White Tiger, p.1Kylie Chan
For my sister, Fiona, my best friend, Alana, and most of all my fantastic kids, William and Madeleine.
Table of Contents
About the Mythology
Suggested Further Reading
About The Author
About the Publisher
At the bottom of the Mariana Trench, where the water is freezing and dark, a great black Serpent sleeps in the mud.
‘Emma, this is your final warning. If you do not wear a suit to my kindergarten, I will dock your pay.’ Miss Kwok glared at me over her expensive reading glasses. ‘Jeans are not acceptable at any of my
kindergartens. More smartly dressed. Remember.’
I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to be out of her office and up to Mr Chen’s place.
‘Your hair is unacceptable as well. You should come with me to the salon. Your hair is messy, you don’t wear make-up—really, Emma, your whole appearance is just not good enough. You should work harder to make yourself more presentable.’
A flood of words hit the back of my throat. I swallowed them all.
‘I have had some complaints from the parents.’ She shuffled the papers on the desk. Her face suggested she was in her early forties—the work of an excellent plastic surgeon—but her hands showed her true age. ‘The parents say you are spending too much time talking with the children and not enough time teaching them the ABC’s.’
‘Talking is the best way to learn English,’ I said.
‘Well, make sure they learn their ABC’s. They need to be able to recite the alphabet and spell some words to pass the examinations for first grade. They’re here to cram for the best schools, you know that.’
I tried to control my expression as I thought about what I’d like to do to a school that had examinations for entry into first grade.
I shrugged. ‘It’s your school, Miss Kwok. I’ll do more ABC’s.’
‘I do not like your attitude sometimes, Emma.’ She became more fierce. ‘Oh, and stop wasting the drawing materials. I only budget for one set a year and they’re using them too much.’
I glanced at my watch. ‘Is that all? I’m supposed to be at Mr Chen’s in less than an hour.’
‘How is the work going with Mr Chen?’
‘He’s taken every private spot I have. He’s my only private client now.’
This caught her attention. ‘He is the only client you have outside the kindergarten?’
‘But I gave your number to quite a few people I know. Don’t tell me you’re so lazy you have stopped working for them. You should work until 11 p.m., you make good money. Don’t waste your evenings doing nothing.’
‘As people left Hong Kong and private teaching slots freed up, he took the times. I think he even negotiated with some of the parents to release me so I could look after Simone. Which suits me just fine, really, because she’s the most delightful child I’ve ever worked with.’
She studied me intently. ‘Do you like working for him?’
‘Sure. He’s very nice.’
‘How would you like to earn a little more money?’ ‘You already pay me very well, Miss Kwok.’
Her eyes rested heavily on mine. ‘If you tell me about some of his business dealings, the names of the people who go in and out of his house while you’re working there, you could earn even more.’
I stared at her.
‘I could make it very good for you.’ ‘No.’
She lifted her head slightly. ‘You will do this for me, Emma.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I resign.’
‘You can’t resign. You will stay with me.’
‘I’ll have a resignation letter on your desk tomorrow morning.’
She grimaced with exasperation.
I met her eyes and held them. ‘I resign.’
‘Nobody in Hong Kong will pay you as well as I do.’
‘I don’t care,’ I said. ‘I’ll find something.’
‘You have to give me two weeks’ notice,’ she said. ‘You have to continue to work for me for two weeks, Emma.’
‘I feel a sudden bout of the flu coming on,’ I said, then rose and went out without looking back.
My friend, April, was sitting at the computer outside Miss Kwok’s office, with her fiancé, Andy, hovering behind her. April was a lovely Australianborn Chinese who worked as a systems programmer in a bank, but occasionally came in to help with the computers at the kindergarten. She had a soft, kind face framed by shoulder-length hair dyed a rich russet brown.
‘Hi, April, bye, April. Gotta run, I’m late for Mr Chen,’ I said as I hurried past.
‘We going for Thai Saturday?’ April called after me. I stopped. ‘Yeah. Wan Chai.’
Andy, a slim, well-dressed Chinese guy, glanced unsmiling over the top of April’s head at me. ‘I can’t come,’ he said. ‘I have to be in China. Don’t stay out too late.’
I didn’t like the way Andy looked at me. ‘Oh, that’s too bad,’ I said, trying to sound disappointed.
‘Saturday, then,’ April said, and turned back to the screen. ‘We should do another backup.’
‘As long as we don’t lose any of the data. It’s very important,’ Andy said.
I leaned against the divider in the MTR carriage and mused. Done it again. But I was thoroughly sick of being bullied by Miss Kwok; no amount of money she paid me would compensate.
I shook my head as the carriage swayed through the darkness of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. I couldn’t believe her nerve, asking me to tell her about Mr Chen’s activities. I knew she had more business interests than just the chain of kindergartens; she was one of the wealthiest women in Hong Kong. People called her the Merry Widow, the Social Godmother. But asking me to spy on my private clients was way over the line.
