Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
“Query-emphasis amount, mate-precious? Sanity-bereft thou emphasis?” Nailani shushed little Mikilani as her voice caused the infant to stir on his bed.
“Peace-possess thou, mate-precious mine,” Peng-wum said. “Negative losing sanity, neither emphasis imbibing strong liquors. Outlander-friends all same difficult-emphasis to persuade.”
“Child-ours-precious education – “
“Peace-emphasis, mate-precious mine. Child-ours money safe, emphasis <Bank of Australia> solid as rocks underfoot.” Peng-wum sighed and sat down. “But I think I convinced them.”
“Of our sincerity.” She looked at him quizzically. “They deliberately kept adding costs, hoping to see if I was being genuine about the offer. I would never splash out that much money for anything trivial.”
“You know you’re giving the Naval Syndicate a toehold on Krupmark.”
Peng-wum smiled and waved dismissively. “We’ve known for years that they’ve been on Krupmark. They’re usually very discreet, and we had an entire crew show up at the Dragon years ago for May Day. The people up the hill allow it, as opposed to having them use Fort Bob for target practice.”
She still looked skeptical.
“Look, love,” Peng-wum said, “we can’t afford to play it safe now. It’s either - “
She silenced him with a kiss on his muzzle. “You don’t have to justify it to me, my mate. It’s family.”
He smiled. “Speaking of family, what did your parents say?”
The rabbit looked a bit downcast. “The clan elders voted on it, and while they’ll protect us as far as they can, they won’t go off Spontoon to fight.”
“I expected that.”
She suddenly glanced down at their sleeping son, and ran a paw over her pregnant belly. “Will this work, I wonder.” She bit her lower lip and looked back beseechingly at her husband. He was good at figuring the odds of success in most ventures.
Peng-wum replied, “Honestly? I don’t know.”
Wo Fang had grown up on the streets, and was far better suited for the lawless society of Krupmark Island than for a civilized and relatively calm place like Spontoon. Still, the Manchurian tiger prided himself on his ability to adjust to anything.
That ability was being stretched, the effort to stay nonchalant and act as if nothing was happening.
For a moment, he knew what a feral tiger felt as it paced in a cage.
But he’d been warned, and was on his guard as far as he could be. The Spontoonies frowned on the open display of firearms, so he couldn’t carry his usual weapon, a sawed-off shotgun with the stock cut down to a pistol grip.
He could, however, carry a knife, well-concealed but ready to paw.
Shin was safe at Songmark, and he had detailed her usual bodyguards to stay near him. They realized the danger, and were promised bonuses if they caught the assassin.
That was made far more difficult by the fact that no one knew who Shen Ming might send, if he sent anyone at all. There was the chance that it was all a ruse to make the Ni Family nervous. Odds were on the side of someone stalking him, though, so it was always best to be prepared.
Still, it was taking a lot of effort to not give in to paranoia and barricade himself at the Maha Kahuna.
A badge gleamed gold in the sunshine as a short, well-muscled fox wearing a rumpled suit and an extremely extreme tie stepped out of a doorway. “Sergeant Brush, Constabulary.”
Fang crossed his arms across his chest.
And waited, silently.
“Th’ Inspector wants ta have a word witya,” Brush said.
The tiger just stood there, glowering at the smaller fur.
Brush gave a flick of his wrist and a weighted sap dropped into his right paw. “Look here, we can do this sweet an’ easy, or yez can answer questions wit’ lumps on yer head, hanh? Don’t matter to me either way.”
Fang’s whiskers twitched. “If you want to try.” He grinned and started walking for the water taxi rank, his pace forcing the fox to curse in Spontoonie and trot to keep up.
“Here he is, Sir.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. Please close the door.” The whitetail buck studied the younger feline, who merely gazed stolidly at him. “Thank you for coming in, Mr. Wo. Please have a seat.” Stagg gestured to a chair.
