“My mom likes to hug me like this.”
Xiao Li suddenly spoke. This time, his voice was more distinct as the warmth took over. The looming darkness seemed to have made him softhearted, taking away all of his misgivings.
“When she was sixteen, she gave birth to me. At that time, she did not know anything, and it did not help that her temperament made her useless and annoying. In order to support the two of us, she became a prostitute. Sometimes, when she returned after being wronged, she would hug me like this.” He paused as if sorting his thoughts out, “Afterwards, the leader of a gang appeared and took her under his wings. She stayed with him for several years and by then, she had already gone insane. When she was no longer able to be a prostitute, she became his procuress. Who knew what she was thinking back then since she had even taken me to the places she was stalking. She had proudly said to herself: ‘Xiao Li, look at how impressive mom is right now…’ She was truly a fool. Who would show off this kind of place to their own son…”
Qi Xiuyuan felt drops of warm tears dripped on his shoulder, and as the cold breeze pass by, he could not help but stretch his hands out to lightly pat Xiao Li’s back to console him.
Suddenly, Xiao Li tensed up. It seemed as if he felt resentment toward Qi Xiuyuan’s hug, but it also seemed like he had remembered the bad things that had happened to him in the past. Ultimately, he lowered his voice even more, “When I was fifteen, the leader that she worked for saw me and said that he wanted me to keep him company. She disapproved immediately. She had said some wrong words and that provoke the gang leader’s anger. In the end, she fought with one of his subordinates who pushed her down a staircase… on the night of that day, she died.”
To say that shock was what Qi Xiuyuan was feeling would not sufficiently describe his emotion. He was struck by countless bolts that traveled into the core of his body and wrung his heart tighter than it had ever been as he felt the slight trembles consuming the person in his arms. He tightened his embrace as if this could convey even a bit of comfort to the other person.
Xiao Li’s voice went silent and Qi Xiuyuan felt that his shoulder was completely drenched.
Xiao Li started to speak again, “Afterwards, that leader brought the subordinate who had pushed her to my house, and in front of her memorial tablet, he made him stab himself three times as an apology. When his blood flowed to the ground, Xiao Yang was so scared, he cried for the longest time… he paid us with his subordinate’s life and gave us some money, visiting us every day, and he had even helped Xiao Yang enter a good school. I knew the meaning behind his actions. I was afraid that soon or later, I won’t be able to escape, so I went to look for him. I told him that I was willing to be his subordinate in order to repay his kindness, but anything else was impossible. He… he… I pulled out a knife and dragged it along my face. At first, I wanted to cut along the center of my face, but he suddenly blocked me, and the knife slid the other way, becoming like how it is now. When he saw how the situation turned out, he could only agree to what I had told him.”
Xiao Li sighed, “But Xiao Yang began to hate me. Perhaps when I became a member of the gang, he was scared to the extent of hating me or his hatred started to grow when our mother died… but right before my mother died, she had me promise her, promise her to take care of Xiao Yang and to not let him enter the underworld. Truthfully, after all these years, if it were not for this promise, I would have already… if Xiao Yang was dead, what reason would I have to live on?”
Qi Xiuyuan was speechless – he could only try to console him. “He’s only going to work in another province, as long as everyone is still alive, what problems can’t be resolved?”
Xiao Li shivered when those words entered his ears. He suddenly pushed Qi Xiuyuan away, turned around, and walked to the side of the riverbank.
Qi Xiuyuan felt that something was wrong and followed him anxiously. “Xiao Li, did something happen today? You’re acting really strange!”
Xiao Li kicked the empty beer bottles: “There’s no more beer, go buy some.”
“Oh,” Qi Xiuyuan could only agree as his eyes settled on Xiao Li. He stammered, “I didn’t bring any money with me.”
An amusing smile appeared on Xiao Li’s face, he pulled his wallet out and threw it over.
“What do you want to drink? Wait, that’s wrong, you can’t drink alcohol. I’ll go buy you some fruit juice. Wait for me!”
Qi Xiuyuan smiled excitedly, encouraged by Xiao Li’s smiling expression.
