Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Sergeant Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
Orrin Brush paused at the front door to the SIC headquarters on Meeting Island early one morning and casually glanced across the street.
There she was again.
Of all of the wedding guests that turned up (amazing what you could find under rocks and rotten logs around the world, the fox mused) only the badgeress dared to trail her figurative coat right under his nose. The weather was still fairly cool, but the sun was shining through low thin overcast.
The representative from organized crime in Europe, a half-Algerian otter named Francois Barghouti, hadn’t been seen since he checked into his hotel. The place, one of the seedier tourist places on Casino, was being watched by constables, but so far there’d been no need. The lutrine was apparently unsure of his surroundings, so he’d obviously decided to stay in his room and dine on room service.
Brush hoped the Frenchman got indigestion. The Tropical Shores Hotel’s kitchen had been shut down three times in the past year for basic health violations.
Eddie Barbaro, on the other paw, had been seen around Casino, playing a few games and frequenting at least one of the legal brothels on the island. He wasn’t being flashy.
According to one report, the horse was taking notes, which made sense in a way. He was the Carpanini Family’s underboss in charge of the gambling and prostitution activities in California, and had inroads into the Hollywood studios. He was scouting the competition for something to do before the wedding.
But this Broca woman, though . . . When not having her meals at various places, or walking around, she had taken to loitering out in front of Headquarters.
Very bad manners.
Even for a New Yorker.
He briefly made eye contact with the badger femme, who was wearing an ankle-length overcoat over a suit. Broca’s fedora raised to meet his gaze, and the stripe-nosed woman had the temerity to smile at him.
The burly fox cocked an eyebrow at her and went inside. Once he was in the office he shared with the Inspector he allowed a few muttered words of Spontoonie to escape his muzzle.
Words that would have had his mother force-feeding him durian if she had heard them.
He sat down at his desk, pulled out his pack of cigarettes, then put them back in his pocket.
Ciss Lopp ruled her roost with an iron paw in a rabbit-fur glove, and one hard rule was no smoking.
No booze was second, which was bothersome.
Brush sat and thought, and after a moment he smiled slyly.
The sun was trying to break through the clouds, but a few more experienced furs on the crew told him that storms were coming – “two, maybe three days off.”
Hai Wei didn’t care much about the weather, except to take precautions to look after his safety. All of the fishing boat’s crew were conscious of safety, of course; anyone who wasn’t was beached, quickly and unceremoniously, by the captain.
The Shar Pei grunted as he hauled on the nets in time with two other furs, pulling a haul of silvery fish into the boat. The net was a purse seine, closing at the bottom like a lady’s reticule to prevent the fish from escaping. A boom-mounted dip net would remove the bulk of the catch as the net contracted, but the remainder had to be hauled aboard. When the hold was filled, the boat would head into port and the captain would dicker with the buyers for the best price.
But that wouldn’t be for another day yet, the way things were going. The net emptied, the crew prepared to set it out again.
“Wei!” the mate called out.
“Yeah?” the canine replied.
The fox gripped a pawhold as the fishing boat rocked. “Manoa’s getting tired. Care to row the skiff out?”
Wei shrugged. “Sure.” The skiff deployed the net in a huge ring around the school of fish. It was hard work, but he welcomed it. He had gotten some offers from a few women who were willing to overlook his past indiscretions and limited bank account.
A short time later he was halfway around while Lin, another crewfur, kept an eye on the net. The crew aboard the larger boat were paying the net out as they went, describing a circle maybe a hundred feet across.
Lin waved a paw signal to the boat to have more net paid out, then took out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches. “Smoke, Wei?”
“Thanks.” The canine didn’t break his rhythm with the oars, requiring him to lean a bit further toward the other canine as Lin first put a cigarette to his mouth, then lit it on the next stroke. Wei inhaled then said around the cigarette, “Good stuff. They Golden Dragons?”
“Yeah,” Lin said as he lit up. “My cousin gets a couple cartons of these every now and then.”
“I didn’t think they were sold in the Spontoons.”
Lin eyed him. “They’re not.”
“Oh.” Wei put his back into it, ignoring the dull burning pain of stressed muscles. “Sounds like he does okay.”
“Well, times are tough,” Lin said, still giving the Shar Pei an appraising look.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking of trying to find a second job. I think my landlord wants to raise the rent in a few months.”
Lin cursed. “That’s too bad.”
The canine ran a paw over the back of his black-and-tan-furred neck, and leaned unnecessarily close. “I heard something.”
“I heard the Collective’s raising their dues.”
Wei spat his cigarette over the side. “What? Why?”
