Dining with Dracula

When the shadows of the braves
Bring the bats out from the caves
And the werewolves to the gates,
When the night will be soon
A playground for the moon,
When the wolves’ howl in the night
Will be feared far and wide,
HE will raise from the grave
To spread terror among the brave
Suckling blood from his bites
Making virgins newly wives.

Then the feast have had started
Many knights have been invited
All of them with dark, grey past
Never told, never asked,
Prisoners of the lust
Lust for flesh and lust for gold
Never ever to be sold!

The cupbearer brings the wine
And the Minstrels tune the vibe
The vibe of their strings
Make immortals dance in rings
Til’ the roosters’ crow again
Make them mortals and villains.

HE then stood and made a sign…
Stretched the hand and asked for wine
With a thundering voice, teased:
“I just changed my mind…
May I have a rum and Coke? To go, please!”

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 53 – Helping a friend

Chapter 53

Helping a friend

The living room was encompassed by a great and jovial atmosphere. Yue Ying and Zhaohui were still sobbing from the emotional encounter they had while Zihuan, Yuhuan and Chenguang were all smiles as they realized that they are the witnesses of a great story which only in movies could’ve been seen. Chenguang (Zihuan’s sister), as well as the two detectives had their sight bolted on Yue Ying. Apparently they either knew her from somewhere, or Yue Ying’s beauty was acting like a magnet, attracting all the attention of the actors participating at the scene. Eventually the two sisters broke up from the long embracement (which kept them together almost like one single body) and while the tears of joy on their faces were showing the emotional state they were going through, they had the power to smile and eventually laugh, thus bringing the three spectators closer. An endless amount of questions directed towards Yue Ying poured out of Chenguang’s chest. Apparently she was familiar with Yue Ying’s artistic endeavor and she was a great fan. The cap and the t-shirt she was wearing were signed by Yue Ying which made the atmosphere even more relaxed and enjoyable.

It was the time when Vic and John approached the living room coming from the office area. Vic slightly tilted his head in a sign: “Go ahead and tell Zhaohui the story”. John looked at Yue Ying, then at Zhaohui…the great display of happiness on their faces made him refrain from starting saying the story of the dreamshe had. Instead, he took a seat on one of the chairs and without understanding anything from what they were talking about, he realized that Yue Ying was already a celebrity – at a smaller scale. Then something great happened: probably Chenguang asked her to sing, as Yue Ying’s crystalline voice pulled the refrain of the song he and Vic heard at the Black Swan. It was that amazing “Shanghai Sun” refrain which made the whole establishment sing along. Instead of following the plan, he leaned against the back of the chair and decided to listen. Her vocal chords were releasing greater and greater tunes which made John close his eyes and silently listen. At the end, a big round of applauses followed while Yue Ying tilted her head forward thanking the audience. John stood up and headed again for the window grabbing Vic’s arm, in a sign of: “I need to speak to you”.

-Why didn’t you tell Zhaohui the story?

-Didn’t you see how happy they were?

-So…are you going to eventually do it?

-Eventually…yes, I will do it.

-When? It looks like things are coming together and this circle, or cosmological path, or whatever it is called is soon supposed to close.

-No rush, Vic. No rush. Listen, I need you to do me a big favor…

-Now I am scared! Every time you ask for a favor, unforeseen events are happening. Vic laughed as hard as he could then he looked into John’s eyes:

-I’m serious, man…when you come up with an idea, life is becoming exciting.

-And what’s wrong with excitement?

-No, thanks! I am at the age when I want my life to smoothly sail towards retirement.

-OK, then. Let’s hope that the favor I am asking from you will not create that unwanted excitement…a moment of silence fell between the two men. John was looking straight into his friend’s eyes and Vic understood right away that this was big. He started wiping inexistent sweat from his forehead.

-What is it, John?

-I want to make Yue Ying a big star, here in China.

Another few seconds of silence followed up, only to be broken by Vic’s huge laughter.

-You want to do what? Are you out of your mind? John, we have an assignment from J.J. We have to take it to the finish line somehow. Tony Gang and your neighbor are spying every movement we are making. You are in danger here – both I and Zhaohui told you that you have to move. You consistently refuse to follow our advice. Now you fell in love with this girl…have you fallen in love with her?

Vic’s last question made John startle…the questions he asked himself earlier resurfaced. He looked at Vic with the look of a person who just took a drug which made him oozy.

-For Goodness sake, John! What the hell has happened to you?

-Are you going to help me out? Yes, or no?

 The last sentence fell on Vic like a hammer. He dropped on the chair which was closer to the window and without saying anything, grabbed a glass, poured some wine and started watching the barges sliding down stream on Huangpu River. John joined him and now both of them had their eyes on a spectacle as great and mysterious as the river itself.

-What do you want from me, John? How can I help you on this matter?

-Vic, you know people here in town. I need to get somehow to a recording house and get Yue Ying and the band in for auditions.

-You are nuts! Do you know how many bands like this oneare in Shanghai? Why is this band special?

-Did you listen to their songs?

-Yes I did, of course. We were together at Black Swan on Sunday night…remember? Vic tried to pull a laughter, but the sound that came out of his chest was everything but a laughter. His state of discomfort was obvious and John understood immediately.

-Vic, I am asking this favor from you as a friend.

-Ok, John. I understand. But…do you have a plan? You are telling me that we will start knocking at the doors of all the recording houses in this city, right?

-We start with the biggest ones. If they don’t want to talk to us, then we will try to deal with the smaller guys.

-How about our assignment?

-Who is stopping us from doing these two activities in parallel?

-I still believe that you’ve gone nuts, but I will help you. Let’s put together a plan. When do you want to start?

-Tomorrow morning.

-We don’t even have an appointment.

-Right. You start making phone calls – Zhaohui might be able to help.

-OK. I will engage her. I think she has somebody at her school who knows somebody in show business.

-Bingo! We’ll start with Zhaohui’s colleague.

-OK. Now let’s see what’s going on there, said Vic pointing towards the group of five people who apparently were greatly enjoying their chatting and laughing.

John’s eyes fell again on Yue Ying. She was so happy and so was Zhaohui!

-Everybody…everybody, a moment of silence please. Vic’s voice was trying hard to cover the noise generated by the good mood employed by the three detectives, Yue Ying and Zhaohui. Finally, when everybody was quiet he asked a question which generated even more happiness:

-Is anybody hungry? Any preferences? From the answers he was getting, he realized that he has the liberty of ordering whatever he wanted. Swiftly he picked up the phone and starting placing requests for lunch.

-John, now that we have some time before they bring our lunch, would you mind telling Zhaohui the story of the two dreams you had?

John startled…he took again the seat he previously had and with a calm and balanced voice tried to summarize the two dreams he had. Zhaohui was not even blinking. She was virtually absorbing every single word which was coming out of John’s mouth. When John finished, she dropped her head and grabbed her temples between her palms into a sign that she was deeply concerned with this turn of the events, or maybe in a sign that she is resting her hopes into whatever the fate will throw at her.

-John…do you know who the other rider was, beside you?

-No. His face was always covered and he was always sitting into a cone of shadow trying hard to hide it from me. However, his voice was so familiar!

-This is the last piece of the puzzle. The good thing is that he will be part of our camp. Now let me tell you guys the dream which I had, on Sunday when we went to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

-That was the time when you meditated by that beautiful courtyard!

-Yes, that was it…Zhaohui cleared her voice and as John did earlier, she started telling the story of the two riders storming into the gardens bringing with them a girl who had a hand cut off. Then her voice became emotional, especially when she reached the time when the two girls were saying goodbye to the Teacher. Two tears appeared into her eyes. John felt his palate as dry as a piece of tinder, while Vic pulled a napkin and wiped a tear which showed up at the corner of his right eye. The scene was so emotional and the silence so deep, that one could’ve heard a pin dropping on the floor.

-In a nut shell…we have to get ready for the final act of the story, for the closing of this nine generation cosmological cycle – the Curse of the General. We all know how and when it started. The ninth generation from the moment the curse was made, will have to close it. And that generation is us. We are all here because we are all part of it and so is your neighbor, John: Chang mao dashi and his sister, Jian dashi. Tony Gang is on their side too. There is a reason why he works for Glenworth Financials. We do not know what his role is and if he will be part of the final encounter. All these are leading me to believe that your boss John, J.J. has a hand into this.

John startled…”what if the other rider was J.J.?” Zhaohui continued as if she had already read John’s mind:

-Maybe the mysterious man who was riding beside you in your dreams is him…we do not know. We will only know when all the nine orchids are sold. Whoever gets one, becomes part of the grand finale. Zhaohui’s voice was now authoritarian and full of confidence. One would’ve realized that she will be in charge of whatever endeavor, string of events or doings will lead to the closure of this curse.

-John, you bought two of them: one for me and one for Yue Ying…this told me that we are the sisters from my dream and from your dreams. Things are coming together. It will be the two of us facing Chang mao dashi and Jian dashi.

-Are you kidding? Have you seen the size of that man? And apparently he is a master of the lance fighting while his sister is a master of the sword…that’s what I understood from the conversation we had.

Zhaohui smiled and with a voice as assuring and firm as the confidence that one could’ve read on her face, said:

-John…I am not scared of his size. I am just worried a bit about his skills in handling the lance. It is a deadly weapon into the hands of the right warrior. And I know that his sister is also skilled into the sword fighting. I watched her training…I usually go and practice at the same place where she does. Something told me to hold back and not show my abilities. It was a good decision. She is very skilled: fast, unpredictable, intelligent and possesses deadly moves and strikes. But she is not invincible.

-Wait a minute…but you said that Yue Ying will be part of this finale as well – apparently you are sisters.

-That is correct. You bought an orchid for her from the same place you did buy for me on Saturday.

-So? What is so special about that place?

-The woman who is the owner of the flower shop is part of the curse too, John. You didn’t know, but you actually triggered the closing of the curse by buying for myself and Yue Ying two orchids.

-Wait a minute…you are telling me that my neighbors can buy these orchids from her too?

-Yes, if they find the place. You ran into this flower shop by chance…by luck if we can put it like this.

-And if my neighbors never find the place, then what?

-Then the final encounter will not take place and we will win. The curse will close without blood being spilled.

-Blood being spilled? You are joking, right? We will have a sword fight? This is how we will put an end to the story? I still want to pursue the negotiating venue with Chang mao dashi.

-John…he is playing you. He wants to buy time – I am not sure why he needs this, but for him there is only one way to end the story…by killing the descendants of the Chongzen Emperor.

John dropped his head and a deep silence encompassed the room. Nobody was saying a word anymore. Vic was stunned and his face was as livid as a freshly ironed bed sheet. He felt like he was about to swallow his Adam’s apple.

-Zhaohui, you were saying that both you and Yue Ying will have to participate at the grand final act…

-Yes, this is what I said.

-But she is not a warrior…she is a singer. She cannot handle a sword.

-You may be surprised, John…Zhaohui’s face was all smile and a waggish look on her face told John that he was all wrong.

It was the time when Yue Ying stood up and headed for the wallwhere the sword and the dagger were displayed. With a swift motion she drew them from their scabbards. For the next two minutes, a great spectacle of kata moves was displayed to everybody’s delight. The blades of the two weapons were moving and rotating at a speed which was giving the spectators the chance to only see two bolts of fire shining into the friendly sun rays which were generously invading the room through the large window. Her body was in perfect synchronization with the deadly weapons she was so nonchalantly handling, her moves and the focus into her eyes were so sublime and gracious that people who were watching were completely drawn into this sensational spectacle of skills and coordination. At the end, a few seconds of deep silence fell over the entire room only to be followed by a great round of applauses as a normal and natural reward for the great spectacle of traditional Chinese martial arts display.

