by Martin Maenza
It was the first week in March on the campus of the University of San Francisco. A number of students were taking a break from their mid-terms to relax by playing frisbee or hacky sack or by just talking with their friends. Two particular students had just exited the student union building with freshly brewed coffees in hand.
“Did you ever finish that paper you were working on?” the blonde-haired Dawn Granger asked, taking a sip of her drink.
“Barely got it in under the wire,” the brown-haired Hank Hall admitted. “You know philosophy’s not my thing.”
Dawn tried not to giggle for fear of spitting out her coffee. She swallowed. “Definitely not.”
“How about you?” Hank asked. “Done for the day?”
“Yes,” Dawn replied. “Took my last exam this morning. I’m free and clear for the break.”
“Cool,” Hank replied.
Suddenly, there was a slight sound coming from nearby. “Psst. Psst.” It sounded like some kind of tire with a quick leak. “Psssst.”
Hank turned to his friend. “Dawn, did you hear something?”
She paused for a second and focused. There was the sound again. “Yes,” she replied and turned around. Dawn tapped Hank on the shoulder. “Over there.” She pointed to one of the buildings nearby.
There stood a familiar young man with long blonde hair; he was dressed in a baggy sweater, beige pants, and sneakers with no socks. Looking around nervously, he gestured for the two to hurry over. Hank and Dawn did so, and the three stepped back into the shadows.
“Parker!” Hank exclaimed. “What’s with all the cloak and dagger stuff?”
Charley Parker glanced around nervously again. “Just like making sure it was totally safe before approaching you guys.”
“Charley, what’s up?” Dawn asked. “What brings you down to the campus?”
The blonde surfer leaned back against the wall. “Well, I had some, like, deliveries to do in the area, you know, and I knew you guys had classes today. I figured that I’d, like, hang out a bit to see if I could catch up with you.”
“So why are we sneaking around, then?” Hank asked.
Charley looked about, then dropped his voice. “I didn’t want to run into Renee.”
Hank slapped his hand against his own forehead and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, for the love of…”
Dawn shook her head and turned back to Charley. “Renee finished her exams yesterday and headed down to San Diego for the week,” she said.
“Whew,” Charley said, and he stepped back out into the sun. “That’s, like, a big relief.”
“Why are you avoiding Renee?” Dawn asked.
“Well,” Charley said. “Like, ever since I started, you know, seeing Lisa, I’ve totally been ignoring Renee. I know she and I weren’t, like, ever dating real serious or anything. But I figured if I didn’t run into her, then I wouldn’t, like, have to get into explaining what I’ve been up to.”
“Oh, brother!” Hank said. “I think I saw this last week on Growing Pains.” He began to finish his coffee.
“So, who’s Lisa?” Dawn asked out of curiosity.
“Lisa Morel is like this marine biologist I’ve been seeing lately,” Charley said with a smile. “She’s actually a friend of Karen’s. She’s real pretty and real smart.”
Hank snorted. “Glad one of you is.”
Dawn threw him a dirty look. “Hank, that wasn’t very nice.”
“Hey, I’m not the guy dating someone in my super-hero ID,” Hank said defensively.
Dawn’s eyes looked surprised. She turned back to Charley. “You’re dating her as Golden Eagle?“
“Well,” Charley said. He brushed his foot along the ground nervously. “Yeah. But I keep the helmet on all the time, so my secret’s totally safe.”
Hank thought for a second and then realized what Charley was alluding too. “You old dog!” he cried as he gave the blonde young man a punch to the shoulder. “You’re not, are you?”
Charley rubbed his shoulder, which stung just a bit. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly. Hank began to laugh.
Dawn frowned a bit, not wanting Hank to drop the conversation down to a locker room talk level. She turned to Charley. “I know this is none of my business,” she said. “I’m only going to mention this because we’re friends and I care about you. I don’t want you to get hurt, you know?” Charley nodded. “Do you think it’s wise to build a relationship from behind a mask? What happens when she learns your secret?”
A brown-haired man dressed in a brown suit and a dark blue turtleneck took a left on Grant Avenue and approached a familiar part of the city. Jonny Double found it to be a great afternoon to take the long walk from his small office near the Embarcadero to the vibrant, colorful neighborhood that was his destination.
The area of the city, twenty-four square blocks in all, was densely populated; over fifty thousand people called this part of San Francisco home. He stepped though the ornate, green-roofed portal that had been designed by Chinese-American architect Clayton Lee in 1970. It was almost like stepping into another part of the world. This part of the city was exotic, exciting, and nice for a change of pace. That’s why the private investigator so enjoyed Chinatown.
The multitude of signs that hung from the tall buildings were a mix of English and Chinese. Due to his many visits over the last decade, Jonny had little trouble reading the Chinese symbols that represented words and phrases.
He passed shops selling electronics like cameras and stereos, and those selling gifts and herbs. There were offices on the upper floors above some shops that contained acupuncturists. Little alleyways sometimes wound around the back to secluded temples that tended to the residents’ spiritual needs. Jonny’s stomach grumbled slightly as he passed one of the many restaurants, but he had a particular destination in mind.
