Chapter 33: Reading Out Loud
TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee
Over the weekend, the failed suicide attempt broadcasted on the Sky Screen kept fermenting online and finally built up to a fierce explosion on Monday morning. Before he made it out of the parking garage, Fei Du had already been cornered by two groups of reporters. It looked like he had turned into an Internet celebrity with the snap of a finger.
Inside his office, Director Fei pondered a bit over the situation with a half-cup of ‘London Fog’ that had turned cold and decided to make every dollar and every inch of his face worth it. He waved over the secretary and asked her to make a case out of the public exposure. The marketing department was to develop a special advertising campaign with the theme of ‘enterprise social responsibility’.
The secretary finished jotting down his wild idea and, on her way out, she seemed to have been biting her tongue for quite a while that she was on the verge of tears. Gingerly, she asked: “Director Fei … what you said on the sky screen… is it… real?”
“Hm?” Fei Du was skimming over his schedule. He looked up and replied with a half-mocking, half-pampering smile, “Of course not. There were suicide intervention experts prompting me backstage — They wouldn’t let me improvise under such circumstances. Wait, you seriously thought that it was real? So adorable…”
The redness in Miss Secretary’s eyes quickly blended in with the blushes on her cheeks. Spitting back at the mocking, she turned around and walked away.
“Um, wait.” Fei Du kept smiling, “Are there any business lunches or dinners today that require me to sell my handsome face?”
Miss Secretary, who just had her heart full of maternal love thrown to the dogs, replied with a big eye roll: “Nope. There has been no demand for this precious intangible asset lately.”
“Good.” Fei Du swiftly took off his suit jacket and shut his notebook, “I’ll be gone for the afternoon. Call me if you need me.”
Half an hour later, Fei Du escorted He Zhongyi’s mom out of the hospital and accompanied her to the YCPD (YanCheng Police Department).
After all, Wang Xiujuan had been very sick for a very long time, and she was not a young woman anymore. After experiencing such shock and agony, she was kept in the hospital for observation for the whole weekend. She had barely been discharged when she had to face her son’s body.
Just like that, a country boy’s death had yanked out an enormous drug-trafficking case that involved police officers as cover. The whole country was in shock. YCPD formed a special investigation group in collaboration with the Commission for Discipline Inspection and worked their heads off on the case day and night.
In comparison, the case of He Zhongyi’s killing was much lower in priority. Only Luo Wenzhou, Tao Ran, Lang Qiao, and a couple of other officers who were on the case from the beginning were involved in the wrap-up.
He Zhongyi’s body had been repaired and cleaned, looking less ghastly than when he was first discovered on the side of the street. There was a forced serenity on his face pieced together by the makeup artist.
Zhao Yulong and some other colleagues of He Zhongyi all volunteered to help. Ma Xiaowei also showed up under the surveillance of Xiao Haiyang and another police officer.
Zhang Donglai — under pressure or not, no one knows — also appeared midway through the funeral, wearing a rare solemness. Seeing that Fei Du was there helping Wang Xiujuan, he awkwardly adjusted his head and limbs and approached them. Nodding stiffly at Wang Xiujuan, he murmured: “Auntie, I really didn’t kill your son.”
Intimidated by his tall and bulky figure, Wang Xiujuan shriveled a step back.
Zhang Donglai searched frivolously for something else to say: “But I did hit him once …”
Fei Du threw him a cold and sharp look. Zhang Donglai rubbed his nose awkwardly and decided to shut up, gesturing a “please” to Zhongyi’s mother.
Zhongyi’s mother, Wang Xiujuan, was a very short and skinny woman. Each time Fei Du talked with her, he’d bend down to her level and use a soft, calm voice. He scolded Zhang Donglai with a look and spoke next to Wang Xiujian’s ear: “If you need, let me take care of the rest for you.”
Wang Xiujuan slowly shook her head. She let go of Fei Du’s hand and stumbled a couple steps forward. Suddenly, as if realizing something, she turned back: “Did my Zhongyi do something wrong? Did he do anything bad?”
Fei Du looked into her eyes. Moments later, he replied, gently but firmly: “No, Auntie.”
Zhao Haochang was very shrewd — he played with emotions and used disguises to the fullest. His story made it seem like society was a giant muddy pit, and he was the white lotus that blossomed there despite the filth.
However, thanks to Lang Qiao and others’ scrutinizing hunt for physical evidence, coupled with Luo Wenzhou’s tactical bluffing during the interrogation, the police were finally able to dig out some truth from Zhao and piece together a clearer story.
