Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 21 (Strange neighbors)

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 21

Strange neighbors

John waited for them to get into the taxi, waived and when the car was out of his eye sight, turned around and headed for his room. The Lobby was almost empty. Some people were still lingering around sitting into the luxurious leather chairs or on the sofas talking business or just chilling before heading for the rooms and calling it a day. The nice, discrete and relaxing classical music played into the speakers, the huge tropical plants and trees which were dominating certain areas and the low lights skillfully hidden between the branches and around the trunk (simulating an African dusk), was giving that Lobby a particular beauty, serenity, stillness. Before heading for the elevators, John couldn’t help but stop and admire the scenery…it was beautiful and relaxing. On the opposite side from where he was standing, the orange lights between the immense branches of a palm tree were giving the viewer the feel that he was looking at a sun waiting patiently to go down on a nice Safari evening. There was so much tranquility in this place that John almost forgot he had to go upstairs and rest, as tomorrow will be the “D day”. He shook his head few times in a sign that he needs to wake up, in a sign that he must shake off this enchanted scenery and turn back to reality. Vigorously he headed for the elevators. Once inside, he scanned his card and patiently waited for the elevator to reach Penthouse level.

The hallway was simulating to a point the Lobby. Same lights (but more discreet and at a lower intensity) were placed on the walls, on the furniture and even at the floor level, hidden between flower pots. Overall, the diffuse lighting, the shades, the numerous colors encompassing the hallway, the nice plants and the pictures on the walls, were creating a mystic type of scenery, an abstruse environment which almost gave John chills. One of the lamps on the opposite wall with the elevator was flickering, thus throwing multiple shades and nuances of obscure lighting. John just couldn’t pass by and ignore this, as his mind set was always connected to perfection. He looked behind the thick yellow glass cover and confirmed that the bulb light was faulting indeed. Getting closer, he realized that the particular light was meant to emphasize the paint below it. It was hard from the first sight to fully understand the meaning of the scene into that painting. The intermittent light thrown by the bulb light was highlighting some fighting scenery, completely unknown to John. His natural curiosity wanted to know more, wanted to take a better look at the picture. He started playing with the bulb light by untightening it and back tightening it. It worked! The bulb light just needed a small adjustment. He turned his sight from the troubling bulb light and now he looked at the picture from a totally different perspective. A Chinese warrior fully dressed into his war gear was fighting a creature which looked frightening, terrifying and fearsome. It looked like one of those dreadful dragons which were proudly presented by the Chinese community back home during their annual New Year’s parade. John realized now that this was a real painting, not a print on canvas exhibit. The light was placed in a way which was emphasizing warrior’s face, his spear and the dragon’s flame throwing mouth. The intensity of the scene captured John’s attention while a slight tremble grabbed his shoulders as the bulb light started faulting again. This time John didn’t feel like trying to fix the problem again, as he realized it is a matter of replacing the bulb light. He turned around trying to head for the apartment.

His heart stopped! Few feet in front of him, a person was standing and watching his efforts to fix the light trouble. The face was into a cone of darkness and just from time to time he could actually see some details of the physiognomy, as the lighting kept flickering. It was a female with a long ponytail flowing over the left shoulder almost all the way to the waist. She was also quite tall, probably of the same height as Zhaohui.

-It does it all the time!

John felt like he swallowed his Adam’s apple. A deep sensation of thirst, discomfort and fear captured his senses. The ambient mystic light and scenery, the picture showing mythological frightful characters and the woman who appeared out of nowhere, brought a cold sweat down his spine and all over his forehead.

-I…I…tried to fix it. He was trembling from emotions and in spite of the fact that he tried to hide the discomfort into which he found himself, the tonality and the timber of his voice were weak, soft and unclear.

-No worry. I call manager. The woman was still standing into that dark side of the hallway, almost like trying to avoid an eye to eye contact, trying to prolong the mystery and the uncertainty of the situation.

-Thank you. Have a good night! John moved away and headed towards his apartment. The woman made a step side wise again, so her face was still covered by the darkness and the shades of the hallway.

-You have good night too, Sir! It was the voice of a self-assured person: powerful and dominating, demanding and up to a point frightful.  However, the well balanced tonicity and a high level of musicality, made her voice quite pleasant in spite of the firmness of the words coming out of her mouth.

John headed towards his apartment. It was the time he realized that his apartment was sharing the huge floor with another two apartments. They were placed approximately at a hundred twenty degrees from each other, with the elevators being placed between the other two units. While looking for his card-key into his wallet, he sensed some sort of music coming from the apartment which was almost facing his. He realized that this is the place where the woman he’s just seen in front of the elevators came from. His unabated curiosity kicked in once again.

