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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer

Chapter 65

Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker
© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber.  Thanks!)

Chapter Sixty-five

        After returning to his home that night, Hei talked with his wife until it was quite late.  Sometime just before dawn, he and Peng had hammered out a plan of action, and a way to implement it.

        Several nights later, Ni Hei glanced across his dinner table at his wife, then at their two guests.  Ahmad and Fatima had just finished their meals and were still managing to look confused at being invited to dinner by their employer.  The red panda smiled as he touched his lips with his napkin.  “I suppose you’re both wondering why,” he said, smiling at the melodramatic words.

        Fatima smiled and shifted her slim frame in her chair.  “I had hoped you would tell us, sir,” she said.  “This is a bit unusual.”  Ahmad nodded, his expression showing that the fennec shared the Afghan’s question.  It also showed that he was suspicious.  Good.

        Hei chuckled.  “I suppose it is,” he said, “but this is important.  As you know, we’ve acquired two houses down on the Beach – well, one anyway; the other will have to be rebuilt – and some changes in our operations will have to be made.  Our acquisitions have been approved by the people up on the hill.

        “Therefore, I’ve decided to make some changes, and Peng has agreed to them.”  He smiled at his wife, who produced a pair of small envelopes from one of the sleeves of her gown and passed them to the pair.  One was addressed Ahmad ibn Ayyub Fahmoudi, the other Fatima Mardanzai.  As the two opened the letters, Peng and her husband shared a glance.

        The fennec and the Afghan hound stared at each other as they read their letters, and Ahmad turned to Hei and said, “Are you certain, sir?”

        “Yes, Ahmad,” Hei replied.  “You and Fatima will run the two houses down on the Beach.  Naturally, you run them the way you want, including hiring.  At first, I will set the percentage you send me at ten percent, net.  I feel that it will be enough for a start, and we will decide on any increases after things have run for six months.”

        Fatima said, “It’s a very tempting offer, but I am not good at business.”

        “You have learned a great deal, Fatima,” Peng said.  “And isn’t it time you started collecting the money, rather than making it?  Newer girls could learn from your expertise, and I know you can keep an eye on those who might cheat you.”  The senior of the Lucky Dragon’s hostesses nodded, acknowledging the truth in Peng’s words.
        Finally Fatima brushed a long lock of headfur from her eyes and said something in Arabic to Ahmad, who responded in the same language.  The conversation went on for a few minutes, and Ahmad turned to Hei.  “I – we – accept, sir,” he said.  “When do we start?”

        Hei replied, “Immediately.  Since Leon’s old place needs to be pulled down and replaced, we have a lot of staff going begging.  Other houses are snapping them up as fast as they can accommodate them, so I think your first job will be to set the Lavender House in order and go over the girls there.  You two will run it the way you want, but ask either Peng or I if you have questions.”  Hei felt very secure in his decision; Ahmad had been his chief aide for two years, while Fatima had been a veteran of several houses before being hired by the Nis.  He also knew that they knew they still worked for him.

        Ahmad looked at Fatima, who nodded.  He shrugged, and raised his glass of tea.  “To success, God willing.”


        The message Ni Hei had sent by stages to Cobh reached its destination, and it was read and debated by those who had received it.  A decision was reached after some discussion and a few arguments about the cost and possible risks, and two responses were sent.  The responses went in two opposing directions.

        The first went by carefully-disguised steps to Dublin, then was transmitted by telegraph to Lisbon, to Cairo, to Aden, to Colombo, then by steamer to Singapore.  From there it was relayed to Manila, to Midway and then to Krupmark.  It was a fairly simple message:  “Yes.”

        The second response was sent as a letter on the RMS Queen Mary from Southampton to Gnu York, then flashed by radio to Miami, then to Havana, then Ciudad de Mixteca.  It was carried to Acapulco, then sent by cable to Ostmanneyjar, the capital of the Icelandic-colonized archipelago known as Vanirge.  It, too, was a fairly simple message:  “Krupmark, Ni Hei.”


        “More climbing,” Shin muttered under her breath, and the other members of Red Dorm nodded as they walked up to the irregular rock face and looked over the likeliest avenues of approach to the top.  It was always slow going when climbing anyway, but with the rocks slick from a recent rain shower it promised to be a very strenuous morning.  At Miss Blande’s nod, the four started up the rock face using their paws, feeling for acceptable footing and holds.

        They spent a great deal of the morning going up and down the cliff, finding the fastest and easiest routes while their tutor sat at the bottom with a stopwatch and clipboard.  Finally she called a halt and had the tired quartet jog back to Songmark for lunch.

