Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 11-12 (Weekend in the suburbs – A Saturday to remember – Peter McCarthy/Weekend in the suburbs – a Saturday to remember – Family decision)

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 11

Weekend in the suburbs – A Saturday to remember – Peter McCarthy

John carefully poured into two copper cups (that were part of the set bought with the pot) the freshly brewed black liquid and took a deep breath. The smell was heavenly – as Linda said.

He took the sugar from the cabinet and put one small teaspoon into his coffee. Linda did the same. She took a sip and her facial expression changed.

-God! You made it so strong!

-No, I made it just right. Put more sugar into it, but you will then drink a tea.

Linda listened to her hubby’s advice and cautiously dumped just another half teaspoon of sugar in it. Took a sip and closed her eyes.

-Now it’s good!

They both kept quiet for few minutes, trying to enjoy every single drop of the miraculous liquid to the fullest. Their minds were levitating and for those minutes, they were back together in their youth, on those foreign lands, just married, enjoying the absolute freedom of a life without worries.

-So, tell me: what it is written on the pot? She waited for a long time to ask this question. Her natural feminine curiosity was now at the peak and she couldn’t hold back anymore.

-What do you exactly remember about that trip?

-Quite a bit, actually. We flew to Istanbul and we spent a whole week in that city. We took boat trips on the Black Sea, we held and stretched our hands imagining that we are touching both Asia and Europe – when we crossed Bosphorus Straits – we walked for countless hours through the Bazaar looking for a necklace for my niece…there were so many stores selling gold, that we simply couldn’t decide! Finally we flipped a coin, remember? Then we simply wandered through the historical sites and climbed the defensive walls of the old and magnificent Constantinople. I remember even now how impressed I was when we visited Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Dolmabahçe Sarayı with its gold and crystal decorations.

-Good memory! Still…how did we get the pot?

Linda grabbed her head with both hands and started pressing in an attempt to squish out of it the memories that would result in answering John’s question.

-I remember that we visited one of those small little towns around Istanbul where we had a lovely dinner; then we walked on those stone paved streets before we reached our hotel and we saw this old gentleman on the side of the street trying to sell us something…

-That’s it! You got it! We bought the pot from him and the cups as well.

-How about the writing?

-This is a different story. Do you remember he was talking to us and we didn’t know what he was saying?

-Yes! I remember perfectly!

-Then?

Linda grabbed her head again into her palms and again into an effort of bringing back memories, she dropped her chin for few seconds…

-Yes! It was that University student who helped us, the young kid who was just walking by!

-Bingo!

-Yes, now I remember! It is so clear: while we were speaking English to the old man and he was speaking Turkish back to us, this young gentleman stopped by and offered to help. He was a student at…which American University?

-He was a student in the second year at the St. Louis University, Department of History. He told us that he was fluent in old Greek and Latin, he was able to communicate in Turkish and Hebrew, he could speak some Arabic and he told us that he was pretty advanced in learning Aramaic.

-Exactly! I remember that I was shocked that he was able to learn the language our Lord spoke!

-Yes. He told us that the master pot maker wanted to write something on the pot so we can remember the day. We told him that we just got married. And then he told us: “The old man will bring the pot to you tomorrow morning before you leave”. Next morning, I was the first one at the Reception down stairs – you were still up in the room.

The pot maker was waiting for me. I paid him and he was gone saying something in Turkish. Receptionist told me: “He said: may Good God bless you and your family”. I looked at the old man trying to say something, but he was gone. He disappeared so fast, that I didn’t even have the time to thank him. In the meantime, the coldness of the pot and the cups, made me shift my attention to them. I had never seen something so astonishing, so unique and so burlesque as these coffee recipients. The red color of the outer skin and the interior made into a fish scales type of hammer making, made me just drop on a couch at the Reception and look at them without saying a word…I was still waiting for you to come down.

-Yes, I came down and you were still in a transcendent state of mind.

-I was. I had never seen this sort of craftsmanship in my life!

-So, you said that the young student wrote on a piece of paper what the master was going to engrave on the pot…

-Yes…John stood up and with a calculated motion headed towards his Office. Shortly he came back and handed over to his wife an old travel map.

-This is the map we used in Istanbul to find our way around, exclaimed Linda with a voice so loud, so genuinely surprised that the map was still intact! You never told me about this?

-There is always a first time. And you wanted to know, right? Here you go! Read!

She took a long look at the map, opened it, and for a good couple of minutes flipped the map back and forth trying to find the famous message.

