When in Doubt...
Frederick Eugene Crandall is an assassin. We met him and his partner Chester Cobb in the novel "Thugstore". Fresh from a problematic job in Chicago, the two are now in Mesa Rock New Mexico to check out a job with the Chinese mob. Stay Dead will be an integral part in the upcoming HarryParnes #3 novel. Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of "Snares of Hope".
Frederick Eugene Crandall pulled up through the parking lot to park in front of the Chinese restaurant called “King Hong Chinese Seafood” on a hot dusty morning in Albuquerque New Mexico.
His partner Chester Cobb, a very big boned African American man in his late 20’s sat beside him in the rented Kia, bravely not complaining about the fact the damn car’s interior was way too small for his huge frame, girth, and circumference. He felt like Curly (Jerome) Howard wearing a suit jacket two sizes too small that stretched over his gut tight as a wet suit in the Three Stooges movies of the 1930’s and 40’s; a thing bound by something that was entirely too small to fit around it.
Chester was saying, “We gonna get somethin’ ta eat here?”
“I imagine they will offer us something”, said Crandall. “After all it is a restaurant.”
“Hey, it says ‘King Hong’. That’s pretty funny huh, like King Kong?”
“I think it’s meant to be funny for the locals, you know, the people around here who just wanna eat out, get them some Chinese when they’re too lazy to cook. But it might mean something else too.”
“Like what?” Chester Cobb was not stupid, but sometimes very naïve. As a professional criminal, he had Chicago street smarts (they had just come from there; from some very nasty encounters with antagonists that wanted to kill them both), but he lacked the sophistication that the older Crandall had having been a hired killer for various criminal interests for years before this. Crandall had travelled widely doing specialized jobs in several cities. But he liked Chester and was inclined to be patient, instructive, and even kind to this big man who had saved his ass more than once back in Chicago.
Crandall cracked his door and explained “I think in this case ‘Hong’ might mean ‘Tong’. See Chester, I think his name is not King Hong. I think the name and the sign is meant to send a different message. To Chinese people and enemies alike. I believe he is a Tong, not a Kong. They say that the Tong family is the largest organized crime family ever and has tentacles through nearly every Chinese restaurant in the world.”
“Hey Crandall what you sayin’? The sign says ‘Chinese Seafood’. I don’t want to eat no shit that got tentacles on it! I dig me some fish, some catfish, even some fish and chips type deep fried cod, but I ain’t eatin’ no fuckin’ sea life with no fuckin’ tentacles and no fuckin’ suction cups on it!”
“Take it easy partner, we’ll get you somethin’ you can eat,” Crandall tried to reassure him. “We just gotta have a meeting with this man. This could be a good paying job, but I don’t know for the life of me how he; this guy could have gotten my cell number.”
“We need a job. And I need somethin’ ta eat,” Chester felt it necessary to state.
As they walked through the ornate carved wood front door Crandall noticed some images cut deep into the wood. Dragons, men, carriages, warriors with swords, and something he hadn’t noticed before in the myriad of statue carvings and figurines he had seen in the restaurants and shops in San Francisco (the city where he had made his bones as an assassin). There were “Messengers”. How did he know they were “Messengers”? Because he just did.
The cool air burst upon them creating a cold front to the hot New Mexico air that was chasing them into the restaurant. They felt hot and cool at the same time, like a cold front was coming in and hitting them straight on and strong enough to start a rainstorm.
There were old dry wooden floors and to their right an enormous sea tank, full of temporarily alive fish, octopi and crustaceans of all colors and descriptions. The water was slightly cloudy and the inhabitants sluggish; waiting to be selected to die for the pleasure of the next dining guests.
Two waiters were immediately upon them; or at least one waiter and his backup. The waiter was confident. His minion, obviously that of a young student/backup; still proving to himself and others that he could pull it off and “Do American.”
You younger man-minion could be a recent immigrant imported from China to work off his passage; a non-English speaker Crandall concluded.
Then there was another guy, maybe 40, in a suit, slicked back jet black hair and a watch that could pay for the waiter’s rent for a year. He was the one who crowded up close to them as if evaluating, smelling, standing in personal space in order to asses whatever danger these two round eyes; one black and one white; might pose.
