"If you're worried about small problems in your daily studies or work, this kind of 'anti-Mercury retrograde' card is a very good choice. You can keep it with your student card or transport pass. It's very convenient to carry around with you and it can help to calm your emotions, reducing the negative effects of the Mercury retrograde. Other than that, during the period of Mercury retrograde, you must make sure to get the electrical appliances and devices at home checked regularly. Once you see signs of damage, you must remember to take care of it promptly. Keep your spirits up. Even though Mercury retrograde brings some trouble to our lives, it is also a chance for us to reflect on ourselves…"
Outside the display window, Yu Lanchuan watched a certain someone who was under a faint light, her hair—and it was even a wig—down and a Mona Lisa half-smile on her face. In only ten minutes, she had hoodwinked three batches of customers. She was proficient in her job and didn't even reuse the same sales pitch. She sold colourful cards costing twenty cents each for fifteen yuan, and had even sold a stack of them.
Evidently, "Mercury retrograde" was now the number one killer among the current day young people. The related expenses should be included in the list of items covered by medical insurance.
When Yu Lanchuan heard the bunch of children call her "Teacher Meng-Meng," he already had goosebumps all over. So when he heard "Teacher Meng-Meng" spout her floaty and mystical charlatan nonsense, he really could not bear to watch anymore. He regretted not snapping a photo of her that morning with the soup spoon dangling out of her mouth; he could parade it through the streets.
He knocked a few times on the shop door, cutting off Gan Qing. His face stiff as a board, he walked in, changing the atmosphere in the shop from that of the song Starlight to that of the news program Focus Report.
The teenagers all turned their heads to look at him. One young girl even clutched the "anti-Mercury retrograde" card she had just bought tightly. Perhaps she wanted to stick it on Director Yu's forehead.
"Something has come up." Yu Lanchuan coldly knocked on the counter. "What time do you close?"
Gan Qing's smile did not change an iota. "My apologies, sir. During the period of Mercury retrograde, I have more customers to take care of. Everyone here has made an appointment. If there is a need, may I ask that you inform me two days in advance?"
"You may not," Yu Lanchuan rejected her ruthlessly. He glanced at those "anti-Mercury retrograde" cards, then drew close to Gan Qing's ear and whispered, "I'm going to call the Price Control Bureau."
Gan Qing, "..."
Ten minutes later, Gan Qing put her silver tongue to full use and deceived all her customers into leaving. She sprawled crookedly on the counter and regained her usual tone. "Little Master Yu, I'm just running a small business here. Don't be like this."
Yu Lanchuan's eyes swept past the price tags on the nonsense on her counter. "I think what you're running is a sham business."
Gan Qing sighed, feeling that she was getting a taste of this alliance leader's prowess. By using just one phone, he could survive through the ages and unite the jianghu. "For what matter do I have the honour of being blessed by your presence?"
"Yesterday night, did you see Yan Hao use Nie Ke's phone to send messages?"
Gan Qing thought a while, then said uncertainly, "I might have. At that time, he was holding a phone and tapping on it for a bit. I don't know whose phone it was."
The veins at Yu Lanchuan's temples started pounding. "Then, why didn't you say anything yesterday?"
Gan Qing was bewildered. "...You didn't ask."
Yu Lanchuan said, "Come with me."
"Yesterday, you were clearly the one who acted first but halfway through, you walked away as though it had nothing to do with you. You can think again if you want to throw this mess to me and let me shoulder the blame." Yu Lanchuan gritted his teeth and wanted to pull her out from behind the counter.
But before his hand could touch her, he felt a sudden chill on his wrist. He didn't know what it was—it was a kind of feeling that made one's hair stand on end. Yu Lanchuan subconsciously moved his wrist up. His reaction was already extremely quick but he still did not manage to dodge. Two fingers tapped on his meridian point; at the same time, Gan Qing blew on his neck. A faint ache radiated from his wrist... and along with it, sticking close to that feeling, was something even scarier.
If she had used more strength or if she had a knife between her fingers…
Yu Lanchuan's reason for practising the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang back then was very chuuni but throughout the years, he had not had many opportunities to put the skills to use. He had never once experienced pitting himself against a single hand, a single finger, in a single, mysterious second.
In actual fact, the so-called "four ounces moves a thousand pounds" martial arts might have existed in ancient times but no one had seen it in modern times. Based on Yu Lanchuan's shallow understanding from practising the sword for fifteen years, it was probably not very realistic. Even Granduncle might not be capable of that. On top of that, Gan Qing was not a large and burly person. The stature was there for all to see, the limit of her strength and her ability to fight back obvious to the eye. There was no way she could be super strong.
But in that one second, Yu Lanchuan felt that the person before his eyes seemed to have shattered into numerous tiny specks of dust, circling around him without sparing any spots—his throat, wrists, chest, temples—and, at the same time, sending him a warning. It was like there were countless tiny deadly blades on them.
She did not confront other people and her strength could not be detected at all. It was just like a fatal gust of wind that could slip through the tiniest crack and lightly take away her opponent's life. When the opponent's life was gone, naturally they would have no more strength.
It was different from all the schools of martial arts Yu Lanchuan had seen up to now. Rather than to call it martial arts, perhaps it should be called the art of killing.
This… What kind of skill was this?
After the founding of the nation, why was there still this kind of disharmonious skill?
Gan Qing hid behind her wig. She smiled at him and used her high-pitched "charlatan" voice to speak. "Oh my, sir, please speak nicely. Why are you using your hands and legs? You gave me such a fright."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
He fell silent for a while and quietly took out his phone.
Gan Qing became proper again in just one second. "Okay, okay, okay, all right. Go on, what do you want me to do?"
Just like that, Gan Qing left work half a day early and was dragged onboard the pirate ship by the alliance leader.
"Peaceful Mind Clinic…" Gan Qing looked down at the address Yu Lanchuan had sent her, then looked up again at the rundown shop front in front of her. She sighed, feeling that Yu Lanchuan was treating her like a follower he could order around.
Just as she was pacing around, two middle-aged people came out of Peaceful Mind Clinic. One of them, a woman, told the man beside her, "...It works. Listen to me, our child's results in the midterms improved quite a lot compared to the previous term."
The man asked rather hesitantly, "This… If our child takes this, will it have any side effects?"
"No," the woman said. "I heard other people say that in the U.S., the students in the top schools and the Silicon Valley elites all take this. It basically works the same way as coffee. It's not easy to buy it in our country. This Doctor Zhao is helping us buy it."
The man asked, "What did you say the name of this medicine was again?"
Intelligence Pill? Gan Qing walked out of the shadows. Doctor Zhao?
She opened a group shopping app on her phone. This Peaceful Mind Clinic that might or might not have an official business license had quite a number of listings for group purchases of in-person programs. In the listing, the doctor explaining the effectiveness of the treatments was called Zhao Hongxiang. Gan Qing thought for a while, then joined the group purchase for one of the programs. At the same time, she took a screenshot of the page and sent it to Yu Lanchuan, getting him to cover the expense.
She made a call and asked. The appointment list for Saturday afternoon was not yet full, she could still make an appointment.
The group purchase was for a program called Hypnosis Experience. The introduction hyped it up extravagantly, saying that it was a type of "group psychological consultation" and that it could guide the clients into a state of hypnosis where they could relax their bodies and minds, release the pressure from daily life, detox their body and maintain their youthful looks.
Gan Qing had always been heartless so naturally, she had no need to seek consultation for "issues of the heart." It was her first time and she was like a village bumpkin who had just entered the city. She messaged Yu Lanchuan a question, a little worried. This thing isn't like the Soul Absorption Technique in the past, is it?
Yu Lanchuan might have been shocked by her ignorance. It was a long while before he replied to her with six dots.
The clinic had a reception counter for receiving and registering patients. Other than Gan Qing, there were three others who had bought the same program.
"The hypnosis room is still being prepared. Everyone, please wait here for a while." The receptionist was a young and beautiful lady with a sweet smile, and looked completely out of place in the rundown clinic. "Before we begin, Doctor Zhao asked me to tell everyone that not all of you will be able to smoothly enter a state of hypnosis. There will be some of you who are unable to relax and can't easily follow the prompts. Later, if you find that you have this type of characteristic, please don't be disappointed. Our program can still help you relax your mind to a certain degree. If you are satisfied, you can buy our long-term package. It is more tailored to individual needs compared to our group package."
Listening to her, Gan Qing was delighted. So it turned out that Peaceful Mind Clinic was in the same trade as her. Even the way they hoodwinked their clients were just different words used to the same effect—as long you believed in it, it was effective.
The hypnosis room was modified from a bedroom. Inside, the curtains were closed and the only illumination was the dim light from aromatherapy candles. Small speakers were placed in the corners of the room, transmitting from all directions a soft music that made a person feel sleepy. This trick was also quite similar to Star Dreams. Right in the middle of the hypnosis room were a few soft recliners. On a weary afternoon, surrounded by white noise and a scent that helped with sleep, there was likely no need for any prompting for someone to sleep like the dead.
The wily-looking Doctor Zhao sat before a bookshelf. The receptionist was smiling brightly and passing out blankets to everyone, explaining the points they should take note of. Gan Qing took the chance to ask, "Excuse me, where is the washroom?"
She wandered out of the room and took the chance while the only two employees in the clinic were busy to quickly slip behind the reception counter. Under the counter was a stack of medicine for unknown purposes, still in their packaging. Gan Qing glanced at them but did not recognise them. She quickly snapped a few photos and sent them to Yu Lanchuan. Then, she took the registration book on the counter. The book was for the entire current year. Gan Qing's fingers flipped non-stop from the front to the back, like she was counting the pages. Her eyesight was extremely good; the second the name "Xiang Xiaoman" flashed past, she quickly caught it and stopped at that page.
She saw the note there: Xiang Xiaoman; female; 36 years-old; ten consultations (medicine cost paid).
Gan Qing frowned. Even though she did not know how proper psychology consultations were conducted, she was familiar with the "integrity of the profession of charlatans." Selling charms and encouraging clients to take naps belonged to the category of harmless immoral acts, but to prescribe medicine carelessly… This was crossing the line.
"Nie Ke found this kind of 'doctor' for Xiang Xiaoman?" Yu Lanchuan looked at the photos Gan Qing sent him. "This person is simply a jianghu swindler who sells energy pills, and even smuggles controlled medicine."
Yu Yan furtively said to him over the phone, "You can report the clinic for conducting illegal business but Xiang Xiaoman getting medical treatment there does not prove that Nie Ke was consciously abusing her. Nie Ke could also say that he was tricked. Phone scams can still deceive highly-educated people every other day. Accidentally buying something fake when buying something for one's wife isn't against the law."
Right then, there was a call on Yu Lanchuan's phone.
"Wait a minute, I'll call you back later." Yu Lanchuan hung up on Yu Yan and picked up the other call. It was a colleague from his company's business partner who frequently played sports with Yu Lanchuan and worked closely with the company where Nie Ke was working. Everyone was in the same circle; if one wanted to find out something, there was nothing that couldn't be unearthed.
"There was a period of time when I went to his company to conduct a round of due diligence," the "sports" friend said. "This man gave me a very deep impression. They have a Finance manager who likes to gossip. When we were eating together, eight out of ten gossip topics were related to him… This man doesn't have a very good image. He's always hanging around the young ladies and is serial-dating who knows how many women. Someone had even once made a fuss at his workplace and told him to be more careful next time not to call the wrong name."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Do you know that he's already married?"
"I know. Word has it that the reason why he could get a Yanning household registration back then was entirely because of his old father-in-law. His house and car were also mainly paid for by that side of the family. Otherwise, he would be a house loan slave like you. Where would he find the money to indulge?"
A few holes were poked open in Yu Lanchuan's heart.
"You know how it is, old people can't be relied on for one's entire life. I heard that after his father-in-law retired, his health was constantly not very good and he would be hospitalised every other day. From then on, Nie Ke started to be a bit unrestrained. Later on, the old man passed away. His wife probably did not have any relatives who could be counted on so he had nothing to fear anymore… Ai, I heard that something happened to his wife. What's the situation now?"
Yu Lanchuan brushed off his gossip-loving "sports" friend with just a few words. He got his hands on Nie Ke's resume through a roundabout way and by the time he finished compiling his materials, it was already evening. He went to the sixth floor to look for Old Master Yang's granddaughter, Yang Yifan.
President Yang owned various types of new media companies and had a rich supply of Internet experts. Very quickly, a few online accounts linked to the email address that Nie Ke had used during his university and work days were dug out.
"He's really sloppy," Yang Yifan said. "Look at this, isn't this one of the email addresses that he frequently uses?"
Yang Yifan was showing him a screenshot. Nie Ke had used his own email address to leave a comment that said: Send email, exchange, my wife.
Yu Lanchuan, "Yes, if he isn't using his official company email, this is the account he uses. What do these words mean?"
"It's a porn forum that has a bit of a PUA flavour."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "P… what flavour?"
"PUA, pick-up artist. At the start, they taught those loser men who never leave their homes how to make conversation with women. Later on, they expanded to train them to become scum men who deceive women for money and sex. They study things like how to destroy a woman's mental state and dignity, and how to find chances to take nudes of the other person. In private, those scum men would even take out the nudes to show off and exchange with each other," Yang Yifan said. "For example this one, it means that he wants to use his own wife's nudes to exchange for the other party's 'resources.'"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
Yang Yifan said, "Ai, did I just corrupt a handsome man's clean and pure spirit? Director Yu, you can forget what I said."
Yu Lanchuan ignored her, "Other than this, is there anything else?"
"Give me a night's time. I'll get someone to infiltrate the scum men's inner circle. If we're lucky, we can get the chat logs from the conversations back then between this kid and other people," President Yang said, unbothered. "It's just a matter of money."
"How much?" Yu Lanchuan, who had just compensated Gan Qing for the cost of the group package, asked. "I-"
"I'll waive it," the tyrannical President Yang Yifan said. "I don't lack money. I'll sponsor this bit for you, purely for my own amusement."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
If it were not because he still had a house loan, would she get the chance to put on this act of being generous and flaunt her wealth here?
Right at that moment, Yu Lanchuan's phone buzzed. Gan Qing had sent him her location.
Gan Qing sent: I found the miraculous Doctor Zhao's address. After doing such immoral deeds, do you think he'll be afraid of ghosts knocking on his door tonight?
 Teacher Meng-Meng 梦梦老师 mèng mèng lǎoshī - 'Meng' here means 'dream,' the same 'dream' as the shop name, so this nickname is literally 'Teacher Dream-Dream."
Yu Lanchuan couldn't help but feel that this line of hers was rather sinister, so he quickly asked. What are you planning to do?
Gan Qing replied. Nothing. Just wanna have a chat with him.
Alliance Leader Yu's heart was extremely weary. Don't be reckless!
Gan Qing didn't reply with words; she replied with a Panda Mr. Kim meme—Women who are beautiful are all unreliable.
Who wants to get into a meme war with you!
Yu Lanchuan wanted to kneel in surrender to this walking meme. After explaining things to Yang Yifan, he rushed to Gan Qing's location.
In the past, "Doctor" Zhao had opened a beauty salon. Later on, he realised that the competition in that industry was getting more and more intense, so he switched industries. He found a source and brought a diploma from them, then went through one month of training and image transformation. After that, he wiped all traces of his old self from his face, changed his hair and appearance, and just like that, he became a "psychology consultation expert" and opened this Peaceful Mind Clinic.
He had used one weekend to earn a large amount of "peaceful mind" money—in the afternoon, he received three batches of clients who paid money to listen to music and take a nap, sold two long-term treatment packages, and added more than ten clients who asked him to help buy the Intelligence Pill. The growth in the numbers in his accounts was very pleasing and he happily hummed a song as he went home.
The place where Doctor Zhao stayed was not far from the restaurant where Nie Ke had passed money to him the other day. On his way home, he had to walk through a small lane. Even though it was a little unsettling, it wasn't very long and he was already very familiar with the way. This mister was immoral to the core, so he was naturally a materialistic person who worshipped money and firmly believed in the power of the renminbi to repel evil spirits, and did not fear the dark. As usual, he switched on the light on his phone, swung his legs, and hummed an opera tune as he strolled home.
However, today, there seemed to be something different about the little alley. As he walked, the northwest wind stopped and his surroundings suddenly quieted down. An indescribable feeling crawled up his spine.
Doctor Zhao warily shone his phone around but didn't see anything. He suspected that he was being overly sensitive, so he took a deep breath to calm down and sang out, "I used to lie hidden and live a carefree-"
He hadn't sung out the word "life" yet when someone seemed to chuckle softly in the darkness.
Doctor Zhao immediately shut his mouth. At the same time, he suddenly realised that his footsteps sounded a little unnatural—they had a rustling sound.
Did he step on something?
No, something was wrong!
Abruptly, he stopped moving. The rustling sound didn't immediately stop, there were a few additional rustles! It was like there was someone purposely imitating his steps but their steps were not very accurate.
"Is anybody there?" Doctor Zhao turned back and shouted. Behind him was a deserted lane. He started to feel nervous for no reason because he was suddenly realising that this familiar lane was darker than he expected. It made him feel unsafe, so he quickened his steps.
The rustling sound tailed him like a shadow. Doctor Zhao turned his head around a few times, his heart thumping faster and faster, his palms starting to turn damp.
Just as he was about to reach the end of the lane, there was suddenly the sound of someone running quickly behind him. It was fast and heavy, like the ear-splitting sound of the drums, crashing against his eardrums with no warning.
It might be a type of animal instinct—when walking alone in a very quiet place, the sound of hurried footsteps very easily made a person shudder and feel like they were being chased, especially when that person was already starting to feel scared.
The sudden and towering sound of the footsteps frightened Doctor Zhao until his knees weakened. He lifted his phone hastily, shining in the direction where the footsteps were coming from.
With the light, he saw clearly the lane behind him and his hair stood on end. It was still as deserted as ever—when the light swept across the lane, the steady and heavy footsteps unexpectedly disappeared into thin air!
Doctor Zhao was stupefied for a while. Then, very quickly, he turned on his heels and fled. He didn't know if he was imagining things but when he turned his body, he seemed to hear a woman laughing!
In one breath, he ran 800 meters. Doctor Zhao nearly puked his lungs out, running madly towards the main road. His palms were already wet with cold sweat and he almost couldn't hold on to his phone.
He hastily wiped his sweat with his sleeve and took a long exhale. Nervously, he gripped his wallet in the pocket of his pants, and recited a couple of sutra phrases.
"I'm just scaring myself." He patted himself on the chest and let out a laugh, as though to comfort himself. "Jumping at shadows, how silly."
Doctor Zhao lived alone and had sent his wife and child to live overseas. This way, he could brag when he brought this up to outsiders and he also had freedom to do whatever he wanted to. On this night, he didn't want to be alone for some reason, so he scrolled through his phone while opening the door. Just as he was wavering between the beautiful receptionist and a female patient he had just hooked up with, he felt something amiss. There was an ominous feel in the warm air in the house, a chill brushing past him…
Who opened the window?
