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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2005 by Walter Reimer
Hao had brought a new suit along for his meeting two days later, a light gray worsted that contrasted well with his fur and was in the latest style. The suit jacket was cut rather full, the better to hide his treasured Colt .45. Nevertheless the furs in the anteroom on the Governor’s Palace outshone him – at least in terms of dress.
Functionaries milled about, carrying papers and closed portfolios, each with a self-important air common to bureaucrats the world over. The Governor’s present mistresses, two felines of part-Siamese extraction who were so closely matched that Hao at first mistook them for twins, glided by, their silk brocade gowns demurely closed at the throat. Two furs, both canines in suits, stood flanking the door to the Governor’s office itself.
The room was in the same eclectic style as the rest of the building – Western décor looking out of place amid classic Chinese architecture. He dangled a lit cigarette in one paw as he took a moment to look at his friend.
Chang looked a bit more drawn than when the two had met at the waterfront, almost exhausted by stress. “What’s wrong, Shi-an? You’re looking sick,” he asked, using the feline’s first name.
Chang sighed and straightened his tie. “My family,” he admitted. “Some of my relatives are in areas controlled by the Japanese, and I’ve been trying to get them out.” He shrugged. “An astrologer told my grandfather to clear out of the province – said he ‘sensed a storm coming.’”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Hao asked as he stubbed out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray. He had few real friends, but Chang was at the top of the list. “You’re my friend, and my Brother,” he added, alluding to the Tong that the two of them were affiliated with. “Name it and I’ll do my best.”
Chang gave a soft laugh and clapped the younger fur on the shoulder. “I know you would, Hao,” he said. “If I need help, I’ll call on you.” He grinned. “Say, whatever happened to that girl I saw you with the last time you were out here?”
The red panda’s expression darkened. “She betrayed me,” he said simply.
The feline’s eyes widened. “So, she is dead. I could tell that you liked her a lot, Hao. You have my sympathies.”
“It’s okay, Shi-an.” He was about to say more, but a musk deer in a stark black suit walked up to where they were sitting and bowed. “The Governor will see you now,” he lisped around his tusks, and headed for the door to the office.
Chang and Hao both stood, straightened their clothes, and walked past the two guards and into the room.
The office was large, the walls decorated in silk wallpaper bordered by red-lacquered wooden moldings and its wooden floor covered in fine rugs. One part of it was set aside, through the use of two sofas and a low table, as a contrived sitting room, but the bulk of the office was taken up by a huge wooden desk. Two flags, the multicolored flag of the Chinese Republic and the blue and red Kuomintang banner, flanked the Governor’s chair as that worthy stood to greet his guests.
The Governor himself, Huang Chan, was a giant panda, but so thin as to give the lie to the old wives’ tale that members of his species were always fat. His spotlessly clean white and black fur was brushed until it shone and his suit was in the latest style from Paris, but he still looked like a panda pelt stretched too tightly over a bony framework.
Huang stood and an affected smile twisted his muzzle. “Come in, please,” he said, indicating two chairs. “I am always pleased to meet the son of my esteemed friend, Ni Hei.”
Hao shook paws with the man and sat down slowly. Chang sat beside him. “And I am honored to be allowed to meet with His Excellency, Governor Huang,” Hao said politely.
The thin panda sat and smoothed back his pomaded black headfur. “I was a bit surprised, I shall confess, when I saw your name on my schedule, young Ni Hao,” he said. “It isn’t often that one grants an interview with someone from . . . such a distinguished family.” He gave a small, tight smile, sure that his implication was not lost on the younger fur.
Hao forced himself to stop his ears laying back. His father had given him very specific instructions regarding this man. Let the puppet know that he has more strings on him than he knows, Hei had said. “And I am, again, grateful for the honor of this meeting,” he said. When Huang frowned as he realized that his jibe hadn’t worked, Hao added, “My father wished to convey his felicitations, and his wish that you should enjoy a long and healthy life. He apologizes for the late arrival of his New Year wish for you.”
Huang’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Your honored father’s apology is noted,” he said softly, “and, in truth, I had not truly missed his New Year greetings.” He smiled at his rather blunt dismissal of Ni Hei.
Hao nodded. Time to take the gloves off. “My father has sent me with another message,” he said quietly. “That message is that he has come into the possession of certain papers once held by the late Leonard Allworthy. These documents mention you quite prominently.” He smiled as Huang’s muzzle crested in anger. “My father’s influence over you has gained, while that of his enemies has decreased.” Chang glanced at him with a surprised expression at his friend’s bluntness as the young red panda sat back, his paws held loosely in his lap.
Huang glowered at Hao, the Governor plainly hating being reminded that he was not his own man. “And what would my esteemed friend Ni Hei want?”
“Simply your continued friendship,” Hao replied with a smile. He was starting to enjoy this, although it was a lot more mentally taxing than merely shooting someone. “It is good to have friends in this world,” he added, and he saw Chang’s smile from the corner of one eye.
Huang suddenly smiled. “Of course,” he said smoothly. “Please tell your father that my regard for him is undiminished, and that I am pleased that he holds me in such esteem.” He regarded the clock on his desk. “I see that I have other appointments . . .”
Chang took the hint and nodded to Hao. Both men rose and bowed to the Governor, then walked to the door. Pitching his voice low enough so that only Hao could hear him, Chang asked, “The two bodyguards?”
