All Hallows’ Eve: The Unmaskings of Honolulu — Chapter 16 (excerpt)

He grew up thinking of himself as red-headed first, a Korean second. Why he had red hair was a mystery. His father never had the slightest suspicion that his mother had strayed, and his mother, too, was equally puzzled by the red hair because she was absolutely loyal to her husband, and had not, nor would she ever even think of looking at another man.

When he was younger, other children, and even cruel adults, would tease him about his hair. The more the abuse, the more Red grew into the idea that the red hair might be some kind of birth defect, or perhaps even a curse. He sometimes scared himself at night, lying in bed, wondering what terrible thing he might have done in a previous life, or what terrible thing might wait for him up ahead in this life. Red was not, however, a coward, and he grew large, strong and tall, early. In the end, undoubtedly, all the abuse he’d suffered early on because of this stigma helped him to become a much, much stronger person.

When he was old enough to have a say in the matter, Red asked his mother to shave his head. This was easy for her to do. Not that shaving a head took any talent, but back in Korea, Red’s mother had served as principal lady-in-waiting to the powerful Queen Consort of King Gojong, the Empress Myeongseong, better known as Queen Min. As such, his mother’s duties included bathing the Queen, as well as serving as cosmetologist, coiffeuse, and mani-pedicurist.

As Queen Min grew in power, she sought to form stronger ties with Russia to build a united front against the Japanese. Unfortunately, this strategy proved fatal, as the Japanese, seeking her demise, managed to infiltrate the royal castle with help from a faction of traitorous Korean military officials who did not wish to be ruled by a woman.

On the night of the slaughter of Queen Min and her court by the Japanese ronin, Red’s mother escaped with her life only because she happened to be spending a few days in the country visiting her sister. As word of the Queen’s death spread, Red’s mother knew that she must find a new life. She wandered the Korean Peninsula for nearly ten years before she found herself a picture bride, summoned to marry Jung Kwang-woo, a fairly well-to-do Korean merchant, with a well-established butchery business in Honolulu’s Chinatown.

In short order she bore Jung three children, the first two girls with black hair, like she and her husband, and then the boy with flame-red hair. Sadly, the second oldest daughter died very young when she choked to death on a fishbone. Because of this, Red developed a lifelong fear of eating fish of any kind.

As Red grew into his teens, he decided that school was not for him, and because his father’s work did not appeal to him because he detested the slaughtering of innocent animals, he began to look at a way of life more attuned to his mother’s business.

Mrs. Jung had put her former skills to use, and she served as one of Chinatown’s best known beauticians. Her clientele grew to extend beyond downtown, eventually coming in from all over the island as word of her abilities grew.

Because his mother’s business was growing, one day Red asked her if she would mind his helping her by learning to do the types of things she did. Although his father thought this a little unmanly, his wife asserted it would be a great help to her in serving her burgeoning clientele. She agreed to apprentice her son.

Red learned quickly, and while his ability with styling hair and application of cosmetics were impressive, he was particularly drawn to the skill of manicuring. Hands fascinated him. He thought them to be the most beautiful part of the body. Fingernails, for him, miniature works of art. Indeed, after a while, even if his mother was the one who washed and cut the hair, or applied the cosmetics, the women who came to her shop would ask for Red when it came time for a manicure.

One night when the four were eating dinner in the second-floor apartment above his father’s shop, Red’s sister, Myong, began crying. When asked what the problem was, after much prodding by both her mother and father, Myong told them she had been raped by three boys at her school that afternoon.

The three were horrified, of course, and Mr. Jung said he would take her to the police in the morning in order to report this outrage. Both Mrs. Jung and Myong protested against this, and after a long argument, it was decided that nothing would be said for fear of damaging Myong’s reputation.

Although it was decided this way, Red was definitely not satisfied. He felt that justice of some kind should be meted out. That night at bedtime, he asked Myong the names of the boys.

The next morning Red was up early, before the others, and out the door, headed for McKinley High School.

Although absent the amazing head of flaming hair, Red was an imposing physical specimen. As he entered the campus, he immediately began asking sleepy-eyed students where he could find these three boys, and none of them dared to give him anything but a sincere and immediate answer to his question. Very quickly his search bore fruit, as the three were pointed out loitering together smoking.

Red walked up to them, and, without saying a word, quickly did major physical damage to all three. Other students in the area, stunned by this lightning strike of violence, ran off.

Red inspected the three unconscious students. It came to him. He very carefully stretched out their arms, hands palms down. With all his might, one after another, he stomped their hands until they were a bloody, gooey mess. It was his intention to render them incapable of ever using their hands again. For Red, this would be the supreme disfigurement.

Or would it be? On the way home, he thought about what he’d done. His one regret was that he’d not amputated the hands, taken them as a kind of trophy. Yes, he thought, that would have been a good thing to do. 

One day, a Haole lady, a youngish widow who lived on the North Shore and made special trips into town just to be cared for by Red, asked him if he would like to work for her exclusively. For Mrs. Amberson, these drives into town were tedious. If he took a position with her, it would mean moving out to her home in Hale’iwa. She would pay him a monthly salary to take care of her hair, face, hands, and feet, and he would also be her chauffeur and yardman. Did he like this idea, she wondered.

Mr. and Mrs. Jung were a bit skeptical, but because their son seemed happy with the idea of the move and the job, and because the money was very, very good, they gave him their consent.

Red left the city behind and began to enjoy the comforts of country life. One of the first things he did, with Mrs. Amberson’s permission, was to build a coop for homing pigeons. He also was able to raise chickens for their eggs, not to eat, and he even developed a fairly extensive vegetable garden. If the word vegetarian had been coined back then, Red would have nearly qualified. He detested any unkindness toward animals, and he sometimes cursed himself for still eating meat from time to time.

Out in the country, all was good, and this change of scenery so enlivened the 18-year-old that he even began to grow his hair again. Mrs. Amberson commented more than once on the beauty of his hair, and from time to time, when he was styling her hair, or giving her a manicure, she would ask if she could run her fingers through what had become quite a luxuriant growth.

It wasn’t long before the two grew quite fond of each other, and after a while Red gave up his bachelor quarters above the garage for half of Mrs. Amberson’s bed. Red had never really loved anyone in a romantic way. This was quite a new sensation for him. Still, he wasn’t even sure if it was love, because the physical aspect of the relationship was new and so amazing to him.

Whatever is was, the two became very possessive of each other. It seemed to Red that they had grown so close he could not imagine life without her. Maybe, he thought, this really was love.

Then one day six months on, a long black limousine pulled up in the driveway. Red happened to be morning the lawn. A Korean man, dressed in an expensive black suit, stepped out of the car and walked up to Red. When he was quite near, he took off his sunglasses and looked up into the young man’s face. The sun caught Red’s hair from behind, and to this Korean man, it appeared that the top of this giant’s head was on fire.

“Hello,” he said, extending his hand and shaking Red’s. “My name is Kang Yu. I’ve been looking for you. I heard about the incident at McKinley High School. I like the bit about their hands. And you let them live. That was very kind of you. If it were me, and the those three had done what they did to my sister, I would have simply killed them. I’m afraid I’m not as nice a fellow as you.”

What the man said did not phase Red.  He said, “Well, I thought about it after.  Instead of just destroying their hands, I kind of wished I’d cut um off and taken them with me.”Yu laughed and nodded. “Ah, now that’s more like it, my friend. I wonder, how would you like to work for me? From time to time (snip)

* * * * *

Today’s word is

work

Use it to inspire a piece of writing and then post that piece below. I would love to read it : )

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