John was mesmerized! He has never seen such display of great skills, mobility and graciousness. His amazement reached yet another level when Zhaohui stood up and headed like (Yue Ying) to the wall. In few seconds, another spectacle of sword fighting moves and techniques was displayed in front of the spectators and the general feel was that Zhaohui’s skill level was at least equal to Yue Ying’s. Her body was sliding so graciously sidewise or fore and back, that the people watching this show truly believed they are participating to a real fight. To John, the fantastic collection of Martial Arts skills displayed by the two protagonists was something out of Hollywood. It was so real and the same time so surreal! He was just few yards away from these imaginary fights in which the two girls just participated. When Zhaohui was done showing her skill level, once again the audience started clapping thus showing their admiration for the actors on the stage.

Vic shook his head into a sign of: “enough of this…”

-OK, I will order food now. Any preferences?

-Just order what we had last time – that was good and varied food.

-OK then. While I am ordering, maybe we can have a look at the pictures took by Zihuan and Yuhuan.

-Yes, let us set up the laptop and we will take you through a presentation my sister put together.

John and Vic headed back to the window and while Vic was ordering, John grabbed his glass of wine and took two sips. Everything was getting complicated and he was hating it! He always liked the simplest and the most efficient solutions. Now, he was worried. “What if Yue Ying gets killed into the fight? What if Zhaohui gets killed? Who else is supposed to be on our side? Chang mao dashi and Jian dashi (possibly Tony Gang) will obviously be our opponents. How can two girls (as skilled as they are) still compete against the two warriors? Maybe Tony is as skilled as they are in lance or sword fighting…then what? There is no way Yue Ying and Zhaohui can stand a chance in a fight againstChang mao dashi and Jian dashi. How do we get out of this trouble? I have to get Chang mao dashi to the negotiating table. However, let’s say that I manage to make him quit stealing funds from Glenworth…how about the curse? How can I stop this fight from happening?”

John leaned his head against the window and started watching again the barges sliding down stream towards their destination. His thoughts were now completely grasped by the inevitable confrontation. Zhaohui’s story put a dagger into his heart…”They can’t fight Chang mao dashi. That guy is so big and powerful and apparently he is expert in lance fighting too. I have to do something! Think, John! Think!”

After finishing placing the order, Vic came by the window too. The two friends looked into each other’s eyes; an independent eye could’ve seen a great deal of concern on their faces. Neither John nor Vic were saying a word anymore. Their foreheads were showing the wrinkles which typically come along with deep thinking or thought process.

-We are ready! Mr. Parker, Mr. Vic…

Chenguang’s voice made the two friends startle and turnaround. The TV screen was already showing a slide presentation – apparently put together by Zihuan’s sister.

They rushed to the living room area, grabbed two chairs and from that moment everybody was glued to the screen. The pictures (one after another one) were slowly showing up and then fading out, disappearing back into the memory stick. Nothing out of ordinary popped up making John believe that the detectives’ efforts are futile and are not baring any fruit. It looked like his neighbors were quite socially active. They were shown at the theatre, at the Opera House, at nice and fancy restaurants, at the Art Gallery, always being accompanied by people who definitely were holding high hierarchy positions – judging by the fine cloths they were wearing and the cars they were driving.

John looked at Vic…the slight tilt of Vic’s head made John understand that his friend caught the idea: these people were mingling with VIPs from the business world and political sphere.

-Hold it! Hold it right here! John was on his feet already. Chenguang (who was running the presentation) startled and looked at John with a face which betrayed apprehension and awe.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 52 – Reunion

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 and 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 with the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 52


Not long after he fell asleep, a strange dream of him and the rider (whose face he couldn’t see), came up again. And it came up at the point where the little girl who had her arm cut off was taken in the back room by the owner of the Black Swan inn and given into the care of few women. The other girl (apparently her sister) stayed with her and was trying as hard as she could to keep her sister’s lips moist using a sponge dipped into the water.

John and his fellow rider took a seat in the front room, waiting for the owner to bring some food and wine. When the man showed up, the two warriors barely let the wine make it onto the table. Two glasses were filled up and the red thick liquid immediately disappeared down through their thirsty throats. Another round followed the same path. It looked like they were exhausted! The food which was brought by the servant had the same fate: their strong jaws were crushing the duck meat without even considering picking the bones apart anymore. One could see that these two warriors were used to this type of lifestyle as it was naturally fitting them judging by the cloths, gestures, weaponry and the huge appetite. Once they finished the meal, a great sign of relief came out of their chests and a deep silence laid over the whole room. Eventually the older rider broke the silence and yet again John failed to recognize his voice…however, that voice was so, so familiar!

-We only have two – maybe three hours in front of them. It is more than enough to make it to the docks. However, the city may be filled with the spies of the peasant rebels. We have the papers signed by the captain – this could be an advantage if we bump into troops still loyal to the Emperor…however, a rebellion may start anytime and join the armies of Li Zicheng. Unfortunately, we cannot take the little girl. She is too weak. She lost lots of blood. But we can take the older one to the Monastery in the South, as per Emperor’s request.

-If I may suggest…

The voice of the inn’s owner was soft and chanty, mellow and musical and thus was betraying an individual who in spite of the fact that he was running an inn-restaurant business, he was a well read and highly educated individual as this type of speaking was the attribute of the Court intellectuals.

Both warriors startled as they did not expect the owner to step into the discussion.

-If I may suggest…the older girl is very tired too and it will be a burden for you. I also think that she may be of help here, with her sister…it will be a moral support for the little one. Thus, I am begging you to leave the older one here. Once the younger one will be able to travel, we will take them both to the Monastery.

-Emperor’s wish was that both of them to be taken to the South, as far as possiblefrom the Palace.

-We will keep them at the Monastery until they are old enough to make decisions of their own. They will receive the education a princess gets at the Court and they will learn the way of the sword too. You have business in the South, South-East, South China Sea and as far as India and the Gulf of Bengal. You will be sailing all the time – you will not be able to provide an education for them.

-Our aim was to take them to Canton to a Monastery indicated by the Emperor.

-It is dangerous now. The Manchus have already pirate ships into the Sea of China. It is a lot safer to keep them here, for now. Then, we will take the girls to the mountains and they will live there, at the Monastery until both of them will decide on what they want to do. This is probably the best solution given the present situation.

A long silence fell again over the entire room. John had his head down, looking at the floor. The older warrior had his both hands joined behind the back of his head and was carefully scrutinizing the old man’s face: emotions, feelings which might’ve surfaced. Finally, he stood up and with a voice both firm and demanding said:

-OK. We are leaving the girls with you. In three years from today we will be back – if we are still alive, of course…we would like to see what happened to them and if they are happy. These were some of the last wishes of the Emperor.

-Very well, Sir! We keep the horses too. It is not very safe to go horseback riding through the city. You will draw attention, so you will have to walk to the docks. Here, put these cloths over yours so the disguise will be complete. The man pulled a bundle of traditional Chinese long padded cotton overcoats from a chesterfield which apparently had multiple functions, including cloths storage. From the same piece of furniture, he handed over to the two warriors standing in front of him, two large straw hats. It only took few seconds before they were dressed up as Chinese peasants.

-Good. Let’s go see the girls for the last time before we are heading to the docks. The room in the back was small but was clean and already a doctor and three women were changing the bandages and preparing the hot water on a wood burning stove. A strange smell, a smell which was intriguing and the same time alluring hit John’s nostrils. “Where do I know this smell from? It is so familiar, yet I cannot remember where and how I got to know it…very strange”. He could see that some aromatic fine, thin sticks were burning into a ceramic pot and he figured that that was the place this smell was coming from. Then he saw the doctors using a sort of oily liquid onto the girl’s wounds. “It must be some oil made out of medicinal plants…it smells so nice and it is so seductive!”

The younger girl was now resting…her long thick black hair was covering her upper body almost entirely. But the face(in spite of the fact that was white like the bed sheets), was so pleasant and was transpiring so much kindness, purity and innocence that made John pull a barely audible sigh out of his chest.

His fellow rider made a discrete sign: ”we have to go”. Both of them quietly left the room followed by the owner of the establishment.

-Gentlemen…I wish you both good luck and may Good Lord be with you. He made the cross sign in an attempt of blessing the two warriors.

They both startled…

-You are a Christian!

-I am just one of the many children God has…

-I see. Well my friend…we are on our way. Take good care of them.

-Here, you have some food and some wine. You never know where the fate takes you.

-Thank you, my friend! I guess we will see you in three years.

-If God wants it, we will see each other again.

The two men disappeared into the dark while the owner of the inn closed the entrance door behind them carefully scrutinizing the surroundings; it was a sign that he was worried about unwanted eyes monitoring his endeavors and premises.

The wind picked up speed and now was blowing from the stern. A wind gust violently hit the sales which made the masts squeak and scream from the bottom of their lungs. “Storm is approaching. All hands on deck!” The order given by the old man was immediately followed and all the sailors were now on deck manipulating the sales and the ropes in order to brace for the storm to come. John was standing at the stern watching the preparations when all of a sudden a rebel sale covered his whole body, like an enormous weed from the jungle trying to suffocate and then consume him. He tried to get out of the entanglement but the efforts were futile. However, that sale felt like it was made out of silk, as its warmth and softness conveyed a great comforting feel.

It was the moment when John woke up and he realized that he was holding Yue Ying into his arms. Her nice silk pajamas she was wearing probably gave John that feeling that the sales were made out of this fine material. “OK, she came into the bedroom while I was asleep. Great! I think it is still very early in the morning, so we have time for a second nap”. John pulled a soft sigh out of his chest and within the next minute or so, he fellasleep again.

When the sun hit the bedroom window, John opened up his eyes. He stretched and slowly got out of the bed. When he entered the living room, Yue Ying was waiting for him. However, she was almost into a transcendental phase, as she just couldn’t take her eyes of the orchid that was sitting onto the office desk. The transparent, vaporous, silky, white-pinkish housecoat she was wearing was generously relieving her goddess like forms: the buttocks, the stunning legs and most of all the tanned skin (which was greatly contrasting with the robe) were presenting a spectacle of beauty and elegance.

John felt how his palate is running dry. He just couldn’t stop admiring that perfectly shaped body, when out of nowhere the image of Jian dashi (his neighbor’s sister) showed up in front of his eyes. It was a scenario he didn’t expect…he startled, as he remembered Zhaohui’s words: “I am responsible for closing this cosmological circle from my family’s side and your neighbor from his side”

“Does Yue Ying have anything to do with the curse? If yes, I hope she is on our side. She must be. We connected right away. What a strange string of events: Yue Ying is admiring the orchid I bought for her and all of a sudden Jian dashi appears out of nowhere, trying somehow to step between me and Yue Ying. Does this have a meaning? Apparently everything has a hidden meaning in this story, everything is related to everything! What should I do? Do I still let Yue Ying admire the flower while I slowly go back to the bedroom?”

John was now in a pickle as he didn’t want to disturb Yue Ying from contemplating the stunning orchid. She suddenly turned, as if she was capable of reading minds:

-Good morning, John. How did you sleep? I was worried.

-Good morning, Yue Ying…his voice was soft and mellow. His hands slowly fell on her hips and from there passionately grabbed the two splendid buttocks. A long and ardent kiss followed. It was enough to spark another episode of hot and fiery love making, this time onto the living room sofa.

When the cell phone rang, John was still holding her tight into his arms. First reflex was to answer – he knew that most likely Vic called. But the comfort Yue Ying’s silky skin was providing, made him give up the idea of having a phone conversation.

-You no pick up? Maybe Vic called

-Maybe. I don’t feel like talking to him.

