“He’s written a terrific conspiracy thriller set in Chicago, called PENANCE. He also has a very big moustache. An interesting guy, then. An even more interesting writer.”
Exhibit A publish Dan’s book in spring 2013. Here’s what it’s about:
Born and raised in Chicago, Detective John Lynch might just be about to die there too.
A pious old woman steps out of the Sacred Heart confessional and is shot dead by a sniper with what at first appears to be a miraculous and impossible shot.
Colonel Tech Weaver dispatches a team from Langley to put the shooter—and anyone else who gets in the way—in a body bag before a half-century of national secrets are revealed.
Detective John Lynch, the son of a murdered Chicago cop, finds himself cast into an underworld of political corruption and guilty secrets, as he tries to uncover the truth about what’s really going on – before another innocent citizen gets killed.
To introduce readers to the world and characters of PENANCE, Dan is writing a series of short stories that explore the histories of that world and those characters. For most of the characters, that world is Chicago, but for Dao (aka Paddy) Wang the world is a bigger place.
In the novel, Paddy Wang is an ancient Chicago power broker with long-standing ties to the city’s ruling political dynasty. Paddy’s beginnings, and his reach, prove to be far more global. In this story, The Patience of History, Paddy learns one of his first, and one of his hardest, lessons.
Click to read on with the story …
The Patience of History
A story from the world of Penance featuring Paddy Wang
By: Dan O’Shea
Zhi Peng Wang had miscalculated. There was no point in regret, in wishing he had chosen a different course. Events were what they were and the man who overcame them was the man not moved by emotion. The man who refused to dream. The man who wasted no time wishing that things might be some way other than what they were. Success was a matter of action, not a product of hope.
He looked for a moment at his wife. He had already explained his decision to here, and she had simply nodded her ascent as he knew she would. She was a Westerner, the daughter of missionaries who was converted, instead, by China, by Zhi Peng Wang. Many assumed that she was weak, childish, undisciplined, as so many Westerners were. But Zhi Peng knew the truth of her. A strong man did not take weakness to his bed. He thought of her years in that bed, of the delights it had held, and for just a moment considered taking those delights again, a final time. But it was a thought of weakness, of pleasure, an attempt to delay, to succumb to hope. They had both accepted their fate. He would not insult her now with weakness.
He summoned his children.
Neither the son nor the daughter showed much sign of their Western heritage, as if their mother, in surrendering her soul to China had found some way to surrender her womb to it as well. Dao, his son. So slight, so short. Almost thirty, but often mistaken for half that. Dao wore his small body like iron, had mastered both the physical and mental arts of war, and had transformed his unimposing stature into a strength, adopting, too, a quiet nature. Those enemies he encountered imagined him already defeated, not deserving of their attentions, never recovering from that delusion until the moment Dao stood astride them in triumph.
His daughter Jaiyi, now twenty, tall and graceful, just a hint of her mother in a body suggested the taste of those western swellings that did much to inflame the appetites of men, She, too, understood her gifts and had the cunning to use them for her benefit, but her nature was fire where Dao’s was ice.
They stood before the father, the solemnity of the occasion clear.
“My children, by what calendar does the man who would defeat history plan his actions?”
“By a calendar of years, father,” his daughter answered, usually the first to speak.
“Or decades,” his son said. “Or centuries. History is patient. Victory must be more patient.”
“Your mind learns, my daughter,” Zhi Peng said. “But in your words I can still hear the hunger of your heart. When you have made your passions a horse that you ride where you will and not one that pulls your cart in any direction it chooses, then you will know true strength.”
The girl bowed, deeply from the waist.
“And in whom does a family measure its success? In the father?”
“In the son,” his daughter answered, speaking first again. “And in the grandson, and in those generations still more distant.”
Dao said nothing, for Jaiyi had answered correctly.
“And in the daughters of those generations, also.” His father said. “China is great, but even the great must learn. And from your mother I have learned that the strength of a woman’s heart is equal to that of a man’s arms. Our people discount our daughters. I do not.”
Jaiyi bowed again.
“And with what heart does a man approach the most fearsome task?”
Jaiyi opened her mouth to answer, then stopping as if she had a premonition of words yet to come. It was often so with her, Dao had noticed. She seemed sometimes to hear the words of men before they spoke them, to know their hearts before they were revealed.
“With a strong heart,” Dao answered for her. “And with a glad heart. For the most fearsome tasks offer the greatest rewards.”
