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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 by Walter Reimer
“Father, what do you mean, ‘ruined?’” Peng-wum asked, his expression hardening. He turned to Nailani, kissed her and with a jerk of his chin gestured for her to step back. The rabbit complied, a quizzical look on her face and her ears down as she backed away. The others looked at the native girl curiously, Wo Fang staring at her until Shin elbowed him in the ribs. Fang woofed softly and grinned down at his fiancé, who hugged him. “What’s happened?” Peng-wum asked again.
Hei’s voice sounded distant, almost as if he was stunned by what he said. “The United States stopped all cash flow from Kuo Han, and froze the assets in the banks on their west coast,” he said, a paw stirring one of a group of telegrams lying on the desk. “It was a response to two bank failures in Manila, and our office in Wangchung can find no trace of Wu Tang.” He buried his face in his paws and started sobbing. “All that money … lost,” he mumbled as his shoulders shook.
Peng-wum stepped around the desk and rested a paw on his father’s shoulder. “Father, take it easy,” he admonished. “It’s all taken care of.”
Hei twisted in his seat and glared at him. “Don’t you understand, Peng-wum?” he rasped. “We’ve lost everything. There’s no way we could recover from such a loss. We’re right back where we started … “
The paw that slapped Ni Hei’s cheek seemed to come from nowhere, and even Peng-wum looked surprised at the sound as a collective gasp rose from the rest of the furs in the room. His father raised a paw to his cheek as Peng-wum said sternly, “You need to calm down and listen, Father.
“You agreed that I should take steps to secure our position, and I have,” he said slowly and deliberately. “The first of those things were done without your permission.
“Father,” and a smile slowly crept across his muzzle, “what’s the exchange rate between the Philippines and the United States?”
The abrupt change in subject seemed to derail Hei from any anger he might have had about being slapped. He looked confused for a moment, then replied, “Three, three and a half to one, something like that. Why?”
Peng-wum favored the rest of the family with a smile as he said, “I’m afraid I made a grievous error when I sent out the first bank drafts to Wu Tang, Father. I accidentally sent orders for a deposit of a quarter-million Philippine pesos, instead of dollars.” He rolled his eyes, an angelic look crossing his face. “That works out to less than seventy-two thousand dollars. It was very stupid of me, I know,” and he blushed as Peng blinked and Shin suddenly squealed and hugged Fang.
“When things started happening in Singapore and Manila, I decided to develop other channels for our money,” he added, taking several folded letters from his pocket. “Hai Fat sends his regards to his friend Ni Hei,” he told his father, “and wishes to tell you that you can rely on him for credit or favors.” He placed the letter, written from one of the biggest Chinese bankers in Hong Kong (and hardly coincidentally the uncle of the head of the largest Tong there as well) on the desk. “Second, Father, I have received assurances from our friends in San Francisco that they will maintain our position for us in the United States,” and a telegram joined the letter. “Finally, Father, do you know a person in Los Angeles named Vittorio Carpanini?” Peng-wum asked.
Hei blinked and asked, “The Big Fish? You know him?”
Peng-wum nodded, laying another telegram down. “He’s looking after our interests in southern California.” He grinned. “Did I do a good job, Father?”
Hei looked over the telegrams, one paw almost trembling as Peng-wum’s smile faltered slightly. “There is, however, a cost to all this,” he said. “We have lost our position in the American Midwest, and the only avenue we have into the USA is to stay outside normal – legitimate – interests.” He shrugged as Wo Fang suddenly chuckled.
“What of our position in Asia?” Hei asked, looking up at his son with a mixture of admiration and sadness; admiration for what his son had accomplished, and sadness that the Family was not going to break into the ‘normal’ business world.
Peng-wum grinned. “I managed to get most of the funds removed from those failed banks – through Hai Fat’s good offices – and the rest are secured, um, with Hao’s personal account.” He stepped back as his father stood up and said, “That was Tong money, son.”
“I know, Father,” he replied. “That was part of the arrangement with Hai Fat. The Tongs will help us if we help them gain footholds in the business community.” He leaned toward the older fur. “I’ve saved us, Father.”
The arms that wrapped around him surprised him, and he laughed as his father hugged him tightly. “Yes, you have, my son,” Hei said as the others stepped forward to hug him or slap him on the back. After several minutes Peng asked, “Peng-wum, who is this young lady?” Her paw indicated Nailani, who blushed.
Peng-wum walked over to Nailani, kissed her and faced the rest of his family, one arm around the rabbit’s waist. “Father, Mother, this is Nailani Mahoku, and we’ve been lovers for quite a while. I want to marry her, with your permission.” Nailani smiled at him and kissed him as he grinned at her.
Hei blinked rapidly as Peng glanced back at him. Marrying Shin off to a Manchurian was bad enough, but his oldest son marrying a native girl … he closed his eyes for a moment, collected himself, and said, “Well, we are trying to be modern, so let’s be modern. Peng-wum, you and – Nailani? – have my blessing.” He opened his eyes and smiled in a resigned way as Peng hugged him. Shin said, “Well Brother, it’s going to be a double wedding.”
