Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 51 (White Orchid)

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 51

White Orchid

Xiǎo lǐzǐ managed to stay close to the car he was following in spite of the fact that they soon reached an area which looked a little rough and was totally unknown to him. The streets were barely lit (as the few bulb lights were shyly providing a certain level of luminosity) showing that the city in that particular area was not very generous when came down to citizens’ safety. John felt how he got chills. However, he wanted to know more about this mysterious girl, the girl who had the trust of the old lady from the store, trust which turned into assigning her to a delicate mission: reaching “Nine Orchids Order” – apparently an exclusive and highly elitist place.

She eventually reached her place. A blind, barely lighting bulb light was trying as hard as it could to provide some light at the entrance. The building was a four- storey flat and one could see that the inhabitants were trying to save as much as they could as only a couple of lights were turned on. The girl entered, not before turning again her head to see if she was followed. At John’s requests, from the moment they reached that particular neighborhood, Xiǎo lǐzǐ shut down his head lights. They were now into the complete darkness of the night. The lights and the engine were turned off and both of them were barely breathing, trying somehow to increase their level of cover. The taxi which the mysterious girl took turned around, passed Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s car, accelerated and in few minutes was lost into the darkness of the night. An oppressive silence settled into the car and for one or two minutes nobody said a word.

-Mr. Parker…what we do now? Xiǎo lǐzǐ whispered the question in a way that made John almost guess it.

-Now I get out of the car and I will go in the back of the building. You stay in the car and watch at which apartment the light will come up. I will do the same into the back. There are four apartments per level. You watch these two sides. I will do the same in the back.

-OK Mr. Parker. Careful…

-Don’t worry.

John quickly got out of the car and rapidly moved towards the rear of the building. It was completely dark and he was more or less guessing his way. His logic was telling him that it must be a way for the inhabitants to get into the back where probably the dumpster was. He pulled his cell phone from the pocket and used the light to navigate. He was right…the dumpster was in the back; unfortunately garbage pick-up day was far away as the smell from the garbage container was suffocating. He took the handkerchief he was always carrying and turned it into a bandana. It was not long before the light at one of the apartments at the last floor turned on. Then the girl he was following showed up at the window, pulled the curtains and disappeared. John waited few more minutes. Shortly, the light went off.

-OK. She either went to sleep or she is using a night stand lamp. Good, now I know where she lives. Let’s get back to the hotel. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting.

-So, Mr. Parker…you see? I see nothing.

-Yes, Xiǎo lǐzǐ…I saw what I needed to see. She lives at the fourth floor, that corner…let me see where the North is. John looked at his wrist watch:

-OK, so the North is that way. Great, she lives at the apartment from the South-West corner of the building. Now let’s go back to the hotel. Do you know how to get there?

A huge laughter came out of Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s chest.

-Mr. Parker, I taxi driver…remember?

It was John’s turn to burst into laughter:

-Sorry Xiǎo lǐzǐ, I almost forgot you brought me here.

-No problem Mr. Parker. Here we go!

John was completely unprepared and again the sudden step on the accelerator made him hit the back of the rear seat and bang his head against the head rest of the seat. “That’s it! I made up my mind! This guy is mental! Why does he have to do this every time he puts this car into motion?” He shook his head and decided to keep quiet and watch the places which were passing by. Same ghetto neighborhood was laying in front of him: poorly lit streets, apartment buildings in a rough shape, bad roads filled with pot holes and a great sentiment of emptiness, of a place that is deserted and is just waiting for some creatures from another planet to populate it. John felt some chills along his spine. “It’s good I didn’t make it into this neighborhood alone…so creepy!”

Shortly, the environment started changing and a different type of streets were showing up. They were better lit, the quality of the pavement was much better and soon restaurants and little ma and pa shops started showing up, thus signaling an area that was thriving through commercial activities.

Suddenly, John put his hand on Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s right shoulder and with a voice which was not accepting any sort of opposition asked him to stop. The cab driver stepped on the brakes so hard that made John completely hug the front passenger seat. “Damn it! I knew he would slam on those brakes! I should’ve given him a two mile notice!” John got out of the car and started walking back, as the taxi passed the store he wanted to get into. Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s was following him closely. Once in front of the store, Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s smiled and exclaimed:

-Oh, Mr. Parker…you remember. You buy orchid Saturday night.

-Of course I remember and I want to buy another one.

-Orchid expensive…but very beautiful.

-Let’s see if they still have some left and up for buying.

That’s being said, John stepped into the store. He realized that the owner was preparing to close. However, the old woman who sold him the purple orchid (the orchid which he bought Zhaohui), recognized him. A large smiled flourished on her face and immediately started speaking to him. She knew that she would eventually make a good sale off of John. The store was filled up with fresh flowers but John had his eyes once again on the place behind the counter. He graciously refused woman’s offer to take a look at the flowers placed into shelves on the side walls and headed straight for the back of the store with his eyes pinned at the gorgeous flowers which somehow he felt they were guarded by the owner of the shop. And yet again, she placed herself between John and the orchids, as she did last time. John smiled and speaking as slowly as he could, he said:

-I want to buy one of them.

The old lady had the same smile on her face and replied to John in Chinese. It seemed like she didn’t want to sell him any of the orchids. It was the time when Xiǎo lǐzǐ stepped into the conversation:

-She say you bought one Saturday. Why you buy one more?

John was perplexed! He thought he didn’t hear properly what his driver told him.

-I want to buy another one…that’s all. Is there a problem with this?

Another round of conversation started between the store owner and Xiǎo lǐzǐ.

-She wants know who you buy for.

-What? This is unbelievable! It’s my business to whom I am buying this flower for!

After another short conversation, Xiǎo lǐzǐ looked at John and with a great disappointment imprinted on his face said:

-Sorry…she no sell to you.

-Unbelievable! That’s fine. Let’s go find another store. I hope that there are still some shops open. I want to buy some flowers for Yue Ying.

At the sound of Yue Ying’s name, the old lady’s face physiognomy changed. Yet, one more time she had another conversation with Xiǎo lǐzǐ.

-Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker…John was almost at the door. He turned around and looked at his cab driver quite puzzled.

-What happened?

-She say she sell to you…but only one.

-Great! What made her change her mind? John’s face was now radiating with happiness and his great smile came back making his whole appearance look so relaxed, joyful and cheerful. He was stunned by the beauty of those flowers.

-I have never seen orchids this beautiful. I can understand now why she is so protective. It looks to me like she treats them the way one treats his babies. While listening to the translation, the woman was speaking to John. Obviously John couldn’t understand a word she was saying, however Xiǎo lǐzǐ was trying to keep up with her in translating back to John.

-She say you lucky man…she say you handsome…she say you born under lucky stars….

John was mesmerized by the freshness and the beauty of those orchids and all Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s words just flew by his ears. “Wait a minute: there were nine orchids, I bought one for Zhaohui and there are six left. Somebody bought two of them or two people one each. If she is so careful to whom she is selling these flowers, then who are those two persons who bought the two missing ones? Hmm…strange. Anyway, I will buy one for Yue Ying. I believe she will like it. Which one, though? OK, so it looks like the yellow and the yellow with pink are gone. That yellow was gorgeous! And so it was the other yellow one, which had pink spots on it. Which one do I buy?”

Once again, John had the feeling that while looking at those beauties one should be quiet as a simple whisper would simply make them vanish, this is how feeble and delicate they looked. The colors were so pure and genuine that making a choice on the spot was an impossible task to achieve.

Which colors does she like? This is the question I guess I have to answer! John’s memory started bringing back scenes from the cloth store and from the night when Yue Ying performed at Black Swan. Nothing out of ordinary popped up into his mind. All of a sudden, he remembered the white traditional coat she was wearing yesterday night on the stage. The coat was still with her into his hotel room. The decision was made: he picked the white orchid. He stretched his left hand and pointed towards the flower:

-I would like to buy the white one, please.

The old woman starting speaking again…this time her voice was softer and the inflections carried into conversation showed a great level of happiness and in the same time of relief. The cab driver was trying hard to keep up with translating, but his English was not that great and only made John burst into laughter. He didn’t know why John is laughing so hard and in turn he joined in. It was a great, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The store owner was now carefully wrapping the orchid following the same procedure: she brought the plastic protector and then methodically folded the nicely coated white paper around the whole package. When she handed the flower over to John, a sigh of almost sorrow and regret came out of her chest. It was probably her way of saying goodbye to a child she raised until the moment the kid has to leave home. And yes, the way she was taking care of these splendid flowers was nothing short from love and passion.

John paid and lifted the flower slowly and carefully, then bowed to the old lady and headed for the door. The store owner did not stop speaking until John was out of the flower shop.

-What did she say while I was heading to the door?

-She say: you take good care of flower and Yue Ying. You born under good stars. You lucky and you have good destiny in front.

-Did she say if I will be able to stop Tony and my neighbor stealing from Glenworth?

-Don’t understand…who stealing?

-Never mind said John while bursting into laughter. It was a joke!

-Oh…you joke! Ha, ha, ha! You joker, Mr. Parker.

-I believe I am…John was still laughing hard when he entered the car. He decided to sit into the front seat as he had to protect that valuable thing he was planning to give to Yue Ying. He put the seat belt on and wrapped his hands around the flower he was holding the way a mother holds her baby after birth. And he was right to do so, as Xiǎo lǐzǐ stepped hard onto the accelerator, following his natural habit. John shook his head and once again the same question came up: “Why is this guy so fond of killing those pedals? I guess I will just have to live with this. He is a valuable asset. He knows the city very well and he actually took me to Yue Ying. Was this just a coincidence? What if he has his own role into this story or curse or whatever else could be called? No, I am getting paranoiac now. I hope that Chang mao dashi will take my offer and we will be done. The question is: what would he want in return? I guess it won’t be too long before we will find out”

John turned his eye sight to the right passenger window while looking at the trees on the side of the roads pass by one by one; his mind started wandering through the intricacies of this story which turned his life upside down. His assignment, Vic, Zhaohui, Mr. Wang, his strange neighbors – who apparently belong to one of the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty – and now, Yue Ying. “Who is she? Does she hold a role into the story too? What sort of role? Why did I get so attracted to her from the moment I saw her for the first time in the street, on my first day in Shanghai? And now she is waiting for me in my hotel room…how will this story end? Zhaohui mentioned that she is responsible to close this cosmological circle from her side of the family – which is the Imperial family of Chongzen Emperor. On the other hand, my neighbors are the descendants of Yuan Chonghuan – the general executed by the Emperor due to Court intrigues – and they have the same task as Zhaohui. Very peculiar story. I just hope that will end soon. How will it end? Probably not even Mr. Wang knows”

It was the moment when the cab reached the entrance of the hotel. John pushed hard into his legs as he knew that Xiǎo lǐzǐ will slam onto the brakes. He did the right thing. Once he reached the destination, he hit the brakes in a way that made John congratulate himself for the decision he had made – to prop into his legs as solidly as he could. When out of the car, he reached for the wallet but to his surprise Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded in a negative way and said:

-No Mr. Parker! You paid me at market, remember? It is good.

-Are you sure it’s enough?

-Yes Mr. Parker. You have good night.

-Thank you Xiǎo lǐzǐ and you have a good night too.

Xiǎo lǐzǐ got into his car and according to his habits, hit the accelerator pedal hard, leaving a trace of fumes coming out of his exhaust pipe. John shook again his head and murmured: “at least he is an honest man”

When he entered the apartment, Yue Ying was already sleeping on the couch with the TV still on. John carefully took the remote from her hand and turned the TV off. Then slowly headed towards the office area and placed the flower onto the desk. When returning to the living room, he grabbed a thick blanket that was laying onto an arm chair and covered her. From the bedroom he brought a pillow and placed under her head. Finally he headed for the bedroom, got into his pajamas and called it a day.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 50 (John and Yue Ying (II) )

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 50

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 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.

-Jesus!

-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.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 49 (John and Yue Ying (I) )

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 49

John and Yue Ying (I)

The little ma and pa shop was something totally new for John. He had never been into such small authentic little shops. Everything was jam-packed – obviously in an attempt to fit as many customers as possible into the given space. Two little windows facing the street were providing the necessary day light. In spite of the fact that it was just around 3 pm, the place was almost dark. No artificial light was provided and this was giving the visitors a mysterious feeling and the place an almost creepy look. The walls were covered in bamboo wood; mystical masks representing characters from the Chinese Mythology were hanging from the ceiling and from the side walls. The light from outside was desperately trying to make its way in, but the windows were grossly under-dimensioned to serving this objective and maybe this was done on purpose. The feeling of creepiness and unease encompassed John. “What the hell am I doing in this place? Why did that numb nut from outside took us to this shack?” He took a look at Yue Ying; apparently she was not bothered at all by the environment as she was looking around for a free table. John’s heart came to an ease seeing her completely undisturbed by the look of the establishment they just stepped in. “Well, hopefully the noodles are good in this place”. And yes, the place chosen by the cab driver was only making noodle soups. It didn’t take long before the owner (or the manager of the place) showed up. He was already anticipating a good business endeavor, seeing a westerner in his shop. He deeply bowed and started asking questions. Obviously Yue Ying was carrying the conversation while John was trying to smile and put a look onto his face, (a look which was mimicking a certain level of conversation understanding). Obviously he had no clue on what Yue Ying and the owner (or manager) were talking about.

-He say upstairs better, more room, not so busy, but more expensive. He owner.

-Great, then let’s go upstairs! It will be for sure money well spent. Both of them laughed and Yue Ying told their host that they want to go to the second level.

The little old man made a sign and took them in the back and then upstairs through a wooden staircase. The staircase was horribly squeaking and made John startle. It reminded him of his first day in Shanghai when Mr. Wang took him and Vic to the back room of his restaurant; on their way he saw that wooden staircase where a mysterious woman (which never showed her face) was always present at the top of the stairs. This place started making him feel nervous. However, he trusted Yue Ying and the fact that she was not bothered at all about the looks of the establishment, made him cool down.

At the second level, there was a totally different environment: The windows were larger and thus were allowing a greater amount of sun light. There were only five tables, thus signaling the fact that this level was a sort of “VIP” level. At the moment when they took a seat, only one other table was taken. This made John understand that the prices for dining upstairs were significant higher than at the main level. Shortly after they took a seat, the owner came back with the menu. John startled and felt like he needed to catch a breath: the little man in front of him was a carbon copy of Mr. Wang! The round face, the little strand of hair he was trying to use in order to cover the whole frontal area, the sharp, intelligent and investigative eyes behind the glasses made John believe that this individual was Mr. Wang’s twin brother. There were so many similarities between Wang and him! “This is unbelievable! How many brothers are they? It is Mr. Wang, it’s this guy and then it is the owner from Black Swan – which I do believe that has some ties to Mr. Wang…there was too much resemblance in spite of the fact that he was all the time trying to conceal his face by standing into the shadow. This is unreal! Are all of them linked to the curse?” John shook his head and grabbed the menu. Everything was in Mandarin, so he refrained at looking at the pictures. However, he couldn’t stop scrutinizing the man in front of them while pretending that he is reading from the menu. The many conversations he had with different people (into the short time he had been in China) about the curse, started surfacing again…this time though, through another piece of the puzzle which stepped in: Yue Ying! John looked at her while still simulating that he was interested into the culinary offer. “Who is she? Why did she so intempestively and abruptly butted into my life? Why did we have the amazing night we just had? Are we in love with each other? What is her role into this story? Does she have anything to do with the curse?” John was again completely lost into the intricacy of the story. It was the time when Yue Ying grabbed his hand and ask him what he wanted. John startled and looked at her. Her gorgeous eyes put a smile on his face:

-I have no idea what to order. I am assuming everything is fresh and good.

-Everything fresh, Mister. We make here. His hand stretched into a direction and John realized that the establishment had a little kitchen at the second level too.

-What do you think, Yue Ying?

-Everything looks good. I order noodles with vegetables and beef.

-OK, then. Make it two.

-They have many options: shrimp, chicken, fish…

-That’s OK. Whatever you are having, I am having.

-OK, two beef and vegetable noddle soups for you. It will be ten minutes.

-Thank you, Sir!

It was John’s turn to grab her hand. Until their meal showed up, both of them looked into each other’s eyes, smiled and held hands tight. One would’ve said that they just met after a long time of separation and were trying to catch up where they left it off. Yue Ying’s big, black eyes were looking at John in a way which would’ve made a neutral observer realize right away that she was deeply in love with him.

