and Dagger Fiction
4-Part adventure and
Previously: ...Arriving in
Tsingtao, a city under the control of German colonial authority, Kirsch
and Ping discover Ping's father is slatted to be executed for a
recent riot -- more as an example, than because of any serious proof he
was involved. Kirsch is reluctant to interfere but, after Ping
forces him to do some soul searching, he realizes he hasn't much
Chapter Three: Rails of Death!
were, generally speaking, built in straight lines, and the straight
lines of the rails were anathema to the Chinese way of thinking: they
disrupted the natural harmony of the land and displaced its benevolent
forces and -- much worse -- they allowed demons, who could not turn
sharp corners, to roam freely across the Chinese countryside to inflict
harm upon the terrified local populace. The Germans amplified the
impotent rage of the Chinese with their lordly construction program
which they believed licensed them to build where ever they liked, even
in the face of Chinese government protest. Can you imagine how Chinese
laborers, a people who honored with great reverence the spirits of
their dead ancestors, might respond when ordered to build a rail line
through a cemetery, rather than around it?
Acquiring the details of the riot was a simple matter of questioning a
few administration officials of the China Shantung Railway. They had,
of course, interrogated and recorded the testimonies of witnesses,
which -- surprisingly -- included some Chinese. As an official of the
Imperial government of China, I was allowed access to the records. Many
of the witnesses were still in Tsingtao. However, after a day's
inquiry, I could find no one who could identify Mister Zhu and could
testify that they had observed that he was not involved in the riot.
Which meant he would be shot as a murderer -- not necessarily because
he was guilty, but because he was Chinese. And now, because of the
bugger all morality that Ping had heaped into my lap, I could hardly
bloody well stand by and watch such a travesty of justice occur.
However, my options were slim; even my status as a government official
was of small value with the task at hand. So I would gamble, and hope
to bloody hell that I could leave guns out of the fall of the cards. I
was, at the very least, going to have a warrant issued for my arrest
that would make it impossible for me to ever return to
German-controlled territory. I hoped I would still have a job after the
political storm hit Peking. I figured my plan would make more sense
were I drunk, but sobriety was necessary to keep my wits -- and, with
Father Hopfinger's chastising voice clearly in mind, it seemed that the
fewer vices involved the better.
Ping's face lit up as his father and I entered the grand Bahnof station
at the terminus of the rail way. The boy rushed to his father, his
queue snapping like a whip behind him, and flung his arms around the
aging man. Mister Zhu winced, though obviously pleased to see his son;
the elder Zhu displayed the evidence of German hospitality: swollen,
discolored eyes and lips and a proclivity to tender his ribs.
It had been remarkably easy to bluff the Germans into turning Mister
Zhu over to me after I had so successfully convinced them that I was a
railway official who required the temporary release of the Chinaman
into my care for further interrogation.
I shepherded Ping and his father onto an evening train that was leaving
in a matter of minutes, which was part of the plan -- get out of
Tsingtao fast before someone caught on to the fact that both myself and
the condemned Mister Zhu were missing. In order to draw as little
attention as possible, I left Ping and and his father in a third-class
compartment and settled myself into a second-class car. It would be a
short ride. About sixty miles up the line we would egress from the
train at Wei-fang. The trains would then be off-limits for us; they
were extra-territorial -- the laws of whatever nation built the line
were enforced by that nation's troops, and, in Shantung Province, that
would mean German troops. I just hoped we'd get clear of Wei-fang
before any telegraph messages concerning us were transmitted along the
The train rolled out of Tsingtao on schedule almost to the minute (the
Germans liked their schedules). This seemed a propitious sign, so I
settled in with increasing confidence. You can imagine my shock when,
only moments later, the barrel of a Mauser rifle was laid over my
I turned slowly -- you never want to alarm German soldiers -- to see
Hauptmann Rittmeister Albrecht von Gloeckner and three riflemen of the
German East Asia Brigade, their rifles all aimed at me.
Gloeckner was obviously miffed -- well, maybe closer to furious. He
stared at me down his perfect nose, his lips tightly pursed over his
I beamed a smile, eyes wide and cheery. "Ah, Herr Gloeckner, I was
beginning to think that you missed the train." I nodded to the seat
next to mine. "Please, have a seat. I'll call for the steward to bring
schnapps -- unless you prefer something more spirited, something . . .
Gloeckner's upper lip twitched, then he nodded to the soldier closest
to me, who clubbed the side of my head with the butt of his rifle.
