Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Dr. Meffit courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
The grayish-blue feline had seen the bear and the saiga antelope, of course. They were the only representatives of their respective species in the room. He finished scratching himself and went over to one of the blackjack tables in order to draw as little attention to himself as possible.
Grigorchuk and Ilyumzhinov glanced up from their drinks as a slim Ussuri brown bear walked over. The Japanese girl was dressed in a chintzy and rather oddly stained kimono belted at the waist with what appeared to be fifty yards of silk rope. Her face betrayed a bit of effort as she thought hard, then she smiled and asked, “Allo, bol'shoy mal'chik. Vy khotite . . . chtoby podnyatsya n-naverkh . . . uprugiy-ozhivlennyy delat'?”
The Ukrainian bear cocked an eyebrow. The young sow was attractive, it had to be conceded (despite the smell that perfume was barely able to mask), but her invitation – “Do you want to come upstairs, bouncy-bouncy?” – made him think at first that she was making a poor joke.
Besides, the rope around her waist looked as if it’d seen a lot of use. Both NKVD operatives had been warned about the extremes of decadent – no, degenerate – behavior on Krupmark Island. “Go away, little girl,” he growled in Russian.
The change that came over the girl was immediate. She started hissing insults at both the bear and the saiga antelope in Japanese, Russian and Chinese. From what they could understand of it, she was implying unprintably that they had sex with each other (in a rather bewildering variety of ways) and maybe they should go to Regina’s up in Fort Bob where they liked that sort of thing. She hawked and spat on the floor before walking away.
“Nu, she has a bit of fire in her,” Ilyumzhinov observed, giving the bear a dig in the ribs with one elbow. “Sure you don’t want to try ‘bouncy-bouncy’ with her?” he asked with a wide grin.
The bear glowered at the antelope. “She looks more like a goat-roper to me,” and Ilyumzhinov bristled at the slur. Grigorchuk downed the last of his drink and stood up. “Let’s get out of here before that whore puts the bouncers on us, or worse.”
“Were you listening to the briefing about this place?”
“Point taken.” The briefing had been enlightening, in much the same way as a horror movie had been, even discounting half of the statements as fables, and half of the photographs as faked. The pair got up and walked out of the building.
Aware of the armed guards eyeing them, they walked off a short distance as the saiga lit a cigarette. Shortly thereafter, the feline caught up with them. “Mirsky,” he said, his voice a low growl. His tail twitched at each in turn. “Grigorchuk. Ilyumzhinov. You’re early.”
“The Wolf sent us,” the bear said, using Blokhin’s nickname.
A jerky nod. “You’re here to liquidate Ni Hao,” Mirsky said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Come on, and we’ll talk while we head up to Fort Bob.”
“We just came from there,” Ilyumzhinov said.
“That’s where he is right now. Been up there part of the day, as far as I know, terrorizing people.”
The bear snorted. “How? He’s only – what, twenty?”
The cat shrugged. “Based on what I’ve learned, and confirmed, he’s killed about fifty people in the past few weeks. Likes it, apparently.” A booted toe kicked a piece of gravel down the road. “There are those who say he’s crazy, but I wonder about that.”
Mirsky gave Ilyumzhinov a sidelong look. “Everyone here is crazy.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Ni Hao grumbled quietly as he read the telegram in his paw. Clarence had just come from the station at the airfield. The dedicated cable originating from North Pacific Telegraph’s Casino Island station had enabled Shin to send the message to her younger brother in the clear: Father wants to come home.
“That damned buck’s probably got eyes and ears all over Father, and if he doesn’t that stupid fox does,” the young red panda continued to mutter as the British lion nodded. Clarence knew Hao’s moods, and it was best to stay quiet until the young man’s temper ran its course.
Hao’s banded tail twitched back and forth as he fell silent. He leaned his back against a wall and brooded for a moment, then fished a pack of Fortuna cigarettes from his shirt pocket. One of his crew struck a match and held it while the red panda puffed the cigarette alight, then the man withdrew to let the younger man smoke in peace.
The Fortuna had lost two-thirds of its length when Hao threw the cigarette into a mud puddle and kicked away from the wall. “Okay,” and he smiled at the others, “do we have any other stops to make?”
A few of the others exchanged glances. They were used to their employer’s sudden shifts in mood, and his demeanor indicated to them that he’d had an idea. “No, Boss,” one feline said.
