Mr. Jiang of Shanghai

22 Mar

How does a newsman obtain an interview with a fortune-holder whom no one has ever seen? A billionaire who has never been photographed by anyone?

Xia Qi, a recently hired correspondent for Shanghai Silknews, was eager to find a subject on which he could practice a skill he had honed at Journalism School at the University of the Chinese metropolis. His ambition was to win a reputation as an investigative writer in the electronic media.

His focus came to fall upon the top heights of high finance. What forms did corruption take in those invisible elevations? he asked himself.

His choice of topic was in the unexplored realm of big money and unseen credit. Who was the least known titan in that terra incognita? Who had succeeded in concealing himself the best?

Qi discovered the perfect candidate for a probe in the person called Jiang Wei. There had to be more than only a name connected to that individual. Who, in reality, was he? Where did he come from onto the Shanghai stage? How did the man amass his astronomical personal fortune? Where did he live? What was his age?

No one knew what Mr. Jiang looked like, since no archive anywhere held any photographic image of this person.

Qi thought a long time before conceiving a method of entering the presence of the mysterious plutocrat.

After writing and publishing an article in the Silknews cloud about the reclusive hermit who was one of the wealthiest magnates in China, the correspondent sat back and waited for a response.

It came by air-phone from a person who identified himself as Mr. Chen Gui, Chief of Staff to the man who was the center of the investigation, Jiang Wei. Chen got down to important business at once.

“Your recent writing on the subject of Mr. Jiang was very interesting to him, as well as for the unanswered questions you raised there about the life that he has succeeded in living with unusual privacy. You mention the possibility of enormous danger to him from unidentified criminal forces.

“Mr.Jiang read what you wrote about him and wishes to see you in order to straighten out what were mistakes in your description of him and his life. He thinks that an interview with you would clarify the public image that has been created about him.

“Would you like to set a time for a private, direct interview with the one I work for, Mr. Xia?”

“Certainly,” replied the latter. “Any time convenient for your employer will suit me. My schedule is very open and I am ready and willing to go anywhere at any time to meet with Mr. Jiang.”

A time was suggested by the Chief of Staff. “It will be at his special suite at the top of the Shilin Building,” indicated Chen Gui.

“I shall be there,” promised the writer, realizing that he had succeeded in drawing the attention of the eccentric billionaire by suggesting that there existed hidden forces unfriendly to him and his interests.

Qi met the Chief of Staff at the entrance to the ground-level lobby of the soaring silicate skyscraper. Chen Gui led the correspondent into an express levitator that sped them to the building’s summit tower.

“Please do not talk too long with Mr. Jiang,” ordered the executive official. “His health cannot stand any form of exhaustion, according to his physicians.”

Qi nodded that he understood the situation.

The lifter stopped and the doors opened up. Qi followed Gui into a gleaming, ornate vestibule, then into a semi-darkened chamber lit by shadowy greenish lighting radiating from floor level.

Gui pointed to a single antique chair for the visitor to sit in. He himself took a position behind it, where he would be invisible to Qi.

All of a sudden, the latter made out a simple cot-like bed across the room. The figure lying on it, hard to make out in the dim light, looked strangely weak and disabled.

“How do you do, young man?” asked a creaky voice from the cot. “I wish to talk with you about the criminal forces that you wrote about on the silkline, and the possible threat that they pose to the enterprises in which I myself and involved.

“Tell me, in a few words, what it is that you have discovered in your investigations.”

Qi recited the enigmatic sentences he had worked out and committed to memory.

“There are underworld syndicates that operate in Singapore, Japan, and Korea that are acquiring the capacity to hack into and copy what is transmitted over your secret, private corporate cloud, sir,” solemnly said the reporter. “I have learned that they are purchasing advanced, new equipment in markets in America and Europe. Their ultimate aim is reported to be interrupting and breaking up your cloud networks for the purpose of causing your financial ruin and final bankruptcy.”

A silence that lasted close to a minute followed, broken by a statement from the one on the bed.

“Please step close to where I am, young man,” said the weak voice. “I want to have a good look at you before we go on any more.”

Qi rose and slowly moved forward, halting a short distance from the financial titan who lay prone on a kind of couch. A clearer, sharper view of Mr. Jiang now occurred. His face was long and narrow, furrowed with deep wrinkles and lines. The eyes were unmoving and stared with nearly hypnotic intensity at the one who had come to see the hidden hermit in the middle of Shanghai.

“Do you know the identity, the organization behind these criminal preparations against my cloud piping?” inquired the magnate, who appeared to be dressed in an old-fashioned peasant tunic from the distant past of rural China.