With as much hope as pressure, He Zhongyi left his small and remote village and arrived at Yan Cheng, a city of endless busy streets, dazzling sky-scrapers, and glamorous townspeople. He saw carefree boys and girls of his own age wandering on college campuses. Everyone on the street was fashionable enough for a photo shoot.
Yet there he was, a rootless newcomer living in the shadiest part of town. He went to work every day covered with mud and sewer smells, and came home to a street full of middle-aged slackers and young thugs from every imaginable nasty business possible.
Nonetheless, he lived his frugal life with care and hope, counting his spending and savings daily, scared to waste a single minute: the more he worked, the earlier he could pay back the debt and pay off his mother’s medical bills. From time to time, he would let his imagination roam free and picture himself finally settling down in this city.
His childhood role model, Brother Fengnian, also lived in this city. Although he promised Brother Fengnian – and he planned to keep the promise – not to tell anyone about his existence, Zhongyi still couldn’t resist the temptation to get closer to him. Brother Fengnian, on the other hand, couldn’t wish to stay further away. Zhongyi thought it must be because of how poor he was. Who could have had it easy in such a daunting city? Of course, no one wanted to be associated with a poor relative that always needed help. So Zhongyi kept this fragile connection to the bare minimum with just occasional greetings. At the same time, he was always saving, saving, and saving.
Occasional greetings were necessary even if one despised them: since he still owed him money, then under no circumstances would it be fine for him to simply ‘disappear’.
Finally, he saved up 20 grand – barely enough for a good bottle of wine in the eyes of those rich playboys, but already the biggest saving in his life. He had to hide it very carefully — because where he lived, there was always someone looking. It was best to return the money sooner than later, he thought. However, Brother Fengnian was too hard to find so he had to try Zhang Ting – he had seen the girl by his side once.
He Zhongyi gathered all his courage, stammering to ask the whereabouts of Brother Fengnian. Never did he expect that his sudden appearance and ‘weird’ murmurs scared Zhang Ting. An eager and groveling stranger might not be scary, but a wretched and shabby one definitely was.
The girl’s overreaction got him beat up. Yet the beating aside, what shocked Zhongyi was how that man arrived with her brother, but stood there and watched. No, not quite. He calmly interfered and comforted the girl, but he never looked Zhongyi as if they were complete strangers. At that moment, He Zhongyi finally admitted to himself that Brother Fengnian really wanted nothing to do with him.
They were not relatives. They were not friends. Zhongyi realized that he was nothing more than a speck of mud on his otherwise spotless shirt that was hard to wash off. He gave him a new cell phone afterwards. So what?
“Perhaps I should disappear from his life altogether after settling the debt with him,” thought Zhongyi.
One time during a delivery job, he noticed Brother Fengnian and his friends talking and laughing nearby. This time, he stayed away. But he still overheard that they were going to a place called “Chengguang Residence” for a housewarming party.
He Zhongyi’s body was carried out, covered with white cloth. Wang Xiujuan could no longer hold herself together. Eyes blood-red and knees trembling, she collapsed onto the floor. Others rushed over, trying to help her up.
Cloudy tears poured through and soaked her foggy hair. She grabbed someone’s sleeve: “I taught him to be kind to others, and to be an honest person. Did I teach him wrong?”
No one could answer the question. There was only silence.
Wang Xiujuan was not fully literate and could hardly understand the testimonials or the expert reports. Tao Ran waited until she was a bit calmer before sitting her down and explaining the documents to her quote by quote. Wang Xiujuan nodded blankly after each line.
She didn’t wail. She only wept silently in the corner with unending tears.
Zhang Donglai scuffed to Fei Du hesitantly, scratching his head: “Sir Fei, Tingting asked me to ask this… the heck… My uncle got transferred because of this shit. They made him resign to the second tier early… Jeez… Did my family trip on the Taisui or what?”
Fei Du stayed a couple steps away, tending to Wang Xiujuan. Suddenly, he asked: “Did you find your gray tie?”
Zhang Donglai was blank for a second: “What?”
“Never mind. The tie is with the police now,” said Fei Du. “He Zhongyi – the victim – his blood and your fingerprints are on it. Someone found the tie in your car and reported it to the police.”
Zhang Donglai was completely dumbfounded that he forgot to close his mouth for quite a while. When his rusty mind finally caught up, he stiffly brushed away a part of his low-hanging bangs and dropped a terse comment: “F*ck!”
Fei Du patted his shoulder: “Tell Tingting to stop asking. End it before it’s too late.”
“Wait a minute…” Zhang Donglai fretfully waved his hand, feeling more dizzy and confused, “You mean that… that guy, he stole my tie to kill people and then tried to plant it on me? Is this what you mean?”
