Will Kill for Food – Excerpt

Dean dressed and headed in to Koreatown, unsure what to expect. He had watched news broadcasts after getting home from surfing the night before, and things looked bad. Protests had broken out after the officers had been acquitted in the Rodney King trial. There was a demonstration near Parker Center, L.A.P.D. headquarters, but most of the trouble seemed to be in Pico-Union, somewhere near Florence and Normandie, wherever that was. He saw people breaking into stores and looting them; cars and buildings being burned; a video of a driver dragged out of his dump truck and beaten on the head with a hunk on concrete, left for dead while the attackers danced.

As it turned out, Dean didn’t see anything like the scenes on TV as he drove to uncle Jun’s store. Traffic was a little light, but there were still plenty of people headed toward downtown. He got off the freeway and drove up Vermont as usual, turned into the alley behind Jade Market and parked behind the store next to a stack of plywood. He tried to remember if the wood was there the day before, but forgot about it just as quickly. He walked around front expecting to see Ron. Instead, Jun was standing on a small ladder screwing down a sheet of plywood over the windows.

“Hold this up for me,” Jun said.

Dean did as he was told. Jun tacked a corner of the sheet with a cordless screw gun.

“Go get another one,” Jun said.” Dean hesitated, wondering what his uncle was thinking. Everything he’d seen north of the freeway looked normal. No fires, no looting. Goddamned DWAs getting in his way all up Vermont.

“Sounds like it’s a mess in South Central, huh?”

Jun didn’t respond. He focused on attaching the wood.

“But it’s all South Central, right?” Dean asked. Jun sunk another screw. “Are you expecting trouble? Way up here?”

“Get another sheet. Put it here.” Jun pointed to the exposed window next to the last sheet of wood.

“Uncle Jun?”

“The first place they burned yesterday was a Korean market.”

“Really? But that was way down on Florence. In the reports I saw they were looting a Thriftys. That’s not Korean. Besides, the police will stop the protests. They have riot squads, right?”

Jun looked at Dean as if he were a child who wanted an explanation for something he should already know, but he didn’t say anything.

“Okay,” Dean said, “so you want to board the store up just in case and go home, huh?”

No answer.

“Uncle Jun?”

“Get another sheet.”

“Sure. But what are you planning to do? You can’t stay here. I mean, what if they do get this far north?”

Jun still didn’t answer. He pulled on the plywood sheet he just mounted to test it. Dean went behind the store. He lifted a sheet and took it around front, then got another and another until all the windows were boarded up.

When they were done, Dean followed Jun inside. Korean talk radio was on, turned up higher than normal. On the counter were a shotgun, a rifle, two handguns and boxes of cartridges. Dean had never been so close to a gun before. It made him nervous. Jun grabbed a spray paint can off the counter and told Dean to go in back and stack the twenty-pound sacks of rice against the back door. Dean turned to go. Jun stopped and listened to the radio for a minute. He turned to Dean.

“See?” Jun said. He walked out and started spraying a message on the plywood. Dean followed him outside.

“See what? What’d they say?”

Jun kept painting. When he was finished, he stood back to see his message. It said:

STAY OUT!
Armed and will
shoot to KILL!

Jun turned to Dean.

“The police have stopped responding to calls. They have to escort fire trucks because gangs are setting buildings on fire then shooting at the firemen. We’re on our own. That last part said that if anyone stays here they should be prepared to use force to protect their business.”

“They said that? On the radio? Can they say that?” Dean couldn’t believe what was going on.”Uncle Jun, you’re going to stay here to protect your business? Is that worth dying for?” He pointed to the spray-painted message. “Or killing for? Jesus, let them take the Twinkies and Ding Dongs. Let’s get out of here if you think it’s going to get that bad.”

“I can’t afford to lose this building.”

“Sure you can.” He almost said, “What, this crappy store?”, but didn’t. “It’s better than getting shot anyway, or going to jail.” Arguments didn’t seem to have any effect on Jun. “Besides, you’re got fire insurance, right?”

“Insurance is no good. There is an exception to damage caused in a riot. Every Korean-owned business in this area has the same thing.”

“You read your insurance contract? No one reads those.”

“Tanya did.”

Dean nodded. Tanya was Jun’s daughter. She would read an insurance contract. She was an assistant state attorney, Consumer Fraud Division, the same attorney who was making John’s Laughlin’s life difficult.

“She told me to negotiate the coverage,” Jun said, “but the broker said I had to take it or leave it. No one writes insurance down here.”

“Does she know you’re planning to stay?”

“I don’t want her to know. I don’t want her around here. But I could use your help.” Jun walked back inside and started checking his guns.