News from Ban Krut by Kasama's & Bankrutfarang

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Letter Writer

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Short stories from a selection of Byron's Oriental Salt, Tales of the Inscrutable novels will occasionally appear for your reading enjoyment. We'd appreciate your feedback.

“Oriental Salt” refers to an aging US Marine, never named, who reminisces through stories of the Orient, many to do with the Pacific War in WWII. For orientation and clarity, he occasionally introduces a story in the first person and those thoughts are shown in Bold.

The Letter Writer is extracted from Oriental Salt, published eBook format in 2011. This tale opens when the Salt and a buddy, having survived the war, are assigned to a new post in China.

The Letter Writer 

Shanghai 1948

I was happy to be back in Shanghai amidst a new generation of hookers. A guy gets real spoiled in Asia. Vale and I recruited snitches and agents. We sorted out the philosophical enemies, conscientious adversaries, and victims of commie atrocities from the profiteers, professional liars, thieves, and murderers; this latter group taken as first preference for our kind of work. Chiang was one of them. I don’t mean Chiang Kai Shek. We never knew if Chiang was any relation to the Generalissimo, although he hinted at it. But there are a hundred million Chiangs in China.

We lost Chiang after a while, though. He just vanished on us in 1947. Poof! Gone! As though he’d disappeared through the floorboards in his office.

