I haven’t done much where I can say, “I was young.” I’ve been studying all my life. I spend most of the week studying now that I am in law school. That is to say I excel in school, as is expected. On weekends I work jobs to make as much as I can to send home. I started doing that as soon as I could. That is to say I am responsible and do right by my parents. My name is Wan Dong, and I am twenty-six. I learned what people thought of my name when we first moved to the U.S. fourteen years ago. Call me Winter instead.
It’s Saturday, and it’s late. Chang and I have just gotten back from the job. He and I have worked together on and off for years. I sit with him on the couch in his mid-century modern living room, not talking about what happened.
“You’ve been working weekends for a good while now,” says Chang.
“Sure, so have you. You know how it is,” I say.
“You ever think about why we work so hard? What do you do with all the money?” he asks.
“I’ve told you. I send it home,” I answer. “Dad’s business has been doing poorly the last few years. Mom’s still in between jobs.”
“So they’re in a rough patch now. But you’ve been working weekends since college. You’ve always sent it home?” Chang asks.
He looks at the jasmine tea steeping in the preserve jar on the coffee table. I do, too.
“I’ve been investing on the side since high school, too, if that’s what you mean. But otherwise my parents are why I make money at all.”
“That’s why you make money.”
“That is some bullshit, Wint. That is some wasted youth.”
“You’re Chinese, too. Show some respect for your parents,” I say.
Chang picks up the jar and takes a sip. He turns to face me on the couch. I sit hunched near the edge of the cushion.
“I was born in Anaheim,” he says.
“That doesn’t make you white,” I tell him.
“Hey, hey, we’re talking about you, not me. Rent yourself a better place. Your studio is literally a closet that faces an alley. Buy some nice clothes.”
“Those’re just things.”
“Okay, okay, so buy experiences. What about getting a massage? I tell you, I’ll refer you to Kyoko. She’s not even taking new clients. You’ve never been anywhere except U.S. and China, right? You know the girls in Europe aren’t uptight like the first-generation Chinese ones,” says Chang smiling. He smiles a great deal.
“I’m in law school. There’s no time,” I say.
Chang laughs. I open my mouth. But I don’t say anything, after all.
“You’re wound up way too tight, dude. You’d love those European girls. Did I tell you about my Prague trip?” he asks.
“I don’t know. And you did,” I answer.
“You know you’d like it. Be honest with yourself,” he says.
We sit in silence for a long moment.
“What do your parents do with the money now? Does it take that much money to keep your dad’s convenience store running?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I say.
Chang takes another sip of tea from the jar.
“Look. My father was a professor. He taught at university in Hebei. Now he runs a corner store. Did you know they give professors housing back home? I grew up in a university. Now he runs a corner store, and he still barely speaks English. He had friends who were professors and intellectuals. He was respected. Do you see what I’m saying? My mother, too. She taught English. She sells insurance now. When we came they were already forty-five. I had to go to college. Do you see what I mean? The least I can do is give them money, but I guess that’s less important than partying with European girls, right?” I say.
“God damn it, Wint. I meant you should enjoy yourself.”
“Yeah,” I say looking at the coffee table. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
I point to the pistol beside the jar.
“We have to get rid of that,” I say.
Chang had picked the job for earlier tonight. It was a small jewelry store in a strip mall on the edge of Koreatown, near Western and 11th. We parked across the road in a section that had no street lights. We put on ski masks and checked the guns. Then we holstered our pieces and walked into Kim Joon Jewelry.
It was mostly empty. There was an attendant behind the ring counter and a man looking at watches in the back corner. I walked up to the attendant. Chang went up to the man.
“I have a gun and so does he back there,” I said.
I pointed to Chang and handed her a duffel bag.
“Put all the cash in there then hand it back to me.”
The attendant was an older woman with permed hair. She looked as if she was about to start screaming. I pointed the pistol at her.
“Do the right thing. This will be quick and you’ll go home. I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said.
The woman became more distraught but did as I told her. After I got the bag back I looked around the store at the other counters. There were not many. We could fit most of the stock, diamond rings, Swiss watches, jade bracelets, into our duffels.
I heard Chang yelling at the man in the back corner to lie face down on the floor. I saw the man squatting down.
I pointed to Chang and then to the bracelets. He nodded.
It was when I got behind the ring counter, beside the woman, that I saw the man in the corner had stood up. He pointed with one arm an engraved revolver at Chang’s back.
