"Don't you ever get tired of being Super Asian Woman?"
"And don't you ever get tired of screwing up our model minority stereotype, homeboy?" His sister, Congresswoman Cynthia Kang, shot back. She hadn't been in the shop for ten minutes when their pretend politeness had worn off and they settled back into their usual combativeness. It was alien to do otherwise.
"Obviously not." Cyrus Kang combed back his longish hair from his forehead and turned to help a customer who'd been eyeing a rack of various skateboards. The potential buyer was a lithe and tawny young woman in low-rise hip-huggers and bare midriff. Exposed on her tanned lower back was her tramp stamp, an intricate tattoo done in a variation of the popular Maori design.
"Look, don't try and sell me one of those lame girl skateboards," the young woman said to Kang's brother. She had a stud in her nose and a series of smaller-to-larger hoops starting at the top of an ear and following the curvature to her lobe.
Cyrus Kang nodded. "Right on. Wouldn't think of it. So--old school or longboard?"
The Congresswoman turned from the two and gazed out onto the boulevard cutting through Gardena. Across the street from the skate shop was another series of storefronts, including a custom rim emporium and the House of Seven Delights restaurant offering a menu ranging from chicken teriyaki plates with tempura fried vegetables to carne asada burritos.
After some back and forth, including the young woman writing down the web address of her My Space page, the two concluded their tête-à-tête and she left with her new skateboard.
"Charming the pants off 'em while selling 'em the moon."
Her brother playfully socked her in the shoulder as he moved back behind the glass case counter. "Just trying to emulate my big sis." He returned to the stool he'd been perched on when she'd entered. "So I know you didn't drive down here just to see my mojo working. Magical as that might be."
"Let me buy you lunch."
He gave her a quizzical look. "What you want, Cynthia? You know you can't pull that okey-doke on me." He pointed his chin toward the street and the restaurant across the way. "Now if we had some better joints around her you might be able to bribe me with quality amounts of surf and turf."
One thing consistent about her brother: no matter his interests from surfing to designing xeriscapes, he never got into being a vegetarian. "I need to talk to Connie."
He sipped from his bottle of vitamin water. "Didn't you see him at his pop's funeral?"
"I did. but a matter has come up since then that I need to ask him some questions about."
He scratched at his unshaven chin. "You still ain't said what for."
"Must you always be so obstinate with me? You are not his appointment secretary, Cyrus." She knew he enjoyed needling her, but she couldn't resist dropping into their old routine of one-upping each other like "Spy vs. Spy" in Mad magazine.
He folded his arms. "I don't like you all up in my bid'ness. You might turn me over for rendition or some shit like that."
She put an elbow on the counter, despite the hand-printed warning not to do so on the back of a index card. "You've been trying to subvert our government?"
"One hottie at a time," he said, flapping the torn piece of newspaper the young woman had written her info on.
"What I ought to do is slap the yellow off you."
They both laughed. "Okay, let me holler at the boy and see if he wants to chop it up with you."
"It's important, Cyrus."
"I said I'm on it. But I don't want to get him in some kind of bind, Cynthia. You gotta hint what's up. Otherwise why would he talk to you at all?"
She didn't want to scare Conrad Waller off but had to tell her brother something to pass along. "I need to ask your running buddy about a gig his father set up for him."
Cyrus Kang had finished his water and was free-throwing it with a swish into the wastebasket. "You mean that Mace Gilmore thing?"
"You know that how?" she asked warily. The answer was sure to be unwelcome.
His shoulders lifted and fell, "My boy tightened me up. What do you think?"
Centering herself, the Representative pushed back the scene unreeling behind her eyes: doing the hard stare for the cameras while being flayed by an ethics committee. She asked, calmly, "What exactly did he do as a product acquisition consultant for the Pasta grotto?"
Her brother got off the stool, placing a hand to his chest. "You know, Cynthia, I'm a grown-ass man, and so is Conrad. What me and him do is our thing. Not yours. Everything isn't always about you, homegirl." He tapped the glass case with the back of his hand to emphasize his point.
She really was going to slap him into next week. "Who got him the job, Cyrus? It was payback from Gilmore."
"It wasn't illegal, Cynthia. People like you leave public office and go work for some tobacco or oil firm 'cause you have access. Way I understand it, Conrad's dad had done some arm twisting on behalf of one of Gilmore's companies for some bill or another. That's done all the time, isn't it?" he snickered. "Except by you, I guess. Madame-I-Don't-Get-My-Hands-Dirty-Butterfly."
"This is not a discussion about how influence peddling works and why that's F'd up. As your boy Clemens said squirming about his steroid use, 'It is what it is.' What exactly did you two do? And I'm guessing Connie paid you out of his end, in cash? "
"Give you plausible deniability? No check trail?"
"How about you give me a straight answer?"
"We were spying, okay?"
"Gilmore has a young smokin' hot third wife, right? Now he's a givin' cat and he appointed her CEO of that Pasta Grotto chain."
"I'm not following."
"He suspected his former NFL cheerleader babe of selling X through some of those Grotto outlets."
Kang was speechless.
Her brother continued: "He knew that Conrad had dabbled in that life, knew some of the players. A cook in the one in Huntington Beach and a waiter at another one in San Francisco had been busted for selling ecstasy using connects through the restaurant. These two dudes knew each other from before and one of them, the cook, knew the wife back at the community college she attended."
"So you two traveled around to the Grottos pretending to be employees? You two being hip to the X vibe?"
"Something like that," Cyrus Kang answered proudly. "It was all told five of who Conrad paid from this hellacious expense account he had. We weren't screwing around. We did uncover some shit."
"Tied to the wife?"
"It seemed that way to us."
"What happened to the information you gathered?"
"We made reports to Conrad and he reported to Countryman."
"Some kind of security dude for Gilmore. Former Army Ranger, spook, something like that. Saw him once. Big, scary-looking, white hair and gray eyes. Looked a little like that dead actor, played Dracula and did that one-handed push-up on TV.
"Jack Palance," his sister said.
"And was this information acted on?"
"The wife, Cenine, is still there. Now I don't know about the other people we implicated. That's been two, no, three months ago."
Kang shook her head. "It just gets better and better."
To Be Continued...