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That night, the three of them sat in a bar on the bank of Qinhuai River for nearly an hour before Zhuang Li’s car finally arrived. Utterly exhausted, Zhou Luoyang collapsed in the back seat of the car.
“Will we be stopped on the highway?” Zhou Luoyang asked, leaning back.
“Not if there’s no blood on us.” Du Jing began to collect the gathered information into a file and sent it to headquarters.
Even now, the sound of gunshots was still ringing in Zhou Luoyang’s ears.
Zhuang Li had driven the car to Nanjing, gone ’round in a loop without doing anything at all, and then headed back toward Hangzhou.
“Are you from Zhejiang?” Zhuang Li asked the body double. “Is there anything good to eat or anywhere fun to go? It’s my first time here.”
In the front passenger seat, the body double began to take off his disguise, peeling off the molded wax face. After all, they didn’t know if the police would order Wu Xingping’s arrest, and he didn’t want to end up being questioned and landing in a sticky situation because he was wearing the man’s face.
“Ooh.” Zhuang Li glanced at the body double.
“Anyone who sees my true appearance will be permanently silenced.” The body double cracked the rare joke, and Zhuang Li burst into laughter.
As Zhou Luoyang listened to the conversation going on in the front, he looked at Du Jing silently.
“Sleep for a bit,” Du Jing told him.
“After an entire night of craziness? Let me see if you can manage to fall asleep.”
Du Jing put in his earphones and called the company headquarters. This time, his tone had improved. After he hung up, Zhou Luoyang asked, “Are you done with the assignment?”
“Pretty much,” Du Jing confirmed. “As for the rest, it’ll be up to them to take care of.”
Du Jing had collected enough evidence and was just waiting for the legal departments of all parties to get involved and take care of the aftermath. From Yu Jianqiang to Wang Ke’s death to the hideout of the international extortion organization UT, if they followed the trail of clues and peeled back layer after layer, they would be able to link together a series of extremely high-profile cases.
“I forgot to introduce myself. Jing ge and this…bro, you guys can just call me Ah Dan,” the body double said.
Zhou Luoyang nodded. “I’m Luoyang.”
“Who contacted the police? Where are your people? They didn’t come?” Zhuang Li asked.
The young man named Ah Dan shook his head, at a loss. “You guys didn’t ask for reinforcements, right? So of course they didn’t come. I didn’t contact them.”
“It wasn’t me either,” said Zhuang Li. “That’s odd. When I got to the destination, I saw a bunch of police cars, so I didn’t want to get close.”
“Be careful about what you say,” Du Jing reminded him coolly.
Zhou Luoyang was rather puzzled too. Who would’ve called the police? Was someone at UT monitoring the company’s every move?
He looked at Du Jing, but Du Jing waved his hand, indicating that he shouldn’t ask too much.
By daybreak, they were back in Hangzhou. Du Jing had been tying up the job’s loose ends throughout their entire journey. When Zhou Luoyang woke up, it was already afternoon, and he and Du Jing went to Quyuan Fenghe
Yu Jianqiang called from over in Wan City. Zhou Luoyang had nearly forgotten about him.
“I heard they caught Wu Xingping,” Yu Jianqiang said anxiously. “Do you have any news?”
“I don’t know,” replied Du Jing. “He got off the train in Jinan, and we haven’t been in contact since.”
“Where are you now?” asked Yu Jianqiang.
“Hangzhou,” Du Jing answered calmly.
“Don’t come back yet. After a while I’ll contact you. You’ll still be paid as usual, so just treat this as a paid vacation,” Yu Jianqiang said.
Zhou Luoyang sipped his coffee, listening calmly as Yu Jianqiang conveyed his worries.
“Paid leave is great. See you later, boss,” Du Jing said.
“Why do you sometimes sound like an idiot when you’re talking to Yu Jianqiang?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“The role I’m playing is an honest little rich kid.” As Du Jing spoke, he motioned for Zhou Luoyang to keep quiet as he called headquarters.
“I would like to request some time off,” Du Jing said.
Li Liangyi’s voice said, “What’s going on with you recently? You never took a single day of sick leave after returning to China. Why have you been requesting leave again and again lately?”
Du Jing cracked his knuckles. They popped quietly. “I need to take care of some stuff at home. I’ve finished the assignment.”
“Fine, you have until next Wednesday off, but you’ll have to come in for a closing meeting during that time to wind things up.”
Du Jing hung up. “If I’d known he would agree so readily, I would’ve asked for a month off.”
Zhou Luoyang laughed. Du Jing cracked his knuckles, then moved to crack Zhou Luoyang’s. Zhou Luoyang shouted dramatically and yanked his hand back.
“Want to go to Beishan Street?” Du Jing asked. “You can check out the shops while we’re there.”
