Readers' Submissions

First You Die, Chapter 6: Sonia’s Discovery



First You Die, Chapter Six: Sonia's Discovery

Rick stayed in his office and did paperwork for the next few hours. It was easy enough. Most of the previous night’s receipts were paid by credit card and were electronically deposited into his business account, where he paid city, state and federal taxes on every dollar of profit. There was also the eight point sixty-five percent state sales tax that he was obliged to collect and then the government also held Rick liable for reporting eight percent of his gross sales as tips and income for the waitress. Then there was the four and a half percent he had to pay to American Express for the privilege of taking the damn cards in the first place; and that four and a half percent included the tips and the sales tax too. Christ, it was annoying, and then there was the payroll tax and the city occupancy tax, as if paying an exorbitant rent here in the city was not enough.

Thank god, he took in some cash too, mostly from the bar and Sunday brunch when the check average was lower. Rick counted out the bills. It usually came to a few thousand dollars every night. He didn’t declare the cash or the sales tax on those checks either and used this to help pay the kitchen salaries.

Everyone was half on the books and half off, an arrangement that saved everyone money-except the government. Rick tapped out the figures on his calculator, Including the gross payroll, he was required to pay 6.5% social security and the employees paid the same, which Rick paid anyway, 3.4% federal unemployment tax, 3.7% state unemployment insurance and 4.5% workman’s compensation or disability. A total of 24.6% of the recorded payroll every week. At the end of the year it really added up.

The rest of the cash went to some of his suppliers who were happy to receive unrecorded payments. If you were going to declare less business, then you had to record fewer purchases. A business man had to be nuts to pay all of the taxes that everyone wanted Rick thought, as he shoved the money into the safe under his desk. Rick’s accountant came in once a week to do the bookkeeping and could never stop complaining about the fact that Rick only deposited a few hundred dollars in cash.

‘How could this be possible? Do you want to go to jail?’ he would say. Rick would only shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Hey, credit cards are popular now.’

Rick finished his work and went downstairs. Sonia was talking to her best girl, Blossom, by the front desk.

‘Answer the phone, but you can only accept a few more reservations, we don’t want to overbook. Look here; there are three tables open in the eight o’clock time slot. Don’t take all three for eight, take one for eight and take the others for 7:45 or 8:15, we don’t want everyone arriving at once and putting their orders in at the same time. It’s going to be packed anyway but let’s try to stagger the reservations. Cross out the customer’s names when they arrive and write where you seat them next to their name so you can find them again if they have more people coming.’

Sonia had been training Blossom for the past month against just such an emergency. Larry the Lawyer was at the bar having a drink, flirting with Joy the bartender. Rick could see Joy smiling and shaking her head at Larry and laughing.

Rick looked behind the bar. There was a stack of business cards between the Johnny Walker Red and the Black. The cards came up to the necks of the bottles. Sonia would have to start a second stack soon.

After they closed, Rick would go over the night’s events with the girls. What happened at table five? Was the customer in a hurry? Did the service go smoothly, the food come out of the kitchen on time? Were the customers seated properly? Did anyone feel rushed? Were there any suggestions?

Sonia would smile and hold out her hand and the girls would dutifully turn over the business cards slipped to them during the night. Sonia knew that most of the male customers were entranced with the girls. Rick taught them to wait tables, an art in itself, and Sonia gave them lessons on social graces.

When a customer asked them for a date, the girls would smile and wai, their hands clasped, palms together, touching their heads and make a little bow and murmur, “can not, can not”, in lovely, soft voices. The girls would blush and their faces would break into the most beautiful smiles. Most of the men would inevitably hand a business card to the girl and ask for a phone call if they changed their minds.

Rick put his arm around Sonia. ‘Hey Larry, let’s get a move on.’ They walked out to Rick’s Jaguar. Across the street, a man wearing an old leather vest emblazoned with the words, Flower Power, sat cross legged on a blanket, spreading out tiny pipes, packets of rolling paper and colored bead necklaces, paying no attention at all to the group leaving the restaurant.

Larry was on the opposite side of Rick, walking towards the car. ‘Listen, let me ask you something. When do you think Sonia will let me go out with Joy?’

Rick thought about the difficulty of it. ‘Well, let’s see, the girls are starting their first semester at New York University in a few months and since they are working they can’t take a full curriculum, so it will probably take five or six years to graduate. I think after they get their degree and get a job in the real world, Sonia might consider the idea.
As they climbed into the Jaguar Sonia said, ‘My girls don’t date.’