I brought my gun up and aimed at him.
“Put the gun down,” I yelled.
The man looked at me with the gun still pointed at Chang. His eyes were wide. Chang spun around and raised his own gun.
“Put the gun down,” I said.
“You fucked up, buddy. We don’t want to hurt you. We’re all just making a living,” said Chang.
The man pointed the gun at me for a moment. Then he switched back to Chang.
I grabbed the arm of the permed woman and put the muzzle flush against her cheek. The cake foundation on her depressed skin caught the light.
“Put the gun down,” I said moving myself and the woman towards the door.
Chang shouldered the duffel bag and walked backwards, keeping his pistol pointed at the man. I heard the fluorescent lights. The layout of counters made the path to the door difficult. We got to the door and opened it with our backs, ringing the welcome bell. The man with the engraved revolver stood propped against the wall in the back corner.
After we exited the store, I dragged the woman by the arm across the road towards the car. Chang ran ahead. When I arrived, he had taken off his mask.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Help me,” I said.
I shoved the woman to the car’s rear with the pistol. Chang and I packed her into the trunk after a struggle. We threw our bags and masks onto the back seat, then drove towards San Bernardino in silence for a time.
“Why did you bring the woman?” asked Chang.
“I wasn’t going let him shoot you,” I said.
“He was chickenshit. Did you not see his hand shaking? He wasn’t going to shoot. You fucked up, buddy.”
“What should we do with her?”
The stomping from the trunk had stopped for some time. The car smelled of piss.
“Crack some windows, would you? Why did you bring her, man?” asked Chang.
“We should let her go. She’s a middle-aged woman,” I said.
“Wo cao. She’s seen our faces. And the car.”
“We should ask Uncle Li.”
“Oh no no no, I’m not going to owe him anything. I’m my own man.”
“What should we do with her?” I asked.
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time,” he said.
We drove in silence again the rest of the way. After we passed San Bernardino, we continued on a ways into a patch of desert outside Victorville. Chang popped the trunk, and we got out of the car. I pulled the woman out.
“She’s a middle-aged woman,” I said.
“She’s seen our faces.”
The woman’s makeup was smeared. She looked at me.
“Money? I pay. I pay money. I pay. I pay. Here here I give,” the woman said.
She took out bills from a wallet that was in her inside jacket pocket. She had trouble holding the wallet and dropped it. The bills she clenched then held up to me. I took them. It was sixty-two dollars.
“Do you know what xiao is? Did you learn about that in Chinese school?” I asked Chang.
“No no. No no. I have daughter. You have family too? Please. Please. No. She amajing girl. In college,” she said.
“Now’s not the right time, Confucian scholar,” replied Chang.
“She amajing girl,” the woman continued.
“So amajing,” repeated Chang.
“This isn’t right. Younger people have a duty, you know, and we, we should be… We shouldn’t have to kill her,” I told him.
“Yeah, dude, and I have a duty to not get caught. Too young for prison,” he said.
The woman’s legs didn’t hold her up. She slumped to the dirt prostrate in spittle.
“Please no daughter all I do everything no do this no I say nothing please no no no no no,” she said.
“Wint, you got the silencer?”
I said nothing and looked at Chang. Then I handed him the suppressor. The woman looked up at me from the ground.
“I did right thing. I put cash in bag. I did right,” she said.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said.
She turned to look at Chang screwing the suppressor onto his pistol.
“You are liar! You liar! You are bad man! Very bad man! Very very bad bad man,” she screamed.
Her legs buckled as she attempted to stand.
“Very very bad bad man. The broken English on this ajumma,” said Chang smiling. He smiles a great deal.
“I’m not bad, Chang.”
The woman stood up and started to run and stumble in a zigzag. The shoulderpad of her suit jacket was yellow as she ran past the car’s headlights.
“Well, shit,” said Chang.
He aimed his gun and missed. I grabbed the gun from him and tracked the woman. The pistol’s crack rang out for a bit. She fell down. The blood was really something.
We spent a long time digging a deep grave. I threw in the sixty-two dollars and her wallet. Then we buried the body and returned to the car.
“We better lay low at my place tonight,” said Chang.
“Okay,” I said.
“Hey bad man, it was a good shot.”
I sat there and listened to the car turning over a few times.
“Chang,” I said, “there’s no such thing as broken English. There are just dishonest men.”