        After a shower and their meal, there was a collective drooping of tails when they found what their next assignment was.  “Runnin’ a paperchase with th’ first years, is it?” Brigit asked rhetorically.  “Who gets ta be th’ fox this afternoon?”  She quieted as Miss Blande walked over to them.  “Liberty,” she said.

        “Ma’am?” the slim New Havenite asked, straightening up.

        “Two minute head start.  Go.”  With that, the half-coyote ran out of the building, headed for the gate.  From the open doorway the others could see the first year students doing stretches and other exercises, preparing to pursue.  Tatiana breathed a curse in Russian at the sight of the one person both she and Liberty were unanimous in hating – a Bakuninite anarchist from Spain.
        Shin saw one group a bit off to one side and felt her tail bristling slightly.  A squirrel was talking to the other three members of her dorm, gesturing at the direction Liberty took.  “That want-to-be amateur detective,” she said, half to herself, smiling as she thought of how long ‘Miss Rote’ would last on Krupmark.  Of course, the ‘amateur detective’ had been seen in Beryl’s company, which made the red panda all the more suspicious.  Someday, she resolved, she would get both mouse and squirrel.

        A group of first years took off running just then, intent on finding and catching Liberty.  Miss Blande then said, “Shin, you have the same head start.  Go,” and the red panda started.

        She hoped that the squirrel’s dorm would be one chasing her.  She had some thoughts on how to make the pursuit more interesting.

        Later in the evening as she ate her poi, Shin grinned contentedly to herself.  She had studiously avoided most of her usual haunts, instead leaving clues as to her whereabouts all over those places and guaranteeing that her pursuers would look for her on Casino Island.  Leaving them to explore the Chinese section of the island, she had doubled back and had whiled away the afternoon at Mahanish’s, listening to Radio LONO as she read the afternoon edition of the newspaper.  When she saw a dejected group of younger pursuers walking back through the gate, she had silently fallen in behind and downwind of them.

        Liberty, it turned out, hadn’t been so lucky.  She had tried to hide by dressing in native attire and joining a group that was making repairs to a nearby road.  Her accent had given her away when she had been asked for directions (although the native Spontoonies on the repair crew looked amused at her mangled attempt to speak their language).  Shin allowed a smirk to twist her muzzle.  She had a few choice remarks to make to the half-coyote when they got back upstairs to their room.

        “Excuse me,” a voice said, and the quartet turned to see a short girl, a prairie dog wearing a first-year uniform.  “You lot are Red Dorm, aren’t you?”

        “An’ who’s wantin’ ta know?” Brigit asked, looking at the shorter girl.

        “Name’s Patricia,” the prairie dog said, “and I was wondering if you’d like to talk.”

        “About what?” Shin asked, curious.

        “Well,” the girl said, “you two are Communists, right?”  She pointed at Tatiana and Liberty.  The half-coyote and the sable nodded.  “But you don’t like each other?”

        Shin giggled as Tatiana and Liberty looked at each other.  Finally Liberty said, “Tatiana’s a Starlingist, and I’m a Trotskyite from New Haven.  We … tolerate each other, for now.”

        “Da,” Tatiana said, flexing the fingers of one paw as if it itched to be around the New Havenite’s neck.

        Patricia looked from one to the other.  “If it’s all right, I’d like to talk with all of you.  You know, find out what you think about politics and such.”

        Brigit looked at the other three members of her dorm before saying, “I think we can arrange that.  Come on up.”  As they headed up the stairs, Shin asked, “Where are you from, Patricia?  America?”

        “New Zealand,” came the answer.  “My Da emigrated there from America before I was born.”  She stepped into the room as the others filed in, Liberty closing the door.
        “That’s good,” Shin said.  “I don’t much like Americans.  They’re too bossy, and think they’re better than anyone else.”  The red panda sat on her bed and Brigit took her usual seat at the window.

        There followed an awkward pause before Patricia turned to Tatiana.  “So, tell me about Communism, please.”

        Liberty leaned partway out of the bathroom as she washed her paws in order to listen while Tatiana explained, “Nu, Communism was founded by the great Marx and Engels.  They said that the working furs of the world must control the means of production, so that everyone can be equal.”  She glanced up at Liberty, who nodded in agreement.  The Russian sable then went on to explain the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but stopped short of extolling the virtues of Iosif Starling when she heard Liberty start grinding her teeth.
        Shin glanced up at the clock on her bedside table.  “It’s getting late,” she observed, “almost time for you to leave, Patricia.”

