A/N: 3rd installment up. Finally! I know it's been almost month; life caught up with me and decided to drag me through the woozle hole. But besides that, I was doing a bit of experimenting with this chapter; you'll see when you read through it. Anyways, read and review. And be freaking honest, people!
Chapter 1: Sammo's Story
(A Bad Omen)
September 19, 1977
Sammo Hung—Between the things we see and the things we fear, there are doors. When they open, nightmares become reality; at least, that's what most horror stories say. But in the true reality of everyday life, nightmares don't occupy that nebulous space behind the door. There are no doors that separate mortals from their fates, no doors they can shut to keep out the real nightmare of a midlife crisis or a death in the family from crashing into their lives. Real nightmares come from the stuff that death thrives on—fear. Where fear breeds, nightmares will surly follow. For it's the fear of death's approach that keeps you on your toes, or makes you turn around to see if nobody suspicious is following you, or keeps you up at night thinking about the most recent murder on the news in your hometown. And that's just the regular garden variety most people hear about.
The really scary nightmares are the ones you never expect, the ones you never see coming, the ones you never think would happen to you. These nightmares are the real screamers, not because they're especially horrible, but because they're insidiously intimate in a terrifying way. They can strike as suddenly as a tasty swallow of the morning meal that chokes you to death, or as invisibly as the wrong dosage of sleeping medication that slowly poisons you in your sleep, or as treacherously as a slip on an icy crosswalk as a car skids your way.
But for me, that nightmare creeps in through the unassuming jangle of the phone on my night stand, but I don't budge at first; I'm still wrapped up in a dreamless sleep at the first ring. By the second ring, I shift to my side in bed as I struggle to comprehend the sound invading my ears, and by the third I turn over and reach blindly for the receiver. God, where is it? By the fourth ring, my hand claps down on the receiver and picks it up before the connection dies.
"Who is this?" I say, my eyes still adjusting to the light streaming through the blinds.
"This is the concierge speaking—"
"Jesus, what's your problem? You have any idea how early it is?"
Silence. Then the concierge whispers, "Uh, Mr. Hung, it's nine o'clock in the morning; you were up much later than usual last night, that's why."
"So what? Can't you give me a break? I need sleep, man. And why the hell are you whispering?"
"But, sir, you have visitors here to see you."
"Visitors?" I'm not expecting visitors today, unless it's Godenzi at the door. Wait a minute, he should be in the room next door. What's the concierge talking about? "Did Dr. Godenzi bring someone with him?"
"You misunderstand. Someone from the MPS is here to see you."
I sit up in bed. Silence reigns, except the beats of my heart and the breathing of the concierge over the telephone. The Ministry of Public Security (1)? Why would they want to see me? "All right, hold on. I'll be down in a minute," and he was just about to hang up when—
"Mr. Hung, wait! Don't hang up!" says the concierge.
"Why? Is there something I should know?" I wait for a reply, but nothing more comes over the line. I only hear a few whispers that I can't make out on the other end, then silence. What the hell's going on? "Hey, are you there?" I wait for him to answer—nothing. "Is anybody there?"
"The concierge can talk to you later," says an unknown voice.
"Wait a minute, who is this? Who am I sp—?"
"Listen, Mr. Hung. I don't have time for small talk. Just get dressed and leave everything else behind. I will be waiting in the lobby to meet you, but ask no questions yet. We will talk when I deem it safe to do so," and the unknown man hangs up before I could say another word.
For a minute I just sit there, stunned. The voice of the man on the other end of that phone gives me the creeps, let me tell you, for it sounds hard and wholly without emotion, the kind of voice you'd associate with intelligence spooks of the CIA or Interpol but not the MPS. Who is that guy? I think to myself, but it's only for a moment. After I hang up, I get out of bed and throw on a clean pair of pants and a shirt as fast as I could. I don't want to keep a man like that waiting for long. But then I stop just before stepping through the door but forget why I did that. I search my brain for the reason, but nothing turns up. Indecision—it will be the death of mankind.
