He spent the evening with Sophie. Li Du received a call the next morning from Ma Zhi-an who told him that the Chinese appraisers from Christie's had reached Flagstaff.
Li Du drove the Hellcat and went straight to a junction to wait for the appraisers. They had fixed a venue for the meetup. Not long after, a Toyota Prado arrived.
The car stopped and three middle-aged Chinese men walked out.
The three of them seemed to be around 40 to 50 years old. They wore glasses, their clothes were neat and tidy, they had good complexions, clean and trim fingernails, and, lastly, they all possessed the air of an expert.
Li Du took the initiative by walking up to them and extended his hand. "Nice to meet all of you, the three of you are Mr. Ma, Mr. Du and Mr. Ding right?"
The three experts were namely, Ma Cheng, Du Dayuan, and Ding Xiaofeng. Ma Zhi-an had sent Li Du information on these three gentlemen, so Li could recognize them right away.
After shaking hands with all three of them, Ma Cheng, who was the eldest, laughed and exclaimed, "Nice to meet youyou are Mr. Li Du? Xiao Ma has told us about you. You're just like what he told us. Heroes are certainly the young people."
Li Du was embarrassed to answer him. I'm not a hero. I'm just a junior in the storage auction business, he thought.
Li introduced Hans to the three gentlemen. On the Toyota Prado, there was a well-built driver who was also Chinese. He looked ferocious and wore a pair of sunglassesone would get the feeling that he was not to be trifled with.
Ma Cheng introduced this muscular Chinese guy to themhe was employed by Christie's to be their bodyguard as well as driver. This was because, with their nature of work, sometimes after they appraised antiques and artifacts they might purchase something and required the necessary protection.
Ding Xiaofeng went straight to the point after all the introductions. "Xiao Li, we've come to Arizona for the autumn auction in Phoenix so we can't spend too much time here. Should we go ahead and appraise your famille rose porcelain?"
"No problem," said Li Du. "But since it's already lunch, why don't we eat first?"
Ding Xiaofeng waved his hand and said, "There's no need to"
Ma Cheng interrupted, laughing as he said, "It's fine, Mr. Ding, don't reject the lunch offer. You have a problem with your social skills! There's no need to reject a meal with your fellow countrymen."
Ding Xiaofeng rubbed his nose, looking embarrassed. "Okay then, let's have a fast meal. Xiao Li, don't mind what I said earlierit was mainly because we have other places to go as well."
"It's alright, Mr. Ding," replied Li Du quickly. "Let's have lunch together first. We can start work after the meal. I want to seek your expert advice in certain topics as well."
"Okay," agreed Ma Cheng, "let's have our meal first. But I want to let you know, we don't want a heavy meal. Just some fast food will do."
Du Dayuan, who had remained quiet this whole time, concurred with Ma Cheng. "Yes, I like this arrangement. We can have our fill and save some time too."
Hans had made reservations at The Golden Aquitaine. When the three of them saw the style of the restaurant, they shook their heads adamantly. They said fast food was all right for them.
"How can I let all of you eat fast food?" said Li Du with a bitter smile. "Brother Ma's going to give me a lashing out if he hears about this."
These people were here to help him ascertain the value of his items. It was only right that he wanted to treat them to a nice meal.
"He won't, we'll lash out at him first," said Ma Cheng, whose eyes were wide open in that instant. "That Xiao Ma is so unlike our fellow countrymen. After he's stayed here in America, he's forgotten the good habit of thriftiness that our ancestors preached."
Hans came up to help with the persuasion and said, "We've already booked this restaurant, why not just eat here? The beef here is delicious."
Ma Cheng declined the offer. He turned to Li Du and said in a sincere tone, "Xiao Li, I don't know what Xiao Ma said to you. But in our opinion, we're just here to help with a small matter. Fellow countrymen helping each other out.
"Therefore, if you need to spend so much money because of us, we'd rather we didn't come here in the first place. You can tell us the truthare you the son of a super wealthy Chinese family?"
