Dim Sum Loans
Traps and Trains
Heo's having a pretty good day. He woke up without a hangover, which is a true act of God considering the amount of alcohol he drank last night. Maybe he's still drunk? It doesn't really matter if he is or isn't. Rain is pummeling the brick pathway that leads him from his swanky low-income studio apartment to the back of Dim Sum Street. Water has pooled up at the bottom of the sharp – and very uneven – incline. It's there that he gets his sneakers soaked. No loss. They're stolen, anyway.
That doesn't mean he doesn't offer an annoyed, "Shit, really?" to whatever puddle spirit exists. The misfortune won't keep him down, however. He's back to a merry hop as he heads down the road and to the white blasted brick building that houses Brian's little loan service. He goes through the creaky door and into the hallway, where some hammered homeless guy is taking a piss like he does every morning. Heo sidesteps far enough away that the piss leakage doesn't touch his already-ruined shoes.
He's humming a tune when he busts through the door to Brian's office. Despite his loud entrance no one jumps.
"Hey, Mister B!" he yells, alerting everyone to his presence.
Brian is in the middle of checking some paperwork when he hears Heo's loud greeting. He looks up long enough to confirm it's him before he's back to focusing on his work. "Hey, Vinny! What's happening?" he asks.
"Rockin', bro," he answers before slipping into an obnoxious chuckle. He's so focused on sitting down at Soái ca's desk that he doesn't see the way Brian's face scrunches up in annoyance. Heo's voice lowers as he scoots his chair in closer to Soái ca's desk. "Hey, you busy?"
"Yeah," Soái ca says. He's playing solitaire.
Before Soái ca is forced to elaborate that by "busy" he means he hasn't won a hand in twenty deals and he's getting pissed, they're interrupted when the door to the office opens. Stepping in with several cups of coffee are Jennifer and Kayla.
Heo is on his feet so fast he nearly trips. Even his hat comes off in courtesy as he greets the two women. "Hey Jenny," he says, his focus solely on his friend's older sister.
"Oh, hey Vinny. Are you high?" she asks as she walks by.
All he can do is laugh nervously. Then he spots Kayla. She's new. He hasn't met her yet. When she tries to pass by, he steps in front of her as casually as he can. The move surprises her, but she doesn't seem to understand his intentions. So, she apologizes and tries to step around him. He blocks her path again.
Soái ca looks up from his game when he hears Kayla utter a second "Excuse me," in a quiet voice. Heo's good at playing the shy guy; he smiles awkwardly and plays with this cap, pretending like he doesn't have the guts to introduce himself. The sight irritates Soái ca to no end.
"Hey!" he pops off, his displeasure evident. Both Heo and Kayla look to him. "His name is Vinh, everyone calls him Heo. You know what that means? Pig. He's a little piggy. Her name is Kayla, everyone calls her Kayla. She's a lesbian." His attention returns to solitaire.
Heo doesn't show any sign that Soái ca's comment about Kayla's sexuality matters – maybe it doesn't. With an unwavering smile he extends his hand for her to shake, and she accepts it as professionally as she can. He lets her go and allows her to walk by him to her desk at the other end of the room. Still grinning, he retakes his seat.
"Hey, Soái ca. Have you?" he asks.
Soái ca glances over at Heo. He watches as his friend makes a motion with his eyes to Kayla. It takes a few seconds for what Heo is implying to process. "What part of 'she's a lesbian' did you not understand?" he asks.
"So you tried?'
Soái ca doesn't answer. Heo is a master of the craft, picking women off and adding notches to a belt with a far greater success rate than anyone else. It's all in his confidence. He's not particularly attractive – his ears stick out, his face is found, his nose is big, his eyes are small – and the gang tattoos that stick out from his shirt's collar and cover his hands don't do him any favors. So Heo assumes that Soái ca – with his boyish charm and intense, dark eyes – lands ladies with ease.
The solitaire game he's been slaving away at ends in his twenty-first defeat. He abandons the game to give Heo his full attention, "What do you want?"
