Statement No. 004:
Johnny Shin was gassed. The hour late. One o'clock. It's so hot, so humid, I swear my cigarette's ready to cry. And there squats Johnny Shin. Straight across the desk. In all his glory. Dressed to the nines in full monkey suit and top hat. I'm beat, bothered, and hot under the collar. Shin? Nothing to say. Mum as a sphinx. Doesn't so much as look at me. He waltzes in, parks his can, and sits. He sits and he stares, caressing that absurd topper in his lap. Staring into the great void, he's wearing the expression of a manhole cover.
You'd have to imagine he'd have something to spill. Who stumbles into a PI's office with nothing to kick? At that hour? Not one word from this baby. No "hello." No "allow me to introduce myself." No nothing. Instead, the guy's lousy with hiccups.
If that doesn't beat all for a harmless enough introduction. Feels long ago. Beyond the measure of hours. Didn't take long for those dominoes to fall. Sometimes it's the easiest thing to go wrong, and go there fast. Sure.
I spotted a couple of you boys down at Canal Street. You got a real good squint at the crack-up, the body, the whole stinking works. What you couldn't dope out is how it happened, how it played out. I guess that's where I come in. Sure. Me and my little adventure. That mess we've got down on Canal, that scrambled misery of a scene you witnessed—chalk it up to Shin's indiscretions.
All right, let's take it from the top. For the record. I'll fill in most of your missing pieces. I'm betting it won't fill in nothing where Johnny Shin's concerned. Whoever's stuck getting a line on that baby needs plenty of patience and time and luck. Nine lives' worth. The luck of Lindy.
Roll it back. Last night. Call it twelve thirty by the time I returned to the office. More or less. The stakeout wound up a bum steer. That threw my client for a loop, all right. But let's not go into that story. I figured I might as well get a jump on my report. Why not get it out of the way? It would have been tough going trying to sleep in my oven of an apartment.
I'd been pounding and sweating at the typewriter about thirty minutes when the egg strolled in. Mind you, it was getting on one o'clock, but this gee sauntered in like it's the middle of the day. Business as usual. Most people would’ve knocked. Some might have gone easy on the doorknob, peeked in first, made with a whispered "hello" or "excuse me" or "gosh, I'm sorry to bother you at this godforsaken hour." Not this gink. He let himself in and throws shut the door just as casual as entering a stall. Not so much as a glance my way. After slamming the door hunched over, he straightens up and adjusts his top hat with one hand, just so—he sported a stovepipe, of all the crazy things. He negotiated the office off-balance, shuffling and weaving, as slowly and deliberately as he could manage. His equilibrium played games with him, and it looked like a winner.
He entered the small circle of light cast by the desk lamp, and I took in the full treatment. Hard to believe anyone would shoehorn himself into a tux on a night like that. He plunked onto the chair on the client side of the desk. Tilted all the way back with his legs stretched out wide. He removed the topper with two hands, carefully, and then placed it on his lap like some delicate bloom. He proceeded to undo his first collar button and loosen his tie. The arm dropped to his side, and he exhaled a lengthy, deep breath. That's when he hiccupped.
My visitor made for a slim figure. Short and slim. Slim all the way down. The thin, tinted face came to a round bottom at the chin. He slicked back his oil-black hair from a part in the middle. His narrow eyes angled slightly, and the skin underneath puffed up in gray pouches. The mouth ran wide with a pronounced, thick lower lip. The bird came across as no one special—no one special enough to be fascinating enough at that hour.
"Pardon me," I said.
Louder: "I'm talking to you."
Still nothing, nothing but a hiccup and a stare as blank as plaster. One hand mindlessly stroked the opera hat, like petting a lap cat.
I used a handkerchief to rub the sweat from my palms and wipe my forehead. I swung the typing stand out of the way and felt in my pocket for a smoke. I grabbed a match and pondered the mug. An Asian looking mug. In fancy dress, no less. Stinko, no less. At one in the goddamn morning. I struck the match and the lush came to attention in an instant.
