Spontoon Island
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Katie MacArran
-by John Urie-

A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie

Part One.
On Your Marks...

Chapter 56

The disposal of Le Ho-Chang’s remains was carried out with no more fanfare than his execution had been; a pit was dug outside the stockade (and downwind from the camp) and then filled halfway with scrapwood. Two miners then drenched the wood with kerosene, after which Le Ho-Chang’s body was unceremoniously flung on top of the heap. More kerosene was splashed on the traitorous rodent’s remains, and then a torch was thrown into the pit. None of the miners charged with the task bowed their heads as Le’s body was consumed, and no one uttered anything even remotely resembling a prayer. Instead they just milled around, smoking cigarettes and complaining to one another that the task was taking far too long.

“Why they do they not just burn Le Ho-Chang and Brian Lu’s bodies together?” said one of them, a bullock, giving voice to what they were all thinking, “It would save a great deal of time.”

“And also my stomach.” ventured another of the group, a black Chow Dog, whose muzzle appeared to be turning green.

The answer was very simple; Shang Li-Sung was not yet ready to be rid of Brian Lu’s remains. Though the red panda knew how Le Ho-Chang had died, with his fellow spy it was different story. Yes, Brian had been poisoned, Shang was obviously aware of that...

“...but what KIND of poison?” he asked, speaking the question aloud for the twentieth time.

“Oi, give it a rest will yer mate?” said Striper McKenna, rolling his eyes, and a cigarette to go with it, “And anyways, yer can ask the cell leader about it when you catch him, eh?” The Tasmanian tiger had come to the guardhouse to report that there was as of yet no rumour circulating in the camp in regards to the Snakehead gang. Entering the guardhouse, he had found Shang pacing back and forth with his paws behind his back, repeating the question over and over, as if it were some great challenge of Zen philosophy.

The red panda stopped his pacing. “No...I don’t think so, Striper.” He said, extracting his faithful Zippo from a shirt pocket and offering the Tasmanian Tiger a light, “If there’s one thing I learned from my years as a police detective, it’s that you never close ANY line of investigation until you are absolutely certain that it’s run it’s course. And there is something else to consider: If and when a rumour of the Snakeheads begins to spread, I fear that now we’ll not be able to trace it to the source.”

The Striper coughed on his cig and his ears went up like semaphores.

“But...last night you said...”

“Yes, I know.” Shang replied, looking uncharacteristically chagrined. “But that was last night, not this morning.”

He finished the sentence with a gesture at the window, and the Striper understood at once; a thick carpet of fog was covering the Iso valley floor.

But nor for long; the sun was nearly over the rim of the valley, and when that happened, the mist would be gone in less time than it would take to finish his smoke.

That was the way it always happened this time of year.

“And you know, Striper,” the Red Panda went on, “In fog such as this it is all but impossible to recognize someone standing even two or three feet away from you...and our spymaster is no fool. He will start the chatter amongst furs who don’t know him, or at least who know him only slightly. So had he chosen to begin spreading the rumor on the landing pad this morning, even the first miners he told could not have been certain from whom they heard it. It would have been, should have been a golden opportunity for him...and yet he chose to pass it up.”

The Striper emitted a low growl and regarded the floor for a second. Even now, the fog was beginning to disperse

“Cor, never thought o’ that mate...but why’d he let it go, then? Any ideas?”

Shang pulled at an ear.

“There are two possibilities, Striper: First, the cell leader has concluded that since he wasn’t seized immediately after I found that note in the dead drop, his identity had not yet been revealed; Brian Lu may have pointed us in the right direction, but we are not there yet. And that, he figures, will give him some time to wrap up whatever fursonal affairs he has, before he makes his move.”

“And the other possibility is...?” the big marsupial’s tone made it clear he wasn’t certain he wanted an answer.

Shang Li-Sung turned towards the window for a second, then his shoulders dropped and he let out a long, slow breath.

“The other possibility is that he knows the note I ‘found’ in the number two storage shed was a fake...because he’s already checked the dead drop himself.”

“Wha...?!” said the Striper, staring as though the red panda had just sprouted a third eye. “Why didn’t yer say anything about this before?”

“Because it’s an extremely unlikely possibility.” Shang responded sounding petulant, of all things, “The spymaster never left messages at the dead drop himself; he always passed them on through Brian Lu. That meant he didn’t know the drop’s location...or shouldn’t have. That’s how it’s supposed to work, Striper; only the furs who actually use a dead drop are supposed to know where to find it.”

