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by William F. Wu
Copyright @ 1999 – William F. Wu
In the glare of the spotlight, Daniel Zisuey Eng stood on the high dais in the Temple of Eng Zisuey, wearing his traditional black Chinese robe of embroidered silk and a white undertunic. Now at the end of the ritual, he watched the crowd standing far below him. The sweet smoke of incense wafted past, mixed with acrid smoke left by firecrackers set off earlier.
“Farewell,” Daniel’s voice boomed in English over the speakers.
From the traditional Chinese orchestra, the fast banging of a light-weight gong built to a crescendo. Those below gazed up at Daniel in awe, curiosity, or skepticism, the majority of them also surnamed Eng. A few shouted insults; others called entreaties, even prayers. He calmly remained behind the altar of carved teak that was now covered with sacrifices of cash, pledges, jewelry, even children’s toys.
“Yi lu ping an,” Daniel intoned in Mandarin, wishing the crowd a peaceful journey. “Yet lu ping on,” he repeated in Cantonese.
As always, Daniel waited for a line of acolytes to form below the dais so no one could jump the rail and climb up to him. At the gong’s final crash, the spotlight went out, signaling the end of the ritual. In the sudden darkness, he whirled and strode off the dais, stage right.
Twenty-eight years old, Daniel had been worshipped as a spirit reborn for nearly all of his adult life.
“‘Nother day, ‘nother dollar, Danny-boy.” At Daniel’s dressing-room door, Eric Leitch, the tall, brawny Chief of Personal Security, smirked at Daniel as he spoke in his Aussie-accented English, his sun-bleached flat-top standing stiff over his broad, square-jawed face. “The acolytes are escortin’ the crowd out in order; A-Okay, green lights all ‘round.”
“Good,” Daniel muttered in annoyance, palming the doorplate to slip inside and close it again. He had no liking for his blue-uniformed Personal Security bodyguards. Even the acolytes were guards who wore traditional robes over their uniforms during the rituals. Chief Leitch spent most of his shift watching the temple grounds on monitors in his office. His unit worked for Mr. Eng Sen, as Daniel did -- his nominal grandfather, a tycoon whose business empire owned Eng Zhouxian Do, this island near Hong Kong.
The light came on in Daniel’s lavish dressing room at the rear of the temple—“backstage,” in the jargon of his UCLA major in Theater Arts. A glass door led to a balcony overlooking the rocky, wooded slope down the mountain. Far below, the brightly colored lights of the island’s shops, restaurants, hotels, and amusement park sparkled near the docks; they remained open past midnight.
A man’s voice, dry with age, came on the room’s speakers in Cantonese. “Ah Suey, are you there? Keep your stage makeup on.”
“I’m here,” Daniel answered in the same language, recognizing Eng Sen’s voice. “Screen on.” He flopped down in a tan leather-covered recliner, tired as always from the evening’s effort.
The far wall brightened with the video image of the man he called “Grandfather”. Seventy-two years old, Eng Sen wore his white hair short and had age spots removed by laser treatment. His bland, roundish face smiled with cold courtesy from a high, black leather chair; sunlight backlit him like a halo. “I’m calling from my London office, Ah Suey. Remain in costume; I’ve instructed a new assistant of mine to bring visitors to you even as we speak.”
“A major sacrifice, Grandfather?” Daniel fought to keep disgust out of his voice as he pushed up from the recliner.
“My assistant, Meilin Lei, will handle the financial matters.”
“I know what to do, Grandfather,” Daniel said obediently.
“I know you do. By the way, I’ll be coming by the island in two days for routine meetings. See you then.” Eng Sen disconnected.
Leitch came on the screen. “A Meilin Lei and guests to see ya.”