Rhapsody of Death

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Chapter 34

Qian’s anxiety caused him to sleep in fits and starts all night but he was always able to doze off again until near dawn when a gnawing hunger in his stomach prevented any further rest. He got up to see if his brothers wanted to go out with him to get breakfast but he was unable to rouse them so he left alone.

He was passing a news stand on the way to the breakfast shop when a headline in the morning paper caught his eye.

Breaking News!

Bribery scandal uncovered in the customs bureau.

Senior government officials outraged!

The Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation has gathered evidence related to an incident of bribery in the Customs bureau and has identified two public servants that will be charged and prosecuted. The director of the customs bureau office, Mr. Zhao and a customs clerk Yin Xue-Heng, have been implicated.

The Secretary of Civil Services has expressed surprise and regret that such serious criminal activity could occur under his administration and has vowed to make a “clean sweep” of the situation. Further in-depth investigations of relevant business units will be conducted immediately to ensure that all occurrences of corruption are rooted out and swift punishment exacted on the perpetrators.

Yin Xue-Heng was arrested immediately and is being held at the Police station pending arraignment. The district attorney’s office has stated that the investigation has been on-going for some time and the evidence is conclusive with corroboration from a secret witness; precluding any possibility of a successful “not guilty” defense.

Xue-Heng has been employed at the Taoyuan customs service branch for over 20 years and lives a modest life with his wife and three sons. His colleagues expressed extreme astonishment at the alleged charges during an interview by reporters. One female staff member shrieked, “It must be a mistake, everyone knows he is a man of the highest integrity. I can’t believe he would commit such crimes!”

Nevertheless, the federal justice department has vowed to immediately prosecute and sentence him to the fullest extent of the law. If convicted, in addition to a long prison sentence, Xue-Heng will lose his government pension and will be barred from future government employment.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone would risk this kind of consequence just to get a few extra dollars. Yet, it seems that some individuals trust that their luck will hold up and they will not be caught even though past events suggest otherwise.

After reading the entire article, Qian realized how serious the charges were and that his father’s chances for acquittal were minimal and the family would have to figure out the best way to defend him. He rushed home as quickly as possible to alert the others, totally forgetting his original goal of getting breakfast.

Panting heavily, he burst through the door and immediately tried to wake his sleeping brothers. “Wake up, hurry! The newspaper has reported on father’s case and we need to discuss what to do!” But the sleepless night, engendered by the extreme anxiety over their father’s arrest, left them bleary eyed and incoherent.

Qian read the headline and started to read the article but Mo-Fan muttered some gibberish and fell back to sleep. “Damn it! Still sleeping? Wake your sorry asses up and listen. The situation with father is very serious. We have to come up with a solution to the problem to prevent father from going to prison. Is mother still sleeping?”

He went to his parent’s bedroom door and tapped softly. “Mother? Mother, are you awake?” Hearing no response, he opened the door a little and peaked in. He was surprised to see the bed neatly made.

He was puzzled as to where his mother could have gone at 8:30 in the morning. He rousted his brothers from their stupor and queried them to see if they knew where she was. All three brothers frantically searched the rest of the house until they discovered the money and the note that Xiao-Mei had left on the dining table.

“I didn’t see the note when I went out earlier to buy breakfast. After reading the article, I totally forgot about it and rushed home. Mo-Fan, why don’t you take the money and buy milk biscuits for us three? We can eat while we wait to hear from Mother.”

Now alone with his older brother, Qian began to analyze their situation. He knew that without their father’s income someone would have to seek employment, not only to support the household but also to cover the expense of defending Xue-Heng against the charges of bribery.

Mo-Xiu had just completed his mandatory two years in military service and had tried to find a job with no success. Employers preferred vo-tech students over university graduates because they possessed skills that applied directly to the positions they were interviewing for and because they would accept a much lower wage. Mo-Xiu had a degree in Political Science but had no prominent family background or connections in the government to provide an entry into politics.

Mo-Fan, the youngest, had no marketable skills that could provide the kind of income that the family would require. Their mother had been unemployed for so long that she most likely could not find a job either. In addition to all the household costs, their certainly would not be enough money to continue paying his tuition. So with sadness in his heart that he could scarcely conceal, he concluded that he would have to shoulder the responsibility of supporting the family. “I will have to quit college so I can earn money for the survival of the family.”

“How can you speak such a thing? You know how father insisted that we all get a college education. How can you quit when you have only one year left to get your degree?”

Mo-Xiu had always hated studying. His father had spent a lot of money for tutoring so that he could get good enough grades to get admitted to the university. Even though Xue-Heng was a public servant, he still had to pass an exam to qualify for his current position and held that up as evidence to his children to support his insistence that education was the only way out of a meager lifestyle. Even so, Mo-Xiu complained continually to his mother about his father being a merciless task master. His inability to find a job was more support for the widely accepted belief that knowledge without a skill is useless when applying for a job. Although he disliked this philosophy, he still understood why his father felt that way.

“Because of the charges against him and his incarceration, father can’t care for himself let alone the family. Consider how he must feel. You can’t find a job and neither Mo-Fan nor mother have any prospects for employment. I see no other alternative for the survival of our family than to drop out of college.”

“We don’t really know how bad the family finances are. Remember in the past men came to the house quite often to offer father money. There is a possibility that he may have accepted some of it.”

“Don’t even think it! If mother were to hear you speak that way you would be profusely cursed! Remember how mother reacted yesterday when Mo-Fan wondered if father was guilty? Besides, I believe that he is innocent. Father is too honest and moral to accept any bribe. As long as we get a good lawyer, justice will prevail and father will be exonerated of all accusations.”

“I wonder how much a good lawyer charges?” Mo-Xiu muttered under his breath as if he really dreaded hearing the answer to his question.

Upon returning with breakfast, Mo-Fan overheard part of the discussion his brothers were having. “I can quit school and go to work to earn some money for the family”, he volunteered.

On hearing this, Mo-Xiu became angry and gave Mo-fan a ferocious stare. “Don’t think you can use father’s unfortunate circumstance as an excuse to get out of studying!”

Mo-Qian tried to interrupt in order to quell Mo-Xiu’s anger toward the youngest brother but was cut short by Mo-Xiu. “Mother and I will find a way to get the money for our family including tuition for you both to complete you college education.”

Although his proclamation of financial support was given with seemingly unrestrained enthusiasm, in fact, his chest was heavy considering the ramifications of his offer. He imagined the feeling similar to being in a small boat on the ocean with a threatening gale on the horizon; facing the stinging rain driven by ever increasing winds, waiting with baited breath for the towering wave that would capsize and drown him.

Usually, when a person makes a commitment of self sacrifice, they are already inwardly prepared to surrender their own welfare for others. Mo-Xiu knew that he was not prepared to make such a sacrifice and hated the feeling of having been forced to make the promise out of guilt. He had no desire to assume the role of the righteous, generous hero.

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