Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The sun was setting as Ni Hei shifted the two packages he carried under his arm, and leaned out of the truck to kiss his wife. "Peng, you and Hao will look after things until I return," he said softly. "Don't worry." He sat back then and gestured, and Marco started the old truck's engine.
Ni Peng watched her mate drive off up the hill, and only after it was out of sight did she allow herself to start crying.
An agreement had been reached, and Red Dorm and the Rain Islanders had taken guard duty in shifts, with Shin taking the last watch. Her ears perked at the sound of a wild parakeet’s cry, and she peered out to see Fang and the others. “Hi,” the red panda said. “Been waiting for you.”
“We went the long way around,” Rick said, the fox nodding to May as the other outsiders started to get ready.
“But it was worth it,” Peng-wum said, taking a piece of paper from a pocket. He called the others over as he opened it and spread it out. “Here's the layout of the place. The main house is here, with a wall around it. Gates, front and back. These other buildings are for his trusted employees and aides; back of that is the farm."
“Farm?" Brigit asked.
"Worked by slaves," Fang said, cocking an eye at the Irish setter. "They probably won't give us too much trouble - may not even raise the alarm if we're spotted." He looked up to see the outrage on the others’ faces. "Yeah, Shen's not a nice sort. Now, the key to the place is his head security guy. We get him, the other guards will likely give up faster."
"What's his name?" May asked, the doe stripping down unabashedly and pulling on a jumpsuit dyed in a pattern of green and black blotches.
"Wen He Du."
"I didn't ask when; I asked what."
Fang rolled his eyes. "That is his name," he said as Shin giggled. "Feline, ex-Chinese Army, tough as nails when I met him. Of course, a few years of drink, opium and free boys and girls might have softened him up a bit."
"He's mine," Shin said, running a paw lightly over the small knives crossing her chest.
"Are you sure? You were a bit hesitant with General Won," Fang said, and ducked as his wife took a swing at him.
"Liberating slaves . . . helping a comrade . . . " Liberty mused as she studied the diagram. "I’m getting more enthusiastic about this plan."
"So am I," Rick Galloway said. “Okeh, kids, let’s get ready to hunt.” The other Rain Islanders had already changed their clothes, and were loading and readying weapons – automatic pistols, tomahawks and knives, and squat rifle-like guns that looked like avtomats. Bandoliers of grenades were also brought out.
Peng-wum watched them arming, and reminded himself of the expense incurred in hiring these members of the Landing Forces for this. They were professionals, and could be counted on.
Provided, of course, no one had the opportunity to make them a better offer.
Brigit said, "I guess we should be waitin' till th' sun goes down completely. Wouldn't do ta have th' light in our eyes. Is it far?"
“A few miles,” Fang replied.
“Naught but a good stretch o’ th’ legs, then.”
"I just hope that he hasn't already moved against Mother and Father," Shin said quietly.
Fang ran a paw over her headfur. "Worst comes to worst, we can at least avenge them. What matters is we go on with it, no matter what."
Peng-wum nodded as Liberty gave him a portion of the dynamite from the case. “The first steps are already being taken.”
"We have a very small chance here," Hao told his crew. The dozen furs were trustworthy, and he was certain that none of them would betray him. While several had glanced uneasily at each other while he laid out the problem and the plan, none had asked to be excluded. "Are we agreed?"
One by one the group nodded, and the young red panda pulled on his trademark ball cap. "All we have to do now is wait," he said quietly, his tail twitching in anticipation.
“Hmm,” Rick Galloway grunted. “This guy’s got money, um.”
“Right,” May muttered.
“Decadent bourgeois aristo,” Liberty growled. “Needs killing, just on general principles.” The other socialists in the group nodded in agreement.
"Is that Wen?" Shin asked as she and the others hunkered down behind a hill overlooking the compound. She had seen the ramrod-straight feline apparently barking out orders at a couple underlings.
The march had been actually fairly easy, even burdened as they were with weapons. The vegetation on this part of the island was largely low scrub, with occasional clumps of trees. One was full of wild parakeets, the birds a distinctive part of the island’s wildlife.