It wasn’t that Zhou Luoyang hadn’t considered it before. Du Jing’s suggestion was lovely, but Leyao was studying in Wan City and needed someone to take care of him. It obviously wasn’t realistic to move back to Hangzhou, and Du Jing’s work wouldn’t permit it, either.
“What about Leyao? I can’t make him live at school seven days a week,” said Zhou Luoyang.
He hadn’t seen his little brother for many days now, and he missed him a lot.
“I’d pick him up on Friday and bring him to Hangzhou,” Du Jing said. “On Sunday I would drive him back to Wan City for school. I have meetings on Mondays, so it’s perfect timing.”
“Well, what about your work? I’d be better off staying in Wan City, so I could see you often. Otherwise, what’s the point if you can only come to Hangzhou on the weekends?”
“You really want to see me that bad?”
Zhou Luoyang shot Du Jing a glance and didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t really want Du Jing to work this job. No matter how skilled he was, it was too dangerous. But out of respect for him, he didn’t try to convince him to quit.
Du Jing said, “I can apply for a temporary transfer to the Hangzhou branch. My boss said that I’m free to pick whichever branch in China I want.”
“Then why did you pick Wan City?” Zhou Luoyang suddenly asked.
They slowly walked down Beishan Street. Du Jing looked up at the shop fronts on the sides of the road. One of them had a sign up that read “Changing Ownership”—evidently, business was tough.
He didn’t answer Zhou Luoyang’s question. Instead, he said, “Think it over carefully. Wherever it ends up being, opening up shop is still opening up shop.”
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a tourist district,” Zhou Luoyang replied. “It’s not a tourist business anyway.”
“If you provide good quality of service, business will naturally come to you. Don’t be like the watch repair shops on the side of the streets.”
“I don’t recall ever questioning your level of professionalism while you were on assignment,” Zhou Luoyang said.
Du Jing politely apologized. “My mistake. As a shareholder, I just hope you can make as much money as possible.”
There was still a debt hanging over Zhou Luoyang’s head. Running around with Du Jing these past few days had been very effective in dispelling the pressure of it and easing his anxieties, but now that Du Jing had reminded him of it, he once again thought about the heaps of problems he faced.
“We’ll see,” Zhou Luoyang said. “You gotta deal with what you gotta deal with eventually. Give me a little more time. I don’t want to leave Wan City right now. I have to go back.”
He liked Hangzhou, and he liked Wan City too, of course. He couldn’t pick a favorite between the two—Wan City had its dignity, simplicity, and magnificence, while Hangzhou had its beauty, elegance, and gentleness.
Sometimes, subconsciously, he wanted to escape Wan City. There was only one reason for this: debt collectors.
His grandfather’s store owed six million, and he was the sole inheritor, so naturally he inherited all of the store’s debts.
Du Jing hadn’t spoken since his suggestion had been shot down. He just nodded his head.
“Want something to drink?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
They roamed Beishan Street until dusk. At first, their conversation was completely normal, but very quickly, Du Jing became quiet. Zhou Luoyang knew that he’d dampened his spirits, but there was nothing else he could do.
“I owe money to the Antique Research Fund,” Zhou Luoyang said. “If the creditors come knocking on my door and find my home empty, my reputation will be left in tatters.”
“You’re right. I didn’t think it through. I didn’t consider things from your perspective. It’s nothing but my wishful thinking.”
Zhou Luoyang’s heart swelled with nervousness. Finally, he offered, “I like coming back to Hangzhou. In the future, we can…”
“We’ll see,” Du Jing replied. “We’ll head back tomorrow. You still need to pick up Leyao on Friday.”
Zhou Luoyang knew his disorder was acting up a little. In all the years they’d known each other, Du Jing had rarely made any requests. Most of the time it was Zhou Luoyang making the decisions. This had also brought about a habit in him: as long as Du Jing made one of his rare requests, Zhou Luoyang would do everything he could to fulfill it.
But this time, he really couldn’t listen to Du Jing. He could predict how Du Jing would react. And just as he expected, over the course of the next twenty-four hours, Du Jing hardly spoke a single word.
“Do you feel a bit better yet?” Zhou Luoyang was already used to this gloomy atmosphere. If it were anyone else, they would surely think Du Jing was giving them the silent treatment. Only Zhou Luoyang wouldn’t take offense.
Du Jing nodded. The two of them swiped their tickets at the ticketing gate. By the time they returned to Wan City, it was already Thursday. Zhuang Li arrived to pick them up.
“Send him home first,” Du Jing instructed.
“What about you?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“I’m going to the company building. There’s some stuff that needs taking care of.”
Zhuang Li took off his sunglasses. “Jing ge, the prosecutor’s office is already prepared to prosecute two separate cases. Boss says they’re sending someone to come to our office tomorrow afternoon to—”
Du Jing patiently asked, “Why do you always spout so much nonsense?”
Zhuang Li didn’t dare say anything anymore.
“When did you come back to Wan City?” Zhou Luoyang suddenly asked.
Du Jing didn’t answer.
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Xiao Li, when did Du Jing join your company?”
That day, when they were walking down Beishan Street, Zhou Luoyang had asked an offhand question: “Why did you choose to come back to Wan City?” But Du Jing had avoided the question.
If it’d been anyone else, perhaps a simple “Wan City is a political and cultural hub; what’s wrong with coming back to Wan City?” would’ve resolved the issue. But Du Jing hadn’t said that. And if he didn’t want to give an answer, then that only ever meant one thing: he didn’t want to lie to Zhou Luoyang, so he didn’t say anything at all.
So that meant Du Jing had in fact returned to Wan City for some other reason, and oddly enough, Zhou Luoyang had honed in on this fact. This stemmed from an intuition he had developed after spending so much time with Du Jing.
What could be the reason?
“I…started working under Jing ge half a year ago.”
Zhuang Li surveyed Du Jing’s expression through the rearview mirror and cleverly declined to give Zhou Luoyang a straight answer.
“You’ve always known I was in Wan City, haven’t you?” Zhou Luoyang asked Du Jing.
“Yes.” Du Jing was rather calm this time.
After a moment’s contemplation, Zhou Luoyang asked, “Why didn’t you come find me?”
Once again, Du Jing didn’t answer.
Zhuang Li looked very, very nervous. He was very afraid that he might overhear something he shouldn’t.
Zhou Luoyang said, “Let me first make it clear that I’m not mad. With your intelligence networks, it’s a piece of cake to look into someone. I don’t think it’s possible that we only met by chance at the dinner with Yu Jianqiang. You’ve long since known where I live, and you’ve even…been keeping tabs on me, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” Du Jing conceded.
As I suspected, Zhou Luoyang thought. Everything makes sense now.
“So you report for duty at the head office because I’m in Wan City.”
Du Jing thought for a moment and replied, “You could put it like that.”
Zhou Luoyang was a bit suspicious. This was indeed something Du Jing would do. “You…made frequent appearances near my apartment, didn’t you?”
“I often lay on the bench below your building at night. I couldn’t sleep regardless,” Du Jing admitted.
“Why didn’t you come up and knock?”
“I was afraid you were still angry.”
Zhuang Li: “…………”
“Actually, no matter what, if you knocked on my door, I would open it for you. But you still went to Yu Jianqiang’s dinner…”
“I couldn’t stay away anymore,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang knew that what Du Jing was truly afraid of wasn’t that he was still angry after three years.
“You weren’t afraid that I was angry, you were afraid that after three years apart, we’d already become strangers with nothing to do with each other anymore,” Zhou Luoyang slowly said. “You treasured the memories of the days we lived together three years ago, and you feared that you’d changed, that I’d changed. You were scared that after I nodded and exchanged greetings with you, I would never contact you again, and we would never be able to go back to the way we used to be.”
“Since you already know everything, why say it out loud?” Du Jing asked.
“I always thought that just as I understood you, you were the one person who understood me best, too.”
“I couldn’t get over myself.”
Zhou Luoyang thought for a moment. “But everything’s good now. We’re…we’re…”
Zhou Luoyang wanted to say “We’re together again,” but it wasn’t as if they used to be a couple, so the wording felt a bit weird. For a moment, he couldn’t find the right words to use.
“We’ve met up again,” Du Jing supplied serenely.
“Right,” Zhou Luoyang said, smiling, “why stir up a fuss over small things? When I saw you again, I thought then that I could slowly overcome many difficulties. Neither of us have changed—isn’t this the best outcome?”
Zhuang Li craned his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of Du Jing’s face in the rearview mirror. Zhou Luoyang’s words were too easily misunderstood. Of course, the relationship between the two of them was just as easily misunderstood by outsiders.
The car parked below Zhou Luoyang’s building. They’d arrived at his home. Still, Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing sat silently in the back seat. Zhou Luoyang glanced at him; the scar beneath Du Jing’s eyes was particularly prominent in the sunlight.
Du Jing avoided eye contact and looked out the window at the familiar apartment building.
“You’re right, this is already the luckiest outcome of all. When are you planning on letting me move in with you?” It seemed that Du Jing had thought a lot of things through.
Zhou Luoyang was just about to open the door and get out, but he paused at the question. “Wait for me to properly ask Leyao’s opinion.”
“He already agreed on Monday.”
“He was just being polite. I still need to formally…”
“Just like you, he’s a polite, considerate child,” Du Jing interrupted.
Zhou Luoyang didn’t say anything.
