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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
The Chinese port of Shanghai was one of the busiest in the Pacific, handling ships and seaplanes from all over the world. Ships of every description crowded the Yangtze River estuary, and the big transoceanic seaplanes cast looming shadows over the European colonial buildings as they took off or landed.
A Colonial Airways Dornier, a smaller version of the huge Do-X, landed with a brief splash and taxied toward the seaplane dock. It had spent most of the night flying in from Kuo Han, and the passengers who stepped off the craft seemed glad to have the opportunity to stretch their legs. Two of them, male and female gray foxes wearing nearly identical white suits, led a single porter as he trudged behind them with two small suitcases. “I wish we hadn’t had to leave the trunk behind,” Hao remarked, scratching his neck as he faced into the rising sun. “I can’t wait to get this dye off me.”
“I think you look pretty handsome as a fox,” Anna remarked. As he grinned at her she added, “Of course, you could smell better.” She laughed as his face fell.
“Come on,” he said, taking her arm, “Let’s find our hotel and start scheduling a flight back to Spontoon.”
As they hailed a taxi and headed to the aging Victoria Hotel, the steamship Hime Maru accepted a pilot at the mouth of the estuary and proceeded in to the port. Once it had tied up and finished offloading its cargo, some of its crew was granted liberty. Two of them, a tiger and a red panda both carrying sea bags, stepped off the gangplank and made their way past the warehouse area. The captain let them go, since they had been aboard only as work passage, doing odd jobs as a means of getting to Shanghai.
A trio of prostitutes whistled and called out, but their entreaties died away as the tiger was seen to put his free arm around the slighter, almost boyish-looking panda and kiss him. “Well, what a waste,” one groused. The others nodded. A second commented in a knowing tone, “Sailors,” and the others murmured in agreement.
The two sailors headed for a small hostel two blocks from the warehouse district and checked in, the tiger growling a warning while paying twice as much, “For no questions,” he said. The canine behind the desk nodded and handed over the room key without a word of objection. He’d seen too much in his job to notice anything unusual about the two.
As soon as Shin locked the door she groaned and started unbuttoning her shirt. “I have to get this thing off me,” she said, sighing in relief as she removed the corset and cast it aside. “Another day of this and I’ll be screaming.”
Fang hugged her, and they shared a kiss before he said, “I’ll give you a rubdown tonight after supper. Right now we need to relax. I for one could use a bath and a good meal. The food on the Hime tasted like the cook worked at a prison.”
She playfully punched him in the stomach. “Always thinking of food, Fang. What about my needs?” she laughed. She turned away from him, and yelped as his big paw grabbed her by the tail and pulled her into his embrace. She shivered as his whiskers brushed her ear.
“I’ll see to your needs, love,” he whispered, “after breakfast.”
Shin grumbled as she laced herself back into her corset before they went out to eat, and on the way they passed a kiosk selling train schedules. Shin bought one, and pored over it while they ate at a small café on the fringes of the Euro colony. Fang looked up from his eggs and sausage as Shin pointed at a line on the schedule. “We can catch a train leaving tonight for Tientsin,” she explained before returning to her stir-fried fish and rice, chopsticks flying over the food as she stuffed herself in a rather unladylike manner.
“Good,” he said around a mouthful of food. Washing it down with tea he asked, “Have you thought about what to do afterward?”
She nodded, her tail draping over her left shoulder as she replied, “We’ll stop by a bank today and have some money cabled to a bank in Tientsin, enough for new clothes, food and a pair of plane tickets to Tokyo. From there, we get the next direct flight to Spontoon.”
He nodded and held out his teacup. “To success,” he toasted.
Shin clinked her cup against his, and both drank.
The teller at the local branch of the All-Pacific Bank looked askance at the oddly dressed pair as they walked in, but a check of Wo Shin’s passport (not the ‘doctored’ one she had booked passage on) confirmed that she was who she said she was. A wait ensued as the bank cabled Spontoon to check her account, and when the balance came back the teller’s attitude changed remarkably. Shin wired two transfers, a small amount for her and Fang, and a larger one to a bank near Tientsin’s port area. “Now,” she said as she pocketed the money and slipped an arm around Fang’s waist, “let’s go back to the hostel, okay?”
