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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Liar's Poker© 2005 by Walter Reimer
(Brigit Mulvaney courtesy of Simon Barber.)
The next day Hei stared at a collection of telegrams that constituted the latest Amalgamated Press summaries. Several were datelined Gnu York, while others were coming from Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. All described a massive wave of police raids on American businesses owned in whole or in part by concerns on Krupmark.
Being news reports, none of the messages were in code, which naturally meant that his competitors and the furs up on the hill were reading the news at the same time he was. Some of the raided businesses were associated with the Ni Family to varying degrees, and the red panda’s tail fluffed as he thought of his potential losses. “Peng-wum!” he shouted.
His assistant, Clarence, entered the office. “You need something, sir?” the lion asked.
Hei looked up at him with an odd gleam in his eyes. “I need you and Peng-wum here as fast as you can,” he said hastily, and as soon as the lion stepped out he was opening the safe and pulling out the Family’s ‘private’ ledgers, the ones that showed the full extent of his business connections.
His oldest son came up the stairs at a run, followed at a more sedate pace by the older lion. “What’s the matter, Father?” Peng-wum gasped, steadying himself by placing a paw on the door jamb and catching his breath.
“We have something bad going on in America,” Hei said, pointing at the scattered telegrams. “How extensive it may be, I do not know. But we need to start making plans in case it’s not an isolated incident.”
Peng-wum read through all of the telegrams, his ears straight up and his tail fluffing out. “Looks like a nationwide sweep,” he said. “You’re right, Father. We need to start taking steps now.” The younger panda lapsed into silence, a paw dragging one of the ledgers to him. He opened it and glanced at the most recent entries. “Thank the gods we don’t have many interests in America,” he remarked, and gave his father a lopsided grin. “Something good came out of Wu Tang after all.”
Hei nodded, sitting down behind his desk and opening another ledger. For several hours they conferred, deciding which investments should be written off when it became necessary and which could be retained. They spoke in a rural Chinese dialect that Clarence didn’t know, and would switch to English to dictate instructions to the lion.
Should Don Carpanini be warned? No; he already knew, or would soon be finding out. A telegram would be sent, however, with another message sent to contacts in Los Angeles and San Francisco. None of the usual channels would be used.
Banks and concerns outside the United States, however, normally didn’t have the same restraints on business that the Yankees used. Corrupt officials, whether in the business community, government or police, could shield the Nis’ activities for as long as possible. However, once the colonial governments received word from their superiors, this plan might have to be changed as well.
Peng-wum turned to another ledger and opened it. This one contained a number of charts that showed all of the various shell corporations and blind funds that protected the bulk of the family’s assets as well as safeguarding them from direct involvement in any illicit activities. Nearly half the ledger was taken up by these penciled diagrams, labeled in Chinese. He quickly traced what businesses were expendable and what were not.
Finally father and son looked at each other. “We’ll have to move fast on this,” Peng-wum said. “Chances are that a lot of the others are planning the same things.”
Hei nodded. “Let’s start writing the messages, then. Clarence, after we get everything finalized we’ll have you take them up to the radio station, under guard.”
“Guard, sir?” the lion’s mane bristled slightly. “I was in the Army. I don’t need a guard.”
“Which Army?” Peng-wum asked.
The lion bristled further. “There’s only one, sir,” he said proudly. “I served with the Royal Army in Iraq, Afghanistan and India.”
“But . . . but you’re cross-eyed,” Peng-wum said. “How did you fire a rifle?”
Clarence grinned, and closed one eye. “You get used to looking at the world like this after a while, old son.” He started to laugh as the young red panda blushed in embarrassment.
“All right then, Clarence,” Hei said with a chuckle. “Get yourself a pistol or two and take the messages up the hill when we’re finished with them.”
“Will we be encoding them, sir?” Clarence asked.
Hei shook his head. “There’s no time, so we’ll just have to be careful how they’re worded.”
It was just after lunch when the lion, now openly sporting a pair of revolvers, headed up the hill to Fort Bob, carrying a thick pawful of messages. There he joined a jostling queue of other furs who waited with varying degrees of patience until his turn came.
