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

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

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

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

Chapter 51

White Orchid

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

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

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

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

-OK Mr. Parker. Careful…

-Don’t worry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Mr. Parker, I taxi driver…remember?

It was John’s turn to burst into laughter:

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

-No problem Mr. Parker. Here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

-Orchid expensive…but very beautiful.

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

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

-I want to buy one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

-She wants know who you buy for.

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

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

-Sorry…she no sell to you.

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

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

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

-What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Don’t understand…who stealing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Are you sure it’s enough?

-Yes Mr. Parker. You have good night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 50

John and Yue Ying (II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Relax, man! I’ve been busy.

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

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

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

-Yeah, go ahead, Vic

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

-I will hang up on you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Ok. Go for it. I will wait.

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

-Jesus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Why would he do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-OK. Thanks, Vic!

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

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

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

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

-Great! We’ll talk later, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Follow that car then, Mr. NASCAR!

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

A smile came up on his lips:

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

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

-Don’t lose that car!

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

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

-What you say?

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

-You no worry Mr. Parker! I drive!

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

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 48 (John and 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 48

John and Yue Ying

A large smile encompassed his whole face. His eyes were now bathing into Yue Ying’s. There was no verbal communication between them, just an infinite ocean of feelings ranging from amazement to perplexity, from wonder and astonishment to bewilderment or from kindness to something still undefined, something John just couldn’t put his finger onto…yet.

Leaning into her right elbow, Yue Ying was now tirelessly stroking his hair with the left hand fingers, while her long, thick, black hair was now completely resting on John’s chest. She just couldn’t have enough of that regular brushing motion. From time to time their lips were joining into a long and passionate kiss, only to come apart for another round of eye contact, another round of attempts to understand what is actually happening to them.

Their bodies were becoming one during those numerous kissing rounds. John’s strong arms were encircling her hips while hers were clinging into a tight grip around his neck. There was so much intimacy, lust and candidness between them that one would believe they will never get out of that bed and that they have been waiting for this to happen for an eternity. And yet, this was just the prelude to more and more kissing and eventually to passionate love making. Her tanned skin, hard breasts and dark brown nipples were turning John on, over and over. It looked like there was no end to this intercourse endeavor, to the techniques they were adopting while making love, to the numerous times they were switching positions to get on top of each other. It was wild, it was passionate and it was something one would remember for the rest of his life.

Eventually both of them wore out and separated from the long love making and hugging. Their eye sights were now staring at the ceiling while heavily panting. The blankets were peacefully resting on the floor, while the bed sheets were a mess of sweat and wrinkles. The pillows had the same fate as the bed sheets…one would say that the covers were just pulled out of the washing machine and were waiting for the next round into the dryer. Yue Ying was holding hers into the arms. The immense pillow was covering her heavenly looking breasts, her flat stomach, the hips and the intimate zone. It was a sign of bashfulness which didn’t go by without being observed by John. He smiled and tossed his pillow onto the floor showing his sculptured abs and great pecs.

A long moment of quietness followed. Just their panting breaths were heard into the silence of the morning. John grabbed his cell phone…five phone calls from Vic were shown on the call display. He smiled and even giggled: “He must be asking himself where I am and why I am not into the office. It’s alright, my friend. We’ll catch up later”. Then he turned towards Yue Ying leaning into his left elbow; their eyes met again and yet another long and passionate kiss joined their thirsty lips, kiss which inevitably led towards a carnal closeness. John slowly removed the pillow from her arms. Her gorgeous body was now fully exposed to John’s hungry eyes and unstoppable lust. His right hand fingers were delicately playing with the gorgeous hard nipples, making her moan from pleasure. Slowly and skillfully he started cupping and squeezing the breasts. She was trembling from pleasure which made John become more and more aggressive and insistent. Eventually his hand made its way downward towards the intimate area, only resting for few moments on the tight, narrow hips. Yue Ying was murmuring into John’s ear things he couldn’t understand but he was guessing that they were words of ultimate physical pleasure, words from the love making arsenal, words which obviously had no borders or language barriers to be understood.

