Dead Man Talking

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George’s Chinese Letters by Crad Kilodney

My friend George has spent his entire adult life avoiding honest work. He is not a stupid or untalented fellow by any means. He has the brains to make himself rich, I’m quite sure. It’s just that he would rather focus his intelligence on getting rich by means other than honest work. The result has been one crazy scheme after another, some of which have backfired badly

Not long ago George had a brainstorm he considered his best ever. He picked out one hundred people named Wong from the phone book, used the postal code directory and the Bowker street directory to complete their addresses, and wrote each of them an individually handwritten note something like this:

Dear Mr. Wong:
You will send me $1,000 cash, carefully wrapped, to the postal box given below. Do not go to the police. Send this money within one week. If you follow these instructions, there will be no further demands for money.
The Hedgehog
Postal Box (……)

George had already rented a box at a nearby mail drop.

After writing, sealing, addressing, and stamping all hundred letters to these Wongs, he dropped them in the mail. Then he called me to tell me what he had done.

“But, George,” I said, “why should any of these people send money to an anonymous stranger?”

“I’m playing the odds,” he said. “A lot of Chinese were involved in crooked business in Hong Kong before they came over here. They have skeletons in their closets they don’t want anyone to know about. Out of a hundred Chinese chosen at random, there are bound to be a few who have something to feel guilty about. And what’s a lousy thousand bucks if you think it’s keeping you out of trouble?”

“What’s to stop them from going to the police?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t do that. Orientals never want to get mixed up with the police. It’s a cultural thing.”

“Uh huh…Well, maybe so. But what you’re doing is still a form of extortion,” I said.

“No, it isn’t!” George said emphatically. “I know because I looked it up in the Criminal Code! Section 346! Look it up yourself! Extortion requires the use of threats, accusations, menaces or violence. That exactly what it says. My letters don’t make any sort of threat. All I’ve done is to tell people to send me money. I never said I would do anything if they didn’t.”

I thought about this. “Well, if you’re not over the line, you’re certainly pushing up against it.”

“Heh, heh, yeah, it’s pretty clever, don’t you think?”

“I still don’t think anyone will send you money, but let me know what happens.”

On the third day after posting his letters, George went to his box. Inside there was a thick envelope. He brought it home and opened it, shaking with anticipation. The envelope contained $1,000 in cash, along with a poorly scribbled note: “Please leave us alone. We don’t want any trouble.”

The next day George went to the box again. There was another thick envelope! He brought it home and opened it. Another $1,000 in cash, and this note said: “We are poor people. This is all we can afford. Please don’t bother us any more.”

George went back every day for the next week or so, but there were no more envelopes. Nevertheless, he considered his scheme to be a tremendous success: two “hits” out of a hundred and $2,000 cash. And what had it cost him? About $50 in postage and stationery.

“I told you it would work!” he said.

“I’m amazed,” I said. “It’s a fluke.”

“I’m going to do it again!”

So George got out the phone book and picked out another hundred Wongs. As before, he hand-wrote his notes demanding money and dropped them in the mail.

On the third day after the mailing, he went to his postal box. There was nothing in the box yet, but it was still early, so he wasn’t discouraged. On his way out of the store, however, he found himself suddenly flanked by three young Chinese in suits and dark glasses, who grabbed him by the arms and marched him to a waiting car with tinted windows. In a matter of seconds, he was being driven away at high speed, jammed in the back seat with guns stuck in both sides of his ribs.

Yes, as you’ve correctly figured out, George had managed to “hit” a Wong with connections to a criminal gang. The thugs demanded to know whom George worked for. Terrified, he tried to explain that it was all a prank, that he had sent a lot of letters and didn’t know any of the people he had written to. The thugs jabbered among themselves in tones whose meaning was clear even if the words were incomprehensible. They eventually arrived at a deserted warehouse in an industrial sector. George was taken inside and given a thorough beating. They believed his story but felt he deserved a beating anyway. “Next time we kill you!” they warned.

I visited him at home while he was recuperating. He was sitting in bed smoking and watching TV. His head was bandaged, his left arm was in a sling, and he was black and blue all over. Despite it all, he seemed in reasonably good spirits.

“George,” I said, adopting my most moralistic tone, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”

“Yup,” he said, nodding, “I made a mistake.” He took a contemplative drag on his cigarette. “Next time….I do Vietnamese.”

Crad Kilodney

April 1999

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