Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
Eloni was one of Hao’s best crewmen, an athletically built Samoan boar whose specialty was breaking bones. Most people steered clear of him.
But right now, Eloni was wishing he was back in his room with the blanket pulled up over his ears.
What confronted him was a younger fur, maybe nineteen, but the bear was huge. Towering – or looming – easily head and shoulders over the Samoan, the bear was barefoot and dressed in a plaid shirt and bib overalls. His legs under the denim looked odd, as if he’d had rickets as a cub.
“Hello?” Eloni ventured. The bear had strolled into the gathering of bodyguards a few minutes earlier and now just stood there. Some of the guards for the ruling furs were looking a bit scared. He tried to assay a friendly tone when he said the word.
The huge bear stirred and looked down at Eloni.
The boar resisted the urge to run.
“I am Michael,” the bear intoned. “I look after the place when the Master is away.” The sentences sounded rehearsed and were delivered in a flat, monotonous voice.
Eloni swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. “Um . . . good?”
“I am Michael.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“I look after the place when the Master is away.”
Eloni thought that it was a bit unlikely that this bear would be allowed to be in charge of anything, let alone the Club. And the two statements seemed to exhaust his repertoire.
“Hey, buddy,” one of the other guards called out, “come over here a minute.”
Eloni nodded and said to the bear, “I’m just going to go over there, okay?” The bear blinked at him, which the Samoan interpreted as a nod. Running two fingers over a tusk, he walked away and asked the feline who addressed him, “Who – or what – is that?”
The bobcat smirked. “He’s Michael,” he said in the same deadpan monotone.
“He looks after the place when the Master is away,” a short, scrawny wolf said, then made the international sign for ‘he’s crazy’ while pointing his muzzle at Michael.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear he was kin to Mad Mac,” Eloni said.
“Yeah, lots of guys think so,” the bobcat said, “but he’s a bear, and Mac’s a skunk.
“Don’t mean nuffin’,” another fur said. “Dey got a gal down to Black Sheep, parts ‘roo and skunk. Funny lookin’,” and he licked his lips, “but tasty. I hears that she’s Mac’s daughter.”
“No kidding?” Eloni asked. “Who’s the mother?”
“Deaded,” a hawk muttered, crossing himself Russian-style.
“There remains one more thing.” This was said by a tall feline in a business suit. The suit looked a bit on the older side, and his English had an Afrikaaner accent. “I have heard that you hired members of Rain Island’s military.”
“I hired mercenaries, Mr. Steyn.”
“Hmm. And how much did these mercenaries cost?”
“Quite a bit,” Peng-wum admitted. “I fear that any attempt to hire the same group may be met with a demand for a higher price.” He tried not to smile when he said this, or at the curse the feline muttered sotto voce. The price he had paid would most likely be used as a starting point in any future negotiations, and he felt certain that Seathl would object and overrule Moon Island if such an offer arose again.
“Certain” for Peng-wum meant a probability approaching eighty percent or more. He always gave himself a wide margin of error when trying to predict what people might do. “As to the accusation that the mercenaries were Rain Islanders, all I will say is that everyone at this table knows that the Naval Syndicate has a presence here on Krupmark. In fact, the Lucky Dragon offers a May Day discount every year.” He smiled. “Of course, the fire arms and grenades used were readily available, through the usual sources.”
A few of the ‘board members’ glanced at each other, and ‘Miss C’ asked, “Are there any other questions for Mr. Ni? Yes, Mr. Ramsingh?”
The Bengal tiger in the pre-War black frock coat bowed from his seat. “Thank you, Madam,” he said. His speech had a lilting Hindustani accent to it as he said, “I welcome Mr. Ni to this table, and I am surprised by his statement that he does not want it. Still, I will always be ready to transact business,” and he smiled as Peng-wum nodded. “If you were joining us, I would suggest we go to the church.”
The red panda blinked. “The church?” he echoed, and hoped his voice didn’t quaver. From what was whispered about the ruling cabal, membership required a regular visit to the church for some kind of ceremony. Shin had sneaked in, twice, and their father had punished her both times. She’d told Peng-wum a little of what she saw going on there.
Peng-wum didn’t blame his father for beating her.
He would have done the same thing.
“Yes, the church.” The tiger sighed. “It is a great shame, but there seems little point in going there. The asuras are not there any longer.”
“Excuse me, the what?”
“The women who used to serve up there,” Yao said, a trace of a fond smile flickering across his muzzle. “It was said that they were priestesses, but during the troubles two years ago they vanished. They have not returned, and – “
“The sense of the place, it is missing, ja?” the Baron grumbled. “It is still viel Spass, though.”
“Since neither you nor your father are joining our little group,” Wulfenscheim said, “you won’t be attending.”
“I see,” Peng-wum said. “Does Mad Mac go there?”
A few furs glanced at each other, and one flinched. Kobayashi said, “Not while we are there. Few people have seen him since the Shen were liquidated.”
