Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
“Xiu? Are you all right?” Qing asked as the older furs looked up to see Xiu and her fiancé reenter the room.
“Yes, Mother,” she said, her arm linked with Hao’s. She looked as if she’d been crying; her eyes were red-rimmed and she clutched a pawkerchief in her free paw. “I’m sorry, everyone, for storming out like that.” They sat back down, still holding each other’s paws. “Please accept my apologies, Honored Chu.”
The elderly giant panda nodded. “I understand. You modern young people have difficulty understanding. So. What is your decision?”
Xiu nibbled on her lower lip nervously and looked at Hao.
He squeezed her paw reassuringly and said, “Honored Chu, we will accept your guidance. When will be the most propitious time for the wedding?”
The elderly astrologer turned to his grandnephew, who passed him a small leather portfolio. He opened it and peered at what he had written, squinting through his thick glasses. “The first day of the Year of the Tiger,” he quavered.
Hao felt her paw tighten on his convulsively.
The first day of the Tiger was the last day of January, nineteen thirty-eight.
The two younger furs looked at each other, then Hao said, “We are honored to accept your guidance, Honored Chu. We will start making plans.”
Qing dabbed at her eyes with a pawkerchief as Renmin kissed her and the attorney nodded approvingly.
DATE ESTABLISHED WEDDING NI HAO HU XIU STOP DATE SET AS FIRST DAY OF YEAR OF TIGER STOP SIGNED LEE CHEN
Renmin had spoken to a certain acquaintance, who had spoken to several others, and the next afternoon found Hao and Xiu at an abandoned farm just over the border in China. The weather was still fairly warm, and the skies overcast.
A picnic lunch had been sent with them, and a minor member of the Red Talons had been waiting for them. After a swift exchange of recognition signals, the man left.
“What did your mother pack?” Hao asked, craning to see what was in the basket.
Xiu held it away from him. “You already had lunch,” she laughed. “I want to see what’s in that basket,” and she nodded toward a large wooden box set in the middle of the neglected field.
Hao slipped a paw to the Colt at the center of his back and removed the lid, cautiously peering into the box’s interior. He stepped back with a grin. “Yeah, it’s guns all right. Quite a menu, too.” As she watched he pulled out a shotgun, several revolvers of varying caliber, and a Thompson submachine gun. The usual ‘Chicago gangster’ drum magazine came with the latter weapon. “What do you want to start out with?” he asked.
“I want to shoot yours.”
“My Colt?” he asked, cocking his head at her. After a moment he shrugged and drew the pistol, a bit reluctantly. “Sure.”
She listened as he explained the weapon’s workings and how to load it, then gave it to her. “Heavy,” she remarked.
“Yes, it is.” He pointed at a post perhaps ten yards away, and explained how to aim. “Try to hit that.”
“Okay.” She raised the gun in a two-pawed grip and squinted along the sights. She squeezed the trigger.
The gun went off, startling some feral birds out of the bushes.
The recoil bent her arms at the elbows and the automatic’s slide whacked her in the nose. “OUCH!” she exclaimed, dropping the gun and grabbing her muzzle.
Hao nearly bit his tongue to keep from laughing. “You missed,” he said. “Here, let me look at your nose.” He gently pulled her paws away from her muzzle and looked her over carefully. “Doesn’t seem broken, and you’re not bleeding.”
He kissed her gently on the tip of her nose. “There. That make it feel better?”
“Didn’t think it would,” and he chuckled as she batted at his ears. He scooped up the gun and slipped it back into his belt. “Let’s try something else.”
“Okay, but I still want to learn how to use your pistol. What’s next?”
“Well, let’s try you out on something a bit easier,” and he hefted the shotgun, a weather-beaten weapon made by Boss. Both barrels had been sawed off short.
Xiu looked dubiously at the shotgun as he loaded it and explained a few things about it. “Why is it easier?”
“With this,” and he gave a nasty chuckle, “you don’t have to aim,” and with that he whirled to face the target, dropping the weapon to his hip and firing, both paws holding it firmly.