        “Do I have to?” the prairie dog asked.  “I find this very interesting.”

        The members of Red Dorm glanced at each other.  Finally Brigit said, “We’ll try this, if’n ye really want ta stay.  Put on Tatiana’s bathrobe, and when Miss Cardroy comes in, ye be stayin’ out o’ sight until she leaves.  The robe’ll mask yer scent sommat.”

        “Okay.”  With the prairie dog wrapped up in the sable’s bathrobe and tucked under Brigit’s bed, the others hurriedly prepared to go to sleep and were all in their beds when the tutor opened the door.

        Miss Cardroy looked around, her nose twitching as the four tried to look as innocent as possible.  “Goodnight, girls,” she said as she closed the door.

        After several minutes to make sure that their tutor had left, Brigit said, “C’mon out, Patricia.”

        The prairie dog did so, shedding the bathrobe and passing it to Tatiana.  “Why did you give me Tatiana’s robe?” she asked.

        “Simple,” Brigit snickered.  “She’s a sable; she’s got a stronger scent’n any o’ us – an’ there’s no denyin’ it, Tatiana,” she said as the Russian started to bristle.  She subsided, glowering.
        Patricia, seated on Brigit’s bed, asked Liberty, “So what are the differences between you two?  I mean, you’re both communists, aren’t you?  So why don’t you get along?”

        Liberty gave Tatiana a dirty look before replying, “She’s a Starlingist.  They believe in accommodation with capitalist powers.  New Haven follows the lead of Comrade Trotsky, who says that the Revolution must never end until the entire world is socialist.”  Shin and Brigit looked meaningfully at the sable and the coyote until they both backed down.  There was no need to start a fight, so the coyote and the sable took turns explaining their differences until it was well after midnight.

        Patricia suddenly glanced at Brigit.  “Are you a Communist?”

        “Me?” the Irish setter girl seemed amused by the idea.  “No, but some o’ m’friends in Ireland are.”  She then explained the oppression of the Irish, and her and her family’s attempts to strike back at the English.  “By whate’er means necess’ry,” she said.  “If that includes guns an’ bombs, why then ‘tis guns an’ bombs, so.”

        “So you want to kill people, just because of something their families did to your family way back when?” Patricia asked.
        The setter thought for a moment, then nodded.  “Pretty much,” Brigit said, “an’ if’n I have th’ half o’ a chance, I’ll want ta start with tha’ Orange bitch in yer form.”  A wistful look came to her expression.  “An’ follow up wit’ that English missy in the third year.”

        “Oh.”  The prairie dog turned to Shin, who was lounging on her bed and turning the pages of one of her textbooks with an idle paw.  “What about you?”

        “Me?  What about me?” the red panda asked.  “I’ve got no use for politics, and revenge – well, I tried it once, and it’s really not to my taste.  I agree with my mother.  She says that revenge is bad for business.”

        “Well, what are you, then?  What do you believe?” the younger girl pressed.

        Tatiana snickered.  “She’s a criminal.  And her mother runs a brothel.”

        Shin nodded, smiling with an effort to avoid a confrontation.  She didn’t want to lose any points by starting a fight.  “Actually, Tatiana’s only half right.  My mother runs a brothel and a casino.  Yes, I suppose you could call us criminals, but at least we’re open about it.  There’s no telling how many criminals there are that are called ‘politicians.’  My family lives on Krupmark, and there’s no government there. We may have some rules, but no crime, and no police either,” she declared.

        Patricia thought for a moment, then stood up and walked over to the door as she said, “I’ve heard enough, I think.  You two,” and she pointed at Tatiana and Liberty, “are fooling yourselves, or worse, lying to yourselves.  Communism’s just another throwback to the Middle Ages – keeping people as slaves while their masters get fat.  And you,” she turned to Brigit as the sable and coyote looked at each other, “you’re just a murderer, a terrorist.”

        Shin saw the looks in the others’ eyes, and stood up.  “And me?” she asked in a challenging tone.

        “You’re just a cheap thief,” the prairie dog replied.  She almost reached the door before Shin barred her path.  Patricia looked behind her to see the other members of Red Dorm moving to surround her.

        “That was pretty stupid,” Liberty growled.

        “Nyekulturny,” Tatiana snarled.

        “M’grand-da' woulda – “ Brigit hissed.

        “You could have just sat quietly,” Shin said in a very quiet voice, “kept your muzzle shut, and slipped out before breakfast.
        “But now you’ve made us angry.”