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.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 43 (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 43

Yue Ying

John was mesmerized! The two girls he bumped into on his first day in Shanghai, were now on the stage. The traditional white overcoats (waist long) were contrasting with the black modern stretched skirts. Who would ever thought at such an out of the box idea? A traditional Chinese overcoat and a modern stretch skirt? The overcoats were tighten up with wonderful wide ribbons knotted with skill and taste while the characters out of (probably) Chinese Mythology were filling the background. The colors and the execution of the characters was exquisite to say the least. Yellow stitches were beautifully blending with red ones, while the majestic purple purls were encompassing the whole scenery. John’s fine and trained eye for details immediately picked up a difference between the coats the two girls were wearing. The shorter girl (who did not speak much during their street encounter) had the whole scenery on her coat surrounded by thick magenta purls while the other girl’s coat scenery was surrounded by red thick purls. Immediately he remembered that the magenta/purple color represents royalty while red is the color of the upper class in medieval China.

“Wow…is she trying to tell audience that she is a royal? However, she is so beautiful! She deserves to be a royal. I am so excited to hear what they are going to sing. It looks like it will be traditional Chinese music. Not a bad idea we listened to this numb nut who calls himself a cab driver”. John pulled a large smile and nodded affirmatively to their taxi driver who was all eyes and ears waiting for the show to start. The smile, the genuine happiness on his face was priceless. He truly believed that his driving skills landed him some pretty lucrative business with these two foreigners.

The lights went down and everybody was taking his seat to listen to the show. The noisy neighbors insisted in showing everybody that they are there to make a statement, to have fun and eventually get even drunker than they already were. They were using the silver in front of them to bang it against the table. The noise was loud and John felt like he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up and headed to their table:

-Guys, would you mind keeping it down a notch? We are trying to listen to some music.

-Listen to this mates…pretty boy wants us to keep it down a notch? What’ya all thinking?

A huge laughter burst from the table and the four drunken men started hitting the table with their fists. The tension reached the peak. John took a peek at the band. The only one who didn’t seem to be scared out of the four of them, was Yue Ying. She managed to stay calm and composed but one would’ve realized that she was furious inside. The beautiful white face, the gorgeous cheeks with two hues which were emphasizing an angelic smile, the long dark flowing hair which was cascading on one side only to fall on the left breast and thus leading  the imagination of the interlocutor to earthly things, caught John by surprise. He was just now realizing how beautiful this girl was! Their eye sights met and an out of the Earth smile flourished on Yue Ying’s lips.

John tried to smile back, but he couldn’t. He thought that he swallowed his Adam’s apple. His lips were dry and felt like he urgently needed a glass of water. “Jesus…she is so beautiful!” His attention was again drawn back to the table of the four drunken sailors.

-Swallowed your tongue, pretty boy? So, what are you going to do about this? One of the individuals closest to him was now laughing right into his face while pounding the table even harder with his fists. At this very moment John’s sight was completely blurred – he was furious to say the least. His quick thinking and trained eye for detail realized that the individual was leaning rearward into his chair and thus the two front legs of the chair were not touching the ground anymore. With a kick into one of the rear legs of the chair, he made the man who was laughing at him land on the ground as the chair lost another point of stability. His first intention was to punch the guy into his face, but he realized that the next man sitting to his left, was already on his feet and had his chair lifted up ready to hit John into the head. To John’s advantage, due to the alcohol consumption the man was not very stable on his feet and this gave John the opportunity to step aside. The man completely missed his target and thus greatly leaning forward into a completely unstable stance. John made a fist and with a well-placed hook into the liver area, made the individual moan from pain and put a knee on the ground. This was the moment when the large fellow who was the body-guard of the restaurant stepped in and made a great statement by pounding the table with his huge fist. The silverware was now all on the ground while the glasses broke one after another one after hitting the ground. The two individuals who were still sitting at the table, ducked. The stature of this fellow was impressive to say the least. He grabbed both of them by the collars of their shirts and apparently with no effort whatsoever crushed their faces against the table. It was a moment when everybody realized how powerful this Hercules truly was. Immediately, an individual (who came out of the kitchen) showed up and assessed the situation by getting an update from the body guard.

-Gentlemen, I am asking you to leave my restaurant. At this point, one of the men (who had the pleasure of “biting the table”) was able to speak as Hercules loosened his grip on them:

-It’s OK, Sir. We will not bother you anymore. It’s OK. I will make sure that it will not happen. My friends just wanted more drinks…that’s all.

-You guys are already drunk! And you are asking for more drinks? Are you kidding? John’s voice was loud and had a tonality which was not hiding at all his disgust with the drunken individuals.

-We will keep it down. Just get us another round of double shot whiskey and we will keep quiet. John couldn’t believe his ears when he saw the owner’s eyes shining like a Christmas tree and especially when he heard him saying:

-OK, gentlemen. But you pay first.

-Of course, no problem mate.

-Very well, Sir: four double shots of whiskey. That would be eight hundred fifty RMB.

-No problem! Bring the drinks, mate!

John was stunned. On one hand he couldn’t believe that after all the trouble they went through, the owner was ready to bring them even more drinks…

-I cannot believe this! You want to give them more alcohol? They will not stop! They will create even more trouble! You are making a big mistake, Sir!

John’s voice was again loud, but this time was embracing a tonality which betrayed a sentiment of perplexity rather than anger and disgust.

-Sir, I appreciate your help. And as a thank you for all the trouble you went through, the drinks at your table are on the house.

John was speechless! “This is unbelievable! He is still giving them drinks!” But the very next second, John remembered the price the owner was charging for the drinks: “He is charging eight hundred fifty RMB! That would be roughly thirty dollars for a double shot. Not bad! He is charging American prices and I am sure he will give them a cheap whiskey” A smile came up on John’s face as he assessed the situation: “He will ask his body guard to keep an eye on them so they will not be trouble anymore and in the meantime he is taking a couple of skins off of them? I have to admit that this is kind of brilliant!”

-I thank you for your offer Sir, but we have no problem paying for our consumption.

-I understand, Sir. But this is a thank you from the house and it would be disrespectful if you refused.

John startled! He looked closer at his interlocutor’s face, as he tried to read him. The lights were down, so he couldn’t really guess the features of his face. But behind the glasses, John guessed two sharp and intelligent eyes. John’s natural curiosity kicked in and now he wanted to get to know the man better, to get to see his physiognomy and eventually understand what he was up to…

-Sir, please understand that business is business. They were trouble from the beginning, but on the other hand I have to make a living…I have to make money somehow. To me, this is an opportunity more than it is a trouble. His voice gradually changed and it made John freeze when mentioned about “making money”…he swore in his mind that he heard Mr. Wang’s voice. Now John was frightened. A cold sweat was now running down his spine. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. What was bothering him the most, was the fact that the restaurant owner was always keeping his face into the shadow, into the dark, carefully making sure that John doesn’t see much.

-Very well, Sir! I thank you for your kindness. We accept your offer.

-Once again, Sir…I thank you for your help.

John slightly tilted his head in a sign of respect and headed back to his table where the driver and Vic were still having trouble digesting what had just happened into the last two minutes. The owner gave few orders and two helpers showed up with brooms and cleaned up the mess from the nearby table.

-What was that? And why are you so pale? You look like a corpse! Vic’s voice was genuinely sounding like the voice of someone who is troubled by whatever he is seeing.

-I can swear that I heard Mr. Wang’s voice when the owner spoke to me.

-That guy who came out of the kitchen is the owner?

John nodded in an affirmative way.

-What did he tell you?

-He said that he will fulfill the request of these four drunken guys and give them more alcohol – business is business…

-Wow! This guy must’ve been trained in America! Vis’s laughter was not accompanied by his friend’s laughter, signaling the fact that John was still troubled by the encounter he had with the restaurant owner. The four neighbors seemed to be alright and quit creating trouble, especially after the waiter showed up with their drinks.

-John, I have to admit that you were brilliant! The way you knocked down those two guys was awesome!

-They are drunk, Vic…you could’ve put’em down yourself…all four of them.