Right at that moment, the door closed with a loud, heavy thump behind him. The key he had used to open the door just now hadn't been taken out. Doctor Zhao abruptly twisted his head around, only to hear a clear clink. Someone had locked the door from the outside! He rushed to the peephole to look outside and at the same time, turned the door knob futilely. The noise activated the sound-activated light in the corridor but as before, he saw no one.
Doctor Zhao's heart was suspended in his throat. Right then, all the lights in the house suddenly turned off—someone had tripped the circuit breaker!
"Who is it! I'm calling the police!"
He had just finished speaking when from very far, a woman let out a high-pitched laugh and said softly, "Sure."
Doctor Zhao grabbed the umbrella that was at the door and turned his head in the direction of the voice. He realised in shock that one of the windows at the balcony was open. There was a… shadow of a long-haired woman floating outside the window. When the night wind blew past, the shadow even swayed slightly!
Doctor Zhao abruptly retreated a few steps, his back colliding with the shoe cabinet. His house was on the tenth floor!
The "shadow" reached out a hand, pressing against the glass window. Immediately after, the sound of fingernails scraping against the glass could be heard from that direction. The shadow sighed faintly. "If only I still had hands, I would also call the police. Doctor Zhao, I want to report you for conducting illegal medical treatments, for harming lives for the sake of money…"
In the pitch-black house, the man who was already so scared he could not think straight did not notice the threads as fine as hair slipping in through the edges of the opened window like a spiderweb. One of the threads moved slightly and a paper box on top of the fridge was dragged down. A pile of Ritalin scattered all over the floor.
Doctor Zhao fell on his butt. "I-I-I-I'm selling proper medicine! I-Imported from Pakistan!"
The "shadow" chuckled. "Imported?"
Ritalin, the so-called Intelligence Pill that Doctor Zhao was peddling, was also known as "Viagra for the brain" and was usually used to treat ADHD. There were people in other countries who liked to take a few pills for no reason other than to stimulate their brains. This kind of thing that could obviously result in addiction and had side effects were categorised under psychiatric drugs in the country and were officially controlled. Without a medical prescription, the "imported" pills that could be bought were either fake drugs or smuggled in by the black market.
"I-I buy on behalf-"
A box of pills suddenly flew up on its own and brushed past the man's ear, smashing forcefully against the shoe cabinet. Doctor Zhao howled and nearly lost control of his bladder. "I smuggled them! I smuggled them! The hospitals prescribe this medicine too, they won't result in death! If… If there are any problems, it's all because the patients themselves are- ahhh!"
His vision darkened. Another box of pills flew up, spinning like a top and hitting his face at a high speed. Doctor Zhao felt like he had been slapped across the face. He shrank his body back and cowered in a corner, his arms wrapped around his head.
"If there are any problems, it's all because the patients themselves are not in good health and it has nothing to do with you, am I right?" The "shadow" outside the window let out a low, scornful laugh. "Then what about me, what did you prescribe me?"
Doctor Zhao looked up in confusion. "What..."
"Don't remember? Let me give you a reminder. At the beginning of March this year, I bought ten consultation sessions from you. You even prescribed me medicine but they don't seem effective, Doctor," the "shadow" said in a soft, breathy voice. "It even seemed to worsen my condition. Every day… Every day, it was like I was trapped in a swamp. Countless hands stretched out of the mud, pulling me down relentlessly. Slowly, I became unable to talk and I had no strength left at all. What did you prescribe me? Doctor?"
"Doctor" Zhao initially did not understand but listening to her words, he suddenly recalled something and his face changed. "You… Who are you?"
"Who do you think I am? Me, I used to think I was crazy, I thought I was worthless. But after I left my physical body, I suddenly felt much better. I'm so unsatisfied, I had to come back and have a nice and proper 'consultation' with you." The sound of fingernails scraping against glass was increasingly ear-piercing. Right after that, the window creaked as it was pushed open even wider. A pale, withered hand stretched in. "Doctor Zhao, what does this mean?"
The man was scared senseless by now. He grabbed a decorative Buddha statue at the entrance hall, jumbled chants for dispelling evil that he learned from somewhere tumbling out of his mouth, and threw it towards the window. The porcelain statue and the window shattered together, and the shadow outside the window disappeared into thin air. But before he could relax, he heard the voice speak again. "Oh my."
The voice was right beside his ear. She was in the house!
The door to the innermost bedroom opened softly. From inside, that hand reached out. A blurry shadow of a woman swayed into the living room.
She laughed, piercing yet soft. "Looks like Buddha doesn't protect bad people. That was close."
"Are you Ding Xiang? Wang Xiaoqing? Hao… H-Hao Chunmei…" Doctor Zhao had pissed his pants in terror and was calling out a few female names in succession. Even the "female ghost" in the house was dumbstruck for a moment, as though she didn't expect this to happen. The crotch area of the man's pants were already soaked and he was talking incoherently. "I don't know anything, I didn't do anything to any of you. I-I-I was just helping people buy medicine. Whatever they wanted to buy, I helped them buy..."
The "female ghost's" terrifying high-pitched voice lowered. Sadly, Doctor Zhao was already incapable of rational thought and did not notice it. "You said… 'any of you'?"
Yu Lanchuan ran madly the moment he got down from the cab. He was not familiar with the area and took a few wrong turns before he finally found the small neighbourhood where Doctor Zhao stayed. He looked at his watch—more than an hour had gone by—and he immediately broke out in a nervous sweat. If there was a pressure cooker, it was enough time to braise Doctor Zhao until his meat was falling off his bones!
He called Gan Qing's phone while trying to determine which building it was. The other party rejected his call.
Yu Lanchuan cursed, "Fucker!"
He was just about to call again when a twig suddenly flew towards him from the side. Yu Lanchuan subconsciously caught it. He looked up to see Gan Qing sitting on the edge of the flower bed in the neighbourhood, holding a wig and waving at him. Smiling widely, she asked, "Who's a fucker?"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
"I told you I was coming to have a chat with Doctor Zhao, why are you panicking?" Gan Qing said. "So worried about me? I'm overwhelmed and shocked by your favour."
His face stiff, Yu Lanchuan said, "I'm worried about the person targeted by you."
"Don't worry. No deaths, no injuries, and no evidence left behind. I avoided the CCTVs and wiped my prints, aren't I reliable? Come, settle up the expenses first. Debts should be cleared between good friends." Gan Qing opened the calculator app on her phone and tapped rapidly on it. "Compensation for missing work, fee for running errands, information exchange fee, transport cost…"
The veins at Yu Lanchuan's temples started pounding.
"...I won't charge you for all that. After all, we see each other everyday, am I right?" Gan Qing said. "It's just that this made me miss an afternoon's worth of business and I've lost at least twenty sales of 'anti-Mercury retrograde charms.' Little Master Yu, how am I to explain this to the boss? I won't survive the coming days."
Yu Lanchuan had just encountered a President Yang who flaunted her wealth with style, and now he was meeting someone who moaned her poverty with equal flair. Both his spirit and his wallet suffered a double blow. In the end, the two of them went through a round of bargaining. Yu Lanchuan held his nose and bought twenty anti-Mercury retrograde charms from her at a bulk-purchase price, each one discounted by fifty cents.
Gan Qing finally spoke unhurriedly, "This person's clinic is basically a scam. He's actually a drug smuggler. He usually peddles some prescribed drugs illegally. He has many connections and his supply is reliable. His mouth is also tightly zipped so later on, someone introduced him to another business."
GHB was a type of narcotic. It was also known as a "date rape drug" and it was obvious how it was used.
"The price was very high so he agreed. He felt that if a murderer used a knife to kill someone, it was the murderer's fault and not the knife's fault, and that it was even more unrelated to the person who sold the knife," Gan Qing continued to say. "Slowly, other than GHB, there were people who asked him to help them buy other types of hallucinogens and narcotics. He realised that these customers all knew each other and the drugs were a tool for them to snare women. Usually, if they bumped into each other when they came to his place to pick up the drugs, they would even share their experiences—stuff like how to pick a target, how to make the target too scared to make a police report or to resist, and how to completely control her. These customers didn't mind their words around him. Later on, they even added him into their 'stamp-collecting community.' That Zhao fellow said it was like a gaming community. Everyday, they would show off their 'battle spoils.'"
Yu Lanchuan frowned. "Is Nie Ke in it?"
"He is. Nie Ke is one of his main customers. Apparently, a lot of people admire this Nie Ke a lot because he snared one Xiang Xiaoman and with that, wiped out twenty years of struggling, and became successful and well-known. He even made her completely submissive to him. Nie Ke's past deeds is a classic case study that's passed on in their community, along with a complete tutorial. First, beat down her self-esteem. Put sleeping pills and tranquilizers in her food and drink to make her drowsy for entire days so that she has no way to go out and work. Throw away the food she made in front of her. Bring her out to meet 'friends' and purposely let those 'friends' ridicule her to her face. Slowly destroy her mental state. Now that everything is in his hands, Nie Ke wants to completely get rid of her, so he's pretending to take her to see a 'psychiatrist'—this role is also a cameo played by that Zhao fellow. His job is to keep hinting and forcing her to 'reflect on herself' during the treatment period to make her symptoms worse. Nie Ke's plan was for her to kill herself or to find a suitable chance to send her to a psychiatric hospital."
"How about that?" Gan Qing tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. "Isn't it a foolproof plan?"
When Gan Qing was done talking, she looked down and accepted Yu Lanchuan's WeChat money transfer. This alliance leader was one sweet-smelling oddball—just for the sake of ten yuan, he had bargained with her for a good long time.
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Can you get evidence?"
"Their transactions are done with cash and of course there are no accounts. But if you search that evil doctor's house right now, you can probably find some smuggled drugs." Gan Qing thought a while, "As for Nie Ke and the rest, you can probably get their past chat logs. Is that enough? If necessary, that one upstairs who pissed his pants can turn himself in."
"Turn himself in?" Yu Lanchuan asked in bewilderment. "He found his conscience? What did you do to him?"
"Nothing, just educated him a bit. You can say that I persuaded him with the power of ethics," Gan Qing said. "And then I nicely made another appointment with him. 'See you tomorrow, see you everyday.'"
Yu Lanchuan said, "Tricking him once is enough. This kind of thing is very easily exposed."
"It's all right." Gan Qing laughed and opened her hand to him. In her hand was a small tuft of hair, the strands very short and cut with a sharp edge. When the night wind swept past, they immediately flew away. She said, "Today, it's his hair. Tomorrow, he should worry about his ears. Day after tomorrow… whether I'm a human or a ghost will no longer be of importance to him."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
He could roughly imagine how the Doctor Zhao upstairs pissed his pants.
Yu Lanchuan called for a ride on a ride-hailing app and the two of them waited by the roadside. The driver seemed a bit unable to find their location and called to ask. After he had finally made his location clear, Yu Lanchuan put down his phone and heard Gan Qing suddenly say from beside him. "This is enough, right?"
"Stuff like evidence and whatnot, there's no need to be too particular. I have an audio recording of what that Zhao fellow said just now." Gan Qing stepped about on the curb. "Add a section of the chat logs to it and send them to Nie Ke. That should be enough to shut his mouth. Go back and keep that foolish sparrow on a tight leash, stay low for a few days, and this matter can be considered over."
Yu Lanchuan heard those words and understood what she was not saying.
The reason why they were out here to handle this shitty problem was all because of the trouble caused by Yan Hao. Now that they had information to use against Nie Ke, they could retreat in victory.
"Actually, even if the evil doctor turns himself in and reports them, there's no use." Gan Qing spread her hands at him. "Nie Ke drugging Xiang Xiaoman was something that happened a long time ago and there's nothing that can be found now. He just needs to insist that he didn't do it. Whether or not the chat logs can be used as evidence is also a question. They can say that the logs were edited, or that they were false advertising to swindle those losers into paying lesson fees or something like that. At most, they will just be fined."
Yu Lanchuan didn't say anything.
As for sharing someone else's private photos, it was just "dissemination of obscene material." At most, it would be assigned a "humiliation and degradation offence." The latter crime usually needed the victim to make a report before it could be investigated, unless there was conclusive evidence to prove that Xiang Xiaoman's unstable mental state was due to Nie Ke spreading her nudes. But this was impossible. Xiang Xiaoman herself might be completely unaware of what Nie Ke had done behind her back.
Not to mention that the matter of the sleeping pills had happened too long ago and was difficult to prove. Even if it could be done, taking sleeping pills typically wouldn't make a person mentally unstable.
That Xiang Xiaoman could walk step by step until she reached where she was today was very likely because she had been someone with low self-esteem in the first place. She might have been more sensitive and easily reliant on others, or maybe she was naturally more susceptible to having mental health issues. If they investigated her relatives and happened to find some who suffered from insomnia or depression, they could say that her condition was hereditary.
As for the long-term psychological abuse, who had seen it?
What was more, the punishment for abuse was not severe. The prison term was at most three years. It wasn't even enough to finish an undergraduate course.
"Little Master Yu." Gan Qing lifted her head and beamed at him as she said, "How does fifteen yuan for one sound?"
Yu Lanchuan was puzzled. "Didn't you just say that the bulk purchase price was fourteen…"
Halfway through, he suddenly realised what Gan Qing meant by "fifteen yuan for one" and his words stuck in his throat.
"This is already the bargain basement price. Otherwise, I would add at least four zeros to it." Gan Qing stretched her body and said, "I am detailed and meticulous, and guaranteed to leave no trace nor evidence. If you're willing to cover the additional transport costs, I can also add a 'disposal and clean-up' service, and make this person disappear without a trace from here on. Even the police would think that he fled because he feared being arrested. How does that sound? I only take cash."
The weather was really cold. As Gan Qing spoke, she stamped her feet lightly and blew on her hands. She looked like she was joking with him.
But Yu Lanchuan had an inexplicable feeling that if he brushed it off with a laugh, then those words were just a joke; but if he really took out fifteen yuan now, Nie Ke would turn into a missing person tomorrow!
In a little less than half a year, Alliance Leader Yu had met not an insignificant number of troublesome people. For example, Madam Qian and her three unlucky disciples belonged to the category of brutal and ruthless people. They had criminal records, were capable of fighting and running, and there was nothing they could not do in a moment of impulse. For another example, Yan Hao, who did things without consulting his brain, did not consider anything, and was someone ignorant of the law and ever-ready to take a wrong step.
Compared to these people, Gan Qing was totally a model citizen. She was usually civilised and courteous. She never cut the queue when buying breakfast, always smiled before speaking, and looked like she was rather easy to bully. But under that facade of "I know what I'm doing," her bones were completely black and when she occasionally revealed a hint of that, it was enough to shock a person to the core.
Fifteen… "add four zeros" yuan. In that case, given that she currently made a living by muttering nonsense to hoodwink people and could not even dig out 1.50 yuan, should he feel relieved?
Behind his glasses, Yu Lanchuan's eyes flickered. "You seem quite experienced."
At that moment, the ride he had called was arriving with its hazard lights on. Gan Qing didn't reply. The eyes that she was never willing to open fully flickered in the dark of the night, revealing a faint cold light like the tip of a blade. "Guess?"
Thus, on this day, the chatty cab driver realised that he totally did not have a chance to join the conversation. The young man in the front passenger seat spent the entire time giving a long lecture on law awareness, frightening the driver into driving fearfully. He didn't dare exceed the speed limit throughout the journey.
Gan Qing, who had dared to put on an act in front of the King of Cool, was now reaping what she sowed. She curled into a ball under the force of his tirade, shrinking into the back seat and not daring to poke her head out. Taking the chance when Yu Lanchuan was drawing a breath, she hastily and weakly cut him off. "I was just joking."
Yu Lanchuan said, "A lot of people who crossed the line began by not taking this matter seriously. Can everything be treated as a joke?"
Gan Qing said remorsefully, "...I was wrong."
The driver met her eyes in the rearview mirror, his eyes full of sympathy. He turned the volume on the radio a little louder to do what he could to help her. And so, the "law segment" gained background music in the form of a traditional narration of Journey to the West.
"Just look at these Jade Hare Spirit, Scorpion Spirit, Sun Wukong and whatnot. Proper demons, all of them, and proper monkeys." When the cab stopped at the entrance of No. 110 Courtyard, the driver said meaningfully, "They couldn't see past the beauty or ugliness of youth and old age, and don't understand that form is emptiness. They just had to insist on marrying the monk Tang Seng. Wasn't he forced to wear the magical circlet? Everyday, he had to listen to the monk chant sutras. Learned his lesson, didn't he? The total is 28.30 yuan, just round it down to 28. Thank you!"
After taking the money, the cab sped off like a supercar, leaving only a trail of exhaust and dust.
Yu Lanchuan was actually not done talking yet but the conclusion of "Sun Wukong marrying Tang Seng" was like a fish bone wedged in his throat, his words stuck so hard that it hurt. He could only drop the subject and turn to go with a flourish of his sleeve.
President Yang found someone to take care of the audio recording Gan Qing made. Together with a few chat log screenshots, it was sent to Nie Ke. That very night, Yu Lanchuan received a call from Yu Yan saying that Nie Ke suddenly changed his mind and admitted that he had made a false report after drinking too much the other night. He even paid the fine on his own volition.
Yan Hao was brought out by Old Master Yang and Boss Jiang to face Yu Lanchuan. He obediently apologised for all the trouble he had caused but still did not get his figurine back. This was at the request of Boss Jiang. He was to remain under observation for a period of time. When they were sure that he was living steadily and responsibly, and would definitely not cause any more trouble, they would return it to him.
In the eyes of the older generation, it was nothing more than a plastic doll anyway. A grown man spending entire days enamoured with toys was not proper behaviour at all. It was better to take it away from him.
When Yan Hao left, he was nearly in tears. For every step he took, he turned his head back three times, wondering if Yu Lanchuan would treat his Ayanami Rei well.
In the past, he also had a Spiderman. Ayanami Rei was the one who understood him for who he was while Spiderman was the one entrusted with his ambition. There were times when he imagined himself to be like a small spider. If he transformed into Spiderman, he would obtain superpowers and everything good, and could go to battle and save people. But after his mother found that little Spiderman figurine, she broke it with her bare hands. And when he put on that Spiderman costume, he didn't transform into a superhero. He was only treated as a suspicious pervert and taken away by the police while onlookers pointed their fingers at him.
He also couldn't save anyone. He could only cause trouble for others.
Fantasies were nothing but fleeting illusions.
Now, his last consolation was gone. Yan Hao knew in his heart that Boss Jiang and Old Master Yang meant well. He couldn't say no. He just felt very lonely.
From the moment he was born, there was nothing he was useful for. That was the loneliness he felt.
