Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Two of Hao’s crew tackled the feline down from behind, pawcuffed him and at the red panda’s direction tied him to a chair. He struggled against the ropes before freezing, looking up with a terrified expression as Hao walked over to him.
The younger man raised a paw matted with drying blood and patted the blue-furred Russian feline on the head. “Mirsky, Mirsky, Mirsky,” Hao chided in a soft, friendly tone, “what are you trying to run for?” He glanced back at where the other two NKVD agents were and turned back with a small, tight smile on his muzzle. “Don’t want to watch what happens?”
The man tried to get himself under control. At least he had already emptied his bladder, so he wouldn’t shame himself further. “Hao, please – “
“Are you afraid I’ll do the same to you?” The smile broadened a bit and Hao tousled the man’s hair. “Aw, come on, don’t be like that, Mirsky. I like you, and you’re getting paid well – in fact, now that I think of it, you’re getting three people to pay you. I’m paying you, the Baron’s paying you, and so’s Moscow. So the money’s good.” The smile gained a brief gleam of teeth. “Of course, the catnip’s good too, isn’t it?”
Mirsky gulped and gave a weak nod. “Good,” Hao said approvingly. “I’m glad we’ve come to an understanding. And look on the bright side, Mirsky, you get to ‘escape’ and report back.” Hao patted the older man on the head again while the rest of the furs in the room grinned to each other. “But in order to report back, you have to watch what happens.”
Hao walked back over to Ilyumzhinov and Grigorchuk as two bodyguards grabbed Mirsky by the head and shoulders, forcing him to keep his face turned toward his comrades as the screaming started again.
Someone must have closed one of the back windows at the Lucky Dragon, because she could no longer hear the sounds her husband was making. Xiu, her hair finished, sat at a table and sipped at a cup of tea while one of the girls, a Japanese bear named Yayo, was taking her turn under Sally’s scissors.
She did hope that Hao took a bath afterwards.
The Japanese girl seemed to be in a good mood, giggling as the Irish fox snipped away at errant wisps of headfur. Xiu hadn’t met many Japanese, but Yayo’s manner seemed very different from the stereotypically reserved and demure image. The red panda refilled her tea cup as the screaming stopped and the slim bear started to sing something in Japanese.
“That’s a very pretty song,” Xiu said in English. Yayo just smiled sunnily and nodded.
“Best not let Hao hear, nu,” a sable husky named Svetlana remarked.
“Da. Hao hates Yaponski,” the canine replied, reaching a paw into her shirt to scratch under one of her breasts.
Xiu nodded, reminding herself of her husband’s journey to and from Nanking last year. She had been very gentle in handling him whenever the subject threatened to come up.
A thought occurred to her and she asked, “Has, um, has Hao visited any of you lately?”
The other girls glanced at each other and Sally’s steady rhythm faltered. One of them looked more than a little scared. Finally Sally said, “Hao’s no’ been upstairs since marryin’ ye, Xiu. An’ that’s the honest truth, I swear.”
Good, the red panda thought. Aloud she said, “I was just asking. Has – has he had any of you? Before he married me, I mean.”
Sally’s and Svetlana’s ears went flat.
“Do not hold against us, Xiu, p’zhalst.”
Xiu smiled reassuringly. “I told him before we were married that I liked the fact that he was experienced,” and she tried not to giggle as the husky and the fox visibly relaxed. “Besides, I don’t think you – well, most of you – were old enough at the time,” and she nodded to a curvaceous sow from Hawai’i, who merely grinned at her. “To be his first, I mean. Do any of you know who she was?”
“Chang may,” Svetlana said, “in there,” and she pointed in the direction of the kitchen. She watched the red panda get up and leave the room, then muttered, “Bog v pomoshch Hao” before crossing herself in the Orthodox manner.
The kitchen was stiflingly hot, with jets of flame erupting from the openings in the stoves where woks were placed. The scruffy feline who superintended the cooking glanced up from chopping up a head of bok choy with an immense cleaver. “Hello, Miss,” he said in Mandarin. The toothpick in the corner of his mouth never twitched. He was wearing ragged shorts and a sleeveless undershirt that was considerably stained with something unidentifiable.
“Hello,” and Xiu gave him a slight bow out of courtesy. Hao had told her about the importance of keeping the cook happy. The alternative was cooking for yourself. “I don’t wish to disturb you, Honored Sir, but how long have you been working here?”
The feline barely glanced at her as he finished chopping the cabbage and started in on carrots. “Been here since Nis started the Dragon, Missy.”
“So you knew all of the girls here?”
The feline shrugged as he chopped up scallions and celery. He looked up at her and said, “You’re from Hong Kong. I miss Kowloon at times, and your accent is very nice.” He grinned, showing a gold cap on one of his fangs. “What do you want to know?”
She explained, and when she was finished he thought for a moment as he scraped the mound of chopped vegetables into a bowl and wiped the cleaver with a rag. He repositioned the toothpick before saying, “Fatima, at the Harem down on the Beach.”
