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.
Last day in America
The alarm clock went off at the regular set hour. This time, John didn’t waste much time with his morning routine. He wanted to get into the Office as soon as possible. Shower, dress up, coffee and set off for work.
When he made it down stairs, his wife was still sleeping. In spite of all the precautions he took, Linda woke up and greeted him with a “morning sunshine” which made him smile and take a knee by the couch: “morning honey, how did you sleep?”
Linda grabbed him into her arms and kissed him softly.
-Go upstairs and sleep. I am heading to work early today”. Linda slowly grabbed her pillow and while heading for the Master bedroom, waived at him wishing a good day.
-Call me and let me know how your day is going.
-I sure will.
Once she made it upstairs, John got into his usual routine: coffee, TV news, morning newspaper. Only this time everything was on a sort of fast forward. He badly wanted to get into the office and have a head start for the day. This week was going to be something special, something he never faced before. It was supposed to be a week of preparation for the trip, a week of home work and number crunching.
It was still early into the day when he stormed out of the garage. The engine of his muscle car roamed like a lion in the savannah while the tires left burnt rubber marks on the drive way and on the street. Shortly he was on the Freeway and the joy of handling the stick of the manual transmission coupled with the fact that the traffic was almost in-existent due to the early hour, made John deeply inhale the fresh air of the early fall. He just couldn’t wait to get into the Office. His foot stepped on the gas pedal giving the engine the chance to show what it’s got. In no time the engine was all revved up to 7000 RPM and while switching into the fifth gear, he had the feeling that was slowly diving into the seat. In few seconds the car disappeared into the darkness. Only the noise of the mighty many horse power engine was now the witness of a man desperately trying to make it into the Office before everybody else does, before the traffic will get all jammed up, before the dawn of a new day will lit up the city once again.
Soon, John saw the sky scrapers of the Downtown and carefully slowed down moving to the right. He decided to cut the Downtown across and use the same city streets to make it to the Office. It was all clear and shortly he made that right turn where on Friday he got stuck. He cracked a large smile and couldn’t help but looking around to see if Leo was around. “Leo, Leo, Leo! Is it too cold? What happened?”
Leo was too smart to waste time freezing outside when there was no need to be out there. He was inside of the Reception area, trying to crack a tip from wherever was possible. However, he was all eyes on the street as well. He was now known by the two top persons at Glenworth Financials. He was making a good living from parking cars, but his latest achievement was something he wouldn’t give up for the world. His nose already smelled fat tips to come and in his mind he was already counting nice, crisp twenty dollar bills from J.J. and Scott. Not to mention that John was still on the hook. His face was all smiles revealing two rows of superb white teeth when he saw John making the right turn on the street where John’s Office was as well as the Hotel he was working for.
All of a sudden, he literally jumped over a couch at the Reception area and in less than two seconds he was out. Unfortunately for him, the street was empty and he could only see the vapors coming out of the exhaustion pipe, in a sign that John stepped on the gas pedal towards the Office and eventually pulling into the underground parking. “Why is he showing up for work so early? Something must have happened. I gotta’ find out”. Leo was one of those street smarts who knew how to make a fat tip from anything. But mostly, he had a superior intelligence comparing to his fellow bellboys. Quickly he crossed the street and while bundling up, started running towards the Office Building where Glenworth Financials was based. The Security Guard was one of his team mates in High School Football Team. Leo played as a wide receiver, while Kubwa played offensive line. Yes, Kubwa was a big man indeed. At his 6 foot 8 and 290 pounds, he was physically dominating the whole Reception area. In spite of his stature, he was a kind and always happy individual. Same like Leo, he possessed two rows of white impeccable teeth, always showing up due to his large and warm smile. The moment one would meet this giant, was immediately getting an uneasiness feeling due to his massiveness. But the next second, that feel was gone instantaneously, chased away by the most beautiful and sincere smile one could put up on his face.
-My man Kubwa! ‘Sup, bro? Long time no see. Where you hiding bro’? I missed you. Remember our good times…
-Good Lord, not again! The smile on his face was instantaneously gone when hearing Leo’s voice. What do you want Leo?
-What’s happening brother? This is how you greet your old buddy, your old team mate who looked after you on the field…
-You did what? You couldn’t look after yourself, let alone taking care of somebody else.
-Now this hurts and you know that, big K!
-You are full of crap, as usual! Again, what do you want? Make it quick and get out of here. Soon people will start showing up in the building and I have to keep my eyes on the area.
-OK. I can see that today you are not in a good mood. Maybe you didn’t get any honey during the weekend? Leo burst into a big laughter trying to get his interlocutor at ease and squeeze some information from him. However, his remark didn’t sit well with Kubwa. He stood up and with an agility hard to imagine that such a massive person would possess, jumped over the counter and landed right in front of Leo.
-Ma’ man, ma’ man! Take it easy now! Leo’s feet were already floating in the air, trying to reach the ground. Kubwa literally lifted Leo up from the ground; there was no more smile on his face, just a willingness to toss Leo through the Reception windows into the street.
-Common’ man…Put me down. Put me down, man! I was joking! I am sorry, man!
Once Leo felt the ground under his feet, he started straightening up his bellboy uniform in a sign of deep disturbance; didn’t expect this reaction from his old team mate.
-I have to say that I am disappointed, ma’ man, my big K, my inspiration on the field…
-Cut it off, Leo! I am your inspiration now? I thought that you took care of me on the field.
-I was just messing with you, bro’; just messing. Another big laughter came out of Leo’s chest, while his eyes were keeping close contact with Kubwa’s. Leo realized that he screwed up and now his brain was working on a recovery plan on the fly. He didn’t expect this sort of reaction from him. “Something happened at home. Why the hell did I say what I said?”
