“How can I help?” the man inquired in a soft-spoken tone, surprisingly unbusinesslike.
“Director Luo, this is the brave Xiao Chen who helped the police capture the fugitive.” Uncle Xu pulled Chen Ge to his side. “He’s here to get an update about the thing I reported to you earlier. He wishes to rent the unused underground parking lot.”
“I understand. Leave us be, you can go busy yourself with your work.” Director Luo signaled for Uncle Xu to leave.
Director Luo had Chen Ge sit on the sofa while he poured two cups of tea. “I’ve been informed you wish to rent the underground parking lot. Do you mind telling me why you plan to do that?”
“I wish to expand the Haunted House. I want to build an underground maze inside the parking lot.”
“An underground maze. That’s not a bad idea, but do you have the budget and ability to handle something of that scale? The rental for the space will be small in comparison to the finances you need to set up the place.” Director Luo leaned against the couch, his eyes colored with lethargy and tiredness. “I am not against your idea, and I can rent you the place, but before that, I need to ask you a few questions.”
Even though he had gotten a verbal agreement from Director Luo, the man had not yet mentioned the rental amount, so Chen Ge was still nervous. “Ask away.”
“You’re the owner of a Haunted House, so you know better than I do how high the early investment in a Haunted House is. Also, different from hotels or motels, where you can still sell or reuse the tables, chairs, and utensils, if your Haunted House fails, what are you going to do with the spooky props and items?”
Director Luo did raise a valid concern, something that Chen Ge had not even considered before.
“Even if you manage to do a good job reviving the Haunted House, how are you going to solve the issue of returning customers? A Haunted House is a one-time exhaustion product. There might be some initial hype, but it’ll eventually run out because the number of your potential customers is only so big. You’re going to invest greatly into this, are you confident you’ll even earn back your capital?
“One final question, by building your Haunted House underground, how are you going to promote it? Your customer’s number is highly dependent on the park’s visitor number. How is your Haunted House going to survive when the day comes for the park to close?”
Chen Ge knew that Director Luo was stopping him out of kindness. In fact, he knew that those who advised him against investing in the Haunted House were only looking out for him. They had his best interests at heart.
Director Luo’s three questions revolved around Chen Ge’s mind. The first two questions were easily solved with the presence of the black phone, so Chen Ge’s real conundrum was the last question. If New Century Park closed, naturally, his Haunted House would close, too.
Moving to another place would be difficult, just the number of documents would cause Chen Ge enormous headaches. Furthermore, his budget was limited; to find another location to fit the black phone’s scenarios would be impossible.
“Have you seriously considered these three questions?” Director Luo seemed to anticipate Chen Ge’s answer. “Why don’t you go back for now? We mustn’t jump into important decision without detailed research and thorough contemplation.”
Chen Ge sat unmoved on the couch. He turned to look at Director Luo and asked directly, “Is the park really going to close soon?”
Director Luo did not confirm or deny, but the tiredness in his eyes deepened. “If I say the park is really closing soon, will you insist on renting the underground parking lot?”
“I will.” Chen Ge’s answer surprised Director Luo. “Director Luo, I already have the solution for your first and second questions. And your third question is not valid.”
There was fire dancing in Chen Ge’s eyes. The young man powered on fearlessly. “My Haunted House has never relied on anyone else before, and my visitor number will not be entirely dependent on the park. Give me time, and I will not only attract countless visitors to the Haunted House, I will also use it to revive the entire park! Renting the underground parking lot is just the first plan. My plan is to build the world’s first unique theme park that is based on horror and terror.”
After he finished what he had to say, Chen Ge finally remembered Uncle Xu’s advice—the less you say, the less likely you’ll make a mistake.
He looked at Director Luo with uncertainty. He regretted telling him everything that was inside his heart.
After listening to Chen Ge, Director Luo put down his cup, and the tiredness in his eyes had disappeared. After a moment’s silence, he suddenly laughed and said, “You remind me too much of myself when I was young.”
He stood up and walked to open the curtain. The whole park was within view from the office.
“I’m the most devastated and most unwilling for the closing of New Century Park.” He opened the window and allowed the wind to ruffle his peppered hair. “This park means the world to me. If possible, I wish for it to stay open forever.”
Director Luo turned to smile at Chen Ge. His smile was complicated; it was a calm smile of a man who had seen the world rise and fall, one who had surrendered to the vagaries of fate. “I’ve heard about your story. After your parents’ disappearance, you quit your day job to take over their Haunted House. In a way, our stories are very similar, but you are luckier than I am.”
He picked up a picture frame from the table. It was the only picture frame in the room. It had the picture of a pair of father and daughter. The father was of average height and had a gentle demean our. The girl in his arms was cute, but her hands were twisted at a painful angle, and there seemed to be no life in her eyes.
“This is my daughter. She suffered from serious aphasia and required a special device to even stand upright. God was harsh on her, but she was a strong little girl who loved to smile, not only to me but to the world.” Director Luo turned to look at the sky outside the window. “But the world didn’t smile back at her. I used to take my daughter to the garden for walks, but none of the kids wanted to play with her. When she turned to look at me helplessly, I knew that she was afraid, afraid that she had done something wrong and that was why she was being isolated. I didn’t know how to console her, so we only took her out during the rainy days so that she wouldn’t have to face the unfeeling crowd. Perhaps it was then that the thought to build my daughter her very own theme park appeared in my mind.
“Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the day the park was open.” Putting down the frame, Director Luo’s eyes were still surprisingly calm. “Many people don’t understand why I would risk bankruptcy to keep an outdated theme park alive, but I believe perhaps you do.”
“I do.” Chen Ge had already stood up earlier. He had not expected that Director Luo would reveal such intimate information to him.
“Everyone is trying to find a way out, but you’re different. You’ve surprised me.” After closing the window, Director Luo pulled out a document from his drawer. “Actually, when Uncle Xu came to me with your request, I had already approved it. Take it. Come to me if you need any help, but remember, you only have two to three months left.”