Chapter 21 – Pillar of Nature (1)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
No. 4 Bright Avenue isn’t a spider cave, nor is it a skeleton lair.
When it’s daytime, there is not a single shadow of a ghost.
The office has great natural lighting, each person has their own desk and desktop computer; the office is decorated with plants, and well air- conditioned. The pantry room has a fridge, and there is cat food and other snacks inside for everyone.
One time, Guo even saw an entire drawer in the fridge filled with thinly sliced raw meat, the kind used for hotpots. He wonders who would eat hotpot in summer, but he soon realises that the meat is for Zhu Hong, who takes a bag and eats it raw like potato chips; blood dribbling.
The next day, Zhu takes sick leave; reason: inevitable monthly problem.
Not the kind of problem everyone thinks. The third day, she comes back, and Guo is petrified to find her slithering around on a giant serpent tail. Zhu keeps eating raw meat for a few days, and after a while, her tail is replaced by normal human legs, and she eats humanly again.
There is another member in Chief Zhao’s investigations team besides snake beauty, fake monk, and black fatty catty. Half a month after the incident of the hungry ghost, he comes back after what looks to be an exhausting work trip. He spends an entire afternoon claiming work expenses, then falls asleep on his desk. Chief Zhao comes back and sends him home to have a rest.
Guo sees the name plate on his desk, which reads “Chu Shuzhi”; everyone calls him Big Bro Chu. But Guo is a bit frightened of him: he is around the same age as Lin; extremely skinny, with his cheeks almost sinking into his bones. He has a menacing and sombre face, and is always frowning.
Perhaps it’s Guo’s illusion, but Chu seems to frown even more when he sees the trainee.
There isn’t much work to do in general: only a handful of cases come in within a month, and the Chief usually just sends one or two in the team to take a look. Their principle is: “we catch ghosts not humans”. Since most of these cases aren’t involved with ghosts, all they need to do is a file a report and hand the case to another department.
Most of the time, everyone is reading books, surfing the web, chitchatting, and waiting to go home.
But Guo realises that there are quite a few procedures to follow when handling a case: first, send someone to the crime scene, then file a report to the Chief; the Chief will decide whether or not to take the case. If he decides to take it, he will file another report to the higher authorities; it usually takes one or two working days before the report goes through, and only then can the Chief and the team start working on the case.
That day in mid-July was one strange coincidence: it just so happens someone was killed by a ghost, and no-one was in office. Da Qing smelled something fishy from Hell, so the Chief had no choice but to investigate in person, and only got the chance to file all necessary documents afterwards.
Lin worked for three days just to file all the documents for this case.
And so Guo aimlessly stayed at the SIU for three months, during which not a single case came up; miraculously, he passed his trial period.
Even more miraculously, Zhao seems to have forgotten how annoyed he was initially at Guo getting in through his uncle, and quickly signed the papers for his official employment.
Guo slowly gets used to the empty human resources department during daytime, and takes his official employment form there for filing.
Da Qing looks at his enthusiasm intently, and wiggles its butt on to Zhao’s desk, “all men are fickle; at first you wanted to kick him out more than anything, but now you’re letting him stay for good.”
Zhao is focused on messaging, and says without looking up, “he has good virtue all over his body like words in a dictionary, treat him as a mascot, he will bring us good luck; plus, he’s quite hilarious to watch.”
Da Qing is curious, “what virtue?”
Zhao points at his drawer, and the black cat paws it open. Inside is a huge file holder, with documents, pictures of volunteer work, donation account books, etc.; having accumulated since a decade ago. There is a picture of a post card on the wall of a country-side primary school, and the post card reads with scribbly words: “take care guys.”
Da Qing is shocked, “you mean Guo Changcheng did all of this?”
“Yea, you know about his family, incredibly rich. But when he does these sorts of things he never lets his family know, and he uses up almost all his pocket money for charity and only leaves a little for himself. That’s how he accumulated immense virtue; I saw his aura the other day.”
“Oh… someone like that is hard to come by.” The black cat who seems to have gotten even plumper sluggishly dawdles away and peeks at Zhao’s phone, quickly changing the topic, “don’t you get tired? You message him like a million times a day, asking about unimportant stuff all the time. It’s been three months, and you’re still stuck in the ‘going out for lunch and dinner’ stage?”
Zhao sends the message, and flicks the cat on its head, “good things come from slow work, you don’t know cat about this.”
Shen’s reply appears on the screen: “sorry, I have a school gathering tonight.”