-Soups for you! Enjoy!

Two big bowls of soup were now resting in front of them. The smell of freshly chopped parsley and green onions sprinkled on top was making their nostrils dilate and deeply inhale. It was a happy combination of vegetables, rice noodles, and beef broth in which few pieces of meat and marrow were freely floating. However, John had a problem: in spite of the fact that he was more than able to handle the chop sticks, he never tried to eat a soup using the traditional Chinese eating utensils. Whenever he was ready to put the noodles into his mouth, they were simply slipping through his chop sticks and falling back into the bowl to Yue Ying’s great amusement. After few tries, he signaled that he is ready to give up trying to eat with chop sticks…

-No, no, no…you must try. I help.

-No, I don’t need help…I can do this! John tried again, but the soft, slippery noodles just wouldn’t listen to him and they were inevitably ending up at the bottom of the bowl.

-I help. You listen! Yue Ying’s voice was demanding this time. John looked at her and then affirmatively nodded. Yue Ying pulled a chair beside John’s and grabbed his hand, carefully adjusting the way his fingers were supposed to grip the sticks.

-Now you choose: bring bowl close to mouth or bring head down close to bowl.

-Obviously I am not going to do the first one…so, I guess I am just going to tilt my head closer to the bowl.

-Yes. You do that!

John listened and fished again for the noodles. This time he managed to grab a decent quantity and took it to the mouth; it was an instant success. Yue Ying clapped and cheered, the same way a mother would do it when she is seeing progress made by her child in performing new tasks. She moved back and the rest of the time they talked and laughed and enjoyed a nice soup. One would say that they had been known each other for ages, as no barriers whatsoever remained between them. The small talk, the laughter and the happy moments were greatly enjoyed by both of them. John remembered that the cab driver was waiting for them…

-Oh… Xiǎo lǐzǐ must be already bored. We need to go. John put his hand up in the air. The owner saw the gesture and immediately showed up.

-Everything good? OK everything?

-It was delicious. Bill please.

-Yes, Sir! One hundred RMB.

-Sure. Here it is the money. You have a good day. John stood up and headed for the stairs when all of a sudden turned around and asked the man:

-Do you have a brother in the city? Or maybe…two brothers?

John couldn’t help but seeing the face of the man changing colors while the physiognomy turned from an upbeat and jovial look into a gloomy and unfriendly one. “What did I say? I just asked him if he had one or maybe two brother in the city. What did I do wrong?”

-I thank you for your business, Sir! His right hand was already stretched towards the staircase, basically telling John that he is expected to leave.

Once they were out from the establishment, Yue Ying grabbed his hand and while lifting herself up on the toes to reach John’s ear, she murmured:

-I think…something not good with man inside.

-This is what I told myself…what did I say wrong? Why did his mood change so drastically? I just asked him if he had more brothers into the town…

-Never mind. We had good meal! Her face was all smile and the cheeks were showing now those superb hues which were making the whole physiognomy so friendly looking, pure and happy!

-Yes, it was a good meal! Today I learnt how to eat noodles with the chop sticks! It is a good day already! John started laughing and shortly he was accompanied by Yue Ying. Her vocal chords pulled a crystalline and jovial laugh out of her chest which followed her inside of the car.

-Where we go?

-Please take us to a store where we can buy some more comfortable cloths.

-OK. I know good store. I take you there.

-Alright. Let’s do it!

The usual second gear start up followed. This time John was ready for it; he had enough time to grab Yue Ying and plant his legs against the front seat. In another two seconds, the driver was already in the third gear and then into the fourth. “He is definitely crazy!” John told himself. But now he was saying it while laughing and enjoying the fact that he had Yue Ying into his arms.

The stores were all one level or maximum two level shops and were located into a busy commercial market. John was stunned! There were probably hundreds of little gift shops where one could’ve bought anything you could imagine. John was almost one head above everybody else and thus he was able to admire the crowd and the immensity of the place. “Man, if I get lost here, I am doomed!” Both Yue Ying and Xiǎo lǐzǐ were walking in front of him. His eyes were into a continuous alert, trying not to lose them and in the same time trying to find some stores where they could buy some more comfortable clothes for Yue Ying.

Eventually the cab driver pointed towards a store to the left, a store which looked a little different from any other stores. The front window was large and artificial mannequins were placed into display. The whole establishment had a more refined look than others…it was almost like this one did not belong to this place. Once they entered, two associates greeted them and started asking questions to which Yue Ying was quickly responding.

John didn’t bother listening…he couldn’t understand a word anyway. His curiosity was again kicking in and according to his habit of sticking his nose into everything, started wandering through the store looking at products. At the end of the shop there was a desk and the cash register. Nobody was there. However, a door towards the back was cracked open and he understood that the shop’s warehouse was probably in the back. His fine ear picked up whisperings behind the door. It was enough for him to direct all of his attention that direction. In spite of the fact that he couldn’t understand what they were talking about, he thought that he recognized a familiar voice tonality. He was now all ears…

Suddenly, the door opens up and a woman into her seventies (or even eighties) comes out. She didn’t look at all surprised to see somebody standing not far away from the now opened door. John’s eyes immediately caught a silhouette sliding into the dark, upstairs…”So there is a staircase going up to the second level. Interesting. And somebody just went upstairs as mysteriously and elusively as possible. Great! Here it is another Mr. Wang story!”

The woman had a face which was so wrinkled that one would say she was a mummy just coming out of the sarcophagi. The hands were at least as wrinkled as the face while the tanned skin was greatly contrasting with the white hair. Her attire was not the regular run down, neglected attire of a merchant from the area. One could actually see a certain level of sophistication in the way she was dressed, especially a superb thin gold chain hanging down from her neck. John was trying hard to decipher the meaning of the green jade figure which was resting on her chest. It was a superb piece of jewelry and John just couldn’t stop admiring it. He was fascinated by the beauty of the precious stone which was encircled by a black ring, a ring that had the freedom to slide alongside the chain, obviously. The shirt was white and classy with two large lapels which were covering the lapels of the nice red suit jacket she was wearing. The black ring of the precious jade was contrasting so beautifully with the white of the shirt while the green jade was matching so greatly the red coat! John smiled and with a sincere voice, complimented the woman standing in front of him:

-It looks nice on you. The necklace is so beautiful! What does that green jade represent? John simply rolled all these questions without even asking himself if she was able to speak any word in English. Quickly he realized that she didn’t speak the language he was speaking and to get out of an uncomfortable situation, decided to use the universal language of mimicking. He pointed towards the jade and then did a “thumb up”. Woman’s face lightened up and tilted the head discretely in a sign of “thank you”. Now John found himself into an even more delicate situation: he was looking at the woman and she was looking at him, probably waiting for him to say something else. John made the sign of a chain imaginary placed around his neck, then pointed towards hers and did again a “thumb up”. Once again she tilted her head in a “thank you” sign.

Unfortunately for John, this was the last idea he could come up with and he was now in a desperate need of help. The lady behind the counter was by no means too vocative or too willing to entertain him – probably she realized that it would’ve been a futile effort as she couldn’t speak any English. The salvation came from Yue Ying. Once she finished taking a peak through the store, she saw him at the counter trying to desperately initiate a conversation with the old lady. She approached the counter, grabbed John’s arm and quickly asked:

-Can I help?

-Absolutely! Would you mind telling this lady that I absolutely love that necklace of hers and I especially like that green jade enclosed into that black case? Yue Ying translated and once again the old lady’s face brightened up. A short conversation between the two women started up. John was listening, in an attempt to catch something…anything.

-She say: “Thank you; you gentleman”

-Oh, thank you very much mam! John turned towards the old lady and tilted his head forward, thus showing a great deal of respect.

-She also say that you handsome.

-Once again, mam…I thank you very much. For the second time, John tilted his head in a thank you sign. Yue Ying looked at him and quickly grabbed him by the neck with her arms and passionately kissed him. It was a gesture which put a smile on woman’s face. John felt a little embarrassed and slowly pushed Yue Ying back while whispering into her ear:

-We are in public…

-I don’t care, promptly came back from Yue Ying while pulling his head closer, so she can kiss him again. It was a long and passionate kiss, one of those kisses that are happening before one’s departure for an unknown amount of time.

The old woman behind the counter was scrutinizing every move they were making and one could see an enigmatic smile on her face. Her whole attention was now directed at the couple in front of her. Yue Ying eventually let go and was now looking straight into the woman’s eyes. This exchange of sights was not even close to being friendly. John picked up right away the hostility hidden behind that smile which the old lady had on her face. “Oops…she is not happy. Probably the last exhibit of affection from Yue Ying did not go too well with a person who potentially has a conservative and traditions based education. That look of hers, in spite of the smile I can see, is meant to be thrown at somebody you either do not like, or you despise. Things are getting a little dicey in this moment. I think it’s time for me to step in.”

-So, did you find anything you liked?

-Yes, but not want buy here. Let’s go.

-Why? They have nice stuff and the store is big and clean.

It was the moment when one of the two girls who greeted them in the beginning offered her services to help. The timing was perfect as one would’ve been able to pick up a certain level of hostility floating into the air.

-Of course you can help us! It was John who spoke. He did it from two reasons: first one, he didn’t want to start looking around for another store as all the establishments in that commercial center were small, jam-packed into each other and he didn’t really like their quality.

Secondly, his immense natural curiosity wanted to find out more about the back room and the person who elusively slipped upstairs when seeing him. He was actually dying from knowing who that person was, what is the purpose of this nice, elegant and spacious store so awkwardly placed into a regular traditional commercial center and who the old lady behind the counter was? Her smile was so enigmatic and intriguing, so cold and emotionless! His gut feeling was telling him that something was not right with this place and he may be able to find some leads into his investigation.

 

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 44 (Shanghai Sun)

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 44

Shanghai Sun

The lights came down again. The band was performing its last instrument tuning. Then few slow, strange tunes tickled John’s ears. He recognized the traditional Chinese music. It was the moment he decided to lean back and pay attention as his fine musical ear started liking what he was hearing. The tunes slowly evolved into something else, something he couldn’t understand and recognize; the music was still flowing naturally and fluently, but it was something he never heard before. The rhythm was no longer slow, as it picked up some “steam”; it only took few seconds for John’s good ear to realize that the melody was gradually evolving into a typical pop style on Chinese lyrics. He was astounded! “They are actually blending their traditional music onto Pop style! This is unbelievable!”

John was all eyes and ears as the music caught him by surprise through originality, rhythm, tunes and melodicity. It was such a nice surprise, that at the end of the song, he stood up and applauded as hard as he could.

-What do you think, Vic?

-It is…I don’t know…different!

-Exactly! Listen to the tunes, listen to the way they are blending into each other, listen to the transition between their traditional music and the Pop style.

-Yes, I knew I heard somewhere this style! Vic burst into laughing and joined John in openly applauding the band’s performance. The cab driver was also happy and joined the two westerners into a big round of applause. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was already electric and one would’ve realized that these people were regulars of the establishment as they recited and sang along at a certain point with the band.

The next song followed the same line, only this time the Pop tunes were a little faster. But the idea was the same: blending traditional Chinese tunes onto Pop musical lines. People started again clapping and singing along while their feet were beating the beat of the melody. John was by now completely hooked by the tunes and the way the band was ingeniously blending two apparently incompatible music styles. He wanted to absorb every tune, every sound that was coming out of those strange instruments. And there was something else: Yue Ying’s voice. It was crystal clear, it was powerful and had lots of personality and was complemented by a stage presence which let no doubts on who the lead singer of the band was. One would’ve realized right away that the whole show was revolving around her performance: the movements, the singing, the personality and the way in which she was managing to engage the spectators was second to none. John was mesmerized to say the least.

Then, as the band continued to perform that blend: Chinese and Pop, John realized that the musicians are slowly switching to a more upbeat type of music while keeping the start and some portions of the refrain onto traditional local style. “Are they switching to Rock? No way!” It only took John few moments to realize that the band was indeed revving up their style towards a softer Rock. He was mesmerized…”how do they do this, by only using these strange instruments?”

The answer came again from the same area as it came before: from the stage presence of the lead singer, from her angelic voice, from the way she was presenting and selling the songs to the audience. There was so much natural talent into her moves and voice that John simply couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

And the songs kept coming over and over, with the same intensity, same nice line of melodicity and great symbioses between traditional and now Rock music. John completely lost count of time. At one point, the band asked for a break and that was the time when food and drinks were now brought to the tables. Vic was checking the crowd like nothing different happened. The cab driver was happy that he recommended the show and John was still trying to digest the authenticity and genuine performance of the band. He checked his wrist watch and realized that the girls sang for a full hour.

-Wow! One hour of the strangest, yet some of the best music I have ever listened. He didn’t realize that he was speaking loud and so Vic felt like replying:

-Yeah, it is a pretty good music.

-You are not impressed? Are you kidding? This is awesome music, man.

-Yeah, it’s ok.

John didn’t want to insist. He realized that Vic’s knowledge of music is limited to whatever he could recognize, name and eventually listen to. Few beers showed up at the table. The three men toasted and a high level of cheerfulness encompassed the table, only to blend into the general good mood atmosphere.

-Hey, Vic!

-Yeah, John! ‘Sup?

-Why do you think our neighbors are so quiet?

-Are they? I didn’t even notice…yeah, I think you are right. They are unusually quiet comparing to their earlier behavior. You must’ve made an impression. This was the point when Vic pulled another big laughter out of his chest. That hook right into that guy’s guts was awesome, man! And secondly, the large fellow they have as a body guard, must’ve made them think twice before creating another disturbance. I swear that I saw the table bending from the middle when he pounded it with his fist! I have never seen something like this! This guy is a monster!

-No, Vic…you are wrong…

-I’m wrong about what?

-I believe that they are up to something. I don’t like their physiognomies.

-They are drunk, man! What else can you read on those drunken bozos’ faces?

-I am not sure what they are plotting about, but I don’t like what I see.

-You are getting paranoiac over nothing. I am telling you that they can barely walk on their feet.

-OK. I hope you are right, Vic…also, what is bothering me as well, is the fact that I can swear I heard Mr. Wang’s voice…it really bothers me. Why did the owner keep his face into the dark the whole time he spoke to me? There was a cone of darkness by our neighbors’ desk. He placed himself every single time into that shadowy spot carefully hiding his physiognomy. I could only guess that he was wearing thin eye glasses. That’s all. Something is fishy with this place.

-Neah…you are worrying over nothing. Here we go…the girls are coming back onto the stage. I have to admit that they are beautiful.

-Girls, beautiful. Very beautiful…it was the cab driver speaking again and giving the thumb up. Vic cracked again in laughing while giving the driver the thumb up back. The lights came down into the room and the band was now under the stage lights. John’s eyes were watching every single move Yue Ying was making…her whole body was so graciously accompanying the tunes of the songs she was singing while the natural and crystalline voice was so greatly accompanying such a beautiful face and angelic smile!

Again and again, her voice was changing tonalities and was naturally switching the beat from now semi-traditional tunes to rock and roll. John was amazed! He was amazed of not only the fact that the band was able to master the switch from these two (apparently) so different types of music, but also amazed of the knowledge they had on composition, on transition from tonalities otherwise irreconcilable, to beautiful melodic lines. Every end of a song was accompanied by applauses and one could actually see that the band already had its fan base inside of the restaurant. John was shocked! He expected a traditional show, typical old Chinese music…he couldn’t have been more wrong! People knew the lyrics by heart, people were singing along, people were actively participating into the show and the band was offering a spectacle to die for.

-Unbelievable! This is an amazing show! I thank you for recommending this to us! The driver bowed and thanked John for his words:

-Yes, this good show! I told you! This good band! Vic and John pulled a big laughter out of their chests and then went back to watching the girls. It looked like everybody was having a good time, when all of a sudden the lights came down and the instruments started playing their tunes slower, and slower, and slower until they were barely audible even to people who were sitting at the front tables. John was intrigued…

-The lights came down and along with the lights, the rhythm of the song, the beats and the tonality. Are they up for something? John whispered his question hoping that nobody could hear it. But apparently the cab driver had a very sharp ear and answered immediately:

-Now Shanghai Sun…

-What?

-Now sing Shanghai Sun.

John looked at him and realized that he was trying to tell him that the next song was going to be called: Shanghai Sun.

