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楼主: 海外逸士

Kungfu Masters

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 楼主| 发表于 1/26/2017 10:01:01 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 10

At dinnertime, the three sisters traded the information they had got during the day. Tricia began first, “Today, I helped Sam with the investigation for one of his cases. I was in Morristown and happened to see someone in a car looking very much like Frank coming from the opposite direction. When I wanted to have a second look, he had already passed me. So I was not quite sure about it.” She put some food into her mouth and chewed it slowly.
“Did he drive his own car?” Lois asked without looking up. She was peeling the shell of a shrimp.
“No, it was another car, a new Buick. So I doubt he could afford such an expensive car,” Tricia replied, having swallowed the morsel.
“He must be alive,” Lois surmised. “There might be some reason for his disappearance.” She pushed the shrimp into her nicely shaped small mouth with the tips of her chopsticks. The color of her lips was naturally so red that she didn't need to apply a red lipstick. It sufficed to look like she had already put on a ruddy color. So she never used any color on her lips. The grotesque blue, green, purple or black lips would look like a vampire's, she thought in disgust. They were only fit for Halloween night.
“Why didn't he go home or contact his parents if he can still breathe?” Sally put forth the question. She already finished two pork chops, quite a few shrimp and a plateful of vegetables. So her question of “to eat or not to eat” was already solved. It was “to eat”.
“That's what we must find out,” Tricia remarked. She was having another bowl of vegetable soup now. Vegetables and fruits are good for skin texture, the doctors said. Since Sally didn't have any useful information to give, it was Lois's turn. She got the shrimp down her food pipe now.
Lois described everything in particular about Master Craig Pu and his family. After the narration, she turned to Alida. “Did you notice if the stranger had a beard?”
“Definitely not. He didn't seem so old,” Alida replied.
She was assigned a plateful and a bowlful of food, enough to feed a horse. “You need nourishment for your growth,” Mrs. Lin said.
“Master Pu said he never taught anyone kungfu outside his family,” Lois quoted, lifting her chopsticks to dip them into a dish of spinach.
“Most likely it was Richard Chang who was the stranger,” Sally passed her judgment. She finished her vegetables and was searching on the table for more edibles.
“Don't be so sure when you have no evidence,” Tricia warned. “The word 'rash' should never be in our professional dictionary.” Tricia had enough and laid down her chopsticks. She wanted to keep her figure slim and attractive, never overfeeding herself.
“Speaking of Master Chang, there's something very funny about him,” Lois blurted out, also putting down her chopsticks and empty bowl.
“What is it?” Sally was always very curious, still fixing her eyes on the dish of bamboo shoots.
“He never says pants or trousers. Whenever he refers to them, he uses nether garments. And for underwear, he uses innermost nether garments.” Everyone at the table couldn't help chortling. “Anyway, he's a responsible master and an upright person.”
“Even if he killed Uncle Charles?” Sally asked dubiously, raising her eyes to Lois, temporarily forgetting the bamboo shoots, her chopsticks still poised in midair teeming with the aroma of the food on the table.
“As we can conclude by now, if he was the stranger, he didn't kill Uncle Charles. Someone else did.”  Lois had good feelings towards Master Chang now.
“At least, he was the cause of Uncle's death,” Sally protested. “Uhu!” she clammed shut when she saw tears trickling down Alida's cheeks.  The sisters were silent. Louise hugged Alida, wiped her cheeks with a tissue, and dragged her into the kitchen.
 
***
 
“Lioness Team. Lois speaking.” Since a reporter had given them the nickname in the newspaper for a difficult case they had cracked a few years before, no one remembered their official name anymore, which was “Lois, Tricia & Sally Private Investigation”. Now even they themselves used the nickname instead.
“Hello, this is Mrs. Pamela White,” an old lady spoke at the other end.
“How can I help you, Mrs. White?” Lois inquired politely.
“My dog's been missing for twenty-four hours already. I am old and he is my only companion and helper. I don't know to whom I can turn to for help. Since you have such a great reputation, I think your office can help me.”
“I'm sorry, Mrs. White.” Lois wanted desperately to keep her voice sounding normal. “Our business really doesn't include finding missing pets.”
“I know. I know.” The old lady sounded pathetically morose. “I don't know how I can survive if he isn't there to keep me company and help me. Almost every other morning he goes out with a basket held in his mouth to Foodtown to get food and other necessities for me. People there know him. They will take the note I put into his basket and put all the items I need into it. They'll take the money I left in the basket and put in the change. He will bring everything back home to me.”
“How old are you, Mrs. White, if I may ask?” Lois was a girl with a golden heart, easy to sympathize with pitiful people; therefore, often bending her principles a little flexibly.
“Eighty-seven.” Her voice sounded that old and nearly in tears.
“Although I won't take this as a case, I think I can help. Will you give me your phone number and address?” Lois picked up a pen and a yellow sticker off her desk, but there was no more ink in the pen. “Will you hold for a moment, please?  I have to go find a pen.”  She laid down the receiver, went to Tricia's desk, and pulled open the middle drawer, looking for a pen.  However, the first thing that struck her eyes was a piece of paper with Sam's name written all over it. Lois was really distracted, but soon she gathered herself and closed the drawer after picking up a pen. She returned to her desk and wrote down the phone number and address of the old lady.
She called a sergeant she knew in the Highland Park police station and asked him to notify all the patrol cars to look for a golden retriever along their patrol routes. Then she called her mother. “Hi, Mom,” she said after Louise picked up the phone.
“Hi, Lois, what's up?” her mother said with concern.
“I need your help,” she confided, tapping her pen on the yellow sticker, making ink marks everywhere the ballpoint fell on it.
“Is everything okay with you?” The concern developed into anxiety.
“I'm fine, but a very old lady needs help.” She related the event to her mother and gave her the lady's phone number and address, which was luckily still discernible despite the ink marks all over.
Louise phoned the lady first, telling her that she was the mother of the girl she had called and that she would come over to help. Fifteen minutes later, Louise arrived at the address. It was an apartment building with three stories, but no elevator, and the old lady lived on the second floor. Louise rang the doorbell and after a long while the door was opened for her. Louise noticed that the old woman walked very slowly with the aid of a walking stick.
“My daughter's looking for your dog for you, but we don't know if we can find it or not, or how soon. Meanwhile, I'll help do the shopping for you.” The old woman thanked her profusely. So Louise became a temporary volunteer social worker.
 
***
 
A young policeman, who just came on duty, said to the sergeant after he was told the situation, “Yesterday when I was patrolling at night, I heard a dog barking somewhere. I'll check it tonight, but how can we be sure it's the missing dog? We cannot search people's houses without a warrant.”
“Don't worry,” the sergeant said. “Get the address of the house under suspicion for me.”
The young policeman talked on the police communications system to the sergeant. “I got the address. Will you write it down?”
The sergeant took down the address and called Lois at home to pass on the information.  Lois thanked him.
The three sisters were in a meeting. They wanted to find a way to make sure it was the missing dog. It was not unusual for dogs to bark at night. After a long discussion, they couldn't find any excuse to get into the person's basement. The only way was to sneak into it. “I'll go,” Sally offered. She had always liked the game of hide-and-seek since she was a child. Now she liked jobs that involved breaking and entering. She thought it was a lot of fun, challenging and adventurous.
“Be careful,” Lois warned. “If you are caught, it will ruin our good name.”
Sally walked there, dressed in a pair of comfortable black stretch leggings, black sneakers, and a black turtleneck. Her mouth was moving with the chewing of her gum. She pried open the low window of the basement with a special tool and peeked inside. She slipped in and jumped onto the hard cement floor, directed by her small pen-like flashlight. The dog was barking at her from somewhere. She swept the beam of the flashlight across the room and saw a golden retriever on a leash attached to a pillar. She approached the dog, putting her index finger to her lips, “Shhh. Shhhhhh… “ But the dog had not been trained for the meaning of “shhh.” The dog refused her approach, baring his teeth. Suddenly, she heard the door handle turning. She turned off the flashlight and slipped behind the furnace. Footsteps were heard echoing off the stairs. The bulb flicked on and a man's voice said, “Don't bark, good boy. Here's some food for you.” A plate touched the cement. Then footsteps receded upstairs. The light was still on. Sally tiptoed furtively up to the dog from behind and gently released the leash from the collar then quickly grabbed up the dog after checking its collar. The dog was engrossed in eating now and struggled and whined when she picked it up. Sally noticed a back door in the basement.  As she was about to dash for the door, a man in his late twenties appeared on the stairs.
“Who are you?” he asked Sally.
“It doesn't matter who I am,” Sally said calmly. “I came to take my dog back.”
“Put down the dog and leave, or I'll call police,” the man threatened.
“You kidnapped my dog. Go ahead and call the police and we'll see what they have to say about it.”
The man thought it over. He appeared nervous. “No one's calling the police, okay? You can leave with the dog.  Just forget all about this.”
Sally knew that trespassing and intruding were illegal; so she agreed to the condition and left through the back door, turning her head to spit out the gum at the man who had stepped down the stairs and was now standing a few paces away with his mouth half open. To his surprise, the gum flew into his mouth, but didn't hurt him. He swallowed it in his stunned bewilderment without knowing what it was.
 
***
 
Sally took the dog to the old woman the next morning. When the old woman opened the door, the dog was so excited to see his mistress again that he jumped up on her, almost knocking her over; Sally had to hold her steady. The woman thanked Sally over and over again. If it hadn’t been a repeated expression of gratitude, it would have sounded like nagging.
Two days later, when Sally was in the office, the old woman called again, “You've got to help me, Miss--”
“Sally.  Is the dog missing again?”  She rolled the wad of gum under her tongue.
“No.  He's okay, but the money I put in the basket's missing.”
“Will you explain, please?”
“I sent the dog shopping as usual,” the woman said in a quavering voice. “When he reached the supermarket, people there couldn't find the money in the basket. They gave me all the things on credit, though.”
“I'll come tomorrow before the dog goes shopping.” Sally made her soothing promise.
The next day Sally arrived at ten and followed the dog at a safe distance, blowing bubbles all the way along. When the dog got near the house of the man who had kidnapped him, Sally saw the man crouching on the pavement in front of his house with something held out in his hand. Then he noticed Sally and withdrew his hand. Something dawned on Sally.
The day after, the dog went shopping again. The man crouched on the same spot with food in his outstretched hand.  He lured the dog near. When the dog put down the basket to eat the food out of his hand, he reached his other hand into the basket and grabbed the money from it. The man stood up and put the money into his pocket. Just at that time, someone jumped down from a tree nearby. The man looked up. It was the girl who claimed to be the owner of the dog, with a portable camcorder in her hand.  He knew he was trapped.
“Do you want to go to police?” Sally asked.
“I know I did wrong. Let me go and I'll never do it again. I vow it,” the man implored in frustration, handing Sally the money he had taken from the basket.
“I have the evidence here.” Sally held up the camcorder in one hand, took the money with the other, then put it back into the basket. “Next time you want to do anything, just think twice and ask yourself if anyone does it to you, how you'd feel.”
Sally stood there, seemingly with no intention of going away. The man looked puzzled, his inquiring eyes fixed on Sally. “Give me back the money you took last time.”
“I'll be right back.” He rushed into the house and came out in a moment with the money. The dog had gone with the basket in his mouth. Sally took the money and spat the gum onto the tip of the man's nose, then walked away. The man took down the gum and looked at it. Now he knew what he had swallowed the other night. He was not sure if he should be happy or nauseous.
 
***
 
“It took me six hours of hiding in the tree to catch him red-handed.” Sally told the story at dinnertime. Everyone was amused.
“So you got up at four in the morning?” Tricia doubted. Sally was never known as an early bird.
“I have to go hiding when it's still dark,” confessed Sally.
“I had a little adventure in the bank today,” Tricia provided.
“Will you tell the story from the beginning, Cousin Tricia?” said Alida. “Begin with 'Once upon a time', please.”
“Okay, Alida, as you wish.” Tricia played along to please the girl. “At a time of yore, there was a little girl called Alida.”  She combed a tress of her hair behind her ear with her fingers.
“Tricia,” Alida corrected, “it's your story, not mine.”
Tricia went to the bank at lunch break.  There were a few people there already and she got into the line. A woman and a boy of about five stood before her. The boy turned around to look at her, showing a bump on his forehead. “Where did you get the bump?” Tricia asked the boy smilingly.
“He tripped on the way here, fell on his stomach and knocked his forehead on the pavement,” the woman replied for the boy, who only blinked his big brown eyes at Tricia.
“Let me get the bump off.” Tricia laid her right palm on the bump and oozed out her chi. A few minutes later, she removed her hand. The bump was gone, only a red and blue spot was there. Suddenly, a man with a helmet on his head dashed in.
“Don't move,” he bellowed. He had a gun clutched in both hands. Tricia turned around, facing him a few feet away, because she was the last one in the line. As the other customers lay prone on the floor, Tricia seized the opportunity and acted as quick as lightning. The man was at a suitable distance within her reach. She bent backward at her knees, her upper torso almost parallel to the floor, and supporting her weight on her right leg, she kicked up her left foot at the man's hands. The man pulled the trigger, but the bullet went way over Tricia's head into the opposite wall.  He didn't have a second chance. The gun was kicked out of his hands, soaring to hit the ceiling.  The man was about to turn and run when Tricia hit him with her chi from the index finger of her right hand on a spot of his body called Stop-Motion Xue that made him unable to stir a muscle. “It's okay now,” Tricia shouted. The other customers got on their feet and business went on. A few minutes later, the police arrived and took the man away to the police station together with the gun lying on the floor. Tricia had offset his stop-motion effect by slapping him on the shoulder when the police came in.
“You should have been there, Sally. You missed all the excitement.” Tricia liked to tease Sally whenever there was a chance.
“I got the excitement secondhand from your narration. That's enough for me,” Sally replied.
 
***
 
Lois went regularly to the classes at Master Chang's place. Mrs. Chang was very fond of her; so after class Lois stayed behind a little longer to talk with Mrs. Chang, who often treated her with homemade snacks and sometimes even forced Lois to stay for dinner. The furniture in the living room was very simple: a set of sofas along two adjoining walls, a 30” TV on the opposite corner, some chairs taking up the rest of the space against other walls and a low round wooden table before the vinyl sofas, which were a chestnut color and on which they now sat.
“I wish I had a daughter like you,” Mrs. Chang said to Lois. “I really envy your mother.” Lois was touched by her earnestness and sincerity, so she offered, “You can look upon me as your Dry Daughter, like in Chinese tradition, and I'll call you Dry Mother, though my biological mother never fed me with her own milk, but hired a wet nurse for me.”
“Who's whose Dry Mother?” Master Chang had just came into the house from the backyard after he dismissed the other pupils.
“Lois is my Dry Daughter now,” Mrs. Chang informed exultantly. “So you are her Dry Father.”
“Father is always dry,” Mr. Chang said dryly. “Lois, since you are my Dry Daughter now,” Mr. Chang continued, “we'll have an honest talk.” He sank on the sofa beside his wife.
“Okay, Dry Father,” Lois said demurely. “Go on, please.”
“I can feel that you know much more about kungfu than you have demonstrated so far. You should belong to a much higher level than the class level I'm teaching. So I am conjecturing you come to my classes with a purpose of some sort. What is it? Can you tell me candidly?” Both Mr. and Mrs. Chang waited expectantly. Mrs. Chang froze her gaze on Lois's face nervously.
Lois was in a dilemma now. Through months of acquaintance, Lois found that the old couple were good, honest people, though Mr. Chang was the cause of her Uncle Charles's death, if not the murderer. She should have hated him, but she felt that she couldn't harbor a grudge against him, because she knew that Mr. Chang had only made an unintentional mistake at the wrong time in the wrong place. Even if he had not encountered Uncle Charles, someone else would have killed him as well. Probably they had waited for this chance or even used Mr. Chang as a cover. But why? What was the motive?  She'd find out yet.
If she wouldn't talk to Mr. Chang frankly, what would the result be? She guessed that she could no longer come. Her purpose to come here was to get some clue, any clue. If she confessed to him, she might have his cooperation and finally learn some clue. After a few minutes of consideration, she made up her mind.
“Okay. I'll tell you everything since you are so nice to me.” After a pause, Lois went on, “Charles is my uncle, actually my grandfather's disciple. I'm investigating his death. His daughter was watching behind the kitchen window when a stranger came to challenge Charles for a fight and he was killed in the second round. We decided that no one could have killed Charles in the second round with kungfu strokes, and so the stranger could not be the killer. In my investigation, I plan to approach all the known masters to find out who the stranger is, and I may get some clue from him as to who the real killer is and why.”
Mrs. Chang was relieved after hearing Lois's confession. She had a firm belief that a girl as nice as Lois would not come to do them any harm. She had not the slightest suspicion of her husband's involvement. So she went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Mr. Chang waited till his wife retired to the kitchen, then he asked, “Are you sure that the stranger was a master, not just someone who knew something about kungfu?” He seemed a bit uneasy, not knowing where to put his hands.
“I'm pretty sure, because my uncle was a first-class master.” It was her turn to freeze her stare on the face of Master Chang to see his reaction.
“Did you find out who the stranger is?” His voice sounded a little unnatural. He clasped his hands in his lap, pressing his back tightly against the sofa as if he hoped to dissolve into it.
“I have my suspicions, but no proof,” Lois informed him truthfully.
Mr. Chang seemed relieved. “What's the real cause of your uncle's death, if I may ask?” He was actually curious to know.
“The autopsy showed that he had a poisonous needle in his head.”
“I--I mean--the stranger--it could not come from the stranger, I guess?” He was flabbergasted at the unexpected, shocking news.
“No, it came from behind.” Lois did not want to cause uneasiness in the master, although she could almost be certain that Mr. Chang was very probably the stranger.
Now Mr. Chang got into the dilemma of whether or not he should confess to Lois. He had suspected David ever since the murder had happened. If he told Lois all about David, it might be a clue, but then he must confess that he was the stranger and very likely, she would bear him ill feelings. He liked the girl. He did not want her to cherish a feeling of enmity towards him. “I'll talk to David the next time he comes in,” he decided.
 楼主| 发表于 2/2/2017 10:02:43 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 11


