Joey walked in with Larry, about my third cup of coffee, two decent enough to activate me. She sat down and opened her notebook.
“Okay, Nicky, you’ll call Harold in about an hour, then you and Tori are having lunch with Johnny Shao at twelve. We need the DEA, don’t let Harold off without a contact...”
“Good Morning to you too.”
She colored slightly, but didn’t miss a beat. She had everything ordered, and was miffed that Joe and Aaron went home. She had Jen call. I suspected it was Tori behind it, as it turned out I was right.
Tori isn’t a boss, she’s a force of nature. She can arrange but she can’t order. Joey, after a couple years in the West Coast chair of a major magazine was a better boss than I was. I was too soft, I understood too much and backed off when I really shouldn’t. Tori did most of the deciding, like bringing Candi and Rick back from Lebanon, she didn’t order it, though, she “arranged” it.
And this was “arranged.” Tori had tasks for everyone and Joey was passing them out. I caught her in our bedroom just before I called Harold.
“What’s the game plan? Might be nice if you told me, I am the quarterback, coach.”
“Yeah, like you don’t know. We strangle the operation here, then go to Mexico and put his head on the block. You’re the quarterback, always are. You got dinged on a play and I called a couple for you. ”
“We don’t even know he’s responsible.”
“We will, or he can go on selling pot to kids in San Jose.”
“So, we want an in at the DEA and an expense account from Gwen, with Jerry Chin accounted for. And we want Harold back in the editor’s chair until we handle it. Anything else before I get yelled at?”
“You’ll do the main article. Joey already put a freelancer on the pot in California. Ali will do a follow-up on Jerry’s obit, and you guys will cooperate. That work?”
“If Harold and Gwen buy it. But we’ll look into the financial end more and back off the drug angle. The story here is a Wall Street, drug laundry connection, that’s what’ll sell. You’ll do Gwen?”
“Big tough guy, can’t handle the ladies? Already set her up, but Harold’s your problem. It may get expensive.”
Harold was easy, really a lot easier than I expected.
“How long Nicholas, you have an idea?”
“None yet. Should know soon. I can still fill in, probably do it all.”
“Don’t trust the old man? I ran this show before. In fact, given the numbers this month, well we won’t talk about that. You do it your way. I understand the jeopardy. By the way Martinelli indicted Russo again.”
“Fourth time the charm? Leave Rick on the Iraq beat. It’ll crack soon. Joey DeVillio’s in my rolodex, Alex Crowley is our best crime guy, but I’d go with Gina Calciano. She’s ready for a big story and a good looking Italian gal will get to Joey, he’s our best inside source. Now, how about the DEA?”
Harold got me to an old hand at government bureaucracy, now playing out a string to retirement with the DEA, Mitch Kawalski.
“Harold told me what you need, Nick,” he said after the pleasantries. “Gonzalez authored the hit. And you bit him back pretty good already. The one you missed is Jorge Alvarez, former USMC. Aside from his personal body guard you took out his entire contingent of militarily trained people.”
“So aside from Jorge who’s left?”
“That’s a leading question, Nick. Off the record, I know Kenneth Holder, Joel Colson, Edward and Jonathon Michaelson, who else?”
“Got him. The sniper. You’re going after Gonzalez then?”
“Do we have choices here?”
“I seriously doubt he’ll come after you. I actually doubt he can right now. But I do see your point. Right now, isn’t next month. I’ll fax what we have to your San Francisco office. Four men, two Russian, one Cuban, one American; Afghanistan, Angola and Vietnam, the American’s the one to watch, rifle squad sergeant, good and ruthless. You’ll call me first in the States? I can back off everyone but the locals.”
“I appreciate it. You got a picture of his network?”
“Fax what we know. Your people can get in better than we can. I’ve got one undercover that I need protected.”
“How about I leave him in control?”
“You think that’s possible?”
“If he makes the right moves why not? He a vet?”
“Two tours in Vietnam, tough and good, but he’s a second escalon dealer.”
“If you trust us send his info.”
“Will do, but take care. He can’t get burned. You fail he is still in place. We’re cutting down there about twenty-thirty percent. if I screw that up, it’ll cost. ”
“No journalist will come near him.”
“I can trust that?”
“You’ve got the list.”
“You have my word.”
In the office Ali’s article, “Not Enough Heroes” was in the middle of my desk. It was brilliant. I had about an hour before meeting Johnny Shao and immediately called her in.
I had her sit down. She was nervous.
“Is it good Uncle Nick?”
“It’s the best you’ve ever done Pixie. Do you know why?”
