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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-seven THE HORROR OF LI HONG

by
CHRISTOPHER BROOKS
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I

am the chronicler of criminal trials and acts for my district in my metropolis. I record the records of records, catalog the catalogs of proceedings, review the testimony and the verdicts of trials, file reports, and manage an annual megafile of the outcomes of criminal prosecutions. I am not a witness, an attorney, clerk, police officer, examiner, jurist, or bailiff. My life is simpler than any of those lives. I receive a stipend from the court and from local newspapers. I record the matters that lead to criminal charges being filed against someone for committing a crime and compose an annal. I do so to keep a thorough record for those who wish to possess, or pay, for one. I make certain that some things are not forgotten. In many ways, I am a simple biographer, a bard of sorts who tells someone else’s tale, even the tale of many, as mine is not worth telling. In that way, I am an author, a writer of non-fiction and fiction at the same time, for who can say what truth emerges in the halls of jurisprudence?



I have recorded cases of every sort, though many cases are settled by plea deals and guilty pleas, dropped charges and withdrawn motions, and some by the death of the plaintiff or the defendant. Justice is handled departmentally and piecemeal. Guilt and innocence are negotiable according to the sentence offered or incentives dangled. I do not record such negotiations, except in one case, and even in that case I did so only by reconstructing the record of legal proceedings after the fact. That is, I became involved with one defendant’s case as his name recurred in criminal court allegations, the charges against him being of so unusual, even so macabre in nature that my mind—the mind of a record-keeper—was compelled to follow his legal and criminal career. I am not a creative person by trade, nor do I engage in flights of imagination. What I will report in this narrative is the legal and jurisdictional reputation of Li Hong, a man whom I saw only twice. I have reconstructed that reputation, that career, as follows. I find that I could not reconstruct the man.



Li Hong was born in Hong Kong, the child of a practicing and licensed sorceress and a British physicist whose union defied all expectations. This is a perspective gleaned from university records of the groom—notes written by colleagues in a yearbook. Records show Hong’s birth occurring in 1965 and offer no more about his parents than their professions. They were rarely seen. Hong next appears in 1988, when he is granted a street entertainer’s license to perform magic tricks and feats of prestidigitation. Hong becomes extremely popular at this time, drawing large crowds who are impressed with his ability to hypnotize and identify secret thoughts of many of his onlookers. His license is revoked in 1990 after numerous onlookers reported that while they were willingly compensating Hong for his show, they felt somehow compelled to provide a gratuity of surprising generosity, some even reporting that they emptied their purses or wallets of all funds. Asked if Hong had in anyway solicited or demanded this excessive compensation, all of the plaintiffs answered no. Hong insisted that he performed for the joy of sharing his skill. Police examined a number of photos taken of Hong’s performance and his booth. They examined as well some video taken by tourists. One phrase was written in Chinese on the booth: geng duo mofa is roughly the wording I can make out. It translates to “more magic.” Although police could not determine that Hong had violated any laws, they did cite the number of complaints as being “out of keeping” with the expectations of street performers and made permanent the revocation of his license. He was “bad for business” the report indicated. This was related to Li Hong at the once-weekly meeting of the local court. He accepted the finding, apologized for any confusion, and disappears from the criminal history of Hong Kong in both Chinese and British Territorial records.



