Those flyers covered nearly all walks of employment, from circumcision to microfinancing— everything one could want. There were even ads for locksmiths, miracle Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, private detectives, professional exam-takers….
Xie Yu pulled them straight out and tossed them in the garbage bin. When he reached the last flyer, he saw written on top: Mystery Game, inflaming your passion! Big brother, ah~ come~
The tildes were so flirtatious they could break through the heavens. Xie Yu was just about to toss it out when he heard someone loudly call out from behind him, “Damn brat.” Xie Yu’s hand jerked and his train of thought was broken. Reflexively he stuffed the flyer into the pocket of his pants.
Xu Yanmei rubbed her hands together: “You found the time to come see me?”
The first thing Xie Yu did upon seeing her was to pass her the black plastic bag, then swiftly retreat several steps. But he hadn’t escaped in time: “What is that smell on you? Toilet air freshener? What are you doing spraying that for no reason??”
“Like hell it’s toilet air freshener. Damn it, this is a woman’s scent.” She’d put on about half a bottle of perfume.
She opened the plastic bag. She froze for a couple of seconds when she saw the contents: “I was just saying, and you really got me a big megaphone. How does this work? Is this the on switch?”
A vein in Xie Yu’s temple jumped with a pop. “Don’t press that. It’ll make noise.”
Too late. Xu Yanmei had already pressed down on the red button like a child who had just received a new toy. The song that hadn’t finished playing in the convenience store now blared out from the speakers, forceful and enduring.
Xu Yanmei was a little stunned. “Damn, it’s this loud?”
“Quick, turn it off,” Xie Yu said. “And that voice of yours. You really don’t notice? The smoking… just smoke, then.”
Xu Yanmei: “It’s not like that… With this strong constitution of mine, I’ll still fight on for the next three hundred years at least.”
Xie Yu was silent as he observed her. He noticed at once that her right hand was supporting the side of her waist, as if unconsciously. Due to long years of hard labor, Xu Yanmei’s back wasn’t doing well. Every day she had to stick on a medicinal patch or she else might be in so much pain that she wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.
“Strong. You really dare say that.”
Xu Yanmei noticed Xie Yu’s gaze and immediately lowered her hand. Who knew how much truth was in what she said as she smoothly ran outside: “My back is fine. Speaking of which, last time you asked me to go to the hospital for a checkup. I went. It went fine. The doctor said it wasn’t serious.”
Xie Yu walked toward the Guang Mao Expo as he listened. He wore an ordinary, even somewhat cheap, black T-shirt—Xu Yanmei had bought it for him. She often sent him clothes: if she saw something suitable, she’d buy it, and after accumulating enough, she would send them over in a big cardboard box about half the height of a person.
He stuck both hands in his pockets. His sleeves were folded up several times and revealed his slender wrists. His hair was medium length and it looked soft to the touch, curling naturally due to how fine it was, and giving him a cold, fierce look.
He asked: “How many truckloads of merchandise are shipping today?”
Xu Yanmei was forty-plus years old, and usually she was busy with receiving and sending shipments of goods. All day she had to keep her eye on this and that; the riff-raff who messed up the store and caused trouble were all hers to deal with, so she didn’t have much time to take care of herself. Her hair was still in the same perm she had gotten last New Year’s. Without maintenance, it now looked like messy instant noodles, dry and yellowing.
From her features it was easy to see the beauty of her youth, but time spares no one.
If she were tossed into a crowd, she would only be a middle-aged woman, extremely ordinary, to the point that one might suspect that the glimpse of former beauty one could see in her features was simply imagined.
“Eighteen truckloads. Even though it’s summer, I still have to keep an eye on the autumn fashions, otherwise the suppliers might not have enough time to finish the orders when the time comes.” Now that the subject had come around to work, Xu Yanmei unconsciously reached for her pocket, hoping to find a cigarette to satisfy her craving. But she only found a lighter and no cigarette.
Xie Yu asked, “Do you have enough help?”
”Enough, enough. No need for you to bother,” Xu Yanmei said. “I still haven’t settled the score from last time when you arrived out of nowhere to help over here.”
