Jack in a Box
JILLIAN’S WEDDING DAY BEGAN QUIETLY, so quietly I had too much time to think. ‘Why not me? I’m as good looking as Richard, possibly better. And like Richard I’m at the top of my game although mine is somewhat legal and his clearly is not. That’s why she likes him, I figure. She likes the fact that he’s a bigger criminal than her dad, Jack, who is like a dad to me too. You see, I was left to the courts by my parents before Jack stepped in. And Jack stepped hard in his size twelve shoes. John Wayne in stature and presence he seemed awesome to me, and all I ever wanted to be was just like Jack. Jack was my hero, my mentor, my muse.
So, maybe I had the right to be bitter. I mean, a Triad boss was marrying the woman I loved and I was to be a good sport? Hello! Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser, guaranteed. I’m about the poorest loser on the planet next to Jack who tends to sulk when he’s beaten. And when he’s not. Me too. Since the engagement announcement I’d been drunker than a skunk, meaner than a wolverine, and had yet to sleep beside a non-for-profit woman. Or any woman, for that matter. Apparently, I’d acquired a werewolf quality, black-faced and shaggy, with haunting sky-blue eyes. Blame it on love, I told the mirror. It was all love’s fault.’
But freshly showered and shaved I was about to attend a Smith and Wesson wedding and guess what? I was packing a wire. While I promised Jack to leave all weapons in the trunk of my car I lied through my molars since I only planned to leave most. Served him right, since he’d talked down to me earlier in the day while tutoring me on wedding banquet etiquette.
“The guests aren’t rocket scientists,” he told me during breakfast in the kitchen of his British Properties home. We were seated on a banquette near a bank of windows overlooking the city below. “Small talk. Flatter the women, especially the ugly ones, and keep the whiskey flowing for the boys. Don’t insult them with champagne. They don’t like you so don’t give them an excuse to shoot you.”
Nice. Well… Statistically a person could cross Jack and live, but not well on crutches and possibly missing an ear. And since I respected statistics I thanked him for thinking so little of me before leaving in a huff.
So, several shots of Crown Royal later I was standing at the church doors dragging on a cigarette and watching the parade of collector cars arrive. Jack’s gang was cruising in led by Sharp-dressed Tony, Sammy, and the lot. Wedged into tuxedos Richard’s Triad goons came prancing up the steps looking tough. Right. I could take them. I was taller than Shorty Poo, thinner than Fat Freddie Fong, and only a tad scared of King Kong Chin, the Butcher. Yeah, I could take them down, no problem. While they had a penchant for knives I liked guns. Bang! Oh, and any second now little Jackie Chan would come racing into the church hollering, “Bomb!”
After a frisking by Jack’s bodyguard, who winked as he found the shooter, I moved among some highly colorful guests: snobby West Van socialites, a couple of disbarred lawyers, several crooked cops, and a handful of feathery hookers Jack had sneaked past his sister’s haughty nose. Oh. Oh. The rustling and bustling of French chiffon signaled the arrival of the bride and her maids and the church went still. I whipped out a silver cigarette case to check my reflection. Yup. Charlie Hampton, PI. Slick dark hair and eyes the color of a swimming pool on the sunniest summer day. God, how could such a gorgeous bastard hurt so much inside?
Jillian clutched my arm. “Admiring yourself again, Hampton? You never get enough of that pretty puss, do you?”
She was so damn beautiful! Even through the misty veil I could see her remarkable face, her round hazel eyes, her straight determined nose. She was actually going to go through with it. She was going to swish right down that aisle and, in front of the entire congregation, declare her lack of love for me.
“I love you,” I whispered in her ear.
“I love me too.” She lifted her veil and kissed me smack on the mouth before moving along and gripping her father’s arm.
“Don’t start, Jack! You’ve been wailing and convulsing all day as though your only child were being ushered to the gallows. We only have to get through this once, you know.”
The big guy in the Armani tux looked skeptical. “Right. I’ll remind you of that six months from now when we’re standing on this very same plank preparing to make fools of ourselves again.”
The Joneses started down the aisle then, Jillian exuding magnificence and Jack balking like a skittish Brahma bull. His sandy curls were drenched in terror while his mustache lay wet with the dew of the dreaded unknown. Poor bugger. He trudged like a rusty robot.
“Just a few more steps,” she urged.
About ten feet short of the altar Jack dug in. “He only wants one thing, Jilly!”
Giggles rippled through the church.
Jillian forged ahead, her father in tow. “That’s how you get grandchildren, Jack!”
Laughter erupted. Bitter person that I was I even laughed. Mathematically, I figured I still had a chance given that very few people in the twenty-first century actually stayed married. She may even fall for me one day down the road, right after her lobotomy.
At last the pair arrived at the altar where Reverend Roxanne hit Jack with the shocking words. “Who gives this woman to this blessed union?”
When Jack hesitated the bets were on as the low rumble rolling through the church had nothing to do with prayer. “Seven to one,” Billy the Bookie hollered.
“Who gives this woman to this blessed union?” the Reverend repeated patiently.
Jack went wobbly. He reeled from heel to toe and back again, back again from heel to toe. He looked like a metronome. Tick tock. Tick tock. I grew dizzy just watching him sway. Then suddenly, like a huge sack of potatoes, he crashed to the floor. And with all the kafuffle at the altar no one heard the thud of a gun to my head or noticed my lifeless body being carried from the church.
THE PREVIOUS YEAR
JACK’S HOUSE IN BRITISH PROPERTIES perched on the mountainside four stories deep. Sprawling behind lush hedges the concrete fortress hosted thick black doors, electronic surveillance, and a garage for myriad cars. Inside, a sea of hardwood flowed down the stairways like a log run on the Fraser while crystal chandeliers lit the halls. To get to Jack’s domain I typically followed the trail of artifacts – from lewd to lewder statue – to the very end of the hall. The library was where Jack hid from the Jones women and he also hid on me, except when he wanted something. Then he tore the town apart to find me.
About Jack’s statues… Most were benign in nature but I had a problem with David in the foyer alcove. David didn’t like me. Not that he’d verbalized such, it was just his swaying back and forth and threatening to fall over and crush me whenever I showed up at 33 Terrace Place.
“It’s penis envy,” I told him upon arriving at Jack’s house on a rainy Sunday afternoon last April. “You’ve been shriveling, buddy, likely due to the statue cleaners and their habit of rubbing you the wrong way.”
Nothing. Just swaying.
Jack’s bodyguard came to the door. “Talking to David again, Charlie? Hope you know he isn’t real.” Shoeshine Fatso was a large handsome dude, a Jackie Gleason type with thick dark hair, glossy brown eyes, and a big gun. I respected Shoeshine. I had to. Jack threatened me with him all the time. “Got any weapons?” he boomed.
“Just the usual, Shoeshine.”
“Good. We may need your firepower later on.” He winked at me. “When things get hairy.”
Behind Shoeshine’s back Renaissance David was flexing his muscle. And not the good kind.
I could smell money. Old money and new money. Money coming out of the woodwork and floorboards, freshly laundered and still with bubbles on the Queen’s stern face. It was trip money, money soon to travel to Switzerland or the Caymans or the British Virgin Islands and back again, or just to stay put in a lazy old-fashioned way. Hidden money, the most exciting kind. While I speak figuratively my nose twitched to the transactions that typically took place over late-night whiskey in the library down the hall. Money over whiskey. How sweet was that? I was home, if only for my routine Sunday visit.
“So, Leonard is really gone, then?” I asked Shoeshine. Leonard had plans to become Jack’s son-in-law before he disappeared.
“Gone. Vanished into thin air. Jack’s so happy he’s throwing a party. Not that he needs an excuse.”
“I’ll bet he’s happy. And I’ll bet he knows just where Leonard went. And I’ll bet that you do too.”
Shoeshine shuffled his feet. He knew. Jack had done away with poor old Leonard and the only missing info was the where and the when. Not for me to condemn. I mean, Leonard wasn’t easy to like. Next to Leonard my arrogance looked like humility in disguise, some people said. Well, maybe those people were thugs but the majority of these thugs thought that Leonard wasn’t pretty enough to be such an asshole. And I did too. He was this long-nosed, pony-tailed professor who smelled of pipe tobacco on good days and you don’t want to know about the bad. He had skinny legs and bony ankles and didn’t wear socks. In summer his hairy white toes poked through his sandals, a very ugly sight.
I almost whacked him once myself, the moron. We were at Jack’s house for a party and he pulled me aside. “Charlie,” he said. “This may sound silly but I think you’re jealous of me. You don’t suppose your underlying feelings may be that I’m about to replace you as Jack’s son, do you?”
I thought about it. Since Leonard was Jack’s age the idea of Jack fathering him seemed hilarious to me. “No, Leonard. I don’t feel you’ll replace me as Jack’s son. I guess I just don’t like you.” With that I shuffled off to pour myself a double.
But back to the celebration of Leonard’s demise. I was leaning against a tall white pillar feeling happy by whiskey when Jack’s older sister came breezing by, tossing me a furrowed look, like I’d been part of the great conspiracy. Jack’s sister was hot for fifty-three. You know those women obsessed with the gym and staying young? Well, Julia wasn’t one of them. No, she got her exercise running between boardrooms closing deals. A woman of intrepid intellect, Julia was built like a willow tree, tall and sweeping, with long shapely legs, keen hazel eyes, and sleek dark hair that went twisting into a knot. It was the kind of knot made to be shaken loose on a pillow by a very brave man, since Julia Mattingly was deadly in more ways than one.
Jack was standing at the windows studying the landscape below when I finally tracked him down in a living room filled with gangsters, white leather sofas, animal print chairs, and Moroccan treasures. Leafy palm trees too.
“Rhododendrons are my favorite.” He nudged me so hard he almost knocked me over. “Followed by azaleas, I think.” The dinosaur on his pullover eyed me up like lunch.
Together we studied Vancouver at our feet.
“I didn’t know you liked flowers, Jack”
“It’ll be our secret, Hamster.”
Well, only Jack dared to call me a rodent. It was an endearment, of sorts. Hampton to Hamster was Jack’s way of telling me how special I was and that basically he was my owner. I nodded.
“I love it up here. It’s my favorite place in the world. Here in my castle with my private ocean view below I’m truly infallible. Infallible until the law catches up with me, that is. Or Jillian. Either way I’m a dead man.”
“I heard. Via the grapevine.”
He looked angelic with his sandy curls framing his face like garland, and although he’d hurt the person he loved most he had this knack of making you feel sorry for him, especially when he’d been bad.
“Can I help?” I asked out of respect.
“I’ll think about it.” He did. He was sucking me in like a carp. “I need to have some people watched. Are you any good at that?” His eyes were round and green and exact, like he’d been counting money but was a few grand short.
“Sometimes I watch people. When I’m not breaking kneecaps.” I was trying to be cool but was excited way beyond cool. Big deals happened around Jack, some of them even legal, and people died. Hopefully I wouldn’t be one of them.
“This is a big one, Hamster. Really big. These people can be dangerous. More dangerous than you know.”
“Ok, Jack. What have you done?”
He pawed his mustache, which I took as a sign of guilt. “Are you my father now?” he barked.
“Someone has to be since you refuse to look after yourself. What have you done?”
“Exactly what kind of trouble are you in, Jack?”
He giggled. “I like the way you say Jack. It’s like an order.”
“It is an order. I need to know what you’ve been up to.”
“Uh… Nothing. Yet.”
“But I may be. Down the road. I might have to get into a business I’ve always tried to avoid.”
“Shush!” he whispered. “Do you want to get us killed? It’s something like drugs. Only not quite so bad.”
Oh, great. He was going after the Triad. Holy crap!
A wiser man may have bolted, or at least rewritten his will, but not a guy governed by testosterone. From my third-story perch I could see Jillian in the atrium below and I stumbled over teenagers on the stairway just to get there.
“Charlie!” Leaping to her feet the girl straightened her skirt.
“Tina!” I tried not to sound like an aging adult. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Tina was not your average girl next door unless you lived beside the Munsters. But she did live next door and took Gothic to a new level of black: long black fingernails, black paint smeared across her little mouth, black tattoos on her cheeks, and long silky black hair cloaking all of the above like a stage curtain threatening to open to a bad play. She was wearing a black fishnet top above a short black shirt and black leggings.
I shook my finger at her. “This is a glass house, Tina. You may want to take the making-out to a dark room.”
Tina flew like a raven up the stairs.
So now I was in the atrium looking for a bony woman in a flowing dress that draped her bones like a tent. “Jillian,” I called, knowing that she was not a woman to be found.
“I’ve brought champagne.”
“I’m drinking the champagne in my glass. Yummy. And now I’m starting on yours.”
Giggles. She knew I’d be drinking whisky with nothing for her.
“Hark! Do I hear the angel sing?”
“Go away, Hampton. I hate you.”
“Thank god. I was afraid you might have changed.”
“No, I do. Now. Now, I really do hate you. Before I was just pretending.”
Didn’t I tell you that I have a way with women? She was crazy about me. But long ago Jack decided that it wasn’t going to happen and Jack got his way almost all the time.
The words tumbled from her mouth over a thick tongue. I was therefore not surprised to find her teetering on a limb about eight feet off the ground, plastered. What a woman to adore! A guy could get tangled up in her wild blond curls if he wasn’t careful. He could get his heart ripped out by an eyelash, even, if he let down his guard. But looks aside, it was about her mind. She had one. And opinions. Jillian had more opinions than the Pope. And she swore like a pirate’s parrot.
She waved the vodka bottle in her right hand while her left arm clung to the tree. “You bastard!” she said with some vehemence. “You likely put him on the plane. Or… was it under a train? Does that rhyme or what?” She saluted me with the half-empty bottle. “Plane. Train. Doesn’t matter. He’s gone. My Leonard is gone. Maybe to the rain in Spain.” She laughed her mouth off before starting to sob. “Tell me you didn’t hurt him. Tell me, Hampton. Tell me that you let him go.”
“I didn’t…” I started but she cut me off.
“I knew it was you! Jack doesn’t have the balls. But you do. Because you have to prove yourself to him over and over again. You’re such a puppet.”
“I didn’t …”
“You sound like a defective toy. I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t.”
“Ok, already! I did not. End of discussion. I do not know where Leonard went or why. Nor do I care. But think about this, Jillian. Maybe, just maybe, he skipped. Did it ever occur to you that he might have just left town? All by himself. On his own two feet?”
That straightened her up. “Oh, now I feel a lot better! Rejected. Abandoned on my thirtieth birthday. Thanks, Hampton.”
“My pleasure. Can we change the subject?”
“No,” she said in a little girl voice. “We can’t. I miss him. He was my English professor. A man to respect. Unlike two lowlifes I happen to know.”
Sweet. I checked my watch.
“I miss the silly things about him,” she whined, “like his hoarding habit and his apartment packed with [_Wall Street Journals _]dating back to 1889. You don’t think he was alive then, do you?” She killed herself laughing at her brilliance. “And his socks. That’s the weirdest part! Brown socks. One pair. How boring is that?” Her head bobbed. “Well, that was Leonard. So boring. So mediocre. So very, very dull.”
“Leonard never wore socks.”
Her eyes widened to saucer-size. “That’s what’s so weird! When I asked him about it he said he was saving them for a special occasion.” She hiccupped. “I wonder if he took them with him. What do you think, Dick Tracey? Or maybe just Dick. You’re a dick, Hampton.”
I decided not to tell the little drunk that at this juncture Leonard was likely wearing the socks he’d been saving. Along with a little cement.
She was growing whiter by the minute and shaky.
“You’d better come down from there, Jillian. You’re going to fall.”
“I can’t come down. I can climb up but that’s it. I’m too scared to come down.”
“I’ll come and get you then.”
“I’d rather die here! I’d rather die than have you touch me, you bully. You killer. I hate you!” With that she tumbled out of the tree and passed out in my arms.
ON GOOD DAYS I LIKE to walk to the water from my office on Denman Street but on April sixth last year I drove through torrents of rain to the Oceanic Hotel. As a snappy valet screeched away in my Beemer I figured he’d be cruising the town while I met with Leo ‘the Lizard’ Cheng. I was in a bad mood and didn’t care who knew it. Who wouldn’t be, knowing they were about to deal with deadly Asian hackers? And not the computer kind. Dead. I decided to act dead just to see how it felt. It felt bad.
I called Jack from the lobby to see if I could feel worse. I could. He was grouchy.
“It’s lonely at the bottom. I’m an orphan now. Did you know that, Hamster?”
Due to the Leonard fiasco both Julia and Jillian had moved out, Julia to her West End penthouse and Jillian into seclusion. They were shunning Jack now. They blamed him for Leonard’s vanishing act and for breaking Jillian’s heart.
“You still have Tony and Maya.”
Tony Chan – Sharp-dressed Tony, as he was known in Chinatown – was Jack’s chauffeur and was to Jack what Jack was to me, his surrogate dad. He’d raised Jack from a pup and hadn’t done such a terrific job. He and his wife Maya, Jack’s cook, occupied the guesthouse at 33 Terrace Place.
“Maya’s not speaking to me. And Tony isn’t either unless he has to. I think she’s gotten to him by withholding sex.”
I tried to smile. The idea of the elderly Chans having sex was half-funny.
“And they’re hardly ever here in the evenings anymore. I’ve had to come to the warehouse to socialize with vandals. It’s embarrassing.”
“I’ll come over tonight.”
“No you won’t. You’ll be working. For me. And don’t get any bright ideas from your buddy, Willy Chan.” He hung up.
When the elevator door opened on the thirty-third floor Tony’s nephew said hello. I smiled back at him. “Mr. Chan, I presume?”
He batted my hand away. “The Lizard is expecting you.”
My best friend since childhood days, ‘slick’ Willy Chan oozed class. Of medium build with shiny dark, shoulder-length hair he was known for his secretive brown eyes and white teeth that glisten when he smiled. And Willy had a lot to smile about, such as several million dollars stashed away, possibly in sacks under his bed. It was like that when you worked for the Triad and, as a double agent, you also worked for Jack.
Willy looked immaculate in his designer threads and highly-polished shoes. “Don’t say anything goofy, Charlie,” he warned me at the door. “The Lizard has no sense of humor. None at all.” He stomped out his cigarette under the No Smoking sign. “But it’s like I told Jack this morning. Julia’s lawyers have contacted Leo about buying out her shares. Of course, Leo is ecstatic. He’s been courting her for years. And if he happens to get his hands on Jillian’s ten percent too, well, I don’t have to tell you what that means.”
He didn’t. Jack and Julia each owned forty-five percent of Jones Import/ Export. Jillian owned the remaining ten percent as in the terms of her grandfather’s will. “Jack will be out the door. He has first right of refusal though. He can buy Julia out.”
“That’s not her game, Charlie. She wants to teach Jack a lesson. Whatever he did to Leonard – and nobody seems to know just what – he hurt Jillian. And you know how protective Julia is of her niece. She wants to punish Jack. And to see that he never does anything like this again.”
“He won’t,” I said, and we both giggled.
Inside the Loyal Suite Leo had put his stamp on things. Two jade Foo Dogs stood poised in the doorway, their stern teeth eager to rip my butt. Ming vases of various sizes stood like soldiers here and there about the room. It was a sterile place, polished and immaculate, everything in order and with the lone occupant sitting motionless by a bank of windows on his pristine throne. Hmm… What was Leo [_the Lizard _]thinking as he watched the freighters pass below? Microwave ovens… satellite dishes… foreign cars? Highly unlikely, since Leo’s kind of cargo came in little powdery packages packed inside an oil drum or a hot air pipe.
He turned to the tray of sandwiches beside him. “They charged me for five and only sent four and a half. Call downstairs and tell them to take the gratuity off the bill.”
Willy left the room.
[The Lizard, _]on first take[,_] seemed to be the type of guy to keep records, a lot of records, maybe even fudging them a bit, like maybe recording his bowel movement on a Saturday morning as ‘a sizable stool’ when, in fact, he’d produced only gas. Well, you couldn’t hang a guy for farts, could you? He somehow didn’t strike me as a killer. No, Leo’s killer knives came with other people.
“Mr. Charlie.” Leo’s eyes remained fixed on the ocean below. “I have been hearing good things about you.”
Right. Willy had conjured up some lies. I’ve been hearing good things about myself, I wanted to say, but for Willy’s warning. “I’ve heard good things about you too, sir,” I lied.
The Lizard wasn’t gorgeous. Quite the contrary. A ball bearing bore more hair than Leo and a shark fewer teeth. He wore a yellow silk kimono with red dragons on the sleeves over karate pants to the knee. And while I’d never quite taken to Birkenstock sandals, especially worn with socks, Leo had. In a desperate way. He wore them to meetings with suits, to the casino for luck, and to the spa for protection should he need to thwart the masseuse.
Willy returned to pour the tea and to arrange a pair of sandwiches on two plates with red flowers, handing one to Leo, the other to me. The Lizard was known for his affinity to ham – and his childish tantrums if denied his patent lunch.
“Where is your sandwich, Mr. Chan?” While his eyes stayed fixed on Burrard Sound below Leo had perfect peripheral vision.
“I’m not hungry today, sir,” Willy replied politely.
“You’re not what?” roared Leo. “You’re not what? You will be hungry, Mr. Chan. You will eat your sandwich.”
Willy shrugged. “I don’t like ham sandwiches much these days.”
I figured that having to eat ham every day for seven straight years might turn a guy off pork but Leo didn’t think like me.
“You don’t like it?” He ground his teeth. “What’s not to like about a ham sandwich? What, you don’t like the bread? You don’t like the ham? Or maybe you don’t like the butter.” He laughed a bitter laugh. “Or maybe you’re scared of it. Is fear your problem, Mr. Coward?”
Never had I seen such badgering of a full-grown adult but Willy took it well. He snatched up a half-sandwich and nibbled away. “Delicious!” He winked at me.
“I saw that,” barked Leo before stuffing a whole half, ham-on-white into his cavern. He chewed wide-open, debris raining onto his chest.
Somehow I wasn’t hungry either. Not for three more days. “I just had a banana on the bus,” I mumbled. “I couldn’t eat another thing.”
Willy shot me a look.
But Leo seemed impressed. I could almost hear the cash registers clinking in his head. A man who rode the bus might be had for cheap. He looked right at me.
“You don’t drive a car, Mr. Charlie?”
“Not on rainy days.”
Leo was calculating. Nine months of rain equaled one hell of a saving on tires.
“I like you, Mr. Charlie. You think like me.”
Yep. Leo with table manners. That would be me.
Bonding like Velcro to his new twin, Leo attacked business. “I understand that you are acquainted with the daughter of Mr. Jack Jones.”
I sneaked a peek at Willy who grinned back. The little bowling ball was going for control.
By mid-afternoon the rain had eased to a drizzle. I therefore had no excuse for my Beemer almost bumping an old man pushing his walker through the intersection on Marine Drive. Not a good excuse, anyway. So, after rolling down my window to say sorry, I headed back across the Lions Gate Bridge, through downtown Vancouver, and towards False Creek. I was thinking about my buddy Willy, about his brilliance and computer hacking savvy, about his millions salted away. Personally, I preferred to stay middle class. I took some comfort in going to bed at night knowing there was a good chance I’d wake up in the morning. Willy didn’t have that luxury.
I drove into False Creek thinking that the rows of condos stacked together, with trees trimmed like poodles on the lawns, might cheer me up. They didn’t. Down at Sea Village on Granville Island I nodded to the floating houses and live-aboard boats, our quaint Vancouver dwellings. Nothing. I parked and dragged my feet to a narrow, two-story home beside a pier.
“Go away!” she hollered.
I kept pounding. “Open up in the name of the law!”
“Fuck off, Hampton.”
Jillian peered at me through the crack in a door secured by a flimsy chain. “Why are you spying on me? Have you no legs to break?”
I flashed my best plastic smile. “I’ve reached my quota for the day.”
“Go away.” She closed the door.
“Get dressed. We’re going for a walk.”
“Will you leave me alone after that?”
“What do you think?’
“I think you’re a big fat liar. I think you’ll tell me what I want to hear. Then you’ll double cross me as usual.”
I smiled as she opened the door wide. Funny, but I was in a better mood now with everything to look forward to. I was going to go for a walk with the girl of my dreams who’d rather stick a hot poker in her eye than be anywhere near me. Nevertheless, we headed to the Granville Market for candied salmon jerky, which we mostly munched in silence on our way back to Jillian’s hideout. I finally said,
“Leo Cheng is preparing an offer to buy out your aunt. And he wants to buy you out too.”
“Sold!” she shouted. “Tell him to mail me the check.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Jillian. You don’t want him controlling your grandfather’s company, do you?” Well, that’s what Jack told me to say. He said to put the guilt of ancestry on her and not to mention his name unless all else failed.
She stopped short. “Do you know that you sound just like him? I mean, your singing his tune. You’re trying to guilt-trip me.”
“I never knew your grandfather.”
“Cut the crap! You’re a Jack clone. An abomination of sorts. To think that there are two of you.” She looked beautiful with her cheeks the color of her pink sweatshirt. I pictured her long blond curls on my pillow and Jack standing over me with an axe. So maybe that’s how I got dead.
“Ok, Jillian. Let’s start again. Jack needs your help. You don’t want an Asian consortium taking over his company, do you?”
“You’re still pretty mad, huh?”
“He had some pretty damning evidence against Leonard you know. Big stuff.”
She laughed too shrilly and too long. “Right. Like Leonard had an outstanding parking ticket. Or maybe he J-walked.”
“More.” I stopped there. She didn’t need to know about the young students, female and male. But I knew since I’d been hired to follow him. “Trust me, Jillian. You don’t want to know.”
“Why? Because Jack made up a pack of lies? And produced phony detective reports to substantiate them? Or you and that double cop, Peter, produced them for him. It doesn’t matter who did what. His MO is your modus operandi. You’re one and the same.”
I was tired of getting burned for Jack. “Can we change the subject?”
She sighed. “Do you want to know what was wrong with my childhood, Hampton?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You were Jack’s favorite and I never had a chance.”
“Right, I was Jack’s favorite. He adored you. Still does.”
“But he adored you differently. Remember how he used to dress you in his identical clothes? And have Maya perm your hair to make it curly like his?”
I shuddered. “I do. I also remember shaving my head in protest when I was twelve years old. After that Jack called me ‘the monk’.
She finally laughed. Legitimately. “You were allowed to wear your hair straight though. From then on. But Jack didn’t like it. Not one bit. Your straight hair was a declaration of independence.”
I remembered it all like a good dream. My new family and sudden baptism by money. “I have a confession to make. I was in love with your Aunt Julia until I was about twenty-five. Maybe even thirty. What am I now, thirty-six?”
“You and every other red-blooded male. Julia is a goddess. I can’t believe she’s going against Jack, though, because she loves him so fiercely. He’s everything to her. I mean, you and I are distant seconds. Equally, maybe. But Jack? Jack is her baby brother and she’d kill for him in a flash.”
AFTER SECURING THE TOP TO my convertible and robbing the gulls of an address I strolled down the hill to the pier. The harbor was bustling as usual with huge cranes rising like long-necked geese to deposit grain, sulfur, and lumber into the bowels of freighters. Back to back helijets arrived at the Waterfront pad just as the coast guard took off in a hovercraft, skimming away. The Port. I wallowed in it. I was home.
At the warehouse I saw Jack through his office windows but it wasn’t a pretty sight. He was slumped in his chair staring into space and with stubble sprouting on his face faster than fungus. Since I was in no hurry to inherit his motley crew I started to worry.
“It’s all set up,” I told him after pulling up a chair. “Right next door to Leo. I can monitor his every move.”
“Can you see him?”
“On a half-dozen screens. And I can hear him clearly too. Willy planted the equipment.”
“Good. We’ll take him down.”
I smiled. What he meant was, ‘Take him down, Hamster. You’re entirely on your own. And don’t come bawling home’. “We’ll take him down, Jack.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Just remember that Leo doesn’t act alone. He’s a sluff boy for the big guys. He’s low down on the totem pole.”
“I was born at night, Jack. Just not last night. This much I know.”
“Sorry wise ass. I just want to keep you safe.”
Right. Safe. Next door to the biggest heroin racketeer on the west coast. I sharpened my gun.
Jack returned to his habit of staring into space. It was his trick when he wanted to change the subject. “Did you sign the checks, Hamster?”
“I did. Tony and I did. 1.5 for the Children’s Hospital and .5 for the remaining, for the summer camps, the downtown shelters, etcetera.” Jack was a philanthropist when trying to ease his conscience. “Is there anything else?”
He scratched his chin. “I think so. I want to do something for Hollyburn. Something for the old folks since I’ll be there soon enough myself.”
Just then Tony Chan arrived with a garment bag slung over his shoulder. “Here, Jackie. Put these on. After you clean up, grunge boy. There’s a shower in your bathroom there, in case you forgot, and a razor in the medicine chest so smarten up.” Tony was a highly-polished guy, a character straight out of Guys and Dolls. When not in a chauffeur’s uniform he wore double-breasted suits – not made in China – although he regularly smuggled his relatives in from there. He was old but not too old to be the boss of Jack, whom he slapped on the head.
“I’ve been taking care of this big mutt since he was an infant, Charlie. In his father’s home. He spit strained peas back at me when I tried to feed him. Yuk!” He made a sour face. “So, why do I care about the ingrate?”
Jack’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Because I pay you to.”
Bantering was how Jack and Tony communicated. But together they were like Siamese cats if you fought them. One would cleverly distract you while the other batted you down.
“Your visitor is outside with Trish,” Tony said. “I dropped him there. And when she gets finished mauling him she’ll likely show him in. So get cleaned up. Take your meeting and call me when you want the shyster picked up.”
I pushed back my chair. “I’ll be off too.”
Jack thrust his palm at me. “Sit down, Hamster. I’ll need you for a while.” He headed for his bathroom with fresh laundry over his arm while I waited for Trish the Terrible, Jack’s assistant, to usher a shyster in. A word about Trish. Redheaded and bossy, Trish ruled the office with an iron fist. She was meaner than a hyena scaring up breakfast and Jack had been known to hide on her, from time to time, like in the warehouse or under his desk. He joked about Trish being the real boss and that he was merely the owner. The yellow owner.
Shortly after Jack’s exit Trish appeared in the doorway, flushed and with a little girl smile on her face. She was quite a looker, actually, with her dark auburn hair, deep green eyes, and freckles tumbling over her nose in no particular order. A looker until she turned nasty, that was. Then she looked like Chewy from Star Wars. “Marco Midolo is here to see Jack,” she announced, like she was about to usher in Prince. “I mean, Marco Midolo?”
I was excited enough to yawn. “Stall him, Trish. Jack is cleaning up.”
So, who better than a shady corporate lawyer to beat Julia at her game? I mean Marco Midolo? About as crooked as the Upper Levels Highway, and twice as slippery, Marco had this phony baritone voice that he liked to project as though belting Othello to an empty theatre. Boom! A womanizer to the nth degree he had a habit of haunting late night bars with other men’s wives, due to his glassy good looks and their stupidity. His claim to fame was a collection of overcoats in every style and shade and Overcoat Marco turned ugly on a dime.
No way did I like this Dr. Zhivago, especially after he sauntered in and drawled, “So, you are the Hamster. I’ve heard much about you.”
Really? To me this meant he’d been reading graffiti left by bitter women in hotel washrooms all over town. But since he dared to call me ‘the Hamster’ I didn’t feel bad in saying, “You too, Overcoat.”
He cringed a little. He got it. “Ok. You don’t like me. Well, I don’t like you either.”
I giggled. “Oh, boo hoo! You’re breaking my heart.” Since I wasn’t exactly likeable this was not fresh hot news.
All spruced up, Jack joined us at a good time, while Marco still had teeth. With cheeks shining like a choirboy’s he sat forward in his chair to intervene like a Boy Scout leader. “You two are going to make the greatest team. I just know it!”
Overcoat showed his teeth. “Right.”
I tried to fart. Where was gas when a guy needed it?
Slimy Marco caught sight of the photo on Jack’s desk. “This isn’t your daughter!”
Jack beamed. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”
The lawyer drooled. “Beyond. She’s every man’s dream.”
“That’s how people get false teeth,” I mumbled.
Marco didn’t get it.
“They get them knocked out.”
Nothing. Not even a flicker. Talk about vacancy! They weren’t going to fill up this motel anytime soon. I removed my Gucci loafer and banged it against Jack’s desk. “You’re not going to believe this, Jack, but someone has crapped in my shoe.”
Jack was hardly amused. Taken with charming Marco he considered me a goof. “I’d really like your cooperation here, Charlie.” Oh. Oh. Charlie? He only called me Charlie when he was boiling mad. “Could you cut me a little slack?”
Since I was sitting on my knife at the time and couldn’t cut much of anything I leaned over to whisper in his ear. “Leo has plans. Big plans for three weeks down the road.” Then I yelled. “And don’t tell that simpleton you’re about to hire as your lawyer.”
JACK’S MONEY WAS BEGINNING TO look good on me. From my posh room on the thirty-third floor of the Oceanic Hotel I had a panoramic view of the North Shore. I also had several adult films to view via the tube, plus a smart-bar clever enough to send virtual messages to a refueling station on Mars. Across the sound, Jack’s mansion loomed on the mountainside, lonely with the fierce opinions all gone. It would be quiet over there without the Jones women and their habitual raving against this or rhapsodizing over that and Jack would no doubt be wrestling with his conscience, about the only exercise he could manage without falling down. ‘It’s all about consequences, Jack.’
Inspector Charlie was on a case, on Leo’s case, and Leo was about to receive a glamorous guest. As the door opened wide the visitor whisked right past Willy Chan, as though she’d never caught him fighting in the hallways of 33 Terrace Place or kissing girls. Julia Mattingly strode into the living room full speed.
“Leo! How nice of you to invite me up to lunch.”
Talk about intimidation! Julia looked fierce in her tight black suit and with her dark hair twisting into a knot. Leo’s fingers trembled. He was scared of her — scared of her elegance, of her assuredness, of her crisp bones and wispy silhouette levitating through the room like a ghost, smiting him dead in his Birkenstocks and socks. But he did gain the courage to clear his throat. “My extreme pleasure, Mrs. Mattingly.”
Lunch arrived. Ham sandwiches and watercress sandwiches. Leo had done his homework. After arranging the lunch on the red flowered plates, Willy escaped the room.
They ate in silence, Leo shoving only a quarter sandwich into his cavern, then applying a napkin to the corners of his mouth. With long red fingernails Julia picked apart her lunch, giving some thought as to what may be edible and what might not. Mostly not.
Willy returned to collect the plates and to pour the brandy, a surprise move on Leo’s part since he didn’t drink alcohol.
“I understand you are a connoisseur of fine spirits, Mrs. Mattingly.”
Julia looked pleased. “Indeed, I am. And 1973 vintage Napoleon suits me well.”
Leo beamed. He pressed the snifter against his nose and extended his pinkie like a birddog’s tail. “It’s good business brandy. I am about to make you an offer.”
Shortly after Julia exited the Royal Suite one of several mobile phones on the desk rang and Leo snatched it up. “They’re here, Mr. Chan,” he hollered. “Go down and get them.”
Soon the service elevator clanged and when the door to Leo’s suite flew open my chin hit my chest. There they were! The big boys. Four of the most formidable dudes on the planet. Enter the boss, Richard the Cleaver Chang, who stretched well above six-feet and oozed an air of importance, a presence mostly acquired at maturity, not mastered at thirty-three. He was a handsome devil too, with chiseled Asian features and the sharp eyes of a falcon. He meant business in his expensive, dark-olive suit and with his hair slicked seriously back, like he was suddenly DeNiro late for a funeral on the lot. There wasn’t a smile to be found anywhere on his face.
On Richard’s heels marched King Kong Chin, [_the Butcher, _]beady-eyed, balding and anxious, while Fat Freddy Fong, with no eyes to speak of, trudged along behind. Lastly, and most deadly according to the rumor mill, traipsed Sweet Shorty Poo, teetering on platform shoes and still not measuring five feet tall.
I was like an awestruck kid. I mean, scientists could launch a spaceship to Pluto with the energy in that room. I found myself smiling and wondering if these boys, as children, had played street games against other little kids who carried knives and won. Richard looked like a winner to me. And as for Shorty, well. I’d soon learn not to make fun of Shorty Poo.
Startled, I leapt when my iPhone rang.
“What’s up?” barked Jack.
“Charlie!” boomed Shoeshine. “We’ve been missing you here at the warehouse.”
“We do, though,” Tony said. “We miss your big mug.”
“Thanks, guys.” I could picture the three of them kibitzing in Jack’s office and sipping afternoon whisky. They’d be missing me, alright, having no one to bully. “You’ll never guess who just walked in next door.”
“Who?” they asked in unison.
“The big boys.”
“What?” Jack said excitedly. “You mean the Cleaver?”
“Yes, the Jack. The Cleaver. And King. Also Fat Freddie and Shorty Poo.”
“Shorty Poo is a gourmet cook,” Tony quipped.
Well, that was Tony. Full of useful tidbits.
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know how I know. I just know. I thought everyone knew.”
I doubted it since Shorty rarely came out in the open.
“What are they saying?” Jack asked.
“Shush! So I can hear. They’re saying something about the Port. And a warehouse. There’s a contract out on someone. A big man. With curly hair. And a fat behind. John somebody. No. No. It’s Jones. Jack Jones.”
“I was just kidding! They’re speaking Chinese. How would I know what they’re saying?”
An uneasy pause.
“That’s not very funny,” Tony barked.
“That’s not funny at all,” Shoeshine boomed.
“You little brat,” Jack hollered. “I ought to take you over my knee.”
I giggled. “You’ve done that before. I don’t know whether it’s Cantonese or Mandarin. And Willy’s no help. He’s out in the hallway schmoozing with the firepower, the goons accompanying the brass.”
“You’re mean, Charlie,” Tony whined.
“It’s how I stay alive.”
“Bring the disc over tonight. I’ll translate for Jack. But I still don’t think you’re funny.”
Shoeshine cleared his throat. “Not funny at all.”
INSIDE THE CHINESE RESTAURANT PLATTERS sizzled as waiters in white jackets scurried by. I was sitting there in a foul mood toying with the idea of sticking my foot out, just to see how far a waiter would fly before dumping a tray of food on someone’s lap. In the name of science, I mean. It was a simple physics experiment designed to take my mind off placing my hands on a scrawny neck and squeezing. Overcoat’s scrawny neck, to be exact. Across the table from me Marco Midolo had parked his skinny ass beside Jillian and was drooling like a Pavlovian dog.
So, I was in a particularly foul mood because Jack had been right about Overcoat’s ability to charm his daughter back onside. Mission accomplished. Only minutes into lunch Jillian was giggling like a schoolgirl and agreeing to talk to Jack by phone. And giving Marco the cow eyes. Yikes! It pissed me off that Leonard the Letch had been replaced faster than a light bulb, since I was beginning to like him better now dead.
Marco lowered his voice three octaves, like he was suddenly Lorne Green on his last Bonanza ride. “Jack never told me he had a beautiful daughter.”
Never? Like he’d known Jack all of two days. The loser.
I raised my voice like bad guys in western movies tend to do. “Pa Cartwright doesn’t wear silly purple rags, Overcoat. So get back on your horse dude and ride out of town.”
He shot me a quizzical look. Of course, he didn’t get it. Oh, no. He was much too busy seducing Jillian with his coal-black, glassy eyes.
”A beyond beautiful daughter.”
I patted my gun. For this I’d given up watching Leo eat?
Jillian didn’t like my squinty eyes. “Charlie and I grew up together, Marco. We’re like sister and brother.” The message was clear. I wasn’t in the picture and never would be.
I could feel my upper lip curling into a snarl. Maybe Overcoat was going to go where Leonard supposedly went. I could even picture myself mixing the cement.
Marco smacked his chops. “Like brother and sister then.”
She nodded vigorously. “But Charlie is Jack’s favorite. He’s going to inherit the gang.”
“Jillian’s only going to inherit the money,” I said feebly.
She tossed back her long blond curls. “It’s not that simple. You see, it’s very sexist. I’m the one that should get the gang. I’m the tough one. I’m the Greenpeace whacko, the one who chains herself to trees. I’d tend Jack’s guys like a Collie if he’d only give me the chance.”
Autobiography. Using me as a prop.
Overcoat was wolfing down his food like a wilderness survivor. Eat up, buddy, I was thinking. This may very well be your last dim sum.
But Jillian was on a roll. “Charlie is a McGill grad. He speaks poor French and can hardly read the cereal box now. In either language.”
Overcoat laughed his head off. “I know French. Darling je vous aime beaucoup,” he sang an inch from Jillian’s nose. He slid his arm around the back of her chair.
That did it for me. I threw down my napkin and pushed back my chair. “By the way, Overcoat. In case you haven’t noticed it isn’t raining in here. Unless bullshit counts.”
So much for a day away from Jack. The call was arranged for four p.m. and I arrived at the warehouse shortly before. “She won’t see you but she’ll talk to you by phone.”
Jack sat slumped at his desk. “What are her demands?”
“A little crow. Humble pie. She can’t be certain about what happened to Leonard. No one can other than you. And possibly Shoeshine.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t be so sure.”
I met his glare. “I’m pretty sure.”
“You might be surprised.”
“I won’t be.”
Standoff. We sat there drinking coffee, shitty coffee that Trish had spiked with a substance I could not, and would not, identify out of fear.
Jack was sweating. He had just the one chance to make it right with his daughter and if he blew it, well… “Get her on the phone, will you, Hamster?”
“You got a broken finger, Jack?”
As it turned out, he did. Three of them from punching walls. Leo, in the process of taking over his company, had riled him.
“Trish!” I hollered.
Trish came to the door. “Yeah, Charlie?”
“How are you at dialing phones?”
She shot me a filthy look. “This good.” The lovely redhead’s eyes disappeared into her head and her mouth stretched across her face like she was transforming into Beast Wars. Then out popped the longest, reddest tongue I’d ever seen. She stomped away.
Jack snorted. “You’re batting a thousand, Hamster.”
My mind searched the warehouse for someone else to coerce. Hughie and Bob Along, for instance, ranked below me on the org chart but were proven fighters and tended to work together in pairs. While Sammy in the Tree might be wrestled to the ground even I couldn’t stoop low enough to level a senior. I picked up the phone. “Speaker, sir?”
“I only want to know one thing,” Jillian said in a tiny voice. “I want to know what happened to Leonard.”
Jack cleared his throat. “Would you believe that Leonard is an alien? And that he’s gone back to his ship?”
Good start, Jack. I shook my head.
“Would you believe me if I said that I don’t know?”
“Would you believe me if I said that I heard something.”
“I heard that he went away.”
His round green eyes pleaded with me but I only managed a shrug. Good thing he couldn’t hear the giggles caught in my throat.
“They didn’t exactly say. The people who told me this.”
“Women!” he hollered. “Who needs them?”
DARK CLOUDS CAME ROLLING IN from the North Shore bringing with them a sense of uneasiness. Tension gripped the Loyal Suite where Leo frantically tried to hedge his bet throughout the day. He paced. He sat at his computer for only seconds at a time before leaping up to pace again like a cougar on the prowl. Buying and selling the controlling interest in North American companies, legal or otherwise, was taking a toll on old Leo who often rubbed his sticky baldhead. In the adjoining office avarice Willy kept busy by stretching Richard’s empire down the coast to California, as coded emails went flying back and forth. But he wasn’t sharing anything with me. “You’re the PI, Charlie,” he told me. “Figure it out.”
Simultaneously, Julia sat in a boardroom with her high-priced lawyers pouring over the fine print on Leo’s offer, while Jack and Marco prepared to stall her in court. Anxiety cut the air. I took to drinking in the morning just to settle the jitters. Well, in my own defense it wasn’t really drinking in the traditional sense of the word. No, it was just crème de menthe from the hotel mini bar, several little bottles of mouthwash, since nobody actually drank the stuff except accidentally, which would be me. It wasn’t whiskey, you realize, or anything quite so nasty.
According to Tony’s translation the heroin was en route and due to arrive at the Vancouver Port on or about May fifteenth. On May fifth Leo sent Julia a Ming vase, which Julia, on principle, declined. On May tenth he sent a diamond necklace, also declined. Funny that. She wanted to screw Jack but she wanted to do it ethically. On May fourteenth Leo received a summons from the law. Jack had been granted an injunction and the case would proceed to court, September ninth.
Poor Leo. I almost felt sorry for the little criminal as he took to his sofa, hugging pillows and howling like a banshee, shaking like an electric chair victim. Leo, in fact, took crying to a new level of noise, likely scaring hotel guests three floors below. In due time Willy appeared with a blanket and a whack of sedatives.
“There, there,” he said, wisely standing at arm’s length from the thrasher. “Take these, sir. They’ll help.”
Leo slapped the water glass out of Willy’s hand. “I don’t do drugs.”
I headed for the mini-bar muttering, “So, let me see. Taking drugs is different than selling drugs, you little creep.”
“They’re aspirin, sir. Just aspirin. If you chew a couple they’ll help your headache.”
“Did I say I have a headache?” Leo barked.
“Well, you have something.” Willy didn’t crack a smile. “You sound like you’re in pain.”
Having sadly slipped into the loud sighing stage, Leo sat up. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt.” He wiped his tears with his sleeve. “I suppose I could take a couple.”
Willy winked at the camera. “Take a few. They’ll help you.”
Making a sour face, Leo popped a couple of opioids into his mouth and chewed. “I thought they’d taste worse,” he said, before deciding that one or two more couldn’t hurt. Willy fetched a glass of orange juice and as Leo began to quiet, covered him with the blanket. He then perched beside him on the sofa, patting his head.
“Things will be better in the morning, sir” he cooed. “There’s always tomorrow. There’s always hope.”
And true to Willy’s prediction, the following morning Leo awoke with fresh resolve. The sun shone and the birds sang, all due to an overnight fax. His offer for Pearson had been accepted and a warehouse near the Port was his. Leo leapt onto his sofa like a kid, jumping up and down and screeching strains from a painful Chinese opera. Wasn’t life great? He was alive again – his bounce livelier, his whistle cheerier, his smile more open now, a yellow bank of teeth. My breakfast of caviar and champagne begged to come up. And although I’d previously been resistant to the lessons learned in life I knew one thing for certain. The next time Jack tried to involve me in one of his hair-brained schemes I’d have the balls to say no. Or try to say no, at least.
Still in a playful mood, Leo went hopping around the floor like Mike Tyson, bantering and punching Willy, whom he didn’t really like. Two sets of sandwiches arrived for lunch that day, one with ham, the other turkey. Wow! Willy was suddenly the man of the hour. (Was Leo still hopped up on morphine?)
But the pampering and playfulness ended after Leo awoke from his afternoon nap on the wrong side of the sofa. “That coded email you wrote this morning is all wrong, Mr. Chan. A two-year old could do better!”
Sitting in his office, a wall away, Willy waved a middle finger at the camera while showing his perfectly-white teeth. “Bite me!” he mouthed and we both cracked up.
There were further complications, however. Several long days would stretch between the Pearson offer and ratification, with the heroin bobbing somewhere in English Bay. To compound matters, scab laborers had loaded the Australian cargo at Fremantle and the unionized Longshoremen at Port Vancouver were preparing to lock the boat out. On alert for a drug shipment the coast guards set off to search the freighters in the Bay.
The papers called it The Vancouver Tea Party the following morning. It seemed that ‘drugs have been dumped into English Bay where many a happy fish have bellied up’. Leo Cheng was discovered bobbing off the coast of Squamish and ‘slick’ Willy Chan had disappeared.
