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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer

Chapter 17

Luck of the Dragon: Gambits
(Songmark Academy used by permission of Simon Barber.  Thanks!)

Chapter Seventeen

  Almost a week after Shin and Fang’s wedding a knock sounded at the door of the hotel room Hao shared with Anna.  He opened it cautiously, recalling what had happened the last time he had opened a door casually, and accepted the message passed to him by a bellhop.  He opened it and chuckled at what he read.  From the bed Anna asked, “What is it, Hao?”

  “An invitation,” he replied, brandishing the folded paper.  “Peng-wum and Nailani are inviting the two of us to dinner tonight at a good restaurant over on the east side of the island, near Treasure Point,” he added after glancing at it again.  “We’re expected at about seven o’clock.”

  “Plenty of time to get ready,” she said with a glance at the nearby clock.  As she rolled over on her stomach to get a better look he came up behind her and smacked her on the rear, laughing as she yelped, twisted and threw a pillow at him.  He deflected the pillow with an almost casual flick of his arm and joined her on the bed.

  The pair arrived at the restaurant just as the brass pendulum clock in the foyer chimed seven, and the headwaiter smiled as he said, “Mister Ni and Miss Simonova?  You are expected.  This way, please.”  The two followed him to a back room where Peng-wum, Nailani, Fang and Shin were sitting around a table.

 “About time, you two,” Shin said with a soft laugh.  “We were about to start ordering without you.”

  “I’d just steal what’s on your plate, big sister,” Hao riposted, laughing as she stuck her tongue out at him.

 As the door closed and he and Anna sat down, Hao asked, “What’s going on, Peng-wum?  Where are Mom and Dad?”

  “This is just a little private dinner, Hao,” the older red panda said with a smile as he handed over a menu.  “Time for talk, too, but after dinner.”

  “’Talk?’  What about?”  But, perhaps not surprisingly, Hao wasn’t able to get his older brother to say anything more, and the rest of the group was just as much in the dark.  The waiter stepped in to take their orders and was surprised by Fang’s assertion that if he had to eat fish again this week, he’d go crazy.  He ordered a steak, “and I want it so rare that it’ll moo when I jab it with a fork.”  The others laughed as they gave their meal and drinks orders to the waiter.

  Dinner passed quietly, with little conversation.  All three couples had seen a great deal of each other over the past three weeks, so there was little new information to pass on.  Hao lit a cigarette as he pushed back from the table, smoke curling past his muzzle as he asked, “Thanks for the dinner, Peng-wum.  Now, care to tell us why we’re here?”

  Peng-wum was giving Nailani a kiss on her cheek; he straightened and replied, “Yes, Hao.  I have a question for Fang first.  Fang,” he asked the tiger, “are you going to go independent, or stay on with our Family?”

  The Manchurian bristled as Shin looked questioningly at her brother.  “Peng-wum, that’s not fair,” Fang growled.  “Your father gave me my first real job on Krupmark, and I’m not going to forget that.  Sure, I’d like to take Shin and go into business for ourselves,” and he grinned at his wife, who punched his shoulder, “but there’s plenty of time for that.  Why?”

  “You might change your mind after I’m done talking.  Listen, all of you,” and Peng-wum sat forward, clasping his paws together on the table.  The others listened attentively as he said quietly, “Father and Mother have no idea what I’m about to say, but here it is.  I managed to save our business here in Asia and put us in a good position to get into America once they pull themselves out of their problems.  But, we’ve been weakened, by one who we thought was a friend.” 

Shin’s eyes glittered as she said, “You’re talking about Wu Tang.”

  “Yes, Shin.  Anna, what kind of weapon training did you have?” Peng-wum asked, and the canine looked a bit flustered before she replied.

“Pistol, knife and rifle.  Paw-to-paw, of course,” and she grinned at her boyfriend.  “Of course, I’d love to learn what you know, Hao.”

  Peng-wum nodded.  “How good a shot are you?”

  “Pistol marksman, I’m not so good on a rifle though,” she said as Hao started to nod thoughtfully.

  “It’ll do.  Hao, Anna, on Monday I want the two of you to go to Kuo Han.  Find Wu Tang and make certain he can’t injure our family or our business again.”  Peng-wum’s eyes grew hard.  “Kill him.”

  “Peng-wum,” Shin said softly, reaching forward to rest a paw on his arm, “what do you want Fang and I to do?”

  Her older brother gently pulled free from her grasp and put his arm around Nailani’s shoulders as he said, “Hao was only nine when we were stranded on Spontoon, Shin.  Father waited until he was eleven before telling him, but you and I are old enough to know what happened without Father telling us.  I want our families to be as secure as we can make them; not for us, but for our children.”  He smiled and nuzzled Nailani before saying to Shin, “I want you and Fang to go to Tientsin.  Hunt down and kill General Won Lung Ho.”  At his younger sister’s surprised look he added, “You can take whomever you like with you to help out, because he’s sure to be guarded.”

