Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Rosie are courtesy of E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Lyrics to 'Red Light Frankie' courtesy of E.O. Costello. Thanks!)
“Huh? What, Mikey?”
Lindstrom smirked. “You’ll get a crick in your neck, sweetheart, if you keep rubbernecking like that.” Her tail and ears drooped and he chuckled, “You’re acting like a tourist.” He glanced around the train station as the porter finished loading their luggage onto a cart. “Can’t say as I blame you, though.”
“Never been to Chicago before,” the younger skunk said, and she adjusted her hat as they started moving through the crowd. When they reached the exit she stepped out onto the sidewalk and stopped. “Wow,” and her head tipped back far enough to make her put a steadying paw on top of her hat.
The marten chuckled, but had to agree with her. Chicago was nothing like the Twin Cities. The porter hailed a cab, and Lindstrom ushered her into it while the porter loaded the luggage. He made sure to tip the hound, and climbed into the cab beside Eileen. “Drake Hotel,” Mikey said to the driver, and the cab eased into traffic.
“The Drake?” Eileen asked. “Isn’t that pretty swanky?”
“You’re not paying for it.” Mikey smirked at her.
The rooms that had been arranged for the two were on the same floor, and had a connecting door. While the skunk femme unpacked, the marten went back downstairs to find a pay phone. There was a phone in his room, but he didn’t want the girl to hear him, or the hotel operator.
And definitely not the hotel detective.
There was a booth a short distance from the hotel, and after closing the door and dropping a nickel into the slot he dialed zero. “Operator,” the woman at the other end said crisply. “Number, please.”
“Fair 6-2443, please,” the marten said. He glanced around furtively as the connection went through. He was certain that there was no one following him, but old habits died hard. His ears perked as the phone line started ringing.
“Hello?” The voice was harsh and faintly Italian-accented. “Who’s this?”
“You here in town?”
“Yeah.” The pimp glanced around again. “We’re at the Drake, Rooms 305 and 306.” He checked his wristwatch. “Six-thirty okay for you?”
“Yeah.” The line went dead with a click, and Mikey jiggled the pawset cradle until there was a clink. He immediately hung up the phone and poked a finger into the coin return, feeling about a bit before cursing quietly to himself. He opened the door to the booth and stepped out to head back to the hotel.
So far, everything was going according to plan.
Franklin Stagg stirred and rolled over slightly in bed, noting that the cheetah beside him was still asleep. Carefully, moving as silently and gingerly as a feral whitetail, the buck sat up and placed his hooves on the floor. Rosie moved a bit but did not awaken as his paw closed on his cane and he stood up slowly. Once he was standing, he slowly hobbled into the next room and gently closed the door.
Groping around, he found the lamp beside his favorite chair, switched it on, and sat down. The buck’s ears flicked, listening for any sign that his inamorata had awakened. Once he was satisfied that she was still asleep he opened the small note that he’d hidden inside the head of the walking stick.
A scrap of paper that he’d picked up near a certain mailbox that had borne a certain mark.
Stagg read the note twice before folding the piece of rice paper and putting it in his mouth. Rice paper was fairly digestible for cervines, and so far it had shown no sign of upsetting his stomachs. He sat and chewed slowly for a few moments, tapping his fingers on the cloth-covered arms of his chair before swallowing the morsel.
Just in time; one of his ears swiveled and he glanced behind him and to his right as Rosie leaned against the doorframe. “Hello, Rosie,” he said quietly.
Rosie Baumgartner smiled and walked further into the room, the peach silk bathrobe parting slightly to reveal a matching, but nearly transparent negligee. “Hello yourself – or should I say Good Morning, maybe?” She moved behind his chair and started to gently rub the backs of his ears. “Not feeling well?” she asked.
He tipped his head back to look up at her, and smiled as she leaned forward to kiss the tip of his nose. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t want to wake you.”
The cheetah’s whiskers swept forward and tickled his nose a bit before she stepped out from behind him. “Is there anything I can do to help get you back in bed?”
Franklin settled back a bit further in his chair. “Does it involve whipped cream?” he asked innocently. “I’m sure you have some in the refrigerator downstairs . . ."
“Oh, you.” Rosie practically flowed into his lap and purred, “I think I have just the thing, Franneleh.” They shared another kiss before she got out of the chair and, with a slow, swaying gait that made her tail swing in counterpoint to her hips, walked over to where the phonograph sat. She turned it on and rifled through a small collection of records. “I found this at a rummage sale last week, and – ah!” She held the disc aloft and grinned toothily at him. “I doubt you’ve heard this one, as it’s very naughty,” and she winked at him as she placed it on the turntable and gently lowered the needle.