-Listen, I am sorry for what I said, OK?
-OK, apologies accepted. Now get out of here! This area is going to get crowded and I don’t have time for your bull.
-Ma’ man, ma man…brother, I will go. But I need to ask you a favor first.
-What is that?
-Earlier, I saw Mr. Parker from Glenworth driving in. He never comes to work this early into the day. Did you have a chance to exchange some words with him, did you take a look at his face, how was he?
-I have not seen Mr. Parker today.
-What do you mean you didn’t see him? I saw him driving up this way right before I showed up here.
-The elevators are running all the way down to last Parking level. Are you aware of this?
Leo’s face turned into an embarrassed man face. “Right. Of course there are elevators which people can take from Parking to Penthouse. Damn it! Just made a fool of myself” Leo wouldn’t admit such an embarrassment, so he came up with an emergency response which brought a little smile on Kubwa’s face.
-Of course I am aware, ma’ man! Of course I am aware. But I heard that Maintenance crews are doing some repairing.
-I never heard of such thing.
-I am well informed, ma’ man; well informed.
-Whatever, man…now get out of here. I need to write my report.
-Alright brother! Always good to see you, said Leo while simulating leaving the Reception area. Kubwa was already back on his seat, beginning his report on a night shift which seemed like would never end.
Leo was now in a pickle. He got no intelligence whatsoever on what’s going on at Glenworth and his old team mate didn’t seem like wanted to cooperate. He had to come up with something quick.
-Oh, my brother!
-Listen, do you know what time is Mr. Glenworth showing up for work?
-Why do you care?
This was Leo’s chance to dig in and find more intelligence.
-Because he specifically asked me to park his car when the street is busy.
Kubwa’s massive body was shaking like a leaf from laughter while his eyes where watering from tears.
-Mr. Glenworth is trusting you to park his million dollar car? Ha, ha, ha! Good joke, man! Good joke!
Leo’s eyes opened wider than a raccoon’s eyes caught into the head lights.
“He is driving a million dollar car! Bingo! If I can take that car into the hood…I can pick up as many girls as I want!” The plan was now sketched up. He was going to keep his eyes on the road for as long as needed, hoping that J.J. would show up late for work and get into a traffic jam on the street.
-Alright brother! I am going now. It was great seeing you, big guy. I will drop by and say hello from time to time.
-You are crushing my heart, bro’! With a talent for acting hard to imagine at a bellboy, Leo simulated a person crying out over a huge loss. His theatrical performance made his ex-teammate gnash his teeth in a sign of deep distress.
-Don’t make me jump over this counter again, Leo!
-Alright! Alright! Alright big guy, I’m gone. Still…
Leo didn’t finish the phrase. His eye, as sharp as a hawk’s eye, sensed a move from Kubwa. This time he did not want to experiment another levitating exercise and in a rush he was out through the door.
For him, in spite of the fact that he couldn’t find out what’s going on at Glenworth, was not a defeat. He found out that J.J. was driving a very expensive car. This information, coupled with what Glenworth told John on Friday: “look at the big picture…so what if he took your car for a spin?” made him consider the little trip to the Office Building a success. Again he was picturing himself into a very expensive, exotic car driving through the hood, picking up girls and slowly making it through the Downtown, where everybody could see him. He was even imagining people on the sidewalks taking pictures of him, talking among themselves: “it must be a NFL or NBA star”. This very image made him crack one of those beautiful smiles of his.
It took him another two minutes to reach his observation post at the Reception’s window where he took a seat by the window and started monitoring every car that was driving up the street. His patience had no limits, because his superior intelligence taught him that this is a “must have” in this business. Same like a predator in the Serengeti, he took cover – so he wouldn’t be seen by the Receptionist. At this point, he had a bigger fish to fry…he couldn’t care anymore about the tips he was going to make by hauling customers’ luggage to the rooms. His whole attention, concentration and energy were now focused on the street in front of him.
Lights in the Office were turned on when John arrived. Cleaning crew was wrapping up and was ready to leave.
-Morning Mr. Parker, how are you? It was one of the cleaning guys John knew well due to so many late night work days.
-Morning Samuel! I am doing very well, how about yourself?
-Thank you very much, I am doing fantastic! I am ready to walk out and call it a day.
-How come you guys are doing mornings and not evenings?
-We had some personnel changes in our crew and we changed Sunday nights with early Monday mornings.
-Aha…oh well, I hope you have a good day Sam.
-You too Mr. Parker! By the way…did you watch that game last night?
-Which one? The one where the coach made that crazy decision?
-Yeah, that one! How crazy was it? Sam’s eyes opened up like a raccoon’s eyes in the headlights. One could see that the man was not only enjoying watching football, he was living it and he was all in when it came down to America’s game.
For the next five minutes, the janitor explained every single tactical move of the play. It was like hearing the commentators again. John was listening in a sign of politeness for his interlocutor, but he really wanted to get as soon as possible into his office and get back to those statistics that were causing so much grief now at Glenworth. He made a move in shifting his weight from one leg to another one. It was enough for Sam to realize that John had to go.
-Oh, I am so sorry Mr. Parker! I kept on rambling and you are busy, you have work to do.
-That’s OK, Sam. I always enjoy talking football, you know me.
-Mr. Parker…you were the star of the town once. The whole town was talking for weeks about that throw you made for the win.
-Long time ago, Sam…long time ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, though. I am not sure why.
-Because we humans are subjective by nature Mr. Parker, and we always filter our memories by the ones we like to keep, not by the ones we would like to toss. John looked completely mesmerized at the janitor standing in front of him. There was so much kindness in that big smile of his, yet so much wisdom in his words.
-You have a good day now, Mr. Parker. It’s time for me to go home and get some rest.
