《Fatal Weakness》CHAPTER SEVEN: The Hero in my Heart
"Let's try again," Ah Hua says softly, "let me try this time."
So I lay down, close my eyes a little and use my imagination to try and get my blood flowing. Before, whenever I've run into this problem I usually just close my eyes and think about some colleague or the girls working behind the sales counter at the grocery shop down on the corner, imagine them letting me strip all their clothes off, and then I immediately get hard. It works like a charm, and all the women in my dreams lay down and let me unleash myself on them like a rolling thunder spring monsoon. But today my imagination seems all dried up. I quickly realize the reason, it's that my dream has finally come true. Ah Hua, with her naked butt raised and buried between my thighs, has already outdone any of the sexy women I'm ever able to dream up. I don't know why, but whenever I close my eyes I get this strange, uncomfortable feeling that there's someone else here in the room, watching us. Several times I've had to snap open my eyes, and the mood is ruined.
Ah Hua's long hair is tickling my thighs; I gently lift her head up and see Ah Hua looking hazily up at me with her seductive half-open eyes, drool seeping out from the corners of her mouth, dripping down at the top of my thighs. I say, lovingly, 'forget it, next time.'
Ah Hua obeys and winds her tongue from below my bellybutton up to my neck as she slides her body up. Her two soft, sexy lips stop at my ear and she whispers: "anyway, I'm here, I'm all yours, you can put it in whenever you want." There's not the least bit of hidden bitterness in Ahu Hua's voice. Like lightning her hot breath flashes from my earlobe straight down below. I'd just wanted to try again, but then I lost it and now I feel a bit disheartened. This is already the second time with Ah Hua that I couldn't get it in. There was only that one time that day on the floor and I was merciless inside her, not just once but several times that day. I don't know what the problem is now; Ah Hua, without a question, is the woman of my dreams. Her every move, every step, every frown and smile, they make me insane, to the point that sometimes I don't even care where we are when my body reacts. But when she presses herself against me, not a stitch on her body, I just can't get it in. I want it, to enter the most beautiful realm as I enter her body, to bring us to endless climax. Except I just can't get it up down there. Could I be impotent?
I rub her as I say: "let me use my hand, it'll be more comfortable for you."
"No, no," She pinches her legs together. "Just being with you makes me comfortable." She climbs up on my body and presses her lips against mine, saying delicately: "you're already inside my heart."
I know this, but I still want to be inside her body. I don't know what's going on, how this could be happening to me, now, here. I've watched a lot of celebrity porn tapes and I've seen the Greek and French female scupltures at the Louvre, but the woman before my eyes is, without a question, the most beautiful, the sexiest, of them all. Yet I'm unable to please her like last time, unable to leave her writhing around on the floor as she forces down her groans of pleasure.
Ah Hua slides off my body and turns her back to me, leaning against me. I stretch around her body to hug her and down there I press into the damp and soft crevice of her bum. "We can keep talking, you just let it sit down there. Wait until you feel it getting naughty and I'll let you slide it in. Just stop thinking about it, okay?"
I bury my face in Ah Hua's hair and squeeze my chest against her white jade back. I reach my hand around and massage her breasts.
"This happens to everyone, just don't worry about it. It'll be fine again soon," Ah Hua says, to comfort me.
"It doesn't happen to me, it doesn't. I don't know why..." Despite saying this, at the back of my mind I can feel that my impotence is somehow connected to that feeling I've gotten whenever I closed my eyes the last two times we had sex. I've never had this kind of feeling before. Though there's only Ah Hua and I here in the room and the doors and windows are tightly closed, every time I got to enter her, especially the second I close my eyes, I can instantly feel the presence of someone else in the room. It's like someone invisible is in here and I immediately go soft.
"You're gonna end up like Hemingway now, are you? He had affairs his whole life, and he thought he was in love with every woman he was with. Right up until the last one when he was old and frail, he finally met was they say was his last lover ever, but by then he was already impotent and couldn't get it up for her even once. So he killed himself." Ah Hua suddenly stops, "damn, damn, damn, why did I say that? You're still young!" I give a little laugh and start vigorously rubbing her. Ah Hua grabs hold of my hands and with her voice shaking says: "stop." I try and pull my hands free but she pins me down with her bum. I feel how moist it is and I stop. I don't want to be too cruel to her. She senses this and looks back at me, casting me an appreciative look.