Their bodies became one once again and another round of passionate, wild, meaningful love making encompassed them; it seemed like the time had stopped and the otherwise quiet bedroom was now witnessing panted breaths, moans of pleasure and uncontrollable kissing sessions.

There was so much passion written into their eyes that one would say these two bodies have just met after an eternity of separation, after centuries of being apart from each other. It was something hard to comprehend and explain in words.

The love making took a turn for the unexpected: John lifted Yue Ying into his arms and headed for the bathroom. Under the warm streams of the shower head mixed up with a flood of body lotion, the two bodies were desperately trying to find the rhythm which would enhance the pleasure. The bodies were now slippery; Yue Ying’s legs encircled John’s hips, barely holding onto a tight grip. John knew that if he wanted that good, healthy, meaningful penetration, he had to help. His forearms were placed underneath her hamstring muscles while his fingers were deeply digging and grasping into the two superb buttocks. Eventually both of them found that common synchronized motion, a motion which was making them moan, groan and sigh from pleasure. The penetration was deep and the pleasure so great that made Yue Ying tilt her head backwards at the maximum extent the neck would allow. Her long black hair was now flowing downwards; her left hand was holding the back of John’s neck while her right palm was pushing into his strong pecs into an attempt to limit the amount of ingress. But John was in no mood whatsoever to let go or into the spirit of showing mercy. He kept pounding hard, making Yue Ying moan from pleasure.

However, this position was not suitable and sustainable for a long run due to the great physical effort required especially from the man’s side. Eventually John wore out and let go. He had to…in spite of the fact that he was in an excellent shape, the last sexual endeavor took a toll on him; he was heavily panting while resting his head on her left shoulder. His hands were holding tight onto her hips while hers were joined together around his neck. It was a long moment of quietness, a moment in which both bodies felt like one. That long embrace was accompanied just by the whisper of the small streams of warm water coming out from the shower head. It was relaxing, it was peaceful and it was an opportunity for both of them to catch their breaths. John turned off the tap and stepped out of the shower cabin. Yue Ying followed. John took her into his arms again and headed now back to the bedroom. The bed sheets were all sweaty from the passionate night they had. Neither one of them cared anymore. Yue Ying was now on top of him and the regular up and down motion was bringing back that great feel of lust and pleasure. Apparently she did not want to give John once again the control over the penetrating act. Both her breasts were now exposed in all their splendor. The nipples were hard like rocks and John wasted no time in grabbing and squeezing them, making Yue Ying again moan from pleasure. Over and over they were switching places in a continuous and relentless search for the greatest level of intimacy. It was like they were both looking for the perfect recipe, or perhaps for that medical prescription which would help shake away or get rid of the non-essential moves meant just to impede reaching a great climax at the end.

When all was over, an overwhelming feeling of taking a break from each other encompassed them. They were now resting on their backs looking at the ceiling once again and trying to digest the great pleasures they just went through. It was a well-deserved break, a chance to catch up the breath and meditate at this great episode of love making which happily followed the few other ones from the night before. The bed sheets were all wet, the pillows were resting on the floor while the covers and the blankets were long time part of the bedroom decorations.

John eventually leaned against his left elbow and started to fondle her temple. His fingers were slowly working their way to the ear’s lobe, gently rubbing and squeezing it, almost like trying to get more blood into that area. The side of her neck then felt the soft touch of his fingertips. She trembled from pleasure…her left leg was now resting on John’s right hip. He didn’t stop…his fingers were still slowly making their way underneath the chin and then were following the contour of her lips only to finish back up, in the temple area, where they started. It was not long before they began kissing again. It was another meaningful, and ardent kiss, it was yet another way of catching up (one would say) from a long time of staying apart, or from centuries of looking for each other.

Shortly after they fell asleep, with Yue Ying resting again her head onto John’s chest, while the long thick hair was now almost entirely covering John’s upper body.

