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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
A thin, chill drizzle had been falling on Krupmark Island for the past three days, and the rain combined with foot and vehicle traffic to churn the usually dusty streets into an obstacle course of slippery mud. Late fall made the island a target for storms coming from Siberia via Japan, and those who lived there resolved to get their winter gear ready.
Anna ran down the road from the telegraph office toward the Ni & Sons building, a scrap of paper clenched in her fist as she almost slipped, then regained her balance and dashed on. Those furs braving the rain who might have wished to see more of the Russian canine than her clothes and oilskins revealed were forestalled by her speed and the knowledge that she had a knife and pistol belted to her waist. Once she and Hao had returned to Krupmark, rumors of the death of Wu Tang and how it had been done had spread fairly quickly. Some furs gave the two a wider berth now. She dashed in and took the stairs two at a time, giving a nod to the ferret who guarded Hei’s office. She stopped, shook the bulk of the rain from her headfur and shed her raincoat, then opened the door into Peng-wum’s adjoining office.
Hao was in there with Peng-wum, looking over a sheaf of papers. Both looked up as Anna burst in and Hao walked over to her. “What’s the matter, Anna?” he asked, giving her a hug.
“Here,” she said breathlessly, handing the telegram to Hao, who scanned it quickly, grinned and passed it to Peng-wum. It read:
“Dear Brother: Fang and I are on Casino Island. Wish you were here. Success. Shin.”
Peng-wum sat back in his chair and smiled, looking up at Anna and his younger brother. “They did it,” he said in a quiet, exultant tone.
“Did what, Son?” his father asked, stepping into the room, and his tail twitched as his oldest son gave a guilty start. Peng-wum replied, “Well, Father, um … we did something behind your back,” and he handed over the telegram. As Hei read it Peng-wum explained what he had asked, and what the others had done. When he was finished, he took one look at Hei’s face and gulped.
The exposed skin on Ni Hei’s face had gone pale and his ears had lain back against his skull. His banded tail fluffed as it jerked, and in a soft voice that the two brothers immediately recognized as barely suppressed rage Hei said, “So, my sons and daughter have taken my revenge away from me. You acted without my consent, and put yourselves in danger to kill Wu Tang and General Won. Hao, you and Anna might have been hurt … Shin and Fang could have been killed,” and Anna jumped as Hei’s fist suddenly clenched, crumpling the telegram. “Why?” he suddenly shouted, causing Peng-wum to scramble out of his chair and stand to one side of the desk.
“Father, let me explain,” Peng-wum ventured, and he straightened as his father glared at him. Hei slowly lowered himself into the chair that his son had vacated, and nodded for him to go on. Peng-wum took a breath and said, “Father, it was a business decision on my part. Wu Tang almost caught us, and would most surely try again as soon as he felt it safe to do so. Either he would do it himself, or through a proxy like the Governor of Kuo Han.
“General Won, on the other hand, injured our whole clan by massacring them. We had to strike back at him as soon as it was practical. The moment presented itself, and I suggested it to Shin and Fang. They agreed, and now they have accomplished it.” Peng-wum stood facing his father, who scowled in disapproval. “Father, our family is now safe, and you now have your revenge,” he said, and put his paws at his sides and bowed to the elder Ni.
Hei sat there, listening as his anger visibly cooled. His gaze flicked to rest on Hao, who hastily bowed. “Tell me what you did to Wu Tang, Hao,” Hei said quietly.
Hao swallowed, looked back at Anna, then replied, “Father, Anna and I cut off his right paw and his tail, then tied him to a dock piling in Yaoming so that he could drown when the tide came in. I left no trace that it was anyone from our family.”
Anna tapped him on the shoulder and said accusingly, “It was your idea to cut off his tail.”
“Well, it was your idea to tie him to the piling,” Hao said defensively.
“And whose idea was it to wake him up so that he could watch the sea coming at him?” Anna asked. “Mister Ni,” she said, turning to Hei, “Hao and I did what we did to send a clear message to any of your competitors. That message is ‘deal fairly, and we will deal fairly; cross us and die.’”
“I had almost forgot who you used to work for, Anna,” Hei said with a sour smile. “Do they do this much in the NKVD?” he asked.
“At times, sir,” she said, recalling a particularly nasty set of stories she had heard back in Moskva involving two counterrevolutionaries, a Polish ham, a set of engraved carving knives and a framed portrait of Lev Trotsky. She was heartened by Hei’s growing smile, as the idea of Wu Tang’s demise and the results once the news became general knowledge sank in.
“Hao, have you told the Tongs about this?”
Hao blinked and said, “No, Father, but I will inform them.”
Hei nodded, still looking unhappy but far less angry than he had been. “Peng-wum,” he asked suddenly, “why didn’t you go with Hao or Shin? These were your quarrels as well.”
“Father, I knew they could do the job, and Nailani and I have a small task of our own to perform. It would take a great deal of time for it to come to fruition, and I felt that these tasks demanded speed,” he explained.
Hei considered this for a moment, then stood and came around the desk to stand in front of his two sons. They held themselves very still as he laid his paws on their shoulders. They relaxed visibly when he said, “I am proud of both of you. You have avenged our family and our business,” and the two brothers started as the paws on their shoulders tightened, “but if either of you ever try something like this again, I will make both of you wish you had never been born. Do I make myself abundantly clear?” Hei asked.
“Yes, Father,” the two younger pandas chorused, and bowed as Hei stepped back from them.
“Good, that is settled,” he declared. “Now, you two go fetch your sister and her husband. I must go and tell your mother what you have done.” He stepped out of the office and all three sighed in relief.
