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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!)
She fell in close to the shore, and the water was fairly shallow. Nevertheless she made a spectacular splash, landing face first in the water and emerging almost instantly, spluttering as Peng-wum ran to the edge of the dock, crouching and extending a paw. He hauled her out of the water as Peng asked, “Are you all right, my dear?”
Adele coughed and started to brush at her dress, her ears straight down in mortification. “I – I’m sorry,” she stammered, even as her paws succeeded only in matting down her fur and making her dress stick tight to her contours. She blushed as the canine busying himself with the K-85 whistled.
“It’s all right,” Peng soothed, taking the rabbit’s arm and leading her into the building, “and never mind – we’ll get you something warm before you take a chill.” She glanced back at Peng-wum, who smiled at her warning glare. Her oldest son nodded and reminded himself that he was married to a wonderful woman, who would likely cut his heart out with a spoon if she caught his eye wandering. He turned back to the plane as the other worker handed him a parcel. Clutching it in his paws, the two furs made their way into the building by another route. There was no need to let Adele know what was going on, after all.
Once inside the building, Adele had a chance to look around as Peng busied herself finding a towel or blanket. Several furs, including one astoundingly big-eared fox, regarded her soaked form curiously, then went back to work. The place looked like a small bank office, and she recalled what Peng-wum had said about “investments.” There was obviously much more to life on Krupmark than she’d been led to believe.
“Here you are, Adele,” and Peng wrapped a blanket around her. “My dear, you are soaked,” she commented. “Let’s get you over to the Casino where you can get to your room and change.” She led the rabbit through the building and out the front entrance. Adele paused at the edge of the road.
The road was actually a wide dirt track, the soil stamped smooth from paw traffic and the occasional set of wheels. She glanced around, noting a collection of houses down the road to her left as it curved to match the shoreline. Up the road in the opposite direction there were a large group of buildings, and there was a drone of engines as a small twin-engine plane took off from behind a series of hills. She looked ahead to where Peng was waiting for her and stopped, her ears going straight up in surprised shock.
The sign read Lucky Dragon Casino in English and Chinese, and sported a slightly more than (and very convincingly rendered) anatomically correct dragon that, judging by his appearance, had ample justification in feeling fortunate. Both buildings, the Casino and the one she just left, were obviously once a pair of two-story warehouses. A breeze blew down the road, and Adele shivered suddenly. She followed Peng into the building.
The main room of the casino was largely deserted, aside from a barfly or two, the bartender and a bouncer, and some furs cleaning up. Adele followed her hostess up a flight of stairs and down a hall, then into a small bedroom. “Here you are, Adele,” Peng said as she opened the door.
The room held a bed and a small dresser, and had a window that looked out over rolling hills of scrub pine and tall grass. “This is nice,” Adele said as she placed her suitcase on the floor and turned to the older woman. “When do I start work?”
Peng chuckled. “Your shift will start tonight, after dinner,” she said. “But first we need to get you dry.” She turned toward the open door and clapped her paws twice, then whistled shrilly. There was a sound of running feet and two furs, a vixen and a feline, poked their heads into the room. “Mei Ling, Sally,” Peng said, “this is Adele. She is a guest of Shin’s and will be working here over her school holidays. I think she needs a bath and a change of clothes.” The vixen immediately vanished as Adele protested, “But I have dry clothes – “
“Do you?” Peng asked quietly, and pointed at the small puddle gathering around the suitcase.
“Oh, no,” Adele sighed miserably, her ears drooping.
“Cheer up, my dear,” the panda said consolingly as she laid a paw on the young rabbit’s shoulder. “We’ll get you a nice bath and some dry clothes – then I want you to show me what you know about cards.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adele said, brightening slightly from Peng’s good humor. “Shin’s taught me a lot, and I can’t wait to start work.”
There was another sound of feet in the hallway and the vixen, Sally, said in a soft Irish accent, “The bath’s ready, ma’am.”
“Excellent,” Peng said. “Now, Adele, you go along with Sally and Mei Ling, and they’ll get you something appropriate.”
She walked out then, and Mei Ling took Adele’s paw. “Come with us, please,” she said in accented English. Adele followed them to a room at the far end of the hall, where a large bathtub sat, steam curling up from the sudsy water. “You’ll need to be havin’ your clothes off, Adele,” Sally remarked. “An’ don’ be nervous; I’m sure ye’ve nothin’ we’ve never seen afore.” She giggled and Adele smiled, reassured as she started to disrobe.
The water felt great and she sighed as she soaked. Mei Ling gathered up her wet things and carried them out, and Sally opened a closet and examined the contents critically. “Hmm … now what should ye be wearin’, with yer fur that color brown?” She grinned, her brush moving back and forth languidly as she pulled a dress out and held it up.
Adele gasped. The gown was silk, in a shade of brown that harmonized with her fur. It looked as if it would reach to below her knees, and was trimmed with wavy designs in gold thread at the hems. “I’m thinkin’ this will do, so,” Sally said.
“Oh – I couldn’t, it’s too fine,” Adele stammered, and the vixen grinned.
“It’ll do,” she said firmly. “After all, ye don’ want ta give people a bad impression, now do ye?” she asked.