At the intersection below No. 110 Courtyard, Yan Hao suddenly had a thought. Is it time for me to leave?
Right at that moment, the door to the pet store beside him opened. The shop employee was sending off two customers.
The employee was a mute girl with freckles on her face. A young couple came out of the store, taking with them a cat. Looking at the colouring, it should be an adoption.
The cat curled up quietly in the carrier, gazing at the mute girl. The girl seemed to be very worried. Subconsciously, she walked after them for a few steps until the customers thought that she had something to bring up and stopped to ask.
The mute girl watched them walk off and noticed Yan Hao standing not far away. Her eyes lit up. She let out an ah and turned to slip into the store. She brought out the canned cat food he had left, pointed at him, then at the cans, and bowed to him.
Yan Hao was afraid of girls in the first place and was so dumbstruck he was like a wooden stump. He let down his guard for a minute and the mute girl was tugging at his sleeve, forcefully pulling him into the store.
In the corner, a few large cats were eating from the cans. They were entirely focused on eating. When they heard someone come in, they only twitched their ears a bit and they didn't even lift their heads.
Right then, a rather hoarse meowing could be heard. The two of them looked up and saw that a smaller cat had somehow climbed up on a tall perch and couldn't get down. It was turning in circles in agitation. The mute girl quickly let go of Yan Hao and went to rescue the cat.
When she let go, Yan Hao also felt more relieved.
Then, he saw the mute girl leap up, light and agile. Her toes touched lightly on the cat tree and she reached the top of the perch as though she weighed nothing. One foot on the cat tree and the other foot on an opened cabinet door, she picked up the cat and carried it down.
Both the cat tree and the cabinet door did not move the slightest.
Yan Hao was surprised and felt that she was a little overly nimble.
Even though she looked very slender… no matter how thin a girl was, they would still weigh at least seventy or eighty pounds. Was it possible to move so lightly?
Without waiting for him to understand what was going on, the girl had already leaped down and put the cat on the ground. When she touched the ground, there was no sound at all.
She gave him a huge smile, then took out a small book and wrote some words for him to read: Thank you. There are too many strays which makes the boss unhappy. There's a quota for how much food I can feed them in the future and I can't go over the limit. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be able to let Xiao-Bai come here.
Yan Hao came back to himself. He also felt that writing was better than speaking, so he voluntarily joined the ranks of the deaf and mute, and wrote in the book: You're welcome. What about next month?
The mute girl wrote: Yarn Ball just got adopted. If it doesn't get sent back and if no new cats come to the store, we have enough to go around.
After a pause, she wrote in the book: But they frequently get sent back.
Yan Hao wrote: The two people just now look like nice people.
Hopefully. The girl wrote: Even if the cats are treated badly in someone's home, they can't speak up.
The two of them crouched down together, both worrying. Yan Hao's heart stirred and he turned his head to look at No. 110 Courtyard. From this angle, he couldn't see the eighth floor.
After the chaos he caused, Nie Ke definitely would not dare stay there anymore. He had sent his child away and had currently gone off to who knew where. Before long, he would move away and 804 would be rented to someone else. The shattered window would be repaired and no one would know that a woman had once been imprisoned there.
Yan Hao sighed. He bid farewell to the mute girl and stood up to go. He decided that he would follow the arrangements Boss Jiang and the others had made for him after all and work and earn some money. At the very least, he could support the girl at the pet store by providing canned pet food.
A week later, the occupant of 804 indeed moved away. Two moving vans arrived at the courtyard. When Gan Qing left for work in the morning, she happened to see Nie Ke talking to the movers downstairs. She stood at the building entrance, one hand fingering something in her pocket, and stared at Nie Ke's back for a few seconds.
Nie Ke felt a chill on his back. His nerves overly sensitive, he stretched his neck and looked around.
After a few days of not seeing him, the man had grown noticeably more wan. Word had it that when the evil doctor turned himself in, he had reported the rest of them at the same time. Nie Ke was taken away by the police and interrogated, causing gossip to fly around in his office. He might not be able to continue working there in the future.
However, just as they had expected, Nie Ke engaged a lawyer and very cleverly washed his hands clean of his past deeds. When all was said and done, all he admitted to was that "there were issues with his morals."
This time, even though he encountered some bumps and went through some turmoil, he was not deeply wounded. As for his job, he could lay low for a while and then find a new one later. With Nie Ke's qualifications and academic background, it wasn't difficult for him to change jobs. People were forgetful anyway.
Gan Qing tilted her head, her eyes staring from a corner of the corridor. She saw Nie Ke frowning and shouting out his instructions. He occupied a large section of the empty space in the courtyard and was ordering the movers around until their heads were spinning.
Even though this man was nearly middle-aged, his looks were still good. He could even be called delicately handsome and his body was also very much in shape. He knew how to dress and also carried his clothes well. The coal-black long coat made his face appear very clean. A female driver passing by had her way blocked by him but when she wound her window down to look, she didn't even frown and instead, waited patiently for him to move.
Nie Ke saw clearly the Maserati logo on the car and his expression changed immediately. With poise and elegance, he walked over to exchange a few words with the female driver, perhaps to apologise and to explain. In just a few words, they even struck up a conversation.
The two people chatted happily, and probably even thought that the movers moved their van too quickly.
After the woman drove away, the melancholic smile on Nie Ke's face disappeared. He watched the car leave, then lit a cigarette and drew on it harshly. He seemed unwilling to accept how things had turned out and also seemed to be harbouring ill intentions. The corners of his eyes and mouth were drawn at a sharp angle. This expression didn't quite look human; it looked more like a wolf hiding beneath human skin.
Gan Qing's eyes swept across his exposed neck and wrists. Her eyes focused like a high school student in an examination hall staring at the last geometry question, coldly calculating where she should make the first move.
Nie Ke threw the cigarette butt onto the manhole cover, then lifted his head to look at the eighth floor. He thought of Xiang Xiaoman and a cold, scornful smile appeared on his face. He regretted being too kind and soft-hearted, and not removing the woman cleanly. Keeping her by his side had resulted in so much trouble.
But what can you do to me? Just you watch, crazy bitch. As Nie Ke thought, he spat and then climbed up into the front passenger seat of the moving van.
He liked women but in his eyes, women were just like the equipment in a game. They were not people and there was no need for feelings. They should come and go at his bidding, and it would be best if they harmed or killed themselves for him to add to his mysterious charm. But if they dared to resist or dared to cause him trouble, then they were nothing good.
Since ancient times, people who tamed wild horses were heroes and fighters. But if the wild horse was unwilling to be tamed and even pretended to be docile only to bite their handler when they had the chance, then they were sinful and deserved to die.
Right at that moment, Gan Qing moved. The building entrance where she was at was only a few meters away from the bumper of the moving van. Between them was a bicycle rack which could perfectly hide her body. With just a few steps, she could slip under the van, and then…
...go to the young, handsome and capable Mr. Nie's new home, check out the place, and give him a little "surprise" at night.
However, right at the moment when she was about to slip out, an arm reached across from out of nowhere and held her back by her waist. "Come back!"
Gan Qing recognised the voice. She ignored it and stubbornly charged forward. Her elbow jabbed to the side but the other person refused to retreat. Elbow collided against elbow with a muffled thunk.
Both of them had collided directly and whoever was thinner suffered more. Gan Qing was forced to step aside to reduce the impact. At the same time, the other person lifted an arm and seized the door frame, blocking her way.
Gan Qing's gaze didn't leave Nie Ke. Her hands were trying to force a way out, yet her voice was politely making small talk. "Little Master Yu, why aren't you at work today?"
"There's a parent-teacher conference, I took a half-day leave." Yu Lanchuan dodged Gan Qing's shoulder that was crashing towards him. He forced half a step forward and his other hand grabbed the elbow of the hand that had been in her pocket the entire time. "Take it out!"
"Life sure is hard for you, Little Master Yu," Gan Qing said with a false smile. Her knee blocked his thigh. "Every day, you have to leave early and come back late…"
Yu Lanchuan retracted his leg but otherwise, did not move. As before, he blocked her path and the two of them exchanged a few moves in that tiny space. Fortunately, the building entrance was hidden by the moving van; otherwise, outsiders would see legs and arms flying around.
"...you have to take care of a younger brother..." Gan Qing's hand cleaved down like a knife, aiming right at his stomach. Yu Lanchuan slammed his elbow down on her hand and realised that her hand was quick but without strength. In the second that his elbow pushed down on it, her fingers moved swiftly, transforming into a blade to accurately brush past his ulnar nerve.
Yu Lanchuan hissed in pain.
Gan Qing said, "...and you can still find time to poke your nose into other people's business."
"It's still okay." Half of Yu Lanchuan's arm had lost all feeling but he endured and did not retract it. After all, a person's fingers were not a real blade. It hurt but there was no serious injury. He stood at an angle, using his shoulder to open the way, and spread his long legs to block Gan Qing, forcing her back into the corridor. "My time management can just about handle all that."
One used her hand as a blade, the other used his body as a sword.
The blade was a three-inch fingertip blade, slitting throats with barely a warning.
The sword was a heavy sword, with a thick spine and a wide blade, an honest and upright spirit contained within.
Gan Qing finally shifted her gaze and looked directly at Yu Lanchuan.
Outside, the sound of people talking was noisy and clamorous. In this tiny space hidden by the bicycle racks, there had already been one round of a silent and fierce fight, blade glinting and the sword flashing.
The afternoon sun did not shine through the north-facing windows. Gan Qing retreated into the shadows and fell silent for a while. She let out a soft laugh. "Little Master Yu's skills are much stronger than I had expected. As expected of the direct descendant of Han Jiang Yu."
Yu Lanchuan didn't say anything. He was wary, on guard for any more trouble she might cause.
He didn't have much experience with fighting other people. Plus, he was used to being civilised and worried about a lot of things. When he used his strength and attacked, he would always have an intention to hold back, as though he was afraid he would cause serious harm.
If Gan Qing wanted to take his life, she probably wouldn't need even a minute.
But if she didn't want to injure others, then she was tying her own limbs. On top of that, the space at the building entrance was limited and she lacked strength. If they were to arm wrestle, Yu Lanchuan would probably have to first give her an advantage of an additional arm. Unexpectedly, she had been stopped by him.
At that moment, the van could be heard accelerating. Slowly, it was driven away. It was too late to go after it now.
Gan Qing sighed. She shook the arm that was restraining her. "I didn't apply for leave, Little Master Yu. If you don't let go, you'll have to compensate me for the hours I miss again."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "What were you planning to do just now?"
Gan Qing said, "Nothing much. Leave the house and go to work."
"What's in your pocket?"
Yu Lanchuan didn't believe her words, not even the punctuation. He pulled her hand out of her pocket. Gan Qing loosened her grip. There was a clinking sound—she was really holding a bunch of keys.
"In the bright daytime"—Gan Qing looped her index finger through the key ring and spun it a couple of times, saying in resignation—"what did you think I was going to do?"
Yu Lanchuan was at first relieved. Then, in the next second, his gaze was suddenly pinned on the keys…
Dangling from her key ring was a decoration made from tying strings into knots, and the strings were two differently-coloured, fluorescent shoelaces!
The shoelaces were very familiar!
Gan Qing caught the keys in her hand and stuffed them back into her pocket. "Have I passed the security check?"
Yu Lanchuan involuntarily stretched out his hand. Halfway, he drew it back. "Your… keychain is pretty unusual."
"You like this type? When I'm back I'll give you one," Gan Qing spoke without thinking as she walked out. "Colourful knots repel evil to protect your home and can increase positive energy. The 'neighbour price' is twenty yuan. I'll pass one to you tonight, thank you for the business."
Yu Lanchuan moved his legs to keep up with her. "Those are shoelaces, aren't they?"
Gan Qing, "..."
She quickly dug it out and looked carefully—they really were shoelaces.
Such flashy shoelaces, they're definitely not mine. Where did I pick them up? She thought in bewilderment. She couldn't remember where those things came from anymore.
When she was young, there was a period of time when she was obsessed with tying knots and she had known how to tie quite a number of Chinese knots… Of course, she had forgotten them all now.
These small, scattered bits of her old possessions had all been given to her by Boss Meng. In fact, she couldn't remember where most of them came from. They weren't anything of importance to her and she had never thought that each and every one of them would be kept by her shifu.
When the older generation did something awkward, it was always like this. They didn't understand what the kids were thinking and also didn't dare ask too closely. He had been afraid of being too naggy, so he hadn't dared to carelessly touch any of her things, afraid that he would accidentally lose something important. But a youth that was filled with bouts of wind and rain wouldn't have so many important items. Looking back at them after a few years had passed, more than half of them were unknown to her.
And the person who had so carefully kept all her "unknowns" was no longer here.
Softly, Gan Qing's heart sank. She took a deep breath to hold it still, not letting it sink any lower. She was very experienced with maintaining a "heartless" state.
Her steps paused and she turned her head to say, "Is there anything else? That twenty yuan can't be lowered any further, Little Master Yu. Don't follow me anymore."
Yu Lanchuan came to a stop. He finally realised that he had followed her from the building entrance all the way to the courtyard gate.
You don't remember where the two shoelaces came from?
...And you don't remember me?
The night that was filled with the ruckus of human voices and dog barks in my memories that shook me to my core was just a trifling matter that you forgot the moment it was over?
Where did you come from?
All these years, where had you gone to?
All these questions fought to be the first, swirling around in his throat. In the end, they melded into an image of a young girl looking at him with a mischievous expression and saying mockingly, "That doggy on your underwear looks a lot like you."
Gan Qing prepared herself to listen to yet another round of "Alliance Leader's Lecture on Law Awareness'' but what she saw was Yu Lanchuan's ears suddenly turning red. Who knew what grand move he was brewing up.
Gan Qing said, "Little Master Yu, if you have anything to say, just say it. Don't keep it in, your face is already red from holding everything in. It won't be good if others see you like this, they'll think that I'm doing something improper to you."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
She had been a female ruffian since young!
Gan Qing wanted to escape as quickly as possible, so she lowered her voice slightly and said sincerely, "I'm really going to go to work. Little Master Yu, stop following me. If I really want to take off that scumbag's head, you won't be able to stop me even if you follow me all the way to the women's washroom."
Flustered and exasperated, Yu Lanchuan said, "Who's following you to-"
Gan Qing cut him off, "Shh… Not so loud. Such coarse words will ruin your image."
Steam rose from Yu Lanchuan's every orifice in his indignation. With tremendous effort, he maintained his image and forced out a few words through gritted teeth. "When Yan Hao kidnapped him, you tried to stop him. I thought you were very rational and not someone who liked to find trouble for herself."
Gan Qing smiled, "Ai, this is nothing, it's no trouble at all."
She was even being polite!
"Wait a minute," Yu Lanchuan said quickly. "You're not the only one keeping an eye on Nie Ke now."
Gan Qing paused.
"In the past, no one knew what they did. Since this matter has been brought to light now, you're not the only one who's unwilling to let them get away with it," Yu Lanchuan said. "Wait a few more days, half a month at most."
"Half a month." Gan Qing looked at him deeply and nodded. "Okay."
A shameless person could always very quickly recalibrate their mental state. Nie Ke threw his child over to his parents and moved to a new house. No. 110 was old, rundown and small; were it not because it was in a school district, it would not be worth its price at all. A high-class apartment of the same price was much more comfortable.
He checked out the garden at the bottom of the apartment building and was quite satisfied. He even casually made plans with a female internet friend who was coming to visit Yanning, planning to relax fully.
But after relaxing for a few days, things started going wrong. At the start, it was the nearby jianbing seller giving him strange looks. Nie Ke didn't care, he didn't eat that kind of thing anyway. Then, very quickly, all the breakfast vendors nearby started to whisper to each other and it even spread to the convenience shops and cafes!
"Sir, I'm sorry but our coffee machine is not working."
"But it was just-"
"It became spoiled just now," the round-faced server's smile was very professional. "I'm really very sorry."
Nie Ke said, "Then, I don't want coffee. Give me a sandwich."
The server said, "We're out of sandwiches."
"There's one right in the display-"
"You are mistaken. That's a display item."
"What do you mean by this? The customer has the right to choose. You are breaking the law-"
"I'm really very sorry. If you're not satisfied, you may lodge a complaint."
After that, the line "You may lodge a complaint" seemed to linger in Nie Ke's ears. Full of anger, he ran back to his new home and bumped into a beggar right in front of the elevator. Nie Ke didn't like filth so he stepped back with a frown. However, the beggar gave him a wide, meaningful smile, a smile that gave him goosebumps all over. He had a bad feeling in his heart.
As he thought, once he went upstairs, he realised that his house had been marked by someone. A smiley face had been drawn next to his door plate!
Nie Ke pushed the door open and entered. A piece of paper that had been slipped into the crack of the door fell onto his shoe. The paper was printed with the words: I know what you did. I know where you live.
Nie Ke's scalp tingled. Scared witless, he called the police. The two police officers who came took a look around and saw one full-grown adult man completely unharmed and nothing missing from the house, so they just recorded his statement and left.
Nie Ke was so frightened his soul was leaving his body. He could only leave to stay at a guest house. The beggars at the roadside watched him enter. With a twirl of their moustache, very quickly, a paper slip appeared in the guest house room.
At the restaurants that he went to, the bars, and even on the electrical poles on the roads he passed through, the smiley face followed him like a shadow.
Nie Ke was on the verge of breaking down. But the police not only thought that he was being overly sensitive, they even visited him to ask some questions every other day.
Ten days later, Yang Yifan sent off some visitors in her office and gave Yu Lanchuan a call. "Little Master Yu, is your team of lawyers ready?"
Yu Lanchuan picked up his phone and turned to go to the pantry.
"We have contacted the victims who are willing to testify. There are four of them now and there may be more in the future. The most recent one had her drink spiked at a bar and was taken away by them. She kept the evidence but they threatened her with her nudes so she didn't dare make a report all this while." Yang Yifan blew on her nails. "The bar might still have the surveillance video of them spiking her drink, it would be good if we can get it. Can you handle the boss?"
Yu Lanchuan said, "I'll try."
"President Yang said, "Good. Then, we'll start to spread it online. There'll be many eyeballs reading this."
Detained in a special ward, Xiang Xiaoman lifted her head timidly and looked at the young female police officer who had once given her a personal contact number.
The last time, the paper on which the number was written had been so flimsy. Xiang Xiaoman also had not appreciated the gesture.
This time, the young female police officer was finally not only bringing with her the naive courage of a single person, she was also bringing people from the Women's Association and an organisation that helped victims of domestic violence. There was also a proper psychiatrist and a professional psychology consultant.
It might be the case that the lawsuit would cause a great uproar but the final judgement, as before, would still leave them discontent.
It might be the case that the punishment for evil people would never ever be commensurate with the harm they had caused others.
But she still had to climb to her feet and continue to live.
Even if she had nothing more to live for, she still had to show those unbearable and despicable things that she wouldn't take things lying down.
