The Sea DevilsEpilog
by Richard Messer
The sky was bright and clear with nary a cloud in sight. The morning sun was halfway to its zenith when the taxi and its two passengers worked its way down the side streets in the Chinese quarters of Casino Island.
In the back seat Wu Hsing Jade leaned forward to knock ash from her cigarette into the receptacle set into the back of the driver’s bench seat. Beside her a young rat femme was reading a folded newspaper, a small briar pipe dangling from the corner of her mouth.
Ming Xue gave a slight grunt as she read. “Says here that that treasure recently found down in the Horseshoe Atolls was dated from around the middle of the Eighteenth Century when English and French privateers roamed the Pacific Ocean in taking each others trading vessels.”
The lepine doe set the black holder to her lips and drew the smoke into her lungs.
“Do they give any idea how much the value of it is worth in today’s Spontoon pound?”
Taking the pipe from her mouth Sue blew smoke out the window before studying the print further.
“It seems the government is giving it a rough value of . . .” the rodent femme paused before her head snapped up as she uttered the estimated worth of the treasure.
Jade nearly cracked her neck as she looked to her companion. “That much?”
“But that’s only an estimate. Once they get historians, antiquarians, and museum curators together to set a final value of the stuff found the paper says that the value may be much greater than first thought of.” Sue looked up at Jade before setting the pipe bit back into her mouth. “And Commodore and Mrs. Stanbridge would receive a 10% finder’s fee in discovering the treasure.”
Settling back into her seat a mildly curious rabbit femme took another drag of her cigarette as she watched familiar homes and storefronts pass by. She thought what she would do with such a sum of money if it was given to her. She turned in her seat to look out the back window at the small lorry that followed obediently. It would be far, far greater than what was packed in those crates the lorry carried strapped down to its bed. But it would never be as satisfying as those items from Bangkok.
When the three long-tailed boats returned to Zhou Yi’s home on the Chao Phraya, a small party of fursons stood along the dock in waiting. When they saw it was only three boats they all reacted emotionally at this first indication of loss. But when they saw how few there were of those returning, a great wailing went up from every throat. At the sound every available worker came out of the shops and storehouses to see what was the matter; their voices were added to the keening as they helped to unload the dead and wounded. The bodies were taken to an empty storehouse and laid out on the hard packed floor. It wasn’t long before a Buddhist monk was called to offer prayers for their souls. Jade and Sue joined the rest in the ceremony before one of Bin An’s sons offered to take them back downriver to Bangkok. The two young women accepted.
The sun bear and macaque police furs that stood to attention and saluted before giving them a ride to the hospital met them. Wu Hsing Tang was sound asleep when they arrived. With soft steps the tawny doe moved to the bed and stared down at the slumbering elder.
Guan Yin, she looks so old and frail now, came the unbidden thoughts to the doe’s mind. The eyes and cheeks appeared to have sunken some since she last seen Grandmother Tang yesterday. Or else I’m seeing the world as it truly is for the first time. Kneeling carefully by the bed, Jade leaned over and kissed her grandmother between the eyes. The older femme stirred a little in her sleep but never awoke.
From the hospital the police furs took the young women to the Oriental Hotel and dropped them off. An exasperated Mr. Bajeet met them in the lobby, his usual nervousness somewhat elevated upon spotting them.
“Good heavens, Miss Bannon! Wherever have you been? When you did not return last night I was beside myself in worry!”
Using her best coquettish manner Wu Hsing Jade took the baboon’s long slender hands in her own and tried to assuage his fears.
“Oh, Mr. Bajeet, how sweet of you to worry about us! It had been a dreadful day and night!” Jade rolled her eyes to convey her own worries. “It seemed that we’ve no end of troubles since we first arrived in your wonderful country. Isn’t that right, Sue?”
The doe directed this last little question to her rat secretary. Ming Xue could only nod her agreement, biting her tongue to keep from bursting out in laughter. Jade turned her attention back to the simian. “It seemed that, after we were attacked on the street while returning home, someone had the gall to break into my dear grandmother’s apothecary and attack her and her help!”
The baboon’s eyes threaten to fall out of the sockets should they widen anymore over this distressing news. “Your grandmother attacked? In her own store?” Other guests and staff were now eying this figure in the white suit and turban with fear and worry.
