标题: Kungfu Masters
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发表于 2016-12-18 06:56 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Kungfu Masters

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

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发表于 2016-12-22 08:16 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 1

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

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发表于 2016-12-27 07:37 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 2

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

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发表于 2016-12-31 10:05 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
chapter 3

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

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发表于 2017-1-5 08:22 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 4

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

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发表于 2017-1-8 07:06 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 5

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

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Chapter 6

“May I speak to Sam?” Tricia talked softly into the mouthpiece, tugging at a disobedient strand of her golden hair and slowly hooking it behind her ear.
“Detective Dawson's not in his office right now,” his assistant, Pedro, answered. “May I take a message, ma'am?”
“Hi, Pedro. This is Tricia. Tell Sam to call me back.  I'll need his help in a new case.”
“Okay, I'll pass the message to him,” replied Pedro cordially.
“Thank you very much, Pedro.” Tricia let the receiver fall into the cradle with a clatter.
Tricia's theory was that if something serious had happened to Frank, his car might have been deserted somewhere. She wanted to check, or rather to exclude, the possibility.
 
***
 
It was ten twenty in the evening. Lois and Tricia were still in their office when the phone rang. “The Lioness Team.  Lois speaking.”
“Hello, Lois. This is Sam. What's up?” Sam was panting like he had just run a Marathon race.
“Hi, Sam. Tricia wants to talk to you. Will you hold on, please?” She pushed down the hold button and made a gesture to Tricia.
Tricia picked up the phone on her desk. “Hello, Sam. This is Tricia.  Can you help to check a car which might be deserted somewhere?” She gave Sam a description of Frank's car and the plate number, her hair falling again before her right eye with the forward move of her head. This time she didn't bother to pull it back. She was talking to Sam.  No distraction whatsoever.
“No problem. I'll call you if I get anything. I'm kind of busy right now.” He hung up. No wonder he could never get a steady girlfriend.
Then both girls left the office for home. Their father hadn’t returned yet. Their mother was still up and waiting.  It was too early to go to bed.
“Hi, Mom,” Lois and Tricia sang out in unison.
“Hi, girls. I've cooked some dumplings. You want to eat now or wait for your Dad?” Mrs. Lin always had some kind of food ready for her husband and daughters when they came home late, and everyday saw a different recipe.  She didn't look her age. Chi exercising always kept people looking younger than they really were. When she went out with her daughters, she looked like their older sister.
Mr. Lin came back a few minutes later.  The four of them sat at the dining room table with a bowl of hot dumplings before them.
Alida was enjoying herself in some wonderland of sweet dreams, or falling in a bottomless chasm in some nightmare, or dropping into a hole to meet a Mr. Rabbit of hers.
“Where's Sally?”  Mr. Lin asked between chewing the dumplings.
“She went to New York on investigation,” Tricia said, swallowing a dumpling. “She may stay there for the night.  She'll call to let us know.”
 
***
 
Before leaving the office, Sally rearranged the bars on the list in a visiting order according to their addresses. Now she was in Manhattan and would begin from the south.  She parked her car at a meter near the bar on top of her new list. At the door of the bar she hesitated, the gum bubble much smaller this time. Are there any girls in such a bar?  There are definitely no female customers, but there should be bar girls working here. Instead of her ugly uniform, she wore a greenish T-shirt and jeans with a pair of black sandals and had her pocketbook on her shoulder. She could never understand why people gave the bag such a name as pocketbook. It was definitely not like a book, nor could it be put into a pocket.
She vacillated before the door long enough for a skeleton to turn into a fossil. Some guy nudged her aside unexpectedly from behind, pulled open the door and went inside. She followed at his heels so she wouldn't be so conspicuous. As she meandered her way through the tables, nervously chewing hard on the gum, someone shouted at her. “Hey, girlie, get on the stage.” She ignored him, went to the back and found the manager. She showed Frank's photo to the pudgy manager, who raised both his pudgy hands to wipe his fat round face as if there was always some dirt there that he wanted to wipe off then lowered his hands before his chest to rub them together. He repeated this kind of hand motion all the time that he was talking to Sally. Sally showed the photo to some bartenders who happened to pass by. No luck for her first stop.
The second stop was not far from there, only a few minutes away. Sally parked her car right in front of the bar, inserting a quarter into the meter out of habit.  She entered the bar, skirting the tables along the wall, and was shown to the manager's office.
“What can I do for you?” The manager in a black suit with a black bow tie at the collar of a white shirt looked up from something like a ledger.
Sally showed him the photo of Frank and inquired whether he had seen him recently in his bar.
“Who is this young man?” the manager asked, looking scrupulously at Sally.
“He's my cousin, disappeared three days ago. He was last seen in some bar in this area,” Sally fibbed, but for a good cause.
The manager shook his head, like a duck just coming out of a pond and shaking water from its head, and refocused on his book as if Sally didn't exist or was invisible like a ghost.
Sally left his office with a “Thank you” and shut the door behind her. She took the gum from her mouth and stuck it on the knob. On her way out she showed the photo to some of the bartenders, but the only response she got was a shake of the head.  She was frustrated and thought that these people here were so lazy, not even bothering to say no.  She put another gum into her mouth, hoping it would keep her spirits up a bit.  As she walked to the front door, a big guy, wobbling like a drunkard and holding half a glass of beer in his right hand, blocked her way. “Hey, babe, want some beer?”
Sally shoved him with her left hand. The big guy fell back, knocking over the nearby table; his glass dropped into fragments with a “ping” on the tile floor, spilling the remaining beer onto his pants and the floor. He murmured to himself, “Fucking.”
Three young men at the table jumped up from their seats as the table was knocked over together with everything on it. With a gesture from one of them, who looked like the leader of the three, the men stepped toward Sally. “Hey, miss, you should apologize,” the leader said, “or I'll fuck you.”
“He should apologize.” Sally pointed to the big guy who began to sit up, supported with his right hand in a tiny pool of beer on the floor. He wiped the beer off his hand on his shorts and looked at himself unhappily. Shit. Never embarrassed like that before. But he knew better. That bitch of a girl is not someone you can mess with.
“Have a drink with us, babe. We can be friends.” Another of the three men grinned like a Cheshire cat at Sally. “More than friends. You know what I mean. We can go to somewhere else to have fun.”
“Step aside. I'm in a hurry,” she warned seriously. The grinning man held out a hand, intending to grab Sally's left arm. Sally used the index finger of her left hand and hit a special point on the man's outstretched hand. He immediately felt his whole arm go numb. This special point is called xue.  There are more than seven hundred xues all over the human body. An acupuncture doctor will use a special needle to prick into a xue and stimulate it to get some healing effect for certain illnesses. In western countries, the karate masters will use fingers to jab on certain parts of the human body to stop the circulation of the blood like in Xena, the Warrior Princess, which is said to have originated in Persia and is totally different from xue-pricking in Chinese kungfu, because xue belongs to the nerve system and the pricking at different xues will produce different effects. So Sally just hit the Numb Xue for his arm, but the numbness would be over automatically after a certain period of time, depending on how hard the hitting was.  No need to undo it. But some main xues have to be undone to get rid of the effects.
The leader had also learned some kungfu.  So he kicked up his right foot sideways at Sally's stomach, intending to send her sprawling on the floor, while he cursed, “You bastard!”
Sally raised her right hand, and using the outer edge of her hand like a knife, she struck his ankle just hard enough to send a pain up his leg, and smilingly replied, “You should call me bastardess. Learn some grammar.”
He fell to a sitting position on the floor. The big guy had already gotten up on his feet again, but stood aside watching as if he had nothing at all to do with the fight.  Sally spat her gum out; her chi was just strong enough to send the gum to the center of the third man's forehead and stick there without hurting him. The third man picked it down and put it into his own mouth, smiling at Sally.
No screams arose among the patrons who were made up solely of the male sex, the sex that is known as a tough non-screaming type. They only shout. According to the vocal specialist, the voice of the male is an octave lower than that of the female. If a male screams, it will sound very ugly and disgusting, maybe like the bellow of a cow or the trumpet of an elephant.
Some bartender called the police, but since two of the three men were temporarily disabled, the third man was discouraged. He saw Sally walking deliberately out the door as she muttered to herself, “They can't even curse, those Chinese bastards.” So when the police arrived, all the troublemakers were long gone.,

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Chapter 7

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

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Chapter 8

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

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Chapter 9

When Sally escaped, she drove directly home, but it was almost three o'clock when she arrived. Everyone in the house was in bed. She could only go to her own bedroom and sleep. When she woke up, it was eight; she jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs in her pajamas. Her mother walked Alida to school everyday except when school was closed. The new semester had already begun and they had left for school. Her father and sisters were sitting at the dining room table, having breakfast. Their office generally opened at nine and her father's video store at ten. So they could have time for a nice talk.  Sally sat down at the table and related her encounter with the five men last night.
“So you had an adventure. How exciting was it?” Tricia eyed Sally, grinning impishly.
Sally made no answer, raising her right hand to cover her mouth as she gave a great mute yawn.
“Could you tell what party they belonged to?” her father put forth the question.
“Not really.” Sally felt frustrated.
There are different parties in kungfu circles just like in political circles. Different parties have different kungfu styles, like Shaolin Temple (it's a party, too) has Shaolin style of kungfu. From the style a person performed, people could identify which party he or she belonged to. Later, therefore, some parties teach their disciples the mixed styles they have stealthily learned from other parties to cover their origin. That is often used for evil purposes. Besides, parties often invent new styles so that people cannot identify them when they are first used.  However, Sally was not experienced enough to distinguish what their original style was when people used mixed styles. Only those who were very much familiar with the styles of all the parties could tell the difference between the original style and the furtively learned styles because it was inevitable that there were some traces of imperfection in the latter styles when some kungfu thief performed them.
“We'll go together this weekend. It's not because I want to avenge you, but because Uncle Charles's death is mostly concerned with the kungfu circle. So I'd like to meet anyone who can perform kungfu to get whatever clue I can,” Lois announced her decision.
“Be careful,” her father warned.
“We will, Dad,” replied Tricia. “We are all older than Nancy Drew. Besides, we have kungfu while Nancy can only exercise some judo kicks.”
“Should we take some weapons? At least some daggers?” Sally asked.
“No, we don't want to get into trouble with the New York police,” Lois said.
“What if I take a pair of big scissors?  They are not illegal weapons, I hope,” said Sally with sham seriousness, though she made great efforts not to giggle and to keep a straight face.
“We should have registered weapons for our own defense,” Tricia suggested. “The police detectives all carry weapons. We should, too, even though we're private.”
 
***
 
Sam called their office after they arrived and talked to Lois. “What'll you do this weekend, Lois?  I need a break.  I've been too busy.  I don't even have time to go to the bathroom.”
Lois told him their plan for the weekend. Sam was excited. “Count me in, will you, Lois? I can help.” The thought of being together with Lois for the weekend was more than exciting.
Lois could not refuse him since they worked together so often. “I'll pick you three up at nine,” he offered. After some more chitchat they hung up. Lois was not so excited. She knew that before kungfu people Sam was vulnerable. She didn't want him to be hurt if she could prevent it.
Sharply at nine, a soft honk of the horn was heard in front of the house. The three sisters filed out the door in a beeline and got into Sam's car. They wore black pants, dark-colored jackets and the brown uniform shoes that would suit them best in case there would be a fight. Lois sat in the front seat, the other two sisters in the back. Sally offered Tricia a piece of gum, but Tricia declined, saying, “I am not a gum addict.” Sally shrugged and put one into her own mouth.
“It's really a surprise to me that you can be so punctual today, Sam,” Sally joked in the backseat diagonally across from Sam, whose tardiness was notorious among all his acquaintances and friends.
“I have to, if I don't want my life thread to be cut.” Sam glanced at Sally from the rearview mirror.
“Sam,” Lois interrupted, “you should learn kungfu.  It's helpful for your work.”
“I wish I could. Really don't have time. They'll call me on my cell phone any time after office hours, if I have any office hours.  The sound of the ring often wakes me up right in the middle of my sweet dreams,” he sighed dejectedly and temporarily shut his eyes.
“Look out!” Sally yelped the warning, the gum falling out of her mouth into her lap. Sam opened his eyes. The car before him stopped short in front of the red light. Sam had to slam down the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front on the bumper, making the two girls in the backseat swing forward. The girls in the back had to use their hands to hold the backs of the front seats to prevent their heads from knocking into the headrests. “You want to kill us or what, Sam Dawson?” Sally shouted in rage, as she retrieved the gum and thrust it back into her mouth.
“Sorry, not intentional,” Sam apologized. “But what's the motive if I wanted to kill you?”
“Lucky. The beneficiary on my life insurance policy is not you,” Sally jibed and winked at Tricia.
“That proves that I don't have a motive. So am I off your suspect list now?” Sam made a grimace at Sally in the rearview mirror.
 The weather was nice. They opened all the car windows to let in the rushing wind, which blew Tricia's shoulder-length loose hair backward, saving her the trouble of always pulling it back. Although it was a weekend night, there were still a lot of cars on the Garden State Parkway. People were hurrying to seek pleasures, pay visits or for some, make extra money. The foursome were not in a hurry. So Sam drove a bit under the speed limit and saw many cars approaching from behind change lanes and bypass his car fleetingly, just for the purpose of reaching their destinations a few minutes earlier at the risk of being caught by the police and given a ticket and some points on their driving record. But if luck was with them, they might never meet any patrol cars. A kind of gambler in life.
 
***
 
A carful of teenagers came up in the next lane, laughing and giggling loudly--hahaha--hihihi--hahaha--hihihi—hahaha--hihihi… The red convertible sped by, the laughter fading in the distant night sky. Sam turned the volume of the car radio a bit louder. Lois tapped her foot to the music. Occasionally, the burst of a bubble could be heard from the backseat.
The quartet arrived in New York around ten, high time for weekend nocturnal life to start. Sam found a space at a meter and parked his car. They went to the bar where Sally had met the five men. Sally walked in first. Others followed after a few minutes, pretending not to know one another. Sally cast her glance around in the hope of seeing one of the faces she was looking for. All were strangers.  They came out. “It's too early, I think,” Sally explained. “I met them last time after midnight.”
“Let's go to the other bars in this area,” Sam suggested. “We can come back here later.” They wandered from bar to bar till late into the night. Sally kept blowing the gum bubbles as big as balloons. They didn't see any of these people in the other bars.  They came to try once more at the first bar, but none of these people were inside. They stood on the pavement before the bar window deciding what to do next when suddenly someone shouted at them, “Gotcha. You can't escape this time.” Seven people, some young, some middle-aged, were approaching, five old “friends” among them.
Sam wanted to step forward, because he thought fighting was a man's business, but Lois held him back, whispering into his ear, “I'll handle it.”  She stepped forward, waiting for the new arrivals to speak first. They stopped before the foursome, with the tall guy a few steps ahead. “I can see, Miss, you have reinforcements this time,” he sneered. “So we can settle the old debt tonight.”  He cast a glance at the bubble before Sally's face. Sally felt secure this time since Lois was here. She had great confidence in her Big Sister.
“Do we owe you money?” Lois asked icily, sweeping her eyes across all seven faces, which wore no expression of any sort, as if they had put on masks or the skins of their faces were frozen by the icy tone of Lois.
“Not really, but the dark Miss hit our brethren the other night. It's a flesh and blood debt.”
“So? What do you want tonight?” asked Lois in the same marrow-freezing tone.
“If the Miss can break one of her arms, we are even,” the tall guy said in a similar cold voice, his eyes fixed on her face, belching with a dangerously threatening belligerent fire. Sally stopped producing the gum balloons from her mouth-factory and involuntarily put her arms behind her back.
“What if she won't?” Lois challenged, her arms crossed before her chest, tapping one of her feet on the ground as if to some silent music.
“We have to step in to help,” the tall man made a chopping gesture, squinting at his six comrades, who nodded their agreement.
“Very good. Please go ahead. We'll follow.” From Sally's experience last time, Lois knew what they would say and so she said it for them.
 
***
 
It was after midnight. The two parties stood in the bleak parking lot, facing each other at a short distance. All of a sudden, Sam pulled out his handgun, clenching it in both hands like in a movie, and shouted, “Don't move! Police!” The last word sounded like “Please!” No need to be so polite with the gun pointing at us, the tall guy thought. The next moment, a long whip was heard cracking. Sam's hands were hit by the thin end of the whip and the gun dropped to the ground with a resounding clatter. Lois glanced back with a warning gesture.
“You'd better step back and stand here watching, Sam,” Tricia advised him. “Lois can handle them.” Sam blushed a little, but no one saw it in the dark. He retrieved the gun, put it back into his holster, and stood silently with Tricia and Sally a few steps behind Lois. Tricia had a miniature camera with her and took pictures of everyone in the other group.
The whip came again, this time at Lois's chest. Lois waited until it got close enough. She raised her right hand and using the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, caught the thin end of the whip, which she twined twice around her hand. She pulled at the long whip. A big, stout man of about thirty held the whip at the other end. He was pulled forward three steps. Then he stood his ground tugging hard at the whip, which went taut between them. Lois sent her chi through the whip. The big guy felt a sudden jerk on his end of the whip so strong that he was jerked backward and could no longer hold the handle of the whip. He had to let it go. Lois pulled the released whip all the way to her and cast it down on the ground at her feet.  The big guy cursed, “Fuck you, bitch.”

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At a gesture from the tall guy, they simultaneously drew out daggers. They formed a semicircle, pressing slowly in on Lois. She stepped right into their semicircle. Crouching and using her hands to hold onto the ground, supporting her body like an athlete on a pommel horse, she swept her feet out and around at the hands gripping the daggers. It was so unexpected that three of them shrank a step back. Two guys intended to change their angle of attack to stab at Lois's feet, but Lois was much too quick for them. Before they could make the change, Lois kicked the daggers out of their hands. The daggers flew into the air and fell with clanks on the ground almost four meters away. The last two guys barely had time to duck back. Lois finished the first round of fighting and stood up. She stared at the seven people calmly, crossing her arms before her. The two guys rushed to retrieve their daggers.
“Our Big Sister's already mastered so well the important principle in kungfu fighting,” commented Tricia. “Don't move when your adversaries don't make a move yet, but make a quicker move than they do when they start to attack.”
Now the tall guy made a sign, which only the members of the group could understand. All seven people lifted their daggers, pointing them at Lois. They didn't go forward. Then hissing noises were heard. They issued their chi through the daggers. Lois raised both her hands, covering all the seven men. Her chi was much stronger. When the gusts clashed, the seven men were all pushed a bit backwards. Lois still stood there though her upper torso was pitching a little backward.
Sam had never seen such fighting before. He was astounded and spellbound, standing there with eyes wide open and mouth ajar. The seven guys made a deep inhalation and a slow exhalation before their next move. They surrounded Lois and began their organized group assault.  Before their daggers could reach her, Lois leaped towards a guy facing her. She flipped her index finger at the side of the blade, sending the dagger to slash the air sideways. At that very moment she grasped the wrist of his right arm with the dagger still in the hand. She pulled him to her right side and added a push on his back with her left hand, making him sail through the air into the two guys attacking her back.  The two guys had to drop their daggers and outstretch their arms to receive their flying comrade.
Lois quickly approached the guy on her left and chopped him on the neck with the edge of her left hand, sending him sprawling on the ground with a painful moan. Then she leaped right and kicked sideways at the tall man’s stomach so hard that he was hauled like a sack of cotton through the air, though he was attempting to stab at her calf but missed by a hair's breadth since he was slower by half a second.  He made a somersault in the air and fell on the ground on his feet.  He gave a low whistle. All the guys adopted the first and best strategy: to escape, except the one lying on the ground.  He was in too much pain to get up. The guys had no time to carry him away with them. They knew they met their Waterloo tonight. The fight ended within five minutes.
Lois walked up to the guy on the ground. She touched the tip of her shoe lightly at a spot on the man's shoulder, which was a xue that stopped his pain. Tricia, Sally and Sam came close. The foursome stood over him.  This time Sam was wiser. He hung aside quietly, his arms crossed in front of him, letting Lois do the interrogation. And Sally resumed her production of balloons.
“You want me to get you to the police station, or just answer my questions here?” Lois stared coldly at him.
“If I answer all your questions, will you let me go?” He sat up now.
“It's a bargain,” Lois promised. “What's your name?”
“Shiaoshiao Pin.”  Lois was not sure if this was his real name.
“Any ID?”
“Forgot it at home.  You can search me.”
“Do you belong to any organization?”
“No, no. We are just friends.”
“Who did you learn kungfu from?”
“Master Craig Pu.”
“Where does he live?”
“In Queens.” Then he gave the address.
Lois asked a few more questions. Sally wrote down all the answers.  At a gesture from Lois, Sally tore a blank slip of paper from her notepad and gave the slip and a pen to the man. “Sign your name here,” she ordered, chewing her gum.  The man didn't say anything, just obeyed. Then he was let go. Sally put the slip into a plastic bag and picked up the long whip, entwining it round her waist. She could use it as a weapon later if necessary. No one could say that carrying a whip was illegal; besides, it was better than a pair of scissors.
 
***
 
It was almost three o'clock in the morning when Sam pulled his car into the three sisters' driveway. Lois invited Sam inside to eat something. They sat at the dining room table.  Mr. and Mrs. Lin were asleep upstairs and Alida was in a deep slumber in the family room downstairs.
“Do you like wonton, Sam?” Lois asked.
“Oh, yeah, I like wonton,” said Sam. I’d like anything you’d cook for me.
Lois went to the kitchen to cook wonton. Mrs. Lin always made wontons ready to cook, stored away in the freezer. Lois took frozen wontons out and put a pot filled with water on the stove, waiting for the water to boil. Then she dropped in wontons one by one and stirred them with a ladle. When all the wontons floated on top of the boiling water, they were ready to serve.
Sam, Tricia and Sally sat at the dining table and chatted. “It was really amazing to see Lois fighting seven people alone.” Sam sang his hearty praise and admiration of Lois.
“She can fight more if their kungfu is bad.” Sally sounded proud of her Big Sister. “Sometimes, it's who's faster than whom. Sometimes, it's who’s on a higher level than whom--or both.”
“She can invent some new moves right on the fighting spot, depending on the situation, which is very useful,” Tricia joined in, putting her crossed arms on the table. Her skin would look dazzlingly white in the sunshine, Sam noticed. Then he looked at Sally, her skin looking healthily dark, but she's too wild--the gum addict.
“I really need to learn kungfu,” Sam admitted.
“Why not?” Tricia asked, giving him the sweetest alluring smile ever displayed.
“No time, unless I am given a long leave of absence, which is practically impossible.”
“I can teach you little by little, better little than none,” Tricia offered. “You'll learn something eventually in the long run.”
“I'll consider it, I promise.” Sam didn't want to be ungrateful.
“Sally,” Lois called from the kitchen, “can you lend me a hand? Don't sit there like a Buddha in a temple.”
“You can have both my hands,” Sally replied and went into the kitchen, spitting the gum into the garbage pail.
A moment later, Lois and Sally came back, each holding two bowls, one in each hand, and set them down on the table. After eating, Lois gave Sam the plastic bag with the slip of paper in it. “Dust for fingerprints and check him on your system,” she said intimately.
Sam left and the three sisters went to their separate bedrooms.
 
***
 
Sam phoned the next day. “The guy has no record. We checked his prints. Only he gave us a phony name. His official name is Michael Dong.”  Tricia took down the name as she was receiving the call. After Sam hung up, she dialed Lois's cellular phone number and passed on the information. Lois was on her way to Master Craig Pu's place in Queens.  She found that Craig Pu's name was the fifth on her list, but no address on it.  Now that she got the address from the man, Shiaoshiao Pin or Michael Dong, or whatever his name was, she thought it was worth a trip to Queens.
Master Pu was seventy-three and retired. He had grown a salt-and-pepper beard, as long as half a foot. He was dressed in a mauve old-style Chinese gown resembling the official gown of a high-ranked courtier in the court of the Qin Dynasty, the last dynasty in Chinese history. He had a round red face, a sturdy build and a tall stature, looking like he could live till the end of the world. According to her father, he was a first-class master. His wife died two years ago. He had a son of forty-nine and a daughter of forty-five, both married with children of their own. The son and his family lived with the old master. The master was alone at home at that time, his son and daughter-in-law being away at work and their son at college.
Master Pu received Lois very politely and they talked in Mandarin. Lois gave a hasty look around the living room. All the furniture had a crimson lacquer surface; the central lacquer table was covered with a glass top with four lacquer chairs on each side, and a lacquer coffee table with a glass top on it, too, was before a lacquer settee. Some lacquer vases with golden flower designs on black backgrounds, multicolored figurines, scarlet cups and saucers, dark octagonal candy boxes inset on the exterior with glimmering specks of shell fragments, and other lacquer articles, were all displayed in a dark polished glass lacquer cabinet.
After the exchange of a few social words, Lois asked, “Did Shiaoshiao Pin or Michael Dong learn kungfu from you?” The old master seemed baffled for a moment, then said, “I never heard such names before.  In fact, I never teach anyone kungfu except my own children and grandchildren.”
“Do you know this man?” Lois produced a photo out of her purse and showed it to the old master. The old man looked closely at the picture, then said, “He's my neighbor, a few doors down the street.”
“Do you know anything about him, like where he learned kungfu?”
“No. We don't even say hello to each other, though he’s lived here for two years now. You know young people nowadays… no, I mean boys. They know nothing about etiquette.” The old man sighed regretfully as if it were his fault.
“Please call me if you come to know anything about him.” Lois handed him her name card with both her hands, a gesture of reverence to the old master.  Then she took her leave.
She went to the nearest police station in Queens and showed her ID, asking to have a look at the mug shots. She checked all seven photos with the pictures in the book. Her expectation was downcast. Either they really didn't do anything illegal, or the police hadn’t caught them when they did something wrong. The latter seemed more possible since they would not be bold enough to fight in public.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
 
***
 

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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.

