Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
That night, the fox started to prepare for his assignment.
He shed his robe, revealing that from his collarbone to his navel the vulpine’s chest fur had been very carefully depilated. The bare skin, painstakingly kept fur-free by repeated applications of herbal preparations by the best apothecary in the city, was a living canvas for a variety of tattoos.
Pride of place was the symbol of the Black Dragon Tong. Beneath it was a pair of crossed axes, followed by fifty smaller designs. The smaller tattoos were chosen by him to commemorate some aspect of a job he’d done. One, for example, was a small American flag with a drop of blood-red ink on it; his assignment then had been a person who’d made improper advances toward a girl in the Tong’s employ.
Improper in the sense that the fellow hadn’t paid the agreed-upon price. He had been bled dry for his insult in more ways than one.
The fox dressed for the occasion, then left his small apartment. If he came back to it, well enough; if not, there were few things to be discarded by the new tenants.
The villa was one of the ones on the outskirts of the Forbidden City, reserved for the nobility of the old Imperial Court and still occupied by the degenerate remnants of the dynasty and their courtiers. The Kangde Emperor lived in Manchukuo, carefully watched over by his advisers, ministers and Japanese masters, but still harbored (some said) ambitions of regaining the Dragon Throne.
He couldn’t have cared less about politics. His job made all that beneath him, and he had served two previous Grand Masters with the same dedication that he now served the current incumbent.
Safely in the shadows, the fox removed his street clothes. Now dressed from the tips of his ears to the top of his tail in black, he cocked his ears and strained for any sound of guards. Hearing none, he scaled the wall, pausing at the top to feel for trap wires or broken glass.
His dark gray fur and brown eyes helped hide him as he made his way across the well-maintained gardens surrounding the house. The walks were covered in gravel, and stepping there could betray his approach. So he crept slowly and deliberately among the ornamental bushes and beds of flowers to the house.
There was a light on inside.
The fox shrank back into one of the bushes as a door opened and a servant appeared silhouetted. The door closed as the woman padded off toward a small outbuilding. Once he was certain she was not coming back immediately, he made his way to the house.
All of the windows were locked, but a brief moment with an oil-can and a thin sliver of strong steel slipped the lock. He gently slid the window open, surveyed the room, and slipped through the window. Just as carefully, he closed the window.
A scratchy, tinny sound was coming from down the hall; a record, played on an old Victrola perhaps. The tune was something unfamiliar to him, but wasn’t modern. His ears flicked forward at another sound, and he turned as he slipped a paw into a sleeve where he knew there’d be a specially blued knife.
There was another figure in the hall, and he recoiled slightly. The other figure did so as well.
In the very dim light coming from the room down the hall the two regarded themselves warily. Ferret, perhaps, or weasel; a bit larger than he was.
The mustelid slowly withdrew the paw he’d put up his sleeve, fingers spread to show he didn’t have a weapon. His fingers moved.
It was a Tong sign he recognized. The fox gave his own, and the man nodded.
The weasel (yes, he was certain now that it was a weasel) gestured toward the room at the end of the hall, and the fox nodded.
A brief conversation ensued, via nonverbal signs and gestures.
I am here to kill her.
I am here to ensure she’s dead.
The weasel looked a bit exasperated at the apparent impasse. An idea struck the fox, and he raised a fist and shook it, once, twice.
The other assassin seemed to think it over, then nodded and raised his own fist. The two then shook their fists in unison three times.
The fox kept his fist clenched.
The weasel had two fingers extended, like a pair of scissors.
The vulpine resisted the urge to grin. Rock did break scissors, after all.
The weasel held up two fingers, then three.
The fox nodded, and the two shook their fists again.
This time it was the weasel’s turn to smile, as he held his paw flat, while the fox had kept his fist clenched.
The pair shook their fists again, eyes narrowed at each other suspiciously.
Scissors cut paper. The fox’s shoulders slumped, and he made a ‘be my guest’ gesture to the weasel. The mustelid gave him a pat on the shoulder in passing as he slipped out of the darkened hallway. Shortly afterward, his ears canted at a sound.
It was a sound he’d heard before – the choking, gurgling noise of someone being strangled, and muted sounds of a struggle.
The fox eased one eye around the corner and stopped.
