Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2006 by Walter Reimer
“I hear yer lookin’ fer someone t’teach ya t’fly.”
Hao barely glanced up at the Euro before returning to his beer. “You may have heard right,” he said softly, one paw near the pistol in his belt. “What’s it to you?”
“It could come in handy, since I hear that it might snow in Yaoming this year,” came the reply in stilted Chinese.
After spending a few days at Madam Baader’s, he had flown his GH-2 to Eastern Island to pick up another cargo, another load of canned foods and other items that might be considered luxuries by some of the furs on Krupmark. Now, the red panda’s ears barely twitched as he turned and coolly regarded the Euro.
He was a stocky rabbit, dark gray fur lightening at the chin and temples, wearing shorts, work boots and a floral-patterned shirt. A pair of sunglasses peeked from the shirt’s pocket. His paws looked capable of stripping an engine without tools, and his voice held a trace of accent – not American, and not British or Canadian either.
None of the other people in the bar spoke Chinese.
Lucky for them.
Hao touched his bottle with a finger. “They always say that,” he remarked casually. “Your Chinese hurts my ears.”
The rabbit sneered in reply. “Get over it.” He signaled the bartender for a beer.
The younger fur edged away imperceptibly. “You’re being terribly straightforward,” and his voice dropped nearly to a whisper, his lips barely moving as he added, “for a spy.”
“And yer very hard t’keep track of.” The rabbit chuckled deeply and took a healthy swallow of his beer. “Anyway,” he said in a more conversational tone, “I hear yer lookin’ fer a pilot’s license.”
“You heard right,” Hao said, a trifle coldly.
Ni Hao was very much like his father in that he hated being under obligation to anyone, let alone foreigners. A year and a half ago, he’d been forced to strike a deal with a small group of unsmiling furs from the Naval Syndicate. In exchange for helping him get rid of two inconvenient Soviet fighter planes, Hao would supply them with some information. Nothing that could get him marked as an informer, he was assured; the RINS mainly was interested in any possible threat to Spontoon and, by extension, Rain Island.
Made sense at the time (although the loss of the fighters signified the loss of a great deal of money), but he had gone so long without hearing from them that he had started to entertain the thought that they’d forgotten.
Mentally he berated himself for his mistake.
Ah, well. Time to make lemonade from the lemon he’d been given. “You a good instructor?” he asked, giving the man a sidelong look.
The rabbit smiled as he placed a slip of paper on the bar and slapped down some money to cover the price of his beer. “Been flyin’ since I got outta diapers. Come ‘round when ya get the chance.” Without a backward glance, the rabbit walked out of the bar, smiling.
Hao smoothly palmed the slip of paper and finished his beer. Outside the bar, he glanced at the paper as soon as it seemed safe to do so.
Harper’s Flying Service, followed by an address. North side of Eastern Island. Hao crumpled up the paper and stuffed it into a pocket as he walked back to his hotel room, deep in thought.
A legitimate license was a good idea, and lessons would be a good excuse to pass information on to his new lepine contact.
But the whole idea still made him nervous.
The stocky rabbit hailed a water taxi. “Moon Island, please,” he instructed the driver in near-flawless Spontoonie. He smiled as he looked out across the water at the anchorage. Even though he’d been thoroughly enjoying retirement, the rabbit had accepted this bit of freelance work cheerfully.
After all, there were things that both Rain Island and Spontoon needed to know.
MOB BIG SHOT DIES, screamed one headline.
Another paper chose to be more flippant: THE BIG FISH AS COLD AS A MACKEREL.
Joey Lupone cocked an eye at the second headline, the obviously labored effort of the editors at the Los Angeles Spectator. The editors were apparently hoping to get the headline out quickly, before the publisher caught them at it.
Lupone snarled and a glob of spit hit the paper, dead center between the eyes of the grainy photograph of the late Vittorio Carpanini. He blinked at the spot of moisture on the picture, and quickly crossed himself before anyone could see. The paper then found its way into a wastepaper basket, face down.
The news that Vittorio had died had spread like wildfire through the city. Almost as fast had been a flurry of telegrams to the east, and even now replies were starting to flow in from Chicago and New York. A pair of guards had been sent on to his own home, while others stood watch at various businesses and near other assets.
Just in case.
The fat wolf sat back in the leather chair that used to belong to Vittorio, glancing around at the study. The police had done a thorough job of keeping the place neat. Not a lot of fingerprint powder had been used, so the place would clean up nicely for the wake. The otter’s body was now at the medical examiner’s office, leaving Lupone to take care of the funeral arrangements.
May was upstairs, doped to the ears on the advice of her doctor. She had told him that she would be happy with anything he decided.
Fair enough, he thought.
A soft tap sounded at the door and one of his soldiers eased the door open. “Joey? You got visitors.”
Lupone nodded and stood up, straightening his suit jacket and adjusting his tie. “Have ‘em come in, Eddie.”
