By midmorning, I was out of Jinzhanping and winding my way up the mountain as fast as I could to make a meeting that would probably never occur, trying simultaneously not to stumble and break my neck while keeping track of whether I was being followed. The meeting was supposed to be with some strongman who simply went by the name Ju-long according to my contact.
He supposedly had ties to a certain government official who had discretely approached my indirect employer. Getting on in life, Artusco apparently placed a high premium on the fairy tale that he had been fed. I was to meet this Ju-long (which meant “powerful dragon”) in a remote area of Mount Fanjing.
It would take me every moment that I had left to reach it, if I found it at all (the first rendezvous point had been the tourist area, but as I saw it then, that had been more of an initial observation run for my strange host, who had never shown at the designated time).
This was going to be something different altogether with the new coordinates. After all, the GPS equipment wasn’t all it was cracked up to be in the Guìzhōu region, particularly in the remotest of the remote corners of it. Mount Fanjing, the sacred Buddhist Mountain was going to be a sacred pain in the neck to navigate with the foliage, but I was raring to collect my prize. “There’s nothing like a legend to get the blood pumping and the coins racing into your pocket book,” my mentor used to say.
The path was not a path and, whatever it was, it got increasingly steep as I passed through forests of China firs and evergreens, with fog that was denser than I would I have liked under the circumstances. But then again, fog was a two-way street and I quite expected anyone trying to follow me to have more than a difficult time of it. Somewhere out of the silvered green a grey bird vanished in a disappearing act of sorts that marked the first performance of many as I illicitly made my way through the corners of Fanjingshan Reserve. The wind drowned out a great deal of the noises, but once, I heard the foliage crackle in the wind so prominently and so near that I turned, and in turning cut my hand on a strayed twig.
What the heck was I doing chasing some shadow on the side of a mountain, reward or not, I wondered? Of course my mentor was right, but this was the second meeting and I did not relish the thought of coming back empty-handed from a long hike into a revolver or the butt of some fierce root that would send me down the steep edge into the blasted fog and some sharp rock. If Ju-long, or whatever the heck his name really was, did not show this time, I would have to tell Sheng I was out and move on to the next job. While I had grown fond of Yan, it was not like I was going to settle down. Just the thought of planting myself somewhere for more than a month made my blood boil over with a kind of rage and disgust that one who has not kept moving his entire life in an endless series of places and gambits could hardly understand. Still, I did not want to leave the place earlier than necessary as I did rather enjoy her company. I checked the GPS as I got closer to the coordinates and when I looked up, I was emerging into a clearing where a tall Chinese man stood in a grey London Fog coat.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” I said. He was like a shadow of the mist which whirled about his grey coat and his face. It was tough to make out his features, but he was a well-built, fairly-lean man, probably fifty or so with an atavistic jaw,
the contours of which showed prominently through his face, so that as the mist passed back and forth over it, it appeared from time to time that I was staring at the skull of some bull or oxen: but the eyes were cunning. The English that was used was impeccable: barely an accent as he spoke.
“I was waiting for better weather, like this.” He paused as if to savor the mist and then grinned. “I saw you met my friend, Ru, the other day.”
“I don’t know who that is, do you have the case?”
“I see,” he said. “He only introduced his gun...”
“Did you send that SOB?” I inquired.