Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 9-10 (A night at the Theaters – Sweet home/Weekend in the suburbs – a Saturday to remember)

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 9

A night at the Theaters – Sweet home

 John got in, adjusted his rear view mirror and started his muscle car. The engine roared again, the fuel gauge went all the way up to full level, the check lights onto the dash board turned on announcing him that the brain of the beast is systematically doing what it is supposed to be doing. When all the check lights went off, John shifted into the second gear and left the gas station in the sound of squealing tires while waving with his left hand to Andrew.

Andrew smiled then waived back and said to himself: “in a hundred yards, he is going to do 20 over the speed limit. He, he, he…Johnny boy, be careful! I can’t bail you out indefinitely!”

John’s only thought was to get back home as soon as possible. Speed limit posted on the side of the freeway was none of his concerns anymore. One by one, the exits started being familiar and a feel of comfort embraced him making his reflexes and the whole body relax from all the tension accumulated during this so unusual night.

Soon he pulled into his driveway and didn’t even bother taking the car into the garage. Got out of it and walked straight to the front door. Linda opened the door as soon as she saw the head lights lighting up the drive way. She had been anxiously waiting for John to arrive and she was so eager to find out what happened!

She tightened up the robe around her waist as the night got really crisp. The look on her face was saying everything: everything she had been through since she got home, all the attempts she made in trying to reach John, the phone call she made to 911, the conversations she had with the Operators, the time she went through waiting for an answer…all those horrific scenarios she had in mind while waiting to hear back from either Police or John himself.

When the phone call from the Police came, her heart stopped for few seconds. She couldn’t breathe anymore. Her heart was pumping blood at a level that was making her chest going up and down and the lungs grasping for air. The good news made her drop on the couch while trying to thank for the call to the dispatcher. She hung up and dropped the head into her cupped hands resting the elbows on the knees. Soon Linda started crying softly, from all her heart. This day was ending as badly as it started in spite of all the fun she had at the Theaters.

– Where you’ve been? I was worried sick about you! What happened? Please tell me that everything is all right. They told me that you ran out of gas…she was asking all these questions hugging him while trying to pull John inside the house.

Once he got in, Linda realized that John’s clothes were all ripped and his face was full of clotted blood. A shout of fear and anxiousness came out of her chest making John understand what she’d been through.

– It’s OK honey. It’s OK!

– What do you mean: “it’s OK”? Your clothes are all ripped, you are full of blood, and your face is all covered in dust and blood. What happened, John?

– Long story. Long story.

– Then you better start telling me the story for Goodness sake!

– Can I just take a shower and slip into something more comfortable?

– I’m sorry. I just wanted to find out as soon as possible what happened. I will help you out. Get into the Bathroom. I have to clean up your face first of all.

John took his coat off. The elbow area was ripped off through the shirt all the way to the skin. The pants at the knee had the same fate. In one word, his nice Office attire was a ruin. He took then the shoes off which were all scuffed from the ground fight he had with the tow truck driver. The pants came off and he was left in his boxers and socks. Threw the socks off and headed upstairs for the bathroom. His elbows and knees were all scratched from the incident.

– Get into the bathtub. I’ll make a tea for you.

John didn’t hear her. His mind was wandering from event to event, from scene to scene, from morning rush hour and Leo event to the fight with the truck driver. But most of all, the image of the hart – staring at him with those two huge red eyes – just couldn’t come off his mind!

He filled the bathtub with hot water and got in. A sharp pain felt at all the wounded areas made him realize that maybe the water was a little too hot. But overall, the warmth he was filling was so comfortable, so relaxing, so “welcome home” that he preferred to take the pain without any hesitation.

– Let’s see what the damage is, said Linda entering the bathroom with a cup of tea in her hand. She grabbed a soft hand towel and dipped it into the water, then gently started wiping John’s face. A fairly deep cut starting from the base of his nose towards the left cheek bone was all clogged with blood, while traces of blood mixed with dust made his face look like the face of a coal miner just finishing his shift.

Linda put the towel away and from the cabinet built into the wall pulled a small first aid wooden box. Grabbed a readily available sterilized kit and with a soft and caring voice made John mellow down and subdue completely:

– Now I have to clean the cut, it will hurt.

– I’ve gone through worse, said John with a large smile.

With very precise and skillful motions, Linda removed the crust of blood formed on the top of the cut, then with another kit started cleaning the wound.

John closed his eyes and while gritting his teeth from pain asked himself again: “why did all of these happen today?”

– Done, said Linda. Let me slap a band aid on top of the cut. Keep it on while you are taking your bath. If it falls, put on another one after you are ready taking your bath. I’ll go downstairs and prepare something…a quick bite. Hungry?

– Thanks honey. Yes, please make a grilled sandwich.

– OK. Let me throw same bath salts in. It will help you relax.

While Linda was heading downstairs, John deepen even more into the hot water, leaving just his head above and trying to enjoy every single bit of the pleasure the combination between the hot water and the scented bath salts were giving him.

After a good half an hour of soaking, he decided to get out. He was hungry! Got out of the bath tub, wiped the water with a nice soft cotton towel, replaced the band aid, put the bath robe on and opened up the door to head downstairs. Before getting out of the bathroom, took a look into the mirror: his left eye was swelling up.

“This is great! How am I going to show up at the Office like this? Bastard! You filthy coward! You sucker punched me, you son of the bitch!”

He slowly walked down stairs. Before heading for the kitchen, John stopped in the Living room by the place where he kept his fine drinks. Set his eyes on a nice bottle of Cognac that has been opened. Grabbed a glass, poured the fine liquid in and while performing circular motions with the glass, took deep sniffs of the select drink trying to absorb every single bit of the cognac’s wonderful aroma. Finally took a sip. It felt like a drop of heavenly made liquid. Then took one more and another one until the glass went empty. It felt so good, so relaxing, so comforting!

The smell of toast and grilled chicken that was coming from the kitchen sharpened up his senses and the nostrils were already dilated by the effort to catch every bit of the enticing aromas produced by the dinner which Linda was preparing. He put the glass down and hurried for the kitchen. As he expected, she was preparing an already marinated chicken breast he saw in the morning in the fridge. The meat was cut in thinner slices and the grill just did the rest of the job.

John grabbed a jar of pickles from the fridge and a pack of sliced cheese, pulled a chair and made a sandwich for himself with the freshly toasted bread. Took a bite and closed his eyes. “This is Heaven!”

Linda pulled a chair by the dinner table too. She was looking straight into his eyes, waiting for John to finish his sandwich and eventually start telling the story of that strange night.

– You don’t eat?

Linda silently shook her head side wise signaling that she was not hungry. John was half way done with the sandwich. Stood up, opened the fridge and grabbed a beer. Poured it into a glass, took a sip then put the glass on the table in front of him while cupping it with his both hands.

– Where do you want me to start?

– I suggest you start with the beginning, said Linda in an attempt to crack a little joke. However, the tonality of her voice betrayed a deep sense of worry, of uneasiness and why not, a typical feminine curiosity.

– Well…after we split up at the Theater, I got on the freeway. The events of the morning at the Office made me miss the exit…made me miss exit after exit, actually. I found myself way up North in an area I have never been before – or at least I couldn’t remember being there. On top of this, I was running out of gas. I got out at an exit hoping that I could find a gas station. I drove few miles assuming that I could run into one of those small country gas stations. It was a mistake. I turned around and headed back when…John stopped for a moment. The image of the majestic hart (which defied him by simply crossing the road without even rushing to get to the other side of the road) and the image of those hallucinating big, red, frightening eyes looking straight into his eyes came back and made him pause the story. He wiped out an imaginary sweat that was dripping off of his forehead and looked at Linda. His eyes were showing fear, freight, hesitation which couldn’t have gone unnoticed by Linda.

– God, John! What happened? Now you are really scarring me! Please talk to me! Her hands took John’s left hand and started rubbing it in an effort to get him focused to her request.

John looked at her, but his sight was protruding through her aiming at nowhere. His beautiful blue eyes were looking at her, however she understood that his mind was somewhere else.

Linda stood up, took a kitchen towel, deepened it into cold water and with a swift motion grabbed John from the back and covered his eyes. The effect of the cold water was immediate.

– What are you doing?

– I am trying to bring you to the real world, this is what I am doing!

– Where was I?

– You were heading back to the freeway after you realized that there is no chance of finding a gas station…

– Oh, ok…John took another brake. Linda was looking straight into his eyes.

– John, please! Let it go!

– His eyes petrified me! So bold, so impressive, so intense! I sweated bullets, swear to God!

– Whose eyes, for Goodness sake? Talk to me, John!

– I was about to hit a huge hart on my way back. I stepped on the brakes as hard as I could. He wouldn’t even move! I stopped probably five feet away from him. He was so big! And he was looking straight into my eyes. Is this a sign?

– What sign? John, you are delusional! You have to go to bed! You have to go to bed, now!

– I didn’t tell you the rest of the story…

– John, you are already scarring me. I am not sure I want to hear the rest of the story.

– Yes you do. Just listen…John’s face lighten up. It took him few minutes to narrate the tow truck story when he got punched into the face, the unexpected help he got from an old rival (Andrew) and the fight into the gas station.

Linda was covering her mouth with her palms continuously shaking her head. Initially she sympathized with him when he was punched by the aggressive trucker, then her eyes sparkled when she heard the story of John meeting Andrew. However, at the end, the bottom lip dropped in a sign of disappointment hearing the gas station story.

– So, you just figured out that you have to take revenge and punish the guy!

– Hey, he punched me into the face! I didn’t want to get into a fight!

– Regardless! You are a professional, you are a different caliber man. You just don’t go fight people left and right! Look at your face! How are you going to show up in the Office on Monday morning? What are you, a street fighter?

John realized that there is no point in arguing with her. So, he took his beer and headed for the living room. “It’s no point in fighting them, but it feels so good in breaking their arms. Ha, ha, ha”

This last comment he made for himself made him relax and eventually lay on the couch grabbing the remote control and trying to catch a Sports Channel.

– This is it? I was worried sick about you and you just take off and pretend that nothing happened while flipping for one of your Sports Channels?

– What do you want me to tell you, Linda? I got punched into the face, I reacted, and you tell me that I shouldn’t have acted like this. Now what?

– It’s not about this incident, John. It’s about the fact that this is not you! I did not expect something like this to come out of you. You are a balanced, calculated man. What you did it’s the work of a teenager looking for revenge because his buddy stole his girlfriend – to say the least! What made you change so severely in the last few hours? When I left you at the Theaters you looked like a normal man. All of a sudden, you turn into this street fighter and you come back home all bloodied and with your cloths all ripped off! What happened to John I know?

– You are over reacting…nothing happened to old John.

– Are you sure? Linda’s voice picked up an interrogative and questioning tonality, a timbre she mastered during so many years of teaching.

John looked at her and murmured with a low voice:

-His eyes were so big and red and he was looking straight into mine…

A cold sweat went down along Linda’s spine. She grabbed John’s hand and forced him to stand up.

-You are going to bed, you are going to bed right now!”

When they reached the bedroom, John took off his bathrobe and slipped under the thick quilt. Linda straightened up his pillow into a comfortable position – the way she knew John would like it.

– I need you to take a sleeping pill. I will bring it to you. She headed for the bathroom. Thirty seconds later, Linda showed up with a pill in her hand and a glass of water. John patiently bent from the waist, swallowed the pill and dropped his head back on the pillow. Linda turned off the light and graciously slipped out of the room taking the stairs towards the living room. She started flipping the channels until she found a movie she had seen before. Didn’t really have much patience at that moment to look at a new movie, didn’t really have the desire to even try to find something that would require a high intellectual activity. She was worried on what was going on with her husband. “Commercials! Let me go check on him.” She took the stairs back up to the bedroom and opened up the door carefully. John was deeply sleeping. She took her pillow, closed the door and headed for the living room couch. A thick blanket was always present on the couch, so she slipped under it with the remote in her hand while a big sigh of relief came out of her chest: “Tomorrow morning he’s going to be alright”.

Positioned her head comfortably on the pillow and started watching the movie. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. Hmm! Let’s see if I can judge it with the same pair of eyes.”

Slowly, the events of the day caught up with her and she fell asleep dreaming at the deer herd she saw in the morning. All of them were in the motion, running, with their ears pointing up and she was running with them, bare foot, into a circle of madness joy, into a circle of sisterhood like gathering, into a circle of unknown, mystic initiation.

Chapter 10

Weekend in the suburbs – a Saturday to remember

 When the first rays of the sun flooded her face, Linda turned around in a sign that she did not want to be bothered on a Saturday morning even if it was already late in the morning. She wanted to sleep as much as she wanted, so she pulled the blanket all the way above her head in an attempt to block any light intrusion from reaching her eyes. There was no way she even remotely considered getting out of the bed to close the shades or at least pull the curtains.

A sigh of relief and complacency came out of her chest. However, she couldn’t fall asleep again. The events of the previous day and especially the night, the worries regarding John’s well being made her get up, put the sleepers on and headed upstairs to the Master Bedroom.

John was still sleeping. The eye was not that bad – she expected a more sever swelling – but the upper portion of the chick almost became one piece with the arcade on the side. At the sight of her husband, a barely perceptible shout of concern came out of Linda’s chest. She covered her mouth with the back of her hand in a sign that she does not want to disturb John’s sleep with any sort of noises anymore.

Slowly closed the door and took the stairs down to the Living room.

“I think I am going to make a coffee” and Linda walked to the kitchen already inhaling an imaginary exceptional taste of the coffee she was about to grind. Usually she was having a tea in the morning, but this time she had a naughty idea: “I am going to steal some beans from John’s stack and make myself a nice coffee”. She never tried that fantastic blend which was supposed to tickle your senses and make your imagination wander through the unexplored places of those mountain sites where the exquisite coffee beans were harvested from.

She giggled like a teenager who found a way to hide from his parents the fact that after they were gone for the weekend, he would throw a big party for his friends.

She pulled the coffee bag from the cabinet, grabbed the grinder, filled it up and pushed the button. The kitchen filled up right away with aromas one would say were: “forest scents into a coffee grinder’. The smell of those crushed beans was exquisite. Both the Living room and the kitchen were now the prisoners of an aroma which immediately brought back memories: their honey moon in the Islands, their morning wake up on these scents (in spite of the fact that they still wanted to sleep) – as the whole street was invaded by irresistible flavors none could resist. “Why did I quit drinking coffee?” She just raised her shoulders in a sign of “who cares?” and took the coffee maker out of the cabinets. All of a sudden she remembered that during weekends, John was making his coffee into a Turkish coffee pot. “Aha! It must be a trick with this way of making your coffee!” All these years, she never questioned him, why he is making his coffee this way. Now, her natural feminine curiosity kicked in. She always thought that the morning liquid which gives you a kick and keeps you going for the rest of the day, is brewed into the coffee maker.

Linda tightened the robe around her waist and started digging through the kitchen ware down into the cabinets. She couldn’t find anything. She remembered that John was always keeping a small flash light at the entrance. Walked to the front door, grabbed it and started looking for the magic pot.

“Bingo” said Linda shortly after spotting an unusual object she couldn’t remember buying herself.

She pulled it out and when it was brought to the light, the object stunned her! “I saw this pot before…how come is so different now?” Actually she pulled out of the cabinets (without knowing) a masterpiece of the hand making coffee pots. The object was stunning: the handmade hammered copper coffee pot was presenting itself into such a bright and favorable light and color that made Linda completely freeze, holding the object tight without being able to say a word. The hammer hits of the master pot maker could be seen on every single spot of the pot. They looked like fish scales, all being the same size, all being displayed in uniform layers giving the impression that they interlock each other and thus creating the illusion of a knight’s armor.  The bright polished red colors of the recipient, the “silver like” inside, the sharpness of the shades thrown back by the mirror polished surface of the skin, made her whisper: “It is magic; how do they call it? Oh my God! I used to know it! I knew it! I had every morning coffee made out of this thing called…what do they call it in that city we bought it from”?

More memories invaded her memory…an imaginary sight of them travelling to: Turkey, Armenia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.

It was a trip her father, Reverend Wilson, asked her to take on his behalf. She clearly remembered her father saying: “Linda, please go and say a prayer at the Church of Trinity in Bethlehem and make a donation on our behalf. While there, you will have a chance to learn a bit about the world of Levant. You read a lot, but you can very well compliment your studies with travelling. That is the area where civilization started and Judea was the place where our Lord was born, where he lived and where he died for us”

A tear dropped down her cheek. “Great! Now I am getting emotional over a pot!”

It was actually not “over a pot”. It was over so many memories of her youth and early adult life spent together with John, it was over so many happy times she spent with her father in the Parish caring for poor and needy, helping abandoned kids, trying to guide her life based on the Christian morals and teachings, trying to understand the teachings of the Apostles and absorb the wisdom of the Bible.  Involuntarily she started rubbing the coffee pot between her palms when she felt something her fingers could barely perceive. “What is this?”

She looked closer and she realized that there were some very small markings on the pot…her curiosity kicked in again and looked closer; those were some inscriptions into the thick layer of copper made by the master who produced the pot. Now she completely forgot about making coffee! She brought the flash light and looked at those markings: it was clearly a writing she could not understand. Linda grabbed her temples between her palms and tried to recall how that writing ended up on their pot. She simply couldn’t remember. “John must know for sure. He knows everything”.

She turned the TV on and set it to the weather Channel.

“Great! It will be sunny but cold. I will take that anytime! We will take a walk through the Heritage Park and then through the wild life Fox Park and it will be such a nice Saturday!”

She filled the pot three quarters of the way with water and was ready to get things going by dumping the ground coffee into the pot, when a firm hand grabbed her right wrist and whispered into her ear: “you are not supposed to use an electric grinder if you want to make a real coffee!”

This was a complete surprise. Linda elevated her hands letting John grab her hips and squish her breasts in an insatiable lust of love making…

-Hey, are you ok? How is your wound?

