I slept well through the night, snuggled up in my nest of bedding on top of the folding mattress on the floor. Fortunately, I woke and went downstairs early because the furniture vans arrived at half past eight. They were accompanied by Mr Han, three Lao family solicitors, and many furniture movers with trolleys. I retreated to the kitchen, made a large pot of tea, gave an extra cup to the family shrine, then carried a tray of cups, followed by the teapot, out to the verandah where Mr Han was talking with the solicitors. We exchanged polite greetings and Mr Han advised me, “Professor Lao’s estate and the various other Lao family interests have come to an agreement over the furniture in the backside house and it will be removed today.”
“All of it?” I let my surprise show. “There is a lot of furniture in there.”
“And everything will need to be checked again for items tucked inside them.” The resigned gentleman who said this had been introduced to me as Mr Hu Li of Wang, Kuo, and Zhu, Legal Practitioners and Registered Court Representatives and was wearing a jacket in a Fu-style brocade with black trousers. I wasn’t sure which part of the Lao family he was representing, but I didn’t have to be. “It is amazing what people will tuck away out of sight and where. Then, of course, you get the ones who deliberately hide things, although better that they sew gems into the seams of old clothes than deliberately booby trap the entire house.”
“You tend not to get that in real estate,” replied Mr Han as he accepted a cup of tea from me, “but these days my colleagues in Pushang refuse to deal with one family who won’t pay rent or move out once the signed lease on a property has expired. When the bailiffs are called in, they barricade the property with themselves inside and hurl missiles containing bodily wastes at the bailiffs.”
“I’ve heard of them,” added Mr Lu Te of Dang and Associates. His piece of odd clothing was a stole/scarf draped around his neck. “Our Pushang office has represented some of their past landlords. The rest of us are under instructions to cite conflict of interest if we are ever approached to represent the family. There has been speculation that they are trying to engineer circumstances that will enable them to claim ownership of a house through occupation without paying rent.”
Master Que appeared with a cup of tea already held in one hand. “I thought that sort of thing only worked if you could pull off seven or more years of rent stoppage.”
“There can be other grounds,” replied Mr Lu, “although there hasn’t been a successful claim by a relic concubine in this province for several decades.”
“Proper estate planning can avoid so many things,” said Mr Hu, still with his general air of resignation to whatever fate held in store for him. “Although the late Professor Lao does seem to have made entirely proper provisions for his estate. It’s the implementation by his heirs and an inexperienced executor that have made this matter more complicated and uncomfortable than it needed to be.”
The third legal gentleman, who wore round wire glasses and had most unfortunately aligned teeth, remarked, “I, for one, hope that there are no more interesting discoveries. Also, I am glad that the explosives cache has been empty for some decades.” He sipped his tea and added, “My colleague, Tchung Chuang, graciously insisted that another member of our firm should have the opportunity to experience the…residuals of the Lao family’s residence in this house today. He implied that he had accrued more than enough paperwork from his last attendance here.”
“There were many exciting discoveries the last time that he was here,” agreed Master Que. “Are you permitted to share the outcome of any of them with us?”
“Disposition of the pistols is still in negotiation,” replied Mr Tchung’s colleague, who went by the name of Rong Juan. “They are, of course, assets of the estate, while also being controlled items. Additionally, they are antiques and examples of a specific item recently declared to be of cultural significance by their country of origin. Plus, they have provenance for being acquired for use during the occupation. A number of authorities are interested in acquiring the pair for their collections.” He folded his hands in his lap, leaving his waist sash visible. “There is also great interest in the uniform that was found. Despite the state in which it has been stored all these years, it is intact and complete. Commonplace items of this type in good condition are rare, and again there are a number of authorities who wish to add it to their collections, once the police investigations are complete and the coroner’s verdict has been delivered.”
I tried to phrase my question delicately, “Didn’t the fatal wound damage the garment?”
