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Kungfu Masters

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发表于 12/18/2016 08:52:04 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
Prologue
 
It was pitch dark, ink dark, coal dark, a night without the moon--the fluorescent lamp of the sky—not even the stars, the blinking eyes of Heaven. The overcast sky threatened with a heavy downpour. The sullen weather sometimes seemed very friendly to certain individuals whose job was outside the law.
A shadow, blended in the dark, glided down a nylon rope from the roof of the six-story building. Sometimes he stopped, hanging on the rope like a monkey on a twig, and looked down, his eyes sparkling like two penlights behind the black mask. He wanted to make sure that no one was passing in the street below him. Sure, nobody was in the street so late on such an unpleasant night, not even a ghost, if he could see a ghost.
Sliding steadily, the shadow constantly looked down, hoping that no police patrols would come while he was on the rope and glance up if they happened to pass under him. He should act fast. Where was his nimbleness? Usually he moved fast, brisk of action.
Now he reached the third level, the level of his goal. He was just outside a window, a window to his fortune.  Yes, he would soon be rich, after so many years of poverty.  He was always envious of the wealthy. They had everything they wanted, more than they needed, while he, endowed with such ability and intelligence, had grown up destitute, barely able to keep his body and soul together. He had often taken the liberty--why not?--to invite himself into the residences of the rich, without their knowledge of course, to share in their abundance, like some curiosities in a cabinet, or a valuable painting on a wall, or some expensive jewelry he could easily lay his hands on.  He didn't like hard work, like cracking a safe or taking time to search.  He was a true gentleman, he told himself, a light-fingered gentleman. He was only executing the will of God to redistribute the riches of the world, a sublime task, like Prometheus stealing fire from Mt. Olympus for mankind. Ha-ha, a redistributor, an excellent job title.  He liked it.  Is not God's will often carried out through the hands of men? He was one of them.
He took out a rubber sucker, pressing it firmly on the pane. He drew a circle around the sucker with a glasscutter, big enough to reach his arm inside.  He broke the round glass piece he had cut from the pane. Taking it down with the sucker still attached, he put it on the outside sill, then reached his right arm inside through the hole to open the window--no, the door to Ali Baba's cave.  He didn't even need an “open sesame”.  His “open sesame” to every treasure cave was his kungfu.  He swung into the exhibition room by the rope like Tarzan, but as lightly as a feather floating in. Letting go of the rope, he landed noiselessly on the floor on his rubber-soled shoes.
While adjusting his sight to the darkness of the room, he suddenly felt the urgency of nature's call. Too bad. Wrong time. Wrong place. But he had to answer it, if he didn't want to wet his pants. Once when he had been only seven, he still remembered, he had been playing hide-and-seek with other children in the neighborhood. He couldn't come out from his hiding place and risk being caught.  But nature's call had been so pressing. He couldn't restrain it anymore. He had peed in his pants.  He had been afraid to go home until his pants had dried. But his foster mother had detected it by smell and spanked his dear little butt. No one would spank his butt now, though. He still didn't want to wet his pants.  It was not comfortable, he remembered, to dry his pants by his body warmth. He took out a small flashlight and in its dim light found a low showcase against the wall. He stepped over to piss behind it. He turned his head away, didn't want to look at the spot where a small puddle of smelly water was expanding from behind the showcase. He moved his feet wide apart, afraid that his shoes would get wet.  He suspected that a police dog might trace him by the smell on his shoes. Finished, he jumped back. Then he walked to the tall glass showcase at the other end of the room, which was his goal.
“Who's there?” a guard shouted from the doorway, sweeping the beam of his flashlight across the room.  He ducked behind another showcase.
“Any trouble here?” Another guard approached. They walked into the room, getting nearer and nearer.  His pulse accelerated.
He felt his heart trying to escape through his throat and jump out of his mouth. He took a deep breath. Calm down, he told himself. Calm down. Don't let the guard hear your wild heartbeat. But what could he do now?
Now the first guard was standing right beside the showcase. If he turned his head a little to the left and down, he would see a suspicious black bundle on the floor, a bundle that should not be there as the burglar huddled, shrinking as small as possible, like a hedgehog without quills, at the foot of the showcase. His black outfit gave him some advantage in the dark room. But the guard never looked down.
The footsteps, tat-tat-tat, of the guards were gradually retreating to the door. He raised his head to peep out. The guards disappeared through the doorway. The footsteps, tat-tat-tat...tat-tat-tat...tat-tat-tat...died in the corridor. He stood up and tiptoed to his goal. He had made up his mind on the spot what he wanted. 
He stopped before the big glass showcase attached to the wall. A few priceless old Chinese paintings hung inside. He wanted them all.  He would escape abroad and retire for the rest of his life, enjoying himself with his wife whom he was yet to find and marry.  He was not a monk, would never be, though he had learned kungfu in the world-renowned Shoalin Temple.
No time for daydreaming. Time for action, he urged himself. He took out another rubber sucker, playing the same trick. At that time, decades ago, no alarm system could be imagined.  This time, the glass piece he cut down was much larger.  He laid it on the floor. Reaching in his arm, he took down one of the paintings.
“Stop!” one guard shouted.
“Thief!” another guard cried.
That was their strategy. They pretended to leave, but sneaked back, catching him red-handed. Once they had caught someone in the exhibition room, but the guy had pleaded, saying that he had been so carried away by the beauties of the artifacts on display that he had forgot the time and had been locked in after exhibition hours. So he’d had to stay inside for the night. He had thanked the guards for liberating him from his involuntarily self-imprisoned situation. They had no evidence against him. They’d had to buy his story and let him go.
Calm, the burglar told himself. Calm.  Hastily he rolled up the painting and put it into the bag tied on his back.  The two guards stood face-to-face with him now. More guards showed up in the doorway.  I must get out of here quick, he thought.  I must take initiative. He raised both his hands, emitting his chi. He hit both guards on the chest. The force of his chi was just strong enough to send the guards flying backwards without hurting them physically. The back-flying guards knocked down the other guards that rushed in behind them.  All the guards fell on the floor, piling up in a human mound. He leaped towards the window he had come in, but more guards ran to attack him. All these guards, though trained in karate, didn't have chi to use. He issued his chi again and brought the three guards down on the floor. Suddenly he felt the air behind his back stir in a rushing wind, a sign that someone was using chi to assault him. He threw his hands backwards, his chi darting out to meet the attacking chi. Two gusts of chi clashed in midair with a hollow bang. He didn't budge.  Turning round, he faced a short heavyset guard.  He knew he should not stay here so long. He should have been long gone. The police would come soon, though the whole process of the fighting took only a minute.  He cast out his chi with full force at the short guard, pushing him two steps back.  Seizing the interval, he jumped out the open window.  The short guard, pushed back two steps, tread on something slippery and almost fell. It was the urine puddle. He didn't notice the smell before. When the heavyset guard steadied himself, he dashed to the window only to discover the burglar touching briefly on the treetop right below the window before landing lightly on his feet in the street like a cat. The boughs only bent a little.  He made a great leap forward across the street and vanished into a dark alley.  The short guard stared into it.
The police arrived two minutes too late.
 楼主| 发表于 12/22/2016 10:09:55 | 显示全部楼层
chapter 1

“I want to be the First Kungfu Master, a super-rank one, The Invincible,” vowed Richard Chang, dressed in a white cotton kungfu suit, as he started sinking into a yoga cross-legged position on the accustomed spot of the carpet on the den floor, half-worn from long-time daily sitting. “No one can beat me.”
The handsome square-faced man had close-cropped ebony hair and tanned olive skin. He was five foot nine inches tall with a strong build but no fat, only muscles rippling in spite of his old age. He always ate black sesame seeds, which is said to keep the hair black.
“Right, just like nobody beats the WIZ,” leered his wife, leaning on the doorframe as she came to ask him what he'd like for dinner.  She was thin, only five foot six inches, still keeping a good figure and fair skin, though the age told with a bit wrinkles on her forehead, a little white frost in the hair on her temples and some silver threads scattered here and there. She was wearing gray silk pants and a white silk blouse with an embroidered red peony flower on the upper left front side; her hair was pulled up in a twisted bun on top of her head. It was over eighty-seven degrees Fahrenheit outside, but the air-conditioning was not on because they believed in air-conditioning sickness.  All the windows were open to let in some breezes.
The den served as Richard's kungfu practice room, as well as his study, with a mahogany desk, a leather swivel chair behind it on one side and a row of oakwood bookshelves on the other. Not every shelf was filled with books. He used one shelf to keep the stubs of bills and such things, one shelf for newspapers and another for the display of some small porcelain bottles in which he stored some Chinese medicine for cutting and bleeding, spraining and muscle aches, and all that.
He was sitting against the wall, facing the doorway, with his eyes closed. “Fried chicken, boiled shrimps, spinach, and rice, if it's not too much trouble for you.” He began to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply into the lower abdomen--dantian, in kungfu terms.
Richard was three-score-less-one years old, the right age to be mature and experienced enough to perform the Chinese kungfu feats to perfection. He had learned kungfu from a very famous master, a monk in Shaolin Temple in China, when he had been only ten. It was not necessary to be a monk to learn kungfu in the Temple. His late father had been a close friend of the head monk.  When he left the Temple fifteen years later, he was the first among all the learners. He felt very proud of himself. His father would have been proud of him, too, if he had still been alive.
When anyone is taught kungfu, he must be able to grasp the gist of the master's instructions, which are unable to be explained clearly and fully in words, about how to exercise chi. One can actually feel chi going around inside his body while exercising it. If anyone is too dull to understand the master, he can never get the feel of chi inside. So he can only learn how to use his body and limbs--the outside karate actions, and can never become a master. The outside karate actions, backed by inside chi, is really Chinese traditional kungfu and has much more strength than mere outside actions.  With the feel of chi going inside for the first stage, the next stage is to practice chi hard and correctly everyday so as to be able to emit it through hands or fingers.  As the years go by, the chi one can emit becomes stronger and stronger and can actually hurt people from a certain distance. The stronger the chi, the greater the distance. But nowadays people have separated them. Some only exercise karate moves and others only do the chi practice. They can use chi to help other people with certain kinds of health problems.  But few people can combine both now.
Richard was really a genius at kungfu. “Men are created equal” only applies to the area of human rights, not of IQ.  The brain and wisdom can never be equalized. Now after another thirty-four years of daily practice, Richard was a renowned master, if not the first in rank yet.  Certainly not “The Invincible”. He taught karate classes at home in the basement on rainy days or in fine weather in the backyard of his house on a secluded street in Edison, New Jersey. His wife, Judy, was of the same age, but a layman to karate.  However, his pupils called her Mistress Chang according to Chinese tradition. They didn't have any children of their own. It was a pity in their life.
They were married for three decades plus four years already. On the Silver Jubilee Day, as far as Judy could remember, he had made her a gift of a sterling silver necklace with a heart-shaped pendant with the words “I love you forever” inscribed on one side and her name on the other. He had promised to give her a gift of gold for their golden anniversary and a present of diamonds for their diamond jubilee.
Though it was thirty-four years ago, he could still clearly see in his mind's eye their wedding day as if it were yesterday. He had been living at that time in a small village, not far from the Shoalin Temple. Their wedding had been held in the old fashion still prevalent at that time in small villages, though not in big cities. His bride had come in a red palanquin with the musicians walking in front and her relatives behind. The palanquin resembled a miniature Chinese pavilion with a decorated roof and a sturdy wooden bottom with a wooden board as the back wall, two wooden sides, each with a small curtained window, and a curtain in the front doorway. When the bride wanted to go in or out, she just needed to pull aside the front curtain. There were two poles attached to both sides for the shoulders of the carriers. The bride sat inside it on a plank set into the sides. The procession had lasted half a kilometer. A red cloth had covered the head of the bride, who had a bridal knot hairdo on the skull with a gold hairpin piercing through the knot. He himself had worn a Chinese-style black gown with a red paper-made flower pinned on the front of the gown. He had stood at the front door waiting for the bride, looking occasionally at the sunny sky and hearing the gaily tweeting birds, his heart fluttering with bliss and nervousness. When the bride had arrived, the red palanquin had been let down and firecrackers had thundered off to the frightened wailing of some small children among the throng gathered to observe the procession. An old woman, acting as the mistress of ceremony, had helped the bride out of the palanquin and thrust the end of a red cloth rope into her hands while he, the bridegroom, held the other end. The bride had been attired in a red satin Chinese-style coat, an aqua-colored ankle-length skirt of silk embroidered with multicolored threads in patterns of flowers, and a pair of red brocade shoes with a vivid pair of Mandarin ducks embroidered on each of them. He had led the bride into the house, to the center room where the ceremony would be held. It seemed that he was not leading his bride, but instead pulling a horse on a rein or a dog on a leash.  Then they had stood side by side on a thick red rug facing a long narrow table on which incense and two red candles had been burning. On the wall behind the long table the red character of “Double Happiness” had been pasted.
The mistress of ceremony had sung out the words, “Now the bride and bridegroom, kowtow.” They had knelt before the long table on the red rug.  “Kowtow, first, to Heaven and Earth!” They had kowtowed. “Kowtow, second, to ancestors!” They had done it again. “Kowtow, third, to each other!” They had turned to face each other and done it once more. “The ceremony is completed.” They had stood up; then kowtowed to their parents and other senior close relatives, and at the same time received some red packets with money in them. After that he led his bride into their newly decorated bedroom, still on the red cloth rope. Then the feast began and he came out to pay his respects to the guests by presenting them, one after another, with a cup of wine, while at the same time, drinking a cup himself.  The result was often that the bridegroom got drunk before he could offer the wedding wine to every one of the guests. But oftentimes, friends of the bridegroom would drink the wine for him, keeping him sober so that after the feast, they could have other programs carried out. But before the tricky programs began, the bridegroom would pick up the red cloth that covered the head of the bride with a short stick so that the guests could appreciate the beauty of the bride first, if she was a beauty.  Then the programs began. The tricks could include the following: an apple was hung by a string from the ceiling and the newlywed couple were asked to bite the apple from opposite sides without using their hands; or the couple should eat a piece of orange from both ends to the middle and at last their lips would be pressed together; or a female relative would hide something on the person of the bride and ask the bridegroom to find it. Of course, the bridegroom wouldn't search the bride's person before the guests, so he must do something else to entertain the guests as a penalty, like singing a song or telling a joke. Married people often played these tricks. The single ones were afraid to take part, because if they did, when they had their own wedding day this newlywed couple would enjoy the satisfaction of retaliation.
“A dollar for your thoughts!”  He was back from his reverie and looked at his wife's smiling face.
“You see, your thoughts are more expensive than others. Theirs only cost some pennies,” his wife joked with him.  They had invited some friends to a dinner party in some Chinese restaurant for the silver jubilee.
In his free time, his ambition would drive him everywhere to seek other kungfu masters.  Whenever he met one, he would challenge him to a competitive fight to determine who was better in kungfu. That was an old Chinese tradition in the kungfu world, too. They named it “Learn From Each Other”, but sometimes they really killed people intentionally or unintentionally.
 