I sighed. I had a tidy nest egg saved: the combination of Miss Kwok’s excellent salary with the fat cheques I’d received from private clients over the last four years. It’d keep me going for a while. I wasn’t ready to return to Austra
I tried to tidy my hair—as usual my short brown ponytail had come out everywhere. Nobody took any notice of me; I was just an uninteresting Westerner, the only one on the train. Medium height, about five six; slightly overweight. Plain clothes, plain face, plain brown shoulder-length hair. Nothing special at all. But my skills as an English teacher were highly sought after in Hong Kong. I wouldn’t have any trouble finding something new.
Or maybe Singapore. Gifted English teachers were always welcome in Singapore, and the correspondence course I was halfway through could be taken from anywhere in the world.
The train stopped at Admiralty station and I joined the rush onto the platform. I rode the escalator up to ground level and the terminal where I could take a bus to Mr Chen’s apartment on the Peak.
The traffic noise and polluted air hit me like a physical force as I walked out of the station. Chinese New Year had just finished—the Year of the Horse in 2002 had begun. The late February weather was cool, but there was a hint of humidity in the breeze that suggested the presence of the stifling summer just around the corner.
‘And then the Dark King kissed the Dark Queen and the baby Princess goodbye,’ four-year-old Simone said, moving the Lego figures around on the cream carpet.
‘Why is he the Dark King?’ I said.
‘Because he is, silly Emma.’ Simone leaned forward as she moved the Lego, and her tawny hair fell over her shoulders. Her mother had been European, giving her flawless porcelain skin and light brown eyes. ‘The bad people came, and scared the Dark Queen, and she ran away.’
She made the Queen figure run, until another block—obviously the bad people—smacked into her and she fell. She picked up a white block and flew it over the figures. ‘The White Tiger came to help, but the Dark Queen was already gone. The Dark King came back…’ she returned the Dark King figure ‘…but the Dark Queen was gone, and the King and Princess cried together, and hugged, and promised to look after each other forever and ever.’
‘That’s a really sad story, Simone,’ I said. ‘Let’s bring the Queen back, maybe?’
She shrugged, and appeared to be about to say something, then froze. Her face went blank, then she lit up. ‘Daddy’s home!’
The complicated gears on the metal gate outside the front door clashed, then the lock on the door rattled. Simone leapt to her feet and dashed through the living room. ‘Daddy!’
Mr Chen came in. Simone’s father was in his mid-forties, and tall for a Chinese, at more than six feet. He wore an old-fashioned Chinese cotton jacket and pants, all in black, and moved with restrained power that hinted at hard muscle. He had very long hair, well past his waist, and as usual it had come out from its tie and fallen over his shoulder. He ignored it as he kicked off his shoes.
When he saw Simone, he bent and held a hand out to her. She raced to him with her arms up and he hoisted her easily with one hand, and with the other snapped the sword he’d been carrying into its clips on the wall.
Simone threw her little arms around his neck and kissed him loudly on the cheek. He smiled at her, his dark eyes sparkling, then saw me over her shoulder and nodded, more serious. ‘Miss Donahoe.’
I rose and nodded back to him; I was always careful to treat Chinese employers with respect. Employer. He was the only one left now.
‘And what have you been doing?’ he asked Simone.
‘Ngoh tong Emma—’ Simone began.
‘English, Simone,’ he said with mock ire.
Simone giggled and started again. ‘Me and Emma are playing Lego. We’re having fun.’
‘Good.’ He lowered her carefully. ‘Go and play with Miss Donahoe.’ He turned to the door in the hallway behind him. ‘Monica!’
Monica, the Filipina domestic helper, opened the kitchen door part-way and poked her head out. She saw Mr Chen, threw the door open, and came into the hallway, wiping her hands on a towel. She was short, round and middle-aged, with a kind face. ‘Sorry, sir, didn’t know you were home.’ She saw the Lego strewn on the living room carpet. ‘Sorry about the mess, sir, I’ll clean it up.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ he said. ‘Make me some noodles while I take a shower. Ho fan, soup, choy sum. Not too much, I may go out again later.’ He stopped and a look of concentration passed across his face. ‘Why is Leo downstairs?’
‘He’s washing the car,’ Monica said. ‘It was very dirty, sir.’
‘Call him on his mobile and tell him to come back up right now,’ Mr Chen said.
Monica disappeared into the kitchen.
Mr Chen turned back to me. ‘How long do you think you can stay, Miss Donahoe?’
‘As long as you like, Mr Chen,’ I said. ‘I resigned from the kindergarten this afternoon, so I don’t need to be in early tomorrow.’
‘You’ve found a new job? You’ll be leaving us?’ he said, concerned.
‘Don’t go, Emma!’ Simone cried.
‘I won’t go, I was just tired of working for Kitty Kwok. I’ll find something else, but don’t worry, I won’t leave you.’