He tipped into a slight bow, in my general direction, carefully placed the topper back on his bean, and tipped the brim. "So very, very pleased to meet." He spoke with a soft tone, a tone small, thin, and nasal.
"So, it can speak, after all."
"I do not get you."
"Got a name?"
"I asked if you have a name."
"Yes. I do. My name is Jung Hee Shin."
"How's that again?"
He yanked off the topper, caught himself, and gently lowered it to his lap. "Call me Johnny!"
"Sure. So it's Johnny Shin, is it?" I struck another match and lit up.
"Yes." Shin positioned the stovepipe back on his crown, delicately. He surveyed the layout with sleepy eyes. "This is your office room?"
"That's what I'm doing here. Would you mind telling me what you're doing here?"
"No. I would not mind." He smiled. He hiccupped.
"I do not get you."
"What are you doing here?"
"My life!" That diminutive voice turned shockingly amplified. Damn shrill, too. His nose flared out and his forehead bunched up in creases. "My life is in danger!"
"That's what you come stumbling in here at this hour to tell me?"
"My life was not in danger earlier."
"Sure, sure. Okay, let's have it. What makes you say your life is in danger?"
"Paching! Paching!" Shin stuck out his right hand and flexed it into a peculiar, squeezing gesture.
"Right down street. Outside. In front of bar. Paching! Paching!" Once again his hand signaled with that odd, twinging motion.
"Let's give that a try for starters," I said. "You were in a bar."
"Yes. Bar very, very close to office here."
"Who was with you?"
"No one. I alone with myself."
"Okay. You're at this nearby lounge on your lonesome. So what happened?"
"Oh, very, very nice man at bar. Very, very considerate. He told to me, 'You have had enough. It is time you leave now.' So I go away."
"Oh! As soon as I go through door. Paching! Paching! There is a man in middle of street with gun!"
"You don't say."
"No, I do say! I say very, very much."
"How many shots did he fire at you? Paching, paching sounds like two in my book."
"Who know? He try to kill me and I try to not die! I not counting!"
"Take it easy, take it easy. I bet you did count after all. Think for a moment. How much time was there between shots? Did he fire quick and rapid? Or maybe he took slow aim between shots."
"Ah. I get now. Gun man pretty fast, yes. Gun man shoot three times."
"Three shots, three misses."
"I did not wait for number four."
"Was the street empty? Pretty quiet?"
"Except for paching, very, very quiet.
"Uh-huh. Three misses. From the middle of a deserted street, with no distractions, and you sitting pretty. A sitting Peking Duck."
"Peking in China. I no Chinese!"
"I am Korean man!" Hiccup.
"Simmer down. So it's three shots and he comes up with zip. You're a lucky man, Mr. Shin."
"If I so lucky, why he shoot at me?"
"That's an intelligent question, Shin. Did you recognize him?"
"I no wait to find out."
"You ran away."
"Yes, I ran away. I ran like ah...
"Like a drunk gazelle?"
"Oh, that pretty funny."
"Okay, so you ran. Then what?"
"I run some more."
"Just one paching."
"I come to place of all light and I go in. A drug house?"
"A drug store, Shin. Probably the twenty-four-hour Rexall at Webster."
"Yes, that is place. Find telephone room with big book. All kinds of names and streets and numbers."
"Don't tell me you looked me up in the phone book."
"No, no. Trying to find friend, Man-Su Pak. You know Man-Su Pak?"
"Haven't had the pleasure."
"He is living on the side near north."
"You could have called the cops."
"The police, Shin. You could of phoned the cops."
"No, no. No police man. Do not want police man. Want Man-Su Pak."
"Did you find him?"
"No. I run more, can find no address."
"Any more paching?"
"One more. Out of doors of Rexall. That is right?"
"That's right. Rexall. Then what?"
"I am so much out of breath. So hot. Light in head. Need rest. Door of this building open. Go inside and sit on stairs. Then I see! Up top light." He pointed over his shoulder.
