|时间：2017-03-02 23:56:33｜人气：98 |
|“That''s unbelievable,” Mr. Li cried. “Those vile devilish people!” |
Lois came to see him one morning before he went to the restaurant. “Do you have a tape recorder?” she asked after the usual greeting ritual.
“David had one. It''s still in his bedroom. I''ll go get it.” He went upstairs.
Lois waited in the living room. Mrs. Li brought in a cup of tea and put it before her on the marble-topped table. It is one of the Chinese customs to give the guest a cup of tea, no matter if the guest drinks it or not. “Thank you,” Lois said. “How''s the business going in the restaurant?” Lois went on, just to break the awkward silence, seeing that Mrs. Li was a tacit woman. Imagine if the guest and the hostess sat there without speaking to each other, what would you feel for the situation? You will cudgel you brains for something, anything, to kindle the conversation just for conversation''s sake to eschew the awkwardness.
“Good,” Mrs. Li said concisely, a little fidgety, her hands now on the table, now dropped in her lap as she was sitting at the rosewood table. Her coal-black hair was in a perm, reaching to the nape of her neck. She had on dark blue slacks and a navy-blue coat over her white cotton blouse. She looked about her husband''s age and a tiny bit chubby. Her skin was not white, nor tanned, just in between, healthy and finely textured.
“No more robbery, I hope?” Lois made another attempt.
“No,” Mrs. Li replied laconically. She was really a person born and fit to deal with curious, inquisitive media. Not everyone had such talent to guard the mouth from slipping out some remorseful words. She did not need to guard her mouth since she rarely opened it unless absolutely necessary. “Loose lips sink ships” must be her motto.
Lois had to sip some tea so that she didn''t need to talk, stalling for time, but contrary to the time-stalling stratagem of someone pointing a gun at her as always described in many detective novels. In due course of time the hero or heroine will turn out to be in control of the situation--without fail.
Mr. Li came down with the tape recorder. Lois took a tape out of her purse and put it into the player. She let them listen just to the part about David. Then she explained a bit more about the badge David had. This was convincing enough to make both Mr. and Mrs. Li believe that it was the secret organization called Black Panther that had killed their son David, who had been a member of it. Mr. Li thanked Lois for clearing up the doubt in their minds before Lois bade them goodbye, and he added when Lois was on the doorstep, “You''ll get a 25% discount every time you come to dine in our restaurant.” A generous offer.
“Good. The seed will never bud,” sang out Sally jollily. “But 25% discount is not enough if we can lay our hands on the killer of his son.” She just came back from work in the computer company. She threw herself down on the sofa, exhausted, but not enough to stop chewing gum.
“Dear Tricia, if you have any sisterly concern left for me, will you do me a teeny-weeny bit of a favor and get me something to drink? I''m really fatigued from my work.”
“But you''re paid working there. Okay, I''ll fetch you a diet Coke from the fridge and you pay me five dollars,” Tricia bargained with her.
“You are too greedy. Mom bought that Coke. You can''t sell it to me for five dollars. Even if you bought it, the price is really ridiculously high,” Sally protested.
“I didn''t say I’d sell it to you. The five dollars is labor fee. You know labor fee is high in America.” So saying, she got Sally an icy can.
“Thank you very much. That five dollars is on credit,” Sally sniggered. “Will you issue me a platinum credit card from Tricia Bank so that I can use it often later?”
“Sorry. Your application is denied because of your bad credit history,” snickered Tricia.
“Okay, okay. I''ll apply for one from Lois Bank.” She coughed, some drops of Coke got into her lung pipe. After her coughing ceased, she said, “What will Mr. Li give us if we catch his son''s killer?”
“They will give you their restaurant, I believe,” sneered Tricia, “if you can bring their son back to life for them.”
“I''m not interested in running a restaurant,” said Sally seriously, as if someone was really offering her a restaurant and she had to reject. She blew a bubble between swigs.
Lois was reading today''s newspaper, sitting on the sofa.
“Look at the TV,” yelled Alida. “A guy''s holding a woman hostage before a store.”