The elderly wolfess seated in the comfortable chair looked ancient, but she was thrashing and kicking as if she still recalled her youth as she clawed at the paws that choked her. From his vantage point, the fox couldn’t see what the man was strangling her with.
With a rattling, defeated sigh the wolfess finally succumbed and the weasel stepped back. A black braided cord – it looked like silk – came off of the woman’s throat. The weasel tucked the cord into a sleeve, and the fox quickly slipped further into the shadows as the assassin left the room. Only after he was gone did the fox enter.
His message had been a simple one: Seek out this woman, and ensure that she was dead. Well, he’d seen it with his own eyes. He rested two fingers against her throat and found no pulse.
Several moments later, a servant came in and screamed, dropping the small bowl of pudding she had brought for her mistress.
Confirmation that Shen Ming’s grandmother was dead made its way from Peking through many devious pathways to Fort Bob, where a small scrap of paper bearing the news was relayed to Ni Peng-wum as he worked at his father’s desk. Hao’s connections with the Black Dragons (via the Jade Phoenix) had proved worthwhile.
Fortifying the Lucky Dragon and the other buildings the Nis now owned outright was continuing. So far no one had tried to bomb the place, for which he was profoundly grateful.
Analysis of the remaining papers from Shen’s villa and information from his surviving staff gave him a feel for just how far the old wolf’s paw could reach. Much of that reach, however, had died with the death of old Jintao. The Nis might have inherited his empire by force, but it was a much diminished entity.
Not for the first time, he wished that his father was here to help him.
His best suit was hanging up and waiting for him. What remained of the ruling clique wanted to see him, on what passed for neutral territory on Krupmark Island. He had the family’s truck standing by, along with six paw-picked bodyguards and Wo Fang to escort him to the meeting.
“My two best, Comrade Chairman,” the stallion said proudly. The short bear and the tall saiga antelope stood at attention as the equine listed their credentials. “They have good experience in ‘neutralizing’ class enemies, wreckers and enemies of the People, and they have dealt with various counterrevolutionary elements in other countries,” Vasili Blokhin concluded.
“Very good, Vasili Mikhailovich. Comrades Ilyumzhinov and Grigorchuk, be at ease.” The bear opened a folder. “I am sending you two east, but not to that nest of Tsarist bastards on Vostok Island. Nyet.
“I am sending you to Krupmark Island.”
Shin’s eyes almost fell out of her head.
The ‘budget request’ demanded by the Finance Ministry in response to Hei’s request was meticulously itemized, right down to prorated pay for the time the air traffic controllers had spent guiding their plane down.
But the total...
“Sixty-eight thousand, four hundred seventy-three pounds, 12 shillings and six pence?” she almost squeaked, staring at her father. “English pounds? Are they insane?”
“Quiet, Daughter,” her father admonished, “or speak Cantonese.” Switching to that dialect he said, “I anticipated that they would ask for such a high price. It’s an effort to bankrupt us.”
Shin scowled. “I’ll hang that buck’s antlers on my bedroom wall – ”
“No, Shin. This isn’t Stagg’s doing. In fact, I don’t think it’s even his idea.” Hei smiled. “Inspector Stagg is an honorable man, for a policeman. This comes from the Althing, I think.”
“Still . . . Father, what are your orders?” Shin asked. She already had her pad out, pencil poised to take notes.
“Instruct Peng-wum to calculate our remaining assets as if we were willing to pay,” Hei said. “And I want you to consider how to get me back home quietly.” He smiled and took his daughter’s paw as he spoke. “And let him know that I’ll be visiting Pangai to see his wife and my grandson.”
The younger red panda looked up at him, then grinned as she began thinking. After a few moments she said, “Perhaps Hao – or Fang, for that matter – might fancy a bit of a trip. I’m sure Krupmark must’ve calmed down by now.”
“I doubt it, Daughter. You recall how things went when Fat Leon and his sister were caught and hanged. It will be worse than that.”
“I thought a lot of that was finding out that the codes were broken.”
“Quite right.” Hei smiled. “The last higher-up to die from a coup was when you were at Althing Gate, I think. The fighting had largely died down by the time you came home for the Christmas holidays.” He sat back and sighed, wheezing a bit as he groped for his oxygen mask.