The “ding” sound of the elevator told him that the person with whom he had a small chat in front of the elevators was ready to go down and head wherever she had business to do. He approached the door and to his great surprise, the door was slightly open. His brain told him to leave and don’t bother looking. But his heart and his insatiable thirst for knowledge told him to stop and look. He approached the door and through the opening he could see a man sitting into a lotus position in the middle of the living room. The furniture was moved to provide space probably. He was looking at the window and had his back turned to the door. A strange smell of aromas was coming out, a smell John was not familiar with. During his football carrier and after that (to this day) he was regularly going to get massages, so he was accustomed with the Chinese herbs and plants used by those massage places. But this one was something totally different. In spite of the fact that the lights were low into the apartment, John saw two large vases – one on each man’s side – from which a thin layer of smoke was coming out. He couldn’t distinguish the color of the smoke, but the smell was strange and powerful while in the same time was warm and welcoming; it was almost like a combination of good-bad, a combination which gets your head spinning not wanting you to let go. The man sitting on a tatami on the floor, looked like a large male (judging by the large frame of his shoulders) and was dressed into a white kimono. It appeared to John that his skin was dark, but he couldn’t quite say for sure, as the lights in the room were playing games on him. His curiosity was reaching new heights: why did the woman leave the door open? Why the man sits right into the line of sight through the opening? What is that unusual but quite pleasant smell? He realized that there is no way he would find answers, so he decided to turn around and head for his room. In that very moment, the man picked up a strange object which was resting beside him: it seemed to be a long spear, but soon John realized that it was an unusually long smoking pipe as the man in the room started smoking and releasing thin clouds of smoke. Things were coming together and John understood that the person was probably using prohibited substances. A smile showed up on his lips, turned around and headed for his apartment. A “ding” just came from the elevators and John rushed inside his apartment. He knew that the woman he left at the elevators was now coming back to the apartment. He wanted to head straight to the bar and pour himself a drink, but again, his inextinguishable curiosity made him look through the peep hole. He was right: the woman was coming back, but she was not alone…this time she was accompanied by another woman. Again, John couldn’t see her face as the other woman was now acting as a shield. Was this done accidentally or was it done on purpose so he couldn’t see her face? More questions popped up into John’s head and his desire to meet his neighbors became a reality. He couldn’t say why, but it was almost like an invisible magnet was drawing his attention towards that suite.

Finally, the door closed and John headed for the living room. Flipped the light switch and opened up the bar. There was a great selection of drinks available. He opened up a bottle of Cognac, poured some into a glass and moved a chair by the window. The view was spectacular! The business district was all lit-up, the roads were busy while the pedestrians were still walking on the sidewalks. However, Huangpu was literally astonishing! The lights on the barges which were taking their cargo downstream and the wonderful shades of the moon reflecting onto the river’s waters made the view special. John took a sip from the drink in front of him and let his head drop backwards, trying to digest everything that happened during the day: all the people he met and now, at the end of the day, more questions raised into his head by his new neighbors. “Are they doing something illegally there? What’s up with the girl she brought with her”? He raised his head and looking straight at one of the barges on the river, he loudly asked himself: “Are Vic and Zhaohui on my side? Why did Vic brief his fiancée up about the assignment? Do I have to worry about her too?” All these questions were now part of a panel of uncertainties which were wandering throughout John’s head. “Judging by the way Vic and his fiancée behaved at the dinner table, I think I overreacted” More and more (as the recent memories were flashing back), John realized that he shouldn’t worry about these two persons. A warm feeling stretched through his body and a barely sketched smile made his lower lip drop a bit showing a sign of happiness and easiness from a cold and tensioned state of mind. “No, they are definitely on my side! But I still have to figure out Vic’s face (when I told him that I want to head back home as soon as possible). Maybe he was trying to tell me something…I don’t know. I am really not into the mood now of doing an investigation on Vic’s gesture. There is enough time for this”

He finished up his drink and headed for the Bathroom to get ready for sleep. In the meantime, he took a detour and went to the door again. Took a look again through the peep hole. The hallway was deserted. He slowly opened up the door…no any sort of noise was coming from the other apartment and the door was closed. He decided to call it a day and headed for the bathroom. When flicked the light open, he realized that his huge glass wall which was separating the bedroom from the bathroom, was now providing a great scenery of the river. There was no time for any more viewing. He put his pajamas on, brushed his teeth and headed for the bed. It was mid night and tomorrow was supposed to be the beginning of a new chapter in his life.

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