-What you want to do? It is almost noon.

-We go have lunch somewhere and then we come back. What do you have in mind?

-I have to go practice…my band wait me.

-Oh, I see…in this case let’s go have something to eat and then I will take you to the place where you are practicing. Where is that?

-No need. I call taxi.

-Hang on a second, we have Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s phone number. We can call him.

-OK. We take shower and we go eat.

Not much time was spent into the bathroom. They both came out pretty quick and now they were ready to go out. Yue Ying had a chance to put on some ripped fashionable jeans she purchased yesterday and a beautiful white-pinkish blouse. The coat was stylish too and had only two buttons thus making the lapels overlap. Her generous breasts were desperately to burst out, but she carefully closed both buttons in order to avoid the disaster.

John put on a pair of blue jeans and a casual shirt; on his way out, he grabbed a pullover which was resting onto the sofa. When he opened the door, he froze! Vic, Zhaohui, Zihuan, Yuhuan and a girl John never met where waiting on the other side of the door, in the hallway.

-What are you guys doing here?

-I guess the question is: why do you keep dodging my phone calls?


A smile flourished onto Vic’s lips; he tried to make it as imperceptible as possible biting his bottom lip to keep it that way.

-We need to talk. They sorted out all the pictures they have taken: there are some very interesting ones coming from their partner in Beijing.

-Kinda’ hungry…

-That’s ok. You can order something from the kitchen. We are hungry too.

-OK, then…we will have lunch here and we take a look at the picture. For everybody: this is Yue Ying. The introductions ritual immediately followed. But something very strange happened when Zhaohui’s turn came to introduce herself. From the moment she entered the apartment, her sight fell on the white orchid. She simply couldn’t take her eyes of the wonderful flower. Then she made eye contact with Yue Ying. It was one of those moments when two people connect with each other at emotional level right away. And then, the inevitable happened: the two women fell into each other’s arms. It was a long embrace and both John and Vic were wondering if it will ever end. It was a scene from a movie, when two relatives or old friends are reunited after a long period of being apart. John was mesmerized and so was Vic. John felt how his mouth dried up and a desperate need for a drink settled. Just when he tried to turn around and look towards the kitchen to see if there is something readily available, Zhaohui exclaimed: “My sister. You are the sister I lost…my sister” Everybody in the room was now stunned. Both John and Vic had the faces of two cadavers. Zihuan, Yuhuan and Chenguang (this was Zihuan’s sister name) were stunned and were not moving anymore. The silence was so deep that any whisper could’ve been heard by everybody in the room. Yet, the two sisters did not want to let go the long embrace. They were both sobbing and Zhaohui just wouldn’t stop calling Yue Ying: “sister…my sister”

Slowly they moved to the couch and Zhaohui was now holding the gorgeous face of Yue Yong between her palms. Tears were flowing on their cheeks following the same long embracing ritual. Finally, the tears of happiness turned into laughter and the atmosphere inside of the living room all of a sudden became jovial and lively, cheerful and convivial.

-All right, let’s order some food! Vic’s voice was the voice of a man who all of a sudden saw an escape route from an apparently difficult and desperate situation. The scene of the two sisters’ reunion was shocking and so unpredictable, that both Vic and John felt the need for a drink. John pulled Vic towards the window and poured some wine into their glasses. Neither one of them said a single word. They were just simply watching the barges sliding downstream towards their meeting place with the Great River.

-This story is taking an unexpected turn. Do you think that we are closing in towards the end of it?

-I don’t know, but I had two strange dreams…and in both of them there are two sisters running away from the Imperial Palace which just fell into the hands of the rebellious peasants. John tried to summarize in few sentences the dreams he had: the galloping into the dark, the little girl who had her arm cut off, the mysterious Inn owner of “Black Swan”…

-Black Swan!


-Man, this is getting scary! We went to “Black Swan” on Sunday. You met Yue Ying there…

-Yes…and then I had two dreams – I just told you the story. Black Swan was the place where the two riders left the girls into the care of the owner.

-And you were one of the riders.


-And who was the other one?

-I don’t know. His face was always in a cone of shadow and darkness, he was always trying hard to cover it with the hood of his cape.

-Jesus! This story is becoming creepy already.

-I know, but I do agree with you: we are approaching the end. That circle of destiny, or that cosmological path (as Mr. Wang was calling it) is about to close.

-Who will be the actors?

-I guess some of them are here, in this room…don’t you think?

Vic dropped his head and kept silence for few seconds.

-I would like to know how this story will end.

-Me too, Vic. Me too. I want to go back to America and continue with my life the way it was before coming to China.

-You have a wife there…what do you do about Yue Ying?

This question fell like a hammer on John’s head…”Right…Linda…the kids” He was stunned! Until this moment he did not even think at the eventual complications this relationship with Yue Ying could bring, this is how much in love he was with her…or maybe he was not in love with her…maybe it is just a fling which would go away once he goes back. A state of panic encompassed John; Vic could clearly see that he rattled the cage, that he made John count his options and figure out where he stands, as this endeavor became complicated.

-Right…Yue Ying…his voice was soft and wavering, thus betraying the trouble into which all of a sudden John found himself. The past two days he spent with Yue Ying were so out of ordinary, amazing and unexpectedly full of events, that he even forgot he had a home overseas. He dropped his head and pulled the chair. His mind was now a mess and Vic realized that he pushed the wrong button.

-I am sorry, man…so sorry that I brought it up!

-That’s ok…eventually I was going to come to my senses one day. I would’ve preferred that particular day would come later. I spent two amazing days with this girl…

-I believe you, John…but you cannot run forever from reality.

-That’s true, Vic…that’s true. I have to figure out where I stand. From the moment I saw this girl it was like I met somebody I knew so well, somebody I was familiar with, a person who also knew me as well. I had that strange feeling that we have met in the past and this was a sort of reunion, an arch over time, an event which brought together two souls that have been looking for each other for centuries. And you know what it’s strange? Both dreams were of them on the same topic: galloping alongside a man (who was always hiding his face with the hood of his cape). We were mandated by the Emperor to take two girls (his daughters) to the safety of a monastery. The girl I was carrying on my horse had a hand chopped and she was so weak that I had to strap her to my chest. The other girl was riding on my partner’s horse. Eventually we made it into the city and pulled at an inn called: “Black Swan”

-No way! The restaurant we went on Sunday?The place you met Yue Ying?

-Actually I met her in my very first day in Shanghai. I bumped into her and her friend – who is also part of the band.

-Unbelievable! Don’t tell me that Zhaohui and Yue Ying are the princes (daughters) of Chongzen Emperor!

-I believe so…why would Zhaohui call Yue Ying: “sister”

-This is unbelievable…so the circle starts closing, slowly but surely

-Apparently this is the case.

-We need to speak to them. Please tell Zhaohui about the dreams you had.

-Sure, let’s move to the living room now.


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

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 51

White Orchid

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

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

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

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

-OK Mr. Parker. Careful…

-Don’t worry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Mr. Parker, I taxi driver…remember?

It was John’s turn to burst into laughter:

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

-No problem Mr. Parker. Here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

-Orchid expensive…but very beautiful.

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

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

-I want to buy one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

-She wants know who you buy for.

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

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

-Sorry…she no sell to you.

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

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

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

-What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Don’t understand…who stealing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Are you sure it’s enough?

-Yes Mr. Parker. You have good night.

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

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

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

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

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 50

John and Yue Ying (II)

Soon, Yue Ying found herself so busy in trying different types of jeans, pants, shirts and dresses that she completely forgot about the old lady and John. The two girls who greeted them at the entrance were buzzing around her like two working bees…one would say that Yue Ying’s got two personal assistants who were delighted to work for her and bring from the back of the store the items she was requesting. It was clear that both girls smelled a nice tip from the handsome westerner who was accompanying Yue Ying. John was giving his opinion from time to time and was making suggestions on color matching or style assortment. A regular, normal cloths trying event turned into almost a frenzy of clothes and shoes shopping.

However, John’s eyes were still on the old lady, trying to scrutinize and catch the slightest gesture of emotion or attempt towards communication. Not a sign of such relief was coming from that direction as she was carefully watching the activity taking place into her store. The same enigmatic and cold smile was imprinted on her lips. “This woman is made out of marble! There is no any sort of emotion whatsoever showing up on her face!” John was disappointed to say the least. In a sign of distress, he started walking through the store, apparently looking interested into the items which were displayed on the wall.

All of a sudden, while looking into a mirror, he realized that the door to the back of the store slowly opened up and a girl came out. John froze! He was not moving anymore, he was not even blinking…apparently he was looking at a pair of blue jeans he was holding into his hand. However, his eyes were on the mirror, scrutinizing every motion, every move the girl was making. She looked so familiar! While out in the store, she spoke to the old lady by whispering for a couple of minutes into her ear. The mimic on the lady’s face did not change…same imperturbable expression, same stony look and same cold and enigmatic smile. Then, as elusively as she came through the door, she slipped back into the storage room of the store leaving the door cracked open.

“Interesting…she is not shutting the door closed. Is she interested in whatever it’s being discussed here? Where did I see this girl before? I definitely know her from somewhere…but where from?”

John turned around and he could only smile…Yue Ying was like a kid into a candy store: she was trying everything she was touching or the two helpers were bringing to her to try out. “Not much work left for me in this area”. He looked again at the old woman behind the counter…nothing changed in her stance, posture, face expression or behavior. “Is she alive? God, she is not moving! Maybe I need to poke her to make sure she is not a ghost!” That being said, John turned around and headed for the door. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting outside, looking at the crowd and cracking from time to time a conversation with the owner of the store across the alley. It was one of those small little ma and pa shops that were selling everything: from fake purse brands and watches to travel luggage and cheap cloths. John stopped on the upper entrance step and looked around. A sea of people moving in two directions at a speed which was greatly reduced by the narrow alleys and the little stands (covered with merchandises); some of these stands were nothing else but foldable tables which were taken inside at the end of the day. Unfortunately, they were chocking the normal flow inside of the huge commercial center and you would have to bump into other people had you wanted to get by. “Unbelievable! So many people! Now I can grasp on the idea called: market size. This is truly a huge market. The problem is that their mentality is funneled towards saving not spending. Hopefully the new generation will change this unproductive and ancient way of life”

All of a sudden, his attention was drawn to one of the alleys which was on a straight angle to the one they walked to get to the store. The girl he saw in the mirror inside of the store came from the closest side alley and John realized that the back of the store was facing that particular access way. She looked like she was in a rush as she was trying to quickly squeeze herself through the sea of people coming from all the directions. John made a quick move: he crossed the alley and without hesitation pulled 150 RMB from his pocket, gave it to the business owner across the store and grabbed a fleece hoodie. In few seconds he put it on and pulled the hoodie in a way which was only allowing his face to be seen. Then turned around and went back to the store where a dismayed Xiǎo lǐzǐ was looking at him the way one would look at a ghost.

-I need you to do something for me, please. Listen carefully: I am giving you my card, you will pay for everything she buys. Here it is another five hundred RMB…you give those two girls a good tip, understand? Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded affirmatively but John could actually see that the eyes of his driver were betraying a great amount of amazement and astonishment. The rest is yours for the trips, ok? You take Yue Ying back to the hotel. Here it is the access card from the room. I hope I won’t be long. Tell her to wait for me in the hotel room. Do you understand what I am asking from you? Again the cab driver nodded and this made John feel at ease.