-Of course I could’ve…you’ve never seen my jab and my one-two combination followed by my deadly upper cut, man! This time both of them burst into a huge laughter and a good and happy mood settled at the table. The cab driver clapped his hands towards John and simulated two jabs with his fists:

-You, good fight! Bam, bam! Once again, the two friends started laughing. Tears were coming out of Vic’s eyes…

-Mr. Football…you good fight, too! Bam, bam! Vic was holding his abdomen with both his hands, while John was trying hard not to follow him. However, the atmosphere at their table was set for what apparently was supposed to be a good night out.

The stage was ready…the lights came down again and the band was ready to show their talent.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 42 (Turkish coffee on a Sunday afternoon)

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 42

Turkish coffee on a Sunday afternoon

Ismail showed up followed by two apprentices (apparently) who was each bringing a large tray loaded with goodies; immediately memories from their trip to Anatolia surfaced. Linda remembered their good times in Turkey, the sweets they ate, the fresh fruits from the farmers market, the great dinners they had while watching the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea. However, Linda couldn’t see the coffee. Shortly, she realized that another helper standing behind the two plate bearers was holding something strange which was releasing a heavenly smell. It was a sort of wooden box which apparently had something burning inside. Soon her wonders were completely shattered when the two boys carrying the plates placed them onto the table and immediately after stepped aside thus making room for the third one to step forward. Linda realized that it was a ritual well planned and studied, a mini show which was probably done for the important guests and most likely had a known significance. The young bearer of the coffee chest stepped back and all three helpers left as quietly and elusively as they came. It was Ismail’s turn to carry on. Slowly he kneeled and started stirring into something. Linda’s curiosity was shown on her face, making their host smile. He made a discreet sign, telling Linda to approach and watch. It was a magic moment: he was making coffee into a large ibrik which was slowly boiling into a bed of fine hot sand. The fire source must’ve been underneath the sand layer as she felt a comforting wave of heat radiating from underneath. The wooden box must’ve been made out of pine tree as the familiar smell of the resinous family was tickling her nostrils. She immediately remembered this coffee making technique, very common in Middle East. Next moment was truly impressive: with a dexterity which betrayed lots of practice during many years of experience, Ismail pulled two wonderfully decorated ceramic cups, placed them in front of his guests and half-filled them up. Then from a little red box found on the fruit plate, he took one little cube of sugar and put it into Linda’s cup. Slowly stirred until a nice, goldish layer of foam covered the entire surface. Then, with a slow and meticulous motion he finished up filling the cup. Again he started stirring very carefully until another layer of foam, thicker than the previous one encompassed the whole surface of the liquid.

-The smell is out of this world, to say the least! Linda was truly sincere with her statement, which made Ismail bow even more and thank again for the visit.

-Allah sizi korusun, Mrs. Parker! It is my pleasure to have you and Mr. Glenworth as my guests. Then, as elusively as his helpers, he disappeared.

It was a moment of deep silence. Ismail’s departure created a difficult moment for sure. However, J.J. realized the awkwardness of the situation and quickly broke the silence:

-What do you think of this table, Linda? He asked the question with a large and candid smile on his face. He knew that he managed to impress Linda by taking her at this unusual place.

-Stunning! I think I remember all these goodies which are placed on this plate, said Linda while pointing at one of the plates.

-Of course you remember. This stuff is very common in Turkey as well as in Middle East. But the Turks took it to a different level of refinement and sophistication. It is called Turkish delight – you know this – or in Turkish is: lokum. It was the preferred desert of many great Sultans including Suleiman the Magnificent. It takes great knowledge to make it and only master confectioners knew all the secrets to make this great dessert. Then, as the time passed by, it became more and more sophisticated when the masters started mixing the gelatin with all sort of nuts or dried fruits. For instance, on this plate we have samples of this famous gelatin mixed with (at this point, J.J. started pointing at each different assortment): pistachios, almonds, hazelnut, walnut, coconut, rose petals, dates, dried apricots and even marshmallows. We do have few samples of “rahat lokum” and you can see that they are plain – no fillings. Master Turkish confectioners are saying that the true art and skill of a confectioner is shown when he makes this product. And the reason is that in this case you do not have the help of the nuts or the fruits to enhance the flavor. You have to completely rely on the gelatin and whatever aromatic essences you are using. For instance, we have these red samples – I am one hundred percent sure they are using rose petals syrup and essence. How about these beautiful yellow ones? You already guessed: they are made with lemon essence…the art is to balance the sweet gelatin with the lemon juice or essence. How about these gorgeous orange ones? Of course they are using oranges or mandarins. And so on…the variances are unlimited. At this point, J.J. stopped and with a voice which transpired knowledge and authority said:

-Let’s have our coffee now. But before we start sipping from this gorgeous looking cups, I suggest we have some fruits: white grapes first, then a couple of slices of orange and we finish with two or three cubes of cantaloupes.

Linda followed J.J.’s advice and started eating the fruits in the exact order mentioned by J.J. The flavor and the taste of these fruits was so different from what they were buying at grocery store…she couldn’t stop smelling the fruits prior to eating them.

J.J. smiled and with the tone of somebody who knows the business said:

-You cannot find them in our grocery stores. This sort of fruit quality would make the price go high and no grocer chain can afford it. Not too many people would buy and they would eventually go bankrupt.

-Still, how does he manage to bring such high quality products into his store? Now I remember (it is almost like yesterday) the smell of the fresh fruits when we were wondering through the fruit markets of Antalya, Aleppo, Jerusalem or Haifa. I could’ve spent the whole day there, just smelling those fruits!

-Of course! They are using sustainable agricultural land management programs and this is the reason why their fruits and vegetables are so tasty. These countries are still preserving their centuries old techniques of farming and the result is obvious: high quality products free of chemicals and additives. I will have to ask Ismail where he is getting his fruits from…in spite of the fact that we’ve been known each other for long time (and I can say that we are good friends), I don’t think he will tell me. J.J. pulled a loud laughter out of his massive frame and in spite of the fact that Linda was into a self-protective mode, she joined in.

-And you two guys are friends?

-Yeap…but business it’s business. No friendship, no feelings are interfering with the way or the decisions you are making when doing business.

Linda startled! “Is this statement directed at me? Is he trying to tell me that the fact he sent John to China and left him hanging it is business as usual? Bastard! I have to be careful now”

J.J. was tasting the fruits one after another one, slowly and methodically. He was leaving the impression that his whole attention was concentrated into getting the most out of the fruit’s flavor. Periodically he was closing his eyes into a gesture of absolute delight while chewing onto small slices or cubes from the tray in front of them. Linda decided to follow and soon her taste buds were indeed feeling the aroma of those fruits while her nostrils were dilating every time she was bringing a slice close to her mouth. “God these fruits are so tasty!”

It didn’t take long before most of the fruits were gone…

-We did a fantastic job! There is not much left! J.J. pulled another big laughter out of his large chest. Now it’s time we taste some lokum. You probably like the filled style, but I strongly recommend you also taste rahat lokum – the simple one – no fillings. I need your opinion.

-I will sure try it out. But for the beginning, I will go for the pistachios filled lokum.

-Great choice. Let me know how you like it…

Linda took a bite out of one of them…instantaneously, she remembered the taste of this dessert they were buying from the vendors directly on the streets of Antalya or Jerusalem. The smell, the taste, the colors and the aromas of those products they tasted many years ago came back with the same intensity as if it was yesterday. So many memories rushed in! A beautiful smile sparkled on her lips, smile which made her whole face shine and glow, glaze and glisten. J.J. was closely watching her reactions…he was too versed and trained into human psychology not to spy on his interlocutor’s state of mind, on her feelings, on her ability to hide all of the above. When Linda realized that J.J. is watching her emotions, she turned into a stone. A blank face replaced that gorgeous smile. From that moment the discussion became a chess game. Each player was actually trying to guess his opponent’s next move, next emotional reaction and next fall back. The conversation turned into a banal chit-chatting in which the answers and the questions were almost mono-syllabic. Few moments of embarrassing silence followed up and J.J. realized that he has to break the ice once again.

