Qwertyman for Monday, February 13, 2023
(Disclaimer: Our story today has nothing to do with the recent capture and deportation of the Japanese criminal mastermind known as “Luffy,” for which we congratulate our brave and vigilant law enforcers, although I have to admit to being inspired by that diabolically fearsome alias.)
HIS PHONE rang at the worst possible time. The chief of the Metropolitan Investigation Division was just about to reach the climax of his story—the ladies around him all open-mouthed and wide-eyed in anticipation—when the Tiktok “Moonlight” song, which he had been using as his ringtone, broke the spell, instantly sending some of the girls into their habitual gyrations.
“Chief!” exclaimed Melanie, his special girl in the club, “I didn’t know you liked that song! You’re so cool! Come, let’s dance!” She took his free hand and tried to drag him to the dancefloor, but he resisted. It was unusual for Chief Tiny (short for “Agustin”) to resist Melanie’s persuasions, but she could see from his look that this was something serious.
Chief Tiny had spotted the name on the call—Bungi, his lead investigator—and he knew that Bungi knew not to call him at this hour for any reason less than to report the mysterious sighting of a bearded man walking on the waters of Manila Bay. If this was just to tell him that his wife was at the station looking for him again, for which Bungi was supposed to have had a dozen excuses at his disposal, why, he was going to make sure Bungi was demoted to jail guard in charge of sanitation. Tiny was especially annoyed because he had been trying to impress the girls with his story of how he had found and captured Don Waldo—the country’s most notorious drug and gambling lord, compadre to this senator and that congressman, master of a reputed harem of 100 women, and ruthless widow-maker dozens of times over. Tiny had geo-located him through the Facebook feeds of his then girlfriend, the previous year’s Ms. Matabungkay, and had negotiated his peaceful surrender, much to everyone’s relief. Of course, he wasn’t going to tell them that Don Waldo posted bail one hour after he was arrested, and that the two men had exchanged winks at the station after the media photographers had had their fill. It was all part of his standard MO: catch the bad guy, work out a deal, and let him off the hook on some technicality.
“Boss,” said Bungi in a whisper over the phone, “we found him—Fluffy.”
“Fluffy!” Tiny screamed with all his 250 pounds, jolting everyone. “Are you sure it’s him, the Fluffy, ourFluffy?”
“Yes, sir. Of course they call him ‘Fruffy’ in Japanese, but I saw him myself—absolutely no doubt he’s our man.”
As Chief Tiny continued to chat with his caller, Melanie shrank back into her seat beside the chief, trying to catch as much of the conversation as she could while collecting her own thoughts. She knew this man called “Fluffy”—personally, professionally, biblically, in all kinds of ways. When the chief wasn’t around, Fluffy took his place in her private quarters, in a condo overlooking the Pasig River, from the other side of which she had triumphantly risen. Initially there had been a language problem—his vocabulary would have been considered coarse even in Japan—but what they needed to communicate did not require too many hand-signs. What didn’t need explaining was his nickname, made obvious by the two clumps of steel-woolly hair on his head, like a poodle.
From his Pinoy bodyguard, Melanie learned that Fluffy ran an extensive Japanese mafia in the Philippines, which controlled the distribution of everything from fake Japanese car parts, Ebisu dolls, Voltes V figurines, and ramen noodles. They competed with an equally vicious Korean mafia engaged in pushing fake Korean car parts, BTS coffee mugs, CLOY T-shirts, and kimchi, as well as a Chinese mafia flooding the market with fake American, European, and everyone-else’s car parts, imported galunggong, POGO workers, and tikoy. Sometimes the rivalry got too hot and blood was spilled on Manila’s streets, giving Chief Tiny unnecessary headaches that required a few hours with Melanie to cure. But now Melanie herself felt the onset of a massive migraine: if her two patrons found out about the other and their common interest, then all hell would break loose.
“Sorry, girls, but I have to go,” Chief Tiny announced, getting to his feet. “I have to catch a master criminal.” With that, he gave Melanie a quick hug, and hurried off.
Melanie had to think fast. Chief Tiny made her feel protected—not only when he encircled her in his ham-like arms, but more importantly when she or her friends ran into trouble or needed a big favor like a police escort for a relative’s funeral. Fluffy was strange but sweet, gifting her with exotic desserts like green tea cookies and mochi; she was scared but also thrilled by his insistence that she take on his tattoos. Whom would she choose? She thought of sending Chief Tiny an anonymous text message telling him where Fluffy was, but then they already knew that. She thought of sending Fluffy another message to tell him that Chief Tiny was on his way to get him, but if he ran away then that would only prolong her own predicament. She decided to let fate take its course and to stick by whoever survived. Meanwhile, she wasn’t going to waste her time, and moved on to the next cubicle to make the acquaintance of a Korean gentleman who reminded her of that oppa Gong Yoo.
Two hours later, Melanie and her new partner were happily warbling BTS’ “Butter” on the videoke: “Smooth like butter, like a criminal undercover / Gon’ pop like trouble breaking into your heart like that, ooh!”Suddenly she heard two all-too-familiar voices from the other side.
“You’re very hard to catch, Mr. Fluffy! You’re very good!”
“No, Mr. Tiny, you’re better because you caught me, haha!”
“Next time, don’t hide under the table, haha! That’s the first place we look!”
“Thank you for not shooting me, haha!”
“How can we be friends if I shoot you, haha! Now, let’s have a good time—I will introduce you to my very pretty girlfriend!”
“You also have a very pretty girlfriend, also here? Me, too! But my girlfriend is prettier, haha!”
The Korean gentleman in the next cubicle was perplexed. “Melanie! Where you go? Why you hiding under the table?”
(Photo from bbc.com)