Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
The telegram was received at the Eastern Island station before lunchtime that day. The piece of paper was given to a courier who gave it to another when he landed at Main Village, and it reached the small fishing village of Pangai a few hours later.
The courier had been tipped two shells and was on his way back to Main Village, leaving Ni Peng-wum staring at the telegram in his paw. His tail twitched back and forth in exasperation and he resisted the urge to start stamping his feet in anger. He passed it to Nailani and as his wife read it he grumbled, “What the hell is Father thinking? I’ve only been home a week!”
“Ten days,” the rabbit said absently as she reread the telegram. “What’s this about a 'little fish'?”
He gave a short barking laugh. “That’s Father’s way of being clever,” he said. “Since Don Vittorio was called the Big Fish, his son must be – “
“I get it now,” Nailani said with a soft chuckle. “It’s also a fairly good way of concealing who he’s talking about.”
“I suppose so,” her husband conceded, his expression growing moody. “But why now, of all times? I just got back here to you and Mikilani, and now I have to leave again.” He sat down on a low bench just outside their longhouse door.
“Love,” Nailani said as she sat beside him and slipped an arm around his shoulders, “we’ve had this conversation before, you know. Your work is over there on Krupmark; no matter where you have to go, you know that Mikilani and I will be waiting here for you.”
“I know,” he said, giving her a brief kiss on her cheek. “It’s the timing that disturbs me. You and our son need me here – a son needs to know his father.”
“He will,” she said firmly. “You know, have you thought of setting up an office here? Well, not in Pangai, of course,” she said in response to his look, “but on Casino Island?”
“It’d be hard getting it past the Althing,” he said, “not to mention the Constabulary.”
“A lot of your family’s business is legal, isn’t it? Just move it here. I’m sure the Althing would welcome the additional taxes.” Her brown eyes gleamed. “And you’d be closer to your wife and child.”
Peng-wum ducked his head, blushing a bit as he started to chuckle. The Nis already owned two businesses in the Spontoons, through an almost embarrassingly complex web of shell corporations. To open up a branch office openly would be sure to attract attention.
Of course, his marriage to Nailani would help matters, as it made him a Spontoonie citizen. “I love you, you know.”
“I love you too, Husband. Now, get up and start getting ready to go. You’ll have to get in touch with Hao, I’m sure, if your father hasn’t already sent him here.”
“I’ll make a phone call in a little while, after dinner.” The nearest phone was more than a mile away.
“Then I’ll start getting dinner ready and you let my father know that someone needs to take your place on the boat for a while.” Nailani got to her feet, then leaned over and the two shared a kiss.
“Phone message for you, Mr. Ni,” the maitre d’ said as Hao entered the lobby and started walking to the dining room.
The young red panda paused. He had sent a variety of messages, some open letters and telegrams, others couched in language so arcane that he’d had to have others write them for him. All bore the same request – to collect as much information (safely) as possible on what the Japanese were up to in the parts of China that they occupied.
Hao didn’t bear any grudge against the Japanese; raised largely on Krupmark, he was used to the idea of survival of the fittest. If the mainland Chinese were too weak to fight off the invaders, too bad for them. And once he’d paid off his debt to the Naval Syndicate he resolved that he wouldn’t fall into the same type of deal again.
“What’s the message?” he asked, and the canine handed him a folded slip of paper. Hao waited until he was at his seat in the hotel’s dining room before studying the note.
It was from his father: Contact your brother and come home. The message was the shortest and most cryptic possible – no telling how many paws it might have passed through before it came to him. The waiter came and took his drink order, and after lighting a cigarette he quietly touched the match to the message and dropped it into the ashtray.
Peng-wum would know where to find him, he thought as he watched the slip of paper turn to ashes. When it had finished burning he ground the cigarette out, grinding the ashes into powder so that the message would be unrecoverable.
After supper he took the first available water taxi over to Eastern Island and looked for Harper. The rabbit, he had discovered after a bit of surveillance, was a man of habits; he could usually be found at Mahanish’s near the airport.
“Thought I might find you here,” he said as he sat down beside the stocky buck. Harper favored him with a glance and took a long pull at his drink. Hao’s nose twitched; Harper’s drink was almost straight whisky.
The rabbit put his glass down and said, “So, ya found me. Why? Your flyin’ test’s next week.”
“I have to go home.”
A nod. “Yeah, I know how that works. Look, kid, th’ tests’ll still be waitin’ fer ya. Anyone goin’ t’pass on - ?”