-You know their show by heart! How often do you come here?

The taxi driver started laughing and with a waggishly smile answered:

-Many times, Sir!

-OK then. Now let’s listen.

The lights above the stage came back up but at a much lower intensity which made John wonder why? Soon he got his answer: the band started singing a slow song. The prelude was once again a typical combination of Chinese tunes played at a slow beat. The harmony at which those four instruments (this time the lead singer grabbed one of those strange mandolins and stepped in as an instrument player) were playing was absolutely stunning. It was a dialog of happiness, a dialog of birds happily chirping at one another while waiting for the sun to come up, it was a dialog about green colors of the spring, about nature reviving and coming out reinvigorated from a long winter, it was a dialog about peace and serenity, about fast flowing little creeks trying to cover with their sounds the concerts of the living creatures in the woods.

“It almost sounds like Vivaldi’s Spring” exclaimed John in his head! “What a skill! To produce such a delicate, yet complex music with these instruments (which honestly look quite basic to me), is amazing! What a skill”. To John’s wonder, the melody started picking up some beat and soon turned into a Rock where the lead singer now had the full control of the stage by not only playing that strange instrument, but by also singing. The inflections of her voice were phenomenal to say the least! It turned out that the song was one of those ballads which only great Rock bands can write and play. The way the song progressed from its Chinese roots, then to soft Rock sang by their leader was astonishing. At one point, John realized that the lyrics switch to English…now he was in a state of shock! He realized the last line of the refrain was saying: “Now and then and forever…this is Shanghai Sun”. And it was repeated again: “Now and then and forever…this is Shanghai Sun”.

“What a beautiful song! This is unbelievable! I could’ve never imagined that such song can come out of those instruments! Wow!”

John looked at Vic. He did not look very impressed but he was at least listening and watching carefully. In return, the taxi driver was all eyes and ears. He was trying to absorb every single sound that was coming out from the stage. It looked like his whole body was connected to the musical activity that was happening in front of him. “This guy is more sensitive to good music than Vic is!” John muffled a laughter for himself. It was actually the end of that great song. He jumped on his feet and immediately started applauding as hard as he could:

-Bravo! Bravo! Well done! Well done, guys! What a great song!

The cab driver followed him and frenetically applauded. Vic did the same and shortly the whole establishment did the same.

The band deeply bowed and thanked everyone in Chinese. Then, the lead singer turned towards John’s party and in a decent English thanked for the applauses:

-We thank you…if I remember…you…John. Thank you, John and thank you your friends.

John bowed and so did the cab driver and Vic.

-It was a great song! Congratulations! This was a sincere exclamation which came out of Vic’s chest, a shout which made Yue Ying say:

-I thank you, Sir…

-Vic is my name.

-I thank you, Vic!

John’s eyes were all on her, on the way she was conducting herself on the stage, on the graciousness of her moves, on the naturalness of her whole body moving from left to right, on her long black free flowing hair reaching her breasts, on her out of this world smile which was in turn bringing two gorgeous hues into her cheeks, on her face which was exhibiting a large sentiment of satisfaction and thus letting two rows of perfectly white teeth release the most angelic smile possible.

Their eye sights met again…this time it was the look of two souls which have just re-discovered each other after an eternity of separation, after wondering through different worlds, after unsuccessfully trying to reach each other, connect and close a destiny.  It only took few seconds for the two pair of eyes to cross paths and for their minds and hearts to connect. Vic was mesmerized! The cab driver was all smile and it seemed that he liked what he was seeing.

Finally, Yue Ying returned to the center of the stage and started clapping while the rest of the band was playing an up-beat song which in turn brought the audience on its feet and made everybody clap on the sound of the music. The crowd was now fully entertained and the owner of the establishment showed up from the kitchen. However, same like the first time, he made sure that he didn’t show his face and remained into a cone of shadow, to John’s disappointment. John grabbed his beer, put a leg on top of the other and decided to listen. The sight exchange he had with Yue Ying brought a strange sentiment into his heart; it was something he couldn’t comprehend, put in order, measure with his imagination or explain. “I have the feeling that I know this girl from somewhere…but from where? Obviously this is my first time in China and I don’t think she ever made it to America! But when I look at her, she looks so familiar, she looks like we are close relatives or friends, or…” John stopped. He didn’t want to say the word which came on his tongue. He took a napkin and wiped his forehead. On the stage Yue Ying was proving that she did have great showgirl skills, entertaining the establishment with her song, dance and stage presence. One after another one, the songs kept pouring out of the band’s repertoire; nobody was sitting anymore. Everybody was on their feet dancing by the tables and singing along with the band. The atmosphere was electrifying and entertaining to say the least. The girls knew how to express their personality on the stage, knew how to get the crowd engaged, knew how to make the patrons feel like they are treated like VIPs and most of all they had the knowledge of pacing themselves throughout the show so they wouldn’t burn faster than they should. The level of maturity this band was exhibiting was truly stunning! John was amazed and besides the fact that he was watching every single move Yue Ying was making, he just couldn’t stop admiring both the harmony of the instruments which were dialoguing between them and the synchronization of the band players when moving around on the stage. They could’ve only achieved this through long hours of hard practicing.

Towards the end of the show, the crowd started chanting: Shanghai Sun! Shanghai Sun! Shanghai Sun! The atmosphere was electrifying to say the least. The lights went down again and everybody took a sit waiting for their favorite song to be played again. This time just Yue Ying showed into the spot light. The rest of the band was still in the dark. “This is unbelievable, said John to himself! She is taking the task on singing this song by herself without the help of the band! Wow! She is really talented!”

John was right. Yue Ying started singing the song alone, without the accompaniment of the band. Her voice was truly amazing. She hit all those hard inflections, those quick changes of pace or high to low octaves. John was not moving a finger anymore. His whole attention, was channeled towards watching Yue Ying’s performance. It was like he was hypnotized by her presence, by her singing, by the entire way she was conducting herself on the stage.

At the time of the refrain, once again the whole establishment accompanied her while clapping and singing along. It was an electrifying atmosphere and John was happy that he followed Vic’s advice and visit Black Swan. Two more times the crowd inside the restaurant called her back. The refrain of this song was working like a drug on this crowd, the more they were listening to it the more they wanted to hear it…again and again. Every time she came back to sing, her face was radiating from the pleasure to entertain her fans. It was pure joy, eagerness to be grateful to the people who were appreciating her talent, but most of all it was that natural gift she possessed: the gift of a born entertainer.

-Wow! What do you think, John? Vic’s question remained unanswered as John’s eyes were all on Yue Ying. On the stage, she was like a fish in the water. Their eyes exchanged paths many times during audience’s three time call back to the stage. One thing was clear: something made them connect with each other and engage at a spiritual level which was more than just simple admiration. John was like a stone, like a big chunk of marble just waiting for the sculptor’s hand to bring it to life. His eyes and mind were now completely captured by Yue Ying.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 40 [(Sunday Church (II)]

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 40

Sunday Church (II)

The tears eventually froze (as the air was crisp), making her face feel like it was pierced by thousands of little needles. The pace at which she was running was fast! She wanted somehow to put some distance between her and the place where strange things happened. However, once she reached the top of the hill, she stopped and for few minutes she kept her eyes on the beautiful white church with a foundation made out of river stones and brick walls. The cross on the top of the main nave, was now shining into the sun in all its splendor and its white color was displaying an array of spears which were pointing back to the sun, probably in an attempt of reciprocity, of thankfulness for the life he was generating, for the joy he was sending down to the people. Instinctively she waived…it was a good bye sign? If yes, to whom? Her father’s image came back and she realized that he was still there for her, trying to guide her steps to make the right decisions, trying to comfort her when she needed his help.

Linda turned around and started running again. What happened at the Church was still pounding her mind. “Where did Peter disappear?” When she entered the house, she took her sneakers off and dropped on the couch. She was now holding her head between her palms and was trying to go again through every single detail of her morning run. The image of Peter and her father were haunting her already…”Dad showed up as Peter McCarthy!” This very thought made her shiver and soon she was sitting on the couch into a fetus position, with her forehead resting on her knees while the palms were joined together holding the ankles. Into this strange position she actually fell asleep. It was a power nap which made her walk again through the morning church events. Her father again showed up into her dream and advised her: “You have to pray Linda…you have to pray. God will help you get over all the hurdles the life is throwing at you. You cannot lose hope and faith. You must pray, Linda!”

She woke up and made a quick decision: “I am heading to the church”

This time it took her just few minutes to shower. Once she managed to dry her hair, she tightened it into a large knot. Quickly opened up the dresser and picked up from her wardrobe a black suit and a white shirt; then grabbed a nice large black hat which was still leaving a portion of the knot exposed and put a pair of elegant grey leather shoes on. A dark grey woolen overcoat and a pair of black thin leather gloves were finishing a sober, yet exclusively elegant attire. She stepped out of the house and shortly her car was heading to the direction where she jogged earlier.

The church was packed. When she opened the door, the warmth from inside, the gathering, the happy and relaxed faces of the people waiting for the Mass to start, the smell of burnt candles and the beautifully painted windows embraced her in a way which was saying: “welcome back”. She stopped for few seconds, deeply inhaled and closed her eyes. Memories which she believed were well shelved started pouring out. Same like the early morning, the times when she and her father were working together preparing the church for the Mass were surfacing. People whispering and chit-chatting prior to the Mass was so familiar to her! A smile showed up on her beautiful face making her open the eyes and take a close look at the gathering. While she was screening the crowd, her sight dropped on a person she thought she would recognize. A yell (which she quickly muffled with her hand) came out of her chest. She could bet that she saw the face of her father in front of the Altar. He was smiling at her with that kind, understanding, angelic smile which only a good man, a man touched by the Holy Spirit could produce. There was so much kindness into that smile but in the same time one could sense a little drop of sadness and serenity. She shook her head…it was the priest she was looking at, the man who was running the Sunday service. He was a man in his fifties, with a grizzled hair, a man with a large and kind smile on his face, a man who looked like he loved what he was doing as his smile was complimenting every gesture he was making, every gesture being calculated and full of compassion and understanding. Linda found a seat in the last row, slightly tilted her head towards the family seating beside her and from that moment she was all eyes and ears. “How come I never knew about this little church? It is so close to the house!”

She was listening to the service with the same curiosity and hunger as she did in the past. She was doing it to understand the words of wisdom coming out of the priest’s mouth as she did many years ago when her father was holding the Sunday Mass. To her delight and in the same time to her wonder, the eagerness to absorb the teachings of the Holy Bible has not changed over the years. Linda smiled again and slowly but surely she started remembering all those prayers spoken with a loud voice by the congregation, as she remembered the faces of the people lightened for the moment by the Holy Spirit while praising Good Lord for His Greatness or asking for His forgiveness. The time passed by so fast and she was so absorbed by the service that she didn’t realize the service was over. She stood up and headed for the door, while leaving a donation for the church. Once out of the church, the crisp early afternoon air encompassed her body in spite of the fact that the sun was generously trying to hug and keep her warm. She immediately put on her nice dark grey woolen coat and started walking towards her car.

Suddenly, the tall stature of a man (who was speaking to few other people), caught her attention. She could only see him from behind, but something was telling her that she knew him from somewhere. Linda realized right away that this individual had a taste for quality cloths as his overcoat (made out of the finest wool) and the vintage fedora on his head were bringing a distinguished look which eventually was further refined by the superb black leather shoes and exquisite brand name suit. The white hair showing up between the fedora and the woolen scarf was greatly contrasting with the black overcoat, thus giving the individual an unmatchable gentleman’s allure.

Linda was ready to walk by and head to her car, when all of a sudden the man turned around and looked straight into her eyes. In spite of the cold temperature, she felt how little drops of sweat were making their way on the forehead and slowly coming down on the chicks only to wrap around the chin and fall on the ground. She felt her cheeks on fire and didn’t know exactly why…could’ve been due to the sweat which was freezing on its way to the ground, or could’ve just been a normal reaction to the sight of the man. He apologized to his audience by lifting his black fedora and then headed straight towards Linda. A large smile was imprinted on his face when he finally stopped four feet away from her. Again, he lifted his hat and with the voice of a tenor greeted the beautiful woman standing in front of him:

-Good afternoon, Linda! I have not seen you in a while. How are you?

She felt like she was about to swallow her Adam’s apple. After the discussion she had with her husband, the site of this man was making her feel angry, outraged, appalled and frighten. However, she managed to stay calm and with an immense dose of will power put a smile on her face and returned the greetings as naturally as she could:

-Good afternoon Mr. Glenworth! I am doing wonderful. How about yourself?

-Linda, please…you know very well that between friends there is no “Mister”. Please call me J.J.

-Al right, then. How are you J.J.? Yes, it is true. Last time we saw each other was at a Christmas Party if I am not mistaken. And that was probably three or four years ago…

-You are absolutely right, Linda! It was four years ago. After my wife passed away, I quit showing up at the parties. It is still an open wound.

-I am sorry to hear that, J.J.; I liked Jen so much! She was a true lady…I miss her. I only got good advises from her.

-I thank you for your words, Linda…yes, she truly was a special lady.

At this point, the conversation halted for few seconds, but these seconds felt like eternity for Linda. They were both looking into each other’s eyes, trying somehow to guess their interlocutor’s next move. Neither J.J. nor Linda was taking charge of the conversation…she had all her attention summoned into a tensed (yet well disguised) state of mind, while the physical strength was now residing into a tall, and balanced posture, demanding from her interlocutor a great deal of respect. It was J.J. who finally broke the silence and saved an already embarrassing situation:

-Is it too much if I asked you to join me for a cup a coffee? There is a place just four miles North from here where they serve a really nice Turkish coffee.

Linda startled. A week ago she discovered in the kitchen that copper pot bought by John during their trip to Turkey, pot which brought back memories from their honey-moon which they spent in the Holy Land and Turkey. She clearly remembered now the inscription scratched on the outer surface of the pot by the pot Master: “For those who love each other now and forever”. She became emotional again, but this time she forced herself not to show any kind of softness, any kind of weak spot where J.J. could’ve eventually hit. Initially, she wanted to refuse straight forward, but a second thought made room into her mind: “What if I accept? Maybe I can find out something, maybe J.J. spills the beans somehow and I get to know something that could eventually help John” She made a decision on the spot:

-I would love that, J.J.; it is not too late for a cup of coffee.

-Fantastic, Linda! You will love this little place. It is run by a Turkish family; this is the best coffee you can have in town!

-OK. You lead. I will follow you.

-Great! It is just four miles from here. We will be there in five minutes. J.J. respectfully tilted his head again, removed the hat with a gentle and well-studied gesture and then headed for his car. Linda couldn’t help but remember the Leo story and the fact that maybe one day, Leo will take this gorgeous classic collectible for a spin. She felt like laughing once again when she replayed the whole Theater episode: the fact that John had his beloved muscle car taken for a spin and who knows…maybe J.J. will pay one day tribute to that street smart guy, called Leo. She giggled and headed straight for the car. She couldn’t help but notice that J.J.’s crowd paid a certain level of respect when she passed by. She didn’t know how to react but the instinct prevailed and stopped for a couple of seconds, graciously tilting her head. Once in the car, she started asking herself questions which she was more than eager to find answers to: “Is J.J. having followers? Did he start his own Church, religion, and cult? This church is no different than my dad’s. Then why did people look kind of obedient towards him? Maybe I am wrong and I am over-reacting…still, he is clearly a leader of this community” She was now driving on the freeway while blindly following J.J.’s car and as per their discussion, it only took few minutes to make into a small plaza by the freeway. J.J. pulled his car in front of a store that had a great picture painted on a banner above the door: a person bringing on a plate few cups of coffee; the steam coming out of the cups was so well depicted, that a customer would immediately ask for one of those inviting, hot drinks. The background was kind of dark, but this is probably what the owner envisioned in his attempt to market his business: “we have the real coffee here” On top of this, the man carrying the cups was wearing the traditional Turkish fez garnished with the well-known tassels.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 38 (A peculiar phone conversation)

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 38

A peculiar phone conversation

At the time when the phone rang, Linda was considering her dinner options. The freezer was stuffed with semi prepared food and her dilemma increased fourfold when facing the options: pizza, lasagna, spaghetti or fries and chicken nuggets.

She closed the freezer’s door in a hurry and picked up the phone.