-I can’t find it, said Linda with an obvious frustrated voice; two creases shadowed the beautiful forehead of hers while the lips came together pointing forward, signaling a sign of deep annoyance.

-Front page top right corner, Linda!

Her palms were trembling from emotions…she turned the map back to the front page and looked at the spot her husband mentioned. There she found the hand writing of the young student they met, the young student who helped them out: “For those who love each other now and forever” written in Turkish, obviously. It was already too much. She let the map drop on the floor, stood up, chained her arms around John’s neck, dropped into his lap and kissed him with all the passion she could put into that kiss. It was a kiss of “thank you for the memories”, it was a kiss of “I love you” and it was a kiss of: “I am so happy to have you in my life”.

They were still embraced and no one felt like wanted to let go. Finally, John whispered into Linda’s ear: I think the coffee is getting cold…

She let go while kissing him again on the lips, long and passionate, for all the good time she had this morning.

Both of them went back to their coffees and John poured whatever hot quantity was left over in the pot into their cups. The smell of the out of this world flavor filled up the kitchen again and the only thing they wanted to take advantage of, was to fully enjoy the last drop of the heavenly blessed liquid in front of them.

John picked up the map from the floor and unfolded it while methodically taking small sips from the cup. He started an attempt to re-create the whole trip to the region. Many memories popped up into his head, memories which after few minutes brought a large smile on his face; he managed to remember every day of their stay in Istanbul, what they did, what they visited and even remembered the name of few meals they had at dinner.

Linda was watching him carefully, looking at his face, at his hands, at the creases on his forehead created by those deep thoughts of trying to remember the trip details. At this point she was so in love with him!

-Why are you smiling?

John heard the question more like in sub conscious and answered still looking at the map:

-I remembered the name of that famous dish we liked so much at dinner before we left.

Linda was eagerly waiting for the full answer.

-What was it? She raised her voice in a sign of deep dissatisfaction that John was only giving her pieces and bites of the story.

John winced at the high pitched voice and simply mentioned:

Izgara Köfte!

Linda grabbed her temples between her palms and tried to recollect at least the look of that dish. Finally she remembered the cooked meat balls that came in all sort of different shapes (not only round), made out of grilled lamb meat and served with grilled peppers, sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley and crumbled red peppers and of course the Restaurant made bread that she could (even now after so many years), still feel the smell of the perfectly baked dough.

-Got it, said Linda in a triumphant way and in few seconds mentioned to John all the details that came back to her mind from that last famous dinner they had on the patio of the Restaurant while looking at the Bosphorus.

John let the map down, looked at her and smiled:

-Good memory! Looks like you really enjoyed that dish! You remembered every single detail of whatever was on the plate.

-Yes, it was so good! Another moment of silence dropped between them as they both tried to relive those beautiful times of no worries, no real responsibilities and no major commitments.

-So, what is the plan for this morning? What is the plan for today?

-I will go out for a walk shortly while you will rest and keep some ice on that eye of yours.

-I want to take a walk too, said John! His voice was filled with frustration that his wife didn’t include him into her plans for the Saturday morning walk.

-You have to rest, John! Your eye is almost completely blacked out and Monday you cannot show up at the Office like this. You have to rest and keep that ice pack on the face.

-I’m kinda’ hungry.

-Can you wait ‘til I come back? I will keep the walk short: maximum forty maybe forty five minutes.

-OK. I will watch some TV in the meantime.

-Deal, said Linda and disappeared into the basement of the house to get dressed for the walk. It only took her five minutes to come back and headed straight for the door. “Get some rest, John” said Linda while closing the door behind her.

Her beautiful long blonde hair was flowing over the shoulders in spite of the fact that she was wearing a thick hat to protect her from the cold morning temperature. A nice, warm, black sports jacket reiterated the contrast between her hair and the outfit, making her looks like a Northern warrior ready to step on the battle field. The sweat pants, the sneakers and the thick cold weather running socks completed the attire of a good looking active lady.

She didn’t even set a route to follow. Instinctively, her feet took her the same way she was driving to work and soon she found herself on the country road that she could’ve probably called “my road” by now.

The events of the morning since she woke up and the nice, crisp but sunny weather outside put a large smile on her face. She started walking at a high pace, as she promised to keep the walk shorter than usual. The strong air of the country side was filled with all of the fall aromas of the woods, of the freshly plowed fields being prepared for the long winter months, with the smell of the morning frost that takes a bite off of the leaves every day. Linda took deep breaths and tried to enjoy every single one of them at the fullest while saying to herself: “It is too nice of a day not to take advantage of the benefits of a great morning walk, after all!”

