Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 53 – Helping a friend

Chapter 53

Helping a friend

The living room was encompassed by a great and jovial atmosphere. Yue Ying and Zhaohui were still sobbing from the emotional encounter they had while Zihuan, Yuhuan and Chenguang were all smiles as they realized that they are the witnesses of a great story which only in movies could’ve been seen. Chenguang (Zihuan’s sister), as well as the two detectives had their sight bolted on Yue Ying. Apparently they either knew her from somewhere, or Yue Ying’s beauty was acting like a magnet, attracting all the attention of the actors participating at the scene. Eventually the two sisters broke up from the long embracement (which kept them together almost like one single body) and while the tears of joy on their faces were showing the emotional state they were going through, they had the power to smile and eventually laugh, thus bringing the three spectators closer. An endless amount of questions directed towards Yue Ying poured out of Chenguang’s chest. Apparently she was familiar with Yue Ying’s artistic endeavor and she was a great fan. The cap and the t-shirt she was wearing were signed by Yue Ying which made the atmosphere even more relaxed and enjoyable.

It was the time when Vic and John approached the living room coming from the office area. Vic slightly tilted his head in a sign: “Go ahead and tell Zhaohui the story”. John looked at Yue Ying, then at Zhaohui…the great display of happiness on their faces made him refrain from starting saying the story of the dreamshe had. Instead, he took a seat on one of the chairs and without understanding anything from what they were talking about, he realized that Yue Ying was already a celebrity – at a smaller scale. Then something great happened: probably Chenguang asked her to sing, as Yue Ying’s crystalline voice pulled the refrain of the song he and Vic heard at the Black Swan. It was that amazing “Shanghai Sun” refrain which made the whole establishment sing along. Instead of following the plan, he leaned against the back of the chair and decided to listen. Her vocal chords were releasing greater and greater tunes which made John close his eyes and silently listen. At the end, a big round of applauses followed while Yue Ying tilted her head forward thanking the audience. John stood up and headed again for the window grabbing Vic’s arm, in a sign of: “I need to speak to you”.

-Why didn’t you tell Zhaohui the story?

-Didn’t you see how happy they were?

-So…are you going to eventually do it?

-Eventually…yes, I will do it.

-When? It looks like things are coming together and this circle, or cosmological path, or whatever it is called is soon supposed to close.

-No rush, Vic. No rush. Listen, I need you to do me a big favor…

-Now I am scared! Every time you ask for a favor, unforeseen events are happening. Vic laughed as hard as he could then he looked into John’s eyes:

-I’m serious, man…when you come up with an idea, life is becoming exciting.

-And what’s wrong with excitement?

-No, thanks! I am at the age when I want my life to smoothly sail towards retirement.

-OK, then. Let’s hope that the favor I am asking from you will not create that unwanted excitement…a moment of silence fell between the two men. John was looking straight into his friend’s eyes and Vic understood right away that this was big. He started wiping inexistent sweat from his forehead.

-What is it, John?

-I want to make Yue Ying a big star, here in China.

Another few seconds of silence followed up, only to be broken by Vic’s huge laughter.

-You want to do what? Are you out of your mind? John, we have an assignment from J.J. We have to take it to the finish line somehow. Tony Gang and your neighbor are spying every movement we are making. You are in danger here – both I and Zhaohui told you that you have to move. You consistently refuse to follow our advice. Now you fell in love with this girl…have you fallen in love with her?

Vic’s last question made John startle…the questions he asked himself earlier resurfaced. He looked at Vic with the look of a person who just took a drug which made him oozy.

-For Goodness sake, John! What the hell has happened to you?

-Are you going to help me out? Yes, or no?

 The last sentence fell on Vic like a hammer. He dropped on the chair which was closer to the window and without saying anything, grabbed a glass, poured some wine and started watching the barges sliding down stream on Huangpu River. John joined him and now both of them had their eyes on a spectacle as great and mysterious as the river itself.

-What do you want from me, John? How can I help you on this matter?

-Vic, you know people here in town. I need to get somehow to a recording house and get Yue Ying and the band in for auditions.

-You are nuts! Do you know how many bands like this oneare in Shanghai? Why is this band special?

-Did you listen to their songs?

-Yes I did, of course. We were together at Black Swan on Sunday night…remember? Vic tried to pull a laughter, but the sound that came out of his chest was everything but a laughter. His state of discomfort was obvious and John understood immediately.

-Vic, I am asking this favor from you as a friend.

-Ok, John. I understand. But…do you have a plan? You are telling me that we will start knocking at the doors of all the recording houses in this city, right?

-We start with the biggest ones. If they don’t want to talk to us, then we will try to deal with the smaller guys.

-How about our assignment?

-Who is stopping us from doing these two activities in parallel?

-I still believe that you’ve gone nuts, but I will help you. Let’s put together a plan. When do you want to start?

-Tomorrow morning.

-We don’t even have an appointment.

-Right. You start making phone calls – Zhaohui might be able to help.

-OK. I will engage her. I think she has somebody at her school who knows somebody in show business.

-Bingo! We’ll start with Zhaohui’s colleague.

-OK. Now let’s see what’s going on there, said Vic pointing towards the group of five people who apparently were greatly enjoying their chatting and laughing.

John’s eyes fell again on Yue Ying. She was so happy and so was Zhaohui!

-Everybody…everybody, a moment of silence please. Vic’s voice was trying hard to cover the noise generated by the good mood employed by the three detectives, Yue Ying and Zhaohui. Finally, when everybody was quiet he asked a question which generated even more happiness:

-Is anybody hungry? Any preferences? From the answers he was getting, he realized that he has the liberty of ordering whatever he wanted. Swiftly he picked up the phone and starting placing requests for lunch.

-John, now that we have some time before they bring our lunch, would you mind telling Zhaohui the story of the two dreams you had?

John startled…he took again the seat he previously had and with a calm and balanced voice tried to summarize the two dreams he had. Zhaohui was not even blinking. She was virtually absorbing every single word which was coming out of John’s mouth. When John finished, she dropped her head and grabbed her temples between her palms into a sign that she was deeply concerned with this turn of the events, or maybe in a sign that she is resting her hopes into whatever the fate will throw at her.

-John…do you know who the other rider was, beside you?

-No. His face was always covered and he was always sitting into a cone of shadow trying hard to hide it from me. However, his voice was so familiar!

-This is the last piece of the puzzle. The good thing is that he will be part of our camp. Now let me tell you guys the dream which I had, on Sunday when we went to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

-That was the time when you meditated by that beautiful courtyard!

-Yes, that was it…Zhaohui cleared her voice and as John did earlier, she started telling the story of the two riders storming into the gardens bringing with them a girl who had a hand cut off. Then her voice became emotional, especially when she reached the time when the two girls were saying goodbye to the Teacher. Two tears appeared into her eyes. John felt his palate as dry as a piece of tinder, while Vic pulled a napkin and wiped a tear which showed up at the corner of his right eye. The scene was so emotional and the silence so deep, that one could’ve heard a pin dropping on the floor.

-In a nut shell…we have to get ready for the final act of the story, for the closing of this nine generation cosmological cycle – the Curse of the General. We all know how and when it started. The ninth generation from the moment the curse was made, will have to close it. And that generation is us. We are all here because we are all part of it and so is your neighbor, John: Chang mao dashi and his sister, Jian dashi. Tony Gang is on their side too. There is a reason why he works for Glenworth Financials. We do not know what his role is and if he will be part of the final encounter. All these are leading me to believe that your boss John, J.J. has a hand into this.

John startled…”what if the other rider was J.J.?” Zhaohui continued as if she had already read John’s mind:

-Maybe the mysterious man who was riding beside you in your dreams is him…we do not know. We will only know when all the nine orchids are sold. Whoever gets one, becomes part of the grand finale. Zhaohui’s voice was now authoritarian and full of confidence. One would’ve realized that she will be in charge of whatever endeavor, string of events or doings will lead to the closure of this curse.

-John, you bought two of them: one for me and one for Yue Ying…this told me that we are the sisters from my dream and from your dreams. Things are coming together. It will be the two of us facing Chang mao dashi and Jian dashi.

-Are you kidding? Have you seen the size of that man? And apparently he is a master of the lance fighting while his sister is a master of the sword…that’s what I understood from the conversation we had.

Zhaohui smiled and with a voice as assuring and firm as the confidence that one could’ve read on her face, said:

-John…I am not scared of his size. I am just worried a bit about his skills in handling the lance. It is a deadly weapon into the hands of the right warrior. And I know that his sister is also skilled into the sword fighting. I watched her training…I usually go and practice at the same place where she does. Something told me to hold back and not show my abilities. It was a good decision. She is very skilled: fast, unpredictable, intelligent and possesses deadly moves and strikes. But she is not invincible.

-Wait a minute…but you said that Yue Ying will be part of this finale as well – apparently you are sisters.

-That is correct. You bought an orchid for her from the same place you did buy for me on Saturday.

-So? What is so special about that place?

-The woman who is the owner of the flower shop is part of the curse too, John. You didn’t know, but you actually triggered the closing of the curse by buying for myself and Yue Ying two orchids.

-Wait a minute…you are telling me that my neighbors can buy these orchids from her too?

-Yes, if they find the place. You ran into this flower shop by chance…by luck if we can put it like this.

-And if my neighbors never find the place, then what?

-Then the final encounter will not take place and we will win. The curse will close without blood being spilled.

-Blood being spilled? You are joking, right? We will have a sword fight? This is how we will put an end to the story? I still want to pursue the negotiating venue with Chang mao dashi.

-John…he is playing you. He wants to buy time – I am not sure why he needs this, but for him there is only one way to end the story…by killing the descendants of the Chongzen Emperor.

John dropped his head and a deep silence encompassed the room. Nobody was saying a word anymore. Vic was stunned and his face was as livid as a freshly ironed bed sheet. He felt like he was about to swallow his Adam’s apple.

-Zhaohui, you were saying that both you and Yue Ying will have to participate at the grand final act…

-Yes, this is what I said.

-But she is not a warrior…she is a singer. She cannot handle a sword.

-You may be surprised, John…Zhaohui’s face was all smile and a waggish look on her face told John that he was all wrong.

It was the time when Yue Ying stood up and headed for the wallwhere the sword and the dagger were displayed. With a swift motion she drew them from their scabbards. For the next two minutes, a great spectacle of kata moves was displayed to everybody’s delight. The blades of the two weapons were moving and rotating at a speed which was giving the spectators the chance to only see two bolts of fire shining into the friendly sun rays which were generously invading the room through the large window. Her body was in perfect synchronization with the deadly weapons she was so nonchalantly handling, her moves and the focus into her eyes were so sublime and gracious that people who were watching were completely drawn into this sensational spectacle of skills and coordination. At the end, a few seconds of deep silence fell over the entire room only to be followed by a great round of applauses as a normal and natural reward for the great spectacle of traditional Chinese martial arts display.

John was mesmerized! He has never seen such display of great skills, mobility and graciousness. His amazement reached yet another level when Zhaohui stood up and headed like (Yue Ying) to the wall. In few seconds, another spectacle of sword fighting moves and techniques was displayed in front of the spectators and the general feel was that Zhaohui’s skill level was at least equal to Yue Ying’s. Her body was sliding so graciously sidewise or fore and back, that the people watching this show truly believed they are participating to a real fight. To John, the fantastic collection of Martial Arts skills displayed by the two protagonists was something out of Hollywood. It was so real and the same time so surreal! He was just few yards away from these imaginary fights in which the two girls just participated. When Zhaohui was done showing her skill level, once again the audience started clapping thus showing their admiration for the actors on the stage.

Vic shook his head into a sign of: “enough of this…”

-OK, I will order food now. Any preferences?

-Just order what we had last time – that was good and varied food.

-OK then. While I am ordering, maybe we can have a look at the pictures took by Zihuan and Yuhuan.

-Yes, let us set up the laptop and we will take you through a presentation my sister put together.

John and Vic headed back to the window and while Vic was ordering, John grabbed his glass of wine and took two sips. Everything was getting complicated and he was hating it! He always liked the simplest and the most efficient solutions. Now, he was worried. “What if Yue Ying gets killed into the fight? What if Zhaohui gets killed? Who else is supposed to be on our side? Chang mao dashi and Jian dashi (possibly Tony Gang) will obviously be our opponents. How can two girls (as skilled as they are) still compete against the two warriors? Maybe Tony is as skilled as they are in lance or sword fighting…then what? There is no way Yue Ying and Zhaohui can stand a chance in a fight againstChang mao dashi and Jian dashi. How do we get out of this trouble? I have to get Chang mao dashi to the negotiating table. However, let’s say that I manage to make him quit stealing funds from Glenworth…how about the curse? How can I stop this fight from happening?”

John leaned his head against the window and started watching again the barges sliding down stream towards their destination. His thoughts were now completely grasped by the inevitable confrontation. Zhaohui’s story put a dagger into his heart…”They can’t fight Chang mao dashi. That guy is so big and powerful and apparently he is expert in lance fighting too. I have to do something! Think, John! Think!”

After finishing placing the order, Vic came by the window too. The two friends looked into each other’s eyes; an independent eye could’ve seen a great deal of concern on their faces. Neither John nor Vic were saying a word anymore. Their foreheads were showing the wrinkles which typically come along with deep thinking or thought process.

-We are ready! Mr. Parker, Mr. Vic…

Chenguang’s voice made the two friends startle and turnaround. The TV screen was already showing a slide presentation – apparently put together by Zihuan’s sister.

They rushed to the living room area, grabbed two chairs and from that moment everybody was glued to the screen. The pictures (one after another one) were slowly showing up and then fading out, disappearing back into the memory stick. Nothing out of ordinary popped up making John believe that the detectives’ efforts are futile and are not baring any fruit. It looked like his neighbors were quite socially active. They were shown at the theatre, at the Opera House, at nice and fancy restaurants, at the Art Gallery, always being accompanied by people who definitely were holding high hierarchy positions – judging by the fine cloths they were wearing and the cars they were driving.

John looked at Vic…the slight tilt of Vic’s head made John understand that his friend caught the idea: these people were mingling with VIPs from the business world and political sphere.

-Hold it! Hold it right here! John was on his feet already. Chenguang (who was running the presentation) startled and looked at John with a face which betrayed apprehension and awe.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 52 – Reunion

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism and traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life with the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 52

Reunion

Not long after he fell asleep, a strange dream of him and the rider (whose face he couldn’t see), came up again. And it came up at the point where the little girl who had her arm cut off was taken in the back room by the owner of the Black Swan inn and given into the care of few women. The other girl (apparently her sister) stayed with her and was trying as hard as she could to keep her sister’s lips moist using a sponge dipped into the water.

John and his fellow rider took a seat in the front room, waiting for the owner to bring some food and wine. When the man showed up, the two warriors barely let the wine make it onto the table. Two glasses were filled up and the red thick liquid immediately disappeared down through their thirsty throats. Another round followed the same path. It looked like they were exhausted! The food which was brought by the servant had the same fate: their strong jaws were crushing the duck meat without even considering picking the bones apart anymore. One could see that these two warriors were used to this type of lifestyle as it was naturally fitting them judging by the cloths, gestures, weaponry and the huge appetite. Once they finished the meal, a great sign of relief came out of their chests and a deep silence laid over the whole room. Eventually the older rider broke the silence and yet again John failed to recognize his voice…however, that voice was so, so familiar!

-We only have two – maybe three hours in front of them. It is more than enough to make it to the docks. However, the city may be filled with the spies of the peasant rebels. We have the papers signed by the captain – this could be an advantage if we bump into troops still loyal to the Emperor…however, a rebellion may start anytime and join the armies of Li Zicheng. Unfortunately, we cannot take the little girl. She is too weak. She lost lots of blood. But we can take the older one to the Monastery in the South, as per Emperor’s request.

-If I may suggest…

The voice of the inn’s owner was soft and chanty, mellow and musical and thus was betraying an individual who in spite of the fact that he was running an inn-restaurant business, he was a well read and highly educated individual as this type of speaking was the attribute of the Court intellectuals.

Both warriors startled as they did not expect the owner to step into the discussion.

-If I may suggest…the older girl is very tired too and it will be a burden for you. I also think that she may be of help here, with her sister…it will be a moral support for the little one. Thus, I am begging you to leave the older one here. Once the younger one will be able to travel, we will take them both to the Monastery.

-Emperor’s wish was that both of them to be taken to the South, as far as possiblefrom the Palace.