-Hey, how are you? I was worried! You didn’t call the whole week! Is everything alright? At this moment she put the phone on the speaker so she can have the freedom to move around and use her hands.

-I’m alright honey, I am alright. I didn’t call you because initially I was jet legged and my biological clock was obviously upside down. And for the past three days, I have been going through lots of strange encounters.

-I have the whole night in front of me to listen to you.

-Yeah, unfortunately I promised Vic and Zhaohui that I will accompany them for a visit to Suzhou Gardens.

-Who is Zhaohui? What Gardens?

-There are so many things that happened and so many things I need to tell you, that I will probably need two days to get everything out of my chest.

-Can you summarize at least?

-Sure. Let me answer your first question: Zhaohui is Vic’s fiancée.

-You are telling me that Vic found his half in China? Linda burst into a huge laughter while at the other end of the line John couldn’t help but crack a large smile.

-Vic is a completely changed man. He is half the size he used to be, he stopped drinking, he is not gambling anymore and he is fluent in Mandarin.

-Wow! Now this is impressive! How did this happen?

-Take a guess…

-Zhaohui?

-Bingo! You got it!

-Unbelievable! So, for him the move to China was all beneficial. He turned out to be a reborn man and he found a wife. Good for him! Tell Vic that I wish him and his fiancée all the best in the world.

-I will surely do so.

-What is this trip to those Gardens about?

-Not sure, but Zhaohui goes there as many times as she can, whenever she has a chance. It looks like these gardens present a sort of getaway for her, a sort of a place where she meditates and recharges her batteries. They specifically mentioned: “Humble Administrator’s Garden”…I don’t know the significance, but apparently it means quite a lot to her.

-Wow! This is fascinating!

-It surely is.

-What else can you tell me before they are picking you up?

-There are so many things that happened to me…I met Tony Gang – the guy in charge of the Office and I met the people he is associated with in this criminal activity.

-What? You think they have an organization, a cartel, a criminal enterprise that is stealing money from Glenworth?

-Positive.

-Incredible! So, your first instincts were right.

-Actually during the lunch I had with J.J. and Scott, I was warned that Tony could be the head of this organization or whatever it is. The actual fact is that he is not the brain of the enterprise. The head of this criminal cartel is Zhiming mao.

-What? Who is this Zhiming guy?

-You see…there are so many things which happened in this past week that it will take me forever to tell them to you through a phone line. This “guy” actually is the head of one of the most aristocratic families from the Ming Dynasty – The house of Chonghuan, the House which founded the “Seven Orchids Order”

-I am so lost…I don’t understand a word you are saying!

-Because (again) I need to spend many hours to tell you what happened from the beginning. Apparently I am part of some curse which happened when Chongzhen Emperor executed General Yuan Chonghuan. The General cursed the Emperor. The other thing that stands out of this is that this curse must end soon and I am (with or without my will) part of it.

-An Emperor, a general, an execution during Ming Dynasty, a curse and you: John Parker, are all related to each other…

-Yeap! John could actually hear Linda’s crystalline laughter at the other end and once again cracked a smile. Unfortunately, all the encounters he went through for the past six days and the (still fresh in his mind) meeting he had last night with Zhiming mao, made his smile look more like a barely visible sign of discomfort. His mind brought back in front of his eyes Zhiming mao and his statement: “if I wanted to kill you, you would’ve been dead by now”. Of course, he was not going to share this detail with Linda, but his voice was trembling and his wife picked up the change in his voice immediately.

-John, please come back home…you are really scaring me.

-Relax, hon! I think in a couple of weeks everything will be settled. I will be back for Thanksgiving.

-Thanksgiving? That’s almost six weeks away!

-I am just saying Thanksgiving. It could be a lot sooner. I will get to the bottom of this story soon, trust me. I got a good handle of it.

-OK, I trust you. But please, don’t do anything irrational, don’t get into situations you don’t recognize. Please stay prudent and safe!

-You know that I am always prudent and I have a nose for safety…

-Yeah, I know! The episode with the truck driver who you tackled to the ground in a gas station says it all about your prudency and nose for safety! Says it all!

-Common hon! This is a low blow! This time John couldn’t help himself but release a huge laughter from all his lungs’ capacity.

-No, it’s not a low blow, it’s the truth! Your competitive nature makes you sometimes take decisions which are not compatible with your calm, settled and cerebral nature. There are two Johns in you: one is balanced and intellectual, the other one is impulsive and makes split second decisions, decisions which are scaring me.

-Those split second decisions won a Championship, honey…it was indeed that split second decision which made me change my mind and I went for the throw. I knew I could make it, that’s why I took it. So, a decision initiated on gut feelings, was actually done based on using accumulated knowledge.

-Don’t talk technicalities to me! I know you better than you do!

-OK, OK! I will play safe. I will not throw, I will run the ball. At this point, both of them burst into a noisy and well deserved laughter, a laughter which cleared the atmosphere created by so many unknowns laying in front of them.

-OK, I let you go now. I will watch some Hockey, maybe a movie and go to sleep.

-Alright, hon! Stay safe and warm.

-I will. You take care of yourself. Bye now.

-By the way, before you hang up – John felt like wanted to get more out of his chest and decided to share with Linda his thoughts on his boss’s involvement into the story…

-I am listening…

-I, Vic and Zhaohui believe that J.J. has a hand into this whole adventure of mine in China. He is somehow related to the curse – as I am – and sent me there to probably do the dirty work for him.

-No way! You gotta’ be kidding! How is he involved? And why?

-Trying to understand myself honey, but it looks like all the roads are taking me to either J.J. or Zhiming mao.

-So, you are saying that J.J. set you up for failure? Why would he do that? It’s his company, his money!

-Linda, I do not know the answers myself…I am at least as puzzled as you are regarding J.J.’s involvement. But definitely he is using me somehow. I feel like he is the man in the shadows and this is not necessarily a bad thing. He is probably on my side, but I didn’t like the way he approached this business endeavor.

-Absolutely! He should’ve told you upfront what his intentions are! This is not fair to you…

-That’s OK hon, I am a big boy – I can handle it.

-Please be careful, John!

-I will, I promise.

-OK then. I let you go. Love you and please, please stay safe.

-You bet! Have a good day!

After she hung up, she didn’t feel quite well. It was a strange feeling…it felt more like a frustration that she is now alone while John is trying to figure out some centuries old curse (apparently related to funds drainage from Glenworth). She felt a bit of uneasiness…in her subconscious she realized that it was just a hidden and never tested way her brain was trying to tell her something.

The rest of the evening was spent between a frugal dinner and flipping through channels. An interesting Hockey game was on, but her mind was not at all into watching it…she couldn’t help but letting her brain go back to the conversation she had with her husband. The names which came out of the short chat, the apparent intricacy of the story, the fact that J.J. fed John to the wolves by sending him there in the middle of a conspiracy – or curse, or whatever was called – made her angry. Nervously she started flipping through the channels faster and faster until she realized that it is useless to get nervous and angry. She was not able to help John regardless of what she was doing. An immense feel of guilt and helplessness encompassed her. Few tears came out of her beautiful blue eyes…it was the relief valve she needed! A strange but comfortable sense of calmness followed the initial state of discomfort making her look for the favorite pillow and blanket. Once she turned off the night stand lamp and the TV, the warmth of the thick blanket deeply penetrated her body. A nice smile flourished on her lips. It was the sign that she was now relaxed and ready for a good and deserved sleep.

“Tomorrow it’s another day” whispered Linda and immediately fell asleep.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 37 (Black Swan)

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 37

Black Swan

John returned to the living room holding his head down. Vic’s fiancée request put a doubt into his head and the opportunity of negotiations with his neighbors was slowly fading out. He didn’t want to hear this, he was all in for negotiations, for a peaceful end to this story. Vic realized that he was in a certain amount of distress and mutely asked him what was going on.

-Zhaohui asked me to move immediately.

-This ain’t good. But she must’ve had a valid reason if she asked you to do it.

-I believe so, too. Another round of silence encompassed the room. Both men were now holding their heads down, trying to think at what the better way is out of this situation. Vic was first to react and change the tone in the room from a deep, gloomy and negative atmosphere into a friendlier and more optimistic one.

-Let me call Zihuan….Vic grabbed his cell and soon he was on the call with his primary detective.

John didn’t lose the chance to head for the window and admire again the un-matchable spectacle of barges sliding down onto Huangpu. It was a show he just couldn’t take out of his mind, a show which was acting on him like a drug on an addict, like a pill which brings instant happiness and relaxation.

-Guess what?

-What?

-Pictures are not ready. There are so many that they couldn’t finish arranging them in a chronological way. We will have to wait until tomorrow.

-This is not good…we are wasting an evening.

-That’s OK. Let’s go out take a short walk. Are you tired from the walk into the Gardens?

-No, I am not. Let’s go! I wouldn’t mind taking a stroll on one of the bridges above the river…something is telling me that we will witness a great view, something is telling me that I can take a look at Huangpu and its lights from a proximity which would make me “touch” the barges sliding down stream in their eternal attempt to reach the mouth of the Great Yangtze and then dock at the Shanghai Harbor. John grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

Vic was mesmerized! The last sentence which came out of John’s chest, made his eyes as large as an owl’s eyes, while pulling a real and sincere yell of admiration:

-Wow! Now you spoke like a poet! That was magnificent, man! Wow!

-Oh, well…this is what I do, man!

A great and loud laughter came out of their chests and in no time they were at the elevator and then downstairs at the Reception.

The city was still buzzing from the night life and was lit up like a Christmas tree during winter celebrations. They took a side walk and inevitably ended up on one of the bridges above the river. John’s heart was pounding inside his chest as he never looked at the waters below him so closely. It was such a great feeling! Maybe for others, the look at the dark waters, the height from which you were looking down, the intriguing and lurking message sent by the barges’ lights would’ve sent a different message, but for John, there was a message of calmness and relaxation, a message of normality and familiarity, a sign that he belonged somehow to this environment of commerce and sailing, of trade and perhaps war; but ultimately…it was sending a message of infinite freedom. John closed his eyes, largely opened his arms and deeply inhaled the odor of the waters patiently waiting for the moment when they will join the waters of the Great River and then merge into the immensity of the China Sea. To his surprise, the odor had a salty taste. It made him understand that the wind was blowing upstream and was bringing into the city the scent of the sea, the scent of the mixed sweet and salty waters of the Yangtze Delta.

John opened up his eyes and a great sense of easiness encompassed him. The spectacle he has been admiring from his hotel room and from the office was truly magnificent, now that he was standing right on top of the river. They were ready to move on, when all of a sudden a car passed by honking the horn and then stopping ten yards further down the street in a horrible tire squeaking noise. Their hearts stopped from beating! The car literally (few yards) passed by them, making both John and Vic become one with the protective fence of the bridge. There were already beads of sweat running down their temples. First thoughts were that Tony or his neighbors want to get rid of John and hired a driver to run him over. But then they realized that the car was a cab and the driver was probably just trying to pick up a piece of business. John’s heart started beating at an almost normal pace; however, when he saw the driver getting down and heading his direction, his eyes caught on fire and at that point were throwing bolts of anger. He was fuming from rage and fury.

-You gotta’ be kiddin’ me!

-Mister! Mister! Hello! Me, driver…

-I know you, of course! Of course I know you, you maniac!

-Mister! Mister! Go show! Take you show!

-What? I think I am going to take you by the neck and throw you into the river! This is what’s going to happen, you maniac! You think I am still going to ever get into a car with you?

John was screaming as he just found a way to release all the frustration he accumulated while heading to Vic’s place from the flower store. Yes, amazingly the same driver who took him last night from the hotel to the flower shop and then to Vic’s, stopped by and offered his services again. It was more than whatever John could take…

-I don’t wanna’ see you! Go away!

-Mister! Mister! Take you show! Good show!

-Didn’t you hear me? I will never get into that car of yours as long as you are driving! Isn’t this clear? How else do you want me to say this to you? Which part exactly you don’t understand? The one with driving, or the one when if you don’t immediately go away, I will dump you into the river?

John was not only screaming, he was now gesturing and imitating the sudden turns and the hard breaking situations from the previous night. His hands were simulating holding a steering wheel while his right foot was trying to replicate a breaking situation. Whoever was watching this little show, was rapidly drawing the conclusion that John was a mad man who just happened to have a spectator watching his show.

Vic was laughing so hard that he dropped onto one knee. Tears were coming out of his eyes while his whole body was shaking in an uncontrollable motion.

-Why are you laughing, man? This is the maniac who last night took me at your place! I think I am going to choke him!

-This is something to die for, man! To die for! You should’ve seen your face! Sorry, man…I just couldn’t stop from laughing. You were all red while your face and the arms were mimicking such strange motions! You put up quite a good spectacle.

-And this maniac wants to take us to some show, right? John’s voice was already high pitched and the tonality was still showing a great deal of frustration.

-Yeah, let me talk to him.

-You’re kiddin’, right? You want to go to a show taking this maniac’s cab, right? Is this what I am actually hearing, or all of a sudden I lost my English comprehension?

-Hey, you never know what he has in mind…it could be a good show which I would never say “no” to.

-I can’t believe you are doing this!

-Relax, man…let me see what this show is about. Vic headed towards the taxi driver which as a result of John’s gestures retreated towards his car. The conversation between Vic and the taxi driver took a couple of minutes; in this time frame John realized that he has to calm down that he has to bring his spirit back up to the level which allows him to have a clear mind in order to make the right decisions. J.J.’s words popped up again into his mind: “only look at the big picture, John; only at the big picture” He felt how his face and the whole body relaxed, thus giving him another chance to take a look at the river underneath.

-We are heading for the show. Let’s get in.

-You gotta’ be joking! We are heading to a show now?

-Yes, I think it is a good one.

-What sort of show, man? And where about?

-It is a traditional music show. The driver told me that the band is made up of four girls and they are performing in a Club not far from here. He also told me that their style of singing is based on traditional Chinese music but then it turns towards pop-rock style. So basically is a blend between the two.

-This is crazy! These are two completely different styles of music! How can they go together? John burst into a large laughter while his arms were simulating a gesture of distrust and amusement.

-Well, this is why we will go there. Let’s see what this music style is about. The cab driver is very enthusiastic about this show.

-Don’t mention! I still feel like chocking him!

It was Vic’s turn to burst into laughter. Nevertheless, John took the back seat while Vic chose the passenger front seat, in an attempt to keep an eye on the driver and his behavior. It didn’t work out…the cab owner stepped on the accelerator so hard, that made Vic feel like he dove into the seat.

-Here we go again! I told you that this guy is mental!

Vic burst again into a huge laughter while telling John to relax and enjoy the ride.

John didn’t want to argue with Vic anymore and so he put on the seat belt and prepared himself for the worst.

It wasn’t long before the cab pulled in front of Club, situated somehow on one of those little side streets of downtown Shanghai. Of course, the driver felt again like he wanted to show off his driving skills and slammed on the breaks so hard, that made Vic almost hit the windshield with his head. This time it was too much even for Vic…his conversation with the driver was quite heated up, which made John burst into laughter this time.

-Told you! This guy is a maniac!

The argument between Vic and the driver carried on, so John realized that it is much more productive for him to get out of the car and start assessing the surroundings. He started methodically look at the building from both the point of view of a man who’s never been in that place and wanted to know his surroundings and from the point of view of someone who was bracing for unusual situations. For some reason he felt at unease, he felt like he was about to step into something strange, into something he did not understand or comprehend, into something surrounded by mysticism and unknown.

“Black Swan” was the name written in English only, which made John raise an eye brow. He couldn’t help but admire the picture of the bird depicted by the name of the club, shown on the frontispieces and majestically represented with its two wings fully stretched. The place was not even close to be called a real Club and this was not due to the location being non-central or at least at one of the main streets. No. It was due to the fact that one would’ve expected a certain level of western like atmosphere. When you say: “Club” one would think at a noisy band playing pop or rock music, one would think at someone playing the guitar or the drums…the small stage was pretty much fully taken by four chairs and some strange instruments John did not recognize. One of them however, stirred his interest: it had the shape of a pear and looked like a mandolin. When he asked Vic what was the name of that strange looking instrument, the answer came quickly: “Pipa”

John raised his left eye browse, signaling that he was not happy with the answer. Vic raised his shoulders and answered John’s muted question: “it’s all I know about those instruments”

John started screening more carefully for the other instruments…one of them was the shape of a flute, while the other two had the silhouettes of a violin and a double bass. His curiosity and the ear for music were now enticed by the unusual shape of those four instruments which somehow reminded him modern “tools” used by the pop or rock bands.

