Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2017 by Walter D. Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Katie MacArran and characters from “Pursuit!” courtesy of J.T. Urie. Thanks!)
Landing the Garza-Huacatl had left Hao’s arms aching from fighting the controls, and one ear stung where Xiu had smacked him when he’d tried to stop her from clambering out to get the towrope. “I’m pregnant, my dear,” she’d said in an arch tone, “not fragile.” He had wisely refrained from making any further objections.
After she re-entered the cabin, she’d kissed him. “Are you all right?” she asked, fondling his ear.
He gave her a mock-sulking look. “You didn’t have to hit so hard,” he whined, and grinned as she laughed. Of course, he’d had far worse happen to him over the years. She kissed him again and they settled back as the tow-boat brought the ungainly seaplane to its berth.
They both tied the plane up before collecting their luggage and making their way to Customs. “Anything to declare?” the feline woman had asked after studying their passports.
“Yeah, she hit me,” Hao said accusingly as he gave her the cargo manifest. The plane held a small cargo of items that had been gathering dust in the Ni Family’s warehouse. All nice and legal.
The officer gave them both a wry smile. “Married?” They nodded and she folded up the manifest. “Then she has a right to hit you with a stick no thicker than her thumb. Enjoy your stay, and welcome to Spontoon.” She stamped the booklets and gave them back.
A brief water taxi ride to Casino Island, and Hao’s ears laid back. “Are you going to keep giggling all the way to the Grand?” Their bags had been given to a representative from the Grand’s concierge desk, and would meet them at the hotel.
Xiu stopped giggling. “I’m sorry, Hao. Will you be staying here very long?” she asked after they’d walked for a few minutes. The streets and sidewalks were crowded with tourists and guides. Some Hao recognized as Guides, and they signaled that they’d spotted him as well.
“Well – “
“Hey, Runt! Why aren’t you dead yet?”
Hao spun and dove behind a bench, startling a few passing tourists as he reached under his jacket.
The pair of young Euros who were seated on the bench kissing (and clearly wanting to progress from there to other activities) paid no attention.
He had almost finished pulling the pistol from its holster when he stopped and instead started growling. “It’s you.” He stood up and straightened his jacket.
“Who the hell did you think it was? I caught your scent, and couldn’t believe my own nose. Hi, Xiu. How are you doing?” The woman was a red panda with redder fur than was normal and bright blue-green eyes. She was wearing a chintz sun-dress and a broad-brimmed floppy hat.
“Fei-cui?” Xiu gasped, and gave a squeal as she ran to the older red panda femme and the two hugged. “It’s so good to see you! How’s your family?”
Kung Fei-cui hugged the younger woman and chuckled. “They’re fine, Xiu, and I’m working here now.”
“Really? At the hospital?”
“Yes. I’m here on a work visa.” She held Xiu away from her at arm’s-length and eyed her critically. “Are you – did he?” At Xiu’s happy nod she growled at her distant cousin, “I can’t think of how you managed it.”
“You’re dumber than you look, then,” he growled. “Not staying long, I hope?”
“At least a year,” and she linked arms with Xiu and started walking down the street, Hao trailing a step behind. “I’m working at Meeting Island Hospital.”
“Where are you staying?” Xiu asked.
“Dog kennel,” Hao muttered, and ducked as Fei-cui swung her tail at him.
“Shut up, Cousin,” Fei-cui snapped. To Xiu she said, “I’m staying at a nurse’s dormitory until I can make enough to find my own place. Are you two living here?”
“We were living on Krupmark until I got pregnant,” Xiu said as they made their way through the crowds of Speed Week visitors, “and Hao doesn’t want me having our child born or raised there.”
“That so?” Fei-cui glanced at him over her shoulder. “I guess that bullet knocked some sense into you. So, Xiu, where will you be staying?”
Why did I get you out of Nanking, again? Hao asked himself.
“We’re staying at the Grand – that gives me an idea,” his wife said, snapping her fingers. Hao?”
“Do we have enough room there for Fei-cui?”
What? NO! “It’s only one bedroom.”
Xiu looked . . . disappointed, but Fei-cui waved the notion off with a flick of her tail. “I’ll be fine, Xiu, and nurses can end up working funny hours sometimes. Still, since you’re in the family way now, you might be seeing me from time to time.” She either didn’t see, or ignored, Hao’s theatrical sigh of relief.
The older woman smiled. “Part of my training’s in obstetrics.”
“In that case, you might be seeing more of me,” and both women started giggling.
The suite was basically a one-bedroom efficiency apartment with a bathroom, sitting room, and its own small kitchen. The windows were already opened to let the place air out, and the bed had been freshly made. “Hmm, cupboard’s bare,” Hao remarked. “I’ll go get a few things.” He waited for a reply, didn’t get one, and sighed inwardly as he saw the two women talking and ignoring him completely. He slipped out of the suite and headed out to the market.
He stopped as a burly fox in a cheap suit and an overloud tie confronted him. Orrin Brush’s smile was unpleasant as he growled, “Ain’t seen yez ‘round here lately, Runt. Tho’t yez was dead.”
