Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
The morning newspaper thumped against the house’s screen door, coming to rest on the stoop as the paperboy moved down the row of homes on his bicycle. While navigating one-pawed down the sidewalk, the young bear sometimes strayed onto a lawn, but was always careful not to leave any tire tracks on the yard he just passed.
It might not be healthy for him to have done so.
After a few minutes a burly wolf dressed in pajamas and a voluminous bathrobe stepped out of the front door of his home to retrieve his copy of the Los Angeles Times. He unfolded it and smirked at one of the smaller headlines.
CANNON HOME BOMBED, the headline screamed, and Giuseppe “Joey No Nose” Lupone nodded in satisfaction as he skimmed the article, retracing his steps back into the house. The cafeteria owner had been getting too nosy, crusading against corruption within the city government and police department.
Served the bum right.
With this news, the outlook for this fine early April day was much brighter.
Lupone walked into his kitchen where his wife was setting out a breakfast of ham and eggs. He laid the paper down and hugged her from behind, whispering a few words of Sicilian in her ear. His wife giggled and gave him a light smack on one ear. “Fresh,” Maria Lupone said cheerfully. “Sit down and eat your breakfast, Joe.” She flicked her tailfur coquettishly at him as she poured a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and set it down by his plate.
He attacked the thick ham steak with his knife and fork first, washing each bite down with juice before adding hot sauce to his eggs. He had acquired a taste for spicy food while spending a little time just across the border in Mexico. Some of the others in the business looked askance at his use of the hot sauce, but his reputation guaranteed that no one spoke up about it.
His wife sat down facing him, a cup of coffee in her paws as she asked, “Will you be out late tonight?”
The underboss of the Carpanini Family looked up at her over his paper. “Depends on what Vittorio wants,” he replied. “Something going on?”
“Carla’ll be here. I thought we might go out somewhere nice,” Maria said, reminding him that their daughter was due home from college for the summer. It was costing them a mint to put her through Harvard, but (supposedly) it was money well spent.
“Yeah, we’ll take her into town and paint the place red,” Lupone said, taking his wife’s free paw and kissing it. He leered at her and winked, then laughed as she blushed.
Two hours later a dark blue Chevrolet sedan pulled to a stop in front of an imposing house in Glendale, just outside the city. Lupone, his dress shirt open at the collar, waited in the car beside his driver and bodyguard. “Nice day, eh Boss?” the short fox asked.
“Yeah, Vinnie,” Lupone said. The Catalina fox might have been the shortest vulpine the wolf had ever seen, but he was an accomplished killer, an artist with a knife and skilled at explosives.
The two of them straightened up and Lupone got out of the car as a stocky otter appeared at the front door of the house. Vittorio Carpanini kissed his young wife, put on his hat and started down the walk. He got in the back seat as Vinnie held the door open, and Lupone got into the back with his superior. “Morning, Vic,” Lupone said.
The Big Fish grinned and the two shook paws. “Hi, Joey. I hear in the paper that a guy’s house was bombed last night. Too bad, too bad,” he said, shaking his head. The two of them laughed as the fox stepped on the accelerator and the big car proceeded into Los Angeles.
The front for the Carpanini’s operations was a real estate office in downtown Los Angeles. It actually did a good legitimate business, making large amounts of money on the occasional boom and bust cycles of residential development in the adjoining county. The rest of the four-story building was owned by the Family through various shell corporations, all secured by payouts to the city government.
Carpanini walked into the outer office, patting one lissome feline typist on the cheek before entering his private office. He settled into his chair and fixed his gaze on the small fox beside Lupone. “Vinnie, was that your job last night?”
The little fox grinned, and the otter laughed. “Figured,” he said. “Nice clean job.”
“Thanks, Boss,” Vinnie said. “Took your boy out on the job with me.”
That made Carpanini’s ears perk up. “Manny? You took him out with you?”
“Yeah Boss,” the hitfur replied. “He drove the car. Said he wanted to get to know my end of the business.” He caught the older fur’s look and added, “He wasn’t no trouble, Boss, I swear. Kept his yap shut and watched real careful-like.”
“Okay,” the otter said. He snorted and grinned at Lupone. “Joey, I think I did that brat some good, shipping him out to Krupmark.”
“Maybe, Vic,” Lupone said, glancing at a claw. He might get a manicure while at lunch.
“Where’s Manny now, Vinnie?” Carpanini asked.
The short vulpine shrugged. “I dropped him off late at his place. He said he’d be in this morning.”
“That so? Mildred!” he called out, and the secretary came to the door. “If my son comes in, send him straight in, okay?”
The feline nodded and withdrew, closing the door behind her as the two biggest furs in the Family sat down and started to go over the day’s tasks.
After perhaps a half hour the otter and the wolf stopped talking at the sound of a knock on the office door. Mildred opened it and Manny walked in, looking well-rested and pleased with himself. “Morning, Pop. Joey.”
“Manny!” Vittorio stood and came around the desk. Much to Manny’s surprise, his father gathered him into a tight hug before kissing him on both cheeks. “Vinnie tells me you did good last night.”
The young otter’s features brightened. “Yeah, Pop. I wanted him to show me how – “
A meaty paw slammed into the side of his face and nearly knocked him off balance. Lupone sat back in his chair, smirking as Vittorio snarled, “Do anything like that again and I’ll kill ya, I swear.” He grabbed his son by the shirt collar and threw him into a chair. “What if you’d been caught? Hauled into court or being in jail? It’d shame your Mama.”