Below them was a fence consisting of rough-hewn wooden posts supporting four strands of barbed wire a foot apart. A quick reconnaissance by Dan had revealed that the fence wasn’t electrified. Plowed fields stretched out to the slave pens, while beyond that was the guard barracks, generator shed and the main house.
She passed the pair of binoculars to Fang, who took a quick glance before nodding. They were forced to use the binoculars sparingly, as the reflection of the lenses might be spotted.
"That's him, all right," the tiger said. "Are you sure you want to be the one to kill him?"
"I said I would, didn't I?"
"Just remember one thing, my ringtailed beauty," Fang warned as Shin tried to ignore the giggles from the other girls, "Wen He Du is not Won Lung Ho. If you hesitate, even for a second, you might end up quite dead - and I'd be very angry with you," he added, his voice dropping to a barely audible growl.
"We'll discuss it later - squeaky toy," Shin teased as she patted the trench knife at her belt. The brass knuckles of the hilt fit her paw a bit loosely, but the blade was whetted sharp.
"Okay," Liberty said. "We all know what to do. All we have to do now is wait."
"Ni Hei, my Lord," a servant said softly, and stepped aside to let the red panda enter. The room was as he expected; opulent rugs on the floor, antique lacquered furniture. The big table and chairs had been replaced by cushions on the floor and low tables. Nothing was out of place.
It would be suitable.
Shen Jintao gestured and smiled as Hei walked further into the room and bowed. "So, my esteemed friend, how was your trip?”
So, he knows I went to Spontoon, Hei thought. "I am honored, Honored Shen, that you notice the doings of my unworthy self," Hei said carefully. "My grandson and his parents prosper."
"Excellent." At the wolf's gesture the red panda took a seat, and placed the two packages on the low table beside him.
Shen Ming entered the room, taking a seat a bit apart from his great-uncle. “What about your daughter?” the younger wolf said. The older man’s ears flicked in irritation at his relative’s tone.
Hei nodded respectfully. “As ever, my daughter is like a sword, Honored Shen – beautiful, as well as terrible.”
The older Shen chuckled.
The younger Shen managed to look angry and suspicious at the same time. “You told her?”
“Why, shouldn’t I have?” the red panda asked. “Honored One, she is looking forward to meeting you.” Ming looked satisfied with the answer and sat back in his chair as Hei touched the larger of the two packages. “I would be honored beyond measure, my Lord, to have you accept this paltry gift of twenty-five thousand American dollars.”
Ming had originally expected only twenty thousand, and looked pleased at his new subordinate’s servile attitude. It did his heart good to see that people still knew their place. “What is the other package?” the wolf asked.
“Another gift, my Lord.” At the elder Shen's nod, Hei unwrapped the small parcel.
The present was a small but exquisitely lacquered box. Hei opened the lid to reveal several small, squat cones. "I have acquired this incense at great expense as a gift for you and your honored great-nephew, Honored Sir. It is far too fine for my unworthy self."
The wolf waved a paw over the cones, sniffing deeply. "Ahh," he breathed, "a delicate and rare fragrance indeed. Come, Esteemed Ni, let us share this incense and meditate upon your good fortune and your continued prosperity."
Hei was careful to keep his expression properly respectful. He had known the danger that he faced.
He welcomed it, in fact.
"Honored Sir, I would be honored to share this incense with you." He allowed servants to set up the braziers beside each chair, and lit the incense cones himself.
That's right, old man – and you, you monster. Keep thinking that I will swallow this latest insult, as I've swallowed all the others, he thought.
"Marco!" Hao exclaimed as the ferret pulled up at the Ni & Sons office. "Did Father go on in?"
"Yes," he replied. "He told me not to wait."
The young red panda nodded. "That's the signal, then."
The ferret's brows furrowed. "What signal?"
"We attack Shen's compound in one hour," Hao replied, his voice grim.
"Why not attack now?" the ferret asked. "Your father's in there, alone."
"He wants it this way," Hao said, scuffing one foot across the rutted road. "Father wants the chance to kill Shen himself." He broke off, his jaws working before he finally managed to say, "Come on, let's go inside and get a drink," and he stamped off toward the Casino.
Marco watched Hao's retreating back, then looked back up the road before following his employer's son into the converted warehouse.
