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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters courtesy of Simon Barber.)
“Fight!” one of the first year students shouted as the sounds of mayhem erupted from a certain dorm. Shin and Brigit stood off to one side as Tatiana and Liberty moved from arguing over the inevitable victory of the proletariat to a more physical discussion of what Tatiana termed the New Haven Committee of Nine’s “disgusting bourgeois habits.” As Tatiana got a knee in under Liberty’s guard and the half-coyote girl yelped, Brigit yelled across the room to Shin, “Two to one on Tatiana!”
Shin’s eyes lit up. “I’ll take a piece of that!” she shouted back. “Half a shell?”
“Done!” and the two started cheering the Russian sable on as fists and fur started to fly. Other girls started crowding into the room, including a mouse who started taking bets.
Shin moved around the fight to Brigit and murmured in her ear, “That’s half a shell she kills Liberty.” Money was restricted for the first year students, not that Shin minded very much; she was there to learn, not to spend money.
The Irish girl laughed as she shook her fist at the two grappling on the floor. “Done with ye, Shin,” she said as her brogue grew rougher, eyes intent and tongue lolling out of love of a good fight.
Other voices started to be raised as the second-year students elbowed and shoved their way into the dorm, a bovine girl falling down on top of Tatiana and effectively immobilizing her as a canine pounced on Liberty, pinning her with a deft series of moves that Shin recognized as a triple hammerlock. As silence started to fall on the room, Shin turned to Brigit. “No bet?”
“Let’s see ta their damage. Sure’n I could use the money.” The setter grinned at the panda, and both stiffened as Miss Cardroy stepped into the room. She gestured, and Tatiana and Liberty were released. “Line up,” the tutor said quietly.
As the other girls hastily vacated the room, Shin and her roommates obediently lined up, Tatiana running a paw over her bleeding nose. Miss Cardroy lifted the Russian girl’s chin and surveyed the injury, then glanced up at Liberty, taking in her badly bruised face and tattered fur. “You two will go and see Matron – not yet,” she said sternly as the two leaned in the direction of the door. “I’m not finished with you.
“You four have been living together for nearly three months now, and to be frank I expected to see some sign of a cooperative spirit rising between you,” and here she glared at the New Havenite and the Russian. “And you two,” and her glare took in Brigit and Shin, who was standing rigidly. “I expected you two to stop them, not bet on who wins.”
Miss Cardroy surveyed the four. “Needless to say there will be no passes this week, and additional work. Now, you two get on to the Matron, and you two get ready for supper.” She walked out, Liberty and Tatiana in tow, and Shin relaxed. “Well?” she asked Brigit.
A judicious nod. “One bloody nose, one black eye, an’ some scratches,” Brigit replied. Shin nodded, and pressed a one-shell note into her paw. The two girls laughed and headed off to clean up.
The next morning, as the sun started to peek above the horizon, Shin and the others discovered what Miss Cardroy had meant by “extra work.” The quartet was escorted into a large shed and presented with two Great War-vintage Salmson engines that, their tutor assured them, had been salvaged from Sacred Lake. After spending the better part of two years submerged in warm water, they were almost unrecognizable lumps of rust. “Clean them up, disassemble them, and get them running again,” their tutor said sternly, and assigned two third-year girls to monitor them. Tools and other materials lay nearby.
Liberty snarled at Tatiana, who hissed back, then muttered, “We’ll never get these things working, let alone apart. They’re as wrecked as a counterrevolutionary’s heart.”
“Shut up, Liberty,” Shin said as she selected a rag and a tin of solvent. “We’re expected to get this done today, I guess, so let’s get started.” She drizzled the powerful liquid over the liquid-cooled rotary engine and started scrubbing. One by one, the others joined her, Liberty only lending a paw when Shin sweetly reminded her of her oft-repeated mantra about “the virtues of labor.”
