Now, when it comes to physical appearance, by no means do I think of myself as a ghastly troglodyte; I believe that I have a few appealing features. For example, my face is symmetrical (for the most part), and my skin hasn’t molted in decades. However, I’ve always been aware of my limitations, and when it comes to purely physical appeal, I know that my qualifications fall short of the designation “desirable”. And, having spent a few observant years on this planet, I have become acutely aware that an intelligent woman with decent looks can open many doors and enchant suitors with the twirl of a skirt, wielding such power with the finesse of a magician. Hence, in those rare situations where I have received attention from a lovely creature of feminine wiles, I immediately sense the sort of danger that a prairie dog must feel at the scent of a badger, and I assume the worst of her intentions. So, finding myself in the web of this supposed predator and sensing the tug of its skein, my own spidey-sense found its way to the forefront and drove my sense of alertness into overdrive. Lady, you’re not the only one who has the cunning to weave schemes… Of course, such paranoia was a key factor why my lovelife had been a barren wasteland before Rhonda, but that was an unfortunate byproduct of steadfast vigilance. I will show you an abstinent loneliness in a handful of dust…
“Oh yeah?” I asked, following it with a quick swig of the Tsingtao. Even though I would never tatter the banner of my fidelity to Rhonda, I couldn’t help but wonder if Donna had the same penchant for squeaking that seemed to be ubiquitous in Asian porn. I never would have believed it to be nonfiction…until I was informed by galavanting rakes (and who, to my shame, I call friends) that such carnal eruptions are true to form for those born on the Ring of Fire’s western rim. Damn, though…that would have been fun to find out. “And what would that be?”
“I…”, Donna said, pointing the open end of the bottle towards her for emphasis, “might have some information that you would like to have. Wouldn’t you like to know more about your friend Joe Vasgersian?”
Now I was catapulted to DEFCON 5. For a moment, I thought about playing dumb…but I could tell from the look in her eyes that it would be pointless. “Huh…you know Joe, huh? So, what’s this all about, really? Who are you?”
She put her beer down on the counter and grabbed my hand. “Don’t worry…I’m on your side. I’m a friend of the mayor. Well…I’m a friend of her friends…And I like to look out for her, too. You’re worried about the hóng gwai, right? The red devils?”
I simply stared back at her, saying nothing but yet saying everything.
“I know…but Mayor Dwek isn’t the problem. Your friend Joe is lying to you, especially since he probably works for the people who are behind it.”
Again, I remained reticent. When you’re playing poker or in the midst of boxing or in any match where an opponent’s endurance needs to be gauged, it’s important to keep them guessing, especially if you’re feeling vulnerable…just as I was now. I didn’t know who to trust at this point, but I felt like I was being led around, much like Flukeman would be when obsessively chasing our laser pointer to no avail. Now I know how he feels.
She gripped my hand a bit tighter. “So, you don’t trust me…I can tell. But I am telling the truth when I say that I hate people who treat others like cattle.” She paused, looking for any sign of acknowledgment from me. I offered none. “Have you ever heard of Harry Wu?”
I shook my head.
“His family and ours are friends from Shanghai,” she explained. “He was a political dissident in China decades ago, and he was sent to the laogai camps. Awful places where people churned chemicals with their own bodies and where they were worked to death. When they died, the camps would harvest what they could from their bodies. When Harry escaped from the camps, he dedicated his life to making sure that everyone knew about it, with the hope that it would then end. I always looked up to him for doing something like that…how could you not? How could you not do something about it…just like what the red devils are doing here in Little Peru?”
Finally, I broke my silence. “So, how did you found out about them? And how do you know about Joe?”
“I’ve made friends in high places,” she confided. “And they wouldn’t want me talking about them. They let me know about the black market here in Little Peru…but not too much. Everyone knows about Joe and his past, though…”
“How he used to work in porn with Willow, right?” She looked somewhat befuddled, exhibiting a resemblance to her cousin when I had suggested to him the existence of law and morality. “Never mind…you had to be there. What about Joe’s past…?”
She let go of my hand and grabbed her beer again. “That he and Captain O’Bannon are friends.”
Captain O’Bannon…that name sounds familiar…wait a minute…
“Captain Richie?!? The same one who is one of our builders?” I blurted out, with the same ridiculous enthusiasm as a game show contestant. And, having guessed the correct answer, I rewarded myself by retaking my previous seat on her couch. That, and my mind was now swimming. Wouldn’t it be great if life were like a video game, where the simplest and most mundane victories would be disproportionately compensated with a crate full of treasure? Oh well…I suppose that this beer and couch will do.
She walked over, standing in front of me. “Yes, Captain Richie…what is it?”
“I saw a few things on the security camera months back, and now things are starting to make sense,” I said. I imbibed the last of my beverage with one last gulp. “Looks like Joe and I need to talk…’cause he’s got a whole lot of explaining to do.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.