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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2006 by Walter Reimer
As Hao opened the safe he stepped back as a cascade of papers, envelopes and folders fell out onto the floor. McCafferty chuckled at the sight of it. “No money, eh?” he asked with a beatific smile. “Too bad.” He set to work putting his tools away while Hao dragged up an empty box and started loading it with the contents of the safe.
Hao had to bring another box over, and had to pry the lids off several locked file boxes in order to empty their contents. After that, the safe was carefully inspected to ensure that were no hidden compartments before he and three others took the boxes to his father’s office. The Irish wolfhound stayed behind at the Lucky Dragon, insisting that there was the remnant of a case of whisky with his name on it waiting for him – along with a certain vixen.
“What’s all the noise about, Clarence?” Hao asked his father’s accountant as he entered the office. When he had emerged from the warehouse his first instinct had been to go for his pistol, but he stopped when he realized it was just firecrackers.
“A telegram from Pangai, Hao,” the lion replied. “Your brother and his wife have had their first child, a son I believe.” He smiled over his bifocals at the young red panda as Hao grinned.
“So, Nailani had a son, huh?” Hao mused. “That’s just great. Come on, guys,” he said, “let’s get these boxes upstairs.” They wrestled the two heavy crates up the stairs and past a surprised Marco before depositing the boxes in the middle of the office. “Father!” Hao called out after the others left the office. Hei stepped into the room, and his youngest son said, “The Dentist got the safe open for us. Here’s the contents,” and he waved a paw at the boxes.
“That’s good, son,” and Hei unexpectedly hugged Hao and said, “Well done. Have you heard the news?”
“About Peng-wum and Nailani? Yeah,” he said, feeling warmed by the praise. “I think it’s great.” He cocked his head at his father. “Will you and Mother be headed over to Spontoon to see them?”
Hei shook his head. “No, I’ll be staying here. Now that the safe’s open,” and he laid a paw on one of the boxes, “I’ll sort through it and see if there’s anything that can be used. And I have to give the Dentist a message.” He smiled. Hiring McCafferty had been a bit expensive, but well worth the cost.
“Should I take the Keystone, Father?”
The older panda thought for a moment. “Yes,” he said. “Since I’m sure your mother will want to stay and visit with Nailani’s parents, you can take the plane over to Superior for servicing. You may also want to give Fang and Shin the good news.” He clapped his son on the shoulder and smiled. “Be safe, my son.”
“You too, Father,” Hao said, smiling back at the older man. He knew that he was a trial to his parents at times, but he also knew that they loved him. He went into the living quarters to talk to his mother, while Hei started to look at the contents of the boxes. Hei shook his head, realizing that he would have to sort everything out so that he could get a coherent picture of what Leon’s business connections were.
He gripped the edge of the box and tipped it over, sending papers everywhere, then put on his pince-nez, sat on the floor, and started to read a page at a time.
By the time Peng left he was only partly through the first box, with five neatly sorted stacks of papers arrayed on the floor. He was also so absorbed in what he was doing that he only absently returned his wife’s kiss. Taking a break and asking for some tea to be brought, Hei started leafing randomly through one of the stacks of papers.
The documents included records and details of business deals between Leon and the previous and current governors of Kuo Han. So, the present Governor had more than one set of strings? Hei smiled to himself. Combining his leverage to what Leon possessed would make certain that the Governor would be a very good friend. He set them aside and picked up the next stack.
Records, letters and ledgers describing connections to nearly a dozen international business combines, spread throughout Europe. Many contained hints and information that could prove useful in making investments. Sipping at his tea, Hei nodded, then jotted a note to have Peng-wum read through these at his earliest opportunity.
Reading through the paperwork that Leon and Susie left behind intrigued him as few things had in the past several months, and he continued to work at sorting the documents until late that night. When he finally finished emptying both of the crates, he took a break and had some dinner.
