Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
Say what you like, Wo Shin grumbled to herself, at least crime has less paperwork.
She finished arranging yet another set of forms into some semblance of order and placed them in the battered leather briefcase that she’d bought from a shop on Casino Island a few days earlier. Shin looked at the stack of paperwork she had accumulated: business license, hotelier’s license, liquor license, aircraft berthing rights application, applications from the Interior and Foreign Ministries to lay claim to several small islands near the Mare’s Nest Shoals . . .
The red panda shook her head and closed up the case, tucked it under her arm (the handle was broken), and headed for the water taxis. Making sure that she filled out the forms properly, in triplicate if necessary, would take up a good portion of the afternoon.
At the water taxis, she greeted the driver in Spontoonie and took a seat as the rat started the boat’s engine and cast off, headed for South Island. She brushed at a bit of spray on her gray worsted suit jacket, keeping her eyes open for possible dangers as she thought about what to do.
The official she’d spoken to at the Foreign Ministry had suggested that she look into areas of the larger archipelago that were terra nullius, claimed by no one, and therefore requiring only a simple declaration that they were now hers. The functionary also suggested retaining a lawyer.
Shin rejected the notion out of paw. Lawyers were largely a way of losing one’s hard-earned money, and she was determined that being truthful would go a long way to establishing her reputation as a legitimate businesswoman.
The young Chinese woman still had to suppress a snort at that. Shin had worked hard at school to counteract her reputation as a sneak thief and card sharp (both of which were true, of course, but having a reputation as a ‘reformed’ criminal could be an effective smoke screen), and she looked to gain face by operating above board.
Engine noises overhead made her look up as a Boing flying boat in Shoshone Skypaths livery passed overhead. That was another thing on her list: finding a place to put the new business’ aircraft and workshop, and both needed to be enough to house and service the two aircraft that she and Fang had ‘inherited.’
The first was the ungainly twin-engine floatplane that they’d used to get to Krupmark when they had taken out Shen Jintao and his disgusting grand-nephew. The red panda suppressed a shiver despite the hot summer weather at the memory of the look in Ming’s now-dead slave’s eyes, and forced herself to concentrate.
Built by a company in the Sea Bear Republic, the Conwing C-5 was rugged enough and had a decent range, but it was a bit short on amenities like comfortable seats or a galley. Still, with room for a dozen furs, she had a bit of space to play with in terms of cargo and luggage space, as well as how much leg room she would allot per passenger.
The other plane was the late Julius Malanakanakahea’s Fokker trimotor, still under guard at the airstrip on Krupmark. The Samoan bull had left a small cargo aboard the plane after Fang had inherited it, and the several gallons of refined catnip oil had helped finance the plane’s maintenance. Still, it was only a matter of time before someone managed to steal, strip, or destroy the thing.
The Fokker had other problems as well, notably the center spar for the wing. Made of wood, it had a disturbing tendency to break while in flight. Fang had told her that, when they could get it to Spontoon, he had a shop already lined up to replace the spar with a duralumin copy.
All of which would cost money. While she did have some money in several different accounts, including two that she kept secret even from Fang, it was a finite amount, so she had to be careful. Even then, that didn’t take into account fuel, spare parts, and everything else needed to keep an aircraft airworthy – like a trained mechanic, who would insist on getting paid for his work.
By the time the water taxi docked near the Maha Kahuna, Shin was thoroughly depressed.
Xiu had visited the Harem, as it was known, the previous summer when Hao had shown her around Krupmark island, and again in the company of her mother-in-law when the family was gathering information prior to attacking Shen Jintao. But she hadn’t spent any time alone with the house’s madam, Fatima Mardanzai, and the older Afghan hound looked apprehensive as Hao and his wife entered her private room.
“Hao, Xiu, welcome,” she said with a smile as the two red pandas were ushered in. She closed the door and waved at a table and chairs. “Please, sit. Will you have tea or coffee?”
“Thanks, Fatima,” Hao said, and helped himself to a cup of tea from a samovar. Xiu gave him a quizzical look and he said, “Fatima and Ahmad are good friends.” His look as he sipped at his tea told her that the Afghan and the Algerian fennec were trusted a bit further than the usual Ni Family employee. Reassured, Xiu poured herself a cup and sat down.
“And may we continue to be friends, insh’allah,” Fatima said. She got a cup for herself and sat down, smoothing her bathrobe closed over her cleavage. After the three of them had spent a few moments with their tea, the canine set her cup on the table. “Why have you dropped by?”
Xiu gave her husband a glance. “Hao, could you step outside, please? I’d like to speak with Fatima alone.”