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发表于 2017-2-9 08:14 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
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?”

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发表于 2017-2-9 08:15 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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Chapter 17

“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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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Chapter 20

Lois went with Martha Fox to Menlo Park mall. She really hated shopping unless absolutely necessary. But Martha importuned her so hard that she felt a flat rejection would hurt her feelings. So reluctantly she went with Martha to the mall.  Martha deliberately took time to choose her things, which was actually trying Lois's patience. After two hours, Martha finished her buying task.  Perhaps, she felt Lois‘s impatience and abbreviated her commitment. Martha was carrying all her shopping bags, walking through the exit door of the mall. Lois didn't feel like helping her with the bags. Though there were many bags, they were not heavy and Martha was a big strong woman.
Now Martha was putting all the bags into the trunk of her car, a cream-colored Mercedes. She left her purse on the top of her car. All of a sudden, a young guy came, snatched up her purse and ran away with it. Martha cried, “Thief!” Lois gave a big leap and overtook him. She blocked his escape.  Another guy sneaked out from behind a parked car and stabbed at her back with a knife. Lois sensed the movement behind her back and crouched down, stooping a little forward and kicking her right foot backward at the guy's knee, sending him tumbling a few meters away and bumping against a car.  The guy before her brought the purse down on her head. Lois had already pulled back her foot. She ducked the purse and threw out her right arm, grabbing the purse fast in her hand and wrenching it out of the guy's grasp with the help of a kick at the guy's belly. He had to release his grip on the purse and leaped backwards. Two more guys appeared from between the parked cars. The guy who had been kicked down by Lois had already gotten up. The four goons surrounded her, each holding a knife, the blade reflecting a blue flicker in the setting sunbeams. Lois knew it should not touch her, so she used the purse as a weapon, holding its strap. Martha Fox hid herself in her car. Lois got a glimpse and eased a little. She had been afraid that one of the guys would have taken her as a hostage, but when she saw the poisonous knives, she was aware that they came for her; the thieving action was a false move.
The knife had a long chain attached on the handle end. The thugs now wielded the chains like lassos and the knives became much longer. They put their chi through the chains onto the knives.  The attack force was stronger. Lois had to fill the purse with her chi to parry off the flying knives.  Her chi protected the purse, so the knives could not cut through it any time they clashed.  Though the kungfu of the four guys was on a much lower level, Lois had a disadvantage. She could not use her left hand. In the attacking process, the guys jumped onto and down from the hoods, tops or trunks of the parked cars. Sometimes, the knives clanked on the car bodies, making dent marks or erasing the paint on the car surfaces. Some windshields, some windowpanes, some rear windows and even side mirrors were broken. They slung their knives on the chains at Lois at the same time from different directions and different distances, one at her face, one at her right shoulder, one at her back and one at her left thigh. Lois whipped up the purse to fend off the closest one aiming at her face, then she pivoted on her left foot, bringing the purse down slantingly in a curve to knock away the knives coming at her shoulder and back and at the same time, kicked off the knife flying at her thigh with her right foot. The rascals jerked back their knives and flung them at Lois once more. Lois jumped high and kicked at the three knives in midair with both her feet while the fourth one just reached beneath her right foot as she descended. She landed on the ground unharmed with the fourth knife still under her foot. She trod on it hard so that the rogue who was holding it could not tug it back. The other three knives came again, one at her butt, one at her left leg and the last one at her right knee. She had to make moves and jumped up again. The fourth knife was released and jerked back. The other knives hit the empty air and were pulled back, too.
Five minutes slipped by. Lois grew a little impatient. As the guys pulled back the knives, she suddenly leaped forward, following one of the knives, and shot out her chi from her left hand striking one hoodlum on his abdomen. He was knocked out of his wind, badly injured inside. He rolled down from the hood of a car and fell on the ground, groaning. The other three knaves were distracted and another was hit on the chest by the purse full of her chi as Lois jumped up to swoop down at him. The three rogues had to flee. The one whose chest was wounded, coughed and spat blood. Two ribs were broken and his lungs were injured. Lois gave up chasing the three. She got the fourth under her foot. Lois recognized the four villains who were among the seven people Lois had fought in New York. The police came and took the guy in custody after Martha and Lois signed their statements.  Someone must have called the police.
Lois felt the suppressed poison in her lower left arm threading upward. The barely discernible bluish color restrained on her fingertips now spreading to her knuckles. She went quickly to Martha's car and gave the purse back to her undamaged. Martha had looked frightened, but seeing Lois was safe, she relaxed and thanked Lois opulently. Lois got into the passenger seat and told Martha to drop her at home as soon as possible. Martha quickly pulled out of the parking lot.
Half an hour later, Lois was at home. She sat down on the den floor, exercising her chi as self-treatment aided first by her mother, then by her father, who was summoned back from the video store. But this time the remaining poison could not so easily be oppressed.
When Tricia and Sally came home in the evening, they were worried, too. After two hours, the poison was temporarily under control. Lois finished her self-treatment and came to sit on the sofa in the living room. She told them about what occurred and wanted Tricia to contact Sam to interrogate the guy under police custody.
 
***
 
She went with Sam to the prison infirmary where the injured rascal was being taken care of. He was lying in bed, but looked all right. He had been exercising his chi in self-treatment in addition to the medical care. Kungfu people have some advantage over ordinary individuals when injured or taken ill.  They can use chi, which really has a healing effect.
“Do you remember we met once in New York the other night and had a fight?” Tricia asked.
“Yeah,” he replied as succinct as possible.  Then he demanded to call his lawyer to be present at the cross-examination, or he wouldn't answer a single question. That was his lawful right, could not be denied. So they let him make the call. While waiting for the lawyer to come, everyone in the infirmary room kept silent.
At long last the lawyer arrived, a middle-aged man, about five foot six with a meager build. The lawyer sat down on a chair closest to the thug. Now the interrogation began, but the lawyer interrupted Tricia almost at every question she asked, which was truly annoying. Tricia sat next to the lawyer. She raised the index finger of her right hand imperceptibly and pricked the lawyer's Sleep Xue with the invisible chi. The lawyer started to nod, then hung his head before his chest and lightly snored away just like a baby after being fed milk. Such things never, ever happened before. Whose fault was it but his? Maybe, he hadn't got a wink of sleep for three days, for some reason or other, unknown to the prisoner and the detectives. Sam was greatly astounded, but said nothing. The thug knew that something was wrong, very wrong. The bitch detective must have done something to the lawyer.  It was known to all those in his circle that the three bitch detectives were on a very high level of kungfu, close to the master level. He couldn't complain about the foul play of the bitch detective if it was really her who had made the lawyer fall asleep. No one would believe him even if he complained. And he could not refuse to answer questions because of his lawyer falling asleep. He was frustrated. He had seen his boss torturing some disobedient followers with kungfu. The worst was that after the torment, no one could detect any torment even done. No trace left. Only the tormentee could feel it within, more unbearable than those inflicted from outside, which left telltale traces all over for anybody to see later, for a long time. He didn't want to recall it.  He shook his head to toss away the bad memory.  Who said that a computer's like a brain, or a brain's like a computer?  You can't delete a memory if you want to, like some data on the computer.
“Why did you want to snatch the lady's purse?” Tricia started to question him again, with her raised forefinger in the air making small circles.  The goon looked at her moving finger, feeling a little nervous.  But he could at least….
“I need money.” A good pretext for the bad deed, Tricia thought.
“Who are the other three guys?”
“Just friends.” An ordinary reply would lead nowhere. He was sure as slippery as an eel.
“What are their names?”
“Do you want any nicknames? We know each other only by nicknames.” Tricia knew he would give phony names if she insisted.
“Where do they live?”
“Don't know. We just meet in some public places.” This was a dead end answer.
“Why did you come to New Jersey?  I thought New York was the place you always met.”
“We meet anywhere we want to.” Sure, this is a free country. You can go anywhere you want.
“Where are you working?”
“Out of a job right now.” This must have been the truth.
“Where did you get this knife?”  She showed him the knife in a plastic evidence bag.
“Bought it from someone.” Hmmmmm?
“From whom?”
“We never ask each other's names.  The deal closed, we went our separate ways.” Good answer.
“Where did you buy it?”
“On a street in New York.” Imaginable.
“Which street?”
“Forty-second.” A famous street in New York City indeed.
“Describe the whole dealing process.”
“We met someone on that street after midnight. That was a night last winter. That guy wore dark sunglasses, his baseball cap pulled low, and his lower face hidden in a scarf. He came up to ask us if we wanted to buy these knives from him. So we took the knives and paid the money.” That was a typical scenario in a movie.
His answers were recorded. All his answers seemed to have been through repeated rehearsal.  Though Tricia and Sam knew he didn't speak a bit of truth, they could not find a better way to get the truth out of him.  Tricia was fully aware that she could not really torture him in the jail infirmary. They needed time to think of some other means.
Two days later, Sam called. “Hi, Tricia. I have some bad news for you. The guy was charged with robbery, fighting in public places, possession of a lethal weapon and attempted murder. The lawyer came yesterday to bail him out, but was refused accordingly. He had an interview with the guy, but last night the guy died from poison.”
“Is it the same poison as on the knife?” Tricia asked.
“Yes.”
“How did the poison get into him?”
“He had a prick on his right hand. The possibility is that the lawyer did it.”
“I remember world history had an example. A king was murdered through a handshake with his enemy, who wore a ring that could bite unconsciously and release the poison into the king's blood system. Did the lawyer shake hands with him before he left?”
“Probably. No one would notice such things. It's too common and happens everyday--handshake between two men.”
Tricia filled others in on the information in the evening when she got home. “That Black Panther sure has long paws,” said Lois. “Another string of the yarn of clues was broken.”
 
***
 
Martha Fox came to see Lois when she heard on the phone that Lois didn't feel well, but when she saw that Lois seemed okay, she relaxed.
“I'm lucky to have a friend like you, or my purse would be gone.”
Lois suddenly remembered her fortune told by Mr. Chen that she would have a misfortune owing to a female. That's it. Mr. Chen was right.  Martha was a female. She caused it without any knowledge of it and she didn't even guess it. The bluish color, which looked a shade deeper, had spread all over her left hand now. Martha suddenly noticed it and asked in astonishment, “Why do you paint your skin blue? You want to start a new fashion? The blue mascara should be applied around your eyes, not on the hand.” Lois smiled wryly to her friend who looked so innocent with her Mona Lisa smile. Lois offered her a cup of coffee, but she said she was busy, would soon leave, but she actually didn’t leave until one hour later. She prattled and prattled about her idea of fashion, her fellow clerks in the office, how to do her makeup, her likes and dislikes and her favorite movie stars, about almost everything on the good Earth. Lois had to listen politely till she felt her head swimming and aching.
After Martha had actually and physically gone, Mr. and Mrs. Chang came to see Lois when they heard of the situation. Louise offered them two cups of tea and sat down to talk with them.
“It seems we can do nothing at present,” said Mr. Chang. “It would be best to cut off the affected arm as soon as possible lest the poison spreads to the heart. I have a kungfu pupil who's a doctor, working in a general hospital. Can I call him from here?” But without waiting to get the answer, he lifted the receiver and dialed the number.
“May I speak to Doctor Jeffrey Woo?” He was put on hold as the operator transferred his call to the doctor's extension. Someone else answered and put him on hold again.  Almost five minutes elapsed before Jeffrey came on the line. “Hello, Jeff, this is Richard Chang.”
“Hi, Master Chang, how are you?”
Mr. Chang was not in a mood for small talk. He went directly to the point. “You know we have a Dry Daughter, Lois Lin. Her lower left arm's been poisoned and should be cut off or it's haphazard to her life. Can you help there?”  He sounded urgent.
“No problem, Master Chang.  Maybe, I can do more than that.”
“What do you mean by more than that?”
“A girl just died in a car accident. Maybe we can use her left arm to replace that of your daughter if they are about the same size. But of course, we must get agreement from her family first.”
“Is she married or--?”
“We know nothing about her yet. I'll go find out and call you back later.”
Mr. Chang gave him the phone number of the Lins.  Then he passed on the good news.
Mrs. Chang said, “If the girl's family doesn't agree, I can give her my arm. I am old and she's still young.” Then she turned to her husband. “I can still cook for you with one hand.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Chang,” Mrs. Lin said. “But we can not accept that. If anyone gives her arm to Lois, it should be me, her own mother.”  Then the two ladies argued as to who should donate her arm. And the argument really got hot since Mrs. Chang was so obstinate.
Tricia and Sally came home just in time to hear the debate between their mother and Mrs. Chang, which was so touching.
“My skin color's so different than Lois's, but if she doesn't mind, I can give her my arm,” Sally said, her mouth moving busily with a wad of gum inside.  She couldn't blow bubbles before the guests.
“If considering the skin color, mine is better,” Tricia offered.
“You two don't even think about it. You are too young. You need arms to work with,” their mother interrupted them.
Mr. Lin came out from the den. Mrs. Lin told him about the news of the transplant.
“Let's wait for Doctor Woo to call back first. Then we'll see what we can do,” said Mr. Lin.
One hour later, Doctor Woo called and asked to speak with Master Chang. “The police tracked down the girl's mother, Mrs. Nancy Gallagher. I talked to her. Though she grieves and weeps over her daughter's tragic early death, she is really a compassionate woman. She sympathizes with your daughter's situation and doesn't want another girl to die young. So she has agreed to our plan. You can take your daughter to the hospital right now.”

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Mr. Chang thanked him and hung up, then gave the others the information. Everyone was hopeful.  Now the two old couples took Lois to the hospital, leaving the young ones at home. No need for everyone to go to the hospital. They could do nothing there. Lois would be left to the skillful hands of the doctors, namely, the surgeons.
When they arrived, Doctor Woo was waiting at the double doors of the hospital entrance. Master Chang introduced Doctor Woo to Mr. and Mrs. Lin and Lois, who could walk by herself.
After all the preparations were made, both girls were put on gurneys, one dead and one wounded, and pushed into the operating room. The two old couples met Mrs. Gallagher in the hallway and expressed their hearty condolences and gratitude, too.
“As a mother, I know what a mother feels if her daughter dies young,” said Mrs. Lin to Mrs. Nancy Gallagher. “Mothers take many pains to bring their children up and when they are grown up and independent, they suddenly die. It's so grievous and mournful.”
“I feel just like that, so I don't want your daughter to die young. Only with my daughter gone, I am feeling so lonely,” Mrs. Gallagher sighed, fresh tears trickling down her cheeks.
Mrs. Lin took out a tissue from her purse and offered it to her, asking, “How many children do you have, Mrs. Gallagher?”
“My son lives in Ohio with his own family. Only my daughter lived with me. For many years we were attached and endeared to each other. And now--” She shook her head and sobbed again.
“Since my daughter's saved through your kindness and understanding, I can give up my daughter to be your daughter. I don't always like the modern American conception. It's like the bird. When the young saplings grow up and can be independent, they fly away, far away. But we are humans, not birds. Why must an old parent be exiled to the nursing homes? Why can't we live with an old parent and let him or her enjoy the remaining years among his or her own flesh and blood? Don’t the young people know that their old parent living among strangers, like nurses, though they are nice and kind and look after the old people attentively, will not feel the same? Some old lady lived alone and was dead for several months before she was accidentally discovered. That's terrible. I don't want anything like that to happen to you just as you don't want my daughter to die young like your own daughter. From now on, you can live with my daughter--no, I mean, your new daughter.  Her name is Lois.”
“I know that generally parents love children much deeper than children love parents,” said Mrs. Gallagher. “You must love your daughter. How can I take her away from you?”
“That's all right. I have three daughters, though the other two are adopted.”
“Maybe, I can adopt one of your adopted daughters, if she herself agrees.”
“We can talk this over later.” Mrs. Lin hugged Mrs. Gallagher.
“I always have a suggestion that when one celebrates his or her birthday, the first thing he or she should do is buy a gift for the mother and thank the mother for their birth,” Mrs. Chang broke in.  “But now it seems the other way around.  Mothers give gifts to children for the birthday, on which they themselves labored so hard, even risked their lives. That's really unfair and not the way we should do it.” She shook her head in disapprobation.
Doctor Woo was not a surgeon; so he was not in the operating room, but he could get constant information of the operation process and convey it to the old couples and Mrs. Gallagher. The operation was supposed to be long. Doctor Woo advised them to wait in the hospital cafeteria so that they could have something to drink and eat when they felt like it. The operation lasted deep into the night and was finished successfully in the end, because both girls had the same stature and the same length and thickness of the arm. Mrs. Chang and Mrs. Gallagher had fallen asleep at the table when the good news came, but the other three had stayed awake. Then they left for their respective homes while Lois was kept in the hospital for further observation.
Next day during visiting hours, the two old couples came to see Lois. Everything looked the same on her. If people didn't look close enough, they couldn't tell if anything was different, but when scrutinizing, they would be able to distinguish the difference in the shades of the skin color on Lois's left arm, the newly-transplanted part showed a slightly whiter shade than the original skin color, and there was a thin red line barely perceptible round the arm bordering the two different shades of the white color. Later a plastic surgery would mend it.
“How do you feel about it?” her mother asked concernedly.
“It's okay. The doctor said it would feel like my own when it grew together if nothing happened, that is, no rejection in the transplant of the limb coming from a different body,” Lois informed wearily. “At least I'm safe now.”
Mr. Lin put down some containers on the night table beside the bed. “Your mother cooked something for you,” he said. “The hospital food is always terrible everywhere.”
Mrs. Chang laid a container on the table, too. The contents showed through the transparent sides of the container--cubes of watermelon and cantaloupe mixed together. At the end of visiting hours, the two couples left, promising to come the next day. Lois persisted that Mr. and Mrs. Chang shouldn't come every day since they knew she was well now. She would be back home in a few days. Mr. and Mrs. Lin helped to dissuade them from coming again to the hospital.
“Come to our house when she's back,” Mrs. Lin said to them.  At last Mr. and Mrs. Chang had to yield to their obstinacy.
 
***
 
After a few days, Lois was back home and her left arm felt like her own. For now she could not use it much, certainly not to lift heavy things with it.  She must let it grow into one sturdy piece. Then she needed plastic surgery for the stitched line round the arm and a little suntan on the transplanted part to make the different color shades as less perceivable as possible. Before these were accomplished, she would wear something with long sleeves.
It was Sunday. They would hold a small dinner party at home to celebrate the successful operation on Lois's arm. Mr. and Mrs. Chang were invited. So was Mrs. Nancy Gallagher. Doctor Woo was also invited, but he was on duty and could not come. Before the party, they’d had a family meeting to discuss Mrs. Gallagher's problem of loneliness. Though her daughter didn't die for any member of the family, at least she acceded to donating her daughter's limb to save Lois. So they decided unanimously that a compensation of some kind should be made to her. Now what she needed most was to have someone to keep her company. If they hired some girl to be her companion and paid for it, which they could afford, it would be so unsentimental, because the relationship between Mrs. Gallagher and the girl was based on money, not on love and friendship.
According to common sense, it should be Lois who went to live with Mrs. Gallagher, to whom she owed a big favor, but Mrs. Gallagher insisted that she should not take her away from her own parents.  It was not like taking a pet kitten from its mother. But she would not refuse if one of the adopted girls was willing to live with her as her adopted daughter. But the two girls, Tricia and Sally, hesitated. Generally, people adopt small children, not adults. The idea to adopt the adopted adult is really like transferring the adoption, which is never heard of. Besides, they knew almost nothing about Mrs. Nancy Gallagher; namely, her character, her disposition, her temper. They wanted to be able to live with her peacefully, without any brawl, like in this family. But no one could foretell anything of the future, or guarantee anything. One could learn consequences only through experience, but by then it was too late.
Finally, Sally said, “We can see that her late daughter had such fair skin. Look at my skin. She may not like it.” A big bubble appeared in front of her face.
“Are you discriminating yourself or just making a lame pretense?” Tricia eyed her questioningly.
“I just tell the truth and a possibility,” Sally pleaded for herself after the bubble was sucked in.
“She needs company for her emotional sake since she lost her daughter so abruptly and so young, and she wasn't prepared for it.  It really has nothing to do with the color of the skin,” retorted Tricia.
“It sounds like she should go to see a psychiatrist,” said Sally.  “She has an emotional problem.”
“I think you should go to see a psychiatrist, not her,” Tricia said to Sally.
“Me?” Sally looked befuddled and stopped chewing for the moment. “If we go out together, people won't think we look like mother and daughter.”
“Adopted,” Tricia corrected her.  “You need that epithet.”
“Fine. I will print that word on every T-shirt and sweatshirt that I put on when I go out with her.” Another bubble floated out of her nicely shaped mouth.
“It really doesn't concern other people. It only concerns her and you. If you feel like mother and daughter, that's okay,” retorted Tricia.
“That's enough. Stop here,” Lois cut in. “I'll persuade Mrs. Gallagher to take me to live with her.  We can come to visit as often as possible.  We'll make it like an extension of the family.”
 
***
 
The small party went on happily. Everyone showed concern for Mrs. Gallagher and Lois. Even Alida said something that made Mrs. Gallagher laugh.
“You can adopt me, Mrs. Gallagher,” said Alida, “since my parents are both dead.  Only I'll make trouble for you, if you don't mind.” Alida sat right on one side of Mrs. Gallagher.
“You are a nice girl.” Mrs. Gallagher patted her on the back. “If I could earn enough to pay for a babysitter, I would adopt you.”
“Then, you have two more years to wait. I'm ten now.”  It sounded like it was all settled.
Towards the end of the party, Lois said to Mrs. Gallagher, “I think it's me who owes you a big favor and I'm willing to live with you as your daughter. You can adopt me, or whatever you call it.”
Mrs. Gallagher shook her head. “I can't harden my heart to tear you away from your own parents.” Mrs. Gallagher guessed something was different from what she suggested, seeing that Mr. and Mrs. Lin didn't speak and the other two girls didn't speak, either, and she added, “I'm not that desperate.  When my daughter was alive, she had a boyfriend once and lived out with him after she graduated from college and found a job, but she often came to visit me. So I had a feeling that I had a daughter who cared for me though not living with me anymore. That made me happy. Before she died, she and her boyfriend separated and she moved back to live with me again, but I felt sorry for her. Since she's gone, I have a feeling of vacancy, of emptiness, like I lost everything in the world, things most precious to me, her endearment, her caring, her filial love. That's why I want to adopt a daughter, which will give me a feeling that I still have a daughter.  I don't really care if she lives with me or not,” she sighed, wiping off a few drops of tears with her hand that she could not hold back.
Unexpectedly, Tricia moved to Mrs. Gallagher and hugged her tightly. Words were futile before actions. Mrs. Gallagher hugged back, the water gate opened and tears gushed down her cheeks. They were not tears of woe and despair, but tears of joy and hope. Everyone in the room clapped their hands to make the touching atmosphere lively. Mrs. Gallagher wiped off her jovial tears with a tissue Mrs. Lin handed to her.
“I'll get a room ready for you in my condo. You can live wherever you want.” They didn't go to any lawyer, or to some government department. They didn't need any paperwork. They got what they needed, the understanding, the love and the concern. Mrs. Gallagher dwelled in a small two-bedroom condo in East Brunswick, New Jersey, twenty minutes drive from the Lins' house.
Mrs. Gallagher invited everyone at the party to go to her condo next Sunday evening. “We need a celebration in my place and Tricia can stay for the night if she wants to see how she feels.”

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发表于 2017-3-16 06:30 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 21

Around lunchtime on Monday, Sam came to their office with a tape. When he saw Lois sitting behind her desk, he inquired after her arm. Lois showed it to him, saying, “It feels better everyday, but if it's dragged with great force, it may sever.”
“Do you mean that the donated arm can never be the same as your own?” asked Sam.
“I mean NOW. It needs time.” Lois smiled at him. “By the way, I remembered that one of the four guys that attacked me is Michael Dong. We got him once in New York, you remember, Sam?”
“Yeah. I can still see his frightened face in my mind's eye.”
“He lives near Master Pu's house.  I have the address. Can you put someone on watch over him?”
“I'll take care of it.” Then he and Tricia left the office for lunch somewhere.
Lois put the tape into the player and learned the following conversation.
“Tim died in the fucking jail infirmary. Fucking him,” said a new voice.
“Why didn't we get fucking him out?  He's our fucking brethren. Buddha-dammit,” said a familiar voice belonging to the big guy.
“It's not so fucking easy as you think. Shit. The fucking big boss is afraid he'll spill out fucking beans before we can get him out since the fucking bail’s denied.”
“How did we get fucking attorney into our brethrenhood? He dun’t look like a fucking tough guy.”
“He's our fucking brethren already when he was sent to study fucking law. We need our own lawyer.”
Tricia came back from lunch. She told Lois that she had let Sam know her new relationship with Mrs. Gallagher.
“What did he say?” Lois asked, squinting at Tricia.
“He said that's good. He asked me if he should be introduced to Mrs. Gallagher as my boyfriend.”
Lois just looked at her for further information.
“I said I would talk to Mrs. Gallagher first.”
 
