Title: All things are predestined, and no one can control it
When Han Jia saw Zhang Xueming, his first thought was that he came to find Xiao Li.
He had made up his mind to come back, admittedly for emotional reasons that stemmed from the stubborn and persistent anxiety about Jiang Xiaoning, but not without weighing the pros and cons in a rational way. After all, he was once a member of the city’s largest gang and had done many things in the complicated gangs’ warfare that could not be declared to others. Now that he no longer had an understanding of the situation here, and had returned so rashly, whether or not that would provoke trouble for himself – that, he was also uncertain.
Of course, he quickly convinced himself that because he was different from Xiao Li, most of the enemies that he had in this city were all small fries. Aside from the situation with Luo Dong, there was nothing worth others worrying about for five years.
As for emotional entanglements, he didn’t even think about it. At that time, he was just making money with sexual transactions – a cheap beautiful body was not that difficult to find. Could there actually be those who couldn’t forget his skin in the last few years?
Along the way, he pondered about nearly all the grievances he had since he entered the business, and finally felt that what he should worry most about was implicating Xiao Li. Back then, Xiao Li had truly risked his life and limbs for the gang. He had subordinates who lost their lives; he had sent people who should not have been trifled with to prison, thus, he had made countless enemies in the city. And with him and Xiao Li having such a close relationship, he would undoubtedly be a breakthrough if someone was to incessantly scheme to inquire about Xiao Li.
Therefore, he had always been very careful, be it to visit previous places or to find an acquaintance from the past, he maintained cautiousness in his speech and manners for fear that it would provoke unnecessary trouble.
However, trouble had unexpectedly come to find him, and Zhang Xueming was definitely a bad comer.
Thinking along this train of thought, he was extremely polite to Zhang Xueming on the surface. When he put on a confused appearance and asked, “Did you come to find me specifically to reminisce?”, he was mentally prepared to fight a tough battle.
But Zhang Xueming didn’t seem to understand his hint at all, and actually began to comment on the way he was addressed.
As they sound, the names “Xin Muran” and “Zhang Xueming” are obviously subtly different from their owner, and Han Jia was unable to make sense of them for a while. Since he was still digesting the news that Zhang Xueming was no longer a policeman, wondering who he was working for, and what group of people or force was detrimental to Xiao Li, he did not want to argue. He changed the way he addressed him and asked the question again: “So, did you come to find me specifically to reminisce?”
Han Jia realized the subtle meaning when the name came out. The man in front of him was confident, arrogant and aggressive, and the image represented by the three characters Zhang Xueming1 was not at all related. Thinking of this, Han Jia frowned inconspicuously.
Zhang Xueming looked at him, seemingly in a good mood as he smiled, “Why? I can’t?”
His calm attitude and strong tone made Han Jia even more cautious. He also smiled and looked at Zhang Xueming’s eyes, “I haven’t asked about the situations here for many years. I don’t understand what you and I have to say.”
Zhang Xueming smiled unconcernedly but before he could answer, the door of the next room opened and a thin man wearing glasses with a cigarette in his mouth, and wearing slippers shuffled by from behind him.
Han Jia and Zhang Xueming remained silent until the thin man went downstairs. Zhang Xueming finally opened his mouth, “Han Laoban, if you think it is inconvenient to invite me inside, why don’t we go out for a cup of coffee? There’s a new shop in the South Side that makes really good coffee, the flavor that you like from back then is also there.”
Han Jia looked at him again but could not see beyond Zhang Xueming’s facade. He thought about it and opened the door, “I haven’t had coffee for so many years, there’s no need to spend any money.”
The single room at this hotel was simple and crude with only one bed, a table, and a chair. Han Jia waited for Zhang Xueming to walk through the door before he moved a chair and motioned for him to sit. He sat by the bedside and said, “What do you want to say?”
Zhang Xueming laughed lightly, “Han Laoban, at least treat your guest with a glass of water.”
Han Jia didn’t know what drug he was selling in his gourd but looking at how he was doing it so skillfully and easily, he cursed to himself while putting on a pleasant countenance. “Zhang Xueming, let’s be blunt and not beat around the bush like this. I’m sure you didn’t just happen to know that I was staying here, and came for a glass of water?”