Then he looked at Vic. His friend wasn’t paying much attention to the details John did, but was somehow focused on scrutinizing the crowd inside the Club. John followed his friend’s sight and inevitably identified four individuals sitting at one of the tables in the front. They were making lots of noise and one would guess that they were already drunk. John assessed immediately the situation: four large drunk males, all westerners, all speaking with a strange English accent waiting for the show to start. They were pounding already on their table with their fists demanding for the band to show up on the stage.

-This could be trouble…Vic was interrogatively looking at John, mutely asking: “Shall we go? I don’t like it”

-No, I want to stay. Initially it was his tremendous curiosity in learning more about the sounds those instruments were making, curiosity which was asking him to stay. But now, it was something else…it was a rage he was feeling towards those individuals who were behaving in such a manner which back home would’ve found them being tossed out of the Club by now. His blood was boiling and he was all tensed and ready to confront them. There was still something which was holding him back. His eye sight was periodically checking the back stage place where the artists supposedly were entering for the show. Not a move was coming from that direction.

-These guys are sailors. I believe they are Aussies. I heard this accent before…when I was doing…you know…

-You think so?

-Positive. When they dock, those are the first places they visit. Chinese gambling. They bet on anything you can imagine. Of course they lose their shirts in a matter of hours…

-It looks to me that these guys have been here before.

-I had that feeling to. Let me ask the cab driver.

-You are telling me that this maniac is joining us for the show?

-Relax. I like him. He told me that he learnt some things on a special driving class he was taking and he wanted to show them to us.

Both John and Vic burst into a long, loud and healthy laughter. Tears were coming from John’s eyes.

-Man, I am so happy I have you as a friend in this weird and completely strange environment! I owe you a six pack, whenever you are up to the task.

-Roger that! Don’t forget what you just said!

Another round of laughter came out of their chests. The mood was set for the two friends to have a great evening.

-Hang on…your cab driver is waving at us.

-Where? Can’t see him.

-To the left…to the left of the table where those four drunken scumbags are sitting.

-Great! Now we have them as our neighbors.

-Never mind. Those are premium seats. Let’s go take them. He must’ve bribed the waiter a fortune. I saw a “Reserved” sign on the table.

-How can you remove a “Reserved” sign? What if the people who booked it showed up?

Vic abruptly stopped then turned a hundred eighty degrees around and looked John straight into his eyes:

-As I mentioned to you at the Gardens…please, please, please, don’t move to China.

-What did I say, man? I just believe that it is not fair for us to take the table of someone who reserved it. That’s all.

It was the time when Vic hit his forehead with his palm and started nervously shaking his head…

-Would you mind just follow me, please!

-OK, OK…but this doesn’t mean that I agree with the strategy.

-John, why don’t you understand that you are not in America anymore? Why don’t you understand that things at this level (Vic put his palm half way to the ground trying to mimic a normal life situation), are unfolding at a different pace, and have a completely different meaning comparing to back home? For instance, what we are seeing now, it’s normal. The people who made the reservation didn’t show up, so we took their seats! Clear?

-OK, OK…I am not arguing with you anymore, but this is not right.

Vic hit his head once again with his palm, making a noise which was noticed by the cab driver as they were approaching the table. The man jumped from his seat and greeted the two friends with a deep bow and respectfully invited them to have a seat.

-Is he trying to tell us something? He is behaving like a host.

-Let me ask…it was a short conversation between Vic and the cab driver. At the end it got quite heated up, which made John raise once again his eye browse…

-OK, he is telling me that this is his treat because he likes us.

-No way, man! What do you mean his treat?

-He pays for seats and obviously he picked up the bribe he gave to the waiter.

-No way…what if we want to do some drinks?

-That’s on us.

-OK. Then this becomes more doable…what a strange night!

-Welcome to Shanghai, man! Vic burst again into laughter and grabbed John by the shoulder: we will have fun. I know it.

-I hope so. Twenty four hours ago, I was threatened with death…

-We’ll get out of this, John…don’t worry.

-How can you be so sure? How can you be so positive?

-Because Zhaohui has a plan. And this is all I care about. She always finds a way…always. She has a sense of avoiding danger and navigate through the choppy waters like nobody else on this planet.

-Alright then. I trust you…actually let me rephrase it: I trust Zhaohui.

Both friends burst again into a huge laughter, which this time brought the attention of the four persons sitting next to them.

-G’day, mates! How you going?

Both Vic and John were perplexed. They didn’t expect their neighbors to approach them. It was either the beginning of a normal, friendly and peaceful event, or it was just the calm before the storm.

John tilted his head forward thus simulating a greeting and then with a voice of a man who was in command, replied:

-Good evening to you too, gentlemen!

-What you mates having for a drink?

-We are here just for the show. We are not drinking.

A huge laughter was heard from the neighbors’ table. John’s face turned red from what he considered a very insulting type of behavior. Vic looked at him and with a very discrete sign told John to calm down.

Another man from the neighbor’s group weighed in even more, just to add to the insult:

-What, yaw ladies too delicate to drink?

It was the moment when John was already at the edge of his chair being ready to spring into action…Vic grabbed his wrist and managed to stop him, while the cab driver was still trying to comprehend what was going on. Fear was written on his face and one would’ve realized that he was frightened, that he was trying to find a solution. He stood up and headed straight for the side door, where the waiters supposedly were coming out with their food and drinks. It seemed that he was at home, that he knows everybody in that place.

Immediately he came out accompanied by someone who looked like to be the owner. They both approached the table of the four disturbers and in an English which seemed to be quite OK for a non-English speaking person, politely asked the men to behave so the show could get on going.

The reaction from the drunken individuals was as John and Vic expected and feared. They all stood up and started noisily mocking the man and his English. It was too much for John to take. He sprung from his chair and headed straight for the troubling table. Vic followed and soon, a stand up of small proportions was facing the actors of this unusual scene.

-So, yaw all want to get a beating, yaw?

-We just want to watch the show, that’s all. So, we are asking you to take a seat and stop disturbing.

-Really, yaw pretty boy? And if we don’t take a seat what yaw going to do?

John was trembling. He felt so close of launching a jab into man’s jaw, but the next second something unusual and strange happened…through the same door where the owner came out, a massive, truly impressive individual came out. This man was literally the size of the door. He was dressed into a black suit, white shirt and a black tie. The sun glasses he was wearing were hiding his slender eyes, but the face physiognomy was betraying an Asian individual. He slowly walked at the table and placed himself between John and the turbulent individual. John was amazed by the size of this person, in spite of the fact that during his Football career he played alongside many big individuals.

The appearance of this Goliath brought a sudden quietness at the two tables, his stature implying nothing less but respect and admiration. The four troubling men found themselves into the situation where they had to sit as they were also impressed by the size of the man wearing a black suit.

Once every sign of disturbance was removed, the body guard stepped aside and leaned against the wall. It was a detail which was noticed by both tables. A two minutes of silence made everybody from the restaurant think that if one would’ve dropped a pin, the echo would’ve been heard.

The cab driver rubbed his hands thus expressing a high degree of happiness.

-Show good, Mister. Show good!

-I believe you. What is your name?

-Yuan Jun. Nice meet you, Mister…

-Parker is my name. John Parker.

-Nice meet you Mr. Parker. Show good!

-Again, I do believe it will be a good show. Nice to meet you too, Yuan Jun.

The happiness on man’s face was something which made John smile. “Well, as they are saying: happiness resides in small things. Let’s see what the show is about”

John’s insatiable curiosity made him whisper a question into Vic’s ear:

-By the way…what does Yuan Jun mean?

-Fountain of joy.

-It makes lots of sense…looks like he is pretty happy we are here.

-Yeah…it seems like he is quite joyful. Let’s watch the show now.

The lights came down and on the stage four girls showed up; they bowed and then each one took her place into the band. It was the moment when John felt like he swallowed his Adam’s apple…his whole body was captured by emotions running from reverence and wonder to sincere admiration.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 35 (The dream of an October’s evening)

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 35

The dream of an October’s evening

As the day was coming to a conclusion, the Humble Administrator’s Garden was particularly beautiful. Something was making it different from all the other days when she visited and meditated here. It was probably the fact that in that early October day, the sun was still generously releasing its warmth over the city while the shadows of the evening were splendidly encompassing the leaves colored in a pallet of a myriad shades and hundreds of tonalities and blends. The birds were relentlessly chirping and singing in a symphony of unmatchable tunes and unimaginably diverse musical keys. That evening was special indeed and one could say that God was in a very good mood of making the surroundings beautifully blend with the color of the leaves and the birds singing, while people were carefully watching and listening to his majestic creation. It looked like the nature was trying to get a last full breath of summer before the winter would set and a last glimpse of a superb spectacle of music, sounds, colors and nuances represented the fourth movement of a well-orchestrated symphony.

The noise of the galloping horses was slowly reaching the Garden. The Humble Administrator’s fine ears picked up the echo and startled. With a firm gesture, he ordered one of the bodyguards to run and check with the guards who were on watch in the towers. In the meantime, another set of orders generated a rampage inside of the Garden…a swarm of people came out of nowhere and started picking up the precious china vases, silk fabrics, cloths, pillows and bed covers and run towards a place which seemed to be an escape route as it was dug into the close by hill. The precision at which everybody was moving, showed that dry runs were done before as nothing was chaotic, random or in disarray.

The old man was now standing in front of the water fall which with a nice and melodic whisper was greeting the visitors entering the kiosk and then the garden itself. His tanned skin was contrasting with his long white goat beard, beard he was smoothing with calculated and slow motions. His small, oblique eyes were as sharp as the eyes of a badger, betraying a highly intelligent and educated man. He was keeping his hands joined together in front of him and one could see that they were small and delicate thus telling the interlocutor that he was not used with the physical labor or with the art of handling war weapons. Everything about this old man transpired peace, study, intelligentsia and academic achievements. His small stature was emphasized even more by the fact that his back was bent from the middle section, showing a man at a very respectable age. However, the way he was moving around and giving orders to the servants, showed an individual still highly active and energetic, showed a man which in spite of his age was as sharp intellectually and physically as a young man.

Beside him, a girl was playing with her toys. She was probably twelve years old and was dressed in an all-white silk suite with green jade buttons closing her tunic. The hair was long and dark and the eyes equally black and vivid, full of life and energy. From time to time, the old man was stroking her hair, in a sign of respect, pure love and untainted affection, denoting deep and meaningful ties with the girl or her family.

-Where do they all go, Teacher?

The old man startled and looked the girl straight into the eyes. There was so much affection, love, respect and in the same time fear into the old man’s eyes that the girl started weeping. Something in her child soul was telling her that they were in danger and bad things would happen to her and the Teacher.

The guard sent by the old man to check the source of the noise came back accompanied by two strangers, two westerners (judging by their cloths and by their faces). They were full of blood and sweat while their cloths were bearing multiple cuts, showing that they have been through some sort of fight. Beside them, a little girl, probably two or three years younger than the girl who was calling the old man “Teacher” was trying hard to hide a severe injury and not cry from pain. Her left arm was cut and the bandages she was wearing in that area, were soaked in blood.

Both old man and the girl from the Garden jumped to hug her, showing an affection hard to imagine if they were not blood related. The old man had tears into his eyes and didn’t know anymore how to hug both little girls at once.

-Teacher…Teacher…It was one of the two men who was trying to communicate that they are running out of time. He was tall, thin, with a tanned face and grizzled hair. One would say that he was in his fifties. In spite of the fact that he was thin at the first sight, the cuts on his shirt were reveling a muscular individual, a man used with the sword or lance fight, a man who had been through lots of hardship in his life, a man who was bearing on his body the results of a tumultuous life spent mostly in battles. Three healed wounds on his face showed that once, three deep vertical sword cuts struck him.

The man standing beside him, was a young, tall individual, with the stature of a wrestler. His broad shoulders and thick arms was revealing a man who was valuing physical activities and judging by the fact that he also had a deep cut on his forehead, one would safely assume that he was used with the sword fight as well. The cut was fresh, as his whole face was covered in blood; the sweat and the dust from the riding did him a favor and patched the wound. However, his tanned skin and the height, his dark short cut hair and the fresh wound, his athletic build and the fire power of his eyes were all working together in presenting to the audience a superb warrior.

-Teacher…we are running out of time. Just the two of us escaped the ambush. We killed most of the attackers, but more of them will come as those few who escaped will get back to the peasants camp. I am sure Li Zicheng will send more troops. We need fresh horses. We must leave now. We have to make it to Shanghai port. Our ship is docked there. We have to take the girls to a Monastery in Canton.

At that time, the Garden was also serving as a fortress and was surrounded by walls with watch towers. One could see the two horses the men rode: they were covered in a white and red foam, telling the viewer the story they had recently been through a fight and many miles of galloping. Their black skin was now mostly covered with their sweat and the enemy’s blood. The horse keepers were wiping the sweat off of their skin; their legs were shaking like the leaves into the wind showing that they had been through a rough and prolonged galloping.

-Changping needs a doctor. She lost lots of blood.

The old man looked at the guard and with a still calm voice asked him to get his personal doctor. It took little time before an old man carrying a sort of wooden case showed up and skillfully removed the bandages and started cleaning the wound. He gave the girl a drink and asked her to swallow it. The pain stopped immediately and a sense of relaxation and even a smile showed up on her little face. The older girl was holding her sister (one would assume) in her arms and was trying to console her. The Teacher looked at the two men and with the sharpness of his eyes asked a mute question, a question the two men were hoping that they were never asked. They both put their heads down, in a sign that they do not feel like answering. A long and overwhelming silence followed. One could hear a pin drop if that happened. When the two warriors raised their heads, they saw an old man who looked like he was bent even more from the hips, they saw an old man in tears, an old man who lost the spark from his eyes, who lost his will to live. Without them answering the muted question, the Teacher understood that the little girl defended herself from a sword strike. It was the strike of her father, the Emperor, who rather had her dead than captured by the peasants. Luckily, the two men were in the room. They covered her with their bodies and begged the Emperor not to kill her. The two men were Portuguese merchants who were doing business with the Imperial Court. Their advice were highly regarded by Chongzhen Emperor. He spared the girl’s life and ordered them to take her to a monastery in the South.

By clapping his hands twice, the Teacher gave few short orders. Immediately another doctor showed up accompanied by few women carrying a couple of basins with warm water. The two men took their shirts off and one could actually see the multiple cuts they had on their upper bodies as trademarks of the fight they had just been through.

The skillful hands of the women carefully washed the wounds; it was the time when the doctor took over by carefully sprinkling something which would look like being crushed dried plants. Every single cut was analyzed and immediately treated. After a short wait, his small but proficient hands started closing the wounds with a needle and strings barely visible to the naked eye. One would realize right away that he had done this activity many times before as in a short while the gashes from the cuts were limited to a simple thin line represented by the stitches of the seam. Another powder was sprinkled on top of now closed wounds. With a calm yet demanding voice, the doctor asked them to lie down and rest.

-We do not have time for resting! The older of the two men stood and in few seconds he put the shirt and the tunic back on, checked his sword and the three daggers he was carrying into individual scabbards at the belt and checked the two pistols hanging from the same thick waist leather belt.  Another shorter sword (tucked into the scabbard held on his back by another leather belt) was the last piece of an impressive arsenal he was wearing. The younger fella’s war attire was similar except that he had five daggers at the belt and two shorter swords on his back, swords which at any time were forming an “X” sign, showing this way the fact that they could’ve been easily withdrawn with both hands simultaneously. Both main swords of these men had a wide, curved blade towards the end and one would say that something like this was the trademark of the pirates. Amazingly, into the short time they had to treat their wounds, the women cleaned up their cloths, washed them, dried them up and sewed or patched the multiple sword cuts they were bearing.

-We thank you for your help, but we must leave now! By sun set, they will be back with reinforcements. She comes with us! It is the order of the Emperor. Both girls will be hosted by the same monastery in Canton. For now, we cannot tell you where. If one day you need to find them, you have to look for us. Our ship always docks in Shanghai when we are in China. You have to ask for “Esperanza” – this is her name. More details on how to reach us, you can get from Dewei Wang. He owns a tavern right at the docks. It is called: Black Swan. He is a good friend of ours…You have to hide now. They know who you are and they will kill you. These walls won’t last long. You must hide!

