Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 16

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 16

Weekend in the suburbs – relaxing Sunday

– Giovanni Ferrari

John quickly got into the powder room and in less than three minutes took a shower, dried the hair and put the robe on. In the Master Bedroom, Linda was changing as well. He went fast through his many options…at the end he picked a t-shirt, a sweat shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Apparently Linda went for pretty much the same attire. Downstairs, Linda picked up a pair of cowboy boots she was wearing once in a while.

-Ooo! You are a farmer now, cowgirl?

-Yes, Sir! And Linda simulated the cowboy salute, with her two pointing and middle fingers stretched and pointing at her imaginary cowboy hat.

The blue jeans she was wearing were emphasizing her voluptuous lower body shapes: the appetizing buttocks, the long legs with the little space between the knees showing an active person and of course the middle section (as thin as a wasp’s body one could say) being accentuated by her comfort fit jeans style and the classic all Western leather belt, eventually drawing attention through the exquisite shinny belt buckle which had the shape of a bull head. All of these, were portraying a woman who in spite of the fact that she was in the dusk of her fifties, she was in a top physical shape. The t-shirt and the sweat shirt, were somehow hiding her breasts, but at a closer look one could only guess that those two beauties were not shy themselves from attracting curious looks. For some reason, Linda put on the studded fringed leather jacket, which turned her final outlook into an almost complete Western style…she was just missing the hat.

She grabbed her long blonde hair and with a swift motion turned it into a flowing weave down her left side of the chest. The result was stunning: John looked at his wife and for few seconds couldn’t speak anymore.

-You are planning to go Western? The question was asked with a sort of hesitation into his voice. Even John was mesmerized by the look of his sweetie!

The dark red cowboy boots with all the amazing models the boot maker was offering, were stunningly pairing up with the fringed black leather jacket but on the other hand, were offering an astoundingly contrast with the long, blonde, weaving hair and the jeans.

-I don’t know; it was a spur of the moment.

-You look stunning!

-Thanks honey, this means a lot! Let’s go, now…I can’t wait to have some gelato!

John put on some boots and a sports jacket and both headed for a portion of ice cream which was supposed to close up their afternoon meal.

The walk to Giovanni’s place was quite short…fifteen minutes on a normal pace. They took this walk so many times, that even if one would’ve blind folded them, they still would’ve made it.

Giovanni Ferrari was a man in his late fifties (maybe early sixties), a middle height stature man with grizzled hair, which was beautifully contrasting with his lightly tanned skin. The fresh hair cut he had, the clean shaved face, the immaculate white shirt and apron, made one realize that he wasn’t just the owner of the Bakery. He was actually the face of it as well.

