"Fated and Fateless" Excerpt Part 1

The book excerpt that I’m posting consists of almost a full chapter. As it is too long for a single post, I’ve split it into two parts. This post contains Part 1.

[The last thought on her mind, as she climbed out of the Mercedes, was that she needed to advertise for a personal assistant, or maybe two, on the first day she started to work at the office.

Diana had never quite gotten over the spat she had had with Wendy when they were kids. She had never forgiven Wendy for ruining her new pink frock that day. She had the nerve to say it was my fault! She wondered where Wendy was working now, and how she was making out.

“Whatever income she may be earning, I can always give her an offer she can’t refuse.” The corners of her lips turned up in a sly smile with this thought.

The next morning, which was a Sunday, she had a chance to have a long chat with her mother at the breakfast table, her father having already gone out to the Deep Water Bay Golf Club to play golf and Edward was doing his daily laps in the terrace pool.

In the Lee family’s Sai Wan Ho days, Chuen Fat Kee had been used as a cover for a big word-guess gaming (字花) operation which was run by Ah Chuen and Ah Fat. The brothers had come from Chiu Chow like Mr. Lee. Being a sociable and astute businessman, Mr. Lee had found out about the operation during his casual chats with the brothers. He had offered to inject capital into the operation to make it bigger, using his commission earnings from broking land deals. Immigrants from Chiu Chow had a natural habit of sticking trustingly to one another. The brothers had accepted his offer without hesitation. Two years into the operation, Mr. Lee had suggested to the brothers to start a horse-racing bookie business alongside word-guess game betting. The party of three had it so good ever since that they were virtually swimming in cash.

The word-guess game was a game in which thirty-six names of well-known ancients, or of places, or of animals or profession, were put up for betting on a daily basis. Each operator would have a number of couriers who acted as collectors of bets from street gamblers. Each morning the operator would announce by word-of-mouth to the couriers which group of names would be put up for betting that day and would write up numbers in running order against the thirty-six names on a piece of paper. He would randomly pick one number (name) by marking it and would then put the piece of paper inside a porcelain container that would be hung from the beam of the flat. Bets could then be accepted by the couriers. The payout multiple for the winner was thirty to one. Thus, the odds are heavily in favor of the dealer. Such operations were illegal gaming and had to be conducted underground. The flip side to running such operations was that it would often attract triad members as well as policemen to come around to collect protection fees and bribes.

Now Diana remembered when she was in primary school, her father had a habit of placing before her each day a list of numbers and Chinese names and would urge her to pick out a number or name on the paper. Ever since she took on the job of “the gold finger”, money was flowing in faster than her father could ever have hoped for. It was thus that she became her father’s good luck charm.

As the underground operation was bringing in more and more cash, it had caught the attention of the Wo Sing Wo triad gang. Gangsters had begun coming round to extort protection fees from Ah Chuen and Ah Fat. By a stroke of chance, the brothers had got acquainted with a police detective named Ngan from the vice squad attached to the Shaukiwan Police Station. Ngan had also come from Chiu Chow and once he came to know the brothers, they just hit it off in no time. Ever since they had befriended each other, gangsters had stopped showing up. But of course there was no free lunch. Instead of paying ever increasing protection fees on demand to triad gangsters, the brothers and Mr. Lee had had to allow Ngan a cut of the gaming profits. Diana had picked up much of this information from the chauffeur Ah Wong during her car trips to and from the airport on her annual vacations. Ah Wong was a second cousin of Ah Chuen and Ah Fat. Her mother now confirmed those stories.

When the Lee family had first moved to Repulse Bay in 1960, they had settled into a 2,000 square feet apartment unit which Mr. Lee had bought with the hard cash that he earned from his underground business. Then in 1970, they had moved again into the huge 4,000 square feet, two-storey beachside mansion, which had a large manicured garden at the back and a sun terrace with a full-size swimming pool at the front facing the beach. By this time, Ah Chuen and Ah Fat had also moved out of Sai Wan Ho to live in a luxury apartment on The Peak. Together, the brothers were now the second largest shareholder in Sun Tai Land, although they were content to leave the day-to-day management of the company in the hands of Mr. Lee.

Starting from the early 60s, Mr. Lee had begun to focus his time on buying land for his own company and building low-end residential buildings in urban Kowloon for the newly arrived mainland immigrants. The business had taken off in no time and he had begun to look for land in the New Territories. In 1967, the communists in Hong Kong had started up a riot that had threatened to turn uncontrollable, which had scared a lot of rich people into running for cover overseas. The unexpected exodus had given Mr. Lee and a couple of other gutsy developers, including the Lee family’s current neighbor Mr. Ko, a golden chance to load up their land banks at negligible costs, when land and housing prices had taken a dive.]