WHODUNIT? ROUND UP THE USUAL suspects. Richard Chang? I doubted the Clever had iced Leo from Beijing, given his interest in the cargo. Furthermore, the method wasn’t quite to Richard’s standards. ‘No obvious signs of trauma’, The Sun reported. The location was also perplexing, since it was off the road to Whistler Mountain and Leo didn’t ski. Especially in May. Nor did he swim so well.
If Jack had been up to no good he hid it well. He was sitting behind his desk with the morning papers in a rat’s nest, spilling onto the floor. “Can you believe it, Hamster? Leo bit it. How lucky is that?”
“Damn Lucky.” I pulled up a chair. “So lucky I think maybe you had something to do with it.”
He looked hurt. “Yeah, right. Like I’m now a murderer. Like I won an injunction in court and then decided to have Leo whacked. To add injury to insult.”
“He would have won in the end, though. Your injunction was just a stalling tactic. Leo’s final offer to Julia was a bit of a stretch for you.”
Jack leaned back in his chair. “You know what I’ve always liked about you, Hamster?”
“Absolutely nothing because you’re too smart for me. What can I say? You caught me. I did it. Are you happy now?”
I smiled. Jack was in one of his moods. “Oh, I didn’t say that you did it but I sense your hand in things. Like, maybe Leo had a heart condition and you gave Willy foxglove leaves for his tea saying it was bitter chrysanthemum and making Willy look bad. Or, maybe you told Willy to tie a scarf around Leo’s neck and all he could find was a rope. Something like that.”
Jack’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Now I know why you’re a PI and I’m not. I did tell Willy something. I told him to grease the tub so that Leo would fall and hit his head. Then drive himself up the mountain and dive off a cliff. I’m just that fucking good.”
“Sounds plausible to me.”
Just then The Terrible came stomping into the office looking for someone to eat. “I put something special in your coffee, Charlie. From the bathroom floor.”
Jack howled. “Trish likes you, Hamster. She’s just shy about it.”
“She’s wicked alright.”
Shoeshine sauntered in wisely carrying his own coffee from Starbucks. “Charlie,” he roared in the threatening tone he used to intimate little kids.
Not this time buddy. I patted my gun. “What do you know about the unfortunate situation of Leo?”
He shifted his feet.
Jack was quick to intervene. “Shoeshine isn’t his real name, you know. He’s not the original Shoeshine Fatso.”
“No?” I settled in prepared for yet another of Jack’s goofy stories.
“No, the real Shoeshine Fatso worked here many years ago. For my father. He was bigger and better looking than Melvin here.”
Shoeshine giggled. “Melvin? Surely you can do better than that.”
“And he was a hard worker. Even to the point of spit-polishing my dad’s shoes.”
“In your dreams.”
Jack’s eyes sparkled. “But the real Shoeshine died. I can’t remember why. Maybe he got shot. Then this draft dodger came along and stole his identity. And you never know when someone just might tell.”
In Morse code the message read: Shoeshine, you are an escaped convict. Stop. At any time I could turn you in. Stop. But the day will never come because of your loyalty. Stop. Don’t fuck up. Stop. Love, Jack.
IT WAS A SMALL RECTANGULAR room with nothing much going for it. A metal table and two bleak chairs huddled together in the center while two additional chairs sat parked against a wall. No paintings, no artifacts, no flowers; only a thick grey door. It was the kind of room that comes to you in nightmares to remind you that life is not so horribly horrible. It was a meeting room in the Vancouver jail.
The crime? Murder. The victim? Leo Cheng. The suspect? Jones. Jack Jones. The motive? Well, Jack seemed to be the only shady character to have one.
He sat across the table from me looking like a pudgy child in a Rembrandt painting. His eyes were round and green and hopeful as he rubbed his wrists. “Not too many people get to wear handcuffs. You should have seen them, Hamster. They were so shiny!” He looked pathetic to me.
“What are they holding you on? Bogus, I figure, since the autopsy results have yet to come in.”
“Suspicion. Of many things. You know these guys. They’ve been gunning for me for years.”
“Gunning for you? I think ‘for’ is the operative word here. How many of them actually work for you, Jack?”
“Shush! Do you want to get me the chair?”
“You wish. Even if we had the death penalty they wouldn’t do away with you. No. You’re too interesting. They’d give you life for their own amusement.”
He changed the subject. “How do you like my costume, Hamster? I have no mirror so I don’t know how I look in orange. What do you think?” He perked up like a show dog, profiling his right side, then his left, and finally his backside.
I tried not to laugh. “Handsome. I think handsome. You’ll attract a nice cellmate, no doubt.”
“Exactly! I’ll bring you some Vaseline.”
He tossed me the threatening Jack look. “You laugh but I’m given preferential treatment here. A juice box and nice granola bar for breakfast slipped through the bars. No more heart-attack croissants from Maya.” He patted his tummy. “Nice of you to come though. Since you’ve been so busy keeping me out of trouble.”
“My pleasure.” I wanted to hug the guy and I wanted to hurt someone for him. “I visit a lot of guys in jail, Jack. Most of them your former employees.”
He liked that. “You won’t say anything about this to Julia, will you? Or Jillian?
“Not if you say so. But they can read. You’re pretty much splashed all over the morning papers.”
He ploughed his fingers through his thick sandy curls. “Really? It wasn’t very dramatic, my arrest at the warehouse. They didn’t even send the Mounties. I think I deserved Mounties don’t you, Hamster?
“They should have come out of respect. In their good suits. The red ones. Performing their musical ride as they rounded me up. I’ve always liked horses.”
“You deserved horses, Jack.”
“That’s what I thought. But no. Just plain clothes cops. That friend of yours with the big crooked nose was one of them. After all I’ve done for this fucking city that’s what I got. Nothing.”
I had to hand it to the guy, he was trying. But he was a little shaky.
“You got any whisky, Hamster?”
“In my sock. But I can hardly hand it over. Maybe we could get conjugal visits.”
He giggled. “I gather no one’s here to see me. None of my guys.”
“It’s not exactly a hospital, Jack. But since you asked your guys are here. They’re lined up across the street but they’re not allowed in. Even old Sammy is here. He’s been threatening the guards but eighty-year-olds haven’t much clout it seems.”
Jack brightened. “What? Sammy in the Tree is here? And they won’t let him in?”
“Not at this juncture. They’ll only let in your lawyer and since Marco Midolo is busy trying to seduce more than one of your relatives I’m presently posing as him. Only better looking.”
“What?” Jack roared. “Marco is seducing my relatives?”
Jack hung his head. “I did it to myself. I sent that Dr. Zhivago to get Jillian on side not to seduce her. He was supposed to seduce Julia. And talk her out of selling to Leo. That’s why I hired him. For his looks.” His face turned pink. “Well, that plus his flagrant ability to bend the law. He did get me an injunction.”
“I could have got you that, Jack. You have first right of refusal by law. It’s contractual.”
He looked at me vacantly.
“Do you know what I think, Jack? I think Marco wants you out of the way. You’re an obstacle. A barrier to his marrying the Jones money. One way or another.”
“Do you think that he tipped off the cops?”
“Yeah. I do. Big time.”
THE STREETS WERE FILLED WITH more than darkness. It was an ominous night with rain gushing down in torrents and flooding gutters. It was the kind of night that made you hope that a man wasn’t standing at his front door, suitcase in hand, preparing to desert his family. You hoped that a hooker wasn’t being beaten by her pimp and that a runaway kid could find his way home. Although it was a perfect night for mugging and robbing you hoped that the muggers and robbers would decide to stay home and watch [Cops _]on TV.[ _]
It was a night full of flashbacks, it seemed. It the kind of a night that caused a guy to remember things, like being little and losing his parents in a car crash and sitting alone scared.
[_I didn’t hear him come into the funeral chapel he walked so softly but I could sense his presence. When Jack Jones entered a room dust mites stood at attention. He placed his paw on my shoulder. “You’re not alone, kid. You have us. And we want you to come live with us at 33 Terrace Place.” _]
Was that supposed to be good news? I was scared of Jack, my dad’s employer. He was big and noisy and liked to tease me a lot. He had a mop of curly brown hair and a bushy mustache that lent him a furry look. “Why?” I asked.
He patted me on the head. “Because you’re an ornery little critter and we like you. We all do. It’s unanimous.”
“I can’t live with you, Jack.” I was reasonably brave for a ten-year old. “In case you forgot I’m a ward of the courts.”
“Not anymore. I signed for you today.”
[_Well, that was the moment things forever changed. When ‘the Jack’ signed for something he got it. I was his property now. “And you got me?” _]
His eyes crinkled at the corners. “I didn’t have to trample over anybody, you understand. There wasn’t exactly a line up for you, Hamster.”
Well, that’s how Jack showed affection. You just had to know what a left-handed compliment was and mostly how to avoid it. But Hamster stuck. I was Charlie Hamster, according to Jack. It was my new name. And although it took some time to adjust to Jack I soon developed a tough outer shell and a huge admiration for my new owner.
But someone would pay for Jack. Someone was going down. I parked my Beemer and walked towards a seedy bar on East Hastings Street, just one of many properties held by Jones Import/Export. Why Jack continued to hold on to such a sleazy, fleabag flophouse I wasn’t certain but something illegal would be going on somewhere within the walls, guaranteed. Over the years this little nugget had evolved into it biker bar with the usual hookers and transvestites and a sprinkling of curiosity seekers – some who might even get through the night with their teeth. I was to meet Robert Coppilani there and stumbling across a Longshoreman or two won’t hurt either. All I needed was one talker.
Robocop was already at the bar slugging back a double. He was a large, square man built like a door. And about as thick. There was no bending the book around Robocop. No, after twenty-seven years in law enforcement he’d memorized the pages and had gone stale. I couldn’t wait to hear his patent theories on Leo and Jack and the anticipated autopsy results. Furthermore, I badly needed a drink.
He looked at me through cynical eyes and along a crooked nose. “Charlie,” he barked.
“Robo,” I said with equal strength. I annoyed the hell out of him when I called him that. He was proud to be Robert Coppilani, son of a real estate mogul gone broke. We eyed each other down.
“How’s your dad, Jack?”
“You ought to know. Since you arrested him during the night. And interrogated him. Did you get a confession?” Asshole, I wanted to add.
He shook his cubic head. “I will though, son. Soon.”
Right. Son. I got called that a lot because I had yet to grow a long white beard or limp along on a cane. “Right, Robo. Like maybe tomorrow. Like, Jack murdered the Lizard for no good reason. Give me a break.”
“There’s always reasons.” Robo was playing with the peanuts on the bar. Like someone was going to eat them after that? “There’s always reasons. I don’t know that he pulled the trigger but he’s calling the shots.” He sunk into his shabby brown coat to think. “Where did you say your buddy Willy Chan went?”
“You’re going to tell me that you don’t know?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’d like to believe you, Charlie. I really would. But I’m not that stupid. You two guys are joined at the hip.”
“Don’t be so sure, Robo. I hear that Willy took his hip out of the country.”
Robert shook his head all the way to the door.
She had legs. Long, slim legs dangling from a barstool like they belonged there. She had silky dark hair which fell over her face and poured down her back like a waterfall, straight along. I plunked my carcass beside her. “Hey, Hooker.”
I gasped. “Tina?”
“Hey, Charlie.” She didn’t seem that thrilled to see me. On the contrary, her eyes stayed glued to the mirror reflecting the bottles behind the bar.
“Nice part of town, Tina. Do you come here often?”
“Almost every night.”
“Why? To haunt it?”
You may recall the gothic creature from the party at Jack’s house, from the celebration of Leonard’s demise. The only child of Judge and Mrs. Clark, Tina capitalized on having parents as old as Methuselah. So, after they hit the sack at night – about the same time as the neighborhood children – Tina sneaked out to tear up the town.
I studied a face of black tattoos in the mirror. Nice. Roses. Black roses. The flowers of death. Black painted lips, as well. She looked tragic, provocative, and wild.
“What, no leggings Tina.”
“Bare legs make me look older don’t you think?”
“Not old enough. You’re only seventeen. How did you get in here?”
“Phony ID. It’s easy to get. Plus I fuck the bartender.”
I wanted to spank her. “Nice mouth, Tina.” I’d seen this girl in diapers and without diapers running around on the lawn. Now it seemed that she was still in the habit of running around and taking off her clothes. I gave Joe Bartender the glare. Creep. He had to be twenty-five.
“You need to go home, Tina. I’m going to arrange a ride.”
She shook her long dark hair. “I’ve got a ride.”
“There are cops coming tonight and they’ll bust you. Do you want to put your parents through that?”
She threw her defiant chin at me. “I have ID.”
“Right. And they’ll never guess that it’s phony. They see that stuff all the time carried by kids like you. You’re going home. I’m going to call a courtesy ride from a friend in an unmarked car. Whatever it takes, Tina. You’re out of here.”
“Ok. Ok!” She checked her Lady Oyster Rolex, worth a cool ten grand. “Like, I’ve got a ride home. I’ll be meeting him here in a few minutes.” She eyed the bartender. “And it’s not the old guy. He’s a poor fuck.”
I shook my head. “You’re wearing me thin, mouth. And you’ve got exactly ten minutes. Then I’m carrying you out of here.”
She gulped down her Corona like Cool Aid, then reached for a second one waiting on the bar. I shot Barbell a look and he showed me his huge sharp teeth. I figured he could tear a chunk out of any man’s face in a fight. Bang! said my gun. “No more, Tina. Two is more than enough.”
“Three. This is my third.” She was giddy. “Do you miss our dogs, Charlie?”
I smiled. “I do miss Hector and Paris? Not.”
She hiccupped. “And what did Jack call them?”
“Hannibal and Lecter.”
“They ate his hedge. Remember?”
Hard to forget Judge Clark’s vicious Rottweilers. They had roamed the streets and ruled the road by terrorizing pedestrians.
“And you, Tina? Didn’t they bite you?”
“Paris did. He tore my leg. But Dad still wouldn’t give him up. He was Dad’s baby. He liked Paris better than he liked me I think. It was Jack that saved me.”
I smiled. “Your housekeeper tipped Jack off when your parents went on a cruise last fall. What’s her name?”
“Norah. She was petrified of those dogs.”
“Right. Norah. Norah let Jack know that the dogs were alone in the backyard and his guys nabbed them.”
She giggled. “They shot them with darts. It was so funny! We watched through the great room windows. You should have seen them go down, Charlie! It was the best day of my life.” She screwed up her face. “But what Jack sent Dad afterwards wasn’t very nice. I mean, he isn’t the Godfather, you know. He didn’t have to send their testicles in a courier bag.” She giggled again. “But it was funny. Dad was so furious!”
“They were actually lamb balls, Tina. Jack sent the dogs to a ranch in Alberta. They’re perfectly fine.”
She widened her cobalt-blue eyes. “Dad thinks they’re dead!”
“They’re very much alive. Jack checks up on them once in a while.”
She snorted. “Jack should have put the lamb balls in Dad’s bed.”
Just then a gangly guy showed up. He was built like a pencil with a pointed head and arms as long as Gumby’s. He shook my hand and called me sir.
“I’ve heard of you, Mr. Hampton.”
Hmm…. Another West Van kid in a place he didn’t belong. I walked the young couple to the door. “You got a car, pal?”
He nodded his head off. “Just around the corner. And my name is Matthew.”
“A good name, Matthew. Biblical. Take her straight home, will you?”
Back at the bar, Barbell slammed another whiskey-double down.
I shook my head. “No thanks. I’m not that fond of water-downed booze. That first drink was disgusting.”
“Your cop friend ordered it for you.” He flexed his steroids.
I took a shiny mickey out of my pocket and quaffed at it. “So sue me.”
Standoff. The guy was big and I carried a gun. The guy was stupid and…
To my rescue came an aging biker who flopped down on the barstool beside me. He reeked of whiskey and was missing the middle finger of his thick right hand. The blue polka dot bandana on his head needed a wash. “A little out of our league aren’t you, Copper?”
Could it be my Gucci jeans? “Maybe. And maybe not. Maybe you’re out of your league, Biker.”
Biker liked that. “A tough guy, are you?”
I leaned back. “I can handle myself. I cut my teeth on brass knuckles. And I’m quick with a hammer to the knee. I wield a tire iron like a baton and if all else fails I’m a damn good shot.” Dumbbell walked away.
Biker was beginning to love me and he slapped me on the back. “Buddy. You’re hysterical. And I want to buy you a drink.”
I hoisted my flask. “I’m good. The barkeep here is known for watering things down.”
Biker fired Dumbbell a look.
I was now Biker’s new best friend. “You slay me, kid. But I’m guessing you’re in the wrong part of town. I haven’t seen you here before, son.”
There it went again. Someone calling me son due to my gorgeous face. I wanted to punch him in the nose except that he was friendly. “I’ve been here. Lots of times. But not since I was a kid.”
That got him thinking. A little kid in a grungy bar in a seedy part of town. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I used to come here with my dad. Sometimes he dropped by to clean out the cash.”
“What? Your dad was a stick-up man?”
“Sort of. But he never met any resistance here. He didn’t even carry a gun. They just handed him the money.”
“Oh, shit! Extortion?”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Oh, shit.” His eyes went all concerned. “What ever happened to your old man?”
“He’s in jail.”
Biker nodded. “You can only get away with that kind of thing so long. It catches up to you in the end.”
“He’s not in jail for extortion. He’s in jail for murder.”
Biker drained his glass. The cat had pretty much confiscated his tongue.
I tapped my fingers on the bar. “So, tell me, Longshoreman. What do you know about the heroin dump? And the murder of Leo Cheng?”
A scant half-hour later I left the joint with scuttlebutt. According to Biker, suspicious cargo had, in fact, been stashed in Leo’s designated freighter. The tip came from Fremantle where the boat had docked to load Australian goods bound for Vancouver. Rumor also had it that the drugs were not, and never had been, in the waters of English Bay. Just as I figured.
I waved goodbye to Dumbbell who didn’t like me well enough to wave back. Outside the rain had settled into a light drizzle, which got me thinking about the muggers and robbers returning to the streets. They’d be out there now, doing what they did for a living, some of them doing it well, others not so much. Panhandlers had also returned to the street. “Pig, pig, pig,” they welcomed me, so I threw down fifty bucks. On Jack. Fog came rolling in on tiger feet. I could have cut it with a knife although I didn’t have much use for fog. I headed in the direction of my Beemer and ran out of people after turning the corner on Pender Street. I was crotch deep in thought when a gunshot rang out, and several more after that. I could feel my arm being ripped away while a stinging sensation sent me to the ground. I rolled like tumbleweed to the shelter of a parked car where, with shooter drawn, I awaited an approaching assassin. Footsteps. Then no footsteps. Footsteps retreating and someone groaning. Someone was calling my name. I crawled on all fours through the thick mist. “Charlie,” a faint voice said. “Can you help me?”
When I managed to reach the victim I lifted up her head. “Tina! My god! Why didn’t you go home?”
“I had a fight… with Matt,” she whispered. “He wouldn’t…wait with me.”
I whipped off my jacket and slipped it under her head. Her lower body was bloody. “I’ve called 911, Tina. They’ll be here soon. Hang on.”
“I heard a gun. I think… I’ve been shot.”
“I think so too, sweetheart. You took a bullet for me. But you’re going to be alright.”
“I needed to tell you…. something. That’s why I stayed. I wanted… to tell you… I heard.”
“What did you hear, Tina?”
“Someone… wants you dead.” She passed out in my arms.
JUDGE AND MRS. CLARK COULD be conjoined twins they were so alike. Both were built like penguins with protruding bellies starting at the shoulder and sloping to the knee. They had curly grey hair, blue eyes, and stood about four feet tall. They wore wire-rimmed glasses, tweed coats, and oxfords laced with leather and both had vile tempers, as I was soon to learn.
In a nutshell, they accused me of dating their daughter, who was only seventeen years old, and taking her to a dirty part of town to get her drunk. And there was only one reason for that. I was a lowlife, a good-for-nothing, they’d known it all along. I was scum. Plus some other adjectives. Oh, and how old was I? Fifty?
I’m not usually stuck for words but having aged fourteen years in a flash, well, that really hurt. But my silence didn’t seem to bother the irate Clarks who weren’t about to listen to anything I had to say. Furthermore, I’d become the butt of the waiting room outside the trauma unit at Vancouver General, not exactly a thrilling place to be. Charlie the butt. Bottom rung on the social ladder, a deviant. If smirks counted for anything, well, I was causing them. People waiting to hear about loved ones were choking on their coffee and one old fellow went from snorting to the bathroom with wet pants. And all of this just down the hall from the OR where poor little Tina was fighting for her life.
I felt like crap. It was almost five a.m. on a cool May morning and I needed a smoke, also a break from the Clarks. Tina was four hours into surgery with more to go. She was in critical condition with shrapnel lodged in her abdomen and had lost a lot of blood. I, on the other hand, had a surface wound on my left arm and was wallowing in guilt.
Outside, the day was threatening to become clear, sunny and bright. It smelled of wet earth and of petunias planted in beds to welcome visitors to a place nobody wanted to be. I crossed the lawn and reached into my car for my cell on its charger and dialed. It felt like rain again and I felt like being mean.
“You’re fired, Overcoat.” I smiled, knowing I’d woken the slithery bastard up.
He yawned. “Who says?”
“I say. I have power of attorney now that Jack has gone mad in jail. And if I catch you near him, or any member of his family, the same thing will happen to you as happened to the Lizard.”
“Yeah, right. Not if I see you first.”
“I am not fired! Not until Jack tells me I am. I saw him last night. Just after you left because I saw you from across the street. And by the way, Charlie, you do not look like me. You should be so lucky. So stop going around impersonating me, alright?”
I clicked my fingernails against the mouthpiece. “Hear that, Marco? That’s my teeth chattering. I’m really scared of you. It took you fucking hours to get to the jail yesterday. Jack’s guys were lined up waiting to break your face and would have if I hadn’t sent them home.”
“Don’t do me any favors, asshole. I can look after myself. And stop telling Jack lies about me. I’m not bedding his daughter. Or his sister.”
“Of course, you’re not! Give them a little credit for taste. But you’re trying. You’ve been seen all over town. So, back off, buddy.”
“Don’t you buddy me, Hamster. Your name’s not so tough, is it varmint? I have more smarts in my little finger than you have in your whole body. So we’ll see who Jack ends up trusting. I’ll have him out today.”
“Yes, you will. You’ll have him out by noon. And in case you have any other plans, think about this. Jack doesn’t do his own dirty work. Everyone who knows him knows that. If Jack actually wanted Leo dead he hired someone to whack him. And that someone isn’t far away.” Click.
After returning a call to Jack’s inside cop, still at the crime scene on Pender Street, I made a second call of the day.
“This is so unfortunate,” said Julia. “I mean, jail? He must be miserable!”
“He is. But he’s trying to keep his humor.”
“You don’t think he did it do you, Charlie?”
“What do you think?”
“I think maybe.”
“Me too. Maybe. There’s stuff we don’t know. Aside from your sleeping with the enemy.”
“What? You don’t mean Marco!”
“Yeah. I mean Marco. Are you sleeping with anyone else?”
She gasped. “I am not sleeping with Marco Midolo or anyone else! And don’t insult me. I’ve merely had lunch with Marco. That’s it. But on a personal note it’s none of your business. None at all.”
I waited. She wasn’t finished yet.
“I wasn’t really going to sell. I just wanted to teach Jack a lesson.”
I could hear her sniffing. “What do you need from me?”
“I need you to meet me at the jail. You and Jillian. At eleven o’clock sharp. And don’t wear black.”
Sometimes the big guy in the sky gives you a break and in my case it happened that day. Tina pulled through her surgery and although not ‘out of the woods’ by any means her doctors told us she’d made it through the roughest part of her journey, youth being in her favor. The Clarks hugged each other before hurrying down the hall to hopefully see their daughter. I headed home, quickly showered, shaved, and arrived at the jail shortly after ten.
Jack looked dazed when they brought him out. He sat across the table from me staring into space. “I did it,” he said flatly. “I’ve confessed to the crime.”
“I confessed. I murdered Leo. Because I didn’t want him taking over my company. The company I built with my own loving hands.”
“Correction.” I snapped my fingers in front of his eyes. Nothing. “The company your father built with his own loving hands.”
“That’s even more reason.”
However low Jack might stoop he was not a murderer. I hoped. “Did they interrogate you?”
“And then you confessed?”
“Not right then. No. It was after I thought things through.”
“How did you kill him?”
“I can’t remember. I must have amnesia.” A spark flickered in his eye. The old Machiavellian Jack was in there somewhere.
“Cut the crap, Jack. You didn’t confess.”
“I did so. I sang like a choirboy. I confessed to every unsolved murder in the lower mainland over the past thirty years.”
I thought about it. “When did you say you confessed?”
His eyes danced. “About a half-hour ago. Right after Selic told me that Richard the Cleaver had landed on the tarmac. Tony called Peter so he could tell me.”
Peter Selic was Jack’s inside cop. Well, one of them, at least. And as for Tony, well, Tony was tight with certain factions of the Triad. He heard things. And he knew things. “What?”
“The Cleaver is back. And word is he’s here to avenge the Vancouver Tea Party. And Leo. I figure I’m his first choice.”
“Right. So you decided to become a sitting duck. You’ll be easy for him here, Jack. It’s hard to dodge bullets in a chicken coup.”
He sighed. “I thought about that. But at least here I’ll go alone and none of my guys will have to bite it. Or my family, in case they decide to forgive me and come back home.”
Sucked in again. “I’ll beef up surveillance at Terrace.”[_ _]
“Thanks, son. I always had this idea we’d go down together.”
At exactly eleven o’clock Julia and Jillian arrived together looking hot – Julia in a tight taupe suite and Jillian in a dress with a flowered skirt that trailed behind her like a peacock’s tail, swishing on her boots. It was like royalty arriving with a lot of pedestrian gawking. The attention irked me because these women were my women, my property. They just didn’t know it yet. I met them on the steps outside the courthouse, which conveniently housed the jail.
“He’s resting,” I told them. “He’s been busy running around confessing to crimes and he’s tired. The plan now is to find a way to get to Richard Chang. And beg, if we have to. It’s our only hope.”
We started to argue then, as families do, over strategy and over who might be stuck with the short straw. I knew I didn’t want it. I tried to convince the women that with their great beauty they had the chance to smite the Cleaver but they didn’t buy it. He might be gay, they said, giving me the upper hand. Stalemate. So, there I was on the steps of the Vancouver courthouse arguing with the two most defiant creatures on the planet and I expected to win? Hardly. We were still deadlocked when Overcoat himself came ambling up the steps looking suddenly stricken.
Plan A in progress. “Seen a ghost, Overcoat?”
“Ha. Ha.” Marco could not have been whiter had he swallowed bleach. In fact, the real Dr. Zhivago had looked healthier dying in the street.
Julia held out her hand. “Nice to see you, Marco.”
Now, even before Jack hired Marco to thwart the takeover, Julia and Marco had met in passing but they moved in different circles – Julia with the wealthy and Marco with the wives of the wealthy.
Marco shriveled into his pink overcoat. “Good to see you too, Julia.”
Jillian rushed to his side. “I’m so glad you’re here, Marco! Things are in an awful mess.” She clung to his arm.
Julia narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t know the two of you had met.”
“Oh, yes!” Jillian nodded vigorously. “We met through Hampton.”
Oh, sure. Blame Hampton, the patsy.
Julia was thinking. “So, you also know Marco, Charlie?”
I nodded. “Unfortunately. He’s your brother’s lawyer. Didn’t he tell you that?”
She ground her teeth. “No, Marco neglected to tell me that little detail.”
Marco inched towards the door. “Charlie and I are not exactly friends.”
“Marco and I are dating,” Jillian blurted out. “I was going to tell you both but I haven’t had the chance.”
Marco froze like a fawn in the headlights, his glassy eyes wide. “Casually dating,” he boomed
“Dating?” Julia was not amused.
“Casually?” Jillian’s voice was shrill. “You call our relationship casual?”
“Nice try, Overcoat,” I added to the pot.
Something was wrong with me I’d known it all my life. You see, I lacked the guts to screw a guy and revel in it. While Marco stood there taking daggers to the chest I felt sorry for the poor dumb bugger since I’d set him up.
Julia was testy. “And how would you describe our relationship, Marco?”
Marco looked confused. “What relationship? You won’t even return my calls.”
“You’ve been calling my aunt?” Jillian shrieked. “Whatever for?”
“Sex,” Julia said. “Not that I’d ever be so desperate.”
Trapped like the proverbial rat Marco turned on me. “You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you, Hampton? I smell your ugly paws all over this one.” Sneering, he stepped forward, shaking off Jillian who appeared to be attached like Velcro to his sleeve. “And get this, smartass. You think you’re funny. But I’ll have the last laugh, rest assured.”
I snickered. “You really scare me, loser.”
Marco showed his gums. “Don’t you dare call me a loser, you pathetic moron. Exactly who do you think you’re dealing with?” He shoved me just hard enough to make me laugh.
“I’m dealing with a loser.”
That did it. He shoved me again so I had no choice but to deck him. I mean, what was a man to do in front of two women he wanted for himself? I drilled him – under the chin and hard enough to send him flying backwards, his legs fanning the air and his arms flapping like a Canada goose. He skidded to a stop on his skinny ass.
“That’s enough.” Julia stepped between us. “You’ll solve nothing with violence.”
Back on his feet Marco attended to the skid marks on his precious pink coat. They looked pretty permanent to me. “Hiding behind a woman, are you Charlie?”
I smiled at him. “You want to go sailing again, Overcoat?”
I reached into my pocket for the papers. “And by the way, Marco. You’re officially fired. By Jack. Signed, sealed and delivered.”
Marco’s mouth fell open. But he took the time to study a signature he knew well. “This isn’t over, asshole.”
“It’s over, Overcoat. Or is that an alliteration?”
“One more thing, Marco,” Julia said. “Stay away from my niece.”
Jillian looked dazed.
Marco was still rubbing his silly pink coat. “I think Jillian is capable of making that decision herself. Isn’t that right, Jilly?”
Like a robot Jillian walked to Marco and, pressing her lips to his ear, bit him hard.
A SCANT RAY OF SUNSHINE poked through a bank of clouds to shine on trees lining the boulevards. I was on my way to Chinatown to make inquiries. Willy Chan had grown up there, had enjoyed a happy childhood, and was related to half the population, not that anyone would be willing to talk to me. But I did have a way with his mother who ran an import business out of the Sam Kee Building.
The historic Sam Kee building is two stories high and just six feet wide. It’s rich in history, having once housed communal baths in the basement and a tunnel used as an escape route from opium den raids on neighboring Shanghai Alley. I felt lucky as I walked lightly on the glass sidewalk, through the front door, and up to the slightly wider second floor where I ran smack into a grey-haired general. She placed her hands on her hips and blasted me. Why? Because, apparently, Willy was all my fault.
“You taught him bad things, Cha’lie!” she scolded. “Willy was a good boy until you came along.”
Right. I came along at age ten and Willy was pretty much a crook by then. Oh, and did I mention the fact that Willy was a genius? A member of the Mensa club? No one could coerce ‘slick’ Willy Chan unless Willy wanted to be coerced.
“I need to find Willy. He isn’t safe.”
“No.” She narrowed her sharp brown eyes while waving a finger at me. “You are not safe. Nor is Jack. Richard Chang will eat your balls for breakfast.”
News traveled faster than a greyhound in Chinatown.
“I need to find Willy. It’s important.”
Emily Chan was everything Willy was: shrewd, cunning and impossible to read. “Willy will be alright. He knows how to take care of himself.” For a second I thought I saw concern flickering in her eyes. “I gave up worrying about Willy long ago. It took too much of my time.” With that she whirled around, grabbed a fat brown envelope from her desk, and hurried out the door.
Well, so much for feeling lucky. I headed down Pender Street in search of Willy’s uncle who owned a fruit and vegetable shop not far along. I managed to trap him on the street.
“Uncle Sook,” I said.
Sook Choy was a small man with dark hair, a short nose, and a lazy eye. He wore a crisp white apron like a purple heart and didn’t mince words.
“Go away, Cha’lie,” he said with one eye on me and one eye on the Wing Sang Building down the street. “You’re just going to be trouble.”
“I don’t mean to be.”
“You never do. But you’re trouble. Trouble trails behind you like a bad fart.” He tossed an apple into the air, then reached for another, and another after that. Soon he was juggling, with one eye on the apples and the other checking the rain clouds moving in from the North Shore.
“I need to find Willy. I have to find him. Before Richard Chang does.”
Sook chortled. “The Cleaver will find you before he finds Willy. You, and your dad, Jack. You can bet on that.”
So much for Uncle Sook. Screw you, I wanted to say except no one pissed off Mr. Choy. Mr. Choy was higher in the Triad than Moses on the mountain and no one messed with that. Vegetable stand, phooey.
I was about to move down the street when Sook suddenly decided to cut me a break. He put his arm around my waist and spoke into my armpit. “Willy likes the garden. The doctor’s garden. You might look there, Cha’lie.”
“Thanks, Kow Gong.” Uncle Sook and I had bonded.
I figured Willy’s relatives were even more concerned about him then I was. I mean, Richard Chang? I turned on Carrall Street and headed for Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Garden where it was all about balance, the Yin and the Yang. I was being followed as I passed by lampposts painted red and topped by dragons. I walked faster and the footsteps quickened. I slowed down. Nothing. Nothing but a sea of people flowing along. A quick look over my shoulder produced little more than a Chinatown streetscape; people rushing home with carts and groceries before the rain pelted down. At 578 Carrall Street I entered the gate to the Chinese Garden and stepped behind a tree. Nothing. Nothing but the fragrance of a 15th century garden in full bloom. It was intoxicating.
I followed the winding pathway past the fragrant cypress and pine trees, past bamboo trees spiking into the air and weathered rock beside a calm green pond. Soon I arrived at the majestic false mountain and the Yun Wei Ting Pavilion, with its spires sweeping upward like the bows of a white pine. ‘Colorful and cloudy’, the plaque read. I plunked myself on the pavilion bench where, short on sleep, I managed to nod off and slip into a peaceful dream of children playing tag on a lawn. There was a birthday cake on a table and Willy telling me that we should split it in half and not give the other kids any. I tried to think up excuses to tell Jack because Jillian would surely go bawling home, tattling and getting me the switch, but failing to come up with a decent lie I told Willy we’d have to share. Although he said he’d just been teasing I knew otherwise. He wanted his half and he wanted me to take all the blame. I woke up to an elbow in the gut.
Beside me on the bench sat an elderly Asian gentleman. Dark glasses masked his face while short grey hair bristled from beneath an old brown derby. A torn overcoat covered baggy pants, and bony ankles poked out above a pair of old scuffed shoes. His gnarled right hand gripped a cane.
I smiled. “Nice touch. Especially the hand.”
“What took you so long, dummy?”
“Ah… let me see. First off, Leo gets whacked. You disappear. Jack goes to jail. Then Tina takes a bullet for me. Oh, and now Richard Chang is back and wants your balls. And Jack’s too. And I’m trying to piece things together and nothing makes sense to me.” I stared him in the black glasses. “Maybe you can fill me in, pal.”
The old man sighed. He leaned back against the railing as if he’d grown there in the fog. “It’s not what it looks like, bud. Nothing is as it seems.”
“Well, thanks for the hot tip, soldier.”
“It’s a lot bigger than you know. Or anyone knows for that matter.”
“Stop talking in riddles. I hate it when you do that.”
He stood up. “If I told you what I know you’d do something stupid and get yourself dead. You’ll solve it, Charlie. You always do. Just be smart about it.” With that he turned and started to hobble away.
“When will I see you again?”
“Probably never. I won’t be taking chances after today.”
LEO’S POSH PAD FELT STRANGE minus Leo. Strange, because he wasn’t sitting in his chair stuffing ham sandwiches into his cavern while bossing Willy around. He wasn’t ordering sex from the street boys online either. And why was a lone Birkenstock sandal resting upside down against a wall? Had it been left behind during the struggle? Hmm. Books, never read, lay scattered here and there while a copy of GQ poked out from under a chair, not neatly stacked on the Tang dynasty table in the hall, as usual. And a half-glass of orange juice… What was that about? Leo never left anything consumable behind. Trust me. I knew the man. I’d lived with him long enough.
While the Loyal Suite had yet to be released by the law, Peter Selic had sneaked me inside. A word about Peter, a stellar, yet crooked cop. He was the sharpest and best-looking Vancouver cop too and wasn’t shy about flaunting it. Blond and Nordic looking, he had a penchant for Versace – suits, shirt, and flashy silk ties. He had married once, been taken to the cleaners, and pretty much avoided commitment after that.
I walked to the windows to take in Leo’s view of the North Shore. “He loved it up here. Poor bastard.”
Peter snorted. “The Lizard wasn’t exactly known for his many kindnesses. He even stiffed the street boys he used for sex.”
“Not all of them. He gave some of them bubble gum.”
“Stop it, Charlie. Just stop.”
“What did I say?”
“I know that look. You’re going to get goofy on me.”
“Why? Because Leo was my friend? I’m allowed to grieve.”
“Like hell you are. You made fun of the guy.”
“When he was alive I did. But now that he’s dead I’m starting to care about him a lot.”
Peter slipped on a rubber glove and started to pick things up. “Funny how people improve with death.” He snatched a crystal paperweight from the desk and tossed it in the air before slipping it into his pocket. “Well, it’s Waterford, Charlie. I know a girl who’d like it. And your friend would want you to have it for me, wouldn’t he? Given our closeness.”
“Do you think your buddy Willy Chan iced him?”
“No I don’t. Absolutely not. Willy isn’t a killer. Besides, he was making big money with Leo. And with Jack. And whatever other enterprises he was involved in, the little entrepreneur. If I had to guess I’d say he’s worth upwards of twenty million, possibly more.”
“And therein lies the problem.” Peter was searching for other things to steal. I figured he’d be sending a truck over later on. “Willy is money motivated. And I say Willy can be bought.”
“You’re right. He can be. But not where murder is concerned. Especially Leo’s murder. He viewed Leo as a bad parent. He grew up without a dad, remember, and Leo treated him like a child. In a strange way I think Willy actually loved the guy.”
Peter tried to trick me. “So Willy is where?”
“Right. Like if I did know I’d tell you.”
I put on my rubber glove and picked up the phone. “Send up two ham sandwiches on white. And don’t skimp on the butter.”
“No one is to know we’re here.”
“Did you see me dial?”
He swatted me on the head. “And then there’s the matter of Tina Clark. Your little vampire girl. What the hell was she doing in a skuzzy part of town?”
“Drugs. And a little booze.”
“Was she hooking?”
“No. She was wearing a Rolex and had several credit cards in her bag. Her old man is loaded as you know. Well, it’s her mother’s money, actually. But she was there for kicks. For the thrill. The thrill of sitting in a seedy bar trying to act like a grown up. Oh, and she was also sleeping with the bartender.”
Peter smiled. “It’s hard to believe she’s seventeen. I remember her running around in frilly dresses on Jack’s lawn. She was such a pretty little girl. Pity about the black paint. She looks like a bat.”
“It’s a phase. Her mother told me so this morning.”
Peter’s grey eyes clouded over. “Tina took a bad hit, Charlie.”
“She did. She may not make it. And I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that she took it for me.”
“There’s a good chance she took it for you. There’s also the chance that she took it for herself.”
“I thought of that.”
Peter reached into his pocket and returned the paperweight to its place.
TWO NURSES IN PINK SKIVVIES and a janitor wielding a mop accosted me as I was sneaking into critical care. ‘The mouth’ was a tall, upright woman who came at me with big breasts and a set of stern jowls. After a spate of words, plus her calling security to have me tossed out, we argued a little more without success. Since I’m pretty good at lying I tried a new approach. Funny, but she didn’t believe I was Tina’s husband either. I even tried flattery that fizzled. Apparently, she had mirrors. Finally I whipped out my detective badge and patted my gun. Five minutes, I was told.
The cop parked outside Tina’s door nodded as I approached. He’d been watching the skirmish down the hall and couldn’t stop smiling, since I was likely about as much fun as his night was going to be. Inside the room a private nurse sat dozing in a chair while on a narrow cot Judith Clark snored like a banshee. Thankfully, the Judge had taken a hike.
Tina looked so tiny lying there with tubes coming and going and with a second bag of blood on reserve. All cleaned up and without black flowers marring her face she looked angelic, like a little cherub. I took her hand in mine.
“How are you doing, kiddo?”
To my surprise she opened her eyes. “Ok,” she said weakly.
“Want a Corona?”
She tried to smile. “The dogs…” she mumbled. She tried again but couldn’t manage much. She slipped into a deep sleep.
Early the next morning I leapt from my bed to draft a list of things to do. Spring Jack From Jail, I called it. And then in brackets ([_He’s not going to outsmart me). _]With the single-minded determination of an ant I listed everyone who owed Jack a favor, then everyone who owed him a little something, then everyone who knew him. With my plan in place I threw on my best Gucci suit and, dragging my trench coat behind me, raced the elevator down. Outside I welcomed the rain in my face – I just didn’t like it on my hair. Robson Street had yet to awaken at six a.m.
At Denman Street I took the stairs to my second story office two at a time. I tossed my coat on the worn leather sofa and again congratulated myself on having created the perfect PI office. Shabby. Philip Marlowe-ish, for certain. Not for me to have clients worrying about financing my lavish lifestyle. I leafed through a pile of mail and again had won a free trip to Mexico for a mere timeshare purchase. Hmm… And if I switched credit card companies I’d receive a waterproof watch in the mail… testimony from Jacques Cousteau, long dead, swimming around in a wetsuit in 1962. I decided to water Robert the Plant.
My sprawling rubber plant, Robert, pretty much consumed a wall. “Hey, Robert.” I reached for a bottle of spring water, his special drink. “Hey you little glutton.”
“Hey, stupid Charlie,” said Robert. I leapt about a foot.
In the doorway, Tony Chan was giggling his chauffeur cap off. “You looked pretty funny just then.”
“Ha. Ha.” The old coot had been torturing me since I was ten years old. “You can take the uniform off now, Tony. In case you haven’t noticed Jack’s in jail.”
Tony plunked down in a chair, removed his cap, and scratched his old grey head. His eyes brimmed with mischief. “That’s nothing compared to the news I have for you, Charlie.”
Before plunking down behind my one blotter, one pen-set desk, I straightened my wall portrait of a horse – the lone artwork gracing the Charlie Hampton gallery. Chestnut Gelding, the plaque read, not bad for something won at a silent auction for five bucks, especially since he turned out to be a client magnet. Prospective clients loved the horse and would invariably want to know its name. So, not long after [_Chestnut Gelding _]arrived I discovered a creative streak in me, a Dickens of sorts. Why not use the boy to my advantage? It wasn’t even rocket science, really. To a second or third generation Canadian the horse would be Mike. It was an easy name and one they’d remember on subsequent visits. “How’s Mike?” my clients would invariably ask. However, if the client happened to be French the horse was named Pierre; to an English client the horse was Harry; to a Chinese client, Ming. One of my Chinese clients, in fact, offered to buy Ming for a cool grand so I took his card as an insurance marker in case my business tanked. A guy never knew when a thousand bucks just might come in handy.
“News? Such as?” I dared to ask Tony.
“Such as your meeting this afternoon.”
“My meeting?” I couldn’t remember this meeting. My iPhone couldn’t either.
“Yes, your meeting. With Richard Chang.”
My mouth fell open. “The Cleaver?”
Tony was shitting his pants he was so thrilled with himself. “The Cleaver. I got the word last night. He wants to speak with you.”
Now I was shitting my pants. “Alone?”
Tony chortled. “Well, as alone as Richard will ever be. He’ll have Shorty there, for certain. Shorty’s the killer. And likely King and Freddie for backup.”
I didn’t see anything in this arrangement for me at all. “And me? Who will be there for me?”
Tony’s brown eyes went dancing out of his head. “That’s the tricky part. Richard won’t meet with you unless you come alone.”
“And what if I don’t come at all?”
“Then he’ll come to you. And trust me, Charlie. It’ll be better for you to attend an arranged meeting. The other kind isn’t much fun I’m told.”
My teeth started to chatter. Sure, Tony was thicker than molasses with the Triad but I took little comfort in knowing that. Tony wouldn’t be there when they were hacking off my balls. But what was a mere mortal like me to do? Other than take my instructions like any prisoner going off to a Chinese torture chamber. I was dead either way and the word [_torture _]was sticking in my craw.
I headed out in my Beemer, top down. Greeted by the fragrance of pine needles, plus myriad species of flora sprouting on the forest floor, I cruised through the causeway, mumbling. This was all Jack’s fault. Jack had corrupted me in childhood and now I was going to die without fathering a child of my own to corrupt. I took Taylor Way to the Upper Levels Highway but I wasn’t in a hurry. According to Tony’s instructions I was to board the Horseshoe Bay ferry and stay in my car until someone found me. Done. I was now hearing the loud speaker ordering everyone to leave their vehicles and make their way to the upper decks. Ten minutes passed. Nothing. Then twenty. Nada. And just when I was hoping for a complete misunderstanding a gruff voice behind me rasped,
“Mr. Charlie. Please come with me.”
I followed behind the messenger dressed in black, behind a familiar narrow frame walking stiffly and with a sense of purpose, the no-nonsense King Chin. King led me to a big black van with black windows blending in. Eek! No one could see me in there, I worried. No one would watch me die. Good thing, because I wasn’t going to be brave about my testicles hanging on the end of a bloody knife.
Inside, the van was dark enough to traumatize a bat. And eerie. I took a seat across from a tall shadowy figure and settled in before the door slammed shut. But I didn’t breathe.
“Mr. Hampton,” said a male voice in a pleasant English accent. “How good of you to come. I’m Richard Chang.”
“Charles Hampton,” I replied. “And the pleasure is mine,” I lied.
He extended his hand
“Hampton? That’s English, isn’t it? I went to Oxford with a chap named Hampton. But you don’t mind if I call you Charlie, do you? Since it seems we are about to become associates.”
I fought off the giggles. The great Triad wonder-boy spoke like the queen. But as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that Richard Chang had a happier face than Elizabeth II and from time to time changed expression. I checked his trademark diamond cuff links, myriad carats each. He was the clever, all right. “Call me Charlie,” I said. “Call me anything you like.” OK. So, I was kowtowing. I liked to live. I liked my expensive lifestyle and it wouldn’t be that easy without feet to put into my soft Italian loafers. So why was Richard ogling my feet?
“Gucci? We have much in common, Charlie.” He narrowed his thirty-three-year old eyes. “So much so that I think we should be partners.”
I thought about it. He did the crime I did the time. Richard and I were bonding like cement, a word I found unpalatable at the time. “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Nothing legal.” He chortled at his own brilliance. “I was thinking more like justice. Justice for Leo Cheng.”
I cleared my throat. “Do you know that someone has already confessed?”
Richard sat back against the window. “You don’t mean Mr. Jones? Do you take me for a fool?”
Hmm… From charming to frosty on a dime. The chill in the air could have created an ice flow.
“You question me, Charlie, so let me tell you what I know. Jack Jones is worth a half-billion, perhaps more. Or perhaps less. With his type of business one never really knows.” He gave a chuckle that I didn’t really like. “He claims to be an honest businessman but does a little of everything, mostly laundry. He has a shrewd sister and a lovely daughter who is the catch of the town. You are like a son to him. He adores you. He nicknamed you the Hamster and taught you the ropes. How am I doing so far?”