-A little time ago, I saw a great smile on your face, Linda…was that a smile of nice memories coming back?

Linda startled and looked at him with an almost hostile state of mind. “Unbelievable! This guy can read minds!” She became frustrated and impatient and for the moment she decided to raise her guard even higher in an attempt to watch between her gloves his next move.

-Linda, why did you pick this particular church for your Sunday Mass?

The question fell like a hammer! Earlier, J.J. answered the same question by saying that he had relatives in the neighborhood. Amazingly, his relatives’ names were Peter and Andrew! Now she was frightened! J.J. was somehow related to the two men which made such a great impression on her, he was relative with Peter who showed up in the church and prayed with her and made her believe that her father re-incarnated into his body…

Every move J.J. was making, put her into a defense mode, asked her to take a step back and pushed her into the corner. It was a situation Linda couldn’t take anymore…she decided to throw all the cards on the table and point blank ask J.J. what he wants, ask him why he asked her to join him for this afternoon coffee into such unusual place? She felt like she was running out of aces, she felt like no more steps backward needed to be taken! She was ready to throw the question out there, when out of nowhere, Ismail showed up; as elusively as he slipped away, he made his way back…

-Is everything ok? Is everything as you had expected? How were the fruits? How about the lokum? I hope the coffee didn’t get cold! Let me fill up the cups…it looks like we need a little work to be done here. Without even getting the permission from the two guests, he poured the coffee from the two cups into a secondary recipient which was immediately picked up by a helper and taken away; then he started stirring into the large ibrik he had on the hot sand. The smell of the freshly brewed coffee encompassed the boot again and the flavors of the roasted beans brought again a sense of calmness, a sense of serenity and forgiveness, a sense of peace and tranquility.

Linda was stunned…”How come he showed up exactly when I wanted to confront J.J.? These two guys are for sure hand in hand! But how do they communicate to each other?” Linda was furious! However, something inside her heart told her to hold back, told her not to ask the questions she was ready to ask…

-Now is the right time to taste the coffee, Linda! We had the fruits, we had some lokum…now the time is perfect to take few sips from this heavenly made liquid.

J.J. picked up his cup and with a sort of: “cheers” gesture, he closed his eyes, slowly sipped from the high quality ceramic cup he had in his hand and then put it back on its little plate on the table while still keeping his eyes closed.

“What a fraud! What a show off!” Linda was not happy at all with the way things were progressing. “I was about to spill the beans, when Ismail showed up all of a sudden! And now, J.J. is keeping his eyes closed, in an attempt to tell me that he wants to enjoy his coffee! This charade has got to stop! Does he think I am a school girl he can twirl around his fingers and do whatever he wants with me?”

Again she wanted to ask J.J. the questions which bothered her…and once again Ismail showed up.

-Do you need anything else? Mrs. Parker, how is the coffee? I wish you are enjoying your stay here, at my humble place.

Linda was perplex! The second time she wanted to take it to J.J., Ismail showed up. It looked to her that he was somehow J.J.’s guardian angel. She was now fuming with frustration, but then she looked at Ismail…his face was transpiring such a genuine, childish happiness; it such a great way to say thank you for visiting…this took all her anger away. His tanned, wrinkled face, coupled with the greatest and kindest smile, made her drop the weapons. There was so much genuine kindness in his smile, there was so much gratitude and appreciation in his words! Linda put her cup down on the plate and looked at her host. His little eyes were radiating with joy and humbleness, with pleasure and happiness. Linda was once again into a puzzled situation…”This is the second time he is preventing me from speaking up, from spilling the beans, from taking it to J.J.; why is this happening? What sort of ties are between him and J.J.? Why is he always showing up when I want to ask J.J. some straight forward questions?” Linda didn’t know anymore how to react. However she remembered an advice from her dad…an advice he gave her long, long time ago: “Linda, when you find yourself at the cross-roads and don’t know which way to go, sit back and listen. If listening is not enough, just let Good Lord make that decision for you”. She smiled again, looked up and in her mind said again: “Thanks Dad! I will let Good Lord make the decision for me; right now I’m stuck…I am serious, dad: I am stuck” She managed to put up a great smile on her face, lifted up the coffee cup and sipped from the dark goldish brown liquid. Then she sipped again, and again…a strange feeling of acceptance and peacefulness encompassed her. The confrontation and adversity perception left her mind, leaving room just for harmony and serenity. She couldn’t explain this metaphoric state of mind, so she decided to let it go, as the advice from her father surfaced up.

J.J. was in a transcendence like type of mode. He was sipping slowly from the cup and then placing it back on the plate while keeping his eyes closed. It was a sort of saying: “don’t disturb me”. Linda complied with this new scenario and decided to enjoy this truly special coffee.

Finally, when they were almost done, J.J. opened his eyes and as loosely as he had his coffee, he invited Linda to have another lokum.

-Now it’s time to finish up…please try the rahat lokum…we have four choices: orange, lemon, rose and mango. Without inviting Linda again, he picked up a mango square. Linda looked at the plate and grabbed a reddish piece. It was a rose flavored rahat lokum. The first bite she had, made her mind travel back to the times of their honey moon travelling…it was literally like smelling a rose from the garden! It was so flavored and the perfume of the roses in blooming came back. It was so tasty and real, it was so genuine and flavorful! “This is out of this world! So delicious and so tasteful!”

Few more minutes went by, time in which both J.J. and Linda enjoyed the sweets they chose. Nobody was saying a word anymore. And it looked like Linda seized from asking the questions she wanted to ask. She leaned back against the comfortable pillows and enjoyed the delicious dessert while sipping from time to time from the coffee she had left into the cup. They systematically avoided each other’s eyes…it was a sort of armistice and gentlemen’s agreement between them: “nobody takes charge anymore”. This situation frustrated Linda, as she wanted more answers from J.J.

But she also realized that he was a heavy weight player, who will not give up anything if he wanted to do so.

-I think it’s time to say thank you to our host…do you want anything else, Linda?

-Everything was fantastic, J.J.! I am good. I guess we can go now.

-Very well. I thank you for a lovely Sunday evening.

-The pleasure was all mine, J.J.! I thank you for introducing me to this great and unusual place.

-Anytime, Linda. Whenever you want to have a good coffee and some great sweets, just drop by Ismail’s coffee house. It’s not that far from your house.

-Absolutely! I will take John here, as soon as he returns.

-I am sure he would like it. Shall we go?

-Yes, please. I thank you again for your invitation.

-Pleasure is all mine.

They stood up and headed for the exit. On their way, Ismail greeted them again:

-Many thanks for visiting my place, Mr. Glenworth and Mrs. Parker!

-Kesinlikle memnun, efendi Ismail!

-Zevk bana ait, Mr. Glenworth. Allah seninle oslun, Mrs. Parker…may Allah be with you, Mrs. Parker

-And with you too, Efendi Ismail!

-Let me show you to the door…Ismail took charge and headed for the exit. Their shoes were waiting for them as well as their coats. Linda was shocked that Ismail never brought a bill…”It looks like J.J. has a running bill here; I guess he can afford it” She felt like giggling, but stopped short from doing so. She didn’t fully understand what the business relationship was between them, so she kept quiet. Once out of the door, J.J. took his hat off and with a slight tilt of his head thanked Linda for a great afternoon.

-The pleasure was mine, J.J. and as I said: I thank you for inviting me to such a lovely and unusual place.

-It was a great pleasure to have you as a companion today, Linda. As always, your grace and style are turning heads.

-Thank you again, J.J. I hope you will enjoy the rest of your weekend.

-You too, Linda.

Both of them started heading for their cars, when J.J. stopped and with a voice as authoritarian and at the same time as protective as it could be, he called Linda:

-Linda!

She stopped and turned around completely puzzled:

-Yes, J.J.! Is there something wrong?

-No Linda…nothing wrong. I just wanted to tell you that I never ever betrayed my friends and I will never ever do it, no matter how dire the situation is for me! I would rather die than leaving a friend hanging. This is all I wanted to say. You have a good night and may Good Lord watch over you.

