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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2003 by Walter Reimer
Anna and Hao walked toward the beach as the seaward breeze stirred the tree branches overhead. When they left the woods that bounded the small airstrip Anna pointed out to sea and asked, “What the hell is that?”
She was pointing at a considerably battered, yet airworthy, seaplane bobbing in the swells perhaps a hundred yards from shore, beyond the island’s barrier reef. It had two engines mounted side by side atop its single wing, neither of the engines protected by cowlings. The boat hull of the craft had two smaller, stub wings projecting out along its waterline, and the enclosed cabin looked as if it had been stuck on as an afterthought. It was painted a hazy gray that she thought would camouflage it adequately if it were airborne – provided it could get airborne. “What a piece of junk,” she growled, a skeptical look on her face.
Hao grinned. “Part of the deal I struck with the Naval Syndicate, like I told you. It’s a Garza-Huacatl GH-2, from Mixteca. The RINS had confiscated this one a few years ago, after a smuggler stupidly parked it in the sealanes off Meeting Island. It may not look like much, but it’ll get us home.” He looked at her as he took off his cap and flicked the cigarette into the surf. “We’ll have to swim out to it,” he explained. “Care for a swim?”
She scowled at him, then laughed and, after stripping off her clothes, waded into the sea and started swimming toward the plane. Hao watched her progress with admiration, then waded and dove in, swimming after her.
“Its looks don’t improve up close,” she remarked as they met on the plane’s starboard side and caught their breath, paws grasping at the wing stub. She looked it over again, this time with a more appraising expression. “Based on a Dornier design?” she asked, and at his nod she sniffed and started to climb up to the cabin door. Hw swatted at her rear as she opened the door, and followed her up after hauling in the small anchor and settling into the pilot’s seat. “Do you know how to fly?” he asked as he began checking gauges.
“No, I’m afraid not,” she admitted, her ears laying back in embarrassment as he chuckled. “Relax, it’s not really that hard,” he said. “Here, these are the engine throttles, and … “ For several moments he did nothing but point out various instruments to her, then reached up over his head. “Now, I engage the fuel pumps and hit the ignition.”
The two BMW engines coughed, sputtered, caught and roared to life as Hao muttered, “German engines,” and slowly adjusted the mixture on each one, Anna watching intently. He smiled at her and started to slowly accelerate, the seaplane moving higher in the water until he reached takeoff speed, then Hao pulled back on the control yoke and the GH-2 lifted into the air. “See?” he asked. “Nothing to it.”
“You do make it look easy,” she observed. “Can you teach me how to fly someday?”
Hao smiled. “Sure thing,” he replied. “Right now, we’re going to come about as we climb, and head due west.”
* * * * * * * * *
“Hao’s still on Casino Island, I believe,” Hei told Peng-wum, “and I haven’t yet sent for him.” He broke off as Shin’s ears perked, and asked, “Shin, something wrong?”
“I thought I saw his Nin Hai coming in for a landing about the time you sent for me and Fang,” she explained, crossing the room to a window that overlooked the private dock. She drew the curtain aside and said, “Yes, there it is,” pointing to the frail-looking biplane. “But where’s my little brother?” she asked.
“Could be at the Casino, or down toward the beach,” Fang commented, stepping over to stand beside her. “I know he occasionally needs some company.”
Shin turned to grin up at him. “And I’m sure you’re completely innocent of pointing those houses out to him,” she laughed, then called out “Ahmad!”
The fennec poked his muzzle into the room. “Yes?”
“Have you seen Hao at all today?” Shin asked. The fox thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Mais non, Shin,” he said. “One of his crew flew his plane in from the Kanims.”
“I see.” Shin looked up at her fiancé. “Fang, be a dear. Go with Ahmad and find that guy, then ask him where Hao is.” She grasped at his tail as he nodded and headed for the door; he laughed as he evaded her paw. When she turned away from the door Hei said, “Peng-wum and I are going to be busy for a moment or two.” He and his oldest son left the room, leaving Shin in the room with her mother and Nailani.
Peng smiled as the rabbit girl looked around nervously, and patted the chair beside hers. “Please, Nailani, have a seat,” she said, and as the lepine sat she asked, “I have to admit that Peng-wum’s never told us anything about you. Where does your family live? Here on Krupmark?”
“No, ma’am,” Nailani replied. “My family lives in Pangai, one of the villages on Main Island – you know where the big cove is at the western end? One of those – and it’s traditional for women to earn their dowries.” She grinned. “Most of my sisters work either on the fishing fleets or in the tourist business.”
Shin giggled. “I bet your parents weren’t happy about you coming out here to earn your money.”
“Actually, they approved,” Nailani said. “My aunt earned her dowry working for Fat Leon, under contract the same as I.” She blushed as she recalled Peng-wum buying out the contract. There was no way he could have that much money, she thought. “We will have to meet your parents,” Peng said, “and you will probably want a traditional ceremony.” At Nailani’s nod she smiled, fanning herself. “That’s settled, then. Shin, please open those curtains. It’s getting rather warm in here.”
As Shin busied herself with the curtains the door opened and Fang reentered, looking a bit nonplused. “Fang? What’s wrong, dear?” Shin asked.
