The twilight was dusky and dim. Zhou Luoyang led the two men down the lane and out of Jingci Temple. The middle-aged man called someone on the phone. He gestured at the two of them to wait, and then gave them a location. Zhou Luoyang found a small shop and used Hangzhou dialect to ask for directions. When the middle-aged man heard the local dialect, he glanced at him and was finally convinced by the lie they’d made up on the spot.
The middle-aged man eventually found the location. A seven-seater Buick SUV was parked on the secluded roadside.
“Get in!” the middle-aged man said.
Zhou Luoyang took a few steps back. But just as he was about to say goodbye, two men suddenly appeared next to him and, with trained ease, blocked off Zhou Luoyang’s exit.
“Let my cousin go!” the fake Wu Xingping immediately demanded.
“Xingping, what exactly are you guys doing?” Zhou Luoyang asked, acting perfectly confused.
But the middle-aged man wouldn’t give Zhou Luoyang the chance to leave. With false concern, he said, “The cops have already spotted you. If you don’t come along, what if they catch you and give you trouble? You’d better come with us. We can drop you off at your home along the way.”
The car had been parked in a very clever location. The closest passersby were over thirty meters away. Even if he turned and ran, he would certainly be caught, and it would be even more of a wasted effort to try and call for help.
Zhou Luoyang was silent for a long moment. The fake Wu Xingping had already been herded into the car, and this time, he wouldn’t be able to run anymore. Behind him, the two men gestured at the car, their message clear: Don’t make us resort to force.
The hired thugs behind Zhou Luoyang gave him another push, and he had no choice but to let them herd him onto the car.
The two hired thugs didn’t get into the car, however, and shut the doors from outside. The inside of the car was dark. The SUV pulled away from the curb and set off.
Both Zhou Luoyang and the fake Wu Xingping sat in silence. The middle-aged man was even more silent and somber-looking as he took out his phone to report back to his boss.
“What’s your name?” the middle-aged man asked Zhou Luoyang.
“His father and my mother are siblings,” the fake Wu Xingping answered for him. “I’ve been staying with him here.”
“I’m from Huizhou,” Zhou Luoyang supplied.
He didn’t hide that fact from the middle-aged man. If they searched him later and found his ID, he wouldn’t be able to hide it anyway.
Sure enough, after the middle-aged man was done messaging his boss, the first thing he did was to reach out and search the fake Wu Xingping. “Wu Xingping” demanded, “What are you doing?!”
“Apologies,” the middle-aged man said. “Best to do a thorough search so as to prevent any mishaps.”
The car windows were completely blacked out. Zhou Luoyang glanced in the direction of the driver’s seat. “This isn’t the way home. Where are you taking me?”
The middle-aged man shot Zhou Luoyang a dangerous look, so Zhou Luoyang stopped talking.
The fake Wu Xingping didn’t dare utter a word, either.
Soon, the middle-aged man confiscated their phones and said, “Apologies, we’ll be taking you to have a chat with my boss.”
“This has nothing to do with him!” the fake Wu Xingping protested.
“It’s fine,” Zhou Luoyang assured.
The middle-aged man turned off their phones and searched them thoroughly once more. The driver handed him a security wand, the kind commonly used at train stations and airports. The middle-aged man carefully swept them down with the wand from head to toe.
Zhou Luoyang’s heart lurched. He didn’t know if the tracker and bug on the body double would be discovered—but fortunately, they didn’t find anything.
“Where’s your boss?” Zhou Luoyang deliberately kept asking dumb questions.
“I promise we’ll send you home once everything’s settled,” the middle-aged man said solemnly. “The cops saw us already, so big bro won’t dare touch you guys, don’t worry.”
The fake Wu Xingping nodded at Zhou Luoyang, letting him know that he didn’t have to worry.
Zhou Luoyang still wanted to peer outside, but the middle-aged man pulled up the partition between the interior of the car and the driver’s seat, leaving them unable to see anything at all.
