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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Ah! Now that was a great meal!” Don Carpanini enthused as he set down his glass and pushed back from the table. He glanced around the Casino’s main room as Paulie hastened to light his cigar. “Nice place,” he commented, puffing, “but quiet, hah? Hey, Johnny!” His canine bodyguard kicked away from the wall he had been leaning against and nodded. “Play us somethin’ nice, okay?” his boss said.
“Okay, Boss,” the canine said in a surprisingly soft voice as he walked over to the weatherbeaten upright piano in the corner. He doffed his coat, displaying a large revolver in a leather shoulder holster, and sat down at the keyboard. He started playing a tune that Hao recognized as jazz.
“Johnny was a piano player back at this here sportin’ house in Cicero,” Carpanini explained to his hosts. “I was just gettin’ started in the business, and a deal went sour.
“Well, I got winged right here,” and he pointed to his left shoulder, “and my gun went flyin’ over ta where Johnny was playin. He picked the gun up, shot the guy, and went back ta his piano.” The otter beamed. “So he’s been watchin’ my back for th’ – what? – past fifteen years or so.” He glanced around the room. “Anyone else here make their bones?”
Peng-wum cocked his head quizzically. “’Make their bones?’” he echoed.
“Yeah, made their bones. You know, killed a guy.” He looked around as two bodyguards raised their paws, and looked surprised as Hao nodded. “You?” the otter exclaimed. “You’re young enough to be one of my grandchildren. How many people you kill, hah?”
Hao shrugged and smiled. “Four last year,” he replied, and the American’s ears went up. “Four, ya say? What with? A rifle?”
“No, sir.” Hao glanced at his father, who nodded. “I killed one with his own pistol, and another with a knife. I killed another with my bare paws.”
The otter looked impressed, then frowned. “And the fourth?” he asked.
“I drowned him,” Hao said, keeping his voice even and his expression carefully calm.
To his surprise Carpanini roared with laughter and scooped Hao up in a ferocious hug, then kissed him on both cheeks. “Look at you! A made fur, and you only out of diapers!” the Mafioso laughed as Paulie looked embarrassed and Johnny kept playing. “So you’re the muscle in the family, eh?” he asked as Hao regained his seat. “I’ll remember to keep an eye on ya, mebbe send my kids out here ta learn a few things.” He clapped Hei on the back. “Ya got some fine sons, Hei; fine sons. My oldest, Manny – that’s Emanuel - ah, he’s a piece o’ work. Talks back to his mamma, roughs up his girl – bad business,” he said, shaking his head. He looked up as one of the hostesses walked by, and grinned suddenly. “Eatin’ an’ talkin’ are fine, but a man likes a little extra. Whaddaya say, Hei? Krupmark’s girls out of season?”
Hei smiled, hiding his loathing for this brash, overbearing, pompous foreigner. “Not at all. Choose who you like, and enjoy yourself. If you’ll excuse me,” he said, getting up from the table, “I have some business to take care of. Hao, see to him.”
* * * * * * * * *
Two weeks later Hao started to cast off the lines mooring his Garza-Huacatl as Carpanini gave his mother a final hug (much to her embarrassed distress) and shook paws with his father before boarding the plane that would take him back to Casino Island and the seaplane headed for San Francisco. A droning of a single aircraft engine drew his eyes upward in time to see the family’s K-85 pass overhead and bank to the south. Peng-wum and Nailani had left a few minutes earlier for a brief vacation.
Mercifully, Don Carpanini slept most of the way back to Spontoon, while Paulie fussed over paperwork and Johnny merely leaned back in his chair, eyes partly closed but watchful. The quiet fur impressed Hao.
As Casino Island came into view, he leaned across the cabin to Anna and said, “We’re going to make some contacts in order for this deal to work the way Father wants. Afterward we’ll have some dinner, okay?”
She smiled, paws resting lightly on the control yoke as she brought the plane around and Hao warmed up the radio. “Aircraft on heading two-eight-zero, identify please,” came the distant voice of the Spontoon tower.
“This is GFK-3, from Krupmark, requesting clearance to land,” Hao said crisply into the microphone.
There was a pause. “Understood. You are cleared to enter traffic pattern, winds from the east at eight, gusting to ten. Slight chop on the water,” the tower replied.
“Thank you, Spontoon tower,” the red panda said, and slipped the microphone into its bracket as he watched Anna slowly bring the ungainly twin-engine flying boat into position.
The Garza-Huacatl handled best when flown in a straight line, as its designers had pointed out. No wonder it hadn’t been a big seller, even to the Mixtecan military. Hao took over the controls and guided the plane down to the water, then taxied away to await the towboat.
“We there already?” Don Carpanini asked, poking his head through the curtain separating the control cabin from the rest of the plane.
“Yes, sir,” Hao said. A heavy paw came down on his shoulder. “You’re a good boy, Hao,” the otter said. “If ya ever get over to L.A., mention my name an’ you’ll get the keys ta the city.” Anna suddenly jumped and glared at Carpanini, who laughed and went back to his seat.
They saw the three Americans off at the Pan-Pacific terminal and headed over to the docks area. Hao led Anna into a small, dingy bar and took a seat facing the door, pulling his baseball cap over his eyes and leaning back. Anna walked over to the bar and ordered a beer from the dozing bartender.
A tall, angular Siamese feline stood and left, returning perhaps five minutes later with two others, a female feline and a canine, who all sat down at Hao’s table. “Yes, Boss?” the shorter of the trio, a pug-nosed canine, asked in Chinese as he scratched at the stump of his right ear.