Neither one of them knew what the time of the day was when they woke up. All they knew was that the amazing love making they had was going to stay imprinted into their memories for a long time.

John checked his cell phone again: another three phone calls from Vic were shown on the display. He cracked a large smile and put the cell phone back on the night stand.

-Why you smile?

John realized that until now, he didn’t hear Yue Ying speaking, that until now the only conversation between them was done through the endless love making sounds, through the kissing and panting, through the moaning and groaning. He was completely shocked and looked at Yue Ying with the eyes of somebody who is waking up from a long lethargic state, trying to figure out what is happening around him.

-I smile, yes I do! Vic called me several times. I think he is worried.

A powerful and healthy laughter came out of her chest. Shortly, John accompanied her and for few seconds they both had a little bit of fun. Her left elbow was now leaning into John’s chest while her gorgeous, big, black, slandered eyes were looking straight into John’s.

-Vic worried that you no safe with me? It was a question she asked while lifting an eye browse, which made John react immediately.

-No, no, no…I think he is just calling to figure out what the plan for today was. That’s all. Nothing else.

-You sure?

-I am positive. Don’t have to worry. By the way…I am very, very hungry. Where do you want to go eat? It is almost 2 in the afternoon.

-I hungry too. I eat where you eat. Don’t care.

-Do you know some good little places in the city? I don’t think I want to eat at large restaurants. A little ma and pa shop will do it as long as the food is good.

-Yes. I know good places. I take you there. You will like food.

-Great! Now let’s get dressed and head out. I am hungry like a wolf.

-You hungry wolf?

John burst into a huge laughter…

-Yes, I am a hungry wolf…I guess I can say that.

It didn’t take them too long to get dressed. John put his blue jeans on, a T-shirt and a pullover while picking his a pair of leather boots he brought with him. He checked the weather on his phone: the temperature was still in the low seventies, so he opted to take no jacket with him.

Yue Ying was ready too. John realized that she was obviously wearing the cloths she was wearing during the show last night.

-We are going cloths shopping first. You need to get into something more comfortable. That being said, John pulled the card of the taxi driver from his wallet and made the phone call. It was a conversation to die for: John’s voice was not recognized by the taxi driver and he kept speaking in Chinese while John was trying to make him understand that he needs to switch to English. Yue Ying wasted no time: she stretched her hand towards John. John put a finger at his temple in a sign of: “Why didn’t I think at this from the beginning? I had to waste again time in trying to talk to that numb nut”

It took Yue Ying thirty seconds to solve the problem…

-Ten minutes he waits for us in front of hotel.

-In ten minutes he will be downstairs?

-Yes.

-Great! I guess we can have a tea in the meanwhile if you want.

-Sure. Tea is good.

-Alright then…if you want, you can take a look at the river from the window. It is a very nice spectacle. I will prepare two cups of tea in the meanwhile.

John headed for the kitchen and started searching through the tea options he had on hand.

-Yue Ying!

-Yes, John…

-Which tea do you like? I have regular green tea, I have chamomile, I have jasmine, I have…

-Hmm. You have jasmine? I like jasmine.

-OK then. Jasmine it is.

When John showed up with the two cups of tea, he could see that Yue Ying was completely absorbed by the wonderful and lively spectacle on Huangpu. He carefully put the cups on the desk and approached. Slowly, he grabbed her shoulders…then his hands dropped to the hips, only to close in the front on her flat abdominal area. Yue Ying tilted her head side wise and in the next second, her temple was resting on John’s shoulder. He (in return) tilted his head forward and kissed her on the side of the neck. This was followed by another passionate kiss which made them forget about the spectacle down there. Eventually they broke up that meaningful kiss and looked up to Great River once again. That hard to explain majestic play (in which the actors were the barges loaded with goods) was yet again making John feel so at ease and peaceful, feel so comfortable and at home that a strange sense of belonging and eternity encompassed him. Yue Ying was not moving. Her whole body and attention as well as her whole spiritual and cognitive resources were now directed towards the waters down below. One would’ve said that they were both somehow related to the Great River, that sometime in the past they had been together part of this grand spectacle and their destinies intersected each other yet again at this very moment. An outsider would’ve seen two bodies tightly embraced, refusing to let go, two bodies which found each other after centuries of search and wander, after eternities of missed chances to intersect paths and fate.

