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《Fatal Weakness》CHAPTER NINE: Just who do you think you are?

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热度2238票 时间:2011年3月24日 09:06

I used to spend a lot of time in train stations, hooked on that feeling of being adrift, rootless, but full of ambition. I took the initiative in telling the class reunion's designated organizer Tian Haipeng that I would take care of picking up everyone who came in on train. Train arrival times are never fixed—or rather, they're always late; I figured I'd be spending a whole Saturday down at the Guangzhou Train Station, waiting. Then when the day finally came, I found I couldn't sleep a wink the night before it all was set to begin.

When I was young, I was deeply captivated with the train station in my village's county seat. Every time dad would go into town for a meeting, he'd take me along with him. Those days the only thing I cared about was going to the train station to play around. Dad was always the last to come out once sessions were over, and I always sat stupidly outside the hall and waited for him. He'd come out, pat me on the back, take my little hand in his and off we'd walk to the north end of the small city where the train station sat. I'd hop and skip all the way, the closer we got the faster my heart would beat, ba-doong, ba-doong. Dad, though, would stay silent all the way. When we got to the train station I'd run straight off, chasing after the locomotives, jumping and dancing with excitement. If we stayed long enough, one of the northbound passenger trains would pass through the town. Whenever I saw one, I'd stand off to the side and pretend I was a platform attendant, holding my hand up to make the train stop. Sometimes I'd get lucky and a slow train would come in; I'd stick my hand out and it really would grind to a halt. I'd suddenly go quiet and start peeking into every window, unsettled by the faces of stranger after stranger staring back out at me. As I watched them, I'd think: who are these people, where do they come from? Where are they going? Will I ever see any of them again? Maybe one day years and years from now, a stranger will walk up and ask: 'are you that boy from the platform?' Before I could finish studying their faces, the train would groan and lurch forward. I'd start running, waving at every face in every window as they passed me by. Only none of them looked my way. I knew the train would soon be at the next station, and there would be other kids standing on the platform there, waiting for the train, but on this platform there was only ever me. I always felt like crying when the trains left, but that's when dad, curled up in the corner, would get and come over. He'd pat me on the back, take my tiny hand, and the two of us, father and son, would walk silently out of the station.

Years later I learned that nearly all those trips of dad's to the county seat were to take part in public denouncement sessions. I also learned that he played a key role in them. Dad's dad, my grandfather, was the landowner of about six acres. In the years following 1949, my dad was teaching in a People's communal school, and so was required to attend denouncement sessions for nearly all the movements during that time. But they say, no matter if he was being called one of the exploitative landlord class, a rightist or even one of the stinking ninth, dad was always able to go along with the rebels or government and self-criticize, able to take reality and use it in teaching the people how to recognize the bad elements like himself. Dad's self-criticisms were so deeply moving that even local government officials and insurgents who'd always struggled with finding their true inner selves were suddenly able to dig up things that even the rebels hadn't been able to bring to the surface, and were eager to confess to it all. That's why, over these years, every time the county held a major denouncement session, dad was called out to get the criticism flowing. By the end, dad had become a spokesperson for both the landlords, the rightists and even the stinking ninths. Dad would get so excited during his speeches that he'd start slapping himself, always the first to start howling for himself to be struck down. It was probably due to this tactic of dad's, doing what he had to to get through, even turning completely against his own class, that he never lost his teaching job—as much it was the reason my older brother and sister were able to finish high school, and I able to go into the city and see the trains so often.

How could I have known then? There was no way. Such a magical train always sitting parked in my youthful little heart, it was enough to keep me dreaming all through childhood. It wasn't until the year I turned seventeen that I stepped on a train for the first time. That day, father carried my suitcase all the way to the train station. So excited, all I could think of was about the chance to finally be on the other side of those windows. When the train slowly began moving, as I looked out through a train window for the first time in my life, I saw my dad running alongside down the platform, waving goodbye to me; I couldn't tell if it were sweat or tears covering his face. I watched as we pulled a head, noticing just how much dad looked like I once did, standing on the platform, seeing trains off to faraway places.

