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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer

Chapter 102

Luck of the Dragon: House Rules
© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner courtesy of M.Mitchell Marmel.  Thanks!)

Chapter One-hundred-two

        The market in the Chinese section of Casino Island was full of the aromas of fruits and vegetables, and the warm spring breeze ruffled her fur as Rosie Baumgartner waded into the crowd.  Several of the vendors hailed her politely and started to extol the freshness of their wares.  She grinned.
        Ever since starting her new restaurant on Meeting Island, Rosie had found that she thoroughly enjoyed haggling with vendors to get the freshest food available.  It was working out, too; Luchow’s was gaining a reputation for good food at a reasonable price.  She concluded a deal at a fruit stand and turned.
        She stopped, her green eyes narrowing.
        “Hey, you!” Rosie called out as she walked over to the stall.
        The girl standing at the vegetable kiosk and chatting with the salesfur was a red panda wearing a dark blue school uniform.  The girl half-turned, revealing a school insignia of a musical note with two bars on it.
        The red panda turned to face her, her boots sliding over the pavement.  “Yeah?”
        “You Wo Shin?”
        Shin rolled a few choice replies over in her mind, then smiled.  “What’s it to you?”
        Rosie grinned nastily.  “Go tell your shtarker family it didn’t work.”
        “What didn’t work?”
        “Your little present to Inspector Stagg.”  Rosie preened a bit.  “He’s in better shape than ever.”
        “Good for him,” Shin said dryly.
        Rosie bristled slightly at the younger woman’s tone and she waved a finger at her.  “Listen, shikseh.  Stay away from Stagg.  Capisce?
        Shin studied the wagging finger as if it were some new kind of worm, then gazed placidly up into the cheetah’s eyes.  She frowned at the unfamiliar words, but suddenly smiled as she managed to figure out their meaning.  “Oh!  You want me to stay away from dear old Inspector Stagg?”  She shrugged.  “Consider it done.”
        The Chinese girl’s nonchalant manner caused Rosie’s eyes to narrow a bit.  She placed a five-cowry coin on the counter and said to the vendor, “A pound of cole slaw, please.”
        “No hava cole slaw, missy.”  The vendor looked confused.
        “That’s okay,” Rosie said, hefting a cabbage head.  “I’ll make it myself.”  Her fingers moved almost too quickly to be seen, and shreds of cabbage rained to the pavement.  She turned back to Shin and said, “Good.  I’d hate to see any . . . misunderstandings, little girl.”  She then turned and walked off.
        Shin, tail flicking, applauded politely as Rosie turned and stalked away.  “Give him a kiss for me!”
        A middle finger was raised in taunting reply, claw gleaming with cabbage juice.  “Shtup ihr.”
        Shin raised a brow and glanced at the vendor.  “What’d she say?”
        The vendor had dealt with foreigners before, and his eyes shifted uneasily as he translated for her. 
        Shin burst out laughing and shook her head as she resumed her shopping.  "Lao ji bai."


        Emmanuel Carpanini sat glumly in his father’s office in downtown Los Angeles, gazing at the mound of papers and files that threatened to overflow the desk.  He and the Family’s lawyer, Paul Conti, had been going over the various facets of the Carpanini’s business operations.
        Finally he sighed, and Conti cocked an eye at him.  “What’s the matter, Emmanuel?” the raccoon asked.
        The younger man shook his head.  “Pop was into so much in this city I’m starting to think that splitting the Family might not be a bad idea,’ he said.  “It’s no reflection on you, Paul – I know you’ve had your paws full, keeping everything together.”
        “It’s been a rough few years, particularly after last Christmas,” the lawyer conceded, “but on balance the Family’s doing very well.  Have you heard anything back from New York or Chicago?  Seems we should have heard something by now.”
        “From what I’ve been told, they’re waiting until after the funeral,” Manny replied.  “They want the air cleared before they settle this.”  He smiled suddenly.  “We could settle it like they do on Krupmark.”
        “Manny,” Conti said in a warning tone, “we agreed – you agreed – that there’d be no war.”
        “I know, I know,” Manny said, sitting back with a chuckle.  "But a guy can dream, can’t he?  Okay, now where were we?  Oh yeah – that operation we have up in Sacramento . . . "   His voice trailed off as he started to study the most recent attempts by the Family to exercise control over the state government.