‘Good,’ Simone said, and returned to the Lego.
‘So how long will you need me?’ I said.
He smiled gently. ‘About fifteen years. How about coming here full-time?’ He raised his hand. ‘Wait, don’t answer, let me shower and change first, and then we can talk about it.’ He strode down the hall towards his room.
‘You can stay forever?’ Simone said, wide-eyed with delight.
‘I don’t know, Simone,’ I said. ‘I’ll need to think about it.’
Her little face screwed up with hope. ‘Please say yes.’
The gate and the front door opened and Leo, Mr Chen’s driver, came in. He was a black American, nearly six and a half feet tall and a wall of muscle. He had a spectacularly ugly face, the centrepiece of which was an artistically broken nose, but he had a kind smile and adored Simone.
‘Hi, Leo,’ Simone said.
‘Hi, Simone, Emma.’ Leo kicked off his shoes at the front door then poked his nose into the living room. ‘Where is he?’
‘Having a shower,’ I said.
Simone jumped up from her Lego. ‘Guess what, Leo?’
His small brown eyes sparkled at her. ‘What?’
‘Emma’s going to stay forever.’
Leo glanced sharply at me. ‘Is that right?’
‘No, no,’ I said. ‘He just asked me to go full-time. But I have to think about it.’
Leo came into the living room and towered over us. He crossed his massive arms over his chest. ‘Actually, Emma, it would be a good idea if you came full-time. You’re the best teacher Simone’s ever had.’
‘Thanks, Leo, that means a lot to me.’ I glanced down at Simone’s hope-filled face. ‘I’ll think about it.’
Mr Chen came down the hallway barefoot, towelling his damp hair. He always wore incredibly scruffy clothes at home, and this evening was no exception. His black T-shirt was faded and frayed, and his black cotton pants had a large shredded hole in one knee.
He had unusually dark eyes, nearly black, and the sculpted face of a Southern Chinese, with prominent cheekbones and a strong chin. He pulled the towel from his hair and threw it over one shoulder, then ran one hand through his long hair, tossed it back, and smiled into my eyes.
Suddenly Singapore didn’t seem so good.
Then Mr Chen saw Leo and scowled. ‘You. In here. Now.’ He turned and went into the dining room across the hall without looking back.
Leo bowed his bald head and skulked into the dining room after Mr Chen.
‘Leo’s in big trouble,’ Simone confided to me. ‘My dad’s going to yell at him a lot.’
‘Why? He just washed the car. That’s what a driver does.’
‘He’s not supposed to leave us alone,’ Simone said, deadly serious. ‘We could get hurt.’ ‘Hurt? Who
She leaned closer and whispered, ‘Bad people.’
Good god, Leo wasn’t a driver; he was a bodyguard. Kidnapping didn’t happen often, but it did happen; all children of rich families in Hong Kong were targets. Of course Leo was a bodyguard, it was obvious. No wonder Mr Chen was so upset about him leaving us in the apartment alone.
Simone’s eyes were wide. ‘That’s why Daddy carries his sword everywhere. Bad people.’
‘Sword?’ I said.
She pointed towards the sword on its clips next to the front door.
I jerked back with shock. What was he doing running around with a sword in his hand? And why the hell hadn’t I paid the sword any attention before? I had been working part-time there for six months, and I hadn’t thought to question why my employer needed to carry around a sword.
‘Why does he need a sword, Simone?’ I said. ‘Does he work with the movie studios? Or teach martial arts?’
‘Arts.’ Simone shrugged. ‘Stuff. Daddy’s stuff.’
I suddenly realised that I had no idea how Mr Chen made his money, and he was obviously extremely wealthy. He could be involved in organised crime. He didn’t seem like that sort of person to me, but I had to wonder.
‘What kind of stuff does Daddy do?’
Before Simone could answer, the dining room door opened and Leo came out, looking cowed and miserable. He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Your turn, Emma. Simone can go to Monica for a bath.’
‘I want Emma to bath me!’ Simone yelled.
‘I have to go and talk to your daddy about working full-time, remember?’
‘Ooh, yes.’ She pushed me towards the dining room. ‘Go and talk to him.’
Mr Chen had tied back his long hair and was checking the mail as he ate a bowl of noodles.
‘Sit, Miss Donahoe.’ He pushed his ho fan noodles aside.
‘Eat,’ I said. ‘You look starving.’
He smiled and his eyes wrinkled up. ‘No, no, it can wait. Full-time. Yes or no?’
‘You haven’t said how much you’ll pay me or what hours I’ll be working, Mr Chen. I can’t decide until you tell me.’
‘Yes, you’re quite right. How about six days a week, live-in, full-time? Sunday off—that’s Monica’s and Leo’s day off. I can probably give you a few extra days off a month as well. Five thousand US a month.’
White Tiger by Kylie Chan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes