Chapter 36: Humbert Humbert Three
TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee
“I love you. I am a pentapod monster, but I love you.” – Lolita
The stone benches were scattered around a lotus pond that had dried up long ago. Amid the mud and the withered leaves stood a copper statue, an abstract piece of art that no one could tell what it was. However, one side of the statue had been polished into a smooth and shiny surface, reflecting distorted images of the surroundings.
Just now, when Fei Du unthinkingly looked in that direction, he caught the reflection of something that resembled a pair of eyes.
After all, the statue was not a mirror. The reflection was very blurry and he couldn’t tell whether the prying eyes belonged to a man or a woman. For some reason, his heart twitched and the vanilla puff got stuck in the throat. He looked away calmly and tried to search for the whereabouts of that looming shadow––
This old residential area had no fences to separate it from the public streets. A couple apartment buildings were clustered here and there. Because of poor civil planning in the early days, a nearby bus stop brought in an overflow of traffic both of vehicles and pedestrians. People came and went, while some stayed to wait for their buses. Some street vendors took advantage of the hustle and bustle. It was close to lunch time, and lines were already forming in front of food trucks.
Consequently, the population here was quite mixed. Some were residents nearby strolling in their pajamas; some were passersby; some parked their car in the vicinity and used the park as a shortcut. Those who stayed longer were either eating lunch or waiting for their lunch. Delivery boys shuttled back and forth to take lunch and other goodies to their destination.
The owner of the eyes was very vigilant. He or she had quickly dissolved into the sea of people and was nowhere to be found.
Fei Du immediately stood up and said to Chen-chen: “Come. It’s time to go home.”
Chen-chen felt none of the peculiarity in the air. A bit disappointed at the shortened break from the “grown-ups”, she looked at the line of shops longingly. She came up with an idea while licking her fingers clean: “I still have some pocket money. Since you bought me a cream puff, let me buy you something too! Hmm…I feel like a matcha flavored one.”
“Another day perhaps,” Fei Du said softly yet firmly. He gave her a gentle push on the back of the head, “It’s time for lunch.”
Chen-chen got on her feet too: “But I don’t like having lunch. There are a lot of dishes that I don’t like.”
“Hmm…actually, same here.” Fei Du very frankly admitted his “Prince Disease” in front of the little girl. Then the convo took an unexpected turn: “But it’s fine. Once you grow up, you can be as picky as you want. No one will judge any more.”
Astonished at how thick-skinned adults could be, Chen-chen threw him a wordless stare. That was when she realized Fei Du’s unusual facial expression.
Children at her age were already half-teenagers. They started to see the world in their own ways, and could mostly pick up on adults’ expressions and undertones. Chen-chen originally thought that Fei Du was only kidding, but now she realized that his slight frown looked too serious for the topic.
As soon as she felt the tension, she became nervous too. She clung onto the side of his shirt: “Brother, what’s wrong?”
As they spoke, Fei Du and Chen-chen walked past an apartment building. The window on the first floor hallway was opened at an angle. Fei Du calmly and collectedly chaperoned the little girl and pretended to be occupied with their conversation. As they passed by the window, he suddenly looked up.
From the clear glass window, he caught the reflection of those shadowy eyes again!
The man wore sunglasses and a mask. His whole face was tightly covered. Fei Du grabbed Chen-chen by the shoulder and turned around abruptly. At the same time, around 600 feet behind them, someone plunged into the bushes and disappeared again. Fei Du only saw his gnarled torso and grey hair.
An old man?
Chen-chen had no idea what was going on. On tenterhooks, she looked up at him.
Through those cold glasses resting on his nose bridge, Fei Du cast an icy look at the crowd not far away. He asked: “Is there someone to escort you to and from school every day?”
“Y…Yes.” Chenchen murmured, “When my parents were home they would escort me. If they were away, my cousin would. And if she was at work too, I would stay at school for a while to wait for them. Our school has teachers in charge of the after-school activities.”
Pondering, Fei Du nodded, then asked: “Have you seen any strange old man around here lately?”
Chen-chen tried hard to recall, then shook her head with apprehension.
The two quickly walked into the apartment building. The old grey building blocked those prying stares from the shadows. Long after they were gone, a hunched-back old man slowly walked out from behind the bus stop placard.
His face was covered, his eyes behind a pair of giant dark glasses. The walking cane in his hand kept sweeping left and right and occasionally knocked on the floor as if he were a blind person.
People around him were mostly occupied with their phones. No one paid attention to his stumbling steps.
