Chapter 34: Humbert Humbert One

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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For lack of a better analogy, at that moment Luo Wenzhou felt like the Zhao Haochang whose secret at the Fengqing Winery just got busted. Struck by lightning and with no room for denial, he was caught on the scene — the cute white flowers were still basking in the rain.

Luo Wenzhou mumbled: “I…er…actually…I was just stopping by on the way.”

On the way to where? If so, our mighty Captain Luo could only possibly be running away to North Korea.

Before Fei Du started mocking him, Luo Wenzhou realized that his excuse was so bad that it was almost “Zhang Donglai-ish”. 

Even if his skin was as thick as the Great Wall, it couldn’t have possibly fenced off Fei Du’s razor-sharp looks. Luo Wenzhou was quite embarrassed and tried to avoid making eye contact. He forced some casual chats and was eyeing for an opportunity to sneak away.

“You two go on,” said Luo Wenzhou. “I’ve got work tomorrow. Peace out.” He stepped out and was about to run into the rain. The next moment, that large black umbrella followed like a shadow.

Fei Du didn’t move his body — he only slightly extended the arm that was holding the umbrella. In no time, his other shoulder was soaked. A light mist enshrouded him.

“So the flowers were from you?” he asked softly.

For seven years, Fei Du came to the cemetery on his mothers’ death anniversary. Sometimes, when he was a little late, he would see a small bunch of tasteless white flowers. The cemetery was an open space where many people come and go, and the gatekeeper wasn’t much help in naming the secretive visitor. 

It looked like the visitor meant no offense, so Fei Du didn’t mind. He thought of many possibilities, and none of them came even close to Luo Wenzhou. 

“Yup.” Luo Wenzhou admitted very awkwardly, then, trying to change the subject: “Just a courtesy. Um… I thought you were gone already?”

Fei Du replied with an even more perplexing look: “How did you know that I was gone?”

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

Great. He now completely understood the feeling of Zhao Haochang when he let the truth slip out.

Fei Du casually shoved the umbrella in his hand and bent down to pick up the scarf that had fallen by the tombstone: “I forgot to take this.”

Luo Wenzhou was “appointed” to carry out umbrella duty by the young master. It felt wrong to abandon the post, but staying just meant more awkwardness. Thus, he ended up reluctantly following Fei Du while pretending to be admiring the surrounding scenery.

The pictures of the dead were lined up around them, some solemn and some friendly, but they all greeted them with stares. The heavy rain seemed to have formed a curtain connecting the heather sky with the rolling hills far away. The squirrels all returned to their tree trunks. Luo Wenzhou scanned around and finally admitted that the only living being to look at was the one next to him within the tiny umbrella-shaded space. 

To his surprise, this living being was quite pleasant to look at — so long as he didn’t glaringly belittle law and order. A tall and slender young man, Fei Du wore a finely-ironed dark grey shirt that day which got wet on one side of the waist. The wet shirt gently hugged his waist and, to someone with a taste in men, it was almost flirty. Very pleasant to look at. 

Suddenly, Fei Du turned around. His eyes caught those of Luo Wenzhou, and the latter lost a heartbeat. But Luo Wenzhou quickly calmed down and snatched his wandering mind back to earth. After clearing his throat, he said: “Can I have a word with you? Brother to brother.”

Fei Du finally gave that usual fake smile again: “Cap Luo, are you always so brazen?”

The familiar mock from Fei Du somehow broke the awkwardness in the air and made Luo Wenzhou feel more at ease. He pointed at the steps beneath the tombstone: “Let’s wait here. It’s not safe to take the mountain road back to the city in this weather.” 

Fei Du made no comments, but sat down as told. 

Holding the heavy carbon umbrella, Luo Wenzhou felt like a large blooming mushroom. He turned and slightly nodded at the women on the tombstone, and then sat down next to Fei Du. 

Fei Du usually gave the impression — at least to Luo Wenzhou — of something delicate but cold, just like the metal-framed glasses that he occasionally wore. 

However, now that they were trapped under the same umbrella, Luo Wenzhou was surprised at how warm this man’s body actually was.

The summer rain quickly washed away the steaming heat and left behind cold and wet air, which made the man’s body seem even warmer.

“I sometimes would visit this place.” Luo Wenzhou started, “After all, it was the first murder case that I was involved in.”

Fei Du asked: “So it left a deep mark and you couldn’t let it go?”

