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.
John and Yue Ying (II)
Soon, Yue Ying found herself so busy in trying different types of jeans, pants, shirts and dresses that she completely forgot about the old lady and John. The two girls who greeted them at the entrance were buzzing around her like two working bees…one would say that Yue Ying’s got two personal assistants who were delighted to work for her and bring from the back of the store the items she was requesting. It was clear that both girls smelled a nice tip from the handsome westerner who was accompanying Yue Ying. John was giving his opinion from time to time and was making suggestions on color matching or style assortment. A regular, normal cloths trying event turned into almost a frenzy of clothes and shoes shopping.
However, John’s eyes were still on the old lady, trying to scrutinize and catch the slightest gesture of emotion or attempt towards communication. Not a sign of such relief was coming from that direction as she was carefully watching the activity taking place into her store. The same enigmatic and cold smile was imprinted on her lips. “This woman is made out of marble! There is no any sort of emotion whatsoever showing up on her face!” John was disappointed to say the least. In a sign of distress, he started walking through the store, apparently looking interested into the items which were displayed on the wall.
All of a sudden, while looking into a mirror, he realized that the door to the back of the store slowly opened up and a girl came out. John froze! He was not moving anymore, he was not even blinking…apparently he was looking at a pair of blue jeans he was holding into his hand. However, his eyes were on the mirror, scrutinizing every motion, every move the girl was making. She looked so familiar! While out in the store, she spoke to the old lady by whispering for a couple of minutes into her ear. The mimic on the lady’s face did not change…same imperturbable expression, same stony look and same cold and enigmatic smile. Then, as elusively as she came through the door, she slipped back into the storage room of the store leaving the door cracked open.
“Interesting…she is not shutting the door closed. Is she interested in whatever it’s being discussed here? Where did I see this girl before? I definitely know her from somewhere…but where from?”
John turned around and he could only smile…Yue Ying was like a kid into a candy store: she was trying everything she was touching or the two helpers were bringing to her to try out. “Not much work left for me in this area”. He looked again at the old woman behind the counter…nothing changed in her stance, posture, face expression or behavior. “Is she alive? God, she is not moving! Maybe I need to poke her to make sure she is not a ghost!” That being said, John turned around and headed for the door. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting outside, looking at the crowd and cracking from time to time a conversation with the owner of the store across the alley. It was one of those small little ma and pa shops that were selling everything: from fake purse brands and watches to travel luggage and cheap cloths. John stopped on the upper entrance step and looked around. A sea of people moving in two directions at a speed which was greatly reduced by the narrow alleys and the little stands (covered with merchandises); some of these stands were nothing else but foldable tables which were taken inside at the end of the day. Unfortunately, they were chocking the normal flow inside of the huge commercial center and you would have to bump into other people had you wanted to get by. “Unbelievable! So many people! Now I can grasp on the idea called: market size. This is truly a huge market. The problem is that their mentality is funneled towards saving not spending. Hopefully the new generation will change this unproductive and ancient way of life”
All of a sudden, his attention was drawn to one of the alleys which was on a straight angle to the one they walked to get to the store. The girl he saw in the mirror inside of the store came from the closest side alley and John realized that the back of the store was facing that particular access way. She looked like she was in a rush as she was trying to quickly squeeze herself through the sea of people coming from all the directions. John made a quick move: he crossed the alley and without hesitation pulled 150 RMB from his pocket, gave it to the business owner across the store and grabbed a fleece hoodie. In few seconds he put it on and pulled the hoodie in a way which was only allowing his face to be seen. Then turned around and went back to the store where a dismayed Xiǎo lǐzǐ was looking at him the way one would look at a ghost.
-I need you to do something for me, please. Listen carefully: I am giving you my card, you will pay for everything she buys. Here it is another five hundred RMB…you give those two girls a good tip, understand? Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded affirmatively but John could actually see that the eyes of his driver were betraying a great amount of amazement and astonishment. The rest is yours for the trips, ok? You take Yue Ying back to the hotel. Here it is the access card from the room. I hope I won’t be long. Tell her to wait for me in the hotel room. Do you understand what I am asking from you? Again the cab driver nodded and this made John feel at ease.