For the fourteen hours that day before I arrived at Beijing Railway Station, I couldn't get even a single minute of shut-eye. I memorized the name of every city we passed through, eyes searching around every platform we stopped at. The entire night I was kept awake by the tiny villages flashing past the train. I was looking for boys like myself on those platforms, trying to imagine what kind of people must lived in the villages zooming past us. That day I was finally able to see things from the other side of the train car window, but there was one thing that even today I still haven't been able to wrap my head around, that being why, after having seen both the inside and outside of trains and train stations, they still remain so mysterious and captivating to me.

My longing, my anxiety, my hope, my melancholy, all were linked that train.

I couldn't sleep the whole night, but Saturday morning I'm in good spirits as I rush over to Guangzhou Train Station. Among the first batch of classmates to arrive are three from Shanghai: Deng Kehai from the Department of State Secrets for Shanghai municipality, Chai Fenfen from the Shanghai branch of China Travel Service. and Chen Weijia, district chief of Shanghai's Pudong Open Development District. Their train hasn't arrived yet but already I can't stay seated, so I take a saunter across the plaza. Guangzhou's train station is so different from the small city train stations of my memory; never mind that you can't even see the trains go by, but even if you could, they go by one after the other, without the slightest sound or sign of life, not the least bit comparable to the heart-quickening, roaring huge monsters I remember. But it also stems from nostalgia for the smaller trains of my hometown; even back in Beijing and after I came to Guangzhou, I would always go down to the train station. Especially when I first came to Guangzhou—what a strange feeling I got walking out and into such a vast floating population, all those migrant workers, seeing the packs of them all squeezed into the square and waiting hall, it was almost like looking at a past version of myself. Though, from the look in the eyes of those drifters as they watched me, I could see that I wasn't that person anymore. My clothes are tidy, they fit, I've got good skin and some meat on me; when I walk if my head's not held up high it's down low in deep thought; a crane among this flock of chickens, one might say. It wasn't vanity, the way I see it, in fact this sort of feeling kept me working hard, gave me pride in myself. It's also what kept me moving toward making a better future.

Right up until my pockets got sliced open twice my pickpockets at the station, then I stopped going as often. But what really turned me off from going back to revel in the bitter memories and sweet thoughts, the real reason I began struggling to move on and up from all that was the time a cop came and started checking people's "Threes": their national ID, their hukou and their permanent residential permit. Seeing the floaters be bossed around by the cop that time, with everyone missing any of their Threes getting shoved in the back of the van and taken in, I was incensed, ready to call them on it. I started walking over but right then another cop appeared in between and headed straight for me.

"Freeze! Out with your Threes!" he waved in my direction.

I turned and looked behind me, there was nobody. Disbelievingly, I pointed at my nose and asked: "me?"

"Who do you think?" the officer snapped.

"This must be a mistake." I automatically glanced down at myself, made a few motions that no floaters would ever be able to pull as I walked quickly towards the cop, laughing: "I don't like to carry my IDs with me, there's too many pickpockets around these days."

"That's gonna be an 020, then, failure to produce Threes. Get in the back of that van over there, and hurry. Watch your head getting in."

I snapped alert. The cop was serious. They don't misjudge when it comes to things like this, but it's not like I blend in with these train station floaters. Isn't that obvious that I've changed everything about me, from my appearance to what I feel inside? Don't I stand out like a swan among these common fowl? Later when I finally manage to get away from the train station, I stop in front of a glass-walled building and give myself a look-over. What I see shocks me enough that I burst into a cold sweat: standing before me is a middle-aged man with dark, dried-out skin, a beaten look in his eyes, the look of someone worn out and bone-weary. Is this really me? I honestly see no difference between the man reflected in the glass before me, and the hundreds of drifters back at the train station. Later, I was finally able to understand: despite how hard and long I've tried to change myself, nothing whatsoever has been changed. I, Yang Wenfeng, am nothing more than a drifting vagrant, taking any work I can find as long as it means I won't be returning home. From that point on, I stopped going to train stations.