“Class dismissed for today,” Master Chang declared. “Will you come with me, David?”
Lois went into the house to talk with Mrs. Chang as usual. David followed the master to the den. Mr. Chang sat down cross-legged in the accustomed spot on the carpeted floor and motioned for David to sit down facing him.
“How did you know where Charles Pan lived?”
“Who--who's--Charles Pan?” David stammered a little nervously.
“You offered me all the information about him. You gave me his address on a piece of paper, which I still have in my possession. What was your purpose in doing so?”  Mr. Chang glared at him.
David gave no answer and a moment later, he fell supinely on the carpet with his eyes closed. Mr. Chang moved forward in his cross-legged sitting posture.  He felt David's pulse. None. He put his hand under David's nose. No breath. David was dead. He checked his body and stood up, suddenly noticing that Lois was in the doorway.
Lois suspected something when she saw David following Mr. Chang into the den. She invented an excuse with Mrs. Chang and came to the den a few minutes later.
“Someone hit his Death Xue six hours ago,” Mr. Chang said to no one in particular. He felt numb in the brain. There are quite a few Death Xues on different parts of the human body. Generally, when a Death Xue is hit, the person will die immediately, but many masters have a special skill of poking at the Death Xue, and the delayed death will happen a few hours later. Exactly how long the death will take depends on how much strength the killer-master uses.
Lois walked to the body and examined it, too. The master was right.  She lost a clue, maybe a very useful clue, or he wouldn't be dead. Mr. Chang collected himself and said to Lois, “I'll call the police. When they come, they'll probably put me under arrest because they think I am a suspect.  He died right before my eyes.  Please promise to look after my wife, will you?” He sounded a little depressed and resigned, his head sinking into his hands with his elbows propped on his knees.
“That's what I should do since she is now my Dry Mother, but don't worry. The police have nothing against you. There's no trace of murder on his body. Since the police don't know such things about kungfu, they can never find the cause of death like we did. They won't believe it even if we tell them about it.  I'll call a detective friend of mine and let him handle the case.” She went to the living room to use the phone. Mrs. Chang already knew the incident and sat there white-faced, very nervous and trembling all over. Lois called Sam and gave him the address.
Mr. Chang came into the living room, too. The three of them sat there, speechless, waiting for the police to arrive.
“I think David knew some master who did something wrong or even illegal,” Mr. Chang observed at last. “The master was afraid that David would reveal it either of his own free will or by force. So he had to eliminate the living evidence before it was too late.”
“That's obvious,” Lois agreed, “but we need yet to find out which master and why.”
Sam, Pedro and the local police arrived at the same time. The detectives scrutinized David, but could find nothing wrong. David looked like he was in as profound a slumber as a log. Charles had already arranged the body in a sleeping position before police came. The policemen thought that the young man had a severe heart attack. So they just sent for an ambulance to carry the body away and took statements from Mr. Chang and Lois as witnesses. When the local police left, Sam and Pedro were invited to stay behind and Lois filled them in on this event and suggested that these two cases might be related.
When Sam and Pedro left, Lois was still there to console Mrs. Chang. After the shock was over, she felt better and returned to the kitchen to continue her preparation for dinner. Mr. Chang said to Lois, “Now that David is dead, as well as the clue with him, I think you need not come to classes anymore, though you are always welcome to visit us.” Lois consented to the suggestion. While eating, Lois told Mrs. Chang that she would be very busy and could not come to the classes anymore, but promised to visit her as often as possible. When Lois took her leave, Mrs. Chang shed a few sentimental tears, holding Lois's hand lingeringly as if Lois were going to another planet on a star voyage and would never return.
***
“Both death cases involve some master or masters,” Lois stated at breakfast when every household member was sitting at the dining room table. They were having fried spring rolls, home-style, and sweetened soybean milk.
“Have you visited all the masters on the list I gave you?” her father asked, sipping some milk.
“Not yet, but I will soon.”  Lois took a bite on a spring roll.
“Are you absolutely sure that Richard Chang is the stranger?” Tricia queried.
“With every probability, though he never confessed to it, but it's not important now. We want to find the real killer, or the one behind all this. Besides, he is my Dry Father now. I don't want to embarrass him by asking him directly,” Lois replied after she washed down the spring roll with the soybean milk.
“As I said before,” her father broke in, “he never killed anyone. We must respect him as a master. All of you can learn something from him.  He has some special kungfu that I don't.”
“Is he the one that killed my dad?” Alida asked suddenly, her chopsticks resting on a spring roll.
“No,” Lois replied hastily. “I'll find the one who did.” She did not want Alida to hold an abhorrent feeling against the wrong person. She wanted Alida to grow up in the radiant sunshine of love, not in the whipping storm of animosity. She wanted Alida to hold in her tender, young heart only the sublime and sacred emotions, not the horrible and cruel reminiscence. Love makes one live happily and animosity miserably. Only open-mindedness and forgiveness can turn animosity into love, hence misery into happiness.  Lois recalled a case she had solved a year earlier.
A girl of sixteen was found murdered in the school parking lot. The single mother asked Lois to find the murderer. The case was very simple. Lois found a clue in the victim's diary and nailed the killer, who was a boy of the same age in one of the victim's classes. The boy was, of course, prosecuted. The mother demanded to talk to the boy in jail, which was granted.
“Why did you kill my daughter?” the mother asked exasperatedly.
Silence.
“Wasn’t she a nice girl?”
“Yes, she was nice.” The boy's voice was barely audible.
“Then why did you kill her?”
“'Cause I love her.”  This was a surprise answer, beyond the mother's imagination.
“You love her, yet you killed her?” She was all astonishment and confusion.
“She didn't love me. She loved another boy.”
“What do you know about love? I mean, true love, not lust?”
Silence.
“Lust is only for sex while love is more than sex, above sex, beyond sex. That is, above and beyond the physical into the spiritual,” the mother explained. “Love is for love. Love is not to kill. If you truly love her, you must show your love, not your killing. Only true love can win true love. If you showed enough love, patient love, subtle love, caring love, unselfish love, deep from the bottom of your heart, she would feel it; she would feel it eventually as time drew on. If your love had all the merits, truer and deeper than that of the other boy, then she would feel it and compare it and turn to you someday. If your love is not as true or as deep as that of the other boy, you are a born loser, a doomed loser. You should hate yourself, not my daughter. Now you ruined everything for her and for yourself.”  She saw the boy's face stained with tears, remorseful tears.
At a press conference, the mother told the media, “I'm mourning for my daughter. I didn't love her enough during her short sixteen years. Now she's gone. Even if he were sentenced to death, it would not bring her back to me. So I demand that he should be sentenced to be my son to replace my daughter.”
“Suppose you should hate him?” a reporter asked.
“It's not a question of what I should.  The boy needs love more than hatred.”
“Do you mean he can escape punishment?” another reporter asked.
“He needs love more than punishment, if he truly repents for what he did. As a mother, I love all children, both mine and others. If my love will make him a better man, it's worth it.”
“What about justice?” a lady reporter asked.
“Justice is not revenge. The purpose of putting a criminal behind bars is to prevent him from doing more harm to the innocent and a death sentence is for the same purpose, only for those who never repent. If a criminal can truly repent, he deserves a welcome back to the community because no further harm will come from him.”
As a result of negotiations, the boy's parents gave him up to the single mother. The boy's father said, “ I can rest assured that my son will benefit more from a mother with such intense love. If my wife and I had loved him as much, he would never have committed the crime.”
***
May I speak to Miss Lin?”
“Which Miss Lin?”
“Miss Lois Lin.”
“Speaking.”
“Hello, Miss Lois, this is Walter Li.”
“Hi, Mr. Li, how can I help you?”
“My son is dead.” A sob came from the line.
“Who is your son? I mean, what's his name? Do I know him?” Lois wanted her voice to sound compassionate, albeit really curious.
“David Li.”
Lois was flabbergasted. The David in Master Chang's classes? No such coincidence.  Lois pulled herself together and said, “I'll come over in ten minutes.” She hung up. So the familiar figure she had seen the other day was David Li.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Li were at home with tear-streaked faces when Lois got to their house.  Mrs. Li was so overwhelmed by the death of her son that she could not find her tongue even to greet the new arrival. The front of her Golden Delicious apple-green silk blouse was stained wet with maternal tears, a Kleenex box on her lap.
“The police called me,” said Mr. Li after he dried his face with a crumpled tissue and uttered some incoherent words of etiquette. “They found our address from the driver's license David carried in his wallet. We drove to the morgue and examined his body. He had been struck on a Death Xue. I told the policeman who accompanied me, but he didn't believe it because the autopsy resulted in nothing.”
Lois expressed her hearty condolences and comforted the bereaved parents.
“The police told me that David was found dead in another master's house where he had been learning kungfu,” Mr. Li continued. “They didn't tell me anything about it. I'll go to that master, Richard Chang--I presume that's his name--and ask him why he killed my son.”
“The Death Xue on your son was poked six hours before his delayed death. So Master Chang didn’t do that to him.  I was there when he died.”
Mr. Li said nothing.
“I'll investigate your son's death,” Lois offered.  “It might be related to my uncle's death.”
“Tell me what you know, Miss Lois.”
“I will when I can prove it,” Lois promised.
***
“Tricia, can you call Sam to pass on the information?” Lois asked. “I'm kind of busy right now.”
“All right, whatever you say, Big Sister,” Tricia said cheerfully, hooking a stray tress of her sunstreaked, corn-colored hair behind her right ear and picking up the phone.
The three sisters were in their office. They were making plans for their next move. Tricia would continue to work on Frank’s case. Sally would help Lois dig up something about David Li. Lois would go to see the rest of the masters on her list.  There were five more she didn't pay her homage to yet.
It was not difficult for Lois to find all the missing addresses on her list. She began to visit the masters one after another in the order of distance from near to far.
The next master was a former post-office clerk, eighty-five now, enjoying his peaceful retired life. Lois crossed out his name from her suspect list.
Another master, Erik Hsu, was sixty-one, the owner of a big computer company and also the president of an organization called Hunter Corps. He received Lois in the study of his grand mansion on a hill outside  Pattenburg, New Jersey. The immense gate at the foot of the hill, literally a mound, had a small gatehouse inside. Lois was allowed to drive in only after the guard checked on the phone that she really had an appointment with the master. Lois drove on a broad winding driveway uphill between tall trees, shrubs and flowerbeds. She stopped in front of the mansion under an archway. Opposite the entrance to the mansion there was a fountain with a statue of a mermaid amid a vast circular flowerbed. On one side of the mansion was a big, well-groomed golf course and on the other side, grottoes with a pavilion at the top, a renovation and an imitation of some old-time Chinese gardens. An Olympic-size swimming pool was in the back, but seldom used. Lois was shown to the study. The study was bigger than the living room and dining room in her house. A mahogany desk was stationed almost in the center of the room with a high-backed crimson velvet-upholstered swivel chair behind it and two velvet armchairs of the same color in front of it. Along a wall were a row of bookcases towering to the ceiling, completely filled with hardcovers and expensive leather-bound books, the spines embossed with gold lettering; the bottom shelf was arrayed with Chinese thread-bound books of rare editions printed in the Sung Dynasty and Ming Dynasty. The large stuffed head of an antelope was fixed in the middle of the opposite wall, below which stood a glass showcase filled with ivory-handled pistols, weirdly adorned arrows and bows, battered rifles and muskets and other precious treasures of such sort: a bizarre collection of all kinds of weapons of all times.
This man is sure for the killing, Lois thought. If not killing the human, at least the cousins to the human. Yes, all animals are cousins of mankind, some close, others distant.
Mr. Hsu stood up to shake hands with Lois. He was of medium height, burly with a potbelly, which made him look as if he was at least eight months pregnant. When he spoke, his hands always moved in front of him like the pincers of a lobster. He wore a pale blue Chinese-style long-sleeved satin upper-garment--another type of clothes worn by old kungfu people--buttoned up to the collar, which was soft, not folded, one inch high with a pocket on the upper left side with a curved opening to the middle from which a gold watch chain snaked up into the second buttonhole.
“I'm Lois Lin, a reporter from the Central Jersey Times,” Lois fibbed as she was seated in one of the armchairs facing Mr. Hsu across the huge desk. “My latest article is one concerning notable people in this area, which, of course, includes you.” Mr. Hsu said nothing and just nodded in acknowledgment.
“Can you tell me something about yourself, Mr. Hsu?” She held a notepad and a pen in her hands.
“It's a long story. Perhaps you'd better be more specific.” His face was expressionless.
“For instance, how did you reach the position where you are now?” Lois ventured a question.
“I'm sorry, but I don't exactly like to talk about my past,” Mr. Hsu answered evasively, his face dark like cloudy weather. He sank lower in his high-backed chair.
“I can see you like hunting.” Lois tried another topic, hoping to entice something more interesting from him. He must have a vast volume of past stories stored in that big belly of his.
“Very much. I'm often thrilled after hitting a moving target.  I'm really good at it,” he bragged.
“I see that you are not a churchman, or a Buddhist, or a humanist.”
“I'm an ecologist, to wipe out some excessive life forms that will mar the ecological chains. This is an act of great humanity.” He virtually smiled in rapture.
“Do you use poison on your bullets or arrows?” Lois probed.
“Sometimes when I come across a poisonous snake. As the Chinese saying goes: ‘Use poison against poison.’” He cocked his head a little in arrogance. Half an hour later, Lois bade her fruitful farewell and left the grand mansion behind.
***
“He's sure high on my suspect list for two facts.” Lois told her sisters at dinner about her interview with Mr. Hsu. “First, he didn't care about quenching the flame of life. On the contrary, he even boasted about it.  Second, he admitted that he had poisonous weapons in his possession.”
“I heard that he was not nice to his employees,” Mrs. Lin interjected. “He has a fiery temper.”
“Could he maintain some kind of hostility against Uncle Charles?” Lois asked.
“They didn't even know each other,” Mrs. Lin observed. “Charles made friends outside the kungfu circle. He took pains to skulk any social intercourse in the kungfu world.”
“It may be a coincidence,” Sally put in. “I checked David Li's background today and found that he worked in the computer company that bad-tempered old guy owns. Did the owner have anything to do with David's death?”
“I'm going to find out,” Lois said. “And you'll dig deeper, Sally, till the coffin's revealed, if there is a coffin and we will find out what's in it.”
“A dead body, or even a skeleton,” said Sally.
“Not necessarily. Some will use coffins to smuggle guns or drugs,” retorted Tricia.

 楼主| 发表于 2/5/2017 10:38:55 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 12

With the advent of Mr. Zephyr, it's high time to eat crabs. Mrs. Lin bought a dozen fresh water crabs, supposedly air-transported here from China. Crabs from the Yangzheng Lake in Southeast China tasted a bit different from those caught in the salty seas or in the other parts of China. The meat was more luscious, even a little sweet. The crabs were allowed to enjoy their freedom and swim in the sink half-full of cold water before their last moment came. Mrs. Lin put a wok with water a half an inch deep in the bottom on the stove fire. Then she put in a stainless steel rack, covering the wok with a lid. She used a long-handle brush to scrub off the dirt left on the crabs. After the final bath, the crabs were hoisted one by one with a pair of long tongs and dunked into the wok on the rack and covered up. As the crabs were being steamed, Mrs. Lin took a very fresh piece of ginger, cut it into bits smaller than the ground meat, and dipped them into a half-full bowl of brown vinegar bought from a Chinese food store.
“You can't use white apple vinegar to go with the crab meat,” she would say. “In the world-renowned novel Red Chamber Dream, the Jia family ate crabs only with minced ginger in brown vinegar, no scallion, no sesame oil, nothing more. That's the Chinese traditional standard way to eat crabs in any decent families.”
It was Sunday evening. Everyone was at home, waiting at the dining table ready for the crabs to be served. Mrs. Lin came from the kitchen, carrying a platter with six crabs on it, one for each person.
“I kept the other six warm in the wok,” said she. “Whoever finishes this one can get another.” She placed the platter in the middle of the table and took her seat at one end. This was an oblong table, generally seating six people. The old couple sat at either end while the young people on the sides. Alida chose a small one. “I don't care much for crabs. It's too much trouble to eat it.”
“You are not like your father. Your father liked crabs,” said Tricia.
“So that's why she was said to be picked up from a dumpster by Uncle Charles somewhere near their old house,” said Sally solemnly, struggling with the lid of the crab. The shell was too hot to handle.
“Is that true, Auntie Louise?” Alida seemed in tears, putting down the crab on the plate before her.
“Never mind what she said,” Louise assuaged her. “Chinese people often tease children like this.”
“She's not really Chinese. She's one hundred percent American.” Alida pouted, as if deeply offended.
“Even I can't determine what percentage of American culture and what percentage of Chinese culture is in her,” quipped Louise. “She's an odd mix.”
“See, Auntie Louise said you are an odd mix.” Alida began to smile, casting a sideways look at Sally, who sat right beside her. “Since you are lying, your nose will grow longer than Pinocchio's.”
Sally touched her nose with her right hand and bent her twisted long neck a little down toward Alida, saying, “See, my nose's not growing, so I'm not lying.” Alida just thrust her tongue out at her.
 
***
 
“My husband died in an accident three months ago,” the widowed wife told Lois when she visited yet another master in his Philadelphia house. “He was a salesman, often traveling all over the country.” Fresh tears emerged in the eyes of the wife. Lois murmured something like “I'm sorry” and soon left.  She crossed out the name on her list.
The next master, Mr. Chen, was living in Brooklyn, New York.  As soon as Lois set her eyes on him, she mentally ruled out his name on her list. The master had already been paralyzed for a year and a half from exercising chi that had gone a wrong way and clogged somewhere in a xue; the outcome was the paralysis. If another master could infuse his chi into the system of the paralyzed master and help him to break through the jammed xue, the paralysis could be healed, but he didn't have such a friend to help him. Lois had a compassion for this master and promised to ask her father to assist him.
 
***
 
The residence of the last master on her list yet to visit was a magnificent mansion in Long Island. It was Mr. Zi, a piously religious person.  He often went to a Chinese church and to a Buddhist temple as well. He was also a vegetarian, declaring that he never even killed an ant. How about mosquitoes? He didn't comment. There were some old Chinese stories about people who were so golden-hearted as to let themselves feed the mosquitoes so that the mosquitoes wouldn't bite others.
When Lois reached the colossal wrought-iron gate with gilt relief, a voice came from a loudspeaker on the wall,  “What can I do for you, Miss?”
“I have an appointment with Mr. Zi,” said Lois casually.
“A moment, please!” The heavy ornate gate opened automatically.
Lois followed a long winding driveway with tall trees lined on both sides, the boughs intertwined to form thick shades. It took a few minutes to get to the front of the mansion. A uniformed attendant opened the car door for Lois and drove the car to somewhere else to park after Lois got out. A butler held open the massive double doors for her. When Lois approached in a graceful gait, he bowed low as if he was welcoming the advent of a queen. Though it was not often that Lois had chances to enter so splendid a place, she had a spirit to match anything, either vastly grand or fiercely awesome, or whatsoever. The highly vaulted hallway with crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling echoed her footsteps. A uniformed valet led Lois through a vestibule, along which were closed doors on either side. The soft illumination in the vestibule came from nowhere Lois could perceive. The valet opened a door for Lois and shut it after she stepped in. It was a guest-reception room.  There were big scarlet velvet sofas in the center arranged in a fan-shape with a half-round redwood coffee table like a half-moon in the semicircle before the sofas; redwood shelves along one wall with expensive antique vases, jade figurines and other carvings and curiosities displayed on them. Old Chinese paintings and calligraphy scrolls by celebrated ancient artists hung on other walls. As Lois was not a connoisseur, she could not tell if they were genuine or mere imitations, but she guessed that they were genuine since the host was a person of great wealth and great importance. And he would feel humiliated with mere imitations. A few minutes later, Mr. Zi came in and sat down on one of the sofas, diagonally across the coffee table from Lois. A maid, dressed in a white uniform with aqua-colored laces on the front, opened the door, carrying a tray with two cups of tea, which she put on the glass-topped coffee table, one in front of Mr. Zi and the other in front of Lois. Then she withdrew from the room.
“I'm a reporter writing stories on eminent people like you.” Lois didn't care to be a white liar. “Do you mind telling me something about yourself?” She was ready with a notepad and a pen. Mr. Zi was as tall as her father, more robust, with a long face, a hooked nose like an eagle's beak, and round beaded eyes above high cheekbones. His tanned skin was smooth and his hair looked dyed black. He had long fingers, which meant he was clever, a palm reader would say.
“No. Indeed, I'd very much like you to write my biography,” he chuckled teasingly. Lois could not help but smile. “I moved from South America to the U. S. fifteen years ago with my wife,” he continued. “I had saved quite a bit money there; so when I moved here, I opened a Chinese restaurant at first. I named it CHICKEN DEPOT because I had collected a hundred different recipes for chicken cooking, which are on our menus in the restaurants. Some day you can come to one of my restaurants to try the recipes. It's my treat. As the business flourished, I opened more chain restaurants and then invested my money into other businesses like laundromats and gift shops and bakeries. Most of my businesses are in New York City.  Some are in Jersey City and Newark.”
“I heard that you often made donations for charity purposes.” Lois esteemed the people who could feed back to the communities when they earned money from the public.
“I like the idea of doing good to society when becoming rich.” He picked up the cup, took a swig of tea from it and put it back on the saucer.  He sat back on the sofa, making himself comfortable.
“You are a kind man, very considerate.” Lois praised him heartily, sitting on another sofa a little away from him. She glanced at the teacup as though unable to decide whether to drink it or not. She really didn't like tea, but must she just take a sip out of politeness?  Mr. Zi smiled modestly.
“You are a man of success and of interest, too. I'd like to write your biography, if you can supply me with more materials.” Lois wanted some pretext to come here more often so that she could know more about this master.
“You can get all the materials you want from my secretary, Helen, about my businesses.” He passed his right hand over his hair, just on the verge of turning grayish at the temples.
“How about your private life? Readers will be more intrigued if I can include it and you'll be more popular.” Lois needed more chances and threw out the bait.
“Oh, yeah, I understand. You can talk to my wife, if you want.” The big fish took the bait.
“I will. I feel honored to have such an opportunity to know Mrs. Zi, but rumors say that your second wife disappeared mysteriously.” This was an unwise move. As soon as Lois said it, she regretted it. Too late.
“I think that you need facts, not rumors, but it's a long sad story. I am not in a mood to talk about it right now.” He stood up, a gesture meaning that the interview was at an end.
“Sorry to have provoked your unhappy retrospection.” Lois stood up, too, and turned to leave.
“Sorry, Miss, I have business to attend to now.” Mr. Zi rang a bell on the coffee table and the valet came in.  Lois followed the valet out.
 
***
 
When Lois left Mr. Zi's mansion, she felt hungry and found a fast-food restaurant in a small town on her way back. Unexpectedly, she met an old classmate of hers. They hadn't seen each other for several years. Both were so excited that they talked and talked, recalling the golden olden days in school, so free of care, so happy together, that they were forgetful of time slipping by till it was late at night. They exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye to each other.
Lois was on the highway heading home. There was not much traffic at that time. She was driving in the middle lane when she saw from the rearview mirror that a vehicle was fast approaching from behind in the left lane. A good detective would notice everything and be prepared for everything, even though not suspicious at the moment, so that she should not be taken by surprise. When the vehicle drew up alongside her car, she saw it was a Cherokee jeep. For a few seconds they went side by side. Then the jeep began to swipe toward her car. As she saw the jeep veering her way, she moved quickly to the right lane and accelerated at the same time. The jeep missed her car by a thread’s breadth. Now Lois drove over the speed limit to escape. If she would be caught speeding by the police and given a ticket, it was fine with her. She even wished that there were a police car nearby to pursue her. At least the jeep could no longer chase her. But no police cars were in sight, though generally they were out of sight before they suddenly appeared behind you. Now the jeep followed closely and bumped her car from behind. Lois moved to the next lane and suddenly braked, causing a skid. Another car came from behind and honked. The driver was nimble and careened to the left lane in time to avoid hitting Lois's car, also by a hair’s breadth. But the driver of the jeep didn't think that Lois would make such a drastic move and so he shot past Lois. He slowed down, waiting for Lois to come up, but then he found that Lois stopped altogether at some distance behind him. He was at a loss of what to do. Then he backed up fast to Lois's car, hoping to bump her car with the rear of his jeep. Before he was halfway down, Lois moved to the next lane again and simultaneously flung out a coin aided by her chi through the open window at the jeep. The coin pierced the front tire on the driver's side and made it flat. Lois sped past the jeep. The driver took out a gun and shot at Lois's car.  The bullets landed on the car body, shattering the windowpane of the right-side rear door, but didn't stop the car.  A few minutes later the car was out of his sight.
Lois used her cell phone to call the local police as she drove away and told them where to find the thug who had attacked her, but when the police arrived there, the jeep was gone.
 
***
 
Next day Lois got up late. She slipped out of her sleeping gown and wriggled into her daily clothing: khaki pants, a silk blouse and a jacket. She combed her jet-black hair and tamed it into a ponytail as usual. When she came downstairs, her father had already left for work, Alida was at school and Tricia and Sally had gone to the office.
“Lois, what's the matter with your car?” Mrs. Lin asked with concern. Lois told her mother about her adventure last night. “Be careful,” her mother said tritely.
“I will, Mom.” After breakfast, Lois took her car to the garage to have it fixed. She left the car there and Sally picked her from the garage and drove back to the office.
“Who would have done that to you?” Tricia wondered after Lois narrated the adventure last night.
“I have no idea,” Lois said, bewildered as well.
“Who knew you would go to Long Island?” asked Sally, drinking hot cocoa from a Styrofoam cup.
“Mr. Zi, of course, but he doesn't seem like such a person.” Lois dispersed the suspicion with the wave of her hand. She leaned back in her swivel chair, closing her eyes, mentally exhausted.
“Everything is possible,” Sally persisted in her doubt. She threw the empty cup in the garbage pail, then took out a gum from her desk drawer.  “Oh, no,” Tricia moaned, rolling her eyes upward. “I will send you to a clinic for gum addicts.”
“I forgot to tell you that before I dropped my car at the garage, I used my high-tech detector and found a bug in my car, which functions as a listening device as well as a tracer. So it's hard to say Mr. Zi is a suspect for that. Of course, I'll keep an eye on him.” She got up and went to the attached kitchenette to have a cup of coffee.
“From now on, you must use your detector every time before you get into your car. If it was a bomb, you would be dead,” Tricia advised.
“You are right, Tricia.” Lois turned halfway to smile at her for her sisterly solicitude.
 