The lepine femme nodded with a grave look on her tawny countenance. “We have just returned from the hospital where my grandmother is laid up at. She is grievously injured in her fight with whoever did this, what with one of her help also injured and her cook dead.”
“Dead?” With a shrill chirp the poor desk clerk fell away in a faint. Several of the staff arrived to gather the limp form and carried him away to the staff lounge behind the desk while the guests of the establishment had gathered to look on in wonder. One in particular was a white Bull Terrier in a linen tropical suit who watched it all with wry amusement. He caught the two femme’s eyes and winked at them before turning back to the lounge to finish his newspaper.
Once in their room the rat and rabbit broke down into fits of giggling as they took turns miming the simian desk clerk until both couldn’t get off the bed. It was several minutes before either could recover themselves to lie quietly side by side, gazing into each other’s eyes. Then they quickly shed their clothing and became a tangle of arms and frantic mouths as they sought to reignite the passion that overcame them two nights before.
For the next two weeks their routine became established. Rising early, the pair were the first ones in and out of the dining room for breakfast, then their familiar taxi driver would pick them up. At Wu Hsing Tang’s apothecary where they pitched in and helped with the cleaning and clearing up the destruction left by the ninjas. Wu Hsing Jade would check inventory and purchase records to restock the cabinets and jars that had been rebuilt or replaced after the attack. Ming Xue helped in cleaning up the kitchen and the family area. Surprisingly, none of the statuary of the Chinese gods had been touched, as if they had protected themselves during the fight. Some of the femmes from other businesses and local families took turns in cooking for the crew during their endeavors of restoring the shop and home. Several people had donated furniture to replace that which were smashed or removed those that could be repaired and returned. And when the darkness of evening began filling the streets the shop was closed and everyone left feeling a great accomplishment was being made with a promise of greater things tomorrow. And when Jade and Sue returned to their room, they only had the strength to bathe and collapse into bed for a night of restful slumber.
By the end of the first week Grandmother Tang and Ling-Ling were released from the hospital and returned home to a joyous celebration. The young mouse femme still had her right arm in a sling while the elder lepine carried her left arm carefully, the fingers still splinted together. Both were given places of honor at the table in the family room. After dinner those gathered there presented gifts of appreciation to the pair as well as offers of assistance in keeping house and the business active. One elder femme, a river otter like Bin An and Zhou Yi, had a niece newly arrived to Bangkok and was looking for work. She offered to have this youngster come by tomorrow and present herself as a replacement for Sung Xi. Wu Hsing Tang thanked her for the offer.
When the party broke up, Jade helped her grandmother ascend the steps and prepare for bed. Once the older doe was settled into the bedclothes she gave a deep sigh of relief.
<Even though our family established that hospital for those in need, > she began, <I never thought I would have to use it myself. >
<That bad, huh? > Jade asked wryly.
Grandmother Tang smiled ruefully. <Simply awful! I need to talk with the directors about making some improvements. >
They shared the laugh until Jade leaned forward to kiss her grandmother on the cheek.
<I’ll be seeing you in the morning. >
<You damn well better be! >
For the next week the addition of seeing her grandmother out of bed, dressed, and breakfasted was added to her helping the elder rabbit femme to retire. Eventually she and Ling-Ling had improved enough to dispense with the assistance. It was during a couple evenings of this week that Lieutenant Commander Briggs would visit with Jade and Sue in a private room off of the main lobby. There he would take notes of their actions at the temple and what their observations had been during that nighttime adventure. About two days before the two femmes were to depart Siam that Briggs filled them in on what this secret mission in the forest was all about.
“From what we have gathered from private sources in China this little operation at the temple was an offshoot of a Unit 731 in the Manchurian town of Habin.”
“Unit 731?” queried an interested rat femme.
The Bull Terrier nodded while fishing his pipe out of his jacket. The two femmes followed suit with their respective smokes. Blowing a streamer into the air the canine continued.
“It is some sort of medical investigation unit set up by a Colonel Ishii Shiro, a ruthless army officer from a noble samurai family. Their purpose is to make medical observations of certain experiments carried out on the local population without their knowing about it.”
A cold dread filled Wu Hsing Jade. “What sort of experiments are we talking about?”
