Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
“Another Euro place?” Hao asked in Chinese as the car pulled up. The resignation in his voice indicated that he wasn’t looking forward to the experience. “We haven’t had a decent meal since the other night in Chinatown.”
“I think they like discussing business over a meal,” Peng-wum observed. “We’re much the same way, as you know; it’s a great place to sit and talk things out.”
“I guess so.”
Luccageni looked up as the door to the reserved room opened and stubbed out his cigar, while Sacerdote merely glanced at the newcomers before returning to his menu. “Gentlemen,” Peng-wum said as he took his seat, “I want to thank you for agreeing to see me.”
The wolf gave a judicious nod. Sacerdote closed the menu and asked, “So what do you want to talk to us about, kid? Must be pretty important, to invite us and not invite Manny.”
“I assure you, it is.” Peng-wum placed the briefcase at his feet and sat, leaning forward and placing his paws on the table. “My father agrees with me that Manny is the best choice for this family, with the energy to lead it forward.”
“I hear a ‘But’ coming,” the Chicagoan remarked with a speculative look on his face.
“Yes, Mr. Sacerdote. Manny was recently a guest of ours on Krupmark. While he was there he showed that he might still be a bit irresponsible, perhaps a bit immature. He also committed a few – shall we say – indiscretions.”
“Oh?” This from Luccageni.
“Yes, sir.” Peng-wum opened the briefcase and extracted a large envelope. He passed it over to the two Mafiosi, who opened it and quickly scanned the contents.
The contents were in good color, and fairly sharp considering how they had been taken.
The wolf shook his head. “These two – they look young enough to be my granddaughters.”
Peng-wum told them, and two pairs of ears went flat.
“And you want this to be the Don?” Sacerdote asked, disbelief and anger edging his voice.
The red panda nodded. “Yes, we still feel that he can be a good Don, and lead his part of your organization. It was unfortunate that he allowed himself to be tempted like that.
“I’ve done some figures, and the flow of money to Chicago and New York will only increase under his leadership.” The two Mafiosi kept quiet as they glanced at each other; they had obviously been checking up on this quiet young fur. “What’s good for your business is good for ours as well, although I think you’ll agree that Manny may need someone to watch over him.” Peng-wum rested his paws on the table. “You know, to keep him from acting in an irresponsible manner.”
A calculating look made Luccageni’s eyes gleam. “What do you have in mind?”
Over the next hour, Peng-wum carefully spelled out what he was planning, pausing from time to time to eat something as waiters came and went. Finally Sacerdote, who had been taking notes, said, “You’ve got quite a head on your shoulders, Mr. Ni. It’s a helluva plan, I’ll tell you. But,” and here he leaned forward, “you realize that we’ll have to get this approved.”
“Of course, sir,” the red panda replied. “I took that into account.”
“Very perceptive,” the old wolf said. He suddenly extended a paw. “If nothing else comes of this, I’m still very pleased to meet you, young man. It’s good to see a young man who shows respect.”
Peng-wum stood to shake the wolf’s paw and bowed. “I’m honored, sir.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Of course I am. Look, things may start going downhill rapidly. I want – no, I need - a gun.”
“What’s the matter? Don’t trust me?”
“You might not be around, little brother.”
That afternoon Manny proposed that he give his two guests a tour of the Hollywood studio his father had acquired, Gold Star Pictures, followed by dinner in Chinatown and “something special” after the meal. Hao and Peng-wum looked askance at each other at that, but agreed. Further meetings would have to wait anyway, until after Luccageni and Sacerdote had cabled their superiors and received replies.
While riding a small gas-driven cart around a studio back lot, Hao suddenly stared and craned his neck as a tall fur pedaled past on a bicycle. The canine’s muscular build easily shone through the pair of trousers and sleeveless undershirt he was wearing, and the breeze ruffled his wavy blonde headfur. “That can’t be him,” Hao said half to himself as he sat back and the cyclist moved away.
“Who?” Peng-wum asked.
“Buster Labbe, the star of the Dash Jordan films,” Hao replied, looking at his brother. “I try to see them every time one shows up on Spontoon.”
Manny laughed. “I’ll get you an autographed picture of him before you leave.”
Hao’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
Another laugh. “Hell, you’ll have shots of the whole cast.”
They had an early dinner, at one of the smaller restaurants in Chinatown. Manny told them that it was one he frequented, and in truth the owners did seem to recognize him. Most of the food on the menu was the stuff that Americans supposed was ‘authentic’ Chinese food, while the rest (mostly small side dishes) seemed to come from the area around Shanghai.
It was filling though, and the tea was good.
Once they left the place, Manny told Heller to go home and waved the Nis to his car. “I recall we visited one of the houses on Krupmark,” the otter said, “and Hao asked me about the setup we have here.” He gestured to the driver, and the car pulled away from the curb. “We’re headed to a little place I know, on the road between here and a town called Palm Springs.”
“Will we be gone long?” Peng-wum asked. He tried hard to keep his tone even – there was no telling what these Americans were capable of.
“On what, Manny?”
Manny started to chuckle. “On how deep your wallet is.”
