Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
There was a single knock on the door. “Come,” Miss Wildford said, and Wo Shin entered the room. The red panda closed the door behind her and sat down in the lone chair facing the Tutors. The oddly patterned feline rested a fingertip on the sheaf of paper that represented the business plan that the Chinese girl had submitted.
Like her plan to attack the Shen, it even took the weather into account.
“First, I want to know if you had any help from your father or brother in making this,” Wildford said.
“I asked for their advice,” Shin said.
“Advice only? They didn’t write it for you?” Miss Devinski asked.
“No, Ma’am, they didn’t write it, or help me write it,” Shin replied firmly. She was determined to not let them get her angry. “I asked them for advice regarding financial projections and possible ways to economize. My father has been in business for most of his adult life, and my older brother’s very good with numbers.”
“We are aware of that.” Ni Peng-wum had a standing invitation to teach number theory at the Max-Planck-Institut in Berlin, despite the fact that the Germans were getting a bit sticky regarding anyone who wasn’t German. The yellow-furred Labrador eyed the red panda seated before her. “Summarize your ideas, please.”
Shin took a breath, willing herself to relax. Her presentation depended as much on delivery as it did on the plan itself. “My husband is the manager of the Maha Kahuna Hotel on South Island. My proposal is to buy the hotel, and set up a tourist business here on Spontoon, to include side trips to local islands.” She paused, then added, “Several small islands in the Mare’s Nest Shoals area are unclaimed and unpopulated. Since they are near Spontoon territorial waters, a claim can be filed with both the Interior Ministry and Rain Island. After some improvements are made, they can be set up as private island getaways for customers.”
“You also have a section here on transportation.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I have acquired a Fokker F.VII trimotor, mounted on floats,” Shin said, aware that the Tutors knew precisely how she had ‘acquired’ it, “that has seating for eight passengers as well as two crew members. By lowering the number of seats to six, we will be able to carry more cargo or fuel as needed.”
Miss Blande flipped a few pages. “These ‘private island getaways’ – what would that entail?”
“The island or islands would have certain improvements made, Miss Blande. Dangerous animals or plants would be removed, and small cabins built.”
“Electricity? Running water?”
The red panda shook her head. “While that may be a possibility for the future, I would lack the resources to provide electric power and water – apart from collected rainwater, of course. The idea is to give guests a chance to get completely away from the outside world and its distractions. Honeymooners might find it quite attractive,” she concluded with a smile.
“How do you propose financing this, Shin?” Wildford asked. “A suspicious person might suggest that having several largely uninhabited islands in your possession would be a fertile ground for smuggling and other illicit activities.”
The red panda clasped her paws in her lap. She’d been expecting this. “Yes, Ma’am, and I could not blame people for such a belief. However, the business plan hinges on my personal savings, as well as finance sources through entirely legitimate banking concerns such as the Bank of Spontoon. As for illicit sources, my father has repeatedly stated that he desires to leave that behind, and I agree. There is far less danger involved,” and she smiled again.
Wildford tapped her claws on the table. The Nis had sources of money that combined both legitimate and illegitimate methods, through a maze of shadow companies and blind alleys that had managed to stump even the American FBI. Well, they weren’t the only people who subscribed to the idea of moneta non olet. “Do you envisage hiring the others in Red Dorm?”
“No, Ma’am. We each have our own ideas, and our own lives to look forward to.”
“So your sense of solidarity will disappear as soon as you graduate?” Miss Devinski asked.
Shin pondered the question, then shook her head negatively. “I don’t think so, Ma’am. We’ve managed to work together; we have shared experiences and shared obligations to each other,” and the Tutors understood what she meant. Despite Tatiana’s differing path and Liberty’s aversion to business, all four had managed, wittingly or not, to weave a web of debts and obligations binding them to each other.
“So if one should call for assistance - ?”
“Depending on circumstances, yes, we would try to assist each other.”
You have little idea how much that disturbs me, Jayne Wildford thought.
Xiu came downstairs at the Ni and Sons building, tying a kerchief over her cascade of dark-brown headfur. She was contemplating getting it cut a bit shorter – if, of course, there was anyone here she could trust to use a pair of scissors so close to her. “Good morning, Clarence,” she said. “Do you know where Hao is?”
The English lion smiled at her. Educated at the best English girl’s school in Hong Kong, Hao’s wife was certainly very polite, and he wondered how long it would take for Krupmark to grind that polish off of her. “He’s at the back warehouse – you don’t want to go there,” he added quickly as she headed for the door.
The cross-eyed feline looked a bit uncomfortable. “He’s talking to, um, some people.”
“If he’s just talking – “
He waved a finger, beckoning her closer. “He’s talking to some people. You’ve seen how he talks to people.”
The emphasis made her pause, and finally the penny dropped. Her mouth opened in a silent O of comprehension and she asked, “Would it be all right if I just went over to the Lucky Dragon, then?”
He nodded, his tufted tail signaling for Emilia to step forward. The Sicilian wolfess stood up and shouldered her sawed-off shotgun before preceding the red panda from the building.
