The setting sun cast long shadows in the streets and alleyways, making everything look like it was encased in a steamer basket. Xia Lei finally found the machine shop in the advertisement at dusk. It was at the mouth of an old battered alley but faced a main road and had easy vehicle access.
Another copy of the advertisement was on the machine shop door. The old man who had put the poster up on the electric pole in the afternoon was in the shop clearing things away. He had not noticed Xia Lei peering into the shop in the doorway.
Xia Lei surveyed the condition of the machine shop quietly. He found that though the location was a little out of the way, vehicle and human traffic were still quite good. The shop had a Golden Pheasant CS6140B lathe which looked to be 60-70% new. He had used this lathe before for processing small components in one of his previous jobs – its precision and practicality were not bad. The machine shop also had a welding machine and cylinder cutter and other tools which made up a good comprehensive set-up. Based on what he could see, he could open for business with little preparation once he transferred ownership.
After observing the equipment, tools and shop location, Xia Lei made some mental notes, then walked into the machine shop.
The old man saw Xia Lei then and looked at him speculatively before asking, “You here to get some machining done, young’un?”
“No, I came to discuss something with you,” said Xia Lei. “I saw your machine shop ownership transfer advertisment and I’m interested.”
A faint smile appeared on the old man’s face. “So you want to buy the shop? All right, let’s talk. Have a seat.”
“I’m fine with standing.” Xia Lei did not want the old man to see that he wanted very much to have the shop, otherwise he would be at a disadvantage when negotiating the price.
“Sure, standing is fine too. What’s your name, young’un?” asked the old man.
“Xia Lei,” replied Xia Lei, “What is your name, uncle?”
The old man smiled. “My surname is Jiang. Just call me Uncle Jiang.”
“Uncle Jiang, why don’t you want to run the shop anymore?” asked Xia Lei.
“As you can see, I’m getting on in years. I’ll be 60 this year and I can’t move like I used to. My eyesight’s declining too so I make mistakes with the parts I process. I have no energy to keep going either – I’d like to go back to my hometown and play with my grandchild. Heh. I’ve toiled for so long it’s time to relax.” Uncle Jiang was open about his reasons to give up the shop.
“How is the business doing?” Xia Lei asked another question.
“Not too bad. After the rent, utilities and other expenses you can still make eight to ten thousand. If it weren’t for my bad eyes I wouldn’t bear to give up the shop. Young’un, if your workmanship is good I believe business will pick up.”
Xia Lei grinned and said, “Business would definitely pick up if the workmanship’s good. Uncle Jiang, let’s not beat around the bush – I want to take over ownership of your shop. How much are you letting it go for?”
Uncle Jiang stroked his chin. “Hmm, how about this…”
At that moment, a man and a woman suddenly walked into the shop and Uncle Jiang stopped talking.
Xia Lei looked at the pair. The man’s suit had crisp lines; he looked about thirty, was built solidly and had a fierce, tough countenance. The woman looked about 25 and had a mature sex appeal. She wrinkled her eyebrows as soon as she walked in, as if the environment and people had made her uncomfortable.
The suit-clad man spoke, “Who’s the boss here?”
Uncle Jiang replied, “I am. Why do you ask?”
“I have something that needs to be welded.” After he spoke, he shot a look at the sexy lady. She opened a red cloth pouch, revealing the item inside. It was a very old key made of pig iron, about seven inches long with strange patterns all over its surface. The key had been broken in two and the break looked old – there was no telling how long ago it had been broken.
“Can this be welded?” The sexy lady asked. Her voice was soft and pleasing to the ear.
“Let me see.” Uncle Jiang walked forward and stretched his hand out for the pig iron key.
The suited man suddenly grabbed Uncle Jiang’s wrist. “This is a very important item. Our request is not just a simple welding. The patterns on the key must not be damaged. The welding must also be done just right – not too much, too little, too high or too low. You understand me? Accept this job only if you have the confidence to do so.”
Uncle Jiang paused and said, “Sir, your requirements are too high. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do this. Please find someone else.”
“I’ve asked around and they all say that your workmanship is the best in this area. If you can weld this key as I’ve asked I will pay you 5,000,” said the man.
“Five… Five thousand?” Uncle Jiang was shocked.
He had to work hard day in and day out to get eight to ten thousand a month – five thousand for welding just one key? For the amount of labour needed, this job was very attractive.
“Can you do it?” The suited man took two pieces of pig iron from the woman’s briefcase. “If you can, weld these first. If your work is satisfactory, I’ll let you have the job.”
The pig iron pieces in his hands had similar twisting patterns which looked quite complicated.
Uncle Jiang examined them, thought for a bit and shook his head in the end. “The compensation you offer is very attractive but your requirements are too high. Even if my eyes were as good as they were when I was a young lad, I would not dare to accept this job – even less so now since I’m old. I cannot accept this job. Please look for someone else.”
“You aren’t even going to try! What is your shop open for then?” The sexy lady’s eyes were full of contempt.
Her words were disrespectful but Uncle Jiang bore it quietly. “I’m sorry. I’m not doing it. Ask someone else.”
