Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2012 by Walter Reimer
The police officer could scarcely believe his eyes.
The boar had been walking a beat near the park’s arboretum when a young red panda girl, foreign by the sound of her – maybe British – came running up to him and gasped out that she and her husband had been attacked.
He wasn’t some wet-nosed rookie; after calming her down and getting a few details, he phoned in the call and then trotted after the young femme. He tried very hard not to think too much about the luxuriant tailfur waving in front of him.
As it was, he covered the distance in what was record time for him.
The officer was puffing when he slowed to a walk, and the red panda waved him forward. “My husband’s minding him for you!”
The cop frowned and, nightstick firmly in paw, strode forward . . . and stopped.
A burly equine was flat on his back on the sidewalk, grasping his left arm and writhing in pain as a mel – doubtless the young lady’s husband – stood over him, casually smoking a cigarette. A switchblade lay on the concrete near the young man’s foot.
The stallion’s arm was oddly misshapen, and the police officer knew from experience that it had been broken.
The man on the sidewalk groaned, caught sight of the girl and started trying to backpedal across the concrete, grasping his injured arm and screaming, “HELP! Get her away from me!”
“Hold your tail still, Zagorski. Help’s on the way.” The boar returned his baton to its scabbard and drew out his notebook and pencil. “Now, what’s all this about?”
“It’s like this, Officer,” the red panda mel said. “Me and my wife were walking along and this guy steps out and points a knife at us.”
“Uh huh. What happened to his arm?”
The man pointed at his wife.
The boar raised an eyebrow. “You attacked him?”
“It seemed like the thing to do at the time.” Amazingly, she giggled. “He wasn’t ready for it.”
“I wouldn’t think so, slip of a girl like you. Well, let’s have a look at you then, Bronco.”
“You know him?”
“Yeah. Wish I didn’t though. Meet Eddie ‘Bronco’ Zagorski, two-time – well, now three-time - loser. Say hello to the nice folks, Bronco.”
“Keep her away from me! She broke my arm!”
“Yeah, yeah, I can see that,” the officer replied without a trace of sympathy. He crouched down and poked at the arm. “You did this, Ma’am?”
“You broke his arm . . . looks like three places.” Sirens could be heard in the distance, growing louder.
Her husband laughed. “Told you so.”
“What? Told her what?”
“That she was doing it wrong,” he explained. “His arm should have snapped in five places.” He sneezed, wiped his nose on a shirt cuff and said to his wife, “And wrist bones don’t count.”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
The boar rolled his eyes. “Just married, the two of you?”
Zagorski kept yelling.
That’s all I need, he thought. “Okay. Ma’am, step away from him, please. Bronco, shut your yap before I kick your teeth down your throat for resisting arrest. The ambulance is coming, don’t be such a crybaby.”
The woman’s husband ground out the cigarette against the sole of his shoe and slipped the butt in his pocket. “You need us to stay here?” He had to repeat himself, as his accent was a bit odd.
“Yes. I need statements from both of you.”
The fishing had been good, and the boat returned full to the docks on Casino Island.
Maybe there was something to the old geomancer, Hai Wei mused as he pocketed his pay envelope. Perhaps he’d stop by the man’s stall in the market and see if his fortunes might improve sometime sooner than later.
His second job started the next day.
“You must be Hai,” the canine said.
The Shar Pei nodded. “Name’s Wei.”
“Good. Like to keep it on a given-name basis. Name’s Yao.” The two shook paws. “Lin says you need a job. I’m afraid I have to start you out low – you know how it is, you being an ex-constable and all . . . “
“I get it.” Trust had to be earned.
“Good. Just so we understand each other.”
He found himself sweeping floors in the warehouse, emptying trash bins and other menial tasks. Well, he’d done worse since losing his job.
The warehouse was a part of the man’s business and was full of boxes, in some cases stacked haphazardly and teetering a bit. Sweeping caused roaches to scramble and forced him to stop periodically to clean cobwebs from his broom.
He worked farther back along the rows, hearing feral rats skittering in the shadows.
Most of the boxes carried labels and bills of lading, but midway down one row he came upon six smaller boxes, unlabeled. One had part of a cardboard flap opened, and he surreptitiously lifted the open flap a bit as he swept.
There was the sunburst-bright yellow and green of a Golden Dragon label on the cartons packed inside the box.
The Shar Pei looked at it, then shrugged and continued with his work. He wasn’t getting paid to spot things like contraband any longer.
