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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer

Chapter 154

Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck
© 2009 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber.  Thanks!)

Chapter One-hundred-fifty-four

        “Well!  You all look quite a bit more presentable,” Zell laughed.
        After their flea treatment the members of Red Dorm had put on clean clothes and moved into a guest longhouse at the base.  Most of their belongings from the bungalow had been very carefully scrutinized for their necessity or utility, and those items that failed to pass muster were discarded. 
        “What’s next?” Liberty snapped.  She was obviously still angry.
        The remainder of the movie had been – unsettling.
        The lynxess smirked.  “Don’t be so eager, m’girl.  Listen carefully.”  The others gathered around, ears cocked toward her.
        “You’ve managed everything so far, and in another few days I’ll be sending you back to your school,” Zell explained.  “I have only one more lesson for you to learn.  So far, you’ve learned to rely on your senses – all of them – in detecting traps.  And you’ve learned to kill, ruthlessly.  What you need to learn now is internal.”
        “Internal?” Brigit asked.
        “Yes.”  Zell smiled unpleasantly.  “If you are captured, you have to make the best use you can of your brains, Brigit.  To do that you have to move through your fear and stay calm, find a quiet place inside you where you can sit and plan.”  She glanced at Tatiana, who was nodding.
        “Your training on that begins after lunch.  I suggest you eat light.”


        The car, a dark blue three-year-old Crossley Super Six, turned out to be owned by the Hu Family.  The car had been carefully chosen to announce the family’s status while at the same time being not as ostentatious as a Rolls or Bentley.  The chauffeur turned it onto the driveway leading past hedges of frangipani to the villa overlooking Victoria Harbor and parked it beside a deep red Lagonda 45 sports car.  As Hao got out the vehicle the front door of the house opened. 
        Hu Xiu, dressed in a beige dress, came running up to her fiancé and stopped five feet from him, her eyes wide and one paw covering her muzzle.  Her tail, obviously well-groomed and brushed in anticipation of his arrival, hit the wet macadam.
        In a shocked tone she said, “Good God – Hao, what did they do to you?”
        “Hmm?  Oh,” and he dabbed a pawkerchief to his muzzle and saw that it still came away a bit bloody.  His head and ribs hurt, and he could tell that his left eye was starting to swell a bit.  More blood stained his shirt and suit jacket.  “Some cop decided he had to practice his boxing, Xiu.  Sorry.”  He tried to manage a smile.
        “Never mind that,” she said.  “Come inside, please.  Thank you so much for bringing him, Mr. Won.”
        The lawyer smiled and bowed.  “My pleasure, Miss.” 
        Xiu gingerly stepped up to Hao and hugged him as gently as she could before taking his paw and leading him into the villa.  The lawyer followed, suppressing a smile.
        Hu Renmin stared.  “Hao?”
        “Honored Hu,” the younger red panda replied as he bowed slightly and winced at his abused ribs.  Xiu was whispering to her mother, and Qing was looking at him critically.
        The older man gestured to a chair.  “No formalities,” he said simply.  “You’ve been injured.  Can I get you a drink?”
        “Thank you, sir.  Whiskey, please,” he said, remembering his manners as he sat down in an armchair.  Xiu sat down facing him, looking upset as her father walked over to the bar.  He took the opportunity to look around.
        The house’s interior was painted a soft, creamy white, with plenty of windows to let sunlight in.  Most of the windows were closed against the rain but the shutters were open.  The room was furnished with comfortable chairs, fine carpets covered the hardwood floor and a piano sat in one corner.  Open doorways led to other parts of the house, and one room seemed to be paneled in dark wood.
        Qing asked, “Do you need a doctor, Hao?”
        Hao took a few deep breaths, grimacing each time before replying, “No, ma’am, I don’t think so.  I’m sure it looks worse than it is.”
        “It does look pretty bad,” Xiu said.  “You’re going to have a black eye.”
        “Just one?” Hao asked.  He chuckled.  “I thought he gave me two.”
        “How can you laugh about it?” his fiancée demanded.
        “Simple.  He didn’t kill me, or break any bones, and I’m not crippled either.  Thank you, sir,” he said as he took a tumbler of whiskey from his future father-in-law.  He sipped at it and sighed at the taste and the warmth that hit his stomach and spread. 
        So far, he was pleased that he was keeping control of himself.
        “If you’ll excuse me,” Renmin said, “Mr. Won and I have to have a little talk.”  He and the lawyer stepped into another room.  His wife had left the room; now she came back with a cold washcloth and offered it to Hao.
        “Thank you, ma’am.”  He pressed it to his eye, feeling the swollen flesh around it and smiling at Xiu.  His intended looked at him as if he’d been in the hospital.
        “Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?” the young woman asked quietly, her tail twitching.
        He smiled.  “Well, I wouldn’t mind some nursing,” and he succeeded in winking on the second attempt.
        Xiu giggled and winked back at him.  “I think I can arrange that.”
        Renmin came out of his study with the lawyer, who left the house.  “Mr. Won tells me you were going to be charged with bringing a firearm into Hong Kong,” he said.  “That was rather boneheaded, Hao.”
        “I know, sir.  Father told me to keep my weapon at paw in light of who wanted to see me while I was here.”
        “’Who wanted – ‘”  The older red panda turned to see his daughter blushing.  His tone grew severe.  “I see.  Perhaps I should start locking my office door, Xiu.”
        “Sorry, Father,” Xiu said contritely.
        “We’ll talk later, Daughter.  Hao, Xiu was right – there are two people who wish to see you, and since you already know about it I don’t have to tell you that they’re rather important.”
        “Yes, sir.”  Important wasn’t the word for it.
        “I’ll send a message to them about your encounter with the police – of course, they probably know already - but I want you to relax and work on getting ready to meet with them.  The firearms charge will be – taken care of.
        “Meanwhile, your luggage is in your room, and we’ll expect you in the dining room for dinner.  Xiu, show him to his room.”
        “Yes, Father.”  She waited until Hao got to his feet, whiskey in paw, and she led him down a hallway to a room overlooking the swimming pool in the rear of the property.
        “Nice room,” he remarked.  The room was painted in a very light blue and furnished simply.  More like a hotel room than a bedroom, and it had its own bathroom.  His suitcases were on the rug beside the bed.
        He hoped he could get his pistol back, or if he could acquire another one quietly before anything else happened.
        He wasn’t exactly looking forward to the meeting.
        Xiu asked, “Are you sure you’re all right, Hao?”
        Hao had set his whiskey glass down and was easing out of his jacket.  “I think so,” he said, turning toward her.
        “Good!”  She dove at him, throwing him backwards on the bed and he winced as he landed on the soft mattress.  She smiled down at him before kissing him hungrily.  He returned the kiss and they lay there for a few moments before she came up for air.
        Xiu panted, brushing her headfur from her face.  “I missed you, Hao.”
        He grinned up at her.  “I missed you too, Xiu.”