Du Jing was silent for a long moment. Zhou Luoyang was sure there was still more he wanted to say, so he didn’t leave. Du Jing had already made two requests of him over several consecutive days—this was unprecedented. But both their goals pointed directly at the same thing: Du Jing wanted to live with him. And this desire was so strong that he was willing to declare it repeatedly, even if it meant risking being turned down.
“You don’t need to worry about the store.”
Sure enough, Du Jing spoke nearly a minute later.
“I’ll take care of any difficulties for you. If you don’t want to open up the store, that’s fine too. You don’t need to force yourself,” Du Jing said slowly, seriously. “If you agree to live with me, we can be roommates again. If you don’t object to my moving in, I mean. You won’t have to work. I’ll hand over my salary to you to manage, and I won’t get involved in it.”
When Zhou Luoyang heard this, he smiled, chest flooding with warmth.
Du Jing looked up at Zhou Luoyang. “My salary is enough to support us two, as well as Leyao. It’s also enough to take care of all household expenses. You can do whatever you want to do. If you’re willing, I would really love it if you ironed my shirts for me every day. After work, I’ll do my portion of the housework. When I get home, we’ll eat dinner together…I can’t cook, but I can learn.”
“I understand,” Zhou Luoyang replied.
“I can drive Leyao for you, and we’ll look after him together. Otherwise you’ll have to work as well as run the household—you’ll have your hands full. We can live like…like…”
“Live like two gay people,” Zhou Luoyang finished for him.
Du Jing thought for a long moment. He’d originally wanted to say, “Like we used to.”
But this was indeed an even more apt description.
“Yes. Live together like two gay people,” Du Jing replied. Finally, he added, “Whenever Leyao’s back, I can sleep on the couch in the living room.”
“Give me some time, and I’ll let you know after I take care of everything.” Zhou Luoyang got out of the car.
Zhou Luoyang’s home had been cleaned very thoroughly, and you couldn’t tell at all that anyone had been there. There were no traces of damage to the locks, and everything had been organized and sorted away. If anyone else had been responsible for this home intrusion-style gesture of kindness, Zhou Luoyang would surely be enraged, but he’d long grown accustomed to the way Du Jing operated.
Over the past few days, the two of them had practically been glued together day and night. Now that they had returned from Hangzhou and split up, and Zhou Luoyang was facing his empty home all alone, the emptiness suddenly felt a bit alien to him.
After Du Jing had left school without a word, the dorm room that then only housed Zhou Luoyang had felt equally alien to him. This feeling lasted practically until graduation.
In those few years, he would always feel as though someday, Du Jing would come back, knocking on the door after class.
He had the same feeling now, after returning home today—Zhou Luoyang felt again as though Du Jing would knock on the door and come inside.
He sat for a while on the couch. In this utterly silent two-bedroom-one-living-room apartment that he’d rented, he suddenly felt utterly alone.
Can you pick up Leyao with me tomorrow evening?
I’ll have to see. I might have a work meeting.
Remember what you promised me.
I’ve always remembered, but there might not be any results any time soon.
Zhou Luoyang had reminded Du Jing to not forget about that extremely important issue, but this reminder was pointless; how could Du Jing possibly look into it? Was he supposed to gather his co-workers, share their two experiences of going twenty-four hours back in time, and have everyone work together to pick out any anomalies in the whole affair?
All Du Jing could do was think about it on his own. Originally, Zhou Luoyang didn’t have high hopes for unraveling the enigma of a supernatural phenomenon. If this were still the first time, he would have just ignored it.
But since this phenomenon had occurred once again, that meant it might occur a third time, and a fourth time, and even many more times after.
It didn’t seem as if it had any negative effects on them as of yet. Zhou Luoyang sighed and resigned himself to his only option: to shelve away the time travel issue for now and instead think about how to discuss with Leyao the fact that their family was on the verge of gaining a new member.
Ever since that car accident, Leyao had become extremely perceptive. Or perhaps he’d been a perceptive person ever since he was a child. After he lost both parents and mobility in half his body, Zhou Luoyang became his sole relative, and he could sense that his little brother’s attention was on him at all times.
Sure enough, that Friday, when he went to his school to pick him up after class, Leyao had already more or less surmised what had happened not long after getting in the car.
“Has Du Jing already moved in?” Leyao asked softly.
“What?” Zhou Luoyang came back to himself. “No, did he talk to you?”
Leyao shook his head with a smile. “Did you spend the entire week together?”
“No,” Zhou Luoyang denied. At the same time, he thought, At least, we aren’t together today.
Du Jing hadn’t come today; he was probably stuck in a meeting. Leyao said, “Let him move in. I’m fine with it. I live at school five days a week anyway…”
Zhou Luoyang thought about it for a moment. “Every time you say you’re fine, you’re not actually fine. Leyao, why won’t you tell me how you really feel?”