"Wenfeng, do you think you're just too nervous? I can feel that, you don't even have time to visit your parents these days and when you do you've always got a frown on your face."
"I am," I sigh, "something's happened to one of my old classmates, and—oh, I don't want to get into it. I feel guilty, that's all."
"Why? Was it because of something you did?" Ah Hua asks with confusion.
"I had nothing to do with him getting sent to prison, but somehow I still feel responsible. He's here in Guangzhou, we even used to meet up every now and then. I think if I wasn't always so indifferent to everyone all the time, that I would have seen the problem coming a lot earlier, maybe even have been able to help him. But I usually never considered that they'd end up in trouble. I always thought they were so much stronger than me." I stop here without explaining. Luckily, it seems Ah Hua's quick enough to figure out what I'm trying to say. She moves to comfort me, putting the thumb of my right hand in her mouth and sucking on it playfully.
"Something so strange, so mysterious." Ah Hua pauses, then suddenly says: "everybody has their own problems.”
"What's so strange about people having their own problems?" I don't know what she’s getting at.
"Some things, if you think about it, are simply inconceivable. Problems that consume one person’s life might be trivial to someone else. My point is just that we all have to deal with different things. Say overnight you lost your house and a few hundred thousand of your savings, you'd lose all desire to live too, right? But then you turn on the Hong Kong news and you can see billionaires losing hundreds of thousands in assets all in one shot and then killing themselves. They don't kill themselves because they've gone flat broke, they always still have a few dozen million left in the bank. It's just strange, isn't it, if you think about it. The suicide rate in China is highest among peasants, nearly two hundred thousand a year. Over ninety percent of them do it because of money, but on average it's over having lost less than a hundred dollars US."
I get now what Ah Hua's trying to say, but I don't know how to answer. I breathe in deeply Ah Hua's smell, and that strange feeling that's keeping me down returns.
"Wenfeng, you, me, we're all frustrated. Your frustration might come from not feeling successful or whatever, but in my eyes you're the must successful man in the world, the most talented, and the most charming too!
Hearing this, I stir a little down there, but it's a stir and nothing more.
"Tell me, Wenfeng, out of all your classmates, do you count as successful?" She turns her face to look at me and kisses me on the chin.
I chuckle: "hardly. What have I ever done?"
"Don't talk like that." Ah Hua turns around again and forcefully kisses me on the lips. "You've worked for the State; you were even being prepared to rise in the ranks. Then you rushed off alone here to Guangzhou just to look after your parents. Well they've been set up, aren't they? And you've got your own house now, a job, even some status."
I can't hold back my laughter. "Ah Hua, since you insist on saying I'm so successful, that I have this, I have that, don't forget the little lady I'm holding here against me. Right now you're the only thing I've got that makes me feel like a successful man."
Ah Hua chortles and her butt cheeks wiggle. I feel myself getting up to no good down there and Ah Hua feels it too, pressing up even tighter against me. I feel her squeezing and releasing herself, squeezing and relaxing. Ten minutes go by and this depressing thing of mine has laid its head down again.
"Ah Hua, you still haven't told me about your ex-husband. Is he still in Hunan? Do you still love him?"
Ah Hua's body stops rocking and she goes quiet for a second, then in a faint voice asks: "do you really want to hear this? "Yes," I say, "I want to understand you more."
Ah Hua doesn't say anything at first, then slowly, in a steady voice, begins: "he was my first lover, we fell in love in high school. I can't put it into words how much I truly loved him. I guess you could say he was my whole world. He was the only thing in my heart. Except for him, everything out there: my job, my life, friends, whatever, they all seemed to come second when it came to him. Later I felt I only lived for him. He was my life."
I interrupt her, feeling myself get a bit hot-headed: "that's called first love; everybody goes through it."
