Luck of the Dragon: House Rules© 2007 by Walter Reimer
Inspector Stagg and Sergeant Brush courtesy of EO Costello. Thanks!
RECIPIENT INSPECTOR FRANKLIN J STAGG
C/O SPONTOON ISLANDS CONSTABULARY
LLXGB LNUGB EEBML LBDKT FINKD
The whitetail buck studied the telegram in his paw, delivered not an hour earlier as he and his sergeant settled in to study the morning reports. An eyebrow rose as he recognized the cipher. It was primitive, crude enough to be considered a taunt or an insult. But it seemed . . . wrong, somehow.
The word ‘Fink’ in the last five-letter group had to have been pure serendipity, and his eyes narrowed as he started to figure out the message. A moment later, and he laughed softly – the equivalent of a loud guffaw for any other fur.
He tacked the telegram up on the small bulletin board near his desk as his vulpine sergeant watched curiously. “Aintcha gonna translate it, Sir?” Brush asked.
“I already have, Sergeant,” Stagg replied, “and I’ll thank them for the reminder, if I get the opportunity.”
The new suit fit perfectly, made of finely tailored black linen that would be comfortable both in Los Angeles and on Spontoon (although not in summer). Peng-wum flexed his arms in the jacket, testing the strain across the back, and thanked the tailor in respectful Mandarin. The feline bowed and repeated his thanks for the business as well as for the substantial payment, and left the room.
Hao was clad only in his underwear and looking critically at his own suit. “Get dressed,” his brother urged. “Heller will be here soon.”
“Okay. You know, if this doesn’t work – “
“If it doesn’t work we’re out a significant amount of business and Father will have my hide,” Peng-wum said in a brittle tone. Over the past two days since receiving approval from Sacerdote and Luccageni, he and Hao had spent a lot of time closeted with the Tong leaders in Chinatown. It had taken a great deal of effort, and the strain was beginning to tell on the red panda.
He had put together elaborate strategies before, but this was the most complicated. There were too many variables, and he hoped that things would work out right.
Of course, it wasn’t necessary to dwell on what would happen if things went seriously wrong.
“We leave right after the meeting, right?” Hao asked.
“Yes. Our bags will be waiting for us at the station, and the tickets are already paid for,” Peng-wum replied. To economize, the two would be taking a far less direct northerly route back to Spontoon, stopping at various places along the way. It would also take longer, but without the need to get things done quickly they could take their time.
Besides, Peng-wum wanted to see a bit more of this strange land.
There was a knock at the door. Peng-wum walked into the living room of their suite and opened it to see a familiar face. “Bill, how are you?”
“Just fine, Mr. Ni,” the cougar said. “I’m here to drive ya to the meeting. Mr. Carpanini wants to know if you and your brother will stay for dinner afterwards.”
Hao came out of the bedroom, straightening his tie as Peng-wum said, “No, we’ll be leaving shortly afterward. I’ll convey our apologies to him personally.”
The venue for the meeting was a fashionable hotel called the Chateau Marmot, a collection of small bungalows and other buildings set among gardens and trees. It was an excellent site for the meeting since it was both secluded and wholly owned by the Carpanini Family through several proxies.
The meeting place was actually a large dining room in a building set a short distance apart from the others. The décor was Art Deco, done in muted pastel shades of blue and green with rugs covering the hardwood floors. A few trays of antipasti and sandwiches were set up beside a wet bar along one wall, and a long table dominated the room.
They were expected. Manny, Lupone and all six caporegimes were there, as was Paul Conti and the two representatives from the other Families to the east. There were no soldiers or bodyguards in the building, by mutual consent. The young otter and the older wolf sat at opposite ends of the long table, glaring at each other.
Hao took up a position near the bar while Peng-wum walked around the table, shaking paws with everyone. Finally Lupone growled, “Get on with it, Ni. What’s this meeting about?”
“I want to thank you all for agreeing to meet here,” Peng-wum said. He saw Conti listening intently, and he chose his words with care as he continued to walk around the table. “The Ni Family, as a partner with the Carpanini Family and a neutral party to this dispute, agrees with New York and Chicago that this disagreement between you and Emmanuel is bad for business.” Several of the caporegimes nodded while Eddie Barbaro nervously mopped his brow with a pawkerchief.
“Now, I have worked out a plan that should secure our business interests and keep things running.” He paused to take a breath.
Lupone twisted in his seat and glared at him. “Get to the point, you little Chink,” he growled.
“Giuseppe,” Luccageni said in a severe tone, and the big wolf faced front again and sulked.
Peng-wum acknowledged the older wolf’s assistance with a short nod and a grateful smile. “What I propose is this: The two factions of the Carpanini Family will work together toward achieving their common business goals. The amount of money sent to New York and Chicago will not decrease.”
“And what guarantees we’ll work together?” Angelo Viscusi asked.
“The goodwill of the Ni Family,” Peng-wum said matter-of-factly. “Emmanuel will be the Don, and Mr. Lupone – who is a very capable fur – will remain the underboss. To assist us in making sure that this truce continues, the Businessman’s Association in Chinatown will – “
“What!” Lupone half-rose from his seat and stared incredulously at the red panda. “You crazy bastard – what the hell makes you think I’ll go along with this?” He sat back down and glared at each person seated at the table, a flat intimidating stare that made several furs drop their eyes to the tablecloth. “I should be the Don of this Family,” he growled, “and I can’t believe you two – or those idiots on the Commission - agreed to this,” and he made an obscene gesture at Luccageni and Sacerdote, who bristled but kept silent.