“Excellent. Except for the part where if anything ever happens to me he’ll exhaust every avenue to avenge the crime.”
“That goes without saying.” Lowering his voice he leaned towards me. “Mr. Jones isn’t my first concern. Although he may have to be moved out of the way.”
Here it came. The deal. I was going to have to bargain for Jack.
“It’s about your friend, Willy Chan. Willy is a problem. You see, Willy was double-dipping. He was working for Leo and also working for Mr. Jones. And when Willy went missing so did something belonging to me. And I want it back.”
Richard had done his homework. The Vancouver Tea Party was more fairy tale than fact since the heroin had never surfaced.
“You mentioned something about a partnership, Richard.”
“Well, yes. Actually. I have a proposition for you. Lead me to Willy Chan and I just may spare your dad. Temporarily at least.”
“And if I don’t like the deal?”
He shrugged. “It’s just a fucking game, Charlie. Somebody has to lose.”
I HAD AMPLE TIME TO think on my way back aboard the ferry. What to tell Jack. Hmm. As if I’d hand over Willy, even if I could. No one could. With his IQ of 170, and his ability to mutate, Willy was likely living as a lizard in Beijing.
Back in town I headed for the Vancouver jail, mulling the news I had for Jack.
Peter Selic met me at the desk. “You’re late. Where have you been?”
“To a nice lunch. With Richard the Cleaver.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He didn’t believe me. “Sammy’s here.”
“Sammy in the Tree?”
Peter plowed his fingers through his thick blond hair. “Himself. He came to confess to a crime.”
Sammy Wong was eighty years old. Jack kept him on payroll because he could still shimmy up a tree faster than a squirrel. Once a year Jack called his gang together to witness the feat and when Sammy reached the treetop Jack would holler up, ‘Anyone gunning for me, Sammy?’
‘Coast is clear!’ Sammy would affirm.
Later the guys would cram into Jack’s office to celebrate – whisky for everyone and doubles for Sammy, who’d need assistance home.
“He took the wrong bus,” Peter added. “He ended up walking and has blisters on both feet. I figure you’d give him a lift home.”
“Of course, I will! I’d have given him a ride over had he asked.”
“Sammy’s too proud. You know that, Charlie.”
“Better than anyone.”
Sammy lived in North Burnaby, a long hike.
He smiled when he saw me approaching his cell. Peter had locked him up at his own request.
“Charlie!” he said excitedly. He was all spiffed up in his good red cardigan and baggy black pants. Going to the clink was no small event at eighty.
“So, you want to go to jail, do you Sammy?”
He showed his missing teeth. “If I have to. The food’s not bad, I hear. And you don’t have to walk too far.”
I patted his thinning hair. “Why didn’t you call someone? You know how Jack worries about you. Tony or Shoeshine would have been there in a flash.”
His brown eyes twinkled. “And you?”
“Of course, me. But I was out of town today. Meeting with Richard the Cleaver.”
Sammy started to giggle. “You’re so funny, Charlie! You always crack me up.”
I wasn’t trying to be funny. Mythical in stature,[_ the Cleaver_] was larger than life, a figment of imagination better left there. “Ok. You got me, Sammy. I was in my office all morning long planning Jack’s escape.
His eyes grew wide. “You’re busting him out?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“Can I help?”
“Maybe. Are you good with a gun?”
He cringed a little. “I used to be.”
“Good enough. You practice up and I’ll let you know when.” I read the statement Peter had given me. “So you killed Leo then?”
“But it was an accident.”
“So you say. You say here that you were teaching Leo kickboxing and that you accidentally nailed him in the temple.”
“He went down like a sack of turnips.”
“How did you get him up to Squamish, Sammy? You don’t drive. And please don’t tell me that you carried him there. Leo was overweight.”
Sammy thought for a minute. “I took him in a cab.”
“I see. So you had an accomplice. A cab driver.”
“I paid him off. And then he skipped town. He’s nowhere to be found.”
After dropping Sammy off I returned to the jail. By this time, Jack had progressed to the maudlin stage and was banging his fists on the table. “I don’t know how this happened to me! When I was a boy all I ever wanted was a black dog named Smokey. Not that I got him. No dogs allowed.” His eyes watered. “And I wanted to be in law enforcement when I grew up. I don’t know how I ended up a cold-blooded killer.”
Poor bugger. Three nights in jail and he actually believed himself. “You realize that the cause of death has yet to be determined.”
He grinned. “I could save them the trouble. I know exactly how it happened.”
“I’ll bet you do.”
“It was drugs. A whack of them. Enough to kill an elephant.”
“What kind of drugs?”
“Injected. Into the thigh. By force. There was bruising.”
An eerie feeling crept over me. “Good guess, Jack. We’ll know tomorrow.”
He looked like that cherub again, a cherub with big curls and a stubbly face. “I talked to Tony today. Peter let me use his cell. He has a lot of clout you know,” he said like a proud corrupter. “He told the sergeant and the sergeant said ok.”
“He did, did he?” Like hell. Peter did exactly as Peter wanted to do. “What’s Tony up to?”
“Tony is wearing my bathrobe. Isn’t that mean?”
“And dangerous. He could fall down the stairs and break his neck.”
“He’s sleeping in my bed, too. Watching my jumbo TV. He’s playing lord of the manor and ordering Maya around like a servant.”
“You must be missing the old guy.”
He shot his nose in the air. “Not really.”
“Tomorrow he can come instead of me.”
“Oh, that’s reassuring! When the Cleaver comes to blow me away Tony can sing a hymn.”
On my way out I bumped into Peter on the steps.
“The results are in, Charlie. They’ve put the peddle to the metal on this one.”
“Overdose. Heroin. Injected into the thigh. By force. There’s bruising.”
ANYONE FOR TENNIS? MYRIAD MESSAGES cluttered my iPhone and none of them good, just some a bit better than others. Tony, in his infinite wisdom, had arranged a tennis match with my new best friend, Richard Chang, causing my face to crack with pleasure. I played tennis once a year, at best, and was registered on the [Jericho _]website as ‘pathetic’. I never played doubles, since no one would partner with me, and Richard never played singles because he never did anything alone. The match was set for the following morning at Richard’s _Point Grey hideaway and Tony had magnanimously arranged a partner for me. “[Trust me, Charlie’ _]the text read[. ‘I have lined up someone to save your fancy ass. Dress accordingly. Love, Tony.]’ And finally the good news. _P.S. The women are home. 33 Terrace Place is alive again. T.
But more bad news rolled in from Peter. A search warrant had been issued for the warehouse and for 33 Terrace Place. Due to Jack’s brilliant confession he was about to be ransacked by the dirty hand of the law. I made a U-Turn in the middle of rush hour and headed back to the jail.
Jack rose to his belligerent self when they lugged him out, since he’d just said good-bye. “It was a fucking guess. I made it all up.”
“Right. Even I don’t believe you and I’ve swallowed some pretty goofy stuff from you. So stop keeping me in the dark and feeding me shit. I’m not a mushroom.”
He giggled. “That’s very strong of you, Hamster. Now here’s what I want you to do.” He rambled on for quite a while. Tony would man the house and I was to handle the warehouse. I was to keep the guys from getting scared even if it meant whisky. A lot of whisky. It sounded simple enough.
“I’ll do what I can but I’m not happy.”
He winked at me. “So what am I now, your shrink?”
When they hit 33 Terrace Place I got the call from Tony who had barricaded himself in the front hall closet. “They’re breaking things, Charlie, and Julia is screaming.”
“I thought that was a meadowlark. Are the cameras rolling?”
“Where’s Jillian? She’s supposed to be screaming too. We have to prove brutality.”
“She has laryngitis. And a fever of 103. I’ve called the doctor.”
“Is she in bed?”
“No. She’s running around bopping cops on the head with a rolling pin. I think she’s cursing them but no one can hear her.”
So much for brutality. Unless against her. “What about the little alligators? Skid the Mark said he dropped them off.” Since Skid was the worst truck driver in the lower mainland chances of him getting anywhere without a collision were slim. Case in point, the alligators were to be delivered to the zoo three days previously and had subsequently survived two accidents.
“Did you let them out?”
“Yes. And all they did was tear my pants. The SWAT team captured them. They’re here, you know. And the National Guard I think.”
“He’s outside directing traffic. The media have shown up. We’re dead meat.”
“You’ll be alright, Tony. There’s nothing there for them to find. They’ll all be gone soon.”
“They’d better be or I’ll be making some calls of my own.”
Oh, great. Enter the Asian cavalry.
“And do you want to know the worst part, Charlie?”
I didn’t. “What?”
“That snotty Judge Clark is standing out there on his lawn laughing. I’d like to kick him in the nuts.”
“Judge Clark doesn’t have nuts. Judge Clark is a eunuch.”
Tony finally laughed. “Now I know why I called you, Charlie. You’ve cheered me up.”
It was a no-brainer, really. Any man with balls would have been at the hospital with his daughter who, from the looks of things, might not make it.
I ARRIVED AT RICHARD’S RESIDENCE at 7:45 a.m. The sprawling bungalow lay hidden behind tall cedar hedges - freshly-clipped and smelling like Christmas. As per instructions I waited by my car for my new tennis partner to be delivered by Tony Chan but I wasn’t hopeful. Although Tony had insisted that his latest smuggled-in-nephew had won trophies in Beijing he thought they might be for golf. No difference, Tony thought. His nephew was very good at sports so we just had to trust. Great. My trust level on the Richter scale measured -10. Soon the big Phantom IV pulled up behind me and when the back door flew open out popped a grinning, hopping Jackie Chan who reached my side faster than a jackrabbit.
“Amster!” he cried. “So appy! Appy, appy.” He held out his little hand.
Tony quickly made the introductions before speeding off. “He can’t say Charlie. He can only say Chow-we. In Chinese that’s not so good. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to be called Chow-we. So I told him to call you Hamster. Hope you don’t mind.” He burned rubber peeling away.
Jackie just stood there grinning. “Amster! So appy!”
My heart sunk but not unfathomably, strangely enough. You see, I’d done a lot of bad things in my life so I figured that karma had come to kick my butt. I’d been waiting for the day, actually, so I was somewhat relieved. Maybe I did deserve a partner in a yellow basketball uniform with shorts long enough to trip over if he didn’t keep hauling them up. To his credit Jackie was decidedly eager, hopping up and down and fanning the air with an old wooden tennis racquet still in its press, a relic rescued from Tony’s attic. Maybe we could win, with a little assistance – with help from a tornado, a tsunami, and perhaps an obscure, merciful god.
At the gate we were met by an unsmiling King Chin who ushered us down a path through thick undergrowth to the tennis court out back. I nodded to myself. It was a Richard tennis court, as one might expect, complete with armed guards and Dobermans on leashes. And since I wasn’t that fond of AR 15s, or dog bites, I supposed it best to lose. Tony wasn’t stupid.
Richard and Shorty were hard at it when we arrived, with Richard practicing his serve and Shorty across the net ducking out of the way. “A piece of cake,” I think Richard mouthed upon seeing us, although he said it in Chinese.
Jackie jumped up and down. “Tennis!” he shouted. “Tennis!” He looked comical with his thick dark hair standing straight as a brush atop his head, four inches high and flowing like a wheat field. His round dark eyes were wild with enthusiasm. Funny, but I couldn’t remember ever being that happy. Or hopeful. He seemed indifferent to the artillery.
On the sidelines, beady-eyed King Chin, in shirt and tie, was practicing his evil stare while beside him Fat Freddie Fong sat dozing in a deck chair, head backwards and arms dangling like a retired marionette. Dogs barked as assault rifles made happy clicking noises. I got the message. Jackie and I needed to lose and lose badly.
The consortium won the toss. “Tough luck, old boy.” Richard looked dashing in his Union Jack duds, the show-off.
Shorty Poo snorted. In a pig’s ass, he implied in Chinese. He looked eager to bash in our heads.
I turned to Jackie. “You receive, Wildman.”
He looked over his right shoulder then turned to peer over his left. “Wildman? Who he be?”
“He be you. And don’t fuck up.”
He hoisted his pants and held out his hand. “Cash!”
“Later. Just get back there to receive the serve.”
He shook his head. “Cash.”
“Ok,” I said patiently. “You stay here and I’ll receive.” I ran to the backcourt only to be out-galloped by Jackie.
“Cash!” he demanded, eyes blazing. He meant it.
I reached into my pocket. “I only have five bucks on me. And it better be enough because if it isn’t I’ll beat your fucking head in.”
He beamed. “Sank you, Amster!”
After that Jackie got down to business, flaunting his stuff like a young Jimmy Connors and blasting the ball with the oldest tennis racquet not hanging in a museum. Shorty Poo ran his little legs off trying to keep up and not happily so, as ace after ace whizzed by him. Soon our opponents were looking forward to my serve, to no avail. Anything they returned my partner smacked hard.
“We’re supposed to lose,” I whispered to Jackie after we won the first set 6-2. “Do you get it? Those guys are supposed to win. They like to win.”
Jackie’s smile went right around his face. “Me too!”
“That little guy, Shorty Poo? He’s getting mad.”
“Shorty Poo? Shorty Poo Poo!” He danced around. “Poo poo on Shorty Poo. Who cares?”
“Shush!” I held my breath.
Jackie picked up his racquet. “I’ll show Shorty Poo.”
We won all three sets.
Later we adjourned to Richard’s shady back deck to relax in Adirondack chairs and enjoy a beer. But things were tense. “I’ll buy,” I said red-faced.
Richard had zero sense of humor. “It’s taken care of.” He placed two frosty beer mugs on the round wicker table between us. “That was quite a performance, old boy. You neglected to tell me about your second.”
I sipped my frothy ale. “He’s good, isn’t he?”
“Good enough to steal.”
Standing in the shadows Jackie came alive. “Steal? I can do that too!”
“I’ll bet you can,” Richard said with a down-turned mouth.
After Tony had collected Jackie, Richard walked me through the gate. “My sources tell me that you’re looking for Reynolds Woo. But of course you haven’t found him either.”
Wise guy. “Your sources may not be accurate. What’s your business with the Wrap?”
Richard leaned casually against my car. “Reynolds is an ex-employee of mine as you obviously already know. He’s the finest computer hacker in North America, possibly the world. He may have stolen my cargo. Either by himself or in cahoots with Willy Chan.”
Reynolds the Wrap Woo was a young Asian intellectual with the ability to hack into a computer network faster than a skunk could rifle through garbage. He spoke seven languages and had recently severed ties with Richard, a dangerous thing to do. To say that he was in hiding is an understatement. But was he in hiding with forty million dollars worth of drugs? Only greed caused someone to make such a major CLM. (Career Limiting Move.)
“It’s a shame,” Richard continued in his lovely British accent. “He was once invaluable to me and now I have to hurt him.”
He then struck an attitude while polishing my car with his sleeve. “It’s a bit sticky, this business. I’ve been waiting for you to track down Willy Chan but you’re not very good at it, really. I don’t mean to be rude but you haven’t done much in that regard.”
I checked my watch. According to my calculations Willy was safely out of the country. “I’ve been busy.”
“Quite right. And I’d like to understand but sympathy is not my weakness. Sorry. You and I had an arrangement and quite frankly you’ve blown it.”
I said nothing.
“And the deal was Willy for Mr. Jones. No Willy. No Jack.”
“You do what you have to do,” I said casually, my heart thumping against my chest. “And I’ll do what I have to do.”
Richard’s hazel eyes frosted over. “I heard you were underhanded.”
I HEADED FOR THE VANCOUVER jail with several thoughts in mind. Did Reynolds Woo collaborate with Willy in the heist? The boys were friends through their mothers who played Mahjong together on Saturday nights and had for thirty years. Both boys were proficient hackers. Might two sets of orders be given that day, one from Leo and one from somebody else?
Jack looked disheveled when they brought him to the visitor section. He told me that he wasn’t sleeping well and that fellow prisoners had been eying him up. He didn’t know if it was for love or murder. He could really use me with him twenty-four hours a day.
I tried not to laugh. “I don’t think so, Jack. You’re in jail. They don’t allow guests here. Besides, I wouldn’t want to interfere in your love life.”
He wasn’t amused. “See that big guy over there?” He pointed to a husky Caucasian with a shaved head who was also receiving a guest. “He’s in the cell next to mine. He keeps threatening me and making obscene hand gestures through the bars. And yes, I give him my food. I’m not stupid. I don’t mess with career criminals.”
I decided not to tell Jack that he was on his way there himself.
“We don’t get much to eat you know. It isn’t the best hotel.”
“What? This isn’t the Ritz?”
“Not exactly. Room service though.” His eyes twinkled. “Do you think I could get into solitary by threatening someone myself?”
“Well, they’re moving you to Ford Mountain in a day or two. You may get the chance. Do you think you’d be safe in solitary?”
“Probably not. The guards say I’m moving into a shared cell at Ford. With another murderer. Isn’t that against the law?”
“They’re just bugging you, Jack. Usually murderers are given a wide berth. No pun intended.”
“No pun taken.” He looked shaky. “I have this feeling in my gut though. Someone is out to get me.”
I had had more than enough of him by then. “You haven’t exactly helped me, Jack. I could have had you out of here long ago but you’ve done everything to keep yourself here. Furthermore, you’ve kept things from me, making my job that much harder. But trust me on this one. I will get to the bottom of things. Rest assured.”
His eyes glazed over. “You may not like it, son.”
Before I could reach my car, Tony called to tell me that I needed to postpone playing detective for a while and help the family out. It was more like an order. Jillian was on her activist kick again and had gone off to Clayoquot Sound with a group of protesters to save the marbled murrelet. Apparently, the new logging road into Hesquit Lake Creek was destroying habitats so she’d gone riding into battle to possibly become the second Jones to land in jail.
“What exactly do you want from me, Tony? I’ve got a plateful right now.”
“Tell someone who cares. This is family and family comes first. You need to take the ferry to the Island and capture her. Bring her home.”
“Right. Capture her. Do you happen to have a large sack?”
He giggled. “Jack will pay you, Charlie. He’ll pay you big.”
“You’re right he’ll pay me big.”
All the way over on the ferry and onto the road out of Tofino I could hear Jillian ranting in my head. ‘Aggressive logging advances against pristine forests…birds and beasts homeless… three-hundred-year-old trees destroyed’. Yada, yada, yada. With Tofino well behind me I drove along a bumpy logging road in my old green van, eventually catching up to a television crew bouncing along. Hmm… Was the little publicity hog courting the media, perhaps? I pulled into a clearing, exited my vehicle, and eased toward the group of rallying fools, thirty-some strong. Jillian was in the process of scaling a bulldozer while her disciples rallied on the ground below. The cameras rolled.
“Brothers and sisters,” Jillian screeched. She looked like a skinny frog dressed all in green and with her long curls held back by a green ball cap. “It’s time to take action. Intercon has broken its promise to us and it’s time to set them straight. We must stop them now!”
“We remember the protest of 93,” she continued. “Over 800 of our friends were arrested but the result was a victory for Clayoquot Sound. No more logging of intact valleys!”
Right. In 1993 Jillian was eight years old.
“And what are we standing on today? A logging road. A violation. A travesty. A crime.”
“Our laws make no sense!” she shouted. “In the year 2000, Clayoquot Sound was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Because of its intact temperate rainforest. Yet, three quarters of Clayoquot is not protected by legislation. It’s open to industrial development. Is this not wrong?”
“Is this not egregious?”
Oh. Oh. Another group was beginning to gather – a not-so-kind, not-so-gentle one. The heavy equipment operators and ground workers (not a tiny one amongst them) were none too happy looking about the face. Yikes. Big strong angry men with families to feed were being prevented from earning a living. Things were about to turn ugly.
Ecstatic Jillian seemed oblivious to the resisters. No, high on adrenalin she’d fallen in love with her own words. “If we don’t stop them, Intercon plans to log other intact valleys in Clayoquot Sound. Our spineless government has given approval. But we can change all of that. It’s all public land, you see. You and I have a say. So get off your apathetic butts and flood Intercon and the government with calls and emails and texts. We can make a difference!”
As sirens in the distance grew louder I inched ahead, slipping through the protesters in my hooded jacket and shades. I had only seconds to nab the yappy activist and dash.
“Don’t forget the endangered marbled murrelet,” she cried. “Logging is destroying its habitat. The marbled murrelet is an old-growth dependent bird and cannot survive anywhere else but here. With the forest undisturbed.”
Oops! Activists madly cheering. Workers advancing and booing. Not good. Jillian climbed down.
I quickly nabbed the yapper, picked her up like a toy soldier and, pinning her arms to her sides, carried her to the van kicking and screaming. With difficulty I managed to cuff her to the dash before screeching away, just as a pair of police cruisers arrived on the scene.
Jillian was livid. “You idiot! You complete and total moron! What do you think you’re doing? They need me back there!”
“My orders are to bring you home.”
Her face went purple. “Your orders? From whom? Satan? He’s the only person you’d ever listen to.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “Last time I checked Satan wasn’t a person.”
“You don’t get it! I was supposed to get arrested. I was supposed to go to jail!”
I tried to calm her down. “You wanted to be on the news, you little camera hog, and trust me, you will be. They filmed it all. What more do you want?”
“I want not to look like a traitor!” She started to wail. “You’ve ruined it all. We were going to make a human chain around the bulldozer and be lugged off to jail.” Her shoulders shook. “And I’m not even there. I’m going to look like a defector. A coward. I’m going to look like a fool.” She looked really silly with her angry face bulging like a bullfrog and with her lips disappearing in rage.
“Think about it, Jillian. Wouldn’t it be a little crowded in the slammer with both you and Jack? One Jones is enough for society to support don’t you think?”
She flailed at me with her free hand. “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! And I hate Jack, too.”
“Why Jack? He had nothing to do with this.”
“He’s in jail,” she whined like a child. “And because of him I can’t go. He’s taking up my space.”
DRUG LORDS. DON’T YOU JUST hate creeps like that? Richard was circling with [_Clever _]intentions while Jack sat defenseless in jail. I needed to get to Reynolds Woo and I needed to get there fast. I asked Tony to meet me for breakfast.
So, in typical Tony fashion he arrived at the cafe after cruising Chinatown in the big Phantom IV with Shoeshine as his chauffer, the little show off. Upon his arrival he waved to the people before slipping out of the wide back seat with the grace of Fred Astaire. After plucking a piece of lint from his Alfred Sung suit he adjusted a striped silk tie which was fastened by a diamond clip. His shiny patent shoes reflected the sun.
It was a warm June morning and we chose a small table on a patio near the street.
“Jackie,” Tony said before I could say a word. “Jackie is your man.”
I thought about it. Tony was looking for a job for his unemployed nephew. “Jackie hardly speaks English.”
Tony’s eyes twinkled. “I thought you wanted someone who can speak Chinese.”
“I do. But Jackie is just a kid. Barely twenty. I need someone with experience.”
Tony buttered his warm croissant, topping it with strawberry jam. “Jackie has life experience. More than you know. And because he is Chan he has ties to Chinatown. He can find things out. And the big plus is, if you manage to find Mr. Woo, Jackie can help set up cameras and monitor things when you can’t be there.”
“How long has he been out of Beijing?”
“Four months,” said Tony proudly. “He’s learning to drive. And shoot. He’s practicing at the rifle range. And just think about this, Charlie. They won’t always be speaking English where Reynolds is. Especially when things heat up. Can you understand the dialects?”
“How long can you wait for translation?”
“Jackie is your man.”
I agreed to meet Jackie for dim sum in a Chinatown restaurant. He was easy to spot in the lineup with his tall hair and frantic waving and was all spiffed up for a job interview.
“Amster!” he said excitedly. “Appy! Appy!” The sleeves on his jacket were long enough to hide his little hands. It was a nice jacket though. Blue and clean and much too big for the little guy.
“Me too, Wildman.” I punched him on the arm. “Nice jacket. Is it new?”
He nodded. “Kow Gong bought it for me. For my new job.”
I rolled up the sleeves while we waited in line. “That’s better. I was sure you had hands last time I saw you.”
“You funnee, Amster.”
It was a red restaurant with red walls, red tablecloths and red napkins, even red chairs. Only the dragons were gold. They crouched near our table with hungry, ruby-red eyes.
Jackie lit up when the carts began to arrive. “I love yum chow.”
“Me too. Would you like to order or should I?”
He sized me up. “You any good?”
“Ok. I’ll order.” He pushed up his sleeves.
As cart after cart wheeled by, and Jackie left nothing untried, I realized several things. Firstly, Jackie was hungry. He may not have eaten in a while. Secondly, his English wasn’t as poor as I originally thought, and thirdly I was hooked on Jackie Chan. Nobody had more heart.
He started to gnaw on a chicken foot and to make happy guttural sounds. After devouring a plate of them, chased by two orders of steamed dumplings, he paused to pour the green tea. “Tea for me,” he announced. “And tea for Amster. My new boss.” He poured my tea with great care. “I won’t let you down.”
Was trouble hiding behind those twinkling brown eyes? Ten to one, yes. “You’d better not. Because if you do I’ll beat your fucking head in.”
He howled. “You so funnee, Amster! You funnier than Dum and Dummer.”
We were off to a blazing start.
Inheriting Jackie was like receiving a large wart on the side of my head. From the corner of my eye I could see him everywhere and although I wrestled with the idea of having him kidnapped I did so only briefly and with guilt. Jackie worshiped me. Within five minutes he was copying my walk and sauntering down the street like a small Sam Spade, his shoulders swaying from side to side. The little thief was heavy into the process of stealing my identity.
“We’re looking for Reynolds Woo, soldier. You got that?”
His eyes sparkled. “Cash. You got that?”
I took a wad of bills from my pocket. “I’ll pay for information.”
“That’s good, Amster. How much you pay me?”
“What do you think you’re worth?”
He held out his hand. “Wots. You pay me wots.”
I peeled off several bills. “We need to be discreet. There are other people looking for Reynolds and we don’t want them to find him first.”
Jackie shoved the bills into his pocket. “They won’t. They’re not Chan.”
Tony was right about Jackie’s connections. He was already known and liked on the street. People smiled when they saw him coming, sometimes even slapping him on the back. He was family. I watched from a distance as he greased palm after palm, reloading several times. Around five p.m. he sauntered across Pender Street wearing a huge smile. He had a lead.
The tattoo parlor on the second floor of a yellow building was narrow and quaint and as immaculate as the owner himself. Prince Lee Lu looked sharp, dressed in black pants topped by a crisp white shirt fresh from the cleaners. He had a straight nose, white teeth, and dark brown speckled eyes. He was a handsome dude but anxious. After locking up his shop and pulling the shades he lit, then promptly crushed out, two cigarettes in an ashtray. He looked to me like a man who’d done something wrong.
He narrowed his eyes. “You a cop?”
“Are you going to go snooping around?”
There wasn’t much to snoop over: a MacBook, a dentist chair, a metal desk displaying an assortment of tattoo tools, a stack of sample books, and a wide pharmaceutical cabinet with myriad small drawers. Two armchairs flanked a picture of a single magnolia bloom. “Like I told you, we’re here for information. We were told that you might have some to sell.”
Jackie flopped into a chair to watch with keen eyes.
Prince started to pace the worn Oriental rug he’d obviously paced before. “What are you going to do to him?”
“What do you recommend?”
“Castration. But then Reynolds has never had balls.”
”How long have you known him?”
“All my life. We went to school together. And now the little creep has taken to stealing from me.”
I thought about it. “So you’re a distributor then, Prince.”
He bit his lip.
“And Reynolds has gotten so greedy he won’t even let a little guy like you survive. He wants that action too. How am I doing so far?”
Prince looked me in the eye. “So far I haven’t liked a fucking thing you’ve said.”
“I’m not out to get you, Prince. You seem to be doing well in that department yourself. I’m only interested in an address.”
DURING ONE OF MY FREQUENT hospital visits to check up on Tina, still in a coma, I met a hot blond nurse, Pamela in Pink, who was now texting me with updates. East Hastings Street hadn’t changed much in forty-eight hours either. The bar was still dingy; the bartender cranky, Biker in the polka dot bandana still teetered on his customary stool. Robocop’s nose was still crooked. He continued to be large, repetitive and dull. Dumbbell resented pouring my whisky but had little choice since I patted my gun.
“I’ll have it from a fresh bottle, soldier. One you haven’t had the chance to water down.” I have this nice way about me, you’ve likely noticed, a way of making bad friends.
Dumbbell obligingly cracked a new bottle of CC, set the glass down in front of me, poured a double, then promptly knocked it over.
“You’re welcome,” he grunted as he stomped away.
Oh, well. I mopped my pants with my shirttail before extracting a mickey from my pocket. Two could play this game.
Since the night was off to a monotonous start I bit my lip when Robo started in. “You deserved that, son. You’re not that nice. You should try being friendlier.”
“I’m working on it. I’m putting up with you aren’t I?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been working on your enemies. You have quite a few.”
He shifted in his big brown coat. “You have more people out to get you than anyone I know.”
“I have more unpaid parking tickets than anyone you know too. Over thirteen hundred last time I counted.”
As usual, Robo had no humor. “You will be caught.”
“Not if I keep changing license plates. And addresses. And cars.”
He changed the subject. “Marcus Fuscilli is out. Did you know that?”
“No I didn’t.”
“He’s been out for over a month. And apparently he wants you.”
Marcus of the Mob. The shady Sicilian. The extortionist I’d entrapped and testified against in court, although he tried to shoot me first. “He missed me the first time, Robo.”
Robo stood up. “You need to take this more seriously, son. A girl is fighting for her life because of you.” He thumped away.
I waited until Robo slammed the door before muttering, “I am not your son. I wear Gucci in case you haven’t noticed. Not horse coats from the Sally Ann.”
Biker was standing behind me cracking up. “How you doing, son?”
Apparently, I’m never short on fathers. “Not bad, Biker.”
“Heard about your little friend. Too bad. I figured she was in trouble. She was hanging out here with lowlifes. Creeps, mostly.” He tossed Dumbbell a look. “Someone may have tried to shut her up.”
Tony had been right about his illegal alien nephew. Jackie Chan quickly earned points by posing as a roach inspector to gain access to Reynolds Woo’s suite. There, with the phony paperwork supplied by Peter, he planted the cameras and microphones for our surveillance. In the meantime I signed a two-year lease on a furnished apartment that I planned to keep for a week, one floor below Mr. Woo. Around midnight I returned to Chinatown to lug the monitor in and to collapse onto my new lumpy bed. I slept poorly.
The following morning, after three cups of thick coffee I’d brewed myself and spiked, I tuned in to the Chinese soap opera upstairs. For this torture I apparently needed two additional shots of whiskey, followed by a jigger of rum. Hmm… Define weird. If you look it up in Webster’s it says strikingly odd or unusual just before it says Reynolds Woo. About Reynolds. Where to start… The little guy was unusual, to say the least. Firstly, he had tremendous hair, which shot sideways and wide but flat as a board on top, mostly due to the kippah he wore incorrectly on the front of his head. He didn’t look Jewish to me. He had tiny hands and feet. Tinier extremities come only on Ken dolls or GI Joe action figures or newborn chimps. Little wire-rimmed glasses rested near the tip of his nose and above them a set of piercing brown eyes searched the Web as he bounced back and forth between three computers, juggling virtual ‘B and E’s. I got dizzy just watching him.
“Taboo!” he hollered in a surprisingly big voice.
An Asian man about my age – well dressed and balding – came rushing down the hall. “You called?” he asked, in the respectful tone mostly reserved for the elderly.
Reynolds pointed to the scrunched papers he’d thrown all over the floor. “Clean up this mess, will you? It’s a pigsty in here.” As Reynolds sat back to enjoy the dedication that only money can buy, Taboo attacked the debris. Meanwhile, the boss turned on his karaoke machine and started to wail along with Katy Perry, and to murder Roar in a brutal way. It was awful. I was about to be sick when Reynolds’ horrid mom arrived on the scene to save me.
Mini Chin was not overweight but the triple-chinned, short-necked, vertically-challenged individual may have appeared that way to a taller, thinner individual. She had a plastic look to her, like a creepy old doll preserved in paraffin. Well-dressed, she wore the appropriate amount of gold jewelry for her status in life; wealthy. An expensive grey suit, coupled with her thinning grey hair, gave her the overall composite of being just that; grey.
“Mama!” shrieked Reynolds, who scurried down the hallway like an escapee from Toy Story. “Why didn’t someone tell me you were here?”
“Wen Wen!” Mini headed right past him and straight for the living room bar. “My boy.”
Her boy followed. “Did you bring widdle Wen Wen anything?” he asked in a baby voice.
Mini poured a brimming tumbler of single malt scotch. “Glenfiddich is my favorite.” She spoke in a raspy, munchkin voice. “Make sure you have it next time.”
“Of course! I’ll have another case brought in just for you.” Reynolds looked like a cocker spaniel about to sit up and beg.
Mini opened her purse. “Here it is then. Your second favorite. Sour gummy worms. I couldn’t find a Kinder Surprise in this whole fucking town.”
Reynolds’ eyes watered. “Thanks.” He extracted a blue and yellow striped worm, grimaced, then dropped it back into the bag.
“Thanks who?” demanded Mini.
Mini poured herself a second tumbler of inferior scotch. The woman had a hollow chin. “I’ve arranged for extra protection. Some of the best. Naturally your step brother will lead the team.”
Reynolds turned white. “You mean Bugs Zee? You can’t be serious! Bugs Zee doesn’t know his rectum from a hole in the roof.”
Mimi sighed. “And exactly how will he learn if we don’t give him the chance?”
Reynolds was burning tracks in his Persian rug. “It won’t work, Mama Mia. It just won’t work.”
“It has to.” She scratched her chins. “So, in addition to my baby Bugs Zee I think we should consider Albert Noe. Albert is a stockbroker and can handle our investments while the others are standing around waiting for an attack. Albert can make us money during the downtime.”
Reynolds went cold. His mouth froze into a hard, thin line as paralysis gripped his face. I mean, a stockbroker with a weapon? “Don’t you think we could text him? He doesn’t have to be here.” He pointed to the floor.
“It’s not the same thing. Often it takes hours before he gets back to us and by that time the opportunity is lost.”
Reynolds sadly capitulated. “Alright. Albert can be number two, I guess.”
So now I was thinking that Reynolds may not be the favorite son. Mini swaggered across the room to slap her offspring on the head. “That’s my boy! Always thinking of others.”
Reynolds had fallen into a sour mood. “I’ll just jump off a cliff. It would be easier for you I think.”
“Not at all!” chirped Mini. “I’m only too happy to rescue my boy. Haven’t I always done?” She looked at him sideways. “And by the way, Wen Wen? You are not Jewish. You need to stop wearing that silly hat. The Jewish can be very mean when mimicked.”
Right. Like the little agoraphobic was going to wear it outside.
In the foyer she shooed the guards away. “One more thing, Wen,” she whispered loudly. “You will win this thing with Richard. Guaranteed. You are a pureblood. You will prevail.”
Reynolds looked puzzled. “So is Richard.”
Mini shook her head. “There are stories about Richard. Stories I can’t get into right now. But this much I know. Richard has tainted blood. He’s only half Chinese. Richard is a mongrel.”
RICHARD CHANG A MONGREL? I could almost hear him bark. Ruff! Good boy. I could then feel his perfect white teeth tearing the flesh from my leg. Ouch! Bad doggie! Later that evening I laughed my way down the rickety back stairway of Reynolds’ apartment building but I didn’t laugh long. Before I reached my Beemer, Peter called to say that Jack had been stabbed in jail.
He was sleeping in a secured room at Vancouver General when I arrived but since Peter had left instructions with the guards outside his door I was ushered inside. He looked like a pincushion with needles and tubes and blood bags – some on the go and others waiting for a turn. I pulled up a chair to watch him snore for what seemed like hours before he finally opened his eyes.
“Hamster.” he said weakly.
“Yeah, Jack. It’s me. In the flesh.”Oops. I picked a bad time to talk about flesh.
He smiled a half-smile that needed some time to mend plus a whack of good drugs. “Good of you to come.”
I checked my watch. 4:33 a.m. “That’s ok. I wasn’t doing anything at this particular hour anyway.”
He groaned when he tried to sit up. “I’m a bit stiff. But you should see the other guy. He’s in bad shape.”
I pressed the button to raise his head. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“You’ll think I’m a pansy.”
“Would I be right in assuming you were attacked by a knife?”
He tried to nod. “A butterfly knife.”
“Was it the big guy?”
“No. It wasn’t a prisoner at all. It was a guard. A new guy. Asian. He was in my cell when I woke up.”
“What happened to the guard?”
“He fled. I managed to turn the knife on him. By that time guys were hollering because they heard the ruckus. I can’t remember what happened after that. You were here when I woke up.”
“You have wounds on your hands.”
He held up his bandages and squinted at them for a while.
“And a big one in your gut. They told me at the desk that you’ve lost a lot of blood.” I pointed to the paraphernalia. “Thus the transfusions.”
“Jesus!” His eyes grew huge. “I hope that’s not from a good guy. Like a preacher or a saint.”
“I doubt a bit of blood could reform a reprobate like you.”
“You are correct. I’m not about to change overnight. I won’t be heading to church anytime soon if you get my drift.”
I did. “Was there anything distinctive about your attacker? Like a missing arm?”
His eyes lit up. “There was. He had a tattoo on his right hand. I kept my eye on that hand because it held a knife.”
“What kind of tattoo?”
“A serpent. A large one. It went up his arm”
“It was too dark to tell exactly. But I think it was a cobra. Yeah,” he said, after some thought. “It was a cobra. A blue one. Odd color, don’t you think? It’s the Cleaver isn’t it? One of his hatchet men.”
I chose my words carefully. “It’s too soon to tell. But you’ll be alright. You’ve got a couple of guards outside your door so they’re taking this seriously. They’ll keep you safe.”
“You think?” His eyes twinkled. “I think there’s two because they know that one alone could never keep me here.”
Peter had arrived and was motioning me to the hallway. “I’ll be back later.” I pinched his toe but he was already sleeping.
We walked to the end of the corridor where we could speak privately.
“It’s bullshit,” Peter said. Everything was bullshit to Peter. A sunny day was bullshit. Even a decent pay raise was bullshit to him. And since he’d been burned by more than one woman, well, most were that too.
“Yeah. It pretty much sucks.”
Peter ran his fingers through his hair. “The guy isn’t even on staff. He came out of nowhere. And no one questioned the fact.”
I nodded. “Someone is on the take.”
“Pretty much. Someone let him in.”
“Yep. Someone on Richard’s payroll.”
“Someone who needs a lesson in decency?”
He scowled. “Decency, my friend, is a lost art.”
Well, a crooked cop ought to know.
COMFORTED BY A FLASK OF whiskey I flopped down on the bed in my Chinatown spying apartment fully clothed. In the distance sirens wailed as police cars went chasing and ambulances went carrying the sick, the bleeding, and the dead. The poor went hungry, the elderly lonely, the rookie gang member desperate to prove himself, if only to himself, was likely to die a hero before dawn. But there were celebrations too, with houses on the mountainside lit up for partying and people and all the gaiety money could buy. Not for me to condemn. I’d grown up in a mansion in the Properties – a hive of illicit activity with all the amenities laundered money could acquire. Alas. Poor me. And yes, I might have followed in Jack’s criminal footsteps, except that his feet were too wide. Was my mickey of whisky half-empty or half-full? Glug. Glug. Glug. I drifted off thinking it was neither.
Mechanically I answered my cell. “I hate you.”
“No you don’t. You lust for me baby. Every day.”
“Peter! I’m trying to get some fucking sleep.”
“Fools sleep. Conquerors never do. Napoleon never slept more than two hours a night and Attila the Hun paid people to sleep for him.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“Get your ass out of bed and listen to this.”
I sat up. “Hold on.” I fished the mickey out from under a pillow. “Shoot.”
“There’s a body in the morgue.”
“No kidding. That’s a strange place for a body.”
“This is a special body. Remember what you told me about Jack’s attacker?”
“He’s here. In the flesh. Or, without flesh I should say. He’s mutilated. Hands dangling. Balls off. You know the routine.”
My knees went wobbly. “Spare me the details. I skipped food today and my stomach’s weak.”
“Asian. A blue cobra on his right hand winding up his arm. Or what’s left of his arm. Do you want more?”
“No. I get it. The guy failed in his task so Richard iced him. Torturously.”
“You got it.”
“He’s a prince.”
By seven a.m. Jackie and I were glued to the monitors while munching sausage and egg muffin breakfasts, one for me, four for him.
“You got any bubble tea, Amster?” Jackie had already polished off two large OJs. He looked handsome in his blue striped pullover and clean jeans and with a fresh haircut showing off his brush – now only three inches high.
“Bubble tea, phooey. Real men don’t drink bubble tea.”
Jackie flopped back in his chair. “Kow Gong does.”
Well, that settled things. If Tony Chan drank bubble tea it was sanctioned. I had a feeling my new sidekick was going to leverage his uncle Tony a lot.
In the apartment above, Reynolds was bouncing back and forth between his karaoke machine and computers, dismembering Katy’s Firework. Still in his silk pajamas – and his kippah in defiance of Mama Mia – he seemed about to enjoy a leisurely Saturday morning. I shrugged. Jackie shrugged.
It was Jackie’s job to flag emails that may say something about Willy. “No,” he said. “No. No. No. No way.” He started to giggle. “This one is from a porno queen. She says she can do fings on her website to make Weynolds feel good. She doesn’t say what. For a fousand bucks.”
Reynolds was frantically typing.
“Weynolds wants to know exactly what she’ll do for a fousand bucks.”
I could hardly wait. Not.
Jackie let out a shriek that hurt my ears. “It’s from Willy!” He grabbed the notebook and pencil from the little table beside him and started to scribble.
“What does he say?”
Reynolds looked confused. He read the email several times.
Jackie set the notebook and pencil on his lap. “It’s in code. And Weynolds can’t wead it.”
He tossed me a quizzical look. “If Weynolds can’t wead it how am I supposed to?”
Great. An encrypted message. “Can your Uncle Tony?”
He shook his head. “It’s in code. So I doubt it. He knows Mandarin and Cantonese but not code.”
“Will he know who can crack it?”
Jackie nodded. “That much he’ll know.”
Jack was propped up in bed when I arrived back at the hospital but this time he had a visitor. Jillian was busy arranging flowers in a vase. “I didn’t know they let thugs in here,” she hissed.
I smiled. “They do. The biggest one is in bed.”
Jack giggled. “It hurts when I laugh, Hamster. So cut it out.”
“So they let prisoners have flowers now do they Jack? It must be a new policy.”
“I sent them to myself. Peter said I could since you seem to have deserted me.”
I bit my tongue. “I haven’t been gone long. I’ve got a job to do trying to save your ass and I can’t do it from here.”
Jillian turned on me. “Some job you’re doing, Hampton. Just look at him! With help like yours he’ll soon be six feet under.” She was beautiful with her hazel eyes glazing over and shaking her long blond curls. She obviously hadn’t forgiven me for the tree-hugging thing.
“So I failed, miss mouth. I failed to be in your father’s jail cell at midnight. Sorry for missing the party.”
“Now, now,” Jack cajoled. “I was just kidding. Hamster has never let me down.” He thought for a minute. “Well, maybe he has but not too many times.”
“You’re entirely welcome.”
Jillian arched an eyebrow at me. “You’re supposed to be a detective. You should have solved Leo’s murder long ago. Jack should not be in this mess.”
What could I say? That Jack had created his own mess and insisted on wallowing in it? “I haven’t exactly had help from your dad, Jillian.”
“What?” Jack’s eyes danced. “You’re blaming me for all of this? You ingrate!”
“See?” Jillian stomped to the door. “See?”
I turned to Jack. “Was it something I said?”
“I think so. I was doing better before you came along. I had her arranging flowers.”
Jackie and I elbowed our way through a crowded corridor, up the creaking steps to the shaky second floor of a building on Keifer Street, then followed the dim light to a door at the end of the hall. According to Tony, Fat Asian would meet us there at exactly nine p.m. I opened the door to an almost empty room, but for the wooden crate serving as Fat Asian’s throne. He was a large boy, no more than twenty, overweight and puffy as a feather pillow, but he sat erectly while exuding an air of importance. He wore a blue shirt with parrots on the sleeves over ballooning purple pants.
He held out his hand. “Five thousand.”
I whipped out my wad of bills. “Half now, half later. After you crack the code.”
He stuffed the bills into his pocket without argument. I handed over Jackie’s scribble and walked to the window to wait. Jackie scooted behind me.
Fat Asian studied the writing for several minutes. “It’s from Willy Chan. I know Willy.”
“We know it’s from Willy!” Jackie said officiously.
“How?” Fat Asian tossed back.
“Same as you do. Code name. He uses [_Wilbur _]for family. Weynolds must be wike family to him.”
I nodded. “He is. Their mothers have played mahjong together for thirty some years. The boys went to school together and know each other well.”
“And they’re partners in certain things, people say,” Fat Asian added.
Jackie puffed up his feathers. “Weynolds is [_not _]Chan!”
“No Jackie,” I said quickly. “Reynolds is not Chan. What does Willy say?”
Fat Asian cocked his head. “He says… ‘[Hey, bud.’ _] Then he says… ‘[_Sorry but I beat you to the … stash.’ _] Yup. It’s stash. [ ‘I have the drugs’. _]Hold on. I’m not sure here. Yes. That works. [_And the profits are mine. _]Wow. Willy has the drugs. Good for Willy.”
Jackie’s eyes grew huge. “My cousin has the dwugs!”
“Holy shit!” I said. “Willy has the drugs.”
Fat Asian scratched his head. “There’s more. He says, ‘You were out…out…out.’” He paused. “Give me a minute, will you?” He studied the paper hard. “I get it now. He says, ‘You were outfoxed. You were out of your league, buddy. Your friend, Wilbur.”
A wave of goose bumps swept over me. Willy had the drugs. Good for Willy, the super-crook. The computer-hacking genius had triumphed over his computer-hacking rival and had won the game. But he wasn’t going to be the winner for long if I had my way.
I handed the remaining money owed the code cracker. “Thanks, Fat Asian.”
“The name is Samuel,” he said stiffly.
“I’m sorry,” I stuttered. “It’s just that…”
Samuel cut me off. “I know. It’s what they call me. Chinatown is like that. But just so you know my name is Samuel and I like to be called by my name.”
“Samuel it is.” I offered my hand. “You are a highly skilled individual, Samuel. You need to be respected for that.”
He shook my hand forcefully.
“Just one question if you don’t mind.”
“There’s a good chance Reynolds will find you too. Have you had any contact with him?”
Samuel cackled. “Mini Chin has an appointment in half an hour. And since I’ve already cracked the code it will be the easiest five Ks I’ve ever earned.”
We could hear Samuel laughing as we made our way down to the first floor and out the front door.
Jackie Chan was bugging me. He wanted bubble tea. Bubble tea should be his reward for quick thinking and for recognizing Willy’s email so that Samuel could crack the code. He reminded me about how I could not read or write Chinese. Without him I’d be nowhere. Without him I’d be SOL. He deserved bubble tea and wasn’t going to stop bugging me until he got bubble tea. So, about ten bubble teas later, after I’d lugged him from the shop with his full belly dragging on the ground, we were cruising down the street and about to be rammed from behind.
I glanced into my rear-view mirror. Holy shit! There they were. The big boys, fresh out of hiding and obviously thirsty for blood. They were a strange looking foursome, I have to say. Barely visible above the dash, Shorty Poo was clinging to the steering wheel with the determination of a Pitbull. Richard sat tall in the wide back seat, flanked by evening shadows and Fat Freddie Fong. With Jack stowed away behind guards it seemed that Richard now wanted to soothe himself by settling for me.
