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The Reluctant Scholar – Chapter 5.7

The police arrived at Tommy’s apartment early the next morning. He had kissed his wife and daughter goodbye and was outside smoking a cigarette as the cops arrived, drew their guns, and arrested Tommy. Tommy put his hands in the air and submitted to the police without a fight. The victim survived, so Tommy escaped capital punishment and was instead sentenced to life in prison.

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During the first few years of life behind bars, Tommy’s wife and daughter had visited him regularly. As expected, the responsibility of repaying his debt passed to his family. His wife worked hard to pay the debt down, but the payments she made were meager relative to what they owed. All involved knew it was only a matter of time before the daughter would have to shoulder the load. In 2005 Tommy’s wife died of cancer, leaving his daughter, who was now only ten-years-old, to fend for herself.

Brother Chang agreed to take a more active role in the girl’s upbringing and became more like a father to her than Tommy was. Beautiful, intelligent and ambitious, why the girl continued to visit, Tommy couldn’t understand. Her mother had taught her the importance of Chinese tradition and her filial duty to her parents and ancestors. Tommy looked forward to her visits more than anything else and measured the passage of time by them.

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And then one day she stopped visiting. Tommy assumed that the burden of his debts had grown too heavy for her, and perhaps she had finally tried to escape the triad. Tommy knew how fruitless that was, given the 14K’s long reach, but he hoped that she would find her way. He assumed that since nobody was paying his debt, that his only value to the 14K would be to make an example of him by beating and eventually killing him. At the very least, he expected that the protection he had enjoyed for being a high-ranking 14K member would end, and that rival gang members would seek him out to settle old scores and make a name for themselves within their tribe. The Sun Yee On members hadn’t forgotten their grievances against him, but for reasons Tommy couldn’t comprehend, the beatings never came. He could only assume that someone, perhaps his daughter, continued to pay down his debt. If it was his daughter, Tommy shuddered to think of the deal she would have had to have made with Big Brother Chang.

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