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CONSPIRACY OF THE DRAGON

The secret history of the war for our world.

CONSPIRACY OF THE DRAGON

by Ni Joseph © 2018

 

A Chinese secret agent starts World War I to avenge decades of humiliation by the West, and begins more than a century of struggle to determine who will rule our world.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Claw of the Dragon

Chapter 2: Back To The Future

Chapter 3: The Bulldog’s Charms

Chapter 4: Women and Children First

Chapter 5: In The Giant’s Shadows

 

 


 

Chapter 1: Claw of the Dragon

 

July 31, 1914

 

Most Honorable Shining Sun:

 

The Eagle Flies To The Sea,

Waking The Bulldog,

To Join The Cock and Bear

And Destroy Them All.

 

The Dragon Will Rise Again.

 

Your Eternal Servant,

 

The Golden Claw

 

 

She sealed the note and handed it to the young man as he leaned forward, halfway through a hidden door.  She kissed him slowly, pressing the note into his hand, and he held her until she let go.  She bowed low and locked the hidden door behind him before looking at herself in the wall mirror and hearing a key click in the front lock.  She turned, closing her robe and kneeled on the carpet, her eyes low. 

“I knew England would fall into our trap,” a voice said, pushing open the front door and waving away those around him.  “Now we will show those shopkeepers what a fighting navy can do.”

He came into the small apartment and saw her, shutting the door behind him and looking into the mirror.  “The English have thrown down the gauntlet.  Now, we will show them and those damned frogs how to fight as we stand tallest in the world.”  He smiled at himself.  “They will cry at the beating we give them, but thank us for leading them to a better tomorrow.” 

He took her chin into his hand, caressing it, and looked into her eyes. 

“This war has been coming for years, and now we will make them bleed.  First Paris, then London, then all of Europe and Russia will see the virtue of Prussian wisdom.  I know you don’t understand, but you savages will thank us for bringing you civilization.  No more dog eating, feet binding and whatever other humiliations you visit upon each other.”

She watched as he looked at himself in the mirror.

“Emperor and savior of civilization.”  He patted her head.

She stood up slowly, and started undoing the buttons of his jacket.

“Of course I’ll need several new uniforms once we win the war,” he said to the mirror.  “Something in blue would look good.”

She loosened his uniform and removed his clothes slowly, trying to avoid looking at his pale skin and withered, useless arm.  She grazed it and winced before laying out his clothes on an oak chest at the foot of the bed.  He nodded and she removed her own robe, taking a deep breath and pressing her body against his.

He turned to the mirror again, watching her naked back with a smile.

She kept her face calm as her hands moved slowly over his body and then kneeled on the floor. 

“That’s right, my little whore.  Some things you do understand.”

“I understand everything.”

His eyes opened wide.

“I’ve always understood.”  She yanked him forward, throwing him to the floor.  He looked up and she kicked him in the head.  “Since Moltke gave me to you four years ago, saying, ‘to indulge in pleasures that are beneath the empress,’ I’ve understood every single word.”  She kicked him in the stomach.  “I’ve understood how pathetic and helpless you were since you first touched me.  How scared you were of anything different, and how you drove away smarter men who could’ve pointed you to a better future if you hadn’t felt so small and inferior to them.”  She kicked him in the chest, turning him over.  “I’ve kept you happy and distracted, and used your stupidity and arrogance to make you do whatever I wanted.  I’ve made sure that you pursued your destructive obsession with the English, and never saw your ministers’ recommendations to avoid war with France and Russia.”

He tried to catch his breath, and she kicked him in the chest again. 

“You were so easy to manipulate.  Ignoring your better ministers, believing you were right because of your birth and crying like a baby when the world mocked your stupidity.”  She looked down at him and kicked his useless arm.  “I could’ve done almost nothing and you would’ve dragged Europe into a stupid, senseless war.”

She kicked him in the arm again and he curled into a ball, clutching it. 

“Now you’ve got what you’ve always wanted, and it will destroy your precious Prussia and the husk of the Dual Monarchy.”  She pulled out her clothes hidden under the bed and began to dress.  “You’ve guaranteed the fall of Europe just like we’ve always planned.”

“What?”  He tried to get up, but she knocked his head into the floor.

“Your soldiers shouldn’t have raped and plundered their way through Peiping as they destroyed the Boxers.”  She dressed.  “You all should’ve stayed out of affairs that were none of your concern.”

“We didn’t...”

“Europe shocked us with its armies arriving so quickly to save its ambassadors.”  She pulled him up by his hair and looked into his eyes.  “We realized how truly powerful and dangerous you were then.”  She smiled.  “But we also saw how much you envied and hated each other, and how we could use that to destroy you.”

She slammed his face into the floor. 

“You’re so convinced of German superiority that you can’t see that the world will slip away from Europe’s grasp as your armies destroy one another.”  She spit on him.  “Germany may well cripple France and Russia, but the English will bleed you dry just like they did Napoleon one hundred years ago.”

“We took Paris before, and London will…”

“Bismarck took Paris because he attacked only France, and he got lucky.  You’ve already sent your armies to Russia and they’ll cross Belgium tomorrow or the next day.  In a week the English will create a third front, choking you off from the sea and draining the life from you.”  She looked into his watery eyes.   “You can tell yourself whatever you like, but in six months, maybe a year, Europe will be a graveyard, and it will all be your fault.”

“They’ll lie down when they see our guns.”