The shaded glasses were his perfect shields: Lights couldn’t penetrate them, but his greedy look could.
The look traveled through space and time and landed where the girl stood a while ago.
Her floral dress flickered like starlight. Her crystal hair pin highlighted her bright and pretty face. She became the only source of light in his world. As soon as her young and vibrant figure appeared in front of his eyes, it burnt through the pupils and left a tantalizing scar on the retina.
However, like most apples, this one was guarded by a horrid snake. He thought of the looks from the man beside her and quivered in the shade. Fear and lust swirled into a unique kind of excitement. He pursed those scorched lips, and leaned back heavily onto a tree trunk. His chest fluttered like crazy while his mind wandered into a breathtaking wilderness.
Like a drowning man plagued by drugs.
While they were gone, the elevator had been fixed. Fei Du entered the elevator after Chen-chen and pressed the 12th floor.
Chen-chen asked gingerly: “Brother, what was that?”
Fei Du balked, then decided to ditch the rosy cover story: “I saw someone suspicious –– be careful, especially when you are alone with other adults. Take good care of yourself.”
“I know. I’m going to graduate and enter middle school soon. It’s not like I’m a first-grader. ” Chen-chen used her “adult” voice and recited out loud: “Stay away from strangers; never eat anything from strangers. If a stranger asks for help, politely point him or her to the police…”
“It’s not just the strangers.” Fei Du lightly flicked her forehead, “Be careful with all the adults, even the familiar ones. Do not get into someone’s car alone. Do not stay with another adult alone –– like right now, you are alone with me. What if I were a bad guy?”
Chen-chen covered her forehead and looked at this self-proclaimed “bad-guy” in disbelief: “Hah?”
“Including your teachers. And the old grandpas and grandmas, regardless of how incapacitated they look. Understood?”
Chen-chen felt a chill down her spine. At that time, they had arrived at the 12th floor. As the wrought iron elevator doors slowly opened, she asked softly: “But why? Brother, I am a little scared.”
“It’s good to learn to fear, because beautiful things are like delicate china.” Fei Du blocked the elevator door with his hand, and gestured the girl to get out first, “To them, the most dangerous thing is not the running cat in the room.”
“Then what is it?”
Fei Du looked into the girl’s eyes, and replied gently: “It is ignorance about its own fragility.”
Luo Wenzhou was leaning against the wall by the electric box, waiting for them with a cigarette in between his lips.
“It takes half a year to buy a fuse?” Luo Wenzhou took out a screwdriver and a flashlight, “If you hadn’t returned, the fish in the fridge would have all broken out of prison.”
Chen-chen dashed into the room, as if running to take cover.
Fei Du took the screwdriver from Luo Wenzhou and adeptly opened the electrical box. After taking out the broken fuse, he twisted the old-fashioned fuse on both sides and attached it to the circuit. Then he gently tugged on it to ensure that it had been secured before pushing the gates back.
A beep came from the room behind them. Both the fridge and the AC came back alive. The whole process took less than a minute — Luo Wenzhou didn’t even get to light his cigarette.
Looking at Fei Du in surprise, Luo Wenzhou suddenly realized that the boy had grown into a man.
How he sees him is often polarized. When they were involved in a tit-for-tat, Luo Wenzhou thought Fei Du to be a dangerous scourge: ill-tempered, lawless, and always ready to explode. As soon as that mouth opened, it’d be asking for trouble.
But in rare moments of peace, he’d be reminded of that frail boy huddling in front of the large and lifeless house. Sometimes he would worry about him. Sometimes his worry went overboard –– a big-brotherly, pure and simple kind of worrying.
Now, perhaps thanks to Fei Du’s line-crossing flirtation in the elevator room just now, Luo Wenzhou suddenly was able to unite his contradicting views of him. The noise and bias canceled out and finally neutralized into something resembling objectivity –– Fei Du was neither a dangerous sociopath nor a pitiful little boy. He was, first and foremost, a man, and a very good-looking one at that. He was smart, keen, and always held a certain unapologeticly-faked prudishness around him. From head to toe, he smelt of, “Welcome to be my bed buddy.”
“If only he weren’t Fei Du,” Luo Wenzhou thought. If he were some stranger that he crossed on the street or in a bar, perhaps he’d consider him to be the alluring type.
But… why the presumption? Why the “if only”?
