The Freighter Yang Ming cleared the Golden Gate Bridge and headed into the bay. Chin-Ning Chu watched from the Hyde Street Pier as the giant container ship passed in front of Alcatraz Island . Gulls wheeled overhead, daubs of black and white paint against a powder blue canvass sky. It had rained earlier in the day but now, just after 2:00 P.M. PST, the sun was out and there wasn't a cloud to be seen anywhere. It was a good omen, certainly.
Chin turned his back to the ocean and made his way along the dock to the sidewalk. As he walked toward Jefferson Avenue , he punched a series of numbers into this cell phone. In theory he had just armed a nuclear device which lay concealed in the hold of the Yang Ming. If he had calculated correctly he now had two hours, a mere 120 minutes, to hit “send” and trigger an explosion that would lay waste to the Bay Area – symbol of the decadence and corruption of American and, indeed, of Western society.
Despite all his training and all his preparation, Chin still had doubts. He had lived in San Francisco now for years, assimilating, fitting in … all the while waiting for just this assignment. He had grown to have some measure of admiration, even affection, for the American people. They possessed a lust for life, an animal vitality, which 10,000 years of civilization had all but bred out of his people. Ideology and political expediency aside, he was still not sure that he could go through with what he had been charged to do. In truth, he was not even sure whose bidding his bosses were doing. It may have been the North Koreans, his fanatical cousins; or perhaps the Iranians, strange bedfellows indeed. Certainly his government might have its own agenda vis-à-vis massive American casualties and widespread disruption of the Western economy. Whatever the case, and whatever decision he ultimately made, his life was over. The question was how to preserve his honor. The two-hour time frame had been designed to give him an opportunity to flee the immediate area. He had already rejected that as an option. He would either succumb to the firestorm that ensued from detonation of the bomb or he would take his own life if he failed – or opted not – to complete his mission as instructed.
At the corner of Beach and Hyde Streets, Chin waited for a trolley car to rattle and clang up the hill. Once the coast was clear, he crossed the road and turned left. He reached Columbus Avenue and headed diagonally into North Beach . As he approached Washington Square , he heard a voice from a doorway off to his left.
“Hey, Benihana, I could use some money. How about helping me out?”
Chin turned slightly only to be confronted by a disheveled looking young Caucasian man with wild eyes. Used to the ways of the streets in the area Chin disregarded the plea and, keeping his head down, walked on. A few seconds later, however, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He stopped and, calmly, deliberately, turned around.
“Talkin’ to you, man,” the kid barked with venom. This time, Chin noticed a knife in the miscreant’s hand. “You think I’m chopped sushi? Not really making a request. Now give me your fuckin’ money!
Chin could have disarmed his assailant in seconds. It would have been a simple matter to break his arm in two or three places. The hyped-up punk wouldn't even know what was happening until it was too late. That or one quick blow to the neck and the boy would be writhing in agony, choking to death on the ground at Chin’s feet. But, no, here was an answer to his dilemma.
“I’m Chinese,” Chin remarked quietly, “not Japanese as you mistakenly assume. It’s a common enough error. But, no matter, here’s my money.”
Slowly and carefully Chin reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a money clip. It was in the shape of a silver dragon inlaid with emeralds. The mugger’s eyes dilated even further when he saw the denomination of the outside bill. He reached out and snatched the clip from Chin’s hands.
“Shit, I don't care what kind of gook you are, man. All I care about is that you’re loaded. Is that a wallet in your other pocket?”
“No,” Chin answered, “I don't carry a wallet. “It’s just my cell phone.”
“Quick, let me have it. I'm losing patience with you, dude.”
Chin pulled the cell phone out of his pocket and handed it over. The young tough whistled, “High-tech. I can sell it. How many minutes you have left on this?”
“Let’s say there’s an eternity on that phone.”
With that the kid smirked and made a playful lunge toward Chin. Once again the Chinese man restrained himself. He backed up and sidestepped with élan. Laughing, the thief turned on his heels and ran. Before disappearing around the corner, he shouted “Remember Pearl Harbor” over his shoulder.
Unfazed by the encounter, Chin continued walking up Columbus Avenue . He gazed overhead at the twin spires of Sts. Peter and Paul Church. The fate of the city was now in the hands of its own citizens, how utterly appropriate. Would they fall prey to avarice and complete moral dissolution or, by some miracle, save themselves from themselves? Either way, Chin’s obligation to his superiors had been fulfilled to his satisfaction. He was soon lost in the labyrinth of streets bordering Chinatown . There were 101 minutes left … and counting.
BIO: James C. Clar is a teacher and writer who lives in upstate NY. His book reviews, articles and author interviews appear regularly in the pages of MYSTERY NEWS. His work, including short fiction, has also appeared in the CRIME & SUSPENSE EZINE, MYSTERYAUTHORS.COM, WORD CATALYST, HACKWRITERS, A LONG STORY, SHORT, CRIMESCENE:SCOTLAND, MYSTERY REVIEW and CRIME TIME MAGAZINE (UK).