-OK, I have to go now…I trust you, Xiǎo lǐzǐ! This last sentence motivated somehow the man standing on the stairs and to John’s pleasure, the cab driver said:
-No worry, Mr. Parker. I take Yue Ying back hotel. No worry. Thank you for this…it was the moment when Xiǎo lǐzǐ showed John those five one hundred RMB bills while a large smile on his face. John was already on the alley and heading towards the direction he saw the mysterious girl heading. However, he turned around and looking at Xiǎo lǐzǐ, he cautioned him:
-You will have to give the two girls from the store a good tip from that too, I hope we have an understanding here.
-Of course Mr. Parker…good tip girls. I know.
-Alright, you are a great help and a true asset to this operation.
-Thank you, Mr. Parker! John was already gone, and at this point he was trying hard to blend into the crowd. There was a problem though: his height was making the mission of blending into the crowd almost impossible. However, John was now heavily relying on his hoodie to keep him as incognito as possible.
John left some good distance between him and the girl he was following; however, the stands on the alley were giving him all sort of trouble in trying to keep the pace at which she was walking and in the same time to make himself the least visible as possible.
It was not long before the girl stopped, turned around and carefully scouted the crowd around her. John moved behind one of the stands and started talking to the owner. Obviously that the poor man was shocked to see first of all such a tall and large westerner stopping at his stand and talk to him like he knew that English was not a problem for him. He started speaking Chinese back to John. All this time John had his eyes on the girl he was following. The hoodie was covering his face, but he wanted extra protection, so he bought an umbrella from the store owner. Opened it up and simulating that he is trying all the features the umbrella possessed, he was actually watching every move she was making.
Eventually she took another side alley and disappeared. John followed her immediately, only to realize that the alley was ending up into the door steps of a large three level house. He could actually see how the girl he was following entered the house, not before checking again the surroundings. He was now stuck! He obviously couldn’t read what was written on each side of the entrance door but he assumed it was a temple as it had that particular traditional pagoda roof shape. The letters were yellow and were greatly contrasting with the wooden walls all painted into a nice red color.
John placed his index fingers at his temples, in a sign of: “Think, John! Think!” His years and years of Football training taught him that no matter how dire the situation was, there would always be a way out of it. “Common, man! You wait here for her to get out, then what? She will go back to the store…what’s the point of waiting? I have to get into that temple or whatever it is. But how do I get in? Is it accessible to anybody? What if there is security on the other side of the door? Well…I guess there is only one way to find out”. John was ready to move to the direction of the red building in front of him when the phone rang. It was Vic. The first instinct was to dodge again his calls, but a great idea crossed his mind. He picked up the phone call.
-Hey…where are you John? Why didn’t come to the office? Why aren’t you picking up my phone calls?
-Relax, man! I’ve been busy.
-I know you were busy, for crying out loud! John could hear at the other end a great, healthy laughter, a laughter so familiar already.
-Ok, ok, ok…you can laugh as much as you want. I don’t care.
-Hey, listen…I didn’t mean to insult you, but I want to ask you a question.
-Yeah, go ahead, Vic
-Was the honey sweet or really, really sweet? Another round of laughter was heard at the other end and John already felt like hanging up on his friend.
-I will hang up on you!
-No, no, no…sorry man! I just couldn’t stop it.
-I know, you bastard! I know! You couldn’t wait for an occasion like this one. Just couldn’t!
-Alright, man! Alright…I am chilling now. Sorry again. So, are you in trouble again?
-As usual…another round of laughter (this time from both ends of the line) broke the silence and it was for twenty or so seconds before they both cooled down and started a conversation.
-Listen, Vic…this is what happened today. John tried to be as concise as possible as he started to tell the story from the moment he walked out of the hotel. The strange man who served them lunch and looked alike Mr. Wang, the lady from the cloths store who intrigued John at a level which almost made him lose his patience and this enigmatic girl who was now inside of this nice house, a girl he saw in the past, but he just couldn’t remember where.
-Wow! It’s unbelievable! The moment I leave you alone, you get in trouble. They both pulled another round of laughter from their chests, only to be followed by few seconds of silence.
-Vic, listen up please…I am going to take a photo of this building (which intrigues me) and send it to you. I need you to read whatever it says on the front, on each side of the door. Don’t hang up. We will do this real time.
-Ok. Go for it. I will wait.
It took few seconds before John made the picture and sent it to Vic.
-What? What does it say? There was silence at Vic’s end, a silence which made John tremble from anxiety.
-It says: “The Order of the Nine Orchids”
John felt how a cold sweat was running down his spine and his hands were now shaking in a way which almost made him drop the phone.
