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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!)
“Now, look, you …” Hao growled, struggling to push the fox away as his wig fell away to the floor. Suddenly a maxim from his martial arts training spoke to him, and he smiled, relaxing into the fox’s grasp. “Okay,” he whispered as his paws grasped the fur’s shoulders, “but you have to close your eyes first.”
The vulpine obligingly closed his eyes, only to open them in shock as Hao’s knee slammed into his crotch. He managed one strangled squeak before dropping to the floor, grasping himself in agony. As he looked up through watering eyes, Hao’s fist smashed into the side of his head, knocking him unconscious.
The disguised red panda stifled a curse as he scooped his wig up from the floor, jammed it back onto his head, and started straightening his ao dai, muttering, “That’ll teach you for molesting a lady …” He eased the door open, looked around, and headed back to the room where Anna was waiting.
Anna was sitting on the bed when the door opened, and she looked up, expecting Hao. Her expression changed as she saw Franz Hotman silhouetted in the doorway. The rabbit said drunkenly, “Ach, mein Liebe … you look as good as Frau Baader said. Aber, wo ist deine Schwester?” His head wobbled, ears drooping limply as he focused on the look in Anna’s eyes, and repeated, “Where is your sister?”
When the vixen in front of him failed to answer, the rabbit chuckled and stepped into the dimly-lit room. “No matter,” he said as he shut the door behind him, “you and I can have fun until she gets back, eh?”
Anna backed away across the bed until her head and shoulders hit the far wall and she realized that she was trapped. Although she did have paw-to-paw combat training and had learned a few tricks from Hao, the size of the fur facing her was intimidating. She gulped as Franz turned up the kerosene lamp and started fumbling with his trousers. He then lunged drunkenly at her, pinning her beneath him and kissing her.
She coughed at the fetor of his breath and squirmed under him as she tried to move him off her. He chuckled as his meaty paw reached behind her head, grabbed a fistful of her headfur and pulled her head back. “Now, now, my dear,” he said, “you can move if you want – eh?” he perked as the door swung open and quickly closed. He sniffed, and laughed in Anna’s face. “So, your sister’s here. Well, she can watch as I take care of you – I won’t hurt you too much. Then it’s her turn.” He mumbled something in German, then laughed again.
Anna’s eyes closed tightly as she tried to ignore what was going on. Suddenly she felt the weight on her increase and Franz grunted “Was?” A rag soaked in pungent chemicals was slapped over the rabbit’s nose scant inches from Anna’s muzzle, and she almost swooned at the smell of chloroform as Franz briefly struggled, then slumped unconscious on top of her.
Hao climbed off the rabbit’s back and pushed him off to one side, then shook Anna. “Anna? Anna? Are you okay?” he whispered.
A ringing slap to the side of his head answered his question, followed by her growled question, “Where the hell were you, Hao?”
“I got in trouble, okay?” he said, rubbing the side of his face. “Now, are you all right?”
“I almost wasn’t. Damn, he’s heavy,” she grunted as she climbed off the bed and stretched. “Now, can we please get him out of here?”
“Right.” He produced a flashlight from under the bed, went to the window and flashed it twice. A group of furs slipped from the thick underbrush and headed for the building. He then helped Anna cuff Franz’s wrists together behind his back, and looped a rope around his ankles.
It was a struggle getting the large rabbit out the window and down to the road without making a great deal of noise. As Hao’s crew carried the unconscious Hotman into the bushes, Hao and Anna slipped out the window. “Where are you going?” Anna asked. “We’re meeting with the rest over there.”
“I know,” the red panda said. “I want to wash this off me first,” and he headed for the ocean.
A bucket of filthy seawater splashed into Franz Hotman’s face a short while later. He roused, coughed and spluttered, finally blinking as he regained consciousness and became aware of his surroundings.
He was in a warehouse with stacked crates and boxes lining the walls. The perspective was a bit strange, since he was upside down, hanging from a beam by a rope tied tightly around his ankles. A light was shining down on him, a bare light bulb that threw stark shadows around the room.
“Good, you’re awake,” and at the sound of the voice Franz twisted, swaying as he saw a still very wet red panda standing a short distance away. Hao was wearing a pair of shorts, an empty bucket sat at his unshod feet, and his paws fidgeted with a length of steel reinforcing rod. “Hello, Franz,” he said in a quiet tone.
“Hao? Is that you then, meine Junge? How did – “ He sniffed, sneezed, and sniffed again, catching a bare hint of bottled scent, and his eyes narrowed. “So, you …” he said coldly.
