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!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush by permission of EO Costello. Thanks!)
A light breeze from the shore tickled Liberty’s nose, bearing the scents of seaweed, driftwood smoke and cedar. She raised a paw and rubbed at her muzzle, then inhaled deeply and snuggled closer to the man who held her in his arms.
A heartbeat later, and her eyes popped open almost audibly as she realized where she was. She lay there, thinking furiously as she tried to recall what had happened. She had drunk too much, yes; and she had left the longhouse with a man (presumably the same one against her back), yes; and they had … what?
She couldn’t recall offpaw what had happened up to that point, and that worried her. The worry changed as she dwelled on it to a grim determination as her brain worked on the problem. She was an agent of the Red Fist and a daughter of the Revolution, she reminded herself sternly, and she had more important things to do than to get drunk and traipse off into the bushes with a handsome man. Even a very handsome man, who smelled so good …
Stop it, she told herself.
It was dark, but not fully night yet, so she hadn’t been asleep long. Gingerly she eased out of the man’s grasp and stood up, looking down at him as a paw groped for her bark skirt. Damn, he looked so cute …
Stop it! she demanded to herself.
She tried to recall the stories that she’d heard from Shin and the other girls at the school, while running her paws over herself. Her tail wasn’t locked to one side, and there seemed to be no other sign that she’d …
Stop it! she commanded herself, her paws crumpling up the fabric-like material of her skirt. She crept away from the still-sleeping male, who stirred and sat up, blinking drowsily as she hastily tied the skirt around her waist.
“You go now?” he asked. “We not do anything!”
He said it to her back as she fled, blushing clear to her eartips. She did not stop running until she reached the Yakan farm. Somehow, the knowledge that she hadn’t done anything only added to her embarrassment.
The night was perfect, with a full moon hanging high in the clear sky as a warm sea breeze swept over Krupmark Island. Small groups of armed furs kept wary eyes on each other as the group who represented the true power on the island arrived at the Lucky Dragon. As each entered they were greeted by Ni Hei, dressed in his best suit despite the summer night, and each found seats in the casino.
A stage had been set up along one wall. It was actually a series of loading pallets covered over with boards and carpets taken from the rooms upstairs, and it held a large bed that was raised at the headboard. Hostesses began to circulate, serving drinks and trays of food. Several of them were invited to sit beside some of the furs, or in their laps as the lights lowered. Other lamps were switched on, bathing the bed in light while ensuring that anyone on the stage could not see the crowd.
Adele had insisted, after two tries at it had shown her to be quite shy about ‘performing’ in front of a group. Although, she later admitted to herself, the other hostesses had been very supportive and had even offered various pointers.
She was dressed in the same costume Felicity would have worn – a filmy set of gauze pyjamas that left little to the imagination, and a thin veil over her face. The act was simple, as far as Jimmy had explained it to her. She was to play the part of a harem girl, and after dancing a bit (they had carefully rehearsed the moves with her) she was to lie down just so on the bed.
The act was usually the same. In this case, however, the music would be provided by Ahmad and Fatima, in keeping with the traditional motif of the night. Adele flexed and stretched nervously, then jumped slightly as Jimmy patted her on the shoulder. “Hey, take it easy, Adele,” he said quietly. “You’ll do fine, trust me.”
“I hope so,” she said, taking a breath as the music started. It sounded odd and atonal to her ears, and as applause started she swallowed hard and stepped out onto the stage.
She could hear the crowd, but not see them; fine. She started to dance, a fairly easy sequence of moves that took her closer to the bed, then farther away. Several shouts were raised as she postured provocatively, then spun and almost tripped. Amazingly, she managed to recover her balance as the music ended and she fell to the bed, reclining in an odalisque pose as her chest rose and fell from her exertions. The music paused, seemingly holding its breath.
There was the crash of cymbals and Shawn and Jimmy appeared, theatrically dressed as harem guards. They went into an astounding series of dance and gymnastic moves as Adele moved in time to the music, gyrating her hips and moving her paws in beckoning motions.
The crowd applauded as the music continued and the two men threw off their clothes and joined Adele on the bed. As the audience concentrated on the tableau, Peng silently directed hostesses and male employees in filling drinks orders and providing other refreshments. Several of the furs smoked, and a thin bluish haze hung in the air.
Peng sat toward the rear of the crowd with her husband, fanning herself as scattered applause rose. “She’s not bad,” her husband remarked, and she nodded, then bent an ear to listen as Mei Ling padded swiftly over to her and whispered urgently in her ear. She looked up, then stood and followed the girl.
Seated a little apart from the rest of the crowd was a tall canine woman, impeccably dressed and her headfur immaculately coiffed. At her feet sat two purebred dogs, one with black fur, the other black and tan. All three were watching the performance, but as Peng walked up the black hound looked up and whined. The woman glanced to her left, and Peng bowed. “Yes, ma’am?” she asked in a near-whisper.
The woman smiled politely and said in the same tone, “My dear Peng, you and Hei have outdone yourselves. Shawn and Jimmy are in fine form, but tell me: who is that young lady? She’s definitely not Felicity – but she seems to be an excellent replacement,” she remarked, turning to gaze at the stage. “Hmm, quite acrobatic. Is she one of yours?”
“Yes, ma’am. She is working here under contract,” Peng replied. “She incurred an obligation, which she is working off.”
“I see. Working hard, too,” the woman said with a soft chuckle. The black-furred hound looked up at her and whined, and she caressed his head with a gentle paw. “Hush, Lord,” she said, “I know.” She looked at Peng. “Will you be willing to sell her to me?” she asked.