***
 
“Richard, you have a visitor.” Mrs. Chang called from the front doorway. Richard was in the den contemplating what had happened these days. When he heard his wife call him, he stood up from the cross-legged sitting position and walked to the front door. There was a man in his fifties, of middle height, a total stranger to him. His wife stepped back, letting Richard go forward to address the stranger. “Who are you, sir?”
“I am the father of David Li, who died in your house.” He spat out these words so icily that the words seemed to freeze in the air.
“Please, come in, Mr. Li,” said Richard with a polite gesture to invite Mr. Li into the house. When Mr. Li settled on the sofa and Richard in an armchair, Mrs. Chang brought a cup of green tea for the guest. It was a Chinese-styled set with a lid and a saucer of the same color and design.
“It's my pleasure to meet you, Mr. Li. What can I do for you?” asked Mr. Chang with a slight forward inclination of the head, somewhat like a bow.
“I come to demand an explanation of why you killed my son,” Mr. Li said in a serious tone, endeavoring to suppress his tears, but his voice betrayed his grievous emotions.
“I'm sorry for your son's untimely death, but I didn't kill him. The police didn't say that I killed him, though he died in my house.”
“The police know nothing about such things. His Death Xue was pricked. You know that as well as I do,” Mr. Li insisted.
“That's right, but it's not I who hit his Death Xue. The Death Xue had been pricked six hours before he died. He was in my house for only one hour,” Richard told Mr. Li truthfully.
“I don't care about that. I only know he died in your house. You are the sole suspect to me. Either you give me back my son or I'll fight with you to avenge my son.” The bereaved sorrow made him irrational.  He sure had a quick temper.
Mrs. Chang stood aside all the time. When she saw that Mr. Li was threatening her husband, she was quivering all over and could only say, “Please, don't. Please, don't.” Mr. Li ignored her, glowering at Richard as if he would devour him like a boa does a doe.
“I didn't kill your son. I won't fight with you,” Richard responded tranquilly. “If you want to kill me to avenge your son, you can do it right here and now. I won't resist.” Richard shut his eyes, waiting to be killed.
“What about your reputation as a renowned master if you dare not fight with me?” Mr. Li used a strategy of instigation. But Mr. Chang said placidly, “I don't care much about reputation now. I care more about death.”
“So you are afraid of me? You are a coward?” Mr. Li shouted.
“Whatever you say, Mr. Li. I won't fight with you. You can kill me if it will make you feel better,” Richard said sedately. Though Mr. Li lost his reason in the wrath and woe, he could not kill a person like this. Either he or Richard would die in a fair duel. That was required by the dignity of a master. He could not force Richard to fight.  He could only leave without vengeance.
 
***
 
Sam called their office.  “May I speak to Lois?”
“This is she speaking.” Lois cradled the bow-like receiver against her shoulder while she was writing something on her notepad.
“Hi, Lois, can you help me to check something out in Newark?” Sam sounded urgent.
“Sorry, I'm kind of busy, but Tricia can, I think,” Lois replied. “Will you hold on, please?” She pushed on the hold button without waiting for Sam to say another word. Tricia picked up the phone and talked to Sam.
Since Lois had seen Sam's name scribbled on a scrap paper in Tricia's desk drawer, she had avoided Sam as much as possible. As an eldest sister, she must consider the welfare of her other sisters first. That's the requirement of the Chinese traditional virtue standards, quite contrary to the modern concept to fight for anything worth vying for among sisters, brothers and friends. Now she was busy on the cases, no time for love affairs. She must keep an eye on Mr. Erik Hsu, her sole suspect in David’s case at present. David Li worked in his company and he was a master, which meant that he knew how to hit the Death Xue. All was too coincidental and suspicious. Sally now went to work in his company undercover and might discover something helpful.
 
***
 
“Dad, a master on your list, Mr. Chen, is paralyzed for one and a half years because of the stray chi, can you help him to break through the clogged xue?” Lois asked her father expectantly.
“Not every case is curable,” her father said. “I must look at him first.” Mr. Lin was a kind person and liked to help other people whenever he could.
“Good,” said Lois enthusiastically. “As the store is closed today, we can go now, can't we?” After beholding an affirmative gesture from her father, Lois made a phone call first, then drove to Brooklyn with her father in the passenger seat.
On their arrival, they were welcomed into the house by his wife. After careful examination, Mr. Lin said, “Your case is hopeful, Mr. Chen. It would be quicker, if we can get a ginseng at least five hundred years old.”  Hearing this, Mr. and Mrs. Chen had a glint of hope in their eyes. Mr. Chen was lanky and dwarf, only five feet four inches, sixty-three years of age, with short gray hair. Mrs. Chen had a bit more flesh on the bones than her husband, but could not be defined even as plump. However, she was certainly a bit taller than Mr. Chen, five feet six inches, and three years younger. Silver threads could be detected in her hair. Even in the prime of her youthful days, she was just ordinary, could not be deemed as pretty, but Mr. Chen was gratified with her mediocre features, saying, “Although beauty pleases the eyes, sometimes it will bring you troubles. Only the shining virtues will bear you benefits.”
“I know there's such a ginseng,” Mrs. Chen ejaculated.
“Where is it?” asked Mr. Lin and Lois in unison.
“But I don't want to get it from him,” Mr. Chen said firmly.
“At least you can tell me in whose hands it is now,” Lois pressed.
“John Zi.” replied Mrs. Chen, glancing at her husband, dissatisfied with his stubbornness.
“He's known as a kind charity donator.  He may give it up for your health,” Lois ventured.
“I don't want to accept any favor from him even if he's so generous,” said Mr. Chen with absolute certainty, leaving no alternatives.
“Why not?”  Lois inquired scrupulously.
Mr. Chen kept silence.
“Okay, I'll do my best to help you, with or without such a ginseng,” Mr. Lin promised.
“I don't know how to thank you enough. You're my life saver. When I'm healed, I'll do whatever you want me to do to repay you,” Mr. Chen said with a grateful beaming countenance.
“It's my human duty to help others.” Modesty was the motto of Mr. Lin. He would go to Mr. Chen's house thrice a week.
“You met Mr. Zi once, didn't you?” Mr. Lin asked Lois at the breakfast table. “Can you go again to ask about the ginseng? If he doesn't want to donate, we can pay for it.”
“I'll try,” Lois said. “But I really don't understand why Mr. Chen opposed it so strongly.”
“There may be something personal that happened between them that we don't know about and we are not in a position to inquire. Some masters are eccentric, too,” said her father.
 
***
 
Mr. Li was in the kitchen of his restaurant. He was eating a bowl of fried rice for dinner when he heard some unusual noises in the customer's dining area. He pushed open the swinging door and saw two boys wearing black masks and holding guns in their hands backing out the front door. The sudden notion struck him: robbers. Mr. Li slung one of the chopsticks he was using at one of the boys. It dipped into his right shoulder and the gun fell on the floor. The two boys turned and escaped. His wife stood behind the register, stunned and speechless. She had never had such an experience before during the fifteen years this business had been going. Only a couple of hundred bucks had been taken. It was not a big sum, but the robbery would affect the business. Who would come to a restaurant with the risk of being robbed or even shot? Someone wanted to ruin him. The idea came immediately to his mind, but who?
When the police came, they picked up the fallen gun, which turned out to be a very authentic-looking toy gun. Nice job! Young people nowadays were really amazing. Maybe, the manufacturing business was really amazing, added to the cleverness of the young people today. Thanks to the Maker, who made such high-IQed creatures!
 
***
 
That night, Mr. Li turned and tossed on his bed, unable to fall asleep. The question of who would do that to him whirled in his head, making him dizzy.
The next morning, Mrs. Chang opened the front door after hearing a roll of heavy knocks on it. She was astounded to see a wrathful Mr. Li standing there. She invited him to come in, but he didn't move, only saying, “Let your husband come out.”
“Sorry, he's not at home right now,” Mrs. Chang apologized in a quavering voice, feeling a little frightened before the incensed Mr. Li.
“Then tell him not to pull any more of his stupid stunts on me, or I swear I'll kill him.” With these words, he stomped off in a hurry and in fury.
Mrs. Chang was scared and called Lois. “Mr. Li came again and threatened to kill us,” she sobbed out the words.
“Is he still there?” Lois asked anxiously.
“No, he left.”
“Don't worry, I'll come over,” Lois soothed her.
When Lois arrived, Richard was back already. They sat in the living room and Mrs. Chang told her husband and Lois about what Mr. Li had said. “What stunt did he mention?” Richard asked.
“He didn't say anything in particular,” said Mrs. Chang.
“Maybe something happened to him or to his family,” Lois guessed. “And he thought it was your doing.”
“I didn't do anything to him,” Richard pleaded on his behalf. “I don't even know where he lives.”
“Don't worry, Dry Mother. I'll see to it.  I'll go right now to talk it over with him.”
 
***
 
Lois found Mr. Li in his restaurant with a big sign above the door bearing the name “Cook the Great”, which sounded like “Alexander the Great” in world history. They took seats in a corner booth. “What happened?” Lois asked in a low voice so that the diners would not overhear her. When she came into the knowledge of the robbery, she said, “We don't have any proof to link the event to anyone who may be behind it. Perhaps it was just some impulsive street juveniles who needed money.” Seeing Mr. Li not convinced, she added, “Will you let me know first if anything takes place again? We can't act on surmise. It will hurt people. “ Mr. Li nodded with some scruple.
“Will you trust me to act on your behalf, because I don't want any innocent people hurt.” Lois pressed a little more once again.  Mr. Li smiled his consent and importuned Lois to stay for lunch.
 
***
 
“What can I do for you this time, Miss Lois?” Mr. Zi asked politely in a very formal manner, clasping his long fingers on his lap.
“I heard that you have a ginseng five hundred years old.  Can I buy it from you?” She fixed her gaze at Mr. Zi, all smiles.
“From whom did you learn it?” Mr. Zi asked with a hardly perceptible frown.
“It doesn't matter who told me. A good reporter never reveals the source.” She smiled innocently.
“What do you want to use this for?” He looked at her, a little curious.
“A friend of my father's is paralyzed and needs it for a quick recovery,” said she truthfully.
“Sorry, you are late. I already gave it to a friend of mine for the same purpose. If I still had it, you could have it for free, but… “ Mr. Zi looked away and spread out his hands, palms upward, a gesture which showed that he could do nothing now.
“Can I talk to your wife to glean some materials from her about your biography, since I'm here?” Then she added, “It's a long way to come over.”
“Sure, why not?” He rang a bell and a maid came in. “Bring Miss Lois to Mrs. Zi's guestroom.” He gave the maid his command.  Lois thanked him and followed the maid out.
Mrs. Zi's guest reception room was much smaller, but everything was shrouded with embroidered silk of a grass green color. There were sofas with silk coverings and cushions in silk cases, a silk cloth on a round table, even chairs clad in silk, windows with silk tapestries and walls hung with paintings in rosewood frames, paintings of mandarin ducks, peonies, chrysanthemums, azaleas, bamboos, storks and pine trees, all in beautiful colorful silk embroidery. The maid brought in teacups, which she put on the plum-blossom-shaped rosewood mats on the coffee table in front of the sofa. The coffee table also had a silk cloth on it.  Mrs. Zi and Lois sat on the sofa, ready for a tête-à-tête. Mrs. Melissa Zi was an American woman with an oval face, brown eyes, brown hair loosely hanging to her shoulders, and an athletic figure. She had on a watermelon green silk dress to her knees and a pair of emerald green satin slippers. She revealed a white row of neat teeth when grinning. She didn't put on any jewelry, because jewels were to wear when going out, not at home, certainly not for twenty-four hours.
“I'm writing a biography for your husband and need some information from you, too,” stated Lois after a self-introduction and handshake.
“I will tell you what I know,” Mrs. Zi grinned, showing her pearl white teeth.
“Your husband has a lot of friends, I guess?”
“Yes, a lot,” she said with pride in her voice.
“Do you know if any of his friends is paralyzed?” This question was really irrelevant to the biography writing, but Mrs. Zi was not a person to doubt much.
“None that I know of.” She grinned again.
“Do you know that he has a ginseng five hundred years old?”
“He has many ginseng stored in his study, but I don't know how old they are.”
“Do you know that your husband's second wife disappeared?”
“I heard of it.” No more grin this time.
“Do you know why?”
“I'm not a curious woman, certainly not one to be jealous of the non-existing.”
“You sure live in a comfortable magnificent edifice. Can you show me around?”
Mrs. Zi most obligingly complied and led the way through the maze of corridors and opened every door for Lois to admire the grandeur of every room.  Lois made a mental map of all the bearings.
 楼主| 发表于 2/9/2017 10:08:45 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 13

Mr. and Mrs. Zi were out at a party that night. The mansion was lightless and motionless except in the servant quarters. It was still early. The guards didn't start their night patrol yet. They gathered in the guardhouse just inside the gate, playing cards. Three shadows jumped from trees outside, gliding in the air like hawks over the wall that flanked the mansion, and landed on top of the trees in the garden. They slid down the tree trunks and stole under the cover of darkness toward the mansion. Two shadows hid behind the shrubs and one shadow furtively approached a first floor window on the side of the mansion. The window was pried open and the shadow slipped in. It happened to be the guest reception room. A tiny pocket penlight was turned on. The shadow moved to the door. The door was opened. A head thrust out to look around. When the coast was clear, the shadow stepped into the corridor, shutting the door. The shadow walked on tiptoe through the corridors, seemingly perplexed at first where to go, then made two turns, opened a door, slipped inside, and closed the door.  It was Mr. Zi's study.
“It's time to begin our patrol,” one of the guards said. Two guards stood up and left the guardhouse. They took two dogs from a kennel and put them on a leash. The garden was very big. When they neared the mansion on one side, the dogs rushed forward, dragging the guards along and barked at the bushes. Next moment, two flashes came from behind the bushes and struck the dogs on their Sleep Xues. The dogs fell asleep. One of the guards blew a whistle, which sounded shrill and loud in the quiet night. People scurried out from the servants’ quarters only to find the two guards standing there motionless and speechless like two stone statues, as if they had seen the face of the snake-haired Medusa. People began to search the ground and more dogs were released from the kennels.
The shadow in the study stood before a glass case in which there were five ginsengs; an Arabic scimitar, inset on its hilt were rubies, sapphires and emeralds, a small piece of card before the scimitar bearing these words: “It was found among the treasures in the cave of Ali Baba.”  There were a pair of small pistols with ivory handles, the caption on the card saying, “They are said to be used by the Count of Mount Cristo”; and gold figurines of ancient beauties, jade vases of Ming Dynasty styles, a crystal ball seemingly having been used by a gypsy fortune teller and other antiques. One of the ginsengs looked the oldest. It was said that ginsengs of a millennium would look like a human shape. If a ginseng was over five hundred years old, a human face could be discerned at one end, though in a wry, crude manner. The glass case had a weird lock with no numbers and no keyhole on it. A special laser-beam key could open it. The shadow searched all the desk drawers and could not find anything resembling such a key. All at once the shadow heard dogs barking and whistles sounding outside.  Hurry.  No time to lose now.
Three more dogs dashed to the bushes on the side of the mansion, but a while later were lying asleep on the ground. People began to shoot at the bushes. But a rain of small fragments of stones flew out from behind the bushes, much denser than the bullets, which were diverted wide from the targets when colliding with the fragments darting straight over sent by chi. When the gunmen saw the rain of the stone fragments coming, they had to cease firing, recede, and dodge to protect themselves. Then two shadows jumped out from behind the shrubs, made somersaults high in the air and dropped among these people before they could shoot again. In hand-to-hand combat, guns were futile. All these people had kungfu taught by Master Zi himself, though they were still on low levels. They attacked the two shadows from all directions. The two silhouettes stood back to back, defending themselves by using chi. People formed a circle around the two intruders. They drew out swords. There were eight of them. The swords came at the same time towards the head, chest, belly and thigh of each of the intruders. One of the intruders drew out a long whip and whirled it around in circles like someone blowing out cigarette smoke in spiral rings, parrying away the four swords. The other intruder gave a flip with the middle finger of the right hand at the flat side of the sword blade thrusting at the head, the sword bounced back, the man had to leap backwards, or the sword would cut him. The intruder flipped at the flat side of the blade coming to the chest with the middle finger of the left hand, achieving the same result. The intruder kicked up the left foot at the blade aiming at the thigh, sending the blade sideways to hit the other blade that jabbed to the belly. All the actions were performed simultaneously, aided by chi. Then the eight people closed in for the second round. Instead of thrusting, they brought their weapons down to the head, the shoulders and the chest. The intruder with the long whip jerked the whip in a circular move, aiming at the legs of the attacking people. The other intruder crouched out of the way of the whip. The whip was much longer than the swords. So the situation was that before their weapons could reach the intruders, they would be struck on the legs by the whip.  From the ferocious sound of the circling whip whistling through the air, they knew that the strength of it would not only bring them down on the ground, but would also break their shin bones. They had to beat a retreat. One guy jumped back a bit slow and was hit on the shin by the tip of the whip and a sharp pain went up through his leg. He fell on the ground. Two people came forward and carried him into the mansion for some medical care while the two intruders only stood there watching. Another guy filled in the place. The eight people began their third round of assault.
The shadow in the study grew impatient and took out a plastic explosive device, attaching it to the lock. After a low “bang”, the lock was destroyed. The shadow opened the glass case door, took the ginseng that looked the oldest and slipped it into a pocket. The phantom opened a window of the study and jumped out.
A limo rolled to a halt and Mr. Zi got out, then it went to the front of the mansion to let Mrs. Zi out. She walked into the mansion and went to her room. She didn't want to know what was going on outside.  She knew the idiom “curiosity killed the cat.”
Mr. Zi stood aside, watching the combat. His people were really no good against these two apparitions, who were not fighting, but really playing with the guys, like a cat playing with a mouse. From the kungfu performance of the two shadows, Mr. Zi knew that they could have easily injured the guys in the first few rounds.  He shouted, “Stop!”  Everyone ceased fighting. The other shadows turned around, both facing the master.
“Who are you, trespassing upon my domain?” Mr. Zi demanded to know.
Silence. The shadows were both covered in black, only their sparkling eyes could be seen.
“Good,” Mr. Zi said. “If you can escape from me, I'll let you go.”
His people knew that the master would fight the two shadows himself. So they all dispersed to a safe distance.
Mr. Zi raised his right hand, emitting his chi. The two shadows, each holding out a hand, sent out chi, too. Three blasts impacted. The master stood his ground, but the two shadows fell back two steps. Mr. Zi walked closer and the three fought hand-to-hand. Every time Mr. Zi struck, the two shadows could not defend themselves because his strikes were much stronger than they could fend off. So they had to adopt the strategy of shunning and ducking. At this critical moment, a third shadow appeared, joining in the combat. Now at three to one, Mr. Zi had no advantage at all. His people participated, too. At a gesture from the third shadow, the three of them held out both their hands, issuing chi. Mr. Zi was caught by surprise, retreating two steps. The three shadows turned to escape. Two of his people came forward to block their way but were hit and sent flying into the bushes four meters away. Two of the shadows were much quicker. They leapt over the bushes. Another shadow was a bit slow. Mr. Zi cast out something, which spread out. It was a net. The last shadow was caught in the net. The other two shadows were unaware of this. They jumped into the treetops, treading on the foliage towards the wall. The boughs were only lowered a little under their feet. They seemed to flit by so nimbly and lightly like butterflies that not much weight pressed on the leaves during the one-tenth of a second the foot touched on them.
His people wanted to chase the other two shadows, but Mr. Zi stopped them from the pursuit.  He had gotten one already.
 
***
 
“Yummy, I like fried wonton,” Alida cried merrily at her breakfast.
“Eat fast. Time for school now, or you'll be late,” Mrs. Lin urged.
“There's plenty of time yet,” Alida retorted. “And this is not a fast-food restaurant.”
“I'm surprised that you can always find something to say in contradiction,” Mrs. Lin said, half like reprimanding, half like eulogizing, a doting habit of hers.  Alida finished her breakfast in a few quick swallows. Then Mrs. Lin walked her to school.
Lois and Tricia came down after their mother and Alida left, but their father was sitting at the breakfast table. Lois used the phone in the living room to call the company where Sally was working under a pseudo name. “This is Sally's sister. Sally's sick and can't come to work today.”
“Sorry to hear that. Hope she'll be better soon.” It was the supervisor at the other end of the line.
“What's wrong with Sally?” Their father was worried. Lois had to tell her father the whole story.
Tricia said, “I hope they won't torment her, though I believe they won't kill her.”
“From now on, if you want to do anything against a master, any master, consult me first, remember.” their father warned seriously. They nodded their obedience. The phone rang in the living room and Tricia went to answer it.
“May I speak to Mr. Lin?  I think it's your father,” an old male voice said from the other end.
“May I know who's calling?” Tricia asked politely, a bit nervous, pushing her hair away from her right eye.
“This is John Zi,” the voice boomed.
The name struck Tricia with alarm. “Will you hold on for a moment, please?” Tricia held the receiver high up in the air, crying, “Dad, it's for you.”
Mr. Lin came to the living room to take the phone from Tricia's hand. She mouthed the name of John Zi to him.
“Hello, this is Robert Lin. How can I help you, Mr. Zi?” He used a neutral voice.
“Bring the ginseng for the exchange of your daughter. Right now.” The voice sounded infuriated.
“Good.  I’ll come over right now.”
The three of them got into Lois's Mitsubishi, leaving a note on the table for Mrs. Lin.
 
