They simply could not believe Dr. Won Ton's place. For years he's been collecting a nickel royalties for each bowl of wonton soup served in every Chinese restaurant in the world, and he must have put all that money into this place. Estate is not exactly the right word to describe this storybook palace that sprawled over seven acres, high atop an extinct volcano.
Dr. Won Ton was short and stout and looked kind of like a wonton noodle. "Its such a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Won Ton," Dad said above the roar of the helicopter as it flew back to its hanger.
"Oh, please, call me Won," the old soup-chef-extraordinaire exclaimed. They were shown to their own "bungalow" to freshen up. I say bungalow, but it was bigger than our house, and our house is pretty big by most standards. Then the festivities began.
They were wined and dined, and servants followed them everywhere, granting their every wish. They relaxed in the sun, played tennis like they used to do 25 years ago, went swimming, and basically had the best day of their lives.
At dinnertime they were brought to this giant cathedral-shaped dining hall. The ceiling was like a hundred feet high, and it was all stained glass. The walls, too, were covered with stained glass designs. In the center of the room was a long table. It took them five minutes to walk across the thick plush carpet to reach it.
Dr. Won Ton was already sitting at the table's head. They took their seats way down at the other end, where the only other place settings were set.
As they sat down, Dr. Won Ton rang a little silver bell and the feast began. Of course they started with soup. Wonton soup.
Dr. Won Ton slurped his contentedly and called down the table speaking in Chinese. Mom blushed as he rattled on. "I'm sorry Dr. Won Ton, er, Won, but I don't speak Chinese."
Dr. Won Ton dropped his spoon. "Ah, so? You are Mary Adams, are you not. One of nation's top Chinese translators?"
Mom blushed. "Well, yes. I'm Mary Adams, of course. But I can only read Chinese. I never learned to speak it."
Their host seemed relieved. "So Mrs. Adams..."
"Please, call me Mary."
"Yes, Mary. How do you get started translating Chinese? You not have any Chinese ancestors, do you?"
"No. Well, when we were first married, money was tight. We were living in New York and I was riding the subway, and I found this Chinese workbook on the seat. I found the whole idea fascinating. You know, little pictures representing words. It wasn't too difficult for me to learn..."
"She has a photographic memory..." Dad interjected.
"Yes, I had heard that," Dr. Won Ton smiled. "Which is precisely why I had you on top of list," he muttered.
Mom blushed again. "Well, anyway, I used to memorize characters while riding home on the subway. Then I saw an ad in the "New York Times" looking for a Chinese translator. It was for the government. I was reluctant, I thought it was some kind of espionage or something..."
"But George pointed out that they probably paid very well, so I answered the ad." Mom paused and sipped more soup. "This is wonderful. It tastes different somehow."
"Yes, it is a new recipe I'm working on."
Dad picked up the ball where Mom had left off. "With all the interviewing she had to go through, you'd think it was some CIA position she was applying for."
"I'll say," Mom laughed. "Turns out they just wanted someone to translate recipe books that were sent from China. I have no idea why they wanted them, but they paid me five cents a word, and I've been doing it for 30 years."
"Fascinating!" their host exclaimed. Then he licked his lips carefully. "I understand you've translated Colonel Fung Chu's Secret Recipe for Moo Goo Gai Pan with 11 herbs and spices?"
Mom blushed again. "Um, well, I can't say. I'm under oath not to reveal anything I've translated."
"Of course. I understand," Dr. Won Ton sighed. "Professional effics."
They didn't say much else through the twelve course meal. Dr. Won Ton did ask Dad why he wore so many watches on his arms, though. "You sell them on street corners?"
"He's very interested in time, that's all," Mom said quickly before Dad got upset.
"Ah, yes. I had heard that. Very interessing. Very interessing."
That evening Mom and Dad were watching "It's A Wonderful Life" on a fifty foot wrap-around screen with a sound system so good they thought they were right there in Bedford Falls. As soon as the lights went on in their own private theater, a messenger entered apologizing.
"'Scuse please. But Dr. Won Ton like you to join him in Lecipe Loom," he said to Mom. "It is filled with ancient lecipes. The doctor say you will be vely intelested."
"Oh, sure," Mom said.
He turned to Dad next. "I am to show you to Time Loom. It contain over 100,000 diffelent time dewices dating back 3500 years. You like?"
"Sure, I like, I like!" Dad gasped.
Needless to say, Dad was a little bit overwhelmed by the Time Room. "Bye, George," Mom called as the servant closed the door. But Dad was deep in GaaGaa Land as he walked around the room with his mouth hanging open, taking it all in in one gigantic rush of time.
Dr. Won Ton did indeed have an impressive collection of ancient recipes. However, while Mom was carefully examining an old Chow Mein recipe from the Ming Dynasty, the old soup monger dropped her a mickey in her green tea.
It took effect pretty quickly and Mom suddenly slipped into a Dad-type trance. Won Ton tied her up, just in case she snapped out of it.
