Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Franklin Stagg and Sgt. Orrin Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
Hai Wei paused in sweeping the warehouse when his boss, Zheng Yao, called out to him and waved him over to the office. The Shar Pei set the push-broom aside carefully and stepped over the sweepings (no need in making more work for himself) and walked over to the office.
The place was as dingy as the warehouse, illuminated by a shaded bulb hanging from the ceiling. The grubby walls held a calendar with a barely-draped otter femme illustrating it and two framed photographs of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek.
“Yes?” Wei asked.
“Come on in and have a seat,” Zheng said affably. “Tea?”
“Sure, thanks.” He waited until he had taken a sip of the tea. It was good for getting the dust out of his throat.
“You recall our talk a few days ago.”
Wei nodded. Zheng’s obsequiousness toward the other canine in the room that night had been very telling. “’Increased responsibilities,’ I think you said?”
“Right. A little bit more work, and a lot more pay.” Zheng grinned, revealing one of his upper canine teeth capped with gold. “You interested?”
Wei shrugged. “Sure. I can use the extra money. I’m not killing anyone, though.”
The man waved this off with a backward motion of his paw. “Naw, no killing. That attracts too much attention. No, it’s just a little package delivery. You know what I’m talking about; you used to be a constable.”
The Shar Pei frowned. The folds of skin on the canine’s face made the grimace doubly impressive. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Sorry,” Zheng said. His tone said he actually wasn’t. “We’ll start you out at five pounds a job. You in?”
Hai Wei knew better than to ask who ‘we’ were. He knew they’d have him at arm’s length until he’d demonstrated he could do the job. “Five pounds, eh? That’ll be useful. I’m in.”
“Good. Stop by here after dinner tonight. For now, get back to work.” Zheng pointed at the door.
Wei drank down his tea, set the cup down on the desk, and walked out to resume his sweeping
He was on his way back to his apartment to cook dinner when he noticed that one of his shoes was untied. The canine eased through the foreigners (with June approaching, the number of Euros and Yankees on Casino Island was steadily increasing) and crouched down beside a postal box to retie the shoe. That done, he stood up and continued walking back to his apartment. He thought he still had some cooked chicken in his icebox.
“’So help me God.’”
“So help me God.” Maud smiled up at him, eyes gleaming with tears as the badgeress held the family Bible in both paws. Harold glanced down at her and smiled back as he lowered his right paw, then took the Scriptures and kissed the worn leather, then kissed her cheek. He gave the Bible to his wife and took the bat’s outstretched paw as flashbulbs popped and crackled.
“Congratulations, Senator,” Key Pittman, the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, said as he welcomed the newest member of that august body. The Nevadan Democrat wore his suit in a much fuller cut than the badger, so as not to cause any discomfort against the folds of lightly furred skin running from his wrists to his armpits.
“Thank you, Senator Pittman.” McAfee posed with him for the reporters, then with his wife, then with Majority Leader Barkley. “I’m looking forward to giving my first speech to the Senate this afternoon.”
“I’m sure you are,” Pittman said. The two were easily the same height, although the bat’s impressive ears gave him an extra three inches on McAfee. “I look forward to hearing it, after seeing the draft Alben showed me.”
“Oh?” The party was moving out of the Old Senate Chamber into a side office, where there were refreshments (and no nosy reporters).
“Just keeping an eye on things, Harold – or, in my case, an ear,” and the bat chuckled at his joke. While not needing glasses all of the time, Pittman usually wore sunglasses in bright sunlight. “The President hasn’t been too happy about some of your statements during the campaign.” Pittman raised a paw toward the bartender. “Bourbon, two fingers. Harold, anything?”
“Water, please. With ice.”
“You’re not a dry, are you? I hadn’t heard – “
“Nothing like that,” McAfee said smoothly. “Just don’t want a drink this early in the day. Maud?” His wife turned from where she’d been deep in conversation with Senator Barkley’s wife. “Anything to drink?”
“What are you having?”
“Water, with ice.”
“That’ll do.” The badgeress went back to her conversation.
“You heard the lady,” McAfee told the bartender, who busied himself with getting the drinks prepared. When he got his drinks, he gave one glass to his wife and he and Pittman moved to a corner of the room. “So the President’s unhappy?”
“Only a bit. Face it, he’s heard a lot of things said about him ever since the Reds Act got passed.”
So why’d you help him pass it? McAfee thought. “He should have known that most people would be dead set against it. Er, he hasn’t seen what I plan on saying today, has he?”
“No, not at all.”
The task was absurdly simple.
“Here,” Zheng Yao said. He pressed a small package into Hai Wei’s paws. The package was roughly the shape of a carton of American cigarettes, and was wrapped in stiff brown paper. The seams were sealed with glue. “Take this to South Island, to the Tropic Breeze Hotel. Here’s a pound note. Get yourself a drink at the bar, but don’t get too drunk, hah?”
