“Ms. Liang? I’m Connie Wang.” A slim, but shapely Taiwanese woman holds out her hand as she approaches the table I’m seated at. She’s looks to be about my age, although I know she’s a good ten years older. Her determinedly black hair is carefully crimped and swept in a knot at the back of her neck. She’s wearing a Vera Wang red dress, and I’m glad I’m wearing an emerald dress instead of slacks and a shirt. She’s stunning, and I’m a little intimidated.
“Mrs. Wang. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” I stand up and shake her hand. Her grip is firm, but not crushing. “Please call me Megan.”
“I’m Connie. Mrs. Wang makes me feel like I should be walking with a cane.” Connie laughs as she sits down, and I laugh with her. We don’t talk as she studies the menu. I’m still determined to order the olive burger and fries, so I don’t need to look at the menu. Once we’ve ordered, Connie’s face turns serious. “You want to talk about George Tsai?” Her full red lips compress, and her eyes are displeased.
“Yes. I know it’s probably not something you want to talk about, and believe me, neither do I.” Taking a deep breath, I give her an abbreviated version of why I want to talk about George, and her eyes narrow until they’ve disappeared.
“That is so like him,” she says between clenched teeth. “He was a selfish man who didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.” I blink at her swear, not because she’s Taiwanese, but because she’s so refined in appearance. “Did he really tell his wife it was for your sisters and your good?”
“Yes, he did. According to her,” I say, glancing at her face. I want to see her reaction to Mr. Tsai’s wife, but her face remains blank.
“Believe it or not, I feel bad for her. She loved him so much, and he treated her like trash.” Connie sighs, and it’s filled with unhappiness. “I know that sounds hypocritical of me because we had an affair, but once he ran back to San Francisco, it was as if the fog had cleared. I was so intoxicated with him while we were lovers, but I was embarrassed once we were through.” She’s very open about her affair, so I decide I can ask her some very frank questions about it. We’ll see if she remains honest and open about it.
“How did you end up having an affair with him?”
“We worked together at Best Buy, and he honed in on me from day one. I told him I was married, but he just laughed and said he was, too.” Connie sips her water and continues, “He pursued me, but I wasn’t running very hard. I loved Arthur, but he was consumed by his work up to a hundred hours a week. George was supposed to be just a diversion, but I came to really care for him. Until he stole my money and Arthur’s.” Connie’s eyes flash, and she swallows hard several times. I know she’s trying to rein in her temper, but is having a difficult time doing it.
“How did your husband find out about you two?” I ask, taking a huge bite out of my burger. It’s a tad salty for me, but it’s still very tasty.
“George sent him a letter after he returned to San Francisco,” Connie says, her cheeks staining red. “He was mad because I told Richard about his theft and because—it was his revenge.”
“Because what?” I say sharply. I am not about to tolerate lies now. “Because you also had an affair with Richard?” Connie gasps and stares at me in amazement.
“How, how, how….” She can’t finish her question, but I know what she wants to ask.
“He didn’t tell me, but I could see it in his eyes,” I say.
“That was a rebound thing,” Connie says. “After the first month George and I were together, he started to lose interest. I turned to Richard for comfort because he was a good friend. Then, it just evolved into more. We knew it was never going to be a relationship, but it was wonderful while it lasted. We’re still friendly, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for our time together.” She sounds sincere, and she has held my stare the whole time.
“How are things with your ex-husband?” I ask, keeping my eyes on her. No flinch.
“The divorce was acrimonious, but after a few years, we made our peace. Kev and I stay with Arthur when we vacation in Florida, and Arthur stays at our house the few times he comes back to Minnesota.” Connie has regained her cool, but there’s a shift in her tone that indicates that she’s not being completely truthful. It’s when she said that they’ve made their peace. There was a funny crinkle in her voice, and I wonder what it signifies.
“Is Arthur seeing anyone?” Again, a flash of anger in Connie’s eyes before she can mask it.
“He’s dating someone young enough to be his daughter, but it’s not serious.” Her voice is so acerbic, and I have a hunch it’s more serious than she’s willing to admit. It’s interesting, I guess, but does it have anything to do with Mr. Tsai’s death? Probably not. I decide to focus on that instead.
“You met with Mr. Tsai while he was here, didn’t you?” I phrase it as a question, even though I already know the answer.
“Yes, I did,” Connie admits, glancing down at the table. She looks up, and there are tears in her eyes. “I didn’t want to, but he threatened to tell Kev about us.”
“I thought you said Kev knew,” I say, keeping my voice neutral. I’m not here to judge her; I just need to find out about Mr. Tsai. Connie doesn’t answer for several seconds, and I’m about to prod her when she finally replies.
