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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The main room of the casino was crowded with furs partying or risking the games of chance, while another group was gathered around the bar, singing noisily to the accompaniment of the small band. Ni Peng sat in her usual balcony seat, smiling or frowning in judgment as she always did when customers would look up to her. She looked up and several furs by the door quieted momentarily as her youngest son, wearing his trademark baseball cap, stepped into the room.
Hao didn’t stop at the bar, but made his way through the crowd toward the back of the casino. On the way he exchanged greetings with one or two who were business associates. He rapped on the door, was admitted, and entered a dimly lit hallway. At the far end was a small room, which once had been the home of the entire family. He could recall playing on the rough wood floor while his father and mother struggled to make ends meet after they had moved to Krupmark.
“Nothing,” he said as he opened the door. “None of my usual contacts have heard anything about the Harriers recently. One said he’d heard that Mad Franz was in the Philippines, but that was a month ago.” He threw his baseball cap onto the table disgustedly, pulled up a chair and sat down.
As the other members of his crew muttered Anna asked, “Who is this Mad Franz, and what does he have to do with us?” She poured him a shot of whisky, pouring one for herself.
Hao grimaced after downing the drink. “Franz Hotman,” he said hoarsely, “is a mercenary. I’m told that he stayed when everyone else in the German Navy left after the War.”
“So why is he called Mad?” she asked.
One of Hao’s assistants, a short canine, snickered. “Because he is completely crazy.” The door opened, and everyone looked up as Peng-wum walked in, followed by Hei. Hao looked at his father and older brother. “Anything?”
“No,” Peng-wum admitted. Hei stuffed his paws in his trouser pockets and said, “Hao, I want you to go to Casino Island and talk to your friends there.” The way he stressed the word friends caused Hao’s ears to perk. “See if they can tell you who hired Hotman.”
Anna said, “I’ll go with him.” She started to stand, but stopped as Peng-wum raised a paw. “No, Anna,” Hei said. “This is something that Hao has to do alone.” He turned to Hao. “Hurry back.”
“I will, Father.” Hao stood and, two of his crew following him, left the room. The Russian canine looked around and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
“Stay close to the casino,” Peng-wum said, “and that goes for the rest of you as well.” He smiled as he favored the other furs with a glance, then followed his father out of the room.
“Do you think that Hao’s friends had something to do with this?” Peng-wum asked his father.
“No. There would be a message first, and they would never hire a lunatic like Hotman to do the job,” Hei replied. “We’ll just have to see what Hao can find out on Spontoon.” As they emerged into the main room, Hei asked Peng-wum, “How is your wife doing?”
Peng-wum grinned happily at the change of subject. “Nailani’s doing well, Father. Her mother gave her a herbal mix to help her with any stomach problems.”
“Excellent.” Hei suddenly paused. “There’s one person we haven’t asked,” he said flatly.
His oldest son nodded, his muzzle twisting in a grimace. “I know, Father.”
Hei nodded, and his tail swished as he told his son, “See what you can learn from him.”
* * * * * * * * *
The Thieves’ Bazaar on Krupmark Island was just as crowded and busy as the Lucky Dragon, but few of the furs there were as happy. Anything can be purchased at the Thieves’ Bazaar, from weapons to drugs to machine parts to people (the latter at a high price, payable upon delivery, plus the seller’s commission and handling fees). The Bazaar makes up a large portion of the town of Fort Bob, and many of the island’s population go there to buy or sell. One particularly hot commodity is information.
As a slim canine girl made her way up the road and past the small buildings and tents, she ignored the catcalls and propositions of the vendors, trusting to her reputation and the revolver at her hip to dissuade all but the most aggressive salesmen.
A small ramshackle hut made apparently of driftwood or salvaged planks from some long-ago shipwreck drew her attention, and she stepped inside. While she waited for here eyes to adjust to the dim interior of the building, a dozing fur opened one eye and said in harshly accented English, “What do you want?”
The canine smiled, placing a paw on the butt of her revolver with a casual gesture. “I’m looking for a samovar,” Anna said quietly.
The fur, an ermine, sat up and grunted irritably. “The best samovars are made in Moscow,” he said.
