The Shot Excerpt
Kwong and Matson are spending Sunday at Happy Valley, Hong Kong’s famous racetrack:
“Nearly finished,” Kwong said. “I think it best if we look in different areas. I prefer not to attract attention.”
“Good idea. I’m interested in going down to the beer garden with the poor people.”
“Excellent. And I’m happy to stay up on the upper levels with those who are betting on winners.”
Matson got up from the table, leaned over and gave Laura a little kiss. “Wish me luck. I only hope that you and Sarah can fend off all the potential suitors while we’re gone.”
“We’ll manage,” she said, poking him in the ribs and kissing him back.
He took the elevator down to the ground floor and stepped back out in the sun. Ahead of him was the beer garden, a broad expanse of Astroturf next to the track. It was dotted with a good dozen tents offering libations. The area was filled with people who had come to bet on their favorites and enjoy a couple of pints, as well. At this end of what was known as the garden was a tent selling Heineken. Matson bought a bottle, turned down the offered plastic glass and moved through the crowd. After weaving his way to the track railing, he stopped and took another swallow of beer, and someone bumped into him from behind. He felt the touch he had learned so well years ago. The guy was quick, but Matson was quicker. He spun around and grabbed him by the wrist.
“Hey, man, I….”
He was wearing a navy polo shirt and jeans, and Matson jerked him back and turned him around.
“God damn! Matson!”
Minh had been a buddy years ago, when Matson and a few others were on the street running errands for the Four Prosperities Triad. He hadn’t seen him in ten years, but he knew him instantly. He was an inch shorter than Matson and twenty pounds lighter. He had been a skinny kid then, and today he was still a lightweight.
“Matson! I didn’t recognize you in those sharp clothes.”
“Minh! What are you up to?”
“Same old stuff. I’m a full-fledged 49 for the Triad now, and the track is part of my turf. I don’t do much picking anymore, just enough to keep my hand in it. You looked like you might have a wad on you.”
Matson laughed and snapped his fingers, “Well, I have enough to buy you a beer. Come on.”
Minh tried to snap his fingers, failed and said, “Same old Matson. I hear you’re a cop now.”
“Something like that.”
“Wow! Who’d a thought? One of the guys told me, but I didn’t believe it, ‘til I saw your name in the papers after that Quartz heist. You’re famous.”
They walked back to the Heineken tent, and Matson bought a beer for Minh and a second for himself.
“Do you still live in Kwun Tong?”
“Nah, my pa died a couple years ago, and I got out of that hellhole. My ma and I have place here in Wan Chai. It’s more expensive, but we’re doin’ okay. How about you?”
“I’m still with my lau lau. We’ve got a place in Kowloon.”
“So now you’re rich, you play the horses a lot?”
Matson smiled at hearing himself being called rich and said, “No. Almost never. In fact, I’m here on police business, but don’t say anything.
They were back at the railing, and on the loud speaker, the announcer said that the fourth race was about to start. They heard the pistol, then the thunder of nine horses’ hooves as they came down the track and went into the first bend.
“It’s always a jolt, all that power,” Minh said.
They watched in silence as the horses went up the far side, and Matson took a closer look at the incredible string of high-rises that bordered that edge of Happy Valley. When the race ended, he realized that he’d finished his second beer.
“Hey, Minh, have time for one more?”
“Why not? No big plans today.”
They had walked to the other end of the beer garden, and a tent that specialized in Japanese beer was nearby.
“You okay drinking Japanese beer?” Minh asked.
“No problem. I kind of like Sapporo.”
“My pa never forgave them for what they did to China. Course us kids studied what happened, but we weren’t there, so it doesn’t hit us the same way.”
“Right you are. By the way, let me pick your brain for a minute. You said this is part of your turf.”
“You bet it is.”
The bartender opened two Sapporos for them, and Matson paid for them, then put a couple of dollars in the tip jar.
“Do you know a place around here where a violinist might work ? You know, playing fancy music and all that.”
“Hmm, not much call for fancy music.”
Minh thought a minute, then said, “Know what? There’s a place near here. It’s not part of Happy Valley, but right next door. It’s a fancy Italian place. Very pricey. They have waiters there who sing opera while the people are eating. Maybe they have a fiddle play with the singers. It’s called Toscano. About halfway to the Causeway Bay MTR station.”
“Sounds like it might be worth checking out.”
“Yeah, and scuttlebutt says it might be a front for some off-track betting.”
“Well done, Matson,” said Kwong. “It isn’t always particularly helpful to have friends in high places. Everyone I talked with was shocked at what had happened, but no one had any kind of knowledge that might be helpful. Lots of moral support, but that was all.”
“So your old friend thought you were rich and tried to pick your pocket,” said Laura. “But you caught him. That’s so cool.”
“He didn’t expect anyone but a mark,” answered Matson. “You just learn the touch, that’s all.”
“You should have asked him to join us.”
“Actually, I did. But when he heard that Lawrence would be here, he got cold feet. Thought he’d better keep some distance from the cops.”
Kwong smiled and said, “Sounds like a bright lad to me.”
“He is. He just hasn’t had the good luck that I’ve had.”
“Well, at least he’s working for Charlie,” Kwong said. “That man takes care of his own, as you know.”
“I’m sure that Charlie discovered your value long ago,” said Sarah.
“Thank you.” He turned to Kwong and said, “What’s the plan, Lawrence?”
“We all think we should go find a place for supper. How would you like to try a little minestrone for a change?”
“Toscano? You don’t think it too risky?”
“Why would it be risky? We just went to the races, we have the money for an expensive meal and we’ve heard good things about the place. We just won’t go blundering in, asking silly questions.”
“I love Italian,” said Laura. “And if they’re singing opera, it sounds even more interesting.”
“When you come visit San Francisco,” said Sarah, “as, of course, you will, I’ll show you North Beach. It’s full of Italian restaurants.”
“Then we’re off to Toscano,” Kwong said, pushing himself up with his cane.
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