By Charlie Chin. Posted September 14, 2023.
“What do you know about Cephalopods?” Carmen Chung stopped typing and looked up from her computer screen at her assistant, Olivia Kim.
“What? You mean octopus?”
“Yeah, you know, squids, octopus, that kind of thing?” Carmen was accustomed to being asked odd questions, it’s what she did for a living.
“Fill me in.” Oliva Kim read aloud from the email on her own computer.
“Main office, Island St. Marie. Attention: Agents of the Bureau of Strange Occurrences. Several sightings of what appears to be giant squid off the shore of Alameda, San Francisco Bay Area. Patrons of a pier side Chinese restaurant called Wing Fat have captured images of this creature on their phones and some of the clips have gone viral. Agent Chung assigned.” Carmen frowned,
“Well, that’s me.”
At least it was something new, not the same old spontaneous human combustion cases up in Yountville or reports of alien landings in Walnut Creek. That was the trouble, despite what people imagine, the number of mysteries that came up were often rather predictable. Usually the same old stories with variations. Oliva stood up.
‘I’m making a coffee run, anything for you?”
“Single shot of espresso and a Blueberry scone.”
As Olivia was walking towards the door. Carmen glanced at her.
“Cute skirt, is that new?” Olivia smiled and nervously tugged the short skirt down.
“I got it at Nordstroms. But I think it makes my thighs look too big.”
“Don’t be silly, I’d kill to have your legs. At least they have a nice shape, not like these spindles I got issued.” They both smiled and Carmen leaned back in her chair and thought. Cephalopods were surprisingly smart but invertebrates. She leaned forward and Googled Giant Squid. Half an hour later she had a clearer idea of the creatures and their habits. When Olivia came back to the office, Carmen rattled off what she had found.
“If this thing that’s been seen is a squid, it could be quite big. Some deep-sea squid have been reported to be over 18 feet long.” Olivia furrowed her brow.
“What’s it doing in the Bay Area? Don’t they have to live in the bottom of the ocean, in deep water?” Carmen was putting her phone and a notebook in her bag as she stood up.
“Ever hear of something they call “climate change”? I’m going to contact a guy I know and check it out.”
She pinged Eddie Kochiyama. A New York transplant, he was street smart and people wise. He had been a bartender in the restaurants of Manhattan, now retired in Oakland and writing a history of cocktails. After Carmen briefed him, he agreed to come in on the case. He was familiar with the location.
“I know the spot. It used to be restaurant called the Golden Phoenix, then the Hong Kong Gardens. It never did well, it’s hard to get to, and few places to park.” Eddie and Carmen agreed to go look for themselves. Carmen drove to Oakland and picked him up. A real New Yorker, he had never bothered to learn how to drive.
When they got to the front door, the place was packed and there was a line down the block. They were debating whether to leave when a voice shouted,
“Fast Eddie, is that you? Come up here.” There was a smiling man in a suit and neat bowtie holding a reservation book in the doorway and waving them to come up to the of head of the line. Eddie smiled,
“That’s Tony Tam. We used to work together back in New York. After he got his engineering degree in Scotland, I heard he went back to China and got married.” Eddie took a second to look around.
“Tony must have bought this place recently and fixed it up.” They went up to the front of the line, while others who had been waiting groaned in protest. Tony gave Eddie a quick bear hug and then held him out at arm’s length.
“How long Bro? What are you up to?” Eddie turned and motioned towards Carmen.
“This is Carmen. We came by to try the place, but I didn’t know you were involved.”
“My wife and I are the owners.” Tony beckoned with his free hand to a woman behind the front register and she came out.
“Here’s my wife, Mei Mei. We met in China. She was studying for her Art Degree at the Shanghai University.” The woman smiled,
“Honey, this is Fast Eddie from New York, you heard me talk about him. And this is…” They smiled and looked at Carmen expectantly. Eddie jumped in,
“This is Carmen Chung.” The couple smiled even more broadly, and Tony inquired,
‘Are you in the restaurant business?” Carmen did a soft head bow and explained,
‘Oh no. I work for the Bureau of Unusual Occurrences. I investigate things for my boss.” Tony looked confused for a second, glanced at his wife, and then smiled again.
‘Well, any friend of Fast Eddie is welcome at the Wing Fat Restaurant. Come in you guys, I’ll get you a table.” Carmen took in the restaurant with a sweeping glance. The main dining room had big Bay windows facing the water. She asked,
“Can we get a table with a view? Tong briefly pulled at the tip of his nose, smiled, and replied,
“Sure, whatever you want.” He turned and escorted Eddie and Carmen to a table overlooking the Bay.
Crab Cove, Alameda, CA. Photo by Eddie Wong.
The service was efficient and quick. Eddie ordered brandy and soda and Carmen had just mineral water to keep her head clear. When he had moment, Tony came over and joined them for a chat.
“Well, I know all about Fast Eddie, we did time working together in some of the rougher Sushi bars in Times Square, New York. We have too many stories to tell. But tell me Carmen, what is this Bureau of Strange Occurrences? What do you do for them?” Carmen pulled out her card and presented it to Tony. She was neutral in her tone,
“The Bureau was founded by a very wealthy man from Singapore who is now retired. He lives on a small island in the Caribbean and has a great interest in unusual things.”