"Now, Mary," Dr. Won Ton said as he sat back in an overstuffed chair. "Tell me Colonel Fung Chu's Seclet Lecipe!"
"NO!" Mom said softly in her drug induced state.
"Don't make me torture you, Mrs. Adams. You vely nice lady. I have to get rough with you, if you not cwaperate."
"I won't tell you," Mom insisted.
"I very sorry for have to do this to you." Dr. Won Ton clapped his hands and a servant wheeled in a tray. The devilish soup-doctor reached in and pulled out a steaming plate. "Kung Pao Baby Shrimp," he said enticingly, waving the dish under Mom's nose.
Mom's mouth started to water.
"Tell me the recipe and you may try some, Mary Adams."
Mom swallowed painfully, and then, her eyes still closed, she lifted her chin up resolutely. "NEVER!"
"You spies very hard to crack."
"Spies? I'm not a spy!"
"What, you really not know?"
"No, know what?"
"You not really think US government interested in Chinese cooking, do you?"
"Of course, that's what they hired me to do -- translate Chinese recipes."
"You very foolish. It very obvious you never tasted Army chow mein. Government not care about good Chinese food. You been smuggling secret information out of China for CIA for thirty years. It encoded in recipes."
"That's ridiculous! I don't believe you. Although...they usually do send me badly xeroxed pages to translate, and whenever I ask them for a duplicate of a really bad page, they say there aren't any."
"I sorry to have to do this," the soup doctor sighed. "Egg foo young with tender chicken," Dr. Won Ton teased, taking out the next dish.
Mom bit her lip and squirmed in her chair.
"I must have Secret Lecipe!" her captor demanded. "It s all that is preventing me from my greatest recipe!"
Mom shook her head firmly.
"This volcano we are sitting on. It is not extinct as they say. It is alive and I am feeding it my greatest creation. Colonel Fung Chu's recipe contains the missing ingredients that will turn this volcano into the greatest, most powerful weapon in the world. I will control the entire planet when you give me that recipe. And you will, Mary Adams!"
"How could you create such a delicious dish and turn out so bad!" Mom muttered.
"Confucius say, power corrupt man. Ah, but I will have ultimate power soon!" Dr. Won Ton grabbed several plates at once. "Moo shu vegetables. Peking Duck, Crispy pork chop in Peking sauce, Yin-yang shrimp, chicken chop suey..."
"Stop, stop..." Mom pleaded, and she was crying uncontrollably.
Dr. Won Ton grabbed a wet noodle and started slapping it across Mom's hand. "Tell me the Secret Recipe, Mrs. Adams!"
The door burst open and one of the servants dashed inside. "Doctor, come to the kitchen quick. Someone has put MSG in the soup!"
Dr. Won Ton gasped and dropped all the dishes. "No! It must be that Ms. Glutamate. She is trying to destroy me!" He dashed over the puddles of sauce and chicken and shrimp, slipping and falling like the villain in a bad slap-stick movie. "You stay here, Mrs. Adams, until I get back!" he yelled as he disappeared out the door.
As soon as he had left the room, a window slid open and a small, thin man in a black sweater and black wool pullover cap climbed in. He ran over to Mom, untied her hands, and waved something under her nose.
Mom came too and looked up at her rescuer. "John...John Chang, what are you doing here?"
"Coming to save you, of course, Mary," he smiled.
John Chang is the editor she sends her translated Chinese recipes to. She'd only met him a few times in person over the 30 years they had worked together, but she was sure glad to see him then.
"We've got to get George," she gasped as he helped her up. "Who knows what that terrible man will do to him."
"Oh, not to worry. George is outside. He's fine, but I'm afraid we have to leave here very fast. The volcano is going to get a terrible headache from that MSG I poured into the mad doctor's recipe. I think it's going to blow its stack. There's a helicopter outside, and we have to move fast."
"Oh, thanks so much for rescuing us, John," Mom sighed as the helicopter rose high above the island. "Could we stop for some Chinese food?" she said after a moment or two. "For some reason, I'm starved!"
When Mr. Chang dropped Mom and Dad off in front of our house the next day, they had no memory of the strange events that had befallen them on the island of WonTon. As far as they could remember, they had a lovely time with Dr. Won Ton, but they had to leave early because the volcano on the island was going to erupt. They were very fortunate, because it blew only hours after they had reached safety. Dr. Won Ton's estate was completely ruined and he had gone into seclusion somewhere far away and would not be pursuing the recipe book as planned. Then on the plane trip back, they bumped into John Chang and he had graciously offered to drive them home from the airport.
Mom and Dad had apparently been "debriefed" by the CIA and remembered only what they were told to remember. We didn't find out the real story until years later when Mom was summoned to testify before a Congressional subcommittee. She turned out to be the star witness in the Fortune Cookie Scandal that shamed the CIA and shocked the nation. But then, of course, that's a different story.