Chiang arrived early to set up his workstation beneath a tree in the small park
squeezed between the Huangpo River and the Bund. He never arrived later than eight o‟clock, otherwise the shady spots would already be taken. He carried his entire office on his bicycle. It consisted of a folding card table, two folding chairs (olive drab, compliments of the US Army), a stool, a supply of three grades of paper, envelopes, and an assortment of writing instruments and ink. 
         He charged according to the quality of paper his customers wanted, as well as the instrument used: for pencil, paper which was thin enough to see through; for ink pens, a heavier grade – at medium price; and for his dishonest clients who wanted to show prosperity that didn‟t exist, a stock of white linen stationery on which the characters were brushed in traditional, bold calligraphy. These characters were necessarily larger, and few letters were completed using less than three sheets of this finest stock.
         He also sold postage stamps as a convenience, but most of his customers carried the finished letter across the Bund to the General Post Office. Chiang offered to mail the letters himself, free of charge, but while his customers were largely illiterate, they weren‟t stupid enough to purchase the stamps and leave the letter with him, for he‟d surely peel them off and re-sell them. Their letter would end up in the filthy waters of the Huangpo, which, a mere twenty feet from his station, served as Chiang‟s wastebasket.
        If the customer‟s letter was intended to be mailed abroad, Chiang was proficient enough to attractively copy the given address, but he preferred to write letters in Chinese, explaining that this was the true civilized language. For those few customers who required their letter in English, Chiang said that he would require at least two days to translate. He charged considerably more, of course, although he paid only a few coins to the students at the language institute for their efforts. He claimed that he did all translations himself, and boasted proficiency in English, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. All lies, except for Japanese – in which he was highly literate. But the Japanese had lost the war and the Chinese hated them for all their suffering under the Rising Sun. So Chiang buried this truest talent amongst his faked skills.
         Many of his customers were regulars, for whom he grudgingly offered a discount, as his competitors did. Scores of letter-writers lined the riverside walk. This irked Chiang, for his had been the first station here last year. Sparrows chirped in the trees overhead his competitors, but there were none in his tree, for he chased them off, rattling a stick in the branches lest they decorate his finest stationery with their droppings. The other letter-writers didn‟t seem to mind the birds, but Chiang enjoyed nothing more than cracking open their tiny heads and breaking their wings with his stick.
         He‟d been born in Shanghai and had lived here until he was twelve. Then he ran off to Nanjing, after he‟d stolen his mother‟s life savings at the urging of a bigger boy who taught him how to steal and cheat and who, when they‟d been alone and drunk on rice wine, showed Chiang how to please older boys. That was thirty years ago. Now, he kept a young boy he‟d taken off the streets in the closing days of the war. Win was twelve years old. All his life, Chiang had never known a woman and never wanted to. He hated them and held Win in no higher regard.
         When he returned to Shanghai from Nanjing in 1938, he was 34. He never tried to locate his mother or three half-sisters. He didn‟t want to ever see them again. His half- sisters, all older, would be in their fifties, and his mother was probably dead. He never regretted stealing her money. Father had died, and, according to Chinese tradition, the family‟s wealth should have fallen to him. But Chiang‟s father had been Japanese, and Mother‟s small fortune was from her first husband, who was Chinese.
         Chinese women were mostly uneducated. Knowledge wasn‟t required of a girl, thus most of Chiang‟s clients now were women and older peasants. Fairly half of his customers were trying to locate missing relatives who had become refugees during the war. Chiang secretly nicknamed his regulars. „Old Bitch,‟ as he referred to one, was snappy and arrogant despite her humble background, acting as though her few coins purchased Chiang himself rather than his services. „Old Thimble Head‟ was a dullard who seemed barely able to remember what it was she wanted to say. His favorite nickname was for a peasant who visited him weekly. This man wore a pained expression as if he was desperately unable to pass wind. Chiang dubbed him "Fart Coming Out Sideways."
         His first customer of the morning was an aged woman he called "Worry Puss", as she always wore a dour expression. A worrisome old hag who walked bent over from arthritis. He‟d been writing Worry Puss‟s letters for the past week. She had negotiated his fee down to the absolute minimum at the beginning, and her letters seemed to be getting longer at each sitting. He resented her at the start, and now grew huffy as her winded letters went on and on. And she demanded that he write on the back of the pages, as well. Oh, never mind that ink seeped through the paper, making both sides difficult to read. Never mind that Worry Puss was what the American soldiers called a „cheap charlie,‟ and never mind that she restricted Chiang‟s income by scrunching up words on both sides of the page.
