“Dāobā Xiao,22 we haven’t seen each other for a long time.”
In one of Jin Ting’s luxurious private rooms, a thirty-four years old man with a sturdy frame was leisurely enjoying a cigarette as he greeted Xiao Li.
“I am a law-abiding citizen, it’s better if I don’t meet with you too often.” Xiao Li smiled and joked with him as he took a seat, “Wu Chuzhang,23 how come you are here so early?”
“Isn’t it to give you this.” Wu Qinghua took out a thick envelope from his briefcase and threw it over. “How can I give you these confidential documents right in front of Zhou Juzhang’s face when it was taken from his bureau?”
Xiao Li smiled and took the envelope. “I understand. If Zhou Juzhang23 doesn’t see it, it didn’t happen.”
Wu Qinghua nodded while puffing out smoke. “Why don’t you open it and take a look?”
Xiao Li shook his head. “Wu Chuzhang, you think too highly of me. I won’t understand any of it even if I look.”
“What’s there to not understand?” Wu Qinghua pinched the cigarette stub and snatched the envelope back. “Or could it be that you guys have a specialist who can analyze these kinds of things? Fuck! Gangs nowadays have a great number of competent people.” He opened the envelope. “Here, look at the laboratory report. It’s regarding the blood test drawn from you that day.”
Xiao Li furrowed his brows and looked closer. “Wu Chuzhang, I really don’t understand.”
“If you don’t understand the numbers, then at least look at the conclusion below!” Wu Qinghua stared at him, then pointed at the conclusion. He read aloud, “This chemical compound can paralyze the nerves, eliminating their self-control even if the individual is mentally clear-headed. Although rarely seen in this province, it is very common and popular in the neighboring provinces and some southern—” He burst into a loud laughter as he continued, “As seen amongst many cases, it is mainly used in bars… hahahahaha, I was thinking why was it so hard to find the motive for this crime, but as it turns out, it’s actually directed toward your ass!”
The blue veins on Xiao Li’s forehead jumped, looking like thick roots that spread out. However, he maintained a slight smile as the man joked on with a teasing laugh. Just as Wu Qinghua laughed, he suddenly recalled something. He lowered his head and flipped to the middle of the stack, pulling out a photograph, “Then who is this hero that saves the beauty in distress?”
Taking the photograph, Xiao Li saw that it was a screenshot from a traffic monitor videotape near the Arc de Triomphe. The quality was not good, but it was clear enough to see Qi Xiuyuan piggybacking him as he blocked a taxi.
“You didn’t mention this when you gave your statement. Didn’t you say you got out by yourself?” Wu Qinghua looked at him suspiciously.
“This person is a friend of mine. He doesn’t have anything to do with this.” Xiao Li tapped his finger on the table, “Wu Chuzhang, can you not let him be implicated in this matter?”
Wu Qinghua took another, narrowed his eyes to look at him and spoke in an officious tone. “Daoba Xiao ah, this matter is quite serious. Since the crime was committed by an ‘outside hitman organization’ and not by local gang warfare, the bureau attached great importance to it.” He smiled mischievously, “Don’t think that aside from covering up for you guys that our Interpol doesn’t dare to do anything else, especially when it comes to those small pesky criminals. We’re really serious about investigating them.”
Xiao Li laughed faintly, “I know that Wu Chuzhang definitely has a way to work it out.”
Wu Qinghua changed the topic. “But, if there is an order from the higher-ups to destroy any material relating to this person, then no one would dare mention it. They are very smart and will understand what it means.”
Xiao Li, “Then, we will be troubling Wu Chuzhang for assistance. We will definitely thank you properly.”
Wu Qinghua had been waiting for him to say that sentence as he nodded in relief. “Alright then, I will give them a call now.” He looked at his watch, “Zhou Juzhang should be here soon. There is no need to keep me company, so hurry up and put these documents back in order.”
With a slight nod, Xiao Li got up and gathered the documents. He placed the envelope inside an opening in his suit and returned to his own lounge room. He quickly pulled out all the pages concerning Qi Xiuyuan and skimmed over it. Once he verified that it would not influence the report, he tore those pages into pieces and threw them into the toilet.
Just as his cellphone sounded, Xiao Li flushed the toilet and took a look at his phone. It was a message from Qi Xiuyuan.
“How come you didn’t you say anything when you got discharged from the hospital? Give me a call if you have time and if you don’t, reply back. Take care of your health and remember to not drink any alcohol.”
Xiao Li glanced at his watch and smiled before calling back.
- River of Hope Teahouse
“In the end, that brat didn’t finish his assignment and even acted shamelessly with me.” Qi Xiuyuan said grudgingly. “Then he ran out of my office and spread a rumor that I used the exam-oriented educational system to persecute him. He had the nerve to say, ‘Qi Laoshi! If you force me to write this assignment out, I’ll hurt myself!’”
Feeling quite amused, Xiao Li laughed out heartily, and he said, “There’s no need to talk nonsense with him. Let me teach you, next time you can just do this—” He stood up, placed one of his hand firmly on the table and grabbed Qi Xiuyuan’s collar tightly with the other, and then pulled him forward a bit as if threatening him. He put on a sinister smile. “Hurt yourself? Even if you fucking castrate yourself, you still have to finish your assignment first!”
Qi Xiuyuan burst into a peal of loud laughter. “Then, I’ll also teach you something. When an officer speaks to you in such an officious manner next time, just follow along with what he said and stifle him up for all that he knows.” He put on a straight and stern expression and said respectfully, “Wu Chuzhang, since it’s so difficult for you, then I won’t be causing you any more trouble!”