Gan Qing stood at the intersection, waiting for the lights to turn. She scrolled through the news that was spreading everywhere on her phone and glanced at the date—it was half a month on the dot. Little Master Yu was quite punctual.
She looked up and saw that Yan Hao was helping the pet store next door carry cat litter, so busy that his feet were barely touching the ground.
Yan Hao still had a fear of her. When he accidentally met her gaze, he was so frightened that he dropped his head and fled right away.
"Hey," Gan Qing called out to him from the road side. "Your wife is with me. Come and pick her up when you're free."
The little mute girl from the pet store looked at him in shock. Yan Hao felt so awkward that his face and ears turned red, turning into a large tomato on the spot.
However… the large tomato probably didn't know what great contributions he had made.
Gan Qing meow-ed at the kitten in the display window, then turned to go.
— END OF BOOK 2 —
Book 3: Loss of Hope
The sweeping northwest wind brought with it a round of heavy snowfall. The residents of Yanning all raised their cameras and online, the "scum men gang" topic that had everyone abuzz for a while was finally taken over by something else.
Amidst the shutter sounds rising and falling everywhere, the Earth completed one orbital revolution.
"'The Neighbourhood Committee of Rongxian Street wishes everyone a Happy New Year. We would like to remind our comrades to be careful during the holiday period and that setting off fireworks and firecrackers are prohibited within the city area'... tsk, what the hell. Who lights firecrackers during New Year? That's tacky." Yang Yifan skimmed the notice on the wall, then turned to pound on her grandfather's door. "Old man! Old man!"
Sect Leader Yang was burning incense, making tea and studying a weiqi game record. Her pounding shook him, causing him to accidentally knock against the weiqi board and send the stones flying.
Old Master Yang sighed heavily. "What are you doing! A person of noble character should be calm and composed, and there are rules to follow when sitting, laying down and walking. Just look at you… Hey! I'm talking to you, you're a grown woman now! Can't you pay more attention to your behaviour?"
Yang Yifan had directly put her skirt on over her clothes and was taking off her pants as she walked. She had just taken off one pants leg and was hopping on one foot. "I'm going to be late... The neighbourhood committee is giving out flu shots during the holidays. I've registered for you, it's tomorrow morning. I can't get up so early, you go on your own."
Old Master Yang slowly picked up the stones and snorted. "I'm not going. Looking for illness where there is none, why would I want to get injected?"
Yang Yifan struggled out of her pants and put on her makeup while standing. "If you wait until you're sick to get vaccinated, it'll be too late!"
Old Master Yang argued forcefully, "Getting a small illness or two is just like opening the sluice to release the floodwaters. If you train your body and strengthen your immune system, getting a cold is nothing bad."
Yang Yifan nearly poked her eye with the eyeliner. Blinking furiously, she spoke angrily, unable to restrain her rage. "Your group of scoundrel friends is just a distribution center for rumours! And a cold is not the flu!"
Old Master Yang retorted, "If you feel cold, then it's a cold, what else can it be?"
Yang Yifan didn't want to waste time arguing with him. "Anyway, just go. I've already paid for it."
Old Master Yang curled his lips. "Everyone in our courtyard who is above sixty years old gets free jabs. Don't try to trick me."
Yang Yifan, "..."
These old people, the general knowledge they should know was utterly lost on them but when it came to things that they shouldn't know, they were more quick-witted than monkeys!
Because of that, President Yang seized the green walking stick that Sect Leader Yang usually carried around, supposedly the Beggars' Sect Dog Beating Staff—the real thing was a genuine antique but it was unknown if this one was real or fake—and said, "If I find out tomorrow that you didn't go, I will set this shitty stick on fire."
The calm and composed Sect Leader Yang leaped up. "Put that down! You… You're being insolent!"
Yang Yifan felt that "insolent" was a praise. She wedged the stick under her arm, picked up the heels she was planning to change into for her evening party, and turned to leave.
"Come back here, where are you going!"
Yang Yifan stepped into the elevator. "New Year's countdown party!"
Old Master Yang ran out after her. "It's a festive occasion and you… you're not coming home to eat?"
"Go eat with your Goddess Zhang upstairs. I won't disturb the two of you…" Yang Yifan's voice was cut off by the closing elevator door, and she left a corridor of perfumed air behind her.
Old Master Yang stood there alone for a while. Then, he leaned against the corridor window and watched his granddaughter drive away downstairs. Only then did he return to his home, dejected.
The nearer it was to the end of the year, the busier the young people were. And this was just the Gregorian calendar's New Year. When it was Spring Festival, his precious granddaughter might be physically at home but she would always have her laptop on her lap and two phones in her hands, alternating between sending voice messages and typing, so busy that eight hands wouldn't be enough for her to use. She would have even less time to listen to his old man prattling then.
Usually, he could still thicken his old skin and go upstairs to look for Zhang Meizhen. However, Meizhen wasn't home these past two days. He heard that she had joined a holiday tour for senior citizens and had gone to Sanya.
The old fools were finding it harder and harder to keep up with the times. Their friends were getting fewer and fewer, and their days duller and duller.
Old Master Yang sighed. Slowly, he returned home. On the very last night of the year, his companion was a weiqi game record.
In the central business district, Yu Lanchuan nodded and said "Happy New Year" to his colleagues walking by. He was also preparing to go home. In the entire year, it was rare for them to have even a few days where they could go home on time and didn't need to order food delivery at the office. Everyone was a little restless, busily discussing where to party that night.
"Director Yu!" His assistant rushed over on her heels and stuffed a paper bag into Yu Lanchuan's hands. "This is the steamed rice cake my mum brought here. It's a speciality from our hometown. Take it home, add a dish to your meal."
Yu Lanchuan had no misgivings over accepting things from other people, and accepted gifts like he was receiving an offering. He nodded solemnly, "Mm, help me wish your parents a Happy New Year."
The assistant gave him an embarrassed smile, then said shyly, "I… still have a presumptuous request…"
Director Yu looked at her loftily and thought, I'm afraid I will have to turn this down. I am strongly against office romance.
Then, he heard his assistant ask, "Do you have any more of the 'anti-Mercury retrograde' charm that you gave us the last time?"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
"Yeah!" Immediately, someone next to them spoke up. "It's very effective! During the last Mercury retrograde, nothing went wrong with my computer!"
"Saturn is going to go into retrograde soon!"
"Oh my god, can't they just orbit properly? I was just wondering why I've been getting a crick in the neck upon waking up these past couple of days!"
"Director Yu, can you help me ask your friend and get a fortune-changing talisman for the new year for me?"
Director Yu was wide-eyed and dumbstruck. Have all of you gone mad?
Just like that, bearing a heavy proxy-shopping mission on his shoulders, Director Yu came to Star Dreams after work.
On the very last day before the holiday on New Year's Day, the schools were on holiday and offices finished work early. The tiny Star Dreams had more customers than it could handle and Gan Qing had no time to pay him any attention. Yu Lanchuan had no choice but to hang around and check out her items of feudalistic superstitions.
The planners patterned with six-point stars were selling briskly. They were differentiated by astrological signs, with a total of twelve versions. Every week was printed with a newly-compiled horoscope, bright and colourful. Yu Lanchuan flipped through a couple of pages and let out a snort of laughter. He thought, What utter nonsense.
Next to them were a lot of small items for praying for fortune or for romance. Yu Lanchuan didn't even want to touch them. Quantity over quality.
In a corner, the cards for various planets in retrograde and fortune-changing cards were displayed. The moment Yu Lanchuan recalled that he had to buy a stack of those, he felt so nauseous that his face paled. He felt a little like not going to work anymore.
Right then, the door chime sounded—yet another customer had entered the shop. Yu Lanchuan turned his head to see and to his surprise, he saw Yu Yan with a colleague. Filled with the joy of schadenfreude, he thought, The neighbourhood police is here to crack down on feudalistic practices.
But what he saw was Officer Yu Yan taking advantage of his height to stretch his neck out, lifting his head above the hordes of young people, and ask Gan Qing, "Teacher Meng-Meng, do you still have anymore of that pink crystal bracelet from last time? I'm introducing a customer to you, he wants to give one to his girlfriend!"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
The current day youth had already collapsed! Collapsed all the way to twenty thousand miles below the sea!
After working hard to send off a large batch of customers, Gan Qing could finally squeeze out some time. She counted out fifteen fortune-changing charms, her fingers looking like they were counting money, and passed them to Yu Lanchuan. "Twenty yuan each, dear. Thank you for your business. Happy New Year, may you be blessed with great fortune."
Yu Lanchuan said angrily, "Why has the price increased by five yuan!"
"Because it's popular, dear," Gan Qing answered matter-of-factly, then her expression changed. "Wait… Little Master Yu, put your phone down first. Let's talk nicely if there's anything. How about I give you a wholesale price? 19.50 yuan… nineteen, I'll round it down!"
Yu Yan watched from the sidelines in amusement, laughing heartily.
Yu Lanchuan gave him a kick, then swiped his card while criticising him. "What's the difference between people like you and those who line up to burn joss sticks at midnight?"
Gan Qing and Yu Yan spoke in unison, "This is trendy."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
"A-Lan, don't be so strict," Yu Yan said to Director Yu, the staunch believer in materialism. "Young people seek to change their fortunes and study the arcane arts; middle-aged people pray to Buddha and count their prayer beads; old people join healthy lifestyle cults and group buys for health supplements—everyone has a safe harbour for their mental state. It's a good thing. Oh, since you're already here, why don't you treat us to drinks next door? Let us drink to world peace."
Ever since Yu Lanchuan moved to No. 110 Courtyard, even though he was bothered day and night by his oddball neighbours until he was going mad, he had become a lot more generous. He didn't have to pay rent or drive anymore, and the money he saved was about twice Officer Yu's salary. This gave Yu Lanchuan ample breathing space and even working overtime didn't seem so detestable to him anymore. Even though he was still doing the same thing, the mental impact from "forced by life to work hard and scrape a meagre existence" was not quite the same as the mental impact from "work hard and fight for one's career."
"What peace?" Yu Lanchuan threw his wallet at Yu Yan in distaste. "Have you guys investigated the high-rise burglaries?"
Yu Yan was at the entrance, calling out to Boss Meng next door to put in his order verbally. It was obvious that Mudpool Backlane was an important job location for the local police. Yu Yan had been transferred here for barely a year but was already a familiar face.
After Officer Yu was done hollering, he turned back to say, "Nope. The Spiderman from your courtyard is still the most suspicious one. After all, there aren't many who can climb up walls freehand."
Gan Qing dragged her words out, "Oh, surely not…"
Yu Lanchuan cut her off. "Speak properly."
"'mkay." Gan Qing tried to find a "proper" tone and regained her usual speech style. "That Spiderman buddy, even getting him to speak a few words to another person is like asking him for his life. 'Someone else's home' is like a dragon's pool or a tiger's den to this friend of ours. He wouldn't dare go even if you invited him, much less break in himself."
Yu Yan thought a while. "Makes sense. Sigh, let's not bother with that anymore. Nothing went missing anyway."
Yu Lanchuan asked curiously, "Didn't you say previously that someone lost some money?"
"Not money, it was a card wallet," Yu Yan said. "Later on, the victim came by to say that he found his card wallet. The thief didn't take it, it was his pet cat that dragged it under the sofa."
"He has a cat at home?" Gan Qing looked thoughtful. "Those homes that were broken into can't all have cats, right?"
"You don't say, but I think they do." Yu Yan was briefly jolted. "People nowadays keep cats if they can afford to or feed their addiction online if they can't. Cats are everywhere, Planet Earth is going to become Planet Cat."
As he spoke, he went next door to pick up the drinks.
Yu Lanchuan glanced at Gan Qing and asked in a whisper, "Did you think of something?"
Gan Qing turned her face over and Yu Lanchuan's breath hitched. Her grey contact lenses seemed to contain whirlpools and it made a person dizzy, especially when she was smiling.
The Gan Qing who had made the alliance leader dizzy said mysteriously, "I was just thinking that maybe there aren't any high-rise burglars at all, and that it was just a cat demon visiting its friends."
Yu Lanchuan wanted to give himself a slap. Why had he still not learned his lesson and still believed that he could hear normal words come out of her mouth?
The little mute girl at the pet store near the gate of No. 110 Courtyard—the name tag on her chest was written with the name "Qiao-Qiao," a name that suited her well—quietly looked up. She saw that there was a little kitten on the roof that had somehow climbed up but couldn't get down. Its tail was trembling and it was shivering, crying out.
She carefully looked around her. At this hour, the street was very quiet. Everyone was either still at home or had gone to the popular business districts to join the countdown parties. Taking the chance when no one was passing by, Qiao-Qiao took three running steps and, with a flash, lightly "flew" up to the roof. She looked just like a cat that manifested a human form.
The kitten was uninjured. It even sniffed around restlessly in her palm, treading all over. Qiao-Qiao grinned and was just about to climb down when she suddenly heard something. She raised her hand to lift up the kitten and hid warily behind a large tree next to the store.
A few seconds later, from far came the sound of a motor. A man wearing a helmet passed by on an electrical three-wheeled cart that had a pile of cardboard boxes on it. In the middle was a human-sized sack. In the deserted street, the rider held the handlebars with one hand while cursing into his phone. "I told you guys to keep an eye out and to be careful. Yanning is a place with lots of people and prying eyes, don't you know? If you give me any trouble… Fuck!"
The surface of the little street was uneven. The rider was focusing on his call and not on the road, and accidentally rode into a large pothole. The three-wheeled cart bounced violently and the unfastened cardboard boxes fell all over the ground. The sack was nearly bounced off the cart too. The man hung up and angrily got down to pick them up. Right at that moment, something seemed to move slightly in the sack but the man didn't notice it. He shoved the sack deeper into the cart. There was a muffled sound of something colliding.
After the three-wheeled cart was gone, Qiao-Qiao slipped down from the tree, carrying the kitten. Her palm covered the shivering kitten and she mouthed soundlessly, "People are really bad."
The pothole on the street had been there for a long time. No one repaired it and it gaped open in a spot where the streetlights did not shine. The people living nearby were used to it and could detour around it with their eyes closed.
The neon lights of the business district pierced through the clouds, the clamour audible even from far away. Near midnight, everyone came to a stop and listened to the seconds ticking by with their breaths held. Some suddenly felt desolate, while some were filled with anticipation, as though with the passing of a year, their lives would be different in some way.
On the first day of the new year, the new inhabitants of 804 that had been vacant for barely a month moved in. Old Master Yang was worried for the safety of his Dog Beating Staff and yielded in the end. Early in the morning, he went to the community center and waited for his turn to receive the vaccination, and saw the moving van enter the courtyard.
A cab followed behind the moving van. Before the cab came to a complete stop, a woman pushed the door open and got out, a foul expression on her face.
Old Master Yang sat up straighter. The woman looked rather familiar.
At that moment, a man got down from the cab. In the cold of the last month of the lunar calendar, he was sweating all over. He hurriedly paid the cab driver, then panted for breath as he rushed after the woman, saying something in a low voice.
These two people seemed to be husband and wife. The woman looked around thirty-seven or thirty-eight years of age, while the man's age couldn't be determined. Once a man grew a large belly and started losing hair, regardless of whether he was twenty-five, thirty-five or forty-five, he would look just like any generic uncle.
"Oh." An auntie next to Old Master Yang poked him. "Look at that, isn't that Xiao-Han and his wife?"
Old Master Yang muttered, "...It's really them."
"Ai, back then when the house price went up just a little, he was all agitated and wanted to sell off his apartment. I advised him not to but he just had to argue with me and say that the house price wouldn't go up anymore." The auntie slapped her knee and said regretfully, "He only sold it for about two million yuan back then. Try buying it with that price now and see where it gets you! How did the saying go again? This is why you should listen to old people!"
For once, Yu Lanchuan was on leave. He had turned down all invitations to party and was at home being an idler for half a day. Early in the morning, using various excuses as pretexts, he had gone to disturb Gan Qing three times. It was only when the next door apartment's door slammed shut and Gan Qing left to go to work that he finally had nothing to do.
Yu Lanchuan was used to being busy. The moment he was free, he felt uncomfortable all over. He paced around like a caged animal and then recalled that there was still a living thing in the house that could relieve his boredom, so he went to knock on Liu Zhongqi's door. "I usually don't have time to teach you. Come here."
Little Brother Liu thought that his older brother was going to teach him martial arts and was so happy that he nearly leaped up to the ceiling. He ran joyfully out of the room. In the end, he saw Yu Lanchuan take out a DVD and started playing the original version of the animated film The Lion King at home.
Actually, watching a movie was fine too. Even though the unloved teenager Liu Zhongqi was rather disappointed, as long as his older brother was willing to accompany him, he was very satisfied.
However, this bad luck bringer of an older brother was not willing to let him watch peacefully. After every two lines spoken in the film, he would pause it and make Liu Zhongqi repeat what was said. If Liu Zhongqi could not repeat them, he would replay those two lines. After listening eight or ten times, he would write out every single word in every single line, make the teenager chew on them word by word, and then repeat them.
Liu Zhongqi, whose English score typically hung around the passing mark, was tormented until his eyes were staring at some fixed point before him. By the end, he just wanted to directly jump down from the tenth floor. Just as he was woefully mulling over his next run-away-from-home plan, he was saved by the doorbell.
Quick as lightning, Liu Zhongqi leaped up, happily rushing to open the door. "Hey, Grandpa Yang?"
Old Master Yang had brought an unknown middle-aged man with him. When Yu Lanchuan came out, he saw the man smiling widely and putting down a carton of milk at the front door. "Is Little Master Yu home? In the past, I didn't have a chance to pay a visit. Due to troubles at home, I also did not attend the general assembly. Ai, it's my bad. My surname is Han, full name Han Dongsheng. I just moved into the eighth floor."
 Qiao-Qiao 悄悄 qiāoqiāo means "quietly" or "stealthily."
Also, I just want to note that the Dog Beating Staff, like Beggars' Sect, is part of popular wuxia lore.
"This is Han-dage's grandson." After sitting down, Old Master Yang saw the look of confusion on Yu Lanchuan's face and introduced the man. "Han-dage—Han Zhen—was the Fuliang Yue back in those years. He was proficient in the Qi sect's art of the eight trigrams, and his fist techniques were supreme. Unfortunately, you were born too late, Xiao-Chuan, and didn't have a chance to see it."
Han Dongsheng said, "I'm ashamed of my failings."
The first time Yu Lanchuan heard someone mention Fuliang Yue, he felt that the name had a kind of immortal-like aura and thought that this person must be a slender man who wore long robes with wide, floaty sleeves, standing on a mountain top shrouded in mist, ready to depart with the wind at any time. Yet, this Mr. Han in front of him seemed to be the very antonym of "immortal aura."