-So this girl (a girl I just can’t remember where I saw before) went inside of the “Nine Orchids” building! What is her connection to the Order? Was she connected to his neighbors: Chang mao dashi or Jian Dashi?
-I don’t know, man…I started being afraid. Get your butt back to the hotel. John, you need to move. Zhaohui asked you to do it. I am asking too. You just wouldn’t listen, man!
-Vic, I don’t want to exhaust the negotiation venue with Chang mao dashi.
-John, he is going to kill you! And maybe myself and Zhaohui as well.
-Why would he do that?
-Because we are slowly uncovering his tracks, maybe we are not far away from finding that bug planted at Glenworth.
-How about the curse, Vic? Is it still supposed to close? Is there something special that must happen to close this curse? You heard Zhaohui…and Wang…what if this girl who stepped into this house is the key to unveiling the road to bring Chang mao dashi down?
– I don’t know what to say, man…what do you want to do? Are you still going to follow this girl?
-Yes. I need to figure out how I know her, where we met, what is her link to this story.
-OK. If this is what you want…by the way: are you coming to the office tomorrow?
-I don’t know. It all depends on how this night will end up.
-I understand…Vic pulled another laughter which made John uncomfortable in spite of the fact that it was Vic.
-Hey…I meant: depends on what I find out about this mysterious girl.
-I got it, man! Common John, you can’t take a joke anymore?
-Alright. I know you are a joker! I let you go, but I need you to do me a favor: please call Xiǎo lǐzǐ and ask him where he is. I told him to take Yue Ying to the hotel when she is done shopping.
-OK. By the way: who is Xiǎo lǐzǐ anyway?
-The cab driver who took us to Black Swan last night.
-That’s his name? I think I have his card…let me check. Bingo! I have his card, I will call him and then give you a shout back.
-OK. Thanks, Vic!
-Alright! Take care and stay safe out there. How are you going to get back to the hotel?
-Don’t worry, I will grab a cab. I am a big boy.
-Careful, John! There are areas in the town where there is never a good idea to be at night, especially if you are a foreigner.
-No worries my friend…no worries. I will make it through the night. I just need to know that Yue Ying is safe.
-Great! We’ll talk later, I guess.
After hanging up, John started weighing his options. “I am so close to the lion’s den! I have in front of me the famous “Nine Orchids Order” established by the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty. And my neighbors are part of it. What does this Order do? What is “Nine Orchid”? What does it mean to belong to such highly regarded Order? If the people who are part of it are descendants of those great families, how are they coping with the official Chinese Political system? I am not sure that the Communist Party would allow this sort of Organizations to thrive. How come that they are out there in the open? I need to find out somehow what’s going on in there…but how? This is the question!”
John looked around him and his first thought was to find a spot where he could watch the entrance without being seen. A vendor selling all sort of Baseball hats, T-shirts, shirts, sweat pants and many other cotton made products had a stand by his side. The site of the westerner man standing so close to his business venue apparently awoke the entrepreneurial spirit inside the vendor, as he became extremely talkative. John was listening to him but in the same time he was assessing his situation into the field. This place could’ve been the perfect spot for spying and keeping an eye on the door. The decision was made on the fly: he started talking to the vendor. His English and the man’s Chinese, turned into a veritable mumbo-jumbo, a conversation which would’ve made a bystander die from laughing. But John had a plan and was playing according to the set strategy. After many minutes of arguing on the price for a baseball hat (John was obviously just trying to buy time while keeping his eyes on the building in front of him), he purchased a hat, put it on and then pulled the hoodie on top of it. Now his whole face was covered by the visor of the hat and his scouting was secure. In order to kill some time, he walked across the alley and bought two pieces of corn on the cob which was sold by an ambulant vendor. He gave one to the man from which he bought the hat and continued his watching duty. Patience was something he was not excelling at and this was a flaw in his game during his Football career. He wanted to make things happen, he always wanted to throw that ball and put points on the board. Running game was not up his alley and this was something he struggled with his whole sports playing career. But this time he knew he had no choice. He had to be patient. And so, he started another conversation with the vendor, who was now trying to sell him a cane. Initially, John burst into laughter and asked him: “Why do you think I need a cane to walk with?” But then an idea crossed his mind: “Why not buy it? I could use it either as a weapon, or to disguise an old man’s walk. Once he made his intention clear that he wants to buy the cane, another round of negotiations started which made John even more comfortable standing by the vendor’s stand and watch the door.