Mr Rong smiled. I’m afraid that he reminded me of certain rabbit and hare characters from a series of illustrated children’s books that had been popular when my parents were young. “I understand that the investigation is still having the garments treated so that they can be examined to determine whether their owner suffered a torso wound. The amounts of blood observed could well have come from cutting one or more of the major blood vessels in the neck, without damaging the uniform.”
“At least no-one is expecting the police to arrest the perpetrator,” I said brightly.
Mr Hu sighed and replied, “There is precedent for arresting a ghost for murder, in this province at least. Pre-Occupation, of course. I believe the last time it was done was during the tenure of Governor Bai Bang in the matter of the Harmonious Ocean Star murders. The evidence came to light during his term in office but the murders themselves had happened almost forty years earlier. Governor Bai petitioned Heaven to have a Celestial magistrate take up the case and reactivated the appointments of the original investigating team to assist the Celestial magistrate. Only one of them was still among the living at that point and he was tasked with liaison duties.” Mr Hu smiled and added, “Apparently everyone was satisfied that justice had been served, finally.”
“That always seems so much less awkward than posthumous pardons,” commented Mr Lu. “I don’t wish to suggest that funeral money does no good, and there is always a lot of government supplied funeral money with those cases, but I always think it would be better if things had been sorted out when the person was alive.”
I excused myself at that point and went to do an hour’s gi practice. Master Que joined me after half an hour and gave me a few nonstandard tasks as part of my tournament preparation. Then I went to do some study but got temporarily diverted by watching workmen manoeuvre large, corridor-filling furniture that had been in the back house out to furniture vans on the street outside the house. I finally managed to tear myself away and went up to my room to do my study.
When I emerged, it was lunchtime and several trucks of furniture had already left. The legal gentlemen and Mr Han were still in their supervisory position, and our cohort of boys was doing something that seemed to be benignly noisy in one of the garden rooms out of the way of the furniture removals. Master Que fed me, and then sent me out for a walk to get some fresh air. I accepted his promises that he would make sure that none of my possessions were carried off by the removalists and headed out to find where walking south on Kung Tao Street would take me.
The answer was, if you went as far as the university was from my house, the Citadel. Northern Citadel Ridge was the neighbourhood that abutted ours and it was distinctly swankier than Xuexing. The greater elevation gave them better views, so it was not surprising that people with money had bought into the area. I was grateful not to have to walk up that slope every afternoon on my way home from classes. I noticed that there were only a few pre-Invasion courtyard houses left as I got closer to the Citadel, while a number of the Occupation-era houses were in the process of being demolished, and had neat signs on the safety fences outside the property listing the names and contact details of both builders, demolishers, and architects. The newer houses tended to be reinterpretations of the courtyard house and the buildings that strayed from that tended to be non-residential – there was a public library in a pagoda-like building, and a medical practice occupied a building with a lot of glass brick frontage that was textured to produce a mural of medicinal plants such as ginseng and rhinoceros horn.
The houses didn’t go right up to the walls of the Citadel. A road circled the complex at about a block’s distance from the outer wall and the space between the road and the stone wall was occupied by a park of ornamental flower beds, water features, and park benches. There were also some explanatory plaques on plinths. One explained how the walls of the Citadel, constructed of large blocks of local stone, had been reconstructed in the early days of the Occupation by conscripted local labour. Another pointed out that the park’s water features had also been constructed during the early Occupation as part of the reconstructed Citadel’s defences and that their placement and depth were designed to funnel attackers into the fire of the defensive guns installed on the walls – General Smith Kirby was mentioned as involved in the design.
I would have liked to have walked all the way around the Citadel, but I felt that I didn’t have time for that today and turned for home after stopping to admire the waterlilies and carp in one last defensive water feature. Not surprisingly, the walk back down through Northern Citadel Ridge was faster than the walk up. I stopped to make a note of the library’s opening times and found that they had an announcement board of events beside the front door, out of the weather and behind glass. Someone had annotated the calendar, using marker on the glass, suggesting that the afternoon session on the third day of the week for family research would “be all about the Wu family of Dongfang Fangfa, again.” For my part, I thought Master Que might be interested in their mah jong sessions and hoped that if he went, he would be kind to the other players.
