Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
The big Marten M-103 flying boat’s four engines were a soothing bass drone that seemed to calm most of the passengers down - almost as much as they seemed to irritate Hao.
At their father’s insistence, he and Peng-wum had paid extra for a non-stop flight to Honolulu with a connection to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, they had been forced to wait two days on Casino Island for a suitable Panair flight that would be able to carry them and several other paying passengers for the fourteen-hour trip.
Peng-wum sat at the table in their small cabin after dinner, reading the newspapers he had brought aboard with him while his younger brother smoked and fretted in his seat. Finally the older red panda looked over his pince-nez at Hao and said, “You look like you need a drink to calm you down.”
“I need something,” Hao said. He glanced out the window at the dark Pacific below and growled, “Why couldn’t we have gone through Midway? Less time in the air.”
“Because Father wants us there as soon as possible,” his brother explained. “A stopover at Midway would have added hours we can’t really afford to add.” He cocked his head. “Don’t like flying anymore?”
“I like it fine, when it’s my own plane,” Hao grumbled. “When I flew to Kuo Han – “
“You mean when you and Anna flew to Kuo Han.”
Hao’s free paw clenched. “I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t speak of her again.”
“Sorry. Anyway, you were saying?”
“When I flew to Kuo Han, I never felt comfortable in that big-bellied German flying boat. This is a better setup, but it still makes me nervous that I’m not at the controls.” He smiled suddenly. “And, you know, the more engines a plane has the more things that can go wrong.”
Peng-wum chuckled. “True, but with four engines you have a lower chance of going swimming if one shuts off unexpectedly.” He grinned as Hao started to chuckle, nodding to show that he realized the truth in the statement. “Look, we’re already six hours into the flight. Why don’t you turn in?” Peng-wum asked.
“I’ll check with the stewards and see if they have whisky on this thing,” Hao said, stepping out of the cabin.
Two glasses of straight whisky later Hao was in bed, sleeping fitfully, while Peng-wum finished reading the last of his newspapers. This was an issue of one of the larger Los Angeles dailies, purchased to give him at least some idea what to expect when he and his brother reached America.
After almost an hour he folded up the paper and got ready for bed, and thought of his wife and child as he fell asleep.
The smell of bacon and coffee caused his nose to twitch and he sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes as he awoke. Hao added some sugar to his coffee and nodded to his brother. “About time you woke up,” he yawned.
“What time is it?”
Hao lowered his cup after taking a drink and replied, “Almost morning.” He gestured toward the window with his coffee cup. The sun could be seen starting to rise over the horizon, and Peng-wum nodded. “We should be landing at Honolulu shortly, then.”
“Yeah.” Hao yawned and stretched. “Will we be staying long in Hawai’i?”
Peng-wum shook his head. Both of them had visited the island kingdom before on business, and there were useful contacts among the Chinese living there (and even some contact with those natives who still chafed under the Yankee ‘protectorate’). “We get on the first available plane to California,” he said. “I hope that they don’t get this problem resolved before we get there – I’d hate to think of spending all this money for nothing.”
“Father would have our tails,” Hao agreed. “Speaking of tails, have you seen my furbrushes?” He chuckled. “I think I slept pretty heavily.”
“With as much whisky as you had? You should still be asleep,” Peng-wum laughed as he got out of bed to eat breakfast. “And Father’s right to worry about this investment. But we need to set things up right, and arriving like this will impress our host.” Peng-wum, like his brother, was under no illusions as to how someone from China might be received in America.
By the time the officious beaver who was their steward came for their breakfast trays, the two red pandas were dressed and beginning to pack up. “We’ll be landing soon, sirs,” the steward said.
“Good,” Peng-wum said. “Any idea what the weather’s like there?”
“Should be pretty clear and warm – not much difference between there and Spontoon this time of year, sir,” the man said as he left the cabin.
The flying boat touched down so smoothly that Peng-wum wasn’t certain they had landed until he heard the pitch of the engines change and saw that they were now lower than the surrounding skyline. As the plane taxied to a waiting towboat it turned and he felt his tail fluff at the sight of the U.S. Pacific Fleet riding at its anchorage across the lagoon.
“Waste of money,” he muttered as he turned away from the window, and Hao laughed.
The airline had reserved a room for them in the Royal Hawai’ian Hotel; it was necessary to stay one day in Honolulu while the plane was serviced for the trip to America. As soon as the door closed Peng-wum kicked his suitcase. “Another lost day,” he growled. “It’s almost mid-April.”
“Calm down, Brother,” Hao said. “Come on; I know a few places where we can eat and relax. Out of the two of us, you’re the one who needs a clear head.”
Peng-wum sighed and nodded. “No brothels.”