“I’ll meet with your boss when we get there,” said the fake Wu Xingping. “He doesn’t know anything. Why are you making him come too?”
“Alright, the boss just wanted to see you,” the middle-aged man said appeasingly.
Zhou Luoyang had thought that their stronghold was on the outskirts of Hangzhou, but it didn’t seem like the car had any intention of stopping in Hangzhou. This was troublesome. He hoped Du Jing would be able to catch up to them.
Half an hour earlier:
Du Jing raced out of Leifeng Pagoda, chasing behind the plainclothes. He arrived outside of Jingci Temple, and after a brief hesitation, he detoured around the main door and ran toward the temple’s side door that connected to the lane. In an instant, he spotted two hired thugs slipping away in a hurry.
“Where are you?!” Du Jing’s phone call went through. His voice was already full of uncontained impatience.
“Almost there!” said the voice in the phone. “There’s some traffic…There’s too much traffic on Beishan Street.”
Holding back his anger, Du Jing snarled, “If you don’t get here soon then piss off!”
“I’m here!” A different SUV pulled up in front of Du Jing. Zhuang Li unlocked the car doors, and Du Jing immediately pulled one open and climbed inside.
“Uh…Jing ge, where’s your friend? Where’s the body double?” Zhuang Li asked.
“Drive!” Du Jing roared.
Zhuang Li shuddered and immediately began turning the steering wheel. “In which direction?”
Du Jing: “……”
Zhuang Li quickly stammered, “L-leave this road, right? Got it, I’m doing that now! Jing ge, please try out this car’s amenities. Supposedly, it’s technology imported from overseas. The head of the Hangzhou branch heard that you were here and had it transferred to you as assistance. Press the up-down button first, then use their system—the system’s a bit complicated. It’s all in English…”
Without even sparing it a glance, Du Jing pressed a button on the side of his armrest. His seat reclined backwards, and a mid-sized screen that originally should have been a fancy entertainment system lowered in front of him.
Du Jing clicked on the system and began tracing the location of the tracker on the body double. A glowing dot on the screen marked the tracker, and that glowing dot was leaving Hangzhou and taking the highway northwest.
“…Oh, you know how to work it,” Zhuang Li said. “Wow.”
Taking a deep breath, Du Jing curbed the urge to beat Zhuang Li up. He jabbed at a few buttons and shared the location with Zhuang Li.
“Follow them?” Zhuang Li asked.
Du Jing’s tone carried the dangerous promise that in the next second he would rip Zhuang Li’s head off. “No, drive the car into West Lake.”
Zhuang Li snapped out of it and laughed hollowly.
Du Jing dialed a number. On the other end was the familiar voice of a female operator. “Hello, number 199. What assistance do you require?”
“Reinforcements. And notify those in Nanjing to make preparations,” Du Jing said solemnly. “Grade A. There’s a civilian involved apart from the body double. Prioritize their personal safety.”
“I will arrange that for you right away,” the operator said.
“Transfer me to Wan City headquarters.”
Very soon, the call was connected to Du Jing’s immediate superior, Li Liangyi. “What’s the situation? You’re acting way outside of normal expectations.”
“The target is heading toward Nanjing,” Du Jing stoically said.
“Nanjing is one of the locations we suspected. Our company has no branch there. We’ll have to temporarily send some manpower over from Shanghai.”
Du Jing was agitated and on edge. He kneaded the skin between his brows. “How many people can you give me?”
Li Liangyi replied, “I’ll do the best that I can. This case is extremely important. I didn’t think that you’d already gotten this far with it. The Hangzhou side is also completely unprepared…”
“What’s the body double’s background?” Du Jing asked.
“An outstanding graduate from the Zhejiang Police Academy. He’s quite capable, don’t worry.”
“Zhuang Li, what are you doing!” Du Jing suddenly roared. “Drive!”
