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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
As the pistol fired, Hao shoved Anna to her left as he dodged to the right, and threw himself into a collection of discarded boxes and trash. He felt a brief burst of hot wind as several hairs were clipped from the fur on his arm and he landed in a pile of rancid garbage. Anna was flung sprawling into the street as the feline turned and ran, pocketing the pistol. Gagging at the smell that now soaked into his fur, Hao drew his own pistol, got to his feet and began to pursue. He heard Anna shout “Hao!” as he ran down the alley.
Anna had hit the slightly muddy street and rolled to a seated position. As Hao ran off she fell back, cursing volubly in Russian. Passer’s-by, drawn by the sound of gunfire, started to gather around. Two canines in native dress stepped forward to help her, but stopped as she waved them away. She got to her feet, dusted herself off and took off after the red panda as two Constabulary officers arrived on the scene.
Hao ran until his lungs burned, through people’s backyards and over fences, sending squawking chickens scurrying as he chased the feline. He almost caught up to him, and his Great War-vintage pistol bucked in his paw as he got one shot off. It missed, the bullet embedding itself in a wall as the feline ducked and kept running, headed uphill past Luakinikia Park. Hao put on a burst of speed, closing the distance with the feline.
Hao leaped, and caught the feline around one ankle in a flying tackle. Both tumbled to the earth and as Hao got to his feet the feline tried to kick at him. Paws grabbed the foot and Hao twisted, throwing the feline off balance. The would-be assassin landed face down in the grass with a grunt. As he twisted to face Hao, paws drawing his pistol, Hao struck out with a heel. There was a sodden crack, and the feline lay still. The feline was still breathing; Hao had wanted to make certain of that. Panting from the exertion, Hao dropped to his knees, tongue lolling out as his ears caught the sound of running feet.
The police arrived, along with Anna, and as the feline was scooped up a sergeant walked over to the red panda. “Hao, can’t you stay out of trouble for more than two days straight?” The canine demanded in Spontoonie. “What is it this time?”
Hao looked up at his friend. “Hello, Wei,” he said in the same language. “This tried to shoot me and Anna. He missed, I didn’t. Don’t I even get congratulated for taking a dangerous person off the street for you?” he asked in a hurt tone, grinning as he did so.
“Maybe later, when we find out who he is and who he works for,” Hai Wei replied, tipping his topi back on his head as the feline started to come around. A constable tried to ask him questions, but the feline remained silent and stolidly indifferent to the several languages being used.
As the constable started getting frustrated, Anna looked at the feline closely and declared, “He’s Tsarist.”
“How do you know?” Hao asked.
“Haven’t you figured it out, Hao?” Anna asked in a brittle tone. “He was aiming at me.” She growled a curse in Russian at the feline, who promptly hissed in response.
Wei signaled for the other constables to gather up the feline, and as they escorted him away the Shar Pei said to Hao in a rural Chinese dialect, “Look, my friend, you might want to consider staying away for a while. You know, until things blow over.” He glanced around, and added in a whisper, “There may be some changes in how things are done, with that new inspector here. In any case, I may not be able to help you.”
Hao nodded. “Sounds like a good idea. I’ll let you know if I have to come over, Wei.” He got to his feet and walked over to Anna. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m all right,” she said, “although you almost broke my neck when you pushed me out of the way.” The breeze shifted, and her snout wrinkled. “Phew! Bozhe moi, what did you fall into?”
“Not sure, but I think I could use a bath,” Hao admitted, laughing as he leaned toward her and she backed away.
“Good idea,” the canine girl said, moving pointedly upwind of him. “Let’s get you a bath, and then let’s get off this island.”
* * * * * * * * *
The morning rainsqualls were over, and the sun was struggling to find a gap in the overcast over Krupmark. Pilots cursed as they realized that their layover on the island would likely be prolonged, and stamped off to spend more hard-earned money at the Beach or the Lucky Dragon.
Peng-wum was at his usual morning routine, poring over his ledgers and already thinking of lunch. As he dipped his pen in the inkwell a rifle barked and the window of his office shattered. Glass sprayed over him as he ducked under the desk. The ferret who usually guarded the door burst into the office, his revolver drawn; two burly furs, a wolf and a pantheress followed him, similarly armed. The ferret ran to the window and peered out as the other two took defensive positions. “No sign of him, Boss,” he said, letting the curtain drop back and straightening, tucking his revolver back in its holster. “It might have been a stray shot – those Mixtecans are still around.”
“No, I know exactly who it was,” Peng-wum said, suppressing a nervous quaver in his voice as he stood and brushed broken glass off his shirt and the desk. “Good thing I keep the curtains drawn,” he remarked.
Later, over lunch, Hei glared at his eldest son. “I’m very glad that you’re not hurt, Peng-wum,” he said, “but what possessed you to rob Fat Leon? No amount of money’s worth losing you and your wife.”
“I know, Father, and I apologize,” his son sighed. “But I had to try to recover some of the money, and Nailani and I did get almost three thousand pounds.” His father blinked, and Peng-wum smiled. “Nailani had friends inside the house, and they thought it would be great sport. I also obtained permission,” and he told his father about his trip to the top of the hill.