The car headed out of the city and up into the mountains that seemed to barricade Los Angeles from the rest of the country. At one point, the setting sun struck a large mass of clouds to the east, causing it to glow almost a pure white with gray-blue shadows underlying it.
Hao looked out at the clouds and they seemed to match the silhouette of a three-hundred pound Samoan he knew. The red panda watched until the prevailing winds and the sunset had changed the silhouette.
The broad desert expanses they drove through impressed them with the size of the country. Peng-wum realized that the Americans sat on vast wealth.
It was only fair that they share some of that wealth.
After almost two hours of steady driving along the lonely two-lane road they reached their destination. The brothel was an old farmhouse on the outskirts of the desert town, reached at the end of a dirt road. There were several cars and even a non-anthro horse or two arrayed outside of the structure, and a battered sign by the door read Thompson’s Owl Creek Ranch.
The two red pandas climbed out of the car and looked up at the darkening sky as the stars came out. Manny chuckled and said, “This is a pretty good house, nice and out of the way. The drinks aren’t watered, and the women – well, you’ll see,” he added with an insinuating grin as he led them inside.
“Mona!” Manny yelled as he and the others entered to be greeted by a bovine bouncer and a fat orange tabby feline dressed in a silk nightgown and a chintz housecoat. The otter hugged the feline and said, “Great to see you, Mona.”
“You too, Manny dear,” the woman said, scratching under one breast through her clothes as she eyed the two pandas. She looked to be on the high side of her fifties, and her voice had a rough edge to it as if she had been smoking for too many years. “Who are these guys? Friends of yours?”
“Yeah. Ah, John and Jerry Smith,” he said, pointing to Hao and Peng-wum in turn. Peng-wum raised an eyebrow at that, while Hao merely looked interested. “They’re here from Frisco, and I decided to bring ‘em out here so they can relax.”
Mona gave a deep, throaty chuckle and swished her nightgown slightly. The action brought the mingled odors of old sweat and stale musk coupled with tobacco smoke and cheap whisky to Hao’s nose, and his expression swiftly started to change. “I think I can find someone to help ‘em relax,” she said, and whistled shrilly.
Two younger women, apparently both in their twenties and both lean canines, stepped to the door of the foyer and leaned against each other. From the room behind them came an occasional word in Spanish and the sound of a scratchy jazz record. “This here’s Consuela and Margarita,” Mona said. “Take your pick. Manny, you’ll have to pick someone else; Donna’s pregnant again.”
“Yeah? She at the usual place?”
Manny shrugged and said, “Well, wish her the best for me, will you? Peng-wum, Hao, you two have some fun, and when you’re finished we’ll head back, okay?”
Hao grinned and walked up to Consuela. “Hi,” he said, reaching out for her paw.
“Buenos noches,” she replied, and his tail drooped slightly as the two slipped off to a hallway just off the main room. Margarita sidled up to Peng-wum and laid a paw on his arm. “You no like Margarita?” the coyote asked in English that was so heavily accented he had a bit of trouble understanding her.
Peng-wum smiled. This one at least smelled a bit cleaner than Mona, but there were signs that she didn’t bathe as frequently as she should have. “I like you fine,” he said, thinking that as long as he didn’t catch anything Nailani wouldn’t object.
On the way back to Los Angeles, Peng-wum held a low-voiced conversation in Chinese with Hao while the driver concentrated on the road and Manny dozed in the front passenger seat. “Well? How was yours?”
Hao shuddered. “Nothing on her but skin and bones,” he said, “and – well, let me put it this way: Fatima was better.” His older brother had to blink at that statement. Hao had lost his virginity to the older Afghan when he was sixteen, and for some reason known only to himself had never liked her much afterward. But the experience might have explained his fixation on canines, up to and including Anna. “How was yours?”
“Spent half the time trying to find precautions, and then convincing her my wearing one wasn’t a sin,” Peng-wum muttered. Spontoonie women were so much more understanding about intimate matters. “But she was – adequate.”
Hao glanced out at the desert and remarked, “This is giving me the creeps. I’d rather be out on the ocean or flying, but I’ll tell you one thing, Peng-wum – this is the perfect place for a murder.”
“No argument, Hao.”
Manny stirred suddenly in the front seat, then stretched as the two pandas stopped talking and sat up. “Stop the car,” he told the driver. “I gotta take a leak.”
“We can’t stop here, Boss.”
“It looks like bat country.”
“Oh. Well, okay, let’s keep going then.” He squirmed a bit uncomfortably. Peng-wum had seen the otter drinking quite a bit of the local beer and liquor, and had seen him taking at least two girls back to the room over the course of the night.
“I’ve got it. Chou at the Businessman’s Association was very helpful.” A chuckle. “Both ways.”
“We’ve received cables back from New York and Chicago. As long as your figures hold up, they’ll back your plan.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sacerdote.”
MESSAGE BEGINS FATHER STOP HAVE PLAN IN MOTION STOP WILL ADVISE IF SUCCESSFUL STOP NI PENG-WUM STOP MESSAGE ENDS