Benny was not excited about what he knew he needed to do the Chink this afternoon. He was a stand-up sort of fellow, most of the time, and Benny had no problem with him. It really got his goat that Spiegelman had told him to do the Chink, but who was he to argue with the Jew? Benny knew his place. He was muscle, brawn. He was the intimidation factor that would make certain business deals more amenable for the party he stood next to. He knew that. Mostly, he was happy with the situation. It gave him a real rush to see how some people got the fear in their eyes when he stepped into a room. Not weaklings either. Real, hard men. Benny would step into a room where a moment before those fellows had been the kings of the world, then they would see him and start quivering in their boots. It made Benny feel powerful. More powerful than just his physical stature. Powerful in that abstract way people used when talking about mafia bosses. The kind of power that made another man feel dread. Not too bad for a kid from the South Bronx who could barely read and never finished the sixth grade. And Benny took pride in his work.
But he liked the Chink. Except that he liked to cheat at cards, he never bothered Benny. He figured he’d only stab him in the throat three times. Either it would kill him quickly, or he would survive. A man who had been stabbed three times in the throat and lived deserved it. Benny liked the idea of giving his friend a fighting chance. But first he would have to find the greasy, yellow son of a bitch and that was not going to be a simple matter.
He spent all afternoon wandering the sea of Chinamen downtown but never found the Chink. They all looked more or less the same to him anyway, and all the spitting made him sick. Their dried squid and starfish and octopus was the stuff of nightmares. He didn’t know what they did with it. They certainly didn’t eat that filth. He towered over everyone in the whole neighborhood by a good two feet, but it didn’t stop the old ladies from bumping into him with their shopping bags and umbrellas. The first time he got an umbrella spoke in the face he looked up to check for potential rain, saw only blue, and gave up searching for the day. He knew he had a few days at least to take care of this business for Spiegelman, so he felt confident that this was a good time to call it quits for the day. Besides, the Chink had a way of showing up in the damnedest of times and places and Benny’s nerves were a little frayed. He needed a beer.
Dodging a flock of brightly dressed Asian women, Benny ducked into a tavern. Smokey fog enveloped him and pulled him into the dimly lit, lightly populated room. He removed his hat and coat, hung them by the door, and took a seat at the bar, leaving a stool or two on either side between him and the other men at the bar at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday.
The barman walked over to him, cigar in mouth, and nodded.
“Beer,” Benny said.
“Light or dark?”
“Light,” and the barman walked to the tap.
A familiar voice popped up behind him and said, “I hear you’re looking for me?”
Benny spun around on his barstool to see his quarry standing there. The barman set the beer in front of Benny on the bar. He took it and drank. “You’re right. I am.”