Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
After dinner, Hu Renmin said, “Hao, you and I need to talk,” and waved his guest in the direction of his study. The younger red panda followed the elder into the room and Hu closed the door behind them.
The office was paneled in dark and well-varnished oak. Hu gestured at the bar. “Help yourself and have a seat,” and he waited until Hao had poured himself a glass of whiskey and sat down before getting his own drink, a Scotch and soda. He then took a seat behind his desk.
“You know who wants to talk to you,” he said, “so there’s no need in going over that again. I want to assure you, though, that you are not in any danger whatsoever. Your marriage – well, you know the arguments for it, from the Tongs’ points of view – the fact of the matter is that Xiu loves you, Hao. It’d break her heart to see you killed or hurt, and I was quite firm on that point.”
“Thank you, sir.” Hao sipped at his whiskey. Dinner had been a fairly quiet affair and he’d been careful not to eat or drink too much. He felt tired though, probably from the long flight and his abuse at the paws of the police. “When do they want to talk to me?”
“They said as soon as possible,” Hu replied, fitting a cigarette into its holder and lighting up, “but when they’d heard you’d been hurt they pushed it back one day.”
Hao nodded. “I’m honored that they think I’m important,” he admitted. “Could we talk to them tomorrow? I want to get this out of the way and enjoy my stay.”
The older red panda smiled. “No doubt, no doubt. Xiu has been talking of nothing but you and the places she wants to show you.” He and Hao both chuckled and he added, “And we’ve contacted a reputable astrologer to fix the date for the wedding.
“But you look tired, so we’ll talk in the morning. I’ll make a phone call and see if you can talk with them sometime tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir. I am tired.” Hao finished his drink and set the empty glass down on the bar before going to his room.
He awoke the next morning and immediately wondered where he was.
Birds were singing, and their calls weren’t the usual raucous shrieks of the parakeets native to Krupmark.
There wasn’t any gunfire, either, only the sound of shipping down in the harbor.
It took him a moment or two to realize that he wasn’t at home, he was in Hong Kong. Memory returned as he sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.
Xiu had kissed him goodnight and went back to her own room. She told him that she wanted to see him at breakfast the next morning to see if he was getting better.
It felt nice to have someone worry about him – well, other than his parents, of course.
He got out of bed, moving slowly, and started to get cleaned up. He still hurt, and he could see bruises under his fur.
“Good morning!” Xiu said as he walked into the dining room, dressed in trousers and a short-sleeved shirt. It promised to be a warm day, and the rain had finally stopped. “Sleep well?”
“Very well, thanks,” and he sat down. Several dishes were already on the table along with a pitcher of orange juice and glasses. He helped himself and started eating. She had been waiting for him, as she followed his lead.
“What did you want to do today?” he asked at one point.
“I want to show you around a bit,” she said, “and I thought later tonight we might see a movie.”
“I’d like that. What movie?”
“Well, it’s about a year old, but I read that Lang shan die xue ji is playing over in Kowloon.”
“Blood on Wolf Mountain? Sounds like a date,” and Hao winked at her as the elder Hu regarded them both over the top of his newspaper. “That is, if I’m not doing anything else.”
“I haven’t called them yet,” Renmin said as he folded his paper and set it aside. “If they want to see you today, Hao, you will be expected to act accordingly.”
“Yes, sir.” He wasn’t looking forward to that.
“So, while we wait, Hao, our home is yours,” Qing said with a smile. “Relax and enjoy yourself. Xiu, could you help me clear the table?”
“Sure, Mother.” The two women busied themselves while Hao lit one of his cigarettes and looked at Renmin.
The older red panda asked, “Yes, Hao?”
“You’re nervous, sir?”
Renmin had been lighting his own cigarette; he flicked his lighter closed and asked, “What makes you say that?”
“You’ve read the same part of the paper for five minutes.”
The man gave a soft laugh. “So I have.” He got to his feet. “I’ll go make that phone call now.”
“They insist that you relax, and they will talk to you tomorrow morning at ten,” Renmin said over an hour later. “No arguments.”
“I understand, sir,” Hao said. He smiled. “I’ll be able to let Xiu show me around then.”
“Good. You two go and have fun. Oh, and Hao?” he asked as the younger man turned away.
Renmin asked, “Do you know how to drive?”
Hu tossed a small object to Hao, who caught it.
It was a set of keys.
The older red panda grinned. “Take the Lagonda.”
“Father never lets this car out of his sight if he can help it,” Xiu remarked later that day as she and Hao got into the roadster. The car was a low-slung two seater with a pleasantly purring six-cylinder engine. She helped him fold the roof back, as the afternoon promised to be warm.
Hao nodded, looking around at the wood dashboard and leather seats. “I can see why. Well, let’s get going.”
He started the car and tested the controls before shifting into reverse.
That operation took two tries and some grinding noises, and he looked rather sour as Xiu giggled. “You do know how to drive?” she teased.
“I can drive the truck back home,” he grumbled, “and fly a plane, too, remember.” He soon managed to find the exact touch to depress the clutch and shift without causing the transmission any trouble. He backed the car down the drive and into the road. “Okay, where to?” he asked.
“I figured we’d go to Happy Valley first, for lunch and the races,” and she gave him directions.
Hao had to remind himself to drive on the left side of the street. Driving in Fort Bob usually entailed avoiding the larger potholes and ruts while moving fast enough to avoid being either shot or hijacked.
The car hugged the curves and he was soon enjoying the experience. “Tell me,” he asked Xiu, “do you drive?”
“Father’s taught me,” his intended replied.
She giggled, and he felt his tail twitch. “Hmm, what’s the expression – hell, no.” She immediately blushed at the swear word, and they both started laughing.
The races were packed, with the lunchtime crowd intent on laying a few wagers as entertainment to go along with their lunch. Over dim sum, fruit juices and almond jelly the two red pandas watched the feral horses and their jockeys move out onto the track.
Xiu watched Hao light a cigarette and asked, “Are you feeling all right?”
“Well, you seem a bit quiet today. Still hurting?”
“A little, yes.” He shrugged. “But like I said yesterday, I’m not dead, so it’s no big deal.” He smiled, then reached across the table and took her paw in his. “I feel a lot better now, and I’m glad I’m here.”
Xiu smiled back at him, and they leaned in to kiss just as the racehorses dashed out of the gate. They broke the kiss and started cheering on the horses they’d chosen to bet on.
A short distance away a lean feline sat alone at a small table, positioned so he could watch the races and also keep an eye on the two red pandas. He tapped his claws on the table, his lemonade neglected.
After waiting a short interval to allow the pair to think they were not being followed, the feline stood and headed for his car.
“Careful, you’ll spill your popcorn,” Hao teased as he and Xiu headed up the stairs to the theater’s balcony. As they found their seats he asked, “Have you seen this before?”
“Well, it’s almost a year old, you said.”
In the dim light he could see her profile as she nodded. “I haven’t seen this picture, but I like Fei Mu’s work as a director. And one of the actresses is my favorite.”
“Oh?” he asked around a mouthful of popcorn.
“Uh-huh,” she said. “Jiang Qing’s in this movie. I’ll point her out to you.”
The movie was preceded by several short subjects, beginning with a newsreel. The mostly Chinese audience watched solemnly as grainy footage of the Japanese Army’s progress in Shanghai was shown.
After that, the two cartoons lost some of their power to amuse.
The movie was a thinly-veiled allegory on the war far to the north of where they sat, a tale of feral wolves besieging a village. Xiu and Hao held paws as they watched, and occasionally looked at each other in the flickering light.
By the time the movie was over, they had missed over half of it.