Hong next appears, as far as my records go, in Melbourne Australia in 1990, where he has established a reputation as an entertainer—magic again—in a district of that city that many tourists avoid and where drugs, prostitution, and pornography has a good foothold. Hong is reported as being comfortable here, as the rent is cheap. His performances merit reviews in local arts magazines. Tourists are willing to come to the marginal part of town to see Hong’s show. Much of his performance involves impressive mind reading. The owner of the business cited one evening when Hong cited the names of all 72 persons sitting in the audience, though none had never seen him perform before that night in any venue. The owner’s other reports (which helped me immensely) state that Hong was speaking in the exact voices of distant loved ones of some audience members, accents exactly rendered. All of this was written off as fine showmanship. He was a man of many voices. He could, after all, have a source at the hotel desk or the ticket office scanning names of off credit cards. Phones could have been tapped and voices recorded. Hong would not name his sources or reveal his methods because, he claimed, of the code of magicians. He said that some rivals would pay thousands for his secrets. He personified “more magic.” This was complicated by an entertainment beat writer, or so he claimed, who purchased a ticket with cash and checked in to the hotel with an assumed name. Hong called him by his childhood nickname, a name the writer had not told anyone in ten years. He did so after they shook hands.



But late in his first season, near his final performances, one show bordered on the macabre. Unsubstantiated reports describe Hong sitting in his chair on the stage and slowly transforming into the recently deceased husband of one of the audience members. There was no smoke, vapor, or fog; no lights dimmed or changed colors. A VHS tape, partly obscured, was submitted as evidence. Hong simply changed into Ezra Miller, the dead husband of Dottie Miller, and accused her from the stage of infidelity. Here the evidence, as used in a subsequent case, becomes odd, as I have seen. When he stood up and accosted her, the video verifies that the person on the stage was five-foot-seven inches tall. The stool, the shadows cast on the stage floor and back wall by two different stage lights, and the height of the microphone were eventually measured by specialists in video imaging and distance ranging programs at Melbourne University. Hong, in every document attainable, including passports, driver’s licenses and three different police reports, is five-foot-eleven inches tall. Mrs. Miller was so upset, visibly disheveled, and obviously shamed by the accusation that she had to be taken to an emergency room and treated for shock. That medical visit initiated a police investigation. When the Melbourne police arrived, Hong was Hong and the show was over. Audience members, almost to a man or woman, could not clearly remember what they had seen. Their common phrasing included “visual trick” and “shifting optics” and the like, but none said Hong had fully transformed. “It must have been a projected image,” one audience member said. When audience members asked how long the performance had lasted, all of them indicated it was a short show, a brief performance, although an hour had transpired. The videotape was on for seventeen minutes, then apparently ran out of room, just as “Ezra Miller” stood up, though the owner claimed he’d put in a new one-hour tape and set his recording time on long play. Mrs. Miller maintained that she saw her husband “plain as day.” Her companion, the man with whom she was sitting at Hong’s performance, later admitted that he was Dottie Miller’s boyfriend and had been so for six months before Ezra Miller died. He said he was reading a tour guide most of the performance, not being a fan of magic. No charges were filed as no statutes had been violated. Hong was questioned and released, having been very cooperative, but a file was opened on him because of the hospital visit and because he seemed to know things that he should not know, the latter being police gut instinct and not typical legal procedure. The measuring of shadows and of relative heights stayed in a file for years. It was the rumor of this event, this metamorphosis, that first caught my attention.



From time to time over the next five years, reports would come from the early World Wide Web of Hong engaging in transmutation (his word) on a stage in front of an increasingly technologically astute audience. It has been categorized as anecdotal and not available as evidence, but I began to keep everything concerning Hong. One in-house security camera at an entertainment parlor in Brussels depicted Hong engaging a morbidly sad man in his audience. The man had lost his sixteen-year-old son two months earlier and was travelling to help move forward. He said he wanted more than anything to tell his boy that he loved him. Hong can be heard on the tape saying, “This will take some time, but I will give you what you want.” The sound disappears after that, but the image clearly show Hong transmute into a blonde 140-poundish boy and come sit next to the heartbroken man. The image depicts the man talking to the boy, taking his hand, and kneeling in front of him. Then, two seconds later, Hong is on his stool on the stage and the show is over. The father is still kneeling. All of the audience members—every one of them—assert that they saw Hong walk over to the man, not a boy. The video itself has deteriorated to such poor quality that one cannot be certain of its content.