She realized she forgot to take her wrist watch she usually wears when jogging or walking. “Oh, well…I will have to time myself differently, now”.

Soon she realized that she will be within few hundred yards from the place where she saw the deer herd yesterday morning. Her heart started pumping rapidly and the feet picked up an even faster pace. “They are there!” exclaimed Linda with a voice which showed a tremendous joy and candid exuberance. This time, the surprise was even greater: the deer herd was closer to the road, was not on the top of the hill anymore. For some reason, they moved down and as usual they were ruminating on most likely an early morning breakfast. Linda couldn’t take her eyes off of them. They were so close! She could actually see the cold air coming out of their mouths and from their nostrils. She stopped by the side of the road and looked at them, fascinated by their appearance, literally hypnotized by the view. A deer even broke up from the group and headed towards Linda’s direction. Her heart was now beating at a rate that she could fill it all the way into her ears. She tried to get closer, so she slowly moved to the side of the road. This move put the herd on the high alert: their ears were now all pointing up to the sky and the one that tried to greet Linda, stopped. Then, all of a sudden, the doe moved her head up and down few times, hit the ground with one of the front hoofs – almost like a salute sign – and turned around. The very next moment, the whole herd was on the move, galloping towards the safety of the high hill.  “Oh, noo! Don’t go! Please don’t go!” shouted Linda with a voice that showed desperation, a deep sense of loss and a great disappointment.

But unfortunately for Linda, the only thing she could see anymore was a large white cloud of fresh frosty water and morning dew (still laying on ground waiting for the first warmer sun rays to turn them into fresh water) that turned into very fine vapors by the hoofs of the herd on the move.  She was still looking into the direction the deer disappeared hoping from the bottom of her heart that they would return. Linda knew this was a long shot but her eyes were still trying to encompass the horizon that took away the beings she got to love so much, she got to believe were a “good sign” to her. Right away, a big question came into her mind: “What was the meaning of that sign? That female deer hit the ground with the hoof and nodded at me! She just wanted to say hi, or there is more to it?” More questions were crossing her mind now: “Are the kids ok? What if they are sick? Do they need anything? What if this was a sign that something terrible has happened?” A cold chill was now running down her spine and she really didn’t know if it was due to the emotions lived for few minutes, or it was due to the crisp weather outside. She didn’t even realize that somebody was calling her:

-Ma’am? Hello… Ma’am? Is there anyways I can help you out with something?

Linda’s cognitive functions were on high alert, but her brain processed the voice of the man who was calling her as an echo to her own questions on kids’ well-being. She suddenly realized that a real person was asking her if she was alright. Lind turned around and realized that an old man in a pickup truck stopped by and courteously asked her if she needed some help. Linda was stunned: the old man looked exactly like some of the Apostles she used to draw and color when she was a young girl. She was drawing those figures from the numerous books her father had on his working desk at any given time. The man had thick quite long white hair and even a more impressive long white beard that was reaching his chest level. His face was all tanned (probably from long exposures to the sun) making the prominent chick bones look like two islands surrounded by white beaches. But what struck Linda the most, was the color of his eyes: blue as the ocean itself! The smile and the light that smile was bringing into conversation, was enough to make one understand that a good heart was speaking to you. His big, tanned, gnarled hand betrayed him – he was a local farmer, probably even the owner of those lands.

-No Sir, I am OK. Thank you for offering said Linda and without even knowing, a large smile came up on her lips and her eyes made contact with old man’s eyes…it was a sudden deep and mysterious connection with the man in the old, beaten up pickup truck. She did not realize why she was smiling so freely, why she felt so comfortable speaking to this person she just saw for the first time in her life.

-OK, then. You have a good day, Ma’am and may the Good Lord look upon you.

It was so long since she heard that call, that blessing! This was exactly the blessing Reverend Wilson used to say when finishing the Mass.

-Wait! Linda didn’t realize that maybe she saw her father into the old man speaking to her…the kind of holiness he was transpiring through all of his given features, the deep blue eyes, the smile that could make even the dark Seraphim smile back, all of these together made her ask the man to wait.

-Yes, Ma’am! Would you like a ride to the town? I am heading that direction now…

-No, Sir. Again, thank you for offering. Linda looked once more at the old farmer…she was standing just three feet away from his truck as she approached in an attempt to speak to him.

