Lin-Xi and I had barely started on the snacks when the MC of the evening, the company’s Vice President of Marketing Mr. Zhou, took to the stage and announced that dinner would now be served. We drifted back toward to our seats, stopping to say hello to a few of my other students, and then settled in at our table.
As it turned out, the wise person who’d arranged the seating had carefully picked employees who had worked overseas to sit at our table, so with the exception of two spouses, almost all of the ten people seated there spoke English. I suspected I had Melody to thank for this, although I couldn’t be sure. I resolved to thank her later.
As it was, Lin-Xi was seated next to Mr. Lai, one of the marketing people, and the two of them got to talking about something in Mandarin that I couldn’t follow. However, since Mr. Lai was pretty funny, and Lin-Xi was laughing at something, I gave thanks for small miracles and was just happy that she was enjoying herself.
I, meanwhile, was next to Franci Hung, one of the receptionists who had lived in the UK for a while in her long-past student days. She’d been there for my first classes at the company, but had soon dropped out citing family issues with needing to pick up her kids from their after-school classes. She was a cheerful enough woman, and liked to talk about her kids, so I just mostly listened while she caught me up on their progression.
We’d only been there a few minutes when I heard Mr. Lai say something excitedly to the other table members in Mandarin, and all conversation suddenly stopped. I followed their gaze to Lin-Xi, who looked uncomfortable.
“Mark, you didn’t tell us your girlfriend was a police officer.” Mr. Lai said, excited. “You said she was a government worker!”
I shrugged. “She is. I just didn’t say what department.”
In truth, I can be a bit of a private person, so I don’t usually mention to classes what Lin-Xi does unless specifically asked. It usually had results like this, so I’d learned fast just to keep it quiet.
After that, the others began asking Lin-Xi questions in Chinese, but since I couldn’t follow I went back to chatting with Franci. Soon the first of many courses of dinner arrived, a big plate of steamed Oysters were placed in the middle turntable for us to share and we all began our slow dinner.
After the last course had been served, the MC took the stage again and announced that it was now time for the games to begin. He invited the president of the company to join him up at the microphone, and the jovial, red-faced leader began to speak to his workers.
The speech was in Chinese, but thanks to Mr. Lai’s translation, I was able to follow along. Then, after thanking everyone for coming and their hard work, he announced that it was time to start the game and directed everyone to put on their buttons. After that he directed all of us to stand up, with the men lining up on the one side of the dance floor and the women lining up facing them across the floor.
“In our game, Linna and Bess,” he explained, “the two young girls are lead to their destiny by magic heart butterflies, and so tonight butterflies will lead us as well.” Then the lights on the stage turned off, and now we could see that the President’s badge glowed in the dark. It wasn’t very bright because most of the lights were still on, but you could faintly see the image of a golden butterfly on his chest.
“Each magic heart butterfly has only one perfect partner out there, and when the lights go out, your job will be to find your partner in the dark while the music plays. When the music is done playing, those who have found their partner will be eligible for one of the prizes from the stage, including a vacation in Hawaii and a trip to Japan.”
When the now excited employees finished clapping at that, he continued.
“Please be careful, and try not to be too friendly to the people you meet in the dark. You never know, they might be your boss!”
Then, as the employees laughed, he hopped down off of the stage and made his way over to the men’s side. As he did, I looked carefully for Lin-Xi, and plotted my way to her. There was no doubt she was my match, and I needed a new TV! Although, I wouldn’t complain about Hawaiian vacation either.
At a signal from the company president, the MC raised his hand and began counting down. When he hit zero, the lights were switched off and the sound of a trendy Taiwanese pop-song filled the air. The room was almost completely black and a line of glowing butterflies of many different colors, shapes and sizes had appeared on the other side of the dance floor.
I looked down at my badge to see a half-yellow, half-orange butterfly with spiral-patterned wings, while all around me people rushed into the dance floor like a swarm of bees desperately trying to find their special flowers. Not wanting to be left behind, I desperately began to search through hot darkness of the now-crowded dance-floor.
It was surprisingly hard, the many people moving and turning kept me from being able to see the butterflies, and several times I saw ones similar to mine that turned out to be different on closer inspection. Once, I even chanced upon one that I thought was Lin-Xi, only to see it was pure yellow colored instead of my mixed design. Then an even stranger thing happened- the golden butterfly, which should have been a static badge on someone’s chest, suddenly began to flap its wings and flew upward a short distance before vanishing completely.
Had my eyes been playing tricks? I wondered. Or, maybe I saw someone grab their badge and hold it high into the air so that their partner could see it? But, I was certain I had seen it move- seen the wings flap in the air.
Regardless, that didn’t seem like a bad strategy, and since there was no rules against it, I snatched the button from my chest and held it high, staying in one place and turning slowly around. The last verses of the pop song were playing, and I prayed that Lin-Xi would be able to see it in time.
Then, just as the music began to fade, I felt someone grab my shoulder.
“Mark, is that you?” I heard a familiar voice say.
I turned to face her, seeing her silhouette as my eyes had begun to adjust to the dark. Bringing down my butterfly, I tapped mine against her matching one.
“They match,” I said, and then a thought struck me and I leaned in for a kiss…
On came the lights, and I found myself face-to-face with a surprised Lin-Xi.
She reddened. “What are you doing?”
Despite her unconventional nature, Lin-Xi was actually very oldschool conservative Taiwanese at heart, and didn’t go in for public displays of affection. So, while she certainly didn’t mind kissing in private, doing so in public was one of our long-running disagreements.
“C’mon, it was dark. Nobody could see us…”
Lin-Xi blushed even more, which looked even cuter, and I was about to say something when suddenly there was a blood-curdling scream from nearby.
We both spun and looked. There, a few meters away, President Lin lay on his back on the floor in a pool of blood, his chest heaving. Standing above him was Melody Xie, the front of her orange and yellow dress streaked in blood and a bloody steak knife in her hand. She was staring down at him in horror, making half-gasping noises that sounded like sobs.
It was a surreal scene frozen in time, and then reality clawed its way back into the room. Lin-Xi was the first to move, her training kicking in as she bolted from next to me over to where Melody was standing over the body.
They were speaking Mandarin, so I could only guess what they were saying, but some things are universal enough. Lin-Xi told everyone to get back, and told Melody to step away from the body and put down the knife. It seemed like Melody was in shock, and it took a few tries to get her to listen, but once she started to come out of it she just dropped the knife and then fell to her knees crying.
As Lin-Xi rounded the body, she pointed at various people in the crowd and called out orders, telling them what she wanted them to do- ambulance, police, towels, get people back. Then she pointed at me and motioned for me to come over.
“My phone, get it.” She said, standing over the fallen Melody.
I did as she asked, rushing back to the table and grabbing her mobile phone from her jacket. As I was returning, I heard another cry, and saw the MC and a group of executives holding Mrs. Lin, the president’s wife, who looked like she’d just fainted. I shook my head, poor woman.
Then I rushed the phone to Lin-Xi, who already had several people trying to stop the bleeding with towels. She took it and dialed, had a quick conversation, and then hung up and slipped it into her belt.
“I’ve got a team on the way,” she said. “They’ll be here in a few minutes.” Then she gestured at the knot of men who were caring for Mrs. Lin. “Can you call those company bosses over, I want to speak with them.”
“Sure,” I said, but as I turned to go over to them I heard a crunching noise and felt something underneath my shoe. Looking down, I saw a small screw on the ground and reached down to pick it up. Black, with a rounded top and perhaps a centimeter long, I thought maybe it had fallen from someone’s camera. Not wanting anyone to slip on it, I pocketed it and went over to find the MC.
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