"We started having sex together in high school. I didn't get all that much enjoyment out of it but with him, the second any part of him touched me, no matter where, it felt like electricity was running through my body, a sort of warm current. In those years I felt like I was living in a vat of honey. I had originally planned to leave my village and go to Changsha to study. But for him, I gave it all up. We got married when we were both twenty-one. You couldn't get us apart in those days, that's how happy we were. I forget how many times we'd make love right until dawn."
Ah Hua's voice is gentle and wavering, like she's become drunk in the memory. It's hard for me to hear this, but I start to awaken down there.
"Life went by as sweet as honey for the next ten years. Later I began to notice that beyond just being in love and having sex with each other, we still had work to do, money to earn, we still—our passion gradually faded away, but I was still in love with him. Until one day I dragged my tired body home from work and opened the door only to seem him and one girl from the hair salon downstairs having passionate sex in a position that he and I had never tried before."
Ah Hua stops for a bit then, self-consciously, continues speaking: "I was so angry I just spun around and left, moved back in with my parents. I decided that no matter what I wasn't going to forgive him. I was going to make him regret this for the rest of his life. I wanted to see him kneel down in front of me and beg for forgiveness. But that my mistake; the one who ended up kneeling on the floor wasn't him, but me."
I move my hand up onto Ah Hua's chest and stroke her comfortingly. "The next day he didn't even call. I was a little anxious but I was also still furious. By the third night there still hadn't been any news. As long as he apologizes and comes home to me within the next week, I got to thinking, then I won't punish him by making him kneel on the floor and admit his mistake. A week went by, then another week and he hadn't just not yet come home, but he hadn't even called. I grew restless. Another week went by like this. By the time a month had passed, I hadn't only already completely forgiven him, but I'd even started to miss him, long for him. At the time I thought: if he comes now, I swear I'll fall into his shoulders and start crying. Yet not a thing happened. On the fifth week I packed my things and went back. Then I saw the locks on the door had been changed. It wasn't easy for me to knock on that door, and then it was that barely of legal age salon girl who opened it! Turns out they were living together."
"I went in and found him; swallowing my grievances, I asked him for an explanation. He just said, slowly, "we're getting a divorce." 'What for?', I asked. He raised his eyebrows: "what do you mean what for? We're getting divorced because we don't want to be together anymore, or rather because I've found someone else I'm happier with. Does there even need to be a reason?" Wenfeng, you don't think it's that simple too, do you?"
I try to comfort Ah Hua by kissing her shoulders, but I don't reply. I don't know what I could say.
'"At first I was able to keep strong. As surely as rain will fall, women must get married. So what was I to do? The second I got home, I broke down. I phoned him and asked: why? Why? Before he had a chance to answer I burst out sobbing. First thing the next morning I went and waited out on the street. When he came out I started crying as I asked him to give me a reason. He muttered a few words; the more he hummed and hawed the worse I felt. Two days later I decided I didn't want an explanation. I phoned him up: 'I'm killing myself now. Come pick up the corpse.' I put on his favorite pair of silk panties and carefully made myself up as I waited for him to arrive. The second he came I got down on my knees. 'Think how in love we used to be,' I said. 'Give me one more chance.' Unmoved, he just pushed me away and said, ruthlessly, 'why don't you give me one more chance!'
"I started stripping off my clothes, piece by piece, until I had nothing on, and I kneeled before him again. 'Anything the hair salon girl can do,' I said, 'I can do too if you want. Just don't leave me. I'll be your sex slave. Every night, as you sleep, I'll kneel beside the bed. I'll hold you in my mouth—it'll help you sleep better. If you want, you can even stay inside me all night. I'll walk around naked from now on whenever I'm at home. I'll wait on you just like a female dog. Just as long as you want me, as long as you never divorce me, as long as you come home every day, let me watch you sleep. If you go out with the hair girl everyone once in a while, I won't blame you. Just let me be your sex slave, I'll...I'll...yeeEE!'"