-OK, I have to go now…I trust you, Xiǎo lǐzǐ! This last sentence motivated somehow the man standing on the stairs and to John’s pleasure, the cab driver said:

-No worry, Mr. Parker. I take Yue Ying back hotel. No worry. Thank you for this…it was the moment when Xiǎo lǐzǐ showed John those five one hundred RMB bills while a large smile on his face. John was already on the alley and heading towards the direction he saw the mysterious girl heading. However, he turned around and looking at Xiǎo lǐzǐ, he cautioned him:

-You will have to give the two girls from the store a good tip from that too, I hope we have an understanding here.

-Of course Mr. Parker…good tip girls. I know.

-Alright, you are a great help and a true asset to this operation.

-Thank you, Mr. Parker! John was already gone, and at this point he was trying hard to blend into the crowd. There was a problem though: his height was making the mission of blending into the crowd almost impossible. However, John was now heavily relying on his hoodie to keep him as incognito as possible.

John left some good distance between him and the girl he was following; however, the stands on the alley were giving him all sort of trouble in trying to keep the pace at which she was walking and in the same time to make himself the least visible as possible.

It was not long before the girl stopped, turned around and carefully scouted the crowd around her. John moved behind one of the stands and started talking to the owner. Obviously that the poor man was shocked to see first of all such a tall and large westerner stopping at his stand and talk to him like he knew that English was not a problem for him. He started speaking Chinese back to John. All this time John had his eyes on the girl he was following. The hoodie was covering his face, but he wanted extra protection, so he bought an umbrella from the store owner. Opened it up and simulating that he is trying all the features the umbrella possessed, he was actually watching every move she was making.

Eventually she took another side alley and disappeared. John followed her immediately, only to realize that the alley was ending up into the door steps of a large three level house. He could actually see how the girl he was following entered the house, not before checking again the surroundings. He was now stuck! He obviously couldn’t read what was written on each side of the entrance door but he assumed it was a temple as it had that particular traditional pagoda roof shape. The letters were yellow and were greatly contrasting with the wooden walls all painted into a nice red color.

John placed his index fingers at his temples, in a sign of: “Think, John! Think!” His years and years of Football training taught him that no matter how dire the situation was, there would always be a way out of it. “Common, man! You wait here for her to get out, then what? She will go back to the store…what’s the point of waiting? I have to get into that temple or whatever it is. But how do I get in? Is it accessible to anybody? What if there is security on the other side of the door? Well…I guess there is only one way to find out”. John was ready to move to the direction of the red building in front of him when the phone rang. It was Vic. The first instinct was to dodge again his calls, but a great idea crossed his mind. He picked up the phone call.

-Hey…where are you John? Why didn’t come to the office? Why aren’t you picking up my phone calls?

-Relax, man! I’ve been busy.

-I know you were busy, for crying out loud! John could hear at the other end a great, healthy laughter, a laughter so familiar already.

-Ok, ok, ok…you can laugh as much as you want. I don’t care.

-Hey, listen…I didn’t mean to insult you, but I want to ask you a question.

-Yeah, go ahead, Vic

-Was the honey sweet or really, really sweet? Another round of laughter was heard at the other end and John already felt like hanging up on his friend.

-I will hang up on you!

-No, no, no…sorry man! I just couldn’t stop it.

-I know, you bastard! I know! You couldn’t wait for an occasion like this one. Just couldn’t!

-Alright, man! Alright…I am chilling now. Sorry again. So, are you in trouble again?

-As usual…another round of laughter (this time from both ends of the line) broke the silence and it was for twenty or so seconds before they both cooled down and started a conversation.

-Listen, Vic…this is what happened today. John tried to be as concise as possible as he started to tell the story from the moment he walked out of the hotel. The strange man who served them lunch and looked alike Mr. Wang, the lady from the cloths store who intrigued John at a level which almost made him lose his patience and this enigmatic girl who was now inside of this nice house, a girl he saw in the past, but he just couldn’t remember where.

-Wow! It’s unbelievable! The moment I leave you alone, you get in trouble. They both pulled another round of laughter from their chests, only to be followed by few seconds of silence.

-Vic, listen up please…I am going to take a photo of this building (which intrigues me) and send it to you. I need you to read whatever it says on the front, on each side of the door. Don’t hang up. We will do this real time.

-Ok. Go for it. I will wait.

It took few seconds before John made the picture and sent it to Vic.


-What? What does it say? There was silence at Vic’s end, a silence which made John tremble from anxiety.

-It says: “The Order of the Nine Orchids”

John felt how a cold sweat was running down his spine and his hands were now shaking in a way which almost made him drop the phone.

-So this girl (a girl I just can’t remember where I saw before) went inside of the “Nine Orchids” building! What is her connection to the Order? Was she connected to his neighbors: Chang mao dashi or Jian Dashi?

-I don’t know, man…I started being afraid. Get your butt back to the hotel. John, you need to move. Zhaohui asked you to do it. I am asking too. You just wouldn’t listen, man!

-Vic, I don’t want to exhaust the negotiation venue with Chang mao dashi.

-John, he is going to kill you! And maybe myself and Zhaohui as well.

-Why would he do that?

-Because we are slowly uncovering his tracks, maybe we are not far away from finding that bug planted at Glenworth.

-How about the curse, Vic? Is it still supposed to close? Is there something special that must happen to close this curse? You heard Zhaohui…and Wang…what if this girl who stepped into this house is the key to unveiling the road to bring Chang mao dashi down?

– I don’t know what to say, man…what do you want to do? Are you still going to follow this girl?

-Yes. I need to figure out how I know her, where we met, what is her link to this story.

-OK. If this is what you want…by the way: are you coming to the office tomorrow?

-I don’t know. It all depends on how this night will end up.

-I understand…Vic pulled another laughter which made John uncomfortable in spite of the fact that it was Vic.

-Hey…I meant: depends on what I find out about this mysterious girl.

-I got it, man! Common John, you can’t take a joke anymore?

-Alright. I know you are a joker! I let you go, but I need you to do me a favor: please call Xiǎo lǐzǐ and ask him where he is. I told him to take Yue Ying to the hotel when she is done shopping.

-OK. By the way: who is Xiǎo lǐzǐ anyway?

-The cab driver who took us to Black Swan last night.

-That’s his name? I think I have his card…let me check. Bingo! I have his card, I will call him and then give you a shout back.

-OK. Thanks, Vic!

-Alright! Take care and stay safe out there. How are you going to get back to the hotel?

-Don’t worry, I will grab a cab. I am a big boy.

-Careful, John! There are areas in the town where there is never a good idea to be at night, especially if you are a foreigner.

-No worries my friend…no worries. I will make it through the night. I just need to know that Yue Ying is safe.

-Great! We’ll talk later, I guess.

After hanging up, John started weighing his options. “I am so close to the lion’s den! I have in front of me the famous “Nine Orchids Order” established by the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty. And my neighbors are part of it. What does this Order do? What is “Nine Orchid”? What does it mean to belong to such highly regarded Order? If the people who are part of it are descendants of those great families, how are they coping with the official Chinese Political system? I am not sure that the Communist Party would allow this sort of Organizations to thrive. How come that they are out there in the open? I need to find out somehow what’s going on in there…but how? This is the question!”

John looked around him and his first thought was to find a spot where he could watch the entrance without being seen. A vendor selling all sort of Baseball hats, T-shirts, shirts, sweat pants and many other cotton made products had a stand by his side. The site of the westerner man standing so close to his business venue apparently awoke the entrepreneurial spirit inside the vendor, as he became extremely talkative. John was listening to him but in the same time he was assessing his situation into the field. This place could’ve been the perfect spot for spying and keeping an eye on the door. The decision was made on the fly: he started talking to the vendor. His English and the man’s Chinese, turned into a veritable mumbo-jumbo, a conversation which would’ve made a bystander die from laughing. But John had a plan and was playing according to the set strategy. After many minutes of arguing on the price for a baseball hat (John was obviously just trying to buy time while keeping his eyes on the building in front of him), he purchased a hat, put it on and then pulled the hoodie on top of it. Now his whole face was covered by the visor of the hat and his scouting was secure. In order to kill some time, he walked across the alley and bought two pieces of corn on the cob which was sold by an ambulant vendor. He gave one to the man from which he bought the hat and continued his watching duty. Patience was something he was not excelling at and this was a flaw in his game during his Football career. He wanted to make things happen, he always wanted to throw that ball and put points on the board. Running game was not up his alley and this was something he struggled with his whole sports playing career. But this time he knew he had no choice. He had to be patient. And so, he started another conversation with the vendor, who was now trying to sell him a cane. Initially, John burst into laughter and asked him: “Why do you think I need a cane to walk with?” But then an idea crossed his mind: “Why not buy it? I could use it either as a weapon, or to disguise an old man’s walk. Once he made his intention clear that he wants to buy the cane, another round of negotiations started which made John even more comfortable standing by the vendor’s stand and watch the door.

Eventually the girl came out and the same routine followed – as when she entered: she looked around and scrutinized the market. John pulled his visor down as low as he could and tried to take cover behind few hangers which had sweat shirts on them. His eyes were watching every movement the girl was making. Before she started walking down stairs, she turned around and made a “good bye” sign to somebody from inside who accompanied her to the door. John was dying to see the face of that person. His wish came through as the head of an old man with long, white beard came out through the door and started scrutinizing the market place himself. John thought that he recognized him as the old man from one of the pictures taken by his detectives last week, at the funeral where they followed his neighbors. He pulled the zipper of his sweatshirt all the way up and made sure that his visor was completely covering his face. It didn’t take too long before the girl passed by and headed back towards the store. John took as much cover as he could, but he never took his eyes off her. He started following her back not before giving the vendor two one hundred RMB bills for the cane; apparently was a good deal for the vendor, as he started bowing in a universal gesture of thankfulness and gratitude.

John could barely keep up with her, as he always had to stop and simulate bargaining for a product whenever the girl was turning around. Yes, the girl was well instructed not to leave any traces behind her and she was using her knowledge so well that made John murmur: “Damn she is good! She knows how to slide into the crowd only to come back up wherever to expect the least. I hope that my disguising wardrobe was good enough for the perfect cover”

It didn’t take long before she reached the store. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was not there anymore, as John suspected. The night was now covering the whole market and the vendors were preparing to close the shops. And so was the old lady, the woman “made out of stone” as John named her before leaving to follow the girl. John took again cover as much as he could, with the cap fully covering his face while the hoodie was providing another layer of protection. Soon, the lady closed the door and pulled the blinds down. The light was still left on in the store, but John could actually see her heading towards the rear of the store. “I am just wondering if there is a back alley behind the store…” John took a street that was running perpendicular to the main alley and then hanged a left. And yes, the back alley looked like a street which was used by vendors to bring their goods through; it was a loading and unloading alley. “Well, now which door do I guard? Which door are they going to use? Keeping in mind that the old lady closed the front door, I can only assume that this will be their exit. Let’s wait and see”

John was right. Both women eventually came out through the alley door and then stopped. The old lady made a phone call. Shortly a limousine showed up out of nowhere. John didn’t realize that the superb, hot, expensive car just passed by him. He froze! As he had not seen the car coming and passing so close to him, he assumed that the people inside of the limo recognized him in spite of the fact that he had a good cover behind some wooden skids and a pile of cardboard boxes. This was the limousine in which he saw few days ago his neighbors leaving for that funeral. A door in the back opened up and the old lady got in not before giving some instructions to the young girl. The limo departed and John could see the girl rapidly walking in the opposite direction. When she passed by, John ducked as much as he could behind the pile of cardboard packaging. He started following her and (as he was not familiar with the area) soon found out that it was hard to keep pace with her. The streets were not too dark as they were lit up to a decent level. However, John had to keep a safe distance not to blow his cover up. All of a sudden a taxi pulled in front of her and she got in. John was now desperate. “How am I going to keep up with this car? Think, John! Think!” He started looking around for help. A feel of helplessness encompassed him when all of a sudden a cab pulled right by his side. A huge sigh of relief came out of his chest:

-Thanks God! You are a savior, Xiǎo lǐzǐ!