The girls turned their heads towards the TV. It was a live news telecast. It looked like a plaza on a local highway. A man in his thirties stood before a store with his left arm round a woman''s neck and his right hand holding a knife pointed at her throat. Then two police cars could be seen on the scene, standing some distance away, the colored roof lights flashing. A policeman was shouting to the man and the man was shouting back, but the microphone was not near the scene; so they could not hear what the policeman and the man were shouting to each other. The hostage woman looked frightened, but she did not shriek, no, she could not, with the man''s arm pressed around her neck. Perhaps, her screeching stage was history. At this critical moment, the man suddenly loosened his grip on the woman and crumbled on the ground. The woman fled at once out of the picture. The policemen moved in to take the man in custody. The limbs of the man seemed immobile and the policemen had to hold him on his feet, but the next moment, he was struggling, intending to break free from the policemen. He did not succeed and was put into the back of the police car with cuffed hands behind him.
Half an hour later, their father came home. Alida told him about the live scene on TV. “That''s where I just came from.” Mr. Lin dropped a bombshell of surprise. The girls eyed him agape.
“There''s a supermarket in that plaza. I was in that area and when I headed home, I suddenly remembered that your mom had told me to buy some paper towels. So I pulled into the plaza. That''s when I saw the man holding the woman as his hostage. I moved closer and picked up two small pebbles. I slung one to the wall of the store and it bounced to hit the Stop-Motion Xue on his back. I learned it from the pool table. He collapsed like a Cabbage Patch doll, the one Alida slept with before she got the stuffed panda.”
“So, that''s it,” cried Sally ecstatically, giving her father a peck on the cheek. “I wondered how it could be when I saw him collapse on TV. I thought he suddenly developed a heart attack.”
“Then, when the policemen were holding him up, I slung another pebble, which rebounded in the small of his back and undid the previous effect, and he began to struggle,” their father continued. “But since I didn''t want to be involved as a witness or anything, I left the plaza immediately and forgot to buy paper towels. Your mom will be angry now.” Then he instructed Sally, “When your Mom comes from the kitchen, you go forward to kiss her mouth and seal her lips so that the angry words won''t come out.”
“I can do that,” Alida offered.
“I bought some already,” said Louise coming from the kitchen. “It was on sale with a coupon today.”
“Mom will be happy, Dad,” Sally observed, “that you didn''t buy any at a higher price.”
“That''s right,” said her Mom. “If I could, I''d thank that man for saving me some money.” Everyone burst out laughing.
“If your mom were a lawyer,” their father jested, “I think she would step forth to defend that man without charging him a penny since he did her such a favor.” The laughter evolved into a roar.
At a buzz from the door Mrs. Chang went to open it. When she saw Mr. Li standing on the porch, she was taken aback. The first thought that flitted across her mind was that he came to make trouble again. Her face became ashen pale.
“May I speak to Mr. Chang for just a few minutes?” he asked in anticipation, no rage in his voice, only politeness.
“He--I mean, you--will you come in, please?” she stuttered uneasily, clinging to the door as if Mr. Li would kidnap her away.
When he took his seat on the sofa, Mrs. Chang repaired to the den to fetch her husband. After a while Mr. Chang stepped into the living room.
“I came to say ''Sorry'' today.” Mr. Li got up from the sofa, holding out his hand, a friendly gesture. Mr. Chang shook hands with him, saying, “That''s okay.”
“Lois told me everything. I misunderstood you before,” Mr. Li apologized again. “I presume that someone wanted to cause a fight between us.”
“I knew it already,” Mr. Chang said smilingly, raising his right hand, dipping it into his short hair and scratching his scalp. They both sat down on the sofa.
“Do you know who that someone is?” Mr. Li asked hopefully, thrusting his head a little forward.
“No,” Mr. Chang said flatly. “If I knew who it was, I’d go fight him. He caused me such troubles.” He stopped scratching now, one hand resting on the arm of the sofa, the other on his lap.
“If you find out who it is, please let me know. I must fight him first. I''m going to get revenge for my son.” Mr. Li made the not unreasonable request, gritting his teeth.
“I will. You can fight him first. It''s your privilege,” Mr. Chang acknowledged his understanding.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Li gratefully.
Mrs. Chang came out from the kitchen with two cups of herbal tea on a tray. She put them on the coffee table before the sofa. Mr. Li thanked her and invited both Mr. and Mrs. Chang to his restaurant for dinner that evening, adding, “If you don''t come, I''ll think I''m not worthy of your friendship.” Then he presented them with a name card.
“I accept your invitation since we are friends now.” Mr. Chang smiled at him cordially.
Sam sat on the sofa across from the desk to look at Tricia, who sat on her swivel chair behind the desk. Lois did not come in today. Tricia was playing all the tapes she had recorded from that mysterious house in Newark for Sam. He was listening attentively.