In Paris, Hong allegedly turned into a waiter from the establishment in which he was appearing, a waiter who was in jail for embezzling. Hong had overheard the owner saying that he wondered what the thief thinks now, now that he’s in jail. Hong slowly transformed into the absent waiter and revealed that the owner was hiding significant profits and raiding the establishment’s health fund. Employees who sued the owner called the incarcerated waiter as witness. He, of course, was elsewhere, but the illicit funds were found.



As I read these reports, I wondered if this “Hong” was not some urban legend formed from a Robin Hood myth, a golem come to correct wrongs, or even an avenging angel. He seemed to be a righteous agent in these cases. But the Hong that appeared in London in 1995 was not so benevolent. The most compelling criminal file begins here.



In London in 1995, Hong opened an Arena of the Indeterminate in a small Covent Garden playhouse. He started with a simple display in which he would ask audience members to let him touch just the corner or edge of their mobile phones, which were becoming popular then. He would walk among the tables closest to the stage, put one finger—often his pinkie, he said, “for show”—on the available mobile phone and tell the owner almost everything about them. He would point to someone whose phone he had touched earlier and say, “Get that! It’s your daughter” and one second later the phone would ring—the daughter of the recipient of the call. Sometimes he would reveal his mixed ethnicity background—half Chinese, half British—and for a few seconds on stage he would appear divided down the middle vertically, his left side Asian, his right European. Before the eyes could focus—and many testimonies used that term—he’d be himself again, only to repeat the appearance, as if in flux, a few minutes later. On April 21, one of the newer mobile phones was in the audience. Hong spotted it and asked, “is that the Simon Personal Communicator, jointly marketed by IBM and BellSouth?” in a voice exactly like the one in the commercial which marketed that product. Everyone apparently, according to witness statements, was in awe, as if the commercial speaker were there. And in a stunning display, Hong sung the first verse of Happy Birthday and, for a second, maybe a second and a half, Queen Elizabeth II stood on stage and started to wave her hand. The audience was stunned. Hong reappeared and asked, “Would you like to say hello to the Queen?” and had the audience excited, but then the Simon Communicator went off--the very phone he had drawn attention to earlier. It wasn’t that it rang, witnesses reported. It was the fact that the phone’s owner took the call in the middle of Hong’s performance. Hong seemed to forget everything and stare, relentlessly stare at the owner, who, aware he was causing a distraction, mouthed “I’m sorry” at Hong but did not end the call. Hong apparently said—and this is in the witness reports— “You are sorry. Go take that call outside.” The witness reports attest to the sound of the phone owner talking, the door opening, and the screeching of tires.



“That magician sent that poor man to his death,” was the first statement taken down by London police when they arrived. More than one audience member supported that claim. Two witnesses claimed Hong watched as the phone owner stepped off the curb into traffic –but neither witness could see out the door from their seats. Of course, legally speaking, nothing came of this. Mind control, the power of suggestion, immanent will, hypnosis—nothing could be legally verified and so no charges stood. An entertainer expelled an unruly patron. Hong was kept in police custody less than two hours. I gleaned this record, one of many, out of my own curiosity and sense of the unusual. Some members of the audience stated that they sensed something malicious or felt the presence of something insidious at the moment Hong focused on the interruptive guest. That had no legal standing. Hong now had a brief file initiated on his behavior, like a few thousand people in London. His response was to present a new offering, The Indecipherable.



