Red Wednesday© 2007 by Walter Reimer
Monday, April 29, 1935
Lucky Dragon Casino
At the word, Ni Shin’s ears stood up as she stood at her dealer’s position at one of the blackjack tables. The word came from her left, so she spared a quick glance through her peripheral vision to see what was going on. All the while, she kept most of her attention on the two furs playing. One had looked as if he was working some kind of system.
A thrown glass heralded the start of the fight, followed by the sounds of a scuffle and a clatter as chairs were knocked aside. The seventeen-year-old red panda smiled at the two players at her table and said briskly, “Cards down, please.” As the two furs complied she pulled a leather tube full of lead birdshot from its hiding place under the table. “Just be a minute, boys – so no peeking,” she said cheerily.
The fight was getting closer and the bouncers were having a hard time getting to it, probably because of the crowd of people who had gathered to place bets on which combatant might win. Shin waited until she could feel them getting closer to her tailfur, then turned quickly.
A broad canine back was facing her, and she cracked the sap across the back of his head. He pitched forward, leaving the other erstwhile card player standing there and looking angry.
“Why, you little – “ was all the fur managed to snarl before the Chinese girl kicked him straight in the crotch. Most of the men (and a few of the hostesses) flinched at the blow as the man grabbed himself and went down howling. Two of the bouncers, a bear and a Manchurian tiger, finally managed to wade through the crowd and grabbed both of the fighters. The spectators scrambled underfoot to gather up the money the two had left behind.
“About time you showed up, Fang,” Shin teased, turning back to her table just in time to see one of the players reaching for her cards. She tapped his knuckles with the sap and he pulled the paw back as if burned.
She felt a broad, strong paw swat at her rear as Wo Fang growled in her ear, “Not my fault you draw a crowd, Shin.”
The red panda ground her rear back into his paw, and one of the blackjack players started to whistle but cringed at the tiger’s glare. He jerked the unconscious canine up by his shirt collar and started dragging him out into the muddy street in front of the Casino while his girlfriend returned her attention to the game she was dealing.
The fur who had been trying out a system folded after losing twenty dollars, while the other was content to work through the lopsided odds (most of the time, the odds in blackjack are in favor of the house) until he finally quit, pocketing five dollars in profit. He smiled at Shin before he left and asked, “You doing anything later, sweetie?”
“Maybe,” she said judiciously, “but not with you.” She waved toward a small group of hostesses. “Ask one of them.”
“I’m asking you,” he said.
“And you’re asking to have my friend throw you out in the street.”
His eyes widened slightly. “That tiger?”
She watched interestedly as he weighed his options, then sauntered off to the bar, got a beer, and led a giggling feline up the stairs to her room.
Shin smirked and started shuffling her cards, waiting for the next two players. She caught the bartender’s eye, and soon a cold bottle of beer was set down beside her. The young red panda took a deep swallow of the drink and settled down to wait.
The crowd had thinned out a bit, with some going outside to see if the two furs could be roused and made to fight some more, or more likely to strip them and leave them out in the street. Some people, she knew, likened people on Krupmark to scavengers.
Only a few met that description.
The rest were predators.
By the time the clock over the bar struck midnight, Shin had given up standing at the blackjack table and had taken a seat, listening to the hostesses. She was acknowledged as a friend by the working girls at the Lucky Dragon and they could count on her to pass on any grievances or problems to their employer.
Since their employer was also Shin’s mother, a receptive ear was guaranteed.
While she sipped at her tea she overheard one of the girls say, “It is shame that I miss May Day this year.” The thin saluki brushed an errant lock of headfur out of her eyes as she added, “Tanya feels same way too,” and she nodded at a slightly shorter sable. Tanya spoke only Russian, although she was starting to learn English – usually by the horizontal method.
“What’s so big about May Day, Valentina?” Shin asked, looking at the canine.
“Is great holiday,” the saluki said. “Honors working classes.” She cocked her head at the red panda. “You attend school at Spontoon, Shin. I know they celebrate it there.”
