Shi Lin had not yet fully comprehended the reality of the events that transpired that afternoon and her mind was drowning in confusion and uncertainty. The one thing she was certain about is that she did not want to leave her mother alone and wanted to make sure she wasn’t in any danger.
For that reason, she chose to stay with her close friend Qu-Fang who lived only a few houses away instead of going directly to Taipei to stay with Mei-Dai. This would give her the opportunity to surreptitiously survey the house looking for any clues as to what was happening to her mother; although, the possibility of being discovered by her father filled her with trepidation. There was no way she ever wanted to set eyes on him again, even in a coffin.
Two days had passed and there was still no activity in the house. It projected the eerie feeling of a deserted ruin. She imagined that only ghosts lived there and were lurking in the night waiting to ensnare here permanently in the clutches of her brutal father. She knew that she would never be able to return to the house that had been her home since the days of her earliest memories.
In absence of any tangible information she began conjuring up many possible scenarios for her mother and father. Was he dead and mother arrested by the police? Could she convince them that it was self defense or would she be sentenced to prison? Or maybe he just had a severe concussion or possibly a brain hemorrhage and was lying in a coma. What would happen when he recovered and got released? Then he could resume beating Mother and possibly kill her. The best possible outcome, if he were still alive, would be a total loss of his memory. But in her heart, she wished her father dead so that she and her mother would be totally free from him.
After a couple of days of suffering the torture of uncertainty she decided that it was time to go to Taipei. Maybe her mother left a message for her with Mei-Dai. She had discarded the sim card from her cell phone and bought a prepaid card per her mother’s instructions so her mother would have no way to contact her.
She thanked Qu-Fang for letting her stay there and told her about her plan to relocate to Taipei. She gave Qu-Fang her new cell number and made her promise to keep in touch because she was the only person left that she was close to. Qu-Fang gave her solemn promise to do so and with tears in her eyes hugged Shi Lin affectionately and bid her goodbye with a lingering wave of her arm.
She arrived in Taipei by train later that day and called Mei-Dai to get her house address. She was not familiar with the local public transportation routes and schedules yet so she hailed a taxi to take her there. After she arrived, they chatted for a little while to get acquainted until it was time for Mei-Dai to go to work. When Shi Lin asked her where she worked, she replied, “I’m surprised your mother never told you that I worked as a hostess in a hotel men’s club. She worked there with me for several years until she left to get married.”
This came as a total shock to her as she never connected her mother with an occupation that was held with such low regard in society; except of course with the men that enjoyed their services. She wondered how many more things there were about her mother that she didn’t know.
Although she lived with Mei-Dai she had very little contact with her because she worked at night and slept during the day; the exact opposite to Shi Lin’s habit. The disparity between their waking hours and the frequent presence of strange men in the house was a source of anxiety for both of them. She knew that this was not working out very well for either of them.
A week later she received a call from Qu-Fang telling her that her parents had returned to the house but didn’t have any details about what had happened. Once again, she speculated about her mother’s situation and concluded that no matter what had happened, the only solution was to earn enough money to support her mother and rescue her from imprisonment by the insufferable pig that had the insolence to call himself “Father”.
She disregarded her mother’s advice to get a college degree because she felt that it would take to long to be in a position to reunite with her mother. Instead, she tried applying for several jobs that she found in the want ads but was not hired for any of them due to her lack of experience, no college degree and most of all, the business owners’ fear that because she was a minor the risk was too great. If she was runaway there was a high probability of serious legal ramifications.
In addition to her frustration, her funds were depleting at an alarming rate. She had to find some kind of employment soon to avoid destitution. She discussed her concerns with Mei-Dai and asked her if she could help her get some kind of a job at the club.
“You are a minor so you couldn’t entertain the guests but perhaps I can convince them to let you work as a waitress along with doing janitorial cleaning tasks. The management has the highest regard for your mother’s talents in socializing and might hire you out of appreciation for her past service. But, you would have to keep a very low profile. If you draw attention to yourself, the club may get reported for hiring a minor.”
She knew very well how to remain inconspicuous after avoiding abusive contact with her father for so many years. She was confident that she could work at the club without getting them or herself into trouble.
She occasionally asked Mei-Dai to contact her mother to get some news about her situation but never got a clue, probably because Bing-Xiang was near by always listening and she didn’t want to give him any hint about where her daughter was living. She never even asked what Shi Lin was doing or how she was surviving; probably for the same reason.
After a year of working in the club the management was very pleased with her and elevated her to the position of wine promoter which consisted of mingling with the customers and giving them wine samples to taste in hopes they would purchase a complete bottle. Now she was making more money and would be able to afford a place of her own sooner where she and her mother could live peacefully.