“He did. About what happened thirteen years ago.” Connie stands up abruptly after pushing away from the table. “Excuse me.” She rushes away, presumably to the bathroom. I ponder what she’s said, and it hits me. She must have slept with him more recently, maybe after she married her new husband. I shake my head at the tendency for us humans to self-destruct. By all appearances, Connie had pulled her life back together after the debacle of thirteen years ago. She’s still at Best Buy, she has ample alimony from Arthur, and she’s married to her new husband whom she presumably loves. Not only did Mr. Tsai steal her money, he told her ex-husband about them. Why in the hell would she fall into his bed again? I know people are weak and nostalgia is a strong drug, but I’d like to think if someone treated me like complete and utter shit, I’d flush them down the toilet. I pick at my fries while I’m waiting. They’re good fries, but I’m full up on fat and salt. In a few minutes, Connie wobbles back towards the table. Her eyes are red, and her glands are slightly swollen, which means she threw up. Whether it was voluntary or involuntary, I don’t know. I glance at her hand, and her knuckles have bite marks on them. She made herself threw up, but I don’t know if I should mention it.
“Are you OK?” I ask as Connie sits down, she takes a big gulp of her water before answering.
“No. I feel sick. I went out to San Francisco last year for a management conference.” Connie pauses, drinks her water again, then continues.
“Hello?” Connie picked up the hotel phone without thinking.
“Hey, Connie. It’s me, George.” George said, his voice low and intimate. “I hear you’re in town, and I’d love to take you to dinner.”
“George? How did you know—”
“I still have friends in Best Buy. I’ve kept tabs on you throughout the years.” Connie nearly dropped the phone in disbelief. She hadn’t thought of George in ten years, and she’s not happy to hear from him. The idea that he was stalking her, even from a distance and silently, bothered her.
“George, that is creepy, and I did not need to hear that. Please do not call me again.” Connie was about to hang up the phone, but George’s next line stopped her.
“I’m sorry, Connie. I treated you really badly, and I’d like to take you to dinner to make up for it.” George’s voice was filled with sincerity, but Connie wasn’t fooled. She remembered when George had told her that she would make twice back on her investment, and he didn’t even blink as he lied. “You have no reason to believe me, of course, but I can’t stop thinking about our time together.” Connie knew she should hang up, but George had been a creative and innovative lover, and Connie couldn’t help remembering how he had stamina for days. He was a rare man who had little to no refractory period. Then she remembered that he had sent Arthur a letter describing in excruciating detail their lovemaking, and her desire dried up.
“One dinner, Connie, at your hotel restaurant. If you don’t want to talk to me after that, I’ll disappear from your life forever.” George’s voice was plaintive, and despite herself, Connie felt sorry for him. She agreed to meet him in the restaurant in an hour.
Once she hung up the phone, Connie hurried to her suitcase and pulled out a bright blue dress that had a plunging neckline. Even though she knew she was playing with fire, she couldn’t stop herself from wanting to look her best. She told herself it was because she wanted to make George miss what he no longer had, but she couldn’t fool herself. She spent extra time coiling her hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, and she powdered her skin until it was flawless. She applied her signature bright red lipstick and smudged coal on her eyelids. She affixed gold hoops to her lobes and a gold cross around her neck. She spritzed herself with her Vera Wang perfume before declaring herself done. At the stroke of six, she went down to the restaurant and scanned the clientele. She saw an older Taiwanese man standing by the cash register who was beaming at her.
“Connie. You are more beautiful now than you were twelve years ago.” George kissed Connie on the cheek before tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow.
“George. You’re looking good.” Connie looked George over, and while he had more white hair than before, he looked just as fit and trim as ever.
“Thank you. Farm-produced fruits and veggies and yoga have done me well.” George led Connie to a table and held her seat out for her. She sat down and allowed him to push in her chair before sitting down himself. She glanced at the menu and decided on the taco salad. George ordered the fish and chips, and they started with calamari for the appetizer. Connie felt butterflies in her stomach as she looked at George, which wasn’t a welcomed feeling. She loved her husband, Kevin, dearly, and she didn’t need this complication in her life, and yet, here she was, having dinner with the man who stole her money and betrayed her.
“OK, George. We’re here. What do you want to say to me?” Connie put some steel into her voice, and George looked at her soberly.
“I’m dying, Connie,” George said, his eyes shining with tears.
“What?” I shriek, interrupting Connie’s recitation. “He told you he was dying?”
“Yes, he did,” Connie says grimly. “And I fell for it like a stupid idiot.”
“What? Oh, George! I’m so sorry.” Connie laid her hand on George’s arm, and he smiled bravely at her.
“Thank you. It was a shock, of course, when my doctor told me two months ago. Liver cancer. I only have a month or two to live.” George sipped his water before continuing. “I wanted to talk to you before I died, and this seemed like providence.”
