The Sea Devils
by Richard Messer
The evening light faded as the sun settled below the ocean horizon. The street lighting began coming on along the thoroughfares of Casino Island, as the evening crowd appeared to fill the bars, casinos, and restaurants. Some took the taxis, keeping them busy as the rest walked up and down the sidewalks. Parts of the new streetcar service were finished but not fully tied together and operating.
But none of that bothered the one figure moving with purpose along a side street., away from the bustle. The wooden heels of her shoes kept up a steady tattoo with her long youthful stride. She was a tall leggy lepine with tawny fur and black hair held in a braided snood. A product of East and West, the doe was a lovely busty Eurasian all wrapped up in a short-sleeved cheongsam of brown silk. Her left hand held a small clutch purse tucked under her arm, her right hand a small black cigarette-holder. The doe brought this up to painted lips, drawing deeply on the herbal cigarette. She drew the smoke deep into her lungs before blowing it into the air.
Wu Hsing Jade made her way homeward after spending the afternoon with friends. It wasn’t often that she would receive an invitation from an Occidental acquaintance, but such notices in the mail made the time away from her aunt’s apothecary a pleasant distraction.
At the next intersection the femme paused, her long ears swiveling. Somewhere behind she had detected the sound of someone trying to be quiet in his or her approach. With a thin smile on dark red lips, and another draw on her smoke, the femme continued down the street away from the crowds. Her travel lured whoever was following into another residential part of the island. She paused at another intersection to pull the cigarette end from the holder, crushing it under foot, before turning down another side street. At an alleyway the doe ducked into it and waited in a pool of darkness. She didn’t have to wait long.
Presently two figures appeared and stopped. They appeared to be Chinese dressed in dark gowns and jackets, and sporting battered hats. Both looked around. They were far from familiar scenery and afraid to be caught here, but they had their orders. With nods to each other they headed into the alley. The rabbit femme spoke out of the shadows.
<What do you want? > she asked in Cantonese.
The two figures, startled by the femme’s challenge, immediately dropped to one knee with one fist on ground and heads bowed.
<Forgive our intrusion, Mistress, > said one of the figures, a canine. <We’ve been given instructions from Madame Xin Xue to find you and pass along her message. >
The femme was suspicious. <And what is this message? >
The other, a feline with gray tabby fur, replied. <We were to find Wu Hsing Jade and tell her that Madame Xin Xue requires her presence this evening, soonest. >
The rabbit doe stepped from the shadows. Both figures looked up. The femme’s face was stern, the almond shape of her right eye narrowed. It was where the left eye was supposed to be that drew the messengers’ attention. A large patch of dark green velvet covered it. They had heard that she had lost that eye in her youth by means that were only whispered about. To see that patch made them shudder and look down.
<Was there anything else? >
Dog and cat shook their heads. <Nay, Mistress. >
<Then go -- for you have completed your task. >
With nods, both figures arose, headed back to the street and were gone. Wu Hsing Jade breathed a deep sigh. She wondered what Xin Xue would want from her now, unless it was to pass along another random rumor about the disappearance of Jade’s parents. How many of those tales has she heard for the past 2 years?
With a shake of her head that cause the gathered hair to brush across her shoulder the doe reached up to pull the patch free of her face. There was no ruination of flesh around the socket, no puckered scar. The dark brown of the eye was replaced by the shining black of an object that filled the emptiness.
Tucking the eye patch into her purse Wu Hsing Jade stood still as she began to chant softly under her breath. With the words came a glitter across the black surface that brightened to a soft glow. And as the last syllable was uttered the doe turned to her left . . . and faded into the night!
* * * * * * *
On the northern slope of South Island, set back into the forest that blanketed the land, was an estate that bore the stamp of China in its architecture. A wall bound this collection of buildings and main house. From the green-roofed gate the drive wound down to the main road that encircled the island. This road interconnected the many resorts and hotels that surrounded the bays to the north and south of the island.
Lamps dotted the walls and buildings inside. Figures moved about the compound grounds as the estate settled down for the night. One of these figures, an elderly boar who was the gatekeeper, had made a final check of the bar in its brackets when he felt a presence behind him. He turned in time to see a young rabbit femme in brown silk appear in the courtyard. The apparition gave him a start until he recognized her.
<Mistress Wu Hsing! > he announced as he approached with many bows. <What a pleasure to see you once more! > He stopped upon seeing the black orb that filled the young doe’s left eye. Turning aside in embarrassment the boar waited until Jade had affixed the patch back in place.
Turning to smile at the gatekeeper Jade said sheepishly, <Ah, Lingchou! It is good to see you again. I have need to see your mistress. >
With nods, the porcine personage led the way to the main house. At the green door he used the bronze knocker. When the door opened an elderly female red panda looked up in surprise.
<Mistress Wu Hsing! Mistress Xin is waiting for you in her studies. Please follow me. >
Making her good-byes to the gatekeeper Jade followed the small figure into the house. They made their way passed bronze vases, carved and painted chests, ornate tables, and silken wall hangings, until they reached another door. There the red panda femme knocked lightly.
<Mistress? Mistress Wu Hsing is here! >
From within came the soft footfalls of someone approaching. The door opened and a middle-aged panda greeted them. She smiled at seeing Jade, her black eyes sparkling behind pince-nez glasses.
“Aye, Jade, I see you got my message.”
Madame Xin Xue was dressed in a white silk dressing gown, her white hair gathered up in a large bun on her crown. She came to Jade’s shoulders in height so she had to look up. Xin Xue dismissed the housekeeper before ushering the doe into her studies.
Bookshelves lined the walls as a large desk faced the doorway from the opposite side of the room. To one side of the room stood a fireplace with a pair of overstuffed chairs set before it. All around the room were numerous objects de art from the Orient. And through the atmosphere of the room lingered the aroma of burning herbs.
