Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters by permission of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Almost a week later Hao sat at the bar, toying with a shot glass full of whisky while Peng-wum stood beside him, looking tired and flustered as he waited for the cook to bring him a cup of tea. He was wearing a rumpled bathrobe while his younger brother was in boxer shorts, a sleeveless undershirt and his shoulder holster. Both of them had been awakened very early in the morning by Sally and Mei Ling.
And neither of them were in a good mood.
“I say we kill him,” Hao said in Chinese, tipping his head back and downing the drink in one gulp, then smacking his lips. “Just give me the word, Brother, and it’ll be a ‘tragic accident,’ like you read about in the Elele.”
“No, Hao,” his older brother said for the fifth time, raking a paw through his headfur. “He’ll be gone in a day or two,” he added, switching back to English.
Manny was upstairs, sleeping peacefully after taking a drink of coffee laced with whisky. A few days after his experience on Hao’s boat, the otter had started drinking more and more, and had started to verbally bully the staff. Peng-wum had been forced to give several of the dealers bonuses to smooth over bruised feelings.
Bruised feelings that could have resulted in the otter collecting real bruises, or worse.
But Hao had a point, the older red panda realized. Manny’s behavior would have merited a long drop over Traitor’s Ridge, or a slow death staked out on the beach – had it been anyone else.
The feline cook walked in then, followed by a short canine who was muttering to himself as he closed his medical satchel. The cook gave Peng-wum a steaming mug of tea as Hao asked, “Well, Doc?”
The beagle sighed. “Her injuries aren’t severe,” he said. “She’ll live, but she’ll be hurting for a while until her jaw knits. Make sure that all she eats are liquid foods – broth, soup, things like that.”
“Thank you for coming out, Doctor,” Peng-wum said. Tasanee could be heard in the kitchen, praying over Phailinn for her companion’s recovery. “Let me know how much it cost for you to come out.”
“Fifty dollars,” the beagle said promptly, and at a gesture from Peng-wum the bartender gave the doctor the money. The canine shoved the bills into a pocket and walked out, still muttering.
As soon as the door closed it reopened and Hei walked in, trailed by Marco. Both looked as if they’d just been awakened. “I had heard that something was going on,” he said.
“Yes, Father,” Peng-wum replied. “Manny got a little rough, it seems, and broke Phailinn’s jaw. The doctor’s already seen to her.” In answer to his unspoken question, his oldest son nodded.
Hao growled, “How much longer do we have to put up with him?” He looked up at his father, who looked thoughtful.
“I think that we’ve taught him enough about how we do things,” Hei said, and he smiled as both of his sons perked up. “You two will take him back to Spontoon in two days.”
“Why two days, Father?” Hao asked.
“Because I don’t want him to get the idea that we’re sending him away for roughing up our girls, Hao,” his father explained patiently. “We’ll let this American think that he can do what he wants, and send him home pleased with himself. Peng-wum?”
His son nodded after drinking his tea, and Hei smiled. “Good,” he said. “Marco and I are going to get breakfast.” He and the ferret headed for the kitchen.
Peng-wum looked tired as he said quietly, “I want to go home. I’ll be going with you and Manny back to Spontoon, Hao.” He rubbed the back of his neck with a paw as he walked up the stairs.
Hao watched his older brother go, then nodded. “Right, Brother.” He had guessed that Peng-wum was lonely, and missing his wife and son at Pangai. The younger panda finished his third whisky and went back upstairs to bed.
Several hours later Peng-wum came downstairs to find Manny finishing his breakfast. The otter sat back, saw the red panda and raised his coffee cup in salute. “Good morning,” he said cheerfully.
Peng-wum smiled. “Good morning. Sleep well?”
A judicious nod. “Pretty well.” He looked up at the sunlight coming in the windows and asked, “So, what are we doing today?”
“Well, I had thought that I’d show you a few of our ledgers. Father thought that you should know the full extent of our holdings,” Peng-wum explained as Manny’s ears twitched in surprise. “You’re our friend, and the son of one of our largest business partners. You’ll succeed him after he dies, I’m sure.”
Manny set his cup down and waggled a noncommittal paw. “A lot of that depends on the other Families, especially the one up in Chicago.”
“Really? I always thought that your Families were independent.” Peng-wum’s expression was earnest as he waited for Manny to explain.
“We are, more or less. To make sure that everyone gets their cut and there ain’t any wars, the Families look to a – I’d guess you’d call it a board of directors.”
“That’s interesting. Look,” Peng-wum said, “I’ll get some breakfast and we’ll go over to the office, okay.”
“Okay.” Manny smiled. “I’ve learned a lot since coming out here, Peng-wum. You’re a good friend.”
The red panda smiled as he went to get breakfast from the cook.
