“We’re closed,” Wo Fang called out as he bent over the Maha Kahuna Hotel’s ledgers.
Luck of the Dragon: Cold Comfort
© 2010 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
A thin, chill drizzle was coming down outside as Nature reminded the locals that Spontoon paid a price for being so nice and attractively sunny throughout the spring and summer months. Fall and winter weather left something to be desired, and it was the season for restaurant and hotel owners to make repairs or improvements.
Whoever was at the door knocked again, louder this time, almost loud enough to drown out the sounds of Radio LYRC. That wasn’t a long stretch, because he had turned the volume down low anyway when the afternoon concert had started. The piano tended to get on his nerves.
The big Manchurian tiger twitched his whiskers in irritation and stood up. “Guess you don’t speak English,” he grumbled. He raised his voice and repeated his reply in Mandarin and again in Spontoonie, but the knocking continued.
Fed up, he walked to the door, his claws extending as he stepped closer.
“This had better be good – “ He jerked the door open, and retracted his claws so fast he felt his fingertips ache.
His wife, looking a bit damp and bedraggled, her eyes bloodshot and tail drooping, stood framed in the doorway, looking up at him. Behind her were the rest of Red Dorm. The coyote, sable, and Irish setter all looked just as exhausted as the red panda.
“Tired,” his wife muttered. “Bed?”
Fang blinked. “Oh. Sure! Come on,” and he led the group through the soft drizzle to the bungalow they called home. He ushered Tatiana, Liberty and Brigit into the cabin closest to the one he shared with Shin, then picked her up and carried her inside.
She was asleep before they reached the bedroom, and Fang laid her down on the bed before going to check on the others.
They had barely made it to the beds, Liberty and Brigit having fallen asleep across one bed and Tatiana curled up tightly at one end of the other. He stepped out of the bungalow, taking care to lock the door.
An ear twitched, and he saw a motion in the bushes. There was a whistle.
A recognition signal.
Fang flashed a countersign and relaxed.
But only just a bit.
“Morning, sleepyheads,” he said the next day as he stepped into the bungalow’s kitchen. The smells of fresh-brewed coffee, bacon and eggs had hit his nose and caused him to awaken.
His cheer seemed entirely wasted. Two of the four young women made obscene gestures as they poured coffee and tucked into breakfast. The tiger tsked. “Shin, you should know better. I might snap that finger off.”
“Try it, widdle kitty,” Shin growled, her paws hugging the coffee mug. Liberty was already on her second cup, while Brigit was buttering toast. “How long?”
“How long what?”
“How long have we been asleep?”
“Hmm. It’s almost nine – I make it about thirteen hours straight. What the hell happened?”
“Twenty hour days,” Tatiana huffed, the sable dunking her toast in her coffee before chewing noisily.
“Four weeks,” seconded Brigit.
“Thanks to her,” and Liberty jerked an accusing thumb at Shin.
“This I have to hear about,” the tiger said as he leaned against the wall. “What went on?”
While Shin blushed, the others told Fang about the four weeks they’d spent undergoing ‘specialized training.’ He looked a bit nonplussed as Brigit and Tatiana related how they’d flown to Mildendo and killed four slavers at Zell’s order.
“Sounds like one of two things to me,” he remarked.
“Oh?” Shin asked.
Fang nodded. “Either she was setting you up to take a fall, or training all four of you as a hit team. Since none of you got caught, I’d say the second one. The Rain Islanders must trust you now.” He winked at Shin as he said this. Trust could be used as a lever.
Shin’s banded tail swished as all four thought that over. “Liberty did say that our value went up after the training.”
“One hundred percent,” the New Havenite added, looking downcast.
“Makes sense,” Fang said. “What happened afterward?”
Liberty fell silent as Brigit told him about the movie, and the rather ironically named ‘accelerated schedule’ the Tutors had inflicted on them to get them caught up with the rest of the third year students.
