Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”
Lu Ting was unaccustomed to seeing his friend so morose and uncertain. Hai Wei sat and regarded his cooling cup of tea with a dejected expression. His bowl of noodles and steamed hacked chicken with spicy peanut sauce sat sadly neglected, a skim of oil showing that the sauce was separating.
The giant panda adjusted his girth and asked, “Are you going to eat that?” At the Shar Pei’s shrug, Ting helped himself and for a few minutes there was nothing but the sound of the panda eating. Belching, he set the empty bowl down. “My friend, I understand your loss of face, but all policefurs have the same temptation.”
Hai glared at the panda, who raised a placating black-furred paw. “I am a friend, so I must speak the truth to you, Wei.” The canine’s gaze faltered and he shrugged. “Please tell me how I may help you,” Ting urged.
“Do you have a cigarette?”
The panda blinked. “Since when do you smoke?”
The canine grinned. “Just now.”
The two laughed, and Ting said, “You know, I could hire you – “
“Please. I know times are hard, and this is the off-season. You don’t need to put yourself out.”
“You’re as bad as your father, you know. Let me ask around, eh?”
Wei thought it over, and nodded. “I’d be grateful if you would.”
Fang’s ears twitched and he looked up as the Maha Kahuna’s desk clerk gasped out an imprecation in Spontoonie. The Manchurian tiger set aside the stack of invoices he’d been studying.
As usual, several of his vendors were taking advantage of the off-season to try and charge him a higher price for certain goods and services. He felt his claws flex in their sheathes.
A little ‘re-education’ might be in order, and the change from sitting behind a desk to something a bit more strenuous would be a welcome change.
He stepped out into the lobby and his jaw fell open. “Shin?”
His wife looked exhausted, worse than he’d seen her a short two weeks earlier. Her uniform was neat and clean, but her eyes gave away her condition. More worrisome was the sling that supported her left arm. “What the hell happened to you,” he blurted in Cantonese, “and did you kill him, or should I?”
The red panda bared her teeth in a tired grin. “I’d love to kill him, but he was me,” she replied. “I fell down.”
He looked her over, one eyebrow raised as his ears laid back. “How many times?” he asked in English.
“Once was plenty,” she replied in the same language. “Our place where it usually is?”
“Sure. You can tell me how you got that while we walk,” he said, pointing at the sling.
She related the story to him as they walked to their bungalow, and as Fang unlocked the door he remarked, “Low marks for stupidity, my love.”
“Thanks,” she said sarcastically. “Believe me, I’ve been calling myself stupid for over a week now. It’ll heal, just not fast enough to suit me.” The red panda femme winced as she eased the arm from its sling and sighed as she sat down on the bed.
“How was the trip, apart from your arm?” he asked, sitting down beside her. He pulled the smaller fur into his lap and started to rub her back.
“Mrrph...I didn’t think I’d ever be warm or dry again, and it was only two weeks,” Shin replied, leaning back into his paws. “We ate well, though, so I guess we can survive being stranded up north now.”
“Plan on trying it out again?”
“You have to be back Sunday?”
Shin nodded, and as Fang finished massaging her back she fell against him, sound asleep.
The tiger chuckled, gently undressed his wife, and put her to bed.
Shin blinked awake, surprised to find herself in a comfortable bed with sunlight coming through gaps in the curtain on the window. She didn’t recall falling asleep, but from her undressed condition she guessed Fang had put her to bed.
The mattress felt too soft.
A stretch and she hissed as her left shoulder pulled painfully. It was too bad; she had looked forward to doing quite a few more things in bed than merely sleeping.
A deep breath through her nose reminded her of what had awakened her. Her husband’s scent, coffee and breakfast.
Not necessarily in that order.
Shin got up and walked into the kitchen. Fang looked up at her and whistled, grinning. “I think you’ve forgotten something,” and he leered at her.
His wife stuck her tongue out at him, evaded a grab at her tail and asked, “Is there any more coffee?” as she got a mug from a cupboard.
“Sure. It’ll cost you, though.”
She gave him an arch look. “Oh?”
“Yeah. A kiss.”
Shin sat on Fang’s lap, slipped her right paw around his back and the two shared a deep kiss. “Love you,” she whispered.
“Missed you,” he growled in return.
“I can tell.”
The big feline bared his teeth at her, and they kissed again. “Coffee,” Shin said, getting up and crossing to the coffeepot and pouring a mug. She sipped at it, paused, then gulped down half the mug’s contents before refilling it. “Any breakfast?”
“That’ll cost you extra.”
Both of them started laughing. “Well, widdle kitty,” Shin teased, “if you want to get paid, I need my strength.”
Fang laughed harder.
The sun was already down as Shin boarded a water taxi later in the day. “Casino Island, please,” she said to the driver, who nodded and cast off the mooring line. The engine throttled up as the small craft made its way across the choppy water.
The red panda femme was wearing a raincoat over her clothes, shielding her from the rain as well as concealing the various weapons she had on her. Her left arm was pretty useless but she was quite adept with a knife in her right paw.
As soon as she’d left their bungalow she was on her guard. Over the sound of the rain and the engine she managed to hear a steady drone. “Plane coming,” she called out to the driver, who nodded and waved at the pattern of lights coming on to mark the lane for the incoming flight. A crashboat was already heading for the area.
The flying boat emerged from the clouds and came down for a slightly jarring landing in the marked part of the lagoon. The crew of the crashboat, clad in oilskins, made their way through the driving rain to secure a line to the big Sikorsky before the boat towed it to the dock. The water taxi chugged on.
“Well!” Brigit said as Shin walked into the lobby of the Grand a short while later, shaking excess water from her raincoat. “Ye’re lookin’ chipper, ye are. Ye have sleep, or fun?”
Shin grinned at the Irish setter. “Both, and I’ll bet you were brushing feathers out of your fur.” The two girls laughed. “Where are Liberty and Tatiana?”
“Not here yet, but did ye expect Lib ta show up?”
“I hope she did,” and they turned to see the half-coyote walk up to them. Liberty squeezed water from her headfur, then ruffled the short-cropped fur dry. “I was busy – unlike the two of you,” she sniffed.
Brigit raised an eyebrow. “Enough o’ that,” she said. “We’re here to eat, not gnaw on each other, so.”
“Right.” The canine glared at the red panda. “You promised.”
“Did I?” Shin countered, her best innocent expression on her muzzle. She held it until Liberty started to laugh, then laughed with her and said, “Of course. After dinner we’ll help the staff wash up.”
“Small price ta pay,” Brigit agreed, “seein’ as ye’re footin’ th’ bill fer tonight, Shin.”
“I said I would, didn’t I?”
“Sometimes what you say has no connection to what you do,” Liberty said carefully.
Shin smirked. “I like to keep people guessing.” Her ears perked as she looked past Liberty. “Hmm.”
“What?” The New Havenite turned, and her ears went down.
Brigit said, “Well, this’ll be interestin.’”
“Very,” Liberty growled.
“At least now we know who wears the pants in the family,” Shin giggled as the three of them watched Tatiana enter the lobby. The sable was wearing a gray tweed suit under her overcoat.
“It’s Tatiana,” Brigit said quietly, “who d’ye think’ld be wearin’ th’ pants?” The others nodded as the sable walked over to them. “Nice suit, Tatiana,” the Irish girl said.
“Da. Is a gift from Millicent,” Tatiana said with a rather self-conscious smile. “Shin, you are paying.”
“I said I would, didn’t I? Honestly, if you don’t think I keep a promise after all this time, you obviously don’t know me,” Shin said in mock exasperation. “Come on, let’s get a table.”