Nathan found himself back in front of a tiny one-room shop, The Beijing Golden Fortune, hoping unconsciously that his reunion with routine and sharing the case with his friend would jump-start some new strategies.
Without interrupting Hans from reading his paper, Nathan Troy ducked inside the small shop, grabbed a cold green tea from the cooler, and waved it toward the middle-aged woman who owned the shop. Xiao Tian smiled and nodded from behind the counter and made a small note on a pad of paper, deducting it from the 100 kuai Nathan had paid onto a tab for just such a purpose. These small relationships were what made him feel connected with the city. He ducked out again and crossed the sidewalk to the small folding stool Xiao Tian had left out. He and the German comprised her two most faithful morning customers, and knowing she had still set his stool out, even though he hadn’t been very devoted as of late, made him feel at home again.
When Nathan sat down, the German lowered his paper just enough to see over the top.
“I thought perhaps you’d been deported,” he said, no irony in his voice. It had taken a while for Nathan to realize that the absence of a smile didn’t always mean the older man wasn’t joking.
“I’ve been working on something,” he said, answering a question the German hadn’t posed. He unscrewed the top of his green tea and took a sip. He wasn’t in the mood for tea, but he needed something, even as banal as a bottle of tea, to occupy his hands. Unscrew the cap, drink, return the cap to the bottle, twirl the bottle absently. These small actions created a tangible outlet for the frustration of a mental block.
The German folded his paper in half, and half again. He laid it on one leg and ran a hand over his white moustache, smoothing the whiskers down to the tips of their curls.
“I see,” he said
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