I floored it. “Hang on, Wildman! We’re in for a ride.”
“Just like the movies!” Jackie squealed. He squinted into his side mirror. “One guys got a gun.”
“He does. Hopefully he doesn’t know how to use it.”
King Chin was dangling out of the passenger side of the vehicle, assault rifle in hand. If he dinted my Beemer I’d kill him. A few shots flew. Luckily, none of them in our direction. Then a fusillade into the night. Nothing. It seemed that guns were not King’s thing and that, as the rumor mill implied, King Kong Chin was better at butchering.
So, there we were, racing through Chinatown the yuppie way, in a Beemer convertible and a yellow Hummer, crashing into the Night Market and scaring shoppers to death. They weren’t laughing. To my advantage I could actually drive while Shorty had trouble staying within the lines. After leading him on a chase I ended up back on Pender Street where I gunned it. Shorty did too, crashing sideways through a vegetable stand and into a brick wall.
Jackie curled into a howling ball of conniptions. “This is so much fun, Amster! Sank you. Sank you wery much.”
Not that I’d planned the event but I accepted the compliment nevertheless. I sped away. “How do you say eat my dust in Chinese, Wildman?
He thought for a minute. “Nǐ tā mā de.”
“Nǐ tā mā de, Richard!” I said as best I could.
Jackie howled. “Do you know what you just said, Amster?”
“Eat my dust. My first Chinese words.”
“Not your first Chinese words. And don’t say them to Kow Gong. Your first Chinese words are fuck you. You just said fuck you to Richard.”
IT WAS PAST MIDNIGHT WHEN I crept into Tina’s room, tiptoed past Judith, who was snoring like Rip Van Winkle on a cot, and opened my book – a bible I’d lifted from a table down the hall. I read about armies and a lot of wars to Tina, who didn’t move an eyelash. Not much good stuff in the Old Testament, it seemed. Just a lot of dying. I tried to find Jonah and the Whale but failed. I therefore kissed Tina’s cheek before heading down the hall.
Jack was next on my hospital rounds. He was snoring, mouth wide open, so I poked him with my finger.
“Hamster,” he mumbled. “Good of you to come. Where have you been these past few days?”
“Hours, Jack. You’ve been here less than twenty-four hours and I’ve been here twice. This is my third time.”
“My real son would have been here more.”
“Ok. I’ll leave then and send in your real son.”
Jack tried not to laugh. “You’re a pain in the ass, Hamster.” He struggled to sit up but rethought the matter. “I brought it on myself though. By stealing you from a family that actually wanted to adopt you. I just wanted a clone.”
I raised the head of his bed. “How’s that? You never said anything about this before. About a family wanting me.”
“They were professors. They wanted to experiment on you. Tie your hand behind your back to make you right handed.”
I shot up in my chair. “Why?”
“Because they could.”
“That’s cruel. I can’t do anything with my right hand.”
“That’s because you haven’t had to. This couple would have changed your life. They would have made you ambidextrous and you could have carried a pistol on both sides. Think of the possibilities.”
“You’re full of shit.”
He giggled. Then groaned. “I can still tell a good story can’t I, Hamster?”
What do they say about a pillow over the face? “No.”
We sat there in silence for a while, Jack dozing off and me wanting to do the same. I poked him again. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me, Jack? Like, about a drug heist?”
His eyes crinkled at the corners. “I just told you a bedtime story. That’s it for tonight.”
“What if I told you that your attacker ended up in the morgue? Mutilated. And that Richard Chang is now after me.”
“I’d say that pretty much sucks.”
“And that I can’t help you. I’m a bit wounded in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Cut the crap, Jack. I need help and I need it now.”
Again Jack tried to shift his weight but couldn’t.
“Ok.” He sighed. “You got me. It didn’t go as planned. Your buddy got greedy.”
“That much I already know. I just want to know how you could stoop so low.”
“Not for the reasons you might think.”
“You’re sounding like a stuck record, Hamster. And? And? And Willy has the heroin, that’s all I know. I don’t know where he has it. You’re the detective. Figure it out. You know Willy better than anyone. What’s his game?”
Light bulb! All I had to do was think like Willy.
Pearson Warehouse had two night guards, one patrolling the grounds with serious dogs and one stationed inside. The inside guard had previously worked for Jack so I knew his drill but the outside guard worried me some. He was big and burley, hairier than his Rottweilers, and carried a rifle. So, as per my instinct, which I should have heeded, my first attempt fizzled. Burley fired at me, his dogs tore my pants while my balls ended up on top of the fence. Second try, after I could walk, I carried a crowbar and enough tranquilizer darts to level a herd of elephants. I lured the puppies to the back yard for beefsteak before sneaking up behind big burley guy and clunking him on the head. He went down in a heap. I then entered the warehouse where I startled Franco who was perched at a packing table playing solitaire all by himself. Joke.
Franco leapt into the air like a flying frog. “Jesus, Hampton! You scared me! What the hell are you doing here?” Franco was about the best-looking warehouse guard in town. He had dark eyes, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, and six-pack abs achieved from working out in a warehouse at night with not much else to do. Girls swooned over the could-be Calvin Klein model but Franco was a family man.
I pulled out a wad of bills. “Do you think you could just ignore me for a while?”
He watched me peel off five hundreds.”
“Not for that much.”
I peeled off five more.”
“Double that and we’ve got a deal.”
“Deal. Take a stroll into the office Franco and I’ll find you when I’m done.”
He shoved the money into his pocket. “I won’t get into trouble over this, will I Charlie?”
“How could you? I was never here.”
I started up and down the aisles. Peter would love this warehouse, I was thinking, with all the toys on shelves — computers, jumbo televisions, electronics of every kind — just begging to be lifted. The pallet of goods under a tarp at the back of the warehouse was of most interest to me. It was hidden behind a stack of empty crates but I easily scrambled over the barrier, cut the ropes with my butterfly knife, and tore the cover away. Oil drums. A half-dozen of them clearly out of place in a warehouse filled with electronics. Might they be double barreled? Be still my racing heart!
SLEEPING IN MY OWN BED was causing a weird, reoccurring dream that kept waking me up in a sweat. [_I’m on my way to Mexico in my new yacht and Jillian, tanned and gorgeous in a string bikini, is along for the ride. We’re happy together, likely for the first time ever, and are planning our future around the heroin stash in the false bottom of the craft. Then the chase begins. Richard and entourage are closing in behind us in a coastguard boat with machine guns on the sides. I wake up with a thumping heart. _]It’s like that when you’ve made a conscious decision to live on the edge. It’s like that when you have forty million dollars worth of heroin stuffed into the trunk of your car.
Jack was sitting up in bed when I strolled into his room and casually pulled up a chair. “Hey, Jack. Want to talk drugs?”
He shot me a glare. “Ok, Hamster. What have you done? You have a smug smile on your face.”
I smiled even more smugly. “I got lucky last night.”
“Right. Like I need to hear about your sex life. Give me a break.”
“It wasn’t sex. It was something better.”
His eyes grew wide. “The heroin?” he whispered.
I nodded. “I have it,” I whispered back. “And I have the option of keeping it myself which is damn tempting. Or, I can turn it in and at least get you out on bail. You had little reason to off Leo without my find, since you’d been granted an injunction by the courts to thwart the takeover.”
Jack took an angry turn. “You took something belonging to me.”
“Correction. I took something belonging to Richard Chang. You stole it from him.”
“You’re not going to give it back to him, are you?”
“No. I’m not. I’m going to use it to negotiate. Negotiate for your life.”
“I’ll be out a lot of money.”
“No, Willy will be out a lot of money. Technically you never had it. Besides, even if it was yours it wouldn’t do you much good dead. Do you think Richard Chang is going to back off? He’s after me now. And he’ll be back after you as soon as those two guards are gone from your door. But don’t feel too ripped off, Jack. Richard has to give up the stash too. That’s part of the deal.”
Jack went all snooty. “Well, I guess it’s your call.”
Tony arranged the meeting. It was to be held at Richard’s Point Grey hideaway and I would come alone, as usual. Tony said that Richard said he wondered what had taken me so long so I guessed he thought I was coming to beg for a couple of lives. Right. I parked my car in the driveway and managed to make my way up the weaving path through the bramble bushes. I waved to the assault rifles and the dogs barked back.
Shorty Poo had the whiskey already poured when I strolled through the door past the scrutiny of King Chin. I nodded. King bowed. He was checking out my holster. Seated in a chair by the unlit fireplace, Richard motioned to the matching one.
“Good of you to come, Charlie,” he said in his pleasant English accent.
I nodded. “Richard.”
Shorty Poo puffed over with my tumbler of whiskey on a tray.
Shorty bowed. His English hadn’t improved much.
Richard glared at me. “You think you’re very funny don’t you, Charlie?”
“Jack says hello.”
He shifted in his chair. “Quite right.”
“This isn’t a social visit. I’m here to cut you a deal.”
Richard widened his falcon-like eyes. “Mr. Jones for Willy?”
“Not quite. Mr. Jones for your ass.”
Richard choked on his booze. King Chin, who spoke broken English, straightened his stance while Shorty looked confused. Was this not supposed to be a party?
“You see, Richard,” I said in my wise-guy tone. “I have something belonging to you and I’m going to turn it in. And as I see it I can do that in one of two ways. I can turn it in and finger you. Or, I can turn it in and not finger you. The choice is yours.”
We slipped into a mutual silence. Shorty was breathing down my neck now, a sturdy chain close by, I figured. And behind Richard, King was mentally sharpening his knife with his thumb. Freddie, as usual, was napping in his chair. “What proof do I have? Only your word? That’s a bit silly isn’t it, Charlie?”
I plucked a baggie of heroin from my pocket and tossed it on the black lacquered table. “Test it. It’s pure. It’s from your shipment.”
“And what if you don’t leave this house tonight? What then?”
“I’ve left instructions with Tony Chan. There will be consequences. If I go you go.”
“I have a private jet. I can leave tonight.”
“You’re right. You can. But you won’t be safe in Beijing either. And you’ll never be able to come back. Is that what you want?”
We locked eyes. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Richard to operate his North American businesses, legal or otherwise, from Beijing, especially with Leo and Willy gone.
He rose from his chair. “You leave me no choice. But picture this, Charlie. Picture Jack in a coffin because next time I shan’t fail.” He glared at me through cold dark eyes. “And also picture this. You lying beside him.”
Jackie Chan turned laughing into a science. His whole body laughed, beginning with a grin and ending in a full-blown ball of conniptions. He was in this position when I arrived to pack up the monitor in the suite below Reynolds Woo.
“Mini,” he managed to say as he went rolling across the floor like tumbleweed. “Mini was here just now.”
I could hardly wait. The drug bust had been all over the morning papers and Mini would not be pleased. “And what great words of wisdom came from the mouth of Mini Chin?”
Jackie sat up. “She swapped him!” he said excitedly. “She swapped Weynolds on the nose. She swapped him on the ears. She beat him up. Totawee.”
“Poor dumb bugger. What did Reynolds do?”
“He cwied. He cwied like a baby. He just curled up like a fat green worm and let her hit.”
“That’s too bad.”
“No it’s not. Weynolds’ mean.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
“There’s more.” Again he tumbled across the floor. “She kicked him! Hard. A wot. And then she kicked his karaoke box. She stomped on it and bwoke it to pieces. Isn’t that funny?”
“Not exactly, Jackie. He loved that thing. He was always singing along.”
Jackie howled. “That’s what’s so funny, Amster! He should have been stealing the dwugs!”
THERE WAS A TEASER MOVING in from the mountains and a threat of rain; fitting, given my assignment for the day. At the hospital I again checked in on my girl, who hadn’t moved much.
“How are the dogs? You wanted to know.” Well, Tina and I didn’t have much in common and I had to say something. “The dogs are fine. They’re still on a ranch in Alberta. They’re eating cattle now instead of pedestrians.”
She moved a little.
“Hannibal and Lecter are likely lying in a grassy ditch right now, waiting to chase cars down dusty country roads. That’s what ranch dogs do for fun, in case you didn’t know.”
She moved again which I took as a positive sign. I therefore whistled my way along to chat up the two guards parked outside Jack’s door. They seemed only too happy to be going elsewhere. The older fellow with the bushy red mustache barked, “He’s all yours, son. And good luck with that.” They couldn’t stop laughing.
But Jack was grouchy. His first order of the day was for me to raise the top on my convertible and to can the music. He had never liked jazz. I decided not to tell him that he was listening to Queen.
“Damn nice of you, Hamster,” he muttered. “To give your old Dad a ride home from the slammer. And leaving a handy trail of bread crumbs for the Cleaver to follow.” He looked pale, like someone who hadn’t seen the sun in a very long while, which he hadn’t. He’d also lost weight and the pants he’d worn on the day of his arrest now hung in folds on his lap.
“I’ve arranged security, Jack. Twenty-four seven. You’ll have two of them with you at all times.”
“Oh, that’s great,” he said sarcastically. “What about my family? They’ll not be safe on the streets. Why didn’t you think of them before you ruffled Richard’s feathers?”
“It isn’t your family that Richard wants. It’s Willy. Ask Tony if they’ll be safe. He’ll tell you that it’s not Richard’s style to go after family. He has some scruples.” I laughed a guilty laugh because nothing was actually funny.
“Ha. Ha. There’s always a first time. He could blow us all away.”
“I doubt it. Tony is respected in the organization and Richard will be tempered by that. You may even have safe passage but we don’t want to be stupid about it either. Richard wants Willy and he wants to force my hand. Who knows what he’ll do next?”
We drove through the causeway, greeted by the fresh scent of forest-floor flora, and at the top of the Lions Gate Bridge Jack got teary. Home. He was going home to that monstrous structure on the edge of a cliff, the party place that would soon come alive again with swarms of people milling about. Home. Jack wiped his wet face with his sleeve.
We sat for a while in the driveway at 33 Terrace Place.
“I’m not a very good criminal, Hamster. I couldn’t even stay in jail.”
“I can always take you back.”
He shuddered. “That’s exactly what I’d expect from you, you ingrate. You, who I’ve raised from a pup and treated like a son. And what do you do? You betray me. You stole from me. You stole from your very own dad.”
“I had a good teacher don’t forget. He wouldn’t have expected any less of me.”
Jack shut up.
I decided against telling him that what he meant mostly to me now was a lot of trouble, since I’d had to sneak back into Pearson, bribe Franco again, and repack the heroin before tipping off the cops. Besides, if I knocked out Hulk and his dogs (not a rock band) one more time I’d be going off to jail. Post Mortem? Poor dead Leo was now taking the heroin rap, his greatest accomplishment while still on earth. And I wasn’t going to speculate about what he was doing on the other side. I just hoped they were serving ham sandwiches where Leo had gone. On white with loads of butter.
Tony was waiting in the doorway. He looked slick in a gold silk smoking jacket over black trousers above kid leather slippers with tassels near the toes. For special effects he carried a cane capped by a gold lion’s head.
“Sharp-dressed Tony!” Jack boomed. He crushed his old friend in a bear hug. “Where’s the welcome whiskey?”
Tony started to sob. “I can’t believe it’s you, Jackie! I can’t believe you’re home.”
“Me either. I had better service in jail.” He turned to me. “Get me a whisky, will you, Hamster? A big one. I damn well deserve a good drink.”
Soon Jack and Tony were sitting together on a living room sofa, bantering and cuffing like two bear cubs frolicking among palm trees, animal print chairs, and Moroccan treasures. Old home week. It didn’t get better than that. Baskets of summer flowers began to arrive, each one with a yellow ribbon. Their boy was home.
Jack downplayed the fuss. “Did somebody die? Was it me?”
I carried in a huge bouquet of gladiolus. “This one’s from the church. Apparently they’ve been missing you over the past forty years.”
His eyes twinkled. “I doubt it. I always pocketed the white envelopes when the plate passed by.”
The town was buzzing with Jack out on bail and Leo’s murder yet to be solved. Around five o’clock the doorbell announced my replacements – two strapping bodyguards packing assault rifles. In the living room I asked Tony for a minute with Jack, and although he gave me the ‘Tony look’ he complied. I perched on the arm of a chair.
“I’m not happy with you Jack.”
He scratched his chin.
“I’m not going to rehash recent events because I think we’re both had enough. But because of your behavior, you and I are now the target of serious criminals. Drug lords. Murderers. And we have to fear for our lives.”
Not even a wisecrack.
“And you know what else, Jack? I’ve done something I’m not exactly proud of myself. Something below me. And until I get things straight in my head I’m going to bail for a while. My replacement is on the front veranda. Two big boys with artillery. They’ll take good care of you.”
With that I strode from the room and out of Jack’s life.
SO, NOW YOU’RE THINKING THAT I’m a hard ass and you’re likely right. But never assume that exiting Jack was a cake. I’d kill for the guy. Jack was my champion and hero, the man I longed to be. But what I failed to understand in my hero-worshipping stupor was how a guy like Jack could land me smack in the middle of the mob. The Asian mob to be exact. A.k.a. the Triad.
Alright, then. Thumbing through the office mail was about as exciting as my day was going to get. I plucked a pair of scissors from my tin desk drawer to cut up a credit card that some desperate bank had sent me for no apparent reason. With a credit limit of eighteen thousand dollars it might be worth keeping, though, given that I was basically out of work. I bought a lot of toys in my mind before cutting the card into confetti.
After watering Robert the Plant I returned to my chair, raised my feet to the top of my desk, and nodded off without guilt. I had no clients and no prospects. I was free as a bird. And I found myself dreaming about a flock of birds that didn’t seem to like me. They were red birds, some swooping at me, and others landing on my shoulders pecking at my face. The dirty little bastards were after my eyes, viciously and relentlessly, and I was frantically swatting them away. I hated birds and apparently birds, for no apparent reason, hated me. I awoke to the sound of someone clearing a throat.
He was wearing a lot of money. Tailor made threads above Bruno Magli loafers and a diamond encrusted Rolex worth half a million bucks. I could smell his offshore bank account and it didn’t stink. I motioned to a chair across from the desk and he took it without thought. He ploughed his manicured fingernails through his salt-and-pepper hair.
“James McGoogle,” he said. “We have an appointment.”
I looked at him with something approaching skepticism, since I couldn’t remember this appointment. But then again, I couldn’t remember much. “Hampton,” I replied. “Charles Hampton. PI.”
He smiled. I guessed he’d read it on the door. He had the guarded smile of a man you likely shouldn’t cross but if you did cross him you’d better have an exit plan in place. To Mars, for instance.
“It’s about my wife,” he started. “I think she’s cheating on me and if she is I want to catch her at it. I want to end the charade.”
“What makes you think this?”
“Well, not from her, that’s for sure. She won’t own up to it but it’s a gut feeling I have. She’s changed a lot lately. She’s just not the woman I married. I’d really like to be wrong.”
“I don’t do divorce cases, James. Never have and never will.”
He drew a brown envelope from the briefcase perched on his lap and threw it on my desk. “It’s not a divorce case. Not yet, at least. All I ask of you is to bring me proof that she’s cheating if she is. I don’t need pictures. I just need to know a time and a place. I can take it from there”
“Why don’t you just end the marriage if you’re so sure?”
“I knew you were going to ask me that.” His carefully-waxed eyebrows came together in the center of his frown as his small brown eyes squinted thoughtfully. “Firstly, I’m in love with her. I cherish the ground she walks on. And secondly, I’d like to be wrong. I’d like to be wrong more than anything in the world. You have no idea how happy I’d be if told that I’m delusional.”
I withdrew a photo from the brown envelope. She was a doll, alright. Early thirties with long dark hair, dark eyes, and a body built for cherishing. She was a keeper, a woman to fight for, absolutely. “When is she doing this cheating?” I found myself asking, instead of saying ‘not interested in your case’. There was something compelling about James McGoogle. And even more compelling about the beautiful Lana.
“During the day. She goes out almost every day. She has her charities. And her luncheons. She usually returns home before six. We have dinner together every night. And we attend parties. Functions. We play tennis. That part of our life would seem normal to our friends, since they haven’t noticed the changes I have.” Back came the frown. “It’s just the weekdays I want to know about. And I hope to hell I’m wrong.” He extracted a check from his case and signed it with a gold-plated pen. “Name your price, Hampton. And don’t be noble about it either.”
At twelve forty-five p.m. I pulled up to a Shaugnessey mansion and waited in the shade of a freshly clipped cedar hedge. It was like coming out of the Gobi Desert on a scorching summer day. I didn’t get me. I was driving around in oppressive heat with the top of my convertible down and the air conditioner on. My feet were cold, my head was hot, and I was hungry enough to eat road kill. At five minutes past one the luscious brunette backed her Mercedes out of the garage and headed for downtown Vancouver. If she was wearing the straw hat for camouflage purposes she needn’t have bothered. She was Lana McGoogle, for certain. A beauty.
I followed Lana to the Hotel Vancouver where I parked my car in a loading zone and followed her inside. She floated through the lobby in a white dress with little cap sleeves and a narrow red belt at the waist. Heads turned like corkscrews as she removed her hat and shook her long dark hair. She was a stunner. I followed her to the seventh floor, watched her go into a room, then hopped the elevator back to the lobby. After sinking into the comfort of a stuffed leather chair I retrieved my iPhone, asked the operator for room 707, and you’ll never guess who answered.
“Moonlighting Overcoat?” I laughed out loud.
“Who is this?” Marco demanded.
“An enemy. Someone who will crush your balls.”
“What do you want?”
“Your hide. And I’ll have it. Not that I’ll personally have to do the dirty work. There’s a husband out there who doesn’t appreciate your encroaching on his property. And this husband may be inclined to off you.”
“And if he lets you live he’s going to name you as correspondent in a legal matter. Not that it’s necessary but he’s going to do it just for fun.”
After taking some time to clear his throat Marco condescended. “Well, that won’t hurt me. But it may hurt an innocent woman. Is that what you want?”
“Of course! She’s meeting me here today to discuss a divorce.”
I laughed until my teeth hurt. “I’m sure her husband will buy that. She is going to get a divorce, however, although not by her own choosing. What’s the matter, Marco? Lost your office? Things must be really bad if you’re succumbing to divorce cases. I hope you don’t lose your overcoats.”
Marco Midolo hung up.
I called back and stupid Marco answered.
“One more thing, Overcoat. Just for the record, Jack didn’t fire you. I did. I forged his signature.” I ended my call with a very smug smile on my face. But it didn’t last long. I believe my next phone call to be about the lowest point in my lengthy, and often distinguished, career.
“Bad news,” I told the person on the other end of the line.
I reached into my shirt pocket and tore up the check.
I needed a break. Maybe even a woman, should providence prevail, and since Pamela in Pink had agreed to meet me at Opus Bar the word now running through my head was SCORE! Yaletown, a former warehouse district, was now as trendy and upscale as the collector cars parked on the streets. After I parked my own aging Beemer I window-shopped my way along the sidewalk, even passing a men’s clothing store where a glassy-eyed manikin stared back at me. Yikes! It was a Marco Midolo double and guess what? He was wearing an overcoat. I whistled my way down the block, not easy since I can’t whistle. I also harbor a deep hatred for annoying whistlers in general. Marco and I weren’t finished yet, by the way. Not by a long shot. But that’s another story.
So, I entered the Opus Bar prepared to move with the eclectic, my being savvy and such, to nibble on O Bites while ordering a clever drink, a double whiskey to be sipped through an elegant straw. After a second clever drink I grew happier, more optimistic, and nicer in general, not that I wanted to get married I just wanted to get laid. On that note I happened to notice the shimmering screens and iridescent lighting I was paying for so I opted to cut back on drinks – quality singles that had a way of disappearing like shots. Damn. I was turning cranky so I looked around to pick a fight but didn’t have the heart to punch a guy sporting a fresh manicure and plucked eyebrows. And new glasses.
Finally, Pamela wiggled her tight black dress into the joint. She pushed through the maze of salivating idiots like she’d danced that waltz before, tossing her mustard-colored mane. She was the kind of girl that called to a guy’s libido, if you know what I mean. Rapunzel, I was thinking, lay down your golden loins.
She flashed a smile of bonded teeth and big fake lashes. And as she slid onto the chair across from me I found myself drooling over her other precious purchases. Two of them, to be exact. Beauties. Hell, I didn’t care if they were real or not, they were calling my name. But before I could make my move on Pamela, Pamela put the make on me.
“You’re gorgeous.” She giggled. “And sexy. All the nurses are ga ga over you. Even a few doctors.”
“I like doctors and nurses.”
We were laughing the mating laugh, no doubt about it. Soon we’d be thumping like the black-footed albatross.
Pamela was just warming up. “But I said to myself, Pamela.”
Oh, oh. A little word-slurring, perhaps?
“I said, Pamela. He’ll probably be the worst fuck you ever had. Good-looking guys don’t have to work in bed. He’ll likely just lay on top of you with too much body weight, like his elbows have been injured in a skateboard accident, then ejaculate on entry. Pouf. All for nothing.” She almost fell off her chair laughing.
So, maybe she was a little drunk. So what? I just kept thinking about the albatross thumping. It had been a long time since I’d thumped. “I accept all compliments. Keep them flowing. But just so you know I never ejaculate. I think it’s rude.”
She hiccupped. “I’m a bit drunk I’m afraid. I met some friends at Bar None and drank a lot of wine.” She chased her chocolate martini with her finger. “This is dessert.”
“Mind if I lick that?”
Pamela licked her own finger sensuously. “I can’t resist dark-haired men with blue eyes. I wish I could but I can’t. They’re my weakness. Especially the ones that don’t ejaculate.”
Trying to look cool and not horny I belted back a shot. She was squinting at me in a scrutinizing way. Ok. Here it came. The excuse. So much for getting laid without a lot of work.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Alec Baldwin? Like, when he was in The Marrying Man?”
”No. You would be the first,” I lied. “But just so you know I’m a lot better looking than Alec Baldwin.”
“You’re also arrogant. And that pisses me off because I like arrogant guys. You’re really starting to piss me off.”
“Your place or mine?”
“My place.” She blushed like a second-hand virgin. “I’ve got champagne on ice.”
“I’ve got a quick meeting but I’ll drop by later on.”
We shook hands. And with business out of the way the conversation went south.
“Mrs. Clark is a witch you know.” She screwed up her face. “No one can stand her. She orders everyone around like she owns the hospital. With her daughter so sick and all.”
Patience? Never had it. Never will. “Well, Pamela. I’ve known the Clark’s most of my life. Judith is a fine person. And while she doesn’t exactly own the hospital she has helped raise a substantial amount of money for it and has personally contributed to the building of a wing. She’s a McFadden. She comes from a family of philanthropists. You might want to check that out.” Oops. Shooting yourself in the balls, are you, Charlie?
Yup. She shot me a lethal look. “I’m not sure I like the way you said that. I’m not sure I like you anymore.”
Ok. So, I was thinking about the sex toys rumored to be in the mini-bars upstairs. Sex alone again? “You like me. And I like you. So let’s just change the subject.”
She sat there nodding her head as though trying to think. “Judge Clark doesn’t like you. He hates you, in fact.”
“Really? You seem to know a lot about Judge Clark.”
“He’s sweet. He’s a sweet old man.”
I choked on my straw. “Sweet like a rattlesnake.”
“No. You don’t understand. He’s always sending presents to the nurses’ station. Chocolates. Baskets of wine. Theatre tickets. He spoils everyone.”
“I see. He hasn’t been to see Tina, has he? Not since the first day.”
“No. He hasn’t.”
“So he’s sending guilt presents. Sent to ease his conscience.”
“Well!” she said officiously. “There isn’t any point in his sitting there when his daughter is somewhere else. He has important things to do.”
“Like what?” To my knowledge the retired judge spent most of his time in the garden.
She waved her arm in the air. “This cobra bracelet is platinum. With real rubies. He gave it to me.”
I slurped my drink. It was about those albatrosses. You couldn’t trust them. Especially the ones with black feet. “You must have been good to him.”
She nodded. “Mrs. Clark is a witch.”
Ah, what the hell. Since I’d already pissed on my own parade…. “Judge Clark is an asshole. Personally, I’m with Judith.”
Her chin almost hit the table. “You are an asshole!” With that she flopped from her chair and with her yellow hair swishing behind her, staggered from The Opus Hotel.
I took her keys out of my pocket, walked to the bar, and handed them over. “She’ll be back for these. Give her the house key and call her a cab will you, pretty lady?”
Well, so much for getting laid with no effort. On my raw elbows. But since I’d been making eye contact with a gorgeous brunette two tables over, well, I had time to kill.
I WALKED INTO THE BAR on East Hastings Street with a smile on my face and a number in my iPhone. It was just a game of catch and release, I knew. I applied my best fake charm to catch a woman before she promptly released me, on a second or third date. Apparently, I was married to myself.
Muscle-bound Dumbbell flexed his forehead as he rudely slapped down my drink. “Would there be anything else?” he threatened. “We’re closing in half an hour.”
“Line them up, Gregorian.” Well, the name [_Greg _]was written in script on his shirt pocket. “I’ll take two and raise you two.” I threw down a fifty.
He eyed the bill. “Are you saying that I should keep the change?”
I nodded. “Unless you want to donate it to charity, soldier.”
He stuffed the bill into his pocket before cracking a fresh bottle of Canadian Club. I winked at him and he winked back. Great. Soon I’d be hanging out there picking up hookers and drinking free booze on Jack. At the end of the bar Biker grinned and waved, just as Robocop arrived to straddle a stool. Old home week. Opus Bar eat your slick heart out.
“Two for my friend.” I threw down Jack’s second-last fifty. “And two for the biker at the end of the bar.” So, I was almost broke. Soon I’d need a steady job, like following more adulterers and such. Except that it hurt too much.
Robo had had a long hard day. “We may have been going in the wrong direction on this one. It might have been the girl they were after. Although that will hurt your ego a little, Charlie. You’re so self-centered. Everything is pretty much about you.”
I wanted to punch him in his crooked nose. “What do you have, Robo?” Didn’t I tell you I was growing in patience?
“The girl was into drugs. And maybe even selling drugs. As near as we can tell.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Sources. Snitches. Information peddlers. Everyone has something to sell.”
“Oh, I get it. People that sell information. Very reliable sources.”
“Some are. And some aren’t. Give me a little credit for knowing which is which.”
“There’s just one flaw with your research, Robo. To my knowledge drug-dealers usually do it for the money. Tina Clark has money she’ll never be able to spend.”
Biker came by and slapped me on the back. “How you doing, son?” he boomed.
I grinned. “Are you ever going to wash that rag on your head, Biker?”
“Not unless I have to.” His laughter sounded like a roar of happy thunder, the kind that goes rumbling off into the distance without causing much trouble. “Not unless it gets flees. It’s my good luck bandana. If I wash it that could all change.”
Biker and Robocop left the bar at closing time while I stuck around, since Gregorian didn’t seem allergic to bribery and I had fifty bucks to blow. He snatched it up like a one arm bandit.
“I only slept with her once,” he began. “That’s when I knew that skinny little thing couldn’t be twenty like her ID said. With all the black flowers pasted on her face it was hard to tell. When I finally got the truth out of her I felt like a creep, my being twenty-three and all. I felt like a pedophile.” Red patches splashed across his cheeks.
“So you should.”
He didn’t take it personally. “She’s just a really fucked up kid. Really wild.”
“What about the drugs? Was she selling them?”
“No. She bought them though. Crack. For herself and her friend Matt. They’re just a couple of rich kids looking for kicks. Too much family money I suspect.”
I stood up. “Just one question. Why did you let her back in here when you knew her real age?”
“For two reasons. Number one, she was blackmailing me. She said that if I didn’t let her back in she’d tell my boss about us and I’d be history. Maybe even go to jail because she was just sixteen at the time.”
“And number two?”
“She was safe here. With me behind the bar no one would touch her.”
I shook his hand. “You’re not a bad guy, Gregorian.” I strolled out the door and into a starry night.
From the crest of the bridge I could see Jack’s mausoleum teetering on the cliff, with only the hall lights and lamps in the library on. I figured Jack would be sipping his midnight whisky with the papers spread all over the floor and Tony would be occupying the opposite wing chair, cognac in hand. The money business would be finished for the day and they’d be celebrating their successes in the same old way. Nothing would have changed. For some unexplained reason my Beemer sped up Taylor Way and tiptoed past 33 Terrace Place.
As sometimes is my custom I took the long way home, turning right on Stanley Park Drive and cruising along the ocean through a forest of spicy pines. Headlights glowed in my rear-view mirror so I floored it past the darkened Teahouse but the lights closed in behind. Soon a siren was blaring and I was skidding sideways from a punctured tire. Shrapnel tends to do that to rubber. In my rear-view mirror I could see a fat cop struggling out of the passenger side of the cruiser, gun drawn.
“You’re under arrest!” he roared as I exited my vehicle.
“Mind telling me what for?”
“For failing to yield to police and for reckless driving.” He motioned to his sidekick. “Get his gun, Joe. He’s a lefty.”
Joe-boy hopped like an Easter rabbit, frisked me, to no avail, my toy being in the trunk among friends.
Big copper held his revolver on me. “And maybe even DUI.”
I don’t usually argue with guns, especially in a twitchy hand, but there are exceptions. “You can do better than that, Bubble Boy.” Hey, I didn’t name him, the bullies at school did. And I’d actually stuck up for the creep when the tough guys were pushing him around. And this would be the thanks I got?
A Chrysler New Yorker passed by paying no attention. The police were doing their job.
Bubble Boy waved his gun above a flabby white face. It was hard to miss that noggin. “I knew you’d remember me, Charlie. Charlie,” he taunted like a mocking bird. “Charlie the big shot. The big man at West Van High.”
All right. So, call me stupid. “No, Bubble Boy. You were the big man at West Van High. I was just a skinny kid who didn’t have to order his gym shorts from West Coast Tent and Awning.”
That did it. A couple of warning shots at my feet. “This sissy,” he spat at Joe, “rode to school in a Rolls Royce. With a chauffeur. What a fucking sissy!”
Alfonse, I remembered under duress. His name was Alfonse. “Let’s just cut the crap, Alfonse. Who are you working for? You’ve got plans for me. Who’s paying?”
“Right. Like I’d tell you.”
“Why not? Both you and I know I’m not leaving here tonight. You have your orders and you’ll carry them out. You have nothing to lose by telling me. I won’t be squealing when I’m six feet under.”
“Get the tasers, Joey. This man is out of control.”
Joey scurried to the police cruiser for the guns. In the meantime I made a quick decision not to further antagonize Alfonse since he was itching to blow me away.
“Do you want to make a run for it, Charlie? It would be more fun that way.”
Another car went by slowly before quickly gathering speed. Cowards. They were all cowards where the cops were concerned. I was going to die alone.
I turned to Joey. “What about you, soldier? Is this your first murder?”
He looked pale.
“You don’t have to do it you know. Just because a goon like Alfonse says so. You can have scruples. Even if Bubble Boy doesn’t.”
That did it. Alfonse let me have it. All 50,000 volts. I went down like the Berlin Wall in a frenzied heap. But while I was kicking up dust, gyrating and convulsing and silently saying sorry to Jack, Alfonse suddenly put on the breaks.
“Do you hear that?” Joey said excitedly. “They’re coming out of the bushes with flashlights. A whole bunch of them. We’d better scram.”
“Get away from him,” a woman screamed. “You pigs! You murderers!”
“We’d better blow, Alfonse.”
Alfonse gave me one last shot for good luck. “This isn’t fucking over. Not over ‘til I say it’s over.” Doors slammed, an engine turned over, and the cruiser sped away.
“Not over,” I mumbled, struggling to get my face out of the road. “Not by any means.”
The homeless of Stanley Park gathered around me. A stick man with long thinning hair and the face of a half-gnawed bone was helping me to sit up. “You ok, dude? He zapped you pretty good.”
“I’m good. My ex-father in law.” I sat there like an idiot picking debris from my eyes. “He doesn’t seem to like me anymore.”
“Name’s Tommy,” said the stick man. “And skip the bull. We heard it all. The fat man is on the take. And the skinny one is scared as hell.”
Faces nodded. A lot of faces.
“Someone wants you dead,” Tommy said.
I tried to shake the spiders out of my brain. “There’s sort of a line-up for that. I’m not that popular in certain circles.”
He smiled. “At least you’re ok, dude.”
With Tommy’s help I managed to struggle to my feet. “Nice of you guys to help me out. I’d pretty much be a goner without you.”
“Well this is our home and we try to keep the place safe. We’ve been known to help out strangers.”
I fished a gym bag from the back seat of my car and produced a forty of whisky. “You guys drink tea? I don’t have cups but whiskey itself will kill the germs. Hope you don’t mind my taking the first swig.”
They didn’t. I had help installing my spare tire before driving away to the happy sounds of a party.
I COULD SMELL THE FRENCH perfume even before I opened the door to my office at seven a.m.. She was wearing legs. A lot of legs, long and shapely legs crossed at the knee. A short white dress hugged a body lean and lithe and the tennis muscles in her arms were poised to swing. At me.
She sprang from her chair. “How could you!” she shrieked. It wasn’t a question. “How could you do that to Jack!”
“Nice to see you too, Jillian. I’m taking back my key.”
She hurled it at my nice tin desk. “You’re pathetic! You’re such a loser. Have you no shame?”
I decided to let her cool down so I walked to Robert the Plant, gave him a friendly cuff, and cracked a bottle of water. “Let me see, Jillian. Is this the same girl that moved out of Jack’s house not that long ago and would have nothing to do with him? Hmm…”
She turned to face me, eyes blazing. “It’s not the same thing. He had wronged me. He did absolutely nothing to you.”
I tried to smile but my bruised face wouldn’t let me. “That’s debatable. His entry into the drug world didn’t exactly thrill me, if you get my drift. I see too much of the damage on the streets every day.”
“There is absolutely no proof of Jack’s entry into the drug world. None. And you know Jack. You know there’s something more than what meets the eye. He’s hiding something, yes. But no one knows exactly what it is. I doubt that Tony even knows.”
Yeah right. “Tony knows. He raised Jack, remember. And he’s still wiping his ass. There’s not much Tony doesn’t know.”
She flipped back her long blond curls. “You’ve been in a fight!” She seemed to be seeing me for the first time. “And apparently you didn’t win.”
“That is yet to be decided.”
She laughed facetiously. “Ok. If that’s what you want me to believe. Your big fat ego would never let you admit defeat. But from where I’m standing you look beaten up. Badly. Your face is full of cuts and bruises. Unless the other guy is dead you lost.”
Damn her quick mind. “Wanna kiss me?”
She shuddered. “I don’t want to kiss you when your face is normal. So, when it’s been pulverized by a meat grinder I say no. Never. Not in this lifetime.”
What did I tell you? The woman was crazy about me. I limped to my chair, slowly lowered my posterior into it, and with sufficient difficulty raised my feet to the top of my desk. My tin desk responded by rattling cheaply.
At the door Jillian turned back to me. “Just so you know he looks terrible. Broken hearts do that to people.” With that she stomped out, slamming the door behind her.
I’m not afraid of much but was inexplicably terrified of Pamela in Pink. I therefore sneaked into the hospital through the emergency entrance and slid down the corridor against the wall. Tina wasn’t alone but the kinder half of the ferocious Clarks beat the alternative.
Judith said hello. “Got yourself beaten up did you, Charlie?”
“You should see the other guy.”
She nodded. “Is he dead?”
I walked to Judith who was standing at Tina’s bedside. “I wasn’t sleeping with your daughter,” I blurted out.
“Oh, I know that, Charlie. And Angus will come around eventually. We were just upset and wanted to blame someone. And you were there. You were there because you cared about our daughter. We should be ashamed of ourselves.”
“Yes you should.” I gave her a little hip check.
Her face broke into a smile. “Would you mind if I asked you some questions? There’s a lot we don’t know.” She sniffled through the details I was able to offer. “I’m sorry I flew off at you that morning. Even though I knew it didn’t make any sense I just had to blame someone. I couldn’t take responsibility for being a poor parent. That would have been too painful.”
I put my arm around her. “You know me well enough to know I’m shallow. I didn’t carry it around.”
“I watched you grow up. You have a tough outer shell because you’ve always tried to prove yourself to Jack. But you don’t have to. There isn’t a child more loved by a parent on the planet. Both you and Jillian are adored. I’ve always envied people who could love like that. I love my daughter but I’m afraid I’ve been a complete failure as a parent.”
I tightened my hug.
“I had a terrible step-mother myself,” she continued. “She was a Christian in the worst possible way. Spare the rod, spoil the child, and pray for their sins. I was always sinning. I went to church three times a week to get rid of it but it didn’t work. I was a sinner according to her. If I spilled on my dress or tripped and fell down I was the worst sinner in town.” She looked up at me through teary eyes. “I always vowed that if I had children of my own I’d leave them be. And that’s just what I did. I gave Tina a free rein. And you know the old saying that if you give someone enough rope to hang themselves, they will? Well I did. And she did. I did this to myself.” She started to sob.
A few tissues later I said, “Did your step-mother ever pay for the abuse?”
Her eyes lit up. “She did! She died young. Before my dad came into a lot of family money, thank goodness. And I’m sure she went straight to hell.”
Tina began to stir.
“She knows we’re here. Judith.”
“It’s a positive sign.”
“I know a nurse here. She says that people wake up in different ways. Some just open their eyes and sit up. Others start to stir before they come alive. Either way, Tina is on the move.”
Back in my West End condo I took to the booze. I started a pan of bacon frying on the stove and threw in my last two eggs. I poured a second double whiskey before putting the coffee pot on and was about to enjoy a fry-up when my cell rang.
”I have a sad story for you,” said a familiar voice.
“Shoot. I’m hungry.”
“A guy on the force was busted tonight. Just after he arrived for the night shift.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Maybe. Do you happen to know a guy named Alfonse Vital?”
“Yeah. I think I do. I think I went to school with good old Bubble Boy. How did he go down?”
“When he doesn’t have a cruiser he drives an old jalopy to work. And guess what? We busted him tonight. He had three bags of smack tucked into the spare tire in the trunk of his car.”
“What? That doesn’t sound like good for old Alfonse.”
“No. It’s trafficking for Al.”
“Guess we should call him bah bah Black Sheep then. With three bags full.”
“How did you know it was there?”
“We got an anonymous tip. I handled it. With a couple of the boys. He’s going down alright.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’ll bet you are.” Peter hung up.
I was busy patting myself on the back when my cell rang again. Well, so much for hot food.
“Charlie?” said a shaky voice. “Can you come right over?”
“Of course! What is it Julia?”
“It’s Jack. He’s had a heart attack.”
Talk about guilt! All the way over to the Properties I wallowed in it. Had I been a good son and followed in my father’s criminal footsteps things would be so different now.
Julia met me at the front door of 33 Terrace Place wearing black. She looked hot in her silk embroidered pajamas and high-heeled shoes with feathers on the toes. Her long dark hair had been freed from its clip and hung softly against her face. With a furrowed brow she shooed me into the living room where two tumblers of whisky sat waiting on a silver tray. “He’s sleeping, Charlie. The doctor says he’s best here at home. He’s lucky. It was a mild one. But he has to change his lifestyle. He has to slow down and get rid of the stresses. As many as he can.”
I walked to the windows past pairs of white leather sofas on Persian rugs. “Stresses. Like me?”
“No. Not like you. You he needs.”
“Right. To cause him more heart attacks.”
“I doubt you’ll do that. I’m hoping that you’re back to stay. We all are.”
“You’ll work it out with Tony. You always do.” She leaned forward in her chair. “You have to forgive Jack, Charlie. For whatever you think he’s done. You have to make up. It’s killing him.”
I downed my whiskey and headed for the bar. But it wasn’t a good place to stand with all the glittery mirrors reflecting a bad guy who’d betrayed his own dad. I couldn’t look myself in the guilt.
“I don’t know what happened between the two of you,” Julia continued. “Jack doesn’t talk about personal things. He just said that you went away and wouldn’t be back. But there is something you need to know. Jack’s intention with the heroin shipment was to destroy it. Through Willy. He wasn’t into trafficking. Neither was Willy but Willy had some sort of fascination with that particular shipment. There’s more to it. Tony told me so.”
I shuffled my feet. “Did he say what?”
“No. He left it there.”
I refilled Julia’s glass and put the stopper back in the decanter. “It’s not all Jack’s fault. I’ll take my share of the blame.”
“I know Jack better than anyone, Charlie. He can be a monster. And I also know you. You have a good heart. He’s tromped on it a lot over the years and I’m surprised he hasn’t driven you away before. But you’re still here. And we love you. We’re not a family without you. We’re not whole. There’s been a huge void in your absence and we all feel it.”
I plunked down in the opposite chair. “Do you know that you were my first love?” It must have been the whisky.
She smiled. “I did know of your affections, I have to say. You have a hard time hiding them, Charlie. You wear them on your sleeve, so to speak. When you were a boy you always lit up like a neon sign when you saw me. And your homemade Christmas gifts radiated with love. Do you remember the earrings you made for me your first Christmas here? Hearts. Red paper hearts on copper wires. They were so adorable!”
I cringed. “You’re quite a lady you know.”
She plucked a small silver box from the table between us and threw it on my lap. “Open it.”
I did. Red paper hearts glued to copper wires. I wanted to cry.
“I’m only going to tell you this once, Charlie. You belong to us. Whether you like it or not. You’re ours. For keeps.”
I swallowed hard.
I took the stairs to Jack’s bedroom two at a time. And as I expected, the keeper was parked outside his door preparing to take a stand.
“Are you back for good, Charlie?” Tony asked sternly. “Because if you’re not you’d better scram. If you desert him again he’ll die.” He sat there with his arms crossed and with his squinting brown eyes staring me down.
“It wasn’t like that, Tony. You know how I love the guy.”
He raised a crooked eyebrow. “You don’t abandon people you love. Not for any reason. Especially when they’re down.”
Jillian came out of her bedroom wearing an oversized pink t-shirt and little else. “Whoops! I didn’t know we had thugs.” She darted back into her room and slammed the door.
“I won’t let him down again, Tony.”
He shook his old grey head. “You’d better not. Because next time you’ll be dealing with me and it won’t be pretty, Mister.”
Tony decided that I shouldn’t see Jack until I was ‘damn sure of things’ so I was sent away with a firm slap on the nose. I felt like a dog being paper-trained for the second time around.
He walked me down the stairs to the front door. “I’ll call you when Jack is well enough to take another hit.”
Boy, was I being spanked.
IN THE TRIAD WORLD THINGS can suddenly take a turn. Drug lords can choose to become respectable citizens given the right ‘in’. Not that they change their spots they merely mutate. Thus it was with Richard Chang who, in my absence, purchased a multi-million dollar beach house near Horseshoe Bay and began to court Jack through Tony. Lovely.
I nodded to the guards on the steps of 33 Terrace Place and they nodded back. Inside, the place was abuzz with Jack’s usual party mix: his West Van cronies, his crooked cops, his thugs and his relatives. But this day was different; different due to a new element in the way of a very special guest of honor, Richard Chang. And Richard had brought his own thugs along. ‘What a swell party this is.’
Shoeshine greeted me in the foyer. “Charlie. Got any weapons?”
“Who me? Only a knife in my sock.”
“Try to be a good sport, ok? Jack is counting on you today.”
“Alright, Melvin. I’ll do my best.”
His glossy brown eyes squinted at me. “My name is not Melvin. Jack calls me that just to bug me. But you’re not Jack. Not yet at least.”
