The living room was encompassed by a great and jovial atmosphere. Yue Ying and Zhaohui were still sobbing from the emotional encounter they had while Zihuan, Yuhuan and Chenguang were all smiles as they realized that they are the witnesses of a great story which only in movies could’ve been seen. Chenguang (Zihuan’s sister), as well as the two detectives had their sight bolted on Yue Ying. Apparently they either knew her from somewhere, or Yue Ying’s beauty was acting like a magnet, attracting all the attention of the actors participating at the scene. Eventually the two sisters broke up from the long embracement (which kept them together almost like one single body) and while the tears of joy on their faces were showing the emotional state they were going through, they had the power to smile and eventually laugh, thus bringing the three spectators closer. An endless amount of questions directed towards Yue Ying poured out of Chenguang’s chest. Apparently she was familiar with Yue Ying’s artistic endeavor and she was a great fan. The cap and the t-shirt she was wearing were signed by Yue Ying which made the atmosphere even more relaxed and enjoyable.
It was the time when Vic and John approached the living room coming from the office area. Vic slightly tilted his head in a sign: “Go ahead and tell Zhaohui the story”. John looked at Yue Ying, then at Zhaohui…the great display of happiness on their faces made him refrain from starting saying the story of the dreamshe had. Instead, he took a seat on one of the chairs and without understanding anything from what they were talking about, he realized that Yue Ying was already a celebrity – at a smaller scale. Then something great happened: probably Chenguang asked her to sing, as Yue Ying’s crystalline voice pulled the refrain of the song he and Vic heard at the Black Swan. It was that amazing “Shanghai Sun” refrain which made the whole establishment sing along. Instead of following the plan, he leaned against the back of the chair and decided to listen. Her vocal chords were releasing greater and greater tunes which made John close his eyes and silently listen. At the end, a big round of applauses followed while Yue Ying tilted her head forward thanking the audience. John stood up and headed again for the window grabbing Vic’s arm, in a sign of: “I need to speak to you”.
-Why didn’t you tell Zhaohui the story?
-Didn’t you see how happy they were?
-So…are you going to eventually do it?
-Eventually…yes, I will do it.
-When? It looks like things are coming together and this circle, or cosmological path, or whatever it is called is soon supposed to close.
-No rush, Vic. No rush. Listen, I need you to do me a big favor…
-Now I am scared! Every time you ask for a favor, unforeseen events are happening. Vic laughed as hard as he could then he looked into John’s eyes:
-I’m serious, man…when you come up with an idea, life is becoming exciting.
-And what’s wrong with excitement?
-No, thanks! I am at the age when I want my life to smoothly sail towards retirement.
-OK, then. Let’s hope that the favor I am asking from you will not create that unwanted excitement…a moment of silence fell between the two men. John was looking straight into his friend’s eyes and Vic understood right away that this was big. He started wiping inexistent sweat from his forehead.
-What is it, John?
-I want to make Yue Ying a big star, here in China.
Another few seconds of silence followed up, only to be broken by Vic’s huge laughter.
-You want to do what? Are you out of your mind? John, we have an assignment from J.J. We have to take it to the finish line somehow. Tony Gang and your neighbor are spying every movement we are making. You are in danger here – both I and Zhaohui told you that you have to move. You consistently refuse to follow our advice. Now you fell in love with this girl…have you fallen in love with her?
Vic’s last question made John startle…the questions he asked himself earlier resurfaced. He looked at Vic with the look of a person who just took a drug which made him oozy.
-For Goodness sake, John! What the hell has happened to you?
-Are you going to help me out? Yes, or no?
The last sentence fell on Vic like a hammer. He dropped on the chair which was closer to the window and without saying anything, grabbed a glass, poured some wine and started watching the barges sliding down stream on Huangpu River. John joined him and now both of them had their eyes on a spectacle as great and mysterious as the river itself.
-What do you want from me, John? How can I help you on this matter?
-Vic, you know people here in town. I need to get somehow to a recording house and get Yue Ying and the band in for auditions.
-You are nuts! Do you know how many bands like this oneare in Shanghai? Why is this band special?
-Did you listen to their songs?
-Yes I did, of course. We were together at Black Swan on Sunday night…remember? Vic tried to pull a laughter, but the sound that came out of his chest was everything but a laughter. His state of discomfort was obvious and John understood immediately.
-Vic, I am asking this favor from you as a friend.
-Ok, John. I understand. But…do you have a plan? You are telling me that we will start knocking at the doors of all the recording houses in this city, right?
-We start with the biggest ones. If they don’t want to talk to us, then we will try to deal with the smaller guys.
-How about our assignment?
-Who is stopping us from doing these two activities in parallel?
-I still believe that you’ve gone nuts, but I will help you. Let’s put together a plan. When do you want to start?
-We don’t even have an appointment.
-Right. You start making phone calls – Zhaohui might be able to help.
