Since Ying-Quan’s phone call to his influential friend and the subsequent meeting with the lawyer, her only communication with the law office had been through him acting as go-between, and this had caused her some concern. But now on the bus, summoned to a face-to-face meeting with the lawyer, she was filled with optimism, anticipating a favorable update about the progress of her husband’s defense.
The rocking motion of the bus and the warm sun shining on her cheek through the window induced a dreamy state of reflection about the first meeting with An Zhong-Ping. He was described as being highly regarded by his peers in the legal community and due to the prominence of his family and his connections with important government officials. His services as legal counsel were sought after by large corporations and prominent social figures charged with serious crimes. But, she had not liked him from the start.
He had a long square shaped head, big ears, large bushy eyebrows and a heavy, almost gluttonous jowl. His face was not ugly but his austere countenance lacked even the slightest hint of empathy. He seemed better suited for hostile boardroom power struggles than for the defense of an innocent victim framed and wrongfully accused.
After insistent urging by a mutual friend of Ying-Quan’s, he had agreed to meet Xiao-Mei to review her case. When Ying-Quan introduced her to him, his manner was cold and impatient, refusing to acknowledge her with even a glance. And when Ying-Quan started to explain her situation, he gave him an irritated look and cut him off. “The newspaper articles about this case reported in detail that your husband was caught red-handed taking a bribe. The odds of an acquittal are extremely small. Why waste my time and your money trying to win the case? ”
The trial has not even been scheduled in court and this lawyer has already all but given up on the case and presumed that he will be convicted. She retorted with anger in her voice and tears in her eyes. “I know my husband’s character and I know he would never commit the crimes he is accused of! Someone has framed him and he can be acquitted if we can prove that.”
Even her emotional outpouring had no effect on Zhong-Ping. He arrogantly declared, “I wouldn’t touch this ‘hot potato’ but for the precatory recommendation from Mr. Wu.”
Ying-Quan immediately seized the opportunity to confirm the agreement with a presumptive but tentative declaration. “So, you are willing to take the case? Thank you so much!”
He hasn’t done a thing and already he expects our gratitude while establishing a plausible reason for failure to win the case for her husband. This kind of behavior was disgraceful even for a lawyer. She hoped his reputation would warrant the money she would be spending to secure his services.
After they left the office, she expressed her misgivings to Ying-Quan about hiring such a negative lawyer. “I think we should try to find a lawyer that has a more positive attitude that at least believes that Xue-Heng is innocent.”
“You won’t be able to find a better lawyer then this and I have already used a favor to get him to take the case.”
She finally realized that in her situation she had no alternative and was persuaded to employ the services of Zhong-Ping.
Ying-Quan suggested that he be the liaison between her and the lawyer since Zhong-Ping obviously disdained people that had little knowledge of the law. At least, he reasoned, they had a mutual friend which would ameliorate the reluctance to communicate any specifics about the case. However, he explained, they would have to meet outside of his home as his wife was very upset about her recent unannounced visit and made it very clear that she did not want Xiao-Mei in their house again.
In the ensuing weeks, his visits to the Yin residence became increasingly frequent but information about the progress in her husband’s case was not forthcoming and this vexed Xiao-Mei. On the other hand Ying-Quan had managed to find a job for her oldest son. And she had managed to stabilize her income after securing a position teaching kindergarten instead of substitute teaching. She could now seek evening employment to further fortify the family’s financial situation.
Recalling these events, while gazing absent-mindedly out the window of the bus, brought a smile to her lips. She had been summoned to meet with the lawyer to get an update on her husband’s case and was optimistically anticipating some positive development that would finally lead to a favorable resolution to her husband’s plight. Suddenly, her sight became focused on the food vendor booths along the street and she realized in a panic that she had missed her bus stop. She did not want to be late for her meeting after waiting for so long to get an update.
She got off at the next stop and determined that she was only two stops past her intended destination. Not too bad she thought I can still arrive with time to spare. When she arrived at the law office, the receptionist greeted her and motioned for her to enter the conference room. “They have already begun the meeting” she advised.
Ying-Quan glanced over at her when she entered and Zhong-Ping, for the first time since there initial meeting, looked directly at her, and nodded. The mood was subdued as he continued on with a summarization of the case status. “It is impossible to fight a lawsuit based on what your husband has told me and I haven’t heard any further news regarding the case that would offer any hope. Your husband is no help, repeatedly reciting the same story that he was framed and is innocent. Either he is a fool or he does not have a grasp of the serious nature of the charges brought against him.”
Ying-Quan queried Zhong-Ping hoping for some encouraging words for Xiao-Mei, “Is there no better strategy for his defense?”
“I already explained to you the only viable alternative course of action. Explain it to the Yin family and see if they agree to my proposal, then we will decide how to proceed.”
Xiao-Mei was confused because she had not been part of the dialogue, which she sensed was concluding. “When can I see my husband?”
Zhong-Ping responded to her impatiently with an agitated tone. “Your husband has been charged with the highest degree of corruption and is being held incommunicado. He is not allowed to convere or visit with anyone except me. If you have anything to say, I will relay it to him for you.”
“Tell him that I am taking care of the home and family and we all believe in his innocence. Ask him to take care of himself.”
Zhong-Ping gave her a perfunctory nod and left her and Ying-Quan alone in the conference room. They followed him shortly and as she was preparing to leave the office, the assistant approached her with an invoice. “Mrs. Yin, would you please pay the first month’s fee?”
Xiao-Mei looked at the amount and sighed deeply as she calculated that the amount was equal to three months living expenses for the family. She suddenly speculated that the sole purpose of inviting her to the meeting today was not to inform her about the case but simply to get money from her.