It was a small group of furs, the six caporegimes who managed the various operations and businesses in the area, followed by the family’s lawyer, Paul Conti. The raccoon was wearing his customary dark gray pinstripe suit, but with a black armband.
The little shyster probably had the armband waiting in his closet, ready to put on, Lupone thought.
“Paul,” Lupone said, moving to the raccoon first, then taking his paw gravely and shaking it. “Thanks for coming.”
Conti smiled. As always, he looked ill-at-ease among the other furs. “Thanks, Joe,” he said quietly, and took a seat by the desk. Lupone greeted the other bosses, some embracing the burly lupine before finding seats.
“So,” Lupone said as he sat back down.
There was a brief pause, the silence hanging heavily on the group. Finally one of the bosses, a heavyset feline, stepped forward and Lupone lifted his right paw. The tabby bowed and kissed the signet ring on the wolf’s ring finger. “Don Giuseppe,” he said quietly.
Lupone suppressed a smile.
It was a solemn moment, after all.
Two others stepped forward and pledged their fealty, and Lupone looked up and glared at the others in the room. “Well, whaddaya waiting for?”
Three of the bosses and the Family’s lawyer stood or sat still for a long moment. Finally Eddie Barbaro, the equine responsible for the movie studios, shuffled his hooves nervously before saying, “No reflection on you, Joey, but – “
“But what? I’m the boss now.”
“By rights, Emmanuel should be the boss,” the oldest fur in the room said. Angelo Viscusi was crowding seventy, and was in charge of prostitution and gambling in the growing Hispanic districts on the east side. “Blood follows blood,” he said. “You know that, Giuseppe. It’s the way it’s always been done.”
Lupone’s eyes narrowed and his tail flicked from side to side. “That so, Angelo? Well, that ain’t the way we’re doing it,” he growled, gaze locked with the older wolf’s. “I say the strongest fur here oughta be the Don.”
The air grew tense as the two wolves studied each other, until Conti’s quiet cough broke the spell momentarily. “Gentlemen,” the raccoon said, “we still haven’t found out how Mr. Carpanini died. I say that we should wait until we know for sure.”
“Oh yeah? You ain’t gotta vote at this table,” the feline who had been the first to kiss Lupone’s ring said, and the raccoon promptly cringed in his seat.
All heads turned as Manny walked in. The young otter looked like he hadn’t slept well, but his suit was freshly pressed and his fur was well-brushed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, and looked at Lupone. “That’s my seat, Joey,” he said in a quiet tone.
Some of the furs looked at each other uneasily. The late Don usually spoke like that, before his temper snapped.
The fat wolf sneered. “Come an’ take it, ya little squirt,” he taunted.
“Ya know, I might just do that,” and the younger man’s paw strayed towards his suit jacket.
The others in the room tensed, but relaxed as Manny completed the motion, brushing some dust off the dark cloth. “I’m not going to mark up my house with a bunch o’ bullets,” he said, and he favored the other furs with a look as he added, “and I’m not gonna wreck the Family business just ‘cause one fat bastard thinks he can be Don.”
Lupone’s hackles rose and he bared his teeth at Manny, even as Angelo stepped forward, along with the two other capos. Angelo bowed over the younger man’s paw, murmuring, “Don Emmanuel.” The others followed suit.
When the last one backed away, Manny cocked an eye at Conti. “Paul?”
The lawyer looked troubled as he slowly got to his feet and crossed the room to Manny’s side. Manny gazed at Lupone as he said, “If ya want a war, Joey, ya got one. But I say that’s bad for business.”
“Splittin’ the Family’s bad for business too,” Lupone growled.
Manny smiled. “So let’s let the boys in Chicago and New York choose between us. Should be an easy choice – young, fresh blood over some fat jerk who hasn’t lifted a paw at honest work in years.”
“Why, you - !” The insults lifted Lupone from his chair with surprising speed, and he snarled as the three capos who had pledged themselves to him leaped to restrain him. There was a muttered argument in Italian between the four of them, and Lupone regained his seat, breathing heavily.
He glared up at the young otter and grumbled, “Okay, punk. We’ll let the other Families decide. Till then, what?”
“We have someone else manage things until we have a decision,” Manny said smoothly, and he glanced at Conti. “Paul’s a good choice,” he remarked, ignoring the raccoon’s startled look. “He’s in business law, after all.”
The wolf’s eyes narrowed as he thought it over, then nodded, and everyone relaxed a bit further. “Okay, the consigliere looks after things,” he said. “Until Chicago and New York say what’s what.
“Till then, we got a funeral to plan. We’ll have people comin’ from all over for this,” Lupone said.
Eddie Barbaro gave a weak smile. He really wasn’t cut out for tense situations, and the strain in the room was still running high. “I’ll handle the entertainment,” the horse said. “Call in a few favors, you know.”
That broke the ice, and the other bosses started to put together a plan.
All the while, Lupone and Manny studied each other.