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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!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush by permission of EO Costello. Thanks!)
Hao sat and fidgeted beside his mother nearly a week later as the Casino got slowly more crowded. Much to his dismay, his father had allowed Adele to pilot his Garza-Huacatl to a certain spot in the ocean between Krupmark and Dioon to pick up a few items that would later be shipped via Mildendo. The Lee brothers and Anna had gone with her, and Hao hadn’t been entirely mollified by Hei’s assertion that Adele needed the flight practice.
He sipped moodily at his whiskey and crossed his legs, flicking a bit of dust from his spotless white Panama suit. “I have to admit, Mother,” he said finally, “you can see everything in the room from up here.”
“And you are just now noticing that, my son?” Peng asked in an amused tone, and she chuckled as her youngest shrugged.
“I’ve never stayed up here this long before,” he said with a forced smile. He began to add something, but his voice trailed off as he stared and started to stand up.
Peng followed his gaze and her blood ran cold as Mad Franz Hotman stepped into the room and headed straight for the bar, thumping the wooden surface with a meaty paw and yelling for a beer. She caught a motion from the corner of her eye as Hao started to pull his pistol from its holster at the small of his back.
As the paw gripping the heavy automatic pistol came up, it was stopped as her closed fan cracked across his wrist. Hao flinched, wincing at the sting of the nickel-steel stays, and turned to look at his mother. “Mother,” he hissed in Chinese, “that barbarian – “
“Is a guest in this house, Hao,” she said evenly, holding his gaze with her own. “You will respect that custom, please.”
“B-but, Mother,” Hao said, his teeth grinding as his tail bottled up and a pleading note entered his voice. “I want to kill him.”
“I know, but not here,” she stated flatly. “You will have to wait, my son. Take your time on your revenge, and it’ll taste all the sweeter.” She saw her words take effect and smiled as her son holstered his Colt and sat back down.
“What do you suggest, Mother?” he asked in a sullen, balked tone.
“Do not take that tone with me, my son!” she said sharply in English, and Hao’s tail drooped instantly. The number of people Ni Hao was actually afraid of could be counted on one paw, but the first two were his mother and father. Particularly his mother.
“Sorry, Mother,” he mumbled contritely.
“That’s better,” she said, refilling her teacup and looking down at the Casino floor as Hotman drank his beer and laughed while one of his crew danced clumsily with Sally. She craned forward, studying the burly rabbit’s expression. “Hmm,” she mused, cupping her chin with one paw.
Hao glanced at her. “What’s wrong, Mother?”
“Just thinking, Hao. Deciding whether or not tell you something without you immediately trying to take advantage of it,” Peng said with a smile.
Hao’s brows quirked and he drained his whiskey glass. “Well, Mother,” he said, “I suppose that, if you tell me, I might make a decision that you might approve of.” He smiled. “But if I never learn it, how will you know if I’m capable of making good decisions?”
A dry chuckle, and her paw raised to pat his cheek. “Very good, Hao.” She sat a while longer, collecting her thoughts. “I went to the Black Sheep House a while back, as you know.”
He nodded. “While I was there, Madam Baader mentioned that the one you are so intent on visits there frequently.” Her look turned sly. “Now, if you were to talk to her, you might learn more, and develop a plan of action.”
Hao looked back down as Hotman drank another beer, scattering bills and coins across the bar in payment before walking out. “You know, Mother,” he said suddenly, “it’s been quite a while since I went down to the Beach. I have to apologize to Madam Carlotta for hurting one of her girls, after all.”
She smiled and nodded, her tail swishing back and forth very slightly. “Be careful, Hao,” she said.
But she said it to an empty chair, the door to the room closing as she spoke.
“Why do you work for him?”
“What?” Anna Simonova asked, twisting around in her seat to look at Adele. The rabbit sat in the GH-2’s pilot seat, occasionally glancing out the windows at the fishing boat that was their contact. The Lees had almost finished loading the plane with a series of small, but apparently very heavy boxes. All four of them were armed, and for Adele the weight of the revolver at her hip drove home the fact that she assisting in a smuggling operation. Still, it was an adventure, and the flying would enable her to add more time to her logbook.
She cocked her head at the canine, one ear dipping as she repeated the question. The slim Russian girl was a puzzle to her, and she was curious. “Well, you’re older than he is,” Adele said, “and I’m sure you could get work elsewhere. So why work for him?”