His face was round with flat features, like a dried persimmon, and his smile was stretched so wide that it seemed like he couldn't be at ease. After every word, he nodded his head. Even when a child like Liu Zhongqi brought him a drink, he hastily stood up to take it. From his demeanour to his physical body, he seemed to have been fastened with many springs and was ready to rush forward at any time to offer up his overeager politeness.
Yu Lanchuan let out a polite oh. "I heard from Grandpa Yang that you are staying here too?"
"I stayed here in the past." As Han Dongsheng spoke, his smile had a touch of a grimace. "A few years ago, the house price increased so much it was scary. I asked an agent and the answer was enough to make me dizzy. We had never seen so much money. The government kept saying that they wanted to regulate the market and we all felt that the price of this place had reached its peak. At that time, the share market was heating up, the index rushing all the way up to over 6,000 points. Everyone was flipping stocks in increasing multiples and it made me envious to see them, so I… sold my apartment. Who would have guessed… Ai, I was unlucky and didn't act at the right time. I had just poured the money from selling the house into the stock market when the stocks fell. As for the apartment, the price went up even higher! Little Master Yu must think that I'm an embarrassment. Perhaps I'm not fated to make money."
Old Master Yang asked, "After you sold the apartment, where did you go?"
"Oh, after my mother-in-law passed away a few years ago, we moved back to stay with my father-in-law so that it's easier to take care of the old man. It's just that there isn't a decent school there. After our son attended school there for a couple of years, we found that the school was really inferior and it seemed like it was going to hinder our son's progress. So we asked someone for help, thought of ways and spent a lot of effort to get a temporary student spot at a school here. It's okay if we adults suffer a little, isn't it all for the sake of our children?" Han Dongsheng said. "Luckily, I grew up in this courtyard and have some relations with the old residents here. Our rental is cheaper than market price."
Understood, Yu Lanchuan thought. This is the story of someone who fantasises about becoming rich overnight but was harvested by others like a plump chive.
Yu Lanchuan wasn't fond of this kind of small talk, especially when it was an awkward chat with someone he didn't know. To him, rather than communicating ineffectively, everyone might as well busy themselves with their phones.
"Little Master Yu works in finance, so you probably look at a lot of candlestick charts at work, don't you?" Han Dongsheng smiled widely and said, "When you have the time, do recommend us some stocks. Right now, which ones do you have in hand?"
Yu Lanchuan answered patiently, "I'm not a trader. I don't have much spare cash recently and I'm also busy with work and don't have time to look at the market. I pulled out long ago."
"Ai, that's a shame." Han Dongsheng drew closer. "You're an insider so you get the information quickly. You should know which ones to buy to earn a steady income without losing money!"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
A load of nonsense.
Han Dongsheng said that he was there just to "say hi," but his "hi" lasted for over an hour. This person's butt was as heavy as Mount Tai. Yu Lanchuan's lower back was already starting to ache but Mr. Han was talking non-stop and didn't seem like he wanted to leave.
The only happy person was likely to be their little friend Liu Zhongqi. He used this time to furtively turn on the Chinese subtitles and finished watching The Lion King.
Fortunately, someone knocked on their door right at that moment. Yu Lanchuan finally had a chance to breathe and rushed out to see who it was.
The person who knocked pointed at the next door Madam Zhang Meizhen's apartment and asked, "I'm sorry for disturbing but may I know if there's anyone staying next door?"
Yu Lanchuan glanced at it. "She has gone to work. What's the matter?"
The person who knocked said, "Do you have any way to contact her? I live downstairs. I think the pipes might have burst in that unit, the water is dripping down."
At the moment, Madam Zhang Meizhen was still sunbathing in Sanya. When Gan Qing got the call, she didn't even bother to remove her costume. In the cold of the twelfth month, she gathered her long skirt and ran headlong into the wind, like she was putting on a performance art.
She had just ran into the elevator lobby when she bumped into an unfamiliar little boy. He looked like he was in Year 2 or 3 of primary school and was carrying a school bag. When he looked at other people, he lifted his eyes but not his chin, and looked like he was rolling his eyes. His mouth was chewing on gum. Gan Qing didn't pay him any attention. This building was in a school district; unfamiliar kids frequently moved in, then left after finishing primary school.
Seeing as the child was staring at her, she lowered her eyelids, trying her best to conceal her coloured lenses, and reached up to straighten out the messy long hair so that her shocking witchy appearance would not scare this bloom of the motherland.
Unexpectedly, the primary school student struck up a conversation with her out of his own volition. "Hello, Jiejie."
Gan Qing was still panting for breath so she only smiled at him.
"I'm Han Zhou, I just moved into 804. I'm eight years old this year and I'm in Year 3. Jiejie, do you like the Evil Goddess Gunala?"
Gan Qing was completely lost. Hearing the name, she intuitively felt that this idol was probably nothing good. "Sure?"
The elevator arrived. Little Friend Han Zhou stuck one hand in his pocket, his other hand holding the elevator door open. Standing at a forty-five degree angle, he raised one eyebrow and stretched out his neck to strike a pose. "Jiejie, I think you're beautiful. Will you be in a relationship with me, with marriage as the endgame?"
It had been a while since Gan Qing last met such a peculiar gremlin child and she nearly couldn't answer back. "...No thanks. After all, the prison term starts from three years."
"Understood." Han Zhao snapped his fingers—the first try was soundless, so he hastily tried again.
Gan Qing, "..."
What did you understand?
The little boy said, "Girls have to be wooed!"
The elevator dropped Little Friend Han Zhou off at the eighth floor. The apartment that was being moved into was in a state of pandemonium. Han Zhou had just walked out of the elevator when Gan Qing heard a woman shriek, "Who let you come here? We haven't finished packing yet! Where's your grandpa?"
"My grandpa has gone to listen to the master's lecture," Little Friend Han Zhou replied calmly. "It's that same master who previously sold nine boiled eggs for 250 yuan."
Gan Qing heard the woman in the corridor roar like a tank and rumble towards the elevator, and quickly pressed the button to open the closing elevator doors and let her in.
When they reached the tenth floor, the "tank's" might was unleashed. Hands on her waist, she faced the corridor and fired her cannon. "Han Dongsheng! You can just die outside for all I care! The stupid old man has gone to deliver his brains to someone else, your son has nowhere to go and has come all the way here to get food! You're just like a lord and master, you don't take care about anything at all and only spend the whole day talking! You're a shameful thing! Why do I even have you for?"
Gan Qing felt that the whole building was shaking under the force of her roar. A spherical man was shook out, rolling out from Little Master Yu's apartment.
"Don't be so loud!" The man wiped his sweat as he spoke to Yu Lanchuan who was inside the door. "You don't have to see me off. I learned a lot from chatting with Little Master Yu, I'll visit again in the future."
Yu Lanchuan felt that this Mr. Han was no better than the bumbling and reclusive sparrow. He forced a smile. Please don't come again, he thought in his heart.
The "tank" charged over murderously and seized Han Dongsheng by the back of his collar. Hitting and kicking, she dragged him to the elevator. When she punched the man's sturdy back, she used too much force and broke her own nail, and lost her temper. "How dare you fight back!"
Han Dongsheng tried to explain weakly, "...I didn't. I wasn't moving at all."
"You fought back! You took advantage of your family's weird and demonic skills, you did it on purpose! How am I supposed to live anymore!"
"I really didn't…"
Gan Qing stuck close to the wall and avoided the couple fearfully. She locked eyes with Yu Lanchuan who was standing at the front door for a few seconds, and only then saw the downstairs neighbour who had been waiting for her for a long time. She quickly said "I'm sorry" and ran over to open the door.
The pipes had really burst and the next door apartment was in chaos. Yu Lanchuan paced awhile at Gan Qing's door, and saw that she had bundled up her long skirt at her waist and rolled up the legs of her pants. She cut off the water and electricity, then used a towel to block off the ruptured pipe. Her movements were very proficient; if given a toolbox, she could probably squeeze into the space and fix it herself. This was the result of having been trained by who knew how many rundown rented rooms. Seeing that, Yu Lanchuan didn't go in to add to the chaos.
He turned his head to say to Old Master Yang, "Could I trouble you to give Grandma Zhang a call and inform her?"
"I called just now." Old Master Yang spoke in the direction of 1003 whose door was open, "Young lady, Meizhen gave you the authority to handle it. She'll pay you back for the amount spent when she's back."
Old Master Yang stood at the corridor with his hands behind his back, shaking his head. "Xiao-Han is someone who values how people perceive him and likes doing things like this. He insisted that I bring him here to get to know you. Since you've met, that's done."
Yu Lanchuan suddenly understood a little why Old Sect Leader Yang was so weary.
The moon in Fuliang Yue had become a mooncake.
Tang Qian Yan's dream was to become deaf and mute, and to marry a figurine in the future.
Chuan Lin Feng had threatened to burn the Dog Beating Staff.
"Grandpa Yang," Yu Lanchuan asked, "do you have any contact with Wan Mu Chun's descendant?"
Based on the current situation, that person was highly likely… to be a weirdo.
Gan Qing, who was busy trying to save the soaked floor, suddenly paused.
"Wan Mu Chun's lineage consisted of people inclined towards evil. They live in isolation away from the crowd and don't enter society… There's no other way, that's the type of skills they practice. But the current era does not allow them to work their old trade anymore so I don't know if they can even pass on their skills." Old Master Yang shook his head. "If their teachings were cut off and no longer passed on, that would still be fine. What I'm afraid of is that there might be those who walk the wrong path. Jianghu now is no longer the jianghu of the past!"
Her back to Old Master Yang, Gan Qing's eyes shifted slightly. Without a sound, she smiled.
She picked up a soaked wooden chair, shook off the water droplets on it, and heard Old Master Yang continue to say, "Speaking of that, the last time I heard news of them had a little to do with you."
Gan Qing in the water and Yu Lanchuan in the corridor both stared blankly.
Old Master Yang said, "Ai, you don't remember? You were young at that time. That year, Travellers' Sect had internal conflict and their sect leader looked for your granduncle to get his help to suppress the rebels. Those people were driven to desperation and kidnapped you… Ai, those unworthy disciples have no morals. Debts and grudges shouldn't involve family members, especially not young children."
Her ears perked up to eavesdrop, Gan Qing frowned. Mudpool Backlane, Travellers' Sect?
She had a vague recollection. Back when she didn't know how high the sky nor how thick the earth was, she seemed to indeed have clashed with Travellers' Sect once but it was with a few small fries.
Yu Lanchuan's eyes contracted a little.
Old Master Yang continued speaking, "The next morning, we finally found you at a landfill in the outskirts. Later on, those people who kidnapped you were arrested. They had done quite a number of unlawful things and were involved in human trafficking. But their martial arts skills were sloppy. When they were caught, they were all confused. They said that they were clearly chasing after you but someone mounted a sneak attack on them midway. Before they could see clearly what that person looked like, they were already subdued. They had brought dogs with them when chasing you. The police found the body of a dog with its throat slit, the cut was barely the length of a finger and was very clean. Other than that, there were no other wounds. Such neat knife work had to be Paoding Jieniu. Both Old Yu-dage and I felt that someone from that side had taken action but they didn't seem to have any intentions of demanding repayment. In the end, they never revealed themselves."
Wan Mu Chun…
Was that why, back then with the gang who professed to know Paoding Jieniu, she had followed them herself, confronted them herself, and broke the memorial tablet they worshipped that had the word "Chun" on it?
Suddenly, Yu Lanchuan realised something…
He saw Gan Qing put down the wooden chair, angled her body slightly and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Her veiled gaze swept across Yu Lanchuan's refined and high quality exterior and fell below his waist.
Not realising what was going on, Old Master Yang said, "Back then, we were so worried. When we found you, all your clothes were gone. Luckily it wasn't winter, otherwise spending a night out in the cold isn't something to joke about…"
A booming sound went off in Yu Lanchuan's head. No, that's enough, please stop talking!
Oh, now I remember. So, that kid is from the Yu family. Gan Qing's ill-intentioned gaze seemed to want to pierce through Yu Lanchuan's fitted western style pants. The doggy on the underwear was really childish.
Old Master Yang had awakened his own memories with his own words. After dropping the bomb, he took the elevator and slowly made his way down.
Yu Lanchuan twisted his head around and saw that Gan Qing was holding a mop and looking at him. Immediately, his embarrassment turned to anger. "Mop your floor, what are you looking at!"
Gan Qing said meaningfully. "Nothing. I just suddenly had a thought… that the outstanding people like Little Master Yu, who are experienced and wise, might have a very lively side to them hidden deep in their hearts. I just think that's very cute."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
And so, the "lively" Little Master Yu "cutely" took out his phone and snapped a photo of what 1003 really looked like after a burst pipe and posted it in his WeChat Moments. He was exposing the swindler's tricks: Take a good look, this is the person who sold the anti-Mercury retrograde cards to all of you. She can't even stop the backflow in her own home. What else do you have to say to that!
After a while, someone left a comment. Yu Lanchuan saw his assistant write emotionally: I heard that when astrologers make divinations and pray for luck, the price they pay is their own destiny. So it's really true!
No matter how great a trick was, there was always a method to it.
But it could not stop people from deceiving themselves and others.
Little Master Yu returned home without saying a word. He wanted to change his assistant, change his neighbours to normal people, change to a quieter place and live a quiet life of a handsome man.
Han Dongsheng moving in with his family of four—he brought his father-in-law along—gave the retired and idle people of No. 110 much new excitement and gossip, especially concerning his father-in-law.
804 had two bedrooms. Having four people in the house was a little cramped. There were not enough bedrooms to go around so they had no choice but to separate out a small space in the main bedroom and extend it to the balcony, and made it a child's room for Little Friend Han Zhou.
Han Dongsheng's old father-in-law was around seventy years old. His body was still very robust and he could ride a bicycle to buy groceries. He was capable of living independently and had his own home. Logically, there was no need for him to squeeze in and stay with his daughter and son-in-law.
But that was not possible. The reason was because this old sir needed to have someone watching him at all times. He was obsessed with various types of health supplements. A moment of carelessness and the old man would slip out and buy a 100,000 yuan magnetic therapy bed. His ability to wreck destruction was immense.
 Evil Goddess Gunala is the antagonist of the Chinese magical girl animation series Balala the Fairies.
Han Dongsheng's old father-in-law had the surname Zhou. He was tall and thin, his hair was cropped short and close to his scalp, and he didn't speak much.
This old Mr. Zhou was literate and had the habit of reading in his free time. He carried his reading glasses with him everywhere. Wherever there was a place to sit, he would dig something out and read a few pages.
But his reading materials did not help to increase his knowledge. Other than baseless things like Introduction to Qigong, what he read were tabloids filled with stories of strange happenings in the city.
In recent years, traditional print media were not so popular. Magazine publishers were closing down one after another. The writers and readers of such stories had moved their base to the internet. Old Mr. Zhou, like many of his peers, did not know how to go online and was left behind, and could only look for old magazines from the past to read.
When he was done reading, he would put them aside. A few days later, he would take them out again to read. He couldn't remember what he had read anyway.
Fresh off the boat, Old Mr. Zhou did not know anyone. He was probably also not used to living there. There were quite a few times when Yu Lanchuan saw him taking a walk downstairs on his own, far away from the other groups of elderly, like an old dog that had accidentally barged into someone else's territory. Only Old Master Yang, who probably pitied him, would sometimes stand there and exchange a few words with him.
Old people were usually unwilling to change their living environment. But could he stop his grandson from attending a good school just because he was uncomfortable with strangers? Or could he chop off his hands that wanted to hand over money the moment he saw the word "healthy"?
Neither was possible, so his opinion was not important.
No one could have imagined that, barely a week after moving in, the police would come to look for this unremarkable and solitary old man.
On the night before the New Year, Officer Yu wished for "world peace" at Star Dreams but perhaps because he was only focusing on introducing the wares to his colleague and didn't spend money himself, the wish he made did not come true. A careless mistake.
Yu Yan came out of 804, went upstairs, and planted his butt on the sofa in Yu Lanchuan's home. "Why do I feel that I'm always coming here recently? There might be a problem with this place. Maybe there's a 'police magnet' or something in the ceiling, even changing residents doesn't make things better. I'm going to look for Teacher Meng-Meng later to get a fortune-changing charm."
Yu Lanchuan had just come home from work and hadn't even taken his scarf off yet. No matter how many times he heard the name "Teacher Meng-Meng," it still gave him goosebumps. "Straighten out your tongue before speaking."
Yu Yan didn't bother with courtesy and took out the plate of nuts from under the coffee table and helped himself to them. "Ai, it's really good that you moved here. At least I have a place to rest my feet."
"Comrade, what happened to not taking a single coin from the people?"
"You're not the people, you're obviously a running dog working for the capitalists, a member of the wealthy class who has to be overthrown." Yu Yan waved his hand and asked, "By the way, what time will Teacher Meng-Meng be back?"
"How would I know?" Yu Lanchuan rolled his eyes in annoyance. It had been a week since he went to "bump into" Gan Qing. To take revenge on him for exposing the tricks of "Teacher Meng-Meng" in his WeChat moments, that unbelievably outrageous woman had changed her WeChat profile picture to a dog's head. The moment she was brought up, Yu Lanchuan's anger rose. "Am I her manager?"
Yu Yan felt that it was extremely unfair that he was bearing the brunt of Yu Lanchuan's anger. "It's okay if you don't know. Why are you so angry?"
Yu Lanchuan asked, "What happened at 804 this time?"
Yu Yan sighed in despair. "Someone got lost."
Yu Lanchuan scoffed. "You? That's nothing new."
"I'm not joking. Someone's really lost." As Yu Yan spoke, he dug out a photo from his bag. "Lin Xiuhe, seventy-one years old, lives at No. 99 Rongxian Street, the neighbourhood right behind your place."
Yu Lanchuan took the photo for a look. It was an old lady who was dressed very simply. Her hair was tied in a bun and she was wearing a cotton padded jacket the colour of the earth, a pair of black cotton shoes on her feet. Her face looked like a collectible walnut that wasn't in a very good condition. In the photo, she appeared very strict and not very easy-going.
Yu Lanchuan asked, "How is it related to 804?"
"This Old Madam Lin isn't an amnesiac old lady. According to her family, she is still physically quite healthy and can take care of herself. Logically, she wouldn't lose her way when going out of the house. She doesn't have any hobbies, she just likes to listen to lectures about health supplements. She's the type that goes whenever she's invited and buys whenever she's hoodwinked. So, we're currently suspecting that her disappearance has something to do with the various MLM groups that go around selling health supplements. These groups are also quite unrestrained. We're planning to take advantage of the end of the year to crack down on them. The old man who just moved in downstairs is also a health supplement fanatic. We came here today to understand the situation from him. 'Tch, the old man was so wary and didn't say anything, as though we are reactionaries who are persecuting the good and loyal citizens."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "When did it happen?"
Yu Yan said, "It has been a week."