Zhang Xueming smiled quietly: “You still like taking preemptive strikes? This really hasn’t changed.” He paused and then continued, “What if I said I just wanted a glass of water from you?”
“A glass of water?” Han Jia politely asked, and upon seeing Zhang Xueming nod, he got up and took a teacup from the table as well as a thermos flask. “I’ll get you a glass, wait a moment.”
He used the boiled water to rinse the cup then poured the residue water directly onto the floor before pouring a glass of water for Zhang Xueming and placing it on the table. He stood beside the table and looked straight at him.
Han Jia didn’t say anything and neither did Zhang Xueming who looked at him with a calm expression for a long while. Finally, he conceded with a sigh that seemed like a laugh and slowly said, “I came to see you for two things.” He paused, “Han Laoban, when you left five years ago, you had entrusted me with one thing. What made you so at ease with me to return and not check to see how I’ve handled it?”
Han Jia frowned with incredulity and said: “I entrusted you with something?”
Before the words had finished, he became startled. “I didn’t entrust you, I told Wu Qinghua……”
“Wu-juzhang2 handed it over to me.” Zhang Xueming interrupted and looked at Han Jia’s expression, “What? You don’t trust me?”
Han Jia was dumbfounded and was unexpectedly unable to respond for a short while. He had an instinctive distrust of Zhang Xueming even if he knew that he was an undercover agent. And, now that he also suspected him of coming to rope in news of Xiao Li, he dared not speak so negligently to avoid falling into a trap. But this past event mentioned by Zhang Xueming really made him worry; he felt very contradictory, and was silent for a while before slowly answering: “It’s not like that, I……” He sighed and finally asked in a low voice, “How is she doing now?”
Zhang Xueming looked at him with a slight smile, pulled out a picture from the inner pocket of his coat, and handed it over to him.
Han Jia hesitated but accepted it.
The background of the photo seemed to be of a certain park with the sun shining brightly and the shade of the trees acting as a canopy. In the distance were the figures of children running with their kites, and nearby was a distinctive family of three, smiling very happily at the camera. In the middle was a little girl wearing a purple dress, smiling so wide that her little tiger teeth were exposed.
He turned over the photo and on the back was a row of puerile black characters: Mom and Xiao Rong taking dad to the park to play.
Even if he still had doubts, Han Jia could not help but smile. He turned the picture back over and looked at it again for a while before shifting his gaze toward Zhang Xueming. He slowed down the pace of his words, “She didn’t change her name?”
Zhang Xueming had been staring at him but then hearing him ask that, he cast his eyes at the little girl in the photo, and also slowly said: “This was the only thing that Yang Manli left for her, and she also likes her name…… her adoptive parents also likes this name.”
“Oh,” Han Jia answered and looked at the photo again, “They look reliable.”
“Her adoptive father is a researcher in the government department, and her adoptive mother is a nurse. Both are upright citizens,” Zhang Xueming said. “If you are not assured, I can show you their information. It’s also alright to take you to see their situation in person…… would you like to go take a look?”
His tone was gentle, but Han Jia clearly heard some faint hint of complacent. He felt that this person’s attitude toward this family of three was very inappropriate; he thought of something else and felt a little uneasy.
He looked down at the photo and pondered for a while before muttering, “Have you been—I don’t understand—monitoring them?”
“Not ‘monitoring’,” Zhang Xueming said. “I don’t want to screw this up.”
Han Jia looked at Zhang Xueming in search of any information from his face; the connection of their silent gaze reappeared and the rock-hard expression dwelling in Zhang Xueming’s eyes would not reveal anything.
A smile slowly appeared on Zhang Xueming’s face. He reached for the glass on the table and said, “It’s not easy at all to drink a glass of water from Han Laoban.”
When he put the cup to his lips, Han Jia reached out to cover the mouth of the cup and placed his fingers on the cup to stop him.
“You’re no longer a policeman, how do you monitor them?” He stared at Zhang Xueming, “What are you doing now?”
Zhang Xueming looked at his hand that covered the mouth of the cup, and slowly looked up at him – just smiling and not talking.