He owned a house right there in the Community and opened up his Bakery by buying another house and turning it into a quite successful business. Everybody in the area heard of Giovanni’s Bakery, everybody walked into his store and most of all, everybody loved the product he was offering. The ice cream and bakery stands were at the main floor and the options one would have were endless. And this was due to the fact that he managed during the years to always come up with new offers, with new recipes which enticed customers to come into his store over and over. Linda and John knew everything about his family as he wasn’t shy to tell to whoever wanted to listen to him, about his family “here” and “there”. Obviously, “there” was a little village in Italy, a village he passionately spoke about. It was a community where he spent his childhood only to leave it when he reached fifteen years of age. That was the time when he moved to America with his parents. “Here”, he was the proud father of a daughter who was now studying in a Medical School and a son who was studying Law. If one would listen to him (as John and Linda did so many times), would find out the “latest” in Medical Science and of course the “latest” in the practice of Law. In his mind (just because he had a son and a daughter studying Medicine and the Law), he was an expert in both these fields. When the kids were coming home during their vacations, he was not missing one single conversation they were having with their friends, conversations about the school and the fields they were studying. He was all ears…then he was swiftly swinging to his home office and searched the internet for those particular subjects he heard about. For him it was like a competition, it was like he was trying to get better than the kids. A Psychologist would say: “No, he is simply trying to catch up with the times; He is simply trying to prove to himself that he could’ve made it into the field of Academics himself”. He always liked studying and he was still keeping – at a highly regarded place in his house (above the fire place into the Family Room) – an enlarged black and white picture of himself tending the goat herd on the heights of the Apennines Mountains – while he was holding a book into his hand. After his family reached America, both he and his father went to work to support the five member family. He had two sisters, both younger than him. He started working in a butcher shop, but he didn’t like it. The smell of the blood, the smell of the crushed bones and the dirty cloths full of blood and marrow made him quit and look for something else. It was like an angel’s calling…while wandering through Downtown looking for a sign that said: “Help wanted”, an old man was almost hit by a Cab while crossing the street. Giovanni saw the whole scene and with a courage and presence of spirit specific to teenagers only, managed to pull the man out of the car’s reach and drag him to safety. They both fell on the ground. Young Giovanni checked on the old man that he was still ok. He was ok and this is how a great friendship started between a seventeen year old new comer – eager to make a name for himself in his new country – and an old man, also Italian, who knew everything about the field of Bakery and about making ice cream. This friendship lasted all the way to the end, until the man he saved in that grim November morning passed away. In his store, he was keeping a picture of Senor Rossi in a place where everybody could see it: on the wall in front of the main cash. He had the picture greatly enlarged and framed into a sophisticated wooden frame, thus showing a sign of deep respect for the person who “put a white bread” in front of him and his family.

He was willing to spend hours talking about his mentor…how he taught him to make a good dough, how he taught him to make a puffy and “snowy” whip cream, how to make the best fruit cake ever and of course: how to make gelato. Years and years after Senor Rossi took him under his wing, he realized that he struck a gold mine. All that knowledge the old man possessed was now at his finger-tips. He worked hard into Rossi’s Bakery being all eyes and ears…every detail of the recipes, every trick, every ace the Master Chefs were holding up their sleeves eventually made it into Giovanni’s memory or hand written note book. Whenever he had a chance, he was taking notes…everything that he thought it would help him become the Master Baker he wanted to be. And what an expert he had become! His wedding (as well as regular) cakes, his pastries and of course his gelato, made him famous not only into that particular suburb, but into at least another two neighboring ones! He had customers ordering all the way from Downtown. When it was the wedding season, his place was running 24/7…the ovens never stopped, the bakers never took their cap Chefs off, the auxiliary personnel was buzzing around like the bees in a sunflower field, the cash would close only to re-open right away and cashiers would be on the phone all the time taking orders. This was a busy place, a place which was run proficiently and efficiently so the profits were steadily going up. In other words, Giovanni Ferrari put up a business that was flourishing and was providing jobs to eighteen people. He started first in Downtown by buying Mr. Rossi’s place. The old man had two sons, but none of them was interested in continuing the family tradition. They went both to University; one of them became an Engineer while the other one studied Archaeology and eventually moved overseas while the other one stayed locally and entered the field of Academics becoming a Professor at the Faculty of Applied Science. Mr. Rossi was very proud of his sons’ achievements, but deep in his heart he truly wanted one of the two boys to take over the family business. He worked so hard to get it running, to get it known, to make a name for himself and his venture. But when he understood that none of his two sons was interested in the field of Bakery, he changed…from a jovial and outspoken person, he turned introspective and quiet, passive and introverted. Then he turned his attention to his new young friend and apprentice: Giovanni Ferrari. He was everything the old man wanted an apprentice to be: hard worker and quick learner, eager to exceed in everything he was doing, swift and unafraid to make decisions, coordinated and always having the eyes and the ears open.