“I don’t know about you two,” Anna said, “but he scared me to death. He reminded me of Comrade Bearia.” She dropped into a nearby chair with a theatrical sigh of relief.
“Something tells me that if Father really applied himself to it, he could be worse than Bearia,” Hao said with a shiver. He grinned suddenly and slapped Peng-wum on the back. “Let’s go get Fang and Shin,” he said, and to Anna he asked, “Care to come along?”
Peng-wum said, “I’ll get Nailani. We’ll all go.”
* * * * * * * * *
The sun was setting, glaring brightly through gaps in the clouds as the family’s K-85 settled down onto the waters near Casino Island. Hao clambered out onto the prow of the seaplane and fastened the halyard thrown to him by the towboat. The harbor was choppy, with variable winds and high overcast promising a wet winter. Waves splashed against the dragons painted on either side of the bow as the towboat started pulling the craft toward the dock area, and the K-85 rocked in the swells.
A light rain started to fall as Hao helped two dockworkers secure the plane to the dock, then he half-leaped to the quay as the others stepped out of the plane. “We won’t be leaving in this weather,” Peng-wum observed as he helped Nailani onto the dock.
“Great!” his wife enthused. “Gives us some time to relax.” She grinned at her husband and whispered something in his ear.
He blushed and slipped an arm around her waist. “I think I know where they might be,” Peng-wum said. His chin jerked up the hillside toward the Grand Hotel. Hao and Anna looked in that direction, and both started to laugh. As the rain started to get heavier, they headed up the hill.
Fang looked up from his dinner in the hotel’s dining room and smiled. His elbow nudged Shin, who looked, squealed with delight and practically bolted from her seat to hug her brothers. “I’m so glad to see all of you!” she cried, releasing them to gather Anna and Nailani into another hug, then started tugging them toward the table. “Come on, come on,” she urged, “have a seat and we’ll have dinner.”
“Shin,” her husband said, “we’re already having dinner.”
“Hush, you,” she said, and smiled happily as a waiter and two busboys approached, bearing extra chairs and service for four more people. As everyone sat down, Hao said, “Your telegram was a little vague, Shin.”
“It had to be,” Fang said quietly, cutting a piece from his baked fish. He chewed carefully, swallowed and added, “There was no telling how many paws that message might go through before it finally reached you.”
“Sensible,” Anna remarked, glancing around as her training and natural paranoia made her look for anyone who might be listening in on their conversation. Seeing no one (or at least no one obviously) eavesdropping, she accepted a menu from the waiter. As she scanned it, Peng-wum asked Shin, “So? Are you going to tell us what you did, or keep us guessing?”
Shin and Fang looked at each other for a moment, and Shin shook her head. Fang leaned forward and said quietly, “Let’s just say he won’t need to bother with a hat any longer.”
Nailani caught on immediately and giggled, saying something to Peng-wum in Spontoonie. Peng-wum chuckled and the two began speaking, as Hao, Fang and Shin sat back and Anna watched curiously. Turning to Hao she asked, “What are they talking about?”
Hao replied, “She just remarked that our enemies need heavier hats to keep their heads on their shoulders.” He grinned and looked up as the waiter arrived to take their drink orders.
* * * * * * * * *
Later that night, Peng-wum slid into bed beside his wife and gently kissed her. “We’ll be back on Krupmark tomorrow,” he said quietly, and he looked into her eyes. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” he asked.
Gazing into his face she nodded. “Yes, I do,” she said softly. “Hao and Shin have had their fun, and now it’s our turn.”
* * * * * * * * *
The next day looked a lot more promising than the night had been, with blue skies only slightly obscured by thin veils of high cloud. Most of the people on Spontoon knew that it was only a momentary respite, however; it was already late October, and winter was apparently going to be a chilly one.
The three couples were sitting in the restaurant, dawdling over their breakfasts before leaving the hotel when the desk clerk approached. “Excuse me, Mrs. Wo?” the young canine asked.
Shin blinked, then smiled up at him. “Yes?”
He handed her a sealed envelope. “This is for you,” he said, and went back to his post.
“What is it?” Anna asked, craning her neck to see.
“I’m not sure … oh, my,” Shin said, her breath catching in her throat as she saw the writing on the front of the envelope. She tore it open and read it through quickly, her ears going flat.
“Anything wrong, Shin?” Fang asked.
“It’s … it’s from Songmark Academy,” Shin said quietly. “I’m to present myself for an ‘entrance examination’ no later than November twentieth, and bring any paperwork I feel will help me get into the school.” She looked as if she was about to faint, and Fang hugged her as Peng-wum and Nailani cheered and Hao raised his mimosa in a toast.
“Congratulations!” Peng-wum said. “I’m sure you’ll get past that hurdle, and you’ll do well. That reminds me. Fang?” he asked.
“Yes?” the tiger asked warily, recalling the last time the older Ni son had asked him a question.
Peng-wum smiled. “As you know, we have a small interest in one of the hotels on South Island, and with our partners we’re looking to expand. We get to choose a manager and head of security,” he said, cocking an eye at the tiger.
Fang sat back and smiled. “And if I want both jobs?” he asked.
“I can’t think of anyone more qualified for both, actually,” Peng-wum said with a grin. “And it won’t be too far away from Songmark.”
Shin looked up at her husband, who asked her, “What do you think?”
Shin gave her older brother a hard, calculating look. “He gets two jobs – will he get two paychecks as well?” she demanded. They all started laughing, and Peng-wum nodded.
Shin said to Fang, “It’d be nice to have a home to go to without having to spend hours in a plane.”
“So we’ll go house-hunting,” Fang chuckled. “But first let’s get back so you can tell your parents the good news.”