Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 46 (The circle starts closing)

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 46

The circle starts closing

 Vic woke up earlier than he used to. Last night’s events made him consider going to work at a different time than usual. It was something new and unexpected, something he didn’t know how to handle – John was apparently in love with this girl. The scene at the Restaurant when they looked into each other’s eyes for a long time and then the grand finale at the hotel when he took Yue Ying into his arms and headed straight for the bedroom without saying a word, puzzled him. While doing his morning bathroom routine, he smiled and tried to lift up his own spirits: “It’s just a fling. We have work to do. John is a trooper, he will not let us down”. With this thought in his mind, he went downstairs to the kitchen and fixed himself a coffee while checking the newspaper. All of a sudden, he remembered Zhaohui’s words before going to sleep: “The circle starts closing. Whatever we are doing is useless”

He startled and visibly worried put the coffee cup down. His fiancée’s words made him rush his morning routine and get ready for leaving the house. In few minutes he was in the garage and drove away in a hurry.

He was the first one to make it at work. The first look he took once inside, was towards John’s office. It was still dark. No sign of his friend.  “It’s too early. He had a rough night anyway!” He cracked a short smile, headed for his cubicle, turned his laptop on and started crunching numbers on an assignment which was waiting for his attention. He managed to stay focused on his work without realizing that few hours passed by and the office was now “running at full capacity”. Stood up and looked into John’s office direction: still empty, no sign of his friend. Immediately pulled the cell phone from his pocket and checked the time: “Ten thirty-four and no sign of Mr. Parker…hmmm. I will let him recover from his rough night and then I will call him”. Vic headed for the kitchen area to grab a tea. He already started getting worried that John lost his focus on the assignment and the girl he just met will be an obstacle on their way to take the challenge to the end. “She is really beautiful, I agree…but we have work to do and I don’t want to start lying to J.J. and make up excuses on why we are not progressing”.

-Good morning, Vic, how are you?

Vic startled! It was Tony Gang! He didn’t expect to see Tony this early into the office. His heart started beating at a very fast pace, as he was now able to hear the beats into his temples. Tony’s face was unusual radiant and was releasing (one would say) an array of mixed states of mind…from a warm feeling given up by a smile which was flourishing on his cheeks, to a strange and undefined ironic gesture on his lips. Vic was sweating bullets…he understood that Tony was up to something and in that moment he made a gigantic effort to stay calm and not betray his feelings.

-Good morning, Tony! I am doing fantastic! How are you? How was your weekend? He was desperately trying to buy time and get back to a more comfortable state of mind.

-Not bad, Vic…not bad at all. I visited Nanjing, then I caught a flight to Beijing – some personal business.

Vic startled again…his detectives (through their contact in Beijing) mentioned about a meeting which took place in Beijing, meeting where Tony and John’s neighbor participated. What puzzled him, was the nonchalance engaged by Tony when mentioning all these things…it was almost like he was serving information to Vic, leading him towards a place, a corner he wanted him to head to. Vic became even more defensive and careful with his statements.

-How about you, Vic? Did you do anything special over the weekend?

Vic scratched his head in a sign that he was trying to put his thoughts together, thus avoiding a direct answer.

-Let me think…no, not much…but on Sunday we took John to visit Suzhou Gardens.

Tony looked straight into Vic’s eyes. He was obviously trying to find out more, or at least was fishing for details of the trip. Or so this is what Vic thought. To his desperation, Tony cracked a smile and with a tone which betrayed lots of self-assurance said:

-I guess it was a perfect day for meditation at the Gardens. His smile became larger and the irony which now could be clearly read onto his lips made Vic angry but in the same time made him understand that he was helpless. He understood that Tony and John’s neighbor are spying on them, are watching every single step they are making. He became furious…”I told John that he should move! And so did Zhaohui! He just wouldn’t listen! That’s it! I am looking for another place. We cannot afford anymore to be followed by Tony and his network of spies”.

