Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Hao looked down at her, then followed her glare to the lithe feline standing behind him, who was running her paws over his chest. “Who? Oh. Ah . . . yes, this is Lin,” he said hastily, giving the Irish girl an innocent smile that was totally lost on her. “Lin, this is Brigit,” and he gestured down at the setter.
“Allo,” the feline said brightly. “You likee good time?”
Brigit stared rather fixedly at the feline, and their gazes locked. Gradually the Chinese girl’s smile faded to be replaced by a look of fear. She whispered a halfhearted invitation to Hao as she slowly disengaged herself from him and slipped back into the room. Hao half-turned to watch her go, then looked back at Brigit. The look in her eyes reminded him of himself, and one ear dipped.
Damn, she’s cute when she’s angry, he thought to himself. He smiled down at her. “So, you want to leave? Give me a few minutes to get dressed and we’ll head out to the harbor.” He whistled at the bartender, pointed at Brigit and shouted a few words of Chinese.
The crowd looked disappointed.
Brigit glanced at the bartender, who was no longer smiling. “Would you like something to drink, Miss?” he asked in accented English.
The Irish girl smiled. “Would ye have any whisky in here? My throat’s parched.” She glanced at a nearby stool, and a waiter hastened to move it closer so that she could sit. She gave the waiter a frosty nod and sat, waiting.
The bartender hooked a finger in his collar and tugged at it. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but all we have is local brew. The police – “
“Don’t allow it,” Brigit sighed. “Bualadh craicinn English... I’d hoped ye might have some. Give me what ye got, then.”
The bartender nodded and within seconds a tall glass filled with ice was set before her. She smiled in gratitude and picked up the glass, sniffed at its contents, and sipped.
Her ears did a creditable job of trying to stand straight up as her eyes bugged out. The drink looked and smelled like lemonade, but the overall effect was like getting hit in the head with a brick.
“Mary o’ th’ Isles,” Brigit breathed as she set the glass down, “sure an’ that’s th’ best potheen I’ve been tastin’ since comin’ out here!” She grinned at the bartender, who blinked at her accent and looked surprised when she started drinking from the glass in earnest. After draining it, she shoved it across the bar to him with a smile and gestured for him to fill it back up.
“Sorry about that,” Hao said as he took a seat on a stool next to hers. “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“Aye indeed?” the Irish girl said. She nodded and took a sip of her drink, shuddering delightedly at the feeling of the liquor. “I didn’t want to stay there a second longer than I had to,” she remarked. “D’ye brew this yerselves?” she asked suddenly, pointing at the glass.
“Some friends of friends of mine,” Hao said with a grin. “I can’t tell you where, of course. Drink up and we’ll get out of here.” A small grip was at his feet, and his banded tail waved over it randomly, baffling any attempt to steal it.
Brigit finished her drink and Hao paid her tab before they left and walked to New Penzance’s harbor. After filing a flight plan and taking on a load of canned food, they both conducted a thorough preflight inspection of the craft before settling into the cabin. “You want to fly us back to Spontoon?” Hao asked.
“I asked if you wanted to fly this thing,” the red panda repeated. “You had some doubts about my abilities.”
“I didn’t mean to insult ye, Hao,” the Irish setter said.
Hao gave a lazy grin as he leaned against the cabin door. “If you’d insulted me, Brigit, I would’ve told you by now.” He waved her into the pilot’s seat and strapped himself in the copilot’s chair.
Brigit nodded and started the engines. The two license-built BMW engines came to life with a satisfying roar, and she slowly taxied the GH-2 into the takeoff lane while Hao warmed up the radio. He pulled on a pair of earphones and got the latest weather report. “Shouldn’t have any trouble,” he remarked. “Even a bit of a tailwind.”
“Great.” She accelerated and started to ease the control yoke back. The plane rose up on its boatlike hull, then lifted clear as she continued to climb.