“I guess not,” Adele admitted as she got out of the tub and started to dry off.
Peng looked up from her cup of tea a short while later and smiled. Adele was wearing a tan dress that hugged her curves but allowed her some modesty. Matching flat-soled shoes covered her feet. Peng had to admit that the rabbit was really very attractive, and reminded herself again that this fur was more than a guest, but less than a full-time employee. “Well,” she said, “are you feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you ma’am,” Adele said as Peng waved her into a chair and she sat down, folding her paws in her lap. “Now, show me what you know, please,” and one exquisitely-lacquered claw pushed a deck of cards over to Adele.
Adele picked up the cards, shuffled them, and started to lay out two hands of blackjack. One lost, so she gathered up the cards and started to shuffle again when the cards just seemed to erupt from her paws, flying across the table. Adele blushed as she started to gather them up, then blushed further as she fished the jack of diamonds from Peng’s teacup. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“That’s all right,” Peng said patiently, holding her paw out for the cards as the aged clock over the bar sounded two o’clock. She handed the cards back to Adele, who demonstrated several more hands of blackjack and two hands of five-card poker. Finally the red panda said, “You’ve learned what Shin taught you very quickly, and that is commendable,” and at the unexpected praise Adele perked up. “But you need to relax, Adele,” Peng said with a reassuring smile. “You have a job, and even if you didn’t want one you are still a guest here.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Adele smiled, and Peng patted her cheek.
“That’s better. Now, I think you should go to your room and lie down,” Peng said. “We will have supper at six, and the casino opens at seven. You might be up all night,” and she smiled as Adele stood and left.
Back up in her room, Adele at first grew worried when she found her suitcase and her clothes missing, but a glance out her window showed her that the wet things were drying safely on a clothesline. She took off her new dress and hung it up carefully, then lay down.
Supper was served in a small room beside the kitchen, and it wasn’t poi, which cheered her up immensely: she made short work of her bowl of stir-fried vegetables and steamed rice, but politely declined what the other girls were drinking. From the smell of it, it was local moonshine. She contented herself with water. Most of the other employees were young women, with a few older furs mixed in. One of the latter, a long-haired canine wearing a threadbare bathrobe who wore her headfur loose to her shoulders lit a cigarette and asked, “So, where’d they pick you up, girl?”
“Me?” Adele said, and at her nod replied, “Casino Island.”
Sally added, “She’s a guest o’ Shin’s, Fatima.”
The Afghan smiled almost condescendingly at the younger vixen. “I didn’t think they’d be poaching off Spontoon, that’d raise hackles all over the place. Besides, she’s not the type.” Without saying another word she stood up and walked out of the small dining room, fixing a gauzy silk veil around her face.
The other girls stood up and started to follow her out and Adele asked Mei Ling, “What’s wrong?”
“Time for work,” the young Chinese feline replied, and Adele quickly drained her cup of water and hurried after her, almost tripping over a chair leg on her way out.
* * * * * * * *
The Casino Island Businessmen’s Protective Association was not as well-established as older ones in San Francisco or Kuo Han, but it offered the same range of services to Chinese-operated businesses in Spontoon. After more than a day of talking with assistants, Hao was finally shown into the office of the Association’s president.
“Ni Hao, how good to see you,” the giant panda said as the red panda was shown in. “What brings you here? I had heard that Hai Wei told you to stay away for a while.”
Hao smiled as he took a proffered chair and sat opposite the larger fur. “Wei is a good friend, and must balance his friendship with his duty to Spontoon,” he said in Chinese as he accepted a cup of tea from a thin canine. “I come asking for information, sir, and not to cause any difficulty for anyone. I and my men were - ah, stopped from pursuing our business a few days ago.”
The panda nodded, one rounded black-furred ear flicking at an orbiting fly. “Very bad joss, to have business so rudely interrupted,” he remarked. “And do you know who it was?” he asked as he leaned back in his chair.
“Someone we both know, sir, although his accent might give you pause,” Hao said with a thin smile. His paw stretched out on the table, fingers moving, and the panda grimaced.
“Very bad joss indeed,” he muttered. “Do you need our assistance?” he asked. “Your business is important to us, young Ni Hao.”
“I thank you, sir, with all respect,” Hao said to the leader of the Tong that sponsored him. Yes, his business was important to them, as was the connections his father could facilitate. He was satisfied now that the Tongs had not been the ones to hire Hotman’s group of mercenaries, so after a few more pleasantries he left the office.
Seeing a young fur strolling by, he briefly thought of engaging her for the night; his stomach growled and he shelved the thought for later. Instead he went to a small restaurant by the Old China Dock.
The dinner was very good, within the cook’s limited means, but Hao took care to thank the fur. He had always been taught to show the proper respect, since many businesses were founded on the reputation of the proprietor. He stepped into the bathroom before leaving.
The restaurant had an old-style trough urinal, and after unbuttoning himself and relaxing he started thinking of where he should go next to continue his inquiry. As he was finishing he stiffened as a cold steel muzzle pressed against the back of his head and breath pungent with stale tobacco and cheap whisky wafted over his nose.
“Zo … it seems my hunter has been caught himself, ja?”