**This is the first installment of a 12-part serial. Next installment will come out October 28th.**
Night falls on a land lost to Time. We assume this is because Time is shit with maps. It was once said that this mystical place was the home of wise beings and deities, the Zodiac Animals. Twelve in number, they were the first to complete the Great Race called by the Jade Emperor. As winners, each was given a year in the twelve year lunar cycle. While they still exist today, few would call them wise, instead preferring the term ‘degenerate’ or ‘washed-up’. Many live off the checks given to them each time their year comes around. Others have found employment in other fields. Let us focus now on one of these noble souls, one who has found comfort in the arms of liquor and heavy handed justice, the one, the only, the Rabbit.
I woke up with my brain rattling around my skull like a tennis shoe in a washing machine. A much different type of rattling than that of the empty beer cans cascading onto the sawdust covered floor. Though their effect on my headache was of an equal measure. Yet it was the sound of some asshole pounding on my door that woke me. They had yet to stop.
“I’ma comin! I’ma comin! Don’t bust down my door!” I screamed. Poor choice. The blood rushed to my head. Suddenly an entire Kunqu opera was bustling around my synapses, using my nerves for their percussion section. Holding my head in my paws I groaned. This was going to be one hell of a morning. Wait. Street lamps aren’t turned on in the morning. Shit.
The knocking resumed. Louder. Some high pitched yelling accompanied it. With a little practice they might have a chance at making a Bieber album. I patted my breast pocket, a familiar bulge greeted my worried paws. Whew. At least some things could go right. I pulled out the bottle of baijiu and took a long swig. Yeah, that hit the spot. Next I opened the top drawer and a familiar dull shine greeted my eyes. Some might think it abhorrent to keep a lady tucked away in a drawer. Some haven’t dealt with a lady more sinister than a toddler with a bull horn. Oh Lord! My lady was fine. She came into this world called a Taurus Judge, a lovely little pistola with more sass than a flamingo in New Orleans, but I just call her Becky. And there she was, gleaming up at me. A little beat around the edges, but just as pretty as the first time I saw her. Bloody magnificent.
Returning the baijiu to my pocket and nestling Becky in my waistband, I was ready to deal with the herd of elephants outside my door. Picking my way gingerly through the mess of the floor, I skipped and hopped to the doorknob.
“Well it’s about time!” she huffed. “I’ve been out here banging away for the past fifteen minutes,” this was accompanied by a gesture to her watch. I’d met her type before, all hips, no brains. Wait, was that sexist? Fuck it. Blame it on the booze. I had seen her around before. She spent all her time cleaning her fur, no time actually lifting a claw. She was a friggin cat.
“Most people would get the hint after five minutes,” I replied. The look on her face made me realize that such comments were not how one kept business. “Sorry,” I said, “how can I help you?”
“Well first off, you can let me into your pigsty office. Next you can…” her voice trailed off, “What is that smell?” She wrinkled her pretty little nose. “Is that you Rabbit? How foul! I’ve slept in garbage smelled better than you.” I’d like to say her words hurt. But I couldn’t give two droppings about what she thought. A small (large) part of me wanted to slam the door in her pretty little whiskers. Something, call it crap intuition, stopped me.
“Look lady, I don’t know what you want, or why you sleep in garbage in the first place, but getting abuse was not why I got up this morning.” I tried to put an edge to my voice, I think I just sounded beat.
She didn’t even blink, “Nah you just got up for a few shots of tequila before you pass out again.”
She had me pegged. I throw back, “I couldn’t afford tequila if it fell from a tree. So I sincerely hope you’re here on business, otherwise I’m going to slam this door in your face.” Oh I was praying for the latter.
“Yeah yeah that’s just like a rabbit to be like. Always trying to make a carrot.” Her disdain was plain to hear.
“Thats ‘Rabbit’ to you, capital ‘R’, I ran that stupid zodiac race for a reason.” Becky was making compelling arguments from my waistband to join the conversation. I held back. This cat was driving me nuts, but I had manners still. I think.
