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 white 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:

-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.

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 41 (Ismail)

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 41

Ismail

Once inside, Linda felt the warmth of the place…not necessarily temperature wise, but the warmth released by a well decorated room, by a room full of nice paintings hanged on the brown wooden panels which were entirely covering the walls. “This place is so…so…so different; it is exactly the opposite of Mr. Ferrari’s. It is sober yet warm, it is classy yet very inviting and friendly”; Linda murmured these two sentences while turning around to catch as much details of the place as possible. The fire place had a real log lit up and this was bringing the patrons a nice and warm feeling, a sense of homeliness and belonging, a sense of uncapped curiosity and willingness of exploring new things.

-Iyi gϋnler Bay Glenworth, Iyi gϋnler; what a pleasure! Long time…

-Efendi Ismail, good day to you too. Yes, it has been a while since I stepped into your store. I apologize for not dropping by more often.

-Mr. Glenworth, you are always welcome at my place. I can see that you have a guest.

-Yes, Efendi Ismail…this is Mrs. Parker. She is the wife of one of my top Managers at Glenworth.

-Linda Parker is my name, Efendi Ismail. It is a pleasure to meet you. Linda stretched her hand for the hand shake. Ismail bowed and shook her hand while saying something in Turkish:

-Seninle tanişmak ne gϋzel, Bayan Parker! What a pleasure to meet you!

-The pleasure is all mine, Efendi Ismail! I love your place. I have to admit that is different…different from everything we have here. Actually last time when I stepped into a Turkish coffee shop (which resembles yours), was many years ago…we made it into one of the little towns, down in Anatolia, by the sea. After we dropped our luggage, we started touring the town and we stopped by this little place, right on the seafront. They had a gorgeous patio full of flowers. But inside, it was heaven…so beautifully decorated with all sort of handcrafted things. We were both so impressed. That was also the time when my husband bought a copper ibrik. The next day, the man who sold us the pot, came by our hotel and gave it to my husband. In the meantime, he had written something on the pot. Apparently he was the pot master. We absolutely loved everything we found there: the people, the culture, the little villages and of course the food!

Linda’s story may had been sat really well with the host, as his eyes were all lit up and the face was radiant and illuminated by pride and gratitude. One could see that the man standing in front of J.J. and Linda, was taking great pride in the fact that such a well-read and educated woman was praising his culture and his native lands.

-May Great Allah bless you and your family Mrs. Parker! May I ask what the pot master had written on the pot?

-I think: “For those who love each other now and forever”…I completely forgot, but my husband remembered. As a matter of fact, last week he made coffee in that pot.

-Pardon me if I ask one more question, Mrs. Parker…do you remember the name of that little town?

-Oh…Efendi Ismail…now you got me puzzled…I am not really a person with fantastic knowledge of Geography, but my husband is. When he returns, we will for sure pay you a visit. He can list all the places we visited in the Middle East and Turkey, all the little towns, taverns, little ma and pa stores, all museums and libraries we stepped into.

-It is a great pleasure to hear this, Mrs. Parker! I am looking forward to meet your husband. Now, if I may take you to a booth I am sure you will enjoy what we can offer here, in this little store of ours. Ismail deeply tilted his trunk from the middle section of his body and took the lead in taking his new customers into an area which from the entrance, one wouldn’t have guessed it even existed. As a matter of fact, the coffee shop was gaining space while advancing towards the back. Linda figured out right away that Ismail started small and slowly bought the businesses at the rear end of his shop. Now his coffee shop was stretching for the whole width of the small plaza. He smartly divided the patrons’ area with little live palm trees, creating an oasis atmosphere. As a matter of fact, every booth was surrounded from three places with wooden barrels in which he planted six feet tall palm and fig trees. Nobody knew how he managed to keep these trees this short, but they definitely were giving the patrons the sensation of a fairy tale, a feeling similar to the un matchable “Arabian nights”

The spot Ismail chose for his guests was “tucked” somehow at the far end of the room and one would realize that it was meant to be “awarded” to special people who were visiting his business. It was almost secluded from other booths by being almost encircled with these barrels. The palm and the fig trees were offering a full “protection” from the other patrons’ eyes and the sign “Reserved” strengthened Linda’s opinion that J.J. was a very important guest whenever he decided to sip and enjoy a good Turkish coffee. Her mind started asking questions once again: “How does J.J. know this place? How does he know Ismail? What is the relationship between him and the man who owns this place? Is this just another coincidence, same like her encounters with Peter and Andrew McCarthy? At the end of the day, who is the real J.J.?” All these questions were pouring in, tormenting her imagination and judgement.