“Huh? Oh, sure.” He drank the rest of his tea and stood up. “It’s good seeing you again, Fatima,” he said, and he let himself out, leaving the two women alone in the room.
The older woman studied the younger one coolly, with Xiu returning the look until Fatima asked, “What did you want to talk about?”
“I had heard that you and Hao – that is, when he was fifteen, you – “
The Afghan chuckled. “Yes. I introduced him to the ways of a man with a woman,” she said in a very matter-of-fact tone. “I was the first girl at the Lucky Dragon – you do know what a first girl is, don’t you?” Xiu shook her head no, and Fatima said, “I was the senior girl, and I was trusted by Madam Ni to keep order in the house. A first girl is also a dangerous position, because her employers may find fault with how she does things. Do you understand now?”
“Yes. I think so,” Xiu replied, nodding. “So Madam Ni – “
Fatima shook her head, her long headfur swinging loosely. A paw lifted to brush it back as she said, “No. I took it upon myself. As first girl, I would not allow any of the others to do it. When I told Madam Ni about it, she approved.”
“She – approved? But Hao was – “
The older woman nodded, and held up a paw when the red panda started to say something. “It’s how things happen, Xiu. This is not a good place for a child,” and the canine dipped her head forward, her long headfur now veiling her face. “I wanted him to grow up treating women as more than . . . well.” There was an awkward, embarrassed silence.
Xiu reached out and touched the back of Fatima’s paw. “If – um, I want you to know,” the younger red panda ventured, “you did fine.” Fatima looked up at her.
What the hell is that?
Hai Wei shaded his eyes with a paw as the – well, whatever it was – came closer. Several of the other furs on the fishing boat were doing the same.
It looked like a boat, now that it was close enough to be seen clearly, but it was moving way too fast for any boat that size. It threw up three huge rooster tails of seawater in its wake, and the clouds of spray dissipated as the vessel slowed and seemed to settle into the water.
The boat was about the same length as theirs, but had three odd scaffold-like wings, two on either side and one aft. These were being raised to an upright position while the boat pulled closer.
“Hey!” the captain shouted. “I ain’t paying you lot to stand at the rail. Put bumpers over the side and get the winch ready!” He leaned partway out of the wheelhouse, a weighted billy club dangling from his paw. “Move!” and the crew started scrambling to get prepared for a rendezvous.
The two boats were lashed together and boxes started to be transferred from the fishing boat, with the winch being used to hoist a large crate and a few small barrels. Olaf shook paws with the captain and climbed over the side, grasping a small briefcase. With the cargo taken care of, the two vessels separated and the strange boat motored away slowly as it dipped the three ladder-like structures into the water.
Foam and spray erupted from the stern of the boat as its engines increased power, and as the crew of the fishing boat watched the hull rose up out of the water. It was swiftly obscured by the spray thrown up by its passage as it sped towards the horizon.
“Quite the ride, eh?” the hydrofoil’s captain yelled in Vanirgean over the sound of the engines and the rush of spray and wind. His compatriot just grinned at him, Olaf hanging onto a pawhold set into the bulkhead. “Two fat aeroplane motors,” and the otter jerked his head aft, “and those legs, and we just fly.”
“It’ll help us, that’s for certain,” Olaf agreed, nodding. The Icelandic-Maori-Micronesian mixture rolled off his tongue comfortingly. The rat missed speaking his native tongue, but always felt a bit of a pang when he thought of home. “How sturdy are those?” he shouted, his tail waving at the cabin window.
“Pretty strong,” the otter replied. He glanced at a gauge affixed by a bracket to the binnacle. “We’re doing fifty-five knots right now,” he said, “but this thing starts quivering when we hit sixty.”
“Fifty-five knots?” Olaf asked incredulously. “That’s faster than most warships!”
The otter grinned, showing all of his teeth. “I know. Good, eh?”
“I’d like to see the N.S. try to catch this thing,” Olaf said.
Nearly a week later, the Los Angeles Challenger of the Union Pacific line made its way eastward toward Chicago as passengers sat down for lunch in the train’s dining car. Two of the eastbound passengers, a stocky and slightly nervous-looking stallion, kept glancing up from his menu and gazing out the windows.
His companion, a middle-aged gray squirrel femme, gave him a cross look. “Eddie?”
“Hmm? Yeah, Myrt?”
Myrtle Henderson reached across the table with her menu and gently tapped the horse on his nose. “Stop acting like the cops are running alongside the train, Eddie. We’re not doing anything wrong,” she said tartly, her smile taking any sting out of her words. “We’re traveling to Chicago on business.”
“Business. Yeah,” the horse said, sounding not at all convinced.