Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
“Good morning,” the gate guard said.
“Good morning. My name’s Ni Peng-wum. I have a meeting scheduled at eight.”
“Hmm . . . yeah, got yer name righchere. Sign in, please, and ya’ll be going to the Admin Building, Room One-oh-one.”
“Thank you.” The red panda signed the log the musk ox offered (privately thinking the woman would suffer from the summer heat soon) and surveyed a map painted on a nearby signboard. He figured out the shortest route and started walking.
A flight of seaplane fighters roared overhead when he reached the base’s administration building. He got directions to Room 101 and knocked on the door when he arrived.
Harper opened the door, the rabbit towering over the red panda. “C’mon in,” he said gruffly.
“Thank you.” There were three others in the room, all in civilian clothes. Two bears, brown-furred, a man and a woman, and a canine with black fur and blue eyes.
“Thank you for seeing me this morning,” he said as he took a seat and slipped an envelope from his pocket. “My name is – “
“We know,” the bearess said. “You’ve got a lot of nerve making this offer.”
“I think it was an American who said ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’”
“I don’t need no damyank’s slogans,” she riposted. She growled, “We know a lot about your activities, Ni.”
“Thank you. Are you prepared to listen to my offer, or should I pay you each for wasting your time now?” He drew out his checkbook.
The bearess bridled at his question and his mild tone only seemed to irritate her further, but she subsided, glowering, at a gesture from the canine. “Tell us why you wish to speak to us, Mr. Ni,” he said.
“Thank you, sir.” He opened the envelope and unfolded several pages of notes. “I wish to acquaint you with a man named Shen Jintao . . . “
“I don’t think I’ll be coming with you, Shin.”
“I talked with Comrade Wakefield, and New Haven can find no advantage in – well, what you’re planning.”
“He keeps slaves, Liberty,” Shin said in a lowered voice. She recalled the half-coyote’s reaction to the movie Zell had shown them the previous year.
Liberty’s hackles rose. “I guessed that, from what you said.”
“He’s also an aristocrat, and so’s his nephew.”
“Great-nephew, you said.”
The red panda femme planted her paws on her hips. “Do you always have to be so damned precise?”
Liberty chuckled. “I’ve watched you, Shin.”
A laugh. “I deserved that, I guess. Okay, Liberty . . . I didn’t want to do this, but I’m calling in my favor.”
“Don’t you remember? You agreed to give me one favor if I helped you get to Hawai’i.”
A grimace contorted the canine’s muzzle. “I paid that back.”
“Don’t you remember our Aleutians trip? You were freezing – “
“Oh, yes. That. You’re wrong.”
"I didn't ask for your help. You gave it freely." Her banded tail swished as she readied for the other girl to attack her. “And that’s what we agreed on.”
Liberty ground her teeth. “Your business background.”
“Yes. Father thinks I have a future running a business.”
Liberty sat down and looked at her paws. “I can talk to Comrade Wakefield again. It shouldn’t be too hard to change his mind.” She smiled grudgingly. "We'll be destroying an aristocratic element of a corrupt and evil power structure, as well as a slaver," she said. "And it'll be useful practice, like Brigit says." She looked up at the red panda. "How will you get this past the tutors?"
“Devinski already knows.”
“An interesting argument, Mr. Ni. On the one paw, we have a criminal family offering to hire troops to liquidate another criminal family; on the other, we could use this as an opportunity to eliminate a slaver – possibly damage an entire network.”
“If we agree to this, you will pay each soldier’s salary, for every day they will be on the operation.”
“Along with combat pay, and a bonus.” The bear glanced at the bearess and the canine. “And the cost of hospital care or death benefits in the event of injury or death.” He smiled. “And ammunition.”
Peng-wum sighed, and drew out a fountain pen as he flipped open his checkbook.
“And that comes to - ?”
They were alone. “What did you mean by ‘No?’”
“I am not coming with you and the others, Shin,” Tatiana said. The sable’s voice was quiet, her tone even.
That disquieted Shin. All four members of Red Dorm knew each others’ moods, and the Russian girl’s tone implied that they were heading for a touchy subject. “Can I know why?”
“I am NKVD.”
Shin snorted derisively. “And I know that. We all know that. You’re a Russian spy, big deal. What has being in the NKVD got to do with this?”
Tatiana met the Chinese girl’s gaze. “Anna was also NKVD.”
Shin’s eyes widened. She hadn’t known if Tatiana had found out about Anna’s fate. “Oh. And NKVD are family to you.” Family was a concept she could appreciate.
