Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The landing at the top of the stairwell was barricaded, and Hao waved Liberty forward. "Got any more of that dynamite?" he asked the New Havenite.
Liberty shook her head, then grasped her nose and blew to clear her ears. "What?"
"Any more dynamite?"
"Two," she replied after checking the canvas bag slung over her shoulder.
"Toss one up there and we'll see what comes down. We'll cover," and as the canine got ready Hao and Lee started shooting up at the furs holding the upper floor. She threw the lit stick and the whole group ducked, holding their ears as the explosion sent a wave of hot air and debris down the stairs.
Hao poked his head around the corner. "Give up!" he yelled. "Or we bomb you out of there!" It was a bluff, but the defenders up there didn't know that.
"Don't shoot! We're coming down!" and several furs, some supporting wounded comrades, came clattering down the steps.
"Keep your paws where I can see 'em," Lee said as several furs stepped forward to search and restrain the new prisoners. None of them were wolves.
Hao and Liberty crept up the stairs, weapons ready, and searched the upper floor.
The place was deserted, divided into several small offices and cabinets filled with records. Another room was revealed to be the first of a suite, possibly Shen’s private quarters.
Hao avoided searching the rooms too closely, recalling what he’d found in the basement of Fat Leon’s old establishment.
Liberty squinted at a few of the documents, but turned away disgustedly after a few moments. "They're all in Chinese," she said.
"What did you expect?" Hao asked. "We'll be needing them, so don't destroy anything." He eased aside a curtain and looked out the shattered window toward Fort Bob. "We'd better get this wrapped up fast, before the others come."
"Yeah. I'm not sure what Shin's told you about this place - "
"She told us about the trouble she and Brigit had last time."
She could make out the red panda nodding. "Imagine that about three times worse," he said. "Shen was one of the top furs here. Everyone will want a piece of the place – and a piece of us, too, probably." He went back downstairs, and Liberty aimed a kick at a desk.
"Stupid capitalists," she growled. Taking a match from her pocket, she flicked it against the doorframe until it ignited, tossed it at a pile of papers, and left the room.
"Shin!" Brigit called out. The Irish setter leaned against the wall, breathing hard. The wound in her thigh was obviously causing her more discomfort than she would admit. "Double doors, locked. Far end o' th' hall."
"That could be what we're looking for. Are you feeling okay, Brigit?"
The canine started to say something, then shook her head tiredly. "It's been a long night, so, an' m'leg's startin' ta ask if it can rest a bit."
"It won't be long now." The red panda laid a paw on Brigit's shoulder. "Thank you for coming with us, Brigit."
The Irish girl grinned, showing all her teeth. "Wouldn'ta missed it fer th' world, Shin. Lots more fun than last time, although 'twas yerself that got winged then."
"Don't remind me. Fang!" she called out, and she and her husband set off down the hallway while Brigit brought her BAR up to cover them.
The doors were locked, but Fang roared and kicked out, and the wood splintered under the impact of his boot. A strong smell of sandalwood incense wafted out, and as Shin started forward the tiger raised an arm to bar her path. "What?" she asked.
"Keep your head down," Fang warned.
She nodded and crouched, Thompson at the ready as she peered into the gloom. "Fang, pass me your flashlight," and she switched it on as she surveyed the room.
There was a body there, an older wolf, still breathing but not well, and there was another . . .
Shin dropped the Tommy gun and ran to Ni Hei's side, then grabbed him by the shoulders and started dragging him to the door. Once she had hauled him out into the hallway she knelt down to examine him.
Ni Hei's exposed skin was flushed bright red and his breathing was fast and shallow. She patted his face and his eyes opened a bare crack, then closed again. "We've got to get him to the hospital," she whispered as the others gathered around.
Fang shined his flashlight into the room. “Another door, there. We may have Old Jintao, but there’s the other one to think about.”
“Ming,” Shin growled. It was essential that they get him as well as his great-uncle. If he survived this, he would use his clan’s greater prestige and influence to counterattack.
And they were certain that he’d be merciless.
“The smoke . . . “
“We’ll take the chance,” Shin said. “Hao! Peng-wum! Over here!”
The door crashed open and the three red pandas and the tiger stood in the doorway, weapons drawn and ready.
The room was well-lit with lanterns and candles. Shen Ming sat in a chair at the far end of the room, dressed in an immaculate suit and tie, a cigarette in one paw and a glass of whisky at a small table beside him. An unclothed red panda femme lay curled at his feet, and as the others came in she propped herself up on one arm to watch them.
