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It was 5:00 PM. Du Jing was driving while talking on the phone.
“Go. Do as Yu Jianqiang says. I’ll figure something out if you do run into the criminal police,” said the voice on the other side of the phone. “Isn’t it about time you took Little Li with you on an assignment? You’re always making him stay behind at the company as a benchwarmer.”
“Is he my subordinate or your subordinate?” Du Jing returned.
“I’m just reminding you,” said his boss from the other end.
Du Jing pulled up at Changyi’s building, and Zhuang Li immediately opened the car door and sat inside.
“Hi, Jing ge,” he greeted.
“Backseat,” Du Jing said solemly, without starting the car.
Zhuang Li looked at Du Jing blankly, then at the back seat. Du Jing suddenly said, “I’m telling you to get in the backseat! Do you not understand human speech?!”
Zhuang Li hurriedly undid his seatbelt and moved to the backseat, trembling slightly from fear.
Just then, Du Jing’s phone started to ring. He glanced at it and put the call on speaker.
“Where are you?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“Work,” Du Jing said flatly.
“You obviously are driving. Are you doing a little better now?”
Zhuang Li listened to their conversation. Du Jing said, “‘You Obviously’ is the one driving. I’m not ‘You Obviously,’ I’m not driving.”
When Zhou Luoyang heard that, he knew that Du Jing was doing a little bit better. He asked, “Can you come pick me up? I bought too much stuff, and it’s hard to hail a taxi outside of the commercial street.”
“Wait, and time will solve all problems,” Du Jing said. “I’m not your chauffeur.”
“Actually, I paid Fang Zhou his money back, and now I don’t have a single cent left on me. I don’t want to owe Ant Credit Pay any more money.”
So Du Jing went to pick up Zhou Luoyang. The entire time, Zhuang Li sat carefully and quietly in the backseat.
“Jing ge, do you not feel well?” Zhuang Li waited a moment after Du Jing had hung up to ask this question cautiously.
“I’m feeling amazing right now,” Du Jing answered impassively.
Zhuang Li honestly couldn’t tell when Du Jing was making fun of him and when he was genuinely trying to explain something to him. This moody superior of his had only held this job for a half year and already he had become a legend in their office.
No one had ever become a supervisor as soon as they joined the office. Changyi had been in business in China for nearly forty years, ever since China’s reform in the eighties, but even until today, Du Jing was the only exception.
Most importantly, the boss really trusted him. Zhuang Li always felt that he’d be lucky if he could learn something from Du Jing. But he had the same problem as his other high-IQ coworkers: natural geniuses were typically difficult to interact with.
Du Jing picked his ear, watching the passersby closely.
He spotted Zhou Luoyang.
Zhou Luoyang had a very youthful appearance. His eyes were warm, reminiscent of an cloud drifting leisurely across a clear sky, gentle and languid. He was holding a drink in his hand and watching the fashionably dressed girls walking down the sidewalks. Two large paper bags sat at his feet. The pretty girls that passed by would look back at him and smile, and he would smile too.
Du Jing’s car rolled to a stop in front of him, blocking his line of sight. Zhou Luoyang put the stuff he bought in the trunk and got into the passenger seat.
“Hello.” Zhou Luoyang was a little surprised to see someone else in the car.
“He…hello.” Zhuang Li promptly gave him an awkward bow.
Zhou Luoyang couldn’t really tell if Zhuang Li was Du Jing’s superior or coworker. For a moment, Zhuang Li was also unable to tell if Zhou Luoyang was Du Jing’s superior or friend, but as soon as he heard his voice, he recalled that he was the one who had piped up in the car the other day.
“Get off,” Du Jing said solemnly.
Zhuang Li looked blankly at Zhou Luoyang, then at Du Jing. He didn’t understand why Du Jing wanted Zhou Luoyang to beat it as soon as he got in the car.
Zhou Luoyang, however, asked, “What are you doing, sending people away? Should I leave?”
Finally, Zhuang Li understood that Du Jing was talking about him. Just as he was about to open the car door, Du Jing started driving.
“Give me some money.” Zhou Luoyang reached out a greedy hand toward Du Jing.