Fang looked at the buck, then at the chair. He grabbed the chair and moved it against a wall before sitting down. That way there was a wall at his back, and he could see both the buck and his vulpine subordinate.
Brush looked amused by this.
Stagg watched the tiger, one eyebrow lifting slightly. He jotted a note on an index card with a pencil. After a moment he said quietly, “Mr. Wo, we know that your employer and father-in-law flew out of Spontoon today.”
The tiger merely watched Stagg.
Another note. “We also know that Mr. Ni was seen with you entering a shop connected with the Songmark Aeronautical School.”
“Your wife attends Songmark.”
Fang’s tail looped casually around one leg of the chair.
“We also know that your wife recently sold several rather expensive items of clothing – items that are not easily obtainable here.”
“Are you accusing my wife of being a thief?”
Stagg scratched at the base of one antler. “No,” he replied. “There have been no reports of robberies or thefts. A brief interview with the Post Office revealed that Mrs. Wo received these items from someone overseas. The, ah, nature of the gifts would at first suggest an admirer.”
“Someone makin’ eyes at yer mate, huh?” Brush asked in a sarcastic tone. “Iffen I were yez, I’d be mad about dat.” He grinned.
Fang glanced down at his claws, then back at Stagg. “You want to muzzle him? If I wanted to listen to puppies yapping – “
Brush’s smile faded. “Why, yez – “
“Sergeant.” The fox subsided. “Mr. Wo, the reason you are here is because I think that whoever sent these items to your wife wasn’t a friend.”
“Your attitude also tells me that your family is intent on doing something about it.”
The whitetail buck said quietly, “You are not charged with anything, Mr. Wo, but I want to take this opportunity to ask you to pass on a warning to your family.”
“If this unknown person is, in fact, an enemy, I will warn all of you to not take any steps if that person is within my jurisdiction.”
Fang sat for a moment, then stood up, put his chair back where it had been originally, and walked out of the room.
“T’ink he got the message, Sir?” Brush asked.
“Yes. I hope he passes it on.”
As if we needed the warning.
He headed for the water taxis again, and discovered to his surprise that his tread seemed a bit lighter. He thought about it, and brightened when he realized that after talking to the Constabulary he was now looking forward to going back to Krupmark.
Having a shootout with Shen’s boys would be a lot easier than talking to the likes of Stagg.
Fang actually chuckled when he stepped off the boat at Eastern Island. If one of Shen’s guys was vulpine, he could imagine it was Brush.
He walked from the taxi rank over to Mahanish’s, ordered a bowl of chili and a beer, and took a seat.
Halfway through his meal he saw a bovine come in, recognizing him immediately. “Julius!”
Julius Malanakanakahea turned his head and waved in reply to Fang’s gesture. “Fang! How the hell are you, you old furball?” he exclaimed as he picked his way with surprising delicacy around the other diners. He sat down, the chair creaking under his three hundred pounds. “Still married to Shin?”
“Still married, yeah.”
Fang snorted. “Forget it, Julie. Shin stopped looking when she spotted me.”
The Samoan bull waved a paw and ignored the jibe on his name. “Eh, that’s because she never gave me a chance.” The pair laughed, and Julius leaned back as the waitress brought him a steaming bowl of heavily spiced vegetarian chili. He slurped noisily at the broth and added, “When a girl goes Samoan, she won’t stop the moanin.’”
Fang rolled his eyes. Julius still bore several scars on his nose, courtesy of the Manchurian’s claws. “You know,” he said, an idea forming in his head, “I might be interested in a bit of business.”
“Oh?” the bull asked, a spoonful poised at his lips.
The tiger gestured for the bull to keep eating as he ate some of his own meal and pitched his voice lower. “I might be interested in hiring you – quietly.”
A heavy eyebrow twitched upward. “Quietly, eh?”
“Hmm.” The bull crumbled some crackers into his chili. “When?”