The canine glanced away. “Things happened, you understand,” she said finally. “I had two choices – go with him, and live; stay and possibly end up dead.” She looked back at Adele, a smile on her face. “It hasn’t been very bad, though,” she admitted. “At some times it’s been fun.”
“Fun?” Adele blinked. “Smuggling is fun?”
Anna laughed. “Sure. There is the thrill of possibly getting caught, or having someone try to betray you. Plus, with Hao there is always some mystery – he never tells all he knows about a job.”
“Why is that?” the rabbit asked.
The canine’s ears dipped slightly. “I don’t think he really trusts anyone but his family,” she said.
Just then, one of the Lees slammed and locked the cabin door. “Ready,” he called out as he and his brother finished securing the boxes and strapped themselves in.
Adele hit the ignition switches on the engines and her ears twitched as they roared to life. She taxied the seaplane away from the boat and started her takeoff run. “I wonder what’s in the boxes,” she said over the noise of the engines as she lifted the plane clear of the water.
“Sometimes it’s better not to ask,” Anna opined.
After the plane was tied up at the family dock and the boxes were moved to a warehouse under guard, the two women parted company. Adele went back to the Lucky Dragon to get a few hours’ rest before starting work, and Anna went in search of Hao. The gun at her hip and her readiness to use it managed to keep others from seeing her as an easy target.
It turned out that Hao had headed down to the Beach, which caused Anna to pause. She hated having to go down there, since the idea of using others for pleasure offended her sense of Socialist propriety (at least, she reasoned, the Nis paid their employees). She took a breath, placed a paw on her gun belt, and started walking.
As she came up to the Black Sheep House she paused. Hao was standing on the front porch, talking to the thin ewe that ran the place. As Anna watched, Baader reached out and took hold of Hao’s ear, drawing him close and whispering something. Hao didn’t try to pull away, but nodded passively as he listened, then shook paws with her as she released him. He came down the stairs and saw her. “Hi,” he said.
“Hello, Hao,” she said, falling in beside him as he walked back up the road. “What’s going on?”
“Did you make the pickup as scheduled?” he asked, avoiding her question.
“Sure,” she said. “That rabbit’s a bit nosy, though – kept asking questions.”
Hao nodded. “Yeah, well, she’s new at this,” he said absently. “I was talking with Madam Baader just now.”
“She told me a few things about Mad Franz,” he said with a sigh. “He likes to drop by her house every two weeks or so. Maybe takes that long for him to get ready,” he added with a nasty chuckle. “Anyway, he keeps asking for vixens … seems he has a real taste for them,” and he glanced at her.
Anna’s ears stood straight up. “Wait just a minute, Hao,” she protested. “You’re not dressing me up as a vixen as … as bait.”
“No, of course not,” Hao said.
Fang walked into the lobby of the Maha Kahuna to see Shin at the front desk, talking amiably into the telephone. “Yes, ma’am,” she was saying. “What’s that? Well, we’ll be glad to book you in for … yes, ma’am, for the rest of your stay here in Spontoon … yes … yes … I agree, ma’am, it’s just awful that you should have been robbed, and the – yes, the Surfside is such a nice place … of course, ma’am. Good-bye.” She hung up the phone, then glared at it as her husband walked up. She saw him and grinned. “Hi, Fang. We have another guest checking in soon.”
“Oh? What happened at the Surfside?” he asked, leaning casually against the front desk, the wooden counter creaking in protest.
Shin shook her head. “It’s awful – seems there was a robbery there last night. Poor woman lost a pair of diamond earrings. Anyway, she and her husband are checking out and will be coming over here.”
He nodded sagely. “Uh-huh,” he grunted. Pitching his voice lower and switching to Chinese he asked, “And you didn’t have anything to do with that, my love?”
“Now what would I do with a pair of half-carat yellow diamond earrings in silver settings worth almost five hundred shells?” she riposted in a tart tone. He smirked at her, and she giggled, waving her ringed tail at him. “They’re in our house, in a safe place,” she said. “If it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll take them tomorrow and go see Lu Ting.”
He leaned close, kissed her, then purred, “Careful, my sweet ringtailed beauty. I’d hate to see you in jail.”