***
 
There were Americans as well as Chinese-Americans in his karate classes, mostly young people. He really taught fighting skills, not just exercises for health. His classes were divided into three levels: the beginners, the mid-level and the high-level. The first two were taught mere karate actions while the high-level pupils were learning chi practice. The classes were allowed in the basement only on rainy and cold days while the pupils exercised in the backyard when it was fine and not too cold.
David Li belonged to the high-level class with two other young American guys. He always acted as if he was full of information about the people and affairs in the kungfu circle. If kungfu performance could be divided into ten levels, excluding the master level, David was at the fifth, which was good enough, considering the fact that kungfu is really no match for modern weapons and fewer people are indulged in it. However, kungfu has its own particular use.  In the olden times, a learner was allowed to leave his master's place and wander independently into the world only when he reached the eighth or ninth level so that he could protect himself against most of the other kungfu people. But times changed and rules changed, too.
One day as the class was dismissed, David stayed behind for a little while, telling Master Chang that he heard that there was another master living somewhere in Piscataway, New Jersey.  Richard could not remember that he had ever crossed swords with anyone living in that area. So that must be someone he had not met before. That's worth a try. His face was really beaming with excitement.
“What's his name?” he asked David, who replied “I don't know.”
“Where's he living exactly? On what street?” The Master stared at David menacingly.
“I'm not sure,” David answered evasively. He was of medium height, meager, tanned, with a slightly round face like on some commercial for baby food. He was simple-minded, easy to be at the beck and call of other people.
“Get the information for me,” the master ordered.
“I'll go round to ask and let Master know when I come next time,” he promised respectfully. He came in the evening three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The master was impatient when David came on Friday, but he refrained himself until the class was over. An excellent master did everything deliberately, never in a hurry.  Master's dignity.
“His name is Charles Pan,” David released the news, seeing the impatience depicted on Master Chang's face, and then gave him the address. Task completed, he left with a sinister smile on his otherwise good-looking visage.
 楼主| 发表于 12/27/2016 09:34:06 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 2

Charles Pan was a security officer at some warehouse. There were a few warehouses in this area, but some were deserted. The one next to the warehouse where Charles was working looked very old, on the verge of crumbling, somewhat like the leaning Tower of Pisa, only not so tall. Because three warehouses belonged to the same company, Charles must patrol at intervals around the buildings to make sure that everything was secure; most of his time on duty, he just sat in his office, watching the monitors. Sometimes he heard some noise coming from the forlorn warehouse next door when he was patrolling, but that was not his responsibility. It was very probable that some rodents moved in. They needed shelter, too. The warehouses he worked in were close to his home. If he strolled, it took him only fifteen minutes; so he didn't drive, saving a bit of gas money.
It was Friday. He was off duty at midnight and got home fifteen minutes later. He went inside the house through the front door, using a key to unlock it.
His daughter Alida, ten years of age, with big brown eyes and long jet-black hair hanging down her back, was watching TV in the living room. “I think Dad's finished watching monsters by now,” said the girl.
“Monitors, Alida. Monitors,” corrected the babysitter. “You have read too many monster stories.”  The girl was allowed to stay up late on weekend nights when there would be no school the next day.
His wife died of a lethal disease when Alida was only three, so he had to pay for a babysitter. A neighbor, a middle-aged brunette by the name of Susan, offered to look after Alida when he was away. The living room, which consisted of a TV set on a stand against the wall opposite the windows, a sofa under the windows with two end tables on either side, and a row of old leather armchairs along another wall, didn't have enough furniture. All these he had bought from the garage sale. The space in the middle was reserved for Alida to practice karate on rainy days.
A cricket, or two, was chirping somewhere among the bushes in the backyard. Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted. Inside, the TV was on, and their dog, Little White, seemed a bit restless that night, often running from the living room to the kitchen, back and forth, barking all the time.  All these sounds mixed up into a quaint nocturnal concert.
“I'm home!” Charles sang out when he entered by the front door. Alida ran toward him and jumped up into his embrace. He carried her into the living room and let her slide down onto the floor. Alida wore a T-shirt and hot pants, a braid hanging down behind the nape of her neck, with little bare feet treading on the half threadbare blue carpet, which stretched from wall to wall.
Since Charles returned, Susan was about to leave. But their dog, Little White, was still barking in the kitchen. Charles went into the kitchen to see what was wrong with the dog while Susan stopped at the front door, one hand on the knob.
“Charles, come out,” someone called in the backyard.
Charles opened the back door and stepped out, followed by the dog. He was still wearing his security uniform, having no time to change it yet.
“Who are you?” he asked the stranger, while glancing sideways at the dog, which was not barking at the stranger, but at an old, big tall tree with dense foliage a few yards away near the corner of the house. It was a sullen cloudy moonless night, promising a thunderstorm. The electric bulb in the street lamp was broken and not replaced yet. So the stranger's face was not discernible.
“I am kungfu master, Richard Chang. You may have heard of me,” the stranger declared.
“Yeah, I've heard of you, but what's the reason you come to my house at such late hours, if I may ask?” Charles asked in polite mockery.
“I come to ask a favor of you.”
“What is it?” Charles wondered.
“Could you teach me a thing or two in kungfu performance?” said Richard Chang modestly. He had on a black kungfu suit.
“Sorry. This is not a favor I'd like to bestow right now. Besides, since you are a famous master, I am really not qualified to teach you anything.”
Charles wore a serious expression on his face. But these words just betrayed that he knew kungfu.
“So, maybe, you can learn something from me.”  His fake modesty had turned into haughtiness now.
“Sorry. I am not interested in kungfu.”
He was about to turn around and go into the house when the move of air stopped him. He knew what it meant. Richard was emitting chi towards him. He had to throw out his chi in defense, or he would be hurt. That's instinct. The two gusts of chi collided in midair, making some kind of noise like a hollow “bang”.  Both men stood their ground. It meant that the strength of their chi was equal, hence they were on the same kungfu master level, but even on the same level, one would be a little better than the other, depending on their martial arts skills. So Richard raised his right hand anew and issued chi from his index finger at Charles’s chest. He thought that Charles would defend himself, but to his great surprise and unexpectedness, Charles went limp.  Before he fell on the ground, Richard’s chi hit his chest. Richard suspected that something was wrong. He didn't intend to kill Charles. How could it happen? He was bewildered for just a second, then as if awakened from a dire nightmare, he turned to flee under the cover of night, afraid to be involved in a murder case. He made three big bounds and disappeared into the darkness. The dog had ceased barking and rolled over on his back, never to stir again.  After Richard was gone, a shadow slipped down from the tree the dog had barked at and vanished like a wisp of smoke into the thin night air.
 
***
 
The whole thing happened so fast, within a couple of minutes, that the neighbors didn’t suspect anything, their attention occupied with their own business. But Alida hid behind the kitchen window and saw the whole process between the stranger and her father, though she could not hear anything said between them. When she saw her father collapse on the ground, she rushed out of the back door and flung herself over her father's body, crying bitterly.  Her shriek “Daddee-- Daddee--” pierced the night air.  She shook the body, but her father didn't stir.
Pictures flashed across her mind of how her father had taken her to the beach some weekends, the sky so ocean-blue and the ocean so sky-blue. If she could have swum across the ocean to the horizon so far away, she would have been able to swim into the sky, since the water on the horizon looked like it was flowing into the sky, and pick some sparkling stars to hang on the ceiling of her bedroom so that when she was lying in bed she could have stared at them. And how she had played to her heart's content in the amusement parks such as Great Adventure and Action Park. How, in the zoos, she had fed the animals furtively to the delight of both herself and the animals. She remembered the gifts she had received on her birthdays from her father: Barbies, teddy bears and other stuffed animals and electrical toys. The ice-cream cakes had been specially ordered from Carvel with different designs on the top for every year's birthday. She had invited a few of her best friends and gone to different places for the celebration, once in a skating ring, once in a gym to play games, and sometimes in restaurants or in a park for a picnic. Since her mom died, her dad had taken both roles: father as well as mother. She had lost her mother at three, and now she lost her father at ten. What could she do? She was alone now, an orphan in every sense of the word.  She wanted to cry her heart out.
Susan came out to the girl's side, saying softly, “I really feel sorry, honey. I called the police.” She made no attempt to stop the girl from crying. She knew that it was no use under the circumstances. It's human nature for anyone to cry over a dear one's sudden death--so sudden that no one had any mental preparation. The situation was lamentable and grievous. Some neighbors heard the bitter crying of the child and came out of their houses to see what the matter was. When they became aware of the situation, they stood there speechless and motionless in consternation as if mesmerized in a magic show.
The police arrived. Susan hugged the girl and carried her into the house. The police routine began, photographing, drawing an outline around the body and searching for any evidence or clues, and so on and so forth. Then the body in a body bag was carried away in an ambulance. The yellow warning tapes were set up around the spot.  The dead dog was removed, too.
Detective Sam Dawson entered the house by the back door, followed by his assistant, Pedro Ginsberg, while other policemen were working outside. Susan and Alida were now in the living room, sitting on the sofa before the TV.  The TV was still on with the news program, but no one paid any attention. Susan was consoling the girl, holding her against her bosom. The crying subsided into sobbing now.  As the detectives appeared in the doorway of the living room, Susan looked up, still hugging the girl.  Sam sat down on the chair nearest the sofa.
“What's your name?” Sam asked the woman. Pedro was sitting beside him with a notepad and a ballpoint pen ready to jot down whatever he could get.
“Susan, Susan Merson. Their babysitter, and also next door neighbor.” She liked to elaborate. “Will be forty-three on this coming July fourth. Divorced. Living now with my sister's family. Have two children, but living with their father in--” She was interrupted with a gesture from the detective.
Alida stopped sniveling now and dried her tears, remembering what her father often said to her. “Never show tears, especially before strangers. You will become a kungfu mistress some day.  Always be firm and strong.”
“I saw a stranger, a man, kill my dad,” she told the detective.
“Where were you when it happened?” inquired Sam.
“I was behind the kitchen window, watching.”  She dabbed her eyes with a tissue.
“If you saw the man, could you identify him?”
“I'm not sure. It's so dark outside. It happened so fast and then he was gone.”
“Did your father have any enemies?”
“I don't know. He never talked to me about such things.”
“Do you have any close relatives?”
“Uncle Bob and Auntie Louise often come to see us.”
“Can you call your uncle and have him come here?”
Alida picked up the receiver from the phone on the end table by her side. She dialed the number. After two rings, someone picked up the receiver on the other end of the line. “Hello?
Hi, Auntie Louise, this is Alida. Dad--Dad--” She faltered, tears swelling afresh in her eyes.
“Calm down, Alida, you are a special girl. Tell me what happened.” Auntie Louise sounded very anxious over the phone.
Susan took the receiver from Alida and talked into the mouthpiece. “Mrs. Lin, this is Susan. Mr. Pan was killed just a little while ago.”
Silence fell on both sides as if the phone went dead. After a good full minute, Louise found her voice. “We'll come over soon.” Then a click came. Susan returned the receiver to its cradle. She felt that it was her responsibility to stay with the girl until Louise and her husband came. Alida had wiped off her tears again. No one said anything.  The very air in the room seemed frozen.
 楼主| 发表于 12/31/2016 12:03:34 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 3