“Yes.” Luo Wenzhou nodded quickly, and then fell silent for quite a while. Then he added, “But it wasn’t your mother that I couldn’t let go.”

Fei Du didn’t mind: “I’m sure Cap Luo has seen all kinds of bodies. Of course…”

Luo Wenzhou interrupted him: “It was you.”

Fei Du’s sentence was choked off, and he almost choked himself. He turned around and looked at Luo Wenzhou to see if he was going nuts.

Luo Wenzhou didn’t realize that he was misunderstood. He was rubbing the umbrella handle slowly with his fingers, staring at the flat stony steps in front: “I remember the weather wasn’t very good that day. Tao Ran and I were calling for instructions from the senior officers while rushing to your house. We didn’t know if it was a murder, and the killer could have been close by still. Since you refused to leave the scene, we were worried for your safety.”

Fei Du seemed a bit moved. His fake smile faded.

“When we finally arrived, you were sitting on the front steps of your house, just like that.” said Luo Wenzhou, “You heard our footsteps and looked up. I could never forget that look.”

 It was a look drenched with pleading and hope, although the young boy’s manner was restrained and aloof.

“You reminded me of a story that my mentor once told me about.”

“It happened when he was still young. You probably weren’t even born yet… There was a big case of missing children. One by one, they went missing, all were girls around 10 years old. They got off school like every other day, but they never returned home — it was as if they disappeared into thin air. Back then, technology was very limited, and no one had even heard of DNA testing. To identify a body, we could only rely on blood type and the information about the victim provided by family and friends. It remained an outstanding case, and none of the six missing girls were found, not even their bodies. One of the victims’ fathers couldn’t take it anymore and lost his mind, literally.”

Fei Du did not interrupt. He sat there and listened quietly.

“He came to the police station at least a hundred times for updates. But there was nothing. Other cases piled up and every single one demanded attention. With this one getting stuck for so long, the police resources gradually shifted elsewhere. They sent a senior officer who was good with his words to explain to, and to some extent, to get rid of the clingy old man. That officer was my mentor. He very much felt the man’s pain and offered all his patience and ears. He tried persuading him to look forward, not backward. He tried to persuade him to have another child or adopt one if possible. However, that wasn’t what he was looking for. The father never gave up on the case and went investigating on his own. A couple months later, the father told my mentor that he had nailed down the suspect.”

Luo Wenzhou paused and turned to look into Fei Du’s eyes. 

Their shapes still vaguely resembled those in his memory, but what was inside had completely changed. Since when did they start looking indolent and indifferent? Sometimes, even when he was wearing his courteous gentleman mask and smiling at others, those eyes weren’t even focused on anything. They were instead cold and aloof. There was no trace of the sincere, headstrong, and almost impulsive young man anymore.

Perhaps those crystal eyes only existed in Luo Wenzhou’s mind. Perhaps they were nothing but his hallucination. 

He was lost in his thoughts and staring for a little too long. Fei Du interrupted it with a tease. “Please, Cap. With your age and experience, you should’ve known this… Don’t you realize that you’re asking for a kiss with that look?” 

And experienced as he was, Luo Wenzhou wasn’t easily abashed. He coolly replied: “Don’t you worry. Not with you, little brat.”

Another war was underway, and they both felt the tension. Yet this time they were trapped under the same umbrella without Tao Ran’s helpful interference. So, with much self-control to act sensibly, they both decided to shut up.

Quite a while later, Fei Du finally broke the silence. With a half-raised eyebrow, he asked impatiently: “What does the case have to do with me?”

“My mentor described his eyes to me. They were like a cold cave lit with two burning stacks, fueled by a yearning soul and a glimmer of hope. When I first saw you, you reminded me of these words somehow.”

Fei Du’s half-raised brow was fully raised now. He sneered: “Must have been your poor eyesight or wild imagination. And then?”

“The suspect he gave was a well-respected middle school teacher with a speckless reputation. He even had a dozen awards for his good work ethic and for doing charity work.” Luo Wenzhou said, “Although it seemed crazy, my mentor still investigated that.”

Fei Du asked: “In private?”

“The suspect was a teacher. If the fact that he went under police investigation for the missing children case leaked out, even if he were fully innocent, his reputation would have been smeared, and his normal life would be gone forever. So my mentor could only secretly carry out the investigation. But nothing useful came out. At that time, my mentor was more convinced that it was probably just the father’s obsession, and he stopped spending more time on it. But soon after… a murder case broke out. The father poked the teacher in the guts and killed him.

