Offered the opportunity of a lifetime to manage the Asian branch of his twin brother's A.I. company, Stephen Wilson leaves his floundering screenwriting career behind to start a new life in Macau. When Stephen closes his first deal with the Hermes casino VIP junket room, he enters an extravagant adult playground even more surreal than Hollywood. The job turns lucrative when Stephen’s new client, Cash Cheang, a pompadour-topped and Johnny Cash-loving client, hands him a bag full of cold hard yuan to implement a facial recognition system in the casino's VIP room. However, the purpose of the system is to track the corrupt Chinese officials laundering money through the casino. Cash fears the Chinese government’s crackdown in Hong Kong will soon extend to Macau and threatening to blackmail the corrupt bureaucrats seemed like the best way to avoid prison.

Hearing about Stephen’s past life as a screenwriter, Cash offers him another job -- ghostwriting a biography of the colorful junket operator’s life rising from the mean streets of Macau and becoming one of the city's richest and most powerful junket operators. Stephen accepts the job while also agreeing to help Cash sell his latest scheme, a crypto coin aimed at raising funds for a floating casino in Macau.

When one of Cash’s VIP clients is accidentally murdered by loan sharks working in his high roller room, Cash is arrested as an accomplice. Recognizing that he’s being framed, Cash pushes up the sale of his crypto coin and makes a highly generous offer for Stephen's company that comes with one risky demand – help get the millions in loot out of China to the Philippines.

As the plan unfolds, Stephen discovers that his sociopathic twin brother is setting him to take the fall and has hired a hitman to kill him. Stephen teams up with a nosy Macau detective who is trying to take down Cash. After being stabbed in the back and left for dead, Stephen comes to realize family isn’t always something to covet, twinships can be a curse, sometimes what you thought was gold turns out to be fool’s gold, and the bonds of blood are often barely bullet thick. 

 

 

Andrew W. Pearson spoke about his book, The Dead Chip Syndicate, at the Macau Literary Festival, on October 14, 2023.

 

 

Characters

Stephen Wilson

An American ex-pat who moves to Macau and falls down a rabbit hole of corruption and greed in a place even more surreal than Hollywood.  

Cyrus Wilson

Stephen's sociopathic twin brother, who is driven by his greed and the desire to ensure his young son born with health problems will be taken care of long-term.  

Cash Cheang

The Macau junket operator desperate to stay out of jail. As the legal noose tightens around his neck, he figures out a way to escape Macau using today's newest investment scam -- selling a cryptocoin, this one backing a floating casino in Macau.

Detective Fonseca

The Macao philosopher-detective. He's a thorn in Stephen's side until the two team up to track down the person who hired the hitmen to kill Stephen.

Jada Wilson

Cyrus's money-grubbing wife.   

Vivian Wu

A hostess who works in one of Cash's junket rooms. She is the interpreter who teaches Stephen the ways of doing business in China, but soon falls for him.

Dialogue

"How do you walk out of a casino with a small fortune? You walk in with a big one. How do you walk out of Macau with a soul intact? You never enter.” - Stephen Wilson

“I’ll make sure his funeral is well-attended – I’ll send some strippers.” - Cash Cheang

“And I’m not the Hong Kong police. I won’t drag you out of your very fine, two-bedroom apartment in one of Macau’s finest residencies and toss you in jail or throw you off the balcony, as many of my Hong Kong colleagues have been accused of doing to some of those poor, confused protestors.” - Detective Fonseca

“Macau – only place in the world where you can go to jail based on evidence from a fictional movie.” - Cash Cheang

"You remind me of that joke about vampires – ‘Why are vampires massive sociopaths? Because they have zero capability of self-reflection.’  - Stephen Wilson  

It’s not ‘dick ball’ it’s ‘t’sick ball’, which means ‘Live streaming’, ‘Mao sa’ means ‘murder.’ Someone working for Cash just live-streamed a murder on WeChat.” - Vivian Wu

"You know, this airport has a macabre claim to fame. Only airport in the world named after someone murdered on its tarmac." - Cyrus Wilson

"Remain a moralist all you want but expect life’s great opportunities to pass you by if you do. And remember China’s been stealing from us since we let them into the WTO, so why shouldn’t we steal a little back?” - Cyrus Wilson

"You're a very lucky man, Mr. Wilson. Someone hired a hitman to kill you. That hitman hired a second hitman at half his price, who hired a third hitman at half his price, who then hired a fourth hitman. That guy felt so slighted by the lowball offer, he reported the conspiracy to the Zhuhai police, who contacted me since you're a Macau resident ...

Excerpt

Chapter One & Two

 

Chapter One

唔熟唔食

“You always cheat the ones closest to you.”

