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The Reluctant Scholar – Chapter 5.9

In January 2017 Tommy learned that the prison system would release him within the next few months, assuming he stayed out of trouble. In the twenty-seven years that Tommy had been in prison, his mentor and old friend, Big Brother Chang, the Dragon Head of the 14K, had never visited him. However, on an unusually cold day in March, Chang showed up at Stanley Prison. He congratulated Tommy on his upcoming release and reminded Tommy that he still owed the brotherhood over HK$6,000,000.

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“That’s still a lot of money, Scholar. Any thoughts on how you’ll pay it back?”

The concept of getting out of prison was surreal to Tommy. He was now in his sixties, and his job prospects were poor. Had he been able to avoid prison, he would likely have become Chang’s “429,” the 14K’s military commander, and next in line for becoming the group’s Dragon Head. As for Chang, he was now in his seventies and didn’t move as quickly as he once did, but he still looked strong and his mind was as sharp as ever. Being ruthless and continuously alert for danger seemed to have been healthy for Chang.

Meanwhile, Tommy had mellowed while serving his time. Either he had matured or lost interest, but he had no desire to return to the thug life. All that Tommy wanted was to get out of prison, reunite with his daughter, and find a small, quiet place to live. But he knew even that modest ambition was a pipedream. Tommy still had enemies, with long memories, and the only thing that kept him alive was his relationship to the 14K. Without that he was a dead man.

“To be honest Big Brother, I’m still coming to terms with getting out. I’ll believe it when I’m on the other side of these walls.”

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“Believe it. In a few months, we’ll be out on a boat, smoking a cigar, sipping whiskey, and retelling old war stories.” Chang offered him a cigarette. Tommy refused. As a tribute to his deceased wife, he had given up smoking.

“If you hadn’t noticed, we’re old,” Chang continued. “There are forces that are trying to push me out and seize control of the brotherhood.” Admitting weakness wasn’t something a Dragon Head would normally do, but Tommy wasn’t a threat and was once his most trusted lieutenant. Tommy understood the triad ecosystem and how it operated as well as anyone.

“I don’t worry so much about the other triad Dragon Heads. I’ve been around long enough to know how to deal with them. My biggest concern is the loyalty of the soldiers within our ranks. These recruits are different. They have no respect. No honor. No tradition.” Chang took a deep drag from his cigarette. “I need people around me I can trust. I know you may think I’ve abandoned you, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have a long history, mostly good, and I have six million reasons to trust you.”

“About that. If you don’t mind my asking, how did it get down to six?” Tommy asked. “I mean, I know that Happy had been paying it down at one time, but I haven’t heard from her in years. I must have owed over twenty million before I got sent here.”

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“Ah, yes. Your daughter. A wonderful young woman. Between her and I, we’ve made a significant dent in your debt, haven’t we?”

Despite their long relationship, Tommy doubted that Chang had contributed anything to his cause. Chang valued only two things: money and power. He would say or do anything to get more of both. Tommy played along.

Thank you, Big Brother. You have been a blessing to my family.”

“Ah stop ass kissing. We’ve both benefited, and I haven’t forgotten the things you’ve done for me. Your gambling debt notwithstanding.”

“How is she?” Tommy promised himself that he would not ask Chang about Happy, but he couldn’t help himself. He had heard rumors that Happy had become one of Chang’s girls, but he had hoped they were false.

“An amazing young woman. So much smarter than her father. Yes?” Chang chuckled while expelling a lungful of smoke. “She’s studying abroad. Did you know? In the U.S. She’s working for me, of course. For us. Trying to reduce that mountain of debt you’ve burdened her with. She’s using her unique skills to separate some spoiled son of a rich man from his wealth. She misses Hong Kong. Misses her…family. I know I miss her.” Chang let that idea settle.

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What do you mean ‘unique skill set?’ What is she doing?” Tommy forced himself to ask, his anger and contempt for Chang surfacing. The tone of his voice and body language became confrontational.

“Careful Scholar,” the Dragon warned. “She’s a grown woman, who grew up without her biological father or mother. I’m a man, an older man, but a man that still has, and still can, fulfill needs.” Chang was provoking Tommy, and it was working. Tommy fought to restrain himself. He didn’t care what happened to him. He was only concerned about what the Dragon might do to his daughter.

Besides, if she’s doing this for anybody, she’s doing it for you! It wasn’t my idea to send her to America. It was hers. One day, she just left. But, she has proven her worth.” Chang knew he held all the cards. Tommy wouldn’t do anything unless he knew Happy was safe. The threat of Chang hurting Happy put Chang in complete control.

“It’s true. You’ve been more of a father to her than I have. I’m sure you’ve taken excellent care of her,” Tommy said sarcastically through gritted teeth.

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“Yes. Indeed I have,” Chang said with the bravado of a bullfighter. “Indeed, I do and will continue to do.” Chang was subtly reminding Tommy that he was boss and that he would allow them to live, if Tommy maintained his loyalty.

“What I can’t understand is why she continues to care. It’s not as though you two are close. I mean, when was the last time she visited you? Regardless, nobody wants you to spend the rest of your life in prison, so I made some calls. Greased some skids. Twisted some arms and bent some ears. Long story short, in a few weeks, you’ll be a free man.”

Tommy looked down at the table that separated him from Chang. His anger had subsided, and he digested what Chang had just said. Tommy was ecstatic that his daughter was alive and safe, and cared enough to arrange his release. But the thought of this perverted old man, who had once acted as his daughter’s surrogate father, now using his wealth and power to force his daughter to share his bed with him was almost more than he could bear.

Chang stood up to leave. “In a few days, you’ll get out. Come see me and we’ll discuss how you can continue to work off your debt.”

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