“Forgive me for asking, but what kind of things?”
“Oh, anomalous phenomena. Things like when it rains frogs or fish, unusual disappearances, UFO’s, that kind of thing.”
“What’s his name?”
“Wong Shek Chin. I’m afraid I’ve never met him. He hired me through his lawyers.”
“This is all new to me, is there money in it?”
“Not really, he was a struggling appliance salesman and then a rich uncle passed away leaving him a fortune. Now he’s economically free to follow his interests.” Tony rubbed his chin and queried,
“Has this been your usual line of work?” Carmen laughed and covered her mouth.
“Oh no, I was a major in French Literature in college. I did freelance writing for a while and an agent of Mr. Wong’s happen to read a piece I did on people who faked their own death. I was contacted, the money offered was good, so I signed on. It’s been several years now.“ She put on a serious face.
“But Tony, frankly, the reason I’m here is because I’ve heard recent reports of a creature that’s been sighted in the water near your restaurant. Perhaps you might have seen it yourself?” Tony smiled, shook his head,
‘No, I’ve heard people say they’ve seen it, but I’m usually running around this place taking care of things, I don’t have time to stand around and watch.” A thought came to Eddie.
“Say Tony, weren’t you studying for a while in Scotland? Don’t they have something like that over there? A dinosaur or something in a lake?” Tony smirked,
‘You mean the Loch Ness monster. Well, I stopped by that little town while I was studying in the UK, but the place was so crowded with tourists, it was hard to get around.” Eddie looked around the restaurant again,
‘Well, you’re doing alright here. Business looks good tonight.” Tony smiled,
“Yeah, we get a good house almost every evening, but I’ll tell you the truth, during the last two years, it was slim. I thought we were going to have to fold. But now with this squid thing on the internet, I must turn people away. Which reminds me I have to talk to the chief about a provision delivery. It’s very nice to meet you Carmen. Eddie, I’ll join you later for a drink at the bar, please excuse me.” Tony stood up and walked briskly to the kitchen.
Carmen carefully studied the dining room from her seat. The crowd was having a good time but most of the people kept glancing towards the big windows that faced the bay. At the next table were two slender, clean shaven young men in matching cashmere sweaters enjoying their drinks, a Singapore Sling and a White Russian on the rocks.
The sun was setting, and Carmen turned to speak to Eddie, when the two guys at the next table suddenly stood up and excitedly pointed out the window. The taller one was frantically searching his pockets,
“Where the hell is my phone? I just saw the damn thing and I can’t find my phone.”
Fast Eddie was stunned,
“I think I saw something; it was big, but it popped up and then sank back down in the water.”
Giant squid found in Brittania Bay, South Africa. Photo by Adele Grosse.
Carmen turned to look for their host, but he wasn’t in the room. A minute later, Tony walked up from the cellar with a bottle French champagne for a customer. He placed it in a table’s ice bucket and then came over to Eddie and Carmen’s table. She said guardedly,
“Tony, did you see it? The thing was just there.” Tony smiled,
‘No, I’m sorry I was in the wine cellar, but I know you were waiting to see it, did you get a good look at it?” Carmen’s eyes narrowed, and she asked in a quiet voice,
“So, you have never seen this creature, Tony?” He shrugged,
“I’m always too busy to notice. It never seems to come when I’m around. Speaking of which, let me apologize, it was great to see you Eddie, and nice to meet you Carmen, but we’re slammed tonight, and I must get back to the kitchen. Many thanks for coming by.”
Carmen sat back and gave it all a thought. As she watched Tony Tam walk back to the kitchen, she added up the facts in a way that made sense. After leaving a nice tip for the waiter, she drove Eddie back home.
The next morning Olivia arrived at the office with two bagels and a couple of lattes. She inquired,
“So, was there anything to it? Did you see anything at the Wing Fat?” Carmen shrugged and sat down at her desk. Thinking out loud she intoned,
“What I saw was a restaurant in a bad location, owned by a clever engineer, a remote-controlled inflation device, a wife who could paint realistic eyes on a rubber bladder, and crowds of paying customers hoping to catch a glimpse of a sea monster.” Olivia walked around to stand behind Carmen who was intently focused on her computer screen. As she stood there, her hands came up gently and caressed Carmen’s shoulders. Leaning forward, Olivia kissed Carmen on the top of the head and whispered,
“You know I love you?” Carmen kept her eyes on the screen and reached back with her left hand to gently squeeze Olivia’s fingers in response,
“I know.” Carmen kept typing.
“Agent Carmen Chung report: Reported Phenomenon. An unidentified creature in the waters of Alameda, Bay Area. Evidence: Several eyewitnesses and video phone recordings. Observation: Object appears inflexible and artificial. Analysis: A cephalopod shaped figure of gigantic proportions but made of a synthetic material, perhaps plastic. Verdict: creature not organic. Conclusion: Bogus.”
Author’s Bio: Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).