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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
The Garza-Huacatl had received a new coat of light "haze gray" paint over the holidays, the result of a wish by its owner to make it as inconspicuous as possible. Now its two BMW engines coughed, caught, and roared to life as Hao adjusted their fuel mixture. Finally satisfied that the plane was capable of making the trip to Spontoon and back without falling out of the sky, he signaled to the two canines on the wharf, who pushed the Mixtecan flying boat away from the dock. Anna settled into the copilot’s seat and asked, "Who did Peng-wum say we were picking up?"
He smiled at her. Anna was dressed somewhat similarly to him, in denim trousers and a cotton shirt. Hao also wore his trademark ball cap and a fisherman’s vest that enabled him to carry several small items, such as his cigarettes and matches. His pistol was, as usual, tucked into his waistband at the small of his back. "Well, he’s sort of a business associate of Father’s," Hao replied as he taxied past the dock and started to push the throttles forward. "He’s American," and here he favored her with a glance just before he pulled the nose of the plane up, "so don’t expect too much."
She laughed, smoothing her shirt as she glanced down at the receding sea below. "The engines sound different," she observed.
"They’d better," he said. "I had them overhauled last week." He smiled and patted the roof of the cabin. "And the mechanic’s on the payroll – he knows I won’t be very happy if he did something wrong."
"Provided you’re still around to tell him, you mean." Anna glanced over at the plane’s altimeter, then looked back down. "I’m going to stretch out in back," she said abruptly. "Wake me when we get there?" she asked.
"Sure," he said, smiling at her as she got up. She kissed him briefly and headed aft. Hao returned his attention to the plane, thinking. He wasn’t sure how to proceed with Anna. Although she’d told him that she loved him and was now being hunted by her former employers, he couldn’t escape a certain amount of paranoia about her.
Three hours later the Garza-Huacatl settled onto the waters near Casino Island and taxied to a spot where Hao shut down the engines and placidly awaited the towboat. As it chugged up to the plane, he could see a Shawnee Skypaths flying boat moored at the seaplane terminal, and he nodded. Peng-wum was rarely wrong when figuring schedules.
They entered the seaplane terminal after docking the plane and Anna remarked with a sniff, "Who are we looking for?"
As a commotion started by the customs desk, Hao grinned. "I think those are the people we’re looking for," he said.
Three furs stood in front of the customs desk, glaring at the officer, a bloodhound in formal Constabulary uniform with a patient look on his face. One was a rail-thin badger in a rumpled suit gripping a briefcase as if his life depended on it, while the second was a sharply dressed canine who Hao immediately guessed was a bodyguard from the way he stood.
The third fur was a thickset otter who was just barely as tall as Hao’s five foot four, dressed impeccably in a gray pinstripe suit and white fedora. He showed traces of gray on his temples and a lit cigar dangled from a corner of his mouth. "Look here," he was saying in strongly accented English, heavy jowls quivering, "I just flew all da way from Frisco, see? Me an’ my friends here’re lookin’ for a little guy, an’ here you sayin’ you don’t know him?" The otter puffed a cloud of thick tobacco smoke and started to mumble something in what was probably Italian.
Hao walked up and the canine immediately faced him, stepping forward to get between the red panda and his employer. Hao stopped and kept his hands at his sides. "Excuse me, Mister Carpanini?" he asked. As the otter turned to him with a grunt, he added, "I’m Ni Hao. My brother sent me to meet you."
"Ni Hao, eh?" the otter said, brushing past his gunsel and looking Hao over. A huge grin split his face and he struck the panda lightly in the center of the chest with the back of his paw. "Pleased ta meetcha. Name’s Carpanini, but you figgered dat out already, hah?"
Another light slap to the chest, and Hao found himself suddenly wishing that the otter was not a business partner. Instead he smiled and asked, "Is there something wrong?" He glanced back at the customs officer, who rolled his eyes.
Vittorio Carpanini looked back at the officer and replied, "Nah, we were just havin’ a talk, weren’t we paisan? Here, go get yourself a better hat," and he pulled a thick roll of currency from a pocket and threw two twenties onto the desk. Stuffing the roll back in his pocket he turned back to Hao and said, "So, whaddaya got for me, Hao? Hay, Hee, High, Ho, Hoo … you Chinks got some silly names," he commented, pushing past the red panda and heading toward the exit, his bodyguard and aide in tow. He paused as he gave Anna an appraising look. "An’ who are you, doll?" he asked.
Hao shot her a glance as Anna smiled and said, "I’m Hao’s assistant, Anna Simonova."
"So, you’re not from around here, eh?"
"No, sir." Anna kept her expression carefully neutral. Carpanini looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, "Oh yeah! I knew a Simonov in Chicago once – good tailor, for a Jew. You Jewish, honey?"
"No. Russian." Anna found it took some effort to keep her tail from thrashing and her paws from reaching for her weapons.
