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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer

Chapter 164

Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck
© 2010 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber.  Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and related characters courtesy of Eric Costello.  Thanks!)

Chapter One-hundred-sixty-four

        Ni Peng-wum walked back to his office, seething slightly as he went back over his conversation with Stagg.  Damn it, it was bad enough the Americans were threatening to drag the world’s economy back into the Depression, but now this?
        Damn it.
        He had to find out how much Stagg knew, then work backwards to find out how much the furs aboard the freighter knew about the Family’s operations.  Chances were good that they didn’t know anything (Hao was good at hiring cheap and expendable temporary workers, but keeping them out of anything vital), yet there was a possibility that K’mala had been among the arrested furs.
        He had to know how much the Family may have been compromised.
        A horn sounded and, startled so badly that his tail fluffed out, he stepped out of the truck’s way.  Without realizing it the red panda had stopped in the middle of the street to think.  He waved at the driver and continued on his way back to the office.
        He knew certain people who might have been able to help him, but the odds were excellent that he was being watched.  He wouldn’t be able to speak to anyone directly.
        As he entered the investment office he started to smile, a plan already forming in his mind.  “Lee?  Come into my office, please,” he said, and ushered the mouse into his inner office and closed the door.
        Lee looked uncomfortable and Peng-wum said reassuringly, “First of all, my friend, there’s no trouble.  I was wondering if you’d had lunch yet.”
        “No, sir.”
        “Good.  Do you know the White Lotus’ owner?”
        Lee gaped, then laughed.  “Mr. Ni, everyone on Casino Island knows White Lotus Chin!”
        “Good.  I want you to go there and do two things for me – order lunch for everyone, and ask to talk to Chin privately.  Tell him that I have some important advice for him, and ask if he will call on me here today.”  He opened his billfold and placed some money on the desk.  “You can keep the change.”
        Lee nodded, repeated the instructions, and left with the money.
        Peng-wum watched him go.  Lee was a hireling and a Tong member; hopefully his errand would draw attention.  He lifted the pawset on his phone and made a few calls, the last to a low-level secretary in the Tourism Ministry.

        By the time he closed up for the night, he had assurances that he would soon know exactly what the pirate crew had told under questioning.  Despite the reliability of his sources, Peng-wum automatically deducted twenty-five percent from that assertion and made his way to the water taxi rank.
        “Pangai, please,” and as the small motor launch chugged its way across the lagoon he gazed out across the water to the northwest.  Father had to know by now what was going on, probably from Hao, and had taken steps to safeguard the business. 
        The taxi came to a drifting stop against the public dock at Pangai and, after paying the driver, Peng-wum headed for his family’s longhouse.
        “Hi!” Nailani said cheerfully as her mate entered the dwelling.  She grinned as he kissed her and said, “Get ready for dinner.  I almost have everything ready.”
        “Great.  How was your day?”
        “Mikilani’s starting to teethe, and he’s been a bit fussy all day,” the rabbit said.  As if on cue their son started to cry.  “My mother gave me something to quiet him down so he can sleep.”
        “And so can we.”
        She laughed.  “You think I’m going to let you sleep?”
        He grinned and kissed her.  “Maybe, if I’m good.”  He sniffed at what was for dinner and smiled.  “I’ll get ready for dinner.”
        “Good.  How did things go over on Main?”
        “Oh, pretty much the same.”  He switched to Spontoonie and added, in a soft tone that he knew she could catch, “Visit I had with Law-Guardian-Who-Limps.”
        Rabbits have almost stereotypically good hearing.  As he shed his Euro clothes he heard her pause and step up behind him.  “Trouble-emphasis?” she asked in the same quiet voice.
        Dressed now in native costume he put his glasses on and faced her.  “Possibility exists,” he conceded in a mild tone.  “Friends-emphasis learn how much possibility reality having.  I perhaps-will know next sun-rising, mate-precious.”
        Nailani nodded, her eyes going a bit flinty.  Her clan was notorious for taking extreme measures when they felt threatened.  It was rumored (very quietly, since there was no real evidence) that it was the Mahokus, and not pirates, that had wiped out a neighboring clan during the Gunboat Wars, taking advantage of the chaos of those times to settle a score.
        “Danger to hearth and kin, precious-mate?”
        “Possibility exists.”