Ah Hua's voice cracks and she goes silent, unable to go on with the story. I enter deep into her body and right away she's excited. Ah Hua's story is enough to keep me in and going steady for over an hour. In the end it gets too much for her and Ah Hua's moans turn into one long wail.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The third time we reach climax together Ah Hua kisses me and leans in closely over my chest, "you're so good, I can't take anymore. You're the greatest hero in my heart. You've gone and made frigid old Ah Hua thaw right out."
Out of breath, I just smile to myself and sigh.
"See, you're not just the most successful of all your classmates, you might just be the best—"
"Hah," I cut her off, "just as long as Ah Hua thinks so."
"No, not just me. I want your classmates to see it too."
"Quite the greedy one." I give Ah Hua a little tap on the nose and sigh again: "who's to say what successful is anyways? Weren't you just saying how successful you thought all the the millionaires around here are just because of how much money they have? But then you look at Hong Kong, lots of people kill themselves each year just because their property value fell below a million Hong Kong dollars. And take my classmates for example, I always thought Tian Haipeng was the most successful—"
"You mean there's someone who has even more money that he does?" Ah Hua raises her head, interrupting me.
Startled, I try to think when I've ever mentioned anything about Tian Haipeng to Ah Hua but can't seem to remember. I say: "Tian Haipeng might have the most money of us all, but that's not why I consider him so successful—it's the way he's made it. I'll tell you all about it some other time."
Ah Hua nods knowingly and rubs her hand lightly over my chest, "I never would have guessed that even my Wenfeng has people he admires."
"You've misunderstood. I said he's been successful, doesn't mean I admire him. Tian Haipeng doesn't even admire himself for the things he's done, so how could I? Anyway, just two days ago he told there's one classmate of ours that's been far more successful than he has."
"Wha..? Who could that be?" asks in a shocked tone. I suddenly start laughing and tap her on the nose again. "You, heh, it almost seems like you know my classmates."
Ah Hua immediately goes silent. We lay there and after a while I start telling her Tian Haipeng's story of which classmate he sees as the most successful and why.
My jaw dropped when he told me it was Li Jianguo.
Li Jianguo was our only classmate from poor Jiangxi province. Tiny and with a strong regional accent, everyone liked to call him Lil' Jiangxi. When Haipeng said his name, I just couldn't get over hearing 'most successful' in the same sentence. I tried visualizing just how much ten years could actually change a person, but no matter how hard I thought I just couldn't get it through my head, I still only saw the Lil' Jiangxi that I knew back in school: five foot nothing, the thick, outdated glasses with white frames which took up half his face, the skinny kid who never spoke more than a word at a time.
Haipeng told me that after college Lil' Jiangxi was assigned to go work at the Jiangxi Ministry of Commerce, and that he tried unsuccessfully for a reassignment. Because we all studied politics, most of us hoped to get into political departments. Especially after he got there, when Lil' Jiangxi found out he was to work in the jeans Import/Export department he was miserable. He was self-disciplined enough, though, to quickly turn his attitude around and keep himself happy while on the job.
Which isn't to say he was happy with the job. At that time the Import/Export department oversaw all approvals of exports, especially those for the textile and clothing industries; all clothing and textile products that China exported to places like America and Europe had to go through the provincial and municipal commerce departments to obtain approval. It was foreign currency these exports were bringing in, so some taxes could be evaded, and before long approvals just became another word for making money on the side. Back when China just started its opening-up reforms, the first bunch of people to get rich—and I mean really rich—were pretty much all people who leaned on their privilege to get their to get their hands on approval licenses, selling them back to the first generation of Chinese farmers-turned-entrepreneur at a profit. The approval system was originally meant to be a good thing. Production costs in China are just too low, and competition in the textile industry is fierce. If there hadn't been an approval system regulating exports, competition between individuals would have gotten out of control and prices would have plummeted. Another possibility would have been seeing people producing counterfeit goods in order to save costs, which would ultimately just hurt Chinese manufacturers' image overseas. But because of the sudden and huge profits that others stood to make if granted an approval and the lack of strict system for approval distribution—everything depended on how senior leaders happened to be feeling, and their feelings alone—naturally it gave rise to corruption. Li Jianguo, with his finely-tuned political consciousness, and a former international relations to boot, was able to see the problems in the system within just a year of having arrived at his work unit. Naive little Li Jianguo actually went and wrote a letter to the Vice-governor overseeing exports for the province and was shrill in pointing out the sources of impropriety and corruption within the system. He sent out his letter and it was like dropping a pebble into the ocean, didn't get the least response. Then the hard times really began for Li Jianguo. Less than two months after the letter was sent he was transferred to another job. ‘Overseeing Ministry dispatch work’ on paper meant watching over the front gate in reality. Aren't the leaders are always saying: university students need to be cultivated to see the way things work, starting from the very bottom and working their way up.
