The pier was one of several in the port, blocked from easy access to the main streets by a phalanx of warehouses and cranes. In efforts to economize, the furs who owned the warehouses and supervised the port scrimped where they could. As a result, there were few streetlamps to illuminate the area except for the work area directly next to the docks.
Luck of the Dragon: Pilgrimage
© 2008 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Coupled with a recent rain shower and a moonless night, the shadows were sharp-edged and almost impenetrable.
Nevertheless if one looked closely enough, one might have seen four furtive shapes dashing from one shadow to another, taking up positions on a warehouse rooftop or at certain street and alley junctions.
The quartet settled down to wait as the steamer Asni entered the harbor and chugged slowly to its pier.
‘Mr. Browning’ waited patiently as two deckpaws made the gangway fast and as they stood aside he picked up his small suitcase and left the ship. The lateness of the hour was hitting him, and he put a paw on the railing to support him as he walked.
He was starting to get a little old for all this skulking about at odd hours.
As he stepped onto the dock and gave his name (his assumed name, of course) to the shipping company’s representative a wolf standing under a streetlamp waved at him. “Mr. Browning?”
“Yes, that is me,” the equine said with a smile and the two shook paws. “Who are you, young man?”
“Jim Fasshauer, sir,” and the wolf gently plucked the suitcase from Trotsky’s grasp. “Our mutual friends are waiting for you,” and he grinned, “along with a nice soft bed that won’t play pitch and toss with you.”
Trotsky laughed. “Lead the way, Mr. Fasshauer.”
Liberty’s ears perked up as a soft whistle was heard from an adjoining rooftop, and she signaled with a wave as Brigit gestured to her right. She had described Trotsky, and the Irish girl had spotted him (or someone who looked like him, and the half-coyote was sure that Brigit wouldn’t be mistaken).
When should he kill him?
The assassin wasn’t sure, so he decided to wait.
Shin heard the whistle, recognized it as the call of a bird not native to Hawai’i, and responded with a call of her own. The belling cry of the Krupmark Island parakeet echoed and the red panda started to ease along the wall she was leaning against. The deep shadows and widely-separated lights made seeing difficult, and she was reduced to using her nose in an effort to catch a scent.
Tatiana dropped to the ground, crouched and waited as her ears stood perked.
Footsteps, off to the right of her.
She felt her way along and down an alley.
“Nu, Jim, how have things been with you here in this tropical paradise?”
“Things have been going very well, Comrade. The movement gains new people almost every month – at least, there aren’t as many FBI types or police at the meetings.”
“Shin? Is that ye?”
“I’ve th’ right.”
“I’m on the left.”
The assassin smiled.
There was a light ahead.
“I shall speak with your group, with their permission, of course,” Trotsky was saying, “and together we can perhaps create a consensus, nu? Is that a good idea, Jim? Jim?”
It suddenly dawned on the equine that he had been walking on alone for several moments, and now stood under a light.
“Chto - ?”
Things happened very quickly actually, but it seemed as if everything had been dipped in tar.
A brown-furred blur struck the older equine high on the shoulders, wrapping its arms around him and carrying him straight to the wet pavement as a pistol shot rang out and a scuffle ensued.
Just as suddenly, everything went very quiet.
Liberty spoke first. “Everyone all right over there? Did you get him?”
“Yeah, we got him,” Shin replied. There was a grunt as she kicked him again. “You okay, Liberty?”
The New Havenite assessed herself. “Yes, I’m fine. He missed me.”
There was a sniff. “Um, Liberty?” Brigit said.
“Yer tail’s on fire.”
The half-coyote glanced behind her and scowled at the tiny wisp of smoke that rose from the hairs on the tip of her tail. The bullet’s passing had apparently caused enough friction to make the fur start smoldering. A quick swipe of the appendage across a puddle took care of the problem.
She crouched back on her haunches and helped the equine to his feet, then stood with him and started brushing him off. “Are you – “
She stopped talking as she realized what she’d done, and who she was speaking to. The same man whose portrait hung in the chambers of the Committee of Nine, and had hung over her bed in her home.
She had always thought he’d be taller.
“Da, da, I’m fine. I shall admit," Trotsky said as he looked around at the quartet, "it is a privilege to be saved by such – my word, attractive young ladies. Did the local Party send you, or the Red Fist?"
"Only one of us is Red Fist," Shin said, jerking a thumb at Liberty. "The rest of us are in this for the fun of it."