“I prefer Vladivostok,” Anna said, her tone growing brittle as the paw on her weapon tightened its grip
The ermine grinned, baring his teeth. “Not since the Tsar left.” He then stood, scratched himself, and said, “What can I do for you, tovarisch?”
* * * * * * * * *
The Kilikiti match between the Songmark first years and a rival team from Meeting Island High School had gone back and forth, with much good-natured (and some ill-natured) banter and jokes on both sides. Liberty had been restrained from attacking one of the other girls, “in defense of world revolution,” as she put it, with her bat. The senior Songmark girls seemed relieved to see the other first years pounce on the New Haven girl and convince her that the ball was the target. Saffina, a tall lioness, had done a wonderful job of closing out their innings, lofting the ball over the heads of the defenders and straight into the harbor. Despite that, the score was still close as Shin stepped up to bowl.
The breeze coming off the harbor ruffled Shin’s fur as she tossed the ball from paw to paw. At the far end of the pitch her opponent, a feline, tensed and took a different grip on her bat as she waited. The rest of the Songmark first years shouted encouragement from the stands or their positions on the field.
Shin broke into a full run, her tail streaming behind her, and swung her arm in an overhand throw while screaming “Heeeeeeee-YAHH!!!” at the top of her lungs. Her old tutors had taught her that, to scream at the moment of maximum energy, and they had demonstrated it time after time while breaking boards and bricks with their bare paws. She put her whole weight behind the throw, stumbling and almost falling face first into the dirt as the ball left her paw.
The ball streaked past the batter even as she swung at it and slammed into the wicket behind her, sending the wood structure flying as the referee signaled the batter out. Shin raised her arms exultantly as her fellow students cheered their victory, then walked over to the batter and offered her a paw. “Good game,” she ventured.
“Yeah, it was, until your side own,” the feline groused. “We’ll beat you next time.”
Shin laughed gaily. “We’ll have to see about that, won’t we?” She straightened her school-issue shirt and shorts and joined her dorm to celebrate.
As a treat (and as a reward for not killing or maiming anyone, Shin guessed) their tutors arranged for them to watch a wrestling demonstration by a group of Samoans. The red panda sat with her dorm and watched avidly, settling her tail in her lap and smoothing the banded fur with her paws. She giggled at Liberty and Brigit. “If you two wag your tails any harder,” she teased, “you won’t need planes to get airborne.”
Brigit laughed. “An’ who’s sitting there, thinkin’ of a certain striped fellow, I don’t doubt?” she asked as Shin laughed and blushed. “I have to admit, so,” she said rather breathlessly as she watched two hugely muscled polar bears grappling, “they’re certainly fine to watch. Are they not, Tatiana?” she asked.
“Oh, da,” the sable replied, fanning herself as she gazed raptly, sighing as one of the wrestlers flexed. Clearly, Shin thought, being a good Party member didn’t restrict someone from appreciating a fine physique. Liberty just stared, her tail dangerously close to locking sideways.
The next day, Shin was sitting on a bench near the fence and reading through one of her textbooks. Despite the impending holiday (and the great sense of relief she felt at the news that Liberty Morgenstern was headed back to New Haven), she was determined to keep her studies up. She glanced up as Adele Beasley said, “There you are!” and the rabbit sat down beside the first year student, smiling as her long ears twitched. “I just got a telegram back from your parents, and I’m so grateful to you for all your help.” She held out the small slip of paper from the Western Onion office, and Shin took it and read it quickly.
“RECEIVED REQUEST STOP JOB IS OPEN STOP WILL COME FOR YOU APRIL 11 STOP SIGNED NI PENG.”
Adele asked, “Is that your mother?”
“Yes, and I’m glad she was able to find a place for you on such short notice,” Shin said, folding the telegram and handing it back to the rabbit. “One of my brothers will probably be picking you up.”
“You won’t be coming – oh, that’s right, your husband’s down on South Island.”
Shin smiled. “I’ll be headed there in a few days.” She giggled suddenly. “I hope the hotel guests won’t mind the noise.”
Adele laughed at that even as she blushed, and got up. “Well, I’d better start thinking about packing. Should I take my uniform, do you think?” she asked. “It’s the only really formal thing I have to wear.”