His father nodded, said nothing, then called the three servants who still traveled with them. They came into the tent bearing platters, the few supplies that remained made into a feast that was laid on the narrow table in the center of the tent. Zhi Peng and his wife were already seated on one side. The father nodded and his children took their seats on the other. Zhi Peng turned to the three servants.
“You have served me well. You have remained while the others have fled.”
He reached into the pouch he wore on his belt at all times and pulled out three stones, rubies, large and flawless. He pressed one of the stones into the hands of each servant.
“I now release you from this service, but charge you to remember your loyalty. They day may come when it is called upon again. Those who remember it will be richly rewarded.”
The servants bowed, backing from the tent. Once they were outside, Dao could hear the scrape of feet as they ran off into the darkness. The servants knew the tactics of the communists. The rich would be killed, and those who choose to serve them killed as well.
“You are not worried, father, that they will betray us?” Dao asked.
“The time for that worry is past,” Zhi Peng answered. He gestured to the feast with his right hand. “Tonight we make our hearts strong and glad, for tomorrow a fearsome task awaits us. For your mother and I, that task will be to die. Your task will be to deliver us unto our executioners.”
The Jiangxi Soviet was supposed to have been doomed. The communists were supposed to have been finished. That is what Zhi Peng Wang had been told. Ruijin was encircled. The Koumintang would soon crush Mao and his followers. Then China would, once again, have one ruler. And Chiang Kai-shek would remember his friends. Be not too close to the throne when it is uncertain, his father had taught him, but never so far that he who will sit in it will not know your face.
Uncertain times to be sure, but uncertain times were the mothers of fortune. Zhi Peng had connections in Ruijin. Before the rise of these unwashed dogs, these illiterate communists, it had been one of the seats of his power. Throughout the Jiangxi Soviet, Zhi Peng had fed intelligence to the Koumintang, at first also feeding some to the communists, for the throne was truly uncertain. He shared information carefully, evenly and secretly at first, but more openly and only with the Koumintang as its victory appeared inevitable. A man cannot hope to benefit from a work he has not signed. But now that meant that the communist certainly knew he had betrayed them.
Ruijin had been a seat of Wang’s power, but not the only seat. Life is a rich banquet and it is a fool who seeks only one place at its table. With China in chaos these past years, Zhi Peng had removed much of his fortune to a distant seat, to Chou and his Tong in America, in Chicago, beyond the grasp of any Chinese hand.
But America was not Zhi Peng’s ambition. An infant nation of squalling babes, children in love with the eye blink of their own history, still discovering their fingers and toes, still soiling themselves and thinking that stench a culture. But they were large children, energetic children, children grown fat on the spoils of a rich continent, and they now stomped about the globe as if it were undiscovered, a shiny bauble that must be new because they had never seen it before. As if it were their personal plaything.
Zhi Peng had been to America once, three years ago, to protect his fortune. To cement his ties in Chicago where the history of the local Tong was still short, still without the ties to power in China that gave a Tong its strength. That made Chen and his Chicago Tong vulnerable to the larger, more established Tongs in San Francisco, in New York. But with Zhi Peng Wang as an ally, Chen could stand as an equal, in return for which, he would ensure that the portion of the Wang fortune entrusted to him grew, remained safe. And that fortune would serve as Wang’s lifeboat should this flood of communism not be stemmed.
But it was stemmed. Dammed up in Ruijin and awaiting its ruin. That is what he had been told.
The communists found a crack in that damn, burst through it, swept west, outrunning the Koumintang, making for the wastes and the mountains where they might find refugee to regain their strength.
Zhi Peng Wang and his family were caught in their path. An accident of geography. Misfortune on top of miscalculation. As the communist breakout expanded, outriders were moving ahead of the main body, scouting the way. Word that Zhi Peng Wang was trapped before them had reached Mao. The communist brutality, already made famous during the mass purges within the Jiangxi Soviet was redoubled – property owners, business owners, persons of standing of all kinds slaughtered in village after village, their homes burned, their children taken into the communist column, joining their Long March, there either to starve or to be indoctrinated into communism’s faithless religion.
Zhi Peng Wang understood his situation. His family was on the run, driven before this communist horde in a land outside his sphere, where he had no contacts, no resources. Where anyone he approached for help would be as likely, more likely, to trade him to the communists. A region of villages where every man was known but they were not, where they could not hope to hide, to escape attention. Within days, they would be captured. It was inevitable. A wise man recognizes the inevitable. A wise made makes it his weapon.