***
 
Mr. Lin was shown to the back of the mansion, followed by Lois and Tricia. There were two rattan tables on the well-manicured lawn, three meters apart, each with a rattan armchair at its side. Mr. Zi was already in one of the armchairs. Sally stood a few yards away on the side of the lawn surrounded by his men, looking like nothing on her body was missing: limbs, nose, eyes, ears, all there. She even smiled at the three newcomers, chewing her habitual gum. Mr. Zi asked Mr. Lin to sit down on the other armchair. Lois and Tricia stood behind their father. A manservant brought out a tray on which were a teapot and two cups. He put it down on Mr. Zi's table, filled the cups with tea and then withdrew into the mansion. Mr. Zi took up a cup, and using his chi, he sent the cup of tea flying slowly across the air towards Mr. Lin's table. This was a habit usually seen in the kungfu world to show one's kungfu. When the cup neared, Mr. Lin raised his hand to accept the cup, using his chi, too.  If he accepted the cup with his bare hand, the chi around the cup would hurt him. Now he let the cup down slowly onto his table without any tea being spilt.
“I feel sorry that I have to invite you to my humble abode for such a trifling thing.” Mr. Zi struck up the conversation.
“It should be me apologizing for my daughters' misbehavior. They came without my knowledge. If I had known, I would have restrained them.” So saying, he produced from his pocket the ginseng Lois had stolen the night before.  He laid it on the table. “I feel really sorry,” he added.
“I am not a miser as you may know,” Mr. Zi declared. “I like to make friends, new friends. If you acknowledge to be my friend, you can take the ginseng, though such a ginseng is a rarity.”
“No matter whether you give me the ginseng or not, I can be your friend. If you give me the ginseng, I owe you a favor and I will repay it any time you need, but only within the law.”
“You can be at rest. I never do anything against the law,” Mr. Zi assured him, grinning with a tooth encased in gold. “Since your daughters are so advanced in kungfu, I think you should be a master yourself.  I'd like to practice a few rounds with you, what do you say?”
“No problem. That's common among friends.” Mr. Lin could not decline since they had declared their friendship and kungfu friends often practiced together.
The two masters stationed themselves in the center of the lawn, facing each other at a distance.  They greeted each other in a traditional way before commencing the friendly competition: both hands raised in front of the chest with the right hand wrapping round the left fist; both men saying, “Please!” Mr. Zi drew a deep breath and slowly pushed out his hands with chi. Mr. Lin followed suit. When their chi conflicted, Mr. Lin pretended to back half a step. He wanted Mr. Zi to have the impression that he was no match for him, a way to show modesty and sometimes, also to hide the real kungfu, especially when you were dealing with a potential foe.
Mr. Zi paced forward, thrusting the forefinger and middle finger together at a xue on Mr. Lin's chest. Mr. Lin turned his chest halfway and extended the same two fingers of his right hand at Mr. Zi's wrist pulse. Mr. Zi drew back his right hand and axed the edge of his left hand at Mr. Lin's right shoulder. Mr. Lin wiped his right hand the other way and brushed off Mr. Zi's left hand. Their moves became faster and faster, stirring the air around them into a wind that spectators within four meters could feel. They all withdrew further away. Sally already got together with her two sisters.  Now the actions of the masters were so fast that the onlookers could not tell who was who and how many rounds the two masters had completed. They could only vaguely behold two shadows, now mingling, now a little apart, then mingling again. It was a good half-hour before the two figures separated. Each stood where he had been before as if nothing had happened. Neither was panting. Neither had perspiration on the face.  Even the grass of the lawn under their feet showed no sign of treading. They resumed their seats, exchanging some polite modest words.
“Since you are so kind to give me the ginseng, if I don't take it, it will be deemed that I don't look upon you as my friend,” Mr. Lin remarked. “So I just say 'thank you' and owe you a big favor. We have disturbed you long enough. We must leave now.”
“You are welcome. I won't detain you any longer.” Mr. Zi shook hands with Mr. Lin and walked him and his daughters to their car.  They waved good-bye.
Mr. Zi went into the mansion and met his personal secretary, Helen, in his study. “What's your opinion of Mr. Lin?” he asked her, knowing she had been peeking from the window of a back room.
“He's a master. You'll be lucky if he can really be your friend, but...” she trailed off and Mr. Zi knew what she left unsaid.
 
***
 
Once at home, Sally told them about her experience last night.
When Sally was caught in the net, she was aware that her escape was out of the question. Mr. Zi pulled back the net and the hood on her head was pulled off, exposing her true identity.  Mr. Zi pricked her Nonfunction Xue so that she could not use her chi and hence could not fight, though she could yet move her limbs and her other organs like a normal person. Then she was escorted into the mansion, to Mr. Zi's study. Mr. Zi saw that the glass case was open and the oldest ginseng was missing. After careful scrutiny, he knew an explosive had broken the lock, the force of which was just enough to break the lock and nothing else. And nothing else was missing, either. So Mr. Zi guessed what the matter was.
He motioned Sally to sit down on a chair in front of his desk. He seated himself in the swivel chair behind it. But before Mr. Zi could utter a single syllable, Sally asked, “May I have a gum?”  Mr. Zi looked suspicious, not realizing what she meant. Sally just took out a gum from a pocket on her catsuit. Peeling the wrapping, she put it into her mouth.  Mr. Zi couldn’t help smiling at her and shook his head.  Then he said, “I can be sure that you came with Lois Lin. She escaped with another girl and left you behind.” Mr. Zi fixed his eyes on Sally's face.
“If you are so sure, you don't need to talk to me anymore,” Sally said serenely, her mouth chewing the Doublemint at a deliberate speed.
“I just want to let you know that I know everything.  But may I have your name, Miss?”
“Sally Lin.” Sally thought that it was unnecessary to conceal her name since he already guessed that she had come with Lois.
“How can you have the same family name as Lois when you don't look like her sister?”
“I was adopted by her parents. We are sisters. But I think you know everything,” Sally said sardonically, tilting her head, eyeing Mr. Zi.  She put the wad of the gum on the tip of her tongue and blew out a big bubble before her face.
Mr. Zi just smiled. “It's so late now. You can be my guest for the night and I'll call your father tomorrow morning. May I have your father's name and phone number?”
Sally had to give the information, afraid that he would torment her if she refused.  Now Mom will be angry.  Sorry, Mom.  But that's not my fault.  She had come with Lois, Mom's biological daughter.
Mr. Zi undid the effect on Sally's xue and ordered a maid to take Sally to a guest bedroom.
 
***
 
“You are lucky, Mr. Chen. A friend of mine just came from China and gave me some ginseng, though not very old. My wife made them into pills together with other herbs. It will be helpful to your rehabilitation. One pill a day.” Mr. Lin gave the pills to Mrs. Chen with the instructions. Both Mr. and Mrs. Chen thanked him abundantly. Then Mr. Lin started the routine procedures of his treatment with Mr. Chen. Mr. Chen was only paralyzed in his legs. The jammed xue was on the spine of his lower back, more specifically, at the waist. Mr. Chen was assisted to sit cross-legged on his queen-size bed, which was of a Chinese style with a headboard, a footboard and four posts, all of redwood, and a gauze canopy enveloping the bed, one side hooked up onto the posts. Mr. Lin took off his shoes, got onto the bed and also sat cross-legged behind Mr. Chen. He placed his right palm on top of Mr. Chen's head and his left palm on his waist, gradually instilling his chi into Mr. Chen's body. Mr. Chen maneuvered his chi aided by Mr. Lin's chi to the jammed xue, hoping to break through it little by little like in a traffic jam, the cars moving away one by one.  He was now utterly confident that he would get up on his feet again before long.
 
***
 
Sam had an instinctive feeling that Lois was avoiding him recently. But why? He presumed that he could not ask her directly why. Emotions were delicate and subtle. Sometimes you can only feel it and cannot bring it into the light.  If I directly ask her why, and she puts up a question instead of an answer--”Why should I avoid you?”--it will be very embarrassing and awkward. We are just friends. We haven't manifested as boyfriend and girlfriend. Maybe, Lois likes a boyfriend who has kungfu. But I am really too busy to learn. Anyway, Tricia promised to teach me kungfu little by little when we both can squeeze in time. Tricia! Yes, she is also a nice girl, but… He shut his eyes, torn between ideality and reality. “OK, let the thing take its own course,” as my mother frequently said.  He was preoccupied enough with all the cases on his mind. He suddenly felt hot though it was already fall. His scalp was itching. He shrugged off his jacket, letting it drop on the chair behind his desk. He walked to and fro in his office restlessly, his mind toiling hard, but no one knew whether it was on the difficulties of his cases or his problems with girlfriends.
 
***
 
Tricia went to Newark to do some sleuthing for Sam. When the work was done, it was almost lunchtime. She parked her car at a meter and went into a food store nearby to grab a sandwich and a diet Coke.  As she came out, having finished her lunch, she suddenly noticed a car parked at the curb that resembled the one belonging to Frank--same make, same color. She looked attentively at the plate number; yes, it was Frank's car. There were two cars between his and her car. She waited on the sidewalk, sometimes wandered this way and that, sometimes pretended to look into the shop windows, frequently taming her unruly hair into the place it belonged.  If I stayed here long at night, people would think I'm that kind of a girl, but my attire doesn't look like one. Then she thought better of it and got into her car, waiting inside. She watched the traffic, which was not much at the time. She stared into the sky, which was blue with some fleecy clouds dotted here and there. The sun clambered high at the zenith, a perfect day to be with a boyfriend at some scenic spot, having a nice picnic, enjoying life. Sam's image loomed up in her mind's eye. She turned on the radio at 96.3, the New York classic station. A piece of Swan Lake drifted out, then the weather report, saying it would be raining at night. She waited for nearly two hours and Frank never showed up. Then she saw a young man in his early twenties, donning jeans and a T-shirt with the Statue of Liberty printed on the front, crossing the street toward this car.  He took out the key and opened the door. It didn't look like he was stealing the car. Tricia started her car and pulled out to follow the man. Ten minutes later, he pulled the car into the driveway of a single house on some side street. Tricia stopped at the curb and got out of her car. When the young man crept out, she accosted him. “Hello, are you a friend of Frank's?”
“Who's fucking Frank?  I never know such a person by that fucking name. Or fuck me.” He seemed to smile nervously.
“This is supposed to be my friend Frank's car.” She inclined her head toward the car on which the man was reclining.
“I bought it from some Buddha-dammit guy.  I don’t even remember his fucking name.”
“Sorry to bother you.” Tricia got back into her car and drove away.
 
***
 
Dinnertime was always the time the sisters traded their information. “I doubt,” said Tricia after her narration of the scenario, “that the man told the truth. Generally when cars change owners, the plate number will be changed, too. The new owner will put another plate on.”
“Well, what do you have in mind?” Lois asked, squinting at her.
“I'll go tonight to check the registration card to see what the name on it is.”
“That's a worthwhile move. I'll go with you. You know, there's strength in numbers,” Lois decided. She wanted to take precautions since she didn't know what was in store for them there.
They took the snooping trip at midnight. It began to rain just as the weather forecast predicted.  They drove by Rt. 1 north, then to Garden State Parkway north and exited at Exit 140 onto Rt. 22 east, then to Rt. 21, leading right into Newark. This was the route with the least traffic lights.  Although it was night and cloudy, Lois could still see the greenery along the Parkway on either side. She liked nature, liked every beauty Mother Nature provided. She loved to live in the garden state. It just suited her. The environment just fitted its name.
Tricia was driving. When they were exiting onto Rt. 22, the rain came down hard. A while later, it became heavy torrents, beating down angrily on the car roof and windshield, blurring the vision. Tricia had to decelerate and struggle through some pools of water.  It took almost an hour to reach their destination, though traffic at that time was scarce. When they got to the address, it was raining terribly. The sky seemed to have big leaks that could never be stopped. They parked the car a few houses away. Tricia got out, wearing a specially made black catsuit with a hood on it, waterproof as well as bulletproof. Every house was dark inside. A rainy night is the best time to sleep. The rhythmical pelting raindrops on the windowpanes are like a lullaby. People who suffer from insomnia do not need to take sleeping pills when they can sink into slumber at the natural pleasing music of a “cats and dogs” concert. Tricia ran to the car parked in the driveway and picked open the passenger door. She fumbled in the glove compartment and found some papers. She took them out, examining them under the roof lamp of the car. She read the name on the registration card. It was Frank Perez. All of a sudden, someone opened the front door and yelled, “Car thief!” Tricia dropped the papers on the passenger seat and sprinted back to her own car, leaving the door of that car ajar, the rain wetting the papers. When the man had dashed out to shut the car door, Tricia had already gotten into the passenger seat. Lois got to the driver's seat when Tricia ran to the house. Now she pulled away from the curb without turning on the lights. At the stop sign, she made a right and then another right. When she was sure no one was following them, she turned the lights on and sped away.
 
***
 
When they drove back, they discussed the situation in the car. This was a clue to find Frank's whereabouts. So they decided that Tricia should station herself near the house as often as she could to watch for Frank to appear. Sometimes in the daytime, she would disguise herself as old women of different ages, donning different apparels, putting on different skin-thin plastic masks and wigs of different colors. Sometimes on a fine night, she would jump on the roof, lying there overlooking the front door or the backyard. Her car was parked away at a safe distance. But her endeavors and efforts proved futile.  Frank seemed to have just evaporated from the face of the earth or been taken by aliens into the depths of outer space.
 
***
 
“I got some information about David Li,” Sally blurted out secretively when they were having breakfast one Sunday morning, “though from the gossip of employees.”
“Are the gossips reliable?” Tricia eyed her in incredulity.
“They are all gossiping experts--or shall I say, professional gossipers?--not amateurs. They've even formed a gossiper club.  So at least there's a little bit truth in them. People may exaggerate, but can't make them up out of nothing. There's no billow without the wind, as a Chinese saying goes, or there's no smoke without fire, which is an American idiom.” Sally tried to be persuasive.
“Okay, spill it out,” said Tricia, having a bite of her toast.
“First, he worked in the warehouse as a supervisor.” Sally looked from one sister to the other with an air of self-importance.
“That piece of news is not worth our while to listen to,” said Tricia with some satire.
“Second,” Sally ignored Tricia's derision, “he dated some of the girls in the company.”
“Really big news that should be broadcast on the local TV,” Tricia scoffed.
“The girls boast that he spent money freely, bought them high-priced gifts and brought them to expensive restaurants,” Sally went on along her own rail of thinking.
“What's wrong with that?” Tricia jeered again.
“He spent more than he earned. Where did he get all the money? That's what's wrong.” Sally let her words tumble out triumphantly.
“I remember now,” Lois cut in. “His father told me that after the death of his son, he went through all his son's belongings in his bedroom and found a bank savings book with a large sum in it. The police investigated and found that all deposits were made in cash.  That's suspicious.”
“Third,” Sally resumed, “he seemed to have a close relationship with the owner, Mr. Hsu, and often ran private errands for him.”
“Did anyone know what kind of errands David was sent on?” Lois asked.
“Even the girls he dated didn't have any idea. He's a taciturn person, didn't have a giant's mouth. Anyway, I'll dig deeper till I reveal what's concealed in the coffin.”
 
***
 
“Is it possible,” Tricia consulted Lois, “that the man who said he bought Frank's car is still using everything in his name, his plate, his insurance?”
“That's against the law,” quipped Lois.
“But the man doesn't look like someone who has much deference for the law.”
“In that case, he and Frank are not mere strangers in the trade. They must have some kind of relationship that Frank allows him to do so.”
“That's what we must find out. Shall I confront him again?”
“In my opinion, he won't tell you anything you are interested in. You only let him know that he is on our list of suspects.  As a Chinese saying goes: alerting the snake by beating the bushes.”
“Maybe, I'd better sneak into his house and plant a bug.”
 
***
 
An old man, wearing gray khaki pants, a blue and white striped shirt and a light blue jacket, was leaning on a tree under the umbrella of the spreading leaves, his right hand resting on his heart as if he were having a heart attack. He had a mustache and a short beard on his weather-beaten face. He shut his eyes into slits so that no one could tell where he was looking. A middle-aged woman strolled past him, but stopped short, “Are you okay?” she asked with concern. The old man just nodded, not trusting his voice. The woman walked a few paces and turned her head to see if the old man was really okay. The old man let down his hand with his back against the tree trunk, facing the house.
A stout man trotted up and turned to stride on the driveway to the front door. He knocked at the door three times and was soon let in. The old man plodded across the street and got into a car parked a few houses away down the street on the opposite side. He sat in the car, watching the house vigilantly. Half an hour later, the stout man and the man living in the house came out and got into the car in the driveway. The car was backed out and moved down the street, soon it was out of sight.
It was nightfall. The old man crept out of his car and walked swiftly, but stealthily, to the back of the house. He took out a lock pick and opened the back door. He listened for a while to make sure that there was no one in the house, then slipped into it. He came out a few minutes later, looked around to see that there was no one in sight and got back into his car.
He waited and waited, watching the full moon half-hidden behind a bank of thin white clouds with sparkling stars to keep her company. What's the Chinese moon goddess Chang-O doing tonight in her Wide-Cold Palace? Maybe she's playing with her companion, the white rabbit. As the fluffy clouds sailed by, he could see the moon clearly. Is that shadow looking like a rabbit? He could not be sure. It looked like a cinnamon tree. It was said that a god called Wu Gong offended the Heavenly Jade Emperor and was sent to the moon to chop down the cinnamon tree. Once the tree was chopped down, he could go back to Heaven, but whenever he pulled out his ax to bring it down again for the second cleaving, the crevice grew together as if nothing happened. So he could never chop the tree down.  But I cannot see Wu Gong. Maybe, he's hidden behind the cinnamon tree.
One hour and twenty minutes elapsed. The two men came back. They went into the house and turned on the TV. The old man turned on his listening device.
“The fucking boss wants us to be more careful since the bitch girls are on to us. They ain't have their reputation for nothing. Buddha-dammit,” one of the men said, cursing under his breath.
“Shit. We shud get rid of them.”  It was the other man's voice.
“They are not fucking chestnuts. They are fucking walnuts, hard to crack. Certainly not with the teeth. Besides, we shudn't leave any fucking trace behind like in other two cases.  Buddha-dammit.”  It was the first one's voice.
“How's Frank now?  Fucking him.”
“I dunno. Dun't ask fucking questions you shudn't, if you want to enjoy your fucking life longer. You have a Buddha-dammed mouth big enough to devour the fucking Earth. You son of a whore.”  The TV was turned louder, drowning their voices.
 楼主| 发表于 2/12/2017 09:02:47 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 14

“We must be extra careful,” Lois told her two sisters when they sat in the living room after dinner. Alida came in to sit beside Lois on the sofa. “Cousin Lois, can you teach me how to do some paper folding?  That's for art class tomorrow.”
“I taught you before, as far as I can remember.” Lois feigned surprise at Alida's forgetfulness.
“I was only three years old at that time.  I am not a genius.” Alida gave a pout.
“You should have practiced it during the seven years, like you practice kungfu,” Sally teased her.
“Am I supposed to practice paper folding every day, Cousin Sally?” Alida asked naively, blinking her big, sparkling eyes that said so much. “But no one told me to.”
“Okay, get some paper,” Lois told Alida, who went to fetch some colored paper. Lois showed her how to make a boat, a monkey, a bird, a frog, a pagoda, an airplane, a table and chairs. When her desire was satisfied, Alida carried the foldings to the dining table to play with.
The three sisters resumed their interrupted discussion. “If we can figure out why they want to kill, the cases are half solved,” Sally said, leaning back on the sofa and crossing her ankles. She was chewing gum again.  “Dentists say the gum will help clean your teeth after eating,” she would declare solemnly.
“Though they mentioned Frank, we are not sure if they are related to the two death cases,” Tricia cautioned while watching a talk show on TV. A lock of her blond hair hung before her eyes, but this time she did not bother to smooth it back into place. Her attention was focused inward to some dark corner of her memory for something she wanted to lay her fingers on.
“I think I must talk to Mr. Hsu about the David’s death to learn what he has to say,” said Lois, who was folding something more for Alida.
“I recognized the stout man,” Tricia suddenly remembered. “He was one of the seven men we fought with in New York, the one who used the long whip.”
“So, they really belong to some bad clique,” Sally said. A bubble of gum followed her words.
 
***
 
“How nice it looks.” A girl called Renette stretched out her nicely shaped arm to show her fellow employees the 18K gold bracelet in exquisite design. “David bought it for me just before his death.” She sighed lamentingly. “He was really fond of me.”
“Look at my necklace,” another girl named Ruth swaggered about, “so thick, and the sapphire pendant's so big. David promised to take me to an exclusive club before he died. He said he loved me.” She squeezed her eyes shut as if imagining she was dancing with David on the dance floor of an exclusive club. Then the two girls began to argue as to whom David really loved.
Sally, sitting behind her desk, couldn't help smiling at their silly futile dispute. A third girl drew closer to them, swaying her hips. Her name was Laura. “Once David took me to an exclusive club. He showed the doorkeeper a badge with a black leopard carved on it and we were let in. And he gave me this.” She showed the other two girls a gold ring with an emerald set in the center on her ring finger. “It's supposed to be an engagement ring, I think.” She wove a deep sigh, her tears threatening to flow out. Now the argument went on among the three. Sally pricked up her ears to listen while she pretended to look at the monitor, but the girls suddenly stopped as if their voices were cut off like a sheaf of three wheat stems reaped down by a scythe.  The manager came into the room.
 