-Enjoy your day, Sam. It was a great pleasure chatting with you.
-Thank you Mr. Parker. We’ll catch up some other time for sure. Sam waived, turned around and headed slowly for the Exit while singing “What a wonderful world”.
John smiled and while walking towards his office, he let go a loud exclamation: “What a nice gentleman and what a great person, too!”
The office was dark, as the day was still very young. He turned the light on and in a heartbeat his workstation was set for yet another stressful day ahead. Soon he dove again into the numbers in front of him and nothing on the earth was able to disturb him anymore. His immense capacity to focus in key situations was well known by everybody. However, now he just felt that all his efforts were going nowhere, his efforts were absorbed by a big black hole and directed somewhere in the Universe, to a place of no return and no retribution. He felt like a hamster who constantly is spinning its wheel but at the end of the day he just makes it back to the starting point, only to begin again the very next day.
A barely perceivable knock on the door’s frame made him raise his head. J.J. was standing in front of the opened door and his massive stature was almost blocking any sort of light which was trying to sneak from the main Office into John’s office.
-Good morning Mr. Glenworth! John jumped from his chair in an attempt to shake J.J.’s hand.
-No, please…sit down…John…common’. Too late. John already made it to the door and took his boss’s hand shaking it vigorously. A large smile flourished on J.J.’s face. He loved John like his own son, but what he admired the most at him, was his determination, his quick reaction, his willingness to put the efforts in and get the job done.
-Do you have ten minutes to talk to me right now, in my office if you don’t mind?
-Absolutely. Of course, Mr. Glenworth.
-Let’s have a chat over a cup of coffee.
The two men headed for the President’s Office. The door closed behind them. Coffee was slowly brewing and the smell simply embraced the whole room with an aroma of chocolate, toasted nuts, vanilla and almonds. John started wondering on what sort of coffee was his boss using. In his opinion, the smell was too aromatic, too many ingredients interacting with each other. In his mind he was already wondering if these were added ingredients to make up that final product named coffee beans or the beans themselves were bearing that rainbow of enticing smells. “I gotta’ ask at the end. J.J. is too classy of a man to add flavors to the beans. It’s gotta’ be the beans alone”
While John took a sit into one of the fine pieces of leather chairs at the little table beside J.J.’s desk, his boss prepared two cups of coffee and brought them to the table. The splendid porcelain in which he served the coffee took John’s eyes right away. The little plate, on which the cup was resting, was another piece of art which together with the cup, were offering a spectacle of taste and class. John’s trained ear picked up the fine crystalline noise the cup was making while touching the plate. “This is Bohemian porcelain for sure”. The little cubes of sugar came into another piece of porcelain, which was obviously part of the set. The amazing blue figurines bordered by golden ridges, were blending on the white background of the little cups so well, that even after the dark liquid was poured in and the reflections of the figurines were still playing games to the eye of the coffee drinker.
-Now let’s enjoy a good coffee and have a talk. Glenworth Sr. finally took his eyes off the table (as he wanted everything to be perfect) and looked at John. My Goodness! What happened to your eye?
John realized that in spite of the fact that the swelling in his eye was almost gone, some of the areas were still presenting signs of bruising and especially below the eye. Now he had to come up with a plan on what to tell his boss. Amazingly, he just couldn’t come up with anything. So, he decided to tell the truth.
-Mr. Glenworth…on Friday I took my wife to a movie.
-Oh…I so miss those Friday night movies! It was a time when Eileen and I wouldn’t skip a single week without going to the Theater. A short sigh came out of his chest while a cloud like smile flourished on his lips. I’m sorry John, please go ahead.
-No worries, Mr. Glenworth…so, we go to the Theater and watch a movie. On our way back, I missed the exit and this is where the whole thing started. John’s voice was calculated and at a low pitch. He didn’t want to miss conveying any detail from what happened to him on Friday night. Slowly, as the facts were revealed, J.J. became more and more attracted to listening to the story. He took a comfortable stance into the large leather chair and with his coffee cup in one hand and with the plate in the other hand, he was absorbing the information as it was uncovered by John. His face was now completely relaxed and his whole being was carefully listening to what John was saying. The moment of the encounter with the large buck on the road, made J.J. put his cup and plate on the table. One could see that he was already fascinated with the turn of the events and he was now watching John’s story with the eyes of his mind, fully engaged and prepared for what the next minute would bring out of John’s mouth. However, something strange showed up into his eyes when listening to this turn of events. John couldn’t help but notice that his boss’s eyes were throwing bolts of light and that his face changed from a relaxed and pleasant look into a grimace of anger and unrest when the stag episode came up. It was strange (to say the least), how his mood changed so drastically in such a short period of time.
It didn’t take John too long before getting to the tow truck driver encounter. Before he started uncovering the story, he grabbed the coffee cup, took a sip and closed his eyes. The coffee was indeed to die for. “It is for real! There are no flavors added to it! This is the bean itself! Goodness, what an aroma! Where is he buying it from?” John was a coffee expert and he knew that you cannot make a call on the quality of a coffee from the first sip you are taking. Consequently, he took another sip and this time held it in his mouth, making sure that the liquid will touch for few seconds the palate. His fine senses were enticed at the maximum. For another thirty seconds, he kept his eyes closed. A large smile appeared on J.J.’s face as he was watching this spectacle. He knew right away that John was a heavy weight when came down to knowing coffee. Slowly, John opened his eyes and exclaimed:
-What an aroma! This is heavenly! Can I ask you…where are you buying it from?
-The story first, Sir!
John burst into a laughter which made J.J. softly laugh as well. The ice was broken, if there was any, keeping in mind that this relationship was almost like a father/son type of relationship.
