Luck of the Dragon: Breaking the Bank© 2016 by Walter D. Reimer
(Inspector Stagg and Sgt. Brush courtesy of E.O.Costello. Thanks!)
“Eileen, come in here, will ya?” Mikey asked, knocking on the door linking his hotel room to the skunk femme’s. She opened the door and as she stepped in the marten said, “This here’s the two furs that want to talk to you.” He nodded toward a tall, stocky horse showing a trace of gray in his black headfur and an older gray squirrel who looked small beside him.
Eddie Barbaro looked the young woman over as she walked in and shook paws with Myrtle. She looked a bit younger than he’d been told, dressed in a dark gray wool skirt and a lighter-colored blouse. “Pleased to meet you,” she said, and she suddenly stared at the squirrel. “You’re – You’re Myrtle Henderson!?” she fairly squealed.
“You know who she is?” Mikey asked.
“Know her? Mikey, she won the Academy Award last year for the costumes in The Amazing Zündwiese! I read all about it in Miscellany.” She gaped at the squirrel again and asked in an almost reverent tone, “Can I please get your autograph?”
Myrtle gave the skunk a happy grin. “Maybe later, dear, but it’s nice to be recognized. You need to talk to Mr. Barbaro about a few things first.” She nodded to her right.
Eileen glanced at the stallion in the well-tailored suit and her demeanor changed almost instantly. She straightened up a bit, her cleavage pressing against the blouse’s fabric, and her gaze was flinty and calculating as she said, “You, Mister?”
“Yes, that’s me. Myrt, why don’t you and Mr. Lindstrom step next door so this young lady and I can talk?” The horse escorted the squirrel femme to the door, and she and the marten stepped inside.
He turned away from the door to see the skunk unbuttoning her blouse. “What are you doing?”
“I figured this would be one of those ‘casting couch’ things,” and she shed the blouse and her brassiere. “So, what do you like – “
He took two long strides and slapped her across the face, sending her sprawling to the carpet. She ran a paw over her jaw and mouth, noted there was no blood, and snarled, “What the hell was that for, you bastard?” She followed it up with a small assortment of insults directed at the horse’s parentage and ancestry.
Eduardo Barbaro wasn’t Sicilian, but from Calabria, his family hailing from a village in the hills overlooking Crotone. He wasn’t a made fur in Don Carpanini’s organization, being content to help the Don handle the Family’s contacts with the movie studios. He also handled some of the prostitution business, but that trade was well-hidden behind layers of middlemen and well-paid police officers.
Of course, he could be violent if he chose to, and it unnerved furs who made the mistake of thinking that he was a milquetoast.
Eileen crested at him, and started to struggle as he reached down, grabbed her by the wrists and hauled her to her feet. She tried to kick him in the crotch and he almost casually threw her onto the couch. “You going to listen to me now?” he asked.
“What?” she asked in a sullen tone. “You like this sort of thing? I don’t roughhouse.”
He snorted a laugh. “I’m not here for any of that.” He picked up her blouse and underwear and tossed them to her, and she caught them in midair. “When I said talk, I meant exactly that.”
She eyed him warily. “So, talk.”
Barbaro walked over to a chair and sat down before fishing a pack of cigarettes and a silver lighter from a pocket. He lit up and after taking a long drag on the cigarette he said, “Mikey’s bosses asked my boss to come out here to see you. See, doll, you’ve gotten mixed up in something.”
Eileen blinked a bit. “Is this about that alligator? Hmmph. There’s a cold fish for you,” she said dismissively.
“You didn’t know?”
“Know what? Mikey told me he wanted to talk to me. Most guys come up to my room for a talk, it’s usually more than just talking.” She had made no move to get dressed yet, a fact that the stallion noted.
“He was with the G-men.” A lie, but there was no sense in telling her that the gator had come from the White House.
Her tail was seized between two paws. “G-men? I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“They might think you had,” Barbaro said evenly, “and you might end up in Federal prison.” Her mouth sagged open in shock. “But there’s a way out of that.”
“I’m from Los Angeles. I do some work around Hollywood, even at the big studios like Azimuth or Weimaraner Brothers. Mikey says you want to get into movies.”
Again, a wary look. “Maybe.”
“Please, can the balloon-juice,” he said. “I saw how you acted when you saw Miss Henderson. Now, like I said, I do business with some of the studios. I can get you a job out west, if I think you can measure up.”
The skunk’s lips set in a hard line and she sat up straight. He had to admit, she was a looker. “So, are you done talking so you can ‘measure me up?’”
The stallion silently said a Hail Mary and snuffed his cigarette out in the ashtray. “If you think that's what I'm offering you, girl, you're barking up the wrong tree. Listen: I can get you into pictures, or I can dump you in a whorehouse out in the middle of the desert where you'll be dealing with drunk cowboys, have the pox within a year and likely drink yourself to death before you're thirty. You want that?"
Eileen swallowed hard. She knew a few women in her profession that were dead at thirty. She shook her head.
“Good. I’d heard you were a smart girl.” He sat back and crossed his legs casually, letting the light play on his polished hooves. “Let’s start over, okay? How old are you, really?” She told him, and he raised an eyebrow at her. “Not much schooling, then?”
“I can read and write,” she huffed. “The nuns taught me that before I left.”
Probably knows business better than Henry Ford. “Orphan?”
Barbaro nodded. That jibed with what he’d been told. That would make this a bit easier. “Been in the business long?” She gulped and her right eyelid twitched a bit before she nodded. Girl’s going to have a bit of trouble sleeping tonight, he thought. He raised his voice. “Myrt!”
