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Asian American Contemporary Crime

Twenty years earlier, Chaoxiang’s mother had held her newborn son, weeping with joy. Of all the auspicious names to choose from, his mother picked the Chinese name for “expecting fortune.” As an undocumented kitchen worker at AmeriCasino’s Shanghai Buffet in Reno, Chaoxiang had learned to temper his expectations. 

In the midst of chopping endless mounds of broccoli, mushrooms, onions, and peppers for a pittance, Chaoxiang paused mid-slice, knee-deep in parings, to watch the cheery twinkle lights blink. Outside, they clicked wildly against the grubby kitchen windows’ panes as the howling, icy winds of Nevada threatened to shatter the lights, kitchen window, and all. 

He shivered as he walked by the exit doors. It had never been this cold in Yunnan. For a moment, he was grateful for the kitchen’s oppressive heat, though he had grown to hate both the AmeriCasino and the Shanghai Buffet. Still, the lights outside were beautiful, almost as much as the Sierra Nevada mountains that enveloped Reno, the only American city he knew. 

Chaoxiang wondered if all of America was just as cold.

“Chow!” the bloated red-faced man called to him. “Dish room. Now.”

Chaoxiang nodded, the only acceptable response. He wordlessly cleaned up his station, carefully washed the sharp knives, and meticulously put everything back in its place. 

You are a good student, his senior middle school teacher had said. At university, you will do very well. But there was no money for college. His father’s gambling debts had seen to that. His father was notable in Yunnan as biāojì wèi shībài—a man marked for failure. Even in this new place, his father’s failures clung to his only son.

The amount of money that Chaoxiang earned by working seven days a week, keeping the buffet’s steaming trays cleaned and filled, was merely a drop in the bucket. As his father owed over a million yuan to the Chinese triads and they owned AmeriCasino, Chaoxiang’s indentured servitude had been arranged without his consent, even after both of his parents were murdered. The triads would have their money, even if seven generations of his family toiled in the backs of kitchens around the world to pay it off.

Frankly, Chaoxiang’s plight was more of a message than anything else: those who couldn’t pay their debts would lose their eldest sons. It was quite a deterrent for recalcitrant stiffs back in Mainland China.

Chaoxiang entered the dish room, taking up alongside Ping, another Chinese national. He soon felt like a garbage man in a sauna. Rivulets of sweat streamed down Chaoxiang’s face while his hands reddened under the caustic soap and blistering hot water. 

“Chow, there will be a raid soon,” Ping said.

“Triads?”

“No triads. ICE.”

“How do you know,” Chaoxiang whispered, as his co-worker looked sick and untrustworthy. So many of the kitchen workers used cheap drugs to get them through the long days of grueling work. Why Chaoxiang held out hope that his fortunes would change often vexed him. How much easier would it be to believe in nothing?

“I know, Chow. The delivery men have said as much.”

“Delivery men and who else?” Chaoxiang asked.

“Look out on the casino floor for yourself. There are too many strange men near the exits. The pit bosses and cashiers have cashed out early. And see that pretty lady having coffee in the manager’s office?” His peer pointed through the partition where the red-faced man kept his disheveled desk. “She just arrived. She asked to see our papers.”

“Where are the managers?”

“They are meeting together with the cashiers.”

Odd, Chaoxiang thought. The red-faced man had never left the kitchen before. 

He noted the pretty lady appeared to be Chinese. She pulled off her heavy fur-lined jacket, far too warm for inside, revealing her shoulder holster. Her badge was affixed to her belt, previously hidden beneath her coat. As she held her second steaming cup of coffee, her short, blunt fingernails tapped it repeatedly. Her other hand felt for her gun, as if to reassure herself it was still there.

She acted far too nervous to be the police. 

Five years earlier, Chaoxiang’s father had held his teenage son, weeping with remorse, giving him the names of the Chinese gangs who expected a fortune from him but were taking his son instead. 

His father also gave Chaoxiang some very old advice: one arrow, two eagles. Or as Westerners would say, kill two birds with one stone.

There wasn’t much time. 

Chaoxiang walked into the manager’s office and bowed low to the pretty lady. She was taken off guard, seeing a kitchen worker approach her so directly. In one fluid movement, Chaoxiang extracted her pistol from her shoulder holster, neatly jamming the muzzle into her ribs. 

“Answer me quietly or die,” he muttered in Mandarin.

She nodded. 

“Who is coming tonight? ICE? Feds? Local cops? Chuen? Shing? Sun Yee On?”

“14K.”

Of course. The worst of them all. Sun Yee On was the largest of the Chinese gangs, but 14K was expanding globally. What better place to launder human trafficking proceeds than a casino in the middle of nowhere?