Zhuang Li was scared out of his wits. The car hadn’t budged in ages already. As they left the West Lake area, there was so much traffic that they were crawling along at a turtle’s pace. “I…I can’t do anything about it, Jing ge! There’s too much traffic!”
Inside the car, neither Li Liangyi nor Du Jing spoke. After a long silence, Li Liangyi said, “You two pay attention to the road conditions. Share the target’s location with the Hangzhou and Shanghai branches.”
Du Jing’s patience was about to run out. He slammed a fist against the armrest and hung up. Then he switched to the wiretap channel and began to replay the recording, listening to the conversation between Zhou Luoyang, the body double, and the middle-aged man from half an hour earlier.
Zhuang Li stammered, “J-J-J-Jing ge…your friend is in the car? He was taken away with the body double?”
Du Jing didn’t answer, looking gloomy. A moment later, he rubbed his face with his hands, exhausted, and fast-forwarded the audio.
Zhou Luoyang and the fake Wu Xingping’s real-time conversation came through the wiretap channel, and Du Jing heaved a noticeable sigh of relief.
“I didn’t feed my dog before leaving,” said Zhou Luoyang.
The fake Wu Xingping said, “Your dog won’t die from missing one meal. You go ahead and sleep. I’ll wake you up when everything’s over.”
Zhou Luoyang’s phone had been confiscated, and he didn’t dare to blindly dig for information from the middle-aged man; he wasn’t a trained agent, after all. The fact that Du Jing had arranged things this way meant that he had a grasp on everything that would happen afterwards. What Zhou Luoyang should be doing now was to not cause trouble for them.
The body double, though, was quite unperturbed and hadn’t said a word this entire time, but Zhou Luoyang had never explained to him who he really was. The biggest trouble with this whole mishap was that he wasn’t actually Du Jing’s assistant. If the body double mistook him for a fellow special agent, it might lead to a fatal mistake at a key moment.
Zhou Luoyang understood what he was saying when he’d told him to go to sleep. He really did mean for him to go to sleep, to not talk or move around.
So he took off his jacket and climbed into the backseat. The middle-aged man, who was in the middle of messaging someone, glanced up and switched spots with him. Zhou Luoyang covered himself with his jacket and curled up in the backseat, ready to sleep. There was no use worrying. He’d be better off getting some rest.
After a long, long time, the car stopped. Zhou Luoyang hadn’t fallen asleep at all. “Where are we?”
No one inside the car answered him. The middle-aged man said, “Wait here.” And as he spoke, he got out of the car.
A moment later, the man pulled open the car door. “Wu Xingping, come with me. You wait in the car.”
As the fake Wu Xingping was led out the car, he said, “It’s alright, I’ll be back soon.”
When Zhou Luoyang heard these words, he suddenly realized that the body double ought to have guessed that he wasn’t a special agent, and that he was telling him not to be afraid.
“Okay,” said Zhou Luoyang. “Be careful.”
The driver got out of the car for a smoke. Zhou Luoyang looked up at the fake Wu Xingping, who was looking meaningfully back at him, indicating for him to keep sleeping.
Eleven o’clock. The fake Wu Xingping was taken up the elevator to the seventeenth floor and led into a luxurious office.
Du Jing’s car was still on the freeway. At present he was uncharacteristically preoccupied. His eyes were glued to the screen, unblinking. The twelve glowing dots on the screen representing the vehicles in Shanghai and Hangzhou were also currently on the freeway and heading toward Nanjing.
“How much longer?” Du Jing asked.
“The GPS says there’s still an hour and twenty-five minutes.” Zhuang Li was also extremely anxious.
A man’s voice came through the communications channel. “We’ve been waiting a long time for you. How did you escape? You must be sure to explain everything in detail. The money is right here, all hard cash. I’ll have some men go with you later; you won’t be able to carry it by yourself. This cash will be yours no matter what. After we’ve worked together for so long, this’ll be a show of kindness from us.”
The body double’s voice had also been disguised to be a bit more nasal and could just barely convince people that they were hearing the voice of someone who’d caught a cold.