-We will keep them at the Monastery until they are old enough to make decisions of their own. They will receive the education a princess gets at the Court and they will learn the way of the sword too. You have business in the South, South-East, South China Sea and as far as India and the Gulf of Bengal. You will be sailing all the time – you will not be able to provide an education for them.

-Our aim was to take them to Canton to a Monastery indicated by the Emperor.

-It is dangerous now. The Manchus have already pirate ships into the Sea of China. It is a lot safer to keep them here, for now. Then, we will take the girls to the mountains and they will live there, at the Monastery until both of them will decide on what they want to do. This is probably the best solution given the present situation.

A long silence fell again over the entire room. John had his head down, looking at the floor. The older warrior had his both hands joined behind the back of his head and was carefully scrutinizing the old man’s face: emotions, feelings which might’ve surfaced. Finally, he stood up and with a voice both firm and demanding said:

-OK. We are leaving the girls with you. In three years from today we will be back – if we are still alive, of course…we would like to see what happened to them and if they are happy. These were some of the last wishes of the Emperor.

-Very well, Sir! We keep the horses too. It is not very safe to go horseback riding through the city. You will draw attention, so you will have to walk to the docks. Here, put these cloths over yours so the disguise will be complete. The man pulled a bundle of traditional Chinese long padded cotton overcoats from a chesterfield which apparently had multiple functions, including cloths storage. From the same piece of furniture, he handed over to the two warriors standing in front of him, two large straw hats. It only took few seconds before they were dressed up as Chinese peasants.

-Good. Let’s go see the girls for the last time before we are heading to the docks. The room in the back was small but was clean and already a doctor and three women were changing the bandages and preparing the hot water on a wood burning stove. A strange smell, a smell which was intriguing and the same time alluring hit John’s nostrils. “Where do I know this smell from? It is so familiar, yet I cannot remember where and how I got to know it…very strange”. He could see that some aromatic fine, thin sticks were burning into a ceramic pot and he figured that that was the place this smell was coming from. Then he saw the doctors using a sort of oily liquid onto the girl’s wounds. “It must be some oil made out of medicinal plants…it smells so nice and it is so seductive!”

The younger girl was now resting…her long thick black hair was covering her upper body almost entirely. But the face(in spite of the fact that was white like the bed sheets), was so pleasant and was transpiring so much kindness, purity and innocence that made John pull a barely audible sigh out of his chest.

His fellow rider made a discrete sign: ”we have to go”. Both of them quietly left the room followed by the owner of the establishment.

-Gentlemen…I wish you both good luck and may Good Lord be with you. He made the cross sign in an attempt of blessing the two warriors.

They both startled…

-You are a Christian!

-I am just one of the many children God has…

-I see. Well my friend…we are on our way. Take good care of them.

-Here, you have some food and some wine. You never know where the fate takes you.

-Thank you, my friend! I guess we will see you in three years.

-If God wants it, we will see each other again.

The two men disappeared into the dark while the owner of the inn closed the entrance door behind them carefully scrutinizing the surroundings; it was a sign that he was worried about unwanted eyes monitoring his endeavors and premises.

The wind picked up speed and now was blowing from the stern. A wind gust violently hit the sales which made the masts squeak and scream from the bottom of their lungs. “Storm is approaching. All hands on deck!” The order given by the old man was immediately followed and all the sailors were now on deck manipulating the sales and the ropes in order to brace for the storm to come. John was standing at the stern watching the preparations when all of a sudden a rebel sale covered his whole body, like an enormous weed from the jungle trying to suffocate and then consume him. He tried to get out of the entanglement but the efforts were futile. However, that sale felt like it was made out of silk, as its warmth and softness conveyed a great comforting feel.

It was the moment when John woke up and he realized that he was holding Yue Ying into his arms. Her nice silk pajamas she was wearing probably gave John that feeling that the sales were made out of this fine material. “OK, she came into the bedroom while I was asleep. Great! I think it is still very early in the morning, so we have time for a second nap”. John pulled a soft sigh out of his chest and within the next minute or so, he fellasleep again.

When the sun hit the bedroom window, John opened up his eyes. He stretched and slowly got out of the bed. When he entered the living room, Yue Ying was waiting for him. However, she was almost into a transcendental phase, as she just couldn’t take her eyes of the orchid that was sitting onto the office desk. The transparent, vaporous, silky, white-pinkish housecoat she was wearing was generously relieving her goddess like forms: the buttocks, the stunning legs and most of all the tanned skin (which was greatly contrasting with the robe) were presenting a spectacle of beauty and elegance.

John felt how his palate is running dry. He just couldn’t stop admiring that perfectly shaped body, when out of nowhere the image of Jian dashi (his neighbor’s sister) showed up in front of his eyes. It was a scenario he didn’t expect…he startled, as he remembered Zhaohui’s words: “I am responsible for closing this cosmological circle from my family’s side and your neighbor from his side”

“Does Yue Ying have anything to do with the curse? If yes, I hope she is on our side. She must be. We connected right away. What a strange string of events: Yue Ying is admiring the orchid I bought for her and all of a sudden Jian dashi appears out of nowhere, trying somehow to step between me and Yue Ying. Does this have a meaning? Apparently everything has a hidden meaning in this story, everything is related to everything! What should I do? Do I still let Yue Ying admire the flower while I slowly go back to the bedroom?”

John was now in a pickle as he didn’t want to disturb Yue Ying from contemplating the stunning orchid. She suddenly turned, as if she was capable of reading minds:

-Good morning, John. How did you sleep? I was worried.

-Good morning, Yue Ying…his voice was soft and mellow. His hands slowly fell on her hips and from there passionately grabbed the two splendid buttocks. A long and ardent kiss followed. It was enough to spark another episode of hot and fiery love making, this time onto the living room sofa.

When the cell phone rang, John was still holding her tight into his arms. First reflex was to answer – he knew that most likely Vic called. But the comfort Yue Ying’s silky skin was providing, made him give up the idea of having a phone conversation.

-You no pick up? Maybe Vic called

-Maybe. I don’t feel like talking to him.

-What you want to do? It is almost noon.

-We go have lunch somewhere and then we come back. What do you have in mind?

-I have to go practice…my band wait me.

-Oh, I see…in this case let’s go have something to eat and then I will take you to the place where you are practicing. Where is that?

-No need. I call taxi.

-Hang on a second, we have Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s phone number. We can call him.

-OK. We take shower and we go eat.

Not much time was spent into the bathroom. They both came out pretty quick and now they were ready to go out. Yue Ying had a chance to put on some ripped fashionable jeans she purchased yesterday and a beautiful white-pinkish blouse. The coat was stylish too and had only two buttons thus making the lapels overlap. Her generous breasts were desperately to burst out, but she carefully closed both buttons in order to avoid the disaster.

John put on a pair of blue jeans and a casual shirt; on his way out, he grabbed a pullover which was resting onto the sofa. When he opened the door, he froze! Vic, Zhaohui, Zihuan, Yuhuan and a girl John never met where waiting on the other side of the door, in the hallway.

-What are you guys doing here?

-I guess the question is: why do you keep dodging my phone calls?

-Busy!

A smile flourished onto Vic’s lips; he tried to make it as imperceptible as possible biting his bottom lip to keep it that way.

-We need to talk. They sorted out all the pictures they have taken: there are some very interesting ones coming from their partner in Beijing.

-Kinda’ hungry…

-That’s ok. You can order something from the kitchen. We are hungry too.

-OK, then…we will have lunch here and we take a look at the picture. For everybody: this is Yue Ying. The introductions ritual immediately followed. But something very strange happened when Zhaohui’s turn came to introduce herself. From the moment she entered the apartment, her sight fell on the white orchid. She simply couldn’t take her eyes of the wonderful flower. Then she made eye contact with Yue Ying. It was one of those moments when two people connect with each other at emotional level right away. And then, the inevitable happened: the two women fell into each other’s arms. It was a long embrace and both John and Vic were wondering if it will ever end. It was a scene from a movie, when two relatives or old friends are reunited after a long period of being apart. John was mesmerized and so was Vic. John felt how his mouth dried up and a desperate need for a drink settled. Just when he tried to turn around and look towards the kitchen to see if there is something readily available, Zhaohui exclaimed: “My sister. You are the sister I lost…my sister” Everybody in the room was now stunned. Both John and Vic had the faces of two cadavers. Zihuan, Yuhuan and Chenguang (this was Zihuan’s sister name) were stunned and were not moving anymore. The silence was so deep that any whisper could’ve been heard by everybody in the room. Yet, the two sisters did not want to let go the long embrace. They were both sobbing and Zhaohui just wouldn’t stop calling Yue Ying: “sister…my sister”

Slowly they moved to the couch and Zhaohui was now holding the gorgeous face of Yue Yong between her palms. Tears were flowing on their cheeks following the same long embracing ritual. Finally, the tears of happiness turned into laughter and the atmosphere inside of the living room all of a sudden became jovial and lively, cheerful and convivial.

-All right, let’s order some food! Vic’s voice was the voice of a man who all of a sudden saw an escape route from an apparently difficult and desperate situation. The scene of the two sisters’ reunion was shocking and so unpredictable, that both Vic and John felt the need for a drink. John pulled Vic towards the window and poured some wine into their glasses. Neither one of them said a single word. They were just simply watching the barges sliding downstream towards their meeting place with the Great River.

-This story is taking an unexpected turn. Do you think that we are closing in towards the end of it?

-I don’t know, but I had two strange dreams…and in both of them there are two sisters running away from the Imperial Palace which just fell into the hands of the rebellious peasants. John tried to summarize in few sentences the dreams he had: the galloping into the dark, the little girl who had her arm cut off, the mysterious Inn owner of “Black Swan”…

-Black Swan!

-Yeah…

-Man, this is getting scary! We went to “Black Swan” on Sunday. You met Yue Ying there…

-Yes…and then I had two dreams – I just told you the story. Black Swan was the place where the two riders left the girls into the care of the owner.

-And you were one of the riders.

-Yes.

-And who was the other one?

-I don’t know. His face was always in a cone of shadow and darkness, he was always trying hard to cover it with the hood of his cape.

-Jesus! This story is becoming creepy already.

-I know, but I do agree with you: we are approaching the end. That circle of destiny, or that cosmological path (as Mr. Wang was calling it) is about to close.

-Who will be the actors?

-I guess some of them are here, in this room…don’t you think?

Vic dropped his head and kept silence for few seconds.

-I would like to know how this story will end.

-Me too, Vic. Me too. I want to go back to America and continue with my life the way it was before coming to China.

-You have a wife there…what do you do about Yue Ying?

This question fell like a hammer on John’s head…”Right…Linda…the kids” He was stunned! Until this moment he did not even think at the eventual complications this relationship with Yue Ying could bring, this is how much in love he was with her…or maybe he was not in love with her…maybe it is just a fling which would go away once he goes back. A state of panic encompassed John; Vic could clearly see that he rattled the cage, that he made John count his options and figure out where he stands, as this endeavor became complicated.

-Right…Yue Ying…his voice was soft and wavering, thus betraying the trouble into which all of a sudden John found himself. The past two days he spent with Yue Ying were so out of ordinary, amazing and unexpectedly full of events, that he even forgot he had a home overseas. He dropped his head and pulled the chair. His mind was now a mess and Vic realized that he pushed the wrong button.

-I am sorry, man…so sorry that I brought it up!

-That’s ok…eventually I was going to come to my senses one day. I would’ve preferred that particular day would come later. I spent two amazing days with this girl…

-I believe you, John…but you cannot run forever from reality.

-That’s true, Vic…that’s true. I have to figure out where I stand. From the moment I saw this girl it was like I met somebody I knew so well, somebody I was familiar with, a person who also knew me as well. I had that strange feeling that we have met in the past and this was a sort of reunion, an arch over time, an event which brought together two souls that have been looking for each other for centuries. And you know what it’s strange? Both dreams were of them on the same topic: galloping alongside a man (who was always hiding his face with the hood of his cape). We were mandated by the Emperor to take two girls (his daughters) to the safety of a monastery. The girl I was carrying on my horse had a hand chopped and she was so weak that I had to strap her to my chest. The other girl was riding on my partner’s horse. Eventually we made it into the city and pulled at an inn called: “Black Swan”

-No way! The restaurant we went on Sunday?The place you met Yue Ying?

-Actually I met her in my very first day in Shanghai. I bumped into her and her friend – who is also part of the band.

-Unbelievable! Don’t tell me that Zhaohui and Yue Ying are the princes (daughters) of Chongzen Emperor!

-I believe so…why would Zhaohui call Yue Ying: “sister”

-This is unbelievable…so the circle starts closing, slowly but surely

-Apparently this is the case.

-We need to speak to them. Please tell Zhaohui about the dreams you had.

-Sure, let’s move to the living room now.

————————————————

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Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 51 – White Orchid

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 51

White Orchid

Xiǎolǐzǐ managed to stay close to the car he was following in spite of the fact that they soon reached an area which looked a little rough and was totally unknown to him. The streets were barely lit (as the few bulb lights were shyly providing a certain level of luminosity) showing that the city in that particular area was not very generous when came down to citizens’ safety. John felt how he got chills. However, he wanted to know more about this mysterious girl, the girl who had the trust of the old lady from the store, trust which turned into assigning her to a delicate mission: reaching “Nine Orchids Order” – apparently an exclusive and highly elitist place.

She eventually reached her place. A blind, barely lighting bulb light was trying as hard as it could to provide some light at the entrance. The building was a four- storey flat and one could see that the inhabitants were trying to save as much as they could as only a couple of lights were turned on. The girl entered, not before turning again her head to see if she was followed. At John’s requests, from the moment they reached that particular neighborhood, Xiǎo lǐzǐ shut down his head lights. They were now into the complete darkness of the night. The lights and the engine were turned off and both of them were barely breathing, trying somehow to increase their level of cover. The taxi which the mysterious girl took turned around, passed Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s car, accelerated and in few minutes was lost into the darkness of the night. An oppressive silence settled into the car and for one or two minutes nobody said a word.

-Mr. Parker…what we do now? Xiǎo lǐzǐ whispered the question in a way that made John almost guess it.

-Now I get out of the car and I will go in the back of the building. You stay in the car and watch at which apartment the light will come up. I will do the same into the back. There are four apartments per level. You watch these two sides. I will do the same in the back.

-OK Mr. Parker. Careful…

-Don’t worry.

John quickly got out of the car and rapidly moved towards the rear of the building. It was completely dark and he was more or less guessing his way. His logic was telling him that it must be a way for the inhabitants to get into the back where probably the dumpster was. He pulled his cell phone from the pocket and used the light to navigate. He was right…the dumpster was in the back; unfortunately garbage pick-up day was far away as the smell from the garbage container was suffocating. He took the handkerchief he was always carrying and turned it into a bandana. It was not long before the light at one of the apartments at the last floor turned on. Then the girl he was following showed up at the window, pulled the curtains and disappeared. John waited few more minutes. Shortly, the light went off.

-OK. She either went to sleep or she is using a night stand lamp. Good, now I know where she lives. Let’s get back to the hotel. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting.

-So, Mr. Parker…you see? I see nothing.

-Yes, Xiǎo lǐzǐ…I saw what I needed to see. She lives at the fourth floor, that corner…let me see where the North is. John looked at his wrist watch:

-OK, so the North is that way. Great, she lives at the apartment from the South-West corner of the building. Now let’s go back to the hotel. Do you know how to get there?

A huge laughter came out of Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s chest.

-Mr. Parker, I taxi driver…remember?

It was John’s turn to burst into laughter:

-Sorry Xiǎo lǐzǐ, I almost forgot you brought me here.

-No problem Mr. Parker. Here we go!

John was completely unprepared and again the sudden step on the accelerator made him hit the back of the rear seat and bang his head against the head rest of the seat. “That’s it! I made up my mind! This guy is mental! Why does he have to do this every time he puts this car into motion?” He shook his head and decided to keep quiet and watch the places which were passing by. Same ghetto neighborhood was laying in front of him: poorly lit streets, apartment buildings in a rough shape, bad roads filled with pot holes and a great sentiment of emptiness, of a place that is deserted and is just waiting for some creatures from another planet to populate it. John felt some chills along his spine. “It’s good I didn’t make it into this neighborhood alone…so creepy!”

Shortly, the environment started changing and a different type of streets were showing up. They were better lit, the quality of the pavement was much better and soon restaurants and little ma and pa shops started showing up, thus signaling an area that was thriving through commercial activities.