And this is how Giovanni struck a gold mine! Under the wing of his Master, he turned into a Master Baker, a man for which the bakery had no more secrets. When Rossi finally understood that it is time to let it go, Giovanni took over. Rossi agreed to split the profits with him. It was another five years of hard work, talent and professionalism invested by Ferrari into Mr. Rossi’s Bakery, years which took the business to a different level: the orders were pouring in, the ovens never stopped, the “Help Wanted” signs never managed to bring enough people to help with the work on the cash or with the work in the back.

When Rossi decided to finally get out of it, Giovanni took over completely. He bought the entire business and in a swift and bold move decided to move it uptown, in the suburbs, where the rents were more affordable and where he could start making really good money from running it. Of course, the traffic was not the same, but at least he could keep an eye on the store as his house was just steps away. It was the time when he had Julia and Nicolas into the store all the time, it was the time when the kids were coming from school and were doing their homework at one of the tables in the store and then they were making their own cookies, of course under the watchful eye of Mr. Ferrari’s. “Those were happy times” and Giovanni Ferrari was willing to start the story all over from the beginning, assuming that there was an interlocutor willing to listen to him.

That particular Sunday, the store was half empty and when Linda and John stepped in, they were surprised to see it like this. Usually, even on Sundays the tables were all taken and the traffic was quite high. For some reason, the cold weather kept people inside in spite of the fact that it was sunny and bright outside, in spite of the fact that one would strongly consider taking a walk through the neighborhood to get some blood flowing – as the Parkers did.

The moment Linda entered, she was noticed right away by Giovanni Ferrari – who was working the cash as the cashier was on a bathroom break.

-Mamma mia! Quale bella donna è entrata nel mio negozio!

-E ciò che un signore elegante, ho la privilage di vedere!

Hearing Linda’s greeting, Giovanni’s chest filled up with air like a bagpipe; his face brightened up even more, his eyes were throwing arrows of pride and a smile the size of Coliseum flooded his face. Being complimented by such a beautiful and educated woman, was as high of an achievement as the name he made for himself in the business of baking goods.

Linda had a Master’s in Latin and learning Italian was the next normal thing to do. Reverend Wilson pushed her hard to learn Latin, thus exposing her to easily learning other modern languages which belonged to the Latin family.

-E ‘cosi grande piacere rivederti, Mr. and Mrs. Parker! Where have you been? I did not hear from you in a long time. Molte volte mi sono chiesto: che cosa e successo a loro?

-Mr. Ferrari, please don’t take this the wrong way but we had a handful of events this summer… we went camping up North almost every weekend….and this is how the summer went by. Questa e la situazione!

-Capisco perfettamente e sono contento che i bambini sono bene. Now, what do you want me to make for you? Do you want some sweet bread (freshly made) with almonds, or walnuts, or poppy seeds? Or do you want some Tiramisu or “biscuit salami”, or a Savarino, or a…

-Mr. Ferrari, we are here just for a gelato.

Giovanni’s face literally dropped. “Just a gelato” did not sit well at all with Mr. Ferrari. He expected to have the Parkers for a long time into his store so he can tell them about the kids and the latest in the medical and law field, as well as how the business of making sweets is doing.

-Just for a gelato…No! You cannot be here “just for a gelato”! His thumb, the pointing finger and the middle finger of his right hand, all joined together and started moving forward and rearward direction, symbolized a big distress. “Cannot be just a gelato! Dio, che e casa questa casa? Just a gelato! No! I will give you the best crèmesnitte you ever had. I made two big plates. One of them is yours”. And just like that, Mr. Ferrari disappeared into the back. Both John and Linda burst into laughter. This was not the first time they have seen a reaction like this from the owner of the place. The Italian baker loved them and the fact that their kids were at the same age as his kids, put the Parkers at the top of his preference list.

-Now what? We are going to get a plate of crèmesnittes without paying for it?

-Looks like…you had to dress that Western style!

-What? What does my attire have to do with the schnittes?

-When you put those jeans and that jacket on, you will get free stuff everywhere!