"From my office."
"Holy mackerel! You are home!"
"Sure, I'm home, all right."
"Yes. Maybe, as you say to me, I am lucky."
"Or smarter than you let on."
I got no response to that one. I pressed him on the identity of his would-be assassin—no go. I kept pressing him, but the hiccups got worse. And he lost his place in conversation worse than Gracie Allen. I felt ready for a stiff one myself. I felt ready for bed. Maybe both. The whole thing read screwy on the face of it, and I didn't even know what Shin wanted. If Shin knew what he wanted, it was news to me.
We danced around some more until Shin had to use the toilet. I've got the one office on that floor that comes with a john. When it's working, it saves me the trouble travelling down the hall. With Shin occupied, I grabbed a drink from the water cooler, took a few sips, and splashed the rest on my face.
Back at the desk, I put up my feet. A cool breeze rolled in the open window and chilled the back of my neck. I cupped a match and fired up a cigarette. I burned through the butt before Shin emerged from the bathroom. Framed in the doorway, he painted one hell of a picture in that cockeyed opera hat. Another cool breeze drifted in and I stood up.
"What do you say, Shin, I buy you a nightcap? I'm sure I can find a joint with a late liquor license. Or a place that prints its own. I could use a belt myself—sometimes my line of work calls for it."
"Most pleasing, sir." Shin's thick mouth grinned big, his puffy eyes almost shut. "Very, very please," with a tip of the brim, "why you not call me Johnny?" The request had lost all its steam.
I heard a light sprinkling of raindrops as I shut the window—yeah, like a soft paching. I grabbed my jacket and hat, doused the light, and locked the door behind us. Shin nuzzled my shoulder all the way down the stairs. I told him I wasn't playing piggyback, though I knew he wasn't savvy.
I had to figure Shin's story bubbled forth from a bottle. Even so, I told Shin to hang back in the vestibule while I gave the street a look-see. I pushed open the outside door nice and easy. A misting rain glossed the street like an eight ball and cooled the air. The hum of a lone car driving steady down Clark approached. No other action. I glanced up as I stepped out, keeping one hand on the door. The rain clouds added an extra layer of shadow to the early morning hours. Shin peeked out below my arm.
"I told you stay put," I said.
I leaned out to get a broader view from the recessed entrance. Not another soul. Just the crate rolling down this side of Clark, a green hulk of a Plymouth sedan that slammed its brakes and short-skidded to a fast stop at the curb. I instinctively hit a slight crouch as the driver's door opened. Through the falling sheets and vapor, I made out the silhouette turning my way. The driver's arm swung over the roof of the vehicle, smooth and quick. I wasn't about to wait for any paching.
I spun like a top, sprung back inside the vestibule, and ran smack into Shin as the door swung closed behind us. I took him down in my arms and we hit the stone, tile floor as a blast shattered its way through the glass door. Two more shots buried themselves in the framework. The ringing explosions faded and gave way to the tap dancing of raindrops as they blew into the foyer. We kept still as the pyramids.
I whispered, "You in one piece, Shin?"
I began easing myself up, slow and silent—except for the tinkling bits of glass. Three more shots erupted and struck with sharp cracks against the outside of the building. Shin poked at me with little fists.
"This ain't the Wild West, Shin and I'm not packing any six-shooter. But I'll bet you all the tea in China that our friend is out of pills."
"I no Chinese!"
I peered over my shoulder, as sly as I could, and spied the figure stepping up the curb. He hesitated, took another step, then another.
"Paching! Paching!" Shin cried.
I pushed up to my feet and wheeled around to face the gunman. I stood just within the blown-out door. The dark figure hung back on the sidewalk no more than ten feet away. He had me cold. I raised my open hands in front of me, palms up. The gunman jerked up the roscoe and aimed at my chest. For a moment we listened to the wind and the rain. Then he squeezed, fast: click, click!
I lunged forward, "That sort of evens things up."