It was when Brigit tried to bank the GH-2 around that she started having to fight the controls. She muttered, “I’m sorry, Hao.”
“Here I was thinkin’ ‘twas your pilotin’ skills, an’ now I find it’s this plane’s fault it’s handlin’ so rough,” she replied as she finally coaxed the Garza-Huacatl into a shallower turn. “’Tis overpowered, that’s what it is, and th’ wings’re the wrong size.”
The red panda seated beside her asked, “I have to admit it handles better if you fly it in straight lines. Are you sure you can fly this all the way to Spontoon?”
“Sure I can,” Brigit said with a grin, “an’ I’m that glad I am for th’ opportunity to get some hours in my logbook. It’s just I’ve never flown a plane with more’n one engine before.”
“It’s a lot heavier than my biplane,” Hao agreed, “but it’s fairly rugged. It can carry a lot more than my father’s plane, for example.”
Brigit nodded, and the rest of the flight was spent in silence as the plane headed for Spontoon.
As the GH-2 approached Main Island, Hao was listening to the radio when he asked Brigit, “Can I interest you in supper when we land? I’d really like to see you again.”
“Oh? I’d be thinkin’ ye’d might see less o’ me,” Brigit said in a suddenly tart tone. “After all, ye’ve got that little chippy in New Penzance, an’ how many others, I’m wonderin.’”
Hao sighed and tried to explain, but the Irish girl would have none of it. “An’ to think,” she said as she piloted the GH-2 to a landing, “I thought ye might be an improvement on yer sister.” As they waited for the towboat she added, “I’ve still another year an’ a half to go at school, an’ there’s no time for dillydallyin.’”
She helped him tie the seaplane up to its dock, but refused his offer of carrying her suitcase to the Songmark gate. He watched her walk away from him, his tail and ears drooping.
As he sighed her ears twitched and she paused and looked back at him. “I’m hopin’ ye really do find a good girl, an’ settle down, Hao,” she said, then she walked away.
Brigit came up to the gate just as Tatiana stepped off a water taxi. “Brigit!” the Russian sable said happily. “Good to see you. I guess you did pass, then?”
The Irish girl laughed. “I might be askin’ th’ same of you, Tatiana. If we failed, d’ye think th’ Tutors would leave th’ gate open fer us? Where’re Shin an’ Liberty?”
The sable’s ears twitched at the mention of the Trotskyite girl, but she replied, “I haven’t seen them yet. They might be inside already.”
Just then three pairs of ears – Brigit’s, Tatiana’s, and those of the third year student at the gate – perked to the sound of two voices singing over the sound of an approaching water taxi. To their complete surprise, the other two members of Red Dorm came into view, singing Hard-Hearted Hannah at the tops of their lungs, and when the song ended they burst out laughing.
“Do you – do you think maybe they are drunk?” Tatiana asked.
“If they are,” Brigit replied, “I’d sure like some o’ what they’re drinkin.’”
Clarence opened the office door and ushered the man in as Hei stood up to greet his visitor. The man was a fallow deer with a fairly broad rack and an upper-class air about him. His suit was in the latest fashion.
Hei adjusted his tie slightly, then bowed before offering a paw. “I am honored to meet you, Colonel,” he said as he and the cervine shook paws. The visitor was shown to a seat and politely accepted a cup of tea from Clarence. “Your telegram said that you were coming all the way from Persia,” Hei remarked as he sat. “I must admit I’m slightly unfamiliar with the area.”
Colonel Mahmoud Ali smiled, lowering his teacup. “We prefer to call it Iran now,” he said, his English education showing in his diction, and his native tongue showing in the slight lilt to his words. “My country has been in an uncomfortable position for several years, Mr. Ni. We are caught between two millstones – Russia and the British, and my royal master has need of friends who can supply his needs.”
The red panda nodded, uncapping his fountain pen and poising it over a piece of paper. “And those needs are - ?” he ventured. He’d already been told by Shen and by others what the deer’s needs were, but it was always made good sense to ask.
