Loving, Gina (My Game, My Rules)
She wasn't born for this life, but I was. I am a Lee-Xiou through and through, cut from the same cloth as my father.
I'm known as a cold-hearted bitch, of which I unequivocally disagree. That description doesn't aptly describe me and does an injustice to cold hearted-bitches everywhere, especially when there's nothing but ice running through my veins.
The circumstances of my birth made me this way. But, you'll never hear me moan and groan about the hand I've been dealt. Some shit wasn't fair. Some of it was downright heinous. But, hell, I'mrich. People bow to my every whim. I'd sound crazy complaining about my privilege. Seriously, I have the best of anything money can buy. What I don't have is respect. . . At least not yet.
The moment I came from my mother's womb, I was forced to prove my worth. The value my culture places on little girls wouldn’t fill a shot-glass. Once the gender becomes known some aren't even granted the gift of life. So, complain? No. I won't do that. But you can't imagine how frustrating it is to be a woman and only be viewed through the prism of a man. In my experience, to them, we were supposed to be seen and not heard. However, if the gene goddesses bless you, you might have the honor of marrying a powerful man and be paraded around like a trophy.
I refuse to believe my value is less than or tied to someone with a Y chromosome even if that person is my father. My opinions mean nothing to him. It doesn't matter that I went to the best colleges, have a razor-sharp mind, or have my own ideas and desires about my life because daddy dearest has everything all mapped out. His plan . . . Serve him until I have a husband. Then, serve the new master, aka strengthening the family by basically auctioning me off to someone that will increase my father's power.
I am not a submissive.
I've already said it wasn't in my blood. However, I do plan to strengthen the family name, just not the way my father intended. I won't play by the male patriarchal rules. I'm going to do it my way. My game. My rules.
But being me is tricky. To become who I am, I have had to suppress my natural instincts and give up everything, and I do mean everything I considered important. Personal life included. There will never be any children in my future and definitely not love. At least not the kind that sets your soul on fire.
It's overrated anyway. I had it once, and it taught me a valuable lesson. Emotions will get you, or the person you loved, killed.
That price is too damn high.
Therefore, I'm one hundred percent focused on what I believe is my birthright, and that requires I watch, learn, and bide my time.
However, things don't always work out the way you envision, and one must make adjustments. The universe, known as my father, has forced my hand, and I've had to adjust. Those adjustments have led me here – to this moment.
Soon enough, the men in my circle will tremble at the sound of my name.
However, putting the fear of God in powerful people will require strategic planning and is the main reason for today's meeting. I need to send a clear message. Word travels fast, and I have a feeling what is about to go down will spread like wildfire. I'm counting on it. How I handle this situation will be the first step in the evolution of how people view, not Chang Lee-Xiou's daughter, but Gina Lee-Xiou.
It was ridiculous that it even had to come to this. But, it is what it is. There is a seat at the table with my name on it. Nothing and no one is going to keep my ass out of it. At some point, they will all learn that I am every bit as ruthless as my father. Maybe even more.
I was careful as I walked through the door that led to a darkened hallway. These stairs are steep. My steps were tentative as I turned sideways taking them one at a time, especially since I was suited up for the boardroom not what looked like a throwback to a medieval times dungeon. I spoke mostly to myself. "How ironic we're meeting here. Mr. Wong's ancestors must have built this house in the 1700s." Good thing I wasn't claustrophobic because I could literally extend my arms and touch each side of these grimy walls. This space was much too narrow, and considering I was wearing four-inch heels, I hoped to get to the bottom without falling. Wouldn't that be something? To fall and break my damn neck just when I'm at the precipice of having everything I've ever wanted. The visual of me rolling down the stairs in slow motion was enough to make me laugh. Laughter came a lot easier these days.
I wasn't in any real danger of actually taking a tumble, since a couple members of my security team were behind me, and two were in front. However, in my fit of laughter, they looked at me with concern, most likely to see if I was losing my mind. I tried to soothe the unease. "I'm good . . . Just thought of something funny." Honestly, someone pushing me headlong down these stairs would solve a lot of people's problems.
It was hard to see, so it would be a perfect opportunity to simply let me fall, then claim it was an accident. It was highly doubtful that someone on my team would do this since I've spent years cultivating this crew, but nothing would surprise me.
My brain was in overdrive, but I guess that is what happens when devious minds are at work. Those thoughts can often be mistaken for paranoia. I wasn't paranoid though, just alert. When you've done as much dirt as I have, anything can happen at any time so one must always be prepared. For now, I think my men are loyal. It’s an expensive debt that can't be settled with money. I can only hope I've paid the right price because I still have a lot to accomplish.