Peng-wum was still walking around the table, his paws in his trouser pockets and his ringed tail moving only slightly as he waited for Lupone’s tirade to stop. When the fat wolf paused, the red panda said, “Again, I’m very sorry that you feel that way, Mr. Lupone. I’m only trying to – “
“I know what you’re trying,” Lupone snarled as Peng-wum passed behind him again, “you God-damned little ringtailed coon-faced Chink.” He was still glaring at the others. “I’m the Don, and what the hell are you going to do about it?”
Peng-wum drew the snub-nosed .32.
The muzzle pressed against the back of Lupone’s head.
The small-caliber pistol fired.
The wolf jerked and sat blinking stupidly for a moment while the others sat rooted to their chairs in complete shock. Then Lupone slumped, one eyelid closing and the other fluttering half-closed as he fell forward and his head hit the table.
“Wa ch-ao!” Hao breathed in surprise.
“Stu cazzo!” Viscusi exclaimed.
No bodyguards barged in, a tribute to the room’s insulation.
Peng-wum pocketed the pistol and placed a paw on Lupone’s shoulder. “Emmanuel is the Don,” he said, nodding toward the otter, who sat blinking in shock. His voice was still conversational and his tone still even and matter-of-fact as he added, “And if we all work together we can become filthy rich. Or,” and here he patted the shoulder as a thin trickle of blood seeped from Lupone’s nose, “merely filthy.”
There was a pause, and he stepped back from the table as the six caporegimes stood and walked up to Manny. One by one they kissed his paw, swearing fealty to him as he stared down the length of the table at Peng-wum. Finally the two representatives from Chicago and New York came forward, and congratulated the otter on becoming the head of the Family.
As they walked back to their seats at the table, they both nodded to the red panda. Sacerdote actually grinned and winked.
They had understood the necessity.
Peng-wum relaxed - but just a bit.
A final word from Luccageni in Sicilian seemed to break the trance, and the new Don stirred. Manny got to his feet and walked over to Peng-wum. “Peng-wum,” he said in a soft voice, “I – I don’t – “
“It’s good to have friends in this world, Manny,” Peng-wum said with a smile.
Manny laughed and wrapped the red panda in a strong embrace, and managed to surprise Peng-wum (and make Hao laugh) by kissing him on both cheeks.
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. The Businessman’s Association is still a partner in this.” He glanced at the two representatives, who nodded. “They’ll be keeping an eye on you for safety’s sake.” He paused to shake paws with Paul Conti. The caporegimes had already moved into the next room to await their new leader.
“What about him?” Hao asked, jerking a thumb at the corpse of Joey Lupone.
“It’ll be taken care of,” Manny said. “Right, Paul?”
Conti nodded, glancing at the wound on the back of the wolf’s head. “Looks to me like he suffered a burst blood vessel in the brain,” the raccoon said judiciously in a quiet voice. He lifted a linen napkin and dropped it into the small pool of blood on the table to sop it up. “That’s what the cause of death will be.”
“And there’ll be no problems?”
Conti smiled. “Like it never even happened.”
Manny laughed and put a paw on the raccoon’s shoulder. “Paul’s good at fixing things,” he boasted.
“Yeah . . . like Don Vittorio,” Conti said softly, and both red pandas looked at the lawyer in surprise.
“You?” Peng-wum asked.
The raccoon nodded. “I had unfettered access to Don Vittorio’s office – and his brandy decanter.”
“Manny owes you a lot, then,” Hao remarked.
“He does. And I’m being amply rewarded.”
“Is there anything I can do for you, Peng-wum? Can you stay a while longer?”
Peng-wum shook his head. “No, we have a train to catch. We’ll stay in touch, Manny. I wish you luck in your business.” He jerked his head at Hao, and the two walked out after shaking paws all around.
Heller was semi-reclining against the hood of the car, reading a magazine. He stuffed the periodical into a back pocket as the two brothers walked up to him. “The train station, Bill,” Hao said as they got into the car.
After a few minutes Hao’s eyes went wide as his brother slumped back against the car seat, shaking visibly as he closed his eyes and clasped his paws. “Peng-wum?”
“I’m all right, Brother,” he whispered in Chinese. “I’ve never killed anyone before.”
Hao nodded. He was usually the muscle of the family; with his temperament it was his best line of work. Peng-wum had managed to keep clear of any serious mayhem.
It was no reflection on him – he had just proved that he was capable of killing, and that impressed his younger brother.
The car pulled into the train station and Peng-wum produced a pair of tickets from his suit pocket. “Thank you, Bill,” he said quietly, shaking paws with the cougar.
“No problem, Mr. Ni. Either of you in town again, ask for me.” He grinned and went back to the car as the two pandas went into the station.
The train left on schedule, headed north to a city near San Francisco called Oakland. Peng-wum and his brother would share a compartment in a Pullman car for the trip.
Peng-wum stepped into the compartment after washing up, mopping his face with a towel. Hao asked, “Are you better now?”
“Yes, thank you. I didn’t want to do that, but he made me angry.” He broke off as Hao started to chuckle. “What’s so funny?”
“Remind me never to make you angry at me,” his younger brother said, and they both started to laugh. “Wan jun, I thought Manny was going to soil himself.”
“He still might, once he finds out the number of strings on him,” Peng-wum said with a smile.
“He might not think you’re much of a friend.”
His brother shrugged. “Someone once said that society depends on a certain amount of lying.”*
*”Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying and that no one says exactly what he thinks.”
- Lin Yutang