“Hah,” joked Fei Du. “You can rest assured that I won’t do the same. I’d more likely pay someone else to do the killing.”

Luo Wenzhou didn’t reply to his provocation. “But what’s appalling was that the police later found clothing that belonged to the missing girls in the teacher’s basement, together with another girl who passed out down there.”

Luo Wenzhou paused, and took a long, long breath. He thought of what his mentor repeatedly cautioned him: “If someone looks at you that way, it means that he has very high hopes in you. No matter what the outcome is, do not let it down.”

Fei Du listened to a startling story but wasn’t startled one bit. He asked, curiously, “You had a mentor?”

“Back when I was just starting out, yes. We all had a senior officer as a mentor.” Luo Wenzhou added, “I don’t know if Tao Ran mentioned this to you, but he died a couple years ago while fighting a suspect.”

Fei Du pondered a bit: “Was it three years ago?”

“How do you know?”

“Because I don’t remember hearing about it,” said Fei Du. “Three years ago I was caught up in dealing with my father’s car accident. That was the only period when I didn’t contact Tao Ran that much.”

A question suddenly emerged from god-knows-where, and before he knew it, Luo Wenzhou had already let it out: “Do you really have a crush on Tao Ran?” 

Fei Du was in a very relaxed pose, with his legs casually crossed and fingers resting on his knees. He smiled back and asked half-jokingly: “What now? Tao Ran’s almost married and you still want to duel with me?”

Luo Wenzhou chuckled. He suddenly felt a sense of relief, as if the long history of bickering between him and Fei Du had faded away with the smile. He sought for his cigarette case, then remembered Fei Du’s allergy and suppressed the urge. But before he put down his hand, Fei Du spoke again: “Go ahead.”

Surprised, Luo Wenzhou asked: “Your respiratory problem..?”

Fei Du shrugged: “Nah. I was just trying to give you a hard time. “

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

A son of a b**** after all.

He held back the swearing, given the surroundings. Instead, he threw a punch at Fei Du’s shoulder. To his surprise, Fei Du was a real “gentleman”, too “gentle” for such a sudden attack. He lost balance at once. Rushing to catch himself, Fei Du had to sacrifice one hand into the mud. 

Luo Wenzhou obviously didn’t plan to apologize. Worse, he found it quite amusing and started laughing out loud.

Fei Du was speechless: “……”

What a savage.

It was a rare, peaceful moment between the two. The rain gradually died out, and Luo Wenzhou handed the umbrella back to Fei Du: “Tao Ran’s new apartment is almost done with the remodeling. He’ll finish moving over the weekend, and there’ll be a house-warming party. Come.”

Fei Du didn’t respond; he only stared back with a poker face. Luo Wenzhou felt that Fei Du was, to some extent, a lot like his cat Luo Yiguo: no matter what crazy shit was happening out there, they would always be able to stay out of it and stay cool, minding their own business. Luo Wenzhou found this analogy quite funny. Wearing a wide smile, he dashed into the drizzle.

Finally, all of the truth had been unveiled. Seemingly.

The wrap-up was quite smooth. With Wang Hongliang and his culprits’ testimony, the police had completely cleared up He Zhongyi’s suspicion in drug involvement. As for that mysterious text message, no one was able to trace its origin. 

Together with the two pinhole cameras discovered near the scene, they were all considered part of another great act of the “Best Lead Actor” Zhao Haochang, even though he firmly denied it.

After a couple days in jail, Ma Xiaowei was about to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility, together with Wu Xuechun. They were ready for the next chapter of life. 

Luo Wenzhou went to see them go. At his departure, Wu Xuechun stole a deep and perplexing look at him. Wenzhou gave her a light nod and rubbed Ma Xiaowei’s newly-shaved kiwi-like head: “You’ve survived the worst part of the storm, and I’m sure something good will follow. Now you be good and be smart!” 

After the car vanished, Luo Wenzhou lit a cigarette by the street and sighed. At least for now, he had to temporarily put aside the two unexplained pieces of the puzzle — they had been sticking in his throat like a stubborn fishbone. Was the death of Chen Zhen really an accident, just as Huang Jinglian had insisted? And how in the world would this wary and untrusting Uber driver decide and manage to blow the whistle under Wang’s scrutiny?

Besides, shouldn’t he be worried that those up at the top were from the same pack of scums? 

The answers just might’ve been buried forever with Chen Zhen’s death. 