Manny brushed the back of a paw against his mouth. No blood, but his father was just getting started. He glared up at his father and snarled back, “My mother’s dead – and that whore you’re with ain’t my Mama.”
His father took a step back, quivering as if he were about to have a seizure. He recovered himself enough to growl, “Get outta my sight. Get all of your stuff outta my house by sundown, or I swear – “
“You’ll kill me. Yeah, I heard it all before,” the younger otter growled as he stood up, straightened his shirt and walked out. The door slammed behind him.
A gramophone played a slightly scratched recording of soft jazz as an undertone to the clicking of abacus beads and the soft ticking of chopsticks against fine porcelain as Ni Hei ate lunch with his patron, Shen Jintao. Finally the wolf wiped his muzzle fastidiously and glanced at one fur, who held up his abacus for inspection. Shen studied the figures on it and beamed at Hei. “Your work prospers, Ni Hei.”
“Thank you, Honored Shen,” the red panda said. “My connections with the Americans have proven quite profitable.”
“Indeed so. So profitable, in fact, that I and the others have taken notice.” There was a pause as Shen sipped at his tea; he lowered the cup and it was immediately refilled as he said, “I feel that you should know that certain members are thinking of making you an offer.”
Hei waited expectantly. The few informants he had within the ranks of other organizations had given him tantalizing hints of what the wolf might say.
Shen smiled as he said it. “You are doing very well, and you are being considered for a seat beside me in Fort Bob.”
The red panda bowed low in his seat. Gazing at his plate he said in a quiet voice, “I am honored, Honored Shen, that you think so highly of me.”
“It is solely through your own efforts, my friend,” Shen said.
The mood in the Carpanini home in Glendale that night was tense, so tense in fact that his wife avoided her husband’s eyes and gave him a wide berth throughout the afternoon. The empty second-floor bedroom seemed to accuse the older fur, and he slammed the door closed, then kicked it to splinters.
Finally his anger wore him out, and he sat in his favorite chair in the living room and grumbled. “Lousy little good-for-nothing mange-ridden . . . “ His muttering trailed off into a long series of Sicilian curses and epithets.
His nose twitched at the smells coming from the kitchen and his stomach started to growl. Closing his eyes, the otter breathed deeply and smiled at the delicious odor of frying eggplant, and he stood up and walked into the dining room. From the kitchen he could hear a soft voice singing, and his smile broadened at the sound.
The table was set, with a fresh bottle of good Chianti uncorked and sitting beside two glasses. He poured two glasses, then sipped at his as he sat down and tucked his napkin into his shirt collar. “It smells good!” he called out.
The singing stopped, and his wife poked her head out of the kitchen. “I’m glad,” the canine said as she walked in, carrying a basket of sliced bread and a dish of butter. She set both of them down and leaned over to kiss her husband. “You know,” she said softly, “I hate it when you’re angry, Vic. And I hate it even more when you and Manny fight.”
He frowned up at her. “Manny needs to know that he can’t disrespect you, May. I love you, and I won’t have him calling you names, even if he’s my son.”
She nodded. “I know, honey. Promise me something, please? Will you and Manny at least talk to each other tomorrow?”
He never could refuse her. Carpanini smiled and patted her cheek. “I promise, May.”
“Good. Now you just sit there and I’ll bring dinner out.” She stepped into the kitchen and returned after a few minutes with two plates piled high with lightly breaded and fried eggplant. Bright red tomato sauce lent a contrast to the browned crust on the vegetables, and the aroma was heavy with rosemary and garlic.
The otter’s eyes lit up like a small boy’s. “May! That smells delicious!”
“Thank you,” his wife said with a grin. The former May Kurz was an aspiring actress when she had caught the recently widowed Carpanini’s eye. She knew that Manny considered her a whore, and if the truth be known, she had in fact used her body a few times to get ahead in the business.
She and her husband kissed, and she set the plates down before seating herself.
The meal was excellent, and Carpanini kissed her when he was finished. “How did you learn to cook like that?” he asked.
“I asked around the studio for the recipe,” she replied, “and one of the dressers was nice enough to tell me how to do it. I’m so glad you liked it.”
After a dessert of ice cream, May busied herself in the kitchen with the dishes while her husband went to his study and turned on the radio. He started looking over some of the legal paperwork and business folders left for him by his lawyer, Paul Conti.
The raccoon’s work was impeccable, but carefully left out a lot of the more arcane legal terms that his boss had no patience with. “Gimme it straight” was his motto, and everyone in the organization knew that it was in their best interests to do so. He worked until well after sundown, barely aware of May turning out the lights and going upstairs to bed.
Carpanini finally closed the last folder and rubbed his eyes, an ear flicking at the sound of static coming from the radio. He reached out and adjusted the tuning knob, moving it until he caught the sound of band music. He sat back and listened for a while.
The clock on the wall chimed eleven o’clock and he stood up, stretching and yawning before walking over to the bureau beside the study’s window. He picked up his decanter of the Sicilian brandy known as grappa, pulled the stopper and poured a small measure of the liquor into a glass. He lifted it to his lips and drank, relishing the feeling of the brandy as it burned its way down his throat.
The next morning dawned quietly, with the milkman and the paperboy each making their rounds. May came to the door and collected the two full bottles of milk and the morning paper. After depositing the milk in the refrigerator and the paper on the kitchen table, she yawned and rubbed her eyes with her paws as she walked to the door of the study. She knocked. “Vic? Vic, wake up.”
She opened the door.
The quiet along the residential street was broken by the sound of a woman screaming, as May Carpanini found her husband lying dead, sprawled on the floor of his study.