As the train from Shanghai edges into the station, I can't stop myself from following the others here to pick people up in pushing toward the arrival gates. I was even worried that I might not recognize the three of them, but when they come out, I see my worries were unnecessary. These three are Shanghainese, they're big-city people; where I differ is that in the seventeen years since I left that small train station in the county seat back where I grew up, I've almost never stopped trying to change myself, both consciously and unconsciously, and it wasn't even so long ago that I realized in fact nothing has changed at all. My Shanghainese classmates, on the other hand, are simply a different kind of people, and they always have been—from how " I'm from Shanghai!" seems to be connected somehow to nearly everything that comes up, to their brimming confidence, and pride.

Seeing the three of them standing in the square, I realize just exactly what real swans look like; any cop with even less sense than the one I once came across here would still know better than to dare ask to see this trio's Threes.

Old classmates long separated, before we've even said a word we're already squeezed together in a big group hug. Clearly straight out of Pudong, all the designer labels Chen Weijia is decked out in are a little hard on the eyes, but it's seeing the gold-plated Cartier glasses of his catching the glare of the sun that keeps me from looking too closely; at the same time, this only just shows me what rapid strides Pudong has made toward development. The 'Shanghai Baby' of our class, the chic and pretty Cai Fenfen, tells me she's been working for China Travel Service ever since graduation and getting by quite nicely on the tips that it brings in. I used to worry about how she'd get by in Shanghai, with the cost of living being so high there, but I see now that this was unnecessary too, calculating instantly that just the makeup Ms. Cai's got smeared on her face and neck alone can't be worth any less than my total living expenditure in any given year. It must be worth it, though, she looks as radiant as she did ten years ago. Her beauty has been preserved so well I start thinking about the mummification techniques the Egyptians must have used.

And then I'm reminded of Deng Kehai, who works in the Administration for the Protection of State Secrets. Although he's only ranked a deputy division chief, he's still the most official-acting of all our classmates, with his top-grade business suit that hides a slightly-drooping belly. He steps up to me and sticks out his hand like he were greeting a foreign envoy; I ignore it and give him a big bear hug. "Boy, you've hit the jackpot I see!," I tease. Chen Weijia jumps right in, points at Deng Kehai's paunch and says, enviously, "you can see how much they've been skimming off the top down at his office; at any other government ministry, with a belly like that you could be Director." I put on a surprised look and watch Deng Kehai's reaction closely. Lil' Cai, standing beside me, jumps in: "don't underestimate this belly of his now, you have no idea how much shark fin, bird's nest and abalone soup it takes to get one, and we're talking consistent dedication over years here."

We all start laughing and Deng Kehai turns red, smoothing out his suit as he tries to change the subject: "I actually quite like taking the train. Even if it is more expensive than flying, the first-class sleeper cabins come with their own bathroom, makes for a pretty comfortable evening."

I nod, because even though I've never ridden in a cabin before, I hear that Shanghai to Beijing and Shanghai to Guangzhou are the only two routes in the country that have them, either for one person or two. If you got a double, you could close the door and have sex inside; having sex on a roaring train, you'd be in heaven.

"It's too bad you didn't bring the missus down with you," I joke.

A shadow flashes across Deng Kehai's face. They don't have any big luggage, so I tell them to keep an extra close eye on their bags, and we start pushing our way towards the taxi stand. Drifters carrying bags and boxes of all shapes and sizes deliberately bump into the four of us a few times, and by the time we get into a taxi, Ms. Cai's already covered in sweat, but the worst of it is the sweat running down her powder-caked face has drawn what looks a little like a crosswalk stretching down toward her chest.

As the taxi pulls away from the station, deputy division chief Deng raises and eyebrow and grumbles: 'what are you guys thinking here in Guangzhou? All the floaters you've got here have turned a perfectly nice train station into a total mess."

"You mean Shanghai's not the same?" I ask.

