The warm shower and the opportunity to have a little privacy was one of the best feelings of comfort Brig had experienced in a long time. He turned the water on as hot as he could stand it and watched as the collection of blood and grime fell off of him and swirled down the drain. He didn’t even have the energy to use soap, much less a wash rag. His body hurt everywhere. He found that when he stood still and concentrated on not thinking about anything, the pain became negligible.
He dried himself gingerly with a coarse white towel. He looked down at his filthy clothes and decided against putting them back on. It would be too painful to bend down, anyway. Two white robes hung on the back of the bathroom door. He pulled one off of its hanger and painfully laced his arms through the sleeves. Covering himself, he returned to the bedroom where Yellow was watching a Chinese movie. “Feel better?” Yellow asked.
Brig shrugged his shoulders, “Tired.” He was hungry too, but after the shower he could barely keep his eyes open.
“Go ahead and lie down. I’ll wake you when you’re wanted.”
Brig laid down on one of the small beds. Ordinarily, he would have complained about how hard the bed was, but given his circumstances he swore he would never take the comfort of a clean, soft bed for granted again. He fell asleep within seconds of his head hitting the pillow.
A few hours later, Yellow shook Brig from his sleep. “Wake up. Put those clothes on.” A new set of clothes lay on the bed. Yellow was smoking a cigarette, staring intently at his phone. He looked nervous.
Brig rubbed the sleep from his eyes and asked, “What’s going on?”
“You have a meeting with the Dragon Head of the 14K. He’ll tell you what happens next.”
Brig looked around for shoes. Finding none, he looked over at Yellow for guidance.
“What?” Yellow asked.
“Fuck!” Someone had forgotten to buy Brig shoes.Yellow walked over to the closet, picked up something from the floor, and threw it over to Brig. “Wear these.” It was a plastic bag with a pair of slippers inside.
“Or go barefoot. We’re just going down the hall. Hurry, he’s waiting.”
Brig opened the bag with his teeth and put the slippers on over his feet. He wiggled his toes as if testing the comfort of the slippers.
“OK. Let’s go,” Yellow commanded.
Brig stood to go, but felt dizzy and had to steady himself. “Maybe I should eat something. I don’t feel so good.”
“No time now.” Yellow opened the room’s door. Another man was standing to the side of the door, waiting for them.
“You idiot! You forgot to buy shoes.” Yellow reprimanded his accomplice as he walked out of the room. The three of them looked down at Brig’s feet in unison. Brig wiggled his toes again.
“Oops,” said the man.
“Fuck your mother. I better not get any shit for this,” Yellow warned. They proceeded down the carpeted hallway. The rooms to the sides all had one door. The room at the end of the hall had two doors, which Brig figured was a suite. Before they reached the end of the hall, Yellow had some last words of advice for Brig, “Do not fuck with this man. Don’t be smart, or try to be funny. Just answer his questions…for your own sake.”
“What do you care about my sake?”
“O.K. For the Scholar’s sake? For Happy’s sake?”
Brig stopped in his tracks when he Happy’s name come out of Yellow’s mouth. “What did you say?”
The two doors opened wide, welcoming the group of men into the well-lit room. There sat an older man sitting in a high-backed chair smoking a cigar, but all that Brig could see was Happy, who stood just behind and to the right of the old man. She was dressed in a black gown, and her long black hair was pulled sharply back into a bun. She looked as beautiful as Brig remembered, but showed no emotion as her eyes met Brig’s.
“Mr. Young! Please come in. Come in,” the older man beckoned. Whatever strength Brig had in his skinny legs was gone. He knew that if he moved, he would crumble to the ground.
“Mr. Young. Come in. Now!” the man commanded in a powerful voice that belied his age. Yellow grabbed Brig roughly and maneuvered him to a position several feet in front of Boss Chang. Chang nodded his head down, giving the signal to Yellow to force Brig to his knees.
“Oh, my!” Chang acted surprised to see how beaten up Brig looked. Brig only stared up at Happy, unable to comprehend anything but her. “My countrymen seem to have treated you poorly. But other than that, how do you like China?” The room was quiet and waited for Brig to answer. But Brig had heard nothing. A thousand questions raced through his head as he continued to stare.
An extraordinarily large Chinese man, Chang’s bodyguard, approached Brig and ordered him to answer Chang’s question. When Brig failed to comply, Big Baby backhanded him across the head. Brig collapsed.