One ledger and several messages were all encoded, and he set them aside for further exploration. Ahmad was clever at such things, so he might have some success in breaking the code. There was one fat stack of envelopes and files, all paw-labeled with the word Pyrrhus. He had no idea what the word meant, so he concentrated instead on the business records and bearer bonds.
The brightly painted Keystone-Loening K-85 banked, descended and flew low over the bay just off the village of Pangai to warn all of the furs that the plane was landing. Boats moved away from the area, and Hao neatly set the flying boat down and taxied it to the beach. Leaving Anna at the controls, he jumped into the shallow water to help ground the plane.
Another fur joined him, and after the plane had been beached and secured by a line from its bow cleat to a stump, Hao looked at the fur and suddenly grinned. “Peng-wum!” he exclaimed.
His older brother looked thinner and in fine shape. His fur was oiled and combed, and he wore a loincloth. “Hello, little brother,” he said cheerily. “Are Mother and Father with you?” he asked, waving at Anna.
“Just Mother,” the younger man replied. “Father had things to do, but Mother was eager to come and see the baby. How’s Nailani?” he asked, and laughed as his older brother just gave a foolish smile. The two helped Peng and Anna from the plane as a small crowd of children and younger furs gathered, and the whole group headed toward the village.
“Mother, it’s good to see you,” Peng-wum said as he hugged the older woman. While they walked up the path to the village he asked, “How are things back home?”
“They are going well, but I am thinking that you have not heard the news yet,” and his mother smiled as she shook a bit of sand from her tail.
“What’s been going on?” Peng-wum asked. Peng told him, and her oldest son’s ears stood straight up. “Leon and Susie dead?” he whispered, then whistled. “I never thought they’d be stupid enough to leave Krupmark.”
“The ones who are concerned with that are trying to find out all the details,” Peng said as they reached the longhouse. Several relatives were seated outside, or looked after the small garden, shouldering the burden until the woman of the house was strong enough to resume housekeeping. Peng-wum smiled at one of Nailani’s cousins as he ushered his mother inside.
“Peng!” Nailani exclaimed as the red panda entered. “Please, sit down.” The rabbit was seated on her sleeping pallet, her child nursing at her breast. She looked a bit weary, but very happy as her husband came inside and leaned over to kiss her.
Peng-wum sat beside her and said, “Mother tells me that Leon and Susie got caught.”
“Oh really?” Nailani asked. “What happened?”
Peng explained, and added that the two houses that the wolves had operated were now Ni Family property. Peng-wum chuckled as he slid an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “I hope Hei has chosen someone to run them,” Nailani said as the cub in her arms stopped feeding and cuddled close to sleep.
“He has,” Peng said, craning her neck to see. At her unspoken request the rabbit smiled and passed the sleeping infant to her.
The child took more after his father, in that he looked like a red panda, but with a slightly shorter tail, slightly longer ears, and brown tones in his fur. Peng cooed over the child as it sleepily looked up at her, and stroked its fur as she asked, “What name are you going to give him?”
Peng-wum looked at Nailani, and she replied, “We’re naming him Mikilani, after my grandfather. The priestess said he’d grow up to be a fine man.” The rabbit beamed as she said this.
“Ni Mikilani,” Peng said softly, a finger tenderly caressing the infant’s cheekruff, “welcome to the family.”
Nailani’s parents, the Mahokus, then came in, along with Hao and Anna. “Peng, how nice to see you,” Nelli Mahoku said as she sat beside the red panda and hugged her. The two started to talk in low tones as they admired the baby while Jason Mahoku sat near Nailani and Peng-wum.
Anna sat facing Peng and looked at the baby, finally turning to Nailani. “He’s beautiful, Nailani,” the Russian canine said. Hao had taken a look, grinned at the proud parents, and went outside to smoke a cigarette.
“Thank you, Anna,” the rabbit said. She fanned herself as she said, “He was a lot of work, you know. The midwife complained that after all this trouble, now he didn’t want to come out.” All the women laughed as Peng-wum blushed and Jason merely dipped his ears.
