A Drop of Chinese Blood
    “This is not something that can be discussed over the phone. I need an appointment. It has to be today. I can do it this evening, it doesn’t matter how late.”
    “Today is not good, I’m afraid.”
    “I’ll pay. Will fifteen thousand yuan get me in the door?”
    “For fifteen thousand yuan, you get to take the door home. Let’s say two o’clock.”
    “I’ll be there.”
    At ten in the morning, I walked down the hall, out the side door, through the courtyard, and into my uncle’s workshop. By ten o’clock he was always dressed, in his workshop, looking at plans for bookshelves. If there was a chance of catching him in a decent mood, this was it.
    “Good morning, uncle. You have a two o’clock appointment. We’re selling the front door for fifteen thousand yuan.”
    That got his attention. “A client? What do they want? Maybe I won’t take the case. I’m busy these days. Tell them I’m sick of blackmail cases.”
    If he was busy, I was the sultan of Brunei. “No, you’re not busy, and we’re about to starve unless you take this one. Don’t even contemplate passing it up.”
    “Why? You’ve lost your job? I knew it would happen sooner or later.”
    “No, I haven’t lost my job.” The image of Fu Bin tiptoeing into the file room flashed before my eyes. The Third Bureau front office must have told him to try everything possible to get me: malfeasance, dereliction of duty, abuse of office, excessive spitting. It was a matter of pride. The more they looked and couldn’t find anything, the more frustrated they must have become. That explained why Fu Bin kept poking around, treating other officers to drinks, undoubtedly trying to wheedle complaints out of them about me. Why he didn’t get me for spending time at Gao’s was a mystery, now that I thought about it. I never saw him at Gao’s, also a little odd. Everyone drifted there sooner or later. There wasn’t a lot else to do in Yanji.
    “Good,” my uncle said with obvious satisfaction as if he’d won an argument. “You’re still employed. Then tell the client to go away.”
    “Not on your life. We have debts. Our debts have debts. If we don’t start paying them off, we’ll be on the street. Us and all of these tools.”
    Before leaving with the cream puff prince, my wife had run up an enormous phone bill with calls to every capital city in the world, mostly to Bern. We didn’t know anyone in Bern, at least I didn’t. Later I found out that the prince was there at a swank hotel getting refresher training in wedding cake design. The phone bill wouldn’t have been that bad, but she also cleaned out my bank account and sold the house—without access to any sort of legal proof of ownership—to a real estate developer who had plans to knock down all the buildings in the neighborhood and build a condominium complex called Happy Meadows. The sale was illegal, and the developer knew it. He also knew people in high places who didn’t care about legal title or proof of ownership. It was costing me plenty of time and effort to keep the bulldozers at bay. I didn’t have the money to bribe anyone back to my side again. A nice gambling win would have helped, but that was a question of the odds, and my luck was running the wrong way lately.
    My uncle couldn’t understand why MSS Headquarters didn’t weigh in on my side. “All they have to do is send someone over to the developer’s office to break a piece or two of furniture,” he said whenever the subject came up. “Your people have forgotten how to break furniture?”
    He also didn’t understand how my wife had been able to rob me blind, but he knew it was a sensitive issue and rarely raised the subject. As it happened, he chose this moment to do so. “You let her lead you around by the nose, and all the while she was playing with someone else’s pastry?”
    “I was preoccupied.”
    “So it seems,” he said.
    “It’s pointless to talk about that now. What’s done is

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