Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Liberty had taken her time. If it was worth doing, it was worth taking the time to make certain that it was done perfectly.
First, she had a very careful analysis of the target’s patterns and was surprised that it had been so easy. He always walked the same path, never varying his route, and seemed to almost beg for something to happen.
Well, something was going to happen.
A proper vantage point was painstakingly selected, and was a small garret room in a house undergoing renovations. It had been a very simple matter to collect a set of overalls and other durable, nondescript garments that were baggy enough to conceal her gender. And the paint fumes would mask her scent admirably.
The weapon was next, and this caused her some hours of reflection. It could not be an exotic weapon, one that was easily traceable; no, something just as nondescript and ordinary as her disguise. A Lee-Enfield rifle, of the 1916 vintage, was appropriated from a sporting goods store, along with ammunition. A few days of practice in an out of the way place helped true the sights and give her an excellent feel for the rifle.
Now, on a perfectly sunny day, everything was ready. The painters had knocked off early before the heat got too bad, but she had hidden in the garret. Everything would look normal from the street, with scaffolding around the roofline providing cover. The rifle barrel would look like just another piece of scaffolding, and all the building’s windows were open.
Careful not to make any tell-tale sounds, she eased a single bullet into the rifle’s chamber and closed the bolt over it before taking up her position. She settled back into a comfortable stance, the rifle’s weight resting on the windowsill.
Presently she saw her target walk into view, limping on his cane with his habitually pained look.
Well, she’d relieve him of his pain soon enough.
She steadied the rifle, taking careful aim. A tiny piece of twine tied to the scaffolding gave her the wind direction and speed, and she corrected her aim. She’d only get this one shot, at a distance of seventy-five yards.
Her finger stroked the trigger, a lover’s caress, and so intent was she on the target that she never heard the weapon go off.
The target’s hat flew off, tumbling backward behind him as the heavy-caliber bullet blew the top of his skull open. The buck was thrown backward, landing in an untidy sprawl on the pavement, and a growing pool of blood painted a martyr’s halo around his head. Passers-by heard the shot and were looking around curiously before one woman saw what had happened and screamed.
A housepainter bearing a roll of canvas walked away from the scene, even as the Constabulary arrived, the wail of an ambulance siren approaching . . .
“Liberty? Liberty! Wake up!” A harsh whisper cut through the scene.
The half-coyote stirred awake and blinked up at three half-angry, half-amused faces illuminated by the pale moonlight coming in through the window. A glance at the nearby clock told her that it was just past two in the morning. “Wha - ?” she asked, her voice blurry with sleep, and her eyes widened.
She started to become aware that her tail was almost painfully sideways. Her nostrils twitched, and she blushed deeply as she realized that the musk filling the air was hers.
“It’s bad enough we’re on restriction,” Brigit growled, “but d’ye have ta be enjoyin’ yerself?”
“I want to know who it is that has you in such a state,” Shin said, her annoyed expression changing to one of almost unseemly glee. She sat back down in her bed and asked in a quieter but no less teasing tone, “Come on, Liberty, who is he? Someone we know?”
“For me to know, and you three to guess,” the half-coyote growled as she rolled over. “Go back to sleep.”
“Promise us one thing first,” Tatiana said.
“You won’t make so much noise.” The other three girls giggled as Liberty grabbed her pillow and put it over her head, trying to block out the sound.
After a while her tail finally unlocked, and as she drifted off to sleep, she smiled.
It had been a very pleasant dream.
The next morning they were preparing for classes when Miss Blande came to the door. “We had a report of noises coming from this room last night,” she said as Red Dorm lined up at attention. “Most of the building reported it, in fact. Explanations?”
Liberty raised a paw. “I was having a bad dream, ma’am. It won’t happen again,” she said, trying to ignore Brigit’s grimace as the Irish setter suppressed a smile.
Miss Blande nodded slowly, her nose twitching as she breathed. She glanced back at Liberty, one eyebrow slightly raised, and the exposed skin on the half-coyote turned bright red. “Very well,” the older woman said as she accepted the lame excuse, and left the room.
As soon as the door closed, three voices erupted in laughter at the expense of the fourth, who merely growled audibly.
“Everything okay, Manny? You look a little down,” Peng-wum observed at breakfast that morning. “What’s the matter?”
“Well, my luck ran out last night,” the otter grumbled. “I’m out about one-fifty, and I only had a hundred with me.” He poured a cup of coffee and grimaced after taking a healthy swallow. “You don’t think you could spot me a bit until I get it back?”
Peng-wum smiled. The dealer had done his work well, it appeared. “Sure,” he said, and beckoned to the bartender. The burly canine walked over and a whispered conversation ensued. After a moment the bartender nodded, and the red panda sat back. “All done,” he said with a smile and an expansive gesture of his paws.