Within few seconds J.J. got into his car and disappeared. His last sentence made Linda understand that he read all her fears, all her doubts and questions. Now she was scared: “He can read minds! Who is J.J.? Is John right in saying that he is part of the story? Then why he sent John there?” Her mind was now trying to comprehend all the information she has got in the last twenty-four hours…however, J.J.’s last sentence brought her to an ease: “I will never ever betray a friend…”

A smile flourished on her lips…she started the engine and soon she found herself on the freeway. The trees on the side of the road were zooming by. But her mind was still at the conversation she had with John…”J.J. is involved into this China business; the question is: at what extent, at which level? Well, at least he is saying that he will not betray John”

She stepped on the gas pedal and left all the worries behind her. Somehow, she now trusted that John will not be left hanging, as J.J. said. Soon, she pulled into the driveway.

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 41 (Ismail)

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 41

Ismail

Once inside, Linda felt the warmth of the place…not necessarily temperature wise, but the warmth released by a well decorated room, by a room full of nice paintings hanged on the brown wooden panels which were entirely covering the walls. “This place is so…so…so different; it is exactly the opposite of Mr. Ferrari’s. It is sober yet warm, it is classy yet very inviting and friendly”; Linda murmured these two sentences while turning around to catch as much details of the place as possible. The fire place had a real log lit up and this was bringing the patrons a nice and warm feeling, a sense of homeliness and belonging, a sense of uncapped curiosity and willingness of exploring new things.

-Iyi gϋnler Bay Glenworth, Iyi gϋnler; what a pleasure! Long time…

-Efendi Ismail, good day to you too. Yes, it has been a while since I stepped into your store. I apologize for not dropping by more often.

-Mr. Glenworth, you are always welcome at my place. I can see that you have a guest.

-Yes, Efendi Ismail…this is Mrs. Parker. She is the wife of one of my top Managers at Glenworth.

-Linda Parker is my name, Efendi Ismail. It is a pleasure to meet you. Linda stretched her hand for the hand shake. Ismail bowed and shook her hand while saying something in Turkish:

-Seninle tanişmak ne gϋzel, Bayan Parker! What a pleasure to meet you!

-The pleasure is all mine, Efendi Ismail! I love your place. I have to admit that is different…different from everything we have here. Actually last time when I stepped into a Turkish coffee shop (which resembles yours), was many years ago…we made it into one of the little towns, down in Anatolia, by the sea. After we dropped our luggage, we started touring the town and we stopped by this little place, right on the seafront. They had a gorgeous patio full of flowers. But inside, it was heaven…so beautifully decorated with all sort of handcrafted things. We were both so impressed. That was also the time when my husband bought a copper ibrik. The next day, the man who sold us the pot, came by our hotel and gave it to my husband. In the meantime, he had written something on the pot. Apparently he was the pot master. We absolutely loved everything we found there: the people, the culture, the little villages and of course the food!

Linda’s story may had been sat really well with the host, as his eyes were all lit up and the face was radiant and illuminated by pride and gratitude. One could see that the man standing in front of J.J. and Linda, was taking great pride in the fact that such a well-read and educated woman was praising his culture and his native lands.

-May Great Allah bless you and your family Mrs. Parker! May I ask what the pot master had written on the pot?

-I think: “For those who love each other now and forever”…I completely forgot, but my husband remembered. As a matter of fact, last week he made coffee in that pot.

-Pardon me if I ask one more question, Mrs. Parker…do you remember the name of that little town?

-Oh…Efendi Ismail…now you got me puzzled…I am not really a person with fantastic knowledge of Geography, but my husband is. When he returns, we will for sure pay you a visit. He can list all the places we visited in the Middle East and Turkey, all the little towns, taverns, little ma and pa stores, all museums and libraries we stepped into.

-It is a great pleasure to hear this, Mrs. Parker! I am looking forward to meet your husband. Now, if I may take you to a booth I am sure you will enjoy what we can offer here, in this little store of ours. Ismail deeply tilted his trunk from the middle section of his body and took the lead in taking his new customers into an area which from the entrance, one wouldn’t have guessed it even existed. As a matter of fact, the coffee shop was gaining space while advancing towards the back. Linda figured out right away that Ismail started small and slowly bought the businesses at the rear end of his shop. Now his coffee shop was stretching for the whole width of the small plaza. He smartly divided the patrons’ area with little live palm trees, creating an oasis atmosphere. As a matter of fact, every booth was surrounded from three places with wooden barrels in which he planted six feet tall palm and fig trees. Nobody knew how he managed to keep these trees this short, but they definitely were giving the patrons the sensation of a fairy tale, a feeling similar to the un matchable “Arabian nights”

The spot Ismail chose for his guests was “tucked” somehow at the far end of the room and one would realize that it was meant to be “awarded” to special people who were visiting his business. It was almost secluded from other booths by being almost encircled with these barrels. The palm and the fig trees were offering a full “protection” from the other patrons’ eyes and the sign “Reserved” strengthened Linda’s opinion that J.J. was a very important guest whenever he decided to sip and enjoy a good Turkish coffee. Her mind started asking questions once again: “How does J.J. know this place? How does he know Ismail? What is the relationship between him and the man who owns this place? Is this just another coincidence, same like her encounters with Peter and Andrew McCarthy? At the end of the day, who is the real J.J.?” All these questions were pouring in, tormenting her imagination and judgement.

Linda realized that all these booths were designed for people to sit in that lotus position, typical to oriental cultures. It was the time when J.J. asked her:

-I hope you don’t mind sitting at this table, do you? It requires a certain flexibility I guess, but I do not think this is a big deal for you. You are an athlete!

His face was all of a sudden lit up with a large and kind smile, a smile which left Linda perplex. She was in a defensive mode since she decided to follow J.J.’s invite, but this last turn of events puzzled her. He was jovial, he was relaxed and he was happy and eager to taste once again from the liquid which was filling the air into the room with aromas which were making ones imagination wonder through the stories of the childhood, stories riddled with white palaces built into the oasis, stories with princes and princes , stories with  betrayals and chivalry.

The room was indeed loaded with scents which were inevitably bringing the patrons at ease, at peace and was making them relax and enjoy their coffee and the sweets which were brought along with the unique Turkish coffee.

Linda realized that the seats were actually very comfortable divans which had the shape of an arc, leaving open just the side where the waiter was bringing the goodies to the table. She also noticed the beautiful pillows wrapped into silk covers, covers decorated into the most lively and inviting colors, from red and purple to yellow and light greens and blues. She couldn’t help but grabbing a pillow and run her palm on top of it. Yes, it was a high quality silk. On the floor, she realized that a thick Turkish woolen rug was making your bare feet rest so well, had you decided not to do that lotus sitting. Removing the shoes was a must and the waiter brought right away the traditional terliks, a Turkish version of warm and comfortable slippers. The rugs were complementing the sofa and the pillows and a good eye would’ve realized that these were exceptional handmade woolen carpets, thick and warm, beautiful and colorful. Everything at this table was contrasting with the sober walls, covered with dark wooden panels. But the combination was exquisite in taste, refinement and elegancy. Linda was completely captured by the environment and for a moment she even forgot that she set her mind up to watch J.J.’s moves. When the magic moment passed, she shook her head and inaudibly murmured to herself: “What a crafty guy! He brought me here to make me feel at ease and eventually make me open up on some things he is interested into. That’s it! No more magic moments, no more exploration of the environment! I have to be all eyes and ears” She didn’t even realize that J.J. was ordering from a Menu. Ismail was taking notes and soon he disappeared. Now she was sitting on the nice sofa, having a pillow tucked behind the back into the lower back area. To her surprise, J.J. (in spite of his age) didn’t have any problem sitting into the same position. A few moments of quietness took over and both of them were looking at each other trying to guess what his interlocutor has on his/her mind. Finally, J.J. decided to break the silence:

-So, how do you like this place?

-It is spectacular, I have to admit it…everything is done with such refinement and attention to details! The combination couch, pillows, rug is stunning!

