|时间：2017-03-05 21:37:04｜人气：118 |
|One day a queer invitation came with gilded convex words on a pink gauze background in a matching expensive envelope, which read as follows: |
Mrs. & Mr. Zi
the Honor and Pleasure of the Presence
Mrs. & Mr. Lin
their three beautiful, talented daughters
Miss Lois, Miss Tricia, and Miss Sally
for the Thirty-Fifth Birthday
Mrs. Melissa Zi
at seven p. m.
on the Tenth of October
in our humble abode
in Long Island, New York
without adequate reason
to our regret and sorrow
Sally read the invitation aloud to the whole family gathered at the dining table before dinner. “I''ve never read any invitation with P. S.,” Sally commented.
“So, it means he''s an extraordinary man,” said Tricia.
“You are right. Extraordinary men do extraordinary things,” Sally supplemented.
Then everyone focused their attention on Mr. Lin, who would make the decision as to whether to accept honor and pleasure or to give regret and sorrow.
“I think we have to go,” Mr. Lin finally said. “If not for honor and pleasure, we''ll do it for the ginseng.” The principle in his life was not to offend anyone, no matter his social and financial status, high or low.
“I think I cannot go since Alida is not included in the invitation,” said Mrs. Lin. “I must babysit her. That''s the reason adequate enough and required by law.” Her witticism and humor caused chuckles. So it was determined that Mr. Lin and the three girls would attend the party.
The three girls had clothes for almost all occasions imaginable. They didn''t need to hurry out for new purchases. Shopping was never their select hobby and favorite pastime. They had only to choose from their existing wardrobe which dress was suitable to wear for the birthday party.
On that day, they put on their best clothes appropriate for the occasion. Mr. Lin wore a black tuxedo with a bow tie. Lois chose a long, elegant, silk lavender dress with thin spaghetti straps and matching sandals. She left her ebony hair loose, flowing around her shoulders, and put on a simple necklace with a diamond teardrop. A violet shawl covered her shoulders. Tricia settled on a short, baby blue dress with a heart-shaped neckline and a pair of high-heeled sky-blue sandals. She also wore a long, thin navy blue windbreaker as a coat. She put on a necklace with a beautiful topaz pendant and kept her hair in a delicate braid with curly strands framing her face. Sally decided on a long, strapless white satin dress with a slit up one side and silver dancing shoes to match. Outside of the dress, she had on a short, white velvet jacket. Her sterling silver earrings and necklace perfectly complemented the dress and her dark hair was in an exquisite athletic style. They rode in Sally''s black Ford Taurus. Their father occupied the passenger seat; Lois and Tricia sat in the back. They left home a bit early since they didn''t want to be late. They arrived right on the dot. Mrs. and Mr. Zi were standing in the spacious foyer, welcoming and greeting the guests.
“You are very punctual, Mr. Lin,” said Mr. Zi smiling when they shook hands, “just like the Count of Mount Cristo.”
“Which one, then, do you think you are in that novel?” Mr. Lin joked back.
After the girls were all greeted, Mr. Zi asked, “Where is Her Ladyship, your honorable wife?”
“She has to babysit our niece Alida. We are law-abiding people, aren''t we? But she did want me to convey her congratulations to Your Ladyship.” He turned to Mrs. Zi with a slight bow.
She wore a Mandarin-styled gown of white brocade glittering with a silver embroidery of peonies, reaching her ankles and covering her long excellently-shaped legs with slits on both sides high enough to occasionally reveal her thighs when she was walking. The stiff collar was so high that it reminded people of the cervical collar. A pearl brooch was pinned on her bosom. The brooch was designed in the shape of a dove taken after a drawing by Picasso. A pair of silvery leather dancing shoes of Italian make encased her delicate feet. Her hair was done up in an old Chinese-styled twist with gold and pearl hairpins stuck in to secure it and a pair of diamond earrings dangled from her nicely-outlined earlobes. Two gold bracelets set with rubies and sapphires adorned her right wrist, a platinum wedding ring with a ten-karat diamond sparkled on her left ring finger and a platinum watch inset with a circle of small diamonds round its rim was on her left wrist, which completed her outfit for the occasion. She looked so pretty and elegant she could have been a princess.