“What are you talking about?” Leyao laughed and turned to look out the car window.
Zhou Luoyang first brought the wheelchair upstairs, then carried Leyao up and sat him in the wheelchair before fishing out his keys.
Ding ding ding ding—
“You deep cleaned!” Leyao exclaimed in astonishment.
Previously when Leyao was home, Zhou Luoyang had hardly ever done a thorough cleaning, in part because every time he wanted to clean, Leyao would insist on helping out. In order not to burden Leyao, the brothers could only do some simple tidying up.
“There’s no way you cleaned all by yourself.” Grinning, Leyao wheeled himself into his room to set some things down. “Did Du Jing hire a cleaning service?”
Zhou Luoyang felt defeated. Sometimes he felt that Leyao was the one suited for detective work.
How on earth did he figure it out?
“Are we eating dinner at home?” Leyao’s voice drifted out from his room. “No need to help, I can grab my clothes myself.”
Zhou Luoyang considered it for a bit and said, “Let’s go out to eat. What do you want to eat?”
Leyao got changed and came back out. “When is he coming? If it’s not for a while, I can take a bath first.”
“Who?” Shortly after, Zhou Luoyang realized that Leyao was asking about Du Jing again, so he explained, “Du Jing isn’t coming. He might have to work overtime.”
Leyao didn’t pursue the topic further and wheeled himself to the bathroom. Zhou Luoyang didn’t move to help him; he merely stood on the side, watching. In the short span of a week, Leyao had already learned how to bathe without anyone’s assistance.
First, he braced the edge of the bathtub and moved his legs in. Then, holding onto the sink, he slowly slid into the bathtub, still fully clothed. Once he drew the curtain closed, he finally began to undress, placing his clothes on a stool next to the bathtub.
“You did great,” Zhou Luoyang praised with sincerity. “Did the school teach you?”
The sound of running water started up on the other side of the curtain.
“Have you been bathing every day this week?”
“Sometimes every day, sometimes every other day. Aaron usually waits for me outside of the bathroom.”
“How are you guys getting along?”
“I think he’s pretty fond of me.”
“What about you?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
From behind the curtain, Leyao thought about it and said, “I’m very fond of him too. He’s like you. He has a sense of responsibility.”
Zhou Luoyang knew very well that men always felt a sort of protectiveness. They wanted to look after those weaker than themselves and, in many situations, to volunteer to take on responsibilities, even if those responsibilities had nothing to do with them.
This desire was innate. It was carved into the genes that had evolved over hundreds of millions of years on Earth. Just like when he and Du Jing first met; from the start, he’d felt he had the responsibility to look after him.
“How are your studies?” Zhou Luoyang asked as he headed into the living room to organize the clothes and books Leyao had brought back.
Leyao gave an answer from inside the bathroom. His studies had actually become the least of his worries. He’d always been very gifted, and he loved physics. Zhou Luoyang approved heartily; if he stayed in academia doing research in the future, he wouldn’t have to interact too much with society.
By the time Zhou Luoyang had just finished organizing everything, Leyao was already dressed and coming out of the bathroom—he’d laid a towel in the bathtub beneath himself and dried himself off, then slowly got dressed, got in his wheelchair, and began to blow dry his hair.
“Great.” Zhou Luoyang suddenly felt a stinging his eyes. “This is great, Leyao.”
Leyao looked at his brother. But just as he was about to say something, the doorbell rang. Zhou Luoyang opened the door and was taken off guard when he saw Du Jing.
Du Jing: “……”
“Why…didn’t you shoot me a message if you were coming over?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing looked Zhou Luoyang up and down. “No matter when I come knocking, you’ll always open the door for me. You said it yourself.”
Zhou Luoyang: “………………”
“Hi.” Du Jing took off his sunglasses and greeted Leyao.
“Hi,” Leyao said with a smile. “We were just waiting for you to join us for dinner.”
Du Jing set a cake down on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch. “How’s life at school?”
“Esteemed lord, could you please do me the favor of removing your leather shoes?” Zhou Luoyang asked amiably.
“My roommate takes good care of me,” Leyao answered.
Du Jing turned toward Zhou Luoyang. “Yesterday night I accidentally pulled something in my waist in my sleep, so I can’t bend down. Come here really quick. We’ll leave in just a moment.”
Zhou Luoyang walked over, holding a pair of slippers. He sat on the coffee table and bent down to unlace Du Jing’s shoes and change him into slippers.
“Mine?” Du Jing took a glance at the slippers.
“Yeah,” Zhou Luoyang answered rigidly, while shooting him deliberate looks, hoping he wouldn’t say anything he shouldn’t in front of his little brother. He just didn’t know if his condition had stabilized yet.
