At the gateway to desire stands the arbiter of taste.
Tran sat a table in the corner of The Dragon’s Mane and watched the flow of bodies beneath the strobe light. The beautiful, the important, the famous, and the powerful moved as a single mass, marionettes dancing to music he’d composed. He recognized, scattered throughout the crowd, his employees, soldiers and sluts, strength and temptation, the stick and the carrot. The tempo shifted, the beat syncopated, and the crowd jumped.
Kane had laughed the first time he’d heard the name: The Dragon’s Mane. Discotheques, with their sweaty grinding, music too loud to hear yourself think, and overabundance of party drugs, held no draw for Kane. He figured they might as well have called the club The Donkey No Go Dance Party, until he realized the place’s potential. Tran, by catering to his own security and privacy needs, had created a haven for the city’s elite, a clientele that now felt comfortable approaching their host with personal problems or desires. Over the years, sure enough, The Dragon’s Mane became the heart of Tran’s empire, pumping blood into all his enterprises and nurturing the growth of his extending limbs. They say the name rolls off the tongue in Vietnamese and gets stuck in the ear, or something like that. Maybe it did.
Tran Van Kahn came of age as a translator for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, which meant he’d made a fortune selling black market U.S. goods to the wealthy South Vietnamese while serving the troops as a pimp and drug dealer. When the winds changed and the fog of war began to clear, he’d made connections in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.
He’d had to leave most of his fortune behind when he’d bribed his way onto a transport plane leaving Saigon, but he had friends and family on both ends of the Ho Chi Minh trail and began the slow process of smuggling his wealth across the Pacific in the form of military surplus, heroin, and flesh.
The five-two Tran wore a pin-striped suit that set off his white hair, which reached the middle of his back, and wispy, white beard, which reached the middle of his chest. His round, wire-rimmed eyeglasses softened the stark lines of his face, commas for eyebrows, slanted eyes, and a hooked nose.Central City, 31
Tran had been investigated for everything from murder to arson since he stepped, penniless, off a bus in 1975. Although he’d arrived without capital, he was only the first to travel the route he’d developed from Southeast Asia, through San Francisco, to the streets of Central City.