Several hours later found them on a train, Shin dressed in clothes more fitting for a young woman, Fang dressed in a farmer’s clothes. The train was crowded and noisy, and it bounced and swayed on its tracks as it chugged out of Shanghai. The scenery changed to coastal farmlands, and peasants would look up from their tasks as the train thundered past. Shin spent most of the trip gazing out the open window, the wind ruffling her fur, and Fang noticed her preoccupation.
“What’s wrong, Shin?” he asked, leaning close and nuzzling one of her ears.
She sighed and turned her head away from the window to kiss him. “Just thinking of what to do when we get there,” she replied. “Sure, it’s easy to say, but I’m not Hao – I’ve never had to kill anyone before.”
Fang asked, “You want me to do it?” As she looked up at him he shrugged easily. “How many people have you killed, Fang?” she asked softly.
“Four,” came a quick reply. The tiger smiled. “I’ve had a rough life, not that I’m complaining. After all, it allowed me to meet you,” and he hugged her as she giggled.
The train wheezed to a stop in Tientsin’s central railway station a day later, and as Fang and Shin stepped off the train they paused at the sight of soldiers. There were several pairs of them wearing rumpled Army uniforms and carrying their rifles almost hesitantly. Some looked longingly at the train, as if more than willing to shed a military career and go back home. “Seems like the place grew a bit,” Shin observed, looking around as they left the station. “Let’s find out where the General’s hiding,” and she and Fang blended into the crowds of people walking the streets.
The city was crowded, with a chill autumn wind starting to blow along the streets and around the buildings. Shin felt her headfur, braided into a long queue, stirring in the wind, so she tucked it under the collar of her coat. The people looked furtive, almost unwilling to look each other in the eyes.
The reason for the tension in the air was revealed as Shin and Fang passed by the barracks near the City Hall. Soldiers were drilling within the walled quadrangle, beneath a flagpole bearing the red and blue Nationalist flag. Two armored cars, actually trucks with iron sheets welded to their sides, stood parked just inside the entrance. The snouts of two Great War-vintage machine guns protruded from holes in the armor plates on each of the trucks. Several people stood at the open gate of the compound, watching the troops practice, and the pair joined the crowd.
Fang looked down at Shin as she suddenly caught her breath and clutched at his sleeve. “That’s him,” she breathed, and he looked in the direction she was staring.
Shin had recognized Won Lung Ho from a small stack of yellowing newspaper clippings her father kept at their home, a memento of the disaster that had robbed the family of their relatives and their business. A tall feline wearing a stiffly starched uniform with a high stock collar stalked among the drilling troops, flanked by two aides. His fur was an unremarkable brown, with a lighter-brown stripe on his face indicating an old scar. His collar bore the insignia of a general of division, and he would gesture animatedly as the aides craned forward, seemingly hanging on his every word. “Okay,” Fang whispered as he guided her away from the rest of the onlookers, “now we know where he is. How do we get to him?”
“I guess we’ll have to keep an eye on him,” Shin replied. The two headed down the street to find a hostel.
The next morning there was a clattering roar that roused the pair. Fang peered out of the window, shook his head and rejoined Shin on the bed. Shin, holding the blanket to her chest, asked, “What is it?”
“One of those armored trucks, with some troops running along behind it,” Fang said. “Seems General Won’s an early riser. I saw him standing up, sticking his head out of the truck’s roof.” He slid under the blanket as his wife relaxed and held her as the sound of tramping feet receded. “Look, we know where he lives, and if he suspects anything at all every day we wait makes it harder for us to get to him. Shall we try for him tonight?” he asked.
Shin thought for a moment, then shook her head. “No, let’s keep an eye on him for a bit longer first,” she said. “If possible, I want him to see who kills him, okay?”
Her husband chuckled and she laughed as he hugged her and said, “My dear bloodthirsty little wife … I knew there was a reason why I married you.”
Later, they walked around, getting a feel for the life of the city before ending up back at the barracks. A much larger crowd had assembled, and they joined it as a trumpet blared and the troops assembled in the quadrangle came lackadaisically to attention and presented arms. Fang gripped Shin’s sleeve and said, “Look there, to your left.”
Won Lung Ho was out in front of his troops, lecturing them on the need for greater discipline in the face of threats such as Bolsheviks, Japanese and the troops of rival warlords. Some of the soldiers looked bored, as if they’d heard the speech too many times in the past. Shin looked to her left and she grinned, looking up at him.