“I get it.”
“Good. Guy’ll come in, Euro guy, otter. He’ll have a package just like this one. Make a lot of noisy complaints about shopping for his wife. Got it so far?”
“He’ll sit next to you and order a beer. You leave with his package, he leaves with yours. Simple, right?”
“So head on out. Take the fare for the taxis out of that pound I gave you. Bring the package back here tomorrow morning when you come in for work.”
Hai Wei stood and picked up the package. It felt oddly heavy, and he tucked it under his arm. “Got it. ‘Night, Zheng.”
The way to the taxi rank for South Island ran past the route he usually took to go home. He walked along unconcerned, a lit cigarette dangling from his muzzle, and barely noticing the post box. It had always been there, after all.
The water taxi driver barely paid him any attention, and the Shar Pei didn’t strike up a conversation as the small motor launch chugged its way across the lagoon to the second-largest island in the atoll.
He remembered to tip, and the driver thanked him in Spontoonie.
The bar was dimly lit and just a bit hazy with tobacco smoke. Amid the various voices a piano player tried to make his music heard. Wei took a seat at the bar, ordered a bottle of Union Maid, and settled the package on the bar as he drank.
“Barkeep! Gimme a whiskey over here! Gotta get ready to put up with the wife, that . . . “ An otter wearing a loud floral shirt deposited himself on the stool beside Wei. He plunked an identical package down next to the Shar Pei’s and flipped a pound note at the bartender as he put a glass down in front of him. “Keep ‘em coming, fella.”
After his second beer, Wei guessed he had enough money left for the fare back to Casino Island. He settled his tab, left a tip and picked up the package the loudmouthed otter had put down.
“Claude! Claude, get in here!”
Claude LaFarge sighed as he went past the secretary and entered the Oval Office. This isn't going to be a good day, the alligator thought to himself as he stepped a bit further into the room and closed the door behind him. “Sir?”
Huey Long wasn’t behind his desk. The Catahoula hound had taken to pacing around the room when he was angered, which was getting to be more and more often. Usually it was because of what he’d read in the newspapers, with reports of armed clashes between police and the Anti-Wealth League occurring in several cities throughout the country.
The canine had several sheets of paper in his paw. “There you are. Listen to this: ‘The pernicious growth and spread of the so-called Anti-Wealth Leagues must be stopped. That way lies socialism, and we have only to look at New Haven and the Soviet Union to see what horrors lie down that road.’” With a growl, the black and gray-furred canine threw the papers across the room. “I want you to do something for me,” the President said to his Chief of Staff.”
“What’s that, Huey?”
“Find out everything you can about this guy McAfee.” Long crested. “I’m gonna make an example of the sonofabitch.”
Grigorchuk tipped his head as he and the saiga looked up at the Lucky Dragon’s sign. “You know, I knew a fellow in Novgorod who – “
“Nyet. So, let us go in, nu? We’ll attract attention if we just stand out here.” The antelope and the bear walked past the rampart of sandbags and the two armed guards at the door of the converted warehouse.
The place smelled, if anything, slightly worse than the town they’d just walked through. There were women – tending bar, dealing cards, snuggling in men’s laps. Furs were gambling at various tables, while others were drinking at the bar. On a balcony overlooking the action sat a red panda, female, middle-aged, dressed in traditional robes and fanning herself.
Ilyumzhinov murmured to the bear, “Any idea who our contact is?”
Grigorchuk looked around as unobtrusively as possible. “Feline, blue fur; he’ll have the recognition.”
“You still remember the counter?”
“I wasn’t that seasick, Alyosha.”
Not seeing the feline immediately, the two took seats at the bar.
“You’re new here.” The girl was vulpine. Her English had an accent to it. When they didn’t answer immediately she dipped her ears and said slowly, “Nu, pa-russkim?”
The bear’s ears perked. “Da, but we speak English.”
“Well! Welcome to the Lucky Dragon. You two want a drink?”
“Coming up.” A clear bottle with an equally clear liquid appeared on the bar. It had no label on it, nor did it have any signs that it ever did. Two basically clean shot glasses joined the bottle. “Two dollars.”
Ilyumzhinov paid with two Rain Island bills, aware of the hulking forms of the establishment’s bouncers. He guessed from the way their clothes draped and the way they held themselves that they were all armed.
The bear poured a shot, then sniffed at the liquor before taking an experimental sniff. “Good samogan,” he declared before tipping the contents of the glass down his throat. When he didn’t drop dead or go blind immediately, the saiga antelope poured himself a shot and drank.
After maybe ten minutes, a feline with blue-gray fur and wearing a shabby overcoat came down the stairs, buttoning up the fly on his trousers.
He paused on the next-to-last step.