Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The Spontoon tower controller had called the weather ‘slop.’
She had it right. The Garza-Huacatl descended toward the lagoon and Hao could make out small white ribbons of foam being driven off the tops of the waves by the wind. He tensed, shoving the rudder pedals hard as he turned the seaplane into the wind and set it down in the lane.
Fortunately, the plane had nothing breakable aboard.
Shaking his head to clear it, the young red panda shut off the engines and clambered out onto the bow as the towboat drew near. He caught the thrown line and secured it to a cleat as the deckpaw yelled, “You leaking? We saw you hit the water like a brick.”
“Don’t think it’s leaking,” Hao called back. “It’s built to land like a brick.”
The fox laughed as the tow boat took up the slack and Hao scrambled back into the cockpit. He had a towel near at paw and he dried himself off as he was towed to the seaplane terminal. The bills of lading, his pilot’s license and other papers were in a zippered oilskin wallet. They were safe from the chill rain.
With his papers all in order, he oversaw the unloading and berthing of the GH-2 before taking a water taxi over to Casino Island. It was fairly late in the day and he wanted to get some sleep before getting a ticket for Hong Kong.
His usual room at the Grand was waiting for him, and he took a hot shower before changing for dinner.
Cold rain water was dripping off her muzzle, and coupled with the wind it was hard to hear. The Lemmington shotgun was heavy in the Irish setter’s paws, the 12-gauge weapon loaded with rounds that contained a smaller charge and a small resin bag filled with colored talcum powder. Brigit hiked her ears up as far as they could go and resumed her walk through the tall grass that formed part of the border of the RINS base and the rest of Moon Island.
To her surprise they had been in their cages only three days (she had guessed a week), and the showers and hot food they’d been given after they had been released had been welcome. Dressed in the nondescript dark blue jumpsuits the Naval Syndicate favored, they had then been given a small guest bungalow (unfurnished) as quarters.
The place was dusty, flea-infested and the roof leaked. Still, it was paradise compared to a cage.
Zell said that it was more than they deserved.
The exercise Brigit was performing was a simple one: try not to get captured. None of the others had managed it the first time out but the Irish girl was determined to be the first.
They’d had practical exercises – listening, primarily, as well as observing – coupled with the barest minimum of classroom instruction. Zell apparently believed in learning by doing, which Shin surmised was the reason the lynxess had been chosen to teach them.
Liberty still ground her teeth at the sight of the feline.
But she still listened. There was no way she was going to end up back in a cage if she could help it.
The Irish setter paused as she walked and looked around at her surroundings. The tall grass and scrub waved in the wind –
She dove to one side and rolled for cover, aiming and firing the Lemmington in one smooth motion.
Brigit grinned as a canine erupted from the bushes, a bright splotch of red staining one arm. He held a blowgun in one paw. She pumped the shotgun’s slide and wriggled deeper into cover, looking for any signs that the man may have had an accomplice.
A loud whistle sounded.
Zell walked into view, followed by the rest of Red Dorm. Brigit stayed under cover until the feline had blown her whistle again. She stood up, setting the safety on the weapon before brushing wet dead grass from her arms and legs.
The lynx looked her over. “Good,” was all she said. “How did you spot him?”
“I saw that th’ grass was movin’ – all but th’ one,” the Irish girl said.
“You didn’t hear him.”
“Why’d you stay hidden?”
“He might’ve had help, so.”
“Right. Never forget that there might be more than one hunter after you, children,” and she blew her whistle once more.
Half a dozen furs stood up dressed in gillie-suit camouflage, each armed with the same sort of shotgun Brigit held.
Red Dorm flung themselves into the bushes in four different directions as Zell started to laugh.
Lee Chien-Ming was a rather unhappy mouse as he headed for the investment office the next day. The news from America and what it had portended resulted in a very restless night. He was getting paid well, but if this venture failed he would have to go back to his former job.
And he hated working in his uncle’s tailor shop.
To his surprise the lights were already on when he arrived, and there was the smell of fresh coffee. “Mr. Ni?” he ventured.
Peng-wum stepped out of his office, a steaming mug in his paw. The red panda looked ungroomed and his eyes were heavy-lidded. “Good morning, Lee,” he said, then yawned widely.
“Boss, you look awful.”
“Do I?” His boss shrugged. “Was up all night, but I’m glad that you’re here.” He picked up a sheet of paper and held it out to the mouse. “Take this to the United North Pacific office,” he said, “and get it sent off immediately.”
Lee glanced at the paper and his whiskers twitched. Apart from the address, the entire message was in code, small groups of five letters or numbers each. “What’s it say?”
“You don’t need to know that,” Peng-wum snapped. The red panda shook his head, then took off his pince-nez and pinched his muzzle between his eyes. “I apologize, Lee. Just get that sent out as fast as you can. I’m going home to get some sleep. There’s fresh coffee in the back, and I left written instructions for you and the rest of the staff.”
“Um, sir, are we - ?”
Peng-wum wagged a finger at the mouse and smiled. “No, we’re not broke, and nowhere near going out of business. I’m just setting some plans in motion to get us through this mess the Americans have started. Again.” He rolled his eyes and laughed as he put on his suit jacket and headed out into the rain and the taxi rank.
Lee took a water taxi as well, to Casino Island and the telegraph offices, arriving as the place opened for the day. A request to see the manager resulted in the mouse giving the coded message to a clerk who did nothing but handle special traffic. He then went back to work, wondering just what his boss was planning.
By reputation, he knew that the Ni Family were successful and clever in finance, but he wasn’t sure they could get themselves (or their employees) out of the situation.
Hao sat back, dabbing at his muzzle with a napkin before tossing back the last of his whiskey and soda. A few diners were eating and the pianist was playing something soft. The Grand was certainly doing well, even with the off-season’s loss of customers.
He lit a cigarette and glanced up as a man walked into the restaurant and gave his rain-sodden coat to the hat-check girl. The red panda waved, and his brother-in-law strolled over. “Hello, Hao,” Fang said as the bigger Manchurian tiger took a seat. “Got here as soon as I could. What’s up?”
“Just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Well, it’s the off-season, so nothing big is going on,” Fang said. “Haven’t seen Shin in a few days.”
“That’s not unusual.”
The tiger chuckled. “No, it’s not. You’d think I’d be used to it, though, after two years. Sometimes,” and he stretched, “I can’t wait for her to finish up at that damned school.”
Hao winked and asked, “Planning a family?”
“Are you kidding? As soon as she stops taking those precautions of hers, I’m putting a kitten in her no matter how long it takes – and I hope it takes a really long time,” and both men laughed. When they stopped, Hao waved a waiter over and gave orders for more drinks and Fang asked, “So, what brings you over here from Paradise?”
The younger man snorted a laugh. ‘Paradise’ was the old term for Krupmark. “I’m only here for a little while,” he said. “Tomorrow I arrange tickets to get over to Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong, eh? Gonna visit your girl?”
“Yeah. Looking forward to it, and Father wants me to go in style.” Hao grinned. “First class, no less.”
The waiter set down glasses of whiskey as Fang whistled. “Going in style, huh? Makes perfect sense – Hei wants to impress people in Hong Kong.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.” Hao sipped at his drink. “I worry sometimes that something might happen while I’m gone, you know.”
The tiger nodded, then snapped his fingers. “Tell you what – anything happens and I’ll cable you immediately.”
Hao smiled and held out a paw. “Deal.”
They shook paws on the agreement. “So, when are you leaving?”
“I’m flying on Shoshone Skypaths; the agent says the plane’ll be here the day after tomorrow. Figure about two more days and I’ll be there.” The red panda signaled for the check.