Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Two hours later the plane touched down in a cove on Mildendo Island's southern coast. A wave lifted it and ran the floats partway up onto the soft beach sand. Liberty shut off the engines and sat back, looking uncharacteristically happy at the prospect of filling in some well-earned flying time in her logbook.
After the argument (and after assorted bruises were checked - the girls were too evenly matched in their training to cause each other much damage) it was decided that each would take it in turn to fly the plane, starting with Liberty. Brigit would fly the next leg of the trip, from Mildendo to Krupmark.
“Good flying, Lib,” Shin said. She was flying co-pilot, and twisted to look past Peng-wum and Brigit as Fang opened the hatch. “We in the right place?”
“Yeah.” Fang climbed out of the plane, sniffing the air and stretching. He drew and hefted his shotgun in one paw, then looked around before pulling a flashlight from a pocket of his drover’s coat and flashing a quick signal.
There was a flicker of a countersign, and four furs came out of the treeline. In the dim light from the plane’s interior lights, it looked like Julius in the lead. Three carried several heavy boxes out onto the sand as the fourth asked, "That you, Fang?" There was no mistaking Julius’ voice and accent.
"If it weren't, Julius, you'd be talking out of your chest," the big tiger growled. "You get the stuff I asked for?"
"Yeah, I got it right here. You got the money?"
"You'll get it when I'm happy with the goods," Fang said. He gestured with his paw and Shin, Liberty and Brigit stepped forward. Peng-wum was still in plane, covering the strangers with a shotgun.
“Hi, Shin! Looking good.”
“Julius,” Shin said quietly.
“Heard someone tried ya, Fang,” the Samoan bull said conversationally.
“Guess whoever it was didn’t do too good a job, huh?” A deep chuckle.
“That reminds me, Julie.”
“Yeah. What were you doing on Spontoon? It’s not your usual trail.”
One of the furs carrying boxes dropped his burden, his paw moving behind his back. He had almost brought the gun out before giving a short cry and crumpling backward.
“What the yiff?” another said, just before he gave a similar cry and went down, clutching his neck.
Liberty and Brigit had their guns out; Brigit with the Luger she had bought two years previously, Liberty with a serviceable medium-caliber revolver.
The third had managed to draw, and the loud report of a shotgun blast from the plane eclipsed his scream and the sounds of the surf. The man went down, writhing in the sand before falling still.
“Uh-uh,” Fang said as the bull started to move. “You know how good I am with this hogleg, Julius.”
“Yeah. You’re a yiffing artist.”
Fang actually laughed. “No, Shin’s the artist. I think she likes her knives.”
The Samoan growled. “I’m sure Herkie and Knuckles figured that out.”
“By now, yeah,” Shin said quietly. “Julius?”
“You going to answer Fang’s question?”
The hulking shadow shrugged. “Guy pays me to fly him to Spontoon. Pays enough, I don’t ask no questions. Just business.”
“Yeah,” Fang growled. “Just business.”
He didn’t have to say another word.
The sawed-off double-barreled shotgun in his paw said it for him.
Julius pitched backward onto the sand, threshing as he groaned. Fang broke the weapon open, dumped the two empty cartridges and reloaded, then stepped closer to the mortally wounded bull. “Hate to have to do this,” he muttered as he put the shotgun’s muzzle close to the bovine’s skull.
There was another thunderous report.
Shin muttered something in Chinese, then said, “Let’s see what he got for us.” She opened one box and shone a flashlight into it. “Oh.”
The box was full of dynamite. “Wonder if they work.”
“We’ll have to find out,” Liberty said as she picked up another box. “What did you have to kill them for?” she asked Fang.
The tiger gave a soft churr. "That guy - and his friends - would sell their own mothers to a Wangchung pimp," the Manchurian tiger explained. "We can't take the chance that they'd sell us to Shen before we got to Krupmark." He sighed. “It also gets us another plane – one that’s recognized on Krupmark.”
“Leave this one?” Brigit asked, hefting the third box.
“No,” Fang replied. “I can fly Julie’s plane. Peng-wum,” he called up to the plane’s cockpit, “what say we split up? I’ll take Julius’ Fokker.”
