Saturday, February 24, 2007

"A Pair Of Tongs"

“…a pair of Tongs.”

“What?” Jeremy asked incredulously.

Eddie spat and grabbed Jeremy‘s Gameboy. “Pay attention, Jer. I said that Neville's uncles are Tongs.”

“What, they work in a barbecue pit?”


“They work at a salad bar?"

“No, they‘re like the Chinese version of the Mafia and just like the Mafia, they started out as a protective society and branched over into crime. So he‘s connected through his uncles.”

“You mean his uncles are a pair of kitchen utensils?”

“I should’ve left your ass in Concord, you never know how to behave in the City.”

“Eddie, how the hell are you going to leave me at home when it’s my car?”

“I’m with Eddie, he should’ve left you at home,” said the quiet voice belonging to Neville.

Jeremy looked down on Neville, literally. Jeremy was a former offensive guard on his high school team that played simply because of his size and not because of his ability. He received a few too many concussions from being out of position in games and thus, was now merely big and offensive.

Neville was small for an “ABC” or, “American born Chinese.” His clothes and glasses were more in tune with Hong Kong than San Francisco, all the better to do business with.

Eddie was Romanian and was adopted by a San Franciscan family right after the fall of Ceauşescu. He knew Neville from junior high, and both he and Jeremy sported gangsta wear. Jeremy looked behind Neville’s hair and found a top knot, he pulled on it and not too gently.

“What is this, are you some kind of samurai Urkel?”

Neville slowly and deliberately reached for Jeremy’s wrist and pinched an acupressure point. Jeremy’s eyes bulged and he let go.

“Hey, hey, ease up there, Kawasaki Ninja.”

Neville kept his eyes on Jeremy, but pointed at Eddie. “I don’t have time for this nonsense, this is my busiest time of the year."

“I’m sorry about this Neville, my car’s in the shop-”

“Yah, ve-lee saw-lee, Ne-lill,” Jeremy chimed as he pulled his eyes up in an inappropriate gesture.

“Well, goodbye, Eddie, see you same time next year and give my best to your parents,” grumbled Neville as he warmly shook hands with Eddie and started to walk away.

“No, please, don’t listen to this idiot. Hey, hey! At least ignore him for old times sake!”

Neville stopped and reluctantly returned. “How much, Eddie?”

“Yah, how mulch, Ed-ly?”

Neville bit his lip and glared at Jeremy, “look All Pro Athletic Supporter, I’m Chinese. The Chinese and Japanese are two different races and get your stereotypes right, dickhead. We Chinese can pronounce our “R’s.”

“Chinese, Japanese, same damn difference.”

“Eddie, what’s Jeremy’s last name, “jockstrap?”

“No, it’s “Connard.”

Neville looks Jeremy in the face and says calmly, “okay, 'Connard' is French. As with the French, English and Italians, there is some lingual overlap, but you all definitely have a genetic overlap. Yet, there is no way that you would say that you all come from the same damn country. So why you say that Chinese and Japanese are the same?”

Jeremy angrily shrugged, he wanted to hit him with a comeback, but his concussion-addled brain was suffering from satellite delay.

“So like I said, how much Eddie?”

Eddie handed Neville an envelope from a photo lab. Inside was money instead of pictures, Neville thumbed through it. “Okay, let’s say a case of barrel bombs, a case of M-80s and a case of M-100s. All right?”

Eddie nodded vigorously.

Neville dialed his cell phone and whispered, “one bb, one eight and one ten.” Neville flipped it closed and nodded to Eddie, “where’s the car?”

Eddie pointed at Jeremy’s beaten up Pontiac and Neville yelped and cackled at the rust bucket. Jeremy’s face turned red all the way to the tips of his ears. He was about to throw a tantrum, when a wave of nausea crept over him.

“What, is that smell?!”

A bum with a collapsible granny wire cart slipped in behind the Pontiac. The bum slapped the trunk with gloved hands.

“Well, open it Athletic Supporter,” Neville barked.

Jeremy reluctantly opened the trunk. As the bum put the three cases in, Neville took the money out of the envelope. The bum angrily bounced his cart on the curb and wheeled away.

“God, he stinks” Jeremy sneered.

“Perfect cover, no fingerprints because of the gloves and he stinks so much that there isn’t a cop that wants get within a block of him. Speaking of which, you better close the trunk, Athletic Supporter.”

“I’m getting tired of you calling me names, gook!”

“Close the damn trunk, Jer!” Eddie hissed.

“No you close the fuc-”

“What’s going on here?”Jeremy turned around all too quickly and the policeman reflexively reached for his nightstick, anticipating trouble. The policeman looked at the three and asked again, “what’s going on?”

There was panic in the eyes of the other two, but Neville’s demeanor changed and he seemed to take on the naivety of a child.

Jeremy glared at Neville and spat out, “this gook was selling us fireworks, but we didn’t want any!”

The policeman looked at the still open trunk, then at the three.

Neville said in affected pidgin, “my English, not good. I visit.”

The cop asked slowly, “do you have I.D?”

Neville shook his head like he didn't understand and the cop put his nightstick away. The policeman pulled out his own license so that Neville could get an idea. Neville pulled out a Hong Kong passport.

“He's messing with you, he’s American all the way! He‘s as American as I am! Check the envelope, he has my friend‘s money!”

The policeman snatched the photo envelope from Neville, it was empty.

Eddie calmly shook his head and said flatly, “I barely know this guy from high school, he offered me a ride into the city and then he went crazy.”

“Check his pockets! If I’m lyin’, I’m dying!”

The policeman turned his own right front pocket inside out, then motioned for Neville to do the same. Neville did so and it was empty. The cop motioned for Neville to flip all his pockets and they were all empty.

“You’re not ‘dying,’ but you are going in. Turn around slowly and place your hands on the top of the car.”

“No, you don’t understand!”The policeman put his hand on his holster and Jeremy finally complied. He patted down Jeremy and cuffed him.

“You two are free to go, don’t let me see you around here again.” Eddie shuffled off and Neville feigned ignorance. The policeman shoed Neville away and he did as motioned.

Halfway back to the subway home, a bum approached Eddie with a note. It read:

I’ll still credit you for the ‘works, but I can’t give you back the money.
Bring a car tomorrow that’s asshole free and I'll call you where to meet.
If not, have a Happy Fourth of July!


Note: This was a false start to Friday Flash Fiction. Someone that had read the story, politely pointed out that I had only one of the five words required for that exercise. My Grandfather used to hustle everything legal and semi-legal, when he wasn't a newspaper driver. His best months were the ones leading up to the Fourth of July, where he would sell fireworks both in and out of Chinatown.

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