“You and Fang?” At her smile Peng-wum said, “That’s great! All we need here now is Hao to make it perfect.” He looked around. “Where is Hao?”
* * * * * * * * *
Anna stirred, her nostrils flaring as she took a breath, then sneezed to get the dust out of her nose. She lay there a moment, in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, taking stock. The surface under her was hard, dry, and most importantly, wasn’t moving. The air tasted of growing things, not fish, and she was warm and dry. Her brown eyes opened slowly and she cautiously looked around.
She was in a small building, a shack made of rough-hewn planks and studs and roofed with thatch. A ragged piece of tarpaulin was stretched across part of the doorway and she could see trees stirring in the wind as it moved. Another sniff, and she froze, smelling cigarette smoke. She turned toward a darkened corner and saw a fur seated on a cast-off wooden crate in the corner. She couldn’t see much of him, just a baseball cap and the lit end of the cigarette.
A glance at herself and she relaxed only the tiniest bit. Someone had taken the time to dress her while she was unconscious; she wore a short skirt and a light cotton blouse that was a bit smaller than her size. Anna sat up and said, “So, are you my guard, or what?”
The fur in the corner chuckled, and had Anna been feline her tail would have fluffed to three times normal size. He stood and stepped into the light. “That depends.”
“Hao?” Anna whispered, not daring to believe, then she was on her feet and hugging him fiercely. “I was so worried, for you and for me,” she said, her voice almost breaking as her relief overrode her training and her usual reserve. “I … I …” She paused, sniffing at his neck. She stepped back from him as he smiled. “Like it?” he asked teasingly.
“You … you were that tanuki,” she accused, her ears and tail going straight down.
“Yes,” Hao replied, and started laughing. She started hitting him, and he used his martial arts training to fend off most of the blows, allowing her to hit him only once or twice before she finally stopped, panting. “Got it out of your system now?” he asked.
Anna collected her breath, her fists slowly unclenching. “For now,” she admitted, nodding. “Why?”
Hao made an easy gesture with his cigarette. “I can never resist playing tricks on people,” he said, “and I had to get you back for deceiving me. However, now that you’re safely away from both the NKVD and the Spontoon authorities, you can do what you like. Either stay with me on Krupmark, or go somewhere else,” he added, tipping his ball cap back on his head, then sweeping the tarp aside.
Anna squinted out the doorway before walking out into a field, her trained eye telling her that it was the right size for a small airstrip. “I want to stay with you, Hao,” she said. “I told you that back on Casino Island. Where are we?”
“We’re in the Kanim Islands, on a little spot of ground I call my home away from home,” Hao explained. “I kept the I-15’s here, along with some other things.”
“The fighters?” Anna asked, turning to look at him. “Where are they?”
In response, Hao pointed with his cigarette to an area behind the shack. Anna stepped around the building, the grass feeling soft under her unshod feet, and stopped. “Oh.”
The carcasses of the two Polikarpov fighter planes still smoldered slightly, one cranked upper wing sticking up almost defiantly. “What happened?” she asked. “Were you attacked?”
“No,” Hao replied. “It was a little business arrangement I made after you started your sea cruise. You see,” and he walked over to what was left of the two planes, “it didn’t take a great leap forward to realize that your friends would keep coming after me even after you were gone, so I talked to a friend and we arranged a little deal with the Naval Syndicate.
“I was followed here by three planes yesterday,” he continued, prodding a propeller blade with his toe. “Two fighters and a seaplane – the same plane you saw last night, by the way. The Naval Syndicate burned the two I-15s, taking many pictures.” He grinned. “It’ll be in the Spontoon papers by tomorrow, along with a very well-written and convincing article about a pirate camp being wiped out by the ever-vigilant Naval Syndicate. Your former superiors in Vladivostok should know about it a few days after that.”
“Impressive,” Anna said, and she meant it. For a teenager, Hao was adept at getting his tail out of trouble. “But what does the Naval Syndicate get out of it?” she asked.
Hao laughed. “That’s the best part. With the fighters gone, my piracy is severely limited, so they gained by that. I also gave them a few minor items of information about certain competitors of mine, and they were grateful enough to give me that seaplane in trade.” He shrugged. “I still had to pay them all of their per diem and fuel costs, but it’s only money,” he concluded with a rueful smile.
“So,” and he slipped an arm around her waist and gave her a gentle squeeze. “Would you like to exchange the carefree life of a secret policewoman for the fun of being a smuggler’s girlfriend?”
Anna laughed. “Let me think about it,” she said coyly and walked a few paces away, looking over the two wrecked planes. “By the way,” she asked, “whose clothes are these? Or do you occasionally disguise yourself as a girl?”
Hao blushed and laughed. “No, but it’s not a bad idea,” he replied. “Those belong to my older sister. You two should meet. I think you’d both get along.” He started to walk away, asking over one shoulder, “So, are you coming with me?”
She thought a moment, staring unseeing at the remains of the two fighters, then stirred and walked back to him. “I’d love to meet your sister,” she said.
“Great!” he exclaimed. “My plane was ferried back to Krupmark while you slept, but the seaplane is still here. We’ll have to swim out to it, but we’ll be home by nightfall.”