Lin shrugged. “How should I know? Maybe the Althing needs a new babysitter,” and the two of them laughed. “Turn a bit, we’re drifting to port.”
The ex-constable complied, paying more attention to his rowing. He had a troubled look on his face as he tried to figure the cost of increases in his union dues and rent, against his income.
“Hi, Xiu!” Shin said. The older red panda femme tossed a small bag containing books onto a chair beside the door and said, “That damned squirrel’s getting on my nerves.”
Her future sister-in-law closed the door and asked, “What’s she done now?” Shin had told her about Nancy Rote the first day she’d been at her hotel room. If Shin was to be believed, Rote wasn’t much to look at and had a thoroughly poisonous personality.
A traditional Chinese wedding required the prospective bride to stay at a friend’s house, who would be the ‘good luck woman.’ Xiu was staying at the small bungalow that Shin and Fang called home at the Maha Kahuna Hotel.
Fang had good-naturedly moved to another bungalow for the duration. It was a good thing that it was still the off-season.
Their bungalow was a homey place, snug and comfortable. A knife was stuck in a heavily scarred board mounted on one wall in the living room. Shin had explained that she was practicing knife-throwing in her spare time.
Shin made a disgusted sound. “She told Miss Blande that I was deliberately grading her poorly on her flying!” she said in an exasperated tone.
“Did it work?”
A laugh. “No. Miss Goody Bushy-Tail’s got kitchen duty this coming weekend for lying to a tutor.” Shin walked over to a vase, pulled the flowers out of it and removed a wet bottle of whisky. Putting the floral arrangement back in the vase she waved the bottle at Xiu. “Care for some?”
“No thanks.” Xiu hadn’t yet learned to like the taste of hard liquor. “Hao told me you and the other three girls in your dorm pulled a practical joke on her.”
“Hao told you that story?” Shin took a swallow of the whisky and put the bottle back in its hiding place as she laughed. “Gods, she was a sucker. If there ever was someone too stupid to live – “
“So why didn’t you just kill her?”
At the question, Shin gave the younger woman a questioning look. “Why didn’t we kill her?” she echoed, and took a seat near Xiu. “We could have, I guess – plenty of places to dump a body on South Island, or even off it. But killing her wasn’t on the program. Humiliating her was.”
“I think I understand. But you’re a third year. Can’t you kill her now?”
“I’d lose points if I did.” Shin said it with a straight face. There was a short silence, and the two red pandas started laughing.
Of course, Shin made no mention of possible prosecution if the blonde squirrel turned up deceased.
“I think – I hope – she figures out how the world works before something really drastic happens to her,” Shin said. “She wants to go to Krupmark and clean the place out.”
Xiu frowned. “I hope you told her not to.”
“I have, but it’s like scattering sugar around a picnic to repel ants,” Shin said. “Let’s change the subject.”
“Okay. Let me ask you something.”
“How do you and Fang get along so well?”
“I’ll let you in on a secret. We don’t get along as well as you might think.” At Xiu’s shocked look Shin added, “We argue and snap at each other a lot.”
“So – how – why – “
“Why did we get married?”
“We love each other.” Shin grinned, baring her teeth. “We may fight and snap at each other, but deep down we know we love each other.” She winked. “Making up after a fight is always fun, too. Back around Christmas I asked one of my dorm mates about it.”
“Liberty. She’s from New Haven. You might meet her at the wedding. Anyway, she said that the best way to keep me and Fang’s marriage going was to see it as a partnership, since we’re both so strong-willed.”
“Think it would work for me and Hao?”
The past several days Melina Broca had gone to watch the local police in their comings and goings, only to find that the vulpine detective sergeant had been watching her.
So she had moved to another vantage point, only to find that the fox would also move to block her.
Finally, one morning after a prolonged rain shower, she was standing by the curb at an intersection.
And there was that damned fox, standing there watching her.
The badgeress matched his gaze and the two stood there.
There was a sound of an engine coming up behind her, and she yelped, startled, as a truck carrying supplies for the various businesses on Meeting Island jounced through a rain puddle, sending a wave of water drenching the woman from head to toe.
While she spluttered, Brush muttered, “Aw, didja get yer pretty duds wet? Damned shame.” He flipped a coin to a shoeshine boy walking by and pointed. “Fer th’ lady, an’ it’s on me.” Pausing to sneer at Broca one last time, Brush sauntered into the SIC building.
The desk sergeant had seen the whole thing, and he laughed as Brush signed in. “Havin’ a bit of fun, Orrin?”
“Yeah. Tell yez what, though – I think workin’ wit’ th’ Inspector’s rubbin’ off on me.”