Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2008 by Walter Reimer
Surprisingly it felt good to have his fur oiled again and the lava-lava he was wearing was very practical for the late summer heat. His glasses were not perched on his muzzle, since they weren’t needed for the festivities.
They were safe in the longhouse.
But as Ni Peng-wum trotted out onto the pitch with the other nineteen members of the side (composed of his in-laws and other villagers from Pangai) he asked himself How did I let myself get talked into this?
The answer was simple enough, of course.
His wife had asked him.
A neighboring village’s fishermen – just some young people who should have known better - had been accused of encroaching on Pangai’s lobster pots and oyster beds last month. Rather than do something as irrevocable as start a fight over it (or worse in some minds, take it into court), the elders of both villages met with a Wise One and agreed to a traditional contest as a means of settling the dispute amicably.
In short, a Kilikiti match.
Everyone from both villages had gathered in a clearing that had been blessed by the Wise One. Songs and hulas extolled the prowess of each village’s team while taunting the other team and claiming that the opposing village hadn’t brought enough food for the week-long match. That allegation usually resulted in loud arguments, as it was a very bad insult to level against a neighboring village.
Peng-wum had played the game a few times when he attended Meeting Island High School, and had first tried to beg off. “Darling,” he’d told Nailani, “are you sure you want me doing this? I mean, I’m nowhere near in shape – “
“Enough, love,” his lepine mate had declared. “My uncle’s playing, and he outweighs you by twenty stone at least. Besides, it’ll be fun, you’ll see.”
And so soon after Speed Week, too.
Well, it was a good excuse to relax and have some fun after the stresses of the past few months.
The umpire had a small reed whistle that he seemed to like playing for the sheer joy of it, which made for a few false starts as the teams started their dances. The dances were loud and boisterous and were designed to whip up the warrior spirit of the dancers before they began to play. After the dances and a short afternoon siesta, the match finally started.
The Pangai side were in bowl first, and positions rotated almost every time the opposing batsman stepped up to the line. An argument broke out at one point over whether the batsman was out after one particularly badly-played ball, but the umpire finally ruled that he was out and the sides changed.
Peng-wum found himself at bat, standing poised over the four-foot long war club while the bowler warmed up. Suddenly the equine broke into a trot and heaved the leaf-wrapped rubber ball as hard as he could.
The red panda watched the ball’s path and swung; there was a heavy thwock and the ball hared off in a random direction (a virtue of the club’s oddly triangular cross-section). He started to run as the crowd cheered, and managed two runs before the wildly bouncing ball could be corralled and thrown back to the pitch.
The two sides played until the sun went down, then torches were lit and everyone sat down to eat. After the meal some of the women got up to dance, the dances designed to exhort the men to greater efforts the next day.
The next day started with prayer and song before the teams took the field. Luckily everyone got a chance to be out on the pitch, so Peng-wum could relax and help look after Mikilani.
“Peng-wum!” his father-in-law cried. “Your turn.”
“Yes, Jason,” and the red panda gave his son to his wife and trotted onto the pitch, pausing to straighten his lava-lava. He barely had time to get settled in his position when the bowler broke into his run.
The batsman, easily the biggest representative from his village, gave an ululating roar and smacked the ball as hard as he could.
An easy out for the batsman.
Straight at him.
Peng-wum got under it, put his paws up to catch it –
And everything went black.
He woke up with his head cradled in Nailani’s lap and a cool rag pressed to his forehead. “What - ?”
She tsked. “You didn’t have your paws up high enough, you silly darling,” the rabbit said. “The ball hit you right between the eyes.”
“That explains the headache, then,” he said, looking around. The match was over for the day and cooking fires were being set up. “And now you know why I stopped playing it at school. Did we win?”
She giggled. “Yes, by two runs. Having fun yet?”
“Oh, lots of fun, my love,” and he kissed her as he sat up.
The match went on for most of the week, Pangai losing three of the five days. Finally everyone from both villages joined in a hula and massed song to the bravery of their warriors and celebrating everyone’s good sportsmanship.
Peng-wum joined in, blushing as his name was sung along with other injured players as ‘fallen warriors.’
The following Monday Peng-wum walked into his office on Meeting Island to find his employees clustered around the stock ticker and talking excitedly. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Several of the markets in America are declining,” his office manager, a taciturn mouse named Chou said, holding up a length of paper tape. Peng-wum put his pince-nez on his muzzle and read it closely.