I should mention that Hong then moved into the Soho district and opened, on January 1, 1996, a magic emporium there, but was rarely seen in the shop. Only twice in six months was a Hong sighting noted in the shop’s record or captured on an ATM camera across the street. Hired clerks sold sundry magic paraphernalia, herbs for spells, and occasional images, when they became available, of Hong in a transmuted phase. Two of those photographs were eventually entered into evidence in a later criminal proceeding, so I had the opportunity (I was going to say fortune but thought better of it) to see these. One depicted Hong, or something of Hong, and a hydrocephalic albino he claimed to have seen in Australia. The image is simply bizarre, even disturbing. One can see Hong’s features in mid-transformation, his mouth open, his capped teeth, his pink gums becoming a grotesque, red-gummed, blanched-tooth mouth at mid-photo. His tan skin is in the act of becoming whiteish in that photograph. His normal skull is enlarged even as one studies the image. Photography experts who testified to the veracity of the images adamantly stated that they could not find any alteration to the film, no manipulation of the image. They had the original camera and roll, as a Hong employee had taken it at Hong’s insistence. In their opinion, the photograph was genuine.



The other photo was taken after Hong had discussed with his audience how all people are a blend of male and female. He called upon the androgyne within himself and, with more the 100 people in the audience, morphed into a female version of Li Hong. This photo as well is taken at mid-transmutation, displaying hair of different lengths emerging from Hong’s skull, his lips becoming fuller, softer, and his cheeks being simultaneously rosy and rugged. The left side of the photo in essentially male, the right side essentially female, but the center is something other. This photograph as well was declared to be genuine. Both images were later introduced as evidence to suggest that Li Hong could change his appearance at will and had done so in criminal activities. Of course, if anyone who wasn’t there were to see these photos, wouldn’t they disbelieve the content? Or was it more magic?



This charge against Hong—the possibility that a man could change his appearance in every physical facet including race and gender—eventually found its way into the halls of justice. I have the paperwork, the grand jury indictment, the search warrants, the witness lists, and the rest. The initial reports make the most fascinating reading, because we live in a world of innuendo,fake news, rendition, and varied account. Yet even narratives as different as these might be still share the commonality of who and what. It is always Hong and always macabre. Some months into the success of The Indecipherable another alleged incident of Hong’s anger made the police record.



Hong’s public performances were twice weekly, Tuesday and Friday, beginning variably but always at dusk. There is no barrier between Hong and his audience, and that audience is softly top-lighted so that Hong can see virtually any member of the viewing body. The small theater was capped at 110 seats to afford a maximum viewing experience. Hong’s indecipherable projection that night was the youth inside us all. He’d charmed the audience with a recital of their own anecdotes about how this 55 year-old-man from Sussex still dances like he’s 25 again, while that 34-year-old woman is still thinking about a soccer goal she gave up when she was 15. “Oh, to be young again,” Hong had sighed, then gone to his stool, seated himself, and began to concentrate. Audience members seated closest to the stage recounted how his skin had pinkened somewhat, his hair thickened just a bit, his eyes lost some of the red therein. Even viewers from middle tables saw the cheek bones rise somehow, the lips grow a bit fuller. All who saw were transfixed, and all seemed to think that this transformation was painful for Hong, as if his point was that there is no going home, or at least no going back.



And suddenly a young woman started screaming, began destroying the table setting, and proceeded to destroy the experience for everyone. Apparently she’d seen her ex- boyfriend sitting with his new lady friend. The house technician didn’t know what was going on so he pushed the lights to full. On stage, it seemed that the “younger Hong” suffered excruciating pain in reintegrating with Hong. In the heightened lighting, the audience could see Hong’s clenched fists—sometimes two, sometimes, for a microsecond, four--, his double gnashing jaw, two and sometimes four eyes trying to merge. And a moan came from Hong’s throat, one tenor, one a half-octave higher, of pure agony. The technician then shut off the stage lights and Hong disappeared. A clearly disturbed audience filed out, except for the upset young woman, who was being attended to by the ticket salesgirl. After a few minutes, the distraught young woman regained enough composure to stand, left some extra money for the staff, and exited. Hong could not be found backstage or in any dressing room.