“Where and when is the drop?”

“In a half hour. A car is coming around the back. The driver will come in through the kitchen.”

“Then we’ll wait for him together. Sit on the floor.”

He held the gun on her, tucked under his apron. They sat in silence for several minutes, her neck getting sore from looking up at him.

“What is your name?” she asked, eyes soft, head tilted, mouth slightly open.

“Expecting fortune,” he replied curtly, understanding that she had to use all the weapons she had at her disposal. 

Ping suddenly appeared, carrying what would have been the pretty lady’s third cup of coffee. 

“Would you—” Ping asked, stopping short as he saw Chaoxiang holding a gun on her. 

“Ping, we are leaving this place with a lot of money.”

He looked at both Chaoxiang and the pretty lady, determining how to respond. “Yes, Chow. We are,” Ping decided.

The bell on the kitchen's backdoor chimed.

The expected fortune had arrived.


January 23, 2022 19:05

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59 comments

K. Antonio
12:31 Jan 26, 2022

Hello, Deidra, I'll be commenting as I read. - I like the first sentence and how it references time. - I enjoyed the information in the third paragraph, how details of his background slip into the descriptions. - Shit, the MC is basically a slave. Triad detail makes sense given this is in the "crime" tag. - The pacing really picks up once the mentioned of the ICE appears. - The use of italics to reference the MC's thoughts/internal voice works. - I like the correlation of the character's name with the plot twist, I didn't expect him to...

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Deidra Lovegren
14:39 Jan 26, 2022

I love comments that are longer than the story :) As for the mystery of the 3rd paragraph, I find myself looking out my classroom window and admiring the tranquil Florida landscape. Then I return to boring my students to death in an overly cold classroom about 19th c. literature that is almost entirely irrelevant to their lives. And some days I'd rather wash dishes in a cheap Reno buffet than grade one more essay! Thanks for your insightful and uplifting remarks. Much love to South America!

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K. Antonio
14:46 Jan 26, 2022

I'm so happy that summer vacation in Brazil is in December/January so I haven't gone back to work yet. Consequently, in July (winter here) I'm stuck in school all day, wishing I was getting trafficked out of the country.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:02 Jan 26, 2022

Okay, that last line made me LaUgH . . .

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:20 Jan 25, 2022

Great story. Half way through, I was like Damn this guy is beyond trapped, so this story must be an internal emotional one.. I'm so pleased I was wrong. Great use of Chinese Triad language etc. Good read and congrats on 90 stories! Wow!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:29 Jan 25, 2022

Thanks, Rachel! I'm going to buy myself an entire chocolate cake and eat it when I hit 100 (then immediately feel guilty). I really like Chaoxiang -- he'll be back. Having worked in kitchens myself, I know what goes on in the back of the house. It ain't pretty. Lots of drudgery...

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:42 Jan 25, 2022

Ah yes I too have worked back of house. Those dish washers give your face a good steam clean! 🤣

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Deidra Lovegren
16:45 Jan 25, 2022

And scraping food off plates isn't as satisfying as it looks. And wet food garbage is heavier than cement...

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:49 Jan 25, 2022

So true!

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N.R. Pierce
02:56 Feb 01, 2022

What a good slow-clap I am having! Thank you for the beautiful way you wield your craft Diedra. This was so beautifully paced and I had no idea the twists and turns were coming. Well done!!

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Deidra Lovegren
18:52 Feb 01, 2022

I was a little surprised as well. I usually just follow my characters around and see what trouble they get up to. Chow may need a sequel since he's a tragic underdog I'm roooting for :)

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Betsy Lynch
18:12 Feb 15, 2022

Oh, I really hope to hear more about Chow! Excellent! I have also worked the backs of restaurants (my family was in the biz), and I realize the enslavement the human trafficking some Chinese restaurants can be. We all know a few of them, sadly.

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Leo Fall
17:56 Mar 07, 2022

Another amazing one. I did not expect a crime story from you, but my Gods do I love it!^^ I know I've said it before but dude, I love your stories.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:25 Mar 07, 2022

Dudette :)

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Leo Fall
19:31 Mar 07, 2022

Noted!

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Betsy Lynch
18:06 Feb 15, 2022

I enjoyed this story, especially since I've spent a great deal of time in Shanghai - well, some in Nevada, as well! But I know little about gang names. Did you research this, or did you know someone who related that information? I love the pacing, the character development, the tension, and especially the ending. Thank you for sharing your gifts, Deidra!

