Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2008 by Walter Reimer
Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!
Hao adjusted his stance on the fishing boat’s pitching deck, his tail switching back and forth as a counterbalance while he checked the charts of the area by the dim light of a carefully shielded red lamp. He and his crew were far to the west of Krupmark, about a week’s travel into the sea lanes northwest of the Gilbert and Sullivans, and only apparently gathering some fish in their nets.
Appearances had to be kept up.
He reached a paw into his denim shorts and scratched himself idly. The dye that gave him a gray fox’s coloration always seemed to itch more than any of the others. The red panda drummed his fingers moodily on the chart table while the helmsfur tended the small ship’s wheel.
The feline glanced at his boss and took advantage of the darkness to shake his head.
Love did crazy things to a fur, and Ni Hao’s behavior since his engagement was starting to make the civet worry.
He popped a couple of raw coffee beans into his mouth and chewed for a moment. Others chewed gum or tobacco, but he liked the bitter lift raw coffee gave him.
The feline glanced out at the sea and craned forward suddenly. “Hey, Boss.”
“Yeah?” Hao asked as he switched the chart light off. The radium dial of his wristwatch showed that it was just after three in the morning.
“I see running lights coming up, about there,” and he pointed off to port.
In the dim light he could see the red panda grin. “Great,” Hao whispered as he brought a pair of binoculars to his eyes and scanned the horizon. “Hmm . . . looks like a freighter, not too big,” and he clapped the helmsfur on the shoulder. “Let’s go get it, Jack. If it pans out it’s bonuses for everyone.”
“Sure thing, Hao,” and Jack started to turn the ship’s wheel.
The crew was alerted to what was coming up, and weapons were quietly readied as nets were stowed. The crew worked by feel as the ship crept forward, no lights showing and moving slowly enough to prevent a phosphorescent wake from betraying their presence.
The fishing trawler described a huge loop around the freighter to get behind it, one of the net booms swinging out with two furs, a squirrel and a mouse, clinging to pawholds on the wooden spar. As the trawler drew close enough for the two furs to clamber over the stern rail Hao was able to read the ship’s name, in both Japanese and English – the Kisama Maru, out of Hiroshima.
The Rising Sun flag hung from the flagstaff.
The two pioneer furs got aboard and one tossed down a coiled rope ladder as the other covered him, a knife and pistol at the ready. Five others climbed the knotted rope, Hao leading the way. Once they were all aboard the red panda pulled his ball cap out of a pocket and put it on, then yanked his .45 from its resting place under his weather-beaten shirt.
The crew was experienced at this kind of thing. Two furs went below to secure the engines, two more headed for the ladder leading to the ship’s wheelhouse and radio room. The rest went to awaken the crew and herd them onto the deck.
The sailor on watch was drowsing at the wheel as Hao walked into the compartment, gun raised. Before the rodent could get fully awake and respond to the interloper on the bridge the red panda spun him around and struck him hard across the back of the neck with his pistol, knocking the mouse unconscious.
“Nighty-night,” Hao whispered, ears cocking at the sound of a muffled exclamation in the compartment directly aft – the radio room. He eased the door open to find the radioman with his paws raised as one of his crew shut down the wireless set. “Any trouble, Boss?” the otter asked in Spontoonie.
“Not yet. Get him trussed up; I’ll cover you. Did he have a chance to call for help?”
The otter grinned as he yanked some wires loose from the apparatus and beckoned the radioman to turn around. “Nope,” he replied as he bound the fur’s wrists behind his back.
Hao smiled and pulled his Fortuna cigarettes from a pocket. “Good,” and he lit up.
The freighter’s engines stopped and it started to lose headway, drifting with the current as the trawler kept alongside it. The other twenty members of the freighter’s crew, in varying stages of undress and all with their paws tied behind their backs, were herded with a few shoves and kicks onto the weather deck before the wheelhouse.
Hao looked down at them. “Good morning. What are you carrying, eh?” he asked in his best Japanese.
The crew looked uneasily at each other and no one spoke.
Hao sighed. “Okay. Captain! Where’s the captain of this tub?” That worthy, a solidly built Akita, was prodded up the ladder to face his captor.
A stream of cigarette smoke was blown in the canine’s face and Hao asked, “What is your cargo, Captain?”
The canine spit in his face in response.
The oddly-built gray fox standing before him seemed to pause, tremble slightly and then wiped the spittle from his muzzle. “Not,” Hao said slowly, “a good answer.”
He drew his pistol and in an almost casual gesture shot the bound helsmfur through the head as he lay at his feet.
The captive crew below started shouting in anger, but subsided into a watchful silence as the smoking barrel of the pistol was then brought up to rest on the Akita’s muzzle.