-Very well, Sir! Here it is…John’s voice caught a low pitch again and he continued from where he left off. Shortly he reached the tow truck episode and stopped for few seconds. He didn’t know if he wanted to say the full story or just portions of it. As he planned from the beginning, the full story came out. As he was revealing the facts, J.J.’s moved forward into the spacious chair and now was virtually sitting on the front edge. His fingers were grabbing the arms of the chair as tight as he was able to, while his eyes were looking John straight into his eyes.
-So, that bastard hit you and simply left! God, I wish I could cross path with him! His face was now turning red and his hands were squishing the soft portion of the chair arms with a force which showed the hands’ veins dilate until they looked like mini ropes.
-It’s not over…I recovered and I left. I badly needed gas. John continued the story with all the details he could remember while telling the story. The gas station action inevitably came up and here it is where John took a little break. Sensing that the story teller wanted to put order into the events which he was sharing with him, J.J. raised one hand in a sign of: “Time out” He poured another round of coffee into the little beautiful coffee cups, took a deep sip, placed the cup with the plate on the table and with a short nod of the head, made John understand that he was ready to listen to the rest. The story came out of John’s chest freely, naturally and uninterrupted, in a nice and flowing rhythm and cadence.
At the end, J.J. was looking at John in a complete admiring state of mind. The story captivated him, making him listen to it on the edge of his chair.
-So, you beat up that jerk!
-Actually I didn’t. He punched me and I choked him. Both men burst into a big, healthy laughter which made them take a comfortable seat into the large chairs. J.J.’s face had already turned red and tears of joy and happiness were flowing down his cheeks.
-John, John, John! You amaze me. I would pay big money to see you choking that jerk into a gas station with the Police trying to break you up.
-Well, actually it felt so good! Another round of laughing filled J.J.’s Office, making it as loud as it could’ve been heard from the Reception. A short and barely audible knock on the door reached J.J.’s ear.
-Come in! Come in!
It was Scott, who heard all the laughter from J.J.’s Office and was now trying to check it out and see what it was about. Keeping in mind that this early in the morning J.J. was always having his coffee and reading the news, it was highly unusual to hear this sort of noise coming out of there.
-Scott! How are you? Come in and have a seat. J.J. pulled another chair at the table and headed to the coffee machine. I will make another round of coffee. John, please tell your story again.
-Oh my God! What happened to your eye? Scott pointed at John’s black eye, while wiping his lenses.
-Ha, ha, ha! This is what I asked him when he stepped into my Office. Listen to the story. It is something to die for!
John found himself in the posture of saying again the same story. This time he just narrated it, without passion, without voice inflections, as he was already tired of it. By the time he was done, J.J. returned to the table with another round of coffee and took a sit; he was visibly well disposed after he heard the story again.
-John, you are remarkable. You picked up a fight with a tow truck driver…Scott was immediately interrupted.
-Scott, for Goodness sake, I didn’t pick that fight up!
-Yeah, I know. But it feels good to have your revenge…one way or another. You have to admit it, John.
-For sure. Only Linda believes that I behaved like a high school teenager.
-John, women have a more cautious way of approaching life challenges than us. We are still the slaves – up to a point of course – of the primary instinct: defend your family, defend your territory. Women will always avoid conflictual situations because they want security, because they want an environment in which they can become comfortable and confident. A fight will always bring animosity, no matter how minor the fight is. We are lucky we have them. Otherwise, human race would’ve been long extinct by now. So…we have to tolerate them! John and Scott joined J.J. into another huge laughter. The massive bodies into the room were shuddering from laughing and nobody was sitting anymore. The coffee cups were in their hands, which made J.J. make a desperate sign: “watch for my Persian rugs, gentlemen!” John and Scott laid the cups on the table, simply to make sure they were not spilling the black liquid on their boss’s precious carpet. Overall, the atmosphere was set for a good business meeting, for a meeting that would shape eventually the fate of Glenworth Financials in the Far East.
-Gentlemen…we have made our decisions: we will tackle the problem we have abroad (on a territory we thought we knew, on a territory we wanted and we thought that it will be part of our culture) by sending John there. Unfortunately, things are developing way different than what we expected. This morning, I got even more bad news: another financial leak (hole) into the budget cannot be justified. It is an almost half million dollars leak which cannot be accounted for. We cannot keep losing money like this! If we don’t find a way to patch this hole, we will have to shut down that operation. It will be a pity, as we invested so much efforts and energy and money to open it up and make it functional. Yes, we made some money there, but it has got to a point at which we have to weigh our options: we either find out what the problem is, what is actually causing us so much grief, or we (as I said), will close it down. There is no other option in my mind. And I want you two guys to tell me now, in my face what you think, what you think about my strategy, what your opinion is, what is your take on this great problem we have on hand.
A deep silence followed J.J.’s speech…both John and Scott avoided looking into their boss’s eyes. Their bent heads, showed a state of helplessness, a state of hopelessness which made the big boss burst into a nervous reaction:
-I don’t need a loser attitude, gentlemen! I expect a fighter’s state of mind, I expect a team of “go getters”, I expect a “do or die” attitude! What’s happening here?
John raised his head and felt like he was already fired up by his boss’s words. His fighter’s abilities kicked in. His numerous years of training into scorching temperatures, into rain, mud, snow and freezing weather, brought a warrior spirit right on the spot, which made him jump off of his chair. Without hesitation, he made a fist, in a sign that he was deeply disturbed by the situation.
-We’ll get to the bottom of this, Mr. Glenworth, we’ll get to the bottom of it. I promise you!
J.J’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He grabbed John by the shoulder and his massive body became one with John’s. It was a shocking move for John who didn’t know how to handle it, so he slowly raised his hands and hugged J.J. back. For three seconds, the two immense bodies were like one. Scott was mesmerized by the scene…he literally did not know how to react, so he just stood up and cleared his throat.
