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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon© 2004 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
It had started simply enough with orders from his father. Hao, Anna and his crew were told to take their fishing boat and wait for a shipment of catnip and other substances at the large island off the southwestern end of Krupmark. They had arrived early and pitched a small camp, then settled down to wait for their contact.
They hadn’t counted on word of their arrangement with Don Carpanini getting out so fast, or that some of their competitors might try to interfere.
“Stay down,” Hao hissed in Chinese and the crew of his boat quieted, crouching behind the gunwales at his gesture as he and a feline crewmember scanned the dark water. Anna knelt beside Olaf and an open ammunition case, ready to hand up a spare drum magazine for the boat’s Lewis gun. The feline grabbed at Hao’s sleeve and pointed to the east as a brief flicker of a lantern shone from the nearby shore, perhaps fifty yards distant.
When bullets started striking the sand and Hao realized that the intruders outnumbered them, he had ordered a quick retreat to the boat. They had managed to get the craft out to just beyond the reef. There was no moon yet, but it would rise soon, and they could take advantage of the cover of darkness for a while. “I see it, Matahi,” Hao whispered in Spontoonie. “Can you reach it from here?”
The feline gazed across the water again, and then nodded judiciously. “Maybe, Boss.”
“Okay,” Hao said, and the feline slithered across the deck of the fishing boat and retrieved a small but heavy crate from the small palm-thatched deckhouse. Moving quickly but trying to avoid making any sound, he pried the lid off.
“What’s that?” Anna asked from her position beside Olaf.
“You’ll see,” Hao replied, reaching out and patting her ankle reassuringly. The feline stood up, gauged the wind and fumbled with something in his paws. It was oblong, with a short handle on one end. He then threw the object and ducked as it sailed through the air, trailed by a soft hissing.
The explosion was deafening as the sound traveled across the water, followed by screaming and startled yelps in several languages as the intruders scrambled to douse a small fire. “That’s our mark!” Hao shouted, rising up to peer over the gunwale and seizing a rifle. “Let ‘em have it!” Others in the crew started firing rifles and pistols as Olaf drew back the Lewis’ bolt and the deep-throated roar of the machine gun filled the night
Answering fire erupted as the opposing crew recovered from their original surprise, and bullets flicked water around the boat as Matahi prepared to throw another Mills bomb. He threw the Great War-vintage hand grenade and ducked, and everyone aboard flinched and ducked for cover as the explosive went off prematurely.
Hao slid another clip of bullets into his rifle, then winced as he pulled a splinter of wood from his paw. “I knew those things looked old when I bought them,” he remarked, rising back up to fire as Matahi, his fur now dappled with blood, prepared to throw another grenade. Matahi suddenly pitched backward, blood trailing from a neat hole in his chest, and the grenade clattered to the deck, rolling to a stop in front of Anna’s feet. She screamed and tossed the grenade overboard as hard as she could, and everyone waited for the explosion.
It didn’t come, but more bullets gouged wood from the railing. Olaf growled a curse and swung the big machine gun back and forth in a sweeping motion, pausing only to stick out a paw for a fresh magazine. Anna fumbled one up to him, and started shoving fresh rounds into the empty drum.
Finally the shooting from the island subsided, and Hao slid down to a seat against the small deckhouse, panting. The rest of the crew followed suit, while two others tended to the prone form of Matahi. “He’s dead, Boss,” one of them murmured, while the other softly started to sing a death chant.
“I saw him fall,” Hao said somberly, reaching into the deckhouse and retrieving a Very pistol and a flare. Loading it, he took aim at a spot over the island and fired, face averted from the weapon. He squinted through the unearthly glow of the flare at the island, now growing farther away as the boat drifted on the outgoing tide, and said, “They’ve either run off or died. At first light we’ll go ashore and see who it was, then we head back. Peng-wum and Father will have to hear about this.” His voice was very quiet, almost a whisper, and the crew (who knew him better than Anna) moved away from him. Ni Hao was known for occasional flashes of temper after a scheme went awry or one of his friends was hurt or worse.
While the crew busied themselves, Hao lit a cigarette and slouched against the rail as Anna walked over to him, only to be pitched off her feet as the grenade she threw overboard finally exploded.
* * * * * * * * *
“What’s wrong?” Shin asked as she walked by the second-years’ dorms the next morning. Adele Beasley sat morosely on her bed, muttering to herself and her ears drooping. “What’s the matter, Adele?”
“Who – oh, hello, Shin,” the rabbit replied, propping her chin dejectedly on her hands. “It’s the Easter holidays,” she said cryptically.
“And?” Shin urged gently, sitting down beside her. The rest of the dorm was deserted.
Adele sighed. “Well, they shut the school down over the holidays, so we all have to find a place to go.” She glanced at Shin as she explained her predicament, and gave a weak smile. “You’re lucky – you can go home. I live too far away, so I’m going to have to find a place, and a job to pay for it.” Staring down at her feet she grumbled, “I did have one arranged, but they pulled out at the last minute, and it’s too late now to start over.” She stressed the word almost into a wail against a malevolent Fate.