“I’ll ask again . . . politely, Captain,” Hao said.
The Akita gulped, feeling the warmth of the barrel through his fur while his shipmate’s blood pooled around his unshod feet. “M-military supplies,’ he stammered.
Hao’s nostrils flared as a scent overrode the smell of gunpowder in the wheelhouse and the tod-musk he was wearing.
The canine had wet himself.
“There now,” he said softly, “that was easy, wasn’t it?” and the pistol lowered.
The canine started to breathe a sigh of relief.
The sigh quickly changed to a scream of agony as a .45-caliber bullet tore through his left knee. He fell to the deck writhing as Hao said, “That’s to teach you manners. We’re your guests after all.”
“What now, Boss?” one of his crew asked from his vantage point on a cargo hatch.
“Get the crew below and lock ‘em up,” Hao said, “then let’s get underway again. We’ll head for the usual spot while we look over the cargo.” The crew moved to obey him and he stepped out onto the starboard bridge wing and waved below at the trawler.
Jack waved back and directed a couple of furs to tend to the engine. The civet grinned to himself.
It was good to see that ‘Ni Kap’ hadn’t lost his touch.
The captain had gone over the side just before first light.
His screaming had started to get on Hao’s nerves.
He had been preceded by the dead helmsfur, so the sharks would have some variety in their diet.
The Kisama Maru and the fishing trawler had steered south as dawn started to cast its rosy glow across the broad Pacific. Both ships were headed for Kuo Han waters and the relative safety of a corrupt government. Whatever cargo of ‘military supplies’ were aboard the ship could be sold quite readily to enterprising buyers at Yaoming or Wangchung.
He checked the position on the chart again and nodded to himself. At most, another couple of days or so and the ship would be out of his paws.
“Boss?” He turned as one of his crew came up the bridge ladder. “You have to see what these guys were carrying.”
“What is it? The captain said military supplies,” Hao said.
“Yeah, that’s what it is,” the fur said with a laugh, waving him below.
“Wow . . . “ Ni Hao breathed once he got into the cargo hold.
The Kisama Maru had been bound for Formosa with its cargo, and whoever was waiting for it would definitely be angry at the loss.
Airplanes, Kawasaki Ki-10 biplane fighters.
Ten of them, it looked like, disassembled and crated up, along with spare parts and other supplies.
“This is going to net us a tidy sum,” one of the crewfurs was saying. The bear picked up a pry bar and attacked a small wooden crate, ripping the lid off. “Hoo-ee! Hao, looky here!”
Hao came, and looked.
The crate held two guns.
The stencil on the crate lid proclaimed them to be Type 99-1 cannon, twenty millimeter.
And there were nine more crates just like that one, along with ammunition drums and ammunition. Other cases held the fighters’ standard armament of two heavy machine guns.
The red panda stuck a paw under his shirt and scratched again before saying, “Let’s get that flag down, and stop the engines while I think this out. There’s no way we’re selling these to Kuo Han.”
The first week back at school found Shin on gate duty along with Liberty. The two other members of Red Dorm were assigned to relieve them in a few hours, and another dorm had the night duty.
After returning to Songmark it had taken a few days to readjust to the bland but filling diet (Shin had brought in additional soy and pepper sauce) as well as the hard exercise the Tutors had decreed to “work the fat off.” In addition to the exercise there were classes on cold weather survival techniques coupled with assurances that the topics taught would be followed by practical demonstrations.
Shin had no doubt of that, after seeing the faces of the last year’s group of students after they had returned from their field trip to the Aleutians.
She smiled as she held out the ledger for another second-year to sign into the compound. Red Dorm had the weekend off after spending another day on gate duty, and had started the term ahead on points.
The red panda was showing around the autograph she’d acquired during Speed Week, and the jealous muttering by the other new third years had prompted one of the Tutors to question her about it. After a diligent look at the piece of paper and Kypriakos’ paw-writing, Miss Windlesham had seemed satisfied that it wasn’t a forgery.
“Hello, Alpha,” the red panda said as a familiar shrew walked up to the gatehouse. Her wife was nowhere in evidence, obeying the restriction placed on them that they would not be allowed together while school was in session. Nancy Rote had already come in.
“Shin.” The shrew signed her name and paused as Shin raised a paw. “Yes?”
"Did you talk to your parents over the summer?" She was tempted to ask her about her experience while in the surf at Cranium Island, but something held her back.
Alpha was instantly wary.
She was learning. "Maybe."
"Do you know if Fisher and Cobb got – well, wherever they were getting to – did they get there safely?"
The shrew brightened and grinned. "Oh yes! They were very welcome in some quarters."
The red panda raised a brow. "As guests, or food?"
Alpha merely grinned again and headed for her dorm.