The eyes of the old man were flooded with tears in that moment. He was holding both girls close his chest and was gently stroking their black hair. Without fully knowing what was going on, the older girl understood that the situation was grave and gloomy, that something big happened. Her sister showed up with a severed arm, carried on a horse by one of the two warriors who were as well covered in blood and riddled by wounds. In a moment of sincerity, or maybe a moment of self-preservation, the two girls hugged each other so hard, that it took the old warrior some time to be able to separate them. The horses were ready. One with a keen eye for horses would’ve realized right away that these two exemplars were bred for running over long distances. Their legs were not that slim and tall as those that brought the girls and the warriors to the Garden. Their chest muscles, the back legs, the neck and the middle section area made the two warriors whistle of admiration. They were superb to say the least; their black, well maintained skin, tails and manes were showing that the grooms did not spare any resources to make them shine and shimmer when taken out of the stables.

-It is time! We must go! The voice of the older of the two solders was firm and commanding. Both men were already in the saddles. The old man hugged the girls for the last time. It was a moment when one would compare the three of them with a majestic tree and two of its offshoots. The tears coming out of the old’s man eyes were falling on the heads of the girls, while the girls were accompanying their tutor with sincere child’s tears of emotion as they understood that they have to say good bye.

It was again the older warrior who unsaddled and grabbed the girls by their waist and carried them to the horses. He handed the younger one to his partner and jumped onto the back of his horse while still holding the older girl. The gates opened up and the sailors stormed out of the Garden in the sounds of a frantic galloping and an array of sparks from the fresh horses’ steel shoes hitting the stone paved alley. The old man stretched his hands towards the direction the horses were heading, while the two girls turned around in the saddles and with a last gesture of good bye, screamed from the bottom of their lungs: “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!”

Zhaohui startled and with the back of her hand wiped the sweat which was now running all over her forehead and down her temples, only to join around the chin and then drop into her lap. This was for the first time when two sisters showed up into her dreams. Until now, each time she was meditating in the garden, only pleasant dreams came along: a girl playing into the garden, chasing the swans, feeding the fishes, walking around and listening to the Teacher. Now, the dream turned into a nightmare: battle horses, warriors, blood, a brutal departure and an unexpected farewell said to the Teacher. She jumped on her feet and looked towards the direction Vic and John were sitting. She grabbed her temples with her palms, thus trying to slow down the heart rate which was making her vanes pulsate at a high rate. She was still sweating buckets and her eyes became as sharp and thin like a steel blade. One would say it was a cry of helplessness and uncertainty, a cry of unforeseen trouble and challenges. Slowly, she approached the two friends. John turned around and with a voice as frightened as the voice of a grown man can be, exclaimed:

-Jesus…!  Zhaohui, are you OK? Vic’s voice betrayed a deep concern and for good reasons: his fiancée was still under a deep state of distress. Her face was pale, the lips were murmuring something nobody could understand and the eyes had a glimpse of fear in them (which for somebody who knew her), was totally uncharacteristic. John was terrified! The change Zhaohui went through in a matter of probably half an hour, was ineffable…the well-known cold sweat running down his spine made its presence known yet again. A pale Zhaohui, a woman with a vague and undecided look into her eyes was now gazing at them both. It was something John could not bare anymore, so he turned his head to the side and thus avoided the eye contact with her.

-I’m OK, I’m OK…sorry Vic, sorry John! I got a bit carried away by the dream…it is late, let’s go now. In half an hour will be dark.

The ride back to Shanghai was uneventful, which gave John the opportunity to think at the events of his first Sunday in China. As much as he wanted to remember the gorgeous landscape of the Gardens, the multitude of leaves’ colors, the myriad of nuances coming from a perfect blending between water, vegetation, rocks and living things, he simply couldn’t help his memory but going back to Zhaohui’s face when coming out from the Garden. The extent of metamorphosis which took place while she meditated was incredible to say the least. From a calm, balanced, self-mastered individual, she changed into a woman whose eyes were betraying wavering and hesitating gestures. “What was that dream about which made her change so drastically? It is unbelievable how fast and at what sort of content she managed to turn the page! Completely different person! What was the dream about?” This question tormented his thoughts all the way back to Shanghai. While driving back, a heavy and uncomfortable feel of wariness encompassed all three of them. Zhaohui was in the back seat holding her head between her palms. Vic was keeping his eyes completely focused on the road and never felt like saying a word, cracking a joke or even open up a small talk with John. His friend was once again asking himself questions on his role in this endeavor, on Zhaohui’s transformation after meditating, on whether or not is the appropriate time to tell his friends about his neighbors. John felt like the more questions he was asking, instead of getting answers, more questions were popping up. “I am like a gunny pig on the wheel! No matter how many steps I make, the wheel is just spinning, it takes me nowhere. I have to break the shaft and make the wheel roll forward! That’s it! When we get to the hotel, I will tell them last night’s story! Maybe it is related to Zhaohui’s recent state of mind and whatever she went through in the Garden. Everything is related to everything in this country!”

-Guys, let’s go upstairs and have a drink. I need to tell you something. John decided that he should share his last night’s experience with his friends. When passing the lobby area, all three of them involuntarily turned their heads towards the direction where the heavenly smell of the lemon flowers was so profound and yet so discrete and delicate that one couldn’t have passed by without noticing it. Once inside of the apartment, something strange happened: all three of them headed straight for the window and for few minutes nobody said a word. The eyes of the three friends were now completely captured by the great show of the silhouettes sliding down or upstream Huangpu, a show which never ends, a show that’s been continuously running for many centuries, a spectacle of light at night, a theater play which has been and still is quintessential in bringing together the synergies of the Upper and Lower China. It was very quiet in the room and if a pin would drop, one could hear its “ding”. John slowly moved back (trying not to disturb his friends) and headed for the kitchen. Turned on the light, grabbed a bottle of wine and poured the red liquid into the glasses.

-I just assumed that everybody will have wine. Any other preferences?

His question made Vic and Zhaohui startle. They turned around and with a hand sign saying: “it’s OK with us, whatever you have on hand” left the window area and headed back towards the couch. John placed the glasses in front of them, waited for his guests to sit and then took a sit into the closest arm chair. A friendly “cheers” came out of their chests and for few minutes everybody kept quiet, this time simply trying to enjoy the scent of the grape vine flowers which was coming out of the glasses in a bouquet of aromas hard to describe.

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 34 (Suzhou Gardens – Humble Administrator’s Garden)

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 34

Suzhou Gardens – Humble Administrator’s Garden

 When the cell phone went off, John realized that it was already late and Vic and Zhaohui might’ve already been waited for him in the Lobby.

-Hey, how you doin’, man?

-I am doing fantastic! Ready? It’s a gorgeous day outside.

-Actually I was still sleeping when you called.

-Oh, I am sorry, John! Should we come later and pick you up? Do you still want to go see the Gardens? This time of the year the colors are absolutely splendid.

-Of course I want to go, but I need to get ready. Come on up, don’t wait in the Lobby.

-OK. We’ll be there in few minutes.

-I will unlock the door. Just get in and make yourself at home. You can even make coffee for us if you want.

-Great! I will see in a few.

John headed for the shower in spite of the fact that he was half asleep. Yesterday’s events were still fresh into his mind. As the water was running down onto his body, he started getting into the “ready” mood, the state of mind he was always beginning his days with. As usual, a quick cold water run at the end, made him completely come out of his sleepy mode and gave him that energy boost which was always bringing good and fresh ideas for the day in front of him, which was always guiding him on setting priorities.

He quickly dried himself out, put on a pair of jeans, a thick fleeced V-shaped T-shirt and a pair of sneakers.

In the living room, Vic was making coffee, while Zhaohui was admiring the panoramic view of the Huangpu and downtown Shanghai.

-Good morning, guys!

-Good morning, John! Did you sleep well? Zhaohui’s face was radiant and her almond shaped eyes were radiating such a great level of happiness that made John reconsider his initial thought of telling them of his last night encounter with his neighbors. “I am not going to ruin her happiness! She is obviously so excited that we are going to see the Gardens! I will for sure talk to Vic tomorrow. I have to tell them. Zhiming mao threatened me and it is clear that we are playing into different teams”

-Coffee is ready! Vic was rubbing his hands against each other with a deep feeling of satisfaction imprinted on his face. Your tea is done too, Zhaohui.

-Thanks, Vic!

-Thank you, man! Now, let’s assess the quality of your product!

-Don’t you dare say anything wrong about my coffee making talents!

The room filled up right away with a sincere and healthy laughter, with a great joy and heartfelt friendship.

-Would you two guys mind if I have my tea by the window?

-No, not at all, Zhaohui! That is my favorite spot too. Especially at night…it is so beautiful! I like to watch the barges slipping downstream into the night. Their lights into the night are captivating, in spite of the fact that they are competing against the city’s illumination.

Zhaohui looked straight into John’s eyes. Her sight was so intense and profound, was so daring and bold, that made John almost swallow his Adam’s apple. Her eyes were acting like two laser beams trying to pierce a thick iron shield, trying to penetrate John’s soul and mind all the way to its last hidden spot.

Realizing that she put John into an unusual situation, she apologized immediately.

-I’m sorry John. I didn’t mean to be so intruding.

-That’s alright, Zhaohui. We both love that spot. It is magic, indeed.

-Which spot? What are you two guys talking about?

-Nothing…both Zhaohui and I like the view from that large window.

-Yes, it is a great view, I have to admit. Now let’s have a coffee.

That being said, John and Vic took a seat on the couch and started chit-chatting, bringing to the surface memories of the office life back in America, memories of parties at the local pubs during a football game, or just memories of the good old times when they were much younger. Zhaohui was simply too absorbed in watching the great spectacle Huangpu was offering on a Sunday morning, to even bother listening to what the guys were saying. She took a seat into the nice, comfortable chair and sank her eyes into the waters of the river which was part of so many centuries of hardship during the great Imperial Chinese history.

One hour passed by so fast, that all three of them felt like it was just five minutes ago when Vic and Zhaohui made it to the apartment. Eventually Vic looked at the clock on his cell phone and jumped on his feet:

-It is getting late. If we want to see all the gardens, we have to leave now.

-Great, then let’s move!

Zhaohui turned her chair around and in a heartbeat was on her feet. One could see that she was sad for not being able to watch the spectacle below anymore, but in the same time her face was radiating from the fact that they were heading to Suzhou to visit the Gardens. It was something that she and Vic were doing as often as they had a chance, or when they felt tired and worn out. For Zhaohui, the gardens always represented an immense reservoir of energy, of life, of optimism and drive to move on. She has seen them many times, in different seasons. But every time she was coming back, she felt like she discovered something new, she felt like a small portion of her heart was left there, among the water lilies and lotus flowers.

While locking the door of the apartment, John couldn’t help but throwing a peak at his neighbors’ door. It was shut and no movement or noise was coming out of there.

All the booths which were selling tickets were very busy and huge lineups were formed around the gates. Vic got in line and with a resigned shrug of the shoulders signaled to his friend and fiancée that they have no choice but to wait in line like everybody else or come back next week at an earlier time.

All of a sudden, Zhaohui headed towards one of the volunteers responsible with directing the crowds and managing the orderly entrance into the gardens. It was one of her students. They shook hands and an unstoppable flow of greetings followed from both sides. Zhaohui’s interlocutor was a girl in her teens, who managed to catch John’s attention through her beautiful, large smile. The glasses she was wearing were a little too large for her face, but the overall look showed a girl determined to succeed in her life through hard work and willpower. Shortly after encounter, Zhaohui made a discreet sign to John. Initially, John didn’t know how to react, but realized right away that the girl Vic’s fiancée was chatting with, would be able to get them in without lining up. John hesitated, as his mind and his training, his professional and moral structure would’ve never had agreed to cut off in line and get ahead of somebody. But Zhaohui insistently was pointing towards Vic. John turned around and grabbed Vic by the sleeve.

-Apparently your fiancée wants to tell you something.

Vic turned his head and in few seconds understood exactly what Zhaohui was signaling.

-She found a way in, without us lining up.

-I don’t want to be special!

-Fortunately, it’s not up to you. We have an easier way in and it is perfectly legal and moral. Is this OK with you? John was stunned!

-How is this morally acceptable to get ahead of everybody else who is lining up and is waiting for his or her turn to get in?

-You’ll see. Come and stop asking questions, man! We are already late. The days are shorter this time of the year.

John put his head down (in a sign that he was ashamed of what he was doing) and simply followed Vic towards the direction where Zhaohui was still chatting with the girl she met. He shook hands and once again, he had the chance to admire a beautiful and innocent smile.

-OK. Fantastic arrangement: she will be our guide inside.

-Our guide? You guys had visited these gardens probably a hundred times! Why do you need a guide?

-John, let me tell you something: you have to put this into your mind: in China everything is possible if you know somebody or you know how to use the system. And it doesn’t have to necessary be illegal or immoral. But you must know the system.

-OK, smart guy…then tell me how are you using the system to get us ahead of everybody who is lining up here and still be legal or at least moral?

-I will tell you how: we are here for the first time and we need a guide to explain to us the history of these gardens, how they were built, who built them, and so on. And because we need a guide, we will pay a premium price for the tickets. The Gardens are making some extra cash and we get in faster. Understood?

-You were here before, you know these gardens better than the guide!

-Pardon! Nobody knows that. The system is telling us that if we take a guide and we pay a premium, we can cut off into the line. Simple like that!

John shook his head and dropped his chin again, mutely telling Vic that he is not buying his story and he still believes that they should’ve lined up like everybody else. Vic looked for few seconds at his friend’s face and while grabbing the back of John’s neck with his hand, he looked deeply into his eyes and said:

-John, my friend…please promise me that you will never move to China. John startled and while looking Vic straight into his eyes, asked him:

-Why are you making me promise something like this?

-Because this country will eat you alive, man! Will eat you alive.

-Alright gentlemen, let’s get in. Ah Lam will be our guide. Zhaohui’s voice was crystal clear and was exuberating from such a joy that made John completely give up his qualms of conscience and simply joined in, making Vic take a breath of fresh air and sigh peacefully.

This time of the year, the Gardens were astonishing! The multitude of different colored leafs starting with the green of the conifers, the hot red of the maple trees and then to the specific yellowish of the oaks, made this spectacle of nuances a festival of colors, a festival of joy and admiration towards the power and the beauty of the Mother Nature. John was stunned by the beauty in front of him, but mostly he was dazed by the way the architects managed to blend the nature with the human touch, the way the fish ponds and the waterfalls were speaking to the huge stones brought by the masons to simulate the mountains, the way the outstanding red pagodas were overseeing the landscape eventually ending up by whispering into the ears of the colorful fishes which cautiously were taking cover between the leafs of the royal lotus and water lily flowers.

The guide was doing her job and was explaining the way the architects built the nine Gardens, the way each of them was envisioned, the period in which was built and what was its main significance, meaning, purpose and of course the story which led to building it. John was listening very carefully, like a kid taken into a trip to a place he loved, like a scholar listening to the favorite teacher. In his eyes, the way the architects managed to marry the nature and the man made features of the Gardens, was impressive to say the least.

Two hours passed by when they realized that they had barely seen four out of the nine Gardens. It was already two a ’clock in the afternoon and all four of them increased the pace. Every Garden had something different, something that was making it unique, yet making it an integral part of the whole assembly.

-Last one, announced Ah Lam.

-Great, it is already getting dark.

-Vic, John…if you want you can go ahead and wait for me at the exit. I need to meditate a little by the water fall.

John was shocked! “She needs to meditate!” Vic saw the expression on his friend’s face and quickly came with an answer which removed any sort of wonder from John’s physiognomy.

-She has a favorite spot here, inside of Humble Administrator’s Garden, a place where she likes to meditate in front of a water fountain. It’s OK, Zhaohui…we will wait for you by the pond. We will look at the fishes while resting a bit. We’ve been walking for more than three hours.

-Thank you Vic, I appreciate your understanding. Ah Lam, we thank you very much for your help, it’s been a delight to learn from you things I actually never knew. There is no point for you to wait for us. This is the last Garden and we will be out of here in fifteen minutes probably.