The sound was a bit scratchy, but it was unmistakably Tommy Catamount and his Hot Eleven, and Stagg sat up a bit as his ears went forward. He recognized – no; he knew this tune: Red Light Frankie.
Rosie swayed a bit, tapping a foot to the beat before starting to dance as the voice of Harry Lynx issued from the speaker.
“In downtown New Haven City
Lives a chap who's oh! so witty
Frank Stagg, is his n-a-a-a-me . . .”
He recalled it, of course; Who’s A Tonic? had been a popular stage show in New Haven City, despite several attempts (including his own) to convince the Attorney General to ban the performance. He also knew who the ‘Frankie’ in the song was, and yes, he’d been very offended and embarrassed by it.
“Lanky Frankie's swank-y hanky-pan-ky
All the dames are really getting cran-ky
He goes out ev'ry night
Arrests each tart in sight
He gives them quite a fright
But then he frees 'em
'cause they please 'im . . . ”
But right now, thousands of miles and long weary years away from New Haven, it was being performed just for him.
By someone who loved him.
“Red Light Frankie on the prowl now
Lace and garters make him howl now
Bus-ti-ers galore . . .”
Well, that was certainly true. Rosie looked spectacular in the lingerie he’d bought her for Christmas last year. The memory made him think of what to get her for nineteen thirty-eight.
By the time she’d finished, Rosie had finished her slow striptease and was seated on the arm of his chair, performing for a Bald-Headed Row of one.
“Frankie now takes it so easy
Though it's just a little sleazy
Down on Red Light Frankie's beat!”
She looked up at him, breathing a bit fast as she lay across his lap. “How was that?”
He slowly raised an eyebrow and asked, “Does this answer your question?” before leaning over and kissing her. “I think I’m ready to go back to bed. You look tired.”
She nodded before suddenly yawning. “I am. Speed Week starts the end of next month, and with the tourists already here, it’s only going to get busier.” She got to her feet and helped him up before heading for the bedroom.
Not, however, before she felt paws on her hips, and her ears flicked back in time to hear a gentle hoof-scrape and a much softer whistling snort.
The Spontoonie fox was wide awake instantly before sunrise as he heard his apartment door start to open and someone stepped inside. Someone big, to judge by the sound of the boots on the wooden floor and the creak of several deliberately-loosened boards. He slid a paw under his pillow before rolling out of bed and into a fighting crouch, the snub-nosed revolver at the ready. “Who’s there?” he hissed.
“Wo Fang,” and he recognized the voice. The fox slipped the gun back under the pillow and opened the door. Sure enough, the big Manchurian tiger stood near his rickety kitchen table.
With a covered tray in his paws?
Fang juggled the tray as he used a paw to brush a few things aside, clearing a space on the table for the tray. “You know, Neddie, you’re a hard person to find.”
“I hope so,” the tod known as Nootnops Neddie said. He eyed the tray that the tiger placed on the table. “Is that food?”
Fang smiled. “I thought you might be hungry.”
“What a splendid chap you are.”
Fang grinned and he removed the cover, revealing slices of ham resting on small cakes of sticky rice. His grin widened as he saw the tod suddenly start licking his lips. “All for me?” Neddie asked in an almost reverent tone.
“All yours.” The tiger stepped back as the fox fairly pounced on the plate of food. Fang glanced around as the best fixer on Casino Island (by his own admission) sat down and started devouring the meal. When Neddie finally came up for air the tiger said, “I’ve got a job for you.”
Vulpine ears perked. “You expect this to take the place of my usual retainer?” he asked, his mouth full.
“This is what the Euros call a sweetener.”
“Yeah, that. For a discount on your retainer, I need you to help my wife – “
“I ain’t no pimp.” The fox froze as Fang popped a pawful of claws, and he swallowed hard. “Um, wrong thing to say?”
Fang had stopped smiling. “Yeah.” He briefly outlined what Shin needed. “Can you do it?”
“There ain’t nothing – “ Neddie waggled a paw.
“Nope,” and the fox gave Fang a relieved look.
Neddie ate a bit more before saying, “Yeah, I’ll knock a few shells off my price – as a favor; I said the wrong thing, sorry – but for some of the stuff she’s going to need a lawyer.”
Fang thought for a moment. “You sure?” Neddie nodded. “I’ll let her know. Where you want to meet her?”
“Usual place, about noon.”
“Enjoy your breakfast,” and Fang left the apartment.
Neddie stood and cursed at the closed door in Spontoonie before looking back at his breakfast. There was enough left over for lunch, but something was missing. “Wish he’d brought coffee, too,” he grumbled.