Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2015 by Walter D. Reimer
(Dr. Meffit courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
The seawater was cold, and at high tide there was a danger that a shark might get over the island’s barrier reef.
Hao didn’t care. Fresh water for bathing could be had, of course, but salt water was good enough for getting the crusted blood and dried sweat out of his fur – at least, until a hot bath could be set up. Besides, sharks never seemed to come near him, even when he bathed or swam in the open ocean.
A few people up in Fort Bob joked that it was ‘professional courtesy’ that restrained the predators. He didn’t mind.
Clarence was standing on the end of the Ni and Sons dock as Hao swam up to it and tossed his wet shorts onto the planking. The red panda brushed water from his eyes, blinked a few times and asked, “Do I look clean enough?”
The lion looked him over. His employer’s youngest son was quite attractive with his fur wet and clinging to his body. Clarence squelched the thought firmly before Hao caught his expression. He promised himself that he’d go up to Regina’s later as he replied, “You look clean enough, I daresay.”
Hao nodded and pulled himself up onto the dock, sitting on the edge with his feet dipping in and out of the waves. He glanced at the fishing boat and his plane as they rode at their respective moorings. His father’s Keystone-Loening flying boat was up on the beach with its wheels extended, getting its hull scraped and painted. Running a paw through his headfur he looked up at Clarence. “I need to talk to someone up in town,” he said, almost half to himself.
Hao nodded. “I don’t think you ever met him, though, and he’s not cheap, but I think he’ll do the job.” He jerked a thumb behind him, indicating what he’d left in the warehouse. “I also want to talk to Peng-wum. Just thought of a way to get Father back here.”
The man was a chipmunk from America’s northwestern region, a fellow with a muscular build and wanted for six murders in his native country. He kept a small garden, and sold odds and ends to make a little money. He also practiced his craft, which made a lot of his neighbors very nervous.
Few knew his actual name, although the American FBI knew it very well. On Krupmark, WANTED posters were usually seen as mementos or trophies. Even if they didn’t know his name, everyone knew his title.
The shop smelled musty, of dust and mildew and stale blood. There were stuffed feral birds in a variety of poses hanging by strings from the rafters or perched on bits of fallen trees or driftwood. Small feral creatures were similarly posed around the place. Cigarette smoke added to the fug of smells in the shop as Hao finished telling the man what he wanted.
The chipmunk spat at one stained corner of the room. “You got a cigarette?”
“Sure. Here,” and Hao tossed him the entire pack, along with a book of matches.
The rodent lit up and sighed, eyes going half-lidded as smoke trickled from his nose and between his lips. “They ain’t Blenheims, but they’ll do.” Another drag on the cigarette. “Let’s see it.”
Hao gestured with a paw, never taking his eyes off the man. There had been stories about those who turned their backs on the chipmunk – of course, the people who did weren’t the ones telling the stories.
One of the red panda’s bodyguards placed a box on the floor and opened the lid. The chipmunk looked in, and gave a short huff as he reached into the box and poked around. He looked up at Hao, a strange feral gleam in his eyes that reminded the younger man of the first time he’d caught sight of Mad Mac. “Fresh, eh?” the rodent asked.
“As you see, yes,” Hao replied.
“I see you didn’t damage it too much. Makes the job easier.” He sat back, waving under his nose the fingers that had touched the box’s contents. He licked his lips and sat back to smoke for a moment. “Where’s the rest?” he asked.
Hao smiled. “Here and there, mostly in sharks’ bellies by now.”
“Heh. Pity. Wouldn’t turn my nose up at a bit of meat for dinner meself. So,” and he stubbed out the cigarette against the sole of his shoe, “how much you want to pay for this?”
Hao dipped an ear. “Fifty.”
That feral gleam reappeared. “Fifty! You must be wanting this real deluxe, young fellow.”
The red panda smiled. “I expect you to do your best work for that amount.”
“You’ll get it.”
“Half now, half when finished.”
The chipmunk put a paw to his chin, considering the offer. “American.”
Hao nodded. Fifty American dollars was close to the upper limits of what he had on paw, but he could always ask Peng-wum. His older brother was a bit of a light touch – but only with family.
Sometimes not even then.
After another moment the chipmunk held out a paw. “Gimme. Check back in three, four days.”
“Okay.” Hao counted out the crumpled bills and pressed them into the man’s paw. “Pleasure doing business with you, as always.”
The man nodded, counting the money out again. His short tail flagged against the chair as the others left the room, and when the door swung closed he looked down at the box’s contents.
“Well,” he said half to himself, “let’s see if there’s enough for stew. Hate to spend this money right after I got it.”
“I fail to see what the problem is, Doctor,” Shin said for what felt like the fifth time. “I just want to take my father out for a stroll.” She gestured in the direction of the front porch of the house-cum-clinic. “I even brought a wheelchair so he won’t exert himself. Besides, you’ve let him out before, with no problems.”