Xiao Li watched him walk away. He watched him leaped over the rail. He watched him run into the far distance until his figure disappeared.
Then he turned around, went to his own car and drove toward the city.
He received a call when he was on the road.
“I heard you called my house looking for me?”
“Zicheng, if I remember correctly, I suffered a knife for you back then?”
“… Xiao Li, don’t do this. I won’t tell you any information about Luwu and Luo Dong. There’s no need for you to ask Fan Peng either since Qing-Ye had already instructed us not to.”
“I won’t implicate you.”
“Xiao Li, wake up. If Luo Dong could be satisfied with only killing you, why hasn’t he contacted you directly? Think about it clearly, why would he throw that hand at Qing-Ye’s?”
“He wants to make it difficult for me.”
“He wants to find something to use against Qing-Ye. If Qing-Ye takes no action, he will remain passive. Even if… even if the hostage was killed, nothing big would come of it. But if Qing-Ye makes a move, the one that remains passive will be us. We will be led by the nose by him. Xiao Li, Luo Dong has been fighting with us for a long time now, what doesn’t he understand? He is taking a gamble here. He is gambling that even if you were to die, you will still help your brother. He is also gambling that even if Qing-Ye were to lose money, he will want to help you.”
Liu Zicheng sighed, “For Qing-Ye to have come this far in the underworld, it hasn’t been an easy feat. He won’t let it go easily. Even if you die, it will only be in vain. Just drink some alcohol and go to sleep… forget about your brother. This is the best option for everyone.” Having said that, he then hung up.
Xiao Li stopped his car and glanced at the black case lying in the front passenger seat. He pressed another number, “Qing-Ye, it’s me.” He paused and then added, “I want to ask you something.”
At that time, Qi Xiuyuan was in a supermarket buying beverages along with some yogurts. But not knowing which flavor Xiao Li liked, he picked out every kind.
It’s not my money. If he thinks that he’s suffering some sort of loss, then I’ll invite him out next time instead.
With that in mind, he happily went to the counter to pay. Since it was very late at night, the supermarket did not have enough small changes, so he searched through the wallet for some smaller change. Suddenly, his finger was scratched by something hidden in a concealed spot.
“What’s this?” he muttered to himself.
He curiously pulled out a card only to see that it was a screenshot from a traffic videotape. Although it was fuzzy, he could see that it was the image of himself with only his underpants on as he carried a rather stiff Xiao Li on his back. He was in the middle of the road, hailing a taxi with one of his hands holding Xiao Li up on his back while the other hand (along with his foot) stretched out to block the cars. That posture was extremely amusing to look at.
Qi Xiuyuan’s entire body froze in a state of shock. He could feel hot bubbles boiling upward from his chest, warming him up.
There’s still hope for me… my wish isn’t so big after all!
He tried his best to suppress the smile that had attempted to spring on his face – a hint of embarrassment and happiness appeared instead as he carefully placed the card back.
By the time he arrived at the riverbank, this expression collapsed – Xiao Li was gone.
He quickly pulled out his cellphone and gave Xiao Li a call.
The first time, he was greeted with a busy tone but by the third time, it finally connected.
“Sorry, there’s an urgent matter.” Xiao Li sounded exhausted, “I wasn’t able to tell you. You can drink the juice.”
Sensing that he wanted to hang up, Qi Xiuyuan quickly said: “I have your wallet.”
“You can hold onto it for now.”
“Xiao Li…” Qi Xiuyuan hesitated.
“What is it?”
“The picture in your wallet…”
“What picture?” Xiao Li’s doubt was very obvious.
“The picture of me carrying you on my back, hailing a taxi—”
“Oh, that picture.” Xiao Li’s voice relaxed a bit, “That’s the police evidence. I told you about it before, did you forget?”
“I remember now,” Qi Xiuyuan said with a hint of regret.
“At that time, I thought it was interesting so I put it away. If you like it, you can take it.” Xiao Li’s voice tensed up again, “I still have some things to deal with, we’ll talk again later.”
Once Qi Xiuyuan heard the call disconnect, he silently looked at the bag full of fruit juices and yogurts in his hand and then afterward, he decided to bring it home for Susu.