The gunman slid two steps back, then whirled and ran for it. I leapt out of the vestibule and nearly slipped off my feet on the broken glass. As I found my footing, a hard tug jerked me from behind and held me. Shin had snagged one of my belt loops in an effort to get to his feet—he didn't make it.
"Who the hell is this guy?" I barked it out loud, but I was talking to myself.
"Crazy husband," Shin said.
"It probably Mr. Jang."
The triggerman scooted around his car and slid in behind the wheel. He punched the accelerator with the car door still open. The green Plymouth fishtailed out of control as it headed south on Clark Street.
I yanked Shin up by the lapels and hauled him across the street to my coupe. I bellowed for him to get in. I threw myself into the driver's seat and slammed the door shut. Shin hopped in and left his door wide open. I fired up the engine and threw her in reverse to get off the DeSoto in front of me. A rear tire jumped the curb and the passenger door banged shut from the impact. I popped her into first, fed some gas, and barely scraped the DeSoto's bumper as I steered into a tight U-turn.
I spotted the Plymouth one block down, backing off a lamppost with a trashcan wedged in between. The coupe had gained half a block by the time the Plym took off again. We sped down Clark towards the heart of the sleeping city, two machines streaking over the blurred reflections of traffic lights on the slick pavement. An urban ghost town flew by the rain-streaked windows of my coupe. Most of the drunks had already passed out somewhere else, and the wholesale delivery trucks were still in their barns—it was too late for the revelers and too early for newsies and milkmen.
I caught fleeting glimpses of Shin as he took it in, pointing out sights to himself, stroking that god-awful topper in his lap. The chase was on and it struck me—there we were, in the wee hours of the morning, in high-speed pursuit of an assassin on the run, the good guys going after the bad guy, the All-American private detective and his Korean sidekick.
"What do you mean husband, Shin?"
"You know, Mr. Jang probably crazy jealous."
"Who the hell is Mr. Jang?"
"He married to Mrs. Jang."
"Who the hell is Mrs. Jang?"
The Plym barreled straight down Clark as we gained on her. She took a hard right followed by a quick left, cutting over to Wells. I didn't think she'd hold the turns doing thirty-five, but the Plym just made it, almost clipping a traffic light. Now the Plymouth pushed it, flying down Wells at thirty-five, forty, forty-five miles an hour.
"Ah, that Mrs. Jang. She my sweetheart."
"Your sweetheart, Shin? Jesus Christ, are you kidding me? We're getting shot at because you're mousing around?"
"I do not get you."
At times the Plym swerved half a lane to the left or right, quick swerves, then straightened out again. That gave me something to worry about as the coupe kept advancing. For the life of me I couldn't figure what the shooter figured, if he figured anything at all.
"Shin, you're two-timing with Mrs. Jang, and now poppa's trying to kill you? Is that what this boils down to?"
The gunman eased off the gas as we approached the short bridge that crosses the river at Wacker Drive. The Plym hit the ramp and leapt two feet off the ground. It landed hard, scraped bottom on the gridding, and took two zigzagging bounces. Its body heaved side to side before correcting its course one-half block beyond Wacker.
"It's our turn, Shin."
"Call me—Holy mackerel!" Shin leaned over and hugged the topper in his lap.
We hit the bridge doing forty and sailed three feet above the ground. I could feel her kicking up in back, but she leveled off and held steady when she came down. Shin bounced back in his seat, caressing the damn high hat. We were almost on top of the Plym as we neared Lake Street. Through the mist I made out a couple of pedestrians running toward the stairs leading up to the train platform. A white Ford cruised slowly through the intersection.
"Is this Mrs. Jang's husband?"
"It could be."
"Could be? Try to make out his face."
I kept her floored, attempting to pull up on the driver's side. The Plym suddenly faded and careened into a right turn down Lake Street. Her entire body leaned low onto the left side. A hubcap popped off, bounced and whirled onto the sidewalk.