“A month or two!” Connie’s eyes filled with tears, and she dabbed at them with her napkin, careful not to smudge her eye makeup.
“If I’m lucky.” George ate a few strips of calamari before continuing. “I got a second and third opinion, but it remained the same. That’s when I knew I had to make things right with all the people I’ve wronged.” George reached over and grabbed Connie’s hand. “I regret most of all hurting you, Connie. You were a gentle flower that brightened my day, and I crushed you thoughtlessly under my foot. I am so sorry. Do you think you can ever forgive me?” Connie wanted to tell him off for all the pain he’d caused her, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that he was going to die. His imminent mortality gave her a new perspective on the past, and she decided it was time to let go of the remnants of anger she’d been holding on to.
“I’m so sorry, George,” Connie said sincerely, squeezing George’s hand with her own. When he squeezed hers in return, she felt a thrill she hadn’t felt in years.
“Show me your room?” George asked, standing up and throwing money on the table.
“Yes.” Connie stood up and led George to her room. They spent the night making love, and it was the best night of Connie’s life.
“He asked me for fifty thousand dollars when we were through,” Connie says, her tears slipping down her cheek. “He made me feel like a whore.” She bursts into tears, and several patrons around us glare at me for making the pretty lady cry.
“I’m sorry, Connie,” I say, helpless in the face of her pain. “I know he must have hurt you badly.” I pause, try to think of a delicate way to ask the question on my mind, but I can’t think of one, so I just ask, “Did you give it to him?”
“No. I kicked him out of my room, and I refused to talk to him again.” Connie’s sniffling, but her tears have subsided. “He was lying about having a terminal illness, just like he did to you.”
“So he threatened to tell your husband about sleeping with you. That’s why you met with him.” I state it as truth, and she nods in resignation.
“He said if I wouldn’t meet with him, he’d show up at our house and have a talk with Kev.” Connie motions to our server and gets a refill on water. I do the same and wait for her to continue. “I met him at Good Earth, his choice, and he told me he wanted to continue our affair while he was in Minnesota. In addition, he requested, no ordered, that I give him a hundred thousand dollars. He said I had two days to think about it, and then he left.” Connie buries her face in her hands, and her shoulders are shaking. I notice two frat boys at the next table glaring daggers at me. I glare back at them because I don’t need to deal with their macho bullshit on top of Connie’s sadness. They start flexing their muscles, but they don’t move.
“I’m really sorry, Connie. He was a shithead of the first order.” I sigh and rub my forehead.
“He really was. I talked to Richard the night Richard talked to George, before, and Richard was very agitated about the visit as well.” Connie sighs and dabs her eyes with her napkin.
“You and Richard are still friends?” I ask, my ears perking up. Something about her voice tells me that there might be more than friendship between her and Richard. Then, what she said hit me. She talked to Richard the night of his visit with George, which means she knew when George was meeting with Richard. At Richard’s house. Which means she could have went there and waited for him to leave.
“You’re the one who hit George, aren’t you?” I blurt out before I can stop myself. Belatedly, I realize it might not be a great idea to accuse someone of murdering someone else, but we’re in public. That should make it relatively safe, except she might have a concealed weapon. I brace myself, keeping an eye on her purse. I tense as she lifts her face and fastens her eyes on my face. There is fear in her eyes, but also relief. I think her secret has been eating her up since it happened, and she needs to get it out. I’m the last person she should feel comfortable talking to, but sometimes, it’s easier to tell a stranger your deepest, darkest secrets than it is to tell a loved one.
“Yes. I didn’t mean to; you have to believe me.” Connie’s eyes are imploring, and I can’t find it in my heart to be mad at her. “I was sitting in my car outside of Richard’s house when George came out, a smug look on his face. He had parked down the street for whatever reason, and watching him whistle as he went to his car, I just lost it. I stomped on the gas pedal and hit him as hard as I could. I was out of my mind! I really was!” Connie starts crying again, and I reach out to pat her hand. I know she’s a killer, and I know I have to turn her in, but I feel sorry for her and can see why she was driven to violence. A person can only take so much before snapping, and George Tsai was exceptionally good at pushing people’s buttons. I wanted to strangle him myself.
“I understand, Connie,” I say softly. “I really do. However, you have to turn yourself in to the police.” Belatedly, I also realize that I should have called the police because Connie could run now. What am I going to do if she doesn’t agree? I slide my phone out of my purse and press my finger against the sensor so I can make a quick call if need be.
“I know. I’ve been steeling myself to do it Will you come with me?” Connie looks at me, her eyes large.
“Of course.” I signal for the server, who comes scurrying over. I pay the bill, and prepare to escort Connie to the police. At last, my mission is over.