The otter grinned. “Thanks, Peng-wum. You’re a friend.”
“Well, then, as one friend to another, suppose you help me out with a bit of information?” Peng-wum asked. At Manny’s expression he added, “That’s how things are done here – all business.”
“I’m startin’ to get the idea.” The otter sat back, sipping at his coffee. “What do you want to know?”
“Earlier this year, two assassins from Deertroit were in the Spontoons,” the red panda said, and explained what he knew of the two – including the fact that they had eyes for each other. “They got killed by the police, but that’s unimportant. Several people have been wondering why they were here, though. Do you know anything about that?”
Manny cupped his chin with a paw as he thought. “I heard that something was up in this direction,” he said finally, “but I’m kept out of some parts of the Family business, see. Something like that would probably be set up through . . . hmm, could be Eddie the Barber.”
“Eddie Barbaro, runs our operations in the studios out in Hollywood,” Manny explained. “A lot of them Hollywood types are fruity, you know, and everyone knew those two hitters were.”
Peng-wum nodded. He didn’t expect Manny to know all the details, but the appearance of the two hired killers on Spontoon had piqued the interest of several persons in Fort Bob.
“So tell me,” Manny was saying, “if everything here’s handled as a business matter, how d’you handle something personal?”
His host chuckled. “Well, let me tell you something,” he said. “Before we got married, my wife worked under contract at one of the houses down on the Beach. The guy who held her contract wanted – let’s see, about five thousand dollars for her contract.”
Manny’s eyes bulged. “Did – did you pay it?” he asked in a hushed tone. He had guessed that the Nis had money, but not that much.
“Yes, I paid it,” Peng-wum replied, “because I love Nailani, and wanted to marry her. Of course,” and he chuckled again, “after we got married, we broke into the place and stole back about three-fifths of it.”
“Did you kill the guy?”
“No, because he was a cheat. I wanted him to know that I robbed him and he knew why. He got careless last year and lost everything. Ahmad now runs his place,” and he smiled as he drank the last of his coffee.
Manny nodded, an impressed look on his face. He finished drinking his coffee and asked, “Have you seen Hao anywhere? He and I are supposed to be heading out somewhere.”
“He’s probably out on the docks, getting the boat ready.”
“Boat? Don’t you handle your business by airplane?”
Peng-wum shook his head, his thick tail waving slightly in counterpoint. “Not for everything,” he said. “Some cargoes are too heavy to put into the air. You should know that, if your father’s business includes running cargoes by sea.”
At the mention of his father Manny’s face seemed to freeze as if he was trying to stop himself from grimacing. “I’d better get cleaned up and see if Hao’s ready,” the otter said. “See you later, Peng-wum.”
As he went up the stairs, Peng-wum watched him with a thoughtful look on his face.
Hao was stripped to the waist and a pair of cutoff shorts as he worked on the fishing boat’s engine, only his tail showing above the hatch opening. An occasional grunt and the clank of tools sounded from the compartment as other furs swarmed over the boat, checking seams and the netting that was part of the ship’s camouflage.
Manny swung himself over the boat’s rail, nodded to a feline crewmember and peered into the hold. “Ahoy,” he said with a smile.
Hao’s tail waved back in greeting as he said, “Hi, Manny. Be with you in a minute or two – getting this thing working right can be tricky.” Another grunt, followed by a satisfied sigh as the youngest son of the Ni Family poked his head up out of the engine hold, a streak of grease marking one of the white patches of fur on his face. He wiped his paws on a rag as he spoke to one of the crew in Spontoonie. The canine nodded and hit the starter on the engine.
The motor retched, sputtered, coughed, and started to rumble in a quiet rhythm. The rest of the crew cheered as Hao gathered up his tools and stowed them in a worn leather satchel. “Sounds like it’s running okay. You do your own repairs?” Manny asked.
“Well, we have mechanics on the payroll, but they may be out doing other things,” Hao explained. “And since I also work on the planes, it’s good practice.” He clambered out of the engine hold and hauled up the tool satchel before the canine shut off the engine.
“So, where are we going?”
Hao grinned. “A few places, here and there,” he said. “We’re going fishing, if anyone asks. Olaf!” he shouted, waving at a short rat. “Olaf, you have the list?”
“Yah sure, Boss,” the rodent said in his thick Vanirgean accent, patting a pocket of his slightly ragged cotton shirt. He climbed aboard as two other furs cast off.
“You can stow your gear in the wheelhouse, Manny,” Hao said. “The weather’s nice, so we sleep out on deck, and keep your gun handy just in case.”
“Where are we headed first?” the otter asked as the feline helmsman started steering the boat away from the dock and out towards the barrier reef. He buckled on the vintage webbed belt and made sure that the heavy revolver was loaded.
“Stumkel Island first,” Hao said, “then maybe a run out to a few other places where the fishing’s good.”