         The things she dictated made little sense, but she seemed to have thought long before coming to him about exactly how to phrase her letters. She was cryptic and suspicious of Chiang and anyone who came near his table while she was dictating. Chiang wondered if the old crone was in her right senses. Her letters sounded out ominous warnings for the recipients to beware of things past. Sane or not, Chiang didn‟t care, for she always paid, whereas some clients asked to pay later. Chiang held onto their letters, careful to conceal how he‟d written something, or else they might remember the characters that formed the words, and repeat them on their own paper, rendering his service useless. Chiang wasn't going to fall for that.
         His second and third clients of the morning, also old women, were repeat
customers who sought out Chiang‟s services regularly, as they developed new addresses of missing family and friends throughout eastern China.
         His next customer, whom Chiang pegged as a house servant, had been a repeat only for the past week. This one he called „Young Slut With Bastard.‟ She was about twenty years old, and had a strong face and alert eyes. She was taller than most Chinese women and well proportioned under her baggy, modest clothes. If he allowed himself to, he might even think that she was attractive. But she wore a plaintive face, obviously a bid for sympathy, as she wrote to a man in a wealthy Shanghai suburb who‟d fathered her child and now wanted nothing to do with her or her bastard. Her begging words disgusted Chiang and he chuckled inwardly as he wrote the address, knowing that the man‟s household staff would never dare place this harlot‟s letter on his desk.
         She had even asked Chiang his personal opinion after writing the second letter. Should she continue to write to the man, since he hadn‟t answered her? Chiang, having no intention of losing her business, assured her that she should continue, as the father was obviously a busy, important man. Eventually, he assured Young Slut, the father would open one of her letters, which would open his heart. Chiang added that, as a man, he could guarantee that the pleas of a helpless woman with an infant softened a man. 
         She asked him how he knew this, and he spouted whatever sentimental nonsense came to mind at the time. She seemed to feel better after Chiang‟s positive remonstrations and he knew she‟d foolishly return next week to spend more money she could barely afford.
         His next customer was „Dumb-Fuck Four Eyes,‟ a bespectacled clerk from an investment house on the Bund. Chiang shared this customer with other writers, since the firm communicated monthly with their wealthy clients and preferred a personal touch to typewritten or mimeographed letters. Dumb-Fuck gave Chiang a letter to be copied to a list of 100 clients, along with the firm‟s stationery and envelopes. He‟d need to complete the letters within three days, and, of course, he was expected to provide a volume discount.
         Between other customers, Chiang wrote the investment-house announcements and, by dusk, had 35 letters completed. His hand ached.
         Chiang read the newspaper as he waited for his dinner that evening in the restaurant where he always took his meals. Sixty-three photographs of Japanese officers appeared on the front page, all slated for sentencing for war crimes committed in China, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Like the hundreds whose faces were in the newspapers last week, many of them would be executed by the allies.
         Chiang recognized a few names and one photograph in particular. That of Major Ito, the rotten son of a bitch. He though back ti that interview.
         “Even Japanese citizenship is possible, Mr. Chiang, once you have proven your usefulness to the Imperial Japanese Army.” Major Ito stood in the center of the room, arms akimbo, a roll of papers in his right fist. These papers, Chiang knew, concerned him.
         “There seems to be no question that your father was Japanese. A pity that he was a mere businessman without government connections. Just the same, should you prove an asset, you‟ll find your father‟s country grateful.”
It was the fall of 1937, outside Nanjing. Chiang had been quick to feel the direction the wind was blowing in central China, and summoning up all the Japanese he could remember, he crawled up a chain of Japanese officers, advertising his Japanese lineage with each link. A few slaps to the face aside, his persistence had earned him an audience with Ito.
         The major wore civilian clothes and, with his rich Shanghai dialect, passed easily for a Chinese businessman. Chiang wondered how long he‟d been a spy in China. The Japanese army was about to overrun Nanjing, whose streets and alleys crawled with Nationalists, Communist spies and stalwarts, and tongs. The Nationalists and Communists had ceased their in-fighting to concentrate against the Japanese, whose armies daily carved away more territory from Chinese control. Even the feared tongs, notorious criminal gangs, and the warlords, were set against the Japanese invaders. Imperialism in the guise of Japan‟s Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere was simply bad for everyone‟s business, not to mention health.
