Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
The Manchurian tiger’s ears perked, and his eyes opened just a bit when he recognized the voice.
“Gaisi de wenshu gongzuo.”
He’d heard her say that before. Several times, in fact. His tail twitched as, with a soft purring growl, he sat up in bed. From the glow of light under the bedroom door, Shin was in the kitchen. A deep sniff, and he could smell her, tea, stale cigarette smoke – and frustration.
Wo Fang rubbed a paw across his face and blinked sleep from his eyes before putting his feet on the floor. He sighed, yawned, and stood up, swaying for a moment before walking to the door and easing it open.
Shin was seated at the kitchen table in a red satin bathrobe, a cup of tea cradled in her paws as she stared glumly at the paperwork arrayed before her. Another tea cup bore two cigarette butts. “Hey,” he said softly as he tapped on the doorway. It was always a good idea to give her a warning if you were approaching behind her.
The red panda’s tail twitched as she half-turned to look at him. “Hi,” she said quietly.
She frowned. “No.” She turned and glared at the papers again.
“You know, I didn’t know that you were going to start smoking again after you got out of Songmark,” the tiger said quietly. He ran a paw over the teapot, judged that it was still hot enough, and poured himself a cup. He took a sip, made a face, and ran his free paw over her unbrushed headfur. “Want to talk about it?”
“Sorry if it bothers you. The smoke, I mean,” his wife said.
“That’s not what I meant, Clown Face, and you know it.”
Shin gave an exasperated growl. “Fine. This damned paperwork has me running around in circles,” and she set her cup down. “This application can’t be turned in until this application is approved, and it can’t even get turned in until this Ministry gets its paperwork and approves it,” she hissed. There was a soft thump as Shin leaned forward and placed her forehead on the table, her headfur veiling her. “Peng-wum was right.”
“That every bit of Spontoon’s government exists to drain Euros’ wallets.”
Fang laughed. “Shin, I could have told you that,” he snorted. “I’ve been dealing with those idiots since Hei put me in charge here.” He rested a paw on her head, stroking her headfur gently. “Tell you what. I’ll go around with you and we’ll – “
She lifted her head and glared at him. “Didn’t you hear me, you big lunk? I need to do this myself – ow!” He had painfully flicked one of her tufted ears with a claw, and she rubbed the ear as she demanded, “What was that for?”
“You’re not doing this for a grade, love,” the big tiger said matter-of-factly. “You’re not at Songmark anymore. You won’t lose points for asking for help.”
She glared up at him for another moment, then lowered her eyes and gave a rueful chuckle. “You’re right. Three years of school will do that.” She sighed, then sat up straighter and asked, “So, what do we do, widdle kitty?”
Fang laughed and leaned over to kiss her. When he broke the kiss he said, “First, we go back to bed. You need sleep. After we get up, we talk to a few people and find a fixer.”
“A fixer. Someone who can help you get through all this,” and he waved a paw at the scattered papers. “Fixers know who to talk to, who can help – “
“And how much it’ll all cost.”
“Yeah. For now, you’re coming back to bed.”
She looked him over. The tiger was wearing a sleeveless undershirt and a pair of boxer shorts. Shin batted her eyelashes at him and said, “I’m really not very sleepy. Can you think of anything that can tire me out?”
Fang laughed, pulled her to her feet and scooped her up, placing her over his shoulder as she giggled. The giggle changed into a delighted squeal as he swatted her rear end while carrying her back to the bedroom.
The fishing boat docked in a driving downpour, the crew’s oilskins glistening in the lights as they made the vessel fast. The boat’s winch was put into service to offload the catch while the captain and first mate haggled with the jobbers and fishmongers who had been waiting to buy the fish. While the crew labored, the eventual buyer went into a small building where money would change paws, followed by the captain and the mate.
Once the deal had been concluded and the catch had been moved into a refrigerated room to keep until it could be processed, the crew lined up to get their pay envelopes. The captain and the buyer had bargained hard, but it was a fair price, with minor ‘deductions’ for the Althing and the Businessmen’s Association that really controlled all business on Casino Island’s docks.
Hai Wei counted out his pay, nodded, and signed his name in the ledger before tucking the money into a concealed pocket in his trousers. The ship had been in a storm all the way to Spontoon after filling the hold with fish, and the canine was like many members of the crew.
Bone tired, dirty, damp, and reeking of fish and unwashed fur.
Just off the quay there was a small diner that catered to the fishing crews. The owner had gone out with the boats himself before his forcible retirement, and the diner was open at all hours just in case someone came in looking for coffee or a hot meal, or both. The otter was heard to boast that the place had been at the same location since the Gunboat Wars, and it looked it.
Wei stamped the worst of the water off his boots and shed his oilskins in the diner’s small foyer, hanging the garment and the rain cap from pegs provided for the purpose. The place smelled of spilled food with a musty undertone of damp rot and stale cigarette smoke. Several of his crewmates and a few others were already in the restaurant, and a few turned their heads away from the food long enough to wave or nod at him.