***
 
Week in, week out. Counting by the week, time flies away really fast, but it is only a feeling. Time goes at a steady, measured pace, at the same speed, second by second, minute by minute, to eternity.
The day broke bright and gay that Sunday. Thanks to Mr. El Nino, the weather grew warmer now than before his visit. The whole winter last year, Central New Jersey didn't see much snow to the exhilaration of drivers and the disappointment of children.
Mrs. Gallagher stood before the window in the living-area of her condo. Besides two bedrooms and two baths, there was a big room the owner could divide into living-area and dining-area by putting the furniture where she thought fit. Beyond a counter was the kitchen area already furnished and the owner could do nothing to easily change it. She gazed out at the stretches of lawns dotted here and there with some small trees. Around every unit, especially under the windows, some shrubs and flowers were planted. The environment and the outside ornamentation made the unit owners and tenants feel like they were living in some sort of a garden with a swimming pool behind and a tennis court beside a clubhouse in which the dwellers could use the exercise equipment, play pool, ping-pong or cards, or watch a big-screened TV.  On special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, parties were thrown there and all the residents could take part and dance on the dance floor.
Mrs. Gallagher stood before her window, lost in contemplation. Her smile never faded these days, contrary to her sad expression last week and the week before last. The vacuum and void in her feelings was filled, but there was still a space left for the memory of her own daughter. When she had been caressing the part of the arm on Lois's body that once had been on her own daughter, she could not tell what feeling she had been experiencing then: the lamentable loss of her daughter, the satisfactory donation to save a young girl, or the realization and solace that a very small part of her own daughter was still alive on the body of another girl. Or mixed feelings. Let bygones be bygones, she told herself.
She made some changes in the arrangement of the furniture and decoration in her own daughter's bedroom in the hope that it would suit the taste of her new daughter. But as a matter of fact, she didn't know much about the taste of young girls. Even her own taste underwent a little change now from when she had been young herself. She had called her son in Ohio and told him the news. Her son and his wife had congratulated her and silently congratulated themselves, too, because they could have a clear consciousness now if they didn't come often to see their mother, since there was a new daughter to look after her and relieve them of the filial duties.
Mrs. Gallagher went shopping on Saturday. If she’d had enough money, she would have emptied the supermarket. She had literally filled her refrigerator to its capacity, leaving no space even for a cockroach to squeeze in. She had cleaned every corner of her small condo, leaving no dust in sight. She got up earlier than the sun on that day, making every desirable preparation for the party and from noon she began to cook. The food she got ready for dinner was enough to feed a small army. She thought that people with kungfu, just like athletes, would eat more than ordinary people, but she was wrong there. In the Chinese conventional conception, people who exercised chi could eat less food than those who didn't, because when exercising chi the metabolism was slow like in hibernation and therefore, these people needed a less supply of energy and calories.
Three cars pulled into the parking spaces near Mrs. Gallagher's condo. The invitees had arrived. Mrs. Gallagher stood outside the only door to the condo to welcome her guests, or relatives of some sort, not by blood. When all the guests were inside, she brought up the rear and closed the door behind her.
Now that Tricia had two adopted mothers, how could she differentiate when she wanted to call each of them?  That was a little problem.
“Just like I say Auntie Louise, you can say Mom Louise and Mom Nancy. What do you think, Cousin Tricia?” Alida made the suggestion that solved her problem.
“Good.” Tricia patted her on the shoulder. “You really have some wisdom in that pretty little head of yours.” Alida smiled at the praise, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet, tilting her head.
“Mom Nancy,” Tricia said, “this is my boyfriend Sam Dawson, but we won’t live together until we get married.”
The furniture in the living-area in Mrs. Gallagher's condo was simple. Two sofas were put opposite along the walls with end tables on both sides and coffee tables before each one. A glass cabinet stood against the wall facing the windows, with a set of fine china plates, dishes, cups and saucers on display. A big pot with an evergreen stood at the corner beside the window and a few small pots with roses in them under the window. In the dining-area there was a long dining table with six chairs around it, but today, since there were ten people, the table had been made longer by pulling two ends apart and putting a spare plank in the middle on the metal supporter. Four folding chairs were produced from the closet just beside the door. Sam and Tricia were the main helpers to do this. Mrs. Lin and Mrs. Chang offered to help in the kitchen area, but Mrs. Gallagher said that everything was ready and that if they really wanted to assist, they could put all the things on the table, which was now covered with a long white and ruddy checkered tablecloth. Lois, Sally and Alida sat on a long sofa, the latter two girls helping themselves to some candy on the coffee table before them. Mr. Lin and Mr. Chang were seated on another sofa, chattering about kungfu. When the dining table was laid and food appeared on it, the guests were invited to sit down at the table. Everyone got chopsticks as well as a fork. They could use whichever they were used to.
Sally took the chopsticks in her right hand and the fork in her left. “I am used to practicing weapons with both hands,” she said self-righteously. So she used both eating weapons to send food into her mouth, but only alternately, unable to do it simultaneously since she had only one mouth.
What Mrs. Gallagher cooked, or what her guests partook of, was something raw, something boiled, something baked, something stewed, something scrambled, something fried and something roasted.
“Do you want to stay here tonight?” Mrs. Gallagher asked after she took Tricia to have a look at her bedroom.  “It's up to you.”  But she looked at Tricia expectantly, and a bit nervously, though she said nothing more.
Tricia was satisfied with the room.  She was not a pernickety person. “I'd like to,” she replied, “but how can I leave here for work tomorrow morning since I came here in Sam's car and he's not supposed to stay here for the night.” She smiled at him archly. Sam was with her in the bedroom and offered to pick her tomorrow morning.
“That's very kind of you,” Tricia thanked him, “but I doubt you can keep your promise if your police duty calls.”
“Hope against the hopes that no duty calls. Keep your fingers crossed,” he joked.
“I can drop you,” said Mrs. Gallagher, “if you think it's okay.”  So that was settled.
When they came back into the living-area, Sally said jestingly with a smile, “You are a lucky dog, Tricia. You have two places to live and two mothers to love you.” According to Chinese tradition, Tricia was born in the year of Dog. Tricia glowered at her in a vain attempt to show a furious and ferocious look on her face.  Then she whispered into Sally's right ear, “It's because I happen to have my skin in the same color as her daughter.”
 
***
 
Martha Fox came to see Lois after she was back home from the hospital. She just dropped in at the office. “What's your illness? I didn't know that you were so sick and must be sent to the hospital, or I'd have gone there to visit you. Anything connected with the attack the other day?” she asked and apologized for not showing her concern earlier.
“Don't worry. I am fine, but thank you anyway,” said Lois with a polite smile. Seeing they were busy, Martha left soon without even making the seat on her buttocks warm.
“My instinct tells me that I don't like this woman,” said Tricia. “Everything about her looks like acting, phony.”
“I always trust people unless something turns up to denote that they are untrustworthy.” That was Lois, born like that. No one could blame her for it.
A few days later, Martha called to ask Lois a favor.  “Hi, Lois, can you come to my rescue?”
“Anything serious happen to you?”  Lois wanted to know before she would say yes or no.
“Not serious,” Martha breezed out.
“What is it?”  Lois asked doubtfully.
“I'm stranded in Brunswick Square, East Brunswick, right on Rt. 18 South.”
“What happened to your car?”
“It was stolen. When I came out from the mall after shopping, I could not find my car. Can you just pick me up and drop me at home?  Oh, please.” She sounded desperate.
“Okay, but wait for me outside the mall.”
“Thank you very much.” She clicked off her cell phone.
“Can there be another ambush trap set up for you?” Tricia voiced her suspicion.
“That was coincidence last time, I think,” said Lois. “I'll be okay, now that the poisoned part was removed from me.”
Half an hour later, Lois arrived at the mall parking lot and saw Martha roving impatiently before Macy's, carrying two shopping bags in her hand. Lois stopped her car alongside the curb before her and pushed down the emergency lights’ button for temporary standing. Martha opened the rear door and put her bags on the backseat, then she got into the passenger seat in front. Lois turned off the emergence lights and pulled away from the curb.
Martha directed Lois on how to get to South River. On the way, Martha thanked Lois over and over again for her time and the extra trip. While she was talking, she forgot to give directions so that Lois drove past a side street they were supposed to turn into. “Stop, you passed it already,” Martha cried from the next seat.  Lois had to slow down to turn into a side street two blocks away, almost getting hit by another car from behind owing to her abrupt slow-down. Martha could not tell where to go now. “I haven't lived here long, not familiar with this area yet,” she confessed, looking sorry. Lois had to stop at the curb and take a map from the glove compartment and check the address on it.
At last they arrived at where Martha lived. Lois parked her car in front of the house behind a big brown Oldsmobile. Martha pressed Lois to come in for a drink, saying, “You've never come to my house, ever since we began to strike up our friendship. Just step in to have a look to see how I live.” She dragged Lois inside with one hand and carried two bags in the other. Lois reluctantly followed her inside. “Will you come upstairs to see my bedroom?” She didn't even release Lois's hand yet.
Out of politeness, Lois stayed there for ten minutes, then took her leave, apologizing, “Next time, Martha. I'm really busy today.” Martha saw her to the front door.  When Lois got out, to her great surprise, she found that all four tires on her car were flat. Who could do this to me? she wondered. It seemed that she was always being followed, but she didn't see any suspicious car all the way here.
“You can use this Olds a friend of mine left here yesterday. She's traveling now and won't be back until next week,” Martha offered. “I'm not going anywhere today. I'll call you tomorrow to arrange how you'll return it to me. I may need it till I retrieve my Cadillac or buy a new one.”
Lois didn't want to stay here any longer, so she accepted Martha's offer and got into the big brown Oldsmobile. She would take care of her own car later.
She drove along Rt. 18 northbound. She was in the middle lane. When she wanted to change lanes to the left side, she noticed from her rearview mirror that two police cars were behind her, top lights flashing. She knew that she was not violating any traffic regulations. Anyway, she pulled to the right lane and stopped at the curb. The police cars stopped, too, one before her, the other behind her. Four policemen got out with drawn guns, slowly approaching her as if she were an armed robber just escaped from a bank.
They shouted, “Stay where you are and don't move. Put your hands on the steering wheel where we can see them.” She rolled down the window and waited in her seat. One police officer opened the door for her, ordering her to step out slowly. The other three policemen leveled their guns at her. The traffic was stopped. Lois was puzzled, but she did as she was ordered. Once out of the car, she put her hands behind her head automatically, without even receiving any order from the policemen, to show her cooperation.  She was led away to the police car in front under the muzzles of the guns and put into the backseat with her hands cuffed behind her. Then the policemen searched her car. They took out a package from the trunk and opened it a little. There was a pound of white powder. They took it over and showed it to Lois. She was really stunned and gaped at the package. She never felt so stunned in her life. The package contained cocaine. The policemen dispersed the curious spectators and drove all three cars to the station.
 
***
 

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发表于 2017-3-16 06:31 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Lois was led into an interrogation room and her handcuffs were removed. She sat at a long table waiting for someone to come to cross-question her. It was a new experience in her life. She was used to questioning other people. But everything has its first time. That was what just happened, though she could not believe it: she was being framed. Now she could imagine that when she had been in Martha's house, someone, an accomplice, had punctured all the tires of her car, and Martha had purposefully offered to lend her the Olds with the package of cocaine already in the truck. Then as she had left her house, Martha had called the police anonymously, or the police would not have overtaken her so quickly and wouldn't have even known that a drug package was in the car. Now it dawned on her that Martha had planned the ambush in the Menlo Park mall parking too. She did have a doubt at that time how these hoodlums could know that she was shopping--no, suspiciously forced to be a shopping companion--in that mall. Too much coincidence should have some reason in it.  How could all four tires of her car become flat at the same time? It should be a premeditated step to put her in a position to have to drive the drug-laden Oldsmobile. She traced their acquaintance back to when she had traveled in China, which seemed to have been conspired, too, or the woman would not have stuck at her side like chewed gum on the sole of a shoe.
A detective came in. The routine began. She told him her name and occupation.
“Hmmm, a private eye.” He said it with some irony in his voice. “How did you get this package in the trunk of your car?”  He squinted at her with a smile looking like something went wrong with the tense muscles around his mouth and the smile could never go up to his eyes.
“That's not my car,” Lois told him truthfully.
“I know, it's a stolen car,” he said sarcastically. She told him everything about how she had got acquainted with the woman who called herself Martha Fox and how today she had needed a ride home and her own car had had suspicious flat tires and Martha had lent her this Oldsmobile she had claimed belonged to a friend of hers who had gone traveling. What a coincidence, she realized now, but not at that time.
The detective listened silently, but still looked dubious about what she was telling him.  Then she asked, “Can I make a phone call?”
“Sure. To your lawyer.” He led her to a pay phone. She kept silent till she reached the phone and called Tricia, who called Sam immediately after she hung up on Lois.
Sam answered on his cell phone. “Hi, Tricia, I'm on my way to north New Jersey.  What's up?”
“Lois was framed for drug possession and detained at the station.”
“What happened?” Sam asked. He wanted to make sure that he had heard correct the first time. Tricia filled him in briefly.
“Okay. I'm on my way back.  Meet me at the station.”
Then Tricia called her Mom Louise, who called Mr. Lin and passed on the bad news.
 
***
 
Tricia reached the station first, pretending to be a lawyer and met Lois in the room. Lois told her the whole story in detail, and when Sam arrived she had to tell it once more. Then Sam went to find the detective. Sam belonged to the county police department and he knew that detective, who told him he sent a patrol car to that address Lois claimed a Martha Fox lived at, but the house was empty, though a car did sit there with all tires flat. They contacted the owner of the house and he said that he had rented it to a woman call Ellen Lee. Then the detective said that first he must make a picture of that Martha Fox woman to show to the owner to see if Martha Fox and Ellen Lee were the same person or not; then he must write a report to his superiors for them to make any further decision.  That was all he could do.
The police sketched a picture of Martha Fox with the help of Lois. The detective went to see the owner himself and the owner confirmed that this was the woman who had rented the house from him.  Lois's story seemed now believable, but the evidence was still against her. Since the juridical authorities knew the girls' reputation and also suspected a framing, Lois was released on a bail of one hundred thousand dollars.
“How can we get so much money?” exclaimed Mrs. Lin.
“We have to borrow money first, and then sell our house or the video store to repay it,” said Mr. Lin calmly. Mr. Lin called Mr. Chen to see if he could borrow some money from him. Mr. Chen said, “No problem. I almost owe you my life. Come get it. I'll get the money ready for you.” So Mr. Lin drove to Mr. Chen's house.
Mrs. Lin called Mrs. Chang and told her about Lois being framed and needing money for the bail.  Mrs. Chang said, “I'll talk to Richard, then call back. Don't worry. We'll get her out.” Mr. Chang didn't have much money; so he called Mr. Li for the loan of some money to bail Lois out. Mr. Li was worried, too, and promised to get money ready, adding, “I'll get some more from a close friend of mine.  We were playmates from childhood.”
 
***
 
“My wife's family was rich and left a large legacy to her and her sister. Her sister married John Zi. We are brothers-in-law, but--” he trailed off. “It's a long story. We'll talk about it later. Here's fifty thousand dollars.” He handed Mr. Lin a bank check, adding, “If you need more, I'll try.” Mr. Lin thanked him and promised to return it as soon as possible.
“Don't worry about the money. We have enough to live on.  How's your daughter's arm?”
“It's fine,” said Mr. Lin and then bade Mr. and Mrs. Chen goodbye and hurried back.
When Mr. Lin got home, Mr. Chang and Mr. Li were visiting. Mr. Li said, “I know it's important to bail Lois out so that she can solve all these cases. I can lend you ten thousand dollars, but I borrowed another twenty thousand dollars from Eric Hsu.” Mr. and Mrs. Lin stared at Mr. Li in surprise, even forgetting to thank him. They knew that Mr. Hsu was the first on Lois’s suspect list. Seeing their surprised expression, Mr. Li explained, “He and I have known each other since we were still wearing diapers. Some customer had implied that Eric Hsu killed David. That's absolutely impossible and ridiculous. He looked upon David like his own son. Only David disappointed both him and me.” He sighed deeply, holding his eyes wide so that tears wouldn't escape. He produced two checks amounting to thirty thousand dollars.
“Lois is my Dry Daughter. So I must do something for her. Here's ten thousand dollars we had saved in the bank.” Mr. Chang took out a check from his pocket. Mr. and Mrs. Lin thanked both of them abundantly and promised to pay them back as soon as possible. Mr. Chang and Mr. Li left soon, knowing that Mr. Lin would go to bail Lois out from the police station. Mr. Lin had saved ten thousand dollars in the bank; so he had all the money for the bail now.
 
***
 
Lois came home. The first thing she did was to take her car to the garage for repair. Then she was told where all the money came from. She was also surprised to become aware that Mr. Hsu and Mr. Li had so close a relationship.  Now she felt that she had no master suspects on her list anymore.  This was even more ridiculous than being framed. She felt that she were sailing on the vast expanse of the waters of the Atlantic with no land in view all around and had no notion in which direction she should steer her steamer.  She was more than frustrated.
The three sisters had a meeting. Lois began, “How're things going in your company?” she asked Sally, who was invariably chewing a cud of gum, never letting her mouth have a moment's rest.
“Everything's normal,” was the reply.
“If Mr. Hsu's no longer on our list of suspects, I think there's no need for Sally to keep on working in that company. What do you two think?” Lois looked from Tricia to Sally, leaning back in her swivel chair and resting her arms on the arms of the chair.
“I have the same opinion,” said Tricia, glancing at Sally, with a grin playing about her beautifully arched mouth. Her lips had a reddish gloss.
“I have no objection, though I really earned some money for myself,” Sally said indifferently, tossing her head backward, her eyes on the ceiling as if searching for any sign of a spider's web.  Then a bubble bobbed at the tip of her nose.
“Good. You have your dowry money ready now,” Tricia seemed a little envious.
“No. That's the wedding gift money for you and Sam,” Sally shot back, the bubble bursting around her lips; she collected it into her mouth again, her head resuming the normal position, her eyes leveling at Tricia's with an arch smirk on her face.
“By the by, I asked Sam to distribute the pictures of Martha Fox among the police,” Tricia informed, balancing a pencil on the index finger of her right hand.
“I have checked both names with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Service,” said Lois. “There are some such names, but none fit her. I think both are phony names. I'll fax her picture to all the states.  Maybe she came from outside New Jersey.”
“Probably, our suspects are not in New Jersey like the master brothers. We must widen our investigation,” Tricia suggested, tapping the eraser end of the pencil on her desk.
“You are right. We should go to Chicago,” Lois agreed.
 
***
 
It was Sunday. Tricia had a date with Sam in the evening. Sam was busy, but he found himself a reason to be with Tricia. We'll discuss the cases. Perhaps, they would. They might spend ten minutes out of the three hours they were together, talking about the life and death business. Yes, police and detectives needed a love life as well as others.  That was fair and normal.  No one could blame them.
Henry Wong went to Taiwan to attend his grandfather's funeral. So Sally had nothing special to indulge herself in that day. Lois was going to visit Mr. Chen to express her gratitude for his loan.  Sally went with her and offered to drive her Taurus. They planned to arrive late in the afternoon when the old couple finished their nap, then stay there for half an hour and came back for dinner at home. However, God has planned everything for everyone just like we humans design the programming for a computer. And human plans can often go amiss. They were stuck in highway traffic for two hours and arrived at Mr. Chen's house just at dinnertime. So they were invited to share the potluck and talked and stayed a bit late.
Mr. Chen said to Lois, “Your misfortunes are over now, but you must still be careful.” Sally asked Mr. Chen to tell her fortune, too, but since she could not provide the hour she had been born at, her fortune could not be told.  Anyway, Mr. Chen read her face and palms.
“You are destined to have no parents… I mean, biological. Troubles of some kind often dog your steps like shadows follow you everywhere when there's light, either you make them or someone causes them. They are not misfortunes; so don't worry. You'll be content with your marriage and married life. You will be the head of your family. Your family members will always listen to you. You'll have two children. Look at that line.” Mr. Chen pointed out a line on her palm. “And it's the life line.  It's so long.  So you can live to a very old age.”
Sally thanked Mr. Chen, then whispered mysteriously, “Can you tell when Lois will get married?” She looked furtively at her sister. Lois pretended she didn't catch the words concerning her marriage.
“She's fated to marry late. If she marries early, her husband will die and she will remarry late,” Mr. Chen advised sincerely.
“But you cannot say to marry at twenty-five years old is early,” Sally retorted.
“She'll marry after thirty,” Mr. Chen said definitely.
“If she won't marry, but live with a boyfriend like a married couple, is that okay?” asked Sally.
“No,” answered Mr. Chen. “In the Chinese concept of marriage, from the viewpoint of fortune telling, if two persons of opposite sex live an adult life that means 'married'. Doesn't really need any ceremony. If two beggars live together and have children, and they don't have money for any kind of ritual, they are still deemed as married.”
When they departed, it was very late. Sally drove along a side street. Suddenly a girl burst out from the door of a house and ran toward their car, waving both her hands frantically and crying, “Help!” Two guys emerged from the same house, chasing her. Sally stopped her car at the curb. The girl opened the rear door and threw herself inside onto the backseat. The guys had reached the car now. Lois opened her front door to knock at the guy ahead. The guy was knocked over and brought the guy behind him down on the ground too. Sally pulled away from the curb with the rear door still open. The first guy lurched at the car, intending to clutch the open door, but Sally accelerated and the guy missed it. Lois held out her right arm from her open window and reached the rear door and pushed it shut, but the door wasn't closed tight. The light on the dashboard showing the door sign was still on. Sally made swift turns at every corner, one right, one left, till she felt safe. The girl sat up and pulled the door shut tight. By the time Sally slowed down, she realized that she was lost. Then she stopped altogether at the curb and turned to look at the girl with the roof light on.
“Laura, it's you!  What were you doing there?” Sally was so surprised. Lois knew her by name and looked at her, too. Laura began to weep. Lois took out some tissues and handed them to her. Laura wept and wept as if she would weep till doomsday. Sally waited, chewing her gum, until she thought the vent was long enough. She said gently, “Tell me what happened to you. I know you were kidnapped, but we couldn't find you.” Gradually Laura stammered out what had happened to her between her sobs.