Nearly eight hours later all four girls were grimy, smeared with rust and panting from their exertions and the pervasive smell of the solvents they had used. But one engine sat on its test stand, already having been tested and running well, and the other was scattered parts that gleamed with a thin sheen of fresh oil. The third-year monitors just sat and talked quietly, keeping to the fresher air near the doorway. Obviously obeying orders, they had steadfastly refused to offer any advice. “Come on, Shin,” Brigit said. “We’ve one more to fix.” She squinted at the open doorway. “Faith, it’s already after noon.”
“I know, I know,” the red panda gasped, fanning herself with a paw. She got on her feet and joined her roommate at the other engine. “Liberty, Tatiana,” Brigit called, “will ye be joining Shin an’ I in a little virtuous labor? We’ve only – Tatiana!” she exclaimed as the sable got to her feet, swayed and crashed to the ground.
Shin and Brigit carried her to the doorway and left her there to get over the effect of the fumes as Liberty sneered, “Shirker. I knew she can’t handle decent labor.”
“Come here and help me with these valves, Liberty,” Shin said, paws curling around the wrench in her paws. Liberty Morgenstern had apparently been sent as a missionary from New Haven, and the red panda reminded herself that missionaries in the Pacific traditionally met very bad ends. The half-breed coyote joined her and the three set to work. Tatiana recovered and, muttering excuses about the poor diet at Songmark, had helped reassemble the remaining engine.
Three of the Salmson’s water lines had rusted straight through, but patches had been improvised from empty solvent tins. It wasn’t the prettiest engine in the world, but it ran. As the sun was dipping below the horizon, Miss Cardroy came back in and inspected their work. The four stood expectantly, awaiting her judgment, and relaxed as she looked up and asked, “Whose idea was it to use the empty tins to patch the water lines?”
“Brigit’s, ma’am,” Shin offered. Brigit nudged her, and Miss Cardroy smiled. “Very good, and good work. You see? You four can work together when you choose to. Now, get cleaned up and get your supper.”
Later that night, Shin groaned as she half-fell into her bed and sprawled out across it. “I could sleep for a week,” she muttered into her pillow.
“Mmph,” was all Liberty could say, already falling asleep as she doffed her robe and quickly collapsed into bed, not noticing that it had been short sheeted. Brigit and Tatiana were already in their beds, the Russian girl displaying her occasional (and socially unfortunate) tendency to snore when sleeping on her back. She presently rolled over, and the noise died away.
* * * * * * * * *
The GH-2 flew out of a cloud bank, then steadied into an easy descent as Hao yelled behind him, “That’s Krupmark Island, dead ahead.” The heavyset otter stood in the doorway separating the cockpit from the rest of the cabin and grinned. “Good flying, paisan,” and he slapped Hao on the back before resuming his seat.
Hao reminded himself that the Don was being friendly. Anna chuckled as she saw him very deliberately relax.
The Mixtecan flying boat landed without a problem, and two furs helped Hao tie the craft up to the dock. Two other red pandas stood waiting as Carpanini stepped out of the plane, and Peng-wum stepped forward, paw outstretched. “Don Carpanini, it’s good to meet you at last. I’m Ni Peng-wum, and this is the head of our family, Ni Hei,” Peng-wum said in a friendly tone.
Carpanini smiled, then pulled Peng-wum into an embrace and hugged him before shaking paws with Hei. “A pleasure, amici,” he said, then planted his fists on his hips, threw his head back and took a deep breath. “Ah, mamma mia!” he exclaimed. “That’s a welcome smell.”
“What is, sir?” Paulie asked as the badger climbed out of the Garza-Huacatl, Johnny behind him.
The Don winked, then laughed raucously. “No cops!” he said. “No scent o’ John Law or that J. Edgar Rover here. I like this place already. C’mon, Hei, let’s go inside. We got business ta discuss.” He started toward the Ni & Sons building, his counselor and bodyguard in tow.
Peng-wum and Hei followed close behind as Hao muttered, “I hope he doesn’t decide to stay.”
As soon as the office door closed the otter dropped the good-natured persona like a carnival mask and sat down, Johnny taking up a position behind him. When Hei had seated himself, Paulie pulled up a chair and opened his briefcase. He passed a sheaf of papers to Peng-wum as he said, “Gentlemen, I’m Paul Conti, Mr. Carpanini’s lawyer and counselor –
“Get to the point,” the Don growled.