Shin sat there as the rabbit sighed again, and after a moment the tip of her banded tail twitched. “I might have an idea for you to consider, Adele,” she said quietly, keeping an almost diffident tone.
The rabbit lifted her head and looked at the red panda. “What kind of idea?” she asked, sniffing.
Shin shrugged. “I had thought that you might want to go somewhere other than Spontoon for your holiday.”
“Krupmark.” At Adele’s startled twitch, Shin added, “I know you have no reason to trust me, Adele, but I really am trying to fit in and be a good student here. It’s just hard, that’s all.” She blushed and ducked her head a bit. “I want to help you.”
“But what about all the things I hear happens on Krupmark?” Adele asked.
Shin smiled. “You’ve been listening to people who’ve never been there. It’s not too bad a place, really. Sort of wide open, like one of those oil towns Amelia’s friend Helen hails from.” She studied the rabbit as Adele seemed to grow more despondent. “What?”
“That’s another thing,” Adele said. “Those two seem to get all the adventuring – and all the boys,” she finished in a murmur. “I just don’t seem to have any luck except when I’m flying.” Shin nodded; Adele’s bad luck was well known among the Songmark students and staff. Shin thought she might start taking bets on which body part Adele might damage next.
“Well, there you are then,” Shin said brightly. “Krupmark’s close enough to Spontoon that you can get back here after the holidays, and I’m sure you’ll find it an adventure.”
“But where will I stay?”
“My family will put you up,” the red panda replied. “My father and mother operate a casino on the island, and there are a lot of rooms available.”
Adele looked surprised, then smiled. “That’s very generous of you, Shin, but I have to earn my own way. The staff will want a report on what I did, you see.”
“That won’t be a problem, either,” Shin said flatly. “We’re always hiring, so you can get a job that will pay your bills and maybe have some left over.”
“Are you sure it’ll be all right?” Adele asked uncertainly, as if struggling with herself whether to accept the offer or not.
“Of course it will be,” and Shin actually dared to pat the senior student’s paw consolingly. “We’re playing a Kilikiti team from Meeting Island High School in a few days, and the holidays start on the fifth. I’ll wire my parents and see what they say, okay?”
Adele surprised Shin then, by suddenly hugging her. “Thank you, Shin! You know, when you first came to the school I thought you’d be a terrible person.”
Shin let that pass, and returned the hug. “Well, we students have to stick together. Friend?” she asked.
Adele grinned, her former dark humor now quite driven away by the prospect of a place for the holidays, a job, - and the possibility of a real adventure. “Friend,” she declared. She looked at Shin curiously. “What kind of jobs are there?”
“You might start out as a card dealer – that’s fairly simple,” Shin replied, reminding herself that, with Adele’s luck, being a bartender could cost her parents quite a bit of money in broken bottles. Clumsiness was as welcome as a fight or a policeman in the Lucky Dragon.
“Oh,” Adele said, looking a bit downcast again. “I’m afraid I don’t know many card games.”
Shin almost laughed, but changed it to a chuckle. “Don’t worry. I can show you one or two before the holidays start.” The rabbit brightened noticeably again, and Shin smiled as she was reminded of a roller coaster. “The simplest ones are poker and blackjack,” the red panda amplified. “Come up to our dorm if you have any free time after dinner, and I’ll get my deck of cards out.”
“They’re not like Beryl’s, are they?”
Shin snorted and her ears flicked back momentarily. “She cheats,” she declared. “My family’s got a reputation to uphold, so we don’t cheat.” Unless it’s worthwhile, she thought to herself.
* * * * * * * * *
Ni Hei shared his youngest son’s mood, glowering as Hao finished reporting what had happened the previous night. Hao had additional reason to be angry; he had just buried a friend.
“So, were you able to discover who was behind this?” Hei asked in Chinese, a paw tracing a random design on his desk blotter. Anna cocked her head, trying to puzzle out what the Nis were saying to each other.
“They left their dead behind, Father,” Hao said, “But we had time to examine them before throwing them to the sharks.” He scuffed a shoe across the office carpet, then said, “One was a member of Hotman’s group, Father. I recognized him.”
Hei looked thoughtful. Hotman’s Harriers were a small group of mercenaries, mostly Euros with a few Chinese and other ethnic types thrown in. They were ruthless and usually quite expensive – Hei had hired them once, and knew how much their services had depleted the family’s funds. “Hotman’s. Any indication of who hired them?”
Hei nodded. “Are you having any more difficulties from your business associates to the northwest?” he asked.
Hao blinked, then realized that his father was talking about the Soviet officers he had bought the fighter planes from last year. “No more trouble, Father,” and he switched from Mandarin to the rural dialect spoken in Kuo Han, “but the woman interests me.” He used a different emphasis on the word ‘interests,’ and Hei’s ears perked.
“Do as you will, my son,” he said, “and I will have Peng-wum try to determine who has hired the Harriers. What do you plan on doing?” he asked in English.
Hao sighed. “I think I’m going to get cleaned up and get a drink, Father.” He gestured to Anna, who headed for the door. At the threshold he paused and turned back to Hei. “Please let me know who to kill, Father,” and he left the office.