Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2009 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Hao rocked from side to side in his chair as Rowcliff graduated from merely roundhouse slapping the young red panda to striking him in the ribs and midsection with his fists. As he struck the younger fur the beagle started to sing softly, matching his blows to the rhythm.
The red panda was normally uninterested in music, and the fists striking his ribs and stomach were a distraction anyway. The song (what he could hear of it) was in English and had something to do with rowing a boat, or something.
A fist struck him on the side of his face and his head snapped to the right. He faced forward again, a bit of bloody drool staining his muzzle. “What was the question again?” he asked softly, privately wishing the man had unlocked his pawcuffs.
His sarcasm seemed to anger the Englishman, who punched him again, harder, then grabbed him by the shoulders. “I haven’t s-started asking you questions yet, you l-l-little yellow bastard,” he stuttered in agitation. He had started punching Hao again when the door opened.
Rowcliff whirled, then pulled himself into ramrod-straight posture and said, “Yes, sir.” He was practically panting, chest heaving.
“What on earth are you doing to the prisoner?” the other fur, a badger wearing a lieutenant’s pips on his shoulder boards, asked.
“Preparing him for questioning, sir.”
“He hasn’t been charged with anything!”
“D-Don’t worry, s-sir,” Rowcliff said. “From his papers he’s up to s-something. I’ll get it out of him.”
Hao just leaned forward in his seat, letting some bloody spit drizzle from his open mouth onto his shirt front. He forced a cough.
The act obviously worked. The badger growled, “Sergeant Rowcliff, go back to your desk.”
“S-Sir – “
The beagle hesitated, then shouldered past the badger, who stepped into the room. A Chinese feline in a suit and carrying a briefcase was right behind him. “I’m dreadfully sorry about this, Mr. Won.”
“No matter, Lieutenant,” the feline said smoothly. “My client will have to be tended to, and may prefer charges against the sergeant.”
Fat chance, Hao thought. Give me my gun back.
The badger removed Hao’s pawcuffs and the lawyer helped him to his feet. Wisely, neither said a word to each other until they were out of the building and in the lawyer’s chauffeur-driven car.
“Where are we going?” Hao asked, and started coughing in earnest.
“To Mr. Hu’s house,” Won replied. “His driver saw you being taken into custody, and Mr. Hu called me as quickly as possible. Why? Do you need a doctor?”
Hao started to laugh and winced as his ribs protested. “No, but a good drink and some rest will do.”
“That we can supply you, Mr. Ni.”
The flight back to Spontoon was uneventful but bumpy as the Bosanquet transport breasted the turbulent air. Shin kept a steady paw on the controls as Tatiana navigated and Brigit and Liberty kept an eye on the radio and the engines.
Whatever Zell had said to Liberty while outside the plane seemed to have helped the half-coyote regain her poise. Her usual dour expression was firmly in place when she climbed aboard, dripping wet.
Several days later Zell led them into a room that they all immediately recognized as the same windowless concrete room they had been caged in. To their relief, however, there were no cages to be seen. Instead, there were four chairs, a projector on a table, and a screen. “Sit down,” the lynx said quietly as she stood in front of them.
“You’ve done well in your training,” and the four members of Red Dorm looked startled at the admission. “Once you figured out my aim, that is. A good teacher should be able to see her students reach beyond what she’s teaching.
“All of which leads me to the next stage.
“I have a film to show you. If any of you fail to look at it, or look away from it, you’ll all watch it again, and again if necessary.” She stepped away from the screen and switched off the lights before switching on the projector.
The screen lit up with the flickering images of the leader before it focused on a paw-written sign:
RAID ON SLAVE CAMPShin said, “Mepek Island?”
“You know it?” Zell asked.
“It’s near Konigi,” the red panda replied. The sign was still on the screen. It was replaced by another:
ARMY UNION“Ever been there, Shin?” Brigit asked.
Shin snorted. “Hell, no. Place is run by slavers.”
From beside the projector came a soft chuckle. “Not anymore.”
“Watch the film.”
The signs were whisked away to show several furs in helmets and jumpsuits, their faces obscured by gauzy masks. The camera panned around to show several buildings, one of which was a smoldering ruin.
The images quivered, then abruptly cut away to show a row of figures, all males in various states of undress. The camera zoomed in on them and it could be clearly seen that they were all dead. Most bore knife wounds while others had clear evidence of gunshots. A couple showed signs of burns.
