Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
She had just taken over the watch over her employer’s brother-in-law, and the Spontoonie feline was worried.
If Peng-wum was spooked enough to put people around Fang, of all people, whoever the opposition was would have to be a tough nut to crack. Well, she was paid and paid well to use her Guide training (along with a few other tricks) to make sure that the tiger stayed alive, so she stayed in the shadows near the bungalow.
None of South Island’s famous three-yard jungle came near the small house. It was scrupulously trimmed back to ensure that an intruder couldn’t make it all the way to the windows undetected.
The moon was rising, full and bright, casting faint shadows as the bushes and palms rustled in the sea breeze.
As a result, the woman didn’t hear the stranger behind her at first.
A thin cord suddenly draped around her neck, and she managed to get a paw between it and her neck before the man behind her completed the loop and drew it taut.
A line of searing pain drew itself as the cord cut into her paw, and she growled and grunted with the effort to break the stranglehold. She kicked, aiming for a knee or the more vulnerable spots she knew were there. She actually connected on her third try, hearing the man behind her gasp. His grip on the garrote loosened momentarily.
Her free paw reached behind her and grabbed his wrist as she simultaneously dropped to one knee and shifted, pulling the assassin off-balance. He stumbled, and she worked her way clear of the wire noose. She tried to ignore the pain in her injured paw as blood soaked into her fur and dripped from the wound.
The man recovered quickly and drew himself up, a large dark shadow against the moon-dappled jungle. Despite the heel in his crotch he’d kept silent.
She evaded him, but not before his claws raked down her uninjured arm. She hissed and backed away a step, then grimaced.
The scratches felt like they were on fire, and a numb feeling was spreading up her arm.
The numbness caused her arm to hang slackly at her side, and she now turned to run. As she turned her back he threw himself at her, using his greater weight to force her down to the ground. She kicked, missing as his paws sought her neck.
There was a soft sound, a gasp, and the woman no longer knew about the poison seeping up her arm.
Ling separated from the corpse as the woman stopped breathing, and silently damned his joss. The poison he’d painted on his claws was useless now. He searched and found the garrote, then listened for any sign of any other watchers.
Nothing but the breeze, and the rustling of palms overhead.
The tiger eased across the grass to the nearest window, where the sash stood open a bare inch. He squinted at the frame and noted that there didn’t appear to be any locks on the sash.
Nothing that could be considered a trigger, either.
If anything, that made him warier. He gently eased the window open, with no result other than the opening grew wider. With the sash fully open, he extended a paw and found what he was looking for.
A network of fine threads crisscrossed the opening a few inches from the window. Extending a claw, he tugged at one thread and saw a shadow up by the ceiling.
Whoever had rigged the net had set it up so an intruder would have a heavy sash weight dropped on his head. Even if it failed to kill, the racket would wake up the house’s occupants.
Ling traced the thread with a claw, then gently grasped it before cutting the thread and easing the weight down. When he’d reached the limit of the severed line he dropped the weight into his other paw. The tiger then lifted the weight gingerly and deposited it on the ground outside the house.
Easing through the open window, he took his time placing his feet on the floor. It was a standard ploy to loosen a board or two to make them creak. None did, even when he put his full weight on them. He crouched down to avoid silhouetting himself and looked around the darkened room.
It was a kitchen, and the smells of cooked food and a bit of stale grease threatened to overwhelm his sense of smell for a moment. Stepping lightly for his size, Ling moved clear of the open window and headed for the bedroom.
His target was in bed, and he studied Wo Fang for several minutes. First, he looked for the soft rise and fall that signaled he was dealing with a live fur, and not a dummy or a lump of bedding. Second, the movements under the blanket could only be made by a tail. The rest of the room was unremarkable – a bureau, a chair, a portrait of his mate hung on the wall.
Ling drew a knife, the blade carefully made to betray no gleam of steel in the moonlight, and stepped forward.
His bare foot contacted another gossamer thread, which parted before he could draw back from it.
The soft pops and crackles of flashbulbs sounded incredibly loud, and although their glow faded quickly it was the end of Ling’s night vision for a moment. The suddenness of it and the pain as his dilated irises slammed shut caused the assassin to yowl as he staggered back.