Yu Lanchuan frowned and said, "She's gone missing for a week and you guys are only investigating now? What were you doing earlier? You try freezing in the cold for two nights in this Yanning winter. I think you can stop searching, the body has probably gone cold."
"You can't blame us for this," Yu Yan said. "The family has only just made a police report. Old Madam Lin stays with her son's family. That family of three went on a trip, combining their annual leave with the New Year's holiday to take a long vacation. They just came back to the country early this morning. They were tired and sleepy, and didn't realise anything wrong. When they woke up, the daughter-in-law finally realised that there was a layer of dust in the kitchen and that the leftovers in the fridge had gone bad. They knocked on the old lady's door but there was no one there. Only then did they rush to make a police report."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "In that case, how did they know when the old lady disappeared?"
"They ordered milk. No one was home, so the milk delivery was left at the electrical box at the front door. There were already six bottles." Yu Yan sighed. "The son was so panicked that his eyes were red. We couldn't really say anything either, but…"
His "but" was left hanging for a while and then he swallowed his words back in. "Family vacation" sounded cozy and relaxing but if they brought along an elderly mother, that wouldn't be the case.
To ask an old lady who had probably never left the province in her entire life to cross the seas and fly to an foreign country to lie on the beach—she herself would probably not be able to sleep. Her children and grandchildren had to take care of her and probably wouldn't have fun. It was like going out for a western meal; the black pepper sauce on the steak just had to be changed to fermented beancurd.
"This thing isn't looking too good at the moment. We're still checking the nearby CCTVs and haven't found anything yet. Those health supplement MLMs are also really crafty and have lots of escape routes. They're experienced in guerilla warfare and aren't easy to catch," Yu Yan said. "Master Lan, can we use your informants?"
He had just finished speaking when there was a noise from outside the door. It seemed that someone had returned home to the apartment next door.
"Ah!" Yu Yan leaped up. "It must be your neighbour. I'm gonna go ask for protection."
"It's not her." Yu Lanchuan took a photo of Old Madam Lin's picture and mass sent it to the nearby Beggars' Sect people, the jianbing groups and other large groups. As he typed, he said absently, "Maybe Old Madam Zhang is back from her trip... She doesn't lift her legs when she walks, her footsteps don't sound like this."
Yu Yan, "..."
After sending the message, Yu Lanchuan looked up and saw that Yu Yan's large face was so close to him that his gums could be seen, a "night shift pimple" on his forehead so red that it hurt his eyes. He felt that his glasses had increased by fifty degrees and he leaned back with a frown. "What are you doing!"
"Something's going on," Yu Yan said slyly. "Recognising people by their footsteps… Ai, Alliance Leader, what level of skill is this? Why don't you give me a crash course?"
"Anyone can do it," Yu Lanchuan said, cold and emotionless. "Get lost."
"That's not right." Yu Yan drew closer, not letting him off. "Don't think I don't know. You're not the type to focus on things not related to you and you block off all unnecessary information. In the past, you wouldn't even know if your neighbour changed their front door, much less identify them by their footsteps. On New Year's Eve, when you went to Star Dreams just for the sake of a few little cards, this pair of dead-fish eyes of mine already saw that something fishy was going on!"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
Yu Yan said, "Who would have thought that you like this type, the contrast is too great. Could it be that in every man's heart, there is a wild stallion?"
"What nonsense are you saying?" Yu Lanchuan kicked Yu Yan back to his original position. "I was kidnapped when I was young. She was at Mudpool Backlane and happened to see it, and helped me once. That's all."
Yu Yan stared blankly, then said in shock. "So she's the…"
"...unattainable girl of your dreams!"
Outside of work, Officer Yu probably read a lot of romance fiction. The words he used were too shocking. Before he finished eating a handful of cashew nuts, he was rudely thrown out the door by Yu Lanchuan. As he left, he coincidentally bumped into Gan Qing who had just come back from work and had a little tail following her. Due to the visit from the police, a new round of family battle had erupted in the Han family and Little Friend Han Zhou took the chance to slip out.
Little Friend Han Zhou was carrying a cardboard box. In the box was a little house and garden made of papier-mâché. There was even a butterfly bow tied around the box. He ran after Gan Qing, insisting on gifting it to her. "I got a prize for this in arts and crafts class. I just brought it back from school. I purposely asked my teacher for it so that I can give it to you!"
Gan Qing didn't really want it because she felt that this thing resembled the "house for the dead" made by funeral parlours. But she also couldn't hurt a little child's dignity, so she forced herself to accept it.
Little Friend Han Zhou twirled his naturally curly hair and said confidently, "You hold on to this. When I'm older, I'll buy a real one for you."
"Sure, thank you." Gan Qing stroked the little boy's sleek hair. "You don't have to go through all that trouble. When that time comes, you just need to burn this one for me."
Yu Yan greeted her with a chuckle. "Teacher Meng-Meng is truly charming, the young and the old all fall for you!"
Through the crack of the door, Yu Lanchuan looked out with a gloomy face.
Gan Qing smiled the moment she saw him and voluntarily greeted him. "Little Master Yu, it's the dog-"
Yu Lanchuan slammed the door shut.
"...year, so Happy Year of the Dog." Gan Qing turned an innocent face to Yu Yan. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Oh, it's nothing. The springtime of one's youth is when a person gets easily embarrassed and also has a lot of mood swings," Yu Yan said, chuckling. "Our Master Lan is the type whose youth is extra long, perhaps lasting two hundred years. It'll be fine once it's over. Teacher Meng-Meng, do you have any items that can increase luck? The kind that can help me find a person…"
Once the Gregorian calendar year was over, it was the "end of the year" according to the traditional lunar calendar. This period of time was always exceptionally chaotic.
The people who were longing for the holidays were restless at heart, yet there were exceptionally more petty matters to handle. There were endless meetings and social events, yet the year-end bonus was always slow to come.
The petty thieves in the subway and the scammers on the phone lines were embracing the once-a-year peak season and were exceptionally lively. The MLM corporations were also starting to work towards their yearly sales target, grinding away on their journey to become the next Charlie Munger. The unfortunate little police officers were so busy their heads were spinning.
Old Mr. Zhou finally caught a chance to slip away from home. He furtively avoided the old people playing weiqi in the garden, left through a side gate and got on a bus. The leather repair master was preparing to open shop and the moment he opened the door, that was what he saw. He dug out his phone and snapped a picture of the back of the bus, then sent the picture out.
At the same time, many eyes stared at the bus as it travelled along its route. The beggars and the scrap collectors who had gone to the bus stops to collect rubbish exchanged looks; the boss of the fried chicken cutlet stall glanced towards the road every now and then. Three stops later, Old Mr. Zhou got down and staggered into a maze of small alleys. He entered an old building and went down to the basement.
The basement was gloomy and damp. Old Mr. Zhou knocked on the door. A cautious voice spoke from the inside, "We didn't order food delivery."
Old Mr. Zhou answered, "I'm delivering newspapers."
"Tomorrow's evening paper."
The password was correct. The door opened with a creak. Inside, the chain was still fastened. After they identified Old Mr. Zhou, an old lady finally opened the door and quickly took a look around. "Old Zhou is here. Come in, quick."
There were five or six people in the little room in the basement. The youngest was nearly sixty years old. All of them were talking in lowered voices, like they were conspiring undercover agents.
"The police came to my house yesterday, what about you?"
Old Mr. Zhou said, "They came to my house too. They were asking about Old Lin. Two young 'uns came, I fooled them. I was very careful on my way here, just in case someone was following me."
"Actually, it doesn't matter if they follow us. We're not breaking the law."
"Ai, Professor Xu's goods are for export purposes and are five times more expensive if bought in the market. He secretly moved some out directly from the warehouse as a bonus for us. He didn't go through the proper channels so we have to be quiet too and don't cause trouble for him… How's the infrared knee brace that you've been using, good?"
Old Mr. Zhou pulled up his pants leg, revealing a knee brace, and said in satisfaction, "It's good. My joints are warm and my knee cap isn't cold anymore. I hide this thing under my pillow and secretly put it on under the blanket every day. I can't let my daughter see it. These young people don't know anything. If you want to talk to her, she'll be busy with this and that, and don't have the time to listen to you. Silly girl, I've eaten more salt than she has rice, hmph."
"If it works, that's good," the old lady who opened the door said and pointed towards the paper box at the door. "Professor Xu brought us some free-range chicken eggs, the chickens aren't given any manufactured feed. Later, everyone can divide them up. Ah, that's right, Professor Xu said that recently he has taken too much goods from the factory and was found out. Someone at the factory was jealous and made a report. We have to be careful. The location for the next 'healthy living' talk will be changed and we'll be informed when the time comes. Professor said that when the time comes, he will fight for it and there might be a free health check so we shouldn't eat breakfast then."
One by one, they all went to select the "free-range eggs," their faces joyful as though they had gotten a good bargain.
However, Old Mr. Zhou did not move. He stood where he was for a while, then asked hesitantly, "Old Lin… has really gone?"
"The day before New Year's, according to the police."
"Just look at how resolved she is!" The old lady who opened the door gave a thumbs-up. "She didn't talk about it every day, she just mentioned it once and then, without saying a word, she made up her mind and just went! Right now, there's no one I admire other than Old Lin!"
Old Mr. Zhou looked up. There was suddenly a bit of light in his murky eyes. "Then, what do all of you think? Can the plans we made previously still go ahead?"
 It's customary to burn offerings during Chinese funerals, in the belief that the items burned will go to the dead. The offerings are usually made of paper and can be things such as houses, cars, phones, televisions, clothes, shoes, etc.
"Han-ge! Can you help make arrangements for the car usage tomorrow?"
"There's a 'heavy air pollution warning' for tomorrow. There will be number plate restrictions, our workplace doesn't have enough cars to go around…"
"Ah, then what should we do? Please think of something, quick!"
"Han-ge, help me, the paper is stuck in the printer again!"
"Please wait a moment…"
"...I'll be right there."
"Dongsheng, people like us who sit in the office may have no other skills but we have to at least be able to write. Look at this, I asked you to write a letter but… this typo… and this phrase, this phrase isn't suitable. The chief doesn't like to use this phrase, I've told you this before…"
"Hey, Xiao-Han… Wow, why are the words on your screen so large! You're not even forty yet and your eyes are blurring, isn't it a bit too early? Buy some of that fish oil and eat it, it protects your liver and also your eyes at the same time."
When Han Dongsheng rushed out of his workplace, it was already past six o' clock. Originally, he stayed at his father-in-law's house and could take the bus to work. Other than not being punctual and frequently getting caught in traffic, the bus was good. Now that he had moved, he switched to taking the subway. It was a lot more punctual but it made him understand what was meant by the "dark underground world."
Six o' clock was smack in the middle of the evening rush hour. On top of that, due to the number plate restriction on private vehicles, there were exceptionally more people in the subway today.
The more people there were, the more there was a need to slow down the flow of people for security checks, hence there were long stretches of "noodle strands." Han Dongsheng craned his neck but couldn't see the end of the line, and he immediately started sweating.
Right then, his phone buzzed. "Zhou-Zhou's Class Teacher" was again sending a message to ask: Hello, Zhou-Zhou's father. I have already been waiting for you for one hour. May I know how long will it be before you reach?
That was right, Little Friend Han Zhou was held back after school today and his parents had been asked to see the teacher.
Han Dongsheng gritted his teeth. He wanted to go back to the surface to get a cab but when he turned back, in just that short time, more than twenty people had lined up behind him like a long, heavy tail and he was squeezed in the middle.
On the surface, the roads were also congested and it was even harder to be sure of the commute time. Furthermore… when it was congested, cabs were expensive. Han Dongsheng would spend a long while even while debating whether or not to take public transport, and now, after hesitating for a long while he dropped the idea. He tried patting the person in front of him and explained in a low voice, "Excuse me, I have something urgent and am rushing for time. Can you let me go first, I'm really sorry…"
"Are other people not in a hurry? Everyone's in a hurry."
"If you're in a rush then why don't you take a cab? Why are you taking the subway…"
"Aiyo, stop pushing!"
"Like I said, the population in the city is already so large, why don't these people understand that they should lose weight! Don't they have any morals!"
Fortunately, most of the office workers in the morning and evening rush hours were more bark than bite. As long as the other person didn't argue back or if they just said sorry a few more times, at most they would only curse a bit. No one would hold on to their spot for dear life and insist on not letting other people jump the queue.
The heated air blew on the people with a whoosh, mingling with the dense crowd and making it rather hard to breathe.
Fighting his way out of the security check, Han Dongsheng felt that he was close to melting. He didn't have time to gasp for breath; the train was arriving at the platform and he rushed forward with the crowd.
The roughly two meters wide train door was like a black hole. It seemed as though no matter how matter people rushed in, it could open its mouth and swallow them all. Inside, a solid wall of human flesh was building up. The beeping sound signalling that the doors were closing soon was like a ticking time bomb, making everyone feel agitated. At the very last second, Han Dongsheng forcefully stuck himself onto the human wall, wishing nothing more than to fold himself down one dimension.
However, he was not a paper man after all. The beeping train doors pressed in on his broad back, then stopped and bounced open again.
The station employee at the platform shouted, "Wait for the next train, stop crowding! Please wait for the next train!"
Han Dongsheng again tried his best to curve his body inwards. He took a deep breath and let out a long, winding fart, freeing some space in his stomach and forcefully contracted his belly.
Amidst the hissing of displeasure from the people around him, the train doors finally closed. With a thunk, the train started moving. All the numb and weary bodies were shaken a few times, colliding against each other without rule or order. In here, even a young lady's body turned into something detestable.
The smell of perfume, sweat, body odour, unwashed hair, garlic… they all mingled together, inseparable. Fortified by the warm air from the air-conditioning, they were stirred into a pot of congee.
The old man speaking in the television series that was being played out loud and the little girl that was crying seemed to be competing to see who was louder. First the old overpowered the young, then the young overpowered the old. It was an extremely spirited fight.
During Yanning's morning and evening rush hour, on the busy subway routes, if a person had the audacity to bear their dignity on their chest and get on a train, their dignity would unfortunately very likely be squeezed until it burst.
What was even more unfortunate was that the subway would occasionally encounter incidents—for example, halfway through, all the lights in the train would go off, the train would also come to a stop and there would be an announcement about a breakdown… Situations like this always happened only when the passengers were in a rush.
By the time Han Dongsheng arrived at his destination, it was forty minutes later.
He dragged his feeble legs and rushed out of the subway station, took a large gulp of the northwest wind, and only then felt his flattened body puff up again. He took a look at the time and quickly apologised to the teacher but even after sending a few messages in a row to Zhou-Zhou's class teacher, the other person did not reply. When he rushed to the school, he saw that the lights in the school building had already been switched off.
The teacher didn't wait for him. His child should have already gone home too.
Han Dongsheng stared blankly for a while. His tense mental state relaxed and he finally moved his legs and slowly walked home.
As though he had gotten a taste for the northwest wind, he wished that this walk could be a little longer.
The old and small neighbourhoods nearby all had the problem of not enough parking spaces. A lot of private vehicle owners were not picky and just parked at the roadside. His reflection appeared on the car windows; Han Dongsheng took one look and twisted his head away. He felt that his reflection was the very definition of "a sack for drink and food"—in other words, useless.
As he crossed the threshold of No. 110 Courtyard, even before he entered the building, he saw an old lady who was playing cards with other people at the reception office poke her head out and say to him, "Xiao-Han has just come back from work? Your old father-in-law was brought back by the police today!"
Han Dongsheng stopped walking. After a while, he finally forced out a thank you. There was a light sheen of sweat on the palms of his hands, as though his blood sugar levels were low.
As he expected, the moment he entered his home, a cushion flew out aggressively.
Han Dongsheng caught it. Already very experienced with this situation, he quickly closed the door behind him, afraid that the noise in the house would leak out.
A second later, his wife Zhou Beibei roared, "So you still know to come home!"
"The teacher called you in the afternoon and texted you, then waited for you after school until it was time for the evening news. Even the stray cats in the school had left and only your son was still there doing his homework! Did you die somewhere out there?!"
"I really couldn't leave my workplace today…"
"Fine, you're busy! You have so many things to do! So when are you going to be promoted, Leader Han? Your wife and child are waiting to bask in your limelight! Pah!" When Zhou Beibei heard him dare to talk back, she lost her temper. "How old are you now and you're still a junior who serves tea. You can't even become an deputy leader, what important business can you have that you can't step away from? Your son isn't your own flesh and blood, but was a free gift from topping up your phone credit, is that it?"
The woman's shouting was like thunder. Han Dongsheng was yelled at until his fingers went numb. He didn't dare say a word.
The door to the small bedroom opened a sliver. From the crack of the door, Old Mr. Zhou cut in. "Ai, isn't it just a small thing? It's not worth all this fuss. Don't argue anymore. Beibei, what are we having for dinner?"
"Eat your immortality eggs! Saute it, boil it, fry it, eat it and you can ascend to Heaven straight away and can even save the effort of training!" When Zhou Beibei heard him, her anger immediately locked onto her old father. "3,000 for a medical apparatus and it was just a fucking LED tube, 1,600 for a plastic foot-washing tub that even scrap collectors would reject! Give you two eggs and you're delighted, did a rooster lay the eggs?"
Old Mr. Zhou had a good temper. "Don't be angry, anger cuts short your life. Losing your temper once is equivalent to smoking a few cigarettes."
"Let it be cut short, there's no meaning to living anyway! My husband is good for nothing, it's not enough that we barely earn anything, all our money is even spent on rubbish! I don't even dare dream of branded bags and makeup but you can't let me still have to rent a place to stay when I'm already over forty!"
This was all reality. Han Dongsheng couldn't lift his head.
"In the daytime, just for the sake of a few orders, I have to smile at everyone everywhere, bow down to everyone I meet, and listen to all the shit they give me. I make ten calls and nine of them hang up on me. When I come home, before I can even take a breath, the teacher calls me to the school to pick up the little demon that I must have owed a debt to in my past life. Han Zhou! The whole family is doing all we can just to let you attend a good school, so that you won't lose out right at the starting line. But you, you don't pay attention in class and fold paper cranes instead! Why are you going to school for? Don't go tomorrow, go open a stall at the subway entrance!"
Han Zhou shrank back in a corner and pretended that he was a mushroom.
"I had just entered the courtyard when some busybody hurried to inform me like she was afraid I wouldn't know—Hey, Xiao-Zhou, the police brought your father back, what happened?—How was I supposed to answer? Hm? Dad, you tell me, what should I have said? For the sake of earning money, I have no choice but to be shameless. But when I'm home, can you not embarrass me so much?" As Zhou Beibei spoke, she ran out of anger and sorrow started to well up in her heart. Standing in the middle of the living room, she suddenly covered her face and started crying.
