Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
“So, what’s the big mystery?” Hao asked Peng-wum the next day. Hao had spent the night at the Grand, waiting for his brother to meet him, and now the two were having breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. The younger of the two sipped his coffee as he waited for a reply.
Peng-wum’s expression gained a slightly sly look as he leaned forward and said softly, “No mystery - Father’s arranged to have Don Carpanini’s son fly out here.”
Hao looked a bit dubious about that. The European otter’s last visit to Krupmark had been a grating experience. “The Don coming out with him?” he asked, half hoping that the answer would be No.
His older brother shook his head and then had to adjust his pince-nez, smiling as Hao perked up. “Manny’s coming alone,” he replied, “and according to Father we’re to teach him how we do business. No secrets,” he added, raising an admonitory paw. He sat back and sipped at his glass of fruit juice.
“No secrets, huh? Looks like he’ll have a short vacation,” and Hao chuckled. “When’s he due to arrive?”
“Sometime today,” Peng-wum replied, glancing out the windows at the brightly sunlit morning. “We have some time to talk.”
“Oh? What about?”
“You and Brigit.” At the name Peng-wum saw his younger brother’s eyes glance down at his plate. His tail drooped at the same time.
“What do you want to know, Peng-wum?” Hao said in a defeated voice. “She dumped me.”
That surprised the older of the two. “Dumped you? Why?” Peng-wum knew Hao could be a very charming fellow when it suited him.
Hao paused and lit a cigarette, tossing the spent match into the ashtray and taking a drag on it before replying, “She caught me at Lee’s down in New Penzance.” He shrugged. “I guess she didn’t want a boyfriend who had other girlfriends.”
His older brother nodded, and the red panda reached across the table and put his paw on Hao’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Hao.”
Hao’s paw covered Peng-wum’s, and squeezed it briefly. “Thank you, Brother,” Hao said, “but I can’t help feeling that Father had something to do with this.” At Peng-wum’s suddenly quizzical look he added, “Father disapproved of her.”
“I’m sure he had his reasons, Hao,” Peng-wum said, withdrawing his paw and picking up his fork. He ate a few mouthfuls from his plate before saying, “I can guess at some of his objections, though.”
“Well, for starters she’s not Chinese,” the older panda said reasonably as Hao looked up sharply, “and you weren’t there, but I heard there was a hell of a fight just to get Father to agree to let Shin marry Fang.” In fact, Hei had given Shin the choice of marrying Fang or of fulfilling her dream of attending Songmark.
“Why didn’t he object to you and Nailani, then?”
An eloquent shrug as Peng-wum chewed a mouthful of mango. He swallowed and replied, “I think we caught him when he was still reeling from almost losing the family fortune and from agreeing to Fang joining the family.” He winked. “Timing’s important.”
“I guess so,” Hao said morosely. “How are Nailani and Mikilani?”
“Oh, they’re fine,” Peng-wum said proudly. “It’s a wonderful thing to have a wife and child to come home to, Hao. You wait and see,” and he wagged his fork at the younger panda, “you’ll meet the right person, and your whole life will change for the better. Trust me on that.” He paused and ate some more before adding, “You’re not even nineteen yet – plenty of time.”
Hao gazed at his brother for a long moment as the words sank in. “Thank you, Peng-wum,” he said softly.
“Hey, we’re family – we look after each other.”
The waiter approached and Peng-wum signed the bill, adding a tip to the total amount. The two brothers then walked out of the hotel.
At the seaplane terminal, Peng-wum studied the chalkboard that bore updated information on which planes were on time and which were running late. From what he’d been told, their guest would be arriving on a Shoshone Skypaths plane from San Francisco . . . ah, there it was, and on time as well.
“He’s due to arrive in about another hour,” he told Hao, who nodded as he filled out the customs forms for his cargo once again.
“Good,” his brother said. “We’ll be able to get this cargo to where it needs to go then.”
Peng-wum glanced at the GH-2 riding at its berth and asked, “What have you got?”
Hao shrugged. “Canned goods and cloth, mainly,” he replied. He finished filling out the form and passed it to a customs officer, who stamped it after studying it briefly. “Thanks,” the red panda told the canine, who smiled.
Finally a big Boing flying boat settled into the water and the towboat sped out to meet it. Arriving passengers streamed past and headed for the customs desks, and Peng-wum gave Hao a short dig to the ribs with his elbow. “I think that’s him.”
The otter was not as short as his father and a great deal thinner, but the set of his features and the way he carried himself proclaimed him a child of privilege. He looked to be about Peng-wum’s age, and as he stood fidgeting while his passport was stamped Peng-wum walked up to him.
He caught sight of the red panda, and half-turned toward him. “Who are you?” the otter asked, his accent mostly American, with only a trace of his father’s Italian roots.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
The red panda offered a paw. “Ni Peng-wum. This is my brother Hao.”
“Pleased to meet ya both, and call me Manny,” the otter said with a smile, “all my friends do. We get another ride in a plane, huh?” he asked as he shook Hao’s paw.
“I’m afraid so,” Hao admitted. “You could stay the night in a hotel.”
“No, let’s go,” Manny said in a subdued tone. “I’m supposed to learn from your family, so let’s get to where I can start.” The two red pandas looked at each other as Manny gathered up his suitcases.
The Garza-Huacatl lumbered aloft and settled into its course for Gull Island. After clearing the north coast of Main Island, however, Hao started to turn the plane toward Krupmark while Peng-wum looked back into the cabin where Manny was sitting. “Comfortable?”
The otter shrugged, leaning into the bank. “Comfortable as I can be, I guess.”
“What’s the matter?”
Manny’s lips curled into a sneer. “I know why I’m out here. “Pop-“ - his voice took on a cold mock formality - “my father doesn’t want me around while he plays slap and tickle with his woman.”
“Your . . . mother?” Hao called out over the roar of the engines.
Manny spat. “My . . . mother died three years ago. Now,” the otter added bitterly, “Pop is palling around with some whore actress.”
Hao and Peng-wum shared a glance as Manny sank back into his seat, muttering something under his breath.
The weather on the island was starting to get warmer as spring approached. Everything was relatively peaceful among the small houses, warehouses and other buildings at Fort Bob, and most of the people who lived there seemed actually glad for the respite after the past few months of mayhem. Prolonged gunfire gets on peoples’ nerves at times.
Even on Krupmark, where prolonged gunfire is sometimes the norm.
The otter walked along the dock and shook paws with Ni Hei. “Pleased to meet ya, Mr. Ni,” he said quietly, and smiled. “I look forward to learning a lot from you.” He and the older panda edged out of the way as Hao, Peng-wum and several other furs offloaded the plane. The cargo would fetch a fairly high price in the Thieves’ Bazaar.
Manny reached into a pocket and produced a letter. “My father asked me to give this to ya.”
The older red panda smiled as he took the letter and said, “While you are here, you can consider yourself a member of our family. Peng-wum, show him to a room at the Casino, and supper will be at the usual time.” He was surprised at the difference between Don Carpanini and his son; according to the mob boss, his son was disrespectful and possibly a brawler – in any event, a blot on the family’s name.
“This way,” Peng-wum said, and as he brushed past his father he appeared to stumble against a loose plank. He put out a paw and grasped Hei’s shoulder to steady himself before moving on. Hei watched the two younger furs as they walked off, his ears twitching at the message his oldest son just gave him.
Manny stopped and tried to hide his sudden blush at the sight of the sign over the entrance to the Lucky Dragon. Workers were busily repainting the dragon’s primary reason for his good fortune, while others were replacing some light bulbs outlining the effigy’s tail. “I don’t see nothing like that in L.A.,” the otter said as they went inside. “Good advertising, huh?”
“Well, we don’t have any – what’s the word? – busybodies here telling us what’s wrong or right,” Peng-wum replied with a smile as the two entered the building.
“Um . . . “ the otter was about to say something else, but his voice trailed off at the sight of two of the Casino’s hostesses. Apparently it was wash day, or maybe the two vixens just decided that the spring weather was comfortable enough to warrant lounging around in their bare fur.
Of course, what they were doing on one of the couches near the bar could be explained as a spring ritual in some countries.
Peng-wum shouted a few choice words in Chinese and laughed as the two vixens separated, rolling apart before rushing upstairs, giggling furiously. They left the two men inhaling a trail of scents that sent their ears quivering. One of the girls paused at the top of the stairs, shook her tailfur at the two men, then blew a kiss and ran after her lover.
“Now I know I didn’t see anything like that in L.A.” Manny grinned at Peng-wum, “at least not way out in the open. But I do know that I’d like to see it again sometime.” He cocked his head. “But . . . aren’t they a little young? Christ, they look like they’re maybe fourteen.”
“That’s part of their charm, I think,” Hao said in an offpaw manner. “Some people like the strangest things sometimes.” Manny nodded, still gazing up the stairs.
Peng-wum suppressed a laugh. “Maybe you’ll meet them after dinner,” he said. “I’ll introduce you around. You’ll find that things are a lot different here.”
As soon as Hao was certain that the cargo he’d brought from Spontoon was secured in the family’s warehouse he went to his father’s office. Marco let him in and he was mildly surprised to find his mother in the room. Peng was rarely awake at this time of day, since she was usually up all night watching the business over at the casino. “Mother,” he said, brushing a kiss against her cheek, “how are you?”
Peng smiled. “Just fine, Hao,” she said, understanding the question. “With the repairs going on I haven’t been able to get much sleep during the day. Sally and Mei Ling are helping me. So, how was your trip to New Penzance?”
“Not bad,” he replied, and he waited until his father looked at him quizzically. “You won’t have to talk to me about Brigit, Father,” he said quietly. “She doesn’t want to see me.”
Hei frowned. While he’d made his disapproval plain, his son’s behavior seemed out of character. “What happened?” he asked.
Hao explained, adding, “It’s for the best, I guess. She’s still in school, and can’t have any distractions.” He sat down, and let his mother take his left paw in hers.
His expression caused Hei to get up out of his chair. The older red panda came up to Hao and he embraced his youngest son. “I know that you were attracted to her,” Hei said, “but your mother and I didn’t think she was right for you.” He glanced at Peng, who nodded. “In fact, we’d like you to think about another option.”
“Another option, Father?”
Peng replied, “We know your attitude about traditions, Hao, but I think that this one will be just what you need.” As he turned to look at her she said, “I want you to consider allowing us to retain a matchmaker to find you a wife.”