By Lisa McCourt Hollar
Minsheng Wang greeted the customer as he entered the restaurant, smiling and bowing slightly at the waist. It was the grand opening of The China Dragon, a lame name as far as the elderly man was concerned, but this was America and American’s had certain pre conceived ideas of what a proper Chinese restaurant was called. “Welcome to China Dragon,” Minsheng said, trying to make his accent sound as foreign as possible. The customer wouldn’t care that he had been in America for ten years now and sounded more American himself than some America
The man looked around, seeming to appreciate the interior of the place. “Saw your sign out front,” he said, “and I just had to stop in and try the exotic cuisine.”
Minsheng nodded, avoiding an eye roll as he showed the man to a table. The place had a few diners, but not many. It was still early and the lunch rush wouldn’t be coming for another hour. Handing the man a menu, Minsheng turned to leave saying, “The waitress will be with you shortly.”
“No need for a menu,” the customer said, handing the folded piece of plastic back. “I know what I want. I’ll take one kid for 99 cents.”
“Pardon me,” Minsheng said, puzzled.
“On your sign out front, it says Grand Opening. Kids 99 cents. I’ve never had a kid before. I’ve had monkey brains, kangaroo, bull testicles and in one drunken moment I had my neighbors liver…it was his funeral and well, someone dared me. That is a memory I have never forgotten and have longed for human flesh since. However I don’t have it in me to kill so I’ve had to seek out places that provide what I like. In Cambodia I had a virgin’s reproductive organs marinated in fluids from her own pleasure glands. In Bosnia I had liver and kidney served in a human skull with eyeballs and tongue. But I couldn’t find any place that served kid. Really, I’m shocked it is so cheap.”
“I’m afraid you misunderstood,” Minsheng said, not sure if he was serious or pulling his leg. Some westerners had a strange sense of humor.
“Misunderstood? The kid is not 99 cents? I will pay more, but I feel this is a bit dishonest on your part.”
“No, no, no, the sign means kids eat for 99 cents. It is a common practice.”
“But that is not what your sign says,” the man said, his eyes narrowing. “Kids, 99 cents, along with an itemized list of your other cuisine.”
“Sir, I am sorry if you misunderstood, but this is not a restaurant in Bosnia or Cambodia or any of the other countries you have traveled to. This is America and there are laws.”
“Which is why I was surprised to see you advertising so openly.” The man winked at Minsheng. Pulling out his wallet he smiled, revealing teeth that were perfectly straight and white. “Ok, how much. I promise, money is no problem. I’ll pay whatever you want.”
“Sir,” Minsheng said, his voice stiff, “I cannot serve you what we do not carry.”
The man looked around Minsheng, his eyes falling on a young boy that was wrapping silverware in napkins. “What about that one? He looks like he’s around ten. Still a tender age, I bet he’d taste amazing.”
Minsheng looked at the boy the man indicated. “Kai Ling is my nephew.”
“Oh, I see,” the man said, nodding knowingly. “Going to cost me quite a bit then. How much?”
“Sir, you do not understand…”
“Oh, I think I do,” the man said. “I’m fairly good at reading situations. You are in your early fifty’s…maybe sixty’s. Sometimes it is hard to tell; Asian men age differently than American. You somehow inherited your young nephew, not something you were planning on at your age. Did his parents die in an accident?”
Minsheng nodded. “My sister and her husband. A plane crash. Kai Ling was staying with me while they went on a trip for their anniversary.”
“They didn’t leave much money. If they did you wouldn’t have felt the need to spend your retirement money to open up a Chinese restaurant in a city that has too many. Quite honestly you probably won’t do well, unless you can come up with a spin none of the others have.”
“My sister’s husband was an idiot,” Minsheng confirmed. Invested his money in some fly by night company. It went under. But they still found the money to fly to Las Vegas and party.”
“As for the spin,” the man said, nodding towards the nephew, “you could satisfy an untapped delicacy and become quite rich in the process.”
“My sister’s son,” Minsheng said, sounding regretful.
“How about that one?”
Minsheng turned to look. It was Kai Ling’s idiot friend. He and his mother had been living out of their car and had made quite a nuisance of themselves. Kai was always trying to help but always ending up under foot. He’d chased him away earlier and told him not to come back. “Yan Rui?”
“I would pay quite handsomely.” The man leaned forward and whispered an amount in Minsheng’s ear. Minsheng’s eyes widened.
“Yan Rui,” Minsheng said, motioning the boy over. He sounded cross, so Yan Rui jumped up and hurried over. He didn’t want to earn more wrath. “Does your mother know you are here,” Minsheng asked the boy.
“No,” Yan Rui said, trembling. Then his friend’s uncle began to smile and Yan relaxed, feeling much better.
“Come into the kitchen,” Minsheng said, “I have something I need you to assist me with.” As they passed his nephew, Minsheng instructed him to stay up front with the customers and not to worry about any noise he might hear. Then he was on his way to the kitchen, trying to decide what seasonings would work best and wondering if anyone would notice if any of the local kids, most of them runaways and homeless, went missing.
Copyright© 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar. All rights reserved.