-You really want to ruin this, huh?

-Did you see yourself in the mirror?

-Why? I’m a good looking guy! And John’s chest started vibrating from his typical natural, healthy, undisguised laughter.

-Well, think again. Go take a look into a mirror. How come you woke up?

-Coffee thing…

-I didn’t even make it…

-Yes, but you took the beans out of the bag and ground them! Can’t resist that!

-Right! Now do me a favor, please: go to the bathroom and take a look at your face. Linda’s voice was no longer vibrant and clear and articulate. John realized that something was not right and immediately headed for the downstairs bathroom. Flipped the switch and a cry of anger filled his lungs.

-I can’t believe that bastard hit me this hard, yelled John from the bottom of his lungs!

-This is your concern now, asked Linda while looking at John, into the same mirror? She followed him into the bathroom after hearing John’s scream of disgust. You have to take it easy now and get some rest; eventually put some ice on that eye. We have the weekend in front of us and if we do the right thing, by Monday morning the swelling could substantially retire.

-Man, if I run into that bastard again I am going to break his neck!

-Yeah, sure! Now let’s try to get an ice patch over the eye. Linda returned to the kitchen and opened up the freezer. A gel pack was always there. She took it out and with short and precise motions tightened the Velcro strap behind John’s head in a way that would cover the swelled portion of the face.

Linda looked at her husband and in spite of the fact that she wanted to keep a straight face, burst into a huge, healthy laugh that was making her whole chest tremble of happiness.

-Great! Now I’m your Mickey Mouse, your Goofy, your: “laughing at” thing, your: “look at yourself Mister”…

-No, you are not! How did you get all of these crazy ideas?

-Your laughter said it all!

-Are you listening to yourself? I laughed because you do look weird with that eye patch over your eye…that’s all!

John returned to the bathroom and flipped the switch again. The sight of him with the gel pack covering his eye made him burst into laughter. Turned the switch off and returned to the kitchen.

-I do look like a pirate! I have to admit…

Linda simply burst again into a big laughter that was now free of any sort of inhibitions, free of any sort of fear that she would hurt John by simply laughing at his situation.

Her robe cordon came lose, her chest was trembling of emotions, her bare feet were inviting the sight of the curious eye to scroll up and guess the wonderful forms of a body some of the teenagers were dying to have. The breasts came free from the soft touch of the silk robe and her Goddess like type of body was almost fully exposed.

John’s senses were all stretched at the limits and with a short and calculated move, dropped his robe, grabbed his wife by the hips and pinned her into the wall of the kitchen that was still free of kitchen furniture. Linda’s legs locked around John’s hips and her back was now against the empty wall of their kitchen.

He started kissing her neck, her shoulders, her breasts, her nipples…Linda tried to resist, but finally gave in and eventually kissed John back. It was a moment of lustiness, a moment of: “I want you” from both sides.

Slowly, John pursued the opportunity and the next twenty minute frame was probably the wildest love making scene they have ever done together. The panting, the screaming, the continuous search for a better penetrating position made John bring Linda’s legs up his trunk into a locking position so the pleasure would be mutual. Everything was now coming down to John’s stamina, to his ability to sustain a repetitive penetrating motion in a demanding position, as Linda completely gave into submission.

It had gotten so wild and loud into the kitchen that John felt like maintaining a high level of male dominance during the act was crucial, was part of showing himself first of all that he’s still got it. Under the effort, his whole muscle system was stretched to the maximum showing his well-toned arms, chest muscles and veins pumped up at a level that would make any man at any age be jealous.

His mind was completely absorbed by the sexual activity, by the immense satisfaction of trying again something they haven’t done recently.

Linda’s arms were tightly locked around his neck feeling like she would never want to let go. His lips were systematically kissing her neck then dropping to the chest and grabbing the nipples in a motion that was making Linda scream from lust and pleasure.

The high effort level sustained by John made his whole upper body look like a drenched rain forest tree trunk, thus turning both of them into two slippery entities tighten up into a long embrace only to be swiftly broken up from time to time by the countless kisses.

Linda’s hands were completely tightened around John’s neck, holding with all the power she could put into that hug. John could barely breathe…

-You gotta’ let go, whispered John into her ear…you are choking me!

Linda’s mind was not there anymore. The pleasure of the sexual encounter, the emotional connection to her husband (which made her recall the College years), the emotional roller-coaster of the last twenty-four hours made her hang tight on that grip around John’s neck.

Eventually, John dropped on his knees under the weight he was holding and under the intense effort he had been under for the last twenty minutes.

Linda found herself on the floor, with her legs still tighten up around John’s trunk, only this time with her husband all the way on top of her, panting and still whispering into her ear: “You gotta’ let go!”

It was that very moment she realized that she was choking John. Immediately Linda un-tightened her arms and John took a much needed fresh breath of air.

-Sorry. I didn’t realize I was hurting you, whispered Linda into John’s ear! Her voice was soft, smooth, carrying, loaded with the emotions of an unexpected sex act she has just gone through, with the feeling that old times were brought back, times when they were making love all over their dorms and in whatever position they felt like doing it.

Eventually, the intercourse reached its climax with both Linda and John screaming from the pleasure of long and intense orgasms.

Linda still had the silk robe on her, open in the front, while John was completely naked. John rolled over and found himself on the floor, with the hair all messed up, almost leveled to the skull, all soaked in sweat.

For a minute, they held hands while looking at the kitchen ceiling, trying to catch a breath and recover.

-It’s cold on the floor! We need to get up, said Linda kissing him on the lips.

-Yeah! It is cold, said John and with a calm and calculated motion helped his wife get on her feet. He grabbed her breasts once again and kissed her with passion, with love, with tenderness.

Linda tightened up her robe and slowly, slipped away from John’s embrace, like a serpent trying to hide into the bushes from an imminent attacker. She headed straight for the bathroom they had beside John’s Office. On her way, she turned her head back and asked with an extremely persuasive voice, a voice that had a tonality no one could resist:

-Are you going to make that famous coffee of yours when I’m back?

-That remains to be seen, said John showing his head through the opening of the kitchen that was showing into the Living room.

-I see. There is some hand writing on that coffee pot…you may want to squeeze your brains and remember what that means.

-I can tell you right now.

-No. Please surprise me while we are having it. And Linda disappeared into the Bathroom while John tightened up his robe and started making coffee.

He dumped the coffee grounded by his wife with the electric grinder, picked up the hand grinder, and started turning the solid brass handle of the hand grinder. Soon, the famous Island crushed coffee beans filled up the whole Living Room with a scent that nobody could resist without taking a deep breath, a scent of the morning dew, a scent of freshly bloomed mountain flowers, a scent of the mist from the water falls splitting the luxurious vegetation of the jungle, a scent of the rich black soil mixed up with the tropical rain drops, a scent that would drive your senses to the ultimate test of endurance.

“All right, now let’s look for the pot, said John” and immediately opened up the cabinet. He knew the place of the coffee pot with his eyes closed. To his surprise, it was not there. “Hmmm! It is strange! It’s not in its place. And what is this flash light doing on the counter?” The very next second he saw the famous pot on the counter and realized that Linda looked for the pot herself and used the flashlight to find it. A smile came up on his lips and grabbed the recipient with his both hands. The cold feeling of the copper and the feel of the scratched hand writing of the pot maker made him crack a smile. It brought back the memories of the trip they took to Turkey, Armenia and then to Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. “Those were good times…really good”, said John to himself; he filled up almost three quarters of the pot with water, and turned on the stove. He carefully measured two spoonful of coffee and dumped them into the pot; then added another half and constantly stirring waited for the water to boil. All those wonderful scents came up again and when the water level started rising, he turned the heat down, took the pot on the side and let it set. Once set, he put another half a spoon of coffee in, turned the heat back up and stirred again into the pot to keep the coffee from spilling on the stove. “It’s ready”, said John with a great satisfaction on his face. That was a sign that a well-made coffee, a coffee to die for was expecting its customers. He covered the pot with a small ceramic plate he grabbed from the cabinet. The scent of the perfectly made coffee was only coming out now through the little peak the master maker made into the pot in order to aid with pouring the liquid. Now he patiently waited for Linda to come out of the shower. Linda showed up shortly. She changed the robe (now she was wearing a fleecy one); she was bare foot and her long beautiful blonde hair was now tighten up into a knot.

-You didn’t wash your hair?

-No. I am planning to take a walk. I will wash it afterwards. God, it smells heavenly in this kitchen!

-Because I made coffee, honey!

-I know. I can’t wait to have it, said Linda rubbing her hands against each other in a way only a kid in a candy store would do it. There was so much joy on her face, so much expectation of perfection knowing that her husband could only reach perfection when making coffee.

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 7-8 (A night at the Theaters – it’s a long way to reach home/A night at the Theaters – Andrew O’Leary)

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 7

A night at the Theaters – It’s a long way to reach home

 John made first the right turn at the traffic light and headed for the ramp to the freeway. He slowed down and pulled over while looking into the rear view mirror; just wanted to make sure that Linda is behind him. While waiting, his right foot tried the acceleration pedal few times, making his car’s engine pick up the lion’s roar in a Serengeti summer morning.

“OK. She is making the right turn. Let’s go!” and he switched the gears heading for the freeway. “What am I going to say? I have no idea what the damn movie was about…so, it was this woman who supposedly was the killer. Was there a murder? I have not seen anything: shooting, stabbing, etc. How did she kill, though? What if she is not the murderer? Linda is going to catch me in no time. What if she was just the mentor, the mind behind the scene?” His mind was wandering without any sort of horizon trying to come up with an answer to a question that was already stepping on his nerves. At that late hour of the night there were not too many cars on the road so the freeway was unveiling in front of him with the opportunity to drive in a relaxed mood.

Soon, the movie story faded out and the unusual day he had been through came alive again this time bringing up just bits and pieces of the morning meeting, the lunch, the private meeting he had with J.J., the commitment he made to go to China and do everything in his power to straighten up the Operations there. Being lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realize he missed the exit. “Damn! I should’ve exit the freeway ten minutes ago!” He instantly looked at the gas gauge indicator. “Great, now this is exactly what I was missing!” He was on red. For some reason he had not seen the red warning light being on, so he didn’t want to take any chance by pushing the envelope. He decided to refuel first. The first exit was another mile away so he pulled into the right lane getting ready to hit the ramp. This was an unknown area to him. After taking the ramp, he stopped at the first street running across and looked left and right trying to see if there was a gas station nearby. It was completely dark, no street light whatsoever being present in the intersection. “OK. Do I make a left or a right? If I make a left, at least I cross the freeway…more chances to find a gas station, I guess”. He made the left turn and headed into the dark on a road that was completely unknown to him. His all senses were hyped up and a maximum level of general alert settled within his brain. It didn’t take him too long to realize that the road was taking him into the country area. “No chance to find close by a place to fill up! Gotta’ turn around!” He pulled over, made a three point turn and headed back. Now he was really worried. “What if I run out of gas here, in the middle of nowhere?” The head lights were hitting the pine trees on the side of the road making their silhouettes dance like the smoke coming out of lit up candles in a drafty room. Subconsciously, he stepped on the gas pedal trying to get faster to the freeway at least. Every minute that was passing by was as long as eternity. He panicked! Didn’t actually remember how long he drove the opposite way from the freeway overpass. “I think it was a bold spot on the right side of the road…” He started scrutinizing that particular side of the road when all of a sudden he stepped on the brakes as hard as he could. The tires squealed from all their guts (while he was still changing gears leaving two deep burnt rubber marks on the asphalt) until his mighty Sports car came to a halt.

A cold sweat flooded his spine. The veins of his temples were pulsing at the same rate as his heart, feeling like they were ready to explode. The creature in front of his car was looking straight at him. The headlights were amplifying the shadows of the pine trees transforming them into grotesque elongated forms which in combination with the immense, red, goggled eyes of the creature made John scream. He screamed of fear, he screamed of emotion, he screamed of something he has never experienced before. A creature standing in the front of his car in the middle of the night on a country road while he was running out of gasoline! He felt his shirt soaked wet.

Out of nowhere, he had the presence of mind (or just a reflex to make the background go darker) to turn the high beam down. The tree silhouettes disappeared and he was just left with the creature that made him go through one of the scariest experiences of his life. He realized that in front of his car was standing a magnificent hart who was still ruminating on an earlier meal. They were looking at each other like two strangers who just happened to bump into each other on an empty street. John was still terrified by this experience; the hart was just minding his business trying to finish up his meal, while probably wondering: “what the hell is this guy doing here, in the middle of nowhere at this time of the night?”

John took a long sigh of relief, laying back into his seat and trying to wipe out this new experience by unbuckling, relaxing into the seat and looking at the sky through the opened up side window. The sky was clear, was full of stars…”wait a moment: I haven’t seen so many stars since we went camping with the kids in Wyoming”. Memories came back and John now remembered the times when they used to go camping every summer somewhere in the Northern side of US. But since the kids hit 11th grade, they stopped doing it. “God, I miss those days!”

He flipped the high beam on and honked the horn few times. With a final nonchalant and astounding look, the stag decided to move outside the driving area. John switched the gears and headed for the freeway. He couldn’t resist but looking into the rear view mirror towards the direction of the hart. He was following him with his sight….”Are you kidding? Why is he still staring at me? Why doesn’t he just go back into the bushes and mind his own herd?”

This last sequence of events started imprinting on John’s memory and he completely forgot that he was on the red with the gas gauge. The fear of being stuck in the middle of nowhere, the fear of unknown, the encounter with the male deer that made him sweat buckets, all of these experiences made him realize that he is so vulnerable in this moment that he panicked again and stepped on the gas pedal. The bold spot he remembered came up and he knew that he was close to the freeway exit, so he took a long sigh of relief once again.

The ramp came up and he sped up Southbound feverishly looking for a gas station. He drove for few miles but not a single sign (which would’ve given him peace of mind), showed up on the side of the freeway. He started getting worried.

The engine began sputtering. The same already known cold sweat was running again down his spine. “This is it. I am in the middle of nowhere without gas left in the tank. I don’t even know how far I am from the exit. This is great! Damn it!” He screamed the last word as loud as he could when all of a sudden, a tow truck passed him. He honked the horn and started flashing the lights.

The truck pulled over and so did John. “God, thank you! This is the end of all my troubles” said John while getting out of the car.

The truck driver approached and asked with a cautious voice:

-Hello Sir, can I help you somehow?”

-I am out of gasoline, Sir; could you please help me out?

-Certainly. Do you have a deal with us?

-Not sure, said John while keeping his right hand above his eyes, trying to block the bright flashing lights of the truck in front of him in order to identify the name of the Company.

-No, unfortunately I don’t have a deal with your Company.

-In this case it will be $50 per half a gallon.

-Sure. Not a problem, said John pulling his wallet out of his pocket. He forgot that he gave all his cash to Leo and all he had left, was roughly three dollars as a change from the twenty dollar bill Linda gave him to buy popcorn and drinks at the movies.

-Sir, it’s been a long story and I do not want to bug you with all the details. Long story short: I only have about three dollars cash on me…but I will get some money from the first ATM out of my VISA and give it to you.

-I’m afraid it’s not enough, Sir…have a good night!

John felt like the ground was running away from him. He caught the truck driver by the arm: “Sir, I will give you the money”…his gesture was taken as a threat by the truck driver. A well struck punch hit John right between the eyes and he lost his balance. While falling, he hit his head against the hood and fell on the ground. He managed to pull himself up in a seating position leaning with his back against the front of his car. This moment he truly understood the meaning of the saying: “I am seeing stars”. The tow truck hit the freeway and disappeared into the night. John realized that he was also bleeding from his left nostril. He remembered that Linda gave him her handkerchief so he started searching for it in his pockets. Nothing! “I must’ve given it back to her. Damn it! What else can go wrong?” He got up, opened up the door of the car and grabbed the overcoat. His plan was to call Linda. Reached inside of left pocket and pulled the cell phone. Went back in front of the car so he could see what he was doing, as he had the emergency lights on. Initially he thought he turned it off, but soon realized that his battery was dead. “This is another thing that could’ve gone wrong and it did, damn it!” There was so much frustration in his voice that the last swear came out of his mouth at the maximum level of decibels his lungs were capable of producing. “And I don’t have the charging wires with me. I could’ve charged it in the car. OK. Now what? Whatever the plan is, I am not leaving the car on the side of the road, that’s for sure”.  He dropped again into a sitting position, tilted his head backwards and raised his left arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding from his nostril. He remembered though that he had some tissue in his overcoat. Searched one of the pockets and pulled a pocket size pack of Kleenex. He opened it up and tried to clean up his mouth and the nose, then jammed some tissue into the nostril. “At least this business is been taken care of”. Few minutes passed by and the image of the buck he was so close of hitting, came back to his mind. The two big red eyes looking straight at him, made John shiver and he wrapped himself as well as he could into his nice warm wool overcoat. “Is there a connection between everything that’s been happening to me from beginning of the day all the way until now?” He was not a superstitious man. He learnt from his father that in life you have to work hard, with dedication and professionalism in whatever you choose to do and you will be rewarded. He did not believe in good fortune, he did not believe in that stroke of luck that could change your life in a heart bit. But after all he has gone through this day he started wondering if he should at least consider the term “bad luck”.

All of a sudden, a Police car passed by but on the opposite direction, going North. He jumped to his feet and started running waving his hands up in the air in a desperate attempt to make himself noticeable buy the Police Officer. The cop cruiser disappeared into the night as fast as it appeared raising John’s frustration even more. He went back to his car and sat on the hood trying to think on what his options were. “I will sleep into the car. That’s it. I am not leaving my car here, in the middle of nowhere”. It was getting colder and colder outside. He had to get in. The moment he was preparing to get inside of his car, two head lights out there, few miles away from him, projected two laser like fascicles on the clear night sky. His heart started racing. “This is it! It must be somebody who can help me”. He stepped into the right driving lane ready to start signaling for help. The two beams of light were getting closer and closer and John yelled of joy when he realized that it was a Police Car approaching. He started waving and making lots of noise, while standing in the middle of the right most lane of the Freeway’s Southbound. To his great satisfaction, the cruiser slowed down and stopped fifteen-twenty feet behind his car. He started walking towards the stopped vehicle when all of a sudden he heard a voice through the speaker:

-Please stop, Sir! Turn around and head back to your car!