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Chapter 22

Laura left her company at the usual time. She stopped at a plaza on her way home with a long shopping list from her mother.  She spent two hours in that supermarket. It was only on weekdays.  How long would she be shopping on weekends, maybe six hours? It seemed one-sixth of a woman's life was whiled away in shopping or window-shopping. What else could she do if she was an ordinary woman with no ambitions? Malls are really open for ladies. How many males can be seen there unless in female company?  However, if males could spend their time on these duties--duties for mothers, sisters, daughters, particularly for girlfriends and wives--there would be less rapists, robbers, and the kind in the whole world. Thank God for the fond hope.
When Laura came out of the supermarket and opened her car door, someone grabbed her from behind, pressing a wet cloth over her nose. She took in a bizarre smell and blacked out. Her shopping bags fell from her hand onto the ground.  The items in them scattered all over, some rolling under the parked cars.  None of the other shoppers were in the parking lot at that time.  And it was dark already.
When she came to, she found herself confined in a small empty space with clothes hanging all around her. She was gagged and bound hand and foot. Approximately an hour passed. Then the door opened and a guy stood in the doorway. She was in a walk-in closet. Seeing her awake, he gave her a lewd smirk, saying, “I can take out your gag and untie you if you don't cry.” Laura nodded vehemently. The guy let her out into the room, and even let her go to the bathroom. When he escorted Laura back to the room, he shut the door behind him. Laura looked around. It was a room without any windows, a bare twenty-five watt bulb gleamed on the ceiling and the door was made of thick wood. There was no way for her to escape. There were two bunks at the far end. Two girls around her age sat on the lower bunk, staring at her. They said nothing. The guy came again and brought her some food. He put up a cot at the corner near the door for her. After she finished eating, the guy said, “If you'll do what's told, you're safe here. If not, you'll regret you've ever come into this world.” He gave a fierce simper, baring his teeth like a wolf. Laura had no idea what they would want her to do till the evening of the next day. She was taken to another room better furnished and adorned. There was a stranger there. A man of middle age. The guy who brought her here told her to entertain the stranger and pushed her into the room, then shut the door. She stood there, not knowing what to do. The stranger came to drag her to the bed, starting to strip off her clothes. She understood now what the entertainment meant. She gave the stranger a heavy slap on the face and rushed to the door and opened it, only to come face-to-face with the guy who was standing outside the door with his arms crossed in front of him. Seeing her dashing out, he said, “Hmmm. You need some lessons.” He grabbed her hair and dragged her into that windowless room, then beat her. Three other girls seemed frightened, recoiling to the farthest ends of the bunks, with agonized eyes fixed on Laura as if their memory of torment was jogged. Sure, they’d had the same experience before. After that, Laura was starved for two days. Besides her, there were four other girls under their control. In the evenings they would be called away to entertain guests. Gradually they began to speak to her, advising her to obey the guys while waiting for any chance to flee. Laura only wept till no more bitter tears came out of her swollen eyes. She thought of suicide, but loathe ending her life so young. Silently she prayed. Silently she called to her parents to come to her rescue. But fond hope could not change the cruel reality.
The guy came to ask her whether she was willing to entertain their customers. She had no choice but to give in if she wanted to live and flee when there was a chance. People in distress always live in hope. It is the hope that gives them the spiritual support to live on. Once she attempted to escape, but was caught before she could run very far. Then she was confined in the room and only let out when they wanted her to entertain a customer. Generally, there were four guys to keep watch over the girls by turns. “Today, only two guys were in the house.  When a customer finished with me and was paying money to a guy, I stepped out of the room. Seeing the other guy was not hanging around, I dashed out.  If I didn't meet you, I'd sure be dragged in again.”
“We'll get you home now,” Sally consoled her, then grinding her teeth on the gum, added, “We'll get back to them later.”
“No,” Laura almost shrieked. “Some girl escaped and returned to her home, but a few days later, was brought back again. They want us to know that wherever we escape to, they can get us back.” She looked like a frightened rabbit.
“Okay. We'll find a place for you to hide,” said Sally. Lois was looking at a map now. Sally moved to the end of the street to check the sign to see which street they were on. Once they got their bearing, they found their way to where they were familiar with. On the way home, Sally and Lois discussed where the safest place for Laura to hide was, but could not come up with a satisfactory one. “I think it's best she stays with us,” Sally concluded.
“Okay, we'll talk to Dad and Mom,” Lois agreed.
 
***
 
It was well after midnight when they got home. There were still lights on in the living room. Their parents and Tricia were up and waiting for them. They had called home on the way, using the cell phone. Mr. and Mrs. Lin consented to have Laura stay with them. She had to sleep on the other sofa in the family room where she would least possibly be seen. They had to play it safe since they suspected that the Black Panther was behind the kidnapping. Mrs. Lin apologized for Laura having to sleep on a sofa and having no room assigned to her. Laura was satisfied as long as she was safe. She didn't care where she slept as long as no nightmares haunted her dreams.
“You are so nice to me, and so are all your family,” said Laura to Sally gratefully. “We were not even friends when we worked together.”
After a midnight meal, Sally took Laura downstairs to the family room. Alida was already asleep. Sally gave Laura her clothes and other things she would need. “I'll buy you clothes and women's things tomorrow,” said Sally and then bade Laura good night. When Sally was upstairs, Laura went into the bathroom to clean herself and then lay down on the sofa in her borrowed pajamas. Suddenly, Alida jumped up from her sofa and cried, “Burglar!” She turned on the light and gazed at Laura who was still lying awake. Alida said sternly to Laura with her hands on her hips, “Who are you? Don't move.” Sally rushed downstairs when she heard Alida crying.
“She's my guest, Alida,” Sally said. “Go back to sleep. You'll know everything tomorrow.” Alida kneaded her eyelids with the back of her right hand and fell back on her sofa, mumbling, “Sorry.”
 
***
 
Next morning at breakfast, Sally told Alida something about Laura, skipping the part of the secret brothel. Mrs. Lin brought food down for Laura. She was not supposed to leave the family room and be seen by anyone outside the family. Sally promised to go to her home and tell her parents that she was found now. When Alida left for school, the sisters discussed the matter a little longer. They wanted to tip the police in that area, but they really did not know the exact location, not even the street name. Laura was ignorant, too, since she had been taken there unconsciously.
“You should not even call your parents. Your home phone line may be tapped,” Sally warned Laura before she went out. Laura knew the seriousness of the situation and would not try anything foolish. Sally went shopping first, humming a favorite song and chewing gum. When it turned dark, she glided smoothly to a halt before the house where Laura's parents lived. When Laura's mother was told the good news, she began to cry with happy tears, then smiled at Sally in embarrassment. She told Sally that when the police had found Laura's car in some plaza they had notified them. “We knew something seriously wrong happened to her,” her mother informed, “but we had no notion that she was kidnapped and forced to do such things.” Tears rolled down her cheeks again. She begged to come to see her daughter or at least call her, but Sally was firm and explained the situation to her parents. At last they accepted the reality. At least their daughter was safe and sound.
      When Sally came and left, she surveyed the surroundings to see if there was any suspicious car. None. Maybe, they didn't find her home address yet. Sally put on a little disguise herself. She went a roundabout way before she returned home. She brought in a few shopping bags from her trunk and went to the family room, blowing bubbles all the way down. All day long, Laura had nothing to do except watch TV and talk to Mrs. Lin when she brought her meals. She talked to Alida, too, when she finished her homework. She was glad to see Sally with a bubble hanging from her mouth and peered at the contents in the bags. Besides clothes and other things she needed, she found some of her favorite magazines, which Sally had noticed when Laura had been reading in the cafeteria and bought for her. Most of the day Laura had to keep to herself, as everyone else had things to attend to.
      “Good,” Laura brooded. “I came out of one confinement just to get into another confinement. I hope the danger will soon be over.”
 
***
 
“Do you remember how the four guys looked? Can you describe them?” Sally asked Laura two days later when she came downstairs to see her in the evening.  She kept on chewing the gum.
“I'm afraid I can't do that. They were so fierce that I hardly dared to look at their faces,” Laura replied, feeling sorry that she couldn't help there.
“That's all right. I just asked,” said Sally nonchalantly, then added, “You can write a letter to your parents.  No return address.  Give it to me.  I'll mail it for you.” She blew out a big bubble.
“Thank you very much. I'm really glad that I can write to my parents. But I don’t know the address here. You never told me before. You just dragged me inside that night when we arrived. So you can be at rest,” Laura assured Sally, pricking at the bubble before Sally's mouth with the tip of her forefinger playfully.  The bubble burst.
“No mention of anything here, nor our names,” Sally told her seriously, gathering the gum into her mouth and chewing vigorously. “We are dealing with a powerful group of people.” Then she handed her a letter-size pad, a pen and an envelope.
“How can they write back to me?” Laura asked hopefully, wishing that she could keep a regular correspondence with her parents.
“Tell them not to write back till we can think of a safe way,” said Sally.
“Hi, Laura.” Alida came downstairs to the family room. “Here's some cake for you. Auntie Louise baked it herself.” She put down a plateful of cake on the coffee table.
“Thank you, Alida.” Then she turned to Sally and said, “Alida offered to teach me some karate moves. She said I can defend myself next time if anyone wants to kidnap me.”
“It's good for you if you want to learn,” Sally encouraged her, a bubble getting bigger and bigger like a pink balloon. She kept at a safe distance from Laura.
“But--” Her voice trailed off slowly into thin air as though she suddenly forgot what she had in mind to share with Sally, but now wanted to retrieve it.  The bubble exploded at last.
“But what?” Sally prompted her. Laura did not answer, but sat down on the thick fuzzy carpet behind the coffee table and began to write the letter while eating the cake.  Alida went upstairs.
“But what?” Sally prodded her again. She could not take any kind of suspense.
“But can Alida--is Alida a bit too young--I mean, if I want to learn, I must learn it well, not like a Jack-of-All-Trades,” she stammered in a subdued voice, casting her sheepish glimpse at the stairs, afraid that Alida would overhear what she was saying.
Sally cackled, knowing that Laura had no faith in Alida when she offered to teach her karate.
“Alida was born in a karate family. She's practiced it for more than five years now. If the four guys in that house were under fifth kungfu level, Alida could fight them alone. And you are just a beginner.  She's qualified to teach you and she knows how to teach, or she wouldn't offer.”
Laura blushed a little for not trusting Alida.  “Please, don't tell Alida.”
“No. I won't.” Sally went upstairs, leaving Laura to go on with her letter writing.
***
Next day after completing her homework, Alida began to teach Laura. She taught her only karate moves, skimming the practice of chi. In a conventional way to learn Chinese kungfu, one must learn how to exercise chi, and learn the martial arts, both at the same time. As Laura was not supposed to be a kungfu person, Alida, instructed by Louise, only taught her karate moves as in most karate classes.
 
***
 
“Salute to my life-thread spinners,” said Sam in the doorway when he came to their office and really saluted to the three sisters. The sisters couldn't help laughing. Sam entered the room, closing the door behind him. He sat down on the sofa so heavily that it yielded a moan of protest. Then he began seriously, “I have some news for you.” He produced two tapes from his pocket and laid them on Sally's desk, which was the nearest to him. “Listen to the tapes later. Late Sunday night, or I should say early Monday morning, according to the policeman stationed there--it was almost three o'clock in the morning--a van came and stopped before the house under surveillance. Four guys and four girls climbed out of the van and went into the house. Though he took pictures with an infrared camera, all showed just backs or profiles. Not much help. You can listen to the tapes later and get some idea of what happened inside.” He paused for a deep inhalation. “A security guard was found dead outside the warehouses in Piscataway the same night. He was lying face down in a lane between two warehouses when another guard came to relieve him. He was supposed to relieve him at twelve, but his car broke down on the way and a man coming from his office gave him a ride there.  It was already two o'clock in the morning. According to the autopsy report, his death was caused by a poisonous needle to the head.”
“What's the address of that warehouse?” asked Lois eagerly. She sat upright in her leather-upholstered swivel chair, eyes opened wide. The other two girls looked at each other knowingly, as if they shared the same brain wavelength and could communicate by it. Sally's mouth was half open, a gum wad on the tip of her tongue.
Sam told Lois the address. “It's the same warehouse Uncle Charles worked at,” Lois exclaimed. “So the cause of Uncle's death is connected with the warehouses.  I never thought of it before.”
“We sent more police cars to patrol in that area, I mean, to patrol more often,” said Sam.
“In that way, you'll only scare away the killer. You'll never find him there again,” commented Sally, reaching out her hand for the tapes, resuming the chewing of the gum.
“Then, what's your advice?” Sam probed. He passed on the information to the sisters, though it was against the rules, because he knew they were authorities on such things as poisonous needles.
“After a few days, stop patrolling in that area as before,” suggested Lois. “The patrol police really can do nothing to those kungfu guys. After stopping patrol for a while, we'll go there to check.”
Sam agreed. It was a better strategy. “Only if the killer is not scared away for good and will return to the place,” said Tricia, looking at Sam's handsome face all the time.
Sam left. He was very busy. Another murder case landed itself on his lap.
 
***
 

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“Though Uncle Charles and the guard were killed in the same way, probably by the same person, there was still a difference. Why was Uncle killed at home, not like the other guard on the scene?” Sally spilled out her skepticism.
“Maybe the killer tried on the spot, but didn't succeed, because Uncle was not an ordinary guard.  Then the killer followed him home. It would be easy since Uncle walked all the way home. The killer got up in the tree, waiting for a chance. Then the stranger came and he got the chance and the cover as well,” Tricia made her deduction, entwining a strand of her golden hair between her two fingers as if they were curling iron.
“Do you think the killer had a fight with Uncle in the warehouse area?” Sally asked.
“It's a possibility, but no one can tell now since Uncle is dead. In my opinion, they didn't have a fight, because the killer, using such a weapon, is not in all probabilities a master. He's only some hitman working under a master. If they had a fight, the killer would have had no chance to follow Uncle home,” Lois voiced her conjecture.
“What's important now is to find out what's going on there and why they want to kill,” said Tricia.
The other two sisters nodded their agreement.  Then they played the tapes one after the other.
 
***
 
At the beginning of the tape there was only TV sound, like commercials. Then girls’ shrill voices and men’s angry ones could be heard.
“Girls, go to the bedroom.” It was a new voice. After a while, the girls’ voices died.
“What brings you fucking here?” said a familiar voice. The guy was called Jack, who must be the one driving Frank's car, originally living in that house.
“A bitch girl's escaped. Fucking her. We've to desert that fucking place if we dun’t wanna go to fucking cage,” said the first voice. He must be one of the four guys, maybe, their ringleader.
“What's her fucking name?” Jack's voice asked.
“Laura. She came with fucking David once to our damned club,” answered another guy.
“We really dun't need fucking kidnap her. She came to damned club only once. Girls like fucking fun. She really knew fucking nothing 'bout damned club and us,” said the Jack's voice.
“Fucking Joseph's afraid she might know fucking something 'bout David’s death. Dogshit.”
“Did the fucking big boss know the kidnapping?”
“Maybe not. Big boss too fucking busy.  Joseph's in charge of such fucking things. Fucking him.”
“Now we lost another fucking secret place.  First, damned club; then, that fucking whorehouse.”
“Dun't worry. We can find another fucking house. You know the new club, better than fucking old one.”
“Now no sonofabitch's allowed to bring any fucking outsiders.”  It seemed the ringleader's voice.
“What about that escaped bitch girl? Fucking her.”
“We sent someone to check her fucking home.  She's not returned. Dogshit.”
“So she's hiding some-fucking-where.”
“We still looking for her? Fucking her mom.”
“Joseph's taking fucking care of it.  I dun't think we need the bitch so badly. Dogshit.”
After a while….
“You want turn this fucking house into your fucking business place?” Jack's voice sounded eager.
“No. We'll find another fucking house, better still in fucking New York.  Convenient.”
“I'll suggest to Sam to tail them when they move to some new place,” said Tricia between the conversations on the tape.
“Can we use the fucking girls?” Jack's voice asked.
“No. Boss never fucking permit. But I dun't fucking care if bitch girls wun't tell Joseph.”
“Why fucking boss not permit?  Everyone need that.  Even fucking girls themselves.”
“Fucking girls already have too much of that. Boss said that would affect our fucking kungfu. That's why we are still on fucking low levels, boss said. Even Don Quicksat, fucking him, is better than us, boss said.”
“Who's that fucking Don guy?  Never heard of fucking name before.”
“He's some fucking Spanish guy, in the fucking old time, boss said.  He fought bravely with fucking windmill, using his lance, boss said.”
“If we dun't work fucking harder, boss said, to enhance our damned kungfu, we can join that fucking Spanish guy, like his follower Sancho.  Boss said,” another added.
“What do fucking boss mean?  Join the fucking guy in the old time?  He want us all dead?”  Jack sounded in panic.
“I dunno. Anyway, boss needs as fucking many high-leveled kungfu people as possible. You know the bitch trio. Ten of us are no fucking match for one of them.”
“Fifty, I would say.” Sally leaned back on her chair, looking down her nose at a swelling bubble.
 
***
 
Three days later, Sam called, saying that those people moved at midnight and the new location was in Flushing.
“We're making a plan,” Tricia told Sam on the phone. “We'll discuss it if you have time to come over.”
“I hope to be free this evening. Where shall we meet?  At same place?” asked Sam wistfully.
“At our home this time. Four heads are better than two,” Tricia said with a sly smile, as if he could have seen it.
“Fine. See you then, sweetie.” He blew over a kiss through the line.
“Have it on my lips now. Hmmmmm,” Tricia giggled with a catching gesture of her right hand at the mouthpiece and then touching her lips with her fingers.
The sisters came home just as Sam stopped his car along the curb. They went in together. Mrs. Lin was cooking dinner. Mr. Lin would be back late. Alida was teaching Laura karate downstairs. The foursome sat in the living room. “What drink do you want, Sam?” Tricia asked from the kitchen.
“Coke, please.” Tricia took a Coke and three Sprites from the refrigerator and returned to the living room, giving each a can. Sam took the can, pulled the tab and popped it open. He gave a big swill as if he had just returned from the Sahara, thirsty for two days. He sighed with satisfaction. Tricia smiled at his eagerness and contented expression; then she began to tell him their plan.
“Since we can't get any information from that whorehouse, which means that it’s useless to us, we want to make it disappear, not the house, but the people in it.”
“How?” queried Sam doubtfully, putting the empty can down on the coffee table in front of him.
“We'll disguise ourselves as their patrons and arrest the guys secretly and keep them in a secret place.  Then, get information from them. Even their boss won't know where they are,” Tricia confided.
“That's against the law,” said Sam, sounding as if taken by surprise.
“Okay. If you let the local police arrest them by legal procedures and put them into the local jail, you will probably see corpses next day,” said Tricia.
“It can't be that bad,” Sam said incredulously.
“For a master, all the iron bars can be bent easily and as for the guards, or jailers, they can be as easily conquered with chi strokes from a distance, even before they can get a glimpse of the master,” Lois supplied.
“I never knew that. But I still can't join in your plan since it's against the law. Sorry. Not until I quit the police job,” Sam apologized.
“Who said there're no good cops?” Sally sniggered at Sam ironically.
“So, what's your plan to solve these cases?”  Tricia eyed Sam.
“I don't have any plan yet.” Sam's candor sounded so innocent.
“Dinner's ready,” Louise called from the kitchen. The sisters went to help set the table. Alida came up from the family room. Louise gave her a tray with dishes on it, which Alida carried downstairs for Laura and herself. She began to eat with Laura. They became friends now in spite of the age difference. Louise and the four young people sat down to dinner. Sam looked at the four dishes and a big soup bowl. One contained fried bean curd, cut thin, cooked with black mushrooms and canned baby corn. One was sweet and sour pork chops. The third was scrambled eggs with green peas. The last plate had a fish on it cooked in soy sauce. In the soup bowl Sam saw beef slices and vegetables like carrot, celery, cabbage, potato and tomato.
“Everything's delicious,” said Sam, “but the sweet and sour taste on the chops is different from the taste of the sweet and sour chicken in the restaurant.”
“This is home-style. We use white vinegar while the restaurant uses cranberry sauce,” said Mrs. Lin. Then Sam took another piece of sweet and sour chop.  He liked the sweet and sour flavor lingering on his taste buds.
Dinner finished. Sam patted his stomach, saying, “Are you satisfied tonight, boy?” This made the girls and Mrs. Lin laugh.
“You can come to share our meals whenever you like, Sam.”
 
***
 
Sally had a date with Henry Wong in a Chinese restaurant newly opened on Rt. 35. They ordered sweet and sour shrimps, fried chicken with rice, barbecue ribs and a soup called Eight Delicacies, which included abalone, sea cucumber and shark's fins. He told her about his grandfather's funeral. His grandfather died at the age of ninety-one. “It's really bliss,” he said. “If I can live to that age, I will think God is especially kind to me.” He stroked his chin with his hand. His chin was a bit longer than ordinary, which denoted longevity according to Chinese face reading. His grandfather had such a chin. He inherited the genes. He was always proud of it.  He was not handsome. Who could say a guy with a long chin was handsome? But he looked manly and sexy.  And he was a nice guy. That's more important. And he really loved Sally with all his heart and soul. That's most important.
“My grandfather always said that if you wanted to live long, you should be content with whatever life bestowed on you and take everything easy. That's his tact for longevity,” Sally quoted for him. He nodded his agreement. When the dishes were served, he let Sally touch every dish first. It was a Chinese etiquette to a guest and men used it toward ladies nowadays, particularly boys to their girlfriends.
When their eating process went only halfway, a beeper sounded. Henry took out his beeper and looked at the number. “My company beeped me. Maybe something's wrong with the equipment.  Sorry, I have to leave early. I'll call you later.” He finished the food on his plate and left in a hurry.  Henry paid for the dinner on his way out. So when Sally finished, she just left a tip on the table.
Sally went outside where two guys were waiting for her. They didn't come near to assail her directly. They were holding some kind of cylinders and sprayed some misty liquid in her direction. When she took in the quaint smell and held her breath, it was too late. She went limp and sank to the ground in a stupor.
As she came to her senses, she felt herself tied tightly and her Stop-Motion Xue was jabbed. She was confined in a small dark space, maybe a closet. She found that she couldn't speak either. It meant that they struck at her Mute Xue, too, afraid that she would cry out when she came to.  What would these guys do to her next? Would they rape her? Would they torment her? It was really hard to forebode. How could she notify her family? Did they know by now that she was missing? Could they find her? Supposing she was on her own, she must think of some way to escape all by herself. She calmed down and maneuvered her chi, trying to break through the stricken xues first.
 
***
 
Next morning when the family gathered in the dining room for breakfast, Sally didn't come down. “She must have returned late from her date last night,” Tricia assumed. It happened sometimes.  She would come down later. So after breakfast, Alida went to school accompanied by Louise, Mr. Lin to the video store, and Lois and Tricia to their office. When she was back at home from school, Louise brought Laura breakfast and then went shopping. It was not until eleven that Louise came back from her shopping mission. After she stored away all the things, she went to every room to clean and put things in order. Sally was not in her room. Louise thought that Sally already left for the office.  She just went about her housework.
When it was twelve and Sally still did not show up in the office, Lois called home. Louise answered the phone. “She's not in her room. I thought she was in the office. I have no idea what became of her. Did she come back last night?” Anxiety was evident in her voice.
“Is her car outside?” Lois asked her mother. Tricia looked at Lois, trying to read from her face what happened to Sally.
“Her car's not here,” Louise peeped out from the living room window.
“Don't worry, Mom. I'll take care of it,” Lois comforted her mother. After letting the receiver slip into the cradle, Lois told Tricia that Sally seemed missing.
“Do you know Henry's phone number?”  Tricia asked.
“No. I never asked Sally for it,” replied Lois. They had no clue where Sally could be. They had to wait for something to turn up before they could take any steps.

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Chapter 23

Sally could not be sure what time it was, whether it was day or night, since the room was dark and had no windows. But it did not matter. She just kept maneuvering her chi. Those who hit her xues were on lower levels; so it was not hard for Sally to break through the xues.  She only needed time.
“What will we do to her?” A voice came from outside the small room.
“Joseph will come here to take care of her.  Maybe, Boss wants her as a hostage.”
The door opened. Sally kept her eyes shut as if she were still unconscious.
“Shall we feed her?”
“Better not. Starve her for two days. Then she wun't have much strength to resist when Joseph comes to take her.”
“They'll remove her from here?”
“Yes. To a safer place.” They closed the door and left. Sally could sense it was daytime, though her eyes were shut. Probably, the Joseph guy would come to take her after midnight. She still had time to break through her xues.
 
***
 
“I can't imagine how she could be kidnapped,” said Tricia when they were back home in the evening. Their father came home early, but none knew what to do or where to search for her. Tricia had called Sam with the bad news. Sam had sent out the missing girl's information to all the patrol cars in New Jersey, but nothing turned up. It was twenty-four hours since Sally had left for her date yesterday. All of a sudden the phone rang in the living room. Everyone jumped. Ransom notice? Not likely. After the third ring, Tricia grabbed the receiver.
“May I speak to Sally?  This is Henry.”
Tricia let out her long held breath in nervousness. “Hi, Henry. This is her sister, Tricia. Sally never came home since last night. What happened to her when she was with you yesterday?” She scratched at the nape of her neck. Others fixed their gaze on her, hoping to detect something from the expression on her face, which was expressionless.
“Everything was all right when we were in the restaurant, but I got an emergency beep from my company; so I left early. She was still there when I left. What could have happened to her?” His anxiety was apparent and genuine. So he could not be an accomplice, her instinct told her.
“Where did you have dinner?” asked Tricia.  Henry gave her the name and address of the restaurant they’d had dinner last night.
Lois and Tricia drove to the restaurant. As soon as they pulled into the parking lot, they noticed that Sally's car still sat there in a space. They went into the restaurant to make inquiries. The woman behind the register counter said that nothing unusual took place yesterday in the restaurant.
“Anything happen outside, like fighting?” asked Lois.
The woman shook her head. “No. If there was a fight in the parking lot, we'd surely know it. Even I would go out to have a look.”
Nevertheless, Sally was missing from the parking lot. That was obvious since her car was still there. They came out. Tricia would drive Sally's car back. When she neared the car, she detected a faint trace of the smell of chloroform left on the hood of Sally's car. “Lois, they used chloroform,” Tricia told Lois who was going to her own car.
“Let's go home first,” said Lois, getting into her car. Since Tricia had no key for Sally's car, she had to pick open the door and put the wires together to start the car. A good detective is a good thief and a good thief can be a good detective if he wants to.
 
