18-مضنونکتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 18
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متن انگلیسی فصل
We arrived in Daytona Beach just in time for a Thanksgiving feast with our maternal cousins the Tafts. They lived in a big house at 715 North Halifax Avenue; the intracoastal waterway was basically their backyard. Of the seven Taft kids, Ed and I felt the most kinship with Fredrick—Freddie—a handsome, skinny, blond, girl-crazed, fun-loving knucklehead, and a local man-about-town. He convinced Ed and me to sing at a local nightclub for fun. We actually won a few first-place prizes. Mine came for singing Elvis tunes. Freddie pushed me out of my shell. Before him, I don’t think you’d have seen me on stage singing “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Our cousins were gracious hosts, but Ed and I didn’t want to overstay our welcome, so we found a cheap place not too far away from them on Oleander Avenue, conveniently located next door to a 7-Eleven. During the day we picked up odd jobs. We worked at a co-op natural-foods store, dividing up bulk food like honey, peanut butter, and oats to be sold. We didn’t get paid, but we got food at cost. And we got jobs at the local minor league stadium for the Montreal Expos’ spring training, selling programs and hats and pictures and stuff that people didn’t want. On hot days Ed and I would get at the top of the stairs and yell “ICE COLD HATS!” We had a routine, and we’d have ballplayers turning around and watching us in the stands as if they were a stage.
At night, we easily found jobs as waiters at the Hawaiian Inn Polynesian Restaurant and Showroom. It was there we met Peter Wong, a man we would come to hate.
A little man in every sense, in stature and in spirit, Peter was incongruously loud. His screaming went on without end. He was the Hawaiian Inn chef, and if an order came out wrong from the kitchen, he’d go crazy on the servers. Loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear, he would bitch and shriek about your complete worthlessness and stupidity. He was a culinary dictator, ruling his kitchen with an iron wok.
Except with women. Around women he blushed like a schoolboy. The male waiters came to an understanding with their female shift partners each night: I’ll do any other dirty work, so long as you deal with Peter.
Imagining all the different ways we might murder Peter Wong became a group pastime. Personally, I thought it would be fitting to create a new dish in his honor, made with savory spices, fresh vegetables, and slow-cooked, thinly sliced chef. I’d call it Moo Goo Gai Peter.
Other than Peter, life at the Hawaiian Inn was good, profitable, and spicy. It was the 1970s, pre-AIDS; if you caught something, you could easily get penicillin. So the consequences of sexual liberty seemed minimal. Practically everyone you met had had crabs at some point. It was almost a badge of pride. Wild parties and drunken sexual encounters were common.
We spent many nights gathered in a large booth at the ABC bar just down the street from the inn. We played liar’s poker and drank, and were cavalier with our tip money. Still, Ed and I saved most of what we made, and planned to soon get back on the road. When the season was over, the restaurant scaled back to fewer hours and fewer workers, and we took off.
Once we were gone, something happened. Peter Wong, the chef that everyone wanted to kill? Someone did.
Just days after Ed and I left on our trip up the East Coast, Peter disappeared. Vanished. He’d been gone a week when the police came in to talk to the few remaining waitstaff. Did anyone know where Peter might have gone? Check the dog track or jai alai pavilion, everyone said. He was an inveterate gambler. No one socialized with that creep. The cops pressed on. “Did anyone ever mention a desire to harm or kill Mr. Wong?”
Everyone went silent.
Finally, a waiter raised his hand and said yes.
The cops asked, “Who?”
Our coworkers at the restaurant regaled the officers with tales of the man’s repugnant personality in vivid detail. We all thought about how we’d kill him. Why were they asking?
“Because,” the detective said, “he was found dead. Murdered.”
Then came the second bombshell question: “Is there anyone no longer employed here who also talked about killing Mr. Wong?”
Some in the group exchanged looks. “Yeah, the, uh, well, the Cranston brothers. They took off on their motorcycles last week.”
“That’s right around the estimated time of death of Mr. Wong,” one officer said. The officer took descriptions of our persons, our bikes, our approximate destination. Everyone cooperated.
Our cousin Freddie later told us that the authorities put an all points bulletin out on us—but then canceled it two days later when they found out what had really happened.
Peter always carried a thick wad of cash. Apparently he was flashing it at the dog track and he showed it to the wrong hooker. She lured him to a house where he was jumped and killed. His body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car, bludgeoned to death, cashless.
A gruesome way to die, and I felt awful . . . that I didn’t feel awful.
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