-Oh, thanks honey – that’s quite a compliment! Linda grabbed again her long hair and with a delicate, gentle and balanced motion she knitted a tail which clearly showed that she was enjoying the compliments directed at her.

-Sure thing! Let’s think now how we will make Giovanni accept us to pay for the stuff.

It was not long before Mr. Ferrari showed up with a large box, holding something of great importance – judging by the small calculated steps he was taking. It was a box full of crème schnittes, carefully protected from touching each other by baking paper. He put the box down on the table and proudly opened it up. The smell of the freshly baked schnittes, the light gold color of the pâte feuilletée, the white yellowish color of the light vanilla flavored crème which was shining from the multiple layers of pâte feuilletée and never the less the sprinkled white sugar powder on the top, made Linda release a “wow”. It was a “wow” of surprise, a yell of sincere and unrestrained admiration for the art of baking, for the people who have the talent to make these sorts of culinary wonders.

-Mr. Ferrari…how much do we owe you?

-Mr. Parker! Let me tell you something…Giovanni took a deep breath of air and released it almost instantaneously. He repeated this exercise few times. Mr. Parker, you and your wife are to me like my brother and my sister. Our kids played together, I had Jerome and Anne-Marie in my store so many times doing homework together with my Julia and Nicolas – right at this table – and you are telling me: “I want to pay for these schnittes”. Giovanni’s voice was already catching a high pitch and in a sign of nervousness, he was shifting his body weight up and down, from his tows to his heels.

-Mr. Ferrari…please don’t feel insulted, but you have a business to run here; you can’t just give away free stuff to us!

-Mr. Parker…God was good to me and my family. I have everything I ever dreamt at. I have a great family and I make enough money not to go bankrupt from a box of schnittes.

-Mr. Ferrari, I apologize. I am so sorry I put you into this sort of situation. We thank you for your gift and we hope we can repay you some other way.

-Mr. Parker, now we are talking like good neighbors and people who know each other for so long. I leave you two alone now. Hey, Tony! Where are Mr. and Mrs. Parker schnittes?

-Coming, boss!

-This kid is so slow, but he has a nose for flavors. Nobody in the store can match more than three flavors like him…except me, of course. Immediately Giovanni burst into a healthy and unrestrained laughter while his guests accompanied him. In the same time, Linda and John looked at each other completely mesmerized! Their eyes were talking to each others’: “is he going to bring us another box?” To their piece of mind, Tony showed up with two plates, each of them holding one huge schnitte.

-These are for you to enjoy here in my store.

-Mr. Ferrari, we thank you very much, it is too much.

-Please don’t mention it…his palm was showing the “stop” sign of the policeman while diverting the traffic. It was a sign of: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore”. And in few seconds he disappeared through the revolving doors into the kitchen and before anybody noticed, he already started giving instructions.

Ferrari was running the place with a strong fist, where there was no room for error or amateurism, but he was fair to his employees and whenever they needed help, he was first in line to offer it.

The dessert in front of them was like from a different world.

-We never bought this kind of desert from here.

-Yeah, I know. Now we know how good it is. We will have to drop by more often.

-Right.

Their faces were exhibiting again emotions of pleasure, of delight and joy, of unhidden admiration for the art of Bakery, art taken to a whole different level by Giovanni.

By the time the Italian Master came out from the kitchen, Linda and John were done eating the two huge “cubes” of schnittes and now both of them were simply trying to digest, feel the pleasure of an excellent desert and have a well deserved siesta.

-Come ti è piaciuto il dessert? How did you like it?

-Fabulous, Mr. Ferrari! Molto bello! Grazie! Non sei solo un grande panettiere, ma sei anche un perfetto padrone di casa. Linda’s compliments made Giovanni inhale the maximum amount of air his lungs allowed while a deep feeling of satisfaction was imprinted on his face. The fact that he was called “the perfect host” made him so proud of his achievements, made him so proud of the work and passion he was investing in this Bakery, made him shed a tear which was not gone unnoticed by Linda. She realized that it was a tear of joy, of satisfaction for an accomplished mission, a tear of celebration at the end of a long and hard journey.