All of this would have been forgotten, come to naught, and I would have little to relate except for the report of a pedestrian hit by a train later that night. That happens from time to time in London, where numerous railway stations serve different parts of the city. What makes this report significant is that the dead pedestrian was the young woman from Hong’s theater. Police reports indicated she was hit by a train leaving Marylebone Station, about a mile from Hong’s Covent Garden theater. She didn’t live that way. That station was the closest to Hong’s theater. An investigation into her death revealed that she had climbed a gate to get to the tracks and ignored the shouts of numerous persons seeking to warn her of an oncoming train. She had disappeared from the sightline of those at Marylebone Station altogether, but the engineer reported that as the train approached, the woman laid her head on the track and never moved. Her eyes were staring at the engine. Someone, the engineer thought, was standing nearby, pointing at the track. Hong was put in a line-up, but the engineer recognized no one. The death was ruled a suicide, the events at Hong’s theater provided as evidence of a distraught woman who could not bear to see her man with another woman. This makes sense, doesn’t it? But it also marked the second time that someone who had disrupted a Hong performance had died in an “accident” shortly thereafter. Coincidences to a journalist are possibilities; to a conspiracy theorist, proof; to a political spin doctor, opportunity; but to a chronicler such as myself, invitational ambiguity. I see the routine of criminal activity on a daily basis, meaning I see routine crimes by routine killers: jilted spouses, cheated partners, desperate addicts, racists, rapists, and radical jihadists. How often does one hear that a man who was transmuting himself into a younger version killed a disruptive guest?



If it came to nothing, so what? But, really, some of Hong’s alleged acts were outside the realm of critical categorization. Hong was outside categorization. In my twenty-eight years of chronicling, this was unique. I did something I never did. In my spare time, using the new computer search devices, I traced Hong’s record. It was sparse. A Hong Li did a few shows in Johannesburg before Paris. This was 1993, as Apartheid was being phased out and a new system of elective government was on the cusp. After a few nights of successful identification demonstrations, memory invasions, and dialogue startlers, Hong Li started his ultimate show in South Africa with a good-natured discussion of Apartheid. He appealed to his own complexion—Asian-European—that his was the perspective of an outsider. The very white audience applauded. But as he performed sleight-of-hand magic and moved about the stage, members of the audience swear that he slowly turned darker, and that by show’s end, as one witness put it, “he looked like the came straight from Soweto.” Audience members did not know what to think. Some got up and left, looking back at the stage as if to verify what was there, feeling they’d been imposed upon. But after the lights dimmed to signify the closing of the show, Li Hong was standing there as Asian-European as before. Most of the audience clapped because they didn’t know what else to do: had it all been part of the show? One of those who angrily left filed a complaint, which I eventually obtained.



I collected these “reports,” “summaries,” and “anecdotes” to attempt to construct, . . . what? How do I describe a being that had minimal family history, multiple identities, minimal photographic records, transformative abilities, and exists only in the reactions that he elicits from others? I searched for Hong’s passport picture only to find that a fire had destroyed some 20 original passport dossiers in Hong Kong, one being his. His emporium in Soho possesses no pictures of the owner. The ATM camera across the street always caught Hong entering and never leaving—that is, it recorded his back, not his front side. Then another report came in, this one from Milan: a man who’d snapped a picture of Hong by crawling over a transom in Hong’s dressing room had died, electrocuted by the exposed wire in a nearby ceiling fan. His camera broke when dropped and somehow exposed the film inside. I searched the Milan papers for a picture of Hong, but none appeared. A criminal investigation ensued, a grand jury charged, much of the above-mentioned evidence submitted, but quickly dismissed—the photographer was clearly trespassing. For some reason he wanted a picture of Li Hong. Why? Did someone else suspect? What was I to make of this accidental death?



In my position I make the acquaintance of various members of the legal community. Occasionally I help one out by replacing their lost or misplaced files from my own chronicled records. In return, I sometimes ask for a favor—an inquiry into the status of a case, the success record of a particular prosecutor, or perhaps the verdict of a sealed case. One local attorney owed me a favor. I asked him to put one of his more astute clerks on the case of the parentage of Li Hong, providing enough information to initiate the search. As mentioned before, I never do this, but I did it in his case.