The black cat rolls laughing on the desk, “school gathering! School gathering! Ahahahaha, Chief, you can keep boasting about yourself; aren’t you the self- proclaimed invincible charmer? What do you usually say: that girls can’t stop staring at you, cute bottoms drool when they see you? You’ve been rejected, eh? Tell me, Mr Zhao Yunlan, how does it feel?”
Zhao grits his teeth, resisting the urge to have cat meat for dinner.
After the case of the hungry ghost, Zhao intentionally keeps contacting Shen; initially using his work as an excuse, always bothering the Professor with the tiniest progress on Li Qian’s case. Afterwards, he starts shamelessly making up all sorts of excuses to ask him out, but the Professor is incredibly difficult to get hold of: perhaps he’s really busy, or maybe he is avoiding Zhao on purpose.
Zhao is too used to the eager and desperate type: the more reserved, subtle and hesitant Shen is, the harder he tries.
Suddenly, the phone rings, and the nosy cat eavesdrops on the conversation: an unfamiliar voice asks nervously, “hi… is this Mr Zhao? You offered to buy my grandfather’s antique book, is that true?”
Zhao’s eyes sparkle, “yes, when can you get the book to me? I want it as soon as possible.”
The voice says, “It’s rather expensive, do you think…”
“I think there is no problem, pick a time to meet.” Zhao says like the rich and powerful.
The person on the phone seems very excited, and agrees to meet this afternoon; they only hang up after mumbling a few “you’re really an antique enthusiast”, “can’t believe I’ve met someone who values cultural heritage”.
Da Qing coldly says, “right, if charm doesn’t get you what you want, money should certainly do the trick. Chief, you’re really the epitome of a good-for- nothing rich spoilt brat. This poor book seller certainly doesn’t know you’re an idiot who’s only into action movies and martial arts novels.”
Zhao takes a cheque book and car keys, picks the cat up by the nape, and throws it out of his room.
The staff hears the door open; Chu raises his head from a stock market candlestick chart, and only manages to see a hurried shadow. Zhu sighs, “he’s out cruising again.”
In the evening, Zhao successfully tracks down the Professor at the university.
Shen sees his car, and his eyelids twitch; he lowers his head, pretends not to notice him, and rushes for the car park. Zhao hums a sweet little tune and slowly follows the Professor in his car. After a while, students who pass by are starting to grow curious, and Shen helplessly sighs as he knocks on the car window, “Officer Zhao, what brings you here?”
Zhao rolls down the window, wears a bright smile of sunshine and rainbows, and stuffs a big wooden box in the Professor’s arms, “this is for you.”
Shen lifts the lid, takes a glance, and returns the box, “no, this is too expensive, how can you…”
“Hey, listen to me first,” Zhao blocks him with his hand, and starts lying, “I have a friend, he is moving out of the country; he has a lot of antiques, and he doesn’t want them to go to waste, and I immediately thought of you. You’re the only person who knows how valuable this is, so please help my friend keep this.”
This smooth-talking jerk, he doesn’t even blink when he lies.
Shen only said a word, and Zhao starts firing away, “stop mumbling, aren’t we friends, aren’t friends supposed to help each other? I have somewhere to go, see you next time; help me keep it save, I will take you out for a meal this weekend.”
He steps on the gas, not giving Shen a chance to say a word, and rushes off.
Shen carries the heavy box that was forcefully stuffed into his arms, and watches his car speed away; a million emotions rush through his veins.
On the one hand his heart is softening, he really wants to give in and indulge himself just this once; on the other hand, he thinks of what a playboy Zhao Yunlan is, and imagines that he must have done the same things for countless others. Shen grinds his teeth, he really wants to lock him up and… but whether he is happy, or angry, he calms down and what can only remain is unbearable loneliness.
Shen knows that his meeting Zhao wasn’t a coincidence: someone is setting him up. And the living and the dead walk separate paths, for that someone’s own good… he better keep his distance.
The gift was delivered, and he even got a date out of it; Zhao relishes his own success, and whistles merrily.
There is no fun in being straightforward and explicit: Zhao especially doesn’t like the type who only has a great face and a big butt but no brains. Even when watching a strip dance, it’s the ones who never let you see everything that are the sexiest.
Zhao Yunlan thinks: a man with good taste can’t be satisfied with only vulgar and materialistic things; there has to be depth, and quality.
Shen Wei. Zhao looks at himself in the rear-view mirror with self- complacency and narcissism. He repeats the name in his heart.
That person is like a priceless antique porcelain vase; even if he can’t own it forever, putting it in his house for a few days is well worth the while.