The uneasy feeling was like the night fog, rising rapidly and spreading in Han Jia’s heart. His heartbeat had already stalled as his fingers tightly squeezed the cup. Finally, he asked with a pause between each word, “What is your relationship with Jiang Xiaoning?”
Zhang Xueming’s eyes flickered, then he lowered his head and suddenly kissed Han Jia’s fingers.
Han Jia suddenly pulled back his hand, causing the porcelain cup to fly out from the force and smashing into pieces on the floor with a clang; the water in the cup splattered and spilled out onto the floor.
Zhang Xueming sat still and looked at the fragments that had scattered in the spilled water. He sighed rather regrettably, “Didn’t I just say that it’s not easy to have a sip of water from you.”
Han Jia ignored this sentence. He looked gloomily at his own finger, and then coldly at Zhang Xueming.
“Where is Jiang Xiaoning? Are you……” Han Jia could hear the anxiety in his own voice but didn’t know whether or not Zhang Xueming could hear it. He could only control his tone. “What are you here for?”
The emotion that flashed in Zhang Xueming’s eyes made Han Jia feel his back tightening and his scalp numbing. He slowly stood up, but instead of coming closer to Han Jia, he took a step back and distanced himself.
“Don’t be nervous, Han Laoban.” He still smiled and looked calm, “We haven’t met in such a long time, I just wanted to catch up with you. There’s no need to be so unfriendly, okay? Or……” Seeing that Han Jia wasn’t talking, he softly said, “Do you still remember that incident? Didn’t you say you’ve forgiven me?”
Han Jia felt the red of his cheeks gradually waned from his face, “Since you put it like that, you admitted to knowing about Jiang Xiaoning?”
A cloud of doubt passed through his mind, and for a moment, countless terrible speculations filled his mind.
Jiang Xiaoning being all mysterious, stealing documents on other people, and acquiring injures; the suspicious incidents described by Jiang Laoshi, the few words involving Sun Zeyu, Zhang Xueming’s police background and inscrutable identity; the malicious intentions and humiliation he had toward him many years go… and the mention of those other chaotic events from the past…… all made his brows locked tightly. Was Zhang Xueming still working for the police and Jiang Xiaoning was the criminal he pursued? Zhang Xueming and Jiang Xiaoning were opponents, so he came to seize him in order to threaten Jiang Xiaoning? Or did Zhang Xueming come to kill him to give Jiang Xiaoning a psychological attack? Suddenly, even more terrifying thoughts appeared – could Zhang Xueming and Jiang Xiaoning be colleagues and something bad had happened to Jiang Xiaoning and Zhang Xueming came to inform him?……
Han Jia almost felt dizzy.
At this moment, he hated Jiang Xiaoning, hated his willfulness, hated him for getting caught up in danger, hated him for never cherishing himself, hated him for making things very complicated; but he was more afraid, though not afraid of the trouble Jiang Xiaoning might implicate him in, on the contrary, he was afraid that he had implicated Jiang Xiaoning in some trouble.
This kind of worry was mixed with fear which made him unable to calm down. He already couldn’t control his expression. He knew that the way he stared at Zhang Xueming was like the family of a critically ill patient staring at the attending doctor or a murder staring at the judge on the verge of pronouncing a sentence, with the last glimmer of hope. When Zhang Xueming took a step back, he even took a step forward involuntarily.
Zhang Xueming had been smiling since he appeared, but this smile slowly faded. He looked at Han Jia as if he wanted to say something else but didn’t. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled something out, and spread it out in front of him.
“This is the second thing that I want to talk about: I would love to sit down with you for a glass of water and catch up properly. You don’t like coffee, and there are no cups here, why don’t we talk somewhere else?” He said with a smooth voice to the end, and an unknown smile. “Han Laoban, there are many things of the past for us to chat about.”
Han Jia stared at him again for a while before turning his gaze.
There was a chain of keys in the palm of Zhang Xueming’s hand and Han Jia recognized them with just one glance.
This chain of keys once belonged to him, and the car key pendant was given to him by Jiang Xiaoning.
That was the key to the apartment where he lived five years ago.
1 张雪明 Zhāng (surname – to open up), Xuě (snow, snowfall) míng (bright, clean, understand)
2 Wu-juzhang (局长) bureau chief