-Oh, sorry Scott.
-No problem Mr. Glenworth. I think we need to get into details. Our plan changed all of a sudden.
-Yes. John, please have a seat. Scott, please do so too. John, over the weekend, I and Scott met and put together a new strategy, according to the new challenges. We gotta’ stop the bleeding! We don’t know where this is coming from, that’s why we need you there as soon as possible.
-Yes, I know. Next Sunday I will be flying to Shanghai.
Both J.J. and Scott looked at each other and with a short and barely imperceptible nod of head, J.J. gave Scott the go ahead to break the news to John.
-John…latest business development and funds leaking, made us take a decision you may not like. John startled and looked right into Scott’s eyes with the look of a boxer warned of a technical mistake.
-I am not going to like it…like I am going to fly Economy? He forced a laughter out of his chest, but very soon he realized that neither J.J. nor Scott played along. Their faces were straight and cold, like the face of an executioner when looking at his victim. This brought a cold chill down John’s spine. He was now worried.
-John…J.J. grabbed John’s arm and looked him into the eyes. John, we need you to leave tonight.
John made an attempt to sit, but the strong grip of his boss held him straight. The eyes of the two men met again. John’s were inquiring, were asking for answers, for explanations on the changed plan.
-John, we believe that the earlier you are there, the better will be. We think that whoever is doing this is poised to drain the company and flee. What we don’t know, is when is this going to be done.
-But you just said that another half a million was drained.
-Fortunately, we managed to stop it. We put a filter few weeks ago on that particular place – where another two transfers were made previously – a Bank in Singapore.
-So, they know that they shouldn’t use that account anymore.
-Yes and this is why we want you there as soon as possible. It seems to us that their plan is to finish up, bank as much as possible and flee. However, now that we closed that Singapore venue, I am certain that they will come up with alternatives. I need you there, my son! I need you there, now!
John took a sit and grabbed his head. There were so many things going through his mind, so many questions he wanted to ask, yet no question came out of his mouth…
-John, please go home now and rest. Tonight you have your flight. It’s a long flight, so you should be rested. You will fly First Class, of course, so it will make it a little easier on your body.
-I didn’t even pack…I have to tell my wife…it’s so sudden!
-John, I would’ve never done this to you, if I didn’t have to do it.
-Yeah…I know, J.J. – I know.
-Take whatever you need from the office and go home. The tickets are waiting for you at the Airport. Before you go, you have to sit with Scott. He arranged everything there. Vic will be your guy to go to. He was briefed up. He knows all the politics in that Office. He will be your greatest source of information and guidance there. Good luck my son! J.J.’s huge hand grabbed John’s hand and again, the two massive persons were joined by a hug of friendship and confidence, by a hug of respect and admiration for each other.
-Let’s go, John! Scott was already walking to the door. John followed him and the door closed behind them. It was a moment of immense loneliness for J.J. He walked to his desk and slowly pulled the chair to the window. Comfortably put his legs on top of each other and both on a little ottoman he had there especially for this activity and let himself dive into thoughts while looking over the city. People walking on the river’s walkways and the activity down there were relaxing him and in the same time were providing a sort of buffer image which he was using like a curtain between reality and the thoughts from the back of his mind. He put all his hopes into John, into his superior intelligence and maturity, into his natural abilities to avoid unnecessary risks but also into his ability to go all in when the time was right.
-Let’s go into your Office!
Both Scott and John walked quietly towards John’s Office. It was still early, nobody showed up for work yet. John made a sign showing Scott a chair. He closed the door and brought another chair by the little desk he also had into his Office.
-OK, John. It’s show time. I can’t tell you how much hope is J.J. putting into you and into a successful return home.
-This is a sort: “no pressure, though” huh? A big laughter filled the room and finally both men were sitting face to face; John was waiting to hear as much details as possible about Office, Vic, and Shanghai. Scott was hoping that the little information he had on hand, would be sufficient enough to place John on a winning course. A moment of pause settled in and John (as a perfect host) felt like he needs an ice breaker…
-Do you want another coffee? I have a good batch.
-It’s alright John, thanks. I was trying to gather my thoughts…didn’t quite know how to start.
-Well…let’s start with the beginning: who is Vic? You told me something about him on Friday.
-Yes, and I don’t know if I can add much more. As I said: he used to have a drinking problem and he was quite overweight. Apparently he cleaned up and dropped a lot of weight. It looks like the woman he’s with, put him on the right course.
-Can we trust him?
This question made Scott startle…why wouldn’t we trust him? We are paying him from here, he is making a North American salary in China and we are paying for his accommodation and expenses: rent, private medical insurance, car, car insurance etc.
-Just asking, Scott. I’m just asking. People change. So, he is reporting directly to you, huh?
-Yes. However, he must report to Tony as well as Tony is the General Manager of that Operation.
-I don’t understand…he is reporting to you and to Tony?
-No. Let me say it like this: he must inform Tony on his activity.
-OK. I got it. Do you know what sort of relationship is between these two guys? Do they get along, are there any frictions between them, do they hate each other, etc, etc…
-I have always sensed a little hesitation on Vic’s side when we were talking about Tony’s activity…
-What sort of hesitation? Fear to speak, or just a sort of: “I despise this guy and I don’t want to talk any further”
-Well, John…these are good questions and I think you will have to come up with answers, as you will be there every day and you will have the time to observe Office politics, to process this information and eventually make decisions.
-Fair enough. Now please tell me how that Office is organized.
-Gladly. Here it is the Organigramme. Scott started explaining the Shanghai Office Organization to John. Deliberately he was speaking slowly, so John could make a mental picture of the Organization. The years of management experience under his belt made John quickly understand how that Office was structured. Now he was supposed to learn the names.
