by Willard Manus
Eeeh-yah! Sandy screamed as he lunged at Vince, lashing out
with his bare right foot. Vince tried to dodge him but was caught by a
shot to the groin that stunned him, sending waves of pain spearing up
through him. As he collapsed, Sandy came over and mumbled an apology.
How bad is it? he asked. Youve ruined my sex life!
Vince cried out shrilly.
Its your fault. You should have turned and deflected the blow
with your hip.
Fuck you. This is my first try at kung fu, remember?
Yeah, I guess youre right. It was unrealistic to think you
could pick up the basics so fast.
But then, after they had shed their cotton uniforms and were getting dressed,
Sandy went on to say, Im shocked how so slow and clumsy youve
become. You were pretty nimble as a kid.
That was twenty pounds ago.
Shame on you for putting on all that weight. Im still as fit
as I was back when we were on that Police Athletic League boxing team.
That undefeated team.
Right. We whipped everybodys ass that year. The Bronx Bombers,
they called us.
All that is ancient history, Sandy.
Dont say it. Im still a warrior at heart, a guy who
likes a good fight.
Is that why you took up kung fu?
No way. I took it up so that I could impress Chairman Mao when he
comes to Hollywood.
I dont understand.
The man is a martial arts fanatic. What better way to bond with
him than by going into the ring with him?
But youre just a beginner. It wont be a fair fight.
Not to worry. Itll be a friendly match, a mostly social thing,
like playing golf together.
What if he accidentally lands a knockout punch?
Ill be happy to take one for the team if it helps to get our
* * *
The whole thing is truly bizarre, Lottie said. They were sitting
over breakfast in a neighborhood coffee house the next morning. Does
Sandy really think the best way to do business with this Chinese guy is
by trading kung fu blows with him?
Sandys a pretty savvy guy. If he thinks this is the way to
go, who am I to argue with him?
Sandys a has-been. All hes got going for him is desperation.
I beg to disagree. The man has produced dozens of films.
He went bankrupt last year. He doesnt have a nickel to his
That doesnt matter. The entire budget for our film will be
put up by Chairman Maos company in China.
All fifteen million?
Fifteen million is chump change for the Chinese.
Lottie took a sip of her cappucino and frowned. It all sounds crazy
to me. Its a ridiculous way to do business.
I disagree. Chairman Mao is coming to Hollywood to make deals. He
heads a company thats drowning in cash. And Sandy does have something
real to offer, a hot screenplay written by yours truly. So why is it crazy
to think something good might come out of this friendly kung fu match?
Lottie took another sip of coffee, then shrugged her shoulders and said,
Lets hope youre right. By the way, whats Chairman
Maos real name?
Its Zou Hunguo or something like that. Hes an army general.
Whats a general doing running a film company?
Thats how things work in China. The army is in control of
all the big state industries.
So it would appear all our hopes are riding on this Chinese tin
All our hopes?
You heard me. Lottie stared at him, her mouth a thin, tight
line. We are flat broke, Vinnie.
What are you talking about? The last time I looked, we had twenty
thousand bucks in the bank.
Lottie began to chew on the tips of her long, lustrous black hair, a sure
sign that she was upset about something. Then she managed to blurt it
out. I blew every penny we had at the tables last night.
The shock was sudden and unnerving. Lottie had never before risked all
their savings like that. She was a professional poker player and had always
known when to hold em and when to fold em. How could she have
lost her head like that?
I kept losing pots to players who didnt know what in hell
they were doing, she explained, players who kept winning by
pulling inside straights or drawing three aces on the flop. It was outrageous,
the luck they had, and I should have realized that it just wasnt
my night. But instead of quitting the game and heading home, I just hung
on at the table, getting angrier and more reckless by the minute, burning
up my chips, begging the floor boss to let me run up a tab.
Jesus, Vince said finally. You have really done a number
Indeed I have.
They sat for the longest time after that, not speaking or even looking
at each other.