Robert Lin and Charles Pan were not natural brothers since they didn't share the same family names. Charles had learned kungfu from Robert's father, a reclusive master, who had died at a very old age five years ago. According to Chinese tradition, they were brothers-in-kungfu. Louise was a kungfu disciple of Robert's father, too. Louise's parents had come from Taiwan when Louise had been five years old.  Her parents had been a close friend of the Old Master Lin.  As her parents could not speak or understand English well, they had found it very inconvenient to live in America; therefore, they had returned to Taiwan, leaving Louise in the care of Old Master Lin. So Louise had become his disciple. Louise was only two years younger than Robert. They had grown up together and practiced kungfu together. Robert was handsome, five-foot-nine inches, strong though lanky, with glossy coal-black short hair combed backward, tanned skin and large brown eyes. Louise was beautiful, five-foot-seven inches, slender in figure, decent in behavior, with dark brown eyes and luxurious ink-black shoulder-length hair. Being together everyday, in the due course of time, they had fallen in love and gotten married. Charles was much younger than they. He had come to learn kungfu from Old Master Lin about two years after their marriage. When he had become the old master's disciple, he had been fifteen years old.  His father had deserted his mother and him to live with a rich widow. They had moved to Florida. His mother had married another man, who had two sons, his stepbrothers, both older than he. The stepbrothers had often bullied him until one day he couldn’t endure it anymore and ran away from home. He had wandered in a mall, where he had met Robert Lin, twenty-two years old at that time. Robert had taken Charles home. The threesome had spent fifteen years together before Charles left to establish a family of his own and later had a daughter. The relationship between one another left nothing to be desired.
The news of Charles’s untimely death came as a stunning shock, a thunderbolt out of the blue. Robert was still working at the video rental store he owned. The store was always closed an hour later on weekend nights. At first Louise felt numb, her brain a blank. Then suddenly, as if awakened from a nightmare, she called the store. Mike, the only helper, answered the phone. “Mike, it's me, Louise. Tell Bob to hurry home. It's urgent.”
“Okay,” Mike said. Then he went to the rear of the store, found the owner and informed him of the urgent demand from his wife. Robert reminded Mike to set the alarm and lock the door before he left. Then he hastened to the parking lot, his white short-sleeved shirt tucked in his khaki pants. The store was located in a small plaza on the south side of Route 27, near Plainfield Avenue, in Edison. Pulling his car out of the parking lot onto the road, he headed south. In just a few minutes, he entered Highland Park and turned right into North Sixth Avenue. He parked his silver-colored Honda Civic at the curb in front of the house, jumped over a few steps onto the porch, and ran into the house. Louise was waiting in the living room, wearing a silver-gray cotton blouse and black slacks with dark shoes hugging her feet. Though she said calmly, “Charles is dead”, tears started to well up in her large beautiful eyes. She made no effort to stop them, the blouse wet on the front.
“When and how?” Robert couldn't believe his ears. The kungfu practice made him look younger than he really was, half a century plus seven years of age.
“Alida called about fifteen minutes ago, but Susan told me he was killed.”
Robert looked baffled at the distressing news. He curled the fingers of his right hand into a fist and hit the fist on the palm of his left hand. He couldn't remember Charles having any enemies or anyone who hated him enough to murder him. He didn't weep; he didn't blubber; he didn't even sob. The old master, his late honored father, had always said, “A true man never sheds tears, only sheds blood when necessary.” He didn't utter another word and turned to go out the door, followed by his wife. They got into their car and headed for the house of their brother-in-kungfu.
When they arrived, they saw groups of neighbors and other spectators in front of the house and near the backyard with media mingling among them. Vans and cars were parked along both sides of the street. Camera lights were flashing like lightning. A news helicopter was hovering above like a vulture about to swoop down on the prey.
They drove past the house, found a space two blocks away and parked the Honda. They got out of the car, each carrying a mask like the ones worn on Halloween night.  As they approached the house, they put on the masks so that no one would know who they were. They didn't want the reporters taking their pictures. They pushed through the crowd towards the front door with flashlights all around. Several microphones were thrust before their masks together with various eager questions. They fended off the microphones with both their hands as if they were fighting away wasps attacking them. They reached the front door at last after some struggle with the media. Susan opened the door and they entered, taking off their masks. The detectives greeted them. Alida flew over and threw herself into Louise's arms, fresh tears trickling down her pale cheeks.
Before anyone else had a chance to open their mouths, Susan blurted out, “If I'm no longer needed here, I'd better go home now.”
“Since Louise and I are here now, I think you can go. We'll mail you a check tomorrow,” remarked Robert, looking at Sam, who gave a slight nod.  Robert sent Susan home with many thanks.
Robert and Louise answered some questions put forth by the detectives and also exchanged opinions with them. Then Louise asked Alida, “What did you see and how was your father killed?”
“I saw them both fighting with chi. Dad was killed in the second round.”
“That's absolutely impossible!” exclaimed Louise in disbelief. “Your dad belonged to the Master Level and had skilful martial arts. No one could have killed him while fighting in the second round! Tell me something more detailed about the second round.”
“The stranger held out the forefinger of his right hand to Dad's chest. Dad was standing there, motionless, and in the next moment he fell on the ground.”
“So you didn't see your dad defending himself when the stranger pointed his finger at him?”
The girl shook her head. Louise made eye contact with her husband knowingly. Robert just nodded. Oftentimes they didn't need words to understand each other, as if they had the same special wavelength connecting their souls.
Both the detectives looked puzzled. They didn't know much about this fighting-with-chi thing, although they had learned karate in the police academy. It really took time and patience to learn chi. Sam was very busy and had no patience, either.  Neither did Pedro, as long as he could do his job well enough.  They didn't feel a need for it.
Robert explained to them, “Since they fought using chi, it means the stranger is a kungfu master, which narrows the list of suspects. Since Charles didn't defend himself in the second round, it means that something must have already happened to him before the stranger hit him.”
All of a sudden, Alida interrupted, “I noticed our dog was barking and suddenly fell dead.”
“Did you notice the stranger using chi to hit the dog?” asked Louise.
The girl shook her head again.
“Do you mean you didn't notice or do you mean the stranger didn't use chi to hit the dog?”
“I didn't see the stranger pointing any finger at the dog,” replied Alida.
The detectives looked bewildered again. Robert said to them, “I'll tell you later, if you allow me to know the outcome of the autopsy.” Sam promised and soon he and Pedro left the house.
Since there were no adults in the house now, the couple had to take the girl with them. They secured every window and door before they left the house. They put on the masks again, took the girl by the hand, walked out of the house and locked the front door behind them. The media approached the trio and surrounded them in a semicircle. They repeated all their habitual acts, no need for description. Robert picked up the girl and carried her in his arms. Louise went ahead, pushing through the crowds. Robert followed in her wake. The media followed them, swarming around them like a pack of wolves closing in on their prey. They began to run. They ran so fast that the media could not keep up with them and in a few minutes they vanished from sight. When the media went back to the house, the police had already left. Since the girl had left with two mysterious people, whom no one knew, the neighbors and spectators returned to their respective homes to snatch a few hours' sleep before sunrise. Now there was nothing for them to do and to remain stationed here would be a waste of time, so the media dispersed, too.
The helicopter overhead followed the threesome at first, but they ducked into some dark alley and hid somewhere.  The helicopter searched for half an hour in vain and had to quit.
 
***
 
Robert pulled into their driveway and as he parked his Honda, he noted the hunter green Mitsubishi Galant that hugged the curb in front of the house: their daughter, Lois, was back at home. The threesome went in and saw Lois sitting on the sofa, munching some crackers with a can of diet Sprite in her hand and tapping her right foot on the carpet to the music playing on a cassette.  Lois loved music.  She had been taught how to play the piano when a child, but had later given it up. She had been employing most of her time in the practice of kungfu.  It's not that she loved music less, but that she loved kungfu more. Kungfu made her feel special and secure.
When she saw her parents come in, she put down the can on the coffee table in front of her, glancing at the girl with a confused and quizzical look as if sensing something was different than usual. Alida ran over to hug Lois. Louise went to the kitchen to cook some noodles for everyone and Robert sat down on the loveseat, which was at a right angle with the sofa with an end table squeezed in the corner.  Robert told his daughter everything he had learned about the sudden death of Charles.  Lois couldn't help shedding mournful tears while hugging Alida.
She could still recollect how Uncle Charles had carried her astride his shoulders when she had been three years old and they had gone to a children's playground; how she had slid down a sliding tube, emerging to his smiling face and outstretched arms at the other end; how he had pushed her higher and higher on a swing-chair; how they had played on a seesaw, her end never coming down. It was like yesterday that when she had commenced the routine practice of kungfu, Uncle Charles had encouraged her by running alongside her to the end of the scheduled course or jumping with her over wooden walls, each higher than another. Before her grandpa's death they had lived in a much larger house with a bigger backyard, which was used as a kungfu practice ground with certain equipment and an upright climbing wall ten meters high. At first she had scrambled by the aid of a rope, but after five years of practice, she could ascend to the top just using the small footholds. Uncle Charles had always stood underneath in case she would have fallen.  Before he had left to live on his own, he had taken the three sisters--Tricia and Sally had been adopted already--to a fairground. The three girls had spent a good part of the day racing each other frantically to each new ride they had come upon, not worrying about upset stomachs or dizziness. In fact, they had seemed to enjoy the uneasy feeling they had gotten after stumbling off a roller coaster, which had flipped them upside down, around, and over again, at least a dozen times. Lois had always been the daring one; she had loved the roller coaster and had continually challenged the other two girls to see how many times they could have ridden on it before feeling queasy. Tricia's magnet had been the whirling, colorful, double-decked carousel. Its beautifully handcrafted horses with gold-embossed hooves, richly colored saddles and long streaming manes were a source of endless fascination and wonder for her. The fun house had been Sally's “ride”; she had loved wandering through the house, staring at distorted reflections of herself in the shimmering, silvery mirrors, or finding her way through the confusing mess of mazes. The joy and amazement they had received that day had been an unforgettable adventure, which they enjoyed reflecting upon and laughing over for many years to come.
Now he's gone.  He was the second closest kinsfolk to her, besides her parents. She could not stop her swelling tears and had almost used a full box of tissues to dry them before she recalled what her late grandfather had often said to the girls. “What's so special about the kungfu girls?” He often paused after the question, looking at them, letting his words sink in. “They never cry under any circumstances. Females tend to cry, but not kungfu mistresses; you'll be kungfu mistresses some day.  Mark my words, young ladies.”
Lois Lin was a twenty-five-year-old private investigator, tall at five foot eight inches and slim, not as slim as a pencil, though.  The pencil has only straight lines. She had a magnificent figure; where it should bulge, it bulged; where it should curve in, it curved in. Her long, silky midnight black hair tumbled in shiny waves down to her waist in a ponytail. She was extremely beautiful, with large, dark chocolate brown eyes, fair skin and a sweet smile. She was a younger version of Louise—a perfect creation of Mother Nature. She was a member of the Lioness Team, which was formed with two other girls, Tricia and Sally, younger than her. Their office was situated on Route 27, south side, in Highland Park, very close to their house. The two other girls had been orphans, and Robert and Louise had adopted them one by one. Tricia was twenty-three, five-foot-seven inches tall with shoulder-length golden strands like corn silk in mid-growth, and cornflower blue eyes. She had very white skin, porcelain-like, with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her little snub of a nose. Sally was also twenty-three, but six months younger, with a stature of five-foot-six inches and short, thick sable-black hair and dark skin the color of melted cocoa. If someone put a stripped-naked chocolate bar on her skin, no one would notice it unless he was told to look attentively close. She had a large pair of caramel-colored eyes, and was, in her own opinion, just a teeny-weeny bit on the chubby side. So she always wanted to lose some weight, a few pounds, like this imaginary few pounds really meant a crucial lot to her, but at the same time she loved eating. Her mouth always kept busy. Tricia liked to joke with her. “It's lucky for you that you manage to keep your weight down, seeing as how you eat more than necessary.”
“Okay, okay.  I'll take your advice and stop eating. Are you satisfied?” said Sally, holding up both her hands in mock surrender.  Then she stared straight ahead as if in a trance and said dramatically in a stage whisper, “To eat or not to eat. That's the question.” She burst into a giggle and Lois and Tricia could not help but chuckle, too.
Each of the three girls had been taught kungfu from the age of five since the other two girls had been adopted before that age. The practice of twenty years, more or less, made them all experts in kungfu, which helped them a lot in their investigations and solutions of cases. Their team had cracked quite a few difficult cases and so earned the fame of “The Lioness Team” or another nickname, “The Dauntless Trio”. Their registered official name, “Lois, Tricia & Sally Private Investigation”, had sunk into oblivion.  As work required, each of the girls had a car of her own. Besides Lois's Mitsubishi, Tricia had a navy blue Mazda 626 and Sally, a black Ford Taurus. Neither of the other two girls was home that night, since Tricia was in Staten Island and Sally in New York, both working on investigations.
The delicious aroma of the noodles cooking wafted from the kitchen to the living room. Everyone felt hungry, their appetite sharpened by the smell. “Midnight meal's ready,” Louise called from the dining room. Robert stood up first. Lois and Alida followed him to the dining room. Four steaming bowls of noodles sat on the table. Everyone sat down and attacked the inviting narrow white flour ribbons with chopsticks.
 楼主| 发表于 1/5/2017 10:20:23 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 4

Lois wore a light blue brocade blouse with white laces on the collar and in the front, blue pants and navy blue flats, looking like the color blue had started growing on her in shades from top to bottom. If you looked from bottom to top, the color blue had been fading. She made a secret vow that she would catch the person who had murdered Uncle Charles. Tricia had on a light pink T-shirt and jeans while Sally wore a white tank top and stonewashed jeans with frayed edges and “windows” on the knees, as if the knees would have been suffocated without these “windows” and needed air to breathe for their own sustenance. They were back from their separate investigation trips. They made no progress whatever on their case. This was the way with investigative work. Many times when people went off on sleuthing tours, they could dig up nothing worthwhile, but they never gave up. Maybe, some day, they would make a breakthrough and crack the case.
Now they sat in their office, exchanging information. The sudden tragic death of Uncle Charles was like a heavy stone pressure on their minds. It suppressed all the mirth in life into a tiny corner in their hearts and filled almost their entire hearts with lamentation and rancor. The weeping stage was over, but the feelings of loss would prevail for a long, long time.
“From now on we won't accept any new case until the murderer of Uncle Charles is caught,” Lois said to her two sisters. She rested her elbows on her desktop and sank her head between her hands. Their office was not big: three dark brown wooden desks with three black leather swivel chairs behind them and three armchairs before the desks for the clients. A half-old brown leather-upholstered sofa sat along one wall near Sally's desk and two fresh grass-green iron cabinets, containing files, against another wall behind Lois. There were almost no decorations on the walls except for their licenses in simple wooden frames, and nothing anywhere as ornaments. They never believed that the size and decoration of the office should be kept in proper proportion with the fame of the establishment. If so, they should have an office as big as Woodbridge Mall and adorned like an art gallery.  They didn't hire anybody as a secretary. They did everything themselves to save the expenditure. They believed that people came to seek their help because of their efficiency and ability to solve cases, not to judge them by what luxury ornaments they had or didn’t have. Besides, they were really too busy to give their office any decorative consideration.
Tricia leaned back in her swivel chair with her right elbow on the arm of the chair and her head propped on her fist. She shut her eyes in depression, having nothing better to say. Occasionally, she would adjust some stray locks of her sunstreaked blond hair into their proper places.
“I will kill the thug with my own hands,” cried Sally, sitting upright in her chair, sweeping down her right hand as if the killer were kneeling right before her and she were bringing a sword down to chop off his head, like the execution of a prisoner on the guillotine in medieval times. Almost knocking over the desk lamp, she rescued it in a dexterous change of hand motion from a cutting gesture to a snatching move. She sighed, seeing her two sisters in agony and anguish.
 
***
 
Their single house was located slantingly opposite the public library with a sheltered front porch and a not too big backyard. It had four bedrooms on the second floor.  Part of the basement was furnished as the family room in which stood a big TV set in a corner and two sofas with backs to the walls at right angles, a small end table squeezed in the corner space. Robert and Louise slept in the biggest room. Each of the girls occupied a small one.  Now Alida came to live with them.  She had to sleep on one of the sofas in the family room.  Alida had to be transferred to the Highland Park School.  Since Louise didn't work and did not go to the video store to help, she could take care of Alida, who continued to learn kungfu from her.
“Dad, can you make me a list of all the masters you know, even only by name, living within a radius of one hundred miles?” Lois asked her father one evening after dinner when they gathered in the living room.
“Not many of them I can think of.” He sat back on the sofa, closing his eyes and working hard with his brains. He entwined the fingers of his hands on his lap. Lois got a pen and a slip of scrap paper ready. Then her father opened his eyes, which sparkled with a flash of lightning for a moment, a phenomenon denoting the highest level of kungfu. He mentioned quite a few names, which Lois jotted down.
“I can't remember the addresses. You can check my address book later. If the name's not in my book, it means I don't have his address,” said her father.
Lois counted the names she wrote down. They amounted to eight. Then she took his address book from his briefcase and got some addresses. She looked at the list and decided that she would check every one of them to see who was the most probable stranger, or killer, of Uncle Charles.  If no one on this list could be a suspect, she would expand the radius.
She called the detective, Sam Dawson, and asked him about the results of the autopsy. They had cooperated in several previous cases. Sam was twenty-six and had graduated from the police academy. He lived in a studio in an apartment building on Montgomery Street in the same town. It was a typical bachelor's home, a very busy police bachelor's home: bed rarely made, clothes everywhere on the floor or on the desk or draped on the back of the chair before the desk. There was also a blanket on the sofa, because sometimes when he came back too late and too tired, he just collapsed on the sofa and slept there overnight. As for the bathroom, no one wanted to look at it. Once in a while he had to ask for some cleaning help to straighten his studio a bit.  He had dated a few girls, but he was so busy that he practically had no time for dating.  All the girls he had dated left him after a very short time.  Now he lost confidence about dating. He liked Lois. They had a few meetings in some coffee shops or fast food restaurants like McDonald's, but these were only for talking over business, not really as dating in every definition of the word.
“Lois, listen,” Sam said eagerly on the phone, “we got something very weird.  We need to discuss it. Will you meet me in Friendly's on Stelton Road in half an hour?  We can talk it over a work lunch.” That was the name they used for their lunch rendezvous to distinguish it from dating.
“Sounds good.  See ya.”  She hung up.
 
