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.
I dropped 6 euros on the counter and walked across the street to Modus Chan. First thing I noticed was the customers lounging around were all Spanish. This was a new factor in the equation. The underground Chinese poker mafia is tight knit and they are highly suspicious of anyone outside their race. I’d bet my boots these Spanish fellows couldn’t even handle a pair of chopsticks.
An older gent with a brown beret was trying to parlay with the counter girl. She was like a little flower blossom. Long lustrous hair, tight pink tank top over her petite frame, worn jeans, also skin tight. The Spanish gent was chewing a cigar, mumbling something I couldn’t understand. The girl giggled and shook her head.
“No comprender, senor!” She giggled some more.
“Ping Ping! Ping Ping! Quiero ver a Ping Ping!”
She giggled some more and nodded her head. She went to a door leading to the back and cracked it. She leaned in and chirped, “Ping Ping!” I heard some light footsteps scramble up to the door. She turned to the old Spanish gent.
“Venil aqui! Ping Ping lible!”
The old man hobbled to the back door and went inside. Amazing, I thought. Maybe the Chinamen were opening a new gambling racket for Spanish ludopatas.
And their shop. It was a clothing shop like Hu’s, nothing extraordinary about it. Nothing that would make it stand out, in my opinion. In fact, the whole place was kind of shabby looking. Even more than Hu’s shop.
When I thought it couldn’t get any weirder, another bird approached the counter girl and blurted out:
“Ping Ping! Ping Ping!”
“No Ping Ping!” she replied. “Ko! Ko!”
He followed her to the back door and she let him in. I could see the other gentlemen getting restless so I beat them to the counter girl. I was sure this Ping Ping fellow was the big fish around here and Ko was probably his thug. I wanted to talk to Ping Ping himself.
“No Ping Ping!”
“No Ko! No Ping Ping! Venil aqui 2 holas!” She was tight-lipped and not so pretty looking now. I knew it was impossible to penetrate her enigmatic Eastern thought.
“Vale! 2 horas!” I could hang fire 2 hours in the bar kitty corner to their shop. I needed a stiff slug of Mascaró anyhow. “Nos vemos!”
I drank half a bottle of yac in that joint, and read a copy of Sport. I was watching an absurd television program called Salsa Rosa on the boobtube mounted to the wall when two hours rolled around. The camarero gave me 20 back from my 50 and I walked out. I had a nice glow on. I was ready for this Ping Ping fellow.
I walked in and saw there had been a rotation. All Spanish birds still, just different varieties of them. I stepped to the charming counter girl.
She giggled and went to the back door and peered inside. She chirped “Ping Ping” and turned to me. “Venil!”
I stepped through the door. I recoiled at the sight of what I saw. A 50-year-old woman with combed back black hair, round forehead, protruding cheekbones and a round jaw was boring into me with black empty eyes. She looked like a cross-dressed Mao Zedong, wearing skimpy white scrubs. Her hand outstretched she said, “20 eulos!”
I handed over a 20, which I figured was the cover charge for the gambling parlor.
I followed her and asked for Ping Ping. She said, “Yo Ping Ping!” The hallway was fluorescent lit and cold. It smelled like yesterday’s Kung Pao chicken. She stopped at the second to the last door on the right and swept aside a stained canvas fabric hanging in the door frame. I entered. She squawked “Quital lopa!” and disappeared.
The room was also fluorescent lit. To my right was a massage table. Dividing the room down the middle was a stained yellow white curtain. I could hear some movements on the other side. I guess I was a little too lit for my own good, because I did what Ping Ping said. I stripped down to my choners and threw my clothes on a chair in the corner. I hung my hat on a corner of the back of the chair. Just then the female Mao came back holding a bottle of baby oil. She told me to get on the massage table.
“Boca abajo!” she squawked.
What happened next I can only describe as a rare form of Chinese torture. She squirted my back with the baby oil and clapped her hands together and slammed them down on my back. For such small hands they sure were strong. They kneaded my poor back like it was a Chinese dumpling, along the spine, the shoulders. I complained once but she hissed and shoved my face back down. I was getting heartburn when she squawked again, “Boca aliba!” I turned around, face up. She rubbed me from head to foot like she was drying off a kitchen counter. She casually brushed against the little soldier a couple times. I raised my head.
“You make chop chop?”
“Plopina! 20 eulos!”
I was saved by her cell phone going off. She stepped out of the room and answered it. I could hear her yapping in Span-ese to what I guess was a Modus Chan client. I stepped into my pants, threw on my shirt without buttoning it. Slipped on my brogues without tying them. I had just finished putting on my gabardine and my hat when Ping Ping came in. I flipped open my buzzer. Kovaks PI. Ping Ping started squawking, another girl behind the curtain started screaming. I heard footsteps bounding down the hall. A Spanish guy tripped past the curtain and ran down the hallway with his pants around his ankles. I could hear an angry Chinaman giving orders. Feet pounding down the hallway towards me. I grabbed the bottle of of baby oil. The canvas curtain swiped back and a Chinaman wearing a track suit burst in. I smashed the bottle in my mitt and sprayed baby oil all over his face. I shoved him back hard and he went tumbling into the hall and knocked the back of his head on the opposite wall. I burst out and could see Ping Ping running out to the front shop. I pounded the linoleum and reached the shop just as she ran out the front door. Bells tinkled. The shop was empty. All the Spanish birds had taken air. I beat it before the Chan brothers could sic their minions on me.
On the way to Hu’s shop people were looking at me funny. I realized my fly was open and zipped it just as I reached the front door of 1000 Secret Moda. Hu was sitting sullenly at the register and jumped up at the sight of me.
“Hu, we gotta talk to the old man.”
He led me back and I explained everything to them. I told them about the hidden massage parlor with chop chop amenities. His father grunted and ordered Hu to get some Tsing Taos. We made a toast and downed our brews.
Two weeks later I stopped by 1000 Secret Moda to see how Hu and the old man were making out. It was a different scene all together. There were old Spanish birds everywhere. They even had that tinkly Chinese music going on. A charming flower blossom was at the counter. I figured her for Hu’s sister. I asked her for Hu.
He came out and shook my hand.
“Fat man. You make chop chop?” He burst out laughing and led me to the back.