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6:00 in the evening, at the storehouse:
“This is where time turned back,” Du Jing was saying. “Think back on it. What did we do?”
“It must not be easy for you to recall everything so clearly. Shouldn’t you report it to your boss?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“I took the whole day off. Don’t change the subject. First…”
“It looks like your phone is about to explode.”
There were twenty something missed calls on Du Jing’s phone from the same contact name, “Little Li.” Zhou Luoyang didn’t bother asking who Little Li was, and Du Jing didn’t offer an explanation.
Du Jing then asked, “Is it possible that this storehouse is the intersection between the fourth dimensional and fifth dimensional spheres? When I left the storehouse, I was escorted onto the patrol car, and then the reversal started right as I got off the car.”
Du Jing gently pushed the simple light fixture and the hanging bulb wobbled slightly, casting its light here and there and creating a mysterious atmosphere within the dark room.
“Your imagination is really too colorful,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“Well, there’s still a difference compared to someone with psychosis.”
“Well then, how would you explain the fact that I’ve been here before but the twenty-four-hour time reversal didn’t happen? Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if this whole thing even really happened.”
“Memories can lie to you,” Du Jing said. “Just like dreams. But I’m sure there’s something fishy going on. You don’t want to get to the bottom of things?”
Zhou Luoyang could only admit, “You’re right, I don’t really want to.”
Whenever Zhou Luoyang encountered situations that couldn’t be explained using the laws of science, most of the time he would subconsciously ignore them. His optimal solution would be to forget all the abnormalities as soon as possible and chalk the repeated twenty-four hours up to faulty memory. In reality, most normal people would have the same reaction; it was a natural instinct to protect oneself from danger.
But Du Jing was different; just like when they were in school, in the rare instances he encountered a challenging question, he would split hairs trying to figure out the solution.
“You’re afraid to think about it,” Du Jing said. “If we attribute things to paranormality, once we discover the truth…”
“Stop talking!” Zhou Luoyang suddenly felt hysterical.
Gazing at Zhou Luoyang intently, Du Jing asked, “With me here, what do you have to be afraid of?”
Zhou Luoyang was really, truly afraid of ghost hauntings. After all, when he was young, he had to live alone for a long period of time. He recalled a time he and Du Jing had gone to an haunted house at an amusement park, where he’d been badly frightened and ended up clinging desperately to Du Jing. The ordeal ended up being one of the greatest disgraces of his life, and after they left, he ordered Du Jing to never speak of it again.
Du Jing’s response then was exactly the same as it was now: “With me here, what do you have to be afraid of?”
“I’m afraid that we’ll be sucked in again somehow.” Zhou Luoyang had watched a horror movie about a cruise ship before, and the impression it left on him was unerasable. “What if we accidentally trigger something strange, and we get trapped in the same day looping over and over again endlessly? That’ll be terrible.”
“Is the future that important to you?”
“Of course,” Zhou Luoyang said. “I’ve finally found you, and I hope the two of us can be well. There’s still a lot of stuff for us to do in the future.”
Du Jing stopped speaking, and Zhou Luoyang knew that his words had touched him.
“Plus, what if,” Zhou Luoyang said, deciding to face his fears squarely, “we disrupt the flow of time and run into our past selves? Then what do we do?”
Du Jing mulled it over for a moment, then nodded. “You have a point.”
Zhou Luoyang sat on the storehouse’s spring bed, while Du Jing paced around the center of the storehouse. Unresigned, Du Jing stood in a corner under a shelf and tried to probe for some spot where time was distorted, as if in the next second he would be transported away from the present to roam freely in the past or future.
“But for time to rewind twenty-four hours,” Du Jing said, “that must mean that you can do many things, like purchasing a specific Union Lotto ticket. That way you could solve the financial problem you didn’t want to ask for help with.”
“Speaking of—” Zhou Luoyang reached out a hand in Du Jing’s direction. “Give me your phone. Lend me a little more money. I’m taking Leyao to check in tomorrow, and I might need to spend some.”
Du Jing handed him his phone.
As Zhou Luoyang transferred the money over, he said, “The lottery prize should be someone else’s. Wouldn’t disrupting time and fate by winning the lottery be equivalent to stealing money from an innocent person? How is that any different from using supernatural powers to rob someone?”