The Tasmanian tiger let out another low rumble.

“Yeah?” he said, dropping his only half-smoked cigarette, and grinding it out with his boot, and then reached for his tobacco again, “Well, as I recall, Brian and Le weren’t SUPPOSED to know each other’s names and faces, were they?”

“No,” Shang conceded, “But that was different, Striper. It’s relatively easy to stake out a dead drop and see who picks up the messages you leave...but in order to find the location of a dead drop you have to follow the fur who uses it until he goes there to drop or pick up a message -- without yourself being detected, and without knowing WHEN he will do this.”

“Couldn’t our big bludger have simply ORDERED Brian to tell him where was the dead drop?” The Striper sounded not quite so certain of himself as he had a few seconds before.

“Yes,” said Shang, and then tilted his head slightly, “but what if he had, Striper? What would Brian Lu have thought then?”

The big marsupial growled a third time.

“'Grrr', he’d have thought, ‘That’s it...I’m done. The Snakeheads are gonna do both me and my family for runnin’ off after Le Ho-Chang .’” His eyes narrowed a little, as he added, “But then he’d have said to ‘imself, ‘But not before I’ll have some revenge on those yiffing bastards. Now they’ve got nothin’ to threaten me with, so I’ll go an’ tell Her Grace everything.’”

“Exactly,” Shang responded, nodding.

“All right mate,” said the Striper, finally giving ground, “But what d’y intend to do about it then?”

The red panda pulled at his chin for a second. He knew what he was going to do, of course; he’d known all along...but there was scant little chance that anything would come of his idea.

He was about to offer the Striper another light, but at that moment, there was a knock on the door.

“Enter.” said Shang without looking in that direction. The Striper, meanwhile, was fumbling in his pockets for a match.

The door opened partway, and a Shar Pei dog in guard’s fatigues craned his head halfway into the office.

“They are finished with Le Ho-Chang, sir. The remains are being scattered as we speak. Fan Wong wishes to know if they may begin now with Brian Lu.”

“Tell him no, not yet.” said Shang, “Leave Brian’s body where it is for the moment, but keep it under close guard.”

“Yes sir,” said the canine, with a crisp salute...and also a look of barely concealed revulsion. After three days in the tropical heat, Brian Lu’s remains were rapidly becoming an unpleasant thing to be around.

Shang watched him go, shrugged insouciantly, then turned to the Striper again.

“Forgive me for changing the subject, but I am curious about something; how on earth did you end up with such a large number of volunteers for the body disposal detail? I would have thought finding anyone willing to take on that job a most difficult task in itself. But instead I am told you had such a large number of miners offering their services for the detail, you had to turn away more than two- thirds of them.”

Before answering, the Tasmanian tiger popped the match he’d just found and used it to light his newly-rolled cigarette. Then he waved the match out, making a dismissive gesture of it.

“Cor, that were simple enough mate. Just offered up an extra ‘arf-week’s pay to anyone who’d volunteer to take Le and Brian Lu for their last rides...with Her Grace’s approval, of course. After that, it were a simple matter of pickin’ the ones most likely to keep the job dark.”

“Very wise of you.” Shang nodded approvingly.

“Nothing wise about it, Shang.” said the big marsupial, shaking his head. He took a long, deep drag on his cigarette, and then added, “I may not have been a copper once, like y’self, but even I know that if the Mandate authorities ever puzzle out what’s happened here, you and me both are liable as accessories t’ murder.” He sniffed, “And WE ain’t no peers, what have to be tried in the yiffing House of Lords, are we?”

This was said without a trace of bitterness, only a grim determination. Striper McKenna knew perfectly well the risk they had taken in summarily executing the cuckoo in their nest, with the whole camp watching the proceedings.

Nonetheless, it had needed to be done...not just to flush out the cell leader, but simply on principle. Since Katie and her crew had taken over here, the miners of Iso had seen their fair share of thieves, cheats, and miscreants coming and going. In any backwater mining camp, their sort came with the territory.

But never before had there been a genuine traitor in their midst...and it went without saying that an example must be made of him. To do anything less, would have been viewed by the miners of Iso as a sign of intolerable weakness.

And not just by them, but by the Snakehead gang as well. If word had gotten back to Shanghai that instead of dealing with Le Ho-Chang themselves, Katie had turned him over to the Mandate...no, forget it. Le had needed to die, and die publicly, and that was the end of the discussion.

