Parental Deception; chapter twelve, part one

“Remember to text me every ten minutes,” Rembrandt tells me as I pull up to Mr. Liang’s house. It’s an understated two-story Tudor, not at all in line with my idea of what a multimillionaire’s house should look like. There’s a silver Audi in the driveway, the only nod to luxury I can see.

“Will do,” I say, nodding at Rembrandt as I shut off the car. I’m pensive as I walk to the door because I don’t know what to expect. Mr. Liang had been quite imperious in his order for me to meet with him, and I don’t do well with autocrats.

“Ms. Liang. Come in.” Mr. Liang opens the door and gestures inside. He’s leaning on a solid metal cane, which indicates that he has some physical ailment. I step across the foyer and glance down. He’s wearing Chinese slippers, and there’s a rack of them to my right. I take off my shoes and put on a pair. He nods in approval as I do. I take a few seconds to study him as he turns to lead me down the hallway. He’s over six feet tall with a head of snowy white hair. Intense dark brown eyes and a large frame. He’s wearing a tailored gray suit, and I’m glad I chose to wear a black dress instead of jeans or even slacks.

“Mr. Liang. Nice to meet you,” I say to Mr. Liang’s back. He keeps it ramrod, and his gait is even, though it’s clearly costing him not to limp. I sense he’s a proud man who would not want to appear weak or hurt in front of a woman, and I wonder if he normally uses a wheelchair. He leads me into a living room that is sparse, to put it kindly. The ecru walls are bare except for one small portrait of a family. His, I presume, though he has black hair in the picture. There is a brown suede couch in the middle of the room, and there’s a matching recliner facing the couch. Mr. Liang gestures to the couch, and I gingerly lower myself onto it. Mr. Liang eases himself into the recliner and pushes it back so he can rest his legs. He rings a tiny bell on the side table by the recliner, and an older Taiwanese woman dressed in a drab gray uniform appears with a tray laden with a tea pot, cups, plates, cream cakes, and macaroons. She pours a cup of tea and hands it to Mr. Liang, and he nods his approval. She does the same to me, and I take a cautious sip. It’s oolong, black, which is just fine with me. She sets the tray on the coffee table before disappearing from whence she came.

“Go ahead. Have a cake. Mrs. Chang made them herself, and they’re marvelous.” Mr. Liang helps himself to several cakes and macaroons and tucks in. I do the same, and the cream cakes are light, fluffy, and simply melts in my mouth.

“These are fantastic. My compliments to Mrs. Chang,” I say, eating my third cake in a row.

“Ms. Liang. Why have you been inquiring about me?” Mr. Liang asks, his tone level. I can hear the anger behind the words, though, and I flinch inside. I don’t want to show fear, though, because I know a man like him will pounce on any perceived or real weakness. “I am a very private person, and I much dislike a stranger prying into my affairs.” Good Lord. This man should be part of a Victorian novel, not living in the 2000s. I keep that comment to myself, however, as I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.

“It’s a long and strange story, but I need to give you some background so you understand my motives.” I wait until Mr. Liang nods before continuing. “A few days before Thanksgiving, a man showed up on my doorstep claiming to be my father.” I stop because I feel uncomfortable waving the family laundry in public. However, I sense that if I don’t tell him the truth, he’ll throw me out on my ear. “It turns out that he was lying. He wasn’t my father; he was someone else.”

“Why would a man claim to be your father?” Mr. Liang asks, sounding intrigued.

“My father left our family when I was three. That was over four decades ago. I haven’t seen him since.” My voice is even, but it still hurts to say, even this many years later.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Liang says, looking directly in my eyes. I blink because I wasn’t expecting sympathy from him. “That has to have been hard on you.”

“Thank you, and, yes, it was.” I clear my throat and add, “The man who impersonated my father was George Tsai.” I keep an eye on Mr. Liang’s face, but it doesn’t change except for the slightest tic under his left eye.

