Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
The muntjac who worked for the Hu Family was three times older than the younger man who sat beside him. Hao had emerged from the building, his Tong robe back in its box, and took a seat in the car for the drive back to the house. The muntjac had been a Tong member since before Hao had been born, and was a killer in his own right.
But the look on the young red panda’s face, and the silence . . .
The cervine expected more noise from a fur who was still pretty much a teenager.
The silence was . . . unnatural, in one so young.
The silence was what chilled his blood, and the ride was spent very uncomfortably.
Hao got out of the car when they arrived at the house. “Thanks,” he said so softly that the deer’s ears almost didn’t catch it. He sighed, his tail shaking slightly, and went into the building.
Only after the door closed did the muntjac sigh in relief and drive away.
Hao walked through the house’s entry hall, intent on getting to his bedroom before –
He suppressed a sigh. “Xiu.”
“Are – are you okay?”
Now he sighed, as the stress leached out of him. Oddly, he felt comfortable in her presence. “I guess so.”
He couldn’t imagine why he felt comfortable; after all, she wasn’t family. Yet.
But the fact remained.
“How did it go?”
He turned and looked at her. “There were a few things that I – I didn’t expect.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Grand Masters . . . had a guest with them, a Russian.” His tail trailed slackly along the floor. “They . . . wanted Anna, so I gave her back to them.”
Xiu stepped closer to him, then took him in her arms. The box containing his Tong robe slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor as he returned the embrace, awkwardly at first then with slowly growing strength.
Xiu ran a paw through his headfur, hugging him tighter and listening to his breathing, feeling his heartbeat through his suit.
“Do you want to be alone?” she whispered.
She felt him shake his head no.
Xiu slowly broke their embrace, took her fiancée by the paw and led him to his room. She steered him inside, then closed the door behind them.
A few moments later:
“You have another scar, lover.”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Sorry – “
Hu Xiu cuddled up against Hao’s back, running a gentle paw through the fur on his arm as he slept.
She started a little when his other paw came down on hers. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s all right.” He twisted around to face her, and they kissed. “Thank you.”
Xiu smiled. “No need to thank me. You looked like you needed a hug, and some rest. You’ve been under a lot of strain the past couple days, but now it’s all over and you can relax.”
Hao returned her smile then rolled over on his back, stretching and yawning widely. He reached out and stroked her mass of long, curly headfur then cupped the side of her face. “Thank you anyway, Xiu. I do love you, you know.”
“You didn’t sound so sure back in the summer,” she teased.
“That was then.”
“And this is now?” she asked, rolling over on top of him and straddling him. “Well, let me tell you something, Ni Hao: I don’t care if this is an arranged marriage any longer. I’d marry you anyway, even if I had to fight all of my schoolmates.”
A light, almost boyish smile touched his muzzle. “You would?”
“Absolutely. I’d scratch their eyes out and snatch them bald-headed to keep them away from you. You may not know this, but you’re really quite handsome.”
He grinned up at her. “That’s awful sweet of you.” His paws rested on her hips.
She leaned close until their noses almost touched. “And another thing – “
What she might have added was interrupted by the bedroom door opening. Xiu straightened up, gasping in surprise, and before Hao could say anything her thick banded tail flopped forward, covering him. She stared and exclaimed, “Mother!”
“Good afternoon, Xiu,” Qing said pleasantly. “Hello, Hao.”
Xiu gaped at her mother, then belatedly covered her breasts with her crossed arms.
“Why didn’t you knock?”
“It’s my house, daughter,” the older red panda femme said reasonably. “I can go where I please. I just wanted to tell you that dinner will be ready in ten – no, thirty – minutes.” She smiled then stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Xiu sighed in relief as Hao moved her tail away from his face. “Your mother’s being very understanding.”
“Yes, she is.” She nibbled pensively on her lower lip and looked down at him. “Hmm, thirty minutes.”
He looked up at her, his dark eyes expressive. He kissed the tip of her tail. “That’s what she said. Care to make the most of it?”
She grinned. “You bet.”
They went to the movies again after dinner, this time aware that they were being tailed by someone who was assigned to guard them. Hao was still wary, though, as he drove the Lagonda at a far more sedate pace.
The newsreel was a bit better, and the audience was laughing after the short subjects and the cartoon before the main feature started.
The movie was an American picture titled The Devil is a Pansy, starring a wallaby from New York who was a couple years younger than the two red pandas. The basic plot of the movie was summed up by an actor playing a judge, who stated that it was far easier to be good rather than bad.
“Do you think he was right?” Xiu asked as they left the theater.
“About it being easier to be good rather than bad.”
Hao shrugged. “I don’t think there’s any real good or bad,” he said. “I’m trying to work to help my family. That’s my goal. If I have to kill someone, I kill someone – it’s just business.”
“Oh,” she nodded. “It must have been hard, growing up on Krupmark.”
“Hard enough, I suppose. I was trying not to laugh at the movie.”
“Yeah. The kids in the picture wouldn’t last a day in Fort Bob. I guess it’s what the Americans think crime is like, although with gangsters and bootleggers you’d think they’d have a better idea. I liked that one short subject – the one about the guys and the kingdom under the ocean – a lot better.” He saw a sign ahead, and his eyes lit up. “You know something?”
“I haven’t had ice cream in ages. You can’t get it back home,” he said. “Would you like an ice cream?”
Xiu giggled. Her intended acted like he was much younger sometimes. “I’d love to have an ice cream.”
It was good that the young woman was securely tied down to the stretcher, Rovah Kleb observed to herself. Otherwise she would have thrown herself to the floor of the Antonov’s passenger cabin at least ten times. The slim canine was gaunt through lack of proper food and the repeated injections of heroin, but the doctor accompanying them was competent enough and he was certain that she would get through her withdrawal from the drug.
Whether she would ever be the same again was another matter entirely.
Anna’s back arched and with a strangled cry she vomited again, the retching sound eclipsed by the drone of the engines. The doctor, never far away, tilted her head to the side so she would not drown and wiped her clean after the seizure passed. When she was quiet again he rechecked the intravenous tube running into one of her arms.
The plane continued to make its way west, out of China and back to the Motherland.