Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
He awoke, feeling cold.
There was a horrible sour stink in his nose.
His face was wet as well, and someone was shaking him.
“Wei! Can you hear me? What happened?” the voice said in Chinese. He had trouble understanding it at first, which bothered him when he thought about it.
He raised a paw and said groggily, “Stop yelling, okay?”
“Sure.” His vision was blurry, and his head ached. He licked away the taste of wet macadam and – vomit? – and sat up. “What happened?”
“You tell me,” the man said. Wei recognized him as a customer at the bar he’d been in. Someone he knew. “I came out and saw you lying there. I thought you were dead at first.”
Hai Wei nodded, and regretted it as his head started spinning again. He saw a smear of vomit gleaming on the wet pavement, felt his gorge rise again, and retched.
The man waited until he had finished, then helped him to his feet. “You going to be okay?”
“Hang on . . . “ The canine ran his paws over himself. “Money’s gone, but not my keys,” he slurred. A paw ran over the back of his head and he added, “Got a lump, nothing serious.”
“Okay.” A pause. “You think Brush did it?”
Wei squinted at the man. “No, no,” he said blurrily. “Brush would have killed me, and he wouldn’t have robbed me.”
“Oh. Need help getting home?”
“No thanks.” The first few steps were rough going, but once he started it was easy to continue. Finally he made it into his apartment, having been forced to vomit once more.
The stairs up to his place had almost defeated him. Fortunately a chill rain had begun falling and it sobered him up a bit.
A hot shower, and he fell asleep on the bed as he dried his fur.
Morning brought a break in the weather, the sun peeking through high, thin overcast and its usually blinding disk easily seen without discomfort.
The Shar Pei awoke late in the morning with a throbbing hangover, and someone knocking on his apartment door.
“Go away,” he croaked, trying to lick away the taste of something dead on his tongue.
The knocking continued.
Grumbling a curse, Wei slowly sat up, then tottered to his feet and put on a bathrobe before walking to the door. “Who is it?”
With a growl, the Shar Pei unlocked the door and walked away, sitting down heavily as the giant panda opened the door and entered the apartment. “What do you want?”
Ting smiled. “I have brought coffee,” and he waved a vacuum flask at the canine. “While it is not as effective as a traditional remedy, it might help clear your head. Jin said you were attacked last night, and you were very drunk.” He sniffed the air as he spoke.
Wei grimaced as he twisted off the cap of the flask and sipped at the drink. Yes, it was coffee, strong and hot. He wrapped both paws around it as he growled, “So what is that to you?”
“Your friends don’t like to see you like this,” the panda said.
“I think you said that.”
“Your uncle doesn’t like to see you like this, either.”
Wei froze. He took another sip of his coffee. “So.”
“Word has reached your uncle, as you can guess,” Ting said, “and the news distresses him.”
“With respect, he’s not the only one distressed.”
The panda raised a paw and sketched a sign in midair.
Wei immediately sobered and started paying attention as Ting said, “I have received word from your uncle, and after speaking with your father I am here. First, to insist you take a job.”
“Second,” and here the panda leaned close, his nostrils dilating, “you tell me what really happened.”
“You’ve been skimming, Vanya?”
The sable gulped. The man had been kicked awake by three unsmiling furs who had unceremoniously battered down the door of his shop in Fort Bob. The trio – a tiger and two wolves - didn’t scare him half as much as the slim red panda in the overcoat and baseball cap.
“Chto? Skimming? No, no, no, Ni Hao!” the mustelid gabbled in bad, heavily-accented English, backing up against the wall of his shack. “Vanya would never dream of – “
The sable closed his mouth hard enough to chip a tooth.
“That’s better.” The red panda walked around the small shack, poking disinterestedly at various heaps of cast-off clothes and other items looted from the dead. The articles were Vanya’s stock-in-trade, and he did a fair business especially in winter.
His neighbors were probably listening to every word, but none would lift a paw to help him.
That was the way of things.
“So,” Hao said finally.
The sable said in a voice that verged on panic, “I swear – I swear on my mother, Ni Hao, I would never – “
“See to it that you don’t,” the red panda growled, “or you won’t live long enough to regret it.” He and the others walked out, leaving the sable to start frantically mopping at the wet stain on his trousers.