-I thank you for the opportunity. You have a good night now! Ah Lam bent from the middle, in a sign of respect towards her teacher and then towards John and Vic. The two men replied identically and soon, the cute girl they had as a guide disappeared into the dusk, as the wonderful Sunday they spent together was preparing to say goodbye and go to sleep as well.

Vic grabbed his friend’s arm and together headed for the pond. John couldn’t help but turn his head back. The wooden kiosk they were crossing was opened all around; It was ingeniously built with wooden blinds at the windows, which on a rainy day could’ve been closed and thus protect the people inside. Zhaohui was already into a lotus position facing the water fall, and in few seconds became a part of the masonry which was surrounding that particular part of the courtyard. This time John didn’t ask himself: “Why is she picking that particular spot from all the options she had? Why this particular Garden? Why does she have to meditate?” During these few days since he stepped onto Chinese soil, he went through so many strange situations, that one more wouldn’t’ve made a difference anyway. He took a sit beside Vic on one of the wooden benches by the pond and deepen his eyes into the water which was taming with fishes; the abundance of aquatic plants provided a perfect playground and habitat for them, a habitat masterly designed and maintained by Suzhou Gardens.

In no time he felt so relaxed and at ease, so happy and detached from this world that his mind completely forgot about last night’s encounter with the neighbors, about his plan to tell Vic and Zhaohui what happened. The eyes of his imagination started wandering again through places he has never been before, through places which were at first sight strange to him, but felt so alive and familiar, so colorful and sweet-scented. “Why do I have the feeling that I know these gardens, that I know this particular one? This is so strange, but it feels so good! It is almost like I have been here before, that I did spend some time here in this garden and that everything is known to me” John shook his head in a sign that he wanted to come back to reality. Vic was not sitting on the bench anymore. He was on his knees by the pond and was making waves in the water, playing with the fishes. Amazingly, the game he started was happily shared by the numerous Koi fishes in the pond and soon two kids joined him in that wave making endeavor. John looked at his friend and smiled…”he has the heart of a kid”

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 33 (The 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 33

The Neighbors

Once he reached his floor, he decided to not even look at his neighbors’ door – as he was usually doing it. There was a little problem though: this time, the door was cracked open again. His insatiably curiosity made him look. For the first few minutes, he limited his curiosity to taking a peek inside – as much as the opening of the door allowed him. However, there was not much to see…the place where the large man was doing his meditation was empty, but the white tatami he was using was still in the same place, on the ground. The same unknown to him scent hit his nostrils. The smell was so powerful yet delicate, noble and intriguing that made John push the door open even more. Now he had a better view of the whole living room. As the room was almost dark (just partially lit by few candles), John realized that the layout was similar to his apartment. Soon, he figured out that those burning candles were releasing the smells which for now were completely making his mind forget about the dream, forget about his desire to end the adventure and the investigation. But in the same time these unknown scents, unwillingly were luring him to venture into a territory he did not know, into a land he would rather avoid stepping onto, a land made of quick sands ready to swallow you at the first mistake you were making. He wiped the sweat which was flooding his forehead with his sleeve and decided to enter. First few steps were similar to the steps a cat makes when in a hunt for a mouse…cautious, very slow paced, with large timing intervals between them. Judging by the movements he was making, one would say that John was a professional criminal entering a future murder scene. He was slowly advancing towards the center of the room when the dancing shadows on the walls, magnified by their own reflections into the large window, made him stop. A large and strange thing was hanging against the wall. John couldn’t figure out what was it, but the size of it made him tremble with fear. The lights were dancing like ghosts while the scents in the room were making his sense of smell play mind games on him. His whole attention was now focused on the immense dark spot on the wall. His initial guess was that it was a hunting trophy. However, the playful shadows were enticing his mind to think at mystic scenarios; the doubt and the fear were now encompassing his judgement. All of a sudden, a noise came from the bathroom area. He realized that when he entered the apartment, he ignored a light which was curiously stretching underneath the bathroom door. He turned around. There was somebody in the bathroom and judging by the noise coming out of there, the person was taking a shower. His attention was now completely switched towards that direction. There was so much mystery lurking around: an opened door, a hanging creature on the wall and a person taking a shower! All these, made John grasp for air while still standing in the middle of the living room.

Unexpectedly, the bathroom door opened up. A woman wrapped into a magnificently embroidered silk bath robe was now standing into the door frame, playing with her long black hair. In a swift yet delicate motion, she brought her beautiful flowing hair on one of the shoulders, so most of it was now running down her left shoulder and resting over her left chest. The robe was so light that all her forms were revealed. The roundness of her breasts, the tightness of the waist and the slim shape of her thighs were now playing a magnificent spectacle in front of John’s eyes. With delicate and flowing motions, she continued to strike her hair, apparently in an attempt to make it softer, to make it more appealing and sexier to the viewer. She knew exactly how to tickle John’s imagination. It was the mysterious woman he met on the night when he checked in, the same woman he greatly admired in the restaurant at the breakfast. Even now, when she was barely wearing clothing, John couldn’t help but notice that all her gestures and movements were carefully paced, measured and methodically repeated under a set timing and rhythm. John could see the water running into the shower cabin and he figured out that the woman was preparing to get in. Slowly, she turned around, dropped the robe and entered the cabin enticingly leaving the door open. The water started running down her shoulders and soon a white wave of body shampoo foam (which was magnificently contrasting with her tanned skin), made its way onto the shoulders, then encompassed the hips, kissed the buttocks, and finally circled around the thighs and the legs. It looked like a white snake was trying to wrap her shoulders into his coils and then was working his way down her body slowly grabbing her hips with a vice like grip. The smell of that shampoo, hit John’s nostrils immediately: it was the same captivating scent as the one produced by the candles. The scene was breathtaking and it became even more alluring: the woman turned around and her whole femininity splendor was now fully exposed. John felt how his Adam’s apple was sliding up and down until finally got stuck into a position which betrayed a severe emotional distress. He was now contemplating a piece of art, a charming symbiosis between perfect shapes, skin tan and overall proportions. Her big, black, slanted eyes were looking at John with the eyes of a feline which was methodically monitoring her prey through focusing, through an intensive, potent and diligent watch not leaving anything to the chance or to anything else that could alter the result of the hunt. She was stunning, to say the least! And to make things even worse (for John), she started washing her body with slow and calculated circular motions, from the shoulders then down to her artistically sculptured breasts. The white foamy lotion brought by her skilled hands to the breasts was greatly contrasting with her tanned skin and dark brown nipples, thus providing a spectacle which he was not prepared to watch, a spectacle to which he was not ready to participate, an unexpected show about beauty, perfect shapes and unmatched contrasts.

-She is beautiful, isn’t she, John?

John felt how instantly his spine froze, how his face was tingling from the same cold currents sent by his brain (which was trying to signal that without any doubt is under enormous stress), how all the events of the day were fast tracking now in front of his eyes like shadows, like personages of a play with many actors wandering around without knowing whose line is whose.

He turned around and realized that the man standing behind him was the same individual he saw the first time through the cracked door and then into the restaurant together with the woman who was now showering in front of him. This man was massive…not as tall as John, but the broad shoulders and the thickness of the arms and the neck made John believe that the man he was facing was or still is a heavy weight wrestler or a martial arts guru. To make things even worse, he was standing right below the thing John intuitively assumed it was a hunting trophy. The opened door of the bathroom was allowing enough light to illuminate the creature on the wall…it was indeed the head of a formidably massive hart. The span of the horns must’ve been at least six feet from tip to tip. John’s palms were all sweaty. The man of the house and the trophy were now almost aligned making the scene hilarious – if it wouldn’t have been dramatic. It was almost like the gentleman who entered the room was wearing a hat with two massive antlers. John tried to sketch a smile, but he realized that he was the last person in that room to be in a position to do so. John’s interlocutor moved slowly on the side towards the middle of the living room and lit up the remaining of the candles. Soon, that profound and delicate, yet invasive and alluring smell was making John feel like he was welcomed, feel like he was the expected guest of the house for the Saturday night dinner. The room was now lit up at a level at which John could guess the decorations hanging on the walls…and there was plenty of them! He realized that the room was full of paintings and framed photos. One particular painting drew his attention: it was a fighting scene between two armies. However, the light did not have enough intensity so he couldn’t pick all the details. Nevertheless, something was telling him that he saw that painting somewhere. His investigative mind started right away to process this information, but he couldn’t exactly point in time when he saw the painting…his mind even considered the fact that he has never seen it and maybe it is just his imagination playing games on him right now; imagination based on the many stories he has heard since landing in Shanghai, or maybe even based on the dream he had. His brain was trying to absorb and put in order so much information, so many unusual events, all of them leading to…leading to what? He had a job to finish. Unfortunately his task got tangled and hijacked by this unusual story about late Ming Dynasty and this feud (which has been stretching over so many centuries) getting somehow anchored into his assignment and thus making it so much more difficult to take it to the end.

-Sit down, John! The big fellow in front of him showed John the white tatami on the floor. He realized that the man wanted to have a discussion with him. He hesitated. Something was telling him to stay on guard. His host smiled:

-John…if I wanted to kill you, you would’ve been dead by now. Please, sit!

John took his shoes off and entered the tatami; a deep bow of his interlocutor (a sign of respect and thank you), made him understand that he did the right thing when removing the shoes. Both men were now standing on the tatami. A slight sign (a stretched hand pointing to the floor), invited John to have a seat. There were no chairs, so he realized that he has to take the well-known lotus position, which he did. A slight and barely perceptible head tilt from the opposite side, let John know that his efforts are appreciated.

John’s attention switched to a particular area of the wall: it was the one which was close to the large glass wall facing Huangpu River. In spite of the obscure lighting, he realized that a weapons collection was hanging on the wall. It wasn’t hard to figure out that few swords, a shield, few lances, a bow, a quiver of arrows and few other shorter swords and long knives actually represented a whole arsenal which must have belonged to a warrior. “So, this guy is a warrior. What if he is just a collector?”

He wanted to ask his interlocutor if those were real weapons but didn’t get that far, as the man in front of him, with calm and deep tonality in his voice dissipated any doubt from his mind:

-Yes, John. They are real…they are very real and they are very sharp.

Latest few words fell like a hammer over John. He took it as a threat: “they are very sharp”. Cold sweat was now again running down his temples, over the cheeks, only to meet at the chin level and finally drip on the tatami in front of him. He didn’t know what to expect from the big fella and most of all, he started believing that the man sitting in the lotus position could read minds…this was troubling him.

All of a sudden, a melodious voice behind him asked a question which made John tremble with excitement:

-Why are you two sitting into the dark? The very next moment, she turned the lights on at the maximum luminosity the switch allowed her. A spectacle of balanced forms revealed themselves underneath the exquisite short pink silk robe. The long black hair was flowing down her right shoulder covering the right breast. However, the robe was so fine, delicate and transparent that John could once again admire her tanned skin which was contrasting so discretely with the color of the vaporous robe. John was trying to keep a straight face and not show his emotions, but one could sense that the up and down motion of his Adam’s apple was a sign of distress and nervousness.

She turned around and headed for the kitchen. Half way she stopped, turned her head, tilted it with a sensual motion nobody expected and from the tips of her lips, with a waggish smile on her face asked:

-Do you like jasmine tea, John? John didn’t expect this sort of question, so he mumbled a “Yes, I do like jasmine tea” which was neither convincing nor cheering.

-Very well, gentlemen…in few minutes I will bring you some tea. This time she discretely slipped into the kitchen leaving the two men once again alone.

John shook his head, thus signaling that he needs to wipe out the image of the gorgeous woman who just stood in front of him. Right away he realized that the man sitting at the other end of the tatami was carefully watching his expressions and reactions to the environment. This made John get into an even more defensive position, calculating every move he was making. The room was now invaded by good lighting and he couldn’t stop but resting once again his eyes on the great weaponry collection on the wall. This couldn’t have passed unobserved by the big fella who was scrutinizing John’s emotions. He slowly got up, headed towards that section of the wall and stretched his left hand towards John, in a sign meant to say: “please come closer”. John hesitated, but his interlocutor insisted. As he was getting closer to the wall, he realized that he was facing a treasure…three stunning swords were placed in the middle of the “exhibition”. The engravings on their scabbards were exquisite to say the least. The materials used for the decorations were gold, silver and few precious gem stones. The background was black, which was making the precious metals shine even more. It was a spectacle of fine art, great taste, exquisite refinement and unmatched craftsmanship! John guessed that the characters depicted were part of the Chinese Mythology as they did not make any sense to him. However, there was a little detail which his trained eye picked up right away: all three of the scabbards had a fairly large hart head (similar to the real one which was displayed on the wall) executed in gold and silver, while the eyes were represented by two superb bright red sapphires each encapsulated into a silver pocket. He was stunned! Flashbacks from that night when he was driving on that dark road in the middle of nowhere back home, kicked in. The eyes of the creatures sculptured on the scabbards were large and goggled, frightening but captivating in the same time thus reminding him of the majestic hart he almost hit that night, a night he would never forget for the rest of his life. Next, he moved his eyes on the handle…yet another piece of artistry! It was most likely blackened forged steel, but the amount of detailing (also in gold and silver) made John whisper from the bottom of his heart: “incredible!”

Slowly he moved his eye sight on the other two swords which were placed above the “master piece”. They were made probably by the same craftsman, as the detailing on the scabbards was similar. However, it was not made into gold and silver but the mythological scenes were identical. The same hart head was cast into the upper guard of the handle on both sides, but this time, it looked like the antlers were “coming out” of the whole scene and were pointing up. John realized that this particular and unusual design had a functional role: to stop the enemy’s blade from reaching the hand and in the same time to trap it between the openings of the antlers. Curiously, he took a look at both swords…the same design was employed by the master sword maker but the engravings were done into a different material on the same black background. In spite of the fact that these two swords were maintained at the same level of quality as the “master sword”, John’s keen eye picked up an element which many would’ve missed: both had some scratches and scuffs on the scabbards and on the handle in spite of the efforts done to hide them. This pointed him to believe that these two swords went through some hardship during their prime.

-I can see that you set your eyes on my swords, John.

-They are beautiful! His sincere exclamation put a smile on the man’s lips. A deep sense of pride was now flooding his entire face. One would realize that the swords were playing a significant role in his life in spite of the fact that they were obsolete into a modern world.

-They belonged to my ancestors going back few hundred years. He slowly grabbed with both his hands the one in the middle and handed it over to John while slightly bowing. It was a moment of great hesitation from John’s side to accept it, but finally he carefully took it into his hands without removing his eyesight from it and involuntarily bowing as well. This gesture came naturally. The politeness of the large fellow he was facing demanded politeness and John’s keen eye and sharp fifth sense picked up the unwritten rule on the fly.

He was now holding a masterpiece of swordsmanship and a symbol of few centuries of rich Imperial Chinese history. “This sword must’ve belonged to a powerful and rich family! The amount of gold, silver and precious gem stones used for engravings as well as the amount of details describing the nobility symbols was definitely out of reach even for noble families unless they belonged to high aristocracy or royalty”.  John didn’t realize, but the little monologue which just came out of his chest, was not quite completely silent. The man who handed the sword to him must’ve heard it or at least part of it, as his smile became larger and a sense of proudness one could’ve read on his tanned face.

-Yes, John. Both of us (I and my sister) belong to one of the greatest aristocratic families during the Ming Dynasty times. We were a family of warriors and we produced great generals.

At the sound of Ming Dynasty, John startled. Also, he couldn’t help but cover his mouth with a gesture signaling great wonder while pointing towards the kitchen. The large fella, nodded: “Yes John, she is my sister”.

John was baffled…in the last ten seconds, he found out that his neighbors are descendants of a high nobility family and that they are brother and sister. His mind just couldn’t comprehend the legerity the woman was employing when showed up in the room, her libertines gestures and the fact that she didn’t have any problem not covering herself when he looked at her showering. His brain was telling him to watch his back, open his eyes and sharpen his hearing. Next question he asked himself was: “Is Tony part of this clan too? How do they relate to each other? Do they work together when they are draining funds from Glenworth? Are they doing this with other companies too?” On top of all the questions he already had, on top of the fact that he was trying to understand the role of Zhaohui in this story, the role played by Vic and Mr. Wang, now he was all of a sudden facing another set of questions and doubts. One more time, the question that was tormenting him since he stepped into China, popped up again: “Why am I involved into this strange story? I had my life back home. How did I get myself dragged into this intricate and complicated string of events?” He realized that it was futile trying to find answers, given the particular situation he was facing.