Just as he did every week, Jonny passed by one particular shop owned by Saburo Shimono. Most of the children in the neighborhood affectionately looked up to him as a male family member, even though there was no relation. The older man ran an antique shop, specializing in items from the native land. He was a good man, a fair man, but with a sharp wit and a quick hand.
Jonny recalled how during his early days as a private detective he befriend Saburo. In payment for some investigative work that he performed, the Chinese man attempted to teach Jonny a bit about the martial arts. The detective found the self-defense moves especially useful in his line of work, but he never really got into the whole Eastern mysticism aspects. Still, he could count the man as one of his friends in this part of town. In Jonny’s line of business, having friends was important.
Yes, Chinatown held many good memories and a few bad ones for the man. He even had a few scars, nearly faded over time, to remind him of the bad. Nonetheless, that never deterred Jonny Double from making his weekly trek into the heart of the always-buzzing cultural center.
Jonny crossed the street and turned into one particular restaurant. The bell over the door chimed as he entered the establishment. Behind the front counter, a young girl in her late teens with dark black hair pinned back smiled as she looked up. She wore a colorful red dress. Liang greeted him in Cantonese.
Nodding, Jonny acknowledged her greeting in the native tongue. Liang, with menu in hand, escorted the man through the maze of tables to a nice place near the back. The walls of the establishment were decorated with art and wall sculptures from the family’s homeland.
As Jonny followed Liang, they walked by the bar area where a number of men sat drinking. The men noticed the detective’s arrival and were muttering comments amongst themselves as he passed. Jonny pretended that he did not understand them, though his grasp of the language over the years was more than enough to recognize the derogatory and prejudicial comments.
In his younger days, he would have flown off the handle and gotten into a fight with the lot of them, but age had tempered that fire slightly. While he still believed in fighting for a cause, no matter what the odds, Jonny had learned that there was a benefit in choosing your battles carefully. After all, he was nearly forty years old. How much longer would it be possible for him to keep tipping windmills?
Jonny sat down in the corner booth near the back and accepted the menu from Liang. She quickly brought him a cup of chrysanthemum tea while he decided what might satisfy his cravings this day. The tea was a soothing blend; Jonny took a moment to savor it before checking over the menu he practically knew by heart. Lo Chou’s recipes were some of the finest in the city, as far as Jonny was concerned. Any one of the dishes would be a feast for the senses. He decided to start with some dim sum.
The entire time, the men watched him from the corner of their eyes through the mirror behind the bar. They thought they were being discreet, but very little slipped past Jonny Double. First as a police detective and now as a private investigator, Jonny knew all about surveillance. He was pretty good at spotting those watching him.
The key was keeping an eye on the three of them without them noticing. Jonny enjoyed the challenge while he ate. It helped pass the time and kept him from thinking about the fact that he spent way too many nights eating alone.
Before he knew it, his meal was finished. Liang brought over a small plate with a fortune cookie on it. Unlike so many other places these days, Lo Chou made his fortune cookies in-house. None of those prepackaged stale crackers with sanitized messages would be found here.
Jonny lifted the cookie and looked for the check. He asked Liang about it; she simply shook her head and smiled. It was kind of a routine between them. Jonny would ask where the bill was, and she’d play coy. Lo Chou always gave the man a weekly meal for free, though Jonny at least tried to pay for it once in a while. It wasn’t good to take advantage of a friend’s generosity.
Liang left the table, giggling.
Jonny leaned back in his chair and snapped the two ends of the cookie. The small scrap of paper fluttered down to the table. He popped one piece of cookie in his mouth and scooped up the message to see what luck might be coming his way in the next week.
He stopped chewing suddenly as he read the surprising message.
Jonny folded up the fortune and placed it inside his jacket pocket. He then stood up, removed his wallet, and put a few dollars on the table for a tip. He headed out toward the front of the restaurant.
Stepping out into the street, Jonny Double then cut back immediately down the alleyway next to Lo Chou’s, heading for the back entrance to the kitchen. Sure enough, the door was unlocked. The brown-haired man slipped quickly inside. Moving through the area of metal shelves filled with cooking supplies, he ran into the person he expected to be waiting for him. “Lo Chou,” he said softly.
The small Chinese man in his late fifties nodded. “Thank you, friend,” he said in English with an accent. “We must talk.”
“What’s this all about?” Jonny asked. The special message in the cookie was from the owner, requesting his help.
“I believe bad men are nearby plotting,” Lo Chou said.
“So, what else is new?” The Chinese man did not get Jonny’s sarcastic tone. “Sorry, go on.”
“I know little details,” Lo Chou admitted, “though a man, Chee Wu, is involved. That I am certain.”
“So, you want me trail this Chee Wu, see what he might be up to?”
“Yes; his mother is old friend of the family. I would consider it a favor.”
Jonny clasped the man by the shoulders gently. “When a friend’s in trouble, you can count on Jonny Double,” he said with a smile. “Just point me to where I might find Wu, and I’ll see what I can find out.”
Lo Chou nodded and found a piece of paper to scribble down some notes for the detective.