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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
General Won seemed unimpressed by Shin’s flat declaration. The blade of his saber rasped as he unsheathed it and tossed the scabbard aside. “The Nis … yes, I see it now.” He smirked. “A brave boast, child,” he said as he brought the sword’s tip up and his voice dripped contempt, “but it’s your night to die.” With that he lunged at Shin, who dodged nimbly to the left. Another slash and she ducked to avoid the flashing blade. He growled and came at her again, his style obviously tainted by Western influence. Either he had studied abroad or under a European-trained teacher. The fallen desk lamp threw weird shadows across the walls as he tried vainly to strike her.
Shin kicked out and the lamp’s bulb shattered, plunging most of the room into darkness. The only illumination was the feeble light coming through the window. Won cursed and began to flick the sword about randomly, trying to keep Shin at bay until his eyes could adjust to the change in lighting. Finally he turned to face her, and charged, his sword held high for a downward slash.
The red panda scooped up a bundle of white fur, and threw the yowling Persian housecat in the general’s face. He flinched and she dove in, a foot sweeping his legs out from under him. He crashed to the floor and struck out with the sword, but she avoided his move and backpedaled. As he came at her again she ducked under his arm, paws grabbing the hilt and twisting. A crackle of bone and a harsh grunt of pain told her that she’d broken his wrist. The sword clattered to the floor and she kicked it out of the way as he reached for it with his good paw.
He stared at her as she stood facing him, and gripped his broken paw in his good one. His face twisted in a grimace of mixed fury and agony as he reset the broken wrist, and he half-crouched in a defensive posture. “Now I shall kill you with my bare paws,” he hissed, and dove at her.
Paws flashed back and forth in the darkness, trading and parrying blows as feet shifted balance or tried to kick. Shin backed away, and ran for the nearest wall with Won in pursuit. As she reached the wall she leaped, her momentum enabling her to walk partway up the wall before crashing to the floor. As the feline’s boot came down at her head she rolled to avoid it, muttering, “Funny, that always seemed to work when the monks did it.” She regained her feet and blocked more of his blows, letting him force her back to her objective.
This was a flagpole, set in a stand near the desk; it bore a dark blue flag with a white twelve-pointed star. Shin jerked the Kuomintang banner from its holder and spun it end-for-end, aiming the halberd point at its tip at Won’s heart.
The general sidestepped it, grabbed the shaft in his injured right paw and there was the sound of splintering wood as his left paw chopped through the flagpole, leaving Shin with only half. The darkness then was filled with the clack and thump of wood and the grunts and heavy breathing of the two fighters. Finally the office door opened and a Manchurian-accented voice whispered, “What’s going on?”
Won drew back and said triumphantly, “Now, you stupid girl, you’re going to die. There’ll be no one to mourn for you and you’ll have no tomb.” He winced as his right paw pained him, and he beckoned the figure forward. “Kill her,” he ordered, “and get the doctor up here.”
“Sorry, General,” said the figure, and the feline whirled angrily just in time to catch the butt of the Mauser Model 1898 rifle between his eyes. As he slumped bonelessly to the floor Shin hissed, “I wanted to kill him, Fang!”
“You still can, Shin,” Fang said softly, “because he’s not dead. That love tap was just to shut him up. Here,” and he picked up the fallen saber and pressed it into her paws. “Do it.”
“Okay, I will,” she said, chest heaving from her fight as she took the sword and tested the heft of it in her inexperienced paws. She kicked the general’s arms to his sides and raised the sword over her head … and froze, the tip of the saber wavering. “What are you waiting for?” Fang asked.
“I … I … I can’t,” Shin stammered, her tail trailing slackly behind her. The sword lowered. “I’ve n-never killed before.”
“Death’s a part of life, kid,” Fang said quietly. “It’s this guys’ turn, and he deserves it. He killed your family, and probably other people. Besides, we’re running short of time. We can’t stay here, and we can’t take him with us.” He started to take the saber away from his wife as the general stirred. “I’ll do it.”
“No.” Shin sniffled as she tightened her grip. “I said I’d do it,” she said, and as Won Lung Ho groaned and started to move, she brought the blade down with all her might.
Blood fountained, spraying onto her face and causing her to gasp as she swung the blade again and again, not stopping until his head had been severed from his neck. The saber fell to the floor with a clatter to the sodden carpet as she drew the back of a paw across her nose. “Now,” Fang said, “come with me,” and he tugged her into the adjoining room and prodded her toward the unlocked window. “Hurry, and don’t let anyone see you,” he admonished. He kissed her, tasting a trace of the feline’s blood. “I’ll meet you back at our room, and then we’ll get out of this place, okay?”
Shin nodded numbly and slipped silently out the window. Fang shook his head, bracing himself for a few nights of bad dreams and spending time consoling his wife, then left the room. As he crossed the courtyard one soldier yelled, “Took you long enough,” while another asked, “Hey Chun, I thought you were getting your coat.”
Fang muttered under his breath, “I knew I forgot something,” and ran as fast as he could out of the courtyard. He shed his rifle and bandolier as several soldiers called out to him while others, suspecting something was up, ran into the building.
The tiger gave his pursuers the slip in the darkness, stripping off his uniform and donning the black clothing he’d had on previously. After pausing a moment to see if the way was clear, he made his way back to the hostel as a siren began to wail at the barracks.
The next day Fang looked out the window to see armed patrols marching up and down the street, accosting passersby and checking identity papers. A sound caused him to turn and look at his wife, who still tossed and turned on the bed, finally asleep. He’d had to give her a drink or two of the local rotgut in order to calm her down. He drew the blanket a bit more securely around Shin, and sat down to wait.
