Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2012 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Hai Wei sat at the small dining room table in his apartment and glowered at his savings book.
True to his word, his landlord had raised his rent a week ago, and Lin’s information had also proved to be depressingly accurate. The collective that took their dues had been forced to increase the amount required from each union member.
He could – just barely – manage to cover both, but there’d be no margin for error at all. In fact, he’d have to live, quite literally, paw to mouth.
The Shar Pei sighed and sipped at his hot cup of coffee. He gazed at the drink’s dark depths, its color matching his mood. Better enjoy it while you can, he thought to himself.
All too soon, the coffee cup was empty.
He placed it in his kitchen sink, grabbed his coat and left the apartment.
He took the time to lock the place up. Small it might be, but he still didn’t want anyone burglarizing it.
“Captain says we’ll be out for about a week.”
“I hope we do better than last time.”
“Well, you never know with fish. But the Captain says he went to a geomancer who says he can find a rich fishing bank for us.”
“Uh huh.” Wei was agnostic.
“What’s up?” his shipmate asked.
In response, Wei looked around the union hall and beckoned the other man into a corner. “What?” Lin asked.
“Listen, Lin, you know your cousin?”
The other canine’s expression grew wary. “What about him?”
Wei glanced around as unobtrusively as he could, and when he did speak his voice was just above a whisper.
“Do you think he could use an extra set of paws?”
Lin looked at him sharply. A suspicious tone slipped into his voice as he asked, “Are you sure this isn’t a way of getting your old job back?”
Wei snorted. “Listen: I might – might – have been able to, if that idiot Pickering was still in charge. But between Sapper and Stagg? No way.” He looked away and his expression grew morose. “Besides, I’ve got a record now – and jail time.”
“Yeah, that’s rough.” Lin looked at him for a moment. “I’ll talk to my cousin.”
“I owe you.”
“No, you don’t. What are friends for, eh?” He walked off, and Wei watched him go. He was certain that whatever he ended up doing, it probably wouldn’t pay much.
But at least he’d be able to afford coffee.
A small crowd had gathered where the cable car had come to rest. The motorman, a slightly pudgy bear, came running up and after catching his breath identified himself to a policeman. Hao and Xiu looked on with the rest of the bystanders.
“Where the hell were you, Mike?” the officer asked.
The motorman caught his breath and replied, “I jumped clear when the brakes let go. Know what caused it, too.”
“Yeah. New equipment. Damned Cogswell cogs – I knew those things were defective right outta the box. Told ‘em so, too.”
“Repair crew coming?”
“Yeah, yeah, I called it in before running down here.” The ursine bent slightly, planted his paws on his knees and wheezed a bit more before asking, “Anyone get hurt, Charlie?”
“Just some out of towner who didn’t get off in time.” The cop jerked a meaty thumb at the hapless canine, now being tended by his wife and a few onlookers. A distant wail heralded the approach of an ambulance.
“Nertz,” Mike grumbled. “There goes my overtime for today.”
The officer poked him and chuckled. “You’ll make it up when your Red Check comes in.”
The conductor paused, then laughed. “Never thought of that! You’re right, but listen here, Charlie, those guys in Washington’ll find a way to get it all back, you know.”
“Sure! Long’s too cagey an old hound to let all that money slip through his paws.”
The two walked off to survey the wreckage of the streetcar then, and Hao leaned close to his wife. “Back to the hotel?”
“Hmm. Just to freshen up a bit.”
“I’ll hail a cab.”
Hao made a point of entering the room first, and Xiu noted that one of his paws hovered close to where his pistol was concealed. “What’s wrong?”
“I put a hair across the door when we left,” he said quietly. “It’s not there now.” He finished looking around the suite, then relaxed. “That’s the only new thing,” and he pointed at a table by the window.
The object was a wickerwork basket, holding two bottles of wine, assorted cheeses and a loaf of bread. An envelope was sandwiched between the two bottles.
The wine and cheeses all bore California labels.
Xiu opened the envelope and read aloud, “My Pop would say Cent Anni, meaning a hundred years of life, love, and health. I say congratulations to you and Xiu. Eddie said it was a great wedding. Manny.” She turned the letter over and looked at the basket’s contents. “Who’s Manny, Hao?”
“Manny Carpanini. He’s some big shot down in Los Angeles.”
“A real life gangster?”
“Wow. I thought they were just something Hollywood dreamt up. How do you know him?”