“ – and Don Carpanini wishes to improve the so far excellent relationship he has with the Ni Family by making the following proposal.” The lawyer rested his paws on his briefcase. “We propose that the Nis supply us with raw opium, catnip, and quantities of other substances which we will refine at our own facilities in the United States. The potential profit is enormous.” He paused, looking at Peng-wum.
The red panda leafed through the documents, then glanced at his father. Hei caught his look and said to the otter, “My son wishes to talk with me. Do you mind?”
The Don waved a negligent paw. “Go ahead.”
Hei turned to his son, keeping his voice level and using no gestures that could give away the tenor of their conversation. “Yes, Peng-wum?”
“Father, I like this even less than before,” Peng-wum said, trying to keep the same even tone. “In less than two years’ time we could recover all the losses from Wu Tang’s treachery. But the quantities they wish us to ship to them – it could draw unwanted attention.”
“A certain inspector, and the wrath of the Naval Syndicate, Father. I mean no disrespect, but I would not want to spend any time in a jail cell.” He shrugged. “Or dead.”
Hei nodded slowly, then turned back to Carpanini, who was arguing heatedly in Italian with the badger. “Yeah?” he asked. “Whaddaya say about our deal, Hei?”
Hei placed a paw on the desk blotter, regarded it for a moment then looked up. “My son is concerned about security,” he said. “Not at your end, but at ours.”
“Your end?” Carpanini asked in a puzzled tone. “But ya got a sweet setup here. No laws, no cops … what’s stoppin’ ya?”
“No laws, yes. But we do have competition here, and with no laws it can be very fierce. No cops? Any product would have to get past the Spontoon authorities, and the Rain Island Naval Syndicate. While they do allow some things, the amounts you mention would probably cause them to try and shut us down.” Hei’s brown eyes met the otter’s gaze and held it. “Before they came after you.”
Silence fell, save for the measured ticking of the old grandfather clock. Carpanini sat back, a paw fishing into his coat for a cigar. He bit off the tip, spat it out, then held it as Johnny struck a match for it. Puffing it alight he said, “Okay, lemme unnerstand ya, Hei. Ya got yer own organization here, no law an’ no cops. Ya owe me a favor fer helpin’ ya outta that jam with yer friends in Kuo Han, right?” he asked, punctuating his speech with brisk motions of his lit cigar. “So now when I come alla way out here with a good deal, askin’ fer yer help, ya blow me off like it ain’t nothin’.” His voice rose as he sat up, leaning forward in his chair as he glared at the still-impassive red panda.
“Boss,” Paulie ventured.
The Don slapped him hard, backpawed. “Shut yer mouth, Paulie. I wanna hear what this Chink’s got ta say fer himself.”
Hei smiled and leaned back in his chair. A shout from him or Peng-wum, and things would get very messy in the office very quickly. But he had other plans. “I said, ‘in the amount you mention,’ Don Carpanini. And your offer isn’t nothing, by any means.” He picked up a pencil and wrote something on a piece of notepaper, then passed it to Peng-wum, gesturing for his son to give it to the lawyer. “I think this will serve both my concerns and your interests better.”
Paulie looked at the sheet of paper, then leaned over and began whispering heatedly in Italian with his employer. The Don listened, at first impatiently then with growing interest. “You think you can get this past Spontoon?” he asked Hei.
“I think we can, yes,” Hei said with a smile. It didn’t matter to him how many Americans died or destroyed their lives, or stole or murdered to feed their habits. Revenge mattered. The actual shipments would be done through intermediaries, who could be sacrificed to the law if necessary.
Carpanini’s foul mood dissipated as quickly as it had appeared, and with a smile he got to his feet. “Then we got a deal,” he said, and he and Hei shook paws. He shook paws with Peng-wum, then said, “I’m starvin’. Where you got a good eatin’ place around here?”
Hei took him by the arm and the two started for the door as he replied, “We have food at the casino, across the street. I think you’ll like the place.”
“A casino! See, what’d I say? You got a real sweet setup here, Hei.”