         Ito recruited Chiang to provide names of gang leaders, Communist and Nationalist leaders, spies, soldiers and agents of warlords, and anyone voicing opposition to Tokyo. Which seemed to Chiang to include just about everyone, for the Japanese were loathed.
         Chiang and a few others like him were paid well for the information, but what Chiang really wanted was a visa to Japan and to meet people who could help him settle there.
         Chiang operated concessions in Nanjing with his partner, Wang. Their enterprises were doing nicely. So much so that Chiang saw no reason for the continued association. Since Ito had presented him with a most advantageous business opportunity, all Chiang had to do was include Wang and their competitors with those he fingered as spies, hoodlums, conspirators, and assorted miscellaneous riff-raff.
         Chiang compiled his list, which grew longer by the day, and eventually included everyone he hated or wanted eliminated. In mid November, his list completed, he turned it over to Ito. When the invasion of Nanjing came, a three-month-long massacre ensued during which hundreds of thousands were raped and murdered. 
         Chiang's competitors disappeared with many other innocents; over 500 people that he pinpointed met their death at the hands of the Japanese. Entire families were wiped out. Wang was dragged from his office next to Chiang‟s, pleading with Chiang to help him, to recant his false testimony against him. Wang‟s wife and young daughter screamed and pulled on Chiang‟s coat sleeves as Wang was beaten and kicked out the door into a waiting car. The wife wailed but Wang‟s daughter screamed obscenities at Chiang. Chiang slapped the ten-year-old and she'd spat on him.
         The horror that the world came to call the Rape of Nanjing disturbed even Ito, who railed at Chiang, demanding that he be certain of his information. Chiang insisted that his personal enemies were spies and terrorists even where no evidence existed to support these charges.
         Drunken Japanese troops pillaged Nanjing in an orgy of looting, rape, and slaughter. Bodies by the tens of thousands were piled high in open trenches or dumped into the Yangtze River, Chiang‟s list of personal enemies amongst them. Chiang went about the city openly, a bold dictum written in Japanese pinned neatly to his tunic read that he was not to be reproached, and was to be given every honor befitting a friend of Japan.
         His competition extinguished, and Wang‟s business shares usurped, Chiang‟s wealth grew ten-fold. His enterprises flourished in Nanjing and soon he was wealthy beyond his wildest expectations. He established his headquarters in Shanghai, commuting to Nanjing weekly, guarded by Japanese troops who, while showing respect for an ally, secretly regarded him as a cowardly traitor.
His retinue of smartly-dressed young men – „assistants‟ he called them – who carried his luggage and business folios and sample cases would accompany Chiang wherever he went. The boys competed for a place near their great benefactor. They fed, groomed, bathed, and dressed him, and performed sexual theater at his whim, dressing as nymphs and satyrs. Each night he took no fewer than five boys to his giant bed.
         His waistline and propensity for decadence swelled in accordance with his fortune. He became obese, exploding to ninety inches around his waist. He grew his hair to an extraordinary length, nearly down to his belly, creating a grotesque caricature of the prosperous Chinese mandarin: painted face; long, lacquered black fingernails; and outlandishly colorful traditional clothes, setting him apart from even the more grandiose mandarins. An addiction – or rather a return to – opium followed, with which he plied the boys, as well. His small troupe of haggard women catered and kowtowed to his boys, as Chiang felt women should. He recalled bitterly how, as the youngest in the family of three half-sisters, he‟d been relied upon to perform menial tasks commensurate with his age. He never forgot. Nor would he ever forgive his mother for the humiliation of treating his sisters as his equals.
         Mother, although an illiterate peasant from central China – he recalled everyone saying that she was incredibly beautiful, although Chiang never saw any beauty in females – wanted all her children to be educated. She forced Chiang to take instructions he felt were unnecessary with so many women in the family to fend for him. He‟d been made to do his share, feeling certain he was being punished because his father had been Japanese. Mother assured him that wasn‟t why she treated him only with equality. But she was uneducated and incapable of explaining herself well enough to breach his resentment. 
         How Chiang had hated them all. Especially Mother, who affectionately named him „Handsome Bush,‟ or „Tree,‟ or „Leaf,‟ or some such maternal nonsense. That did nothing to convince him of her love. Stupid woman – she hadn‟t had to tell him he was beautiful, for he knew he‟d been an attractive young man and was no less handsome now.