“Probably what was being carried out at that wat: Infecting the people with small pox, bubonic plague, anthrax, and the like. Then the doctors would watch the development of the disease and how it affected certain portions of the body. That way they could judge the time interval between the initial inception of the outbreak to its conclusion. Most likely determine how much of the disease could be released into the countryside, or within a city, to eliminate the potential backlash to a possible invasion. Or to help a government friendly to their needs in quelling a sore spot within its population.”
It was quiet for several minutes as rat and rabbit digested what had been laid out before them.
“How could a civilized nation like Japan stoop to such barbarity?” murmured Jade, wide eyes on the canine.
Briggs shrugged. “Probably their belief in being a civilized nation gave them carte blanche in doing whatever to a perceived backward country like China.”
“China? Backward?” spat Ming Xue before following it with a mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin expletives. The lepine doe was shocked at this display, but the Bull Terrier merely grinned.
“Granted, it is the present thought that China’s dilemma is because she has lost her grandeur and greatness on the world’s stage. Still, she is striving to keep her place on that stage. Only time will tell if she succeeds or is relegated to the wings.”
With that the canine arose and bid the ladies a safe trip home. “Oh, by the way, I’ve included a parting gift for each of you in the latest diplomatic pouch back to Hawaii. It’ll be separated and delivered to your home on the Spontoon Islands. Goodbye and good luck.”
The night before their departure the two femmes were entertained one last time at Wu Hsing Tang’s home. Several familiar faces were there, including the two police furs. Various gifts were presented from a grateful citizenry of Chinatown. Clothes were among the most items given, as well as a plethora of pipes and cigarette holders. There were even a few musical instruments among the gifts. The astonished pair was overwhelmed by this outpouring of love and gratification for the events that centered on their first two days in Siam.
Grandmother Tang, whose fingers were no longer taped together, pointed her pipe at the two and stated, “Do not worry the least of how all this will be taken home. Every item here will be crated and ready for loading onto your seaplane for your journey home.”
The next morning it was a tearful goodbye as the elder doe and her young mouse assistant saw granddaughter and her companion board the flying boat. Several of Sea Devils had gathered with the two femmes to offer prayers to Jade and Sue as they were the last to climb aboard. And all waved farewell to the departing Strannaer seaplane.
The taxi pulled up before the familiar apothecary, the lorry just stopping behind. Wu Hsing Jade climbed out and surveyed the building. She frowned at the lack of activity. Ming Xue stepped up beside her, knocking the dottle out of her pipe against the heel of her hand.
“Not like your aunt to be closed on a Saturday morning.”
The doe nodded. “Yes, that’s very odd.”
She started for the side steps to the kitchen door when she stopped. Her long tawny ears twitched as something very vague came to her attention. Sue was about to speak when her companion laid a hand on her arm to forestall any comment. Some noise from the second story made her call up one of the minor cantrips in Sun Wukong’s collection of spells. With a quiet mutter of words and the feeling of warmth from the Tear, the lepine doe felt her hearing increase considerable.
What she heard was the frantic creaking of a bed, interspersed with growls, sighs, and sharp yips of pleasure. And the more she listen the more that Jade realized that her Aunt Yun was having sex with someone and not minding the store. That brought a bark of laughter that she stifled with a hand clamped over her mouth.
The rodent femme looked startled. “What’s so funny?”
With a broad grin the doe turned to whisper frantically into a large rodent ear. The two shared a giggle over this before returning to the waiting drivers.
<Jin, Wenfu, we’re going to have to postpone the unloading of the crates for the time being. It appears that my aunt is, ah, indisposed, at the moment. So we will have to leave it with the lorry in the garage for the time being. >
The two males looked confused until the grins of the two femmes, and a glance towards the upstairs of the apothecary, made them realized what the inference was about. They grinned as broadly, bowed, and climbed back into the truck and were gone.
Puzzled, the taxi driver inquired, <What now? >
The rabbit femme looked at him. <I think for the moment we will follow those two and drop off our luggage at the garage as well. > Then she looked up at the bright empty sky before grinning at Ming Xue. <And I think it is a perfect day to go walking and do some window shopping. Think so, Sue? >
The young rat woman could only nod her agreement.