It was very good incense, Hei reflected as he sat on the floor facing Shen.
Well worth the price.
The cones were made with sandalwood and scented lightly with jasmine, a perfect calming combination to help one pass into a meditative mood.
Just before that one passed to the afterlife.
His nostrils twitched as he wondered. Would he be able to smell it? How would it affect him? Would he remain conscious to the end?
Impossible to say, really, without experiencing it firstpaw.
Well, he was prepared for it. Plans had been made and he was ready to cross the Jade Bridge to see his ancestors. He would be judged worthy, as he would go trying to defend his family. His father and uncles would be waiting, he fancied, and his mother would fuss over him as she was wont to do. His brothers and sisters . . .
There was a soft cough, and he opened his eyes to see that Shen was breathing a bit more heavily as the cones flanking him sent up their curling wisps of fragrant smoke. The younger wolf still managed to look bored as he inhaled the incense.
So, it begins, Ni Hei thought, and composed his thoughts for death.
Hao sat at a table in the Casino, sipping from a glass of whisky. The open bottle sat in the center of the table. Facing him sat Marco, the ferret looking a bit ill-at-ease as he toyed with his own glass. "Here," Hao urged, "don't make me think I'm drinking alone."
"Sorry, Hao," Marco said, refilling his glass. He gulped down a hasty slug of the liquor. "I really should go across the street and stand guard."
"Don't worry," Hao said. "Xiu and Sally's up there with Mother, along with Julia and Emilia. She's as safe as she can be right now." The red panda's eyes scanned the ferret's face. "You okay? You look nervous."
"We attack Shen Jintao in under a half-hour," Marco said. "You should be nervous too." He got to his feet, his chair shoving back and making an unnecessary racket across the worn boards. "I'll just head across the street - "
The ferret paused. "No?"
"No," Hao said, and two burly felines drew shotguns and moved to cover the ferret. "You're not going anywhere, Marco. You're going to stay right here - until it's too late."
Marco stared at the red panda openmouthed as the two felines moved in and disarmed him, quickly and thoroughly. "How?"
"Took a while," Hao admitted. "You're always standing by the door to my father's office, Marco. I'd say it was a perfect place, and my father agreed. You were right where we wanted you to be." He stood up slowly and adjusted his ball cap over his eyes. "Of course, now it doesn't matter any longer."
The ferret broke and ran for the door, only to be intercepted by Clarence. The lion pointed a Webley revolver at Marco's belly. “That’s as far as you get,” the Englishman said. “Cross-eyed or not, I won’t miss you at this distance.” He jabbed with the gun. “Paws up.” The two felines grabbed the ferret by the arms.
Hao walked up to the struggling ferret, his right paw drawing the big .45-caliber pistol from his belt. "You know what I do to traitors, Marco."
The young red panda’s voice was soft, almost a whisper.
His eyes had gone dark.
"No! Wait, Hao! We can cut a deal! I know a way into Shen's house, please listen to me!" Marco's eyes were frantically darting left and right, trying to find support where there was none. His feet scrabbled at the floor of the Casino as the two felines hustled him out into the street. "Please, Hao, I can help you!"
Hao checked that the Colt's safety was off. "Yeah, you can help me."
"Shut up," the red panda said. "Your voice gets on my nerves." With that, he stuck the barrel of the pistol in the ferret's open mouth.
The two felines holding him stepped back as Hao pulled the trigger and a substantial portion of Marco's head sprayed out onto the dusty street.
As his body slumped to the ground, Hao spat on him and asked, "Clarence?"
"Right." The lion pulled a flare pistol from his back pocket, aimed it skyward and fired. A long trail of sparks followed the green rocket as it arced up into the night sky.
Hao and his crew then disappeared into the streets and alleyways leading through Fort Bob, heading up the hill toward Shen's villa.
"There's the flare!" Sally remarked. "The signal, Madam Ni."
"Thank you, dear," Peng said from her position on the floor. "Now all we can do is pray. Would it be . . . an imposition if I asked you all to join me?"
Xiu smiled. "Not at all."
The vixen and the two she-wolves crossed themselves, and soon voices in Gaelic and Sicilian joined two Chinese voices.