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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“I’m not sure I un’erstand what ye’re askin, Mister Ni,” Phillip McCafferty said in an even tone, looking guardedly at the red panda behind the wide desk. “Would ye mind explainin’ it ta me again?”
“Of course,” Hei replied. A paw reached out and ran over a telegram slip as he said, “My daughter Shin has asked for this.” He explained again, and when he paused the wolfhound shook his head.
McCafferty looked at his paws for a moment, then laughed. “I’d no idea I was a celebrity, so. I’ll be glad to, Mister Ni,” and he laughed. “It just took a while fer it ta get through me thick head.”
Hei nodded. “Mine as well,” he admitted. “I had to read it twice. I wish I knew what they’re teaching those girls, apart from making them better shots and good pilots. But it’s worth it – I hope,” and they both laughed. Hei then added, “After my sons get finished, I have your travel arrangements all set up. You should be in Hong Kong not later than the tenth of December.”
The Irish wolfhound nodded judiciously. “That’s fine. Nine days ta get me there, two weeks ta set things up fer a fine Christmas.” He stood abruptly. “I’d best wash up.” He left the office and Hei sagged a bit as soon as the door closed. McCafferty’s accent sometimes gave him a headache.
He glanced up as Peng-wum walked and said, “Father, Mother and I have decided on a gift.”
Hei smiled. “And what is that, my son?”
“Nailani and I really have all that we could want,” his oldest son explained, “so I think it’s best that the gift be for Mikilani. I’d like to have money set aside – some safe investments – in order to pay his way through college.” Peng-wum paused as his father blinked. “Setting up a trust fund would be easy, and if it’s handled through the Bank of Australia or a similar institution, there could be enough money in the account by the time our son’s nineteen to even send him to Harvard.” His ears dipped as his father frowned at the idea of his grandson going to school in America.
“Hmm. It sounds like a good idea,” Hei admitted. “Who do we know in Australia that can be trusted?” Peng-wum named several furs, and his father nodded. “Then we shall set up a trust fund for your son.” He grinned. “Should we tell our contact to hold open any other accounts?”
Peng-wum laughed. “Come on, Father – let Nailani recover from the first one before you start asking where the rest of your grandchildren are.” At Hei’s chuckle the younger red panda said, “Besides, I think that Shin and Fang will be presenting you and Mother with grandchildren starting about nine months after the day she graduates.”
“Really?” The older man looked amused. “Speaking of Shin, I had thought of an appropriate graduation gift for her.” He quickly explained, adding, “I decided to start laying the groundwork for it now, over a year before she graduates, just in case the companies I’ve contacted can’t do it.”
Peng-wum nodded. “Sound reasoning, Father. I’m sure that she’ll love it.”
“What’s that you’re reading, Shin?” Brigit asked one morning in early December. The second-year students were preparing to escort the first years to a dance competition later that afternoon. It would be the last one of the season, before the native Spontoonies had to concentrate on getting ready for the winter.
Shin glanced up and smiled. “The Mirror,” she said, flipping a few pages idly. “Seems there’s a duel going on.”
The Irish girl’s ears perked up. Shin usually read the Elele, and she recalled how vividly the red panda had recounted the aerobatic contest between Songmark and the new Spanish flying school. “A duel, is it? Isn’t that a quaint notion, to be sure.” Shin angled the paper for her to look at the article. “Hmm,” Brigit remarked, “we’ll miss it – unless ye want ta try goin’ over th’ fence again.” Red Dorm was on restriction again, following another fight between Tatiana and Svetlana, a first year student from Vostok Island.
“No, thank you.” She wouldn’t try that again, Shin reflected. Thanks to Liberty’s practical joke months earlier, the guard dogs knew the red panda’s scent very well. She hadn’t been able to touch a foot on the ground when she’d tried to slip out of the dormitory. Of course, Liberty had later found out the delights of itching powder in her underwear.
Shoving aside her own conflicts with the other students she said, “Well, we won’t miss the next part of it.”
The red panda nodded. “Well, according to the article the duel’s in three parts. The first one’s this tennis match coming up this weekend, and the second one’s,” and she paused while she turned the page, “ah, here it is: the second one’s a motorcycle race on the Eastern Island runway.” She looked thoughtful as she read about the race. “I wonder if there’s enough time to talk to Ting.”
“Who’s that?” Brigit asked, taking the newspaper from Shin and glancing over the article on the duel.
“This guy I know,” Shin said evasively. “A family friend. He might be able to place a few bets for me. Care to join me?” she asked, and Brigit held up a paw.
The Irish girl shook her head as she replied, “No, I’m sorry to say I can’t. At least not this week.” She grinned suddenly. “But if ye can find me a good seat fer next weekend’s race, I’ll be able to lay a small wager on th’ outcome.”
“Done,” Shin said with a smile. “And just think – it’s a great way to start our winter holidays.” The two laughed, and Shin looked at her watch. “Time to do our escort job.”