The coldness of the scabbard and the handle, made him come to reality and redirect his attention to the beauty he was holding. The weapon felt so light in his hands but under the influence of the value this sword was bearing, John wanted to squeeze it so he won’t drop it. His eyes were now scrutinizing every single element of the exquisite precious engravings. The handle was another great piece of artistry: it also had a black background and every groove (meant to hold in place the fingers of the both hands) was coated in silver, making the contrast stunning. But when he moved his eye sight towards the end of the handle, he realized that another element (he missed when the sword was still hanging on the wall), was making this weapon truly unique: a very large green precious stone was buried into the butt of the handle. John didn’t quite understand the significance of that stone being placed at the bottom of the handle, but he realized that this sword must’ve represented more than just a fighting tool. The multitude of colored shades thrown by the giant green pearl were dancing, were playing and marching in the same time into an array of columns and rows one would think it was a military formation.

This deadly beauty was designed and executed the way a composer writes a symphony: first movement was the black background – like a “pianissimo”, the second movement was the great gold and silver engraving – like a “mezzo-forte”, the third movement was that frightening hart head and its red goggled sapphire eyes – like a “fortissimo”, while the fourth movement was represented by the majestic green stone finishing the symphony on a “mezzo-forte” note. Everything about this piece of art was unique, fascinating, mystic and powerful.

John moved his right hand to the handle area…a strange feeling encompassed him, making his face lighten and his whole body recoil switching from a crisp and tensioned state of mind to a more relaxed and at ease tune.

His curiosity did not stop here. Something inside him was asking for more. He was now holding the sword with his right hand by the handle and the left on the scabbard. Slowly, he started drawing the sword. The squish was quiet and low pitched. As the weapon was coming out of its housing, a magnificent blade, shining like a morning rising sun was presenting itself to the viewers. It was another piece of artistry which made John hold his breath. It was so delicate, yet so deadly judging by the sharpness of its dual cutting edge. An inscription running in the middle of it for about a foot in length was probably a motto of the aristocratic house the two hosts belonged to. Nevertheless, at the joint area with the handle, another engraving of the hart head was signaling the fact that the master did not leave anything at the mercy of chance and everything about this sword had a meaning, had a philosophical significance and followed a ritual known by just a handful of people.

-What do you think, John?

-Stunning, to say the least!

-I thank you for your words. This sword has been in my family for many generations. It has been passed along the lineage line from father to son.

-Why is this one different from the other two?

-This one was not used into the battles. It is a ceremonial sword. The other two are war swords, are weapons which have seen many battles and spilled lots of enemy blood on the ground. John felt like asking: “who the enemies were?” but stopped short from placing this question into the conversation. Something was telling him to be cautious on how much he was getting out of his chest and focus on listening.

– I noticed that the war swords are curved a little towards the tip. Why isn’t the ceremonial curved?

-You have a good eye for detail, John. I would’ve been disappointed if you didn’t ask me this question…after few seconds of silence, the large fellow started explaining that the war swords were more effective if they had a curved tip as this will help with slashing during the close combat. The tip was sharp as it was used for piercing while only one of the edges was sharp, as there was no point to have two sharp edges into a man to man fight on the battle field. John was absorbing all the details while having his eyes still at the “master piece”. Eventually, he handed the sword back to his interlocutor. Moving now his eye sight from the swords, he couldn’t help but notice the lances hung on the wall. Their stick was probably seven feet long with an area at one end showing a certain level of weariness. Clearly it was the “handle”, even if it was not quite a handle. The other end, had a metal piece riveted to the stick, which was double edged and was as sharp as it could get. The metal was mirror polished making the light bounce off of it and thus maintaining a certain level of repulsiveness which made John tremble with fear. He was encompassed by an inexplicable feeling of fear and unease and couldn’t quite understand why the black stick with the sharp metal at the end was more frightening than the sword he held into his hands earlier. Ultimately, it was just a piece of wood with a sharp triangle at one end. His intuition was telling him that there is a lot more to it than what he thought.

-I can see that you are now studying my lances. Is there anything in particular you need to know about this weapon? Before he even finished the sentence, he took one from the wall and handed it over to John. It was a moment of great wonder and admiration from John’s side. The lance felt was so light, that he tried not to squeeze it too hard and break it. Many questions popped up into his head and before knowing it, he started asking, so his interlocutor could hear them.

-This is so light, so fragile and so delicate! Why did I feel like it is repulsive? He tried the sharp edges with his thumb…they were razor sharp! How do you defend against swords with this thing? How does it work?

A large smile flourished on the man’s face. He slowly removed the spear from John’s hand and placed it back on the wall.

-This weapon is the most deadly weapon on the battle field if it finds the right man to handle it. You can easily keep two swords away from you while inflicting deadly wounds into other attackers. It is meant for defense, but if you know its true capabilities, you can turn it into an offensive weapon too. I prefer the lance over the sword.

-I am assuming that you can handle both of them equally well.

-I am the descendant of one of the greatest aristocratic families China ever had…remember? His tone was now firm, commanding, filled with that type of pride which only a great and glorious background can bring to the surface and make some ordinary human being special, noble, or even royal. John was about to ask him: “And who that great aristocratic family was?” when his guest’s sister came out of the kitchen with a small chair (a wooden holder) on which she had a stunning china set. Judging by the clean, crystal like noise made by the cups and the kettle when touching each other and by the fact that his guests belonged to an old aristocratic family, John could only assume that in front of him was laid down a famous tea set made probably from the most expensive porcelain possible. He took a look at the themes on the cups and the kettle…they were stunning to say the least! Everything was painted in a beautiful blue color and the amount of details and the intricacy of the scenes made John grasp for air. The white background was only emphasizing the amount of work the master invested in these cups. The kettle, due to its bigger volume than the cups, was a true representation of what fine taste and true craftsmanship can produce when placed under the skillful hands of a talented ceramicist. The mysterious woman made a sign with both her hands inviting the men to sit. Then she started pouring the tea with calm, calculated and almost like with religious type of movements. Everything was balanced, weighed, studied and rules were followed to the latest detail: the way she was holding the kettle, the perfect imaginary line she followed to fill the cups, the way she presented the cups to the two men, all of these denoted fine knowledge and long training into the hosting science. When she got closer to John to serve him, he couldn’t help but deep inhale the smell of her perfume, a perfume which was now impregnated into her skin and into her hair and was radiating a scent which he was unable to recognize, a scent which was already playing games with his mind. It was powerful yet delicate, it was mysterious yet so tangible! The vaporous pink robe was still reveling the beauty of a tanned skin. A trained eye would immediately realize that she was taking good care of her epidermis as it was shining from the body oils she was using.

After she was done pouring the tea, she deeply bowed the head to the host (her brother) and to John, signaling the fact that she was asking for permission to leave. The large man who was entertaining John up to this moment bowed his head as well, thus reveling his acceptance to her request. John caught the movement on the fly and when the hostess turn her head towards him, he slowly bowed, imitating the gesture of the big fella who was carefully watching every motion his guest was making. A smile came on his face when he saw that John mimicked his ritual and bowed to John in a sign of: “thank you for respecting our traditions”. John replied and from there on, the tension he felt from the first moment he saw his neighbor, just disappeared. He was now encompassed by a strange feeling of acceptance, of neighboring and good faith.

Few minutes passed by; the two men were simply minding their business sipping the wonderful hot liquid from the cups. It looked like they almost forgot about the existence of the other and were in no mood whatsoever to open up a conversation. In spite of the fact that John was looking at his host trying to guess what he was thinking at, his mind was now busy with the image of the woman who just served the tea. “So, both she and her brother belong to the upper aristocratic class and this could have been seen by the exquisite things from the apartment and also by the way they are behaving…it does have something different in it, special, something I am sensing that it does not belong to the ordinary people”

The large fella at the other end, was closely watching John. His eye sight was focused on John’s mimics, on his face, on his shown or hidden emotions thus trying to pierce through an armor which was kept intact quite well until now. It was a chess game between two masters, everyone playing a defensive style in the beginning in an attempt to gather as much information as possible about the opponent’ strategies and tactics. Finally, the host placed the cup on its plate and then the plate on the little wooden stool brought by his sister. John did the same. He realized that the wait is over and the “hostilities” will eventually start.

-So, John…why are you spying on us?

This question fell like a hammer in spite of the fact that John expected a straight forward dialog to start sooner or later. He was prepared for this moment, but the tone used by his host was by no means either friendly or casual anymore. He realized that he cannot stay forever in defense and eventually he had to strike back. But he needed time to recollect his thoughts and put together a fighting strategy. He came up with a trick he learnt long time ago: the introductions…they never fail!

-Before I answer your question, I would like to know your and your sister’s names. You know mine. In my culture, we are making the introductions first, then we talk.
This strategy worked quite well as John could see a wandering sign on his interlocutor’s face. The two men were now locked into a defensive state of mind, as the big fella did not expect this little digression to interfere with his aggressive planning. He looked deep into John’s eyes and said:

-Very well, then. My name is Chang mao dashi and my sister’s name is Jian dashi.

-Thank you, but in spite of the fact that I have been in China for a week only, I know that every Chinese name has a meaning. What do these two names mean? I can also sense the fact that these are probably nick names and you are still not telling me your true name.
The men in front of John cracked a large smile and stretched both hands towards John’s direction:

-I like intelligent people, John…yes, they are nick names and I hope you don’t mind if I didn’t tell you the real family name we are baring. We have our reasons to stay anonymous.

-Very well, I understand. John was happy. He managed to divert the first attacking wave away from him and now the fight was carried into a neutral territory, a land from which he could eventually win or at least draw a tie.

-Chang mao dashi means: Master of the lance while Jian dashi means: Master of the sword.

-I see…you are the lance expert while your sister is the sword master. A slight tilt of the head confirmed John’s statement and a short round of quietness encompassed the room. John realized that he cannot avoid anymore answering his host’s question…

-I am not spying on you. I was just curious. The door was opened and a strange smell came out of the apartment. A smell I cannot define, I do not recognize, but I like very much.

-So, whenever you feel a smell you like, you just enter people’s houses to figure out the origins of it, right? The irony into his voice made John uncomfortable, but he realized that he is no position whatsoever to be coy, so he hit back:

-No, usually I am not busting into people’s houses, but this smell is so enticing that I could not resist it. By the way…what is it? Once again, the large fella found himself drawn into a diversion. This time he was in no mood to answer:

-Why are you spying on me? John realized that he cannot avoid any longer answering the question, but in the same time, those years of training and playing sports told him that he cannot let the slight advantage he gained (through diversion tactics) slip away. It was an advantage he had to maintain and eventually build upon. He replied with a firm and assuring voice:

-Why are you stealing from Glenworth? Chang mao dashi’s eyes became as slim as two razor blades. A long pause followed John’s question…the tension between the two men reached a level which made John feel like it is time to make it or break it. “Now is the moment of truth! He will probably hit back or he will just deny that he is draining funds from us”. To his surprise, his interlocutor’s answer was neither offensive nor apologetic.

-I have to make a living somehow, that’s why we are doing what we are doing. You can call it stealing – this is your problem. We call it: restitution. When the communists took over this country, my forefathers were stripped from all their possessions and many members of our family ended up in prison or labor camps. What you see on these walls are things which we managed to hide from the communists and have been passed on from generation to generation. That ceremonial sword (which you liked the most) is five hundred years old and the other two (the war swords) are at least as old. Now they are in my custody and it is my duty to take care of them and pass them along to the next generation.

-Do I have to understand that you have a son, or a daughter? Once again, a deep silence fell between the two men. Once again, John took the discussion away from the hot subject: his intrusion into Chang mao dashi’s apartment.

-What do you want, John? I believe that you have a proposal for me, if I am not mistaken. John startled again…”This guy can read minds. This is unbelievable!”. He looked at his host and with a firm and balanced voice said:

-I do have a proposal for you, Master of the spear…I need to know what would it take for you to stop draining funds from Glenworth? This question caught the big fella by surprise as he lifted his right eyebrow in a sign of wonder and amazement.

-Hmm…you have a sharp mind, John. I have to admit that I didn’t expect this question from you. This is an interesting proposal…unfortunately I cannot give you an answer right now.

-I didn’t expect an answer on the spot. I understand that you need to think it through. However, can we have an armistice until you come up with your answer?

-And what would that armistice be about?

-You stop draining funds from Glenworth.

-And what would you give in return?

-I will stop investigating.

At this point, Chang mao dashi burst into a big laughter. His massive upper body was shaking like a pine tree into high winds and his eyes were almost closed from the fun he was having. He looked at John and added:

-I like you, John. You know how to play your cards even when you are bluffing, even when you have nothing to offer. I know that you are investigating this “case” – so to speak. I know that you have people following me. However, your efforts are not producing results so far. Why would I give up a real, concrete advantage I have over you? I have a bird in my hand and I can offer it to you. Your bird sits on the fence ten feet away from you…you are actually telling me: “I give you that bird in return, can you see it?”. You have to do better than this.

-Master of the Spear…if this is what you believe, I can say no more. But you could be wrong…terribly wrong. I am much closer than you think in getting to the bottom of this thing. It just looks like the bird sits on the fence ten feet away from me. Actually that fence is inside my house, with no possibility for the bird to fly away. I am actually trying to tell you that it’s just a matter of time before the bird will be in my possession. I let you judge, meditate and then give me the answer.

John was obviously bluffing, but he managed to keep a straight face while the tonality of his voice was conveying the self-confidence of a trained poker player. He closely followed the expressions of his host’s face. Chang mao dashi did not reveal much, but John could actually see that he planted a bug into his mind. He was obviously thinking and weighing his options.

-OK. You have a deal. You will have my answer in seven days from now. John couldn’t believe his ears! The bluff worked out! He has a week to figure out how to dismantle the tick software planted in the office by Li Jie.

-Very well, then. So, during this one week period, no more funds will be withdrawn from Glenworth and I will stop following you.

-We have a deal, John. Now let’s finish our tea…it is getting cold. Out of nowhere, his sister showed up with hot tea and re-filled their cups. This sudden appearance made John understand that she listened to the whole conversation. When Jian dashi kneeled in front of him and filled up his cup, he couldn’t stop deeply inhale the fragrance which was driving him crazy; quickly, she realized that she made an impression on him and lifted her head. The two gorgeous black eyes were now looking straight into John’s. The feeling that he was helpless in front of her, the feeling that he is losing the upper hand he thought he had in this latest endeavor, made John swallow in anger. However, it felt like a huge knot got stuck into his esophagus and gasped for air. Jian dashi smiled, tilted from the waist again and left for the kitchen. Chang mao dashi smiled as well. He lifted the cup with both hands to the eye level, bowed and took a sip. John followed the procedure. For the next few minutes, a total silence laid again into the room. John was weighing his options…at least he got what he wanted: an armistice. However, he realized that the war is far away from being won. This was just a small battle in which he managed to come on top. Soon, he finished the tea, placed the cup back onto the small tea table and tilted his head towards his host signaling that he would like to retire. The large fella bowed back and both men headed for the door.

-I thank you for the tea and for a great conversation, Chang mao dashi.

-Pleasure was all mine, John.

Before stepping into hallway, John turned around and asked:

-How would I know when you have the answer for me?

-Don’t worry John…I know how to find you. We are neighbors after all, remember?

-Right…I almost forgot! Both men laughed and John finally headed for his apartment. Once inside, he leaned against the door and slowly reached the floor in a sitting position. He grabbed his head between his palms, rested the elbows against his knees and started digesting whatever happened across the hall. The encounter with the large fella and his beautiful sister, the amount of information he got, the direct and indirect threats directed at him, took a tall on his energy level. Especially the last statement: “Don’t worry, I know how to find you” made John understand that his efforts of spying on his neighbor are almost futile, made him understand that the Spear Master had a great network of people working for him and the logistics behind his operations is tremendously efficient and elusive. That being said, he stood up, stopped by the bar, poured a glass of red wine and headed to the window. The image of the great river all lit up, made him calm down. The wine was now flowing through his veins and slowly was bringing that piece of mind he needed after such an eventful evening. “Well, tomorrow we will visit the Gardens. At a certain point, I will have to tell this story to Vic and Zhaohui”. He finished the wine, put the empty glass on the office desk and headed for the bedroom.