* * *
It was the first time Lottie had ever busted out like that. Usually she
played a steady, careful game, winning small amounts most of the time,
enough for them to live on uncomfortably, as he put it. Shed inherited
her skill at poker from her mother Chickie, who, on her wedding night
in Las Vegas, had played cards till dawn instead of making love to her
new and third husband. Chickie was too impulsive and erratic to become
a top-notch player, but Lottie had learned well from her and was able
to turn pro at eighteen and hold her own in the casinos.
She had often kept them alive when Vince was unable to sell a screenplay.
Fortunately, that kind of thing didnt happen too often; he had averaged
one sale every three years, with the occasional residual check or rewrite
job helping to pad their income.
Between the two of them, they had managed to stay afloat for twelve years
in Hollywood--and stick it out as husband and wife as well. Yeah, the
marriage had proved to be a pretty good one, he told himself. It helped
that hed learned early on never to expect her to cook a meal, wake
up before noon, or eat fried liver and onions.
But now her heedlessness had upset the balance of their lives, tipped
it over the edge. They were down to their last few bucks and if they didnt
do something about it, they might end up living in a tent on San Pedro
After a long, tense discussion they concluded that their best hope was
to raise some quick cash, enough to finance Lotties return to the
poker club in Gardena. Staked out like that, she might be able to return
to her winning ways and keep them solvent until Sandy Engels signed the
deal with Chairman Mao and was able to pay Vince for his screenplay.
So, furtively, ashamedly, they began to borrow money from friends and
family, and to sell off whatever they could on E-bay: car, clothes, furniture,
TV, jewelry, even the gas stove (why the hell not, since Lottie had never
even so much as turned a knob on it).
By wheeling and dealing like that, they raised enough to prime the poker
pump for Lottie. Off she went to Gardena, with a wad of cash in her purse,
ready to become the bread-winner again, until such time as Chairman Mao
arrived in Hollywood and went into the kung fu ring with Sandy Engels.
* * *
Thats the word that jumped immediately into Vinces mind when
he first laid eyes on Chairman Mao.
Heap big trouble, he added tensely, grimly.
The Chairman was a tall, lean, hawk-nosed man who, in his satin-black
uniform and black belt, towered over Sandy Engels. His bearing was warrior-like:
straight spine, wary eyes, unsmiling mouth. No polite chatting, no joking
of any kind. It was clear from the moment he stepped into the ring that
this was not going to be a friendly match. The message he was sending
to Sandy was all too clear. It was one that said, I know why you
have gone into the ring with me. Its not out of friendship or competition.
Its just to get something out of me. Well, your cunning and cupidity
dont fool me. Im a lot tougher and smarter than you think.
And Im going to prove it to you by beating the living shit out of
you, you capitalist white devil!
The Chairman proceeded to do just that by launching a swift, furious attack
on Sandy, one that caught him by surprise and staggered him with its intensity
and ferocity. Thwack, thwack, thwack, he landed one blow after another
on Sandy, using fists, elbows and feet to bloody his face, make him cry
out in pain.
This triggered an angry, unexpected response in Vince: a long-buried memory
rose up from deep within him: a memory of Tiananment Square in Beijing
when Chinese generals just like this one had turned on the young people
who were demonstrating for freedom and democracy in China, attacked them
with their batons, guns and tanks, killing thousands of them. Chances
are, this very man was one of those sons of bitches who had declared war
on their own people, their own children, and turned Tiananment Square
into a blood-bath, a slaughter-house.
As he continued to watch Chairman Mao pummel Sandy in the ring, Vince
felt his Bronx blood begin to heat up. Mao was punishing Sandy the way
he had punished those young, idealistic students, and thats when
Vince's blood boiled over and he threw himself at Mao and clobbered him
with a metal folding chair, momentarily stunning the general, leaving
him vulnerable to a wild, desperate punch on the jaw by Sandy Engels.
Aggghhhh! Chairman Mao bellowed as crumpled to the mat, with
the two boys from Pelham Parkway standing over him, howling at the top
of their lungs as they punched and kicked away at him with all the strength
and righteousness they could muster.