Li Jianguo stayed working at the gate for another two years. He was happy enough, using all the spare time he had to read and study. Happy until the day two trade company CEOs drove up in what at the time was the only Rolls Royce in the province to pick some top Ministry leaders up for lunch, and Li saw that one of the bigwig suits in the car was none other than the provincial governor he had written to several years before.
Seeing now the reason he never got a response, he was furious. For the next two years Li stayed on, quietly watching guard at the door, secretly collecting proof of approval bribes. At the beginning his intent might have been just to straight things out there in Jiangxi, maybe get some justice for himself and then leave it at that. But the deeper he dug, the more he found himself investigating secrets from across the country. What he found he sent straight to the Zhongnanhai complex in Beijing, care of the Party Discipline Inspection Commission. What he sent wasn't that detailed, but it was enough for the central government to scrap the approvals system.
"He's really something else. And he did all by himself." Ah Hua, enthralled by the story, gives a heartfelt sigh.
Not bad hey, if you think about it: one guard at the gate of some provincial Ministry of Commerce complex carrying out a investigation into Ministry departments all across the country? Not easy stuff. In his report he was able to list some iron details like how cadres were shovelling in the the profits from selling off approvals, even able to cite statistics showing the central government how in the eighties and early nineties the Ministry of Foreign Economy and Trade had a total of twenty-four cadres solely in charge of granting approvals, twenty of whom now have homes worth over five million yuan. Six sent their wives to America to give birth to their children; despite the hundreds of thousands of yuan it cost, their children were born American citizens. It helped to get around China's birth control policies, and promised their kids a good future. He also listed out all the various mid- to high-ranking officials in charge of approvals in coastal provinces like Guangdong and Fujian who had quit their government job and gone into business for themselves, opening companies with average start-up funds numbering into the tens of millions, all of it earned by selling off approvals at work. At the time, Li Jianguo was the first to have ever pointed out in detail the personal economic situations of those overseeing distribution of Ministry of Foreign Economy and Trade approvals in every province around the country. Although, the central government seems later to have felt the implications from this were too great and so in the end nothing came of it.
"Li Jianguo's time in Jiangxi didn't go well after that . The various large and small corrupt officials who along with their approvals lost their chances at fortunes came came to see Li as a thorn in their sides and began looking for a chance to get some thugs to teach him a lesson, humiliate or even beat him. At work he was segregated, later prevented from getting his state-assigned housing. In the end he couldn't even find a wife to settle down with."
"Poor Lil' Jiangxi, it must have been so hard for him then." Ah Hua props herself up, speaking full of emotion.
"Things weren't as bad as you might think." I repeat to Ah Hua the same words Tian Haipeng told me. Li 'Lil' Jiangxi' Jianguo said it himself, the more that corrupt officials came to hate him, the more they bullied and tortured him, the happier he got; it just reminded him how he had made it impossible for those corrupt officials to go on using the system to get bribes, bribes comprised of public funds. So he wasn't just finding it hard to take, he was actually secretly happy inside."
"It went on like this for a few years and eventually those corrupt officials seemed to finally forget about Li Jianguo. Thugs stopped ganging up on him and he was no longer being harassed at work. Even leaders were willing to meet with him again, and he was promoted to section chief. One would expect Li Jianguo would have been happy, would have gotten married and gone on to live a normal life."