“Sounds good,” the red panda replied after a moment’s consideration. He stepped back to the plane’s cargo space, where the half-dozen Rain Islanders sat. “Thanks for the help.”
Galloway lit a cigarette – from the smell of the tobacco, a Seathl-made Worker’s Delight. Smoke drifted as the fox said, “This stop wasn’t in the contract, Tyee.”
“True enough,” and Peng-wum chuckled.
“What were you talking about? Splitting up?”
“I think I see what Fang’s talking about,” and Peng-wum explained.
After a few minutes Galloway nodded, the lit cigarette bobbing. “All right. May?”
“Yeah, Rick?” the doe asked.
“Take two with you, ride with the girls. Signals as agreed.”
“Right. You, and you,” she said.
As the Rain Islanders offloaded their gear, one said to Fang, “I thought he was a friend of yours,” and the rat gestured at Julius.
The tiger’s face was set and grim. “He was. That’s why I killed him.”
A big three-engined plane with wheel-mounted floats finished giving its recognition signal, and came in for a landing on the unpaved strip that served as Krupmark’s airfield. The plateau that included Fort Bob was the flattest area on the island and, therefore, the logical place to land a plane.
“Hey! You not Julius!” a rat said as he loped up to see if there was anything worth stealing in the darkness. He sniffed. “Where Julius?”
“Stranded on Mildendo,” the much bigger tiger said. The feline growled, placed a paw on the rat’s face and shoved him away. “Stay away from it, or I’ll cut your tail off.” He gestured with his free paw, and a red panda and four other furs climbed out of the plane.
The breeze drifted toward them past the town, and one of the Rain Islanders wrinkled his nose. “What the hell? Smells like someone’s rear end,” the canine said.
“You’d know all about that, you would,” Rick Galloway laughed. The beagle grumbled as the others laughed.
“That reminds me. Wait here a moment.” Fang walked back to the big Fokker and came back a few moments later, doing up his trousers. “What now, Peng-wum?”
“You and two others stay here for a bit. Me and Dan,” and he gestured at the third fur, a tall equine, “will go on down to the Dragon. We’ll meet up here.”
The horse and the red panda started into the town, weapons displayed openly to deter the curious or the acquisitive. Dan stepped over a set of railroad tracks and asked, “What’s this for?”
“Some guy up the hill’s trying to set up a trolley line,” Peng-wum explained. “He has to post armed guards, so I’m told – people keep stealing the tools and tracks at night.”
“What the hell do you need a trolley service for?”
The red panda shrugged. “We bet on the bus service, so why not gamble on something faster?”
Cigarette smoke served to help mask the occasional fetid whiff from parts of the town, so Fang and the other two furs took a seat under one of the Fokker’s wings to wait. “Anything we should know about this place?” Rick asked.
“Yeah. You don’t kill anyone west of Lee’s Tavern without permission – from Lee, not his brother. Stay the hell away from the North Side brothels – the girls there’ll give you the pox. And whatever you do stay the hell away from the church.”
Fang regarded the butt of his cigarette and threw it away. “It’s not a good place,” he replied, striped tail swishing.
Pemg-wum and Dan returned shortly before midnight with food purchased from the cleaner of the shops in the town. As they ate, Fang asked, “Everything quiet down there?”
“So far. Hao says hello.”
“We have things arranged?”
The red panda grinned, showing his teeth.
“Hey Dan,” the beagle said, “any women down there worth the price?”
The horse nickered a short laugh. “There was this one, nice vixen with an Irish accent. Prices really reasonable, too.”
“We’ve offered a May Day discount in the past,” Peng-wum remarked.
“So I’ve heard. Your wife won’t like you playing around, Dan,” Rick pointed out.
The equine wagged a finger. “I’m not that randy, thank you.”
Their meal over, the furs sipped beer and listened as Peng-wum and Fang outlined what they were planning. The tiger reared back and threw his empty beer bottle at a fur who was drawing within earshot. “I think we should go,” Fang remarked.