Chen Li spurred his horse toward the figures descending the hillside and waved his men to follow. A few days after the breakout, they’d ambushed a unit of Koumintang cavalry. Many men died because their orders were to spare the horses, and it is difficult to fight cavalry without hurting their mounts. But they had prevailed and only a handful of the horses had been injured beyond the hope of healing. Those horses served the people, too. The revolution’s pots were hungry for meat.
For days, Li and his men rode ahead of the main body, scouting the path and hunting down the oppressor dogs who sought to escape the people’s justice. Ahead on the hillside, a young boy and a woman were leading an older man and a Western woman toward them. They had ropes around the necks of the older couple, whose hands were bound behind them. The youngsters wore plain, peasant clothing, but even from here Li could see that the adults were dressed in finery, the man in a suit of the western fashion, the woman in a silk dress.
When Li was only twenty yards away, the man stumbled, fell. The boy – no, not a boy, Li could see that now, just a slightly built man – walked back to the man and screamed at him to get on his feet. When the man rose too slowly and only to his hands and knees, the smaller man kicked the him savagely in the ribs, then dragged him up by the rope, the man struggling to his feet, choking, his face red. The western woman screamed for mercy, but the young woman who led her stepped forward and slapped her hard across the face.
Chen reined his horse to a halt.
“Who are these people?” he asked the small man.
“My prisoners,” the man answered. “Zhi Peng Wang, the traitor of Ruijin, and his American whore.”
The Western lady cried at the words, the young woman striking her again, then again, driving her to her knees.
“And who are you?” Li asked. “You do not speak like a peasant.”
“To our shame, we the unclean product of this whore’s womb. We are their children. I am Zhi Peng Wang’s son. We were born to the wrong side of justice, but had no choice in it. I make these pigs my present to the revolution, and if the people require our lives as well, then I gladly offer my blood.”
Li thought for a moment. He did not know the doctrine of the revolution beyond the simple truth that, until it had come, he had lived his whole life under another man’s heel and now did not. Had suffered that man’s scorn, his beatings, had barely lived on the meager wages he was paid. Had watched that man come at night whenever he pleased, drunk, to make a whore of Li’s wife. When she had died giving birth, the baby dying, too, Li did not know whether to mourn the child or to curse it as his master’s spoiled fruit. Li did not know the politics of the revolution, the thinking of it, but he felt the truth of it in his bones.
For days, he and his men had killed every man in a suit they had seen. Usually, the deaths of those men earned them the love of the villagers that the men had long oppressed. And from those in whom it did not inspire love, it inspired fear. Both were useful. But the traitor Wang, his whore, his children? Li would not kill them, not here. A prize of this value, for these, Mao might have other plans.
For Li also knew this. A man did not trifle with Mao’s plans, did not frustrate them, even by accident. For the revolution required sacrifice from all, and would claim the lives of its members as readily as those of its enemies. Li would bring this prize to Mao, let Mao decide, let Mao remember the name of the man who had found it.
“You have read Marx, then?” Mao asked.
Dao nodded. Mao had been questioning him for more than an hour. At first sympathetic, then accusatory, then hinting that Dao’s obvious education made him an asset, positioned him for leadership in the revolution, then stating that it stained him as bourgeois.
“Marx, yes,” Dao answered. “And Engels. And Hegel.”
“And still you remained with your father?”
“I had hoped to convince him, to prove to him that he was opposing history, that the defeat of Cai-Shek, of his kind, of his world, that it was inevitable. That he could return his wealth to the people from whom he had extorted it and make a gift of his talents, could repair the injustice he had helped create.”
“He cannot give to the people that which they already own.”
Dao nodded. “I understand that now. I was deceived by my own loyalty, by our culture’s fetish for family, by the way it uses the seeming innocence of those ties to bind us to its past and to blind us to its future. I realize now that he is simply a criminal, nothing more. That having been a successful criminal, a rich criminal, this makes him more evil, more deserving of the people’s justice.”
Dao turned. His own hands were now bound, had been since Chen had captured them. He knew that he, too, was on trial, he and his sister. That his father’s sacrifice, his mother’s sacrifice, would either have meaning or not depending on his performance. His parents knelt before him, their arm’s tied painfully behind them, rods of bamboo rammed inside their elbows, the arms braced awkwardly against them. They both were gagged now. When his father was brought forward, he had raged and screamed at Mao and his court, had denied their legitimacy, had refused to answer their questions no matter how many times he was beaten to the ground. And he had screamed at his children, lunging at his son, calling him a worm, less than a worm, calling his daughter a whore who wanted to spread her legs for her new masters.