***
 
By evening Sally had undone the Stop-Motion Xue and the Mute Xue as well. The last problem was the bondage. The rope was thick, not easy to break. There was nothing in the dark room to cut the rope with, but if there was one, her hands were tied to her sides. She could not use her hands. She writhed the fingers of her right hand, wanting to loosen her fingers out of the bonds first. She shrank her thigh muscle a little. Her fingers moved sideways then slipped out between the loops. She worked out her right hand the same way. She could use her hand to do something now, but at that critical moment. footsteps were heard outside the small room. She kept her eyes shut. Those people only knew kungfu. They did not know anything about chloroform: how long the effect could last. If they had acquired some chemical knowledge, they would have known that the girl in their capture had long been past the comatose stage.
“Get her into the trunk of my car,” someone shouted out the order. Sally opened her eyes just a slit and saw this was the tall man they had fought with in New York. He must be the Joseph guy. Two guys picked her up, one holding her arms right under her shoulders, the other her ankles. They carried her out of the dark room, out of the bright big room, down the staircase, through a side door into the garage; a Lincoln Towncar was standing there with an open trunk. They let her down into the trunk and closed it. They didn't even notice that one of her hands was outside the bonds. Sally began to fumble in the trunk. Someone got into the car and started the engines. The car was moving now and after a while, accelerating.
Sally had two choices. One was to free herself. The other was to be taken as a captive to their secret lair so she could know where it was, but if there was someone whose kungfu level was higher than hers, she would be at a great disadvantage and her family would be at a great disadvantage, too, since they would use her to threaten them. She could never escape then and have no way to notify her family. She would be like a poor lamb on the altar waiting at the mercy of her captors, so better to escape first.  She fumbled and fumbled and suddenly came across a screwdriver. She wriggled her body so that her freed hand could grasp the screwdriver. She used the sharp end to pry at the rope, filling it with her chi to strengthen its prying force. With one loop of the rope broken, she worked the bonds loose by degrees. She could feel the car at high speed. She estimated that it might be half an hour or so before the car slowed down and stopped at last. Then a garage door creaked open. The car moved in and the engine was killed. She could hear Joseph get out and slam the car door shut. The rope was off her now, lying aside like a dead snake, or more like the skin of a snake cast away. She was ready to spring out. Though she was starved for two days, thanks to the dinner in that restaurant, she had eaten more than enough there and now she still had enough strength to fight. Joseph seemed to go into the house. Two guys came into the garage, talking.  They came to fetch her into the house, she thought. When the trunk was opened, she leaped out head first, and hit the two guys on their Mute Xues to make them unable to give any vocal noises, then on their Stop-Motion Xues. The two guys fell on the ground, couldn't even moan. Sally grabbed both of them with both hands and thrust them into the trunk and shut it.
Since she did not know how many people were in the house, she better play safe and escape first. She opened the garage door and slipped out. She memorized the house number and the surroundings, then ran to the corner of the crossroads to look at the sign to commit the name of the street in her mind. At that time, she heard a commotion coming from the house.
Joseph waited in the living room for the two guys to bring Sally in. A long while later, he got suspicious and came to the garage to check. There was no one in the garage. Where were the two guys? They must be disciplined, he thought. Then he opened the trunk and saw the two guys inside, staring at him, unable to speak. He pulled them out one by one and undid their xues. He sent out all six men in the house to chase Sally with guns in hand. His order was to kill her if they could not catch her alive. Sally jumped onto a fire escape on the side of an apartment house, hiding in the shadows and watching them rush by underneath her in different directions. She deliberately took out a gum from her pocket, and stripping it of its paper clothes, shoved it into her mouth. She climbed up on the steps, humming a tune to herself, until she reached the fourth floor. She saw a window opened a little and lifting it a bit wider, she slipped inside, kicking at something under the window. It was an empty Coke can, which rolled down the room on the bare floor, making some noise. Sally tried to mew, but she was not sure if the tenant in the room kept a cat or not.
“Who's there?” a man's voice asked groggily. Sally crouched down and mewed, just to try to fool the man. “Susan, you can't keep sneaking into my room.” Susan was the cat kept by the next door neighbor. “You made a mess in my room last time. You remember?” He dared not offend the cat because it belonged to the girl next door and he wanted to court her. “If I take her stray cat to her, she'll thank me at least, maybe smile at me.” Thus thinking, he turned on the lamp on the nightstand beside the bed.  He was still half-asleep.
It was a bedroom. A man in his thirties opened his eyes wide to look at Sally. Beholding a pretty young girl, the man became fully awake. “Oh, God bless me,” he exclaimed. “My wife just eloped with some guy. God sent you to me.” He tapped the empty half of the bed. “Come and lie down here. I'll treat you nicely, so you won't desert me.” Sally stood up and walked to the bed. She poked at his Sleep Xue so that he fell asleep again. He would wake up after two hours. Sally used the phone on the nightstand and made a call home. It was four o'clock in the morning. After two rings, the phone was picked up.  “Hello?” It was Mrs. Lin's voice.
“Hi, Mom. It's me, Sally,” she talked in an undertone.
“Where are you? What happened to you?  Are you okay?” Concerned questions bombarded Sally.
“I'm fine now. It's a long story. Can I talk to Lois?” Sally responded with three short sentences.
“Hi, Sally. What do you want?” Lois was already on another line in her bedroom.
“I'm in China Town, Manhattan.” She recognized the street. “Can you and Tricia come? We may have a fight ahead.” She gave Lois the location where they would meet. A pop sound came through the line.
 
***
 
Lois and Tricia arrived at the location forty-five minutes later. Sally stepped out from a shaded porch of some building, her face hidden behind a big gum bubble. She got into the backseat and changed into the black catsuit they brought for her. There were three oxygen masks on the backseat, too. They drove to that street and parked their car a block away. The three girls got out, each carrying a mask. Led by Sally, they ran to the house from which Sally had escaped. They put on the masks. Sally and Lois went in by the front door and Tricia went round the house to the back door. All silence and quietude inside, though they could see lights somewhere. The front door wasn't locked. They pushed in. Tricia came in by the back door. No one appeared to accuse them of intrusion. They went through every room and the basement, even searched all the closets. The house must have been abandoned. “That's their old tactic,” Sally said, blowing a bubble again, then sucking it in. “It seems that they are always prepared to move, so they can move quickly without leaving behind any trace. A sly hare has three dens, as a Chinese saying goes.”  The girls had learned Chinese since their childhood, taught by their mother at home.  In high school, Lois had learned French, Tricia, German, and Sally, Spanish.  They were trilingual.
When they got home, it was six thirty in the morning. Mr. and Mrs. Lin were already up. Mrs. Lin was preparing breakfast in the kitchen. Mr. Lin was reading a local newspaper. As the girls came in through the front door, Mrs. Lin stepped out from the kitchen into the living room where they all sat and listened to Sally's adventure last night.
“Next time, if you see a cylinder, prepare for anything and everything. Anything can come from a cylinder. The poisonous needles must have been sprung out from some kind of a cylinder, too,” Mr. Lin warned.
“How could they know that you had dinner in that restaurant?” asked Tricia.
“They must have followed me. From what I heard, it was schemed beforehand to take me as their prisoner and use me as a threat to our family,” said Sally. She spat out the gum into a napkin, ready for some breakfast.
“All of you must be extra careful,” said Mrs. Lin. “And--” A burning smell drifted into the living room from the kitchen. “Oh, my breakfast!” Mrs. Lin rushed back into the kitchen.
 
***
 
At nightfall, the three girls took every precaution and made every preparation before they left home. They drove to the warehouse area in Piscataway and parked their car a few blocks away. It was cloudy, but as the banks of the clouds sailed forth, driven by the wind, the nicely curved crescent moon would sometimes peep out from between the clouds, or figuratively speaking, through the cloud windows. It looked like a well-pruned eyebrow of a fashion model. To keep her company and comfort her loneliness, some stars roamed around her high in the sky, twinkling like the eyes of Augus. All was quiet except for the occasional chirping of the crickets somewhere in the grass and bushes. The three girls walked to the warehouse in question. Sally jumped into a thick-leaved tree, facing the overhead doors of the warehouse. She didn't forget to put a gum in her mouth and chewed it in silence. Tricia sprang up onto the roof of the warehouse that Uncle Charles had worked in. Lois soared up onto the roof of the deserted warehouse. Both hid in the shadows. They wore tiny communications equipment like spies would use.
Hour after hour slipped by. Nothing happened. Not even the supposed regular patrols of the security guards. Either no guards were willing to work here, or they refused to patrol and just stayed inside, the girls conjectured. They came down to meet in the street just before daybreak, went to their car and drove back home in crestfallen, downhearted frustration. Sally spat out the gum into the trunk of a tree and it stuck there. They got some sleep in the daytime and went there again at night.
For three nights at a stretch, they waited there in vain, a waste of time and energy, but they didn't want to give up. Success always results from perseverance--and sometimes patience.
It was Sunday night and raining lightly. They stationed themselves at the accustomed posts. The hour hand moved to one o'clock in the morning. Not even a ghost was seen. It seemed a failing night again. Just as disappointment befell them, two black cars with headlights off glided to a halt before the big overhead door of the forlorn warehouse. A guy got out from the backseat of the first car and went to the door. He pushed some button and the door rose noiselessly. He walked in first. The cars followed. The lights inside were on all night and all day. The warehouse had windows as high as the second floor level at the sides. There were catwalks on that level. Someone thrust his head out from a window and looked down at the lane between the warehouses. Not a soul. Tricia watched from the opposite roof with a pair of binoculars. She could see the inside through the windows. Fifteen minutes later, another dark car came and drove into the warehouse since the bay door still hung high up. Two men jumped out from the third car, carrying a black briefcase. Four people stood opposite them. One lifted a briefcase of the same size and color. He opened it to show the new arrivals. Tricia could see the contents in the briefcase, small plastic bags of a white substance. One of the newcomers lifted his briefcase and opened it to show all the cash inside. They exchanged the briefcases. One party checked the merchandise and the other the paper money to see if they were genuine. Then they nodded to each other, a sign of gratification. Why don't they kill each other like in some movies, Tricia thought.
During the trade process, Lois slipped down and stole inside and hid herself behind a stack of plastic crates. She flung out a coin, which landed in the right rear tire of the third car. The tire went flat. But these people were busy with their own dealings. No one noticed it. When they finished their business, the two men got into the third car. As they started to back out, they found something was wrong. They heard police sirens when they got out to change the tire. Sally had called Sam. The other two cars were blocked by the third one; so the other party could not escape, either. A guy rushed to the door and closed it. All the lights inside went out. The police came, surrounded the warehouse and shouted at the men inside with a megaphone. All was quiet and silent inside as if no one was there. The police were wondering if this was a false alarm, a juvenile prank. Sam arrived. Tricia and Sally got down from their hiding positions. The reinforcement came and the police began the attack. Lois leaped out from her hiding place to the door and pushed the open button and then rolled back into the hiding place. Since she wore a black catsuit, no one inside had noticed her movement. These drug dealers were surprised to see the door opening automatically. They crouched behind the cars and fired at the doorway to prevent the police from coming in. The police fired back, but were in no hurry to enter the warehouse. The police were waiting for their ammunition to run out. When the men inside ceased firing, the police began shouting as if they would dart in. The men inside fired again.
All of a sudden, Tricia saw a guy leap out from the warehouse window towards the warehouse across the lane, carrying a black briefcase. He wanted to escape with the money or the merchandise. Tricia ran after him. The guy broke through a window into the other warehouse. Tricia jumped up and followed him through the broken window.

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In the deserted warehouse, as lights filtered in from the open door, Lois could see shadows moving from her hiding place. She glided on the ground towards the third car. Two men hid behind the third car, near the nose.  In the gliding process, Lois slung out two coins, which hit both men on their Stop-Motion Xues. Lois knew precisely where the xues were when she could discern the shape of a body.  She had practiced this skill in the dark first at lit incenses. The lit incenses stood in some container and Lois was fifty feet away.  She should hit the red end of the lit incenses without fail. Then she should move farther, say, a hundred feet away. Then she had practiced at a plastic body marked with all the xues. She had thrown tiny pebble fragments at it from different angles and different distance. When a xue was hit, a chime like “Ding” flowed out from its mouth.  It was a specially made equipment model for that purpose.
When she saw the two men sink to the ground, she slid to the second car. The front door was open on this side. A man hid behind it, firing at the open bay door. Lois cast a coin towards him with the same result. She jumped into the air to the first car.  The trunk was open.  A man was lying on top of the car, using the trunk lid as a shield.  Lois hit him on his xue and he rolled from the top to the ground with a thud. Someone fired at her, but she wore the bulletproof catsuit. She landed on the other side of the cars and rolled into a dark corner. She reckoned there were still two men that needed to be disarmed. She looked from her hiding place, but no shadows could be seen. She instructed Sally, whispering into her minuscule mouthpiece, to fire into the warehouse. Then she heard a gun firing back from inside the first car. She rolled towards the first car and could distinguish a shadow in the backseat since the door was open. She lunged at him, striking his xue with her chi. Then she heard a gun firing above her. A guy hid on the catwalk. Lois was now in the car. She rolled out to the wall and stayed there in the dark. She took out her infrared binoculars and surveyed the catwalk and found a man perched there with a gun in hand, facing the doorway. She put away the binoculars and soared to the catwalk to some footholds behind the man's back. When her feet touched some iron bars, she made a little noise on the old frames. The man turned to look. As he saw a shadow behind him, he hesitated. He was not sure if it was his comrade or not. Lois already struck his xue and he crumbled on the catwalk. She jumped down and found the switchboard and turned the lights on.
The police knew from Sally through her communications with Lois that all the bad eggs were subdued inside the warehouse. They dashed in to handcuff them and put them in custody.
Lois learned from Sally between chewing her gum that Tricia chased a guy into the next warehouse.  She ran to the lane and flew in through the broken window.
Tricia got inside and fell on her feet on the ground. The guy was nowhere to be seen. This warehouse was lit up, but there were so many stacks of wooden boxes, Tricia could not check all the aisles between the stacks. She rushed to the front side. There was an Exit door and a guardroom. When she reached there, she saw the rogue holding the guard as hostage. The door of the guardroom was closed. She could see them through the window. The thug was talking on the phone so loudly that she could hear some broken words through the closed door and window. “--a car full of gas--no tailing--” He was speaking to the police. He put down the phone and pointed his gun at the guard's head, glaring at Tricia through the windowpanes.
“Where are you, Tricia?” She suddenly heard Lois on the earplug.
“I'm before the guardroom in the front. Don't let the guy see you.”
The phone rang inside the guardroom. “Good. Everyone beyond one hundred feet of the car,” he barked into the phone and slammed down the receiver. He waved the guard to go ahead. The guard opened the door and stepped out. The thug waved Tricia to go before the guard. Tricia obeyed and walked to the exit door, followed by the guard, then by the thug. Before Tricia could push open the exit door, she heard a thud and clatters behind her. She knew the inevitable had happened. She turned around and saw the guy collapsed on the ground, the gun and the briefcase lying by his side. The guard turned around to look, too, surprise on his face. He must be thinking that the guy had a sudden serious heart attack. Lois appeared from behind a stack of wooden boxes.  She had used her chi to hit the thug on his xues from a distance. They opened the exit door to let in the police.  The man was taken away together with his gun and his briefcase.
 
***
 
Next day at breakfast, Lois filled in her father and mother--the latter just returned from the chaperon trip to the school--about the warehouse, the guard killed near it and her suspicion of the connection between Charles's death and the illegal trade in the deserted warehouse.
“I really cannot see why they wanted to kill Uncle Charles at home when they had dealings in that warehouse,” said Sally. At the mention of the Charles’s death, the barely healed wound in their hearts seemed reopened and the long-suppressed sorrow revived. They lost their appetite in deep sighs and red eyes. The girls wiped away some tears in the recollection of a vacation together.
It was more than ten years ago and Alida had not been born yet. The two families rented a yacht and cruised on the sea off the coast of Florida. Mr. Lin was operating the yacht while others were sitting on the front deck for a picnic. It was a shiny day with a halcyon sea. Uncle Charles was playing a guitar and Mrs. Pan, his wife, was singing an Italian song, “Santa Lucia”. The girls clapped their hands to the music. Mrs. Lin was taking the food out of a basket. There were a few yachts sailing on the sea. The gulls were hovering about the sails. The girls threw crumbs into the air and the gulls swooped down and caught them in their beaks. Suddenly a faint cry of “Help!” came from a yacht fifty yards away, but kungfu people have unusual sharp hearing. Uncle Charles put down his guitar and stood up. He flung a can of Coke towards the yacht and leaped high following it. Almost halfway before he would fall into the sea, he reached the can he had slung away before and caught it under his foot. He inhaled deeply like a balloon filled with helium and used the can in midair as a foot supporter and jumped higher, swooping down to the yacht in question. The can touched by his foot lost its kinetic energy and fell directly into the water. The kinetic energy in the can turned into the supporting force for his foot. Charles landed on the railing of the other yacht and jumped down on the deck. The crying came from the cabin below, so he rushed down the companionway into the cabin. He saw a man looking like an Arab beating a girl with a whip.
“Stop!” Charles roared. The man turned to face him. “Who are you? You are trespassing.” He spoke English with a strange accent.
“Why are you beating her? That's against law here,” said Charles.
“I am on the open sea. American law can't reach my yacht. This is my slave. I bought her. So I can do whatever I want with her.” He seemed to have every reason for his behavior.
“A slave? In the late twentieth century?” Charles wondered. “I'm not a representative of American law, but I'll act as a representative of justice. Justice has no boundary and territory.” Then Charles turned to the girl. “Who are you? Are you really his slave?” Charles knew such things still existed in Arab countries.
“I was kidnapped and sold in the slave market and he bought me. But I'm not a born slave. I want to go back to my family,” the girl wept. Charles turned to the man. “Although you are not the one who kidnapped her, kidnapping is a crime everywhere. Will you send her back to her family?” The man looked at Charles, fully aware that he was no match for Charles if he wanted to fight him. So he promised to send the girl home when they were back in their country, but he really had no intention of keeping the promise, he just wanted to get rid of Charles for the moment. Charles knew that such a man who could beat a poor girl was not a trustworthy man; so he jabbed a special xue on him. The man suddenly felt weak and had no strength left even to lift a whip.
“What did you to me?” he cried. “I'm sick now.”
“You are not sick. You will be normal again after a year when you send the girl to her family. Remember that, but if you don't send her home, you'll be always weak,” Charles warned.
“You did some magic on me?” The man looked frightened.
“You could say so.” Charles wanted to keep the man in fear so that he would not break his promise. Then the girl, having stopped weeping, begged Charles not to leave her here with the Arab, but to take her with him. She could call her parents to come to take her home. Charles thought it a better idea and turned to leave the cabin followed by the girl. When he got on the deck he saw that Mr. Lin had pulled their rented yacht alongside the one he was on, so he just jumped over, taking the girl under his arm by her middle. Mr. Lin steered their boat away. When Charles told everyone the story, they were sympathetic to the girl and satisfied with what Charles had done.
 
***
 
Lois and Sam were in the interrogation room. The two men in the third car were members of another drug-dealing group. They confessed everything and the other members were arrested. The five men belonged to the Black Panther, which dealt in drugs, too. For safety’s sake, the five men were kept in a secret place still under police custody, but not in the local prison. That's where Lois and Sam went.  They set up an interrogation room there. The man who had tried to flee with a briefcase of money was called Tom, the ringleader of the group. The other four men only knew that they were engaged in drug dealings, and no more. So they would question Tom alone. Lois had poked the Null-Kungfu Xue of all the five guys so that they had no more chi inside, that meant they could no longer fight with chi. They lost their kungfu. They were just like ordinary people. If they could still use some karate moves, they were weak, had no more strength than common people.
Before Lois and Sam came here, they had gone to see all the evidence gathered by the police. There was a small cylinder the police got when they searched Tom. At one end it was pointed. When a button on the side was pushed, a poisonous needle spat out. That was the murder weapon for Charles and the other guard. So Tom was the real murderer, but in the whole big Black Panther case, Tom was only a pawn, a hitman. The whole case wouldn't be deemed solved yet with the arrest of Tom. Only two small, attached cases could be deemed as solved. There were still loose ends and a big one to be tied up.
Tom had first wanted to ask their attorney to be present when he was questioned, but he had heard of the story of the lawyer asleep, so he didn't make that demand. What's the use of a sleeping attorney present when he could not defend him?
“Why did you kill people?” asked Lois.
“We didn't want them to report to the police,” Tom answered candidly.
“Were you sure when you killed them that they knew something illegal was going on in that warehouse, so that you must kill them to keep your secret?”
“I'm not sure, but we must play safe.  If the killing can assure us of safety, we just do it.”
“Why didn't you kill the first guard on the spot?”
“I tried. I issued several needles, but none worked.”  He shook his head, still looking baffled.
“So you followed him home?”
“No. The first time I failed, I just reported to my contact--”
“Who's your contact?”  Lois cut in.
Tom hesitated. Lois knew what he was thinking and fearing.
“You are in the same situation with your people whether you tell it to me or not. They will kill you as well, if we don't keep you in a safe place.  But if you tell me all you know, you'll be in a position to negotiate with the court.”
Tom thought for a few minutes, then said, “Okay. I tell you. My contact is Joseph. I only report to and accept orders from him.”
“We know him. He'll soon be hauled in,” said Lois.
“Then he told me that I should go to such an address, at such a time, on such a date, and kill the guard.  He's really a potential threat to our business, Joseph said.”
Lois fully understood now that they had arranged to have David instigate Master Chang to challenge Uncle Charles to a fight on that night, using Master Chang as a distraction and cover since they also knew his habit. Tom didn't follow Uncle Charles home that night. He simply got there before Uncle Charles came back and hid in that tree, waiting for the right time to issue his lethal needle.
“Where did you get the cylinder with the poisonous needles?”
“Joseph mailed it to me. We never met. I reported to him on the phone, using some jargon.”
“What's his phone number?”
“He called me. I never called him.  So dun’t have his number.”
Lois believed that he had told the truth. On their way out, Sam asked that if the first time they hadn't killed Uncle Charles on the spot, how they could have killed him at home.
“Because Uncle Charles was very much afraid to be bitten by mosquitoes. So when he stayed, or walked, outside at night in the mosquito season, he would ooze out his chi all over his body, almost half an inch thick, to protect him from mosquito bites and also from the attack of so tiny a weapon as the needle. That’s why the needle could not penetrate the chi surrounding his body. Only a first-class master can do that. And if a kungfu person can do that, he is a first-class master. But when he fought with another master, he had to use his chi to fight and couldn't ooze it out like that to protect himself at the same time.  So the needle could get into his head unawares.”
 
***
 
“Bravo, Laura!” Sally applauded as she saw Laura practicing boxing on the hanging sandbag in the basement, which was partitioned into two sections: family room and family gym. Since their grandfather died, they’d had to sell that big house and move here into a much smaller one, but that was fine with everybody.  The goal of their lives was not to live in a big house.
“I'm tired, fatigued, exhausted.” Seeing Sally, Laura complained like a spoilt child before its mother. “Alida insists that I should exercise boxing and weight-lifting.”
“That's for the purpose of enhancing your strength. If you've learned all the karate moves, but don't have enough strength, how can you bring a guy down when you hit him? It's real life, not like in a movie in which a person being hit just falls by himself.  That's acting.”
“Do you mean that the more sweat I'm letting out now, the less blood I'll shed later when I really fight a bad guy?” She wiped her face, then her neck with a dry towel.
“You are right, absolutely right.  By the by, any letter to your parents?”
“Not yet. I didn’t have time to write recently. After practice, I simply have no strength left to stir my fingers, let alone to hold a pen,” she grimaced.
“That's all right. They know you are safe with us,” Sally comforted her.
“You see, here comes my dear little coach.” She faked a nervously frightened expression. “Hi, Alida. Can I drink some water before the exercises? If I don't, I'll have no more sweat coming from the pores to lubricate my skin.”
“Hello, Laura. I must go to school right now for some activities.  Sorry, I can't teach you today.”
“I don't know if I should feel sad or glad.  Anyway, enjoy yourself, Alida.”
Sally could not help but laugh and patted Laura on the shoulder. Laura pretended to be wounded and collapsed on the floor, adding, “Stop chewing your gum, please, Sally. I am so exhausted that I can't see any muscle movement, not even your cheek muscle.”