Suddenly, John put his hand on Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s right shoulder and with a voice which was not accepting any sort of opposition asked him to stop. The cab driver stepped on the brakes so hard that made John completely hug the front passenger seat. “Damn it! I knew he would slam on those brakes! I should’ve given him a two mile notice!” John got out of the car and started walking back, as the taxi passed the store he wanted to get into. Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s was following him closely. Once in front of the store, Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s smiled and exclaimed:

-Oh, Mr. Parker…you remember. You buy orchid Saturday night.

-Of course I remember and I want to buy another one.

-Orchid expensive…but very beautiful.

-Let’s see if they still have some left and up for buying.

That’s being said, John stepped into the store. He realized that the owner was preparing to close. However, the old woman who sold him the purple orchid (the orchid which he bought Zhaohui), recognized him. A large smiled flourished on her face and immediately started speaking to him. She knew that she would eventually make a good sale off of John. The store was filled up with fresh flowers but John had his eyes once again on the place behind the counter. He graciously refused woman’s offer to take a look at the flowers placed into shelves on the side walls and headed straight for the back of the store with his eyes pinned at the gorgeous flowers which somehow he felt they were guarded by the owner of the shop. And yet again, she placed herself between John and the orchids, as she did last time. John smiled and speaking as slowly as he could, he said:

-I want to buy one of them.

The old lady had the same smile on her face and replied to John in Chinese. It seemed like she didn’t want to sell him any of the orchids. It was the time when Xiǎo lǐzǐ stepped into the conversation:

-She say you bought one Saturday. Why you buy one more?

John was perplexed! He thought he didn’t hear properly what his driver told him.

-I want to buy another one…that’s all. Is there a problem with this?

Another round of conversation started between the store owner and Xiǎo lǐzǐ.

-She wants know who you buy for.

-What? This is unbelievable! It’s my business to whom I am buying this flower for!

After another short conversation, Xiǎo lǐzǐ looked at John and with a great disappointment imprinted on his face said:

-Sorry…she no sell to you.

-Unbelievable! That’s fine. Let’s go find another store. I hope that there are still some shops open. I want to buy some flowers for Yue Ying.

At the sound of Yue Ying’s name, the old lady’s face physiognomy changed. Yet, one more time she had another conversation with Xiǎo lǐzǐ.

-Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker…John was almost at the door. He turned around and looked at his cab driver quite puzzled.

-What happened?

-She say she sell to you…but only one.

-Great! What made her change her mind? John’s face was now radiating with happiness and his great smile came back making his whole appearance look so relaxed, joyful and cheerful. He was stunned by the beauty of those flowers.

-I have never seen orchids this beautiful. I can understand now why she is so protective. It looks to me like she treats them the way one treats his babies. While listening to the translation, the woman was speaking to John. Obviously John couldn’t understand a word she was saying, however Xiǎo lǐzǐ was trying to keep up with her in translating back to John.

-She say you lucky man…she say you handsome…she say you born under lucky stars….

John was mesmerized by the freshness and the beauty of those orchids and all Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s words just flew by his ears. “Wait a minute: there were nine orchids, I bought one for Zhaohui and there are six left. Somebody bought two of them or two people one each. If she is so careful to whom she is selling these flowers, then who are those two persons who bought the two missing ones? Hmm…strange. Anyway, I will buy one for Yue Ying. I believe she will like it. Which one, though? OK, so it looks like the yellow and the yellow with pink are gone. That yellow was gorgeous! And so it was the other yellow one, which had pink spots on it. Which one do I buy?”

Once again, John had the feeling that while looking at those beauties one should be quiet as a simple whisper would simply make them vanish, this is how feeble and delicate they looked. The colors were so pure and genuine that making a choice on the spot was an impossible task to achieve.

Which colors does she like? This is the question I guess I have to answer! John’s memory started bringing back scenes from the cloth store and from the night when Yue Ying performed at Black Swan. Nothing out of ordinary popped up into his mind. All of a sudden, he remembered the white traditional coat she was wearing yesterday night on the stage. The coat was still with her into his hotel room. The decision was made: he picked the white orchid. He stretched his left hand and pointed towards the flower:

-I would like to buy the white one, please.

The old woman starting speaking again…this time her voice was softer and the inflections carried into conversation showed a great level of happiness and in the same time of relief. The cab driver was trying hard to keep up with translating, but his English was not that great and only made John burst into laughter. He didn’t know why John is laughing so hard and in turn he joined in. It was a great, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The store owner was now carefully wrapping the orchid following the same procedure: she brought the plastic protector and then methodically folded the nicely coated white paper around the whole package. When she handed the flower over to John, a sigh of almost sorrow and regret came out of her chest. It was probably her way of saying goodbye to a child she raised until the moment the kid has to leave home. And yes, the way she was taking care of these splendid flowers was nothing short from love and passion.

John paid and lifted the flower slowly and carefully, then bowed to the old lady and headed for the door. The store owner did not stop speaking until John was out of the flower shop.

-What did she say while I was heading to the door?

-She say: you take good care of flower and Yue Ying. You born under good stars. You lucky and you have good destiny in front.

-Did she say if I will be able to stop Tony and my neighbor stealing from Glenworth?

-Don’t understand…who stealing?

-Never mind said John while bursting into laughter. It was a joke!

-Oh…you joke! Ha, ha, ha! You joker, Mr. Parker.

-I believe I am…John was still laughing hard when he entered the car. He decided to sit into the front seat as he had to protect that valuable thing he was planning to give to Yue Ying. He put the seat belt on and wrapped his hands around the flower he was holding the way a mother holds her baby after birth. And he was right to do so, as Xiǎo lǐzǐ stepped hard onto the accelerator, following his natural habit. John shook his head and once again the same question came up: “Why is this guy so fond of killing those pedals? I guess I will just have to live with this. He is a valuable asset. He knows the city very well and he actually took me to Yue Ying. Was this just a coincidence? What if he has his own role into this story or curse or whatever else could be called? No, I am getting paranoiac now. I hope that Chang mao dashi will take my offer and we will be done. The question is: what would he want in return? I guess it won’t be too long before we will find out”

John turned his eye sight to the right passenger window while looking at the trees on the side of the roads pass by one by one; his mind started wandering through the intricacies of this story which turned his life upside down. His assignment, Vic, Zhaohui, Mr. Wang, his strange neighbors – who apparently belong to one of the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty – and now, Yue Ying. “Who is she? Does she hold a role into the story too? What sort of role? Why did I get so attracted to her from the moment I saw her for the first time in the street, on my first day in Shanghai? And now she is waiting for me in my hotel room…how will this story end? Zhaohui mentioned that she is responsible to close this cosmological circle from her side of the family – which is the Imperial family of Chongzen Emperor. On the other hand, my neighbors are the descendants of Yuan Chonghuan – the general executed by the Emperor due to Court intrigues – and they have the same task as Zhaohui. Very peculiar story. I just hope that will end soon. How will it end? Probably not even Mr. Wang knows”

It was the moment when the cab reached the entrance of the hotel. John pushed hard into his legs as he knew that Xiǎo lǐzǐ will slam onto the brakes. He did the right thing. Once he reached the destination, he hit the brakes in a way that made John congratulate himself for the decision he had made – to prop into his legs as solidly as he could. When out of the car, he reached for the wallet but to his surprise Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded in a negative way and said:

-No Mr. Parker! You pay me at market, remember? It is good.

-Are you sure it’s enough?

-Yes Mr. Parker. You have good night.

-Thank you Xiǎo lǐzǐ and you have a good night too.

Xiǎo lǐzǐ got into his car and according to his habits, hit the accelerator pedal hard, leaving a trace of fumes coming out of his exhaust pipe. John shook again his head and murmured: “at least he is an honest man”

When he entered the apartment, Yue Ying was already sleeping on the couch with the TV still on. John carefully took the remote from her hand and turned the TV off. Then slowly headed towards the office area and placed the flower onto the desk. When returning to the living room, he grabbed a thick blanket that was laying onto an arm chair and covered her. From the bedroom he brought a pillow and placed under her head. Finally he headed for the bedroom, got into his pajamas and called it a day.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 50 – John and Yue Ying (II)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 50

John and Yue Ying (II)

Soon, Yue Ying found herself so busy in trying different types of jeans, pants, shirts and dresses that she completely forgot about the old lady and John. The two girls who greeted them at the entrance were buzzing around her like two working bees…one would say that Yue Ying’s got two personal assistants who were delighted to work for her and bring from the back of the store the items she was requesting. It was clear that both girls smelled a nice tip from the handsome westerner who was accompanying Yue Ying. John was giving his opinion from time to time and was making suggestions on color matching or style assortment. A regular, normal cloths trying event turned into almost a frenzy of clothes and shoes shopping.

However, John’s eyes were still on the old lady, trying to scrutinize and catch the slightest gesture of emotion or attempt towards communication. Not a sign of such relief was coming from that direction as she was carefully watching the activity taking place into her store. The same enigmatic and cold smile was imprinted on her lips. “This woman is made out of marble! There is no any sort of emotion whatsoever showing up on her face!” John was disappointed to say the least. In a sign of distress, he started walking through the store, apparently looking interested into the items which were displayed on the wall.

All of a sudden, while looking into a mirror, he realized that the door to the back of the store slowly opened up and a girl came out. John froze! He was not moving anymore, he was not even blinking…apparently he was looking at a pair of blue jeans he was holding into his hand. However, his eyes were on the mirror, scrutinizing every motion, every move the girl was making. She looked so familiar! While out in the store, she spoke to the old lady by whispering for a couple of minutes into her ear. The mimic on the lady’s face did not change…same imperturbable expression, same stony look and same cold and enigmatic smile. Then, as elusively as she came through the door, she slipped back into the storage room of the store leaving the door cracked open.

“Interesting…she is not shutting the door closed. Is she interested in whatever it’s being discussed here? Where did I see this girl before? I definitely know her from somewhere…but where from?”

John turned around and he could only smile…Yue Ying was like a kid into a candy store: she was trying everything she was touching or the two helpers were bringing to her to try out. “Not much work left for me in this area”. He looked again at the old woman behind the counter…nothing changed in her stance, posture, face expression or behavior. “Is she alive? God, she is not moving! Maybe I need to poke her to make sure she is not a ghost!” That being said, John turned around and headed for the door. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting outside, looking at the crowd and cracking from time to time a conversation with the owner of the store across the alley. It was one of those small little ma and pa shops that were selling everything: from fake purse brands and watches to travel luggage and cheap cloths. John stopped on the upper entrance step and looked around. A sea of people moving in two directions at a speed which was greatly reduced by the narrow alleys and the little stands (covered with merchandises); some of these stands were nothing else but foldable tables which were taken inside at the end of the day. Unfortunately, they were chocking the normal flow inside of the huge commercial center and you would have to bump into other people had you wanted to get by. “Unbelievable! So many people! Now I can grasp on the idea called: market size. This is truly a huge market. The problem is that their mentality is funneled towards saving not spending. Hopefully the new generation will change this unproductive and ancient way of life”

All of a sudden, his attention was drawn to one of the alleys which was on a straight angle to the one they walked to get to the store. The girl he saw in the mirror inside of the store came from the closest side alley and John realized that the back of the store was facing that particular access way. She looked like she was in a rush as she was trying to quickly squeeze herself through the sea of people coming from all the directions. John made a quick move: he crossed the alley and without hesitation pulled 150 RMB from his pocket, gave it to the business owner across the store and grabbed a fleece hoodie. In few seconds he put it on and pulled the hoodie in a way which was only allowing his face to be seen. Then turned around and went back to the store where a dismayed Xiǎo lǐzǐ was looking at him the way one would look at a ghost.

-I need you to do something for me, please. Listen carefully: I am giving you my card, you will pay for everything she buys. Here it is another five hundred RMB…you give those two girls a good tip, understand? Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded affirmatively but John could actually see that the eyes of his driver were betraying a great amount of amazement and astonishment. The rest is yours for the trips, ok? You take Yue Ying back to the hotel. Here it is the access card from the room. I hope I won’t be long. Tell her to wait for me in the hotel room. Do you understand what I am asking from you? Again the cab driver nodded and this made John feel at ease.

-OK, I have to go now…I trust you, Xiǎo lǐzǐ! This last sentence motivated somehow the man standing on the stairs and to John’s pleasure, the cab driver said:

-No worry, Mr. Parker. I take Yue Ying back hotel. No worry. Thank you for this…it was the moment when Xiǎo lǐzǐ showed John those five one hundred RMB bills while a large smile on his face. John was already on the alley and heading towards the direction he saw the mysterious girl heading. However, he turned around and looking at Xiǎo lǐzǐ, he cautioned him:

-You will have to give the two girls from the store a good tip from that too, I hope we have an understanding here.

-Of course Mr. Parker…good tip girls. I know.

-Alright, you are a great help and a true asset to this operation.

-Thank you, Mr. Parker! John was already gone, and at this point he was trying hard to blend into the crowd. There was a problem though: his height was making the mission of blending into the crowd almost impossible. However, John was now heavily relying on his hoodie to keep him as incognito as possible.

John left some good distance between him and the girl he was following; however, the stands on the alley were giving him all sort of trouble in trying to keep the pace at which she was walking and in the same time to make himself the least visible as possible.

It was not long before the girl stopped, turned around and carefully scouted the crowd around her. John moved behind one of the stands and started talking to the owner. Obviously that the poor man was shocked to see first of all such a tall and large westerner stopping at his stand and talk to him like he knew that English was not a problem for him. He started speaking Chinese back to John. All this time John had his eyes on the girl he was following. The hoodie was covering his face, but he wanted extra protection, so he bought an umbrella from the store owner. Opened it up and simulating that he is trying all the features the umbrella possessed, he was actually watching every move she was making.

Eventually she took another side alley and disappeared. John followed her immediately, only to realize that the alley was ending up into the door steps of a large three level house. He could actually see how the girl he was following entered the house, not before checking again the surroundings. He was now stuck! He obviously couldn’t read what was written on each side of the entrance door but he assumed it was a temple as it had that particular traditional pagoda roof shape. The letters were yellow and were greatly contrasting with the wooden walls all painted into a nice red color.

John placed his index fingers at his temples, in a sign of: “Think, John! Think!” His years and years of Football training taught him that no matter how dire the situation was, there would always be a way out of it. “Common, man! You wait here for her to get out, then what? She will go back to the store…what’s the point of waiting? I have to get into that temple or whatever it is. But how do I get in? Is it accessible to anybody? What if there is security on the other side of the door? Well…I guess there is only one way to find out”. John was ready to move to the direction of the red building in front of him when the phone rang. It was Vic. The first instinct was to dodge again his calls, but a great idea crossed his mind. He picked up the phone call.

-Hey…where are you John? Why didn’t come to the office? Why aren’t you picking up my phone calls?

-Relax, man! I’ve been busy.

-I know you were busy, for crying out loud! John could hear at the other end a great, healthy laughter, a laughter so familiar already.

-Ok, ok, ok…you can laugh as much as you want. I don’t care.

-Hey, listen…I didn’t mean to insult you, but I want to ask you a question.

-Yeah, go ahead, Vic

-Was the honey sweet or really, really sweet? Another round of laughter was heard at the other end and John already felt like hanging up on his friend.

-I will hang up on you!

-No, no, no…sorry man! I just couldn’t stop it.

-I know, you bastard! I know! You couldn’t wait for an occasion like this one. Just couldn’t!

-Alright, man! Alright…I am chilling now. Sorry again. So, are you in trouble again?

-As usual…another round of laughter (this time from both ends of the line) broke the silence and it was for twenty or so seconds before they both cooled down and started a conversation.

-Listen, Vic…this is what happened today. John tried to be as concise as possible as he started to tell the story from the moment he walked out of the hotel. The strange man who served them lunch and looked alike Mr. Wang, the lady from the cloths store who intrigued John at a level which almost made him lose his patience and this enigmatic girl who was now inside of this nice house, a girl he saw in the past, but he just couldn’t remember where.

-Wow! It’s unbelievable! The moment I leave you alone, you get in trouble. They both pulled another round of laughter from their chests, only to be followed by few seconds of silence.

-Vic, listen up please…I am going to take a photo of this building (which intrigues me) and send it to you. I need you to read whatever it says on the front, on each side of the door. Don’t hang up. We will do this real time.

-Ok. Go for it. I will wait.

It took few seconds before John made the picture and sent it to Vic.

-Jesus!