-I know Mr. Parker! This time his face had a waggish look which made John burst into a huge laughter.

-Follow that car then, Mr. NASCAR!

It was all Xiǎo lǐzǐ needed: his foot hit the accelerator so hard that made John hit the head rest at an impact which pulled another (soft but this time angry) cry to himself: “No, I made up my mind! That’s it! This guy is (or becomes) mental when getting behind the wheel. Unfortunately he is always present when you need him! I should probably say: fortunately he is always at the right place at the right time. He took me to the place where I met Yue Ying, after all”

A smile came up on his lips:

-Hey Xiǎo lǐzǐ…did you get to the hotel alright? How is Yue Ying?

-Yes, she ok. She try cloths. Many clothes! A good and healthy laughter came out of his chest which made John smile and switch his attention to his mission.

-Don’t lose that car!

-No worry Mr. Parker. I no lose car. You good hands!

-Alright then. I know I am in good hands…at least until you step on the brakes, for crying out loud!

-What you say?

-Nothing. Please stay close to the car in front of you. That’s all.

-You no worry Mr. Parker! I drive!

“And that’s why I’m mostly afraid of…John grabbed the back of the front seat and prepared himself for the first occasion when Xiǎo lǐzǐ would step on the brakes.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 47 – The dream at dawn

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 47

The dream at the dawn

When the dawn put a dent into the dark October night, John woke up. Yue Ying was still asleep. Her head was resting on his chest and the long black thick hair was freely flowing, covering his whole upper body and the shoulders. He was looking at the ceiling but his mind was still captured by the wild night of love making he had. From the moment he brought her into the room in his arms, to the present moment it was something magic, something he could not explain. The connection between them when the show at Black Swan was over, tickled John’s imagination in a way which he never thought it was possible, sparking untapped passion and desire. The incredible night he had with Yue Ying, made him ask questions at which he was not ready to answer yet: “Am I in love with her? Why is this happening? I have such a strong feeling that I know her, that we’ve been knowing each other for a long time, for an eternity perhaps, that we have so many things in common, that we belong to each other” These questions started tormenting John’s brain and imagination, but no matter how hard he was trying to find answers, he was digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself.

Methodically, he started rewinding the trail of the events: the trip to the Suzhou Gardens, the unusual Zhaohui’s meditation episode at the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the great interest showed by her into the books he purchased and then the whole Black Swan episode. However, there was one single piece of glue which held this whole succession of events together: the crazy taxi driver. John smiled and he almost cracked a small laughter. “If it wasn’t for that numb nut, I wouldn’t’ve known her, I would have never had the chance to watch her singing, to get connected and finally to make love to her”. Everything moved so fast, the events were so jam packed into each other that John was still trying to understand how he got to this point in less than a week…from a driven and well-focused (on his task) man, to somebody in love with a beautiful girl, the lead singer of a band which managed to impress him. Or so he thought he was in love…

All the thoughts he had since waking up, wore him out. He went to sleep again and shortly he had a dream:  John and another man were back horse riding. They were riding fast and John was only guessing that the person riding by his right was somebody he knew. The man’s face and head were covered by the hoodie of his cape while the black pants were tightened at the waist level with a large belt where two pistols, few throwing knives and a short and a long sword were quietly tucked into their scabbards.

John was desperately trying to open up a conversation with his riding partner. Every time he was doing so, he was shut down by a firm gesture of the mysterious man. A stretched left hand, pointing towards the direction they were heading to it was the answer. It was a sort of: “no time for discussions, just ride!” The gesture was authoritarian, firm and almost autocratic. The relationship between the two was crystal clear to an outside observer: the black dressed rider was the boss. However, in spite of the imperious gestures, the connection between the two of them was based on mutual respect. They were both warriors – as their whole attire was suggesting – but one would say that there was no master-servant relationship, that the men riding into the darkness of the night were possibly a father-son duo, trying to get somewhere, to a place John didn’t know, to a place he was desperately trying to find out its name. The horses were all covered in a white foam signaling the fact that the riders have been galloping for a long time. John took a deep breath…his nostrils were smelling the sour odor of the horses’ sweat, the fresh soil of the immense plain stretching ahead of them, the aroma of the wild flowers of the steppe opened only to release their divine scent and fragrance.

Eventually, the two warriors stopped to give the horses a break…it was the time when John realized that both he and his partner were carrying a precious cargo behind them: two little girls who were scarred to say the least. John realized that the girl he had strapped to his body, had the left hand cut between elbow wrist and a bandage was put in place to stop the bleeding. She was either sleeping or the wound and the blood loss were already taking a tool on her. John was holding her into his arms but the head was just hanging, motionless. Her beautiful big eyes were closed and into the light of the full moon her face was pale as the light itself. His partner came over to check on the girl…even now, his face was still covered and he wasted no time in spending all the efforts he could to hide his identity. John was trying to address him by the name, but his partner was skillfully avoiding any leads which could lead to his true identity. “She lost lots of blood. We have to get to the city as fast as we can” His voice was so familiar to John! However, he just couldn’t put a finger on his identity. The man pulled a flat wooden flask from underneath his coat and poured few drops of water on her lips. To John’s delight, the reaction was immediate: the little girl started moving her lips signaling that she was thirsty. Slowly she opened her beautiful eyes and started asking for help.

Her face was petrified by something she was showing with her right hand. Both men turned their heads towards that direction…there was nothing there but the majestic moon which was trying somehow to help out by throwing infinite rays of yellow light towards their direction. John’s riding partner placed the back of his palm on girl’s forehead…”She is hallucinating from fever. We have to strap her to your naked chest so she can draw heat from you. But in this case we cannot gallop anymore. We have no more than four maybe five hours ahead of them. Their horses will be tired too. Here you go princess, keep drinking…” The girl was thirsty as she started sipping the precious liquid.

The other girl was standing and was curiously looking at the two men trying to help (probably) her sister. She was holding the two horses by the bridles and from time to time was stroking their manes in an attempt to clean the white sweaty foam stuck into their majestic manes. Two big intelligent eyes were absorbing information on every move the two men were making, on every gesture meant to help the other girl. One would clearly observe that she was older as she was taller and her face was already showing up signs of adolescence. At this point, John took his shirt off showing a superb upper body which one would say it was used by Renaissance sculptures to bring marble to life. His fellow rider skillfully strapped the girl to his chest. Put the shirt back on and then the thicker coat on top, only to close it at the back. This time he was helped by his partner to get back into the saddle as he was now carrying a precious load into his arms. The mysterious man jumped straight into the saddle and stretched his hand towards the girl he was carrying. In a fraction of a second she was into the saddle too; It was clear that she was more than familiar with the business of horse riding, it was clear that she was taught from a young age to ride and love these majestic animals.

The two horses were probably puzzled by the fact that they were not galloping anymore…however, the light trapping was not too bad of a choice in their mind, as they were neighing of happiness.

John was now asking himself: “Is this a dream? It is a dream, who is riding horses anymore?” However, he was feeling a load, a weight on his chest…he was convinced that the weight is from the girl he was holding in front of him on his horse. In his mind, the load he was carrying was so fragile and precious that a simple blow of the wind would make it vanish, disappear.

All of a sudden, from the heights they reached they saw a spectacle which their eyes and their brains could have not had enough: the lights of the city into the dusk of a summer morning. It was a sign which made both riders sigh of happiness. Their eyes were expressing gratitude, joy and accomplishment. John’s partner unsaddled, put the right knee into the ground and with the voice of a stranded man who barely made it to the shore from a shipwreck, prayed and praised the God for helping them reach the city. At the end he made the cross sign and in no time he was back into the saddle while taking the lead heading towards the gates of the city. “How is she doing? She needs to be awake, so we can explain to her that she cannot make noises. The city is not into the rebels’ hands yet, but they may have overzealous supporters here”. The girl was sleeping and the two men didn’t want to wake her up…the other girl was instructed not to say a word and just stay tucked underneath the coat and cape. The next conversation between his partner and the guards at the gate was hazy, as John couldn’t hear what they were saying. His whole focus was to make sure he is not making sudden moves as he could’ve woken up the girl. The words exchanging became pretty heated as he saw his fella’ rider slowly pulling the left side of his coat and cape in order to uncover one of pistols. He tried the same, but his coat was buttoned backwards which made the use of his hands pretty useless. The look he had from his partner made him stop trying to reach for the weapons…”No. Make sure the girl is not waking up. I can handle this by myself”.

It seemed like an eternity before the captain who was inside of the booth came out and looked at the papers which were handed over to soldiers in the first place. He walked around the horses and asked: “So, you are the official traders of the Imperial Palace…you must be rich. Why are you traveling by horse? Where are your servants?” This time John heard the answer and he could only laugh when he heard his partner’s answer: “Yes, we are rich, but we are also very tight with the money, you know what I mean?” This was the time when all soldiers burst into laughing. It was the time when the old man weighed in even more: “We are tight with the money, but it doesn’t mean that we are not taking care of people who are good to us” This being said, he pulled a drawstring pouch from his large cape and handed it over to the man. The face of the captain brightened as he was already weighing in his palm the pouch in an attempt to count the amount of money that was inside. “Very well, sir! You can go. And let me stamp those papers you have, so nobody else will bother you in the city”. That being said, he went back into the booth and came out handing over the papers back to the old man. Both John and his riding partner tilted their heads in a sign of simulated respect and entered the city. The streets were not yet busy as the day was barely at the dusk. However, the foul smell of the dirty streets, full of rats which were freely patrolling, made John cover his mouth with a handkerchief and so did the old man. They were now heading towards the docks, as the typical sea smell hit their nostrils. The old man knew the city by heart as he had no hesitation whatsoever navigating through the small, narrow, dirty streets. It was not long before they pulled in front of an Inn: “Black Swan”. It was closed, but John’s partner had no problem unsaddling and then bang into the door with the butt of his short sword. Soon a servant showed up with a lamp in his hand and asked them what they want. “We want you to wake up your master. Tell him that the Imperial traders are looking for a place to stay” It didn’t take too long before the owner of the place showed up also with a lamp in his hand, deeply bowing in front of the two riders. “Of course that your highnesses will have a place to sleep”. A neutral observer would’ve realized that his eyes were searching the two men in a way which was not questionable, but rather familiar. Once inside, the two guests were taken into a private room into the back. It was the time when they took off their capes and coats and uncovered the precious cargo they were carrying. The owner was a short, bald man with eyes as intelligent as a fox’s eyes. He called for help. Immediately two women showed up and took the girl who was wounded into a different room. “We will take care of her. Then we will take both of them to the monastery. How was your journey?” It was the time when John didn’t pay attention anymore to the conversation between the inn’s owner and his fella rider…

A wind gust violently hit the sales which made the masts squeak and scream from the bottom of their lungs. “Storm is approaching. All hands on deck!” The order given by the old man was immediately followed and all the sailors were now on deck manipulating the sales and the ropes in order to brace for the storm to come. John was standing at the stern watching the preparations. Still, he was not able to see the face of the man who rode beside him. The man was down, on the deck giving orders, always with his back at John. When he finally turned around in an attempt to give orders to the helmsman, John woke up.

He was mad that he couldn’t see the face of the man in his dream! But on the other hand, he was delighted to see two beautiful black eyes looking and patiently waiting for him to wake up.

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

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.


Chapter 46

The circle starts closing

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

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

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

-Good morning, Vic, how are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Great, Tony! Have a good day.

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

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

-Good morning Vic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Seriously? How come everybody knows him?

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

-So, have you seen him today?

