Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
Hao leaned over the rail as a Samoan bull weighing an easy three hundred pounds opened up the cockpit door of the Fokker, the shift in weight causing the right-paw float to dip dangerously low in the water. “Julius! What the hell are you doing here?”
Julius Malanakanakahea laughed, the booming sound echoing across the cove. “Looking for you, you little thief,” he yelled. He made a show of sniffing the air before adding, “A few friends of mine are missing a ship.”
“Yeah. Funny thing – this tub smells Japanese.”
Hao folded his arms on the railing, his banded tail waving back and forth. “The funnel paint says Rain Island.”
“Yeah, funny that. The kingposts say it’s a Jap tub, too. My friends might be interested.”
“You doing business for the yakuza now, Julius?”
The bull shook his head. “Not for, with. Yeah, them – and a few others who don’t want no names mentioned.”
Hao’s eyebrows rose. The arms dealer usually didn’t admit who he did business with, and the Japanese gangs were almost as bad as the Tongs. “So what brings you out here, other than looking for me? Besides, if I’m a little thief, what does that make you?”
“A big thief,” the bull conceded, and both laughed. “You gonna invite me aboard, or do I get a crick in my neck from yelling up at you?”
“I think we still have some sake aboard. Moor that crate alongside and come on up.” He stepped back from the rail and whispered to Clarence, “Keep an eye out, and prepare for trouble.”
The lion nodded judiciously.
The bull clambered up the boarding ladder and looked around as Hao walked up to him, a half-full bottle of sake in his paw. “Welcome aboard,” the red panda said, tossing the bottle at the Samoan.
“Thanks.” Julius pulled the stopper on the bottle, took a deep swig, then hawked and spat expertly over the rail. “Pretty rotten stuff,” he said. “I can get better in the Bazaar. Now, I heard – and never mind from who – that you found guns on this ship.” He grinned. “Big guns.”
Hao smiled. If he ever found out whose tongue was wagging, that tongue would swiftly be cut out. “Maybe.”
“Maybe.” A slight nod. “Well, suppose I made you an offer for these maybe-guns. Say, a hundred?”
Hao crossed his arms across his chest.
“I have plans of my own, Julius – that is, if I had any guns,” he said. “Your friends that eager?”
“Let’s just say that I know people, who know people, who could really use those guns – that is, if you have them.”
At mention of the Javanese separatist, Julius frowned.
Hao made a quick guess. “I won’t do business with the Japanese – Pramana’s another matter. I think we can do a bit of business, at that.”
Julius snorted through his nose. “So, whaddaya got?”
Hao nonchalantly fished out his cigarettes and lit one. After taking a few puffs he said, “Machine guns.”
“Machine guns.” He blew a thin stream of smoke from his lips. “They’re set up for airplanes, so the buyer will have to rig something.”
The bull, nodded, his look calculating. He made a show of looking around. “Where’s the crew?”
Julius gave a soft chuckle. “I might’ve known. Well, no use crying over spilled milk – but they could’ve been sold in the Bazaar, or sold back to Nippon.”
A shrug from the red panda. “They might have caused trouble. So, you’ll give me a hundred apiece for the guns?”
“I thought they were bigger than machine guns, so fifty each.”
“Ninety. I have to pay my crew.”
“Sixty-five. And here I thought they worked for you because they loved you.”
A snort. “They work for me because they get paid. Eighty.”
“Seventy. How many guns you got?”
“Eighty. Twenty of them.”
“Twenty!” Julius whistled. “Seventy, and that’s final. I can’t do no better than that – there’s no profit for me otherwise.”
Hao considered. He and Julius had done business before, and the bull had so far honored his deals.
But he trusted the big Samoan about as far as he could throw him.
Julius took another healthy swallow of the sake and passed the bottle back to Hao. “What else you got?”
Hao took a drink, wiped his lips on the back of one paw, and shrugged. “Ten airplanes.”
The bull looked like he might choke. “Airplanes?”
“Well, what do you think those guns were for?”
A booted toe attached to a brown-furred coyote reached out and prodded the sleeping form on the floor. “Wake up, Wo,” Liberty hissed.
The red panda stirred, lifted her head and gave the half-coyote a dirty look and an obscene gesture. “Time already?” she whispered. “Must be three o’clock.”
“It is, and time for me to get some sleep. Time for you to get on guard duty,” and Liberty gave Shin a stout length of wood as the Chinese member of Red Dorm stood up and stretched.