I hit the brakes and we spun halfway around just before the next traffic light. A van entered the intersection from Randolph and screeched to a stop at the sight of my car.
"Did you see him, Shin?"
"Was it Mr. Jang?"
"I not sure, I do not know."
"Why the hell not?"
"Holy Mackerel, I never see husband before."
I hit the gas, worked the steering wheel hard, and headed back up Wells. I turned onto Lake to continue the pursuit. The Plym had a couple blocks on me.
"Is that or is that not Mr. Jang?"
"I don't know what he look like. But who else could he be?"
"How the hell do I know, Shin?"
"You get very, very hot."
We zipped down Lake for two blocks, outpacing the elevated train on the tracks above. At the next bridge we crossed the curving river again, rushing on for another four blocks. The longer we drove, the heavier the mist appeared. The Plym sprayed more water with every swerve of her rear wheels.
The gunman veered left onto Desplaines. I followed suit, lost some traction, but the tires dug in again. From Desplaines we raced to Jackson where the shooter hung another left. The green sedan led us in crazy circles. Where we were headed was anyone's guess. We tore down Jackson and passed Union Station, a dark gray monolith behind the sheets of rain. We came around again to Wacker, and the Plym took yet another left. We followed around to Washington, and that's where our gunman fouled up, when he steered onto Washington to avoid a sedan turning in front of him.
The Plym rolled into a sharp left down Washington, an eastbound, one-way street—the Plym drove westbound, against traffic. A Checker cab slammed on its brakes and came to a dead stop as the Plymouth came out of its turn. The Plym swung wide to the left side of the cab, just shy of a collision. The shocked cabbie didn't so much as tap the horn. The hack held still as my coupe scooted by on its right side.
The Plym fought to correct its path, swerved far right, back toward the left, and straightened out, all without losing speed. The coupe's rear wheels spun out, found their grip, and we sped on.
The block-long viaduct at Canal loomed ahead like a three-eyed, concrete monster. Three tunnels created three lanes of traffic through the structure. Once under the viaduct, it would be nearly impossible to see any oncoming traffic until it was too late. The coupe was coming up fast, in line with the right channel. The Plym didn't adjust its bearings. She held steady, overlapping the left and center lanes.
Shin had been catching the speedometer since we left Desplaines, and he got caught up in the race. He couldn't help narrating. "Forty-one," he said. He glanced quickly through the windshield, then down at the dash. "Forty-three. Forty-five!"
The distance up to the Plym closed quick. Just a car length behind as we flew over the bridge at Water Street.
I held hard to the right lane as Shin cried, "Forty-seven! Holy Mackerel!" The Plym's course was a dead end, headed for direct impact with the retaining wall between the center and left lanes of the viaduct. I cheated one fleeting glance at the gunman's silhouette hunched over the steering wheel. Our cars zoomed past on either side of a yellow Dodge abruptly stopped at an angle in the middle lane.
"Forty-nine!" Shin burst out as we came up parallel with the Plym. We tore down Washington neck and neck. Picking up speed. Holding our positions. One second, five seconds, ten seconds. The shooter's course remained dead set. Shin yelled, "Fifty-one!"
The Plym slammed into the barrier, head on, with a rupturing, buckling contraction of metal against concrete. I couldn't believe it at first. I didn't put on the brakes until well into the tunnel.
My heavy breathing startled me. Shin stared out the back of the coupe. There was nothing to make out of the darkness, so he peered even harder. I eased the gearshift into reverse and backed up, slow and smooth, gliding the coupe until we came to the mouth of the channel. I gave a quick glance at the broken heap to our left, then maneuvered the coupe to the curb. I lit a cigarette and told Shin to sit tight.
I got out and straightened up. My legs felt weak beneath me, on the shaky side, but I ignored that. The rain fell harder, and I ignored that, too. Shoulders hunched, hands jammed in my pockets, I narrowed my eyes in the direction of the mangled Plymouth. No signs of movement. I spat out the soaked butt and took slow, measured steps toward the wreckage.
