In A New York Minute
Summary: Gaoyang Liu visits his dying Grandma in New York City's Chinatown. When his visit is interrupted by a brazen theft, he gives chase with violent intentions.
It started after I smashed an ass-clown's head in a door after he stole my grandma's treasured pistol. It was a memento used against the Japanese, a Shansi Type 17 Broomhandle. Since then, it's been locked in my grandmother's room in New York City's Chinatown. When Grandma called me up to that chest of Grandpa's possessions, I almost expected her to start shouting, like when I brought home Judith.
Instead, Grandma met me with a solemn, contented gaze. Her deep brown eyes concealed horrors and experiences I could only wonder at, as I hoped I'd one day live a life as eventful as hers. I felt like she wanted to strangle me last year for bringing home a white girlfriend, but she'd made her peace with whatever doubts lingered inside her. I was terrified of facing my own mortality, but Grandma faced it with a cavalier gusto like a stalwart soldier's last stand. She was in the Chinese resistance, and I wondered if she'd have any words for me. This could be her last chance to do so, and both of us felt it.
I never found out, because some asshole sprinted into the room, yanked the pistol from her grasp. I didn't hear him charging up the stairs, but he must have had to have been sprinting to come out of the door with the speed he did. I didn't see his face, as it was concealed beneath a gray hoodie. As he waved the pilfered firearm in hand, I instinctively gave chase. I didn't know if it was loaded, and I didn't care. Fury overcame me, and if there's one thing I learned, it's to trust my fury.
The bastard leapt onto the fire escape, and I followed after him. I hoped Grandma wouldn't be as negligent enough to store an antique pistol loaded, so I pushed the thought of getting shot from my head. The bastard descended towards the street below, and I recalled uttering a litany of profanity worthy of any shock jock. When he reached to the level above the street, he dropped onto the sidewalk below. I hoped my knees wouldn't blow out, and I forced myself to remember the myriad parkour injuries I'd inflicted on myself over the years.
My feet made contact with the pavement, and I felt myself rolling forwards. Onlookers struggled to avoid me as I sprinted across a narrow street, vaulting over a stopped car in the process. Adrenaline and hatred drove me onwards, like a beast closing in on my quarry. He darted into an alleyway across the street, and I stupidly followed after him. Even if some ambush awaited me inside, I was prepared to give worse than they gave. I know I'd done so before.
The thief vanished down a cellar door, which he left opened behind him. No longer caring about intrusion, I barreled down those rickety stairs after him. My vision was redder than the decaying brick masonry, and I hurled myself towards him like a boulder rolling down a hill. When I saw him dart towards an open door, I stopped seeing red, and started seeing crimson. My legs moved like a bike wheel as I closed the last few meters.
Fatigue faded as my sneakers hammered across the cold, cement floor. The moment of my victory became hyperreal as I braced my shoulder for contact. I saw his face for the first time, and his look of shock was worth a million words. That face was far less intimidating than I thought it would be. Part of me hoped it was some hardened criminal, a tattooed ex-con with nothing but hatred. What I saw was far more pathetic, but no less infuriating.
His face was pockmarked with acne and boils, halfway between a teenager and moonscape. His green, bloodshot eyes were like some tasteless fusion of Halloween and Christmas decorations. His sagging, narrow flesh had more track marks than the New York subways. I could almost smell the rot from festering, unseen scars concealed beneath his skin. Even a cursory glance made me think his blood had more drugs than a pharmacy. A few yellowing teeth remained in his mouth, but that did not him from flashing a shit eating grin the moment I rammed him. Part of me worried about getting herpes from any contact with his disgusting skin.
The junkie collapsed like the heap of human wreckage he was, and he still wore the same shit-eating grin. Even as he laid on the floor, he looked up at me and fumbled for something in his ratty clothes. Grandma's pistol clattered to the side, and fear overruled reason as I envisioned him drawing a more useful weapon. I brought my heel down on his elbow, and I realized his head was near the edge of the doorframe. His other hand reached towards my leg, and I slammed the door as hard as I could.
His whole body shuddered, and his hands again moved towards his waistband. Hatred coursed through me, as though the fear was not there. This human trash tried to steal a priceless artifact from my family, undoubtedly to sell on the black market for drugs. The fact he did this to my Grandma added fuel to the fire. It turned into a conflagration when I realized he must've been stalking her for a long time, waiting for the right moment to do his brazen heist. I slammed the door harder, savoring the catharsis.