“May I help you gentlemen? It is a bit too early for lunch. We do not open for another hour.”
“We know,” Crandall said.” We are here to see Mr. Hong. Tell him we are delegates to the convention.”
“Ah yes,” said Slick. “Mr. Hong has been expecting you. Let me see you to a table. The frosty Air inside the restaurant was a pleasant and welcomed 72 degrees. They were lead to a table against the back wall, protected in vision and accessibility in every low budget teak and bamboo way possible. When Crandall walked into the private room, he saw Mr. and Mrs. Hong ensconced in their comfortable cooled reclining leather loungers with umbrella drinks they’d yet to be offered.
The Hongs were a regal looking Chinese couple. By the way they were dressed and the way they comported themselves Crandall knew within seconds that he was having an audience with The Godfather. He and big Chester sat down opposite him. “Would you like some tea?” offered Mr. Kong.
“Tea?" I don’ wan’ no fuckin’ tea, how ‘bout a beer and some fried fish and chips?” said Chester.
“Yes, certainly we will have some tea,” said Crandall as he jabbed an elbow hard into Chester’s ribs.
“Don’ thinks I didn’t feel that you muthuhfuck!” Chester uttered a low volume hiss at Crandall.
“Just take it easy. They’re just bein’ polit,” said Crandall.
Chester moaned as if to say out loud that he didn’t like this guy, his wife, this Chinese seafood restaurant with its lethargic sea life in the big cloudy tank and its food and any other damn thing within 500 yards if it wasn’t a place where ribs or hot dogs and beer were served.
Looking at them in the booth, Crandall’s first gaze gravitated and stuck on Mrs. Hong who was an obviously tall and stately Chinese woman in her yummy 40’s who was as damn beautiful as any female he had seen recently. Hong’s suit, shirt, and cuff links probably cost more than the car these vagabond scammers or killers came in. His cufflinks were big nuggets of solid gold which clunked as he set his hands down flat on the Formica table.
A porcelain Chinese tea pot and small cups appeared, brought by the guy who was in the same “who has the best hair product?” contest as Mr. Hong. He came by not only to serve the tea but also to take one more look at the two Barbarians his boss had agreed to meet with.
“Gentlemen, a pleasure,” said Hong graciously arising, his wife still seated. “Something to eat?”
“Hell yeah,” answered Chess.
“We have the finest Chinese seafood in the Southwest . We have a stunningly delicious Luo Han Zai. You would call it Buddha's Delight; a savory vegetarian dish.”
“How ‘bout somethin’ with some damn meat in it?” asked Chester.
Again Crandall with a shot to the ribs. Chester decided to just let this happen.
“Cobb, Chester Cobb. My friends call me Chess. You can call me Mr. Cobb.”
There was the predictable look of disgust on Mrs. Hong’s face, but her husband played it cool.
“Very well Mister Chester. I will have some sweet and sour pork brought as well.”
“Now you talkin’,” he assured him.
“I had assumed you would come alone, as I requested in my phone call. “
“How did you get my number Mr. Kong? “
Crandall answered a statement with a question on a completely different subject.
“I must be coy with you as I was asked not tell the name of the man who thought he was doing you a favor. A favor by finding you selective, lucrative and exclusive employment in return for a favor.” he said.
“No Mr. Hong you may not be ‘coy’”, said Crandall with surprising composure. There is no ‘coy’ in our line of work Mr. Hong, or ‘Tong’ or whoever the fuck you are. I need to know everything start to finish. Was it Doug Moore from Chicago? Did you call the Thugstore?”
Hong smiled. His wife grimaced.
“So I did not have to break my promise,” Hong seemed relieved. “You guessed it was Mr. Moore who referred me to your specific set of talents.”
Awhile ago Frederick Eugene Crandall had still been employed by a California mob family and Doug Moore was an out of luck degenerate sports betting loo-ser who bottomed out his credit limit with the “Senior Men’s Establishment of Donors and Supporters; Orange County California Chapter.” With that title you could probably surmise that these Senior Gentlemen were mobbed up to their Adam’s apples. I guess you’d have good reasons to think so.
Mr. Hong,” Crandall began, “I was assigned to a collection matter for a Douglas Sargassian who was bold enough to try to run from me and I had to go all the way to Chicago to find his ass. Sorry Mrs. Hong.