Xie Yu had coincidentally found out that she had thrown out her back while moving goods. He had skipped a day of class and by the time she found him, he had already blended in among the workers and helped move four or five truckloads of goods. He had changed out of his school uniform and was sweating all over.
This had been when business at the wholesale market wasn’t good; only in the last half year had things gotten better, so the fewer workers she could employ to move goods, the fewer she employed. Managing two floors of Guang Mao was effort enough, so of course she would think about how to reduce costs.
The two stood in the elevator, and their proximity made the scent of perfume that was like air freshener curdle into something even more intense. This service elevator might also have been used to transport meat because, aside from the overpowering perfume scent, there was also the faint smell of rotting fish.
Xu Yanmei asked: “Did you grow taller again?”
Xie Yu said: “Almost 1.8 meters now.”
Xu Yanmei eyed him up and down, wanting to smile and frown at the same time. “You’ve lost weight.”
The elevator opened and Xie Yu walked out. Xu Yanmei was still fixated on the ‘lost weight’ part: “Remember to eat your regular three meals a day. Young people nowadays go on diets at the drop of a hat. Don’t get obsessed with it… Eh, why did you stop?
Xie Yu stood in front of her, blocking her entire field of vision so she couldn’t see anything.
“What is it? What happened?”
Xie Yu didn’t give her a chance to see what was happening ahead.
He just pushed Xu Yanmei back into the elevator and swiftly and cleanly hit the door close button.
His reaction was fast—so fast that even the group of ill-intentioned-looking guys didn’t have time to react. By the time they realized what was happening, the elevator doors were already closing.
“Fuck.” The guy at the front wore a fierce expression. A gold chain encircled his neck and he ripped a cigarette from between his teeth, tossing it casually by his foot as he walked forward, cursing. “——Xu Yanmei, you damn bitch, you fucking stop right there!”
He was the only person who reacted quickly enough—the other guys hadn’t even realized that the woman they were looking for was about to slip away right in front of their eyes. The man with the gold chain waved one big hand, his rage unstoppable: “What are you all standing there for? Get her! All of you just standing around and watching the show. You! Quick, go down the stairs over there and catch her!”
The elevator doors were already half-closed. Xie Yu lowered his voice and said quickly, “Go down first. Bring people back here.”
Xu Yanmei caught a glimpse of the man’s face through the elevator doors. There were too many things she wanted to say but time was tight so she hurriedly yelled, “Xie Yu!”
Xie Yu looked at her: “Aunt Mei, listen to me.”
He only looked at her for a moment before the gap between the doors disappeared as they closed firmly shut and the elevator carrying her descended.
A mop stood beside the elevator, probably forgotten there by a janitor who had finished their work. Xie Yu grabbed it, lifted one foot, and stepped on the mop head. He exerted strength and ripped the whole wooden handle out.
Brandishing the wooden stick, Xie Yu raised his head to look at them: “What do you want?”
He knew this lot.
Black Water Street was full of gangsters who caused trouble up and down the street in the name of collecting protection fees. This man in front of him was Hu-ge—word had it that he had been released from jail a few months ago. According to him, he was locked up because he had almost stabbed someone to death. Unbelievable bluster. Regardless of how he touted it, no one really cared about what the truth of the matter really was.
Hu-ge managed to scrape a living by collecting protection fees and enjoyed being respected as the ‘big brother’ by underlings who didn’t know any better. Until he met Xu Yanmei. Everything started with just one event: he had fallen for her.
Xu Yanmei was quite beautiful, and her personality was forceful and ardent.
She had just one flaw: she was ungrateful. Over and over she had rejected him… really, she didn’t know a good thing when she saw it.
At this point, Hu-ge’s eyes darkened. “Brat, mind your own business.”
Xie Yu still didn’t react. The shop employees, who had shrunk into a corner and were too afraid to make a sound, had their hearts in their throats. This was their first time encountering such a matter. This lot had walked in like they owned the place and started breaking things; one could tell at a glance that they weren’t to be trifled with.
They weren’t sure whether to call the cops. Everyone knew the unwritten rules of Black Water Street: what happens in Black Water stays in Black Water.