-OK. I will engage her. I think she has somebody at her school who knows somebody in show business.
-Bingo! We’ll start with Zhaohui’s colleague.
-OK. Now let’s see what’s going on there, said Vic pointing towards the group of five people who apparently were greatly enjoying their chatting and laughing.
John’s eyes fell again on Yue Ying. She was so happy and so was Zhaohui!
-Everybody…everybody, a moment of silence please. Vic’s voice was trying hard to cover the noise generated by the good mood employed by the three detectives, Yue Ying and Zhaohui. Finally, when everybody was quiet he asked a question which generated even more happiness:
-Is anybody hungry? Any preferences? From the answers he was getting, he realized that he has the liberty of ordering whatever he wanted. Swiftly he picked up the phone and starting placing requests for lunch.
-John, now that we have some time before they bring our lunch, would you mind telling Zhaohui the story of the two dreams you had?
John startled…he took again the seat he previously had and with a calm and balanced voice tried to summarize the two dreams he had. Zhaohui was not even blinking. She was virtually absorbing every single word which was coming out of John’s mouth. When John finished, she dropped her head and grabbed her temples between her palms into a sign that she was deeply concerned with this turn of the events, or maybe in a sign that she is resting her hopes into whatever the fate will throw at her.
-John…do you know who the other rider was, beside you?
-No. His face was always covered and he was always sitting into a cone of shadow trying hard to hide it from me. However, his voice was so familiar!
-This is the last piece of the puzzle. The good thing is that he will be part of our camp. Now let me tell you guys the dream which I had, on Sunday when we went to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
-That was the time when you meditated by that beautiful courtyard!
-Yes, that was it…Zhaohui cleared her voice and as John did earlier, she started telling the story of the two riders storming into the gardens bringing with them a girl who had a hand cut off. Then her voice became emotional, especially when she reached the time when the two girls were saying goodbye to the Teacher. Two tears appeared into her eyes. John felt his palate as dry as a piece of tinder, while Vic pulled a napkin and wiped a tear which showed up at the corner of his right eye. The scene was so emotional and the silence so deep, that one could’ve heard a pin dropping on the floor.
-In a nut shell…we have to get ready for the final act of the story, for the closing of this nine generation cosmological cycle – the Curse of the General. We all know how and when it started. The ninth generation from the moment the curse was made, will have to close it. And that generation is us. We are all here because we are all part of it and so is your neighbor, John: Chang mao dashi and his sister, Jian dashi. Tony Gang is on their side too. There is a reason why he works for Glenworth Financials. We do not know what his role is and if he will be part of the final encounter. All these are leading me to believe that your boss John, J.J. has a hand into this.
John startled…”what if the other rider was J.J.?” Zhaohui continued as if she had already read John’s mind:
-Maybe the mysterious man who was riding beside you in your dreams is him…we do not know. We will only know when all the nine orchids are sold. Whoever gets one, becomes part of the grand finale. Zhaohui’s voice was now authoritarian and full of confidence. One would’ve realized that she will be in charge of whatever endeavor, string of events or doings will lead to the closure of this curse.
-John, you bought two of them: one for me and one for Yue Ying…this told me that we are the sisters from my dream and from your dreams. Things are coming together. It will be the two of us facing Chang mao dashi and Jian dashi.
-Are you kidding? Have you seen the size of that man? And apparently he is a master of the lance fighting while his sister is a master of the sword…that’s what I understood from the conversation we had.
Zhaohui smiled and with a voice as assuring and firm as the confidence that one could’ve read on her face, said:
-John…I am not scared of his size. I am just worried a bit about his skills in handling the lance. It is a deadly weapon into the hands of the right warrior. And I know that his sister is also skilled into the sword fighting. I watched her training…I usually go and practice at the same place where she does. Something told me to hold back and not show my abilities. It was a good decision. She is very skilled: fast, unpredictable, intelligent and possesses deadly moves and strikes. But she is not invincible.
-Wait a minute…but you said that Yue Ying will be part of this finale as well – apparently you are sisters.
-That is correct. You bought an orchid for her from the same place you did buy for me on Saturday.
-So? What is so special about that place?
-The woman who is the owner of the flower shop is part of the curse too, John. You didn’t know, but you actually triggered the closing of the curse by buying for myself and Yue Ying two orchids.
-Wait a minute…you are telling me that my neighbors can buy these orchids from her too?
-Yes, if they find the place. You ran into this flower shop by chance…by luck if we can put it like this.
-And if my neighbors never find the place, then what?
-Then the final encounter will not take place and we will win. The curse will close without blood being spilled.
-Blood being spilled? You are joking, right? We will have a sword fight? This is how we will put an end to the story? I still want to pursue the negotiating venue with Chang mao dashi.