Chapter 8

A night at the Theaters – Andrew O’Leary

 It took about ten minutes for the cop to come over…an eternity in John’s mind.

-Good evening, Sir!

-Good evening, Officer!

-What happened, Sir? Why is there blood all over your face?

John realized that he still has the tissue sticking out from his nostril. In few words he explained the Police Officer what happened.

-Do you want me to call an Ambulance? Are you OK?

-Sir, I just need half a gallon of gasoline so I can make it to the first gas station, that’s all I need.

-Are you sure you can drive?

-Absolutely! I’m perfectly fine.

-OK, Sir. I may be able to help you out with that. The cop departed and he pulled a canister full of gas from his trunk.

-Here you go Sir, I will give you half a gallon (roughly) – this will take you for sure to the next gas station. Unfortunately I do not have too much left in the canister.

I still have to see your Driver’s License, car ownership and Insurance, please.

-Thank you so much, Sir! Of course, just a moment…for some reason John was afraid to open up his wallet and look for the stuff the Officer asked. “What if I don’t have them? What if I left them home? How do I justify to the Officer the fact that I am in the middle of the road with no cash, no gas in the tank and beaten up? Impossible! I always have them with me.” Still, after all the events he went through since the beginning of the day, he was now afraid to open up the wallet. A state of uncertainty, a state of hesitation, a state of fear grabbed him by the throat, making the once mighty Quarter Back and now the well-known Manager at one of the most prestigious Financial Institutions, shiver like a leaf in the fall wind.

-Everything OK, Sir? Officer’s voice became cautious and John realized that the cop had already taken a defensive position preparing himself for whatever could’ve come from the other side.

-Yes, Sir! Sorry. John opened up his wallet with a shaky hand and the first thing he saw was the Driver’s License. A sigh of relief came out of his chest. He pulled it out and handed it over to the Officer while searching for the Insurance and ownership slips.          The Policeman was an impressive fellow: tall, big, with a huge line of shoulders and a neck so wide, that would make one think his head was sitting right on the shoulders. John couldn’t stop but admire the massiveness of this man. He was the size of a Defensive Tackle! The officer pulled a small flashlight out of his chest pocket and after few seconds of screening through the information, asked John with a quite friendly voice if his name was John Parker and if he was born in 1958.

-Yes, Sir! That’s correct. I am John Parker and I was born on March 21st 1958.

-Aha…so is it safe to assume that you are the famous Quarter Back who won the Championship game back in ’81 for the city team?

-It is very safe to assume that, Sir! A huge sigh of relief came out of his lungs. He knew right away that he could connect with the officer on a personal level, as Football became the ice breaker between them.

-It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Andrew O’Leary and I played as Defensive Tackle for the “Raging Bucks”.

-You…you…you tackled me! John realized that his voice was angry and the blood was boiling into his veins while his heart was pumping the red fluid at a rate which would’ve made a cardiologist worry.

-Yes and I am so sorry that I ended your career right there.

-You just did your job, said John with a sigh of resignation, a sigh of disbelieve that he was actually standing in front of the man who in a fraction of a second made all his dreams of becoming a professional NFL player shatter in small pieces.

-Again, I am sorry and I wish we can go back in time and do something about that last play.

-It was a good game, Andrew! You don’t mind if I call you Andrew, do you?

-Not at all John, not at all. It was a very good game. I still have sometimes bad dreams about that last throw of yours.

-I was a bit lucky. Your Tight End slipped. The field was all soaked.

– It was a very good throw, John. It was a very good throw.

-How did you make it back to town, Andrew? I see you are a cop in the city.

-After the College I tried to stay in touch with the game. I played in Europe few months (in Germany), came back, but never got drafted, never made it to the top. So, I decided to pursue a career in the Forces. I went back to school, few positions opened up in the city after I graduated and here I am. Got married here, got a house and three kids. How about you, John?

-I married my sweetheart while still in College, I got two kids – both in College now – I started working at Glenworth Financials and I am a Manager of an Investing Department over there.

-I’m glad for you, man! You did well for yourself.

-Thank you! So did you, Andrew!

-Thank you! Listen, I got to go…I hear they are paging me through the station…

-Andrew, here is my card. Give me a call sometime. Maybe we go Downtown and have a cold one, for the good old time’s sake. I will bring Big K.J. too.

-He is in town too? Can’t wait to see his face! That bastard twisted my fingers, almost broke them!

– Ha, ha, ha! That’s my K.J.! He was supposed to protect me. He was doing his job! Yeah, he is in town and he owns a car Dealership. Actually he has more than one. He did really well for himself.

-Good deal! Good to see you again, John!

-Good to see you too, Andrew! Take care.

-You too.

They shook hands: firmly, manly, like two warriors who fought each other and both made it alive through the battle and now understand that peace and friendship is the only way to move forward.

Andrew turned around and headed back to his car, started the cruiser and while passing John’s car made the “Salute” sign, then disappeared into the dark.

John found himself alone once again in the middle of the freeway. He cautiously walked back to the car and turned on the ignition; the mighty engine started humming. It was a good welcome back, a welcome back said by a starved pure blood stallion who had once again the chance to race.

John turned the light on and looked into the mirror: his left eye started swelling. “This is great!” yelled John as hard as he could! He switched into the second gear and stepped on the gas pedal. The tires squealed again leaving two rubber burnt marks on the asphalt while the front end of the car “danced” for a couple of seconds before taking the freeway by the storm.

This last turn of events made him wonder if there is a connection between the encounter with the buck on that deserted road and the fact that he got to meet the guy who ended his career and actually helped him out. Everything was becoming so confusing, so complicated so different from what he was used to be dealing with. The highway and the trees on the side were zooming by his side while he was still trying to keep track of all the events that overwhelmed him since the beginning of the day. Out of all, the two goggled red eyes of the buck made most of the impression on him.

The Exits passed one by one and John didn’t realize that he was getting exactly into the same trouble, into the same situation he just managed to get out of. Slowly but surely, the needle was dropping again dangerously close to the red mark. He was just too absorbed by his thoughts to pay attention to the gauge. The morning events were left behind into his mind while the latest ones – since he left Linda into the Theater’s parking lot – kept coming back and haunt him. “Why did I have to miss the Exit? Why did I have to get out at that particular Exit? Why did I have to almost run over that buck? Why a buck? Why did I have to get punched into the face? How come the man who helped me out is the guy who ended up my career…playing for the Bucks? Why, why, why?”

So many questions were popping up into his head, so many questions he couldn’t find answers to! This was making him nervous, was making him squeeze the steering wheel between his hands as hard as he could and step on the acceleration pedal at a level that made his car look like a phantom gliding alongside of the freeway except for the fact that the noise gave it away as being a muscle car. It was making him wanting to get home as soon as possible and have this day finished for good.

Yellow light came up flashing again warning him that soon he is going to run out of gas. “This is great, damn it!” A shout of frustration came out of his strong lungs, a shout made by a man who was about to repeat the same huge mistake twice in a span of less than two hours, a shout of fear that he was going to go again through the ordeal he had so luckily walked out of it.

The whole strategy changed in a split of a second. He became alert, his mind started working finding a solution to the situation, yet the only solution would’ve been an Exit and a gas station.

All of a sudden, he saw an Exit sign. His heart started pumping blood at a faster rate than usual, his temple veins were swelling and his brain was telling him: “don’t take any chances”. He was not very far away from his Exit to head home, but now, after all what happened during this night, he decided to pull over and fill up. It only took another few minutes until he took the Exit ramp of the freeway, while finally made it into a gas station. John came out of the car and got ready to start pumping gas when he saw an image that he least expected to see: the tow truck that stopped by on the freeway and implicitly the driver who refused to help him out! Eighty percent of his blood came up to his head making his temple veins pulsing like bagpipes played by the best Scotts ever to play this instrument. “This is the guy who punched me into the face!” His fighting back instinct kicked in. “I’m not letting this thing go away this easily!”

He was not even pumping gas, he was scrutinizing and he was waiting for the right time to make his move.  “He thinks he can get away with that so easily! Think twice, tow boy!”

John realized that his man was inside of the gas station paying for his gas bill. He walked straight to the door with a clear plan to confront the man who punched him into the nose. After all, he was still wearing the tissue that was sticking out of his left nostril.

Cautiously he walked into the store trying to catch every single move the man could make. Everything seemed completely dead inside of the store. Nobody you could talk to, nobody you could see at the least! “This is creepy; what the hell is going on here?”

– Hey! Anybody home? For some reason, he felt like the echo captured by his alerted ears was part of the whole scenario that was playing a role on him since he left the Theaters. Chills started getting down his spine once again.

-Yes, can I help you? This was the tender, who for some reason was doing some work under the counter and John couldn’t see.

John was really in a pickle now. He wanted to meet the man who punched him, but he also wanted to buy some gas. Yet…he couldn’t see the tow truck guy!

– Can I have twenty dollar worth of gas on pump number one please? Can I pay by credit card?

– Certainly Sir! The tender swiped John’s card and asked John to put in his password. He took his card, walked out of the gas station, pumped the gas into his car and waited for his “enemy” to show up. John was more than ever determined to confront him.

The tow truck driver finally showed up and before reaching his truck, John opened up the door of his car and stood right there, in front of the man who punched him into the face.

– How you doin’ buddy? Why did you punch me?

The surprise was total, was unforeseen, completely out of the blue! However, the driver regrouped very fast making two fists while getting into a defensive position and simultaneously replying ironically:

– What’s up pretty boy? Ready for another beating?

Most of John’s blood rushed straight to the head. His vision was blurred already from the situation, from the guy’s comment and most of all from the fact that he had now the chance to get his revenge.

The tow truck driver and John were standing waiting for each other to make a move. Both of them made some fists and were in a stand by position.

All of a sudden, John’s many years of football kicked in and he managed (with a quick and complete surprising motion) to tackle the man standing in front of him. They both went to the ground.

John grabbed the man’s arm in a locking position. K.J. taught him many dirty tricks on how to quickly twist fingers, lock arms in painful positions and bring your opponent to his knees.

The man he was fighting did exactly what he was expecting: went down and while John kept twisting his arm, he was screaming from pain. Soon he realized that the truck driver was hitting the ground repeatedly with the other hand in a sign of submission. John slowly released the pressure of his dead lock allowing the man to breathe less heavily, to breathe normally in a sign that the pain was slowly going away.

John didn’t want to fully release the grip so for few moments they both just laid down on the ground like two predators fighting each other for a better chunk of the pray but for the moment they just didn’t want to make the decisive move, they didn’t want to get hurt, they just wanted to preserve the energy for the final battle.

John left his head leaning backwards and saw the gas station cashier on the phone. “He’s calling the cops, damn it! He is calling the cops!” In this very moment he realized that he made a mistake getting into this scuffle, actually provoking this little fight. “Another judgment error! What the hell is wrong with me?”

Within few seconds, the siren of a cop car and the squealing of tires making a sharp turn into the gas station told both of the fighters that was time to break. John fully released the grip. The truck driver turned on one side and started massaging the arm that was held by John into that tight dead lock grip. John took a sitting position, right there on the pavement bracing his bent knees with his arms while waiting for the next thing to happen –whatever that would’ve been. He knew he made a mistake, but on the other hand he was happy that he managed to pay back for the earlier punch in the face. His nice suit was all ruined. The recent ground fight put two big holes into his pants, showing now the knees. The coat was all bloodied from the nose bleeding he had earlier and the right elbow area was ripped apart – as a result of the later ground fight. “Let’s see what the cop has got to say. Whatever it’s going to be, I am only partially at fault”

It only took Andrew few seconds to assess the situation: he saw John’s car, he saw the tow truck and the two of them on the ground. His many years of experience in the Forces made him take a quick decision and figure out right away what happened. He didn’t want to get out of the car before having a good laugh for himself: “So, John didn’t lose his fighting spirit after all! Ha, ha, ha! He went after the guy who punched him. Good job, John! Good job!” He finally got out of the car while trying to keep a straight face.

-All right, gentlemen! Let’s see what’s going on here.

John virtually froze. He recognized Andrew’s voice; turned around while still having one knee and a hand on the ground. Andrew couldn’t help but notice John’s resting position, position so known to both of them from all those years of grinding and training and playing and more grinding and training. It was the resting position they were all waiting for, the resting position that was giving them the chance to grasp an extra quantity of oxygen, the resting position when they were listening to the coach’s advises, when they were listening to the coach’s tactics that were laid in front of them. A smile startled on the left corner of his bottom lip. “He is just missing the helmet, said Andrew to himself while trying to stop chuckling”.

-So, what happened? Would you two gentlemen stand and talk to me, please? His voice became commanding and authoritarian, a voice that made both fighters realize that the Policeman wouldn’t accept an alternative to his request.

They both stood and came closer.

– So, why are we fighting tonight? His question hit a wall of silence. Neither of the two wanted to take the charge first and start speaking.

-OK then. If nobody wants to talk, I will have to cuff you two guys up and take you to the Station. Are you sure this is what you want?

The very next second, the truck driver started blaming John for the mess:

– I got out of the gas station. He waited for me, provoked me and tackled me to the…

– You bastard! You punched me…

– Gentlemen! One at the time! One at the time! I am only saying this once! Andrew’s tone turned up quite few decibels and became like a thunder into the storm. Sir, go ahead – and he pointed to the truck driver – while making the “quiet” sign into John’s direction.

– As I said, I was coming out of the gas station. He waited for me, provoked me and then tackled me to the ground trying to break my arm.

Andrew couldn’t stop cracking a barely imperceptible smile on the corner of his mouth. “So, Johnny boy learnt to break arms…I bet you that he learnt this from that bastard called K.J.”

– What’s your story, Sir? Andrew pointed towards John’s direction.

John realized that he could not say anything about their earlier encounter and, Andrew was the only good thing that happened to him for most of the day.

– What he is missing to say, Sir is that earlier when I asked for help while being out of gas and stranded on the freeway, he punched me…

– He touched me on my arm and…

– Sir! Sir! I am asking you to stop speaking! Now! Andrew’s face turned red. He was not wearing the Policeman’s hat, making the color of his face come into a great contrast with his blonde short cut hair, once long, curly and flowing down onto his shoulders.

There was a moment of total silence.

– Go ahead, Sir – please continue.

– As I said…I ran out of gas, he asked for 50 bucks for half a gallon of gas. I only had few dollars cash on me. I told him that I would give him the money at the nearest gas station once I reach an ATM. He didn’t want to accept and turned away to leave. I was afraid that I will again be left there stranded. I just touched his arm trying to make him change his mind. That’s the time when he punched me into the face.

– This is how you got blood all over your face?

– Yes, Sir!

– But this is no reason to wait for him and break his arm.

– I just asked him: “Why did he punch me”? He replied: “Ready for another beating”?

– Why did you skip the first part of the story, Sir? Andrew turned again to the tow truck driver while keeping the same commanding voice.

– I have no idea what he is talking about. He is lying.

– Really? So he just waited for you to come out of the gas station and fight you, right? The truck driver realized that his lie was lame and even a child could dismantle it. He rambled for few seconds in a way that nobody could understand him. Andrew raised his right hand in a sign that he has to stop.

– Sir, you only told me half of the story. Why would I believe anymore what you are telling me? Here it is what we will do: we forget about this incident and everybody goes home – including myself…I am already past my working hours, I am tired and quite unhappy right now. Is this a deal, gentlemen?

– Yes, Sir! John realized that Andrew was offering both of them an easy way out of a situation that could’ve turned ugly.

There was no answer from the other side though. Andrew turned again at the tow truck driver and asked again the question, this time slower and putting a lot of weight on every single word that was coming out of his mouth:

– Do we have a deal, Sir? The last word was so strongly emphasized, that made John startle. “If this idiot does not take the deal we both go to jail, damn it!” He realized that he was hopeless, that his fate was once again into somebody else’s hands. Once again, a cold sweat was running down his spine making him shiver…shivering of fear more than shivering of cold.

Finally, the “yes” sign came from the direction of the driver. John released a barely audible sigh of relief, a sigh Andrew didn’t miss. Another barely perceptible smile changed Andrew’s lips line showing that he was eager to go home too.

– I need to hear it from you, Sir! Do we have a deal?

– Yes, we do.

– OK, then. I consider this matter closed. You can go, Sir! I still need to speak to you, Sir – said Andrew while looking at John.

Hesitantly, the man turned around, walked back to his truck and abruptly left the gas station in a sign that he was not very happy with the decision that has been made and he agreed upon.

– So, you got him, huh? Andrew burst into a laughter which made his six foot six frame and two hundred sixty five pound body shake like a leaf in the wind.

John’s face completely lightened up and instantly joined Andrew into the same uncontrollable, unstoppable display of joy and amusement.

– I just did an arm lock on him – after tackling him to the ground – said John while wiping his tears from laughing so hard.

– You did an arm lock on him, huh? I bet you that you learnt this from that bastard guy called K.J.!

– Indeed! You know your stuff, Andrew…you sure know your stuff.

– I like to believe that, John. I like to believe that, said Andrew with a smile that couldn’t hide a great deal of satisfaction. By the way: your wife called 911…

– What? This question was asked with a trembling voice while grabbing his temples again with his palms. All this mess he has been through for two hours now, made him completely lose track of the time. He looked at his wrist watch. It was almost 2.30 am. “God, she must be worried sick!”

– Yeah, she did make that call and luckily I was still around when the dispatch alerted us. I told them that I saw you earlier and everything was under control. They called your wife back for sure. This is the procedure.

– Thanks God! How did you make it here and why you?