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发表于 2017-3-26 06:02 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 24

Lois rented a single house in a secluded place for her forthcoming plan. They kept Frank in there, warning him not to show his face for anyone to see, for his dear life. Frank knew the seriousness of the situation by now. He was not stupid.  He had seen sufficient killings, involving drug dealings on TV and in movies. He wouldn't let these guys kill him.
Now it was time to put their plan into action. Lois rented a van and drove to Flushing that night together with Tricia and Sally. They were disguised as men. It took them an hour and a half to reach there and find the address. It was a single house on a side street just off Main Street. Convenient location for them, too. They parked the van in front of the house and leaped out. The door chime was heard when Lois pushed the button. After a while, a man opened the door. “Well, gentlemen?” He looked at them inquiringly. It was supposed to be an underground brothel. The men who came were either old patrons or recommended by some of the old patrons.  Now, these three men were new.  He never set his eyes on their faces before. He waited for them to say the code name of some old patron. From the look in his eyes, Lois knew that there must be some secret sign or password or something that they should respond with. Forget it! She thrust the forefinger of her right hand at the man's Sleep Xue. As the man fell, she caught him and slowly let him down on the floor of the hallway. Sally was the last to come in and shut the door behind her. She stayed where she was, just inside the front door, beside the sleeping villain.  She never forgot to put a gum in her mouth.  Lois and Tricia went ahead to search for other guys. Tricia looked into every room downstairs while Lois went upstairs.  “Who's that?” a guy yelled out the question from the upstairs hallway and came forward.
“A patron,” Lois replied. She made her voice sound hoarse and masculine-like, but it was still a bit shrill. The guy stepped closer smelling a rat, just as Lois came up and poked her finger at his Sleep Xue. She found no one on the second floor. No patrons that night. Tricia came up as she finished checking the first floor and the basement and found no one else, either.
Then, they went to the third floor. It was an attic.  They pushed the door open.  Four girls were inside, some lying on the lower bunks and some sitting on the floor, smoking cigarettes. They didn't even look their way and seemed indifferent to the two strangers.
“Where are the two other guys?” Lois asked. Now all four girls sat up and focused their eyes on them: woman's voice coming from man's clothes. That was something demanding their attention.
“Who are you?” one of the girls asked.
“We came to rescue you,” replied Lois.
“Rescue us?” another girl doubted. It seemed unbelievable to them. Good things never happened to them before.  They dared not hope for any.  They all stared with incredulity.
“Don't tell me you are here doing such things of your own free will,” said Lois. Tears began to travel down the cheeks of some girls.
“Will you leave here with us?” Lois asked gently. The girls got to their feet. “Gather your things and come to the first floor,” Lois told them. “Where are the two other guys?”
“They are off duty today and gone out for merrymaking,” one of the girls answered. Lois and Tricia turned to descend. Passing the second floor hallway, Tricia picked up the other sleeping villain by the collar and dragged him downstairs, his shoes making a tad-tad noise on the carpeted staircase steps. Lois opened the inside door to the garage and pushed the button to open the overhead garage door.  She went out, started the van and backed it into the garage. Tricia and Sally each dragged a sleeping thug into the garage. They opened the back door of the van and threw the thugs inside onto the van's floor. The girls came down now. Tricia waved them to climb into the back of the van and sit along the sides. Sally got into the back, too, so she could be ready to react if anything went amiss. Tricia shut the van's back door. Lois pulled the van out, halting in the driveway. Tricia pushed the close button of the overhead door of the garage and as the door was sliding downward, she ducked and leaped out. When she got into the front seat, Lois moved onto the street and the van roared off.
On the way Sally made it clear to the girls that they were still in danger of being caught and taken back by the other two thugs, so they must hide in a secret place till the danger was over. The girls agreed to that. When they reached the secret house, Frank was already asleep. It was three in the morning. Tricia went inside to open the garage door. Lois backed the van in. Tricia closed the garage door and opened the back door of the van, letting the girls out first. Lois got out of the van and led the girls into the living room. She cautioned them to keep absolutely quiet when they lived here. No noise to rouse any suspicion among the neighbors. This house had three bedrooms. Frank occupied a small one. The girls had to share two big ones, but better than four squeezed in the attic. The two thugs were put into the basement, still in profound slumber. Lois left the girls to shift for themselves for a while before they went to bed. She and her two sisters returned to their own home, saying they would come tomorrow.
 
***
Tricia and Lois went to the secret house after they returned the van to the car rental office. They brought a lot of food and other stuffs. The girls would put the things away. Lois and Tricia went down to the basement. They slapped the rogues awake and poked at their Null-Kungfu Xue so that they didn't have any kungfu to perform. Frank was assigned the task of taking care of the two thugs. After they cleaned themselves and ate some food, Lois began to interrogate them.
“Who's the big boss?” she asked.
“We dun't know. We never see him.” one of the thugs answered. The thugs knew that they fell into the hands of some kungfu people, not police or the FBI. If they refused to answer questions, they would certainly suffer from tortures, the kungfu tortures, different from any torments in any other places one could imagine. If one's Pain Xue was pricked, he would feel enormous unendurable pain from within, worse than being whipped or any outside torments. If one's Itch Xue was jabbed, he would feel unbearable itching all over inside that he could not scratch. A story went back to the olden time in China. A magistrate, when he was interrogating a culprit, never beat him, but had his subordinates brush the sole of the culprit’s foot very lightly till he felt the itching on his sole unbearable and he would confess to everything the magistrate wanted him to confess. This torture was better than beating and more humane. So the thugs offered information to please her. “We only know Joseph.  He's the one we must obey.”
“Joseph's dead.”  Lois wanted to sound stern and menacing.
“A guy call hisself Billy Jiang's coming to take his place.  We listen to him now.”
Lois remembered him. He had played the role of a phony customer that reminded Lois later of the Wizard of Oz and lured Lois to his office, where she had got a cut on the arm with a poisonous knife. How could she forget him? Thanks to him, she got another girl's arm, the color of the skin looking a shade whiter than her own. More beautiful? She had to wear long-sleeves now. “Do you know where Billy Jiang is?”
“No. He come to us. We dun't even have him phone or beeper number.”
She could foretell that, Lois mused. For safety sake, Lois pricked their Sleep Xues again. Let them sleep the clock round when she was not here. Frank and the girls already introduced themselves to each other to save Lois the procedure. There was a TV in the living room and a VCR. Lois got some tapes from her father's video store for them to kill the time. She didn't want them to get bored and make some stupid fatal blunders.  She warned them, too.
 
***
 
“Can I tell Sam about it?” Tricia asked. They were in their office now.
“No. Better keep it from him for the time being,” said Lois. Just then, there was a knock at the door.  “Come in, please.”
The door was pushed open. Sam filled the doorway with his six foot three stature and one hundred and fifty-eight pounds of muscle. “Hi, girls.” He grinned his toothy grin with the greeting.
“Hi, boy.” Tricia smiled her artful smile with her breezy words. Sam laid two tapes on Tricia's desk on his way to the sofa, on which he sank, causing a pathetic groan from its bottom.  “Any news?” he asked casually.
“Nothing except on TV,” Tricia cooed.
“Any progress on the cases?” Lois asked Sam. She didn't want Sam to ask more questions.
“Only more death, if you think that's progress,” Sam sighed, pressing his finger and thumb on his temples and leaning back, only causing another groan from the old sofa.
“Are the five men still in one piece?” asked Sally. “It's not easy to catch them. So guard them like treasures.” Her mouth was set in chewing movement.
“Yeah, in one living piece. You can be at ease,” said Sam, winking at Tricia.
“Fine. And Joseph's in one piece, too, only in one dead piece,” said Sally scoffingly.
“How was he killed?” Tricia asked Sam curiously.
“The coroner couldn't give any definite conclusion. My guess is something called Death Xue as you will put it.” He had increased his knowledge about kungfu now.
“So, Central Park is not the murder scene?”
“No. It seemed the body had traveled on a long journey and was dumped there.”
“Anything found that can be traced to the original murder place?”
“Nothing. The Black Panther is as sly as a fox. You can’t even hope to find a murder weapon for people who die in this way.”
“No,” Tricia agreed. “The murder weapon is the finger plus chi.”
It was lunchtime. Tricia and Sam left for lunch. “Let's listen to the tapes,” said Sally, her cheek muscles twitched busily.
“Good.” Lois went to Tricia's desk to pick up the tapes, then back to her own desk. She put a tape into the player.  She could not fast-forward it when it was all gossip. Maybe, there was some important information between the gossips like some lucky garbage picker finding jewelry in the rubbish.
“You two supposed to be in your whorehouse. Why fucking you come here?” It was Jack's voice.
“When we back there in morning, no fucking one's in there, not even the fucking girls, like all vanishing in magic or taken by fucking vampires. Now we out of job. We dun't have any girls.”
“You report to fucking Billy yet?”
“How we can do that? We even dun't know where find fucking him.”
“He laid fucking ambush for the bitch girl, but one of his fucking men blinded by the girl's hair, a long ponytail, it was said, whipped across his face.  It's unbelievable.”
“What become of the man? He's blind and no more fucking use for big boss.”
“Never seen or heard of him since then.”
“It was rumored bastard's killed and buried in the fucking back garden of boss's place.”
“I feel we going downhill. So many brethren killed by hands of our own fucking brethren.”
“How's Frank?”
“He's fucking lucky. Bailed out and disappeared.”
“He really know fucking nothing 'bout us.  We just use him to deliver our goods.”
“But boss's rule is: better kill a thousand wrong bastards than let one slip by.”
“I's afraid our future fate, either killed by police or by big boss.”
“Or the second boss, or the third boss.”
“You mean we have more fucking bosses over us?”
“Yeah, you right. And the fourth boss a woman. You like killed by a fucking woman?”
“How come we have so many new bosses overnight?”
“You stupid asshole. You got mosquito's IQ. They ain't new. They are old fucking brethren. Only come here recently.”
 
***
 
“Hello, may I speak to Lois?”
“This is Lois.  Who's calling?”
“I am Craig Pu, you remember? You came to my house once about my neighbor Michael Dong.”
Lois remembered the master living in Queens.  “Oh, yeah, Master Pu.  How can I help you?”
“It's about Michael. He's hiding in my house now.”
“Why does he want to hide?  From whom?”
“From his big boss, he said. He joined some kind of organization when he was much younger. Now he wants out and afraid they will kill him.”
“Okay. I'll come to talk to him.” Lois hung up. Can this be a trap? A trap set up in Master Pu's house? Not unless he's their brethren, too. But I can't be sure. Lois went there with Tricia and Sally as backups. When they arrived there, it was already dark.  Lois just used her cell phone to call Mr. Pu from her Mitsubishi. She didn't want to go in, maybe right into some snare, if there would be a snare. “Hello, Master Pu. It's Lois. I'm now just in front of your house in my car. Tell Michael to come out to my car. It's dark. No one will see him. I'll get him to a safe place.” She clicked off after Mr. Pu acknowledged that he got the message. Just one long minute later, a man ran out of Mr. Pu's house towards their car. Sally opened the rear door and let him in. Then Sally retired to the far corner of the backseat and turned halfway to him with alert eyes fixed on him. She even forgot chewing the gum in her mouth.  The car shot forth noiselessly.
Lois had rented an apartment for him in a quiet back street of New Brunswick. Now she went to drop him there. Once they were in the apartment, Lois told him to stay here without letting anybody notice him. She would bring him everything he needed from time to time till it was safe for him to leave. Then she asked, “Do you know who your big boss is?”
“I really don't know, but once Joseph told me to drop an important package to a magnificent mansion in Long Island.  I think it may be the boss's residence, but I'm not sure.”
“Did you see anyone inside?”
“I just went as far as the guardhouse. Some guard took it and sent me away.”
“Why do you want out?”
“If I'm no longer of any use to them, or if they suspect I'll let the cat out, they'll kill me even though I won't do that. But they trust no one. It seems as if you live with a cruel king or a tiger. You always fear to lose your life. When I joined, I had no idea what their doings were. And now--I'm really afraid. They kill people like mowing the grass, even their own people.”
“What are their doings?”
“They have different groups. Each group has different business, like one would be in charge of the drug trade, another in robbery and burglary, still another the secret whorehouses.”
“Which group are you in?”
“The one in whorehouses. It's the house I live in, just near Master Pu's.”
“How can you get out?”
“We are allowed to go out. The girls are not. Today's my day off. They won't begin to look for me till tomorrow when I don't show up.”
“What if Master Pu can’t keep you safe?”
“I have to go back tomorrow.”
“How many girls there?”
“Three. And only two guys. Me and the other one.”

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发表于 2017-4-2 05:51 AM  资料  个人空间  短消息  加为好友 
Chapter 25

Lois and Sally left soon. Tricia stayed with Michael, asking him more questions. Lois and Sally drove back to Queens again. As they reached the house Michael mentioned, it was after midnight. They parked the car in front of the house and got out. Sally walked ahead to the door with Lois right behind her. At her knock, the door opened immediately as if someone knew they would come and was waiting for them. A man appeared in the doorway. Before he could open his mouth, Sally hit his Sleep Xue. Then she picked him up, putting him on her shoulder. She went to their car after checking that no one was on the street. She opened the trunk, put him in and shut it. Both girls went into the house. They searched every room. In one room there was a patron. Sally pushed the door open without any warning and saw two bodies on the bed in active nudity. She blushed imperceptibly owing to her dark skin. “Put on your clothes and stay in the room,” she cried to them and closed the door. Lois found two girls in their room and told them what she had told the girls in the other whorehouse. The girls gathered their things and followed her out of the house and got into the backseat of the car. Sally stood outside the door for a good while, chewing gum, then opened the door again. The couple already had their clothes on. They stood, each on either side of the bed, staring at the door when it opened slowly. A gum bubble appeared first, followed by Sally.
“I'm a detective,” she told the patron after sucking in the bubble. That was correct. She was a detective, only she omitted the word ‘Private’.  “Someone reported that unlawful business is going on here.” She looked at the patron. “I'll let you go this time.” The patron murmured something like thanks and fled as fast as he could as if a devil was after him. Sally told the girl to gather her things and come with her. The girl thought that she was under arrest, but could not resist. Sally took a blanket from the room. The girl went to her room to get her things and followed Sally downstairs.
When they were back in New Brunswick, it was four o'clock in the morning. Lois led the girls into the apartment, followed by Sally, who wrapped the guy in the car trunk in the blanket and shouldered him in. As the three girls from the whorehouse entered the apartment and saw Michael, they stopped short, gazing from Michael to Tricia to Lois and Sally. Lois pushed them in and said, “Sit down. I'll explain later.” After everything was made clear to the girls, Lois added, “Now you are in the same boat. You must get along well. Don't do anything stupid.”
Lois undid the guy of his Sleep Xue, but hit his Mute Xue and Null-Kungfu Xue and told Michael to watch him and bind him hand and foot when she was not around. Then she left with Tricia and Sally and went home for a few hours’ sleep.
 
***
 
It was Saturday night. So Mr. Lin stayed late in his video store. After midnight he left the store and went home. When he turned into Sixth Avenue, he heard the blasts of guns. He drew near and saw three goons in black firing at his house. The front door and windows had been shattered. Then a guy threw something like a grenade onto the porch. It exploded and brought the whole porch down, together with part of the front wall. Mr. Lin was concerned about the safety of his family and infuriated at the rogues.  He cast a handful of coins towards them like a shower of metal, which hit all three people here and there on the body, some on their xues and some penetrating into the flesh. They fell on the ground and their guns dropped. They couldn't move, couldn't cry, lying still like the dead. Mr. Lin stopped his car and leaped out. The house was on fire. Police cars and fire engines arrived soon. The firefighters were struggling with their hoses and then torrents of water were thrown out into the fire. Mr. Lin ran round to the backyard and found his family safely gathering there on the far side, looking helplessly at their house in flames.
When the first gun report was heard, Mrs. Lin and the three girls jumped out of their beds, and grabbing their clothes, cell phones and a few important things, ran downstairs to the family room, which was more than half under ground level. Alida and Laura also woke up at the sound. They crouched on the floor and changed their nightgowns into their daily clothes in dark. They went through the basement door to the backyard where no gun firing came from. Lois called 911. Then the three girls went to the neighbor’s backyard and around the neighbor’s house to the front street just in time to see their father coming and performing the marvelous deeds. As the firefighters were working, neighbors came out to watch and policemen were busy controlling the situation, Lois suddenly saw a shadow slip down from a tree across the street. She started to chase it, followed by Tricia and Sally. They were familiar with this area, so in no time they gained on the shadow, surrounding it on three sides. The shadow turned about and pointed something at Lois. Lois issued her chi and hit the shadow, which tumbled onto the ground. The three girls closed on the shadow, which laid there immobile. They found a man in black. Lois took off his face disguise and recognized him as Billy Jiang. His skin looked blue now. Who would poison him? Then Lois noticed something in his right hand. It was a cylinder.  Lois could account for his death now. This guy sent out his poisonous needles at Lois, who issued her chi, which sent all needles back into him. His own needles poisoned him. The girls went back to the fire scene. The fire was now gradually under control. They went to check the three thugs, who had attacked their house, and found all three were dead, dead by the poisonous needles, too. Billy Jiang had followed them here and hidden himself in the tree. If after the attack, they could escape, excellent. In case they couldn't escape, Billy Jiang was instructed to kill them so that they wouldn't fall into the hands of the police alive.  He reckoned that he could escape later, but “Justice has long arms.” The idiot didn't know the idiom.
 
***
 
The fire engines left. The corpses were removed. The police took statements from them about how they were attacked and acted in self-defense. Then the police set up the yellow tapes round the front and kept the media that arrived later at a distance. Some neighbors came up to express their concerns and asked how they could help. Mrs. Lin thanked them and said that they would soon leave here to find a safe place. The neighbors went back to their respective homes.
Most things in the house, if not ruined by the fire, were damaged by the water. They could not fix the house until they collected the insurance money. Two cars parked in front of the house were damaged, too. Tricia's Mazda was parked that night at the curb across the street; so nothing happened to it. Mr. Lin's car was good. Two cars were still in a ready-to-move state. But where could they stay till the house was fixed? They gathered in the backyard to discuss it. “Before we can capture the Black Panther, our family is in jeopardy,” said Lois. “The greatest disadvantage we have is that our foe is in darkness while we are exposed in broad daylight as if always ready to be attacked. So that's why they know where to strike and we don't.”
“So what shall we do now?” asked Sally, who was still in such a bad mood that she was this once out of the habit to enjoy a gum.
“We must go underground,” suggested Lois.
“What do you mean by that?” Tricia queried.
“For now, the whole family must split. Mom and Dad take Alida to live somewhere else, to keep out of the way of the Black Panther. We will find another place to live. We can contact one another by cellular phones, use cell phones only.”
“Sounds good, but exactly where will they go and where will we go?” Sally looked at Lois inquisitively.
“Do you think, Tricia, that Mom, Dad and Alida can stay in Mrs. Gallagher's place for a while?”
“I don't know. You'd better ask her, but it's not the best time to call people at home. We have to wait at least till after dawn.”
“Okay. Since we can do nothing right now, let's go into the house to see what we can save,” said Mr. Lin. So they all went into the house through the back door into the kitchen. The basement was flooded now. As the kitchen was in the back, not much damage was done to it. They opened the refrigerator and took out some food. Sleep was out of the question now. After eating, everyone got a clean garbage bag to put personal things in, like clothes still in a state to wear and jewelry not marred. The three sisters took all the detective equipment that could yet be utilized. Lois called the AAA tow-trucks to get the damaged cars to the garage.
Laura felt sorry for what had happened, but Sally told her that it was not her fault.
After daybreak, Tricia called Mrs. Gallagher. She explained the situation first, then asked her Mom Nancy whether her parents and Alida could come to stay in her place for the time being till their house was fixed.
“Sure,” she replied. “My place is secluded enough that those bad guys can never find it. Only they must squeeze into my small condo, if they don't mind.”
“Thank you, Mom Nancy.  No one will care for anything else before the life and death crisis.”
Therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Lin took Alida to Mrs. Gallagher's place in Mr. Lin's car.
“Don't worry about us. We have two secret places to hide,” Lois consoled her parents. After Mr. Lin's car rolled away, the four girls got into Tricia's Mazda. “Now where do we go?” Tricia asked.
“Drop Sally at the apartment.  We'll stay in the secret house,” decided Lois.
 
***
 
Tricia called Sam and told him what had happened last night. Sam wanted to come to their secret house, but Tricia said no. “We must keep a low profile for a while. You can call me on my cell phone.”
By Lois's strategy, their three cars changed colors and plates, and every time they went out, they put on a disguise. So the Dauntless Trio disappeared except to a few people. When Lois called Mr. and Mrs. Chang and told them the situation, Mrs. Chang invited the girls to stay with them, but Lois declined, saying, “The Black Panther knows your house. If we stay with you, we'll bring you disaster. We are safe in a secret place. Don't worry.  We will contact you when everything is all right.”
 
***
 
The FBI was tipped that a small bank in New York City was involved in money laundering. So the FBI made inquiries into that bank. They found that the owner of the bank in question was Mr. John Zi. When Mr. Zi was queried about the money laundering, he said that he knew nothing about it.  Although he was the owner, he said, he never went there to check the accounting records or any other documents. He consigned all the banking business to the manager, Mr. Yang, who, in his opinion, should be an honest person. When FBI agents went to question Mr. Yang, they were surprised to find that the manager had committed suicide overnight. He made a statement typed from the computer and left on his desktop, saying that he alone was responsible for the accusation and he did it without the owner's knowledge of it. On the statement he imprinted his fingerprint from the thumb of his right hand instead of signing it. His swivel chair behind his desk was tipped over. He was lying on the floor with a hole in his right temple. A pistol lay at his side with his fingerprints all over it, not just on the handle, but even on the barrel. No other injuries were on the body.
When Sam learned the news from a friend working with the FBI, he told it to Tricia. “Hmmm. It's really skeptical. We never actually suspected John Zi as he has such a good reputation. Now we'll work in his direction to see what we can discover,” said Tricia.
While Tricia talked to Sam on the phone, Lois waited eagerly to hear the news, which was finally imparted to her after Tricia folded up her cell phone.
“Before Michael told me that he had delivered some package to a mansion in Long Island, I have never connected Mr. Zi with all our cases,” sighed Lois. “Now we have at least two facts to suspect him. First, he is a master. Second, he resides in a mansion in Long Island. I don't know how many mansions are in Long Island, but I do know only one known master lives there. A master plus a mansion, that's enough to make us suspicious of him, and now the bank scandal.”
When Lois had pretended to write the biography for Mr. Zi, she had got a list of all his businesses from his personal secretary, Helen. She still kept it in their office. Since that night when they were attacked, they had put up a notice on the office door, saying that they were indefinitely on vacation abroad. Occasionally one of the sisters would go there after midnight to check if everything was all right in the office. Around one o'clock antemeridian, Lois drove there and parked her car in the parking lot of Foodtown, a supermarket across the street from their office, which was open twenty-four hours. She stealthily went into their office like a burglar. The only difference was that she had a legal key to open the door. She used a penlight to shine her way to her desk and took the list from the drawer. She pocketed it and left the office furtively. She did not want anyone to see her go into and out of the office.
Next day, Lois picked up Sally from the apartment and drove her back to the secret house. They would stay together for a while. Lois planned to spend several nights checking one by one all the business locations that belonged to Mr. Zi. They hoped to find some hard evidence in one of them.
It was very easy to pick the lock on the back door of the restaurant. They went into the kitchen and flicked on the flashlights. They looked into every possible corner, including the storage room and the walk-in freezer. They couldn't find anything illegal. Nor could they in either the gift shops or the laundromats, or in the bakeries where Sally helped herself to some of the cakes. One of the employees was suspected of the theft, a scapegoat. They even went to the theater after everyone left, but found nothing worthy of the trip. It seemed that if Mr. Zi was engaged in anything unlawful, he did not mix up the legal businesses with the illegal ones, that is to say, he kept normal businesses on one track and underground businesses on another track, with the exception of the small bank.

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Chapter 26

When Lois and Tricia went to stay in the secret house, they made some adjustments in the arrangement of where each of the occupants would sleep. Frank moved out from the small room and slept in the den on the couch. Lois and Tricia used the small room for themselves, putting up a cot. Laura slept in one of the big bedrooms, which the other two girls occupied. They knew each other already and soon became good friends.  Then Sally came to stay in the house. So Sally slept in the den while Frank had to transfer to the living room to sleep on the sofa.
It was also illegal to have so many people sleeping in that house, but it was more important to keep it that way while they were taking care of things more seriously illegal to law and order, and more destructive to the communities.
One day, Lois was still asleep after the all night sleuthing work when her cell phone rang. Lois was alert even in sleep.  She woke up to answer the call.  It was from Mr. Chen.
“I called your home. It seemed that the phone was disconnected. I could never get through. I had to call your father at the video store to get your cell phone number,” he said.
“That's all right,” said Lois. Then she told him about the occurrence at her house and at last asked if anything happened that he desired her knowledge.
“Yes,” he said. “My wife had a twin sister who married John Zi, which you were already aware of, I think. Before her sister died, she gave my wife her diary for safekeeping. She wished that my wife would read it after her death, but my wife didn't want to pry into other people's secrets, though they concerned her own twin sister. She has kept it for so many years without even touching it. Recently she told me that her sister often appeared in her dreams, as if she had something to tell her, but couldn't do it in the dreams. So my wife took out the diary from the safekeeping place and started to read it.  All her sister wrote about was John Zi.  We think you'll be interested in reading it.”
“Can you tell me on the phone what it’s all about?”
“It's really a long story. You'd better read it for yourself.”
“Okay. I'll come tomorrow.” She lay down again for some more sleep. Tricia was in a profound sleep and never disturbed by any noise, though she turned more than once.
In the evening after dinner, Lois nudged Sally to follow her to her room and told the other two girls about the phone call from Mr. Chen and about the diary.
“The diary can't contain anything about the serial killing and the drug trade,” said Sally.
“But it may provide us with some kind of useful background about Mr. Zi and may lead us to find out something concrete against him, or Mr. Chen wouldn't demand our attention,” said Lois.
 
***
 
The three girls arrived at Mr. Chen's house in the morning. They directly indulged themselves in the perusal of the diary without standing much on social ceremony. It was virtually the excerpts from the diary. The deceased sister, before her death, had torn all the important pages from her diary and put them into a folder. That was what Mrs. Chen got and kept all these years. The first page dated back about twenty years ago.
 