The war turned bad for the Japanese, and when they withdrew from Shanghai, Chiang was left with many enemies and no benefactor. High-ranking Japanese officers he‟d entertained lavishly for years pushed him aside, and even Ito, hastily burning documents in his office before evacuating, had threatened to shoot him if he came groveling back into his office again. Chiang‟s businesses failed and monies went uncollected, since he no longer had soldiers to enforce payments.
         His boys deserted him one by one as his funds dwindled. He murdered one favorite young man in a fit of rage for scheming to run off with what few teals of gold remained in his safe.
         Shortly before the Allies occupied Shanghai, Chiang disappeared with his gold amidst the masses, abandoning his other properties. He surfaced a year later, a hundred pounds lighter and without his long, wispy mustache and beard, or pearl-framed spectacles. He‟d taken a new name from the identification papers of a man who‟d been shot dead for throwing shit at retreating Japanese troops. The man had been a poor rickshaw puller, and had no family. Like millions of others, he wouldn‟t be missed.
         Now, Chiang wore inexpensive, horn-rimmed glasses and Western-style clothes. He looked far different than just a short year ago. He lived in a small, squalid room in the humble Pudong section of Shanghai, the last place anyone would look for the giant he‟d been. Of course, his boy Win had no idea of Chiang‟s true identity.
         After the war, he'd taken sundry jobs with the American military, starting as an interpreter, graduating to selling information on the Communists and snitching on those Japanese who‟d been foolish enough to remain in China.
         Chiang, as he was once known, was denounced in the newspapers. But this was nothing new; the tongs, hired to wreak vengeance on traitors, had surely been trying to find him, as well. And if they couldn‟t flush him out, what chance had the American authorities of detecting him right under their own noses. Hiding in plain sight, as the saying goes.
         Many of the European companies were settling back into their old offices on the Bund, but some companies wouldn‟t return, as they feared the Reds would eventually defeat the Nationalists, turning all of China into a communist state. Still, international business was back for the time being, and a person with Chiang‟s skill earned a better living than many.
         But one day, about a year ago, he‟d nearly panicked when two missionaries visited the American compound. They‟d volunteered to help identify Japanese war criminals rounded up in the last days of the conflict. The older clergyman was from Nanjing and he‟d been one of those holy, busybody missionaries who‟d harbored countless Chinese from the rampaging Japanese, giving sanctuary in the foreigners‟ compounds, which were off-limits to the Jap soldiers.
         The old man seemed to recognize Chiang, and he stood scrutinizing him from the hallway, but just couldn‟t place. Or maybe it was just a coincidence; maybe the old man hadn‟t recognized Chiang at all. But Chiang wasn‟t taking any chances. He‟d gotten up and gone into the next room, a supply closet, then slipped out a window.
         He couldn‟t fathom why anyone cared what had happened to a million miserable peasants. As far as he was concerned, the Japanese should have killed more Chinese. For that matter, the Americans should have killed more Japanese. It mattered not at all to him. But he was out of a good-paying job, and back on the streets. Another protector had been lost.
         The next morning, Chiang continued writing the investment-house letters for a few hours until Old Worry Puss returned, demanding that he write three letters for her. He charged for each, and was pleased that the missives were brief, terse warnings, probably to some of the old hag‟s relatives. She warned them that people were looking for them, to do some harm. But she didn‟t elaborate. 
         As usual, she didn‟t want Chiang to address the letters, and she peered suspiciously at anyone who came near his station. She stood up and paid him, parting with each coin as though it were her last. Chiang chuckled as he watched the twisted old crone make her way across the Bund to the General Post Office, still looking around warily. She‟d been foolish; each letter repeated the same warning, and she could have simply copied the first. He felt her stupidity compensated him for her gabby letters from previous days.
         A new customer approached his station and sat down. Chiang had watched him for several minutes, milling around the other tables, trying to select a writer. Chiang looked over and gave his nearest competition an ingratiating smirk that said the public knew a quality letter-writer when they saw one.
         After a short negotiation over the fee, Chiang nicknamed this new client „Generalissimo Shit For Brains,‟ even addressing him so in English, since the man didn‟t understand the language. The Generalissimo had the mannerisms of a trench soldier, and Chiang pegged him for a former army private the likes of which had made Japanese conquest a certainty. He was in his mid thirties, very large, and wore his hair short. His hands were enormous, with knuckles as big as ping-pong balls.
         Generalissimo Shit For Brains fumbled in his trousers for an address and seemed to mentally scratch his head. He looked at Chiang apologetically and said that he‟d forgotten to bring the address, even though he only wanted an envelope written. Chiang looked through the man as though he didn‟t exist and dispatched him with a wave of his hand.
         Shit For Brains stood awkwardly, his frame dwarfing Chiang, and apologized again for his absent-mindedness. Chiang didn‟t acknowledge him further, and turned to his pile of letters for Dumb-Fuck Four Eyes. He finished another forty letters that afternoon, and at his evening meal in the restaurant, he read the newspaper as usual.
         More photographs of Japanese officers found guilty by the war tribunal appeared on the front page. Chiang recognized several names. General Ishiwara was one. Ishiwara was the bastard who Chiang had appealed to after Ito had thrown him out. But Ishiwara had cursed him, calling Chiang a Chinese dog that deserved to live in Japan less than a flea-ridden mongrel. Chiang remembered this humiliation vividly. He‟d feared also that Ishiwara would simply shoot him on the spot if he didn‟t stop whimpering. The kind reception that the hypocrite had shown him earlier had evaporated.
         Chiang smiled at Ishiwara‟s sad photograph. It portrayed a beaten, fallen soldier who would be executed in the coming weeks. Were it not for Chiang‟s own predicament, he would have gladly testified against many of these Japanese bastards. He enjoyed witnessing executions, particularly those beheadings that the Japs had been so fond of. Oh yes, Chiang knew who had ordered what, and many of the guilty were never mentioned in the newspapers. He considered writing anonymous letters, but knew from working with the Americans that such black mail wouldn‟t be taken seriously. The Americans had this ridiculous notion that proof was required before they hung someone. A waste of time with Americans, whereas his false accusations had been accepted without question by the Japanese back in ‟37.