“And you’ll see theirs.  And all of your armies will fire every bullet, dull every bayonet and bloody every fist until all of the soldiers are all dead and gone.  In a generation Europe will be nothing but ruins on the western edge of Asia.”

“No.”  He looked away from her.  “No, I’ll call my armies back.  Cousins George and Nicky will listen to reason.  Together we will…”

“Die.  You sealed your fate the moment you gave the order to mobilize your armies.  Your soldiers can’t and won’t stop, and you’d know that if you had listened to your ministers and generals for even a minute.  All that waits are their deaths and your subjugation to the Middle Kingdom.

“You coolies aren’t even human.  You won’t…”

She kicked him again, and again, doubling him back into his ball.

“We ruled for millennia before you white devils rose from the mud, and soon you will be nothing more than a historical stain.  With our boot on your throats, we’ll return to the glory that was and is China.  And you?  You’ll be nothing more than the cabbage eaters you always were.”

“You won’t get away with this.”

“I already have.”  She looked right into his eyes.  “You won’t tell a soul that your yellow, slant eyed whore destroyed your empire as you moaned your pleasures.  You can’t even believe it now after all I’ve just told you, and once I’m gone you won’t be able to forget it fast enough.  It’ll be like I was never here.”

Tears started down his face.

“I should kill you for what you made me do in the last four years.  But it’s all worth it knowing that you’ll watch as Germany and Europe destroy each other; knowing that in a generation you will all be serving the Middle Kingdom, and knowing that we will be the masters and you will be the slaves.”

He sobbed and she stood up, opening the door hidden in the wall. 

“I want you to remember my face when your empire dies and you have nothing left but nightmares.”  She stood over him.  “I want you to remember how a Chinese girl destroyed you and your world.”

She turned her back on him, leaving him crying in a little ball on the floor.

Seven years later he could think of nothing else as an Englishman listened to his story and reread the note written in Mandarin. 

“That’s quite a tale, your majesty.”

Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany, frowned.  “You don’t believe me?”

“I do,” the Englishman said and looked up at the former Kaiser.  “And we won’t let this stand.”

The former Kaiser’s eyes narrowed on the Englishman.

“I’ve already talked to an Irish friend, your majesty, and despite our current differences, we are going to make this right.  It might take a few years, but your little whore and her country will feel our wrath.  They will pay for what they’ve done.”

The former Kaiser blinked, tears forming in his eyes.  “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.”  The man left a pistol in front of the former Kaiser and opened the only door in the room.  “It’s all I can do not to kill you myself.”

The former Kaiser watched the door close and picked up the pistol.  “I know.”  He stared at the pistol and then put it down, sobbing.


 

Chapter 2: Back To The Future

 

The Chinese girl now stood tall as a woman hidden behind a black veil and dress, waiting for the warlord in the ridiculous hat and glittering uniform to come down the stairs and bowing her head only when he met her eye.

He studied her for a long moment, hand on his holstered pistol, and laughed, starting down again and brushing past the boy at her side.

“Your pardon, Master Guo.”  The woman frowned and pulled the boy further back.  “A thousand apologies, sir.”  

Guo grunted and kept going as the woman looked up the stairs to see two large men staring at her, their pistols bulging under their ill-fitting western suits.  She ignored them as they followed her onto the balcony to a very well dressed man with glasses looking out over the street.  He turned to her and, she squeezed the boy’s hand, ensuring that they both lowered their eyes and bowed.

The man nodded.  “Little sister,” he said in English and turned back to the funeral procession on the street below them.  “It’s good to see you after so long.”

“And you, brother.”  The woman and the boy looked up.  He stared at the man, but the woman looked past him at the funeral procession and a horse drawn wagon carrying a large photograph of Sun Yat-Sen.  “Such an outpouring.”

“Of course, little sister.”  The man looked right at her.  “Dr. Sun was a great man, the soul of modern China, and taken away too soon.”

“Yes, brother.”  The woman avoided his eyes.  “So true.”

“I am happy to see you both, little sister.”  The man turned to the staring boy.  “Your son has grown so much in the last two years.  He’s tall for his age.  No?”

“He is, brother.”  The woman tightened her grip on the boy’s hand.  “Thank you for noticing.”

The boy smiled as the man took his chin in his hand and examined his eyes. 

“Still the strangest color.”  The man nodded to the two large men and looked up at the woman.  “Does that ever bother you, little sister?”

“Of course not, brother.”  The woman noticed the large men step closer.  “They’re beautiful, just like his father’s.”

“Hmm.”  The man frowned as the two large men stepped up right beside her.  “I suppose so.”

She stood up straighter, turning back to the procession as the two large men brushed up against her dress.

“I imagine that once upon a time you would’ve have killed anyone who came between you and your son.”  The man beckoned a well-dressed woman onto the balcony.  “No, little sister?”

“We are all family, brother.”  The woman watched the well-dressed woman kneel in front of the boy.  “Why would I worry?”

“Very true,” the man said and nodded to the well-dressed woman.  “And of course you remember my wife.”

The well-dressed woman turned and smiled.  “Little sister, it’s so nice to see you again.”  She took the boy’s hand.  “I understand that you and your brother have many things to discuss.”

The woman blinked, feeling the two large men’s hands on her shoulders.  “Brother?”

“Yes, and we need help eating chocolate cake.”  The well-dressed woman nodded to the boy, whose face lit up.  “Perhaps…”

“Yes.”  The boy turned to the woman.  “Mother?  Please?”