***
 
“Dad, do you know anything about a badge with the carving of a black leopard on it?” Sally asked Mr. Lin late in the evening when her father was back from work.
“I heard of a secret underground organization called Black Panther. That was at least ten years ago and that's all I know.” Mr. Lin allowed himself some relaxation, sinking on the sofa.
“So, David was a member of that organization?” Tricia concluded with a firm hand gesture for emphasis.
“It seems so,” her father said.
“If we can get into that club, we'll learn something more,” Sally suggested.  She was sitting beside her father--or more specifically, her father sat down beside her--leaning her head on Mr. Lin's shoulder like she was still twelve years old, fatigued after ten miles of running.
“How can we get in since we don't have such a badge?” Tricia had a serious doubt about Sally's thoughtless suggestion. Her hair was down again with the movement of her head. She raked it back up with her fingers.
“I'll try to get the address from that girl first.” Sally was full of confidence. She raised her head to look at Tricia as if offended by Tricia's disbelief in her ability.
Next day in the office, Sally showed special kindness to Laura, who was a simple-minded girl.  In fact, all girls of vanity are simple-minded. They are just skin-deep in beauty, if they have it, as well as in brains. So it was easy for Sally to win Laura’s friendship and trust.
“Hello, Laura. I truly adore your ability to win a cute guy's heart. Can you give me some tips or a lesson, something so I can win a cute boy, too?” Sally used such a bizarre idea as an excuse.
“It's easy. First, you must put on something sexy.” Laura began to enumerate her merits. “Second….”
Sally put her finger on her lips. “Not in the office,” she said to Laura in an undertone, “We'll go to some restaurant after work if you have time, and it's on me.”
“Okay, it's settled.” Both girls gave a high-five.
They met at seven in a restaurant on Easton Ave, New Brunswick. Laura lived close to it. She just walked there. At dinner, after some idle talk and some instructions from Laura on how to steal a cute boy's heart, Sally brought up the subject of the club after a waitress brought their order. “Do you still remember where the exclusive club is that David took you to?” She wanted to sound as casual as possible, to not unnecessarily rouse any suspicion in Laura.
“Yes, but why do you want to know?” She really didn't suspect anything.
“I want to go there to meet some cute guys.”  That was enough to convince Laura.
“That sounds like fun.  Can you take me there, too?” She made no effort to conceal her eagerness.
“Sure, why not?” Sally assured her, “But where is it?”
“You know, I have lived in this area since my childhood and am so familiar with every corner. It's on a side street right off Livingston Ave, but I can't tell you the exact number. Once I am there, I can tell you which house it is.”
After dinner, Laura got into Sally's car and gave her directions on how to reach there. Sally offered Laura a gum, which she accepted, and Sally let one slip into her own mouth. The club had no sign, looking like a big single house with three stories. Sally drove slowly past it, memorizing the location. Then she dropped Laura at her house and headed home.
 
***
 
“If we can get into that club, we may learn a clue or two,” Sally said hopefully when she got home and saw her two sisters were still in the living room. She flopped down on the sofa, resting her head on Lois's left thigh like she had often done when she had been a little girl.
“Unless we have a badge,” Tricia reminded her from her perch on the love seat.
“Where's David's badge now, I wonder? Maybe, we can look for it in his bedroom.” Sally wouldn't let herself fall into frustration and made another suggestion. She was often struck with peculiar ideas, which sometimes turned out to be feasible.
“I can try that tomorrow. At least it's a way out since we are at a dead end,” Lois agreed. “Get up, lazybones.” She lifted Sally's head up a bit and slid away from the sofa. She called Mr. Li to make an appointment for next day morning.
 
***
 
Mr. Li opened the door for Lois. When they were settled in the living room, he told Lois that the police already searched his son's room thoroughly.
“They might have overlooked something like they do in detective novels,” said Lois. “Besides, what I think important might not be what they think is important.  Maybe, I'll find something I need.”
“Good. This way, please.” Mr. Li led the way upstairs. In David's bedroom, she searched the desk first, went from drawer to drawer. She found nothing interesting.  Then she searched the closet, every corner in it, all the shelves. She went through all his clothes, every pocket. In the inside pocket of a black tuxedo, she found the badge at last. It was a wooden badge of original color, polished smooth, with a black panther in relief. On the backside of it there were a series of numbers, probably his membership number.
“Can I keep this till the case is solved?” she asked Mr. Li expectantly.
“Of course. I never saw this before.  What's the meaning of it?”
“I don't know yet,” Lois fibbed.  “I'll investigate it.”
 
***
 
Sally and Tricia went to the club. They parked their car in an empty space at the curb and walked to the door. Sally rang the bell as if she went to a friend's house. A burly man in his forties opened the door and eyed them warily. Sally showed the badge. The man took the badge and turned it to look at the backside. “Where did you get it, ladies?” he asked sternly.
“My boyfriend, David Li, lent it to me,” Sally fibbed, pushing the gum between her cheek and teeth.
“David Li is dead. That's in the newspapers,” said the man coldly.
“He lent it to me before he died.”  Sally had to find a lame excuse.
“The badge can only be used by the member himself.” He put the badge in his pocket. “Since he died, his membership is automatically canceled. Sorry, you can't come in, ladies.” He shut the door in their faces.  Sally and Tricia looked at each other.
When they reached home, Lois sat at the dining table with Alida, helping her solve some math problems. She was surprised to see Sally and Tricia come back so soon. She looked at them with inquiring eyes. Sally shook her head and told the story, then added, “It seems that we have to sneak in now.” After consideration, Lois gave her consent and said that she would go, too.
They changed into their black catsuits and reached the clubhouse at two in the morning. It was dark and drizzling. There were no lights in the house. They saw a half-open window on the third floor.  They jumped onto the second floor balcony one after another. Then Lois jumped from the balcony to the third floor, with one hand grasping the half-open window and the other hand gripping at the window frame. She pushed the window up and leaped through it into the room, followed by Tricia and Sally. Lois turned on her flashlight and swept the beam around the room, which was empty except for the carpet on the floor and some light fixtures on the ceiling and walls. They searched room after room, then went to the second floor and finally to the first floor, all empty, not even any furniture. It was obvious that the house was vacated, the club moved. A clue was snapped again.
Lois sent Sally to find out who the owner of this house was and Sally went to see him. The owner stated that he rented this house to a Mr. Joseph Hsu and he didn't care for what purpose Mr. Hsu used this house as long as he paid the rent and didn't do any damage to the house.
“How old is this Mr. Hsu?” asked Sally.
“In his thirties, I think.”  Maybe, it was old Mr. Hsu's relative, or even his son or nephew.
 
***
 
There was an old man who worked in that computer company as a security guard for fifteen years. He was said to be the walking encyclopedia of the company's history. Sally always showed her respect to him for his senility and called him Uncle Sung according to Chinese tradition. In the evening after work, Sally stayed behind and walked into the security office. Uncle Sung was there alone. He could always use some company and enjoy some idle chitchat.
“How are you today, Uncle Sung?” Sally addressed him, with a gum in her mouth.
“Never felt better.” He wore a broad smile, lighting a cigarette.
“I didn't see you for a week and was rather concerned.” She didn't want to blow bubbles before elders.
“I was on vacation. Went to my daughter's house in Maryland.” He looked fondly at his daughter's family picture in a nicely carved yellow wooden frame on his desk.
“I hope you'll soon retire and enjoy your free time.”
“Yeah, not too soon. Two more years.” His cigarette hung from the right corner of his mouth.
“Mr. Hsu will retire soon, I think.”  She kept the gum under her tongue.
“Yeah, but he can't.” He took out his cigarette, and lifting his tea mug, had a quaff.
“Why not?” said Sally as if out of mere curiosity. She felt desperate to sneeze, but suppressed it, squeezing her nose with the thumb and forefinger of her right hand.
“Because there’s no one to succeed him.” Uncle Sung said it in a stage whisper, drawing in a whiff of smoke and making the cigarette redder and brighter.
“What do you mean by that?”  Sally looked bewildered, pinching her nose again.
“He has no sons.”  He shook his head as if it were a sin to have no sons.
“Any other children? I mean, daughters?”
“Two daughters. One is a doctor, has an office in northern New Jersey. The other is an officer in the navy. Neither likes the idea of running a computer company.” He kept puffing the cigarette.
“Maybe, he has some nephews who can succeed him.”
“Only one, his sister's son, Mr. Joseph Zukas. His sister married old Mr. Zukas. But they are in Washington State. They seldom come to visit here.”
“Have you seen his nephew?” Sally could no longer hold nature's need and sneezed out loud, sending her gum out into the tea mug of the old man. She felt very much embarrassed, but he didn't even notice it because he had just turned his head to look outside the window.
“Never. He has some business of his own in San Francisco,” he replied without turning back.
“If you can, advise Mr. Hsu to stop killing animals and become religious. He may still be able to have an heir.  It's the Chinese traditional belief.”
“You are right, Sally.” He turned to look at her, smiling innocently.
 
***
 
“This Joseph Hsu may not be related to Mr. Hsu, but he can still work for him,” Sally passed her judgment.
“Or for others as well,” Tricia contradicted her.
“We don't have enough proof to make any judgment,” Lois said. Then she asked Sally, “Do you have any description of this Joseph Hsu?”
“Too ordinary, only he's tall.”
“What a clue you got!” Tricia jeered. “There are so many tall people, thousands of them.”
Two women get together; either gossip or bickering was to be expected, some author said it somewhere in one of her books.
“What does the doorkeeper look like?”  Lois asked.
“He's strong, but not fat, about five feet six, like a Spaniard.”  Sally gave her portrayal.
“Draw a sketch of him for me,” Lois demanded.
“Tricia can draw better than I. She saw him, too.” Sally shifted the task to Tricia, who promised to ask Sam for help on the police equipment for more accuracy.
“May I speak to Sam?” Tricia called, picking up the phone right beside her.
“He's not in his office right now. Who's calling?”
“This is Tricia.”
“Hi, Tricia. This is his assistant, Pedro. How can I help you?”
“I must talk to Sam about some new development in David’s case and I want to use the police equipment to draw a suspect's picture, too.”
“You can come down to the station to sketch the picture while you are waiting for Sam. He'll be back soon, I believe.”
“Fine.  See you in fifteen minutes.”
Tricia got the picture of the doorkeeper through the help of the expert in the police station. When she finished with that, Sam was waiting for her in his office. They greeted each other and took their seats. Tricia told Sam everything about the secret club related to David’s case. Sam looked at the picture, then gave it to Pedro, who made many copies of it and distributed them among the police. Sam asked about the badge. So Tricia drew a sketch for him, saying, “My father only heard of it ten years ago and had never seen a badge himself. This organization is really deep-hidden.”
“I was told that the FBI is on to them now. That's the first time I heard of the name Black Panther, but they won't tell me what clues they have.”
“Anyway, we'll work together,” Tricia promised.
 楼主| 发表于 2/16/2017 10:14:25 | 显示全部楼层
chapter 15

“Lioness Team, Lois speaking.  How can I help you?”
“This is Billy Jiang. Someone wants to kill me. I think only your team can help me. You have such a reputation.” The voice sounded a little quivering.
“Did this someone call you or write to you?”
“He or she, I can't tell, the voice's disguised, called twice during the past week. And I received a letter today.” He seemed a bit more composed.
“What did the person say on the phone?”
“The first time, the person said, 'Write your will if you don't have one.' The second time, it was 'Buy a coffin for yourself'.”
“And what did the letter say?”
“The letter didn't say anything. Only a picture in it.”
“Can you describe the picture for me?”
“It's a tombstone with my name on it.”
“Do you have any idea who wants you dead?”
“No.”
“Did you make any enemies in your life?”
“Never.”
“Do you have any business rivals who want you dead?”
“None that I can think of.”
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Can you come to my office to have a talk in person and see how you can protect me or suggest what I should do?” The request was reasonable.
Although she was busy with three cases on hand right now, this sounded like a life and death problem, and she could not refuse. She jotted down the address and promised to arrive in twenty minutes. It was on Centennial Avenue in Piscataway.
When she pulled into the parking lot, she saw a wooden board erected in front of the building, bearing these words: “Office Space Available.” with a phone number under them. The first thought that struck her was how empty this building was, because assassination would be much easier in a comparatively empty building. She parked her car in the nearest available space. When she entered the building, she was all ears and eyes. It was a three-story building. The first floor space seemed occupied.  She took the stairs instead of the elevator. It was safer.  In the second floor space, only part of it saw activities. But the third floor space was almost empty, except the suite with the number she came for. She pushed open the double doors, no one in the outer office. Had some assassin already achieved his goal? Was this Billy Jiang already dead somewhere in the suite? She pushed the door hard, all the way to the wall lest someone was hiding behind the door. It was okay. No one was behind the door. She saw another door on the left side. She walked there, glancing all around. At her knock on the door, a man inside said, “Come in, please!” Lois opened the door all the way to the wall. A man was sitting behind a big oak desk at the other end of the room. He didn't stand up when Lois neared the desk. He asked Lois to sit in an armchair in front of the desk and introduced himself as Billy Jiang. Lois went directly into business and asked more questions. His reply mostly consisted of “No.” Then he took a piece of paper out of a side desk drawer, which was supposed to be the threatening letter. He handed it to Lois. She took it and at a glimpse, decided it was a computer printout. At that moment, she caught some movement behind her out of the corners of her eyes. Two men were approaching her from behind, one a little to the right, the other a little to the left. They wanted to grip both her arms simultaneously. But Lois was quicker than they were. She shook her head and whipped her long, shiny black braid at the face of the man at her right. It hit the man on the face and eyes. He fell on the floor, groaning, with his hands on his own face. The man at her left jerked his right arm and a small knife with a blue color on its blade sprang out from his sleeve and cut Lois's left forearm, two inches above the wrist. Though the wound was short and only skin-deep, the blood that oozed out became blue.  If Lois had maneuvered her chi under the skin of her arm, the knife couldn't have cut her. The chi would have protected it. But Lois hadn't been prepared for the attack. She knew it was a poisonous knife and swiftly hit some of her own xues right above the wound on the forearm with the forefinger of her right hand to prevent the poison from going up into her heart. Before the man could deal another blow with the knife, Lois struck his Stop-Motion Xue. He became a human statue in a striking posture. The man who called himself Billy Jiang opened the middle desk drawer and took out a pistol, but before he had time to pull the trigger, Lois threw a pencil that was on the desk near his hand. The sharp end of the pencil penetrated into the flesh of his hand and he dropped the pistol in pain. Lois dashed out of the suite, down the stairs, then out of the building. She got into her car and drove it with one hand.
When she got home, the part of her forearm below the wound down to her fingers and thumb looked blue. She quickly took some pills from a cabinet in the den and swallowed them and sat down on the carpeted floor in a cross-legged posture. She maneuvered her chi to the wounded area, trying to force out the poison through her fingertips. At that time, her mother came back, having picked Alida up from her school.  Perceiving the situation, Mrs. Lin sat behind Lois in the same pose, putting both her hands on Lois's back, infusing her chi into Lois for reinforcement. Alida was worried, too, and called Mr. Lin at the video store.  Hearing the bad news, Mr. Lin left immediately, leaving the store in the sole care of Mike.
Parking his car at the curb, Mr. Lin ran into the house to the den. Mrs. Lin told him that Lois already took some antidote pills, but they were not the right alexipharmic for that kind of poison. It could assuage some poisonous effects, but couldn't undo it entirely.  Mr. Lin told Alida to get a basin and put it before Lois. Then he told Lois to hold her poisoned hand over the basin. He took a needle from a box in the cabinet and pricked every finger and the thumb, letting out the poisoned blood.  The skin on her lower arm and hand didn’t look as blue now, but still bluish.
“The poison has invaded the muscle. It will be very hard to get rid of now. Your grandfather said that there are only two ways to deal with this kind of poison.  One is to cut off the lower forearm. If we can't heal it, the poison will eventually go up and then your life's in danger. The other is to find a Snow-Lotus flower, which can totally heal the poisoned organ. Only the Snow-Lotus flower is very difficult to find. It grows only among the Tienshan Mountains in the Northwest of China. The mountain range is so vast that even if you spent years there, it would be hard to be assured that you could find one.”
The phone rang in the living room. Alida picked it up. “Will you hold on, please?” she talked into the mouthpiece. She pushed the hold button and rested the receiver on the end table by the sofa.
“Auntie Louise, can you answer the phone?”
Mrs. Lin had stopped and stood aside, worried to death since her husband came back and took over. Now she hurried to the living room and picked up the phone, pushing on the hold button again. It was Mrs. Chang, Lois's Dry Mother. She called from time to time, inquiring about Lois, how she's faring, inviting her to her house whenever she had time….
“How's Lois? I hope she's busy right now,” said Mrs. Chang on the line.
“She's not good, been poisoned on the arm, though her life is not in immediate danger,” Mrs. Lin replied, sounding a little weepy.
“What's the matter? Oh, never mind, we'll come right over.”  She hung up.
Alida was doing her homework in the family room. Suddenly, she thought she must call her other two cousins and let them know about Lois's wound. Tricia and Sally hurried home, but they could do nothing for Lois. They could only say some soothing words to their mother.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a buzz at the door. Sally opened it. Mr. and Mrs. Chang rushed in, looking really concerned. “She's in the den,” Louise told them without any formality of greeting.  They hurried to the den, but halted in the doorway, seeing Lois was maneuvering her chi to her left arm to hinder the remaining poison from going up. Mr. Lin sat behind her with both hands on her back. Mr. and Mrs. Chang knew that they could not be disturbed at such a critical time; so they receded to the living room, talking with Mrs. Lin.
“We were so worried that Richie wanted to reach here as fast as possible. He drove so fast and even ran the red lights twice all the way down. Lucky he was not caught by the police. What can we do now?”  Mrs. Chang was eager to do something, anything for Lois and asked no one in particular.
“I'll go to replace Mr. Lin for a while,” Mr. Chang said and went into the den. Mr. Lin stood up and let Mr. Chang take his place. After one hour, both he and Lois came out of the den. The bluish color on Lois's lower arm and hand was barely discernible. Her chi had suppressed the remaining poison, but it was still there. It meant if Lois used her chi to fight, the suppression would be abated and the poison would move up again.  Therefore, Lois mustn't use her chi till she was healed.
“I will go back to China to look for the Snow-Lotus flower for Lois,” said Mr. Chang.
“It will be like seeking a needle in a haystack. Your efforts will end in nothing, Mr. Chang,” Mr. Lin said to him. “If there was hope, I would go there myself.”
“You know I learned kungfu in Shaolin Temple. I will go there first to see if anyone there has a Snow-Lotus flower or if anyone knows where there is a one that I can easily lay my hands on. I won't really go to the Tienshan Mountains to search for one. It's too hopeless. You can only come across such a rare treasure by karma. I think Lois should go with me. If we happen to find such a flower, it's better for her to eat it on the spot. At least they may have some better medication in the Temple.” Everyone pondered over the plan and felt it feasible. Lois pressed Mr. and Mrs. Chang to stay for dinner. Mrs. Lin went to the kitchen to prepare for it.
“Who attacked you?” asked Mr. Chang. Lois told them what happened, from the phone call that she received to the escape she made from the building. “Now I recall that the guy who used the poisoned knife to cut me was one of the seven people that we had fought with in New York.”
“So they are all together.” Tricia analyzed the situation. “The stout guy was among the seven people with whom we had a fight in New York City the other night. He often goes to see the one who has Frank's car. Uncle Charles was killed by that same kind of poison that the man used on the knife that cut Lois's arm and the man was among the seven people, too. At least the two cases are connected with the same group of people. Instinctively, I have a feeling that David’s case is connected with them, too, though I don't have any proof yet. If this assumption is a fact, that means all the cases are pointing to the Black Panther.”
“I never heard of the Black Panther. It must be a secret organization,” said Mr. Chang. “But I think David came to learn kungfu from me with a certain special purpose.”
“Do you have any idea what his purpose was, Master Chang?” asked Sally.
“No idea.” He could not say that they might want to use him as a cover. However, he guessed now that the Black Panther had killed Charles. But why? Personal hostility? Or business rivalry? That was out of the question. Charles was not a businessman. He was roused out of his reverie by what Lois was saying. “If Mr. Hsu is my only suspect, it indicates that his Hunter Corps is really the Black Panther. Hunter Corps is the official name and Black Panther is the secret name.”
“I'll find out,” Sally said. “You can go to China to heal your poison first. We'll wait for you to come back before we can crack the cases,” Sally teased.
 
***
 
“Hi, Sam, this is Tricia. I've something new to tell you, but Lois is wounded.”
“Is she in the hospital?” Sam asked, sounding concerned.
“No, she's at home.”
“So, I hope the wound is minor.”  His voice relaxed in relief.
“No, it's very bad,” stated Tricia truthfully.
“Then, why don't you send her to the hospital?” he asked in perplexity.
“You don't understand.”
“Okay.  I'll come to see her and to hear your news.”  A click came from the other end.
When Sam arrived, Lois had finished her self-treatment and was in the living room, talking with Mr. and Mrs. Chang. The door was open. Sam just pulled the screen door and got himself inside. No introduction was needed since Sam knew everyone in the room. The three girls went with Sam to the dining room and sat at the table. Lois told him about the phony customer and the attack. Then to save Lois's energy, Tricia took over the conversation and explained to Sam why the wound was very bad and why she needn't be sent to the hospital. Sam sighed at his own ignorance about such things and knew that he could not be of any assistance here. Lois gave Sam the address of the building where she was ambushed. Sam asked why Lois didn't call him with the situation earlier so that he might catch the thugs, but he was enlightened with the knowledge that it was more urgent to treat the wound immediately at that time. So he left at once, sending some patrol cars there.
Half an hour later, Sam called from his cell phone, saying that no one was found in the suite, no clue left. He went to the management office and people there said that the whole third floor space was for rent and no one should have occupied that suite unless they sneaked in without notifying the management.
 楼主| 发表于 2/23/2017 11:51:12 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 16

Mr. Chang and Lois took the China Airline from JFK Airport in New York. Two cars were packed with the people from two families, Lins and Changs, eight in all. They all wanted to see Mr. Chang and Lois off as though they had started on a star trek and would have been back after traveling some light years--especially Mrs. Chang who could not restrain her tears. Mrs. Lin was much better, only her eyelids looked a bit red. Mr. Lin stood by his wife's side, watching, and Tricia and Sally gave Lois a hopeful weak smile as Lois turned to look back once more. Alida waved when they went through customs and hollered after them, “Buy me something special from China!”
It is the first time that I have the chance to travel to China, Lois rejoiced in her speculation. I was born and brought up in America, which is a multicultural country. Its inhabitants are mostly immigrants or the descendants of the former immigrants; all are guests. Only the native Indians are hosts. Yes, almost all the people in America came from other countries, but they love America all the same, for its democracy and freedom. If there ever comes a day that all other countries in the world become free and democratic and wealthy, too, no more immigrants will come to America; maybe, some people in America will migrate back into their original countries.  Let's help to make it come true. She was really the “Think Globally, Act Locally” type.
 
