There and back again

And so ended one of the most colourful – not to mention most controversial and confusing – few weeks of my life…

That’s how I imagined I might wrap up the chapter in my memoirs describing the events of the last few weeks. Short in duration, but full in detail and incident, it would make a hefty chapter, written, I hope, with a bit of the tongue in cheek as if to say, would you believe? Oh what a journey you’ve been on Mr Magoo! What a lark! What mischief you’ve lived! What next?!

It’s not as simple as that naturally, not even close. And I’m not sure it’s over, even though I’ve officially pulled the pin. There are dark elements to this story at odds with the cheery tone, some which may yet play out.

Ok then, so how do I start this chapter?

There’s a lot in this story, and so I’ll skate over the surface of it. In brief I came to an arrangement with a  potential partner a few weeks back. He promised me certain things, we discussed the details of that, and then we embarked on a trial period to see how it might work out.

Much to my surprise things took off. Inside a week my profit was up by about 60%. A week later it was 120%. For once my wallet was bulging with cash. My bank account was filling. The shop was a hive of activity. On the surface, all good.

It was not quite as rosy as that beneath the surface. I had stepped aside to allow this guy – let’s call him Mr Lee – to do his thing. As part of that I expected him to manage the shop as a whole, and not just the parts of it he liked.

As a consequence a lot of the basic housekeeping in the shop fell away. The laundry, such an important element of our operation, was neglected – on one day there was not a clean towel in the place. The accounting either wasn’t done, or done incorrectly. I spent hours each day trying to reconcile things and trying to figure out what we owed who. Lights and heaters were left on overnight, the oil burner was left to burn dry, the back room went from a place of order to one of disarray. Perhaps most serious was the division between the staff of before and those Mr Lee brought in.

I had warned of all of these things. In fact I had given him a free hand on condition that the basic shop amenities continued as they were. The failure to do so at first led to a few unholy rows between us, then to one girl resigning while we weren’t able to engage others. I decided to step in to right things, and was able in doing to get the girl leaving to rescind her resignation.

Though the money was coming in I was uncomfortable, and remained conflicted. If things had been managed in an orderly fashion then it would have been much easier to deal with, but that wasn’t the case. Then it emerged that Mr Lee and I had different ideas of what our arrangement was. The fault was on his side – I had confirmed our deal by email in bullet-point, giving him the opportunity to dispute or vary the details. He hadn’t and so I proceeded on the assumption that we were on the same page.

Ultimately that was our undoing, though in reality there were many more factors leading to the same endpoint. He refused to continue working under the arrangement we had, and I was unwilling to accede to what I believed to be an extortionate arrangement. That was that in a nutshell.

The wash-up of all that is that whilst turnover increased by about 100% over the period, my costs also doubled, as did already high stress levels. I made a profit, but not nearly as much as you might expect.

So far, so good and put it down to experience – except this is where it gets a bit spooky.

For a start I’ve been told that some of my trade competitors heard about our  success and became interested. Some visited on the sly, and the word is were unhappy with us as upstarts encroaching on their territory. They’re all Asian working in an industry that crosses into some  dark areas.

Now that the deal is off with Mr Lee I expect it should not longer an issue, but the potential was there. “They won’t touch other Asians,” he said, “because they don’t know who is behind them.” His clear inference was that I was vulnerable because I’m not Asian. “If someone comes in,” he said, “just pretend you work there. Don’t admit to being the owner.”

All of this sounds pretty melodramatic, if not unlikely. Still, it gives you pause. Mr Lee was pretty matter of fact about the violent implications. According to him it only costs $500 to get someone knocked off, which sounds awfully cheap.

Next was a Vietnamese girl working for the shop. She was loud and obnoxious and I told her we couldn’t continue paying her a ‘warranty’ that we weren’t paying to others. She said she would leave. Fine. She started causing trouble in the backroom bitching to others so I told her to go now. We went to sort out her pay when I discovered she had been promised things by Mr Lee that I didn’t know of or approve. In the end I paid her extra just to go, but she was pretty unhappy. Apparently she’s connected to some of the heavies in the Vietnamese community, which I’m led to believe are pretty much the heaviest going around.

Finally Mr Lee and I had a nonsensical argument on the phone this morning which got pretty violent at one point. Even as we were arguing backwards and forwards I thought this is something Monty Python could have written – except it was serious.

I’m paying him out, and there’s no argument about that. All up I’m paying him about $2,000, which includes salaries for his girls. The sticking point is $150, which is actually not due till next week. I told him that it would be paid then, but in the meantime other salaries took precedence. He didn’t like that. He threatened to withhold the keys in his posession. I saw red at what I took as a threat.

“You do that and I’ll report you to the police,” I said.

“You do that and you’ll regret it,” he said.

I asked for details. Clearly he was threatening me with physical harm. As much as anything I was curious. The conversation got so diabolical at one stage that I actually had to laugh, but he still wouldn’t tell me anything other that I didn’t want to make an enemy of him.

A lot of it was pretty juvenile, and I actually tried several times to introduce a more civilised, intelligent tone to the conversation. I couldn’t work with Mr Lee, but I actually don’t mind him. He claims to like me too, so it was all pretty ridiculous. Still, we’re boys, and both of us dug in our heels on principle. It might be stupid, but acts of intimidation make me contrary.

In the end an elementary solution was found that took the heat out of our conversation just like that. Why didn’t we think of that before?

That’s as it is now. I suspect there’s a lot more to play out, and I’ve skipped over a lot of juicy stuff, but you’ll have to wait for my memoirs for that – assuming I make it that far.


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