Guards on the rooftops waved and resumed scanning the road and the surrounding landscape while the wolfess and the red panda crossed the street. A thin layer of waste oil had been sprayed to keep the dust down, and attempts had been made to grade and widen the route. Xiu was fairly certain that the passengers on the Bus would appreciate the gesture.
The road stank, though, and she was glad to get into the casino.
“Hello, Xiu!” Sally asked, the Irish fox wiping a glass as she stood behind the bar. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine.” The few windows on the ground floor were open, and a breeze was slowly clearing the usual collection of smoke and musk from the building. Appetizing smells were coming from the kitchen. “I was wondering if there’s anyone here who’s good at cutting headfur.”
“Yes, mine’s getting a little long.”
The vixen smiled brightly. “I can do that for ye!”
I just bet you can, Xiu thought. Sally was wanted for murder in four countries, and was adept with a knife or straight razor.
“I do the hair for all of the girls,” Sally added. “I’m pretty good at it, I am.”
Xiu thought a bit longer. None of the working girls at the Lucky Dragon were unbarbered messes (unless they wanted to be, as part of their image), and she conceded that Sally probably knew what she was doing.
Besides, she was related to the vixen’s owners – er, employers, and she wouldn’t be inclined to hurt her. “Are you busy right now?”
Sally grinned. “Let me finish up this last glass, and I’ll go get my things. Want a drink?”
“I’ll go get some tea from the kitchen. Where do you want to do this?”
“Just have a seat over there,” and the Irish girl pointed at a chair where the sun was streaming in through an open window, “and I’ll get you all fixed up, okay?”
“Thanks,” and the red panda walked over to the kitchen. She returned with a small pot of tea and a cup, and took a seat as the fox came bustling downstairs with a bedsheet and a small box. Sally shook out the clean sheet and arranged it around Xiu, then looked at her headfur.
“Ye’ve such beautiful headfur, Xiu,” the vixen said. “How much of it ye want cut off?”
“About to . . . here,” and the red panda leaned forward and pointed to a spot between her shoulder blades.
“Hmm, that’s a fair amount, it is. So we’ll get started, we will,” and Sally started brushing out Xiu’s hair. Satisfied, she took up a pair of scissors, clacking them a bit menacingly before beginning to cut.
Xiu held herself still, apart from sipping at her tea. “You do this for all the girls?”
“Uh-huh,” the vixen replied. “Even Shin when she’s here.”
“Not Madam Ni?”
A sniff. “She likes her Chinese style, she does, so she has Mei Ling do her headfur for her.” There was a pause while she snipped away, then set the scissors aside, brushed the hair and checked on her progress. “That’s good,” she muttered to herself before going back to her trimming.
A thin, quavering, almost feminine moaning scream could be heard through one of the open rear windows. The sound made Xiu shiver as her fur tried to stand on end. “What was that?” she asked.
Sally shrugged. “Dunno, but I heard that Hao’s been at the warehouse.”
Xiu felt a bit cold and hastily gulped her tea, recalling that Clarence said that Hao was talking to some people.
Now she was glad that she hadn’t gone there.
Grigorchuk’s head lolled on his shoulders, tongue hanging out of a mouth gone dry from screaming. Say what you liked about the red panda that he and Ilyumzhinov had been sent to kill, he knew his business.
The bear opened his one good eye, the other still swollen shut, and gave a broken, racketing growl at the feline standing at the far side of the room. “Stukach,” he hissed, and Mirsky’s ears went flat. He would have said more, but his own ears flattened as the saiga antelope bound near him screamed to the accompaniment of burning fur.
Ni Hao walked into the bear’s field of vision, relighting a cigarette. He crouched slightly, looking into the bear’s eye with an almost disinterested, clinical look.
Da, he is good at what he does. Like Comrade Blokhin.
That thought didn’t give him any comfort.
Hao took a drag on the cigarette, then took it from his mouth and regarded the lit end. “Your friend won’t be much of a hit with the ladies anymore,” he said. He glanced to his left. “Water, please,” and a battered tin cup was given to him. He took a sip, then threw the remainder into Grigorchuk’s face and dropped the cup on the wooden floor with a metallic clang. “Now, you’ve had a nap. Care to be a bit more talkative?”
The Ukrainian ground his teeth. “Tell you,” he wheezed, his breathing painful around his two – no, three – broken ribs, “nothing.
The red panda shrugged and took another drag on his cigarette. “You don’t need to, not really. Your friend there,” and his tail twitched to point at Mirsky, “made a few mistakes, you see. First, he got caught by a guy up on the Hill. The Baron sold him to us, and I persuaded him to talk.” He turned his head slightly. “Need more catnip, Mirsky?”
The cat shuddered, and Hao chuckled as he turned back to the bear. Grigorchuk tensed at the ropes holding him as Hao drew closer and rested his free paw on the bear’s head. “I gave him his niece back, you see. I didn’t have to.” His voice sounded oddly detached, almost musing to himself. He patted Grigorchuk’s head with a strange familiarity.
Another drag on his cigarette, and he blew smoke in the bear’s face.
“I’ll have to send a message.”