  Shin laughed, a loud bark as Fang grinned.  “Brother, I was taught by the same monks who taught Hao, remember?  With my dear husband to watch my back, I’ll have that old cat’s hide for a baby blanket,” she said enthusiastically.  “When should we leave?”

  “Nailani and I are still on our honeymoon, and so are you and Fang,” Peng-wum pointed out.  “If you want to take more time, you can, but I remind you that you’ll soon have something else to occupy your time.”

  “Peng-wum!” Shin said in a shocked tone.  “Do you think Fang and I are that eager that I’d get pregnant this fast?”  Fang started to laugh, almost spluttering as he choked on his glass of red wine.

  “No, Shin,” her older brother said patiently.  He glanced at Hao and Anna, who had pulled their chairs off to a corner of the room and were talking in whispers, then said, “You’ll have to speak to some people at Songmark Academy about getting in.  Just because your application was accepted doesn’t automatically make you a student, you know.”

  Shin clapped a paw to her forehead.  “Songmark!  Damn it all, I forgot about that!” she exclaimed, then started hitting her husband.  “How could you let me forget, you oversized squeaky toy?”  As Fang fended off her blows, Hao looked up from his conversation with Anna and laughed.

  “’Squeaky toy?’” he echoed, laughing as he saw Shin suddenly blush.  Fang glared at him as a soft churr of disapproval came from his throat.  Hao said to Peng-wum, “Anna and I have talked, Peng-wum.  We won’t be able to go on Monday.  Wednesday would be better, because we need to make some preparations.”

  “All right.  But remember, every day we delay makes the trail go colder.”
  Hao laughed.  “We’ll find him, don’t worry.  Three days or five, it won’t matter,” he said confidently.

* * * * * * * * *

  Five days later, Peng-wum and Nailani were at the seaplane terminal.  The lepine placed a paw on her husband’s shoulder as she craned her neck.  “I can’t see either of them,” she declared against the roar of engines as one of the big flying boats started up.

  “Good,” came Hao’s voice right behind her.  “That means it worked.”  Nailani jumped nearly a foot as Peng-wum turned around and grinned.  Hao and Anna had certainly managed to ‘make some preparations.’

  Both of them had had their fur dyed to resemble gray foxes.  Anna’s fur, normally short, had been fluffed out to disguise her figure, while Hao’s had been trimmed back severely.  They wore matching white suits and Panama hats against the sun, and looked for all the world like two wealthy tourists.  A slight sniff, and Peng-wum said, “You two even smell like foxes.  Great job.”

  “You like it?” Hao asked, his tail wagging slightly.  He winked, pulled something from a pocket, and handed it to Nailani.  She looked at it, then laughed.  “You’re going as missionaries?” she asked, holding the small Chinese-language New Testament out for Peng-wum as he chuckled.

  Anna nodded.  “Hao says they’re fairly thick on Kuo Han, especially around Wangchung,” she said.  “Of course, that doesn’t mean that we have to travel or live like poor church mice,” Hao chimed in as a porter trundled a load of luggage past them.  “Once we get there, though, we disappear.  I figure we’ll be back in a week or two,” and he fished into a pocket and pressed a bill into the porter’s paw as he came back.  The canine glanced at the bill and grinned before moving on.

  “Good luck, you two,” Nailani said, hugging Anna and giving her a kiss on the cheek before hugging Hao.  “Take care,” Peng-wum added, and the two waved as Hao and Anna headed for the Chinese Colonial Airways plane.

* * * * * * * * *

  The freighter Hime Maru rolled slightly in the waves, smoke belching from the tramp steamer’s single funnel as it continued threading its way through the islands of the Nimitz Sea.  It was three days out from Spontoon after lying over for two days while a boiler was repaired.

  A well-muscled tiger leaned his mop against the rail and took a last drag on his cigarette before flicking it overboard.  He wore shorts and a grubby undershirt in deference to the warm weather, but wore a sailor’s “Dixie Cup” hat to shield his eyes from the sun.  “Why did I let you convince me that this was the right way to travel to China?” he asked.

  A slim, boyish figure laughed and stopped swabbing the freighter’s deck for a moment.  “Because, Fang, I want to do this quietly.  After he’s dead we can be as loud about it as we want,” Shin said, dunking the mop into a bucket with enough force to cause some water to slop out.  She resumed mopping.  “Besides, it’s not so bad,” she remarked.  “We’re having a lovely ocean cruise.”

  Fang gave a soft, sour laugh and picked up his mop.  “Yeah, but for how much longer?” he grumbled.  “When do we arrive at Shanghai?”

  “About another five days, I think,” she said, pausing to adjust her disguise.  The constricting bands across her front were starting to annoy her.  “Once we get there, we’ll hop a train to Tientsin.”

  Fang nodded.  “As planned.”