Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Clarence walked into the Ni & Sons building on Krupmark and dismissed his bodyguard with a curt wave of a paw. The macaque went about his business and the lion went up the stairs to Ni Hei’s office.
Marco let him in, the ferret recognizing the lion by his military gait. The former British Army sergeant marched everywhere, at quick time, as if he’d been born doing it.
“Sir? Wire for you, from Peng-wum,” and the lion gave the red panda the message.
“Thank you, Clarence,” Hei said, and set about decoding the series of numbers on the telegram. The lion closed the door and sat down to wait as Hei then put his glasses on and read the result.
The red panda blanched and he lowered the form. “Fang was attacked.”
Clarence blinked, ordinarily a rather comical expression. He asked, “Do we know by whom?”
“Another tiger. Might be the assassination attempt we expected from Ming. Fang’s alive and recovering. The other – “
“Dead, of course.” The ex-soldier nodded matter-of-factly. “Are the police involved?”
“No. The body was quickly, ah, disposed of. Peng-wum says he has things under control. We also have a date.”
“I’m told that we can expect Shin to arrive about April eleventh.”
The family’s warehouse was only half-full of the various cargoes that the Ni trafficked in. The cloyingly sweet stink of opium came from a dark smear on the floor in one corner, and there was an astringent hint of catnip elsewhere. The smell of stale musk came from the contrived studio where films catering to certain tastes were produced.
There were only four furs in the room: Hao, two bodyguards who could be trusted, and a short man who looked like a curious cross between a cat and a bear. His fur was a thick, wavy dark brown pelt and his tail curled like a monkey’s around a support.
"I'm pleased you’re here, Pramana," the red panda said simply.
The binturong shrugged. He dragged a negligent paw over his fur where it peeked from above his grubby white shirt and asked, "What you want?"
Hao told the binturong, his gaze never flinching from the other's eyes.
“Huh. Expensive. Cost lots.” The Javanese man smiled, revealing betel-stained teeth as Hao quoted a figure. “You no bargain?”
“We bargain now,” Hao said.
The two haggled over the price, finally agreeing on a figure and a delivery date, and shook paws on the deal. The binturong left, and Hao relaxed.
Dealing with Pramana was always a chore. The man didn’t speak English very well, and Hao knew no Dutch or Javanese.
Hao looked nervous as he, Julia and Emilia left the warehouse and headed back to the Lucky Dragon. Word had started to spread that something was up, but betting hadn’t started.
He knew it would soon enough, and was ready to put certain sums of money down on his family’s survival as well as his own. If he scored big it might help pay for his and Xiu’s child’s education in much the same way Peng-wum and Nailani had salted away money for Mikilani.
The idea that he and Xiu might have children always pleased him.
The Krupmark Island bus clattered its way up the road from the Beach, with one fur being unceremoniously thrown out in front of the Casino. The rat made an obscene gesture at the receding vehicle, straightened his clothes and went inside.
Catherine Devinski sat at her desk and read the plan Shin had drawn up.
All ten pages of it.
As she finished each page she gave them to Miss Wildford, who also read them. When she was finished, the curiously patterned feline nodded to the yellow-furred Labrador. Devinski sat still, tapping her fingers against her desk as she gazed out at what appeared to be a small pile of stones and rubbish in the school's courtyard.
She turned back to Shin, Brigit and Liberty. "Your plan is risky, but these plans always entail some risk. However, Miss Wildford and I concur that this is the best plan that could be devised. It takes into account all relevant factors, including the weather.
“I won't tell you to be careful - you have all been trained to be careful, and to plan for every eventuality.
"But I will tell you this. If you try this and fail, you'll be lucky if you die on the spot. If you're unlucky, Songmark will not be able to help you." Her gaze rested on each of the girls in turn. "New Haven and the Brigades will not be able to help you either," she said, her voice bleak. "For all intents and purposes you will disappear."
The trio nodded. They knew the risks, and the price of failure. But they were resolved to help a fellow student. Very much like Amelia and her dorm, she thought, although this group would rather pull their own ears off than admit it.
Part of the reason, of course, was that their own self-preservation was on the line.
She sighed and nodded. "Very well then. You are going to do this. You won't use any school property."
"Yes, Ma'am," Shin said. "Equipment's being arranged."
The canine's eyebrows rose, and she nodded. “So I see. Any days you miss will have to be made up before you take your final exams. You are dismissed - not you, Shin."
Shin came back into the room. "Yes, Ma'am?"
