Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
“Morning, Ralphie!” The mouse’s voice carried over the muted sounds of other diners having their breakfast in the Fairmont Hotel’s restaurant. The rodent waved the wolf over and gestured at an empty chair. “Come have a seat. You hungry? Here, have some breakfast.” One of the mouse’s bodyguards heard his employer and signaled for the waiter. “Gonna be a hot day today, I think.”
“Thanks, Mr. Muso, and yes, it’s already starting to feel like summer,” Ralph Wisenbaker said, the wolf settling into a chair opposite the mouse. Originally from Massachusetts, it had taken him some time to get used to the torrid southern summers. “Haven’t had anything but a cup of coffee so far, so thank you for breakfast.” The waiter approached and the wolf said, “Two eggs, easy, hash browns with onions and two sides of bacon, please. With coffee,” and the waiter nodded and headed for the kitchen. As soon as the servant was out of earshot, Wisenbaker leaned close. “I got a telegram early this morning. From our friends in Chicago.”
Don Ignacio Muso’s ears perked, but otherwise showed no reaction until after the waiter had poured coffee for the wolf. When they were alone again the boss of New Orleans asked in a quiet rumbling voice, “Bad news?”
“They got word through the middlemen from the Irish. President Long sent someone to Minneapolis, and he’s been nosing around a bit. Last word had him heading to Chicago.”
Muso gave a low growl. “If Long’s sticking his nose in, those damned G-men won’t be far behind.” He slurped his coffee before smearing butter and jam on a warm buttermilk biscuit. Taking a bite of the biscuit, he said with his mouth full, “So Chicago’s nervous.”
“Yes. I can’t blame them.”
“Neither can I. Hmm. Ask Chicago to tell the middlemen to clam the hell up. They ain’t seen nothing and they don’t say nothing. You talking to Ricca’s consigliere up there?”
“Make sure there ain’t no traces. It won’t get back to us. Besides, Rover probably thinks it’s being run out of New York, anyway.” For emphasis he stabbed his fork into the last piece of fried egg on his plate. “And get word to the Micks up in Chicago and tell them to shut the hell up about this, too.” He sat back, patted his stomach and belched.
Wisenbaker nodded, trusting to his memory. It was hard keeping things straight in his head at times, but for some things written notes were a distinct liability. “I’ll see to it as soon as I get to my office,” and he smiled up at the waiter as his breakfast arrived.
Several hours later, a stallion poked his head around a partly open office door. “You wanted to see me, Boss?” he asked nervously.
The otter behind the desk grinned. Afternoon sunlight streamed into the room at his back, making the equine squint. Since taking over the operation after his father’s death, the office had been remodeled to look a bit brighter and more modern. The chairs facing the wide desk were well-upholstered and comfortable. “Sure did, Eddie. Come on in and take a seat,” and after the horse had closed the door and sat down he said, “I called you in because I got a wire from Minneapolis.”
Don Emmanuel Carpanini nodded. “We were doing a bit of business with some friends of friends up there, and they’re asking for a favor.”
Eduardo Barbaro, known in certain circles as Eddie the Barber, frowned and sat back in his chair. He ran the Carpanini Family’s connections with the film studios in Los Angeles, as well as coordinating the network of brothels and prostitutes in the region. Despite his nervous manner, he was very good at his job. “Big shot coming west for fun?” he ventured.
The younger otter chuckled. “Nope. Part of the business involved using a honey trap, and our friends would like the ‘honey’ moved before it attracts flies. Get me?”
Eddie thought for a moment, then smiled and nodded. “Gotcha, Boss.”
“Here, just a sip.”
Did I black out?
What . . . oh God, Mother, Father . . . Xiu . . .
“Hao, come on.”
I didn’t – I didn’t hurt anyone, did I?
He blinked, nostrils flaring at the smell of brandy a scant inch from his nose. He blinked again, shivering as he hunched his back against the comforting pressure of his wife’s embrace. “Wha – “
“Shh,” Xiu whispered. “Have a sip first.” She tipped the glass and he nearly coughed as the brandy seared its way across his tongue and burned down his throat, kindling a smoldering warmth in his belly that loosened the tight knot in his chest. “There. Now, take your time, sweetheart.”
“What . . . what happened?”
She waited until he’d had another sip of brandy before letting him sit up straight. It was good brandy, not the usually-poisonous trash sold up in Fort Bob. When she started speaking again, it was in a soft, measured voice. “You had some kind of seizure, Hao.”
The female red panda nodded. “You said that you didn’t want me or our baby on Krupmark–“
“I still don’t.”
“Hush, or I’ll tell Stephanie.” He blinked at her and she continued, “You said that, and you just seemed to stop. You didn’t move, or look anywhere – “
“Just a few minutes,” she replied reassuringly. “Your mother got the brandy, and she took your father into the next room.”
So, they were safe, and he closed his eyes against the hot sting of tears. “And then?” he asked, moving a bit closer to her. His banded tail snaked into her lap.
“You started to wake up, and I gave you a little sip of brandy.” She stroked his headfur. “Are you getting better?”
Hao nodded and motioned for the glass of brandy. He took another sip of the liquor and said, “That’s good brandy. Where did Mother get it?”
“She said that it’s reserved for special guests. She mentioned someone called ‘Mrs. C.’ Do you know her?”
He suppressed a shudder. “Yeah, I’ve seen her around. That’s another reason I don’t want you here on Krupmark. And don’t argue with me.”
“I’m not arguing with you, darling,” Xiu giggled. “I agree with you.”
“I mean it.”
“I’m serious, Xiu.”
His wife kissed the tip of his nose. “You know something, Hao?”
“You’re a handsome man, but you won’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer.” He realized that she was joking, and they chuckled quietly for a moment. “I do have a question, though.”
“Who’s ‘Mrs. C?’”
He took another sip of brandy. “Not a nice person, even for this place. She deals in slaves, makes a lot of money at it too. I don’t want her seeing you.”
“Because she might take a liking to you.” The statement and his flat tone made Xiu shiver. If this person was ‘not nice’ by Krupmark standards (or by Hao’s standards, in fact), she was probably someone the red panda would never want to meet.
“All right,” she asked slowly, “when do you want me to leave?”
He thought for a moment. “I have a few more things to take care of here before I can leave. Why?”
“I wanted to go see Fatima.”
Her husband blinked at her. “Fatima? What for?” Xiu explained, and he chuckled. “Okay. I’ll make sure that you have enough guards – “ He paused as someone knocked on the office door, and he stood up, paw straying to his pistol. “Who’s there?”
“Clarence, Hao. Can I come in?”
Hao relaxed a bit. “Come ahead,” and the lion stepped into the office. “What’s up?”
“Message for your father,” the Englishman said, and gave the red panda a small note. “Is he all right?”
Xiu spoke up before Hao could speak. “They went into another room, Clarence. Hao and I had to have a private conversation.”
The cross-eyed ex-soldier nodded. “Well, I’ll leave you both to it, then.” He stepped out of the office and as soon as the door closed Hao started looking at the note.
“It’s in code, of course,” Hao remarked as Xiu started to crane in to look. “Father will have to read it.”
“Can’t you read it?” she asked.
Hao shook his head. “Not my end of the business. Father thought of it, but Peng-wum did things to the idea that just make my head spin sometimes. Shin doesn’t even bother.” He took advantage of her leaning close to kiss her nose. “I want to tell you something.”
“What?” she asked with a coy smile.
“I hope our baby takes after you.”