Saturday, January 25, 2014

Serial Saturday: "The Misfortune Cookie", Part 1

The odds of picking a single, predetermined paper out of a fortune cookie? Incredible.

The odds of that paper having something to do with a terrorist plot? Only in the movies.

The odds that the cookie with the deadly message would actually make it to the correct event without anyone getting suspicious? Fairly slim.

The odds that the specified cookie, bearing time-sensitive material, would make it out of the package in time for the intended recipient to receive it, still without anyone noticing? Slimmer than a toothpick.

The odds that out of 250 guests, 20 trays of fortune cookies, 100 cookies on each tray, moving randomly around a exhibit hall the size of a football field, that a single uninvolved person totally unaware of the plot just might intercept the carefully planted message? The same as trying to knock a star out of the sky with a pea-shooter.

The odds that, out of everyone not involved in the plot currently mingling in the exhibit hall, the person would be me? 


I knew I shouldn’t have come; this was going to be the one time I could actually say “NO” when my girlfriend suggested attending an event concerning something I wasn’t interested in. It should have been the beginning of a time when I took charge of my relationships instead of allowing my significant other to drag me all over creation behind her. The time when I stepped forward and took my place among Real Men In Relationships.

And I had the gall to pick up the Wrong Fortune Cookie.

What you are about to witness must be taken with the utmost security. I would begin by introducing myself, as a name might add credibility to my story, but I have long since learned that such an action will only expose me to greater danger than what I have only just overcome. I’ve changed the names of the people involved (especially my girlfriend) to protect them from those who might want to do them harm, or find me, but the circumstances are all intact. If you recognize the details, you know who I am. If you don’t, well, let me just say the world is that much safer for you.


The night of the Asian Exhibition Grand Opening Gala, I had pulled out all the stops. My girlfriend--we’ll call her Mina--had always been the forefront of our relationships. “Let’s go!” she would beg me, smiling and moving in close, “It’ll be so much fun!” Yeah, right; don’t get me wrong, occasionally she’d hit on an activity we both managed to enjoy, but she was definitely more adventurous than I was. We’d been skydiving, parasailing, she got me onstage at an open-mic stand-up comedy night at some pub I’d never even heard of on the far side of town (I actually did pretty well, the audience laughed out of courtesy, and cheered when I left the stage), bungee jumping, together we rode every ride in the amusement park, even the super-fast, super-tall roller-coasters and the rides that flip you upside down and spin you around in forty different directions, and crazy stuff like that. I loved Mina, she was beautiful, especially the way she smiled when she was trying to convince me to do something I didn’t particularly want to do. Everything I did, I did because I wanted to be with her--and because a relationship isn’t much without dates, and I couldn’t come up with ideas on my own. We did what she came up with because if it were up to me, we’d spend a lot of evenings at my house eating dinner and finishing the evening with a movie.
The morning she mentioned the Asian Gala, however, I knew this had to stop. Unable to come up with something to top the Gala that we both could do together, I spent the day trying to make myself unavailable for that evening. Four o’clock, she shows up at my house with 2 tickets, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
“Mina,” I try telling her, “I just don’t feel up to going to an Asian exhibition tonight. You know I get bored at museums!”
“Oh Josh! (*Not my real name)” she says, smiling again, “It’s gonna be the most spectacular thing you’ve ever seen! This isn’t just a boring old museum where you walk around and look at stuff! This is the Grand Opening Gala! I had to hunt through several sources to get these tickets, but everyone there is treated to a full Chinese banquet, there will be dancers, it’s just a place to soak in the sights and a museum experience you’ll never get anywhere else! I promise I won’t make you do anything there that you don’t want to do, just please come with me, Joshie! Pretty please?”
The word “No” was on the tip of my tongue, but the more she talked, the more it sounded kinda nice, actually. I sighed, “Oh, all right.”
“Yay!” Mina cheered, bouncing like a little girl and clapping her hands, “It’s a black tie dinner, and pick me up around five-thirty! See ya!”

An hour and a half later, I pulled up in front of Mina’s house wearing a tux, just like she wanted. She met me outside, ridiculously excited about the evening’s impending events.
“This is going to be so much fun!” she gushed, kissing me on the cheek. “I’m so glad you are doing this with me! You won’t regret it, I just know it. It’ll be a night we’ll remember for a long time! Maybe you’ll even find something interesting there.”
“I doubt it,” I told her, “but, okay.”

We drove down to the National Museum, the one receiving the Asian pieces for the Exhibition. The place was aglow with lanterns and torches and vivid colors, mostly red. A twelve-foot-long dragon snaked among Chinese acrobatic dancers at the center of the  ballroom. The twanging of zithers, dulcimers, erhus and flutes periodically emerged above the hubbub of voices. Mina bustled around the room, gazing bright-eyed at everything. There were vases, tapestries, sculptures, and reconstructions of ancient armor and ceremonial robes. Pretty much your normal museum stuff, I still couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about, other than this was the biggest event the city had ever seen in a long while. At about seven, a gong quieted most of the noise in the room, and a little Asian man--the master of ceremonies--announced over the microphone that dinner was served. We all took places at the many tables around the room and awaited service.
Mina and I sat at the table with another couple, and a single man. I felt like the odd one out when I discovered that the couple were both as enthusiastic about Asia as my girlfriend, while the single guy turned out to be a professor of Ancient China from Columbia University in New York. They all raved and babbled about the exhibits, while I sat patiently through the dinner, trying several interesting-looking dishes (a word about Chinese food: stay away from the soups, but anything that looks appealing generally is), as each course came by on a platter. At last, dinner was over, and we were all invited back to the ballroom to witness an authentic Chinese concert and dance performance.

The performers were quite good; I confess they had me almost mesmerized. I almost missed the tray of fortune cookies as it skimmed by, supported by an Asian woman. I selected my cookie and carelessly snapped it open. It broke clean across the center.
“Ooh, no crumbs!” Mina whispered, “It means your fortune will come true!”
I shook my head. I just wanted the cookie. I moved to tuck the paper in my pocket, but Mina stopped me.
“No!” She hissed, grabbing my hand, “What does it say?”
I glanced at it, expecting some platitude like “You light up the room with your enigmatic personality.”

What I got was: “Set timer at 2200. Southeast corner, left column.