“George Tsai. I haven’t heard that name in decades.” Mr. Liang’s voice hardened. “Until this week. The night he was killed—”

“You know about that?” I ask, interrupting him. I hate doing it, but I need clarification.

“Yes. I read about it in the paper the next day. He was killed in my neighborhood.” Mr. Liang stares at me, and I have a hard time meeting his eyes. I want to ask if the police have questioned him, but I wait for him to finish his account of that night first. “He emailed me the night before that, demanding that I meet with him. Tell me, Ms. Liang, how much do you know about our business venture?”

“I know that he stole a fuc—um, a lot of money from you, Mr. Huang, and your investors.” I can’t believe I almost swore in front of this very proper man, but at least I caught myself in time.

“Yes. Well. There’s more to it than that. George is the one who came up with the idea, and he’s the one who recruited the first ten investors. He came to talk to me at work one day, and after an hour, he convinced me it would be a winner.” Mr. Liang pauses, and there’s a subtle shift in his tone. Up until now, it’s been clinical and detach. Now, there’s a hint of passion in it. “George is, was, a very persuasive person. He could have sold igloos to Eskimos. He had a way of catching you up in a wave of excitement, and you would believe anything is possible.” Mr. Liang stares off into space, and I surreptitiously text Rembrandt that I’m OK. He immediately texts back with a thumbs up, and I’m glad I had the foresight to turn my phone to vibration before meeting with Mr. Liang. “Both Scott and I gave many millions to the project, but neither of us wanted to be involved with the daily process. We left that to George, which was a rookie mistake on our parts. Months went by, and we didn’t see any results. Any time we’d ask George, he would shine us on about needing more time.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Liang,” I say, cutting in again. “You’re a savvy businessman. You’re renowned for being no-nonsense, and grown men tremble in your presence. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but how could you fall for his excuses?”

“I have no defense except he was a good friend, or so I thought, and he was very charming.” Mr. Liang’s shoulders droop, and he suddenly looks much more human to me.

“He was charming,” I say, remembering the unwanted but real tug I felt for that man. I wanted him to be my father, even though I didn’t believe he was. “He could think on his feet—I’ll say that much for him.”

“Anyway, things came to a head when our banker called me and sounded the alarm. The minute I saw the figures, I knew that George was cheating us all. Before I could do anything about it, though, he fled back to San  Francisco. I made sure he couldn’t access any of the accounts, but I know he got away with at least $20 million.”

“$20 million!” I gasp. I knew Mr. Tsai had money in those offshore accounts, but that much? If it’s true, he really pulled one over on the American government.

“Yes. Some of it mine, and some of it Scott’s, but most of it from our investors. Scott and I made sure our investors got their money back—well, most of it, anyway.” I think about what Mr. Liang has said, and it seems to me I can cross the investors off my list. Then again, what is most? Most isn’t all, and that little bit could be the difference. In addition, if Mr. Tsai contacted the investors and tried to defend himself, I could see them getting pissed about that. Also, if it’s Mrs. Wang, then it’s probably personal, not monetary. “That’s the backstory to me getting an email from George saying he was in town and that he wanted his money back. The money Scott and I stole from him, by the way.”

“What?” My mouth actually falls open at Mr. Tsai’s gall. The balls on him to claim that he was the victim.

“At first, I thought it was just more of his con, but after several emails back and forth, I think he really believed the story he was telling—that it was Scott and I who had cheated him out of money and not vice-versa.” Mr. Liang thinks a minute and adds, “Or, maybe he was just conning me. It’s hard to tell with George.”

“You met with him that night?” I ask.

“I did. I felt we would be better able to hash it out in person. It wasn’t better. He just kept shouting at me that I ruined his life when I stole the money, and I had to threaten to call the police before he would leave.” Mr. Liang takes a drink from his teacup, and his hand is shaking. It’s clear he’s still upset by the interaction, but did he kill Mr. Tsai? I’m inclined to say no because of his physical ailment, but he might have a tricked-out car for whatever his ailment is. It just doesn’t fit with his personality, however. He’s more the type to take an adversary to court or have him arrested than to kill him. “The last thing he said before he left was that this wasn’t the end of it and that he’d make sure I got mine.”

