Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
It had taken a day for the operative at the Los Angeles office of United North Pacific to decipher the message, but it got to the person it was addressed to. That person then passed it on.
TO WEST COAST INVESTMENTS LTD LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA USA
ATTN PAUL CONTI ESQ
MESSAGE BEGINS MR CONTI PLEASE PASS ON TO MY FRIEND STOP LONG MESSAGE COMING STOP PURPOSE SET UP NEW BUSINESS VENTURE STOP WIDE RANGING LONG TERM INVESTMENT WITH POSSIBLE HIGH POTENTIAL STOP BEST REGARDS SIGNED NI PENG-WUM NI AND SONS INVESTMENTS LTD SPONTOON INDEPENDENCIES MESSAGE ENDS
Paul Conti frowned as he read the telegram. A messenger from a certain address in Chinatown had given a proper recognition code and had been immediately admitted (through a back door – no telling who from the damned FBI might be watching the front). The message was cryptic, but that suited the raccoon just fine.
The rest of the proposal was probably coming soon, so he had better let Manny know it was coming. With the economy starting to trend down, any new investment was bound to meet with a receptive ear.
Javier Soares moved aside and let a small gang of toughs shoulder their way past him. The Goa-born civet had made it part of his stock in trade to be as unobtrusive as possible.
It made business so much easier.
The major street on Mildendo Island (the town was only referred to as ‘The Settlement’) bustled despite the worsening fall weather. There were no typhoons in the immediate vicinity, but the tropical air colliding with the first blasts of cold weather from Vostok Island and Siberia made for bad storms. He had eaten his dinner at a small noodle shop and was headed back for his office, situated above a warehouse where he kept only part of his wares.
His ears flicked and he paused, glancing down a dingy alley.
A thin canine dressed in a filthy jumpsuit sat slumped against a wall, hunkered down and shivering as he cried.
Soares looked the boy over. Slim build, maybe late teens.
“What’s the matter, hey?”
The rain started falling just then, and the boy looked up at him, wiping tears from his muzzle. “It’s so cold,” he sobbed, his voice sounding husky.
Soares looked him over again, and smiled.
“Come with me,” he said as he affected a pleasant smile and offered a paw. “I can help you get warmed up.”
The canine stood and took the paw. The two headed down a side street.
“Let it ride,” the big fur roared, and the croupier set the roulette wheel spinning once more. The elephant sat back, the chair creaking dangerously as he adjusted his girth on the seat. His trunk held a small lacquered Chinese fan which he used to brush aside the flies and the thin haze of cigarette smoke in the gambling den.
Mohan Ahuja wasn’t usually seen in the open on Mildendo, but the lure of gambling had proved to be a bit too much for him to withstand. With all of life since he had left Calcutta a gamble, why not enjoy life a little?
The young girl on his lap didn’t seem to mind, and as the roulette wheel stopped she pouted. “Ye lost,” she said in a soft Irish accent.
Ahuja grinned, the dim light in the den gleaming off the small gold caps on his tusks. This girl had come up to him and had immediately expressed an interest, something he found quite flattering.
Perhaps a bit later he’d show her why elephants were the favored totem of Ganesha.
He shifted his weight again, and shooed her off his lap. “’Scuse me,” he rumbled at her, “but Nature calls.”
He walked off to the toilet, while unknown to him the red-furred canine slipped into the shadows.
Hank Bolman stepped out of the bar and, weaving only slightly, started off down the street. There were three major types of liquor to be had on Mildendo – legitimately bottled stolen from others, adulterated liquor usually smuggled to people who didn’t know any better, and home-grown varieties of varying levels of purity. Only a small fraction was capable of striking a fur blind or killing him outright.
Paws furred in black reached out to him from an alleyway, and yanked the hound off his feet.
Moments later a red panda femme stepped out of an adjoining alley, shoving something into her pocket.
A shadow carefully scaled the wall to the roof of the building, keeping low to avoid silhouetting herself. The rain that had started before sundown was now a steady downpour, but there was always the possibility that someone could spot her.
Inside the building was her target, a Malay civet named Abdul.
The sable gripped the roof as she eased down headfirst, looking in the window.
In the dim light she could make out two forms, nestled close together.
She shifted her grasp on the eave and swung herself into the room.
Abdul’s guards looked up from their dice game as a muffled cry was heard from the closed room next door. They grinned at one another and resumed their gambling, figuring the boss was having some fun with his bedmate.
The Shoshone Skypaths plane circled once, then lined up for a landing in the harbor of Hong Kong, touching down with a ponderous grace. Its engines idling, a towboat began drawing it to the quayside.
Hao finished tying his necktie, adjusted the holster at the back of his belt and put on his suit jacket before stepping out of the plane’s bathroom.
The view from the window showed the city of Hong Kong marching up the verdant hillsides of the Crown Colony and its associated territories. Without thinking about it, the red panda shuddered. He didn’t do well in crowds.
“Excuse me, sir,” a stewardess said. “Please gather up your belongings. We’ll be tying up at the dock soon.”
“Thank you,” he remembered to say politely, eyeing her tailfur as she went past him to talk to another passenger. The woman was an Irish setter and he was momentarily reminded of Brigit.
He stepped out of the aircraft and onto the dock, nose raised as he sniffed the air. He could smell food cooking and his stomach grumbled in sympathy. While the meals on the plane had been excellent, he really wanted something Chinese.
The passengers gathered inside the terminal as their luggage was unloaded and brought in to be inspected by Customs officials. Hao claimed his bags and stood in line as calmly as he could, with his passport and visa paperwork ready.
Finally, his turn came.
“Ni Hao,” the Chinese officer said, reading from the red panda’s Kuo Han-issued passport.
“What brings you to Hong Kong?”
“Business, or pleasure?”
“Oh,” he said with a smile. “Pleasure,” he replied. “I’m meeting my bride.”
The canine grinned. “Good for you, young man.” He checked the visa stamps and stamped the passport before giving it back to Hao. “Welcome to Hong Kong,” he said. “Take your bags over there to be searched.”
“Thank you,” and Hao picked up his two suitcases and headed over to join the line for the customs search.
As he turned away the canine looked up.
His eyes narrowed and he gestured to another officer.
Hao stood quietly as his suitcases were opened and methodically searched. He wasn’t carrying anything illegal, and idly wondered why the Customs officials would be so stupid as to think he’d be so brazen.
“Excuse me, sir?”
He turned to see three constables, two of them Chinese and one a Westerner whose uniform sported the three chevrons of a sergeant. The leather flaps of their holsters were unfastened, and paws hovered over their weapons.
“Yes?” Hao asked.
“Are you by any chance carrying a gun at your back?” the sergeant asked in soft, clipped English.
They must have seen the outline of it.
Hao nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“Hold still, please. Keep your paws where we can see them.” The sergeant reached around Hao and relieved him of his pistol. “I’ll have to ask you to come with us, sir.”
“Just a few questions, sir. Please don’t make a scene,” the sergeant said. The two Chinese constables looked at him suspiciously.
Hao thought for a moment, then smiled. “Of course, Sergeant. I make it a point to cooperate with the police.”
“Right this way, sir,” and the sergeant nodded to one of his subordinates, who went to get Hao’s suitcases.
In pawcuffs, Hao was escorted out of the building and into a waiting police car. As it drove off, a young red panda seated on the fender of his car watched him go, then stood up as a Customs officer ran out to him.
A whispered conversation ensued, and the red panda got in his car.