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

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

-You too, Sir. Stay safe out there.

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

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

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


Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 45 – A new beginning

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 45

A new beginning

The lights went down again and the crowd understood that the show was over. However, people were very happy; their faces were radiating that sentiment of pride and fulfillment that they were part of a great show. There was pure joy in their eyes and everyone was now talking about the spectacle which just ended up. Yue Ying’s name was on everybody’s lips. The lights came up again and Yue Ying showed up, this time accompanied by the whole band and thanked everybody for showing up. Then a strange phenomenon happened: people started rushing towards the stage. John immediately realized that the four girl band was now offering their fans the chance to get a sign autograph. It was such a wonderful disarray! At one point the bodyguard intervened and tried to put some order into the crowd and tried to make people line up. It worked in the beginning, but then the girls were again swarmed by the fans again. John and Vic were calmly watching the event. When Yue Ying announced that they are now signing autographs, their cab driver was the first in line and received a signed poster of the band. Then he pulled out few business cards from the pocket and gave them to Yue Ying’s friend – apparently at her request. She signed them and handed them back to the taxi driver, strangely pointing towards John on a particular one. The man came back to the table with a smile on his face as large as his mouth allowed him to do. He was so proud of the signed poster and cards. As per directions from the girl, he handed over one of the signed business cards to John.

-You lucky! She likes you!

-What did you say? Who likes me?

-She likes you…said again the man and pointed towards Yue Ying’s friend.

-You lucky dog! She likes you! Vic burst into such a laughter that his whole body was trembling and tears were coming out of his eyes. His face turned red; John managed to pull a smile while still keeping his eyes on Yue Ying. She was so happy speaking to her fans and signing autographs! John realized that she is truly made for this: the passion into her eyes, the dialog and the way she was managing to keep the fans wanting more of her performance was contagious. While watching every move she was making, he was playing with the card he received, flipping it non-stop from one side to another side. However, his eyes only had one target: Yue Ying. “She is amazing! What a stage presence! What a personality! What a talent! With this sort of skills, she should’ve been a star by now. Why is she singing in this restaurant? Does she sign somewhere else? I gotta ask Vic to speak to the cab driver” The moment he wanted to grab Vic and ask the question, his eyes fell on the card he was holding in his hand…his heart stopped and a twinge shot through his spine: “Call her” said on the card and a phone number followed below. He felt how a cold sweat was now encompassing his forehead. He lifted his head and looked again at the stage. Just few more people were still in line for autographs. To Vic’s astonishment he stood up and quietly placed himself at the end of the line.

-What are you doing, John? Vic asked the question while following John. Now he found himself in line waiting for autographs perhaps, or just trying to understand what his friend wanted.

-Thanks for joining me, Vic! I may need you to translate.

-They can speak English.

-I know, but please stick around, you never know…

-OK, John but I don’t like this!

-Relax, man! I just want to know if they sing elsewhere.

-Boy! This band must’ve made an impression on you!

-They are very good!

-OK, if you say so…the expression on Vic’s face was of deep wonder. He had a bad feeling that something is going to happen, that John will again get into one of those strange and new situations where he is also going to be dragged into. Since he met Zhaohui, he became cautious and learnt how to avoid trouble. Right behind Vic, the cab driver lined up too and immediately started a conversation in Chinese with Vic.

When John made it to the front and tried to say something, but the Yue Ying’s friend was faster:

-Chu Hua is my name and we met few days ago, John. Remember?

-I do remember. And I still didn’t thank you guys for giving me directions.

-You had no target to go to, John. We couldn’t give you directions. Both of them started laughing. In spite of the conversation he was having with Chu Hua, his attention was all pointed at Yue Ying. The smile on her face was angelical and John felt like he couldn’t speak or find his words anymore. You are special guests, we will go in the back.

The back stage was something improvised, something which was playing the role of change rooms and the same time a storage area. Immediately, Chu Hua started introducing the other two members of the band who played the instruments at such a high virtuosity. Then she went into offering a history of how they met and how they got to playing this particular style of music.

-This is …. And this is …..

John’s ears were listening, but his eyes were all on Yue Ying. Both of them never stopped looking into each other’s eyes. It was like they were both hypnotized by an unknown magician who had the powers to play with their minds, with their hearts, with their spirit and physical presence. They were both all smile, thus releasing a sentiment of reciprocity, of closeness, of friendship and companion. Then something completely unpredictable happened: John started slowly heading her direction. When he was just inches away from her, he stopped. He could now feel the vibration and the warmth of her body, he could smell the fresh April scent of her body perfume. All this time, they never took their eyes off of each other. It was something magic in the air. Slowly, John put his hands on her hips, then embraced her into a tight and meaningful hug. Their lips joined and a long and passionate kiss followed. There was so much intensity into that kiss that one would’ve said they just met after a long, long journey apart from each other, or maybe they just got re-united after centuries of wandering into parallel worlds, into separate Universes or Galaxies.

Vic was stunned! He couldn’t say a word anymore. Initially, when he saw John heading towards her direction, he tried to say something…a sort of: “let’s go now”. But his words never made it out of his chest, as John couldn’t resist Yue Ying’s eyes anymore.

The cab driver was the only person at this party who openly applauded and expressed his happiness.

Chu Hua looked at them and a smile flourished on her lips. It looked like she was not all that strange to the fact that Yue Ying had some feelings for John. The other two girls were watching the scene quietly and same like Chu Hua, were discretely smiling, letting one’s know that they were in the possession of a certain level of knowledge about their leader’s heart choices.

Few minutes past by and nobody was saying a word any more. The silence was so deep that everyone could actually hear John’s and Yue Ying’s accelerated breaths. His neck was now encircling by her arms and the hips by her legs. Finally, she stopped the kissing and with a soft moaning set her head on his left shoulder and closed the eyes.

Nobody dared to say anything anymore. Everyone was waiting for something to happen, something out of the ordinary, something which would break that magic moment of pure love and tenderness. Then the door to the back stage quietly opened up and John could actually see a silhouette trying to get; but at the sight of the scene, backed up and sneaked into a cone of darkness.

John startled: “Mr. Wang! I swear it was him! Why isn’t he showing up?” In spite of the fact that he was now holding Yue Ying and his hypothalamus took almost completely over his actions, he couldn’t help but look into the direction where the individual who wanted to enter, disappeared. “This place is at least strange. I gotta’ find out more about this elusive owner”

Then, he made a sign towards the cab driver and Vic. Through another door, they got out of the building and headed towards the car. John was now carrying Yue Ying into his arms. He was holding her the way you hold an infant, carefully not to wake the baby and in the same time tenderly not to hurt the child. The drive to the hotel was too long (into John’s mind). He was sitting in the rear seats with Yue Yong into his arms. Vic was in the front and his face was showing the grimaces of a man who was incapable of comprehending a certain situation, a man astounded by the events, a man with no answers whatsoever to the multitude of questions which were exploding like popcorn into his brain.

The cab driver was the only one who was openly very happy by the turn of these events and never seized to show his admiration for the two individuals who looked to him that they were very much in love with each other.

John was now thanking in his mind to his driver that he took them to the show. “I believe this is Karma…what else could it be?”

Once at the hotel, Vic asked the driver to wait and accompanied John and Yue Ying upstairs. He was determined to put a stop to this, which in his mind was a complete madness. However, he didn’t know how to tell John that he is making a mistake, that he has a job to do and he has no time for affairs. He opened up the door and let John and Yue Ying get in first. It was again the moment when the two embraced each other once again. Vic rapidly went to the kitchen and showed up with three glasses in his hand and an opened bottle of wine.

-Let’s have drink now…he put the glasses on the coffee table in front of the dining room couch and took a seat. But to his astonishment, John lifted Yue Ying into his arms and headed for the bedroom, opened the door and then closed it with his heel. Vis was mesmerized! That very moment he was completely out of ideas on how to react, what to do, how to handle a situation so delicate. He poured himself a glass of wine and headed to the window. The spectacle he was seeing was amazing, to say the least: the city was still in full motion, people were walking to and from the restaurants, the cars were rapidly carrying individuals to their destinations, while the great Huangpu was keeping a watchful eye over everything, just to make sure that life flows peacefully into the city that never sleeps. He slowly finished his wine, then headed towards the entrance to the apartment, not before taking a long look at the door behind which John and Yue Ying disappeared a little earlier.

“What a peculiar day! A cab driver stops by and takes us to a show. The lead singer of the band is a beautiful girl. She and John have something deep in common as they apparently hit it off. What a strange turn of events! I hope this little thing is over by tomorrow noon. We have lots of stuff to do next week. John buddy, enjoy and I guess I see you tomorrow” He shut the door closed behind him and headed downstairs where the cab driver was waiting for him. A large smile was still present on his lips, which made Vic burst into a huge laughter. Then he got into the front passenger seat and started chit-chatting with the driver all the way until he reached his house. “I can’t wait to tell Zhaohui this story! This is unbelievable!”

He looked at his cell phone: it was midnight. “She is probably asleep”. Vic quietly made it into the bathroom, took a quick shower and then (trying to make the least amount of noise possible), slipped under the blankets.

-How was your night out?

Vic startled as he didn’t expect his fiancée to be still awake.

-You are not sleeping?

-No. I waited for you. Just wanted to make sure you are OK.

-Thank you my sweet heart! I am just fine. Are you willing to listen to a strange story?

Zhaohui flipped the switch to the night lamp, fixed her pillow higher and took a typical Yoga position, signaling the fact that she is ready to hear the story. Vic did the same and after two minutes of quietness started telling the story. Zhaohui was all ears. A deep silence fell between them after Vic finished. He looked into her eyes trying to guess what she was thinking at, trying to understand how his story affected her. It was the moment when Zhaohui’s statement fell like a hammer on him:

-The circle starts closing. I want to meet this girl.

-What? You are kidding, right? It is probably just a fling. Tomorrow we have work to do. J.J. wants updates and answers.

-I think all we are doing is useless. All these investigations (involving the two detectives) are futile and will not bare any fruits. My feeling is that this girl is the piece of the puzzle that is missing. I need to speak to her! Her voice was almost demanding, making Vic startle once again.

-Unbelievable! I will speak to John tomorrow.

-Please do so. Now let’s have few hours of sleep. Tomorrow will be a new beginning.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 43 – Yue Ying

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 43

Yue Ying

John was mesmerized! The two girls he bumped into on his first day in Shanghai, were now on the stage. The traditional white overcoats (waist long) were contrasting with the black modern stretched skirts. Who would ever thought at such an out of the box idea? A traditional Chinese overcoat and a modern stretch skirt? The overcoats were tighten up with wonderful wide ribbons knotted with skill and taste while the characters out of (probably) Chinese Mythology were filling the background. The colors and the execution of the characters was exquisite to say the least. Yellow stitches were beautifully blending with red ones, while the majestic purple purls were encompassing the whole scenery. John’s fine and trained eye for details immediately picked up a difference between the coats the two girls were wearing. The shorter girl (who did not speak much during their street encounter) had the whole scenery on her coat surrounded by thick magenta purls while the other girl’s coat scenery was surrounded by red thick purls. Immediately he remembered that the magenta/purple color represents royalty while red is the color of the upper class in medieval China.

“Wow…is she trying to tell audience that she is a royal? However, she is so beautiful! She deserves to be a royal. I am so excited to hear what they are going to sing. It looks like it will be traditional Chinese music. Not a bad idea we listened to this numb nut who calls himself a cab driver”. John pulled a large smile and nodded affirmatively to their taxi driver who was all eyes and ears waiting for the show to start. The smile, the genuine happiness on his face was priceless. He truly believed that his driving skills landed him some pretty lucrative business with these two foreigners.