        One of the third years went running for Miss Devinski as Zell led Red Dorm up the path to the Songmark gate and stopped.  After a few minutes the Labrador came to the closed gate, which was opened far enough to let her out.
        “So.  You brought them back,” she said.
        “As agreed,” the lynx femme replied. 
        “Did they pass?”
        “They’re here, aren’t they?”
        Devinski raised an eyebrow and looked at her students.  They all seemed well enough.
        However, there was an odd uncertainty, almost a haunted look, in their eyes.  They didn’t meet her gaze, but were instead looking at everything as if seeing an enemy behind every bush or rock.
        Morgenstern and Wo looked a bit unsettled, more so than Mulvaney or Bryzov.
        “I suppose I’ll take them back, then.”
        Zell raised a paw.  “Not so fast there,” she said as the four younger women started toward the gate.  They paused and looked at her as she added, “What’s in it for me?”
        “You sold these four to me.”
        “That’s true.  Twenty-five cents each.”  The other third years sniggered, and Shin muttered something in Hokkien.
        “Yeah.  I’m not just going to give them back to you, you know.”
        Devinski nodded, as if realizing a minor mistake on her part.  “Ah.”  She reached into a pocket and pulled out a small roll of banknotes.  “Let me see – four weeks’ instruction . . . your valuable time, of course . . . shall we say two dollars?”
        The others joined Shin in grumbling at the insult as Zell considered it and said, “Done.  That’s a profit for me.  I’ll get a drink at the Lotus out of it.”
        “All right.”  The money changed paws and Devinski glared at Red Dorm.  “Now, ladies, if you’re finished with your four weeks of laying about, go up to your dorm now and change.  You will find a copy of your accelerated schedule posted on the door.”  She waved a paw and the gate opened.