-Can I have a printout of whatever you just told me?
-Of course. I will get a printout to you immediately.
-Please try to insert names above each box that shows position. It will be easier for me to get a picture of the Office, of who reports to whom and especially of the second tier Managers.
-Absolutely. I will get somebody to do this as soon as people start arriving into the Office. But you can get one from Vic when you get there.
– I want to have a head start. What am I going to do anyways during that long flight?
-Sure. Anything else you need from me, John?
-No, Scott. I think I’m good.
-Well, then I wish you a pleasant flight there and good luck in trying to come up with some answers.
-Thx Scott! Appreciate your help. The two men shook hands and Scott turned around and headed for the door.
-Do you want me to send that Organigram to your attention at the Airport?
-No. I will still be around for a couple of hours. I need to put order into the business here.
-Great! Appreciate this, as I will be taking over while you are gone. A list of priorities and the responsible persons would be much appreciated.
-Absolutely. I wouldn’t leave you blind folded without any sort of briefing.
-Good luck, John! I think you are destined for great things.
-Thanks Scott! I see you soon.
Scott turned around and with his right hand waived at John good bye.
-By the way…do you have your Passport with you?
-I need it. I have to get the Chinese visa for you. We will get it on emergency basis. At the airport you will have all the documentation needed.
It wasn’t too long (in John’s mind) after Scott’s departure, before somebody knocked on the door’s frame. John turned around and suddenly realized that the Office was almost full, which meant that the time was around 9 am. He checked his wrist watch and shook his head…Unbelievable! It is already 9 fifteen in the morning. The time just flies!
-Yes Cynthia, come in. John stood up and invited her to take a seat where her boss sat just two hours ago.
-Good morning Mr. Parker. I brought the paper work you requested from Scott.
-Sure, please have a Seat and I would appreciate if you could please spend few minutes with me and go through the material
-Absolutely, no problem Mr. Parker…
-John. Please call me John.
-Sure, John. She sat into the chair John has pointed at and shortly started explaining the Organigramme. Her voice was mellow, but professional, a voice that was inspiring confidence to the interlocutor, a voice that could motivate through the clarity of the message sent. Cynthia not only provided the Organigramme and the names of the people in that Office, but she went above and beyond her assignment and gathered information from Human Resources Department on persons’ background and activity within company.
-Cynthia, you are treasure! I have a lot of reading to do on my way there.
-It’s a long flight, John. I thought that you may want to keep yourself busy when not watching TV or movies. She smiled and two rows of perfectly shaped white teeth showed up, making that smile even more beautiful and intriguing.
John smiled in return and walked her to the door.
-Good luck, John!
-No, I don’t. But I can see that something interesting is brewing around here.
-Thanks Cynthia. Appreciate your help.
-Anytime Mr. Parker.
Right when she was about to exit, Vicky showed up and an awkward situation resulted in a fraction of a second. Both women were now at the door waiting for each other to make a move…”Do you get in first? Are you letting me to get out first?” A false and sour smile flourished on Cynthia’s lips…one could see that she had a rough time hiding her feelings when seeing Vicky. The same cold and insincere smile flourished on Vicky’s lips. John looked at the scene and turned around with a large smile on his face: “Oops! It looks like they can’t stand each other. If we could only understand a fraction of the woman’s brain! What powerful beings we could be!” He felt like letting laughter go, but he knew that Vicky was standing in front of the door now, waiting for him to turn around. He was seeing her into the windows from his Office. Finally, he decided to turn, even that he really was not in a mood of having a conversation with Vicky.
-Good morning Vicky, how are you?
-Good morning John, I am wonderful. How was your weekend? Her voice chocked, as she was approaching him. God, what happened to you? You have a black eye.
-It’s not too bad. Just a small accident.
-Let me see if I can help…she tried to reach for John’s eye with a calculated and tender gesture. John grabbed her arm and slowly but firmly brought her to the understanding that he wouldn’t accept any out of Office protocol gesture. A large sign of disappointment darkened Vicky’s forehead.
-OK, Vicky…what do you need?
-Just wanted to drop by and say hi. You didn’t show up for the Team’s gathering on Thursday and on Friday you were in meeting with J.J. the whole day.
-Yes, we are very busy with some issues we are having right now.
-Is it bad?
-Vicky, we are big boys and we can take care of business. Anything else you need to communicate to me?
-No John, just checking if you were alright.
-Fantastic! I thank you for this. Now I have to leave…
-So early? It is 9 thirty only. Problems?
John understood that if he wanted to get out in a rush, he had to come up with something. Vicky was the type of person who wouldn’t just give up before she got everything she wanted. So, John put a worry type of look on his face. It worked perfectly!
-So, it is so bad? Where? Vicky was dying to know. Her whole body was trembling from curiosity.
-Yes Vicky…it is bad. It’s about our businesses in the Mid-West.
-I knew it!
-Really? OK, you are smart and intelligent. I gotta’ go now.
-Do you need a ride to the airport?
-No! John’s voice went up a level which scared his interlocutor.
-You scared me, John!
-I am sorry. I am so sorry! I am ok, my wife will take me to the Airport.
-Oh…yes. Sorry. How is Linda, by the way?
-She’s fine. Gotta’ go now.
-How long will you be gone for?
-Not sure. I don’t have a time frame set. When I figure out what’s going on there, I will come back.
-Do you know that I have an aunt in the Mid-West?
-No, I don’t. Bye now!
John grabbed his coat, his suitcase and swiftly turned the light in his Office off, inviting this way Vicky to step out. He closed and locked the door behind him, then stormed out of the Office without giving Vicky a chance to say anything. At the elevators, he nervously pushed the “P1” button looking behind him, in a sign that he was even afraid that she was going to follow him just to tell the aunt story.
