Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
Shin was only a short distance from the gate, just two turns along the road. She leaned forward as the road curved and the wind hit her directly, slipping her right paw into the sling that supported her left arm. Twenty yards from the gate she ducked to the right, yanking her right paw free of the sling.
Rain gleamed on the object in her paw. It was similar in some respects to a Japanese jutte, a simple slim rod-shaped bar of steel fifteen inches long with a braided cord handle at one end. The small baton was heavy and had a dark patina of age, but the many scars and nicks on it showed that it had seen some use.
Probably as a policefur’s baton.
The fur who’d been following her, a slim rabbit doe that she recognized as Deborah Raleigh, one of the second year students, raised her paws and said, “Jesus, you lot are touchy.” The Canadian shook rain from her ears and said, “Whatcha waving sticks around at me for, eh?”
“Touchy keeps you alive,” the Chinese third year growled. She didn’t relax; the rabbit’s dorm-mates might still be lurking about in the bushes. “Let’s get in before the gate closes. You first.”
“Okay, okay.” Raleigh kept on going as Shin followed her, glancing behind her.
They reached the gate, the red panda slipping the baton back into her sling before stepping up to sign in. The second years at the gate didn’t bother to search her sling.
She noted that, although she didn’t react as she walked through.
She almost chose to tell the Tutors about it, but stopped herself. Chances are they already knew, and the offending dorm would learn a hard lesson.
A few first years passed her in the hallway and her ears perked. A few of them were muttering about Red Dorm, one mentioning a rumor that the four were following in (more than) the footsteps of a certain dorm that had graduated the previous summer.
Shin almost snorted at that. Only one member of their dorm was Sapphic, and Tatiana had the good manners not to bring up the subject. The others respected that, although it hadn’t stopped Liberty from making a few backpawed remarks before the sable’s wedding.
Another first year, a lepine named Christiana Millwright, was holding forth about something. Although it was said the doe spoke English, she hailed from some place called Yorkshire and her accent was almost indescribable.
Why, Shin wondered, can't everyone speak Chinese?
The others were already in their dorm room, paging through their textbooks as they studied the next day’s lesson. “You made it,” Liberty said without looking up. “I can guess what kept you.”
“You’d be wrong, Lib.” Shin drew the jutte again and tapped it against her bed’s frame. The others stared as she said, “Early Christmas present. Would you believe the girls at the gate didn’t search me? Shocking behavior.”
The others snickered.
The brightly-painted Keystone K-85 flying boat described the turning pattern that the machine gunners on various rooftops recognized, and descended to a marked area just inside the barrier reef. It taxied to the family dock, where a few furs helped tie it fast.
Hao was the first one out, helping make the plane secure before taking a deep breath. “Home,” he sighed, then patted the comforting shape of his pistol under his coat. He felt better with a weapon near at paw.
The echo of scattered gunfire drifted down from Fort Bob.
Peng-wum paused as he helped their mother out of the plane and sniffed the air. “Don’t smell anything.”
“With this wind? All you’ll smell is trees and grass,” Hei said as he climbed out of the aircraft. He patted the side of the K-85 affectionately. It was the only actual piece of property that survived the massacre of the clan back in 1929. He judged that it might be getting close to the end of its usefulness, and that gave him a short pang.
But the clan was getting back on its feet. That knowledge eased the prospect of giving up the plane.
“Let’s get inside,” he said as Peng-wum helped Nailani out of the plane. “Peng-wum?”
“Come to the office when you get settled back in.”
“Right, Father.” Peng-wum and Nailani headed across the road to the Lucky Dragon and the room they occupied when on Krupmark.
As they unpacked, the rabbit regarded her husband. “Are you sure Hao’s all right?”
“Witnessing-Gods, precious mate,” Peng-wum said in Spontoonie with a wink, “brother-mine emphasis-never was right in head – but I think he’ll be all right eventually,” he concluded in English.
Nailani giggled and gave him a hug. “You know,” she purred, rubbing her belly against him, “I hope this one’s a girl.”
“Mmm. Mikilani can use a little sister,” Peng-wum whispered back. They kissed. “I think Xiu will be a wholesome influence on Hao.”