Small lamps were placed intermittently along the sides of the walls going down the stairs. They didn't illuminate much. So, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. The space was so narrow we were forced to walk in a steady straight line. Once my laughter died down, all was quiet save for the sound of our breathing, the shuffling of our feet and the clicking of my heels.
I was beyond ready to be done with this meeting. I hated having to deal with these types of tasks, but they were necessary.
I was brought up short and stopped in mid-step as did everyone else. My senses were ambushed. What the hell was that smell? I covered my nose and mouth against the putrid stench coming up from below. It was a horrible rotten odor, along with something else I couldn't quite identify. Between the darkness and the smell, I was getting a headache. After a moment, we continued down to the main floor.
When we arrived at the bottom, I took a good, long look around. There were cobwebs that could have easily passed for yarn and dust at least two inches thick that had settled everywhere except for the path that led to another room. Obviously, no one had visited this area of the house in a while.
The gravelly voice of my head of security, Max, directed me to where the show was taking place. "This way, Ms. Lee-Xiou."
I followed him over to an area that opened up into a spacious and empty room. The walls and floors were made of concrete. There weren't any windows or much of anything else in this area except for a chair sitting in the center of the room, a dim light hanging from the ceiling shining directly over it, thick industrial plastic covering the floor, and three of my men waiting to take their cues from me.
They were all naked from the waist up and in excellent physical condition. Muscles ripped and tight with washboard abs so perfect they looked air-brushed. I couldn't help but notice. After all, I was a woman with a healthy sexual appetite. Then, I had a flashback. A pair of strong hands were caressing every part of my body as I lay in bed naked. The memory expanded to include an image of me biting down onto my lower lip in pure ecstasy as he drove hard into me with stokes so powerful, I walked funny for a week.
I was startled.
How did he manage to sneak into my thoughts? Especially now?
I shook my head to clear it. HE was the last person I should be thinking about. A man whose name I didn't even know. It was all for the best since I was never going to see him again. Focus on the task at hand, Gina. I told myself. Later, maybe I could find a suitable distraction. In the meantime, this situation needed to be handled.
Mr. Wong sat in the chair with his arms tied behind his back. He was hard to recognize given his face and body had been beaten so severely. His eyes were swollen shut, and his lips were the size of cantaloupes. There were cuts and bruises everywhere. It was as if he'd been put into a meat-grinder. And, the smell. Gaawd it was awful. I identified it. It was him. He'd spent several days in that chair and hadn't been allowed to get up not even to use the bathroom. He'd defecated on himself. I hated to see him like this, but technically, it was his fault. All he had to do was sign the damn papers supporting me as the successor to my father. Or, at the very least, agree to a vote on the council about seating the next one. Had he done so, all of this ugliness could have been avoided. Lord knows, he couldn't say that I didn't give him ample opportunity to break tradition and be a trendsetter. Instead, he wanted to challenge me. He figured since the death of Chang, it would be easy to push me aside. I had news for him. I earned that seat with my blood, sweat, and—I would say tears, but that part would be a horrible lie.
I took my time as I strolled over to stand in front of him. I wondered if he could see me through the slits of his swollen eyes. If not, he could hear me, and that's all that mattered.
My voice was conciliatory as I spoke in our native language of Mandarin. This was business. It wasn't too personal, at least not on my part. My head tilted as I squinted to make out the once beautiful features of this seventy-ish-year-old man. My guys worked him over pretty good. Don't get me wrong, I respected my elders, I really did, but I needed to make an example out of Mr. Wong. I didn't want anyone else getting the bright idea that they could pull a stunt like he had because if they did, there would be deadly consequences.
I continued to study him. Sadly, I'd once had such a fondness for this man. He'd spent many nights holed up with my father in his office. They were the best of friends. Every so often, when Nina and I were girls, Mr. Wong would bring us candy.
Now, he sat in front of me, beaten, battered, unrecognizable and old. A relic of the past.
I spoke softly in the submissive tones he was used to. "I'm so sorry about all of this, Mr. Wong. I had hoped you and I could come to an amicable resolution. But since you directed your people to kill me, it's obvious that is not possible. Unfortunately, it leaves us at an irreconcilable impasse."
He grunted and attempted to speak through cracked and bloodied lips. His words were more like gasps and difficult to make out, but I understood them. He whispered. "The Family will never accept someone like you."
I moved just a little closer and leaned down. Gently, I pushed his still mostly black hair away from his eyes. He didn’t shy away. Then, I placed his head in the palms of my hands as I cupped each swollen cheek. Every time he inhaled, my hands squeezed his face. I increased my grip—slowly—so that it forced the congealed wounds on his cheeks to re-open. Blood began to ooze all over my hands.
