“After that tragic confrontation, Mo-Xiu disappeared and the family heard nothing from him for 7 years at which time he announced that he was getting married.” Qian’s voice was strangely apathetic and totally lacking emotion as if his brother’s absence from the family was inconsequential. He might as well have been talking about a potted plant that died and was thrown out in the trash.
Qu-Kai was astounded. “You mean he just walked out on the family and didn’t help your father fight his lawsuit? So unfilial! And how did your father’s trial turn out?”
“After mother realized that Mo-Xiu had disappeared, she went out searching for him in all the places known to her where he would likely have gone. After failing to find him, she went to the police to file a missing persons report but because he was an adult that had left of his own accord and had not disappeared under mysterious circumstances, they refused to open a case.
Having exhausted all possibilities of finding him, she returned home exhausted and deeply depressed. She shut herself in the bedroom and started drinking heavily. Mo-Fan tried to comfort her but she was quite drunk and ignored him. Mother never really talked about what transpired after that.”
* * *
Xiao-Mei sat with her bottle vacantly staring at the cash on the floor alternately laughing and crying. She could hear Mo-Fan outside her bedroom door begging her with great concern to come out and stop drinking. But, she was half drunk and in no mood to talk so she ignored him.
She didn’t remember passing out but when she awoke she not only hadn’t numbed the pain of her heartache but had added a terrible hangover on top of it. “When will I ever get a break?” she mumbled out loud.
She could not take the money after the tragic confrontation with her son; at least not the money Ying-Quan had used to try to coerce her into trading sex for the cash. But, she reasoned she had paid a tragic price already for it and deserved it. The only way to resolve this dilemma was to find out the real source of the money.
She decided to take the money to Ying-Quan’s office and find out for sure where the money came from. She gathered up the bills that were strewn all over the bedroom floor, put them back into the paper bag and caught a bus to the airport customs bureau.
The reception area was extremely crowded with people waiting in queue for an interview number. She went to the end of the shortest line hoping that it would go fast. The drone of conversation and the sweltering heat put her into a trance-like state of contemplation mulling over the events of the past few days.
She was snapped back into reality abruptly by a familiar shrill voice. “Mrs. Yin, how are you doing? I have been following the news about your husband. Are you OK?”
“Thank you for your concern and for caring enough to contribute money to my husband’s defense fund. Our family is very grateful.” Although her words were gracious enough, her slightly bitter smile revealed how distasteful it was to ask for money like a beggar.
“What money are you talking about? I wasn’t aware that we were organizing a fundraiser for Xue-Heng. I hope they didn’t forget to mention it to me. Is it too late to contribute?”
Xiao-Mei held up the paper bag and shook it. “You don’t know about this $200,000?” a sinking feeling began to overtake her. The reactions of the office colleagues were beginning to confirm her worst fears.
“What $200,000?” She raised her brow in bewilderment.
Recalling Ying-Quan’s words, ‘What does it matter? Don’t worry about it, just accept it’ confirmed what had earlier been only a suspicion. “Never mind. I need to speak with Ying-Quan.”
“He is in a conference right now. Shall I get him?” She nodded her head toward the Deputy Director’s office.
“No need to interrupt them. I can wait.”
“Then, take seat in the waiting area.” She gestured with her hand in the direction of the Deputy Director’s office.
Xiao-Mei nodded goodbye and went to take a seat. She could hear the relaxed chatter of several men and wondered what exactly she would say to Ying-Quan when she finally had the opportunity to confront him. Through the frosted glass in the office door she could see the vague images of two men moving about and gesturing while the were talking and what appeared to be a third man seated between the desk and filing cabinet which she assumed to be the Deputy Director.
She suddenly recalled her husband telling her about his stamp being used to pass a shipment through customs for the Deputy Director’s private company. She wondered what kind of illegal scheming was now being conducted behind the closed door. She crept closer to eavesdrop out of curiosity.
“Fortunately, all the interest in this corruption scandal has died down now that they believe they have the guilty parties in custody. Thank God Zhao didn’t rat us out. He deserves what he got for being so careless. The worst part of it was all the attention in the news while the government was making a big deal about cleaning up corruption just to make sure they got re-elected for another term. But, that will soon pass now that Xue-Heng taking the rap for it. Poor unlucky bastard!”
When Xiao-Mei heard this, her whole body tensed up in a sudden convulsion, crushing the bag of money she had been holding. Her heart nearly stopped beating for a second. Fortunately, no one in the office had noticed.
“Better Xue-Heng than you chief!”
This time, Xiao-Mei recognized the voice of Ying-Quan and could not believe he was part of the corrupt dealings in the customs bureau. Even though her impulse was to burst into the office and confront them all, she forced herself to calm down to learn more about how her husband was betrayed to cover the corrupt dealings of the Deputy Director.
“Good thing Zhao didn’t know the whole picture or he might have started giving up names and our whole operation would have collapsed like a row of dominoes. And, accusing Xue-Heng took the pressure off the authorities to find the guilty parties.”
“No shit! I guess you have to give him credit for his integrity and rigid principles but in the end, he wouldn’t be in this predicament if he had been flexible enough to go with the flow. From my perspective, he was a little retarded in his thinking.”
This last comment drew an outburst of laughter from the office which shocked Xiao-Mei even further. Now she just wanted to furtively sneak away like a thief to his cave. She turned and left hastily but her feet were trembling so badly that she nearly fell. By some miracle, she made it out to the street.
She stopped for a moment and stared at the bag of cash in her hand. Her thoughts were a turbulent mixture of conflicting emotions. Her husband desperately needed the cash to secure his freedom. But how could she accept this blood money from the man who pretended to be a best friend and then ruthlessly betrayed him to protect an illegal operation.
She could not think of a more loathsome person than Ying-Quan; pretending to be a benefactor to the family and then stabbing his best friend in the back. What’s worse, he almost convinced her to satisfy his lust in exchange for the money so essential for her husband’s freedom. This totally evil man had destroyed her family while pretending to be their savior. She was filled with a hatred she had never felt before, that was beyond anything she could imagine being capable of.