“Like Songmark,” Tatiana agreed. “Until Mother Oharu and Millicent, only family I had. I learned months ago that we have Anna back. What is left of her.” The sable spat.
Shin nodded. “I understand. So you hate me, huh?”
Tatiana smiled, an open and friendly gesture that the red panda hadn’t thought her capable of making. “You did not do this,” Tatiana said. “You had no prior knowledge, and you did not help him. No, Shin. I don’t hate you. Chort, I like you. We are friends, you and I,” and the red panda’s ears twitched at the admission.
“I . . . see. Are you going to hunt Hao?” Shin asked. Her question had a reason; although she had lived with the sable for almost three years, she knew that the Russian girl was hiding a lot of her talents. She thought back to the Aleutians trip.
Starting a fire with wet, cold wood had been impossible.
But Tatiana had done it.
Shin had to know, now, for her family’s safety.
Tatiana shook her head. “Nyet. Not my place. I won’t help you, but I won’t hinder you either.” She paused, as if debating with herself. “I want to warn you, though. Anna’s father – nu, the rumor is he wants revenge.”
“He commands fifty thousand troops.”
The red panda looked shocked, and her shock deepened as the sable went on. “War may come to Krupmark. When it does, Shin, run. You grab Fang and run. I’ll help you, but not any other member of your family. Comrade Simonov will not leave a mouse alive when he leaves Krupmark."
The idea of Krupmark, with various clique leaders each commanding small and poorly-armed groups of guards, trying to hold off thousands of professional soldiers sent shivers down Shin’s spine. Still, she hid her fear easily. "Any word for my brother then?" she asked, tensing slightly.
Tatiana reached into her bedside dresser and pulled out a small brown book. "Give Hao this. It’s Anna’s diary. According to this, she was in love, and was going defect to be with your brother.” She gave an odd smile as she pressed the book into Shin’s paws. “Maybe he’ll enjoy reading it to his wife."
She turned away from Shin then. "Your family's in danger. I wish you and the others luck.” Her voice grew distant. “But I have things I must do."
“All right.” Shin walked out, a thumb unconsciously rubbing the spine of the small book.
“Han Lo, eh?” Hao asked when his wife and his mother had come back from Fort Bob. “Makes sense. He’s practically invisible, and works in the office. Perfect cover if Shen wanted an eye or two.” A feral gleam lit his eyes. “I’ll talk to him.”
“Just talk,” Peng warned. “We’re not sure.”
“Of course, Mother.”
As Peng got ready to head down to the Beach, Hao gave his wife a kiss. “Learning, dear?”
She smiled, blushing. “Yeah. What have you been doing?”
“Oh, a bit of this and that – ouch! Let go!”
“I thought we’d had this conversation, Hao. You don’t keep secrets from your wife.”
“All right, all right! Me and my crew have setting a few things up in case Shen decides to stop waiting and go first.” She released him and he whispered in her ear. Xiu nodded when he drew back.
He beckoned her close again, and whispered a few more things.
Her eyes went wide and when they drew apart she said, “You be careful.” Her first ‘business trip’ with him had been a bit scary, but enlightening nevertheless.
“I will.” He smiled. “Where are you and Mother going next?”
“The Black Sheep House. I’ll give Stephanie your regards.”
Hao’s ears went back.
Xiu grinned at his reaction and kissed him. “Later,” she whispered.
Shen Jintao looked up from the report a servant had given to him. The traffic in opium from Burma had gone up nearly two percent in response to increased demand as the war in China continued. Both the Nationalists and the Japanese were trading in it.
That pleased the old wolf.
What pleased him a bit less was his great-nephew’s behavior.
Ming was already acting as though he were the head of the clan, but that was to be expected. He was also having his pet dance unclothed for him, which while expected was not exactly appreciated.
The girl was much too old.
The phonograph was playing a jazz record, and Jade was dancing, displaying a rather amazing series of contortions as her master sat in his chair and watched.
“Must you continue to flaunt her?”
“Hmm? Oh, Jade. Well, she needs her exercise, you know.”
“Exercise her somewhere else. There’s also a question I wish to ask you concerning some purchases.”
“Yes, that. You’re being a bit premature – retaining that woman’s services before you learn whether Shin will be compliant or not.”
Ming smiled, gesturing at Jade to stop. “Shin will not be her name.”
The younger wolf nodded. “I was also thinking that if she wore gray – not a dull shade, more like steel – she’d look quite attractive.” His smile widened. “Once I have her, I’m taking her to Kuo Han.”
“Whether she comes to you willingly or not?”