March 15
 
Fortune often goes together with misfortune. The misfortune is that my parents died so unexpectedly in a car accident. I would mentally be prepared if they died of old age, though I would still bewail their death, but now it has torn my heart into pieces. Then I got half of their bequeathal, if that can be deemed as fortune, though it's really a fortune given to me. I gave half of the half of my legacy to my husband, John Zi, who opened a Chinese restaurant. He works so hard and the business flourishes.
 
July 8
 
It is late, so late. John never comes back so late. It's not like him. I'm worried.
He's back at last at three in the morning, said he met a friend on the way back and they went to a bar to have a drink. Weird. John never goes to bars, never drinks or smokes, never even has close friends in Brasilia. We arrived here only a year ago.
When he wants to lie down on the bed, he doesn't even change into his sleeping gown as usual until I remind him. What's wrong with him? Is he my dear John?
He even has a little more muscle than before. Does drink cause muscles to bulge a bit?  I don't know.  Drink is men's stuff.
 
July 9
 
How can he change his manners, his habits overnight? The only things that haven't transformed about him are his face and his voice, or I will definitely think he's not my John. John was never rude to me, but after I remind him, he seems to improve.
 
July 12
 
Today I brought him to my sister's house. He seemed surprised to see my twin sister, didn’t even recognize her husband. They are such good friends in addition to the relationship of brothers-in-law.
 
August 8
 
He changed our family room into his study and put a new lock on the door. He bought a safe to furnish his study. Now he does whatever he likes and never consults me like he usually did. He seems to have more strength and can lift a heavy square rosewood table alone. I always helped him before to move this table.
 
August 17
 
He often comes home late. When I ask him for the reason, he just tells me to go on sleeping. He seems to have a lot of money recently and bought me a diamond ring for our anniversary, of which I also reminded him a month ago lest he forget it like so many things. He forgets my birthday. He forgets so many things we shared before.  He even forgets where we keep things.
 
November 5
 
We moved to America. We bought a house in Brooklyn, New York. We opened a restaurant here; the one in Brazil was sold. My sister and her husband moved with us to Brooklyn, too. They bought a house a few blocks away. My beloved sister just wants to keep close to me.
 
February 24
 
I begin to develop heart troubles, though not serious. I have to take medication regularly. John has opened another restaurant in the three months since we moved here. He never tells me where or how he gets the capital.
 
June 11
 
My heart disease develops quicker than I can imagine. Even the doctors are puzzled. John often gives me the medication himself and watches me swallow it, though he often says that he is busy and can't keep me constant company. Sometimes I wonder if he gives me wrong medication, which makes my heart disease worse, but he's my husband.  Shouldn't I trust in him?
 
October 21
 
Recently I had heart attacks and was sent to hospital twice. John seems very busy with his business. He hires a nurse to look after me, but whenever he's around, he gives me medication himself as if he's really concerned for my health.
 
There were more of the excerpts from the diary, but the sisters didn't have time to read to the end. What they had already read was enough for them to have a general idea of what had happened twenty years before.
“Once your dad asked me why I wouldn't accept a favor from this man,” Mr. Chen stated after the three girls finished the perusal. “It's because after his wife died, whenever he came to my house, he flirted with my wife. My wife was furious and drove him away. Since I knew John never exercised kungfu, I wanted to give him a lesson one day, and we began to fight. I didn't use my chi, but to my total surprise, I found that his kungfu was better than mine. Though he left soon, I was still in great wrath and ire so that when I was practicing, the chi jammed at my waist and as a result I was paralyzed.” He heaved a deep sigh.
“What happened to him later?” Lois asked.
“He suddenly moved away from Brooklyn and later I was told that he bought a mansion in Long Island.  I haven't had anything to do with him ever since.”
Lois thanked both Mr. and Mrs. Chen for confiding their family secrets with her, and the three girls bade them adieu.
 
***
 
From Michael, Lois learned the address of their new secret club, which was in the Bronx now. It had originally been a club. They just bought it and used it as a private club. The three sisters arrived there around midnight in a rental van. They were wearing catsuits. They parked their van right in front of the double doors. They crept out of it and Sally went ahead to push the door open, but it would not budge. So Sally had to knock at it. When the door was opened, Sally recognized the doorkeeper, his bulky build towering over her. The doorkeeper recognized the two girls, too, who had come to their old clubhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and had been the sole reason for their club moving to the present location, though it was much better than the old one. Generally, big guys had more strength and less agility. So before he could react, he was jabbed by Sally at his Sleep Xue and fell on the floor with a heavy thud. The girls walked to the spacious hallway where a staircase curved up to the second floor. A guy on the second floor landing saw them and made a shrill whistle, a warning to his comrades. Then two guys rushed out from the right wing, wearing oxygen masks and holding two big cylinders. Seeing the cylinders, the girls quickly took out their oxygen masks from a large pocket in front of their chest and put them on their faces just as the misty sprays descended on them. When the two guys saw that their cylinders did not work this time, they threw the cylinders aside, tore off the masks and drew out their swords, which were carried on their backs. The girls put away their masks, too.  Sally stepped up to them, loosening her long whip that was entwined round her waist. Lois jumped onto the second floor landing to fight the guy above. Seeing a girl jumping up at him, the guy flung daggers at her, two at a time.  He had many daggers on a belt in front of his stomach. Although soaring in midair, Lois caught the hilts of the daggers and using them, she warded off the other daggers flying towards her in quick succession.  Then she threw them back at the next pair of daggers coming her way.  The two daggers clanked against the another two daggers the guy had slung. The four daggers met in midair and fell down on the floor. The guy wanted to get more daggers, but Lois already landed on the second floor. Another guy came out from a nearby room, holding an ax in his right hand. The guy who whistled whipped out another two daggers from behind his hips.  Now Lois and Sally each fought against two guys.
Tricia went to the left wing of the club. She did not see anyone till she came to the cafeteria where three guys sat around a table, eating and drinking, talking and laughing. They did not hear the whistled warning. But when they saw Tricia coming in, they knew it was an intruder. They slung cans, bottles, whatever was on the table, at Tricia, who leaped onto a table two meters away, dodging all the ejections. One of the three guys took a folding knife from his pocket. He unfolded it and flung it at Tricia. Tricia kicked the knife, sending it back to pierce the guy in the shoulder before he had time to shirk. He pulled out the knife and blood followed. Another guy hit two xues on his shoulder to stop the bleeding and tore off one of his shirtsleeves and wrapped it on the wound. Since the wound was not serious, the guy could still fight. The three guys were closing in on Tricia. They used their chi to attack. Tricia sprang onto another table three meters away. Their chi hit the table and the chairs around it and shattered them to pieces. Standing on another table, Tricia clapped her hands as if in appreciation of the feat they had just performed. The guys flared up in censure and indignation and ejected their collective chi towards Tricia again. And again Tricia leaped onto still another table and the table she had stood on a while ago became the victim, together with the chairs surrounding it. The guys used their chi continually and Tricia played the same game with them, like a cat playing with some mice, till almost all the tables and chairs in the cafeteria were broken. The guys wasted much of their chi. Then Tricia counterattacked. She used both her hands to issue her chi. When her chi conflicted with their collective chi, the three guys were sent flying backward and falling supinely on the floor. Before they could get on their feet again, Tricia sprang up and glided in the air, emitting her chi through her fingers and thumbs. Ten whiffs of her chi hit the three guys on their Nonfunction Xues and Mute Xues. She landed on her feet and leaving them lying on the floor, she went to explore the rest of the club, smoothing her hair backwards with her right palm.
With a long whip in her hand, Sally got the upper hand. She fought with the two guys deliberately, chewing her habitual gum. She cracked her whip and entangled it round the left ankle of a guy, then jerked up and threw the guy to a distance of four meters away. The other guy wanted to cut her whip in two, but could not succeed because the whip was so tenacious and pliable that it would not take the cutting force. Sally circled his waist with the thin end of her whip and also jerked him up, hurling him to the side of his comrade. Sally waited there for the two guys to get up. When they approached and attacked again, Sally locked her whip with their swords and pulled with such force, aided by her chi filling the whip, that the two guys could no longer hold the swords and had to let go. She jerked her whip loose and sent the two swords flying upstairs towards the two guys fighting with Lois. These two guys, though disarmed, stood facing Sally and stretched out their hands to use their chi against her. Their chi was so weak, just like beginners. Sally churned her whip into circles against their chi, which was scattered into thin air when it met the whirls of the whip.  Sally lashed out her whip and struck the Nonfunction Xues of the two guys with the tip of her whip. They became motionless where they stood, like two modern statues by an unknown artist.  Sally had almost a whimsical urge to inscribe her name on their foreheads, claiming the art work as hers, but thinking better of it, she severed the pad of gum in half and stuck one half on each guy's forehead.

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The two guys fighting against Lois upstairs were brandishing the ax and daggers wildly at her. It was not easy to deal with, because they were not playing by the rules. Lois had to use her chi to keep them at a distance. When they advanced to attack, she shot out her chi with both her hands at them. Her chi was so strong that it sent them a few yards backwards. Then the guys advanced again and Lois did the same thing. The process repeated several times before the two swords came flying at these two guys. They used their weapons to fend off the flying swords and made the swords turn in Lois's direction. Lois ducked her head to let the blades of the swords pass and snatched upward at the handles, catching them each in one hand. The two guys changed their strategy. They lay down on the floor and rolled up to Lois, wielding the ax and daggers to cut at her shins and ankles. If Lois jumped up, they would also jump up and cut at her shins and ankles. Since Lois was off the floor, it was difficult for her to change her position in midair and the guys were at an advantage and very possibly they could cut her shins or ankles.  But Lois didn't react as they had expected.  She just thrust the two swords, tips down, straight into the floor, then gripping the handles, threw her feet upward, literally heels over head. She was standing upside down, holding onto the swords for support. Clang. Clang. Clang. The weapons of the guys hit the swords. The guys jumped to their feet, striking their ax and daggers at Lois's head. But Lois had already put her feet down on the floor at the same time the guys had jumped up. She lifted the swords and parried off their ax and daggers. Now Lois was at an advantage over the guys, because the swords were longer. The guys knew that they could not win and turned to flee. Lois cast the swords at them. The sharp ends of the swords went into their shoulders with such force that they fell face down.  Lois went to them to prick at their Nonfunction Xues.
The girls searched the whole club and found no more people inside. They didn't know when they were fighting that one guy did not appear, escaping instead through the back exit; and that other normal employees, like the cook and his assistants, had fled, too. In a wine cellar, they found some boxes in which they discovered bags of cocaine.  So they called the local police precinct.
Before the police came, they undid the Nonfunction Xues, the Mute Xues and the Sleep Xues on the eight guys, but Lois jabbed at the Null-Kungfu Xue of each of them, so they were no longer kungfu people and could not easily escape from the local jail. Tricia and Sally stood aside to watch Lois delete kungfu from the thugs. They could not help with this. To achieve this, one must have enough force and skill on the fingertip.  Only a master or one on a half-master level like Lois could do this.
When the police came, the girls showed them their ID's and explained everything. Then the police took over and the girls left.
 
***
 
“We don't really need to rent a van,” Sally said when they were on their way back. Now Sally had time to put a gum into her mouth again. In the excitement of fighting she didn't even think of it.
“Since we couldn't find anything illegal for the police, we must take all the guys we got on our hands and store them in our secret house. That's why we need a van,” explained Lois. “Okay. I got an idea. It's only two o'clock now. We can go to another place to make the best use of the van and its rental cost. What about that?”
“Good idea!” exclaimed Sally, putting up her thumb at Lois.
“Where will we go next?” asked Tricia, combing back her hair with her fingers.
“All places that belong to the Black Panther are of no more use to us. We are going to the Jack's lair to retrieve Frank's car,” said Lois.
Tricia okayed it and Sally was simply excited at the prospect that she had another fight to undergo.
They parked the van a few houses away. They found the unmarked police car that Sam sent there to watch over the house. They went past the car without disturbing the plainclothes cop inside who was drinking coffee and listening to the pop music on the car radio.
The girls approached the house, Lois and Sally from the front and Tricia from around the back. They noticed that Frank's car was still in the driveway. Sally stood before the front door and listened for a while. There was absolute silence within. She picked the lock and opened the door. She slipped inside and crouched beside the wall. Lois still stayed outside. Sally took out a flashlight and flicked it on. No one in the living room. When nothing happened, Lois came in. Tricia entered by the back door. The girls searched the first floor and the basement and no one was seen. They went upstairs. It seemed that there were three bedrooms upstairs. Each of the girls tiptoed to one of the three rooms. Everyone listened before the door, then pushed it open and rolled into it to shun possible attack. One room was empty. The other two rooms each had a guy sleeping there, both dead drunk. Tricia recognized Jack as one of the guys. The other guy was the big one fighting with them in New York, using the long whip, which now became Sally's trophy. Though they were drunk, Lois still poked on their Null-Kungfu Xues. Sometimes kungfu will make over-ambitious persons go astray on the life path. Tricia and Sally each grabbed a guy and dragged him downstairs to the living room. Lois went to get the van. Tricia looked for the key to Frank's car. Sally said loudly, “Hello, Sam. We need no more cops to watch over this house. The guys are our captives now.  See you later, alligator.”
“Are you crazy, Sally?” Tricia whispered. She found the key tossed on the coffee table and then retrieved the bug she had planted from somewhere above the window frame. Lois stopped the van in front of the house. Tricia and Sally each picked up a guy and carried him to the van. They opened the van's back door and threw the guys in, then closed it. Sally went to sit in the front seat. Tricia drove Frank's car. They headed for their secret house in New Jersey.

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Chapter 27

Next day, Sam called on Tricia's cell phone. “What's going on in that house? I heard Sally's voice on the recording.” Tricia told him that all the guys in that house disappeared and would probably never return, so there was no need for a stakeout there any longer.
“All right. But tell that wild naughty girl, Sally, don't mess in police work,” Sam jested.
“She's just kidding.  Any news?”
“Nothing. It seems you're very busy recently.  You got a lot of troubles on your hands.”
“The big trouble's still ahead. We'll soon know the answer.”
“Want any help?”
“Not now. The big sister's planning everything.” When Tricia cut dead the line, she asked Lois if they needed any help from Sam.
“My principle is that if we get any evidence, we turn it over to the police together with the guys. If not, we'll keep the whole thing to ourselves. The police can do nothing to help without proof,” said Lois. The two guys they caught yesterday were kept in the basement with the other two guys. They did not even know one another, being in different groups, but they really did not have any chance to talk yet, as they were kept asleep all the time except when eating and going to the bathroom. Their Mute Xues were never undone in the fear that they would cry out and cause troubles.
 
***
 
There is a frequently used phrase in the Chinese language when people are writing novels, which is “No coincidences, no novels”.
It was Sunday. The sisters were shopping for Christmas in a mall. They wanted to buy some presents for their parents, Alida, Mrs. Gallagher, Mr. and Mrs. Chang, Mr. and Mrs. Chen, Mr. and Mrs. Li and Mr. and Mrs. Hsu; the last four couples had helped Lois financially for the bail money, which she'd yet to repay. They would purchase something for all the girls and guys staying with them. So they had a long shopping list. They walked in the mall, selecting the things on their list. All at once, Sally recognized two men in their fifties as the master brothers. She whispered the information to Lois and Tricia. “I guess they came here having something special in their mind to buy without any need to pay for it,” said Sally, pushing the gum under her tongue.
“Probably, they are choosing free gifts for Christmas,” consented Tricia, tucking away a wisp of her sunstreaked hair from her right eye.
“Let's follow them and see what they do,” suggested Lois.  The three girls were in disguise.
“They are wanted by the police and are still bold enough to show up in public,” said Sally, the wad of gum was transferred between the teeth and her right cheek after a few chewings.
“It's because they are confident in believing that they can escape in any circumstances,” said Lois.
“Shall we call the police and help to catch them?” asked Sally, moving her mouth a little.
“Let's follow them for a while first,” said Lois. During such a big shopping time before Christmas, security guards increased in the mall. One of the guards recognized the brothers, too, from the pictures they received. So they notified the police. In a short period of time, all the available police force in the county was stationed in the parking lot outside the mall. They did not want to come in for the arrest. More people would be hurt if the resistance happened within.
The brothers did not buy anything, did not steal anything and did not rob anything, as if they came for sightseeing or spying, in Sally's opinion, to come back at night for burglary. Nonetheless, when they stepped out of the mall exit, followed by the three sisters, they found that something was not normal.  It was as clear as day to experienced culprits like the brothers that the police were waiting to arrest somebody and that somebody was not easy to put under custody. Therefore, it looked like all the police force poured out here just like all the bees swarmed to siege when somebody had smashed their hive. They knew that no one but themselves were worthy of all such efforts from the police department. They were just about to soar onto the roof of the mall when they felt three blasts of chi coming from behind. They turned round swiftly and saw three girls assailing them. They emitted their chi, and when the gusts met, the girls were sent backwards and hit their backs on the wall. The brothers held their ground firmly. Police could not fire their guns because of the girls behind the brothers. The girls sprang forward and attacked again. The brothers used their chi to resist, but the girls eluded their chi, which hit the exit door and the wall. The door was damaged and the plaster fell from the wall. The girls were more nimble and agile. They leaped here and there and ran in circles around the brothers, seeking chances to strike. The brothers stood in the middle, back to back, and just threw out their chi in defense. After ten rounds, Sally spat out her gum at one of the brothers to distract him, who just used his chi to hit the gum and send it flying to stick on the cap of a policeman who stood behind a car to watch. The hitting force was so great that the cap fell off the policeman's head onto the ground. The policeman crouched to retrieve the cap and put it on his head, not daring to peep again.  After spitting the gum as a distraction, Sally jumped rapidly forward to attack from the side. The elder brother suddenly turned to face Sally and issued his chi from his right forefinger, striking at Sally's Numb Xue. Sally did not have time to react and went limp. The elder brother grabbed Sally as a hostage. They jumped up high, hovering through the air over the police Maginot Line, and landed on the roofs of some parked cars. Lois and Tricia jumped up after them, landing on the top of the cars beside them, leaving the police behind. The brothers were quicker than the girls. They got to their car parked at the furthest side of the parking lot for easy and fast getaway. Lois and Tricia got into their car, too, and moved to the other side of the parking lot, trying to stop the brothers' car. The brothers reached their car, opened the doors, put Sally on the backseat and got in themselves. They moved their car out and sped toward the exit, barely missing a collision. Lois and Tricia followed them after a few cars; the police cars brought up the rear. They raced on Rt. 1 northbound.
Since the police cars sounded their sirens, many other cars pulled aside to let them pass. Although the cars yielded, the escaping and chasing cars still had to zigzag their way forth and could not go very fast like in movies. Lois knew that two of them were not capable of saving Sally from the brothers. Therefore, they just followed them to see where their destination was, and so did the police since the brothers had a hostage.
The brothers turned onto Rt. 440. After a long while, they exited and turned into a side street in Brooklyn. Then they deserted their car there, which was picked up by the police later. When police checked the name and address on the registration card, they found that both were shams. No such house number on that street, and of course, no one could live at a non-existing address.
After abandoning the car, the brothers ran among the crowds, carrying Sally. Soon the police lost track of them. But Lois still followed them as best as she could in their car. The three sisters had each planted a minuscule tracer in their hair in the shape of a barrette since Sally was missing last time. So Lois could still keep track of the brothers, though she could not see them. The brothers stopped for a while and then sped away as if in a car. Lois kept her car at a distance in the pursuit. How could they get another car--unless they flagged down a taxi? Now it seemed that they were going in the direction of Long Island. At length they stopped, but Lois kept going. They came to the mansion where Mr. Zi dwelled. A yellow cab went in the gate. Sally's tracer indicated that Sally was inside.  Another proof added to Lois's suspicion of Mr. Zi, a hard proof. Lois drove past the mansion, to avoid any skepticism. After half a mile, she turned and headed home.
 
***
 
Neither the FBI nor the police could find any hard evidence against Mr. Zi. They could do nothing within the perimeter of the law, except to continue the collection of any possible evidence. However, the kungfu circle had its own law. They used kungfu to maintain justice within their circle. They did not need hard evidence to take action. Any circumstantial proof was enough for vengeance. Once the two girls got back, Lois called their father, then called Mr. Chang and told him everything she knew, including the contents of the diary. She called Mr. Li, telling him that all the conditions added up were pointing to Mr. Zi as the big boss of the Black Panther and the killer of David. Lois told him that they were plannng a surprise raid tomorrow at Mr. Zi's residence and asked Mr. Li if he would like to join in the action.
“Definitely,” he said. “I want to avenge my son.”
Then Lois called Mr. Chen and told him what she had learned when she had visited Shaolin Temple and her suspicion of John Zi, and finally asked if he wanted to join them in the raid.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Chen. “When justice calls, it's my responsibility even if my wife's relatives are not involved.”
Late in the evening, Lois received a call from Mr. Li on her cell phone. He said that Mr. Hsu would like to join in the revenge for David, whom he looked upon as his own son and that he would ask the members in Hunter Corps to volunteer in the fight. So all the necessary arrangements were made overnight.

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Chapter 28

Next day, a procession of trucks, vans and cars started for Long Island. An old shabby, but strong, truck led the way. Lois sat in the front seat to give directions. Mr. Chang and Mr. Li rode in Mr. Hsu's limo. Tricia drove her car with her father in the passenger seat to pick Mr. Chen. She would join the procession later. Thirty-two members of the Hunter Corps formed a small army, riding in trucks, vans and cars. All kinds of weapons were ready at hand for immediate use. They did not go in a line like in a funeral procession with headlights on. They drove randomly, but kept in contact with car phones and cell phones. No one would suspect anything. When near the destination, Tricia caught up with them and brought up the rear. They reached the massive splendid gate with embossed gold decorations, so beautiful that any beholders could not harden their hearts to destroy it, but if evil hid behind it, the surface beauty had to be destroyed to get at its rotten core.
The shabby truck accelerated and broke through the gate. People riding in the back of the truck cast sticks of dynamite at the guardhouse, which was blown up with two guards inside. According to the strategy, all the trucks, vans and cars scattered to surround the mansion. The members jumped out and sheltered themselves behind bushes, trees, vehicles, the arbor, and whatever they could use as shelters, their guns all aiming at the mansion. Lois leaped out of the truck, rushed in by the front double doors, and encountered Helen, the personal secretary of Mr. Zi.
“Where's the girl they kidnapped yesterday?” Lois demanded.
“Killed already,” Helen smirked.
Lois flared up and entered combat with Helen in the vast foyer before the semicircular staircase. The limo and Tricia's car drove around to the back on the wide path and careened over the lawn, stopping in the back garden. The masters and Tricia got out.
Mr. Zi, the brothers and a woman were sitting on armchairs on the lawn, watching the disciples practice kungfu. When they heard noise like an explosion coming from the direction of the front gate, Mr. Zi was about to send someone to check when he saw cars appear and the masters get out. They stood up. Mr. Zi stepped forward and greeted them.
“Where's my daughter, Sally, that the brothers took captive yesterday?” asked Mr. Lin.
“Your daughter is my guest now. It's all a misunderstanding,” smiled Mr. Zi. “I'll have her brought out.”  He gestured to one of his men, who started to go to the back entrance.
“I'm here, no need to fetch me from your dungeon,” a voice floated down from the second floor balcony. Everyone looked up. Sally was standing beside Mrs. Zi with a knife in her hand, looking as if she held Mrs. Zi as her hostage.  Mr. Zi's plot failed.  He had in mind to bring Sally out to threaten the masters with her life, but now his wife's life was in danger. Not that he would care so much about her life. He could find another wife easily, but that woman had conceived his son. That was what he cared about, a Chinese conventional idea--to have posterity to inherit and hand down the name and estate so as to satisfy the spirits of the ancestors in Heaven, or he was an unfilial son, or grandson, or great grandson.
“Okay. What do you want?” Mr. Zi inquired.
“What do we want, Mr. Lungming Hua?” Mr. Chang stepped forward. “Do you still remember me?”
“I don't know what you're talking about. Who are you?” He got a little distracted when he heard that name, but recovered his composure soon.
“I'm your brother-in-kungfu from Shaolin Temple. I can still remember you stealing food from the kitchen there, but that's really not the crime we came for. First, you killed your twin brother and assumed his identity, which you are using now.”
“That's none of your business,” replied Lungming Hua, alias John Zi.
Mr. Chen walked ahead, standing beside Mr. Chang. “My wife's sister left behind a diary, which denotes that you killed my brother-in-law, your twin brother, and you killed his wife, the twin sister of my wife. Do you think it's my business or not to demand justice for them from you?”
Lungming Hua was silent. Mr. Li took a few paces forward. “You killed my son David. Do I have the right to avenge his death?”
Lungming Hua avoided eye contact with Mr. Li.  However, he turned to Mr. Lin. “We are supposed to be friends. You promised that.”
“Yes, but within the law, I said that. You remember? You sent your man to kill my brother-in-kungfu, Charles Pan. What will you plead for this?” Mr. Lin paced forward.
“What do I owe you, Mr.--?” he addressed Mr. Hsu.
“I'm Erik Hsu. I have everything to do with you. First, as a citizen, I have a responsibility to fight you for the crimes of murder and drug trade, not to mention the minor crimes like filthy salacious business. Second, I belong to the kungfu circle. I must squeeze out the pustule to make our circle healthy and clean.  Besides, I looked upon David as my own son.”
“So we have to fight to decide on whose side justice is, like cutting the Gordian knot, huh?” said Lungming Hua.
“We'll do it on one-to-one basis,” said Mr. Chang.
Mr. Li turned to Mr. Chang and observed, “I must fight that devil first. You promised me.”
Mr. Chang nodded and stepped back. Then Mr. Li said to Mr. Chen, “This devil killed my son. A son is closer in relationship than in-laws. Don’t you think so?” Mr. Chen just managed a wry smile at him. Mr. Li continued, “Do you mind if I fight him first?” Mr. Chen stepped back and so did Mr. Lin and Mr. Hsu. All Lungming Hua's men had gone to stand behind their boss since the other party arrived. Now Mr. Li and Lungming Hua began the fight without any further decorum.
 