-John…he is playing you. He wants to buy time – I am not sure why he needs this, but for him there is only one way to end the story…by killing the descendants of the Chongzen Emperor.
John dropped his head and a deep silence encompassed the room. Nobody was saying a word anymore. Vic was stunned and his face was as livid as a freshly ironed bed sheet. He felt like he was about to swallow his Adam’s apple.
-Zhaohui, you were saying that both you and Yue Ying will have to participate at the grand final act…
-Yes, this is what I said.
-But she is not a warrior…she is a singer. She cannot handle a sword.
-You may be surprised, John…Zhaohui’s face was all smile and a waggish look on her face told John that he was all wrong.
It was the time when Yue Ying stood up and headed for the wallwhere the sword and the dagger were displayed. With a swift motion she drew them from their scabbards. For the next two minutes, a great spectacle of kata moves was displayed to everybody’s delight. The blades of the two weapons were moving and rotating at a speed which was giving the spectators the chance to only see two bolts of fire shining into the friendly sun rays which were generously invading the room through the large window. Her body was in perfect synchronization with the deadly weapons she was so nonchalantly handling, her moves and the focus into her eyes were so sublime and gracious that people who were watching were completely drawn into this sensational spectacle of skills and coordination. At the end, a few seconds of deep silence fell over the entire room only to be followed by a great round of applauses as a normal and natural reward for the great spectacle of traditional Chinese martial arts display.
John was mesmerized! He has never seen such display of great skills, mobility and graciousness. His amazement reached yet another level when Zhaohui stood up and headed like (Yue Ying) to the wall. In few seconds, another spectacle of sword fighting moves and techniques was displayed in front of the spectators and the general feel was that Zhaohui’s skill level was at least equal to Yue Ying’s. Her body was sliding so graciously sidewise or fore and back, that the people watching this show truly believed they are participating to a real fight. To John, the fantastic collection of Martial Arts skills displayed by the two protagonists was something out of Hollywood. It was so real and the same time so surreal! He was just few yards away from these imaginary fights in which the two girls just participated. When Zhaohui was done showing her skill level, once again the audience started clapping thus showing their admiration for the actors on the stage.
Vic shook his head into a sign of: “enough of this…”
-OK, I will order food now. Any preferences?
-Just order what we had last time – that was good and varied food.
-OK then. While I am ordering, maybe we can have a look at the pictures took by Zihuan and Yuhuan.
-Yes, let us set up the laptop and we will take you through a presentation my sister put together.
John and Vic headed back to the window and while Vic was ordering, John grabbed his glass of wine and took two sips. Everything was getting complicated and he was hating it! He always liked the simplest and the most efficient solutions. Now, he was worried. “What if Yue Ying gets killed into the fight? What if Zhaohui gets killed? Who else is supposed to be on our side? Chang mao dashi and Jian dashi (possibly Tony Gang) will obviously be our opponents. How can two girls (as skilled as they are) still compete against the two warriors? Maybe Tony is as skilled as they are in lance or sword fighting…then what? There is no way Yue Ying and Zhaohui can stand a chance in a fight againstChang mao dashi and Jian dashi. How do we get out of this trouble? I have to get Chang mao dashi to the negotiating table. However, let’s say that I manage to make him quit stealing funds from Glenworth…how about the curse? How can I stop this fight from happening?”
John leaned his head against the window and started watching again the barges sliding down stream towards their destination. His thoughts were now completely grasped by the inevitable confrontation. Zhaohui’s story put a dagger into his heart…”They can’t fight Chang mao dashi. That guy is so big and powerful and apparently he is expert in lance fighting too. I have to do something! Think, John! Think!”
After finishing placing the order, Vic came by the window too. The two friends looked into each other’s eyes; an independent eye could’ve seen a great deal of concern on their faces. Neither John nor Vic were saying a word anymore. Their foreheads were showing the wrinkles which typically come along with deep thinking or thought process.
-We are ready! Mr. Parker, Mr. Vic…
Chenguang’s voice made the two friends startle and turnaround. The TV screen was already showing a slide presentation – apparently put together by Zihuan’s sister.
They rushed to the living room area, grabbed two chairs and from that moment everybody was glued to the screen. The pictures (one after another one) were slowly showing up and then fading out, disappearing back into the memory stick. Nothing out of ordinary popped up making John believe that the detectives’ efforts are futile and are not baring any fruit. It looked like his neighbors were quite socially active. They were shown at the theatre, at the Opera House, at nice and fancy restaurants, at the Art Gallery, always being accompanied by people who definitely were holding high hierarchy positions – judging by the fine cloths they were wearing and the cars they were driving.
John looked at Vic…the slight tilt of Vic’s head made John understand that his friend caught the idea: these people were mingling with VIPs from the business world and political sphere.
-Hold it! Hold it right here! John was on his feet already. Chenguang (who was running the presentation) startled and looked at John with a face which betrayed apprehension and awe.