-What? What does it say? There was silence at Vic’s end, a silence which made John tremble from anxiety.

-It says: “The Order of the Nine Orchids”

John felt how a cold sweat was running down his spine and his hands were now shaking in a way which almost made him drop the phone.

-So this girl (a girl I just can’t remember where I saw before) went inside of the “Nine Orchids” building! What is her connection to the Order? Was she connected to his neighbors: Chang mao dashi or Jian Dashi?

-I don’t know, man…I started being afraid. Get your butt back to the hotel. John, you need to move. Zhaohui asked you to do it. I am asking too. You just wouldn’t listen, man!

-Vic, I don’t want to exhaust the negotiation venue with Chang mao dashi.

-John, he is going to kill you! And maybe myself and Zhaohui as well.

-Why would he do that?

-Because we are slowly uncovering his tracks, maybe we are not far away from finding that bug planted at Glenworth.

-How about the curse, Vic? Is it still supposed to close? Is there something special that must happen to close this curse? You heard Zhaohui…and Wang…what if this girl who stepped into this house is the key to unveiling the road to bring Chang mao dashi down?

– I don’t know what to say, man…what do you want to do? Are you still going to follow this girl?

-Yes. I need to figure out how I know her, where we met, what is her link to this story.

-OK. If this is what you want…by the way: are you coming to the office tomorrow?

-I don’t know. It all depends on how this night will end up.

-I understand…Vic pulled another laughter which made John uncomfortable in spite of the fact that it was Vic.

-Hey…I meant: depends on what I find out about this mysterious girl.

-I got it, man! Common John, you can’t take a joke anymore?

-Alright. I know you are a joker! I let you go, but I need you to do me a favor: please call Xiǎo lǐzǐ and ask him where he is. I told him to take Yue Ying to the hotel when she is done shopping.

-OK. By the way: who is Xiǎo lǐzǐ anyway?

-The cab driver who took us to Black Swan last night.

-That’s his name? I think I have his card…let me check. Bingo! I have his card, I will call him and then give you a shout back.

-OK. Thanks, Vic!

-Alright! Take care and stay safe out there. How are you going to get back to the hotel?

-Don’t worry, I will grab a cab. I am a big boy.

-Careful, John! There are areas in the town where there is never a good idea to be at night, especially if you are a foreigner.

-No worries my friend…no worries. I will make it through the night. I just need to know that Yue Ying is safe.

-Great! We’ll talk later, I guess.

After hanging up, John started weighing his options. “I am so close to the lion’s den! I have in front of me the famous “Nine Orchids Order” established by the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty. And my neighbors are part of it. What does this Order do? What is “Nine Orchid”? What does it mean to belong to such highly regarded Order? If the people who are part of it are descendants of those great families, how are they coping with the official Chinese Political system? I am not sure that the Communist Party would allow this sort of Organizations to thrive. How come that they are out there in the open? I need to find out somehow what’s going on in there…but how? This is the question!”

John looked around him and his first thought was to find a spot where he could watch the entrance without being seen. A vendor selling all sort of Baseball hats, T-shirts, shirts, sweat pants and many other cotton made products had a stand by his side. The site of the westerner man standing so close to his business venue apparently awoke the entrepreneurial spirit inside the vendor, as he became extremely talkative. John was listening to him but in the same time he was assessing his situation into the field. This place could’ve been the perfect spot for spying and keeping an eye on the door. The decision was made on the fly: he started talking to the vendor. His English and the man’s Chinese, turned into a veritable mumbo-jumbo, a conversation which would’ve made a bystander die from laughing. But John had a plan and was playing according to the set strategy. After many minutes of arguing on the price for a baseball hat (John was obviously just trying to buy time while keeping his eyes on the building in front of him), he purchased a hat, put it on and then pulled the hoodie on top of it. Now his whole face was covered by the visor of the hat and his scouting was secure. In order to kill some time, he walked across the alley and bought two pieces of corn on the cob which was sold by an ambulant vendor. He gave one to the man from which he bought the hat and continued his watching duty. Patience was something he was not excelling at and this was a flaw in his game during his Football career. He wanted to make things happen, he always wanted to throw that ball and put points on the board. Running game was not up his alley and this was something he struggled with his whole sports playing career. But this time he knew he had no choice. He had to be patient. And so, he started another conversation with the vendor, who was now trying to sell him a cane. Initially, John burst into laughter and asked him: “Why do you think I need a cane to walk with?” But then an idea crossed his mind: “Why not buy it? I could use it either as a weapon, or to disguise an old man’s walk. Once he made his intention clear that he wants to buy the cane, another round of negotiations started which made John even more comfortable standing by the vendor’s stand and watch the door.

Eventually the girl came out and the same routine followed – as when she entered: she looked around and scrutinized the market. John pulled his visor down as low as he could and tried to take cover behind few hangers which had sweat shirts on them. His eyes were watching every movement the girl was making. Before she started walking down stairs, she turned around and made a “good bye” sign to somebody from inside who accompanied her to the door. John was dying to see the face of that person. His wish came through as the head of an old man with long, white beard came out through the door and started scrutinizing the market place himself. John thought that he recognized him as the old man from one of the pictures taken by his detectives last week, at the funeral where they followed his neighbors. He pulled the zipper of his sweatshirt all the way up and made sure that his visor was completely covering his face. It didn’t take too long before the girl passed by and headed back towards the store. John took as much cover as he could, but he never took his eyes off her. He started following her back not before giving the vendor two one hundred RMB bills for the cane; apparently was a good deal for the vendor, as he started bowing in a universal gesture of thankfulness and gratitude.

John could barely keep up with her, as he always had to stop and simulate bargaining for a product whenever the girl was turning around. Yes, the girl was well instructed not to leave any traces behind her and she was using her knowledge so well that made John murmur: “Damn she is good! She knows how to slide into the crowd only to come back up wherever to expect the least. I hope that my disguising wardrobe was good enough for the perfect cover”

It didn’t take long before she reached the store. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was not there anymore, as John suspected. The night was now covering the whole market and the vendors were preparing to close the shops. And so was the old lady, the woman “made out of stone” as John named her before leaving to follow the girl. John took again cover as much as he could, with the cap fully covering his face while the hoodie was providing another layer of protection. Soon, the lady closed the door and pulled the blinds down. The light was still left on in the store, but John could actually see her heading towards the rear of the store. “I am just wondering if there is a back alley behind the store…” John took a street that was running perpendicular to the main alley and then hanged a left. And yes, the back alley looked like a street which was used by vendors to bring their goods through; it was a loading and unloading alley. “Well, now which door do I guard? Which door are they going to use? Keeping in mind that the old lady closed the front door, I can only assume that this will be their exit. Let’s wait and see”

John was right. Both women eventually came out through the alley door and then stopped. The old lady made a phone call. Shortly a limousine showed up out of nowhere. John didn’t realize that the superb, hot, expensive car just passed by him. He froze! As he had not seen the car coming and passing so close to him, he assumed that the people inside of the limo recognized him in spite of the fact that he had a good cover behind some wooden skids and a pile of cardboard boxes. This was the limousine in which he saw few days ago his neighbors leaving for that funeral. A door in the back opened up and the old lady got in not before giving some instructions to the young girl. The limo departed and John could see the girl rapidly walking in the opposite direction. When she passed by, John ducked as much as he could behind the pile of cardboard packaging. He started following her and (as he was not familiar with the area) soon found out that it was hard to keep pace with her. The streets were not too dark as they were lit up to a decent level. However, John had to keep a safe distance not to blow his cover up. All of a sudden a taxi pulled in front of her and she got in. John was now desperate. “How am I going to keep up with this car? Think, John! Think!” He started looking around for help. A feel of helplessness encompassed him when all of a sudden a cab pulled right by his side. A huge sigh of relief came out of his chest:

-Thanks God! You are a savior, Xiǎo lǐzǐ!

-I know Mr. Parker! This time his face had a waggish look which made John burst into a huge laughter.

-Follow that car then, Mr. NASCAR!

It was all Xiǎo lǐzǐ needed: his foot hit the accelerator so hard that made John hit the head rest at an impact which pulled another (soft but this time angry) cry to himself: “No, I made up my mind! That’s it! This guy is (or becomes) mental when getting behind the wheel. Unfortunately he is always present when you need him! I should probably say: fortunately he is always at the right place at the right time. He took me to the place where I met Yue Ying, after all”

A smile came up on his lips:

-Hey Xiǎo lǐzǐ…did you get to the hotel alright? How is Yue Ying?

-Yes, she ok. She try cloths. Many clothes! A good and healthy laughter came out of his chest which made John smile and switch his attention to his mission.

-Don’t lose that car!

-No worry Mr. Parker. I no lose car. You good hands!

-Alright then. I know I am in good hands…at least until you step on the brakes, for crying out loud!

-What you say?

-Nothing. Please stay close to the car in front of you. That’s all.

-You no worry Mr. Parker! I drive!

“And that’s why I’m mostly afraid of…John grabbed the back of the front seat and prepared himself for the first occasion when Xiǎo lǐzǐ would step on the brakes.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 49 – John and Yue Ying (I)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 49

John and Yue Ying (I)

The little ma and pa shop was something totally new for John. He had never been into such small authentic little shops. Everything was jam-packed – obviously in an attempt to fit as many customers as possible into the given space. Two little windows facing the street were providing the necessary day light. In spite of the fact that it was just around 3 pm, the place was almost dark. No artificial light was provided and this was giving the visitors a mysterious feeling and the place an almost creepy look. The walls were covered in bamboo wood; mystical masks representing characters from the Chinese Mythology were hanging from the ceiling and from the side walls. The light from outside was desperately trying to make its way in, but the windows were grossly under-dimensioned to serving this objective and maybe this was done on purpose. The feeling of creepiness and unease encompassed John. “What the hell am I doing in this place? Why did that numb nut from outside took us to this shack?” He took a look at Yue Ying; apparently she was not bothered at all by the environment as she was looking around for a free table. John’s heart came to an ease seeing her completely undisturbed by the look of the establishment they just stepped in. “Well, hopefully the noodles are good in this place”. And yes, the place chosen by the cab driver was only making noodle soups. It didn’t take long before the owner (or the manager of the place) showed up. He was already anticipating a good business endeavor, seeing a westerner in his shop. He deeply bowed and started asking questions. Obviously Yue Ying was carrying the conversation while John was trying to smile and put a look onto his face, (a look which was mimicking a certain level of conversation understanding). Obviously he had no clue on what Yue Ying and the owner (or manager) were talking about.

-He say upstairs better, more room, not so busy, but more expensive. He owner.

-Great, then let’s go upstairs! It will be for sure money well spent. Both of them laughed and Yue Ying told their host that they want to go to the second level.

The little old man made a sign and took them in the back and then upstairs through a wooden staircase. The staircase was horribly squeaking and made John startle. It reminded him of his first day in Shanghai when Mr. Wang took him and Vic to the back room of his restaurant; on their way he saw that wooden staircase where a mysterious woman (which never showed her face) was always present at the top of the stairs. This place started making him feel nervous. However, he trusted Yue Ying and the fact that she was not bothered at all about the looks of the establishment, made him cool down.

At the second level, there was a totally different environment: The windows were larger and thus were allowing a greater amount of sun light. There were only five tables, thus signaling the fact that this level was a sort of “VIP” level. At the moment when they took a seat, only one other table was taken. This made John understand that the prices for dining upstairs were significant higher than at the main level. Shortly after they took a seat, the owner came back with the menu. John startled and felt like he needed to catch a breath: the little man in front of him was a carbon copy of Mr. Wang! The round face, the little strand of hair he was trying to use in order to cover the whole frontal area, the sharp, intelligent and investigative eyes behind the glasses made John believe that this individual was Mr. Wang’s twin brother. There were so many similarities between Wang and him! “This is unbelievable! How many brothers are they? It is Mr. Wang, it’s this guy and then it is the owner from Black Swan – which I do believe that has some ties to Mr. Wang…there was too much resemblance in spite of the fact that he was all the time trying to conceal his face by standing into the shadow. This is unreal! Are all of them linked to the curse?” John shook his head and grabbed the menu. Everything was in Mandarin, so he refrained at looking at the pictures. However, he couldn’t stop scrutinizing the man in front of them while pretending that he is reading from the menu. The many conversations he had with different people (into the short time he had been in China) about the curse, started surfacing again…this time though, through another piece of the puzzle which stepped in: Yue Ying! John looked at her while still simulating that he was interested into the culinary offer. “Who is she? Why did she so intempestively and abruptly butted into my life? Why did we have the amazing night we just had? Are we in love with each other? What is her role into this story? Does she have anything to do with the curse?” John was again completely lost into the intricacy of the story. It was the time when Yue Ying grabbed his hand and ask him what he wanted. John startled and looked at her. Her gorgeous eyes put a smile on his face:

-I have no idea what to order. I am assuming everything is fresh and good.

-Everything fresh, Mister. We make here. His hand stretched into a direction and John realized that the establishment had a little kitchen at the second level too.

-What do you think, Yue Ying?

-Everything looks good. I order noodles with vegetables and beef.

-OK, then. Make it two.

-They have many options: shrimp, chicken, fish…

-That’s OK. Whatever you are having, I am having.

-OK, two beef and vegetable noddle soups for you. It will be ten minutes.

-Thank you, Sir!

It was John’s turn to grab her hand. Until their meal showed up, both of them looked into each other’s eyes, smiled and held hands tight. One would’ve said that they just met after a long time of separation and were trying to catch up where they left it off. Yue Ying’s big, black eyes were looking at John in a way which would’ve made a neutral observer realize right away that she was deeply in love with him.

-Soups for you! Enjoy!

Two big bowls of soup were now resting in front of them. The smell of freshly chopped parsley and green onions sprinkled on top was making their nostrils dilate and deeply inhale. It was a happy combination of vegetables, rice noodles, and beef broth in which few pieces of meat and marrow were freely floating. However, John had a problem: in spite of the fact that he was more than able to handle the chop sticks, he never tried to eat a soup using the traditional Chinese eating utensils. Whenever he was ready to put the noodles into his mouth, they were simply slipping through his chop sticks and falling back into the bowl to Yue Ying’s great amusement. After few tries, he signaled that he is ready to give up trying to eat with chop sticks…

-No, no, no…you must try. I help.

-No, I don’t need help…I can do this! John tried again, but the soft, slippery noodles just wouldn’t listen to him and they were inevitably ending up at the bottom of the bowl.

-I help. You listen! Yue Ying’s voice was demanding this time. John looked at her and then affirmatively nodded. Yue Ying pulled a chair beside John’s and grabbed his hand, carefully adjusting the way his fingers were supposed to grip the sticks.

-Now you choose: bring bowl close to mouth or bring head down close to bowl.

-Obviously I am not going to do the first one…so, I guess I am just going to tilt my head closer to the bowl.

-Yes. You do that!

John listened and fished again for the noodles. This time he managed to grab a decent quantity and took it to the mouth; it was an instant success. Yue Ying clapped and cheered, the same way a mother would do it when she is seeing progress made by her child in performing new tasks. She moved back and the rest of the time they talked and laughed and enjoyed a nice soup. One would say that they had been known each other for ages, as no barriers whatsoever remained between them. The small talk, the laughter and the happy moments were greatly enjoyed by both of them. John remembered that the cab driver was waiting for them…

-Oh… Xiǎo lǐzǐ must be already bored. We need to go. John put his hand up in the air. The owner saw the gesture and immediately showed up.

-Everything good? OK everything?

-It was delicious. Bill please.

-Yes, Sir! One hundred RMB.

-Sure. Here it is the money. You have a good day. John stood up and headed for the stairs when all of a sudden turned around and asked the man:

-Do you have a brother in the city? Or maybe…two brothers?

John couldn’t help but seeing the face of the man changing colors while the physiognomy turned from an upbeat and jovial look into a gloomy and unfriendly one. “What did I say? I just asked him if he had one or maybe two brother in the city. What did I do wrong?”

-I thank you for your business, Sir! His right hand was already stretched towards the staircase, basically telling John that he is expected to leave.

Once they were out from the establishment, Yue Ying grabbed his hand and while lifting herself up on the toes to reach John’s ear, she murmured:

-I think…something not good with man inside.

-This is what I told myself…what did I say wrong? Why did his mood change so drastically? I just asked him if he had more brothers into the town…

-Never mind. We had good meal! Her face was all smile and the cheeks were showing now those superb hues which were making the whole physiognomy so friendly looking, pure and happy!

