Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2012 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
A stylized image of a mountain drew back to reveal that it was a bold letter ‘A’ and the fanfare accompanying it heralded the title card Azimuth Movie News. Mothers shushed noisy children as the newsreel began with the well-known voice of Carl Stoat.
Tatiana liked the ferret’s voice, attached to a bourgeois though it was.
The monochrome image on the screen in the darkened theater was very crisp and clear, with only an occasional flicker in one corner. The initial report on the continuing conflict in China finally ended with carefully edited pictures of the Japanese parading through Nanking.
Shin hoped Hao hadn’t seen the newsreels before heading to San Francisco with Xiu.
He might have reacted badly.
Both Liberty and Tatiana nodded approvingly as the newsreel went on to describe the recent air raids on Seville and Valladolid by the Spanish Republican Air Force. There was a group shot of the pilots who had flown the raid. They were a raffish bunch of differing species and nationalities.
The next report, with Rule, Britannia on the soundtrack, showed an equine femme surrounded by what looked like acres of fine lace taffeta as she cradled a newborn foal. Stoat’s warm baritone voice said, “All of England is awash with jubilation as Queen Wallis presents the United Kingdom and the Empire with a bouncing baby boy. Cute little fellow, isn’t he? Named Edward, the colt was born on January twenty-fifth. Mother and son are reported by the Palace as being in excellent health and fine spirits, as a welcome infusion of Yankee blood is brought to the British monarchy.” As he said this, the soundtrack changed to Yankee Doodle.
Brigit stirred irritably in her seat, settling down as Michael touched the back of her paw. "Shush," he whispered.
“Bloody – “
"The people in the front row can hear your teeth grinding, Brigit. Hush, please." The hawk leaned in close and nuzzled her.
“The heir to another empire was born in Britain at around the same time, with worldwide herbivore food company F.R. Buckhorn and Sons announcing that the son of its owner, Reginald Buckhorn, has been presented with a fine fawn by his wife Willow. Mrs. Buckhorn is also American, so we can guess there’ll be more stars and stripes in the Union Jack, eh?” The screen showed a whitetail buck cradling a baby fawn while a smiling doe looked on from a deeply-upholstered chair.
Liberty clenched her fists at the sight of the news favorably portraying a capitalist tycoon’s degenerate son, but she remained quiet. Her expression brightened, however, as the next item came on.
This had marching music under the voiceover and showed a large group of men and women moving in formation down a wide boulevard. They were all bundled up well against blowing snow as they tramped through the slush. “In Washington, D.C., the first contingent of President Long’s Anti-Wealth League marched from the White House to Capitol Hill to show their support for the Kingfish.” The film cut away to show the canine shaking a fist while declaiming to a bank of microphones.
The final segment made all four Songmark students lean forward in their seats.
This piece of film showed a night sky shot through with what looked like glowing streamers and curtains of diffuse light. The eerie wails of Theremins added a counterpoint to Stoat’s voice as he said, “On the night of January twenty-fifth the skies over Europe were treated to something unusual. No, it’s not Martians, folks; it’s the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. Not usually seen this far south, it held observer’s attention as far south as Gibraltar before eventually fading away.”
The newsreel then switched to sports, before wrapping up with an interest piece about a feral cat and mouse that had the same fur patterns and were apparently inseparable friends. “Looking at Maud and Jan makes us feel that there’s hope for the world yet,” and Stoat’s voice faded as the music swelled into the closing fanfare.
The main feature was an English translation of Red Knight, the latest ultra-expressionist effort from Germany. Compared to earlier works that were so stark as to occasionally cause viewers to faint dead away, however, the story appeared weak and the characters a bit two-dimensional.
“Waste of good money,” Shin grumbled as the group left the theater.
“It wasn’t that bad, Shin,” Liberty countered. “I liked the strong female lead.”
“Yeah, she did well.” The red panda glanced at the canine. “I saw you smiling during the newsreel.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“You don’t smile often, so when you do people notice.”
“Usually t’take cover,” Brigit laughed, paw in paw with Michael. The red-tailed hawk merely looked pleased with himself.
“I was pretty pleased to see those marchers in Washington,” the New Havenite explained, and elaborated when she saw Shin’s curious look. “The proletariat in the United States is starting to feel its true power, you see. Long’s idea is simple gradualism – instead of forcing revolution on the power structure and its defenders, he takes it in small steps. When the workers see how effective one step is, they’ll want to see another step taken, then another and another. Eventually America will be as socialist as – “
“As New Haven?” Brigit asked.
“Probably not,” Liberty conceded. “We’re not as addicted to bourgeois comforts as the Yankees, and the – what?” she asked Tatiana.