Du Jing shared access to the comms.
All of the Changyi Company’s experts in criminal techniques and the main department heads were gathered in the Wan City and Hangzhou branches, listening to the information Du Jing was feeding back to them.
The fake Wu Xingping deliberately glanced a few more times at the money on the table. The middle-aged man hadn’t antagonized him the entire journey there, and the man in front of him now was also very courteous, just like any typical boss of any private company in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, or Shanghai.
“Boss was going to push Yu Jianqiang off according to your instructions, but he…he…Why did you tell him to commit murder?” the fake Wu Xingping asked.
“He was killed instead?” The boss of UT got up and sauntered over to his liquor cabinet. The fake Wu Xingping took note of his every movement. The boss poured two glasses of whiskey and handed one to him, taking a sip first before clinking their glasses together.
The fake Wu Xingping nodded and said fearfully, “His head was smashed open.”
“Yu Jianqiang pushed him off?” the boss asked. “That’s too…Never mind. How were you tripped up by such a small task?”
“It was too dark. It was the middle of the night, and I couldn’t make out what happened.”
The boss looked at him suspiciously, and he quickly averted his gaze.
“You’re certain that there wasn’t a fourth person at the scene?” the boss confirmed once again.
“There wasn’t,” said the fake Wu Xingping. “I’m not sure if there were any workers nearby, but we were the only ones on the roof.”
“Would you demonstrate for me what happened?”
Everyone held their breaths, silently listening to the exchange between them.
“I’d rather not!” the fake Wu Xingping immediately yelped as if electrocuted. His refusal made it evident that he felt lingering fear from that night.
The boss thought for a moment. “We have an agency in Vietnam that’s currently recruiting. Do you want to go? It’ll allow you to lie low until the fuss dies down. When this matter is over with, you can come back if you want.”
The fake Wu Xingping acted completely surprised. “Is it a casino? I can help watch over the venue.”
The boss didn’t answer his question and instead said, “They mainly speak Chinese, so there won’t be a communication barrier.”
“How long am I going for?” asked the fake Wu Xingping.
“Two or three years, until the matter here is taken care of.”
“Alright, alright!” the fake Wu Xingping agreed. “But I’ve never left the country. I don’t have a passport…”
“We’ll find you another identity,” the boss assured. Then he pressed a button on his desk, and another man came inside carrying a duffel bag, which he tossed to the fake Wu Xingping.
The fake Wu Xingping immediately began to greedily stuff money into of it. The boss handed him a phone and said, “Call the number in the contacts and notify your relative. We’ll have someone send him home.”
“He’s coming too?” The fake Wu Xingping stared at him, surprised.
“He isn’t,” the boss said patiently. “The police in Hangzhou already have their eyes on you. I’ve already instructed someone to send him home. They’ll get there tonight. After he gets home, I’ll have him text you. Once you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, I’ll send your original phone back to you, but it’d be best if you didn’t get in touch with anyone in China anymore so as not to get them in any trouble.”
In the head office in Wan City, Li Liangyi sighed and shook his head when he heard this.
When Du Jing heard this, his face immediately turned dark.
“How long until we get there?” Du Jing asked gravely.
Zhuang Li answered, “We’re no longer in traffic, so according to the GPS, we still have half an hour…”
“Run the red lights! Take a shortcut!” Du Jing barked. “Right away! Go as fast as you can!”
Zhuang Li began to grow nervous along with him. “Okay! Okay!”
“Why didn’t he stall for time?” Du Jing asked incredulously.
Li Liangyi’s voice came through, saying, “Newcomers will inevitably get careless and overconfident. You have to hurry over as quickly as you can.”
Zhuang Li was at a loss. “What?”
“The body double is going to be killed! Hurry!” Du Jing sucked in a deep breath and furrowed his brows, glancing at his watch again and again.