Yes, there was a sell-off developing, starting in New York and moving westward. Productivity had been down for much of the year as well. “What’s our exposure?” he asked.
“Still not very deep,” Chou replied. “I remind you that this has been building up for months now. But there is the possibility that if it lasts longer it may spread overseas.”
“We’ll watch this closely, and gauge when the time is right,” Peng-wum said. “Alert our customers to that, and tell them to be vigilant.” He smiled at Chou. “Maybe President Long’s fabled touch with his people can get them through this.” He’d read that with the threatened passage of legislation in Washington many people with private fortunes were trying to find safer havens for their money, which could explain the wave of selling in the markets. There was also the possibility of a backlash against Long if the economy failed to improve.
The mouse grinned toothily. “Always good advice.”
“Doubly so in these circumstances.”
Briefly, Peng-wum pondered placing some bets.
The sun gleamed wetly on the Waco CJC as it emerged from yet another minor squall and Shin hastily recalculated her fuel supply and course. When she completed her sums she tapped at the fuel gauge and adjusted the plane’s heading a few degrees to the southeast. Flying over open water was tricky at the best of times, as her recent trip to Honolulu had shown.
Luckily she had done well in her navigation classes, and as she put on her sunglasses again she grinned.
On the horizon were a small series of dark spots that, she knew, would soon resolve themselves into a collection of islands and a barrier reef. The Gallups, the Quaker missionaries she was contracted to as a pilot, were undoubtedly waiting for her to arrive.
Notrubble Atoll, named by some missionary or other with an odd sense of humor, was nearly three hundred miles from Spontoon. The distance gave the plane and its engine a good workout as well as testing Shin’s skills and training as a pilot and navigator. But the time in her logbook looked good, and counted toward points in her favor when she started her third year at school.
That reminded her.
She needed to sew that third bar onto her uniforms before she returned to class in the middle of the month.
As the irregular circle of islands grew larger she set the radio to a particular shortwave frequency. “Fox Two-nine Yoke to Station WY252J, come in please.”
There was a hiss of static and the voice of the middle-aged woman who ran the radio station replied, “WY252J here, Two-nine Yoke. What’s your position? Over.”
“About twenty miles out, west of you. Please tell everyone to clear the landing area, please. Over.”
Occasionally children used the cove in the lagoon as a swimming venue. “Will do. The water’s nice and calm.”
“Thanks.” She didn’t relish landing under bad conditions, even though she was trained and prepared for it. Damaging the plane would definitely not be an option.
The Waco set down on the water and slowed to a halt as it jounced slightly along the placid surface. Shin taxied to the dock and shut down the engine. There was a small wood-frame house painted white with a tall radio aerial at the far end of the dock, and a figure stepped out and waved at her.
She waved back. After she climbed out of the plane and secured it she began to stretch the kinks out of her muscles.
A colt raced up to her, hooves clattering on the dock. “Hi, Shin!”
His grin and obvious energy had her smiling. “Hi, Billy,” she said as she pulled a small rucksack from the plane’s cargo compartment. “Your parents here?”
“They’re over on another island. The villagers are setting up a going-away party for us,” the young equine explained. He looked at her curiously. “What’s been going on back on Spontoon? Who won the races?”
The red panda’s grin grew wider. “The Germans won the Schneider,” she replied. “Apart from that, there hasn’t been much going on. Typical Spontoonie summer – tourists, heat, and more tourists.”
“You think the Americans might race next year?” he asked, an eager tone in his voice.
Shin shrugged. “Maybe. I guess it depends on who’s got the money to do it.” She started doing her post-flight checks and made sure that the plane was secure and was neither going anywhere nor posing a hazard to any other plane. She was fully prepared to sleep in the plane, or on the dock’s hard planks.
One of the reasons she wore so many weapons. No one was going to get to the aircraft.
When she finished she narrowed her eyes playfully at the boy. “What’s got you so interested in air racing?” she asked insinuatingly. “You a betting fur, Billy?”
The colt grinned unabashedly despite his blush. “No, but Dad took me to see the races up in Cleveland the year before we came out here. I thought the whole thing was great, and when I heard they had races in Spontoon I wanted to see.”
Shin nodded. “I get it now,” she said. “So, you’re parents are over on another island?”
“Yeah! They’re throwing us a party before we have to leave. You’re invited, of course,” he added with a grin. “Come on! A’alati’s waiting with his canoe for us!” And he trotted off, leaving Shin to shake her head and finish securing the plane.