home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Payoffs© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and Songmark characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The next morning pale light came in through the half-open window, a breeze just barely moving the thin curtains. Adele stirred as a knock sounded at her door, her face bearing the kind of smile that one usually associates with getting a very satisfying nights’ sleep. She lay there a moment, luxuriating in the mingled musks that lingered in the room, then sat bolt upright as memories of what she did the previous night came flooding back to her.
As she sat up the door opened and Peng walked in, followed by Sally carrying a breakfast tray. “Good morning, Adele,” the older panda said. “How are you today?”
“I-I’m fine, Madam Ni,” Adele said, hastily wrapping herself in the bedsheet as Sally grinned appreciatively at her and set the tray on the bedside table. The vixen sniffed a few times and her smile grew broader. She winked at the lepine before stepping out of the room.
Peng asked, “May I sit?” and gestured at the bed.
“Oh! Yes, please,” Adele said, blushing furiously.
Peng smiled. “Don’t feel so embarrassed, Adele,” she said. “Everyone has a first time for everything in life, you know. Did you enjoy yourself?” At the rabbit’s hesitant nod, the red panda added, “Good. The hare evidently enjoyed it as well, since he left some hours ago with a very wide smile. Come, have some tea and some breakfast,” and she reached across to the tray and started to pour, while Adele’s mouth started watering at the scent of fried eggs and bacon.
Peng passed her a cup of tea and poured one for herself as she remarked, “The hare – what was his name, by the way?”
“Roger,” Adele replied, blushing again as she thought about the previous night.
“Roger, yes – well, no matter what, you have cleared him. In fact,” and here Peng chuckled, “I’d say you completely – what’s the word – exonerated him. Also, I’d hazard a guess that you have an admirer now. He quite liked you, you know.”
“He – he did?” Adele asked. The thought that she had done something noble, had cleared Roger of any suspicion, made her feel very proud of herself. That their night together had made him an admirer of hers made other parts of her tingle.
“Yes, so he told Ahmad as he left,” Peng replied in an amused tone. She sipped her tea, and licked her lips as she lowered the cup. “Please, eat. I have something to tell you, Adele.” The rabbit reached for the plate and fork and started eating as Peng said quietly, “I’m afraid I must ask you to see him again, tonight.”
Her mouth was full, but Adele’s eyes went wide. Again her thoughts ran in two opposing directions; again? fought with yesyesyes! She swallowed what she had in her mouth and asked, “Why?”
Peng looked worried, as if she were putting too great an imposition on the younger woman. “It’s like this. You took Roger upstairs, but his partner – “
“Is that his name?” The red panda shook her head and muttered something in Chinese. “I hadn’t known. Anyway, he left almost immediately after you went upstairs, so we weren’t able to catch which of the two had been stealing. On the bright side,” she added, “we haven’t lost any money, either.” She reached over and placed her paw on Adele’s thigh. “Would you be willing to help us one more time, Adele? After tonight, you can go back to dealing cards until you have to return to school.” Her expression was hopeful.
Adele took her time, thinking it over as she meticulously ate everything on her plate. The best she could hope for at Songmark was poi, and although there was plenty of it, it wasn’t nearly as appetizing. When she finished she said quietly, “Madame Ni, I told you I would do what it took to help you, and save Roger’s life. I’ll see him tonight, then?”
Peng nodded, not very surprised that Adele would acquiesce so quickly. Roger was quite handsome, after all. “I spoke to one of our mechanics. His plane will definitely not be leaving until at least the day after tomorrow.”
The lepine set her plate aside then, and stretched. “I need a bath, I suppose,” she said, then laughed nervously.
“Yes, and Sally needs to make up the bed and we shall air out the room before tonight,” Peng laughed with her.
Stepping out of the room, Peng paused as Mei Ling walked up to her and whispered to her hastily in Chinese. Patting the young feline’s shoulder, she went downstairs to a rear entrance. “Yes, you wished to see me?”
Roger smiled, his borrowed leather flying jacket draped over one shoulder. “Hi, Mrs. Ni. I wanted to thank you for last night. Not so much for Adele, but for not charging me for the night.”
Peng smiled politely. “You’re very welcome. In fact, I need you to be here tonight as well. From what everyone heard last night, you did an excellent job.”
“Well,” the hare said, lowering his eyes almost bashfully and tracing one booted toe across the ground.
“Don’t be shy about it,” Peng admonished him gently. “She is quite looking forward to seeing you again tonight. After that, I want you and your friend to make yourselves very scarce. Very scarce, you understand?”
“Sure, Mrs. Ni,” Roger said. “Clete and I have a couple engines to overhaul, and we don’t want to get in Dutch with our boss.”
“Good,” Peng said. “Until tonight, then.”
It was inevitable that Hao’s information would bear fruit fairly quickly. Krupmark Island’s population wasn’t very large, and many of the people who worked in Fort Bob lived there. So several sets of pointed questions gained him and his crew the description, and eventually the location, of the fur they were looking for.