– I was ready to head back to the Station when we got the alert: “a fight broke up into a gas station…” When they released the location of the incident, I was not far away. I picked up the assignment. Quite frankly, I expected to put away a real fight, not just an arm lock procedure. Ha, ha, ha! Andrew’s massive body started again shaking from all the joints and the same big, healthy laughter made his face being flooded with joy. John simply joined in once again and they both had another round of unstoppable hilarity. The two men felt once again that specific camaraderie (developed during all those years of playing sports) unite them, that comradeship that fuels split second decisions on the field and turns a situation apparently without hope into a brilliant victory.

– It was good seeing you again, John.

– It was so good seeing you too, Andrew…and thanks once more!

– Hey, don’t mention it man! Now go back to your wife.

– Yeah. I will have a bit of explaining to do. Andrew burst into another huge laughter . The two men shook hands, looked into each other eyes for few seconds and then headed for the cars.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 5-6 (Lunch at Happy Irish/A night at the Theaters)

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 5

Lunch at Happy Irish

He barely heard the knock on the frame of his door. J.J. and Scott were standing just inside of his Office waiting for him to turn around.

– Hey guys, how can I help you?

– How about you join us for lunch, said J.J.?

– I can do that. Who’s picking up the bill?

– Don’t you worry about this little problem! Big boss is here with us, said Scott laughing.

– Hey, speak for yourself, came out of J.J.’s mouth and his big chest trembled of laughter. He grabbed both John and Scott by the shoulders and headed out of John’s Office.

At the Ground Floor, John went to the Reception and asked for the car keys.

-There are no car keys in your name Mr. Parker…maybe the Valet is still looking for a parking spot.

-Do you mean, Leo never showed up?

-No, Sir. Sorry.

-This is unbelievable! I have no idea where my car is!

-What are you talking about, John? Scott’s voice was showing a substantial amount of wariness.

– I left my car to be parked by Leo this morning…

– Who is Leo?

– A trusted Valet, said John scratching his head.

– Then how come you don’t have a car, John?

– Well, I guess he is still looking for a parking space.

– OK guys, I can drive or we can just go across the street at the Hotel’s bar and have lunch. They have a good Menu selection. Actually everything is top notch quality.

– Sure, let’s go for it! I’m in, said John and Scott approved through a slight head tilt.

– Still, where is my car, asked John with a whisper that sounded more like of a concern than a question while following J.J. and Scott towards the Exit.

Happy Irish was a strategically placed Bar and Grille Restaurant at the Ground Floor of the Hotel right across the Glenworth Investments Building. J.J. loved this place and he was familiar with everything the Menu at this place was offering. He had lunch and dined at this place so many times that he even knew the waiters by names.

The moment he stepped into the Restaurant, the waiter took him, Scott and John to a more private area which was J.J.’s favorite place to have lunch or dine especially when he had business to discuss.

The waiter brought three Menus. J.J. handed his back to him, as he already knew what to order.

– Can I make a suggestion? Baby back ribs these guys are making here are probably the best in town.

– Yes, they are awesome. The approval came from Scott who was also dining quite often at Happy Irish.

-Then I’ll have a rack of ribs as well, said John and handed his Menu back to the waiter.

– Any drinks to start up with, gentlemen?

– We’ll have three beers on the tap. Please make them sixteen ouncers each – Irish beer OK with you guys? This call came from J.J. and John looked at his boss a bit surprised. He knew John John as a very rational man and the alcoholic beverage order at lunchtime came as a surprise to him.

J.J. looked John into the eyes and guessed right away his unasked question.

– We are about to make a very important business decision. We are not going to make it drinking water or ice tea, are we?

– Excuse me Sir, it’s going to take about twenty five minutes. We slowly cook the ribs to get the best out of them. Would you care for some appetizers?

– Why not? What do you think guys? You are hungry enough? We have business to discuss anyways, so we have time on our hands anyways to eat both the appetizers and the main course. JJ questioningly looked first to John and then to Scott and after getting a nodding approval from both of them told the waiter:

– We are all in! I didn’t have breakfast anyways; I am hungry like a wolf. I am taking the liberty to order the appetizers as well and because we are in an Irish Pub Gentlemen, I am going to order a typical Irish opening: we will have three pieces of wild Atlantic smoked salmon and three pieces of garlic toast, we will have three pieces of Irish cheddar cheese red potato bites, three pieces of stuffed tomatoes with cheddar cheese and baked potatoes topped with freshly chopped parsley and three pieces of Irish sausage rolls.

– You know the Menu better than I do Mr. Glenworth said Jimmy, the waiter who was waiting at the table.

– I have been dining here more often than dining at home…unfortunately.

– I will be bringing your appetizers in ten minutes, Gentlemen.

– Thank you, Jimmy.

– You are welcome, Mr. Glenworth.

– Now, let’s get down to business. Scott, I have already had a chat with John and I think he understands what we are asking him to do in China, or at least this was my impression that he got the idea of what he will be up against once he makes it to Shanghai.

We are at a crucial time during Company’s history when we have to make a decision we’ve never made before. We never faced a situation like this, when we potentially have to pull out of a market. And what’s bothering me the most, is the fact that I don’t know the full story, I don’t even know if it is the right decision to pull out. Common sense, experience, my guts and feelings are telling me to stay, but the numbers don’t lie. What the hell is happening? We’ve both been there Scott. We couldn’t put our fingers on the wound. We need a fresh pair of eyes to look at this. And his deep blue eyes fell on John again.

John’s Adam’s apple started moving up and down again in a sign of deep emotional discomfort. He felt again being put under the spot, this time in front of Scott and he didn’t like the situation at all.

– If you two guys couldn’t find anything, how am I supposed to find something by myself? I don’t know anybody there, I don’t know the culture, the people, the city, people mentality…how am I supposed to come up with an answer?

– As I said during our meeting in my Office John, I don’t expect you to come with an answer. I want a lead from you, just enough to throw some light over this damn thing. I refuse to think the numbers are real and Scott thinks the same. When you go there, don’t even look too much at the numbers. You may want to familiarize yourself just enough to have an idea how trading is done. But this should be it. You have the nose of a greyhound in reading people and smelling traps. This is where I need you! This is why I need you there! Something is fishy in that Office. And neither I nor Scott could’ve wrapped our hands around it.

– Your drinks, Sir!

– Oh, the beers! Thank you! Let’s have a cold one! For the success of this little endeavor of us! Cheers Gentlemen!

– Cheers!

– Cheers!

– I hope you like it, John.

– I do. Whenever I dine here, I have one of this or a Guinness.

– Ooh…stout type of a beer drinker!

– I like the amber type as well. But whenever I eat at an Irish or an English Pub I like to stick with the tradition and have a stout one.

– Good thinking!

– Gentlemen, let’s start putting a plan together. John, obviously we still need you to buy into going to China. I don’t think I have to reiterate to you how important this task is to the company and this is why I have picked you to go there and try to get to the bottom of this thing. Sorry, just trying to find a lead which will take us to find a way out of this mess.

– John, once you are there you will have to spend some time just to observe the people, just to observe the relationships in the Office, the dynamics of the business and the people who are showing up in that Office day in and day out. Then you may want to dig into the files and understand how they do transactions in that part of the world. Apparently it is something we cannot understand. Scott’s advice pretty much complimented what J.J. has been saying for a while now.

– Scott perfectly summarized what you should do, John. With your flair and training, I am sure you will come up with something and by Thanks Giving you will be back home.

– This is just a supposition. This is not necessary what’s going to be happening there. How do I know I won’t be stuck there all the way to the New Year’s Eve?

– John, you can always come back home on Thanks Giving, Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Eve! Let’s say you spend fifty thousand dollars on plane tickets. So what? It doesn’t mean too much to this company! The problem we have on our hands is way too important to worry about some expenses we are incurring with your travelling. Goodness sake, John! We need to fix a multi million dollar issue that’s draining money out of us like an open gash. Who cares that you have to fly back and forth three or four times? You can do it whenever you want and you can take your wife with you if you want. Do you understand?

– Yes, Sir. I get the idea. I am not sure I will be able to help though.

– I need you to try, John. That’s all.

– John, look at me please, said Scott and for the first time he looked John straight into his eyes. Scott was an intelligent individual who worked his way up into his position (from being a simple broker) through hard work and endless hours spent close to the Account Managers, absorbing every bit of information he could, learning the business the hard way, on the floor and learning it at school as well by taking numerous business courses. Few years ago he also finished his MBA which made him even more valuable into J.J.’s eyes.

– John, you are a very intelligent and creative individual. You have (as J.J. said) a nose for traps. You feel unsecured in this endeavor because is an unfamiliar situation, you’ve never been to China, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the people, the culture and so on. But all of these are irrelevant. Let me try to find a football analogy where you are like a fish in the water. You have your team, they know what they do, they speak the language you speak, you give the orders and the plan is executed. Your team is your pocket, right? John nodded.

Great! You go to China. You find yourself down because all of a sudden your pocket does not work, collapses, let’s you down. What do you do? How do you throw the ball to the receivers? You cannot rely on your Running Back because you have no pocket. What do you do? You still have to win the game. You have your legs! If you have no pocket, you have to use your legs and try to get the first down, right? This is what you have to do there, John. Of course, instead of using your legs, you have to use your eyes, your feel for people; you have to ask questions, you have to gain people’s trust. Vic will be a great help for you. He worked for me before. He is fluent in Mandarin, he knows the culture and their mentality and he knows lots of that Office politics. We will have to assign him to work with you for the duration of your stay there. I think this will be a right way to handle things. What do you think, J.J.?

– You nailed it, Scott! Couldn’t have said it better myself! I don’t have a problem with Vic getting a different job assignment and work closely with John as he will need all the help he could get.

– Your appetizers, Gentlemen! Enjoy! The waiter showed up carrying the appetizers on a small cart. Then, skillfully placed the plates in such a way that everyone at the table could easily reach for the food.

– Fantastic, said J.J. and started rubbing his big palms in a sign of deep relief. He was obviously starving. Dig in, Gentlemen!

– They look fabulous. You surely know what to order J.J., said Scott.

– No kidding, replied John John laughing from his entire big shoulders frame. I told you that I spent more time dining here than dining at home.

– These appetizers truly look fantastic, approved John with an expert eye. He loved good food as much as he loved good quality cloths and shoes and the way the food was presented on the plates, was making your mouth watering only by looking at it.

For the next few minutes everybody kept quiet being busy eating the food brought to the table.

-This smoked Atlantic salmon is out of this world said JJ with a burst of sincerity which showed his expertise in the art of food as well.

– Excellent, exclaimed Scott nodding.

– Never had this dish here before, but it’s absolutely superb. I tried the stuffed tomatoes too. They are very good.

– Everything is top quality at this place. Let’s have another sip. Cheers!

– Cheers!

– Cheers!

For another ten minutes or so, nobody said a word anymore. Everybody was just completely concentrated on the delicious food in front of him.

– So, I am glad you guys like the food and I am glad I brought you at the right place to enjoy a good and tasty lunch.

– Excellent choice J.J., said Scott.

– Can’t go wrong with this place, admitted John.

– Good to hear this. Now, before they bring the main course I would like to sketch up a plan for John’s itinerary (in case he accepts the task). J.J. looked John again into his eyes and John knew right away that he cannot back away anymore. John John was the type of man you just couldn’t say “no” to. Not because he demanded it due to a tyrannical type of behavior, not at all. But you knew that everything he was doing was rational and into the interest of the company and whenever you had a personal matter you would’ve always found understanding and help from him.

– I am in, J.J. Tonight I will break the news to my wife. I am sure she will understand.

– Fantastic! I knew we could rely on you!

– Thanks, John said Scott and strongly, manly shook his hand smiling as a big sigh of relief. Remember: just go there observe the Office dynamics. This is the key!

– Let’s sketch up a plan, said J.J. and pulled a pen out of his inside pocket. Does anybody have a piece of paper?

Scott pulled a bent 8.5 x 11 from his pocket, a piece of paper he made few notes on one side.

-You can use the other side, J.J.

– Great! So, when do you think you can leave John? Today is October the second. Do you need another week or so to do some preparations, to get accustomed to the idea, to get your wife ready for this little change?

– Yeah, a week would be good enough.

– So we are saying that if you left on Monday October the 12th it would be OK by you?

– Sure. That would be a decent departing date.

– OK. We will start putting our plan together with this date. I will talk to Anja and get her to book the plane tickets and the Hotel room. You have your company’s Visa Card for your meals and entertainment. You know the drill. You have to submit the expenses bimonthly, so Accounting can pay the bills in time. What is your Visa limit?

– I believe is five thousand…not sure. I have to check.

– That’s OK. I will talk to Accounting and increase your spending limit to ten thousand. You may need to unexpectedly book a flight to Beijing, Hong Kong or elsewhere. You need room to maneuver. Also, as I said: you can bring Linda over if you want. John, once again: this thing is way too important to get hung up in some expenses you are incurring while being there. Please try to understand. OK?

– Yes, Sir!

– Fantastic! What else we need to worry about? J.J. was already taking notes on everything he was supposed to do and as usual he was very meticulous in doing so.

– I need to have a chat with Vic. This is very important, said Scott.

– Yes, of course. And J.J. wrote the task down on the “To do list”.

– I will talk to Vic Monday and ask him not to make it public throughout China Office. We need to make it as discreet as possible.

– Yes, but eventually Mr. Gang will have to be into the loop. Doesn’t Vic report to him?

– Yes, he does. But Tony Gang reports to me, said J.J. and the tone of his voice all of a sudden turned from calm and carefully measured one to a high volume and authoritarian one.

John couldn’t help but notice the change into J.J.’s voice when he mentioned Gang’s name. “Why all of a sudden this change? Does he know something but he just can’t wrap his hands around it as he said? Do I have to keep my eyes on Wong? Is this a lead? Should I ask J.J.? No, I don’t think I should do this, but it is good to know that he suspects something is fishy with this guy”. John’s face brightened up as a sign that he has something where to start from.

– Question, said John lifting an index finger.

– Fire away John! This is what I want to hear from you.

– Would I have access to sensitive files in that Office? When I say sensitive files, I mean profession related files of all the people in the office – not personal files – including top level Managers?

– Excellent point! Yes you will have access to absolute all the files to the highest security level in that Office. Let me make a note that I have to talk to the IT guys in this matter. J.J. wrote down another point on his list.

-Your ribs, Gentlemen!

– Here we, go! Now, no matter what you guys are saying we have to stop our little meeting. Look at those ribs! We will resume after! I meant, after we take care of these beauties!

– I am sure they are at least as tasty as they look, said John.

– You never had ribs here, asked Scott? They are amazing. They are falling off of the bones and melting into your mouth like butter.

– And the way they slowly smoke, marinate and cook them give these rib racks the flavor you cannot find anywhere else in the town. It looks like we are out of beer. We need another round to go with the ribs.

– Jimmy, bring another round please!

– Yes, Sir. Please give me two minutes.

– So, what do you think John?

– They are amazing! So tender and juicy!

– Told you! Best in town!

Once again, all three of them became fully occupied with the delicious food in front of them and nobody mentioned anything anymore business related.

– Your beers, Gentlemen!

– Alright, just in time for another one! This will go really well with whatever we are working on it, right now. Cheers!

– Cheers!

– Cheers!

A great pleasure could be read on their faces and one could understand that the combination of good food, good beer and a good conversation made these three men have a good time.

– God, this was a good meal exclaimed J.J. at the end of the meal while having another sip of beer out of the glass he was holding comfortably in his right hand.

– I am so full, said Scott. This was a good lunch indeed.

– Fantastic meal, really good and so delicious, exclaimed John while picking up the napkin from his lap and putting it on the table on the right of his plate.

– I am glad you guys liked it. Let’s ask Jimmy to pick up the plates and make room on the table so we can continue with the plan. He waived at the waiter.

– I think we are done here. You can bring the check, please.

– Very well, Sir. How was everything?

– As usual: fantastic!

– How would you pay, Sir? Separate bills?

– No, everything on one bill. I will pick up the check. Here it is my Visa.

– Thank you, Sir. I will take care of the bill and I will clean up in a minute. Would you care for some deserts?

– Not for me, thank you. Guys?

– I am good. Thank you.

– I am good too. Thank you.

– I will be back with your receipt, Sir.

-Thank you, Jimmy.

– You are very welcome, Sir.

– Now, let’s go on with our plan. Anything else we need to write down? Anything else we need to take care of in preparation for John’s assignment?

– He needs Visa for China, exclaimed Scott!

– That’s right! You do have a valid Passport John, don’t you?

– Yes, I do.

– Great, one more thing I have to take care of on Monday. Please bring your Passport with you. We will get your Visa on emergency basis from the Chinese Consulate. It will take two days.

– Scott, you said that Vic worked for you. I can’t remember him.

– He was that big overweight fellow who used to sit at the desk right in front of my office.

– Aha! Now I remember him. So, what made him take off for China and for good?

J.J. looked at Scott and Scott looked at J.J.; for few seconds a deep silence settled in and John felt extremely uncomfortable that he popped up the question.

– I will answer your question when is going to be just the two of us in my office, said J.J.

– I apologize for asking it, I didn’t know it was that sensitive of an issue.

– You did the right thing, John. You are doing your homework. You don’t want to go there unprepared. Gathering as much information as possible on Vic shows that you are already putting a plan together, said Scott. He will help you. I will talk to him and J.J. will talk to him as well. He knows everybody in that Office. He knows who is friend with whom, he knows the clients, he knows how the business is done, he may have some inside information and he is fluent in Mandarin.

– Thank you. I’ll make sure I will make friends with Vic first and foremost. Who is Tony Gang? How long he’s been with the company? What are his credentials? How did we hire him?

– This question is on me, said John John raising his right pointing finger in a sort of: “I clearly got this one”. He is…

– Excuse me Mr. Glenworth, your check…

– Thank you, Jimmy. Let me sign it. And J.J. did quickly the math rounding up very generously the amount leaving a fat tip for the waiter.