“And Mr. Crandall what was that like finding this man, the Mr. Sargassian-Moore? I have wondered about him; an employment consultant for criminals. No offense Mr. Crandall. And Mr…Cobb.”
“I was just pissed I had to go all the way to Chicago from South California and find him like a lost puppy covered in manure. Again Mrs. Hong…”
“Don’t mention it,” she said.
“It takes a specific type of idiot to bet on sports, unless of course you know the event is fixed. He must be a cosmically chosen idiot who deserved to lose everything he’d bet on. Are you sure you think I should trust his judgement Mr. Crandall?”
“Listen Chinaman, you don’ want us to do a job we won’t do the fuckin’ job!” Chester piped up. “Make up yer mind.”
“You must forgive my associate Mr. and Mrs. Hong. Chester, I would request that you let me do the talking on this matter. Or I’ll beat the living snot out of you.”
“Try it fuck nuts…”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” Hong stood up waving his hands palms out to the boys. “We are just talking here. No one is thinking of ending this transaction; at least not myself or Mrs. Hong.”
Mrs. Hong let out a barely perceptible grunt.
Crandall tried to save it.
“Sports bettor is like a like a golf or tennis pro; you got to get to a certain degree of good, you know expertise at somethin’, before you try it. If you stink at it, suck out the cistern pipes and do somethin’ else.” The sports bettor and Employment Consultant for various criminal enterprises across the country caused me great effort but did manage to save my life in the process. Chicago is where I met Chester in a club called ‘The Blues Bucket’. The ‘favor’ I did for Mr. Moore was letting him stay alive. In return he brought us together.”
“Pretty much what happened,” volunteered Chester.
P.O.V. Crandall: “So as I looked across the table there is this short greasy man maybe 3-6” inches shorter than his wife. Ahhh- his wife! The fragrant, tall, high cheek-boned goddess of a woman who stood out at weddings maybe just to make the Bride look bad. That was Mrs. Hong. Or Tong, or whoever.. Wouldn’t mind givin’ her the high hard one”.
“I didn’t say that out loud. Did I?”
“So what do you think of my restaurant Mr. Crandall? I have put all I have into it, especially the carvings out front. I believe you recognized those images?”
“How would you know that?” (Crandall playing it “I’m cool but being slightly-psyched”) He said it so as to be able to laugh his way out.
“Way cool Mr. Hong!” They both laughed as men who were about to confront each other would laugh.
Crandall’s own line of bullshit that he’d pulled out of Wikipedia on his phone on the way to this gig had turned back to haunt him. He certainly was distracted by Mrs. Hong, Tong whathefuck ; but that was not something that usually got in the way of Crandall’s jobs. This woman thing was not in the cards because there was something Crandall knew he had to keep his attention on. He had to concentrate on the guy in the suit so he could figure this shit out.
The smell of fresh cut crabmeat wafted over the table while both bosses figured their next move. Crabmeat squashed into a fragrant paste and perhaps altered and dusted with an ancient Chinese herb. Who could think of anything else besides that? But Crandall realized it was just another distraction created by Mr. Hong. Display the women and the food and see how their attention wanders.
So Crandall decided to fire a few shots himself.
“Do you have a business card Mr. Hong?”
“I do not carry business cards Mr. Crandall,” he rejoined. “It is not necessary to advertise what I do with the Chinese community here in this city. I am what you would call an…overseer of the work we do here.”
“And just who is we and what is the work?”
Mr. Hong just looked long in Crandall’s eyes then figured he had him sized up and ready to drop. “Just a few more minutes,” Hong told himself, “and I will be having this man agree with me that he shall deliver my package to Gong Sho”.
“So what exactly is your deal?” asked Crandall in that way that meant “I want an answer fucking now!
“It is a simple request Mr. Eugene. Just deliver this box to a Mr. Gong Tiandihui. He will probably be playing his weekly poker game at the Asian Senior Men’s Club.”
“And I’m supposed to remember this name, and how to say it? (Tee-AHN-Dee-Hew?).”