The woman swallowed, looking into the boy’s eyes and feeling the two large men tighten their hold on her shoulders. 

“I promise not to spoil him too much, little sister.”  The well-dressed woman stepped back, taking the boy with her.  “And you and your brother have so much to talk about.  What between family and other affairs?”

“Yes,” the woman said, unable to move as the boy followed the well-dressed woman into the house. 

“Cake can smooth any situation,” the man said as the door closed behind the boy.  “Can’t it, little sister?”

She turned from the door to stare right through him.  

“I’m glad I have your attention, little sister.”  The man smiled.  “I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Sun’s death and your future.”

Her eyes narrowed on him.

“He inspired all of China, little sister, threw off the remnants of the Qing dynasty, rose up against the corrupt west, and began to undo our decades of humiliation.”  The man looked right into her eyes and nodded.  “Didn’t he?”

“Dr. Sun was certainly an inspiration, brother.”

“But you wanted more?” the man said.  “Didn’t you, little sister?

“Yes.”  The woman looked right back at him and nodded too.  “I think we all did, brother.”

“Yes, and I don’t think it’s too late, little sister.”  The man smiled.  “Dr. Sun told me many times that you alone gave China an opportunity that nobody else could, and that he thought that you could have done so much more.”

“That is too kind, brother,” the woman said, unable to move with the two large men holding her.  “But it’s too late now.  My sacrifice to cripple the West failed to lift China like Dr. Sun planned.”

“Dr. Sun’s dreams were before his time, little sister, but doesn’t mean it’s too late.”

“You know I am but a simple mother now, brother.”  The woman stared at him.

“You understate your abilities, little sister.”  The man stepped closer.  “You destroyed the German, Austrian and Russian empires.  Nearly brought the English and French to their knees, and caused the Americans to bury their heads in their ass.  You…”

“That was a world away and a lifetime ago, brother.”  The woman took a deep breath.  “My son is my only concern, and he…”

“Will get the best education in all of China, little sister.”  The man pointed to door.  “I guarantee he’ll have an even better life than you could have imagined.  One that gives him a proper upbringing, fulfills his vast potential and ensures that he’ll never suffer from being the blue-eyed, mongrel bastard that he is.”

The woman stared into the man’s eyes, her mouth a straight line.

“You know it is the right thing.”  The man checked that the two large men held her close.  “You know this is your duty, little sister.  Your desti…”

“No.”  The woman shook her head.  “No, brother, I…”

The man jammed his fist between her eyes, slamming them shut as her head bounced off of the larger of the two large men’s chest.  “You are not seeing the possibilities, little sister.”

She didn’t move, trying to breath and slowly blinking her eyes open to see the man standing over her. 

“You will contribute to the best of your ability, little sister.”  The man nodded as his smile disappeared.  “We all must if we want to return China to its rightful place in the world.”

“You sound like a communist, brother.”  The woman managed to squeeze one arm free from the two large men.  “Or worse.”  She smiled.  “A woman.”

The man raised his hand again.

But she pushed it aside before the larger man grabbed her again. 

“Good, little sister.”  The man laughed.  “Very good.  I’m glad to see you still have some fight in you.”  He smiled again, rubbing his wrist.  “I’m not surprised.”

“You will be.”  The woman eyed him as the two large men held her closer.  “And you will pay for this, brother.”

“I might, little sister.”  He laughed again, staring back.  “If you didn’t care about your bastard son.  Yes?”

The woman blinked.

“My mother took you out of the gutter and raised you with China’s wealthiest and most influential family, little sister.”  The man took her chin in his hand.  “She gave you the finest education, taught you to fight for your country, and you succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”  He caressed her cheek and kissed her on the mouth.  “But that doesn’t mean you get to live off of your past efforts.”  He looked into her eyes.  “No.  No, you don’t get to raise the Kaiser’s son in obscurity with the hopes of a normal life.  Not when you have so much more to give.”

The woman’s face contorted as the two large men tightened their grip. 

“Now, I am known for my kindness, little sister.”  The man stepped back.  “But I never had our mother’s or my wife’s affection for children.  Particularly boys.”

She looked at him and stopped struggling.

The man smiled more.  “I’m glad you’re listening, little sister, and I… I assume that you’ll return to the fight.  Yes?”

“Yes.”  The woman looked down and the large men let her go.   “I will fight again, brother.”

“Excellent.”  The man smiled more and pointed her back to the stairs.  “I’ll be in touch, little sister.  Soon.”

She turned to the door.  “And my son?”

“Will be safe.”  The man shrugged.  “And perhaps you can see him at Easter.  Or Christmas.  Maybe this year.”

She turned back to him.

“He will be safe as long as you fight, little sister.”  The man turned back to the funeral procession.

She nodded, ignoring the looks of the two large men, and started down the stairs without another word.


 

Chapter 3: The Bulldog’s Charms

 

“That is heaven,” the man said, finishing his scotch and placing the glass on the hardwood table.  He stared at the two guards in front of him and sniffed the air.  “Not that you rancid butt fuckers will ever know.”

The two guards stood still, and the man glanced at two more behind him, pushing his glass toward the nearly half-empty bottle.  “Another.”

The first guard shook his head as the second just looked at the bottle.

“God damn, you bloody, grass eating, cocksuckers,” the man said.  “It’s no wonder we’ve fucked 300 million of you up the ass for the last century.  You’re practically God damn useless with the simplest of instructions.”

The first guard stared straight ahead and scowled, but the second filled up the man’s glass.