-Yes, it was a good meal! Today I learnt how to eat noodles with the chop sticks! It is a good day already! John started laughing and shortly he was accompanied by Yue Ying. Her vocal chords pulled a crystalline and jovial laugh out of her chest which followed her inside of the car.

-Where we go?

-Please take us to a store where we can buy some more comfortable cloths.

-OK. I know good store. I take you there.

-Alright. Let’s do it!

The usual second gear start up followed. This time John was ready for it; he had enough time to grab Yue Ying and plant his legs against the front seat. In another two seconds, the driver was already in the third gear and then into the fourth. “He is definitely crazy!” John told himself. But now he was saying it while laughing and enjoying the fact that he had Yue Ying into his arms.

The stores were all one level or maximum two level shops and were located into a busy commercial market. John was stunned! There were probably hundreds of little gift shops where one could’ve bought anything you could imagine. John was almost one head above everybody else and thus he was able to admire the crowd and the immensity of the place. “Man, if I get lost here, I am doomed!” Both Yue Ying and Xiǎo lǐzǐ were walking in front of him. His eyes were into a continuous alert, trying not to lose them and in the same time trying to find some stores where they could buy some more comfortable clothes for Yue Ying.

Eventually the cab driver pointed towards a store to the left, a store which looked a little different from any other stores. The front window was large and artificial mannequins were placed into display. The whole establishment had a more refined look than others…it was almost like this one did not belong to this place. Once they entered, two associates greeted them and started asking questions to which Yue Ying was quickly responding.

John didn’t bother listening…he couldn’t understand a word anyway. His curiosity was again kicking in and according to his habit of sticking his nose into everything, started wandering through the store looking at products. At the end of the shop there was a desk and the cash register. Nobody was there. However, a door towards the back was cracked open and he understood that the shop’s warehouse was probably in the back. His fine ear picked up whisperings behind the door. It was enough for him to direct all of his attention that direction. In spite of the fact that he couldn’t understand what they were talking about, he thought that he recognized a familiar voice tonality. He was now all ears…

Suddenly, the door opens up and a woman into her seventies (or even eighties) comes out. She didn’t look at all surprised to see somebody standing not far away from the now opened door. John’s eyes immediately caught a silhouette sliding into the dark, upstairs…”So there is a staircase going up to the second level. Interesting. And somebody just went upstairs as mysteriously and elusively as possible. Great! Here it is another Mr. Wang story!”

The woman had a face which was so wrinkled that one would say she was a mummy just coming out of the sarcophagi. The hands were at least as wrinkled as the face while the tanned skin was greatly contrasting with the white hair. Her attire was not the regular run down, neglected attire of a merchant from the area. One could actually see a certain level of sophistication in the way she was dressed, especially a superb thin gold chain hanging down from her neck. John was trying hard to decipher the meaning of the green jade figure which was resting on her chest. It was a superb piece of jewelry and John just couldn’t stop admiring it. He was fascinated by the beauty of the precious stone which was encircled by a black ring, a ring that had the freedom to slide alongside the chain, obviously. The shirt was white and classy with two large lapels which were covering the lapels of the nice red suit jacket she was wearing. The black ring of the precious jade was contrasting so beautifully with the white of the shirt while the green jade was matching so greatly the red coat! John smiled and with a sincere voice, complimented the woman standing in front of him:

-It looks nice on you. The necklace is so beautiful! What does that green jade represent? John simply rolled all these questions without even asking himself if she was able to speak any word in English. Quickly he realized that she didn’t speak the language he was speaking and to get out of an uncomfortable situation, decided to use the universal language of mimicking. He pointed towards the jade and then did a “thumb up”. Woman’s face lightened up and tilted the head discretely in a sign of “thank you”. Now John found himself into an even more delicate situation: he was looking at the woman and she was looking at him, probably waiting for him to say something else. John made the sign of a chain imaginary placed around his neck, then pointed towards hers and did again a “thumb up”. Once again she tilted her head in a “thank you” sign.

Unfortunately for John, this was the last idea he could come up with and he was now in a desperate need of help. The lady behind the counter was by no means too vocative or too willing to entertain him – probably she realized that it would’ve been a futile effort as she couldn’t speak any English. The salvation came from Yue Ying. Once she finished taking a peak through the store, she saw him at the counter trying to desperately initiate a conversation with the old lady. She approached the counter, grabbed John’s arm and quickly asked:

-Can I help?

-Absolutely! Would you mind telling this lady that I absolutely love that necklace of hers and I especially like that green jade enclosed into that black case? Yue Ying translated and once again the old lady’s face brightened up. A short conversation between the two women started up. John was listening, in an attempt to catch something…anything.

-She say: “Thank you; you gentleman”

-Oh, thank you very much mam! John turned towards the old lady and tilted his head forward, thus showing a great deal of respect.

-She also say that you handsome.

-Once again, mam…I thank you very much. For the second time, John tilted his head in a thank you sign. Yue Ying looked at him and quickly grabbed him by the neck with her arms and passionately kissed him. It was a gesture which put a smile on woman’s face. John felt a little embarrassed and slowly pushed Yue Ying back while whispering into her ear:

-We are in public…

-I don’t care, promptly came back from Yue Ying while pulling his head closer, so she can kiss him again. It was a long and passionate kiss, one of those kisses that are happening before one’s departure for an unknown amount of time.

The old woman behind the counter was scrutinizing every move they were making and one could see an enigmatic smile on her face. Her whole attention was now directed at the couple in front of her. Yue Ying eventually let go and was now looking straight into the woman’s eyes. This exchange of sights was not even close to being friendly. John picked up right away the hostility hidden behind that smile which the old lady had on her face. “Oops…she is not happy. Probably the last exhibit of affection from Yue Ying did not go too well with a person who potentially has a conservative and traditions based education. That look of hers, in spite of the smile I can see, is meant to be thrown at somebody you either do not like, or you despise. Things are getting a little dicey in this moment. I think it’s time for me to step in.”

-So, did you find anything you liked?

-Yes, but not want buy here. Let’s go.

-Why? They have nice stuff and the store is big and clean.

It was the moment when one of the two girls who greeted them in the beginning offered her services to help. The timing was perfect as one would’ve been able to pick up a certain level of hostility floating into the air.

-Of course you can help us! It was John who spoke. He did it from two reasons: first one, he didn’t want to start looking around for another store as all the establishments in that commercial center were small, jam-packed into each other and he didn’t really like their quality.

Secondly, his immense natural curiosity wanted to find out more about the back room and the person who elusively slipped upstairs when seeing him. He was actually dying from knowing who that person was, what is the purpose of this nice, elegant and spacious store so awkwardly placed into a regular traditional commercial center and who the old lady behind the counter was? Her smile was so enigmatic and intriguing, so cold and emotionless! His gut feeling was telling him that something was not right with this place and he may be able to find some leads into his investigation.

 

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 48 – John and Yue Ying

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 48

John and Yue Ying

A large smile encompassed his whole face. His eyes were now bathing into Yue Ying’s. There was no verbal communication between them, just an infinite ocean of feelings ranging from amazement to perplexity, from wonder and astonishment to bewilderment or from kindness to something still undefined, something John just couldn’t put his finger onto…yet.

Leaning into her right elbow, Yue Ying was now tirelessly stroking his hair with the left hand fingers, while her long, thick, black hair was now completely resting on John’s chest. She just couldn’t have enough of that regular brushing motion. From time to time their lips were joining into a long and passionate kiss, only to come apart for another round of eye contact, another round of attempts to understand what is actually happening to them.

Their bodies were becoming one during those numerous kissing rounds. John’s strong arms were encircling her hips while hers were clinging into a tight grip around his neck. There was so much intimacy, lust and candidness between them that one would believe they will never get out of that bed and that they have been waiting for this to happen for an eternity. And yet, this was just the prelude to more and more kissing and eventually to passionate love making. Her tanned skin, hard breasts and dark brown nipples were turning John on, over and over. It looked like there was no end to this intercourse endeavor, to the techniques they were adopting while making love, to the numerous times they were switching positions to get on top of each other. It was wild, it was passionate and it was something one would remember for the rest of his life.

Eventually both of them wore out and separated from the long love making and hugging. Their eye sights were now staring at the ceiling while heavily panting. The blankets were peacefully resting on the floor, while the bed sheets were a mess of sweat and wrinkles. The pillows had the same fate as the bed sheets…one would say that the covers were just pulled out of the washing machine and were waiting for the next round into the dryer. Yue Ying was holding hers into the arms. The immense pillow was covering her heavenly looking breasts, her flat stomach, the hips and the intimate zone. It was a sign of bashfulness which didn’t go by without being observed by John. He smiled and tossed his pillow onto the floor showing his sculptured abs and great pecs.

A long moment of quietness followed. Just their panting breaths were heard into the silence of the morning. John grabbed his cell phone…five phone calls from Vic were shown on the call display. He smiled and even giggled: “He must be asking himself where I am and why I am not into the office. It’s alright, my friend. We’ll catch up later”. Then he turned towards Yue Ying leaning into his left elbow; their eyes met again and yet another long and passionate kiss joined their thirsty lips, kiss which inevitably led towards a carnal closeness. John slowly removed the pillow from her arms. Her gorgeous body was now fully exposed to John’s hungry eyes and unstoppable lust. His right hand fingers were delicately playing with the gorgeous hard nipples, making her moan from pleasure. Slowly and skillfully he started cupping and squeezing the breasts. She was trembling from pleasure which made John become more and more aggressive and insistent. Eventually his hand made its way downward towards the intimate area, only resting for few moments on the tight, narrow hips. Yue Ying was murmuring into John’s ear things he couldn’t understand but he was guessing that they were words of ultimate physical pleasure, words from the love making arsenal, words which obviously had no borders or language barriers to be understood.

Their bodies became one once again and another round of passionate, wild, meaningful love making encompassed them; it seemed like the time had stopped and the otherwise quiet bedroom was now witnessing panted breaths, moans of pleasure and uncontrollable kissing sessions.

There was so much passion written into their eyes that one would say these two bodies have just met after an eternity of separation, after centuries of being apart from each other. It was something hard to comprehend and explain in words.

The love making took a turn for the unexpected: John lifted Yue Ying into his arms and headed for the bathroom. Under the warm streams of the shower head mixed up with a flood of body lotion, the two bodies were desperately trying to find the rhythm which would enhance the pleasure. The bodies were now slippery; Yue Ying’s legs encircled John’s hips, barely holding onto a tight grip. John knew that if he wanted that good, healthy, meaningful penetration, he had to help. His forearms were placed underneath her hamstring muscles while his fingers were deeply digging and grasping into the two superb buttocks. Eventually both of them found that common synchronized motion, a motion which was making them moan, groan and sigh from pleasure. The penetration was deep and the pleasure so great that made Yue Ying tilt her head backwards at the maximum extent the neck would allow. Her long black hair was now flowing downwards; her left hand was holding the back of John’s neck while her right palm was pushing into his strong pecs into an attempt to limit the amount of ingress. But John was in no mood whatsoever to let go or into the spirit of showing mercy. He kept pounding hard, making Yue Ying moan from pleasure.

However, this position was not suitable and sustainable for a long run due to the great physical effort required especially from the man’s side. Eventually John wore out and let go. He had to…in spite of the fact that he was in an excellent shape, the last sexual endeavor took a toll on him; he was heavily panting while resting his head on her left shoulder. His hands were holding tight onto her hips while hers were joined together around his neck. It was a long moment of quietness, a moment in which both bodies felt like one. That long embrace was accompanied just by the whisper of the small streams of warm water coming out from the shower head. It was relaxing, it was peaceful and it was an opportunity for both of them to catch their breaths. John turned off the tap and stepped out of the shower cabin. Yue Ying followed. John took her into his arms again and headed now back to the bedroom. The bed sheets were all sweaty from the passionate night they had. Neither one of them cared anymore. Yue Ying was now on top of him and the regular up and down motion was bringing back that great feel of lust and pleasure. Apparently she did not want to give John once again the control over the penetrating act. Both her breasts were now exposed in all their splendor. The nipples were hard like rocks and John wasted no time in grabbing and squeezing them, making Yue Ying again moan from pleasure. Over and over they were switching places in a continuous and relentless search for the greatest level of intimacy. It was like they were both looking for the perfect recipe, or perhaps for that medical prescription which would help shake away or get rid of the non-essential moves meant just to impede reaching a great climax at the end.

When all was over, an overwhelming feeling of taking a break from each other encompassed them. They were now resting on their backs looking at the ceiling once again and trying to digest the great pleasures they just went through. It was a well-deserved break, a chance to catch up the breath and meditate at this great episode of love making which happily followed the few other ones from the night before. The bed sheets were all wet, the pillows were resting on the floor while the covers and the blankets were long time part of the bedroom decorations.

John eventually leaned against his left elbow and started to fondle her temple. His fingers were slowly working their way to the ear’s lobe, gently rubbing and squeezing it, almost like trying to get more blood into that area. The side of her neck then felt the soft touch of his fingertips. She trembled from pleasure…her left leg was now resting on John’s right hip. He didn’t stop…his fingers were still slowly making their way underneath the chin and then were following the contour of her lips only to finish back up, in the temple area, where they started. It was not long before they began kissing again. It was another meaningful, and ardent kiss, it was yet another way of catching up (one would say) from a long time of staying apart, or from centuries of looking for each other.

Shortly after they fell asleep, with Yue Ying resting again her head onto John’s chest, while the long thick hair was now almost entirely covering John’s upper body.

Neither one of them knew what the time of the day was when they woke up. All they knew was that the amazing love making they had was going to stay imprinted into their memories for a long time.

John checked his cell phone again: another three phone calls from Vic were shown on the display. He cracked a large smile and put the cell phone back on the night stand.

-Why you smile?

John realized that until now, he didn’t hear Yue Ying speaking, that until now the only conversation between them was done through the endless love making sounds, through the kissing and panting, through the moaning and groaning. He was completely shocked and looked at Yue Ying with the eyes of somebody who is waking up from a long lethargic state, trying to figure out what is happening around him.

-I smile, yes I do! Vic called me several times. I think he is worried.

A powerful and healthy laughter came out of her chest. Shortly, John accompanied her and for few seconds they both had a little bit of fun. Her left elbow was now leaning into John’s chest while her gorgeous, big, black, slandered eyes were looking straight into John’s.

-Vic worried that you no safe with me? It was a question she asked while lifting an eye browse, which made John react immediately.

-No, no, no…I think he is just calling to figure out what the plan for today was. That’s all. Nothing else.

-You sure?

-I am positive. Don’t have to worry. By the way…I am very, very hungry. Where do you want to go eat? It is almost 2 in the afternoon.

-I hungry too. I eat where you eat. Don’t care.

-Do you know some good little places in the city? I don’t think I want to eat at large restaurants. A little ma and pa shop will do it as long as the food is good.

-Yes. I know good places. I take you there. You will like food.

-Great! Now let’s get dressed and head out. I am hungry like a wolf.

-You hungry wolf?

John burst into a huge laughter…

-Yes, I am a hungry wolf…I guess I can say that.

It didn’t take them too long to get dressed. John put his blue jeans on, a T-shirt and a pullover while picking his a pair of leather boots he brought with him. He checked the weather on his phone: the temperature was still in the low seventies, so he opted to take no jacket with him.

Yue Ying was ready too. John realized that she was obviously wearing the cloths she was wearing during the show last night.

-We are going cloths shopping first. You need to get into something more comfortable. That being said, John pulled the card of the taxi driver from his wallet and made the phone call. It was a conversation to die for: John’s voice was not recognized by the taxi driver and he kept speaking in Chinese while John was trying to make him understand that he needs to switch to English. Yue Ying wasted no time: she stretched her hand towards John. John put a finger at his temple in a sign of: “Why didn’t I think at this from the beginning? I had to waste again time in trying to talk to that numb nut”

It took Yue Ying thirty seconds to solve the problem…

-Ten minutes he waits for us in front of hotel.

-In ten minutes he will be downstairs?

-Yes.

-Great! I guess we can have a tea in the meanwhile if you want.

-Sure. Tea is good.

-Alright then…if you want, you can take a look at the river from the window. It is a very nice spectacle. I will prepare two cups of tea in the meanwhile.

John headed for the kitchen and started searching through the tea options he had on hand.

-Yue Ying!

-Yes, John…

-Which tea do you like? I have regular green tea, I have chamomile, I have jasmine, I have…

-Hmm. You have jasmine? I like jasmine.