– Thank you very much Mr. Glenworth. Anything else?

– No, thank you. That’s about it. I think we are done ordering here. Anything else you want to order, guys?

– I’m good, thanks said Scott.

-Me too, came instantly from John.

– Alright then. Thanks again, Jimmy.

– Have a good day, gentlemen.

– Where were we? Oh…Tony Gang is an experienced professional who’s been around for a long time. He started in Hong Kong at Nashita & Namura Investments (a very large Real Estate Japanese company). Then he worked for Hong Kong East Asia Trading (a company specialized in commodity trading). Before he got hired by us, he moved into Financial Sector where he worked for Singapore Financials Incorporated. So, you are looking at a man with experience in Trading, Real Estate and Financing. He is a graduate of Hong Kong University – Faculty of Economics and Finance – and as I mentioned a little earlier, he’s got a ton of experience in all these fields. He is good! J.J.’s eyes were throwing thunderbolts and both John and Scott realized that if Tony was there, he would’ve probably been chocked by J.J.’s massive hands.

– Also, he is fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, English and he can communicate at a decent level in – pay attention please – Malay and Tamil.

– Malay and Tamil?

– Yes. These are two of the four official languages of Singapore. So, keeping in mind that he can speak Mandarin and English, in Singapore he is like a fish in the water. Not to mention that he can also speak a little Japanese – probably he learnt it when he worked for Nashita & Namura.

– Impressive, said John.

– Indeed. So: China, Hong Kong and Singapore are his natural habitats. He is there like a shark swimming around a coral reef. Actually keeping in mind that Malay is the official language of Indonesia and Malaysia, he can cover a good portion of South East Asia.

– By the way: don’t expect him to show you all the tricks he is using in that office. Again, it is just a gut feeling of both of us, said Scott.

– Is he with us from the beginning? Did he actually start up that office in Shanghai?

– That’s correct, said John John.

– So, he hired everybody there, right?

– Yes. Both J.J. and Scott looked at one another and again a deep silence surrounded the table while John mutely asked himself if he made a mistake asking this question.

– This is another good point you are bringing up, said Scott breaking up the already uncomfortable silence.

– Let me make another note on my “To do list”. I will talk to HR and get a background check on all the Upper Management people in that Office. Where did they work before, who hired them, how much they are making, how fast they were promoted. By Tuesday morning they should be able to provide this sort of information to me.

– Does he have a trusted person or persons in the Office?

– Not that I’m aware about, mentioned Scott looking at J.J. for help.

– Neither do I. I guess this is going to be on you John when you are there, but it’s a good point. If something stinks in that Office, he has to have people helping him. It’s impossible to do everything alone. Anything else you can think at, John?

– Not that I can think at. I will chew on everything we discussed over the weekend. There is a lot of information I have to digest.

– Good deal! We are getting somewhere now! It is good to have you with us John, exclaimed J.J. with all the sincerity and power his two big lungs could create. His eyes were so expressive and powerful and the facial expression was so intense that John finally understood it is game time.

“I am part of the game. It’s show time! There is no place for losers!” And all of his football training came back as memories, memories of all the gruesome training in the snow at -10, with all the weight lifting, with all the conditioning and on field strength drills. Bring it on!”

– I think we are done here. Shall we go, gentlemen?

– Sure. I think we are done here and Scott reached for his neck cloth he kept with him all the way throughout the lunch.

– OK then, how about we head back for the office?

– Alright. Let’s go. Hopefully my car showed up in the meantime, said John.

– By the way, John. Again, why don’t you have a car?

– Long story, J.J. Long story.

– Aha.

While John John and Scott were picking up their overcoats from the Pub’s wardrobe, John was waiting for them outside. It was quite chilly outside and he buttoned up all the way on his suit. All of a sudden he saw Leo showing up from the opposite side of the street where he came in the morning, driving his car with the top down and the rap station played at probably the maximum amount of decibels the car could produce. That very moment he could not feel the cold anymore and felt the blood running through his jugular veins at a level any cardiologist would’ve been concerned. He put his left hand on his left jugular and started pressing on it trying in a way to calm down. Then, he virtually jumped in front of the car when Leo tried to make the left turn and pull the car into the Parking lot of the Office building.

– Ooo! Crap! Mr. Parker!

– Why are you only bringing my car now?

– I..I..I…there was lots of people Mr. Parker. Lots of people trying to park, you know what I mean?

– You had at least four hours to pull the car into the Parking Lot! Where have you been with my car? John grabbed Leo by his tie and started shaking him back and forth. Where have you been with my car?

– Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker, I can explain!

That particular moment J.J. and Scott came out of the Pub. John John pointed towards John exclaiming:

– Isn’t that John trying to choke the guy who is driving that red car?

– I think that’s John’s car.

– Then why is a strange person driving his car?

– Probably that’s why he is choking him. Shall we help?

– Of course. It’s John. And both of them ran to the car.

– Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker, I can explain…

– Then do it! Why are you bringing my car to the Parking Lot just now?

– Mr. Parker, I can explain. And Leo took a long breath. Mr. Parker…I am a great contributor to the Church in my neighborhood and lately I made a great financial contribution. I couldn’t’ve shown up there in my 2003 ran-down clunker. I had to show some financial power, you know what I mean?

– I know what you mean! You are full of crap! You expect me to buy this story of yours?

– John, is there a problem? Both J.J. and Scott arrived at the spot where John stopped Leo.

– I am just trying to claim my car back Mr. Glenworth.

– Why did you give it up in the first place?

– Long story.  I got stuck on the other side of the street in the morning when driving in. Towing company was trying to tow a car parked on the street and the traffic was jammed up all the way to the main street.

– So, we have a choice? We have a choice of somebody parking the car for us when the traffic is jammed up? I didn’t know.

– My name is Leo, Mr. Glenworth and this is what I do. I get people out of trouble.

Leo obviously heard of Glenworth Financials from Vic and having a face to face with John John Glenworth was almost like striking a gold mine in his head. His smile was now showing both those rows of perfectly white teeth in all their splendor. He was one of those street smart individuals who were capable to spot a chance for a big tip on the dime.

– So, you wait around here and see if people get stuck?

– No Mr. Glenworth, I work for the Hotel just across your building as a valet.

– So, we do have a choice. When we come in and the street is blocked we just give you the keys of the car and you park it for us whenever the street clears up, right?

– Yes, Mr. Glenworth. This is what I do.

– Can you park cars anytime of the day, asked Scott? My name is Scott Hollowitz and I am the Vice President of Glenworth Financials.

– Nice to meet you, Mr. Hollowitz; Leo’s face opened up like a water lily. “President and Vice President of Glenworth Financials may need my help?” I work in the mornings and I am always on this side of the street, in front of the Hotel. Sometimes I am here in the afternoon – only by request. I will take care of business, if you know what I mean, said Leo.

– Good to know Leo, said Scott shaking his hand. Do you have a cell phone number?

– Of course, Mr. Hollowitz. Leo pulled a pen out of his pocket, wrote his number on a piece of paper and handed it over to Scott.

– I want you to share that phone number with me, said John John.

– Are you guys kidding? He just took my car for a spin for three hours or so and you feel like you want to give him business? John’s voice was trembling with anger and he only left Leo’s tie go when J.J.’s big hand grabbed his left shoulder and the boss whispered into his ear:

– You always have to look at the big picture, John; always at the big picture. You were in trouble this morning. He took care of business, right? So what if he took your car for a spin around the block? You have to look at the big picture John, only at the big picture. Understand?

– Yes Sir. I understand.

– Leo, please leave the keys with the guys at the Reception, said John.

– Of course, Mr. Parker. I am sorry about this misunderstanding, but God comes in first…Leo’s impeccable white teeth were lighting up again the scene like a Christmas tree on a Christmas Eve. You will have your car in the garage in ten minutes.

John made a fist and felt like punching him – “God comes in first! He really believes I’m an idiot!” but he refrained from creating another scene; people were already honking the horns behind Leo, so all three Glenworth Executives crossed the street while Leo was waiting to make a left turn into the Building’s Parking Lot.

John entered J.J.’s Office and took a seat at the same table they had the meeting when asked to go to China.  This time John John closed the door. “It must be serious” said John to himself and tried to make himself more comfortable in the chair.

– Listen, John; I want first of all to thank you for accepting this assignment. It means a lot to me, to the company and I hope something good will come out of this endeavor. I have faith in you and I do believe that you are the most suitable person for this job. Now, I have to tell you a thing or two about Vic, as he will be your main contact there, the main contact you can rely on, the only one you can trust when comes down to Office politics and translating from Chinese to English. I hired him when he was a beginner, a guy who was just looking for work in this field. I saw potential in him and he did not disappoint me. He was growing professionally at such a fast speed, that I was even considering promoting him to the Account Manager position. He was closing deals like somebody who’d been with the Company for a long time and money making opportunities were coming to him naturally, like a Wall Street pro. However, I did not know that he had a big gambling problem as well as I did not know he had a drinking problem too. I was told that the second one followed the first, shortly after he lost a significant amount at the tracks.

– Sorry for interrupting, J.J.

– Sure, go ahead John.

– So, he started gambling and drinking while he was with us?

– Don’t make that assumption. We will never know what he brought on board when he joined us. He could’ve had these habits prior to joining us.

– Once again, he was that medium-tall, overweight guy sitting in that cubicle right across Scott’s Office?

– Exactly.

– Why did Scott want to get rid of him?

– How did you figure out that Scott wanted to get rid of him?

– Just a hint I got from our conversation at Happy Irish.

– Good catch! Yes, I guess this is the right call. Vic became a threat to Scott. Unfortunately (for Vic) he had these two habits which made him less attractive to me as the suitable person for Account Manager. He was gambling every weekend at the tracks, he was getting drunk on regular basis and was hiring hookers for his parties. I don’t want to interfere with everyone’s private life, but I do expect a certain level of decency from the higher level Managers regardless if it is a private or a professional life.

– Sorry, I didn’t know about all these…details. I am a bit embarrassed that I asked.

– Don’t be, John. Don’t be. You have to know people you will be dealing with and you are doing the right thing by asking as many questions as you think is necessary. After all, he will be your right hand, your guide overseas.

– How do I know that he is willing to help? What if he does not want to help?

– He will help! I can tell this to you for sure.

– Do you know something I shouldn’t know?

– You will see for yourself when you get there. He is a changed man from what I hear, said J.J. with an enigmatic smile on his face, a smile he was always using when he wanted to lead the interlocutor into a known direction, upfront. John understood that the meeting is over and stood up pushing the chair underneath the table with one hand.

– I guess we’ll talk Monday.

– Have a good weekend John and please send my compliments to Linda and your mother, Judy.

Chapter 6

A night at the Theaters

Every time when it was “a night at the Theaters”, Linda was deliberately arriving one hour early. In summer time she loved to sit at the nearby patio and order ice cream while reading from a favorite book. That particular time of the year the patio was covered with pots full of flowers and the multitude of colors and smells surrounding the patrons was making the wait always worthwhile.  This time was too cold outside (and the patio was closed anyways), so she went in and ordered a tea and a couple of cookies. Opened up the purse and pulled Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and started reading her favorite paragraphs. She knew by heart exactly at which page each of them could be found.  Every time she was reading these fragments of excellent literature, was always finding a different way to filter and interpret the information. It was almost like she developed a mind game, trying to come up with a different meaning to the message the author was passing to the reader. She was in an excellent mood. The sight of the deer herd, the relative quiet day at school and the prospect of another fun night out with John made Linda relax and enjoy the reading more than ever.

She did not even realize when one hour just passed by. The aroma of the herbal tea and delicious cookies coupled with a wonderful chance to read again classical literature made her completely forget that the rendezvous point was supposed to be in front of the Theaters by a billboard.  She was ready to pack up. Checked her wrist watch again, when felt two arms completely hugging her from behind and John’s voice whispering into her right ear:

– Your date is here.

– How do you know that you are the date, giggled Linda as an answer, strongly emphasizing the word “you”?

– Just a wild guess. Shall I retire?

– Up to you, but you are about to lose a fun night out, not to mention everything that is going to happen after…

– Aha, this “after” alone made me change my mind.

– Make sure you don’t spoil this evening or it will be no “after” said Linda still whispering into John’s ear while grabbing him by the tie and kissing him.

– It’s a good start anyways, softly exclaimed John and opened up the door for Linda on their way out.  He was planning to tell her about China deal during the movie night evening, but reconsidered. He took this decision on the spot, he just did not want to ruin a Friday night otherwise promisingly perfect.

– Which movie are we seeing?

– I don’t care, said John. You go ahead and pick. In the meantime I’ll buy the popcorn; without hesitation, he headed straight for the vendor.  Pulled the wallet out of his pocket and realized that in that morning moment of desperation he gave Leo all the money he had in his pocket. “Unbelievable! I gave that bastard everything I had…and for what?” Then he remembered J.J.’s advice: “Look at the big picture, John”. He cracked a smile and walked back to the ticket line where Linda was lining up to buy tickets.

– What happened? Where is the popcorn?

John scratched his head with his index finger above his right ear:

– I don’t have any cash on me.

– You don’t have cash on you? You always have at least three-four twenties on you! What happened?

– Long story. I’ll tell you when we get in.

– Here you go. And Linda pulled a twenty out of the wallet she was holding in her left hand.

– Thanks. I’ll be back in a minute.

They met again in front of the Entrance. It was quite busy, so they had to line up.

– So, what are we watching?

– “Mystery on street Duval”

– Any good?

– Recommended by Sarah.

– Hoy!

– What? She has pretty good tastes when comes down to literature, movies, music…

– Music? She only recommends Music of the ‘70s. Nothing wrong with that. But there are other types of music you sometimes feel like listening to. I hope this is not one of those movies where your head is spinning after you watched it. I had a pretty stressful day at the Office. I want to watch something easy to follow. I don’t want to think too much right now.

– Then let’s change the tickets and go for something different.

– That’s OK. We are almost in. You wanted to see this one anyways, so we are sticking with the initial plan.

Once they found their seats, they opened up the popcorn bucket and started working on it.

– So, tell me the story…how did you end up with no cash in your pocket? I am very curious to find out how you became penny less.

-Well, probably I should start with the beginning…

– Good idea!

– Late yesterday afternoon, Mr. Glenworth calls a totally unexpected meeting for this morning at 9.00 am. You know that he never calls these high level, high scale meetings so early in the morning.

– No I don’t. You never told me.

– OK. You know now…so, to me was really odd. Last night I tried to process this bit of information and eventually find logic behind it. The Company is doing alright, people are happy, why all of a sudden we are pressing the panic button? I was worried. This morning while watching the news, I figured out right away that something is fishy with the Company.

– Now you are really scaring me!

– Relax. I had my coffee and headed for the Office earlier than I usually do.

– You kissed me before you went out, said Linda grabbing his left arm while resting her head on John’ left shoulder.

– Yes I did, gorgeous!

A very satisfying giggling came out of her chest while whispering into his ear:

– Do you have any idea how lucky you are going to get when we get home?

– Can we go now and skip the movie, said John whispering back into her right ear?

– No! I want to see the movie. Please go on…you left and then what?

– OK. I am driving on the freeway towards Downtown…I was easily doing 85…

– Are you out of your mind? You can get your License suspended!

– Relax. I know all the radar traps; I know where the cops are hiding. I knew what I was doing. Normally I wouldn’t be doing it, but I had to get into some files.

– You could’ve done it from home. You have access to your Company’s Network.

– Yes, but the files I needed access to are only accessible from the Office and only by High Level Managers. J.J. is the only one who has access from anywhere.

So, I am closing in to reaching Downtown. Traffic was perfect. I was right in leaving early so I could avoid the morning rush, when all of a sudden I see brake lights. I realized there was an accident in front of me, so I moved into the right lane and exit at one of the streets that eventually would take you Downtown. I thought I was lucky and eventually I would still make it in early. I think I caught every single red light possible! I swear! Finally I get to the street where you make a right onto it to get to the Office Building, you know it.

– Of course I know it…what happened? What happened? Linda’s voice was trembling nervously.

– I make the right turn, guess what? The street was jammed packed and everybody was standing still. A tow truck was trying to tow a car and was creating a mess all the way down the street and up the street as well. “You gotta’ be kidding me!” I said. I was about a hundred fifty yards away from the Building and the traffic completely came to a halt. I had eighteen minutes left to the meeting….I got out of the car and looked around when all of a sudden I see Leo.

– Who?

– Leo. He is a Valet who is parking cars at the Hotel across the street.

– How do you know him?

-Remember the time when my car was in the garage and Vic gave me a lift to work?

– Vic? And Linda put her both index fingers at the temple area trying to remember who Vic was.

– You met him at a Christmas Party about six – seven years ago. He was the big guy who was sweating a lot and had a fair amount of drinks that made him wanted to dance on the table…remember?

– Aha…ha, ha, ha! I remember now. Oh yes, now I remember. He invited me twice to dance with him. I refused as politely as I could.

– He did what?

– Relax. He was so drunk that I don’t even think the next day he remembered what he did.

– Anyways, that day when Vic gave me that ride Downtown we ran into almost an identical situation. We were about to be late for an early meeting when we got stuck exactly in the same spot. Then Vic got out of the car and saw Leo. He gave him some money and Leo got the keys and parked the car for us. We walked to the building and made it just in time for the meeting. Later on, Vic picked up the keys from the Reception downstairs.

– That’s quite smart and resourceful, exclaimed Linda.

– Yes it is. Wait to see what happened.

– Can’t wait to hear, said Linda pinching his left arm in a sign of restless feminine curiosity.

– So, I give Leo all the money I had…

– You gave him sixty, eighty dollars? Are you nuts?

– Actually it was a lot more than that, I think.

– You are out of your mind! A twenty would’ve been more than enough…

– I know, but you have no idea how stressed out I was that I wouldn’t have made it into the Office to review the files! I was so happy I found a way out of that situation that I really didn’t give a damn on how much money I had in my wallet.

