A richard l wren mystery.., p.17
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       A Richard L. Wren Mystery-Adventure Sampler, p.17

           Richard Wren
 
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CHAPTER 30

  In his experience, there were usually many Chinese businesses that never made it into the phone book. Thriving businesses that derived their customers entirely from the comparatively small, but very crowded, Chinese community. They didn’t need to advertise. Everybody knew everybody. Plus, in these days, they all used cell phones and didn’t need to be listed.

  The problem was that the guys that had attacked him in his room said that Fong traveled from pool hall to pool hall looking for business. Josh might have to visit several to find him.

  All he could do was nose around. It was never easy for a non-Chinese to nose around in the Chinese community, particularly outside the tourist area. However, being fluent in several dialects would give him an advantage. A huge worry was they might have his picture. They had known his hotel room because they had seen his Room passkey. But they had also seen his Park Ranger ID with his picture. Could they have copied it in that short time?

  After further thought, Josh decided it was highly unlikely he would be recognized. Nobody knew yet that the attack on him had failed. The only person he thought might have his picture was Charley Fong himself.

  He walked to Chinatown and became a tourist. On the way he devised a story that might help him find other pool halls if the listed one wasn’t the right one.

  In Chinese, he talked to several merchants.

  “I’m looking for a Chinese Merchant seaman friend of mine. I was supposed to meet him yesterday in front of the temple, but my ship was a day late. All I can remember is that he plays a lot of pool and said there were a couple of pool halls here that he liked. I found one but I don’t think it’s the right one. Do you know of any others?”

  Mostly he got negative answers. Some said they thought there were some, but they didn’t know where. As it got later into the evening, some of the stores started closing. He moved further into the heart of Chinatown and away from the tourist streets. Here the stores were different. Grocery stores, meat markets, small restaurants, liquor stores, all open. Almost one hundred percent Chinese customers.

  In order to blend in, Josh started buying stuff. A few dollars worth of groceries or meats bought him the opportunity to jaw with the owner for a few minutes or so. Often, the only reason he was able to get any information at all was because the merchants were surprised by his fluent Chinese. Eventually he got a couple of leads.

  The problem was that the information was pretty vague. They all knew they were around just didn’t know exactly where they were. “Over two blocks, in a basement.” Or, “Across from park, in a basement.”

  Evidently, wherever it was, it was in a basement. It reminded Josh of what a Chinese friend of his had told him once, many years before, in Shanghai.

  “You want the best Chinese restaurant in Shanghai? Find a disreputable old building. Walk up three flights of a dirty staircase and down a dingy hall to the very last door. Inside that door you’ll find the best restaurant!”

  Now it was dark but there were still lots of people walking, talking and shopping. He was still able to walk the streets somewhat unnoticed. The closest place he had heard of was two blocks away and he headed for it. “Over two blocks and in a basement.”

  In two blocks, Chinatown became residential. No stores, no bustling shoppers, few lights. Tenement type houses, side by side, and apartment buildings. Many of the larger buildings had small windows just above the sidewalk level, obviously opening into basements. By now it was quite dark and a number of the basement windows were beacons of light. Josh was able to quietly make his way down the streets, peering into the basement windows.

  Rounding a corner, Josh came across a group of Chinese teens. Expecting them to be belligerent toward a white stranger, he was pleasantly surprised by their friendliness A couple of them were hastily trying to hide bottles wrapped in paper bags behind their backs. Josh thought they were worried that he was “The Man,” and would arrest them.

  “Relax guys, I’m just trying to hustle up a pool game. I heard there was a hall nearby?”

  “Okay, man. Pool? How about right there?” one of them said and pointed to a stairwell about two doors away. “But you ain’t gonna like it!” Then in Chinese to his neighbor, “They won’t even let him in!”

  Speaking in Chinese, Josh said, “Why won’t they let me in?”

  A moment of surprised silence, then, “You’re not Chinese.”

  “Right. But I am a pool player, I’m going in.”

  “It’s your neck! Don’t say we didn’t warn you. C’mon guys, we gotta see this!”

  Followed by the teens, Josh walked to the stairwell and stepped down about eight very dark steps to an unlighted door. Glancing back at the teens, he saw one of them pantomiming for him to knock on the door. In the quiet of the stairwell he could hear muted sounds from inside.

  Josh had two cards to play. One was that he spoke fluent Chinese. The other was that he was a superb eight ball player. He thought, if I can just get in and challenge someone to a game of pool, I’ll have a chance to get the information I need.

  On the way, Josh had found a two-piece billiard cue at a second hand store, complete with carrying case. He used it to knock on the door.

 
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