“About fucking time, you yellow, shit eating bastard.”  The man picked up the glass, smelled the scotch. and smiled.  “It’s not like you haven’t kissed my ass before.”

The first guard’s mouth tightened.

The man took a long sip, looking at the first guard and laughed out loud.  “I’ve seen more piss and vinegar from Belfast girls, you eunuch cunt.”  The man glanced at his watch and drained the glass.  “Careful or I’ll fuck your sister again.”

The first guard’s face hardened.

“Please.”  The man laughed again.  “You fucked her when you had a dick.”

The first guard stood up even straighter. 

The man smiled at the first guard and pushed his glass forward again.  “Another.”

The second guard refilled it. 

The man turned to the sound of the opening door and stood up.

A large guard walked in, holding the door as a simply uniformed man entered the room with a woman a pace behind him and another guard behind her.

The first four guards bowed.

“Mr. Finnerty,” the uniformed man said.

“General Chiang.”  The man bowed even lower.

Chiang saw the half-empty bottle of scotch.  “I hope you remember your manners this time,” he said as the woman behind him translated the words into English. 

“I do, General,” Finnerty said.  “I also remember how beneficial our last meeting was, sir.”

“Yes.”  Chiang sat at the head of the table, motioning for only Finnerty to join him.  “I hope you have a more perceptive view of the world than the last Englishman I saw.”

“I can’t imagine it’s worse, General.”  Finnerty sat down.  “And the Empire can certainly do better than offer the ramblings of a shell shocked and senile old colonel, sir.”

“Mr. Townley seems quite familiar with our situation.”

“I’m sure he did, General.  The man became obsessed with China after the Kaiser blamed one of your whores for starting the Great War.”

The woman’s eyes went to Finnerty.

“Please excuse me if I have offended your sensibilities, Miss.”  Finnerty looked at her.  “That’s an American accent, correct?”

The woman turned away and continued translating.

“Mr. Townley is an angry, old man who will say whatever comes into his head like old men everywhere,” Chiang said.  “What I want is to know what the British truly see in China’s future.”

“That’s why I’m here, General.”

“I am surprised your new minister has not ventured out of his embassy.”

“Sir Lampson is still overwhelmed with the complexities of China, General,” Finnerty said.  “That’s how Townley took the opportunity to pay his respects, sir.”

“Mr. Townley’s perspective and audacity surprised me.”

“I apologize, General.”

“The Chinese can only understand a simple, straight forward approach.”

“The same is true for the British laboring classes, General.”

“Yet Mr. Townley believes that I should gradually and peacefully come to terms with the communists and the warlords, ignoring the current events on the ground and the logic of history.”

“And if you don’t mind me saying, General, Townley and several others in the British embassy are a bunch of fucking wankers licking each other’s balls,” Finnerty said and picked up his glass again.   

The woman stopped for a moment, and Chiang frowned. 

“Townley would be happy to see China on its knees for another hundred years, General, but you and I both know your people deserve more than a government of rat eaters and rapists.”  Finnerty took a sip.  “And the truth is the Empire now needs a united and prosperous China to safeguard its own future.”

Chiang stared past Finnerty, but the woman looked right at him.

“With Sun Yat-Sen gone, you are the only one who can unite China, General.  Like Washington united America, only you can bring your people together and return the Middle Kingdom to its rightful place in the world.”

The woman nodded, but Chiang did not move a muscle.

“It’s unsaid, sir, but General Washington’s America heralded the rise of the British Empire in the 19th century,” Finnerty said.  “Now the Empire wants and needs China to renew it for the 20th.”

“I doubt Mr. Townley would agree with that assessment.” 

“I doubt Townley could find pussy in a brothel, General.  He believes that the Empire won the Great War intact; failing to see that they lost Ireland a decade ago, risk losing India in the next and may even lose Suez in a generation unless it changes with the times.”

“You are surprisingly candid, Mr. Finnerty?”

“I’m paid to be, General, particularly when the King and Prime Minister agree with me.”  Finnerty met Chiang’s eye.  “That’s why I’m here, sir: to send a clear invitation for you to make history with the Empire’s support.”

Chiang looked at him.

“You want the Chinese to rise up and lift the British into a better future, Mr. Finnerty?” the woman said in English and then Mandarin.

Finnerty turned to the woman.

“Well,” Chiang said, his eyes on Finnerty.

“Yes, and in return the Empire will lift its boot from China’s neck and do everything possible to unleash the potential of what was once the world’s greatest civilization,” Finnerty said.  “And you, General Chiang, you are the only man who can seize that future.”

“With your Empire profiting, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Of course, General.”  Finnerty took a larger sip of scotch.  “Otherwise we wouldn’t be talking.”

Chiang glanced at the woman. 

“This is your moment, General,” Finnerty said.  “The British Empire and all of Europe are distracted with their own problems; Japan isn’t yet sure of its place since the war and America now wants nothing to do with any of us.  The time to act is now, sir.”

“I humbly disagree, Mr. Finnerty,” the woman said.  “We lack the means to...”

“Do you?”  Finnerty ignored the woman, who kept translating, and kept his eyes right on Chiang’s.  “You control southern China, General.  You could seize the north and Manchuria tomorrow if you wished, and no one, not even the Empire, could stop you.”

Chiang shook his head. 

“No one else can do it, General.”  Finnerty leaned forward, his hands on the table.  “Sun failed, the communists have shown they can’t fight and the warlords won’t leave their fortresses.  Now is the time to stand up while the world is distracted.  Now is the time to regain China’s future, sir.”

