99 Ways to Die

99 Ways to Die

by Ed Lin

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Overview

In Taipei, Taiwan, the kidnapping of a Mainlander billionaire throws national media into a tizzy—not least because of the famous victim’s vitriolic anti-immigration politics.

Jing-nan has known Peggy Lee, a bullying frenemy who runs her family’s huge corporation, since high school. Peggy’s father has been kidnapped, and the ransom the kidnappers are demanding is not money but IP: a high-tech memory chip that they want to sell in China.
 
Jing-nan feels sorry for Peggy until she starts blackmailing him into helping out. Peggy is worried the kidnappers’ deadline will pass before the police are able to track down the chip. But when the reluctant Jingnan tries to help, he finds himself deeper and deeper in trouble with some very unsavory characters—the most unsavory of whom might be the victim himself.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641290883
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/24/2019
Series: A Taipei Night Market Novel Series , #3
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,156,051
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ed Lin is a journalist by training and an all-around stand-up kinda guy. He’s the author of the Taipei Night Market series, Ghost Month and Incensed; his literary debut, Waylaid; and his Robert Chow crime series, This Is a Bust, Snakes Can’t Run, and One Red Bastard. Lin, who is of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards. Lin lives in New York with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and son.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

When my old classmate Peggy called me I didn’t recognize her voice because I’d never heard her cry before.
     I’d never seen her shed a tear and now I was listening to double-lung sobs that were clipping out the audio. If my phone hadn’t indicated that the call was from her office phone, I would’ve thought I had a direct line to a cub at the black-bear pen at the zoo.
     I clamped the phone against my left ear until the cartilage buckled and stuck a thumb in my right ear. Foot traffic at the night market was beginning to wind down but it was still loud as hell all around me. Honestly, though, I’m usually the noisiest thing in my vicinity, coaxing and cajoling tourists in English to come to my stand, give me money and eat my food in exactly that order if not in those exact terms.
      “Peggy,” I said. “Catch your breath. I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
     I heard Peggy drop the phone, hack out phlegm and blow her nose roughly. She came back on the line and croaked, “Someone kidnapped my daddy, Jing-nan!”
     I crouched and felt behind me as I eased into a seat. Her father, Thomas Lee Tong-ming, was the landlord of nearly every stand at the Shilin Night Market, including the best one, Unknown Pleasures, which I happened to own. On top of that, I’ve known him for most of my 25 years. Known about him, too, what with all the times he’s been on TV.
     The Lees are incredibly wealthy. They were one of those mainlander families that had sailed from China over to Taiwan on a boat made of gold after the civil war ended and became even wealthier over the last seventy years.
     Thomas Lee Tong-ming controlled some of the most powerful tax-dodging entities in Taiwan. He was popular and because he was rich, he was also adored by the media, even by the outlets he didn’t explicitly own. His fame made him extremely attractive.
     He didn’t seem to have much in the physical sense to offer a woman, apart from his relatively tall height, which was enhanced when he stood on his piles of money. He had the natural stoop of a bureaucrat but when surrounded by others of that ilk in a photograph celebrating new legislation, he straightened up to a slouch. He knew he was ugly. He kept his straight black hair parted to the side, making his head resemble a flattened black plum on one side. Dead eyes stared through gold rims. A corporate smile conveyed controlled pain.
     None of that mattered, though. The mainlander families of the ’80s were focused on alliances for wealth first, politics second. During such times what was on the balance sheet mattered more than what was quivering under the bedsheet. Thomas Lee Tong-ming went on to have five kids, of whom Peggy was the youngest. He had married a film star from a mainlander family whose idea of spreading the wealth was spreading their own wealth by buying up properties around the globe.
     You could guess from his compound name that he had one foot in the Western world and one in Asia. When he was making a software deal in Silicon Valley, he was Tommy Lee. When he was lobbying the incorruptible-in-theory members of the Taipei City Council to rezone a commercial block for residential development, he was Tong-tong.
     A trashy tabloid, The Daily Pineapple, had once declared that Tong-tong had another wife and family stashed in a suburb of Vancouver. Such was the power of Peggy’s father that The Daily Pineapple not only printed a retraction but also ran a center spread of photos of its chairman on his hands and knees, begging for forgiveness from a seated Tong-tong who had his hand outstretched toward the supplicant in a display of grace that evoked our former dictator and deity from the mainland Chiang Kai-shek.
     How could a man powerful enough to literally have the media groveling at his feet be abducted so easily?
 
