Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
Hao almost recoiled at the idea, but checked himself and asked, “A matchmaker? But isn’t that for little kids?”
Peng blushed as Hei replied, “Your mother and I were older than you are when our marriage was arranged, Hao.” He smiled fondly at his wife, then grinned his youngest child. “So, do you want to try, or not?”
The young red panda sat back and started to think. Mother and Father sincerely loved each other, and had weathered a lot of trouble just raising him, Shin and Peng-wum. “Will I at least get to see her before we’re married?” he asked, smiling to tell his parents that he was joking.
Peng laughed. “Of course,” she said, “and we’ll even have the lights on when you do.” All three of them started to laugh.
Finally Hao recovered enough to ask his mother, “How does it work? I mean, how will you and Father go about it?”
“Well,” Hei said, “we shall ask Yung – he’s the fellow who cast the horoscope for your sister’s wedding, you recall – to draw up your horoscope. After that we’ll send it to a professional matchmaker in Hong Kong, and see who they can find.” He placed a paw on his son’s shoulder. “It may take a while, so be patient.”
Hao smiled at his parents. He realized now that they had his best interests at heart. “I’ll be patient,” he assured them, “and thank you.” He hugged Peng and shook paws with his father.
All three turned as Peng-wum came into the office. “Ah, there you are, son,” Hei said. “Is Emmanuel settled in?”
“He said he was going to relax before supper, Father,” the red panda replied.
“Good. Now, what did you want to tell me?”
Peng-wum nodded as his father resumed his seat behind his desk. “Father, Manny seems a bit bitter.”
“Yes. Possibly he resents his father for marrying again after his mother died, or for sending him out here.” The young red panda gave a small smile as his eyes seemed to gleam. “We may have an opportunity – I’m not sure what.”
“Hmm.” Hei looked up at his son speculatively. “Keep your eyes open,” he said.
“Of course, Father.”
“ . . . Comin' a time, women ain't gon' need no men,
Just like the water, money will come rollin' in.
Mens is like streetcars, runnin' every day,
Miss one now, get another'n right away.”
The blues singer, a shapely mouse with pure black fur, deep brown eyes and a long, slender tail, grinned and bowed as the audience in the Casino applauded. The two musicians flanking her, one on piano and the other clutching his saxophone in his paws, bowed with her. She headed to the bar for a drink and a smoke while the two musicians struck up a faster jazz tune and the group of furs in the casino headed back to the tables.
Manny watched from a balcony while he and Peng-wum waited for dinner, and the otter grinned at the red panda. “I haven’t heard a Crowgan song sung that well, ever,” he said. “Ya certainly get some talent out here.”
“It’s not Los Angeles, I’m sure,” Peng-wum replied, “but we do our best. Some of our associates hold contracts on actors or singers, and we occasionally hire them to come out here – properly insured, of course,” he added hastily as a gunshot rang out in the distance. He looked up as Sally bustled in with two plates that she set down for them, and he breathed in the aroma of stir-fried fish.
Much to his surprise, Manny politely set aside his fork and knife and picked up a set of chopsticks. When he saw the panda staring at him, the American laughed. “I learned how to eat Chinese-style in Chinatown,” he said. “Pop doesn’t know, but if he did I’m sure he’d get mad.” A thoughtful look came to his face as he added, “I might tell him when I get back.”
Peng-wum raised one eyebrow as he started to eat. The cook had done a great job with the food, as always, but after eating a few bites he sat back. “Tomorrow, if it’s okay, I’ll take you around Fort Bob and introduce you to a few people,” he said, choosing his words carefully.
“That’ll be great,” the otter said. “I really do want to learn about this place – I just wish it had been my idea, and not my Pop’s.” He sipped at a glass of Orca-Cola before saying, “Ya mentioned that a few of your ‘friends’ have singers under contract. Better not let Pop hear that. He’ll think Krupmark’s cutting into his business.”
“Yeah. See, Pop come out west back in ’25 – orders from Capon himself, see – to make sure the boys in Chicago got their cut of the money skimmed from the movie studios. Pop got everything in order, ya see, and everything’s been running smoothly, thanks to him an’ Joey No Nose.”
Peng-wum nodded, his eyes impassive behind his pince-nez glasses. He was trying to memorize everything that Manny said, thinking that some of it might be useful later. “’Joey No Nose?’” he echoed. “Who’s that?”
“Big ugly bastard – Joe Lupone,” Manny amplified, swallowing a mouthful of fish. “He’s the underboss – sort of, um, second in command, see?” At the red panda’s nod he went on, “He got the name ‘No Nose’ because he likes cuttin’ noses off the guys he kills.”
Peng-wum reminded himself that Hao cut Wu Tang’s tail off, and sipped at his tea. “I take it you don’t like him,” he said quietly.