“But I apologize for not answering your question,” Shang was saying, “You were asking me what I intended to do next.” He turned to pluck his forage cap from its peg on the wall. “It all comes back to the type of poison used to kill Brian Lu. Whatever was employed it was not a commonly used toxin. If that had been the case, I would have been able to identify it myself. Therefore, I propose to consult someone who might, just might be able to give me a little more information on the subject.”

The Striper’s left eye closed halfway as he took another pull on his cig.

“Who would that be, mate?”

Shang placed the forage cap snugly on his head, pulling his ears through the side-slits

“The herbal doctor, Ji Su-King. As you know, certain medicinal substances become toxic in larger doses...or when mixed with other substances.”

The Striper nodded deeply, blowing long jets of smoke through his nose. “Yeah, like when whatever was used on Le acted fast instead of slow, coz he mixed it with booze.” He reached up to scratch behind an ear. “Think Ji’ll be able to tell you much?”

“I doubt it.” said the red panda reaching for the door, “If you really want to know what I think, I believe our spymaster gave Brian the poison he was reserving for himself in the event his identity was exposed. It was exactly the type of poison one would wish for that purpose, a peaceful death while sleeping, or if one is caught before it takes effect...supposing Brian Lu had survived and given us the cell leader’s name, and then after we had taken him into custody, he had offered to tell us everything, ‘but first, please, a drink, to steady my nerves?’ Would we have acceded to his request? I think the answer to that question is quite obvious.”

Yet another growl from the Striper.

“Shite, this is one clever boy we’re dealing with, sport.”

Shang smiled and opened the door.

“Not quite that clever, Striper. Were it so, Brian Lu would have died in his bed, not at his dining table.”

He ushered the Tasmanian tiger out and followed, closing the door behind them.

Ji Su-King’s establishment was situated on the mining camp’s main thoroughfare, about midway between Katie’s house and the airstrip. It was a two-story, barnlike edifice, painted in dark green with bright red trim. On the second floor were the living quarters, while the shop itself was situated on the ground floor. It was easily the largest building on the street; Ji had done well for himself since arriving in Iso six months earlier, dispensing not only herbal remedies to the miners, but also running what amounted to the settlement’s general store, bank, saloon, and trading post. Here was where the miners of Iso came to purchase their tobacco, tea, and rice, or to obtain a loan if they had been unlucky at Mah-Jongg or Pai Gow the night before (a game which most likely had been played in this very establishment.) Here too, was where the Ayon came to barter if they had goods to trade. And if Ji’s prices, and his interests rates, were up there in the clouds, no one had ever accused the ebony furred feline of usury...certainly not Shang Li-Sung. As with everything else in the camp, he kept a close eye on Ji’s business practices...and so far the black feline had been maintaining both an orderly and honorable trade.

“With everything he sells having to be brought in by air, Ji is not exactly operating under a low overhead.” he had once told Katie MacArran. “If his prices are steep, his expenses are equally as difficult.”

The heavy, teak door to Ji’s shop was low and Striper McKenna had to duck down a little in order to pass underneath, the tinkling of a little, brass chime announcing his and Shang’s arrival.

With the exception of Katie’s house, it was the most spotless place in Iso...though any Sydney health inspector would have taken one look at the shop’s interior, and thrown up his paws in horror. Everything that had not been cleaned as recently as the day before was covered by a thin patina of dust -- the window sills, the lampshades, the old round-belly stove; you could tell at a glance which chairs had recently been occupied and which had not.

Still, for a mining camp in the Papuan jungle, it was practically a surgical theater...and had, in fact, been used for that very purpose on at least two occasions. Though the air inside the place was as humid as everywhere else in the camp, the mixed aroma of herbs and incense imparted a dryness to the atmosphere, while conspicuous by its absence was the oily odor of kerosene. Ji’s shop was one of the few places in Iso fully wired with electricity.

The front room of the place was a large enclosure, made to appear even bigger by the fact that at the moment, it was almost completely unoccupied....though on days off, or when a shift ended, it could be like the grandstands at a racecourse in here; both Striper and Shang knew that the long, dark tables gracing the center of the room had spent many an occupied hour, as the miners of Iso gamed, drank, and gossiped during their off-duty hours.