“An admirable try on the pronunciation Mr. Eugene, but not so close. No, you don’t’ have to remember that name or how he says it because it is seldom used. You needed to know it, but he has adopted a nickname. The old bastard enjoyed watching TV in the 1970’s”. His nickname is ‘Sho’.”
“So then his name, his nickname is…”
“Yes Mr. Crandall. ‘Gong Sho’.”
Crandall ruminated for a few seconds before he tried to come back from that last exchange. Then he said,
“So after I walk into their private poker game, what do you want me to do then?”
“Just give him this box Mr. Crandall. Just hand him this box. And be sure that it is in his possession as you leave.”
“And what are chances I get ‘gonged’ for this?
Hong laughed. You could even notice the hint of a smile on his wife’s face. Meanwhile, eating noises were coming from off the table as Chester inhaled his third plate of deep fried whathefuck.
Mr. Hong started again. “And this is very important. So that you know Mr. Eugene, I am paying off a long owed debt. To be honest there is some animosity between our families; that is, mine and Mr. Sho’s clan. “
“How did I not see that comin’?” Crandall said.
Mr. Hong dug a small wooden object out of his jacket pocket.
“I want you deliver this box to him.”
“Box mah black ass!” offered Chester after taking a few seconds hard look at the ribbed wooden box.
“That box got feet! Or arms or somethin’. A weird lookin’ little wood thang. Is that one a those fuckin’ annoyin’ Chinese puzzle things that waste yo’ time when you tryin’ to just figure it the fuck out and go on with life.? That the fuckin’ kinda box you fuckin’ talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Sorry to confuse you so completely,” Hong began as he summoned all his patience to answer Chester. “This is an assignment for you Mr. Crandall. To deliver this box, with no help from present company, white black or yellow. If you want to ask me if this is a racial issue I will answer you honestly Mr……Chester. Yes. They don’t like dark people in the inner sanctums of Chinatown. You can stake your life on it. I advise you to just go with the fucking Feng Shui.”
“The Fung What?” Chester seemed genuinely interested.
“Mr. Crandall, I must tell you before we go any further,” Mr. Hong said in an almost secretive tone. “Let me make this clear that the only one to be performing this task is Mr. Crandall himself….YOU. Do I have your agency; your word?”
“Yeah,” Crandall turned to Chester. “This is the way we got to do this, trust me.”
While the wheels in Chester’s head spun he looked at “Eugene Crandall and Hong”. Sounded like a United Nations Law Firm. Then suddenly his lackadaisical but not deficient mind told him something and he knew how to play it.
“So you don’ like Niggahs?” said Chester as he stared at Mr. Hong. Mrs. Hong was most probably spotting in her seat.
“No Mr. Chester, ‘He’ don’t like…what you said. But that is not it.”
Mr. Hong, business card or not, seemed to have all the answers.
“I am not the audience. The audience, Mr. Crandall, will be visiting us for a short time, and they speak only to Asian or White representatives.” I cannot make myself more clear than that.”
“A Chinese thing. What happens in China...”
“Exactly right, Mr. Crandall! You can handle this assignment as you like. Only you must be unaided by…this…” Hong was referring to Chester who was now face deep in some additional fried fish the waiters and kitchen help had so generously provided him under duress. The big man had his priorities and he kept them straight. Lucky for him Chester didn’t hear Hong’s sarcastic monologue and the accompanying patronizing gestures.
Crandall started thinking in his own self interest again.
“So you want me to deliver this to Gong. So, what’s in it? In order to do this I have to know what I’m up against.”
“Nice try, Mr. Crandall, but as soon as you walk into the establishment where Mr. Gong will be playing cards, you will find your way. It is none of your concern what is in this arcane box, it has no bearing on our deal
“The Asian Senior Men’s Club,” he told Crandall. In downtown Albuquerque. You know, not even the tourists on the “Breaking Bad” tour want to go there. It is an exclusive club, which is why I cannot permit your partner to participate; he cannot take part in this assignment as I feel he would be a little ‘too high profile’ if you get my meaning.”
“I get it. Chinks don’t much like niggahs.”
“Oh Mr. Crandall, dealing with you people! You know you ugly Americans sometimes... oh so much! You are the most racially obsessed people I have ever known! Listen stupid round eye piece of shit, just go take this fucking box and hand it to Mr. Gong Sho so he takes it and you say it closes my debt to him. Do you understand?”
