Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The boy was a canine. He looked up at the red panda, his eyes going wide. His weapon, a sharpened stick, fell from a limp paw. As Hao stood there, the boy lowered his head, his eyes closing as he waited for the gun to go off.
Hao looked down at the kid. “Pick that up,” he ordered.
An eye opened and the pup looked up at him.
“I said, pick that up,” and the red panda pointed at the sharp stick.
The fear in the child’s eyes turned to terror. “P-please, Mister,” he said, his English marred by a heavy accent. Tears began to show in his eyes.
“I’m not going to shoot you – so long as you’re gone before I count to three. One.”
He said it the pup’s back as the boy snatched up his shiv and hightailed it into the crowd.
Hao slipped his pistol back into its holster under his armpit and the tiger asked, “Why’d you let him go?”
The red panda shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I already killed one guy today.” He gave the tiger a lopsided grin. “Isn’t one my day’s quota?”
The tiger, a former member of the Communist Party in Shanghai, laughed and the quartet headed down the road.
“Pup had some nerve, didn’t he Chang?” Hao asked the bigger feline.
Chang shrugged. “Yeah, he did. But if you think about it, if he knew you, he wouldn’t be brave for that – he’d be stupid.”
“And lucky,” Sam added, elbowing the other wolf. That lupine, an Austrian unimaginatively named Wolf, smirked but didn’t say anything. He nudged Sam back, shifting the weight of the shotgun in his paws as he did so.
A truck horn sounded, and they turned to see the GMC truck picking its way through the Bazaar’s crowd. Clods of mud and a few rocks struck the sides of the passenger compartment, causing one of the guards to brandish his weapon at the throwers. As the ‘bus’ neared Hao and his companions a shot rang out.
Taking cover, Hao watched as several more shots were fired, at least two striking the steel armor. The guards (and a few passengers) returned fire, spraying shotgun pellets around with no thought for who might be in the line of fire. The crowds scattered, with more shots fired.
“I wonder what were the odds on that,” Hao said as they emerged from cover, the truck jouncing its way down the road past them.
“Three to two,” Wolf said. His accent made understanding him difficult, and he laughed. “I put two dollars on it making it this far.”
Hao nodded, and as the two warehouses that marked Ni & Sons and the Lucky Dragon came into sight he started humming.
“What’s that, Boss?” Sam asked.
“Just a tune I heard a couple months ago.” While a cop was beating me, he thought.
“Sounds like Jolly Boating Weather.”
“Is that the title?”
“Yeah. Some guy I knew knew a guy who said he went to Eton, one of the schools they got in England. That was their song.”
Hao shrugged. “Sounded like a good tune.”
His crew and he parted ways in front of the casino, and he went into the office across the road. “Hi, Clarence.”
“Hello, Hao,” the lion said, taking his glasses off. “Things go well up the hill?”
“Pretty much. Had to kill one guy who put paws on me,” Hao replied, shrugging. “Is Father upstairs?”
Clarence nodded. “He’s talking with Peng-wum about something, but I’m sure he’ll see you.”
“Good.” Hao paused at the foot of the stairs. “Marco!”
“It’s Hao. Coming up.”
“Come ahead,” and the red panda started up the stairs. The ferret knocked on the door, cocked an ear at Peng-wum’s reply, and opened it for the younger man.
The door closed and Peng-wum said, “Good morning! Everything all right?”
“Sure. Had to throw a scare into a few people, but no trouble. What are you and Father talking about?”
The older brother glanced at the closed door and patted his left ear with a paw. “Family business,” he replied.
Hao nodded, and the two switched to Hokkien and lowered their voices to whispers. It was a standard practice to make sure that few could hear or understand them when talking of secrets. Although Marco was a bodyguard and employee (and whose addiction to certain substances was controlled by the Nis as part of his payroll) he wasn’t Family.
Family business was Family business.
Peng-wum beckoned Hao to follow him over to their father’s desk. “Shortly after you left for Hong Kong,” Peng-wum said in a soft tone, “I got in touch with Manny and offered him a proposition.” Hao nodded, and his brother went on, “He agreed to the plan, and Father and I are working out a few specifics.”
“Drugs, or something else?”
“Manny’s getting plenty from us,” their father said as he waved to them to sit down, “so it’s high time he started paying us back.”
“By spreading some money around in the right places,” Peng-wum said cryptically. “It’s a long-term plan.”
Hao nodded. Most Orientals (like Americans or Englishmen) had no concept of Chinese Time. He might be old and gray by the time the Family achieved the plan’s ultimate goal, but it would happen. “And the goal?”