The elevators were not coming soon enough! John almost got into a panic mode, imagining that Vicky was coming out of the Office to say: “Have a good trip”
Finally, one of the six elevators showed up and John couldn’t see himself out of the building and into the Parking lot.
Once inside his car he released a sigh of relief; after setting his suitcase, the coat and the overcoat on the passenger seat, swiftly fired up the beast and stormed out of the garage. This time of the day (going now the opposite way as he was usually coming in the morning), the street was clear. He cracked a sarcastic smile when he looked at the cars on the opposite lane just sitting in the traffic due to the morning rush. It felt good and it felt strange. This hour, he was supposed to sit into the infernal traffic of the Downtown listening to people honking their horns for no reason, playing his favorite songs to forget about the day to day traffic jam misery. Quickly he made it to the traffic light – it was red. He stopped and bent sidewise to grab a handkerchief from his coat. A knock on the passenger window almost made his heart stop. He looked up and to his disbelief two rows of immaculate white teeth were smiling at him. It was Leo. John felt like his blood pressure went to the roof. He wanted to grab him by the tie, bring him into the car and beat him up; but he was still wearing the seatbelt and his motions were severely impaired by the belt. With a nervous and almost uncontrolled gesture, he unbuckled and was now ready to open up the door of the car and settle scores with Leo. But J.J.’s words came right away into his mind: “look at the big picture, John…always the big picture”. John buckled back up and opened the passenger window.
-What do you want Leo? I am still mad at you!
-Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker! I am so sorry I made you feel uncomfortable…
-You made me what? Are you kidding me? You took my car for a spin and you are telling me that you made me feel uncomfortable? I don’t know what is stopping me right now to get out and whoop your ass!
-Mr. Parker, I didn’t want to say that…listen: I am sorry. Sincerely I am sorry. But whatever you see as a failure on my part, I see it as an opportunity.
-Maybe opportunity for you to get your ass kicked! Yeah, I truly believe in that kind of opportunity!
-Mr. Parker, you don’t have to look at this situation so dramatically. Let me tell you something: we both need each other. Leo made a sign (back and forth) with his thumb and index finger, re-iterating that he is of great importance to John.
John didn’t know any more if he should’ve been mad given the circumstances or he should just laugh at the whole situation. The light turned green and he put the car into the second gear. Bye Leo! The beast roared and made the left turn only to disappear between the skyscrapers. John still had a chance to look into the rear end mirror. Leo was desperately waving at him.
John burst into a large and healthy laughter. I think J.J. was right…you have to look at the big picture. Few seconds later he shook the thought by moving his head sidewise in a negative way. No, way! This guy is a bozo, he takes advantage of the situations, and he is probably a crook too. With this thought in mind, he hit the freeway and same type of sentiment hit him as when he left the building. Almost nobody was driving his way. So, he stepped on the gas pedal, the engine roared once again like a lion into the Serengeti and the whole freeway opened up in front of him.
Once he reached his home, he changed the cloths and came down into the kitchen. He made another coffee and turned the TV on while going through the newspaper. Linda was gone, so he timed his phone call to school in a way that would happen during her break.
The conversation was short and Linda couldn’t hide her disappointment and emotions.
-I thought we had another week with each other…
-Sorry hon…J.J. wants me to leave on the emergency basis.
-So it’s that bad, huh?
-Apparently. And this means more pressure on me.
-You’ll manage it, don’t worry. Listen, let me see if I can get somebody to replace me today and I will come back and help you pack.
-OK. Thx hon, but you don’t have to do it. I can pack myself.
-That’s OK. I will be home in about half an hour.
John headed right away upstairs and started going through his wardrobe. He took every suit out and laid them on the bed. On his way back home from the office, he decided to take five suites with him and ten shirts. Now, when everything he wanted was laying in front of him, he panicked…”There is no way I can pack all of these and everything else I need: T-shirts, pajamas, under ware, socks, bath robes, shoes…” The last word he mentioned made him panic even more: ”shoes…I need at least three or four pairs. I need sneakers for my daily walking or for the Gym and I need sweat pants and shirts”. In less than five minutes, all items he was mentioning in his mind were laid either on the bed or around the bed, making the Master look so much smaller.
When John realized that he would need the second piece of large luggage, he took a sit on the floor with his legs crossed, like in a Yoga position and simply started contemplating the enormous amount of clothing which was displayed in front of him. He was in disbelief. In his mind everything should’ve fit in one piece of luggage. Disappointment set on his face and a question he didn’t want to ask himself all of a sudden popped up: “what do I leave behind?”
When Linda stepped into the Master Bedroom, she covered her mouth and a slight sigh came out of her lungs.
-Oh my God! What have you done, John? Are you planning to take the whole wardrobe you have with you?
-That’s the whole point, hon! I only took out whatever I considered it was strictly necessary.
-Are you kidding? Her voice went up in tonality and almost sounded as being in distress. John…honey…why do you need five suits? Why don’t you take two or three max and you rotate them while taking them to the dry cleaning?
-I don’t want to bother myself too often with this activity, that’s why I am taking so many.
-OK, I could understand this up to a point…but you have so many pairs of shoes and sneakers with you. Why don’t you just take from here minimum quantities you need and you buy there more if you really run out of clothing, shoes, etc.?
-It’s Shanghai; they must have some quality stores there!
John’s face lit up and in a split of a second he was up hugging his wife.
-You are a treasure! This is what I will do and thus, I don’t need another large piece of luggage. Now, let’s see: what do I pick to come with me?