***
 
Traffic on Stelton Road was not too heavy at lunchtime, but when coming from south to north, they needed to make a u-turn and it took some time, because there were two shopping centers on the north side from which cars pulled out from time to time.
It was cloudy that day. The gray clouds looked like gigantic pieces of dirty white sponge piled together and floating in the sky. The chance of rain was, maybe, half-and-half, according to the weather forecast. With a little breeze occasionally and no sunshine at all, people would not feel too hot. When Lois got there, Sam already sat at a table, in a canary T-shirt and jeans. Lois approached. Sam felt his eyes brightened. Her beauty would put the Goddess of Moon to shame. Which Goddess of Moon? Greek, or Roman, or Chinese? All of them. Combined together.
She wore a white short-sleeved cotton blouse with pale pink flowers embroidered on the front and thin white khaki pants. She never liked T-shirts and jeans, which in her opinion was not professional attire. Sam bought food for both Lois and himself: two hamburgers, two large French fries and two medium-sized cups of Sprite. He carried the food on a tray to the corner table at which they sat down face-to-face. Though no one was at the nearby tables, they still talked in a low voice.
“The results are that two ribs in the front chest were broken, but that's really not what killed your uncle. They found a needle in the backside of his head.  It was hard to see because of the hair.  On the needle there is an unnamed poison. The needle shows a blue color and so does the skin of the deceased on that part of the head and neck.  According to the coroner who signed the autopsy papers, it's the poison that killed your uncle.” Sam laid all the facts on the table before Lois.
Lois nodded. “Just as I guessed. How about the dead dog?” She held his eyes for a few heartbeats.
“They didn't bother with the dog. They just disposed of it like an ordinary stray dead dog.”
“I guess it was killed the same way, by the poisonous needle.”
“Do you have any lead?” queried Sam.
“Not yet.  If I have any, I'll let you know.”
Then conversation went on a little idly. Lunch finished, and before they came out and parted in the parking lot, Lois gave Sam the money for her share of the food. They always went Dutch at this stage of their delicate relationship.
Lois didn't want to mention the list her father made for her. She intended to check the masters all by herself. It was not that she didn't trust Sam, but that Sam was not familiar with the kungfu world, with the taboos and eccentric behavior of some masters, so that he might miss something very important if he was to deal with them. Besides, some people in the kungfu circle were really unreasonable and would kill anyone when instigated wrath, no matter who the person was, police or not.  She didn't want to put Sam into such a risk.
 
***
 
At dinner, Lois filled the others in on the conclusion of the autopsy. Robert observed, “Your grandpa once told me about a very poisonous weird-shaped viper, called Egg Snake by the natives, blue in color, a meter long, with a third of its body looking like an enormous ostrich egg at the tail part. Its habitat is among the mountains in the southwestern region of China. Some of the bad kungfu people will go there to catch one and extract its poison. They will put the densified poisonous substance on the tips of needles, arrows, bullets or on the blades of knives to kill people quickly, without fail.”
“Do you know, Dad, who possesses such a substance?” Lois asked eagerly.
“No idea. But good people never use it, nor do the famous masters, because they think it beneath them to use such ignoble means, except bad masters.” Her father continued, “Have you checked anyone on the list yet?”
“Not yet. I'm wondering how best to approach them.”
“Better be straight.  If you want to sneak up on them, you will surely be caught. They aren't known as masters for nothing.” He had on a short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants, his daily outfit. He was a quiet, calm person. If a bomb exploded right under his nose, he wouldn't even blink his eyes, they said.
“I can go if you need some sneaking job,” Sally offered while chewing gum. She finished her dinner already and every time she finished a meal she would put gum into her mouth, saying that her dentist said gum chewing would help to keep her teeth clean and healthy.  Now it was her habit that whenever she was between meals and snacks, she would chew gum, living up to her trust in her dentist. Her mouth never got tired of chewing or talking, resting only when asleep, sometimes even talking in her dreams. “Since you are given a mouth, why don't you make the most use of it? No waste here, too,” she often said.
“That's the gossiper's doctrine,” Tricia would say.
“Even if I get caught, they won't hurt a young girl like me,” Sally continued. She was a tomboy type with an adventurous spirit. When a little girl, she had been fond of climbing trees and had scared away many birds from their nests. Tricia liked to call her Chimpanzee whenever she saw Sally in a tree, but Sally never failed to yell back, “You are a china doll only. Chimpanzees were created by God, but dolls by humans. So who has a greater value?”
“That's true,” Tricia agreed. “Masters always want to maintain their dignity and won't deign to hurt a young girl.” She just finished a drumstick and put down the bone on the plate before her.
“We are not considering whether you'll be hurt or not,” Louise voiced her opinion as she held a fried pork chop between her chopsticks and put it in Alida's bowl on top of the rice. “You'll get nothing by sneaking on them. Besides, someone may come to us if he knows you are our daughter, or he will detain you and notify us to go there for a fight. Your father doesn't like to be known as a master and doesn't like fighting, either. Since we moved here, we have lived like ordinary people. No one in the neighborhood knows that we are kungfu masters.”
“I won't slip out your name or Dad's name. Besides, as you and Dad are hermit masters, no one even knows who you are even if I happen to mention your names.”
She had been adopted at the age of two years and nine months. Her parents had died in a severe car accident. Their car had been on the highway, traveling at a very high speed. Suddenly a front tire had exploded and the car had veered into the next lane. A big truck, also traveling at high speed, had hit their car at the door of the driver's side and sent it nose-first across two lanes right under another truck passing by. The front half of their car had entirely been crushed. Her parents had lived in a rented house in the neighborhood. As Louise didn't work, she often babysat the children of the neighbors. Sally had been at her house that very day. As Louise had already liked and was endeared to the girl, the couple had adopted Sally. But it was a different story with Tricia. Her father had often come to the video store owned by Robert. When Tricia had been two, her mother had died of a lethal disease. Later her father had married another woman, her stepmother. The stepmother hated her just like Snow White’s stepmother. She wanted her own children, not the child left by the deceased ex-wife. She had forced her father to give her away, threatening that she would have killed the child, maybe using a poisoned apple, if he didn't comply with her wish.  One evening when her father had come to the video store, looking very sad, Robert had struck up a conversation with him. Her father had offered the grievous information about the child. Out of compassion, Robert had said, “We have a daughter, but my wife loves girls. If I can have your daughter, she will be ecstatic.” So to the delight of the father, the couple had adopted Tricia. Her father had come often to see her, but then the stepmother found out, decided to move to California, and forbade her father to come to see her.
“No more arguments,” Lois broke in. She finished eating and pushed back the chair. Standing up, she turned to walk away from the table. “I'll take care of it. You two go on with your cases.” Concerning business, the big sister had the final say.  Tricia was the mid-sister and Sally the little sister.  These were their code names. Sam often joked with them that they were the Three Sisters of the Fate.
 楼主| 发表于 1/8/2017 09:02:18 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 5

When Richard got back home, he could not believe what he had done. It was impossible, absolutely impossible that he had killed Charles so easily. It wouldn't have been so easy even if Charles had not been a master, but he had seen him fall on the ground with his own eyes, unless as the saying goes, “Eyes can be deceived.” Could Charles have feigned the falling to avoid being hit by his chi?  Not likely. Why should he? He was at the same master level. However, he had felt his chi hit him, right where his finger had pointed, before he collapsed.
Richard was not a bad man at heart. Only a bad man wouldn't care if he killed people. He merely had a wrong ambition. He never killed anyone in his competitive challenges against other masters. He had not intended to kill Charles. It had been a total accident. When he watched the news program on TV late that night, he learned that Charles was actually dead. The police didn't release the cause of his death, though. He felt a stab at his conscience and regret, too. A doubt arose in him for the first time about his special life career of aspiring after the fame of “Master the Invincible.” Was this fame worth seeking for a lifetime, a fame that might be gained at the cost of another life? It would be best to stop right now lest more lives were put into danger.
Since that night, he had been harboring the fear that the police would someday trace Charles’s murder to him and throw him in jail. He dared not tell his wife. He was fully aware that his wife would be worried to death once she came into the knowledge of it. He had to shoulder the mental burden alone till the day when the police came knocking at his door.
David came to classes three times a week as usual. He never mentioned the name of Charles anymore, being certain that the master did not want to talk about it. He came here to learn kungfu and should not be interested in or curious about anything else. He felt that the master's attitude had changed towards him, not so warm as before. If exactly speaking, a little cold. He did not really care as long as he could come to classes.  He had to come and watch the master to see if he suspected anything. He had to, whether he wanted to or not.  The master really did not have the slightest suspicion whatsoever to that effect. He only thought that it was all David's fault. If he hadn't offered him the information, the whole mess would not have occurred.
 
***
 
Peter and Mary Perez resided in Clifton, New Jersey.  They had three children, two boys and a girl. Their daughter, Monica, was the eldest at twenty-three. She had graduated from Rutgers, the state university where she had studied psychology and was now working as an assistant to a psychiatrist, a lady whose office was in Paterson. The elder boy, Frank by name, was twenty-one and had not even graduated from high school. It was not that he was not clever, just that he did not like to study.  He did not like hard brainwork, such as committing to his lazy mind all the facts from the books. He didn't even know who George Washington was and what the Constitution was. Once his younger brother, Tom, who was seventeen and still at high school, had been studying American history and discussing some facts with Monica, who happened to mention the name of George Washington.
“What, you've got another boyfriend?” he wondered out loud, throwing both Monica and Tom into an uproar of guffaws, which had made their sides ache. If he were a new immigrant, he would never have passed the language test for American citizenship. But he was quick of limb and dexterous of hands. He worked as a mechanic in some garage in the same town, having taken a course at some job training school.
Though he worked in the daytime, Frank always came home very late, smelling of alcohol. Sometimes he did not even show up all night. By law, he was an adult now and responsible for his own behavior. Parents could not interfere with his freedom even if he did not act like a responsible and mature person.
“Does the age twenty-one really reach maturity?” His mother would ask a question like that whenever she was worried about Frank. “Maybe some are, some are not.”
The law, nevertheless, has to give them equal rights. The problem is what parents can do about their adult sons and daughters who misbehave. Every parent will wish their children to be happy all their lives, happy in a normal way, in a good way. Sometimes the sons and daughters feel happy in their misbehavior, which does them no good in the long run. They either don't realize it or refuse to face it. They just enjoy the temporary morbid happiness, leading them directly to a tragic end, more to the heartache of their parents.
Late one Monday morning, the owner called from the garage Frank was working for. He asked to speak with Frank. Mrs. Perez answered the phone and was told that her son had been expected at work two hours earlier. Mrs. Perez informed the owner that her son had stayed away from home the whole weekend and even she did not know his whereabouts. What else could the owner say? He hung up. Mrs. Perez was greatly and rightfully worried and called her husband at his office, but he was away on business. Then in her despair she called her daughter at her office. Once Monica was on the phone, she anxiously imparted the urgent information about the Frank’s disappearance. Monica was equally shocked by the news.  Though she lived away in an apartment in Hackensack with her long-time boyfriend, she often came home to visit her parents and brothers, sometimes bringing her boyfriend, Billy. “I think you'd better report it to the police. I will come home after work,” she promised.
It did not matter how hard it was showering. It was five, and since office hours were nine-to-five, it was time to go home. Usually when the downpour was in sheets, Monica would stay in the office till the rain became less heavy, because she could not get a clear view in front of the car when the windshield was screened by the torrents of water from the big-hole-leaking sky. The wipers were simply no use, even though she put them in the fastest position.  She was so afraid of having an accident in such bad weather that she’d rather stay late, but today she had to leave and drive in the cats-and-dogs condition.  She drove so slow that she got honks twice from the drivers behind. “Sorry,” she muttered to herself, “better to be slow and late than have an accident.” At last she arrived at her parents' house safely, finding her mother pacing up and down in the living room like a restless caged animal and wringing her hands all the time as if she were rubbing some wrinkle-free lotion into her skin.
Murky silence reigned over the dinner table.  At length Peter broke the ice. “In my opinion, the police will do nothing more than put up a public notice. Some people disappear for years and are never heard of, just like evaporating into thin air or falling off the edge of the Earth, supposing the Earth were flat.” He heaved a deep sigh, shaking his head. The food in the plate before him was barely touched yet. He was holding the fork in his right hand, the tines poising upward. The air was so dense and heavy in the room that everyone felt stifled by the distress. They sat there still and frozen as if the sleeping beauty had just pricked herself with the spindle.
All of a sudden Monica looked up, eyes blinking with hope, breaking the spell, though no prince on a white horse had come to kiss anyone. “I had a roommate in college who studied chemistry.  We still keep in touch with each other. Once in a while we will talk on the phone, exchanging our personal information. She's working now as a private detective in the Lioness Team.  Have you heard of it?” She lifted some food and put into her mouth. She was wearing a navy blue dress with white specks on it and blue high heels. Her dark hair was knotted into a chignon behind her head.
“I've read about them in the newspaper. They have a wide reputation of cracking difficult cases,” Mary interrupted anxiously. The mother was in her late forties, a housewife in a T-shirt and a skirt down to her calves with flip-flops on her feet. She looked like she could lose ten pounds, but she did not care as long as she felt healthy and as long as her husband did not care, either.
“Her name is Tricia,” Monica provided. “I'll ask her to help us.”
“I've heard that they charge very high.” Peter hesitated. He was a salesman working with a big company; so he was always dressed formally in tuxedo and trousers, and a tie of course.
“Don't worry about money, Dad. They may give me a discount since we are such good friends.”
 楼主| 发表于 1/12/2017 10:08:16 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 6

“Hello, may I speak to Tricia?”  Monica called Tricia at her home late in the evening.
“Who's calling?” It was Sally who answered the phone, stopping temporarily in the process of blowing a bubble with the gum.
“This is Monica, her former roommate in college.”
“Will you hold on, please?” Sally said politely.  Then she handed the receiver to Tricia, who was sitting next to her, reading newspapers. “ Po!” A big bubble burst before Sally's mouth.
“Hello, this is Tricia.” She talked into the mouthpiece, eyes still on the papers.
“Hi, Snow White.”  Monica called her by her nickname in college, owing to her pretty face, good figure and fair skin.  “This is Monica.”
“Hi, Black Angel,” Tricia replied, using Monica's nickname, too. “How's everything with you?”  Monica was famed in college for helping people, just like an angel coming from Heaven to save people in trouble.
“Not good. Really. I need your help.” Monica sounded melancholy, voice a little choked with sobs.
“What's the matter?” Tricia asked sympathetically, laying the papers aside, unconsciously onto Sally’s lap, who tossed the papers back onto Tricia's lap, still chewing her gum. Monica told her about the disappearance of her brother Frank and how her parents were worried.
“I'll come over to your house tomorrow to talk to your parents,” Tricia promised, pulling a wisp of her hair that had fallen in front of her eye behind her ear for the tenth time in last ten minutes.
Monica gave her the directions to her parents’ house.
 