Peng-wum smiled, and while it wasn’t the forced smile that Hao usually used as a warning it was an unpleasant expression on his normally placid face. “Power.”
“If there’s anything I can do to help, let me in on it. Father,” and Ni Hei’s ears perked as he leaned across his desk, “I’d like to talk to you. About me and Xiu.”
The shout, followed by a rush of students, caused Liberty’s ears to perk up. “Come on!” she said, and Red Dorm took off at a run.
The fight was in the first-years section, and the four third-year students shoved their way through to the dorm room where the fight was taking place. Liberty had reached the door first, with Shin hot on her heels, and they paused to see what was going on.
Red Dorm had not had much experience with what some of the first year students were calling Trouble Dorm. The four students there roundly hated at least one of her fellows. Two were canine, Zoe Papadopolis from Greece and Lisa de Wet from South Africa; the others were Afet Gokcen, a Turkish caprine, and Cathy Leyland, an English bovine.
Afet and Zoe were locked together, the goat repeatedly butting the Greek girl with her head.
Cathy was trying to kick Lisa with her hooves, but the canine kept dodging, swearing at her in Afrikaans. Her nimbleness belied her nickname of ‘The Crashing Boer,’ a backpawed tribute to her tendency to trip over her own tail.
Liberty shouted, “Stop!” and she and her dorm-mates rushed in. Tatiana grabbed Afet and broke her hold by the judicious use of a few pressure points, while Brigit put Zoe into a full Nelson, lifting the smaller canine off her feet before pivoting and slamming the Greek girl onto the floor. Liberty herself tackled Lisa and pinned her.
That left Shin facing off against Cathy, who bellowed something incoherent and lashed out with a hoof.
Which was a mistake, as Shin’s iron baton flicked out and cracked the English girl across the ankle. Cathy’s bellow turned into a screech of pain as she started hopping about, wincing and grabbing her injured limb.
“Stop,” came Miss Windlesham’s measured tones, and after a few minutes Trouble Dorm’s struggles abated. “Now then. Someone tell me what this is all about.” Four voices started speaking at once, and the feline raised a paw. “One at a time. In reverse alphabetical order.”
All four first years paused as they sorted out who would be first. Finally Zoe, Brigit still pinning her to the floor, spoke up. “She started it,” and pointed at Afet.
“Bin deve Mayis pire için iç çamasiri kaplamak - May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your underwear,” the caprine hissed, then yelled “Ta-maam!” as Tatiana administered a reminder.
“I_ mi_téra sou foráei árvyla. Your mother wears army boots,” Zoe sneered.
“At least she can.”
“Da, Miss Windlesham?”
“Ease off on that spot, please. How did it start, Afet?”
The goat replied sullenly, “I said she was wrong.”
“Problem number twenty-two in our aerodynamics class.”
“I see. Brigit?”
“Release Zoe, please. Zoe, give me your textbook and your notes on the problem.” The Irish setter released the Greek girl, who presented Miss Windlesham with the book and a crumpled sheet of paper. The feline took her time reading both, then said, “Afet was right, Zoe. Step two in your problem fails to carry the two.” The canine’s face fell and she sat down on her bed.
Gesturing to Tatiana to release Afet, Miss Windlesham turned to the other combatants. “Cathy?”
“Since you’re hopping around, I suppose you may want to sign up for dance classes. Extracurricular activities are encouraged.” The onlookers snickered at this.
“She hit me!” the English girl said, pointing an accusing finger at Shin.
“Yes, Miss Windlesham. She tried to kick me, and I defended myself with this,” and she pulled the iron baton from her sling.
The feline Tutor looked the item over critically then held out a paw. Shin promptly gave it to her, and Miss Windlesham tapped one end against her palm for a long, pregnant moment. Finally she asked, “And just how do you come to be fighting, Miss Leyland?”
The bovine girl jerked her chin at the South African canine as Liberty got off of her. “She’s always going on about her granddad killing Englishmen – “
“It’s true!” Lisa protested. She gathered the remnants of a torn undershirt to cover herself. “Christiaan de Wet was my grandfather – “
The canine shut up and busied herself with keeping herself covered. Already, de Wet’s undershirt was provoking comments from at least two girls from other dorms.
The feline smiled gently. “You know, there’s a lizard that usually shelters from the sun by this dorm’s windowsill,” she remarked quietly. “He told me once that he was a dinosaur - on his mother’s side.” Her features hardened. “Never rest on your forebear’s laurels, my dear. The point of Songmark is to have you all stand on your own feet, as well as set your own paths.
“You are all penalized twenty points, and you will be on kitchen duty when you return from Christmas holidays. Shin.”
“Come with me.”