“So? As all the roads lead to Rome,” said Sam after the last tape in their possession so far was played to the end, “all the three cases point to the Black Panther.”
“It looks so,” Tricia conceded. “But what if we can''t capture the Black Panther?”
“If none else can, you can, I''m sure,” Sam encouraged. “A lioness is stronger than a panther.”
“We haven''t a definite clue to trace to its lair yet,” Tricia said regretfully, pushing a loose wisp of her sunshine reflecting hair behind her ear and adjusting her necklace in front of her throat. She was wearing a violet-tinted silk blouse with long sleeves and lavender slacks. She looked charming.
“At least you have that house under surveillance now,” said Sam, fixing his eye on her. No one could tell whether he was paying full attention to their conversation or just admiring her charm and beauty. “If you don''t mind, I can send someone on a twenty-four hour stakeout there.”
“You can take over this task so that I can use my time elsewhere. But give me a copy of every tape you get.” Tricia smiled such a naturally sweet inveigling smile that only a saint could resist.
Sam guaranteed his promise. Then he peeped at his wristwatch. “How about a work lunch together? We can discuss the cases further.” Sure, he was certainly not a saint.
“Okay,” Tricia responded joyfully.
They went to an American restaurant at the corner of Fourth Avenue and were shown to a corner booth. It was drizzling outside. They got a little wet on the head and shoulders. While they were waiting for the orders to be served, they had a free chat. Tricia rested both her hands on the top of the table, palms down, to emphasize what she was saying. Sam put his hands on top of hers, as if to double her emphasis. Their hands touched. Their heartbeats accelerated, almost to exceed the speed limit. The electricity darted through their bodies, three hundred thousand kilometers a second. Their heads leaned forward. Their lips drew closer. A plate seemed to dive suddenly from heaven down between their noses and land on the table. The waiter brought them their appetizer. They had to pull back. They did not even cast a brief glance at the plate. Their eyes were locked on each other. The waiter retreated with a knowing grin. Tricia started to smile at Sam. Sam smiled back. Tricia picked up a forkful from the plate, but she did not put it into her own mouth. She fed it into Sam''s mouth and he did the same to her. They waited for the main course, but it never came, because the waiter held it back, giving the couple more time for the kiss he had interrupted guiltily. When the waiter served another table, he stole a glimpse at the corner booth, and seeing they were just talking, he brought them the next course. They fed each other again. Some gravy trickled down from the corner of her mouth. Tricia took up her napkin and was about to wipe the gravy with it, but Sam leaned over to lick the gravy off her chin with the tip of his tongue. “When I am around, my tongue can serve you for whatever you need.” Sam grinned, his mouth wide from corner to corner. Tricia was beautiful just like Lois was, but they had different types of beauty, one Oriental, one Occidental. Work lunch changed its quality. Not a word was said about work. Okay, exchange of a few words did happen in the first few minutes, but it mostly served as a sudden, quick turning point in their relationship.
Sam knew that Chinese girls, especially those born from an educated old-styled family, tended to be reserved. Generally they did not expose their emotions boldly, but once established, the relationship would be more stable. However, love could not be forced. It could only show and be accepted. It seemed a long time in Sam''s life without a girlfriend. The proverb was right. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
It was not a weekend evening. In Mr. Li''s restaurant only sixty percent of the tables had patrons. Mr. Li reserved a corner booth for them. It started raining in the evening. Mr. and Mrs. Chang pushed open the restaurant door and left their umbrella in a pail near the door to hold the rainwater dripping from the umbrellas. Mr. Li was waiting for them at the register counter. Seeing them come in, he stepped forth to welcome the old couple. Then he introduced them to Mrs. Li, who stood behind the register counter as a cashier. Mr. Chang wore khaki pants, a white shirt, a khaki jacket and leather loafers. Mrs. Chang had on slacks, a blouse and a jacket with sandals to complete her ensemble. Old Chinese ladies seldom wear skirts.
“This way, please.” Mr. Li led them to the reserved booth. Mr. and Mrs. Chang sat down at one side and Mr. Li took the other side, facing the door. He could see every movement in the restaurant. A waitress brought a teapot and three cups and handed the old couple each a menu. Mr. Chang gave back the menus.
“We eat everything except the stone and human flesh.” He gave a little joking laugh with the trite old Chinese saying. Mr. Li smiled and told the waitress to serve all the best and most expensive dishes on the menu. The waitress withdrew to the kitchen.