The suited man was disdainful. “This shop should just close for good. Why keep it up?”
Uncle Jiang was a good man and he bore those words quietly as well.
At that moment, Xia Lei spoke. “Let me take a look.”
“Who are you?” The suited man glared at Xia Lei, alert and on guard.
Uncle Jiang interjected, “I am actually going to stop running my business. This young man is here to negotiate the takeover of my shop. I cannot do the job but maybe he can. Give it to him and see.”
“Can you do it?” The suited man did not trust Xia Lei’s workmanship. To him, Xia Lei looked like a fresh-faced 20-something year old with no real skill.
“I won’t know until I try. I can weld these two pieces first and you decide once you’ve seen my work,” said Xia Lei.
The suited man and sexy lady exchanged glances and the suited man handed the pieces to Xia Lei.
Xia Lei first inspected the patterns on the pieces and the thickness of the pig iron, then walked to the welding machine and started it up before he added a piece of pig iron to the welding clamp.
“Can you really do it? Don’t try if you can’t,” said the sexy lady. She did not believe in Xia Lei’s ability either.
Xia Lei said nothing. He put on safety goggles and started welding.
Welding pig iron was not difficult – those who could weld could do it. However, matching the patterns on the pig iron and welding them together exactly was not something everyone could do. A task of this difficulty would make even the elite master craftsman welders hesitate to say they can do it! The reason was simple – a human eye could not see the cracks and patterns under the shroud of strong light. The cracks could be welded by relying on past experience but the patterns were another matter. One had to use his own eyes to look at the patterns.
This was an impossible obstacle for normal welders but to Xia Lei it was as easy as stretching out his hand. His left eye could see through the goggles and see the patterns on the pig iron clearly!
Szzt szzt szzt, szzt szzt szzt…
A light glowed under the welding pincers and it was so bright the suited man, sexy lady and Uncle Jiang could not look at it directly. Xia Lei, with goggles muting the power of the light, stared right at the centre of it with his left eye. The chinks and patterns in the pig iron were as clear as day to him. He moved the pincers delicately and welded the pieces together.
“Can he really do it?” The sexy lady mumbled, “Looks like he’s just pretending to know what he’s doing.”
“He’d better not be duping me, or…” The suited man did not finish his sentence but his tone was decidedly unfriendly.
Xia Lei pretended not to hear the two of them. He had not volunteered to try welding for the 5,000 yuan but to test if his eye could be used effectively in his job. Furthermore, since he was going to assume ownership of the shop, he did not want the pair to leave the shop telling others it was useless.
Minutes passed and Xia Lei put down the welding pincers.
The suited man and sexy lady drew close, leaning to look at the welded pig iron piece.
The two pieces were welded together and the patterns showed no welding marks on them. Every pattern on the pig iron matched and there was a line which showed where the pieces had been welded together but the welding was smooth – not too much or too high. It was as if the pieces had been glued together!
There was no question – this was a perfect welding!
The suited man, sexy lady and Uncle Jiang were dumbstruck.
“I’m done welding. Are you satisfied?” asked Xia Lei.
The suited man snapped out of it and a smile appeared on his face. “Ho ho, the little Master has great workmanship. I’ll tell you this – I’d asked a welding engineer to do this before coming here and he had no confidence in welding it properly. I never expected to find a Master in a small machine shop like this. How about this – weld this key together for me and I will give you 1,000 more.”
Xia Lei just grinned. “Sorry, I didn’t say I would weld your key for you. I’ve only welded these two pieces of pig iron together – no charge.”
“You-” Anger flashed across the suited man’s face before he forced it under control. He was all smiles as he said, “Ho ho, little Master… why say that? We can negotiate if you aren’t satisfied with the amount. How about this – name your price.”
“You heard us just now. I’m not the boss, I’m just here to talk about taking over the shop.”
The sexy lady moved in front of Xia Lei and spoke sweetly, “Help me out on this, please little Master? If you help this big sister, you will definitely not lose out.”
Her bone-weakening soft voice and sexy body triggered Xia Lei. His eye throbbed and the sexy lady’s clothing dissipated like dew in the morning. Xia Lei was thunderstruck and small beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. This woman was very open – she wore no underwear under her clothes.
“Okay?” The sexy lady slid her hand onto Xia Lei’s shoulder and shook gently.
Xia Lei took a step backwards and said, “I can do the job but the two of you must first apologise to Uncle Jiang. You said some rather disrespectful things earlier.”
The corners of the suited man’s mouth twitched but he faced Uncle Jiang and said, “Uncle Jiang? I apologise. We were at fault earlier. Please accept our apology.”
“It… It’s, er, okay. Heh heh.” Uncle Jiang smiled as he spoke and gave Xia Lei a look of thanks.
“Hand it to me.” Xia Lei extended his hand.
The sexy lady looked to be full of anticipation as she handed the pig iron key in the red pouch to Xia Lei.
Xia Lei walked over to the welding machine once again and picked up the welding pincers and goggles. He had welded the pig iron pieces together earlier; welding this pig iron key was no different.