His two aides flanked the General, but a dozen Manchurian tigers, dressed in better uniforms and carrying what appeared to be better weapons, in turn flanked them. “Personal guards, do you think?” Shin whispered.
Fang nodded. “And that gives me an idea.”
* * * * * * * * *
It was nearing midnight, and rags of cloud obscured the moon as a cold front approached. The wind had picked up, and its mournful howl around the deserted streets masked the sound of padded shoes as two black-clad figures darted across a street near the barracks and into an alley near the western wall. After a short moment to see if anyone had noticed them, the larger of the two ran to the wall and half-crouched, his paws cupped at his waist. The smaller figure sprinted toward him, planted one foot in his clasped paws and vaulted onto the top of the wall. When Fang looked up, all he saw was his wife’s banded tail slipping out of view. He then jogged back into the shadows.
One of the Manchurian tigers was easing himself against the south wall as a second minded his rifle. Handing it back after the first had finished buttoning his trousers, the second said, “Chun, you hiding the Yangtze in your shorts or something? This is the third time tonight you’ve had to drag me off my post.”
Chun snarled, “Stuff it, Lee,” as he took the rifle and slung it over his shoulder. “I think I caught something off one of the girls from last week,” he added, ears dipping in an angry blush as Lee started laughing.
“Well, you’d better go see the doctor tomorrow,” Lee said as he turned to head back to his post.
About twenty minutes later Lee heard Chun hiss, “Lee, come back here.” The tiger sighed in exasperation and loped around the corner. “Chun, if you don’t call sick in the morning I’ll – “
Fang reached out and grabbed the soldier’s uniform and jerked him forward as he stabbed upward, the knife driving in under Lee’s chin into the brain, then lowered the tiger to the ground as he slumped. Chun was already dead, his neck cleanly broken by Fang’s massive paws. Stowing Lee’s corpse in a garbage can, he started to strip Chun’s uniform off, muttering, “I hope I don’t catch anything.”
The air grew colder as the front passed through, and the ill-clad garrison troops clustered around small fires or kept within their barracks as Shin, the white patches on her face fur darkened with ashes and dirt, slid through the shadows. She moved across the compound, hardly daring to breathe as she headed for the building at the heart of the compound.
The building had a sloping tiled roof and Shin looked at it warily before starting to climb up. As she slithered over the eave and onto the roof one of the tiles shifted and slid to the ground, shattering. Shin pressed flat against the roof as she heard one soldier say, “What was that?”
Another voice, one she immediately recognized, said in response, “Ah, it’s nothing. Another tile fell off the roof, is all.”
The first asked, “Chun, where are you going?”
“Going to get my coat. It’s cold out there along the wall. Don’t worry, Lee’s watching,” and Shin heard Fang’s heavy footsteps enter the building.
Shin waited another few moments before continuing her climb to the third floor of the building. Once there, she crept up to the sole lighted window and peered over the sill.
The general was too smart to sit with his back to the window, she noticed. He sat behind a huge desk littered with papers; a snifter of brandy sat off to one side, and one of his paws negligently caressed the fur of a white Persian housecat in his lap. He seemed to be reading something by the glow of the single lamp over the desk.
Shin pressed against the wall and waited, as the clouds darkened the moon completely and the air grew colder still. She tried not to think about the chill eating into her fur.
A window in the next room suddenly shifted upward an inch, and she crawled to it as quickly as she could, easing it open and slipping inside. As Fang closed it she went to hug him, but he stopped her with a brief kiss. He pressed his muzzle close to her ear and whispered, “The floor’s cleared. Do what you have to do, love.” She hugged him briefly, rubbed her chilled arms and legs and cat-footed to the door.
One of Won’s ears perked as the door opened, and he looked up from his reading. “Yes, what’s – “ his voice trailed off as a slim red panda dressed and hooded in black stepped into the room. He froze only momentarily, then scrabbled at a desk drawer, his cat leaping off his lap as he did so.
Shin darted forward, reaching over the desk and slamming the drawer shut before he could reach the weapon concealed within. He recoiled and kicked the desk over, sending her stumbling back as he stood up and snatched up his saber. Brandishing it he growled, “Who sent you? Was it General Tso?”
The red panda regained its feet, paws moving into a defensive posture, and his muzzle gaped in surprise as a female voice snarled back, “I’m here for my family, who you slaughtered.
“I’m here to kill you, Won Lung Ho.”