"A favor. Can we…?" Heo again motions with his head, this time to the door.
Soái ca doesn't want to have any part in whatever nonsense Heo is up to, but he knows he doesn't really have a choice. "I'll be right back, boss," Soái ca says as he stands from his desk. He doesn't hear what Brian says in response – probably just "uh-huh" – because Heo knocks his chair over as he gets to his feet, making such a racket it stills everyone in the room.
He ignores Heo and trots out. A sharp turn to go down the stairs is rerouted when Heo physically grabs him and spins him the other direction. A shove gets his feet moving again. It takes less than thirty seconds before the two are packed like sardines into Soái ca's supply closet of a room.
Heo hasn't been in the little room since Soái ca first moved in, so he takes a moment to admire the décor – or lack thereof. There's a small table in the far corner with a fan, a phone charger, and a stack of magazines and newspapers. A pile of clothes both clean and dirty take up another section. There's a cot that looks like it was a blue-light special taking up half the room. It's here that Heo sits.
"Wow really made this place your own. Have you brought Mei here, yet?" he asks, patting on the dirty cot.
Soái ca can't hide the way he scowls at the remark. "Do you only think about fucking? And no, dipshit, I haven't brought Mei here. I haven't brought any girl here. You think I could jackhammer a bitch on this piece of shit?"
He kicks the cot and there's a second in time where Heo thinks the cot might fall out from under him. It doesn't, though, and he shoots back, "Alright, damn. Maybe you should. You wouldn't be such a strung-up asshole all the time. Shit. You even make a move on her yet? You know every dude in Brickstone Beach wants to fuck her but they're being nice for your sake."
"What the fuck do you want, Heo?"
Heo stares at Soái ca, hoping the silence will force him to talk about Mei. It doesn't take long for him to give up. Soái ca is intimidating even to someone as hardened as Heo when he gets angry. It's not just that Soái ca has one of the meanest glares he's ever seen, it's almost as though his entire body exudes murderous vibes. And Heo knows Soái ca can murder.
Heo ends the staring contest and digs into his jacket. He pulls out an envelope and hands it over. As Soái ca starts to open it, Heo explains, "I need you to hold onto this for me."
"It's money?" Soái ca asks, although the fact is obvious considering he's holding it in his hands.
"Ten gs, bro," he says. The money almost ends up on the ground when Soái ca suddenly feels like he's got something dirty in his mitts. As he hurries to shove the filthy money away, Heo continues, "Some dumbass whitey from Belltown wanted in on the game. I sold him ten stacks worth of China white and asked for twenty. Dude didn't even bat an eye, just handed the cash over."
Soái ca can't believe the crap coming out of Heo's mouth. His mind is sputtering. They've done a lot of dumb things in their short lives. But they've also followed a set of rules, a code, an honor system that protects them and the other gangs. It doesn't just protect the gangs; it protects the very hoods they were created to safeguard.
"Dude, if Trung finds out you're a provider – and to white kids?"
"Trung ain't gonna find out, is he?" Heo asks. Or, rather, he demands in the form of a question. He rises from the shoddy cot in a steady, threatening pace. The small space forces the two within inches from each other; Heo leans in, Soái ca remains rigid. "Keep your fuckin' mouth shut and we won't have problems."
Jennifer knows whatever happened between Heo and her little brother wasn't good, because Soái ca is emitting a violent aura when he returns to the office. Her brother is always a little standoffish, but he avoids even basic conversation for the rest of the day. Even his "work" is neglected, as he spaces off twirling and clicking pens as the hours pass.
Brian is the first to leave, saying he has something planned with his daughter. Kayla is the next to go, after staying past dinner time to finish up a few balance sheets. Jennifer could have already left – she should've already left – but she stays behind, hoping Soái ca tells her what's on his mind. He never says a word. She never asks him. The two siblings sit in silence for a full hour before she gives up.
It's a few minutes past nine o'clock at night when she steps out, slipping through the 24-hour laundry mat. The rain from earlier hasn't relented. If anything, it's coming down harder. When she had left for work it was barely a mist, so she hadn't brought an umbrella. She has no choice but to head to the train station unprotected.