Shin spat and snarled at the wolf, “You and I have business to discuss.”
The wolf smiled, a smile that stopped just short of being a smirk.
In the distance, there was still the occasional rattle of gunfire.
"You must be Shin,” he said. He took a drag on his cigarette. “You are more beautiful than I thought. I hope you appreciated the gifts I sent you.”
Shin spat again. She was dirty, streaked with soot and probably stank, and this effete bastard knew it. “I sold them all.”
“A pity. They were quite valuable. You and your friends do appear to have the upper paw, I will grant you that much,” he said. “You may win tonight, but before you do know this,” and his expression grew sly. “By doing so, you will break the compact. Your father’s debts will come due in full, and immediately. Your brother’s contract will return in full force.”
Peng-wum adjusted his pince-nez, a dubious look on his muzzle.
But Ming had his eyes on Shin. “Oh please, don’t look at me like that. I am a business man, just like your father. I am my great-uncle’s only heir, and I need a trustworthy body guard. You are beautiful, intelligent and probably the best bodyguard one could hope to have. You are also, I see now, quite ruthless. And while I find you attractive, I have never been accused of being a fool. Should you kill me, all of the contracts and debts will remain. So my dear Shin, whose very face is that of a Goddess, what do you say? How else will you protect your family from complete and utter devastation?”
Shin hadn’t been looking at him as he spoke.
She’d been looking at Jade, who looked up at her with an even gaze that simultaneously repelled and fascinated her.
Wo Shin had never really believed all the stories. Not even when Zell had laid her psyche open to inspection had Shin really believed, in her heart of hearts, that there was truly a ‘fate worse than death.’
But looking into the slave girl’s eyes, and seeing what wasn’t there any longer, Shin believed.
The young woman’s gaze wavered from Jade’s at Ming’s question. The look in his eyes and the smirk on his muzzle shook her back into the here-and-now, and stiffened her resolve.
He’d never be allowed to do to anyone what he’d had done to the slave curled at his feet.
“I think I’m managing okay.” Shin smiled as she cocked her pistol. "You should consider yourself fortunate," she said in an even tone. "You wanted a Songmark girl for your very own." She leveled the pistol at the wolf as three other firearms were readied. "So, do you feel lucky, or not?"
Shen Ming never got the chance to reply.
When the fusillade was over, Ming was lying across his dead slave.
Shin drew her trench knife. “We have to get out of here, and fast. I smell smoke.”
“So do I,” Peng-wum said as he reloaded his revolver.
Biting back the bile in her throat, Shin decapitated the man who had sought to own her. There would be time to vomit later.
Then took his tail for good measure, as Hao grunted in approval.
With blood added to the soot and grime on her paws and face, she turned to the others. “Let’s get out of here.”
May peeled back one of the red panda’s eyelids and shone a flashlight down. "He needs a hospital as soon as possible," she said to Rick. She then shifted to one side as two furs dragged Shen Jintao out of the room. One closed the doors to keep the poisoned smoke from escaping. Until the room could be properly aired, it was off limits.
Peng-wum, Hao and Shin grabbed Shen Jintao and started dragging him from the house. Rick watched them go, but paused when he went to follow them. He looked back to see Fang’s paw on his shoulder.
The tiger shook his head. “They need to do this.”
Shen's eyelids started to flicker, and he coughed as he looked up. His eyes widened as he saw, blurrily, a night sky and three young red pandas looking down at him impassively.
They all raised pistols.
And he didn't have enough breath to curse them.
Shin walked back into the building and found that Brigit and Liberty were helping her father onto Rick's broad back. "We ready to go?"
"Yeah," Liberty said. "Rick agreed to carry your father to the plane."
“In exchange for a date,” Brigit added with a blush.
Shin nodded. "Peng-wum’s staying here with Hao. It’s going to be crazy here for more than a little while. I'll help you, Brigit."
The Irish setter nodded and winced a bit as she set weight down on her injured leg. "Just . . . givin' me a bit o' bother," she said. Shin came up beside her and slung the setter's arm over her shoulder, and the quintet set off for their destination.
Hao walked back in to see them leaving, and as he lit a cigarette Lee came up to him. "We've got practically all his lieutenants."
"Good. Any more guards?" At the feline grin he laughed. Trust Lee to leave not a fur standing. "Great work; bonuses for everybody. Now, we have to hold this and build on it. We start by getting his lieutenants to throw in with us."