The woman stared at him for a moment and then nodded again.

“You have given me much to think about, Mr. Finnerty.”  Chiang leaned back in his chair.

“Only you can reverse a hundred years of humiliation, General.”  Finnerty finished his scotch.  “Now is the time no matter who profits, sir.  You don’t want to lose this moment to make history.”

Chiang stood up with Finnerty doing the same.  “Walk with me, Mr. Finnerty.”

He followed Chiang down the hall with the woman behind him and the guards surrounding them, passing millennia old urns, centuries old bronzes and decades old paintings.

“Does your Empire have such a history, Mr. Finnerty?”  Chiang gestured to the artwork.

“We don’t, General.”  Finnerty stopped at the front entrance, meeting the General’s eye again.  “But we have a future, sir, something China lost centuries ago.”

Chiang frowned and the woman stepped back.  

“But it can, General.”  Finnerty pulled out an old parchment from his coat, unrolling it to show detailed voyages of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  “Zheng He’s fabled travels in the 15th century, sir: centuries ahead of their time when China nearly ruled the world.”

Chiang glanced at the map.

“The Middle Kingdom was nearly the entire world then, sir,” Finnerty said.  “Perhaps it could be so again: no matter what the Empire does.”

The woman blinked as Chiang picked up the map. 

“It is my gift to you, General,” Finnerty said.  “I apologize as always for my brusque manner, and beg your forgiveness to return another day.”

Chiang nodded, studying the map as the first guard escorted Finnerty through the front doors, across the courtyard and out the gate. 

The woman watched until Finnerty disappeared onto the street. 

Finnerty stopped and pulled out a flask, taking a long sip.  The first guard stood next to him, glaring, and Finnerty offered him the flask. 

The first guard hesitated and then took it as Finnerty left him for the only car on the street, opening the back door and getting in.

“Well?” the driver said as the car pulled away.

“I told him exactly what he wanted to hear,” Finnerty said.  “Your recommendation to share power with the communists and warlords fell on deaf ears just as we planned.  Chiang wants to be emperor.”

“He’ll fail like all the others.”

“Yes.”  Finnerty nodded.  “Although the woman, his translator, Soong May-Ling, might see through us.”

“I doubt it,” the driver said.  “They’re marrying next month, and she’ll do anything to ensure Chiang’s success.”

“Then we’ve succeeded?”

“Yes, and China will tear itself apart worse than Europe did.”

“Just like you want, Mr. Townley?”

“Yes.”  Townley smiled.  “Not that it will make up for she did.”

“No.”  Finnerty stared out the window.  “But what’s coming will.”

Chapter 4: Women and Children First 

 

“It’s so God damn beautiful if it could only fucking last,” Finnerty said, leaning over the ocean liner’s railing to see the first light of day hit the Bund and shine on the Yokohama Specie Bank, the Yangtze Insurance, and the Jardine Matheson buildings.  He then smiled at the United Imports/Exports warehouse, with the two ships outside it being unloaded by Chinese laborers, and turned to the street market already filled with men, women and several Japanese soldiers: all walking past each other, bickering with one another and bargaining for all they could afford.  “The little buggers are fucking worse than God Damn ants crawling around for their cock sucking queen.”  He shook his head.  “Worse than the fucking Americans.”

“But more impressive than New York,” the woman behind him said and took his hand, pointing to the United Import/Export building.  “You helped make this city, and it’s rich beyond your wildest dreams.”

“A generous perspective, Elizabeth.”  Finnerty met her eye and squeezed her hand.  “From a wonderful liar.”

“Look who’s talking?”  Elizabeth gave a look to Finnerty and smiled.  “You were wise returning to China after the war and are lying if you say otherwise.  You saw this city and country’s potential.  And knew that we could made a future and a fortune here.”  She touched her pregnant belly and nodded behind them.  “Start a family.”

Finnerty looked back at the four young children on an upper deck flanked by two white nannies and a Chinese servant.  “They look nervous.”

“They don’t want to leave their home.”

“Their home?”  Finnerty laughed, pointing to the mass of people in the market.  “The children don’t look like anyone else here, Elizabeth.”

“Then you aren’t looking closely.”  Elizabeth punched him in the arm.  “The international quarter has tens of thousands of European and American families, and...”

“I know.”  Finnerty rubbed his arm and turned back to the docks to see the Japanese soldiers talking to a Chinese merchant outside his warehouse.  “Still?”

“Shanghai and all its people show how far the world has come since the Great War,” Elizabeth said, and he gave her a look.  “I’m serious.”

“I know.”  Finnerty turned back to the soldiers shaking their heads at the merchant.  “Yet…”

“Every day people figure out how to do business, get along and cooperate with each other whether they look alike or go to the same church.”  Elizabeth pointed to the markets and then looked back at Finnerty.  “And in the last few years so have the great powers.”

He gave her another look.

“The League of Nations, the Nine Powers Treaty and the Kellogg Briand Pact are all signs that we’ve overcome the horrors of war.”

“Not exactly, Elizabeth.”

“Really?”  She made a face.  “Because you’re always right?”

He turned away from her to the markets and the Japanese soldiers now yelling at the merchant.

“Have you ever thought that you don’t really need to represent British interests because violence will soon no longer be part of the equation?”