Out the door of my room, I walk to Godenzi's door and knock. Silence. I wait for a minute before knocking again. Then I wait for another minute. Then two minutes. Then three. "Come on, man, wake up," I say. I wait again, then bang on the door yelling, "If you don't wake up, you're gonna have to give me a raise, you hear me?" Nothing from the other side; I press my ear to the side of the door and don't hear anything from the other side. No footsteps. No rustling of the bed sheets. No running of the faucet. No brushing of teeth. And worst of all, no breathing. "Godenzi, can you hear me?" Nothing but silence. My heart begins to quicken, and horrible thoughts creep into my head, thoughts about death and the plausibility of it happening to my old colleague. I mean, the guy's over seventy years old; he's in the perfect age range where dying is only a matter of time, like the ticks to a winding alarm clock. "Godenzi, can you hear me?"
Again, nothing. I try the door knob, turning it, but it doesn't budge. Then I yank on it, left and right, up and down, left and right, up and down, over and over. Nothing works. Nothing except the pulsations beating heavier and heavier against my ribs. "Godenzi, I'll…" The rest of my words die away, as another thought creeps into my mind, something I don't normally think about any more, something that law enforcement frowns on, something I haven't done since my high school days. But in this case, it has to be done.
I look left, then right, and see nobody getting out of or back into their hotel rooms, so I figure that it's safe to do it. I take off my left shoe and remove the insole that conceals the bump key I use whenever I happen to lock myself out without a room key on my person, which happens a few times. Think of a bump key as the master key that unlocks all the locks of a certain make; it just so happens that the key I use for unlocking doors in my old high school also fits the locks of this hotel. Push the key through the lock, turn and wallah—it opens.
Through the door, I don't see Godenzi lying on the mattress, only clean sheets that have no wrinkles of any kind on them, a sure sign that the old man never got back to his hotel room. But I make sure, checking the bathroom and the balcony. Nothing; no sign of a struggle here. But for the life of me, I couldn't shake the feeling that something must have happened to him last night. I put the bump key back in its place and for another minute, I stand there like an idiot not knowing what to do next.
Then the phone rings, and I dive at it to it pick up.
"Hello?" says the voice of the concierge.
"It's me, Sammo Hung. Who are you trying to call, Godenzi?"
Nothing but silence on the other end. "Mr. Hung, why are you on the other end of this line? I was expecting—"
"Dr. Godenzi is not here. Listen, do you know what that MPS cop was talking about? Did he explain what happened to Godenzi to you?" Another bout of silence, followed by heavier breathing. "Hey, are you there?" Then it stops.
"No more delays, Mr. Hung," says the unknown voice. "Don't keep my waiting; the matter is urgent," and he hangs up. Goosebumps form on my arms; something must have happened, something bad.
I waste no time running down the hall to the elevator, barely wait two minutes for it to reach my floor, minutes that seem to drag on as the light indicators above my head change from Floor-1 to Floor-2 and so on. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes and counting. When the it finally reaches my floor, I wait yet again for a man and his wife to exit before I go inside. I press the Floor-1 and once the doors close, I'm by myself again.
In the zen-like hum of the elevator, I think about the unknown man on the phone. Who is he? Why would he even want to talk to me? And why was the matter… urgent? The more I think about it, though, the more it makes me feel uncomfortable, and the feeling only gets worse with each floor I descend. By the seventh floor, I begin to feel light-headed as if I'm in a revolving chair going faster by the minute; by the fifth floor, I feel a bit tipsy, as if I'm still recovering from a hangover; and by the third, nausea now sets in. What's happening to me? I think, struggling to find a reasonable answer to my question. When I reach the ground floor and the doors open, I'm standing on spaghetti legs. Just stepping out of the elevator is an effort.
"Mr. Hung, I presume?" says a man walking toward me, someone who doesn't fit my description of the uniformed officer of the MPS. As far as I can tell, this man might be from the plain clothes detail, which is police jargon for an undercover cop, the spooks of the MPS. But this particular spook is unforgettable; something about his face stops me in my tracks, at a loss for words. "Excuse me, sir, but are you Mr. Sammo Hung?"
"Y-yeah. Uh… Is there a problem, officer?"
"I said no questions, at least not yet; those will come later. Follow me, Mr. Hung."
Later? What the hell do you mean by later? I follow in silence, past the concierge who is looking on with worry etched onto his face, like I'm off to the death march or something. Then I go out through the doors of the lobby and into the sun-swept street that's starting to fill with traffic. I'm pretty sure I know the drill well enough from watching a few weekend cop shows; the cop would open the back door for me to enter, and after I get in, the cop would slam the door before getting in and driving off, but this cop doesn't do that.