“I hope so. I like him, although he scares me sometimes.”
“Yeah. He reminds me a bit about stories our clan tells of my great-uncle Morua.” She shivered slightly. “He fought in the Gunboat Wars.”
She nodded. “For the pirates’ side.”
His room hadn’t changed all that much, apart from a bit of dust. Hao took off his jacket and stretched out on the bed, lighting a cigarette and smoking quietly as he gazed up at the ceiling.
He was already missing her. The previous night’s sleep had been fitful until he’d had a dream about her, waking up refreshed and almost late for breakfast.
After a few moments he sat up, putting his feet on the floor before dropping the stub of the cigarette on the floor and grinding it out underfoot. He stood and opened the door to his closet.
He had built a false wall in the room to create the closet. After all, the red panda didn’t use his room very often, preferring to sleep anywhere he could or taking one of the girls at the Lucky Dragon upstairs. Besides, the closet was useful for hiding various things.
Hao lit a paraffin lamp and studied the various pots of fur dye and other bits and pieces that he used to disguise himself. Clothing was scattered around or piled up, and he bent down and started rummaging through it.
A few items were tossed out of the closet, including a dress.
He bundled the clothes and a few other items up in an old coat, resolving to get rid of the package at the earliest opportunity.
Hao had only admitted it to Xiu, but he also pledged to never, ever dress as a femme again.
His ears perked at a sound.
With its small size, Fort Bob was normally a place where feet or hooves were the primary mode of transportation. There were a few wagons, and even a few light trucks (the Nis owned one, a considerably battered Ford). A certain woman up on The Hill rode around in a chauffeured Duesenberg, but she was an exception.
But this sounded different.
Hao eased aside the curtains and looked out in time to see a large GMC truck bounce and clatter its way down the rutted track that served as the road from Fort Bob to The Beach. The truck had a tall-sided box on its frame that looked like it was made with scrap metal plates. About a half dozen furs sat huddled inside, with two bored-looking lupines standing at opposite corners, armed with shotguns. Another armed fur sat beside the driver, who was demonstrating far more panache than actual skill.
Clarence, Ni Hei’s aide and accountant, turned as Hao came down the stairs. “Hello, Hao,” the lion said.
“Hi, Clarence. What the hell is that on the road?”
“What? Oh, that,” he chuckled. “That’s the bus.”
“Someone up on the Hill had this daft idea of starting a bus service between the airstrip and the houses down on The Beach,” Clarence explained. “Anything to squeeze more money out of the locals, you know.”
“Looks like one of the rides at the amusement park on Spontoon,” Hao said. He chuckled, starting to see the humor in watching it jounce and roll like a ship in a heavy sea.
“From what I hear up in the Thieves’ Bazaar, there are plans to actually grade the roads – maybe even pave them,” one of the workers remarked as he passed by.
Hao growled. “And then there’ll be traffic lights, and cops to tell you when you can cross the road,” he said disgustedly. “This place’ll end up like Los Angeles - it won’t be fit to live in anymore.”
“Look on the bright side,” Clarence said, “the chances of it lasting until Spring are fairly slim.”
“There are furs betting on it?”
“Might be worthwhile, at that.” Hao paused, and asked, “Are we getting any of that action?”
Several of the bar’s patrons looked askance as the canine walked in and took a seat at the bar. He ordered a bottle of whiskey and a glass, and the bartender sneered, “Show money first. You get nothing free here.”
Hai Wei tossed the money on the bar and the tender grudgingly placed the bottle and the glass in front of him. The Shar Pei poured a glassful and started drinking. He’d been doing a lot of that recently.
Ever since his disgrace.
Word had gotten around fast, as it always did on Spontoon. Some shopkeepers refused to sell anything to him, and spat on the ground at his heels when he would leave. He still managed to get by but his funds were dwindling.
His family were willing to take him in, but he valued his independence and had started looking for a job in a desultory fashion. Most of his money was going to what he was doing currently, drinking.
Several days later, all he could show for it was the depletion of his bank account.
He finished the bottle, got unsteadily to his feet and staggered out of the bar.
Passing an alleyway, he didn’t even think of relying on his trained reflex to look first, and thus didn’t notice the blackjack until it was too late.