Silken Thread – Sample

Part 1 – Chapter 1

Hotel New Otani — Tokyo

THE EXCURSION TO JAPAN WAS CUMSHAW — an under-the-table emolument to assure a customer’s continued patronage. Ward Aarens tended to send back tokens of friendship, but every once in a while, he’d capitulate, to show respect to his Taiwanese supplier.

It was 1966, and the Sky Restaurant atop the Hotel New Otani in downtown Tokyo was shiny and new. White-coated staff hustled tables with graceful efficiency while sixteen-year-old David Aarens peered through a slanted window for a glimpse at the action seventeen stories below. Lighted signs, written in Kanji and English characters, splashed out of Ginza across wet pavement, hinting at adventures that were, for the moment, just out of reach.

David was good looking, with blond hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks and a lean soccer player’s physique — and powerless to use those assets in the way nature intended. He admired Wu Tien, six years his senior, recalling a warning his father had given. “Asians swoon over Nordic types like us, but don’t leverage that — someone always gets hurt, and it’s just as likely to be you. Besides, you’re the wrong person to court Qiang’s daughter.”

Wu Qiang offered a sizzling platter of escargot. “David, would you like some of these?”

He was tempted — they smelled delicious. “Thank you, Master Wu. I have an omelet coming.”

David’s father unfolded a napkin. “He’s a cautious eater when we travel.”

“Your loss.” Qiang pushed snails around in garlic butter. “So, David, have you decided where you go to college?”

“No, sir. I was thinking of attending the University of the Philippines, but Dad wants me to go back to the States.”

Qiang nodded. “You live in Philippines, what, since 1956? You speak Tagalog now?”

“Yes, sir.”

Wu Qiang folded his hands on the table. “Listen, I tell what you do. You learn speak Mandarin while you in Manila. Then go States, get degree in mechanical engineering like your father. You come back, I make you my partner.”


Chapter 2

After dinner, father and son went off to meet two salarymen from a Japanese supplier of fluorescent light ballasts. The men toasted Aarens senior time and again, until finally, sweating profusely, jackets folded on chair backs, they gave up trying to drink him under the table. On the way down the elevator, sagging in his son’s embrace, David’s father chuckled. “I bet that’s the last time those guys try to out drink a Dutchman for a while.”

They looped arms, making their way on foot, umbrellas hooked to wrists. A fine mist had been falling since late afternoon, turning Tokyo’s brilliant night scene into a rainbow symphony. Aarens senior took deep breaths of wet air, puffing his cheeks as they walked, crunching charcoal tablets like candy. David loosened his father’s tie. “Are you all right, Pop?”

“Ja. I’m fine.”

“I noticed a geisha house near the hotel.”

“So, that’s what you’ve been stewing about. You think I’m going to drop you off with fifty bucks in your pocket?”

David guided him across a curb. “It wouldn’t hurt my feelings.”

“Son, there’s no guarantee of getting laid in those places.” His father gave him a sideways look. “Although you probably would. Listen — I’m not in favor of it, I wouldn’t let you go alone, and I’m not going with you. So, no deal.”

“Yes, sir. Thought I’d try.”

“Good try. You heard what Qiang said.”

“About making me his partner. Was he serious?”

“Sure, although I don’t know if he wants to wait that long. You wouldn’t be working in Manila — that’s his territory.”

“Where, then?”

“Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan — places where an American salesman might close more business. But, do you really think you’ll want to come back after living in the States?”

“How would I know?”

His father stumbled. “I’m potted.” He caught David’s arm. “You’ll know where you want to live after college.”

“Is it a good proposition?” He shortened his steps.

“Qiang would treat you like his own son.” Ward waited at a pedestrian crossing. “You’d be a rich man, but it’ll cost you.”


“Well, for instance — he’ll want you to marry into an influential Taiwanese family, for the sake of the business.”

“Oh. I didn’t think about that. That would be …”

“A lot of the time, it means a wife in Taipei and a mistress somewhere else.”

David led them across the street. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

His father gripped his arm tight. “It isn’t the life I want for you.”

Chapter 3

Manila Golf and Country Club — Philippines

The first Thursday after they got home, David met Ramon Del Campo to play the back nine. They arrived early, planning to get done before it rained and maybe dodge the older players, but Pete Torvalds snagged them coming out of the locker room. They didn’t get a chance to speak in private until a dog-leg on the 12th hole, Ramon asking the only question he didn’t want Pete to hear. “Anything happen in Tokyo you want to tell me about?”

David eyed the distance to the green. “Nope.”

“I didn’t think so. Look, if you’re still a virgin in January, we’ll do something.”

“Nah — I’m not going to the Fisher Club, or the Yellow Bar, or anywhere like those places.” He flubbed the lay-up, landing in a bunker. “Are you coming over to the American School this year?”

“Not a chance.” Ramon bounced off the pin. “Tatay wants me to finish at Ateneo. Fucking Jesuits, one day you love them, the next day you hate them. I can’t wait to get out of that place.”

“I was hoping to see you there.” David signaled Pete to join in. “Hey, Pete — a man said if I learn to speak Mandarin, get an engineering degree in the States, and come back here, he’ll give me a job. What do you think?”

“You do all that, anybody’ll give you a job, but good luck learning Chinese.” Pete leaned on his club. “I spent a year flying in China until the Japs shot my legs off — and I never got the hang of it.”

“Jesu Christo!” Ramon looked Pete up and down. “I know you limp, but I didn’t know about your legs.”

“That’s because I’m one tough son of a bitch.” He gave David the eyeball. “Who we talking about?”

“Friend of my dad’s from Taiwan. Wu Qiang — Iron Fortune Trading.”

“You got anything waiting for you in the States?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you ought to consider it. There’s a Mandarin class at the embassy, starting in July.” He fished in his bag for a putter. “If you don’t mind hanging out with the CIA.”

Chapter 4

David brought the subject up at the dinner table. “Pop, Pete Torvalds says I can enroll in a CIA-sponsored Mandarin class at the embassy, afternoons, starting in July.”

His mother frowned. “Your father should never have mentioned that business about a mistress in every port.”

Ward Aarens studied his son’s face. “Did he say they’ll definitely let you in the class?”

“Yes, sir. Did you know he was a pilot in the Flying Tigers?”

“He’s had a colorful life. Afternoons when?”

“Two-thirty — Monday, Wednesday, Friday.”

A cloud of resignation fell across Ward Aarens side of the table. “Where would you eat lunch?”

“The agency will give me a USEA pass so I can go to the clubhouse at Seafront.”

His mother snorted. “Why is Pete rolling out the red carpet?”

David shrugged. “I told him I want to do it, he said he’d make it happen.”

“Good old Pete.” His father said.

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