“Of course not, but are you going to keep me from having some fun?”
The next morning Peng-wum was better-rested if still a bit moody as he and Hao boarded the flying boat for the next leg of their trip. The distance to be traveled was longer, over twenty-five hundred miles; consequently the trip would take almost nineteen hours. With the change in time zones, it would be nearly four o’clock in the morning when they tied up at the dock at Long Beach.
It was just after five in the morning when the plane landed, owing to a headwind. Both brothers looked tired as they stood in line with the other passengers while their bags were poked at by uniformed Customs agents. The two red pandas were dressed similarly, in expensive suits that befitted their first-class passenger status. Their passports (acquired on very short notice from a very enterprising fur in the Foreign Ministry) were scrutinized and stamped.
As they stepped out of the terminal and walked to the taxi rank Hao suppressed a sigh of relief that his pistol hadn’t been found. While he was sure that he could get another Colt .45 – they were made in America, after all – the expense and trouble he would have to go through would make it an irritating experience. A porter trailed them with their suitcases, and they stopped as a piercing whistle split the air.
The source of the whistle was a slim cougar wearing a rumpled pinstriped suit. He was standing beside a large sedan, and he waved as he walked up to them. “You Ni Peng-wum?” he asked.
“He is,” Hao said, easily stepping to one side to take up a defensive position.
“I’m Bill Heller. Don Emmanuel had me wait here for you,” the feline said as he shook paws with Peng-wum. He jerked a thumb toward the car and the porter carried the bags over. “Welcome to America.”
“Thank you,” Peng-wum said. “Where are we staying? My brother and I would like to get settled in before we meet with Manny.”
“Sure, sure. The Don’s got you two rooms at the Cathay. It’s near Chinatown, no offense,” he added as he saw the look on Hao’s face.
“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” the older panda said as he opened the car door. The porter had already loaded their bags into the trunk, and Hao tipped the fur several dollars before climbing in after his brother. Heller got behind the wheel, and guided the big Lincoln out of the parking lot.
Peng-wum glanced at Hao, who nodded and gently patted his suit jacket.
He relaxed, but only slightly.
“Since you call him Don Emmanuel, does that mean the problem between him and Joey Lupone is settled?” Peng-wum asked as they drove down still largely-deserted streets.
The cougar snorted. “Not by a long shot,” he said. “I heard from a guy who heard it from Eddie the Barber that the boys from New York and Chicago are still talking things over. Business is still going on, though – that’s a good sign.” He turned right.
“What do you usually do?” Hao asked.
Heller glanced up at the rear-view mirror and met the red panda’s eyes. “Me? I drive people around for Eddie,” he said with a smile, keeping a confident paw on the wheel of the big sedan. “I see a lot of stars and starlets, and I sometimes get a job working for one of them on the side. Got to pay the bills, huh?”
“I guess so,” Hao said, returning the smile. Heller wasn’t carrying a weapon that he could see, and he held himself wrong to be a martial artist. He was probably exactly what he said he was – a driver.
“Here we are,” Heller said as he pulled the car up at the entrance to an imposing five-story building. “The Cathay’s not the Ritz, but what is?” He laughed at his own joke.
It may not have been the Ritz, or even the Marleybone on Casino Island, but the staff was efficient and the hotel itself looked expensive. It was good that Manny was paying for their suite – a sitting room, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the top floor of the building. While the bellhop brought in and opened their suitcases, Heller paused at the door. He explained, “I’m supposed to call Don Emmanuel to let him know you’ve arrived. When should I say you’ll come talk to him?”
Peng-wum glanced at his watch, then at the clock beside the radio. “Let him know that we’ll come see him at nine, it that’s all right. It’ll give us some time to get cleaned up.”
“Sure thing.” The cougar left, along with the bellhop.
When the door closed Hao sighed and sat down. “Was this anything like what you expected?”
“No, but we should be ready for anything that comes up.”
“Those, and you might have a use for your paws or that gun in your armpit.”
Hao laughed and cracked his knuckles.
Several hours later the two brothers stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby. Heller was waiting for them, reading through a copy of a racing form. He folded it and shoved it into a back pocket when he caught sight of the pair. “All ready to go?” he asked. “The Boss is waiting for you.”
“Yes, we’re ready to go,” Peng-wum said. The two had changed into identical black suits, expertly tailored to match the latest fashion. Hao’s jacket was cut a bit looser on one side to allow him access to his pistol, and he had slicked his headfur back into what he called his ‘George Raft look.’
“We’ll want to pay a visit to Don Vittorio’s widow today, as well,” Peng-wum said as Heller walked with them out to the car.
“No problem,” the feline said. “I think she’s still living at the house in Glendale, along with the boss. He’s also wanting you to meet the guys from out east.”