CHASING THE DRAGON
1.
“Let us depart from this
Lake of the Red Eye,
Let us separate in sorrow
From the tribe that has loved us.” – W.B. Yeats,
The Fate of the Children on Lir


So you fall for a beautiful young Chinese patron at an underground masseuse parlor off of Mott Street.

So you fall in love.

So you find out her mother is the queen of the Black Market, a contractor for professional killers, an all-star in the game of gunrunning and enterprises of assassination, fronted by legit businesses in a mogul heaven, a Mongol hell.

So you find out your girlfriend is a killer for that mother, and worse yet, you find out she’s good at it.

So you are already in love with her regardless, and before the sun goes down today, you will join her for the hit and the heist, for the two of you are yin and yang.

But something will compel you, propel you in a different direction to start a new life out of the shards of one forged by drugs and alcohol abuse, fighting and theft and larceny. You tried to start over once before, but that’s when you moved to New York City and met Jin. Now you hope that she will lose her taste for the life she’s chosen, because you have. You hope she will change for the better and run away with you because you want to marry her and live the honest blue-collar life and not as a male concubine to a girl whose other love affair revolves around blood and carnage.

A pleasant fiction. Nothing is ever as simple as it should be. Your life is far too complicated and destined for mayhem.

I glance over at her, sitting to my right in the passenger seat of her Jag. She’s beautiful when she fumbles through the black bag at her feet for an assortment of daggers and other shiny, pointy objects. Shaggy and choppy black hair to her shoulders, tight black pants, spaghetti-stringed top, green dragon tattoo wrapped diligently down the length of her left arm.

Jin.

Jin Huang is her name, and she rummages quickly as she prepares and she smells like lotus blossoms and hot death as the blood red sunset reflects from her glossy, olive skin.

“Fēnzi…you are ready?” she asks as she looks over at me, all slanted eyes and broken English that’s easy to fall for when you set yourself up for failure.

And her tenderness is gone for the moment, as she has now switched to her muted assassin mode. The beautiful killer, the mĕilì shārinfān, poker face, an ambitious readiness oscillating in her almond eyes. There’s nothing amateur about her, and she doesn’t even wait for my reply before pulling a tight-fitting black polyester jacket over her arms and zipping it to the neck.

This guy, this Vincent Somethingorother...Jin is supposed to go in and off this bum up in his yuppie condo. He’s the silent partner in Lady Huang’s law firm cover company who’s been withdrawing a whole lot of dough that belongs to her. And he’s got nothing to show for it but an off shore bank account, a trophy wife, and several overly lavish vacations to Western Europe.

And Jin was supposed to handle this job alone, but she wanted to bring me along for the ride. I was out of work when I met her, so ever since the two of us have been together, I guess you could say I’ve been working for Lady Huang too. Mick bum from Boston posing as a little errand boy for Lady Huang and her Chinese mafia cronies, usually just pick-ups and deliveries, to flex a little muscle, to pose a threat or two every now and again.

Never to plug anybody.

Jin glances over at me because I haven’t answered her yet.

“Erik…you are not backing out…are you?”

I have a real tough job in this little caper. I’m supposed to play getaway driver and lookout, supposed to buzz Jin on her cell phone if the cops show up while she ascends this condo in Central Park West in upper Manhattan, just next to the Park. And I’d be inclined to worry about her going at it alone, but she’s so damn good.

Jin’s a badass and she knows it.

I stare back at her and her lips are full and pouting and I want to plant a kiss on them every time I lay eyes on her.

“No. I’m good. Ready,” I answer.

She doesn’t respond verbally but nods.

She opens her car door and takes a step out just before I stop her.

“Jin.”

She turns to me with a face chiseled out of stone. I start to tell her I love her, but I reconsider. Not telling her will make it easier to leave.

Instead of the soft sentiment, I offer advice by default.

“Be careful.”

She’s already in killer mode so she does little to respond, barely even a nod before darting from the car, slamming the door shut, and disappearing through the building’s fancy façade in a blaze of black.

She’s the hired assassin, dark and fast, the last of her kind, well trained and well rehearsed.

A face in the rearview and it’s mine, floating right along with a typical Tao insignia that sways from the mirror. Blue eyes, brown hair cut short in a buzz, beard of stubble. Lips pink and dry and in withdrawal of that familiar feeling, that little cancer on a stick that aims to kill me one of these days. White tank top, because it’s hot, and it’s a hell of a night.