“Ahmad and I tracked down the fur who flew the Nin Hai here,” Fang said, “and the guy’s being very close-mouthed about where Hao is. He told me that Hao told him to keep it secret, and not even me threatening him would make him talk.”
“That tells a lot about Hao’s business style, if his workers are more afraid of him than you,” Shin chuckled.
* * * * * * * * *
“Son,” Hei said as they stepped into the adjoining office and he closed the door, “suppose you tell me how you met this young woman, and why you kept it a secret.” He gazed at Peng-wum until the younger panda started to fidget from one foot to the other.
“Father, I met Nailani about two years ago,” he admitted. “I went down to Fat Leon’s for a bit of an eighteenth birthday celebration, and met her there. We’ve been close ever since, and when I saw the chance to buy out her contract and marry her, I seized the opportunity.” He straightened, determined to have his way.
Hei gazed at his son, recalling Shin’s defiant, tearful look, and merely nodded. “And you are still planning on inheriting this business from me, my son?” he asked in an insinuating tone.
“Of course, Father,” Peng-wum replied, brows furrowing. “You’ve been training me to take your place for seven years now. Are you going to disinherit me for loving a foreigner?” he asked pointedly.
The elder Ni’s ears laid back and his tail twitched irritably. “No,” he replied. “I love all of my children, my son; forgive me if I don’t show it at times. But I can not see beyond the goals I have set for this family, and I’m afraid that your marriage will cause you to veer away from the path.”
Peng-wum smiled reassuringly. “Father,” he said, “rest easy. Your business will be in good hands.”
* * * * * * * * *
The Garza-Huacatl yawed dangerously as it descended, then its nose pitched up just barely in time. A huge wash of spray erupted around the seaplane as it landed hard, one engine sputtering and dying as it was flooded. The plane described a tight turn to the left before the pilot got it back under control, and it taxied to the Ni Family’s dock.
Two of Hao’s crew saw the Mixtecan plane land, and stopped laughing long enough to tie it up to the dock. One was still chuckling as Hao, looking angry and his tail bottled up, stepped out of the plane and extended a paw to Anna, who looked disheveled and slightly frightened. “That is not the way you land a plane, Anna,” Hao said. “But,” he added, brightening as he looked around, “any landing you can walk or swim away from is a good one. Welcome to Krupmark Island,” he said, and kissed her as his two subordinates whistled.
She broke the kiss and said, “I’m sure your parents have to be worried sick about you, Hao. Let’s go and meet them, please?” He laughed and offered his arm to her; as she took it he started walking up the dock toward the house. As he passed the dock crew, he flashed a simple signal with his free paw and his tail. They nodded, exchanging grins.
Hao entered the rear entrance of the Ni & Sons building and bounded up the stairs to the family apartments, calling out, “Mother! Father! I’m home!” He laughed as Anna tried to keep up, and added, “And I’ve brought home someone you should meet!”
A door at the top of the stairs opened, and Shin catapulted through it and hugged her younger brother hard. “Hao, where have you been?” She paused and looked Anna up and down, then grinned cheekily. “Those are my things you’re wearing, dear, but they look great on you,” she teased. “I’m Shin, this little guy’s big sister,” she said as she ruffled Hao’s headfur playfully. “Come on in and meet the rest of the family.”
Peng’s eyes grew wide as Hao and Anna entered, Shin shepherding them with a big smile on her face. Fang drew his intended aside as Hao led the canine girl to Peng. “Anna, this is my mother, Ni Peng. Mom, this is Anna Simonova,” he said in a happy tone.
“I am pleased to meet you, Anna,” Peng said, offering her paw and smiling as Anna shook it. Hao pointed at Shin and Fang. “Shin you’ve already met, and this big lump is her boyfriend, Wo Fang.” Anna blinked at the size of the tiger, who merely grinned at her. “Where’s Peng-wum and Father? And who’s this?” Hao asked, pointing at Nailani.
“Hao,” Peng replied, “there’s been a number of things happening since you went off to Casino Island,” and she gave him a quick summary of how Wu Tang had tried to bankrupt the family, adding, “Peng-wum will give you more of the details later. In addition to that, Shin and Fang are getting married, as are Peng-wum and Nailani,” and she smiled at her prospective daughter-in-law, who blushed.
Hao looked from face to face and laughed as he exclaimed, “That’s great news! I have some news of my own for Father. I got rid of those fighter planes he was worried about, and picked up a cargo carrier in exchange.”
Shin was looking out the rear window; she asked, “What? That piece of garbage?”
Anna replied, “That’s a very good plane. Really very sturdy. Almost Russian,” and she and Hao chuckled, sharing a private joke. “Mother,” Hao said, “since Peng-wum and Shin are both getting married, I’d like to ask if I could marry Anna,” and he looked gratified at the canine’s shocked look. He kissed her as Shin and Fang applauded, Nailani looked pleased, and Peng looked thoughtful.
“Absolutely not,” came his father’s stern voice, and everyone turned to see Hei framed in the open doorway, Peng-wum standing behind him. “I forbid it.”