Then they saw Mei-jie’s so-called “good boy” standing in the elevator doorway. One against five. His expression was blank. His hand slipped out of his pocket and beckoned lightly to the group of people. It was impossible to tell if it was a challenge or if he really didn’t care. “You really want to die so much you’ve come to daddy’s door? No time for bullshit. Come on, all at once.”
Hu-ge didn’t want to admit that, for an instant, he was cowed by this boy who looked like he was still in school.
The glint in the kid’s eye was dark, chilling, like being dumped in a cold water bath. He looked at them like he was looking at a pile of shit—all in all, it definitely wasn’t the gaze of a hothouse flowerbud.
Hu-ge was really getting angry and began to posture out of habit. He pulled aside his collar. “So young and already so full of hot air. Do you know who I am? Go out and ask around. Is there anyone who sees me, Hu-ge, and doesn’t show respect? …See this? This scar on my neck? This is from a fight with the prison guards. You brat, you don’t even have facial hair, what do you care about that bitch? What is this, huh? Fighting me? Copying other people and trying to fight? Just with that little wooden stick, you think—”
Without another word Xie Yu stretched out and caught Hu-ge by the collar, drawing intimidatingly close. His knee crashed brutally into Hu-ge’s stomach and swiftly, after he trapped Hu-ge’s elbow with his hand, he pulled Hu-ge to him without giving even a second of leeway.
It was a very elegant shoulder throw, neat and clean. If the atmosphere weren’t so tense, the bunch of shopkeepers in the back might even have applauded and cheered.
Hu-ge was knocked to the ground so hard his vision went dark and he couldn’t speak a word.
But Xie Yu wasn’t going to let him off so easily. He dragged the guy up from the floor again and pushed him against the steel doors of the elevator with a thud. His fingers tightened around Hu-ge’s neck!
“So arrogant. You think jail time is a man’s badge of honor?”
Hu-ge reacted. He raised his leg and was about to kick but Xie Yu firmly hit the offending leg with the stick. Hu-ge’s calf twitched uncontrollably and the moment Xie Yu let go he fell heavily onto the ground, one hand propping himself up while the other clutched his stomach as he dry heaved. “…Fuck.”
“Who did you call a bitch.” Hu-ge’s eyes were wide as he looked at Xie Yu’s face, which could be called beautiful, gradually drawing closer. The youth’s face was brimming with violent intent and about to overflow. Compared to this outstanding beauty, he was even more surprised by the chilly, sharp aura emanating from the person in front of him.
Xie Yu repeated his earlier question, tamping down on his anger, his voice low. “Who did you call a bitch?”
Hu-ge said nothing.
”If no one taught you how to behave, I’ll teach you.” Xie Yu kicked the pile of rubbish with the tip of his foot.
The few guys behind Hu-ge looked back and forth for a few moments, all seeing hesitation in each other’s eyes. Then, in unspoken unison, they turned and ran.
“Now we’re really finished. What should we do?”
The taller one asked as he ran, “Should we call the police?”
”Call the police, my ass!” the other one said. “If we do that, how can we do business here in the future?”
Gu Xuelan was taking afternoon tea when she got the call from the police station.
The woman removed her silk shawl. She wore a haute couture lace dress underneath, well-tailored to her curves and unspeakably elegant. Two dark flowers were discreetly embroidered at the hem of the skirt. Her ankles were slender and pale like bright jade.
Carefully styled long hair fell on either side of her face. She smiled as she listened to the rich women opposite her chatting about the winter fashions they had their eyes on recently, occasionally putting in a word or two: “Madam Chen, since you like it so much, maybe you could fly over and buy it…”
“Madam, a call for you.”
Gu Xuelan turned away. Her finger rested on the ceramic cup and she asked casually, “Who called?”
The person held up the phone, unsure whether or not to answer. After several seconds of hesitation, he bent at the waist to Gu Xuelan’s ear and said in a low voice only they could hear: “Po-police station. The second young master fought with someone and it was pretty serious. The other side is demanding that we pay the medical bills. Madam, what do you think we should do about this? Send someone to take a look?”
Gu Xuelan’s expression changed with a whoosh.