“Don’t you find that tedious?” Du Jing asked. “I told you to transfer it all in one go.”
“No,” Zhou Luoyang said stubbornly and took Du Jing’s phone.
“I went to take a look at the store rental spaces,” Zhou Luoyang volunteered. “I’ll discuss the location with you tonight. It’s pretty good overall, it’s just that the rent’s kind of high. Are you off work?”
“Working overtime,” Du Jing said simply.
“Where are you going? I’ll go with you.” Zhou Luoyang turned around and asked Zhuang Li, “Wanna have dinner together?”
“I…don’t know,” Zhuang Li replied, a little scared. “I don’t know where we’re going right now either.”
Du Jing silently took the two of them to eat dinner. After paying on his phone, he handed it over to Zhou Luoyang for him to order food. Zhou Luoyang saw a message from Yu Jianqiang pop up on the screen telling Du Jing that he had to be very careful of the police and to send him a text after he found the guy he was looking for, and he went on alert.
He could tell Du Jing was doing better now, but with an outsider present, he very clearly didn’t want to talk. Zhou Luoyang was used to interactions like this and could entertain himself with his phone on his own, but then he noticed the way Zhuang Li seemed to be sitting on pins and needles.
“He’s always like this,” Zhou Luoyang assured. “It’s okay.”
Zhou Luoyang couldn’t really strike up a conversation with Zhuang Li, since he was likely Du Jing’s colleague and roommate. Those in their line of work were all shrouded in secrets. If he asked too much, Zhuang Li would be put in a difficult spot, and Zhou Luoyang would only cause trouble for him.
“How much to rent the space?” This was Du Jing’s first time opening his mouth since dinner.
“Two million a year. I’ll discuss it with the bank in a few days. I can use that little storehouse as security for a loan. Do you have anyone you know?”
“I’ll think of something,” Du Jing said. “It’ll need renovating, too. Are you sure you want to open up shop here?”
“Here?” Zhou Luoyang was at a loss. “Not here. This is the commercial center…” But he soon realized that Du Jing meant Wan City.
“If not here, then where?” Zhou Luoyang asked in return.
Du Jing didn’t answer, but Zhou Luoyang remembered. Back when they were still in school, Zhou Luoyang had thought about opening a tiny clock and antique shop on Hangzhou’s Beishan Street. Back then, it didn’t cost much to rent a space for a store, and this little dream still felt like it could come true. But five years later, it had become something far out of reach.
Zhou Luoyang knew Du Jing liked Hangzhou. It was rainy and misty, and it had a distinctly Jiangnan kind of beauty to it. Compared to bright and sunny California and Barcelona, he clearly preferred humid, quiet cities.
“We’ll see. But what about Leyao?” Zhou Luoyang said in the end as they left the restaurant. He glanced at Du Jing’s GPS. “Let’s not go home yet. Weren’t you working overtime? I’ll come with you.”
“You may not.”
“Leyao isn’t home,” Zhou Luoyang said. “What would you want me to go back for? Could you really stand to do that to me?”
“You wouldn’t want to go where I’m about to go,” Du Jing warned.
“Anywhere is fine,” Zhou Luoyang said. “I’ll still go with you.”
“You said it yourself.”
“Of course,” Zhou Luoyang replied. He just really, really wanted to stay with Du Jing. After being apart for so many years, he’d come to realize something important—in the past, he’d always thought of Du Jing as just another one of his numerous friends. But now he realized that Du Jing occupied a unique spot in his heart, just as he occupied a unique spot in Du Jing’s.
At last, Du Jing parked his car outside of a bath and recreation center.
Zhou Luoyang was silent.
Du Jing glanced at Zhou Luoyang.
“Why did we come here?” Zhuang Li asked carefully. “Does Jing ge want a massage? I actually know a good parlor.”
“The person you’re looking for is here?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing nodded and told Zhuang Li, “Wait in the car.”
Zhuang Li could only comply with Du Jing’s plans. Du Jing brought Zhou Luoyang with him into the bath center.