“Hello, Brigit!” Shin said as the Irish setter came into the lobby of the guest house. “Fang and I will be headed back to Krupmark soon. Are you sure you don’t want to come along?” She grinned. “There’ll probably be shooting, and I don’t mean ducks,” she teased.
Brigit laughed ruefully. “I’m after thinkin’ I’ll be takin’ ye up on that, Shin,” she replied. “Th’ temporary job I’d lined up with th’ cargo company fell through, an’ m’friend –“ here she wagged her tail “- he’ll be busy straight through ta th’ New Year.” The red-furred canine smiled. “So, I’d like ta be comin’ with ye an’ yer husband, if ye’ll still have me.”
“Just remember that I won’t shanghai you. I’d hate to get a bad grade,” Shin said with a wink. “Well, get packed for a few days to a week. See you at the dock in twenty minutes.” She left the guest house and headed back to the Maha Kahuna.
Fang was waiting, making a few last-minute adjustments to the three small suitcases that constituted their luggage. “All ready, sweetheart,” he said after they kissed. “Are you sure you only want to take this amount of clothes?”
She laughed as she playfully punched him in the ribs. “Sure, Fang. We’re trained to travel with only the bare essentials. If I really wanted to, I could go with the clothes on my back,” she remarked, lifting one of the suitcases to test its weight. She scooped up one while Fang took the others and the pair headed for the waiting water taxi.
Brigit was waiting for them, carrying one suitcase, and the tiger said to his wife, “I thought you said she didn’t want to come.”
“She changed her mind,” Shin said, giving the Irish setter a cool glare as Brigit’s tail wagged at the sight of Fang.
“Good, we’re on time,” Fang said as the water taxi tied up at the Eastern Island seaplane terminal several minutes later. “I want to go to the Customs shed and pick up a few items.”
“You and your guns,” Shin laughed. She stopped laughing, thought it over and said, “That’s not a bad idea, either. I think Brigit and I need to get one when we stop at Mildendo. Until then, do you think you can protect us?” she asked, batting her eyelashes at the Manchurian tiger.
Fang laughed. “Sure, but it’ll cost you,” he said with a wink. Leaving the luggage with his wife, he headed over to the small warehouse, re-emerging several minutes later wearing an overcoat that seemed to have a slightly fuller cut than was fashionable. “I think I’ve gained some weight,” he remarked as he walked up to her. “I actually had to loosen the harness a notch so it could fit.”
“Let’s see,” Shin said, and he opened the overcoat to display two revolvers in cross-draw shoulder holsters and another weapon in a holster that was as long as his right thigh. The firearm was a double-barreled shotgun; the barrels had been sawed off and the stock reshaped into a primitive pistol grip. Shin reached into the overcoat and hugged him. She looked up at him and said, “Feels about right. Love you.”
He chuckled and kissed her nose. “Love you too. Let’s get to our flight.” She released him and gathered up her suitcase. Brigit shook her head and picked up her own luggage.
An hour or so later the seaplane circled Mildendo Island, awaiting landing clearance from the island’s small airport. When they finally landed and stepped out onto the dock, Shin asked, “Do we have enough time to get some shopping done?”
Fang nodded judiciously. “I think we’ve got maybe another hour before the boat leaves.”
“Great!” she exclaimed. “You stay here; we’ll be right back. Come on, Brigit,” and the two young women plunged into the crowd gathered around a store selling guns and other weapons. Fang laughed as he watched them go, quite secure in the knowledge that his wife and her schoolmate could handle themselves well enough without him.
Shin and Brigit returned a quarter-hour later, with Shin sporting a leather gun belt and a set of cloth bandoliers that crossed over her chest. The gun belt carried a vintage Nagant revolver, and the bandoliers bore a series of what looked like stylized steel fish, but were actually small throwing knifes. The ‘flying fish’ had been very popular about the time of the Boxer Rebellion. Fang whistled when he saw her, his eyebrows rising at the sight of the knives. “Are you planning on doing some assassinations while on vacation, Shin?” he asked.
The slim red panda grinned. “That depends,” she said, “on if Father Christmas bothers us while we’re asleep.” Brigit laughed at that, one paw settling her new Luger a bit more firmly around her waist.