Sleeves of tattoos up and down both arms, overcrowded, multi-colored, mostly drunken stupor stamps of my own stupidity. Celtic cross on my right forearm, octopus tentacles clutching a rusty cast iron anchor on the left. Tribal design around my left bicep, my name intertwined in thorns on my right. A set of rosary beads tattooed around my neck and down my chest. Skulls with dreadlocks and abstract Grim Reapers and fighting leprechauns and an ace of spades all filling in the rest of the space. And coming out from under the cover of my shirt, flames and debris from a massive explosion of colored ink on my chest. It stems from my heart and connects itself all the way over to the typical Irish symbol on my upper right arm, and to the Chinese character on my left.

A shamrock with the Irish flag tri-color on its inside, and the Cantonese symbol for purity.

These two begin the descent of the ill-forged ink designs that extend to my wrists and desecrate my flesh. These two are the only designs that represent something of substance.

They represent Jin and me.

Belt buckle stabbing me in the stomach, dirty jeans that have worn holes to go right along with their habitual stench. Decadence. Embodied.

The door opens and my boots hit the pavement and the walking dead unfolds from the car like a phantom rupturing the edges of its shadow, bursting through with intentions of corruption and the macabre. Cig. Lit. Smoke rising in subtle brutality, and I can smell the stale stench of nicotine and post-alcoholic gluttony radiating from my unwashed body like a mist of malevolence.

The holiest of all unholy.

In the name of the Fodder, the Gun, the Holy Spurious.

Amen.

I slam the car door shut and lean against it and contemplate the night. And the night, she’s set aflame with the conscience I was born without. But somewhere, out of the shambles of it all, I grew one. Tonight it’s a cancer, spreading, coursing through my veins. Tonight, changes will be made, events will be set into motion that will resonate and bring certain repercussions with them.

Never really saw myself as a lover in the first place. What brought Jin and me together was bigger than the both of us. How a girl like her ends up with a bum like me…God only knows. Or maybe God doesn’t even know. Maybe the two of us forged ahead to form a relationship that is deserving only of an expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The smell of lotus blossoms slowly deteriorates as the barreling smoke of my cigarette exhumes from my nose like a dragon on the fringes of forgotten flame. And though the finer thoughts of Jin still make my ticker beat a little faster that usual, the flame burning atop our sacred heart feels the extinguishing condensation of a need for new life. It beckons for me to start clean. It knows that Jin won’t change because she is a programmed beast, a killer who has been hypnotized, brutalized, cauterized by her mother. Jin won’t change and when I’m gone from here, I’ll wake up and the tenure of our relationship will be nothing more than a bad dream with hints of pure beauty coyly loitering in its recesses.

I’m not all that well educated by the standards of systemized learning, but I read a lot. I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath, I’ve read Crime and Punishment, I’ve read Sun Tzu, The Art of War. Twice. I’ve read The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Oscar Wilde said it best.

“…the worst of having a romance of any kind is that it leaves one so unromantic.”

But words from an English classic will only get you so far. You don’t really grasp the meaning fully until you experience it firsthand. And I have.

And it’s a wicked pisser.

While Jin’s upstairs making a pincushion out of that guy’s head, while I’m supposed to be watching out for any and all signs of the cops, while our song echoes through my head like some kind of curse that’s there simply to remind me of our love and my negligence to keep it intact, I blow a mouthful of smoke, throw my Marlboro to the asphalt…

And I walk away.

I’ll just walk this street until it ends and the shadows will bring the old ghosts of the NYC underworld, and those ghosts will bring the NYPD. But Jin is the hired assassin, dark and fast, the last of her kind, well trained and well rehearsed, and if I know her as well as think I do, she will make her daring escape. The high wire escape artist, chopping necks and blending into walls before making it home to send out the dogs to find me. The Huangs have connections all over the world, in at least half the states in this country.

Tonight’s exodus will not go unpunished.

Yeah, she’ll get away from the cops, I’m sure of it. She’ll get away because she’s an entity of death. She’ll vanish into the air upon request, light and fast, eyes without a face, nocturnal native of her own stealthy essence. A skydiver, a cliffhanger without the need of harnesses or parachutes because she is one with the moment, one with the fear of death. And she’ll disappear because she was never there to begin with, her knife slash coming with the casual pull of the breeze, sharpened steel stars reigning from the sky with no trace of the red right hand that fed them.

She’s the hired assassin, dark and fast, the last of her kind, well trained and well rehearsed, and the last thing I see before turning off of Central Park West is Jin’s face, Jin’s eyes, glaring at me from the back of an NYPD patrol car.

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