        Ni Hei peered out of the open doorway before taking a single step out of the front door of the Ni & Sons building on Krupmark.  Emilia, Marco and Julia all nodded, ears and eyes sweeping the rutted dirt road for any sign of trouble before the red panda started walking across to the Lucky Dragon.
        Hei had started moving even before Hao had left for Hong Kong.  A few low-level entrepreneurs had been killed while others had been intimidated by nocturnal visits.  Marco still had some dried blood under his claws from his own encounter with a man up in the Thieves’ Bazaar, a giant panda who thought that he could muscle his way into the Nis’ operations.
        Life on Krupmark Island.
        Additional steps were being taken, under cover of darkness and away from prying eyes and ears.  No one had to know about it, until it was too late.
        Hei walked into the casino and a few card players looked up at him, recognized him and went back to his cards.  One regular habitué of the place, a lean hound wearing a flying suit and a padded leather jacket, waved before tossing some Kuo Han taels onto the table.
        Clarence, the English lion who served as the Family’s accountant, looked up from his dinner as Hei sat down.  “Is there a problem?” he asked, only to sit back as the red panda shook his head.
        “Nothing really, Clarence,” Hei replied.  “I’m going to send a wire to Hao in the morning.  Time he went back to work – no, on second thought let him enjoy his vacation.  He and Xiu need to know each other better.”
        “Ah.”  The gaunt feline nodded.  “Should I notify him what’s being done?”
        “No need.  You and I need to plan a few new routes for our merchandise.”


        Rosie was still downstairs when Inspector Stagg got into bed that night.  He shivered slightly from the cool night air and pulled the blanket up, then reached for his book.
        The book was the product of a rotating agreement between Rosie and Nerzmann’s Book Store, so that there would always be a sufficient selection of books to keep the Inspector engaged.  Rosie herself would read some of the books when she wasn’t busy with running the restaurant downstairs.
        His current reading was a book translated from the Japanese.  Stagg scratched at an antler as he read, then paused, rereading one section.
        He put the book down and sat there a moment, lost in thought.
        Rosie came up an hour later to find him sitting at a small desk, jotting notes on several sheets of paper and occasionally poring over a few books.  It was only with some difficulty that she managed to get him to leave what he was doing and come to bed.


        “Telegrams, Boss,” and Marco held the office door open as a small bear stepped in, looking around fearfully.  The runner, barely in his mid-teens, gave the small sheaf of flimsies to Clarence and flinched as the lion reached into a pocket.  He brightened as the English fur gave him some money, and the little ursine boy scampered out.  “What’s up?” the ferret asked.
        “Just routine messages,” Clarence replied.  He held one up.  “This one’s in code, from Kuo Han.  I’ll go give it to Mr. Ni.”  The ferret nodded as he pulled the door closed.
        Clarence delivered the messages and sat down as his employer glanced over the small news items and stock tips supplied by the family’s contacts, finally coming to the encrypted wire.  “Hmm,” the red panda said, trapping his claws against the desk.  “Will you excuse me a moment, Clarence?”
        “Of course, sir,” and the lion left the room.  Hei got his code books from the safe.
        Twenty minutes later he straightened up in his chair and raised a trembling paw to his muzzle.  “After all this time . . . “
        Marco turned in surprise as the door burst open and his employer stormed past him and practically ran down the stairs, headed for the casino.  Once inside, he headed upstairs almost at a run, headed for his wife’s room.


        A day later, a telegram was sent to Hong Kong.


        “Keep the nose up, Shin!”
        “I’m trying to,” the red panda growled as she fought with the controls of the school’s Junkers Ju-86.  The dorm had been practicing touch-and-go landings with the float-equipped plane most of the day.  Now, with the sun setting fast, Shin was lining up on the lagoon’s seaplane lane for the last time.
        “Engines are still good,” Liberty said, eyeing the gauges critically.  “A bit hot, but they’ve been running all day.”
        “Right.”  Shin rubbed her eyes with one paw.  Two weeks into their accelerated schedule, and tempers were starting to run short as Red Dorm pushed themselves and each other harder and harder.  She had barely refrained from doling out a series of very choice insults to her dorm mates, insults she’d been saving for Christmas.
        She lined the big plane up and brought it in for the last landing of the day, taxiing it over to the dock.  The landing was smooth, despite the increasingly choppy waves in the lagoon.
        “Good job, Shin,” Tatiana said as they finished shutting down the plane and started the post-flight inspection.  The sable rested a paw on the Chinese girl’s shoulder.
        “Thanks, Tatiana.”  She turned and looked up at the Russian girl.  “I’ve been thinking.”
        “Maybe I should have kept my stupid muzzle shut.”
        “No,” Liberty said flatly.  The red panda stared at the New Havenite as she added, “We needed the training, Shin.  Much as I hate to admit it, you were right about that.”
        Brigit ran a paw through her curly headfur and stretched.  “’Sides, Shin, it’s no’ like we’ve had anything else ta do, so.”
        “Yeah.”  Despite her weariness, she managed a smile.  “I had a thought.”
        “Nu?” Tatiana asked.
        Shin nodded.  “Zell bought us for a quarter-dollar each.”  Her muzzle twisted in distaste at being so undervalued.  “But she sold us back for a half-dollar each.”
        Liberty cocked an eyebrow at the red panda as the half-coyote’s ears dipped.  “Our value went up one hundred percent.”
        “Which would make me wonder – if we had any time,” Shin muttered.