At the sound of laughter, little Mikilani woke up and started to cry, and Peng passed him back over to Nailani. She cuddled him and sighed as he started feeding again. “He’ll grow up fast,” Nelli remarked, “if he keeps eating like that.” She chuckled along with Peng, as each recalled the births of their own children.
Peng-wum looked up as the curtain stretched across the door parted and his brother beckoned to him. Giving his wife a kiss he got up and stepped outside. “Yes, Hao?”
“Just wanted to get you caught up,” Hao said, and for the next half-hour or so told him about everything that had gone on the last time his older brother had been on Krupmark. When he was finished, Peng-wum shook his head. “I can’t believe that you actually dressed up as a woman to trap Mad Franz,” he laughed, and laughed harder as Hao’s ears laid back in angry embarrassment. “So, we’ve got both of Leon’s houses, huh?” he asked, and Hao nodded. “Who’s in charge of them?”
“Father chose Ahmad and Fatima to run them,” Hao replied, and Peng-wum frowned.
“Those are good choices,” the older brother commented. He was about to say something further but Anna poked her head out. “Yes, Anna?” he asked.
“Peng-wum, your mother wanted me to tell you that she wants to stay a few days, and Nailani asks if you would come with us to Casino Island.” She grinned. “She has a list of things for you to get while you’re there,” she added, and laughed as he rolled his eyes.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll get something more appropriate on,” and he ducked into the longhouse as Anna stepped out.
Hao lit another cigarette, offered one to Anna, and pocketed the pack as she raised a paw to decline. “You’re thinking about something, Hao,” Anna said, “what is it?”
“Well,” he said after he had lit the Fortuna and took a drag from it, “we won’t be a stone’s throw from Eastern and South Islands, and I was thinking that it might be a great idea to meet up with Fang and Shin.” Anna smiled, and he added, “I see you like the idea as well. I’ll make a few phone calls when we get there.”
With the Keystone tied up at the Eastern Island docks awaiting a tow to the Superior Engineering shop (a Pan-Nimitz flying boat was taking up two berths as it underwent emergency maintenance on its engines), Peng-wum regarded the list in his paw while he and Anna stood outside the air terminal office. Finally Hao stepped out, looking a bit irritated. “Trouble?” Anna asked, stepping up and slipping an arm around his waist.
“Not much. It’s Thursday, and the school won’t let Shin out until Saturday morning. Fang says that he’ll offer us rooms at what he calls ‘family rates,’” and he grinned sourly.
Peng-wum laughed. He had set aside his loincloth and now wore denim trousers and a loose white cotton shirt. Sandals protected his feet from the macadam surfaces one was likely to find in the more Euro areas of the islands. “Sounds fair,” he chuckled. “Let’s head on down there. We can stay a few days, do some shopping – “ and he patted the pocket that held Nailani’s list “ – and we can have a fun weekend.”
The three took a water taxi to Casino Island, and Anna said to Peng-wum, “You look a great deal more fit than you did – even the last time you came to Krupmark.”
He grinned and said, “I’ve been doing a lot of work – farming, fishing, and so on. I’m really good at fishing now, although I still get a little queasy. The others laugh at me, but I can keep up with them now.” He raised his muzzle and took a deep breath through his nose. “I might have trouble adjusting to life on Krupmark when I get back,” he remarked, and shrugged.
After they arrived on the island they walked to the Chinese neighborhood, where Peng-wum haggled for some time with the shopkeepers over several of the items on his list. After agreeing on a price and arranging for delivery to the Maha Kahuna, the three furs encountered a crowd by the docks. Peng-wum at first lost sight of Hao (it had been his favorite game when he was younger, using his Shaolin training to sneak up on his older brother) but as he made his way through the crowd he discovered that, while Hao had kept pace with him, he was alone. “Hao, where’s Anna?”
The younger panda looked around, sniffed the air, then shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” he remarked, “she knows where we’ll be staying.”
The two brothers walked into a small restaurant and as they were greeted by the proprietor Hao went to the telephone.