Then Mr. Lin and the three girls allowed themselves to be led by the butler into a big parlor, which was full of guests already. Among them Mr. Lin recognized two masters who were brothers, Francis and Jason Deng, living in Chicago now. But the reputation of these two masters was questionable and not so good as to be worthy of Mr. Zi''s friendship. There might be a reason that they were present. Mr. Lin pointed the two men out to his three daughters and told them to keep an eye on the duo. Then the hostess and host got on the dais at the end of the parlor and gave a short speech of welcome and thanks. Afterwards, the guests followed them into the dining parlor where there were twenty-five big round tables arranged in rows. Each table could seat twelve people. The distinguished guests were invited to sit at the same table with the hostess and host. They were all local politicians and rich businessmen. Less celebrated guests sat at the tables nearest to the honored table. Guests with still less prominence sat a bit further away. The rest of the guests could choose wherever they cared to sit and whomever they wished to sit with. Mr. Lin sat with his three daughters at the table remotest to the honored one. They noticed that the two brother masters took seats at the next table.
Each table was served first with eight cold dishes together with many varieties of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic to the different taste of the guests. Then when the cold dishes were finished there came eight hot dishes, one following another. Then two sweet courses: one was swallow''s nest and lotus-seeds in sweetened water and the other was plum-blossom-shaped thousand-layered cakes, each sized for a morsel. Then four big hot bowls were served, in each of which were a chicken, a duck, a fish and a whole thigh of the pig, cooked in different recipes. And what came last was a huge hot bowl of soup of shark''s fins, sea cucumbers, abalones and other dainties together with small bowls of rice. Generally, the guests were too full by then and wouldn''t touch the soup, much less the rice. Some might take a small bowl of soup. That was the Chinese traditional way of serving food at a feast in rich and decent homes. Serving soup first in Chinese restaurants is the way they have learned from the western style to suit European people.
After the banquet, the dance began in the ball parlor. A small orchestra was placed on the dais. Mr. Lin didn''t dance and so kept an eye on the two masters, who didn''t dance either. The hostess and host danced to the first piece of music. All the guests gathered around the dance floor to watch and applauded as the couple finished. Then the guests, who were of any interest, participated in the dance. The three daughters were all invited to join the waltz, the next piece. Since there were more men than ladies, the women had new partners at the beginning of every piece. It seemed that young men got into a waiting line for dancing partners. Even the hostess was busy dancing with guests by turns. At the end of the dance, all the ladies were exhausted. The last program for the party was the cutting and serving of the colossal seven-layered birthday cake looking like a pagoda and wheeled out on a movable big long table. The orchestra played the tune “Happy Birthday” and the guests were chanting along while the hostess started to cut a few pieces, which were served to the honored guests first. Since the hostess was so tired from the dancing, the host took over the task and all the guests got a small piece. This should be done before midnight, within the day of birth. Then the guests thanked and said goodbye to the hostess and host.
On the way home, they talked and laughed in the car. “I noticed that the brother masters never spoke to Mrs. and Mr. Zi as if they didn''t know each other,” Mr. Lin began. “Maybe, they intruded on the feast like some free-meal-eaters in old China.” He referred to a bad habit some people had had in old China. They often invited themselves to some big birthday parties or wedding feasts although they didn''t even know any members of the families. But since there were so many guests present, no one could tell who was the rightful guest. The members and relatives of the bride''s family would think that these people were invited by the bridegroom''s family, and vice versa. No one would come to question them. No one really cared about such trifling things on such an occasion. These people were known as Free-Meal-Eaters, since they didn''t even bring any birthday or wedding gifts.
“Lucky I always have the miniature camera with me,” said Tricia. “I took their pictures. Later we can check their background to see whether they have anything to do with, or are even the bosses, of the Black Panther.”