-What do you mean by: “perfect day for meditation?” His question was straight forward while looking Tony directly into his eyes. Tony startled – he didn’t expect such an aggressive attitude from Vic. In the same time, Vic realized that he made a mistake by snapping at his interlocutor, thus giving up the fact that he indeed visited the Gardens yesterday. He decided to play very cautiously from now on…

-I just meant that it is very nice to go there and meditate. I do this too, from time to time, whenever I have the chance to visit the Gardens.

-Oh…I didn’t know that you are doing meditation. Vic was just trying to buy time and eventually get out of the trouble he put himself into.

-Not always. Only when I want to bring back memories. This statement made Vic startle again…”Is he somehow related to Chang mao dashi and his sister? What is the relationship between the three of them? I guess very soon we will find out”

-Right…only when you are trying to remember things…the discussion took a turn towards banality and both men realized that any moment spent from now on discussing the subject is just a loss of time. Tony made a sign that he had to go. Vic tilted his head into a “sure, I will see later” and both men headed towards different directions. However, before departing, Tony turned around and with a voice (which he tried to make as ironically as possible) he asked:

-Where is John? He probably had a rough night. Usually he is in the office by now said Tony while checking his wrist watch. Vic felt like all the blood he had into his veins was rushing to his temples. However, he calmed down and with a voice as natural and assuring as he could muster, he replied:

-He told me that he is still jet-legged.

-Oh…right! I forgot that he landed on Tuesday. Please tell him to rest well. He needs all his strength. We need him into the office.

-I sure will tell him. Thanks for your concern.

-You are welcome, Vic. I will see you later.

-Great, Tony! Have a good day.

The two men split up the hallway and headed towards two different directions. Vic couldn’t stop but take a look towards John’s office – no sign of him! He went to the hallway, picked up his cell phone and called John. The call went straight into the voice mail system. Vic felt like he wanted to smash the cell phone. “This is unbelievable! Now, when we have so much work to do…”

Vic checked the time. It was almost 11am. “Maybe I can find him at Mr. Wang’s”. Without hesitation, he got out of the building without even taking his coat. It was nice and warm anyway. Hailed a taxi and in ten minutes the driver pulled in front of the well-known restaurant. The place started getting busy. Vic took a seat at one of the tables in such a way that he would have an overview of the whole establishment. In spite of the fact that he knew the menu by heart, he opened one and started browsing through…on the same time, he was keeping an eye on the entrance door. No sign of John and this made him nervous. Pulled his cell phone out again and made the call. Same thing: the call went directly into the voice mail. “This is unbelievable!”

-Good morning Vic!

Vic startled and turned to the left. It was Mr. Wang who was standing into his blind spot; the smile on his face was contagious and made Vic smile back in spite of the distress he was going through.

-Good morning Mr. Wang…actually is it still morning? I guess so, said Vic after looking at his cell phone.

-Yes Vic, it is still morning. Where is John?

Vic wasn’t prepared to answer this question, so he mumbled something like: “he does not feel well”

-Oh…that’s too bad! I will send him some soup.

-No. That’s alright. I will take it to him if he needs it. His rushed answer (an answer released on a high pitched voice which betrayed the trouble he was into) made his interlocutor take a long look at him. Mr. Wang was too experienced in reading one’s mind not to understand that something unusual happened. He pulled a chair and took a seat. This gesture was casual and in the same time one would say that it was a gesture only done between friends, between people who know themselves well.

-Talk to me…what happened? Vic startled and realized that his interlocutor read his mind. He understood that he cannot hide too much from Mr. Wang. In the same time, he remembered John’s comment: “I could swear that I heard Mr. Wang’s voice”. This made him still engage a defensive position and decided not to tell him anything about their last night’s endeavor at the Black Swan.

-Nothing. I am just worried a bit. He is a healthy guy…this cold or flu, or whatever it is made him a little weak.

Mr. Wang took a long look at Vic and an imperceptible but sarcastic smile flourished on his lips.

-OK then. Please tell John (when you see him) that I know quite few things about alternative medicine and I can offer my advice. Other than that, what would you like to eat for lunch? Vic even forgot that he would eventually need to order.

-The usual, please. Thank you, Mr. Wang!