***
 
It was twilight. The jet plane lifted above the clouds and raced towards the retreating sun as if it would overtake the giant fireball falling gradually below the western horizon. The sky was clear, transparent and azure. Lois looked down from the small window beside her seat, but only saw fluffy cotton clusters like the undulating wave-crests on the ocean.  A woman of middle age with heavy makeup sat behind her, watching the whitecaps, too.  Sometimes, out of the corner of her eye, Lois noticed that the woman stole her glance towards her, but when Lois turned to look directly at her, the woman pretended focusing her attention at the dusky sky outside, seeming a little nervous. No. It's my detective job that always makes me too sensitive and over-skeptical.  Forget it.
Soon dinner was served.  Food on the plane was just like food in the hospital, never encouraging appetite. Lois was luckily not fastidious. So she finished every bit of it, deeming it only as a source of energy. What if I were on a deserted island?  It would be a dainty then.  Mr. Chang was happy seeing how Lois had a good appetite as he shoveled his share of food into his mouth, just swallowing it without much chewing. He didn't want to linger on its taste.  He doubted if the garbage from a restaurant would have a better taste.
At nightfall, Lois sat straight in the seat, exercising her chi for one hour, and then leaned back and fell asleep. Mr. Chang practiced chi for some time, too, before he slept.
When the plane arrived in Shanghai airport, they were carried by the human current to the carousel for their luggage, only a suitcase for each. Lois was not a fashion girl and men never traveled with much luggage. They waited outside the terminal building for a taxi to take them to the hotel where Mr. Chang had had his lodging five years before on a visit to China for some personal business. The traffic was slow in the downtown area in Shanghai. So many people on the sidewalks, back to chest, chest to back, like bumper to bumper car traffic in America. The human flood would push you forth, even if you didn't want to. If you were at the curbside and wanted to enter a shop you just caught sight of, you would have to change “human traffic lanes” among the throngs, and it was not exaggerated that it was more difficult than cars changing lanes on the American highways, even in rush hour. Some people had to step down from the curb and walk in the street, which was already teeming with vehicles, most of which were bicycles, because in China bicycles were still a main personal means of transportation. Though the official speed limit for cars in the downtown area was thirty kilometers per hour, if you could go at ten in the most crowded streets like Nanking Road, you were lucky. And the hotel they were to stay at was located right at the east end of Nanking Road. So imagine how long it took them to reach their destination from the airport, which was situated in the west suburb of the biggest city in China. The only comfort was that they were not in a hurry. They had plenty of time on hand. It almost became a benefit for them to have an opportunity to view the sights on both sides of the streets in the slow traffic.  But at the cost of more fare, because it was counted by the time, not by the distance.
When they approached the reception desk of the hotel, the girl behind it looked up with a neutral expression on her face. She seemed tired and still sleepy, giving a small, suppressed yawn with her right hand covering her mouth. If she was seen yawning by a nasty fellow employee who could report to the manager, she would be in trouble. It looked like she was not enthusiastic about her work.  She neither greeted them, nor even smiled as Mr. Chang mentioned that they had a reservation. She just checked a book and gave them the key.
“Can you tell us what our room number is?” asked Lois politely. The girl remained silent, only pointing to the plastic piece attached to the key with the room number burned on it. Lois couldn't help doubting whether this girl was temporarily mute owing to some kind of throat disease, or unbelievable enough, that the management would hire a mute girl as the receptionist. If so, she must be the daughter of the manager. Such things happen in China.
After they had settled in their respective rooms, they met at the hotel's restaurant for dinner. There were different dining halls to provide different styles of dishes such as Chinese style, French style, etc. They ordered some Chinese dishes. The flavor and taste of Chinese food in China are different from those of Chinese food in America, because the Chinese food in America has been changed to suit the taste of the American people.
After dinner it was still too early to go to bed, though they felt a little weary after the long flight. It was strange that the jetlag was not so obvious when flying from America to China as from China back to America. They took a stroll along the Bund (the name was given by the early British colonists in Shanghai.)--the western bank of the Wangpu River, which splits the city like a watery knife cutting through the face of the Earth. The face of the Earth as a whole is ugly, with upheavals of pimples, deep-cut scars, green hairs and downs everywhere. Salty tears filled its gigantic yawning mouth--the oceans, and other disfigured holes, the lakes. So ugly if you imagine it that way.  How can you expect that its inhabitants will love it and preserve it? If they could, they would bring it into destruction and build a new one to their fancy like a house they don't like.
They sauntered in the growing dusk, glancing this way and that, beholding throngs of people all around. Suddenly a young man came up to them out of the crowd and said in an undertone, “Do you have American dollars that you want to change for Chinese currency?  I can give you a higher rate than the bank.” Mr. Chang rebuffed him. He didn't want to do anything illegal anywhere. Before they could advance a few paces, another young man with a camera and a Polaroid hanging from his neck approached and addressed them. “Do you want to take a picture as a memento?” That was not a bad idea since they didn't bring a camera with them because they were not on a sightseeing tour. The man directed them to a spot with a typical Shanghai scene for the background, shouting to them, “Give me a smile.”
“You should tell us to say cheese.” Lois muttered to herself.
Less than a minute later, they got the picture from the Polaroid and paid him. There were so many young couples, arm in arm, or hand in hand, roaming or hanging around, some sitting on the wooden benches, some perching on top of the dike. One of the characteristics of Shanghai, or of China, is its population, a huge population, too huge for its poor economy, like a destitute family with too many children.
“Let's go back to the hotel,” said Mr. Chang. “We must leave tomorrow for the Temple.  Better to sleep a bit early tonight.”
 
***
 
In Shoalin Temple, Mr. Chang and Lois were shown into the room of the head monk, his eldest brother-in-kungfu. The old head monk, the master who had taught Mr. Chang kungfu, had gone to the better world ten years before at the age of ninety-five. The present head monk was seventy-two. Mr. Chang told the head monk the purpose of their trip here. The head monk, who was clad in a red-and-yellow diagonally checked Buddhist robe, said a prayer first, “Amituofu”, with his hands pressed together and raised before his chest. Then he shook his head, saying, “Sorry, we don't have any medication here in the Temple that can counteract the effect of that kind of poison, but if you can stay here for a few days longer, I'll ask round to see if anyone I know has a Snow-Lotus flower or knows where we can find one.” Then the head monk treated them with a vegetarian meal. During the meal, their conversation slipped back to the good old days, a happy recurrence no one would refuse to enjoy.
“Do you remember Lungming Hua, who came later than you, only stayed here for ten years and left before you?” Seeing Mr. Chang looked baffled, he added, “The one who seemed always hungry and sneaked into the kitchen to steal food?”
“Oh, yeah, I remember him now. We never liked him. He was so selfish and egocentric. Have you heard anything about him?” He put a chopsticksful of mushrooms into his mouth.
“It was twenty years ago that he was said to have burglarized a valuable painting from a museum. Amituofu.”
“How would you have known it? Monks are believed to have no concerns for worldly affairs,” Mr. Chang joked with the head monk. Lois just sat at the table, engrossed in eating, since she knew nothing about the conversation.
“Someone came to the Temple to learn kungfu. He lived in the same village where Lungming Hua had been born. He heard the old people saying that Lungming Hua had had a twin brother, but when they had only been one year old, their parents had died of some disease, amituofu.” He pressed his hands together again, a gesture that always went with the prayer. “And Lungming Hua had been adopted by a family in the same village, but his twin brother was adopted by a family living in a nearby town and the family had been said to have moved to a big city far away a few months later. The twin brothers had never seen each other since then. Lungming Hua couldn't even remember that he’d had a twin brother since they had separated so young.  After the painting was stolen, the police came to the village and the Temple to make inquiries about Lungming Hua.  Amituofu.”
“So, Hua is not his original family name, I guess?”
“You are right.  Amituofu.”
“But how could the police suspect Lungming Hua?”
“It was said that the head guard of the museum recognized his kungfu style as learned from our Temple.  That led the police here and to the nearby villages.  Amituofu.”
 
***
 
It seemed hopeless to procure a Snow-Lotus flower even though they stayed longer. Therefore, they left the Temple after three days. The poison was not crucial to her life at present since she exercised her chi everyday to suppress it.
“It's not an everyday possibility that we can come to China. How about taking a sightseeing tour before we go back?” Mr. Chang suggested, his voice full of concern. He wanted to distract her from her gloomy thoughts, which, though she never manifested them, showed on her sometimes knitted brow.
“It's up to you, Dry Dad.” Lois didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm. Maybe he just wanted to make her happy and forget the threatening wound like a sword hanging by a thin thread overhead.
“Do you like XiAn City? Many dynasties in ancient China set up their capitals there, and so there are many relics and places of renown worth seeing.” Mr. Chang was so resourceful.
“Since I've never been in China before, any place is a new experience for me.”
So they started on their way to XiAn City, back to a time several hundred years ago.
 
***
 
When they were in the city, they joined a group organized by a travel agency. The itinerary listed many places of renown and relics such as Drum Pavilion, Bell Pavilion, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Small Wild Goose Pagoda, the Museum of Stone Tablets, the Tomb of the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty (on the throne: 246 B. C.-210 B. C.), the Vaults of Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses, the Tomb of Empress Wu Zetien of Zhou Dynasty (on the throne: 690 A. D.-705 A. D.), the Tomb of Princess Yongtai of Dang Dynasty, and Huaqing Pool, etc.
As it was only a two-day tour, they could not go to all the places. The first place they went to was the Vaults of the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses, situated about one and half kilometers east of the Tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. All warriors, as well as horses and chariots, were lifelike and life-sized, some holding bronze spears, some carrying bows and arrows and others following chariots, all in war array like some kind of phalanx. These warriors were buried here as bodyguards to the deceased Emperor. People in the old times of China believed that when one died his ghost would live in the nether world just as he had lived in the upper world. So his sons would put into the tomb all the clothes, jewelry and utensils he needed in his afterlife in the darkness. If he was an emperor, his sons would in addition have clay warriors and horses made and buried near his tomb to protect him from any danger of being attacked by other sovereign ghosts. The heads of the statues were removable. Statues wearing caps of different shapes were officers of different ranks while those without caps were soldiers.
“We can say without boasting that it is the eighth wonder of the world,” the guide told the tourists, “considering the number, the size and the workmanship.”
“I used to think of the nationwide network of the highway structures in America as the eighth wonder of the world,” Lois said. “Maybe, considering the age, the highway structures should be the ninth wonder of the world.”
“I quite agree with you.” A middle-aged woman smiled at Lois. She was in the same group and introduced herself as Martha Fox. She wore a motley dress and had on heavy makeup, heavy black eyeliner that looked like the eyes of a panda. So many colors on her cried out in contention for attention. She said she came on this tour from America, too, and asked Lois her phone number so that she could visit her when back in America.
“You are a smart girl. I like you a lot. I love to make friends,” she cooed to Lois. Then throughout the trip, she followed Lois like her inseparable shadow or her pet puppy dog.  Lois suspected that she was the same woman who had sat behind her on the plane, but she couldn't be sure since she really hadn't remembered her face clearly.
Next stop was Huaqing Pool, located at the foot of Lishan Mountain. “It was said,” supplied the guide, “that the pool was build for Yang Yuhuan (died in 755 A. D.), the royal concubine of Emperor Yuanzong of Dang Dynasty (on the throne: 712 A. D.-755 A. D.). She often came here to take her bath.” Nowadays the pool is in a small room, made of smoothly polished stone and shaped like a four-petaled flower.
“I like the shower better,” commented Lois.
“Yeah, it's more hygienic,” Martha seconded.
The guide heard her and smiled. “The pity is that there was no shower at that time.”
“You can chisel some holes on the bottom of a bucket and hang the bucket on a pole overhead and fill it with water,” retorted Lois. “You can have a shower that way.” The tourists chuckled and giggled, and the guide couldn't help grinning.  Martha even clapped her hands in approval.
“The original pool was destroyed during the wars waged by subsequent dynasties and the present one was rebuilt later,” the guide informed them. “It is said that before the royal concubine came here from the palace, the guardsmen held up two lines from which cloth hung down to form a passageway on either side so that no one--maybe by chance in the neighborhood--could see or harm her.”
“I was told,” said Mr. Chang, “that this royal concubine was one of the four beauties in Chinese history.”
“Who are the other three beauties?” asked Lois.
“Xishi in Wu Kingdom, Wang Zhaojun of Han Dynasty and Diaochan during the reign of the last emperor of East Han Dynasty.”
Martha Fox stood aside listening attentively like a primary school pupil.
“There's another story about the Lishan Mountain,” the garrulous guide chattered again, “which goes back to the West-Zhou Dynasty. There used to be a beacon tower on the summit. The beautiful queen, Baoshi, never smiled. The king Youwang, the last king of West-Zhou Dynasty (on the throne: 781 B. C.-771 B. C.), tried every means in his power to make her smile, but his endeavors were all in vain.  He asked her what she liked best when a little girl. She said that she liked to hear the sound of tearing cloth. So the king ordered many scrolls of cloth brought into the palace and had them torn one by one into shreds before the queen, but the queen still didn't smile. Once he took her here. When they sat on top of this mountain, a wonderful idea struck the king. He commanded his men to ignite the beacon fire. The lords hurried here with their troops, banners upheld and unfurled, drums beating and resounding, conceiving that enemies were invading the kingdom again. But when they saw only the king and queen sitting on the mountain top, they looked at one another in dismay and hurried away with banners rolled up and drums muffled. At last the queen smiled--such a sweet alluring smile that made her look amazingly beautiful. The king was happy, too. But later when the enemies actually encroached and the beacon fire was lit, no lords came to the rescue, thinking it was a trick again, just like in the story of 'cry wolf'. As a result, the king was killed and the queen was captured.”
“A sad and stupid story, huh!” Martha sighed sentimentally, stealing a glimpse at Lois, who didn't say anything, but chewed the meaning behind the story. The tourists loitered around the whole place, a beautiful garden with flowers and trees, a pond and pavilions. There are also rows of small bathrooms where one can take a hot spring bath. It was said to be good for one's health. The temperature of the water is just a little higher than that of the normal human body. Almost all the tourists seized the opportunity to enhance their health, but was it worth the cost of the ticket?
The next day they went to the Tomb of Empress Wu Zetian, which lies west of the city. The tomb had not been explored yet.
“Empress Wu was the only Empress in the long history of China.” The talkative guide, once he opened his mouth, would not stop till he finished everything stored in his mind. “In the Chinese feudal society, the status of women was so low that they were required to be dependent on their parents as a girl, on their husbands after marriage and on their sons as widows. It was against the convention and conception of feudalism that a woman could be a sovereign, but Empress Wu managed to be one and maintained her reign for many years. By her order, given before her death, a tall gravestone was put up posthumously at one side in front of her tomb without anything engraved on it.  It is called the Blank Tombstone.  It meant that she would leave it for posterity to inscribe whatever comments they would make on her merits or demerits.” Lois handed him a can of Sprite after his long speech, an appreciation of his endeavors and diligence.
Then the tourists got into the van owned by the travel agency. The driver, alias guide, drove them to the Tomb of Princess Yongtai, which was not far from the Tomb of Empress Wu. Since the tomb was now open to visitors, the guide led the way.
“Princess Yongtai was the granddaughter of Empress Wu,” he introduced. They descended a declining passageway, which had some pretty frescoes on the walls. Two exhibition halls have been built on each side of the tomb in the foreground, in which all the things taken from the tomb are on display; among them the well-known three-colored porcelain camels, horses and figurines of the Dang Dynasty. One large camel is carrying some smaller figurines on its back, its head raised high, and the figurines are all playing musical instruments except one woman in the middle. The guide explained what's what to the tourists and in the end he added, “The woman in the middle is singing and the camel's singing, too.” And laughter rose among the listeners.  Only the princess’s coffin stands in the innermost part of the tomb.
The Museum of Stone Tablets was in the city.  The stone tablets were of different sizes and from different dynasties, a few tablets had stone turtles under them all in one piece.
“The Chinese characters of some articles were written by famous calligraphers of different dynasties and were engraved on the tablets.  Therefore, the learners of calligraphy have often imitated these since then. Chinese calligraphy is also a fine art and always goes hand in hand with Chinese paintings. These tablets are really a thesaurus for Chinese calligraphy to be kept and handed down.”  The guide sounded proud.
 楼主| 发表于 2/26/2017 08:54:52 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 17

“Is there any hope?” Louise asked Lois, though she could conclude the negative by the look on Lois's face, which had lost its usual smile since the day she had got the lethal cut.
“Don't worry, Mom.  I'm fine so far,” Lois solaced her mother.
Everyone in the room was silent. What could they say to her except some trite appeasing words? However, Lois could feel their solicitude through the heart. She sat on the sofa sipping orange juice from a porcelain mug. Then she suddenly felt a need and standing up, went to the bathroom.
The phone rang. “I'll get it!” Alida yelped.  It seemed that one of the duties of the children at home was to answer the phone calls like a switchboard operator, even though most calls didn't pertain to them.
“This is the Lins' residence. How can I help you?” Alida talked in her sweetest voice into the plastic mouthpiece, holding some souvenirs Lois brought her from China. One of them was an old Chinese coin of Dang Dynasty made of brass with a small square hole in the center. So the nickname for money in the olden times was “Brother Square Hole”.  Another was a lovely stuffed panda, which Alida slept with every night now.
“Hi, Alida. This is Sam. Is Lois back home?” Sam recognized Alida's voice at the first word she uttered. He was familiar with it already since she was the first phone answerer at home.
“Will you hold on for a minute or two?  I'll go get her.”
Lois came out of the bathroom and took the receiver from Alida's hand. “Hello, Sam. I just came back late last night.” She sat down on the sofa beside the phone on the end table.
“How are you feeling? Did you get the thing, the Snow-flake flower?”
“Snow-Lotus flower,” Lois corrected him.  “No, I didn't.”
“So, what will you do?”  He sounded really concerned.
“Don't worry, Sam. The worst thing, methinks, is to cut off my forearm if I feel I can't control the remaining poison anymore, but for now it's under control.” She didn't really feel so confident that she could control it for the rest of her life.  She was only twenty-five.
“Okay, take care of yourself.  I've gotta go now.  Bye.”  He hung up.
It was Sunday morning. Everyone was at home. “We have some good news and some bad news for you,” said Sally, having just retrieved the burst bubble of gum into her mouth.
“Okay. Let's hear the bad news first. Then the good news can cheer me up,” said Lois jestingly.
“That's a good strategy,” agreed Sally, leaning on the TV set. “The bad news comes from my side. Laura--you know, the girl working in the computer company who showed me the secret club location--has been missing for several days now. I think, just after the day we went to search the clubhouse.”
“How did she disappear?” asked Lois.
“After she left from work, she never got home.”
“Did her parents report it to the police?”
“Yes, they did. I contacted her parents when she didn't show up for work for two days. I had thought she'd been sick, but it doesn't look like a kidnapping for money. Her family is not a rich one. No ransom notice’s come, just like in Frank case.”
“I think it's because David had taken her to the secret club once. I doubt she's still alive,” Lois gave her gloomy surmise. Recently she often looked at things on the dark side, just like pessimistic people would say that the bottle was already half empty while the optimistic people would say that the bottle was still half full.
“It's too bad they take out lives just like people kill poultry in the slaughterhouse,” sighed Tricia. She raised her can of diet Sprite, took a guzzle, and perched on the loveseat which was at a right angle with the sofa.
“Enough for bad news, now for some good news,” Lois required.
“When I was stationed one night near the house in Newark, you know which house I mean,” Tricia reported, “the tall guy came. You remember the one like the leader of the seven people we fought in New York?”  She squinted at Lois.
“That's no news,” Lois said flatly.
“But Tricia and I speculated that he could be the so-called Mr. Joseph Hsu, who's said to be very tall,” said Sally, who came to flop down on the sofa beside Lois.
“Could be. But we don't have any proof,” cautioned Lois, looking askew at Sally.
“I've got an idea. We all saw him in New York. I saw him twice, you remember?” Sally said excitedly. “We can sketch a picture of him and show it to the owner of the clubhouse to see if it's the same one.”
“You are a genius, Sally!” Tricia grinned at her, showing two rows of her white pearly teeth.
“Don't forget more good news from my side,” their father, who had Alida squeezed between him and Tricia on the loveseat, reminded them.
“What is it? Won a big lottery?” Lois looked at her father expectantly, attempting at a wry smile.
“No such luck,” her father replied, smiling back. “Mr. Chen can walk now.”
“It means that his xue is no longer jammed?”  Lois opened her eyes wide in surprise. “So soon?”
“You can say so,” Mr. Lin grinned. “He'll get complete recovery in a month or two.”
“I'm exulted for him.” Lois looked actually beaming with delight for the first time in a month.
 