"You mean something happened? What?" Ah Hua anxiously asks, her two full, round, yet seemingly weightless breasts swaying as she sits up straight.
"Nothing happened. Let me go on: Lil' Jiangxi began to get suspicious. He's our classmate, right? He's always on alert when it comes to things like politics and government. So he got his brain in gear, even started monitoring and investigating again. Before long he noticed a problem. Approvals might have been gone, but corrupt officials hadn't let this stop them, going on to develop new avenues of corruption in virtually every industry there was, primarily with new buildings, highways and even selling off chunks of farmland reclaimed just for development. Impressively, Li Jianguo threw himself once again into intense sleuth mode. His investigation didn't bring up anything special, nothing that the average Chinese didn't already know, like how for every kilometer of freeway constructed there was an official or two somewhere making a bundle off of it; or how for every government building put up there were dozens of officials' family members coming into fortunes. Don't even get me started on the land sales. Li Jianguo worked earnestly for two years and put all these happenings into another report. Only he didn't feel so assured with this one; the first report only targeted officials from the Ministry of Foreign Economy and Trade, but this one seemed to implicate all government departments. Not long after he sent it up, vice-governor of Jiangxi province Hu Changqing was arrested for graft and sentenced to death. The shot that rang out from Hu Changqing’s head that day seemed to carry just as much historical weight as the first shot that rang out during the Nanchang Uprising eighty years prior, when the Communists rose up against Kuomintang corruption. That shot gave birth to the Beijing regime whereas this shot was aimed squarely at the regime’s rampant corruption. From that day forth the Party began cracking down on corrupt officials ranked vice-governor and up, executing several each year. Unprecedented, and all thanks to Li Jianguo."
"Ai-ya. So the guy who exposed the biggest corruption cases of the nineties was actually your classmate? Amazing!" Ah Hua says excitedly.
"It's hard to say for sure if Li Jianguo was the one who uncovered Hu Changqing or not. Nobody's seen Lil' Jiangxi since graduation, not even Tian Haipeng himself. At the time I was pretty amazed too, seeing as how nobody had seen him for so long. I asked Tian Haipeng where he'd heard about it and he laughed, saying I was too far behind the times. 'Everyone keeps in touch with e-mail now,' he said, 'and who has the time to get together? I can't believe you're still stuck using an antique land line. Anyway, exposing such a big-name government official helped Li Jianguo make something of a name for himself at the central government and the comrades at the Ministry of State Security took notice of Li Jianguo and quite admired that he managed to come up with such a detailed investigative report relying solely on his own efforts. Right around the same time, Li Jianguo wound up in trouble again. Thugs hired by a few corrupt officials to go beat Li Jianguo up left him bed-ridden; local police actually framed him, saying Li Jianguo was "the instigating party" and then Lil' Jiangxi was fired from his job. When the MSS heard the news, they secretly dispatched two high-ranking cadres to carry out a stealth investigation into Li Jianguo's situation, assess his ability."
"Didn't Li Jianguo always want to go work for an agency like MSS?" Ah Hua blurts out.
"How'd you know they were sent to recruit him?" I stare wonderingly at her.
"What, like can't I guess?" Ah Hua laughs, "you said it yourself right off the bat that Li Jianguo didn't like working at the Ministry of Commerce, that he wanted something in a political department, and I can't think of anything more political than the MSS."
"I guess. Anyway, the year Li Jianguo graduated he did want to get into the MSS, put his intelligence and ability towards safeguarding the nation and all, but it turned out he was too skinny and weak to meet the physical requirements—never mind being severely near-sighted—for that dream to come true. Who would have thought MSS directors themselves would come to see him as potentially useful and decide to recruit him. After the person they dispatched arrived in Jiangxi, after two days spent secretly checking around, he rushed to the hospital only to find that Li Jianguo had already slipped away."
"Ahh!" Ah Hua sits with her mouth gaping open. "Nothing happened to him did it? Did they...?"
This makes me laugh. "You little dumbnut," I say. "We only know what's happened because Li Jianguo sent it out himself over e-mail. If they'd taken him out, how else could we have found out?"