“That sounds like a threat,” I comment.

“It was. I reported it to the police. Which is probably why they came to talk to me after he was hit by a car.” Mr. Liang fiddles with his watch, but then he raises his eyes to meet mine. “Ms. Liang. I can assure you I did not kill George. You have no reason to believe me, but I didn’t.” His voice is sincere, and I’m apt to think he’s telling the truth.

“Mr. Liang. Would it surprise you to learn that Mr. Tsai didn’t send my father’s will to probate?” Belatedly, I realize I don’t really know this man, and maybe I shouldn’t talk about this with him. There’s something trustworthy about him, however, so I just let the question stand as is.

“Let me guess. You were the heir, and he wanted the money for himself,” Mr. Liang says astutely. I nod inadvertently before I can stop myself.

“My sisters and I, the three of us, we were his heirs. He never told us about the will, obviously, and I learned he didn’t submit it to probate.” It sounds awful as I say it out loud, and I’m outraged all over again.

“Are you serious?” Mr. Liang asks, opening his eyes wide. “That’s outrageous, even for George.”

“Yes. Apparently, my father was worth a million dollars, and Mr. Tsai wanted it for himself. “That’s impossible,” Mr. Liang says crisply. “From my own investigation, I know he has at least fifty times that.”

“Cayman Islands,” I say, nodding my head. He jerks his head once, and I wonder what else he’s found. I have a hunch he has a top notch hacker at his disposal, and I would bet Mr. Liang gives him free range as to which tactics he’s allowed to use. I don’t ask, though, because I really don’t want to know. “His wife doesn’t know anything.”

“She wouldn’t,” Mr. Liang says acerbically. “I used to overhear George talking to her, and he lied to her constantly.”

“She seems like the type to believe what she’s told,” I agree. I was about to ask him about his missing year, but I decided not to bother. He wasn’t going to tell me about it, especially since he buried it so far, Yuri couldn’t find it. It didn’t seem like it was relevant to the case at hand, either.

“The only thing I know about that night is that after he left, there was a car that immediately started up and followed him.” Mr. Liang picks up a pipe from the table besides him and lights it. It’s not unpleasant smelling, though it’s strong. “I caught the last letters of the license plate, and they were C-X.” I look at him because there’s no way he didn’t have that researched. “It’s a stolen license plate, and my guy—I couldn’t find out anything else about it.” I sigh in frustration because every clue seems to lead to nowhere.

“May I ask you an impertinent question?” I ask, waiting for him to nod before continuing. “Why didn’t you take Mr. Tsai to court?” Mr. Liang looks at me for several seconds before answering.

“I was ashamed of being taken by him,” Mr. Liang says, his voice even. “Plus, I had better ways to make him regret his actions.” His voice is chilly, and it reminds me never to get on his wrong side. I hesitate, but I have to ask.

“How did you do that?”

“It’s better if you don’t know, Ms. Liang,” Mr. Liang says, his voice ice-cold. “The statute of limitation haven’t run out yet.” I stare at him, not sure if he’s joking or not, and then he breaks out into a smile. “I’m kidding. I just liened the hell out of him and made him cry for mercy.” He laughs heartily, and I laugh with him. I like him despite him being a corporate shill, and I have a feeling he’d say the same about me. “Ms. Liang. I know you’ve been doing much of the same research I’ve been doing, but there is one thing you may not have found. Mr. Tsai had an affair—”

“With Mrs. Wang,” I say, interrupting him. I don’t know why I feel the need to impress him, but I do.

