Inexplicably, Xin-Xin was feeling particularly irritable today. There was no reason for her to feel like she was on pins and needles she thought. She started reciting an old nursery rhyme in her mind:
Needles and pins,
Needles and pins,
When a Man marries,
His Trouble begins.
It’s amusing that I should think of that childish rhyme now; especially since I reached my goal of getting Mo-Fan to agree to marry me. She gave a self-satisfied admiring look at the engagement ring he had given her. He had agreed to plan the wedding as soon as possible after the post funeral business concerning his brother was finished. Regardless of the means to achieve it, she knew she would be happy with the marriage. She had not thought far enough ahead to imagine what would happen if Mo-Fan ever discovered her deception.
The atmosphere at the office these days was repressing. Her colleagues had shut her out and Mr. Li was cold and distant toward her. She desperately avoided him, leaving the office immediately at quitting time without even looking back. He was furious but his divorce proceedings were still in progress and he had to remain low key about any affairs while still married. He refrained from verbally expressing his frustration with Xin-Xin to avoid garnering negative public opinion. Fortunately, there were periods of temporary relief from stress while Mr. Li was away on business preparing a case for a newly acquired client in Norway.
She knew the situation would only get worse, especially after the divorce was complete. She did not want to provoke him in any way for fear he would approach Mo-Fan and tell him about their affair out of revenge. She must prevent any situation that would threaten her rise out of poverty and take away her permanent “meal ticket”. There was no possibility of a future with her past lover; no turning back.
She had always hesitated to give up her relationship with Mr. Li because of her uncertainty about Mo-Fan’s ability to guarantee a comfortable life for her. He was not a very aggressive or capable employee and led a rather lack luster life. She had been fairly certain that they would have to struggle in the beginning of their marriage and she would almost certainly have to work in the office to help support them. She couldn’t work in the law office and she didn’t relish the idea of starting over in a new office having to work her way up the ladder.
But, Mo-Qian’s death, and ensuing distribution of his considerable fortune to his brothers and family members ensured that neither she nor Mo-Fan would have to work another day of their lives. Like the people winning the lottery she thought; pulled from the quagmire of a struggling life by a quirk of fate. It’s strange how a second in time can change your life forever. She had wasted no time in choosing logically between her two lovers and scheming to secure her position with her choice. Now she must be extremely careful not to do anything stupid before the pending wedding that would unravel her carefully woven plot to snare Mo-Fan in her trap.
During coffee break she decided to call her fiancée. “Hello dear, I’m calling to see if you want to meet me for dinner this evening. I haven’t seen you for a few days and I’m missing you.”
“I have something I must attend to this evening so we’ll have to do it another time.”
“Are you working overtime? I can bring you some take-out like I used to.”
“No, my oldest brother called me and we are going to meet at his house to discuss the business of dividing up Mo-Qian’s estate.”
“That’s such an important thing, why didn’t you tell me before this?”
Xin-Xin’s tone was bit angry and Mo-Fan remained silent on the phone at which point she softened it a bit.
“I think it would be better if I would be with you in the meeting. I remember you mentioning in the past how greedy they are and how they take advantage of anyone they can, including family. The funeral ceremony for Mo-Qian was a disgrace. It was obvious that they didn’t want to spend a penny more than necessary even though they would be getting a fortune from the very man they disrespected so shamelessly. Together we can more easily detect any schemes they may try to use to cheat us out of our rightful inheritance.”
“What you say makes good sense. I will pick you up later. “
In contrast to Mo-Fan’s small modestly furnished apartment, his older brother lived in a two story mountain side villa with a garden. The impressive white stucco exterior was atypical for Taipei and attracted a lot of attention from passers by. The interior was lavishly decorated with marble wall tiles, magnificent crystal lamps, leather sofas and a pool table. Even though his brother had spent millions to build the house, it still felt cold and impersonal, like a model home on display. He couldn’t help wonder how long this kind of life style could be sustained without the wealth they were about to inherit.
Once inside, the reception was as cold as the house itself. His big brother Yin Mo-Xiu (Yeen Maw-Show) and his wife Qin-Yao greeted them with expressions of contempt and annoyance on their faces.
Qin-Yao spoke first. “Today we are discussing family business concerning brother-in-law’s estate. Why did you bring an outsider into the discussion?”
Mo-Xiu added his own admonishment. “I am your brother and I deserve the courtesy of being notified when you bring an unexpected guest with you to my house. Besides, family business is of no concern to Xin-Xin. You put me in a very embarrassing and uncomfortable position.”
“There should be nothing inconvenient about it! We will be married soon and she has a right to know about financial matters that will affect our future.”
After hearing Mo-Fan’s response, Qin-Yao realized that there was nothing to be gained by pursuing this line of conversation. They must accept the circumstances and focus on getting the inheritance settled expeditiously. Once they had the money in hand they wouldn’t have to tolerate this kind of insolence. She glanced at her husband whose face was livid with anger and motioned him to let it go.
He brought his rage under control and started the discussion. “Well, it looks like Xin-Xin is going to be involved so there’s no reason to waste any more time discussing that issue. Mo-Qian had no wife and no children that we know of so, the only heirs will be us brothers. It will take some time to sort out all the financial details because we were never close to his business. To begin with, we need a complete report listing all his assets and debts including his stock shares, real estate, bank accounts, business loans and a company quarterly financial report from the board of directors. I think we should hire an accountant to do this and then meet again to review the information and decide on how to allocate his estate.”