“Very good. You did it right,” her father approved. He was driving now since the three daughters were almost exhausted from dancing excessively.
“I''ve no strength left.” Sally gave a great yawn. “Can anyone carry me into the house when we arrive?” For the whole evening she didn''t chew gum. She didn''t even bring gum with her since she knew that it was not appropriate to chew gum on such an occasion.
“You can sleep in the car, once in a blue moon.” Tricia made the suggestion, trying hard to keep her face straight.
“A young man called Henry Wong danced thrice with me and pressed me for my phone number, and I gave him our office number,” Sally informed.
“Do you know anything about him yet?” her father inquired.
“He works as an engineer in a big American company. His parents are in Taiwan. He came to study for his Ph.D. here and after acquiring his degree, he was offered a job and has lived here alone ever since.” Along with her dark skin, Sally had a pretty symmetrical oval face, big eyes, straight nose, and a nicely shaped mouth with two dimples when smiling. Her figure was slender and good, but she always wanted to lose a few pounds to make it more to her own ideal.
“A young man looking like a dawdler wanted to have a date with me next weekend, but I declined, saying that I have a boyfriend already,” Tricia informed, too, “How about you, Lois?”
“Oh, I had an army of admirers,” jested their big sister, “but I''m not interested in boyfriends yet and so sent all of them away.”
“You''ve broken so many hearts, you cruel thing,” Sally accused with an arch smile.
“Men''s hearts are not so easily broken as women''s. They are the tough sex, remember?” Lois retorted, leaning her head on the headrest of the passenger seat.
“Yeah, we are the tender sex,” Tricia acceded, proud of being born that gender.
“May I speak to Lois?” It was a young man''s voice, unfamiliar to Tricia.
“May I ask who''s calling?” Tricia queried instead of answering.
“Wayne Lee. I danced with her at Mrs. Zi''s birthday party.” How and where could he get the phone number? Tricia wondered.
“Sorry. She''s not in the office right now. Do you want to leave a message?”
“Just tell her that Wayne Lee called. Thank you.”
“Who''s Wayne Lee?” Tricia asked Lois at home that evening while they were watching TV. Lois sat beside her on the sofa.
“Never heard this name before,” said Lois absentmindedly, holding a cold can of Sprite in her right hand and sipping from time to time.
“He said that he danced with you the other night,” Tricia told her, eyeing her sister sideways.
“I never asked the names of any partners,” Lois said flatly, raising the can to her mouth.
“How and where could he get our phone number?” Tricia tried to get some information from Lois.
“I don''t know. So many of my name cards have been distributed all over the country since our business began.” She was not provoked with curiosity so easily.
“Are you not curious to know?” As a matter of fact, she herself was curious.
“No, if nothing serious happens,” said Lois indifferently, her gaze on the TV screen.
Next day Wayne Lee called again. Lois was in the office, but she shook her head to Tricia. So Tricia said that Lois was not in the office. On Friday Wayne Lee called again. Tricia could no longer refrain her curiosity and made her inquiry, “Where did you get our phone number, Mr. Lee, if I may ask?”
“A friend of our family''s has her name card. She was once her client and she told me everything she knew about Lois when she saw I was dancing with her. She was also at the party.”
“Do you have any business dealings that you want to talk about with her?” she asked after her curiosity was satisfied.
“No, no. It''s a personal call.” Both hung up after a few more exchanges of polite rubbish.
“You must talk to him at least once to make things clear,” Tricia said to Lois after she returned her receiver to the rightful cradle. “You can''t let him keep on calling and nursing a fond hope.”
“You are right,” Lois consented. “I''ll talk to him the next time when he calls.”
The next time was next Wednesday. “I''m so sorry, Mr. Lee, that I was so busy and often not in my office when you called so many times,” Lois answered the phone.
“It''s okay. I call only to ask if you are free this coming weekend.”
“Sorry. I''ve a date with my boyfriend already.”
“No problem. It''s a pleasure to talk to you. I''ll call another day. Bye.” There was no another day. The call never came. He got the message with the hidden meaning.