The bed creaked and there was a thump as Fang’s feet hit the floor. Ling’s vision cleared in time to see the fist as it crashed into his muzzle. He staggered back again, blood erupting from his nostrils, and swung the knife still in his paw.
A startled hiss told him he’d hit the target. No telling where at the moment, but where didn’t matter. Pain exploded against his ribs as the target’s claws struck him.
The two tigers backed off, awaiting each others’ attack.
Fang had caught the intruder’s scent amid the smell of blood. Another tiger. In the shadows, he seemed larger than he probably was in daylight. The pain of the knife-slash along his left forearm was a burning thing, but it was a shallow slash. He could still move his arm and paw.
He could still kill his assailant.
The shadow feinted, then lunged, and Fang fell away from the blade before it could strike deeply into his belly. Another swipe with his claws and a growl told him that he’d clawed his attacker’s ear. The feeling around his claws hinted that rags of tiger ear were caught in his fingers.
The attacker feinted again.
This time the attempt to cause Fang to flinch was followed up by a hard roundhouse kick to the Manchurian tiger’s side that sent the wind woofing from him and nearly knocked him into a wall. Fang put out a paw, rebounded and tripped over a discarded shoe, and fell over a chair. He scooped the shoe up and threw it at where he guessed the other tiger’s face might be.
A thump and a snort told him he’d aimed correctly. The shoe was flung away to the sound of shattering glass as the floor-length mirror in the bedroom shattered. The shadow recoiled and sprang at him.
A dark blade was briefly seen in a shaft of moonlight.
Fang rolled clear as the tiger landed on the floor, and as he twisted Fang grabbed the knife paw at the wrist, the other trying to twist the blade free of the attacker’s grip. The other tiger’s legs came up and wrapped around Fang’s neck, squeezing hard.
Fang wheezed, red and gray edges starting to develop around his vision as he fought to bend the man’s arm back. He shifted, striking the man in the side of the head with a knee as he started to win the arm-wrestling contest.
The blade descended maddeningly slowly, and as his strength started to fail Fang gathered what he had left and shoved.
There was a brief resistance, followed by a popping sensation, and the gush of blood around his paws as the man under him spasmed. The grip around his neck loosened and Fang gasped hard as the other tiger started to grow weaker.
Paws scrabbled at him, then grabbed Fang around the neck as the man tried to take him with him. Fang yanked the knife out and struck again.
And again, until the man stopped moving.
Fang lay across him, panting and gasping for air before rising to his knees and switching on the lights. The bloody mess under him was another Manchurian tiger, fur trimmed just so, build lean and athletic with big paws.
Fang coughed, running a free paw over his neck and starting to feel the wounds he’d received. The room was a bit of a mess, with blood congealing on the rug and seeping into the cracks in the bungalow’s hardwood floor.
He got to his feet and staggered as the blood loss started to make itself felt. Bloody paw prints ended up on the walls and furniture as he used them to support his weight and balance as he stumbled into the kitchen.
He fumbled the phone, and the pawset hit the counter and fell to the floor. He dialed and decided to follow the pawset, sitting hard on the floor and stifling a growl as a voice was heard on the receiver, “Maha Kahuna front desk, Taro speaking. That you, Fang? Fang? Hello?”
Fang pulled the pawset to him. “Taro,” he whispered.
Just as his head hit the cabinet, then the floor, and he lost consciousness.
“Hey, Wo! Shin!”
“What?” the red panda shouted from the top of the stairs.
“Phone call for you!” the feline shouted back. “Says he’s your brother, but I think he’s your pimp.”
“Must have an appointment for you, then,” Shin riposted as she came down the steps and took the pawset. “Beat it, or I’ll beat it for you.” She ignored the other girl’s obscene gesture and said, “Hello? Wo Shin here . . . oh, hi, what – WHAT!?”
At her shout the rest of Red Dorm looked out of their room and saw something surprising.
The sight of Wo Shin leaning against the wall, crying.
She was mumbling brokenly in Chinese, nodding as whoever was on the phone talked to her. Finally she hung up the phone and turned to go back up the stairs. Shin paused as she looked up and saw her dorm-mates gazing down at her.
“What’s wrong?” Liberty asked.
Brigit’s ears drooped lower than usual. “Fang?”
The red panda walked past them and into the room, sitting on her bed. The others followed and heard her whisper, “Peng-wum called. Fang . . . he – gulp! – was attacked . . . last night.” She drew a sobbing breath and wiped her eyes.