The family’s Keystone-Loening seaplane descended into the appropriate lane between Eastern and Casino Islands two days later, Peng-wum taxiing it to the docks with ease while Hao clambered out onto its bow to help moor it. Manny watched the landing with keen interest, the otter looking very pleased to be going back home after having learned so much about Krupmark.
The two red pandas and the otter made their way to the departure terminal and at the door Manny paused and stuck out a paw. “Goodbye, both of ya,” he said with a smile. “I really had a good time.”
Hao forced a smile and shook the proffered paw, but Peng-wum took the paw and stepped closer to the American. “Have a good trip, Manny. Listen, we’re friends, right?”
“Good. Just believe me when I say that if you ever need help, let me know and I’ll do what I can for you. It’s good to have friends in this world.”
The otter grinned. “Thanks,” and after shaking paws one last time he picked up his bags and went into the terminal.
Hao watched him go as he lit a cigarette. “So,” he said after taking a few puffs.
Peng-wum sighed. “With any luck, we won’t have any more guests at the Casino for you and me to baby-sit, so I’m going to spend some time with my family. Maybe do some fishing – if they still need a willing set of paws.” He and his brother waved at each other as the older of the two walked to the cab rank.
Hao looked down at the lit cigarette in his paw, then over at the docks where the brightly painted Keystone rocked serenely. It had been arranged so that the plane would get an overhaul while he was at Spontoon, a chore that would take roughly a week.
The red panda walked away, smoking as he went to a phone booth and consulted a directory, looking for flying schools or instructors.
He paused at the broad path that led up to the Songmark gate, and idly wondered what Brigit was doing.
“Peng-wum!” Nailani exclaimed as her husband approached their longhouse. She rose from the vegetable garden she had been tending and kissed him hard, hugging him tightly as he returned the kiss. Nearby, their son Mikilani sat and played with several other small children. “How was your trip to Krupmark?”
He snorted with laughter, his arms still around her. “Boring and disturbing,” he replied, and as she returned to her weeding he knelt to help her, telling everything that had happened back at the Lucky Dragon. When he finished the rabbit frowned.
“Sounds to me like the kind of customers we used to get at Fat Leon’s,” she remarked with a disdainful sniff. “Will you be staying longer this time?”
Peng-wum laughed and leaned over to nuzzle her. “As long as I can,” he said, “although I’m supposed to be out with the fishing boats. I missed you terribly, and I missed having things to do with my paws,” he added as he pulled a clump of weeds free from the dirt.
Nailani pitched her voice lower and his ears flicked in her direction as she said, “Beloved, I married you for your mind and your spirit. You’re brilliant and strong, and you’re a good husband and father. If you need to go to Krupmark for a week or a month, we’ll still be here,” and she gestured toward their son. “After all, a lot of men leave the villages for months at a time.”
It was the truth. A lot of Spontoonies worked on farms or out on the ocean, while still others worked on Casino and South Islands during the tourist season. Still more worked as stagepaws and as extras in Hollywood movies filmed on location.
“Well, don’t worry about me if I get called away again,” he said. “I will be back, you can count on it.”
The rabbit grinned, and he kissed her before returning to help her with the garden.
Shin took a few running steps and threw the Kilikiti ball in her trademark ‘axe’ motion, sending the leather-covered wooden ball hurtling directly toward the wide-eyed feline gripping the bat. She flinched away and raised the broad bat to parry the ball, only to have the ball dip under her swing and clip the slender wicket behind her.
The Chinese member of Red Dorm grinned. Nothing like adapting the classic sinker to Kilikiti. Perfectly legal, and so far perfectly unexpected.
The feline was out, and her tail drooped dejectedly as Shin laughed. Red Dorm had won again, and Liberty tossed the ball back to her as the four girls started walking toward the stands.
Tatiana froze as the Tsarist wolverine in the stands yelled something at her in Russian. Svetlana certainly didn’t look like the ballerina she had claimed to be after arriving from Vostok Island, and from her tone of voice and grinding teeth she looked as if she wanted to make an issue of things.
That wouldn’t do at all.
The red panda and the half-coyote glanced at each other, and went to stand on either side of the Russian sable. Brigit took up a position a few paces away, tapping her bat against her paw meaningfully.
“You should know better, Svetlana,” Shin said.
“If you pick a fight with one o’ us – “ Brigit growled.
“ – You pick a fight with all of us,” Liberty finished the sentence.
The wolverine’s gaze never left the sable as Tatiana glowered at her. “Even if your whole dorm comes to your aid,” the sable said, “you would still lose.” She noticed out of the corner of her eye that one of the tutors was watching interestedly.
The staring contest went on for a few seconds longer. Finally Svetlana sat back, muttering as she faced the reality that if she attacked, she would lose.
And probably lose badly. Besides, her dorm would lose points, and there was no telling what the tutors would impose as a punishment.
With a grin, Shin stifled a taunt in Chinese and the four second year students walked off to the school to get cleaned up.