Du Jing hadn’t thought of that. “You’re right,” he admitted.
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Do you remember what happened the first September seventh? You said Yu Jianqiang died, and it made the news. Right?”
Du Jing hummed in agreement and sat down shoulder to shoulder with Zhou Luoyang. He took his phone back and scrolled through it. Ever since they’d come out here in the evening, they’d been paying close attention to the news. Yesterday’s murder case hadn’t been reported on at all—there was total media silence. Who was the deceased person, exactly? The media didn’t flock to the scene, and they weren’t sure if the police had gone there to carry out an investigation.
“The second was a repeat of September seventh where Yu Jianqiang survived,” Zhou Luoyang said, “but the blackmailer died in his stead. What does that signify?”
When he said that aloud, even Zhou Luoyang himself felt a little uncomfortable.
“It’s just a coincidence,” Du Jing said. He was completely unafraid.
Zhou Luoyang glanced at Du Jing. “What if it’s not? Think back, there were five people on the twenty-seventh floor at the time: you, me, Yu Jianqiang, and those two blackmailers. Suppose it was preordained that at that time node, one out of the five of us had to die…”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Du Jing said. “I get it!”
The two of them fell silent. Not long after, Du Jing spoke up again. “That’s why I told you to hide and not come out.”
Truthfully, Zhou Luoyang had a lot of thought about everything, but he didn’t voice them. Too much had happened over the past two days. Now, he just hoped they could seal all of it away as soon as possible and never mention it again. Give him a little more time to let him and Du Jing slowly make their way into each other’s lives again.
He was sure from last night’s demonstration that Du Jing’s job had an element of danger to it, whatever it was. Zhou Luoyang hoped that after a while, he could convince Du Jing to disengage from that profession; now just wasn’t the right time.
They had to start over from the beginning, to understand each other anew.
“Never mind then.” Du Jing quickly dispelled that thought. Compared to his desire for knowledge of supernatural phenomena, Zhou Luoyang was more important.
Zhou Luoyang knew that he hadn’t dropped the matter completely, but he also knew he wouldn’t rock the boat. In the past, as long as Zhou Luoyang insisted on something, Du Jing would go along with him. At least in that regard, he was very obedient. Perhaps after spending so much time together, he’d long since gotten used to listening to Zhou Luoyang.
Du Jing pulled open a drawer and caught sight of the strapless watches inside. They were placed in exactly the same positions as yesterday.
“Which one’s the Daytona?” Du Jing asked.
“The black one,” Zhou Luoyang answered. “Do you like it?”
But Du Jing had his eyes on another one—the watch with the three metal squares rotated thirty degrees and stacked on top of each other.
“How much for this one?” Du Jing asked.
“You’re talking money with me?”
“I want to buy it. I want to be your first customer after you open the store.”
“I want to give it to you as a gift,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“Under what excuse?” Du Jing asked.
“It’ll be a gift to congratulate you on getting your job. You still haven’t told me how long you’ve been in this line of work.”
“Not long,” Du Jing said. “Just a half year.”
Du Jing wanted to adjust the time on the watch, and when Zhou Luoyang held out a hand, Du Jing passed it to him. He smoothly draped his arm over Zhou Luoyang’s shoulder in passing, and they sat side by side on the edge of the bed.
Zhou Luoyang scrutinized the watch for a moment. “I’ll give you a steel watchband for it. You have a bigger build, so it’ll make your wrist look nice when you wear it. Good watches should be worn by handsome men.”
Du Jing didn’t speak, and the two of them sat in a short silence.
“You’re really not leaving?” Zhou Luoyang asked. “I thought of you often in the past three years.”
“I thought that by the time I came back, you would’ve been married already.”
Zhou Luoyang laughed bitterly and didn’t respond.
Du Jing was silent for a long moment, as if making a firm resolution.
“Why don’t I move in with you?” Du Jing asked. “It’s hard on you, caring for your little brother. Let me help out.”
When Zhou Luoyang heard that, he felt very happy, as if a ray of sunlight had shone down on his life. The past year had been very depressing for him, and yet he couldn’t even let any of his exhaustion show in front of his brother. He had to force himself to be in high spirits every day, telling himself that he was his brother’s support, so he couldn’t give up.
