Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
Orrin Brush had always enjoyed people watching.
As a constable and later as a detective sergeant, he prided himself on being able to pick people out of a crowd. So he made sure that he was at the Eastern Island air terminal one afternoon as the arriving flight from America touched down in the lagoon.
A piece of paper bearing a list of some ten names was in his breast pocket. He kept it there, partly to keep it from getting damp in the moist weather, and partly because he’d memorized all the names. He was sure he’d be able to trail any one of them when ordered to.
Because of a pervasive drizzle he was taking shelter in the doorway of the Customs shed. He paused in studying a copy of the Elele as he heard one Customs officer say, “Miss Melina Broca?”
That was one of the names on his list.
The Customs officers were in on the reason for his being there, so the feline had said the name a bit louder than he ordinarily would have as he peered at the small blue passport booklet. “Your first trip to Spontoon, Ma’am?”
“Yes.” The woman was a badgeress. Her attire belied her sultry voice, being a dark blue suit with thin white pinstripes. Despite having spent hours aboard the plane from San Francisco, the creases in her trousers were knife-sharp.
“Are you here for business or pleasure, Ma’am?”
The officer nodded at her response and verified the date against the return ticket, then stamped the booklet as his assistant finished poking through her suitcase. “Welcome to Spontoon, Ma’am. Enjoy your stay.”
Broca nodded, scooped up her suitcases and walked past Brush. The fox suppressed a look of distaste.
The badgeress was attractive, in a chilly sort of way.
But badgers aren’t known for their tailfur.
Still an’ all, Brush thought, those dames at th’ Lotus’ll go ga-ga over her.
If’n she likes dat sorta t’ing.
Several more people came through. They weren’t on his list; just business furs stopping over for a few days before getting a connecting flight to Hong Kong or Japan or elsewhere.
One was going on to Mildendo, and Brush nodded to himself when he saw one of the officials surreptitiously take note of the man’s name.
The last passenger to step up to the desk was an equine, and another of the people on Brush’s list. Eduardo ‘Eddie the Barber’ Barbaro, from Los Angeles. The horse looked nervous as he answered the officer’s questions and kept shuffling his hooves.
Brush looked him over and left the Customs office, turning up his collar against the damp. Barbaro was too nervous, and wouldn’t pose much of a threat. The Broca woman, though – she or the French gangster expected the next day – might be intent on causing trouble.
Either way, it was worth keeping both eyes open.
Crusader Dorm was enjoying some points that had served to elevate them from the bottom of the second year students. This was the result of their improved grades on a test designed to gauge any improvement after their tutoring sessions.
Red Dorm had been awarded passes for the weekend. Shin’s pass allowed her to not only have the weekend off, but allowed her to leave at sundown each day to carry out her duties as part of Hao’s wedding. There was, however, a price: Shin had to file a report describing the wedding, all of the participants, and their relation to either the bride’s family or the groom’s.
Shin was reasonably certain that a copy of the report would end up in Stagg’s age-spotted paws sometime after the last wedding guest left Spontoon.
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Liberty said as she looked up from the book she was reading.
“What about?” Tatiana asked as the others perked their ears.
“Crusader Dorm,” the New Havenite replied. “They’re afraid of us, you know.”
The Russian sable thought about it, and nodded as Brigit asked, “Scared of us? How d’ye figure that, Lib?”
“Think about it.”
“I am,” Shin said, “and they hate us, you know. At least Patricia was scared of us – well, you more than me.”
The half-coyote smirked. “One of these days we’ll have to ask her who scared her the most. You might be surprised at the result, Shin. And hate – well, you hate what you fear.”
“Da,” the sable said. “Fear very powerful motivator.” She smiled at Shin. “Patricia dealt with her fear by running. These react by wanting to fight.”
“They’d lose,” Brigit said.
“They fight nevertheless.”
“Furs react differently, and even running can be a form of fighting,” and Liberty put away her book. “I’m going to go over to the Embassy, then up to Main Island.”
“I’d like ta go with ye o’er ta Main, Lib,” Brigit said, and the other canine nodded.
“Any of you interested in coming to the wedding?” Shin asked.
“Nyet, I am not,” Tatiana replied, a shade too quickly. At the red panda’s look the sable added, “I have something to do.”
“Okay,” Shin said, and quickly packed a few textbooks to take with her.
The Hu Family arrived on Spontoon, along with three young ladies who were Xiu’s closest friends from school, and were swiftly put up at Shepherd’s.