***
 
Lois held up her right hand to issue her chi. Helen did the same, but when the two gusts met, Helen was knocked down on the floor. She was only on the fifth level, more than halfway below the level of Lois. Before she could get up, Lois leaped over and poked at her Null-Kungfu Xue, deleting her kungfu entirely. Lying on the floor, Helen wept, “You ruined my life, you daughter of a bitch!”
“I just give you an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. Without kungfu you can still work and live comfortably. Now tell me where the girl is they brought in yesterday.”
“In a cell in the basement,” she replied, though still sobbing. When they reached the cell, the door was open. No one was inside the cell.  But a few feet down the corridor, they could see a guy sprawling face down, an iron bar lying at his side. It must be the man who watched over the cell, but what happened? Lois shepherded Helen everywhere in the basement in a hastening search. Then they went up to the ground floor, then to the second floor. At last Lois saw Sally with Mrs. Zi on the balcony. Sally was holding a knife aimed at her throat.
“Sally, how are you?” Lois asked eagerly. Sally turned and said, “I'm fine, thanks to Mrs. Zi. Can you undo the Nonfunction Xue for me?” Lois tried, but it did not work. She could not undo it because the brothers were masters. One cannot undo a xue hit by another with a higher kungfu level.
Lois looked down from above and saw a woman standing aside. She recognized her as Martha Fox. She pricked the Sleep Xue on Helen for safety and said to Sally, “Wait here. I'll ask Dad to undo it.” She jumped down from the balcony, gliding over toward the woman. Lois touched the ground before her. “Hi, Martha. We haven't met for a long time. How are you?”
Martha Fox got nervous. She managed a grin. “Hi, Lois. Nice to meet you here.”
“Can you come with me to explain to the police how you stole a car and lent it to me with cocaine in the trunk?” asked Lois.
“I'd better not, if you don't mind,” she said with a killer smile.
Lucky. I'm not a man, Lois thought. “Yes. Maybe, we should practice a few rounds before you'll agree to do that.” With these words, Lois assailed Martha. Martha was the girlfriend of the elder brother. Her kungfu was just above tenth level, equivalent to Sally's, but a bit inferior to Lois's. The brothers participated in the fight, the elder with Mr. Chen, the younger with Mr. Hsu. Mr. Chang and Mr. Lin stood aside, watching. Mr. Lin made a gesture to Sally, motioning her to jump down, but Sally spread her hands, palms up, which meant that she could not do that. Mr. Lin jumped up effortlessly as high as twenty meters, hovering through the air like a bird onto the balcony. He undid Sally's xue. He grabbed Helen under his left arm and held Sally's hand in his right hand. Then he jumped up and flew away from the balcony, landing beside Mr. Chang and Tricia, who had come up to stand with her father since there was no one she could fight with. He handed Helen to Sally, who put her into the limo. When Mr. Lin jumped so high effortlessly, Mr. Chang felt an admiration.  He thought, “I can't do that so effortlessly.”
Mr. Li was a third-class master while Lungming Hua was in the second class, so gradually Mr. Li felt he was no match for his antagonist. He began to show his tardiness in defense and inability in counterattack. Mr. Lin walked forward and used his chi to separate them. Mr. Li stepped back. Lungming Hua stood there.
“No hurry. You can sit down to adjust your chi before you fight with me,” Mr. Lin said to Lungming Hua, who asked, “So, you eat your words to be my friend and want to fight me?”
“Sorry. It's for justice, which is above friendship. But I promise you that I will look after your wife and your future son as a true friend will do.”
Lungming Hua sat down in a yoga position to adjust his chi. When he felt ready, he stood up and sent out his chi toward Mr. Lin, who followed suit. This time when the two blasts of chi collided with a hollow bang, Lungming Hua fell backward three steps. For two reasons: One, he’d had a fight with Mr. Li already. Two, Mr. Lin belonged to the super-rank. Lungming Hua began to use Shaolin kungfu, the Arhan Style of fist moves, with some changes of finger thrusts and kicking up of the feet at intervals. Mr. Lin deliberately either ducked and shunned, or fended off his attack and at every chance he moved in to dart out his chi, which Lungming Hua had to elude. Lungming Hua aimed his right fist at the chest of Mr. Lin. This move was called “Black Tiger To Steal The Heart”. (In fact, every move in this famous style always has a name for it.) Mr. Lin raised his left hand, let Lungming Hua's fist touch his palm and then pushed hard, sending him back a few steps. Lungming Hua took a stance and used both his fists to strike at both of Mr. Lin's temples. This move was called “Two Wasps To Enter The Ears”. Mr. Lin spread out both his hands to fend off Lungming Hua's fists. This move was named “White Stork To Spread His Wings”. Lungming Hua withdrew a step and took another stance to thrust forth two fingers, the forefinger and middle finger of his right hand apart like a fork at the eyes of Mr. Lin. This move was named “Two Dragons To Pick Pearls”. If the fingers pierced into the eye-sockets and pulled out the eyeballs, Mr. Lin would go blind, but Mr. Lin used the same two fingers held together, pointing at Lungming Hua's wrist. If the xue on the wrist was hit, Lungming Hua's arm would be paralyzed. He recoiled and changed his moves. Their movements became faster and faster like the last time they had been practicing, but not as long. Mr. Lin jumped up five meters high and sent out his chi with both hands, aided by gravity, down on top of Lungming Hua's head. Lungming Hua had to emit his chi upward in resistance. His position put him at a disadvantage. So when the two gusts hit against each other, Lungming Hua was knocked down on the lawn. Mr. Lin descended on him like a vulture and poked at his Null-Kungfu Xue, ruling him out of the kungfu world, much less a master. Lungming Hua sighed and closed his eyes, acknowledging the defeat.
 
***
 

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Lois mostly used her fingers and hands to assault; now the forefinger, now forefinger and middle finger together, all movements aimed at Martha's xues. Sometimes she gave a slap with her hand; her chi was so strong that Martha only had time to shirk, never got any chance to strike back. Lois’s finger moves were so complicated and deft, like playing a swift piece of music on the invisible harp with both thumbs and all the fingers, that Martha had difficulty following the moves with her eyes and could hardly defend herself against them. The set of Lois's finger movements was named “Flying Snowflake Style”. Just imagine the snowflakes flying down so thick and quick, blown by the wind here and there, sometimes in whirlpools. Think of the complex pattern it forms. How can one shovel the down-flying snowflakes? It was now over fifty rounds. Lois was ready for the final blow. She crouched to sweep out her left foot at Martha's shins. Martha jumped up instinctively, without thinking, to dodge being hit. This was a false move from Lois, who now stood up to strike out her hands, left at Martha's chest and right at her belly. Martha's feet were already off the ground and it was very hard for her to make any further movement change in the air. She could only suck in her belly a little bit, but her chest was hit. She felt something salty coming up as she fell back on the ground. She spat out some blood. Lois poked at her Null-Kungfu Xue, then taking a phial out of her pocket and pouring out a pill from it, she fed the pill into Martha's mouth—a cure for inside injuries. Martha felt the pain in her chest subside and spat no more blood. Sally picked her up and put her inside the back of a van, having jabbed at her Sleep Xue.
The elder brother fought with Mr. Chen, who had recovered from his paralysis not long ago and so was really no match for the elder brother. At the twentieth round, he was struck on the shoulder by the elder brother and fell on the lawn. Just as the elder brother was about to strike again, Mr. Chang moved forward to issue his chi. The elder brother had to defend himself and could not deal another blow to Mr. Chen. Tricia rushed forth to help Mr. Chen to his feet and they both retreated to the side.
Mr. Chang learned a set of Damo Style sword moves in Shaolin Temple. Damo was a monk who came from India to China to spread Buddhism. Then he became the head monk of Shaolin Temple and invented a style of swordplay called Damo Sword Style. Since nowadays, people seldom combated with swords, Mr. Chang used his fingers and hands to imitate the intricate combinations of the sword movements. He thrust two fingers--forefinger and middle finger--as the tip of the sword at the elder brother, who used his hand to parry it off. Mr. Chang chopped the edge of his hand like a sword at the shoulder of the elder brother, who sprang away to dodge it. The chi from the chopping hand of Mr. Chang made a deep cut on the lawn. Mr. Lin stood aside, watching them fight. He recognized the style Mr. Chang was using. He went to a tree, broke a bough from it and tore off all the leaves and small branches. It looked like a rapier, but it could be used as a sword, anyway. Mr. Lin threw the bough to Mr. Chang, who caught it between rounds. Mr. Chang filled it with chi and wielded it like a sword in his attack. The elder brother whipped out two steel sticks from his sides, each as long as one and a half feet, resembling huge pencils. He brandished the steel pencils and moved in to assail Mr. Chang, who lashed his bough upward to fend off the pencils. The bough was much longer and the elder brother could not snap it with his steel pencils because it was filled with chi. Mr. Chang was a level above the brothers. Just like the chess players, the better one always wins. After a hundred rounds, Mr. Chang lifted his bough high in the air and brought it down on the head of the elder brother, who used his left pencil to ward off the bough and thrust his right pencil at Mr. Chang's chest. Mr. Chang drew his bough backward a little and brought it down on the pencil in the right hand of the elder brother with such force that the elder brother could no longer hold it. The steel pencil swooped to pierce into the soil of the lawn a few feet away. The elder brother knew that he would lose the battle eventually. He wanted to adopt the first and best strategy: runaway. He made a sharp whistle as a signal to his brother to escape, then throwing the pencil in his left hand towards Mr. Chang, he jumped up backwards, intending to land a distance away so that he could turn and flee.  Mr. Chang used his bough to slash at the flying steel pencil, sending it downward into the lawn. Then he jumped up after the elder brother, casting out his bough still filled with his chi at him, causing him to make a backward somersault. When his feet were in midair, he kicked back the bough, which Mr. Chang caught in the air. The elder brother completed his somersault and landed on the ground on his feet. As forward movement was often quicker than a backward one, Mr. Chang already stood before the elder brother, who waved both arms to strike alternately and desperately like a madman. This was not a normal karate move. So Mr. Chang had to whirl his bough before him to keep the elder brother at a distance. The elder brother suddenly turned and jumped high into the air again.  Mr. Chang jumped up, too, slinging out his bough afresh. This time the elder brother did not see it because he had his back towards Mr. Chang. As the bough came nearer and caused air movement, the elder brother began to feel it, but before he could change his course in the air, the bough filled with chi hit him on the back with such force that he fell to the ground.  He just rolled away, then jumped up on his feet and ran away as fast as he could through the trees. Mr. Chang chased, but soon lost him, because he was not familiar with the grounds.
Mr. Hsu and the younger brother had more than one hundred rounds by now. Their kungfu was on the same level. If left to continue fighting, they might spend another one or two hours without a result. Mr. Li leaped forward to attack the younger brother from behind. It was so unexpected that the younger brother was not prepared to cope with both combatants at once. Mr. Li's fist hit him on the back. He sprawled on the lawn. Mr. Hsu poked his finger at the Null-Kungfu Xue of the younger brother, who shouted, “It's not fair play.”
“Do you think it's fair when you kill people even without any kungfu?” asked Mr. Li coldly.
When all the bad masters were either conquered or escaped, Lungming Hua's disciples, who had been watching on the side when the masters were fighting, suddenly, at a signal from one of them, took out cylinders and spewed out needles at the victorious masters. The needles came like a shower. The five masters all issued their chi and sent all the needles back into most of the disciples. Only three of them standing behind the others escaped the sting of the needles. The three guys turned to run away. The members of Hunter Corps gunned them down. They were only wounded, not dead, being hit only on the legs.  Now all the members came out from their sheltered positions and began to apply first aid to the wounded and at the same time, secure them by tying their wrists and ankles.
Lungming Hua and the younger brother were herded into the mansion to their own living room. The conquerors began to question them. What they answered would be recorded.
“How did you kill your own twin brother?” Mr. Chen asked Lungming Hua.
“I didn't even know that I had a twin brother,” he said.
“How could you not know it? You shared the womb for almost ten months,” said Mr. Li ironically. “But it really doesn't matter whether you knew it or not. If you had never killed people, you wouldn't have killed your own brother. It sounds like you have all the rights to kill other people.”

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Chapter 29

Lungming Hua was a lazybones by nature. He hated hard work, but wanted to enjoy life like the rich people. How could he get easy money? It made it easy for him to steal, to burglarize and to rob since he had master-level kungfu. Easy come, easy go. The easier he got money, the freer he spent it to enjoy himself, and the oftener he needed more easy money. When two governments had wanted him for the sale of the valuable stolen painting, he had escaped from America and stolen across the border into Mexico. He traveled south, burglarizing and robbing all the way down. It almost became his pleasure to do so. He felt that it was a real challenge to his kungfu.  He liked the challenge.  It showed how powerful he was with the master-level kungfu.  He could do whatever he wanted and no one could stop him.  One day he came into the capital of Brazil. He stayed in a luxury hotel and enjoyed himself. He sold his loot one by one till the last piece. Then he started his old business anew. One day he had dinner in the Chinese restaurant owned by John Zi. When he finished his dinner and went to pay at the register counter, he was so surprised to see the man standing opposite him. The man was really a counterpart of him. He looked at him like looking at himself in a mirror. Though the resemblance was one in a nonillion except for identical twins, he got lucky here. A wonderful, wicked idea struck him. He made necessary preparations.
The restaurant always closed at midnight. All the employees left first. John was always the last to depart. After he checked once more that everything was all right, he went out the back door and locked it. There was a parking lot behind the restaurant. He was about to climb into the car when a shadow jumped down from a nearby tree and hit his Death Xue. The shadow was none other than Lungming Hua. He put John in the trunk of the car and drove to the outskirts of the city. He found a secluded corner and burned the body to ashes. He gathered all the ID's and drove to his new home, the late John Zi's former home, which he already knew by following John in a rental car twice. When he got inside the house, he guessed the wife would be asleep since it was three in the morning. He explored the first floor, memorized what was where, then went to the second floor for further exploration. At last, he went into the bedroom. He pretended he knew where everything was in the house, but sometimes when the wife wanted him to fetch something for her, he had to ask, feigning that being busy made him forgetful. At the restaurant, he appeared as the owner, but he knew nothing about the business. The employees, though they wondered, dared not say anything about it. He soon hired someone as manager to handle the business for him. When the wife advised him to be frugal, he told her that he should not waste his time in one restaurant and that he had more important things to take care of.  Formerly John Zi would never say such things to his wife.  He often went out at night to resume his old job--a business without investment.  He wanted to accumulate his wealth as fast as possible. He kept his loot in the newly purchased safe in his newly refurbished study.
 
***
 
One night, he met the brothers. They were burglarizing the same jewelry store. So they had a fight over the plunders. When the brothers detected from the style he was using that he had learned kungfu from Shaolin Temple, they admired him and the three became friends. They divided the pillages among them.
Once when they met, the ambitious Lungming Hua suggested, “Why don't we organize something like a party?” So they named their organization the Black Panther. Lungming Hua appointed himself as the big boss, the elder brother the second boss, the younger brother the third. Later the elder brother had a steady girlfriend, Martha Fox, half-American and half-Chinese. She had learned kungfu from her mother, a Chinese woman, daughter of a kungfu family, who married a Mr. Fox. His girlfriend was the fourth boss. Since the police here urgently wanted them, they decided to move to America. Because the girlfriend often held different opinions from Lungming Hua, she insisted on going to separate places for development. The difference of opinions between Martha Fox and Lungming Hua never developed into a brawl because the brothers were always mediating. So it would be better if they lived in different places. Then the brothers moved to San Francisco and Lungming Hua to New York. The brothers only desired the accumulation of wealth like medieval outlaws. Lungming Hua secretly collected quite a few followers and taught them kungfu. His faithful followers found some indecent people as their followers and taught them kungfu secondhand. Lungming Hua wanted to establish a private kungfu army of his own, so he asked the younger brother to come to New York as a kungfu instructor. After five years of training, he went back to the west coast, leaving a group of hitmen with Lungming Hua.
Meanwhile, Lungming Hua found that John's wife was suspicious of him. He began to meditate a way to get rid of her. To his delight he came to know that she was suffering from heart disease. So he gave her medication that had the worst side effect to heart disease to expedite her death. He had enough money to buy the mansion in Long Island after the wife died. He moved there with his loyal followers as his disciples as well as his servants. He opened many small businesses to cover the fact that his money mostly came from the illegal dealings. He now had so many thugs under him that he commenced the drug trade and opened a small bank for the purpose of money laundering.
After his second marriage with an Italian woman--his first wife was really not his wife, but legally on the document to his usurped name, hence his wife in name--he found that his second wife was really sent by another drug-dealing party to spy on him, so he had to secretly kill her and bury the body in the back garden. Then he married the third wife, Melissa, who seemed never to ask questions about his business and only basked in his wealth and favors.
Mrs. Zi, (or should it be Mrs. Hua?) was an American woman with shoulder-length hair of a brown color, five foot seven inches in height, a hundred twenty pound figure, and tanned skin like a girl from the California coast. When she married Lungming Hua, she only knew he ran quite a few small businesses and had a colossal mansion. He only demanded to live in every possible comfort, never in luxury, which suited her. She herself was not a woman aspiring after the newest fashion, the fantasy jewelry or a showcase lifestyle. She felt proud of her husband, though he was much older than she, but she never had the slightest notion that this make-her-proud husband had a dark side until one or two years after the repentant marriage. He hired a maid for her and maintained the thought that the maid should be on his side since he paid her and that the maid should report to him if his wife had any misdemeanor. Melissa was kind by nature and treated everybody nicely, especially the maid, like a relative of hers. She took the maid into confidentiality and the maid was so touched she confessed that the husband wanted her to report to him any misdeed of Melissa. Why should a husband do such a thing to a wife? She was put on the alert. The maid slept in the servant quarters and had the chance to hear the gossip. She told Melissa every tidbit she gathered from the gossips. Melissa commenced her doubt of the non-misdeed of her husband, but she knew “curiosity killed the cat”. She pretended to know nothing about his illegal doings. She learned from the maid, the day before the fiasco with her husband, that late in the afternoon a girl had been brought in and shut up in a cell of the basement. The girl was in disguise, which she was stripped of soon. She was the same girl who had been captured and stayed in the guestroom. The girl was the sister of Lois, whom she had once met. She developed the conception over the years that any opponents of her husband's were people of integrity. She should help the girl. Next day, as soon as the masters came, she knew the girl was in immediate danger. She and the maid went to the cell to the flabbergastedness of the watchman. “I heard a beautiful girl was kept here. I want to have a look,” she said to the watchman. “Does Mr. Zi want her to be his concubine?”
Before the watchman could answer, the maid hit him on the head from behind with an iron bar. The maid took the key from the watchman and opened the cell door. Melissa told Sally to follow her to her bedroom. She explained to Sally on the way there. Then she took out an ornamental knife from the drawer of her vanity dresser and handed to Sally, who looked at her doubtfully. “I hate hypocrites and I know John killed his second wife. I don't want to be the next victim. Men always think that they can override women because they are physically stronger. They despise women. They think they are superior to women, so women are their playthings, but they ignore the fact that they come into this world through the lower torso of women. Why don't they come out from the woman's mouth since they are so superior?” She directed her dissatisfaction of her husband toward general masculine tyranny. Sally relaxed and came to know that Melissa wanted to fake the hostage role and they stepped onto the balcony with Sally holding the knife pointing at Melissa.  When Sally got down with her father, Melissa went back to her bedroom and lay down on the bed.  She did not want to know the consequences of the combat.
 
***
 
Lois went into the limo to slap Helen awake. “Now you are facing the fork of your life path. One branch will take you to the endless days behind bars while the other will lead you to a new life. You must make the decision in five minutes,” Lois told her solemnly.
“Just tell me what you want me to do. I'll consider,” Helen said a bit nervously.
“Provide us with every evidence you know about anything illegal they did.”
Helen assented to cooperate. So Lois called in the FBI. When the FBI agents arrived, at Helen's guidance, they found enough evidence in a secret safe in Lungming Hua's study to put him in jail for life. They also dug up several bodies in the back garden in different rotten stages. One skeleton was proved to be his second wife.
After signing all the necessary statements, the masters, the three sisters and all the members of the Hunter Corps left before the media got wind and swarmed up there.
 
***
 
There was no more need to keep the two places secret. The rogues were given to the FBI. The kidnapped girls went to their respective homes. The return of the prodigal put Laura's parents in such a gleeful state of mind that they persisted in inviting Sally’s whole family to their house in celebration of the hilarious occasion. The only pity for Laura was that she could not continue to learn karate after so much hard work.
“You can still practice all the karate you've learned so far by yourself,” Sally advised her. “You don't have to give up.” The joyous news was that she was allowed to go back to the computer company to resume her former position. The fellow employees held a party for her, too, on the first day she was back at work. The partying spirit really gets in the blood of American people. They can find every reason to have a party.
The return of Frank was received in a somewhat different way. His father criticized him for his laziness and dreams of easy money. His mother wept joyful tears and embraced him so tightly that he felt almost smothered. His sister, Monica, advised him to learn the lesson. After the first wave of mirth was over, his mother fixed a special plentiful dinner for him. He was stuffed to the throat like the Beijing ducks. Another day, the three sisters were invited to their house for a celebration to show their unforgettable gratitude. Frank got a mechanic’s job in another garage.
Michael Dong went to Los Angeles. His mother and stepfather lived there. His biological father died early when he was a child.
 
***
 
Lois kept the house into which the whole family moved and stayed till their burnt house was rebuilt. Mrs. Gallagher felt sorry that she would be left alone again after so many days of happy get-togethers. Tricia promised to sleep over as often as possible.
Christmas was around the corner. The three sisters and Alida were decorating the living room of their rental house. “Hope we'll have Christmas next year in our own house,” said Sally while putting the angel figure on the top of the fir tree. She kept on chewing gum and blowing bubbles, bigger and bigger each time.
“Probably, you'll have Christmas next year in your own house with Henry,” said Tricia.
“What's wrong with that? You'll spend it with Sam.” Sally would never let others have the last word even if she was busy with her mouth constantly performing the tricks to produce balloons.
“Who'll spend it with me?” asked Alida innocently. She was hanging little golden bells on the tree.
“I'll be with you,” said Lois, bending to hug her.
“You want to be a spinster?” Sally had the ability of quick connections between things that other people had difficulties to put together.  She stopped performing for a split second to squeeze out words, almost swallowing the choking wad of gum.
“Don't worry about me. Someone will turn up in due time,” Lois said grinning.
Sally was hanging some mistletoe, which Henry had bought yesterday somewhere, along the walls where no one would stand under it.  She had seen through Henry's ruse, but didn't want to be so impolite as to throw them away.
“Why not make a wreath of mistletoe and put it on your head so that every man can give you a passionate kiss?” Tricia advised Sally.
“I'll make a wreath of mistletoe around my waist so that every man can kiss my ass,” replied Sally seriously, as a bubble burst around her mouth.
“It won't be a white Christmas this year, either,” sighed Alida. “I hope Santa Claus will come as well.  I can't wait to open the presents.”
“Speaking of Mr. Santa Claus--shall I call him Santa Claus, Esquire?--I dreamed about him last night.  So in the morning when I woke up, I wrote a poem about him,” said Sally, keeping the gum under her tongue now.
“Did Mom pluck your ears in the dream?” asked Tricia.
“Nope. I did it of my own accord.  Here it is:
 
Christmas Eve again!
My annual duties call.
As my reindeer are sick,
How can I go round?
 
Who got a snowmobile for me?
I never tried that before.
Can a couple of dogs pull that thing?
It looks so heavy, really so heavy.
 
How stupid are the modern architects:
The houses don't have chimneys.
How can people keep warm inside
Without being choked by the smoke?
 
No worry about that,
They will survive anyway.
But how can I get in
To distribute the gifts?
 
Every year I shoulder a heavy bag.
It feels heavier and heavier,
Since I grow older and older--
I really need a revolution.
 
Okay, from this year on,
I'll get gift certificates
And slip them under the doors.
That'll make my work easy.”
 
The End

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