“Agreed.” The party headed into the town.
"Is that Mount Krupp?"
Brigit pointed ahead to a cone looming up in the darkness. Liberty was in the copilot's seat, looking over the map. At her nod, the setter called out, "Shin! Where do we land?"
Shin peered ahead into the gloom. They had to get the plane landed and under cover as quickly as possible. "Steer north," she advised. "There's a few coves along there that we can use to hide the plane."
"I hope we're not planning on attacking today," Liberty said.
"Of course not," the red panda told the half-coyote. "We'll find a quiet spot to rest and get things ready. I want to take a closer look at those guns, for starters."
"Rust?" Liberty asked as the Irish girl banked the plane. They were gambling, flying without lights and going to great lengths to avoid the dim lights of Fort Bob.
"A little, from what I could tell in the dark," the red panda said. "We'll know more once we've stripped and cleaned them." In the dim glow of the cockpit lights, the others could see that Shin was nervous. “We’ll have to land outside the reef.”
Liberty nodded. “We don’t want to clip a float on anything.”
The old plane touched down and landed on the swells well before the surf line, then taxied as Shin climbed out and perched on a float. A series of raps on the fuselage with a fist had been agreed upon in advance, and Liberty helped Brigit guide the aircraft over the island’s barrier reef.
Once they were in calmer water, Brigit steered for a small cove, shutting off the engines as the others clambered out to guide the plane to a stop.
The cove turned out to be an old lava tube, gnawed by the waves until it was a large open space with an overhanging shelf of volcanic rock and vegetation. Several lines had to be rigged to keep the plane protected by the shelf while preventing the tides from smashing it to fragments against the rocks.
"The northeast coast has a lot of these old holes," Shin remarked as she helped pitch a camp in the lee of another cave.
"Surprised they're not used more often," Brigit said.
Shin shrugged. "The coast to the south is better for boats. It's all in what you're used to, I suppose."
"In the meantime, it gives us a hiding place to get ready," Liberty said. The half-coyote lit a small gas lantern and opened one box.
She blinked. Nestled in oil-impregnated paper was a Bruining Automatic Rifle, vintage 1918. Another box inside the crate contained two spare magazines and ammunition for the machine gun. The second large box bore more ammunition for two more firearms, a Thompson submachine gun and a shotgun. The three Songmark girls already had sidearms and the knives they’d bought for their Aleutians trip.
Liberty set the Bruining aside and picked up the shotgun. She rubbed away some rust from the receiver and almost recoiled. "This is a pre-Revolution gun, from New Haven." She held the gun up to show the considerably scratched five-pointed star and the letters NHSP.
"I'll s'pose ye'll no' be wantin' it, then," Brigit said.
Liberty grinned. "I know these like the back of my paw," she said as she expertly started breaking the weapon down into various parts. "The People's Militia back home still makes them," and she opened up the cleaning kit that they had brought along, "so you'll have to make do with something else, so," she teased.
Brigit chuckled, examining the BAR in her paws. "I'm likin' what I've got right now," she said as she worked the slide on the weapon, rechecking the action.
That left Shin with the Thompson. She stripped it down with some difficulty (there was quite a bit of rust on the outside of the weapon) and her muzzle twisted in distaste as she squinted down the barrel. "Problem, Shin?" the New Havenite asked.
"Whoever used this last was probably using it as an ashtray," the red panda grumbled.
May and the other two Rain Islanders, the rat and a feline femme, finished unloading the last case of supplies from the plane and sat down. "I know better than to remind all you intrepid explorers," the doe said jokingly, "but we all need to eat and sleep. We’re going to get really busy soon.” She looked at the weapons the younger women were industriously checking. “Kind of a mixed bag, um?”
“I think they’ll do well enough,” Liberty said as she ran another cleaning patch through the shotgun’s barrel. “What's for dinner?" she asked as Brigit started going through their supplies.
"I’m ‘fraid there’s no Maconochie, Lib,” the Irish girl said. At the look of loathing on Liberty’s face, Brigit and Shin’s laughter startled a flock of wild parakeets from their roosts in the scrubby trees above them.