Rain clouds played peek-a-boo with the sun as a steady shower pattered
the waters at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River. The surrounding
land was marshy and devoted to rice and fishing, while on the eastern
shore stood the city of Samat Prakan, second largest of all Siam, and
terminus to the British Overseas Airline Company. Out in the bay
floated a couple of Supermarine Strannaer flying boats, sporting the
B.O.A.C. livery, anchored far from the stone jetty that filled and
emptied those planes with people and cargo.
Low over the waters came another Strannaer to settle
among the whitecaps, guided in by the tall colored buoys that kept out
the fishing boats. The plane cut engines and began to drift
towards the jetty as a pair of small tugs came out to the ease the craft
Ground crewfurs in rain slickers tossed lines to
members of the plane’s crew as they hung out of hatches, drawing in the
hawsers to lash their ship to the jetty against the woven rope
fenders. When all was secured a mobile gangway was wheeled into
position at the rear hatchway. Presently the passengers began to
unload, helped ashore by the ground crew. A small bus was waiting
to take them to the terminal building where customs officials waited to
stamp their passports and have their luggage sorted.
One of the last passengers to depart the flying boat
was a young rat femme sporting a bob hairstyle and wearing business
attire with a cloché
hat. She opened an umbrella to cover both herself and a tall
lepine in chic Western dress and broad-brimmed hat. They were the
last to board the bus. Ahead of them sat a gaggle of tourists who
seemed to be talking all at once and pointing at everything. The
young rabbit femme sat quietly, ignoring the chattering but keeping
alert all the same. Her companion remained motionless, her
attention focused ahead.
<You need to start learning to relax, > the doe said softly. <Nobody is going to jump out and attack us, or drag us off to some prince’s harem. >
The young rat woman whispered out of the corner of her mouth. <You haven’t lived on the streets of Shanghai, mistress.>
Wu Hsing Jade spared Ming Xue a brief sidelong glance
from behind sunglasses before returning her attention to the furs and
feathers sitting in the other seats. In the days prior to their
departure from the Spontoon Islands the pair worked out their cover
identities and rehearsed the tale needed to pass themselves off as a
rich Eurasian and her secretary on holiday in Siam. They spent
time and money purchasing the clothing to pull off their charade, and
Jade worked with Ming Xue in some of the aspects of being a personal
secretary. The young rodent caught on; she even surprised Wu Hsing
Yun with her role-playing. But in the evenings, when the shop was
closed and the dinner dishes washed, the rat femme would excuse herself
for the evening to some part of town the others couldn’t guess.
About an hour before midnight, Ming Xue would return, tired but looking
as if she had bathed somewhere. And no amount of questioning would
pry the answers from the quiet but resolute femme.
The bus stopped under the portico of the terminal
building, a two-story structure of typical British architecture used in
the Far East. B.O.A.C. personnel came out to usher the passengers
into the terminal. Inside the light and airy reception area it was
organized chaos; the passengers were directed to the counters as
representatives of the Siamese government inspected their passports and
asked their set questions before stamping the little booklets.
The lepine doe removed her sunglasses, brown eyes
adjusting to the dimmer interior as she and her secretary queued up at
the end of a line. She and the rat femme held out their passports
to the Siamese official to inspect.
“Ah, Miss Bannon, is this trip for business or pleasure?” was the accented question.
“A little of both,” countered Jade in the breathy
reply of the socialite. “I have some family here that my father
wanted me to check up on while on vacation.” She rolled her eyes
as if the idea bored her. “It has been ages since I was last here
and hoping for changes to the better, if you know what I mean.”
The monkey nodded his understanding, though he
couldn’t care less for what she would regard as ‘changes for the
better’. “Siam has become a very dynamic country now, Miss Bannon,
since our revolution six years ago to force the monarchy to the will of
the people. We have been striving since then to shake off the
foreign domination of our homeland, our trade, and economy. And we
are working hard to eliminate the Chinese influence that is a canker in
our beloved country.”
Jade felt the words as a physical slap to her
face. Xin Xue had warned of the growing sentiment among the
Siamese population over the presence of those of Chinese birth.