The red panda shrugged. “I don’t see why not,” she admitted. “I’d be very proud to wear my Songmark blazer, although I’m sure Mother can find more appropriate clothes for you to wear.” She leaned back slightly as Adele got up and walked off, then chuckled quietly to herself and closed her textbook.
Yes, she thought gleefully to herself, Adele was going to have an adventure. The problem with adventures, though, was that sometimes the road wandered into some rather interesting bypaths.
* * * * * * * * *
Peng-wum signaled to his bodyguard to stay where he was and entered the shabby warehouse on the west side of Fort Bob. The warehouse was located near the airstrip, which made sense: some of the cargo that went through this establishment was the kind that no one wanted around for very long. “Peng-wum, hola, mi amigo,” came a gravely voice. A shape detached itself from the shadows, revealing itself to be an unkempt jaguar. One paw fingered a rosary while the other gripped the neck of a bottle.
“Hola, Juan,” Peng-wum said. “Have you heard why I’m here?”
“Sure, sure,” Juan Perales slurred, picking a crate and sitting down heavily on it. He was called Juan the Tramp because of his appearance, and he was the biggest drug connection between South America and Southeast Asia. A good portion of the illicit substances that crossed the southern Pacific passed through his paws. The Mixtecan cleared his throat, hawked, and spat before saying, “Mira, Peng-wum, I know you might think I had something to do with the trouble Hao had, but as long as you have the north, let me keep the south, okay?”
“I didn’t think it was you, Juan,” Peng-wum said quietly, “but I wanted to make sure. Do you have any idea who might have hired Hotman?”
At the name Juan spat again and hurriedly crossed himself. “Not him,” he said bluntly. “Too much money, you know? And his gang … Madre de Dios, what a bunch of bastards,” he growled, taking a swig from his bottle. He smacked his lips and said, “I ask around anyway, for you.”
“Thank you.” Peng-wum stood, courteously waved away the defrocked priest’s offer of the bottle, and walked out of the warehouse. “Dead end, Boss?” the bodyguard asked as they headed into the town.
“Yes, a dead end,” Peng-wum said, “but he’ll ask some of his people anyway, as a favor.”
“What do you think he’ll ask for in return?” the wolf asked.
Peng-wum paused, then smiled. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “but I’m sure Father won’t like it.”
* * * * * * * * *
Shin leaped to the dock before the water taxi could come completely alongside and charged straight at her husband. “Fang!” she exclaimed as she rammed into him and hugged him tightly. “I’ve missed you so much!”
Fang, though staggered by his wife’s greeting, hugged her back and leaned over to kiss her as a hotel porter accepted her suitcase from the boatman. “Quite a welcome, love – and look at you! What a set of muscles you have on you now,” he said admiringly, disengaging and looking at her. “You might even have a chance against me now,” and he took the suitcase from the porter, who winked and started offloading luggage as two tourists stepped onto the dock.
“’A chance’ with you, squeaky toy?” Shin laughed. “Let’s get home, and you’ll see.” She pressed a bit closer to him than the tourists considered seemly, and she laughed at their disapproving looks as the tiger and the red panda took a branching walkway toward the small bungalow they called home. As they walked, Shin switched to Chinese and told Fang about Adele.
“Let me get this straight,” he said in English as soon as their door closed. “This girl gets you put on restriction and you’re doing her a favor? Just what are they teaching you in that school?” he laughed.
“Surely not how to be a nice little girl,” Shin chuckled as she set her suitcase by the bed, “but how to get away with things, basically. Apart from learning to fly and eventually getting our licenses, they’re teaching us to be completely self-sufficient, and capable of solving any problem we’re faced with.”
Fang leaned against the doorjamb, whiskers twitching. “Sounds like a good school, then.”
“It is,” she replied enthusiastically. “Here, let me show you something. Give me your paw.”
“Okay, but what – hey!” Before he could say anything else, he was flat on his back on the bed, the springs beneath him squealing dangerously. As he blinked and shook his head, Shin leaped on top of him and nuzzled his nose with hers.
“Now,” she declared, “I have you exactly where I want you . . . “