“Well, I thought that we were eventually going to start talking about your buddy Richie again…but I guess that can wait, so you guys can go at each other’s throat some more. Honestly, yeah, Joe,” I commented, laden with irritated sarcasm, “I can’t wait to hear it.”
Joe held a finger pointed at me, defiant in his moment of being un soldat de la vérité. “Oh, you should be, my friend! Because this woman, the one who said that she’s a big fan of helping people, Miss Goody Two Shoes…turns out that she’s got some other reasons for wanting to go after Richie. Why don’t you tell him, Wei? About the Dun Group?”
I tilted my head to one side, trying to let gravity slide my brain onto one side and pool any resources available in my mind. “Wait a minute…the Dun Group…they sound familiar…yeah, wait, I got it! That’s the construction group who pays for the fireworks on the Hudson during the Lunar New Year, right?”
Joe shook the phone affirmatively at my guess. “Exactly! And our lovely Donna here works for them on the side!”
I looked at Wei, who had walked back into the kitchen and was now standing again behind the counter that bifurcated the room. Facing us, her poker face revealed nothing, though she was paying close attention to Joe’s continuing accusations.
“Okay…so she works for some construction group on the side. And?”
Joe held an open palm midair, in that universal gesture of both an apology and a request for patience. “Okay, I got ahead of myself…I need to explain. I forget that you’re not in the real estate game, Pete.” He put away his phone in his back pocket, so that his hands were now freed in order to form something akin to a Buddhist prayer. Seemingly done by rote and appearing to begin a round of transcendental meditation, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Namaste?” I inquired with a smile, not being able to stop myself from being a smartass whenever possible. For some reason, Joe always brought out the best in me. At this point, though, Joe had experienced enough to develop a thick skin, being now able to ignore any ridicule with ease.
“So,” began the contemplative purveyor of abodes, “the gentrification of neighborhoods east of Manhattan are starting to wind down…there’s only so far east that people are still willing to pay a premium price on a condo. So, they’re all starting to look this way, across the river to the west. The big firms been looking at various alternatives: the Heights in Jersey City, some spots in Bayonne…and a good stretch in West New York.” On referring to that that last location, he turned his head slightly in Donna’s direction. Am I imagining things…or did she just slightly twitch just then? “Any of that sound familiar, Wei?”
I scrutinized Donna for some indication of acknowledgement or denial of Joe’s accusations. In response, she simply turned her back and opened her fridge, looking inside its vault for something.
“You don’t have to say anything, sweetheart. I’ll handle it!” taunted Joe.
“Stop being such a dick. At this point, I’d ignore you, too. You still haven’t made any sense…so what? I get it: they want to start putting hipster coffee shops and vintage bicycle stores in West New York. And then they’re gonna create a new show called WestNewYorkia….so what? Who gives a shit?”
“You don’t get it, Pete,” said Joe, shaking his head. “It’s dog-eat-dog in real estate. What’s going on here in Little Peru, with a building like yours? Me, Richie, and the gang were trying to spruce up this neighborhood. It took a little while, but after years, we finally started the ball rolling. We had big plans for this town decades back, when we watched Hoboken get the makeover…and when we started to finally make some progress, it seems that the Dun Group saw their chance to do something similar a few blocks away. There’s only one problem: you can’t have two ‘hoods next to each other competing simultaneously….”
Donna returned to the counter, opening a Tsingdao for herself and facing us once again. She said nothing, though she watched Joe with what appeared to be a distant disdain.
“…and in that case, you gotta try to bury the competition, in whatever way possible. You try to interfere in the politics of the area, by putting money in the right pockets. You try to slow down any progress by planting stories in local media. You might even go to some pretty crazy lengths, like dragging a cop’s name in the mud. Maybe even by making up some twisted shit about gutting some poor illegals! Oh…and if that weren’t bad enough, she’s sleeping with two of the VPs in the Dun Group.”
First, I looked beside me at the slack-jawed Huiwen, who had probably never seen any real-life drama before. For him, I imagine that this performance was vastly better than anything watched in the comfort of his own living room. Also caught in the moment of suspense, I sharply snapped my head in Donna’s direction, looking again for some body language that betrayed her innermost thoughts. Again, though, I could find nothing that was even slightly suggestive. Shes’ a character, that Donna Wei. In the novel Dead Souls, Gogol’s Chichikov remarks how many young women begin their lives as curious, intelligent prodigies…only to become erased as their mothers and superiors fill their heads with ‘female stuff’ and wipe out the essence of their individual vitality. Almost two hundred years later, I could say that such an unfortunate pattern has not yet abated. As I kept a close watch on Donna, though, I got the impression that no parental figure had even come close to dismantling the framework that permeated the frame of Miss Wei. In fact, based on her posture, I would say that it’d take an atomic explosion to even make her move an inch.
“Got anything to say, Donna?” questioned Joe. “How close am I to the truth?”
As she imbibed from her cool beverage, she swept the room with a glance and sported a slight smirk. When she was done, she put the bottle down gently in front of her. “Close…you’re pretty close.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.