The reception manager tried to convince her to accept a position as a club hostess so she could make more money which wasn’t his real motive but Mei-Dai told him to back off.
“Shi Lin is only working here for short term employment to save money so she can pursue a college degree. She has no intention of making a career out working as a club lady like her mother.”
Even though that was a lie Shi Lin was happy to get relief from this persistent man that she sensed was really trying to seduce her. She knew she could never entertain a man like Mei-Dai because of what she experienced living with her father. She assumed that all men were like him and the thought of any intimate physical contact with a man deeply repulsed her. Everyday she witnessed with disgust the abuse that the club hostesses had to endure just to keep from alienating a paying customer.
She was anticipating the day when her mother would get a divorce and come to live with her in Taipei. But, the day seemed so far away, given her meager earnings and the fact that knowledge of her mother’s situation was beyond her grasp. The only way to know for sure what she was doing was to return to the house and talk to her mother but she had already decide that would never be an option for her.
So, for the time being she had to be content with shuttling various wine samples on a cart among the guests; always with a sweet ingratiating smile on her lips. She often wondered if smiling that way all night would give her wrinkles at the corners of her mouth and cause her to age prematurely.
On one particular night she brought her cart to a table of guests where a young man, obviously drunk, was sitting. He looked up at her with squinted eyes nearly closed and motioned her to come over by him. His eyes were fixated on her, moving up and down the shape of her body as if he thought he could undress her with a look. She ignored him but did give him a sample of wine in a small cup. He motioned for another cup and as she was about to set it down on the table, she felt his hand grab her hips. She panicked. She did not want to knock his hand away for fear he would be offended and demand that she be fired. Instead she poured the wine sample down the front of his shirt.
He immediately stood up and yelled insults at her and demanded that the manager come over and punish her for being so rude to him and for staining his shirt with wine. The manager came over and questioned Shi Lin to determine who was at fault.
“I was just introducing our special promotion wines to him and suddenly I felt his hand groping my ass. I was so shocked that when I jumped the wine cup tipped out of my hand and spilled onto him.”
“That’s not the way it happened. I accidentally brushed my arm against her and she deliberately dumped that cup of wine on me. She should be fired!”
“You know that the wine promotion ladies are not allowed to chat with the guests or have physical contact with them. You know this rule very well and should be more careful with your hands.”
Mei-Dai came over to ameliorate the situation so Shi Lin wouldn’t be in danger of losing her job.
“I guess both of you were not careful and the club doesn’t want to make trouble for anyone. How about I go to the kitchen and have them prepare a complimentary plate of fruit. Will that satisfy you?”
What should I do with the fruit, run out the wine stains from my Armani shirt?
By now, the attention of nearly everyone in the club was focused on him and his companions at the table were feeling embarrassed. They urged him to forget about it and settle down because everybody was watching him. This did nothing to calm him and in fact incited him into a more intense anger.
“Oh, so you are blaming me for your embarrassment? I am an important paying customer. I come here to enjoy myself and don’t expect to be harassed and humiliated by the hired help. I want some compens …”
Before he could finish his tirade, Li Da-Zhong, a distinguished looking man at the table cut him off in mid sentence and stood up to address the manager.
“I apologize for Lao-Wang’s disruptive behavior. He has had too much to drink.”
Then he offered his drunken friend a suggestion that might help defuse the situation.
“What if she sang a song just for you as compensation for staining your shirt? Would that satisfy you? She is quite lovely and her voice sounds like she could sing a pleasant tune.”
Lao-Wang could not refuse Li Da-Zhong’s suggestion which was actually a thinly disguised directive. He was a very influential man and it would not be wise to oppose him so he nodded in agreement.
Turning to the manager Da-Zhong queried, “Would you permit her to sing for us?”
The manager nodded in the affirmative and motioned for Shi Lin to come over and she reluctantly complied. She began timidly to sing a song her mother had taught her but quickly broke into full voice as fond memories of her childhood came back to her. When she was finished, everyone in the club was silent and in awe over her beautiful voice. Da-Zhong came over to her and enthusiastically shook her hand, handing her his business card.
“I’m Li Da-Zhong, a national music producer and I think you have potential to be a star. Give me a call. What is your name?”
Shi Lin did not want to use her real name for fear that her father would somehow track her down. So she quickly invented a new name to give him.
“I’m Tan Lin. Thank you for the compliments. I will think about it.”
A few weeks later Mei-Dai entered the lounge frantically searching for someone and when she saw Shi Lin she came over to her and pulled her aside urgently.
“Don’t leave through the front door. There is a stranger outside asking about you. Somehow he actually found you here. But, don’t worry, I told the manager about what happened to you and your mother and he won’t give up any information about you to anyone.”
