For Xiao-Mei, the night had been a series of fitful sleepless episodes fueled by the anxiety over her husband’s arrest. Early in the morning she had decided that Zheng Ying-Quan, Xue-Heng’s office colleague, was the most logical choice as a person she could go to for help and now she was impatiently waiting on pins and needles for the morning to come. The old adage ‘The night is darkest just before the dawn’ running through her head, instilled a looming sense of foreboding that she could not shake. And yet she tried to force herself to remain positive. Even if he fails to help me, she thought, trying is better than doing nothing.
The faint glow of approaching dawn in the bedroom window was much needed relief. She glanced at the clock and decided that it was reasonable to assume that at 7:00 a.m. most people would be awake. She hurriedly changed out of her nightgown and put on some casual clothing then went to the bathroom to wash the crusted tears from her face and freshen up a bit. Without bothering to put on makeup, she left a note for her sons to let them know where she had gone and some money for breakfast.
Even though it was a Sunday holiday and the sun shone brightly, the haze surrounding her heart made this the most dismal Sunday of her life. She arrived at the brown stone four story building that she recalled was the place where the Zhengs lived and compared the number on the building entrance sign with the street name and number she had scribbled on a piece of paper. Satisfied that she was at the correct address, she inhaled deeply and pressed the intercom button.
A high pitched, almost child-like voice responded. “Yes, what do you want?” Xiao-Mei was taken aback by the harsh tone but then thought how rude it must be to disturb someone early on Sunday morning with an unannounced visit. Only a salesperson or a religious missionary would be that intrusive.
“Is Ying-Quan at home?”
“Who is looking for my husband? What has happened?”
“Is this Yu-Zhi? Hello, my name is Deng Xiao-Mei, Yin Xue-Heng’s wife. Do you remember us? We attended your wedding supper. My husband and your husband are colleagues at the Customs Bureau.”
In the background she could barely hear a man’s voice. “Who in hell is calling our intercom early Sunday morning?” Then the sounds became muffled probably because a hand had been placed over the microphone she thought. After that, she could only hear garbled speech that sounded like an argument. She imagined that Yu-Zhi was giving her husband orders to shut up and let her handle the conversation.
“What can we do for you?” Yu-Zhi’s demeanor had softened once Xiao-Mei had established a connection between them even though she did not recall the name.
“I apologize for my rude behavior. I should have called ahead to request a meeting but my family is in desperate need of help and I would like to ask your husband’s advice on what to do. Is he home now?”
“Hey…you have a visitor!”
Xiao-Mei heard the intercom disconnect and then she heard the security lock on the slightly rusted outer door click open. She climbed the stairs to the Zheng residence and knocked softly on the door. Ying-Quan greeted her without opening the door and asked her to wait a few minutes. She guessed that he was not yet completely dressed and wanted to tidy up the house a bit before receiving a guest.
Shortly thereafter, the door opened and Ying-Quan greeted her enthusiastically. “Come in, come in!”
Yu-Zhi reluctantly invited her to sit at a small table where she had placed a small tea pot and two cups. Xiao-Mei removed her shoes and took a seat on the sofa by the table. Yu-Zhi quickly poured her a cup of tea which obviously had not steeped properly, resulting in hot water with a light green tint. The taste was bland and nearly offensive to a seasoned tea drinker, but she took a sip anyway and politely feigned appreciation.
“Sister, it’s rare to get a visit from you. What can I do for you?”
Xiao-Mei was surprised to see the joyful smile on his face and wondered if he was mocking her. He knew of Xue-Heng’s arrest and most certainly had figured out what her visit was about. Her heart was saddened at the thought. And then she recalled the incident when Ying-Quan had borrowed his seal to approve a shipment for import that Xue-Heng had denied, pending further investigation. Deep in her subconscious she had a suspicion that he may have been the cause of the Yin family predicament but in time of need, when options are limited, a person sees only what they want to see.
The few seconds of tangled thoughts racing through her mind raised sentiments within her that she couldn’t really understand. Should she trust this man? Will the long working relationship with her husband be valued enough to gain his support? She concluded that she must have faith in his intentions until he betrayed her trust if there was any hope of rescue from him. She had rushed over in the early morning on a Sunday holiday without even calling ahead. She must now follow through with her intended endeavor or the effort so far would have been wasted.
The release of speaking her problem out loud triggered emotions that she could scarcely control. She was sobbing and tears were welling up in her eyes. Her throat was so congested that she could barely get her words out. “I’m so sorry that I came over so early and disturbed you without even calling ahead. You may have heard that my husband was accused of receiving bribes and has been arrested. Our whole family is suffering extreme stress and depression and I am at my wits end to know how to solve the problem.”
Ying-Quan handed her a box of tissues and put his hand on her shoulder to console her. “This is a great bit of trouble for you and will be difficult to deal with. But one positive thing is that it happened after Zhao’s arrest. The government is anxious to set an example so Zhao will be severely punished. Of course the media will beat the issue to death hoping to raise their ratings. But I think after the initial bluster and posturing, the newness will wear off and the public will lose interest. Even if Xue-Heng is convicted, the punishment will likely be minimal.”
She could not believe what he was saying. She angrily pulled his hand from her shoulder shouted at him, “We do nothing? Just let him go to jail?” She was hoping within that a close friend and colleague was not abandoning her husband in his time of dire need.
“Of course not! But this only happened yesterday. It breaks my heart to see you so distressed and haggard. You need to take a deep breath, attend to your health and carefully plan what to do. You not only have to defend your husband but you also have three children that depend on you. What if your health failed? There would be no one to help your husband or your family.
Normally, she would have taken offense at his expression of fondness. Instead the mention of her sons aroused her motherly instinct and momentarily shifted her focus. The compulsion to care for and protect her sons gave her the determination to forge ahead with her mission. Now is not the time to be fragile. I have to ask for help from Ying-Quan directly.
“What can you do to help me?”
“I have an influential friend that knows an excellent lawyer but he will not be cheap. It costs a lot of money to litigate serious complicated cases; especially when the government bureau has filed the charges against you.”
“I expected that.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of his wife glaring fiercely at him. His daughter had been awakened by the adult conversation and came out of curiosity to see what it was about. His wife had stopped her and wrapped her arms around her from behind as if to remind him that they were his most important responsibility; that she was quickly running out of patience to tolerate this intrusion.
He coughed nervously and cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to be blunt, sister, but the probability of winning this case is very low. You need to prepare for the worst outcome. If convicted, the sentencing may be severe.”
“I believe he is innocent and has been framed to cover up wrongdoing. why do you act as if he is guilty, after knowing him and working with him all these years,?”
Without answering, he went over to the desk, picked up an old phone book and started paging through it. He turned the yellowed wrinkled pages and slowly ran his index finger down the columns of names, searching for his friend’s number. Finally he stopped and dialed the phone.