Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
“That . . . is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Liberty Morgenstern declared. “Well,” she amended with a sly grin, “apart from your face, of course.” She expertly ducked the thrown pincushion and went back to her own work.
Shin retrieved the pincushion and grimaced at the half-coyote. “At least I know my design will work, Lib – better than your original idea.”
Tatiana and Brigit snickered as the New Havenite conceded, “I thought it might work. You hear a lot about starving furs in capitalist nations sleeping under blankets of old newspapers in cold weather.” She looked a bit crestfallen. “They never mentioned rain, though.”
The others snickered at her again, which she accepted with ill grace but quiet dignity. The first extended taste of winter training had involved camping out in view of the Songmark grounds in hollows dug from the hillside, just in time for the autumn rains. Liberty had stuffed her burrow with newspapers and lined it with cardboard.
While it might have had some value as insulation, it was a total failure in the drenching rain. Liberty had emerged, somewhat chastened, looking like a papier-mâché caricature of herself and liberally coated with mud.
Tatiana had immediately proposed that a picture be taken of her, so that the Spontoonies could create a new native ‘custom’ around her to frighten the tourists.
From the laughter, the other third years had agreed with her.
Shin hadn’t done a very good job on her own hole either, selecting a spot that had looser soil that made it easier to dig. Of course, when the rain came it partially collapsed and filled with mud and water. When she got out of it and started filling it in (it was a requirement, lest the unwary fall into the holes and twist an ankle) Brigit seconded Tatiana’s idea.
“We’ll make it o’ both o’ ye, so,” the Irish setter had declared. “’Th’ Mud Monsters o’ Eastern Island’ – got a nice ring ta it, it has.”
Where Liberty had tried to maintain some semblance of dignity, Shin had retaliated by throwing a clod of mud at Brigit, deliberately missing the Irish girl. It wouldn’t have done at all to lose points.
After cleaning up the campsite the entire third-year class was marched to the school to get cleaned up as swiftly as possible, or miss breakfast.
Being third-year students, the entire group arrived in the dining hall clean, dressed appropriately, and none missed a bite of breakfast. After exercises and a few winter survival classes the students were given the rest of the day to work on their ideas. The next day, according to the schedule, the third years would be flying the Junkers all day regardless of whether the weather would cooperate or not.
Shin’s idea had come to her during the summer. While thinking about the upcoming cold weather training, she had suddenly recalled the quilted peasant’s jacket she had worn two years previously when she and Fang went back to her hometown of Tientsin to kill General Won Lung Ho.
She had sketched out the design on the spot.
What resulted was a combination ankle-length coat and sleeping bag, capable of being closed up with zippers. The Tutors had looked at the design skeptically, which made Shin all the more determined to make it work.
The problem was the one condition that the shelter had to be constructed of found materials – she couldn’t simply go out and buy what she needed. Scavenging for materials promised to strain her ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Which was, she was certain, the point of the project.
Finding the appropriate amount of canvas and flannel was a chore in itself, but one clothing shop on Casino Island had thrown away the remains of a bolt of fabric. It wasn’t flannel, but muslin, and she judged that it would have to do.
The same oil used in waterproofing fur – that was easy, as the palm trees grew wild.
The canvas she needed, she was sure, could probably be obtained from a sailmaker. There were those in the Spontoons who still used sails to move their small boats and ships, and sails did get damaged and needed replacement.
It was what she planned on stuffing between the two layers of cloth that Liberty objected to. In fact, most of the third years objected to it, and Shin (who was ordinarily very fastidious) had to agree with them.
Her design for the shelter required it to be stuffed with fur.
Not all her own, of course (she had no desire to have herself sheared bald, much as the thought might appeal to her in the depths of the summer), but as much as she could acquire from the beauty salons and barber shops. Since it was thrown away, it fitted the description of ‘found items’ that the Tutors specified.
What put off almost everyone was the smell. The fur had come from a variety of species, both native and Euro, and the mingled scents were a trifle overpowering, if stale. But fur wouldn’t rot as readily in the tropical climate as straw or dead grass might, and the number of parasites could be kept at a minimum.
Shin privately hoped that the smell would fade away over time, particularly when she finished constructing the thing.
Right now, though, she found that she really needed the morning shower before breakfast.
Mildendo Island is not quite as lawless as Krupmark.
