Chapter Nine: Big Brother
Itís tea time, and Johnny is waiting in suit and tie for one of the rough, tough, unpredictable bosses of the Big Circle. The meeting, arranged by a gangster-gambler-interior-decorator in New York, is not about to occur in a grocery but in full view of humanity at one of Kowloonís most glamorous spots, the atrium of the New Miramar Hotel. It will be as if Donald Trump and John Gotti, Senior, have chosen to rendezvous under the clock at the Biltmore, in New York City, for the atrium of the Miramar is three floors high and on each marble balcony the guests, the tea-timers, and (for all Johnny knows) the plainclothes policemen hang like ivy and stare at the circular table where Johnny now sits. Johnny has chosen this public place for its proximity to Imperial Fur, and the man heís meeting in the Big Circle, a man whose nickname is Fat Ass, has chosen it for its fat-ass-inflating delicious desserts. Epicures all, the Chinese are different from John Gotti, Senior.
At five oíclock Fat Ass enters. At 180 pounds, he isnít fat like Fatty, the vat-shaped wanted man in the Golden Triangle, but heís solid, sturdy, built like a granite statue, and heís strutting across the Miramar rocking from side to side as if each foot were being planted by a construction derrick. Heís wearing a $200 silk shirt and the acknowledged badge of a Chinese gangster: a Rolex, one that was doubtless heisted at one of his recent robberies at Geneva Watches, Mercury Watches, Oriental Watches, or Sun Sun Jewellers. Heís five years younger than Johnny, and though etiquette doesnít require it, Johnny stands up, shakes hands, says in Cantonese, "Iím pleased to meet you," and sits down elegantly as his partner drops like a sledgehammer onto another chair and as his four scowling bodyguards take a table at point-blank range. To their rear in a giant crockery bowl are bird-of-paradise flowers.
"My name is Moy," says Fat Ass to Johnny in Cantonese. He puts his left ankle on his right knee as if heís announcing, "My office today is the Miramar," and from a table vessel he pulls a toothpick, sticks it between two naked molars, and, while reciting his rťsumť, chews on the toothpick like on a celery stick. "People call me Fatty," he says rather euphemistically. "Iím from Canton. I was Red Guard, then I was one of the Thirteen Tigers," a gang of infamous robbers eventually killed by Chinese firing squads or mistreated (like Fat Ass) in Chinese labor camps. "A few years ago I escaped and swam to Kowloon. The sharks didnít mess with me." His toothpick becoming limp, he flips it onto the Miramarís marble floor, pulls out a firmer toothpick (which, in time, heíll flip to the floor until there are two dozen there, lying like sawdust) and says with pride, "And now Iím Big Circle. What about you?"
"Iím like you," says Johnny. "A boss of the Gang of Tranquil Happiness."
"A boss of that secret society. Hm," says Fat Ass, his toothpick tilting up.
"So what are you doing now?" says Johnny. "Iíve heard that itís robberies."
"Yeah," says Fat Ass. And taking his toothpick from its interproximal area, he replaces it with a Kent even before the flaccid toothpick hits the Miramarís littered floor. His lighter goes bong as he opens it, and he says with undiminished pride, "I like that sound. Iíve got the best lighter there is, Du Pont. Yeah, Iím doing robberies."
"The items you get, are you selling any?"
"Yeah, pretty soon. Iíll get you a menu."
"A catalog. Or Iíll get your requisition."
"Your requisition," says Fat Ass, his head rolling cockily as if his incessant subtext is "If you donít know something, I do." "You yourself go to the watch store, see? You see the watch or watches youíll want. You tell me and Iíll get them for you. Your requisition."
"No, thanks. The menu is all Iíll need."
"Iíll get you one," says Fat Ass. He takes his Kent and taps the fragile span of ashes onto the Miramarís soiled floor, but a still, small voice (or Johnnyís split-second glance) disconcerts him, and he uses a shoe to pulverize the unsightly ashes into a rather stylish streak in the marble.
A waiter comes by. Johnny orders coffee for himself and, rather gallantly, for the four dour bodyguards, and Fat Ass like some detective in search of incriminating evidence inspects the laden dessert tray. The caramel custard is a Vesuvius whose lava is strawberries, blueberries, kiwis. The cherry and kiwi gelatin stripes on the honeydew-melon pudding create a fairyland flag, while the kiwi slices and tangerine wedges on the Japanese ube pudding, whose color is livid violet, guarantee that the ube (whatever it is) is also emphatically palatable. Eschewing them all, Fat Ass selects an American cheesecake, an American edifice topped by a cherry, a pineapple slice, and a whipped-cream lather. He pounces like a predator onto the cherry, pops it between his teeth, snaps out the cherry-colored stem, flips it onto the Miramar floor, chews the cherry conspicuously, says to Johnny, "Itís good," spits the pit to the trashcan floor, and (the still, small voice that he may have acquired in kindergarten admonishing him) mightily tries to grind it in, the pit remaining resilient to his firmly wiggling shoe. On his lip is whipped cream that he wipes his napkin across, wipes it fast and firmly as though heís pulling a zipper, and in his ashtray, half-smoked, is a Kent he improvidently ignores. Instead, with a sonorous bong he now lights another one, inhales, coughs, spits on the much-abused marble floor, sees that Johnny looks shockedóthat Johnny is pulling his head backóand awkwardly grinds the inelegance in. Itís then that Johnny strikes.
"Do you have some tissues?" asks Johnny.
"You can use some of mine," says Johnny.
"Next time donít forget tissues," says Johnny.
"I wonít." One-upped by the older (hence senior) man, Fat Ass stabs his dessert fork into his cheesecake as if heís killing a squawking chicken, does this to demonstrate to Johnny that heís still a gangster king. "Next time Iíll bring a menu too," says Fat Ass.
"Good, weíll do business," says Johnny.
Itís nighttime, itís twenty past ten... More