It seemed there was a reception line now as next to Shoeshine stood Fat Freddie Fong and next to him, Shorty Poo. I bowed. “Goons,” I said in a friendly voice. “I’ve been missing you. Like a toothache.”
The living room was packed like a barrel of sausages with the noise level rivaling a sonic boom. Peter waved me over.
“Nice friends, Charlie. I hear they’re good with knives.”
I nodded. “They’ll come in handy at Thanksgiving. I won’t have to carve the turkey this year.”
Beside him Julia shook her sleek dark head. “I can’t believe Jack! What’s he doing with the Triad?”
“Staying alive,” I answered. “Jack likes to stay alive. And for that matter so do I.”
I shuffled off to the bar where Jillian grabbed my arm. “My god! He’s gorgeous! Don’t tell me let me guess. Richard Chang.” Her eyes were wild.
“In the flesh. He likes flesh. Especially flesh hanging off others.”
She ignored me. “He’s absolutely gorgeous!”
“I like ‘em dangerous! Introduce me, will you Hampton?”
I could think of many reasons not to but before a good one popped into my head Richard was approaching. “Charlie! Good to see you, old boy.” He stuck out his hand.
I could see Jack glaring at me from across the room so I shook it. “Richard.”
He was ogling Jillian. “And this beautiful woman would be?”
“Jillian,” she squealed before I could respond. “Jillian Jones.”
He nodded. “Jack’s daughter. Jack’s absolutely stunning daughter!”
I wanted to barf. The mating dance of the Andean flamingo was being performed before my jealous nose and Jack was glaring at me from a distance. I grabbed my tumbler of whiskey and headed off.
Jack was smiling the smug Jack smile when I finally elbowed my way through the crowd. “Think of the possibilities, Hamster. Richard could be your new brother. “
“I can’t remember ever wanting a brother.”
“That’s because you’re selfish. You want all my attention.”
King Chin was standing beside Jack looking serious. He came to his armpit.
“Is this your new bodyguard, Jack?”
“Maybe. King Chin can do anything he wants to do. I’m not saying no.”
Jillian and Richard approached looking far too happy to be anywhere near me.
“We’re playing tennis tomorrow at Richard’s place!” She beamed up into his lustful eyes. “I’m going to show him how it’s done.”
Oh, Jack, I said to myself on my way to the door. What have you done?
A short three weeks later Jillian was riding high. She called me on my cell with the summons. Like it or not, my presence was required at a dinner at The Salmon House on the Hill and it wasn’t optional. Eight p.m.
Usually I like salmon but I was suspicious. “What kind of dinner?”
She giggled. “I’m not sure but I think it’s an engagement dinner. I think Richard is going to propose.”
How Chinese of him! Skip the formalities of getting to know the bride you ordered. “What? You’ve known this guy for how long? Two days?”
“Three weeks. That’s what makes it so exciting! I’m madly in love with a man I hardly even know. I can’t believe it!”
“I can. And I hope it’s a long engagement.”
“Not. It’ll be a short one. I’m thinking September if we can wait that long. I’m dying to sleep with this guy. But he’s traditional. He wants to do it the old-fashioned way. He won’t even kiss me! I’ll be surprised if we don’t elope.”
“The man is a criminal, Jillian. A drug-smuggler. A murderer. Is that what you want for a husband?”
“Stop it! You’re turning me on! I’ll be wrestling him into bed tonight.”
I sighed. “Ok, Jillian. I’ll be there. With guns on.”
Usually I like salmon. Usually I like salmon. Usually…
Despite the amazing view of the city below I was cranky, crammed into a corner table by the windows with big-elbowed people and none of them tiny — other than for Shorty Poo across from me who started off the evening by kicking me under the table, not an easy feat for a vertically-challenged individual. His head disappeared, I felt a sharp pain on my shin, then out he popped like a Jack-in-the-box with a smug smile on his face. I kicked him back, hard, without moving an inch. “Touché,” I said. Shorty leaned back in his chair to think things through. Since he didn’t understand English I figured he’d suck at French.
Jillian and Richard were rudely pawing each other at the end of the table. If she didn’t stop glowing they might stick her outside as a neon sign.
“Get a room,” I hollered
Jack elbowed me in the ribs. “Where’s your date, Hamster? In the zoo?”
“Yep. In the trees swinging right along beside yours.”
King Chin choked on his water.
Richard ordered drinks for everyone except Shorty. Shorty was driving. I whispered into the server’s ear. “That little guy over there needs a drink. He has a slingshot in his pocket and he’ll break all the glass in this place if he doesn’t cheer up. Keep the booze coming and put his drinks on my bill. He likes coke so use that as mix. And bring me another coffee cup of whisky, will you? My dad doesn’t like it when I guzzle.”
“Got it.” He winked before hurrying away.
Shorty began to relax. And after his third coke he couldn’t stop smiling. It was a goofy smile like that of a little boy who’d just shit his pants. I motioned to the server. “I think the dwarf will skip the wine. But load his coffee up. I’d like to see him drive after that.”
“You’re devious,” he whispered. “I’m learning from you.”
Usually I like salmon but having a sudden taste for whiskey I passed my meal along to Fat Freddie who was eating everything in sight, even the bones off King’s plate. I have to admit I was pretty woozy by the time Richard rose to his feet. He was swaying like a skyscraper during an earthquake. Or was that me? Me, I now thought.
“Straighten up,” Jack ordered. “You’re sliding off your chair.”
“I’ve shrunk. My chin is only as high as the table.”
“Hamster,” he warned. “I’m going to tan your ass.”
“You can’t. Because it’s on the floor.”
Blurry Richard started to move his mouth. He looked like Howdy Doody to me now. “He looks like a fucking puppet,” I said to Jack.
Jack shook his head. “If you don’t shut up I’ll stuff a napkin into your big mouth. This isn’t about you.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said. “Oh, yeah?” I was too drunk to muster anything further.
Howdy Doody produced a velvet box and went down like a hydraulic lift. He was behind the table somewhere but I couldn’t figure out where. “Where did he go?”
“Shut up. He’s proposing.”
“Who to? Is someone else down there?”
The last thing I remember was a lot of clapping. My hangover lasted three days.
IMAGINE MY SURPRISE UPON WAKING up in a bed I’d grown out of twenty years earlier, then having to sneak out. It wasn’t any easier than sneaking in, given that the front door was two flights up. Tony caught me in the entry before I could escape.
“Not so fast, Charlie.” He was wearing a red smoking jacket over black trousers and was looking smug, as though he’d just caught a burglar. “Put those shoes down.”
“It’s five a.m. Don’t you ever sleep?”
“I could ask you the same question. Are you trying to sneak out without breakfast?”
I pointed to the statue of David in the alcove by the door. “He said I could.”
“I have seniority. And I have the coffee on. Humor me, Charlie.”
I put my shoes down and trotted behind the godfather to the kitchen. He did make a good cup of coffee. I parked myself on a stool at the island where I tried to view the city through the clouds below. My eyes hurt.
Tony set about mixing a hangover concoction in the blender, a disgusting mess of tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper sauce, lemon juice and a raw egg.
“I’m not drinking that shit.”
“You will when you see the next ingredient.” He removed a bottle of vodka from the cupboard and poured in several glugs. “Hair of the dog.”
“Hair of the dog sled, you mean. That’s enough for a team.”
He poured the mess into a crystal beer mug and slammed it down in front of me. “Sissy.”
I pinched my nose for the plunge. It wasn’t half-bad.
“Told you.” He smiled like a Cheshire cat. “You weren’t fooling anyone last night with the coffee cup. And getting Shorty drunk wasn’t cool. Richard was pissed when they had to take a limo home.”
“Yes, you are. But I think it’s from the booze. You were pretty drunk last night. Freddie and King had to help you to the Rolls. Jack was not impressed.”
“Tough shit. In case you haven’t noticed I don’t live my life for Jack.”
“I’ve noticed. You live it for yourself. It must be lonely where you are.” His glossy brown eyes danced.
I was beginning to feel remarkably better with each gulp of tonic. “I suppose I should be happy for Jillian. I should be happy that she’s marrying a monster. Jack’s certainly delirious over it all. He’s looking forward to having another mobster in the family. A bigger one than himself.”
Tony laughed. “And me? What’s your take on my view of the engagement? I can’t wait to hear it.”
“You think that Richard is a nice Chinese boy. You understand the Triad and think that Richard has good manners for a cold-blooded killer.”
That made him happy. “Close. You’re close. I’m not unhappy having Richard on my side. You should consider the possibility. You could be friends.”
“When hell freezes over.”
“You may be in for a big surprise one day down the road. Richard just may come in handy.”
“Richard hates me. If I were drowning he’d put his big foot on my head and hold me under. My guess is that Richard will do everything in his power to eliminate me. Everything.”
“Well, brace yourself, Charlie. Because the wedding is only a month away.”
I choked on my medicine. “A month? What’s the rush? She told me September.”
He nodded. “September first. That’s a month away.”
“Just family then?”
“Hundreds. They’re emailing the invitations. It seems that Wednesday’s are good days for weddings since most people book the weekends. So the church is booked and the reception is at the Pan Pacific. West Van Florists will do the flowers. The women made all the arrangements yesterday before he even asked her. She knew it was coming since he’d already declared his love. Maya and Julia have been on the phones nonstop. And I’ve been polishing the cars. We’ll all be dead from exhaustion soon.”
“I won’t be. I’m not going.”
Tony took a fatherly stand. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you, Charlie. You have to go. You’ll break Jack’s heart if you don’t. It’s not optional.”
”You don’t get it, Tony. Richard hates me. And I’m not crazy about him either.”
“He’s a little jealous that’s all. You’re too close to the woman he loves. Which reminds me. I need to ask a big favor. The women are too busy to go with Jillian today. I need you to go with her and help pick out the gown. And whatever else she needs.”
“Tony!” I hollered. “Why don’t you just stick a hot poker in my eye?”
“I know it’s torture for you, Charlie. You love her. But you have to let her go. Gracefully.”
“Are you new? You know I’m the poorest loser on the planet. You know my philosophy on that one. Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser. Give her up gracefully? Bullshit.”
“Thank you, Charlie. I’ll drop the two of you off and you can call me when you’re done. Have lunch together. Enjoy your day. You’ll not get another chance anytime soon.”
Luckily, Jillian falls in love easily and thus chose the first wedding gown she tried on. Veil, accessories and shoes took no time either so soon we were seated at The Flying Pig where she flashed her huge tacky diamond.
“I could have bought you diamonds,” I scoffed.
She screwed up her face. “Diamond stars? Edible ones. I like those cookies.”
“You mock me. You think I’m not capable of providing a decent lifestyle for the woman I love.”
“I didn’t say that. It’s not that you can’t you just won’t. You’re so wrapped up in that profession of yours you don’t see anything else.”
“I see plenty. Behind your head there’s a gorgeous woman with spiked pink hair and a pair of great legs. She’s making eyes at me.”
“That’s what I mean! You’re totally superficial. The exterior of a woman is everything to you.” She searched the menu for an expensive bottle of wine. “So you tell me what happens when a breast is removed. Or a leg amputated after a car crash. Or god knows, a face might be marred. I mean, how fast can you run?”
“You give me too much credit.”
“Change my mind. I’m always open to change.”
“Right. Changing trees, maybe. Hugging a different tree today than yesterday. That’s about it.”
“Touché! But don’t forget that I’m an artist. And a good one. A member of the West Coast six. I’m not only about tree hugging, you know.”
“Right. And you sold your last painting when?”
“Last year. They’re all sold. I need to start up again but I haven’t been in the mood. You know. Leonard vanishing. Jack going off to jail, etcetera. Recent events haven’t exactly inspired me, if you know what I mean.”
I did. I also knew her big anonymous client only too well. Jack, in fact, stored several boxes of her ‘inspirations’ in his warehouse.
The server poured the wine and Jillian raised her glass. “To my favorite brother. You are a pain in the ass but I love you.”
I clinked. “I love you too. And I think you’re making a mistake. A big mistake.”
She thrust the palm of her hand in the direction of my face. “Don’t. Don’t start, Charlie. Don’t spoil my happiness. I need you to be happy for me. It means everything. And I have this horrible feeling that you’re going to cause some sort of trouble.”
“Quel moi?” I raised both arms in the air. “When have I ever caused you trouble? I have only ever loved and protected you.”
She widened her hazel eyes. “Really? That’s very interesting. Do you remember my first boyfriend, Nigel? You beat him up.”
“I did. I was protecting you. Nigel wanted into your panties.”
“Maybe I wanted Nigel into my panties. Did you ever think of that?”
I’d thought about it a lot, actually. “No.”
“And then there was Barry. I invited him to our home for one of Jack’s big parties and you slashed the tires on his car.”
“That was never proven.”
“No? Tony saw you do it. I heard him telling Jack in the library that night. They thought it was hysterical.”
I laughed. “It is kind of funny.”
“No, it isn’t funny, Hampton. You acted like a goon.”
“I acted like someone in love.”
She didn’t get me. She didn’t see the unique me.
“I’m not just a guy, you know. I’m a one-of-a-kind guy. I’m the guy who saw a crack in a chair that no one else could see. Or the dog that saw a rainbow only none of the other dogs believed him.”
She stuck her finger down her throat. “How original! Kate and Leopold, I believe. And why didn’t the other dogs believe him?”
I thought about it. “I guess dogs are shortsighted. They can’t see far enough to see a rainbow.”
“Some dogs are shortsighted, you’re right about that. But they’re all color-blind. They didn’t believe him because they knew he couldn’t see colors.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
She finally laughed. “There was never any hope for us, Hampton. Jack would never let us be. He’s even jealous of our friendship because you’re [_his _]Hamster. He sees me as competition. As someone you might straighten up for and get out from under his thumb. What do you think he’d do if we ended up together? Hmm? Why don’t you think about that?”
“We could always beard the lion together.”
She threw her hands in the air. “It’s too late! It’s redundant. I’m getting married in a month. And I need you to love me enough to let me go.”
I LOOKED GOOFY CARRYING A BRIEFCASE but even goofier if kneed to the floor by a hostile nurse. I therefore carried protection on the eve of Jillian’s wedding. Tina was propped up in bed when I arrived and was staring out the window. I put the flowers on her nightstand before giving her arm a squeeze.
“Hey kiddo. I heard you were awake. I knew you were going to make it, you little bat. Soon you’ll be plastering black flowers all over your face again.”
She smiled. “I think I’ve outgrown that phase, Charlie. What do you think?”
“I kinda’ liked it. I actually thought the flowers were tattoos.”
That made her laugh. “They were stencils. I put them on to hide my face.”
“Why would you want to hide such a beautiful face?”
“I’m not beautiful. I’m hardly even pretty. I won’t ever be noticed with my real face.”
I plucked a mirror from her bedside stand. “Take a good look. I know what I see.”
She took a long-lasting look in the mirror, turning her head from side to side. “I guess I’m not that bad.”
“Not that bad? Shiny dark hair, deep blue eyes, and flawless skin. Oh, and a pouty mouth. Not bad, huh? I wouldn’t let you near a football team if I was your dad.”
She handed back the mirror. “I’m starting to remember, Charlie. I’m remembering sitting with you at the bar talking about the dogs.”
“That’s great! Remembering is a very good sign.”
“There’s something more…”
“Don’t try too hard. It’ll come back. Do you know what tomorrow is?”
She nodded. “A sad day for you. Mom told me that Jillian is getting married. They’re going to the wedding. You must be crushed.”
I squeezed her arm. “You’re only a kid. What do you know?”
“Plenty. I’ve had my heart broken. More than once. So I know what you’re going through.”
I smiled. “So you think I’m in love with Jillian?”
“Ok. Think what you will.”
She cocked her head. “I’m remembering now. There were two men sitting in a booth discussing business. I‘d sneaked past the bouncer to the washroom and their booth was close by. They were watching you sitting at the bar.”
“One guy said something about payback. For something Jack had done. And then the bouncer caught me. Since you’d told him not to let me back in.”
“Trust me. I’ve regretted it. Every single minute of every single day.”
“I needed to tell you what I heard but Matthew wouldn’t wait with me. He wanted to go buy crack. But I had to tell you about these guys. So I found your car and waited for you beside it.”
“You’re a very loyal kid. I don’t deserve you.”
She screwed up her face. “One guy said that Jack had taken something and something would be taken from him. That’s what I heard. Something valuable was going to be taken from Jack. He was pointing to you.”
I parked in Jack’s driveway beside the old Phantom IV. I walked back to the sidewalk and followed the holly hedge to Judge Clark’s front door where I leaned on the bell.
The pompous judge answered in his bathrobe. It was an old worn bathrobe, wine-colored and with a variety of dogs in the pattern, some standing and some upside down. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I came to deliver a message. From your dogs. Hector and Paris. Or Homer. Whatever you called them. Remember the dogs, Judge Clark?”
He opened up the door. “Those dogs are none of your business. They were my dogs. My business.”“
“You’re not very friendly for a guy who tried to have me shot. And tasered. We should make amends don’t you think? To at least have a drink together. You know, since you had your own daughter shot.”
With a flushed face he motioned me in.
“I’ll have whisky. Like my dad, Jack.”
I followed him down a long hallway of Ted Harrison paintings to a sunroom overlooking the city and ocean below. “Make mine big.”
“Cheers, Judge Clark. I’d like to propose a toast. To improved relationships. Because I think enough people have been hurt. Wouldn’t you agree?” I walked to the windows while he plunked his old bottom down on a cushioned wicker chair. He looked tuckered out so I figured it wouldn’t take much to scare him to death.
He sipped his scotch. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“I’m tired of being the object of your revenge and having others suffer for it. And I’m not interested in evening the score although I will if I have to.”
He looked a little scared. “You don’t frighten me. And you needn’t come in here making threats. May I remind you that you are a guest in my home?”
“And Judith’s. Is the good lady home?”
“She’s having her hair done.”
I smiled. “Ironic, isn’t it? You’re attending the wedding of your neighbor’s daughter when you tried so hard to kill his son.”
“You’re not his real son. You’re an orphan.”
“Thank you for that. I didn’t know.” I guzzled my whisky.
He narrowed his beady eyes. “What exactly do you want from me, Charlie?”
“Peace. That’s all.”
He shrugged his little shoulders. “I have nothing to confess.”
“I didn’t ask for a confession. What I’m asking for is a truce. No more guns. Taser or otherwise.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I took to the wicker sofa where I stretched out my legs. “Oh, yes. You do. But let me refresh your memory. You hired a killer who put a bullet meant for me into your daughter.”
Purple patches splashed across his face.
“And you convinced a third-rate cop to go crooked and taser me to death.”
“Tell me, Judge Clark. Was it worth it? I mean, Tina?”
He stared at the floor.
“And do you want to know what really pisses me off?”
“It was all over a prank. I’m not saying it was right. Jack stole your dogs. They were precious to you. But they were a menace to the neighborhood and were an accident waiting to happen. Women and children weren’t safe on the streets with those dogs running lose. So Jack nabbed them. And he sent them to a ranch in Alberta where they still live today.”
He widened his beady eyes. “Do you mean they’re alive?”
“Very much so. And eating their present owner out of house and home. Jack checks up on them once in a while.”
He closed his gaping mouth. “I didn’t know that. I thought they were dead. I thought he’d killed my dogs.”
“Because he sent you the lamb balls?”
“They were lamb balls?”
“Yes. It was a prank. A Jack prank. He didn’t think you’d actually believe that the testicles came from your dogs. He meant it as a joke. Not that it was funny.”
The good judge hung his head. “He shouldn’t have taken my dogs.”
“Maybe you’re right. But he did. It’s history now and I think enough people have paid the price for it, don’t you?”
“I’ll see you at the wedding then, sir.” I put down my empty glass and let myself out.
But I wouldn’t see Judge Clark at the wedding. Outside, two police cruisers were pulling up behind an unmarked car. Robocop struggled his way out of the passenger side of the former. His smile was smug enough to break his face.
“Your friend’s been squealing, Charlie. He’s going a little berserk behind bars.”
I couldn’t think of any friend behind bars at that exact moment. “Mind elaborating?”
Robo leaned his big brown coat against his car in important way, like he was about to receive an award. “Alfonse Vital. Your high school buddy. He says you went to school together.”
I shuddered. “No. We did not. Alfonse went to West Van High. I went to West Van High. We did not go to high school together. Ever. He was never my buddy. Although I did defend him a couple of times when bullies were picking on him. Not that he’s grateful. What’s he been squawking about, anyway? Needing new shorts from West Van Tent and Awning?”
“You don’t have to be mean, Charlie. He says you planted the drugs in his trunk. Got any opinions on that?”
“He says to check the bags for fingerprints.” Robo was cracking up.
“Right. Like I’m stupid enough to leave fingerprints.”
“So it was you then.”
He was wearing on my nerves. “Now, why would I do that? Where would I get that kind of loot?”
“Your new brother? He’s kind of known for that shit, I think.”
I shrugged. “Richard doesn’t like me enough to share. And I don’t like Alfonse enough to set him up. But just for the record, why is Alfonse fingering me?”
“He says you’re carrying a grudge. Just because he tried to kill you. Imagine that!” Robo laughed his head off.
“He said that?”
“Yes. He’s gone a little bonkers. It’s called stir-crazy I think. We pulled his bank records and there’s a rather large deposit we were wondering about. So we asked him. We’d find out anyway so we said he could save us some time. For reduced charges. That’s why we’re here, my friend. To arrest that mean old judge.”
“He told you?”
“Yeah. Alfonse told us everything. Judge Clark is finally going to get what’s coming to him. He was a bastard on the bench. Filled the jails as best he could. And now he’s going to know just how it feels.”
I thought about poor little Tina in the hospital and about Judith who was just pulling into the driveway. “I don’t suppose you could wait a day or two? Jillian is getting married tomorrow.”
“Well, that would be lovely, son,” he said sarcastically. “But you know we can’t. Weddings don’t actually take precedent over the law.”
JACKIE THOUGHT THE PLAN WAS hysterical. He liked the idea of dressing up as a cop and especially liked the hat although it was much too big for his head. For dress rehearsal we were at the Chinatown flat he shared with two other new Canadians, Bob and Joe. Excitement permeated the air as the two roommates sat together on a sagging sofa, a bowl of popcorn between them. The show was about to begin.
Jackie raced into the room. He pushed up his dangling sleeve and shaped his hand like a gun. “Bang bang,” he hollered. “You dead, Amster.”
I laughed. “You’re not supposed to kill anyone, Wildman.”
He groaned. Bob and Joe groaned. They were expecting a performance. “I need a real gun, Amster. I’m charging these guys five bucks each for the show.”
I plucked my Gloc 9 from its holster and removed the clip. “Go crazy. But first let me fix you up.” I rolled up his sleeves and made pant cuffs. “Maya will help. I’m sure she’ll have time to squeeze a little sewing in between her thousand wedding tasks. I’ll tell her it’s for a Chinatown street performance. She’s a sucker for Chinatown where she grew up.”
Jackie nodded. “You good, Amster. You lie good.”
I sat down in a one-armed armchair with a poor excuse for a cushion and wobbly legs. A crooked picture of Chairman Mao glared at me from across the room. “Pretend we’re the church congregation,” I said to Bob and Joe. “We’re sitting waiting for the bride. Richard is at the front of the church.”
Bob, a short square man in his early twenties, hopped up. “I be Wichard.”
I nodded. “Ok. You can be Richard. Go over and stand by the window.”
He headed for the door. “Window.” I pointed like a retriever so he headed for my finger. I led him to the window and told him, “Stay!”.
Joe was sitting cross-legged on the sofa pouting. He was a tall thin boy in his late teens, with a bottom lip quivering like a bowl of tripe. “Who I be? Who I be?”
“You can be Jack. Just get a glass of whisky and knock it back.”
He shook his head. “Who I be?”
I turned to Jackie. “Who he be?”
“He should be Wichard. He’s the tall one.”
“No way,” Bob said. “I be Wichard.” He puffed up his chest. “I be the big quiminal.”
Joe hopped off the sofa, rushed to Bob, and gave him a shove. “Wanna bet?”
Bob shoved back.
Lord give me patience. “Hey guys! You can both be Richard. Ok?”
They seemed to like that. They straightened up, put their arms by their sides, and grimaced. They looked like Richard, all right.
I turned to Jackie. “Ok, Wildman. Go out and come back in.”
He twirled my gun as he headed for the door.
“Not that way. You may scare people in the hall. The bedroom. Come in from the bedroom.”
“Remember your line this time, Jackie. I looked at Bob and Joe. “You guys ready?”
They nodded. They smiled. They were about as excited as King Chin in a knife shop.
Jackie bobbed into the room twirling my gun. “Bomb!” he yelled. “Bomb in church. Bombs away!”
Before I could say ‘cut’, Bob and Joe tackled Jackie, throwing him to the floor and pinning him there. Joe twisted his arm.
“Alp!” Jackie hollered. “Alp me, Amster! Owe! Owe!”
I jumped to my feet. “Get off him, you guys. You’re hurting him.” I tried to pull them off but they were determined.
“Wichard says no.” Joe ground Jackie’s face into the floor. “Wichard wikes torture.”
“Yes he does. But this is only a play. And you’re hurting Jackie. So get the fuck off or I’ll shoot you off.”
When they finally released him, Jackie stood up, rubbed his sore arm, and handed me back my gun. “This isn’t any fun, Amster.” He sadly shook his head. “No fun at all.”
SO NOW I WAS PATROLLING the back of the church and little did I know that Jack would crash to the floor and that I’d be carried away knocked out cold. Sometime later I woke up with a smoking headache. In front of me a jumbo television blared from the wall and beside me a comatose Jackie Chan was bound by copious ropes. We looked like two balls of twine with heads. Across the room, Shorty Poo, still in tuxedo, was seated comfortably in a striped armchair. He had added a Yankee ball cap to his ensemble and was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, laughing his head off. Laughing is infectious so I laughed too.
Shorty plucked a gun from the table beside him. “Don’t move.”
Right. Like I was secured by more rope than the mainmast of the Bluenose and could move if I wanted to? I flashed Shorty my phoniest smile. “I’m not likely going to move, Shorty. Because you, you fucking little pig, have tied me up.”
Shorty put down the gun. “Don’t move.”
Finally. Finally Shorty had two English words to his credit. But it was becoming clear to me that Jackie and I were being held in the bottom level of Richard’s West Van beach house and to confirm this theory Richard came strolling through the patio doors.
“Charlie, old boy!” he said cheerfully. “However are you?”
“Sorry, Richard. No time for chit chat. I’m a bit tied up just now.”
He tried not to laugh. “Very funny.” He said something in Chinese to Shorty and Shorty hooted.
“Ha. Ha,” I said.
Shorty picked up the gun. “Don’t move.” He was showing off his new vocabulary for Richard.
Richard shuffled to the bar to pour himself a scotch. “I’d offer you one, Charlie, but it appears you’re incapacitated at the moment. I shall, however, share my good news. Jillian and I are married. She’s changing into her going away outfit as we speak and everything’s going brilliantly. Jack is my new dad-in-law. That sort of makes us brothers wouldn’t you say?”
I said nothing.
“Oh, come on!” Richard goaded. “Where’s your sense of humor? Surely you, of all people, understand thorough planning. No stone left unturned? I couldn’t exactly leave you in the church, now could I? Given your reputation.”
My ear was itching and I needed to scratch it in the worst way.
“No, I couldn’t.” Richard was talking to himself. “You were up to something. I’ve been sensing it all along. You’re in love with Jillian too. But unfortunately for you, old boy, she’s mine now. All mine. Better luck next time.”
He spoke to Shorty for a few minutes before heading out the door. Shorty picked up the gun. “Don’t move, Chow-we.”
What? Three words now? As twilight came creeping into the room Shorty started to yawn. It appeared that kidnapping two youngsters had tuckered the old guy out. When he finally nodded off into a snoring coma Jackie opened his eyes.
“What did Richard tell Shorty?” I whispered.
“It’s not good, Amster.” He thought for a minute. “Well, some of it’s good.”
“We get a trip to China.”
“We do? What’s not so good?”
“We go dead.”
“I figured as much.”
“It could be worse, Amster. We just get shot. No torture.”
Well, that was just fucking lovely. When Shorty Poo woke up from his nap we’d be properly prepped for a luxury trip to China aboard a private jet. Bang!
I couldn’t even shake with fright I was so tightly bound from shoulder to wrist but in the early throws of twilight I could see Jackie’s face and he didn’t look frightened.
“You’re not scared?”
“No. It has to happen sometime. You scared Amster?”
‘Yeah. A little. There are things I wanted to do.”
I thought about it. “I guess I wanted to have kids.”
“Kids seem to like their own parents. I guess I just wanted to be liked.”
“I wike you, Amster.” He smiled.
“You do? I’m not likeable, Jackie. You know that. What exactly do you like about me?”
“You act like such a big shot and you’re not. You’re just a big phony. That’s what I wike.”
I smiled. “I like you too, Jackie. Let’s plan to have fun together on the other side.”
“It doesn’t matter. I guess what matters is what we do here on earth.”
He thought about it. “I’ve wived good. I was a dentist in China. Did you know that, Amster?”
“You’re only twenty years old. How could you be a dentist?”
“Twaining. Since I was fifteen.”
“Were you any good?”
I was struggling for my pocket with a free dangling hand.
“It’s no use, Amster. You’ll never break the ropes. You can’t cut them because bad guys took your knife. And I can see guards outside with dogs. Our goose is cooked.”
I had been mulling the possibilities all along. “How are you at crying, Jackie?”
He shot me a quizzical look. “I’m the best at cwying. I cwied a wot when I was widdle. When I was hungry. We only had wice to eat and sometimes we didn’t have any wice at all.”
I wanted to hug him but my arms were tied. So, I decided to gamble since I didn’t have much to lose. I was thinking that maybe Shorty had a mother or a brother or maybe even a dog. Maybe Shorty had a heart somewhere in that stocky little body. “Are you any good at tripping, Wildman?” Although his legs were bound, as were mine, we could likely move them in a clump.
Again Jackie smiled. “I’m the best at twipping.”
“Ok. Here’s what we do. You start to cry your little lungs off and if we’re lucky enough to reach Shorty’s soft spot he’ll come to you. That’s when you swing your feet and trip him my way where I’ll bash his head in with my shoes. Got that?”
“Got that. I am the best at cwying and twipping.”
I nodded. “Now.”
Jackie began to howl like a long-lost wolf and sure enough, Shorty gave his head a shake, rose from his chair, and came over to investigate. Clockwork. Jackie took out his feet, I bashed his head with my shoes, and the rest is history. Since I’d already retrieved my lighter from my pocket I quickly burned through the rope and was able to free myself before cutting Jackie loose with a knife from Richard’s bar. With Shorty temporarily out cold for we needed to scurry.
Jackie stretched his little arms. “You saved us, Amster! We’re saved.”
“Not until we make it through the ravine out back without alarming the dogs.”
“Ravine? Oh, Amster! I’m good at ravines.”
WE WERE FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO flag a cab on the old highway into West Van, due to Jackie’s frantic jumping and waving the Yankee ball cap he’d stolen from Shorty, and a hard-up driver needing the fare. At the Pan Pacific I said to Jackie, “Go get your uncle Tony. Tell him to come pay the cab. But do it quietly. Do not, I mean do not, let Richard see you.”
He nodded. “I am good at qwiet. What room?”
“The Crystal Pavilion.”
I bummed a cigarette from the cabby and was shaking the cobwebs out of my brain when a familiar voice called out. “Hampton, you bonehead!”
I walked toward the shadows. “Slick Willy Chan! Fancy meeting you here.”
“Kow Gong said you’d be here eventually. Had a little trouble along the way, did you? You look a little rough.” Even in the shadows the guy oozed class. His shiny dark hair had grown back to shoulder length and he gave his head a toss.
“A little. Richard tried to off me. Jackie too.”
If he was surprised he didn’t show it. “Funny you should mention Richard. Have I got a story for you!” He held up a picture and we stepped into the well-lit porte-cochère. “Analyze this.”
I studied the black and white photo.
“What do you see?”
“I see a man and a woman?”
“He is big and she is little.”
“Brilliant. What race?”
“She is Asian. He’s Caucasian. Her hair is straight. His is curly. Both are in their early twenties I’d say.”
“Does the guy look familiar?”
“He does. But I’m not sure who he reminds me of. Maybe Nicolas Cage. Nick with big soft curls.”
“Age him a little and what do you get?”
“Old Nick Cage?”
“Ah huh! And who do you know that looks like old Nick Cage?”
He stuck the photo in my face. “I think so. What do you think, Charlie?”
“Yep. It’s Nick.”
“You’re just like him, you know.”
“Like who? Nick?”
“No. Jack. Jack will never be dead as long as you’re alive.”
“What’s your point? I knew it was Jack all along. He hasn’t changed that much.”
“My point would be this. You asked me to find Richard’s mother in Beijing. And you gave me clues from Mini Chin. And I did find Won Chang. She gave me this picture.”
“Of her and Jack.”
“Precisely. As you know, Jack takes frequent business trips to Beijing and has for thirty some years. During one of his trips he met, and fell in love, with Won. They had an affair. Then Won disappeared. She wouldn’t let him find her again. But sometime later her brother Genghis and his childless wife announced the adoption of a baby. John Richard Chang.
My heart had gone into a wild thumping mode. Another of Willy’s tricks? “You’re not trying to tell me that Jack is Richard’s father, are you? That’s way too bizarre!”
“There’s no doubt about it. I talked to Richard’s mother myself. She gave me this picture, among others.”
“Do you mean to tell me that Jillian and Richard are sister and brother?”
“I mean exactly that.”
So, now all I had to do was rush right into the Crystal Pavilion and get shot like the proverbial messenger. Luckily, Willy was on my heels.
“Are you sure it’s safe for you to come in?”
He brushed a spec of lint from his suit. “I’m a free man now. Now that Richard is Jack’s son I’ll likely get promoted. By both of them”
It was a Jillian wedding, alright, a dazzling ice palace of crystal, silver and white: white tablecloths, silver chairs, and bushels of white flowers spilling from tall silver vases on myriad tables. Yes, it was a Jillian wedding. And I was just the guy to bust it up.
The newly-weds were standing at the podium when we arrived. Jillian looked regal in her chic Chanel suit and little pillbox hat and had never looked happier.
Richard was speaking. “We want to tell you how very much we appreciate your love and support. And I can’t say this enough. I’m so grateful for this beautiful woman beside me. Thank you, Jack. I shall love and treasure her forever.”
Applause. And cheers.
Jillian stepped up to the microphone. “Ditto for me. I also thank you for your love and support. And I thank Jack for this lovely day. I would also like to thank Richard’s parents. We know they’re watching from above and sending us their love. Richard and I are the luckiest people in the world.”
The band started to play People.
“That’s pretty corny,” I said to Willy.
“So when are you going to piss on their parade?”
“You sure you don’t want the job?”
“Ah, Charlie. You’ve always wanted Jillian. Go claim her.”
I snatched a champagne flute from a passing tray. “Wish me luck.”
I made my way through a room filled with friendly hellos. It was a family wedding, after all.
“Hampton!” Jillian squealed. “I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Richard’s eyes bugged out of his head.
I gave Jillian a hug before grabbing the microphone.
“Ten to one,” shouted Billy the Bookie and the guests came alive. There went selfish Charlie again, ruining the day. It was always all about him. They were definitely in. Chairs pushed back and money changed hands faster than a squirrel could shimmy up a tree.
I looked out at a room full of eager faces. Boy, was I in trouble. “I’d also like to thank Jack for Jillian,” I started.
Small applause and a few moans and groans. Surely I could do better than that.
Oh, oh. Trouble. Shorty Poo came puffing into the room looking pissed. Was it about the goose egg on his head? Or life in general. The goose egg, I figured.
“I have loved and adored Jillian my whole life.”
A few boos. The vultures were hungry for action.
“And I know that she loves me.”
Big boos. I was suddenly the boring part of the evening.
“And I’m hoping that someday she’ll marry me.”
Gasps. Gasps, followed by thunderous applause. Charlie had delivered. He was ruining the day. Billy leapt out of his chair to start paying people off. Or, was he collecting? A little of both, I suspected. He was known for coming out even.
“What are you doing, Hampton?” screeched Jillian above the roar.
Richard stepped up. “I think you’ve said quite enough, old boy. The woman is married to me.”
“Fight,” someone hollered and the crowd went wild. “Fight, fight, fight,” they chanted.
Now, I’m not adverse to the taste blood in my mouth from a good fight. But instead I said, “Unless you want to sleep with your sister, Richard, you’d better listen up.” So now I was suddenly John Wayne?
Maya Chan collapsed onto the table in a dead faint, her face falling into a fluffy piece of cake. Tony shot me a look that could kill a calf. Shorty Poo drew his gun and began to muscle his sore head through the room. “Don’t move, Chow-we.” At the head table King Chin and Freddie were sharpening their bread knives with their thumbs, a promise of real knives to come. No worries. I figured Jack’s crooked cops could keep them at bay with guns.
A loud rumbling went rolling through the room as the guests huddled together to weigh the new odds. Was Charlie about to take a bullet? Primarily known for his knife skills, was Shorty Poo as good with a gun? A few guests nodded and hoped.
Jillian was whining the Jillian whine. “I can’t believe you’d do this to me, Charlie! You’re supposed to love me!”
“Oh, he loves you alright.” Richard nodded at Shorty Poo. “And he wants you for himself.”
I could see Jack thumping toward me from the corner of my eye. “You’ll be the death of me, Hamster! You’ll be the fucking death of me! You don’t even have the decency to show up for your sister’s reception and now you’re trying to bust it up?”
I held up the picture.
Jack grabbed it, studied it, and looked accusingly at me. “Where did you get this?”
“From Willy. He gave it to me.”
Willy stepped up to the podium. “Richard’s mother gave me that picture, Jack. And she told me the story. You are the father of her son. And her son is Richard.” He produced an envelope from his pocket. “These are pictures of Richard growing up. Her brother sent them to her regularly.”
Jack flipped through the pictures before handing them to Richard. “It’s you.”
Richard had only to look at the first one before shouting. “You stole these, Willy! You stole these from my aunt. You’re nothing but a common thief!”
Willy took the insult well, likely because he was a thief. But never common. “These pictures were given to me by your mother,” he said evenly. “She’d like to see you. You and Jack. You can hear the truth from her.”
Jack turned back to the picture in his hand and nodded. “It was before I met your mother, Jilly. A couple of years before.” He looked at Richard. “How old are you son? Thirty-two? Thirty-three?”
“And Jillian is thirty. It makes sense. I did love Won though. And I tried to find her. But she was a good hider, I’ll give her that.” He turned to his new son. “I’ve felt the bond all along, Richard. I just didn’t know what it was. I think we need to track down your mother together. I don’t know how you feel about me. And I don’t know how you feel about your aunt being your mother. It’s a little complicated I think.”
Richard motioned to Shorty who lowered the gun but he didn’t look happy. King Chin and Freddie put down their bread knives, also not happy. I thought Richard was going to cry.
Jack stepped up to the microphone. “The wake is at my house. And the last one there is a dirty shirt.”
With that he hopped from the podium, intent on helping Tony help Maya to her feet.
And just then Jackie Chan, proudly waving his trophy Yankee hat, came rushing through the door hollering. “Kow Gong! You need to come pay the cab!”
I WALKED WILLY OUT FRONT where he ordered up his rental car.
“You’re safe now I presume.”
He nodded. “Richard won’t dare anger his new father. I’ll be back working for both of them soon.”
“Right. You little thief. You’ve earned their respect.”
He punched me on the arm. “Read it and weep.”
“I figure you owe me an explanation.”
He groaned. “You’re such a pain in the ass!”
“I am. And I need to know the truth about Leo. There’s something really strange about his death. And I know that you know. And maybe only you.” And Jack. Jack knew quite a bit about the heroin injected into the thigh. By force.
Hot babes went wiggling by giving Willy the eye. I could see him checking them out from the corner of his eye while he pretended to be interested in what I had to say.
“Talk,” I demanded.
“You’re not going to believe it, Charlie.”
“Try me. Try the truth. It might be a refreshing change.”
He started to pace. “It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I iced him.”
I almost fell over. “You did what?”
“I iced him. I iced Leo.”
“I don’t believe you! You’re not a murderer.”
“We’re all murderers when we have to be. What do you know about his death?”
“Heroin. Injected into the thigh by force? That was you?”
“It was a murder of compassion.”
“Starting with Leo’s begging me to do a very special favor for him. Maybe you remember that part. That’s when I gathered the cameras and microphones up and put them in my gym bag.”
“Holy shit! I do remember. It’s the last thing on the disc.”
“Well, next came the hard part because I had to wrestle Leo down. I tied him up with a bed sheet and, as much as he struggled, I injected him with enough heroin to kill a hypo. And that bugger was strong. He wasn’t the only one with bruising.”
I must have looked like an idiot standing there with my mouth gaping. “I don’t believe you! I’ve known you most of my life and you’re not a killer. You’re a damn good thief but not a killer.”
“Oh, but I am. I’m fully capable of murder when asked to do it as a favor.”
“Leo asked you to murder him?”
“Why? Because he was scared of Richard’s revenge over the drugs?”
“It wasn’t about Richard at all. I did it for the thrill.”
“You murdered Leo for the thrill?” I screeched.
He was rapidly losing patience. “Of course, I didn’t! You used to be a better listener, Charlie. I told you earlier that I could do almost anything for compassionate reasons. If you remember I took a call for Leo while he was taking his evening bath. It was from his doctor. Leo had been fighting a rare form of galloping cancer. He had less than a few weeks to live. It was going to be a very painful end and he didn’t want to suffer. Or go blind.”
The valet delivered Willy’s rental.
“And how did you get him up to Squamish?”
“With Jackie’s help. I grabbed a wheelchair from downstairs, threw a hat on Leo’s head and a blanket over his shoulders and took him down in the service elevator in the middle of the night. We drove up to Squamish and dumped him off a cliff.”
I gasped. “Jackie knew? And he never said anything?”
Willy smiled. “And he never will. Jackie is Chan.”
“Did Tony know?”
He shrugged. “Tony is Chan.”
We stood there is silence while I caught my breath. “You’re an amazing man, Mr. Chan.”
“And don’t you forget it. And don’t you forget our deal.”
Right. Only a fool would dare to double-cross ‘slick’ Willy Chan. “Are you coming to the house?”
“Na. You guys have a lot to sort out.”
When the valet opened the door, Willy slipped in behind the wheel. “I told Jackie that I’d drop him home. He was on his third plate when we left so I expect him out soon. Well, before dawn. The guy can eat.”
“He’s had a tough day. He’s likely hungry.”
Affection flickered in Willy’s eyes. “You’ve taken good care of my cousin, Charlie. I owe you for that. And Jackie worships you although I don’t know that he’s chosen the right role model.”
“He has,” I said and we both laughed. “But I’m puzzled about something. Jackie says he was a dentist in China. How can that be? He’s only twenty years old.”
Willy grinned. “He was a dentist in China. He’s not lying. He extracted teeth. During torture. Without anesthetic.”
My knees went weak. “Jackie?”
“He had to earn a living.”
WITH THE WEDDING FIASCO ABATED, Richard, entourage in tow, headed to his beach house to lick his wounds while back in the Properties, Jillian took to her bed. Jack took to the whiskey and I took to a chair. It was a shocker, all right.
“Guess they didn’t want to celebrate an un-wedding,” said Jack. “Or the birth of my son. The driveway is empty.”
Julia joined us in the living room, along with Tony who’d put Maya to bed in the guesthouse. Poor Maya. All those hours of meticulous planning gone with a single swoosh. No longer would I be her favorite boy.
Julia perched on the arm of Jack’s chair where she started to mess up his hair. “You’ve had quite a day, Monster Jack.”
“You did too. You got yourself a brand spanking-new nephew. And the bonus is, you can now drag King Chin home for an evil weekend whenever you like.”
She smacked him on the arm. “You’re incorrigible!”
“I’ve still got it. You need to move on though, my dear. Stanley’s been dead for a quarter-century.”
Julia looked hot in her tight taupe dress. “You liked Stanley didn’t you, Jack?”
He winked at me. “Stanley was about as reliable as Hamster over there. He wouldn’t have shown up for his sister’s wedding party either.”
He was starting to piss me off. “I told you that I was tied up.”
“Poor excuse, Hamster. Unacceptable. Nothing comes before family.”
“Oh yeah? Try this one on for size. Your new son Richard had me kidnapped. His goons knocked me out at the church.”
Jack perked up. “Richard did that?”
“He did. He thought I might cause trouble. Can you imagine that?”
“Trouble? Not you, Hamster!”
“You sound like you don’t believe me.”
He gave me the Jack look. “Oh, but I do. Richard isn’t stupid.”
I left my chair and walked to the bank of windows overlooking the ocean below. “He kidnapped Jackie, too. That’s what’s bothering me. Richard planned to kill us both and my stupidity almost cost the life of an innocent kid. Well, maybe not so innocent but a kid nevertheless.”
The doorbell rang and Julia hurried to answer it. Through the open living room we watched Peter Selic swoop in and plant a kiss on her mouth. He gathered her body against his and she snuggled in.
Jack’s jaw dropped. “What the hell is Peter Selic doing kissing my sister?”
“I’m going to punch him in the mouth.”
I grabbed his arm. “Sit down, Jack.”
He sat back down on about an inch of his chair. “Peter is mauling my sister and I’m going to break his face.”
“Really? Would that be before or after they move in together? Because I think it’s tomorrow.”
“What?” he roared. “Move in together? Why didn’t somebody tell me?”
“She’s your sister. Ask her.”
“I can’t believe that nobody told me!”
“Think about it. If you’d known would you have let them be?”
Jack had an innocent look in his repertoire, which he summoned up. “Honestly?” He sat back in his chair. “I don’t know. Maybe I would have.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t. I just don’t know.”
“Let me fill in the blanks. You would have done everything in your power to break them up. You’d have come up with more tricks than Houdini. Julia is your possession. You’ve placed her on a pedestal for only you to enjoy. The idea of sharing her with somebody else rips your gut out. Like it’s doing right now.”
A tear trickled down his cheek and he gave a little cough. He wiped his face with his sleeve. “I just want to protect her.”
“She’s a big girl, Jack.”
Julia came waltzing into the room to plant a kiss on her brother’s forehead before proceeding on to me. “Good night you two reprobates. I love you both!” With that she rejoined Peter in the foyer and they hurried out the door.
Tony, who’d been hovering in the hallway, came rushing in. “Did someone say whisky?”
Jack held out his glass. “And don’t be so stingy this time.”
After Tony delivered Jack’s booze he took Julia’s place on the arm of his chair. “Do you know what, Charlie? I raised this guy from a pup in his parent’s home. And I was only a kid when he was born. Eighteen.”
Jack howled. “Tell the truth, Tony. You were thirty when I was born. You were just immature.”
Tony clunked him on the head with a swizzle stick. “I changed his diapers.” He pinched his nose. “Puwee! And cleaned strained peas off my face when he spit them back at me. I taught him to skate like an Asian and how to fight off the bigger kids who picked on him. Sometimes I even went out and smacked them around myself.”
Jack nodded. “You look after me good, Tony.”
“And don’t you forget it! And if you have any idea of replacing me with Shorty Poo or Fat Freddie Fong you’d better think again. I have my own connections and trust me, mister, they’re not pretty.”
Jack’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Mister? I think you can call me Jack now. You’ve known me long enough.”