In much the same way as San Francisco is not quite as far away from Spontoon as London.
The place is run by an elected council of smugglers, criminal bosses and pirate captains, and has a very open Barbary Coast flavor. Open displays of firearms are normal, but using them excessively can attract unwanted attention from the police – an ad hoc force whose primary function is the extraction of bribes to be paid to the island’s rulers.
The onetime Kisama Maru sailed within sight of the broad, flat silhouette of the island and anchored just off its encircling barrier reef. The freighter was too large to be docked among the fishing vessels and smuggler’s boats that clustered close to the island’s only town. The rest of Hao’s crew had followed the freighter in the trawler so that the entire group could return to Krupmark.
Word had been sent ahead, and certain terms agreed upon before the ship had left Smuggler’s Cove. Promises had been made regarding consideration and security, but Hao still felt uneasy as he leaned over the rail, a cigarette in his teeth while he studied the iron-gray waves below him.
Of course, his uneasiness might have other causes, such as the possibility that the Naval Syndicate was looking for the ship, likely tipped off by a competitor.
Or the bad weather they’d had to sail through.
Or the fact that the freighter demanded too much manpower for a proper sailing watch than he had available, and had been forced to hire a few more employees.
He spit the cigarette over the side as a motorboat chugged its way from the harbor toward the erstwhile Japanese freighter. The boat made slow going against the wind, which shredded the tops of the waves and blew cold spray in the crews’ faces. It made headway, though, and finally came to a relative stop a hundred feet or so from the ship, pitching up and down in the water.
Two members of his crew, a pair of canine brothers from Malaya, cocked their Thompson submachine guns and took up positions to either side of him as he called out, “Mary! That you?”
A porcine figure, larger than the others even at this distance, waved; a hoarse female voice with a heavy Polynesian accent shouted back, “Who you think it is, Hao my dear? You bring Mary present?”
Hao squinted against the glare as the sun chose that moment to break free of the heavy overcast, and tugged the bill of his ball cap down a bit further.
Yeah, there she was.
Mary Waimea may have been pretty – once, before the years, several husbands and lovers and years of hard living added wrinkles and pounds to her figure.
What the sow weighed now was impossible to guess but was certainly over two hundred pounds. She was dressed in a long muumuu decorated in a floral pattern.
Her bulk caused her boat to wallow dangerously low in the unsettled water. Occasional waves slopped over the gunwales, forcing some of her crew to set aside their guns in order to bail the craft out.
One of the Malayan canines, Abdullah, growled something in his native language, and his brother Mahmud laughed. “What’d he say?” Hao asked.
Mahmud replied, “He want to know if she buy that off Germans. Say it large enough cover Hindenburg.”
The red panda laughed, took off his cap and waved. “You have my money?” he called out.
“Sure do!” the porcine woman shouted back. “You want it?”
“Can I come ahead, then?”
Hao waved her to come closer, and as the motorboat restarted its engine he turned to Mahmud. “Pass the word – keep eyes open and stay ready.” It would be like Waimea to try to get the ship without having to pay him.
Old tires tied to ropes were thrown out as bumpers to make sure the motorboat didn’t dash itself to pieces against the steel side of the freighter. As soon as it came alongside a boarding ladder was lowered, along with a rope.
A bag was secured to the rope and as it went up Hao descended the ladder. “It better all be there,” the red panda told Mary.
Mary laughed, revealing that she had only a few teeth left, and those stained from a lifetime of cigarettes and betel nut. Her breath stank of decay and cheap whiskey. “And what you do if it isn’t? You down here, not up there.”
Hao looked at the crewmembers on either side of him, then simply lit a cigarette and took a few puffs. “I don’t have to,” and he raised a paw.
In response, muzzles of weapons projected over the rail of the Kisama Maru, rifles and shotguns for the most part. Waimea’s crew started to mutter.
Loose Mary squinted up at the guns and laughed. “’Mpressive, Hao honey, but you still down here.”
“Care to bet I can swim better than you?” he asked with a smile.
“You got point, Hao.”
She started to add something, but whatever she had to say died in her throat.
A creaking sound was coming from the boarding ladder.
Despite himself, his eyes widened.
The ladder was being raised, and was already out of his reach.
Mahmud yelled down, “We have money, you keep Boss, heh.”