It was midmorning on the twenty-third of December when the chartered motor yacht approached Krupmark. Shin leaned against the railing and sniffed deeply, her headfur flying in the cold wind. “Ahh,” she sighed, leaning back against Fang’s broad chest, “Home.” His arms encircled her and he nuzzled her between the ears as the boat drew closer.
Suddenly his ears perked and he stiffened against her. “What’s wrong?” she asked, looking up at him.
“I thought I heard gunfire,” he said, looking out toward the island. He pointed at a thin plume of smoke in the vicinity of Fort Bob. “And look, something’s burning.”
“Hmm. S’pose we should be ready fer trouble?” Brigit asked.
“Always,” Fang replied. “Let’s get to our cabins and get the guns on, and then we’ll see what the guy running this boat says.”
A few minutes later Fang stood at the door of the boat’s wheelhouse, arguing with the captain while Shin and Brigit stood outside. The feline was saying, “Nope, ain’t no way I’m tying up my boat when they’s shooting going on. More’n my job’s worth – and money ain’t gonna help you none.”
“Look here, you –“ Fang growled, only to subside when Shin tapped him on the shoulder. He looked at her, and she flicked a glance at the captain. His gaze turned questioning, and she glared at him. The Manchurian tiger nodded and made way for her.
When the captain saw her, he laughed. “Now looky here, Missy,” he said, “don’t you go trying to talk me into it, either.”
“I have no intention of talking you into anything,” Shin said. “You’ve already talked yourself into it.” She glanced at Brigit, who nodded.
After throwing the feline overboard and talking the mate into taking over, the motor yacht made its way to the Ni Family dock. Fang tossed the suitcases over the rail as Shin told the mate, “You can pick up your boss on the way back to Mildendo. We’ll be flying back.” Her ears flattened as another volley of gun fire echoed from up on the hill.
“Flying back?” the grizzled old ursine muttered. “From the sound of the guns, I’d be flying back now, Miss. But you know your business,” he added with a sigh as he got ready to turn the boat around.
Shin resisted the urge to wave, and as she and Fang headed along the dock another series of shots rang out. This time the sound of the shots was mirrored by the sound of lead striking the dock. Pockmarks appeared in the wood and Shin yelled, “Run!” as splinters flew through the air.
Fang drew one of his pistols as they dashed along the dock and into the building, firing several wild shots in what he thought was the correct direction. Once all three of them had made it inside they heard Peng-wum say, “Shin! Fang! What the hell?”
“We got shot at,” Shin panted. “What the hell’s going on here, Brother?” Seeing the look on his face, she reintroduced him to Brigit.
“Pleased to see you again, Brigit. It’s a shame you showed up now, though,” and Peng-wum gave his sister a crumpled telegram.
Shin unfolded it, with Fang looking over her shoulder. “To whom it may concern,” Shin read aloud, “please bear in mind that your affairs are now known and Justice is at paw. You should really use better security in your codes.” She lowered the telegram as soon as she saw the name, her ears flat against her head and her tail snapping from side to side. “How dare he?” she hissed. “How the hell did he manage it?”
“I don’t know, and right now I don’t care,” Peng-wum said. “Right now we have other problems. We managed to send out some instructions so that we shouldn’t get hurt too badly – I hope; but the shooting started as soon as that telegram came through.”
“We saw a fire up in the town,” Fang said.
Peng-wum nodded grimly. “That was Juan the Tramp’s place. He and his gang were barricaded inside and someone torched it with them inside.”
Shin’s muzzle twisted in distaste. “Ugh, nasty. Okay, Brother, what do you want us to do? And where are Father and Mother?”
“They’re safe upstairs. For now, stay close to the Casino,” Peng-wum said. “We had a few people try to take the warehouse, but Hao and his crew kept them back. There’s no telling if they might try it again.” He went upstairs, and Shin, Fang and Brigit prepared to make a dash across the road to the Lucky Dragon.
“So the night before Christmas came to Krupmark,
With gunfire so loud you couldn’t hear the dogs bark.
Several furs were hung from the rafters with care
In hopes that all others would see and beware.”