Ying-Quan noticed her pale expression and asked, “Xiao-Mei, do you have enough money with you to pay the bill?”
She was too distracted to give thought to the meaning behind the recent habit of him addressing her directly by her name without a formal title; implying an assumption of inappropriate intimacy.
As she extracted virtually every penny she had in her purse she remarked, “When I came today, I expected to pay for services but didn’t expect this great of an amount.”
Her remark incensed the assistant who thought to her self that she had dealt with many clients before but none as shabby as Mrs. Yin.
Sensing Xiao-Mei’s melancholy, Ying-Quan suggested that they dine at restaurant,
“I have just given all my money to the lawyer. I’m afraid that dining out is out of the question.”
“With the friendship between us, it does not matter who pays the bill, I will treat you.” He
didn’t wait for her response but instead, took her arm and pulled her along. “Besides,
there are many things to discuss about the case,”
She stopped suddenly, recalling that the lawyer had seemingly discussed the case in detail with Ying-Quan prior to her arrival at the office. “What did the lawyer say about Xue-Heng?”
“I will tell you later over our dinner but right now I am hungry. Let’s go eat.” He continued walking to his car where he attentively opened the door for her. He drove to a five-star hotel and responded to her surprised expression as he drove into the basement. “The parking here is very convenient.”
After a brief elevator ride, they arrived at an obviously exclusive Cantonese restaurant on the 11th floor. They were promptly seated and each given a menu by an enthusiastic waiter. “Will you both be having tea this evening?”
Ying-Quan looked at her expectantly waiting for her to reply. “We’ll have a pot of the Pu’er.”
“Excellent choice” he offered as he hurriedly left, navigating his way between food carts pushed by aggressive servers vying to be first in line at the new guest’s table; ensuring maximum earnings for the night.
The atmosphere was quite noisy as each server loudly hawked their delicacies, hoping to attract the most customers. Ying-Quan selected an assortment of dim sum delicacies along with dumplings and sea food from the first cart to arrive.
Although the portions seemed small, he had selected enough items to ensure that his stomach would be full at the end of the night. Xiao-Mei was astonished at the amount of food in front of her. “We can’t eat all of this. You need to stop taking more food. And besides, the cost will be exorbitant.”
“Don’t worry, I am paying and no price is too high to satisfy my stomach! I really like to eat Cantonese style food because you don’t have to wait for the kitchen to prepare it. It is already prepared and wheeled out to you on a cart.”
He continued eating until he had finished the last morsel of almond tofu and then, with an expression of deep satisfaction, placed his ankle on the knee of his other leg and casually wiggled his foot up and down. He began tapping his fingers impatiently, waiting for Xiao-Mei to finish eating. He picked up his tea cup with the other hand and took a long sip. “Before you arrived at the lawyer’s office, Zhong-Ping gave me a complete update on the progress of your husband’s case.”
She looked intently at him waiting for him to continue.
“Your lawyer read all the charges and reviewed the prosecutor’s evidence and there are witnesses that have identified specific times, places and amounts of bribery incidents involving your husband. Even though Xue-Heng vehemently denied all accusations Zhong-Ping did not believe him because he could not provide any solid evidence to dispute the charges.
What the lawyers wanted me to discuss with you is their recommendation that your husband plead guilty and show remorse in an effort to receive leniency in sentencing. He feels that the punishment would be a few years in prison with the possibility of early parole with good behavior.
However, Xue-Heng totally rejected the suggestion and refused to agree to a guilty plea, insisting that he was innocent and should be acquitted of all charges. So, there is no agreement between your husband and the lawyers on a defense strategy.”
“I have never been aware of him taking any unearned money. And especially, if he had received the large bribes that he is accused of taking, I would certainly be aware of that,”
“Do you think he could have given the money to another person to hold for him that you aren’t aware of?”
“Are you suggesting that he is involved with another woman?” Xiao-Mei raised her eyebrows in dismay.
“I am only trying to explore all the possibilities. I am only his colleague and do not know him that well. Has there been any unusual behavior or deviations from his normal routine lately?”
“We live a very simple life and all the time he was not working, we spent together at home with the family. I don’t think it is possible for him to have had and affair. How about you? Have you noticed anything unusual at work?”
“I am only his colleague and during the week, I am too busy to notice pay attention to him. I just hope we can find some clue to explain all this. It is so illogical!”
“Is there any alternative to pleading guilty?” Ying-Quan was silent and somber. “I heard the lawyer tell you to discuss another option with the family.”
“I don’t think you will agree to it.”
“What is it? As long as there is a reasonable chance to keep him out of prison, I will try to do it.”
“Even if you agree to it, I don’t think you are capable of supporting such plan of action.”
“You mean I can’t afford it financially?”
Ying-Quan nodded affirmatively. “The reason Zhong-Ping is so highly sought after is because he has a large network of influential contacts and can exert a great amount of influence on the judicial system. After all, judges are human with all the pressures and problems that all people face. With the proper amount incentives applied to the right person, a well educated, eloquent lawyer can more easily argue his case before a sympathetic judge.”
“Am I understanding correctly that you are suggesting that we bribe the judge?”
“Those are the unspoken rules of the game. If you are wealthy, you go free. If you have no money, you are sentenced to death.”
“How much will it cost?” she asked, furrowing her brow in pain from dread.
“There are many levels of jurisdiction to progress through. A rough estimate is about a million NTD.”
“My God!” she gasped, “That is enough to buy a house!”
“I know this is beyond your means and if you can’t imagine a way to find these resources, we don’t have to consider this path.”
This time her face remained expressionless but she felt relentless waves of stomach cramps surging through her abdomen. As formidable as this proposal seemed, she was willing to forge ahead with any course of action that had a chance to free her husband, even at the risk of going bankrupt.