An unwashed, ungroomed ermine looked up as he sat by the entrance to his hut on the fringes of the Bazaar in time to see a canine point at him. The fur beside the disreputable-looking Alsatian was a slim, young red panda.
Before he consciously processed the thought that he had been found he had thrown himself sideways from his chair and took off in a stumbling run toward the low scrub that bounded the Bazaar and Fort Bob on the north. Behind him he could hear a voice cry out something in harsh Spontoonie, followed by threats in Chinese.
He ran fast, but he was no sprinter, and he had spent so much time in his cover guise as a lazy ragpicker and dealer that he had gotten severely out of condition. A sudden jerk on his tail, strong paws on his shoulders and the sudden impact with the ground told him that his life expectancy was now measured in hours, not years.
Hao ran up as two of his crew tied the ermine’s paws behind his back and hauled him roughly to his feet. Anna trotted up behind him, breathing hard and rubbing her right side under her ribs. “Take him back to the office, Boss?” one of the felines asked.
Hao shook his head. “Take him to our warehouse and watch him closely,” he ordered. “Gag him if you have to. We’ll take him to the usual place after dark.” As the ermine was hustled away, Hao turned to the slim canine. “Anna, I want you in on this. I’ll need to know what he says if he starts talking Russian.”
“Sure, Hao,” she replied, and as he turned away to follow his crewmates she frowned. She looked to the north, sighed and turned to follow the younger fur.
As the sun went down over the Nimitz Sea that evening several furs left the large warehouse near the Lucky Dragon, bearing a struggling slim shape tied paw and foot. A hood had been fixed over the ermine’s head to make certain he would have no idea where he was going. He was unceremoniously dumped into the back of an old Ford truck, and as the other furs piled in around him the engine sputtered to life and headed inland.
There were no roads and only a few trails as the high grass ended and was replaced by forest. Most of the island was covered in dense woods, which made hiding small outposts and airstrips easy. The furs who ran the island would occasionally send roving bands out into the uninhabited parts of the island to see if there were any newcomers. A potential source of new revenue was not to be overlooked.
The truck finally jounced uphill to stop by a small and decrepit shack. Anna got out of the truck and groaned as she stretched. “That was a rough ride,” she remarked, and several of the others agreed with her.
Hao merely nodded, climbing out of the Ford and pulling something in a beaten-up leather carrying case from behind the driver’s seat. The others saw the case in the twilight, and looked uneasy as he gestured. “Bring him inside,” he said brusquely, and the ermine was hauled out of the truck and carried into the shack.
Anna followed Hao in, and watched as Yefrimov was tied to a chair. His hood was removed, and he hissed in accented English, “What the hell are you doing?”
“I want to ask you some questions,” Hao said as he placed the leather case on the rammed-earth floor. He opened it to reveal a box with several wires coiled around it. “If you don’t tell me what I want to know,” the red panda added, “I’ll use this.”
The ermine spit at him. “You don’t scare me, you soft little bourgeois,” he sneered. “I won’t tell you anything.”
Hao glanced down at the spittle on his trouser leg, then his paw struck out, catching the fur backpawed across his muzzle. Yefrimov’s head snapped to one side and Hao said quietly, “I’ll make a bet with you, Yefrimov.”
“Oh?” the ermine asked, his tone still confident that he could take whatever these decadent furs could dish out, but his ears flicking in surprise at the sudden change of subject. His tongue flicked out at the bright spot of blood marking his fur near the corner of his mouth.
“Yes. I’ll bet you that you’ll tell me everything I want to know before midnight,” and Hao tested the old Ericsson field telephone by placing two fingers on the antenna leads, then turning the crank with his free paw. He shook, his tailfur fluffing out, and he snatched the fingers away and sucked on them thoughtfully for a moment.
Adele stirred that night, murmured something indistinct and nestled closer into Roger’s arms. Their second encounter had gone off much more smoothly than the first, since Adele now knew what to do. She had been very surprised at how easy it was, and found that she quite liked Roger. Before she had drifted off to sleep she had resolved that she would not go back to dealing cards. Being a hostess seemed to be much more fun, and more than enough adventure for her.
Thinking of adventure served to remind her that the first of May was fast approaching, and in two days she would have to find her way back to Eastern Island and her dorm. She was confident about that, as well; the Nis had promised her transportation and a job, and so far she had no complaints whatever.
And there was no way things could go wrong this time. Cletus would find his way barred by the bouncers if he tried to leave, and while Adele didn’t think Roger’s copilot (she guessed – after all, Roger did wear a pilot’s jacket) was responsible, she doubted she’d shed any tears over the opossum’s demise.
Fast asleep, Roger nuzzled her ears and she sighed happily. She had refused any drinks, wanting to have her mind clear, and had not been disappointed. Roger had been attentive and gentle, and had even made a few suggestions (suggestions that supplemented things she had heard from the other girls in the Casino while she bathed that afternoon) that might make the night more exciting. It had paid off, too, as the Songmark blazer draped over the footboard could attest.
As she drifted back into a deep sleep, one ear twitched. The night had been warm, and there were evidently a lot of animals about; the crickets had been loud and there had been the distant sound of howling coming from the west.