The two looked at each other and laughed to their heart’s content.
As the wind coming from the direction of the river blew gently by, Qi Xiuyuan looked out for a second then returned his gaze to Xiao Li. “Do you want to go play billiards?”
Xiao Li looked at his watch. “I have to go stop someone and have a good conversation with them tomorrow morning.”
“Then…” Qi Xiuyuan’s voice warmed up, “How about going for a walk near the river?”
“Okay,” Xiao Li stood up immediately.
When the two walked out together, Qi Xiuyuan asked, “Xiao Li, why are you always wearing this T-shirt?”
Xiao Li lowered his head for a look, “Because all my other clothes are suits. This is the shirt I wore when I someone else’s subordinate.”
Qi Xiuyuan’s brows perked up in astonishment, “You wore this kind of T-shirt when you were a subordinate? It’s very…”
“Very refined, right?” Xiao Li laughed. “When I saw that it was on sale, I bought a dozen of them. I didn’t expect that even school students liked to wear this kind of shirt. So, when I wore it to beat someone up, I wasn’t happy no matter how hard I struck them, especially since it felt like I was wearing a school uniform.” He paused and sighed sorrowfully, “Afterward, I became a leader, a very dedicated subordinatebought me clothes and said that wearing suits showed mannerism and style. Since then he would always buy me suits…”
Qi Xiuyuan, “Have him buy you a little bit of something else. At least when you’re playing billiards, there’s no need to wear a suit.”
There was a moment of silence before Xiao Li finally answered, “He’s dead.”
Qi Xiuyuan also went silent as they walked until they reached the side of the river.
The moon was not out in the night sky, but countless stars sprinkled across the inky darkness while the vast and mighty river stretched out, as if reaching towards the starlight and rolling over into the furthest distance of the heavens.
Xiao Li stood near the rail and stared down at the water below as it moved gently in the same. There was a softness in his eyes as he slowly spoke. “He is the fifth person near me to have died. When I fought for power with someone, I said to my brothers: ‘everyone must do their best because once we seize the territory, our days will be better’. I didn’t expect that even now, there would still be people dying.”
Listening with an understanding expression, Qi Xiuyuan wanted to place his hand on Xiao Li’s shoulder, but he didn’t have the nerve to. He let out a sad sigh, “Don’t feel too sad.”
Xiao Li replied, his voice somewhat soft. “I’m not that sad. There’s a saying in the underworld: ‘what you are fond of will be the cause of your death.24 Today it is him, tomorrow it will be me.’ I have prepared mentally, but Hong Tou had been with me for years and lost his life because of me yet I didn’t even remember that his grandfather had already passed away… in his lifetime…”
He suddenly stopped and let out a hollow smile as if mocking himself. “What am I even telling you all of these things for?”
Qi Xiuyuan lowered his voice, “Because you can’t talk about it with your brothers. It’s like how when I’m stressed out at work, it’s pointless to talk with my colleagues, Susu wouldn’t understand and my students would only worry. But I can relax a bit more when I’m talking with you. There’s a saying that ‘courtesy demands reciprocity,’25 so long as you are willing to speak, I am willing to listen at all times.”
“That’s reasonable.” Xiao Li seemed to have accepted his explanation and loosened up.
Just as Qi Xiuyuan sighed in relief, he suddenly saw as Xiao Li turned around and approached him, reaching out to the back of his collar.
Qi Xiuyuan’s heart almost leaped out and when he saw Xiao Li moved closer, his face nearly touching his as if he wanted to kiss the side of his, yet he titled his neck slightly to the side instead.
The warmth and humidity seemed to envelop him, making him unable to sense anything for a moment, but then slightly lukewarm fingers touched the back of his neck. It was like he could feel the rough texture of the wrinkles on the fingerprints imprinting. Xiao Li’s breaths sprinkled lightly over his neck, setting off an undercurrent of electricity from that area. Qi Xiuyuan felt his limbs going slightly numb, and he actually didn’t know what today was or if it was daytime or nighttime. It seemed as if all his senses were cruelty sealed, and the only thing left in the entire world was Xiao Li’s temperature and scent. Xiao Li’s scent…
“180, 96A,” Xiao Li read out loud. “I’ll buy some shirts according to this size later on since they fitted quite well the last time that I wore your clothes.”
Afterward, Xiao Li released his hand and raised his head before taking a step back. He looked at Qi Xiuyuan with a puzzling expression, “What’s wrong?”
Qi Xiuyuan suddenly grabbed Xiao Li’s wrist, “Xiao Li, there’s no need for you to be a gang leader. Come with me…” He instinctively recounted his own desires, however, seeing the unclear emotions in Xiao Li’s eyes, he forcefully pulled back his excitement and changed his tone. “Come and be a teacher with me. I think that you would make a great physical education teacher.”
“You mean bringing the students with me to cut people down?” Xiao Li laughed heartily.
Qi Xiuyuan laughed along and reluctantly released Xiao Li’s hand.
22 Dāobā Xiao –刀疤 ‘a scar from a knife wound so, Wu Qinghua is calling Xiao Li, ‘Xiao with the scar made from a knife’
23 Wu Chuzhang – section chief Wu / Zhou Juzhang – director Zhou
24 ‘What you are fond of will be the cause of your death’ (酱里虫，酱里死) The idiom is, a “bug that’s born in the soy sauce will die in the soy sauce.”
25 courtesy demands reciprocity – idiom [礼尚往来] lǐshàngwǎnglái, means dealing with a man as he deals with you; pay a man back in his own coins; give as good as one goes; return politeness with politeness