Crashing pain was quickly followed by a star-studded shadowy blackness
in my vision. When clear sight returned I discovered I was on my knees
in the aisle. I could feel the flow of a warm wetness trickling behind
my ear and down my neck. A sudden, murderous rage drove me to my feet
and toward Gloeckner, but the misery of my explosive headache and the
barrels of two rifles as they were thrust against my chest convinced me
to abandon my murderous intent. I settled back into a cushion, hoping
to ease the pounding pain in my head. It wasn't my seat, but that
hardly mattered; the other occupants were at that moment vacating the
car for the first class car forward.
Gloeckner was actually smiling -- not a smile of pleasure, but of
sadism. With the pressure of just controlled rage pumping the blood
past my eardrums -- making the head ache worse, I promised myself that
I would kill him. "Herr Kirsch, as I suspected from our previous
communications, you truly are a fool," the German said with an element
of joviality. "However, you are an American and a representative of the
Chinese government. As such, I am somewhat limited in options, though
at the very least I expect to see you expelled from China. But your
companions," his expression altered; he was still smiling, though the
impression was more like that of a snarling German shepherd, "they are
Chinese. It is from them that I will extract my justice; my . . . pound
of flesh, as it were."
Gloeckner motioned to the door at the end of the second-class car
where, beyond the platform and rail coupling outside, was the door to
the first of the third-class cars; no stewards, wood benches instead of
cushions, and poor Chinese peasants crammed so tight they could hardly
breath. One of my escorts relieved me of my revolver and thrust it into
the belt of his field rig, then the soldiers urged me with their rifles
towards the door.
I followed Gloeckner into the third-class car to find that it, too, was
empty of all occupants other than Ping, his father, Gloeckner, and five
East Asia Brigade bullies. Three of the soldiers moved to stand in the
benches next to the Chinese and turned to train their weapons loosely
at me. After securing the door -- no witnesses wanted, apparently --
the other two stood easy in the benches to either side of me. One
soldier was missing; the one who had clubbed me in the head stayed as
sentry inside the door of the second-class car.
Ping was lying on the floorboards in the narrow aisle, slowly rubbing a
cheek with one hand. His nose was bleeding and one eye was already
swelling. He had been beaten. Renewed anger swelled within me. Damn, I
hated these Germans.
Ping's father was standing behind the boy, his hands tied behind his
back with thick cord. Another cord was loosely tied around his neck,
held in place by a big, burly German standing at his back, an
unteroffizier -- sergeant, in English parlance. At a nod from Gloeckner
the sergeant thrust his rifle into the loose wrap of hemp and began
spinning his rifle in a clockwise motion. As he did, the cord formed a
series of twists, tightening around Mister Zhu's neck.
The old man stood stone still, his gaze fixed on the floorboards,
surrender the only expression visible on his countenance. I had seen
the look -- that submission to death -- many times in China; once
condemned, there was no appeal, no mercy, no stay of execution.
"Did you know, Herr Kirsch," Gloeckner prattled in mock politeness,
"that this is an officially approved form of execution in China?" Oh,
how I wished I could have wiped that smile off the smug German's face
with the sharp, heavy blade of a Missouri toothpick. "Do you not
believe, Herr Kirsch, that a bullet from a Mauser rifle would have been
My only response was a baleful glare.
"No? Well, then, we'll do it the Chinese way."
Mister Zhu suddenly inhaled a raspy breath as the rope began collapsing
his wind pipe. The sound was quickly cut off, though the old man's
lungs continued to struggle for life-sustaining air. He turned red and
his eyes bulged, but in no other way did Mister Zhu fight his
A rising panic competed with my anger as emotions roiled within my
being. This was Ping's father -- I had to do something to stop it.
"Gloeck -- Hauptmann Rittmeister -- he's the boy's father. Please --
please don't do this. You say the Chinese are savages. You can't think
us any better if we practice a similar savagery -- _please stop this_!"
Gloeckner smirked -- obviously pleased that I had, in his view,
degraded myself by begging for the life of a Chinaman. He did not halt
I shook with rage, my fists clenched, my breath shallow and rapid, my
peripheral vision darkened. Yet I kept myself in check. Nothing I did
would stop what was happening, and it was possible that I would need to
negotiate to save Ping from an unpleasant future as punishment for his
participation in freeing his father. Mister Zhu slowly settled to his
knees, his body quaking, his facial muscles contorted by his agony.
Finally, after a horrifying span of time, his facial muscles relaxed
and his body fell limp; death had come.
Gloeckner pointed loosely at Ping. "Now this one." The German glanced
menacingly at me, then at the soldiers who stood in the benches on
either side of me. "If this stupid American interferes, you may club
him with your rifles."
The big sergeant lifted the loose loop of hemp from the corpse of the
old man and stepped over him to loom over the boy.
Next - Chapter 4: Showdown on the Shantung
Previous - Chapter 2: "He is to be
This story is copyright by James B. King. It may not
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