Title: One only sees the thief eating the meat; not getting beaten
On the quiet little street, there was a small shop that sold old-fashioned goods with a door that was deliberately made to look run-down, like the residence of a scholar in ancient times.
Jiang Xiaoning stood in front of the door with his hands in his pockets, looked down at his casual clothes, but suddenly he hesitated, thinking that if he had worn a more formal attire, he would have had more courage.
In the end, he took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
The hand-stitched cotton curtains covered the light and the old-fashioned ceiling lamps emitted a soft glow that shrouded the entire store along with the messy items inside.
He didn’t know where the turntable was placed—or perhaps it was a modern machine that imitated a turntable—either way, there flowed a strange melody.
Dreams I once shared
are just memories
So are the people who shared them with me1
There was a set of distressed tables and chairs in the depths of the shop and a woman with long hair that trailed past her shoulders whose age was hard to make out. As the sound of the music played, she was looking down slightly, flipping through a second-hand book without even bothering to look up when she heard Jiang Xiaoning entered.
Jiang Xiaoning held his breath and stood still, not daring to speak—there was only the sound of the music winding between the two.
The voice of the man that sang the song was gentle and low, but Jiang Xiaoning had no intention of paying attention to the lyrics as he stood straight and waited patiently.
The end of the song was the sound of the lonely wind and then there was just silence.
The woman finally put down the book and looked up at him, smiling slightly and not talking.
Jiang Xiaoning was a little ill at ease as he took a step forward and remembered that his hands were still in his pocket. He immediately took it out and put it on his side and greeted her with a bit of apprehension. “Shijie.”2
The woman laughed out loud and looked at him, “How come you grew taller?”
Jiang Xiaoning did not expect to get such a response, so he stared blankly for a while which made the woman think it was quite interesting. She stared at him and said: “You haven’t come to see me in the past few years but now that something is the matter, you’re trying to act all cute? Xiao Ning,3 I feel deeply hurt by this.”
What should I answer with at this time? “I’ve been busy and haven’t had time to come and see you, but I have always thought of you, Shijie.” Jiang Xiaoning lowered his head and felt that no matter what he answered with, it would always come off as being careless, so he simply kept his silence.
When Jiang Xiaoning was put in an important position by Sun Zeyu,4 Sun Zeyu’s adopted daughter, Shijie Zhang Juanjuan did not give him any advice. In the end, Sun Zeyu was dismissed for corruption and the truth was revealed. Although Zhang Juanjuan was prepared and not implicated, Jiang Xiaoning always felt that he would never see her again.
Their circles were not big, to begin with, and the people around them all had a somewhat similar background. Jiang Xiaoning naturally knew that for the past two to three year, she had done several businesses outside of the city but no longer accepted any from within the city.
He was ashamed and was psychologically prepared to be scolded but now that Zhang Juanjuan put it that way, he was not too embarrassed as he stood in silence in the same spot, waiting for this shijie to proceed with lecturing him.
Zhang Juanjuan looked at his eyes and sighed: “Before, you were younger and haven’t reached this level yet. Why is it that after having not seen you for a few years, the longer you live, the more you revert back to even not knowing how to at least exchange some conventional greets?”
Jiang Xiaoning lowered his voice: “I thought that Shijie hasn’t forgiven me…”
Zhang Juanjuan did not speak, then after a while, she said: “What you are fond of will be the cause of your death.5 For Uncle Sun6 to have that kind of ending simply him having been enmeshed in a trap of his own devising. What does it have to do with you?”
Before Jiang Xiaoning had a chance to utter anything, she smiled once more and added: “You didn’t come to find me to discuss this matter, did you?”
“No, I…” Jiang Xiaoning answered. “It’s something else.”
“Sit there and talk,” Zhang Juanjuan pointed. “Since you’re so tall, only that chair can hold you up. Just move everything on it to the side, it doesn’t matter where you put them.”
Jiang Xiaoning moved a pile of old-fashioned photo albums to the side, sat on the wicker chair and looked at her. “Shijie, I heard that five years ago you had something to do with an explosion at the border of the province… is that so?”
“At the time, I did blow up someone’s house.” Zhang Juanjuan looked at him and her fingers unconsciously rubbed on the pages of the book. “Anyways, perhaps, you’re not inquiring about that explosion… is it about a certain someone in the explosion?”
Jiang Xiaoning looked straight into her eyes and replied: “Yes.”