The three male family members surrounded her, silent and yielding. If hit, they would not fight back; if scolded, they would not argue back. This made her feel as though she was being very unreasonable, a fishwife.
"Fishwife" wasn't a nice word, everyone knew that. Unless they were bullied by life to a certain extent, who wouldn't want to be more dignified?
Old Mr. Zhou came out of his bedroom. He wanted to pat his daughter on the head, like when she was young, but Zhou Beibei suddenly looked up with reddened eyes. "I feel that the luckiest part of Mum's life was that she died early."
Old Mr. Zhou stared blankly. The hand he had raised up froze in midair. The age spots on the back of his hand were like fragmentary spots of mold.
Zhou Beibei drew in a sharp breath, then turned to go into her own room.
Han Dongsheng felt apologetic and said, "Dad, it's my fault. Her words were aimed at me, not at you."
Old Mr. Zhou blinked a couple of times, then waved his hand. He asked slowly, "What are we having for dinner?"
That night, the two men and one boy ate fried rice together in the kitchen. Zhou Beibei shut her door and ignored them, so Old Mr. Zhou kept a portion for her that had more eggs, and covered the bowl with cling film.
When he got up the next morning, the fried rice was still untouched. The rice grains under the cling film were already dried out and a layer of overnight condensation clung to the plastic film. Han Dongsheng's large body was curled up on the sofa, his tired snores loud enough to shake the ceiling.
Old Mr. Zhou got up at half past five. He didn't dare wake up his children and grandchild. Quietly, he closed the kitchen door and made breakfast.
The old man felt that everyone had to have a good breakfast; only then could they go out and brave the chill of the coldest days of the year, and have energy for the day.
But the younger people obviously did not feel the same way. At seven o' clock, all the alarms in the house finally started ringing one after another. A battle had just happened in the house yesterday evening, the atmosphere was tense and heavy, and everyone carried with them a heavy sleepiness.
There was only one bathroom in the house. Han Dongsheng and Han Zhou didn't dare fight Zhou Beibei for it. One adult and one child sat on the sofa, yawning one after another, their heads nodding like they were kowtow-ing.
Wherever Zhou Beibei went, there would be banging and clanging sounds. Perhaps she was in a hurry, or perhaps she was venting her anger.
"Beibei, your father made steamed bean buns and meat buns today. Which one do you want… Ai, you don't want any? Then, have a bowl of congee before you go. Congee will make your stomach feel comfortable…"
Zhou Beibei didn't wait for him to finish speaking before picking up her bag and slamming the door behind her as she left.
"Dongsheng, have breakfast before you go."
Han Dongsheng was the last to use the bathroom. When he came out, he looked at the time and saw that he was running late, and said quickly, "I don't think I will, Dad. Please have breakfast yourself first, Zhou-Zhou is going to be late for school… Zhou-Zhou, hurry up, stop dawdling!"
Han Zhou stuffed the last mouthful of meat bun into his mouth and ate a mouthful of congee, but scalded himself until he was sticking his tongue out. Because of that, he didn't want to eat the rest of it. He grumbled to Old Mr. Zhou, "Grandpa, your cooking is too salty."
An old man of over seventy years of age no longer had a sensitive palate. Old Mr. Zhou asked in surprise, "Really? Did Grandpa make the filling too salty again?"
But his grandson didn't have the time to answer him. The father and son who were both running late ran out like a gust of wind. The sumptuous breakfast covering the entire table seemed to turn cold in an instant. Old Mr. Zhou sat alone for a while, then poured the remaining half of the congee in Han Zhou's bowl into his own bowl and started to eat slowly.
He didn't taste any saltiness. In his mouth, the taste was very bland.
Taking out the household trash was a chore handled by Zhou Beibei every day. Today, she had left in a rush and didn't have the time to do it. After they had all left, Old Mr. Zhou slowly tidied up. Suddenly, he paused. In the trash bin was a box of water-soluble motherwort granules that had been thrown away unopened. Beibei always said that she had stomach pains and everyone said that this was an effective remedy. Old Mr. Zhou knew that his daughter was unwilling to believe the experts and blindly believed in the so-called "official and regulated," which was why he had purposely bought this box of water-soluble medicine granules at a "high price" from a pharmacy.
Zhou Beibei probably hadn't taken a close look, or perhaps… she had taken a close look but didn't dare believe that her father could buy anything normal.
Shackled to this family that disappointed her again and again, after a long time, she was used to not believing in anything.
Old Mr. Zhou fished out the box of motherwort granules and tore off the dirtied outer packaging. He put it beside the drinking water dispenser, then went back to his room and changed his clothes. From under his bed, he took out a cloth backpack, put on a cap and sunglasses and packed a few steamed buns into a bag. He mingled with the crowd of office workers and left through the front gate.
Yanning was submerged in a hustle and bustle for the whole morning. Hence, this time, no one noticed him.
Old Mr. Zhou walked all the way to the transport hub. A medium-sized bus had been waiting since early that morning. A young man in his twenties got down from the bus. His appearance was lively and spirited, and he had thick, black eyebrows that had quite a touch of feminine beauty to them. He smiled before speaking, "Uncle Zhou, we were waiting for you!"
The young man's name was Xu Shaowen. He was Professor Xu's student and assistant. Apparently, he had a PhD. He was usually the one conducting the lectures on healthy living that they attended.
Doctor Xu asked, "You have informed your family, right? The cost of this trip is a little high."
Old Mr. Zhou brushed him off with a yeah, then took out the envelope he had prepared and passed it to him. "Cash, you can check it."
Doctor Xu did not open it. He took it casually and as before, exhorted repeatedly, "You must make sure to inform your family. Otherwise, your children will panic. I am responsible for you so I have to confirm this with you."
Old Mr. Zhou was rather touched. He felt that Doctor Xu was genuinely concerned about him, so he gave him the bag containing the steamed buns and said, "Don't worry about that. I steamed this at home. Have a taste if you don't mind."
"How did you know that I haven't eaten yet?" The young and handsome Doctor Xu was not the least bit hesitant. He opened the bag for a look and started eating while still standing at the door of the bus. His face happy and relaxed, he said, "Delicious! There's no salt in the filling and a homemade sauce is used instead, am I right?"
"You can tell?"
"The water used to mix the filling had been used to soak the dried mushrooms!"
"Yes! Yes! Is it salty?"
"It's not. I like strong flavours… Your family members are really lucky. I want to be your son!"
As he watched Doctor Xu wolf down the food, a smile blossomed on Old Mr. Zhou's face like a flower and he got on the bus happily.
The driver was having a smoke break. When he saw that the old man had gone in, he came over and asked Doctor Xu in a whisper, "Protector, there won't be any problems, right? What are we gonna do if these old fools' family members come and make a fuss?"
"Don't worry." "Doctor" Xu's voice was kept low in the gaps of his teeth. "No one in this bus has said anything to their family. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to come… Urgh, this is so salty. Did the old man kill the salt seller and take all the salt? Pass me a bottle of water."
The medium-sized bus was fully occupied by elderly people. Doctor Xu gave each one a thermal mug filled with wolfberries and jujubes steeped in hot water. He also knew who had car sickness and who had heart conditions, and had prepared medicine for each of them.
All of them had the feeling that they were being taken care of very attentively and was in a happy mood as the bus left Yanning.
Liu Zhongqi left in a hurry this morning. When he got home after the evening self-study session, he realised that he had forgotten his keys. He called his brother but the line was constantly busy; Yu Lanchuan was probably busy to no end again. Liu Zhongqi paced in front of the door for a while. Coincidentally, their neighbour, Grandma Zhang Meizhen, was leaving the house. When she saw him, she let him into her home and asked him to do his homework at her place for the time being.
Not long after Zhang Meizhen left, Gan Qing came back. She had gotten two portions of supper from Boss Meng; she had probably received a call from Zhang Meizhen.
Liu Zhongqi was fidgeting restlessly as he did his English homework which he had put off until the very end. Once he saw Gan Qing, for some reason he recalled the "complete the blanks" incident from the last time and subconsciously reached out to cover the questions he was doing.
"Why are you covering them?" Gan Qing chuckled and went to the kitchen to heat up some milk. "The first question is already wrong."
Liu Zhongqi said, "...How do you know that it's wrong?"
"Have you not learned the subjunctive mood?" Gan Qing asked from the kitchen. "There's someone outside, go open the door."
Liu Zhongqi stared blankly. "No one's there, I didn't hear..."
He muttered to himself as he opened the door. To his surprise, there was indeed someone outside the door.
Little Friend Han Zhou with a bowl cut had been standing there with his head bowed and the door suddenly opening gave him a shock. He rubbed his eyes, his face looking a little petulant.
"How could she not even spare a small child like you? It's too dastardly of her, she is truly the dregs among the dregs of society." Taking the chance while Gan Qing was in the kitchen, Liu Zhongqi furtively pulled Han Zhou to the side. "Hey, did she trick you into giving her your allowance? How much did she take?"
This kid thought that his voice was very soft but on the other side of the wall, Gan Qing was hearing every single word.
She flipped the bacon roll in the pan and amidst the sizzling sounds, she was also counting how many times Liu Zhongqi badmouthed her.
After hearing what Liu Zhongqi said, Han Zhou immediately took out his cartoon-print wallet from his school bag and prepared to hand it over. "My allowance is here, is it enough?"
Liu Zhongqi, "..."
Han Zhou said, "My dad said that money is merely material possession. If it can make people happy, then that's good enough. If you have money, spend it; if not, let it go. My dad hands over his salary anyway, and gets one hundred yuan as allowance from my mum every month."
After hearing that, Liu Zhongqi felt that it was unbelievable. He really couldn't imagine how an adult could survive on one hundred yuan a month. But in the past half a year, he had, in succession, gone through a break up, ran away from home, got kidnapped and entered Year 2, so he was a bit more mature than he was before and didn't give his opinion carelessly. He asked Han Zhou, "It's so late, why are you here? Just to deliver your allowance to the big swindler?"
Little Friend Han Zhou seemed to be a bit embarrassed. He stretched out his neck to make sure that Gan Qing was still in the kitchen, then whispered into Liu Zhongqi's ear, "Gege, I'm scared of being alone at home."
"Alone?" Liu Zhongqi asked curiously, "Where are your parents?"
Han Zhou said softly, "They went to look for my grandpa."
"Where did your grandpa go?"
"Dunno," Han Zhou shook his head. "We lost him."
Liu Zhongqi had heard of losing money, losing phones and losing keys. This was the first time he heard of someone losing a grandpa.
"Every evening when I come home from school, my grandpa is already back from buying groceries and is preparing to make dinner. Today, I don't know where he has gone. The neighbours downstairs also said that they didn't see him and also told my mum to call the police. When my mum heard the word 'police,' she nearly started fighting with them. My dad dragged her home to wait. We waited until it was dinner time but Grandpa still didn't come back. We called him but the call didn't go through so they went out together to look for him."
Right then, someone suddenly spoke from behind them. "Give your mum a call and tell her that you're with me. Or she might find the old man later only to think that you're missing."
Gan Qing didn't make any sound when she walked and who knew when she had come over. Liu Zhongqi had just been speaking ill of her and he shook with fear, nearly leaping up from the sofa.
Gan Qing glanced at Liu Zhongqi with a smile that was not quite a smile. "Wash your hands and eat."
Liu Zhongqi waved her off reservedly. "Thank you but there's no need."
The word "need" had just come out when his stomach rumbled embarrassingly.
Just the sight of him was enough to amuse Gan Qing. She felt that the two brothers might not look similar but the way they conducted themselves came from the same mould, and the younger one was even more fun to tease.
A teenage boy seemed to never be full no matter how much he ate. Every day at his hour, he would be supplementing himself with supper. Liu Zhongqi's face turned pale and red in turns. He surrendered to the mighty internal body clock and endured the shame as he joined the supper table.
Because there was a child there, Gan Qing was afraid that eating too much at night would be bad for his digestion so she didn't make very oily snacks. She poured the two bowls of pumpkin congee she had brought back together, mixed it with warm milk and boiled it again in the pot. She added some corn kernels to make corn and pumpkin soup. Then, she let the oil drip out of the bacon rolls and grilled meat, dry-fried them in a pan to reheat them, and mixed them with lettuce, croutons and shredded cheese to make an east-meets-west salad. Finally, she cut some oranges and apples.
In less than ten minutes, everything was done. Bright and colourful, complemented with very fashionable wooden cutlery. Add a filter and it was ready to be shared online.
The cutlery and spices were bought by Zhang Meizhen. This old lady typically didn't have much to do, and all her time and energy was spent on her "lifestyle." She spent her days in an exceptionally refined way.
Even though Gan Qing was a peasant who could squat by the roadside and gnaw on crawfish, she didn't refuse good things. Whomever went near the cinnabar would be stained red—after living a while with this landlord, she had learned how to plate food nicely.
Little Friend Han Zhou didn't say anything and also didn't take the phone that Gan Qing passed him.
Liu Zhongqi thought that he couldn't remember his parents' number, so he said, "It's okay if you don't call. It's just downstairs anyway. I can go down later and stick a note on your door-"
"I don't want to go home. They're always quarreling," Han Zhou said gloomily.
The boy lifted his head and looked around. His first impression was that this house was very beautiful.
Gan Qing was very diligent with the housework and there wasn't even a single dried leaf in the vases. Meanwhile, Zhang Meizhen was a lady with the heart of a young girl. She liked to fill the whole place with a sweet fragrance and brought back whatever was fashionable at the moment. One person did the buying while the other person did the upkeeping; even though the two of them kept completely different hours, unexpectedly, they could work together seamlessly without disturbing each other.
This apartment was only some tens of square meters wide but there was not even a speck of dust. The furnishings were picked out carefully and arranged with care, as though a professional interior designer and a cleaning squad had diligently put things in order. The living environment could even be called "luxurious."
It was unlike Han Zhou's home. Smelly socks and wrinkled clothes were in a mess everywhere, there was always hair in the drainage, and the fridge was filled with leftovers. Four people used the bathroom and it could not be cleaned in time. There were always urine stains in the toilet bowl and once it was damp, there would be a piss stink. The bathroom door had to be closed most of the time but this made the ventilation even worse and in turn, the stink grew stronger in a never ending loop. When Han Zhou's mother couldn't bear it anymore, she would splash the whole bathroom with acid cleaners while grumbling… That was also a type of "biological weapon."
Han Zhou reached out to examine the beautiful plate and said enviously, "Jiejie, can I stay here today?"
Without even blinking, Gan Qing refused him. "No."
"I folded a whole bottle of paper cranes. I'll give it to you."
"It's still a no. This is the girls' dorm."
Liu Zhongqi, "..."
The ages of these two "girls" added together would be close to a century, if not more.
Han Zhou sighed a sigh beyond his years and lifted the bowl of pumpkin soup, taking small sips. "If only I was a girl. I can stay at the girls' dorm and my mum also wouldn't always be scolding me. She said that men are all pigs."
Gan Qing asked, "Is that why you're not paying attention at school and going around looking for a girlfriend instead?"
"I really, sincerely like girls, not like those people in my previous school." Han Zhou shrugged his shoulders and gave them the names of a few boys. "They pick up girls just to be cool. Ai, they're not sincere at all."
Gan Qing, "..."
The primary school kids nowadays are ready to fly to the sky! What kind of lousy school was that? No wonder his parents wanted him to change schools even if they had to tighten their belts and scrape a living.
At the side, the high school student Liu Zhongqi listened to the little brat speak like an adult, and stifled his laughter until his face was red. Gan Qing felt that he was just laughing at someone at a hundred steps when he was halfway there himself—as though the person who played house with his girlfriend and had an early romance was not him.
"My grandpa caused a huge trouble today. My mum was nearly going crazy when she went out to look for him. I know she's gonna throw a fuss when she comes home at night. I got four marks in my maths test today, I'll definitely be dragged in too." Han Zhou pleaded, "Jiejie, please take me in."
"How can you talk about your mum like that?" Gan Qing patted him on his head, then continued to say, "Four in your maths test? Out of five? Ten?"
Five was still okay. If it was ten, four was too little.
Han Zhou gave her an "Oh my, pretty girls are all foolish things" look. "Of course it's out of a hundred."
Liu Zhongqi spluttered and nearly spat out a bit of grilled meat. He quickly took two gulps of the pumpkin soup; it was so hot it made him tear up.
Gan Qing had always been someone who made other people weary at heart. Unexpectedly, today she was defeated by a gremlin child and was getting a taste of the "weary at heart" feeling herself.
"Both of you sirs please eat first, I'm going to go leave a note." There was nothing she could say in response to Han Zhou. She stood up. "When you have finished eating, put the dishes in the sink and do your homework."
The two boys, one big and one small, wiped out the food like the wind blowing away scattered clouds, leaving not even a single crumb. Zhang Meizhen's home was too clean, so much so that it made the gremlin children feel embarrassed. Hence, the two of them even tore some paper towels and carefully wiped the table clean.
Han Zhou saw the older boy obediently pick up his books and was very startled. In his previous school, the older boys—those in Year 5 or 6—had never studied properly since young. When they reached their teens, they already had a bit of a gangster air about them. Even when the teachers were watching them at school, they would still be finding ways to stir up trouble, and one didn't have to even think of them voluntarily studying.
Han Zhou glanced at Liu Zhongqi's English homework reverentially. "Gege, are you good at studies?"
Liu Zhongqi said reservedly, "So-so."
Han Zhou said, "In my old school, the big guys looked down the most on those who are good at studies. They cut off ties with me because I transferred here. They said that this school is for those who are 'good at studies,' so I'm a traitor because I transferred schools… I didn't become a traitor on purpose. My mum insisted that I transfer."
"Your mum did it for your own good." Liu Zhongqi said without looking up. Hanging out with a primary school kid, he felt that he was mature already. "People who are good at studies have more choices. You'll understand when you're older."
Han Zhou felt that this sounded exactly like what the teachers at school said, and he made a face.
Out of the corner of his eye, Liu Zhongqi saw the look in the little brat's eyes. He put down his pen and put on a pretentious act. "We are like fish in a river. When the water from upstream flows down, it can be very gentle or it can be very rapid. Sometimes, it can be very violent… Nothing is certain, it all depends on the water's mood. In the warm gently flowing water, you can swim very comfortably, but if it starts to become violent, all the fish will be flushed down regardless of whether they're big or small fish. They will be embroiled in the sand. Some fish will never again climb out while some fish will struggle and continue to swim. Right now, you don't have to swim yourself. Your parents are guiding you. This is the protection period for newbies. Once you're older, you will be set free. If you don't prepare yourself well during the protection period, you will be weaker than other fish in the future. When you encounter violent storms, you will be flushed very far away and it will be harder for you to climb up than it will be for other fish."
This was something a teacher had said when Liu Zhongqi was in junior high. It was beyond the level of a primary school student. Han Zhou listened to him and felt a little suffocated. "I still have a long way to go before I grow up. I don't want to grow up. Anyway, my mum said that when I grow up, I'll definitely be just like my dad."