“So listen Hong, you have to be able to pay the fee…”
“Yes Mr. Crandall,” Hong leaned his short frame wholly across the table to grab onto Crandall’s clothing,
“You deliver this box, you make him take it into his possess, and then you go. Sounds simple enough, yes? For the fee we agreed upon Mr. Crandall. And your partner stays at rest. I don’t care if he is elsewhere, out of sight or anywhere, but this is a solo assignment. Do you understand me?”
Hong’s breath smelled like a combination of cigarettes, pussy and ginger.
“Fifty grand?” asked Crandall.
“We had already agreed on twenty thousand,” Hong informed him as if he were not surprised at Crandall’s “up-budgeting” the job.
‘You know what this is about,” stated Crandall.
“I do, Mr. Crandall,” Hong looked to the side a little to glance at Chester Cobb who looked like a mountain of beef breathing smoke and fire out his nostrils. Not something any sane man would like to provoke.
“Let’s make it thirty thousand,” offered Hong. It was accepted with a handshake from Crandall.
“Don’ worry Chester, I’ll cut you in,” Crandall whispered to him.
“Yeah, if you be ‘round ta pay me!” Chester answered.
“Then we have a deal?” asked Mr. Hong. His wife had been watching them the whole time, as if we were a gaggle of her turds she was watching go down in a toilet swirly.
“You can count on it.” answered Crandall as he wondered how much he could give Chess, just for being his partner but being semi-retired for this job.
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll work everything out. I promise.”
Chester was ready to rise up before he heard the words “I promise” from his friend Eugene.
“While I’m getting’ set for this thing, just have my back eh?” I whispered to my friend.
“I got your back,” said Chester finally understanding as a very soft and forgiving fluorescent light came up in his head. Just as if someone had delicately turned up a night light’s dimmer switch. No, he really was now getting the whole Feng Shui.
Goodbyes were said all around. Chester turned and walked ahead. Crandall’s desire was to retain some measure of decorum which one should observe when meeting with a Mr. Hong. Mrs. Hong of course looked somewhere between angry, stupefied, asleep, and pissed off.
They had an agreement. Crandall would get a call from a drop phone. Mr. Hong on the other end, his voice and only his voice would pull the trigger on this job.
The two thugs were to wait at a fleabag motel, low profile. But when Crandall got the signal he was to go to the “Asian Senior Men’s Club” and deliver this wooden thing that looked like a nicely polished paperweight, to a Mr. Gong; he was to drop every damn thing and do it right then. He kept replaying the thing Hong had told him. He was to make sure Mr. Hong had possession of the box, and then leave quietly.
Sounds like the easiest job ever, Crandall thought to himself. But of course he wasn’t naïve enough to think that was all this was.
As the two walked away Crandall turned his head to look back at the booth where Mr. and Mrs. Hong had lingered. He saw an unexpected degree of activity as he witnessed Mrs. Hong, agitated, bent slightly at the waist and holding a silk handkerchief to catch the copious amounts of god- knows-what flowing out of her face. Her eyes were watering and she put a laser-eye gaze across the restaurant and straight into Crandall’s eyes; a hard hateful look. She had said something in guttural and angry Chinese and even though she was too far away Crandall heard it and intrinsically translated and understood it even if said in a different and unintelligible language. And it was nasty stuff.
“What the hell’s wrong with her?” Crandall asked Chester.
“Í crop dusted ‘em,” he answered seriously, barely able to cover what Crandall already perceived was laughter trying to burst out of every orifice of the man’s body, especially his cheeks.
“You crop dusted ‘em? You mean you farted in that booth? You pig!”
“Just as we’s leavin’.” Chester could hardly contain himself.
“You fuckin’ farted?”
Frederick Eugene Crandall was at that moment profoundly humored by Chester’s antics and glad that in such a raw and cruel life there could be a few moments such as these. It was like watching the Three Stooges trying to build a house or Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano. You saw the danger of idiots trying to perform a simple task.
“Yeah!” Chester was having trouble not disintegrating with laughter said
“I farted. Silent but deadly.”
“Assassin in training,” remarked Crandall.