“Objectively,” the Russian sable pointed out, “it’s only a matter of time before the reactionary forces in the country take steps to counter Long.”
“Quite right,” the canine conceded. “That’s why Long is taking these small steps, masking his true intentions.”
“So Long’s a revolutionary?” Shin asked.
“In a sense, yes,” Liberty replied as Tatiana nodded. “I don’t think it’ll be a true Fourth Internationalist revolution, as there’s little sign at this time of a general uprising of the workers. It’s coming from above. Much as I hate to admit it, revolutionaries of the Right have demonstrated that one path is through so-called ‘legitimate’ political means.”
“Ye’re thinkin’ o’ Italy, then?” the Irish setter asked.
“Exactly. Or Germany. Il Puce worked through the power structure, not against it.”
“Better not let Maria hear that,” the sable said with a grin. “You might find yourself upside down again.”
Liberty growled at the memory while the others giggled. “I let my anger get the better of me back then.”
Hu Xiu drifted awake, and gradually became aware of two things.
One, she was sleeping on top of a very attractive young man.
Two, he had his paws on her rear.
They had arrived at San Francisco the previous evening, both worn out from the trip. Winter air travel through the North Pacific left a great deal to be desired, and they had gone straight to bed.
They were staying at the Mark Hopkins, whose management were willing to overlook the fact that they were a young foreign couple in exchange for their money. It was still winter, the recession was still biting deep, and even a posh establishment like the Hopkins needed cash.
She glanced at the light peeking around the curtains and snuggled closer to her husband.
He responded by murmuring softly in his sleep, and his grip on her tightened slightly.
Xiu kissed his nose, and he blinked his eyes open. “Xiu?”
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” and she kissed him on the muzzle. He leaned upward into the kiss. “Sleep well?”
“I wouldn’t mind sleeping longer, but this is a great way to wake up.” He stretched, which only tightened his grip further and she murred, her banded tail flicking back and forth. “What time is it?”
Hao chuckled. “You can see the clock. I can’t.”
Xiu swept a bit of her curly headfur out of the way and peered at the bedside clock. “Hmm. About eight o’clock.”
His wife kissed the tip of his nose again. “Maybe lunch.”
The morning fog had burned away by the time they finished their lunch, but the sky was still overcast as they stepped out of the hotel.
The doorman had told them that the road was California Street; it extended up a steep grade toward the top of one of the hills the city had been built on, and ran downward to the harbor. They were both dressed warmly, and wore overcoats in case it started to rain.
“You know something?” Xiu asked. “This place reminds me a lot of Hong Kong in spots.”
She nodded as they started down the hill. “Built on hills, great view . . . if they have horse races here I could like it.”
Hao laughed, and jerked his chin toward a pair of men walking up the opposite sidewalk. They wore makeshift white armbands. “Even with them around?” They had learned about the Anti-Wealth League from reading the papers on the flight to America.
“Hmm. Maybe not.”
The walk downhill was slow, cutting through the financial district and in some cases dropping at a steep grade toward the Embarcadero as they stopped by shop windows and simply enjoyed the view and each other’s company.
After a while Hao paused and pointed. “Now, that looks inviting.”
California Street held one of the gates into Chinatown.
Xiu giggled. “At least we can get a decent supper,” and Hao laughed.
“You’re not hungry again already? We just had lunch.”
“No, I’m not hungry yet. Just saying that we can stop by and see what’s there.” She noticed he was staring at the entrance. “What?”
“Huh. I bet most of the people here have no idea what’s right under their noses.”
Xiu switched from English to Mandarin. “Signs?”
“For those who can understand them.” Hao smiled. “One set says that this is just a clawhold.”
“So – “
Hao touched her lips with a fingertip and winked. He looked up the hill. “That’s a long climb.”
“Yes. Why don’t we take a cable car?” Several of the vehicles had trundled up and down the hill as they had walked down the street. “They look pretty good compared to wearing ourselves out heading back up the hill.”
“Good idea. We’ll walk up to the next stop.”
They were approaching the corner when, all around them, ears perked up and a clattering racket could be heard.
Coming at them rapidly.
Xiu was close to the curb.
Hao grabbed her arm and pulled her close to him as a streetcar came rocketing past, shedding bits of its wood and steel construction as it went. A canine clung to the vehicle at the front, while several people in the distance pursued it down the hill.
“Jane!” They heard the man shout. “Stop this crazy thing!”
At the next intersection, it seemed that the man had his wish granted. In a shower of sparks the car’s guillotine brakes finally grabbed the cable, jerking the machine almost off the tracks and sending the hapless canine flying a further twenty yards before he hit the pavement and bounced to a stop.
Hao and Xiu watched, and the red panda femme looked at her husband.
“Maybe . . . not that one.”