When Gan Qing went to the eighth floor, she happened to bump into Han Dongsheng. Han Dongsheng had come home to see if Old Mr. Zhou had gone home on his own. In the end, not only was his old father-in-law not there, even his child had disappeared and he was panicking so hard that even the colour of his face had changed.
"Mr. Han," Gan Qing called out to him. "Han Zhou is on the tenth floor. I came down to let you know. Don't worry, come up to pick him up whenever you're free."
"That's good. I'm really very sorry… and thank you!" Han Dongsheng took a deep breath and hurriedly said a whole bunch of grateful and appreciative words.
The sweat on his head seemed to never be wiped clean. Because he was overweight, even his breathing seemed very hurried. His entire person had changed shape. The back of his hands were thick and there was a row of edema scars.
Gan Qing quietly let him pass, her eyes studying Han Dongsheng's back. She had seen this person before in the past, twenty years ago. Back then, she was still a young girl who chewed on her fingers while Fuliang Yue's descendant was already a grown up young man.
She had come with her shifu to visit the old Yu Huaide. Shifu didn't want to cause trouble so he didn't show his face at the Martial Arts General Assembly and only sat for a while at the Yu home. Meanwhile, she had taken the chance when the adults were making small talk to slip out and look for excitement.
Someone started calling out for Fuliang Yue to demonstrate his skills. That shy young man first blushed and refused. When he really could not turn them down, he showed a few techniques that were of a more performative nature. At that age, Gan Qing could not see what profound and mysterious theories there were behind this set of techniques. She only remembered the young man's body flowing as fast as a flying dragon, and an agility and ease that could not be put into words.
She had been so envious and had felt that it was so much better than her own dull and boring martial arts skills.
Twenty years. Was that all it took for a person's bones to be grinded into dust and for them to change beyond recognition?
Gan Qing felt a little exhausted. Her body clock was reminding her that it was time for bed. She shook her head and went back upstairs, but she still had to keep watch on the two gremlin children doing their homework, and she yawned non-stop as she waited for their parents and guardian to pick them up.
Liu Zhongqi, who had just put on an act for their little friend, had again gotten half the questions wrong in his "correct the mistakes" exercise. Gan Qing sat by the side, propping her head up with her hand, and couldn't help interjecting when she really couldn't bear looking at it anymore. "The subject and the verb in your sentence are not in agreement, dear."
Liu Zhongqi took a careful look. "Oh… You're right."
"This 'suggested' shouldn't be followed by 'to do,' it should probably be changed to 'ing.'"
Liu Zhongqi, "..."
"In the third line, the subject is lacking an article in front of it."
Han Zhou looked up at Liu Zhongqi with a sympathetic expression and thought, Your studies are really so-so.
Liu Zhongqi made a sour face. He was losing face in front of a little friend and he threw down his pen. "If you're so great, why are you still being a swindler? Why don't you go be an interpreter for the United Nations?"
"No way, no way." Gan Qing waved her hand modestly. "I'm just at the level of an exam candidate. I depend on subtitles when watching American TV series."
Liu Zhongqi said in provocation, "Then, which university did you get into?"
Without changing her expression, Gan Qing said, "California's University of Lille-Durnst, graduated with honours."
"...You even studied abroad?" Liu Zhongqi was momentarily stunned. "Then why are you like this now?"
Gan Qing beamed at him and added, "Also known as the 'Rot at Home.'"
Liu Zhongqi, "..."
California's University of Lille-Durnst… Cal-Lil-Durnst… "Jia-li-dun"... He was going to claw her to death!
Gan Qing handily helped him tidy up the books that were all over the place. "All English books. If you studied hard like this earlier on, you wouldn't be the way you are now."
Liu Zhongqi squeezed out his words from the gaps of his clenched teeth. "None of your business!"
"Is it because your brother refuses to teach you martial arts?" Gan Qing winked at him. "Let me guess, did he say that he'll teach you some fighting forms if you pass your English test?"
"No!" Liu Zhongqi bristled and said, "In the first place, I… sometimes pass my English tests! He said I need to get above 120."
Gan Qing laughed. Liu Zhongqi would die to defend the honour of that "120" and his embarrassment turned to anger.
"You'll have plenty of chances to learn these fighting and killing skills in the future," Gan Qing suddenly said. "Even if you don't, it's okay. There's no use learning them anyway. Compared to that, your brother probably thinks that the university entrance exams are more important."
Liu Zhongqi stared blankly. When Gan Qing was saying those words, the improper smile on her face suddenly disappeared, revealing a restrained calmness that was difficult to describe.
"When I was your age, my mind was also full of wild thoughts." Gan Qing stood up and stretched her body. "When I grew up, I realised that I was wrong. I worked my ass off for a few years, wanting to make up for the time I had lost."
Liu Zhongqi stared blankly at her. "And then?"
"There is no 'and then,'" Gan Qing patted him on his head. "You can't make up for lost time… Your brother is back."
In case it's not obvious enough, "California's University of Lille-Durnst" (加州里尔顿斯科大学) is not a real university and the name is just a pun on 家里蹲 (lit. "squat at home"). Apparently it was once a somewhat popular joke for people who didn't have any big plans for after high school.
Full disclaimer, the line in the chapter that connects from "California's University of Lille-Durnst" to "Jia-li-dun" was added by me and is not in the original text (Chinese readers wouldn't need it anyway) because I try to make it so that the text can be understood without referring to footnotes. It's a bit of a stretch but I didn't feel like I could turn it into an English pun when that entire section is about studying English, which kind of emphasises that they are not actually speaking English.
When Gan Qing was saying those words, Yu Lanchuan had just stepped out of the elevator lobby. He looked up and saw his foolish younger brother poke his head out of the next door apartment and looked left and right like he was searching for something.
"What are you looking for?" Yu Lanchuan spoke up. He glanced at his watch to check the time; at this hour, Gan Qing usually didn't even reply to her customers' messages anymore. "What time is it already, you're still disturbing other people at their homes?"
Liu Zhongqi looked in the direction of his voice. When he saw Yu Lanchuan, he was extremely shocked. "Wow, so far!"
Yu Lanchuan raised a brow in impatience. "Hmm?"
"I forgot my keys." Liu Zhongqi explained quickly but it was obvious that the teenager's mind was currently not on his brother.
Liu Zhongqi turned his head back and asked Gan Qing a string of questions in surprise. "You can hear him from such a great distance away? For real? I read in wuxia stories, when someone eavesdrops on someone else's conversation, the moment they breathed the other person would notice them. I always thought it was an exaggeration, is it really possible? Were you born with it or did you train? How did you train… Aiyo, ge!"
Yu Lanchuan raised a hand and pushed the back of Liu Zhongqi's head, forcibly turning his head back around. He nodded at Gan Qing, his face expressionless as he took his younger brother away.
Liu Zhongqi said, "Ge, she can hear the noise from the elevator lobby when she's inside the apartment, just like a bat!"
"Even if you train until you become a radar, you'll still need to depend on guessing when it comes to your English aural test!" Yu Lanchuan said coldly.
Liu Zhongqi, "..."
"Hey," Gan Qing called out to the both of them.
That sound seemed to stroke a finger along the line of Yu Lanchuan's spine. He quivered and came to a stop, feeling that even this witch's voice was infused with impropriety.
Gan Qing handed over Liu Zhongqi's school bag. "Don't forget your things."
There were a few badges on Liu Zhongqi's school bag— ootball, Carribean pirates, stuff like superheroes—Yu Lanchuan ignored them all but his eyes zeroed in on one in the middle that had a cartoon dog. Little Master Yu's sensitive nerves were immediately triggered and he turned to rant at Liu Zhongqi, "What kind of nonsense are you putting on your bag! Why are you so childish!"
Liu Zhongqi was pressed and kneaded into a lump and rolled back home all dizzy. He didn't understand why his brother was suddenly so strongly against badges. "I've always pinned them there and you didn't say anything before…"
When he got home, Liu Zhongqi still didn't understand what Gan Qing's last sentence meant.
What did she mean by "You can't make up for lost time"?
If it was really as she said, that she knew she was wrong and had after that worked her ass off for a few years, and it was even very effective—Liu Zhongqi had to painfully acknowledge that at least, if they were to sit for an English test right now, she would do better than him—then it was not too late.
There was no restriction on the university entrance exams. Even based on his limited real life experience as a high school student, Liu Zhongqi could come up with plenty of ideas for her. She could apply for student loans; all education institutions had "green lanes" for this purpose. If her results were good, after a year, the various school awards and student loans would be enough. If her results were not good enough, that was also okay, she could work part time. She just had to not be so engrossed in tricking and swindling others that she couldn't break away from doing it. Her current job didn't need too much energy, she could continue doing it.
Liu Zhongqi wasn't just all talk, his words weren't without reason. He had an example right by his side—back then, Yu Lanchuan had depended on various competition awards and scholarships to support himself. That was why he had been very fearless and secure during his teenage rebellious period. Wherever he wanted to stay, he would move there to stay. He had been very unbridled and no one could even dream of restricting him using finances as an excuse.
In a teenager's eyes, Gan Qing was an "old lady" but a twenty or thirty something year old woman continuing her studies was very common in the real world. Since she didn't have to support a family and didn't have any baggage in her life holding her down, why couldn't she give it a try?
Regardless of whether studying four years at university would result in anything noteworthy or not, it would still be better than being a witch at a shop that scammed people, wouldn't it? Even if she didn't take the university entrance exams, in the current day environment, there were many ways if one wanted to learn a trade. Online or offline, paid or free… seeing how she had nothing to do the whole day, how could she still be shameless enough to say "You can't make up for lost time"?
She's obviously just lazy. Wet mud can't hold up a wall! The more he thought, the more Liu Zhongqi felt that he had been tricked.
The teenager was full after eating supper. He went back to his room and memorised vocab for a while. After a very exciting day, he fell asleep in three seconds, all his worries disconnecting from his mind.
However, this kind of contentment was all too rare.
Yu Lanchuan poured himself a mug of hot tea and listened as the sound of Liu Zhongqi reciting vocab in the next room faded away. Sitting on the sofa, he fell into a stupor.
Back when he was at school and had come here to Granduncle's place, he had stayed in the room that was Liu Zhongqi's now. When he came home late in the evening after the lessons for the competition class, he had been just like that kid, scribbling furiously at the study desk. Meanwhile, Granduncle would take up his smoking pipe and, just like Yu Lanchuan now, quietly sit here on his own, doing nothing.
At that time, Yu Lanchuan had really envied people like them. They didn't need to sit for exams, had nothing to do and could go on a mental vacation for as long as they wanted to—such luxury!
Now, he finally had the "right" to that luxury but he was instead envious of the busy high school student in the next room.
Yu Lanchuan was very weary at heart today. He hadn't answered Liu Zhongqi's calls because he had locked himself in the meeting room to take care of a matter—and it wasn't any kind of proper matter. One of the subordinates in his department hooked up with the Head of Finance next door. One was a wife with a husband, the other was a husband with a wife. Not only had they fooled around without a thought, they had even been found out by someone. There was a huge fuss and the entire CBD was rubbernecking. It was as exciting as celebrating the Lunar New Year in advance.
The entire company had been shamed along with the two of them.
Every day, everyone worked until their days were dark and hopeless, the pressure on them as heavy as mountains. Those who were braver would step on the high tension power lines themselves and fooled around or gambled to get some stimulation and dopamine at a low cost. The cowardly ones would hope for the actions of the former to be exposed so that they could stand around and watch and gossip in whispers, and obtain a subtle and ambiguous kind of happiness.
Everytime he encountered something like that, Yu Lanchuan would have a feeling of defeat that he could not put into words.
It wasn't because Director Yu had very high and lofty morals and couldn't stand to see any filth. Instead, he felt that the matter was suffused with a sense of sorrow and helplessness. It was the feeling of a person once thinking that they were capable of reaching the sky, but along with passage of time, their spirits became drained and increasingly, they had a feeling of "I'm nothing, this is all I'll amount to for the rest of my life." This acquired sense of helplessness could only be diverted by seeking what was most base and most easily obtained—food and lust.
Openly pursuing the pleasures of life, to be accomplished yet free from the restraints of convention—this was something everyone acknowledged to have its own special charm.
But to numb your own emotions and seek stimulation due to your own helplessness and powerlessness—this was something pitiful and laughable, a midlife crisis, and everyone would gather around to laugh.
Next door, Han Zhou was taken away by Han Dongsheng who had rushed back late at night. Gan Qing didn't ask too much but looking at how anxious he was, the old man was probably not found yet.
This old man, where could he have gone? This thought appeared in her mind but she felt lazy and didn't want to think further. She emptied her mind and prepared to go to bed.
It was strange. Gan Qing had long since been so sleepy that she was yawning non-stop but now, she couldn't fall asleep for some reason. She sat quietly at the head of the bed for a while but didn't find anything worth losing sleep over. She could only blame it on being overtired so she turned on the bedside lamp and started playing with her phone. She could scroll through the news from all over the world on her phone, both major events and bizarre occurrences, and could scroll as long as she wanted to. They were never-ending anyway. However, those words and their accompanying pictures flowed past her retinas like water, leaving nothing behind. In just a short while, Gan Qing was seeing without reading.
The moonlight streamed in through the window, casting a glow on the begonia on the balcony.
Gan Qing suddenly recalled that when she was still young, someone had once told her, "Adults are not necessarily clever, not necessarily brave and strong, and not necessarily very old. They may not know as much as you and may not be able to defeat you in a fight. The difference between adults and children is that everyone has joy and anger, happiness and sorrow, but if a child is unhappy, there is a reason—there may be a specific cause or it may be because they aren't feeling well and have fallen sick, and their brains aren't producing enough of certain types of hormones.
"Adults are not the same. These so-called 'adults'... Sometimes, there is clearly nothing wrong with their bodies and they can't think of anything in their minds and hearts, but in the deep of the night when they are unable to sleep, they will want to cry for no reason."
"That's not an adult. That's a sick person, isn't it?" The teenage Gan Qing lay on her front, her legs raised up impudently as she disagreed with the speaker.
The person smiled softly. "When the day comes that you too are unable to sleep and also don't know why you can't sleep, you'll understand."
So it was true.
In Han Dongsheng's home on the eighth floor, the lights were still bright. His child was asleep in the room, while the husband and wife were sitting on either side of the coffee table.
Zhou Beibei's eyes were bloodshot. "Where could he have gone? We've asked around at all the places he usually goes to, where else could he have gone?"
Han Dongsheng said, "Don't worry-"
"How can I not worry?" Zhou Beibei raised her voice. "The weather is so cold! There are news everyday about missing old people freezing to death by the roadside, I-"
"Shh." Han Dongsheng pressed down on her shoulder and glanced towards Han Zhou's room. "Don't be loud… Those were all old people with impaired mental faculties who couldn't find their way home. Our dad won't be like that. I'll apply for leave tomorrow and wait for news from the police at home. Don't worry, he'll definitely be all right. Maybe he's not used to staying here and has gone to his friend's home, or perhaps some master had deceived him into joining some kind of weird activity… If we need to spend money, we'll spend the money. Just treat it as making the old man happy. When he comes back, don't lose your temper with him."
Zhou Beibei didn't say anything for a while. Then, she suddenly looked up. "Do you think… that I spoke too harshly yesterday, so my dad…"
Han Dongsheng sighed.
Zhou Beibei covered her face and began to cry. "I didn't do it on purpose."
But spoken words were like spilled water, neither could be taken back.
The old man disappearing for a day could be because of a family argument. But when there was still no sight nor sound of him after three days, the matter became serious.
"The old man has his own house, have we checked it?"
"We've checked it, Yu-ge. We asked for the keys from his family. There was a layer of dust in the house, no one has been there recently!"
"Could he have gone back to his hometown?"
"He was born and bred here, he has no other hometown! We even asked the relatives that he's not close to, he hasn't contacted any of them."
"This is really strange!" Yu Yan muttered as he walked. "Even human traffickers wouldn't kidnap an old man. I've heard of buying a child but who would buy a dad?"
He had just barely finished speaking when his phone rang. "Hello, this is Xiao-Yu from the Dongping District police station… Yes, we have a case involving a missing elderly, we're busy looking for him now… What?"
Yu Yan's came to a stop. After finishing the call, his face changed and he broke into a run. "Master Lan! Master Lan!"
Yu Lanchuan was just getting ready to leave the house to go to work. Yu Yan stopped him, pulling at him as he spoke while still panting for breath. "Do you know anyone from the underworld? The type that catches people and beats them up, and organises beggars to swindle people?"
Yu Lanchuan was bewildered. "Is there something wrong with you?"
"Ai! A colleague from another district called me just now. They also have missing elderly people over there and it all happened recently. The circumstances are pretty similar to Old Zhou from downstairs! Let me tell you, this can't be a coincidence!" Yu Yan said. "And also the Old Madam Lin who was the first to disappear, until now there's still no sight nor sound of her. Quick, help me ask around—at the train stations, bus stations… all those busy places with lots of people, are there any old beggars with broken arms or legs that are unfamiliar faces!"
Yu Lanchuan was stunned by Yu Yan's fertile imagination.
Meanwhile, Officer Yu had no time to explain to him in detail and had turned around and ran off to check the CCTVs.
Beggars' Sect would never admit that what Yu Yan described could happen under their noses. Within a few days, all the beggars in the city became "volunteer police," jittery and on edge as they inspected their territories.
After a week, including the Old Madam Lin who had been the first to go missing, there were already twelve cases of missing elderly people reported to the police stations at several locations. All of them were believers in all kinds of common people "experts" and MLMs for health supplements.
The police dug deep into the ground, pulling out the radishes and turning over the soil, and uncovered quite a few similar syndicates.
There were those who organised "healthy living lectures" and sold medical apparatus, those who had online shops on WeChat and hid themselves on the internet… What was even more outrageous was that even "qigong masters" had crowds of fans—groups of old men and old ladies who meditated along with the "master" come rain or shine and fought to buy the chicken eggs that the master had "infused with energy"!
"It's not worth the price even if the master laid the eggs himself!" Yu Yan came over to grumble angrily to Yu Lanchuan. "He even ran away, right in front of us! He was just like the Spiderman at your place. He leaped up the tree with just a somersault, just like parkour, and disappeared in no time at all! Right now, his group of foolish believers are all starry-eyed and insisting that this master has real skills and is our country's intangible cultural heritage, and that we police officers don't know anything and are slandering traditional cultures! Which sect of yours is he from? Alliance Leader, let me tell you, right now this person is a prime suspect! The missing Old Mr. Zhou and Old Madam Lin have both bought eggs from him!"
"Qigong master?" Upon hearing that, Old Master Yang fell silent for a while. "This… I do indeed know some people…"
Right then, a voice cut in from the door. "It's Travellers' Sect."