It fell to Tatiana to ask what no one else dared ask.
Shin shook her head negatively. “Got cut up,” she choked out. “Almost killed . . . “ Her paws balled into fists and she unleashed a torrent of profanities in two Chinese dialects, finishing in English, “That bastard Shen Ming!”
“Is he in hospital, then?” Brigit asked.
A nod. “Over on Meeting,” she replied, getting herself back under control gradually. “One of the furs watching him was killed.”
“And the assassin?” This from the always-pragmatic Liberty.
“Dead,” Shin replied. “Peng-wum said there was blood all over the house.”
“Stagg already interrogatin’ him?” Brigit asked.
Shin gave a short laugh. “Stagg doesn’t know.” She and the others turned as Miss Windlesham appeared at the doorway. “Hello, Ma’am.”
“I heard you had some bad news, Shin.”
“Yes, Ma’am. My husband is in the hospital.”
“Is he badly hurt?”
“I’m told he fell off a ladder while doing some work at the hotel, Ma’am.” The red panda said this with a straight face.
“I see.” The feline Tutor didn’t buy a word of it, that much was obvious. Apparently Miss Devinski had already told the rest of the faculty about the threat to Shin and her family. “Do you wish to go visit him?”
“May I, Ma’am?”
“Hmm. According to your class schedule today, Red Dorm is allotted two hours for independent study. I recommend you spend it at the hospital, studying first aid and emergency surgical techniques.”
Shin nodded. “Thank you, Ma’am.”
“First aid training is important,” Miss Windlesham remarked as she left the room.
The rabbit femme turned as she stepped out into the hall and Shin called out to her. The two briefly hugged and Shin asked, “Is he in there?”
“Yes,” Nailani replied. “Still asleep,” she added as the red panda headed for the door. She nodded at the other three students.
A slightly deeper nod to the Russian sable, however.
“Should I wake him up?” Shin asked, pausing at the door.
The rabbit shook her head. “They say he lost a lot of blood.”
Shin nodded and went into the room, closing the door behind her.
“So, ye’re Shin’s sister-in-law?” Brigit asked.
“How is your son?” Tatiana asked.
“Very well, thank you.” Again, a respectful nod.
“How do you know that?” Liberty asked the sable, but before Tatiana replied the half-coyote raised a paw. “Never mind.”
Inside the room, the curtains were open to let in the sunlight. The white on Fang’s facial fur was stained with iodine, and there were bandages on his arms. A stand stood nearby, with a glass bottle hanging from it.
The bottle had traces of blood inside.
“Poor darling,” and she bent over to kiss him on the muzzle.
His paw rose and rested on her head as he leaned up into the kiss. “Hi,” he whispered.
“Nailani said you were asleep,” the red panda whispered back.
“I was. I caught your scent when you walked in,” Fang said, his paw stroking her headfur. “You woke me up.”
“Peng-wum said you got cut up.”
“Yeah, a bit. I’ve had worse.”
“Liar.” She looked like she was about to cry.
“Come here, Clown Face,” and they kissed again. “A couple flesh wounds. The doctor says I’ll be up and around tomorrow.” He grinned, showing teeth. “Talked with Julius yesterday.”
“I think we have a pilot.”
“Good. I want that wolf’s head so bad now I can taste it.”
“And you think I don’t?”
“Have the cops talked to you?”
Fang chuckled. “No. I fell off a ladder. By the way, sorry.”
“’Sorry?’ About what?”
“I broke your mirror in the bedroom . . . when I fell off the ladder.”
“It’s only money.” The red panda promptly looked horrified, putting a paw to her mouth. “I c-can’t believe I just said that.”
“I’m touched,” Fang chuckled.
“I’ll touch you, you – “ They kissed again.
The four women outside the door cocked their heads as various sounds started to be heard from within the room.
Nailani rolled her eyes.
Liberty shook her head.
Tatiana said, “I do not think he is too badly hurt.”
Brigit added, “Sure’n he sounds . . . pretty healthy.”
After a certain amount of time, Shin came out of the room, closing the door behind her. “The poor dear’s exhausted from blood loss,” she remarked, running a paw over the well-bitten fur around her neck.
“So I see,” Nailani said.