***
 
Tricia arrived at Mr. Perez's house the next day, bringing Sally with her since she had just finished with a case and was on the waiting list for a new case to come.  Now this might be the new case on which they could work together. Sally would be bored sick if no work came her way.
Monica had stayed at her parents' house overnight so that she could meet Tricia and introduce her to them. She had called her boyfriend and her office, too, about the situation, leaving a message on her employer’s answering machine. Her boyfriend offered to come to help.
“Nothing you can help us with, Billy,” responded Monica, twirling the cord around her index finger, “unless you are a detective, which, I regret to say, you are not.  I'll be back as soon as I make some arrangements here.  Be a good boy.”  They cooed a few more love words between them and then disconnected the line.
After the introduction, Tricia only asked a few general questions and for a recent photo of Frank. The sisters wore the same apparel, which was supposed to be their uniform. They didn't care how ugly it looked: a blouse with sleeves to the elbow and a knee-length skirt, both of a lioness-brown color, with a lioness head printed on the back of the blouse in a darker shade, brown pantyhose and sandals. The sandals were specially ordered so that the toe-part looked a bit like the paw of a lioness, but really hid some sharp blades.
“Can I have a look in Frank's room?” Tricia asked Monica.
“Sure,” Monica said. “It's upstairs.”
It was a lazy bachelor's room with a never-made foul bed against one wall, a desk under the window, the top of it in disorder. Today his mother had cleaned the room for him, knowing that Monica's friend would come and might want to have a look at it, but she didn’t have time to make the bed yet.  She had already spent one hour picking up all the clothes and socks lying everywhere and putting them away in the hamper. She had hidden all his stinky dirty shoes and sneakers in the closet, but neglected the desktop. Tricia came a bit too early for her cleaning job to be finished.
The view from the window was both attractive and distractive. It faced a small public park with a children's playground on one side, where young mothers watched their children playing, a round flowerbed in the middle and benches everywhere. Young couples could be seen sitting on them and kissing passionately. Whenever Frank had got bad grades in the tests, he would complain about the distracting view, which often made him unable to concentrate on his studies. Once his father had suggested that he move his desk to the other side of the room, but he had said that his brain cells needed more oxygen when he was studying.
Tricia and Sally split the room and each took up a half. Sally's mouth could be seen moving slightly as she chewed her gum while looking into the closet. “Um!” She held her breath, putting her right hand before her nose to keep out the stinking smell from the shoes. After a hasty glimpse, she shut the closet door. Tricia checked very carefully, even under furniture.
“What are you looking for?” Monica wondered.
“Anything that can give us a clue as to his connections or the places he frequents,” Tricia said after a peep under the bed.  The search proved a disappointment. Half an hour later, Tricia and Sally took their leave. Then Peter and Monica also left on their separate ways to their offices.
 
***
 
“What parents!” Sally exclaimed frustrated, a bit shrill and edgy, once they got into their car. “They practically know nothing about their son.”  She nearly swallowed the wad of gum.
“They said Frank never talked to them about anything. He never brought home any friends, or girlfriends, if he had any.” Tricia tried to appease Sally, who was smoothing the front of her cotton blouse for the imperceptible wrinkles, a big bubble hanging from her mouth.
“What can we do now?” She looked askance at Tricia from her passenger seat with a puckered mouth and a dissatisfied frown, the bubble shrunk into her mouth now.
Tricia brushed back a wisp of her glittering gold-colored hair from before her right eye, got it behind her ear, and said casually, “At least we got the address and phone number of the garage Frank worked for.  It's not far from here.” She started the car and pulled out into the traffic. Ten minutes later, they reached the destination and parked their car outside the garage.  They went in by a small door on the side and approached the reception counter with smiling faces.
“Can we speak to Mr. Brown, the owner?” Tricia politely asked an old man sitting behind the counter, her hands resting on the counter top. Sally stood beside her, with her right hand holding onto the strap of her brown leather purse, her gum tucked between her right cheek and teeth.
“That's me.” The old man stood up. “How can I help you, ladies?” He had a businesslike manner with just a little smile plastered on his face to please his customers. “Are you delivering some parcel for me from UPS?” He looked suspiciously at their brown uniforms.
“No. We are not from UPS.” Both girls were conscious of their brown outfits. This was not the first time that they were mistaken for UPS women.
“Frank Perez worked for you, didn’t he?” Tricia went on, broadening her winning smile at him.
“Yeah, but he never showed up today.” He wiped out his smile at once, as if he were a customer complaining to Frank's boss.
“Frank disappeared. He's never been home since Friday night.” It sounded like Frank had slept at home every night.
“I'm sorry to hear that,” the owner sympathized. “But who are you?”
“I'm a private detective. Frank's sister and I were roommates in college. She asked me to investigate.” Tricia showed him her ID, taming her loose hair into place.
“What do you want to know from me?” He assumed a cooperative attitude.
“Did Frank have any friends coming to see him here, or any phone calls for him?”
“Yes. A young guy often came a little before closing time and waited outside. They left together.” Then he added, “Once I was outside and heard them talking about meeting somebody in a go-go bar somewhere in New York.”  He also gave a description of the guy as best he could at the request of Tricia.  His description was so vague that it could almost fit any young man.
Finally Tricia thanked him. “You were really a great help to us.  Thank you very much.” Then she handed him her name card, adding, “If you remember anything about Frank, please feel free to call me.”
When they were back in their car, Tricia checked the information Sally wrote down on the notepad. It was their way of working together: one did the asking, the other the writing. They found that if both asked questions, though by turns, it would serve as a distraction to the person in question as he looked from one to the other, answering their separate questions, unable to fully focus.
 
***
 
Back in the office, Tricia acquainted Lois with all the details of the case, accompanied with a series of gestures and laughter, seconded by Sally. Each girl was seated in her own chair behind the desk. Then their brains set to work looking for some ways to go on with the case.  Lois picked up the phone to get to some of her connections in New York for a list of the registered go-go bars and waited for the fax to come in.
“Can we change the color of our uniforms?” asked Sally uncertainly, moving her eyes bashfully from Lois to Tricia. “I am sick of being mistaken for a UPS woman.” She put a new gum into her mouth.
“What color do you like?” asked Lois, her right foot under the desk tapping on the floor while she sipped hot cocoa from the china cup in her hand, the cup with a cracked line on the side.  This cup was really a sentimental memento. Her grandfather had used it all his life. It was a two-hundred-year-old antique from the Qing Dynasty.
“Certainly not something resembling postwomen,” said Tricia, hooking a loose strand of her sunstreaked blond hair behind her ear.
“We adopted this color because of our nickname Lioness Team so that the color and the lioness head on the back can remind people of our nickname, our team, serving as an advertisement. If any of you can come up with a better idea, I have no objection,” said Lois, sipping more cocoa from the cup.
Sally buried her fingers in her shiny, short ink-black hair and scratched a bit, a mannerism reflecting that she was cudgeling her brains hard.
“Don't do that again, Sally!” moaned Tricia, who knew that Sally would eat a huge meal afterwards, saying that she needed to restore all the brain cells she had killed when she had cudgeled them.
“Okay,” she said at last, holding up both her hands in sham surrender. “I'll take a course in uniform designing before I can get any really worthwhile perception.”
Tricia smiled at her with an I-know-you-can't-do-it expression.  Sally didn't even look at Tricia, busy with her mouth moves.
A humming noise was heard from the fax machine. After it ceased, Lois turned to take the fax. She looked at the fax sheet and made a grimace. Sally was sent on the wild-goose chase with Frank's photo in her purse and one-zillionth chance of hope.
“Why me for this stupid task?” she asked with a frown and a practically wrinkled nose.
“Because you like adventures more than either of us,” Tricia answered for both Lois and herself.
“It doesn't sound like an adventure. Anyone can go to such places,” Sally said doubtfully.
“You can see how girls act on the stage. It will be a new experience for you,” Tricia remarked.
“Thanks. I've seen enough of such things on TV.” She shouldered her bag and spat the gumball towards Tricia before she left the office. Tricia flipped her middle finger at the oncoming gumball, sending it into the garbage pail a few feet away in the corner.
“Score two points.” Sally left the words trailing behind her as she slammed the office door shut.
 
***
 
“It's lucky for me that Frank's father remembers his son's plate number.  We can use this clue,” Tricia commented.
Lois thought for a moment, then agreed. Tricia called detective Sam Dawson. They were acquainted with each other, of course, having been on some cases together. Tricia liked Sam a lot and Sam liked Tricia, too. But sometimes there seems to be a long way from liking to loving and even an abyss between the two feelings. Only a bridge of karma can span the abyss. According to some old Chinese sayings, karma can bring the spouse to a person from a distance of a thousand miles away. But if karma won't grant it, even neighbors can't unite in holy matrimony like Romeo and Juliet.
“May I speak to Sam?” Tricia talked softly into the mouthpiece, tugging at a disobedient strand of her golden hair and slowly hooking it behind her ear.
“Detective Dawson's not in his office right now,” his assistant, Pedro, answered. “May I take a message, ma'am?”
“Hi, Pedro. This is Tricia. Tell Sam to call me back.  I'll need his help in a new case.”
“Okay, I'll pass the message to him,” replied Pedro cordially.
“Thank you very much, Pedro.” Tricia let the receiver fall into the cradle with a clatter.
Tricia's theory was that if something serious had happened to Frank, his car might have been deserted somewhere. She wanted to check, or rather to exclude, the possibility.
 
***
 
It was ten twenty in the evening. Lois and Tricia were still in their office when the phone rang. “The Lioness Team.  Lois speaking.”
“Hello, Lois. This is Sam. What's up?” Sam was panting like he had just run a Marathon race.
“Hi, Sam. Tricia wants to talk to you. Will you hold on, please?” She pushed down the hold button and made a gesture to Tricia.
Tricia picked up the phone on her desk. “Hello, Sam. This is Tricia.  Can you help to check a car which might be deserted somewhere?” She gave Sam a description of Frank's car and the plate number, her hair falling again before her right eye with the forward move of her head. This time she didn't bother to pull it back. She was talking to Sam.  No distraction whatsoever.
“No problem. I'll call you if I get anything. I'm kind of busy right now.” He hung up. No wonder he could never get a steady girlfriend.
Then both girls left the office for home. Their father hadn’t returned yet. Their mother was still up and waiting.  It was too early to go to bed.
“Hi, Mom,” Lois and Tricia sang out in unison.
“Hi, girls. I've cooked some dumplings. You want to eat now or wait for your Dad?” Mrs. Lin always had some kind of food ready for her husband and daughters when they came home late, and everyday saw a different recipe.  She didn't look her age. Chi exercising always kept people looking younger than they really were. When she went out with her daughters, she looked like their older sister.
Mr. Lin came back a few minutes later.  The four of them sat at the dining room table with a bowl of hot dumplings before them.
Alida was enjoying herself in some wonderland of sweet dreams, or falling in a bottomless chasm in some nightmare, or dropping into a hole to meet a Mr. Rabbit of hers.
“Where's Sally?”  Mr. Lin asked between chewing the dumplings.
“She went to New York on investigation,” Tricia said, swallowing a dumpling. “She may stay there for the night.  She'll call to let us know.”
 