Fang winked. “Tell you the usual way. Too many ears here.”
Julius nodded. Making a show of spooning up the last of his chili he said quietly, “Think I might have a leak in one of the floats.”
“Plane still acting up, eh?”
“Well, you know how it is – plane that heavy hits the water the floats take it hardest.”
“With a pilot as heavy as you, you mean.” The two chuckled, and Fang finished his beer. “Tell you what. We’ll walk on over and take a look at it.”
“Sure. Still know which end of a wrench is up? Or clean living make you soft?”
“Need a crosshatching on your nose?”
Julius owned and flew a Fokker Trimotor, mounted on floats for water landings. The floats also bore wheels so the bull could land at Fort Bob’s airstrip or even the macadam runway at Eastern Island. Most of his business was fairly legitimate, but he was known as a gunrunner and an occasional smuggler. He was seldom seen on Krupmark or Spontoon, preferring the slightly less unrestrained atmosphere of Mildendo Island.
Fang looked at the plane with a critical eye, cocking his head. “Yeah, looks like the left-paw float’s riding a little low.”
“Haven’t seen any bubbles.”
“Might not.” Fang started looking at one of the support spars as he asked quietly, “How are things in Paradise?” The name was an old term for Krupmark Island.
Julius waggled a paw. “Not too bad. Couple shootouts. You remember Old Boris?”
“Yup. Little tigress. Married her, too, and got two kittens already. Runs a shop up in the town.” The two chuckled at the thought of the older Siberian having a family. “You got any kids?”
“Not yet. Shin’s still in school.”
“She’s a red panda, you know. How’s that going to work?”
Fang shrugged, studying where the spar joined the float. “Think I spotted it. Look here.” The bull craned to see. “Got a loose screw here. If you got a slow leak under the float, this’ll let out just enough air to let water in.”
Julius nodded slowly. “Yeah, looks like it. So, business?”
“Thinking about hiring you for a little hunting trip.”
“That so? Still toting that boom-stick of yours?”
“When I need to.”
Julius stood up and went to get his toolkit. Returning, he and Fang started sorting through a bunch of wrenches. “What do you need for this hunting trip?”
Fang told him.
Julius whistled. “That’ll be easy enough. Cost’ll be a bit high.”
“Let me think about it. Think this’ll work?”
“Let me see.” Fang tried the wrench. “Yeah, that’ll work. I figure if you stick some caulk in there and tighten it, it’ll stop leaking. You’ll have to drag it up on land to drain it, though.”
“Maybe later. When you planning on your hunting trip?”
“Not sure yet. I’ll let you know the usual way when I get a date set.”
“Good.” Fang extended a paw, and when Julius reached for it, the tiger snatched it back and the two laughed.
“When are we doing this?” Liberty asked. She and Brigit looked at Shin as the New Havenite asked the question. Tatiana, reading one of her textbooks, didn’t look up. “If this aristo’s waiting on you to graduate, it makes sense to get him first, before he expects it.”
Shin nodded. “I figure when we’re let go for Easter holidays,” she said, “because we can’t afford to lose any points by missing classes.”
“So you are coming back,” Tatiana said absently in a quiet tone, the sable still reading absorbedly.
The others looked at her. Since her conversation with Shin the Russian girl had basically isolated herself. Of course, she participated in the tutoring sessions with the members of Crusader Dorm and she attended all of the classes her dorm had. She simply had nothing to do with their planning for a trip to Krupmark.
Brigit said crossly, “An’ are ye layin’ wagers on us not comin’ back, me fine girl?”
“Nyet. There is no need to bet.” She gave the Irish girl a thin smile. “Besides, I will not betray you by telling anyone what you are planning.”
“Good,” Liberty said. “Easter holidays, then?”
Shin nodded. “I’d like to hit him now, of course, but – “
“That’d be wrong, it would.”
“Right.” The red panda added, “I think we should get as ready as we can, and then wait.”