“It’s a first draft. It isn’t really journalism. It’s a lot of what I felt as well as what I saw, but I saw it. Ken when he came back, his face, how he looked, moved. ”
“Then you’ve got it. You’re a journalist; you’re everybody’s eyes. That’s what you caught. That’s why it’s good. You’ve spent too long trying for objectivity. It’s like the old grizzled sergeant in a world war two movie saying ‘darn’ when the enemy blows up something. In reality, he’d say ‘damn’ or ‘fuck.’ You were there, you felt it, the feeling is a part of seeing it. You put everybody there, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Be there for them. This shook you enough for you to do that. Remember it, cultivate it until it doesn’t have to shake you. Until you can report ‘being there.’ This is a great job.” I wiped my eyes.
“Jerry was a good friend, who saved my life not once, but more than once. When this is published, the world will feel my sadness. And they should. Just make sure, if we send you to cover the death of a teenage gang member in L. A. that the whole world needs to feel sad about that, and you write it the same way. A little. black, worthless junkie, Pixie, through your eyes, when you put them there, make them feel it.”
“I felt this, Uncle Nick.”
“Feel everything Pixie, that’s the real trick of it.”
“Like you did in Vietnam? How Aunt Gwen looked up everything and you made us feel the death of every soldier. How did you feel it? You didn’t know them. They were names on a list.”
“No, they weren’t. They were human beings that came from somewhere, and where ever that was they pulled pranks, made out at the drive-in, made excuses for not doing their homework, dented the family car. Their existence wore a little tiny hole in the fabric of somewhere. And that’s what you have to find, and report, that little tiny hole that we all live with and miss. We’ve all got them, and maybe it’s just the class clown growing up, and not being funny anymore.
“Anyone can tell you a fire burned down 2017 Grant street, only a journalist can make you feel the people who lived there, the hole that leaves. The feelings. Got it?”
“I actually think I do. If it isn’t personal the right research makes it feel that way. It isn’t just a thing, it’s more.”
“Brian a big deal?”
She took a long look before she answered. “Kat say something?”
“He’s my bosses’ nephew.”
“What’d Kat say?”
“That it doesn’t make a difference here.”
“It doesn’t. I just wanted to know how to treat him.”
“You know how many times I’ve been raked over the coals for embarrassing Kat or Deena?”
“Promise I won’t do that.”
“That’s what you say now.
“Next, since you’ve got an in, ” I continued, “apparently there is a drug/Wall Street connection here in San Francisco, or at least California. Pick Brian’s brain, see if you can find and verify another source of it.”
Johnny Shao was quite possibly the most powerful man in San Francisco. The Asian population put him well above the mayor, who, in their culture, holding office for only a few years, was a bit of a transient. He headed several of the social clubs, called triads, and was the Sin Fang, or head of the Heaven and Earth society in the Western hemisphere.
Johnny was an old friend. I say friend rather than source because Johnny was always there for us. It didn’t need to be a story, or even a problem. I differentiate this from an old and trusted source, like Cecil Drucker, or even my old boss and now old guy at the office who swears it was better when he ran things, Harold.
Johnny and I understood each other. Sort of an odd attachment, the Chinaman and the mongrel American, neither one of us understood more than the feeling. With Cecil it was ego, and more, believing our salvation was in that ego, being ourselves in the face of anything, that philosophy is, of course easier to adopt as the heir to a fortune. Harold was in a way worse, the same type of fortune gave him a sort of noblesse oblige, coupled with lese majesty. But then that was America, conservative and liberal. Johnny and I sort of settled between the two. Johnny believed that other ideas, cultures had a place, I did as well. Cecil was a trusted, respected source; Harold a surrogate father, Johnny was a friend.
“I am desoltate,” said Johnny. “Here, you have my word he did not ask. It has cost him dearly because he did not. Does honor demand his death? ”
“It does,” I answered.
“It is done.”
“We will do it.”
“No, you will not. My honor deserves it. You will stop your friends. You will have the names in Los Angeles, where he has power. I don’t wish for your children to taste the poppy. That is for us and we can deal with it. Four thousand years has taught us to. I trust you know what I mean?”
“You will control Tommy’s product and it won’t reach our children?”
“As well as we can. The battlefield is below the grapevine. Not here, not north to Seattle. You can do what you wish there.
He threw a folder to Tori. “Gonzales will be dead within the week,” he said. “Not for you, but for us. No one kills here without our license. If you wish to avenge your friend’s death, that is what you must handle.”
We stared at each other. Tori broke the contest.
“You know how drugs are distributed in L.A.? The red here tells me what you don’t control? Johnny, c’mon, it’s been too long. Neither Nick or I am going to give you control of this. I love you as a friend, I’d trust you with my life, my children’s. But Johnny, c’mon. Aaron, Larry will kill Gonzales next week, or Jerry Chin does. I’ll even buy that Jerry needs to. This is napalm, in our hands. Why?”
“Because you will check it out, because you need that, and then turn it over to the government who will be embarrassed into handling it. It is not the poison of your culture, but ours. However, if you continue to oppose it rather than control it, it will be lethal. Jerry will join you. Jerry will end Gonzales. Then you will sweep my chess board for me.”