The novel CHINA SEA will be published this summer. Here’s a preview – the first four pages of the story. I’ll continue the preview next week. So stay tuned to the blog.
I FIRST MET THE SELF-TAUGHT RUSSIAN JAZZ PIANIST,
Sasha Popov, in that dark, funky Manila bar on New Year’s
Eve 1974. I have at times wondered about Sasha and
Flora, his lovely Filipina mistress. He’d needed to get out of
the Philippines in a hurry, and I assisted him with his escape.
I’ve also speculated on what became of Sasha’s stunning
Russian wife, who remained behind. So many lives left in the
wake. One thing I do know: the Palestinian is dead. A Mossad
double-agent gave the notorious sweet-tooth a birthday gift, a
box of Belgian chocolates that contained a slow-acting poison.
It took him several months to die.
But the saga had begun several months before that fateful
December night in Manila.
I was living contentedly in San Francisco. The very idea of
operating as an “illegal,” under deep cover in Asia, was the
furthest thing from my mind. Occasionally, and following a
second or third cup of coffee at around ten o’clock in the
morning, I would jump on the Hyde Street cable car outside
my apartment building on Russian Hill and run down to the
seamen’s hall at the Embarcadero. I’d check the bulletin board
to see if there were any interesting openings for a radioman on
a cargo ship. Scores of American freighters in those days
departed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I figured it would
be only a matter of time before I signed on to one of them
and, as a lark, sailed off into the sunset.
Invariably I’d leave that union hall the same as I entered
it: jobless. I was never particularly unhappy about that
outcome. Life, all in all, was good in the city.
It was around noon when I left the seamen’s hall on a
clear day in early April 1973, the day that altered the course of
my life. I’d decided to linger over lunch at a favorite Italian
restaurant in North Beach. I took a window table that overlooked
Washington Square and the sundry action nearby. As I
sometimes did those afternoons, I began to thumb through the
help wanted ads in the San Francisco Chronicle over a second
glass of Pinot Noir. And there it was. The classified ad from
We are a large shipping company headquartered
on the U.S. east coast, and we seek an
executive to manage our new office in East
Asia. Prior experience in Asia and fluency in
an Asian language would be a distinct
advantage. Send your resume to Monarch
Executive Staffing (with a post office box in
Baltimore) if you believe you might qualify
for this challenging position.
The irony wasn’t lost. I had spent the morning perusing
the openings in the seamen’s hall for a gig on a freighter, and
now here was this ad in the newspaper seeking an executive, no
less, to run a shipping office somewhere in Asia. The portrayal
of the successful candidate described me to a T—experience
in Asia and fluent in an Asian language. I was fluent in two.
My mood soared as I read and reread the ad.
I finished a double espresso, left a generous tip, and departed
from the restaurant with a satisfied smile on my face. I
took a stroll around the perimeter of the park and composed a
brief resume in my mind. Later, for exercise, I walked up Union
Street and back to the apartment. By the time I reached Hyde
Street, I’d concocted a succinct resume and a pithy cover letter.
I typed up the letter and the resume that same afternoon
in the apartment and slipped them into the mailbox before the
LIFE IN THE CITY CONTINUED PLEASURABLY FOR THE NEXT
few weeks. I was so content that spring that I discontinued
those morning visits to the seamen’s hall. The young woman I
was dating and I took trips north—to Redwood country and
canoeing on the Russian River. We drove to Napa for wine
tasting and a jazz concert at Mondavi. Apropos of what was to
follow, we would drive to Berkeley on a Sunday afternoon and
have coffee at the original Peet’s Coffee & Tea.
Then one day in May, six weeks after I had mailed that
resume off to Baltimore and forgotten about the shipping job
altogether, came the phone call.
“May I speak to Mr. Mancini, please?” the man asked,
unsure who he was speaking with.
Damn. My credit card. I knew my payment was late again,
and my check was not in the mail.
“Yeah. Speaking,” I responded, annoyance in my tone.
“Hello, Roy. We received your resume a few weeks ago.
And I do apologize for taking this long to get back to you,” he
said, now in a more conversational voice.
That was the only time in my life I’d ever applied for a job
so there was no doubt about the resume this fellow on the
phone was referring to.
“Ah, yes. Monarch Staffing. Right?” a sudden enthusiasm
in my tone.
“That’s correct. My name is Brian Bradford.” He sounded
relieved that I had remembered the ad. He didn’t have to go
into a song and dance about who he was or which company he
(supposedly) worked for. “The client has reviewed your resume.
And on their behalf, I would like to meet with you.” He
paused for a second. “That is, if you’re still interested in discussing
My curiosity was piqued. “Sure. I’m interested. That’s the
position in Asia, right? Yes, let’s meet. And did you mention a
client? Who would that client be?”
“Well, as it happens, I’m in San Francisco for the day.
Conducting some interviews out here. Can we meet later,
before I leave town? Say, at two this afternoon?” He hesitated
for a moment. “About the second question. Sorry, I can’t
reveal our client to you at this early stage. You understand.”
We agreed on a place to meet. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll see you
at two o’clock.”
I was exultant. After I hung up the phone, I sat motionless
for a minute, staring out the apartment’s large bay window at
a fleet of close-hauled sailboats as they beat out of Sausalito,
and at a large outbound freighter as it sailed beneath the Golden
Gate Bridge far below. “Yes!” I exclaimed, with a fist pump.