“But they can still smell him, right enough,” a mephitess with a scar running from ear to ear rasped. She shivered a bit, whether through fear or lust he couldn’t tell which.
‘Miss C’ adjourned the meeting on that note, and the others settled back to enjoy their drinks. A few lit cigarettes or cigars, and as Peng-wum gathered up his notes the Baron approached him. “So! Vhat do you of my streetcar t’ink, hm?
“I think it’s a very good idea, Baron,” Peng-wum replied. “It’ll allow you to move goods from the airstrip to the Bazaar much more quickly, enabling you to make a bigger profit.” At the word ‘profit,’ ears started to perk in their direction. “In fact, I’m sure I can persuade my father to invest in your venture, as well as in anything else that improves Fort Bob.”
“’Improve?’ Bah! Vhy should I care about the Jammern of losers?”
The red panda smiled. “By improving living conditions, you improve the workers you need. Instead of dying from dysentery or cholera, they can work and make you money.”
“Hmm,” and the boar gave the younger man a calculating look through his thick-lensed glasses. “Perhaps ve talk later, hmm? Or I talk mit your Vater vhen he comes back.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him,” and the two shook paws. Peng-wum could see that several furs had started talking among themselves. Words like ‘water,’ ‘sewage’ and ‘roads’ were being used. He suppressed another smile, and caught ‘Miss C’ giving him an approving nod.
“How did it go?” Fang asked as they walked back out to the truck.
“Well, I’m still alive,” Peng-wum said as he offered the girl at the door his ticket and took his revolver back. “The food wasn’t bad. How was your lunch?”
The Manchurian smiled and rubbed his stomach before taking back his shotgun and pistol. “Best steak I’ve had this side of the Grand,” he said, “and the girls were pretty. Helped the appetite,” and he winked.
Peng-wum grinned. “I’ll tell Shin.”
Fang shrugged. “Go ahead. She’ll get mad, and I’ll need to buy new sheets for the bed,” and he nodded to the weasel femme as they walked out. “She tends to – “
The red panda raised a paw. “I’m her older brother, Fang. I really don’t want to hear about what you two get up to in bed.” They both started laughing as Li joined them and they gathered up their bodyguards.
Apparently one of the other bodyguards had drawn a weapon. He was now dangling a good foot off the ground with Michael holding him by the neck. The bear said in an oddly stilted, singsong voice, “The Master would not approve.”
“I’m glad we’re leaving,” Fang said.
“I’ve heard a bit about that bear, and I don’t want what he’s about to do to spoil my lunch.”
Hao was waiting for them when the truck ground to a halt in front of the Lucky Dragon. One corner of the sandbagged building had fresh blood stains on it, and bullet holes were allowing sand to trickle out onto the ground. “What happened here?” Peng-wum asked.
His younger brother shrugged. “Some chun zi tried to shoot his way in. Emilia taught him that it’s more polite to knock,” and the Sicilian wolfess grinned and patted her lupara.
“Good job,” Fang said. “What’d you do with the body - never mind,” he laughed at Hao’s smile. Hao was fond of tossing people into the water out past the barrier reef for the sharks. A few wags up in town said that he was only displaying ‘professional courtesy.’
The three headed into the Ni and Sons building and made their way upstairs to Ni Hei’s office. Marco had been replaced by a lean, taciturn Westernized Chinese feline named Chung. His loyalty was assured because his vices were known and could be supplied at a much lower price than any of the family’s rivals or competitors. His tail shook a bit, betraying his catnip habit.
Once inside the three began to speak in a dialect that Chung didn’t know. “We’re going to have to move,” Peng-wum said. “Both this building and the Casino. With the only road to the Beach running right between both buildings, we’re going to get bombed one of these days.”
“Probably,” Hao conceded. “It’s what I’d do.”
His brother-in-law chuckled. “Don’t use so much next time, okay? I’m still combing bits out of my fur.” The tiger grinned as Hao’s ears dipped. “How’s Xiu doing?”
“All right, I guess. She’s still a bit nervous about killing that guy who tried to shoot Mother.” The young red panda shrugged. “She still thinks she’ll get in trouble for it. Peng-wum?”
“When we took Shen’s place, I kept my eyes open, and I have a few ideas for the new place.” He glanced up sharply as a knock was heard and Chung let Clarence in. He relaxed, but only slightly.
“Message for you, Peng-wum,” the English lion said, offering a deciphered telegram. “It’s from your sister.”
“Thanks, Clarence. How are things in Fort Bob?”
The big feline waggled a paw. “Tense, but about normal really.” There was a sound, and they all turned to see Peng-wum slumping into his father’s chair, a stricken look on his face. “Peng-wum, what - ?”
“The Spontoonies,” the red panda said in a distant tone. He took a deep breath and removed his pince-nez. “Father asked to pay for his protection while on Spontoon. Their Finance Minister sent him a bill,” and he showed them the amount.
Hao whistled. “That’s a lot.”