The skunk didn’t appear impressed. “Mrs. Wo, I don’t think – “
“You don’t think that my father deserves to go out and get some sunshine and fresh air?” the young woman asked.
“He’s welcome to sit out on the porch – “
Shin put a paw to her chest in a blatantly theatrical manner and asked, “Are you holding him against his will, Doctor? Is it your intention to kidnap him and hold him for ransom?” The red panda barely managed to keep herself from cresting. “Aren’t we paying you enough?”
Dr. Meffit’s whiskers went down as his striped tail rose, and he stamped one foot do demonstrate his irritation. Shin braced to evade him, he noted with some satisfaction. “It’s not a question of money, Mrs. Wo. The question is his health. I don’t want him getting too much stress, and you won’t have a nurse with you this time.”
“I’m only planning on taking him for lunch,” she said evenly, “and then to my brother’s office. If he’s up to it. If anything happens, I know first aid and I know how to summon a constable.”
I’ll bet you do, Meffit thought tartly to himself. He raised one black-furred paw. “Very well – but!” and he leveled a finger at the young woman. “I want a full report of where he’s been, and what he had to eat and drink. You won’t have a nurse with you this time.”
Shin thought it over, her ringed tail twitching back and forth angrily. She nodded. “Acceptable, Doctor.” She fished a notepad and a pencil from one of the pockets of her school’s uniform shorts. “May I go get him now, please?”
Meffit sighed in exasperation and stepped back. “Yes, you may.” He watched her go past him, pushing the wheelchair, and into the house before muttering something extremely rude in Quebecois French. The skunk was personally torn between concern for a patient and desire for Ni Hei to just leave and never come back.
Shin knocked on the private clinic’s door. “Father?” she called out.
“Come in,” came the soft voice. Hei was starting to learn to breathe shallowly and to speak in a quiet tone. Too much stress could start him coughing as his scarred lungs labored. He smiled as she entered, pushing the wheelchair in first. “Good, you brought one.”
“I don’t want you overexerting yourself,” his daughter said solicitously as she helped him from his chair. She watched him as he walked a few steps and sat down in the wheelchair. “Are you breathing any better?”
“A bit,” he replied. “I would like to go to Luchow’s for lunch, Shin.”
“Not the Great Pagoda?” He cocked an eye at her and she said, “Okay, Father. Luchow’s it is.” Her ringed tail flicked a bit. “You know he’ll likely be there.”
Hei nodded. “I know. I also know you likely have news for me.”
“Yes, Father,” and she switched to Hokkien. “Hao has a plan.”
“Hao?” Ni Hei smiled. “I look forward to hearing it, over lunch.” He patted the arm of the wheelchair as his tail snaked into his lap. “Let’s go. I’m hungry,” he said in English.
“All right,” and Shin got behind the wheelchair and swung the wood and metal contraption around. “My driving’s gotten better,” she remarked as she wheeled him out of the room.
Meffit scowled at her and made a show of taking out his pocket watch. “Remember what I told you, Mrs. Wo,” he said sternly.
Shin nodded and paused to consult her own wristwatch. “Eleven twenty-seven,” she said, and jotted the time down on her pad. Replacing the pad and pencil in her pocket she said, “I’ll bring him back safe and sound, Doctor.” She smiled sweetly. “Don’t wait up,” and before the doctor could think of an appropriate riposte she had wheeled her father out of the house.
Meffit sighed, took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose between his eyes. Thankfully he hadn’t had anything to eat for lunch yet, or he’d need a bit of bicarbonate of soda.
The weather was fine, with a bit of a breeze and warm sunshine. Hei leaned back in the wheelchair, gazing up at the sky as he said quietly in Chinese, “So, Daughter, tell me about this plan of Hao’s.”
“Yes, Father. Hao’s plan involves having you being in Pangai on the next new moon – that’s a few days from now. He’ll have Fang and Peng-wum with him,” and he smiled as a wistful note edged her voice.
“Missing him, are you?”
“Have the Tutors - ?”
Shin sighed. “Not yet. I can’t see why they’d hold it up. I tried to think of everything, including the weather.”
“That was a good point to cover,” and he paused to catch his breath. “A typhoon could add a bit of unwanted adventure to a honeymoon vacation,” and he chuckled gently. He turned his head to look at her. “How did your final exams go?”
She smiled. “I passed. We all did.”
“And those other young women? Crusader Dorm, you call them?”
Another sigh. “They passed. Not with the highest grades, though.”
“Gods no, Father. The Tutors would expect that, so we all did our best to teach those idiots.” She shook her head and said in English as they neared the low iron gate at the entrance to the restaurant, “Here we are. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Very sure, Daughter. I’m hungry.”