Linda realized that all these booths were designed for people to sit in that lotus position, typical to oriental cultures. It was the time when J.J. asked her:

-I hope you don’t mind sitting at this table, do you? It requires a certain flexibility I guess, but I do not think this is a big deal for you. You are an athlete!

His face was all of a sudden lit up with a large and kind smile, a smile which left Linda perplex. She was in a defensive mode since she decided to follow J.J.’s invite, but this last turn of events puzzled her. He was jovial, he was relaxed and he was happy and eager to taste once again from the liquid which was filling the air into the room with aromas which were making ones imagination wonder through the stories of the childhood, stories riddled with white palaces built into the oasis, stories with princes and princes , stories with  betrayals and chivalry.

The room was indeed loaded with scents which were inevitably bringing the patrons at ease, at peace and was making them relax and enjoy their coffee and the sweets which were brought along with the unique Turkish coffee.

Linda realized that the seats were actually very comfortable divans which had the shape of an arc, leaving open just the side where the waiter was bringing the goodies to the table. She also noticed the beautiful pillows wrapped into silk covers, covers decorated into the most lively and inviting colors, from red and purple to yellow and light greens and blues. She couldn’t help but grabbing a pillow and run her palm on top of it. Yes, it was a high quality silk. On the floor, she realized that a thick Turkish woolen rug was making your bare feet rest so well, had you decided not to do that lotus sitting. Removing the shoes was a must and the waiter brought right away the traditional terliks, a Turkish version of warm and comfortable slippers. The rugs were complementing the sofa and the pillows and a good eye would’ve realized that these were exceptional handmade woolen carpets, thick and warm, beautiful and colorful. Everything at this table was contrasting with the sober walls, covered with dark wooden panels. But the combination was exquisite in taste, refinement and elegancy. Linda was completely captured by the environment and for a moment she even forgot that she set her mind up to watch J.J.’s moves. When the magic moment passed, she shook her head and inaudibly murmured to herself: “What a crafty guy! He brought me here to make me feel at ease and eventually make me open up on some things he is interested into. That’s it! No more magic moments, no more exploration of the environment! I have to be all eyes and ears” She didn’t even realize that J.J. was ordering from a Menu. Ismail was taking notes and soon he disappeared. Now she was sitting on the nice sofa, having a pillow tucked behind the back into the lower back area. To her surprise, J.J. (in spite of his age) didn’t have any problem sitting into the same position. A few moments of quietness took over and both of them were looking at each other trying to guess what his interlocutor has on his/her mind. Finally, J.J. decided to break the silence:

-So, how do you like this place?

-It is spectacular, I have to admit it…everything is done with such refinement and attention to details! The combination couch, pillows, rug is stunning!

-Indeed! This place has its uniqueness, its charm, its mysterious look and Oriental touch.

Another round of silence encompassed the table. This time, Linda decided to get out of her shell and start the attack.

-So, J.J. – how did you make it to this particular Church? You live on the other side of the town, if I am not mistaken…

He looked at her trying to understand if this was just a simple curiosity, or there was a hidden agenda tucked behind the question? At that moment, Linda’s face exhibited the most innocent look one could put on. She managed to show a typical feminine curiosity, which tricked J.J. and made him speak freely, without guessing that he was spied on.

-I do live on the other side of the town, but I know lots of people in this area through my wife’s siblings. As a matter of fact, two of her brothers live nearby. They are farmers and we spent many Thanks Giving Sundays at their houses. I’ve been knowing this Church for many years as we used to come here for the Mass on those particular Sundays. I know many people from the community. Here in the country, you really get that old, almost holistic spirit of the man living at peace with the land he works and with the crops he is harvesting, living at peace with the nature and the living things out there, living closer to the good Lord, closer than we do in the city. These simple people, know how to talk to the land, how to talk to their crops, how to live peacefully side by side with the wild life. I have so much respect for them!