-Always my pleasure, Vic! Slowly and as elusively as he showed up, Mr. Wang disappeared behind the kitchen door, door so familiar to Vic by now. The adventure he, John and the detectives had that particular night when they snuck in to take pictures of the book, was still so fresh in his mind. He smiled, as the hilarity of the situation brought back the cat incident and the fact that his heart almost stopped at the sound of those pans and pots hitting each other.

He picked up the cell phone and dialed John’s number. Once again, the phone call went straight into the voice mail. “Okay, Johnny boy! I guess I will have to pay you a visit in person”. The lunch was quick. He ate fast and then headed for the door; hailed for a taxi and in ten minutes pulled in front of the hotel. Once he reached the penthouse level, carefully walked towards John’s apartment. He didn’t want to make noise as the neighbors could’ve been home.

He rang the bell. Waited ten seconds and then rang it again. No noise, no steps, not a sign of any kind of movement was coming out. Vic was fuming: “This is unbelievable! He didn’t make it to the office and he is not inside his apartment either. Don’t tell me that he is now taking a stroll with the girl! I can’t believe this!” He rang the bell again…nothing. Vic dropped his head and headed back to the elevator scratching his head: “Unbelievable! Tomorrow I have to report to J.J. – what am I going to say?” Once in the lobby, he decided to take a seat into the couch closest to the lemon tree and make few phone calls. The fragrance released by the blossomed flowers made him relax and forget about John problem. It was so quiet in that corner! Vic pulled the cell phone and called John again…nothing – the call went straight into the voice mail. “Well, let me call Zhaohui”. His call went again into the voice mail. “This is odd…she probably is in the classroom, can’t pick up. I will try calling her later on”. That being said, Vic jumped on his feet and headed for the Reception.

-Do you know where Mr. Parker is? Have you seen him today? He checked in last week, I hope you remember him.

-I perfectly remember him, Sir! Everybody here knows him.

-Seriously? How come everybody knows him?

-He is such a handsome man, Sir! The girl who answered, looked straight into his eyes. She was beautiful to say the least. Two big slandered black eyes were scraping onto the barrier he thought he laid down as a defense system. Vic felt how he was about to swallow his Adam’s apple. A cold sweat was now running down his spine as he remembered the discussions he had with Zhaohui and John on the fact that the neighbors might have spies all over the city to watch them. “She must be one of them. Why would she stare at me like this otherwise?”

-So, have you seen him today?

-No, Sir. Sorry. Do you want me to take a message for him?

-That’s alright. Thank you. Have a good day!

-You too, Sir. Stay safe out there.

Vic startled…”What did she mean by that? What sort of dangers are waiting for me once I step out of this Hotel?” Vic looked at the receptionist…all he could see was a pair of gorgeous eyes and an enigmatic smile which made Vic’s heart rush at a higher pace. “She is definitely spying on us. John’s gotta’ move! Zhaohui told him that this is what he should do and she was right. This hotel is infested with spies. But where am I supposed to find him? This is unbelievable! If he is still upstairs and he doesn’t want to open the door for me, I understand…” Vic cracked again a smile and shook his head in a sign of: “naughty boy!”

“But on the other hand, we have work to do and he must move! This is a situation I don’t like at all. What am I going to tell J.J.? What sort of excuse I can come up with by tomorrow? I hate this situation!” Vic headed for the door but not before taking another peek towards the Reception. The girl disappeared; a male receptionist took her place. Vic shook his head and once again mumbled: “Yeah…she is definitely spying on us. Too bad she is so gorgeous!”

That being said, he hailed for a taxi and in fifteen minutes made it back to the office. The first peek he took once in, was towards John’s office…no sign of his friend. He dropped his head and slowly headed towards his cubicle. Tony was in his office and on a call which apparently was important as the door was closed. Vic pulled his chair and simply dropped in. He was worried. “Now that I know the hotel receptionists are spying on us and every movement we make is immediately reported to Chang mao dashi, guess what? Johnny boy is missing in action! I gotta’ find him!” It was that very moment when his phone rang. He looked at the screen display: it was Zhaohui.

 

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