“We’ll see,” Hao replied in the same tone as they reached the door.
To their surprise, the anteroom was empty, and the two guards at the door were nowhere to be seen. Instead, the Governor’s two feline mistresses sat waiting, and as Hao and Chang stepped out of the office, they stood and walked toward them.
The two men acted in a relaxed manner until they passed the two felines, and Hao took a pair of sunglasses from his suit jacket. He made a show of opening them out and examining the lenses, then flinched to the side, ducking as one of the mistresses, the one in red brocade, turned and struck at him with a drawn knife. Chang dodged as the other one, dressed in blue, slashed at the back of his neck, missing but clipping away several hairs from his headfur.
Hao squared off against his attacker, his paws held about chest height and his right foot planted slightly behind him to keep his balance. His attention was riveted on the woman, who held her knife with its point down. She hissed something in Siamese as she circled him warily. From the corner of his eye he could see Chang pinning his attacker against the wall, trying to wrestle the knife from her grasp. His own assailant slashed at him, and he refocused his attention on her.
He managed to evade or fend off several of her blows but earned several cuts on his paws and arms. He scented blood, his own, and that angered him. She was holding her knife blade down, her left paw acting as a shield as she practically danced on the balls of her feet, looking for an opening.
The red panda deliberately dropped his guard to the right, and the feline lunged. He grabbed her wrist with one paw and shoved her elbow up with the other, bringing the blade down. He shoved even as she tried to turn away from him, and the knife scored its way through her brocade dress. She squealed in pain as the blade slashed through fur and into her lower abdomen at about kidney-height, causing her to stagger from the force of the blow. As she tried to draw the knife loose, Hao moved to stand behind her, grabbed her head and neck in his paws, and twisted savagely. Bones popped, and the Siamese went limp. He stood over her, panting heavily before turning to see how his friend was doing.
Chang had his assailant down, and although he was bleeding from numerous knife wounds he had his paws around her neck. Hao plucked the knife from his attacker’s torso and helped his friend by stabbing the blue-dressed feline in the heart.
The two rolled off of the dead girl and sat staring at each other, panting. “Are – are you all right, Shi-an?” Hao asked.
Chang looked at his blood-spattered arms and paws. “I’ll live,” he replied. “How about you?”
“Same here.” Hao looked at the blood on his paws and breathed a soft laugh. “Damn . . . I just bought this damned suit, and now it’s ruined.” Both of them started laughing, and when they quieted down Hao got to his feet and helped Chang up. “Wait here,” the red panda said, “I need to send another message.” With that, he picked up the feline who had attacked him and kicked open the office door.
Governor Huang sat frozen in his chair as Hao staggered through the door and carried the dead woman across the office. Dumping the corpse on the desk Hao said, “I think you need another mistress or two. Wire my father; he can get you a good price,” and as the Governor gaped Hao walked out. “Come on,” he said to Chang as he slipped an arm around the feline’s waist and winced in pain, “we both need a drink.”
Two days later the Garza-Huacatl lifted off from the bustling harbor and headed back to New Penzance. Hao felt stiff and the fresh bandages on his arms and paws tugged at his fur. Stitches had been needed to close some of the wounds, but the attentions of a Euro doctor and a traditional herbalist had him back on his feet in time to head for home. The Governor would be much more amenable to persuasion after this visit, especially when he had been shown the consequences of his actions.
He landed at the British colony and took on the cargo that he had arranged, then spent some money and had his plane serviced and refueled while he spent the night alone in a hotel room. The next day, he started for home.
The cargo consisted of items that would never be looked at twice by any policefur – food, cloth and other items – but they would fetch a high price in the bargainers’ nightmare that was the Thieves’ Bazaar. After ensuring that the goods would remain safe until they were sold, Hao went to the family’s quarters.
Their youngest son was dressed in new clothes, but the sight of the weariness in his eyes and the stiffness of his movements made both Hei and Peng stand up and rush over to him. “Son!” Hei exclaimed. “What happened?” Hao let his mother escort him to a chair at the kitchen table, and he accepted a cup of tea. One sip made him smile; his mother had laced the drink with good brandy.
“The Governor wanted to send a message of his own, Father,” Hao replied. “Two of them, in fact. Chang and I are okay, but Huang Chan’s out two mistresses.” He smiled and kissed his mother’s cheek. “Thanks for the tea, Mother.”
Peng smiled at him, but her smile faded as Hao added, “I’ll be headed over to Spontoon in the morning.”
“Why?” Peng asked as she saw her husband’s ears go down.
“It’s that Irish girl, isn’t it?” Hei asked. When Hao nodded, he snorted and said, “I don’t think she’s right for you. I don’t want you to hurt yourself again, my son.”
Hao throttled back his irritation. Why was his father making an issue about this? He didn’t seem to raise much of a fuss when Peng-wum and Shin got married, and Hao had seen the disapproval on his father’s face over the holidays. “I made a promise to take her to New Penzance so she could get her pilot’s license,” he said reasonably. “I can’t go back on my word, Father.”
Hei frowned. He had carefully taught his children to honor promises, and now it seemed that his careful teaching had turned around and nipped him. “Very well,” he growled.
“But we’ll talk when you get back.”