There were still furniture vans at the house when I got back. Madam He’s ratty, dark brown Ming-goa sedan was double parked beside two of them, so close that her passenger-side doors couldn’t be opened and that the vans couldn’t manoeuvre without hitting the sedan. The potential damage to either van was probably more than the value of the car. Madam He herself was berating a huddle of furniture movers who obviously wanted to get in their vans and leave. The little I heard of the monologue indicated that Madam He also wanted the vans gone – apparently without her car being moved. As I went in Mr Rong, the unfortunately rabbit-faced legal gentleman, was coming out and he quietly warned me that he had called the police to manage the issue. I went straight to the kitchen to make another pot of tea and found that Master Que had beaten me to it.
Madam Yang and her grandson, Yang Gai, were in the kitchen too and Yang Gai was asking why anyone would want to call the police. I saw Master Que give Madam Yang a glance before he said, “This is a traffic matter. Our esteemed neighbour may like to park in that particular spot, but it is public parking and not her private spot. There are, or at least there were, other spots available on the street but she chose not to use them. She also has her car blocking off an entire lane of traffic. If I were to arrange for her car to move,” he made a gesture and three tea cups plus the pot rose a hand’s breadth into the air before settling down again, “or your grandmother called a tow truck to take it away, then our neighbour would have a claim for theft. If the police have her car removed because it is illegally parked, then she probably faces having to pay a fine, pay to get her car back, and possibly has some sort of black mark against her driver’s licence.”
“And it’s all completely legal,” added Madam Yang. “It sounds a lot like extortion when Master Que puts it that way, but she’s stopping the furniture men from doing their perfectly reasonable jobs and inconveniencing everyone else who wants to use the road outside by making it more dangerous to use. Your late grandfather didn’t care for the police in general, but this is the sort of thing he thought they ought to be doing.” She added in a considered tone, “In fact, he had particularly pithy things to say in terms I don’t expect you to use for at least a decade and a half, young man, about people who block public thoroughfares.”
As I put more cups on a tray to take outside, Master Que queried gently, “Might I be right in suspecting, Madam Yang, that your late husband had an alleged interest in expeditious vehicular departures from a variety of compromised premises?”
Madam Yang looked at Master Que for a moment and asked directly, “Are you a police informer?”
“My involvement with people who might require getaway drivers dates back to when I was six and my first master, who’d bought me from my family, entered me in underground gi fights. He did ensure that I only thought it was about the fighting.” The two of them traded glances for a long moment, then Master Que added, “I first became involved with the police in a co-operative manner after an attack aimed at me deliberately left my second master a paraplegic. I received a great deal of satisfaction from having the authorities dismantle that rats’ nest. I have never sold information to the authorities. I have co-operated with them to achieve what I believed to be deserved justice. My second master, for instance, had no knowledge of or involvement in the matter that led to him being crippled.”
Madam Yang made a small gesture of warding – if she’d pushed gi into it, I think it would have generated a nice little shield. “You are a dangerous man, Que Tzu.”
“On occasion, yes,” he agreed. Then he smiled and added, “Isn’t it a good thing that I believe in the rule of law?”
Yang Gai interrupted the following moment by asking in a puzzled tone, “Why did your family sell you?”
Master Que gave him a much gentler smile and replied, “My mother was very sick, and we had no other way of raising the money to pay for her medicine. I always hope that it helped.”
“Those”’ Madam Yang told her grandson vigorously, “were the bad old days that we do not ever want to go back to. When you’re a grown man and people tell you that things were better ‘back then’ you can tell them that you have been in the same room with a person who was sold because their family had no safety nets. Remember that, always.”