Hao smiled as he walked through the crowded Thieves’ Bazaar. Making the rounds of the various little fish who owed money or fealty to the Nis was part of his job.
A part he relished. The Family was neither at the bottom of Krupmark’s food chain nor at the top, but their position meant that some looked to the Nis for protection or trade. In return, Ni Hei demanded appropriate compensation in money, goods, or services. One of the slave factors on Kuo Han, for example, was beholden to Hei for helping him avoid the claws of the police in New Penzance, and the canine was properly grateful.
The quality of the girls at the Dragon had gone up considerably since that favor.
Hao had had a paw in that, and he chuckled slightly to himself. After all, he had set the cops on the man in the first place.
He and his crew ducked slightly as a number of shots rang out and the crowd surged to the right. Hao drew his pistol as a tall feline, obviously drunk, staggered into view and fired another shot into the air.
Before he or any of his companions could fire, another fur stepped out of a small bar and snatched the gun from the cougar’s paw. The man, a kangaroo, then knocked the surprised feline to the muddy ground and calmly started pistol-whipping him.
Hao walked past as blood started to spatter into the mud and people went about their business.
The red panda turned, he and the furs with him with weapons drawn.
The kangaroo wiped the blood off his paws with the now-unconscious cougar’s shirt. “I wanna talk with ya, mate. You’re Ni Hao, aintcha?”
“Yeah. What’s it to you?”
“Heard about ya. Was told to look for a kid with mean eyes. Name’s Halloran, an’ I’m needin’ a job.”
Hao regarded the marsupial warily. Halloran (if that was his name) was an easy head taller than the red panda, and looked to be in shape despite his slim figure. “And what can you do, apart from beating up drunks?”
“I was a bush pilot back home.”
“Uh huh. Go down to the Lucky Dragon and ask for Clarence.” Hao turned away.
Halloran said, “Wait a minute – “
And put a paw on Hao’s shoulder.
The kangaroo looked surprised as he fell to the ground with three bullet holes in his chest. Hao stood over him, his .45 still aimed at the man as the red panda said, “Don’t ever touch me.” To the tiger and the two wolves he was with he said, “Let’s go,” and he walked off.
Others had already started looting the body and fighting over the valuables the dead man had in his pockets.
The tiger said in Cantonese, “Hey, Boss?”
“What’d you shoot him for?”
“He laid his paws on me,” Hao said in a sulky tone. He shrugged. “Why people always have to bother me, I’ll never know,” he muttered in English.
He couldn’t tell him.
He couldn’t tell any of them.
One of the wolves said, “Yer an awright guy, Hao.”
The quartet stepped into one of the many small dives that dotted the Bazaar. This one’s owner owed a sum of money to Hao, and instead of collecting it the young red panda had a perpetual tab running.
Since the arrangement guaranteed that he’d have quality booze available, the man had agreed quickly.
The red panda and his trio of guards sat and sipped their drinks as Hao thought to himself. He was concerned for his upcoming wedding.
Xiu had stated that she wanted to live with him here, on Krupmark. She was learning how to use her new revolver, and was also practicing with a shotgun.
His ears perked at a noise and he saw through the open doorway a pack of children chasing another child. They caught up with him and wrestled him to the ground, beating him until he surrendered the food he’d likely stolen from a stall. The pack moved away, squabbling over the food while the victim crawled painfully away, crying.
Hao’s jaw worked. The victim had been a red panda, a small boy about six years old.
He shook himself and drained his glass, refilled it and drank again before standing up. “Let’s go,” he told the others. “We have another few stops before we head back.”
They stepped out, the bodyguards fanning out to look for threats before Hao exited the bar.
Two more shops later they started down the track towards the Casino. One of their visits had been profitable; one of the wolves carried the carcasses of two feral ducks. A gift, the woman had said, for Madam Ni.
The gesture pleased Hao, who had watched as the woman killed and gutted the birds with her own paws. This ensured that nothing nasty would be hidden inside the carcasses.
One of Hao’s ears twitched as a foot squelched in the mud behind him.
He spun, his weapon drawn...
And had to change his aim, the .45 coming to rest aimed directly between the eyes of a ten-year-old.