Rhapsody of Death

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Chapter 31

The Grand Hotel, constructed in the traditional Chinese architectural style, is Taiwan’s largest and most elegant hotel. The building site located on a foot hill provides a sensational view of the nearby Keelung River, especially at night when the bright lights of downtown Taipei reflect off the still water. The design and construction, both commissioned by Chiang Kai-Shek’s wife, included the most extravagant and exquisite building materials available at the time. Originally built to serve as elegant, exclusive accommodations for visiting foreign dignitaries, it now functions as a five star plus hotel for tourists wishing to experience one of the world’s top ten hotels and for hosting special celebratory gatherings such as the one Qian’s brother had just invited him to attend.

Whenever he entered the lobby of the “Grand” he was always impressed by the granite floors impeccably polished to a mirror finish, the four meter high ceilings composed of colorful carved wood panels supported by massive columns and the exquisite intricately carved Italian marble stair posts and banisters depicting mythical dragons. Usually, he looked forward to attending events in such lavish surroundings but today he begrudgingly forced himself to show up for the family reunion announced in the invitation sent by his brother Mo-Xiu.

Exchanging perfunctory greetings, he seated himself at the table where his two brothers, his mother and Qin-Yao were sitting. Now that all the family was seated Mo-Xiu, with a wide grin on his face, began introducing his fiancée to them. “I have invited you here today to dine with Cui Qin-Yao and myself in celebration of our pending marriage.” He formally introduced Qin-Yao to each of the family in turn, ending with Qian who turned his head away and refused to acknowledge her.

Sensing the tension, their mother, Xiao-Mei, attempted to diffuse the awkward moment. “Miss Cui, how many members from your family will attend the wedding?”

“You don’t have to be so formal since I will soon part of your family. Just call me Qin-Yao. As for my family, my father died when I was young and my mother remarried. I am now living with my only brother. I think my mother will attend with her husband and step children.”

“Since the subject has come up, Qin-Yao and I want to announce that we are planning to have the wedding meal here at the Grand and have completed the guest list. Since it is my second marriage, we have limited the guests to family and close friends; six tables at most.”

Just as he finished his announcement, the waiter served a lobster salad for the first course. Qin-Yao seated next to Xiao-Mei doted over her, helping her dish up her salad, all the time smiling with that saccharine smile that forced her eyes to squint into a curved thin line.

Qian remembered this solicitous smile that she used on her clients at the Moonlight Club to coax favors from them and it revolted him so much he could not hold back. “Miss Cui, haven’t we met before? I feel like I know you from somewhere.”

The table went silent for few seconds before Qin-Yao replied. Now there was only a hint of a stiff smile on her flushed face. “You must be mistaken; I have never seen you before.”

“I’m positive I’ve seen you. Oh, now I remember. You were a hospitality girl at the Moonlight Club. I believe you called yourself Rosa, right?”

Qin-Yao was stunned and didn’t know how to react. Everyone at the table immediately froze and stared at Qin-Yao waiting for her to respond. She could only look to Mo-Xiu with tears welling up in her eyes imploring him to come to her rescue. “Qian, why are you trying to embarrass my fiancée? Be careful about what you say!”

“I just say what I feel. Qin-Yao is so familiar. Oh, yes ... remember my boss Zhu Cheng-Qing? You kept calling the office harassing us because he wouldn’t take your calls. Remember the day you called and threatened to commit suicide unless he agreed to give you an apartment and support you?”

“Qian, I warned you to stop insulting my fiancée with these false and absurd accusations. She never worked at the Moonlight Club. If you keep this up, you’ll have to leave.”

“You divorced your wife and left her, to live with this whore in a new house you bought with your wife’s fortune. Now you try to cover that shameful act by telling us that she lives with her brother. You say she never worked in the Moonlight Club. Well, what about the Crown club? If not there, explain how it is possible for you two to meet.”