Hao took off his jacket and draped it across the back of a chair. “His father sent him out to Krupmark, and asked us to help him out.” He shrugged. “I didn’t like him. Later, after his father died, Peng-wum and I were sent to help him take his father’s place.” He shook his head. “Peng-wum shot the guy who was trying to take over.”
“Yeah. Craziest thing I ever saw him do. He’s not a good shot, but when the gun’s at the back of a guy’s head you don’t need to be.”
“Wow. Do . . . do you think this stuff’s poisoned?” She indicated the food and wine.
“I doubt it. Manny needs us to stay where he’s at. Besides, I don’t think he’s that smart.”
“They’re up to something.”
Tatiana glanced up from her textbook at Liberty’s flat statement. “Crusader Dorm, you mean?”
“Yes. The Tutors have instructed them to submit to our help,” and her tail switched about as she added, “and they’re being too meek about it.”
Brigit paused in brushing her tailfur and nodded. They would all be leaving at sundown that Friday night, and she had a date with Michael. “I’m agreein’ with ye, Lib. They’re bein’ way too quiet.”
Wo Shin shrugged. “I don’t think they’re that smart.”
“We had better hope they are, at least a little,” the Russian sable said, “because if they do not pass their pilot’s licenses we shall be punished for it.”
They had dinner in Chinatown, enjoying what the restaurant’s staff had to offer. The waiter had been pleased to learn that the young bride was from Hong Kong and her beau originally from Tientsin (although his accent was definitely not from there) had guaranteed them several items that were not on the menu.
And certainly not on offer to any barbarian customer, no matter how prominent.
“These steamed buns are delicious,” Xiu remarked. She said it loud enough that a member of the staff heard her, and the compliment was rewarded with prompt and courteous service.
Hao was aware of the effort that the small eatery was putting forth for them, and took care to tip well and to thank the waiter courteously for his attention.
“I’m stuffed,” he remarked as they walked out of the enclave. “I wonder if there’s a park or something like that.”
“Wanting to walk off dinner?”
“Oh yes.” The two chuckled as they emerged at the California Street entrance and Hao hailed a taxi.
“Where to, kid?” the driver asked.
“Is there a park nearby?”
The burly feline twitched his muzzle, making his stogie flick from side to side. “That’ll be Golden Gate Park,” he said. “Just up the road a ways.”
“That’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” He set his meter and shifted gears, muttering as the cab balked at being put into first. He found the gear as Xiu suppressed a giggle, and they set off.
The cab dropped them off at the Willard Street entrance, and after Hao paid (including a tip) he asked Xiu, “What was that giggle about?”
“Just remembering when you were trying to drive Father’s Lagonda.”
Hao gave her a sour look. “I managed.”
She giggled again, and he chuckled as they took each other’s paws and started walking.
The place felt different from the parks they had walked in at Casino Island and Hong Kong, but was laid out in much the same manner, with winding paths and benches if a rest was needed. Must be all the Americans here, Hao thought to himself, wrinkling his nose.
Xiu seemed a bit lost in thought. “Hey,” he asked, “what are you thinking about?”
“Just thinking about what we’ll do when we get back to Spontoon.”
He nodded, and paused to light a cigarette. “You and I will meet with Peng-wum, and we’ll see about getting set up at the Grand.”
She took his arm and nestled closer to him as they walked.
The streetlights were on as they walked, the sun having set almost two hours earlier. As they moved from one pool of light to another a man stepped out of the shadows. “Hey.”
They stopped. Hao asked, “Yeah?”
“Nice night, ain’t it.”
Hao’s banded tail twitched. He’d met people like this before, on Krupmark.
Of course, this guy’s approach would almost certainly have gotten him killed in certain areas of Fort Bob.
The red panda smiled, almost a smirk as he surreptitiously released his hold on Xiu. She looked at him, then at the man.
The guy stepped a bit further into the light, revealing that he was a rather broad equine, nearly a foot taller than Hao. He was dressed in corduroy trousers, a short jacket with a zippered front, and a flat cap. His paws were in his jacket pockets.
“Yes, it’s a nice night,” Hao said.
“Gotta be careful out here at night, two kids like you,” the man said. “Thieves hereabouts.”
“We’ll be careful.”
The equine chuckled. “Good. Now maybe you want to pay me for the advice, huh?” He pulled his paws from his jacket, and flicked his left wrist.
A knife blade gleamed in the streetlight.
Hao looked at the man, then down at Xiu.
His wife looked up at him. “May I?” she asked in Mandarin.
“I’ll be here if you need me.”
She broke into a run straight at the would-be thief.