***
 
Lois began work on Monday. She had so much work on hand. She could not rest at home as long as the remaining poison was well under control. Sally was still working during the daytime in that computer company. Tricia went for the appointment with the owner of the secret clubhouse, taking a picture of the tall man with her, hoping that the owner would supply the answer whether positive or negative. Lois was in the office, meditating on the cases.
It was around noon and Lois felt famished. Just as she was about to depart for home for lunch, the phone on her desk rang.
“Lioness Team. Lois speaking. How can I help you?” she said routinely.
“Hello, Lois. This is Martha Fox. You remember me?” As Lois was searching her memory for such a name, the soft feminine voice came again, “We met in XiAn, in the same traveling group. Does this jolt your memory a little?”  Then a fit of chuckles followed.
“Oh, hi, Ms. Fox. How are you?” Lois recalled the woman in her forties, half-Chinese and half-American, who wanted to exchange phone numbers with her, saying that she liked her a lot, anticipating friendship.
“Martha, call me Martha. I am just fine. What a memory you have, young lady!” Her crisp giggles rippled through the line to tinkle on Lois's eardrums.
“Sorry, Martha, I have something on my mind and can't focus these days.”
“You need relaxation. How about having lunch together? I'm in a Chinese buffet restaurant, just a block away from your office.”
As Lois felt her hunger sharpening, she said, “Okay, see you in five minutes.”
They sat in a booth. Ms. Fox wore a pair of beige raw silk slacks and a simple white shirt with a matching beige jacket. Her feet were encased a pair of cream-colored leather pumps. Her hair was twisted into a chignon at the nape of her neck and finished off with an elegant old Chinese-style jade hairpin. Her ensemble was accented by a pair of genuine diamond studs in her ear lobes and a slender necklace with a diamond pendant dangling from her neck, a sharp contrast with Lois's attire. Lois had on khaki pants, a checkered blouse and a nylon jacket, her daily working clothes. She only dressed up as special occasions required.
They went to the buffet table, choosing whatever food they each liked, then back to the booth. Ms. Fox told Lois that she was a salesperson and worked flexible hours, was divorced, and her ex-husband claimed their son who was ten.
“That's fine with me. I am free like a bird now, can fly wherever I want to, no longer having the need to find a babysitter.” She laughed a lot, but it sounded a little forced like actresses on the stage. When she was not laughing, she wore a Mona Lisa smile, a smile that seemed to hide some secrets behind it.  Was there any secret behind the smile of Mona Lisa—as if she was mysteriously pregnant with a child of royal blood and would someday become the mother of a young king?
“What's on your mind? Perhaps, I can relieve you of your mental burden,” she cooed intimately.
“Never mind. I am fine.” Lois stuffed a chopsticksful of food into her mouth.
“Sorry. I'm just concerned. Don't mean to pry into what’s none of my business,” Ms. Fox chuckled again, standing up and walking to the buffet table to get more food.
“That's okay. No offense taken,” smiled Lois, temporarily kicking all her troubles into the most remote part in the back of her mind.
After they finished lunch, Ms. Fox insisted that the lunch was on her, because she invited Lois.
“I still have half an hour to kill before my next appointment.” Ms. Fox looked at her platinum watch with a ring of tiny diamonds round the face. “May I sit in your office for a while?”
“No problem,” said Lois.
They walked to Lois's office. After Lois opened her office door, Ms. Fox strode to the sofa and collapsed on it as if she was exhausted with the eating and walking. And she really made herself at home in an office other than her own. The sofa groaned out its protestation under her weight.
“Would you like some coffee, Martha?” asked Lois.
“No, thanks. I had enough of everything.”  She didn't lie there.
Lois remembered that Martha had had two bowls of sour and hot soup together with other food. She really didn't care about her figure and only paid attention to her stomach so that no complaints came from that quarter. Martha Fox was a nice lady. She sought Lois's company as frequently as possible and Lois began to look upon her as a friend despite the age difference.
 
***
 
“You are right, Sally,” Tricia cried hilariously. “No.  We are right.”
“What are you right about?” inquired Lois in the evening when her two sisters came back, waiting for dinner in the living room. They occupied the sofa and loveseat as usual.
“The owner of the clubhouse recognized Mr. Joseph Hsu in the picture. He's the same tall person we know so well.  It seems we are not finished with him yet,” Tricia reported, taking a swill from the cold can of diet Sprite, her favorite daily drink.
“Now we can safely and definitely draw the conclusion that the three cases are all connected, and connected with the Black Panther,” Sally said eagerly, patting her empty stomach in hopes that dinner would be ready soon.
“But we still don't know what their secrets are, who their big boss is and why they want to kill,” Lois reminded her two sisters.  She didn't want their hopes soaring too high like kites on thin strings. Many things could happen between now and the goal to solve the cases.
“Since the three cases are connected, if we can crack one, we crack all of them.” Sally was always full of confidence and optimism, not concerned with difficulties and hitches.  She grew up under the wings of her parents first, now that of her sisters. Lois always assigned her with the least dangerous tasks since she was the youngest of the sisters.
“When can we have dinner, Auntie Louise? I feel my empty stomach shrinking and my limbs on strike,” Alida called out to the kitchen when she finished her homework in the family room.  She feigned feebleness of her limbs by crawling upstairs.
“Can anyone help to lay the table?” Louise called back from the kitchen. “Don't sit there like Buddhas.  I am not the Guanyin with a thousand hands.”(Guanyin is one of the Buddhas.)
“I--doooon't--haaaave--aaa--nyyy-- strennnngth--leeeeeft.”  Alida pretended to be weak.
“Lazybones.” Sally patted her on the head. All the girls went into the kitchen to get dishes, chopsticks, everything needed for dinner. All the five females sat at the table, ready to dig into the dishes. The front door opened, Robert came in. “Lucky me, just in time for dinner.” He sat down, all smiles.
“Better to be in time for everything than too early,” Louise quoted. But the others stared at her; her remark seemed above their heads.
“Okay. I'll give you an example.” Louise raised one hand like a policewoman, not to stop traffic, but to stop the questioning brainwaves from the others. “Today I went to a small plaza. All the parking spaces were occupied except those for the handicapped. As I drove forward, a car pulled out from a space, a few cars behind me. When the car drove away and I was about to back down, another car came into the parking lot and pulled into that empty space. If I had gone to the plaza a moment later, I would have been just in time to take that empty space.” She swept her eyes across all the faces, but none were looking at her. Their eyes were centered on the dishes. Good, she shrugged. At least they are interested in my cooking.
 
***
 
Mr. Chen could exercise chi by himself now, no longer needing the aid from Mr. Lin, but sometimes Mr. Lin came to visit. They became best friends now. After Lois returned from China, she came to see Mr. Chen with her father. Mr. Chen already learned the misfortune of Lois from her father, but could in no way help.
Mr. Chen led his guests into the dining room and all sat down around the rosewood table.  Mrs. Chen brought in a tray with three cups of tea on it.  She placed the cups before her husband and Mr. Lin and Lois; then retired to the kitchen.
“I know something about fortune telling,” Mr. Chen said to Lois, who had on a banana-yellow silk blouse, pants and a jacket of the same color, only a shade darker, and a pair of sandals. “If you tell me your birthday, including the year and the exact time you were born, I can do it right now for you.” Lois was not superstitious, but curious. No harm would come out of fortune telling itself, whether you believed it or not. So she gave Mr. Chen the information. Mr. Chen also knew Geomancy (feng shui) and could tell what was good or bad by which direction the door or windows of the house faced, the arrangements of the furniture in the house or the location of the graves of one's ancestors.
(Readers can skip this paragraph about Chinese fortune telling theory if they don’t like it or have too much difficulty in understanding it. The skipping doesn’t affect the whole story.  The author puts it here for those who are interested in Chinese culture.) In Chinese fortune telling, besides palm-reading and face-reading, the fortune teller should acquire eight Chinese characters, two of them representing the year, two standing for the month, two for the date and the last two for the hour the person was born in. The eight characters are the essentials in Chinese fortune telling. In ancient China, people didn't have the clock. They used the sundial or the water timer, something like the sandglass. The water in an upper brass container is let down drop by drop into a lower container. There are notches engraved on the inner side of the lower container to mark the time. The time of a whole day is divided into twelve equal sections, one equivalent to two hours of the present time count. Each section has a Chinese character to represent it. So there are twelve characters for the twelve sections of a day's time. These twelve characters form a group called dizhi. Another group of ten Chinese characters, called tiangan, is invented. The first character of the tiangan group is used together with the first character of dizhi group to form a pair to mark the first date of the year and the first year when people first set up the lunar calendar. (The two characters are used for the month only in fortune telling. In everyday life the ancient people used the first moon or the second moon of the year, etc., in the lunar calendar.) Then the second pair of characters is chosen in the same way, and then the third pair till the tenth pair. As the dizhi group has twelve characters, while the tiangan group has only ten, the eleventh character in dizhi group is paired with the first character in tiangan group and the twelfth with the second, then the first character in dizhi group with the third character in tiangan group. Therefore, every sixty years, the same cycle is repeated. The year, the month, the date and the hour are each represented by two characters in fortune telling. When a fortune teller arranges the eight characters in a certain way, aided by other information from a fortune-telling book--like five elements metal, wood, water, fire and earth--he can tell your fortune year by year, or even month by month. But generally he tells people's fortune by five-year intervals.  If you want him to do it year by year, okay, the charge is higher, because more work is involved. He can also write down all the details of your fortune for you so that you can keep it and consult it as often as you like.
Of course, Mr. Chen did it gratis. He got a slip of paper and a ballpoint pen. And pushing his teacup a little away from him, he began to write something on the paper. “You have a good grouping of the eight characters.” Mr. Chen showed Lois the sheet on which he wrote down her eight characters in four pairs in a certain pattern. “You see, two pairs are the same characters and the other two pairs are the same, too. This grouping is called 'Butterflies Flying In Pairs', a very good one. And the five elements are almost balanced, which means your life path is mostly smooth, but sometimes there are pits and a little ruggedness. You have still another thirty-five years of good fortune. This year is the worst in your life. You'll have a misfortune involved in cutting and bleeding.”
“I already had it,” said Lois dubiously.
“No, not this one. You'll have another one later,” Mr. Chen prophesied. “Beware of someone who will bring you something bad, either on purpose or involuntarily.”
“Can you tell me who it is?”
“No. I can't. Only a god can foretell everything in every detail. But I can say it's a female.”
“Okay, I'll be alert. Thank you very much, Mr. Chen.” But once she left Mr. Chen's house, she cast the warning to the back of her mind, the most forgetful corner possible.
 
***
 
Once or twice Ms. Fox invited Lois to a golf club that anyone could join as long as the membership fees were paid. Lois learned quickly. Kungfu people know how to control their strength and they can easily use just enough strength to send any object to where it's intended to go. They can make any object go along a very straight line, too. As they got more intimate, Ms. Fox would call Lois some Sundays, saying, “Can you meet me in the same place at the same time?”  But Lois didn't accept her invitation every time she called. She went there occasionally when she felt she had nothing better to do or wanted to relax.  All the cases seemed as if they were stuck in slow traffic. There were not enough clues to go on with them.
Tricia went to Newark as often as possible. She recorded all the talks. Some could serve as evidence to haul those guys in for interrogation, but they aimed at the panther, not the wolves or foxes. If they got a fox, they might scare away the panther.  It would be better to wait for a proper time.
“Where's the fucking girl?” said a speaker in one of the recordings.
“Safe and sound in some fucking place, I dunno.” That was another voice.
“Willing to cooperate? The bitch girl.” Still another voice said between the humming of a popular song.
“Have to if the bitch wants alive. What's a dogshit question? You fucking bastard,” the second voice said with a little chuckle.
“Fuck your Mom,” said the first voice.
When Chinese people say “Fuck your mother”, it implies that he is your father.  What's so good about being someone's father?  Having all the fatherly rights?  No, not really, since he is not really your father. And when they say, “Fuck your Granny”, he's your grandpa. But is a granny not too old for all the young guys?
“Why kill David? Why not let him fucking disappear?”  It was in another recording.
“The dammed strategy of the big boss.  Dogshit,” a different voice said, sounding serious.
“S’ppose he wants to transfer the fucking attention. Provoke some Buddha-dammed fight elsewhere, like between Chang and Li, the two old bastards.”  It was the first voice.  He was being smart in guessing, but really stupid for his own good. No boss wanted his secret intention known or guessed publicly.
“David was a useful guy. Fucking him,” said another voice.
“No more fucking use. He's a fucking suspect already. So the boss used him for another dammed purpose,” the second voice said again. He sounded like he was chewing something.
“It seems unsuccessful. Dogshit,” the first voice said once more.
“Just sow a fucking baleful seed. Maybe, it'll bud and sprout to our fucking advantage someday.”
There were so many four-lettered S-words and F-words in between some useful information.  It seemed that they could not get out what they wanted to say without throwing in those four-lettered words. When Lois had first become a teenager and begun to know such adult things, she would flush involuntarily when she first heard these filthy words. However, with growing experience and time, she had become numb to these curse words so frequently invading her auditive organ and looked upon them as prayers to Satan just like Amen to God or Amituofu to Buddha.
 楼主| 发表于 3/2/2017 11:58:42 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 18

“That's unbelievable,” Mr. Li cried. “Those vile devilish people!”
Lois came to see him one morning before he went to the restaurant. “Do you have a tape recorder?” she asked after the usual greeting ritual.
“David had one. It's still in his bedroom.  I'll go get it.”  He went upstairs.
Lois waited in the living room. Mrs. Li brought in a cup of tea and put it before her on the marble-topped table. It is one of the Chinese customs to give the guest a cup of tea, no matter if the guest drinks it or not. “Thank you,” Lois said. “How's the business going in the restaurant?” Lois went on, just to break the awkward silence, seeing that Mrs. Li was a tacit woman. Imagine if the guest and the hostess sat there without speaking to each other, what would you feel for the situation? You will cudgel you brains for something, anything, to kindle the conversation just for conversation's sake to eschew the awkwardness.
“Good,” Mrs. Li said concisely, a little fidgety, her hands now on the table, now dropped in her lap as she was sitting at the rosewood table. Her coal-black hair was in a perm, reaching to the nape of her neck. She had on dark blue slacks and a navy-blue coat over her white cotton blouse. She looked about her husband's age and a tiny bit chubby. Her skin was not white, nor tanned, just in between, healthy and finely textured.
“No more robbery, I hope?” Lois made another attempt.
“No,” Mrs. Li replied laconically. She was really a person born and fit to deal with curious, inquisitive media. Not everyone had such talent to guard the mouth from slipping out some remorseful words.  She did not need to guard her mouth since she rarely opened it unless absolutely necessary.  “Loose lips sink ships” must be her motto.
Lois had to sip some tea so that she didn't need to talk, stalling for time, but contrary to the time-stalling stratagem of someone pointing a gun at her as always described in many detective novels. In due course of time the hero or heroine will turn out to be in control of the situation--without fail.
Mr. Li came down with the tape recorder. Lois took a tape out of her purse and put it into the player. She let them listen just to the part about David. Then she explained a bit more about the badge David had. This was convincing enough to make both Mr. and Mrs. Li believe that it was the secret organization called Black Panther that had killed their son David, who had been a member of it. Mr. Li thanked Lois for clearing up the doubt in their minds before Lois bade them goodbye, and he added when Lois was on the doorstep, “You'll get a 25% discount every time you come to dine in our restaurant.”  A generous offer.
 
***
 
“Good. The seed will never bud,” sang out Sally jollily. “But 25% discount is not enough if we can lay our hands on the killer of his son.” She just came back from work in the computer company. She threw herself down on the sofa, exhausted, but not enough to stop chewing gum.
“Dear Tricia, if you have any sisterly concern left for me, will you do me a teeny-weeny bit of a favor and get me something to drink?  I'm really fatigued from my work.”
“But you're paid working there. Okay, I'll fetch you a diet Coke from the fridge and you pay me five dollars,” Tricia bargained with her.
“You are too greedy. Mom bought that Coke. You can't sell it to me for five dollars. Even if you bought it, the price is really ridiculously high,” Sally protested.
“I didn't say I’d sell it to you. The five dollars is labor fee. You know labor fee is high in America.” So saying, she got Sally an icy can.
“Thank you very much. That five dollars is on credit,” Sally sniggered. “Will you issue me a platinum credit card from Tricia Bank so that I can use it often later?”
“Sorry. Your application is denied because of your bad credit history,” snickered Tricia.
“Okay, okay. I'll apply for one from Lois Bank.” She coughed, some drops of Coke got into her lung pipe. After her coughing ceased, she said, “What will Mr. Li give us if we catch his son's killer?”
“They will give you their restaurant, I believe,” sneered Tricia, “if you can bring their son back to life for them.”
“I'm not interested in running a restaurant,” said Sally seriously, as if someone was really offering her a restaurant and she had to reject.  She blew a bubble between swigs.
Lois was reading today's newspaper, sitting on the sofa.
“Look at the TV,” yelled Alida. “A guy's holding a woman hostage before a store.”
The girls turned their heads towards the TV. It was a live news telecast. It looked like a plaza on a local highway. A man in his thirties stood before a store with his left arm round a woman's neck and his right hand holding a knife pointed at her throat. Then two police cars could be seen on the scene, standing some distance away, the colored roof lights flashing. A policeman was shouting to the man and the man was shouting back, but the microphone was not near the scene; so they could not hear what the policeman and the man were shouting to each other. The hostage woman looked frightened, but she did not shriek, no, she could not, with the man's arm pressed around her neck. Perhaps, her screeching stage was history. At this critical moment, the man suddenly loosened his grip on the woman and crumbled on the ground. The woman fled at once out of the picture. The policemen moved in to take the man in custody. The limbs of the man seemed immobile and the policemen had to hold him on his feet, but the next moment, he was struggling, intending to break free from the policemen. He did not succeed and was put into the back of the police car with cuffed hands behind him.
Half an hour later, their father came home. Alida told him about the live scene on TV. “That's where I just came from.” Mr. Lin dropped a bombshell of surprise.  The girls eyed him agape.
“There's a supermarket in that plaza. I was in that area and when I headed home, I suddenly remembered that your mom had told me to buy some paper towels. So I pulled into the plaza. That's when I saw the man holding the woman as his hostage. I moved closer and picked up two small pebbles. I slung one to the wall of the store and it bounced to hit the Stop-Motion Xue on his back. I learned it from the pool table. He collapsed like a Cabbage Patch doll, the one Alida slept with before she got the stuffed panda.”
“So, that's it,” cried Sally ecstatically, giving her father a peck on the cheek. “I wondered how it could be when I saw him collapse on TV.  I thought he suddenly developed a heart attack.”
“Then, when the policemen were holding him up, I slung another pebble, which rebounded in the small of his back and undid the previous effect, and he began to struggle,” their father continued. “But since I didn't want to be involved as a witness or anything, I left the plaza immediately and forgot to buy paper towels. Your mom will be angry now.”  Then he instructed Sally, “When your Mom comes from the kitchen, you go forward to kiss her mouth and seal her lips so that the angry words won't come out.”
“I can do that,” Alida offered.
“I bought some already,” said Louise coming from the kitchen. “It was on sale with a coupon today.”
“Mom will be happy, Dad,” Sally observed, “that you didn't buy any at a higher price.”
“That's right,” said her Mom. “If I could, I'd thank that man for saving me some money.” Everyone burst out laughing.
“If your mom were a lawyer,” their father jested, “I think she would step forth to defend that man without charging him a penny since he did her such a favor.”  The laughter evolved into a roar.
 
***
 
At a buzz from the door Mrs. Chang went to open it. When she saw Mr. Li standing on the porch, she was taken aback. The first thought that flitted across her mind was that he came to make trouble again.  Her face became ashen pale.
“May I speak to Mr. Chang for just a few minutes?” he asked in anticipation, no rage in his voice, only politeness.
“He--I mean, you--will you come in, please?” she stuttered uneasily, clinging to the door as if Mr. Li would kidnap her away.
When he took his seat on the sofa, Mrs. Chang repaired to the den to fetch her husband. After a while Mr. Chang stepped into the living room.
“I came to say 'Sorry' today.” Mr. Li got up from the sofa, holding out his hand, a friendly gesture. Mr. Chang shook hands with him, saying, “That's okay.”
“Lois told me everything. I misunderstood you before,” Mr. Li apologized again. “I presume that someone wanted to cause a fight between us.”
“I knew it already,” Mr. Chang said smilingly, raising his right hand, dipping it into his short hair and scratching his scalp. They both sat down on the sofa.
“Do you know who that someone is?”  Mr. Li asked hopefully, thrusting his head a little forward.
“No,” Mr. Chang said flatly. “If I knew who it was, I’d go fight him.  He caused me such troubles.” He stopped scratching now, one hand resting on the arm of the sofa, the other on his lap.
“If you find out who it is, please let me know. I must fight him first.  I'm going to get revenge for my son.” Mr. Li made the not unreasonable request, gritting his teeth.
“I will. You can fight him first.  It's your privilege,” Mr. Chang acknowledged his understanding.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Li gratefully.
Mrs. Chang came out from the kitchen with two cups of herbal tea on a tray. She put them on the coffee table before the sofa. Mr. Li thanked her and invited both Mr. and Mrs. Chang to his restaurant for dinner that evening, adding, “If you don't come, I'll think I'm not worthy of your friendship.”  Then he presented them with a name card.
“I accept your invitation since we are friends now.” Mr. Chang smiled at him cordially.
 