-OK then. Jasmine it is.

When John showed up with the two cups of tea, he could see that Yue Ying was completely absorbed by the wonderful and lively spectacle on Huangpu. He carefully put the cups on the desk and approached. Slowly, he grabbed her shoulders…then his hands dropped to the hips, only to close in the front on her flat abdominal area. Yue Ying tilted her head side wise and in the next second, her temple was resting on John’s shoulder. He (in return) tilted his head forward and kissed her on the side of the neck. This was followed by another passionate kiss which made them forget about the spectacle down there. Eventually they broke up that meaningful kiss and looked up to Great River once again. That hard to explain majestic play (in which the actors were the barges loaded with goods) was yet again making John feel so at ease and peaceful, feel so comfortable and at home that a strange sense of belonging and eternity encompassed him. Yue Ying was not moving. Her whole body and attention as well as her whole spiritual and cognitive resources were now directed towards the waters down below. One would’ve said that they were both somehow related to the Great River, that sometime in the past they had been together part of this grand spectacle and their destinies intersected each other yet again at this very moment. An outsider would’ve seen two bodies tightly embraced, refusing to let go, two bodies which found each other after centuries of search and wander, after eternities of missed chances to intersect paths and fate.

The phone rang – it was the driver waiting downstairs. The quickly took a couple of sips out of the two cups placed on the desk and headed towards the door.

John closed the door behind him and followed Yue Ying who was already at the elevator, but not before taking another look at the neighbors’ door. “I hope the Master of the spear is thinking at taking my offer. This story has to finish, regardless. I will bargain with him to the bone if needed.” He didn’t know how close to this statement of his he was! When John reached the elevator, Yue Ying was holding the door open. John happily made into the elevator and embraced her. This is how they reached the Main Lobby – embraced and kissing yet again. When the door opened, a couple waiting to catch the elevator up saw them embraced. The woman said something, while the man pulled a short laughter. Then the closed behind them and the elevator did what it was supposed to do: haul people up and down.

-What did they say? Can you tell me?

-Nothing. Not important…

-Please tell me what they said!

-Nothing…let’s go. I tell you one day. Yue Ying rapidly headed towards the Entrance where the taxi driver was waiting. The man was all smiles:

-Hello Mr. Parker. You had good night?

-I had a wonderful night! How about yourself? I am sorry, I forgot your name…

-Xiǎo lǐzǐ is my name.

-Well, my friend…it’s going to take a while before I would be able to say it.

The cab driver (“numb nut” as John was calling him) opened up the door in the back. Yue Ying got in and then John followed her. Once inside, he took her hand and kissed her again. When the driver got in, he saw the scene and with a smile as large as his whole face asked:

-Mr. Parker, where we go?

-We are very hungry but first we need to buy some cloths for Yue Ying – she needs to get into something more comfortable.

-You hungry bad?

-Very bad. John burst into a laughter which was making his whole athletic frame shake like a pine tree into the wind.

-OK. I have plan. First you go eat fast. Little. Then we go buy cloths…what you say? That whole smile never disappeared from his face and John just couldn’t refrain from laughing. At one point, Yue Ying started accompanying him and all of a sudden the atmosphere inside of the cab was electrifying.

-OK, Sir! I am going with your plan.

-OK. You see. Good plan!

-I trust you. This was a statement which John made with half of voice, as he remembered the Saturday night when this cab driver defied all the law of the Mechanics and made John feel like a bag of potatoes inside this cab.

It was not long before John understood that this cab driver is not a maniac, not a numb nut…not at all! He was just a horrible driver, who didn’t know the basics of the “driving a car” business. For him, the accelerator and the brake pedal where not different by much. All you had to do as a driver, was to step hard on them. Shortly, they pulled in front of a small ma and pa shop:

-Best noodle soup! Enjoy!

He opened up the door in the back in order for John and Yue Ying to get out.

-We won’t be long…we need to buy cloths.

-Yes Mr. Parker. I wait. Enjoy meal.

-For sure we will enjoy it. John made an: “I see you later” sign, grabbed Yue Ying by the shoulders and both entered the shop.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 47 – The dream at dawn

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 47

The dream at the dawn

When the dawn put a dent into the dark October night, John woke up. Yue Ying was still asleep. Her head was resting on his chest and the long black thick hair was freely flowing, covering his whole upper body and the shoulders. He was looking at the ceiling but his mind was still captured by the wild night of love making he had. From the moment he brought her into the room in his arms, to the present moment it was something magic, something he could not explain. The connection between them when the show at Black Swan was over, tickled John’s imagination in a way which he never thought it was possible, sparking untapped passion and desire. The incredible night he had with Yue Ying, made him ask questions at which he was not ready to answer yet: “Am I in love with her? Why is this happening? I have such a strong feeling that I know her, that we’ve been knowing each other for a long time, for an eternity perhaps, that we have so many things in common, that we belong to each other” These questions started tormenting John’s brain and imagination, but no matter how hard he was trying to find answers, he was digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself.

Methodically, he started rewinding the trail of the events: the trip to the Suzhou Gardens, the unusual Zhaohui’s meditation episode at the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the great interest showed by her into the books he purchased and then the whole Black Swan episode. However, there was one single piece of glue which held this whole succession of events together: the crazy taxi driver. John smiled and he almost cracked a small laughter. “If it wasn’t for that numb nut, I wouldn’t’ve known her, I would have never had the chance to watch her singing, to get connected and finally to make love to her”. Everything moved so fast, the events were so jam packed into each other that John was still trying to understand how he got to this point in less than a week…from a driven and well-focused (on his task) man, to somebody in love with a beautiful girl, the lead singer of a band which managed to impress him. Or so he thought he was in love…

All the thoughts he had since waking up, wore him out. He went to sleep again and shortly he had a dream:  John and another man were back horse riding. They were riding fast and John was only guessing that the person riding by his right was somebody he knew. The man’s face and head were covered by the hoodie of his cape while the black pants were tightened at the waist level with a large belt where two pistols, few throwing knives and a short and a long sword were quietly tucked into their scabbards.

John was desperately trying to open up a conversation with his riding partner. Every time he was doing so, he was shut down by a firm gesture of the mysterious man. A stretched left hand, pointing towards the direction they were heading to it was the answer. It was a sort of: “no time for discussions, just ride!” The gesture was authoritarian, firm and almost autocratic. The relationship between the two was crystal clear to an outside observer: the black dressed rider was the boss. However, in spite of the imperious gestures, the connection between the two of them was based on mutual respect. They were both warriors – as their whole attire was suggesting – but one would say that there was no master-servant relationship, that the men riding into the darkness of the night were possibly a father-son duo, trying to get somewhere, to a place John didn’t know, to a place he was desperately trying to find out its name. The horses were all covered in a white foam signaling the fact that the riders have been galloping for a long time. John took a deep breath…his nostrils were smelling the sour odor of the horses’ sweat, the fresh soil of the immense plain stretching ahead of them, the aroma of the wild flowers of the steppe opened only to release their divine scent and fragrance.

Eventually, the two warriors stopped to give the horses a break…it was the time when John realized that both he and his partner were carrying a precious cargo behind them: two little girls who were scarred to say the least. John realized that the girl he had strapped to his body, had the left hand cut between elbow wrist and a bandage was put in place to stop the bleeding. She was either sleeping or the wound and the blood loss were already taking a tool on her. John was holding her into his arms but the head was just hanging, motionless. Her beautiful big eyes were closed and into the light of the full moon her face was pale as the light itself. His partner came over to check on the girl…even now, his face was still covered and he wasted no time in spending all the efforts he could to hide his identity. John was trying to address him by the name, but his partner was skillfully avoiding any leads which could lead to his true identity. “She lost lots of blood. We have to get to the city as fast as we can” His voice was so familiar to John! However, he just couldn’t put a finger on his identity. The man pulled a flat wooden flask from underneath his coat and poured few drops of water on her lips. To John’s delight, the reaction was immediate: the little girl started moving her lips signaling that she was thirsty. Slowly she opened her beautiful eyes and started asking for help.

Her face was petrified by something she was showing with her right hand. Both men turned their heads towards that direction…there was nothing there but the majestic moon which was trying somehow to help out by throwing infinite rays of yellow light towards their direction. John’s riding partner placed the back of his palm on girl’s forehead…”She is hallucinating from fever. We have to strap her to your naked chest so she can draw heat from you. But in this case we cannot gallop anymore. We have no more than four maybe five hours ahead of them. Their horses will be tired too. Here you go princess, keep drinking…” The girl was thirsty as she started sipping the precious liquid.

The other girl was standing and was curiously looking at the two men trying to help (probably) her sister. She was holding the two horses by the bridles and from time to time was stroking their manes in an attempt to clean the white sweaty foam stuck into their majestic manes. Two big intelligent eyes were absorbing information on every move the two men were making, on every gesture meant to help the other girl. One would clearly observe that she was older as she was taller and her face was already showing up signs of adolescence. At this point, John took his shirt off showing a superb upper body which one would say it was used by Renaissance sculptures to bring marble to life. His fellow rider skillfully strapped the girl to his chest. Put the shirt back on and then the thicker coat on top, only to close it at the back. This time he was helped by his partner to get back into the saddle as he was now carrying a precious load into his arms. The mysterious man jumped straight into the saddle and stretched his hand towards the girl he was carrying. In a fraction of a second she was into the saddle too; It was clear that she was more than familiar with the business of horse riding, it was clear that she was taught from a young age to ride and love these majestic animals.

The two horses were probably puzzled by the fact that they were not galloping anymore…however, the light trapping was not too bad of a choice in their mind, as they were neighing of happiness.

John was now asking himself: “Is this a dream? It is a dream, who is riding horses anymore?” However, he was feeling a load, a weight on his chest…he was convinced that the weight is from the girl he was holding in front of him on his horse. In his mind, the load he was carrying was so fragile and precious that a simple blow of the wind would make it vanish, disappear.

All of a sudden, from the heights they reached they saw a spectacle which their eyes and their brains could have not had enough: the lights of the city into the dusk of a summer morning. It was a sign which made both riders sigh of happiness. Their eyes were expressing gratitude, joy and accomplishment. John’s partner unsaddled, put the right knee into the ground and with the voice of a stranded man who barely made it to the shore from a shipwreck, prayed and praised the God for helping them reach the city. At the end he made the cross sign and in no time he was back into the saddle while taking the lead heading towards the gates of the city. “How is she doing? She needs to be awake, so we can explain to her that she cannot make noises. The city is not into the rebels’ hands yet, but they may have overzealous supporters here”. The girl was sleeping and the two men didn’t want to wake her up…the other girl was instructed not to say a word and just stay tucked underneath the coat and cape. The next conversation between his partner and the guards at the gate was hazy, as John couldn’t hear what they were saying. His whole focus was to make sure he is not making sudden moves as he could’ve woken up the girl. The words exchanging became pretty heated as he saw his fella’ rider slowly pulling the left side of his coat and cape in order to uncover one of pistols. He tried the same, but his coat was buttoned backwards which made the use of his hands pretty useless. The look he had from his partner made him stop trying to reach for the weapons…”No. Make sure the girl is not waking up. I can handle this by myself”.

It seemed like an eternity before the captain who was inside of the booth came out and looked at the papers which were handed over to soldiers in the first place. He walked around the horses and asked: “So, you are the official traders of the Imperial Palace…you must be rich. Why are you traveling by horse? Where are your servants?” This time John heard the answer and he could only laugh when he heard his partner’s answer: “Yes, we are rich, but we are also very tight with the money, you know what I mean?” This was the time when all soldiers burst into laughing. It was the time when the old man weighed in even more: “We are tight with the money, but it doesn’t mean that we are not taking care of people who are good to us” This being said, he pulled a drawstring pouch from his large cape and handed it over to the man. The face of the captain brightened as he was already weighing in his palm the pouch in an attempt to count the amount of money that was inside. “Very well, sir! You can go. And let me stamp those papers you have, so nobody else will bother you in the city”. That being said, he went back into the booth and came out handing over the papers back to the old man. Both John and his riding partner tilted their heads in a sign of simulated respect and entered the city. The streets were not yet busy as the day was barely at the dusk. However, the foul smell of the dirty streets, full of rats which were freely patrolling, made John cover his mouth with a handkerchief and so did the old man. They were now heading towards the docks, as the typical sea smell hit their nostrils. The old man knew the city by heart as he had no hesitation whatsoever navigating through the small, narrow, dirty streets. It was not long before they pulled in front of an Inn: “Black Swan”. It was closed, but John’s partner had no problem unsaddling and then bang into the door with the butt of his short sword. Soon a servant showed up with a lamp in his hand and asked them what they want. “We want you to wake up your master. Tell him that the Imperial traders are looking for a place to stay” It didn’t take too long before the owner of the place showed up also with a lamp in his hand, deeply bowing in front of the two riders. “Of course that your highnesses will have a place to sleep”. A neutral observer would’ve realized that his eyes were searching the two men in a way which was not questionable, but rather familiar. Once inside, the two guests were taken into a private room into the back. It was the time when they took off their capes and coats and uncovered the precious cargo they were carrying. The owner was a short, bald man with eyes as intelligent as a fox’s eyes. He called for help. Immediately two women showed up and took the girl who was wounded into a different room. “We will take care of her. Then we will take both of them to the monastery. How was your journey?” It was the time when John didn’t pay attention anymore to the conversation between the inn’s owner and his fella rider…

A wind gust violently hit the sales which made the masts squeak and scream from the bottom of their lungs. “Storm is approaching. All hands on deck!” The order given by the old man was immediately followed and all the sailors were now on deck manipulating the sales and the ropes in order to brace for the storm to come. John was standing at the stern watching the preparations. Still, he was not able to see the face of the man who rode beside him. The man was down, on the deck giving orders, always with his back at John. When he finally turned around in an attempt to give orders to the helmsman, John woke up.

He was mad that he couldn’t see the face of the man in his dream! But on the other hand, he was delighted to see two beautiful black eyes looking and patiently waiting for him to wake up.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 46 – The circle starts closing

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 46

The circle starts closing

 Vic woke up earlier than he used to. Last night’s events made him consider going to work at a different time than usual. It was something new and unexpected, something he didn’t know how to handle – John was apparently in love with this girl. The scene at the Restaurant when they looked into each other’s eyes for a long time and then the grand finale at the hotel when he took Yue Ying into his arms and headed straight for the bedroom without saying a word, puzzled him. While doing his morning bathroom routine, he smiled and tried to lift up his own spirits: “It’s just a fling. We have work to do. John is a trooper, he will not let us down”. With this thought in his mind, he went downstairs to the kitchen and fixed himself a coffee while checking the newspaper. All of a sudden, he remembered Zhaohui’s words before going to sleep: “The circle starts closing. Whatever we are doing is useless”

He startled and visibly worried put the coffee cup down. His fiancée’s words made him rush his morning routine and get ready for leaving the house. In few minutes he was in the garage and drove away in a hurry.

He was the first one to make it at work. The first look he took once inside, was towards John’s office. It was still dark. No sign of his friend.  “It’s too early. He had a rough night anyway!” He cracked a short smile, headed for his cubicle, turned his laptop on and started crunching numbers on an assignment which was waiting for his attention. He managed to stay focused on his work without realizing that few hours passed by and the office was now “running at full capacity”. Stood up and looked into John’s office direction: still empty, no sign of his friend. Immediately pulled the cell phone from his pocket and checked the time: “Ten thirty-four and no sign of Mr. Parker…hmmm. I will let him recover from his rough night and then I will call him”. Vic headed for the kitchen area to grab a tea. He already started getting worried that John lost his focus on the assignment and the girl he just met will be an obstacle on their way to take the challenge to the end. “She is really beautiful, I agree…but we have work to do and I don’t want to start lying to J.J. and make up excuses on why we are not progressing”.

-Good morning, Vic, how are you?

Vic startled! It was Tony Gang! He didn’t expect to see Tony this early into the office. His heart started beating at a very fast pace, as he was now able to hear the beats into his temples. Tony’s face was unusual radiant and was releasing (one would say) an array of mixed states of mind…from a warm feeling given up by a smile which was flourishing on his cheeks, to a strange and undefined ironic gesture on his lips. Vic was sweating bullets…he understood that Tony was up to something and in that moment he made a gigantic effort to stay calm and not betray his feelings.

-Good morning, Tony! I am doing fantastic! How are you? How was your weekend? He was desperately trying to buy time and get back to a more comfortable state of mind.

