Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2008 by Walter Reimer
Haruhara Masao was hungry, thirsty and cold.
The rat had signed on with the Kisama Maru’s shipping company only six months ago and had been on two sea voyages. He hadn’t seen much of the world from his assigned post as an oiler’s assistant in the engine room, but he had entertained hopes of getting to a brothel in either Taipei or Shanghai.
That prospect had receded to the horizon like Fujiyama with the arrival of the pirates.
He and the others had been crammed into the wardroom with no toilet facilities (very unfortunate – the supercargo had flatulence, and the second mate had apparently not bathed in the past week), no food and no water.
Fortunately it had only been for a day.
Less than that, actually.
Now, for some reason, the pirates had opened the wardroom door and, guns drawn, had yelled at the crew in stilted, broken Japanese to get up on deck and assemble on the fantail.
Masao started to make his peace with the kami, and wondered if his ancestors would mind him showing up in his present unwashed state.
The crewfurs stood blinking in the morning sunlight and noted that the ship wasn’t moving under its own power, instead drifting with the ocean currents. “Maybe they want us to enlist with them,” one mused aloud. “Have us go back to work, and once we reach port they’ll let us go.”
“Ransom,” another opined, “that’s what I’m thinking.”
“I hope not,” a third remarked. “My family doesn’t have much money – “
A pistol shot rang out, and the crew quieted as a slim gray fox wearing ragged trousers, an equally ragged shirt and a faded blue and white baseball cap stepped forward. He was apparently the leader, and as he tucked his pistol into his waistband the other pirates readied their own weapons and covered him.
“I tell you sons of motherless whores we no can take you with,” he barked in execrable Nihon-go. A few of the crew bridled at the epithets.
The second mate, a macaque from Hokkaido, stepped forward. “So you’ll let us go?”
“We can take one of the boats?”
The fox smiled.
Masao didn’t like that smile, recalling suddenly all the legends about the yako, evil demon foxes that his grandfather had told him as a child.
The fox beckoned the mate forward. “We talk, neh?”
“Yes.” The mate stepped forward again as the pirate leader turned to his right. As the primate drew close to the gray vulpine, Masao saw a flash.
The mate staggered, gasping as the fox sank a broad-bladed knife into his stomach. The pirate’s smile turned into a feral rictus as he drove the knife forward, blood spurting out to spray across his clothes.
The knife then ripped across and up.
Finally the pirate shoved the mate backward, pushing him off of the blade.
Blood and entrails cascaded to the deck as the mate landed sprawling, trying to draw breath through his screams and struggling to grab his slippery intestines with desperate, blood-slick paws.
The fox turned his now blood-spattered smile on the remaining crew and gestured with the gory knife. “Who want talk now?”
Haruhara Masao fainted.
The Japanese crew of the Kisama Maru had taken the only option left to them – they had all jumped overboard and started swimming. Hao watched them go, even as the mate wheezed and whimpered in his own blood at his feet.
He looked down at the man, the taste and scent of the macaque’s blood strong in his nostrils and bitter and coppery on his tongue.
I should feel something, I suppose, he thought. This’ll make the third man I’ve killed this trip.
Hao shrugged. Apart from his immediate family – and he now included Xiu in that select group – he tended to look at other furs as objects, things who either wanted something from him or he wanted something from.
The writhing man on the deck?
He grabbed the man by his shoulders, hauled him to the stern rail and with help tossed him overboard. “So long, chum,” he said in English, relishing the pun. “Okay,” he told the others, “it’s about four day’s sail from where we are now to Krupmark. The trawler will take longer. Here’s what I propose.
“There’s no way we’re letting this cargo get sold down in Wangchung, so I think that we head home. Ideas?”
“We’ll need to paint over the name, Boss.”
Hao nodded. “We’ll take a look around after we get underway. The trawler delivers its cargo at New Penzance, like nothing happened, and heads for home too.” The others considered this course of action, and heads started to nod.
“Great. Let’s get the engines started and turn this tub around. It’ll be a lot of work, but I think we can pull it off.”
Miss Windlesham glanced again at the reports arrayed on her desk, then at the four young women standing in front of her. A paw reached out and lifted a photograph showing three members of Red Dorm sitting with a gaunt equine gentleman with pince-nez and a wispy beard. Beside Windlesham stood two other members of the Songmark staff, Miss Devinski and Miss Wildford.
