Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Your name is Harper?”
The rabbit looked up from the engine he was inspecting. “That’s right.” He wiped the grime from his paws with an equally dirty rag and asked, “Who’re you?”
“My name’s Ni Peng-wum. I’m Ni Hao’s older brother.”
A nod. “Thought you looked familiar. Need a flyin’ lesson?”
Peng-wum smiled. “No, I already have a pilot’s license – fully legal, I assure you.”
“Okay, so what?”
“From what my brother tells me, you have connections to Moon Island.”
“I was wondering if you can introduce me to a few of your associates. I may be hiring.”
That caused the rabbit’s ears to go straight up.
For a long moment, no one spoke.
Finally Shin swore in Hokkien and said in a harsh tone, “I hope to hell you told him No, Father.”
“If I had, Daughter, I wouldn’t be here. I delayed him by saying that you had not graduated.” He looked at the others; the outrage on Shin’s face, the shock on Fang’s, the hard, calculating look on Devinski’s, then lowered his eyes. “It was the best thing I could think of at the time.”
“Will it work?” Devinski asked.
“They accepted my reasoning.”
“Then it worked. Do not be so hard on yourself, Mr. Ni. Now, I suppose you have a plan.”
“I have given this some thought, yes. Plans are already being made to eliminate the threat, but if things go badly, Shin, I want you and Fang to leave Spontoon.”
Fang raised an eyebrow. “Where?”
“Anywhere, as far and as fast as possible.”
“One moment. For what purpose does this man ‘want’ your daughter?”
“A bodyguard, it seems,” Hei explained, and described what he’d seen and what he recalled of the conversation.
When he got to Jade, Miss Devinski’s nosepad went pale.
When he’d finished, he looked at his child and his son-in-law. Shin was managing to hold her anger well, and he felt proud of her use of her Songmark training. Fang, though, looked like he was ready to kill.
He didn’t blame the younger man.
“Father?” his daughter finally asked in a deceptively quiet tone.
Shin took a deep breath. “Am I your daughter?” she asked, a slight quaver in her voice.
“Of course you are.”
“And didn’t you always say that we need to fight? To regain our status?”
“Yes. But – “
“NO BUTS, FATHER!” and Hei’s ears went back.
“Shin!” Miss Devinski said, raising a paw and gesturing to her to keep her voice down. The room was soundproofed, but a loud enough shout could be heard outside.
“Sorry, Ma’am,” Shin said in a tone that said she wasn’t sorry at all, “but you’re being an idiot, Father. Do you think Fang and I would simply run and let you and Mother face this yourselves? Miss Devinski – “
“No,” and the yellow-furred canine raised her paw. “Not yet, Shin. Slow down and think. I know what you want to do – “
“Damn right – get myself a jacket made of wolfskin – “
“But your father’s tactics have given you something valuable. Time. Time to plan a course of action, and to make use of what you’ve learned.”
The young woman nodded slowly as the words sank in. “The one thing I won’t do,” she said flatly, “is run.”
“Running should always be part of any plan,” Devinski said. “There’s no shame in running.”
“Then it’ll be the last option,” Shin said. “Father, what’s being done?”
“Before I answer that, Miss Devinski, you realize why I insisted that you or Miss Wildford be present.”
The Labrador nodded. “You wish to warn us. We’ve known for a very long time that there are those who’ll pay any price for a Songmark girl.” She smiled. “We now have a name, and a location – something we have not had before. For that, at least, thank you. What matters now is what to do about it.”
“Thank you, Miss Devinski. Planning so far is centering on getting rid of Shen’s eyes and ears in our organization.”
“Hao’s doing that?” Fang asked.
The tiger grinned. “He’ll do a good job.”
“But you have to be careful, Fang – Ming knows about you, and the fact you’re married to Shin.” Hei then told his son-in-law what Ming had said. When he finished, Fang sat back, his claws unsheathing slightly. “Will you be ready?”
“As ready as I can be.”