Again Tony clunked him on the head with the metal swizzle stick. “I call you Jackie. You’ll always be Jackie to me. And if you plan on doing anything stupid tonight you’ll have to answer to me. Me. Tony Chan.”
After Tony had gone Jack shifted into argumentative mode where he excelled. “I should be happy. I’ve always wanted a son.”
I said nothing. Richard could have him. I didn’t care.
“Then again, I’ve been lucky enough to have had an almost son. Someone who means the world to me. Willy.”
He was trying to get under my skin. “That’s nice.”
“Shit, Hamster! Aren’t you even going to argue?”
“Call Richard if you want to argue. Or Willy. I’m sure either would be happy to humor you at three a.m.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What’s the matter, Hamster? You usually like to banter. You’re usually more fun.”
I walked back to the windows to soak in the city below. It was a clear night dotted with streetlights spilling down the mountainside and disappearing into the ocean below. Soon the birds would be singing and the lights on The Lions Gate Bridge would fade away. “I was stupid today. I knew the dangers. I had no business enticing Jackie Chan.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, Hamster. You didn’t know about Richard’s plans.”
“I did though. I could feel it in my gut. I could smell the danger as soon as I walked into the church. I could have gone outside and sent Jackie home. But I didn’t. Because I was selfish. I wanted to break up that wedding no matter what.”
Jack nodded. “It’s ok to be selfish. Look at me.”
While eying up the old reprobate a couple of adjectives came to mind. Unmanageable. Unsalvageable. And I was just like him because he’d made me that way. He wasn’t the kind of dad that took his boy fishing, if you get my drift. Unless it was for trouble. Maybe Biker would take me fishing one day down the road, if I actually wanted to learn how to fish, which I didn’t. I walked to the bar to pour myself a drink.
“That’s better, Hamster. There’s nothing so bad that whisky can’t cure.” He held out his glass. “Five fingers will do nicely.”
“I’m going to marry Jillian. When the dust clears.”
“What? No argument?”
“Not at this time. It wouldn’t do much good.”
I handed him his poison. “Do you mean you’d sanction it?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far. Hardly. You wouldn’t want me to tell a lie, now would you?”
I plunked down on the big white sofa and hoisted my feet. “State your objections.”
He was just warming up. “Well, for starters, I don’t like the possibilities. I don’t like the thought of Jillian getting into your head with values and scruples and trying to make a decent guy out of you. I don’t want her undoing all my hard work. Do you know how long it took to corrupt you? Years.”
“It’s either her or me. You’ll have to make a choice.”
“And if I choose her?”
He shot me a venomous look. “That would be a mistake. But it’s hypothetical since it isn’t my decision. It’s Jillian’s. It’s her you’ll have to convince. And my guess is she’ll blow you off. You’re too much like her old dad.” He downed his drink and thrust the empty glass in my face. He was worried.
I stood up. “Don’t bet on it. But if I do convince her would you give us your blessing?”
“You know I’m not a religious man, Hamster, so I couldn’t do that.”
“I’m going up to ask her right now.”
Jack giggled. “You’re stupid, Hamster. It’s three a.m. The morning after you busted up her wedding. I’m sure she’s anxious to contemplate another one. Maybe even next week. That’s how long she thought about this one.”
I took the stairs two at a time and pounded on her door.
“Go away,” she screamed.
“I love you, Jillian.”
“Oh, goodie. Let’s rush right back to the church.”
“I love you.”
“And I know that you love me.”
She opened the door. She was wearing her favorite baggie pink t-shirt and little else. “I don’t need this right now, Hampton. I’ve had a bad day.”
“And you blame me.”
“No, I don’t. It was circumstances, that’s all. The cards were stacked against me.”
“They were actually stacked in your favor, Jillian. Trust me. There’s a lot about this guy you don’t know. And don’t want to know.”
She looked at me through big sad eyes. “But he’s my new brother. How bad is it?”
“Bad. But enough about him. Come here and let me give you a hug.”
I held out my arms and she stepped between them. I held her tight.
Someone was clearing his throat at the bottom of the stairs. “Put some clothes on, Jilly. I need the two of you in the library right away.”
It wasn’t an option. I took the stairs down three at a time. I roared through the hallway and banged the library door on my way through. “This better be big, Jack. This better be damn big.”
“Pour yourself a stiff one, Hamster. It’s big.”
Jillian wasn’t far behind. She’d thrown a bathrobe over her shirt and fluffy pink slippers on her feet. She collapsed into a wing chair by the fire.
Jack set a tumbler of whiskey on the table near his daughter. “It’s cool in here so I thought I’d take the chill off. Nothing like a roaring fire.”
She picked up her glass. “You know I don’t drink this shit.”
“Try it. It might take the edge off. You’ve had a rotten day.”
A little sip later she made a face. “Ug!”
He smiled. “See? I knew you’d like it. Have a chair, Hamster. You’re going to need one.”
I took the opposite wing chair as Jack pulled up a worn leather hassock. Cozy. He cleared his throat. “I don’t know where to start but I’ll give it a shot. It was a shock today to learn that the man who was to be Jilly’s husband is now her half-brother and my whole son. It’ll take a while to adjust to the new family structure. For all of us. But since my offspring seem to be coming out of the woodwork there’s something else you both need to know.”
“I have another kid.”
“What?” Jillian screeched. “There’s another one? You just can’t keep it in your pants, can you, Jack?”
“Jesus, Jack!” I hollered. “How many more are there?”
“Only one. That I know about.”
Jillian giggled. “That’s the problem. You didn’t know about Richard. Chances are there are kids all over the world looking for you. You travel a lot. How many children are out there looking for their Senior Papa?”
“And Mon Pere?” I added. Jillian and I clinked glasses.
Jack was not amused. “You need to hear me out. This happened a long time ago. It was a one-night stand. It happened here, actually. It was my dad’s house then, before the addition, and he loved to throw parties. I was a wild seventeen-year-old with a fast Corvette. I don’t know if the girls loved me but they definitely loved my car. I ran with an older crowd and dated older girls. I didn’t get people my own age.”
Jillian screwed up her face. “You still don’t.”
We clinked again.
“Will you two stop?” Jack roared.
She hiccupped. “Think about it, Jack. All your friends are at least eighty years old. Like your lawyer, Benny the Beagle. What’s he now, ninety-nine? He was your grandfather’s lawyer, wasn’t he?”
“And Sammy,” I added. “He’s got at least one foot in the grave. Maybe two. And then there’s Tony.” We clinked again.
Jack sighed. “Aren’t you even curious? Either of you?”
Jillian curled into a ball. “I know I can’t wait to split my inheritance. A hundred ways.”
“That works for me.” We clinked. “My little income is going to look good to you soon, Jillian.”
Jack cleared his throat. “I might have to take both of you over my knee.”
“You and whose army?” said Jillian. Clink. The glasses were splintering like wood chips and she was getting tipsy. But she was on the upward swing. “Let me guess the rest of the story. You had sex with a girl in this very driveway. In your Corvette. That couldn’t have been easy given your size.”
I was into the game. “He was an athlete. Oops, sorry. He didn’t make the team. He was a cheerleader. But he was very nimble. He could easily have done it in a Corvette.”
Jack shook his head. “Who raised you two?”
“Duh!” We clinked.
He was losing patience. “I’d like to finish the story. With no adlibbing. If you’d both be so kind.”
I turned to Jillian. “Should we let him?”
“Ah. Why not. There’s nothing else to do at four a.m. Shoot, cowboy.”
Jack was pissed. “You’re a silly pair. This woman was very beautiful. She had long dark hair and deep blue eyes. And she was twenty-one.”
“A child molester,” said Jillian.
Jack ignored her. “She was engaged to a really nice guy. They’d had a fight at the first party we were at and he went home without her. She and her girlfriends followed me here to Dad’s. I guess we got drunk and she ended up in my bed. I don’t remember much about it.”
“That’s what they all say when they impregnate,” Jillian teased. “I don’t remember.”
She held out her empty glass for clinking but Jack snatched it away. He walked to the bar, refilled it, and placed it back in her hand.
“Don’t you just love fairytales, Hampton? I know I do.”
I downed the last drop and held out my glass. “I’m waiting for the punch line. It ought to be good.”
Jack brought the decanter to refill my glass. “Drink up, Hamster. You’re going to need this.”
When we’d all settled back in he rambled on, “I didn’t know about the child for several years. She married her fiancé, someone told me, and was happily settled down. Then one day I got a telephone call. She asked me to meet her for lunch. We went to the old Park Royal Hotel.”
“Oh, sure,” Jillian said drunkenly. “Back in the sack.”
“The restaurant!” he snapped. “It was there she told me that I was the biological father of her child. Her husband didn’t know and never would. And she wanted nothing from me, she said, unless something happened to them both. In that case she hoped I’d step in.”
“And you did,” I said dryly. “When my parents were killed in a car crash you stepped in. Is that what you’d like me to believe?”
“It’s the truth.”
“Bullshit! It’s just another one of your stories. You’re a master of them. A twenty-first century Edgar Allan Poe. You want to keep Jillian and I apart and you’d go to any length to do it. Even to the extent of tarnishing my memory of my mother. You’re disgusting.”
No wisecracking from Jillian. She was too smart for that.
“That’s exactly why I didn’t tell you before, son. Exactly why. I didn’t want to taint your memories of those two lovely people in any way. It was easy not to tell you and I likely never would have but I can’t stand idly by and let you marry your sister. I don’t think she needs to marry both her brothers. We’re not rabbits.”
I just sat there shaking my head.
Jillian, the coward, copped out in silence.
Jack dug in. “Have you never even considered the possibility, Hamster? Look how much we are alike. Although you look like your mother, you’re a lefty, like me. And you’re tall like me. Your other dad was short.”
I leapt out of my chair. “I’m only six feet. You’re six four.”
“You’re six one and a half. At least.”
“I’m six feet. The last time you and Tony measured me I was six feet tall.”
“We lied. You were so sure you’d grown we wanted to bug you. You’re six one and a half, possibly six two. You grew a little after high school, I think.”
I stomped to the bar.
“You can ask Tony. He’ll tell you the truth about your origin.”
Jillian stood up, stretched like a warm cat, then shuffled to me in her big furry slippers. She put her arm around my waist. “Hey, Bro. Give it up. Just think about Christmas. Three stockings on the mantle now. Yours, mine, and Richard’s.”
“Sounds like a rock group to me.” Tony had been standing in the doorway listening. “I’ll be the drummer.”
“You’ll be good at it,” I said sarcastically. “You’ve been marching to Jack’s drum for years.”
Tony didn’t take offense. “You’re just sore, Hamster. But you have no right to be. Jackie has been a good father to you. Trouble is, he spoiled you. When you don’t get your own way, you pout. I thought you’d outgrow it but you didn’t. Right now you’re standing there pouting like a spoiled brat. And why? Because you finally found out that the guy you love more than anyone in the world is your real dad. Biological. I bet that really sucks.”
Well, that shut me up.
It shut Jack up too.
But not Jillian. She’d had a snoot full. “The Fucked-Up Trio. That’s what we’ll call our band. Hampton, Jones and Chang. Has a ring to it, don’t you think?”
Tony laughed. “The Comeback Kid. That’s what you are, Jilly. You’ve got more guts than Dick Tracey.”
“Cliché!” She waved her finger in the air and headed for the bar. “Hampton is the dick.”
“Ata girl,” Tony said. “Pour me one, too. A big one. When Charlie takes over Jack’s company he’ll be putting me in a home.”
”He’ll have to fight me first,” she said. “And Richard. It’ll be a fierce three-way fight for the top job. And being a hot chick I have an advantage with the board.” She turned around and wiggled her ass. “My aunt.”
“My aunt, too,” I said, coming out of the pout after catching evil eye exchanging between Jack and Tony. They were killing themselves laughing inside. “There’ll be a war.”
“Good for you, Charlie,” Tony said. “Get in there and fight for what’s rightfully yours.” His eyes were twinkling like a starry night. “Of course, you’ll both have to fight your new brother. And from what I hear he fights dirty.”
“So does Hamster,” said Jack proudly.
Jillian went all-indignant. “What about me? Remember how you taught me to kick the boys in the balls, Jack? Then stick my finger in their eye and twist? I can execute. The top job is mine!”
I was in. “We should phone Richard and get him out of bed. He’ll want a part in our new sappy opera. Or is it a soap opera? All Jack’s Children.”
That got a laugh. Jillian and I stood together, arms locked. “Nothing will change,” she said. “You’ll still be Jack’s favorite. And Richard will nuzzle his way in ahead of me.”
I giggled. “He’ll slash his way in. With his machete.”
Tony couldn’t stop nodding. “I like the new family. There are strong genes moving in. We can always use new blood.”
“Speak for yourself,” I said. “Like, we need more corruption in this family. Like we need a mafia lord who controls the entire Pacific Rim.”
Jack looked at Tony and Tony looked back.
Tony’s eyes were dancing. “You’re naive, Charlie. Very naïve. Exactly who do you think I am?”
Jack’s whisky came up through his nose.
By six a.m. Jack and I had guzzled the others under the table, figuratively speaking. Tony and Jillian staggered off to bed but we hung in.
“So you liked my fairytale,” Jack said.
“Now I do. But you had me going for a while.”
He chuckled. “You looked pretty anxious I have to say.”
“Can you blame me? You threw a wrench into my childhood. I was ten years old when I came to live with you. And you’ve done nothing but torment me ever since. Are you ever going to let me be?”
He made a face. “No. I don’t see any reason to. Until you came along I had only Tony to pick on. And Tony doesn’t get all flustered like you do. You’re a lot more fun.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“But we did accomplish something though, Hamster. We got Jillian going. That loud sobbing coming from her bedroom turned into gales of laughter. She had a party tonight and had such a lot of fun.”
“She was drunk, Jack. She’ll be sober today and sobbing again.”
“Then I’ll make up another story. That’s what dad’s do. But she’ll get over him. She got over Leonard fast enough. And Overcoat before the Cleaver. Tomorrow there’ll be someone new and another wedding by Christmas.”
I smacked my chops.
“Not you, you big mutt. But speaking of Leonard there’s something you should know.” He shifted in his chair, pulled a paper from his pocket, and tossed it on my lap.
“What?” It was an email from Leonard in Oregon wanting more money. “I don’t get it.”
“You wouldn’t since you’re not in the habit of buying people. Not yet, at least. I bought Leonard off. And he wasn’t that greedy. In fact, I couldn’t believe it was so goddamn easy.”
“Well, apparently he thinks he’s worth more from what I’m reading.”
Jack couldn’t stop giggling. “Can you believe it? Like he thinks this is an extortion plan. That he can squeeze me for more. Silly bugger. I say let him come back and tell Jilly he accepted a payoff. She’ll really respect him for that.”
I sat back in my chair to study my surrogate dad, my mentor, the man I longed to be. Maybe it was time to tell him.
Tony came in with a coffee pot and three mugs on a tray. The guy never slept. “Time to straighten up, Jackie.” At the bar he poured three steaming cups of coffee adding cream, sugar and a double shot of whiskey in each.
“What took you so long?” barked Jack. “I almost sobered up.”
Handing Jack his mug, Tony slapped him on the head. “For what you’re paying me? Well, best not to get into that.”
The three of us sipped in silence until Tony casually said, “Charlie. Is there something you’d like to tell your new dad?”
Eek. He knew. I tried to buy time. “I guess.”
He tossed me the Tony look. “Charlie? We haven’t got all day.”
“Alright, already.” I cleared my throat. “There’s something I need to tell you, Jack. But it stays within this room. It’s not for your new son Richard’s ears. Ever.”
He yawned. “Did you rob a bank, Hamster?”
“Sort of. I robbed a heroin shipment.”
He bolted up in his chair. “What? You did what?”
Tony’s eyes were dancing out of his head.
“I robbed a shipment. But it’s more complicated than that. It wasn’t about the drugs at all.”
Jack looked confused. “I’ll need another coffee, Tony. What the hell was it about then?”
“I should likely tell you when you’re sober so you’ll remember.”
My turn to get a slap on the head from Tony Chan.
“Alright. The godfather has spoken so I’ll tell you, Jack.”
Tony was breathing down my neck. “From the beginning.”
Big deep breath. “Well, you know most of it. The drugs come ashore, I find them at Pearson, tell Richard that he may go down so he backs off. But what Richard doesn’t know is that something else is buried in his shipment. Something considerably more valuable than heroin.”
Jack’s mouth fell open. “What?”
I looked at Tony. “He may need another coffee for this.”
Tony complied. “He’ll sleep for a week but maybe we’ll get some peace for a change.”
I treaded softy. “I’ll back up a bit. Leo is a collector of priceless Chinese antiques. Ming vases and such. He also knows buyers up and down the coast so when he stumbles upon a collection of hot artifacts in China he leaps. He controls Richard’s shipments, as you know, from field to production to export.”
Tony looked bored. “Get to the point, Charlie.”
“So Leo decides to pack a few Chinese treasures into the shipment, like stolen bronze daggers dating back to the Qiang minority, 5th century BCE. Only 27 cm in size they fit nicely into double-barreled oil drums. There are also priceless jade pots and urns and dragons in the loot, etcetera. All small and just the right size to be tucked between bags of heroin.”
Jack’s eyes grew huge. “How did you know they were there?”
“I didn’t. I came across them unpacking the drugs.”
“And someone in our presence may want to fill you in.”
Tony screwed up his face. “Willy knew. And so did Reynolds Woo. Their competition was never about the drugs. Both were hacking into Leo’s mail. They were both after the priceless artifacts.”
Jack was calculating. “What are they worth, Tony?”
He chortled. “They’re priceless, Jackie. Hardly anybody has enough money to buy them.”
He shifted in his chair. “So who does?”
Tony looked at me. “Who does, Charlie?”
“The artifacts will be split between two distributors, one here in Vancouver, the other in LA. Willy has one and Reynolds Woo the other. Through these middlemen, private collectors will pay hundreds of millions for a tiny sword or a dragon.”
Jack was mulling. “And what’s in it for you, Hamster?”
I tried to be cool but was visibly sweating. “Well, if I don’t turn the loot in I’ll collect a finder’s fee. I’d share some with Jackie, of course. I owe him a lot for almost getting him killed.”
Tony couldn’t stop smiling. “And, of course, the godfather will get his cut.”
Jack made a sour face. “You’ve been keeping secrets from me, Hamster.”
I stretched my neck. “You must be devastated since you’ve never kept secrets from me.”
He turned to his confident and they locked eyes. “What do you think about this little shit, Tony?”
“I think he’s a lot like his dad. Like father like son. Can you believe it, Jackie? Charlie’s gone bad.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Hopefully you’ll remember your old dad during your new crime spree, son.”
Tony shook his wise old head. “As I said, like father like son. You won’t get a wooden nickel.”
Jack’s eyes teemed with devilment. “Maybe I won’t. But then again, maybe I will. In case you haven’t noticed The Jack is back.”
At that point I made a wise decision. I decided not to tell the two old hopefuls that I had every intention of turning the artifacts in.
OVER THE COURSE OF THE next three weeks I drank enough vodka to kill a large bull. It was all Beethoven’s fault. Beethoven kept tempting me to drink from the bottle with his face etched into it, so I did. Straight from the bottle since the dishwasher and sink were piled high with dirty glasses. But about Beethoven. Wasn’t the guy German and ought to have been guzzling Schnapps? Not that it mattered. Beethoven and I were best buds now. I called him Beeto and he, in turn, never once lectured me on drinking to excess because he knew how bitter I was. I told him often enough.
Jack had put the screws to me for the last time. I was an orphan now and it didn’t feel half-bad. It didn’t feel half-good either but then who was counting? At least Jack couldn’t steal from me anymore. Imagine him ordering his thugs to break into my condo and to steal the priceless Chinese artifacts I’d planned to hand over to the law. And imagine him partnering with my former best bud, Willy Chan, also Reynolds Woo, the computer-hacking savant, to fence them. Naturally, godfather Tony would get his cut too. Everyone was going to be getting rich but me.
“I’m saving you from the dark side,” Jack told me when I went to his warehouse to deliver my farewell speech. “I removed the temptation for your own good. I was saving your lily-white ass, Hamster.”
Well, his Hamster was not going to be his Hamster anymore. His Hamster was going to be his old self — Charlie Hampton, the hotshot PI. If only I believed it. If only I believed that separation from the man who’d raised me in his own corrupt image would be a piece of cake. Cake? A bottle of vodka, maybe. I hurt. I missed the Port. I missed the pungent odor of decaying algae and the clanking of busy cranes rising like long-necked geese to deposit grain and sulfur and lumber into the bowels of freighters, even though Jack’s final words were still stinging me on the ass. He’d been sitting in his worn leather office chair, rubbing his sandy curls and pawing his mustache, a ceremony not unlike a bull hoofing the ground before charging the red flag.
“If it’s about the money, Hamster, you’ll get it in the end anyway. When I die you and Jillian and your new brother, Richard, will get it all. Well, I’m not leaving Richard a lot, actually. No need to give him another reason to whack me.”
What? The biggest drug lord on the Pacific Rim might kill his own dad for the money? Not the Richard I knew. No, Richard would do it for the thrill.
Our final parting words kept plaguing me. “You think I’ll be back, Jack, but I won’t be,” I’d muttered defiantly. I pictured myself trudging away with my hobo pack on a stick over my shoulder. I’d done that before, by the way. Several times, between ages ten and eleven while I was failing to adjust to my new owner, Mr. Jones. “I won’t be back, Jack.”
His round green eyes had twinkled that same old twinkle. “Gone for good are you, Hamster? Don’t forget your toothbrush.”
Nice. Since I’d owned my own condo for the past fifteen years I found him about as funny as a broken nose. He’d be sorry though. After I drank myself to death he’d be so damn sorry he’d likely burn my clothes. And maybe I’d be in them. I downed the last drop in the last Beethoven bottle.
Well, then. Time to order up another case of vodka online and to again argue with some clod wanting to switch me over to Grey Goose. Right, Clod. I understood commission. But I wasn’t about to abandon loyal Beeto who’d seen me through my complete disintegration. Oops! Did I accidentally type the word [_clod? _]Yup. Humorless Clod responded by sending me a virus that I couldn’t even drink. Plan B. After rescuing my iPhone from a pile of dirty laundry I dialed Donald the Doorman to order an old-fashioned booze run.
For the next four days I reloaded software between bouts of drinking and feeling sorry for myself, and pornography. For some strange reason Donald the Doorman kept tucking porn magazines into my booze bags, which got me worrying some. I was seriously anxious about the protocol around properly thanking Donald for such thoughtfulness and about what I should actually say to the letch. I mean, what do say to a guy that fond of body parts? ‘Thanks for the porn, Don. You’re a hell of a guy.’ Or, was that too chummy? Maybe I should say more formally, ‘You are most considerate, Donald. Most kind. You know that I’m a shut-in and still you continue to keep me in touch with the outside world.’ In the end I decided against thanking Donald at all.
Nearing the fifth week of my self-imposed isolation I started babbling to the monster in the mirror. He was a looker, all right. He had a werewolf quality to him, black-faced and shaggy, with haunting sky-blue eyes. He looked familiar though. He looked like someone I’d been before, in another life. In that life I’d had a family and I was in love with a beautiful girl who refused to love me back. A familiar story? I mean, a lot of guys are walking around with broken hearts and nobody gives a damn. Get over it, people say. So, that’s what I told the werewolf in the mirror. I said, ‘Get over it, Wolf.’ And without contemplation Wolf answered back. ‘Give me vodka, you cheapskate. A lot of vodka.’ So I did. I gave Wolf a lot of vodka if only to prove my generosity. So, now I was guzzling vodka with a werewolf and I wasn’t even ashamed. I wasn’t exactly in a position to bond with my new BBF, however, my lying on the bathroom floor, face down. And do you want to know the worst part? Wolf abandoned me too – after saying something about pathetic pity-parties and the need to breathe. Talk about gratitude! I rolled over to count the stars. High up in the sky the stars were twinkling in the plaster. Put that on your list, I told myself. New ceiling. No stars. Stars make you sick. Toilet. Barf. And they say that drunks can’t think.
But the very next day I noticed the bones in my fingers growing larger, my hips growing smaller, and shortly thereafter my sweats fell off. I decided to order in food.
Donald almost broke the door down in his hurry to feed me. “Chinese food!” he announced. “Fifty bucks.”
I swatted his hand away. “I gave you two hundred this morning for the booze. You can’t have spent it all.”
Donald had a cylindrical look to him, like an exquisite Persian carpet all rolled up. He had friendly brown eyes, a hooknose, and curly dark hair that sprang like mattress coils from under a doorman’s cap. “The food’s thirty, Charlie. So your tip is the rest. Take it or leave it.” He put the bag behind his back and held his ground, about the size of a postage stamp. “I could always let your boss in.”
He was starting to bug me. “I don’t have a boss. I’m self-employed.”
“Right. I’ll tell Mr. Jones that in the elevator. When I’m escorting him up.”
I shelled out fifty bucks.
Early the following morning texts started to arrive, the first one from Trish the _]Terrible. [_Charlie, you idiot. I got your suicide note. And if you kill yourself over Jack I’ll kick your butt. But in your next death threat could you possibly mention my name? Your special coffee awaits!
Right. Coffee spiked with bits from the warehouse bathroom floor. I could happily die without a last beverage from Trish. Old Sammy in the Tree texted next from Jack’s cell. Charlie, you are such a goof. That’s why I like you. You always make me laugh. We all know you like yourself too much to end it all.
Hmm. Apparently, I’d sent out a suicide note to my address book. Tony Chan texted next. If you stay in there much longer Jack is going to dynamite the place. Come out with your hands up. Love, Tony.
Shoeshine Fatso texted from his iPhone. Want your ears boxed, kid? You try that stupidity and you’ll get no respect from me. Not that you get much now. Kidding.
Finally the one I’d been dreading all along. I need you son. I need your help. Reynolds the Wrap is going after Richard and I need you to watch out for my boy. xoxo Jack.
Watch out for his new boy, he meant, because just short weeks ago Richard Chang had been out to butcher us both, he might recall. I doubted the biggest crime-boss on the planet needed my help but… it was a half-assed excuse to detangle from Beeto, to face life head-on, in a mediocre sort of way. Maybe one day a week I’d give up vodka. Ok. Maybe I’d sneak vodka on that day too, given that I lived alone. I somehow managed to drag my butt to the bathroom and while cutting my beard with garden shears I happen to notice a vodka box in the hallway reflected in the mirror. In big blue letters the words read, Frederick Chopin. 1810-1849. Warsaw, Poland.
Sorry, Beeto. I guess you looked exactly like somebody else.
I DON’T EVEN LIKE VODKA. And I don’t know why I let some Internet bootlegger convince me that I did. Like my dad, Jack, I prefer whiskey – neat and in the company of someone I enjoy. I’m social drinker, cut and dried out, although it took about a year.
On a crisp October morning I headed out in my Beemer, top down. I drove through the Causeway whiffing the scent of pine needles decaying on the forest floor and by the time I reached the Lions Gate Bridge by hopes began to soar. Blue sky. Wispy white clouds. God, I felt great! I was alive again. I could see Jack’s house up in the Properties, looming on the cliff. Home. I remembered everything good about growing up there. I could even smell Maya’s ginger cookies baking in the oven and Julia’s French perfume as it trailed behind her through a room; the spicy fragrance of Cuban tobacco drifting through the library door as two old reprobates celebrated their freshly-laundered money. Home. I was about to seriously wallow in it.
Julia met me at the front doors of 33 Terrace Place wearing taupe. Taupe was her second favorite color but if anyone could blow a beggar away on the doorstep it was Jack’s sister, my first crush, draped in taupe. Julia looked hot wearing a pantsuit with skinny little legs and teetering on five-inch heels. Her sleek dark hair went twisting into a knot.
“Charlie!” she squealed. “Darling! It’s wonderful to see you.”
“You too, Julia.” I hugged her hard.
Her round hazel eyes studied me up and down. “You look just dreadful you know.”
“You should’ve seen me last week.”
“He isn’t worth it, you know. Jack’s not worth the trouble he causes you.”
Right. Julia and Jack adored each other and anyone naive enough to believe otherwise deserved to be caught between them.
Oh. Oh. The statue of David in the alcove started to sway. Once again it was about genitals so I hung my scarf on his knob.
“It’s penis envy,” I told Julia.
“David. He’s jealous of me because his penis is shriveling.”
She laughed. “I’m so glad you’re back! And I’m sure David is too. You know those Italian boys thrive on competition.” She led me into a familiar living room of leafy palm trees and Moroccan treasures and white leather sofas clumped in pairs. We settled into a couple of animal print chairs.
“Jillian is traveling but she’ll be home tonight, Charlie. She texted from Frankfurt. She needed to get away for a while.”
“No kidding! It must have been a shock knowing that she married her own brother and how close she came to, well….”
“Trust you to bring that up.”
I shrugged. “Reality sucks.”
“Yes. But thanks to you and your big buddy, Willy Chan, all ended well.”
“Little buddy. Willy’s just five-eight. I’m six feet.”
“Says me. I was there when Jack and Tony measured you. Although they told you that you were only six feet I clearly saw the tape. I also heard them later in the library laughing about how they’d tricked you. You were eighteen at the time and ‘getting too big for your britches’ they said.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Don’t look at me.”
“You could have told me the truth.”
“And continue to live in this house? Not likely.” She sat back in her chair and crossed her shapely legs. “I don’t quite know how to say this, Charlie, but it has to be said. We all love you, my darling. More than you know. Especially Jack. Jack [_adores _]you.”
“He does. You likely won’t remember this but I remember very clearly. When your parents died in that unfortunate accident Jack was scared. Scared of the responsibility of parenting two children because he was just twenty-six and had inherited the business from Dad that same spring. I was a year older and was also scared because both Mom and Dad were gone and I was stuck with Jack.” Her eyes twinkled. “But Jack took to you like a mood-altering drug. You were his little clone. He dressed you the same as he dressed, having his tailor create little suits for you, identical to his. And remember when he bought those home permanent kits for Maya to make your hair curly like his? What a production that was!”
I cringed. “Boy, do I remember! I shaved my head in protest.”
“Courageously so. Jack wasn’t happy but you gained his respect.”
“Yeah, right. He started calling me ‘the Monk’.”
She showed her perfectly white teeth. “But he liked the fact that you stood up to him. He respects you for it.”
“He has a funny way of showing it.”
“Like I said earlier you don’t have to take crap from him. You just do. And last year when he wrongly went to jail and everything turned chaotic, whom did we all lean on? You.” She stood up. “I know it’s early afternoon but I think we should have a drink. Whiskey for you, neat?”
“Make mine light. I’m trying to quit.”
She returned with a Waterford tumbler half-full. “I know that Jack looks every inch the villain at this juncture but I think you need to cut him some slack. Not to be trite but there’s so much more than what meets the eye.”
“With him there always is.” Such as the millions he made by stealing from me, I wanted to say. Like he needed more money to stash in Switzerland or the Caymans or the floorboards beneath our feet.
At the front door I hugged Julia again. “I thought you and Peter were moving in together.”
“I thought so too. But it didn’t exactly work out. Peter’s a cop. He didn’t take to the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He lasted all of three days in my penthouse. Then he needed his space.”
“Don’t be. Nothing has really changed. I’m here most of the time, as usual. The penthouse is just a nice retreat, a shelter away from Jack. I’m restoring my villa in Spain and combined with my many business dealings I really don’t have time for a personal life.”
She punched me on the arm. “You would have to use his expression. Just when my heart was beginning to mend.”
On the drive over to the warehouse later in the day I mulled Julia’s words. I was a Jones, like it or not, through coercion. Call me a glutton for torture but I happened to like the salty ocean breeze and the scent of decaying algae. The Port. Home. Jack. Well, two out of three wasn’t bad.
He smiled when he saw me in the doorway. “The prodigal son! And just in time for the cocktail hours.”
I pulled up a chair and reached for the tumbler of whiskey spinning towards me across the desk. “Here’s to good times.”
Jack’s green eyes crinkled at the corners. “It’s poor luck to say that, Hamster.” His sandy curls and bushy mustache needed a rigorous trim. “You have to toast to something bad. Like, here’s to the goddamned feds! May they keep their grubby paws off my laundered money.”
“And off my stolen surveillance equipment. It’s about all I have left.”
“Now you’ve got the hang of it!”
We raised our glasses.
“Funny you should drop by today because I’ve got a job for you.”
Well, so much for apologies. An apology was something Jack paid others to deliver. Julia had done a fine job setting me up.
“I’m really excited,” I said sarcastically. “Guarding Richard. It’s a great title for a movie. But as I recall Richard has more armed guards than Fort Knox. What could he possibly want from me?”
“It isn’t what Richard wants. It’s what I want. I still call the shots.”
SOMETIMES TAKING A BREAK TO smell the vodka works in a guy’s favor and in my case, it did. The Chinatown apartment I’d rented to spy on Reynolds Woo – while looking for communication from Willy in Beijing — was still in my name and would be for two more years. And since the cameras and microphones Jackie had planted in Reynolds’ suite were still in place I had only to lug the monitor up three flights of stairs. Done.
I unlocked the door, hooked up the equipment, and zeroed in on the computer-hacking genius known to me mostly from spying. He hadn’t changed much. No, Reynolds [the Wrap _]Woo was still taking _odd and [_peculiar _]to a new level of [_weird. _]He was still tiny. And with little GI Joe fingers he was madly typing while bouncing back and forth between myriad computers, juggling virtual B and E’s. Little wire-rimmed glasses rested near the tip of his nose as his keen brown eyes searched the Web. I got whiplash just watching him whirl – so fast that the kippah almost fell off his head. To my knowledge he had yet to convert to Judaism.
But things had changed in the Wrap’s home in my absence. New furniture had replaced the ratty antiques discarded by Reynolds’ horrid mom: a new pair of red sofas with black cabriole legs; black lacquered tables with ribbons of bright flowers painted on; and a rich oriental carpet anchoring all of the above. A mural of Hong Kong at night now covered an entire wall, not cheap. The boy had moved up in the world certainly, thanks to Jack’s thievery of me.
Enter ‘slick’ Willy Chan, my lifelong best bud, or former best bud, I should say. I hadn’t exactly been working on forgiveness, you understand. And I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that Willy wanted to save my lily-white ass from corruption too. Bullshit. Anyway, Willy sauntered into Reynolds’ living room like he owned the place and possibly did own the building, given his years working for Jack and the Triad and having amassed a little real estate empire on the side. And what did I own? My mortgaged condo and a closet full of aging Gucci suits. And regrets. Maybe I should have gone bad like they all wanted me to in the beginning.
Immaculate in his designer suit and highly polished shoes, Willy looked every bit as flashy as the new furniture. He shook his shiny, shoulder-length hair before stretching out on a sofa and raising his feet. He was smiling. Willy was known for that infectious smile and even more so for the craftiness behind it. Taboo came creeping into the room to shoot a scowl at Willy’s back before retreating down the hallway past several armed guards. Reynolds’ assistant was still bowling-ball bald.
In the back office, Reynolds finally grew bored with stealing and proceeded to crank up a shattered karaoke machine held together with tape. You may remember that Mini had kicked the crap out of Reynolds’ favorite toy, due to what she viewed as her elder son’s stupidity. Funny that. A stupid genius. Well, Reynolds had quit Richard[, _]a major CLM. And still in hiding he was left to sing karaoke and to wail like no other agoraphobic on the planet. In my absence he’d moved on to Taylor Swift and was mercilessly murdering _Shake It Off. My stomach churned.
Reynolds must have sickened himself because he suddenly canned the music. “William! I need you. And bring the bald guy with you.”
William was a thing between Reynolds and Willy, friends since school days. ‘William’ gave Willy the air of importance he deserved, Reynolds thought. And was certainly superior to ‘slick’ Willy Chan.
Willy rose from the sofa, shook his shiny dark hair, and awaited Taboo who was traveling down the hallway at the speed of light. Reynolds pointed to the scrunched papers cast all over the floor. “Clean up this mess, will you?”
Willy cocked his head. “Certainly. Taboo will get right on it.”
Taboo ground his teeth. “I did it last time. It’s Willy’s turn.”
Willy flashed Reynolds his killer smile. “I think it’s his forte. Do you not think he does it well?”
Reynolds winked back. “You are good at it, Taboo. It should probably be your permanent job.”
Willy sauntered down the hall to his own office, whistling.
Taboo set about tidying up but he wasn’t happy. “Willy is trying to cheat you.”
Well, I never said that Taboo was a genius too. Not even close. He wasn’t a genius among geniuses, if you know what I mean.
“Is that so?” Reynolds screwed up his face.
“He’s a computer hacker too, you know.”
“I didn’t know. Joke.”
“Not as good as you,” he said wisely. “But he is good.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I think he’s trying to steal your shipment.”
Now he had Reynolds’ interest. “What shipment would that be?”
Oh, oh. Taboo was shitting his pants. Although he shared Willy’s office he was not privy to classified information. “I’m not sure. I just heard him talking.”
“Talking and computer hacking!” said Reynolds sarcastically. “Exactly who’s been doing your job while you’ve been watching Willy?”
Red crept into Taboo’s cheeks.
Reynolds stretched his neck. “Hmm. Maybe you should spend some time with Lugs Nut, Taboo. A couple of days works for me. To improve your thinking.”
Taboo raced down the hall.
Full of surprises, Willy called to say he’d arranged a meeting for me with Reynolds. “He wants to hire you for a job, Charlie.”
Ok. Willy was sucking up. He was sorry for stealing from me but had a strange way of apologizing. So, pardon me for being skeptical. “What kind of job?”
“Can’t say. It’s a surprise.”
“Lunch today. Twelve sharp. And don’t let the door hit you on your way upstairs.”
He met me at the door to Reynolds’ suite where he shooed the humorless guards away. I held out my hand. “William, I presume.”
He punched me in the gut. “Just do your fucking job, ok? And no goofy stuff.”
I coughed my way behind Willy down the hallway and into the living room where Reynolds sat reading GQ. He hopped up when he saw me. “You must be Charlie!”
Good guess, since he’d invited me to lunch at noon and it was. We shook hands, his disappearing into mine.
“A pleasure to meet you, Reynolds.” In person, I almost blabbed.
“The pleasure is mine.” A fine spread of sushi lay on the coffee table. “I’ve heard a lot about you over the years. From William. And I understand that you like fish.”
I salivated. “You understand correctly. Sushi I like. A lot.”
He handed me a plate with red poppies on one corner and when I finished loading it up I plunked down on the sofa across from my host to gorge. Delicious.
Reynolds plucked a handful of cashews from a small red bowl and started to crunch away.
“You don’t like sushi, Reynolds?”
He made a sour face. “I never eat sushi! Yuk. Sushi is Japanese!”
I bit my tongue.
“You’re probably wondering why I asked you here today, Charlie.”
“You are a private investigator, are you not? William says you’re very good. But I didn’t take his word, naturally. I went online and researched you myself. Your website needs an update.”
I nodded. “It’s on the list.”
He narrowed his sharp brown eyes. “William says that you’re the best in town.”
I nodded. Well, I was on a good day and bad days slipped through the cracks.
“There’s someone I need to have followed.”
I nodded. You can’t feed a guy sushi and expect him to talk.
“It won’t be easy getting near this man,” Reynolds continued. “He has many guards so you’ll have trouble getting close to him. But that’s not important right now. What I need is information. Information on his routine, like what he does, where he goes and when. And if there’s any change at all to this order – like if his guards suddenly pile into vehicles and take off at the same time, well. That would be extremely important to know. Do you understand?”
“It would be around the clock. Twenty-four seven. Do you have the manpower for that kind of operation?”
“I do,” I lied. “Consider it done. I assume William quoted my fee.”
It was his turn to nod. My regular fee plus twenty percent for William. That Reynolds understood.
Having polished off enough sushi for a village of Samurais I wiped the corners of my mouth with a napkin. “Am I being too curious in asking who it is that you want tailed?”
“You’ve heard of him, I’m sure. He’s very big in China and is known here too in certain circles. I used to work for him, in fact. Before things went sour. His name is Richard Chang.”
I coughed for quite a while.
Talk about coincidence! While I was gobbling sushi,[_ ]Tony was busy arranging a tennis match for that very same afternoon with guess who? Richard _the Cleaver, Jack’s new son and my surrogate brother. Might Reynolds be the one person on the planet in the dark about this new family relationship? Obviously, Willy hadn’t talked, although Willy was known to keep a lot of secrets for his own protection.
It was to be a doubles match, naturally, since Richard never did anything alone. And apparently he was anxious to show off his new partner, Jackie Chan, stolen from me. Can you believe it? In my alcoholic absence my Jackie had been bought. With real money. I drove up the treed driveway to Richard’s West Van beach house feeling betrayed. After all we’d been through together Jackie had chosen Richard, our kidnapper, over me. I was justifiably depressed. And although Tony had promised to deliver a brave new partner to save me from disgrace I was down bad. I climbed out of my Beemer, grabbed my tennis racquet, and started to fan the air. The early October sun shone, the birds sang, and the peppery scent of pine needles stung my nose. Life sucked.
Tony Chan pulled in behind me in the big Phantom IV honking the horn. He hopped from the car, straightened his chauffeur’s cap, and with great ta da opened the big back door. And before my astonished eyes out popped a second Jackie Chan – a little smaller, a little younger, but no less enthusiastic. He came running towards me waving a familiar wooden tennis racquet, still in its press, and fresh out of Tony’s museum. He hoisted the yellow basketball shorts off his shoes.
Tony came chuckling behind him. “He’s all yours, Charlie. Treat him well. He just arrived yesterday.”
Oh great. There were two of them now, two of Tony’s illegal-alien nephews, Thing One and Thing Two. Well, obviously Thing Two belonged to me now so I was stuck. And to think that Richard had stolen Jackie from me by actually paying him. What a dirty trick!
Richard and Jackie were already hard at work when we arrived at the tennis court out back, after successfully making our way through a jungle of artillery. Money had done things to Jackie. Clearly he’d moved up in the world and was now Nike from head to toe – shirt, shorts and shoes, even a white headband with a little black checkmark. Richard looked dashing in his Union Jack duds, still, and he called to me in the pleasant English accent he’d acquired at Oxford.
“Charlie! How awfully good of you to come!”
Hmm. He hadn’t changed much in the past few weeks. He was still the tall, handsome Asian with chiseled features and with the sharp eyes of a falcon. And he was still as phony as a three-dollar bill.
“I’ve brought my cheering section, old boy.”
He certainly had. On the sidelines, in three striped deckchairs, sat Richards’s goons: King Kong Chin, Fat Freddie Fong, and Sweet Shorty Poo, the little bad guy.
Jackie was hopping up and down. “Amster!” he said excitedly. “Do you wike my new cwothes?” His hair stood straight as a brush atop his head.
“Dashing!” I hollered. “Just fucking dashing, Wildman!”
He beamed. “Sank you, Amster! Sank you wery much.”
Only two people in the world got away with calling me Hamster: Jack, who christened me the day he became my owner and Jackie because he could only say Chow-we, which Tony said was very bad in Chinese. And oops! Now there were three.
Billy smiled a big-teeth smile. “Amster!” He hauled up his shorts. “This is going to be fun!”
On our way to the other side of the net Billy and I passed by the boys. “Hey, Shorty,” I said in a soft pleasant voice. “Learned any new words? Other than ‘[_Don’t move, Chow-we’ _]while holding a gun to my head?”.
Shorty snorted. Just try something, he implied.
I took Billy aside. “You’re better than Jackie, right?”
He grinned. “On what you pay I can be.” His brown eyes sparkled. “Or I can be wousy. Take your pick.”
I should have known. “How much?”
“Forget it. That’s scamming.”
His grin went right around his face. “You fink? What about half for me and half for my brover. For frowing the game.”
I smacked my chops. “Deal. I’ll write you a check.”
Billy waved to Jackie who frantically waved back. Deal.
Jackie was terrible. He hopped, he limped, he dragged his carcass around the court like it weighed a ton. He complained about blisters from his new shoes and the bumpy court causing him to trip, all to Richard’s chagrin. In the middle of the second set Jackie sat right down.
Richard poked him with his racquet. “Get up, you lazy coward!”
Jackie put his head between his knees.
The Cleaver rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re just going to give up.”
Jackie didn’t move.
Richard looked over at me. “Would you mind awfully telling me what’s going on, old boy? We’ve been whipping everyone at the club in the past few weeks and suddenly Jackie goes lame? Quite frankly I don’t get it.”
I tossed Richard my innocent look. “I figure that Jackie has bonded with me. Since the time you had the two of us kidnapped and were planning to bump us off. Surely you remember, Richard. It was the day you married your sister.”
Richard coughed. And Shorty coughed because Richard did. King Chin and Fat Freddie Fong rose to their feet. The gentlemen were starting their engines.
I turned to Billy. “I figure Jackie doesn’t want to beat me. What do you figure?”
Billy hopped up and down. Not everyone got to play tennis alongside Richard Chang. “I figure same. Let’s change partners.”
Jackie jumped to his feet. And with a few long strides of his little legs he skirted the net and leapt into my arms. “I’ll show you tennis!”
Hmm. I wondered just how far I could push Richard before Jackie and I ended up back in burlap.
Richard narrowed his hawk-like eyes. “You’re dumping me then, Jackie?”
Oh, oh. The Cleaver was not a man to quit. There were reasons why the son of Genghis Chang had risen to the top of the mafia ladder by age thirty-three. Maybe I should smarten up. Or maybe I wouldn’t bother.
“Yep!” said Jackie with no fear. “I’m stickin’ with Amster. I’m Amster’s man now.”
Shorty Poo snorted. Although he didn’t understand English his nose could smell a rat.
Richard picked up his racquet. “Well, then, Billy. Show us your stuff.”
For the next two hours we battled away like pros. This was grim stuff for Jackie and Billy who seriously hogged the ball. On our last break I said, “We have to lose the last set, Jackie. We have to let them win.”
“What?” His eyes grew wide. “We wose? Why?”
“Don’t ask questions. It’s bad enough that you dumped Richard for me. He can do bad things to us, in case you’ve forgotten. Really bad.”
Jackie giggled. “He can. But he won’t. Cow Gong will eat his balls for bweakfast.”
A vivid picture of Tony Chan munching Richard’s testicles crept into my cranium. “Your uncle’s revenge won’t matter a fat rat’s ass if we’re dead.”
Gears went grinding in Jackie’s head. “Ok, Amster. They can win. Billy will get respect. He can get job with Wichard and I’ll work for you.” He sat down on the court. “If you pay me. You have to pay me big.”
What could I say. “Name your price.”
“Wots. You have to pay me wots.”
Jackie took off a shoe and started to rub his foot. “You guys win,” he called across the net. “I’m pooped out.”
Well, that was Jackie. With the outcome predetermined he saw no point in wasting energy.
Richard gave the thumbs-up to his entourage. All three nodded. All three smiled. It was about winning, after all. They gave him the thumbs-up back.
Jackie stood up and dusted himself off. “No checks either, Amster.”
“What? I whispered that to Billy. You couldn’t possibly have heard about the method of payment.”
“I didn’t have to. I know you, Amster. Billy doesn’t. He’d take a check not knowing it’s fake. You tried that one on me. But you won’t again. Because next time I’ll break your fucking neck.”
Jackie and I laughed for quite a while.