With tears now filling her eyes, and her body shaking with sobbing, she could barely choke out a plaintive plea before retreating to the hotel restroom. “What is the purpose of trying to humiliate me in front of your family?”

Mo-Xiu turned angrily to his brother and shouted, “What exactly are you trying to accomplish Qian?”

The other customers and the hotel staff could no longer ignore the loud shouting at the Yin family table and the maitre d’ came over to inform them that if the disturbance continued, they would have to leave.

For a moment, both brothers stood silently, locked in a stalemate until Mo-Xiu demanded that Qian step out of the restaurant to resolve this issue. They both stood silently in the elevator, holding back their wrath, waiting to arrive in the lobby.

“Why are you humiliating Qin-Yao? Everyone in the family already knows she worked as a club girl but they avoid talking about it to save her face; that is everyone but you Qian.”

“What do you know about her family, her background or most importantly, her character? Are you too blind to see that she is willing to destroy anyone or anything for her personal gain? She destroyed your marriage and your career to get a life of free support. Do you think what your getting is worth what you gave up?”

“So what do you know about her? Have you associated with her at the club?”

“I have not personally been involved with her but, I have watched how she manipulates men at the Moonlight Club and I went to the Crown Club and had a long conversation with one of her co-workers. Trust me, don’t be stupid enough to think she is with you for anything but money.”

“You can’t assume she fits the common club girl stereotype just because she has worked in a club. Not all the girls are after money. Besides, what kind of reliable information can you get from some jealous co-worker at a place like the Crown Club?”

“If you have such a low opinion of the Crown Club, that should give you a clue about Qin-Yao. Or should I just call her Rosa to jog you out of your fantasy and remind you of her past? I don’t understand how you can be so brutal to a wife who has supported you for so many years. You plunder her company’s assets then divorce her and force her to pay alimony to support the love nest where you shack up with that greedy whore you disgustingly call your fiancée. Why do you have so much pity for her and how can you be so cruel to your first wife? ”

“During my entire marriage to Yuan-Mei, I was nothing but a lap dog fawning over her and swallowing my pride just to get what I wanted. But now I can have what I want and answer to no one. I think I deserve compensation for all the years of sacrificing my desires just to please her. But, most importantly, she is giving me the child that Yuan-Mei could not give me!”

“You imbecile! That’s the oldest trick in the book! How can you be sure that she is pregnant with your baby?”

“Do you think I am so naive that I am unable to know that she is pregnant with my baby? This is my life and I make my own decisions.”

“Yes brother, you have always selfishly chosen the course of your life without any regard for the lives you destroy in the process.”

After returning home from the reunion, his mother scolded him about how he had treated Mo-Xiu and Qin-Yao. “You cruelly embarrassed your brother and gave him no chance to save his face. And, you upset Qin-Yao so much I’m afraid that the baby may be affected. It hurts me to see my sons fight against each other. Can’t you try to be more considerate?”

He felt anger surging up inside thinking about all the selfish things Mo-Xiu had done that damaged the family but decided not to vent it on his mother. She was so blinded by ingrained traditional love for the eldest son that she would not listen to any criticism of him and it would only cause her more distress. He made up his mind to alienate himself from his brother and his family and consequently refused to attend their wedding or even send a gift.

The depth of the resentment Qin-Yao harbored for him was not known to him until he approached his brother for a loan to start his new company. She vehemently objected to the idea and admonished her husband to not give in to the request. “Qian called me an opportunistic club woman only interested your money. Now who is the one that is trying to get part of our fortune to benefit his business?”

“Well, he is only asking for a million. That’s a relatively small amount compared to our assets. And, I’m sure that Qian will be successful so we can expect to get lucrative dividends in the future.”

“Small amount of money? What if you need that million for an emergency in the future? We are operating a business, not a charity. And consider what happens if he dies, or what if he just denies he borrowed the money and refuses to repay it? The most I will agree to is the use of your name as a founding shareholder. That costs nothing and has no risk.”