“Big Baby, stop!” Chang falsely commanded. Everyone but Brig knew Big Baby did nothing without explicit orders from Chang. “This man is our guest. I’m sorry about that Brig. Get him a chair.” Big Baby produced a small, wooden stool and placed it at the feet of Chang. Brig pulled himself up from off of the ground and sat on the stool.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Chang Ji Keung. Some know me as ‘The Cunning Tiger.’ I prefer that you call me ‘Master.’ Let’s try it. Go ahead.”
Brig looked up at Chang questioningly. Chang smiled and motioned with his head for Brig to speak.
“Excellent! Let me introduce the others in the room. I believe you know some of them. You’ve met Yellow,” Chang pointed to Yellow, who nodded disinterestedly. “You’ve met Big Baby,” Big Baby looked down at Brig menacingly. “And I believe you’ve met my daughter. Happy.” Happy was no longer looking at Brig. Her eyes and her mind were elsewhere.
“Happy is…your daughter?” Brig was trying to put the pieces together, but the pieces weren’t from the same puzzle.
“Come, give me a kiss, darling.” Happy smiled at Chang and kissed him long and hard. Brig’s face contorted in disgust. Happy had to be at least thirty, maybe forty years younger than Chang…and she was his daughter! Though the rest of the group had little to no reaction to the kiss, at least one other person in the room was equally, perhaps more, disgusted. Unbeknownst to Boss Chang, Yellow was seething.
Chang patted Happy lovingly on the cheek, who returned to her position after the performance.
“Not by blood. I adopted her when her mother died, and her father abandoned her. She is beautiful, is she not?”
“Yes. Very beautiful,” Brig agreed.
“Yes. Very beautiful…” Chang was prompting him to say something more.
Brig was confused. Chang mouthed the word “Master.”
“Yes. Very beautiful. Master,” Brig reiterated.
“You’re getting the hang of this! Now. Why are we here?” Chang continued. “I understand you come from a wealthy family, and it so happens I like wealth. But I don’t have as much as I want. I seem to always want more, don’t I darling?” The question was rhetorical, and Happy made no effort to answer. “However, I do have more than I want of you. My logical assumption was that your family would give me some of that wealth to get you back. But it seems your father wants you less than I do. In fact, he denies that you are even his son. I know that’s bullshit. Deep down he must want you back. What father could be so heartless to let his child be tortured and killed by a Chinese triad? I know that I would move heaven and earth to get my daughter back.”
Chang took a drag from his cigar and a sip of his tea then continued. “So we motivated him a little, by letting him know we would tell the international press that Brigham Young turned his back on his own son. Being the savvy businessman he is, he quickly understood how bad this would look for business. Are you following me, Mr. Young?” Chang asked. Brig’s swollen, disfigured face made it hard to tell if he was listening.
“Good. He may not have believed us at first, but he does now. I have his attention, but it’s his money I want. This is where you come in. He wants to hear from you. Not only that you’re alive, but that you want to come home, and he wants it on camera. You see my threat would lose a lot of its motivational energy if people believed we were working together, or that you didn’t want to go home. Unfortunately, you look horrible. I want you to look bad, but not this bad. I have people that promise me they can get you camera ready in short order. Sounds easy, right?”
The room fell silent, waiting for Brig’s response. Brig looked at Happy, hoping to see a sign of sympathy, that she cared what was happening to him. Happy looked away. He scanned the rest of the room as if looking for an answer. Brig turned back to Chang.
“Fuck your mother,” Brig stated loudly.
“What did you say?” Chang was aghast. Nobody in recent memory had had the temerity to say something like that to him.
“Fuck your mother. Master.” Big Baby stepped towards Brig, drawing his big right arm back, fist closed, preparing to deliver a monstrous blow, but Chang stayed him.
Chang laughed maniacally. “Bravo Mr. Young. Your Cantonese is fantastic! I’ve never met a gwailo that speaks our language. Have you Big Baby? Did you know he spoke Cantonese this well, darling?” Neither Happy nor Big Baby answered. Chang was prone to rhetorical questions, and they had been through this routine many times before. “I think I will enjoy killing you.”
“What have you done to Tommy?” Brig asked.
