Chinese food has always been a favorite of mine. There’s nothing else quite like it. The combination of flavors and dishes are beyond unique. While I try not to eat it too often, I do love to treat myself to it about once a month at the most.
A few months ago, it had seemed like forever since I brought home the iconic white containers with the red pagoda and matching letters on it. And since I had a particularly long week at work, that meant Chinese takeout was on the menu for dinner. So as soon as 5 PM came, I was out of the door and walking towards my car. Once inside, I placed a call to The Roaring Dragon, my favorite place for Chinese takeout. I placed my standard order of General Tso’s Chicken, vegetable fried rice, and a few spring rolls.
I arrived at the restaurant right on time and hustled inside. The place looked the same as always. The huge fish tank near the front, lanterns hanging from the ceiling, golden cat statues located in various places, and red banners with Chinese calligraphy hung from the walls.
“Hi, order for pickup. The name is Archer.”
The waitress took all of five seconds to walk to the back and return with my order.
“Here you are Mr. Archer, anything else I can get for you?”
“No that will be all.
I gave her $29 and told her to keep the change before I headed home. The smell of the food immediately took over my car and by the time I arrived at my house, I was starving. I wasted no time in ripping through the brown paper bag and taking out the white paper cartons, which were warm in my hands. Once I had filled a plate, I walked to the living room and turned on the TV before I chowed down. It was all delicious, as always. The Dragon’s egg rolls are some of the best I’ve ever had. Always perfectly fried and crunchy, they go good with any kind of sauce, from mustard to duck sauce.
After I had cleaned my plate, I walked back to the kitchen and cracked open a fortune cookie. I don’t usually care for the cookies themselves, I much prefer the almond cookies with chocolate frosting, but the fortunes are mildly amusing.
Opening the tiny strip of paper, I read what was written in small blue letters.
“She who has wronged you will reap what she sowed.”
Looking at it, I was mildly surprised. That was a bit different than the usual philosophical quote about knowledge or wealth or happiness. Well whatever, the rest of my egg rolls weren’t going to eat themselves. So I went back to the living room and finished my dinner. When I was done, I packed everything away and put it in the fridge. That’s another great thing about Chinese food, it always heats up amazingly well, fried rice in particular.
The next day, I got up late since it was Saturday and tossed some eggs on the stove to scramble for breakfast. After washing it down with some orange juice, I grabbed my phone to see what was going on. Earlier this morning, a friend of mine had sent me a news article.
“Two dead in late-night car accident” the local headline blared before I scrolled down further.
“At approximately 2:30 am, an accident took place at the intersection of Hilliard Drive and Oak Avenue. A 2018 Ford Escape was flipped over and two of the three passengers died on impact. The driver of the car, Brooke Carlton, was unconscious at the scene and was determined to have been driving while intoxicated. The other two passengers, Zack Thompson and Eric Hollings, were pronounced dead at the scene. Ms. Carlton is being arraigned on Monday in connection with the two deaths.”
I sat there silently for a moment. Brooke really did it this time. It wasn’t bad enough she got caught drunk driving, her drunk driving killed the two guys she was with. I had no idea who Hollings was, but Zack Thompson, oh I could never forget him or his obnoxious sneering face. Well, the joke’s on you buddy, you may have been the guy my ex-girlfriend cheated on me with, but now you’re nothing but a statistic and a sob story to be told in court.
But then I remembered the fortune cookie from last night. That had to just be a coincidence. Brooke winding up this way was a surprise to no one who knew her and had a brain. Without thinking, I found myself walking to the kitchen, the smell of my breakfast still in the air. I grabbed the other fortune cookie that came with my meal and ripped open the plastic before I broke open the cookie and unfurled the small scrap of paper.
“An alarm is a handy thing to have for one’s house. But an alarm is only as good as the person who turns it on.”
That one made me chuckle. I had recently gotten a home security system on account of a rise in local burglaries, but since it was new to me, I kept forgetting to turn it on. I tossed the cookie into the garbage and hopped in the shower so I could officially begin my Saturday. I did the usual errands before I met some friends for dinner at a bistro before going to a movie. But before I left, I made sure to set the alarm before locking up.