For a moment, the three of them didn’t say anything. Leyao was the first to break the silence. “I’ll slice the cake. Are we celebrating something?”
“Celebrating the smooth sailing of your first week at school,” Du Jing said. “How’s that excuse?”
But Zhou Luoyang was sure Du Jing had something to say, he just couldn’t say it in front of Leyao. Sure enough, after glancing at his phone, he found the remote control and nimbly flipped it over in his hand a few times before pressing the power button and projecting a video from his phone onto the TV.
“—a top one hundred real estate company in hot water; this morning, the company’s CEO Mister Yu was taken into custody for a number of financial crimes and construction safety violations—”
In the video, the suspect was being hauled out of the front entrance of a company building by the criminal police. The building number and the suspect’s face were censored, but Zhou Luoyang recognized him with a single glance. It was Yu Jianqiang.
“—the proprietors who have purchased real estate are taking lawful measures to protect their rights—”
Yu Jianqiang was arrested; one of his charges pertained to construction safety. So it seemed that Wu Xingping, who had fled into the night, ought to have been arrested as well, though they couldn’t be sure what he had confessed. The video then shifted to the anchor commenting on the real estate market and reminding buyers to remain vigilant, and so on.
“Did you buy a house from them?” Leyao asked, curious.
“No, I’m a lapdog. Lapdogs are stuck in the doghouse, so lapdogs can’t afford a real house,” Du Jing said.
Leyao burst into laughter. Zhou Luoyang’s lips twitched. He had been worried because the character Du Jing had played while undercover had had cash dealings with Wu Xingping. Would he be implicated too? But then again, Zhou Luoyang figured that since this was an assignment from his company, his boss would probably settle the matter for him.
Du Jing swiped away the video, showing Zhou Luoyang a second video.
It was about the special bust carried out jointly by law enforcement from Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Wan City, which was coming along in stages. The news report didn’t describe the nature of the criminal organization or mention any suspects or hideout locations or anything like that, but it specifically mentioned “public tip-offs.”
The camera was pointed at a car whose license plate was censored. The chief of police was participating in a simple interview behind it. Zhou Luoyang recognized that car; he and Du Jing had been squeezed in its trunk for nearly five hours.
“Crack down on crime, and don’t forget one’s original intentions,” Zhou Luoyang commented. “Nice.”
“Eat the cake.” Du Jing took the knife and sliced it into four equal pieces. One slice for each person. Zhou Luoyang looked at the remaining slice, and the two of them said in unison, “Here’s to Fang Xiao Zhou.”
Leyao looked between the two of them, confused.
“This is one of our rituals. You’ve got to have some rituals in life,” Du Jing explained.
“A vindictive ritual,” Zhou Luoyang added.
The cake was delicious, but Zhou Luoyang didn’t want to eat too much before dinner. Du Jing, on the other hand, dug in with gusto. After finishing his share, he finally said, “Remember to ship the last slice to him.”
“Alright, are you done?” Zhou Luoyang finally couldn’t take it anymore. “How long are you gonna keep cracking this joke?”
Du Jing grabbed his suit. “Come along with me. We’ll pick up Leyao in two hours for dinner together.”
“Could we do this a different day?” Zhou Luoyang asked seriously.
But Leyao perceptively said, “I’ll go do my homework while I wait for you guys to get back.”
Du Jing motioned for Zhou Luoyang to put on his shoes for him. “Sorry for disrupting your family time.”
“What happened to your waist?” Zhou Luoyang asked unhappily.
“I pulled something that day when I rammed into that thug behind you.”
“I have a balm for sprains here.”
“We can deal with it later. Let’s hurry.” Du Jing glanced at the newspapers spread out across the top of the coffee table. At the bottom was a page announcing the Union Lotto winners. “Are you memorizing the winning numbers?”
“I’m just using that to cover the coffee table!”
Zhou Luoyang got in the car. The roads were packed this Friday evening. Du Jing stared ahead, lost in thought, and Zhou Luoyang asked, “Are you feeling better?”
“Last night it suddenly got a bit bad, but then I felt a lot better when I thought about how I’d come see you today,” Du Jing said.
“You found a lead on that thing?” Zhou Luoyang abruptly asked. “Where are we going now?”
Du Jing snapped out of it and shook his head. “No, I just wanted to take you to meet someone.”
Their destination was an expensive and renowned hotel not far away. Du Jing brought Zhou Luoyang up to the suite on the top floor, and after knocking and entering, Zhou Luoyang swept his gaze across the room. A young woman was sitting on the edge of the bed, and in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows sat an old man in a wheelchair.
Outside the window was Wan City’s crimson autumn-time sunset.
Confused, Zhou Luoyang nodded at them.