Nowadays, bath centers were rather fancily decorated, and they offered a variety of amenities, including public baths, saunas, and massages. Zhou Luoyang was a southerner and had never been to a public bath before. He just wasn’t in the habit of going to the baths together with his friends, where they’d all face each other candidly, fully naked. Du Jing was a northerner and was therefore more laid back about his body, but he never really went either.
“Are you looking for that guy?” Zhou Luoyang asked quietly.
“His name is Wu Xingping. He hasn’t left yet.”
Now that they weren’t in front of Zhuang Li anymore, Du Jing was noticeably more talkative, and he sounded a little more at ease.
“How much sleep did you get last night?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“I didn’t sleep,” Du Jing said.
“Let’s wrap this up quickly so you can go home and get some rest. Going long periods of time without sleep is extremely detrimental to your health.”
“I’ve been feeling especially energized recently,” Du Jing said offhandedly as he looked around. “It’s not a big deal.”
As soon as they entered, six men keeping watch not far away noticed them. Two of them immediately got up and left, while the other four walked toward them.
Zhou Luoyang understood now that this was that little gang’s base of operations.
A minor leader of the gang had died; there was no way Wu Xingping wouldn’t have disclosed all the details and happenings after returning. Yu Jianqiang immediately became this gang’s enemy. They weren’t doing anything to take revenge now, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t in the future. Currently, the most pressing concern was how to evade the Public Security Bureau’s investigations.
“What do you want?” their leader demanded.
The four men that approached were wearing sleeveless attire. Tattoos covered their necks, arms, and other parts of their bodies.
Du Jing gave Zhou Luoyang a look to let him know not to say anything. It would be a piece of cake for him to deal with four goons if the need really arose.
“Call Wu Xingping out for a chat,” said Du Jing. “The cops are looking for him.”
The leader looked at Du Jing with suspicion, and Du Jing said, “I have something to say to him. I guarantee he’ll be satisfied.”
So the man contacted the people upstairs through his earpiece, saying, “Yu Jianqiang’s assistant came knocking.” Then he walked off to the side to continue talking. A while later, he came back and told Du Jing, “Go upstairs and take a bath.”
He went up to the front desk and said, “Draw them a bill for the main bath hall.”
“Can I not bathe?” Zhou Luoyang didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He and Du Jing headed to the side to change into slippers. This was his first time ever coming to such a large bath center.
“Who was the one that said anywhere was fine?” Du Jing returned.
Zhou Luoyang had gone to a hot spring with Du Jing before, so it wasn’t too embarrassing for them to be naked around each other. It was just that business was flourishing at this bath center, and there were bound to be other guests inside. As a southerner, he really wouldn’t be able to withstand the assault of being surrounded by glistening, bare bodies in all directions.
There weren’t many people in the changing rooms, though. Just a couple here or there.
Du Jing hung up his suit and, in succession, took out his voice recorder, phone, Swiss army knife, and brass knuckles that Zhou Luoyang couldn’t quite tell the material of. He placed them inside his locker.
Zhou Luoyang studied the equipment. Under Du Jing’s watchful eye, he reached for the brass knuckles and inspected them closely. He tried them on and made a fist.
“You got your black belt?” Zhou Luoyang asked. He wasn’t actually worried about Du Jing’s ability to defend himself; he just didn’t know where he’d learned to use brass knuckles.
“No,” Du Jing said. “Too lazy to test for it. Don’t randomly touch things. There’s an anaesthetic on the brass knuckles.”
Zhou Luoyang put the brass knuckles back and gave Du Jing a glance, trying to determine how dangerous his job typically was.
Du Jing put away his tie and undid the buttons at the collar of his shirt, revealing pale collarbones and slight but distinctly contoured pecs. Next, he peeled his shirt back, revealing his abs.
“Strip,” Du Jing said.
“Uh…” Zhou Luoyang looked around. “Completely?”
“Or else?” Du Jing asked in return, already undoing his belt.
Zhou Luoyang watched as a fully undressed guest strutted past and could only resign himself to taking off his athletic jacket.
“Are there…bathrobes or towels?” Zhou Luoyang asked an employee.
“Yes, inside,” the employee replied. “My boss says that the person you’re looking for will come find you shortly.”