-Indeed! This place has its uniqueness, its charm, its mysterious look and Oriental touch.

Another round of silence encompassed the table. This time, Linda decided to get out of her shell and start the attack.

-So, J.J. – how did you make it to this particular Church? You live on the other side of the town, if I am not mistaken…

He looked at her trying to understand if this was just a simple curiosity, or there was a hidden agenda tucked behind the question? At that moment, Linda’s face exhibited the most innocent look one could put on. She managed to show a typical feminine curiosity, which tricked J.J. and made him speak freely, without guessing that he was spied on.

-I do live on the other side of the town, but I know lots of people in this area through my wife’s siblings. As a matter of fact, two of her brothers live nearby. They are farmers and we spent many Thanks Giving Sundays at their houses. I’ve been knowing this Church for many years as we used to come here for the Mass on those particular Sundays. I know many people from the community. Here in the country, you really get that old, almost holistic spirit of the man living at peace with the land he works and with the crops he is harvesting, living at peace with the nature and the living things out there, living closer to the good Lord, closer than we do in the city. These simple people, know how to talk to the land, how to talk to their crops, how to live peacefully side by side with the wild life. I have so much respect for them!

Linda was stunned! She never expected something like this from J.J., a man of exquisite taste and refinement, a man who spent lots of money on fine clothes and cars, on furniture and memberships at exclusive Golf Country Clubs. She decided to get back into the shell and prepare for defense at any costs. “He is so crafty! He knows that I am all eyes and ears trying to get something out of him. By now he probably knows by heart what John is up to and what his next steps are. Why did he approach me, though? How come he showed up at this Church exactly when I showed up? It was the first time when I stepped into this Church and he was there! Is he watching my moves? What if he is travelling from the past to fulfil that nonsense curse? Is he part of it? No way! You cannot travel in time!”

Same as John did when he asked himself this question, Linda cracked a smile and then a barely audible laughter followed in a sign that she is not buying this theory.

J.J. picked up on this little emotional relief and with a large smile on his face asked:

-Why are you laughing? It must be something nice. Please tell me why you are laughing so I can pick up the pace. I can always use a good laughter.

Linda realized that she has to back up and quickly come up with something credible and innocent, with something which will divert the pressure J.J. was already putting on her, with something that will lead eventually her interlocutor into a dead end.

-Have you noticed the quality of these rugs?

J.J. was stunned and didn’t know how to react, but the chance he had to exhibit his knowledge on furniture, home decorations, quality rugs and Turkish culture prevailed.

On the other hand, Linda felt how the noose was slowly loosening up and J.J. fell into the trap she laid down for him. This little challenge set J.J. up for a long speech on the way the rugs are still manually made in some parts of the world and what was stunning, he knew exactly even how the people (the peasants or farmers) in those countries were making them. He explained to Linda how the wool strings are carefully made out of a big bundle, how they are then made into the shape of a ball and lately pulled through the wooden pieces of an equipment which was obviously handled manually by a human.

-How do you know all of these things? Linda’s question was genuine. In the same time she realized that J.J. forgot about her laughter. “Things are getting back to the right path! Keep your eyes open, Linda!” It was a self-assuring, a self-defense mode she was now calling upon.

-Well, Linda…first of all I read a lot. I absolutely love Geography, History, Archeology and Architecture. Secondly, I did travel quite a bit. It’s been now few years (especially after Jen’s passing) since I stopped travelling. But I had probably seen most of the countries in this world.

-Wow! That’s impressive, J.J.!

-Thanks Linda! You and John did travel in your youth as well, didn’t you?

-Yes we did. Not as much as we would’ve loved to, but we can say that we are well traveled.

-You see Linda…travelling gives you that freedom which probably the explorers felt hundreds of years ago while they were sailing sometimes to a destination, but many times towards an unknown land or maybe to an unknown destiny. When the wind rages into the sails of the ship, when the masts are bending under the relentless pounding of the wind gusts, when the bow of the ship dives into the sea only to raise higher riding on the wave, when the salty air penetrates every single pore of your body, when the speed of the ship (which splits the waves the way a sharp knife splits a piece of tender meat) makes you forget that you are still at the mercy of the sea…that is the moment of maximum freedom, Linda. J.J. stopped to catch his breath. His eyes were throwing bolts of fire, his whole face turned into the face of a man who was in the middle of a fight, of a man who was living in that moment the story he was telling, a man who probably did not even belong to this world. Linda got scared. J.J.’s metamorphosis made her get into an extreme defensive mode.

-I am sorry about my little monologue. I hope you didn’t mind it.

-Not at all, J.J.; it was actually quite impressive! The way you described that boat sailing through the waves, it almost made me envision one of those explorers’ adventures into uncharted waters. Very well done!

-I thank you, but this is nothing. It apparently comes naturally when talking about ships and navigation. Don’t know why…

Linda looked at him and felt how a cold sweat was slowly moving down her spine. “Who is he? I’ve been knowing him for so many years, but I have never seen him like this. I have never seen him so excited, so passionate, so revved up and open! He was calm and calculated, never letting emotions take over. Now he is a totally different man from what I used to know”

-Your coffee has arrived!

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 40 [(Sunday Church (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 40

Sunday Church (II)

The tears eventually froze (as the air was crisp), making her face feel like it was pierced by thousands of little needles. The pace at which she was running was fast! She wanted somehow to put some distance between her and the place where strange things happened. However, once she reached the top of the hill, she stopped and for few minutes she kept her eyes on the beautiful white church with a foundation made out of river stones and brick walls. The cross on the top of the main nave, was now shining into the sun in all its splendor and its white color was displaying an array of spears which were pointing back to the sun, probably in an attempt of reciprocity, of thankfulness for the life he was generating, for the joy he was sending down to the people. Instinctively she waived…it was a good bye sign? If yes, to whom? Her father’s image came back and she realized that he was still there for her, trying to guide her steps to make the right decisions, trying to comfort her when she needed his help.

Linda turned around and started running again. What happened at the Church was still pounding her mind. “Where did Peter disappear?” When she entered the house, she took her sneakers off and dropped on the couch. She was now holding her head between her palms and was trying to go again through every single detail of her morning run. The image of Peter and her father were haunting her already…”Dad showed up as Peter McCarthy!” This very thought made her shiver and soon she was sitting on the couch into a fetus position, with her forehead resting on her knees while the palms were joined together holding the ankles. Into this strange position she actually fell asleep. It was a power nap which made her walk again through the morning church events. Her father again showed up into her dream and advised her: “You have to pray Linda…you have to pray. God will help you get over all the hurdles the life is throwing at you. You cannot lose hope and faith. You must pray, Linda!”

She woke up and made a quick decision: “I am heading to the church”

This time it took her just few minutes to shower. Once she managed to dry her hair, she tightened it into a large knot. Quickly opened up the dresser and picked up from her wardrobe a black suit and a white shirt; then grabbed a nice large black hat which was still leaving a portion of the knot exposed and put a pair of elegant grey leather shoes on. A dark grey woolen overcoat and a pair of black thin leather gloves were finishing a sober, yet exclusively elegant attire. She stepped out of the house and shortly her car was heading to the direction where she jogged earlier.

The church was packed. When she opened the door, the warmth from inside, the gathering, the happy and relaxed faces of the people waiting for the Mass to start, the smell of burnt candles and the beautifully painted windows embraced her in a way which was saying: “welcome back”. She stopped for few seconds, deeply inhaled and closed her eyes. Memories which she believed were well shelved started pouring out. Same like the early morning, the times when she and her father were working together preparing the church for the Mass were surfacing. People whispering and chit-chatting prior to the Mass was so familiar to her! A smile showed up on her beautiful face making her open the eyes and take a close look at the gathering. While she was screening the crowd, her sight dropped on a person she thought she would recognize. A yell (which she quickly muffled with her hand) came out of her chest. She could bet that she saw the face of her father in front of the Altar. He was smiling at her with that kind, understanding, angelic smile which only a good man, a man touched by the Holy Spirit could produce. There was so much kindness into that smile but in the same time one could sense a little drop of sadness and serenity. She shook her head…it was the priest she was looking at, the man who was running the Sunday service. He was a man in his fifties, with a grizzled hair, a man with a large and kind smile on his face, a man who looked like he loved what he was doing as his smile was complimenting every gesture he was making, every gesture being calculated and full of compassion and understanding. Linda found a seat in the last row, slightly tilted her head towards the family seating beside her and from that moment she was all eyes and ears. “How come I never knew about this little church? It is so close to the house!”