Hao practically smiled. “I’m glad to see you too, Brush.” He stepped around the vulpine and went on his way.
Orrin Brush watched Ni Hao walking away and scratched under his flat cap. Now what’d the little yegg mean by that?
“Well?” Juliana asked the next morning as she entered the hangar.
Shin finished zipping up her jumpsuit, a faded dark blue Naval Syndicate castoff. The clothes that she had come to work wearing were hanging on hangers at the other side of the office. After she had left Song Sodas, she had thought a while before bed about how to approach the task Miss Wildford had set her.
Over breakfast, she had developed a firm idea of how to go about it.
The red panda told the rabbit, “You’re hired, and I’ll tell you what you need to know about Songmark. What you need to do to get ready for Songmark starts tomorrow morning at five o’clock.”
One of Mayfield’s ears dipped. “Why so early?”
“We’re going to start by running around South Island. Before breakfast,” she added, showing her teeth. At the rabbit’s expression she asked, “What? You thought that Songmark just had you learning about planes and flying all the time? Think again.”
Mayfield’s expression turned wary. “You’re not just having me on, are you?”
“Ask Miss Wildford – if she’ll talk to you.” She met the doe’s gaze and held it until Mayfield looked away. “Good. We’ll be getting the Conwing ready to fly, and while we work I’ll tell you about what you can expect when you start school.” The red panda smiled. “Look on the bright side; you’ll be getting more warning than a lot of the girls get.”
“All right, then. So,” the rabbit asked, “we got the starboard engine fixed yesterday.”
“Yeah. I got you a jumpsuit so you won’t get your clothes messed up. I’m expecting a delivery, and I’ll be stepping out in an hour or so.”
“Got to get a flight plan filed.”
The rabbit paused midway through taking her shirt off. “You’re going to try flying that today?”
“No. We are.”
“Ah. Oh. Um,” Mayfield stammered. “A-and the delivery? In case you’re not here,’ she added.
“Seats. This beast usually carries ten to twelve passengers. It’ll seat six, with room for cargo, by the time we’re done.” Shin turned and started to walk out of the office area to the hangar. She paused and looked over her shoulder. “Hurry up, okay?”
Mayfield hurried up.
Shin finished getting dressed and called out, “Hey, Juliana!”
A pair of ears stuck up above the Conwing’s port engine nacelle. “What, Shin?”
“I’m heading out. Keep an ear open for the delivery guys, okay?”
“Right, will do.” The rabbit went back to tightening the exhaust manifold on the engine. Shin examined herself in the mirror once again.
The ‘uniform’ she’d designed for herself was a pattern similar to her Songmark formal uniform. The khaki serge shorts extended to her knees and were sharply creased, with a white linen shirt and a Naval Air Arm surplus flying jacket. It had taken a few days to clean up the leather, and to sew several layers of magazines inside the jacket liner to act as makeshift armor.
It was still a dangerous world.
She set a brisk walking pace and was concentrating on what she needed to do after visiting the air traffic control office that she almost failed to recognize the pinto mare coming toward her.
It was her.
The Flying Duchess.
She was walking along with a number of furs who had to be part of her staff, and she seemed to be as much in a hurry as Shin was. No time to stop and imitate Liberty’s reaction to meeting Leon Trotsky. She doubted she could squeak as well as the half-coyote did, that night in Hawai’i.
But she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and almost broke stride.
Part of the Duchess’ staff was a red panda, older than she was, and his body language had practically screamed ‘cop.’ And he had stopped dead in his tracks and was staring at her tailfur.
To tease him a bit, Shin glanced over her shoulder at him and put a bit of a sway in her step, causing her hips and tail to move. She then raised her left paw and quickly gestured ‘taken’ in one of the more widely-shared Tong signs.
She kept on walking as the red panda grumbled, “Mmmggghhh . . . married.”
“Ahhh, isn’t that the way it always goes?” she heard one of the cop’s compatriots say in a commiserating tone.
“Who’s that over there, Rosie?” Vicky asked, the vixen jerking a thumb at the robed figure in a somewhat secluded corner of the outdoor dining area. “Looks like Abdul A-Bull-Bull-Amir, ‘cept he’s a hamster.”
“For all I know, that’s exactly who he is,” Rosie said. The cheetah filled a pair of glasses with ice and added iced tea from a nearby pitcher. “Said he came all the way from Syria to watch the races, and wanted the spiciest lunch Nick could make him. ‘Your establishment’s reputation is the best, Madame,’ he told me.” She chuckled. “Really laid it on thick.”
“So why’s he sitting out there by himself?”
Rosie shrugged. “Just a hint, Vicky – stay upwind of him.”
The vixen looked at her friend and employer for a moment before her muzzle twisted into a little moue of distaste. “That bad?”
“Remember the last time Mooch had egg salad?”
“Say no more.” The waitress glanced around and lowered her voice. “And your appointment?”
The cheetah sighed. “After lunch.”