What’s going on, young Nailani,” Allworthy said, a slight glum tone coloring his voice, “is that your lover here is buying out your contract. What was the remainder again, Peng-wum?” he asked, ignoring the rabbit’s shocked look as her ears stood up and her mouth gaped open in disbelief.
“We agreed on a total of five thousand, Mister Allworthy,” Peng-wum replied, and smiled as Nailani gaped at him, stunned by the price he was willing to pay to free her. “F – five th-“ she started to stammer, but subsided as Allworthy raised an admonitory paw.
“Indeed. And you’ve already paid two thousand.”
Peng-wum nodded and, before Nailani’s astounded eyes counted out three thousand pounds in somewhat worn notes. Allworthy reached into a desk drawer and removed two pieces of paper. He jotted a note on the front page, added his signature and gently blew on it as the ink dried. Handing the document to Peng-wum he said, “Paid in full. A pleasure doing business with you, Mister Ni.”
The red panda read over the documents before folding them and placing them in a pocket. He then nodded, and stood up. “A distinct pleasure, Mister Allworthy,” he said, bowing politely. To Nailani he said, “Do you need anything from your room?”
Before she could answer Allworthy said, “She does not. The agreement was for her, not for any clothes save what she has on her back.” His massive paw caressed the silver head of his cane.
Peng-wum looked at him, then smiled and said, “Of course. My apologies, sir.” He offered his arm to the lepine, who took it, seemingly quite dazed from what had just happened, and the dhole ushered him, Nailani and Ahmad from the building.
They were halfway up the road, headed toward the Ni and Sons building when Nailani finally seemed to come out of her trance. She shuddered and pressed close to him. “I – I can’t believe it,” she whispered, and he put his arm protectively around her shoulders. “So much money – “
“It was worth it, Nailani,” Peng-wum declared. “You said we could get married if you were no longer under contract to Leon, and now you’re free.” He grinned and kissed her, and she returned the kiss ardently. “I have to let my parents know,” she said, still trying to catch her breath. “Five thousand pounds you paid … how did you manage it?” she asked, eyes wide as if she still didn’t quite believe it.
He smiled at her. “I had part of it saved. The rest was, well, just pure luck.” They paused at the door of the building and were about to go in when one of the bodyguards dashed across the street from the Casino, shouldered past the pair and bolted into the building. “What was that about?” Nailani asked.
“I’m not sure,” Peng-wum replied. “Follow me.” They headed up the stairs and went into Hei’s office. The blinds were drawn, but through the gloom they saw Peng-wum’s father seated behind his desk, staring at nothing. Peng, Shin and Wo Fang stood nearby and turned as the couple entered. Giving his mother a quick kiss on one cheek he approached the desk and asked, “Father, what has happened?”
Ni Hei’s mouth worked for a moment before he replied, “Eight years … I tried, son, I truly did … but it’s all for nothing.”
“We’re ruined,” he said, and the gaze he turned on his eldest son was bleak.