-Are you aware that there is a heard of deer on this property? Linda turned her head around and pointed to the direction the deer vanished. It was the best she could come up with…those blue eyes almost hypnotized her and she had to say something.

-Of course I am aware, said the man with the white beard! A big laugh followed his statement and the long beard started to move intermittently up and down as he was laughing from all of his lungs. They spend all the fall on that hill. In October is the mating season. Now the females are probably bearing off springs already. In spring time, they will give birth to calves and will move away from these lands as we start plowing the ground and prepare it for the new season.

Linda’s first instinct was to tell the old man the story of the “greeting deer”, but something made her hold back. She didn’t know the person after all and that was already kind of a personal thing.

-Thanks again for your kindness, Sir. I will walk back.

-As you wish Ma’am! You have a good day now.

-You too, Sir!

-Peter McCarthy is my name, Ma’am. Delighted to have met you!

-Linda Parker, it was nice meeting you too, Mr. McCarthy! Linda’s hand disappeared into John’s huge, rugged, gnarled, healed blistered hand. For Linda, it was like shaking hand with a piece of a tree bark.

A big cloud of exhaust gases came out of the rear end of the truck and one could’ve realized right away that this car was a beaten up piece of machinery that just is refusing to die. McCarthy however, stuck his hand out through the window and waved at Linda. Linda waved back while trying to cover her mouth with the sleeve of the sweater to prevent inhaling the exhaust gases. She started coughing and tears came out of her eyes. “God, how old is that truck?” Linda burst into laughter while still keeping her eyes on the road and watching McCarthy’s truck disappear into the horizon. Soon she found herself standing in the middle of the road trying to put together what happened in the past eight or ten minutes. A cold sweat ran down her spine and she realized that she has to move, or she will get a cold.

She turned around and increased the pace of the walk to a very crisp rhythm. The deer hitting the ground with the hoof just couldn’t come out of her mind! “Why did she do this in a way that I could see her? Why? She headed straight towards my direction and it was almost like she tried to talk to me…Is there a meaning to this sort of behavior? I should’ve asked McCarthy!”

Linda felt like she left a big opportunity pass by and a cloud of regret darkened her beautiful face, otherwise always smiley and bright. But the almost evangelical face of Peter McCarthy appeared again in front of her eyes and without even knowing, the smile and a good disposition captured the mimic of her facial expression once again.

She was almost running now and the image of the farmer with the long white beard was permanently present in front of her, like a target, like an immaterial thing you are trying to reach knowingly that no matter what you do, you cannot get to it, but keeps you going, keeps you keep on trying.

Chapter 12

Weekend in the suburbs – a Saturday to remember – Family decision

 She didn’t even know how she got back into her neighborhood, which way she went, which route she picked (as there were a multitude of ways to get home from where she was), but the so familiar houses on her street awakened her from her dream, from yet another event – events that just wouldn’t stop piling up for the past twenty four hours. Linda carefully opened up the door, knowing that John was sleeping. She giggled at the thought that, she slipped a sleeping pill into John’s coffee when he mentioned that wanted to take a walk with her. Entered the house and confirm to her expectations, John was deeply sleeping on the couch. She approached and covered him with the blanket. His eye was still blackened, but the swell was showing signs of retiring. Linda dropped on one knee and softly kissed him on the neck, making sure he wouldn’t wake up. Then disappeared into the Master Bedroom’s bathroom where she was planning to take a long bath into their Jacuzzi.

The hot water in combination with the aromatic salts, the herbal based skin products she was using and the water jets that were bombarding her body, opened up the pores of her epidermis and soon Linda fell asleep with her head resting on the big towel she placed on the Jacuzzi’s head rest spot.

She woke up not knowing for how long she was asleep, but one thing was certain: she was shivering. The Jacuzzi had a timer and because she took a nap, she couldn’t restart them when the water became cold. With a shaking hand, she reached the timer and turned the hot water on. The hot jets raised her core temperature in seconds and Linda felt an immense pleasure in letting herself being entertained once gain by the bubbly water around her.

She finally decided to get out of the tub and stepped into the shower where she took a long shower washing her hair.

Drying the hair was an entire other procedure which would take significant amount of time. She was ready to proceed, when a smell coming from the kitchen dilated her nostrils: “John is cooking!” She made a split second decision – as she was starving – “I am not drying it!” She tightened her beautiful hair into a top knot and then grabbed a towel and wrapped it around it. The robe was at her reach, so she put it on and headed down stairs.