“Oh yeah,” and Shin nodded. For some reason, Meeting Island High School always gave its students time off around the end of April; now she knew why. Ordinarily she grasped any chance to come home, where her activities were a little less restrained.
The clock chimed one, and Shin decided to go to bed. There were no customers in the Casino anyway, except for one or two that were still busy upstairs.
The next morning Shin walked into the family’s dining room and kissed her mother on the cheek. “Good Morning, Mother,” she said as she sat down. “I had an idea last night.”
“Oh?” Ni Peng asked. Her chopsticks poised above the small bowl of rice and strips of fried egg with chives. It was her habit to eat a light meal just before going to bed. “Tell me.”
“We always seem to lose a bit of money about this time every year,” her daughter said as she tucked into her own bowl, “and one of the girls mentioned May Day.”
“No, Valentina. I started thinking that if Spontoon can do a May Day celebration, we might do something like that here.”
The older red panda’s eyebrows rose. “You’re not going socialist on us, are you Shin?” She had been concerned that going to school at Spontoon would give all three of the children odd ideas. “Your father would have a heart attack.”
Shin giggled. “Nothing of the sort, Mother. I thought that if we offer some sort of – well, a discount – on something, and connect it to the day somehow, we might make a profit from it.”
“Hmm,” her mother said, cupping her chin with a paw as she thought. “I’ll have a word with your father about it before I go to bed.” She smiled reassuringly and reached out to run her paw against Shin’s cheek. “How are you doing in school?”
Shin smiled and made a noncommittal gesture with a paw. “Since I’m not a citizen, I can’t go with the others to Guide School,” she said, “but I pick up a few things here and there. And math – well, I need to try harder.” She grinned. “I think Peng-wum got all of that.”
Peng smiled. She was proud of all three of her children, but worried about them as well. “Well, I shall go talk to your father, and you have things to do, Shin.” She stood, bent close and hugged her daughter before leaving the room.
“Things to do,” Shin said. “Chores,” she amended in a sour tone.
Wednesday, May 1, 1935:
“What’s all this?” Shin asked as she stepped out of the old dockside warehouse that since the year before had become the offices of Ni & Sons, Investments. She had been going across the street to the Casino, but had stopped dead in her tracks.
The crudely painted sign of the Lucky Dragon’s namesake was covered in red cloth; similar banners waved from windows and the roof. A fox wearing a set of bib overalls and no shirt was finishing up hammering a nail into a twist of fabric alongside one of the doors. He stopped and glanced at Shin. “Hi Shin.”
“Hi Hank. What’s all this about? The place looks like the Commies opened an embassy.”
“Your father ordered it yesterday,” Hank Carter said with a laugh. He reached a paw into his overalls and scratched as he added, “Word’s been getting around all over the place.”
“Well, today’s May Day,” Hank said as one ear dipped. “Your father had us telling everyone that he’s offering a ‘discount for the proletariat’ today.” He grinned lasciviously. “One-quarter off on the price of the girls, so long as you come in wearing red.”
That made Shin blink, and after thanking the vulpine she headed for the office.
The bodyguard at the top of the stairs recognized her and gently knocked on the door. At a sound he opened it and Shin walked in.
As a little girl growing up in Tientsin she had always felt a bit timid about entering her father’s office; after all, important grownup things were happening in the room, things she would not be privy to. That had all changed six years earlier.
“Good morning, Father,” she said, giving her father a kiss. Ni Hei returned the gesture and smiled at her as she sat down. “A ‘proletarian discount?’”
Ni Hei grinned, showing his teeth. “I thought you had a good idea, Shin. Peng-wum thought up the discount, and the name for it – apparently he pays a bit more attention in school than either you or Hao do.” He chuckled as his daughter blushed. “We expect to recover the loss from the discount through the Casino and liquor.”
Shin nodded. The Lucky Dragon had only a dozen working girls in its employ; prospective customers would have to take a number, and what better way to pass the time waiting than to drink and gamble? “It’s a good idea, Father,” she said. “I hope it works.”
“It will,” Ni Hei assured her. “Red’s a lucky color.”