Jade’s mother was Siamese of Chinese parentage, and her family had
worked hard at integrating themselves into the Siamese society.
The doe gave Ming Xue a glance and was surprised to see the young rodent
woman standing rigid before the counter, her face a hard mask and an
icy glare in her dark brown eyes.
The monkey did not seem to notice as he went through
the monotonous routine of stamping and signing the femmes’
passports. The doe laid a hand on the other’s shoulder and gave a
slight shake. Ming Xue snapped out of her slow burn, fixing her
companion with the icy glare instead.
“Thank you for the warning,” said Jade with a cheery
smile that she didn’t feel. “I would have made such a blunder in
doing business with my cousins, you know.” She finished by placing
the palms of her hands together in a prayer-like gesture while bowing
her head slightly.
“Thank you”, she said in flawless Thai.
The customs agent looked up in wide-eyed
surprise. He stared at the tall Eurasian femme before recovering
himself. He repeated the gesture, the wai, answering, “And thank you for coming to our beautiful country. Please enjoy your visit.”
Taking the young rodent femme by the shoulders, Wu
Hsing Jade, aka ‘Jade Bannon’, nearly hustled Ming Xue – Mai Ling – out
the door. Once more in the open, Ming Xue shook off the hand,
storming away several feet before stopping to tremble in rage.
“Don’t, Xue! Don’t make a mess of this before we even started,” growled Jade.
The rodent femme turned on her companion.
“’Don’t make a mess of it?’” Ming Xue bit off the words in her
temper. “You heard what that sonovabitch said about us
Chinese! They want to get rid of us from Siam!” Her rising
voice was drawing attention from those around them. Jade caught
the interest aimed their way and tried to defuse the situation with her
<Look, Xue,> the doe said in a hoarse whisper while switching to Cantonese, <if
you don’t get a grip on yourself now you’ll blow this mission and get
both of us killed. Is that what you want? Because sure as hell, I
don’t want that to happen to either of us! And I don’t want to
disappoint either my aunt or Xin Xue.”
Jade watched and waited, as Ming Xue stood ready to
explode. Several tense seconds passed before the fire in the
rodent’s eyes were banked and she took a deep breath to ease the tension
from her body. For several more seconds she stared at the
stonework beneath their feet. Ming Xue closed her eyes as a
shudder rattled her frame, before she would look up at the doe.
<Please understand, mistress, > she began in a soft whisper, <that
I appreciate what you and your aunt have done for me. I lost my
world in Shanghai to gangs and warlords and foreign interlopers. I
lost the one who took me in, cared for me, and taught me what I needed
to know to survive. And I survived by that knowledge until I
reached the islands and your home. >
Licking lips suddenly gone dry, Ming Xue slowly
stepped up to Jade. There was mistiness in her large eyes as the
hate melted away to sorrow.
Mistress Jade, for giving you this bad moment. When that official
said that they were working to get rid of our people’s influence in this
country, I saw again that death and destruction visited on our people
in China. > Tears welled up and streamed down furry cheeks.
Touched by this display Jade laid an arm around her companion’s shoulders.
<You are forgiven, my dear, > whispered Jade. <Now, let’s see to our luggage and transportation to Bangkok, shall we? >
With a nod and weak smile Ming Xue wiped the tears
from her face and followed the doe to another bus that bore a sign
reading BANGKOK. As they seated themselves a canine passenger
turned in his seat to look at them.
“Is anything wrong with your friend?” he asked, hooking a thumb towards the rat femme.
Jade shook her head. “Just some government flunky’s comment about some of the people here.”
The American bull terrier, for he was American by accent and dress, merely nodded and turned back around.
The bus eased back out into the rain and headed down
towards the waiting boat that would take them upriver to the
capital. When all were seated and luggage and cargo loaded, the
barge eased out into the flood-swollen waters of the Chao Phraya.
The engine noise increased as the helmsfur eased the vessel around the
The trip was slow as the vessel had to fight not only
the river but other vessels coming and going up and down the
river. Eventually they arrived at a quay fronting the downtown
area of Bangkok.