The rear wall of the shop was dominated by a long, lacquered, wood-and-bamboo counter with wall-length rows of shelves behind, neatly divided into two halves On the right, they were occupied by various types of consumer goods, and on the left were Ji’s stocks of medicinal herbs and other supplies. Neatly ensconced at the far left end of the counter, was a small, beet-red figure of Ho-Tei, the perpetually joyful Chinese god of happiness, with a fan of smoking incense sticks placed behind him. Leaning on the counter next to Ho-Tei was, not Ji Su- King but someone else whom Shang recognized; Quan Duc Le, a Tonkinese mongoose from Hanoi who served as Ji’s assistant when he wasn’t working the hydraulic extractors...which he should be doing right now. Shang Li-Sung recalled. He was about to ask Quan what he was doing here in the middle of his work-shift, when he noticed the bandage on the mongoose’s right arm.

Oh...yes. He’d forgotten about that.

“Is there anything else you need?” Quan was saying to the marmot on the other side of the counter. Hmmm, what was that rodent’s name again? Shang couldn’t recall. Mmmm, Fo...Fo...Fo Liang. Yes, that was it, and unlike Quan, he was NOT supposed to be on shift at the present time.

“Excuse me.” said Shang, and both Quan and Fo glanced over with expressions of, ‘Hey, wait your turn!’ That lasted for about half a second, until they each recognized the new arrivals.

“Ah, yes.” said Quan, clasping his paws and bowing slightly, “Shang Li-Sung...and Stri-pei McKenna. A most unexpected surprise, gentlefurs. What may I do for you?”

“Is Ji around?” Shang asked him, leaning an elbow on the counter. Quan frowned nervously in response.

“He has gone to deliver Her Grace’s pain medicine.” he answered, “Shall I go and fetch him for you?” The red panda shook his head.

“Nooooo, I do not think that will be necessary, Quan. We will wait for him to return.”

“As you say, Shang Li-Sung.” the mongoose answered, bowing once again.

“He took Her Grace’s medicine to her, fursonal?” asked Striper McKenna, one eyebrow rising skeptically, “Didn’t just give it to her maid?”

Quan Duc Le simply shrugged. “It is what he always does whenever Her Grace places an order.”

“She IS only the owner here, Striper.” Shang reminded him, gently. Open-minded as the Tasmanian tiger was, he had never been completely able to wrap his mind around the concept of Chinese manners. Of course Ji would deliver Katie’s pain medication fursonally, it was the only proper thing to do.

“Besides,” Quan went on, “Ji had none of Her Grace’s medication available when housemaid, Hsing called by. He needed to prepare some more.”

The Striper chuckled and raised a paw. “Cor, in that case, no wonder he wanted to take it to her himself. That’s one mare y’ DON’T want to keep waiting, sport...especially right about now.”

Shang Li-Sung was not chuckling. Something was odd here, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on it. Perhaps, when Ji Su-King returned, it would come to him.

“Never mind,” he said to the mongoose, “go ahead and finish with your customer,”

Quan bowed once more and then turned to Fo Liang again.

“I need three ounces of star anise, please, and an ounce of dried sea-slug.” the marmot told him. Quan nodded and went to the shelves to fetch the order. So did Striper McKenna’s eyes, and he promptly let out a low whistle.

“Oi, would yer look at that mate? I’d no idea old Ji was so well provisioned.”

Shang smiled. “He is wise to do so, Striper. In the event of an outbreak of this illness or that in the camp, there will be great demand for his stocks and no time to replenish them.”

Indeed, it seemed as if every shelf on the left was filled to capacity. On the lower two, were shoe-sized boxes, wrapped in bronze-colored paper and marked with Chinese characters to indicate the contents. Above these were shelves of smaller, white boxes along with several jars, some of them decorated with labels in the same bronze color as the boxes on the lower shelves, others with labels in red.

The top shelf was enclosed in chicken wire and fastened shut with a cylindrical, Chinese lock. It was the only shelf with not filled to capacity, and curiously, none of the jars or boxes here had labels, only characters to indicate a number. That was when Shang noticed something else: Two of the boxes...no, two boxes and one of the jars, were completely free of dust, while the others all retained a relatively thick coating.

And neither of them had been placed there recently. Their tags had all turned dull gray and the characters printed on them had faded to near invisibility

He pulled at an ear and looked over at Quan Duc Le again.

And froze. The mongoose was in the process of folding a sheet of red paper into an envelope for the order he had just filled.

Red paper. Red...paper.

“What is on that top shelf?!” Shang barked, pointing up with a stabbing finger – startling not only Quan and his customer, but Striper McKenna as well.

