Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
“What the hell happened to you?!”
Her younger brother’s shout startled her.
It startled everyone in the room.
He marched up to her and grabbed her uninjured paw. “What happened?” he demanded. “Whoever it is, I’ll kill him! Who did it?”
Shin stared at Hao, speechless. Her brother would have angry moods, but he was practically ranting, and there were tears starting to gleam in his eyes.
Hao hardly ever cried, even when he had been a child.
Fang saw it too. He turned and made a quick paw gesture that made the staff scatter.
“Who did this? That bastard Brush! I’ll – “
“HAO!” their father snapped. Hao turned to him as Hei said evenly, “Calm down.”
“Father . . . but, Father – “
“I said, calm down.” He kept his voice level, but authoritative. “Daughter? What happened?”
Shin replied, holding Hao’s paw and keeping his gaze fixed on her as she replied, “I fell off a small cliff while I was on my trip to Alaska, Hao. It’s only dislocated, not broken. I’ll be fine.”
Hao blinked, and stammered, “Y-you sure?”
“Yes.” She punctuated the word with a gentle, reassuring pressure on his paw.
He was suddenly hugging her, and she was surprised again. Her brother was actually shaking in his relief.
She used her good paw to hold him away from her at arm’s length and looked him over critically. He looked tired, but fit. “Where have you been?”
“Hong Kong,” he replied. “I was visiting Xiu. Didn’t you know?”
“No, I didn’t. I was busy.” Busy locked in a cage for a month, she thought bitterly.
Hao looked past her at Fang. “You.”
The tiger asked, “What?”
“You said you’d tell me if anything happened.” His tone was accusatory.
“I didn’t know about her myself until Friday night,” Fang said reasonably. Nevertheless his claws extended at the look in Hao’s eyes.
“Hey, Little Brother,” and Shin smiled at him, “leave my mate alone, okay? He didn’t know I was hurt. Come on and let’s eat, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Hao smiled. “Okay.” He walked past her to the dining room. Their parents had already gone in, and as they brought up the rear Shin and Fang watched Hao.
He was limping slightly, favoring his right leg, and some of the headfur on the back of his head looked as if it had been cut away and was now growing back.
A stitch could be seen in his scalp.
What the hell happened to him? They both wondered.
Lunch was halfway over when Peng-wum walked in. “Nailani went to say hello to her parents,” he explained as he kissed his mother on the cheek. “How are you feeling, Hao?”
“You got my message.”
“Of course. How do you think Father knew to have a hospital room ready for you?” his older brother countered with a grin. “I have to redo those number codes, though.”
“They’re not precise enough. What you sent only said you were hurt. It didn’t say what was wrong.”
“Oh. Well, things turned out okay. I guess,” and Hao self-consciously ran a paw over his the back of his head.
“I’m glad,” and Peng-wum looked at Fang and Shin. “Playing rough, you two?”
They laughed. Fang recounted what had happened to Shin, and Shin added, “Before you call me an idiot, save your breath, Peng-wum.”
“I don’t need to say it,” and he chuckled. “Fang’s probably already told you. Now, what happened, Hao?”
The youngest member of the Ni Family squirmed a bit in his chair and eased his right leg. “Father found out we had relatives, up in Nanking – “
“Nanking?” Fang echoed, whistling.
“Yeah. Anyway, I got them out. They’re on Kuo Han now.”
“Well, tell us about them!” Shin urged.
Hao obliged, and when he got to Fei-cui he spat. “You’d like her, Shin.”
Shin chuckled at the statement, coming as it did after the spit had struck the dining room floor. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. She likes insulting people.”
“Hmm. I think we’d get along famously. So, what happened to you, Little Brother?” Shin asked.
A shrug. “I got shot at. I got shot down, but I managed to get things taken care of.”
“And your head?”
A brief snort of laughter. “You always told me I had a hard head. Caught a bullet there, and one in my leg,” and he rubbed his right thigh in emphasis. “I just want to go home now.”
“Well, about that,” Peng-wum said as he poured a cup of tea. “The weather’s closed in. We had a bad tail-wind all the way here, and Fort Bob’s likely catching it.”
“Any trouble back home, Son?” Hei asked.
“No – well, at least not that I’ll talk about here,” and the red panda took off his pince-nez glasses and polished the lenses with a napkin. “Shen got his payment on time,” he added, ignoring his father’s soft growl, “and profits are up.”
“Your project?” Hei asked.
Peng-wum only smiled, as a waiter approached with more rice.
His meal finished, Hao sat back and lit a cigarette. Shin asked him, “How’s Xiu?”
“Wonderful. She’s really a great match,” Hao replied.
Shin giggled and Peng said, “I think your brother has a question for you, Shin.”
“Really, Mother? What’s up, Hao?”
“Well, we’re planning on having the wedding here on Spontoon,” Hao said. “We – Xiu and I, that is – would like to ask you to be the good luck woman.”
Shin’s grin widened, and her mother admonished, “Shin, behave.”
Her daughter rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mother,” she said. “Hao, tell Xiu I’d love to be the good luck woman,” and she hugged Fang one-armed. “My shoulder should be all healed up by then.”
“Good,” Hao said. “Anything going on back home I need to know, Peng-wum?”
“I’ll tell you on the trip there,” and the older brother gestured at his ears, and pointed at the walls. While the staff of the Maha Kahuna was carefully screened, there was always a possibility that at least one was a plant, either from the Spontoon government or a rival organization.
Hao shifted his gaze left and right. “Some ears might need cutting,” he muttered.
“That depends on how long they get,” Peng-wum agreed in the same tone. He raised his voice a bit and added, “Anyway, the weather’s going to cause a delay, and I don’t want to risk landing inside the reef at night. I say we get a night’s sleep and set out for home in the morning.”
“Need a co-pilot?”
“Glad to have you,” Peng-wum said, laying a paw on Hao’s shoulder.
“I won’t be seeing you off, I’m afraid,” Shin said. “We have another week of school before the holidays, but Fang and I’ll get over there the usual way.” She grinned, almost a smirk. “We’ll have some fun, won’t we?”
“Are they going easy on you?” Peng asked.
Shin gave a most unladylike snort. “No, Mother. If they did, I couldn’t stand the loss of face.” Her mother nodded, understanding. “What I found really odd was that the others in my dorm understood.”
“You’re rubbing-off on each other,” Hei observed.
Hao and his parents had left for the Grand when Shin emerged from the shower, wrapped in towels. “So, what do you think?”
“About Hao?” Fang said. When the red panda femme nodded, the tiger shrugged and his whiskers drooped. “I think he’s not telling us everything that happened out there. Have you read the reports from China?”
“If you figure the papers are telling half of what they know, the whole story would curl your fur – then burn it off,” the big Manchurian grumbled. “I’m worried about Hao.”
“He’ll be fine – I hope,” Shin amended hastily. She started brushing out her tailfur.
“Any idea what you’ll be doing your last week?”
“No, but I can guess. ‘Begin as you mean to go on’ should be written over the gate,” Shin said. “All I know is I’m looking forward to next Friday.” She smiled coyly at him. “Two falls out of three?”
“You’re on. Odds?”
“About even money,” and she pointed at her shoulder with a rueful smile.
“Well, just in case you can’t be awake for Christmas,” and he laughed at her obscene gesture, “I think you should get an early present.”
Later they kissed before she got out of the water taxi at the Eastern island docks. With a final wave to her husband, she turned the collar of her coat up against the chill wind and headed for the still-open gate.
Taking advantage of the wind whipping the tropical hibiscus, a shadow followed her.