The pressure of their debt and the responsibility of caring for Leyao weighed heavily on him; sometimes he couldn’t breathe from the weight of it. His psyche now was totally different than it was when he was in college. Sometimes, he suspected he was going to get depression, but when he compared himself to the Du Jing of the past, Zhou Luoyang would feel that he could still pull through and wait for the day that he made it out of the maze of mountains and winding rivers and reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
“You would be saving my pitiful life,” Zhou Luoyang joked, “but I’ll have to ask for Leyao’s opinion.”
“I’ll wait for your answer,” Du Jing said. “I’ll be heading back for today, then.”
Du Jing drove Zhou Luoyang to his apartment.
“When are you checking in tomorrow? I’ll pick you up,” he said.
Zhou Luoyang wanted to decline at first, but as he thought about it more, he figured that’d be pretty nice; they wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of taking a taxi. So they agreed on a time, and after Du Jing watched Zhou Luoyang’s figure disappear upstairs, he finally drove off.
The next day, at 10:00 in the morning:
Du Jing entered a tall building. He scanned his fingerprint, then took the elevator to the seventieth floor. He smoothed his suit in front of a mirror and pushed open the glass door of Changyi Office. In the conference room were investigators, all in black suits. Smoked curled up around the room. A middle-aged man around fifty years old was in charge. His shirt sleeves were rolled up, and he put out his cigarette on his breakfast takeout container.
Du Jing sat down in the second seat to the middle-aged man’s left and glanced around at everyone. A young man quickly gave Du Jing a meaningful look; Du Jing pretended he didn’t see it.
“Had enough sleep?” asked the middle-aged man.
Du Jing didn’t answer.
“Where did you sleep? Why do I hear you haven’t gone home in two days?”
“On a bench in a neighborhood,” Du Jing said mildly.
“What’s the situation with Yu Jianqiang?” asked the middle-aged man. “When are you going to go back and monitor him?”
Du Jing felt for his phone and discovered that he’d left it in the car. He turned his hand over and rapped his knuckles on the conference table, and the young man across from him passed him some papers.
“I’ll give a simple report,” Du Jing said. “We don’t have a very solid lead at the moment. Yu Jianqiang…”
“Even if the lead isn’t solid, you still have to come pop your head in, don’t you?” the middle-aged man interrupted, also knocking on the table. “I thought you’d been taken out.”
As if he hadn’t heard anything, Du Jing continued, “The first piece of evidence is that Yu Jianqiang is sexually attracted to men. Rule out the possibility of him teaming up with the Secretary of the Board and committing murder…Who took this picture?”
“Me!” the young man promptly piped up, raising his hand.
For a moment, everyone in the conference room looked at Zhou Luoyang’s profile shot, color printed on a sheet of A4 paper, sitting in front of Du Jing. The candid was taken right before Zhou Luoyang entered the restaurant, at precisely 5:30 PM, September seventh.
Du Jing looked at the young man, who suddenly felt a threatening aura.
“Who told you to follow him and take pictures?” Du Jing’s tone grew dark and dangerous.
“I…I…” the young man stammered.
The middle-aged man stepped in to mediate. “Little Li was trying to help you. Alright, what’s the verdict?”
“Is he my subordinate or your subordinate?” Du Jing asked.
When he spoke, everyone leaned back in tandem. The silence in the conference room was almost frightening. The young man they called Little Li didn’t dare say anything at all; rather, it was the middle-aged man that started laughing.
Several seconds of silence later, the sound of a paper shredder started up in the conference room—Du Jing had walked up to the paper shredder and was reading through the documents before shredding them. He shredded several photos and preserved two of the documents. Even Zhou Luoyang’s personal background information was destroyed.
“Yu Jianqiang wanting to keep a man doesn’t mean he’s gay,” the middle-aged man said.
“I can tell you that this person isn’t gay, either,” Du Jing said solemnly. “He just needs money.”
“The college student isn’t gay, and Yu Jianqiang isn’t either,” someone said. “That’s very interesting. Then what are they doing?”
“They’re doing advanced math tutoring in the private room,” said Du Jing.
Everyone burst into laughter.