"Only confirmed suspects ride in the back; you're not a suspect in my book. As of now, you are only a person of interest and maybe a possible witness. Here." Instead, he opens the passenger door for me to enter, which I do, before getting into the driver's seat himself. He then starts the ignition and drives off.
Here I am, sitting on the front seat of a cop's car. What's going on here? I sit silent for the first minutes of the drive, which reminds me of that ghostly woman from last night. If I'm honest with myself, I'd prefer being in the car with that banshee than with this spook; at least I would have some measure of control. But then again, I'm not the one driving now, and I'm definitely not the one with the gun. Wait a minute. I notice something strange about this cop. One glance around tells me something unusual about him. They usually work in pairs, or at least patrol in pairs. Where's his partner?
As if he can read my mind, the cop says, "I'm not the easiest person to work with, believe me. I can be a bit harsh when I get wound up some. That's why I hadn't had a partner in over ten years. The last one quit because of me."
He's a spook, all right. After a few more minutes, I steal another glance at him, keeping my gaze clear of his face. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
"I took behavioral psychology in Personnel & Training (2). It's a part of every cop's training, but much of it comes from experience in the field."
Silence. Not another word is said for the next five minutes. But for the life of me, I just couldn't help but steal yet another glance at this guy's face, at the lines just starting to form on his forehead, at the deeply set gray eyes, at the grizzled hair, focusing on the scar running from his left cheek down to his chin; for all my curiosity, I don't wanna know how that scar ended up there, no sir, not for a million dollars.
But the cop says, nonetheless, "You seem to be interested in my face; I don't blame you."
"I'm sorry, man."
"Oh, no, you can be honest; I prefer brutal honesty to gentle lies, anyway. Especially when it comes to your situation?"
Situation? That word makes me very uncomfortable. I've already been through one situation with that old inn owner and another one at Godenzi's room. I don't need another one today. Damn, I can't believe I left his door open! Well, that spells another situation gone awry. "What do you mean by... situation? Is there something I should know?" The cop doesn't answer me, though; he just sits there staring into the nothingness as he drives, seeming to be roll things in his mind for some reason, and that unnerves the Hell out of me even more. "Am I a suspect, or something? Because if I am—"
"I didn't say you were a suspect; but you are a person of interest. Don't worry. Personally, I don't think you have the stomach to commit something like that."
Something like what? I don't know, and that that light-headed feeling creeps into my head again—deja vu in the elevator all over again. "If I'm not a suspect, then why am I here? What's going on?" Silence. "What happened?"
The man stays silent behind the wheel, most likely thinking of something else, but what it is I haven't the slightest clue. After a spell of silence, he inhales and exhales, then says, "Mr. Hung, I'll try to break this to you as softly as I can. Something terrible happened to Dr. Xiou Godenzi is after you left the dig site—"
"Wait, did he have an accident?" (The cop stays silent, again.) "Will he be all right?"
Another silent spell.
"No, he's not all right. Mr. Hung, I don't know how to tell you this without getting you upset, but he was murdered last night."
In the space of one sentence and one second, I life has changed. And with it comes another surge of dizziness through my head, followed by the nausea. I feel myself sinking back into the seat as I remember those hazy college days. Days of reading page after page of books on ancient Chinese script, studying under the night lamp in my dorm, trying to cram all that information into my sleepy skull the night before one of Professor Godenzi's infamous midterms, the "Fu Manchu" of exams. I remember looking at my watch for what feels like the umpteenth time: usually around 5:00 a.m. or thereabouts, just two-and-a-half hours before I have to drag my weary carcass to the auditorium to take the test.
I can remember myself thinking, God, why did I make that deal with him? I, along with three quarters of my class, was on the pass-or-fail borderline. Get a C for the semester and you're safe; get a C- and you're up the woozle hole. But for me to get a C on his midterm, I would have to get at least an 85% on this next exam to make up for my horrible negotiating skills, which is like trying to climb Mt. Everest. Ah well, it could've been worse. At least I wouldn't have Professor "Fu Manchu" Godenzi up my ass for two hours during the test, as is the custom in his lectures; I sometimes wonder if the straight-A smart alecks liked it up the ass for two whole hours in the morning, three times a week, like an extracurricular ritual. But that's nothing compared to what I would have to go through during summer. Come the summer, I'd have Godenzi up my ass for twenty-four freaking hours a day.