So, I made it into the Office and I had a chance to look at those files I was after. Nothing special! I couldn’t find anything that would trigger an idea on what the meeting was about. We have the meeting and things are not looking good, as I expected. We are losing money in China…

– I thought everybody goes to China to make money, exclaimed Linda completely astonished.

– Yeah, this is the idea. In this case is the other way around. After the meeting John John and Scott took me out for lunch. Downstairs, I wanted to claim my car keys. Guess what? No keys at the desk!

– Are you kidding? So, you don’t have a car anymore?

– Wait, it’s getting even more interesting…we go have lunch and I am thinking in my head: “Leo had at least four hours to bring the car back. What the hell had happened?” We had a really long lunch, we discussed business. I am the first one to get out of the Pub while J.J. and Scott were picking up their coats; I didn’t take my coat with me as the Pub was just across the street. So, while waiting for them to show up I look up the street and I see my car, with the top down and Leo playing a Rap station with the volume knob probably turned at the maximum.

– Ha, ha, ha! Leo showed up with your car after four hours! He must’ve had so much fun, said Linda while trying to keep her laugh at a decent level so it wouldn’t bother the other people around them. Everybody was waiting anyways for the movie to start up, so people were just chit-chatting and eating their popcorn to kill the time. Nobody paid attention to the fact that Linda was laughing out loud at John’s morning misery.

-He must’ve had sooo much fun! God, this is beyond funny! Did you ask him why is he returning your car after such a long time? What did he have to say for himself?

– Listen to this: “Mr. Parker, I am a great financial contributor to the Church in my neighborhood and I couldn’t just show up in my 2003 Ford Escort. I had to show some financial power”.

-Stop it! Please stop it, said Linda while crying from laughing. She pulled a handkerchief from her purse and wiped out the tears which were now flowing on her face and dripping all over the shirt. “Great financial contributor to the Church”…God, this is probably the best line I’ve heard in a long time.

-Yeap! God knows where he’s been with my car! I was this close (and John brought his thumb and index finger really close to each other) to choke him. John made the sign which showed Linda how serious he was. However, J.J. told me to look at the big picture: Leo helped me in a desperate situation and this is all that matters. Probably this is the right way to look at things.

– Pretty smart and wise way of looking at life, actually.

– Indeed. And guess what? Both J.J. and Scott asked Leo to give them his cell phone number!

– What?

– Yeah! Now that bastard is going to have even more business. Can you imagine him parking Mr. Glenworth’s car? Now, that is financial power to show in your neighborhood!

– Ha, ha, ha! Not to mention Scott’s car, said Linda raising the stakes.

– Right! Anyway, this is my morning story and wanted to share it with you.

– Thank you! It was absolutely fabulous! God, I haven’t laughed this hard in such a long time!

The lights went down and John gently pulled Linda’s head towards him, softly kissing her on the lips.

– Hey, you have to wait ‘til we get home said Linda whispering into his ear.

– Can we skip this thing and go now?

– No! Common, be a good boy and watch the movie with me.

– OK. Let’s see what your good friend recommended this time. But I have the feeling that’s going to be another bore.

– We’ll see. Now be quiet. Can I have some popcorn, please?

– Sure, said John handing over the bucket. I really have a bad feeling about this thing, John mumbled for himself while trying to sit as comfortable as possible into the seat.

The preview went by him without even knowing what was about. His eyes were glued to the big screen but his mind was all over the places: the meeting, the car incident, the lunch, the post lunch meeting into J.J.’s Office, the assignment and the prospect of going overseas into an endeavor that was making him so uncomfortable, the uncertainty of him resolving the case, the fear of failure…oh yes! The fear of failure! This was a feeling that was already terrifying him. He was used to win, he was always confident that his training, his skills, his fearless and relentless ability of pounding on opposing defense will make him eventually win on the football field. The same abilities, coupled by intensive training into the financial field, experience and a keen eye for closing deals made him an indispensable asset at Glenworth. But all of this was getting done in a familiar environment. It was done “playing home”. Now he will have to play away, on the opponent’s field, into a hostile environment (or at least this is what he took from the conversation he had with J.J. and Scott). A cold sweat ran along his spine and all of a sudden he panicked. “What if I fail? What if I come back empty handed? J.J. will be disappointed in me…No!” This last “no” was actually yelled so loudly and made him stood straight up all of a sudden, that everybody into the theater turned the head at him.

– What happened, John? Linda asked the question with a trembling voice, holding her right hand at her mouth while pulling John’s sleeve and trying to look into his eyes.

– Nothing, nothing! I’m sorry…I….just wanted to…

– Do you think she is the murderer? How do you know? Oh my God! Maybe you are right! She is painted way too innocent from the very beginning…

– Yeah…I think that’s the lead.

– OK, be quiet now. My God! You are all sweaty, what happened? She pulled a handkerchief from her purse and started wiping the cold sweat that was dripping along his temples. John, you are worrying me!

– I’m OK, don’t worry. Watch the movie.

– You are still worrying me!

– I am OK, I’m OK. Let’s watch the movie. The drama unveiling in front of us is making me react unusual.

– OK. I am glad at least you are watching the movie. I am so happy we are doing this again.

– Me too.

Linda dug into the big bucket of popcorn again and slipped into her comfortable seat while resting her right knee against the empty seat in front of her and started watching again the movie with a feverish curiosity to catch up on last two missing minutes.

John realized that he has eventually to watch some of the movie in order to carry a conversation with his wife afterwards. He looked at the next two minutes and then fell back into his meditation on his new assignment. This time his line of thoughts was a lot more calculated and methodical. His mind started rewinding the lunch scenes and slowly but surely the advises he got from J.J. and Scott were coming up as an influx of well-organized information funneled through a filter that was supposed to let go only positive thinking, like a good coach’s motivational speech before a game played into a hostile territory. His brain switched from a fear dominated attitude, to a highly charged positive energy one, to a state of mind he was used to. His beautiful blue eyes caught a glimpse of brightness that sparkled into the dark like stars. His confidence came back and from that moment he put away all the negative thoughts that let him down and dragged him into such unknown environment. The lure of a new battle tickled his vanity and all the early fears were now history. His lungs filled up with air and the chest was moving back and forth from pounding heart beats, from the multitude of mixed feelings he went through during this unusual day. But now, at the end of it, he believed he was heading to the right direction. He committed to J.J. to straighten up the business in China and he would definitely do it! The fighting spirit caught up with him again without realizing that probably this is what he was actually missing during his comfortable, yet challenging years at Glenworth. Maybe this is what he needed: another challenge, to take him away from the daily routine, from the daily success, from the daily “know how” that made him such a valuable individual with the Organization. A large smile of self-confidence now flourished on his face.

-Do you think she really is the murderer, Linda whispered again into his ear?

-For sure, said John while asking himself what the consequences would be for not even having an idea what the movie was about. “This is going to turn out pretty bad”, murmured John trying to catch some of the action. “Too late, buddy! Too late! You are toast!”

The lights came back up and the people stood up chatting. Linda looked deep into John’s eyes mutely asking his opinion. He was virtually frozen and the only escape route he could find was to embrace her and whisper into her left ear: “we’ll talk at home”. Then he grabbed her by her left shoulder and made her turn around and head for the EXIT.

Once they got to the Wardrobe and picked up their overcoats, it was just a matter of few minutes until they got to their cars.

– Do I race you back?

– You are kidding, right? You drive a Sports car and I…

– You have a powerful SUV!

– You know what? If you feel like your adrenaline is running all over you, go ahead. But I am not going to speed up…

– I was just joking, said John while grabbing Linda by the hips and pulling her towards him in a sign that the “fight” was not going to happen.

– Yeah, I know – it was a “joke”…said Linda making the quotation signs in the air. As competitive as you are, you really wanted to race me back home!

– Let’s put an end to this! It was a joke and this is it!

– OK. Let’s head back home.

– Let’s get back home and…

– We’ll see, said Linda while cracking a smile from the corner of her bottom lip.

They both got into their cars and left the parking lot in a hurry.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 3-4 (The Meeting/John John Glenworth)

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 3

The Meeting

Ten minutes to nine. John John was never late for a meeting, not even a single minute. John grabbed his laptop and headed to the Boardroom. Usually he liked to talk to people before the start of each meeting, break the ice and get a feel for everybody else’s mood.

After the “good morning” and few greeting exchanges he set his laptop up and pulled on the screen again the file he just looked at when stepped into the Office. Nothing spectacular, nothing out of ordinary, yet his gut feeling was telling him that something was going on.

He screened the room again trying to read on people’s faces if his worries were shared by others. Not a sign! “Maybe I am overreacting…” and looked again at the financial statements in that particular file.

– Good morning everybody! And as usual, John John looked at the people in the room trying to see if anyone was missing. “Where is Rick, where is Tom?”

– They called in sick, came the answer right away from Scott. He was the Vice President, Glenworth’s right hand. John John was spending a significant amount of the day with him lately. Both Rick and Tom were reporting directly to Scott.

– Too many rounds last night, asked John John? Everybody else in the room burst in laughing, a laugh which sounded more like a kind of relief: “He is in a good mood!”

– OK. Let’s get going: the reason I called this meeting is that we do not have good news from our China Branch. He hooked up his laptop to the projector and pulled a file on the screen showing a Chart on Investment History for the last seven years. Surprising, for the first two years we are showing positive numbers and then we continuously dropped into the red zone. I cannot explain this trend. Usually, you are losing in the beginning and then you pick up the pace as you are getting more and more familiar with the respective market. I do understand the financial meltdown of the ‘08 and ’09 which did affect us too, but there is no reason whatsoever to keep losing money in the next three-four years. Now let me bring up the overview of the investments we made, per year and then sorted out per commodity only over a seven year period. The reason why I want to do this is for you to get a feel for the most resilient commodities during this seven year time span and eventually keep them in the back of your mind when you make an investment. You may say that investing in China is different than investing in North America or Europe or Australia. Agree. But there is no harm in taking a global look at a certain commodity before proposing an investment.

J.J. was slowly getting into his favorite part of doing a presentation: building up the momentum to the point when he was coming up with facts, hard numbers and details and always at the end with conclusions.

-Let’s get into details, ladies and gentlemen, and John was from that point onward only eyes and ears. The way J.J. was conducting a meeting was a piece of art. The tone of his voice was mostly deep and low pitched but was changing its tonality according to the importance of the paragraph, according to the message he wanted to send to the audience and most of all, according to what he wanted to achieve.

John studied him for years and he knew by heart what sort of gestures his boss was going to use with every inflection of the voice with every look he was taking at the people in the room.

As usual, at the end of the meeting the conclusions were presented based on hard numbers and of course, the invitation to comment and express own opinions on the presentation was a part of the Company culture which J.J. was anxiously waiting for. His blue eyes, of immaculate incandescent light were looking for any sign of feedback from the audience.

– I really don’t understand why investing in China is different than investing in Texas or Australia? Investing is investing. There are market rules and regulations in place, you do your homework according to company’s philosophy and place the investment, said John. He felt like somebody had to take the initiative and break down the wall of ice created at the end of J.J.’s presentation when nobody wanted to step up to the plate and ask questions. It seemed like nobody did any sort of preparation for this meeting and everybody had the mind occupied with the game only.

– What you are saying John, it is partially true. Yes, investing has its golden rules which are applicable to any sort of investment you make. But, an important part of the whole cycle of investing is: knowing the culture of the country you are placing your money into. It could eventually trigger market fluctuations on a specific commodity. For example: car insurance, or life insurance. Why would these two commodities take such deep dive when economy is doing well?

– Something is not right…it is not normal. That graph…goes against the trend. John stood up and walked to the pull down screen where J.J. still had a slide up. He pointed (with the pen he was holding) towards a specific segment of the graph where the slope was abruptly changing.

– That is exactly the area of the Investments myself and Scott have been looking at and scratching our heads for a long time, said J.J. with a large smile while the light that was coming out of his eyes was so intense that one would think he wanted to hypnotize the people around him. I believe we are done here and if nobody else has questions, we should adjourn. Thank you everybody for your time. We will have to probably meet again in three weeks.

John was ready to leave to room alongside everybody else, when J.J. put his big palm on his left shoulder and said:

– I need to speak to you, John. In my office, please.

– Yes Sir!

– Not now. In an hour, please.

– Yes Sir! I will be in your office in one hour.

– Thank you, son.

– You are welcome, Mr. Glenworth.

J.J. took a seat at the table and made a very discreet sign to Scott to do the same. When everybody else was out of the room, he pulled the presentation again, specifically at that particular slide that generated some interest during the meeting and started a conversation with his Foreign Investments Manager and Vice President.

John, was managing Mid-West and South-West US Investment Accounts and had seventeen Brokers reporting to him. He was reporting to J.J. directly same as all Managers in charge of the US Accounts. However, Scott was holding the Vice President title, so he was (unofficially, but accepted by everybody) above all other Managers by one step.

– J.J. wants to talk to you in his Office…Oooo! Are we looking here at a brand new big Manager? Are we looking at another Vice President? Vicky’s voice was more persuasive than ever and the smile on her face larger and sweeter than John’s ever seen.

– I am a Manager!

– Yes, but you never know what can come out of a private meeting with J.J. said Joan, a forty five year old Broker reporting to John as well as Vicky. Maybe he will make you the Manager over the whole US Accounts…

– Why not? He is smart, he knows what he is doing, he’s got the experience and he’s good looking said Vicky raising the stakes.

– Common’ guys, you are talking non sense. He is not going to make me any sort of more Manager than I already am, said John with the adequate quotation marks when saying the word “more”.

– Or maybe he will be the VP of the Company, said Jay Lee – a Broker from the Atlantic Group.

– Guys! Guys! Please! It is probably a discussion he wants to have on some of the latest investments we made in our newest market in Texas, nothing more.

– Oh yeah, newest market in Texas! He really needs to have a top secret meeting to discuss some Texas style of marketing – Eeeehaaaa – and Vicky graciously simulated a cowboy hat salute while partially sitting on John’s desk. Her short skirt was showing two beautifully shaped legs which attracted John’s attention at a point at which he didn’t know how to take his eyes off of them anymore. She was beautiful and she was pushing the envelope at a level any man could hardly resist anymore. The long blonde curly hair flowing down her shoulders, the narrow hips and the long wonderful legs would drive any man crazy. However, John was always finding her unattractive – for a reason he couldn’t explain. But Vicky was the ultimate predator. She felt the hesitation into John’s eyes. “It is time to go for the kill”. And her wonderful olive shaped eyes looked deep into John’s. John felt like his legs were trembling; his left hand was searching for his chair while his right hand was trying to keep Vicky away.

– Guys, you are making me uncomfortable already! It’s enough. Please, I need to do some preparation before the meeting, said John and with his left hand he showed people in his office the door.

– We understand, John. Please do tell us how the meeting went, said Vicky while slightly bending forward from the hips, enough to expose her largely shaped cleavage showing the two beautifully shaped breasts barely kept together by a pink bra making John almost swallow his Adam’s apple.

One by one, the people in his office evacuated the room and he found himself standing and looking at the door with an empty face, not knowing what to do next, not knowing what to expect next. Finally, John burst into a yell of frustration while setting his palms around his temples in an imaginary effort to get her off of his mind: “She is so pushy, I cannot stand her!”

He grabbed again the file he prepared for the meeting while pulling the chair and started digging again into numbers and data which “nobody seemed to have a grasp on” – this is what his mind was set to, before J.J. knocked at his door.

He didn’t hear the knock. He had his back turned to the entrance, completely focused on reading from the file with the face at the window.

J.J. was standing one foot inside of John’s Office waiting for John’s acceptance to be let in. However, John was so absorbed into his lecture, that J.J. realized he had to knock again into the door’s frame if he wanted to be heard. This is what he was about to do, when all of a sudden his eyes fell on some personal framed pictures John had on a piece of furniture in his office: kids graduating from High School, him getting married to Linda (with J.J. and John’s parents into the attendance) and a big black and white picture of John John and John’s father (Timothy) in Korea. Both of them in the Infantry uniforms, with the rifles pointing up while the expression carved on their teenager faces was showing a complete indifference to the fact that they could’ve  had not even made it to the next day. “The ignorance and the genuine bravery of the youth” sighed JJ without knowing that his sigh will be so loud that will make John turn around and jump from his chair:

– Mr. Glenworth! I am so sorry! I didn’t hear you…..please, come in!

– That’s quite alright John! I am sorry for disturbing. I was just trying…to see if you are ready for the meeting. And his sight fell again on the photo where he and Tim thought they could move the mountains only by looking at them. John followed his eye sight and understood right away JJ.’s emotional state of mind.

– Whenever you want me to come to your office, Mr. Glenworth…I am ready.

– Please start calling me by my first name, said J.J. while grabbing John’s left shoulder with his huge right palm and looking right into John’s eyes. Give me fifteen minutes, please; and J.J. disappeared as elusive as he did when walked into John’s office.

The fifteen minutes J.J. asked for, passed by quite fast. All this time, John couldn’t take his eyes off of the picture showing his dad and J.J. in those dirty Infantry uniforms, with their faces almost completely covered in mud. Their blue eyes were throwing bolts of fire trying to convince the photographer that the battle isn’t over. He looked at this photo hundreds of times before, but never was he as emotional over it as he was now. Probably the way J.J. was looking at the picture, the way J.J. was looking into his eyes when grabbed his shoulder, the way he slipped out of his office without making any noise, made John believe that this picture holds a magic power and needs to be beheld as it was sacred. He picked up the file he prepared earlier and headed for J.J.’s Office.

Chapter 4

John John Glenworth

J.J.’s Office was classy to say the least. From the entrance door made out of solid oak wood to the desk made out of hand carved mahogany and from the library (covering the whole wall on the left and made from oak wood as well) to the smaller meeting table and the coffee table, all beautifully assorted to the thick Persian carpet on the floor. The multitude of the light reds on the carpet so wonderfully distributed, made the furniture blend in gradually starting from the door and finishing with J.J.’s working desk.