While the two men were chattering away, Mrs. Chang looked around. The restaurant was not a big one. Two rows of booths were placed along the two opposite walls and two rows of small square tables ran down in the middle. Some Chinese paintings set in redwood frames hung above the dark paneling on the cream-colored walls and between the paintings some rectangular red paper slips were pasted with golden Chinese characters on them, always with trite meanings such as “Business Flourishing”, “Plenty of Money Flow in”….
In one of the middle rows two tables down sat a middle-aged man, a frequent patron, who cast stealthy glances at their booth from time to time, Mr. Li noticed. Mr. Li had a habit of chatting with old patrons. He called it “Communication To Build Up Patron Relationship”. The man told Mr. Li that he was single and worked near the restaurant. He did not want to cook at home himself, so often dined out, but he refused to reveal where he worked. That was fine with Mr. Li as long as he paid for his meal. But Mr. Li remembered that just a few days ago when this old patron came in for lunch and he had a talk with him out of habit, that he had told him, “A relative of mine working in the computer company owned by a Mr. Hsu told me that rumors are prevalent that the owner had killed a young employee.”
“What''s his name?” Mr. Li asked out of curiosity.
“David Li. I read the name in the newspapers, too.” He looked away from Mr. Li.
Mr. Li gazed at him. He lowered his head and began eating. Mr. Li shook his head and walked away from the table. He did not mention it to anyone, only kept the doubt to himself.
The rain became heavier. Some of the patrons, who were not in a hurry, lingered over their meals as did the middle-aged man. The dinner in the corner booth was also not finished yet. By Mr. Li''s instruction, every dish served was in small quantity so that they could try more varieties. Mr. and Mrs. Chang certainly were not in a hurry. They only felt that time was heavy on their hands. They would prefer killing more of it than saving it. Their dinner lasted till closing time. They stood up and looked round. No more patrons were in the restaurant. They were guests. The rain had ceased. Mrs. Li came out from the kitchen and saw their guests of honor to the door together with Mr. Li. Before their departure, Mr. and Mrs. Chang thanked and thanked Mr. and Mrs. Li. Mr. Li said, “You are welcome to come here often.”
Next day Mrs. Chang called Lois and told her about Mr. Li''s apology and invitation. Lois was happy for both families. “Did he say anything about a 25% discount if you go to dine there later?” asked Lois.
“No. Besides, I don''t want him to go bankrupt. But what do you mean by 25% discount?” Mrs. Chang did not understand. Then Lois told Mrs. Chang her side of the story. They both giggled over the phone at Mr. Li''s expense.
Every day, Sam had the copies of the tapes that were recorded from that house sent to Tricia. Sometimes when he was not so busy, Sam would go to their office and give her the copied tapes himself. When Lois was in the office, Sam talked to both girls. One day, Sam came with two tapes and said, “Hi!” to Lois. Then he left the office with Tricia. Lois knew they went to lunch somewhere. She was happy for Tricia. She was not a girl to have green eyes. Since she got the cut on her arm, she was not in the mood to be jealous. It was simply not in her nature. Her thoughts went to Sally. Sally should have a boyfriend, too, but who''s fit for her? Pedro, Sam''s assistant, is a nice boy, but I don''t want to be a matchmaker, at least not before I know Sally''s feelings. She took one of the tapes Sam brought and put it into the player on her desk. It was all gossip blended with four-letter dirty words. Then she put in the second one. The following dialogue attracted her attention.
“I said it according to boss''s plan.”
“Did he believe it?”
“I''m not sure.”
The rest of the tape was rubbish, too. Who said what to whom about what? The question was too complicated. Every tape was dated, but the date had nothing to do with the answer.
In the evening, the three girls listened to that part of the tape together. None of them had any idea about it. “Any news in your company recently?” Lois asked Sally.
“No,” Sally replied flatly with a bubble over her mouth. It was not like Sally to be so brief and curt. That meant that everything was actually normal there.
“Anything said about David?” Lois tried again.
“The topic of David''s death is from boiling to hot to warm to lukewarm to cool to cold to icy now.” The words tumbled out of Sally''s mouth in a breath. That''s Sally again.
“How can David be so easily forgotten?” wondered out Tricia.
“He''s not a guy to be remembered long. If we were not on his case and only read his story in the papers, we''d have forgotten him long ago.” More bubbles burst.
“People have incredibly short memories,” Tricia sighed profoundly as if afraid she would be forgotten as soon as she died.
“Yeah, too short even for unprecedented calamities.” Sally breathed out her acquiescent sigh.