Cameron popped one last bite into his mouth and dropped his chopsticks onto his plate. The mu shu pork here was unbelievable. In seven years, he’d never been disappointed.
The owner approached, smiling. “How is your meal, Mr. Bullina?”
“Top notch, as always. And the service was much better than last time.” He grinned at “Ed,” as he liked to call the Chinese man, who nodded.
“Good, good,” Ed answered. He snapped his fingers at a passing waiter and pointed him toward the table to clear the dishes. Besides the pork, there had been sizzling rice soup, moo goo gai pan, beef and vegetables, steamed dumplings, and the house special, Kung Pao chicken.
Cameron always ate well when he came through town, and he gladly paid extra for a guarantee of delicious food and excellent service.
“No trouble this time?” Ed asked.
“No, not at all,” Cameron answered, shifting his considerable weight back with a satisfied air. “The food was delicious and the bai jiu plentiful.” As though to prove his point, he downed the last of the rice wine in his cup, and before he set it back on the table a small, thin woman appeared at his elbow with a fresh bottle. He watched her refill the cup and set the new bottle on the table, then slip away.
The last time he’d come to Happy Lucky’s, he’d been served by an inexperienced, clumsy young man. The idiot had slopped his water, forgotten his spring rolls, dropped his chow mein on the floor, and never even offered him complimentary wine. The experience had put Cameron in a sour mood for the rest of his trip. He had no patience for such headaches.
Before returning, Cameron sent Ed a letter: I trust you will address the situation before my next visit, in two weeks. I would hate to have to mention the unsatisfactory conditions to the mayor’s office. I look forward to sharing a good meal with you soon.
“I am very pleased,” Ed said. He snapped his fingers again, and the thin woman brought him a small tray holding the bill and several fortune cookies. Ed presented it to Cameron with a small bow. “Please again accept my thanks for visiting my humble establishment. The bai jiu is with my compliments, of course.”
Cameron chuckled. “If you insist,” he said. He pulled out his platinum card and tossed it on the tray, which Ed handed to the waitress before bowing again and making his way to another table. When the waitress returned, Cameron scrawled his signature on the receipt and took a sip of the rice wine. Damned if it wasn’t better than usual.
He picked up a fortune cookie and examined it. A small piece had broken off, exposing the slip of paper inside. He frowned, tossed the damaged cookie onto the table, and picked up another. That one and the next had singed edges, which he despised. He took a good drink of his wine, annoyed.
He picked up the last cookie and grunted when he could see no flaw in it. The thing was probably stale. He popped it open and pulled out the fortune.
No chicken tonight, he read. He blinked, and his eyes flickered to where his plates had been. What the hell?
He picked up one of the singed cookies and broke it open. No pork tonight, the paper read. He looked around, glaring.
An unfamiliar waitress stopped on her way to another table.
“Can I help, sir?” she asked. “Bring you something?”
“Wait,” he barked, reaching for the last cookies. The first one read, Where is Chen, I wonder? He shook the paper at the waitress. “Who is Chen? Where is he? I want to speak to him!”
“Chen?” She looked confused for a moment, then brightened. “Ah! Chen, a waiter?” she said. “He is not work here anymore, sir. Not for one week.”
He waved her away and opened the last fortune cookie. When he saw what it said, he dropped it from numb fingers, his stomach churning: Chen is here.
Darla Kennerud lives with her husband and two children at the edge of a forest in the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.
Image by Dannielle Blumenthal.