“We are led to believe that this is Lev Trotsky,” Miss Windlesham remarked. “Photographs can be retouched, of course. Where are the negatives?”
“I have them, Ma’am,” Brigit immediately replied. “I had ‘em developed at a camera shop on Casino Island,” and the Irish girl gave the shop’s address.
“Indeed. That will be looked into. Your report,” and the feline gave Liberty a hard look, “states that Trotsky killed his supposed assassin.”
“He did,” the half-coyote said flatly.
“Why didn’t you?”
The New Havenite stood up a bit straighter, if that were possible. “He told me that he acted in the name of Revolutionary justice, and that my own paws must remain clean.”
“I see. Tatiana, have you turned your back completely on Comrade Starling’s values? And if not, why didn’t you try to kill Trotsky?”
The sable swallowed. “I am still loyal to the Soviet Union, Ma’am, but what we were doing involved saving Trotsky. In that, I was loyal to the rest of Red Dorm.” She stolidly returned the feline’s stern gaze.
“And whose idea was it to throw the assassin’s corpse from the plane?”
“Mine, Ma’am,” Shin raised a paw.
“A corpse would have caused the police to get involved, and there was always the possibility that it could be traced back to us. Given that, disposing of the assassin was a simple matter,” and here the red panda smiled, “of dumping some trash.”
That earned her a hard glare.
She didn’t even blink.
“There remains the matter of your certifications for the use of multi-engine planes,” Miss Devinski said. “None of you have that certification yet – “ Liberty dipped her head. “Yes, Liberty?”
“We do, Ma’am. A licensed commercial pilot signed off on our certifications, and they have been endorsed by the Pilot’s Union.”
“Yes. One Edward Litchfield, a cargo pilot. Of course, one wonders what incentive - or inducement - you gave him to get him to sign these papers.” The Labrador’s eyes narrowed. “Points will be posted at the end of the week. I want you all to bear this in mind,” and the canine looked at each in turn.
“Until you have formal instruction on multi-engine aircraft, you will not touch such an aircraft. I need not tell you the consequences of disobeying us. Dismissed.” The four younger women filed out.
After the door had closed Wildford mused aloud, “They work together fairly well.”
Devinski said, “That’s what scares me. We don’t need another crew of air pirates coming out of this school.”
Windlesham chuckled. “Should we alert the League of Nations now, or wait until they graduate?”
All three chuckled at her remark.
Two hours later, Liberty was still grumbling. Shin looked at her crossly from across the exhaust manifold of the engine they were working on. The engine sat on a makeshift cradle, suspended by its chain hoist, and as soon as they were finished with the maintenance it would be lifted into its accustomed spot on the school’s Junkers Ju-86.
All of the new third years were foaming at the mouth at the prospect of flying the multi-engine plane regularly. It had quickly achieved the rank of status symbol, something for the second years to be jealous of and the first years to aspire to.
“What’s got your tail kinked?” the red panda asked. “Still mad at the Tutors?”
“They’ve had it in for all of us since we started here,” the half-coyote growled.
“Ye can’t blame ‘em, really,” Brigit said, “but although we’ve done our best, sure they want us ta do better.”
“Which means we go over everything we’ve done, learn from it and do better next time,” Tatiana offered.
“I suppose,” Liberty said as she loosened a recalcitrant bolt with a heave on the wrench.
A Royal Navy flying boat on routine patrol northeast of the Gilbert and Sullivan Islands flew over the freighter and noted that the few furs on its decks waved at the plane. The single smokestack bore a black star with red bars above and below it – the insignia of one of Rain Island’s major freight companies. One observer trained his binoculars on the fantail and noted that the name of the ship was the M/V Mango Princess, with Port de Fuca listed as its home port.
All the information checked, as did a wireless challenge.
The paint job looked a bit sloppy to one of the observers, who shrugged at the lackadaisical ways of socialists.
Hao watched the plane recede into the distance and poked his head into the radio room. “Great job, Mike.”
The otter, an expatriate from Rain Island, grinned as he took off his earphones. “Nothing to it, Hao.”