Fei Du made no comment.
“Are you freakin’ serious right now? I was more than friendly to him… that Zhao Haochang… How in the world did his little firm get ahold of your company? Thanks to me! When Tingting brought him home, my parents did not have a single complaint. They treated him like a real son-in-law – How the hell did I cross him?”
Fei Du pondered a bit, and answered: ” You were breathing.”
Zhang Donglai: “…”
Zhang Donglai exploited his limited brain space but still couldn’t wrap his mind around it. He muttered: “Impossible… How could it be…? Is that Luo Wenzhou guy good? I mean, how could he…”
“If that Luo Wenzhou guy is no good, it’d be you who’d be locked away and waiting to be tried now,” said Fei Du.
Meanwhile, Luo Wenzhou had strolled behind the two since god knows when. He poked Zhang Donglai: “Learn the lesson, Master Donglai.”
Zhang Donglai had always been a little afraid of him. Seeing Luo Wenzhou made his stomach twitch. Now caught talking behind his back, Zhang Donglai was startled speechless and slipped away as fast as he could.
Luo Wenzhou slowly moved next to Fei Du and stood there with his hands behind his back, staring at the mother’s heart-wrenching farewell: “Where will she go next?”
“The executives of Jin Mao Tower wanted to take advantage of this case’s publicity,” Fei Du explained. “They proposed to set up a fund for ‘The elderlies from the countryside who lost their child.’ They’ve already announced the plan to the public. This should be able to cover her living and medical expenses for the future. But…”
But money cannot buy back life.
Others could support her financially, yet no one could bring her son back to her.
“Well,” Luo Wenzhou slid out a couple pictures from the folder underneath his arm, “Let me show you something.”
What’s on the photo was a pen resting in a clear plastic bag. Even through the camera lens, one could tell about the pen’s high-end quality. Carved on the cap was the character “Fei”. “It’s one of Zhao Haochang’s collections. Look familiar? Is it yours?”
He was expecting to get a little surprise from Mr. Fei. However, Fei Du only spared a glance and said: “Oh, so he has it. I lost it last Christmas.”
Luo Wenzhou: “…”
It was the exact same date as what was found on Zhao Haochang’s record. An outsider would’ve concluded that Fei Du had given the pen to him.
“When I can’t find something, I recall my mental state before and after, and usually that’d remind me of where I put it.” Fei Du shrugged, “If not, then it could only have been taken by others – but since many guests and crew came in and out of my office that day, I didn’t want to make a scene. So I didn’t mention it to anyone.”
Luo Wenzhou asked: “Don’t you want to know what the tag says?”
Fei Du shrugged again. His eyes stopped on what was behind the pen – the angle of that picture revealed a corner of Zhao Haochang’s floor lamp in the basement. The specimen-like tree lamp glowed silently, like gazes casted from a faraway space-time, forever staring at the young man who had changed his identity that year.
“Not really.” Fei Du said, “No need to give it back after the trial either. It’s got a burnt smell. I don’t want it anymore.”
After taking care of Wang Xiujuan, Fei Du left the police department alone, without saying anything or telling anyone. He drove straight out of the city.
It was barely dusk. The sky looked a bit cloudy. The cemetery was filled with tombstones and their shadows, occasionally greeted by wandering scarecrows. The wetness of the soil seeped through the ground, bringing the breaths of the passed to the living.
Fei Du brought a Lili bouquet and stopped in front of a slightly worn tombstone for the seventh year. The lady on the tombstone was pale and sad, looking at him with a pair of unfading eyes. She was beautiful, but in a very fragile and delicate way.
Fei Du looked back at her for a little while before he pulled up his sleeves and started wiping the tombstone gently with a handkerchief. Then, he kissed his two fingers and pressed the kiss onto the stone. For the first time, he smiled in front of her with a hint of relief.
It was as if he had finally pushed out the coffin that was resting on his chest and placed it into the empty tomb. It’s been settled.
Luo Wenzhou waited until Fei Du left before finally sneaking in. He put down a small bunch of white daisies and bowed to the woman on the stone.
After conversing silently with her for a little while, he was ready to be on his way. All of a sudden, something cold fell on his face – some rain cloud came from nowhere and started pouring over the countryside.
Luo Wenzhou didn’t bring an umbrella. He frowned at the inconvenience, raised an arm to shelter his face, and was just about to dash into the rain when suddenly he realized something dark shading him: Fei Du returned for some reason, and was holding an umbrella over Luo’s head with a perplexing look on his face.