“Yes,” and the younger fur stepped forward, swinging the steel bar up and across, striking Hotman’s right knee. Blood spattered as the kneecap and the flesh over it split. “You and I have unfinished business,” Hao said.
Hotman laughed, then spat. “You’ll have to swing harder than that, then. My Grossmutter hits harder than you.” His bantering tone caused Hao to bristle, and the bar swung again, this time breaking Franz’s left femur. The red panda started to walk around the suspended rabbit, slowly and methodically bringing the steel bar down on selected parts of Hotman’s anatomy. As the bar thudded against flesh and bone cracked with soft, sodden sounds, Hao smiled. He brought the steel up and smashed it with all his strength against Franz’s crotch, causing the rabbit to cry out in pain. “That was for kicking me,” Hao said with a chuckle.
The only member of Hao’s crew to linger near the warehouse was Anna, and she occasionally had to step away into the darkness as Hotman eventually started to cry out, then howl and scream until he could no longer make any sound. Still the beating went on, until it was well past midnight. Finally the warehouse door swung open and the light went out as Hao stepped into view, wiping his paws on a rag. “Is he dead?” she asked.
He nodded, tossing the bloody rag aside. “Let’s get something to eat,” he said. “I’ll clean the mess up later, and feed the sharks out past the reef.” As he headed back to the Lucky Dragon, Anna suddenly shuddered as her nose caught the scent of blood leaking from the warehouse.
Adele was bathing in an upstairs room at the Lucky Dragon, tired but feeling rather pleased with herself. Judging by the applause from the other furs, she had done very well. Jimmy and Shawn had said so, too, and had offered to let her join their group as soon as Felicity got out of the hospital. She had put them both off politely, determined to get back to Songmark and finish her education. She still couldn’t believe that she would start her third year next month.
Thinking of her future made her sit back in the warm water as she considered what she might do. Her tutors had been encouraging her and the other students to construct business plans that were both feasible and durable. She had wracked her brain from time to time trying to think of something acceptable, but hadn’t had any luck so far. Nothing seemed to appeal to her.
She looked up as the door swung open, and she slid down defensively in the soapy water as two large dogs padded in. One of them, a female with a well-groomed coat of black and tan fur, looked at her, then rubbed her nose against the side of the other dog’s head. The other dog, a male whose coat was pure black, just looked at Adele as the rabbit held still. To her relief, Peng walked into the room, followed by a taller canine woman. “Adele,” Peng said, “I’m very pleased with how things went tonight, and you have a visitor. This,” she said, gesturing to the other woman with a slight bow, “is, ah, Miss Chartwell, and she has asked to talk with you.”
“Thank you, Peng,” the canine said. “I would like a moment alone with the young woman.” Adele looked on, surprised, as Peng merely bowed and left the room. The woman pulled up a nearby chair and sat down, crossing her legs as the two dogs sat on either side of her.
“Miss Chartwell?” Adele said. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen you here before.”
The woman smiled, an expression that didn’t seem to come naturally to her. “I rarely come this far down the hill from my house, my dear,” she replied. “In fact, it took quite a bit of persuading on the part of some people to get me to come here tonight. However, I consider the trouble well worth it, because it gave me the opportunity to see you.”
“Me? I - I’m flattered, ma’am,” Adele said. She looked nervously from one of the dogs to the other as one suddenly whined and nudged his Mistress’ knee. Miss Chartwell nodded to the dog before saying, “You should be. I am not easily impressed, and neither are Lord and Lady.”
“Who – oh, your dogs. They certainly are well-trained,” the rabbit observed.
“Yes, they are, aren’t they?” Miss Chartwell said, leaning forward in her seat and petting both of the dogs. She looked up at Adele. “But enough small talk. You seem to be quite smart, as well as quite, ah, versatile,” she said, “and I have spoken to Peng about b – hiring you to work for me.” She paused and looked expectantly at Adele.
The lepine sat up a bit straighter in the tub as a businesslike, neutral expression crossed her face. The water caused her fur to mat down in revealing ways, but she ignored it. After all, the woman had already seen all there was to be seen of her. “And what would the work require me to do?’ she asked carefully.
Miss Chartwell appeared pleased by the question, and her tail swished idly as she explained in no uncertain terms exactly what she desired Adele to do for her. And her dogs. When she finished, she saw that the rabbit’s exposed skin had gone quite pale. “Of course,” she added, “you can always stay here.” The way she said here implied that working for Miss Chartwell was a definite step upward from working as a hostess in the Lucky Dragon.