"Are you still trying to exert your mythical powers, Mr. Wong? They don't exist here."
"You have no idea the problems you've unleashed upon yourself little girl."
I sighed. "Actually, I think it's the reverse and sadly even sitting in your own shit, you still don't realize it. So, let me spell it out. You made your move against me, and failed. Now, it's my turn. So, as I go through the motions of pretending your words have value, you must realize that the game is already over."
"You don't have the balls . . . literally to do what needs to be done in a situation like this."
"I see. You still underestimate me. A costly mistake for you, but so be it. Too bad you didn't take the out I offered. Since plan A didn't work, it's time to move on to plan B."
My hands clenched his face as if his head was lodged between a steel vice. Once beautiful, olive skin, was now ashen. He groaned in pain.
"As far as the Family, they don't have to like me, but they will accept me as the new head of the organization. You, on the other hand—it doesn't really matter whether you accept me or not because we both know that you're not going to walk out of this room."
Even though his voice was raspy . . . weak, Mr. Wong still spoke with confidence. "If you kill me there will not be enough members on the council to establish a quorum, so no vote can be taken. You'll never get what you want."
"Tsk . . . Tsk. . . Tsk. C'mon Mr. Wong? Don't play me for a fool. I know the written and unwritten rules like the back of my hand. I've studied them my entire life. Let me remind you that if the remaining living members on the council, emphasis on living, vote in a majority to establish a quorum—and you know they will, or I wouldn't be standing here—there can be a vote. If I'm here, then there are already enough members to do just that." I had enough votes for a quorum but not enough to win a contest for the leadership position – at least not yet. Only Mr. Wong didn't need to know that.
Silence. His confident demeanor began to slip as his shoulders became a little less rigid.
I drove my point home. "Hmmm? Nothing to say? I wouldn’t think so. I've already wasted enough time trying to be as respectful as possible, given this situation."
"Nothing about this is respectful." He spat out.
"No? You don't think I've done my part to follow the old ways?" I looked around as I posed the question to my men. It was rhetorical. Therefore, no one said a word. Finally, I returned my attention to the man in front of me. "I could have ordered anybody in this room to end your life. They are more than capable. But, I am here because part of me is old school, and you had a hand in instilling those values. I learned to respect tradition from both you and my father, even if you didn't know you were teaching it."
"Killing your elders is not a display of respect."
"I break no rules here today. YOU did. You allowed prejudice to cloud your judgment. And, since you've done so, nothing about this meeting is dishonorable."
"I regret nothing."
"Sadly, neither do I." I sighed. "At any rate, Chang taught many more lessons." I looked thoughtful as I glanced upward toward the ceiling before turning my piercing dark gaze back to Mr. Wong. "One of my favorites is where he demanded that you always look the walking dead in the eyes before putting them to sleep, permanently."
I stared at Mr. Wong long and hard for several seconds before I spoke again. "I do believe its bedtime."
He nodded slowly. "Rot in hell, Gina."
I released him with a hard push as I stood up straight. His head snapped back. Then, I wiped my bloodied hands down the front of my skirt. "Probably, but it'll be a good long while before I get there. You, on the other hand, will be there very soon—sooner than what was necessary." This is what happens when you swing and miss.
I took a quick peek at the time on my burner cell phone. "I do have several more appointments today. Goodbye, Mr. Wong." I backed away and my chin lifted almost imperceptibly as I gave the signal. "Kill him." Sadly, I thought when I turned and walked back toward the stairs, this was going to be the end of an era. It was ironic. How far the mighty have fallen at the hands of a woman.
Mr. Wong managed to whisper-yell at me as I made my exit. "You won't get away with this, Gina! My family will avenge my death." Then, his tone turned sinister. "The Family will never accept a xiǎo hēi guǐ!"
I stilled and stood motionless. I had heard that word often in my lifetime. It was the Mandarin version of nigger. My jaw clenched. My body went cold. That coldness was reflected in my eyes as I attempted to keep my composure. Slowly, I pivoted and raised blood-stained hands, waving them back and forth as if swiping away the vileness of his words. The submissive tone I had used earlier was replaced with a controlled rage and a steely conviction. "I am the Queen lioness of this Family. Nothing sends a clearer message than taking down the number two in our organization in his own home." I paused to let my words sink in. "The weak will always follow the strong. Your family, as well as all the others, will fall in line or they'll be put in a pine box right next to yours."
Slowly, I blinked as I remembered something very important. I had another message I wanted to send. "Mr. Wong, when you get to hell . . . Please tell my father I said, ‘Hello.'"