Linda was stunned! She never expected something like this from J.J., a man of exquisite taste and refinement, a man who spent lots of money on fine clothes and cars, on furniture and memberships at exclusive Golf Country Clubs. She decided to get back into the shell and prepare for defense at any costs. “He is so crafty! He knows that I am all eyes and ears trying to get something out of him. By now he probably knows by heart what John is up to and what his next steps are. Why did he approach me, though? How come he showed up at this Church exactly when I showed up? It was the first time when I stepped into this Church and he was there! Is he watching my moves? What if he is travelling from the past to fulfil that nonsense curse? Is he part of it? No way! You cannot travel in time!”

Same as John did when he asked himself this question, Linda cracked a smile and then a barely audible laughter followed in a sign that she is not buying this theory.

J.J. picked up on this little emotional relief and with a large smile on his face asked:

-Why are you laughing? It must be something nice. Please tell me why you are laughing so I can pick up the pace. I can always use a good laughter.

Linda realized that she has to back up and quickly come up with something credible and innocent, with something which will divert the pressure J.J. was already putting on her, with something that will lead eventually her interlocutor into a dead end.

-Have you noticed the quality of these rugs?

J.J. was stunned and didn’t know how to react, but the chance he had to exhibit his knowledge on furniture, home decorations, quality rugs and Turkish culture prevailed.

On the other hand, Linda felt how the noose was slowly loosening up and J.J. fell into the trap she laid down for him. This little challenge set J.J. up for a long speech on the way the rugs are still manually made in some parts of the world and what was stunning, he knew exactly even how the people (the peasants or farmers) in those countries were making them. He explained to Linda how the wool strings are carefully made out of a big bundle, how they are then made into the shape of a ball and lately pulled through the wooden pieces of an equipment which was obviously handled manually by a human.

-How do you know all of these things? Linda’s question was genuine. In the same time she realized that J.J. forgot about her laughter. “Things are getting back to the right path! Keep your eyes open, Linda!” It was a self-assuring, a self-defense mode she was now calling upon.

-Well, Linda…first of all I read a lot. I absolutely love Geography, History, Archeology and Architecture. Secondly, I did travel quite a bit. It’s been now few years (especially after Jen’s passing) since I stopped travelling. But I had probably seen most of the countries in this world.

-Wow! That’s impressive, J.J.!

-Thanks Linda! You and John did travel in your youth as well, didn’t you?

-Yes we did. Not as much as we would’ve loved to, but we can say that we are well traveled.

-You see Linda…travelling gives you that freedom which probably the explorers felt hundreds of years ago while they were sailing sometimes to a destination, but many times towards an unknown land or maybe to an unknown destiny. When the wind rages into the sails of the ship, when the masts are bending under the relentless pounding of the wind gusts, when the bow of the ship dives into the sea only to raise higher riding on the wave, when the salty air penetrates every single pore of your body, when the speed of the ship (which splits the waves the way a sharp knife splits a piece of tender meat) makes you forget that you are still at the mercy of the sea…that is the moment of maximum freedom, Linda. J.J. stopped to catch his breath. His eyes were throwing bolts of fire, his whole face turned into the face of a man who was in the middle of a fight, of a man who was living in that moment the story he was telling, a man who probably did not even belong to this world. Linda got scared. J.J.’s metamorphosis made her get into an extreme defensive mode.

-I am sorry about my little monologue. I hope you didn’t mind it.

-Not at all, J.J.; it was actually quite impressive! The way you described that boat sailing through the waves, it almost made me envision one of those explorers’ adventures into uncharted waters. Very well done!

-I thank you, but this is nothing. It apparently comes naturally when talking about ships and navigation. Don’t know why…

Linda looked at him and felt how a cold sweat was slowly moving down her spine. “Who is he? I’ve been knowing him for so many years, but I have never seen him like this. I have never seen him so excited, so passionate, so revved up and open! He was calm and calculated, never letting emotions take over. Now he is a totally different man from what I used to know”

-Your coffee has arrived!