The panda and the setter headed downstairs and saw Liberty and Tatiana getting the junior students organized. As they moved to help the sable and the half-coyote, Liberty winked at Shin and said in a loud voice, “So, are we going to invade Spontoon over the holidays?”
Her question caused to Shin stop and theatrically put her paw to her chin in a thinking posture, then burst out laughing as the squirrel who had been the butt of their practical joke bristled. The Chinese girl smirked at the American student, then said, “We ready, Liberty?”
The canine nodded, then looked at Brigit, who was the leader of Red Dorm for the day. She started the students off toward the gate and the waiting water taxis, her three dorm-mates keeping a close watch to make sure that no one tried to escape.
The dancers were still as good as ever, but Shin managed to avoid watching them and instead concentrated on the younger students. Many of them had come from the other side of the world, and had rarely if ever seen hula dancing the way it was supposed to be done. Shin was able to follow along, but dancing had never really been her strong point.
After returning the first years to their building (with no escapes), the four members of Red Dorm went back to their shared room and started to study. The final exams for the fall term were next week, and since they were on restriction anyway there was no sense in wasting time that could be better spent studying.
Over the next few days the four second years were unable to find much time for anything other than classes and studying. Shin had managed to slip a message out to Lu Ting, laying several wagers on the upcoming race.
Finally, with term over and their exams passed, the four girls looked at each other as Tatiana and Liberty packed. “Sure you don’t want to stay, Liberty?” Shin asked. “We might have some fun with that squirrel.”
“Can’t,” came the inevitable reply in a broad New Haven accent. “I’m expected home, so I’ll head over to the Embassy. You have fun; I have things to do.”
“That’s what I like about ye, Liberty,” Brigit said. “Predictable as a blight in harvest.” Before the half-coyote could react, Tatiana raised a paw, and the two canines merely glared at each other. “Where’re ye going, Tatiana?” the Irish girl asked.
“Staying - a friend’s place,” the sable replied. “You?”
“Ah, ‘tis a guest house fer me on South Island, although Shin’s wantin’ me ta come visit Krupmark with her,” Brigit said. “Not thinkin’ o’ shanghaiin’ me, are ye Shin?”
Shin laughed. “No, Brigit, for the last time I’m not going to shanghai any of you,” she said, then giggled. “It’d be bad for my grades if I did.” All of the girls laughed, and one of the third years passing by the door actually paused in surprise at the unfamiliar sound.
The next day Brigit sat beside Shin on the roof of a hangar overlooking the south end of Eastern Island’s main runway. The macadam surface had been marked off into an oval with bales of hay, and a very large crowd had formed. Some, like the red panda and the Irish setter, had taken over rooftops to give them a better vantage point. Shin lowered the bottle of Nootnops Red from her muzzle and asked, “So, Brigit, who are you betting on?”
“I’m likin’ th’ girl,” the Irish setter said. “That much o’ a rack can’t help him much in flying round on a motorbike.” She sipped from her own bottle and asked, “How about you?”
“Her,” the Chinese girl said, and grinned as the jumpsuit-clad cheetah down below slapped at her rear in an obvious taunt. “She’s got spirit.”
They watched from their vantage point as the cheetah and her competitor, a rather striking whitetail buck in black leather, got on their motorcycles. There was a sharp report as a pistol was fired, and the race was on.
The engines snarled as the bikes made their way around the track, but even their sound was eclipsed by the roar of the crowd cheering the race. Brigit was on her feet by the fourth lap, cheering on the cheetah at the top of her lungs while Shin sat and watched the race closely.
Gradually the bikes picked up speed as they entered the final two laps, and Shin started to bare her teeth and clench her fists as she stood up. The cheering grew louder, then louder still as the two racers negotiated the last turn.
Shin stared as a large bird dive-bombed the cheetah, sending her careening over the finish line to land in an untidy heap against the barrier of hay bales. A collective cheer and gasp sounded as the crowd reacted first to the cheetah winning, and then to her crash.
As the buck leaped off his motorcycle and rushed to help the victor, Shin turned to Brigit as the Irish setter laughed. “Well, how much did you win?”
“A tidy sum,” the red-furred girl said bluntly. “You?”
The red panda paused as she ran the figures in her head, then replied, “About three hundred pounds, give or take. I’ll get a more exact figure from Lu Ting when he pays me.” The crowd was starting to disperse and she added, “Should we stay up here until everyone else leaves?”
“I’ve nowhere else ta go right now,” Brigit said, glancing over the side of the roof, then taking the last swallow of her Nootnops Red. She looked over at the track, where the cheetah was being carried off on a stretcher. “Do you think she’s okay?”
Shin shrugged. “I didn’t bet on how many bones she’d break,” she grumbled.
On the other side of the world, a new day dawned in the city of Gnu York as furs in uniform and in plainclothes fanned out to selected locations. As the sun climbed higher, the furs moved in on their targets.
Arrests were made, and various furs were led away in pawcuffs, some with blankets or coats draped over their heads to shield their faces from the prying eyes of newspaper photographers. As the arrests were made, search warrants were also executed. Buildings were ransacked for records and evidence.