Years ago, when my husband and I were living in Shanghai, a crew of men came to change the smoke-alarm battery in our bedroom. It seemed a lot of people to change a single battery, and they took their time about it. The leader of the battery-changing brigade was a man in a dapper pin-stripe suit. The smoke alarm was above our bed.
The men, all but one in uniforms from our apartment building yet unfamiliar to us, eventually departed. We had a lunch to get to, so we too left a few minutes later. As we walked out the back door of our apartment building, we saw the suited gentleman riding away in a black Toyota Crown, then considered the favored car of the Public Security Bureau. For several nights, my husband and I stared up at that alarm, wondering whether it was doing more than just sensing smoke.
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