Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
The dishes had been cleared away, and Luccageni had lit a fragrant Cuban cigar. Hao lit one of his Fortuna cigarettes, took a drag on it and sat back. “That was a pretty good meal,” the red panda remarked. He watched the older fur blow a smoke ring and put down a tiny flash of envy.
“This is one of the best places in the city, without going into Chinatown,” Manny said as he leaned back. He covered his mouth with a napkin as he burped softly. “Yeah, that was a good lunch.”
Sacerdote looked across the table at Hao, who returned the gaze calmly. “Emmanuel here says you’re a made fur.”
“I’ve killed a few people, yes.”
“And how old are you?”
“Nineteen, this summer.”
The canine looked impressed, and a brief conversation in Italian ensued between him and the older wolf, who chuckled.
“Reminds me of Sicily,” Luccageni said, tapping his cigar ashes into the glass ashtray. “You grow up fast there, too. Have many gunfights out at Krupmark?”
Hao shrugged. “Sometimes it gets a little loud, but it’s bad for business.” He glanced at Peng-wum, who was nodding in agreement. “We have a setup that sort of keeps a lid on things to make sure they don’t get out of paw.” He smiled. “I usually like to handle things quietly, though.”
“And you’re here to look after your brother?” Luccageni asked.
The two brothers looked at each other, then Hao nodded.
The wolf’s features broke into a fond smile. “That’s wonderful,” he said. “Does my heart good to see young furs sticking up for family.”
After Manny settled the bill they stepped out onto the sidewalk and Peng-wum said, “Look, Manny, it’s been a bit of a long trip. Hao and I would like to go back to our hotel for the afternoon.”
“Sure,” the otter said. “Tomorrow morning at my office downtown? Bill knows where it is.”
“Tomorrow at nine.” The two shook paws, and headed for the waiting cars.
Once they were back in their hotel room Hao asked, “What was that all about? You slept like a log on the flight.”
“I got tired of listening to them,” Peng-wum said. “There are times when I really sympathize with Father about how he feels about Americans.
“Tell you what – let me get a little rest, and after dark we’ll go visit Chinatown.”
A nod, and an easy grin. “And we need to visit a few people.”
It was nearing nightfall when the two ventured out, wearing nondescript clothes – dark shirts and denim trousers. For a small consideration, the hotel staff were more than willing to let them use the rear entrance. Hao wore a light jacket to conceal his pistol. Peng-wum had picked up a small tourist map of the area in the hotel’s lobby, and studied it in the fading sunlight.
“We’re not too far away from Chinatown,” he said, and pointed in the direction they had to go.
“What if Manny sends someone to look for us?” Hao asked.
“Unless I miss my guess, he won’t. He’s too busy looking after those two big shots.” He thought a moment, his ringed tail swaying as he walked. “Now that I think of it, the older fur – Luccageni – he’s the more important of the two.”
His older brother nodded. “He gets more respect. And, I suspect, he has a bit more influence because he’s from New York.”
“So we work on him?”
“Right. As soon as I figure out what the best course of action is,” Peng-wum said.
They paused for a moment before an imposing building with an obviously fake Chinese pagoda-like roof. It had a brightly-lit marquee and a sign proclaimed that it was Grebemann’s Chinese Theater. The sidewalk around the front of the building was decorated with the foot and pawprints of various Hollywood stars.
Hao walked around for a moment and stopped at one, chuckling as his feet fit the impressions. He leaned forward and read aloud, “Hedy Lamarr.”
Peng-wum looked and said, “That’s Hedley.”
Hao shrugged and the two walked the remaining distance to the traditionally Chinese section of the city.
The signs were mainly in Cantonese, and the brothers had no trouble finding an acceptable restaurant. The staff were also red pandas, who were at first surprised then very pleased to have two of their countrymen show up.
After having a short conversation with the cook and his wife (who managed the register), the two dined on stir-fried bamboo shoots and fish cooked with soy, washing it down with cup after cup of green tea. The tea was served traditionally, with rags of loose leaves floating in the liquid. Peng-wum paid, and the two stepped back out into the street.
As the sun had gone down, there were now more people out in the street. Hao kept looking around until he spotted what to the untrained (or uninitiated) would appear to be a set of random marks on a wall.
“Tong sign?” Peng-wum asked.
“Yeah. Jade Phoenix,” Hao replied. “They’re supposed to be friendly with the Red Talons.” He caught the eye of a sullen-looking feline slouched against a wall, and the fingers of his left paw twitched.
The feline nodded, and another Tong sign was made. Hao smiled and said, “I just announced us. No trouble. Let’s find out where the Red Talons are and make some introductions.”
Two streets down stood a stone building with signs in English and Mandarin proclaiming itself the Chinatown Businessmen’s Protective Association. Peng-wum waited while Hao spoke with a few furs at the door, then the two walked in.
Two slim felines eyed them as they walked in. They didn’t appear armed, but didn’t look as if they needed weapons. One leaned over to a half-open doorway and said a few words, nodding at the response.