A slight smile rose on Zhang Juanjuan’s lips, and the tone she employed seemed to tease and mock him at the same time. “Why are you beating around the bush just to ask me? Isn’t all because you think that once Uncle Sun’s fell and all the gangs in the city were purged, that person would return? Isn’t that the person you use all kind of methods to look for as if your life depended on it? Do you think that this is a secret which made you not have the nerve to ask me directly? Isn’t it just Han Jia?”
Upon hearing this name, Jiang Xiaoning could immediately feel his heart leaping wildly.
Zhang Juanjuan looked at his unnatural expression and frowned slightly before she said slowly: “However, it is strange. Why are you asking me about Han Jia’s matter? Xin Muran is engaged in intelligence, wouldn’t he know the most?”
Jiang Xiaoning said: “Shixiong7 is intentionally keeping me in the dark.” He bit his teeth and said, “I found Han Jia.”
To his surprise, Zhang Juanjuan did not show a surprised look and instead just let out a faint “oh” and asked: “And?”
“I found a gunshot wound on him,” Jiang Xiaoning said as he clenched his hand. “It has to be a wound from four or five years ago. Back then, he did not have such a scar on his body. When he left the city and went to the west to donate money and teach there, he should have not been shot for no reason, so I can infer that it should be an injury that occurred before he left the city five years ago. Since he did not want to talk about it clearly, I had to come back and check it out myself, but the information in Shixiong’s hand does not have a record of that time frame. I went to Shixiong and asked him, but he stalled and refused to tell me. Only then did I remembered that when I checked Han Jia’s whereabouts, Shixiong did some strange things. At the time, I didn’t take it seriously but after I thought about it again, he was actually blocking me secretly…”
Although Han Jia was not the most shameless person they have ever seen, he was not considered to be a really good partner for one to fall wholeheartedly in love with, therefore, for Shixiong to worry about his Shidi’s8 love affairs was also not that incomprehensible. But it is too strange to do something of that degree… Zhang Juanjuan thought and looked up and down at Jiang Xiaoning, unable to hold back a strange idea.
Jiang Xiaoning still did not know that Shijie was deducting his story and continued to whisper: “Based on the time and some scattered and fragmentary clues, I guessed that he may be related to the bombing of the year. If such a big explosion was done by someone in the circle, it’s impossible that there is no trace of it at all. I found a few people who can provide explosive materials, and finally determined that you may be related to this matter…”
Zhang Juanjuan nodded and said: “You don’t dare to see me too, yet here you are. It seems you are indeed determined on asking about it clearly. The main rule in the circle is to not disclose the employer’s information. It just so happens that the employer of that particular explosion was not Han Jia.” She smiled, “How is it? Shijie is better than Shixiong, right?”
Jiang Xiaoning’s heart rate was rising yet he had to listen to her ridicule with no choice but to smile back.
Zhang Juanjuan said: “I want to ask clearly first, what do you know well already?”
Jiang Xiaoning thought for a moment: “Luo Dong. I know the house that you had bombed belonged to Luo Dong. I went to check out this person. He was in charge of one of the two gangs in the city five years ago and his opponent was Li Shi Qing. At that time, Han Jia was one of Li Shi Qing’s subordinate and acted as the prostitute procurer. He also had another subordinate who was a leader named Xiao Li.” Jiang Xiaoning wanted to grit his teeth when he mentioned that name. “I found out that at the time, Han Jia went to seduce and frame Luo Dong who ultimately was crushed and had to escape from the city, but Xiao Li followed after and broke Luo Dong’s left leg. Luo Dong fled to the neighboring province and found another supporter and vowed to have Han Jia and Xiao Li pay the price.” His voice went down, “Then I know that Han Jia suddenly disappeared from Jin Ting one day and never appeared in the city again. Shortly after his disappearance, Luo Dong’s real estate explosion occurred on the border of the province.”
As Zhang Juanjuan looked at his efforts to calm his voice, she could not help but sigh. “It seems that you have already come to a reasoned conclusion and only came here for me to confirm it?”