***
 
Before leaving the office, Sally rearranged the bars on the list in a visiting order according to their addresses. Now she was in Manhattan and would begin from the south.  She parked her car at a meter near the bar on top of her new list. At the door of the bar she hesitated, the gum bubble much smaller this time. Are there any girls in such a bar?  There are definitely no female customers, but there should be bar girls working here. Instead of her ugly uniform, she wore a greenish T-shirt and jeans with a pair of black sandals and had her pocketbook on her shoulder. She could never understand why people gave the bag such a name as pocketbook. It was definitely not like a book, nor could it be put into a pocket.
She vacillated before the door long enough for a skeleton to turn into a fossil. Some guy nudged her aside unexpectedly from behind, pulled open the door and went inside. She followed at his heels so she wouldn't be so conspicuous. As she meandered her way through the tables, nervously chewing hard on the gum, someone shouted at her. “Hey, girlie, get on the stage.” She ignored him, went to the back and found the manager. She showed Frank's photo to the pudgy manager, who raised both his pudgy hands to wipe his fat round face as if there was always some dirt there that he wanted to wipe off then lowered his hands before his chest to rub them together. He repeated this kind of hand motion all the time that he was talking to Sally. Sally showed the photo to some bartenders who happened to pass by. No luck for her first stop.
The second stop was not far from there, only a few minutes away. Sally parked her car right in front of the bar, inserting a quarter into the meter out of habit.  She entered the bar, skirting the tables along the wall, and was shown to the manager's office.
“What can I do for you?” The manager in a black suit with a black bow tie at the collar of a white shirt looked up from something like a ledger.
Sally showed him the photo of Frank and inquired whether he had seen him recently in his bar.
“Who is this young man?” the manager asked, looking scrupulously at Sally.
“He's my cousin, disappeared three days ago. He was last seen in some bar in this area,” Sally fibbed, but for a good cause.
The manager shook his head, like a duck just coming out of a pond and shaking water from its head, and refocused on his book as if Sally didn't exist or was invisible like a ghost.
Sally left his office with a “Thank you” and shut the door behind her. She took the gum from her mouth and stuck it on the knob. On her way out she showed the photo to some of the bartenders, but the only response she got was a shake of the head.  She was frustrated and thought that these people here were so lazy, not even bothering to say no.  She put another gum into her mouth, hoping it would keep her spirits up a bit.  As she walked to the front door, a big guy, wobbling like a drunkard and holding half a glass of beer in his right hand, blocked her way. “Hey, babe, want some beer?”
Sally shoved him with her left hand. The big guy fell back, knocking over the nearby table; his glass dropped into fragments with a “ping” on the tile floor, spilling the remaining beer onto his pants and the floor. He murmured to himself, “Fucking.”
Three young men at the table jumped up from their seats as the table was knocked over together with everything on it. With a gesture from one of them, who looked like the leader of the three, the men stepped toward Sally. “Hey, miss, you should apologize,” the leader said, “or I'll fuck you.”
“He should apologize.” Sally pointed to the big guy who began to sit up, supported with his right hand in a tiny pool of beer on the floor. He wiped the beer off his hand on his shorts and looked at himself unhappily. Shit. Never embarrassed like that before. But he knew better. That bitch of a girl is not someone you can mess with.
“Have a drink with us, babe. We can be friends.” Another of the three men grinned like a Cheshire cat at Sally. “More than friends. You know what I mean. We can go to somewhere else to have fun.”
“Step aside. I'm in a hurry,” she warned seriously. The grinning man held out a hand, intending to grab Sally's left arm. Sally used the index finger of her left hand and hit a special point on the man's outstretched hand. He immediately felt his whole arm go numb. This special point is called xue.  There are more than seven hundred xues all over the human body. An acupuncture doctor will use a special needle to prick into a xue and stimulate it to get some healing effect for certain illnesses. In western countries, the karate masters will use fingers to jab on certain parts of the human body to stop the circulation of the blood like in Xena, the Warrior Princess, which is said to have originated in Persia and is totally different from xue-pricking in Chinese kungfu, because xue belongs to the nerve system and the pricking at different xues will produce different effects. So Sally just hit the Numb Xue for his arm, but the numbness would be over automatically after a certain period of time, depending on how hard the hitting was.  No need to undo it. But some main xues have to be undone to get rid of the effects.
The leader had also learned some kungfu.  So he kicked up his right foot sideways at Sally's stomach, intending to send her sprawling on the floor, while he cursed, “You bastard!”
Sally raised her right hand, and using the outer edge of her hand like a knife, she struck his ankle just hard enough to send a pain up his leg, and smilingly replied, “You should call me bastardess. Learn some grammar.”
He fell to a sitting position on the floor. The big guy had already gotten up on his feet again, but stood aside watching as if he had nothing at all to do with the fight.  Sally spat her gum out; her chi was just strong enough to send the gum to the center of the third man's forehead and stick there without hurting him. The third man picked it down and put it into his own mouth, smiling at Sally.
No screams arose among the patrons who were made up solely of the male sex, the sex that is known as a tough non-screaming type. They only shout. According to the vocal specialist, the voice of the male is an octave lower than that of the female. If a male screams, it will sound very ugly and disgusting, maybe like the bellow of a cow or the trumpet of an elephant.
Some bartender called the police, but since two of the three men were temporarily disabled, the third man was discouraged. He saw Sally walking deliberately out the door as she muttered to herself, “They can't even curse, those Chinese bastards.” So when the police arrived, all the troublemakers were long gone.,
 楼主| 发表于 1/15/2017 08:30:25 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 7

Next day, Sam called Tricia at her office. “Hi, Tricia. They can't find a car with your plate number on the deserted car list.  What else can I do for you?”
“Thank you, Sam. Nothing at present.” Tricia smiled as if Sam could have seen her smiling through the line.
“Can I talk to Lois?” Sam requested.
“Sure. Please hold on.” Tricia put the phone on the hold and told Lois that Sam wanted to speak to her.
As Sam and Lois carried on their phone conversation, Tricia put on her thinking cap. Now there were two possibilities. First, if something serious happened to Frank, his car might have gone to a chop shop. Second, if nothing happened to Frank, he was still using his car, and he disappeared for some unknown reason--maybe of his own free will.
Around noon, Mr. Brown called. “Miss Tricia Lin.  I've something here for you.”
“Call me Tricia, please. What is it?” she asked eagerly.  She pressed the receiver nervously against her left ear lest some important words would escape if there were a gap in between. She entwined a loose strand of her blond hair between the forefinger and the middle finger of her right hand, as if her fingers were a curling iron and she could have made her hair wavy.
“Since Frank didn’t return, I've hired another guy.  I wanted to give Frank's locker to the new guy and found a slip of paper in his locker with a phone number on it.”
“What else was in his locker?” Tricia's interest was provoked.  She pressed the receiver even harder to her ear.
“Nothing. Only his work clothes. I found this paper in a pocket.”
“Anything in other pockets or in the folds of the clothes?” She relaxed a little, hopeful. Actually, she felt Mr. Brown's voice booming in her ear and had to let the receiver detach a bit.
“I searched thoroughly. Nothing more, but I'll keep the clothes in my office. If you want to check, just drop in.”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Brown. You are always a big help.” Tricia jotted down the phone number beginning with the area code “718”, which should belong to the New York area. Through her connection in the phone company, Tricia got the name and address. It was a woman on Staten Island.
 
***
 
We stopped seeing each other six months ago,” the girl, about twenty, told Tricia when she visited her at her home.  She was still wearing her red-and-white striped sleeping gown, with black hair streaming down her shoulders, no makeup yet.
“How long were you together?” Tricia looked at her to see her reactions to all her questions.
“Three months.” The girl just played with a tress of her hair that fell over her bosom and didn't make any eye contact with Tricia.  Her head was bent a little low.
“Why did you separate?” Tricia could not get a good view of her face since her head was at a thirty-degree angle with her spine.
“He has an alcoholic problem.  I don't like it,” she said timidly, eyelids drooping.
“How did you get to know each other?”
“He worked in a garage. Once my car broke down near there and was towed to his garage. He gave me a ride home and when the car was ready, he came to pick me up.” She looked up once at Tricia during her comparatively long narration, her large brown eyes expressionless.
“Did you know any of his friends?”
“No, not even where he lived.”
Tricia thanked the girl and left. But she thought the girl and Frank might still be seeing each other. So on the coming Friday, Tricia stationed herself in her car close to where the girl lived to see if Frank would come or if the girl would go out to meet him somewhere else.
Sally was away in New York checking on the bars.
 
***
 
Lois pulled her Mitsubishi into the driveway of the late Charles’s deserted house, which had a  “For Sale” sign set up on the front lawn.  She and Alida got out of the car and walked around the house to the backyard.
“Listen, Alida. Now, I'll play the part of the stranger and you your father. Show me where each of them stood that night.”
So Alida took the position with her back to the big tall tree with dense foliage towering above the two-story house and told Lois to step to the spot facing her about three meters away. From the position Charles took, Lois concluded that the needle must have come from up in the tree. There could have been someone hiding in the foliage doing the evil job that had killed Charles. Had this someone cooperated with the stranger, or just acted separately, using the stranger to cover his action? She must find the stranger first.
 
***
 
It was Sunday. The girls stayed at home. After breakfast, they sat at the dining room table and discussed the Charles case. Louise was teaching Alida kungfu in the basement. Lois took out the list her father made and spread it on the table. There were eight names on it, four of them without the exact addresses listed, only the town they lived in. Lois had heard of five of the names but only knew two by their faces. Her father had told her all he had learned about each of them, but she wished to know more.  She stood up from her chair and went to the doorway leading to the basement. She called her mother, requesting her to come up for a minute.  Louise told Alida to practice by herself for a while and she would be back soon. Then she climbed up the staircase. Lois was in the hallway. They walked together into the dining room and took their seats.
“Tell me what you know about these masters, Mom, beginning with the four with addresses listed.” She pushed the slip of paper toward her mother.
“The first one,” Louise started, pointing to the list on the table, “is the most renowned, because he always wants to fight the other masters to see who is better.”  Lois looked at the name on the top of the list: Richard Chang.  She had seen him twice or thrice at some karate gatherings. He should be the first one I visit, Lois thought to herself.
 
***
 
“Cousin Lois, look at this. What does H2O mean?” Alida asked when she saw Lois and Sally coming into the family room. A notebook of some kind was lying on Alida's lap, opened to a certain page.
“What do you mean by H2O?” Lois didn't understand Alida’s question.
“Auntie Louise's teaching me poetry. She gave me a notebook of her own selected poems. There's one in it with the title of that weird sign H2O. It must have been written by a weirdo,” said Alida, showing the page with the poem on it to Lois.
Lois read it, which ran as follows:
 
When the scorching sun's high at noon,
I run from here to there,
From east to west, north to south,
Through the fields, over the ditches,
Up the slope, over the top,
Down the hill, to the valley,
Into the woods, through the glade,
Not in search of ores, nor of gems,
Neither of buried treasures,
Which everyone seeks,
But of the element--H2O;
Not to quench my thirst,
Nor to wash my hands or face,
But to water a withering rose,
Lonely and deserted in a nook.
 
After Lois scanned to the last line, she explained to Alida, “H2O is the chemical symbol of water. It means that every molecule of water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.”
“So, the poet's talking about water.” Alida seemed to come to sudden comprehension.
“You got it.” Lois smiled encouragingly. Sitting on the sofa, she leaned back and tapped her right foot on the thick-carpeted floor, a habitual reaction to the sort of music she loved, which drifted out softly from the cassette on the end table in the corner.
“Auntie Louise said it's free verse. What's free verse?” asked Alida, fixing her naive eyes on Lois's face.
“A free verse has no meter, no rhyme,” Lois manifested, meanwhile enjoying the music--the Blue Danube Waltz that never dies through time and tide--drifting out from the portable radio.
“Auntie Louise already explained to me about the rhyme. It's the same vowels, or the same vowels and consonants, used at the end of the lines. There can be many rhyme patterns in a stanza. But what's the meter? Do you use some kind of a meter to measure the length of the lines?”
“You could say so. Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Longfellow and many other poets often use meter in classical poems. They used almost the same numbers of syllables in paired lines with the same rhymes throughout a poem. When it's recited, it sounds even and balanced with rhythm. It will sound even more beautiful when you put alliteration and middle rhyme in it like in the poem Spring by Nash.  It's the first poem in Golden Treasury, an anthology of classical poetry. Actually, we measure a line by the foot.  A four-foot line, a five-foot line…” Lois sat up, leaning over the coffee table in front of her, and made some marks on a piece of scrap paper along with her explanation.
“Wait a minute, Cousin Lois. I've never seen a line that long. I think the width of the biggest book wouldn’t be four feet long, let alone the lines.”
“A foot here is not a length measurement. In poetry, a foot can have two syllables or three syllables. A syllable can have stress on it or non-stress on it, alternately. I'll give you an example. When I was learning poetry, I did a translation from a Chinese classical poem into an English metric one. Read the version.” She wrote it down on a slip of scrap paper.
 
At a wall corner some plum trees grow,
Alone against cold white blossoms blow.
Aloof one knows they aren't the snow,
As faint through air soft fragrances flow.
 
“This poem has only one stanza, four lines. Each line has four feet. Each foot has two main syllables. So every line has eight main syllables. Mostly the first syllable in every foot in this poem is non-stressed while the second main syllable is stressed. This combination is called iambic. Sometimes, especially in poem translation, if an extra non-stressed syllable appears in a foot, it's okay.”
“Thank you, Cousin Lois, for your precious time and effort. I really appreciate it,” said Alida, followed by giggles, seemingly proud of herself for being capable of such formal usage. She bounced up and down a little on the balls of her feet.
“You are really a phoenix in our family.” Lois patted her on the head benignly. In old China, an outstanding girl was compared to a phoenix while an outstanding boy to a unicorn. Dragon was only used to refer to an emperor.
“When I was in high school, I often got extra homework, literally home-work, assigned by Mom at home.” Sally recollected her hard times as a teenage. “She always wanted me to try my hand at poem-writing. If I said I didn't like poetry, she would pluck my ears--”
“Excuse me, Cousin Sally. Why not call the police?” Alida asked innocently.
“I didn't like to bother the police with such trivial family problems. Besides, when the police came, I would seem to have rabbit's ears.”
“So what'd you do then?” Alida tilted her head and stared askew at Sally, anxious to know the result as though she was listening to a fascinating fairytale.
“You know our Mom. I had to do the homely homework. Here, I will write it down for you.” She wrote her poem on a piece of paper while popping her gum bubbles all the time and then handed it to Alida, who read it aloud: (Monologue of Ozone Layer).
 
How painful I feel,
As the Ultra-Violet rays hit me,
But I don't care about the pain,
If you are safe, Oh, Man.
 
Don't make holes in me, Oh, Man,
With your stupid fluoride!
It hurts me more than the rays,
Since it comes from friends.
 
Do you realize, Oh, Man,
Wise creature you call yourself,
If I am made extinct,
How can you survive?
 楼主| 发表于 1/19/2017 11:01:07 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 8

