The Sea Devils
by Richard Messer
Where the room had only held three femmes a half-hour before was now packed with a gathering of prominent personages within the Chinese community. It was an odd collection of other rabbits, otters, squirrels, and civets. There were even a couple of Asiatic Jackals and Wild Dogs, plus one Sun Bear.
Ling-Ling had gathered up the pipes and tobacco jar back into the cabinet to make way for more tea and cookies. During this brief time Wu Hsing Jade reestablished contacts with those she had not seen since her last visit, as well as being introduced to others of whom she had heard of.
Presently Grandmother Tang stood and held up her right hand, palm out. All conversation quickly ceased as all within the room turned their attention to her.
<I have called this gathering to present current news of an incident that had occurred just a short time ago. This incident was in the Hotel Oriental and involved my own granddaughter, Wu Hsing Jade.>
Dark eyes turned to regard the young femme. Jade felt the inside of her ears burn from the attention she was receiving. Several of the furs nodded in her direction while a few made quick asides to those who had never known her.
Wu Hsing Tang continued. <Some of you may recall the incident that had occurred with my granddaughter almost thirteen years ago, when her mother and father returned from a mission to the northern part of Siam..> This brought more nods from the gathering. <Jade, be so good as to uncover Sun Wukong’s Tear.>
Embarrassment clouded the young doe’s features as she stood to do her grandmother’s bidding. There came a chorus of sharp gasps and muttered exclamations as Jade carefully removed the glass cover to reveal the black surface of the pearl that resided in her eye socket. Several placed right fists into left palms while all bowed their heads. Grandmother Tang waited for the importance of this unveiling to sink in before continuing.
<A gathering of Siamese officials and Japanese military was interrupted by an unfortunate one spilling water on one of the Japanese. His subordinate was beating this person when Jade used the Tear to punish him.>
This brought a heated murmuring from the gathering before Wu Hsing Tang held up her hand again. <It was soon revealed to my granddaughter that this person who received the dousing is a magician.>
There were a few gasps of surprise from the furs.
<What he is doing in our country is of paramount importance. We know that our government brought these - people – to Siam for a purpose other than cultural exchange.> Tang’s verbal emphasis brought a few chuckles mixed with muttered outrage. <We haven’t given it due consideration for what purpose. But now this incident in the hotel is cause for our looking into the true motive of the Japanese being here. While they rape and destroy our homeland to the north, these so-called Sons of Nippon are pushing their way down here into Siam for some unknown reason that needs to be found out before it all explodes into our faces!>
That brought a roar of angry expletives that caused Wu Hsing Jade to nearly fumble the glass eye out of her fingers. Poor Ming Xue cowered in on herself during this outburst. The elderly doe allowed the crowd to vent its spleen before she quieted them down. When next she spoke was in her usual soft and quiet voice, causing the gathering to lean in to catch her words.
<These are your orders: Pass on to your cell leaders the need of their people to find out what the Japanese are really doing here. Every word and action of them must be reported and sifted like chaff from rice. Where are they going, in particular the officers? Are they moving any material to a specific location and how often? Zhou Yi?>
A river otter and the only other female in the room stood tall.
<This weather will seriously hamper the Japanese moving men and material using the roads. Tell your family to keep an eye open should they have been traveling the waterways more so than usual. There is the possibility they may be conducting whatever business far from Bangkok. So I’m relying on you with this.>
The otter femme returned the smile offered her. <Most certainly, Grandmother!>
The meeting slowly broke up. Some left at intermittent intervals out the front door while the rest slipped out the back door after making sure there was no observer about. When the last of the wako had left the living room settled into an unusual quietude. The three femmes sat lost in private thought, the only sounds coming from the kitchen. After several more minutes the older rat femme brought out more tea. As each sipped her drink the silence lengthen into an unsettling solitude until the elder lapine doe slammed her cup onto the tabletop. The younger women squeaked and jumped in their chairs.
Wu Hsing Tang smiled at their panic. <Now that we are awake, again, please tell me what you’ve done with your life since you were here last? Outside of what your mother had written about?>
Rat and rabbit blinked and exchanged brief glances. Then Jade gathered her thoughts before launching into the events of her life up to leaving the Spontoon Islands for this mission. Ming Xue softly added portions of her life in Shanghai and her dramatic arrival to the archipelago as well. Setting her cup down gently this time, the elder doe took it all in when the older rat woman stepped up behind her chair and whispered into a long ear. The grandmother nodded and whispered back. She turned her attention back to her guests.
<Dinner is ready. You will be joining us?>
Both younger women nodded. Ling-Ling had closed up the shop and entered in time to help lay out the table. Soon all were seated and passing the food around before digging in. Conversation drifted around various subjects until Tang asked her granddaughter about whether or not she had a boyfriend. Jade nearly choked on her tea. Ming Xue turned her face to hide the grin there. The older rabbit merely nodded and said nothing more on it.
When the dinner was over and the table cleared Grandmother Tang looked to Jade.
<Do you still play the liuqin?> she asked, referring to the pear-shaped Chinese lute.
The older doe nodded then turned her attention to Ming Xue. <Do you play an instrument as well?>
The rat femme nodded. <Yes, grandmother, the erhu.>
Grandmother Tang nodded again, then directed Ling-Ling to bring the instruments from the shop. The mouse femme bowed and left. Presently she returned with the lute and placed it into Jade’s hands, along with a small fan-shaped paddle in black lacquer. The lepine settled the liuqin into her lap and took up the paddle into her right hand with the fan portion under her wrist. Using a corner of the paddle Jade plucked at the four strings, adjusting the tuning pegs until she was satisfied.
From the shop, Ling-Ling brought back an odd-looking device. It had an octagonal cylinder of wood the size of a coffee can, with a long slender neck set perpendicular to the end of the cylinder, and the opening covered by brass filigree. Ming Xue set the cylinder on her left thigh with the neck held by her left hand. Taking up the bow in her right hand she drew it across the three strings stretched along the neck and tuned it as well.
On her third trip the young mouse brought a most unusual string instrument. Roughly three feet long and about a foot wide this instrument had multiple strings strung along the length of a shallow convex of black lacquered wood. Inlays of mother-of-pearl were the frets under the strings of varying lengths. And it all stood on small feet of turned wood, setting the instrument at angle towards the player. Plucking the strings with manicured nails, Wu Hsing Tang set the tone of the first song so that Jade and Ming Xue could join in.
For the next two hours music floated from the Wu Hsing Tang’s Apothecary. It traveled up and down the street where patrons and passersby would pause out of the rain and take in the melodies. With spirits lifted they moved on to other endeavors. Even Ling-Ling joined in, playing on a bamboo flute. And the cook would add her alto voice to those songs that included singing.
As it had slowly started the gathering wound down until Jade and ‘Sue’ made their good-byes with a promise to return soon. They exchanged hugs and kisses with everyone before stepping once more into the rain.
“It is nice to have family,” said Ming Xue, sidestepping a small waterfall from an awning.
Wu Hsing Jade spared her rodent friend a glance for speaking in English. “Yes, it is.”
They stepped out onto the street, hoping to flag down a taxi for the ride back when three figures rushed from the shadow towards the women.