"Just when he got the chance he always wanted he had to go disappear—ai-ya, too bad!" Ah Hua bemoans.
"No need to get yourself worked up now, heroic types always get where they need to be; it's something average people like us just aren't able to see. So you know where he'd gone?"
"I don't, just tell me already. I might just die with anticipation," Ah Hua snaps.
"You don't know, Lil' Jiangxi has always been quite sickly ever since he was a kid. He might have had valiant aspirations of standing up against injustice, exposing corrupt officials, but he's just not big enough to be doing stuff like that. When he was in Jiangxi he was getting messed up by hired thugs every other day, his face swollen and covered in bruises half the time. The day Li Jianguo ran out of the hospital, the only thing he had on his mind was his decision to head far up a mountain and build up his body by practicing martial arts."
"What a story. I had no idea you had such awesome classmates. But you know, it's not something you can just go do. I know lots of people who've gone off to train in the mountains and come out years later not just looking like broomsticks but about as quick as one too."
"Didn't I just tell you?" I cut her off, impatiently, "heroes are different in that they always get lucky. So not long after Li Jianguo went up a mountain he came across an old-school Shaolin master named Limber Wind."
"Limber Wind? The name sounds familiar. Didn't Louis Cha have a Feng Qingyang in one of his novels? Feng "Limber Wind" Qingyang?" Ah Hua looks at me with puzzlement.
"Don't interrupt. This is what Li Jianguo told Tian Haipeng and what Tian Haipeng told me. You think I'm making this up? Anyway, all old kung fu masters have names like that. Old Limber Wind may have long been withdrawn from this world, but he had just as deep a hatred for corrupt officials like Hu Changqing. Hu wasn't just cashing in off the public's blood and sweat, he even kept himself a good number of mistresses too. What Limber Wind found most contemptible, though, was Hu's lack of filial piety towards his parents: having embezzled so much money, he still left them struggling just to get by. When Limber Wind found out that this myopic, scrawny middle-aged man who appeared to have been born several months early was none other than the hero responsible for having brought Hu Changqing down, he cursed the sky for not having met him earlier. According to Li Jianguo, Old Limber Wind launched him into a kung fu crash course and before long had passed on to Li Jianguo everything he knew, just like you’d see in a martial arts novel."
"Two months later Li Jianguo came down the mountain. The poor MSS agents couldn't go back until they had him, so they buckled down and waited it out. The second they saw him zip down the mountain they scrambled over to tell him why they'd come, to bring Li Jianguo into the MSS forces straight away. Can you guess what Li Jianguo said?"
Ah Hua shook her head, dazed.
"'Slow down,' he said, 'give me a week—no, two days, and then I'll go with you.' Can you guess what he did with those two days? Before he became a law enforcement official he wanted to first go find those people who'd bullied him before and get some payback! Hah. Days away from achieving his long-held dream of becoming an MSS special agent and he the first thing he thinks of is to get his revenge out of the way so as to save from being an embarrasment to his profession later. You can see, this Li Jianguo was just a tad out of the ordinary. They refused but he went anyway. How could you not worship someone like him!"
"Anyway, Lil' Jiangxi used those two days and tracked down nearly every thug in all of Nanchang, leaving them badly beaten and even a few with cracked heads. They say the Jiangxi underworld fell apart that same week and was never able to recover."
I grin when I see the increasingly muddled look on Ah Hua's face: "then Lil' Jiangxi left Jiangxi behind, went to Beijing and started his job at the MSS."
"So wouldn't that have meant you two were coworkers?" Ah Hua blurts out.
I almost jump out of my skin: "what, you even know I used to work for MSS?"
Put off, Ah Hua only answers after she's gathered herself: "your dad told me."
Right, I'd forgotten he'd made her one of the family.
"Was Li Jianguo still as much of a legend after he started working at the MSS?"
"No. At least Tian Haipeng doesn't know. Li Jianguo stopped talking about himself after he started working there. Work rules, I guess. MSS people are all such unsung heroes, ya know? Some people work there their whole lives and not a soul knows."