The buckshot ripped gouges out of the top of the post they were using as a target.
“Wow,” Xiu said.
“Yeah, wow. Now, you try it, and watch it – it’s got more of a kick than my gun.”
“Okay.” She broke the weapon open and made sure it was loaded, then braced herself by planting her left foot behind her. She held it the same way he had and fired, gritting her teeth and closing her eyes.
The weapon went off with a roar and the buckshot hit the post, somewhat lower than Hao’s shot.
She opened her eyes. “How’d I do?”
Hao was wincing. “If that had been a guy – well, he wouldn’t be male anymore,” he remarked, and laughed as her eyes went wide. “Crippled him for life, too,” he added.
“Crippled?” she echoed.
“Yeah. Look, you’re not trying to scare the guy off, honeyfur,” and she blushed as he added, “you’re trying to kill him. And please, do me a favor.”
“Don’t ever close your eyes when you pull the trigger.”
“Now, reload and try again.”
After firing the shotgun several more times to familiarize herself with the recoil and the effects of the blast of pellets it produced, Xiu laid the Boss aside as Hao took a short-barreled revolver from the box. “You might find the recoil on this a bit easier than my Colt,” he said. “It’s a Schmidt and Weston model.”
“Looks a bit small.”
“Well, it’s a thirty-eight,” Hao said, “which is quite a bit smaller. That’s why I say it might be easier for you to use at first.”
She looked at him skeptically. “I hope you’re not saying that because I’m a girl.”
“Nope,” he said with a grin. “I’m saying that because you’ve got a hell of a bruise coming up on your nose.” He lunged, faking a finger-jab at her face and laughing as she recoiled.
“That’s three,” she grumbled as she loaded the revolver. She took a stance and fired.
Hao applauded. “Good shot.”
Xiu smiled at him, and concentrated on her shooting. When she was done she unloaded the pistol and brushed an errant lock of headfur from her eyes. “I like this one. Very steady.”
“Fine,” Hao said. “You’ll want to practice with it.” He caught an uncertain look cross her muzzle and asked, “What?”
“Um . . . where do I aim to . . . kill?”
He nodded and stepped over to her, facing her. “Watch.” He started pointing at himself. “Head, chest, belly,” he said tersely. “Those are your best bet to kill someone. Since the head’s not that big of a target, you have to aim at the chest and belly first. Whether he dies slow or fast, well, that depends on where you hit him. If you’re using a shotgun, you really don’t have to be that accurate – what?”
“It’s just – well, you’re pointing at yourself.”
“I can’t see myself ever shooting at you, Hao.”
He grinned. “I’ll try not to get you that mad at me, Xiu.” They both started laughing.
After a short break Xiu said, “I want to try your pistol again.”
“All right.” This time he stood behind her and coached her, giving her pointers on stance and grip. “Now,” he said quietly in her ear, “aim using the front sight, and squeeze the trigger . . . “
The bullet smacked into the fence post as she held the weapon against the recoil. Xiu grinned and suddenly her eyes went wide in shock. “Ouch! Ow!” She started to squirm, almost dropping the Colt.
Hao snatched it out of her paws before she could swing around to face him. “What? What’s wrong?” he asked as he tucked the pistol into his belt.
His fiancée was waving her paws around and practically dancing from foot to foot. “Hot!” she managed to gasp, pointing at her cleavage.
The red panda looked at her quizzically, then glanced around at the ground.
There was no sign of the spent brass cartridge casing.
He started laughing as he stepped up to her. “Hold still,” he said and reached into her cleavage. “Hmm . . . hold still, will you? . . . hang on, almost – I got a finger on it . . . Ah! Gotcha!” He withdrew his paw, holding the still-warm casing up before tossing it aside.
Xiu had both paws pressed to her breasts as she winced. She glared at him. “You took your sweet time getting that out of there!”
“You kept moving. Not my fault.”
She grumbled as she turned ostentatiously away from him and held her sun dress open to check her fur for scorches or burns.