She was listening to the service with the same curiosity and hunger as she did in the past. She was doing it to understand the words of wisdom coming out of the priest’s mouth as she did many years ago when her father was holding the Sunday Mass. To her delight and in the same time to her wonder, the eagerness to absorb the teachings of the Holy Bible has not changed over the years. Linda smiled again and slowly but surely she started remembering all those prayers spoken with a loud voice by the congregation, as she remembered the faces of the people lightened for the moment by the Holy Spirit while praising Good Lord for His Greatness or asking for His forgiveness. The time passed by so fast and she was so absorbed by the service that she didn’t realize the service was over. She stood up and headed for the door, while leaving a donation for the church. Once out of the church, the crisp early afternoon air encompassed her body in spite of the fact that the sun was generously trying to hug and keep her warm. She immediately put on her nice dark grey woolen coat and started walking towards her car.

Suddenly, the tall stature of a man (who was speaking to few other people), caught her attention. She could only see him from behind, but something was telling her that she knew him from somewhere. Linda realized right away that this individual had a taste for quality cloths as his overcoat (made out of the finest wool) and the vintage fedora on his head were bringing a distinguished look which eventually was further refined by the superb black leather shoes and exquisite brand name suit. The white hair showing up between the fedora and the woolen scarf was greatly contrasting with the black overcoat, thus giving the individual an unmatchable gentleman’s allure.

Linda was ready to walk by and head to her car, when all of a sudden the man turned around and looked straight into her eyes. In spite of the cold temperature, she felt how little drops of sweat were making their way on the forehead and slowly coming down on the chicks only to wrap around the chin and fall on the ground. She felt her cheeks on fire and didn’t know exactly why…could’ve been due to the sweat which was freezing on its way to the ground, or could’ve just been a normal reaction to the sight of the man. He apologized to his audience by lifting his black fedora and then headed straight towards Linda. A large smile was imprinted on his face when he finally stopped four feet away from her. Again, he lifted his hat and with the voice of a tenor greeted the beautiful woman standing in front of him:

-Good afternoon, Linda! I have not seen you in a while. How are you?

She felt like she was about to swallow her Adam’s apple. After the discussion she had with her husband, the site of this man was making her feel angry, outraged, appalled and frighten. However, she managed to stay calm and with an immense dose of will power put a smile on her face and returned the greetings as naturally as she could:

-Good afternoon Mr. Glenworth! I am doing wonderful. How about yourself?

-Linda, please…you know very well that between friends there is no “Mister”. Please call me J.J.

-Al right, then. How are you J.J.? Yes, it is true. Last time we saw each other was at a Christmas Party if I am not mistaken. And that was probably three or four years ago…

-You are absolutely right, Linda! It was four years ago. After my wife passed away, I quit showing up at the parties. It is still an open wound.

-I am sorry to hear that, J.J.; I liked Jen so much! She was a true lady…I miss her. I only got good advises from her.

-I thank you for your words, Linda…yes, she truly was a special lady.

At this point, the conversation halted for few seconds, but these seconds felt like eternity for Linda. They were both looking into each other’s eyes, trying somehow to guess their interlocutor’s next move. Neither J.J. nor Linda was taking charge of the conversation…she had all her attention summoned into a tensed (yet well disguised) state of mind, while the physical strength was now residing into a tall, and balanced posture, demanding from her interlocutor a great deal of respect. It was J.J. who finally broke the silence and saved an already embarrassing situation:

-Is it too much if I asked you to join me for a cup a coffee? There is a place just four miles North from here where they serve a really nice Turkish coffee.

Linda startled. A week ago she discovered in the kitchen that copper pot bought by John during their trip to Turkey, pot which brought back memories from their honey-moon which they spent in the Holy Land and Turkey. She clearly remembered now the inscription scratched on the outer surface of the pot by the pot Master: “For those who love each other now and forever”. She became emotional again, but this time she forced herself not to show any kind of softness, any kind of weak spot where J.J. could’ve eventually hit. Initially, she wanted to refuse straight forward, but a second thought made room into her mind: “What if I accept? Maybe I can find out something, maybe J.J. spills the beans somehow and I get to know something that could eventually help John” She made a decision on the spot:

-I would love that, J.J.; it is not too late for a cup of coffee.

-Fantastic, Linda! You will love this little place. It is run by a Turkish family; this is the best coffee you can have in town!

-OK. You lead. I will follow you.

-Great! It is just four miles from here. We will be there in five minutes. J.J. respectfully tilted his head again, removed the hat with a gentle and well-studied gesture and then headed for his car. Linda couldn’t help but remember the Leo story and the fact that maybe one day, Leo will take this gorgeous classic collectible for a spin. She felt like laughing once again when she replayed the whole Theater episode: the fact that John had his beloved muscle car taken for a spin and who knows…maybe J.J. will pay one day tribute to that street smart guy, called Leo. She giggled and headed straight for the car. She couldn’t help but notice that J.J.’s crowd paid a certain level of respect when she passed by. She didn’t know how to react but the instinct prevailed and stopped for a couple of seconds, graciously tilting her head. Once in the car, she started asking herself questions which she was more than eager to find answers to: “Is J.J. having followers? Did he start his own Church, religion, and cult? This church is no different than my dad’s. Then why did people look kind of obedient towards him? Maybe I am wrong and I am over-reacting…still, he is clearly a leader of this community” She was now driving on the freeway while blindly following J.J.’s car and as per their discussion, it only took few minutes to make into a small plaza by the freeway. J.J. pulled his car in front of a store that had a great picture painted on a banner above the door: a person bringing on a plate few cups of coffee; the steam coming out of the cups was so well depicted, that a customer would immediately ask for one of those inviting, hot drinks. The background was kind of dark, but this is probably what the owner envisioned in his attempt to market his business: “we have the real coffee here” On top of this, the man carrying the cups was wearing the traditional Turkish fez garnished with the well-known tassels.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 39 [(Sunday Church (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 39

Sunday Church (I)

When the dawn knocked into the dining room window, Linda jumped from the couch screaming…it was the end of a dream which made her turn on the couch the whole night long.

It was very early and she really wanted to catch some more sleep as the whole night she had nightmares and at that very moment felt like she was exhausted from traumatic experiences. Strange, undefined creatures came into her dreams only to torment her by asking questions into a language she couldn’t understand, by lurking around her and trying to grab her feet, by releasing balls of fire from immensely opened mouths or by whispering into her ears into a clean English: “John will die soon”

“Noooooo!” She was all sweaty! The pillow was wet and the T-shirt she slept into was soaked. She was now sitting on the edge of the couch holding her head between her palms. The dreadful dreams she had, were still haunting her! She started shivering, so she pulled the blanket and wrapped herself into it waiting for something to happen. Soon, she got a headache which made her get up and head for the kitchen. She felt like her head was about to explode. With a shaky hand she opened up a cabinet where they were keeping some basic medication. She could barely open the container…pulled two pills out, grabbed a glass of water and swallowed them. The temples were pulsing in a way which made her wonder if the heart somehow moved up there. Slowly, the medication did its job and Linda calmed down. “I think I am going to have a coffee”. She was looking for an escape route actually, for something to do, for something to take her mind away from the awful dreams she had. She was dead tired. Slowly, she placed the coffee grinder back on the counter and headed back to the couch. Flipped the pillow, added another blanket and in no time she was deeply sleeping. This time it was a good, healthy round of sleep.