                                                – Chinese proverb

March 24th, 2019

Through a dark bank of swirling grey clouds, the flickering lights of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino Airport came into view, but the sight gave Anthony Wilson little relief because he knew it was the only airport in the world named after someone murdered on its tarmac and he feared a similar fate awaited him there, too.

Crackling bolts of lightning flash-whitened the cabin, revealing the wide eyes, raised eyebrows, and flared nostrils of the two flight attendants strapped into their jump seats by the emergency exit. These were classic signs of fear. The body and mind identifying outside threats, preparing for a “fight or flight” response, which was, Anthony recognized, useless on an actual flight. In any other situation, he would laugh at his wit, but the panic etched on the flight attendant’s faces along with the trembling fingers covering their mouths meant this flight could be in real trouble. These women were too scared to remember their most important professional obligation – show no fear.

Plus, he had bigger problems. With his hand shaking from the pitching and shuddering of the plane, Anthony tried to focus on the email that had just pinged in with the plane’s descent. Mr. Wilson, wherever you are, you need to get to a police station immediately. Several men hired to kill you have been arrested in Zhuhai.

Anthony glanced out the window. The haloed neon lights of Resorts World Manila across from the airport seemed to be growing rather large. Raindrops pelting the aircraft’s plexiglass window felt as powerful as bullets being fired from a gun, as if to remind him how precarious his current situation was. Suddenly, the plane shook as the lights flickered off. 

Mumbled prayers and breathless Our Fathers broke out around the cabin, increasing in volume and intensity as the plane pitched forward on its final approach. Being irreligious, Anthony didn’t fear judgment from above but rather a mortal threat from below. He struggled to make sense of the email. Although his situation had nothing to do with morality or religion, it echoed the story of the Bible’s first slaying, fratricide driven by rage and ending in coldhearted betrayal.

As Anthony sat through the white-knuckle ride, he tried to figure out who could be responsible for these hitmen, but nothing about the conspiracy made sense.

The plane’s nose eased up. When its wheels skidded along the wet runway, the cabin broke into raucous applause as well as relieved and congratulatory laughter. Anthony smiled in relief for a split second, but then fear gripped him, tightening his chest in a way the tear gas he’d run from in Hong Kong a few days before had. He needed a plan to ensure not only his safety but perhaps his very survival. It was one thing to sacrifice one’s life to become a martyr forever etched in a nation’s lore as Ninoy Aquino had done decades before; it was something entirely different to be lured into a trap by a greedy and sociopathic business partner, a man who also happened to be his twin brother.

 

Chapter Two

Once he cleared customs, Anthony called Detective Fonseca, who answered in his usual laconic tone, “You’re a very lucky man, Mr. Wilson. Someone hired a hitman to kill you. That hitman hired a second hitman at half his price, who hired a third hitman at half his price, who then hired a fourth hitman. He felt so slighted by the lowball offer, he reported the conspiracy to the Zhuhai police, who contacted me since you’re a resident of Macau.”

Anthony felt his cheeks flush as sweat dotted his brow. “But who ordered the hit?”

“You tell me.”

“I have no idea.” 

“Maybe a business partner you pissed off? Say, Cash?”

Anthony shook his head. Of all the people he knew, Cash Cheang, the man whose biography he was writing and whose cryptocoin was dropping in a few days, was the least likely to do something so deranged. “You’re suffering from confirmation bias, detective.”

“In law enforcement, we call it ‘incarceration bias.’”

 Anthony shook his head at the poor joke. “Look, I have to go.”

“We can offer protection.”

“That won’t be necessary.” The last thing Anthony needed was a pushy cop peering over his shoulder at a time when most of what he was doing ventured not just near the edge of legality but tumbled well over it.

“Where are you?”

“Not in Macau.”

“Obviously. You just stepped off a plane in Manila.”

“If you knew where I was, why'd you ask?”
            “A moral man doesn’t lie to the police.”

“It’s called being protective, detective. Not sure who I can trust at this point. Many view that badge you carry around with you as a license to steal, not something to respect.

“If that’s so, I’ve been doing something wrong my entire career.”

“Look at that, I just gave you a brilliant idea for a side hustle.”

“When do you plan on returning to Macau, Mr. Wilson?”

“Maybe never. Having a few contracts taken out on your life tends to take the fun out of that black sand beach place.” 

“Wouldn’t blame you if you never came back. Actually, I’d advise it. Make my life a whole lot easier.”

“I’ll keep that in mind while I’m trying to stay alive, detective.”

“Be careful, Mr. Wilson. The tentacles of these triad operators reach all over the world. Manila’s like a second home to them, especially with all the casinos opening up there catering to the flush Chinese gambler.”