Catherine Devinski stood and leaned across the desk, her gaze locked with Shin's.
The red panda felt that she was caught, hypnotized like a bird by a snake as the Labrador said softly, "Remember this, Wo Shin: If any of your dorm mates do not make it back, you had better pray that they are dead - if they are not, you will not live long. I will see to that personally." She straightened, and Shin shuddered as she stumbled back a step.
“Are you sure you won’t go with us?”
“Nyet, as I said before. I have something I must do.”
“Okay. Wish us luck.”
“I have. Remember what I tell you of Comrade Simonov.”
“I will, I guarantee that.”
"You know, this isn't exactly inspiring confidence in our chances," Liberty remarked as she and the others looked over the aircraft that Fang had acquired for them. The plane, a rather scuffed and dirty twin-engine monoplane, suffered her criticism stoically as it rocked in the swells on its two long floats. The sun was close to the western horizon, and the dim light wasn’t hiding any flaws very well.
The half-coyote wasn't the only one looking at the plane dubiously.
"The seller told me that the engines had been overhauled recently, and it's airworthy," the Manchurian tiger huffed. "Besides, it's the best I could get on short notice." He waved a large paw and adjusted his heavy overcoat. The fact he was wearing it despite the warm day told Shin that he was already armed. "Take a look for yourselves," he offered.
"That we will," Brigit said, and she and Shin started to examine the engines with flashlights while Liberty checked the controls and other equipment.
Fang lit a cigarette and took a drag, then tossed the butt into the water as he stood, trying not to look nervous. He had only been out of the hospital a week, and some of his stitches hadn’t been removed yet.
Before coming to work for the Ni Family, he had worked for Shen, and had some information on what they could hope to face once they reached Krupmark. His presence, then, was essential.
"Fang, dear," and Shin's voice pulled him away from his thoughts, "I see that you're wearing your toys - what about the stuff Brigit and I bought last time she was at the Lucky Dragon?"
He chuckled. "Your guns are in a box under the pilot's seat, my ringtailed beauty, along with your flying fish," he replied. His striped tail still twitched in nervous anticipation.
The other members of the party hadn’t arrived yet.
"'Flying fish?'" Liberty asked.
"I'll show you as soon as I'm done," Shin said.
"Well, the engines aren't the best," Brigit said as she clambered off the wing and wiped her paws on her dark blue jumpsuit, "but it'll fly."
"I'm glad you approve," Fang said. "Our first stop is Mildendo to pick up a few things. Who wants to fly it first?"
He had to stand back and laugh as the girls started to argue, and laughed harder as words degenerated into blows. Whistling to get their attention he said, “Company.”
Half a dozen men and women, all in civilian clothes and carrying at least one suitcase or duffel bag each, were walking up the dock toward them. The one in the lead, a tall and athletically-built fox, jerked his head toward the plane. “You Wo Fang, um?”
His accent was pure Rain Island.
“That’s me,” the Manchurian tiger said.
“Rick Galloway,” the fox said. “Heard you settin’ up a hunt.”
“Maybe. You lot coming with him?”
The one behind him, a whitetail doe, nodded.
“They’re with me,” and heads turned as Peng-wum walked up the dock. “A few people who wanted to join in – you know how it is.”
Shin looked the group over. “You coming along?”
Peng-wum looked at her over his glasses. “Last time I checked, you were still my little sister, Shin.” He turned to Fang. “You sure you feel okay?”
“I’m okay.” When he moved his arms, he seemed to still be having some discomfort from the stitches. “Besides, she may be your little sister - but she’s my wife.”
As the plane got airborne Liberty asked Shin, “’Flying fish?’”
The red panda grinned at her from the co-pilot’s seat. “These.” She opened her short jacket and revealed a bandolier of ten small throwing knives. The hilts of each had been sculpted to resemble fish, and the fins and rough scales ensured a good grip.
“Any good with them?”
“Yeah,” Shin replied, nodding. “Been practicing during vacations and weekends.”
Tatiana Bryzov watched the plane as it banked and headed west. As she watched she thought back to her conversation with Shin.
Da, she had acted rightly in giving the red panda fair warning that Anna’s father might be inclined to avenge the injury done to his daughter. Of course, whether or not he would act on his desire depended largely on the girl’s uncle. Comrade Bearia was reputedly quite practical about such things.
She had acted rightly, she was sure of that.
A part of her still wanted to go with them, though.
“Udacha, druzh’ya,” the sable whispered.
She turned to see Miss Devinski standing by the closed door.