The phone rang – it was the driver waiting downstairs. The quickly took a couple of sips out of the two cups placed on the desk and headed towards the door.

John closed the door behind him and followed Yue Ying who was already at the elevator, but not before taking another look at the neighbors’ door. “I hope the Master of the spear is thinking at taking my offer. This story has to finish, regardless. I will bargain with him to the bone if needed.” He didn’t know how close to this statement of his he was! When John reached the elevator, Yue Ying was holding the door open. John happily made into the elevator and embraced her. This is how they reached the Main Lobby – embraced and kissing yet again. When the door opened, a couple waiting to catch the elevator up saw them embraced. The woman said something, while the man pulled a short laughter. Then the closed behind them and the elevator did what it was supposed to do: haul people up and down.

-What did they say? Can you tell me?

-Nothing. Not important…

-Please tell me what they said!

-Nothing…let’s go. I tell you one day. Yue Ying rapidly headed towards the Entrance where the taxi driver was waiting. The man was all smiles:

-Hello Mr. Parker. You had good night?

-I had a wonderful night! How about yourself? I am sorry, I never got your name…

-Xiǎo lǐzǐ is my name.

-Well, my friend…it’s going to take a while before I would be able to say it.

The cab driver (“numb nut” as John was calling him) opened up the door in the back. Yue Ying got in and then John followed her. Once inside, he took her hand and kissed her again. When the driver got in, he saw the scene and with a smile as large as his whole face asked:

-Mr. Parker, where we go?

-We are very hungry but first we need to buy some cloths for Yue Ying – she needs to get into something more comfortable.

-You hungry bad?

-Very bad. John burst into a laughter which was making his whole athletic frame shake like a pine tree into the wind.

-OK. I have plan. First you go eat fast. Little. Then we go buy cloths…what you say? That whole smile never disappeared from his face and John just couldn’t refrain from laughing. At one point, Yue Ying started accompanying him and all of a sudden the atmosphere inside of the cab was electrifying.

-OK, Sir! I am going with your plan.

-OK. You see. Good plan!

-I trust you. This was a statement which John made with half of voice, as he remembered the Saturday night when this cab driver defied all the law of the Mechanics and made John feel like a bag of potatoes inside this cab.

It was not long before John understood that this cab driver is not a maniac, not a numb nut…not at all! He was just a horrible driver, who didn’t know the basics of the “driving a car” business. For him, the accelerator and the brake pedal where not different by much. All you had to do as a driver, was to step hard on them. Shortly, they pulled in front of a small ma and pa shop:

-Best noodle soup! Enjoy!

He opened up the door in the back in order for John and Yue Ying to get out.

-We won’t be long…we need to buy cloths.

-Yes Mr. Parker. I wait. Enjoy meal.

-For sure we will enjoy it. John made an: “I see you later” sign, grabbed Yue Ying by the shoulders and both entered the shop.

 

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 it could 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 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! What a strange night! 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 44 (Shanghai Sun)

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

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

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

 

Chapter 44

Shanghai Sun

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

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

-What do you think, Vic?

-It is…I don’t know…different!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Yeah, it is a pretty good music.

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

-Yeah, it’s ok.

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

-Hey, Vic!

-Yeah, John! ‘Sup?

-Why do you think our neighbors are so quiet?

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

-No, Vic…you are wrong…

-I’m wrong about what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Now Shanghai Sun…

-What?

-Now sing Shanghai Sun.

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

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

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

-Many times, Sir!

-OK then. Now let’s listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John bowed and so did the cab driver and Vic.

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

-I thank you, Sir…

-Vic is my name.

-I thank you, Vic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 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!