Manny grinned. “No, I don’t,” he said in the same tone. The two of them ate, looking up as a pair of foxes looked in. He grinned as Peng-wum stood up.
“These are the two girls you saw earlier,” he explained, gesturing for them to come inside. The two vixens looked almost like twins, except one’s fur was a shade darker. They were dressed identically in pleated plaid skirts, white blouses open at the neck, and dark blue school blazers. The clothes were modeled after Shin’s school uniform, which might cause some difficulties if Shin or her friends ever dropped by unexpectedly.
“This is Tasanee,” Peng-wum said, “and Phailin.” Phailin had the darker fur. “Girls, this is Manny.” The two of them curtsied, and one giggled.
“I’ll leave you three to get better acquainted,” Peng-wum said, and left the room as Manny waved for the girls to come to him.
After a few minutes Peng-wum touched a hidden latch and stepped into a darkened room where he kept his camera equipment. He made sure that everything was ready, then settled down to wait. The red panda grinned to himself. Phailin and Tasanee had come highly recommended from his father’s connections in Bangkok – despite their ages, they were very experienced.
The next day Peng-wum was finishing his breakfast when Manny came down the stairs. The otter looked to be in a far better mood than when he had landed at Spontoon. “Hello!” the red panda called out. “Care for some coffee?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Manny said, pouring himself a cup and taking a seat opposite his host. “What’s for breakfast?”
Peng-wum grinned. “How much do you have in your wallet?” he countered. “The cook’s pretty talented, but if we have to go into Fort Bob for something special, it could get expensive.”
“Oh. So what are ya having?”
“Bacon and eggs.”
Manny smiled. “I’ll have that then. Those two women gave me quite an appetite.” Peng-wum laughed and passed along the order, and after a few minutes the feline who did most of the cooking appeared and placed a steaming plate down in front of Manny. Peng-wum sat back, nursing his second cup of coffee while the otter started to eat.
After several minutes Manny asked, “Where’s Hao?”
“I’m not sure,” Peng-wum admitted. “He could be sleeping in, or down at the Beach.” At Manny’s look he added, “We have two more houses – acquired last year – down at the Beach.”
“Pop told me a little about that,” Manny said, sitting back in his chair. “You know, you have a paradise here, Peng-wum. No police, no laws – everything’s out in the open here.”
How little you know, Peng-wum thought quietly to himself. Aloud he said, “When you finish breakfast, we’ll head up into town. I have to look in on a few of our associates, and by then Hao will turn up.” He looked around. “But first we need a bit of protection,” and he gave a whistle.
A female wolf peered over the balcony. “Yes? Oh, hi Peng-wum,” she said in an Italian accent, and Manny’s ears perked.
“Good morning, Julia,” the red panda said. “Are you and Emilia available for some guard work? We’re going up to Fort Bob.”
“Sure, sure. Just wait there and we’ll be down,” and the she-wolf withdrew.
Manny asked, “They’re Italian?”
“Sicilian, I think,” Peng-wum replied. There was a clatter of boots, and the two wolves came down the stairs, each hefting a short-barreled shotgun. “You know how to shoot?” he asked Manny.
“Good. We’ll need guns.”
The two walked up the road into the town, and Manny asked, “How long do ya think a cop would last here?”
“In uniform or not?” Peng-wum countered, waving to a few of the shopkeepers in the Thieves’ Bazaar.
“In uniform, of course.”
The red panda cocked his head in thought for a moment and said, “I think he might last anywhere between five seconds and five days.”
“Why five days?”
“Because that’s how long the last police spy survived. See, a few people decided they wanted to play with him,” and Peng-wum gave a small shuddering flick of his tail.
“Oh.” There was a world of understanding in the word.
Peng-wum introduced his guest to several people who regularly competed with the Ni Family for investments and business contacts. The greetings and introductions were polite, but dampened somewhat by the presence of the armed wolves flanking the two furs.
As they headed back down the hill to the Beach, Manny leaned over to Peng-wum and whispered, “Julia and Emilia – are they available?”
Peng-wum glanced back at the two guards, then whispered, “No. They only have eyes for each other.”
Manny’s eyes widened and he visibly resisted looking back at Emilia and Julia. “Damn, that’s a shame,” he muttered, and promptly blushed as Emilia’s ears flicked in his direction and she gave him a wink.
The road to the Beach curved to the west, and as they walked past the various houses Peng-wum saw a figure walking in their direction. He waved, and after several more moments he was shaking paws with his younger brother. “Hao! You’re up early,” Peng-wum joked.
Hao grinned, rubbing a paw over the back of his head. “Not really,” he admitted. “I spent the night at the Black Sheep House.”
“Black Sheep House?” Manny asked. “What’s that place like?”
Hao told him, and laughed as the otter’s ears flattened against his head.