‘Jeeze you sound pretty firm on that. So are they going to be old maids the rest of their lives or what?’ Larry settled in the back seat and crossed his arms over his stomach.

‘It’s okay if they get married but they will not be going out on the town with guys from New York City, that’s for sure.’

‘Great. Maybe I’ll just go to Thailand like Rick did.’

‘Yeah, you’ll probably end up with Jasmine Fever.’ Rick smiled at the idea as he drove towards the precinct.
‘Jasmine Fever? What’s that?’

‘It’s like getting malaria and dengue at the same time. First it affects your heart, then your brain. You start having delusions, imagining all kinds of things. You lose all sense of reason, start acting irresponsibly and behaving strangely. Usually newcomers to the Kingdom are the most susceptible, but I’ve seen guys there eight or ten years come down with it.’

‘Is there a cure for it?’

‘It just has to run its course. It can leave you a broken wreck of a man. Well, if you catch it real early it might be halted but it’s doubtful. You have to soak your head in a bucket of cold water, drink strong coffee and smack yourself in the face every morning. A friend of mine had it and the last I saw of him he was slouched over at the end of the bar, hanging on to a half-empty bottle of Mekong mumbling “I don’t know what happened. I know she loved me.”

‘How did he get it?’

‘The last thing my pal remembers is strolling down the beach in the moonlight with his Thai girlfriend. She reached up and put her arms around his neck and told him that she loved him more than anything. He remembers the sound of waves and the smell of jasmine in the air. That night, after great sex, she wrapped her hard 23-year-old body around him and said that she wanted to stay with him for the rest of her life, if only she could find a way to support her mother after she quit the bars. The next morning he had it full on-Jasmine Fever.

He thought that he could live happily for ever after with a Thai bar girl. He went out and bought a restaurant; put it in her name, the poor guy. A week before the opening they had an argument about all the money that she had spent on a stereo. She picked up the phone, called the police and had him thrown out. A little Thai cop came and waved handcuffs in his face, said that if he ever set foot on the premise again he would be on the first plane out of here and he’s been at the bar ever since.’

‘Jeeze, is Jasmine Fever contagious?’

‘Not unless you’ve been in contact with a carrier. Take Sonia, I bet she has given it to a few guys.’

Sonia put her hand up to Rick’s throat and leaned over to speak into his ear. ‘That’s a real funny story Ricky. I suppose you don’t have it, do you?’

‘Rick laughed as he pulled Sonia’s hand back into her lap. ‘At least I’m not a broken man.’

‘Not yet.’ Sonia pushed her hand down between Rick’s legs. ‘But keep talking and you might be soon.’

Larry opened a note pad. ‘Okay, thanks for the warning. Now let’s get down to business. The thing here, in a case like this, is to say as little as possible. What they do is record everything you tell them. If we have to go to court and make more statements, they’ll compare them with your original statement and call you on the slightest discrepancy. Just so I know, in case they ask you Sonia, did you call 911 after you shot the guy?’

Sonia tilted her head in puzzlement. ‘Who me? Why would I do that? I was trying to get Rick on the phone, to warn him. They sent someone there to shoot him.’

‘I know that. What I mean is, when someone is hurt or shot, one usually calls an ambulance for help, you know, to save his life.’

Sonia shook her head. She had thought that Larry was smart for a farang, a non-Thai, but maybe not. It could be the culture. Things seemed more complicated here. ‘If I wanted to save his life, I wouldn’t have shot him, would I?’ Sonia raised her hands in exasperation.

‘Let me take that question if it comes up and if you have any doubts about answering other questions or get a dubious question, don’t say anything. I’ll handle it.’

Rick nodded his head. ‘Good luck. That’s going to be difficult for Sonia, the keeping quiet part, I mean.’

Sonia smacked Rick on the leg as he pulled up to the stationhouse and parked in a yellow space marked reserved for police personnel. They walked up a few stairs and entered a huge old stone building. An officer sat behind a large wood desk that rested on a two-foot high platform. A thick wood railing jutted out a few feet and ran around the desk area. The officer pointed to a hallway. ‘Third door on your left.’

Rick heard scrambling in the adjacent rooms as chairs were pushed back and heads and bodies appeared in the doorways. Obviously, they were expected and Rick figured they all had heard about the knockout Thai girl that was coming. He had told Sonia to dress down. She was wearing a tailored suit for the meeting.