“Wha..? I...” the mongoose stammered, “I don’t...”


The envelope, and it’s contents, fell scattering to the floor.

“I...I don’t know!” Quan replied, in a quick, frightened voice, clasping his paws once more. “Ji Su-King has never told me.”

“He...never told you?” said Shang, stepping forward with an angry growl.

“No! I swear he didn’t.” the mongoose protested, backing away and seeming to shrink inside his fur, “He only said that I am never to touch any of the items placed there.”

“Eh. What’s goin’ on mate?” the Striper interjected. Shang responded by quickly raising a palm without looking at him.

“Listen very carefully, Quan.” he said, in a breathy, hissing voice, “Did Ji-Su King use any of the items from that top shelf when preparing Her Grace’s pain medication?

“Uhhhh, may I please...?” came the wheedling voice of Fo Liang. It was as far as he got before a lid from the roundbelly stove went whistling past his ear and into the wall.

“You be quiet!” Shang practically roared, then turned his attention back to a now thoroughly terrified Quan Duc Le. “DID he, Quan?!”

“I...I don’t know, Shang.” the mongoose answered, an unpleasant odor suddenly making it’s presence known from the seat of his trousers, “He sent me into the back to fetch something while he prepared it. Some ground starfish, which I thought was very strange, since we had plenty of it up front and he had never before used ground starfish to prepare Her Grace’s...”

But Shang Li-Sung already had his whistle out and was bolting for the door. He almost knocked it off the hinges as he burst out of the shop, blowing the whistle three times in fast succession. It was a signal he had never used before, and it brought every guard within earshot hurrying in his direction at full tilt.

“Bloody hell, what the YIFF, mate?” said the Striper, coming up beside him and laying a paw on the red panda’s shoulder.

Shang spun rapidly in his direction, mouth dry, eyes hot and wet.

“It’s Ji Su-King, Striper! HE’S the cell leader! And he’s just gone to give Her Grace her pain medicine.” He stopped, swallowed hard, “Only this time, it’s not medicine!”

“Ohhh, Shite!” Said the Tasmanian Tiger in curious, strangled voice, just as a quintet of guards came running up, rifles at the ready.

“You, and you!” Shang snapped at two of them, an antelope and a wolf, the fastest species of the lot. “Ji Su-King is on his way to Her Grace’s. Get there and detain him...now! If you find him with Her Grace, do not let her eat or drink anything he has given her. And if he tries to resist in any way, your orders are shoot to kill. Go!”

“Yes sir,” said the guards then turned and dashed away, running flat out for Katie’s house.

“What about...?” said one of the other guards, a giant panda. Shang noted immediately that he was one of the stockade sentries; equipped with a Lee-Enfield long rifle that was fitted with a scope and a cheek-rest. That meant he should also have some...yes, there they were..

“Give me those!” he barked, pointing at the battered case on the guard’s belt. The giant panda nodded and passed his binoculars over without another word.

Raising the lenses to his eyes, Shang saw nothing but a blur at first. Cursing under his breath, he rolled the focus knob...and when the scene finally crystallized, he found himself peering through the front window screen of Katie’s house. Yes, there she was, piebald fur and one blue eye, wrapped in her favorite robe and seated in her favorite chair...and there was her housemaid, Hsing, laying a serving tray in front her, the morning tea, English service, not Chinese. But where was Ji-Su King? He couldn’t have already left. No, he would want to stay and make certain Katie drank it. After botching the poisoning of Brian Lu, he wasn’t about to take any further chances. So his absence could only mean he hadn’t arrived yet. Thank the gods! Her Grace would be...

All at once, Shang felt his breath whoosh out of him.

Hsing had turned and moved away, revealing the placid figure of Ji Su-King, who had been seated behind where she was standing, hidden from view until now.

The black cat was clasping his paws and smiling in a manner that must have appeared ingratiating to Her Grace...but to Shang, it looked like the oiliest smirk he had ever seen. And now, he saw Ji passing something to Katie, something red; an envelope, which the pinto mare tore open and emptied into her teacup.

“NO YOUR GRACE!” he shouted, “DON’T DRINK THAT!”

But he was much too far away for Katie to hear him. Through the glasses he could see her stirring the contents into her tea.

That was when the Striper spoke up.

“Quick, gimme that.” he said to the guard, and then, without waiting for him to comply, snatched it away.

But by the time he had it ready, Katie had already put the cup to her lips.