He sat down heavily on a stool as the waitress watched. The stout, slatternly rodent swept the menu away from him before he could reach for it. “Sugar, you don’t need this,” she said condescendingly in English. “Cookie’s got one thing on the menu, and everyone’s eating it.” Her scarred tail gestured at the others, who were wolfing down dishes of eggs, fried potatoes and greasy sausage. Fragrant steam drifted up from hot mugs of coffee. She caught him looking at the nearest plate and drooling slightly. “You want?” she asked in badly accented Cantonese.
“Please,” he replied, and she turned away from him to get a clean mug. She filled it with coffee and plunked it down in front of him.
The drink was strong and tasted like coffee-flavored acid, but it was hot and reviving. He sighed and the canine on his right chuckled around a mouthful of food while the waitress refilled everyone’s mugs. Over the sound of muted conversations in at least two languages, slurping coffee and the clink of flatware against plates there was a rhythmic thump-thump-thump as the owner stamped from pot to pot in the kitchen, his peg leg not slowing him down a bit.
Wei added hot sauce to his eggs before tucking into the meal. It was hot and greasy and practically slithered down his throat to join the coffee he’d been drinking. But he had been hungry, so he ate it all, promising to deal with the repercussions later.
The breakfast cost ten Spontoonie shillings for the food, the three cups of coffee, and the waitress’ tip. The Shar Pei paid up without a qualm and after looking out at the still-lowering weather, put his oilskins on and headed for his apartment.
The landlord sleepily gave Wei his keys and the Shar Pei promised himself to visit the post office and collect his mail as he shambled up the stairs. The canine left his clothes in the middle of the kitchen floor and went to take a bath.
The water was tepid, but showed signs of warming up as he finished soaping up. At least the water was hot when he rinsed the salt, sweat and stink out of his fur.
After drying off Wei flopped onto the bed, pulling the blanket over him, and spent a few minutes lying half-awake until his body realized that he was in a bed and not a hammock. He finally fell asleep as the sun struggled to push some light through the storm clouds.
The storm had passed and the sun was high overhead when the ex-constable woke up, momentarily disoriented until he remembered where he was. Wei disentangled himself from his blanket, scratched himself, and sat up. His bedside alarm clock had run down, so he wrapped the blanket around his waist and opened the curtains, squinting and recoiling slightly at the brightness outside. The window creaked as he opened it, and he cleared his throat, hawked, and spat before taking a deep breath of the fresh air. He left the window open and opened a few more as he gathered up his clothes and set his raincoat and hat out to dry in the sun. He’d rinse the salt off of them later, and the rest of his clothes would go to the laundry.
Before he left, he jotted a note and tucked it into a pocket.
The air felt cooler as he left the laundry, with Chun assuring him that he could get the stink out of his work clothes. That suited the canine, and Wei gave the musk deer a few extra shillings to make sure that things were done right. His wallet was a bit lighter after visiting the bank, but his money was at least secure.
He stooped to retie one of his boots by a mailbox as a small group of tourists walked by, and when he straightened up and walked off, a small chalk mark could be seen on the box.
It was later in the day when someone saw and recognized the mark. He knelt, only apparently straightening one of his trouser cuffs before get to his hooves and walking off.
The mark, however, was gone.
Michael “Mikey” Lindstrom glanced to his left before rolling his eyes and returning to his copy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The skunk girl seated next to him shared his attention with the lead article in the international news. The English were crowing about a new train engine that had managed to go 126 miles per hour. The marten snorted and turned to the sports page. There was no way a train would ever go faster than that.
His vision was abruptly blocked by a thick veil of black and white fur. “Pfui! Hey! Get that thing outta my face!”
Eileen looked over her shoulder and the smile she’d had on her muzzle since they’d boarded the train faded. “Sorry, Mikey.” She moved her tail out of the way. “I’m just a little excited, I guess. I’ve never been to Chicago before.”
Mikey smiled, an old scar causing his muzzle to twist a bit. “It’s okay, kiddo,” although he really didn’t mean it. Eileen was the best girl he had, and although he knew why the bosses had arranged this meetup, he still didn’t think it was necessary. He’d said so, too, but agreed to take the skunk femme down to Chicago.
The alternative was taking a one-way swim in the Mississippi.
He closed the newspaper and folded it up, then sat back. Eileen asked, “You got a cigarette, Mikey?”
“Still nervous, huh?”
“Uh-huh,” the skunk said quietly. For once, she actually sounded a bit like her actual age. He fished into his suit jacket and pulled out a pack of Blenheims and a box of matches. Offering her one, he took one for himself and struck a match to light them. Eileen sat back and took a drag on hers, savoring the smoke for a few minutes of blessed silence. It didn’t last, as she asked, “Are you sure you don’t know what this is all about?” She gave him a hard stare as she put the question to him.
“Like I told you, they want you to meet someone.”
“And it involves me packing up all my stuff and moving?” she pressed, clearly skeptical.
He nodded, puffing on his cigarette.
The skunk gave him a winning smile and showed him some leg. “And you’re sure you can’t tell me anything else?”
Lindstrom smirked. She’d done this too many times in the past for it to affect him. “You’ll find out when we get to Chi-town, girl, so lay off the charm, okay?” He chuckled as she pouted and batted her eyelashes at him, and he checked his watch. “We’ll be pulling in just before dinner, so we’ll head to the hotel and eat there.”
Eileen nodded and put her cigarette out.