 
I listened to Peggy sob on. She wasn’t calm enough to talk yet. It was just as well, since the crowds were falling off at a pretty steep rate now. I glanced over at my crew of two: the sprightly senior citizen Frankie the Cat; and Dwayne, the tough thirty-year-old who was proud of his aboriginal heritage, his interpretation of which came with a nice shiny chip on the shoulder.
     Dwayne shook his closely cropped head at me. “Look at this lazy Han Chinese, sitting down on the job!”
     I pointed at the back of my seat to indicate that I was going to be there a while. Dwayne snorted.
      “What’s that, Jing-nan? You want me to kiss your ass? Frankie, can you believe this guy?”
     Frankie adjusted his glasses, pushing the arms deep into his slicked-back hair, and grunted, indicating that he understood my gesture to mean that I was stuck on the phone. Or maybe he was merely dislodging phlegm.
     A family of Americans came unbidden to the counter. Four of them—what else?—two parents and a son and a daughter. The boy, an eight-year-old wild child, pressed his nose against the glass and then proceeded to wipe it across the entire pane to get a close-up of the different grilled sausages and skewered organs. Damn it, did we have enough disinfectant spray left? His teenaged sister stood back and grabbed at the insides of her elbows.
      “We should have gone to France!” she declared. “The food here is gross!” Her enabling mother put a hand on her husband’s arm.
      “Honey,” she said, “are we sure this is safe? For the kids?”
     I wished I could jump in and quip, “Hey, it’s safer than Velveeta,” or something like that. Dwayne glanced at me, recognized that I was tied up and then took action by leaning over to them.
      “Very good, very good,” said Dwayne as he moved his hands in a hypnotic circular motion. He should speak English more often. There was an earthy and honest quality to his voice in that language, and he wasn’t good enough at it to add a sarcastic tone. “Everything clean.” Dwayne gave them a big toothy grin and pressed his hands together at his chest, making him look like a genie ready to grant food-related wishes. Dad smiled. He was into genies.
      “Thank you, thank you,” the father said loudly in bad Mandarin to Dwayne while waving too much money at him.
     Dwayne smiled and replied, “Thank you, thank you.” I felt extreme relief knowing that Mr. Tough Guy himself could even knuckle under and extend courtesy to our customers. Sure, we sell them food, but we can’t feed ourselves without them and putting up with their occasionally annoying behavior. Dwayne bagged whatever the boy pointed to while the sister wrung out her lips. Maybe she would have been happier at one of Taipei’s bakeries, which have more varieties of croissants than you can shake a beret at.
     I only know a few French phrases, but my favorite is, Sourire aux touristes—smile at the tourists. Smile at the questions that demean your country, your culture and possibly yourself. Smile at the suspicious looks they give you when they think you’re trying to cheat them. Smile until it kills you because without them, you’d be alone and crying. The vast majority of visitors are great, but every once in a while, you get someone who doesn’t want to be there or doesn’t want you to be there.
     The son grabbed the bag from Dwayne as his father paid. Inevitably, his sister was now trying to get their mother to make him share with her.
     Reassured that my business wasn’t in danger of imminent collapse, I fully turned my attention back to my old classmate. Her sobs had decreased in volume and frequency. Maybe she could talk now.
      “Peggy,” I said as I looked to the wall. “I want to make sure I heard you right. You said your father was kidnapped?”
      “Yes,” she managed to say. Peggy Lee, who would be nonchalant while standing on a cliff that was crumbling beneath her feet, was having difficulty verbalizing a single syllable. She must love her father more than anything. I planted my feet flat on the ground, licked my lips and prepared to talk to her in a more sedate manner than I ever have. “Can you tell me what happened?”
     I heard her bang her desk drawers open and shut. That was followed by a metallic glugging sound that could only come from a flask. She gasped before continuing. “He was at one of those Double Ninth Festival dinners a few hours ago.” The drinking had improved her voice and made her sound more lucid. “You know, they feed the old people, give them some money, put on a little music show and watch them stumble around the dance floor.”
     I nodded even though she couldn’t see. “Yes, I know about them,” I said.
     Double Ninth is one of those ancient Chinese holidays that have taken on added meanings and rituals over the years to accommodate governmental objectives, cultural considerations and lobbying from agricultural groups.
     The holiday takes place on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month and it is a time to honor the elderly, since “nine” in Mandarin also sounds like “old.” Chinese tradition doesn’t recognize coincidences, so a calendar date that sounds like “old old” must mean that it celebrates “old old” people just as sure as eating cow brains makes one smarter.
     Other aspects of the Double Ninth include indulging in yin activities to offset the heavy yang influence of the day, since nine is the most yang number. One has to manage the opposing and complementing forces yin and yang like balancing tires. You don’t want your body to end up deviating from the path, the way, the Dao, the very doctrine of the mean. You could get sick, die and end up a ghost, doomed to a state of sustained unrest forever, which must be like cram school minus the awful fluorescent lighting.