Xiu nodded, and bowed again. “Thank you, Sir.”
Final examinations were swiftly approaching, so Red Dorm was studying in their dorm room. They had still had no word from the Tutors about the business plans they had submitted.
Shin bit back a yawn and jotted yet another note. The red panda was certain that she’d thought of everything, even going so far as to pester Spontoon’s meteorology office for information on typhoons and other severe weather. Still, as the days went by and there was no word, she couldn’t help but feel that she had missed something crucial.
It didn’t help much that she was essentially working full time while attending Songmark. With Fang and Peng-wum still on Krupmark, she was spending time after school and on her weekends superintending a hotel and an investment office. It wasn’t tourist season yet, but more Euros were starting to show up on the streets of Casino Island, so it was only a matter of time.
She glanced up at a growl and saw Brigit grimacing as she set her notebook down. “Problem, Brigit?” she asked.
“Huh? No’ with th’ studyin,’ Shin,” the Irish setter grumbled. “Had a meetup with one o’ th’ Bhoys, I did so.”
Shin’s expression grew guarded. From the emphasis, Brigit wasn’t talking about her boyfriend, Michael. She and the other two in the room, Tatiana and Liberty, drew a bit closer to the canine girl, ears swiveling and all four glancing at the door and the open window to see if anyone was listening. “What happened?” Shin asked, trying to keep her lips from moving too much.
The Eastern Island airport’s control tower had an almost direct line of sight with their window.
The Irish setter looked at the sable, the red panda and the half-coyote before taking a breath and saying quietly, “Had an idea, I had, about strikin’ a blow at those damned English. After getting’ out o’ Songmark, mind.”
Liberty got a calculating look. “Go on.”
“Read in th’ papers that that inbred excuse fer a King an’ his dumpy Yank mare’s after visitin’ Dublin later this year, they are,” Brigit said, her hackles raising. “Bloody cheek.”
“Why?” Tatiana asked.
Brigit crested. “T’show there’s no hard feelings. A t’ousand years o’ oppression, an’ now it’s ‘no hard feelin’s.’” She spat out the open window. “So I’ve an idea, an’ I send it on.”
“I guess they didn’t like it?” Shin asked, bracing for anything from harsh words to a physical attack in response.
Brigit glared at her, then sighed. “I’ll tell ye all th’ way of it.” The others listened attentively as she recounted the conversation.
“’No?’ What th’ bloody – “
“Hush yerself, m’girl,” the tall, thin feline hissed. He glanced about suspiciously and leaned across the small café table and said, “Th’ Brigade commanders won’t endorse yer idea at all, Brigit.”
“Why?” she insisted.
“Ye’ve been out here, an’ ye’ve no’ seen th’ situation. That damned beagle Mosley’s the English P.M. now, an’ he’s made no bones o’ th’ fact that he wants no trouble. Blowin’ up th’ King an’ Queen’ll do just that.”
“But it’s an insult, it is,” Brigit tapped the table to emphasize her point, “ta have them in Dublin! We can do this – “
“An’ will ye be wantin’ th’ whole damned Royal Navy come steamin’ up th’ Liffey as far as Temple Bar an’ level Dublin Town? With th’ RAF comin’ o’er at th’ same time? Is that what ye’re after wantin’?” The feline stared into Brigit’s eyes until the young woman’s gaze faltered and she sat back. “That’s th’ opinion o’ th’ commanders, Brigit Deirdre. Ye’re no’ th’ only person’s had this idea, an’ all’ve been rejected.” He paused to sip at his cold Orca-Cola, making a face. “Foul stuff, this is.”
“A tot o’ th’ whiskey helps it,” Brigit said absently. “So, no action by the Brigades, eh? What about individual actions?” she asked, her expression shifty.
The feline shook his head. “Th’ danger o’ seein’ Eire overrun by th’ damned British Army’s too great. We’ve our own house ta set in order, an’ see ‘bout gettin’ back th’ Six Counties,” he said, referring to Ulster. He held up a finger. “Now, don’t ye be havin’ ideas o’ harin’ off on yer own, an’ we know ye might. Ye’ve a fine Fenian heart beatin’ in yer chest, Brigit Mulvaney; we’d hate ta have ta cut it out o’ ye.”
“I’ll say just this, an’ listen with both yer ears,” and the feline’s gaze was steely. “If ye try anything, if ye try ta strike at th’ Royals, ye’ll find no help from anyone. Not th’ Brigades, not th’ crazies, not from yer own family.” Mention of her family made the setter’s eyes widen, and she gulped involuntarily. “An’ if ye do try, an’ th’ English retaliate, ye may run, o’er hill an’ dale, o’er land an’ sea, an’ ye might find th’ deepest hole there is, jump in and pull it in after ye . . . but we will find ye.”
Shin sat back and huffed a breath as Brigit finished her story. “Phew. Sounds like conversations I’ve overheard on Krupmark.”
“Your parents?” Liberty asked, her ears perking.
“Once or twice,” the red panda admitted.