Shi Lin couldn’t imagine that he would contact his friends in Taipei to look for her. In fact, she never knew he had any friends there. And what made him think she was in Taipei in the first place. She still didn’t know anything about what happened to her mother. What was she going to do and how badly was she treated by her husband. A lingering fear of her father’s brutality still haunted her.
She now focused her attention on finding a way to make more money so that by the time she was an adult she would be able to finally emancipate herself and her mother from the tyranny of her father. The one thing that motivated her most to find a different job was the fear that her father would come and take her away since he already suspected that she worked at the club. She dug through her purse and found the business card that Li Da-Zhong had given her and decided to contact him and try her luck at singing.
She was contemplating how ironical it was that if her father hadn’t abused her and ultimately caused her to flee to Taipei she would never have met Da-Zhong. Hopefully, the bane of her youth would turnd out to be a blessing in disguise.
She was surprised and happy when her mother called her but saddened when she found out she was in the hospital. She wanted her to know that Bing-Xiang had beaten her severely and she was recovering from her injuries. She had always known that this would happen sooner or later and now, in a way, it was a relief to know that she would no longer have to dread that day. And the best part of it was that now her mother could divorce him under the threat of being charged with criminal domestic abuse. Now she was free to reunite with her mother and it coincided nicely with the success of her first album. She was finally in a position to realize her dream of buying a house where she could live with her mother.
If only life were that simple. Bing-Xiang eventually figured out that the singing star Tan Lin was actually his daughter using an assumed name and now he was scheming to tap into her good fortune and eagerly anticipated retiring in luxury. Sixteen years, not a bad investment, he thought, to get guaranteed support for the rest of his life.
He contacted her and asked her to meet with him but she refused because she knew him well enough to know that he had an ulterior motive and nothing good could result from it. Will I never get rid of him? Will he cast a dark cloud over me for his entire life? I know he thinks my mother and I owe him for supporting us for all those years. I know my mother thinks she owes him a debt but I don’t care what she promised him. I don’t have to pay that debt and in any case I don’t owe him support for the rest of his life in return for the sixteen years he gave us; especially since we lived in fear for most of those years. He never acted like a father to me and I don’t feel obligated to regard him as one.
That’s when he decided to go to the press and try to force her to meet with him. After the article accusing her of being a stripper was published, he contacted her and asked her to acknowledge him as her father and consider a conciliatory reunion. He offered to retract what he said to the reporter but as far as she was concerned, the damage done was irreparable. She was so close to being rid of him forever that there was no way she would permit him to claw his way back into her life.
Of course, now that the public knew that she had worked at a men’s club they weren’t interested in finding out the truth. They were only interested in assuaging their voracious appetite for scandal. But now, she was a public figure and owed her fans the effort to refute her father’s accusations. She knew that some would still not believe her but nevertheless, she would make an effort to convincingly counter his claims and restore her reputation with her fans.
She looked at her watch in astonishment. She had lost track of the time while absorbed in introspection about the events of her past life and was perilously close to being late for resuming the recording session. She quickly washed her hands, put on her coat and rushed out the door to return to the recording studio. Unbeknownst to her she was not alone. Following close behind her were the spirits of Qian and Qu-Kai.
Once Qian had found out he was the father of Kaori’s daughter, he was obsessed with finding her and somehow connecting with her. They had drifted around the city looking for her but without much success. Then Qian realized that if Qu-Fang knew Kaori then she must have known her daughter and they possibly were very good friends. He eavesdropped on the conversation between Qu-Fang and her boss about the interview with Bing-Xiang but it took him a while to figure out the connection between him and Tan Lin. Then it struck him. Tan Lin was actually Shi Lin, listed as Shi Bing-Xiang’s daughter on the family registry report. Once he located Tan Lin, it was obvious that she was his daughter. The portraits he had seen in Kaori’s house were paintings of her. Now he had to find a way for her to recognize him as her true father.
Back at the studio, she somehow mustered the energy to coax her fatigued body to lay down another track; resolute in her mind this would be the last time she would sing it. As she was singing, a faint green mist, visible only to Qian, began to swirl around her, pulsating in unison with her soaring melodious voice. Qian knew that he had guessed right and was about to capture his last remaining soul; that of desire.
The session turned out perfectly and received high praise from the producer. He replayed it several times and Tan Lin even amazed herself with the beauty of it. And it seemed so effortless that it was as if God had inspired her to create such a thing of beauty. She knew that she could never sing that song again with the same perfection.
Qian turned to Qu-Kai with tears of pride glistening in his eyes.
“That’s my daughter! I now have realized my greatest desire and captured my last soul!”