Linda shook her head in a way one would do it when seeing the kids listening to the advice the parent gave them. A smile flourished on her lips; it was a smile expressing deep love and full understanding of the partner, almost like a smile of a parent who knows his children by heart. Once she got downstairs, she pulled a chair in the dining room, took out of her suitcase a stack of papers and started working on some assignments she had to evaluate.
None of them realized how fast the time went by. It was already 2pm when John came down with a large piece of luggage full of cloths. His face was all lit up. He managed to fit inside everything he wanted. He rolled the luggage towards the exit door, turned and headed for the dining room where Linda was working. He grabbed her by the shoulders and softly kissed her on the neck.
-I need to work. Her whisper wanted to be a sort of: “leave me alone, I have to finish this”, but ended up of being just a soft push back, a very anemic rejection to John’s advances. However, she had to finish the work she brought home so she firmly (this time) pushed her husband away from her.
-Go take a walk, John! I am busy, I have to finish this.
-OK. I will be back in half an hour or so.
-Great! Dress well; it’s cold outside.
John disappeared into the basement and shortly came back dressed for running.
-You are not going to run, are you?
-Yes, I am going to run…it’s not that cold and I need a little adrenaline to flow through my veins. Today is a great day for me. I am throwing myself into something I have never done before and I will be doing this into a country which is ten thousand miles away from home and most likely I will face an environment which will be hostile to me.
-Perfect environment for a last second winning throw, don’t you think?
In seconds, John’s chest filled up with air. The very thought of him winning on the road, into a hostile and never tested environment made him feel proud of his mission, feel like he is the right person indeed for this job. He hugged again his wife and headed for the door. It was cold, but he didn’t pay any sort of attention to the temperature outside. Slowly, he increased the pace of his run and soon the details of all the conversations he had with J.J. and Scott were coming back as short lived memories, transforming him into a running machine playing back recent life experiences.
Linda put another sweet, barely noticeable smile on her face and murmured: “Men are so predictable! You just have to stir them to the direction you want!”
John ran for a full hour. When he returned, his face was all red from the cold and effort. Vapors were coming out through his hat and sweat pants. He took off his sneakers and headed right away for the basement. There he took a shower and put some comfortable sweat pants and a T shirt on and came back upstairs.
-How was the run?
-Awesome! I didn’t realize I ran for an hour! This is good. Now I can eat something fatty. Are you hungry?
-Yes, I am. What do you have in mind?
-Not sure. I don’t feel like cooking. I think we have some wings in the freezer. I make some fries and we have a lunch. How about that?
-Perfect. Let’s go for it!
It was all John needed. He pulled the bag of wings from the freezer and set up the oven to the right temperature for the pre heat activity.
Potatoes were kept into a little place underneath the kitchen island. He picked three large ones and skillfully started peeling them. The deep fryer came out of the storage. John knew exactly how to time the two activities so the fries wouldn’t get cold by the moment the wings were done. He did this many times before. It was getting busy into the kitchen again!
-John, at what time is your flight?
– It’s at 11.30 pm
-You mentioned that you need an entry Visa for China.
– I left my Passport with J.J. this morning. He was going to get my Visa on emergency basis. I will get my Passport at the Airport when checking in – they will send it there.
-Wow! I didn’t know something like this is even possible.
-Everything is possible, hon…for the right amount, of course. John raised his head and deeply inhaled showing that he is on top of the game and he knows who is calling the shots. Almost ready, honey…almost ready. Can you please set up the table?
Linda wrapped up the work and in a heartbeat placed the plates and the silverware on the dining table.
-They look so delicious! Indeed, the nicely browned breaded wings looked like they were cut off of a cooking magazine. The steam that was coming out of them, the smell of the white meat and the barely audible noise of the bread crumbs falling on the plate managed to incite their senses. The fries were at least as good looking as the wings: the goldish brown color and an irresistible smell of garlic made both of them salivate while their mouths were watering.
It did not take any more talking, any more inviting or any other sort of eating fore play. They both just dug into the pile of wings and fries. John stood all of a sudden and headed for the kitchen. They had assorted pickles on the table, but he also wanted something else: a sour kraut salad. He quickly opened up a package of sour kraut, drained the brine and added black pepper and olive oil…voila! The salad was ready.
John brought it back to the table and for the next twenty minute or so, neither him nor his wife felt like opening up a conversation.
The meal in front of them made the couple concentrate on food only. The smell coming out of the chicken meat was acting like a drug. All five senses were captured and held captive by the steaming two dishes laid on the table.
-I am full! John wrapped the napkin and placed it carefully by the fork, while admiringly looking at the big pile of bones he built up.
-I am full too. God, these wings were delicious. Now I feel like I need to take a nap! They both laughed as this was not first time when after a good meal, both of them headed straight for the bed.
-Did you pack up? Do you have everything?
-Yes. I have my carry on done as well. It is still in the bedroom. Other than these two pieces of luggage I will have my laptop.
-OK. It’s almost 5 o’clock. You should probably get some rest. You don’t know if you can sleep during this long sixteen hour flight. What time do you have to be at the Airport?
-By 9 I have to be at the Terminal to check in.
-OK then. You have a couple of hours to rest. It will take us one hour to get there. Go upstairs and have a nap.
-You are not going to sleep?
-Maybe I will. I will set up the alarm for 7 pm, just in case we both feel like waking up tomorrow morning.
-OK. I see you in a bit. John headed upstairs and quickly put his pajamas on. The afternoon run into the cold, wore him down. As soon as he put his head on the pillow, he fell asleep.
Linda tried to do some more work, but the emotions she went through during the weekend, made her body ask for sleep. She set the alarm clock for 7, set the pillow the way she liked it and covered herself with the blanket. It didn’t take very long before she fell asleep too.
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