God, I hate that bastard; why did he have to look for me on the night before his freaking test? If only I had two days' notice, I could freaking ace his damn test, I find myself thinking in the midst of my despair that fateful night. But even in my despair, I'd try to outsmart or at least sufficiently impress my old mentor at his academic game. And for the next ten years, I've tried my best to impress him, going the extra mile to prove to him that I'm not just another mixed-blood from Hong Kong's slums. And, God-damn-it, I've come so freaking close to impressing him last night, trying to decipher my part of the seal on that ring before Godenzi was finished with his own, but that never happened. And after learning of his murder, it never will. I now take slow deliberate breaths to calm my nerves, my eyes unfocused and glazed over in grief.
"My condolences, Mr. Hung."
I instantly snap out of it. "I don't understand it. Why would anybody wanna kill him?"
"I don't know. It's still too early in the investigation to know that."
"What about the guard? I talked to him last night. Did you get anything from him?"
The cop sighs, shaking his head, thinking thinking of God knows what for another five minutes. Then he says, "The guard's dead, too. Now before you jump to conclusions, you need to understand... Mr. Hung, are you listening to me?"
I couldn't listen, let alone answer in a sane fashion. Yesterday, that ghost woman visits me along that damn road, then that short old inn owner warns me to get the Hell out of this town before it's too late, then I break into my mentor's room to find out that he hasn't returned, then all of this—it's insane. I find myself taking it all like cyanide down my throat, making me gag on my syliva with another wave of nausea hitting me.
"Mr. Hung? Mr. Hung, are you okay?"
I'm not; with another stronger surge of dizziness, the nausea becomes too much for me, as it dug in through my insides in vicious gouges. I feel my stomach clenching and rolling, clenching and rolling, clenching and rolling, clenching and rolling, clenching and rolling, clenching and rolling... God, make it stop! "I think I'm gonna be sick."
Without warning, the cop swerves to the right, cutting off someone riding a moped before skidding to a halt by the curb, unlocking the doors for me to stumble onto the concrete, throwing up bile. I'm bowled over in agony, giving one more hurl and one more splat on the sidewalk, a pitiful sight to behold, bent over with my hands clutching at my trembling knees, a line of mucus, saliva and traces of bile hanging from my nose and mouth in a soupy string. It is enough to warrant the stares of everybody within a block's radius.
The cop walks over and places a hand atop my shoulder. "I know this is hard to take, but I need you to come with me to the station and answer questions. I need your help, as much as you need mine. Do you understand?"
Another bout of silence.
"Because you're the last person to see either man alive."
I raise my head to look at the man.
His face momentarily softens. "Listen, the sooner we go, the sooner you'll get this over with."
I nod my head, wiping the soupy string with my sleeve and getting back into the police car.
In another five minutes, just as the cop parks the crustier in the plaza of the Zhongfang Police Station on Rohmer Avenue and Shanquo Street, I regain my stomach.
As we get out of the car, the we're greeted with cold stares from a few uniformed cops. Though most of those are aimed at the cop and not him, I still get the chills. Those stares tell me that the man accompanying me (the one with a scare on his cheek) must have done something pretty bad, though I haven't a clue what. Maybe it has something to do with that scar on his cheek, or maybe it could be something else. Given my curiosity streak—which I inherited from Dr. Godenzi—, I naturally want to know more about it; but I'm dealing with an undercover cop, and they're usually the ones asking the questions.
I follow him toward the building but stop halfway to the entrance, about forty feet away, looking up at the imposing structure of concrete, steel and tinted glass, a mean-looking box that goes some twenty stories into the sky. From where I am, the shadow of this building stretches over the plaza like the cast of a sundial, prophesying doom for those who pass through its wake. I never like these buildings, because that's where the wolves of society gather to chew up criminals and process them into convicts, complete with a name, number, prison garb and handcuffs, ready to be shipped to the nearest jail house for further digesting into the prison system. And I find myself wondering if a dandelion like me could survive the process long enough to see tomorrow.
I won't have to, I keep thinking. I'm just here to answer a few questions, and I'm done. I hope.
"Are you coming, or not?" he says.
Without a word, I drag my weary self into the bowels of Hell.
"If it makes you feel better, this is not a prison; we have a few holding cells to keep a few suspects, but you are not one of them. You are a person of interest, that's all."
"What about a witness?"
He faces me and says, "We haven't established that yet."
"So if I didn't witness anything, why am I here?"