“Good. Once Shen is blind and deaf, we’ll be able to make other plans.” Hei stood up. “You’ll forgive me, Miss Devinski, but I must get back to Krupmark. Chances are excellent that I’m being watched, and Shen will become suspicious if I’m away for too long.”
The canine Tutor nodded. “I understand. Take care flying home, Mr. Ni.”
His daughter had been talking with Fang in low, urgent whispers. She squeezed the tiger's paw and looked up at her father as he said, "Take care of yourself. Check with Peng-wum."
"Thank you, Father." Her voice was as dry as dead leaves. She gave Fang a quick squeeze and a kiss on the cheek, and waved as he and her father left the room. “Miss Devinski,” she said as soon as the door closed, “I’m sorry – “
The red panda replied, “For being angry.”
“Learn this, Shin: anger has some constructive uses, but never allow it to interfere with your planning. Now, young woman, what do you plan on doing?”
Shin thought. “I’m going back to the airfield to work on that engine.”
Devinski looked amused. “Good. And?”
“With your permission, I’d like to start thinking about a trip to Krupmark.”
A pause, and Shin smiled. “Easter holidays, I should think. After all, this ‘employer’ isn’t expecting me until June – it might be a surprise for him.”
A judicious nod. “Alone?”
A sigh. “If I have to, yes.”
“I give you permission to ask the other members of your dorm – very quietly – if they might enjoy a change of scenery for Easter.”
“Thank you, Miss Devinski.” At the canine’s gesture, the red panda left the room.
Catherine Devinski sat alone in the room. “I wouldn’t thank me, if I were you . . . “
“Good afternoon, Ni and Sons Investments, Ni Peng-wum speaking.”
“This is Harper.”
“Hello again, Mr. Harper.”
“Got an answer for you.”
“My friend’s place, tomorrow at eight.”
“I’ll be there.”
“So?" Brigit Mulvaney asked. The Chinese member of their dorm looked uncharacteristically subdued as they got ready for bed that night. "Bad news this afternoon?"
"Yeah, you might say that," Shin replied as she put up her toothbrush. She looked at the other three members of her dorm. "I wonder," she murmured.
"What?" Liberty asked.
Shin looked from one to the other, and came to a decision. “It was bad news – the very worst.” Quickly she laid out the problem, making sure to include all the details her father had given her. When she finished, there was silence.
“Well! That’s all right, then,” Brigit said brightly. “An’ it explains all those gifts, too. Congratulations, Shin.”
Liberty cocked her head. “You mean you’re not taking the job?”
“What the hell are you two talking about?”
“Think about it!” the Irish girl said. “Ye’ll be a treasured employee.”
“Pet, you mean!”
“I suppose you would have a lot of freedom of action,” Liberty observed. “Sure, you’d probably have to dress up in very little to please some jaded, decadent aristocrat’s perverse
tastes – “ She stopped as she saw the red panda seething. “Something wrong?”
Shin took several deep breaths. “Of all people, Morgenstern, I’d think you’d object to slavery.”
“Oh, I do.” At the nonchalant answer the red panda’s tail hit the floor.
“You were joking?”
“Of course. Brigit’s been helping me with my sense of humor.”
“How’s she doing?” the setter asked innocently.
Shin gaped, pointing an accusing finger at the two canines before finally breaking down in laughter. When she caught her breath she gasped, “That’s good . . . that kind of humor can get you killed.”
“Thank you. Now, let’s think about this.”
“Yes. Some objective reality.”
Liberty raised an eyebrow. “I’ve warned you not to try dialectic, Shin. You’re a fast learner, but – “
“Okay, okay. I apologize. This is not going to be easy.”
“I’ll be right beside ye, Shin.”
“Brigit – “
“None o’ that now, m’girl. We’re Red Dorm, we are. We don’t jist up an’ abandon each other when one’s in need. Why, look at Tatiana.” The sable perked her ears. “She’d no love fer Trotsky, so, but she went along with us an’ Lib ta save him.”
“True,” Liberty said.
“An' now here’s yerself, askin’ our help,” the Irish girl went on, “an’ ye’ve a need fer help. ‘Sides, I’ve been wantin’ a bit of a grand punch-up since th’ New Year. Will we get paid fer it?" She ignored Liberty's disgusted snort at the thought of money.