***
 
Sam sat on the sofa across from the desk to look at Tricia, who sat on her swivel chair behind the desk. Lois did not come in today. Tricia was playing all the tapes she had recorded from that mysterious house in Newark for Sam. He was listening attentively.
“So? As all the roads lead to Rome,” said Sam after the last tape in their possession so far was played to the end, “all the three cases point to the Black Panther.”
“It looks so,” Tricia conceded. “But what if we can't capture the Black Panther?”
“If none else can, you can, I'm sure,” Sam encouraged. “A lioness is stronger than a panther.”
“We haven't a definite clue to trace to its lair yet,” Tricia said regretfully, pushing a loose wisp of her sunshine reflecting hair behind her ear and adjusting her necklace in front of her throat. She was wearing a violet-tinted silk blouse with long sleeves and lavender slacks. She looked charming.
“At least you have that house under surveillance now,” said Sam, fixing his eye on her. No one could tell whether he was paying full attention to their conversation or just admiring her charm and beauty. “If you don't mind, I can send someone on a twenty-four hour stakeout there.”
“You can take over this task so that I can use my time elsewhere. But give me a copy of every tape you get.” Tricia smiled such a naturally sweet inveigling smile that only a saint could resist.
Sam guaranteed his promise. Then he peeped at his wristwatch. “How about a work lunch together? We can discuss the cases further.” Sure, he was certainly not a saint.
“Okay,” Tricia responded joyfully.
They went to an American restaurant at the corner of Fourth Avenue and were shown to a corner booth. It was drizzling outside. They got a little wet on the head and shoulders. While they were waiting for the orders to be served, they had a free chat. Tricia rested both her hands on the top of the table, palms down, to emphasize what she was saying. Sam put his hands on top of hers, as if to double her emphasis. Their hands touched. Their heartbeats accelerated, almost to exceed the speed limit. The electricity darted through their bodies, three hundred thousand kilometers a second. Their heads leaned forward. Their lips drew closer. A plate seemed to dive suddenly from heaven down between their noses and land on the table. The waiter brought them their appetizer. They had to pull back. They did not even cast a brief glance at the plate. Their eyes were locked on each other. The waiter retreated with a knowing grin. Tricia started to smile at Sam. Sam smiled back. Tricia picked up a forkful from the plate, but she did not put it into her own mouth. She fed it into Sam's mouth and he did the same to her. They waited for the main course, but it never came, because the waiter held it back, giving the couple more time for the kiss he had interrupted guiltily. When the waiter served another table, he stole a glimpse at the corner booth, and seeing they were just talking, he brought them the next course. They fed each other again. Some gravy trickled down from the corner of her mouth.  Tricia took up her napkin and was about to wipe the gravy with it, but Sam leaned over to lick the gravy off her chin with the tip of his tongue. “When I am around, my tongue can serve you for whatever you need.” Sam grinned, his mouth wide from corner to corner. Tricia was beautiful just like Lois was, but they had different types of beauty, one Oriental, one Occidental. Work lunch changed its quality. Not a word was said about work. Okay, exchange of a few words did happen in the first few minutes, but it mostly served as a sudden, quick turning point in their relationship.
Sam knew that Chinese girls, especially those born from an educated old-styled family, tended to be reserved. Generally they did not expose their emotions boldly, but once established, the relationship would be more stable. However, love could not be forced. It could only show and be accepted. It seemed a long time in Sam's life without a girlfriend. The proverb was right. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
 
***
 
It was not a weekend evening. In Mr. Li's restaurant only sixty percent of the tables had patrons. Mr. Li reserved a corner booth for them. It started raining in the evening. Mr. and Mrs. Chang pushed open the restaurant door and left their umbrella in a pail near the door to hold the rainwater dripping from the umbrellas. Mr. Li was waiting for them at the register counter.  Seeing them come in, he stepped forth to welcome the old couple. Then he introduced them to Mrs. Li, who stood behind the register counter as a cashier.  Mr. Chang wore khaki pants, a white shirt, a khaki jacket and leather loafers.  Mrs. Chang had on slacks, a blouse and a jacket with sandals to complete her ensemble.  Old Chinese ladies seldom wear skirts.
“This way, please.” Mr. Li led them to the reserved booth. Mr. and Mrs. Chang sat down at one side and Mr. Li took the other side, facing the door. He could see every movement in the restaurant. A waitress brought a teapot and three cups and handed the old couple each a menu. Mr. Chang gave back the menus.
“We eat everything except the stone and human flesh.” He gave a little joking laugh with the trite old Chinese saying. Mr. Li smiled and told the waitress to serve all the best and most expensive dishes on the menu. The waitress withdrew to the kitchen.
While the two men were chattering away, Mrs. Chang looked around. The restaurant was not a big one. Two rows of booths were placed along the two opposite walls and two rows of small square tables ran down in the middle. Some Chinese paintings set in redwood frames hung above the dark paneling on the cream-colored walls and between the paintings some rectangular red paper slips were pasted with golden Chinese characters on them, always with trite meanings such as “Business Flourishing”,  “Plenty of Money Flow in”….
In one of the middle rows two tables down sat a middle-aged man, a frequent patron, who cast stealthy glances at their booth from time to time, Mr. Li noticed. Mr. Li had a habit of chatting with old patrons. He called it “Communication To Build Up Patron Relationship”. The man told Mr. Li that he was single and worked near the restaurant. He did not want to cook at home himself, so often dined out, but he refused to reveal where he worked. That was fine with Mr. Li as long as he paid for his meal. But Mr. Li remembered that just a few days ago when this old patron came in for lunch and he had a talk with him out of habit, that he had told him, “A relative of mine working in the computer company owned by a Mr. Hsu told me that rumors are prevalent that the owner had killed a young employee.”
“What's his name?” Mr. Li asked out of curiosity.
“David Li. I read the name in the newspapers, too.” He looked away from Mr. Li.
Mr. Li gazed at him. He lowered his head and began eating. Mr. Li shook his head and walked away from the table. He did not mention it to anyone, only kept the doubt to himself.
The rain became heavier. Some of the patrons, who were not in a hurry, lingered over their meals as did the middle-aged man. The dinner in the corner booth was also not finished yet. By Mr. Li's instruction, every dish served was in small quantity so that they could try more varieties. Mr. and Mrs. Chang certainly were not in a hurry. They only felt that time was heavy on their hands. They would prefer killing more of it than saving it. Their dinner lasted till closing time. They stood up and looked round. No more patrons were in the restaurant. They were guests. The rain had ceased.  Mrs. Li came out from the kitchen and saw their guests of honor to the door together with Mr. Li.  Before their departure, Mr. and Mrs. Chang thanked and thanked Mr. and Mrs. Li.  Mr. Li said, “You are welcome to come here often.”
 
***
 
Next day Mrs. Chang called Lois and told her about Mr. Li's apology and invitation. Lois was happy for both families. “Did he say anything about a 25% discount if you go to dine there later?” asked Lois.
“No. Besides, I don't want him to go bankrupt. But what do you mean by 25% discount?” Mrs. Chang did not understand. Then Lois told Mrs. Chang her side of the story. They both giggled over the phone at Mr. Li's expense.
 
***
 
Every day, Sam had the copies of the tapes that were recorded from that house sent to Tricia. Sometimes when he was not so busy, Sam would go to their office and give her the copied tapes himself. When Lois was in the office, Sam talked to both girls. One day, Sam came with two tapes and said, “Hi!” to Lois. Then he left the office with Tricia. Lois knew they went to lunch somewhere. She was happy for Tricia. She was not a girl to have green eyes. Since she got the cut on her arm, she was not in the mood to be jealous. It was simply not in her nature. Her thoughts went to Sally. Sally should have a boyfriend, too, but who's fit for her? Pedro, Sam's assistant, is a nice boy, but I don't want to be a matchmaker, at least not before I know Sally's feelings. She took one of the tapes Sam brought and put it into the player on her desk. It was all gossip blended with four-letter dirty words. Then she put in the second one. The following dialogue attracted her attention.
“I said it according to boss's plan.”
“Did he believe it?”
“I'm not sure.”
The rest of the tape was rubbish, too. Who said what to whom about what? The question was too complicated. Every tape was dated, but the date had nothing to do with the answer.
In the evening, the three girls listened to that part of the tape together. None of them had any idea about it. “Any news in your company recently?” Lois asked Sally.
“No,” Sally replied flatly with a bubble over her mouth. It was not like Sally to be so brief and curt. That meant that everything was actually normal there.
“Anything said about David?” Lois tried again.
“The topic of David's death is from boiling to hot to warm to lukewarm to cool to cold to icy now.”  The words tumbled out of Sally's mouth in a breath. That's Sally again.
“How can David be so easily forgotten?” wondered out Tricia.
“He's not a guy to be remembered long. If we were not on his case and only read his story in the papers, we'd have forgotten him long ago.”  More bubbles burst.
“People have incredibly short memories,” Tricia sighed profoundly as if afraid she would be forgotten as soon as she died.
“Yeah, too short even for unprecedented calamities.” Sally breathed out her acquiescent sigh.
 楼主| 发表于 3/5/2017 09:39:23 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 19

One day a queer invitation came with gilded convex words on a pink gauze background in a matching expensive envelope, which read as follows:
 
Mrs. & Mr. Zi
Request
the Honor and Pleasure of the Presence
of
Mrs. & Mr. Lin
and
their three beautiful, talented daughters
Miss Lois, Miss Tricia, and Miss Sally
for the Thirty-Fifth Birthday
of
Mrs. Melissa Zi
at seven p. m.
on the Tenth of October
in our humble abode
in Long Island, New York
 
P. S.
Absence
without adequate reason
will be
to our regret and sorrow
 
Sally read the invitation aloud to the whole family gathered at the dining table before dinner. “I've never read any invitation with P. S.,” Sally commented.
“So, it means he's an extraordinary man,” said Tricia.
“You are right. Extraordinary men do extraordinary things,” Sally supplemented.
Then everyone focused their attention on Mr. Lin, who would make the decision as to whether to accept honor and pleasure or to give regret and sorrow.
“I think we have to go,” Mr. Lin finally said. “If not for honor and pleasure, we'll do it for the ginseng.” The principle in his life was not to offend anyone, no matter his social and financial status, high or low.
“I think I cannot go since Alida is not included in the invitation,” said Mrs. Lin. “I must babysit her. That's the reason adequate enough and required by law.” Her witticism and humor caused chuckles.  So it was determined that Mr. Lin and the three girls would attend the party.
The three girls had clothes for almost all occasions imaginable. They didn't need to hurry out for new purchases. Shopping was never their select hobby and favorite pastime. They had only to choose from their existing wardrobe which dress was suitable to wear for the birthday party.
 
***
 
On that day, they put on their best clothes appropriate for the occasion. Mr. Lin wore a black tuxedo with a bow tie.  Lois chose a long, elegant, silk lavender dress with thin spaghetti straps and matching sandals. She left her ebony hair loose, flowing around her shoulders, and put on a simple necklace with a diamond teardrop. A violet shawl covered her shoulders. Tricia settled on a short, baby blue dress with a heart-shaped neckline and a pair of high-heeled sky-blue sandals. She also wore a long, thin navy blue windbreaker as a coat. She put on a necklace with a beautiful topaz pendant and kept her hair in a delicate braid with curly strands framing her face. Sally decided on a long, strapless white satin dress with a slit up one side and silver dancing shoes to match. Outside of the dress, she had on a short, white velvet jacket. Her sterling silver earrings and necklace perfectly complemented the dress and her dark hair was in an exquisite athletic style. They rode in Sally's black Ford Taurus. Their father occupied the passenger seat; Lois and Tricia sat in the back. They left home a bit early since they didn't want to be late. They arrived right on the dot. Mrs. and Mr. Zi were standing in the spacious foyer, welcoming and greeting the guests.
“You are very punctual, Mr. Lin,” said Mr. Zi smiling when they shook hands, “just like the Count of Mount Cristo.”
“Which one, then, do you think you are in that novel?”  Mr. Lin joked back.
After the girls were all greeted, Mr. Zi asked, “Where is Her Ladyship, your honorable wife?”
“She has to babysit our niece Alida. We are law-abiding people, aren't we? But she did want me to convey her congratulations to Your Ladyship.” He turned to Mrs. Zi with a slight bow.
She wore a Mandarin-styled gown of white brocade glittering with a silver embroidery of peonies, reaching her ankles and covering her long excellently-shaped legs with slits on both sides high enough to occasionally reveal her thighs when she was walking. The stiff collar was so high that it reminded people of the cervical collar. A pearl brooch was pinned on her bosom. The brooch was designed in the shape of a dove taken after a drawing by Picasso. A pair of silvery leather dancing shoes of Italian make encased her delicate feet. Her hair was done up in an old Chinese-styled twist with gold and pearl hairpins stuck in to secure it and a pair of diamond earrings dangled from her nicely-outlined earlobes. Two gold bracelets set with rubies and sapphires adorned her right wrist, a platinum wedding ring with a ten-karat diamond sparkled on her left ring finger and a platinum watch inset with a circle of small diamonds round its rim was on her left wrist, which completed her outfit for the occasion. She looked so pretty and elegant she could have been a princess.
Then Mr. Lin and the three girls allowed themselves to be led by the butler into a big parlor, which was full of guests already. Among them Mr. Lin recognized two masters who were brothers, Francis and Jason Deng, living in Chicago now. But the reputation of these two masters was questionable and not so good as to be worthy of Mr. Zi's friendship. There might be a reason that they were present.  Mr. Lin pointed the two men out to his three daughters and told them to keep an eye on the duo.  Then the hostess and host got on the dais at the end of the parlor and gave a short speech of welcome and thanks. Afterwards, the guests followed them into the dining parlor where there were twenty-five big round tables arranged in rows. Each table could seat twelve people. The distinguished guests were invited to sit at the same table with the hostess and host. They were all local politicians and rich businessmen. Less celebrated guests sat at the tables nearest to the honored table. Guests with still less prominence sat a bit further away. The rest of the guests could choose wherever they cared to sit and whomever they wished to sit with. Mr. Lin sat with his three daughters at the table remotest to the honored one. They noticed that the two brother masters took seats at the next table.
Each table was served first with eight cold dishes together with many varieties of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic to the different taste of the guests. Then when the cold dishes were finished there came eight hot dishes, one following another. Then two sweet courses: one was swallow's nest and lotus-seeds in sweetened water and the other was plum-blossom-shaped thousand-layered cakes, each sized for a morsel. Then four big hot bowls were served, in each of which were a chicken, a duck, a fish and a whole thigh of the pig, cooked in different recipes. And what came last was a huge hot bowl of soup of shark's fins, sea cucumbers, abalones and other dainties together with small bowls of rice. Generally, the guests were too full by then and wouldn't touch the soup, much less the rice. Some might take a small bowl of soup. That was the Chinese traditional way of serving food at a feast in rich and decent homes. Serving soup first in Chinese restaurants is the way they have learned from the western style to suit European people.
After the banquet, the dance began in the ball parlor. A small orchestra was placed on the dais. Mr. Lin didn't dance and so kept an eye on the two masters, who didn't dance either. The hostess and host danced to the first piece of music. All the guests gathered around the dance floor to watch and applauded as the couple finished. Then the guests, who were of any interest, participated in the dance. The three daughters were all invited to join the waltz, the next piece. Since there were more men than ladies, the women had new partners at the beginning of every piece. It seemed that young men got into a waiting line for dancing partners. Even the hostess was busy dancing with guests by turns. At the end of the dance, all the ladies were exhausted. The last program for the party was the cutting and serving of the colossal seven-layered birthday cake looking like a pagoda and wheeled out on a movable big long table. The orchestra played the tune “Happy Birthday” and the guests were chanting along while the hostess started to cut a few pieces, which were served to the honored guests first. Since the hostess was so tired from the dancing, the host took over the task and all the guests got a small piece. This should be done before midnight, within the day of birth. Then the guests thanked and said goodbye to the hostess and host.
 
***
 
On the way home, they talked and laughed in the car. “I noticed that the brother masters never spoke to Mrs. and Mr. Zi as if they didn't know each other,” Mr. Lin began. “Maybe, they intruded on the feast like some free-meal-eaters in old China.” He referred to a bad habit some people had had in old China. They often invited themselves to some big birthday parties or wedding feasts although they didn't even know any members of the families. But since there were so many guests present, no one could tell who was the rightful guest. The members and relatives of the bride's family would think that these people were invited by the bridegroom's family, and vice versa. No one would come to question them. No one really cared about such trifling things on such an occasion. These people were known as Free-Meal-Eaters, since they didn't even bring any birthday or wedding gifts.
“Lucky I always have the miniature camera with me,” said Tricia. “I took their pictures. Later we can check their background to see whether they have anything to do with, or are even the bosses, of the Black Panther.”
“Very good. You did it right,” her father approved. He was driving now since the three daughters were almost exhausted from dancing excessively.
“I've no strength left.” Sally gave a great yawn. “Can anyone carry me into the house when we arrive?” For the whole evening she didn't chew gum. She didn't even bring gum with her since she knew that it was not appropriate to chew gum on such an occasion.
“You can sleep in the car, once in a blue moon.” Tricia made the suggestion, trying hard to keep her face straight.
“A young man called Henry Wong danced thrice with me and pressed me for my phone number, and I gave him our office number,” Sally informed.
“Do you know anything about him yet?” her father inquired.
“He works as an engineer in a big American company. His parents are in Taiwan. He came to study for his Ph.D. here and after acquiring his degree, he was offered a job and has lived here alone ever since.” Along with her dark skin, Sally had a pretty symmetrical oval face, big eyes, straight nose, and a nicely shaped mouth with two dimples when smiling. Her figure was slender and good, but she always wanted to lose a few pounds to make it more to her own ideal.
“A young man looking like a dawdler wanted to have a date with me next weekend, but I declined, saying that I have a boyfriend already,” Tricia informed, too, “How about you, Lois?”
“Oh, I had an army of admirers,” jested their big sister, “but I'm not interested in boyfriends yet and so sent all of them away.”
“You've broken so many hearts, you cruel thing,” Sally accused with an arch smile.
“Men's hearts are not so easily broken as women's. They are the tough sex, remember?” Lois retorted, leaning her head on the headrest of the passenger seat.
“Yeah, we are the tender sex,” Tricia acceded, proud of being born that gender.
 
***
 
“May I speak to Lois?” It was a young man's voice, unfamiliar to Tricia.
“May I ask who's calling?” Tricia queried instead of answering.
“Wayne Lee. I danced with her at Mrs. Zi's birthday party.” How and where could he get the phone number? Tricia wondered.
“Sorry.  She's not in the office right now.  Do you want to leave a message?”
“Just tell her that Wayne Lee called.  Thank you.”
“Who's Wayne Lee?”  Tricia asked Lois at home that evening while they were watching TV.  Lois sat beside her on the sofa.
“Never heard this name before,” said Lois absentmindedly, holding a cold can of Sprite in her right hand and sipping from time to time.
“He said that he danced with you the other night,” Tricia told her, eyeing her sister sideways.
“I never asked the names of any partners,” Lois said flatly, raising the can to her mouth.
“How and where could he get our phone number?” Tricia tried to get some information from Lois.
“I don't know. So many of my name cards have been distributed all over the country since our business began.” She was not provoked with curiosity so easily.
“Are you not curious to know?” As a matter of fact, she herself was curious.
“No, if nothing serious happens,” said Lois indifferently, her gaze on the TV screen.
Next day Wayne Lee called again. Lois was in the office, but she shook her head to Tricia. So Tricia said that Lois was not in the office. On Friday Wayne Lee called again. Tricia could no longer refrain her curiosity and made her inquiry, “Where did you get our phone number, Mr. Lee, if I may ask?”
“A friend of our family's has her name card. She was once her client and she told me everything she knew about Lois when she saw I was dancing with her. She was also at the party.”
“Do you have any business dealings that you want to talk about with her?” she asked after her curiosity was satisfied.
“No, no.  It's a personal call.”  Both hung up after a few more exchanges of polite rubbish.
“You must talk to him at least once to make things clear,” Tricia said to Lois after she returned her receiver to the rightful cradle. “You can't let him keep on calling and nursing a fond hope.”
“You are right,” Lois consented. “I'll talk to him the next time when he calls.”
The next time was next Wednesday. “I'm so sorry, Mr. Lee, that I was so busy and often not in my office when you called so many times,” Lois answered the phone.
“It's okay. I call only to ask if you are free this coming weekend.”
“Sorry. I've a date with my boyfriend already.”
“No problem. It's a pleasure to talk to you. I'll call another day. Bye.” There was no another day. The call never came.  He got the message with the hidden meaning.
“He seems a nice boy,” Tricia said after Lois disconnected the line. Lois didn't even look up. She was rummaging in her desk drawers as if she was searching for something very important to her life.  Tricia shrugged.
 
***
 
Sam and Tricia were having a dating dinner again. It was Saturday evening. Sam didn't have any definite schedule for that evening, so he called Tricia and picked her up from her office. They could only have improvised plans. Even short-time plans didn't work, like planning two days ahead.
Sam drove aimlessly. They really didn't care where they went as long as they could be together. In the car, Tricia told him about the two master brothers and wanted Sam to check their background with the Chicago police, giving him a photo with both brothers in it.
They went on Raritan Avenue eastwards to the Plainfield Avenue crossing. When Sam saw the left-turn green arrow was on, he turned left onto Plainfield Avenue north. After a while they saw a restaurant. The sight of it must have stimulated the reaction of Tricia's stomach, as in the case of Pavlov's dog, and a feeling of hunger surged within.  So Sam turned into its parking lot.
They got a table inside and sat down, not opposite each other, but at a right angle: Tricia on the right side of Sam. They read one menu, heads together. Sam's right hand was holding her left under the table. Just at that time, someone called, “Hi, Tricia. Hi, Sam.” They raised their heads to the smiling face of Sally with her new date, Henry Wong, who was a bit taller than Sally, strong and round-faced with slightly curly raven-black hair, big dark brown eyes, a high straight nose, and dressed in a jacket and pants. They said hello to each other and Sally introduced Henry to Sam.
“Can we make it a double date?” Sally asked, chewing a gum.
“Why not?” Tricia said.  Sally and Henry took the two unoccupied chairs, Sally close to Tricia and Henry on the left side of Sam. No more specials for us today. Tricia regretted agreeing to the double dating. Henry was also talkative like Sally. Suit each other, Tricia thought. But better one is a talker and one is a listener, so there's no conflict as to who will do the talking. Then they both began to speak, and they both stopped altogether. They smiled at each other. Good. No fighting about that. When the courses were served, they took up their forks to dig in. Sally spat the gum into a paper napkin and began to eat while Henry said his brief grace. Suddenly Sam's fork slipped out of his hand onto the floor with a clank. As all the waiters were busy and no one came to pick up the dirty fork and bring him a clean one, Sam stooped to pick it up himself.  He looked at the fork that he thought must have been contaminated by touching the floor. Although the floor didn't look dirty, no one could see bacteria with naked eyes. So for health safety, he laid it on the table. Tricia offered hers to him and they ended up sharing the fork.  There is something special today. Tricia smiled at Sally, who showed her dimples back.
 
***
 
Sam was busy the next few days, but he did squeeze out some time to make a phone call. “Hi, Tricia. This is Sam. Tell you something about the two master brothers, whatever their names. They are on the police records; I mean, actually in suspect lists for jewelry store and bank robberies, some such things. Only no hard evidence against them to put them behind bars. But they are no small fish if you can catch them.”
“With kungfu on the master level, they won't be intrigued in petty crimes if they want to commit any,” Tricia responded. “Can we put them under surveillance?”
“Yeah, that's what I suggested to the Chicago police.”
“Very good.  When can you be free again?”
“Not sure. I'll call. See ya, honey.” A kissing sound came through the line. Tricia kissed back before she replaced the receiver.
“Shall we warn Mr. Zi?”  Tricia asked Lois.
“Not yet. Not until we can learn how they showed up at the party,” Lois answered.
In the evening after dinner, the whole family gathered in the family room, watching the big-screened TV. They had another much smaller TV in the living room. Tricia told her father all she learned about the Deng brothers. “There has always been gossip about them in the kungfu circle. They might have done something worse than this,” Mr. Lin told her.
“Like--?”  Tricia trailed off.
“Drug dealings,” supplied her father.
“And killing?” Sally voiced her suspicion.
“Probably. It seems that drug dealing and killing often go hand in hand, like in the movies,” said their father.
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