"To answer questions, because as of now, I'm still trying to build the case."
"And what case is that?"
The cop smiles, bending that scar on his cheek. "You're a clever man, I can tell. You should've been a prosecutor instead of an archeologist; at least you would've been more useful to this case."
Maybe he means it as a joke to calm my nerves, but it doesn't work. I'm thinking about smokey back rooms with a ceiling lamp hanging over a guy's head, while I'm strapped to a chair getting my ass grilled to charred perfection for these wolves to salivate over. It only serves to make me more uncomfortable.
"Just keep an open mind, Mr. Hung. Don't let the current circumstances scare you too much."
Easy for you to say, I think but never say.
Through the double-doors of the lobby, I find myself in the middle of a busy workday, with civilians (at least, I assume they're civilians, since they aren't in handcuffs) waiting in long lines at the counters, a cop behind each counter. There is the low steady hum of people talking, footsteps clapping on the marble flooring and papers shuffling on the counters. A few cops, the ones that do the office work and supervision, walk up and down the stairs to my left, which I assume would lead up into the interrogation rooms, but I could be wrong. I look back on the long lines of people, which remind me of the school cafeteria—only in here, nobody dares to cut in line.
"Follow me," the cop says, turning left toward the stairs, up into the bowels of Hell. "You'll be interviewed on the second floor."
I hate being right, and up I go.
That's when everything slows down, and the nausea returns.
Climbing up the steps to the first landing feels like scaling a mountain pass, as I trudge forward on leaden feet. And from the landing to the second floor, I couldn't help but feel light-headed again, as if I've just lost my sense of balance. Grabbing onto the banister, I shake my head trying to snap myself out of my dizziness with variable success. What's wrong with me? Why does this keep happening to me? I have no clue. My instincts, the primitive part of me concerned solely for my survival, is trying to tell me something, but what? Does it have anything to do with last night? Or anything to do with Dr. Godenzi's killer?
"Mr. Hung, are you feeling all right?" the cop says, and I look up and see him from the top of the stairs, looking down on me.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Are you sure? I can tell this day has been hard on you; if you want, I can delay the interview for an hour, or at least until you've composed yourself enough."
"No, I'll be fine," I lie, meeting him on the landing, trying to hide the nausea. "I just wanna get it over with."
"Fair enough. The room is near the end of this hall," and he points me the way. "Oh, and one more thing. Another person will meet us shortly."
Another surprise; God, how many more before the day ends? "But I thought you didn't have a partner."
"He's not a partner of mine. He's from the PSB."
"The Public Security Bureau (3)? Are they involved in this, too?"
"Yes. For your protection."
"From who, the killer?" (The cop nods yes.) "Why would anybody want to kill me?"
"These measures are precautions, Mr. Hung; I wouldn't question them if I were you," and without another word, he walks to the end of the hall, opening the door for me to enter, which I do. "Wait here. It will only be a short while," and he closes the door and walks off.
Now I'm alone again, situated inside a box-like room no more than ten feet by twelve feet, max. There are no windows, and the walls are bare of everything except gray paint; in front of me, three chairs and a table set against the corner complete the interior. Spartan-like, he think, taking a chair and setting my feet up on the table. I look at the farthest corner of the ceiling where the glow of the bulb throw weaker shades of light, before closing my eyes to the world around me. And soon enough, my thoughts drift to more important things, much darker things—the murders at the dig site, the circumstances surrounding those murders, as well the reasons behind them, stuff like that. But for the life of me, I keep thinking of my old mentor back in my college days.
Like most college students, I've suffered from sleepless nights at the hands of my professors, but none more so than at the hands of Professor "Fu Manchu" Godenzi. Everyone in my class calls him that. Under his iron grasp, Godenzi can polarize the opinions of those who have the honor (or misfortune, in most cases) of having him teach their archeology classes. Like me. Still, I don't despise him like most of my classmates; I view him more as a challenge to be overcome, not an obstacle to be avoided. Hell, I remember that for three days a week—Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays—during my senior year, I'd have to burn the midnight candles in the library, pouring over textbooks in sleep-deprived study to prepare for any pop quizzes or worse: Godenzi's infamous exams. More than once, I've found myself dozing off with my head in my arms, a few empty cartons of Chinese takeout and bags of junk food in the trash. All-nighters can wreck havoc on your sleeping patterns and cravings for food; how I managed to stay skinny, I could only guess.