She was right: John was cooking. The smell of sautéed onion and garlic and the smell of freshly baked bread made Linda’s mouth-watering.

-Hello handsome! Her arms wrapped her husband’s middle section while her head quietly rested on John’s right shoulder.

John turned his head and softly kissed her.

-I hope you are hungry.

-I am starved. I could eat half a cow said Linda while a beautiful and pleasant laughter came out of her chest.

-Not sure if I can serve half a cow to you, but I can give you chicken breast marinated for 24 hours into our special spicy sauce.

-I love it!

They were both great fans of spicy food and during their Caribbean trips, they developed a habit of buying and bringing back different types of sauces they found on the Islands.

-Chicken is fifteen minutes away from being done. I need help.

-Yes, Sir! Linda made the “salute” sign and both of them burst in laughter. John grabbed a bag of potatoes and handed it over to her.

-We are having mashed potatoes. Please cut them smaller than usual so they can get done faster.

Linda picked the potato peeler from one of the drawers and started peeling the nice large potatoes in front of her. John opened up the door of the oven to check up the state of the chicken breasts and a smell of meat and spices made them inhale all the way to the bottom of their lungs. Whenever he was cooking something into the oven, he was always using a heat resistant glass tray, big enough to allow him to add all kinds of vegetable roots: carrots, parsley, parsnip, and celery, everything of course cooked into a nice crisp white wine. He removed the cover to check out the chicken. Picked up a fork and tried the meat: “Still needs some more time” John placed the cover back on and closed the oven.

-Now let’s take off the side dish that goes with the mashed potatoes, said John loudly enough while stirring into the already golden onion rings. Grabbed a container he had on the counter where he had previously cut red and yellow peppers in nice, long and fairly thin slices. Dumped the peppers into the pot and covered it while turning the heat to low. After few minutes, he added Portabella mushrooms (cut into slices and kept into lemon juice) and turned the heat back to medium-high. After a couple more minutes, opened up a can of chicken broth and poured the whole content into the pan, turned the heat to high and covered the pot.

In all this time, Linda got the potatoes ready and had the pot set on high heat.

While waiting for the food to be done, John opened up a bottle of their favorite red wine, poured “the gift from the gods” into two glasses and both of them started taking short sips while inhaling the aroma of a full body well balanced wine.

The wine opened up their tasting buds at the maximum and the smell of the chicken from the oven and the mushrooms on the stove was so pronounced, that made Linda almost nervously exclaim:

-If I don’t eat within next ten minutes, I am going to faint!

-We will eat; a little more patience, honey!

Linda checked the potatoes – they were done. She dumped the water, poured milk and added a cube of butter. Then grabbed the mixer, threw a pinch of salt in and in few seconds the potatoes were ready to be served. Covered the pot and moved it to the kitchen table.

Their large kitchen allowed them to move freely while executing different tasks and the wonderful granite counter allowed them to hold numerous dishes on it while preparing their dinners or weekend lunches. This was one of John’s dreams: a large kitchen where he can move around while cooking without being forced to rub backs with anybody else. A kitchen large enough to make them both work as a team without interfering with each other’s work.

John opened the oven again. Took the cover off and this time he made the call Linda was anxiously waiting for: “It’s ready!” He switched to broil and placed the uncovered pot back into the oven. In two minutes, the meat captured the heat coming from the top coils and a nice, golden/light brownish color told him that the dish was ready.

John covered the pot again and took it to the kitchen table beside the potatoes. While having another sip, he checked the side dish: “Almost done”.

Linda had already set the table: a nice cotton table cloth, the bottle of wine and the freshly baked bread (placed into a bamboo container covered with a cotton table napkin) in the middle, forks, knifes and plates. She placed a couple of cubes of butter into a separate little plate. It always goes well with fresh bread!

Finally, John removed the mushrooms from the stove and brought the pot to the table as well.

-Alright! Let’s eat now!

Linda paired her hands together and as usual, before eating the food, she thanked God for the meal. John was not much of a religious man or Church going type of person, but he was deeply respecting his wife for her believes and he paired his hands together too, in a sign of piety.

“Amen” said Linda. She grabbed the knife and started up with the butter and bread. Everything was delicious, the wine was fantastic and they both had a great time chit chatting while savoring every single bite of a good lunch. The juicy spicy chicken was going so well with the mashed potatoes, the mushroom and peppers side dish and with the pickled cucumbers and baby beets that a sip of that red wine became a must have.