“Not that I know of,” and Hao gave the tight smile that usually presaged death and mayhem. “I’ll know when I get home.”
Harper nodded and returned to his drink.
“We have to get back home,” Peng-wum said as he sat down in Hao’s hotel room a few hours later. He then told Hao about the telegram he had received from their father. “Is your plane ready?”
“Sure, I guess so,” Hao replied with a shrug. “So something’s going on with that little yang gui zi in Los Angeles?” His older brother grinned at the use of the phrase ‘foreign devil’ and nodded. “I wonder how the old bastard died.”
“We’ll have to find out. And we’ll have to see what’s gone on since he wrote to Father before we start making plans,” Peng-wum said. “And Nailani had an idea.”
“Yes, setting up an office here so I won’t have to keep flying back and forth to Krupmark.” The older of the two flicked his tail slightly. “I have to discuss that with Father as well.”
Hao started to laugh. “Going legitimate will take all the fun out of life.”
“At least you won’t have to go to sleep wondering if someone’s going to try and shoot you,” Peng-wum pointed out. They both laughed at that, and he asked, “You up for a night flight?”
“Sure,” Hao replied. “How are you on the signal lamp?”
“Do you honestly think I’d forget the recognition codes?”
“Not with your memory. I’ll get us checked out and we’ll head over to the seaplane docks.”
The Garza-Huacatl described a tight rightward spiral as it descended, a flickering light coming from one window. The machine gunners on the scattered rooftops recognized the code and settled back down beside their guns. There had been rumors that a shipment of stuff with a higher caliber had been intercepted and would soon be making the island more secure. The rumor was met by several cynics who said that the guns would reap a higher profit being sold to some South American country rather than used to fortify the criminal haven.
The seaplane landed and slipped through the gap in the barrier reef as it headed for the Ni & Sons dock. Two furs waited for it and helped tie the twin-engine craft fast, then escorted the two occupants of the plane into the converted warehouse.
Hei and Peng looked up from their dinner as their two sons walked in. “I didn’t expect you to get here so soon,” he said, dabbing at his muzzle with a napkin and waving them to seats. “How are your wife and son, Peng-wum?”
“They’re fine, Father. In fact, Nailani had an idea,” and he recounted what she told him.
The older red panda nodded judiciously. “It sounds like a good idea,” he said. “As you know, our legitimate interests outnumber the illicit ones. Perhaps I can have one of our contacts sound out the Finance Ministry.”
“It would place us in an exposed position if the Constabulary started another crackdown, Father,” Peng-wum said.
“True, but if all we’re doing there is legitimate business, who can argue against it?” The older man grinned. “By the way, your idea about films was approved. A building is being set up.”
Peng-wum chuckled. “Not my idea - Shin’s. Said she got it after watching a fight being broken up last year.” While several concerns on Krupmark dealt in pornography, it was rarely based on the island. With an acceptable pool of ‘talent’ the traffic in certain pictures and films could be a lucrative business. “Our operation?”
“Of course; it was our idea.” A canine entered the room with two plates of fried rice and shrimp for the newcomers. Hao started eating as Peng-wum asked, “What’s going on out east, Father?”
“Well, you know the Big Fish died-- by poison, we’ve been able to discover. Exactly who killed him is still unknown.” Hei sipped his tea and licked his lips. “By rights, I suppose, Manny will become the next leader of his Family, but apparently there’s a problem with the former Number Two in their organization.”
“Yes. I’m surprised by the level of organization the Americans have. Manny explained that he’s waiting to see what the other gangs in New York and Chicago have to say.”
“No guns?” Hao asked with his mouth full.
“No, no shooting – yet, at any rate, and it seems they want to keep it that way,” Hei said. “Manny described you as his friend, Peng-wum, and I’d like you to go to Los Angeles and help him. Hao will go with you.”
“Me?” Hei and Peng’s youngest yelped.
“Of course, son,” Peng said. “Your connections with the Tongs will be a help.”
“Oh.” Hao looked at his plate. “How long will we be away?”
“I’m not sure,” Hei said. “Peng-wum? Thoughts?”
His oldest son gazed at his plate and muttered, “I need to look at something,” and without another word got to his feet and walked to his father’s office. Through the open door Hei could see the book Peng-wum took from his desk and started poring over.
The brown-backed ledger detailed all of the Ni Family holdings.
Hei sat back with a smile. When his children started thinking, it was always best to get out of the way. Something was about to happen.
“Hao,” he said finally, “I want to have you and your brother head out to California as soon as possible. If nothing else, we can strengthen our ties with friendly businesses there.”