Ironically, and fortunately for him he ended up financing his company through another channel and in retrospect realized that it was not prudent to involve family relations in financial matters. An unexpected call from Yuan-Mei changed the course of his life and career. He had not had contact with her since the luncheon when she told him about Mo-Xiu’s affair and the divorce. Now they were again meeting at the same cafe, but her demeanor was totally the opposite of the last time they met.

“You look simply radiant! And your smile tells me that there have been some significant changes in your life. Is that all from the baby I see bulging under your dress or, is there more?”

“The baby is a major part of my happiness but not all of it. It’s true that when I was married to Mo-Xiu I was unhappy because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bear a child for him. But now, through fate, I have found the perfect man and without even trying, I was able to conceive naturally.”

“I envy this lucky man! How did you meet him?”

“I was at a product expo and noticed a salesman that seemed very familiar to me. And, I noticed that he was also looking at me with a curious but friendly expression. After a while, he walked over and introduced himself. We both remarked how familiar the other seemed and started chatting. It turned out that he was the son of one of father’s business acquaintances and that we had often played together when we were little. We felt so spiritually connected and enjoyed each other so much that we decided to spend our lives together.”

“That sounds like a fairy tale. So, when did you get married and why didn’t you invite me?”

“I decided not to marry again. I am so happy and I trust him completely so, there is really no reason to get married.”

“Interesting. But, is the only reason you called me is to tell about how happy you are now?”

“Well, actually no. After the divorce, I re-opened the company and we are well on our way to financial stability but I want to build our business to be a major competitor in electronic consumer products. That’s why I want to talk to you. I know that you are trying to start a new company and I would like to offer you the startup funds you need and in exchange I want you to manufacture all our products with preferred priority. Additionally, I want you to work closely with a Japanese company that I cooperate with to provide them OEM design and manufacturing services.”

“It’s true that I’m trying to leave Guang Tong Electronics and start my own company but, how did you find out?”

“A former employee of Mo-Xiu’s came to work for us and told me he had overheard your brother telling someone about the fight he had with his wife when you asked him for a loan to start your new company. I thought it would be profitable and personally satisfying to support you when your own brother turned you down because of that bitch he married. I know that you will be highly successful and Mo-Xiu will regret the day he refused your request.”

A few months later, he came home to find that his mother had her bags packed as if going on a trip. “Mom, where are you going?”

“Your brother called today announcing the birth of your new nephew and asked if I could stay with them to help Qin-Yao get adjusted since she has no experience as a mother. So, I agreed to stay at their house for a while. He will come to pick me up tomorrow.”

After a month she still had not returned but called one day with a request. “Hello Qian. I thought you should come over with Mo-Fan to see your new nephew. And, when you come will you bring some more of my personal belongings? I’ve decided to stay a while longer and help take care of Shan-Wei.”

“What are you talking about? That is so ridiculous! First you go to help out your son and now you have to stay and care for your grandson? Why can’t they manage themselves?”

“Well, how can I refuse a request from my son?”

“I tell you, this is a big mistake and you should come home. They are too miserly to hire a maid and are taking advantage of your weakness for your first grandson. They get a free maid and you are burdened with the stress of being a nanny!”

“A nanny could never care for him or love him the way I can. Don’t you worry about me, I can take care of myself.”

“OK. But, if you can’t handle it, call me and I will pick you up. Oh, and when you call, and I know you will, don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

After some time had passed he, not unexpectedly, received a call from his mother, the purpose of which was to tell her tale of woe about the tribulations she was suffering at Mo-Xiu’s house.

“I can’t believe how helpless and lazy Qin-Yao can be about running the household! When the baby cries, she asks me if there isn’t something I need to do about it. Sometimes I get so frustrated with her that I suggest that she should learn how to take care of a baby since she is the mother but she just ignores me.”

