The Public Security Bureau of B City, Black Water Town.
“You’re Xie Yu’s guardian?”
“I’m his mother.” Gu Xuelan stood in the police station, clearly out of her element. “Is he all right? Is he injured? How much are the medical bills? I’ll pay anything, as long as you can release him right away.”
The policewoman didn’t even raise her head. With a well-practiced movement, she plucked a piece of paper from a folder to her right and slapped it on the table: “Forget about that for now and fill out this form first.”
After a while the policewoman finished the work at hand, capped her pen, and looked up. “Your son’s quite something. One against five, and all the injuries he inflicted were internal. No one would notice they’re injured without a hospital examination. ”
Gu Xuelan froze, unsure how she should react.
The policewoman gave her a once-over and asked casually, “You two aren’t from around here, are you?”
Gu Xuelan said: “We… are from A City.”
This fighting incident of Xie Yu’s wasn’t serious. Although the guys who called the cops had blathered on about how their big brother had been bullied, held down on the ground, and violently beaten, the cops taking their statements all had their doubts.
They had received countless police reports and this was the first time they had met ‘victims’ like this: with multicolored mohawks, pierced ears and noses, reeking of smoke, and arms covered with loud tattoos—a black dragon on the left, a white tiger on the right. And the ID numbers they provided—after checking, the officers found out that they were all delinquent youth with a record.
“Everything you said here is the truth?”
“The truth, definitely the complete truth. Our big brother still can’t even stand up.”
So they turned their gazes back to the man with the hateful face and the gold “dog chain” around his neck. The man was clutching his stomach, muttering nonstop, “Hurts to death, ah you hey… bullying a decent man, now? Why are kids these days like that… hurts, hurts, hurts. Even hurts to talk.”
Gu Xuelan filled in the form and signed her name in the lower right corner.
The policewoman said, “Alright, wait here. Your son’s still giving his statement.”
Gu Xuelan clutched her purse. She didn’t want to tarry too long. “Still giving his statement?” She had immediately rushed over from A City after getting the call; it was a full two hours’ car ride away.
The policewoman looked at her: “The statements from both sides don’t match up.”
In the interrogation room.
Xie Yu repeated for the third time: “I didn’t hit him.”
In the past two hours—neither a long nor short time—Hu-ge had personally experienced the twists and turns of life, and what it was like to be utterly down on his luck. The brat in front of him, who was just in high school, had taught him a lesson—in shamelessness.
He sat opposite Xie Yu. The long table was quite wide and he slapped his hand on the table, yelling so loudly his shout almost tore through the roof: “—Fuck it all! Officer! He’s lying!”
The policeman wasn’t to be trifled with either. Working in the Black Water Street area, even the gentlest of personalities would be filed to a sharp edge. “Fuck what fuck? Sit down properly. What do you think you’re doing?! If you can’t, then get out. Did I say you could talk?”
Hu-ge reluctantly sat back down.
The policeman turned to look at the ‘fragile youth’ sitting opposite Hu-ge and his voice softened a fraction. “Xie Yu, was it? Don’t be afraid. With us here, he wouldn’t dare do anything to you.”
Xie Yu said, quietly and timidly and also politely: “Thank you, uncle officer.”
Hu-ge was so mad he almost leapt across the table to tear apart Xie Yu’s fake mask. “Don’t fucking put on an act! I’m the one who got beaten up! I’m the victim!”
The policeman slapped the table with a folder. “If you make any more noise you can get out! Look at how you’re scaring the kid!”
Xie Yu obligingly flinched, pretending that he was being frightened by the mafia. Although he wasn’t especially attentive to his acting, the effect was unmistakable.
Fake, it’s all fake! You’re blind!
Hu-ge internally screamed.
What kind of devil is he! So young and he already knows how to put on a sheepskin!
This is very clearly a damn wolf!
When Xie Yu left, night had already fallen. He hadn’t had to take any responsibility and had gotten off scot-free.