In many of those all-nighters, when the barrier between sleep and wakefulness becomes exceedingly thin, I'd have my most vivid dreams. Sure, I'd get the garden variety most college students get—passing and failing on tests, making friends, even getting laid (which I've never done in real life; I'm not that lucky). But of them all, I distinctly remember one all-nighter before the midterm for Godenzi's class on Friday. I remember being in the third floor of the library, just thirty minutes before midnight, thirty minutes before the library closes and I'd have to go to my dorm. And for the umpteenth time, I remember catching myself dozing off at the desk after a three-hour study session—no surprise there.
I don't remember much of what I was studying, either; I only remember hearing a few of the students getting ready to leave. So I get up, stretch and stack the library books (two of them) on the return desk before going back for my binder and my textbook, A Guide to Practical Archeology: 2nd Edition. I still have that one. After wishing my classmates luck on Friday's test, I go down the elevators of the library without incident. But when the doors open, I find the professor himself greeting me.
"Ah, there you are; you are just the person I need to see," says Godenzi.
I notice a glint in his eye, maybe not a tear but it's enough to notice. "Is there something wrong, Professor?"
"Nothing's wrong; I'm just here to offer you a proposition in return for your efforts in Friday's test."
"What is it?" I say, stepping out of the elevator.
"An internship. Now hear me out before you jump to conclusions. For two months now, I've been looking for an assistant to work under me at Heibei Province, but so far nobody at the Archeology Department has anyone qualified enough to lend me. So I'm looking to you."
Holy shit; are you for real, man? I think to myself, and I feel my hands trembling for some reason. "You think I'm qualified for that?" (Godenzi nodded yes.) "But my grades are...average."
"Grades and test scores have little to do with real archeology. Grades are arbitrary measurements devised by an institution concerned solely in academic matters, nothing more. I'm not looking for a genius; there are no geniuses in archeology, as the department would have you believe. Along with the academic aspects, archeology is a field of science that requires real-world planning, schedules, recruitment and wages and living expenses for diggers, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I need someone willing to fulfill the duties of an assistant working in the field."
Then why are you so hard on your God damn tests? "You want me to work for you?"
"Yes, and don't kid yourself. I wouldn't offer you an opportunity like this, if I didn't see anything promising in you."
You trying to blow sunshine up my ass, old man? I don't know what to think; it sounds too good to be true. "And what do you see?"
Godenzi smiles that wrinkly smile of his, and for the first time I see something human in his face, something I don't associate with sticklers like him. "Ah, you and your questions. I was right about you; the best archeologists are the ones with the most questions to ask. It's passion, Mr. Hung, the drive to fill the voids of human history with the light of knowledge, driven by an insatiable streak of curiosity. I see that passion in you. You must understand that archeology is more than a vocation; it is a lifestyle, and a highly rewarding one, I might add. Trust me, should you take me up on this offer, you would be far ahead of your classmates in terms of work experience. So what do you say? Are you in or out?"
Silence. We exit the library doors and enter the cool cloudless midnight of early March, standing in the middle of the quad in front of the library.
I look at the old man, trying to see though him to see if he's joking, but he's has a Hell of a poker face. But I know what the old man is trying to do: play it on the sly in the hopes I'll go along with it; it's enticing, to be sure. Hey, come on, dude. Go for it. You'll never find a better opportunity if you pass this up. Come on, take a stab at it. Who knows? Maybe this will be your true calling, man, the best thing that's happened to you since jacking off. Come on, take the shot already... Shut up, already, Geez! But I need to balance this deal, first. "All right, I'm in, but I have questions and one condition."
"I can understand questions, but conditions? Isn't the prospect of going to another place, or making a fine discovery enough for you?"
"My reasons are practical. When are we going to Heibei and how long are we gonna stay there?"
"I hope to start in June or July at the latest. I've been planning this venture since the beginning of last year, and I've got half of the preparations done already. Maybe we'll stay there towards the end of September, only a month into the Fall semester."
"But if we are going to stay for three to four months, where will our lodgings be?"
"In Chengde, most likely."
"In a hotel?"
"Of course." Then Godenzi give me a wry smile. "But don't get any ideas, Mr. Hung; prostitutes are prohibited during this venture. Ah—" he adds, waving a warning hand at me, "no prostitutes, and that's final."
