Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
With the sun now higher in the blue spring sky, the tall buildings of the city could be more clearly seen, and Heller chuckled as the two red pandas gawked like tourists at the sight. “I’ve seen buildings like this in Hong Kong,” Peng-wum said, “we both have – but this place is spread out a lot more.”
“Yeah, the city’s growing fast,” the cougar said, glancing over his shoulder. “Lots of opportunities here, especially with the movies. Hardly anyone makes pictures out in New York anymore.”
“So why’d they move out here?” Hao asked.
“The weather’s better. Also more land for location shots.”
The car made its way into Glendale, and soon pulled up in the driveway of a large house in what appeared to be a quiet residential neighborhood. “I would think that someone like Manny would live in a mansion or something like that,” Hao remarked as he got out of the car first and looked around. Apart from a car parked down the street with two furs in it, the neighborhood was quiet at this time of the morning.
Hao raised one eyebrow as he realized he was looking at bodyguards.
“He might. I heard a rumor that he was going to give this house to the Big Fish’s widow and move into new digs downtown. Closer to the business end of the operation,” the feline said as he led the two red pandas up the walk to the front door. He touched the doorbell and waited.
The fur who answered the door was a tall horse whose tail flicked nervously. “Good, you’re here. Come on in,” and he held the door open. “I’m Eddie Barbaro.”
“Mister Barbaro,” Peng-wum said, and offered a paw. The equine looked at the paw and took it gingerly, then shook it as he smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thanks,” the horse said as Hao stepped in. “Any trouble, Bill?”
“Not a bit, Mr. Barbaro,” the cougar said.
“Good. Get yourself some coffee and Danish in the kitchen. Don Emmanuel’s in the study,” and he ushered the two red pandas through the house.
The house was well-furnished, and some bouquets of flowers bearing black ribbons still decorated a table beside the door to the study. Barbaro knocked and opened the door. “They’re here.”
Manny looked a bit tired, but he grinned and almost leaped out of his chair to greet his two guests. The Family’s lawyer, Paul Conti, was the only other fur in the room. The raccoon stood and smiled as the otter walked up to Peng-wum and the two shook paws. “Peng-wum, it’s great to see you! Hao, how’s business? Still fishing?”
“Business is good, Manny,” Hao replied, smiling slightly.
“Great. Peng-wum, I’m glad you could get here on such short notice. It’s only been – what? Fifteen, maybe twenty days since I wrote to you,” the otter said. “Come on in and sit down. Paul and I were just going over a few things.”
“Well, we got here as quickly as we could, Manny,” Peng-wum said. “Mail service to Krupmark’s a little erratic,” and the two shared a laugh as he sat in a leather armchair.
“I’m glad you’re here, nevertheless. Here’s what’s going on,” and Manny pulled his chair out from behind the desk and sat close to Peng-wum. “Me and Joey are pretty equal in strength, which could raise a lot of Hell if we started shooting. Naturally, we want to avoid that, but a Family can’t have two Dons, you see?”
Peng-wum nodded, his eyes never straying from Manny’s face. “New York and Chicago have both sent people out here to try to settle things down. After all, they stand to lose a lot if things go bad here.” The young would-be Don sat back in his chair. “They’ll be coming over a bit later. I asked them to come and talk with you.”
“Yeah. You’re our biggest overseas partner.”
There was a soft clearing of a throat, and Conti chimed in as the two turned to look at him. “What we’re trying to do, Mr. Ni, is convince them that the organization out here needs to look beyond our borders for business contacts. More money, for starters, and also more influence. A young, progressive leader like Don Emmanuel here can do that far better than – “
“Than an old mange-ridden bastard who still thinks he’s in Sicily,” Manny growled. There was an awkward pause as he got himself under control. “Sorry. That damned wolf has a lot of nerve, thinking he can take this away from me.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Peng-wum said. “Hao and I will need to talk to a few people, of course. May we borrow your driver?”
“Who?” Manny asked, his brows creasing. Barbaro leaned in close and whispered, and the otter brightened. “Oh, Bill! Sure, you can have him until you’re ready to leave. He’s good, and he knows the city like the back of his paw.”
“Good.” The two talked for several minutes about business matters until the study door opened again, and Manny stood up as two more furs entered the room. One was a lean, graying wolf and the other a slim, dapper canine who dangled a fedora from his paws.
“Gentlemen,” Manny said as he shook their paws, “I want to introduce my business partner and friend, Ni Peng-wum. Peng-wum, this is Arturo Luccageni from New York,” and the wolf nodded, “and Phil Sacerdote from Chicago.” The thin canine grinned as he shook paws with the red panda.
“I’m pleased to meet you both,” Peng-wum said.