-It is time for us to go and get ready for tomorrow. Once again, we thank you so much Mr. Ferrari for your generosity.

-As I said, Mrs. Parker…please don’t mention it. I am glad you had a good time while in my store.

-Absolutely. These schnittes are out of this world!

-Grazie ancora e ti prego di tornare presto.

-Of course we will come back soon, now that you introduced us to this fabulous dessert!

Giovanni’s face was radiant, was all lit up with a smile which made him show his perfect white teeth beautifully contrasting with his tanned skin while matching the immaculate white collar of his shirt.

John was now holding the box with the precious baked products inside and one could see (by the way he was walking) that he was not going to drop it no matter what happened.

Linda simply burst into laughing watching her husband’s new way of walking.

-Yeah, you got it babe! This box will not end up on the ground if I have to defend it with my life.

The rest of the evening was quiet and uneventful up to one point. John went into his office and tried for one more time to decipher the meaning beside all those numbers which didn’t really make any sort of sense to him, numbers that got JJ almost into a panic mode so he reached out to John and asked him to go to China and try to resolve the puzzle.

Linda just chilled, changed her clothes and flipped the channels to some movies she had not seen for a while. From his office, John kept running numbers hoping that he could find the glitch which would make him more valuable here, at home, rather than going to China. He knew that it was like playing Lottery, it was like finding the needle into the haystack.

Finally, he gave up and into a sign of deep disappointment he closed his laptop, turned the light off and came back into the Living Room hoping to find some decent sporting events he could watch before calling it a night.

Linda was napping while the TV was on some movie John didn’t recognize.

“This movie managed to make her nap…I can only figure out how boring it is! How about some Sports”?

He slowly took a seat into one of the two recliners chairs they had and started flipping stations, searching for a suitable sporting event. Few football games were on, so his attention focused on a particular NCAA match. Home team was leading 15 to 8 and was defending into the red zone. Memories from his big game involuntarily kicked in and all of a sudden he was living that Championship match once again. Everything was almost identically matching the conditions of the biggest game of his career: it was pouring rain, the game was down the wire and there were ten seconds left to the final whistle! He simply dug into the sides of the chair. His fingers grabbed the soft material and held onto it with all the force he could. The ball is played, the Quarterback throws to the Wide Receiver and it’s a touchdown! Score now is 15-14 and the team coming from the back still has a try, a try to make the game all leveled up and head into OT. “Alright! They have an easy try and the game will be all leveled up for Overtime”. This is what John believed it would happen and everybody else who knew a bit about Football, everybody else who would make normal decisions giving the circumstances.

What happened next, made the whole Stadium stand and John jump from his chair: “What? He is going for two points? Are you kidding me? This coach is crazy!” Everybody was mesmerized, the announcers were speechless and didn’t know how to explain the move anymore; John was now taking a knee in the front of the TV and had his eyes wide open looking at the screen without blinking. “I can’t believe something like this is happening. This is not High School League, buddy!” He was obviously “yelling” at the coach who made that so unusual decision.

There were seven seconds left and the coach called a time out. The tension inside the stadium reached paroxysm. Everybody was standing, waiting for the game to start again. During the time out break, commercials picked up steam and John was simply pinned to that position he got caught when the decision was made. He has never seen something like this in all those NCAA career years of his. “This is unbelievable! He could’ve easily played the one point scenario, tie the game up and head into Overtime! Unreal! Never seen something like this! This coach either has lots of guts or is crazy”

When the game was back on, one could hear the Stadium roaring. They liked what they were seeing, in spite of the fact that their team could end up holding the short stick. This was such a gamble, but the crowd loved it!

Finally, the two rivals faced each other…the “I” formation of the attackers versus the 4-3 formation of the defenders.