At the corner of Dim Sum Street and the main road the rain disappears. In its place is the pitter patter of droplets on an umbrella and the familiar feeling of someone close to her. "I'll walk you to the train station," this newcomer says at a decibel level way too high for their close proximity. She can hear the smile in his tone, the way this simple act is the best part of his day. She doesn't have the heart to tell him it's kind of annoying.
Said newcomer is Jian, who may or may not have been waiting at the door of his dim sum restaurant for an hour, hoping for this precise opportunity. He's always doing things to make her life easier, whether holding an umbrella over her head or trying to have his mom slip money her way. Jennifer wonders if he likes her, the way her little brother crushes silently on Jian's sister, but never asks. She feels a little arrogant assuming he sees her as anything other than an acquaintance.
"How is Cora?" he asks. She doesn't answer. He's not expecting one. Every time he's asks, he's met with silence, but he really does want to know so he feels compelled to inquire. The first time they had gone through this he had felt awkward, unwelcomed, unsure. Now it feels normal. He's not questioning himself anymore.
Jennifer and her brother aren't that different. Soái ca isn't the only one who can be a little closed off. The difference is that she can mask it better. Jian takes her silence not as a slight against him, or a way of pushing away, but rather as consent that he can ask again. The fact that she hasn't told him off must mean she isn't that ruffled by it.
It's a maze of seven Brickstone Beach blocks to the train station. The walk is done in complete silence aside from his one question about Cora. When they arrive at the steps to the platform, she expects him to disappear. He doesn't. Quietly she casts a glance at him as he closes the umbrella and follows her downward.
"I need to head north, too. For supplies," he says with a smile.
That obviously is a lie. No restaurant supply store is open at this hour. To compound the obviousness of it, she knows what supply company they use, and it isn't one of the two north of Brickstone Beach. She says nothing. The two tap their transit cards at the turnstile and end up side-by-side at the yellow line while they wait for the train.
As they wait, Jennifer wonders to herself why she doesn't tell him off. Jian is a nice guy, but he isn't spectacular. He's average in looks, in intelligence, in prospects; his only extraordinary talent is cooking dumplings and hitting three-pointers at the gym during three-on-three games. He's thirty-six, never married – she's not sure if he's ever had a serious girlfriend – and will be slaving away at his family's dim sum restaurant until the day he dies.
But he's comfortable. Maybe it's because there's nothing remarkable about him that she feels easy in his presence. There's no pressure on her to be better than she really is. He just quietly accepts her, never expecting anything in return.
These are her thoughts when the train finally arrives and the couple steps into the crowded car. They can barely enter, and both are forced to remain standing, shoved in the middle of the railcar with barely any breathing room.
"It's busy. Is there a concert tonight?" he asks.
"It's spring break," she says.
"Oh," he sings out, suddenly aware everyone around them is much younger than he is.
They're so close she can feel the way his breath wisps through her hair atop her head. This is the kind of bullshit scenario drama writers imagine, where the lead actor romantically walks the heroine home, protecting her from the evils of the world, the train perverts and muggers; forced close on the train, a sudden jolt or stop will send her toppling into his arms and it will awaken a new feeling. Except, this is the real world, and there's nothing romantic about this.
The sharp scent of sesame oil mixes with the dull cigarette smoke that's clung to his clothes; he's been sweating and slaving away in the hot kitchen for more than twelve hours. It's not an alluring smell. Both are expert train riders; when it moves, they remain static, not even swaying an inch. There's no perverts or muggers messing with her. In fact, the real pervert might be him, since he's certainly pushed closer to her than he needs to be.
Eventually, after close to fifteen minutes of silence, his moment to shine does arrive. A feminine voice cuts through the humid train, "Next stop: Pine Street Station, doors to my right…"
This means they have one more stop until hers. Jian lets out a breath that tickles her ear, a quiet display of how much he hates riding trains. People are shuffling around, trying to get to the doors in time, even though the train hasn't even stopped yet. It takes a few minutes to get to the station so the moving around seems pointless.