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Deidra Lovegren
18:14 Feb 15, 2022

Thanks for cheering me on with amazing comments :) As for the gang names, I did a bit of research. I'm a fan of Zhang Yimou's films (who introduced me to triads) and especially the actress Gong Li. I'm definitely a Sinophile stuck in Florida... Have you written about your time in the East? I'm sure you have some fascinating tales to spin on that adventure.

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Paul Brown
21:27 Feb 10, 2022

Great story Deidra, loved the ending I was ready to leave as well, I could use a big pay day :) retirement beckoning early for those boys. Lucky sods.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:52 Feb 10, 2022

Love your comments! I'm guessing our boys won't make it past the parking lot. Chinese triads are tough to beat . . . but maybe fortune favors the bold?

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Paul Brown
22:09 Feb 10, 2022

Lets hope the delivery van back doors are open and is sat right outside for the quick getaway. A big bag of money and a chow mein on the go for the heroes :) Its hungry work dodging bullets.

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Delia Tomkus
23:03 Feb 02, 2022

Hey! This story was awesome! However, I had a small question(you're an awesome writer, so why not ask you). If you're writing a personal narrative, do you have to change the names of the characters before posting it publicly?

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Deidra Lovegren
01:11 Feb 03, 2022

I would change the names to protect the innocent (and the guilty). Put it under narrative nonfiction.

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Delia Tomkus
01:28 Feb 03, 2022

Okay thank you

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Michael Regan
17:55 Feb 02, 2022

Sun Leen Fai Lok - an auspicious start to the 'Year of the Tiger'.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:07 Feb 02, 2022

I'm thinking of a sequel. Chow & Ping Ride Again.

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Michael Regan
20:57 Feb 02, 2022

😂😂😂

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Laura Jarosz
21:23 Feb 01, 2022

YESSSS. I fist pumped when this ended the way it did instead of the way I was expecting it to end (and was not looking forward to.) I've only been on this site for a few weeks, but I'm quickly seeing why your fan following is well-deserved; I'm going to have to go back and read some of yours from before I joined!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:56 Feb 01, 2022

I may have to write a sequel. Chow & Ping are too good of a duo to let go of :) You've been on Reedsy since November and racked up a win and a shortlist -- You GO gurl Woo Hoo! Soooo . . . any chance you'd like to come on the most laid back podcast in the world? Russell Norman (from Sydney) and I interview writers from around the globe. We'd love to discuss your reading and writing journey :) Check us out? We're nice and fuzzy. https://www.readlotswritelots.com/wp/episodes/

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Laura Jarosz
00:00 Feb 02, 2022

My favorite thing in the world is piecing together a character for something you THINK is going to be a one-off and then realizing that this is actually the beginning of a beautiful friendship. :) I would LOVE to read more of these guys! Honestly, you seem like you would be an absolute blast to chat with, if you think I'm interesting and 'writer'-y enough to talk to...at the very least, I will check out the podcast!

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W.D. Pierce
21:14 Feb 01, 2022

Great story from start to finish! Very compelling, great descriptions of your settings and I liked how you ended the story on a climactic point.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:53 Feb 01, 2022

Thanks, WD. You are no slouch in the rock 'em sock 'em action as well. I'm a fan already :)

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W.D. Pierce
00:29 Feb 02, 2022

Thanks! And back at ya on being a fan. Can't wait to read more of your stories!

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05:41 Feb 01, 2022

This was great, it did not go as I expected. I would love to know what happens after.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:28 Feb 01, 2022

I'm conjuring up a sequel, mainly for Ping. He's quite the sidekick :)

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06:54 Feb 02, 2022

that would be great. I think more people should do sequels on here.

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Chloe Longstreet
10:28 Jan 31, 2022

I love the story, but I feel a little thrown off by the end. Chaoxiang's character at the beginning of the story, or at least who I imagined him to be as an indentured oldest son taken from China to pay off his father's gambling debts does not seem like someone who would barge into the office of his superiors, grab a gun from a woman, and take over a gang drop. Where did he get the experience and knowledge to catch on to what is going on and know how to take control of a situation like that? Maybe we can learn more if you write more stories...

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Deidra Lovegren
15:53 Jan 31, 2022

Welcome to Reedsy! So many talented and generous writers here :) Thanks for your comment. I wasn't sure what Chaoxiang was going to do until he had an opportunity. I'm not a plotter -- I usually just follow the character around. Agree, this calls out for a longer work. For now, I'm just glad he isn't peeling onions for half the day. And Ping is the best side kick ever. :)

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Chloe Longstreet
23:45 Jan 31, 2022

Definitely. I am glad he got away from peeling onions as well and I would love to learn more about him. Anyone who can do what he does in your story has a pretty interesting background to explore. :)

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Kevin Broccoli
03:58 Jan 31, 2022

This has a mixture of so many things I love. It's cinematic and also highly theatrical in so many ways. I love seeing how you take your style and apply it to different forms and genres. It's acrobatic and wonderful.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:51 Jan 31, 2022

Huzzah :) Always glad to please, primarily due to unresolved childhood trauma :) Thanks for the read. PS - I'm hijacking "acrobatic" as my new favorite way to describe writing. Much better than "bouncy."