The lights went down and everybody was taking his seat to listen to the show. The noisy neighbors insisted in showing everybody that they are there to make a statement, to have fun and eventually get even drunker than they already were. They were using the silver in front of them to bang it against the table. The noise was loud and John felt like he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up and headed to their table:

-Guys, would you mind keeping it down a notch? We are trying to listen to some music.

-Listen to this mates…pretty boy wants us to keep it down a notch? What’ya all thinking?

A huge laughter burst from the table and the four drunken men started hitting the table with their fists. The tension reached the peak. John took a peek at the band. The only one who didn’t seem to be scared out of the four of them, was Yue Ying. She managed to stay calm and composed but one would’ve realized that she was furious inside. The beautiful tanned face, the gorgeous cheeks with two hues which were emphasizing an angelic smile, the long dark flowing hair which was cascading on one side only to fall on the left breast and thus leading  the imagination of the interlocutor to earthly things, caught John by surprise. He was just now realizing how beautiful this girl was! Their eye sights met and an out of the Earth smile flourished on Yue Ying’s lips.

John tried to smile back, but he couldn’t. He thought that he swallowed his Adam’s apple. His lips were dry and felt like he urgently needed a glass of water. “Jesus…she is so beautiful!” His attention was again drawn back to the table of the four drunken sailors.

-Swallowed your tongue, pretty boy? So, what are you going to do about this? One of the individuals closest to him was now laughing right into his face while pounding the table even harder with his fists. At this very moment John’s sight was completely blurred – he was furious to say the least. His quick thinking and trained eye for detail realized that the individual was leaning rearward into his chair and thus the two front legs of the chair were not touching the ground anymore. With a kick into one of the rear legs of the chair, he made the man who was laughing at him land on the ground as the chair lost another point of stability. His first intention was to punch the guy into his face, but he realized that the next man sitting to his left, was already on his feet and had his chair lifted up ready to hit John into the head. To John’s advantage, due to the alcohol consumption the man was not very stable on his feet and this gave John the opportunity to step aside. The man completely missed his target and thus greatly leaning forward into a completely unstable stance. John made a fist and with a well-placed hook into the liver area, made the individual moan from pain and put a knee on the ground. This was the moment when the large fellow who was the body-guard of the restaurant stepped in and made a great statement by pounding the table with his huge fist. The silverware was now all on the ground while the glasses broke one after another one after hitting the ground. The two individuals who were still sitting at the table, ducked. The stature of this fellow was impressive to say the least. He grabbed both of them by the collars of their shirts and apparently with no effort whatsoever crushed their faces against the table. It was a moment when everybody realized how powerful this Hercules truly was. Immediately, an individual (who came out of the kitchen) showed up and assessed the situation by getting an update from the body guard.

-Gentlemen, I am asking you to leave my restaurant. At this point, one of the men (who had the pleasure of “biting the table”) was able to speak as Hercules loosened his grip on them:

-It’s OK, Sir. We will not bother you anymore. It’s OK. I will make sure that it will not happen. My friends just wanted more drinks…that’s all.

-You guys are already drunk! And you are asking for more drinks? Are you kidding? John’s voice was loud and had a tonality which was not hiding at all his disgust with the drunken individuals.

-We will keep it down. Just get us another round of double shot whiskey and we will keep quiet. John couldn’t believe his ears when he saw the owner’s eyes shining like a Christmas tree and especially when he heard him saying:

-OK, gentlemen. But you pay first.

-Of course, no problem mate.

-Very well, Sir: four double shots of whiskey. That would be eight hundred fifty RMB.

-No problem! Bring the drinks, mate!

John was stunned. On one hand he couldn’t believe that after all the trouble they went through, the owner was ready to bring them even more drinks…

-I cannot believe this! You want to give them more alcohol? They will not stop! They will create even more trouble! You are making a big mistake, Sir!

John’s voice was again loud, but this time was embracing a tonality which betrayed a sentiment of perplexity rather than anger and disgust.

-Sir, I appreciate your help. And as a thank you for all the trouble you went through, the drinks at your table are on the house.

John was speechless! “This is unbelievable! He is still giving them drinks!” But the very next second, John remembered the price the owner was charging for the drinks: “He is charging eight hundred fifty RMB! That would be roughly thirty dollars for a double shot. Not bad! He is charging American prices and I am sure he will give them a cheap whiskey” A smile came up on John’s face as he assessed the situation: “He will ask his body guard to keep an eye on them so they will not be trouble anymore and in the meantime he is taking a couple of skins off of them? I have to admit that this is kind of brilliant!”

-I thank you for your offer Sir, but we have no problem paying for our consumption.

-I understand, Sir. But this is a thank you from the house and it would be disrespectful if you refused.

John startled! He looked closer at his interlocutor’s face, as he tried to read him. The lights were down, so he couldn’t really guess the features of his face. But behind the glasses, John guessed two sharp and intelligent eyes. John’s natural curiosity kicked in and now he wanted to get to know the man better, to get to see his physiognomy and eventually understand what he was up to…

-Sir, please understand that business is business. They were trouble from the beginning, but on the other hand I have to make a living…I have to make money somehow. To me, this is an opportunity more than it is a trouble. His voice gradually changed and it made John freeze when mentioned about “making money”…he swore in his mind that he heard Mr. Wang’s voice. Now John was frightened. A cold sweat was now running down his spine. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. What was bothering him the most, was the fact that the restaurant owner was always keeping his face into the shadow, into the dark, carefully making sure that John doesn’t see much.

-Very well, Sir! I thank you for your kindness. We accept your offer.

-Once again, Sir…I thank you for your help.

John slightly tilted his head in a sign of respect and headed back to his table where the driver and Vic were still having trouble digesting what had just happened into the last two minutes. The owner gave few orders and two helpers showed up with brooms and cleaned up the mess from the nearby table.

-What was that? And why are you so pale? You look like a corpse! Vic’s voice was genuinely sounding like the voice of someone who is troubled by whatever he is seeing.

-I can swear that I heard Mr. Wang’s voice when the owner spoke to me.

-That guy who came out of the kitchen is the owner?

John nodded in an affirmative way.

-What did he tell you?

-He said that he will fulfill the request of these four drunken guys and give them more alcohol – business is business…

-Wow! This guy must’ve been trained in America! Vis’s laughter was not accompanied by his friend’s laughter, signaling the fact that John was still troubled by the encounter he had with the restaurant owner. The four neighbors seemed to be alright and quit creating trouble, especially after the waiter showed up with their drinks.

-John, I have to admit that you were brilliant! The way you knocked down those two guys was awesome!

-They are drunk, Vic…you could’ve put’em down yourself…all four of them.

-Of course I could’ve…you’ve never seen my jab and my one-two combination followed by my deadly upper cut, man! This time both of them burst into a huge laughter and a good and happy mood settled at the table. The cab driver clapped his hands towards John and simulated two jabs with his fists:

-You, good fight! Bam, bam! Once again, the two friends started laughing. Tears were coming out of Vic’s eyes…

-Mr. Football…you good fight, too! Bam, bam! Vic was holding his abdomen with both his hands, while John was trying hard not to follow him. However, the atmosphere at their table was set for what apparently was supposed to be a good night out.

The stage was ready…the lights came down again and the band was ready to show their talent.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 42 – Turkish coffee on a Sunday afternoon

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 42

Turkish coffee on a Sunday afternoon

Ismail showed up followed by two apprentices (apparently) who was each bringing a large tray loaded with goodies; immediately memories from their trip to Anatolia surfaced. Linda remembered their good times in Turkey, the sweets they ate, the fresh fruits from the farmers market, the great dinners they had while watching the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea. However, Linda couldn’t see the coffee. Shortly, she realized that another helper standing behind the two plate bearers was holding something strange which was releasing a heavenly smell. It was a sort of wooden box which apparently had something burning inside. Soon her wonders were completely shattered when the two boys carrying the plates placed them onto the table and immediately after stepped aside thus making room for the third one to step forward. Linda realized that it was a ritual well planned and studied, a mini show which was probably done for the important guests and most likely had a known significance. The young bearer of the coffee chest stepped back and all three helpers left as quietly and elusively as they came. It was Ismail’s turn to carry on. Slowly he kneeled and started stirring into something. Linda’s curiosity was shown on her face, making their host smile. He made a discreet sign, telling Linda to approach and watch. It was a magic moment: he was making coffee into a large ibrik which was slowly boiling into a bed of fine hot sand. The fire source must’ve been underneath the sand layer as she felt a comforting wave of heat radiating from underneath. The wooden box must’ve been made out of pine tree as the familiar smell of the resinous family was tickling her nostrils. She immediately remembered this coffee making technique, very common in Middle East. Next moment was truly impressive: with a dexterity which betrayed lots of practice during many years of experience, Ismail pulled two wonderfully decorated ceramic cups, placed them in front of his guests and half-filled them up. Then from a little red box found on the fruit plate, he took one little cube of sugar and put it into Linda’s cup. Slowly stirred until a nice, goldish layer of foam covered the entire surface. Then, with a slow and meticulous motion he finished up filling the cup. Again he started stirring very carefully until another layer of foam, thicker than the previous one encompassed the whole surface of the liquid.

-The smell is out of this world, to say the least! Linda was truly sincere with her statement, which made Ismail bow even more and thank again for the visit.

-Allah sizi korusun, Mrs. Parker! It is my pleasure to have you and Mr. Glenworth as my guests. Then, as elusively as his helpers, he disappeared.

It was a moment of deep silence. Ismail’s departure created a difficult moment for sure. However, J.J. realized the awkwardness of the situation and quickly broke the silence:

-What do you think of this table, Linda? He asked the question with a large and candid smile on his face. He knew that he managed to impress Linda by taking her at this unusual place.

-Stunning! I think I remember all these goodies which are placed on this plate, said Linda while pointing at one of the plates.

-Of course you remember. This stuff is very common in Turkey as well as in Middle East. But the Turks took it to a different level of refinement and sophistication. It is called Turkish delight – you know this – or in Turkish is: lokum. It was the preferred desert of many great Sultans including Suleiman the Magnificent. It takes great knowledge to make it and only master confectioners knew all the secrets to make this great dessert. Then, as the time passed by, it became more and more sophisticated when the masters started mixing the gelatin with all sort of nuts or dried fruits. For instance, on this plate we have samples of this famous gelatin mixed with (at this point, J.J. started pointing at each different assortment): pistachios, almonds, hazelnut, walnut, coconut, rose petals, dates, dried apricots and even marshmallows. We do have few samples of “rahat lokum” and you can see that they are plain – no fillings. Master Turkish confectioners are saying that the true art and skill of a confectioner is shown when he makes this product. And the reason is that in this case you do not have the help of the nuts or the fruits to enhance the flavor. You have to completely rely on the gelatin and whatever aromatic essences you are using. For instance, we have these red samples – I am one hundred percent sure they are using rose petals syrup and essence. How about these beautiful yellow ones? You already guessed: they are made with lemon essence…the art is to balance the sweet gelatin with the lemon juice or essence. How about these gorgeous orange ones? Of course they are using oranges or mandarins. And so on…the variances are unlimited. At this point, J.J. stopped and with a voice which transpired knowledge and authority said:

-Let’s have our coffee now. But before we start sipping from this gorgeous looking cups, I suggest we have some fruits: white grapes first, then a couple of slices of orange and we finish with two or three cubes of cantaloupes.

Linda followed J.J.’s advice and started eating the fruits in the exact order mentioned by J.J. The flavor and the taste of these fruits was so different from what they were buying at grocery store…she couldn’t stop smelling the fruits prior to eating them.