The crowd of men in the union hall were quiet as the badger continued to speak. “I promised you fellows that I wouldn’t keep you long,” Senator McAfee said at the start of his speech. “I know how hard you work, and that you want to get home to your wives and kids.” He winked. “Or maybe your girlfriends.”
A few of the men chuckled at that.
The badger started out slow, reminding them of who he was and his service to them over the years. He talked about the factory the men worked at, and the products they made that were shipped all over the country.
And he talked about the layoffs.
He had to pause as an angry mutter rolled through the crowd like a slow tide. The badger reminded them of the recent Depression, and how Moosevelt had moved heaven and earth – even to defying his own moneyed class – to set matters right. His voice rose to remind them of Moosevelt’s death and Long’s accession as President.
Then McAfee’s tone of voice changed.
Moosevelt had, sadly, not been in his right mind. He could not have been in his right mind when he had picked the hound from Louisiana to be his running mate. Long had crazy ideas, and had managed to bully the Congress into making his Share the Wealth scheme into the law of the land. Between attempts to rein in government spending and the flight of money out of the country in response to the Reds Act, the nation’s economy was sinking back into depression.
The union members listened intently.
The crowning indignity that the Catahoula from Baton Rouge was trying to foist on the American people was the Anti-Wealth Leagues. He was certain, McAfee said, that this was only the start.
Long was intent on destroying the country, McAfee told his audience. One only had to look at Soviet Russia or New Haven to see where Long’s policies were headed. Only one thing could save the country.
That thing was to vote the present Congress out, House and Senate, and replace them with people with the backbone and determination needed to stand up to Long and his cronies.
People like him.
The crowd applauded, and even cheers could be heard as the head of the union came up onto the stage to shake paws with the badger.
McAfee grinned and waved to the workers as flashbulbs popped. This was his sixth meeting with the various unions throughout the state since declaring his candidacy. Endorsements had come to him quickly.
He was certain now that when the primary came up in June, he could rely on the backing of the unions.
Hao sighed and lit another cigarette. Through the cloud of smoke he studied the detective seated across from him.
“We’re only supposed to be here a week,” he said slowly. He’d had his fill of having the cop ask him to repeat everything he said. It wasn’t his fault these Americans couldn’t speak English.
And why did the gods continually taunt him by dragging deer wearing badges across his path?
“I apologize, Mr. Ni,” the pronghorn buck said as he jotted another note. “I know that you and your wife are on your honeymoon. We’re trying to get this over with as fast as we can.”
“Thank you.” It took an effort to say it.
Preliminary statements had been taken while the equine mugger had been splinted up and bundled onto an ambulance. The next day, instead of enjoying the sights, he and Xiu were giving statements under oath at the local precinct house.
The pronghorn finished writing, then closed the folder. “Please wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Hao nodded, and puffed on his cigarette as he sat. One wall of the room was taken up by a large mirror.
He got up and looked at his reflection, then made a few faces. Chuckling, he resumed his seat.
On the other side of the mirror, the pronghorn buck and another detective, this one a short, tubby feline, watched and compared notes. “What do you think?” the cervine asked.
The cat chewed the unlit cigar in his muzzle. “Their stories hold up. She claims he taught her that move so she could protect herself.”
“Hmmph. Chinese. You ever work Chinatown?”
“Don’t. You’ll never get nowhere with them. I gave up trying. Couldn’t get transferred off that detail fast enough.”
The feline nodded, then took his cigar from his mouth and belched. “So?”
“We got nothing, so we let ‘em go. Zagorski’ll be charged with attempted robbery.”
“Think he’ll learn this time?”
The buck gave a nasty laugh. “Only every time it rains.”
The pervasive morning fog hadn’t yet burned off by the time Hao and Xiu left the station house. “How was it?” he asked her.
“Very odd,” Xiu said after a moment’s thought. “I felt that they’d thought I’d done something wrong.”
“Huh. Looks like cops are cops, no matter where – Spontoon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and here. All suspicious.” They started walking away from the precinct station.
Hao shrugged. “Got questioned by them two years ago when I was over there. Something about a guy who got fished out of the water near the Customs Jetty. They thought I had something to do with it.”
Her husband smiled. “Of course. The guy tried to cheat me on a deal. He pulled a knife,” and he pointed to his arm. “Got a scar from him.”
She smiled and took his arm, snuggling close. “I’ve seen it.”
He grinned at her, and they kissed. “Care to get some lunch, and then some sightseeing? I’m through talking to police.”
“Same here. Sounds like a great idea.”