Dim Sum of All Fears: New Excerpt
Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien is the second book in the delicious Noodle Shop Mystery series.
Lana Lee is a dutiful daughter, waiting tables at her family’s Chinese restaurant even though she’d rather be doing just about anything else. Then, just when she has a chance for a “real” job, her parents take off to Taiwan, leaving Lana in charge. Surprising everyone―including herself―she turns out to be quite capable of running the place. Unfortunately, the newlyweds who just opened the souvenir store next door to Ho-Lee have turned up dead … and soon Lana finds herself in the midst of an Asia Village mystery.
Between running the Ho-Lee and trying to figure out whether the rock-solid Detective Adam Trudeau is actually her boyfriend, Lana knows she shouldn’t pry into the case. But the more she learns about the dead husband, his ex-wives, and all the murky details of the couple’s past, the more Lana thinks that this so-called murder/suicide is a straight-up order of murder.
“Ai-ya!” my mother bellowed from across the crowded restaurant. She stood up from the table, her hands squeezing her hips. My sister and father turned in their chairs to see what she was looking at with such disdain.
It was me. Lana Lee.
The gawking eyes of just about everyone in the room—including staff—followed me as I slunk across the restaurant to the table where my family was seated. Of course they had to be sitting all the way in the back.
The best way to describe our family of four is similar to the game “one of these things is not like the other,” with my dad—the solo white guy—being the odd man out. Even though my sister and I are only half Taiwanese, you wouldn’t know it by looking at us. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “That’s your dad?”—well, I probably would never have to work another day in my life.
On Sundays, the four of us gathered for our traditional dim sum outing at Li-Wah’s on Cleveland’s east side. And because of this, we opened our own restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House, at noon. This meant my sister and I didn’t have an excuse to skip out on family time.
“Shhh!” I hissed at my mother as I slipped into the empty seat next to my sister. “People are staring at us!”
“Your hair is blue!” my mother screeched, ignoring my plea. “Why is your hair blue?”
My mother, though petite, did her best to tower over the table. At times, it was hard to take her seriously because she was so darn cute with her chubby cheeks, but it was all in the eyes. And today, the eyes let me know that she was not amused.
I lifted a hand to my head, running my fingers through the freshly dyed hair. “Not all of it.”
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the best time to dye my hair with streaks of blue. I hadn’t really thought that part through when I’d set up the appointment.
Not only was I springing a daring new hairstyle on my parents, who were both on the old-fashioned side, but I was also getting ready to tell them that I had been interviewing for a new office job in the hope of quitting my stint as server at our family’s restaurant.
Most of the positions I had been looking into were for data entry, but there was one company that stood out among the others I had applied to, and the position was a little higher on the totem pole. It was for an office manager, and the pay was great. The benefits package was great, the office itself was great … everything was great. And, added bonus, it came with three weeks of paid vacation.
I’d interviewed with them the week before, and it had gone exceptionally well. They had called this past Friday to set up a second interview for this upcoming Thursday, and I had a good feeling that by the end of it, the job would be mine if I wanted it. Which, of course, I did. After all, a gal can’t peddle sweet-and-sour pork her entire life. So alas, it was time to let my parents know they needed to start looking for new help.
“Betty.” My dad, the calm and collected one of the family, put a gentle hand on her forearm, nudging her back into her seat. “Let’s all sit down.”
Anna May—older sister and picture-perfect daughter—gave me a once-over. “And you did this on purpose?”
After stuffing my purse under the table, I shimmied out of my winter coat and hung it on the back of my chair. “Yes, I did it on purpose. Not all of us want to be so plain all the time.” I gave her a pointed once-over back.
“Interesting.” My sister ran a French-manicured hand through her pin-straight black hair. It fell just below her shoulders, and gleamed. “I suppose you’re right, though, not all of us can pull off a classic look.”
My own nails, painted teal, were chipping. I hid my hands under the table before she could notice. “If that’s what you want to call it…”
My mother continued to analyze my hair, her eyebrows scrunched low over her eyelids. “Why did you do this?” Her lips pursed as she landed on the question mark.
With a shrug, I replied, “I don’t know. I felt like it.” Lie. I did know. However, I didn’t want to admit to them, or to anyone, that it was because of what had happened to me only a few short weeks ago. Of course, no one would say anything once I explained that it was because my life had been threatened at gunpoint, but part of me didn’t want to say that out loud. Saying it out loud made it more real.
Since then, I’ve decided to stop putting things off until the elusive “tomorrow.” Procrastination is nobody’s friend.
My savvy stylist, Jasmine Ming, was more than thrilled to swap out my gold peekaboo highlights for some bright-blue ones. I didn’t want to go overboard, but I’m pretty sure I saw a glint in her eye when she added the first touch of blue.
I reviewed the plates on the table and avoided eye contact with my mother. Placed in front of me were plates of baby bok choy in garlic sauce, noodle rolls, turnip cakes, and pot stickers. I busied myself with unwrapping my chopsticks and grabbed a rice noodle roll stuffed with shrimp.
My dad looked at me with a soft smile. “Is this because of what’s-his-name?”
“No, Dad,” I huffed, my chopsticks involuntarily tapping my plate. “I couldn’t care less about him.”
