By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"Joseph, here she is," he said.
Jack gave me a gentle nudge. Joseph flicked the cigarette to the ground and breathed out smoke. He looked incredibly regal, like a dragon. He grabbed me and pressed a fat envelope into my palm, and his expression quickly dropped from light to dark. "You're too young to know what's really going on, but I like you," he said. "And I want to let you know that this marriage scheme should never be done more than once or twice. Remember that."
A little shaken, I blinked and walked away to catch the red-eye to LAX. I wondered what he could have meant by saying something so serious—I was slightly offended that he thought I could be so naive. But the cash in my hand felt ice-cold and the sensation crept up my arm. Five thousand dollars will kill a lot of second thoughts.
Within a year, I got a call from Bob asking if I wanted to do another job. I couldn't resist. The $5,000 had run out. Nothing I could say about the second husband except that he already had a wife and kid. He divorced them just so that he could have an opportunity to come to America; I was glad to receive a large sum of money in return for my altruistic services.
The second marriage went well, and I came back to the States to do a bit of traveling. The third one stung, though. It wasn't Bob who called that time. Instead, a new woman told me I had been referred to her by Bob. At the time, I was working as a waitress at a diner in Philadelphia and had recently quit to pursue my life of leisure. Friends never questioned me about the $400 Charles David boots or the Diesel jeans. But funds were running low, and I had snooped around back in California to see if there was anyone who needed a girl to go to China. The woman, Becky—I'm running out of corny fake names—asked what Chinese cities I had already been married in.
I answered with a question of my own: "How is it that I can legally marry multiple men in China?"
"Oh, that," she said. "The guys annul the marriage as soon as they enter the States."
She explained that I'd be going to an entirely different city this time around. I said yes in seconds. She told me to report my passport lost and apply for another one. Why? "We don't want the client to freak out," she said. "They're weird like that. Just do it or else you won't be able to go."
So I did, and I was reimbursed for a new passport, and once again, I was on my way to the PRoC with another group of boisterous Asians I wanted nothing to do with.
Guangzhou was still filthy. Everyone was waiting by our guide outside the airport. We had a three-hour journey to an unknown destination inside a stuffy van. I slept most of the ride. When I came to, I was alarmed when I started recognizing landmarks. We were definitely in Thai Sanh, the first city I'd visited. I asked the guide what city we were in just to make sure I wasn't just being paranoid. And when we got to our hotel—the same seedy hotel I'd first stayed in—I immediately called Becky.
She sounded sleepy. There was a 13-hour difference, but what did I care? "You promised me I was going to a different city," I told her. "I'm in Thai Sanh. Is that going to be a problem? Are you sure they always get the marriage annulled as soon as they enter the U.S.?"
"What?" Becky sounded very awake now. "What are you doing there? Oh, my God. You have to convince the lady to send you to another city. There's . . . there's no problem, but I don't want anyone recognizing you. It'll just freak out the clients and create unwanted headaches. Okay? You just have to convince her. She has other clients in other cities. Okay? Goodbye."
She hung up hard, and I could hear it rattle all the way down the line.
The following day, as everyone was receiving their orders, I casually mentioned that I preferred to be in a different city. The guide immediately became suspicious and started to ask questions and quickly figured out I'd been married in China before. Furious, she left me standing at the hotel. I still had $1,000 in spending money, but I was abandoned again. I called Becky, and she flipped out, screeching at me for telling my guide I was a recycle. I tried to explain that I hadn't said anything. She told me to come home. I was so upset, but I was determined to come back with that $5,000. One of the American girls I'd met—Sharon—felt sorry for me, I guess, and recommended me to her contact, a girl named Sally. Sharon was 27 with a son back home in Anaheim. She was homely and poorly dressed in sweat pants and a sparkly turtleneck sweater. She was extremely intelligent, however, and spoke four languages: English, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.