His parents had both been declared guilty, their fate was sealed.
Dao worked his mouth, drawing saliva, then stepped forward and spit it into his father’s face. He raised his foot, planted it in his father’s chest and shoved him backward to the ground, his father crying out through his gag as he landed awkwardly on his bound limbs.
“I disown him. I curse the taint of his seed in my veins. I spit on the pig who wasted himself on this bourgeois whore. I offer his blood and all that I am to the people as recompense for his deeds.”
Dao turned back to face Mao. His sister was safe, he could see that. Safe due to her beauty. Mao had questioned her first. She had feigned the same rage, mouthed the same words, but all the while, Dao had seen the lust burning in Mao’s eyes. Jaiyi was safe, at least for now.
Mao smiled down at Dao.
“An impressive display. But you are a student of Marx, so tell me, do we know a man by his words or by his labor?”
“Words are the false treasure of the oppressors and chains for men’s thoughts. It is a man’s labor that defines him.”
“And you are ready to labor for the people?”
“With my whole being and for my whole life.”
Mao nodded, leaned back and whispered something to one of the guards who stood behind him. The guard walked around the rough table behind which Mao sat and cut the ropes from Dao’s hands. Then Mao reached beneath the table and placed a rusted blade on the planks before him. Not a sword, not a knife, perhaps a farm tool of some kind. Pitted steel, the blade broad, nearly a foot across, perhaps three feet long, with a rude wooden handle.
“Your parents have been named guilty and are sentenced to die. Take this blade and kill them, but be sure that they suffer as they have made the people suffer.”
Dao had not slept at all through the night. Instead, he had steeled himself against his task. Had imagined every moment of it, gone through its motions time and again, as he so often had done with the tai chi or kung fu, prepared so that, no matter what move his opponent made, Dao knew what move he would make in response. He had prepared to betray his father. To hand over his father. To lie about his father. At his father’s instructions, he had even prepared to beat his father, to abuse his body. But he had not prepared to kill him.
A tempest surged in Dao, an urge to grab the blade, to cleave Mao’s round, smiling head in two. But in any battle there comes that moment that you could not anticipate, did not prepare for, and victory hinges on your response. Dao imagined a door in his soul, heavy, banded with iron, and he shoved his emotions, every human part of himself behind that door and locked it. He did not blink, did not hesitate, did not even swallow the taste of his own bile, did nothing that would hint at anything besides resolute obedience. He strode the three steps to the table and took up the blade. Heavy, dull, as much a club as anything.
“My parents have been found guilty?” Dao said. “I have no parents but the people.”
He spun, driving the edge of the blade into his father’s arm, at the elbow, heard the bone snap, saw some blood spurt, but the edge of the blade was dull, so the wound was small. His father cried out into his gag, fell to his side. Dao hacked at his father’s legs, snapping the bones in them, opening more wounds, some small, some gaping. He hacked at his father’s side, smashing his pelvis, driving spears of rib into his father’s lungs.
In Dao’s soul, the door held. He was detached completely from his actions, a machine only calculating how best to execute the charge to cause the most suffering before death. Finally Mao called out.
Dao stood over the ruins of his father’s body, obedient to the end. He was soaked in sweat, flecked from head to foot with blood and flesh.
Mao tilted his head toward a man who stood off to the side, and the man walked forward, checked the ragged pile of flesh for signs of life, then turned to Mao and shook his head. Two of the guards stepped forward, grabbed the corpse and dragged it away. Part of a foot broke off, was left behind.
Then one of guards pushed Dao toward his mother.
As he raised the blade, she raised her eyes. She had spit out the gag.
“I forgive you,” she said in English, her native tongue, one that Dao knew well.
“The people do not forgive,” Dao answered in Mandarin.
He brought the blade down, the door still closed, Dao praying it would hold.
It held. Forever.
If you’ve enjoyed The Patience of History, you can meet some of Dan’s other PENANCE characters via short stories on the net, in the run up to publication. Keep an eye on his PENANCE page for further details, as well as the Exhibit A site for more stories and news. To date, there are three further stories to read: The Old Rules; A Wonderful Country; and Pillar of Fire.
Here at It’s a crime! we thank Dan for entertaining readers with The Patience of History and wish him well with the publication of PENANCE next year!