"Depending on whether we're successful or not," Shin pointed out. "We can't spend anything if we're dead."
"O' course not." The Irish setter's eyes shone. "'Tis been an age, but puttin' inta practice what we've been taught sounds fine ta me. I'm in."
“All right. Liberty?”
The Trotskyite half-coyote looked thoughtful, and turned to study the framed photograph of her seated beside Leon Trotsky, with Brigit and Shin flanking them.
Tatiana had taken the picture, using Brigit’s camera.
She sighed. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“That’s fair,” Shin said. “Tatiana? You in?”
“Nyet.” At the flat reply, the other three women all stared.
“No?” Liberty asked.
“Can ye give us a reason, Tatty?” Brigit asked.
The sable shook her head and lapsed into the polyglot mixture of languages that Red Dorm used as a private code. “I’ll only tell Shin.”
The Chinese girl nodded, and was about to speak but paused when she caught sight of the clock. “It’s lights out,” she said. “Tomorrow, Tatiana?”
Father taught me about business, Ni Xiu thought to herself.
But I bet he never imagined me learning about this.
She and her mother-in-law had taken seats in the main room of a bordello up in Fort Bob. The place didn’t have a name like the Lucky Dragon, but everyone in the town knew about it. Its staff and madam were all mels and catered to other men who liked that sort of thing.
The place wasn’t very clean, and the pervasive funk of male musks made the young red panda feel mildly nauseous. She had asked to go with Peng on her rounds of the other houses, so she kept her mouth shut and watched. Mentally, she was taking notes.
After waiting several minutes, a slim canine dressed in a silk corset and a skirt escorted them to the back office of the place. The man had subjected Xiu to a searching look that she had immediately recognized from school.
He had been assessing her hairstyle and her clothes.
Very typical behavior – for a girl.
“Regina,” Peng was saying with a show of politeness, “you are looking well.”
The madam of the house preened and said, “You’re too kind, Peng. I know I look simply a mess.” The hound patted his array of ratty curls and dabbed a bit of sauce from the collar of his dress. The remains of his breakfast sat on the table in front of him. “And who is this young lady?”
“My daughter-in-law, Xiu.”
‘Regina’ pouted. “So Hao got married after all, did he? Such a shame. Well, all the happiness in the world, my dear.” His voice was a breathy falsetto.
“Thank you,” Xiu said politely. She was determined not to stare or laugh as he and Peng started talking.
Only two of the Ni Family’s workers were known to be exclusively inverts, and perhaps two more might have been ambidextrous. Emilia and Julia were both Sapphic, so the chances of them showing up here were incredibly small. Still, Xiu listened as Peng asked ‘Regina’ about them – and, more importantly, about anything they might have said while enjoying some company.
“Hmm,” the canine said, “Han Lo has been talking quite a bit when he’s drunk.
“Yes. He did a lot of talking about something going on, and who he was going to tell.”
The man shrugged, and pulled up the shoulder of his dress as it slipped down. “He didn’t say. And I trust Andrushka.”
“Of course.” The conversation moved to which customers had made themselves unwelcome in the various houses. ‘Regina’ was particularly acerbic when describing the new leader of Hotman’s Harriers, a wolf named Freddy Wurstringkaempfer.
“I’m sure, though, he’ll never show himself around the Dragon, dear Peng,” the hound said in an aside. “He doesn’t like women.”
“We’ll keep an eye out for him nevertheless,” Peng said reassuringly. “Xiu, let’s go.”
Once back out among their bodyguards, Xiu sneezed and said, “It takes all kinds, I guess.”
“Do all of the madams talk to each other?” she asked after wiping her nose.
Peng smiled at the younger red panda femme. “Oh yes. And you might be surprised at what we know. You see, Xiu,” and she leaned close, “all men think all women are deaf, especially in bed.” She winked, and Xiu giggled. “And one thing to remember.”
“Regina’s real name is Roger, but don’t ever use it. You’ll hurt his feelings.”