In the office building:
The boss arrived at another room, and the middle-aged man, who was smoking a cigarette and in the middle of a game of poker, quickly got up.
The boss took a cigarette, and the middle-aged man went over to light it for him. He asked, “What do we do with the other guy? Get rid of him also?”
The boss knit his brow. “When you left Hangzhou, did the cops see him? Do they know who he is?”
The middle-aged man shook his head. “They shouldn’t have. I’m just worried someone will find out that they’re related.”
“What does he do?” asked the boss.
“He’s not a cop, just a civilian. I can confirm this. But as for whether or not Wu Xingping has told him anything and how much he knows, I’m uncertain,” the middle-aged man answered.
Zhou Luoyang’s existence was truly a bit tricky to deal with. If they killed him, it would be totally unnecessary, and they would be responsible for yet another murder. If any tiny hint of the disposal was discovered, it would amount to another exposed mistake.
But say they didn’t kill him, and Zhou Luoyang was taken away to be interrogated by the police…Perhaps it would be a good idea to get a new number, pretend to be Wu Xingping hiding out overseas, contact him from time to time, confirm that he’s still alive, and put him at ease.
Inside the office:
The fake Wu Xingping was a little hesitant, but the boss had already gone outside to look for someone. Before he left, he’d told the bodyguard in the office, “Send him away now. Pay attention to any activity on the road.”
The fake Wu Xingping gathered up all the money. By the time he lifted his head again, he could no longer find the boss. The bodyguard was silently watching him. He began to feel a creeping sense of danger.
“I want to see my cousin,” the fake Wu Xingping told the bodyguard.
The bodyguard still didn’t speak, and the fake Wu Xingping had no choice but to give up. He picked up the phone and started to make a call.
“Call on the car,” the bodyguard said coldly.
But the fake Wu Xingping’s call had already gone through.
In the car, Zhou Luoyang truly could not fall asleep. He was sick with worry, up until the middle-aged man from before slipped back in the car and handed him a phone.
Zhou Luoyang looked at him suspiciously. The man took a seat, pulled the door shut, and said to the driver, “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Zhou Luoyang demanded. “Where’s my cousin?”
The man motioned for him to talk to “Wu Xingping” himself, and Zhou Luoyang picked up the phone.
“They want to send me to Vietnam,” the fake Wu Xingping said in an anxious hurry. “I…I’ll return the money I owe you later.”
“Where are you? No! I’ve got to come find you!”
The fake Wu Xingping had originally wanted to buy some more time in the office, but the bodyguard began to help him put away the money. The fake Wu Xingping loudly demanded, “Tell your boss to let us see each other!”
The bodyguard slung the bag over a shoulder and pushed him with his other hand.
“There’s no signal in the elevator!” The fake Wu Xingping began to struggle, but the bodyguard grabbed his arm, paying no attention to his protests.
The fake Wu Xingping originally could have used his combat skills to struggle free right then and there, but that would undoubtedly place Zhou Luoyang, who was still in their grasp, in grave danger.
After a short moment of hesitation, he angrily struggled again, but was pushed into the elevator. His signal cut off.
Zhou Luoyang looked at the middle-aged man. The man said, “We’ll send you home tonight. Don’t try anything funny. After we get him settled, he’ll give you a call.”
“No!” Zhou Luoyang cried heatedly. “Let me out of the car!”
“Wait!” the middle-aged man said. “Don’t do anything! I’ll make a call and ask for instructions!”
Zhou Luoyang hadn’t expected that his outburst would actually work. The driver stopped the car, and the man sent a message at lightning speed. The recipient replied almost instantaneously, clearly in a good mood.
The middle-aged man motioned to the driver to drive back, and he complied. The car stopped. The bodyguard brought “Wu Xingping” out of the elevator. The middle-aged man went up to them first and showed the bodyguard his phone, and the bodyguard gave him a nod.
Zhou Luoyang saw him now. The fake Wu Xingping was clearly working hard to keep himself calm, but his voice still carried a nearly imperceptible trace of panic.
