Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Dinner had been a relatively quiet affair, with no repetition of the food fight that broke out the day they’d celebrated getting their pilot’s licenses. Liberty had insisted on the plainest possible meal and seemed pleased with her plate of roast chicken and seasoned rice.
The others had all had steaks, but neither had much to drink. Brigit raised eyebrows by waving away seconds on her whiskey. “I’m meetin’ Michael afterwards,” she explained. “I don’t want ta fall asleep too soon,” and the others had laughed at her grin.
“How’s Fang?” Tatiana asked Shin.
The red panda paused and laid aside her butter knife. “Last I saw him, he was complaining of a bad back,” and Shin giggled.
“He looked sturdier than that to me,” Liberty observed, sipping at her glass of water.
“He’s just kidding around,” and the red panda ran her free paw over the well-bitten neckfur sticking above her collar. “Tatiana, how’s Millicent?” Shin asked, her tone neutral.
The Russian sable smiled. “In England,” she replied. “She went there before we went to Alaska.” She lifted her wineglass, the light catching the ruby tint of the drink. “A toast.”
The others paused and looked at her expectantly.
“We are Red Dorm. We succeed where others fail.”
It was something all four agreed with, and three other glasses raised to clink with hers.
“How’s your shoulder, Shin?” Liberty asked as they resumed eating.
“Not too bad, Liberty. Don’t worry, I’ll be washing pots right alongside you tonight.”
The half-coyote smiled.
Shin rolled over in bed the next morning and her eyes opened at the sound of a bell ringing. It took her a moment to realize that it wasn’t the alarm clock. It was the telephone.
Dinner had gone well, and the washing up afterward had gone quickly. Since the Ni Family were the actual owners of the Grand, it wasn’t hard for Shin to commandeer the sink from the bemused staff. All four girls had put on aprons to protect their clothes and made short work of the task before going their separate ways.
She also realized that Fang wasn’t in bed with her. Probably had something to do she thought as she reached for the phone. “Hello? Mother! What a surprise!” She sat up in bed. “Where are you? . . . yes, I saw the plane landing last night . . . Father’s here too? Wow . . . Sure! Sure! Yes, Mother, I love you too . . . Bye.” The red panda hung up the phone and nibbled at a claw momentarily, then threw off the blanket and got out of bed.
Without thinking, she reached for her robe with her left paw.
She bit her right paw in order to stifle her cry of pain, but did nothing to hide the compound curse she uttered in several languages. Moving gingerly after the pain ebbed, she got into her robe and headed for the bathroom.
Fang walked in several minutes later to find his wife brushing out her still-damp tailfur. “Good morning,” he said. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah. Got a phone call,” she said, “from Mother.”
“Really? They back from Hong Kong?”
“I had no idea they’d left home,” she said with an arch look at him. “They got in last night, she said, and they want to have lunch with us here before Peng-wum comes in to fly them back to Krupmark.”
“I’ll let the cook know, then. Here, give me that,” and she gave him the brush. He started brushing her tail.
“Since when did you start doing this?” she asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.
“I missed you,” the tiger said simply, working a tangle loose.
Shin smiled at him and took the brush from his paws. “Just one more week,” and she kissed his nosepad, “and by the time term starts in January you’ll be completely sick of me.”
He crested, baring his teeth. “You think so, huh? Better get used to looking at the ceiling, because that’s all you’ll be seeing.”
“Hah. You better get used to it.”
“Two out of three? I’ll go easy on you – you’re hurt after all.”
She crested back at him as they sat, noses touching. “You feel like a frog, jump, widdle kitty.” She faked a bite at his nose, and he returned the gesture before they started laughing again.
“You know, Hao saw me before he went to Hong Kong.”
“Oh? I hope everything went okay over there.”
Fang nodded. “He was still a bit wary of his match with Xiu.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. It’d be like buying something sight unseen.”
“True.” The big Manchurian gave his smaller mate a wink. “I think he tried her out a bit last summer, though, from what you tell me. They aren’t total strangers.”
Shin chuckled, then looked thoughtful. “What?”
“I need to go over to Meeting for a minute,” the red panda femme replied.
“Well, you need to get dressed. It’s a bit cold and damp out there today – but at least the sun’s out a bit.” His tail swished. “Unless you want to go parading around in your fur.”
She threw her furbrush at him.
The New Haven Embassy to the Spontoons was always easy to find. A dilapidated house (but with a carefully tended yard) it sported a pair of loudspeakers from which the Embassy staff would occasionally harangue passersby.
A burly wolf wrapped in a threadbare coat and hefting a stout wooden baton sneered at the red panda, a head shorter than himself. “What makes you think Comrade Morgenstern’s here? Beat it,” and he waved the club in her direction.
Shin’s dislocated shoulder was a hindrance, but it didn’t stop her from using her right paw, feet and tail to disarm the man. With one steel-toed Songmark shoe planted firmly in his crotch and the point of his baton under his chin, Shin smiled pleasantly down at him. “I’ll make a deal with you,” she said quietly. “You run along and tell Liberty that Shin’s waiting at the gate – or you can forget having pups.” A slight pressure and a pained whine from the wolf emphasized her words.
The red panda backed off and stood holding the baton as the wolf scrambled to his feet and dashed inside.
Two minutes later a familiar half-coyote femme stamped out to the gate. “What did you do to Comrade Carson?” Liberty demanded.
“He threatened me – with this,” and Shin gave the wooden baton back to Liberty. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“I recalled that you hadn’t given me an answer yet.”
“An answer? Oh, that.” The canine collected her thoughts for a moment. “To start with, do you understand the terms I’m going to use?”
“I’ve heard you and Tatiana use them often enough.”
“All right. The thesis is that you two have traditional ideas of marriage – one of you must be subordinate. The antithesis is that you’re both very strong, independent-minded people.” She paused.
“The synthesis is that you two need to find middle ground where you can cooperate – in your language, a partnership.” Liberty met her gaze. “That’s what I came up with.”
Shin thought it over. “A partnership.”
The New Havenite nodded.
“You planning on doing the same things with your guy back home?”
Liberty nodded. “It’s the best way to do things. How do you think we’ve managed to work together productively?”
“Here I thought it was a Mixtecan standoff.”
A short laugh. “It still is, in a way. We have no reason to like each other, but we can find common ground and cooperate. You said something like it after you did some reading.”
“I remember. Thank you, Liberty.” The two shook paws.
“Just one thing, Shin.”
“Don’t try to beat up my comrades again.”
“I won’t – so long as they remember their manners.”
The staff of the Maha Kahuna were all native Spontoonies, but they realized the importance of putting on their best presentation for their manager’s family. The fact that Wo Fang’s in-laws were not the same species as him didn’t bother any of them. They may have called it reputation instead of face, but it meant roughly the same.
The Nis were met at the water taxi dock by a trio of waiters armed with umbrellas in the event it rained. Fortunately the sky, although overcast, did not drop anything on them as they walked up the path to the hotel.
Hei and Peng were greeted by the entire staff bowing respectfully, while their daughter and son-in-law stood by dressed in formal attire. Shin broke protocol by hugging her mother and father (one-armed; the sight of her arm in a sling caused eyebrows to raise), and kissed both on the cheeks.
“Mother! Father! I’m so glad to see you!” Shin said, a thrilled expression on her muzzle.
Fang shook paws with Hei and bent slightly to accept a hug from Peng. “Pleased to see you both,” the tiger said. “Where’s Hao?”
“I think he paused to light a cigarette – ah, there he is,” and the youngest son of the family stepped in.
He paused, the lit Fortuna dropping, unremarked, to the tiled lobby floor.