Xin Xue led her guest to the chairs. As Jade settled into the soft leather her hostess went to the mantel to take down a long-stemmed pipe to hand to her. A large porcelain jar stood on a table between the chairs. From the jar Jade filled the bowl of the pipe with the herb and tobacco mixture within. The panda femme then returned from the small fire in the hearth with a lighted spill, offering it to the rabbit femme to light her pipe. Soon Jade was blowing out clouds of smoke as Xin Xue took up her own pipe to relight.
For a few minutes it was silent in the room save for the crackling of the fire and the ticking of a clock on a shelf. The two femmes sat in quiet contemplation, the smoke from their pipes clouding the ceiling. Presently the panda tilted her head back to blow smoke rings into the air before regarding her guest through her glasses.
“You must have thought my summons was about another rumor of your mother and father, yes?” she asked in accented English.
“It had crossed my mind when I got the message.”
Xin Xue nodded, studying the coal in her pipe. “If I was to tell you that half of what I am about to say concerns their whereabouts, would you still regard it as rumor?”
The doe stared at her hostess through a thin gray cloud. “Depends on the other half of the tale.”
The panda chuckled softly as she returned to her smoking for a minute before answering.
“My sources in Singapore have been following word coming out of Bangkok, Siam, of some secret negotiations between certain members of the court and a delegation from Japan.”
Jade looked puzzled. “Japan?”
Xin Xue nodded. “It would appear that some people in the Siamese military, as well as those working for the internal security branch of the government, have been meeting at a very little used palace far from prying eyes. What the nature of these meetings is has not been discovered. But we can be certain that one of the Japanese is an army officer recently assigned to the military attaché.”
“Anyone special?” asked Jade.
Xin Xue blew a streamer of smoke. “We’re not sure exactly who, only that he appears to be a medical officer.”
The panda nodded. “Could be a cultural exchange event, though I doubt it, what with our people there boycotting all Japanese trade. Ever since the 1932 revolution that stripped the Thai king of most of his powers and placed him under constitutional restrictions, the military has been taking more and more control of running the country. Plaek Phibunsongkhram, the current Prime Minister, had been Chief of the nation’s army as well as its defense minister a few years ago. Now that he is Prime Minister Phibun – as he is now known – is trying to mold the country along the lines of Nazi Germany.”
The rabbit doe sat up. “You’re kidding!”
Xin Xue shook her head after taking the pipe stem from her lips.
“Not in the very least, my dear. And what is even more disturbing is that Phibun has been stirring up the populace against the resident Chinese, as the Nazi’s programs against the Jews. It may be why there is this attempt at closer ties with Japan, especially after the invasion of Manchuria last year.”
Wu Hsing Jade settled back into the leather chair, slowing drawing on her pipe. Coldness settled into the pit of her stomach at those words. Her own mother had come from one of those Chinese families that had settled in Siam well over a hundred years ago; her mother, Keyo, and older sister, Yun. The family had sent the two young women to America to further their education instead of Europe as other commercial families in Bangkok have done. Now her mother was missing along with her American father, and her aunt was owner and operator of an apothecary in the Spontoon Islands.
“So what do want me to do?” Jade asked.
The panda fixed her guest with a steady gaze, the black patches around her black eyes furrowing.
“Go to Bangkok and try to get further information on this liaison between the Thai and Japanese. Word has it that the Thai government is trying to improve its health programs, and that the Sons of Nippon are willing to help in return for Phibun muzzling the Chinese causing troubles there. Our people in Siam have been secretly raising funds for the purchase of arms and other supplies for the resistance groups in Manchuria.”
Jade slowly nodded at these words; however, she was beginning to feel apprehensive about this mission. Maybe Xin Xue was placing too much faith in Jade’s abilities. Even if the panda was the direct descendant of the notorious Cheng Sai, the feared pirate queen of all wako in the South China Sea from the early Nineteenth Century, and hereditary leader of the Sea Devils of Southeast Asia, the rabbit doe was having second thoughts about coming here.
Xin Xue smiled. “Ah, I see the doubt on your face, and you believe I expect too much from ‘Sun Wukong’s Tear’.” With a chuckle the hostess arose to knock the dottle from her pipe into the fire. After place the pipe back on the rack she turned to regard Jade. The smile faded somewhat as the panda continued: “I have complete faith in you, Jade, and I wouldn’t be trusting this mission to anyone else. And whether you possessed that magic orb or not, you have as many capabilities as your mother to see this to the end, and as many as your father, Roger Bannon -- and he being a special agent for the American Naval Intelligence. He loved your mother and would help her to the end. Whatever became of them, only you can solve that riddle...And maybe exact revenge on whoever did whatever to them.”
Jade nodded at this, and felt shame at doubting this femme’s trust in her. She stood up to repeat Xin Xue’s actions until she stood before her hostess. With a weak smile Wu Hsing Jade nodded once more to show her acceptance of the mission.
“Good,” smiled the panda. “Now, have you eaten this evening?”
“I had dinner earlier with some friends.”
Xin Xue then grinned as she reached up to undo the bun. Long white hair cascaded around her shoulders and down her back.
“Then you wouldn’t mind spending the night with me? I will send a message to your aunt that you’re here.”
Jade closed her eyes. Aunt Yun will not be pleased at this turn of events...but there was nothing she could do about this, as she had her own obligations to Xin Xue.
Finally the doe spoke softly. “No, I won’t mind. In fact, I had been looking for time away from the apothecary and had accepted a friend’s invitation to get together with her and some others.”
The panda femme whispered, “Then this will cap off that invitation.” She had pocketed her glasses as she tilted her head back with eyes closed and lips pursed.
Wu Hsing Jade smiled as she leaned down to take the other into her arms . . .