“Weapons and ammunition,” the fallow deer replied promptly, sipping at his tea. The beverage was excellent, far better than he had been accustomed to on his journey. It made him uneasy to bargain with anyone associated with Krupmark, but the Shah’s instructions had been explicit.
“I don’t ordinarily deal in weapons,” Ni Hei said with a smile, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t, either. Small arms, or something more substantial?”
Ali smiled. The red panda’s reputation for business was certainly proving to be true. “We shall need several thousand rifles and pistols, and quite a bit of ammunition,” he said. “We are sending out additional agents like my unworthy self to bargain for artillery and other items.”
“I see,” and a note was jotted. “Explosives?”
A paw was raised. “That will not be necessary,” Ali replied. “The colonial powers do quite a bit of building, and there is always dynamite lying about.” The deer smiled. “Since there is a common misconception among them that my people are ignorant thieves, cases of explosives are not that hard to acquire.”
Hei nodded, then removed a notebook from a desk drawer and studied several pages. “I know an associate who can supply you with German-made rifles. I believe he has five hundred on hand, along with sufficient ammunition.”
“That should be enough for a first transaction,” Ali said, finishing his tea. Clarence retrieved the cup as the deer said, “Would twenty thousand American dollars be considered a fair price?”
Hei took up the challenge, and the two bargained back and forth for several minutes until settling on an amount that both considered reasonable. Once that was done, specifics on where and when the weapons were to be delivered were discussed. By the time the two had stopped talking, the single sheet of paper on Hei’s desk was crammed with notes.
The deal was sealed with a pawshake, and Clarence showed the deer out of the office. Ali would get back to his native country through the offices of an associate of a member of the ruling clique, who was also Persian. Looking over the deal, Hei smiled. Even allowing for risks and small percentages paid out to middlemen, there was a solid profit on the deal.
“So I was backed up against the bar,” Shin related enthusiastically as she unpacked in the dorm she shared, “and suddenly Liberty wades into the fight with a chair.” She grinned at the half-coyote, who smiled back and cocked a brow at the sable and the Irish setter.
“What?” Liberty demanded. “Do you think I wouldn’t come to a comrade’s aid?”
Tatiana and Brigit looked stunned. Tatiana then shook her head, and probed one ear with a finger. “I am having trouble believing this,” the sable protested. “You hate her for being a bourgeois criminal. You hate everyone here, Liberty – “
“And with good reason,” Liberty interjected in a matter-of-fact tone.
“ - And now you call her comrade? What happened?”
“I’d like to hear th’ why of it too,” Brigit said.
“It was a surprise to me,” Shin said.
Liberty shrugged. “Well, to begin with, someone drew a knife. And you know that the Tutors would blame me if Shin got killed or arrested.” The others nodded, knowing the school policy of collective responsibility.
“It seems that we have more than a year remaining together,” she said slowly, “and while we can’t call each other friends, in the interest of solidarity we need to work together.” She smiled then, and the look was composed of pure calculated mischief. “Besides, what better way to scare everyone?”
All four of them laughed.
A few hours later, the first years paused and several looked frightened as Red Dorm started singing an English-language version of Comrade Ehrenburg’s latest.
“Excuse me, Mr. Ni?” At the customs officer’s voice Hao turned around from the counter where he was signing bills of lading for another Krupmark-bound cargo. The destination on the papers was listed as Gull Island, but no one needed to know the truth.
He really didn’t want to be bothered so soon after Brigit had rather bluntly fended off his advances. It took a lot of his self-control to smile and say, “That’s me. What do you want?”
The gazelle offered him an envelope. “A message was left for you yesterday, sir.” He gave the envelope to the younger red panda and walked back to his desk.
Hao turned the message over in his paws, then opened it. It read, “Hao: Contact Peng-wum. We are having a guest shortly. Father.”
Hao sighed, collected his paperwork and headed for the telegraph office.