Sunday, February 6, 1955
It’s Sunday night and Nick has decided he wants to get back in the kitchen to make a couple of pans of lasagna for dinner, something he hasn’t done since he and Carter moved into the big pile of rocks on Nob Hill.
Captain Daniel O’Reilly, pilot of The Flirtatious Captain, is bringing a friend for dinner. Instead of his latest love interest, the captain introduces Nick and Carter to an old friend, a man who is on his last legs and who has a favor to ask: can Nick and Carter help him get his girl and her son out of Red China?
That’s where things begin but it’s far from where they end…
The sun had set when we headed out for dinner. We brought Captain O’Reilly and Murphy along with us. Since none of us knew where we were going, I stopped one of the bellboys and asked him about the place that Tony had said was at the end of the beach. He knew where it was and suggested we take a cab since it was after dark and we might get lost.
The cab driver dropped us off in front of an old wood-frame building that looked like it was falling apart. But there was some serious jazz coming from a jukebox inside and that immediately got Carter’s attention.
We walked in and found a mix of people and a lot of noise. No kids, which made sense. The place was more like a juke joint than a restaurant. Once I realized what kind of place it was, I relaxed a bit. There were couples in the life, here and there, but mostly it was either loud groups of sailors and marines in uniform or loud groups of fishermen or loud groups of women gathered together. They were all competing to be heard over the horn of Miles Davis. There was every color under the rainbow but one. The four of us stuck out like snowflakes.
Tony saw us, walked up, and hugged me. “Come on in.” He pulled me over to a table where a grinning Chinese man was holding an unlabeled beer bottle in one hand and chopsticks in the other. He was shoveling some sort of seafood into his mouth as fast as I’d ever seen anyone do.
“Lee, this is Nick.”
The man put down the chopsticks and the beer, swallowed, and wiped his hands on his grungy shirt. “How are ya, Nick?” He offered his hand, which I shook.
“Fine.” I pointed. “This is Carter. And Dan. And Johnny.” Everyone shook as Tony and I brought a couple of stools to the table.
“I didn’t know you’d be bringing friends.”
“They’re the reason we’re going to Hong Kong.” I had to shout to be heard.
Tony nodded. “Let’s eat and then we can all go for a walk on the beach and talk about whatever it is you’re doing.” Once again, I was struck by the hardness in his voice. I looked at his face and saw a grit and a determination I wasn’t expecting. I wondered about that.
. . .
Carter charmed a hamburger sandwich out of the cook by using his southern accent. The rest of us ate whatever Tony ordered for us. I had no idea what most of it was but one dish reminded me of the raw fish that John had made for us over on Kauai that was similar to a dish I’d had down in Mexico.
Lee pointed out that the food was a mix of different things: Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, even Korean. I liked it all. The beer was a local brew that didn’t seem to have a name. All I knew was that it was cold and went down smooth.
I paid for dinner but it came to less than twenty for all us so I added another twenty and we made our way down to the water. Once we were twenty or thirty feet away from the place, I finally felt like I could talk in a normal voice. There were a few couples sitting on the sand and necking. We made our way past them and to a spot where there were picnic tables and sat around one of those. We’d each brought a fresh bottle of beer. Lee produced a bottle opener and passed it around.
“Who makes this?” I asked.
Tony replied, “It’s a place up near where we went today. Not really legal. But it sure is good.”
I nodded. “It sure is.”
Tony got right to the point. “I brought Lee out so you could meet him. I get the feeling that you have some job you’re doing in Hong Kong that might not be on the up-and-up.”
I nodded, surprised for a third time at his change in demeanor. I put up my hand. “Wait. Before we go on, what is this?”
I could see his white teeth in the dark as he grinned. “What’s what?”
Carter asked, “Yeah. What is this?”
Tony took a chug of his beer and shrugged.
Lee answered. “Tony used to do some work for the O.S.S.”
Murphy slammed his hand on the table. “That’s where I recognize you from, isn’t it?”
Tony laughed. “Sure. I know you from working in Chungking.”
Murphy added, “And Canton.”
Tony nodded but didn’t say anything.
I asked, “Did this involve the Nationalists?”
They both said, “Yes,” in unison. They laughed and clinked their bottles together.
I asked Lee, “What about you?”
Tony said, “You’ll never get any answers from him.”
Lee took a swig of his beer and said, “I did my work for the Kuomintang. Lotta good it did ’em, but I did.”
O’Reilly reached over and clinked his bottle against Lee’s. “God bless the generalissimo.”
“Hear, hear,” echoed the other three.
. . .
Once O’Reilly had laid out the plan, I added my latest ideas. After some back and forth about the feasibility of it all, I asked Tony and Lee, “Are you two in?”
They both nodded. Someone had started a bonfire on the beach and I could see their faces in the firelight. They both looked tough. More than I would have expected.
“How much?” asked Lee.
“A hundred a day plus all expenses.” I replied.
He nodded. “Sounds good. When do we leave?”
“At 7 in the morning from the airport. Tony knows the plane. Bring your black tie, if you have it.”
Lee laughed. “The one called The Flying Fireman?”
I nodded and looked at Carter who shrugged.
“You a fireman?” asked Lee.
“He used to be,” I answered. “Don’t you—”
Carter put his hand over my mouth and said, “Just enjoy it, Nick.” He took his hand away and kissed me. I just nodded in agreement.