“Not yet, sir, but I intend to dig deeper and trace the cobweb of secret contacts back to the factor who is pulling the strings behind these cyber-criminal elements. I assure you, I will uncover who is master-minding the entire conspiracy against you and your enterprises.”

After a short pause, Jiang spoke again. His voice carried greater strength and force this time.

“You must keep in constant contact with Gui, my assistant. He will arrange when and where to see him. You must keep me abreast, through him, of what you may learn about my enemies. These are evil, relentless foes whom I face. They have tried to thwart me ever since I arrived in Shanghai over forty years ago. That was at the turn of our 21st century, when China was starting its rise to world dominance in business and technology. I had the foresight to see and enter as a pioneer in sub-atomic energy and communication. But there have been, from the start, clandestine forces both in China and abroad intent on destroying me and what I have built.

“They shall fail, once again. For I am too clever for these demonic minds.

“Will you help me, young man? I wish to act as my ears and eyes in the battle for my survival.”

Qi grabbed at the opportunity presented to him. “Yes, Mr. Jiang. I will totally devote myself to bringing you fresh, recent intelligence on what is going on among the criminal cloud-hackers.”

“I will want to see and talk with you again,” said the billionaire. “Gui shall bring you back when you have anything of importance to report.”

Jiang turned his ravaged face away and Qi retreated to where the Chief of Staff awaited him.

What have I started? the journalist asked himself.

Must I now add additional fictions to what I have already provided the strange financial magnate?

Qi decided to look for information about Mr. Jiang’s early years before he arrived in Shanghai.

This necessitated a rail journey to Shaanxi province in Northwest China. He would seek those who knew the man as a youth, in his formative years. Why was the billionaire so fearful of potential competitors and foes? What was there in his past to produce such deep – paranoia.

Yes, it had to be admitted that Jiang had developed a pathological fascination with unseen, unknown enemies whom he dreaded with something near terror.

A few days in the provincial capital Xian, where the titan had been born and raised, should be enough to get a feel with what the fellow might unconsciously wish to hear from this former.

An express bullet train carried Qi to the middle reaches of the Yellow River, to the Shaanxi capital of Xian. Here he visited the technical college where young Jiang Wei had studied physics and graduated with honors. The discovery he made here was that the man he was investigating had been born in the ancient town of Pingyao, a site that had become an historical museum and monument dating from the Ming Dynasty.

Qi made an instant decision to go there and find out what he could.

Many varieties of shops lined the old central street of the restored provincial financial center.

Searching for any local relatives of Mr. Jiang, the correspondent asked many questions among tour organizers and public services. It was a postman familiar with the inhabited neighborhoods who informed Qi where an old woman related to the family of Jiang Wei resided all alone.

Taking his chances, the visitor knocked at the door of her small white cottage and introduced himself not as a journalist but as a representative of an insurance system searching for the heirs of a recently deceased migrant from Pingyao.

“What was the name of this man?” asked the bent and aged woman dressed in black.

“Jiang Wei,” answered Qi. “Have you ever heard anything of him?”

“Indeed, I know him, sir,” she croaked. “He happened to be my younger brother.”

The man at the door felt his head spin. “That is most interesting. May I come in and speak with you about the insurance legacy that is going to be soon distributed?”

The woman moved back and out of his way as he moved into the nearly empty parlor of the structure.

She invited him to take a plain wooden chair, then she took a round stool across from him.

Qi decided to take the initiative in probing for information. “Did you spend a lot of time with your brother, Wei?” he said with a dramatic smile.

She surprised her guest with a frown. “We never did anything together, because he was not too friendly toward me. Wei and I rarely talked with each other much. He was a boy and I was a girl, of course. But he happened to be quite a strange child. Wei left home and went to school in Xian at a very early age. We did not see each other after that.

“I have no idea where he went or what he did.”

“You said that your brother was a strange person when he was young?” recalled Qi.

The old crone grimaced. “Wei was called a Jiangshi by the neighborhood children,” she muttered.

“A monster?” reacted the other with evident surprise.

“His legs did not grow like they should have. My brother took a lot of time before he learned how to walk. His legs were always rigid and inflexible and he was very awkward, even as he grew older and bigger.

“All the children were happy to see him leave Pingyao and never return.”

Silence fell over the parlor as the two avoided looking directly at each other.

“You shall receive a letter soon informing you of any insurance benefits,” he lied as he rose and left the old cottage.

Qi returned to Xian in turmoil. What should he make out of what he had heard in Pingyao?

Should he conclude that the older sister of Mr. Jiang was a mad woman? An undefinable intuition told him not to dismiss what she had told him and appeared to believe.

What if the billionaire himself had come to view himself as a semi-dead Jiangshi? His very surname was close to that frightful name. He was clearly immobile, as held by folk custom. His life was one of seclusion and fear of being seen in public. Was he hiding what he thought he knew about himself?