     To criminally oversimplify things, I would say that yang is the male element in the balance of yin and yang. Yang embodies overt qualities such as light, heat and substantial physical effort. Yin, the female side, embodies the dark, cool and introversion. One doesn’t want to get too much yang, a real danger during Double Ninth. Too much yang is what destroyed the band Van Halen. Not that it shouldn’t have been destroyed.
     Mountain climbing is a popular choice of activity to maintain stability, as is flying kites, since both things are associated with higher elevations, a yin sort of thing. Drinking chrysanthemum tea also helps boost yin.
     In Taipei, local municipalities hold banquets for people over 65 and present them with checks for 1,500 New Taiwan dollars, or almost 50 American dollars. The older you are, the more you get. People 99 and older get NT$10,000 and a gold ring, paid out of the city’s coffers.
     The gravy train began to bypass Taipei a few years ago when a new mayor gutted the program. Now, one had to present proof of not having much money in order to get an envelope. That was a cynical move because even the most desperate in Taiwanese society have some pride, particularly the elderly. They certainly wouldn’t be apt to document their poverty (read “abject failure”) to an official a third their age.
     Tong-tong had balked at that move. He took out full-page ads in the daily newspapers, declaring that the city was slamming the doors on the elderly and that he himself would provide for them out of his own pocket. Getting older cut across lines of class and background, Tong-tong had written, and reaching a certain age should be celebrated together because we were all one “community.” Normally a mainlander using the term such as “community” would come under scrutiny (the public would ask, does he mean “Chinese community”?), but since Tong-tong promised food, money and gifts, his ads were met only with public praise.
     Tong-tong was already a big booster of the police officers’ union, and when you’re good to the cops, obtaining the necessary permits and security for several dozen banquets around town isn’t a problem. He followed through, posting sites where banquets open to seniors would be held. I had always felt slightly negative about paying rent to Tong-tong; I was not so hot on the idea of making a rich guy richer. But his actions had made me feel very close to neutral about him. Now? Even if he weren’t my classmate’s father, I’d wish they’d find and rescue him.
     Unfortunately, his kidnapping would be incredibly embarrassing to the Taipei City Police Department if they couldn’t solve it before the public knew. One of their most vocal supporters had been snatched from his own event.
     I took a breath. In recent years, kidnappings have ended with the deaths of the victims even when the ransom was paid. The guy with the shipping empire paid off the people who had snatched his daughter, but the woman’s body was found floating off of one of his own loading docks. Then there was the family that owned that chain of bakeries. The year they expanded to China, the youngest brother was abducted while scuba diving. They followed the kidnappers’ directions to the letter, but never saw him again. About a year after the incident, body parts found in a landfill were confirmed to be his upon DNA testing.
     Then again, I guess you never hear about the kidnappings that end well. The families certainly don’t want the publicity. I hoped that Tong-tong would be one of the stories you never hear about.
     I listened carefully to Peggy to see if she had more to add, but I was only rewarded with the sound of her emptying the flask. I rubbed my temples with my free hand as I considered what to say.
      “Peggy, you’ve called the police, right?”
      “I didn’t have to call them.” Her voice was resigned. “The police escorts were right there at the dinner. Those complete losers were supposed to protect my father but they blew it. Who knows? Maybe they were in on it. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
      “What exactly happened?” I asked with caution.
      “It was a dinner he had arranged for retired principals and school-board people. My father was seated at the table on stage next to his old high-school teacher, Wang Lao-shi, who introduced him. My dad stood up to give a speech and a bunch of photographers mounted the stage and crowded around the table.” Peggy snorted in disgust. “Two of them were fake. The kidnappers threw a net over him and one of our workers and hauled them away like fish. They threatened to stab them while they made their getaway.”
     Taipei’s police don’t carry guns.
      “What do you mean they got ‘one of our workers’?” I asked Peggy. “One of our media-relations executives who was on hand,” said Peggy. “I don’t know his name, and it doesn’t goddamn matter, okay?”
     The stalls across the asphalt pedestrian walkway were closing up. Three kids fast-walked to their parked mopeds, started them and swayed away into the night. Maybe they were going to do something fun. I remembered when I was in high school and I was dying to get the hell away from my family’s night-market stall near closing and get back to my life. Now the night market was my life, and my landlord was in trouble.

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