It was nearly noon when she awoke. “Hi, sleepyhead,” Fang said, chuckling as she smiled, then stretched. “Hi,” she replied. “What time is it?”
“About lunch, I guess,” he said. “The whole city’s crawling with troops. Seems someone assassinated the local warlord and his aides last night, along with two of his bodyguards.” He allowed himself a small grin. “Meanwhile, we have some time to spend. I suggest we eat and arrange for transportation out of this place.”
“Okay,” she said, and he noted the shadow hovering behind her eyes. He sat on the bed and took her paws in his. “Listen, Shin,” he said, “I know you wanted to kill him, and you did a fair job of it. But do not dwell on it, or you’ll go crazy. And I didn’t get married to a crazy wife,” and he kissed her muzzle.
She returned the kiss. “You’re right,” she sighed. “But I don’t think I’ll forget it anytime soon.”
“You won’t,” he assured her.
They ate in the hostel’s dining room, occasionally complaining as the door opened to admit a draft of chilly dust-laden air from the street. Fang looked thoughtful as Shin shivered, and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I guess my blood thinned out after so many years in a warmer climate,” she admitted. “I remember playing here, throwing snowballs at my brothers.” A wistful smile touched her muzzle, then retreated as she said, “That gives me an idea.”
After a short while two figures stepped out of the hostel and into the street, headed in the general direction of the city’s port area. A female red panda swathed in two heavy coats and a woolen scarf wrapped around her head was accompanied by a large feline figure wearing a fur-lined leather cap with earflaps, similar to a Russian shapka. The afternoon sun was bright, but the wind blew sharply from the northwest, dry and getting colder as they walked. “Ought to be a frigid night,” Fang observed.
“Yeah,” Shin said, huddling down in her coats. They passed a beggar wrapped in rags and old castoff clothing, seated under a street lamp. His legs were missing below the knee, and filmy rheum dripped from his left eye. As Shin watched, Fang tossed some money into the beggar’s lap and muttered, “Get a job,” before walking on.
Shin merely gaped at him for a moment, then punched him in the arm. “That was pretty mean, talking to a cripple like that.”
Her husband chuckled. “He was no cripple, my love. Didn’t you see him sitting a bit higher than you’d expect from someone who was missing two legs? His legs are wrapped up under him. He might be a better runner than you are.” Shin stared at him, then gazed back down the street over her shoulder.
The beggar was gone. She turned back to Fang. “And his eye?” she asked.
“Anyone can make their eyes run like that. Just put a seed under your eyelid – works every time,” Fang said. They walked along silently for a while, then Fang answered her unspoken question by saying, “A long time ago I learned some things, to be able to survive.”
“I can guess,” she said, nestling closer to him as they walked. “You know something?” she suddenly asked.
“I’m so glad I met you,” and they both laughed.
It took a while for Shin to establish her bona fides at the bank and collect the money she had wired from Shanghai, but the evening found them dressed more like Western travelers than peasants and living in a decently priced hotel. More importantly, two tickets sat on the bedside table. As the two got ready for bed Fang asked, “Do you think you’ll want to come back here to live?”
Shin thought about it for a moment then shook her head. “I’m happy at Spontoon,” she said as he slipped into bed and she cuddled close to him. “A lot more opportunity, and a lot less law.”
The two laughed as Fang switched off the light.
* * * * * * * * *
The desk clerk at the hotel woke them up by telephone just before dawn, and the two dressed and packed what belongings they had for the trip. A short taxi ride after settling their hotel bill found them on a dock with other passengers, surrendering their tickets to an officious weasel dressed in the militaristic dark blue uniform of the Imperial Japan Overseas Air Service. After identifying them and verifying the tickets, the functionary gave a slight bow and gestured toward the Kawanishi flying boat.
The cold air moving southeast from Mongolia provided an excellent tail wind for the flying boat after it lifted into the sky exactly on time; nearly three hours later Shin nudged Fang from his sleep and gestured at the symmetrical cone of Mount Fujiyama in the distance. “That’s a pretty sight,” she said with a smile.
“So are you,” he said, and she blushed as the plane banked and began to descend.
They spent two days in Tokyo while awaiting their connecting flight, touring the parks around the Imperial Palace and shopping in the Ginza. Fang tried to learn Japanese, and the people he practiced on seemed incredibly forbearing with the huge tiger and his heavy Manchurian accent. He pretended not to hear the insults they would mutter as he left the stores. No sense in starting trouble.
Finally their plane arrived and was serviced, and they stood on another dock while customs officials stamped their passports. Allowed to proceed they boarded the plane, shaking paws with the pilot and copilot before stepping into the cabin. Shoshone Skytrails were known for two major distinctions in their operations: The belief that the flight crew should greet the passengers for luck before starting the engines, and the doeskin fringes on their leather flight jackets. The Raven insignia on the jackets were done in beadwork, which set the flight crews further apart from other pilots.
The plane took off and headed for Midway Island, its first stop before going on to Spontoon, and then to Tillamook.
* * * * * * * * *
As soon as they stepped off the plane at Casino Island’s terminal, Shin was on the phone trying to find her older brother. After trying three different numbers she hung up and grumbled, “We’ll have to cable Krupmark. They’re back home already.”
“Well, we have been gone about two weeks, Shin,” Fang remarked. “You know your father and older brother – they probably wanted to get back to work as fast as possible. So, we’ll go down to the telegraph office, then check into a hotel.” He hugged his wife, enjoying the feel of her in her Tokyo-bought brown gabardine suit. “I think we’ve earned a rest, don’t you?”
“Absolutely,” she almost purred.