The din sounded like a pre-arranged prank: drivers within a five-mile radius leaning on their horns. In fifteen seconds, the quiet one-way street in front of the Palace had become rush hour in New York City. Looking out the door, it didn’t take long to locate the cause of the disturbance. A dark Continental Mark II was double-parked in front of the entrance, blocking traffic to the end of the block. Four yakuza headed in, their clothes and gaits announcing their profession like loudspeakers. The short, pudgy one in the lead looked more ludicrous than intimidating in his silver suit and designer sunglasses, and his arms and legs swinging as if he was about to take a fall on ice skates. The goons behind him were scary.
I stepped forward and opened the door, waiting for the Lincoln to pull away. It was impossible to make out the driver at night through the tinted glass. The yakuza were steps away from the lobby when I realized the Lincoln wasn’t going anywhere. They had gotten out and left it. My “Irasshaimase!” had the enthusiasm of a herpes diagnosis, but it was my job to say something. I bent down toward the Lilliputian thug. “Excuse me, sir—.”
He didn’t look up. “Here, kid,” he croaked at my tie clasp. “Take care of the car.” Shoving the keys into my hand, he peeled twenty dollars in thousand-yen notes from an imposing wad, then tore off another. “And wipe it.” The cacophony outside was deafening, the row of drivers impatiently pumping their horns. I still had the door open when the driver behind the Lincoln leaned out his window and yelled, “Hey, buddy, move that boat!”
The little guy’s face convulsed. He flew back out the door, roaring in yakuza dialect. The biggest goon took off after him. The boss stopped halfway to the sidewalk, but the goon charged past him toward the street. The driver jerked his head back inside and mashed the power window console, the top of the glass meshing into the door frame as the goon reached the vehicle. He grabbed the door handle and pulled with all his weight. When he couldn’t force the lock, he dropped back and drove his heel into the metal as he rained threats on the hapless family. Two, three, four, five dents appeared in the green door, now resembling a relief map of Hokkaido. The husband cowered under the steering wheel, while his wife in the back seat threw her arms around their children. The honking died away.
I squeezed the door handle. Low-life thugs. I wanted to help, but there’d be no point. I’d probably get the shit kicked out of me and the cabaret would lose customers. And would the driver come leaping out to help me? Case closed. As long as the only thing that got dented was a car door, this drama could die a natural death. “Ooooi! Enough!” the short one hollered. The goon looked around like an attack dog whistled off and trotted back to the sidewalk. “Friggin’ farmers got no patience,” the boss muttered as his extremities flailed past me into the club.
The front seat of the Lincoln was so far forward it felt like riding a tricycle. I had thought about letting the cops tow it, but that would have just gotten me fired. “Customers. All smiles. Shit!” I grumbled, as I headed back to my post. I moved the car to avoid a traffic jam and embarrassment to the cabaret, but wipe it? Screw Little Caesar. There were limits.
I had just returned to door duty when a hostess led her departing party across the lobby. I opened the door and bowed as they filed out, but she walked back in scowling. “What are you just standing there for? Your job is to thank the customers. So do it!”
My shoulders sagged. I was so wrapped up in being indignant, I had neglected one of my primary duties. “I’m sorry,” I muttered as I bowed, unhappily remembering the two words that settled the question of responsibility: All smiles. And no limits. I called upstairs for a rag.
“Gaijin-san?” came a voice from behind me. I dropped the cloth on the hood of the Lincoln and looked back to find an elderly gentleman in a fashionable suit. “That’s my Mercedes,” he announced, gesturing to a metallic gray 300SEL across the street, “Could you get it after you’re finished?”