Inside her front door, Catherine reached into her pocket and removed a miniature jade Buddha. Wealthy enough to buy a boxcar of trinkets, she couldn’t fathom why she’d stolen it from Chan’s China Shop. She’d never done anything crazy in her life, and she was amazed one of the Chan’s hadn’t caught her. Leaning against the door, she turned the figurine over then was startled by the doorbell.
The downstairs maid rounded the kitchen corner.
“I’ll get it, Marta,” Catherine said. She signed for a vase filled with a large bouquet. She placed the flowers on the foyer table, excitement saturating her voice. “These are lovely, aren’t they Marta? Gerald hasn’t sent me flowers in simply ages.”
Catherine, smiling broader than she had in some time, read the card silently: I saw what you took from Chan’s China Shop.
Her smile evaporated.
That night Gerald put his briefcase in the foyer. “Marta,” he called. “Where’s Catherine?”
Marta hustled toward him, nodding respectfully to the man of the house. “Miss Catherine is in her bedroom. She has a terrible migraine.”
“Well, of course she does,” Gerald said, disapproval marring his features. He nodded toward the table. “Where did those come from?”
Marta’s eyes widened.
Two days had passed since the flowers were delivered. Now Gerald and Catherine sat at their favorite table at Chan’s Chinese Palace, owned by the same proprietors as Chan’s China Shop. Catherine thought they were there to enjoy a meal and settle some of their differences, but Gerald had other ideas. He hadn’t said a word since they’d left home, and now his mouth was set in a grim line.
“Why would a stranger send you flowers?”
“I don’t know, Gerald, but if you didn’t send them then maybe I have a secret admirer. God knows I could use a little attention now and again.”
Gerald put his fork full of Moo Shu Pork down and glared. “So that’s what this is about – a pathetic bid for attention. Honestly, Catherine, you should be ashamed.”
Catherine’s eyes misted. She pushed her plate away. “Do you love me, Gerald?”
“I said do you love me?”
“What brought that on?” Gerald shook his head. “If you’re not going to finish your meal, at least eat your fortune cookie.” He pushed the tray holding two cookies toward her. “Maybe the sugar will do you good.”
Catherine sniffed. She knew by the tone of Gerald’s voice the conversation was over. She sighed and reached for a cookie. While she opened it, she finally admitted to herself that he’d only married her because of her money.
Thoughts elsewhere, she pulled the paper out of the cookie. What she read caused the color to drain from her face: Your life is in danger. Say nothing to anyone.
Catherine felt faint, but she had the wherewithal to stuff the fortune into her pocket before reaching for her water glass. As she drank, she searched the faces of the other diners. Her eyes scanned past the hostess and darted back. Mama Chan, face grim, stared directly at Catherine.
Oh God! Catherine’s eyes darted wildly as she thought. She knows I took the Buddha!
“I, uh, I feel a migraine coming on, Gerald,” Catherine said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to go home now.”
“Of course you would, dear,” he said, jaw tight.
On Monday, Catherine took the unexpected package addressed to her into her room. She smiled when she saw that there were several Buddha miniatures in the box, each a different color. She took them out to examine before she realized that along with the figurines was a single sheet of paper bearing a large Chinese symbol. In case Catherine didn’t know what the symbol meant, someone had been thoughtful enough to have drawn a hangman’s noose on the paper. She didn’t make a sound as she fainted to the floor.
“I’m so sorry Mr. Belmont. I called many times and left messages, but you didn’t call back,” Marta said to Gerald when he returned from his business trip Wednesday evening. In a rush, she continued, “Miss Catherine fell and hit her head. The doctor said she’s in a coma. I’m so sorry.”
Gerald’s eyes darted around the room. “What? Where is she?”
“An ambulance came and took her to the hospital. The doctor called to say you should come quickly; he said it doesn’t look good.”
“Well, what happened? Why’d she fall?”
“I don’t know,” Marta said as she wrung her hands. “She got a package, took it upstairs, then I heard a thud. I ran up and found Miss Catherine on the floor with blood on her head.” Marta sniffed, took a tissue from her apron and dabbed her eyes. “You should go to the hospital now, Mr. Belmont. Miss Catherine needs you.”
Gerald turned and headed for the door.
Last week, he’d been surprised when Mama Chan called his office saying she had photographs of Catherine stealing the Buddha. With the Chan family’s reputation for crime – from selling knock-off handbags to cracking heads for non-payment of loans – Gerald was certain Mama Chan was planning to add extortion to her resume. Always a fast thinker, he came up with a plan and arranged a business deal with her that would be lucrative for them both.
So, Gerald thought as he got into his car now and started the engine, I’ll have to give the Chan family a nice bonus when this is all over … on the condition one of them arranges for Catherine to end up in the morgue.
He pulled out of the garage and smiled.
April Winters hopes to help people forget their troubles through her stories, even if it’s only for a little while. Her other works can be read at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Linguistic Erosion, The Short Humour Site, and here at Short-Story.Me.