“Good. We’ll head back to the Dragon and get a drink. I’ll have a talk with Peng-wum.” He headed back into the press of furs in the Thieves’ Bazaar, his crew moving to surround him as they’d been hired to do.
A wide area on the northern edge of the Bazaar, largely destroyed when the family had taken down the Shen, had been cleared. Gangs of people were leveling the space while others were setting up wooden frames. Clarence caught Hao looking at it and said, “I believe it’s a trolley station.”
The red panda laughed. “Someone’s actually going through with it?”
“Apparently.” The lion looked away and his tufted tail flicked at the crack of a whip, followed by a scream. “Slaves.”
Hao nodded. It was just one of the many facts of life on Krupmark.
Clarence cleared the throat and spat as everyone took cover while the bus jounced and swayed its way past. A few of the paying customers threw rotted fruit from the open-air box that comprised the vehicle’s passenger area, while others contented themselves with insults in several languages. As they stepped back from around the building, the English lion remarked, “I’ve heard that someone up the Hill’s starting a company.”
“Yes. They’re actually planning to build a decent road to connect Fort Bob to the airfield, as well as to the Beach.”
That struck Hao as funny. When he finished laughing he said, “They’ll probably charge tolls.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” People on Krupmark would try anything in the hopes that it would make money. “I also heard something about your father.”
“The word is that he’s not being watched, because they can’t find anything to charge him with.”
Hao started laughing. So hard, in fact, that he reached out and grasped Clarence’s shoulder to steady himself until he finally caught his breath. “That’s my father for you,” he finally managed to say as the others exchanged grins. “Now we have an excuse to drink. Let’s go,” and he set off down the road again, with a bit more spring in his step.
The group had managed to get past the last bar in Fort Bob before one got to the Lucky Dragon (unfortunately closed after the last fight; the proprietors were trying to salvage what they could from the still-smoking ruins) when they passed a trio of furs headed north.
A feline with slightly dingy bluish fur, a bear and some kind of deer with a protuberant nose.
The feline stopped, stepped over to the side of the road and started urinating on a bush. Hao caught the feline’s movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned his head just a bit to look.
Not at the man, but at his tail. As the man answered the call of nature, the tail twitched left and right.
The red panda made a motion with his right paw, and his bodyguards dispersed. Another motion, and Clarence drew his large-caliber revolver.
Hao kept the urinating feline in his peripheral vision as he took a few more steps down the rutted track, then dove into a thicket as he drew his .45 Colt. The others all pointed their weapons at the saiga and the bear while Clarence dropped to a rifleman’s crouch between Hao and the trio, using his upraised knee to steady his aim. “Stop, stoi, teishi, tingzhi!” the lion shouted rapidly.
The bear and the antelope froze, glancing at each other for a moment before raising their paws slowly. Six of Hao’s crewmen approached to search them, two frisking the men while the third kept them covered. One porcine fellow with silver caps on his tusks rested the muzzle of his sawed-off shotgun against Ilyumzhinov’s belly, grinning at him all the while.
All the while Mirsky stood with his back to Hao, paws raised.
"I could order the airport and the docks watched, Doctor, but I'm afraid it would be futile,” Inspector Stagg said quietly. He laid his spoon aside and took a sip of his drink. “I fear Mrs. Wo will cover her tracks quite admirably."
Doctor Meffit blinked. The two were having tea at Luchow’s, with the skunk again expressing concerns about allowing Ni Hei to leave Spontoon. Personally, he was a bit conflicted – on the one paw, good riddance to a gangster, but on the other paw the red panda was a patient of his. “Mrs - Good Lord. You think his daughter will do this?”
The whitetail buck shrugged. “One should never underestimate a Songmark student, Doctor." The Tutors had graciously supplied him with copies of the reports that Shin and her two classmates had submitted regarding their efforts against Shen Jintao, and he resolved to read over them again.
After sifting through the quite frankly tiresome Marxist rhetoric, Liberty Morgenstern’s report had actually been the most objective of the three. She had meticulously pointed out everything that went wrong (including her near-failure), and like the others had offered recommendations for doing it better the next time.
The next time.
Only a slight tightening of the jaw betrayed his feelings as he sternly suppressed a grimace at the memory of a certain basement in New Haven. Harrier was dead, after all, according to Alan’s sources.
Still, he’d read over the reports again, trying to gain a possible advantage over the young women, in case they should be tempted to repeat their exploit.
And after that, go to confession. That, he thought, would prevent his anger from giving him palpitations.
Well, maybe a hoof rub from Rosie as well.