“Wanting to keep a male college student doesn’t confirm his sexual orientation. What if he just wants some excitement?” the middle-aged man said. “To tell the truth, sometimes, I think about finding a young man to spend my days with, too. You’re that certain that Yu Jianqiang doesn’t like women?”
There was another chorus of hearty laughter.
“It’s intuition,” Du Jing replied, without the slightest change to his expression. “Going by that night’s conversations, Wang Ke’s death isn’t strongly connected to Yu Jianqiang directly, but he can’t escape the fact that he didn’t report it…What conclusion have you drawn from looking through the account books?”
The middle-aged man took out the file envelope and pushed it toward Du Jing. “Remember to put it back when you get the chance. He shouldn’t have noticed yet.”
Du Jing knew that the real account books must’ve already been switched out. Forging a couple documents was child’s play.
“This is the deceased’s background information report,” Little Li said, somewhat hesitantly. “Jing ge, I wanted to give it to you last night, but you didn’t come back…”
“Conclusion,” Du Jing deadpanned.
Little Li said, “Thirty-three years old, male, one meter and eighty-two centimeters tall, from Jiangsu. He was in charge of collecting debts for loan sharks. He had four hired hands working under him, all of whom ran a night ago out of fear of backlack from Yu Jianqiang. The Public Security Bureau is currently investigating. This group has offended too many people, so it’s difficult to draw a conclusion. Yu Jianqiang’s vice president has been questioned already, and apart from the death at the construction site, there’s no evidence to demonstrate any direct connection to Yu Jianqiang.”
The middle-aged man said, “We’ll just leave Yu Jianqiang’s case alone for now. Du Jing, go back to work soon. What progress have our informants in the underworld made this month? Group four, report.”
At the conference table, another manager opened a file folder, but Du Jing had already left the conference room. The young assistant called Little Li bowed apologetically to their boss and quickly chased after Du Jing.
“Delete the contents of the flash drive,” Du Jing said as he stopped at the door. “Don’t do that again. I’m in a good mood today, and I don’t want to waste time on you.”
Little Li nodded nervously and held up a coffee. Du Jing took the paper bag with the coffee, got into the elevator, and headed downstairs.
Zhou Luoyang was wearing a suit today, too. He carried Leyao downstairs onto Du Jing’s car. Du Jing followed them downstairs, carrying the wheelchair, which he put in the trunk.
“Did you buy this car?” Zhou Luoyang sat down in the front passenger seat.
“Isn’t it a little more comfortable than the previous one?” Du Jing asked after brushing Zhou Luoyang’s seat off for him.
“Doesn’t Yu Jianqiang find it weird that an assistant drives a Mercedes-Benz?”
“An acquaintance hooked me up with the job. My persona is a rich kid, anyway,” Du Jing said, unconcerned. He reached back to buckle Leyao’s seatbelt for him, then started to drive.
Finally, Leyao found a chance to join the conversation. “Did you guys drive around everywhere back when you were in school?”
“Rarely,” Zhou Luoyang answered. “Someone wanted me to finish taking all four years of college courses in just two years. How could I have had the time?”
Leyao started to laugh. Du Jing glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “You brothers look alike.”
Leyao said, “Thank you so much for your help. You don’t have work today? Did you take the day off just for this?”
“Who cares if he goes to work? He’s just wasting time,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“Recently my company hasn’t been paying me, and I haven’t been able to pay rent. My landlord’s going to evict me,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang’s expression wavered. He turned to give Du Jing a look, warning him not to talk nonsense.
Naturally, he knew Du Jing wanted to move in with them and couldn’t resist saying something to Leyao. But Zhou Luoyang wanted Du Jing to come over a few times first and spend the night on occasion, and once Leyao got used to his presence, then he would ask for his opinion.
“Do you want to live at our apartment?” Leyao asked, smiling. “After I start school, my brother’s going to be all alone at home. He’ll be pretty bored.”
Du Jing met Leyao’s eyes through the rearview mirror. “You don’t mind?”
“Leyao!” Zhou Luoyang cut in. “Don’t listen to him, there’s no way he can’t afford rent.”
“Of course I don’t mind.” Leyao smiled. “Ever since you came back, my brother’s been in high spirits all the time.”
“I feel like you’ve been in high spirits, too,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang: “…………”
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.