It was a rare moment of deep, value-of-life type thinking for Luo Wenzhou. It was so rare that he was noticeably absent-minded during the meal. Tao Ran’s dining room wasn’t big enough and many dishes couldn’t fit on the table. They had to bring each one from the kitchen and divide it up. Luo Wenzhou, while mind-wandering, accidentally placed a big chunk of “Cane Sugar Pork Shank” onto Fei Du’s plate. Then he quickly realized that the shank was, as Fei Du put it, “below the knee”. The young master would want none of it.
Luo Wenzhou froze for a second. Before he found his voice again, he saw Fei Du poking at the meat with the pointy end of his chopsticks. After twitching his brows and measuring up the shank, Fei Du reluctantly took it to his own bowl. His face looked like that of the patriotic Luo Yi-guo when it smelt imported foreign cat food.
Luo Wenzhou: “…”
Obviously, the so-called “no meat below the knee” or “respiratory problem” were nothing but hoops for him to jump through.
Besides the lot from the Bureau, both Fei Du and Chang Ning were talkative extroverts. They blended in quickly. Lang Qiao played it fancy and brought two bottles of wine. Except for the under-aged, everyone was poured a glass to celebrate Vice Captain Tao’s initiation to the regimen of “mortgage slave-dogs”.
Lang Qiao’s sensitive radar picked up on the strong “one-way signal” between Tao Ran and Chang Ning right away. In front of Chang Ning, she improvised a full-fledged “Vice Captain Tao Hymn”: Vice Captain Tao, the most hardworking and devoted police officer in town with a gentle heart and love for small animals, is credited for leading the charge against the “pain-in-the-butt” Captain Luo and protecting the weak and the poor from his unpredictable fury… Then, under Luo Wenzhou’s tight-lipped glares, Lang Qiao abruptly turned from work to personal life and made up an army of gorgeous pursuers out of thin air for Tao Ran. Tao Ran on the other hand could only fold hands and bow to this eager patroness to beg for her mercy on his reputation.
“Brother Tao is really patient.” Fei Du joined the conversation, trying to ease the awkwardness in the air, “When he becomes a dad, I’m sure he will be a role model for all the dads out there. I remember causing him lots of trouble when I was younger.”
Tao Ran waved his hand repeatedly, blushing from ear to ear.
Chang Ning looked at him curiously.
Fei Du continued after a sip of wine: “I lost my mom at a young age. Brother Tao was the officer on my mom’s case. Back then, my father was too busy to take care of me, so Tao Ran took me in for quite some time. Actually, I was already in my teens then, so I could have survived on my own. But he showed me what it was like to ‘make each day count’. Chang Ning, you probably won’t believe it, but this scruffy Tao Ran is actually super thoughtful and considerate when it comes to taking care of others.”
Chang Ning listened to the colleagues’ exaggerated yet sincere praises. One thing was certain: everyone that he worked with liked him. She turned to him and dropped a sweet smile.
Tao Ran never could handle much liquor. After half a glass, he was already tipsy. Now that the girl of his dreams was looking right into his eyes and smiling, he suddenly completely lost the capacity to think. Flustered, he started rambling: “No no no…actually… I wasn’t the only one taking care of little Fei Du back then. Everyone was concerned about you and wanted to help. Even my mentor, who heard about the case later, often asked about you… And that one…Wenzhou… Don’t be fooled by his appearance — he secretly went to check on you many times. He even bought the PSP for you and asked me to…”
As soon as Luo Wenzhou sensed that the conversation was going haywire, he kicked Tao Ran underneath the table. But it was too late.
What was left of Tao Ran’s sense of balance had now completely vanished. His whole body fell to the side and knocked over a cardboard box that was waiting to be unpacked.
Books, folders, and notebooks all fell out and flooded the floor.
Fei Du and Luo Wenzhou both froze at their corners of the table.
Lang Qiao heartlessly elbowed Luo Wenzhou and commented: “Seriously Boss? You did that? Awkward~~”
Luo Wenzhou: “….”
Then stop saying it out loud!
He could almost feel the weight of Fei Du’s stares. After a lame dry-cough, he got on his feet to help with the box.
“What a loser. You are too chatty when you’re drunk.” Luo Wenzhou stiffly changed the subject. He picked up a yellowing notebook and shook off the dirt: “Wait, aren’t these the old man’s notes?”
Before he finished, a pencil sketch fell out from the notebook. It was the face of a man. The man had common features and looked educated and refined. However, those eyes extended beyond the paper and carried a weird sense of suppressed gloom.
A date was marked on top of the portrait. It was from over 20 years ago. There were some scribbles on the corner too:
“Wu Guangchuan ––– the bodies of the six missing girls have not been found.”