When he was finished, Hei shook his head. “How did I ever get such smart children?” he asked rhetorically.
“Smart parents, Father?” Peng-wum asked innocently, and at the older fur’s glare he said, “Father, it was necessary. Leon will have some hard feelings for a while, true, but I have already engaged several more workers. Two are bodyguards, and the other four are – well, let us say that they have diverse skills. We won’t be bothered by snipers, at least.” His muzzle crinkled as he smiled.
Hei frowned. “They’ll be working under Hao, then?”
“Exactly. A little extra muscle, just in case.” Peng-wum smiled; a strange, tight smile that stopped just short of his eyes and was reminiscent of Hao’s own favorite expression.
* * * * * * * * *
Hao finished paying the mechanic, then walked over to the quayside where the K-85 waited. He cast off and leaped onto the bow of the amphibian, then climbed in as Anna held the cockpit door for him. The single engine started easily, and the Keystone-Loening taxied into the sealane. Hao gazed out the windshield intently as Anna remarked, “It seems like fairly good weather for flying. How long will it take to get back to Krupmark?
“Hm? Oh, maybe four or five hours. The weather’s not really good this time of year,” Hao replied as he lined the plane up with the double row of buoys, the small flags on each snapping in the brisk crosswind.
“What’s wrong?” Anna asked. “You’ve been acting preoccupied ever since that Tsarist shot at us.”
“I guess I have, and I’m sorry,” he said as he started to throttle forward. “It’s just – well, it’ll be hard to stay away from Casino Island. I like it here, for one thing. I also had some things set up, and now I have to change my plans.” There was a silence as he pulled back on the control yoke, bringing the seaplane’s nose up. As the plane banked he added, “The other islands offer some advantages, and some disadvantages for what I have planned.”
“Oh?” Anna cocked her head as she looked at him. Whatever he was planning, it was probably illegal (or at least improper), and was calculated to increase his family’s profits. “Suppose you talk about it?”
“Hmm. Okay. Eastern and Moon Islands are completely out of the question – there’s the Naval Syndicate and I don’t want to draw unwanted attention to Shin. Main Island’s out as well, so I’ll probably use South Island or one of the smaller islands around the Group for what I have planned.” He settled the plane at its most favorable altitude and checked the DF apparatus.
“Why not that small island, out to the east?” Anna asked, jerking a thumb behind her. “The one the maps call Sacred Island?”
“NO!” Hao jerked and the plane swerved as he turned to face her. His eyes had gone wide and his headfur was practically standing on end. “Sacred Island’s out of bounds,” he said softly. “Absolutely out of bounds.”
“Okay,” Anna said hastily, shocked at his change of demeanor. He hadn’t been angry, she realized with a sudden shock as he returned his attention to flying the K-85. Hao’s reaction had been pure fear, and she found herself glancing at him wonderingly as the plane headed west. Sacred Island was just a silly superstition set up by the natives’ forebears.
* * * * * * * * *
Fang stood at the dock, the wind toying with his umbrella as a water taxi made its way through the rainswept water from Eastern Island. A figure waved at him, and he helped Shin onto the dock, kissing her as he did so. “Missed you,” he said, smiling. “And I’m glad to see that you’re out of the hospital. Did you drop off your medical records at the School?”
Shin nestled close to him, hugging him tightly before replying, “Yes, I dropped them off. They’re satisfied that I have a clean bill of health, and I start classes in three weeks. January the fourth.”
“Great,” Fang said, holding the umbrella for her as they headed up the crushed coral walk to the front of the Maha Kahuna. “Are you hungry? I’m sure we could get something at the hotel, if you don’t want to risk my cooking so soon after getting out of the hospital,” he teased, and grinned as she offered to slap him.
“I’m sure anything you cook for me will be just fine,” she said.
After lunch Fang lit a cigarette as Shin remarked, “So I went back to my dorm and reintroduced myself. It’s going to be strange living here and there.”
“I expect you’ll get used to it, love.” Fang blew a thin stream of smoke to the ceiling before asking, “What are they like? Your classmates, I mean.”
“Well, I haven’t met one of them yet. She’s supposedly Russian and probably more Bolshie than Anna,” Shin chuckled. “The two I’ve met are Irish and from New Haven.”
That made Fang sit up. “New Haven?” he asked. “What the hell is one of them doing here, let alone at the school?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Shin admitted. “When I get to know her better I’ll try to find out.” She picked at the remains of her lunch with her fork, then grinned. “I expect to be learning a lot of martial arts, as well as improving on what I already know.”
Shin laughed. “Getting to know my roommates better,” she explained, and Fang started to laugh.
“I’m glad you decided to come back here, rather than stay at the school over Christmas,” the tiger remarked. “This way we can celebrate my birthday together.”
His wife looked puzzled. “You told me once that you never knew what your birthday was,” she said.
Fang’s paw gave an idle wave, a thin streamer of smoke trailing after it. “I decided to pick a day, something easy to remember,” he said, smiling. “December 25th is as good a day as any.”
“I like it.” Shin leaned over and kissed him.