“Likewise,” Sacerdote said. “Good to see that Manny’s pop decided to stretch his business to Krupmark. A few of us in Chicago want to, but the Dons there are leery of dealing with Chinks.”
Peng-wum nodded, one ear flicking in a signal to Hao to keep his temper firmly in check. “I’m here as Manny’s friend, and as a representative of the Ni and Sons concern,” he explained. “We do some very lucrative business with the Carpanini Family, and we want to expand that if we can. With our ties to markets in Asia, I think that we can do great things together.”
Luccageni nodded, a paw to his chin as he gave the red panda an appraising look. “So you come all this way to support your friend?”
“And you’d like us to take this into account.”
“That’s up to you.”
“Because Don Emmanuel feels – and my father agrees – that the future of business lies in having strong relationships with companies as far-flung as possible,” Peng-wum explained. “We feel that Don Emmanuel understands that, and that progressive outlook can only increase the amount of money flowing eastward.”
The wolf tapped his nose with a fingertip, then nodded. “You have a broad vision, young man. Young men usually do dream big.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And your father shares this dream of yours?”
“Yes, sir. He does. He was educated in this country, and feels that East and West don’t need to be enemies.”
No need in bringing up the fact that Ni Hei loathed America, and especially Americans.
“Hmm.” The wolf and the dog shared a significant glance.
Peng-wum turned to face Manny and asked suddenly, “Is Mrs. Carpanini here? I was told to pay my respects.”
“May? She’s upstairs, still in mourning,” Manny replied, jerking his chin upward. “She’s got the second floor to herself, and if things work out she’ll have the whole place.”
“Fine. If you’ll excuse us, gentlemen? Hao?” Peng-wum stood, shook paws gravely with the other men, and he and his brother walked out.
As the door closed, Luccageni turned to Sacerdote. “Polite guy,” he said in Italian.
“Respectful, too,” the canine said. The conversation turned to other matters, and ended with Manny inviting them both to lunch at an upscale restaurant downtown.
The atmosphere upstairs seemed hushed, almost like a funeral home as a quiet little vole maid ushered the two red pandas into a room. “Mrs. Carpanini, these two gentlemen are here to see you,” the girl said, and bowed herself out.
The woman stood to shake paws with the two, her pale brown fur and long blonde headfur a stark contrast to her black dress. She was beautiful and much younger than the old Don had been, and Hao covered his sudden tail wag by bowing as Peng-wum said, “Mrs. Carpanini, my name is Ni Peng-wum. I’m here on behalf of my father to convey his condolences on your loss.”
She smiled, her eyes dampening with unshed tears. “You’re very kind, Mr. Ni,” she said softly.
The two red pandas exchanged glances.
Peng-wum asked, “Is there anything we can do for you?”
“No,” came the reply, with a firm shake of the head. Not drugged then, but genuinely grieving. “Manny’s had a change of heart, and he says he’s giving me this house. He’s not going to turn me out in the street.”
“I’m very glad of that,” Peng-wum said. “If you should need anything, my brother and I are staying at the Cathay, Suite Two.”
“Thank you.” Another round of pawshakes, and the two left the room.
As they came downstairs Manny asked, “Would you care for some early lunch? We’re going to a place I know downtown.”
“That’d be great,” Peng-wum said as Heller came out of the kitchen, straightening his tie. “We hope to see a bit of Los Angeles before we have to fly back to Spontoon.”
“Bill’s your fur, then. You’ll follow us, since we all can’t fit in one car.”
The restaurant was fairly large and obviously served a high-class clientele. Hao and Peng-wum looked over the menus, noting that the place’s specialty was Chinese food. Well, Manny knew how to use chopsticks, and he had to learn from somewhere.
“What’s this ‘chop suey?’” Hao asked, blinking at one of the selections.
“Try it, it’s pretty good,” Manny urged as the waiter approached.
It quickly became obvious that the cooks in the kitchen were not Chinese, but they seemed to try hard. The others looked on bemusedly as Manny and the red pandas used chopsticks to eat with. Hao seemed to like the sweet-and-sour chicken.
When they were finished the waiter placed a small dish with five small tan confections arrayed on it. Peng-wum looked at it curiously and Manny said, “They’re fortune cookies. I’m told it’s a tradition in China.”
It certainly is not, Peng-wum thought to himself as he picked one up. The ‘cookie’ was a hard wafer that tasted sweet, and it was intricately folded to conceal a small slip of paper with a message on it.
Peng-wum smiled as he read it to himself: 'Your everlasting patience will be rewarded sooner or later' .
I hope so. I really hope so, he thought.
Hao snapped his open and read aloud, “ 'Your heart is pure, and your mind clear, and your soul devout.' ” He started to laugh. “Well, that’s one out of three,” and the others started laughing with him.
“Which one?” Manny asked.
Hao tapped the side of his muzzle. “That’s a secret.”