         He finished his meal and flexed his cramped writing hand as he walked home. Maybe he‟d try to finish the investment-house letters tonight. Nearing his room, he inexplicably grew edgy. He stepped into a darkened doorway and lingered in the shadows, studying the faces passing by. But the people on the street were not interested in him. Still, he watched for a long time, until he was satisfied that no one was following him, or waiting in ambush. Maybe it was time to move to another room. But he‟d just paid his rent, so he decided to wait until the month was out. He bought a bottle of rice wine at a stall next to the building where he lived.
         Stepping into the hallway, he encountered Lee, his landlord, and engaged him briefly about nothing important. He watched Lee‟s eyes in conversation for any hint that something might be amiss, if there had possibly been inquiries made about him. But he sensed nothing unusual and went up to his room.
         Chiang stopped in a recess at the top of the stairs and listened. Win was playing the radio again. He walked to his door and heard the boy click off the wireless. He opened the door. Win sat in the dark room looking out the window. He acted surprised to see Chiang, but he couldn‟t hide his guilt. Chiang felt the radio. It was warm. That would be good for a beating; listening to it cost electricity. But he‟d deal with Win later. Now, he was tired.
         He drank the bottle of wine and finished reading the newspaper as Win bathed him in a washtub of warm water. Win dried him off and knew from Chiang‟s eyes that he was in for a thrashing. But that was better than sleeping on the streets. He helped to dress Chiang, hoping the punishment wouldn‟t be too severe.
         Chiang decided against writing any more letters and turned off the light and laid down. He thought about battering Win, then binding and abusing him, but the bath had made him even more lethargic. It had never occurred to him to take Win without force, as he couldn‟t reach satisfaction unless pain was involved. He kicked Win off the bed and onto the floor, then rolled over and went to sleep.
         He was finishing the investment-house letters the next morning when he looked up and saw Old Worry Puss coming towards him. She always walked as fast as she could, despite her miserable, broken-down body, but this morning her movement was fleet, her eyes desperate, almost wild, as she glanced around nervously. „Old Paranoid,‟ Chiang thought, contemplating a name change for the old witch. He put aside his work and withdrew new paper as she sat down on the small stool before him.
         “I won‟t require an envelope today,” she started. “I can address it myself.”
         Chiang looked at her with amusement, then worried that she might be learning how to write. He shrugged, pretending indifference, but hating how some of these wretched peasants were becoming literate nowadays. Old Worry Puss collected her thoughts, then began: “My dear son. At last I have found your address. Your fourth uncle, whom you surely won‟t remember, saw you yesterday and, certain it was you, followed you home. He then hastened to me with your address, as he knew that I had been desperately trying to find you....”
         Worry Puss fired off her dictation, pausing for Chiang to catch up, her manner impatient as she tapped out a tattoo on his table, making sounds to signal her displeasure with him. Such an attitude from a woman annoyed Chiang, and he‟d surely slap her were she not a paying customer. He caught up and she continued: “How he recognized you after all these years, I cannot know. But he swears it is you. I know that you hate me and I would not bother you except that I have grave news, which you must know. Three months ago, gang members from the Thousand Arms in Nanjing came to me with questions about you. I told them I have not seen you since you were a boy, and didn‟t even know if you were alive. They didn‟t believe me and I'm sure they have been following me, observing me, suspecting that I would fly to you and warn you. They told the cruelest lies about you, saying that you were responsible for having many people murdered by the Japanese.”
         Chiang frowned, but found himself writing faster despite his resentment of the old bag. That she should even mention the tong of a Thousand Arms was indeed bold. Their name was never even whispered, let alone committed to paper. Chiang found himself caught up in the old woman‟s intrigue and his speed picked up.
         “I don‟t expect that I will ever see you or hear from you again, but a son‟s safety is more important to a mother than his love. Still, take my love with you wherever you go, my „Beautiful Bud,‟ and flee, flee for your life immediately. In these difficult times, I fear your uncle may betray you yet for reward money.”
Chiang finished as Old Worry Puss stood, dropping coins on his table. 
         She snatched up the letter and shoved it into her bag and hurried off towards the Bund. Chiang watched her crooked old form as she passed Young Slut With Bastard coming his way. He already knew his day would be busy. He frowned again, his eyes going past Young Slut and catching Old Worry Puss as she looked around before crossing the Bund. He watched her and shrugged, his face adopting a kindly look for Young Slut so that she‟d perhaps write a longer letter today. And just maybe he could persuade her to use his finest stationery to impress her bastard‟s father.
         Young Slut came up to his table, but didn‟t sit down. She rummaged through her purse and Chiang thought fleetingly that perhaps she had the address for another man at whose feet she‟d try to lay her offspring.
         „My Beautiful Bud,‟ Old Worry Puss had said. Chiang frowned and his eyes crossed the Bund again, trying to pick her out from the crowd on the opposite side of the boulevard. He caught sight of her disappearing into the General Post Office.
         He looked up at Young Slut glaring down at him, her face cold, without expression, her eyes accusing. Angry. Did she realize her hopelessness and his charade at urging her to write to her bastard‟s father? His face turned hard, anticipating that she would demand a refund.
         My Beautiful Bud!.
         Chiang froze, then stood to peer across the Bund, eyes fixed on the door of the Post Office. Impossible!
         That was it! That was what his mother had always called him: „My Beautiful Bud.‟
         Young Slut held out a piece of paper. Her very presence now annoyed Chiang as he tried to think. He saw his competitors nearby hastily folding up their tables and chairs, quickly abandoning their stations. Was it going to rain? He looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful, clear day. Where were they rushing off to? He looked back across the Bund and reached out for whatever it was that Young Slut was handing to him.
         What had Old Worry Puss said...?
         "Fourth uncle saw you . . . followed you . . . certain it was you....‟
         Last night Chiang had had that feeling! That‟s why he‟d hesitated in the shadows. Could Old Worry Puss possibly be . . . his mother?