“That is exactly what I thought would happen Mother. Qin-Yao is just a selfish bitch and only cares about what she can get for free. She is just using you as a free nanny!”

“It’s not only the child that she neglects. She won’t cook, do laundry, clean or do any of the things a wife should do. She won’t eat unless I cook for her and then she complains about the food tasting old or the soup being too salty. I even asked her to come to the kitchen so I could teach her to cook. She told me she wasn’t interested. I am so frustrated and furious I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, you could always leave and force her to do it herself.”

“That wouldn’t matter to her. She would just spend money to hire a housekeeper. That’s what she said when I asked her what she would do if I were to die and was not there to help her.”

“Well, if you won’t leave, I really can’t help you. You’ll have to figure it out yourself because I don’t have time to listen to you complaining about a situation that you won’t let me help you fix.”

He knew that must have hurt his mother but he couldn’t control the resentment he felt toward Qin-Yao and how she always seemed to find a way to abuse his family. In the mean time the situation got even worse when Qin-Yao decided that she wanted to work at Mo-Xiu’s company; assumedly to keep an eye on him so he wouldn’t find another woman and dump her.

Of course, this was a disaster. Her primary goal, outside of spying on her husband, was to take control of the finances. She fired the accountant and took over her duties which she had absolutely no training or qualifications to perform. She manipulated the books and changed policies to reduce the employee bonuses and also made employee expense reimbursement nearly impossible to process. All this was, in her eyes, necessary in order to maximize profits so she would have more money for herself.

Her insatiable avarice extended beyond herself to include her brother. Though he had no skills and no education, she created a managerial position for him so he could delegate his work to subordinates and collect a salary without doing any work. But the turnover rate was so high in his department that Mo-Xiu was forced to isolate him in a fictitious department where he could not impact production. He should have fired him but was influenced by his wife to keep him on the payroll.

Mo-Xiu ignored the problems caused by his wife, hoping they could somehow resolve themselves. But, the ramifications got progressively worse until the employees threatened to all quit if he didn’t fire her. When he heard this news, Qian was inwardly delighted and hoped that this would provide some relief for his mother. But, Qin-Yao continued to dress for work each day and go to the office even though she had nothing to do. One day Mo-Xiu carelessly let slip the fact that Qin-Yao was no longer working for the company but Xiao-Mei avoided confronting her just to avoid the quarrel.

“She is such a miser that I am forbidden to run the air conditioning in the hot summer and she scolds me if I spend too much on food. She fails to pay the community fees and power bills on time and then asks me for money to help out because business is bad. I know that they have enough money but she just takes any advantage of me that she can. She won’t wash her own clothes or clean the house. She is such a useless woman that causes me to suffer every day. I am the mother of her husband and I should be treated with respect and consideration. Instead I am treated like a slave!”

“Compared to her, living with Yuan-Mei was a blessing. She spent a lot of money but it was always for the family. She hired a maid and never asked me to manage the house and at least respected me. Before the wedding, Qin-Yao was so attentive and gracious but now she has turned out to be a lazy, greedy miser. My generation grew up in poverty and she has the nerve to scold me for spending any money because it is so hard for her husband to make a profit. I told Mo-Xiu to hire a house maid because I can only help care for their son but not manage the household.”

“Mother, I told you before to come to live with me. If you choose not to do that, my listening to your complaints won’t help you and it only makes me angry with my brother. Why do you continue to stay in that unhappy surrounding and turn yourself into a bitter old woman?”

“Your brother is so pitiable to have to live in a marriage with a woman that won’t take care of his house or child but only spends her whole day watching him to make sure he doesn’t do to her what he did to Yuan-Mei. I know that if I weren’t there to care for the child he would certainly starve to death.”

He could only sigh deeply and wonder why his mother never gave so much thought to him. He had sacrificed so much for the family and in the end received so little motherly love in return. As he continued to quietly listen to his mother, his eyes welled up with tears.

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