The Wind’s Voice

Translated by: 
Brian Holton


Waiting, waiting, waiting,

Like a hen on a griddle.



A little earlier that afternoon, Commander Zhang’s car had driven up to the guest house, turned around a couple of times and headed, not for the west wing, but for the east one. It stopped, and the Commander came bustling round to open the rear door and obsequiously bow someone out.

This someone was dressed in a long, old-fashioned scholar’s gown, its broad flapping sleeves turned back to show their contrasting silk lining, which gave him an antique, even a classical, look. He was in his thirties, with a small head, pale skin, a likeable face, and something indefinably feminine about his every movement. Commander Zhang was old enough to be his father, yet he deferred to this man. And though he was out of uniform, the little tuft of a moustache on his upper lip could not disguise who and what he really was – he was a Jap.

He was indeed Japanese, and his name was Koehara Ryusen. Unlike most of the other Japanese in China, he had grown up in the Japanese settlement in Shanghai, and after a long time in intelligence work he had no difficulty with Chinese: he could even understand pretty well the famously obscure dialects of Shanghai and its hinterland. He had been translator to General Matsui Iwane, commander in chief of the Imperial Japanese Army’s Shanghai Expeditionary Force. A year before he had taken on the job of head of covert operations training; he was also in charge of counter-intelligence in eastern China. As such, he was not only one of the Black Hands who willingly did General Matsui’s bidding, he was also responsible for the covert operations run by the outfit Chief Wang Tianxiang worked for. He had just come back from Shanghai with handwritten orders from General Matsui to take charge of this vital case.

From upstairs, Wang saw his new boss arrive, and rushed down to wait for him at the door. They exchanged greetings, and Koehara asked, ‘Why keep them here? It looks to me as if anyone could come and go just as they please.’ The modesty, the goodwill, the kind and gentle voice didn’t disguise the fact that his intention had been reproof, nor was it the tone that might have been expected from an officer of the invading army.

Commander Zhang rushed to reply. ‘Chief Wang said it would draw the snakes from their holes.’

To which Wang added, ‘That’s right, Commandant Koehara. I chose this place with the idea of entrapping their comrades: it’s one big net.’ He swept out his arms as though to encompass half of the villa’s grounds.

Koehara watched him, but said nothing.

‘I felt that if we confined them too tightly, so no one at all could come or go,’ Wang explained, ‘we’d lose the chance of arresting more Reds.
I deliberately left one end of the net open so they’d feel there was a loophole, if they were prepared to take the chance and use it. If someone tries to make contact at any time, openly or secretly, we’ve got them covered. We have listening devices in all their rooms and can hear everything they say; if they go out to eat, or for anything else, my people will tail them.
I put men in the canteen, too. The moment one of them tries to leave the building, they’ll be watched by at least two people. Absolutely no problem.’

Commander Zhang was grovelling: ‘No need to worry, Commandant Koehara. “A strong general has nothing but strong soldiers,” as they say. Every soldier at your command is a professional.’

Koehara spoke in an official tone of voice. ‘Commander Zhang, Chief Wang is one of your people, isn’t he? So why is he “at my command”?’

Zhang’s intention may have been to toady up to Koehara, but the Jap had turned the tables on him, and Zhang could only simper, and say, ‘We’re all loyal Japanese Imperial Army men here – I didn’t mean to imply anything.’

Wang came closer, and spoke with some warmth. ‘Yes, yes, our Commander Zhang is a real Imperial Army loyalist.’

Zhang had tried to suck up to the other two, but neither man was actually happy to hear that kind of thing.

By this time they were at the door.


The east wing was clearly higher than the west wing, not only because that side of the hill was higher, but also because there were three steps up to it. Side on, the two wings looked identical: both faced south, both were aligned east-west. Both were two and a half storeys high, with red roofs and white walls with through-bands and cinctures of grey tile. The only difference was that there was a garage on one side of the east wing.

Though the two wings were similar from the outside, inside they were different as Heaven and Earth. It seemed as though the owner had run into some unforeseen financial problems during the construction, hadn’t been able to afford to make both wings equally elegant and reduced the size of the west wing, finishing the thing off with little care.

But the truth – according to those involved in the building and running of Ermine House – was that work had only begun on the east wing when the west wing was nearly complete. The reason for that was a chance remark by a Fengshui master. A northerner passing through Hangzhou, the master had happened, during the course of his stroll around West Lake, to walk into the building site that would become Ermine House. The west wing had been topped out and they were in the middle of doing the fittings and fixtures, but there was enough in place to let him see dragon and phoenix energies in play through the whole area. As though under some strange influence, the master walked three times around the site, surveying it in meticulous detail with his geomantic compass and, before leaving, he uttered these words: ‘Both dragon and phoenix, both good luck and bad: how the water of ill fortune babbles as it enters from the east!’


The owner of Ermine House heard about this, and pressed as many people as he could into scouring the city for this Fengshui master, whose diagnosis had been so profound and so mysterious. Though it seemed as if they were looking for a needle in a haystack, the man was in fact found – and that, too, smacked more than a little of second sight. The owner lavished the master with hospitality, and consulted him at length over a sumptuous banquet in Lou Wai Lou, the finest of Hangzhou’s famous restaurants. He finally agreed to do another survey. When it was done, he planted himself on the site of what was to become the east wing, and sat there all night listening to the wind and watching the dark turn to dawn. The verdict was that the owner should build another wing there to neutralize the calamity that would otherwise surely come from the east. The wing had to be tall enough to block the force of that energy, which was why the east wing stood on higher ground and was also a taller structure. For the same reason, its foundations couldn’t be shallow, so from the side the two wings were very different. And since its function was to block negative energy, the size of the rooms was of no importance; the interior was perfectly ordinary, barely functional, and served little purpose.

That was the real story.

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