Henderson opened the door. “Yeah, Eddie?”
“Why don’t you take Eileen next door, and I’ll talk to Mister Lindstrom, okay?” The squirrel nodded and crooked a finger at the skunk femme, who put her blouse on and hurriedly left the room.
The marten came in as Barbaro lit another cigarette. “She looked like you got under her skin,” Lindstrom observed.
“Just a little. Have to get through the walls she put up around herself. Smoke?
“Sure, thanks,” and the marten took the proffered cigarette and lit up. “Blenheims?”
“Good stuff. So, um, what’s the plan for her?”
“They didn’t tell you?” No sense in explaining who ‘they’ were. “If Myrt says she’s okay, Eileen will disappear.”
Lindstrom quirked an eyebrow as his ears rose slightly. “And a new starlet shows up in the Hollywood papers?”
Barbaro raised a finger. “Not at first, no.”
“I really am thrilled to meet you, Miss Henderson.”
The gray squirrel grinned. “It’s always nice to meet a fan,” she said. She extended a paw. “Myrtle.”
“Eileen.” The two shook paws and the skunk asked, “So what now?”
“First, kiddo, I need to take a good look at you,” and the squirrel stepped back a few steps, “so if you would please take off your clothes.” Eileen hesitated, and Henderson said, “Please? I need to see what Nature’s given you.”
“Okay,” and the skunk stripped down to her stockings, then sat on a chair to remove them. She stood up then, arms crossed over her chest.
“Now, back straight, put your right paw on your hip and let your left arm hang loose, left foot slightly forward – just a bit more, good – and hold your tail high.” Henderson nodded approvingly as the skunk femme positioned herself. “Right, now stand still and let me take a look.” She walked around Eileen, eyeing her curves critically. “Your fur looks very good. Take care of yourself?”
“Good. Your tailfur’s beautiful, nice and fluffy even for a skunk. Had any children?” The younger woman shook her head violently. “Right. Do you smoke?”
“You have a very nice voice, Eileen. Smoking will ruin it,” Henderson said as she then ran her paws over Eileen’s shoulders and cupped her chin, tipping the skunk’s face left and right. “Regular features, good muscle tone,” the squirrel said absently. She stepped back. “Okay, you can get dressed. Is this your only outfit?”
“No,” Eileen said as she slipped her stockings back on. “Mikey told me to bring all my stuff with me.”
The gray squirrel nodded. It made sense, because one way or another, this young woman would disappear without a trace. “Tell you what,” she said, “I’ve got some scripts in my bag. Let’s dress you up and see how well you can act.”
The skunk grinned. “Sure!” and while Henderson went into Mikey’s room to get her bag, Eileen went to the bedroom to open up her trunk.
A few hours later, Henderson and Barbaro were back at their hotel. “So?” Henderson asked as Barbaro poured a measure of Scotch into two glasses, added a bit of water to one, and gave that glass to the squirrel. “What do you think of her?”
The stallion took a sip of his drink and sat down before replying, “She has a bit of natural acting talent. Being a prostitute – “
“She’d have to act from time to time, yes,” the squirrel finished the sentence and sampled her drink. “Posture could use some work, along with her diction.”
“No, not much. Maybe a B-list at Gold Star to start with?” she asked.
“Couple art studies as well,” Barbaro said. “We have to get some money out of her as she’s going to lessons and screen tests. You’ve talked to her between changes?” He sipped at his drink, needing it after the skunk had appeared in a schoolgirl’s uniform and sang. She didn’t have a bad singing voice, but it needed just a bit of work.
“I’ve explained things to her, yes,” Henderson said. “She’s eager to get into pictures, and I think she’ll put in the effort. New name, the works.”
Barbaro nodded. “No need to tell her what happens if she doesn’t.” It had already been agreed that if she was a failure, the skunk would be invited on a cruise from Long Beach to Catalina Island.
The ocean was quite deep along the route.
“Watch yer step, Sir,” Sergeant Brush said as he helped Inspector Stagg back into the water taxi that had brought them to Moon Island. For some reason that he chose not to share with the fox, the whitetail buck had placed a phone call to the RINS base, and then asked Brush to go on ahead and arrange a water taxi.
Brush had recognized the wirehair terrier that met them at the dock. Ranua Milikonu had filled out a bit since he’d seen them last, and all of it muscle from the look of it. “Fair day-birth, Karok-son-Karok,” the terrier had said in Spontoonie.
“Fair day, Ranua-son-Tama,” Brush said, and switched to English. “How’s your wife and kid?”
“Miri’s just fine, and so’s Tainafi,” Ranua replied. “How’s Kiki and the kits?”
“They’s doin’ great. What brings us here to Moonie, Sir?” he asked Stagg. Ranua had brought one of the small golf carts that could occasionally be seen puttering about the base or along the runways at the South Island airport.
Stagg had taken a seat on the cart and beckoned for Brush to join him. “Just looking for some answers, Sergeant.” He hadn’t said anything after that, studying the tips of his hooves as Ranua started up the cart and headed for the Naval Syndicate’s main administration building.
Brush had been left cooling his heels outside the doors of the Intelligence Service’s office, a cup of hot and very good coffee in his paws. One very pretty young feline had offered him a doughnut, which he had waved off with a smile. His coffee cup was empty by the time Stagg emerged from the office, Ranua in tow. “Let’s get back to the office, Sergeant,” the whitetail buck had said.
That was one of the problems with being the junior member of the Constabulary’s Detective Bureau, Brush groused to himself as the taxi headed back to Meeting Island. Inspector Stagg was a good boss and a great detective, but he played his cards maddeningly close to his chest at times.