-I’m so full, exclaimed Linda! A large smile rose on her beautiful face and eventually she rested her back against the chair while still keeping the right hand on her wine glass.

-I’m OK too, said John and followed his wife habit on leaning against the chair back while holding the glass of wine in front of him in a sign that soon that glass will go empty.

A short silence followed and both Linda and John felt like they wanted to be on their own, felt like they wanted to process the tremendous amount of information they received in the last thirty six hours, information that unusually appeared in their path and changed a bit of their life synergy.

John was weighing on the “right time” to tell Linda that he was going to go to China for a period of time he didn’t even know.

Linda was still wondering: what would those signs mean? The heard of deer watching her go to work and the same herd greeting her few hours ago…it must have a meaning, it must have a hidden meaning…this is what Linda was hoping for. She didn’t want to tell John. She was a bit afraid that John would tell her: “it’s just a sign, it has nothing to do with reality”. But then she remembered how shaken John was when he told her about his encounter with the buck in the middle of the road. “I have to talk to him about this morning events!”

John poured into the glasses whatever was left into the bottle. Linda grabbed the glass and took a good sip out of it, then placed the glass on the table and looked John straight into his eyes. John realized that something was not right with her and put the glass on the table as well. He looked into his wife’s eyes as well and saw a glimpse of wonder, of hesitation, of “how do I tell you” kind of question.

-Linda, do you want to tell me something?

This question dropped as a stone thrown from the closest volcano and for few seconds, Lind’s face turned into a granite type of amalgamation knowing that she will eventually have to tell John what she has been through.

-No John, you go first if you have to tell me something…she didn’t even know how she did this, she didn’t even realized that the whole pressure was now on John.

-OK. I have to tell you something…a long pause followed; a break into their conversation that would otherwise be unimaginable.

Linda started regretting that she tossed the ball into John’s court. Now she was really scared. She bluffed counting on the fact that John told her everything “during the night to remember”.

“Is there more to be told?” Her throat dried out and the Adam’s apple was running up and down in a sign of deep discomfort, of unexpected disbelief, of tremendous anxiety generated by an unknown that promised to be out of ordinary.

John took his glass and walked to the couch. Placed the glass on the table and methodically tighten up the robe around his waist; took a seat and like nothing happened grabbed the remote control and turned on the TV. Then picked up the glass and slowly, with a Master’s Sommelier ritual, inhaled the scent of an excellent wine just centrifuged by a crisp and steady motion of an expert.

Linda started getting nervous…

-Are you going to tell me, or what? Her voice reached a high pitch, in a sign of nervousness, in a sign of tremendous irritation that was making her lose her natural self-control.

-Sit down! John’s left hand showed a spot by his left side on the couch.

Linda’s nervousness dissipated into fear, into the freight of an unknown territory, into the quick sands of a dessert she never explored.

She quietly had a sit by John’s side. He grabbed her by the shoulders and softly kissed her on the forehead.

Another few minutes of silence passed by. Linda was waiting for the news, while John was weighing the way he was going to tell her what he had to. He virtually had no plan whatsoever how to break the news to her, how to make her feel at ease knowing that they’ve never been apart since they got married.

-Linda…his voice was trembling with hesitation, which made his wife even more worried, even more cautious, even more alert on what was about to come.

-Linda, I was assigned a project overseas.

-That’s it? Linda burst into a huge laugh and all the tension that encompassed her senses prior to John’s statement disappeared, vanished into that healthy laughter which made her entire physiognomy change.

-Linda, please give me a chance to continue…

-You thought that I would freak out because of this? Another round of laughter came out of Linda’s chest while John was just sitting and smiling at his wife’s entertaining endeavor.

He shortly figured out that he has to give her some time to digest the information he already provided. Grabbed the remote again and flipped to the Sports Channel while Linda was already resting her head on his legs. She pulled the small pillow she slept onto the whole night and placed it on John’s legs while making room for her forearm to sneak under. Now she had a chance to look at the TV and in the same time take a nap if she wanted.

Shortly, she was asleep which put John into a difficult situation: “how am I going to get out of this? If I move, she will wake up. If I stay, I have to watch whatever is on…”

John decided to wait until she was completely asleep and then pull out. Unfortunately the Sports Channel had nothing interesting. He switched to Financial Channel. It was Saturday, so all the news was actually old news from Friday. He looked at his wife. She was already asleep.

With one crafty move, he managed to hold her head and pull out without Linda feeling it! John walked out of the Living room on his toes and went straight for the kitchen.