"I guess you haven't been there for a while, huh? Shanghai's great now. We've got the floater removal-upon-sight system now; it costs the city government a ton, but if you go down to our train station, it's completely clean, not a drifter or beggar in sight. But looking at your train station here in Guangzhou, ai-ya, and it's the same here on the streets, scruffy floaters everywhere you look. Just with this alone, you here in Guangzhou still think of competing with Shanghai?"

At once I'm a little furious, but instead I just look at the floaters outside the window, and sigh: "it's not like Guangzhou has much choice, this is their country too, after all."

*         *          *           *            *            *             *              *              *            *            *        

The twenty-seven classmates who were able to come are now split for the party between two large tables in a banquet hall inside the Garden Hotel, something not often seen in the history of Peking University. In the last nearly hundred years that Peking University has been around, it's possible that there has never been a single class reunion that was able to gather the entire class; at nearly every one there's always people who've passed away prematurely, or disappeared inexplicably, not counting those in sciences who after graduation one after the other head abroad to study, and those from liberal arts always end up in jail within a year or two of leaving school. As everyone starts mingling, it's clear none of us are totally relaxed just yet, like the two women constantly reapplying their lipstick after every conversation, and the good number of those not used to gatherings where no superiors present reports and assign it a theme at the get-go. So when Tian Haipeng finally gets up to announce it, that's when the mood finally begins to chill.

Of the forty of us who graduated together, Tian Haipeng says, except for one who passed away due to illness and four who have fallen completely out of contact, there are only those overseas or working toward development of the far northwest who were thus unable to come, leaving the twenty-seven of us who were able to come to Guangzhou today. Of us twenty-seven former classmates now working in the government, the highest position reached among them is that of division leader, and the lowest being only deputy division leader. Of those of us working for companies, the highest position held is that of board chairman, and the lowest being only assistant general manager. Then there are the private business owners among us of which while some happen to be worse off than others, there are definitely those far better off than many of us here tonight. And so, in the interest of everyone having a good, happy time tonight, and of keeping the conversations flowing smoothly, there is to be no uncontrollable putting on of any obnoxious airs. With that said and no further ado, the theme of tonight's class reunion is: just who do you think you are?

Everyone bursts into laughter and everyone's at total ease now. The last days of our four years at university was spent waiting for announcements of everyone's work assignments, seeing who would be the winners, and who the losers. Now, ten years later, it feels as though the arrangement at the time has been completely redrawn. Wang Qiliu, who had the best marks out of all of us back then, finds himself with a tense relationship both with the editor and the newspaper he now works for, and the stress of it all has left him with hair the combined number of strands of which can be counted on one hand. And the one person who our class teachers insisted was nothing more than a classic loser archetype, Xia Haoqiang, now drives his own Mercedes Benz and looks as though he couldn't be riding any higher than he is at present. They say the biggest problem he's got to worry about these days is how to keep his several mistresses from showing up at the same five-star hotel at the same time.

When Tian Haipeng recounts to everyone news of Li Jun's life sentence, everyone visibly takes this harder than they did hearing about the classmate who passed away. Struck with the thought that even someone like Li Jun—with the connections he had—could still get put away, all the gossiping over whose salaries are the highest and lowest quickly stops. I just keep my ears open for any trace or mention of Guo Qingqing. And when Tian Haipeng brings up Lil' Jiangxi, I watch as everyone at once goes quite serious, keeping their voices as low as possible as they whisper to each other, admiration and yearning clearly seen in their eyes.

After the banquet, everyone quickly settles into groups to chat. Beside the banquet hall are four to five smaller rooms, just like internet chat rooms; anyone who wants to pull a close classmate aside, or pull up something more with best friends of days long past, goes into the rooms in small groups to chat. From there most of us go up to the entire floor of rooms that Tian Haipeng's booked just for us; although he said before dinner that One Year Plan would be reimbursing everyone for all travel and various other expenditures, the crowd just laughed that off. Everyone knows that anyone who comes to a class reunion like this is going to be hell-bent on finding ways to show each other up, so offering to reimburse travel costs is kind of a no-brainer, most people aren't going to let this one go even if Tian Haipeng tries beating it out of them. Besides, of everyone here today, who doesn't have their own ways of getting things like this written off? So Tian Haipeng continues to shout himself hoarse, and of course nobody takes him up on it.

