Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
“Here you are, Mister,” the bellhop said cheerfully as he shouldered the door open and held it for the guest. The gator stepped past him and the youngish squirrel followed, placing the guest’s suitcase on the bench at the foot of the bed. The rodent stood at attention as the alligator looked around the room before finally giving the bellhop a tip.
The money vanished as if by magic. “Thanks, sir,” and the squirrel tipped his cap. “If you need anything, just call.” The bellhop showed himself out a bit quickly, as if he was afraid that the gator would change his mind.
Claude LaFarge chuckled quietly and finished looking around at the hotel room. It was a nice setup, with a bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. The windows showed the hustle and bustle of the traffic below.
As hotels went, the LaSalle was better than practically every place LaFarge had ever stayed at. There were better in Chicago, but he had reasons for choosing this one. It was centrally located in The Loop near the City Hall, and it was neither the Morrison nor the Drake.
The Morrison Hotel was the seat of the Cook County Democratic machine, and had its headquarters on that establishment’s third floor. As for the other hotel, the successors to Al Capon ran the Mob’s Chicago operation from the Drake.
There was a Catholic church nearby, and he hadn’t gone to Mass in a while. It would do him good.
Besides, after all the traveling he’d done, LaFarge was sure that Huey wouldn’t mind the expense. The gator chuckled as he imagined the Catahoula hound saying, “Hell, boy, ain’t nothin’ but money! Have a night on the town, if you want!”
LaFarge tossed his hat onto the bureau, then took off his jacket and tie, draping them over a chair. He loosened his collar before flopping backward onto the bed, squirming a bit and pressing his back against the surprisingly comfortable mattress.
Maybe it would be a good idea to spend a day or two here, he thought. Not to paint the place red, but to relax and get over the fact that he’d been talking to gangsters. The alligator’s teeth showed in a grin; his mother would have laid into him for consorting with sinners.
And the respite would allow him to attend Mass and confess. Ma would like that.
Still, the bed was comfortable. No sense in not getting a little nap before he had to do anything.
So far the rat hadn’t noticed him.
Hai Wei held the bowl closer to his muzzle and gathered up another mouthful of noodles with his chopsticks. He and the part of the crew not currently on watch had gathered in the boat’s galley for dinner, and the rat was deep in conversation with the captain and the first mate.
The canine was sipping at a mug of strong tea when he heard Olaf ask, “What’s a leoleo doing here?” Conversation in the galley died as he pointed at Wei, and those others in the crew who understood the word turned to look straight at the Shar Pei.
At the word ‘constable,’ Wei lowered one paw into his lap and gripped the haft of the knife at his belt. He might not have been as good at using it as Ni Hao, but he figured he could take down the two closest to him before they swarmed him.
The captain laughed, breaking the tension, and clapped Olaf on the shoulder. “Don’t mind him,” he said. “Hai’s okay.”
“Oh?” Olaf asked.
“Sure. Got himself arrested, he did, so he’s not a leoleo no more,” and he laughed as the canine sank a bit into his seat. The other members of the crew laughed, and a few cheered when the captain recounted how Wei had managed to get put in jail the previous Christmas.
Wei just sat there, blushing in shame. He tried to smile as the feline sitting to his right gripped his shoulder and gave him an encouraging nod.
“So,” the rat said when the captain had finished talking. “Okay, then?”
Olaf nodded and started talking to the first mate. Wei relaxed, just a bit, and took his time finishing his tea. He started to get up and the feline asked, “Turning in?”
“Yeah. My watch is coming up in a few hours,” the Shar Pei explained as he got out of the cramped compartment.
Below decks, he swung his hammock and climbed in, pulling his knitted watch cap down over his eyes to shut out the glare from the two light bulbs at opposite ends of the room. A few others were swinging idly in their own hammocks trying, like him, to rest before their watch started. Before he started to doze, he thought about what had happened in the galley.
The captain had vouched for him to Olaf in front of part of the crew, so he was in no danger of waking up gutted and served to the sharks. Still, he was curious.
Why was the rat aboard? He was part of Hao’s organization, he knew that, so at least part of the fishing boat’s itinerary included picking up or dropping off something. Likely something illegal.
Hai Wei shrugged as he yawned. It wasn’t his business any longer.
That morning’s Chicago Tribune bore two strident headlines:
ANTI-WEALTH LEAGUE MEETING ATTACKED; 10 DEAD
PRES. LONG CALLS PROTESTERS “RICH MEN’S TOOLS”
Claude frowned and set his coffee cup aside before picking up the newspaper and reading the front page article more closely. There were still two slices of toast and some bacon on his plate, but he ignored them.