Slowly poured into his glass the wine left over and grabbed the Saturday’s newspaper. “Financials” inevitably captured his attention again and this time he really dug into the numbers and completely read the articles.

Now he had facts (after the Staff Meeting on Friday morning). Now he had the inside information provided by JJ and shortly he managed to get an overview of the Market, of the trends within the Market and most of all of the eventual pitfalls for the months to come.

All the time he read the Newspaper, a large smile lingered on his face. It was a smile of deep satisfaction, a smile of a man who knows he knows what he is doing, a smile of an experienced professional trained to work hard, trained to work smart, trained to never quit.

“Yeah, J.J. was right. Whatever the Market shows right now, does not go hand in hand with what’s happening at Glenworth”.

All of a sudden he remembered that he will have an assignment to take on board, an assignment he was not comfortable at all doing.

A short moment of panic settled in similar to the one at the Theater, but he realized that he cannot show it to Linda. Once she wakes up, he will have to break the news to her somehow. He took a deep breath and the need for another glass of wine made him take a trip to the wine rack. Couldn’t find one more bottle like the one he had with Linda, so he went for something similar: red table wine from the famous year of 1999, a year which produced so many excellent reds.

Opening a bottle of wine like this, bared a whole set of precise moves. It was a habit he developed during the time he learned about wine, about the art of tasting and enjoying the Gods’ liquor.

The “5S” technique kicked in and methodically he grabbed his professional cork screw and opened up the bottle, put it on the table and reached high to the upper cabinets to get a clean glass. Slowly, he poured a half glass of the liquid and started the process of assessing the wine: sight – it had a nice light red color that was giving away its’ age. John’s pupils narrowed same like the pupils of a feline that has been patiently waiting to attack the stalked prey. He intuitively guessed a top notch wine. “Where did I buy this wine from?” Did not matter anymore: John swirled the half full glass in order for the wine to grab Oxygen and release its’ flavor. He did this motion very slowly, as per advises taken during his wine tasting classes. Then he took a short sniff to get a quick impression of the aroma. “Not too bad!” exclaimed John and then he stuck his whole nose inside the glass, taking a deep inhale. This time, the smell of the multitudes of fresh berries invaded his senses, taking him into a world of country side, into a world of freshly picked berries, into a world of aromas and scents that cannot be described anywhere else but in the country. John still had his eyes closed enjoying the wonderful aromas of the “summer in a glass”, when he decided to finally take a sip and twirled his tongue into his mouth giving this way a chance to the wine to grab more Oxygen and release even more of its’ aroma. A heavenly scent of berries and wild flowers filled his mouth. He took a small breath of fresh air and the newly infusion of air multiplied the fantastic aroma making John close his eyes again. He decided to swallow the little amount he had in his mouth and savor it the fullest.

The long lasting aroma kept enticing his tasting buds, making him understand that he indeed hit the jack pot with this wine. He tried to remember where he bought it from, but he had no luck remembering. Just couldn’t pin point the place he purchased this awesome liquor from and the more he tried to remember, the more the futile the efforts seemed.

Next sip was a little deeper and followed the same routine: see, swirl, smell, sip and savor. The same aromas enticed his tasting buds and made John make the final call: “outstanding”.

He eventually grabbed his Financials and while sitting back and enjoying his newly discovered wine, he started digging again through the figures. A total silence settled in and John had the chance to crunch numbers once more. He started making notes on the newspaper. “Pluses” and “minuses” soon were filling out the empty areas on the sides of the newspaper, while circles were encompassing the information that was relevant to what he was looking for.

The whole Financials section was dissected and by the time he had the second drink, he knew exactly what he was facing. He knew that Glenworth was in trouble due to exposure to the China Market and a sense of worry settled in.

He pushed the chair he was resting his legs onto and pulled the bottle closer. Poured the last load into his glass (holding it right in front of his eye sight) trying to look for the answer in that last wine serving. He wanted to get the magical answer, in spite of the fact that he knew the answer would never come even from a very well made wine.

This time he took an overview of the multiple marks he made on the newspaper and his fantastic analytical abilities kicked in: “Financial stocks are doing well, same the Insurance and Housing. So what if China is slowing down by two percent? That economy has been red-hot for two decades. Is this a sign of a correction? How can it be? The currency exchange is strictly controlled by the Government. They are sitting on a mountain of dollars and the State will eventually chip in if there is need to sustain the growth. They have 1.2 billion people to feed, for God’s sake!” He cracked a small smile and inevitably released an ironic chuckle which made him look again through the wonderful liquor he was holding in his right hand. “Then, why Glenworth? This is a great company, solid, efficient, flexible…what if JJ is holding his cards way too close to his chest and he is now throwing bait for me to go chase it? What if all that pin pointing towards Wong is just a false lane he wants me to get on? What if he is onto something at a giant scale make up in an attempt to get out through a bankruptcy blamed on China operations?” This hypothesis was scratched out right away by John with a head shaking that left no doubt whatsoever he wouldn’t even consider it.

