On April 5, 1975, Ko-sa was home alone contemplating menus for McWong’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant. Nick was tied up even later than usual at the Northern Virginia Daily. Trudi had taken Vicky to see a movie. When Nick got back, he told Ko-sa it was time to celebrate and opened a bottle of champagne.
“Gan bei,” said Nick. “Chiang Kai-shek finally croaked. Here’s to the dictator’s demise.”
Ko-sa gulped his bubbly and belched contempt. “That doesn’t mean things will get any better over there. His son could be worse.”
“I’m afraid I have more bad news. The paper is sending me over to find out. The timing couldn’t be worse. I raised hell about it. It tears me up, but I won’t be able to make it for the opening. I’m really sorry.”
Thunder pummeled Ko-sa’s eardrums. His face clouded over like running scud before a plum rain downpour. “Mr. Ma, you brought me to Washington. You named the restaurant.” He stared Nick down. “You are my best friend. You must come.”
“I just wish the old bastard hadn’t picked now to get his revenge for that package bomb you had me take up to Taipei, but I have to be there for the funeral.”
“No you don’t.” Ko-sa pointed a finger straight at Nick’s nose, something he would never do back home unless he was ready to fight. “You can write the Taiwan story from here. Yen Chia-kan will become President because he’s Vice President and it looks good to you Americans. That means nothing. Everybody knows Chiang Ching-kuo will run the show. Same family dictatorship as before. CCK the Prince and future emperor, Chiang Kai-shek’s son and heir, Knight of the White Terror.”
“There will even be elections like there were three years ago, but all the same puppets elected in China in 1947 will stay on to rubber stamp whatever The Prince dictates. Taiwanese who open their mouths to say freedom and democracy will go to jail. Some of my friends in the independence movement will send more letter bombs, but that won’t accomplish anything. You don’t have to go to Taiwan to figure that out.”
Nick nodded with regret. “I don’t have a choice about the assignment.”
Angry lightning flashed from Ko-sa’s eyes. “You won’t give me face when I open? Did I save your life at Nan Wan for this?”
Ko-sa trembled with rage and fear. The ghosts were swooshing in to torment him. Western people say they don’t exist, but they have been nearby since his earliest childhood. When the spirits get angry, there’s trouble. Placate them, or they will get their revenge. Nick has no right to taunt his ghosts.
No excuse could quell the tempest. This was a terrible omen, but the opening can not be changed. The spirits would know it was done for a foreigner. No point in explaining. Nick would never understand. Ko-sa stalked off to the bedroom and pressed his palms in prayer to an altar that wasn’t there.
In the middle of the night, deep in sleep, Ko-sa stumbled on his bad leg while making his way along a narrow path in the land of anxiety. He fell into a flooded rice paddy, unable to move as the mud enveloped him like quicksand into a dark netherworld of desperation. Laughter drowned out his screams as he was sucked under. “Wake up. What’s the matter?” Jade Phoenix whispered in his ear. Ghostly howls mocked his efforts to make a life planting the wrong seed in the wrong soil. He woke, drenched in sweat, terrified that the mud would cake hard over his body when drought brings no harvest.
Even when Ko-sa smiled, the shame of bankruptcy hid under his veil of optimism like an evil spell cast by the dead cats hanging from tree limbs by the roadside of his childhood. He could start living again only when he has big money to show the people back in Taiwan. Until then he must hide behind a smile for every customer and extol the delights of lobster supreme in a secret sauce, handed down from generation to generation by imperial palace eunuchs.
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