Was Jiang Wei a psychopath who was somehow compelled into seeing himself as one of the hopping dead whose rigor mortis prevented normal human movement and living?

Qi arrived at the conclusion that he had to return to Shanghai and attempt to find out what the billionaire thought in truth about what he was.

As he returned by bullet train, the writer fell asleep and dreamed about the subject monopolizing his attention.

An unnamed merchant died while far away from his home in the West. The problem was what to do with his body, fallen into rigor mortis. A team of Taoist priests conceived a clever solution.

The traveler was too stiff to bend his limbs, his body was immobile.

He was unable to walk home on his own. The only movement possible for him was irregular hopping.

A written talisman placed on his forehead displayed the name of his home destination.

The priests led him at night with warning bells ringing about him.

His skin turned a greenish hue as he hopped his way homeward.

Qi, all of a sudden, shook himself awake.

Did Mr. Jiang inherit the characteristics of a Jiangshi along with his Jiang family name?

It was critical for the reporter to find out the truth as soon as possible.

The day he returned to Shanghai, Qi called by wave-phone to make an appointment to meet with Mr. Jiang. Chen Gui said he would arrange a visit to talk with his employer for next morning.

Qi thanked the Chief of Staff and spent that evening preparing and rehearsing for the scheduled encounter with the moneyed industrial magnate.

After a couple of hours of troubled sleep, he headed for the center of Shanghai and the high-rise penthouse where Mr. Jiang, the target of his investigations, had his lair.

What was he going to say or do for the purpose of unmasking the hidden nature of the one he had seen lying in an unusual bed-like couch?

Qi remained uncertain about how it would be best for him to act before a possible jiangshi from Shaanxi province.

“Do you have any of the information that my employer is interested in?” asked Chen Gui as soon as Qi found him in the lobby of the skyscraper with the unique tower.

“I believe that I do,” said the visitor in a hollow voice. “It will be up to Mr. Jiang to evaluate and weigh what I tell him.” Qi hesitated a moment before he went on. “I wonder about his medical condition, because he did not appear completely well to me when I was here the first time.”

The Chief of Staff bristled for several seconds. “What are you talking about?” he demanded with visible anger he did not try to hide.

“It seemed to me that Mr. Jiang suffers from some illness of his spine and bone system, that’s all. I took him to be almost handicapped or disabled in terms of walking movement. That was the impression I left here with.” He stared into the eyes of the flustered business manager.

“Do not mention the subject of illness or health to him when you see him upstairs,” warned Chen Gui with a frown on his brow. “He would not at all like to hear such an opinion from you.”

He started to walk toward the bay of levitators with Qi following him there.

The chamber at the summit was dimmer and darker than during the first visit made by Qi.

The reporter wondered whether he was imagining such a change in the room’s surroundings.

Mr. Jiang was partially upright this time. His spindly legs fell all the way to the carpeted floor.
To Qi, it seemed as if he had somehow been animated with a new energy of some kind.

All of a sudden, the Chief of Staff moved ahead of the writer. As the latter stood still at a distance from the cot-like bed, Gui stepped up to the rich man and began to whisper into his ear.

Qi began to feel acute anxiety. “What was going on?” he asked himself several times.

Gui returned to where the visitor was positioned and motioned with his hand to approach nearer his employer. Qi did as he was told, making his way to just a few meters from the one sitting on the unusual bed.

“Do you think I look sick or weak?” suddenly inquired Mr. Jiang in a sharp, unexpected tone.

“I only wondered, sir,” murmured the investigative reporter.

“What did you wonder?” nearly shouted the hermit-billionaire. “Did you conclude that I am odd or crippled in some way? That there is something queer or unnatural about me? What do you think I suffer from young man? How would you categorize a person like me? As some variety of monster?” The financial titan, all of a sudden, bolted up to his feet.

As Qi witnessed this surprising agility in the object of his investigation, he failed to see or notice what Gui was doing, moving directly behind himself and taking a blunt piece of iron from his suit coat pocket.

The writer had lost consciousness by the time his body hit the floor carpet.

“Take him away,” ordered Mr. Jiang. “I never want to see or hear about this strange character ever again. Put him away somewhere out in the country.”

It took several years before Qi realized that he had been confined to a mental institution in what he suspected was Shaanxi province. He received very little treatment or medical attention.

The more he talked about his fear of a particular jiangshi he had uncovered back in Shanghai, the more dire became his diagnosis by the psychiatric staff of the institution.

“Our patient is obsessed by what he calls a powerful semi-dead being who is responsible for his confinement here. He claims there is a wealthy hermit named Mr. Jiang who decided to have him imprisoned as mad.”

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