Tony arrived on the scene to collect his nephews, and to sort things out, I figured. Who would be working for whom and exactly why. Naturally, it would be the godfather’s decision in the end. I followed Richard into his luxury beach house anticipating a frosty beer. His great room was a great room, all right. I knew it well since I’d been tied up there waiting to be shot. I remembered the Bolivian rosewood flooring, the mahogany billiards table, the bar of booze, silver shakers, and crystal decanters… Yes, it was a really nice place to die.
Richard poured us a Guinness on tap. “Billy is better than Jackie. He has a stronger serve and a better backhand.”
I nodded. “He’ll fit nicely into your organization. He’ll make a good mugger.”
Richard tried not to laugh. “You just can’t give it up, can you Charlie?”
“I guess it’s about your having me kidnapped etcetera. I guess it kinda stuck in my craw.”
“We need to move past the past, don’t you think? Since we’re brothers now?”
“Easier for you than me, I think.” I raised my frosty mug. “But just so you know I never wanted a brother.”
Richard leaned on the bar. “That’s what I mean, Charlie. You just can’t give it up. You just have to be a wise-ass.”
“And I have a proposition for you. A business proposition. I asked you here today for more than tennis.”
Right. “Is this one of those you do the crime and I do the time propositions? You’ve laid that one on me before.”
He actually laughed. “Not exactly. There’s someone I need to locate. I’ve been unable to track him down and neither have you. But since you do that sort of thing for a living, well, there’s a chance you may have recently honed your skills. And I’m willing to give you a second chance.”
Ouch. Trust Richard to remind me that I actually had to work for a living. But to be honest I was tired of being the good guy and poor, since I was surrounded by everybody bad and rich. Things were about to change.
“You know of this man, this computer-hacking genius. He used to work for me and now he wants to take over my business. It’s a pity, really. He was once an invaluable employee and now I have to hurt him.”
I choked on my beer. “Reynolds Woo?”
He nodded. “Reynolds the Wrap.”
LIKE I SAID BEFORE I was going bad. In my own defense, I hadn’t worked in a while so anyone for triple-dipping? Client Jack. Client Reynolds. And client Richard. While slightly unethical it wasn’t illegal and almost doable with the services of Jackie and Billy Chan, whom I planned to hire for cheap. The big picture? A piece of cake with Billy now working for Richard and Jackie working for me. What could possibly go wrong? What? Try everything.
Along came Jillian on her activist horse, riding high. After receiving the call from Tony I locked up my Denman Street office and headed out in my Beemer, top up. It was a grey afternoon with intermittent showers slowing rush hour traffic and causing drivers like me to curse and holler. It wasn’t a great day for a protest, but then again, what would a ‘normal’ guy know? Bad weather didn’t deter zealots like Jillian, oblivious to the elements. No, they had big trees to save.
It didn’t take long to spot her among the group of radicals brandishing signs. She was standing on the top step of Rosecam Metals while the others rallied below. Dressed in a little yellow slicker, with a ball cap securing her long blond curls, she bravely wielded a sign. NO MORE EXPLORATION OF CLAYOQUOT SOUND. Soon the protesters were joined by anti-protesters and curiosity-seekers alike, as traffic slowed to a crawl… a lot of hollering and cursing going on.
The yappy activist, loud speaker in hand, seized the moment. “They’re going to destroy Catface Mountain!” she screeched as the crowd went crazy. “They’re planning on mining copper there and are about to destroy the top third of the mountain. Is this not egregious?”
The protesters cheered. A chorus of boos from the cheerless bystanders spurred the picketers on.
“Where’s the stripper?” I hollered.
A straight-faced veteran of the streets turned to face me. He had shaggy white hair and was missing a couple of teeth. “Just a bunch of whacky activists,” he said in a disgusted tone. “They need to get jobs.”
I grinned. “Maybe you could hire them, fella.”
Now, if I kept a diary of dirty looks his page would receive a star. Had he weighed more than fifty pounds he might have slugged me.
“That’s that Jones whacko.” A woman in a red raincoat shook her silver head. “She’s a nut bar! A head case. She’ll do absolutely anything to get attention.”
“I’ll tell her you said that,” I shouted back. “She’s my wife.”
The woman visibly cringed.
A cameraman zeroed in on Jillian who was pretty much focused on herself. “Do you not see the irony in this?” she ranted. “Clayoquot Sound is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Because of its intact pristine valleys. Yet Rosecam Metals plans to destroy those valleys with waste rock rubble and a toxic pond. Is this not criminal?”
Fierce cheers rose above the throngs of a rousing round of boos. The crowd had spilled out onto the street and motorists with murder on their minds were leaning on their horns.
“Rosecam is also planning to build an ore-processing plant. There will be sulfuric acid drainage and heavy metal leaching into the soil. We have to stop this environmental disaster before it happens and we have to stop it now. Now!”
Angry employees – some trying to leave for the day and others trying to arrive for work – began elbowing their way through the crowd. Sirens in the distance stayed there, unable to plow through the jam. But Jillian wasn’t finished yet. “[_Please, please, please _]flood Rosecam with emails!” she screamed. “And tell your government to help the Ahousahts First Nations people so they don’t have to sell out. Bombard your MPP with emails and phone calls. We implore you!!”
Someone who didn’t exactly appreciate an elbow in the gut threw a punch and others jumped in. Fists punched, women kicked and pulled hair, men kicked and pulled hair. Donnybrook.
Red-faced Jillian screamed into her loud speaker. “Stop it! Stop fighting! This is supposed to be a peaceful demonstration!”
I eventually managed to elbow my way to her side. “We have to scram, Jillian. The cops can’t get here, unless by helicopter, and you’re in danger.” Dragging her behind I forged my way through the crowd.
“There she is!” someone hollered. “She’s getting away!”
Yes, she was. I almost pulled her arm off before the Red Sea miraculously parted and we dashed through the opening. The sky had again turned black and shortly after we reached the safety of my Beemer the rain came pelting down. Jillian curled into a ball.
“It was supposed to be a peaceful protest!” she whined. “We don’t believe in violence.”
“You’re pretty naïve for a thirty-year old, Jillian. What makes you think you can control the actions of other people? Especially during rush hour when poor working slobs just want to go home. People with jobs, that is, although I doubt you know many real people.”
She tried to wipe her tears on her plastic sleeve but only managed to move them around. “It had to be rush hour. Or we wouldn’t get the attention for our cause.”
“Oh, you got attention, alright. And don’t be surprised when they throw the book at you. Mischief. Big time. Jail term, since you’re on probation. And possibly lawsuits if anyone gets injured back there. Do you want me to go on?”
She thrusts her defiant chin at me. “I want you to shut up, Hampton. I don’t need a lecture. I can get that from Jack.”
“Thanks. Thanks for being grateful that I saved your skinny ass back there. If they’d caught you they may have flogged you. Do you not get that?”
“I should be grateful,” she said sarcastically. “Grateful that you somehow manage to show up at every single protest to interfere with my work. [My _]work. _My cause. I just don’t know why I’m not grateful.”
We left it there.
With the cash advances I received from Reynolds and Richard I took Jackie and Billy shopping for new clothes and the cell phones needed for their jobs. And after that horror show I sprang for dim sum, during which Thing One and Thing Two kept phoning each other across the table to see what they should order. It was a simple matter, really, because they chose everything from every cart going by, while guzzling three pots of green tea. A double shot of whisky, three rounds, worked for me. Was that the same as three double-shots of whiskey? I phoned Jackie across the table to get his take on the matter.
“Can’t you see I’m eating, Amster? Figure it out yourself.” He cut me off before snatching up a chicken foot and making guttural sounds.
I gave up.
The following morning I discovered a huge creative streak in me, a Dickens of sorts, just begging to get out. Didn’t I tell you that I was going bad? After Billy Chan told me that Richard was going to his in-home gym to work out I texted Reynolds saying,
Richard is carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders. He thinks he’s a dumbbell. He told Shorty that he is on an endless treadmill, going nowhere fast. He sounds depressed to me.
The following day when Billy told me that Richard was swallowing his morning supplements – a pile of them – I texted,
Richard is on medication. He’s swallowing pills faster than Elvis.
On day three, after his tailor had come to measure him for a new suit, I wrote,
Richard has ordered a new suit for a funeral and he’s talking about too many loose threads. He can’t find the silver lining.
I just didn’t say that the funeral was for his intended victim, Reynolds the Wrap.
On day four of my employment with Reynolds I got fired. Willy called me on my iPhone to officially end it all. “You really are a jerk, Hampton!”
“I accept all compliments.”
“Did you have to get so goofy? The guy is dangerous you know.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You took his money. You might have at least given him some information.”
“I did. He just didn’t like it.”
“You made me look bad.”
I laughed. “I can’t quite picture you looking bad. You’re too polished. And I still have your twenty percent. Would you like me to give it back to Reynolds?”
“Screw you.” Willy hung up.
“I got fired,” I told Billy on his cell. “So you owe me for the suit. At least for the arms.”
Billy laughed. “Come and get me, Amster.”
“And I want the cell back, too.”
“Ok, Billy. You can keep the cell and the suit. I need you to stay on for a while. I need you to watch out for Richard.”
“Yes, cash. You’re starting to bug me. Now listen carefully. I need to know if anything unusual happens. Anything at all.”
“He hiwed three new guards.”
“How many does that make in total?”
“Twelve. Four outside at a time. And inside there’s the boys. King, Fweddie, and Shorty. They go with him everywhere. They check everything out.”
“They always did.”
“Wichard makes me check things out too. He makes me quawl under the Hummer to check for bombs. In my new suit. Isn’t that mean?”
“It is. You could get yourself blown up.”
“I got a gun.”
“That’s reassuring, Billy. I hope you get to use it. If you can find your arm after the blast.”
He giggled. “You funny, Amster. But you forget. Nobody will get Wichard with me awound. Nobody.”
As goofy as it sounded I almost believed him.
YOU KNOW THE OLD CLICHÉ the best defense is a good offense? Well, Richard had no intention of sitting on his hinny waiting for me to cough up an address that I wasn’t particularly willing to share. No, he managed to locate [_the Wrap _]on his own shortly before letting me go via text.
‘No hard feelings, old boy,’ he typed in his pleasant English accent. ‘But it seems that I’m better at your job than you are.’
I had no hard feelings. I had no feelings for Richard one way or the other, I just didn’t like him. In no time at all Billy called to tell me of Richard’s plans.
“Wichard’s going to pop Wenolds. In bwad daywight.”
“Is that right? And how do you know so much? You got cameras inside?”
Billy giggled. “Ancient surveillance, Amster. I heard through the door.”
“What’s his plan?”
“Oh no. You don’t get details. Details cost money.”
“I’m already paying you, you little shit. So spill.”
“You only pay me to watch Wichard. To keep him safe. And he is.”
Smart ass. “Could you just give me a clue?”
“Ok, Amster. I’ll give you one. You’ll know soon enough. You’ll see it with your own eyes.”
I passed along the heads-up to Willy.
I was now working at the Walmart suite below Reynolds Woo because I’d lost Jackie Chan. Jack had lured him away to guard Jillian’s hideout, twenty-four seven. Well, zero-seven as it turned out in the end. However, a warrant had been issued for Jillian’s arrest and since Jack wasn’t quite ready to make deals with the law he decided to do the Jones thing and stow his daughter away. It was how the Jack coped.
So, I stretched out on my lumpy bed and closed my eyes. My holster hurt and I was hungry enough to eat the mice I could hear running around in the walls. Great. Or sad, if you thought about it. My envying mice. They sounded happy to me, scurrying and playing carefree. And I was willing to bet on their financial stability, given their free food and lodging. It wasn’t fair. My condo wouldn’t be mortgage free during my lifetime and I had no one to inherit my debt. Or my Gucci suits. Maybe the mice would like my Gucci suits. As I drifted off to sleep I thought about stuffing my pants into that gaping hole in the wall. I was dreaming about mice and about Mini Chin and mice. Or was that really Mini Chin’s voice I heard? I sat up and shook my head.
Mini Chin stopped only long enough to chastise the guards in the foyer before heading to the living room bar. Without a word she poured, then belted back, two healthy jiggers of single-malt scotch. Glenfiddich. Reynolds was bringing it in by the case now to avoid assaults from his mom. No inferior scotch for Mini, who wasn’t exactly a beauty, you may remember. She still looked like a creepy old doll preserved in paraffin, or a mannequin gone wrong. Still short and stocky she wore more gold chains than Mr. T, enough to topple her in a windstorm. Her little red shoes clicked on the hardwood floors as she paced back and forth thinking.
Reynolds came screeching into the room. “Mama!” he hollered. “Mama Mia! Why didn’t someone tell me you were here?”
Mini scratched her three chins. “Likely because I arrive at four every afternoon so certain people might think you’d be expecting me.”
“But I was! I just lost track of time.”
“I’m sure everything is more important than your mother,” said the master of the guilt-trip.
Reynolds wisely changed the subject. “Did you bring widdle Wen Wen anything?” he said in a baby voice.
Mini opened up her shiny red purse. “They were out of Kinder Surprises so I bought cough drops. They’re better for you anyway.”
To my knowledge Reynolds didn’t have a cough.
He didn’t think so either and his eyes watered. “Thank you.”
“Thank you who?”
“Thank you, Mama Mia.”
“That’s better. Now, don’t eat them all at once.”
She watched him like a hawk while measuring two additional jiggers of booze and splashing them into her glass. “Well? Go ahead. Try one.”
Reynolds searched the room with darting eyes before finally extracting a black cough drop from the box and forcing it into his mouth. Now he had a cough.
“We need to bring in extra guards,” Mini chirped. “You’re not safe here. Willy says you’re not safe. He thinks Richard may have tracked you down. We can’t move you to another place because that’s even more dangerous. We can’t have you out in the open. Not for a second. We’ll just have to bring in extra guards.”
Reynolds had pushed the cough drop into his cheek and was storing it there like a gopher.
“Naturally your brother Bugs Zee will be in charge. He’s a good organizer and that’s what those boys need.”
Reynolds’ mouth took a downward turn.
“Family is always best.” She didn’t require an answer. “And then there’s our stockbroker, Albert Noe. Albert can handle our investments during the downtime. We made a lot of money when he was here last time.”
Was Reynolds thinking what I was thinking? Last time? Last time Albert Noe raced out the door as soon as learning that Bugs Zee was in charge.
“Mmm…” Reynolds mumbled. “Mmm.”
“I’m glad you agree. And on the outside doing surveillance around town there’ll be special agent Wong. James Wong. Agent seven double O.”
I laughed out loud. “Good luck, Reynolds.” I also knew James Wong. James had been dropped on his head as a baby and was a few bricks short of a load. He now spent most of his time bragging about being a secret agent to the Chinatown merchants.
“That’s it then.” Mini tucked her purse under her arm. “If you think of anyone else just run it by me. I’ll make the final decision, of course.”
Following Mini’s exit Reynolds took a terrible turn. The cough drop he’d been storing in his cheek suddenly lodged in his throat, causing him to choke. Gagging and grasping he headed down the hallway and staggered into Willy’s office turning blue. Good choice. Quick-thinking Willy rushed to Reynolds, grabbed him from behind, and placing his fist under the ribcage, applied the life-saving blow. Pow! With great ceremony the treasonous black cough drop went sailing across the room and glued itself to a wall.
THE MIDOLO AND BREWSTER LAW offices were in the Roberts Building near Georgia and Burrard. I parked my car, dashed through the drizzle of a grey October morning, and strolled into the glass-roofed lobby. I waved hello to the mosaic mural of aboriginal people on a hunt and took the elevator to the seventeenth floor. I walked through double glass doors trimmed in gold to a reception area of marble floors, modern furniture, and seascapes by local artists. It was a Marco Midolo office, alright. I knew it the moment I saw a buxom blond receptionist at the desk. I wondered had she bought them herself or had Marco chipped in?
At the desk, Sherry, in a deep blue skirt above a white blouse with a plunging neckline, said hello.
I flashed my best synthetic smile. “I have an appointment. Hampton.”
She nodded. “I recognize the face. From the papers. Aren’t you the guy that killed a guy?”
“I’m a killer,” I bragged. “I kill for a living. That’s why I need a lawyer.”
“I’ll tell Mr. Midolo you’re here.” She inched her way across the desk and bolted down the hall.
A lot of doors opened and closed. I sat down on a stiff chair to check my Facebook for jokes. Don’t you just hate it when people post crud? Tony was the worst because his sense of humor was really old. Jackie was checking in through texts, though, and he spelled like he spoke – garble. I gathered that he was parked outside Julia’s West End condo building in a rental car. Not rocket science, Jack. Salting Jillian away in her aunt’s condo. No one would look for her there. But worse still, Jackie behind the wheel of a car? How scary was that? Very scary, since he was driving on a fake license. He wrote, J is side [_I sure she doesn’t scape. _]Right.
“Hampton!” said in a phony baritone voice. “Good to see you!”
Right. Marco and I had a tangled relationship from the beginning, you may recall. In this episode, however, he was still about as crooked as the Upper Levels Highway and twice as slippery. That’s why Jack liked him. That, and the fact that Marco was one of the top legal minds in Vancouver, his glassy good looks and silly assortment of overcoats aside. And not to forget his temperament. He was mean. Tall, dark, and debonair Overcoat Marco turned ugly on a dime.
I followed him down a hallway that turned into another hallway and another one after that. Finally we arrived at his big brown office where Marco pointed to a recliner before taking the chair behind his mahogany desk. A captain’s decanter of whisky and two glasses occupied a leather tray on the desktop. He leaned over to pour. “Maybe we’ll start to like each other after two or three. What do you think, Charlie?”
I smiled. “Better make mine big.”
Marco and I sat there drinking in silence, trying to warm to each other. It took a while. And in the end it never happened.
“Where is she?” he finally asked.
He nodded. “She’s on probation from the Clayoquot thing. And protests before that. Surely she’s not hiding from her parole officer.”
“No. She’s checking in with her. They’re sort of friends now. I mean, she’s only an activist. It’s not like she murdered someone.”
“Not like someone else in this room.”
Ouch! I don’t know why I got such a bad rap. So, I killed a guy in self-defense. Ok, maybe two. Three tops. But far more guys were trying to snuff me out than the reverse.
Marco leaned back in his chair. “She’s facing mischief, big time, not to mention creating a disturbance, etcetera. And if that guy in the hospital dies they’ll throw the book at her. He took a big rock to the head.”
“That’s why Jack wants her hidden away for a while. To let things cool down.”
Marco shook his head. “If there’s any chance for bail she has to turn herself in. Immediately. We’ll go for an electronic tagging but I think it’s the best we can do. She’ll be under house arrest. She’ll be going nowhere before her trial.”
“I’ll tell Jack.”
Marco gave a half-laugh. “Tell Jack? He’ll likely want her out of the country but that’s not the solution.”
“There’ll be a trial though?”
He nodded. “She’s on probation. Unless she wants to plead guilty.” He checked his image in the large mirrored ball on his desk. I mean the guy made Narcissus look humble. “It will be quite a trial,” he said to himself. “The principle[_ _]will be tried. The issue of where to draw the line. On one hand, we have the Jillians of the world, the activists, the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Greenpeace, etc. The environmentalists. On the other side, we have big business. Intercom, for example, and the loggers, many of them with families to feed. And we have Rosecam and its employees and the Ahousahts who are divided themselves on whether to sell their land or not. No one person, I mean, no one, will get to decide this case.”
“But a jury of twelve will?”
His eyes frosted over. “We’ll go for a jury. Trial by judge is too risky.” He smiled into the ball. “It will be international, you realize. We’ll be flashed around the globe.”
Marco was still smiling into his fucking mirrored ball as I stalked away shaking my head.
On my way out of Midolo and Brooster Jack called from the warehouse, on speaker.
“Can you believe it, Hamster? Your protégé let her slip.”
“What? Jillian’s gone?”
“Gone!” Jackie Chan hollered. “But it wasn’t my fault. She weft in the midow of da night.”
“Right,” Jack said. “She just folded her tent and silently stole away. But for the record, Peter checked it out and she left this afternoon. But not before sticking a note under Jackie’s windshield wiper. Do you want to know what it said, Hamster?”
“No I don’t.”
“It said, Tell Jack that next time he shouldn’t send a boy to do a man’s job.”
“Jackie!” I hollered. “What the hell happened to you?”
He cleared his throat. “I don’t know Amster. Someone musta hit me on the head.”
Jack chortled. “I think it was the sandman. The building superintendent told Peter that the boy on surveillance in the black car, illegally parked, slept more than Rip Van Winkle. And that he hoped his employer wasn’t paying him much because his only accomplishment was $750 worth of parking tickets.”
“Nice going, Wildman. Exactly how do you plan to pay for those tickets?”
“No sweat, Amster. The car’s a wental. We’ll stiff the company.”
“They’ll just put them on Jack’s Visa, Jackie. So Jack is the person you’re stiffing.”
“You can have his skinny ass back,” Jack barked. “And I’ll expect you to collect him within the next half-hour. And don’t worry about him going anywhere. I’ve confiscated his shoes.”
Jackie and I argued all the way back to the Chinatown spying apartment.
“I done good,” he insisted. “The best I could.”
“But you slept all the time. You were on surveillance. You needed to stay awake.”
“What I needed was bubble tea! You needed to bring me bubble tea, Amster. That’s how I stay awake.”
“Did your uncle Tony not drop by with your meals?”
He shrugged. “Yeah. But no bubble tea.”
“Did you tell him that?”
He thought for a minute. “Because he bwought dumplings. It would be wude for me to ask for both tea and dumplings.”
“He brought dumplings, all right. Enough starch to put you to sleep for days. Couldn’t you have done with a salad?”
He made an awful face. “Yuk! Salad is for round eyes. Chinese cook our lettuce.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I made a left on Pender Street and headed west. “I’m dropping you off at the apartment. There’s food in the fridge and you’re welcome to it. But you need to stay alert and watch Reynolds for me. Capiche?”
“What’s alert?” he asked wide-eyed.
I pulled to the curve in front of our building, opened the passenger door, and gave him a good hard shove.
Just after ten p.m. I walked into the bar on East Hastings Street and slid onto a stool beside Robocop who was casing the joint with his long crooked nose. Biker waved to me from the end of the bar.
“Nice hat!” I called. “Is it new?”
Biker shook his ratty bandana. “In 1964 it was new.”
Muscle-bound Barbell came by and slapped down a double Crown Royal, a house whiskey poured into a brand bottle, as usual. I wished I had the guy’s money. Barbell winked at me and I winked back. My friends. My bar. Home again. Soon someone would take a potshot at me with an AK-47.
“It doesn’t look good for your sister.” Robo’s head poked out from his big brown coat. My friend Robert had recently written a self-published book called [_Don’t Bend the Law, _]not exactly a bestseller. He, in fact, couldn’t give a copy away. But Robo was still a big guy, six-four, and in excellent shape for a senior citizen. He didn’t need glasses and his bushy hair had turned white in my absence, as white his thick mustache.
“You’re going grey, Robo.”
He nodded. “You caused it. You and your wacky family. It doesn’t look good for your sister.”
“Tell me about it,” I quipped, knowing that he would.
“It’s like this, son.” There he went again, parenting me. “She’s made too many enemies. There’s people in this city who’d like to see her hang.”
I nodded. I felt that way myself most of the time.
“She’s violated her probation. Plus mischief and a guy fighting for his life because he got out of his car to complain about the traffic jam and a peaceful protester nailed him with a rock. Two years, less a day if he lives.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“She’ll need a damn good lawyer.”
“Marco Midolo is taking her case.”
Robo straightened up. “That changes things. But not much.”
“What if he gets the case thrown out? On a technicality, maybe.”
“Are you kidding me? With his ego I doubt he’ll even try. No, Marco will want the big circus.”
“That’s what I think. But I still think he’ll win. One way or the other. Overcoat Marco doesn’t lose.”
Robo changed the subject. “What would Vancouver do without you Joneses for news? Like last summer when Jack went to jail for murder and the town went wild. People couldn’t wait to turn their televisions on at night eager for his trial. Then suddenly the charges were dropped. And people liked that even better because they knew there’d been a fix. Your dad can pretty much fix anything.”
I nodded. “Almost.”
“What’s this I hear about his brand-new son? From the Asian Mafia?” His whole coat shook with laughter. “Folks aren’t buying it, you realize. No, they think Jack is cuddling up to the Triad because he’s getting into drug-smuggling where the real money is.”
“Right. Like Jack needs new money.” Boring. I started to yawn. “Richard is his son. His biological son. My new surrogate brother. But I like your story better. It’s funnier. You slay me Robo.”
Robocop left in a huff. But before his barstool cooled off, Biker snatched it up. “How you doing, Copper?” Biker was still the big friendly guy standing about six feet tall and four feet wide of muscle. Like most Longshoremen he was not to be messed with.
“Good.” A rotgut double-whiskey has a tendency to cheer me up. Especially the stuff I licked off the counter after Barbell slammed it down. “You?”
He nodded. “Same. I hear about you from time to time. Since your dad owns this joint.”
I tossed him a look. “How did you figure that out?”
“Research. After you told me that he came here to clean out the cash register when you were little I followed up online. I’m not a stupid man.”
“No. You’re not.”
“And I’m well-read too. I saw your sister’s picture in the paper. And I saw the footage on the news. Big do do.”
“Just for the record I’m a foster kid and I don’t have radical blood.”
Biker laughed. “Don’t kid a kidder, son. You’re every inch a Jones no matter what your blood.”
I started to wonder about what this guy didn’t know.
“I hope she turns herself in. She’s such a pretty girl. A bit skinny but she looks like an angel with all those blond curls.”
“That’s her disguise. She’s really dark-haired and fat.”
He liked this enough to order another round. “She’s tall.”
“She is. She’s five nine. Five nine and ferocious.”
“Are you in love with her?” he suddenly asked.
“Doesn’t matter cause it’s never going to happen. Not as long as Jack’s alive.”
“I could take care of that little problem. But it would cost you.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Biker punched me on the arm. “Yeah, right. Let’s face it, Copper. You worship the guy.”
AFTER DRIVING JACKIE HOME EARLY the following morning I returned to take up my post at the spying apartment. While Willy had yet to arrive for work the new guards were in place at the Woo suite and were busy jostling for position in the hallway – the coveted spot being most distant from the door, naturally. Bugs Zee had little trouble confiscating this territory since he had a bodyguard of his own, Lugs Nut. Lugs was about twelve feet tall with gold teeth that could rip the head off a shark, if it pleased him. The boys in the hall were not exactly an Asian rock band, you understand.
The stockbroker, Albert Noe, had donned his Elite Instructor uniform and was heading to the living room to work out his frustration. The market had taken an upward swing and no matter how hard he tried he could not convince Mini, who had arrived for an early morning meeting, to sell. She felt the market would go even higher, in which case she’d be mad at herself. And she certainly wouldn’t buy low stocks because those stocks were sure to plummet further. No, Mimi was going to sit on what she had.
Poor Albert. After a succession of stretches he eased into his routine where the man excelled. I mean, he made Bruce Lee look embryonic. He karate chopped and Kung Fu kicked all over the place, back-flipping, cart-wheeling, and Tae Kwon Doing everywhere, stopping only to slip into the one legged balancing act of Tai Chi, breathing deeply and radiating like a man who’d just discovered a cure for constipation. He was fully capable of protecting Reynolds from a mugger, no problem. How he stood up against gunpowder had yet to be determined.
In the hallway, Bugs Zee was bossing people around. He was pissed with Taboo who kept running into the office he shared with Willy to hide. “You are now a guard,” Bugs chastised. “Get your fat ass out here.”
Taboo opened the door a fraction to peek out. “I’m an assistant. To your brother.”
“Then why are you wearing a gun?”
“Willy wears a gun. So why isn’t he a guard?”
Bugs Zee was simply a smaller version of Reynolds, but with more of Mini’s ways. “When you make this organization a million dollars a day you can sit behind a computer like Willy. Until then you’re a guard. A fat guard who could take a few bullets without hurting much.”
Taboo came into the open hanging his head.
Breakfast was about to be delivered by Reynolds’ man, Chewy, who was almost always on time. The door opened and in one graceful swoop the man who’d just iced Chewy showed a Ruger with a silencer and over the heads of a half-dozen, stunned guards blew Bugs Zee away. Pischew! Pischew! Pischew!
NEEDLESS TO SAY, THINGS TURNED chaotic at the Woo suite. Bits of Bugs Zee’s brains lay splattered against the plaster like ugly wallpaper, and Mini, who’d lingered at the bar after her breakfast meeting, surfaced from the living room to scream. Meanwhile, Reynolds’ bodyguards went stampeding out the door chasing scary white-guy, I thought, but later learned they were just running away. All except for Albert Noe, that was. Albert rushed to apply bathroom towels to Bugs Zee’s head while calling 911 on his cell. Ironically, Mini had been right about Albert coming in handy.
Soon Reynolds came screaming from his back office to the living room where he proceeded to run around in circles like a chicken with its head cut off.
“Help!” he hollered. “Somebody please help! Please help my brother!”
Sirens grew closer as ambulances and cop cruisers and fire trucks began to arrive on the scene. I threw on my blond wig and shades and hurried down the back stairway to film the commotion on my cell. It wasn’t every day that a guy got to see a Triad drug war firsthand. Frantic Mini had accompanied Bugs Zee’s stretcher down in the elevator and was busy accusing Reynolds – who was following along like a sheepdog – of everything.
“This was meant for you!” she screamed. “It should have been you!”
Reynolds cocked his head. “Why?”
“Because! You are Reynolds Woo. You are the big drug lord. Bugs Zee is just a baby. My baby!”
I waited for Reynolds to say something in his own defense, like it wasn’t his fault. Like it hadn’t been his idea to involve his ‘baby’ brother at all. But nothing.
Mini howled her way over to a big-muscled cop who lifted her into the ambulance while Reynolds crawled in behind. For an agoraphobic who hadn’t been outside in a while he hardly shook at all. As the ambulance sped away from the scene with lights flashing and sirens howling I felt an eerie sense of loss, an inexplicable void. It was like Mini and Reynolds had become family to me, my new weird relatives. I felt especially sorry for cousin Reynolds who was clearly not my aunt’s favorite son. And without some sort of divine some intervention, Mini was about to lose her favorite son. I pointed my Beemer in the direction of Vancouver General.
Inside the hospital doors I was greeted by the familiar odor of disinfectant, of Pine sol, and regrets. While some people came here to die, others wished they could die, and didn’t have to linger on. But babies were born here too, sweet babies that would grow old and possibly come back to die, or worse still, linger on waiting for the finale. I was a warped bastard and knew it. I’d likely become one of those hanger-oners, down the road, as punishment for a hollow, shallow life. But good things happened here too. Despite the odds, Tina had recovered from an abdomen full of shrapnel and was now able to drive her mom to visit Judge Clark in jail. Jack had recovered here too and likely should be in jail, but not for the reasons one might think. He used heavy-duty detergent to launder all that money, should anyone care to know.
Mini Chin was pacing in her little high-heeled shoes just outside the OR doors. Her face was scrunched. She was a mess of make-up and bloodstains and her expensive grey suit was destined for the trash. I held out the Starbuck’s tray.
“The cops told me. And I’m sorry about your son, Mrs. Chin. Perhaps you’d like a coffee while you’re waiting. The cops bought it for you.” I waved to the big burley officer and he waved back.
Mini’s eyes were puffy and worry squeezed her face. She held out her small hand. “That’s very kind of you, Mister?”
“Smith. Brad Smith.” Well, I could be Brad Smith. Or even Brad Pitt in my blond wig and shades. “Cream and sugar?”
“Black. Thank you, Mr. Smith.”
I continued on to the waiting area where Reynolds sat slumped in a chair. He looked like a glum eight-year-old child.
I approached with caution. “The cops told me about your brother. I brought you a coffee.”
He eyed me blankly. “Is there poison in it? Are you here to finish us both off? Me and my brother?”
I felt guilty. It was a rare feeling that I couldn’t shake off. I was a bad person, since only recently I’d been sitting in Reynolds’ living room eating free sushi while being offered a job, a job I planned to royally screw up. Deception was supposed to feel better. Not that I could have prevented Richard from attacking. And in my own defense I’d couriered back the money Reynolds had paid me for doing nothing. That had to count for something, especially since it had to travel up one whole floor. I felt ashamed.
I sat down, put the tray on the table between us, and pointed to the myriad flatfeet hanging about. “I can try both coffees if you like. They used to do that way back when. You know. When the Arabs poisoned each other’s wells.” I adjusted the wig on my head.
He nodded. “I thought you may be an Arab. With the blond hair and all.”
Whew! Sarcasm. I forgot just whom I’m dealing with. “Maybe we could get a cop to test the coffee. There are enough of them around. What do you think?”
He almost laughed. “And you’d expect me to drink it after that? Please!”
I took a coffee from the tray. “I’m sorry about your brother.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, yeah. Bugs Zee will do almost anything for attention.”
I wisely decided to give him some time, to which he responded favorably.
“It’s all my fault,” he blurted out. “He was guarding me. He took a bullet for me and if he dies my mother will kill me.”
Prospects weren’t looking so good for poor cousin Reynolds I had to say.
“I’m sorry to hear that. But I doubt she’ll kill you. She’ll just blame you forever.”
He looked me straight in the sunglasses. “How do you know so much? You don’t even know our family.”
Wanna bet? “I know families,” I said quickly. “I have one of my own.” Speaking of which I had to call in. I stood up. “Nice talking to you, sir.” I headed for the exit sign and when I turned for one last look, Reynolds was pouring cream into his coffee cup.
Outside the clouds were threatening to part with a scant ray of sunshine poking through. The pink petunias had been yanked from their summer beds leaving only the musky scent of wet earth behind. I took a deep breath of good air and dialed.
“Jilly is back at the house,” Jack said. “She’s preparing to turn herself in tomorrow morning. I trust you’ll go along with Marco?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“None. It’s all arranged. It’s an appearance that’s all. Those shoddy lawyers make deals ahead of time you know.”
That much I knew. Soon the crown prosecutor and Marco would be laughing together over drinks with the judge.
“One more thing, Hamster. Your narcoleptic assistant. Do you think I could borrow him again?”
“I thought you wanted nothing more to do with him. Ever.”
“That was before I needed him. Needing is different than wanting.”
“What do you need him for?”
“Ok, Jack. What do you need him for?”
“You’re being repetitive. Willy thinks I need him, that’s all. Willy’s holding the fort over at Reynolds place. He says that Mini will seek revenge. And since I’m Richard’s dad, technically, I’m at risk. I’m not worried but Willy is.”
“I see. So Mini knows about you and Richard?”
“She does now. It’s all over Chinatown. Not that I’m famous there but Richard certainly is. She’s been running around calling him ‘the mongrel’. Not a clever thing to do.”
“Not clever,” I agreed. “Willy’s right, though. You’ll need protection. But why Jackie? What good is he to you?”
“Well, before you nabbed him he was in training. Tony took him to the shooting range almost every day. The instructors told Tony that they’d never seen anyone like him. He’s totally ambidextrous and can even shoot with his feet.”
“Really. And he’s licensed?”
“Well, you know Peter.”
Yup. The crooked cop had a desk drawer full of licenses. I treaded softly. “You know about Mini’s cousin, Woo Woo, Jack? And his [_A Team? _] She was playing for a while saying that she was using James Wong, giving Woo Woo time to put together a team. She told Willy that they’re ready now and to call them in. She’s meeting with them tomorrow afternoon. They will go after Richard, for sure. And possibly Richard’s dad.”
Jack nodded. “According to Willy there are eight trained snipers. I don’t like that word sniper.”
“Nor should you. We’ll need to get you some major firepower. More than just Jackie. But since I have to go to court in the morning it will be later in the day. But start with Jackie and I’ll come as soon as I can. I need Jackie at the Woo suite in the afternoon. We need to know what’s goes on at the meeting. He understands the language and they’ll be speaking it for sure. Willy won’t be privy to this gathering. He’s expected to be at his computer.”
“This is serious, Jack. I’ll arrange for some serious protection.”
Jack didn’t even argue. Not a single word.
Personally, I have an aversion to courtrooms that smell like shoe polish and the fact that I was following behind a hot blond with a horsetail of hair didn’t change much. Shoddy Marco Midolo kept whispering in her ear, which didn’t thrill me either. Creep. He suddenly turned back to me.
“I’ve made a deal with the crown,” he bragged. “They’ve set bail at a100k. House arrest. She’ll be able to go home. And luckily her home is spacious because she won’t be able to leave.”
“Let me guess. Electric ankles.”
“A little better. A bracelet.”
“With diamonds and rubies,” Jillian chimed in.
Marco pointed to the second bench from the front, as though I was to obey like a Doberman Pincher. Grrrr. So, treat me like a second pew person I didn’t care. Judge Steven Walburg was to preside over the hearing. He was kindly looking enough, with white hair and a white beard, neatly-trimmed. “Mr. Midolo and Ms. Schmidt. Please approach the bench.”
Marco and the crown prosecutor stepped forward to join the judge in a huddle. Ms. Schmidt was shaped like a banana, thick through the middle, but with a small head and skinny ankles. She wore a bob and thick glasses and a rumpled green suit. I figured charming Marco could talk the dowdy prosecutor into almost anything.
I poked Jillian in the back. “I’ve got you where I want you now. I can chase you all over that mausoleum and you can’t escape. I shall have my way with you, fair damsel.”
“Good luck.” She didn’t bother to turn around. “Jack taught me how to fight the boys remember. I’m the best testicle kicker in town.”
“I can’t wait for you to try.”
Marco stood before the judge, who was apparently his for the moment. He motioned to Jillian who sprang to her feet like a tiger on the hunt. A bit player emerged to read the charges. He had zero hair atop his head but his curly red sideburns lent him a furry look.
“Jillian Emily Jones,” he said. “You are charged with the following.”
She nodded. Marco nodded. I nodded too since it appeared to be going around.
With great flourish, Furry read a long scroll of crimes: mischief; violating property rights; trespassing; disturbing the peace; disrupting stability; violating a court order as in breaking the terms of probation etc. Finally, Furry backed away, bowing respectfully to Your Honor before heading for a water bottle stashed on a bench near a side door.
[_Your Honor _]had his own copy of the charges, which his long nose studied. “Ms. Jones. Do you understand the charges brought against you?”
“I do, Your Honor,” she said politely.
I smiled. I knew the real Jillian, the Jillian itching to claw the old guy’s eyes out.
“And do you understand the seriousness of such charges?”
She nodded. “I do, Your Honor.”
In a pig’s ass, she did. She’d be peeling that bracelet off in half an hour.
“Ms. Jones.” [_Your Honor _]narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been in my courtroom before. More than once.” He thumped his index finger on the paper. “And you’ll be here again because you’re going to trial. It is agreed by the court that you are to be released under house arrest. Bail has been set at one hundred thousand dollars and I believe Mr. Midolo has already taken care of that.”
Marcus beamed. “I have, Your Honor.” Right. Like it came out of your pocket, moron.
“Mr. Midolo would like to expedite the proceedings so a date has been set for the preliminary hearing. November twenty-seventh. And may I give you a word of advice, Ms. Jones?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I cannot stress enough the seriousness of these charges. Why a woman as well educated and as accomplished… I believe you are an artist, are you not? A successful one, as I recall. A member of the West Coast Six.”
“I am, Your Honor.”
Boy, was she piling it on. Successful artist? A member of the West Coast Six? Funny. Jillian was a professional activist and little more. The boxes of her pathetic paintings in Jack’s warehouse said it all.
[_Your Honor _]shook his head. “Why a woman such as yourself would violate a probation order is beyond me. Perhaps you can enlighten me because I clearly don’t understand.” Shaking his white jowls he leaned back in his chair.
Jillian drew herself to her full five-feet nine. “Most people don’t. They don’t understand because they don’t care about the damage being done to our planet. They don’t think it’s real.”
Your Honor cut in. “Maybe they do care. Maybe you just don’t know it.”
Zing. One for Your Honor.”
“Apathy is worse than not caring at all,” Jillian retorted. “People need to take action.”
Score. Tie game.
“Continue.” Your Honor looked bored. “Maybe by starting at the beginning.”
“With temperate rainforests?”
“The beauty and majesty and timelessness of a rainforest is indescribable. Rainforests represent a store of living and breathing renewable natural resources vital to the survival of our planet. They continuously recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen. In fact, the Amazon tropical rainforest produces more than twenty per cent of the world’s oxygen. Thus it is called, ‘the lungs of the planet’. Yet, over twenty percent of this vital rainforest is already gone through massive deforestation. So, you tell me, Your Honor, where future generations will get the air they breathe if this massive slaughter of trees continues.”
Your Honor nodded. He understood oxygen. “So we have tropical and temperate rainforests? I suppose we’ll learn more about that during the trial.”
She turned to Marco and they beamed into each other’s eyes.
I snarled. Guess she’d forgotten about dancing that waltz before, the biting-ear waltz.
Marco smacked his chops. “You will.”
“You’ll hear about the damage done to beautiful Vancouver Island,” Jillian added. “The travesty of clear-cutting. And why we are so desperate to put an end to it all. To save Clayoquot Sound and Catface Mountain from being raped and pillaged. And why we must protect the distinct biological species living there. They took four million years to evolve. We must….
“Thank you, Ms. Jones,” Your Honor cut in. “That will be all.”
The air went out of Jillian like a deflating balloon. In fact, if Overcoat hadn’t been anchoring her with his lustful charms she may have gone fizzling away. “Thank you, Your Honor,” she whined, but didn’t mean it. Not one bit.
I pulled into the parking lot of Jones Import/Export shortly after noon and killed the engine. Since torrents of rain were pelting against the roof of my convertible I gave it a cigarette minute before braving the downpour. The big Phantom 1V was parked in Jack’s stall, running, meaning that Tony had dropped by for a visit so I didn’t feel guilty about enjoying a few final puffs. Eventually I leapt the steps to the warehouse office two at a time, threw the door open, and shook to dry myself like a wet dog. Straight ahead, Tony Chan was sitting in a chair and he didn’t look so good – not with duct tape across his mouth and ropes confining him there. I rushed to set him free.
“Mum… mum… mum…” he mumbled, his eyes as big as saucers. “Mum…”
Poor guy. Bad enough he was dragging old age like a sack of rocks but duct tape? Well, duct tape doesn’t always give up easily. I give it a good rip.
After a while he stopped screaming. “You fucking fool! You’re such a clod, Charlie!”
I hacked his ropes with my butterfly knife. “It’s quiet in here. Where’s Shoeshine? And the warehouse boys?”
“Locked up somewhere. They wouldn’t have argued with assault rifles. They’re in the warehouse, likely locked in the packing room. I heard the bad guys say that they caught the fat man in the bathroom with his pants down. They nailed the door shut. They even laughed about it. Don’t you think that’s mean?” He stood up, stretched, and rubbed the welts on his wrists.
I nodded. “I assume they took Jack?”
His turn to nod. “And Jackie. They took Jackie in place of me. I’m too old, they said. They’d probably just have to bury me and I’d be a lot of trouble. Don’t you think that’s mean? They were very mean, Charlie.”
“What? You were expecting nice guys? And they took Jackie because?”
His brown eyes sparkled. “Because he’s my nephew. They took him to keep me in line.”
“How did they know he was your nephew?”
“How do you think? Jackie! The idiot told them! He thought they’d leave him alone because of his uncle, the big shot. And I was a big shot. During the Yukon Gold Rush in 1897.”
Well, that was the godfather. Bravado. I headed for the warehouse with Tony at my heels. We could hear Shoeshine hollering and pounding on the bathroom door.
“How many were there?” I asked.
Tony thought for a minute. “Six. And maybe two more outside. Maybe eight in total.”
“It’s my fault. I should’ve been here.”
He shook his old grey head. “You must be new. Like, your Gloc 9 against six assault rifles? And men in funny black suits creeping like evil cats? Hello!”
“I should have been here just the same.”
“I just kept praying that you wouldn’t walk in.”
I grabbed a crowbar. Tony knocked on the bathroom door and Shoeshine hollered back. “If you don’t have a smoke with you find someone who does.”
Tony and I sat in the quilted leather wings chairs, smoking cigars and sipping cognac well into the night. And I don’t even like cognac or cigars. But the library fire was crackling and hissing and Tony was in a maudlin mood.
“I don’t know, Charlie. They got Jackie. But they also got the other Jackie. My little Jackie Jones.” A tear rolled down his cheek. “The boy I raised in his parent’s home. This home. Before the big expansion. I was only eighteen when I came to this country.” He blushed. “Ok. I was twenty-eight but I looked eighteen. He was my first job here. And do you want to know what’s ironic about that?”
“He’ll likely be my last. I don’t think the boys will be coming home.”
JACK’S HOUSE IN BRITISH PROPERTIES still stood as it should, teetering on the mountainside four stories deep. Nothing had changed in Jack’s absence. Collector cars lined the driveway and the streets as though preparing for an antique road show. Odd that a party was in progress with Jack being held by kidnappers. Was it a wake? I was cranky because I had to park down the street. I was doubly cranky because the two sturdy guards on the doorstep waving their assault rifles should have been at the warehouse like I’d planned. Damn Jillian and her ridiculous causes.
Inside, Shoeshine met me at the door. He was all spiffed up as though ready for a wedding or a funeral or possibly both. His stiff dark curls were held in place by gel.
“Got any weapons, Charlie?” he boomed.
“Just the usual. You got any toilet paper, Shoeshine?”
He tried not to laugh. “Want your ears boxed, kid?”
I punched him on the arm. “You and whose army?”
He gave me a good shove. “Jack’s not dead yet. So don’t think you’re taking over for the boss.”
I strolled into the noisy living room where Tony was serving sunrise cocktails to a packed house. “Having a party? Did somebody die?”
“Not funny, Charlie. You shouldn’t joke about such things.”
The usual assortment of guests were milling about: Jack’s West Van cronies, his thugs, his crooked cops, and maybe even a hooker or ten.
“I didn’t invite them,” Tony complained. “They just started showing up. I tried to kick them out but they won’t go.”
“They know. The warehouse boys have big mouths. And poor Maya is getting dizzy from baking croissants.”
Selic came right over, beer mug in hand. “It’s bullshit.”
I nodded. “Richard should have known they’d go after Jack.”
“It’s bullshit. Richard likely did know they’d go after Jack. Maybe he even planned it that way.”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. He isn’t here, I see.”
“No. I imagine Richard’s lying low. Covering his ass. And protecting that gorgeous face.”
Julia came over and put her arm around my waist. She was dressed for the occasion in a black crepe dress that fluttered behind her like a butterfly. “Charlie. Darling! I’m so glad you’re back. I thought you were going to stay over last night in your old room. I looked for you this morning but you’d gone.”
“I had some things to take care of. I didn’t sleep, actually.”
She looked like a raccoon with dark circles around her eyes. “Me either. I just tossed and turned.”
An awkward moment passed between Julia and Peter.
“It’s bullshit,” Peter said.
She nodded. “I’m glad you’re here, Peter. There’s a degree of comfort with you and Charlie in the house.”
As she walked away he followed her with his eyes. Maybe he couldn’t live with her but he wasn’t living well without her either.
Jillian was busy flaunting her electronic bracelet before Jack’s warehouse thugs. [_I’m now one of you _]she implied. [_I’m a criminal now. _]Right. She put most of them to shame, actually. Let me see. Jack’s thugs. There was Hughie the Hopeful who’d overdosed on Viagra, and Bob Along, Hughie’s little brother, thus named because when someone saw Hughie they’d invariably ask, “Is Bob along?” Bob worked from home, a bit of a stretch for a forklift operator. There was Skid the Mark, the most treacherous truck driver in the Lower Mainland, wearing his customary eye patch to make him look tough. While Billy the Bookie didn’t actually work in the warehouse he usually hung out there taking bets and scamming. He drove a Porsche 911. And the old chieftain, Sammy in the Tree, was looking pretty sad. Jack was family to him and vice versa.
