THE CHOP CHOP SHOP

I should have known better. Any dame that looks like Mao Zedong dressed in skimpy white scrubs holding an open bottle of baby oil is bad news. You might as well get ready for a rare form of Chinese torture.

***

I was in Bar Mariona on Trafalgar when I remembered this kid named Hu. He’s a cunning Chinese hustler who’s in thick with the slot machine mafia. I busted him one day, handful of jack, and learned the tricks of his trade. You might have read about it in The Chinese Angle. My exclusive expose on the tragaperras gangs on Trafalgar street.

Turns out Hu’s family was having problems in their wholesale clothing shop and he wanted me to help out. Hu called me “fat man”, which is an affectionate way for the Orientals to say “powerful man”. He said, “Fat man. I have job for you. Come by fatha’s store. 1000 Secret Moda.”

So I was hanging fire, scoping the fine frails on the scene, when the beeps of the slot brought the encounter with Hu back. I finished my Mascaró and asked the butch camarera where 1000 Secret Moda was. Turns out it was right around the corner. I footed it to Girona and crossed up until I got to the Ronda Sant Pere.

The entire place was filled with knock-off Chinese duds. Sandals, handbags, t-shirts, negligees, lacy panties, denims, faux leather coats. The walls were covered with cutsey shirts and blouses. The floors were littered with a chaotic arrangement of open cardboard boxes, each containing more clothing by the bulk. In every corner psychotic looking Chinese mannequins posed in various states of undress. Hu and I spotted each other instantly. He was dressed in the same salmon-colored blazer and black tee as on the day I saw him working his magic on the slots. He squawked, “You, fat man, come for job?”

I nodded and followed him through a portière. He left the outer store unwatched and I soon realized why. When we came to his sallow old man, resting on a couch, I noticed three television monitors showing the premises. The old man had a whirl of thin silver hair springing out in the back where he had been resting his head, a long goatee of the same whisper thin hair. When I came in with Hu he stirred meekly and sat up. He took a pair of horn-rimmed specs from a coffee table and put them on. Squinted. Grunted something that sounded like, “Hhhhhhehh!”

Hu chinned with him in his squawky voice. The old man answered with gutteral grunts. Hu turned to me.

“Fatha say ok. Now I must tell you problem. Many month no make money. Clothing business is no good. Fatha is vely sad. Mother is sad. Sister must take care of both. I must take care of shop. We not no why the Chan blos always so busy!”

“These Chan brothers. They got another shop like you?”

“Yes. All clothing business bad, but Chan blos make mucho dinero!”

The old man grunted and nodded vigorously when he heard that.

“Always many customer in Chan blos shop. Our shop, no one!”

The Chan brothers obviously got Hu’s Chinese choners up in a knot. Turns out lines of customers formed outside the Chan brothers’ shop sometimes. Even on Sundays. Hu’s shop was almost always empty.

Hu said he wanted me to dope out why. I broke it down to him. 150 a day, plus ex’s. The old man pulled his lips back into a smile revealing yellow stained dentures. Hu went behind another portière and I heard him bound up some stairs. While he was gone the old man looked me over and grunted, “Heehhhuhhhh!” Hu came back and dropped a c note and a half in my mitt.

“Fat man. My father put trust to you!”

I hit the streets and walked towards the Chan bros shop on Ali Bei and Bailen. The Chan Brothers joint was called Modus Chan. It was hopping, I could see that from my plant in the bar across the street. I could see 6 or 7 customers near the entrance inside. Some were even lounging around. I ordered a shot of brown and shot it down my gullet. Ordered another one and burned through a Ducado.

I was sure Modus Chan was a front for an underground Chinese gambling parlor. Every Chinaman I’ve ever known has had an unusual proclivity for gambling. They set up gambling parlors wherever they go. When they finish work – in a shop or restaurant or beauty parlor, you name it – they go to these underground gambling joints. They play a special kind of Chinese poker and throw down big time smackers.

I deduced as much after seeing the customers lounging around. No one lounges around in wholesale clothing shop. I knew just what to do. Once I knew they were running an illegal gambling operation all it took was one call.

Well, their operation was far more salacious than I could ever have doped out.

***

Read the rest of this story in Larry Kovaks’ book, City of Crime, available now in print or in e-book format. You can also preview the book here.

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