Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
“We’re being followed.”
Xiu looked at her fiancé quizzically. They had come out of the theater and were headed for their waiting car. “Are you sure?” she asked, starting to glance around.
“Don’t do that,” he growled quietly. His change in mood was instant. “I spotted him while we were getting our tickets. I saw him earlier at the racetrack.” He held the door for her.
“Who do you think it might be?” she asked as she sat, smoothing out her skirt and taking out a silk scarf that she used to cover her headfur. She sounded nervous.
“No idea. He’s not showing any Tong signs that I can see,” Hao said as he got in to her right and started the car. “Let’s see if he follows us, and I’ll try to lose him.”
“And if he doesn’t follow?”
“Then we see if he has friends.” Hao shifted the Lagonda into gear and pulled out into the street.
They drove on in silence through the busy streets of Kowloon as Hao kept at least one eye on the rear-view mirror. “Yup,” he said finally. “There he is. Brown cat, driving a small gray car.”
“So, how do we lose him?” Xiu asked, sounding a bit more nervous.
Hao grinned at her, a tight feral expression that suddenly made her neck fur stand on end. “We wait first, until we get out in the open. I don’t want to run anyone over.”
He didn’t bother to mention that if they had been on Krupmark, he wouldn’t have hesitated.
They turned onto a road that led up into the hills, and as the crowds and cars thinned out Hao started to put on speed. The other car followed and matched its pace with the Lagonda.
Hao’s foot stamped on the accelerator.
The car’s engine roared and the vehicle started to pull away as the red panda took the increasingly steep and twisting curves faster and faster. The car pursuing them at first lagged far behind, but slowly began to catch up.
Xiu felt her manicured claws digging into the leather upholstery as she fought to keep from being thrown around the interior of the car. The wind tore the scarf off her head and whipped at her headfur. “Hao,” she gasped, raising her voice over the roar of the engine and the sound of the wind, “are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Would you like to drive?” he asked, giving her a quick glance as he abruptly rounded a sharp curve. The force of the curve took her by surprise and she fell sideways, her head ending up in his lap.
She felt her cheeks burning in embarrassment as he laughed and his paw caressed her head. She batted his paw away and struggled to sit up, glaring at him. “You think this is funny?”
“No.” He gritted his teeth and threw the Lagonda into another tight turn, making the tires squeal in protest and the body lift clear of its wheels on the right momentarily.
By this time they were far up in the hills, with a steep slope to their right and a sheer drop on the left, dotted with tilled fields and trees.
Hao dropped his gaze long enough to look at the speedometer.
Ninety-five miles per hour.
Xiu grabbed his arm. “HAO!”
He looked up.
A herd of feral pigs were being driven across the road up ahead, the farmer staring at the oncoming car with wide eyes.
Hao reacted, yanking the gear shift into neutral as he jerked the steering wheel to the right and drove both feet onto the brake pedal.
The Lagonda’s brakes screeched and its tires laid down four stark black streaks on the macadam as it left the road and climbed up the slope, coming to a halt in a clump of undergrowth.
The pursuing feline also saw the pigs but swerved left, and left the road headed down the slope, caroming off trees as his car lost parts of itself.
Hao sat behind the wheel of the car, eyes wide and breathing deeply as Xiu clung to him, face buried against his chest. The car’s engine was still running, and the farmer was loudly haranguing him for being a reckless so-and-so. The man finally spat at the car and went back to his animals, muttering about young people these days and crazy drivers scaring his livestock.
Her voice quavered, sounding like a scared little girl’s.
He was surprised that his own voice sounded so steady.
“Are we – dead?”
She looked up at him. “We’re not?”
“No, we’re still alive. I’m not so sure about the other guy, though.”
“Good. Because I’m going to KILL you!”
She started beating her fists against his chest, before both of them dissolved into fits of relieved laughter as the stress drained away.
Finally they stopped laughing and simply sat, exhausted and clinging to each other. Hao reached out and switched off the engine. “Stay here,” he said. “I want to make sure the car’s okay.”
“Sure.” She didn’t think she could trust her legs at the moment.
A cursory inspection showed that the Lagonda still had four sound tires under it, and nothing seemed to be leaking. Hao climbed back into the roadster and sat there for a long minute. “Remember you said you were going to kill me?”
“You may need to get in line behind your father. The front’s a bit dented and scratched. I think we should go home.”
“I think so, too. What about the other guy?”
“He hasn’t come up after us, and no sign of any help. He’s either dead or knocked out. Either way,” he said as he started the engine, “I don’t care.”
“If I still had my pistol, I’d go down there and make sure of him before we left,” he said quietly as he shifted the car into reverse and started down the slope. The car responded well, indicating that there was nothing wrong with its steering gear.
After they had driven for a few moments Xiu said, “You were serious. I mean, about killing the man.”
“Of course I was serious,” he replied. His sore ribs ached, and he put his free paw against his side and pressed a bit to ease the sensation. “At home, you never give an enemy a second chance.”
“Yeah, a little.” The outskirts of the nearest village came into view. “I’m going to drive a little slower, okay?”
“Please.” She nestled against him and he slipped his arm around her shoulders as they headed for home.
It wasn’t until they were on the road leading up to her house that she spoke again. “I wanted to take you out to dinner.”
“We’ll have plenty of time,” he said with a grin as he pulled into the driveway. “I’m not going anywhere soon.” He set the brake and shut off the engine before leaning across to kiss her.
She smiled at him when they broke the kiss. “I love you.”
He winked at her. “Same here.” At her raised eyebrow he added, “I love me, too.”
She tweaked his nose.
They put the car roof up before going inside, and as they passed her father’s study the elder Hu called out, “Both of you come in here. Now.”
The two stepped in to find Xiu’s father standing behind his desk, and Hao suppressed the urge to gulp. Renmin reminded him of his own father at times.
“Yes, Father?” Xiu asked.
Renmin tapped a claw on his desk. “I just got a phone call, from a man who was asked to follow you. He says you ran him off the road in the hills outside Kowloon,” he said. He looked hard at both of them. “Is this true?”
“He was asked to follow us, sir?” Hao asked. “Who asked him?”
“The people you are going to speak with tomorrow, Hao.”
The younger red panda rolled his eyes. “You’d think they’d warn a guy,” he said in a sarcastic tone. “Sir, he never said he was watching us. All he did was follow us, which made me suspicious. I tried to lose him – “
“’Lose him?’ In my car?”
“Tell me everything that happened.” He fitted a cigarette to its holder and lit up, smoking quietly while Hao and Xiu recounted their day. When they were done, he tipped some ashes into the ashtray on his desk.
“Go get ready for dinner. I want to talk to Hao. Alone,” he added when she opened her mouth.
“Yes, Father,” she said in a subdued tone, and left the office, closing the door behind her.
Hao set his jaw and faced the older man, who slowly came around the desk to stand facing him.
Renmin placed a paw on Hao’s shoulder, leaned in close and asked, “Did you really get my car over ninety miles an hour?”
Hao blinked for a moment before replying, “Yes, sir.”
“How’d it handle?”
The question made him blink. “It took the curves great, and I don’t think I broke anything – well, nothing serious.” Hao looked nervous.
“I hope you didn’t damage it.”
“There are a few dents, sorry.”
His future father-in-law nodded, then grinned widely.
“I envy you. I’ve never been able to get far enough out of the city to really open it up.” The paw on his shoulder squeezed a bit. “Let’s have a drink, and then we’ll look the Lagonda over before dinner.”