Adele sat back, thinking as fast as she could. She was close to paying off the debt she owed to the Nis, but if she … part of her still blanched at the thought, but she stifled the thought firmly. She had to think practically, purely in terms of risks and benefits to herself. She looked up at the canine woman. “I’m under a contract to work here,” she pointed out, “as I pay off a debt. There’s also the matter of some pictures that Shin might have.”
Canine brows drew together. “Shin? Ah, the daughter of the family. Fine girl, from what I hear. Well … what is your name again?”
“Adele Beasley, ma’am,” the rabbit said.
“Thank you, we hadn’t been formally introduced.” The older woman smiled. “I am Miss Chartwell, and these are my two companions, Lord and Lady Osis.” The black-furred dog snuffled and pawed at the floor while the black-and-tan female merely looked at Adele. “They were with me at the performance, and they’re both quite taken with you.”
“I see,” Adele said, although she really didn’t. Privately she thought that this woman was a bit crazy, actually thinking that her dogs could talk to her. The deal would get her out from under the Nis’ paws, and she might learn a few more things about Krupmark – if nothing else, just to avoid ever making the trip again.
A decision being reached, Adele stood up in the tub, ignoring Lord’s eager whine. “Miss Chartwell, I accept,” she said.
Leon Allworthy sat back from his breakfast tray and read the telegram again. The decoded message from Nuevo San Gabriel told of the acquisition of something ‘rare and exotic’ that he might be interested in. His brows furrowed. He had a broad range of experiences with the rare and exotic, and he doubted that anything found in Mixteca could possibly appeal to his personal tastes.
He sipped at his coffee as he read the second telegram from the station, and abruptly lowered the cup, clanging it against the silver tray. His sister looked up from her own breakfast at the sound. “What is it, Leon? News about that English girl?”
Her brother smirked. “Hardly, my dear,” he said, his bass voice a soft rumble. “I fear that your little diversion for me was just that – a little diversion, nothing more. This telegram from Seven, though, gives me pause.” He passed both telegrams over to her, and she read them as he said, “I confess I’ve never heard of the type of woman he refers to. What do you think we should do?”
“’We,’ you old goat?” she lovingly sneered at him. “I suppose we could both have fun with her,” she mused, “once she was properly broken in. Hmm, I’ve never heard of a Mixtecan Imperial either, but the description is certainly intriguing.” Putting the telegrams back on the table she lifted her tea cup and sipped. “Who should we contact to ask about her?”
“Hmm. I think I know one person who might be persuaded,” Leon said with a slow smile.
A few hours later a knock sounded at his door. It opened, and an unkempt-looking jaguar walked in. “Juan,” Leon said, “good of you to come at short notice. Please, sit down. Are you well?” he asked as the jaguar sat. A trace of his scent caused Leon’s nostrils to flare, and he made a mental note to have the chair thrown away after the Tramp had left.
The defrocked priest turned drug runner looked excessively hung over. He dragged a paw over his muzzle as he said, “Well enough. What you want, Leon?”
The obese wolf grunted as he shifted his weight. “Tell me about Mixtecan Imperials,” he said.
At the words Juan sat bolt upright, his eyes going wide in surprise. “Ay, Leon! I have heard stories – who has not? – of the old Imperial race that ruled my home. Their women were legendary, beautiful and tall; their men were fierce warriors. They ruled much of my homeland until the conquistadores came,” he said. His head wobbled a bit on his neck as he focused on Leon. “Why do you want to know this, Leon?” he asked.
Allworthy smiled. “A friend of mine has seen one,” he said.
The jaguar shook his head with a chuckle. “No, that is not possible.”
“Really? Tall, black feathers with a high red crest?” Leon said, and the jaguar stared, nodding. “It could be … your friend is very lucky then, Leon,” he said. “The Spanish drove them back into the mountains long ago, and they are rarely seen. I used to live near the mountains, long ago, and I never saw one.”
“Well, I’m sure he must have been seeing things, then,” Leon said, “if they’re as rare as you say. Thank you for dropping by, Juan.” As the jaguar left the room, Leon smiled to himself.
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Brush looked up from the decrypted telegram, and passed it back to his superior. “What now, sir?” he asked.
Inspector Stagg looked thoughtful. “Come now, Sergeant,” he said. “I’m sure you know how to fish. We’ve set the hook; now we have to land him. And for that, I’m afraid, we shall have to call on others for assistance.”