Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
Hao shifted from foot to foot while the older red panda looked his car over. Finally Renmin straightened and dusted off his paws. “It doesn’t look too bad,” he remarked, glancing at his future son-in-law. “Some dents on the fenders and grillwork.”
“Mr. Hu, I’ll pay to get it fixed – “
“Yes, you will,” the older man agreed. “But not right now. But look here.
“Xiu is an only child; my wife and I can’t have any more. So Xiu is precious to me. You understand?”
“You’re a fine young man, Hao. If I didn’t think you could do right as a husband, I would never have agreed to the match. But you have a good character, you’re clever and resourceful, and you will protect what you have.”
“Thank you, sir,” Hao managed to say.
“I’m not making empty compliments, Hao. Your parents are proud of you, and based on what I’ve heard, read and seen so far, so are we.” A paw came down on his shoulder. “Now, let’s go get ready for dinner, shall we?”
“Yes, sir. I am hungry.”
“Good. I’m sure Qing and the cook have something planned. How are you feeling?”
“Still a bit sore, and driving around like that didn’t help. Another day or two, though, and I’ll be fine.”
“Good.” They started walking back to the house and Renmin remarked, “I called the astrologer today, while you and Xiu were out.”
“Yes. He’ll want to see you both in a couple of days, and the people you’re going to talk to tomorrow have sent something over. It’s in your room.”
“Thank you,” Hao said, feeling a bit dazed by the fact that Renmin didn’t seem too disturbed about his car, but was concerned about his daughter. He was sure that Xiu could take care of herself quite well.
Of course, he had to teach her how to use a gun first.
He went to his room and found two boxes on his bed. He opened the larger and groaned.
Inside the box was a silk robe, in scarlet and black and embroidered with two Tong signs, his own Red Talon and that of the Black Dragons. An enclosed note stated that he would wear it when he had his meeting the next day.
It was going to be one of those meetings. He hated protocol.
The other box’s contents cheered him up immensely the second he picked it up and the scent of gun oil washed over his nose. The box contained his .45 Colt, along with a note from the Hu’s lawyer telling him to be more careful.
He promised to do so.
The supper was excellent, and Hao took pains to thank the cook. Back home at the Lucky Dragon, failure to keep the cook happy might result in rather nasty surprises. There were stories about one prominent member of the ruling clique dying after he insulted the fur who prepared his meals.
How the cook got hold of a deadly fugu fish had been the source of some speculation at the time. Of course, anything could be obtained on Krupmark, but the puffer fish wasn’t easy to get even under normal circumstances.
The night was warm and Hao stepped outside to the patio around the pool to smoke, his ears flicking at the occasional mosquito.
“Hao?” He turned to see his intended at a discreet distance. She had probably realized the possible perils of sneaking up on him from their first meeting on Spontoon.
He smiled at her. “Hi. You okay?”
“I wanted to ask you that,” she chuckled.
She shrugged and rubbed one arm. “A little bruised. That was some ride in the country.”
He smiled at that. “I’ll try not to do it again. I get a bit – well, nervous at times. I suppose you should know that.”
“I guessed,” and she stepped up to stand behind him, her arms wrapping around him. He tried not to wince at the ache in his ribs, and she seemed to sense it. “You’re still hurting.”
“Come on,” and she urged him toward the cabana at the far end of the pool.
“Where are we going?”
“I want to give you a rub down. Maybe it’ll relax you.”
The next morning Renmin had business to attend to at his office, and one of his employees was standing beside a car as Hao stepped out of the house, dressed in his suit with the box containing his robe under one arm. “You’re Ni Hao?” the muntjac asked.
“Fine. Get in,” and the cervine circled around the car to get in the driver’s seat.
They drove into the city, moving slowly until they pulled to a stop in a blind alley between two office buildings. “Through there,” the man said, pointing to a door. “They’re waiting for you.”
Hao nodded, and got out. He rapped on the door and it opened a barest crack. He gave a Red Talon recognition sign, which earned him a softly hissed epithet before the door swung open.
“Get in here,” a stocky feline said, and Hao recognized the man who’d pursued him and Xiu the previous day. “Get your robe on, and head through that door. You don’t want to be late.”
The red panda opened the box and carefully pulled on the robe over his suit. “I hoped you weren’t badly hurt,” he said.
A snort. “You’re just disappointed you didn’t kill me.”
“True,” he said blandly. “You might have told me though. Would’ve saved both of us a lot of trouble.” He headed for the door, knocked, and went in.
This was the part he hated.
As soon as the door closed behind him he was on his knees, kowtowing three times.
He didn’t have to look up to know what the room looked like, as the layout didn’t change much – the personages he was supposed to talk to were at the far end of the room, usually seated higher than the chair he would occupy, and there would be incense burners (he could already smell the smoke). The room would be furnished simply.
“Rise and come forward,” said a deep, gravelly voice.
Keeping his eyes down, Hao got to his feet and walked to within ten paces of the voice, knelt and kowtowed again. He tried to keep his banded tail from swishing and betraying his irritation at the etiquette. Peng-wum was so much better at this sort of thing.
“Rise, Brother.” This from another voice, sounding less raspy than the first. “Sit down.”
The Grand Master of the Black Dragons was a musk deer, short and stocky with a muscular build and small gold caps tipping his downward-pointing tusks. A long knife scar marred his muzzle.
The Red Talons’ Grand Master, on the other paw, was a tiger. He was thin, so thin that his robes hung on him like a scarecrow. He was missing the tip of his right ear.
For a brief moment Hao almost smiled as he thought, A tiger and a musk deer go into a bar...
He kept a straight face. These two had risen to their eminence by murder and sheer ruthlessness, but their position required decorum and very precise etiquette. He found himself admiring the two for their efforts.
“So, this is the young Ni Hao,” the Black Dragons leader grumbled. He flicked his ear, and a single carved jade earring flashed. “Your clan is known to us, and your reputation gives you great face.”
Hao held his peace.
The tiger said, “Brother, you are welcome here.” He glanced at his counterpart and added, “And we wish you happiness in your marriage.”
“Thank you, Grand Masters,” he said quietly. “I am honored you take such notice of my unworthy self.”
The feline snorted. “Unworthy? We have watched you ever since you joined the Red Talons, Brother. You have brought honor to your clan.”
“May we dispense with protocol?” the musk deer asked. “We have business to discuss.”
The Red Talon bowed slightly in his seat to the Black Dragon. “As you wish.”
“Relax,” the cervine said to Hao. “This meeting is largely a formality. Master Chu and I wanted to meet you before we completed our alliance via the Jade Phoenix. There are still certain considerations to work out, but you aren’t part of that,” and he gave the tiger a sidelong glance.
“Thank you, sir.”
The conversation drifted into other subjects, notably the prospects of increased business in America. It made sense; there was a lot of money to be made, and with his family connection the Tongs wanted in on the opportunity.
Things relaxed a bit and Hao was lighting a cigarette when his Tong’s Grand Master remarked, “There is one last issue to be brought up in your presence, young Ni.”
“Yes, Grand Master?”
“Yes. Both our brotherhood and the Black Dragons received a request from the Communist Party Central Committee in Shaanxi. A guest requested an audience, and certain arrangements were made.” The tiger nodded to one of the guards in the room, who opened the door closest to where the two Grand Masters were sitting.
Hao stared as a stocky canine femme wearing a cheap, ill-fitting suit walked in, put her paws behind her back and stared back at him stolidly.
“Ni Hao, this is Colonel Rovah Kleb, of the Soviet secret police,” the tiger said. “She wants to ask you a few questions.”