“I’m glad you could all make it,” Hao said softly, and quickly laid out the essentials of the deal struck between the Ni Family and the organized crime syndicate headed by Don Carpanini.
When he finished, the native woman murmured in Spontoonie, “Risky, Boss.”
“I know, Mikala, but we have our instructions,” Hao said, adjusting the brim of his ball cap. “So I expect you three to tell those who work with you and for you. Now, I have a special task for the three of you.
“That woman there at the bar attracts my attention,” and at his words the trio leaned closer as his voice lowered almost to a whisper. They knew who she was, of course, and knew what she meant to him. “The last time we were here she went to Meeting Island, but told me she went to the Double Lotus.”
Mikala’s tail twitched. “The Double Lotus? She doesn’t look the type to go there.” The bar in question catered to a rather specific group of females; to say that Hao would be unwelcome there would probably have been an understatement. Ranjit, the Siamese, suppressed a smile.
“She isn’t. I want her followed, whenever she is here. Watch her closely,” and here Hao lifted his head to regard each of his subordinates with a cold gaze. The trio nodded and stood, leaving the bar as Anna came over and sat down beside him.
“It looked like they wanted to argue,” she observed.
“I persuaded them,” he said with a tight smile, then leaned over and gave her a brief kiss. “So, shall we wander about a bit before dinner?”
“Sounds great,” she said.
* * * * * * * * *
A red-furred paw reached out and grasped a mossy stone, tugged at it experimentally, then gripped it tighter as Shin continued moving down the sheer rock face. It was a warm spring morning, but her fur was matted and stained from dew and moss and she was panting. Her old tutors had made it seem so easy, clambering up sheer rock walls as easily and lightly as they were walking up stairs.
Of course, her tutors also appreciated silence. “Come on, Shin!” Liberty yelled in a jeering tone. “Hurry up!” She stood at the base of the rock face along with Tatiana and Brigit. Shin had been the last one to go up, and their tutor had insisted on them going up and down the cliff three times each before heading back to Songmark for lunch.
At ten feet to go she planted her foot on a small ledge, then eased her weight down on it. It shivered, but held, and she suddenly jumped, landing on her feet and straightening up as Miss Nordlingen said, “Very good, Shin, but suppose there’d been an uneven surface below you?”
Shin dusted off her paws as she replied meekly, “I would climb the rest of the way down, ma’am.” She ignored Liberty’s sneer as their tutor for the morning nodded sagely. “Exactly,” Miss Nordlingen said. “Now, let’s head back for lunch.”
That afternoon was a scheduled practice with another dorm of first year students, a native game called Kilikiti that involved swatting a rubber ball across a grassy pitch using a four-foot war club. Shin had seen it played a few times in high school, but hadn’t had an interest in it. Games that didn’t involve cards usually held no attraction for her.
Brigit screamed something in Gaelic that made Miss Nordlingen’s ears go straight down and swung, hitting the ball and bringing the club down on the backswing hard enough to almost knock over the opposing player behind her. After the Irish girl was caught out, Shin took her place, and grinned as she struck the ball. She started to run as Liberty came up and deliberately tried to trip her with her club.
Shin dodged, leaping over the outstretched length of wood, and as she landed she pirouetted, one toe brushing just under the New Haven girl’s chin. The red panda reached the base before the opposing first year could reach her with the ball. Brigit applauded, Tatiana barked something encouraging in Russian, and Liberty just looked irritated. It was fast becoming her favorite expression, Shin judged.
Later that night, Shin stared in the mirror as she brushed her teeth. Although fighting with her roommates was fun, even instructive at times, it was starting to wear down her nerves. Also, there was no telling how long the staff would keep putting up with it. Something had to be done. She rinsed out her mouth and put up her toothbrush as Brigit asked, “Are you about done, Shin?”
“Yes, Brigit,” and she stepped out of the bathroom and sat down on her bed. She looked up at her bookshelf, then across the room at Liberty’s small collection of books. She stood up, and Liberty’s ears perked as she walked over to her. “What do you want?” the New Havenite asked.
“I’d like to borrow one of your books, Liberty,” Shin said quietly. Something in her tone made the canine’s eyes narrow. “Oh yeah? What for?”
“To read, you idiot – what do people want books for?” Shin snapped, her ringed tail starting to fluff.
It was either her outburst or her request, but Liberty actually looked surprised. “Oh,” she said, “um … which one do you want?”
Shin peered at the titles. Liberty frequented the few bookstores on Casino and Eastern Island, trying to find politically acceptable titles. Her finger pointed at one. “That one,” she declared.
Liberty followed her finger, then asked suspiciously, “What do you want to know about the Revolution for?” She pulled Ten Days That Shook the World from the shelf and handed it to her as Tatiana’s ears perked and Brigit leaned out of the bathroom doorway.
Shin smiled. “Let’s just say I’m curious,” was all she said as she took the book over to her bed and began to read it.
* * * * * * * * *
The Ni Family’s Keystone-Loening rode a gentle swell in the small cove it had been moored in. Peng-wum and Nailani had spotted the cove from the air, and found that it made an excellent spot to enjoy each other’s company, far from worries about work.
Peng-wum lay on his back on a soft mat of cut grasses, looking up as the sun made dazzling patterns through the lean-to of woven palm fronds. His wife snuggled closer to him and whispered in his ear, “I love you.”
“Mm … I love you, Nailani,” the oldest Ni child said as he hugged the rabbit.
They kissed, and she murmured, “I have something to tell you.” She whispered in his ear.
His delighted smile was everything she could have wished, and she thanked the gods.