This strategy was so obvious, that John started laughing…”and you are playing an “I” formation? It is so obvious you will run the ball! I thought you would come up with something special”. John was completely puzzled, when an idea flashed into his mind: “they are just four yards away from the touch-down, what if the Quarterback takes it to the end? No way! It is so risky! The size of those End Tackles and Linebackers are too impressive. He wouldn’t be able to get through!”

What happened next, was something for the History books, for the record books, for the specialists who were keeping track of unusual play situations. The Quarterback got the ball into his hands, simulated a pass to the Full Backer who made a run to the left and managed to draw the center Line Backer to him. Then he simulated another pass to the Half Backer who made a run to the right and drew the defenders left Line Backer onto him. The opening created was enough for the Quarter Back to make a pirouette, run for three yards and leap for a touchdown!

John was stunned and so were the commentators. The Stadium was all of a sudden quiet. Nobody expected that such a huge gamble would be successful. Only the visiting team was celebrating: all the players from the bench, coaches and auxiliary staff were on the field, hugging and congratulating each other, yelling and screaming, laughing and shaking hands. It was a play for the history books indeed.

John still couldn’t believe his eyes. “This is something I would never forget! Unbelievable! This coach has tons of guts!” While shaking his head, he kept watching the replays over and over. Everything was surgically planned. The two faked passes to the Full Back and the Half Back, the 180 degrees turn and finally the tiger’s leap for the touchdown! “Wow…I still believe this coach is crazy. What if one of his Left or Right Tackles or Guards would’ve failed to block those huge Defensive Ends or Tackles from the opposite team? Everything would’ve ended up into a great disaster. However, they were successful and the final result it’s all that matters. They won!” John couldn’t hold from clapping of admiration.

The commentators themselves couldn’t stop from throwing superlatives at the event everybody just witnessed: “What an unbelievable turn of events, folks and most of all: what a gutsy play. This is a play for the ages, for all those young coaches out there who trust their teams and are not afraid to pull the trigger when they see an opportunity”.

“It was unbelievable indeed, said the other commentator, but I wonder if this scheme would be successful the next time they are playing it”

“It doesn’t matter! It did the job when it had to do and this is the end of it”

“I agree up to a point with you, Peter…but I still have my doubts. This was a moment of extreme courage but I am not sure next time will be as finely executed as it was today. There are so many variables getting into the play, so many factors which can ruin this marvelous plan…”

“Bryan, I couldn’t agree more with you. But let’s face it: it was stunning! And we all Football fans loved it”

“True. Fantastic play! This game will remain into the history as one of the greatest. And if it was a play for the Championship, it would’ve probably been voted the greatest ever”

John startled: “If it was for the Championship…but it wasn’t”

He took a big breath and slowly released the air in a sign that his ego was still up there, it was untainted; it never dropped from that magic night when he made history. It was a sign that even at his age he was not willing to buckle and give up his hard earned credentials. “My game was for the Championship and this is why it will be remembered as the greatest ever”. On his way towards the dining area, he pushed the Office door open. He looked at the great picture hanged on the wall again: the intensity shown on his face, the pouring rain, all the mud and the dirt on his jersey, his right arm fully extended to make that throw in spite of the brutal tackle he faced, made him smile once again.

He turned the lights off in the office and grabbed his laptop. Before the night was over, he wanted to check once again – for the last time – the numbers he just couldn’t understand, the numbers that made JJ send him all the way to China to investigate and eventually come up with an answer.

Methodically, he started analyzing the trends. Nothing made any sense and he knew that there was no way he could come up with an answer as he would’ve hoped. This trip was something that he really did not want to do. He was a professional, not a detective! Time was flying and soon he realized that was late and he had to go to bed. Slowly, walked back to the living room. Linda was sleeping deeply on the couch and he just didn’t have the heart to wake her up. Carefully, grabbed another blanket and covered her up, then headed up stairs. “Tomorrow is another day”.

 

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