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Anna Nonymous
22:20 Jan 29, 2022

Deidra, I just love the first paragraph, and how you capture all the hope and despair of life in a few short lines. Was not expecting that twist, and boy did it work for me. Why expect fortune when you can make your own, amiright? Well done!

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Deidra Lovegren
22:50 Jan 29, 2022

Thanks, Hannah. My youngest child is in food service in Orlando -- and has shared a lot of stories about back-of-the-house kitchens. I have done my time as well -- and that work is NOT for the faint of heart. :) Appreciate the kudos -- woo hoo!

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09:57 Jan 26, 2022

90! Man you're the Christopher Lee of reedsy! It actually shows in your work. You mastered the 1000-3000 words format. I feel it's a shortlist or a win. Damn!

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Deidra Lovegren
14:24 Jan 26, 2022

LET'S GO. So, Ismail -- when you turn 18, how about coming on the podcast? Russell Norman (from Australia) and I interview new writers about their reading and writing journeys. https://www.readlotswritelots.com/wp/ Maybe check out episode 11, 15 & 16? Those are some young male writers from South Africa, Brazil, & Slovenia, respectively.

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Shaylynn Skinner
02:13 Jan 25, 2022

oh my gosh I love your stories! I just wrote my very first story i would be so happy if you read it and reviewed it.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:31 Jan 27, 2022

Thanks, Shaylynn - I left you some comments. Take a look on how to punctuate dialogue. Keep writing :)

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Phil Manders
12:42 Jan 24, 2022

Hi D In years to come when college lectures use examples of your work to teach others how to write, they’ll read this one and say, “ This is classic Lovegren.” It was perfectly paced with a great finish. Well done you.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:56 Jan 24, 2022

"Classic Lovegren" -- that's usually involves some minor catastrophe (haha) Your kind comments keep me chugging along. I'm looking forward to topping 100 stories in 10 weeks or so. :) I have NO idea where this character came from, but I'm awfully fond of his resourcefulness. Onward, Phil -- :)

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Scout Tahoe
22:41 Jan 23, 2022

Happy 90! I smell a shortlist/win... This story made me think about how people live up to their names. I liked the representation of Asian-Americans and how realistic it was. Thanks for sharing.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:55 Jan 23, 2022

Thanks. I feel great for being 90. Not sure what the judges will think of this one, but it called out to be written. Chaoxiang has quickly become a favorite character. I think we'll see him again :)

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Scout Tahoe
00:12 Jan 24, 2022

Yay! I love sequels. I don’t know how on Earth you come up with these. I’m having a lot of trouble with the prompts. They’re so broad.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:58 Jan 24, 2022

Agreed. Sometimes a narrower prompt helps the creativity spring to life. I did like the generators, though. The titles were intriguing -- and I always have a devil of time trying to name my stories in any meaningful way. :)

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Nora K.
22:24 Jan 23, 2022

Holy cow, 90 submissions? That's pretty wild. This story is good. Very good. Funny, since the story itself stemmed from essentially nothing ("Create a title with our Title Generator, then write a story inspired by it"). Beautiful imagery. Nice dialogue. Enjoyed the "AmeriCasino" play on words. Willing to bet this wins. Seriously. Name your price.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:53 Jan 23, 2022

Thanks for the 90-stories kudos. Woo hoo! Getting to a 100 . . . in another 10 weeks. I'm sure only a fraction of them are any good -- haha -- but it's been a great journey. I'm not sure if human trafficking is a winner, but I had an experience at a San Francisco restaurant that gave me pause. I wanted to give a voice to the back of the house staff. It's a brutal job, food prep.

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Calm Shark
20:55 Jan 23, 2022

I love how this story is Asian American. I love reading Asian American stories. Thank you Deidra for sharing this story. I have a bit of a problem, trying to think of a story idea but it just doesn't come to me. It will come sooner or later. Anyways a great read, Deidra!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:14 Jan 23, 2022

Hang in there, Calm Shark. Inspiration will come :)

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Calm Shark
21:18 Jan 23, 2022

Thank you. I hope so.

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Calm Shark
00:42 Jan 29, 2022

Deidra, I just wanted to ask you a question. How do you come up with great stories? I really like your work and of course, many others so I would always imagine how they come up with great stories. Also, happy 90th story! I hope to see the character soon.

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