When she woke up, the sun was up and its rays were flooding the dining room while few of them were resting on Linda’s face. She smiled and opened up her eyes. It felt so good this time…these three hours of sleep completely changed her mood. She now felt rested and ready to start up another day. However, the nightmares she had resurfaced and brought a cloud over her forehead. “What a crazy dream”! She put her slippers on and headed for the kitchen. She wanted to completely wipe out and forget the dreams, she wanted to start a new day on a high note.

Intempestively, Linda decided to skip coffee and head out for a run. It was cold, but she didn’t care anymore. Grim thoughts were bothering her and by getting out there into the cold and have that adrenaline rush through her veins, she was hoping to switch into a more positive state of mind. It was Sunday after all and tomorrow was supposed to be another day at school. She didn’t want to carry the grey thoughts from home into the class.

In no time she got ready and was out through the door. It was crisp outside! Linda zipped up her white jacket all the way and in few minutes she was at an above moderate pace already. The cold and the wind chill factor were making her increase the pace of the run. She was actually feeling the blood accelerating through her veins, while the heart was pounding the chest at a rate which would’ve concerned a novice. But Linda was at the top of her physical abilities and a run like this was already a routine endeavor. Eventually she reached the place where a week ago, she and her husband took that left turn hoping to see the herd of deer Linda was regularly seeing when driving to work. For some reason, she decided to make a right turn, thus going eastward. Shortly, she realized that this country road is a continuation of the one they took last week. The branches of the pine trees on each side of the road were loaded with the early day freeze making them hang over the road and thus turning them into a curtain of ice emroided with the green needles of the majestic resinous trees. The spectacle of light and colors was unique indeed! However, she didn’t care much about it, she just wanted to run and leave behind her something…this “something” was so abstract and in-comprehensive that made her lose track of time and distance.

All of a sudden, a little detail which didn’t quite blend with the surroundings caught her attention and made her come back to the reality. As she was now running uphill, she saw a sort of pole sticking up right in the middle of the road

As she was approaching, the “leg” was growing. Linda stopped to take a better look. But at the same time, she was trying to analyze and comprehend what that particular sign was about. She was now very slowly running uphill, while her eyes were pin pointing to the strange thing which was becoming bigger and bigger.

All of a sudden, she realized that whatever she was looking at, was placed on the downhill slope as she was running uphill. Her imagination was now enticed by lots of questions: “why a pole in the middle of the road?” or: “what does this stick represent?” She slowly increased the pace and eventually she realized that the “leg” was actually the upper vertical member of a cross as now she was clearly seeing the horizontal member. She stopped again. “There is a church built on the down slope of this road!” Her heart was now racing, making the blood flow at a high speed rate. She felt her temples pulsing in a way which would’ve made a cardiologist worry over her health.

Once she reached the top of the hill, she again stopped…it was a strange but in the same time a relaxing, calming, almost a surreal type of feeling she was experiencing in that moment. The site of the white church put a smile on her face. In a spur of the moment she decided to pay the little church a visit. As she was approaching it, the smile on her face became larger and larger and a genuine joy (as for a good thing which was about to happen) replaced the smile. “Wait a minute! There is nobody into the parking lot. The church is probably closed. I can’t get in”. In spite of all these valid observations, her curiosity and natural impulse for carrying on ideas to the end, prevailed. She was now rapidly walking towards the white church, hoping that the door would be open. When she found herself standing in front of the massive wooden door, her heart started beating again at a high pace. She grabbed the handle and turned down. To her immense surprise and joy, the door was not locked. First few steps made inside the church, brought back memories…memories of herself and her dad – Father Wilson – opening the church early morning and preparing everything that was needed for the Mass. The smell of fresh basil and lit candles enticed her nostrils and made her rewind in her memory the times when her father fully put her in charge of all the preparations for the Mass. She was probably twelve years old and felt so proud and happy! It was a moment she never forgot, it was a moment when she understood how important her work was to a successful Sunday Mass and from that moment she fulfilled her duties with the highest level of diligence and accountability she was capable of.

Slowly she walked towards the Altar. The icon of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus was “looking” at her and the closer she got, the more she felt at ease, the more she felt at peace, the more she wanted to get even closer and touch the paint. She knew that there are certain boundaries regarding the access of women into the Altar, so she stopped in front of it and without even knowing it, she knelled while still keeping her eyes pin pointed at the image in front of her. She felt the need to pray…for some reason, she got stuck without being able to say a single word, in spite of all the time she spent learning the Liturgy, in spite of the fact that she knew by heart so many prays and ways to pray to God. Father Wilson wasted no energy in teaching her how to say thank you to the Almighty for the things he is giving us, but in the same time he taught her how to ask Him for help when in distress. And yes, Linda felt like she needed help as the phone call she had with her husband as well as the frightening dream she had, placed a high level of uneasiness into her mind.

-It seems like you need a bit of help with your prayers, Linda…

Linda felt how her spine was flooded with ice cold sweat; she stood up and turned around. A pair of blue eyes as sharp as two razor blades were looking at her with an infinite kindness, wisdom and understanding while the smile on the man’s face was multiplying tenfold the benignity and genuineness of the whole physiognomy. The majestic white beard was greatly contrasting with the tanned skin, but was beautifully blending with the two blue eyes. It felt again (same as last week when she saw him for the first time), that this man was indeed one of the Apostles painted on the walls. Her face was now flooded once again with joy and happiness, hope and anticipation of good things to happen.

-Mr. McCarthy! What a pleasant surprise!

-Peter is my name, Linda.

-Peter, I am so happy to see you again.

-Well, I am preparing the stage for the Mass, as you can see. I opened up early in the morning but I realized that I forgot to bring few things from home, so I went back. This is why you found the door of the church open.

-I actually wondered myself…how come the door is open?

-Now you got the answer to your question.

-I did and I appreciate it.

Few seconds of quietness and silence followed. Linda’s beautiful eyes were looking at Peter once again with all the admiration and the genuineness she used to look at the Apostles’ paintings when she was a child. Peter looked indeed like one of the personages from the walls who dropped by to help her out. The imposing white beard, the tanned face, the blue eyes were features which seemed to accompany a personage who had just come straight from the Gospel.

-It looks like you need some help with your praying…

Linda was mesmerized! Once again she looked deep into the old man’s eyes: “How does he know I was stuck? Can he read minds?” This very idea made her startle and a little bit of a fear encompassed her. This man with his imposing tall stature, with his piercing blue eyes, a tanned skin and a white beard like one of the saints on the wall, was capable of guessing her thoughts, of reading her mind! Involuntarily, she made a step backwards signaling that she was ready to get into defense. Then something which blew her mind away happened: the old man stretched his huge, rough, rugged hand towards her and with a voice which made Linda pull a soft yelling out of her chest said:

-Let’s pray together, Linda. You and I. Let’s ask Good Lord for forgiveness and guidance.

She was in a state of shock…she could bet that she heard the voice of her father coming out of Peter McCarthy’s mouth, that voice which was always gentle and warm, always encouraging and positive, always balanced and musical. She followed Peter’s lead and knelled again. Both of them were now facing the Altar and in few seconds Peter started saying a prayer which made Linda look at him scared and lost. It was the prayer Father Wilson and she were always saying before people were arriving for the Mass. It was the prayer in which both of them were asking God to watch over their family and bless them with all his kindness. She looked again into man’s eyes. A discreet sign of head nodding made her understand that she should follow his lead and keep the head down. It was not long before Linda took over the praying session as she remembered word for word all those prayers she used to say with her father. The deeper she was getting into praying, the firmer, the more musical, stable and assuring her voice was becoming. When she said her last “Amen!” tears were flooding her face…tears of joy and hope, not sorrow and pain. She turned her head to the right to thank Peter. Her heart stopped! He was gone…as enigmatically as he showed up, the same way he disappeared: elusively, barely making a noise or leaving a trace behind him.

This time she was scared…looked around her and didn’t see anybody. The entrance door to the church was now open (almost like someone deliberately left it like that) and the morning sun rays were invading the whole church with a spectacle of light and warmth. She managed to crack a smile, looked up to the ceiling and with tears into her voice whispered: “Thank you, dad!”