“It’s more frightening in the Philippines,” Anthony said, riffing off the Philippine Tourism Board’s spritely tagline, ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines.’ He’d seen it plastered all over the airport on his previous trips. Maybe a return to America was in order? Back to sanity. Although America had seemingly gone off the political deep end since Trump’s election, so maybe nowhere was safe these days?

“We can never outrun our destiny, Mr. Wilson. Don’t forget that.”

Anthony shook his head at the detective’s clichéd words.

“I can put a notice out on you. Have you picked up for questioning,” Detective Fonseca said.

“Please don’t. You know I’d be free within an hour, but with my wallet considerably lighter. And you know how we Americans hate having our freedom infringed upon.”

“As do we Macanites, but, trust me, you get used to it.”

“Never. Look, I’m as much in the dark about all of this as you are, but trust me, I’ll fly under the radar. Call me if the Zhuhai police beat a confession out of any of these men.”

“China’s got cameras all over the place, so maybe somewhere in those facial recognition databases, they’ve captured a meeting between the hitman and this person who wants you dead.”

“Maybe the panoptic surveillance state is good for something, after all.”

“If you can think of anyone who might want you dead, please let us know.”

“You’ll be the first to know.”

“You just better hope there’s not a fifth hitman out there.”

Anthony hung up. He had put on a brave face for the detective, but now the reality hit him hard. Someone wanted him dead. Wiped off the face of the earth. It was a horrific realization, about as painful as they come, especially since the clues pointed to only one person. This turn of events probably had a lot to do with the millions of dollars sailing towards a Cebu rendezvous on a boat aptly named The Gambler.

Anthony pulled out the ArgoTrack GPS tracker, connected it to his phone’s mobile hotspot, then checked the location of The Gambler. Latitude 11.3244° N, Longitude 123.8941° E: a few miles off Kinatarkan Island. But that was odd. The boat hadn’t moved in eight hours. Were Cyrus and Jada sheltering from a storm? That made no sense as Typhoon Deria was still 18 hours away and heading much farther north, towards Taiwan. The weather forecast was clear in The Gambler’s area. Had they been attacked by pirates? That made no sense either as the waters around Cebu were pretty safe. Maybe someone along the way had gotten wind of the millions in loot sailing towards Cebu in a small yacht with two lightly armed Americans?

Anthony put away the ArgoTrack and headed to the gate for his domestic flight to Cebu. He had a few hours to kill, so he jumped on his laptop to check emails. However, he had trouble focusing. Instead of work, he ruminated on buying a gun. Guns were legal and plentiful in the Philippines but could only be purchased by locals. Foreigners couldn’t acquire them legally, but for the right price, anything could be bought in the Philippines. Murder went for $20 a pop in Manila these days thanks to Duterte’s extra-judicial dragnet against drug dealers and the addicts needing a fix to blur out their squalor-filled lives. Cheap murders meant cheap guns. What luck his attempted murderer hadn’t tried to hire someone in Manila. Murder was cheap here; no profit in outsourcing it. What comfort.

Or maybe he had? Anthony’s story could end with a bullet to the head, delivered by a motorcycle-riding assassin, who silently slithered his way through choking Cebu traffic, then, like a viper’s strike, delivered a lethal blow before Anthony even realized danger lurked. A quick and painless death it would be, but what comfort was there in that ending? Not the one he had envisioned for himself.  

Perhaps he was overreacting, but that’s the way the mind works when faced with imminent death. This was probably how animals at the lower end of the food chain lived, in a perpetual state of fear, death forever stalking them, every corner hiding a potential predator, every rock obscuring a killer who could pounce and deliver an instant death. Except for man, just about every living creature knows it had a mark on its back. Today, Anthony realized how desperate a life like that could be. This was not what he had signed up for when he agreed to run Exegesis’s Asian operation a year-and-a-half ago. Not by a longshot.“Maybe the panoptic surveillance state is good for something, after all?”

“If you can think of anyone who might want you dead, please let us know.”

“You’ll be the first.”

“You just better hope there’s not a fifth.”

Stephen hung up. He had put on a brave face for the detective but now the reality hit him hard: someone wanted him dead; wiped off the face of the earth. It was a horrific realization, about as painful as they come, especially since there was only one person in the world who could have done this – Cyrus, his sociopathic twin brother. Or maybe two someones – Cyrus and Jada, his sociopathic twin brother’s sociopathic wife. The woman who had taken dibs on Stephen’s kidney during his last visit to the couple’s Miami home. That was only a few short months ago but it seemed like a decade now. Time flies when you’re trying to outrun a hitman’s bullet. Or four of them