A month later, sitting in my office at two minutes before closing, I was irritated by a knock on my door. I do things by phone, letter, and sometimes electronic mail. The man at the door identified himself as an investigator, one hired by the local attorney who was returning my favor. He asked for 15 minutes of my time, the subject being Li Hong. Of course, I made time. “We have an office in Hong Kong,” the investigator said. “Good people there. They know their way around.” He was emptying a large document envelope on my desk. The cover sheet read Li Hong Parentage Inquiry and opened with Hong’s birthdate, home address of his birth, including city, and three social security numbers associated with “Li Hong.” The investigator told me, “There are no official records of either of Hong’s parents. A yearbook and gazetteer mention his father at university. No degree could be found. What we do have is a narrative from the landlord, now 87, who rented the house where Hong was raised and seen, from time to time, coming and going from that house.” The narrative of the landlord revealed that the lease was negotiated by mail and phone in January 1965 and that he had the signature of a British male, 30ish, as the lessee. The lease was signed in the landlord’s presence the day after his cataract surgery, requiring that he wear a patch over the repaired eye and stay in reduced light. He never got a “really good look” (his words) at this male tenant. The signature seemed to say Lehond.



The report continued that the landlord, who lived next door to his new tenant family, occasionally saw a “female figure” (his words) come and go but never accompanied by the male. He asserts that he never heard any conversation, any arguments, any exchange of words at all. Although the lessee had indicated that two persons would inhabit the dwelling, the landlord never saw two people at once; he saw two different people at different times. He added that he was surprised to have returned from a visit to his sister in Great Britain to find that an infant was now dwelling next door. His inquiry by letter as to whether his tenants might need any baby supplies (he had some that had been abandoned by other tenants) went unanswered. Only once did he reach any sense of a nuclear family. He was returning from the market when he saw a tallish female figure leaving his front door and entering the rental house. His daughter told him that the “new mother from next door dropped off the rent.” When the landlord sought her description, his daughter confessed that she was watching her favorite soap opera and had glanced up just long enough for a glimpse and to say, “leave it on the table.”



The investigator looked at me and said, “This family is a ghost family—all of them.” I replied, “Hong was born in 1965. Is there any material, documentation, or anecdotal material about his education?” The investigator pointed to page three of the report. “From time to time a youth was seen coming and going, mainly from the back door and along the walk parallel to a canal. Canal boat workers reported ‘a bashful or diffident young man’ who used the walkway frequented by canal boat loaders and movers without being in that business.” The first report of this youth was 1974, cited to the local canal workers union. If young Hong were vaccinated, educated, provided dental or medical services, no record existed. The investigator drew my attention to the final statement of the landlord: “As far as I’m concerned, only one person ever lived in that house. Their name was Li Hong.” For the rest of the evening I thought about the grammar of that sentence. I thought about the union of a physicist with a licensed and practicing sorceress. I did not want to engage the next thought. “What would the union of two such—minds, belief systems, cultural practices, indecipherables—produce? It is not that two such people could not or have not ever executed a sexual union. The untenable aspect of the inquiry is whether or not two beings ever formed that union. I thought about the landlord’s final statement: only one person ever lived in that house.



And so it came that Li Hong visited my city and offered a single showing of his newest theme, The Undecidable. That marked the first of two times I actually “saw” Li Hong. I left a message on my answering machine that I would be indisposed for that single evening, December 31, 1999. I was surprised to find a half-filled show house, though a small one, for such a talent. Then again, how would the typical layperson know about Hong? The paper advertisements for the presentation appeared only as late as December 28. Nothing indicated Hong’s presence on any other media. I took a seat in the second row, behind a vacant front-row seat. I had a micro-recorder and turned it on to capture my thoughts and impressions. I also had a video camera secreted into the projection booth.