It was an expensive stay, but Peng-wum cheerfully paid everything that Dan Lupino sent bills for. Chaperones for Xiu’s school chums had been hired. All three were young, had Guide training, and were well-versed in the ways of potentially wandering Euros.
The Ni Family, their business interests carefully safeguarded back on Krupmark Island, arrived in a driving rain storm later that day, and were moved into their usual rooms at the Grand. The staff turned out in their best to bow in salute to their employers.
That night, a dinner was announced at the Grand’s restaurant.
Hao felt a bit uneasy. Shin sensed this and nudged him with her elbow. “Hey, Little Brother, what’s up? You look like you just ate some bogberries.”
“It’s not that. It’s been a month. Has she changed?”
His sister chuckled. She was wearing a light tan evening gown – not a Rachorska, but close. “Probably.” He turned to look at her and she added, “She’s getting married. To you, Hao. I think that’d make her grow up a bit.”
“She’s already grown up.”
“Maybe on the outside. I meant growing up on the inside – and I think you’re about there yourself.” She poked him in the chest, disarranging his necktie.
He batted at her paw. “I am grown up, Shin.”
His sister’s smile faded into a solemn expression. “Yeah. I think you are, Hao.” Her smile came back. “And I’m going to be Xiu’s good luck woman,” a trace of smugness in her voice.
“Don’t remind me,” he groaned, and Shin giggled.
The doors to the restaurant opened (the entire establishment had been reserved), and the guests came in.
Hao downed the drink in his paw (a whiskey and water) and set the glass aside as Xiu’s friends came in first, followed by the Hus.
Then he saw her.
Hao was wearing a neatly tailored gray suit.
Xiu was wearing silver-gray, a gown that hugged her curves alluringly. Her long cascade of dark brown curls and her thick banded tail had been brushed until they shone.
His mouth went dry at the sight of her, but he marshaled himself and walked up to her. “Honored Hu Xiu,” he said formally, and bowed.
“Honored Ni Hao,” she replied, merriment making her eyes gleam. He offered his arm to her and she took it as the rest of the families applauded and everyone sat down to dinner.
Shin made a point of sitting beside Xiu. “You ready for this?”
“Yes,” the younger femme replied. “According to tradition, you’re supposed to teach me about being a good wife.”
“Right. Oh, I had fun before my marriage. See, it’s traditional to moan and carry on about how you’re going to join another family.” Shin giggled. “I screamed that I’d gouge out my eyes and rip out my tail before I’d marry Fang.”
The Manchurian tiger looked up as he heard his name, and Shin blew a kiss at him.
“You two seem very happy.”
“We are.” Shin smiled and leaned in close, whispering in Xiu’s ear. She sat back as the younger red panda blushed furiously, and returned to her dinner.
“What did you and Shin talk about?” Hao asked as he escorted his fiancée to her room after dinner. The alcohol he’d had earlier wasn’t what was making his blood run warm in his veins; it was her, her scent and her closeness.
She was almost enough to convince him that there was a God.
“What a good luck woman is supposed to do,” Xiu replied. She put her small clutch purse on a table and almost purred as her intended came up behind her and hugged her. “I missed you, Hao,” she whispered.
“I love you, Xiu,” he whispered back.
She took his paws and brought them to her lips, kissing them before turning to face him. Smiling, they both parted and as Hao sat down and took his pack of Fortunas from a pocket she said, “You know, you owe me an explanation, Ni Hao."
He paused in the act of lighting a cigarette. "Huh?"
Xiu grinned and smoothed out a fold in her gown. "Yes. You said that you'd show me how the Five Point Flying Dragon Tail Hold can be used on arms."
Hao took a drag on his Fortuna, then set it in an ashtray as smoke trickled from his nose. "Oh. That. Okay," and he stood up. "Master Fan told me that you can break a fur's tail in five places with that hold - "
"He told me that too."
"But not every fur has a tail long enough," the red panda said. "But everyone, he said, has an arm." He grinned, and she giggled. "Now, you ready?"
She slipped out of her high-heeled shoes and went into a ready stance.
"Like the tail hold, this is done when you attack," Hao said, moving slowly to show her what he was doing. "You start with your paw here - "
"Then you place your other paw . . . here - "
"And as you move past, you slide your palm like so - "
"Ah. Hao . . . "
"Then twist - "
"And as you step through, you do this - "
"OUCH! HAO!" Xiu shook herself free of his grasp and stood a short distance away, rubbing her shoulder. "That hurt!"
"But you see how it's done, right?"
His fiancee looked thoughtful, then went back into her stance. "Show me that last bit again."