There have been no new posts in this blog recently because it’s been a month now since I fled Kuala Lumpur after shooting Ingrid’s husband Tan Sri Wincent Wan. A month of going undercover to establish a new identity in this tropical island I now call home.
It was a desperate desire for a gorgeous woman that lured me into the seductive arms of the one I call the Harmonica, because she punctuates her speech with a wide range of sounds but who would have guessed that fateful embrace would lead to such mayhem ?
I sat on a bar stool at Club 404 sipping a Heineken, tracing the scarred wood of the bar with my finger and wondering what drunk’s forehead had caused that particular gash.
My thoughts were interrupted by the knock of two heavy-bottomed shot glasses plunked down on the bar in front of me. I looked up. Jiff, the owner and chief dishwasher of the 404 gestured at me with a bottle of Ouzo, the blue neon of a Bud Light sign reflecting off his shiny bald head.
“Join me?” asked Jiff.
I gave him a nod. “Why is it always Ouzo? You’re not Greek.”
“I love the writings of Homer.”
“Yeah, Homer Simpson.”
“You ever read The Odyssey, Dave ?” He asked.
“That’s pretty deep for a guy named after a brand of peanut butter.”
Jiff poured our shots. We drank.
“I got a favor to ask, Dave,” he said.
“Everyone always does.”
“Fine. Let’s see, the bill you’re running is up to five hundred plus by now, maybe . . .”
“I’m just sayin’.”
Jiff grinned at me and poured two more shots.
“This goombah is pressing me to use his football pools. They’re as crooked as FDR’s spine. Now he’s threatening me. Put a dollar in the jukebox and played Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House.”
“At least he’s got a sense of humor.”
“Yeah, he’s a riot.”
“What’s his name?”
Alarm Bells went off in my head. This was the same guy I’d warned Harmonica about. My competitor for her affections. He was screwing around but she just wouldn’t believe me, thinking that I was just plain jealous. However I kept a straight face and mumbled “Uh-huh”
Jiff shrugged. “That’s what he told me to call him.”
“Okay, I’ll ask around.” We drank the shots and I finished my Heineken. I handed Jiff the empty. “Will this go on my tab?”
Jiff dropped the bottle in the trash. “Why don’t you go to hell?”
Despite the rain, I rode my ‘96 Harley north on Speer, over the bridge crossing I-25 and continued into a part of town known as The Highlands. In better days it was Jamaica’s de facto little Italy; now it was overrun with your garden-variety yuppies crammed into over-priced two-bedroom bungalows with their vapid lives, a granite-topped island in every kitchen and a SUV in every driveway.
I rode to 38th, parked the bike and walked over to Gaetano’s Italian restaurant, a Jamaican institution and former mob hangout. I was looking for a pal of mine, Azilan. If anyone was playing gangster and calling themselves Tony Q, Azilan would know about it.
Azilan took a slug of coke and chased it with a sip of espresso. Then he slowly lit a Marlboro.
“The guy’s an asshole,” said Azilan. “He ain’t even Italian, he’s some jerk-off from Oklahoma City for Christ’s sake.”
“So he’s not connected?”
“Connected? What the fuck did I just say? He’s a fuckin’ Okie, a Chinaman.”
“So let me get this straight - he’s a bleeding Chinaman from Okie who’s pretending to be an Italian gangster? Why is he allowed to go around pretending he is?”
“He’s an idiot. And he draws the cops’ attention away from the real goombahs.”
Azilan laughed. “Hey, Dave, I don’t care what happens to that fuckhead. I make sausage, you know that.”
I finished the rest of my grappa. “Best sausage in town too, Lan. Where can I find this Chinaman?”
“I heard he holds court at Waikiki.”
I barked out a laugh. “You mean Waikiki’s like in Don Vito’s place?”
Azilan finished his drink. “I told ya, the guy’s an asshole.”
Waikiki at 6th and Washington has been around almost as long as Gaetano’s. It’s a neighborhood bar, what people now call a dive bar, which it isn’t. It’s too clean and nice to be a dive bar and so is the clientele. But these so-called dive bars do a good business with the kids, so good for them. It was about 9:30pm and still raining when I walked in the door.
There was a pool table just inside, then a row of booths and past that the long Formica-topped bar backed by a kitschy frosted mirror engraved with snow-covered mountains. There was just a scattering of customers seated at the bar. The back of the barroom is outfitted with a jukebox, a foosball table and more booths. In one of these booths sat two guys in fedoras and overcoats drinking martinis with a couple of bored-looking girls. I shook my head. Bloody amazing - Fedoras and overcoats. It was 90 degrees outside.
I walked through the room to the foursome’s booth. One guy was skinny and trailer park handsome; the other guy with a face like a waffle iron. Maybe somebody hit him with one. The girls were college drink-cadgers. I didn’t blame them; college and drinks are expensive. I eyeballed the Okies.
“Which one of you is Tony Q?” I asked.
“Hey, dere ain’t no Tony here,” the skinny one answered using the worst Brooklyn accent I ever heard.
“Okay, I’ll play. Which one of you is the Chinaman?”
The skinny one piped up again. “Who wants to know?”
“Dave Avran, Private Dick.”
Both guys laughed. The skinny one elbowed the girl next to him. “You don’t want I should keep my dick private, now do ya honey?”
I whipped my trusty .38 out of my pocket and cracked him with the butt. He yelped and covered his nose, blood pouring through his fingers. The girls quickly made their way through a group of gawkers and headed for the bar.
“So who’s Tony?” I coolly asked again.
The skinny guy pointed a bloody finger at waffle-face. The Chinaman started to reach into his coat and I smacked his wrist with the gun butt. A bone snapped and Tony cried out. I reached into his coat, pulled out a revolver and stuck it in my waistband.
“You know the 404, Tony Q?”
“Now you don’t. Capiche?”
Waffle-face nodded again.
“Say, you like football, right, Tony?”
He nodded a third time.
“I hear the Marleys have a good chance to win it all this year. It’d be a great time to be back in Oklahoma, don’t you think?”
Waffle-face sighed deeply and nodded his head once more.
“Good. Buy a ticket home right now,” I said and walked back through the barroom. The two college girls stood at the bar staring at me. I stopped and threw a fifty on the bar. “Drink up,” I told them. “College life stinks.”
The 404 was packed with drinkers and diners, the perfume of draft beer and grilled T-bones heavy in the air. Jiff poured us another round of Ouzo.
“I don’t think the jerk would have really burned this place down, do you, Dave?”
“Nah, he’s just a punk. But better safe than sorry.”
We drank our shots and I drained my bottle of Heineken.
“Want another?” Jiff asked.
“What’s my bar tab up to now?”
Jiff looked at my empty then shot me a grin. “Twelve dollars.”
I gave him a wink. “Keep ‘em coming, buddy.”