The equine cocked his head at the sight of the red panda, then looked nearsightedly at the half-coyote. "Nu, what is your name, Comrade?"
Liberty said nothing, even though her jaw was moving. Her eyes were wide until she managed to gulp and emit an incoherent squeak.
Trotsky smiled, having perhaps seen this reaction before.
"I'll do th' introductions, so," Brigit offered after a few moments of no response from Liberty. "Liberty Morgenstern, Trotsky. Trotsky, Liberty. C'mon, Shin, help me with this guy's legs, will ye?"
Trotsky blinked and studied the young woman more closely. "Da ... ya dumayu ... yes!” A snap of the fingers as realization hit him. “Arthur and Luisa's daughter!" He suddenly embraced Liberty, hugged her close and kissed her on both cheeks.
"You know her?" Shin asked.
"I met her once, in Mixteca, when her parents were in revolutionary exile. Liberty was only three at the time." He grinned at the canine, who continued to make soft incoherent noises. “She sounded just like that back then.”
Shin laughed and nudged Liberty in the shoulder. "Hey, Lib, we're taking this guy back to the room to interrogate him. It'll be fun. Want to come along?"
The jostling seemed to snap Liberty out of her trance. "Um, yes," she said. "Comrade,” she asked, lowering her eyes slightly, “would you care to come with us? My orders were to find and protect you."
The equine smiled as he stooped and collected his glasses. “And you’ve done very well. Your father will be proud of you, young Comrade.” He glanced over to where the other three young women had Jim bound in strips of his own clothing. “I think we had best be going quickly, before people are attracted by the sound of the shot.”
“Good thinking,” Shin said, and the six furs melted into the shadows as a distant siren began to be heard.
They made their way back to the hotel by back alleys, staying in the shadows as much as possible until they were safely back in their rooms. As the other three members of Red Dorm hustled the still-unconscious wolf into the bathroom, Liberty turned to Trotsky.
“Comrade,” she said stiffly, “I wish to apologize for my lapse earlier. My behavior is beyond excuse.” She said it as if she’d been rehearsing what she wanted to say.
The horse raised a paw before she could say anything else. “Stop that, Liberty, right now.” The half-coyote looked startled as he continued, “I can well understand why you were so flustered. You imagined meeting me in any possible manner, just not flat on my back with you on top of me, nu?” He chuckled, a soft nickering, as Liberty blushed furiously.
“Do not be embarrassed,” Trotsky continued. “You saved my life, young lady, and I thank you. The Krasniy Kulaki shall celebrate when they hear of it – and if you don’t tell them, I shall.” He smiled, taking off his glasses and polishing them with a pawkerchief before extending a paw. “Comrade, I am Trotsky.”
Liberty blinked at him, then took his paw. “Comrade, I’m Liberty Morgenstern.” They shook paws and turned as the door opened.
“Liberty,” Tatiana said, “we’re about to – “ She stopped, giving the equine a long calculating look.
Liberty’s hackles rose.
The equine looked at the sable calmly. “Nu, Russki?”
“Da.” A brief conversation in Russian followed, in which the words ‘Starling’ and ‘Otzovisti’ figured; finally the sable said in English, “I don’t agree, but you are safe. Liberty, we’re ready to question this man. Care to help?”
Liberty looked from one to the other, then nodded. “Comrade,” she said to Trotsky, “you may want to get some sleep.”
Jim Fasshauer stirred awake and became aware of several things.
He was surrounded by four unsmiling young women.
He had been stripped of all his clothing, and was now gagged and tied securely.
He was lying in a bathtub.
“Good, you’re awake,” one of them, with peculiar raccoon-like markings on her face, said with a chuckle. “Now, you can answer our questions freely, or we drag the answers out of you.” She cracked her knuckles and grinned. “Personally, I’d prefer it if you shut up. We can always use the practice.” As a canine with brown fur removed the gag the oddly-patterned one asked, “You gonna tell me your name, little cub?”
The wolf snarled.
A red-furred canine snickered. “We were kind o’ hopin’ ye’d see it tha’ way. Ye owe me a shell, Shin.”
“Th’ bet was he’d stay shut – he snarled at ye.”
Shin grumbled in Chinese.
A towel was wrapped around his face as he started to struggle and someone turned on the tub’s faucet.