Just like that, their phones, voice recorder, and all their equipment were removed from their persons with no effort at all. Presumably, Wu Xingping wouldn’t continue to hide anymore for fear that he would fall victim to a plot against him.
Three minutes later, Zhou Luoyang undressed while Du Jing watched. The two stood face to face.
“You’ve lost weight,” Zhou Luoyang blurted.
“You too,” Du Jing said.
Du Jing turned and entered the large bathing room. Zhou Luoyang studied the contours of his back and hips, which appeared inexplicably sensual under the warm glow of the dressing room lights.
Zhou Luoyang’s eyes scanned over his whole body. The guy was completely naked, with the exception of the rubber band on his left wrist.
Du Jing turned his head slightly to look at Zhou Luoyang and then looked back again after taking a few barefoot steps.
“I’m following you,” Zhou Luoyang said. “There’s no way I’ll get lost, why do you keep looking at me?”
“You’re so sexy,” Du Jing replied. “Your body is nicely proportioned, pretty, with the aura of a gentle scholar.”
“Don’t be such a freak,” Zhou Luoyang said in a low voice. “You’re still on the clock for overtime.” As he talked, he gave Du Jing a sweeping glance and noticed he was still in a half-awakened state. He was showing signs of arousal, and it sparked an involuntary response in himself as well.
The reaction was unrelated to lust, and was rather a natural reaction to a probing gaze while he was exposed in a totally defenseless state.
But this was the men’s bathhouse…Even if they were just hotblooded youths, it would be too awkward to be caught like this outside the dressing room.
Fortunately, Zhou Luoyang finally found the towels folded outside the dressing room exit and tossed one to Du Jing.
“Cover yourself a little,” Zhou Luoyang said. At the same time, he thought, At least it’s not too late; the towel hadn’t caught directly on him.
Du Jing used the towel to cover himself, as was custom at the Japanese hot springs, but it was almost too obvious to conceal.
The steam weaved through the air before them. It was an enormous room; the lights were bright under the vaulted dome ceiling and there was a silent movie projected onto the center. The bathhouse was furnished with Turkish-inspired decor, and fountains spouted streams of hot water.
Next to the water were a few walkways which lead to the masseur, sauna, and shower rooms. On the bar counter, there were drinks and sweets. There were about twenty or thirty people total inside the bathhouse. Everything was far from what Zhou Luoyang had imagined, yet somehow astonishingly similar.
But Zhou Luoyang acclimated quickly, because aside from Du Jing, nobody recognized him or paid any attention to him. Everyone was accustomed to just going about their business this way, without even a towel wrapped around their waists.
“Where is he?” Zhou Luoyang kept looking around.
“Give me a massage.” Du Jing sat on a stone in the shallow end, his back facing Zhou Luoyang. “He’ll show up when the timing’s right.”
“In that respect, are things still like they used to be?” Zhou Luoyang said.
“It’s gotten more serious,” Du Jing said. “But I can still control it, can you tell?”
He had noticed while they were in the dressing room. In the past, Du Jing’s illness had caused him to frequently get aroused, a symptom which usually had to be controlled with medicine.
“Turn around.” Zhou Luoyang tugged on Du Jing’s arm from behind and Du Jing turned, yielding to him. They sat in the waist-deep pool. Du Jing was squatting in the water like a big dog.
Zhou Luoyang massaged his arms, and as he grasped his wide palms, he noticed a slight stirring.
“Should you consider switching doctors?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“I’ve switched a bunch of times. Nothing helped,” Du Jing answered.
“What industry do you work in anyway? Are you a private investigator?” Zhou Luoyang finally asked.
“Haven’t you known the answer for a while?”
“What have you been doing the last three years?” Zhou Luoyang asked. “Can you tell me now? Flip onto your side.”
Du Jing rolled onto his side, peering across the water and letting his mind wander. Zhou Luoyang gently touched the scar on the back of Du Jing’s waist and lightly scrubbed his back, feeling him shift subtly.
Du Jing sidestepped his question and instead asked, “Have you finally accepted that you like men?”
Zhou Luoyang lifted his gaze to see Du Jing’s unfaltering expression.
“Luoyang, are you bisexual or homosexual?”
“I don’t know,” he answered.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.