Opposite the door, a big glass wall was showing the busy downtown and a view over the river always astonishing no matter which the season of the year was. This time of the year, the red color of the trees along the river were giving the sight a particular majestic appearance which was inviting people from the Office Buildings to take short walks during their lunch breaks. It was also a usual jogging route for the condo owners in Down Town area.

A large book stand with few shelves was placed behind his chair, to the right. It was the place where John John placed several framed personal photos, mostly family related. He and his wife Jen, he and his son George right before the accident, a photo of the whole family at John John Jr.’s College graduation and few more that couldn’t be clearly seen just by standing in front of his desk.

After the passing of his wife Jen, he had to go through yet another tragedy: the passing of his second oldest son – George – killed on a racing track. George loved racing cars and his dream was to make it all the way to the top and become a NASCAR driver. George’s death left enormous scars on J.J.’s behavior. He became quieter; he used to laugh so hard, his whole massive body was shaking up like a leaf in the wind. Now, he was just smiling quietly. His blue eyes were still as expressive and deep as ever, which in contrast with the thick white hair were always sending a message of self-confidence and were implying respect to and from the interlocutor.

Whoever didn’t know him, had the tendency to be frightened by his imposing stature or by the sharpness of his sight and the way he was looking straight into one’s eyes. But deep inside, he had the heart of a child. Alongside his career at Glenworth Financials he helped numerous young professionals become top advisers into a tough merciless market. Few of them even ended up owning their own companies. He was a master at molding young energetic rough unpolished gems (willing to learn) into diamonds of Financial Markets’ gurus.

John was one of those young talented guys turned by J.J. into a well-known leader at Glenworth Financials and well respected throughout the industry. His potential was immediately seen by John John: native intelligence, adaptability to new circumstances and ability to find a way out of the situations considered lost by others. After just few years at Glenworth, John was promoted into middle Management and had a team of three Brokers reporting to him. Now, after almost twenty years he became the Manager of the most important Accounts – asset wise – of the Company.

When John reached his boss’s office, he stopped at the door and tidied up again: straightened the tie and some invisible wrinkles on his coat and tried to guess by looking into a nearby window if his hair is still properly brushed.

The door was opened as usual. He softly knocked on the doors frame, as J.J. was facing the big glass wall – probably admiring the river side of the Downtown – and the amazing multitude of colors this early fall has brought over the city. From the door, John could only see the top of his head and the white thick white hair showing above his elegant executive leather chair. He knocked again, this time harder. Nothing. At this point he decided to do the trick which would probably never fail in any sort of situation similar to the one he was into: slightly coughed.

Immediately John John turned his chair around and a large smile flooded his face.

– Come in, come in, have a seat! J.J. showed John to the meeting table while shaking his hand. Do you want to have a seat on the couch? The coffee table was in front of a superb leather light colored couch, making this way the room “bigger” by neutralizing some of the sober yet elegant dark colors of the book stands, chairs and working table.

– It’s quite alright J.J. I am perfectly comfortable at this table. Thank you. And John pulled a chair waiting for J.J. to sit first.

– Let’s talk now, man to man said J.J. pulling the chair and inviting again his guest to sit.

I have known you for such a long time John; John John stopped for few seconds in an effort to remember the exact number of years he’s known John. How old are you now?

– I will be fifty one in March next year.

– It’s been fifty one years since I know you! It was like yesterday when I and Jen came over to your parents’ house to say hi to you! Fifty one years! As time goes by! In the mean time you grew into the man you are today and I only wish Tim was still with us to see what good job he has done. How is Judy?

– She’s alright. She does lots of volunteer work at the Church and whenever she has time left, she does the same at the Senior Center nearby. She tries to stay busy, which is good.

– I am glad to hear that. I haven’t seen her since…since the passing of your father. Please say hi to her for me.

– I will Mr. Glenworth; and I thank you for this in her name.

– How is Linda? How are the kids? I believe Stephen is in his last year at the College, if I am not mistaken? And Sophie has two or three more years to go, right?

– Linda is very busy with the school. She is the Principal now of the school – not sure if you knew.

– No! I didn’t know! I am so happy for her. Please congratulate her on my behalf. She is a very smart lady and so goal driven! I knew she would make it to the top in her career.

– I will say hi to her on your behalf and also tell her that you said “congrats”. Beside school, she is trying to keep her father’s legacy alive. She is investing lots of time at the Church after hours. I help her whenever I can.

– Oh, I remember now! Reverend Wilson was her father! What a man! I remember now! Please tell her to come over and see me. I am sure I can help her iron out some financial hurdles she is most likely facing.

– Thank you again J.J., but I am not sure she would take it. You know her. She is not just going to accept a generous check from you in order to spend it – even if it is for a noble cause.

– Nonsense! We’ll find a way to do this. I know lots of people in the financial business and we can put together a charity event. Just ask her to give me a call, please.

– Probably this way is going to work, said John. Actually this is the only way is going to work and a little discreet laughter came out of his throat.

John John smiled and asked again:

– You didn’t finish…how about the kids?

– Oh, Stephen is indeed into his last year…can’t wait to go to his graduation. And he is a quarterback too, said John and his chest was filled with so much pride that his eyes were already betraying him, in spite of the fact that he tried to stay as humble as possible in front of J.J.

– Fantastic! How about Sophie?

– She has two more years to go to the graduation. She is taking Political Studies hoping she could one day get into Politics.

-Aaa…Politics! Never liked it. But it is a necessary evil. You have a wonderful family John and I am so happy for you!

-Thank you Mr. Glenworth.

-John John is my name – especially when it’s just the two of us.

-Thank you J.J.

-Better. Now let’s get down to business.

Pushing a button on the remote control, a screen came out of a library opening. He connected then his laptop to the screen and pulled the presentation again on the screen.

– I looked at these slides a hundred times. Still can’t understand what’s going on, why are we losing money when we should be making it? This is why I called you here in my Office, John. I don’t expect you to find an answer just by looking at the numbers or digging into the files. Something else is going on, something I just can’t get my fingers around it…I am at the verge of giving up and this notion – you know very well – is not part of my vocabulary. Still…I just cannot understand what’s going on.

– Do you want me to start over, from scratch, from square one and dissect this thing into the smallest bits and pieces possible?

– No. I don’t want you to do that. It will be a loss of time. If I and Scott couldn’t come up with anything, neither you will. I want you to do something else…and J.J. took a long break. His eyes looked first somewhere at a specific point on the large window then he looked John straight into his eyes. John’s Adam’s apple started going up and down. A cold sweat was running down his spine when J.J. took his right hand between his two huge palms and said something he never expected:

– I want you to go to China and sort this matter out.

If somebody would’ve thrown a pin on the ground, the ding made by the fallen pin would’ve been heard all the way to the front desk. John’s face was petrified. He thought he did not hear right.

– You want… you want… you want me to go to China? This is what I am hearing?

-Yes. This is what I want, John. With all my heart, I have no choice…I don’t think there is anybody else in this Organization who can get to the bottom of this damn thing. You are smart, you are experienced, you have exceptional people skills abilities and you have something else, something nobody in this company has: a feel for traps. You are combining the training of an Office Executive with the nose for danger of a street guy you developed during those football years of yours. You are the perfect fit for this job. This is why I and Scott came up with this decision.

– So, whose idea this was: yours or Scott’s?

– It doesn’t matter. The job must be done. And it will be done! We cannot afford pulling out of China! His voice went from a normal low pitch calm voice to an authoritarian voice, the voice of a CEO who wanted a job to be done regardless of the hurdles laid down in front of his path.

– How can I help? I have never been there. I don’t know the culture, I don’t know people’s mentality, I can’t speak the language, I don’t know how they do business. You said it during your presentation that it is important to understand how people think – when investing abroad – so we can be on the same page and eliminate the cultural aspects…

– These things you just mentioned are important indeed and I am glad at least one person listened to my presentation! Ha, ha, ha! A big laugh came out of his big chest and his eyes were already watering from laughing. After a short pause, he took his hanky out of his suit pocket and wiped out his eyes.

– In the beginning you should focus on reading people, trying to see what sort of relationships have developed between them in the Office, who is running the show. Tony Gang is the China Branch Manager. He will be your contact person there at the highest level. Also, Vic (you remember Vic from Atlantic Division) will help you out with getting around there and translating. He’s been there for few years now and I hear that he is fluent in Mandarin, if you know what I mean…and J.J. made a giggling sound which made John scratch his head. He also knows lots of politics in that Office and you should heavily rely on him.

-I need some time to think about, Sir.

-Yes, for sure. I hope by Monday you have agreed.

-Today is Friday!

-You have the weekend to make up your mind. I am asking this as a favor from you, a favor with respect to all these years we’ve been together in this business! I have no one to send there, John! Please, help me out! And his eyes were slowly mellowing down from a thunder bolt throwing machine like, to a more like desperate type of a look, a look he has never seen on J.J.’s face before. He felt his shirt soaked wet into a cold sweat down his spine and started trembling while his right leg was nervously shaking up and down.

-I didn’t think it was that desperate, Sir. I didn’t think…

-Yes, it is. I didn’t want to show the real numbers in that meeting. We lost 70 million in the last five years. I buried the numbers so people wouldn’t see them. That graph was a bogus graph. This is the real one: and J.J. pulled another slide, John hasn’t seen during the meeting. The deep was severely more abrupt and John’s eyes almost popped out of the sockets.

-God! This is bad!

-Yes, it is. We are left with two alternatives: we either shut down that Operation or we fix it. And this is where I want you John, to step in and help.

-But I have no experience in overseas investments, I don’t know the culture (as you said), I don’t know the people, I can’t even understand what they are saying…how am I supposed to fix this mess?

-I don’t expect you to fix the mess, John. I want you to lead me to the right track! That’s all I need. I need you to lead me to the right track! I will take care of business from there on. I spent endless nights thinking what to do, thinking if I have to pull the plug or not. I do believe that we should be there, but something is not right! I cannot keep sinking company’s money into a bottomless pit. This is why I need you to go there and try to figure out what the hell is happening with that Organization.

-Let me talk to my wife, J.J. I’m sure she would understand. She loves you. You are a mentor to both of us. You have my answer, I hope you understand.

-Thank you John. Please send my respects to Linda. I can’t wait to see her again.

J.J.’s eyes were watering again and in order for John not to see this, he stood and went to his desk facing the window. He was the kind of man never let his emotions come out in front of his employees and even John was so closed to him, he did not want to see him getting weak – or this is what J.J. considered that state of emotion to be.

He kept looking through the window while he had his hands joined at the back giving a clear sign that the meeting was over.

John figured out that it was time for him to leave and quietly slipped out of the Office. He walked to his Office and sat on his chair facing the same side of the building as J.J.: the river side view of the Downtown. It was absolutely spectacular at this time of the day and his head was spinning already…”What am I going to do in China? How can I help? I know absolutely nothing about doing business there, I know nobody. How am I supposed to come up with a solution?” All these questions started haunting him and a strange feel of uncertainty wrapped him in spite of the fact that he was trying to stay calm and not panic. For the first time in his life he was panicking. He grew up being taught by his father Tim to keep a cool head regardless of the situation. He had his endless football training sessions where he learnt to stay cool into the pocket and not panic, to rely on his big offensive linesmen to protect him from the hits, to rely on his teammates to give him those two seconds he needed to make the throw. In the Office he had a team of professionals who knew how to make a trade, who knew how to make a call when it was about a good investment opportunity who knew how to alert him when things went south.

This time, he figured out he would be all alone in uncharted waters, in a world where the rules are different, in a world where he could not even speak the language, in a world where he could not rely on anybody but himself. He panicked! “I have no pocket! How am I supposed to win a game like this?”

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 1-2 (John/Linda)

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 1

John

Since kids left for College, they developed a habit of sleeping with the door of the Master Bedroom open. It was just another way of keeping in touch with the “world down stairs”.

The smell of the freshly brewed coffee made him crack a smile in spite of the fact that he was still half asleep. The alarm clock was set to go off fifteen minutes prior to the coffee maker starting brewing and the pleasure of laying in the bed and stealing another quarter of an hour from yet another hectic day to come, was bringing him an immense pleasure.

Finally, he decided to get out of the bed; turned and rolled over, closer to Linda. John lifted his head, looked at her for few seconds and then hugged and kissed her on the side of her neck. In spite of the fact that she was still sleeping, he could see that his kiss brought an immense pleasure on her beautiful face and a purring like sound made him think at naughty things. He bit his bottom lip and slowly rolled out of the bed trying not to wake her up.

Started walking with his eyes half closed towards the bathroom. Turning the light on in the bathroom made him close his eyes for a moment. Took his T-shirt off and looked into the mirror. “Still got it, still got it buddy” came instantly out of his mouth and his face was flooded with an expression of satisfaction.

His flat stomach was still showing the six pack which during his football years brought him the famous nickname everybody in the team was envying: “the Spartan”. It was the nickname in the locker room given each year by the team mates to the player with the best sculptured abs. A great sense of pride brightened his face and the memories poured in: the great game for the Championship won in the last seven seconds by his throw, the party after the game and inevitably, the injury which ended a very promising career. Dropped his head for two seconds, then looked again in the mirror and chuckled: “You would’ve made it to the NFL! You sure would’ve made it!”

The morning routine settled in very quickly: teeth brushing, showering and shaving, everything done with very precise motions and in a set time frame; three minutes for teeth brushing, five minutes for the shower, four for shaving. Hair combing came after and was still taking some time in spite of the fact that he lost some hair around his temples. Actually, the grey shades in his hair gave him a mature look, the look of a man who is in control, a man who is an established professional capable of providing a comfortable living for his family.

“Coffee time! It is now coffee time” and took the stairs down to the kitchen while putting on a nice silk robe around him and rubbing his hands against each other in a sense of great expectations – like a kid in a candy store. The smell of the fine coffee he just poured into his cup, made him close his eyes and take a deep breath – like he wanted to make sure he absorbed all that wonderful essence of the Caribbean blend he was buying from the gourmet coffee shop across his Downtown Office. First sip was short, with his eyes closed, trying not to lose anything of the great bold and robust aroma of the liquid in his cup. “So good, so good”, exclaimed John in such an enthusiastic way that made one truly understand John was indeed a specialist in gourmet coffees!  He put the cup on the kitchen table and headed towards the entrance. Opened up the door, wrapped the robe around his waist and picked up the Newspaper. Looked at the sky and mumbled: “it will be a cold winter; hopefully we won’t have too much snow”. On his way back, took a quick look at the Sports Section: “They lost!” A glimpse of sadness – like a lonely cloud on a clear winter morning sky – settled on his bottom lip. “Why did I miss the game? How come I got so out of touch with the Sport I love so much that I completely forgot about the game? Aha…the Meeting!”

After the unexpected call for a large scale Meeting (which directly came from John John yesterday afternoon), he started digging into his files. Due to the fact that Scott did not provide any Meeting Agenda, he was nervous. This never happened before. “What if I have to present something? No. He didn’t provide any discussion topics. What if…?” That “if” started torturing him and completely forgot that he was supposed to be with everybody else from the Office at the usual Sports Bar to watch the game together. Even forgot that while the guys were leaving, he asked Vicky to order wings for him when she asked him if he was coming? “Of course I do! Today is the big game! I wouldn’t miss it for the world. What sort of question is this?”

“Just asking, John. Just asking” said Vicky and left while looking over the shoulder smiling persuasively. He smiled back, opened a large binder containing notes he took from the past two years’ meetings and started reading. Didn’t even realize when it got dark outside. He raised his head only when John John softly knocked on the frame of his opened Office door and asked: “You didn’t go with the guys to watch the game?”

Pulled a chair and had another sip while turning the TV on.

“Temperatures are in the low forties and we expect them to stay like this for the whole week…it will be a cold winter, folks”. “Yeah, thanks for the late breaking news!” and switched the channel.

“Financial markets took a dive today folks, at the news that Chinese economy will only grow at a rate of 5.7%, much lower than most of the Analysts predicted. On the other hand, the Bank of China announced unprecedented reforms to the lending policies trying this way to stimulate an economy which everybody in the world fears will start sputtering and come to a stall after years of robust growth”.

He became eyes and ears at the news and immediately opened the Financial Section of the Newspaper on the table. “Glenworth Financials” lost three dollars and forty three cents per share between three and four o’clock yesterday. This was totally unexpected especially after the steady growth recorded over the past five years, growth mainly due to the opening of the Shanghai Office and exposure to the immense Chinese market.

“This doesn’t make sense. It is an emotional sell. People are selling based on the news…Hmm, maybe it’s time to buy few shares” and a large conspiring smile showed up on the left corner of his mouth. “Maybe it’s time to buy” and John took another sip out of the cup.

He finished then the coffee with short and calculated sips while devouring the Financial Section in front of him. It didn’t take too long before he got a clear picture of what the Markets will do in the next weeks. Then he stood up and headed towards the Living room when all of a sudden everything became clear to him: “This is why John John is calling the Meeting! Of course this is the reason!” came out with a sigh of relief. “It has to be!” John John knew about the announcement and wasted no time in calling this emergency meeting. He has been working close to J.J. since he joined “Glenworth Financials” and his reaction felt simply normal. He got to know John John very well and not being ahead of the game was something he hated the most. “I’m sure that he already has a plan sketched up”.

Moments later he was upstairs, opened up the closet and took a quick look at the large wardrobe at his disposal. The shirts were all aligned by color. He picked a light silk cappuccino one which beautifully matched the beige suit with thin, vertical, light gray stripes he set his eyes on. The leather light brown shoes and a tie which wonderfully matched the shirt and the suite completed his choice for the day. Took all of them into the bedroom, making sure he didn’t make too much noise. Linda was still sleeping and judging by the look on her face, he figured out that she was having pleasant dreams. He started dressing and this morning less than ever, he spent very little time looking at the details like: “perfect knot” or “perfect pants crease”. He was dressing with feverish and precipitated moves as opposing calm and calculated ones as usual. He was eager to get to the Office as soon as possible so he could get access to the Network and dissect the financial statements Glenworth publicized two days ago. “Done! Let’s go!”