“Oh yeah. I almost forgot about him. The Reluctant Scholar. You think he’s your friend, don’t you? Perhaps it would be good for you to see him. Maybe it will encourage you to convince your father to pay me.” Chang nodded in Yellow’s direction. Yellow and three of his cohorts left the room immediately.
“Let me tell you something about your friend Tommy. He and I used to be tight. In fact, I was the one who gave him his name, “The Reluctant Scholar,” and sponsored him into our brotherhood. You remember when I told you about Happy’s father abandoning her when her mother died? Guess who that was?
Brig’s mind was imploding, and it showed on his face.
“He didn’t tell you any of this, did he? The bastard!” Chang laughed and looked over at Happy who was stone-faced. “Here’s something else you’ll find interesting.” He signaled for Big Baby to bring him something. Big Baby retrieved the grey duffel bag and handed it to Chang.
“Let’s see what we have here.” Chang teased. “Recognize this? I believe it’s yours.” He pulled out Brig’s small backpack.
Chang unzipped the top of the bag and withdrew the bottle of OxyContin Brig thought had been stolen in Lan Kwai Fong. “These have to be yours. Was Tommy carrying these for you? They’re not that heavy. I would’ve thought, being a drug addict and all, that you would have wanted these. Care for a bump?” Chang tossed the bottle to Brig, who made no effort to catch it. The bottle bounced off of his chest and onto the floor.
“Ohhhhhh.” Chang said in mock excitement. “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Brig. Do you know how much the Reluctant Scholar owes me? Close to a million dollars, U.S. He was holding out on me!” Chang pulled out the bag Brig had used to carry his U.S currency. Chang held the bag open for Brig to see the thousands of dollars that were once his. “Sorry. Finders, keepers.” Chang handed the bag to Big Baby and sat back in his chair.
“Mr. Young. You seem to be a horrible judge of character. Tommy is a murdering conman who abandoned his daughter after his wife died and took you for everything that you had. How do you like him now?”
The doors swung open as Yellow and the three other men dragged Tommy into the room. They looked angry.
“Perfect timing!” Chang announced jovially. “We were just talking about you Scholar. Did your nose itch?” Chang laughed again.
Yellow laid Tommy down gently to the left side of Brig, in front of Chang. Brig had to force himself not to vomit. Tommy looked like a surgery that had gone horribly wrong. He was unconscious but breathing. His chest raised haltingly up and down, struggling for breath. Skin from his arms, legs, and face had been flayed to reveal muscle underneath.
Chang’s innate sense of self-preservation and ability to read a room, were legendary, and the primary reasons he was still alive. That sense failed him now as he focused on Tommy, enjoying the excruciating pain he was going through.
Anger stretched across Yellow’s normally handsome face, staring at Happy, urging her to do something.
Tears welled up in Happy’s face as she looked down on the grotesque figure that was her father.
Brig was also looking down at the bloody mess and struggled with his emotions. Tommy did not deserve his pity, let alone his friendship. He had stolen everything from Brig, and had pretended to be his friend. But nobody deserved this.
Happy reached back to the top of her head where a large piece of gold jewelry secured her hair in a tight bun. The jewelry was an antique hairpin from the Ming dynasty, and as she slowly withdrew it her long black hair fell loosely to her shoulders.
As Chang enjoyed Tommy’s pain and suffering, Big Baby was still alert and doing his job when he noticed the crazed look on Happy’s face and the ten inch dagger she held above Chang’s head. He moved quickly for a big man, but Yellow’s bullet was quicker. Big Baby’s head exploded only a few feet from Happy. As Big Baby’s face hit the floor just behind his boss, Happy’s dagger plunged into a soft part of Chang’s neck. Chang threw his arms up to protect himself, but it was too late and Happy’s rage would not be denied. The knife hammered up and down like a producing oil derrick, plunging repeatedly into the old man’s neck. Chang was old and weak and his attempt to protect himself was likewise. Chang’s lifelessness didn’t stop Happy. She was seeing red. It wasn’t until Yellow stepped in, grabbed her arms, and pulled her forcefully away that the mayhem ceased.
While Chang and Big Baby were being killed, Brig had taken his shirt off and placed it as a pillow beneath Tommy’s head. He carefully repositioned Tommy’s arms and legs so that he was laid out more comfortably. “Stay with me, Tommy. You’re going to be alright,” Brig reassured, but doubted that Tommy would live to see the next day.