Grandma always complained about me leaving my shoes on when I entered her apartment. My parents tried to make me take them off when I was a kid, but that stopped once I moved away for college and grad school. As she grew older and less active, she stopped complaining. It was fortuitous that I had been lazy and stubborn enough to keep my sneakers on, given what happened. I mused over this while smashing the door, using my bloodied footwear to pin my adversary to the ground. I swung the door back once more, and I repeated it.
I never knew when he actually died. Even after I heard a sickening crunch, he still flopped like a fish out of water. He went limp a few seconds later, just as the adrenaline drained away. I felt nauseous, like throwing up, but I forced myself to keep it down. Splattered bodily fluids painted a rancid arabesque in the doorframe. As nauseous as I was from the adrenaline high, I decided against temptation to vomit on the corpse to further spite it. The amount of forensic evidence scattered across the hallway, including my blood footprints, was more than enough to convict me regardless.
It was a small wonder that the commotion didn't seem to draw any attention from anyone else down here. I wondered if this place was the junkie's hideout, or merely if he merely took an opportunistic escape route. Either way, I collected the pistol and left. As I headed back up the cellar stairs, I noticed graffiti along the wall that I previously ignored. I felt a shiver run down my spine as I cursorily scanned it, a far cry from my aggressive bravado a few seconds before.
Most of the graffiti was illegible, as the nearby wall was worn away by age and repeated scraping. The worn silhouette of a gangster's face merged with a cracked in the brickwork. Crude etching wrapped around the edge of a step like a dyslexic attempt at Sumerian cuneiform. A stylized medieval city of golden spires melted like running watercolor paint. The only message that made any sort of sense were two words in yellow balloon letters, reading, "GAME ON." An unknown instinct urged me to leave, and I saw no reason to disregard it.
I returned to the street, and it was like nothing had happened. I expected a parade of police cars to be waiting for my exit from the alley, but the street was as bustling as always. I received a few odd stares from pedestrians, and I stepped in a roadside puddle to wash the blood off as best I could. This being New York, I doubted anyone cared to ask questions. Not wanting to try my luck, I returned to Grandma's apartment, with my reclaimed prize concealed in my coat.
I slowly ascended the stairs of that aging townhouse, hearing the boards creak beneath my feet. I expected a bunch of cops to jump out with guns drawn. I expected Grandma to descend the stairs, swearing at me in pidgin. I expected my family to be waiting outside the room, demanding answers as to what just happened. I expected Judith to be waiting outside the door for me, even though she was at home today. The silence was more frightening than all of those. It was like a certain vitality had left the building.
As I approached Grandma's room, a grim realization came over me. The door slowly swung open, its rusted hinge betraying my presence. At this point, I no longer cared for stealth. I wanted to talk with my Grandma, while I still had the chance. I surveyed the small room, where she and Grandpa had spent most of their life in America. There were no signs of motion, but there was the palpable weight of old memories. Pots were stacked as Grandma always left them, but my eyes shifted towards the bedroom.
The light was on in that small, closet-sized room. There was no response to the question I asked, although words would've scared me more. I cautiously entered, but I locked the apartment door behind me. I saw the chest of Grandpa's things, a small note atop them, and Grandma resting peacefully on the bed. Her arms were crossed over her chest. A contented grin crossed her face, like the one that appeared whenever the family got together. She was not breathing.
Despite the bloodstains still fresh on my shoes, I found myself weeping. The empathy I'd suppressed for my wrathful vengeance came pouring out, and I momentarily wished that someone would just take me away from that room. She was the last link I had to my childhood, and the last member of our family born in China. I remember the tails she and Grandpa used to tell of their younger years, even as they grew taller with each telling.
I remember how Grandpa mentioned their actions with the Chinese resistance against Japan, and how they smuggled a downed American pilot to safety. As a result of that, the pilot helped them relocate after the war's end. That was always my favorite, since it bridged their distant homeland with their current home in my own youthful chronology. Now, all that was left was a neatly written note place atop the box. Judging from the handwriting, it was definitely Grandma.
"He is proud of you, as I am. Cherish these gifts, for go to meet him," I read silently to himself.
I returned the pistol to its place, but I knew that would not be the last I saw of it. While she never said it, I sensed there was a deeper reason she left me Grandpa's old gear. I sometimes wonder if Grandma would've explained about everything that followed. Knowing her, though, she'd just grin contentedly that I was helping out the family. After all, she and Grandpa knew it was a family worth killing for.