Monday, March 23, 2015

Misfortune Cookie

Ralph got a kick out of the costumes and revelers celebrating the Chinese New Year. It was January 2012. He played with the fortune cookie in his jacket pocket. His crooked smile evaporated. Fat Hungs was crowded, always was. Ralph sat in a back table adjacent to the swinging kitchen doors. He remembered the days when he ate all of the General Tso’s chicken his stomach could handle without a care in the world. Now, with a fork he stabbed at the plate of steamed broccoli and brown rice. Under his breath he cursed his doctor and nagging wife. But the vision at a round table across the restaurant was more distasteful than his tasteless dinner. Big Benny Rollins’s thick lips were greased and shiny from the huge plate of spare ribs from which he gorged. In between ripping meat from the bone, Benny stuffed fried egg rolls and shrimp tempura down his talkative throat. He sat with a woman Ralph didn’t recognize. Probably talking bullshit Ralph thought. Maybe Benny was enlightening her on how he spilled his obese guts to a couple of ambitious federal investigators, thereby shutting down what Ralph and his boss, and his bosses’ boss perceived to be an extremely lucrative and legitimate business.

The parade outside grew bigger and louder. The face of Benny grew shinier and greasier from a combination of sweat and fat. Ralph wanted to take a silk handkerchief from his jacket and wipe Benny’s face clean. Instead, he pulled out the fortune cookie from his pocket, stopped the waiter carrying a tray of tea and two fortune cookies toward Bernie’s table. Ralph removed one cookie from the tray, replaced it with a C-note and the cookie from his pocket. “For the gentleman.” The waiter nodded.

Benny’s thick fingers cracked the cookie. He read, “Happy New Year – Year of the Rat.” Benny looked around, the sweat beads more prevalent. He called over the waiter.

“What the hell’s the meaning of this?” He handed the waiter his fortune.

The waiter looked at the small piece of paper. He hesitated, then, “This is the year of the rat, sir. Anything wrong?”

Benny shook his head. “Never mind. Bring me the check.”

Benny paid and headed out into the crowded street. Right behind him, Ralph approached the cashier, paid for his uneaten meal, and asked the cashier about the year.

“The year of the dragon,” was her reply.

Ralph thanked her and joined the noisy crowd. Among the fireworks and the loud marching bands blasting music, no one heard the shot.