Surprisingly a small crowd had gathered at the door before the Casino opened at its usual time of seven o’clock; by eight the gambling area and bar were packed with furs. A small group of musicians were playing, and several customers were dancing with their hostesses prior to escorting them upstairs.
No fights had broken out (yet), which was also quite surprising.
Shin was at her usual blackjack table, laughing and talking with the gamblers while they played and she kept track of who might be trying to cheat the house. Fang, the other bouncers and her younger brother Hao were keeping an eye on things. She had just finished another hand when the music abruptly faltered and died.
Silence descended, broken only by a low rumble as perhaps twenty furs started to growl. Paws reached for weapons as the crowd fixed its collective gaze on the entrance.
A dozen furs stood in the entrance, all wearing the dark blue jumpsuits of the Naval Syndicate’s duty uniform – and all wearing red scarves or armbands. The leader, a petty officer by the look of the silver stripes on his upper arm, raised his paws placatingly. “We’re unarmed.”
“So what are you doing here?” Hao asked. He already had his gun drawn.
The fur, a solidly built bear, grinned at the slim red panda. “Well, Sport, we heard that ya were celebratin’ May Day with a special. Is our money good here?”
Hao turned to look up at the balcony, where his mother sat watching over the activity. Peng thought a moment, her fan waving gently beside her muzzle, then nodded.
The youngest Ni child turned back to the military man and said, “My mom says your money’s good.” He and the bouncers surveyed the room, and he very obviously decocked and holstered his pistol. The crowd took the hint, and various guns, knives and pointed sticks were put up. The band started to play again, and the sailors began to make a line to the bar.
Shin shuffled her cards and started dealing again as the party slowly regained its momentum. When she looked up she saw one of the Naval Syndicate sailors seated at her table. “Hi,” the rabbit said shyly, placing a Rain Island dollar note on the table.
“Hi yourself,” she said, dealing the cards. “Where are you lot from?”
“Moon Island,” he replied. “We caught wind of this over the radio, and decided to drop in.”
“You close by?” she asked. “You might need to retreat if something bad happens.”
“The patrol boat’s anchored off the reef,” he said.
Shin nodded as he raised the bet and accepted another card. “And what will the Base Syndic say?”
The rabbit grinned. “Well, the crew thinks that what the syndics don’t know won’t hurt any of them much.” He accepted a third card and frowned as they added up to twenty-three. “Nuts.” He tossed another dollar onto the table and said, “Deal ‘em again, please.”
“Sure thing,” Shin said with a smile.
The night dragged on, and the first group of sailors was replaced by another. A brief commotion erupted near the band, and Shin turned her head in time to see several of the Naval Syndicate members link arms with furs from Fort Bob. They were joined by Valentina and Tanya and with the band’s assistance swung drunkenly into The International:
“No savior from on high delivers,
No trust we’ll have in prince or peer;
Our own right paw the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear.
Ere the thieves are forced to share their booty
And to all give a happier lot,
Each at his forge must do his duty
And strike the iron while it’s hot.
Then come, comrades, rally
And show the bourgeois what we’re worth!
Unites the furs of Earth!
Then come, comrades, rally
And show the bourgeois what we’re worth!
Unites the furs of Earth!”
The second chorus was shouted out more as a chant than as a song, but it ended with whoops and shouts as the furs all shook paws. A couple took advantage of the moment to give the two Russian girls kisses, which they accepted happily.
The party went on until dim shafts of sunlight started to peek under the front doors of the Casino, and the bouncers shooed the last few revelers out. Shin leaned wearily against her table, and tossed the well-used deck of cards onto the worn green felt. It had been a long night (a very long night for the girls, she was certain) but everyone had seemed to enjoy themselves, and hopefully the profits from the night would offset the ‘discount.’
She abruptly swayed on her feet, only to be caught and scooped up in a pair of huge striped paws. Shin looked up and grinned sleepily at Fang. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself,” he said. “I think you need to go to bed.”
With that, he scooped her into his arms and away from the blackjack table.