Han Lo was a mouse from the ethnic Chinese Cholon district of Saigon. He had been working for the Ni Family for two years.
By this time, though, he was no doubt wishing that he’d stayed in Indo-China.
Ni Hao was ten years younger than the rodent, but his reputation was fearsome. Even the gangster bosses in Cholon had heard of him. What he’d done to the woman who had betrayed him was legendary in its simplicity and effectiveness.
So Han Lo could perhaps be forgiven for nearly soiling his pants when Ni Hao sat down facing him and said, “I want to ask you a few questions.”
They were alone in a shack near the family’s warehouse. Escape, even if he could somehow evade Hao, would be futile. Two wolfesses armed with shotguns prowled around outside, their footsteps clearly heard inside the structure.
“What do you want?” the mouse quavered.
Hao smiled, which only unnerved the man further. “I heard that you think something is going on,” he said, “and that you were going to tell someone about it.” He leaned toward the older man. “What do you think’s going on?”
Han Lo hesitated, and the young red panda’s smile widened.
The mouse caught the change in expression, and gulped. “I had see . . . seen that your father had come back from up the hill,” he stammered out in Chinese.
Hao nodded. “Father goes up there every month. Why did this attract your attention?”
“B-Because . . .”
“It wasn’t the usual time.”
Hao remained silent. Han Lo’s answer was true, but he’d found over the years that just staying quiet and staring at someone could get them to talk.
Particularly when the mouse already knew the red panda’s reputation.
A dark-furred paw slipped into a pocket, and Hao lit a cigarette. The mouse recoiled against the chair as the initial puff of smoke hit him and Hao asked, “What do you think was wrong?”
“I – I – don’t know.”
Hao chuckled, and Han Lo felt his blood freeze. “You must have an idea,” he said quietly. “You were going to tell someone about it. Now, Han Lo, what do you think?”
The mouse’s thinly-furred tail shook nervously.
The red panda’s thick-furred, banded tail remained still.
“I – I –“
Hao’s nose twitched as the scent of urine started to emanate from the mouse.
“I thought that Lord Shen was going to bankrupt the Ni,” Han Lo blurted. “I was going to arrange a wager.”
Hao sat back and regarded the mouse for a moment as he smoked his cigarette. He had pushed the mouse as far as he could without laying paws on him. And, he reminded himself, people on Krupmark loved to gamble. Finally he asked in a very soft voice, “What odds were you going to take?”
The mouse looked up, shock registering on his face. After a moment he stammered, “Thr-three to one, ag-g-gainst.”
Hao ground out his cigarette. “Give him ten dollars for me at those odds.” He grinned. “After you get cleaned up.”
Later he recounted his conversation with his mother and father. Xiu sat a little apart from his parents, taking notes.
“I think he was telling the truth,” Hao concluded. “But I’m going to keep an eye on him anyway.”
Hei nodded. “Anything from up on the hill?”
Peng said, "I've spoken with a few friends. The word is that Shen's not yet hiring."
Hei smiled at that. When a fight started to develop, it was usual practice for one side or both to start hiring as many unemployed furs as possible. The new hires would act as disposable shields and give more experienced employees a better chance. Shen was either confident in his numbers, or thinking that Hei would merely swallow this latest affront as he had the others.
The red panda resolved to make the most of the opportunity.
“I just want you all to know,” the older man said, “that I’ve increased the guards at the wells and the generator.”
Hao frowned, while Xiu paused to look up in surprise. “You think it might come to that?”
Years earlier, a mid-range entrepreneur had tried to take down a member of the ruling clique. That man had died, along with more than a few members of his staff, when the well he drank from had been deliberately poisoned. The Nis had two water wells, which meant they were largely protected from the periodic outbreaks of dysentery and cholera.
“We have to be prepared for anything,” Hei said. “Old Shen might not think of it, but Ming . . . there’s no telling what he’s capable of.”