“I have the company financial report from the CFO and I obtained a list of his real estate from the government registry.” Qin-Yao was very pleased with herself and attempted to assert her authority as the primary source of information regarding the estate as she handed a copy of the documentation to Mo-Fan. “Here is a copy for your review. Of course we still have to decide whether we elect total inheritance, partial inheritance or abandonment. But, I don’t think there is a reason to abandon the inheritance because I’m sure that Mo-Qian’s assets far exceed his debts. Never-the-less, we only have sixty days to make our election.”
“We can’t access his bank account now so how can we get reimbursed for the $200,000 you requested from me to help with the funeral expense?”
“Oh, no need to worry about that. We took his death certificate to the bureau and collected his pension and also collected his occupational hazard compensation insurance. Combined with our contributions there was enough money to cover the cost of a simple funeral. Remember, we have invested $200,000 as well. I’m sure your brother is rich enough to cover the cost of his funeral. As soon as we have access to his bank account, we can be reimbursed. That’s why it’s important to sign the allocation agreement as soon as possible.”
Greedy bitch Mo-Fan thought! All she thinks of is how to take advantage of people to get more money. The funeral was a shabby disgrace. They didn’t even pay for the seven days rituals. With his pension and insurance plus the “emergency” contributions there should have been a lot of money left over. They only paid for the coffin, the shrine, the repository for his ashes, the musicians and the program. Also, what about the contributions from all his rich business associates and political contacts? I never saw an expense report after the funeral. I bet she and my brother just pocketed the extra money. He took the documents with a feeling of depression. How was he going to fight against the scheming of these miserly vultures?
“Qin-Yao, have you forgotten that I work for a law firm? We routinely deal with these matters on a daily basis. Why spend money to have a stranger do this. And, besides for an estate this complicated, we need a lawyer to make sure that all regulations and procedures are executed according to the law. The paralegal you hired can only deal with documents related to real estate and taxes. It is not just a simple matter of bank accounts, real estate and stock shares. The company has overseas subsidiaries, and foreign tax liabilities etc. We need to hire a CPA as well. He may also have outstanding personal loans encumbering his business.”
What a joke Xin-Xin thought. Why would we sign any consent forms without verifying the information about the estate? For all we know the information in these documents could be falsified. I won’t agree to sign anything without getting documents from a source I trust.
Mo-Xiu was impressed with Xin-Xin’s knowledge and besides she was willing to do it for free. Free is always the best option so why not let her do it? “How long will it take to prepare all the documentation?”
“That depends on the size of the estate. Every case is different. When the information is ready, I will have my firm contact Mo-Fan.”
“Don’t take too long. We have to get all the heirs to sign the consent form in less than 60 days.”
“What do you mean by all the heirs Qin-Yao? There are just us two brothers.”
“Don’t forget his nephew.”
“Shan-Wei was always his favorite relative and he even gave him a job in the company. That’s why he promised to always take care of him. And besides, he performed the duties of a son at the funeral. Otherwise, Mo-Qian would have been disgraced without a descendant to represent him.”
Xin-Xin was quick to realize that she would have to share the inheritance with another person and was reluctant to let that happen. “There is no protection under the law for him. Do you have a written will in your possession?”
Qin-Yao was furious. What a bitch. She isn’t even married into the family and she is giving speeches and opinions about something that shouldn’t concern her anyway. “Doesn’t a man’s word count for anything? Brother is dead and you want me to get a will? Maybe I should ask his ghost to come to you in a dream!”
“Sister-in-law, don’t be angry. I’m just trying to explain the law to you”
“Sister-in-law? Who are you addressing so affectionately? You’re not even married yet!” She wanted to add ‘shameless bitch’ to the tirade but restrained herself.
“Marriage is not the issue. If you are going to include nephews in the division of the inheritance then, I have to point out to you that your son is not the only nephew that Mo-Qian has.”
“What are you saying?” Qin-Yao couldn’t help raise her voice in disbelief.
Mo-Xiu responded in support of his wife. “The baby is not even born yet. You are being extremely arrogant to even suggest such a claim to inheritance. In fact, how do we even know that the baby is Mo-Fan’s?”
“How can my own brother insult me and my fiancée with such an innuendo?”
“Fiancée? Are you crazy? You announce your engagement at the funeral. We didn’t know whether to celebrate your marriage or mourn for Mo-Qian. And when did you have the engagement dinner? I am your brother and you didn’t invite me to it? What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m grown up now and want to do my own thing. Do I still need your consent to get married? And do you think you treated me like a brother when you planned the funeral and didn’t notify me until the day before? Or treated Mo-Qian with the respect of a brother when you decided to skip the seven days rituals just so you could get his money a few days quicker?”
Mo-Xiu clenched his fists in anger. “I was his brother. Why shouldn’t I prepare his funeral? And, why should I have to discuss it with you? Are you going to be insolent with me? You have to learn to respect your elders.”
“Don’t you dare hit my fiancée?” Xin-Xin moved closer to Mo-Fan as if to protect him.
“Shut up! You’re just adding more fuel to the fire!”
“You are pathetic! I wouldn’t fight back anyway. If you want respect, you have to earn it not demand it.”
“OK, if you want to destroy our brotherly relationship for this woman, so be it. Pregnant huh? There’s no way to even guarantee the child can be safely born and you want to claim a share of the inheritance for it?”
Disheartened and exasperated, Mo-Fan stared at his brother with deep regret. He turned to Xin-Xin and quietly murmured, “Let’s go.”