"Actually, that didn't cross my mind, and that's definitely not the condition I'm asking for."
"Then what is it?"
"If we're going to stay for over two months in a hotel, do we have to share a hotel room? I mean no disrespect to you, but I don't feel comfortable sleeping in the same room with another—"
Godenzi breaks out laughing like an old bloke, fresh from the local pub. "Of course, of course. I've already considered that. I have already made reservations in advance on two adjacent rooms in one hotel already, so you need not worry."
Thank God, and I sigh in relief. "Oh, and one more thing."
The old man raises his brows. "Not another condition, is it?"
"No, just a question. Are you running this whole thing?"
"Yes, I am. I'm using my own money, Mr. Hung, not the money from the department. And because I am using my money, I took the pains to plan things out in a year's advance. Trust me; I've done this before with a few of my own colleagues back in the 30's and 50's. I know how these things work, inside and out. Anything else?"
The last question rings in my head, so I think of how far I can push my luck; I know he it's risky, but I go for it anyway. "Actually, I do. Since I'll be working for you as an assistant, will I get...paid? I'm just asking, since this is a real-world internship."
The old man sighs and is silent for a while. Then he says, "I see your point... All right, I'll pay you, but don't push it. Paid leave is out of the question, understand?"
"Yes, sir." A smile creeps into my face. "You won't be disappointed."
"Glad to hear it. But remember, this deal is now a trade-off; once you set your condition, I must set mine to make this mutual. In return for the lodging and pay, I expect you to work hard for me; no slacking off."
"Yes, sir, I'll do that."
"And furthermore," and he raises a hand to stop me from protesting, "Nope, you asked for it, so you'll get it. Furthermore, I'll raise my standards on your academic performance. Instead of the passing grade of a C, I expect from you a B on tomorrow's midterm and the final. Those are my conditions; trust me, you will benefit from fulfilling those requirements. Do we have a deal?" he says, offering a handshake to seal the deal.
Seal the deal, my ass. God, I hate you. I hesitate for a moment, but I shake hands with the Devil himself. "Deal..." You fucking bastard!
"Good. I must say, though, I'm quite impressed. Negotiating is becoming a lost art in your generation. It requires finesse, and that only comes through experience; but I'll give you an A for effort. Oh dear, it's a quarter to one already. I guess I'll see you tomorrow then…" And off he goes, but then he stops a few feet away, turning around. "Or should I say seven hours from now? But get some rest; a good night's sleep can do wonders on a test," and off he goes again. Probably to with a smile on his face knowing he'd have me by the balls by then.
I just stand there in the quad, looking at the old man disappear into the night like a ghost; and I swear I hear the old bastard laughing his ass off along the way. Yeah, fucking rub it in, you bastard. God, I can't BELIEVE I let him do that. Jesus, Sammo, what the Hell did you just get yourself into? Yeah, but you're the one who agreed to that, remember? And you're also the one that got it into your skull to take advantage of him. Now look at what you've done. You screwed yourself. But that's just temporary; it'll get easier when time goes on. Yeah, we'll see seven hours from now, so try to get some sleep, numb nuts—
That's when I wake up, barely aware that I've been dreaming everything. It take a few minutes for the drowsiness to wear off, and when it does, I find myself back in that box-like room. But I'm not alone. The MPS cop with the scar on his cheek is seated across from me, accompanied by a smaller younger man from the PSB sitting beside him. Both of them look at me with quizzical looks.
"Sorry, I was just resting," I say, picking my feet off the table.
Both cops look at each other, then look back at me like I'm a very interesting 'person of interest', indeed.
"Mr. Hung," begins the cop with the scar, "I am Detective Chan Kwok Wing of the Criminal Investigation Department of the MPS, and this is Detective Charlie Yeung of the 6th Division of the PSB in Heibei Province. Neither of us suspect you of any crime, but we need you to cooperate, do you understand?"
Sammo merely nod, thinking, What the Hell have I gotten myself into?
To be continued…
A/N: Again, I repeat. Please review! The power of the review gods compels you! LOL
(1) MInistry of Public Security (MPS): The principal police authority of the mainland of the People's Republic of China & the government agency that exercises oversight over & is responsible for day-to-day law enforcement.
(2) Personnel & Training: One of the specialty departments of the MPS.
(3) Public Security Bureau (PSB): A system of government offices present in each province and municipality that handles law enforcement, public security, and social order, the other duties.