"How do we do that?"
"First, we show them that the place is under new management."
A short while later Shen Jintao's surviving former employees and subordinates were marched out to the front gate. They were allowed to recognize the head of their former employer as it sat on a gatepost, just over a set of Chinese characters that proclaimed that the establishment was being run by other paws.
The severed head of the older wolf’s great-nephew was nearby.
Hao's argument proved to be quite persuasive, even as the first firefight broke out as a small group of minor players tried to claim their own share of the spoils.
At the Ni & Sons building, they had seen the first explosion, and felt the second one.
If a window were open, they could have heard the gunfight going on.
Julia and Emilia had gone downstairs to set up a barricade in case things went very badly, and Peng had sent Sally across the street for tea. Xiu remained with her mother-in-law.
“This is driving me mad,” the younger red panda said. “The not knowing what’s going on, I mean.”
“I know,” Peng said softly.
“My husband – “
“My husband, and my children,” the older woman interjected. She sighed. “Xiu, be a dear, and could you please bring me the book on my bedside table?”
“Of course.” Xiu went into the other room and Peng again faced the small shrine she’d set up. Prayer might not be any use at all, but it might calm her soul.
The door opened – not the one to the adjoining room, but the one leading downstairs.
A macaque stood there, a Korean fellow named Chun that the Nis used as a messenger. “Yes, Chun?”
“Madam Ni,” the man said.
“Is there any news from the – from up in the town?”
“Many furs are dead, Madam Ni.”
Peng was afraid to ask the next question, so she let it pass. “Everything all right across the street?”
“Yes, Madam Ni.”
“That is well.” She turned back to the shrine.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Chun drawing a revolver.
Her eyes closed in anticipation.
She jerked, reflexively, as two gunshots rang out, the echoes dying away to be followed by a body hitting the floor.
There was the sound of boots on the stairs.
It came to her then that she wasn’t dead.
Not even wounded, in fact.
She turned to see Chun sprawled on the floor, bleeding from two wounds in his belly and chest. Emilia and Julia burst into the room, took in the sight, and looked up.
Xiu stood framed in the doorway of the adjoining room, a smoking gun gripped in her paws.
“Keep your paws off my mother-in-law,” she said in a shaking voice, “you damned, dirty ape.”
As soon as Ni Hei had been bundled into the plane Liberty and Brigit climbed in and started preflighting. Fang cast off several of the lines with the help of the Rain Islanders, then swept Shin up in his arms and the two kissed. "Take care, love," she said. "You'll have a hard time helping Peng-wum and Hao get things back in order."
"Don't worry about us," the Manchurian tiger cautioned. "You just get Hei to the hospital."
"Okay." She waved as she stepped onto a float and the engines started. Fang waved, and headed back to the villa.
The plane taxied out of the cove and was soon airborne, and as it climbed to cruising altitude the Chinese girl called back, "How's he doing?"
"He's still breathing," Liberty called back as she looked after the older red panda. The red panda nodded and concentrated on flying the plane while Brigit, in the copilot's seat, kept an eye on the map.
After just over an hour, the peaks of Main Island could be seen silhouetted against the lightening sky. "Pretty, that is," Brigit remarked.
"Yeah. I think we should get on the radio now." Shin switched on the set.
"Mayday, Mayday. Unscheduled charter to Spontoon Tower, Mayday Mayday."
"Spontoon Tower. We hear your Mayday. What's the emergency?"
"We need a clear flight path to Meeting Hospital. A poisoning aboard."
"Roger that. Where are you originating from, Charter?"
Another, longer pause.
"Understood. Advise when you have visual, Charter."
The duty flight controller at Eastern Island Airport exchanged a look with his deputy as he lifted the phone at his elbow. He tapped the receiver twice. "Hello, June? Yeah, it's Avery. I need to talk to the Constabulary, main office over on Meeting. Oh yeah, it's important all right." He placed a paw over the microphone. "Gotta admit, you don't hear stuff like that every day . . . Hello? Hi, Sarge, it's Avery out at the airport . . . yeah, I know it's early, but we've got an emergency flight coming in to the hospital dock . . . The problem? Well, it's coming from Krupmark - yes, you heard me, Krupmark, and I thought you might want to know. Okay. Right, I'll do that. Bye."
He hung up the phone and picked up another, this one the direct line to the Naval Syndicate base on Moon Island.