Finnerty shook his head.  “I’m glad you’re keeping up with current events, Elizabeth, what with everything else you do.”  He touched her round belly.  “But the world’s not that…”

“Don’t condescend to me.”  Elizabeth lifted a finger.  “You’re not…”

“I know, and I won’t.”  Finnerty raised his hands in surrender before grabbing hers.  “I’m not just looking after British interests, Elizabeth.  I’m looking after ours.”  He rubbed her hands in his own and noticed the merchant trying to wave away the soldiers.  “And you know that whatever prime ministers and presidents say in faraway capitals means nothing compared to the local day to day politics and commerce that everyone has to live with.”

“Yes.”  She looked at him with a frown and pointed back to the markets.  “But the world isn’t so bad.” 

“The Japanese massacre in Jinan last year says otherwise, Elizabeth.”  Finnerty pulled her back so she couldn’t see the soldiers surrounding the merchant.  “And none of the slant eyed bastards care one fig about what the League, international agreements or London or Paris say when they’re shooting each other and bayonetting woman and children.”

“That doesn’t mean you need to be guiding British interests anymore.”  Elizabeth stepped back, touching her belly again.  “You have other concerns, more important concerns.”

“I know.”  Finnerty stepped up and touched her belly too.  “But I’ve profited more than any other European in China because of my contacts, Elizabeth, and…”

“I don’t need to hear this again.”  She pulled his hands over her heart and turned to their children.  “We’ve talked this to death.”

“Which is why you need to take our family home, Elizabeth, and I need to stay and guard what we’ve worked so hard for.”  Finnerty looked her in the eye, but noticed the Japanese soldiers shoving the Chinese merchant to the ground.  “Politics, security and commerce are all the same here, and no matter what London or Paris says things could easily go wrong if we don’t steer things on the ground.”

“Then you should leave too.”  Elizabeth turned and saw the merchant fighting back, with two American sailors stopping to watch.  “Or we should all stay together.  As a family.”

“No.”  Finnerty pointed to the beating.  “No, it’s too dangerous for you and the children, particularly with what Chiang set into motion last year.”

“And only you can fix that?”  Elizabeth ignored the beating and looked right into his eyes.  “You’re the only person smart and tough enough to save the Empire in Asia?”

Finnerty turned away from her and looked back at their children. 

“Our children are tough enough…”  

“They need to know their country, Elizabeth.”  Finnerty shook his head and pointed to the youngest.  “Hell, Patrick can barely speak English.”

“He’s two.  He barely speaks at all.”

“Susan and Martha aren’t much better.”  Finnerty took in a breath and turned away from them. 

“Because they speak fluent Mandarin and Cantonese like you.”  Elizabeth pointed to the city, past the Japanese and the bloodied and battered merchant.  “This is where they live.  Where they’re friends are.  Where…”

“It’ll just be for a couple years, Elizabeth.”  Finnerty looked into her eyes again and shrugged.  “And my sister needs help.”

“Your sister needs a lot of things.”  Elizabeth frowned.  “But our help isn’t one of them.”

“She misses you.”  Finnerty still looked, nodding.

“But she hates you.”  Elizabeth shook her head.  “You know that, right?”

“Absolutely.”  Finnerty laughed.  “I’m the one who told you.”

Elizabeth laughed too.  “She does like your money, though.”

“True.”  Finnerty smiled, but noticed the merchant bleeding from his chest as the American sailors started walking away.  “But she can tell you how awful I was as a child.”

“She already has.”  Elizabeth pulled him away from the ship’s railing, hugging him.  “She does it every time we talk.”

“I know.”  Finnerty nodded, looking right at her.  “I love you.”

“And I love you,” Elizabeth said, looking right back at him.  “It’s all going to work out.”

“I know.”  Finnerty touched her belly again.  “And the next time I see you, you won’t be fat.”

She slapped him.

He smiled, and they both laughed yet again before turning to their children, the nannies and the Chinese servant.

Finnerty took in a breath and let it out slowly.

“Let the girl help you when we’re gone.”  Elizabeth pointed to the Chinese servant.  “Her name is Mei, and she’s smarter than you think.”

“I know.”  Finnerty looked at the dead merchant as a group of Chinese stared up at him and then glared at the laughing Japanese soldiers.

Elizabeth looked too, noticing the hatred.  “And if your hand isn’t enough?”

“Then I’ll be happier you’re in Belfast,” Finnerty said, pulling Elizabeth toward their children.  “Safe and sound.”

She let him lead her.  “Let’s hope so.”


 

Chapter 5: In The Giant’s Shadows

 

“Something’s not right here, Mr. Finnerty,” the large man said, staring through an automobile window at a dimly lit shop.  He turned around.  “I tell you.  Something’s definitely not right.”

“No shit, you dumb, yellow cocksucker,” Finnerty said, looking past the man and searching the dark, empty street.  He closed his eyes as the large man stared at him, and then opened them slowly, looking back.  “If I thought you’d be this fucking useless, Zhou, I would’ve never given you that God damn flask and hired your sorry ass from that useless, syphilitic general.”  He took in a deep breath.  “Now pull your shit together or go back to that butt fuck, cesspool of a village you call home.”

“Yes, sir.”  Zhou handed the flask to Finnerty. 

“Of course something’s wrong.”  Finnerty took a swig, looking again at the shop.  “Our guard is missing, the front door is open and someone left the back light on.”  He took another swig.  “We never leave that light on.”

Zhou nodded and faced forward again.

“First the troubles in Belfast, then the fires in Shanghai and now…”

“And now your shop in Hong Kong, Mr. Finnerty,” Zhou said.  “Something’s definitely not right.”