They were quickly ushered into a small back room where a fat feline whose fur sported streaks that spoke of old scars sat behind a weather-beaten desk. He sipped noisily at a glass of beer and said, “So, two newcomers?” He squinted at Hao. “And one wearing the Red Talon. Welcome, Brother. Who is this?” he asked with a flick of his eyes at Peng-wum.
Hao bowed. “Sir, my name is Ni Hao, and this is my brother Ni Peng-wum.” He removed a slip of paper, carefully folded and sealed with wax. Passing it over to the other fur he said, “This is from the Leader of the Red Talons in Spontoon.”
The man peered closely at the seals before breaking them and slowly reading the paper, holding it close to his nose and squinting as he read. Finally he put the paper down and waved them both into seats.
His demeanor seemed to change as he said, “Welcome to you both. According to our brothers in Spontoon, I am to give you what assistance you require. So! What assistance do you require?” he asked with a lopsided grin.
“Please, sir,” Peng-wum said, “this was a courtesy call. My father is always on the lookout for new business opportunities, and as always our friends will also stand to gain if we are successful. We are here to help settle the differences within the gang of Euros – “
“Foreign devils, sir,” Hao supplied helpfully.
The obese cat drew a hissing breath. He might be nearly blind, but there was nothing wrong with his business sense. “So,” he said, gesturing for Peng-wum to resume.
“Within the Carpanini Family. We’ve already spoken with one faction, and with the observers . . . “ Peng-wum’s voice suddenly trailed off and he just sat there, gazing blankly.
The Tong leader’s eyes flicked up at Hao, and the younger fur reached out and grasped his brother’s shoulder, shaking him gently. “Peng-wum?”
The red panda stirred, blinking and looking up at Hao. “Yes?”
“Yes. I was just thinking . . . and I think I have an idea or two.” He stood and bowed to the older fur, then walked out.
“Is he always like this?” the man asked Hao as the two shook paws.
“Only when he starts thinking.”
Hao made his goodbyes and caught up with Peng-wum, who was standing on the sidewalk staring abstractedly at the tips of his shoes. “Hey, Brother,” Hao said as he tapped him on the shoulder.
“Care to let me in on it?”
Peng-wum regarded his shoes once more, then nodded and stepped back from the curb as a large truck rattled past. He started walking down the street at a rapid pace, forcing Hao to lengthen his stride to catch up.
“It occurred to me,” he said finally, “that while Manny might be the perfect leader for this family – at least for our purposes, he might need something else.”
“Yeah.” Peng-wum smiled at his brother. “We go back to the hotel and get in touch with Conti. I need to set up a few appointments.”
The next morning Peng-wum told Manny about what he planned. The otter wasn’t happy about it, but helped set up the meeting.
The afternoon sun was warm enough to remind Peng-wum of Spontoon as Heller opened the car door for him and Hao. Peng-wum hefted the slim leather briefcase he gripped in his left paw and the two red pandas walked across the pavement to the entrance of the restaurant and went in. They announced themselves to the maitre d’, who bowed and showed them to a reserved back room. Heller, following orders, would park the car and get himself something to eat.
A pair of burly bodyguards sat at a table just outside the door, and one of them eyed Hao suspiciously as he and his brother walked into the room. “Close the door,” a gruff voice said.
Before meeting him, Peng-wum had imagined Giuseppe Lupone was something like Leon Allworthy. Both were wolves, and both had led lives of crime. After exchanging pleasantries with the Carpanini Family’s underboss for a few minutes, however, Peng-wum changed his mind. There was no way this thug could be compared to Fat Leon, who even at his worst at least had a sense of manners.
“Okay, we’ve met, Ni. Now, whaddaya wanna know?” Lupone asked, his mouth full of prosciutto. A platter of antipasto sat between them, and the wolf had been eating while they had been sizing each other up. Lupone belched and dabbed at his chin with a corner of the napkin he had tucked in at his neck.
“Well, Mr. Lupone, the Ni Family is naturally concerned about friction within one of our business partners – “ He was about to open his briefcase when the wolf snorted derisively.
“Our business ain’t none of your business, boy,” Lupone sneered. “I knew about the deal Vic set up with your dad. I didn’t like it and I still don’t. When I take over, you can kiss your business deal with us goodbye.”
Peng-wum kept his face placid and his voice carefully neutral. Hao was keeping an eye on the other fur in the room, a very short fox who just sat and smiled. He was a lot smaller than a certain SIC sergeant, but looked like he could beat him in a fight. The smile was a bit more predatory than either brother liked to see. “I’m sorry that you feel that way, Mr. Lupone.”
“Hah. Listen here, you little ringtailed Chink, what’s our business stays our business. I don’t need no foreigners comin’ in here and trying to make deals with us. Capisce? Understand?”
“Yes, I understand very clearly. Thank you for your time, Mr. Lupone. Hao, let’s go.” The two red pandas stood and left the room.
“Did you hear what he called us?” Hao rasped as they walked out of the restaurant.
A sigh. “I heard.”
“What do we do about it?”
Hao’s older brother flashed him a smile, a small, tight expression that Hao immediately recognized. “You’re thinking of something.”
“Of course,” Peng-wum said. “We’ve seen both sides of the problem. Now we see if we can play the middle against both ends.”