Linda didn’t want to ask herself questions like: “Who is Peter McCarthy? How does he know all those prayers only I and dad knew? Why and how did he show up exactly when I got stuck? Where did he disappear?” She got out of the church, closed the door and started running.

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 38 (A peculiar phone conversation)

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 38

A peculiar phone conversation

At the time when the phone rang, Linda was considering her dinner options. The freezer was stuffed with semi prepared food and her dilemma increased fourfold when facing the options: pizza, lasagna, spaghetti or fries and chicken nuggets.

She closed the freezer’s door in a hurry and picked up the phone.

-Hey, how are you? I was worried! You didn’t call the whole week! Is everything alright? At this moment she put the phone on the speaker so she can have the freedom to move around and use her hands.

-I’m alright honey, I am alright. I didn’t call you because initially I was jet legged and my biological clock was obviously upside down. And for the past three days, I have been going through lots of strange encounters.

-I have the whole night in front of me to listen to you.

-Yeah, unfortunately I promised Vic and Zhaohui that I will accompany them for a visit to Suzhou Gardens.

-Who is Zhaohui? What Gardens?

-There are so many things that happened and so many things I need to tell you, that I will probably need two days to get everything out of my chest.

-Can you summarize at least?

-Sure. Let me answer your first question: Zhaohui is Vic’s fiancée.

-You are telling me that Vic found his half in China? Linda burst into a huge laughter while at the other end of the line John couldn’t help but crack a large smile.

-Vic is a completely changed man. He is half the size he used to be, he stopped drinking, he is not gambling anymore and he is fluent in Mandarin.

-Wow! Now this is impressive! How did this happen?

-Take a guess…

-Zhaohui?

-Bingo! You got it!

-Unbelievable! So, for him the move to China was all beneficial. He turned out to be a reborn man and he found a wife. Good for him! Tell Vic that I wish him and his fiancée all the best in the world.

-I will surely do so.

-What is this trip to those Gardens about?

-Not sure, but Zhaohui goes there as many times as she can, whenever she has a chance. It looks like these gardens present a sort of getaway for her, a sort of a place where she meditates and recharges her batteries. They specifically mentioned: “Humble Administrator’s Garden”…I don’t know the significance, but apparently it means quite a lot to her.

-Wow! This is fascinating!

-It surely is.

-What else can you tell me before they are picking you up?

-There are so many things that happened to me…I met Tony Gang – the guy in charge of the Office and I met the people he is associated with in this criminal activity.

-What? You think they have an organization, a cartel, a criminal enterprise that is stealing money from Glenworth?

-Positive.

-Incredible! So, your first instincts were right.

-Actually during the lunch I had with J.J. and Scott, I was warned that Tony could be the head of this organization or whatever it is. The actual fact is that he is not the brain of the enterprise. The head of this criminal cartel is Zhiming mao.

-What? Who is this Zhiming guy?

-You see…there are so many things which happened in this past week that it will take me forever to tell them to you through a phone line. This “guy” actually is the head of one of the most aristocratic families from the Ming Dynasty – The house of Chonghuan, the House which founded the “Seven Orchids Order”

-I am so lost…I don’t understand a word you are saying!

-Because (again) I need to spend many hours to tell you what happened from the beginning. Apparently I am part of some curse which happened when Chongzhen Emperor executed General Yuan Chonghuan. The General cursed the Emperor. The other thing that stands out of this is that this curse must end soon and I am (with or without my will) part of it.

-An Emperor, a general, an execution during Ming Dynasty, a curse and you: John Parker, are all related to each other…

-Yeap! John could actually hear Linda’s crystalline laughter at the other end and once again cracked a smile. Unfortunately, all the encounters he went through for the past six days and the (still fresh in his mind) meeting he had last night with Zhiming mao, made his smile look more like a barely visible sign of discomfort. His mind brought back in front of his eyes Zhiming mao and his statement: “if I wanted to kill you, you would’ve been dead by now”. Of course, he was not going to share this detail with Linda, but his voice was trembling and his wife picked up the change in his voice immediately.

-John, please come back home…you are really scaring me.

-Relax, hon! I think in a couple of weeks everything will be settled. I will be back for Thanksgiving.

-Thanksgiving? That’s almost six weeks away!

-I am just saying Thanksgiving. It could be a lot sooner. I will get to the bottom of this story soon, trust me. I got a good handle of it.

-OK, I trust you. But please, don’t do anything irrational, don’t get into situations you don’t recognize. Please stay prudent and safe!

-You know that I am always prudent and I have a nose for safety…

-Yeah, I know! The episode with the truck driver who you tackled to the ground in a gas station says it all about your prudency and nose for safety! Says it all!

-Common hon! This is a low blow! This time John couldn’t help himself but release a huge laughter from all his lungs’ capacity.

-No, it’s not a low blow, it’s the truth! Your competitive nature makes you sometimes take decisions which are not compatible with your calm, settled and cerebral nature. There are two Johns in you: one is balanced and intellectual, the other one is impulsive and makes split second decisions, decisions which are scaring me.

-Those split second decisions won a Championship, honey…it was indeed that split second decision which made me change my mind and I went for the throw. I knew I could make it, that’s why I took it. So, a decision initiated on gut feelings, was actually done based on using accumulated knowledge.

-Don’t talk technicalities to me! I know you better than you do!

-OK, OK! I will play safe. I will not throw, I will run the ball. At this point, both of them burst into a noisy and well deserved laughter, a laughter which cleared the atmosphere created by so many unknowns laying in front of them.

-OK, I let you go now. I will watch some Hockey, maybe a movie and go to sleep.

-Alright, hon! Stay safe and warm.

-I will. You take care of yourself. Bye now.

-By the way, before you hang up – John felt like wanted to get more out of his chest and decided to share with Linda his thoughts on his boss’s involvement into the story…

-I am listening…

-I, Vic and Zhaohui believe that J.J. has a hand into this whole adventure of mine in China. He is somehow related to the curse – as I am – and sent me there to probably do the dirty work for him.

-No way! You gotta’ be kidding! How is he involved? And why?

-Trying to understand myself honey, but it looks like all the roads are taking me to either J.J. or Zhiming mao.

-So, you are saying that J.J. set you up for failure? Why would he do that? It’s his company, his money!

-Linda, I do not know the answers myself…I am at least as puzzled as you are regarding J.J.’s involvement. But definitely he is using me somehow. I feel like he is the man in the shadows and this is not necessarily a bad thing. He is probably on my side, but I didn’t like the way he approached this business endeavor.

-Absolutely! He should’ve told you upfront what his intentions are! This is not fair to you…

-That’s OK hon, I am a big boy – I can handle it.

-Please be careful, John!

-I will, I promise.

-OK then. I let you go. Love you and please, please stay safe.

-You bet! Have a good day!

After she hung up, she didn’t feel quite well. It was a strange feeling…it felt more like a frustration that she is now alone while John is trying to figure out some centuries old curse (apparently related to funds drainage from Glenworth). She felt a bit of uneasiness…in her subconscious she realized that it was just a hidden and never tested way her brain was trying to tell her something.

The rest of the evening was spent between a frugal dinner and flipping through channels. An interesting Hockey game was on, but her mind was not at all into watching it…she couldn’t help but letting her brain go back to the conversation she had with her husband. The names which came out of the short chat, the apparent intricacy of the story, the fact that J.J. fed John to the wolves by sending him there in the middle of a conspiracy – or curse, or whatever was called – made her angry. Nervously she started flipping through the channels faster and faster until she realized that it is useless to get nervous and angry. She was not able to help John regardless of what she was doing. An immense feel of guilt and helplessness encompassed her. Few tears came out of her beautiful blue eyes…it was the relief valve she needed! A strange but comfortable sense of calmness followed the initial state of discomfort making her look for the favorite pillow and blanket. Once she turned off the night stand lamp and the TV, the warmth of the thick blanket deeply penetrated her body. A nice smile flourished on her lips. It was the sign that she was now relaxed and ready for a good and deserved sleep.

“Tomorrow it’s another day” whispered Linda and immediately fell asleep.