“Are they sending you back, cousin?” the fake Wu Xingping asked.
He was still taking in the situation around them. Suddenly, he noticed that three other bodyguards were making their way over from the other side of the garage—all big, burly men. He finally realized that even if he had struggled free upstairs, he wouldn’t have been able to escape today.
“Don’t leave with them,” Zhou Luoyang urged. “Let’s go home.”
“Wait!” The fake Wu Xingping stood outside the car and said, “Listen to me, cousin. I won’t be able to return for several years…”
The bodyguard pressed on his head, wanting him to get in the car. The fake Wu Xingping angrily shook him off and snapped, “Let me finish speaking! Then I’ll go with you!”
“…Take care of my mom and dad for me,” the fake Wu Xingping told Zhou Luoyang as he stood next to another car. “I…yeah. That’s all. Thanks. We aren’t very close, but…I guess fate must have brought us together.”
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
The four bodyguards closed in on him. Even at this time, they didn’t forget to hand him the heavy bag stuffed full of money. He quickly climbed in the car, not wanting to drag things on. Zhou Luoyang thought, Damn it. We won’t be able to run, not while they’re so close.
Before the fake Wu Xingping got in the car, he cast one last reflexive glance around the garage.
The next instant, an extremely quiet whistling noise cut through the dim garage. A bodyguard immediately cupped his neck and collapsed.
The middle-aged man reacted at once. “We were followed! You guys leave first! I’ll take care of this!”
Du Jing sat inside of the car, listening to the conversation through the comms. Everyone was sweating bullets for them right now.
“We’re almost there! Ten minutes left!” Zhuang Li said.
Du Jing was deathly silent.
One of the bodyguards had collapsed. The other three immediately grabbed Wu Xingping and ducked behind the car. Soon, someone else appeared on the other side. There was the soft click of a firearm, but no gunshot, just another quiet whistling noise in the darkness.
Zhou Luoyang caught sight of a man in a suit holding a tranquilizer gun and ducking back behind a column in the garage.
The middle-aged man pressed him to the side and asked, “Where did he come from?”
Zhou Luoyang looked on, worried. He turned toward the middle-aged man and opened his mouth, as if to say something. Just when the middle-aged man leaned closer to hear him, Zhou Luoyang struck him beautifully in the temple with his elbow.
The middle-aged man immediately shouted out in pain and fell to the ground while Zhou Luoyang darted away!
“Cousin! Leave, quick!”
The fake Wu Xingping knew that this was his last chance to make it out alive. While the bodyguards were distracted by the middle-aged man’s shout of pain, he summoned all his strength to break free from them and ran toward Zhou Luoyang.
Zhou Luoyang hopped onto the hood of a car, then clambered up on top of its roof. The two of them successfully reunited. And in that moment, he saw a bodyguard draw out a silenced pistol from within his suit and point it at them.
Zhou Luoyang had no time to keep looking. Using his momentum, he slung an arm around the young body double’s shoulders and launched both of them off of the car.
He heard a bang.
That bang reached the comms. Immediately following it was a deathly quietness, along with Du Jing’s unthinking shout of despair.
Zhou Luoyang could feel blood soaking him. The body double didn’t speak, slumped against his back. All he could see was a bodyguard emerging from within a car and aiming a gun at him.
A second later, the bodyguard in front of him disappeared. He couldn’t see anything clearly. Light started to flow around him. It was as if he’d been thrown from one world into another, and he was suddenly enveloped in a bright light.
He’d jumped from the hood of a car and launched himself into the air, but in the blink of an eye, he found himself launched instead into Xinxin Hotel’s large bed.
Zhou Luoyang: “………………”
He lifted his head and was met with Du Jing’s blank gaze.
In a split second, the two of them had traveled through space-time together.
“It happened again,” Zhou Luoyang mumbled.
Du Jing immediately glanced down at the watch. They had once again returned twenty-four hours into the past.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.