She was about to take the first sip when she hesitated, holding the tea away from her for barely a split second. Christmas, why did this stuff have to taste so Goddam awful? She took a breath and steeled herself. Per Ji’s instructions, the tea wasn’t hot, only lukewarm. She could drink it down in one gulp. Yes, in one swallow and be done with it.

She tightened her grip on the cup handle and lifted it to her mouth again.

And, at that instant, it shattered in her hoof, peppering her with shards of crockery and causing her to scream.

A second later, she heard a low, rolling crack, and realized what had happened.

“Sorry, Y’Grace.” the Striper growled, under his breath, and jacked another round into the rifle’s chamber.

Katie pushed back hard from the table and dropped quickly to the floor...saw her shikomi-zue propped beside a chair, instinctively grabbed for it. Dammit, why didn’t she also have her pistol handy? The cell leader wasn’t just starting any rumours; he was trying to KILL her. Only, who was it? And why hadn’t the guards...?”

That was when she noticed Ji Su-King. What the...? Why was he was still standing, for chrissakes?!

“Ji, get down!” she yelled in Mandarin, but the ebony feline did not drop down. Instead, his ears went flat, and his mouth stretched taut in an angry hiss. Then Katie saw him reach around behind his back, and saw the dull, blue gleam of gunmetal as his paw came back into view.

That was when she understood what was REALLY happening...and it was also when her own ears vanished.

“Why, you slimy, little...!”

Striper McKenna also saw Ji draw the revolver. He steadied a bead on the black cat’s temple, and was about to pull the trigger, when the feline stepped quickly forward, away from the window and out of sight.

“Shite!” said the big marsupial.

“Best guess, Striper.” said Shang, beside him.

“I-I dunno where her G-Grace is.” the Striper stuttered, “I-I might hit....”

“Best guess and SHOOT!”

Inside Katie’s house, Ji was drawing back the hammer of his gun, while Katie, half crouching now, drew her sword. She knew she would never make it, her hoof would have to move a good three feet, while her adversary’s finger would require only fraction of an inch. But she wasn’t going down meekly. Never, never again. She had barely gotten her sword out of it’s scabbard when Ji pulled the trigger...a split second after the Striper’s second shot splintered off one of the support posts. It missed the cat by an easy two feet, but it was enough to startle him and spoil his aim. His shot went under the pinto mare’s left arm, punching a neat hole through her robe but not finding any flesh.

Ji cursed, corrected and raised the pistol again. In that interval, Katie was able to get her cane-sword out and raise it, but she knew she was still too late. Ji had her in his sights again...and this time he would not miss. That was when she saw it; the black cat’s jawline compressing ever so slightly...and remembered what Shang had taught her:

“That tightening around the jaw means your opponent has just realized that his life is on the line; no matter how hardened he is, no matter how professional he might be, there is always just a moment when he can't help thinking of what might happen, might happen to him, his career, his family. It may last for only a fraction of a second...but it’s a fraction of a second you can use.”

Katie used it. With a high, furious whinny, she launched herself at the black cat, slashing viciously outward with her sword. The cut was badly executed, only gashing a shallow, red furrow across Ji’s torso...but it was enough to propel him backwards and send his second bullet whistling into the ceiling.

“Dew Neh Lo Moh!” the black cat yowled, and tried to raise the pistol a third time...but then realized Katie’s blow had propelled him back in front of the window. He ducked just in time to avoid having his head drilled open by Striper McKenna’s next shot...but he didn’t come away unscathed. In one second he had two ears, in the next second, only a left ear.

Screaming in pain and outrage, Ji aimed the gun at Katie again...just as Hsing came up behind him and brought a brass pot down on the back of his head. Had it been Katie wielding the object, she would have knocked the black cat cold, but Hsing’s strength was feeble by comparison. With a enraged screech, the cat wheeled and swung bared claws at the Chinese pony...missing her with his talons, but catching her with his forearm. Hsing went down in a heap, and Ji spun on Katie again.

But this time, the pinto mare was ready for him. Shrilling like a banshee, she swiped downward with her cane-sword, in a fast, ferocious arc, “WHEEEE-AH-AH-AH-AAAAAHHH!”

And unlike her previous attempt, this time Katie executed the cut perfectly. The paw in which Ji had been holding his pistol snapped off at the wrist so quickly, it seemed to have disappeared in an illusion.

That was when the front door of Katie’s house exploded inward...and two of Shang’s guards came rushing in to throw themselves on the shrieking cat.


                To Katie MacArran