"That's too bad, such heroes and yet completely nameless. It almost seems not worth it," Ah Hua sighs.
"Mmm, you're right. Tian Haipeng also told me that about a year ago he got an e-mail from Li Jianguo—he'd been sent overseas. He hinted that it had something to do with plans for a lunar excursion, something highly confidential, an extremely dangerous mission. He said wouldn't be back for eight to ten years, maybe never. He signed off with a 'I'll be seein' ya'. Then below that: 'Sayonara'. Haipeng cried when he read it."
"God, that's really touching!"
"Ah Hua, you tell me, was this classmate of mine successful or what."
"I'd say so."
"His whole life Li Jianguo never had a penny to his name, never even rose to a position of any worth. But when Tian Haipeng finished telling me his story, I knew that nobody among us could possibly have accomplished more than Li Jianguo did. You see, that's just how we are. We might all want money and status, but what we really worship are heroes, the gallant lone riders who live and die for justice. I guess it's like the code that runs computers; people our age all seem to have been programmed this way."
Ah Hua gently pats me on the head like she wanted to give my own code a test run. A minute later, she asks softly: "Wenfeng, can you tell me, are you happy seeing your old classmates be so successful? Or jealous?"
I never expected Ah Hua would ever ask me such a deep question. I've never had any reason to be unhappy about hearing classmates' successes. Though, even for people like me who don't worry much about getting ahead, hearing stories of our peers' successes inevitably brings with a little envy. I think for a bit and then take a different approach in answering her question.
"Hearing Li Jianguo's story, I truly am happy for him. What he did wasn't about money or status, it was entirely about his own conscience and ability to do some good for the people of this country. I have no reason to be jealous of him, in fact I secretly see him as a kind of role model, as proud of him as I am encouraged to learn from him. If anything, I ought to learn to be driven like him."
"Haha, a very interesting answer. So then how do you feel about classmates of yours who ended up as officials or made fortunes for themselves?" Ah Hua presses.
I consider for another minute before answering: "after seeing the trouble Li Jun got himself into, I think from now on I'm going to be pretty nervous every time I meet a classmate who has risen to a high rank or made themselves quite wealthy. In China under the system we have now, people who want those high positions have to be willing to be servile and submissive and to do whatever it takes, no holds barred, in order to climb up. What happens is that when they finally do make it to the top, they search for any and all ways possible for them to get some bribes on the side. That's why I worry that when I see successful classmates, lurking behind each one will be a filthy story."
"Come on, it can't be that serious," she laughs. "Or is success the mother of all failure?" Ah Hua keeps laughing as she goes on with her theory: "flies aren't drawn to eggs with no cracks, am I right? You can't throw away a pot of soup just because of one fly. So anyway, what happened to that other classmate of yours? What was his name...Li Jun?"
He took bribes——"
"You call that getting into trouble? Who doesn't take a take a little kickback every now and then? In China if you don't take the money people start looking at you funny, all the average folk who want to be bribed but just can't get any. Think of all the officials who've gone corrupt over the years, and how many Jiao Yulu ‘model cadre’ types have you ever heard of? Give me break," she says.
"No, he got found out by somebody and ended up selling state secrets to them. You can get the death penalty for that!"
Ah Hua stops talking and I think to myself:
Two classmates in a row having gotten into trouble has got me worried, not to mention Rong'er's death which I got wrapped up in. I came back from my investigation in America not just with no answer, but a whole lot of new questions. Everything suddenly feels so out of control, there's definitely something going on. Most likely it has to do with my classmates; unless I'm mistaken, things are going to keep happening to us.
I suddenly jump up on the bed. Ah Hua, lying across my chest, is nearly dumped on the floor. She gives me a pained look but I'm too shocked to explain. What if there were a traitor amidst our classmates? Then Lil' Jiangxi, sent by MSS on a secret mission overseas, wouldn't his life be in danger any time now? Maybe even already?
"Ah Hua, I'm sorry. I have to go to Beijing tomorrow. I can’t explain why.
And she doesn't ask. That night, I decide to keep making love to her straight through until dawn, to try and block out the anxiety and unrest.