“Hello.” The old man looked at them and smiled. “Long time no see, Vincent.”
That was Du Jing’s English name. Zhou Luoyang wondered if they’d met each other while in the United States.
“This is him. His name is Luoyang,” Du Jing said.
The old man gave Luoyang a nod. Du Jing walked up to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a non-alcoholic drink.
“Who might you be?” A number of thoughts flitted through Zhou Luoyang’s mind—was he a scientist studying time and quantum effects? He seemed like an old scholar; was the young woman his daughter?
“Let me introduce myself,” said the old man. “My surname is Yao. My name is Yao Kang.”
Zhou Luoyang’s confusion deepened. The entire way here, Du Jing hadn’t offered any explanation, leaving him completely perplexed.
“I once had a daughter named Yao Lu,” Yao Kang said, “who married a businessman named Yu Jianqiang.”
“It’s you?!” Zhou Luoyang gasped.
Yao Kang’s wrinkled smile was sorrowful. He continued, “I was the one who said I wanted to meet you. Thank you both for everything you’ve done for this old man.”
Du Jing handed Zhou Luoyang a non-alcoholic drink and sat down to the side.
“But didn’t you already…” Zhou Luoyang gazed at Yao Kang in astonishment.
“I didn’t die,” Yao Kang explained. “Xiao Yu just always thought I’d died. It’s not very difficult to conceal certain things from all the way on the other side of the ocean.”
Zhou Luoyang looked at Du Jing again. He’d vaguely surmised what had happened. And sure enough, that evening, Yao Kang described to them the entire course of events starting from when he commissioned Du Jing to return to China and investigate Yu Jianqiang.
After Yao Lu and Yu Jianqiang got married, the aging Yao Kang left for the United States for medical treatment. Yu Jianqiang had still held a bit of affection for this “big brother” who helped him get rich and gave him the property he’d worked so hard on for half a lifetime.
But several years ago, Yao Lu’s depression drove her to commit suicide. Yu Jianqiang was worried that this would adversely affect Yao Kang’s condition while he was getting treated far away overseas, so he didn’t tell him until half a year after the funeral. At that time, the nearly sixty-year-old man began to suspect Yu Jianqiang, and the desire for revenge stirred inside of him.
But the medical appraisal was true, and it was already too late to overturn its verdict. And if he wanted to set about investigating the situation, it would be even harder to find any clues. And even if he did, so what? Yu Jianqiang had no direct connection to this whole thing—the same went for Wang Ke’s death. Yao Kang’s heart ached with grief and indignation. By holding onto the conviction that Yu Jianqiang would be brought to justice, he managed to live on for many more years despite his ailing body.
That was, until his condition took a turn for the worse for a final time. He’d wanted to give up at first. But then he happened to meet Du Jing. After Du Jing took on the case, he told him that it didn’t seem likely that he would be able to make Yu Jianqiang receive the punishment he deserved. However, he could find some other way to make him pay the rightful price.
And so Yao Kang placed his last hopes in Du Jing. Du Jing instructed him to privately commission him through Wan City’s Changyi, while he engineered this game of chess. If he wanted to punish Yu Jianqiang, he needed an effective breakthrough point. Du Jing carefully dug into Yu Jianqiang’s past and found out that aside from Yao Lu, he was connected to another deceased person named Wang Ke.
Neither of these cases could be directly tied back to Yu Jianqiang, at least not enough to send him to prison. So Du Jing thought of something else—a year ago, they’d been investigating UT; Du Jing introduced the suspect who killed Wang Ke to UT’s overseas chapter and told him that if he wanted money, he could turn to extortion.
Sure enough, the suspect took the bait and began to contact Yu Jianqiang through UT. Thus, Du Jing brought along these two sets of information with him back to China, formally joined Changyi, began to gather evidence against Yu Jianqiang in other facets, and, by following the trail of clues, helped the authorities uncover UT’s chapter in China.
With a smile, Zhou Luoyang said, “I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m not a private investigator. I actually don’t know anything at all. I was just following Du Jing around.”
“Vincent said that this case was cracked by the two of you,” Yao Kang said. “No matter what, I had to thank you personally. To you, this is just a brief, insignificant chapter in your lives, but to an old man with one foot in the grave already, it’s the greatest preoccupation of his life. Thank you.”
Yao Kang wanted to get up from the wheelchair and bow to Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing, but his joints creaked, and the girl rushed over to support him. Zhou Luoyang quickly said, “No need to be courteous. It’s only what I should’ve done.”
“He’s leaving tomorrow, so I invited you here to meet him today,” Du Jing explained.
Yao Kang said, “I’ve prepared a gift to express my thanks. It’s something Vincent and I agreed upon a long time ago…”
Du Jing immediately declined it. “No, no, I told you a long time ago that you didn’t need to.”