“He seems a nice boy,” Tricia said after Lois disconnected the line. Lois didn''t even look up. She was rummaging in her desk drawers as if she was searching for something very important to her life. Tricia shrugged.
Sam and Tricia were having a dating dinner again. It was Saturday evening. Sam didn''t have any definite schedule for that evening, so he called Tricia and picked her up from her office. They could only have improvised plans. Even short-time plans didn''t work, like planning two days ahead.
Sam drove aimlessly. They really didn''t care where they went as long as they could be together. In the car, Tricia told him about the two master brothers and wanted Sam to check their background with the Chicago police, giving him a photo with both brothers in it.
They went on Raritan Avenue eastwards to the Plainfield Avenue crossing. When Sam saw the left-turn green arrow was on, he turned left onto Plainfield Avenue north. After a while they saw a restaurant. The sight of it must have stimulated the reaction of Tricia''s stomach, as in the case of Pavlov''s dog, and a feeling of hunger surged within. So Sam turned into its parking lot.
They got a table inside and sat down, not opposite each other, but at a right angle: Tricia on the right side of Sam. They read one menu, heads together. Sam''s right hand was holding her left under the table. Just at that time, someone called, “Hi, Tricia. Hi, Sam.” They raised their heads to the smiling face of Sally with her new date, Henry Wong, who was a bit taller than Sally, strong and round-faced with slightly curly raven-black hair, big dark brown eyes, a high straight nose, and dressed in a jacket and pants. They said hello to each other and Sally introduced Henry to Sam.
“Can we make it a double date?” Sally asked, chewing a gum.
“Why not?” Tricia said. Sally and Henry took the two unoccupied chairs, Sally close to Tricia and Henry on the left side of Sam. No more specials for us today. Tricia regretted agreeing to the double dating. Henry was also talkative like Sally. Suit each other, Tricia thought. But better one is a talker and one is a listener, so there''s no conflict as to who will do the talking. Then they both began to speak, and they both stopped altogether. They smiled at each other. Good. No fighting about that. When the courses were served, they took up their forks to dig in. Sally spat the gum into a paper napkin and began to eat while Henry said his brief grace. Suddenly Sam''s fork slipped out of his hand onto the floor with a clank. As all the waiters were busy and no one came to pick up the dirty fork and bring him a clean one, Sam stooped to pick it up himself. He looked at the fork that he thought must have been contaminated by touching the floor. Although the floor didn''t look dirty, no one could see bacteria with naked eyes. So for health safety, he laid it on the table. Tricia offered hers to him and they ended up sharing the fork. There is something special today. Tricia smiled at Sally, who showed her dimples back.
Sam was busy the next few days, but he did squeeze out some time to make a phone call. “Hi, Tricia. This is Sam. Tell you something about the two master brothers, whatever their names. They are on the police records; I mean, actually in suspect lists for jewelry store and bank robberies, some such things. Only no hard evidence against them to put them behind bars. But they are no small fish if you can catch them.”
“With kungfu on the master level, they won''t be intrigued in petty crimes if they want to commit any,” Tricia responded. “Can we put them under surveillance?”
“Yeah, that''s what I suggested to the Chicago police.”
“Very good. When can you be free again?”
“Not sure. I''ll call. See ya, honey.” A kissing sound came through the line. Tricia kissed back before she replaced the receiver.
“Shall we warn Mr. Zi?” Tricia asked Lois.
“Not yet. Not until we can learn how they showed up at the party,” Lois answered.
In the evening after dinner, the whole family gathered in the family room, watching the big-screened TV. They had another much smaller TV in the living room. Tricia told her father all she learned about the Deng brothers. “There has always been gossip about them in the kungfu circle. They might have done something worse than this,” Mr. Lin told her.
“Like--?” Tricia trailed off.
“Drug dealings,” supplied her father.
“And killing?” Sally voiced her suspicion.
“Probably. It seems that drug dealing and killing often go hand in hand, like in the movies,” said their father.