Story Excerpts

Art by
Hank Blaustein

Los Cantantes De Karaoke

by Tom Larsen

“Wilson! Oye, Wilson Salinas!”

The voice that called out to me sounded like dried leaves being raked across concrete. I looked for the caller as I crossed Calle Antonio Vallejo and located him sitting at a plastic table in the tiny courtyard of a neighborhood tienda, down where the steep, pockmarked street dead-ended into Del Chorro. He was about my age and size—mid thirties, five six, a hundred and forty pounds—and he looked vaguely familiar. Since my recent return to my hometown of Cuenca, Ecuador, after nearly fifteen years in Seattle, I was constantly running into someone who looked vaguely familiar.

“Come on.” He made a beckoning motion with his free hand, the other one grasping a big sweaty bottle of Pilsener. “I’ll buy you a beer.”

I recognized him then. Emilio Marza. I had gone to secondary school with him. We weren’t exactly friends, but we knew a lot of the same people.

“I don’t drink,” I told him. It’s crazy when you think about it—all the jobs I’d held over the years—I even drove a taxi drunk, but the one thing I’d always wanted to do since I was a kid—become a private detective—the drinking got in the way. So, I had quit.

“I’m sorry.” Emilio clutched his beer, looking around as if searching for a place to hide it. “Juan said that . . .”

I shook his hand and sat down. I hadn’t seen Juan Sanchez since I got sober, and if Emilio had talked to him he’d probably heard some pretty wild stories about my drinking days. Juan was a good friend, but he was a gossip.

“It’s okay,” I said, “drink your beer. It won’t bother me.” Of course, it would bother me—I was only two-and-a-half-weeks sober.

“Let me get you something. Water?” Emilio stood up, bumping the table in his nervousness.

“I’ll take a Fanta.”

He hurried to the counter and came back with a bottle of the sweet orange soda that had become my substitute for beer and wine.

I remembered him as a good-looking kid—an athlete. He had retained his good looks and his trim athleticism, although he seemed to be doing everything he could to disguise them both. He had on stained, loose-fitting khaki pants and a faded, red Deportivo Cuenca T-shirt. He wore his dark hair in a bowl cut, making him look a little like that dude who’s the president of Bolivia.

“Juan said that you might be able to help me.” He took a big swallow of beer, the chords in his neck tightened, and he grimaced in pain.

“If you don’t mind me asking . . .” I leaned my head back and tapped my throat, in lieu of actually asking the question.

“Oh, this.” He massaged his throat absently. “I had two polyps removed a few weeks ago. It’s still a little raw.” He took a small sip of beer and swallowed without grimacing as much. READ MORE



Art by Tim Foley

High Explosive

by Martin Limón

When we walked into the interrogation room the cabdriver screamed “Kocheingi,” shoving his chair backward and almost toppling over.

We paused. Ernie grabbed his nose and squeezed it. “Not so big,” he said.

Even he knew what kocheingi meant. Big nose. A pejorative often used by Koreans to refer to Westerners in general.

My name is George Sueño. I’m an agent for the Criminal Investigation Division of the 8th United States Army in Seoul, Republic of Korea. My partner Ernie Bascom and I had been called to the downtown Korean National Police headquarters to interview this man who’d been mugged—and worse—by three American soldiers.

The cabdriver’s black hair was in disarray and bruises darkened the otherwise smooth skin of his face. His left eye had inflated like an overripe walnut. The right side of his mouth puffed purple and just below his neck, an open-collared yellow shirt was stained with dried blood. When he calmed down somewhat, he straightened his chair and fondled a sliver of sliced flesh perched a few inches above his collarbone. A tiny slit in his still functioning eye stared at us warily.

“He likes you,” Inspector Kill said in English.

Inspector Gil Kwon-up, known to American MPs as Mr. Kill, was the chief homicide investigator for the Korean National Police. As such he was the top ranking detective in the entire country. His English was fluent, and in recent months he’d often called on Ernie and me to assist him in investigations when members of the American military were thought to be involved.

The three of us sat at the long wooden table across from the cabdriver. Mr. Kill spoke to him in Korean, and as he did so the driver began to relax. Still, he continued to shoot furtive glances first at me and then, more often, at Ernie. His name was Chong Man-ok. The story he told was typical. About an hour before the midnight curfew, he picked up a young woman at the huge downtown taxi stand in the Namdaemun district of Seoul. She sat in back and asked him to take her to Sangbong-dong.

The midnight-to-four a.m. curfew is imposed by the Park Chung-hee government on all citizens of South Korea, from the Demilitarized Zone in the north to the port cities of Pusan and Wonsan in the south. The idea is to make it more difficult for commandoes and saboteurs from Communist North Korea to infiltrate into the country. Probably that was true. From midnight to four, extra police patrolled the quiet streets and heavily armed military units set up checkpoints along major thoroughfares. Anyone caught on the streets during the curfew would be locked up overnight and subject to a hefty fine. If they resisted or attempted to flee, they took the risk of being shot.

Since the spectre of the midnight curfew engendered such fear in the hearts of the Korean populace, it made sense that cabdrivers earned the bulk of their income in the minutes leading up to the witching hour. READ MORE