“The millennium bug will destroy chronology tonight, some say,“ Hong stated as he came onto the stage, walking completely around it while examining his audience. Whispering, I made an immediate recording of his appearance: “about 35, maybe 40 years of age. Mixed ethnicity of eastern Asian and northern Europe. Height was 5 feet 10 to 11 inches. Weight perhaps 170 pounds. Eyes appeared to be green.” No one seemed to notice me. “Some of you will wish you had heeded the warnings at 12:01. What will you do then? Rewind?” With that Hong took to his stool at mid stage facing to the right, rotated 90 degrees to the front, and very slowly held up his left wrist. He wore a single watch that clearly showed the time as 10:55 p.m. Self reflexively, I checked my watch as well, as I could see many others do: 10:55. “Okay,” I thought, “suggestion.” Hong then with equal slowness lowered his watch in an exact reversal of the upward motion, rotated his stool 90 degrees to the left, stood up, and walked back to the point where he had entered the stage backwards in so uncanny a fashion that one would swear—and I would swear—that we were watching a film in reverse. He reversed his loop, then resumed the exact position he had assumed when he first spoke. I intellectually knew this had taken at least three minutes. He made a sound that I knew from television shows and movies was English spoken in reverse: his monologue inverted.



Then he re-opened his show. This time, however, as he re-started, he asked the audience to verify the time: 10:55. Cell phones showed 10:55 as well as watches and pagers. He walked to his stool and sat facing straight left this time, slowly rotated to face the audience and held up his right wrist. It bore the same watch as we had seen on his left wrist, which was now bare. “What will you do then? Rewind?” And he again reversed his entry going backward, step by step, moved to the entry point and stopped. He paused there for ten, maybe fifteen seconds—I don’t know. Then he entered the stage without the loop. He took his seat on the stool directly and held up both wrists: no watches. “I’ve lost my time. Could you help me out?” And all of us checked our timepieces and saw 10:54. The audience started to chatter, to verify with one another, one even to call a time/weather line. We had been seated for at least fifteen minutes, maybe more: I could not tell. At that moment, Hong left the stage, walked to the vacant seat in front of me, leaned over and said, “didn’t you forget something?” I looked at my recorder: it was off. No, I had not turned it on yet. Hong returned to the stage and advised us it was past midnight Greenwich Standard Time and no one had died—the millennium bug was a hoax. When we checked our timepieces, it was 11:30. The audience was in shock. Hong looked at the audience and said to all but me “Rewind.” That is, I never heard that utterance. Everyone else apparently did. The next thing anyone who attended that night recalls with certainty was arriving at the show house. I know this because I requested for legal reasons the list of attendees. I met with several the next day. One woman showed me the record of her cell phone call to the time/weather line at 11:08 p.m. Another showed me a text sent at 11:09 to a friend in another time zone: “What time is it there?” We had all been in Hong’s show house, and we had been rewound, except me. I know this because the clandestine video recorder caught it all. But what was on that tape? A 36-minute video of Hong traversing the stage from different directions. What did that prove? Demonstrate? Verify? Why had he approached me, excluded me? None of this carries any probative value.