“So this woman sold you four back to the school?” Fang asked, scratching at one ear as his tail snapped from side to side.
Tatiana nodded. “Da, is pravda. And from kindness of their hearts the Tutors give us weekend off.”
“The whole weekend?”
“Faith, that’d be askin’ too much,” Brigit said as she nibbled a slice of bacon. “We’ve ta be back ‘fore sundown Sunday.”
“Or not come back at all,” Liberty said. Her eggs had been fried with the yolks broken. She sandwiched them between two slices of toast with bacon and started eating, standing as she did. “Chair’s yours, Fang.”
“No thanks, Liberty.” If he seemed surprised that the New Havenite had recalled his name, he didn’t show it. “What do you four have planned?”
“More sleep,” they replied in chorus.
Fang laughed. “No problem. I’ll tell the staff to stay away from this end of the property to give you all a little peace.” He leaned over to kiss Shin, stealing her third piece of bacon as he did.
“You’re not fast enough to eat it, my ringtailed beauty,” he chuckled. “Now, anything else you need to do this weekend?”
“We have to get equipment ready,” the Russian sable replied. “We leave Monday morning.”
The tiger’s whiskers flicked forward. “Oh? Where to?”
“Alaska,” Shin said, belching softly as she finished eating. “Field trip to the Aleutians for two weeks. Every third year has to do it.”
“Ye shoulda seen th’ last year,” Brigit said. “They had ta carry Li Han up ta her dorm after.”
Liberty gave a soft snort. “Soft bourgeois.”
“As if any third year could be called soft,” Shin mimicked the canine’s snort. They both glared at each other.
“Well, I’m glad to see you’re both feeling better,” Fang said. “But before this turns into a blood feud – “ he paused as the phone rang, and walked over to the other side of the kitchen.
He picked up the pawset. “Hello, Maha Kahuna – yes, I’m Wo Fang . . . ah. Hello, Miss Wildford.” He glanced at the four women, who had paused in their breakfast to stare wide-eyed at him. “Yes . . . yes, they’re all here . . . “ He cupped his paw over the speaker. “She wants to talk to whoever’s the dorm leader for today.”
The quartet all looked at each other, then Liberty raised a paw for the phone. “Morgenstern here . . . yes, ma’am . . . yes, ma’am . . . no, ma’am . . . I understand. Thank you,” she said, her tone just barely civil, coldly correct. She hung the phone up and her tail drooped a bit.
“What?” Shin asked.
Liberty took a breath. “Her instructions are to put ourselves under your orders,” and she glared at Wo Fang, “and help out with the cleaning and any repairs to the hotel. We are to do this until we report back to Songmark on Sunday evening.” Her brown eyes narrowed as she added, “She’ll expect a report from you.”
All four started glaring at Fang. The tiger laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to have you wear maid’s uniforms – “
“You’d better not,” Shin muttered.
“I might have you work in your fur, though,” and Fang grinned toothily at his wife. “I haven’t seen much of you lately.”
Brigit giggled and smiled as Shin growled. “Anyway, there’s some repairs to the roof and if the weather’s good there’s some painting needed. I’ll give you another hour to finish breakfast, clean the dishes – “ another smile at Shin, who crested but said nothing “ – and we’ll get to work.”
The weather didn’t hold up, and the sky was dripping rain by the time they were ready for work. “Right,” Fang said. “No roof-work today, it looks like, but there are some repairs to be done.
“Shin, I’d like you and Liberty to go to Cabin Three. The sink there’s leaking and the interior needs paint.” The red panda and the half-coyote glanced at each other, then shrugged. “Tatiana, Brigit, I need you two to paint the lobby. There’s paint and brushes already there. Questions?”
“Do I have to work with her?” Liberty asked, jerking a thumb at Shin, who glared.
“If I say so, yeah,” Fang said, crossing his arms across his chest. “You four have managed to get along so far, right?”