Sally opened the door to the tenth bar on her visiting list and went in.  The bar was so small that there were no tables, only a semicircular counter with a row of high stools before it. Behind the counter, three feet away, was a small stage. A girl, stripped almost naked, was dancing on it. Sally found the only bartender, showing him the photo.
“Never seen him, sorry, miss. Can't help,” he said nonchalantly.
The eleventh bar was a short distance away.  Sally walked there. Once inside, her gaze swept over the faces of the patrons. Suddenly, she recognized a face. A face she had seen somewhere recently, but could not lay her fingers on it and tell exactly where. The face turned her way all at once. The guy recognized her, too.  He said something to four other guys sitting at the same table. Sally had already turned her head towards some of the bartenders.
When Sally left the bar with the same disappointed expression on her face, she was so surprised to find five guys waiting for her outside the bar door that she let the wad of gum remain on the tip of her tongue, forgetting to blow it into a bubble as she had originally intended to do. The guys all wore T-shirts of various colors with different pictures on the back and in the front, and jeans or denim shorts, striking different poses and forming a semicircle to prevent her from escaping. She suddenly remembered seeing one of the guys as the leader of the three young men in another bar a few days ago, but this time he didn't look like the leader of the group. She knew she would have a hard time tonight, but she stood there calmly, ready for the attack.
One guy, who looked to be in his late thirties, tallest among them at about six feet, stepped forward with hands held up in front of his chest in a traditional way--left hand forming a fist with right hand wrapped around it--and said, “Miss, we don't want to alert the police, do we? So will you come with us to somewhere we can practice karate together without any interruption?”
Sally knew they would not let her go unless she could defeat them. It would be better to go with them and finish the fight as fast as possible. Sally was above the tenth level, but had not yet reached master level, somewhere in between. It meant that only masters could beat her on a one-to-one basis, but now there were five. On a one-to-five basis, it depended on what level they were. If they were all on lower levels, she could easily defeat them. If they were all on higher levels, she could at least escape easily, unless one or two of them were on the same level as she, but it was not likely. Her father was one of the best masters, though unknown to the Kung Fu world. When the sisters began to learn kungfu at the age of five, their grandfather, Old Master Lin, had given each of them a pill, soft and black, as big as a marble children played with. He had made them swallow it, though not without a little difficulty.  He had said that it was made from a Lingzhi and a Ginseng, both a thousand years old, and other rare herbs, which would help them greatly in their practice of chi, hence the enhancement of the strength. Their mother, Louise, had steeped and washed their bodies every day in a basin filled with water boiled from a special kind of herb, which would produce a special effect in the body and on the skin against any hard blow, somewhat like Achilles’ mother steeping her son in the River Styx, though not with the same result.
With such confidence, Sally followed the guys to a deserted parking lot behind a high building. It was well past midnight now. There were scarcely any pedestrians in the street. Sally stood against a wall so that she could not be attacked from behind. The five guys stood in a semicircle before her with the tall guy in the middle. He was about three meters away, a suitable distance to use chi. He raised his right hand and sent out his chi from the palm. Sally followed suit. Two drafts of chi met between them with a hollow “bang”. Sally stood her ground, but the tall guy took three steps backwards.  It meant that he was only on seventh or at most eighth level. Two guys at either side of the tall one assaulted Sally with their chi at the same time. Sally used both her hands, one against each.  The guy at the left side of the tall man took one backward step, but the guy at his right side was forced to recede two steps. These two guys were still lower in the levels, because Sally divided her chi between two hands. Then the five men drew out daggers hidden behind their hips and thrust them at Sally from different angles. Sally didn't bring any weapon. She had to jump five meters high, make a forward somersault and land on her feet on the ground behind the guys. The guys quickly turned around and surrounded her. They attacked again, one at her face, one at her left chest, one at her back, one at her right thigh and one at her left hip. Sally stooped forward low, kicking up her left foot at the one to her left hip, using both her hands to throw out her chi at the one to her right thigh and the one to her left chest while ducking the two at her face and back. When the three guys receded at her counterattack, she stood on her hands, kicking up both her feet, one at the guy attacking her back and the other at the guy attacking her face. Both guys had to step back, too. Sally made a somersault and stood up. Now she took initiative to assail one guy, who had to dodge, but the other four lunged at her. She turned to deal with them while the one that dodged assumed his assault. Sally jumped up in the air, kicking at the heads of two guys behind her and issuing her chi from both her hands towards the three guys before her, adding a gumball flying out of her mouth with chi at the right eye of one of the guys, forcing them all to recoil. She made a sideways turn and another somersault in the air and landed on her feet.  She had no time to put more gum in her mouth.
After fifty rounds, Sally knew she couldn't fight long against five people without any weapons, especially when they attacked simultaneously.  They seemed to have been trained in organized group actions. They formed a strategic circle around her, each in a position to attack a certain part of her body.  Even if she used both her hands and feet in defense, she could only deal with four of them at a time and had to find a way to elude the fifth.  It would make her tired rapidly.
She had been trained in high jumping and fast running in a particular way. From five years old, the girls had some weight tied on both their legs. They had practiced jumping and running with the weight on. As they grew up, the weight increased till they stopped growing in stature. Once the weight had been removed, they had felt, literally, light as birds physically and could hence jump higher and run faster than others who didn't have such training. Now she thought of an old Chinese saying: “Of the thirty-six strategies the first and best one is to escape.” She played the somersault trick again. High in the air, she threw out her fake nails with chi, two at each, all aiming at their eyes.  The guys had to duck.  Then she landed on her feet outside their encirclement and began to gallop away as fast as her legs could carry her. They ran after her, but were not as fast. One of the guys flung his dagger at her back. Though it hit the mark, it didn't do any harm because when it reached the target, the strength was already weak and Sally's skin had been protected by a special herb bath. A few minutes later, she disappeared from the scope of their vision. They heard a car start somewhere in the distance, then silence in the dead of night, except for their own breathing and murmured curses.
“Fuck.”
“Shit.”
“Dammit.”
“Bitch.”
 
***
 
Lois knew that Richard Chang was giving karate classes. The best way to approach him, she mused, was to be enrolled in his classes. So she went to his house and expressed her hearty desire to learn kungfu from him since she knew that he was a well-known master. It is human nature that everyone loves to be flattered. The best flatterer has tact to flatter subtly, not apparently. Master Chang liked Lois at first sight.  She was placed in the high-level class, three days a week.
On her first day in the class, Richard made the introduction between her and the other three boys. They all seemed younger than she. She pretended that she knew just enough kungfu to be in this class, though as a matter of fact, she was on half-master level, which meant that a master could not defeat her within a hundred rounds. Lois was better in kungfu than Tricia, because she had practiced two more years, and Tricia was a little better than Sally for the same reason. The more and longer one practiced, the better one became.
Lois didn’t mind paying the fee for the classes.  She was on a case to find who had killed Uncle Charles; besides, she really learned something from Richard. Since she was a kungfu expert, she knew from Richard’s demonstrations that the master was very good; though not as good as her father, he was still equal to her mother. If Richard and her father would have a real fight, she estimated that they might go for a thousand rounds, but eventually her father would win; he would never fight other masters except for a cause of justice.
 
***
 
There were a few people whose kungfu was on the master level, but whose behavior didn't match the old traditional standards of a master's reputation. Lungming Hua was such a master. Once he had sold an old Chinese painting to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It was a famous painting of the Ming Dynasty, but it turned out that the painting had been stolen from a museum in China.  He had been wanted by both governments, Chinese and American, but he had managed to vanish to no one knew where. That had happened twenty years ago.
 
***
 
One of the eight masters on Lois's list was John Zi, who was not only famous for his kungfu, but also for his charity donations. He lived on Long Island, no exact address on Lois's list.  He owned a lot of small businesses such as Chinese restaurants, gift shops, laundromats, bakeries, a local bank and a cinema. Most of his businesses were in New York City, a few in northern New Jersey, like Jersey City and Newark.  He had a large fortune, no one knew how much.  If each of his small businesses had made money in the course of time through financial ups and downs, he could have lots and lots of money, but no one knew for sure.  In fact, no one cared.
He was fifty-eight, medium height. His first wife, a Chinese woman three years younger than he, had died of heart disease ten years ago. His second wife, an Italian, eleven years younger than he, had disappeared four years ago after their marriage of one year. Now his third wife was an American with brown hair and hazel eyes, twenty-three years younger. It was funny to notice that as he grew older, his wives grew younger. That was normal, however, with rich Chinese people, and fifty-eight was not really old for a man with kungfu.
“You look in your forties only,” his new wife, Melissa, often said to him, which made him feel still younger.
 
***
 
“Are you sure that your uncle had no enemies?” Sam queried Lois one day when they were at a work lunch again at McDonald's on Rt. 27. Sam wore a blazer and trousers, his brown hair parted in the middle and combed back. With hazel eyes, chiseled features and fair complexion, he looked gorgeous.
“No. I'm absolutely sure. Besides, I asked my Dad and Mom, and they said no.”
“Then, what's the motive?” Sam looked at her attentively as if earnestly expecting a satisfactory answer, but virtually appreciating her irresistible beauty. A beauty salon is not open for natural beauties like Lois. I think she never goes to one. Only those who want pseudo beauty hasten there. Can an ugly duckling really turn into an elegant swan when strutting out of such a salon?  Doubtful.
“That's what's puzzling me, too,” said Lois, who wore a duckling-yellow blouse and slacks; her shiny, long dark hair, held by a golden barrette, hung over her bosom, a tress almost dipping into the ketchup. She flicked her ponytail behind her back in a graceful arch like a high-jump athlete over a pole.
Sam was in charge of the investigation on Charles's death.  He had no clue whatsoever on this case so far.  He had never had any dealings with the kungfu circle. Now he had to be dependent on Lois, or he could never solve the case.  It really gave him the chance to get together with Lois more often. He thanked Uncle Charles secretly, then he felt guilty and ashamed for it. Hey, why should I feel guilty?  I didn't kill him. If I pray to him in the other world to bring Lois and me together, nothing's wrong with that. All's fair in love and war, as people always say. But his conscience contradicted him. Are love and war the same thing?  No.  They are just the opposites.  So how can it be fair in love and fair in war at the same time?  When it is fair in war, it can't be fair in love.  So what should I do in love? he asked himself. Love is an affair of emotions and tenderness while war is an event of violence and cruelty. Love can never be connected with violence and cruelty. Only honesty and tenderness can win love while strategies and forces can win in war.  Be honest and tender to her. That's what I should do.
He looked up from his food at Lois and sensed her gaze fixing on his face. He could feel that Lois liked him and Tricia liked him, too. But he knew he wanted to date Lois, not Tricia, though Tricia was also a nice girl. If Lois were engaged, he would date Tricia, but now….
Time really flew fast. He should be at the office right now. A hill-high pile of work was waiting for him. He finished eating as quickly as possible and left first.  Lois didn't hurry.  She lingered in her seat, her mind busy with all the possibilities of the case. She took out the list from her purse and checked the names on it. The second name was John Zi, inhabiting on Long Island. He could wait till later. The third name was Walter Li, living in Piscataway and the address was listed very close to Charles's house. “He's worth a visit,” Lois speculated.
Back at the office, she looked into the phonebook for Walter Li's number; then dialed it.  After four rings it was picked up by the answering machine. She hung up, leaving no message, since she didn't want to give him too much time for mental preparation.  She'd call him later in the evening.
 
***
 
A few minutes before eight, Lois arrived at the street where Walter Li resided. As she slowed down, looking for the house number, she perceived a familiar figure coming out of a door four houses down. The figure got into a car in the driveway, backed out and went in the other direction. Lois pulled up in front of that house and saw the house number, which was exactly the number she was looking for, but she could not recall who the familiar figure was. However, it was not the time for recollection.  She got out and walked to the front door, which was opened at the buzz. A man of about her father's age stood in the doorway. He was lean and of middle height with weather-beaten skin like a sailor's, which indicated that he must have experienced hardship when young. He wore a white long-sleeved shirt and a gray pair of pants with black leather shoes, and his hair was close-cropped, parted on the left side just above the corner of the left eye, the section to the right of the parting line combed back.
“Miss Lin, I presume?” he addressed Lois. “Please come in.” He stepped aside to let Lois in, outstretching his right hand in a gesture of welcome.
Lois took in the setting of the living room at a glimpse. The furniture was all fashioned out of an old Chinese style. A square table made of rich rosewood stood in the middle with polished marble laid into the top and carvings on the four sides and legs. There were small drawers in each side. Four carved armchairs sat around the table, each with an oval garnished marble piece set in the back. To one side of the wall clung a carved rosewood couch and along another wall were four chairs of the same material with carvings on the backs and end tables in between. Some scrolls of Chinese paintings and calligraphy hung on the walls. Lois was asked to sit down on a chair against the wall and Mr. Li sat on another chair at the other side of the end table.
“Mr. Li, I presume?” Lois commenced the conversation. “I'm sorry to bother you.”
“It's my pleasure,” Mr. Li responded. “I like to talk to young people. My son never speaks to me, because once he does, we always disagree on almost everything. They say it's the generation gap.”
“I don't think it's always the case between different generations. At least not between my parents and me,” said Lois frankly.
“Your parents are fortunate to have you as their daughter.”
According to her father, Mr. Li owned a Chinese restaurant in Edison. His wife liked to run it. So Mr. Li went there every day for three meals, since no one cooked for him at home. As for kungfu, Mr. Li was a third-class master. Richard Chang belonged to the first class and John Zi the second class.  Lois knew Mr. Li was no match for Uncle Charles and therefore he could not be the stranger.  Lois came to visit him in the hope that he might know, or might have seen, something about the case since he lived so close, but he told her that he had already been in bed that night when the murder happened.
 楼主| 发表于 1/22/2017 08:58:21 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 9

When Sally escaped, she drove directly home, but it was almost three o'clock when she arrived. Everyone in the house was in bed. She could only go to her own bedroom and sleep. When she woke up, it was eight; she jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs in her pajamas. Her mother walked Alida to school everyday except when school was closed. The new semester had already begun and they had left for school. Her father and sisters were sitting at the dining room table, having breakfast. Their office generally opened at nine and her father's video store at ten. So they could have time for a nice talk.  Sally sat down at the table and related her encounter with the five men last night.
“So you had an adventure. How exciting was it?” Tricia eyed Sally, grinning impishly.
Sally made no answer, raising her right hand to cover her mouth as she gave a great mute yawn.
“Could you tell what party they belonged to?” her father put forth the question.
“Not really.” Sally felt frustrated.
There are different parties in kungfu circles just like in political circles. Different parties have different kungfu styles, like Shaolin Temple (it's a party, too) has Shaolin style of kungfu. From the style a person performed, people could identify which party he or she belonged to. Later, therefore, some parties teach their disciples the mixed styles they have stealthily learned from other parties to cover their origin. That is often used for evil purposes. Besides, parties often invent new styles so that people cannot identify them when they are first used.  However, Sally was not experienced enough to distinguish what their original style was when people used mixed styles. Only those who were very much familiar with the styles of all the parties could tell the difference between the original style and the furtively learned styles because it was inevitable that there were some traces of imperfection in the latter styles when some kungfu thief performed them.
“We'll go together this weekend. It's not because I want to avenge you, but because Uncle Charles's death is mostly concerned with the kungfu circle. So I'd like to meet anyone who can perform kungfu to get whatever clue I can,” Lois announced her decision.
“Be careful,” her father warned.
“We will, Dad,” replied Tricia. “We are all older than Nancy Drew. Besides, we have kungfu while Nancy can only exercise some judo kicks.”
“Should we take some weapons? At least some daggers?” Sally asked.
“No, we don't want to get into trouble with the New York police,” Lois said.
“What if I take a pair of big scissors?  They are not illegal weapons, I hope,” said Sally with sham seriousness, though she made great efforts not to giggle and to keep a straight face.
“We should have registered weapons for our own defense,” Tricia suggested. “The police detectives all carry weapons. We should, too, even though we're private.”
 