Finnerty scowled at the back of Zhou’s head.  “You’re right.”  He checked under his coat and opened the door.  “So, let’s find out what’s wrong.”

“Yes, sir.”  Zhou got out of the automobile, scanning the empty street as Finnerty walked straight toward his shop.  “Mr. Finnerty?”

“I already checked the street,” he said, his eyes on the front door.  “Come on.”

“Sir, this might be a trap.”

“No shit, you dumb bastard.”  Finnerty stopped in front of the shop, staring at the door.  “This is obviously a trap, which is why you’re going in first.”

Zhou sighed.  “Like last time.”

“It’s what I’m paying you for, you stupid son of a bitch.”

Zhou’s mouth tightened, but he stepped forward.

“Wait.”  Finnerty grabbed Zhou’s arm.  “Listen.”

They stood still, not hearing a thing as Zhou pulled out a large knife from under his coat.  Finnerty sighed and stepped forward, nudging open the door with his foot to see the giant mirror he placed in the entryway.  They stared at themselves for a moment and Zhou swallowed hard while Finnerty stepped inside the shop and peeked past the mirror.  He surveyed the dimly lit main floor, glancing at the ancient sculptures, vintage porcelain and antique jade displays spread throughout the shop, seeing nothing out of ordinary except for the light from the back room.  He checked the empty staircase leading to the second floor and took another step forward when his nose twitched.

“What’s that smell, Mr. Finnerty?”

He frowned, sniffing the air.  “I don’t know.”  He checked the walls, counting the framed paintings and maps as he walked to the back room.  “Nothing’s been stolen.”  He turned to Zhou who kept an eye out behind them.

“Sir…”

Finnerty put a finger to his lips and pointed for Zhou to go to the left as he went to the right.  He sniffed the air again and pulled out a handkerchief, covering his nose and mouth as Zhou did the same.  Then they exchanged a last look, and Zhou stepped into the back room, knife raised high.  He blinked as Finnerty followed him, stopping in his tracks.

He stared opened mouth at the naked, old man lying on the dark, damp floor, lamp light reflecting off the thousand tiny cuts on his clammy, pale skin.  “Townley.”  He bent down and felt for a pulse.  “Edmund?”

Zhou noticed the pink and brown stain underneath Townley and stepped back, coughing from the stench.

Finnerty examined Townley’s blank, hollow eyes, his handkerchief still covering his face.  “They bled him to death.”

“My God, my God, my God, my God.”  Zhou stared at the dead body and took another step back.  “We have to get…”

“Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine.”  Finnerty closed Townley’s eyes.

“… out of here, Mr. Finnerty…”

“Et lux perpetua luceat ei.”  Finnerty made the sign of the cross.  “Requiescat in pace.”

“… We’re not safe here.”  Zhou pulled on Finnerty’s shoulder.  “We have to leave right now.”

“Requiescat in pace.”  Finnerty shrugged off Zhou and wiped away a tear.  “Amen.”

“We should have stayed in the automobile,” Zhou said, now yelling and grabbing Finnerty.  “We should have never come here alone at ni…”

He dropped to the floor, almost falling on Finnerty, a knife in the back of his head as a woman and three men stepped into the back room.  The woman held up a lantern, and Finnerty looked right at her.

“You should have listened to Zhou Gang, Mr. Finnerty.”  The woman looked down at the still twitching body.  “You might have seen tomorrow’s sun.”

“Madame Ni Dao-Ming.”  Finnerty stood up without even glancing at the three men.  “The infamous Golden Claw: hired gun and bloody whore to the Soong family, General Chiang, Sun Yat-Sen and everyone in the Qing Empire.”

The three guards drew long knives, but Ni raised a hand.  “No.”  She smiled.  “No, let’s hear Mr. Finnerty’s last words before his miseries begin.”

He looked at the three men.  “I’m surprised you’d step out of the shadows with your clothes on and legs together, Madame Ni, especially since you’re nothing more than a wrinkly, dried up hole.”

“Said like a man out of options, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni straightened her seamless sheer dress.  She smiled.  “Or someone who sees what they want but will never possess.”

Finnerty smiled.  “I should thank you, Madame Ni.”  He leered at her.  “I’ve been searching for you for a decade, and now you find me."

“So predictable, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni still smiled as her men watched her raised hand.  “But neither you nor Mr. Townley ever concerned me.  You’re both fools living in the past, too blind to see that your Empire is spent and nearly on its knees.”

“And yet China’s been face down in the mud for centuries.”  Finnerty noticed the men’s tattered coats.  “Its glory barely a memory as your people starve in the streets, Madame Ni.”

“More words meaning nothing, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni pointed to Townley’s body.  “Your mentor is just the latest example of how weak the British are.”

“Townley was an old man…”

“Who died very slowly by my hand, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and her eyes narrowed on his.  “Just like your Belfast home burned to the ground last week, thieves ransacked your Shanghai warehouse five days ago and an accident crippled your oldest daughter yesterday.”

“You expect me to believe…”

“That I control events a world away?”  Ni nodded with a wider smile.  “Of course, Mr. Finnerty.  I’ve started wars, caused revolutions and orchestrated the fall of kings right under your nose.  The razing of your family home is…”

“A coincidence.”  Finnerty swallowed.  “Nothing more than a coincidence, Madame Ni.”

“You believe what you will, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni pointed to Townley.  “But right there is all the proof you need that I can do whatever I want to whoever I want whenever I want.”

