Why you should care
Because having what others want sometimes just makes you a target.
It’s 3 a.m. and a Taiwanese mafia boss is smiling down at me.
I’m about to undergo a CT scan, and he is proud of himself because he was, in his mind, gracious enough to drive me to the hospital and pay for the scan. Never mind that if it wasn’t for him I’d be back at my place, more than likely with the two beautiful models I had started the night with, instead of being checked to see if the mafia boss’ henchmen had cracked my skull.
Let me back up and explain: I was backpacking through Asia, and as it turns out, if you are a halfway height-weight-proportionate, attractive American, you can be a model there. While I was staying at a youth hostel in Singapore, an agent walked in looking for TV talent and decided I was it. From there, I went to Bangkok and Hong Kong. I loved it. Modeling was fun and a great way to top up my bank account so I could keep traveling.
One day someone said, “Hey, there are modeling agencies in Taipei that want to represent you. Feel like spending a couple of months there?” I did, and so I went.
Thing is, at the time everything in Taipei had the mafia’s hand in it one way or another. The agencies. The nightclubs. All of us who went knew it, but it didn’t bother us. Until that night.
I had 12 years of tae kwon do training under my belt, and in college I had been a bouncer at nightclubs. I really should have seen the signs.
The agencies brought over models in groups of 20 and housed us all in an apartment building they owned. It was like a college dorm. We hung out together, drank together, partied together. I’d become especially good friends with two other models: an American named Samantha and a Canadian named Roxy.
They both liked me. But they also liked each other and wanted to explore those feelings. Which meant they were going out and partying on their own. It was Taipei, though, so they asked me to chaperone. I was game, so out we went.
The night started out great. Everyone was smiling and as soon as we got to the club the tequila started flowing, the music kicked in and we were all dancing. Then Sam and Roxy were dancing and then they were kissing, a happy thing for all concerned. I was 24 and thought I was in heaven, with no small expectation about where the night was heading.
Which is why I barely noticed the richly dressed and leering Taiwanese guy in the corner with a group of his buddies and a bottle of Champagne. I had 12 years of tae kwon do training under my belt, and in college I had been a bouncer at nightclubs. I really should have seen the signs. But none of them registered.
Like the fact that when we left the nightclub, the guy was not in the corner anymore. I also didn’t register the van parked out front as we stepped into the street, about to grab a cab that sat curbside. Roxy and Sam were kissing each other and had started kissing me too.
Then someone shouted, “Gongji!” (“Attack!”).
The cab driver didn’t move. He knew who those guys were and he knew that they knew who he was. He also knew they knew where to find him.
I was surrounded by 10 guys hitting me with sticks, belts and clubs. Roxy and Sam panicked. I broke through the circle of assailants to grab Roxy and Sam and shove them into the cab, closing the door behind us.
“GO, GO!” we screamed.
The cab driver didn’t move. Not a muscle. He knew who those guys were and he knew that they knew who he was. He also knew that if he took off with something they wanted, they knew where to find him. So while we were screaming at him to go, he was sitting there with his arms crossed. Right before he hit a button and unlocked the doors.
Eight pairs of hands grabbed me and pulled me out of the cab. Eight others grabbed Sam and Roxy and dragged them to the van. I was in the middle of a circle again and the belts, sticks and clubs were back. In fantasies, most guys imagine an attack to be like in the movies where the hero takes out 10 guys at once. It doesn’t work like that, though. You just get hit, a lot. And you cover up and try to keep your wits about you and make sure you don’t get knocked out.
But my friends were in the van and it was driving away. If our attackers got Sam and Roxy wherever they intended to get them, it would be bad. The clubs, belts, sticks and relentless beating cleared my mind, and I knew three things: The kidnapper was mafia, the guy who owned the nightclub was mafia and I didn’t have to beat all 10 guys, I just had to knock down one, the guy between me and the door.
I had to get into the club, find the owner, explain what happened and hope to hell he had the other mafia guy’s cellphone to call him off. So I charged at the guy between me and the nightclub door, getting a blow across the head but making it into the club. I got to the owner, and he did have the other guy’s phone number and then he was screaming into the phone the Mandarin version of “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Those are friends of mine!”
I was screaming, “Tell him to bring them back! Right now!”
Apparently our mafia guy was higher up than the other mafia guy because 10 minutes later the van was back. The girls got out, shaken up and crying. They saw me and started crying afresh. Someone said, “Hospital.”
And that’s how I ended up at the hospital.
It was Mr. Leering Mafia Boss who actually apologized to us. Not only that, he did it in English — in his world, where what’s called “face” and status are everything, a powerful person apologizing is a big deal. He drove us to the hospital, paid the bill and apologized.
All of which didn’t mean shit to us.
I was hurt, Roxy and Sam were terrified and we just wanted to go home. As soon as it was verified I was fine, we left.
“Can you believe that actually happened? Like out of a movie!” said Roxy. And, “Remember when that one guy tried to grab your boob in the van, Roxy, and you bit him? Go you!”
“Yeah, well, you kicked that other guy in the balls — epic! And, Mike, that’s the first time we’ve seen you with your hair messed up!”
When we finally got home we all lay in our king-size bed, cuddled and passed out, exhausted. Not the evening we wanted, but definitely the evening we got.