Peng gave a slight bow. “With respect, ma’am, but that is not possible,” she said, and stiffened as the black-and-tan suddenly growled. The woman looked thoughtful as she stroked the bitch’s ears. “Lady, behave,” she said. “I’m certain that Peng has her reasons. Well?” she asked.
The red panda bowed again. “Ma’am, the truth of the matter is that the young woman is expected back at the end of this month.”
“Expected? Where?” The woman’s tone was soft, but insistent, elegantly masking the steel in her voice.
Peng thought a moment, then replied, “Songmark,” in a very soft whisper.
The canine woman’s eyes widened imperceptibly. “Ah,” she said, returning to watch the performance. “One of those,” she murmured, her tail giving a slight wag as the two hounds looked silently up at her. Peng watched the two dogs, thinking thank all the Gods that those two can’t talk. Finally the woman said, “Can I speak to her after her performance?”
“Of course, ma’am.” Peng straightened as the music ended and the assembled furs applauded the end of the show.
Sergeant Brush returned to Nerzmann’s Book Store several days later to meet his superior, only to find him already awake and surrounded by books pulled seemingly at random from the shelves. The store’s proprietor had just set two more thick tomes down by Inspector Stagg’s elbow before straightening and greeting the fox as he stepped in. “Ya been up all night, sir?” Brush asked.
Surprisingly, Stagg looked a bit better as he replied, “No, Sergeant, but thank you for asking. I awoke early to do a little research, with Herr Nerzmann’s kind assistance,” and he nodded at the elderly mink, who had paused to take a sip of coffee. The buck turned a page and added, “And I think I may have found what we’re looking for.” He passed the book over to Brush.
Brush found himself looking at an old book that bore several hand-painted color plates taken from what the caption claimed were old Aztec codices. The female figure depicted was an avian, taller than the other figures in the picture, with an aristocratic bearing. Her body was cloaked in pure black feathers with the exception of white from her elbows to her fingers, and a crest of startlingly red feathers that arched forward over her head. He whistled. “Sure is a good-lookin’ dame,” he said as he read the caption again. “A Mixtecan Imperial woodpecker?” he asked.
“Yes,” Stagg replied as he stood and started gathering up the scattered books. He started to put the books back in their places on the shelves as Nerzmann busied himself helping him. “It seems that they ruled a large swath of the mountains in Mixteca back before the Spanish conquered them,” he explained. “It’s believed that the conquistadors exterminated them.”
“So this cutie would really whet th’ – ah, th’ ol’ guy’s appetite, huh?” Brush asked, pitching his voice lower and eyeing Nerzmann.
“I certainly hope so,” Stagg replied in the same tone. “I’ll relay the hook to our friends, and then see what happens.” In a louder tone he said, “You can lend a paw in getting these books shelved, Sergeant. We do have work to do.”
Brush grinned. “Yes, sir.”
Several nights later, a group of furs in what passed for their best clothes headed down the Beach to the house at the far end of the road. At the head of the small group was an impressively bulky rabbit, who sang aloud in German as he drank from a cracked bottle of locally-brewed liquor.
The group, six in all, walked up the steps of the Black Sheep House as a paw eased aside a filmy curtain and watched. The noise level in the lower floor of the house increased, competing with the music and the occasional snap of a whip or paddle.
Hao let the curtain fall back as he turned to face Anna, who hastily covered her muzzle with a paw so he wouldn’t see her laughing. His fur was dyed and scented to match a vixen’s in season, with a wig of auburn headfur that fell in a single wave to his shoulders. He was dressed in an Indochinese ao dai, consisting of a pair of close-fitting trousers and a flowing shirt that extended to his ankles yet closed demurely at his throat. He had been carefully padded in all the proper places, to more closely emulate a woman.
Anna was similarly costumed, but the ao dai fit her far better as she finally gave up and started laughing again. Hao glowered at her as he said, “He’ll be up shortly. Think you can stop laughing long enough to distract him?”
“I’ll try,” she giggled. “Did he bring anyone with him?”
He nodded. “Only five of his gang. We shouldn’t have much trouble getting him down the back stairs and away from the Beach.” He had discussed the plan with Madam Baader, who agreed (for quite a bit of money) to tell Franz that she had acquired a pair of vixens that he might like. All Hao and Anna had to do was wait for Hotman to come up to the room, so they extinguished the kerosene lamp and waited.
Minutes ticked by, and there was no sign of the burly lepine. Finally Hao said, “I’ll go and see what’s going on. It’d be like Carlotta to sell us out to him.” He slipped out of the door before Anna could stop him.
He made his way along the dimly-lit hallway, ears laying back at the sounds coming from the adjoining rooms and occasionally wrinkling his nose at a scent. Finally he reached the landing and cautiously looked around a corner.
Franz was there, drinking heavily and laughing while Carlotta spoke to him. He winked at her, pawed at his trousers and laughed before looking upstairs and shouting something in German. Hao smiled as the big rabbit laughed again. Apparently Carlotta was managing to convince him.
Hao stiffened suddenly and his eyes went wide at the touch of strong paws on his hips. He was yanked back into a clumsy embrace as a drunken voice slurred, “Well, lookee what we got here … c’mon sweet thing, you ‘n me got a room …” The scent filling his nose was that of a todfox as the man jerked Hao off his feet and into a room near the top of the stairs.
“Hey! Let go of me!” Hao hissed, not wanting to cause a disturbance and run the risk of losing the opportunity to get Franz. But the fox was strong and kicked the door closed as he whispered, “Take it easy, honeyfur, it’s just you ‘n me now.”
“Wait! Hang on a minute!” Hao said as he was roughly turned and the fox pressed his muzzle to his. He spluttered and said, “Look, you idiot – I’m a guy, okay?” as he yanked his wig from his head.
The fox stared at him blurrily for a long moment before saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect … an’ I ain’t picky …”