Ma Xiaowei could still feel the warmth from that young officer’s palm on his head. He silently sat in the car and watched the billboards fly by. 

At a stoplight, he noticed that the window on the adjacent car was lowered by a slit, and a cellphone screen flashed. The screen was protected by some kind of screener and could only be seen from a certain angle, which happened to be the angel from Ma Xiaowei’s seat. He peeked at the screen and felt a chill down his spine: “Well-done.”

Before he was able to see the hand holding the phone or the face behind it, the window was rolled up, and the car departed to a different direction at the next crossing.

A week later, Fei Du officially ended his many years of psychological counseling sessions and Tao Ran moved into his new apartment — finally a place that really belonged to him in this city. A large group of colleagues went to attend the housewarming party. 

The apartment was… okay-looking, for a very old and outdated building that had been dressed up for resale. 

“Cap Tao, you should consider putting an antique clock right here, at the entrance. Hang it from the wall like those ones in the old European train stations, you know? You can check the time on it, AND it’ll look really chic… And over in the corner you can hang some succulents in glass eco-balls. Pair that with a whole set of Mori-style cookware…”An ardent fan of home make-over shows, Lang Qiao had been inspecting every corner of the apartment to contribute her “two cents” ever since she arrived. When she bulged into the kitchen, she was surprised at the sight of Luo Wenzhou commanding the kitchen. Luo Wenzhou faced away from her and was putting together some sauce in the pan. In shock, Lang Qiao exclaimed: “My my…look who is the chef today!” 

“Who did you expect? Your Cap Tao? You want to have an instant ramen meal?” Luo Wenzhou threw her a cold-shoulder, “You, move away if you can’t make yourself useful here.”

Lang Qiao hurried back out and stayed by the kitchen door. The sauce was poured onto some steamed dish and hot oil was poured on top. Instantly, a tantalizing, mouth-watering aroma filled the whole room. Lang Qiao sneaked over to steal a bite but was cut off by Luo Wenzhou, who, even while facing away and tending to the last main dish, still kept his eyes open on his back.   

Lang Qiao asked: “Then why did you always eat at the cafeteria at work?” 

“As opposed to?” Luo Wenzhou fluently diced the onion and tossed the pieces into the boiling pot of curry chicken, “Go home and cook a table-full, then eat it with the cat? I am not crazy, thank you.”

Lang Qiao’s eyes lit up: “Right! You have a cat! Boss, you are really the sweetest work-mate. Let me see the meow-meow kitty pie! PLEEEEASE….”

“Speak proper Chinese, will you?” Luo Wenzhou took out his phone while turning down the heat for the curry. He opened the pet-surveillance app: “Help yourself. He might not be in his cat bed though. When will you young people stop worshiping cats and do something productive with your time…”

Lang Qiao religiously took his phone with both hands. The moment she was connected, a giant cat face filled the screen.

Luo Yiguo stared at the surveillance camera for quite a while as if he really saw something interesting in there. Then, the “master” leaped onto the windowsill and started butchering the orchids there in broad daylight in front of his audience. 

Luo Wenzhou accidentally witnessed the whole process of the nibbling and scratching. He watched as pot was thrust on to the ground and broke into eight pieces. 

Lang Qiao: “…”

A cat with character, just like its master. 

She handed back the phone sheepishly: “Um… My condolences…?”

As the man of the house, Luo Wenzhou felt the urge to be a runaway for a second.

At that moment, Tao Ran stuck his head in: “Did Fei Du say whether he’d stop by? Can he find the place?”

Luo Wenzhou looked down from the kitchen window and saw the large and flashy SUV parked downstairs. The other “Yiguo” had already arrived. His nerve twitched: “He’s here. I saw his car.”

It was custom to bring a small gift when attending house-warming parties around town, usually a small household appliance or something useful to the host. Fei Du thought of the sesame-oil-flavored instant coffee machine at the Bureau and decided to buy a high-end all-in-one coffee brewer. 

The packaging was almost three feet high, and was quite heavy. Master Fei obviously rarely did any blue-collar physical work. This time, for the sake of Tao Ran, he carried the thing into the elevator room… only to find a broken elevator and a couple old men sitting around who went dog walking earlier and were too old to take the stairs. 

Baffled for a little while, he finally realized what was going on and took out his phone: “Ge, which floor are you on?”

“Twelfth,” said Tao Ran lightheartedly in the phone. “The elevator is broken today though. You might need to take the stairs.”

Fei Du: “…”

He looked at the gigantic box. 

F**k.

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