There was a pause, and Liberty finally nodded once and walked out, Shin following her. The sable and the setter also headed out, leaving Fang alone in the bungalow.
The tiger thought for a moment, paw to his chin, then shook his head and poured himself another cup of coffee.
“What?” Liberty asked in a sullen tone after lunch. She and Shin had spent the remainder of the morning in an uncomfortable silence. After their lunch they had been sent to do some preventative maintenance on the hotel’s emergency generator. The maintenance included painting the interior of the generator shed.
“What?” Shin echoed.
“You’ve been acting like you want to say something for the past four hours. Out with it.”
The red panda put down her paintbrush. “Okay. I just want to know what’s got your tail kinked.” A pause and she added, “I’ve never known you to shy away from ‘honest proletarian labor,’ Lib. What’s the matter?”
“Having to work here.” Her tone was cold.
“Ah, so that’s it. This,” and she waved a paw to indicate the entire hotel, “is a capitalist enterprise.”
“To be honest with you – “
“Is that possible?”
Shin chuckled. “Yes, it is. And you know it, Lib. But to be honest with you, how do you think I feel?”
“Sure. I have to work for my husband.” Shin’s muzzle crinkled a bit in distaste. “I’m his boss’ daughter. Think about that a moment.”
Liberty obliged, then cocked an eyebrow at her. “Interesting power dynamic.”
“I suppose it is. Any dialectic for it?”
The canine’s lips quirked in a shadow of a smile. “Let me think about it.”
“Well, while you’re thinking about it, let me have some of the paint in your can. I’m almost out.”
That evening the smells of garlic, herbs and cooking fish drifted out of the kitchen as the four women finished putting away their tools. “Mmm, popatohi,” Brigit said, trying not to drool. “Who d’ye think that’s fer?”
“Not sure,” Shin said. “There’s no guests.” Judging from the expression on her face, the others guessed she was plotting how to spirit a plateful out of the kitchen with no one noticing.
“Actually, it’s for all four of you,” Fang said as he emerged from his office.
Shin gave a grin and launched herself at her husband. Kissing him she said, “Have I told you I love you lately?”
“Not in the past day or so, no,” the tiger said.
“Well, you can keep on waiting.”
“What’s this about? The fish is for us?” Liberty asked.
“Yes,” Fang replied.
“Why?” Tatiana asked.
The tiger glanced at the sable. “Think of it as payment. Miss Wildford didn’t say how you were to be paid for working for me, so your room and board are provided.” He winked. “That includes meals.”
Liberty looked dubious at that. “And your other workers? Are they getting the same?”
“Sure. Anyone who’s here. In fact,” he said, “it’s what I had planned on eating myself. Does that satisfy you?”
The half-coyote’s jaws worked as the smell hit her nose. “It is tempting . . . very well.”
“Good!” The tiger’s tail gave his wife a gentle swat and he said, “Let’s go eat.”
“What!?” Shin’s voice was somewhere between a shout and a growl.
“You heard me,” Fang said. “You sleep in the bungalow with the others. Orders, you know.”
“You never took orders from anyone – “
“I took them from your father, thank you.”
“That’s different. That was business.” The red panda’s eyes narrowed. “Or did you strike a deal with Wildford after we left?”
Fang laughed. “Maybe she’ll tell you sometime. Now, off you go, my ringtailed beauty,” and he kept laughing as she slapped at him before stamping off.
The other members of Red Dorm tried to stifle their own laughter as Shin joined them. She glared at them. “Not. A. Word.”
“Wouldn’t think of it,” Tatiana said. “But you must admit he is right.”
“If we can’t have fun, why should you?” Brigit asked. The setter ran a brush through her curls. “We need rest, Shin. We can have fun after we get back from whatever the Tutors’ll throw at us.”
The red panda’s tail drooped. “I suppose you’re right.” She fished a deck of cards out of a drawer. “A game of Revolution Rummy before bed?”