“I know. But the Surfside’s staff has no clue, and her insurance will cover the loss,” she said as the threshold of the hotel was darkened by two feline tourists, trailed by a sweating porter. Shin immediately straightened up and put on a dazzling smile. “Welcome to the Maha Kahuna!” she exclaimed cheerily as Fang stepped away. He hoped that she had, indeed, covered her tracks well. A stay in jail would likely get her expelled – but then, he reflected, her schooling was probably giving her all kinds of new skills.
“Hello there, cutie.” The words made Adele look around for a moment, then down. She couldn’t resist staring at first, since the fur facing her just barely came up to her chest. He was an equine, wearing fairly clean blue dungarees and a faded blue shirt. He held a bottle of beer in one paw as he grinned up at her.
“Hi,” she said, smiling pleasantly. “I’m Adele.”
“I’m Shawn,” the short horse said after taking a drink of his beer. “I was wondering if you’d seen my partner. Big dog, short brown fur, wearing a jumpsuit?” He craned his neck. “I can’t seem to find him anywhere.”
“Maybe he went upstairs,” Adele offered. The horse shook his head. “I don’t think he’d go up without me,” he remarked, his tail swishing along the floor.
Adele looked around and pointed. “Is that him?” She looked back at the Shetland, who stamped one hoof as he glared up at her. “Sorry,” she said, and helped him climb up and stand on a barstool.
“Hey, Jimmy!” Shawn yelled, waving.
A tall hound glanced up as his name was called, saw the equine and waved, then started making his way through the crowd. “What’s up, Shawn?” he asked, looking Adele up and down. “Who’s your friend?”
“I was wondering where you were, you nit,” Shawn replied, and he put an arm around Adele’s shoulders as he added, “and this is Adele. Adele, this is my partner Jimmy.”
“Partners?” Adele asked.
Jimmy nodded, drinking down the last of his drink and setting the glass on the bar. “Yeah,” he replied, “we do everything together.” He grinned at Shawn and slipped his arm around Adele’s waist.
Taking a guess as to where this was going, Adele looked up at Peng, who smiled and gave a curt nod. “Care to go upstairs?” she asked, and Shawn grinned and hopped off the stool. She and Jimmy headed for the stairs and as they headed up to the second floor they paused as Shawn struggled to keep up with them. When he stopped to cough at the foot of the stairs, Adele asked the hound, “Will he be okay?”
Jimmy gave a dismissive gesture. “He’ll be okay,” he declared. “He’s just a little horse.”
Peng sat and watched the three head up to Adele’s room, and she smiled behind her fan. Directing Shawn to Adele had been easy, and after more than two weeks the rabbit knew what was expected of her. So far, she was an excellent employee. And a good pilot as well, from what Hei had told her.
*EXECUTIVE CIPHER 422*
22 AUGUST 1936 2000GMT
ADDRESSEE: ALLAN MINKERTON
C/O MINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY
MESSAGE BEGINS ALLAN STOP RECORDING ANGELS TRIANGULATED STATION 7 STOP STATION 7 MIXTECA NEAR NUEVO SAN GABRIEL STOP YOUR ASSISTANCE REQUESTED STOP MESSAGE ENDS
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY
**********EXECUTIVE CIPHER 422*
24 AUGUST 1936 1400GMT
ADDRESSEE: FRANKLIN STAGG
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY
MESSAGE BEGINS FRANKLIN STOP EXCELLENT WORK OLD FRIEND STOP ACTION WILL BE TAKEN LEAVE IT TO ME STOP BEST REGARDS TO THE RECORDING ANGELS STOP MESSAGE ENDS
C/O MINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY
Thousands of miles from the Spontoons, on a bluff overlooking the wide Pacific, sat a small house that stood out from the other buildings of the small village of Nuevo San Gabriel on the Mixtecan coast. The house had a rather startling distinguishing feature, a radio mast made of steel and nearly sixty feet high.
The locals would at times note strange goings-on at the house. People would come and go at odd times, and sometimes trucks would shuttle to and from the beach, where boats or an occasional seaplane would be waiting. These things would always happen at night, and no one ever found out why.
The team had left the truck a mile up the hard dirt road, and now they proceeded on foot to the house, trusting to the moonless night to cover their movements. They approached the house, and several slipped in through open windows.
A light flared up, followed by gunshots.