He grinned at her reply and patted her cheek. "I do business wit’ da Commies in It’ly," he remarked. "Good people, they know their business." He started for the door again, saying "So, this is Spontoon, huh? Nice place, really clean." He took a breath and opened his jacket, sighing, "Dat air feels good. Was really stuffy on dat Shawnee plane. Stay like this alla time, Hao?"
"No, sir," Hao replied as he caught up with the otter. He was seething inside as he added, "It gets very hot here, especially in the summer during the tourist season."
"Then I picked a good time to come out," Carpanini declared. "I spend the summer up in Frisco, way cooler than L.A. By the way," and he jerked a thumb at the badger, "this here’s my consigliere, Paulie, and my muscle, Johnny the Wolf." Paulie smiled and offered a paw, while Johnny just stood stolidly by his boss. "Now, where’s Peng-wum an’ your dad, Hao?" he asked as the group headed away from the terminal and toward the docks.
"I was sent to bring you to them, sir," Hao replied as he shook Paulie’s paw, the badger grimacing slightly at the panda’s strong grip. "My plane’s over this way."
"Good, dat’s good. Call me Fish, Hao. All my paisan do," and the otter grinned as he tossed the stub of his cigar into the water. "But I ain’t sitting on no more planes today," he said. "Any places open this time o’ da year?"
Hao nodded, relieved.
* * * * * * * * *"PENG-WUM WE ARE HERE ON CASINO ISLAND STOP HAVE GUEST STOP WILL BE THERE TOMORROW MORNING STOP" read the telegram that Ahmad handed to Peng-wum that afternoon. He frowned at it and glanced over at his father, who asked, "He didn’t show?"
"He did arrive, on schedule," Peng-wum replied, "but apparently he wants to stay and see the sights. I have to say I really can’t blame him. After spending several hours on a plane, I know I’d refuse to sit in another one so soon, meeting or not," and father and son both chuckled. "Even the K-85?" Hei asked.
"Even that, Father," and the two laughed again. Peng-wum said, "After this meeting is over, I’d like to borrow the Keystone, Father. Just Nailani and me."
Hei thought about it, nodded, then looked at his oldest son. "Something bothering you, Peng-wum?" he asked.
Peng-wum looked reluctant, then nodded. "Yes, Father. I know that you want this deal with the Fur Families to work, but I do not like having such close ties with the barbarians." He held up a paw as his father started to say something. "Even if they helped us last year," he said.
"I know your objections, my son. I share them. I’ve lived among the Americans, and they’re – well, barbarians doesn’t quite come close," Hei said. "But have you read the news lately? We might have closer ties to them sooner than you may think."
"Yes, I saw it," Peng-wum said quietly. Unrest had been growing in Japan between the government and an extremist faction of the military, according to one of the newspapers. He fervently hoped nothing would come of it.
* * * * * * * * *The Grand Hotel on Casino Island usually didn’t see a fur like Don Carpanini until the full tourist season, but the staff did their best to smile and bear up under the otter’s behavior. After a long meal, he pulled a Cuban cigar from his jacket and held it as Paulie lit it. Blowing fragrant smoke at the ceiling he sighed and said, "Now, that was a great supper. Wasn’t da pesce alla marinara my Mamma used to make, but it was good. Hey Hao, there any action here this time of year?"
Hao’s ears laid back as he guessed what the otter wanted. Panda he might have been, but he wasn’t a pander, and he was glad that Anna had excused herself and walked out of the restaurant earlier. "Not during the off-season," he explained.
"That’s too bad," the Don said, examining the lit end of his cigar critically. "I was wantin’ to try one of them native girls." After a half hour more, he and his two aides went upstairs, leaving Hao to settle the bill. He paid, adding a fat tip to mollify the staff, and got up to look for Anna.
The desk clerk, after being asked, told him that she had headed toward the docks. Mystified, Hao left the hotel and walked down the hill. The sun was setting as he found a dockworker who, after Hao described her, supplied that he’d seen a pretty young canine taking a water taxi to Meeting Island.
Hao stood at the dock, scowling in thought before heading back to the hotel.
* * * * * * * * *Some time later Hao stirred out of his sleep, sensing rather than consciously realizing that the door to his room was opening. Someone crept in, and his right paw curled around the butt of his pistol as he heard rustling behind him. He abruptly twisted in the bed, bringing the pistol out from under the pillow to aim it straight at Anna’s face as she started to climb into bed.
"Hao!" she gasped, eyes going wide as the muzzle of the weapon rested scant inches from her left eye. Hao blinked, and moved his arm to one side, whispering, "You startled me."
"I apologize," she said, voice shaking as she slipped under the covers beside him.
He tucked the gun away as she put her arms around him, and for a few minutes he held her until she stopped trembling. Finally he asked, "Where did you go?"
She squirmed, snuggling closer to him. "I had to get out of there before I did something rash and get both of us in trouble with the Constabulary. I walked around for a while, and had a drink at the Double Lotus." She looked at him. "I’m sorry for startling you."
"It’s okay," and he slid an arm around her shoulders, thinking.