– Morning handsome, came from her direction. Quickly turned around and looked at her. Bent a knee then hugged and kissed her.

−Morning beautiful, he whispered into her ear. This made her wrap her arms around his neck and smile again.

−I have to go. Please let go. Her arms were strongly holding him close to her chest. “I really have to go, now. Common, be a good girl and let me leave” said John again with a soft and calm voice trying to break loose from the hug.

−I see you tonight at the Theater?

−Of course you’ll see me. Have a good day now. I’ll call you after lunch.

−OK. You may go now, she said closing her eyes while hugging the big pillow she was sleeping on.

He rushed downstairs with the shoes in his hands. The rule was simple and clear: “no shoes inside of the house”. He put them on in the hallway and was ready to storm out of the house when he realized he left the TV on. “That’s OK” was his first instinct as he knew Linda would watch the news as well while having her tea. But the discipline cultivated during his College Football career and during the years at Glenworth made him take his shoes off and head for the kitchen. “No electric device should be kept on while being away from the house”.

Grabbed the remote control and the moment he was ready to push power button, Sports news came up: “And now let’s watch some highlights from last night game and especially the last seconds’ drama when our boys came so close of winning”. Memories popped up into his head as he was watching the last throw of the Quarterback to the Receiver and the close miss. “It was less than an inch, less than an inch. This is really bad luck, bad luck folks!” A sigh of disappointment came out of his chest and turned the TV off. On his way back to the entrance, he stopped by the door of the room he was using as his home office. Flipped the switch and took a long look at the big poster showing him making the throw with seven seconds left for the championship. It was him, on that torrential rain, completely covered by mud, making that last throw while being tackled by two Defensive Linemen. And it was the same play which ended his career. He never fully recovered from that torn ACL and even if the broken ribs healed well, once in a while he was feeling some pain in the area, especially during intense physical effort. “I guess I was lucky, I made the throw. I did make that throw!” came out of his chest while chuckling and flipping the switch back off.

He put the shoes on, grabbed the over coat from the coat hanger, the suite case and then headed straight for the garage. Opened the door of his red muscle car, threw the suitcase and the coat on the front seat and stormed out of the drive way without waiting for the car to warm up. Usually he wouldn’t do it, but now there was a totally different ball game on the line. He had to get into the Office as soon as possible. The Meeting was called for 9.00 am. “Hopefully the traffic is not too bad”. Once he got on the freeway, stepped on the gas pedal shifting into the highest gear. The 500 HP engine neighed like a pure blood Arabian horse taken out of the stable for the morning run and the tires squalled on the fresh asphalt trying to keep up with all the mightiness of the eight cylinder engine. “Hopefully there are no cops around” and moved into the most left lane. He was closing in to reach Downtown when all of a sudden he started seeing red brake lights from the cars ahead of him. “Damn it! It must be an accident ahead”. He swiftly moved towards the most right lane to be positioned for an exit on one of the City Streets towards Downtown. Within next half a mile he got a clear picture of what was going on ahead of him: one lane opened only – accident. Luckily he was close to the next exit and without any hesitation took a side street towards Downtown. “Not too bad, not too bad! At least I am moving.” Took him another eighteen minutes to reach the street his Office Building was on and truly started believing in Murphy’s laws: he caught every single red light possible. After making the right turn on the street where his Office Building was on, the traffic came onto a complete halt. “You gotta’ be kiddin’ me!” He opened up the door (as nothing was moving) to see what was going on. He had less than a hundred and fifty yards to the front of the building. “Are you kidding me? These jack asses are towing a car now, during the rush hour so the traffic can get from bad to the worst possible!” His carotids were pulsing from anger. “Think John, think!” came out of his mouth looking around and holding his point fingers at the temples. Suddenly he saw Leo on the other side of the road, walking up and down on the side walk in front of the Hotel rubbing his hands against each other in an attempt to stay warm. Leo was one of the Valets who were parking cars at the Hotel across the street. He met him few years ago when car pooled with Vic while his car got fixed. It was exactly the same situation but at that time Vic had the answer: got Leo to park the car while both of them walked to the Office. Obviously Vic did it before, otherwise how would’ve he known Leo?

– Leo! Leo! Leooooo, yelled John as hard as he could. However, the people were honking the horns trying to achieve something impossible: moving. Leo couldn’t hear him. He started waving at him while still yelling: “Leo! Leo!” Finally, Leo saw him and before heading towards his direction had a short hesitation. He didn’t recognize John. However, Leo was one of those street smarts who have their noses trained in smelling a nice tip. Just by looking at John’s nice red muscle car, he intuitively knew his day was about to start on a high note. He was a city guy and it was a giving knowing how to complement your regular income with cash coming from wherever else.

– Leo, I’m John – we met a while ago. I’m Vic’s friend. Remember me?

– Heeey, of course I remember you! How are you Mr. Parker? How is Vic? I haven’t seen him in years!

– He is in China. Long story…

– Ahaaaa. He is in China. Lucky guy! He probably got himself a nice Chinese chick, boom, boom, boom…

– He is there for a work assignment.

– Oooh….I understand. Work assignment, said Leo while winking and a large smile exposed his impeccable white teeth which in contrast with his dark skin were shining like diamonds in the rough.

– Listen, Leo. I need your help. I have a Meeting in exactly thirty eight minutes and I still have preparations to make. I need…

– Of course I can park the car for you, Mr. Parker!

– Thank you so much, Leo! You have no idea how much you are helping me!

– Don’t worry Mr. Parker. I will leave the car keys with the guys downstairs at the Information Center and a note with the parking spot number.

– Leo, you are a treasure! John pulled the wallet out of his pocket and took all the cash out of it and gave it to Leo.

– No, Mr. Parker! You don’t have to do this! But Leo’s fingers were already counting the fresh bills in his hand.

-I insist, Leo. I still owe you. You are helping me big time, said John while running towards the Building.

Leo jumped into the car, took his Valet coat off and set the radio to his favorite Rap Station at a volume any another person would’ve instantly gone deaf. “Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah baby! Hundred twenty dollars! It’s gonna’ be a good day, good day, good day! Yeah baby… yeah baby… yeah baby”.  He opened up the roof (in spite of the crisp fall morning) continuing to rap hoping that the traffic will still be jammed for a while.

John stormed into the Building. The elevator was not coming quick enough! He checked his wristwatch: “come on, come on!” and started pushing button 27 numerous times. Glenworth Financials was renting the whole 27th Level of the Building. His Office was short distance, down the hall from J.J.’s office. Mr. Glenworth was already in. All the lights in his office were turned on, which made John understand that his boss showed up for work very early in the morning.

“He is reviewing his presentation. He did not provide any sort of Agenda!  I hope this meeting is his show only.”

He passed J.J.’s Office and took a look inside while passing by. He had his laptop set on the table behind his working desk and was typing.

John wanted to stop and say good morning, but realized his boss was too absorbed by his work and a disruption wouldn’t have made him a very happy person. So, he just headed for his office trying not to make any sort of noise that would’ve disturbed his boss from his work. Turned on his laptop and logged into network. He was particularly interested into the Financial Statements related to Glenworth’s investments in China. “Bingo!” said John with a great relief of satisfaction on his face while looking at his watch: “I still have twenty five minutes on my hand”. He started digging in.

Chapter 2

Linda

The alarm clock went off ten minutes before 8.00 am. Linda reached for the snooze button and turned on the other side trying to steal another ten minutes of the morning sleep.

Her first class for the day was scheduled for 10.00 am, so she didn’t feel any pressure to hurry in waking up. Shortly after the second alarm sound, she got up and headed towards the bathroom. She was always brushing the teeth before taking the shower which she did as a morning routine once again. Then dropped her pajama and got into the shower. In spite of giving birth to two children and closing in to be forty nine, her body was still showing forms which a twenty year old girl would’ve been jealous on. All those years spent as a cheer leader, all the gymnastics hours taken during her youth are paying now off. This is actually how she met John. During the Big Game, he got out of the pocket and made a run for the first down. Got pushed out of bounce and couldn’t stop running into her. Luckily he got the presence of mind of dropping the ball and taking her into his arms. She remembered being carried for few yards without touching the turf. When their little tango came at a halt, she finally felt the ground under her feet and it was only that time when she had the power to look him up into the eyes: he was John Parker! Every girl in the school had his name in the daily vocabulary or at least a poster with him on the dorm’s wall.

From that moment on, everything was a fairy-tale story: the “I am sorry” which came out of his lips while looking her straight into the eyes, the party after the game when she was desperately looking for him, the unexpected phone call which came the second day, the visit at the Hospital where she saw him in a cast from the waist up to the arm pits, the start of their relationship, the wedding, kids, kids going to College…

All these memories were popping up while looking into the mirror when carefully drying her long, beautiful hair and a big smile was flooding her face.

She grabbed a robe, and headed for the kitchen. Turned the TV on and started making her morning tea. Weather Channel, Financial Markets, Sports…nothing interested.

Poured the tea into a cup and started browsing through the newspaper John brought in. It was still opened at the Financial Section. She saw the mark made by John with a black marker: it was the quotation on the Market of Glenworth Investments. “The news is not too good, I guess” said to herself seeing the negative sign in front of the dollar figure. Then she moved to “Arts & Life”. This was her piece of cake: new art at the Galleries, movies, new plays at the Opera House.

“The shooting which took place last night in front of the Lagoon Paradise, left two young men: sixteen and eighteen years old dead and three others in their twenties seriously wounded. The area is sealed up by the Police and the investigation behind the shooting has begun. It is strongly believed though, that it was gang related” came up and all of a sudden her all attention was captured by the TV.

“This is just great! Yet another shooting! Somebody has got to do something about this otherwise the whole city will turn into a war zone”.

As a teacher and as the Principal of a reputable High School in town, she was regularly participating at the City School Board meetings and was very familiar with the gang related issues in the schools. She was spending a great deal out of her free time in working with children coming from underprivileged families helping them catching up with the learning but mostly offering guidance on day to day life. She was doing it with great pleasure as she grew up with the mindset that you always have to give something back to the society and help people less fortunate than you.

Her father was a minister of the church in the little town she grew up and he spent his whole life spreading the word of Gospel, comforting and helping people in need, and most of all: going into the poor communities and talking to parents, teenagers and even to the kids. Reverend Wilson was a true missionary dedicating a good part of his life to the welfare of the kids coming from broken up families, homeless, or teens joining gangs. He was particularly working with kids dragged into the gangs. It was his believe that they are just missing the guidance and the warmth environment of a stable family, of an environment where they can feel they have a future, an environment where they feel “important”.

He almost lost his life when he got caught into a cross fire shooting between two gangs. He was having one of his regular discussions about God and life of Jesus with few kids close to a community Basketball court. A bullet hit him in the neck and he was very lucky that no major artery was touched. From that moment on, he truly believed that God chose him to take his will to the poor and unfortunate. He spent the rest of his life trying to build a Parish into that community, a community riddled by violence, unemployment, broken up families and gang fighting. He did not live to see the Church opening up. He lost a battle only good Lord could’ve won it. Until the last moments he thanked God for the life and the family he had, for the chance to be His humble servant on Earth and the good deeds he did serving Him.

For the last two weeks of his life, Linda was with him, all the way to the end and she still remembers him whispering while looking up at the ceiling: “Lord, thank you for not taking my minds away from me”. Then his beautiful blue eyes froze and Reverend Wilson went to meet Him.

This last phrase followed her for long time after his passing.

He was her life model and in spite of the fact that she was not going to the church as often as she used to, her dad’s teachings survived into her sub consciousness and his legacy turned into a mission.

The great Easter Sunday morning when the Parish was opened and people flocked in, made her feel such a great sense of pride especially that in spite of all adversities and lack of financial support, she managed to take her father’s project to the end! And only the fact that her father was not there to see his dream come true stopped her from fully enjoying the ceremony.

Reverend Jackson officiated the Mass. He was one of the teenagers her father saved from the gang environment. He followed the path of faith laid in front of him by Reverend Wilson and eventually became the Pastor of the Parish. He relentlessly continued the work of Linda’s father, trying to keep his legacy alive.

In all the charitable projects she had in the community, Linda worked very close with him. The fact that he grew up there and people knew him was of a tremendous help to her. The seeds planted by her dad are now producing crops.

“And with the help of good Lord, hopefully we will get to harvest the crops, Amen!” said Linda and took the stairs up to the first floor. “It’s time to get ready! It is another day”.    She began dressing and for a reason she couldn’t explain, memories of her first teaching class (at the High School she was still teaching), settled in. The nervousness, the anxiety, the sense of pride, the fear of failure, all came up and in spite that all of these feelings were pure history she felt a knot in her throat. She looked into the mirror and realized that small drops of sweat were coming down on her face. “What’s going on? Why is this happening?” Wiped the sweat with the sleeve of the robe and sat on the edge of the bed to gather her thoughts while still looking into the mirror. She had a worry looking face. “Why is this happening? Why?” Memories of her father losing the battle with that cruel illness came to her mind again. She covered her face and held the head into her palms for a second. “It has to be just an anxiety attack! It will go by soon and everything will be just fine” said again to herself and tried to get all these negative thoughts out of her mind by deeply breathing while gently massaging her lower abdomen.

“It’s gone! See? It was just a short anxiety attack! I knew it!”

Immediately jumped on her feet and feverishly started looking for the suit she wore during her first teaching class at the High School she was still teaching. It was buried among other suits she was not wearing anymore at the end of the walk in closet.

She took it to the bedroom, while the suit was still on the hanger and held it in front of her while looking into the mirror again. Then she did a little pirouette, turned around and looked from the profile. She really liked what she saw and a smile blossomed on her face. Her abdomen was still flat, the skin smooth like velvet and the few little wrinkles around her eyes were only adding charm to the whole bouquet of femininity she was radiating in that moment. She softly bit her lower lip, the same way she did when John grabbed her from the side line and made her float for few seconds during the Championship game. He made a run for the first down and couldn’t stop in time, so he involuntary ran into the cheer leaders group where he grabbed Linda. He realized that a collision wouldn’t have ended up too well for her, so he picked her up and made few more steps carrying his future wife into his arms. That little lip biting in tandem with her angelic smile made John forget that he had to get back on the field. He was brought to reality by “Big K.J.” who yelled at him while grabbing both his shoulders with his huge palms: “Common, man! We are losing! What the Hell is wrong with you?”

She burst into a big healthy laugh, a laugh which came at a moment she needed it the most. It was like a vane releasing the steam out of a boiling vessel.

Two years later, K.J. was one of John’s “Best men”. Eventually he became a successful businessman who tremendously helped her during the struggling years she went through trying to make her father’s dream come true.

Immediately decided to try the suit out: “Still fits!” yelled with such a pleasure that her whole face was flooded by a large smile which eventually turned into a discreet laugh of satisfaction. “Still fits!”

The decision to wear the suit came without any sort of hesitation, in spite of the fact that was out of fashion. Probably all those memories which made her go through an emotional roller coaster few minutes ago made her immune to any thoughts related to what could people say. And the fact that in the evening she will have a nice movie watching night out with John, pushed her even more towards getting dressed into that particular attire. Maybe her sub consciousness just wanted to trigger memories from the times of her first date with John, from the times when they were just grabbing a bucket of popcorn and walked into a Theater to watch a movie, from the times when there were not too many responsibilities on their shoulders…times she knew will never come back.

A short sigh came out of her chest and started dressing. It did not take very long. Took the stairs down to the kitchen and had a last look at the News Channel: “….it is going to be a cold week, folks! Dress accordingly” the advice came from the Weather man.

“Great! It is exactly what we want, a cold October. Probably at Thanks Giving we’ll have two feet of snow!” and turned the TV off.

While walking towards the hallway, she wanted to shut John’s Office door close. For whatever reason she flipped the switch up and the big poster showing John making the last seconds throw for the Championship win appeared in front of her. For a second she was stunned, looking completely lost at the poster. Same knot came back into her throat and felt like choking. She looked at that poster hundreds of times before. This time was something special about it, something she could not explain. Finally, a great sense of pride settled in and again, that little smile and lip biting made her chuckle and turn the light off while closing the door.

Grabbed her overcoat from the hanger and the suitcase; set the alarm on and headed for the garage while in her mind already made a decision to take the SUV and leave home the small convertible she was also driving during summer time. Probably the weather forecast she listened at for few seconds, made her set into a self-protection mode when decided to take the big car to work. Tuned the radio to her favorite station and stepped on the gas pedal. “It is a new day! Good Lord, please watch over us!”

She picked the usually route: a street which eventually was turning into one of those little two lane roads through the country side.

This time of the year, the scenery was absolutely fabulous. The color of the leaves was astonishing: hundreds of different shades of red, yellow and orange combined into a unique pallet of nuances was offering a tremendously restful view. The spectacle of colors surrounding the car from all over the places made her adjust the volume knob to minimum. She just felt like wanting to absorb every single detail of the view, every single quiver of those heavenly colored leafs.

All of a sudden something caught her eye: on one side of the road deep into the farm land, on a little hill, a deer herd was quietly and carefully resting and ruminating on a recent meal.

Linda pulled over, took a little binocular out of the glove compartment and zoomed into their direction. Their ears were pointing up and rotating trying to catch every noise that would have signaled danger. It was like a hypnoses session: everything around her became surreal, mystic and untouchable and yet so close to her senses. The binocular brought the animals she was admiring so close, that she felt like stretching her hand and fondle them.

She watched them for few minutes, completely lost, forgetting that she had a class in less than forty minutes.

Finally, reality settled in and Linda hit the road again with a sigh of sorrow that she was leaving her “friends” behind. “Maybe tomorrow they will be back and I would be able to see them again”.