“God! How can I even think at a scenario like this? There is no way JJ would do a thing similar to what I am envisioning. His company is everything to him, it’s his baby! No way! There is no way he would play such a dirty game!”

He stood up and started walking through the kitchen still holding that glass of God’s favorite liquid trying to solve a puzzle that he didn’t have control over, a puzzle that he realized it could be a lot more complicated than he expected, a puzzle in which he might break his neck.

“It is not late to back away from this deal; after all, J.J. asked me to give him an answer on Monday. I still have tomorrow to chew on it and if I cannot find a decent option to me going there, then so be it! Maybe Linda can see something here I cannot see, maybe she would be able to come up with a way to turn this endeavor around without me going there and of course without disappointing JJ”.

He looked at the couch she was sleeping on, but saw no movement, no noise whatsoever coming from that direction.

Linda was sleeping deep. She was exhausted after the long morning walk, after the long hot bath she took and especially after the unusual encounter she had: the amazing deer salute and later on, the come up against the old farmer with long white hair and beard who looked (in her mind) like one of the Apostles her father used to tell her about when she was just a little girl.

John looked again at the glass, sat at the table, grabbed the paper and once more started scrutinizing the numbers and his hand written notes. In spite of the fact that his eyes were still staring at the financials, his mind was somewhere else. He was now trying to figure a way out of this mess. “After all, I have not committed yet!” But he knew in the bottom of his heart that he wouldn’t be able to say “no” to J.J. A soft sigh of desperation came out of his chest and once again he felt completely powerless, he felt like he was left alone on a deserted island not knowing how he is ever going to make it back to the main land.

-Troubled, handsome?

John startled as he was expecting his wife to still be asleep. She walked into the kitchen and wrapped her arms around his middle section while passionately kissing John on the side of the neck.

-Last time I checked on you, you were sleeping tight!

-And now I am awake and I need to know what’s troubling you.

John didn’t want to answer the question right away. He put the paper on the table and swiftly grabbed his wife from the shoulders and the knees, bringing her to sit into his lap. Linda’s arms were still wrapper tight around his neck.

They kissed passionately for several seconds and a deep silence settled in afterwards; Linda was now resting her head on John’s left shoulder.

-Your eye looks better now. The inflammation backed off. By Monday you should be okay to show up in the Office.

-That’s the least of my worries, Linda.

His voice was lacking the usual vitality, strength, determination. It was a trembled voice of a man who didn’t know which direction he was supposed to head to.

-Okay then. Let’s start with the beginning: you have an assignment overseas, right? That’s fine, you will go there and get the job done, come back home and everything will be alright.

-Linda, it is a job assignment in China and nobody knows when it will end up, this is the problem.

Linda pulled John’s head away from her in an attempt to better absorb the information. It came to her as a total surprise: China, not knowing when it will end up…

-What do you mean you don’t know when it will end up?

John realized that he had to tell his wife the whole story. He managed to summarize in two minutes everything he went through Friday in the Office.

-Are you going to accept this? Are you going to accept an assignment that has no time boundaries? Linda voice was almost displaying an angered message, a message of revolt against a situation that was making her worry, that was making her feel insecure already.

-Can I say “no” to J.J.? He almost begged me, Linda!

A deep silence settled in. Linda knew how much her husband respected J.J., she knew that her husband’s fulminate career was due to John John Glenworth and to encourage John to say “no” at this point would’ve been cowardly on her behalf.

She eventually rested her head again on John’s left shoulder, wrapping her arms tight around his neck. Few minutes passed by and none of them tried to say something, neither Linda nor John attempted to break the silence.

-Well, it is what it is…you have a job to protect and Glenworth has been very good to you. Now, J.J. is actually trying your loyalty to the company (and to him). He is asking you to prove yourself. This is a test of competence but most of all is a test of friendship. You can’t say “no”. This is my opinion, John…

John was stunned by his wife comment, by her quick judgment, by her way to see solutions wherever he was hesitant and confused.

 

 

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