"You're fuckin' sexy."
Jian tosses a look in the direction of whoever said that; Jennifer doesn't react. The origin is a very intoxicated, perhaps cross-faded, young college student. He's barely able to stay standing, having to use both hands to hold on to the hanging strap and still swaying left and right. Jennifer doesn't care so she doesn't realize this stranger is talking to her. Even after the man leans way in – too far in – she still doesn't acknowledge his existence.
"Asians… Asian girls are my fetishes… my fetish," the drunkard someone manages to say without screwing up too bad.
Jennifer must not hear him, or so Jian thinks, as she's staring forward toward the window, counting the tunnel lights that pass by. And while the words out of the man's mouth bother him, he won't act unless he thinks Jennifer wants him to. Thus, he stays put, acting undisturbed by the situation.
"I'd fuckin… you… I'd fuck you. Man, Asians ladies are the best! Ya'll are just, fuckin'… obedient whores."
Jian doesn't realize he's moved until Jennifer turns to look at him. His arm has reached out on its own accord and nabbed the blabbering drunk by the collar. The two men stare at each other in surprise for a few seconds before Jian awkwardly let's go.
"You've had a lot to drink. Maybe you should sit down," Jian offers. It's natural sounding. He definitely is not about to start shaking.
The drunkard isn't interested in taking orders from him. "Huh?!" he screeches. Now half the train is looking at them. "The fuck did you jus' say? You…? You fuckheaded lil piece of wanker. Little fuckin' dick Chinese boy. You… your… people needa be nuked again, you…"
"Aren't you going to defend yourself?" Jennifer asks.
Jian gives a throaty chuckle and says, "He's the one who looks dumb right now."
"Now entering Pine Street Station, doors to my right…"
"Whatchu fuckin' jus' say?"
An approaching fist causes Jian to move back; he does right as the train grinds to a halt. Momentum sends the drunk man flying into his arms, and him tumbling backwards. There's not time for him to grab hold of something to save himself. He's going to hit the ground.
The drunk man is saved. Well, briefly. Jennifer grabs him as he's falling past her. She pulls him upright and decks him square in the jaw. As the drunk becomes a victim of gravity, he smashes his head on the ground hard enough he's not moving. Jennifer, deciding she's sick of the train, steps over the drunkard and Jian on her way to the platform.
The walk will do her some good, or so she thinks. The opportunity to be lost in her thoughts is therapeutic, and she can't do that with Jian hanging off her or train drunks harassing her. Besides, her knee-jerk reaction of decking that guy was a little embarrassing...
"You punch better than Soái ca."
She can't believe Jian was able to get off the train and catch up with her. They're right on the top step of the subway entrance and she can tell he sprinted to catch up to her, because his breathing is erratic. Yet, she still says nothing to him, and allows him to join her on the way through town.
"Looks like the rain hasn't hit downtown yet," he mentions.
No shit, she thinks. Is it necessary for him to give her a weather report when she's right there? She has the power of observation, too.
It's a thirty-minute walk from the Pine Street Station to her apartment. Sometime in the middle of this, Jian starts talking. She's listening, but never replies. He doesn't seem to mind, as he goes about yammering on and on about the mundane bullshit of his day, the silly fights he gets in with his siblings, that one customer that always complains, the racist that heckles him every morning… which then turns into a long, meandering rant about the differences between each Asian culture, and why can't white people just figure that out already?
Suddenly that thirty-minute walk is over. It's almost as though his constant jabbering was the ultimate distraction, as she can't believe the walk is over already.
He doesn't stop until she's at the door of her apartment building. He doesn't open the door for her because he knows she hates that. As she opens the door he says, "Well, take care Jennifer. Have a good night." There's a small wave, something that appears to be a half-bow, and he big smile on his face.
"Thanks, Jian," she says, and she can see the smile reach his eyes.
He'll walk on. After one block he'll turn back and head home, never stopping to pick up supplies.