They almost drowned him the first time, misjudging how long he needed to be held under the water flow. Luckily, they learned quickly.
He held out longer than anticipated, causing Tatiana and Brigit to scowl as they both lost bets.
In between running water over his mouth and nose to simulate drowning, Liberty questioned him, her voice low, almost a growl. “What is your name?”
“Yiff – “
He mewled into the waterlogged towel as the half-coyote broke his right middle finger. “I asked you your name.”
Eventually, after three immersions, the breaking of four fingers and nearly two hours, he started to talk. The New Havenite asked the questions, relentlessly pursuing any scrap of information from the man.
When he had been drained of information they left him there, bound and gagged and lying in a bathtub that contained perhaps an inch of water.
Dawn was starting to lighten the eastern sky over Honolulu as Trotsky entered the bathroom.
No one else was awake, which suited his purpose just fine.
The man stirred as he nudged him, and went wide-eyed at the sight of him and the look on his face.
“You have caused a great deal of trouble,” the equine whispered, as he plugged in an electric fan and switched it on, “and you cannot escape Revolutionary justice.”
The lights flickered, but the sound of the toilet flushing drowned out the cries Fasshauer made.
A short while later Trotsky pulled the plug from the wall outlet, fished the fan out of the bathtub and put a paw to the man’s neck. Satisfied that he was dead, he left the room only to stop as he saw Liberty leaning against the wall. “He dead?” she whispered.
“I understand the necessity, Comrade. And I confess I was wondering what to do with him.” When the older man didn’t immediately reply Liberty put a paw on the equine’s shoulder and gave a brief squeeze.
Trotsky smiled and reached up to pat her paw. “I think it important that you should keep your own paws clean as long as possible, Comrade Liberty.” He smiled again and went back to bed.
Later, over strong black coffee and breakfast, Brigit went over the notes they had taken turns jotting down as the questioning had progressed. “Jakob Fasshauer, born in Dortmund. Skipped out o’ Germany in ’33, moved t’America. ‘Certain people’ asked him ta do ‘em a little job o’ work. That’d be ye,” and she nodded at Trotsky, who was buttering a muffin.
The equine nodded. “I had thought that State Security would try something like this. No offense, Comrade,” he nodded to Tatiana.
The sable merely nodded.
Shin was looking over the morning edition of the newspaper and muttered a bit in Chinese. “More fighting near Shanghai,” she remarked. “The Japanese are pushing hard, but it seems Chiang and the Communists hate each other just a little less than they do the Japs.” She smiled and sipped at her coffee.
“Comrade,” Liberty asked diffidently, “where are you going now? Your route is now known, and there are surely more like Fasshauer waiting for you.”
“True, Liberty. Comrade Bryzov, I shall not ask you if you know anything, because I do not wish to raise any discord between you and your comrades.” Tatiana’s reply was drowned out by her teeth, which started grinding the instant Trotsky called her ‘comrade.’
“You put the situation quite clearly,” and the equine smiled at Liberty. “I shall return to Mixteca, I think.”
“I’ll get in touch with our friends and set it up,” the half-coyote said, “but Comrade, wouldn’t you be safer in New Haven? You should really visit us sometime.”
A broad smile. “Perhaps I shall some day.”
Brigit was listening to the conversation when she suddenly stiffened, her ears perking. “Excuse me,” and she rummaged in her suitcase before producing a camera. “I’m thinkin’ th’ Nine would like proof, don’t ye Liberty?”
“Gods, Brigit,” Shin said, “do you take that thing everywhere you go?”
All she got in reply was a wiggle of a pair of red eyebrows, and a demure smile.
Tatiana’s reaction was probably predictable: “Nyet! Nye fotografivorat!” and she dove to one side.
“Hush, ye,” the Irish setter said. “Ye can hold th’ camera, Tatiana – that’ll make certain that ye’ll no’ be seen.”
A total of four pictures were taken: two of Liberty and Trotsky standing together, and two showing Trotsky seated in a chair and flanked by three young women. “There now,” Brigit said as she took the camera from Tatiana and packed it away again, “that’s a fine souvenir, ain’t it?”
Fast Eddie staggered into the bathroom after finally waking up. His bladder had been screaming at him for an unknown amount of time, and finally the pain had spurred him to his feet and to the toilet.
The fox mumbled to himself, still only half-awake as he made sure he was aiming correctly, and sighed as he started to attend to nature’s call. While draining himself he glanced sleepily to his right.