“Where’s Tatiana and Brigit?” Shin asked.
“Over there,” the New Haven girl replied as she sank gratefully to the floor.
The third year students were starting their cold-weather training by sleeping on the bare concrete floor of the Eastern Island hangar that housed the Junkers Ju-86. A few girls had joked half-heartedly that the hard cement was actually more comfortable than their beds at Songmark.
Shin shook herself and started her guard detail, resisting the urge to shiver a bit. The early-morning air was cooler than it had been over the preceding months, and a damp feeling in the breeze promised rain later in the day.
Winter was starting to take notice of the Spontoons.
She circled around the plane, and an ear twitched.
Shin stretched again, using the motion to glance up at the ceiling in time to see a shadow move against the flat gray surface.
She forced herself to stay relaxed, wondering when they’d try something.
As usual, the Tutors weren’t content to let their senior students have an easy time of it. The assignment was to keep the plane secure against anyone infiltrating the hangar with intent to sabotage. The ‘anyone’ consisted of part of the Naval Syndicate’s Landing Forces, who apparently needed the exercise.
Another third year, a Dutch marten named Minnie Fischer, spotted them as well. She shrieked “Alarm!” at the top of her lungs as ropes started falling from the rafters, followed by armed soldiers.
The Songmark students sprang into action.
Shin leaped at a shape as soon as one of its feet touched the ground, hearing a hoarse grunt as her steel-toed boot impacted vulnerable flesh (it didn’t matter whether the soldier was a man or a woman – a kick to the crotch is equally effective against both genders). The red panda followed up her kick with a swift swing of her billy club, feeling the assailant falling away from it even as it connected.
Killing people was strictly off-limits, and severe injuries would result in points deductions.
Minor injuries and bruises didn’t count as severe.
The fighting was by no means conducted under any further rules than those, nor was it very sporting. Shin cracked a soldier behind the knee as he grappled Tatiana from behind, then pivoted in time to make another miss grabbing at her tail.
A third soldier struck out at her with a rifle butt. She parried it away with her club and the two faced off, circling warily. In the dim light she could see that the rifle had a bayonet fixed to its muzzle, but it was sheathed.
The soldier lunged.
Shin leaned back and to the left, sacrificing her balance in order to avoid the blade and feeling it touch her shirt as she shifted into a clumsy pirouette that brought her around in time to crack her club across the soldier’s fingers.
The “Yeeowtch!” was very gratifying.
Suddenly the lights came on in the hangar and a whistle blew. Scattered knots of fighting slowly subsided as the combatants on both sides realized that the party was over. Shin looked around.
Brigit was standing over an unconscious canine, blood dripping from her nose; Tatiana was pinned to the ground by a burly sea mink, and Liberty was still wrestling with a rabbit whose uniform had been almost torn off.
The plane had been ably defended, though.
The red panda blinked as she assessed herself and found a dull smear of red paint across her shirt, just below her left breast. She looked at the soldier she had lately fought, who was flipping one paw with a pain-filled grimace. “So, you gave me a scratch.”
The soldier was a bighorn sheep. He grinned despite the obvious discomfort in his paw. “Yeah. I figure were a kloesh deep slash,” he said in accented English. “If yawl hadn’t moved, there’d be a red dot on your shirt, um.” He set his rifle aside and cracked his knuckles. “Yawl ain’t no damyan, Missy.”
Shin recognized the term as Rain Islander slang for ‘damn Yankee,’ and laughed. She glanced to her right, where Liberty and the soldier she had been wrestling with had finally separated. The rabbit was almost naked and several of the girls were ogling him unashamedly. The buck was blushing as he tried to cover up.
“Liberty,” Miss Windlesham said.
The feline smiled and said in a gently reproving tone, “As long as you’ve undressed him, the two of you should go on a date this weekend.”
Liberty blushed furiously as the other girls started to laugh.
The day dawned with a leaden overcast that promised rain, and the third years at Songmark took note.
Classroom instruction on survival techniques had shifted from how to stay cool to how to stay warm and dry, and as in the previous graduating class the Tutors had given their charges the assignment of constructing sleeping bags from items that could be scavenged from garbage cans or found in situ.
Various plans were being made and either improved or discarded.
Shin had a plan.
The sky was just as overcast, with dawn still hours away as the plane touched down on a desolate landing strip. As its two engines throttled back and came to a halt, a door opened and a set of steps was carried up.
Three figures descended from the plane, to be met by several more people who greeted them and escorted them to a waiting automobile.