Finnerty barely held her stare.

“We cut him slowly and deeply, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said.  “Bleeding him over three days as he screamed and cried, begging us for mercy as we drained the spirit out of him like he wasn’t even a dog.”  

Finnerty’s eyes flickered to Townley.

“I showed him a death that made your Great War look like a school yard fight, Mr. Finnerty: a child’s game.  And on his last day Townley realized that I was right.  That it’s only a matter of time before the English kneel before Chinese might.”

He looked up again and she lowered her hand.

The guards stepped forward and Finnerty stepped back.

“And as we slowly bleed you to death, I want you to remember that I could do the same to your young wife and precious children any time I wanted, Mr. Finnerty.”

“No.”  He pulled out a pistol from under his coat, shooting the largest man in the head.  “No, I don’t think so.”

The largest man collapsed to the floor and the other two froze as Ni kept smiling at Finnerty.

“That’s not going to happen, Madame Ni.” Finnerty looked at her, his pistol now pointed at the second largest man’s head.  “Not while I’m alive.”

“Of course not, Mr. Finnerty.”  She raised her hand again.  “But that shouldn’t take long to rectify.” 

He backed up another step.  “You know Chiang will shit all over China no matter what you do to me, Madame Ni.”

“And your Empire will collapse in my lifetime, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Powerful words from someone who hides in the shadows, Madame Ni.”  He watched the two men.  “Britain will never…”

“Your ‘civilization’ is rotting from the inside out, Mr. Finnerty.” 

“Which is why our warships control your coast, Madame Ni?”

“For now.”  Ni stepped closer.  “But that won’t last now that America has turned inward against your precious mercantilist policies, will it, Mr. Finnerty?”

His face hardened.

“They hate you for bringing them into your Great War and causing their Depression.  Hate you so much that they’ll close their own borders even if it cuts into their own trade.”  Ni laughed.  “It’s just like we planned a generation ago, Mr. Finnerty.”

He pulled the trigger, dropping the second man to the floor, and turned his pistol to the third.

“I’ve touched on a sore point, haven’t I, Mr. Finnerty?”  Ni pulled out her own gun, aiming it at his stomach.  “I’ve shown you how weak you are, and it scares you.”

“We still have China in our pocket, Madame Ni.”  He turned his pistol to her face. 

“Until America kicks you out, Mr. Finnerty, like they did to your redcoats 150 years ago.”

“You don’t understand Americans at all, Madame Ni.”

“I understand that we’re both living in their shadow, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni took another step toward him.  “But it’s only a matter of time until we bleed them to death too.”

“You misunderstand China’s true potential, Madame Ni.” 

“Perhaps, Mr. Finnerty, but you yourself told General Chiang that the British plan to exploit a resurgent China to reinvigorate their own Empire, even as you fight us and claim that we have no future without you.”  She stared back at him.  “A daring amount of hypocrisy even for an Irishman.”

“Only if it doesn’t work, Madame Ni.”

“It won’t, Mr. Finnerty.”  She took another step forward.  “Your time is nearly done.”

“And America will just let China rise, Madame Ni?”

“They won’t see the danger until it’s too late, Mr. Finnerty.”

“You’ll never be dangerous with Chiang keeping you in the dirt, Madame Ni.”

“His successors will do better, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and the third man turned to her.

“Mao and the warlords are even worse than Chiang, Madame Ni.” 

“Perhaps.”  Ni shot the third man in the neck.  “But England’s future is even worse for you, Mr. Finnerty.”

He stared at the third man screaming on the floor.

“The world is changing faster than Chiang knows.”  Ni lowered her pistol and nodded to him.  “You know it, I know it, and that’s why I want you on my side, Mr. Finnerty.”

“On your side?”  He turned back to her.

“You know England is collapsing under the burden of its Empire, and that China could return to greatness with the right leaders,” Ni said.  “You could be one of those leaders, Mr. Finnerty.”

He looked right into her eyes.

“You’ve spent almost your entire life in China, Mr. Finnerty.  You’ve become rich here, made a life here.  Do you think you could have done that in England as the Irish Catholic boy you were?”

He looked down at Townley’s corpse and then into the front room and a fraction of his Chinese wealth.

“Help us make the future, Mr. Finnerty.  Embrace the reward you so richly deserve and that the English will never give you.”

“No.”  He raised his pistol to her face.  “No, I don’t think so.”

“You’re making a mistake, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Like you did when you threatened my family and livelihood, you cock sucking, stain of a whore.”

“They’re alive because of me, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni laughed and smashed the lantern to the floor, lighting the room on fire.  “You would do well to remember that.”

He lowered his pistol, his eyes right on hers again.

“Good-bye, Mr. Finnerty.”  Ni turned her back to him.  “We won’t see each other again.”

“I’ll see you dead, whore.”

“No, you won’t.”  Ni disappeared as the flames rose up between them.

Finnerty ignored the fire and holstered the pistol under his coat.  He turned around, pushing Townley and Zhou’s bodies aside and tracing his hand along the floor, revealing a trap door.  He smiled.  “I will see you dead, Madame Ni.”  He lifted the door, heading down a waiting ladder.  “And China too.”


***

Of course the adventure continues.

Read how Ni faces off against Finnerty and the Americans to move China into the 21st century and its rightful place in the world.

Just email Joseph at joe@joestories.com and he will get the rest of Conspiracy Of The Dragon to you.

 

 

 


 

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