She swung around to include me in her admonishment, and I bowed and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
The police came, all three legal gentlemen and Mr Hun went out to see them, and I stayed out of it. When Mr Hun came to find me, I was sitting table on the verandah in front of the training room, practicing a new character that had come up in Statistics. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Miss Sung,” he said apologetically while bowing, “but the police insist on speaking to the householder and-.”
“It’s my name on the lease,” I finished for him as I put down my pen. “Of course I’ll come.” He led me out to the footpath in front of the house where there were four policemen plus the furniture removalists, the legal gentlemen, Madam He, and a young man who may have been He Ban. Some of the motorcycle emporium staff were out on the pavement down on the corner, watching the free street theatre.
I bowed politely to the senior policeman, a sergeant from his insignia, and said, “I am Sung Nai, the tenant of record here. I understand that you want to see me, sir.”
The sergeant looked at me and said, “Yes. Thank you for coming so promptly, Miss Sung. Now, can you confirm that you are aware of this property being removed from your premises?”
I thought for a moment and replied, “I am aware that my landlord, the estate of the late Professor Lao, is removing furniture that is also part of the estate from these premises, but I don’t know what in particular they are taking. As it is furniture I can’t use, and it is not my furniture, I am happy for it to go.”
“Did you have any involvement in these removal arrangements?”
“I had nothing to do with arranging anything, sir,” I answered respectfully. “I’m sure Mr Hun and these legal gentlemen have already told you that I insisted that the Lao family and estate not involve me in sorting out what happens to the late professor’s furniture and that they only turn up here to remove things by prior arrangement. Otherwise, it is entirely up to them to organise.”
“I see. So, you had no part in hiring or directing the vans?” The sergeant looked at his notepad.
“None whatsoever, sir.”
“Are you aware of any assigned parking arrangements on this street?” The sergeant had made a note on his pad as he was asking me the question, but he looked up as he finished speaking.”
“No, sir. There was nothing in the lease arrangements, but we don’t have a car, so I’ve been uninterested in anything of that nature.” I wasn’t quite sure what the question was leading to, but I answered it quite happily and added, “Isn’t there something about residential parking permits? As I said, we’ve no car and we only moved in a few weeks ago so at this stage of my experience, they’re something that happens to other people.”
“I can see that that would be the case,” he agreed. “Would you be prepared to sign a statement confirming that you had no part in organising the removal of furniture from this house today?”
“I would. It’s not my furniture. For me to arrange for its removal from what is not yet my property would be improper.” I smiled and hoped that I didn’t sound too prim.
“Not yet your property?” He suddenly looked interested. “May I ask how that is going to occur, Miss Sung?”
I hoped I hadn’t said something I shouldn’t have and replied, “I’m leasing with the intent of buying, Sergeant. Mr Hun is the real estate agency’s representative handling the matter and I am being represented by Mr Su of Dong, Pan and Su - they have offices on Tu Shu Guan Street. Do you need their contract details?”
“Probably not, Miss Sung, but may I ask how a person as young as yourself can afford to buy a house?” The sergeant seemed to be trying to get a holistic view of the situation rather than being particularly interested in my answer.
I did not attempt to make jokes about selling furniture or even to deny that it was by selling furniture. The possibility of such actions did float past my mind, but I ignored it. “I’m a professional gi fighter,” I told him. “I fight as the student Shui Tzu Dan. If you watched the national championships to the end, then you would have seen me. Buying this house gives me somewhere to live while I’m studying and is an investment for my future.”
He looked at me for a moment and then commented, “I thought that your Master Que looked familiar.” He paused then went on, “Thank you for your time, Miss Sung. That is all I need you for.”
I bowed. “My pleasure and honour, Sergeant.” He bowed in return, and then I returned to my studies on the verandah.
From my point of view, the rest of the day and evening were quiet and uneventful.
This is now followed by Things Begin to Move On.