The front end of the Plym didn't even resemble a car. The impact obliterated most of the hood. Steam snaked up through the shower like hot springs in a rain forest. The radiator gasped and hissed like a dying reptile. Steady drops of a dark liquid spilled from the jacked up front and created a slick pool on the wet street. The cracked windshield frame twisted wild in different directions. Every window busted clean out. The front tires were blown out. Glass and bits of metal created a haphazard pattern in the glistening raindrops. I felt the crunch of debris beneath my shoes.
I knew the passenger door wouldn't give, but I gave it a go—no soap. I peered through the bent frame of the passenger window. The young man wrapped so tightly around the steering wheel could've passed for modern sculpture. The sightless eyes tilted up and out—the eyes of no more than a kid.
You could read it in an instant—dead. Streaks of blood had whipped across his face. The torso and shoulders crushed deep into the dash with the steering wheel in between. The limp, unnatural posture of the arms and hands. The awkward, snapped repose of the head. Sometimes a dead body says "dead"—this one screamed it.
I lined the window with my jacket and reached in. I worked and inched the wallet from his back pants pocket, and carefully eased myself back out. I stood in the rain and looked through the billfold, a cold, detached summary of a life. Six bucks in bills. A family portrait of the gunman, his mother, a much younger sister. Their stiff pose came off awkward, but cozy. Some scraps of paper, receipts, a ticket stub from The Woods Theatre.
The driver's license provided hard facts and aced it. The name, Min-Ho Jang. His age, seventeen. Shin's piece-meal, hodgepodge of a story had just crapped out.
I marched back to the coupe. Shin had gone out cold on me, dozing like a baby. A baby done up in formal wear. I slid behind the wheel and slammed the door as hard as I could. No answer from Shin. I could’ve slugged the rat, but didn't want to waste it on any sleeping beauty. Instead, I snatched the damn top hat out of his lap. The topper took me by surprise when it rattled.
Inside the high hat I discovered a black, velvet bag. I loosened the cord, opened the end of the pouch, and picked through the contents. I found a thick wad of small bills held with a rubber band, ones and fives. A tiny, yellowed cameo. One silver earring in the shape of an owl. A short strand, pearl necklace. A small, carved turtle—could have been jade. The other owl earring.
I saved the best for last, lingering over it with a tired stare. An intricately carved gold frame containing one faded still. The photograph captured three people. The same woman from Jang's wallet all right, showing a lot less wear and tear, alongside a young boy and a toddler.
I reached for a smoke, lit up, and listened to the rain. Then I heard Shin rustling awake.
"That mine." Shin leaned over and made a grab for the pouch. "Give it back!"
I brought my right up fast and gave his jaw a sharp, backhand slap. I followed that with a short-throw sock on the button. Shin went lights out in an instant, slumped forward with the crown of his head against the glove compartment. I don't think I'm that good, I think Shin was that blotto.
I gave the photo another look before placing the loot back inside the black, velvet purse. I sat in the coupe in the storm and finished my smoke, a rat in the seat next to me, and waited for the unnecessary cavalry.
That satisfy you? It's supposed to, right? That's the whole story, and that's supposed to satisfy you. You've got the stolen merchandise, you've got Shin in the bag, and you've got Jang on ice. And you should be all nice and satisfied. What else can I tell you? Any of you? Now you know as much about it as I do. Maybe more, if Shin has started to sober up.
Well, gents, I'm not satisfied. Not by a long shot. I haven't been satisfied for years, but what's the integrity of one small gumshoe worth, more or less? If you say it's good enough for you, I'll leave you to it. If not, if you want me to run through it one more time, I'd be happy to. Happy to oblige. Sure. Just as soon as I get myself good and gassed. I can make you one awful good statement when I'm stinking drunk. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.
* The photograph displayed at the top of this page was taken by Stanley Kubrick as a staff photographer for Look Magazine. Copyright in the photograph was donated to the United States by Cowles Communications, Inc. For more information on the photograph, see http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004671586/.