Okay, that wasn’t totally true, either. What’s-his-name was my ex-boyfriend, whom we did not mention by name. Ever. Not unless you wanted me to sprout snakes out of my head à la Medusa.
Anna May snickered. “No, Dad, she’s dating Detective Trudeau now, didn’t you know?” She clasped her hands together next to her face and batted her eyelashes. “He’s sooo dreamy.”
“Would you all stop it?” I jabbed the noodle roll with my chopsticks. “You’re making a big deal over nothing. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, and I decided to stop putting it off. That’s all.”
I twisted in my chair to properly face my sister. She looked a little too amused at my expense. “And for your information, Adam and I have only been out on three dates. I hardly call that dating. Not that it’s any of your business.”
Anna May turned her nose up. “Well, I won’t be looking for my wedding invite anytime soon, but still, close enough.”
“I kind of like it…” My dad cocked his head at me, nodding his acceptance of my hair. “Now, about this Adam character … he’s a cop, so he’s no slacker. Does he drive American?”
“Bill,” my mother said, clucking her tongue. “This is no good. My daughter looks like a cartoon.”
“Oh, honey, she looks fine,” he said, squeezing her hand. “Let’s just enjoy our lunch before we have to head to the restaurant.” He tapped his watch. “Besides, we still have the news we need to tell the girls, remember?”
My sister and I glanced at each other.
“What news?” Anna May asked.
My mother set down her chopsticks and shifted in her seat. “Your a-ma called this morning. She is very upset and has been crying for many days now.” She shook her head. “Your uncle does not know what to do with her.”
My “a-ma” is my grandmother in Taiwan. Because of her declining health, she was now living with my mom’s younger brother and his wife, along with their three children, two of whom were toddlers. I guessed the living quarters were starting to feel a little cramped.
“So…” my father started, urging my mother along.
“We are going to Taiwan for a couple of weeks to help take care of A-ma.” My mother said this in one long blurt while avoiding eye contact with my sister and me.
“A couple of weeks?” I yelped. No, no, no. They couldn’t leave now. Not when I’d just found the perfect office job.
“Right before Chinese New Year?” Anna May glanced between the two of them. “Can’t you wait until after it’s over?”
My parents looked at each other.
“Who will run the restaurant?” I asked, fearing the answer. Any way you spun it, it wouldn’t be good.
Anna May perked up beside me, straightening in her seat. “Well, that’s obvious, it’s—”
“Lana will run the restaurant,” my dad announced before Anna May could continue. He put his arm around my mother and gave her another squeeze.
“What?” my sister and I shouted in unison.
My dad held up a hand. “This makes the most sense. Lana is already working there full-time. And besides,” my dad said, eyeing Anna May, “you’ve got school. You don’t have a lot of time to run a business.”
I threw up my hands. “Oh, of course, Anna May and her law school stuff again. What about my stuff? Does anyone ever think of what I have going on in my life?”
“Lana.” My mother gave me her masterful look of disapproval. “This is something to help Mommy. Why would you not want to help Mommy? I changed your diaper when you were a baby.”
I sighed. The diaper argument. Every time.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving her in charge.” Anna May slouched in her seat. “Lana isn’t responsible enough to manage the restaurant unsupervised. I’m going to end up putting in extra time to help.”
“Are you kidding me?” I turned to glare at her. “I’m sitting right here.”
She returned my glare with one of her own. “I know.”
“Okay, girls,” my dad interjected. “That’s enough bickering. This is our decision and it’s final. Anna May, you have too much going on in your life to give the restaurant your full attention. Lana has more time than you do right now and this makes the most sense. End of story.”
Anna May folded her arms over her chest. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. She doesn’t have anything going on besides hanging out at that stupid bar where Megan works.”
I stiffened in my seat. “First of all, Megan’s bar is not stupid. And I do have stuff going on. Just because I don’t tell you every single thing I do doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything.”
“Right … so do you want to tell us what that supposed stuff is, exactly?”
My dad shushed my sister and then turned to me. “Lana? Is there a reason you don’t want to be in charge of the restaurant while we’re gone? If there’s something going on, Goober, you need to tell us.”
If I didn’t speak up now, it would be too late and I could kiss my chance of leaving the restaurant goodbye. By the time they were back from their trip, the position I was hoping to take would more than likely be gone. I weighed my options as my family stared at me, waiting for a justifiable answer.
My mother finally got to me. Her stoicism usually drove me crazy, because I never knew what she was thinking. But today, her emotions were written all over her face. She was obviously tired and stressed. It had been a long time since my parents had made the trip to Taiwan, so I knew it had to be urgent. With my sister canceled out as an option, I knew they would be solely dependent on me for this. Knowing my mother, she would not let someone outside of the family run the restaurant. She’d rather close up shop.
I looked away, feeling defeat. “No, there’s not.”
“Good, then it’s settled,” my dad said, rubbing my mother’s back. “See, Betty? I told you everything would work itself out.”
“When are you guys leaving?”
My mother looked down at her plate. “We leave in three days.”
Anna May chuckled beside me.
I’d like to say that this was my biggest problem, but unfortunately, this was going to turn out to be one of my better days.
Copyright © 2018 Vivien Chien.