Huai-Yuan stealthily entered the building where Qian’s house was located and managed to take the elevator to twelfth floor undetected. He certainly didn’t want anybody to see him going into a dead man’s house. Dubious that his decision to return to Qian’s house tonight was prudent, he hesitated outside the door before he inserted the key into the lock; deciding that the house had to be searched thoroughly to preclude the existence of the alleged incriminating tape recording.
He had first suspected that the tape was in the company guest house but he hadn’t been able to find it there. The Chairman’s office had also been considered but Yang had occupied it immediately after Qian’s death and would have certainly discovered any secret information long ago.
Dressed in all black clothing and wearing a pair of black gloves, he cautiously opened the door, closing it quietly behind him. He proceeded directly to the study since Mrs. Liu, had told him that Qian kept all of his company files there. Based on the mountains of folders stuffed into shelves and the many file drawers he knew this would be a daunting task.
The first thing that caught his eye was the large cluttered desk. There were several open files and pieces of paper full of doodles but nothing special. The one thing that aroused his interest was a large desk calendar with detailed appointment information. Thinking that it might provide some clues, he quickly rolled it up and tucked it into his back pack.
Qian’s photo, which had been taken while sitting the chair behind Huai-Yuan, was standing upright on the desk. Qian’s intense stare and stern visage caused Huai to horripilate and shiver uncontrollably. He turned quickly away and focused his attention on the large mahogany cabinet.
Beside the cabinet was a recessed book shelf with an unusually narrow access aisle. He guessed that the book shelf was much larger and that the cabinet was concealing it. He assumed that the secret room that Mrs. Liu had told him about was behind the cabinet. He would have never discovered on his own without her help even if he had noticed the marks left on the floor by the rotating cabinet.
He went to the ceramic doll’s face on the wall and inserted his finger into the mouth as instructed by Mrs. Liu and the cabinet latch released with soft click. He grasped the cabinet and rotated it on its axis to expose the hidden room behind it. What had appeared to be a narrow bookcase, once exposed became a large bookcase that covered the entire back wall of the study.
There were many manila folders stacked neatly on the shelves and he surmised that this is where Mrs. Liu had found the 2007 folder. On the bottom shelf was a safe which he decided was the most likely location of the tape. He tried to open the safe door but failed. He decided to take the safe with him; reasoning that even if he couldn’t open it, the tape could never be discovered while he had it in his possession.
He started jiggling it back and forth to break it loose from the shelf, and surprisingly, the door suddenly sprang open. Inside were several stacks of thousand dollar bills, two blank checks and Qian’s signature stamps; but no tape recorder or tape.
His initial disappointment was soon replaced by greed and joy. Of course the blank checks were of no value but after counting the bills he was very excited that total was $200,000. An apt reward he thought for all his diligent efforts in searching for the tape. He put the wad of bills in his pocket with a brimming smile of satisfaction on his lips.
He now turned his attention to an old cardboard box that had been sitting next to the safe. It looked very old and although it was worn and deformed from handling, it was tightly sealed by packing tape. Maybe the tape is in there, he thought, who knows? He removed the box from the shelf to get a better look and was surprised by how heavy it was. He used the jagged edge of one of his keys to break the tape seal and eagerly lifted the flaps to see what was inside.
The box contained a few old engineering textbooks, some yellowed class handouts, stationery, class notebooks, and a rusty square box. Everything appeared to be two or three decades old but no diploma or important documents and no tape.
He couldn’t understand why such a pragmatic person as Yin-Mo-Qian would retain these useless things. It just wasn’t his style. He picked up one of the books and when he opened it, a lot of photos, cards and letters tumbled to the floor. Most of the photos were pictures taken on class outings and university club events. But one in particular was a group photo where Qian was standing close to a woman; presumably his girl friend.
He picked up a letter from the floor, opened it and began reading.
I am writing this letter to you because I was studying some boring language grammar and couldn’t concentrate. I found myself staring out the window into space reminiscing about our relationship, starting with our first encounter filled with hostility until the present day relationship of deep love. It is such an incredible story that it is somehow hard to believe it is true.
Thank you so much for the lovely Valentine’s Day gift. I love it, and you, so very much and will always wear it, thinking of you.
I am happy that we went to see “A Streetcar Named Desire”. I loved the acting and the story even though it ended tragically. After you dropped me off at home, I thought about the final fate of the heroine and it made me sad for a long time. I contemplated about the reason why Blanch could not get her life under control.
I think after you graduate next year, we should re-write the screen play and bring it to the stage with a happy ending for Blanch.
My mother found out that I had a boyfriend and wants me to bring you home to them. But, I have not committed to that yet. You know my father’s character. Retired military officers and very hard to please and I don’t want to put you in an uncomfortable situation.
I have not told her yet how intimate our relationship is. I have never been so happy in my whole life and I have great confidence in our future.
Attached is a box of my favorite chocolates.
Unbeknownst to him, he had interlopers peering over his shoulder as Qian and Qu-Kai had floated from the prison back to the house and had arrived just as Huai-Yuan began reading the letter.
Qian was flooded with memories from his carefree college days after reading the letter from Yan-Luo. At the age of 18, he completed the college entrance exam with ease and was eager to get started on his plan for adult emancipation. He would play as much as possible for four years, graduate with a passing grade and then think about a career.
He didn’t pay attention in class and if it weren’t for the help of more diligent students willing to tutor him he probably wouldn’t have passed his tests. He was more interested in making friends, learning to drive or planning some prank to play on his classmates.
One event he remembered in particular was a game they devised to meet new girls. They would go downtown and see which one of them could get the most girls to sign their form with their name and phone number. The loser would have to clean all of the other’s room for a whole month and they went out of their way to make sure he didn’t run out of things to clean.
He and three other classmates majoring in electrical engineering formed a close bond and rarely did anything individually. At one point Sheng-Hao, one of the four comrades, started behaving strangely at times and seemed uninterested in the group activities. Finally it came out that he had been seeing a girl for about a month. After his girlfriend invited three of her friends to join the group expanded to eight; just right for two tables of mahjong.
After he became involved with one of the girls, Wan-Yi, for about a month he was beginning to sense that it wouldn’t last long but was hesitant to break it off. He secretly quizzed Sheng-Hao about his relationship and how it would affect the other classmates in the group if they broke up. How would they react if they met each other in passing? Sheng-Hao had glared at him and said, “I never plan to break up with Yi-Shan.”
The answer surprised Qian and it became very clear to him that he did not have the feeling for Wan-Yi that Sheng-Hao for Yi-Shan. He told her that he didn’t think they met each other’s expectations and that they should break up before things got so serious that it would cause hurt.
In retrospect, he thought that that generally, most relationships follow the same pattern and end up breaking apart. First, the woman becomes infatuated with a man and takes him by surprise. The man is flattered by her attention which affirms his belief that he is attractive. They enjoy the exhilarating intimacy and the feeling of walking on air. But eventually the euphoria from the first taste of wine from the cup of love wears off and reality sets in, at least for the man, and the only option for him is to end it. Or, the man starts to ponder whether he is willing to give up a forest for one tree. So, the man ends it before it becomes too serious.
The one exception to this theory was his relationship with Yan-Luo, the love of his life.