When I came home a few hours later, I was shocked to find a squad car in front of my house, lights flashing.
“Can I help you?” I asked the officer as soon as I parked in my driveway.
“Hi, we were responding to an alarm that was activated at this residence about fifteen minutes ago. When we arrived, we saw someone dressed in a sweatsuit running down the street. Then we did a quick check and it looks like he was in the middle of breaking in through the front door when the alarm went off. We did a quick check of the perimeter, and it looks like everything else is shut. I also checked your front door, which is still working as it should be. You’ll want to do a quick check and make sure everything is accounted for, but apart from that, you should be ok. Let us know if you need anything else.”
“Thank you so much. You have a good night now.”
I did as recommended and everything was indeed accounted for. But I sat at the kitchen table and stared at the fortune from earlier. This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a coincidence. Out of all the thousands of fortune cookies that get handed out each day, some were be bound to be accurate. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
To get my mind off it, I spent the rest of the evening watching The Crown on Netflix before going to bed. When I woke up the following day, I managed to have a normal afternoon and didn’t think too much about the weird coincidences. The workweek followed in the same fashion and I carried on as usual. But something began to nag at me. What would happen if I got another fortune cookie? Maybe I actually would get the winning numbers to the lottery. What could it hurt? All that had happened so far was that it had predicted my train wreck of an ex-girlfriend would meet a sticky end and having a home security system is no good if you don’t turn it on. Not exactly stretches of the imagination.
So that meant Thursday night’s dinner was Chinese.
This time my order from The Roaring Dragon was Orange Chicken, white rice, and Crab Rangoon. They have the best Crab Rangoon I’ve ever had in my life. I paid for my order and brought the food home, the usually short drive now seeming to take an eternity. But in what was a first for me, I ignored the food and went straight for the fortune cookie, wasting no time in ripping through the wrapper and cookie before staring at the fortune in my now sweaty hands.
“Beware people who wear red. They are up to no good.”
I stared down at the fortune in disbelief. What the hell did that mean? That didn’t even make sense. How was I supposed to beware of people who wear red? You pass people who wear that every day. I myself wore it regularly. But then I remembered there was another fortune in there. So I grabbed the other cookie and tore through it.
“Someone with a drawing of a tiger will try to kill you.”
I just stared down at the paper in disbelief. This was definitely not funny anymore. I don’t know what I was thinking. Tossing the fortunes aside, I grabbed the food I ordered and headed towards the TV. The next few days came and went and before too long, my mind was onto other matters besides weird utterances concealed inside cookies. That’s the great thing about life. No matter what happens, time marches on and eventually you move on to other things.
One night when I went out with an old friend from college, I met this girl he knew in passing. Isabelle was stunning. Beautiful hazel eyes, long black hair, and perfect skin. It had been a long time since I had been truly interested in someone and I was very happy that we hit it off. We made plans to go to dinner at this fancy Italian place and when the night came, I was both super excited and super nervous. I picked her up right on time and we had a lot of fun at dinner. Then I drove her back to her house and we hung out for a while.
Eventually, Isabelle told me she wanted to change into something more comfortable and she came back looking great in a red t-shirt and shorts. But after the initial thought of how good she looked, my brain flashed to the fortune about someone wearing red. I tried to brush it away, but the memory wasn’t going anywhere.
“You look great,” I offered with a smile.
“Thanks,” she said before cuddling up next to me. After sitting there for a while, she leaned back and I noticed for the first time she had a tattoo on her back, just beneath her neck.
“You never said you had a tattoo,” I said teasingly.
“I do. Maybe if you’re lucky I’ll show the whole thing to you.”
“The whole thing?”
“Yeah, it takes up almost all of my back.”
We didn’t say anything else after that, and after a little while, I noticed she had nodded off. When she shifted in her sleep, her shirt hitched up and I got a good look at the splash of color across her back. It was a huge picture of a roaring tiger.