I shuttle among my old classmates, and seeing everyone laughing and animated as they chat each other up, I start feeling a little down. It's after midnight already and the party shows no signs of slowing. I've got a few drinks in me and feel a bit flighty, so I wait until no one's paying attention and slip into a room at the end of the hall. Just when I think to shut door, Deng Kehai pushes it open and comes in. The way he talks to you in his official's voice, and his arrogance, usually makes me pretty uncomfortable. But we got along pretty well back in college, not to mention that after graduation the two of us both got assigned to similar secretive security agencies. I wait as he comes in and shuts the door, then realized he still hasn't seen me. He staggers in, a half-emptied glass of something clear in his hand, plucked apparently, from one of several rounds of toasts.

"Man, if you can't drink then don't even bother trying to show off, there's no point in going up against those Northerners, not with the way they drink, you don't stand a chance." Seeing how soused he is, I can't help but starting in on him.

"Yeah, thanks for your concern. These days, booze is the only thing keeping me going."

"Cut the shit, already. Did you get passed over for division chief and now you're trying to drink yourself through it or what? If you are, you've come looking for the wrong person, I've been a common civilian for a long time already—got it?"

Deng Kehai just stares at me with his reddened eyes, then suddenly tilts his head back and finishes his white sorghum—I can smell it from the bed—and in the same smooth motion tosses his glass onto the carpet.

"Goddamnit Yang, I really admire you. Common civilian, that must be nice. Sometimes I wish I could go back now, but it's too late."

I suddenly realize, the most official-acting out of all us old classmates is now acting like a deflated basketball. I carefully stand up and go sit next to him: "old buddy, if there's something wrong, you can tell me, see if there's anything I can do to help."

"You?" His red eyes flash towards me again, "how could you possibly help me? The only person on earth who can help you is yourself; if you can't even help yourself, how are others going to be able to?"

I not sure what I could say that would comfort him right now, so I go quiet. After a lengthy silence, he picks up: "and there's nobody I can tell, too many friends I've offended over the years, too many classmates I've alienated. Aye, and it's all my fault. Though——"

He pauses for a brief instant, then lowers his voice and says: "Yang, you're still the one I should have the most confidence in. I really want to tell you, but, but...aye, you know, if I do tell you...even though it's just to hear an old friend's opinion, I might very well get you wrapped up in all this, and I just can't do that to you!"

"If you feel I have an opinion worth giving, then just tell me. I won't let myself get wrapped up in anything I don't want to be in. It's not like you don't know I still have a little bit of game left in me, right?" I say with consolation, patting him on the back.

Deng Kehai puts his head down for a good while and doesn't say a word. I think he's fallen asleep but then he suddenly jerks his head up, giving me a startle: "fine, I'll just tell you then. I'm being blackmailed!"

He starts to explain, but he senses I've just gotten quite nervous. With my hand I motion for him to stop talking, and he knowingly changes the subject. Five minutes later we go back down to the banquet room and sit down in a corner of the smoking room next to it. Because Director Zhou wouldn't tell me his plan of action, I'm willing to assume that tapping devices have been planted in the places where we've all been gathering tonight. And with Deng Kehai being a high-ranking officer in the national Ministry for the Protection of State Secrets, being blackmailed at that, the situation's too serious to risk being overheard. So until I've figured out exactly what the case is, I'm not willing to let Director Zhou listen in on our conversation. Kehai'd be as good as dead. Luckily, he knows the drill and knows not to say anything until we've sat down in the corner. Though we can hear the occasional murmured conversation of a few classmates still inside, there's a large wall that keeps us hidden from inside the hall.