‘At ease men,’ Rick called out, slightly annoyed.

Sonia smiled at a few of the older guys. She found it all quite amusing.

As they reached the door, Rick turned to Larry. ‘If cops spent as much time chasing criminals as they did chasing pussy and goofing off, there wouldn’t be any crime.’

Detectives Dutcher and Verrone stood up along with another man. The room was small with a gray metal table and a half dozen battered wood chairs. An old reel-to-reel tape recorder rested on the table. Dutcher held out his arm and introduced the third man. The man had a large stomach covered by a blue rayon shirt and a wide tie of the same color and material. On top of that was a brown suit that had seen better days, days when it might have been possible to fasten the jacket buttons.

‘This here’s Detective Joe Nizzer. He caught the vagina case-we’re calling it. We’re going to coordinate the cases. Have a seat.’

‘What about the two Thai guys that came to the restaurant?’ Rick asked.

Sonia turned to Rick. ‘What two Thai guys?’

Verrone raised his hands. ‘Hold it everyone, please. Can we just take your statements and we’ll let you know what we’ve found out.’

The detective pushed the red record button on the machine, stated his name, case number, the date, and everyone’s names, pointing at Sonia to start. Sonia and Rick told what had happened as briefly as possible.

Detective Nizzer looked at his notes. ‘Okay, here’s what we’ve got. The dead girl is Thai. She was working the higher priced hotels downtown. She’s been picked up a few times on prossie charges but never did any time. Some high-priced chink always gets her off.’

‘Excuse me, did you say chink? What does that mean?’ Sonia raised her eyebrows.

‘Pardon me Miss, I meant to say Chinese lawyer. Anyway, we think that she wanted to leave the business and put out a few feelers as what to do and it got back to the mob. They made an example out of her.’

‘What mob? Rick asked.

Niz shrugged his shoulders. ‘Chinese Triads, BTK-the Vietnamese Born to Kill gang, Ghost Shadows, White Tigers-could be anybody. But they’re organized and have backing; that much we know.’

Detective Verrone stood up. ‘Thank you for your co-operation. You’re free to go. The District Attorney may want to have a grand jury hearing on the bar shooting so please stay in touch and don’t go anywhere without notifying us first. Oh, here’s your Sig-Sauer and restaurant key and I apologize for my colleague’s racial description. We’re sending him to diplomatic school soon.’

Sonia stood up, smiling, taking the leather box. ‘That’s perfectly alright Detective.’

Larry, Sonia and Rick climbed into the Jag and Rick headed up town. On the way he told Sonia everything that Jip had said- and that there was no trace of the missing girl.

‘What am I going to tell Nui? She’s going to be so upset.’ Sonia opened the leather case. The automatic’s clip was in the compartment that had been cut out for it. Sonia picked up the clip and pushed it into the butt of the weapon and slid back the top of the gun, chambering a round into the barrel.

‘Hey, I didn’t see that. As your lawyer I want to advise you that it’s against the law to have a loaded weapon in your possession unless you have a carry permit.’

‘Chill out Larry. Did Rick ever tell you about the time I saved his life, shot a guy right in the chest?’

‘I don’t think Larry’s all that interested,’ Rick said.

‘That depends, was it here or in Thailand? Wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.’

‘Hey, hey, pull over there.’ Sonia pointed to the curb. They were in Chinatown on the way to Ricks Bar. ‘I promised Danforth I would get him some horseshoe crabs and I need some fresh naam plaa. Let me out will you.’

Rick stopped at red light. ‘I don’t think so. I don’t want you walking around alone.’

‘I won’t be alone.’ Sonia held up the pistol box and jumped out.

‘God damn it,’ Rick shouted as she ran across the street.

Sonia saw the sign as soon as she stepped out of the car. She was on the corner of Grand and Bowery, about four blocks north of the Asian Market. The sign was a hundred feet away but she was sure she could read it from this distance.

Great Buddha, she thought and headed away from the market, towards the sign. She peered into the window when she reached the store. She saw a dingy waiting room with a red leatherette sofa and a few cheap plastic chairs. There appeared to be a Thai woman in a white uniform seated behind an old beat-up desk. The sign on the front window read –Double Lucky Health Clinic.

Stickman's thoughts:

Getting even better!