Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The rain finally started to slacken after midnight, and the temperature was starting to fall as it got close to dawn.
Shin trudged through the woods that separated The Settlement from their plane, picking her way carefully to avoid making too much noise. Her ears flicked as she wiped water from her face fur and peered into the darkness.
The red panda was cold and wet, but actually felt a bit worse inside than the poor weather could account for.
She paused, hearing footsteps behind her; she slipped around the trunk of a tree and drew her knife, keeping the blade concealed behind herself to avoid a stray gleam that could betray her position.
The scents in the forest were varied and wet, but . . . “Brigit?” she whispered.
A shadow moved out of the undergrowth. “Shin?”
“Here. You okay?”
“Yeah.” The Irish setter’s voice sounded subdued. “Did ye do it?”
“We should be gettin’ back, then.”
“Sure.” They started walking, knives held at the ready until they reached the cove. The Bosanquet was still there, rocking in the swells. A soft reddish glow came from the cockpit windows.
“Think th’ others made it back yet?” Brigit asked.
The red panda shrugged, the gesture unseen in the darkness. “I hope so. I got us all into this.”
“True enough,” Brigit said; no acrimony, just stating the fact. She shook, sending water flying. “I’ll be glad ta dry off, I will.”
“You and me both.”
Shin rapped on the side of the plane. “Yeah?” Zell said from inside.
“It’s me and Brigit. Coming in.”
“Come ahead.” They opened the door and climbed aboard to find the lynx laying aside a shotgun. Liberty and Tatiana were already there, coffee mugs in their paws. “Glad to see you could get back,” Zell said. “I’d hate to see my investment wasted.” She smiled as the others scowled at her. “Now. Ears, please.”
Brigit opened her jumpsuit and pulled one of Mohan Ahuja’s ears out, tossing the large piece of flesh at Zell’s feet.
Liberty threw Javier Soares’ ear onto the elephant’s, her expression unreadable.
Tatiana added Abdul’s right ear.
Shin reached into her pocket and took out Hank Bolman’s left ear, notched in one place, and flipped it onto the pile.
“Good. Well done. There’s coffee over there,” Zell said with a jerk of her head. “Grab yourselves a cup and tell me what it’s like to kill someone.”
The red panda paused as she started toward the coffeepot. “You really want to know?”
“Yes. I know you’ve killed before, and so has Bryzov,” and the sable’s ears went up in surprise. “I could see it in your eyes when you were given your assignments. But how did you feel about it?”
“Well . . . “ Shin glanced at Tatiana to see if the sable would interrupt her and speak first, but the Russian girl gestured for her to proceed. “You’re right, I have killed before. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not proud of killing this guy.”
“Do you think I would send you out, knowing what could happen to you, if he didn’t deserve it?”
The red panda shrugged. “That’s your business. I . . . I’m not proud of it. That’s all.”
The sable thought a moment as she passed a steaming mug of coffee to Shin. “Was necessary that they die,” she said laconically.
“Good. Brigit? Ahuja’s a lot bigger than you. How did you kill him?”
The Irish setter ran a paw through her still-wet headfur. She blushed furiously as she said, “I, ah, sneaked in on him, y’see, while he was, er . . . “
“While he usin’ th’ bathroom,” and she blushed angrily as Shin snickered.
“And?” Zell pressed.
“I stabbed him – here,” and she pointed at the base of her skull.
Zell nodded approvingly. “That would kill him instantly. Good job. How do you feel about it?”
Brigit looked uncertain. “Um, well . . . I feel – feel a bit, um, sad an’ – “
“Sick at your stomach?”
The Irish setter stopped, looked hard at the lynx and slowly nodded.
“It’s okay,” Zell said, although her tone of voice was hardly comforting. “I felt the same way the first guy I killed, trust me. Now, Liberty, how did you kill Soares?”
The New Havenite’s eyes were hooded and she didn’t reply.