Under the embellishments of the wholesale market aunties, Hu-ge’s crimes were set in stone and his injuries were accepted as “only the devil knows who beat him up or where.” He had to pay five hundred bucks out of his own pocket and write a statement deeply reflecting on his activities, swearing never to bring trouble to the people of Black Water Street again, and promising to turn over a new leaf and start anew.
Hu-ge’s butt stuck up into the air as he lay on the table. A Xinhua dictionary lay beside his hand; when he didn’t know how to write a word, they made him look it up. They didn’t let him write in pinyin.
This was the most humiliating experience of his life.
When Xie Yu walked out, Hu-ge called out to stop him.
The police officer held a baton in his hand, fully prepared. He warned loudly: “Chen Xionghu! What are you trying to do?”
“I’m not trying anything. You’re right there holding me down. What can I do? I just want to say something to him.” Hu-ge eyed Xie Yu and asked, not giving up, “What street are you from?”¹
Xie Yu stopped walking and looked at him with a complicated expression which could be distilled down to, ‘looking at an idiot’.
Hu-ge repeated once more, not giving up: “What street exactly are you from?!” He felt that the underground forces behind this person were deep and unfathomable. He had to know which god he had offended this time; if he were to die, he wanted to understand why.
Under Hu-ge’s burning gaze, Xie Yu languidly opened his mouth: “Me? I follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”²
A familiar silver Bentley was parked outside the police station. Gu Xuelan sat in the car and her profile could be faintly seen through the window.
Xie Yu got in the car. “Mom.”
Gu Xuelan said nothing.
Xie Yu followed up: “Actually, you didn’t need to come over today. I know how to clean up.”
That Hu-ge—from the start, Xie Yu had known he was just posturing. A real villain wouldn’t keep blathering on proudly about how he’d ‘been to jail;’ more than that, a real villain wouldn’t have gotten drunk and only dared to go over to Guang Mao when it was temporarily deserted. Finally, he was even stupid enough to call the police himself.
Silence hung in the air. When the car had traveled some distance, Gu Xuelan said: “You still remember that I’m your mom? What did you come all the way out here for? Even the police said you weren’t the one who beat him up… it was you who beat him up though, wasn’t it.”
Xie Yu leaned back in the seat and said in an indifferent tone: “It was me who beat him up. Did I embarrass you?”
Gu Xuelan’s hand tightened its grip on the plush seat cover, her knuckles showing. After a pause, she said harshly, “Yes, you embarrassed me! If you know it’s embarrassing then stop doing these embarrassing things!”
In the front, the driver sighed and interceded: “Second young master, don’t talk back to madam. Madam was worrying about you the whole time on the way here. She was so afraid something had happened to you.”
Xie Yu wanted to say, don’t call me second young master. I’m not your Zhong family’s second young master.
Every time he heard those three words he felt thoroughly uncomfortable, like he was being forced to wear an ill-fitting outfit that wrapped around his neck so he couldn’t breathe.
Gu Xuelan calmed down and changed the subject. “I found several tutors for you. Starting tomorrow until school starts back up. Don’t go anywhere, just stay at home and study hard. You know best what your grades are like.”
Xie Yu said, “No need. My grades are just like that. Don’t waste your time.”
Gu Xuelan said, “I arranged for you to go overseas and you didn’t want to. You stayed in the country, but now look at what you do all day. Just like a pile of wet mud that can’t even be used to patch up a wall. Tell me, what are you going to do?!”
The car slowly entered the underground garage. This was a private bungalow surrounded by green hills and blue water. It had rained several days ago and the humidity hadn’t cleared. Wet air rushed toward his face.
Xie Yu opened the car door and got out, replying, “My own matters—I know what I’ll do about them.”
Gu Xuelan was infuriated beyond endurance by his attitude. The driver coaxed, “He’s in his rebellious phase. He’s a boy, it’s inevitable. Edges sharp enough to cut. My boy was like that before, too. After it’s over, it gets better. He’ll come around.”
Gu Xuelan sat in the car. She rubbed her temple and couldn’t say a word.
——You’re really something, Boss Xie. You said you’d come to see me and you went to the police station instead. I’m really so damn touched.
——Are you out of the station yet? Do you need the guys to come bail you out?