Tony grabbed my elbow. “Willy has arrived. I’m going to tell Julia, Jillian and Peter. That’s it. We don’t need more of a circus than we already have.”
Willy was waiting for me in the library. He looked sharp in his Saturday cashmere pullover and highly polished shoes and he shook his shiny dark hair. Peter arrived, followed by Julia, Jillian and Maya. Tony came in and closed the door.
“We’re set for eleven o’clock,” I said. “So we have eight minutes. Does anyone want to tell a joke?”
No one laughed.
“I know one,” Tony said. “I left Sammy to serve the drinks and he’s so shaky the only way folks will get any booze is if they lick it off the tray.”
It was almost funny. I know I tried to smile.
“Bugs Zee is on life support.” I told them. “I just came from the hospital and it doesn’t look good. We have to act fast.”
Willy nodded. “The minute he goes, Jack and Jackie go. Make no mistake about that.”
A man in a black cat suit and balaclava come into view on the screen. Web cams. Modern day kidnapping. It doesn’t get fancier than that. Willy had hooked the computer to a jumbo TV so everyone could see.
“I can see you, Mr. Chan,” Black Cat said.
“I can see you, too,” Tony replied.
“He’s talking to me,” Willy said, before whispering to me. “I know that guy, Charlie. I know his voice.”
Tony looked annoyed. “I still think he’s talking to me. Are you talking to me, Blackie?”
Black Cat ignored him. “We have two captives here.”
No kidding, I almost said. Who might they be?
Willy turned to the onlookers. “Charlie will do the talking. If they stay long enough you can all say a word. Unless, of course, they speak Cantonese then I’ll step in.”
Cantonese Tony cleared his throat.
As Black Cat disappeared Jack came into view. “Is that you, Hamster?”
II turned to the others. “I told you I was his favorite.”
“Hey, Jack. How are you doing?”
“I’ve been better, son.” He looked a bit rough.
“How’s Jackie? Is he ok?”
“I’m ok, Amster!” Jackie hollered from somewhere.
“We’re all here, Jack. Willy, Julia, Jillian, Maya and Tony. Peter too.”
The brood crowded in around me and waved. And hollered. “We love you! We miss you!”
Peter stayed back. “Great you guys. That should make him cry.”
Tony started to sob. “We need you to come home, Jackie!”
“Tony’s sleeping in your bed, Jack,” I said. “He thinks he’s the boss now and is pushing people around.”
Jack’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “You’re cheering me up, Hamster. And I can use a little of that right now.”
Tony clunked me on the head with his patent swizzle stick. “How are they treating you?”
“Not good. There’s no caviar here. Not that I like caviar but it’s nice to have on hand. You know. To serve to company.”
“Have they fed you?” I asked.
“Not much. Some water and a dried-out sandwich that someone didn’t want. Jackie ate it.”
“They cook like you do, Amster,” Jackie hollered in the background. He managed to stick his little hand in the web cam for a wave. He was trying.
A larger black cat pushed Jack out of the way. “That’s it. There is no more. You can see that they’re alive.”
Everyone hollered good-bye.
After the call Willy said, “I know the smaller guy. The first guy. He’s Lugs Nut’s little brother. They call him Pea Nut.”
Julia was in a huff. “You guys and your silly names! Those people have real names, you know. You should use them out of respect.”
Well, someone finally told a joke. Willy and I cracked up.
“You want us to respect your brother’s kidnappers?” I said.
Willy grinned. “Those are their real names, Julia. They don’t go by anything else.”
Back at the bar on East Hastings Street something had changed. The bartender. An hourglass creature with long auburn hair had replaced Barbell/Dumbbell/Gregorian. She had teeth – gorgeous white teeth, and freckles splattered across her nose like paintbrush droppings. Her full luscious lips were painted red. She was tall, maybe five ten, and I rarely take my women under five nine.
She casually approached me. “Hey handsome.”
I could feel a big tip coming on. “They just improved this place one hundred percent.”
She tossed back her long red hair and smiled. Not some goofy little girl smile, but the grin of a grown-up woman. “I’m twenty-eight. I’m recently single. And I have big tips. What can I get you?”
“Your phone number. I’m thirty-six, single by choice, and the rest is for you to anticipate.”
She grabbed a napkin and a pen. “I like California wine and seafood and to dance naked on the beach.”
“In October. In Maui.”
“My kind of girl.” I ordered a double Crown Royal. Biker laughed all the way over to plop his carcass beside me. “I’ve been trying to pick her up all week.”
I pulled the package from my jacket pocket and threw it on the bar. “I thought you could use a new image. Something clean.”
He opened the bag. “Well, I’ll be damned! A new polka dot bandana. Just like the one on my head. Only cleaner.”
“And without termites. You’ll miss those little guys.”
“I don’t know.” He patted his ratty rag. “This is my good luck hat. If I throw it out things might change.”
I thought about it. “You need to meet someone. You’re a good-looking guy. And you’re smart. I’d say the problem is that old rag on your head. With the new one you’ll at least have a fighting chance.”
He laughed. “Have you looked in a mirror lately, Copper? When was Gucci Boy last laid? You’re kinda’ lean these days.” He took off his rag and flung it into a corner. “How do I look, Copper?” He adjusted his new headgear.
“Splendid. Just fucking splendid.” I whipped out my butterfly knife. “I just need to cut off the tag.”
Biker didn’t flinch. “Should I try it out on the barkeep?”
“What? Hit on my girl? Get real!”
Red came over to see what the fuss was about. Her angora sweater made me itch all over.
Biker flashed her his best pick-up smile. “Hey, Gorgeous. Wanna fuck?”
She nodded. “I do. But your friend here has already volunteered. Sorry.” She sauntered away.
“Shit.” Biker slid off his stool, walked over to his old bandana, and exchanged it for the new one. He slapped me on the back on his way out. “The new one doesn’t work any better than the old one and at least I still have a job.”
Robocop arrived shortly after eleven looking grim. I was sorry that I hadn’t brought him a gift too, like a new horrible brown coat.
“Word has it that your dad has disappeared. Any truth to it?”
I looked him straight in the crooked nose. “He’s away on business.”
“Triad business, I hear.”
I shrugged. “You know Jack. It could be monkey business.”
He shifted in his big horse coat. “You’re taking this lightly, son.”
Didn’t I tell you?
“I saw him today.”
Robo slapped down his double. “How’s that?”
“Technology. We communicate now face to face. All over the world.”
That got him thinking. “What did he say?”
“The food is lousy. Jack rates every resort by its food. Why? What do you hear?”
“I hear that the lad who got Mini Chin’s son would pay. That Mini couldn’t get to him so she got his dad. Grapevine says his dad’s a goner.”
He was getting on my nerves. “To quote Reynolds Woo, grapevine doesn’t know its rectum from a hole in the roof.” I squinted at him. “If what you say has one iota of truth to it what do you recommend?”
“Outsmart them. You can’t fight these guys with guns.”
“What? My Gloc 9 against eight AR-47s and I can’t win? Phooey.”
Robo’s face broke into a huge broad grin. “So there were eight of them were there?”
I MADE A LEFT OFF MARINE Drive, drove down the treed driveway that curled like a cobra above the ocean below, and passed by the scrutiny of four rifles. I waved my monogrammed handkerchief but the artillery turned away. I checked my watch and again amazed myself for arriving on time. It was almost ten a.m. and my appointment was for nine.
Inside the great room, Shorty Poo, Fat Freddie Fong, and King Kong Chin were lined up at the French doors like miss-matched bowling pins. They didn’t say hello. Soon Richard sauntered down the stairs like an Asian Cary Grant, tossing me his generous half-smile. The guy was gorgeous I had to admit, even though I hated his guts. He was all decked out in a red, ribbed pullover, and tan trousers, and soft leather loafers made in Italy at night. By Italians. Kidding.
“Charlie,” he said in his soft English accent. “Good of you to come.”
“Jack says hello.”
Red patches splashed across his cheeks. “Quite right.” He headed for a maroon leather recliner and motioned to the matching one. A warm autumn flame danced in the fireplace between us. “Cappuccino? Shorty makes an absolutely sick one.”
I worried about that word sick. “I’ll chance it.”
Richard said something to Shorty in Chinese and Shorty galloped up the stairs.
“He’s learning English,” Richard bragged.
“I’m impressed. But I’m not here to discuss Shorty. I’m here to talk about your dad. You remember Jack, don’t you Richard?”
The handsome Asian drug lord leaned forward in his chair. “You don’t have to use sarcasm, Charlie. I respond rather well to civil conversation.”
“Really. And how do you respond to the fact that your new dad is now in the hands of gunmen who have orders to kill him if Bug Zee bites it. Or maybe I should say when he bites it. And Jackie Chan, a kid of twenty, will be killed along with him. Not to be sarcastic, Richard, but maybe you might have thought about repercussions before you hired the gun.”
“It was meant for Reynolds,” he said coldly. “It was simply a classic case of mistaken identity.”
“Oh, now I feel better!”
“Damn fucking right.”
Shorty came carefully down the stairs carrying a leather tray with two cappuccino cups and an assortment of toppings: cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa and various sugars.
I sprinkled cinnamon over the froth in my cup, removed it from the tray, and flashed Shorty my best plastic smile. “Thanks, Shorty. Thanks, you ugly little prick.”
Shorty beamed and bowed appreciatively. Yup. He was learning English alright.
Richard was not amused. “You think you’re so very funny, Charlie.”
I did, actually. “Back to Jack. You got us into this mess so I assume you have a plan to get us out.”
“I do, actually.”
“Top secret. You’ll know soon enough.”
“And if they pull Bus Zee’s life support in the meantime?”
Richard nearly knocked himself out laughing. “Mini pulling her baby’s plug? What planet have you been living on? He’ll be on that thing long after you and I are six feet under.”
It bugged me that Richard looked so young and fresh since I felt about a hundred and ten. Was it because he’d spent a lifetime living on the edge, dangling from a fine silk thread? Likely. This was likely kids play to him.
“I need to borrow Billy Chan,” I said.
Richard wiped the cappuccino froth from his upper lip with a napkin. “Borrow him? Borrow him? You can have him! For keeps. Just keep an eye on your valuables. I don’t know what he does with all the stuff he steals but this place is virtually empty.”
Kitsilano is a great place to live but not to drive in. Try parking off West 4th without a handicap sticker, which I conveniently kept in my glove box. Sill do. I walked up the steps to a vine-covered, two-story Tudor and rang the bell.
April Angelotti was drop dead gorgeous. She was a tall, slender woman with round brown eyes and straight strawberry blond hair that went swishing down her back like a waterfall. I’d been after April since kindergarten but, like most girls, she’d preferred Peter Selic to me. So, she eventually married and divorced him and totally cleaned him out. Peter was just the first in her long line of patsies so maybe it was better that I hadn’t made the cut.
She opened the door wearing legs. A lot of legs. The indigo dress above them barely covered her pubes.
“Princess Adrianna. How lovely to see you!”
“Knock it off, Charlie.” She stepped forward, placed her two hands in mine, and planted a phony kiss on both my cheeks.
I followed happily behind her great derriere to a renovated kitchen of myriad windows and stainless steel. Something good came whiffing from the oven.
She peeked in the window. “Panzerotti. It will be ready in just a few minutes. If you’ll kindly open the Chianti we shall have lunch.”
Fragrant fresh flowers in a crystal pail sat in the center of an island carefully laid. I popped the cork and poured wine into two goblets while April presented the food.
“What name are you going by these days, Princess?”
She smiled. “April. I dropped Adrianna although I could pick it up at any time, if need be. I’m not officially divorced.”
“You’re still a princess then! And such a beautiful one. The papers always ate you up when you came to town with, or without, Stefano. Your picture was plastered everywhere. Local girl marries royalty. You were front page.”
She giggled. “It’s great fun being royalty. Wearing diamonds and furs.”
“Did you keep them?”
“What do you think?”
“I think yes. You did.”
“You think correctly. I took that pitiful pedophile for everything I could. I was smart enough to regularly send money to my own bank account because in the end he decided to give me nothing. And try to fight a court battle with a prince in his own country.”
“So why aren’t you divorced?”
“I’ve had good advice. From a lawyer in town who handles my affairs. He thinks we can go after Stefano, make a big stink. Blackmail him, if need be. There were the boys, you see. He liked boys.”
“I see. Not good. Better for Stefano that you stay married then.”
“The marriage was a sham. He wasn’t interested in me. I was an arm-piece. A mere figurehead. It was the loneliest time of my life over there all alone. We had separate bedrooms and when I caught him with a boy in his, well. That was it.”
“Your lawyer may be right. Not that I’m a fan of blackmail. But I could succumb to it.”
She raised her glass to clink. “Yes, you could. If anyone could stoop to blackmail it would be you.”
“My lawyer has the hots for me. Or, the hots for Princess Adrianna, rather. The woman I created.”
“Through marriage. But each time I arrived in Vancouver without Stefano this guy sent bushels of flowers to my hotel. With sweet notes and offers of dinner or a drink. He knew where I stayed, of course, because we couriered papers back and forth. He knew I stayed in the Pan Pacific when here.”
“I know a lot of lawyers in this town. I could know this guy.”
“You likely do. His name is Marco Midolo.”
I watched her grand entrance on the evening news. I watched the big Phantom 1V pull up in front of the Pan Pacific Hotel and an old Asian chauffeur hop out to throw open the back door with gusto. The passenger stepped out to a media frenzy. No wonder. Princess Adrianna was drop-dead gorgeous draped in sable and with a fancy turban wrapped around her head. With one great swirl of her cape she hurried into the hotel.
Billy and I watched from our spy suite in Chinatown as Willy, my co-conspirator, showed Reynolds the newspaper the following morning. They were sipping coffee in the breakfast nook when Willy shoved the paper under Reynolds nose.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
Reynolds twisted his little head from side to side working out the kinks. “Maybe. Maybe for a round eye.”
“She’s Princess Adrianna. Have you heard of her?”
“She’s not a real princess. Mama Mia says she’s just a gold digger who slept her way to the throne. We saw her on the news last time she was here.”
“But you don’t think she’s beautiful?”
“She’s not Chinese,” Reynolds said flatly.
Hmm. Given the porn sites Reynolds regularly visited he clearly preferred blonds – naked blonds, blonds in twosomes and threesomes, almost any kinky combination of blonds worked for him.
“She’s separated it says here.” Willy held the paper under Reynolds’ nose. “Maybe I should give her a call.”
Reynolds chortled. “Like she’d look at you!”
Willy shook his shiny dark hair. “Why not? I’m a good-looking guy. Most women like me a lot so why wouldn’t she?”
“Because you’re Chinese and not a king. You couldn’t buy your way into meeting her.”
“I don’t have to buy my way into meeting her. I already know her. She went to West Van High with some of my friends.”
I smiled. Willy was smart enough not to mention my name since I was on Reynolds’ hit list.
But Reynolds’ eyes bugged out. “You know Princess Adrianna?”
“I do. And maybe I’ll give her a call since you’re not interested. You’re probably scared to meet her.”
The big little drug lord straightened in his chair. “I didn’t say I wasn’t interested. But Bugs Zee is on life support and Mama Mia is expecting me to stay put. I’m not to leave this suite. Not for any reason.”
“She won’t even let you go to the hospital.”
“You know she won’t. She doesn’t want me anywhere near her. She hates me.”
Willy smiled that infectious Willy smile. “Don’t you think you deserve a little fun, Reynolds? After all you’ve been through? Mama Mia never has to know. I’ll bribe the guards. They don’t like her anyway and they like money.”
Reynolds look shocked. “They don’t like Mama Mia?”
I thought he was going to cry.
Willy backtracked fast. “Well, they like her. Just not a lot. It would help if she bought them Christmas presents.”
Even Billy convulsed over that one.
But Reynolds scrunched up his face. “I’ll put that in a memo.”
Willy pressed on. “So, what do you say, Reyn? Are you up for a date with the princess or should I ask her out? I know I’m ready for some action.”
“Action. I’m ready to charm the panties off her.”
“I could charm the panties off her,” Reynolds said without enthusiasm.
“Should we place some money on it?”
Reynolds finally laughed. “We could but I’m a guy. I’d lie about scoring anyway so what’s the point?”
Bingo. Reynolds was on the hook.
On my way over to Overcoat’s office I got a call from April on my cell.
“I just received two dozen red roses. About as tall as I am. And you’ll never guess who they’re from.”
“No. They’re from Marco Midolo.”
“No kidding. Not to be trite but I’m on my way to his office as we speak.”
“He wants to have dinner tonight.”
“Stall him. We’re booking Reynolds for tonight. And maybe tomorrow you’ll be gone.”
“Booking? I’m not a hooker.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
She paused for a minute. “Maybe I want to have dinner with Marco. He’s an attractive guy and I’m lonely. Why can’t I have dinner with Marco?”
“You can have dinner with anyone you want to, Princess. I owe you big time for this favor.” I could hardly wait for April to clean Overcoat Marco out.
Marco was sitting back in his high chair with his Bruno Magli loafers staring at me from atop his mahogany desk. Jerk.
“You have to rein her in, Charlie. She won’t listen to me. You know Jillian. It’s her way or the highway. She won’t give an inch. I was over at Jack’s place this morning and she asked me to leave.”
“What did you expect? Sex?”
He raised a thick eyebrow at me. “She’s going to go into that courtroom and shoot her mouth off. She’ll scare people and they’ll want to lock her up.”
“If they’d locked her up a long time ago we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Marco shook his head. “Thanks, Charlie. You’re a great help.”
“Anytime. And I’ll send you my bill since you could have called my cell to tell me this.”
Jillian was in the living room stretched out on a sofa, still in her fluffy pink bathrobe at two p.m. A copy of the New Yorker rested on her torso.
“Not getting dressed these days?”
“That’s what so great about house arrest! You don’t have to get dressed. Ever.”
“You have a studio downstairs. Why aren’t you painting?”
“Right. Like I’m inspired to paint. My dad has been kidnapped. I’m going to jail. Like, maybe I should paint a roaring fire and little red guys running around with pitch forks.”
I sat down on an animal print chair. “How about portraits? How about painting a portrait of Marco Midolo?”
She eyed me accusingly. “Marco tattled, didn’t he?”
“You tell me. What would he have to tattle about?”
“Did he tell you that I threw him out?”
“That would be tattling.”
“You’re such a jerk, Hampton!”
She stood up and stretched like a warm cat. “He wants me to compromise and maybe we can cut a deal.
“Compromise? Nice. Why don’t you do that Jillian?” Funny that Marco now wanted to compromise. Might it be because the guy that got hit with a rock during the protest was alive, kicking, and soon to be released from hospital? Not such a big case anymore, is it show-off?
“He thinks maybe I could get off with community service. Can you imagine that?”
“What? You don’t like peeling potatoes at the Sally Ann?”
She picked up the New Yorker, shuffled her fuzzy slippers to my chair, and walloped me on the head. “He thinks maybe I could work in a library. Or teach computers to seniors. Or paint a mural at city hall.”
“Jump on it! Do it. Save yourself and the rest of us a lot of grief.”
“I can’t.” Tears spring to her eyes. “It’s too important to lie down over. The survival of our planet is at stake.”
I gave up. “I don’t pretend to understand you, Jillian, but you’re obviously going to fight this thing in court and I’ll support you in that. You know I will.”
She started to cry. “It’s Jack. I may never see my dad again.”
I grabbed her shaking shoulders and wrapped her in my arms.
BILLY CHAN WAS AS PREDICTABLE as a starving rat. While I was busy setting up the monitor in a hotel room across from April’s suite, Billy was gobbling his way through the fruit basket, scattering banana peels and apple cores as though they might grow trees in the floor. He wolfed down walnuts and Brazil nuts, too, cracking them with his teeth before adding the shells to his trail. A cello wrapper from a pack of truffles topped the pile.
“You have to clean that up, Billy. You can’t leave garbage around.”
He looked confused. “There are maids here. That’s their job.”
“They don’t come in until tomorrow and I can’t live in this mess.”
“You don’t wive, Amster. You just work.”
He headed for the bathroom where, recharged by carbohydrates, he decided to snatch my terry bathrobe and wear it as a cape, Batman style. He emerged ready to fly around the room like a tree squirrel, leaping from bed to bed.
Just then Tony let himself in. With garment bag slung over his shoulder he headed for the closet. “Can’t control your employees, Charlie?”
“X-employee. I just fired him.”
Tony proceeded to scold Billy loudly, in Chinese, and Billy headed for the wastebasket shaking his head. “This isn’t fun, Amster. No fun at all.” With a down-turned mouth he started to clean up the mess.
Kow Gong made excuses for his nephew. “Billy’s very sad. He’s worried about his brother.”
“Well, he won’t get wrinkles over it I can tell you that.”
Tony walked over and whacked me with his chauffeur’s cap. “Get a heart, man. Get on the donor list.”
Dragging his feet, Billy returned my bathrobe to its hook and went back to crackling nuts with his teeth, only now he was spiting the shells into a wastebasket. Apparently, he wasn’t going to rest until all the food was gone. Thankfully, he didn’t drink.
“Reynolds is arriving at seven,” I told Tony. “Willy is bringing him right to April’s door. He doesn’t want him to get scared. You know how agoraphobics are.”
Tony had no clue. “Have you practiced with Billy?”
“I’ve tried but he won’t stop eating long enough to listen.”
Tony had excuses down to a fine science. “He was hungry in China.”
I felt like a louse.
“And he had to do bad things to survive. Like Jackie, he was a dentist but he didn’t have regular work”
I walked to the bar to pour a couple of drinks. Big ones. “Not Billy, too!”
“Yep. It’s a family business.”
“Right. Extracting teeth. During torture. Without anesthetic. A family business. Soon you’re going to tell me that you did it too.”
He shrugged. “Not if you don’t want to hear it. I was in Beijing until I was twenty-eight. They start you young back there.”
Billy started to choke on a shell and it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was in trouble. He came running towards me gasping and with a look of terror in his eyes. A quick Heimlich and the shell went flying. His eyes began to water and without saying thank you he went back to loudly cracking nuts with his molars.
“You should’ve waited until he turned blue,” his uncle said. “You were too quick to bail him out. He’s not scared now because he knows you’ll save him.”
Oh, sure. It was my fault.
“Maya is at April’s setting the table. She’s setting it for royalty and she’s doing an amazing job. Reynolds will be so wowed by the candles and intoxicating flowers it won’t take much champagne to knock him out.”
“How much champagne did you bring?”
“Three bottles. That ought to do, if she can even convince Reynolds to drink at all. I’m told that he’s afraid to drink alcohol in case he turns into his mother.”
“Who told you that?’
“Another nephew. Willy. In case you hadn’t noticed on that fancy spying equipment of yours he works for Reynolds.”
Boy. Was I being spanked! There was very little I didn’t know about Willy and Tony damn well knew it.
“My nephew also told me about how he arranged the date for Reynolds with April. Apparently, you’re not so good at your job. Willy booked a room next door to April for his guards. Reynolds has a wrist alarm and can call if he needs them. You didn’t think of that, did you?”
“I’m not Reynolds’ employee, Tony. Willy is. He was just doing his fucking job.”
“You were supposed to work for Reynolds. But you got goofy so he fired you.”
I ignored him. “I have every confidence in April. No mortal man can resist the powers of Princess Adrianna.”
Shortly before seven p.m. April emerged from her bedroom blowing kisses to the camera. Dressed in a full length, black and gold Cheongsam, with the skirt slit to the hip, she looked hot. Her hair went twisting into a knot that was fastened with a glittery clip, while dazzling diamonds dangled from her ears. She pivoted for our approval.
“She’ll kill him,” I told Tony. “He’ll die of fright.”
Billy held out two shaky hands. “Me too. She makes me shake.” Preparing for his appearance, Billy was wearing a white dinner jacket, black pants, and the shiny black shoes Tony had brought along. I straightened his bow tie.
“Get over there, Sharky.” Well, Billy did have sharp teeth. Likely from cracking nuts. “Get over there and do your job. And don’t let me down.”
Billy strutted to the door and before slamming it behind him said, ”Or what, Amster? Or you’ll break my fucking neck?”
I took a deep breath. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Tony settled in on the sofa while I headed for the bar.
“You have a bad feeling about everything, Charlie. Give it a rest.”
“If he messes up I’ll kill him.”
Maya had performed her magic on the Pacific Suite. The table was beautifully laid with her best china and crystal, and flowers flowed from vases about the room. Candles glowed. The door opened and Billy came bowing in. April whispered her instructions and Billy nodded, as though he understood. Right.
”I told April to stay seated,” I told Tony, ”because even in flats she’ll tower above Reynolds. Like she’s towering over Billy. She’s to stay seated and cross her legs.”
Tony could have cared less. “Yeah. Yeah.”
As per instructions, April headed for the beige sofa where she sat down and crossed her shapely legs, exposing plenty of flesh.
Precisely at seven o’clock a soft knock sent Billy scurrying to the door. “Remember what I told you,” I said to myself. “Do not say hello to Willy, even if he is your cousin. You do not know him today.”
Reynolds entered the Pacific suite and Billy motioned for him to proceed. Behind his back Billy waved to his cousin in the hall and made a sour face. He then stuck his head out the door, placed his thumb on his nose, and rudely gave the finger.
“What did he say?” I asked Tony, since Billy was speaking Chinese.
“His head was out in the hall, Charlie. How should I know?”
Enter Reynolds Woo looking dapper. Either Tommy the Tailor had worked around the clock or Willy had snatched a suit from Toys R Us. He was carrying a small spray of orchids, which he shyly held out like a boy offering a flower to him mom.
April patted the sofa. “You darling man! How thoughtful. Come here this minute and sit beside me. Shatner will put the flowers in a vase.”
Billy looks puzzled.
“He wanted to be called Kirk,” I told Tony. “Like Captain Kirk from Star Trek. He thinks he’s acting in a play but she’s got him confused now by calling him Shatner.”
Tony didn’t get it. “Why doesn’t she just call him Billy? That’s his name.”
“Billy wanted a fancy name. Like on TV. Kirk was his idea. He’s acting in a play and he wants a stage name. He wants to be Captain Kirk.” If I had to explain it again I’d likely cry.
“Shatner?” April repeated.
Billy looked over his shoulder. “No Shatner here.”
April turned to Reynolds. “I’m horrible with names.”
Reynolds nodded. “Me too.”
Right. The little computer-hacking genius knew the name of every customer in at least four Canadian banks, six U.S., and twelve European.
She squinted at Billy. “What did you say your name was, darling?”
“Kirk. Captain Kirk.”
Tony giggled. “He’s an idiot. My nephew is an idiot.”
Billy snatched the flowers from Reynolds’ hand and disappeared into the kitchen. Soon he returned carrying a silver bucket and two crystal flutes.
“I popped the corks and put stoppers in the bottles,” Tony said. “To make it easy for him.”
Billy poured the champagne with great care. “Sampagne, Pwincess!” he announced proudly before returning to his duties in the kitchen.
April handed a flute to Reynolds.
“To us!” she toasted. “To us and our divine new friendship!”
Reynolds took a little sip. “I don’t drink alcohol much,” he whispered. He was scared of her.
“It’s Dom Perignon. A very good champagne. One of my favorites.”
He took another little sip. “This is very good. Very tasty.”
April flashed her killer smile. “You never know what a man and woman might do after too much champagne.”
Reynolds took a big gulp. “It is good.”
“Reynolds is a virgin,” I said. “According to Willy. He’s had virtual sex but never with a real woman. He must be shitting his pants.”
Billy returned with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, still with the sticky note #1 on the side. Maya had left nothing to chance. “Where do I put this, Madam?”
“It’s Princess, Captain. And you may put it on the coffee table. In fact, I think we should eat right here tonight. What do you think, you charming little man?” She reached over and scratched Reynolds under the chin.
He purred. He nodded. Done.
As per my lessons, Billy dried the bottle with a tea towel before toping up the glasses. “But who will eat at the table, Pwincess?”
“Billy doesn’t like change,” I said to Tony.
“Idiots don’t,” he mumbled. He was nodding off.
April gathered patience. “This is what I’d like you to do, Captain Kirk. I’d like you to bring the two place settings from the table and re-set them here, on the coffee table. You can serve our dinner here.” She leaned over, patted the table and waited for a goofy response.
“Can I sit at the table then?”
She smiled. “Absolutely! Later on, Captain. When my guest and I have finished dinner and have retired for the evening you may eat at the table.”
Reynolds tried to shake the bugs from his brain. He was retiring with the princess? A silly smile crept over his face.
Billy took it upon himself to speed up the evening, likely so he could eat at the table. He raced from the living room and returned with the two #2 bowls of seafood chowder. He slapped them down and escaped with the appetizers.
“But Captain!” the Princess complained. “We haven’t even touched the hors d’oeuvres.”
“He wants them for himself,” I said to Tony, who had drifted off. “He’s not listening. He’s going to ruin things.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony mumbled. “What are you going to do? Spank him?”
Billy returned to collect the bowls. “Sorry you didn’t like it.” He snatched the bowls away. “I have something better coming.”
“I’ll kill him,” I hollered. “I’ll fucking kill him!”
Tony snored away.
Reynolds had taken to smiling in the silliest way. His head loosened up and went bobbing like a plush toy in the back of a 1956 Chevy. “Captain!” he hollered bravely. “Could we have a little service here? More champagne.”
Billy hustled into the room, fresh bottle in hand. “My pweasure, Mr. Woo.” He poured the drinks, exchanged the bottles and hurried from the room. Out came the #3 Peking duck, Maya’s specialty. Billy laid the plates on the coffee table and topped up Reynolds’ champagne.
I kicked Tony with my foot. “He’s supposed to get him woozy not drunk. If he passes out we won’t learn a damn thing.”
“Why don’t you run over there and fix things, Charlie. Since all you can do is whine.”
Reynolds was on the downward slide. He was sinking lower into the sofa while trying to focus on April, who must have appeared huge. Still, he managed perfect control of his champagne flute and remembered where his mouth was not. He poured it on his suit. “A little more,” he said drunkenly. “Tell the boy we’ll have a little more.”
“Duck, darling?” April said. She stacked a few pieces of duck breast on a fork and stuffed it into Reynolds’ mouth. Billy was circling like a vulture, eager to snatch what he could.
April held up an authoritative hand. “Don’t! Don’t you dare!”
Billy shrugged. He already had a pretty good stash in the kitchen.
Giggling like a choirboy, Reynolds leaned his head on April’s arm, just before he conked out like the proverbial light.
“Now Billy’s done it! Reynolds is out for the night.”
“It’s eight o’clock,” barked Tony. “Take a pill.”
Someone knocked on the Royal Suite door and Billy the Beaver came out of the kitchen, his mouth packed with food.
“Send them away,” April ordered.
Billy chewed his way to the door.
In the entry a deep voice boomed, “I know it’s presumptuous of me to arrive unannounced. But I was in the hotel and thought I’d take a chance. I’m a friend of the princess. Do you think I might see her for a minute? If she’s not otherwise engaged?”
The packrat shook his head ‘no’ but Marco barged right in.
“Jesus Christ!” I shouted. “Marco Midolo. With another bushel of roses.”
“He’s horny,” said Tony nonchalantly. Then he started to giggle. “Act II. Some play! I’m glad no one will know Billy’s real name. He’s a disgrace to the Chans. And the Chinese.”
Ok. So, now we have Overcoat Marco bursting onto the scene bearing roses, and Princess Adrianna sitting on the sofa with a passed out Asian on her lap. It was actually better than a play.
Tony stretched. “This ought to be good. Got any popcorn, Charlie?”
“Marco!” April squealed. “How lovely to see you, Daaling.”
Marco wasn’t so sure. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company. I should have called ahead.”
“Nonsense. I’m thrilled that you dropped by. Please have a chair. Captain Kirk will arrange the roses.”
He handed the flowers to Billy who’d finally managed to conquer the food in his mouth.
“Captain Kirk,” said April. “Would you please pour Mr. Midolo a glass of champagne?”
Billy disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a fresh flute. He poured the last of the second champagne bottle into Charlie’s glass, a shy half.
April pursed her mouth. “Captain. Please bring more champagne for our guest.”
Billy’s face turned red. “No more. All gone.”
“I don’t think so. There were three bottles and we’ve only finished two. There’s one more in the fridge.”
Billy adamantly shook his head. “Gone. I poured it down the sink.”
I gasped. “He drank it! The little bugger drank it. Your nephew, the glutton, drank the last bottle of champagne.”
“What do you want from me? He’s your assistant. If you paid him more he could afford his own champagne and wouldn’t have to steal.”
“This will do nicely,” said Marco. “I shouldn’t have barged in.” He looked a bit uncomfortable with Reynolds out cold and with his head on April’s lap. “Your friend seems awfully tired.”
April nodded. “Oh, he is! Very.”
I had to laugh. “Academy award. The woman deserves a trophy.”
Captain Kirk chimed in. “Mr. Woo wary tired. Mr. Woo had a wong day.”
I snickered. “Someone stole his food. He’s passed out from hunger.”
Marco’s ears perked up. “How is that? How did Mr. Woo have a long day?”
“I see. Where did he come from?”
“Top seewit,” said Billy proudly. “Nobody knows he’s here. His father is a big king.”
Marco understood royalty. He stood up. “Until tomorrow night, then, Adrianna. And I hope your guest sleeps well.”
With Marcus gone at last, April enlisted Billy’s help in dragging Reynolds to her bed. Back in the living room she issued orders.
“I need you to call room service for me. Order a bottle of champagne. And none of it is for you! Understand?”
He adamantly shook his head. He ran to the ice bucket and grabbed the dripping bottle. “Cannot do, Pwincess. I can’t weed the words.”
Reluctantly, April picked up the phone and ordered a bottle herself.
The clock radio on my nightstand flashed 3:03 a.m. when the telephone finally rang.
“They’re in Surrey,” whispered April from the living room. “In a warehouse. And if Reynolds is to be believed they won’t be there long. Mini is going to teach Richard a lesson, one way or another.”
WILLY ARRIVED FOR A ROOM service breakfast at exactly six a.m. Soon we were brainstorming over warm croissants, asparagus and smoked salmon omelets, and plenty of black coffee.
“Richard is out of the question,” he said quickly. “I worked for him, remember. While he’s not stupid, his goons have the combined IQ of a bright monkey. They’d just shoot up the place, which wouldn’t be so healthy for Jack and my cousin.”
I agreed. “You think they’re being held at Reynolds’ Surrey warehouse then?”
“I know it. If they’re in Surrey, as Reynolds told April, that’s where they’ll be. It’s his front for a huge ivory smuggling operation. I work for him, remember.”
“Not elephant ivory!”
“Is there any other kind? But forget about the elephants for now. If we happen to get through this shit-show alive it can be Jillian’s new cause. Surely she’s getting bored with trees.”
Finally, we both smiled.
“She’ll love elephants, Willy. And just think about this. She’ll be off globe-trotting, tracking down the poachers, and we’ll finally get a break.”
Willy was thinking at record speed. “There’s a bunker in that warehouse. Below ground. It’s where they store the ivory. Ten to one our guys are there. I know that’s where I’d hide a captive if I had one. Or two.”
“And the plan, genius?”
“You and me. It has to be. I’m not saying you’re as smart as I am but you’re all I’ve got.”
“Kidding! You’re the smartest PI I know and the only one I’d trust with my life.” He extracted a paper from his pocket. “I drew this in the middle of the night. It’s the warehouse blueprint as I remember it. I’ve circled the bunker entrance. It’s a door in the floor always covered by boxes. If you didn’t know it was there, it isn’t there.”
I took the paper from his hand. “And how do we get to this bunker?”
“By covering each other’s asses. I’m only guessing but here’s what I figure. There’ll be two guards outside. They’ll be patrolling with rifles. We’ll have to get by them first.”
“No dogs. They won’t want to bring attention to themselves. They’ll be very quiet.”
“So fists? Joking!”
His round brown eyes twinkled. “Well, you can use fists but I’m not going to mess up my perfect pinkies. I was a magazine hand model, remember. Before I turned to bigger things.”
“Oh, right. Before you turned to crime. How old were you? Five?”
“I’m thinking tire irons. Or chains. Or both.”
I nodded. “That works for me. It’ll keep them out for a while. And when we’re inside?”
“I’m thinking three, possibly four guys at most. Maybe only two if we’re lucky. They have other jobs you know. Other people to kidnap and kill.”
“I get it. If Jack and your cousin are in a bunker it won’t take a lot of bodies to keep them there.”
“You got it. They’re likely bound so not much danger of their escaping. “
The last thing I remember was calling Peter and telling him to give us a half-hour start.
I was having bad dreams. I was in a bunker trying to save Jack and a bad guy shot me. He shot Jack too. So, I shot the bad guy and he shot me again. So, I shot him again. And then I died. All I could remember was hoping that Willy hadn’t died too.
Jack was in a wheelchair in this dream. And Jillian was kissing my cheek. That’s when I knew I really was dead.
And then I had another dream. I was in a speedboat with Jackie stowed under the bow. A much bigger boat was chasing us. Mini was behind the wheel and on top of the cannon sat little Reynolds the Wrap, readying to let the gun roar. He had a bag of cough drops in his hand and he wasn’t happy.
“I’m going to shoot the bastard!” he told his mother. “All I ever got from him was lies.”
After that bad dream I could hear Jillian crying. “I should have been nicer to him,” she told Jack in his wheelchair. “I was so mean!”
I figured I was in a coffin and my family – as screwed up as it was – had come to pay respects. It was nice of them. I hoped they had sprung for flowers. I deserved flowers.
Tony arrived to peak into my casket too. “Willy’s in surgery,” he said. “It doesn’t look so good. Shrapnel. A lot. And it didn’t take much to kill you, Charlie.”
I drifted off again. Being dead wasn’t so bad, when you thought about it. You didn’t have to worry about things, like who was trying to kill you and for what reason, because you were already deceased. I was playing tag with Willy in the garden at 33 Terrace Place. There were other children too, including a particularly pretty girl with a frilly dress and big blue eyes. I liked her right away but she liked Willy. Even after I picked a tulip and brought it to her she turned up her nose. Exactly! It failed by comparison next to the azalea branch Willy had offered up. So, I gave the tulip to Jillian who actually smiled before saying that she was going to tell Jack that I was raping the garden. Thanks a lot!
“Willy’s out of surgery,” I heard Tony say. “He’s tough and they say he has a fighting chance.”
There was quite a bit of sobbing going on. Jack was even sobbing. Funny how he didn’t sob when he found out I was dead. Guess he’d been prepared for it all along.
A soft hand was caressing my face. “You’re going to be alright, too, Charlie,” Julia said. “The doctors say you’re out of danger now.” I blacked completely out.
I don’t know how long I slept. It might have been minutes, hours or days. I only know that when I finally regained consciousness my room was full of flowers. And faces. It was like a flowering zoo.
“His eyes are open,” said Jack in the wheelchair. “He’s alive.”
“Praise the lord!” Jillian giggled as she stroked my face.
“Why are you patting me?” I managed to bark. “I am not an invalid.”
She liked that. “Oh, yes you are! You’ve been shot, remember. More than once.”
I tried to remember. “Twice?”
Jack wheeled his chair to my bed. “You don’t remember?’
I tried to shake my head.
“You shot me too. Accidentally.” His arm was bandaged.
Gales of laughter from the multitudes.
His round green eyes were wet. “No, son. You saved me. You don’t remember?”
“I don’t.” But I did remember bits and pieces. I remembered taking out the outside guards with Willy and sneaking inside the warehouse to hide behind steel beams and crates. There were three armed guards and Willy and I made a deal. I would rescue Jack and Jackie in the bunker while he covered me. Then I woke up in a hospital room.
“Willy’s ok?” I asked.
Tony came forward, his eyes also wet. “Like you he’s had surgery. But he’s pulled through. So far, at least. You’re two tough guys. And you saved our Jackie Jones. And Jackie Chan too.”
I blacked out.
When I came to life again nothing had changed. No one had gone home and my hospital room was still full of faces. Sammy in the Tree, Hughie and Bob Along, even Skid the Mark and Billy the Bookie.
“You’re taking up my oxygen,” I mumbled. “I can’t breathe.”
Jillian was still stroking my face. “You’ll have lots of time to breathe when we’re in Tahiti. Jack is sending us there for our honeymoon.”
So I really was dead. “Yeah, right.” I tried to laugh but it hurt. “What’s the catch?”
“He’s coming too.”
A lot of laughter went thundering around the room.
“And Julia and Peter are coming.”
From the corner of my eye I could see the pair snuggling together, great news. “I want to speak to Peter.”
He came forward, attached like Velcro to Julia. “Yeah, Charlie?
“What are your intentions with my aunt?”
“Marriage. I won’t let her get away again.” He beamed into Julia’s eyes. “Ever.”
“You’d better not. But I need to know. Did you come to the warehouse?’
“We did. Robert Coppilani and I did, plus a contingent. A half hour after you, as per your instructions.”
“It was pretty much over by then. We loaded up the outside guards and they were the lucky ones. Between you and Willy you killed the other three.”
I moaned. “I didn’t want to kill anybody! I just wanted to rescue our guys.”
Peter shrugged. “It was kill or be killed. You had no choice, especially since Mimi pulled Bugs Zee’s plug earlier in the day. No more life support for her precious son. You and Willy arrived just in time.”
I drifted off again but I could hear voices in the distance.
“Richard’s gone,” I heard Tony say. “The drapes are drawn and the blinds are shut. Back to Beijing, I’m guessing. I’m guessing he won’t be back for a while either. Maybe never.”
“So, he didn’t want to be my son,” Jack said flatly.
“Can you blame him?”
Richard gone? I couldn’t even throw a party my gut hurt so much. But in my dream it was Christmas morning and Richard’s stocking was hanging from the mantel, a stocking that was all mine now. The spoils of war, I figured, as I munched his chocolate Santa. It was a Purdy’s Santa too, top of the line. Yummy. And it was about the best chocolate Santa ever, given that Santa had meant it for Richard. I hoped to never wake up.
But then there were the socks. After the chocolate Santas there were always socks. A ton of new socks stuffed into our stockings as filler, because Jack had run out of ideas. Or time. So, now I had my socks and Richard’s socks, enough for a soccer team, and I didn’t even like soccer. I didn’t like David Beckham, or Renaldo, or Wayne or Mickey Rooney. I only liked Totti. In fact, I still had a Totti jersey hanging in my closet which made me think I needed to draft a will. That jersey was worth something now and needed to be left to someone important to me. Jackie! I needed to leave Jackie my Totti jersey. So, maybe he wouldn’t grow into it but he just might father a big kid in future, if he managed to marry a big wife. But what did I know, being near-dead, and all?
“Richard was a fish out of water here,” Tony said.
Jack cleared his throat. “A piranha out of water, you mean. Not enough torture and killing for his liking.”
“Maybe. But we’ll hear from him again, guaranteed.”
I could hear Robocop’s big deep voice in the hallway. “Tell Charlie I’ll drop by in a day or two when he has more strength to visit. And I’ll bring his biker friend along too.”
Francesco Totti was almost as good-looking as me but not quite, I mulled. He liked pasta, as Italians do, but that’s where I got confused. I only liked pasta with spicy sausage. No cheese. Or was that pizza? Jackie loved pizza. I woke up in a sweat.
“Where’s Jackie?” I asked in a panic. “Is Jackie alright?”
The godfather was seated in a chair at the foot of my bed. “He’s alright, Charlie. Not a scratch on him. He hid in an empty crate when he heard gunfire. Although he was duct-taped he managed to knock the container over and crawl in. Lucky he’s not too big.”
“Where is he now?”
“Still in the cafeteria chowing down with Billy, I expect. He hadn’t eaten for days so he’ll likely eat for a week. I left a credit card so there’s no telling when he’ll stop. But he did tell me to give you a message.”
“Yeah? What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Tell Amster he needs to get a new hospital. There’s no fucking bubble tea here.”
IT WASN’T SO BAD BEING married to the girl of my dreams, it was awful. Apparently, I’d married Jillian, Jack, Julia, Tony, the mob, and even David in the alcove who still didn’t like me. But about the wedding in beautiful Tahiti…
With palm trees swaying in the breeze, Julia decided to steal the show by marrying Peter the morning of the afternoon we were to wed and by midday everyone was drunk. Plastered, in fact. Great. Since Jackie and Billy didn’t drink (Billy gave up alcohol after getting sick on a bottle of champagne) they took it upon themselves to dive into the wedding cake and demolish it. Only a few crumbs and bits of icing remained, mostly on the Chan boys’ new clothes. So much for our ushers looking dapper.
Drunken old Sammy sat in the shade of a talapa, rambling and mumbling something about kickboxing and looking forward to murdering Leo’s brother. If he had a brother. If not he was going to murder Leo’s cousin. And if he didn’t have a cousin he was going to murder his dad. All of this just before he passed out cold.
On the beach, Shoeshine met a lovely Polynesian woman about his size and quit us all. He wasn’t going to attend my wedding he was going to get himself laid, he said. Jack expected him back the minute he ran out of money, which would be soon, he thought.
Hughie and Bob Along were also looking to get laid and they did. But they had to pay for it, as usual.
Skid the Mark decided to swim with sharks and, now missing a torso, blamed me for his fear of water, of bathrooms, and rain.
Tony went on a crying jag and no amount of consoling from Maya appeased him. He thought Jillian was making a terrible mistake. And so did Billy the Bookie, who was capitalizing, as usual.
Even my best man, my best bud, Willy Chan, capitalized on the event. He picked up the wedding singer, a gorgeous Latino girl, and hadn’t stopped smiling since. He wasn’t coming back to Vancouver, he told me, while slapping my shoulder goodbye. Ever.
And Jack? Well. Jack brought a very special guest to the wedding. He’d spent so much time with Emily Chan at the foot of Willy’s hospital bed that the two were now an item. Billy the Bookie was taking bets on that too. About how soon they’d be having babies. He thought they should move near a school.
As for how I felt about Jack becoming my dad-in-law, well, I don’t think I have to spell it out for you. Nothing would change. It was just a matter of time before he had me in hot water again.
And my beautiful wife, Jillian? Worth it all, and then some, although I had to almost die to get her to like me. But about being married to a ferocious woman who was readying to stand trial for parole violation – plus the removal of an electronic bracelet, with a little help from Peter. I had no choice. I capitulated. I succumbed. I was done.
Done. Happy. Scared.
PI Charlie Hampton dodges bullets trying to clear his client, Jack, of a murder rap. But might shady Jack be in jail for just cause? Fresh from Beijing come the Triad lads led by Richard the Cleaver Chang. Richard has landed his private jet on the tarmac to avenge the theft of a heroin shipment, also the murder of his underboss with whom Jack is embroiled in a business takeover battle. Fingers point to Jack. As Charlie races to clear Jack of a murder rap, Jack refuses to help. No, Jack buddies up to the Triad for his own safety, he thinks. He seems determined to marry off his beautiful daughter, Jillian (the girl of Charlie’s dreams) to Richard, to cement his new relationship with serious crime. But it doesn’t work out so well as we’re soon to learn. Richard is not a nice guy and Charlie isn’t finished saving Jack yet. Not by a long shot. Mayhem and madness? Absolutely. Scenic, coastal Vancouver is about to be rocked by an earthquake, although not the geological kind.