-Not bad, Vic…not bad at all. I visited Nanjing, then I caught a flight to Beijing – some personal business.

Vic startled again…his detectives (through their contact in Beijing) mentioned about a meeting which took place in Beijing, meeting where Tony and John’s neighbor participated. What puzzled him, was the nonchalance engaged by Tony when mentioning all these things…it was almost like he was serving information to Vic, leading him towards a place, a corner he wanted him to head to. Vic became even more defensive and careful with his statements.

-How about you, Vic? Did you do anything special over the weekend?

Vic scratched his head in a sign that he was trying to put his thoughts together, thus avoiding a direct answer.

-Let me think…no, not much…but on Sunday we took John to visit Suzhou Gardens.

Tony looked straight into Vic’s eyes. He was obviously trying to find out more, or at least was fishing for details of the trip. Or so this is what Vic thought. To his desperation, Tony cracked a smile and with a tone which betrayed lots of self-assurance said:

-I guess it was a perfect day for meditation at the Gardens. His smile became larger and the irony which now could be clearly read onto his lips made Vic angry but in the same time made him understand that he was helpless. He understood that Tony and John’s neighbor are spying on them, are watching every single step they are making. He became furious…”I told John that he should move! And so did Zhaohui! He just wouldn’t listen! That’s it! I am looking for another place. We cannot afford anymore to be followed by Tony and his network of spies”.

-What do you mean by: “perfect day for meditation?” His question was straight forward while looking Tony directly into his eyes. Tony startled – he didn’t expect such an aggressive attitude from Vic. In the same time, Vic realized that he made a mistake by snapping at his interlocutor, thus giving up the fact that he indeed visited the Gardens yesterday. He decided to play very cautiously from now on…

-I just meant that it is very nice to go there and meditate. I do this too from time to time, whenever I have the chance to visit the Gardens.

-Oh…I didn’t know that you are doing meditation. Vic was just trying to buy time and eventually get out of the trouble he put himself into.

-Not always. Only when I want to bring back memories. This statement made Vic startle again…”Is he somehow related to Chang mao dashi and his sister? What is the relationship between the three of them? I guess very soon we will find out”

-Right…only when you are trying to remember things…the discussion took a turn towards banality and both men realized that any moment spent from now on discussing the subject is just a loss of time. Tony made a sign that he had to go. Vic tilted his head into a “sure, I will see later” and both men headed towards different directions. However, before departing, Tony turned around and with a voice (which he tried to make as ironically as possible) he asked:

-Where is John? He probably had a rough night. Usually he is in the office by now said Tony while checking his wrist watch. Vic felt like all the blood he had into his veins was rushing to his temples. However, he calmed down and with a voice as natural and assuring as he could muster, he replied:

-He told me that he is still jet-legged.

-Oh…right! I forgot that he landed on Tuesday. Please tell him to rest well. He needs all his strength. We need him into the office.

-I sure will tell him. Thanks for your concern.

-You are welcome, Vic. I will see you later.

-Great, Tony! Have a good day.

The two men split up the hallway and headed towards two different directions. Vic couldn’t stop but take a look towards John’s office – no sign of him! He went to the hallway, picked up his cell phone and called John. The call went straight into the voice mail system. Vic felt like he wanted to smash the cell phone. “This is unbelievable! Now, when we have so much work to do…”

Vic checked the time. It was almost 11am. “Maybe I can find him at Mr. Wang’s”. Without hesitation, he got out of the building without even taking his coat. It was nice and warm anyway. Hailed a taxi and in ten minutes the driver pulled in front of the well-known restaurant. The place started getting busy. Vic took a seat at one of the tables in such a way that he would have an overview of the whole establishment. In spite of the fact that he knew the menu by heart, he opened one and started browsing through…on the same time, he was keeping an eye on the entrance door. No sign of John and this made him nervous. Pulled his cell phone out again and made the call. Same thing: the call went directly into the voice mail. “This is unbelievable!”

-Good morning Vic!

Vic startled and turned to the left. It was Mr. Wang who was standing into his blind spot; the smile on his face was contagious and made Vic smile back in spite of the distress he was going through.

-Good morning Mr. Wang…actually is it still morning? I guess so, said Vic after looking at his cell phone.

-Yes Vic, it is still morning. Where is John?

Vic wasn’t prepared to answer this question, so he mumbled something like: “he does not feel well”

-Oh…that’s too bad! I will send him some soup.

-No. That’s alright. I will take it to him if he needs it. His rushed answer (an answer released on a high pitched voice which betrayed the trouble he was into) made his interlocutor take a long look at him. Mr. Wang was too experienced in reading one’s mind not to understand that something unusual happened. He pulled a chair and took a seat. This gesture was casual and in the same time one would say that it was a gesture only done between friends, between people who know themselves well.

-Talk to me…what happened? Vic startled and realized that his interlocutor read his mind. He understood that he cannot hide too much from Mr. Wang. In the same time, he remembered John’s comment: “I could swear that I heard Mr. Wang’s voice”. This made him still engage a defensive position and decided not to tell him anything about their last night’s endeavor at the Black Swan.

-Nothing. I am just worried a bit. He is a healthy guy…this cold or flu, or whatever it is made him a little weak.

Mr. Wang took a long look at Vic and an imperceptible but sarcastic smile flourished on his lips.

-OK then. Please tell John (when you see him) that I know quite few things about alternative medicine and I can offer my advice. Other than that, what would you like to eat for lunch? Vic even forgot that he would eventually need to order.

-The usual, please. Thank you, Mr. Wang!

-Always my pleasure, Vic! Slowly and as elusively as he showed up, Mr. Wang disappeared behind the kitchen door, door so familiar to Vic by now. The adventure he, John and the detectives had that particular night when they snuck in to take pictures of the book, was still so fresh in his mind. He smiled, as the hilarity of the situation brought back the cat incident and the fact that his heart almost stopped at the sound of those pans and pots hitting each other.

He picked up the cell phone and dialed John’s number. Once again, the phone call went straight into the voice mail. “Okay, Johnny boy! I guess I will have to pay you a visit in person”. The lunch was quick. He ate fast and then headed for the door; hailed for a taxi and in ten minutes pulled in front of the hotel. Once he reached the penthouse level, carefully walked towards John’s apartment. He didn’t want to make noise as the neighbors could’ve been home.

He rang the bell. Waited ten seconds and then rang it again. No noise, no steps, not a sign of any kind of movement was coming out. Vic was fuming: “This is unbelievable! He didn’t make it to the office and he is not inside his apartment either. Don’t tell me that he is now taking a stroll with the girl! I can’t believe this!” He rang the bell again…nothing. Vic dropped his head and headed back to the elevator scratching his head: “Unbelievable! Tomorrow I have to report to J.J. – what am I going to say?” Once in the lobby, he decided to take a seat into the couch closest to the lemon tree and make few phone calls. The fragrance released by the blossomed flowers made him relax and forget about John problem. It was so quiet in that corner! Vic pulled the cell phone and called John again…nothing – the call went straight into the voice mail. “Well, let me call Zhaohui”. His call went again into the voice mail. “This is odd…she probably is in the classroom, can’t pick up. I will try calling her later on”. That being said, Vic jumped on his feet and headed for the Reception.

-Do you know where Mr. Parker is? Have you seen him today? He checked in last week, I hope you remember him.

-I perfectly remember him, Sir! Everybody here knows him.

-Seriously? How come everybody knows him?

-He is such a handsome man, Sir! The girl who answered, looked straight into his eyes. She was beautiful to say the least. Two big slandered black eyes were scraping onto the barrier he thought he laid down as a defense system. Vic felt how he was about to swallow his Adam’s apple. A cold sweat was now running down his spine as he remembered the discussions he had with Zhaohui and John on the fact that the neighbors might have spies all over the city to watch them. “She must be one of them. Why would she stare at me like this otherwise?”

-So, have you seen him today?

-No, Sir. Sorry. Do you want me to take a message for him?

-That’s alright. Thank you. Have a good day!

-You too, Sir. Stay safe out there.

Vic startled…”What did she mean by that? What sort of dangers are waiting for me once I step out of this Hotel?” Vic looked at the receptionist…all he could see was a pair of gorgeous eyes and an enigmatic smile which made Vic’s heart rush at a higher pace. “She is definitely spying on us. John’s gotta’ move! Zhaohui told him that this is what he should do and she was right. This hotel is infested with spies. But where am I supposed to find him? This is unbelievable! If he is still upstairs and he doesn’t want to open the door for me, I understand…” Vic cracked again a smile and shook his head in a sign of: “naughty boy!”

“But on the other hand, we have work to do and he must move! This is a situation I don’t like at all. What am I going to tell J.J.? What sort of excuse I can come up with by tomorrow? I hate this situation!” Vic headed for the door but not before taking another peek towards the Reception. The girl disappeared; a male receptionist took her place. Vic shook his head and once again mumbled: “Yeah…she is definitely spying on us. Too bad she is so gorgeous!”

That being said, he hailed for a taxi and in fifteen minutes made it back to the office. The first peek he took once in, was towards John’s office…no sign of his friend. He dropped his head and slowly headed towards his cubicle. Tony was in his office and on a call which apparently was important as the door was closed. Vic pulled his chair and simply dropped in. He was worried. “Now that I know the hotel receptionists are spying on us and every movement we make is immediately reported to Chang mao dashi, guess what? Johnny boy is missing in action! I gotta’ find him!” It was that very moment when his phone rang. He looked at the screen display: it was Zhaohui.

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 45 – A new beginning

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 45

A new beginning

The lights went down again and the crowd understood that the show was over. However, people were very happy; their faces were radiating that sentiment of pride and fulfillment that they were part of a great show. There was pure joy in their eyes and everyone was now talking about the spectacle which just ended up. Yue Ying’s name was on everybody’s lips. The lights came up again and Yue Ying showed up, this time accompanied by the whole band and thanked everybody for showing up. Then a strange phenomenon happened: people started rushing towards the stage. John immediately realized that the four girl band was now offering their fans the chance to get a sign autograph. It was such a wonderful disarray! At one point the bodyguard intervened and tried to put some order into the crowd and tried to make people line up. It worked in the beginning, but then the girls were again swarmed by the fans again. John and Vic were calmly watching the event. When Yue Ying announced that they are now signing autographs, their cab driver was the first in line and received a signed poster of the band. Then he pulled out few business cards from the pocket and gave them to Yue Ying’s friend – apparently at her request. She signed them and handed them back to the taxi driver, strangely pointing towards John on a particular one. The man came back to the table with a smile on his face as large as his mouth allowed him to do. He was so proud of the signed poster and cards. As per directions from the girl, he handed over one of the signed business cards to John.

-You lucky! She likes you!

-What did you say? Who likes me?

-She likes you…said again the man and pointed towards Yue Ying’s friend.

-You lucky dog! She likes you! Vic burst into such a laughter that his whole body was trembling and tears were coming out of his eyes. His face turned red; John managed to pull a smile while still keeping his eyes on Yue Ying. She was so happy speaking to her fans and signing autographs! John realized that she is truly made for this: the passion into her eyes, the dialog and the way she was managing to keep the fans wanting more of her performance was contagious. While watching every move she was making, he was playing with the card he received, flipping it non-stop from one side to another side. However, his eyes only had one target: Yue Ying. “She is amazing! What a stage presence! What a personality! What a talent! With this sort of skills, she should’ve been a star by now. Why is she singing in this restaurant? Does she sign somewhere else? I gotta ask Vic to speak to the cab driver” The moment he wanted to grab Vic and ask the question, his eyes fell on the card he was holding in his hand…his heart stopped and a twinge shot through his spine: “Call her” said on the card and a phone number followed below. He felt how a cold sweat was now encompassing his forehead. He lifted his head and looked again at the stage. Just few more people were still in line for autographs. To Vic’s astonishment he stood up and quietly placed himself at the end of the line.

-What are you doing, John? Vic asked the question while following John. Now he found himself in line waiting for autographs perhaps, or just trying to understand what his friend wanted.

-Thanks for joining me, Vic! I may need you to translate.

-They can speak English.

-I know, but please stick around, you never know…

-OK, John but I don’t like this!

-Relax, man! I just want to know if they sing elsewhere.

-Boy! This band must’ve made an impression on you!

-They are very good!

-OK, if you say so…the expression on Vic’s face was of deep wonder. He had a bad feeling that something is going to happen, that John will again get into one of those strange and new situations where he is also going to be dragged into. Since he met Zhaohui, he became cautious and learnt how to avoid trouble. Right behind Vic, the cab driver lined up too and immediately started a conversation in Chinese with Vic.

When John made it to the front and tried to say something, but the Yue Ying’s friend was faster:

-Chu Hua is my name and we met few days ago, John. Remember?

-I do remember. And I still didn’t thank you guys for giving me directions.

-You had no target to go to, John. We couldn’t give you directions. Both of them started laughing. In spite of the conversation he was having with Chu Hua, his attention was all pointed at Yue Ying. The smile on her face was angelical and John felt like he couldn’t speak or find his words anymore. You are special guests, we will go in the back.

The back stage was something improvised, something which was playing the role of change rooms and the same time a storage area. Immediately, Chu Hua started introducing the other two members of the band who played the instruments at such a high virtuosity. Then she went into offering a history of how they met and how they got to playing this particular style of music.

-This is …. And this is …..

John’s ears were listening, but his eyes were all on Yue Ying. Both of them never stopped looking into each other’s eyes. It was like they were both hypnotized by an unknown magician who had the powers to play with their minds, with their hearts, with their spirit and physical presence. They were both all smile, thus releasing a sentiment of reciprocity, of closeness, of friendship and companion. Then something completely unpredictable happened: John started slowly heading her direction. When he was just inches away from her, he stopped. He could now feel the vibration and the warmth of her body, he could smell the fresh April scent of her body perfume. All this time, they never took their eyes off of each other. It was something magic in the air. Slowly, John put his hands on her hips, then embraced her into a tight and meaningful hug. Their lips joined and a long and passionate kiss followed. There was so much intensity into that kiss that one would’ve said they just met after a long, long journey apart from each other, or maybe they just got re-united after centuries of wandering into parallel worlds, into separate Universes or Galaxies.

Vic was stunned! He couldn’t say a word anymore. Initially, when he saw John heading towards her direction, he tried to say something…a sort of: “let’s go now”. But his words never made it out of his chest, as John couldn’t resist Yue Ying’s eyes anymore.

The cab driver was the only person at this party who openly applauded and expressed his happiness.

Chu Hua looked at them and a smile flourished on her lips. It looked like she was not all that strange to the fact that Yue Ying had some feelings for John. The other two girls were watching the scene quietly and same like Chu Hua, were discretely smiling, letting one’s know that they were in the possession of a certain level of knowledge about their leader’s heart choices.

Few minutes past by and nobody was saying a word any more. The silence was so deep that everyone could actually hear John’s and Yue Ying’s accelerated breaths. His neck was now encircling by her arms and the hips by her legs. Finally, she stopped the kissing and with a soft moaning set her head on his left shoulder and closed the eyes.

Nobody dared to say anything anymore. Everyone was waiting for something to happen, something out of the ordinary, something which would break that magic moment of pure love and tenderness. Then the door to the back stage quietly opened up and John could actually see a silhouette trying to get; but at the sight of the scene, backed up and sneaked into a cone of darkness.

John startled: “Mr. Wang! I swear it was him! Why isn’t he showing up?” In spite of the fact that he was now holding Yue Ying and his hypothalamus took almost completely over his actions, he couldn’t help but look into the direction where the individual who wanted to enter, disappeared. “This place is at least strange. I gotta’ find out more about this elusive owner”

Then, he made a sign towards the cab driver and Vic. Through another door, they got out of the building and headed towards the car. John was now carrying Yue Ying into his arms. He was holding her the way you hold an infant, carefully not to wake the baby and in the same time tenderly not to hurt the child. The drive to the hotel was too long (into John’s mind). He was sitting in the rear seats with Yue Yong into his arms. Vic was in the front and his face was showing the grimaces of a man who was incapable of comprehending a certain situation, a man astounded by the events, a man with no answers whatsoever to the multitude of questions which were exploding like popcorn into his brain.

The cab driver was the only one who was openly very happy by the turn of these events and never seized to show his admiration for the two individuals who looked to him that they were very much in love with each other.

John was now thanking in his mind to his driver that he took them to the show. “I believe this is Karma…what else could it be?”

