Michael Collins

Shadow of a Tiger


You never see a Chinese drunk. Not in public. So I noticed the middle-aged Chinese man carrying his bottle in a paper bag down Ninth Avenue near Marais’s pawn shop. Maybe I should have seen an omen, a break in the natural order of things, but I was thinking about Marty, and the ring I was taking to the pawn shop.

Marty is my girl-at my age, a woman. Martine Adair, who understands me. The ring was the only good present I’d ever given her. It had been to the pawn shop before, but this time I was uneasy about it. Because of this morning.

“I’ve got to get away, Dan,” Marty said this morning. “Do something, anything. This awful heat.”

It was the end of July, hot enough to melt brass, but it wasn’t the heat on Marty’s mind. Something else. I heard it in those words-“Do something, anything.” Her show had just closed suddenly, she had no summer stock work. In three weeks the only work she had found was back taking off her clothes in one of the Third Street tourist clubs. She hadn’t had to do that in over two years. I had to understand her, too.

“Fire Island?” I said. “Rent a house for a while?”

We were in her apartment on West Fourth Street, even the sheets on the bed limp from the heat. I knew how much she liked Fire Island, a house among the successful theater people.

“Yes!” she said, kissed me. “Sun and some peace.”

“I couldn’t even pay the ferry fare, Marty,” I said.

She sat up in the bed beside me. She lit a cigarette.

“All right. Hock the damned ring.”

“It’s that important?” I said.

“Marais will give you five hundred for it. With that we can pay for a month. I won’t go back to the G- string.”

So it was just after five that evening, the tar melting on Ninth Avenue, that I was outside Marais’s pawn shop and saw the Chinese drunk. The omen. Not that it would have made any difference in the end if I had sensed it was an omen.

Most stereotypes are true. The Chinese don’t drink in public; the Irish are drinkers; the Germans do tend to arrogance; the English are conceited; the French do think a lot about women. The trouble is that they are general truths, none of them can be trusted in any single case. Eugene Marais, owner of the pawn shop, was French, but all Chelsea knew that Marais had never looked at another woman since he had married Viviane under the guns of the Germans in 1942, and Jimmy Sung was a drunk. Then, Jimmy Sung was more American than Chinese anyway. Chinese only in his silence and his smile.

They always smile, the Chinese in America. Maybe because they are few, and vulnerable, and a long way from home. Small people, and I don’t mean in size. Small people you never really saw. Like Jimmy Sung. Night clerk, store clerk, odd-job man; an anonymous smile in the background. Except when he was drunk, the brown paper bag clutched in front of him the way it was now. No smile, his broad face and almond eyes unseeing under thin gray hair. The face of a man who sees a distant goal, is thinking of nothing else. His eyes glazed, his stocky body bent sideways on its crabwise course for home and the bottle.

I had my own troubles. I turned into Marais’s pawn shop without looking at Jimmy Sung again. A tall man was coming out of the pawn shop. He was looking backwards into the shop. I stopped, he didn’t. He bumped hard into me. He had weight and muscles. I grabbed him with my lone arm to keep from being knocked over.


With the sharp, surprised cry, the tall man pulled back. As if my touch were contaminated. He brushed my hand away. His eyes were angry. Icy and belligerent. He was tall, imperious.

“Take care, please!”

It was a snapping rebuke, too strong. An excessive reaction startled out of him by bumping into me. A kind of reflex, like an old western hero reaching for his gun. Six-feet-two or more, he was ramrod straight as he looked down at me. An expensive, tailored dark blue jacket with pocket flaps, brass buttons, a suggestion of epaulets, and a shade too long for current fashion. Lighter blue slacks, a light blue shirt of heavier military cloth, and a blue and red regimental tie. Custom-made, the clothes, and a strong suggestion of a uniform. Some foreign uniform. A soldier temporarily out of wars, but military and assured, in command, stepping back and waiting for my salute.

I didn’t salute. “Try looking where you’re going!”


The change was in his eyes, his whole manner. A flinch as if I’d slapped his face-as excessive as his first reaction in reverse. Quick, and then gone as fast as it had come. His smile back, the handsome face bending toward me in a return salute as if I had saluted. The hint of superiority and power, but controlled and courteous to inferiors.

“Pardon, then, of course. Stupid of me. My apology.”

Smooth, the generous apology that somehow forgave me. Like the Archduke who stood aside to let the ill- mannered Beethoven pass. Proving that he, the Archduke, was the gentleman, and Beethoven the common slob. With his apology the tall man left me, somehow, in the wrong, and strode to the curb and a small, elegant foreign car. With a last smile, another faint bow of his handsome, blond head from the open car, he drove away, leaving no doubt who was the officer and gentleman.

The pawn shop bell tinkled as I closed the door and stood in the hot, cluttered shop with its locked grilles. No one was in the shop. The back room door was open. I walked to the rear, to where I could see into the back room.

Eugene Marais sat inside the room behind a battered table in his perpetual open-necked white shirt and baggy gray trousers. He wasn’t alone. A short, broad man in a worn tweed jacket despite the heat stood talking to the pawn shop owner. They hadn’t heard me, or, for some reason, the tinkle of the bell.

“… he doesn’t usually like to talk about Vel d’Hiv,” the stocky stranger was saying. “He’s not often that jumpy.”

“You know Manet long, Claude?” Eugene Marais said.

“He was sent to me on business. I’m not interested.”

“So?” Eugene Marais said. “Well, Paul Manet does not concern me, but you do, Claude. You are not interested in his business. What are you interested in, hein?”

“Very little, Eugene. Does that bother you so much?”

“When does the defeat end, Claude? When do you forget, decide that today is not yesterday? Settle, plan?”

“Everything is yesterday. For you too, Eugene.”

“No,” Eugene Marais said. “Everything is today. You are bad for my daughter, Claude. An empty man.”

“Then I had better leave the city, yes?”

“I did not say that you had-”

In the shop I moved and made a noise. The two men didn’t hear me, but the woman did. A woman who had been in the back room all the time, in full view, but who was so silent and immobile that I hadn’t seen her. Like part of the room, a decoration on the walls. A tiny woman in a high-necked silk dress of pale blue brocade. An Oriental face, soft and childlike. Yet with the mature expression and bearing of an older woman. She heard me, stepped forward and touched the stocky stranger. Eugene Marais saw me through the doorway. He stood, smiled.

“Mr. Fortune? Is Jimmy not out there to serve you?”

“He’s gone home,” I said. “No hurry.”

The pawn shop owner looked at his watch. “Ah, five-thirty already? Of course Jimmy has gone. I am so sorry.”

Marais was a small man of fifty-two with a square, lined face and thick black hair. Above the open white

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