The message was from Lei-zi.
Xie Yu looked down and read his messages as he entered the house.
He was busy changing and didn’t have the time to type, so he just called instead.
At this time of day Lei-zi should still be helping out at the barbecue stall.
As expected, when the call connected it wasn’t Lei-zi’s voice that first reached his ear but an unknown voice saying, “Another ten sticks of lamb.”
“Coming right up, table three, ten sticks of lamb.”
Lei-zi pulled off his apron, bent at the waist, and slipped out the back door. “Boss Xie, are you all right? Are you home? Damn, this police station is so easy to get into. Your temper is just as explosive as it was ten years ago.”
Xie Yu had just taken off his t-shirt and his upper body was bare. “What could have happened to me? Also, find someone to keep an eye on that Gou-ge.³ I’m worried he’ll pester Aunt Mei again.”
“Gou-ge?” Lei-zi thought about it for a bit and came to a realization. “You mean that Hu-ge?”
Xie Yu: “Same difference.”
Lei-zi: “It’s a very big difference.”
Lei-zi kept asking, “You were always like that, couldn’t remember people’s names. Do you still remember my name?”
Xie Yu said, “Zhou Da Lei. What’s wrong with you?”
“Good that you remember. I keep thinking that with a personality like yours, you might really have forgotten.”
Lei-zi found a small plastic stool and sat down. He pulled a Chunghwa cigarette from his pocket and put it in his mouth before continuing, “Aunt Mei doesn’t need my protection. More like she protects me. At most I’m the little prince of a barbecue stall. She’s the one with the big reputation, the eldest sister of Black Water Street.”
Xie Yu sensed there was something between the lines. “What?”
“You left early so you didn’t see. Aunt Mei found someone and dug up all his history. All those things about going to prison and killing someone, it’s all hot air. He just stole something and was caught by the owner of the house on the spot… I think he won’t be able to go on ‘doing business’ in Black Water Street. How will the protection fees be nearly as good now?”
Xie Yu put his phone on his bed and prepared to change his pants.
Lei-zi kept talking. Maybe because it was lonely smoking alone, he suddenly grew thoughtful: “Thinking about it now, it was very good when the few of us were together. But I’m happy for you now, too. The Zhong family is doing so well in A City. A branch of the company has even reached B City. Ever since your mom took you with her when she married into the family… you don’t have to worry about food or the clothes on your back. You don’t have to keep running away from debt collectors like before, either.”
Xie Yu didn’t continue to take off his pants any more. He let go and fell onto his bed. The light hanging from the ceiling was so bright it was dizzying. He wasn’t sure if he was talking to Lei-zi or himself: “Is that so.”
It was noisy on Lei-zi’s end and he didn’t hear what Xie Yu said at all. He sucked in a final mouthful of smoke and got up: “Boss Xie, I won’t nag you any longer. Table three is waiting and, damn it, they dared to smash the table. Careful I don’t scoop out the ashes and rub them on his face…”
The call cut off.
Xie Yu lay on his bed in a daze.
A moment later he scratched his head and was about to get up and go to shower when he found a hard little square in his trouser pocket. When he pulled it out he saw it was a flyer—the flirtatious porn ad he hadn’t thrown away earlier.
Unexpectedly, the material it was promoting wasn’t pornography. He glimpsed three bolded words in big black font: Question King Tournament.
Xie Yu raised an eyebrow. This bait-and-switch tactic was quite novel.
He turned the flyer over.
On the other side was written: Here are the newest and most complete Olympiad questions, the most thrilling arena massacres. The questions encompass literature, mathematics, English, biology, chemistry, and physics. Over a hundred professors painstakingly wrote these questions. An addictive experience you’ll never expect. No such thing as most difficult. Only more difficult.
You! Will you be the long-awaited Question King?
Mysterious, isn’t it! Thrilling, isn’t it! Big brother~ ah~ come~
Xie Yu: ……
 ‘what street are you from’: which gang are you with
 ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’: Chinese communism
 ‘Gou-ge’: big brother Dog. He forgot Hu-ge (Big bro Tiger)’s name.