Li Hong was accused of the wrongful death of the photographer who had been electrocuted while trying to get a picture of Hong. It was a civil case, as the criminal had been dismissed, brought by the man’s widow, in Milan. I attended. The nature of evidence is different in a civil case. All that I have cited previously was presented here. The widow claimed that her husband had located a scambio, a changeling of sorts, a person who could take more than one form. The transmutation photographs and the analysis of different shadow sizes were introduced here. Her husband, I realized, had been in Melbourne. The death-by-train case was cited, suggesting Hong as the unknown figure near the suicidal girl. Who else could it have been? She also produced photographs from her husband’s file on Hong Li, mostly more transmutation shots, but more importantly she offered into evidence one video. That 90-second video, taken through a clear uncurtained window by her late husband, depicted a white European male in his mid-fifties reverso (the wife’s word) into Li Hong. The individual never leaves the camera’s range. A white European initiates the clip, and 90 seconds later, moving to pull the shade, that individual is Li Hong. The widow also produced a series of three pictures of an Asian woman, mid-fifties, exotic and alluring, sitting in a kitchen drinking out of a tin cup from her left hand. Then she produced three pictures of Li Hong sitting in the same chair in the same position drinking from the same cup using the same hand. They both brushed back their hair with their right hands with an identical motion in picture two. Picture three depicted both figures scratching their foreheads with the same two fingers. It was uncanny. If those weren’t some version of a single being, then it was flawless and perfect staging, impeccable motion and timing, as if Hong knew he/she/they were being videotaped from afar. I must now use the multiple pronouns, for having seen the widow’s evidence, I am very much persuaded of something undecidable.



The widow finally offered what her husband had claimed was the prova finale. She produced photocopies of three passports, one for Li Hong, one for Hong Li, and one for Le Hong. Each had a different social security number—the three numbers assigned to the “nuclear family” that raised Li Hong. All of the pictures, however, were of Li Hong at different ages—and stages—of his physical manifestation. One resembled the Hong sitting in court quietly. Another had a slightly more prominent forehead, more mongoloid. The last depicted a much darker-skinned Hong, nearly African. The widow summarized her husband’s claim: Hong was composed of three identities, each whom emerged from time to time. Her husband wished to prove the existence of this scambio and Hong wished to remain undiscovered. Hong had killed the photographer for that reason. Neither of the other identities had established credentials sufficient to travel, to merit a passport, to be given a credit account. The widow produced a photograph of an Asian woman—the same one seen earlier. Attached was a letter from the daughter of the landlord who had rented the house next door to the Hong “family.” The daughter identified the woman as Hong’s mother. The widow then reversed the picture and showed the date: 1939, much too early to have given birth to Hong. A close scan of the photograph strongly suggested, however, that the eyes were those of Li Hong. Hong is tre persone the widow said. Every sixty years a new essence emerges. Hong the youth begins walking the canal path as the Asian mother disappears, as the northern European father fades from existence, though Hong might access those personae for reasons unknown to any but himself. They have become Hong the African and Hong the Mongoloid. Their social security numbers, the three passports, attest to the three Hongs. She declared that her husband had compiled enough records to verify the existence of the scambio. Hong killed him for this. I could see that the widow was thoroughly convinced of Hong’s guilt and unnatural essence.



The case was thrown out. Hong never testified. The deaths proximate to Hong have multiple explanations, most innocent, if not macabre. The photographer died by unfortunate accident. Photographs were indeterminate. Video was corrupted. I returned to my job and continued chronicling the mundane and routine cases that typified my calling. Hong’s case, to my mind, was, to cite a legal term, a hung jury. The evidence that exists is not sufficient. I continued to think that way even after the investigator who had researched Hong’s family sent me a video clip in 2011, years after I’d last dwelled on the Hong case. In it Hong related the wrongful death case to an audience in San Francisco. He can be heard saying that Californians more than anyone know the three faces of life: public, private, and otherly. And for a full one or one-and-a-half seconds, all three Hongs—the known, the Mongoloid, and the African—are visible on stage. I watched it, admired it . . . and filed it away. Seeing is no longer believing, not for me. The courts don’t buy it, and I live within the world of court decisions. Whatever Li Hong is and has done, it/he/they reside(s) outside the law—at least outside the law of man. I must put away my interest in this being. Common sense, common law, and common themes of jurisprudence compel me to do so. Tell me, whoever reads this, what would you do?



   
   

 

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Christopher Brooks is a retired English professor who works mainly in film studies. Some classic horror films inspired him to create Li Hong, about whom Brooks has written several stories. He enjoys any imaginative readings, but especially horror. He lives now in Kansas.



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