"I'm being blackmailed."

"So you say," I flatly whisper, forcing my voice to stay calm.

"And it's possible the ones blackmailing me are from an overseas intelligence agency, maybe even the CIA!"

At hearing this, my heart jumps up behind my adam's apple, but I still try my best to conceal how nervous I feel inside.

"They won't say who they are, to protect themselves. This way no matter if they succeed or fail, there still won't be any scandal."

"Could very well be," I nod.

"But from where I stand, I don't have a choice. Or rather, I have no way out of this."

"How could this even happen?" I puzzle out loud. "If they think you have no room to maneuver in, that your only option is to give in, then why would they still hide their identity from you? This is just basic common sense; there's no precedent for spy agencies to extort people anonymously."

"You might just be right." Deng Kehai lowers his head, then says: "it might only just be me who feels I'm trapped in a corner. But they're using my wife and kids in America to threaten me, making me work for them."

"When did this all begin?" I shoot back.

"Two months ago. They've given me three months to think it over, or else..."

"God!" I jump up angrily. "Did you report this at the time?"

"Of course not!"

He's done in for, I think. With situations like this you might be able to explain yourself out of having waited two hours to come in and report it, but two months have already gone by. No matter what he does now, he's already made a serious mistake. No, according to the Official Secrets Act for special departments like his, he's already committed a serious crime.

"Old buddy, how could you be so..." I'm too fired up to speak.

"I'm not being silly at all, Yang, don't you get it? You can go report me after the reunion if you want. But now that you've heard the story, if you don't, you'll be committing a crime too. You're not just a common civilian these days are you, old buddy? You can tell me the truth."

Looking into his eyes all streaked with blood, the only thing I want to give him are a few heavy blows to the head. He definitely has just pushed me into criminal territory, but compared to the circumstances he's faced with right now, it doesn't amount to much: for a high-ranking national security agency official to knowingly be in contact with foreign intelligence personnel and not immediately report it is a felony in itself.

"Yang, just listen to me. Don't go thinking I don't know how serious a situation this is. I just don't know what to do about it. They know everything there is to know about my wife and kids being abroad. And not just that, they've got all the details on our financial situation as well. My wife recently applied for American citizenship, I think this is what got their attention."

"That's impossible," I interrupt. "Kehai, you most likely know, the CIA to this day has never used this kind of blackmail and extortion approach in carrying out their work in China, especially not by using Chinese living on American soil as the bargaining chip. Your wife already has a green card, and your kids were born there, they're American citizens. Would the CIA use your wife and kids and the details of your personal estate to bargain with you in an extortion attempt? Totally inconceivable! You've been scared silly, that's all. Have you lost all power of reason too? Americans flaunt their freedom and democracy, the supremacy of human rights; if the CIA were using your wife and some shady property in the States as means to blackmail you, the second you went open with it, the one getting attacked in America wouldn't be you or your family, it would be the CIA itself! The American Congress and people, not to mention overseas Chinese groups and the Asian communities, they wouldn't just let the CIA get away with something like this. Don't tell me that something as basic as this hasn't even occurred to you?"

"Do you really think I've been sleeping on the job all these years?" Deng Kehai is getting a bit worked up now, "how could I not know what they'd be risking in that case? But isn't that the precise reason they're not willing to say who they are? On top of it all, how on earth would I be able to take a stand against them on their own ground? If my wife ever went public and accused them, who would she be accusing? If they just said they were a private intelligence agency or even a human rights group or whatever, what would we do then? And, most importantly—and have you bothered to consider this?—if this ever went public, I——aye!"

So this is what it all comes down to! At long last I understand. I ask: "your wife hasn't committed any crime, has she?"

"Absolutely not."

"Well then is there a problem with where the money you use to support her living abroad comes from? Does your work unit know that she's living in America? Tell me everything."