J.J. smiled and with the tone of somebody who knows the business said:

-You cannot find them in our grocery stores. This sort of fruit quality would make the price go high and no grocer chain can afford it. Not too many people would buy and they would eventually go bankrupt.

-Still, how does he manage to bring such high quality products into his store? Now I remember (it is almost like yesterday) the smell of the fresh fruits when we were wondering through the fruit markets of Antalya, Aleppo, Jerusalem or Haifa. I could’ve spent the whole day there, just smelling those fruits!

-Of course! They are using sustainable agricultural land management programs and this is the reason why their fruits and vegetables are so tasty. These countries are still preserving their centuries old techniques of farming and the result is obvious: high quality products free of chemicals and additives. I will have to ask Ismail where he is getting his fruits from…in spite of the fact that we’ve been known each other for long time (and I can say that we are good friends), I don’t think he will tell me. J.J. pulled a loud laughter out of his massive frame and in spite of the fact that Linda was into a self-protective mode, she joined in.

-And you two guys are friends?

-Yeap…but business it’s business. No friendship, no feelings are interfering with the way or the decisions you are making when doing business.

Linda startled! “Is this statement directed at me? Is he trying to tell me that the fact he sent John to China and left him hanging it is business as usual? Bastard! I have to be careful now”

J.J. was tasting the fruits one after another one, slowly and methodically. He was leaving the impression that his whole attention was concentrated into getting the most out of the fruit’s flavor. Periodically he was closing his eyes into a gesture of absolute delight while chewing onto small slices or cubes from the tray in front of them. Linda decided to follow and soon her taste buds were indeed feeling the aroma of those fruits while her nostrils were dilating every time she was bringing a slice close to her mouth. “God these fruits are so tasty!”

It didn’t take long before most of the fruits were gone…

-We did a fantastic job! There is not much left! J.J. pulled another big laughter out of his large chest. Now it’s time we taste some lokum. You probably like the filled style, but I strongly recommend you also taste rahat lokum – the simple one – no fillings. I need your opinion.

-I will sure try it out. But for the beginning, I will go for the pistachios filled lokum.

-Great choice. Let me know how you like it…

Linda took a bite out of one of them…instantaneously, she remembered the taste of this dessert they were buying from the vendors directly on the streets of Antalya or Jerusalem. The smell, the taste, the colors and the aromas of those products they tasted many years ago came back with the same intensity as if it was yesterday. So many memories rushed in! A beautiful smile sparkled on her lips, smile which made her whole face shine and glow, glaze and glisten. J.J. was closely watching her reactions…he was too versed and trained into human psychology not to spy on his interlocutor’s state of mind, on her feelings, on her ability to hide all of the above. When Linda realized that J.J. is watching her emotions, she turned into a stone. A blank face replaced that gorgeous smile. From that moment the discussion became a chess game. Each player was actually trying to guess his opponent’s next move, next emotional reaction and next fall back. The conversation turned into a banal chit-chatting in which the answers and the questions were almost mono-syllabic. Few moments of embarrassing silence followed up and J.J. realized that he has to break the ice once again.

-A little time ago, I saw a great smile on your face, Linda…was that a smile of nice memories coming back?

Linda startled and looked at him with an almost hostile state of mind. “Unbelievable! This guy can read minds!” She became frustrated and impatient and for the moment she decided to raise her guard even higher in an attempt to watch between her gloves his next move.

-Linda, why did you pick this particular church for your Sunday Mass?

The question fell like a hammer! Earlier, J.J. answered the same question by saying that he had relatives in the neighborhood. Amazingly, his relatives’ names were Peter and Andrew! Now she was frightened! J.J. was somehow related to the two men which made such a great impression on her, he was relative with Peter who showed up in the church and prayed with her and made her believe that her father re-incarnated into his body…

Every move J.J. was making, put her into a defense mode, asked her to take a step back and pushed her into the corner. It was a situation Linda couldn’t take anymore…she decided to throw all the cards on the table and point blank ask J.J. what he wants, ask him why he asked her to join him for this afternoon coffee into such unusual place? She felt like she was running out of aces, she felt like no more steps backward needed to be taken! She was ready to throw the question out there, when out of nowhere, Ismail showed up; as elusively as he slipped away, he made his way back…

-Is everything ok? Is everything as you had expected? How were the fruits? How about the lokum? I hope the coffee didn’t get cold! Let me fill up the cups…it looks like we need a little work to be done here. Without even getting the permission from the two guests, he poured the coffee from the two cups into a secondary recipient which was immediately picked up by a helper and taken away; then he started stirring into the large ibrik he had on the hot sand. The smell of the freshly brewed coffee encompassed the boot again and the flavors of the roasted beans brought again a sense of calmness, a sense of serenity and forgiveness, a sense of peace and tranquility.

Linda was stunned…”How come he showed up exactly when I wanted to confront J.J.? These two guys are for sure hand in hand! But how do they communicate to each other?” Linda was furious! However, something inside her heart told her to hold back, told her not to ask the questions she was ready to ask…

-Now is the right time to taste the coffee, Linda! We had the fruits, we had some lokum…now the time is perfect to take few sips from this heavenly made liquid.

J.J. picked up his cup and with a sort of: “cheers” gesture, he closed his eyes, slowly sipped from the high quality ceramic cup he had in his hand and then put it back on its little plate on the table while still keeping his eyes closed.

“What a fraud! What a show off!” Linda was not happy at all with the way things were progressing. “I was about to spill the beans, when Ismail showed up all of a sudden! And now, J.J. is keeping his eyes closed, in an attempt to tell me that he wants to enjoy his coffee! This charade has got to stop! Does he think I am a school girl he can twirl around his fingers and do whatever he wants with me?”

Again she wanted to ask J.J. the questions which bothered her…and once again Ismail showed up.

-Do you need anything else? Mrs. Parker, how is the coffee? I wish you are enjoying your stay here, at my humble place.

Linda was perplex! The second time she wanted to take it to J.J., Ismail showed up. It looked to her that he was somehow J.J.’s guardian angel. She was now fuming with frustration, but then she looked at Ismail…his face was transpiring such a genuine, childish happiness; it such a great way to say thank you for visiting…this took all her anger away. His tanned, wrinkled face, coupled with the greatest and kindest smile, made her drop the weapons. There was so much genuine kindness in his smile, there was so much gratitude and appreciation in his words! Linda put her cup down on the plate and looked at her host. His little eyes were radiating with joy and humbleness, with pleasure and happiness. Linda was once again into a puzzled situation…”This is the second time he is preventing me from speaking up, from spilling the beans, from taking it to J.J.; why is this happening? What sort of ties are between him and J.J.? Why is he always showing up when I want to ask J.J. some straight forward questions?” Linda didn’t know anymore how to react. However she remembered an advice from her dad…an advice he gave her long, long time ago: “Linda, when you find yourself at the cross-roads and don’t know which way to go, sit back and listen. If listening is not enough, just let Good Lord make that decision for you”. She smiled again, looked up and in her mind said again: “Thanks Dad! I will let Good Lord make the decision for me; right now I’m stuck…I am serious, dad: I am stuck” She managed to put up a great smile on her face, lifted up the coffee cup and sipped from the dark goldish brown liquid. Then she sipped again, and again…a strange feeling of acceptance and peacefulness encompassed her. The confrontation and adversity perception left her mind, leaving room just for harmony and serenity. She couldn’t explain this metaphoric state of mind, so she decided to let it go, as the advice from her father surfaced up.

J.J. was in a transcendence like type of mode. He was sipping slowly from the cup and then placing it back on the plate while keeping his eyes closed. It was a sort of saying: “don’t disturb me”. Linda complied with this new scenario and decided to enjoy this truly special coffee.

Finally, when they were almost done, J.J. opened his eyes and as loosely as he had his coffee, he invited Linda to have another lokum.

-Now it’s time to finish up…please try the rahat lokum…we have four choices: orange, lemon, rose and mango. Without inviting Linda again, he picked up a mango square. Linda looked at the plate and grabbed a reddish piece. It was a rose flavored rahat lokum. The first bite she had, made her mind travel back to the times of their honey moon travelling…it was literally like smelling a rose from the garden! It was so flavored and the perfume of the roses in blooming came back. It was so tasty and real, it was so genuine and flavorful! “This is out of this world! So delicious and so tasteful!”

Few more minutes went by, time in which both J.J. and Linda enjoyed the sweets they chose. Nobody was saying a word anymore. And it looked like Linda seized from asking the questions she wanted to ask. She leaned back against the comfortable pillows and enjoyed the delicious dessert while sipping from time to time from the coffee she had left into the cup. They systematically avoided each other’s eyes…it was a sort of armistice and gentlemen’s agreement between them: “nobody takes charge anymore”. This situation frustrated Linda, as she wanted more answers from J.J.

But she also realized that he was a heavy weight player, who will not give up anything if he wanted to do so.

-I think it’s time to say thank you to our host…do you want anything else, Linda?

-Everything was fantastic, J.J.! I am good. I guess we can go now.

-Very well. I thank you for a lovely Sunday evening.

-The pleasure was all mine, J.J.! I thank you for introducing me to this great and unusual place.

-Anytime, Linda. Whenever you want to have a good coffee and some great sweets, just drop by Ismail’s coffee house. It’s not that far from your house.

-Absolutely! I will take John here, as soon as he returns.

-I am sure he would like it. Shall we go?

-Yes, please. I thank you again for your invitation.

-Pleasure is all mine.

They stood up and headed for the exit. On their way, Ismail greeted them again:

-Many thanks for visiting my place, Mr. Glenworth and Mrs. Parker!

-Kesinlikle memnun, efendi Ismail!

-Zevk bana ait, Mr. Glenworth. Allah seninle oslun, Mrs. Parker…may Allah be with you, Mrs. Parker

-And with you too, Efendi Ismail!

-Let me show you to the door…Ismail took charge and headed for the exit. Their shoes were waiting for them as well as their coats. Linda was shocked that Ismail never brought a bill…”It looks like J.J. has a running bill here; I guess he can afford it” She felt like giggling, but stopped short from doing so. She didn’t fully understand what the business relationship was between them, so she kept quiet. Once out of the door, J.J. took his hat off and with a slight tilt of his head thanked Linda for a great afternoon.

-The pleasure was mine, J.J. and as I said: I thank you for inviting me to such a lovely and unusual place.

-It was a great pleasure to have you as a companion today, Linda. As always, your grace and style are turning heads.

-Thank you again, J.J. I hope you will enjoy the rest of your weekend.

-You too, Linda.

Both of them started heading for their cars, when J.J. stopped and with a voice as authoritarian and at the same time as protective as it could be, he called Linda:


She stopped and turned around completely puzzled:

-Yes, J.J.! Is there something wrong?

-No Linda…nothing wrong. I just wanted to tell you that I never ever betrayed my friends and I will never ever do it, no matter how dire the situation is for me! I would rather die than leaving a friend hanging. This is all I wanted to say. You have a good night and may Good Lord watch over you.

Within few seconds J.J. got into his car and disappeared. His last sentence made Linda understand that he read all her fears, all her doubts and questions. Now she was scared: “He can read minds! Who is J.J.? Is John right in saying that he is part of the story? Then why he sent John there?” Her mind was now trying to comprehend all the information she has got in the last twenty-four hours…however, J.J.’s last sentence brought her to an ease: “I will never ever betray a friend…”

A smile flourished on her lips…she started the engine and soon she found herself on the freeway. The trees on the side of the road were zooming by. But her mind was still at the conversation she had with John…”J.J. is involved into this China business; the question is: at what extent, at which level? Well, at least he is saying that he will not betray John”

She stepped on the gas pedal and left all the worries behind her. Somehow, she now trusted that John will not be left hanging, as J.J. said. Soon, she pulled into the driveway.