by Sz, the Poet
Two men meet among the ducks.
| There were ducks in the window. There were ducks in the window of every food joint you passed, really. It’s one of those Chinatown things, like the old men who ramble in Cantonese and drink port wine that they brewed in bathtubs in Chinatown tenements: buildings that were half looming Bauhaus and half replica of the paper buildings that my ancestors’ ancestors once built. The building was just an average Chinatown building, with ducks in the window and slanted roofs to keep the evil spirits out, who could only travel in straight lines.
Upon entering, I called out to Fu Yuan. I assume he was a fourth generation citizen. I'm a fourth generation citizen, too. Everyone in Chinatown is. I’m the first of my family to learn English, which is another one of those Chinatown things: you never leave. You never learn English. Unless you’re me, I guess. I’m also the first of my family to sell heroin. The old men in town smoke opium in their bathrooms to relax while they watch their port age. We kids shoot heroin because it’s the only way to get out of this slum, but when I say “we kids” I mean my customers. I’m clean. So was Fu Yuan. He was the one I was coming to meet: the one who owned all the ducks. He poked his head out of the kitchen when I came in.
“Ah, hello, Li. I’m glad you could make it on such short notice,” he said in flawless English. Like I said, I figure that Fu Yuan must have been fourth generation, too, because his mother spoke no English, like mine. His mother owned the little restaurant, but the ducks belonged to Fu Yuan. He beckoned me into the kitchen.
The ducks lived in a coop out back. Fu Yuan raised them and when they grew fat, he would put a bag over their heads, strangle them, pluck their feathers, gut and clean them, and bring them into the kitchen to hang by their necks on hooks. There were a few freshly cooked ducks hanging in the window, but the raw ones hung on hooks in the hot kitchen. You don’t cook duck cold, he used to tell me, because it won’t cook through if you do. The duck has to be nice and warm before you can do anything to it.
Anyhow, Fu Yuan was rubbing spices into the bumpy skin of a duck that he took from a hook near my head. I was standing and watching in a corner of the kitchen, surrounded by the hanging ducks. This is why he’d called me over that day: to talk in the kitchen with all the ducks hanging from their crushed necks on the hooks.
Fu Yuan was a strange old man. During the day, he cooked duck in his mother’s store, but at night, he sold heroin to the racers down by the causeway with me. That's very strange for a Cantonese man, especially one as old as Fu Yuan. Men of sixty in Chinatown do not sell drugs, let alone to young men such as me.
Fu Yuan waited like an old man, too. I suppose sixty years of waiting will teach one patience. I, however, never learned patience and I was relieved when he finally dropped the duck into the fryer and turned toward me.
“I have a secret,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t,” I replied. He smiled.
“Open the oven,” he instructed. I did, and pulled out a brick-sized bag, held together with tape and full of white powder.
“What, a kilo?” I asked, tired of the games.
“Your judgment deceives you, Li. It’s a pound,” he said.
“That’s the secret? A pound of junk? I can get that on half the street corners in town,” I said, ready to storm out.
“No, you can't,” he said calmly.
“Alright, old man. Just give it up. What’s the secret?” I pleaded in exasperation.
“That dope has yet to be cut,” he said. My eyes widened. I dropped the bag on the counter and it thudded like a bar of gold.
I suppose you’re wondering what the big deal is. Sometimes I forget that not everyone is from Chinatown and not everyone is on heroin. See, heroin starts off pure, but if you injected pure heroin, you’d probably kill yourself. It’s too delicate. A single grain could spell the difference between a pleasant high and dying in a puddle of foamy saliva, for the average user. So people like me cut a safe powder like baking powder into the heroin to make it easier to control. And it doesn't hurt that you can increase the volume by 10, 20, 30 percent. This pound of pure could be cut into a lot of dope, is the point.
Fu Yuan continued: “I need to sell it all at once. As soon as that amount of product hits the market, prices drop. If we sell it all at once, we can get away with the full price, but I just can’t sell that fast. I am an old man, I don't know the dealers, I can't run around town in an hour or two. But I’ll offer you an opportunity. Take half, cut it, and sell it when I say to. You can keep half your earnings, but we have to work fast. I hear from a friend at the causeway that supply is low; prices are at historic highs. I’ve waited for these conditions for a long time." Jesus. The old man was always waiting, it seemed, like all the stoned Cantonese with port in their tubs, waiting to die.
"So what do you say?” he asked. Naturally, I took the heroin.
We shook on it and I walked out the door. I went around back, past the duck coops, came in the back door, and into the kitchen with all the ducks and hooks. I threw a bag around Fu Yuan’s head, picked him up by his frail shoulders, speared him through the neck on a hook and left him there to hang with all the ducks.
Like I said, I took the heroin. All of it. It’s going to be a big sale, enough to leave town with. Not that I’m afraid of the police. Fu Yuan’s mother won’t call the police. It’s another Chinatown thing. The police don’t speak Cantonese. Not much of anyone does.