She prowled into my office, nose upturned to the beer cans, eyes narrowed at the PlayBunny mags on the wall. “So this is what the bottom looks like, huh Rabbit?” She emphasized that ‘R’ like she was coughing up a hairball. Shit, was that racist? Gotta watch myself. “Have you got no customers or are you just crap at your job? Ahh wait I know what it is. You get one of those zodiac paychecks, only it hasn’t been your year for awhile, has it? Good thing for you I got need of your services.” Most cats purr, I was beginning to realize that she wasn’t most cats.
I flopped into my seat. “Good for you. Spill. What’d’ya need?”
She brushed some debris off of one of the cleaner seats and sat down. “You know Dragon?”
I reply, “Of course, big noble guy, bit of a blow hard, but wise and just and all that noise.” I used to be more deferential to my fellow zodiac brethren. ‘Used to be’ being the operative phrase. “What’s up with Dragon?” I asked.
“I’ve been running with him past couple months,” my snort derailed her for a second, “Find something funny, Rabbit?” Hard emphasis on the last word.
“Me? Funny? Course not. You just might want to have the vet check you out, cause that guy get’s around.” The stare she gave me could have scrapped permanent marker off a baby’s face, the face just would have come along for the ride.
“Watch yourself bucky. I’ll kill you quicker than your alcoholism, hard as that may be to believe.” I didn’t get why she was so upset, I mean I did, but the guy really did get around! Women used to come to my office all the time trying to figure out who the father of their brat was. After awhile I didn’t even have to leave my chair. It was Dragon, nine times out of ten. That jock boy used the ‘I’m so wise and powerful line’ so much you’da thunk these ladies would see through a sham. Not uh, and seems like this pussy cat fell hard for it too.
I raised my paws in benediction. “Apologies, apologies, that was out of line, even for me.” It wasn’t, she should really get checked, but hey that’s her problem. “So you’ve been running with him, so what? Did he run off?”
“No, he’s back at our place. The problem is that someone took something from him.” Lord knows it wasn’t his virginity! Damn, was that in poor taste? Low hanging fruit, my bad. “You gotta keep this on the DL,” she said, “if too many people find out, things could really go south, for all of us.” she was hissing at this point. I didn’t go in much for melodramatics, but something had this cat spooked.
“You know me, discretion is my middle name,” my face was the picture of earnestness.
“Bull shit,” she replied. Guess she didn’t trust pictures much, “You’re a blundering furball but you’ll do.”
Glib I replied, “As you say. So what was stolen from the magnificent personage of the o’ so mighty Dragon? His toothbrush? His taste in women? Not much value in that last one.” Truth be told I don’t know when to close my mouth, but her slap to my jowls nudged me to the necessary realization.
“Fuck you. He’s changed. He’s better, back to his old self. Giving farmers rain and saving imperiled villages. He’s a good man, which is so much more than could be said for you.” she frowned. “But what’s been taken from him, it’s ruined him. He won’t get out of bed, he won’t even watch football any more. I mean he’s despondent.” I think I saw a tear forming in her eye. My softer side wanted to reach out and pat her paw. But then I realized only assholes would use ‘despondent’ in a sentence.
“Look that’s awful and all, but like if you don’t tell me what he lost, I can’t really do much for you.”
She hiccuped, “Oh I’m sorry, emotions have just been kind of hard recently.”
I passed her an only lightly soiled handkerchief. She took it and was about to blow her nose before realizing the monstrosity in her hand, and threw it on the floor. So much for generosity these days.
I prompted her again, “So… the object… that was stolen…”
She let out a massive sigh, dramatic pause, and then, “Someone has stolen Dragon’s Fire.”
I had but two thoughts, “I’m fucked,” and, “Definitely need more baijiu.” Shit had just hit the fan and I was the only dumbass holding a mop.