***
 
Sam called their office after they arrived and talked to Lois. “What'll you do this weekend, Lois?  I need a break.  I've been too busy.  I don't even have time to go to the bathroom.”
Lois told him their plan for the weekend. Sam was excited. “Count me in, will you, Lois? I can help.” The thought of being together with Lois for the weekend was more than exciting.
Lois could not refuse him since they worked together so often. “I'll pick you three up at nine,” he offered. After some more chitchat they hung up. Lois was not so excited. She knew that before kungfu people Sam was vulnerable. She didn't want him to be hurt if she could prevent it.
Sharply at nine, a soft honk of the horn was heard in front of the house. The three sisters filed out the door in a beeline and got into Sam's car. They wore black pants, dark-colored jackets and the brown uniform shoes that would suit them best in case there would be a fight. Lois sat in the front seat, the other two sisters in the back. Sally offered Tricia a piece of gum, but Tricia declined, saying, “I am not a gum addict.” Sally shrugged and put one into her own mouth.
“It's really a surprise to me that you can be so punctual today, Sam,” Sally joked in the backseat diagonally across from Sam, whose tardiness was notorious among all his acquaintances and friends.
“I have to, if I don't want my life thread to be cut.” Sam glanced at Sally from the rearview mirror.
“Sam,” Lois interrupted, “you should learn kungfu.  It's helpful for your work.”
“I wish I could. Really don't have time. They'll call me on my cell phone any time after office hours, if I have any office hours.  The sound of the ring often wakes me up right in the middle of my sweet dreams,” he sighed dejectedly and temporarily shut his eyes.
“Look out!” Sally yelped the warning, the gum falling out of her mouth into her lap. Sam opened his eyes. The car before him stopped short in front of the red light. Sam had to slam down the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front on the bumper, making the two girls in the backseat swing forward. The girls in the back had to use their hands to hold the backs of the front seats to prevent their heads from knocking into the headrests. “You want to kill us or what, Sam Dawson?” Sally shouted in rage, as she retrieved the gum and thrust it back into her mouth.
“Sorry, not intentional,” Sam apologized. “But what's the motive if I wanted to kill you?”
“Lucky. The beneficiary on my life insurance policy is not you,” Sally jibed and winked at Tricia.
“That proves that I don't have a motive. So am I off your suspect list now?” Sam made a grimace at Sally in the rearview mirror.
 The weather was nice. They opened all the car windows to let in the rushing wind, which blew Tricia's shoulder-length loose hair backward, saving her the trouble of always pulling it back. Although it was a weekend night, there were still a lot of cars on the Garden State Parkway. People were hurrying to seek pleasures, pay visits or for some, make extra money. The foursome were not in a hurry. So Sam drove a bit under the speed limit and saw many cars approaching from behind change lanes and bypass his car fleetingly, just for the purpose of reaching their destinations a few minutes earlier at the risk of being caught by the police and given a ticket and some points on their driving record. But if luck was with them, they might never meet any patrol cars. A kind of gambler in life.
 
***
 
A carful of teenagers came up in the next lane, laughing and giggling loudly--hahaha--hihihi--hahaha--hihihi—hahaha--hihihi… The red convertible sped by, the laughter fading in the distant night sky. Sam turned the volume of the car radio a bit louder. Lois tapped her foot to the music. Occasionally, the burst of a bubble could be heard from the backseat.
The quartet arrived in New York around ten, high time for weekend nocturnal life to start. Sam found a space at a meter and parked his car. They went to the bar where Sally had met the five men. Sally walked in first. Others followed after a few minutes, pretending not to know one another. Sally cast her glance around in the hope of seeing one of the faces she was looking for. All were strangers.  They came out. “It's too early, I think,” Sally explained. “I met them last time after midnight.”
“Let's go to the other bars in this area,” Sam suggested. “We can come back here later.” They wandered from bar to bar till late into the night. Sally kept blowing the gum bubbles as big as balloons. They didn't see any of these people in the other bars.  They came to try once more at the first bar, but none of these people were inside. They stood on the pavement before the bar window deciding what to do next when suddenly someone shouted at them, “Gotcha. You can't escape this time.” Seven people, some young, some middle-aged, were approaching, five old “friends” among them.
Sam wanted to step forward, because he thought fighting was a man's business, but Lois held him back, whispering into his ear, “I'll handle it.”  She stepped forward, waiting for the new arrivals to speak first. They stopped before the foursome, with the tall guy a few steps ahead. “I can see, Miss, you have reinforcements this time,” he sneered. “So we can settle the old debt tonight.”  He cast a glance at the bubble before Sally's face. Sally felt secure this time since Lois was here. She had great confidence in her Big Sister.
“Do we owe you money?” Lois asked icily, sweeping her eyes across all seven faces, which wore no expression of any sort, as if they had put on masks or the skins of their faces were frozen by the icy tone of Lois.
“Not really, but the dark Miss hit our brethren the other night. It's a flesh and blood debt.”
“So? What do you want tonight?” asked Lois in the same marrow-freezing tone.
“If the Miss can break one of her arms, we are even,” the tall guy said in a similar cold voice, his eyes fixed on her face, belching with a dangerously threatening belligerent fire. Sally stopped producing the gum balloons from her mouth-factory and involuntarily put her arms behind her back.
“What if she won't?” Lois challenged, her arms crossed before her chest, tapping one of her feet on the ground as if to some silent music.
“We have to step in to help,” the tall man made a chopping gesture, squinting at his six comrades, who nodded their agreement.
“Very good. Please go ahead. We'll follow.” From Sally's experience last time, Lois knew what they would say and so she said it for them.
 
***
 
It was after midnight. The two parties stood in the bleak parking lot, facing each other at a short distance. All of a sudden, Sam pulled out his handgun, clenching it in both hands like in a movie, and shouted, “Don't move! Police!” The last word sounded like “Please!” No need to be so polite with the gun pointing at us, the tall guy thought. The next moment, a long whip was heard cracking. Sam's hands were hit by the thin end of the whip and the gun dropped to the ground with a resounding clatter. Lois glanced back with a warning gesture.
“You'd better step back and stand here watching, Sam,” Tricia advised him. “Lois can handle them.” Sam blushed a little, but no one saw it in the dark. He retrieved the gun, put it back into his holster, and stood silently with Tricia and Sally a few steps behind Lois. Tricia had a miniature camera with her and took pictures of everyone in the other group.
The whip came again, this time at Lois's chest. Lois waited until it got close enough. She raised her right hand and using the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, caught the thin end of the whip, which she twined twice around her hand. She pulled at the long whip. A big, stout man of about thirty held the whip at the other end. He was pulled forward three steps. Then he stood his ground tugging hard at the whip, which went taut between them. Lois sent her chi through the whip. The big guy felt a sudden jerk on his end of the whip so strong that he was jerked backward and could no longer hold the handle of the whip. He had to let it go. Lois pulled the released whip all the way to her and cast it down on the ground at her feet.  The big guy cursed, “Fuck you, bitch.”
At a gesture from the tall guy, they simultaneously drew out daggers. They formed a semicircle, pressing slowly in on Lois. She stepped right into their semicircle. Crouching and using her hands to hold onto the ground, supporting her body like an athlete on a pommel horse, she swept her feet out and around at the hands gripping the daggers. It was so unexpected that three of them shrank a step back. Two guys intended to change their angle of attack to stab at Lois's feet, but Lois was much too quick for them. Before they could make the change, Lois kicked the daggers out of their hands. The daggers flew into the air and fell with clanks on the ground almost four meters away. The last two guys barely had time to duck back. Lois finished the first round of fighting and stood up. She stared at the seven people calmly, crossing her arms before her. The two guys rushed to retrieve their daggers.
“Our Big Sister's already mastered so well the important principle in kungfu fighting,” commented Tricia. “Don't move when your adversaries don't make a move yet, but make a quicker move than they do when they start to attack.”
Now the tall guy made a sign, which only the members of the group could understand. All seven people lifted their daggers, pointing them at Lois. They didn't go forward. Then hissing noises were heard. They issued their chi through the daggers. Lois raised both her hands, covering all the seven men. Her chi was much stronger. When the gusts clashed, the seven men were all pushed a bit backwards. Lois still stood there though her upper torso was pitching a little backward.
Sam had never seen such fighting before. He was astounded and spellbound, standing there with eyes wide open and mouth ajar. The seven guys made a deep inhalation and a slow exhalation before their next move. They surrounded Lois and began their organized group assault.  Before their daggers could reach her, Lois leaped towards a guy facing her. She flipped her index finger at the side of the blade, sending the dagger to slash the air sideways. At that very moment she grasped the wrist of his right arm with the dagger still in the hand. She pulled him to her right side and added a push on his back with her left hand, making him sail through the air into the two guys attacking her back.  The two guys had to drop their daggers and outstretch their arms to receive their flying comrade.
Lois quickly approached the guy on her left and chopped him on the neck with the edge of her left hand, sending him sprawling on the ground with a painful moan. Then she leaped right and kicked sideways at the tall man’s stomach so hard that he was hauled like a sack of cotton through the air, though he was attempting to stab at her calf but missed by a hair's breadth since he was slower by half a second.  He made a somersault in the air and fell on the ground on his feet.  He gave a low whistle. All the guys adopted the first and best strategy: to escape, except the one lying on the ground.  He was in too much pain to get up. The guys had no time to carry him away with them. They knew they met their Waterloo tonight. The fight ended within five minutes.
Lois walked up to the guy on the ground. She touched the tip of her shoe lightly at a spot on the man's shoulder, which was a xue that stopped his pain. Tricia, Sally and Sam came close. The foursome stood over him.  This time Sam was wiser. He hung aside quietly, his arms crossed in front of him, letting Lois do the interrogation. And Sally resumed her production of balloons.
“You want me to get you to the police station, or just answer my questions here?” Lois stared coldly at him.
“If I answer all your questions, will you let me go?” He sat up now.
“It's a bargain,” Lois promised. “What's your name?”
“Shiaoshiao Pin.”  Lois was not sure if this was his real name.
“Any ID?”
“Forgot it at home.  You can search me.”
“Do you belong to any organization?”
“No, no. We are just friends.”
“Who did you learn kungfu from?”
“Master Craig Pu.”
“Where does he live?”
“In Queens.” Then he gave the address.
Lois asked a few more questions. Sally wrote down all the answers.  At a gesture from Lois, Sally tore a blank slip of paper from her notepad and gave the slip and a pen to the man. “Sign your name here,” she ordered, chewing her gum.  The man didn't say anything, just obeyed. Then he was let go. Sally put the slip into a plastic bag and picked up the long whip, entwining it round her waist. She could use it as a weapon later if necessary. No one could say that carrying a whip was illegal; besides, it was better than a pair of scissors.
 
***
 
It was almost three o'clock in the morning when Sam pulled his car into the three sisters' driveway. Lois invited Sam inside to eat something. They sat at the dining room table.  Mr. and Mrs. Lin were asleep upstairs and Alida was in a deep slumber in the family room downstairs.
“Do you like wonton, Sam?” Lois asked.
“Oh, yeah, I like wonton,” said Sam. I’d like anything you’d cook for me.
Lois went to the kitchen to cook wonton. Mrs. Lin always made wontons ready to cook, stored away in the freezer. Lois took frozen wontons out and put a pot filled with water on the stove, waiting for the water to boil. Then she dropped in wontons one by one and stirred them with a ladle. When all the wontons floated on top of the boiling water, they were ready to serve.
Sam, Tricia and Sally sat at the dining table and chatted. “It was really amazing to see Lois fighting seven people alone.” Sam sang his hearty praise and admiration of Lois.
“She can fight more if their kungfu is bad.” Sally sounded proud of her Big Sister. “Sometimes, it's who's faster than whom. Sometimes, it's who’s on a higher level than whom--or both.”
“She can invent some new moves right on the fighting spot, depending on the situation, which is very useful,” Tricia joined in, putting her crossed arms on the table. Her skin would look dazzlingly white in the sunshine, Sam noticed. Then he looked at Sally, her skin looking healthily dark, but she's too wild--the gum addict.
“I really need to learn kungfu,” Sam admitted.
“Why not?” Tricia asked, giving him the sweetest alluring smile ever displayed.
“No time, unless I am given a long leave of absence, which is practically impossible.”
“I can teach you little by little, better little than none,” Tricia offered. “You'll learn something eventually in the long run.”
“I'll consider it, I promise.” Sam didn't want to be ungrateful.
“Sally,” Lois called from the kitchen, “can you lend me a hand? Don't sit there like a Buddha in a temple.”
“You can have both my hands,” Sally replied and went into the kitchen, spitting the gum into the garbage pail.
A moment later, Lois and Sally came back, each holding two bowls, one in each hand, and set them down on the table. After eating, Lois gave Sam the plastic bag with the slip of paper in it. “Dust for fingerprints and check him on your system,” she said intimately.
Sam left and the three sisters went to their separate bedrooms.
 
***
 
Sam phoned the next day. “The guy has no record. We checked his prints. Only he gave us a phony name. His official name is Michael Dong.”  Tricia took down the name as she was receiving the call. After Sam hung up, she dialed Lois's cellular phone number and passed on the information. Lois was on her way to Master Craig Pu's place in Queens.  She found that Craig Pu's name was the fifth on her list, but no address on it.  Now that she got the address from the man, Shiaoshiao Pin or Michael Dong, or whatever his name was, she thought it was worth a trip to Queens.
Master Pu was seventy-three and retired. He had grown a salt-and-pepper beard, as long as half a foot. He was dressed in a mauve old-style Chinese gown resembling the official gown of a high-ranked courtier in the court of the Qin Dynasty, the last dynasty in Chinese history. He had a round red face, a sturdy build and a tall stature, looking like he could live till the end of the world. According to her father, he was a first-class master. His wife died two years ago. He had a son of forty-nine and a daughter of forty-five, both married with children of their own. The son and his family lived with the old master. The master was alone at home at that time, his son and daughter-in-law being away at work and their son at college.
Master Pu received Lois very politely and they talked in Mandarin. Lois gave a hasty look around the living room. All the furniture had a crimson lacquer surface; the central lacquer table was covered with a glass top with four lacquer chairs on each side, and a lacquer coffee table with a glass top on it, too, was before a lacquer settee. Some lacquer vases with golden flower designs on black backgrounds, multicolored figurines, scarlet cups and saucers, dark octagonal candy boxes inset on the exterior with glimmering specks of shell fragments, and other lacquer articles, were all displayed in a dark polished glass lacquer cabinet.
After the exchange of a few social words, Lois asked, “Did Shiaoshiao Pin or Michael Dong learn kungfu from you?” The old master seemed baffled for a moment, then said, “I never heard such names before.  In fact, I never teach anyone kungfu except my own children and grandchildren.”
“Do you know this man?” Lois produced a photo out of her purse and showed it to the old master. The old man looked closely at the picture, then said, “He's my neighbor, a few doors down the street.”
“Do you know anything about him, like where he learned kungfu?”
“No. We don't even say hello to each other, though he’s lived here for two years now. You know young people nowadays… no, I mean boys. They know nothing about etiquette.” The old man sighed regretfully as if it were his fault.
“Please call me if you come to know anything about him.” Lois handed him her name card with both her hands, a gesture of reverence to the old master.  Then she took her leave.
She went to the nearest police station in Queens and showed her ID, asking to have a look at the mug shots. She checked all seven photos with the pictures in the book. Her expectation was downcast. Either they really didn't do anything illegal, or the police hadn’t caught them when they did something wrong. The latter seemed more possible since they would not be bold enough to fight in public.
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