“Yes. Connie.” A look passes over Mr. Liang’s face, and I have a hunch that he might have had a dalliance with Mrs. Wang himself. I don’t mention it, however, because it’s not pertinent to Mr. Tsai’s death. At least I don’t think it is. “There was another woman, though. Linda Yu. She was one of the lowest tier investors, but George paid an inordinate amount of attention to her. She’s a widow who lives in Orono now. For your information.” I go through my mental rolodex, but I can’t remember anything about a Linda Yu. My respect for Mr. Liang shoots up. His hacker is better than mine, and I wonder why Yuri didn’t find it. I’ll have to ask him when I get back home. Suddenly, I remember I’m supposed to text Rembrandt every ten minutes. It’s been twelve minutes since the last time I texted him, so I send him a quick one with an apologetic look at Mr. Liang.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Liang,” I say as I put my phone back in my purse. “I have a…friend…who is waiting outside for me, and I just texted him to say everything is OK.” I wait for him to explode, but he just nods his head.

“Sensible of you to bring someone along. You don’t know me from Jack, so why should you trust me?” He gestures to the cakes, and I have another. “I know I can be somewhat imperialistic in my demeanor sometimes. It comes from being in charge for so many years. My wife used to tell me to turn it off when I stepped through the doorway, but it’s not an easy habit to break.”

“I understand.” I eat a cream cake, marveling at how unbelievable light it is. “Is there anything else about Mr. Tsai that you can tell me?”

“He had some business dealings in China, and I couldn’t find out what they entailed. Maybe you can.” Mr. Liang helps himself to several macaroons and eats them with gusto. He takes a sip of his tea and makes a face before ringing the bell again. Mrs. Chang reappears with a fresh pot of tea and several fairy cakes. I’m tempted to see if I can lure her away from Mr. Liang, but I value my skin too much for that.

“Thank you, Mrs. Chang,” Mr. Liang says, nodding at the woman as she distributes the tea and cakes. I take a bite out of one, and I’m blown away by the lemon glace and the raspberry filling. She nods at us before disappearing.

“These are fantastic,” I say enthusiastically, eating another. “Mrs. Chang is a gem.”

“Don’t I know it,” Mr. Liang says. “She’s invaluable to me, and I thank my lucky stars that I was able to secure her services for the rest of my life.” We eat the cakes, drink tea, and chat for several more minutes. I like Mr. Liang much more than I thought I would, and when it’s time to leave, I’m strangely reluctant to do so.

“I’m glad we had this meeting,” I say as I stand up. I brush the crumbs off my lap before slinging my purse over my shoulder.

“Me, too, Ms. Liang,” Mr. Liang says, standing up as well. He holds out his hand, and I shake it firmly. Mr. Liang grabs his cane and leads me down the hallway. Mrs. Chang materializes out of nowhere and hands me a heavy Cubs bag with enticing smells emanating from it.

“For you. Enjoy!” Mrs. Chang smiles widely at me, and I reflexively smile back.

“Thank you, Mrs. Chang. Everything was so delicious.”

“Good, good. You come back soon.” Mrs. Chang pats my hand before hurrying back to the kitchen. I’m momentarily distracted, but then I shake it off and turn back to Mr. Liang.

“Please keep me apprised of what you learn,” Mr. Liang says as he opens the door. “I am most interested in what happened to George.” His eyes flash, and I have a hunch there’s more to the story than he has told me, but I don’t think it’s something I can make him tell me, so I let it go.

“Good night.” I take a step into the darkness and inhale deeply. Even though I like Mr. Liang, I am glad to get away from the staleness of his house.

“How did it go?” Rembrandt asks as I get into the car.

“Really well, surprisingly.” I start the car and put it in reverse. “He’s like the Taiwanese godfather, but I like him.” I quickly sum up what I learned from Mr. Liang, and Rembrandt listens without commenting. Once I’m done, he speaks.

“Did you believe him when he said he didn’t kill Mr. Tsai?”