“I don’t know.” Jiang Xiaoning’s voice was strained, “I can only think of the possibilities. Luo Dong hates Han Jia and Xiao Li, but everything stemmed from Han Jia. He hates Han Jia the most. He was together with Han Jia before… he must know Han Jia’s weakness, thought of any way to deceive Han Jia from Jin Ting, away from his own territory, and lied to him to get him to his house…” His forehead had already started to sweat as he spoke, “I looked at Luo Dong’s information. He doesn’t even care about the life and death of his own biological daughter. Han Jia was been in his hands… the explosion afterward… Shijie, did someone ask you to save him? Was it Xiao Li or Li Shi Qing? Or another person? How could he have been shot? Was it Luo Dong or could it…” He couldn’t speak anymore and reached out to cover his eyes.
Zhang Juanjuan waited for his state of mind to stabilize a little and said: “If you had been this emotional when you were an undercover mole at Uncle Sun’s side, I have already seen through you.” She stared at Jiang Xiaoning for a while and said smoothly, “Your guess is more or less correct. I will only add: First, Luo Dong was not targeting only Han Jia. He wanted to get revenge on both him and Xiao Li. He snatched Xiao Li’s younger brother, Xiao Yang, and wanted to threaten Xiao Li into walking right into a trap. Second, someone did indeed ask me to save him, but you shouldn’t ask me who. Third, when my employer and I escaped with Han Jia, Luo Dong commanded his men to shoot, and Han Jia was hit with a stray bullet.”
Jiang Xiaoning’s face was deathly pale as he whispered: “Luo Dong snatched Xiao Li’s younger brother, Xiao Li did not go, why did Han Jia go? Why…” His brows wrinkled tightly. “For Xiao Li, he even went to Luo Dong’s willingly… he…”
There were some words that Zhang Juanjuan did not intend to say since those things involved too many people. She would rather have the past and those people covered in dust in her own memories. But before her eyes, her young Shidi because of such intense sadness, his voice shook.
When this Shidi of hers was 18 years old, he was trained by Wu Qinghua9 and soon became the very capable left and right hand of Uncle Sun. He was smart but not alert, reticent but not introverted; everyone felt completely at ease with him. In the end, he skillfully and single-handedly sent Uncle Sun on the road to disaster—one could see the perseverance nature in his heart as he handled matters with composure and determination.
But appearing before her today was an emotionally stirred, impulsive, and intense Jiang Xiaoning that she did not know at all: he was like a bottle with a calm surface filled with strong emotions and Han Jia was the cork.
This knowledge touched a soft corner of her heart. She sighed: “I don’t know if I should tell you or not. Since you found Han Jia but ran back to ask someone else about his situation, it is clear that Han Jia is not willing to tell you…” She looked at Jiang Xiaoning’s eyes and said one word at a time: “Han Jia left the safety of his territory and went to find Luo Dong, not for the sake of Xiao Li, but for you.”
Jiang Xiaoning’s eyes suddenly widened; he still looked completely pale as he looked at her while trembling, but his expression suddenly appeared different. It was no longer a dejected look of defeat. His eyes seemed to be burning with blazing flames and the flames seemed to light his whole body on fire, making him look like the flame itself—brilliantly shocking, destructive, and unstoppable.
To achieve this result only took three words “but for you”, she had not even said the specific situation.
Zhang Juanjuan sighed again and finally understood why Xin Muran refused to let Jiang Xiaoning know the truth.
The bottle has been opened, a gust of powerful and intense emotions rushed out of its imprisonment—roaring, clamoring to plunder, and when it was to be destroyed, who can stop it?
1 This part is originally in English
2 Shijie – a senior female fellow student or apprentice/daughter (older than oneself) of one’s teacher
3 Xiao – the xiao 小 here means ‘little’ so she called him Little Ning and not the ‘xiao’ 晓 of his name ‘Xiaoning’ so I separated it.
4 Sun Zeyu – Premier (Tingzhang) from Lawless
5 ‘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.”
6 Uncle Sun – Sun Zeyu
7 Shixiong – a senior male fellow student or apprentice/son (older than oneself) of one’s teacher
8 Shidi – young disciple (of the same master) /younger or junior male schoolmate
If you’re confuse: Shijie – Zhang Juanjuan; Shixiong – Xin Muran; Shidi – Jiang Xiaoning; basically older sister, older brother, younger brother because they are in the same circle
9 Wu Qinghua (or Commander Wu) – from Lawless was the Commander who gave Xiao Li the information and image of Qi Xiu Yuan when hailed a taxi after Xiao Li was attacked at the Arc; Wu Qinghua is also at the end of the novel as the person that broke the door to help Xiao Li and Qi Xiu Yuan and had vowed to take down Sun Zeyu.