"I'm not, but " Li Du admitted reluctantly for he knew Ma Cheng was using this as an excuse to reject his offer of having a good meal at the nice restaurant.
"Okay that settles it," said Ma Cheng, waving his hand. "We'll have fast food then. What? Treating us to fast food makes you feel ashamed?"
"It's not that," laughed Li Du. "I just thought that it was impolite of me to do that."
"Well, being polite doesn't mean you have to treat us to a meal now," said Ma Cheng. "We're not old fogeys. Later, when we appraise your goods and find them to be authenticwhich will help you make a lot of moneymake sure to invite us for a feast, alright?"
Li Du answered in a forthright manner, "No problem."
Their way of handling things made Li Du very comfortable with them. However, at the same time, he felt a little bad about it as well.
The six of them went to a Chinese restaurant. When the three of them alighted from their car, Du Dayuan was holding a small briefcase which he had handcuffed to his wrist.
Without waiting for Li Du to inquire, Ma Cheng explained, "There's some refined ruby relics inside that we brought from Phoenix. We need to carry them with us at all times to ensure that they're absolutely safe."
As this involved their privacy, Li Du did not ask for any other information, but began to place their order for lunch.
At the Chinese restaurant, the three men were generous and shared with Li Du a great deal of information about their knowledge on antiques, art, auctions, and so forththey answered anything Li Du asked them about.
Li's knowledge of the antiques and relics was basically limited to collectibles and rosewood. He talked about the rosewood that he had gotten recently and the three of them were very interested in that. They sighed repeatedly when he told them he had already sold it.
"If only you waited longer," sighed Du Dayuan. "Mr. Ding is a master in this field. He knows a lot of wealthy people who love rosewoodhe could have definitely sold them at a better price!"
"Time didn't work our way," said Ding Xiaofeng, who shook his head regretfully. "Hopefully there's another chance to cooperate with Xiao Li next time."
"Oh right, since we're talking about rosewood," said Du Dayuan, "You've gotten some rosewood as welljust recently, right?"
Ding Xiaofeng carefully revealed a string of brownish-red beads on his wrist. "How did you know? This is made using the authentic fragrant rosewood. The previous owner kept it for 20 years until he let go of it not long agohe was in urgent need of money. I'm just lucky to have been able to buy it."
Li Du asked, "How much did you spend?"
"I got to know about this through a friend," replied Ding Xiaofeng, "so the price was cheaper than normal. I spent 15,000 dollars."
Li Du was stunned by the amount. "So costly?"
"This price is costly?" exclaimed Ding. "This is the authentic fragrant rosewood of many years of age; you look closely at the patterns, the quality and the feel of the beads. If not for my friend, I might have paid another 2,000 dollars more!"
Ma Cheng asked, "Xiao Li, how much did you sell your rosewood for?"
"I better not say it," smiled Li Du somewhat bitterly. "The quality of the rosewood I got was not as good, so the price was lower."
Ding Xiaofeng said, "Who did you sell it to? Wright Chen, right? I know that boy, he doesn't have a good reputation amongst our circle of fellow countrymen. Xiao Li, in the future, don't mix with him..."
"Alright, you're the most knowledgeable, okay?" said a frowning Ma Cheng. "Let's tuck in, let's talk about rosewood, not our countrymen's characters."
Ding Xiaofeng smiled, "I'm just worried that Xiao Li might be fooled by others."
Du Dayuan agreed with Ma Cheng and said, "Mr. Ding, there's a saying that goes like this by our ancestors: 'A modest man frequently ponders over his mistakes, and the mouth should not be used to gossip about others.'"
Ding Xiaofeng nodded his head a few times. "You're right, let's talk about rosewood and porcelain!"
After lunch, Li Du took them to Pine Tree Tops.
He had taken the famille rose porcelain home. The cabin was in such a mess that he felt it was not a suitable place to host guests. Moreover, he wanted to let the three of them help him appraise the value of the Gaddafi dagger and confirm its identity.