Once at the hotel, Vic asked the driver to wait and accompanied John and Yue Ying upstairs. He was determined to put a stop to this, which in his mind was a complete madness. However, he didn’t know how to tell John that he is making a mistake, that he has a job to do and he has no time for affairs. He opened up the door and let John and Yue Ying get in first. It was again the moment when the two embraced each other once again. Vic rapidly went to the kitchen and showed up with three glasses in his hand and an opened bottle of wine.

-Let’s have drink now…he put the glasses on the coffee table in front of the dining room couch and took a seat. But to his astonishment, John lifted Yue Ying into his arms and headed for the bedroom, opened the door and then closed it with his heel. Vis was mesmerized! That very moment he was completely out of ideas on how to react, what to do, how to handle a situation so delicate. He poured himself a glass of wine and headed to the window. The spectacle he was seeing was amazing, to say the least: the city was still in full motion, people were walking to and from the restaurants, the cars were rapidly carrying individuals to their destinations, while the great Huangpu was keeping a watchful eye over everything, just to make sure that life flows peacefully into the city that never sleeps. He slowly finished his wine, then headed towards the entrance to the apartment, not before taking a long look at the door behind which John and Yue Ying disappeared a little earlier.

“What a peculiar day! A cab driver stops by and takes us to a show. The lead singer of the band is a beautiful girl. She and John have something deep in common as they apparently hit it off. What a strange turn of events! I hope this little thing is over by tomorrow noon. We have lots of stuff to do next week. John buddy, enjoy and I guess I see you tomorrow” He shut the door closed behind him and headed downstairs where the cab driver was waiting for him. A large smile was still present on his lips, which made Vic burst into a huge laughter. Then he got into the front passenger seat and started chit-chatting with the driver all the way until he reached his house. “I can’t wait to tell Zhaohui this story! This is unbelievable!”

He looked at his cell phone: it was midnight. “She is probably asleep”. Vic quietly made it into the bathroom, took a quick shower and then (trying to make the least amount of noise possible), slipped under the blankets.

-How was your night out?

Vic startled as he didn’t expect his fiancée to be still awake.

-You are not sleeping?

-No. I waited for you. Just wanted to make sure you are OK.

-Thank you my sweet heart! I am just fine. Are you willing to listen to a strange story?

Zhaohui flipped the switch to the night lamp, fixed her pillow higher and took a typical Yoga position, signaling the fact that she is ready to hear the story. Vic did the same and after two minutes of quietness started telling the story. Zhaohui was all ears. A deep silence fell between them after Vic finished. He looked into her eyes trying to guess what she was thinking at, trying to understand how his story affected her. It was the moment when Zhaohui’s statement fell like a hammer on him:

-The circle starts closing. I want to meet this girl.

-What? You are kidding, right? It is probably just a fling. Tomorrow we have work to do. J.J. wants updates and answers.

-I think all we are doing is useless. All these investigations (involving the two detectives) are futile and will not bare any fruits. My feeling is that this girl is the piece of the puzzle that is missing. I need to speak to her! Her voice was almost demanding, making Vic startle once again.

-Unbelievable! I will speak to John tomorrow.

-Please do so. Now let’s have few hours of sleep. Tomorrow will be a new beginning.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 44 – Shanghai Sun

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 44

Shanghai Sun

The lights came down again. The band was performing its last instrument tuning. Then few slow, strange tunes tickled John’s ears. He recognized the traditional Chinese music. It was the moment he decided to lean back and pay attention as his fine musical ear started liking what he was hearing. The tunes slowly evolved into something else, something he couldn’t understand and recognize; the music was still flowing naturally and fluently, but it was something he never heard before. The rhythm was no longer slow, as it picked up some “steam”; it only took few seconds for John’s good ear to realize that the melody was gradually evolving into a typical pop style on Chinese lyrics. He was astounded! “They are actually blending their traditional music onto Pop style! This is unbelievable!”

John was all eyes and ears as the music caught him by surprise through originality, rhythm, tunes and melodicity. It was such a nice surprise, that at the end of the song, he stood up and applauded as hard as he could.

-What do you think, Vic?

-It is…I don’t know…different!

-Exactly! Listen to the tunes, listen to the way they are blending into each other, listen to the transition between their traditional music and the Pop style.

-Yes, I knew I heard somewhere this style! Vic burst into laughing and joined John in openly applauding the band’s performance. The cab driver was also happy and joined the two westerners into a big round of applause. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was already electric and one would’ve realized that these people were regulars of the establishment as they recited and sang along at a certain point with the band.

The next song followed the same line, only this time the Pop tunes were a little faster. But the idea was the same: blending traditional Chinese tunes onto Pop musical lines. People started again clapping and singing along while their feet were beating the beat of the melody. John was by now completely hooked by the tunes and the way the band was ingeniously blending two apparently incompatible music styles. He wanted to absorb every tune, every sound that was coming out of those strange instruments. And there was something else: Yue Ying’s voice. It was crystal clear, it was powerful and had lots of personality and was complemented by a stage presence which let no doubts on who the lead singer of the band was. One would’ve realized right away that the whole show was revolving around her performance: the movements, the singing, the personality and the way in which she was managing to engage the spectators was second to none. John was mesmerized to say the least.

Then, as the band continued to perform that blend: Chinese and Pop, John realized that the musicians are slowly switching to a more upbeat type of music while keeping the start and some portions of the refrain onto traditional local style. “Are they switching to Rock? No way!” It only took John few moments to realize that the band was indeed revving up their style towards a softer Rock. He was mesmerized…”how do they do this, by only using these strange instruments?”

The answer came again from the same area as it came before: from the stage presence of the lead singer, from her angelic voice, from the way she was presenting and selling the songs to the audience. There was so much natural talent into her moves and voice that John simply couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

And the songs kept coming over and over, with the same intensity, same nice line of melodicity and great symbioses between traditional and now Rock music. John completely lost count of time. At one point, the band asked for a break and that was the time when food and drinks were now brought to the tables. Vic was checking the crowd like nothing different happened. The cab driver was happy that he recommended the show and John was still trying to digest the authenticity and genuine performance of the band. He checked his wrist watch and realized that the girls sang for a full hour.

-Wow! One hour of the strangest, yet some of the best music I have ever listened. He didn’t realize that he was speaking loud and so Vic felt like replying:

-Yeah, it is a pretty good music.

-You are not impressed? Are you kidding? This is awesome music, man.

-Yeah, it’s ok.

John didn’t want to insist. He realized that Vic’s knowledge of music is limited to whatever he could recognize, name and eventually listen to. Few beers showed up at the table. The three men toasted and a high level of cheerfulness encompassed the table, only to blend into the general good mood atmosphere.

-Hey, Vic!

-Yeah, John! ‘Sup?

-Why do you think our neighbors are so quiet?

-Are they? I didn’t even notice…yeah, I think you are right. They are unusually quiet comparing to their earlier behavior. You must’ve made an impression. This was the point when Vic pulled another big laughter out of his chest. That hook right into that guy’s guts was awesome, man! And secondly, the large fellow they have as a body guard, must’ve made them think twice before creating another disturbance. I swear that I saw the table bending from the middle when he pounded it with his fist! I have never seen something like this! This guy is a monster!

-No, Vic…you are wrong…

-I’m wrong about what?

-I believe that they are up to something. I don’t like their physiognomies.

-They are drunk, man! What else can you read on those drunken bozos’ faces?

-I am not sure what they are plotting about, but I don’t like what I see.

-You are getting paranoiac over nothing. I am telling you that they can barely walk on their feet.

-OK. I hope you are right, Vic…also, what is bothering me as well, is the fact that I can swear I heard Mr. Wang’s voice…it really bothers me. Why did the owner keep his face into the dark the whole time he spoke to me? There was a cone of darkness by our neighbors’ desk. He placed himself every single time into that shadowy spot carefully hiding his physiognomy. I could only guess that he was wearing thin eye glasses. That’s all. Something is fishy with this place.

-Neah…you are worrying over nothing. Here we go…the girls are coming back onto the stage. I have to admit that they are beautiful.

-Girls, beautiful. Very beautiful…it was the cab driver speaking again and giving the thumb up. Vic cracked again in laughing while giving the driver the thumb up back. The lights came down into the room and the band was now under the stage lights. John’s eyes were watching every single move Yue Ying was making…her whole body was so graciously accompanying the tunes of the songs she was singing while the natural and crystalline voice was so greatly accompanying such a beautiful face and angelic smile!

Again and again, her voice was changing tonalities and was naturally switching the beat from now semi-traditional tunes to rock and roll. John was amazed! He was amazed of not only the fact that the band was able to master the switch from these two (apparently) so different types of music, but also amazed of the knowledge they had on composition, on transition from tonalities otherwise irreconcilable, to beautiful melodic lines. Every end of a song was accompanied by applauses and one could actually see that the band already had its fan base inside of the restaurant. John was shocked! He expected a traditional show, typical old Chinese music…he couldn’t have been more wrong! People knew the lyrics by heart, people were singing along, people were actively participating into the show and the band was offering a spectacle to die for.

-Unbelievable! This is an amazing show! I thank you for recommending this to us! The driver bowed and thanked John for his words:

-Yes, this good show! I told you! This good band! Vic and John pulled a big laughter out of their chests and then went back to watching the girls. It looked like everybody was having a good time, when all of a sudden the lights came down and the instruments started playing their tunes slower, and slower, and slower until they were barely audible even to people who were sitting at the front tables. John was intrigued…

-The lights came down and along with the lights, the rhythm of the song, the beats and the tonality. Are they up for something? John whispered his question hoping that nobody could hear it. But apparently the cab driver had a very sharp ear and answered immediately:

-Now Shanghai Sun…

-What?

-Now sing Shanghai Sun.

John looked at him and realized that he was trying to tell him that the next song was going to be called: Shanghai Sun.

-You know their show by heart! How often do you come here?

The taxi driver started laughing and with a waggishly smile answered:

-Many times, Sir!

-OK then. Now let’s listen.

The lights above the stage came back up but at a much lower intensity which made John wonder why? Soon he got his answer: the band started singing a slow song. The prelude was once again a typical combination of Chinese tunes played at a slow beat. The harmony at which those four instruments (this time the lead singer grabbed one of those strange mandolins and stepped in as an instrument player) were playing was absolutely stunning. It was a dialog of happiness, a dialog of birds happily chirping at one another while waiting for the sun to come up, it was a dialog about green colors of the spring, about nature reviving and coming out reinvigorated from a long winter, it was a dialog about peace and serenity, about fast flowing little creeks trying to cover with their sounds the concerts of the living creatures in the woods.

“It almost sounds like Vivaldi’s Spring” exclaimed John in his head! “What a skill! To produce such a delicate, yet complex music with these instruments (which honestly look quite basic to me), is amazing! What a skill”. To John’s wonder, the melody started picking up some beat and soon turned into a Rock where the lead singer now had the full control of the stage by not only playing that strange instrument, but by also singing. The inflections of her voice were phenomenal to say the least! It turned out that the song was one of those ballads which only great Rock bands can write and play. The way the song progressed from its Chinese roots, then to soft Rock sang by their leader was astonishing. At one point, John realized that the lyrics switch to English…now he was in a state of shock! He realized the last line of the refrain was saying: “Now and then and forever…this is Shanghai Sun”. And it was repeated again: “Now and then and forever…this is Shanghai Sun”.

“What a beautiful song! This is unbelievable! I could’ve never imagined that such song can come out of those instruments! Wow!”

John looked at Vic. He did not look very impressed but he was at least listening and watching carefully. In return, the taxi driver was all eyes and ears. He was trying to absorb every single sound that was coming out from the stage. It looked like his whole body was connected to the musical activity that was happening in front of him. “This guy is more sensitive to good music than Vic is!” John muffled a laughter for himself. It was actually the end of that great song. He jumped on his feet and immediately started applauding as hard as he could:

-Bravo! Bravo! Well done! Well done, guys! What a great song!

The cab driver followed him and frenetically applauded. Vic did the same and shortly the whole establishment did the same.

The band deeply bowed and thanked everyone in Chinese. Then, the lead singer turned towards John’s party and in a decent English thanked for the applauses:

-We thank you…if I remember…you…John. Thank you, John and thank you your friends.

John bowed and so did the cab driver and Vic.

-It was a great song! Congratulations! This was a sincere exclamation which came out of Vic’s chest, a shout which made Yue Ying say:

-I thank you, Sir…

-Vic is my name.

-I thank you, Vic!

John’s eyes were all on her, on the way she was conducting herself on the stage, on the graciousness of her moves, on the naturalness of her whole body moving from left to right, on her long black free flowing hair reaching her breasts, on her out of this world smile which was in turn bringing two gorgeous hues into her cheeks, on her face which was exhibiting a large sentiment of satisfaction and thus letting two rows of perfectly white teeth release the most angelic smile possible.

Their eye sights met again…this time it was the look of two souls which have just re-discovered each other after an eternity of separation, after wondering through different worlds, after unsuccessfully trying to reach each other, connect and close a destiny.  It only took few seconds for the two pair of eyes to cross paths and for their minds and hearts to connect. Vic was mesmerized! The cab driver was all smile and it seemed that he liked what he was seeing.

Finally, Yue Ying returned to the center of the stage and started clapping while the rest of the band was playing an up-beat song which in turn brought the audience on its feet and made everybody clap on the sound of the music. The crowd was now fully entertained and the owner of the establishment showed up from the kitchen. However, same like the first time, he made sure that he didn’t show his face and remained into a cone of shadow, to John’s disappointment. John grabbed his beer, put a leg on top of the other and decided to listen. The sight exchange he had with Yue Ying brought a strange sentiment into his heart; it was something he couldn’t comprehend, put in order, measure with his imagination or explain. “I have the feeling that I know this girl from somewhere…but from where? Obviously this is my first time in China and I don’t think she ever made it to America! But when I look at her, she looks so familiar, she looks like we are close relatives or friends, or…” John stopped. He didn’t want to say the word which came on his tongue. He took a napkin and wiped his forehead. On the stage Yue Ying was proving that she did have great showgirl skills, entertaining the establishment with her song, dance and stage presence. One after another one, the songs kept pouring out of the band’s repertoire; nobody was sitting anymore. Everybody was on their feet dancing by the tables and singing along with the band. The atmosphere was electrifying and entertaining to say the least. The girls knew how to express their personality on the stage, knew how to get the crowd engaged, knew how to make the patrons feel like they are treated like VIPs and most of all they had the knowledge of pacing themselves throughout the show so they wouldn’t burn faster than they should. The level of maturity this band was exhibiting was truly stunning! John was amazed and besides the fact that he was watching every single move Yue Ying was making, he just couldn’t stop admiring both the harmony of the instruments which were dialoguing between them and the synchronization of the band players when moving around on the stage. They could’ve only achieved this through long hours of hard practicing.

Towards the end of the show, the crowd started chanting: Shanghai Sun! Shanghai Sun! Shanghai Sun! The atmosphere was electrifying to say the least. The lights went down again and everybody took a sit waiting for their favorite song to be played again. This time just Yue Ying showed into the spot light. The rest of the band was still in the dark. “This is unbelievable, said John to himself! She is taking the task on singing this song by herself without the help of the band! Wow! She is really talented!”

John was right. Yue Ying started singing the song alone, without the accompaniment of the band. Her voice was truly amazing. She hit all those hard inflections, those quick changes of pace or high to low octaves. John was not moving a finger anymore. His whole attention, was channeled towards watching Yue Ying’s performance. It was like he was hypnotized by her presence, by her singing, by the entire way she was conducting herself on the stage.

At the time of the refrain, once again the whole establishment accompanied her while clapping and singing along. It was an electrifying atmosphere and John was happy that he followed Vic’s advice and visit Black Swan. Two more times the crowd inside the restaurant called her back. The refrain of this song was working like a drug on this crowd, the more they were listening to it the more they wanted to hear it…again and again. Every time she came back to sing, her face was radiating from the pleasure to entertain her fans. It was pure joy, eagerness to be grateful to the people who were appreciating her talent, but most of all it was that natural gift she possessed: the gift of a born entertainer.

-Wow! What do you think, John? Vic’s question remained unanswered as John’s eyes were all on Yue Ying. On the stage, she was like a fish in the water. Their eyes exchanged paths many times during audience’s three time call back to the stage. One thing was clear: something made them connect with each other and engage at a spiritual level which was more than just simple admiration. John was like a stone, like a big chunk of marble just waiting for the sculptor’s hand to bring it to life. His eyes and mind were now completely captured by Yue Ying.