        After another few hours, he helped Conti gather up and organize the files, then sat alone in the office behind his father’s desk.  The young otter cupped his chin with one paw while the other lightly tapped the arm of the chair.
        One of the files on the desk was the medical examiner’s report on Vittorio Carpanini.  The old man had died by poisoning, likely in his grappa.  Thanks to an obliging inspector, Manny wasn’t even considered a suspect.
        Contrary to his late father’s insults, Manny wasn’t stupid; he knew enough to know that he might end up being passed over for the Carpanini Family’s leadership.  The idea of being subordinate to Joey Lupone repelled him, along with the thought that he might not survive very long once the fat wolf became Don.
        Working for him would be bad enough.
        Dying at his paws was definitely not on the agenda.
        He and Lupone had an equal number of caporegimes, and were evenly matched in terms of soldiers and employees.  Paul Conti, the consigliere, didn’t count.  He needed something to tip the balance in his favor.
        Lupone would no doubt be doing the same thing.
        But who could he enlist that wouldn’t ask for a cut of the action?  The Mexicans on the east side were disorganized and had no real power; besides, they distrusted the “Anglos.” 
        Manny blinked at the thought.  He knew that there were several gangs in Chinatown, backed by larger and even stronger organizations.  They were well-organized, disciplined and could make valuable allies.
        The otter smiled, drew a piece of paper across to him and picked up his pen.


        The next morning Hao woke up and caressed the shoulder of the young woman in the bed with him.  The Spontoonie feline murmured happily in her sleep and snuggled closer to him as he relaxed, gazing up at the ceiling.
        After his conversation with Harper, he had found out a bit about the rabbit.  Harper was a retired Air Arm pilot, and his flying school was legitimate.  It also made sense for him to be in Spontoon; the weather was better here for longer periods of time.
        Hao had then spent the better part of the afternoon and evening explaining things to the local leaders of the Red Talons.  They had known about the deal, naturally, and while not exactly happy about the state of affairs they were willing to let the young red panda do what he had been asked to do.
        They didn’t like the idea of being beholden to foreigners either, but were ruthlessly practical furs. 
        And there was the possibility that Hao might learn something in return that they could use to their advantage.
        After seeing the young woman on her way (with an appropriate tip) Hao had breakfast and then took a water taxi to Eastern Island.  He briefly considered stopping by the school, but thought better of it, instead walking past the airport to the northern tip of the island.

        The sign hung on the fence beside the gate faced south and was considerably weathered by the tropical sun, but it still proclaimed the business as Harper’s Flying Service.  Just inside the fenced area was a weed-choked junkyard and Hao identified at least three seaplane hulls of varying types and states of disrepair.  Just beyond the junkyard were a small bungalow and a dock where a single-engine floatplane bobbed at its moorings.
        “Come on in!” came the rabbit’s voice when Hao rapped on the office door.  The red panda paused in thought once more, then stepped inside.
        The interior of the office was dim as the blinds on the windows blocked most of the morning sunlight, but Hao could see that it was paneled in dark wood.  It was the exact opposite of the chaotic junkyard out front; the floor was clean, pictures and maps on the walls were arranged just so and the desk looked as if it’d never been used. 
        Harper was sitting behind the desk, looking over some papers while he clenched a pipe between his teeth.  He glanced up at the red panda and jerked his chin toward a chair.  “Sit you down,” he said gruffly as he returned to his reading.
        Hao used the tip of his thickly-furred tail to pointedly brush the chair clean before sitting down.  He lit one of his Fortuna cigarettes and waited, paws held loosely in his lap as the silence slowly grew.
        “Well, ya can at least be quiet,” the rabbit remarked, putting the papers to one side and taking his pipe out of his mouth.  “Who do ya know in China?”
        Hao shrugged and blew a smoke ring.  “Most of my contacts are in Kuo Han and Hong Kong.  Why?  Need a woman?”
        Harper chuckled.  “Look here, cub, if I want a woman I know where t’find one.  We – and I think you know who I’m talking about – want t’know what’s happening in southern China.”
        “Have you ever thought of reading a newspaper?”
        A pair of strong paws toyed with the pipe, finally inverting it and knocking it out into a wastepaper basket.  Harper took his time refilling it, and after lighting it said, “You struck a deal, I recall.  Is this how a Ni repays a debt?”
        “Oh, I’ll repay the debt,” Hao said easily, but strain showed in the set of his ears.  “I always repay an obligation.  But I don’t have to like it.”
        Harper nodded judiciously, puffing quietly on his pipe.  “Okay,” he finally said, “we understand each other.  How long ya been flying?”
        A shrug.  “About three years or so.”  The change in subject was abrupt, and the shrug enabled him to pause and collect his thoughts.
        “Who’d you learn from?”
        “Cargo pilots, mostly.  Independents, not the big air companies.”
        “Hmm.  I’m thinking all you’ll need is ground school, and an approved test.  Even trade, Ni; ya find out for us what th’ Japanese are up t’around Shanghai, and you’ll have a brand new pilot’s license.  A legal one,” he added with a lazy grin.
         The red panda’s eyebrows rose slightly.  So, they wanted to know about the Japanese?  Well, that would be simple, and far less damaging to his standing in the Tongs than a request for information about criminal activities.  Presumably they had other means of finding that out.
        “When do I start ground school, then?” he asked with a smile.