An AWL meeting in Abilene, Kansas, the previous evening had been attacked by roughly fifty people armed with clubs and pistols. One of them had won through to the speaker’s dais and had started accusing Huey of being a Communist and a secret pawn of the Red Fist in New Haven. The man had been dragged away from the microphone, but a riot had developed. In addition to the ten dead, more than thirty had been injured in the worst violence to be seen in the country since Share the Wealth had been enacted into law.
LaFarge winced a bit as he read about the official reaction from Washington. The President was talking about mobilizing Federal troops and sending them into the area. He made a few ugly references to what had happened to the Bonus Army, and stated – again – that he would never allow a repeal of the Revenue Act or allow the Congress to modify it.
“This President will not be moved,” Long said in the article.
The alligator was fairly sure that the hound was telling the truth. He’d seen Huey temporize and adjust his stance on various things, but Share the Wealth had been Huey’s brainchild since before Moosevelt had nominated him for Vice President. He wasn’t going to back away from it. LaFarge turned to the editorial pages.
Colonel McCormick minced no words in his editorial: the riot, he predicted, was only the start. Good, God-fearing Americans were beginning to rise up against the Socialist in the White House, because there was no way that the country would ever go the way of New Haven or Rain Island, blah blah blah...
LaFarge put the paper aside and felt a pang of guilt. Here he was, loitering in one of the best hotels in Chicago, when he needed to tell Huey what he’d found so far.
There were three ways to do that, he reckoned.
The first was sitting on a side table. Arranging a person-to-person call would take a bit of time, but he would be able to talk to the President directly. On the other paw, there was the possibility that anyone could be listening in on the conversation. The same objections applied to sending a telegram, which was his second course of action. There were simply too many people who might read what he was sending. Huey was in enough hot water with the press ganging up on him, without having any hints being dropped that the President’s aide was associating with gangsters.
That left a face to face meeting, of course. Personally, he’d like that; just sit out on a porch or somewhere quiet with Huey, smoking and sharing a bottle or two of good homebrew from his great-uncle’s still, with no froo-froo Washington busybodies to tut and shake their heads. The gator gave a soft snort and absently nibbled at a piece of bacon as he thought it over.
He was sure that FBI Director Rover had at least one G-man following him, so he at least knew where he’d been, and could follow up. Despite Huey’s dislike of the fellow canine, Rover was a good guy.
LaFarge was fairly certain he could pick up the trail he’d been following once he finished meeting with Huey. He chuckled. President Long had been getting a bit paranoid of late – after dodging five assassination attempts since the Revenue Act was passed, you couldn’t blame him – and some of it seemed to be rubbing off.
He chuckled again as he picked up another piece of bacon and stood up. He’d have to call the concierge downstairs to get the train schedule.
“I know it’s necessary,” Xiu declared, “but I still feel a bit silly about all this.”
She and Hao were walking down the road that led from Fort Bob and the Lucky Dragon to the small collection of houses that made up The Beach. The sun was warm and the breeze was ruffling the tops of the tall grasses on either side of the road. The sound of surf formed a distant counterpoint to the cries of seagulls and the raucous clamor of the island’s native parakeets in a nearby tree.
It would have been a pleasant walk, were it not for the sextet of armed furs flanking the two red pandas. Emilia and Julia, the two Sicilian wolfesses, strolled along just behind Xiu and chattered amiably at each other in their native language.
Xiu felt very conspicuous wearing a revolver belted around her waist and cradling a heavy shotgun. Hao had the rounds for the shotgun in one of his pockets, “Just in case.” She was still blushing a bit at the others’ laughter when word got around.
Hao didn’t look directly at her, but she saw him smile as he replied, “You’ll get over it – feeling silly, I mean.” His ears suddenly perked at the sound of a scream.
His gun abruptly appeared in his paw. The others in the group tensed and Julia shoved Xiu down into a large stand of beach grass and took a stance over her, lupara at the ready.
The screaming – a male scream, if Xiu was any judge – stopped as a gunshot echoed over the hills. The sound sent the flock of parakeets into the air, adding their cries to the echoes of the scream and the shot.
One guard, a feline, was moving his head from side to side, his ears twitching. Finally he pointed. “Off to the west, Hao,” he said in Cantonese.
“Far?” The red panda asked, craning his neck a little.
The feline nodded. Another guard, canine, nodded as well. “Mebbe a quarter-mile, Tyee,” he said in a flat Rain Islander accent.
“Okay. Keep an eye and ear out in that direction. Let’s go,” he said to the others, and Julia helped Xiu to her feet. “You all right?” he asked his wife.
She nodded. “I take back what said.”
She patted the shotgun in her paws. “This doesn’t feel so silly anymore.”