My jaw almost hit the floor. No, it couldn’t be. Well, one way or another, it was time to leave because she was asleep. I made a hasty note on a scrap of paper that I had a great time and I left because she nodded off and I’d talk to her soon.
On the drive home, my mind was a mess. What was I supposed to do? Almost without thinking, I realized I was a bit hungry and The Roaring Dragon was open late. But when I picked up my order of Egg Drop Soup and Sweet and Sour Chicken, I didn’t even wait to get home to open the fortune cookies.
“The basement of a house is where the secrets are,” said the first one. Gripping it in hand while sitting in the restaurant parking lot, I nervously opened the other one, terrified of what I may find.
“You have all the tools you need to make things happen,” was all it said. That was oddly reassuring. Ok, so what did that mean? There were secrets in Isabelle’s basement?
Right on cue, my phone rang and it was Isabelle herself.
“Hey sleepyhead,” I answered.
“Hey, you. I got your note and I’m sorry you left,”
“Me too, but I couldn’t take your snoring.”
“Lies, I don’t snore. But maybe next time if I fall asleep, you can join me.”
“That’d be fun. I’ll look forward to it.”
So we made plans to hang out the following weekend. I looked to it with a mixture of nerves and anticipation. But eventually, it was here and I arrived at Isabelle’s house on time. But this time, I looked up at the white ranch house with dread. What secrets were inside?
But before I could ponder further, Isabelle answered cheerily and greeted me with a kiss on the lips. A very nice one.
“Hey handsome, come on in,” she added. “I’m so sorry I have to do this. But I need to run an errand real quick. Do you mind just waiting here while I go take care of it? You can watch TV while I’m out.”
This was music to my ears.
“I guess I can manage,” I said, doing my best nonchalant face. “Gonna be a while?”
“Not too long I hope, Should be half an hour tops.”
“I think I can stand that long without you. Barely.”
“Awe, well don’t miss me too bad. Behave yourself while I’m gone!” She shot over her shoulder while heading out the door.
“Never!” I joked back as I heard her close the door and start the car. When I saw it pull down the road, I knew it was safe to do what I came here for.
I made a beeline for the basement door and opened it, peering down into the darkness below. After flipping the switch at the top of the stairs. I descended the creaky stairs down into the messy basement. I glanced around, unsure of where to begin. Like most basements, there were boxes, knick-knacks, and trinkets everywhere. Ignoring my heart thudding in my chest and the fear clawing at me, I took a deep breath and tried to focus. I switched on one of the bulbs dangling from the ceiling and got another look at the room. Then I saw it. An expensive painting of a sunset sitting face-up on a box.
I knew that painting. It belonged to my neighbor Jocelyn and had been stolen from her house not too long ago during one of the break-ins that caused me to get my alarm system. Casting another look around, I saw something else I recognized. An antique silver tea set, which had once sat in the dining room of James Cutler, who lived down the street from me.
Without another look around, I called the police and explained the situation. For good measure, I referred to the response to the attempted break-in at my residence so they knew the situation. The police were here before Isabelle arrived home and boy did she get a surprise. After muttering a few lame excuses, they took her in for questioning, and eventually, the full story came out that she had helped participate in the break-ins.
But the worst part was what they were planning to do. Break-ins were the least of the things Isabelle had participated in, as she turned out to be wanted in connection with several missing person cases from out of state. She eventually admitted that she and several others were planning to kidnap several people from well off families and hold them for ransom. I was one of those people. The matter is currently a legal mess, but Isabelle and several of her associates are now in jail.
Once I was free to go, I headed home when I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. With a wry laugh, I decided that nothing else but Chinese food would be fitting. When I picked up my regular order of General Tso’s Chicken, Fried Rice, and Spring Rolls, I paid for it with a 100 dollar bill and told them to keep the change. The expression on the woman’s face was priceless.
Without waiting for a reaction, I headed back to my car to see what fortune was in store this time. This time there was just a single cookie.
“Laughter is both the best medicine and the happiest companion.”
Well played fortune cookie. Well played indeed.