“Come on now. You had to wash off in the cove, I heard you splashing around before you came in,” Zell said in an almost taunting tone. “How’d you do it? From behind? Or did you wait until he was occupied, like Brigit did?”
“I killed him,” the half-coyote said tersely. “Isn’t that enough?”
Zell smirked. “Hardly. You weren’t going to do it at all until I managed to motivate you.”
“Is that what you call threatening my parents?”
“Exactly. I had to get you to let your anger out, girl. Now,” the lynxess asked, “tell me – did you see my face as you were killing Soares?”
Liberty’s gaze met hers, then she looked away. “No.”
“Then you looked into Soares’ eyes.”
“How did you get that close to him?”
The half-coyote caught her lower lip in her teeth and her ears went back before she replied, “I . . . I managed to convince him that I was a boy.”
The others stared in surprise. Liberty had always been very self-conscious about the fact she was underdeveloped, and being mistaken for a male usually ended badly for whoever made the error.
“Interesting tactic,” Zell said. “Obviously successful. I couldn’t do it. Did you kill him before or after he found you weren’t to his taste after all?”
“Before,” she growled.
“Tell me,” Zell said, her tone softening.
Liberty’s tail was thrashing as she took several deep breaths. “I was so angry at you.”
“He – he put his paws on me – and tried to kiss me.” A small tremor shook her. She opened her eyes and looked at Zell. “I stabbed him then.”
“Throat. Angled upward.”
Zell raised one eyebrow. “Effective. But you were still angry.”
She looked away. “I carved him up.”
The others looked at each other, surprised.
“That explains you washing up before coming in here. Now,” Zell leaned close. “How do you feel about killing him?”
“How?” The half-coyote looked momentarily bewildered. “I – I, that is, I – “ Her eyes went wide, she clapped a paw over her muzzle and bolted from the plane. Splashing and retching sounds could be heard as the others looked at each other.
Zell pulled an acetate bag from her jumpsuit and put the severed ears in it, then pointed at Brigit. “Brigit, you and Tatiana start preflight checks. Shin, take the pilot’s seat. Liberty and I will cast off the anchor lines.” The lynx climbed out of the plane.
Hao didn’t resist.
There was no point to it, really. His weapon had been taken away from him and a pair of pawcuffs had pinioned his wrists behind him (“just a precaution, sir” he had been assured).
He had been taken to a district station house near the waterfront and escorted into the building. The place was larger than the Constabulary headquarters on Spontoon and smelled slightly worse. The place was staffed largely by Chinese, with some English constables in the upper ranks like the sergeant who had arrested him.
Yes, arrested him. Hao had no illusions that he wasn’t under arrest. On Spontoon, carrying a weapon into Customs was almost normal – all you had to do was give it to the officers to lock away, and everything was fine. Here, though, it was apparently against the law.
He sat down a bit awkwardly in a chair in an interview room, wishing he had his paws loose so he could get a cigarette. The constable who escorted him into the room left by the only door and closed it behind him.
The room had a mirror set into the wall facing him, and he studied his reflection impassively until the door opened.
The man was English, a tall beagle in plainclothes with a tobacco stain marking his muzzle at one corner. He had a small file folder in one paw, and as he sat down facing Hao he opened the folder. His passport and other papers were in the folder.
“I’m Detective S-Sergeant Rowcliff,” the man said. “You are Ni Hao.”
“Says here you’re a Kuo Han resident.”
“That’s right.” The passport was perfectly legal. He’d spent good money to have it that way.
The canine nodded. “K-Kuo Han passport, Rain Island pilot’s license . . . what are you doing in Hong Kong?”
“I’m – “
The beagle waved it away. “Never mind,” he said. “I haven’t even heard it yet and I d-don’t believe you.” He stood up and circled around the table, then shoved it out of the way in an attempt to rattle the younger fur.
Hao looked up at him. “That supposed to impress me?” he asked.
Rowcliff looked down at the red panda. “No. This might, though,” and he slapped the red panda hard, openpawed, across his face.