         Lord Buddha!
         She hadn‟t recognized him, either. Chiang collapsed in his chair, stunned by this realization. He peered around and watched the other letter-writers hurrying off along the river walk. Where were they going so early?
         „Cruelest lies about having people killed? Watching me to lead them to you–.‟
          He looked at Young Slut‟s paper. It was blank. He turned it over to see a photograph of himself taken about four years ago. The bloated Chiang was pictured in his opulent vestments, surrounded by semi-naked boys inside his Nanjing home, ensconced in the trappings of incredible wealth. Chiang stared dumbly at this photograph, then looked up at Young Slut, who didn‟t look so pathetic now. In fact, she didn‟t look pathetic at all. Strange; she didn‟t even look like a mother, whatever it is a mother is supposed to look like. Her beautiful face was cruel now. Triumphant.
         Chiang‟s eyes widened at the recognition. She looked like.... Could she be the daughter of Wang, the partner he‟d betrayed years ago, now grown?
         No one was around now; even the birds seemed still, like animals watching, waiting quietly when another animal is about to die.
         Chiang‟s face went white. He looked at the retreating writers, now too far away to witness what was surely going to happen. Then he saw Generalissimo Shit For Brains leaning against a tree nearby, smiling, knuckles readily explained: they were for breaking skulls.
         The Generalissimo shoved off from the tree and walked slowly towards him, and Chiang whipped around to see two other men approaching from different directions, lengths of rope in hand, ball-bearing eyes fixed on him.
From her purse, Wang‟s daughter withdrew a silk cord, knotted in the center. She curled it around her fists.
         Chiang's heart raced, his eyes darting this way and that for an escape. But only the muddy waters of the Huangpo were behind him, and he knew at once it was where he‟d sleep tonight.
        The Tong had been right: Mother had led them right to him.

If you're interested in reading more Oriental Salt, Tales of the Inscrutable, click on for a selection of these novels, plus the Mike Roth P.I. Series.

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