“Yes. Running him over doesn’t fit his temperament. Shooting him between the eyes would.” I hesitate before adding, “I’m only saying this to you—it seems more of a woman thing to me—running over someone like that. It’s a wistful killing, if that makes sense.”

“It does. And, don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone how sexist you are.” Rembrandt smiles at me, and I laugh. He knows me well enough to realize what my worry is with that comment and to tease me about it.

“I’m going to ask Yuri about Linda Yu when we get back. I can’t believe he didn’t find her.” I know I have no right to be upset with Yuri, but I am.

“Did you read everything he sent you?” Rembrandt asks. “Maybe you overlooked it.”

“I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I read everything.” I frown as I go through the dossier in my brain. I give up, though, because it was rather lengthy, and I can’t remember everything.

“Maybe Mr. Liang didn’t find out online,” Rembrandt suggests. “She could have told him personally.”

“Damn. I didn’t think of that.” We don’t talk for the rest of the drive to Rembrandt’s house. I don’t know what he’s thinking about, but I’m trying to order the facts in my brain. The fact that Mr. Liang and Mr. Huang reimbursed most of the money to their investors tells me that Mr. Tsai’s death wasn’t for monetary reasons. Then again, I have to check with Yuri if he can verify that Mr. Liang and Mr. Huang gave money back to the investors. I don’t think Mr. Liang is lying to me, but I don’t know him.

“Mrrrrreow!” Onyx leaps in the air, and I catch her. Fortunately, Rembrandt is holding the bag of goodies, otherwise, I’d be a bit peeved at her. Ginger looks at Onyx speculatively, then turns her attention to Rembrandt.

“She’s going to jump,” I warn Rembrandt. He sets down the bag and holds out his arms. Ginger cocks her head, then walks over to Rembrandt and butts him on the shin. He reaches down and scratches her behind the ears, and she purrs loudly in approval. Rembrandt and I go into the kitchen with the cats trotting behind us. I have grabbed the Cubs bag, and I pull out plate after plate of cakes. Cream cakes. Fairy cakes. Tartlets. Éclairs. There are more cakes than I’ll be able to eat in a week.

“Those look fantastic,” Rembrandt says, eying the cakes hungrily.

“Mr. Liang’s…um…I don’t know what she is, but Mrs. Chang. She made them. They are heavenly.” I make a plate of cakes while Rembrandt boils water for tea. I give the cats Greenies, and there is much jubilation in the land of cats. Once we have everything ready, we take a tray of goodies into living room.

“Oh my god,” Rembrandt says, biting into an éclair. “I want this woman. Now.”

“You know how to make a girl feel good,” I tease, nibbling on a tartlet. It’s delicious, of course, but I’m full from all the cakes I’ve already eaten. Onyx, Jet, and Ginger jump up on the couch. Onyx and Ginger snuggle down, but Jet sniffs at the cakes, his whiskers twitching. He licks the cream out of an éclair before I can stop him.

“Jet! Stop it!” I scold him, whisking the plate away from him. He sits on his haunches and his ears and tail droops. He looks at me soulfully, and I relent. I scoop some cream with my finger and hold it out to Jet. His ears perk up as he licks the cream off my finger. After he’s done, he gnaws gently on my finger to show he wants more. I give him a morsel more, but that’s it. Neither Onyx nor Ginger evinces any interest, which makes things much easier. I check the dossier Yuri sent me, and there’s nothing about a Linda Yu. I fire off an email to him that says, “Hi, Yuri. Thank you for all the information you’ve given me so far, and I have a few more things I want you to investigate. I don’t feel comfortable with not paying you any longer, however, so I must insist this time. Here are my questions. What can you find about Linda Yu, one of the lowest level investors? Also, did Mr. Liang and Mr. Huang reimburse the investors after Mr. Tsai ran with the money?” Yuri emails back, saying, “Will do. You can pay me fifty dollars. I’ll have it for you within an hour.” I blink at the price because it’s ridiculously low. I’m pleased, however that he’ll accept any money at all, and I quickly agree.

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