Eventually the girl came out and the same routine followed – as when she entered: she looked around and scrutinized the market. John pulled his visor down as low as he could and tried to take cover behind few hangers which had sweat shirts on them. His eyes were watching every movement the girl was making. Before she started walking down stairs, she turned around and made a “good bye” sign to somebody from inside who accompanied her to the door. John was dying to see the face of that person. His wish came through as the head of an old man with long, white beard came out through the door and started scrutinizing the market place himself. John thought that he recognized him as the old man from one of the pictures taken by his detectives last week, at the funeral where they followed his neighbors. He pulled the zipper of his sweatshirt all the way up and made sure that his visor was completely covering his face. It didn’t take too long before the girl passed by and headed back towards the store. John took as much cover as he could, but he never took his eyes off her. He started following her back not before giving the vendor two one hundred RMB bills for the cane; apparently was a good deal for the vendor, as he started bowing in a universal gesture of thankfulness and gratitude.
John could barely keep up with her, as he always had to stop and simulate bargaining for a product whenever the girl was turning around. Yes, the girl was well instructed not to leave any traces behind her and she was using her knowledge so well that made John murmur: “Damn she is good! She knows how to slide into the crowd only to come back up wherever to expect the least. I hope that my disguising wardrobe was good enough for the perfect cover”
It didn’t take long before she reached the store. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was not there anymore, as John suspected. The night was now covering the whole market and the vendors were preparing to close the shops. And so was the old lady, the woman “made out of stone” as John named her before leaving to follow the girl. John took again cover as much as he could, with the cap fully covering his face while the hoodie was providing another layer of protection. Soon, the lady closed the door and pulled the blinds down. The light was still left on in the store, but John could actually see her heading towards the rear of the store. “I am just wondering if there is a back alley behind the store…” John took a street that was running perpendicular to the main alley and then hanged a left. And yes, the back alley looked like a street which was used by vendors to bring their goods through; it was a loading and unloading alley. “Well, now which door do I guard? Which door are they going to use? Keeping in mind that the old lady closed the front door, I can only assume that this will be their exit. Let’s wait and see”
John was right. Both women eventually came out through the alley door and then stopped. The old lady made a phone call. Shortly a limousine showed up out of nowhere. John didn’t realize that the superb, hot, expensive car just passed by him. He froze! As he had not seen the car coming and passing so close to him, he assumed that the people inside of the limo recognized him in spite of the fact that he had a good cover behind some wooden skids and a pile of cardboard boxes. This was the limousine in which he saw few days ago his neighbors leaving for that funeral. A door in the back opened up and the old lady got in not before giving some instructions to the young girl. The limo departed and John could see the girl rapidly walking in the opposite direction. When she passed by, John ducked as much as he could behind the pile of cardboard packaging. He started following her and (as he was not familiar with the area) soon found out that it was hard to keep pace with her. The streets were not too dark as they were lit up to a decent level. However, John had to keep a safe distance not to blow his cover up. All of a sudden a taxi pulled in front of her and she got in. John was now desperate. “How am I going to keep up with this car? Think, John! Think!” He started looking around for help. A feel of helplessness encompassed him when all of a sudden a cab pulled right by his side. A huge sigh of relief came out of his chest:
-Thanks God! You are a savior, Xiǎo lǐzǐ!
-I know Mr. Parker! This time his face had a waggish look which made John burst into a huge laughter.
-Follow that car then, Mr. NASCAR!
It was all Xiǎo lǐzǐ needed: his foot hit the accelerator so hard that made John hit the head rest at an impact which pulled another (soft but this time angry) cry to himself: “No, I made up my mind! That’s it! This guy is (or becomes) mental when getting behind the wheel. Unfortunately he is always present when you need him! I should probably say: fortunately he is always at the right place at the right time. He took me to the place where I met Yue Ying, after all”
A smile came up on his lips:
-Hey Xiǎo lǐzǐ…did you get to the hotel alright? How is Yue Ying?
-Yes, she ok. She try cloths. Many clothes! A good and healthy laughter came out of his chest which made John smile and switch his attention to his mission.
-Don’t lose that car!
-No worry Mr. Parker. I no lose car. You good hands!
-Alright then. I know I am in good hands…at least until you step on the brakes, for crying out loud!
-What you say?
-Nothing. Please stay close to the car in front of you. That’s all.
-You no worry Mr. Parker! I drive!
“And that’s why I’m mostly afraid of…John grabbed the back of the front seat and prepared himself for the first occasion when Xiǎo lǐzǐ would step on the brakes.