All four girls had to pile on him and shut him up before his screams brought the hotel staff or, worse, the police.
August 7, 1937:
The Hawai’ian separatists had been very helpful, arranging for Trotsky to get aboard a freighter bound for Mixteca. Liberty insisted on walking him to the gangway, the pistol taken from the dead wolf hidden under her shirt. “Again, Comrade, well done,” Trotsky said to her before signing in with the freight company’s representative. The equine and the half-coyote then walked to the gangway.
“Thank you, Comrade,” Liberty said proudly. “Will you come out here again?”
“Perhaps I shall.” He gave her a sly look. “Do you have a sweetheart, young Comrade?”
She blushed clear to her eartips. “Oh . . . um, ah . . . I’m honored, Comrade – “
His laugh cut her short. “Not me, silly girl,” he chuckled. “I’m far too old, and married. But the Revolution needs more stalwart young people like yourself, Liberty,” and with that he placed his paws on her shoulders, bussed her politely on both cheeks and went aboard.
Liberty watched him go, and stood on the dock until the ship had left the harbor.
Another game of cards, this time pinochle, was interrupted as Liberty walked in. “Saw him off?” Tatiana asked.
“We get ourselves another cargo and head back to Spontoon then,” Shin said briskly. “Brigit, did you talk to Fast Eddie?”
“Aye, I did,” the Irish setter laughed. “I told him what he’d clear on this trip, an’ that sobered him almost as fast as seeing th’ corpse in th’ bath. So he’ll hire me an’ Tatiana on, seein’ as ye’ve got yer own job. Lib? Care ta hire on with us?”
“No, I still have a job with the Works Ministry,” Liberty replied, thinking about what Trotsky said to her.
There remained one minor detail.
The Pelican lifted off from the harbor on time, circled to cruising altitude and headed north over the island of Oahu. It climbed a bit higher as the mountainous backbone of the island passed under them until the plane was over the sea.
After two hours over open water a cargo hatch opened in the side of the plane, and a steamer trunk tumbled out.
New Haven City
Year 6, 5.VIII:
A package containing Liberty’s report had arrived the previous night, brought to the coast of New Haven by an enterprising smuggler who was in it for the sport of evading the American Coast Guard. He was useful, but was being watched carefully by the Ninth Commissariat with orders to acquaint him with the lower levels of the sea’s food chain if he should try to betray the People.
The report itself, when decoded, came to two closely-spaced typewritten pages. It and the accompanying photograph were proof that Trotsky had been found and was safe.
The other materials in the packet, however, were cause for some debate in the Committee.
“Comrade Morgenstern’s report is, as always, quite comprehensive,” the Chairman of the Nine said in an uncharacteristically uncertain tone, “but it is regrettable that she chose to speak to two – no, three - Enemies of the People in order to accomplish her goals.”
Another member flicked a claw at a page cut from the Spontoon Mirror, describing a meeting between Liberty and one of those enemies. Particularly galling was speculation by the reporter that the conversation presaged a reconciliation between New Haven and Stagg.
The member spoke up in an angry tone, “She was so . . . quick . . . to talk to him.” He turned an almost accusatory eye on her father, who returned the look calmly.
The Ninth cleared his throat gently. “Comrades, you have only yourselves to blame,” he said good-humoredly. “Look at her orders – the way you worded them she could have spoken to Starling himself with impunity. Comrade Morgenstern’s report includes her own criticism of her actions and offers no defense for them other than the fact that she was obeying our orders. And it is true that she took the information given to her and acted correctly. Comrade Trotsky is alive and safe.”
There was still some grumbling, but the others saw his point.
“One hopes,” a stout woman remarked, “that Comrade Morgenstern continues to apply what she’s learned to good advantage.”
Arthur Morgenstern smiled. “She is the Revolution’s Child. She will.”
She’d been gone for more than a few days, but she was back again. The foreman shrugged.
It was probably a Songmark thing, and he wouldn’t understand.
“Um, Comrade?” He smiled as the half-coyote walked up to him.
She smiled at him and once again, she was upwind of him so that the full impact of her scent could hit him. “I was wondering . . . if you were doing anything over the siesta break . . ?”
He blinked, sniffed, and blinked again. “Well, I think we can work something out,” he said.
“Good,” and she walked off to the water keg to get a drink.
Doctrine was right, as always.
There was no arguing with objective reality.