"My wife left when I was still just a section chief. At the time I just wanted her to go there and have a few more kids. I always wanted more than one. I mentioned this to my division chief at the time, but being only a section chief I didn't need to get my superior's permission. But now, with this, I don't have anything left to stand on. As for how I've been supporting my wife and kids with their living costs these last few years, for the most part it's all been with my hard-earned money. At the very beginning it was money I'd made from playing the stock market; later, I helped set up some overseas investors and that brought with it a fair amount of appreciation money. But as for embezzlement or whatever, I've never gone there. You know was well as I do that in departments like ours there are no public funds to skim off of even if we wanted to."

"So then what are you so afraid of?"

"What am I afraid of? Old buddy, you're not living on the moon are you? You talk like this is no big deal. We have a house in America, as well as our savings, though altogether it's not a lot, just over four million yuan. But you know how our system here is; despite all the loopholes, when it shifts into gear, it's rigid enough to kill you. How would you have me explain where the four million came from? If this gets out of hand, I'll have to explain it all down to the last fen. Just how do you expect me to do that? There isn't a division chief alive who doesn't have a few hundred thousand or even a few million stashed away somewhere, but how many of them do you think can explain where last cent of it came from?"

He sees me looking at him with shock on my face, then waves his hands and goes on: "you don't need to be looking at me like that. Being unable to explain money is one thing, embezzling it is another. There are national laws which clearly state that national cadres like me aren't allowed to invest in the stock market. But I did, and that be more than enough for anyone who were out to get me. What's more, I tapped into some of our classmates' connections to set those foreign investors up in the Shanghai market, taking a little commission from that while I was at it. It's just the way things get done, right? Only until you take into consideration the nature of my job, then without question it'll become having accepted bribes. Aye, do I need to keep explaining...?"

"No need, I get it now, old buddy." And then I fall silent.

"When they threatened me, I just thought: if I were to immediately report this, then I'd have no choice to but to lay all this out in the open, but since I don't have any big-wigs to back me up on anything, I'd be completely screwed. Then if I didn't report it, dragged it out for a bit, fucked with them for a while, and then take the first chance I had to leave China and join my wife and children in America, I——"

"I can't believe you'd even consider it! If it is in fact the CIA that's got it in for you, do you think they'd just let you go like that? They'd give you a visa, sure they would, in return for some top-secret files!"

"Well, either way I'm dead I guess." Deng Haike's face suddenly flushes a deep red. "Maybe I should just tell them right now that I'll do it for a little while, then figure out a way that I can get out of all this. They say that any files I give them would be a contribution to the cause of democracy in China, because after all America does want to see us democratize——"

"Shut up, shut up!!!" I almost sock him one right then and there. "If you think you'd like to do something for the cause of democracy in China, now would be the time for you to start shouting slogans. As an old friend, buddy, I guarantee that I'd risk my life to see you safely out of the country. But whatever you do, don't go stealing state secrets and selling them to foreigns spies all because of some fucking democracy line they fed you! Selling state secrets and contributing to the democratic cause in China are two entirely separate things! These moronic ideas you have...they're enough to make me sick!"

"Sorry, my brain's just not functioning in one piece right now; you can't imagine half the twisted thoughts that've run through it over these past two months." Deng Kehai lowers his head and starts rapping on his skull with his fist. Then suddenly, he motions for me not to make a sound and closes his eyes. He takes two deep breaths and without opening his eyes shouts, "You! Behind the wall! Come out!"

I don't know who he's talking to and am thrown off for a second, until Tian Haipeng sticks his giggling head out from behind the wall, "ai-ya, what are you two doing hiding in here? Some spy you must be, you've got a nose like a dog to be able to smell me from that far away."

I almost laugh, but then something deep in my head clicks. And it all comes together after what Deng Kehai says next: "we've known each other for too long. You can change your hair, buy new clothes, even grow yourself a mustache, but your smell, your magnetic aura, those never change. You can try disguising yourself up, even give yourself a new look, and while with my eyes open I might not recognize you, the second I close them, I can always still tell it's you."

The three of us break into laughter simultaneously, but I'm the first to stop. I've just figured out what's causing my impotence.






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