“Take it,” Yao Kang urged. “Perhaps you’ll find a use for it in the future.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Zhou Luoyang told Yao Kang. “He’s getting paid. This is part of his job.”
But Yao Kang smiled and said, “Vincent’s getting paid, but you aren’t. The very first day we met, he mentioned you—”
Du Jing shot up rigidly. “Alright, we’ll be taking our leave now.”
“Take it.” The young female assistant brought over a small box with a card on top of it. The gift was very light. Du Jing wanted to refuse it again, but Yao Kang directed a sincere look at him.
Finally, Du Jing had no choice but to take it. “I wish you good health.”
“I wish you good health too, and strong willpower,” Yao Kang said. “We’re accompanied by trials and tribulations all our lives.”
Du Jing lifted his hand and made a gesture as if tipping a hat, and though he wore no hat, this was his farewell to Yao Kang. The light of the setting sun hit the side of his face, and as Zhou Luoyang looked at that scarred face, he could all of a sudden feel the gentleness and warmth hidden beneath his cold exterior.
“What is this?” Zhou Luoyang opened the box and saw a USB drive sitting inside. “Is this some more classified information?”
“I thought you didn’t want the gift? Regardless of what’s inside.”
“If it’s important to you, then we can accept it. If you don’t care much about it either, we can find an opportunity to mail it back to him,” said Zhou Luoyang.
Zhou Luoyang handed the gift to Du Jing, and Du Jing set it aside.
They drove back to Zhou Luoyang’s apartment and went upstairs to fetch Leyao out to eat. Leyao seemed to have picked up on something ever since Du Jing came to their apartment, and he said, “You guys talk amongst yourselves. Don’t mind me.”
Zhou Luoyang had originally wanted to chat with Leyao about school, but Du Jing’s presence diverted his train of thought.
“How long have you known him?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing confirmed their reservation on his phone and set off for the restaurant. “Three years. We met when I first got to America. You can ask whatever you want to ask today, and I’ll answer everything.”
Leyao was texting his friend on his phone. He silently listened to the two of them converse, without asking any questions. Zhou Luoyang knew that Du Jing’s words were spoken half for his little brother’s sake, so that he could bring them closer together.
“Oh?” Zhou Luoyang no longer felt the desire to ask about every detail of the past three years of Du Jing’s life. First, Du Jing didn’t want to tell him anyway, and it would only ruin everyone’s mood. Second, he was back already, so the past no longer seemed so important. Everything was fine as long as he was back. A prodigal son’s return home couldn’t be traded for gold. That was just how life always was.
“It looks like you’ve made lots of friends,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“He’s the only one,” Du Jing said. “We met while I was getting treated. The hospital had group sharing sessions where everyone sat in a circle and chatted about whatever. Everyone spoke about themselves. Yao Kang had this disorder too, and he passed it on to his daughter.”
“What disorder?” Leyao asked softly.
“Bipolar disorder.” Du Jing glanced at Leyao through the rearview mirror. “Also known as manic depression.”
“Has it gotten any better?” Leyao asked.
“Much better.” Du Jing turned the steering wheel and parked the car. “Your brother has been very accommodating of me all this time.”
Du Jing pushed the wheelchair into the western restaurant, led the brothers to their table, and ordered their food.
“So one of the reasons you came back to China was to do this for him? Does it count as a promise you made?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“Not exactly.” Du Jing thought about it for a moment and continued, “I was a being, grieving over the pain of my fellow being, I suppose. I went to take part in FBI training shortly after, so this case was shelved for a long time.”
“The FBI?” Leyao was shocked. “Are you referring to the FBI I’m thinking of?”
Du Jing gazed at Zhou Luoyang while answering Leyao’s question. “Yes, it’s what you’re thinking of. Not the FBI as in FBI warning…”
“Don’t make those jokes with him,” Zhou Luoyang reprimanded him.
Leyao looked at him quizzically.
“But I wasn’t a formal FBI employee; I wasn’t an officially registered agent because I couldn’t pass their psych tests with bipolar disorder,” said Du Jing.
“I could only join a non-governmental agency that they ran. We mostly dealt with intelligence sources, and sometimes, we would get in contact with spies and take on minor cases in passing. Between us and the government, neither of us assumed any responsibility.”
“Is it like in the movies?” Leyao asked.
Du Jing considered it for a moment, then said, “No, it’s very different. I can take my time telling you more about it in the future.”
But Zhou Luoyang watched Du Jing and remarked, “It must be very hard work being part of such an organization.”
Du Jing looked off into the distance. After a brief pause, he shifted his gaze back to Zhou Luoyang’s face.
“It’s not hard on the body,” Du Jing said, “but for the mind, it’s very lonely.”
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.