Flies buzzed around them and settled on the wounds.
The camera moved over each in turn, lingering over the slack faces to make sure that they could be identified.
Shin gulped, recognizing at least two of the fifteen furs as very occasional regulars at the Lucky Dragon and elsewhere in Fort Bob. A small heap of confiscated weapons lay nearby.
Another sign flashed on the screen:
RECORDSThe film jumped to a small collection of boxes, lids open to show the paperwork inside. Another cut, and a page of an open ledger was shown detailing transactions and giving dates, places and names in a variety of languages.
“Shin,” Zell said.
“Your people do this kind of business?”
“Good. Hate to have to twist your head off after all the trouble I’ve gone to.”
The red panda turned toward the projector.
“Keep watching!” the lynxess snapped.
Another sign was being held up to the camera:
SLAVE QUARTERSThe camerafur moved along a path into the jungle. At one point the sun silhouetted the person, revealing him to be an elk; he carried the camera up to a crude longhouse made of palm logs and a poorly-thatched roof.
The camerafur moved inside.
The slavers on Mepek apparently had believed in doing a volume business. There were shackles for almost eighty furs, neatly laid out in rows for inventory, along with various items such as whips and branding irons.
The camera panned its way down the line to show that the people running the camp had, in fact, been awaiting transportation for their stock in trade.
Ten women, looking emaciated, sat huddled in one corner of the longhouse. They were dressed only in their fur.
“Turn it off,” Liberty said, anger edging her voice.
Soldiers bearing first aid kits, blankets and canteens started tending to the women, the camera zooming in to catch details of the brands and other signs of abuse.
“Turn it off!”
The elk stopped at the youngest, maybe ten years old. Canine, she nestled close to one of the other women, blinking up at the lens with wide, blank eyes.
Eyes that had seen things no ten year old should ever witness.
“TURN IT OFF!” Liberty shouted, and she jumped to her feet, her chair falling backward to the floor with a clatter.
The movie stopped and the screen went dark, plunging the room in darkness. There were calm, measured footfalls as Zell walked over to the door and switched the lights on. She looked at the quartet of Songmark girls.
Shin looked nauseated by what she’d seen.
Brigit looked as if she were about to vomit.
Tatiana’s expression was, if anything, more stolid than ever, as if she was trying with all her strength to keep herself in check.
Liberty, though . . .
Her expression was pure rage, the anger making her almost unrecognizable.
Finally the New Havenite found her voice. “Why,” she grated, “why are you showing this to us?”
Zell looked unperturbed by the half-coyote’s reaction. “Sit down,” she said, “and I’ll tell you.”
Liberty pulled her chair upright and sat down, and Zell said, “You wanted to be taught how to avoid a fate like those women in the film. They were not actors; this was a real operation. They are back with their families, or are learning to live again - somehow.
“The four men you killed ran that place. They were not on Mepek when the camp was attacked. The women you saw there were the lucky ones; we saved them. There were records that the camp had been in operation for almost four years.” The lynx walked over to the projector.
“You’re almost at the end of your training with me. Now, why did I show you this?”
“To show it is our fate if we are not wary?” Tatiana asked.
“That’s part of it. Another is to show you that yes, there are worse things than death. There’s another part of this film – well, you’d have to see it to believe it. And you will see it.”
“Were ye part o’ th’ operation?” asked Brigit suddenly.
Zell nodded. “I was.”
Shin stared, her banded tail thumping against the floor. “You – you were bait?”
The lynx gazed at the red panda until Shin lowered her eyes. “It’s better if you see this, rather than me telling you.” She drew down the zipper of her jumpsuit, letting the upper half of the garment fall away and revealing the angry welts showing vividly through her fur.
A Chinese pictograph.
“Read it aloud, Shin.”
Shin gulped. “It says ‘Property.’”
“That’s right,” and Zell shouldered back into the upper half of her jumpsuit, zipping it up. “Have I answered your question, Liberty?”
“Yes.” The word was flat, showing that the New Havenite was back in control of herself.
“Good. I will be taking you back to Songmark in two days.” Zell smirked. “So we are going to finish watching this film. When we are finished, you will all go back to your bungalow and get whatever you want to keep. Then you will report to the dispensary for a flea treatment before reporting back to me here for further instructions.”