Chapter 39: Humbert Humbert Six

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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The house was way too big for its own good. There wasn’t enough vitality to fill those vacant halls, so they stank of lifelessness and gloom.

It was a gloom too thick to be chased away by the sunshine or fresh flowers.

He stood at the entrance hall, hesitating.

In theory, this was his home. But whenever he set foot on the immaculate entrance – when he faced the roomful of sunlight shone through those giant French sash windows – his heart would be filled with dread.   

Suddenly, faint music seeped through from upstairs: a melodious female soprano was softly singing. His mind drifted. Then, as if sensing what was coming, he slowly walked towards it.

Strangely, the sunlight that kissed his skin felt damp and cold – not at all like any ordinary sunlight, but instead resembled the hauling wind of a summer storm. It blew over his bare arms that were exposed by the short-sleeved school uniform and left him with goosebumps.

He walked to the second floor. The music became louder and clearer. The familiar melody took him by the throat and choked off the air. He suddenly felt a gushing urge to just turn around and run away. 

However, when he turned, he realized that everything behind him had already melted into the darkness. There was no other way but the one forward. Everything seemed to have been set up and set in stone long ago.

The inescapable darkness engulfed him, forcing him up the narrow staircases to open that door— 

“Boom!” Something must have exploded right beside his ears. He looked down and saw the woman falling on the floor.

Her neck was twisted at a weird angle. Her skin showed a tinge of blue. Her eyes were wide open — as if the soul was still alive despite the lifeless body.

The woman stared straight at him. Strings of red tears lingered on her cheeks. She accused him, “Why didn’t you help me?”

His breath escaped him, and he tried to back away.

The woman struggled to stand up and reached out to him with her livor mortis-covered arm: “You knew it all along. Why did you avoid me? Why didn’t you help?”

The wuthering darkness caught her reaching hand, dragging her down and burying her up mercilessly. She cried, screamed, and accused him, reaching for him again and again, but each time she was pulled back by the darkness.

His sense escaped him as well. He subconsciously reached and took her by the hand — that cold and speckled hand. Amidst the howling and the screeching, he felt that he was falling, down and down into the heart of the abyss. Suddenly, something grabbed him from behind. His back felt a strong and warm body. A pair of arms circled him. A hand moved up and covered his eyes.

He caught a whiff of tobacco from that large and slender hand. In the next second, a flash of light cut through those fingers and then, an explosion—  

 

Fei Du woke with a start.

He was sitting in his own study, flipping through a rather boring project proposal and he had fallen asleep midway.

It was somewhere in the afternoon. Misty wind galloped through the window. Thick clouds gathered out in the sky, scheming for a large storm. Those rumbling noises and sporadic blinding lights in his dream turned out to be the thunder and lightning. The cell phone kept ringing beside him. There had already been three unanswered calls — no wonder he kept hearing that music in the dream.

Fei Du took a deep breath and then got on his feet to close the window. With his other free hand, he picked up the phone: “Yes?”

Zhang Donglai’s rowdy voice filled his ear: “C’mon, Mr. Fei. Isn’t it a little too early in the day to be banging hot chicks and ignoring your brother’s phone calls?”

“The thunder was too loud. I didn’t hear it.” Fei Du’s head was still a bit heavy. He rubbed his temple: “What’s up?”

“The sun is up, the storm is up. Babe, won’t you come out and play?!”

Fei Du stood by the window. The air outside was so damp that you could almost squeeze water out of it. The plants on the window frame were weighed down, bending their heads. “Where the hell to in this damn weather?”  

Zhang Donglai said, “There is this new off-road racing place up by the Xiling reservation. I heard it was damn awesome. They put together a “death track” and it’s only open during sick weather– the sicker the better! What did people say… dear storm petrel, let the storm rage on!”

Those words seemed to have brought the mud and crud right into Fei Du’s auricle. He replied frigidly, “You’re asking for trouble.” 

“Listen to yourself! You sound like a lame old man. What is a man’s pursuit of life after having seen the best and tasted the finest? What else is there besides askin’ for trouble?” Zhang Donglai lectured shamelessly, “Alright if you don’t want to race, so be it. But you’ve got to show up…let me tell ya…they built a clubhouse by the race tracks and invited a troupe of musicians and artists over. There are all kinds of beauties here, every type you could think of: the classy chic, the hipster violinist…anyways…far higher level than those plastic faces at the other clubs. I think it will suit your peculiar and picky taste very well. Trust me, you do not want to miss this… Come on! Stop whining over that old man already—  Didn’t he just go on a date with some girl or something?” 

“Your little birds are impressive.” Fei Du chuckled. He was a playboy alright, but one that had grown up in a greenhouse. He had no intention of becoming a bustling little dickhead that “looked for trouble” in the pouring rain. He was about to say ‘No,’ and the words were already at the tip of his tongue: “I’d rather…”  

At that moment, Fei Du was leaning against the window frame. His eyes fell on the dusky study, and his mind somehow detoured to that bizzare dream … and those hands with the scent of tobacco.

It had already been over a month since the house-warming party at Tao Ran’s place. The old Fei Du who regularly found excuses to bug officer Tao was gone. The new one hadn’t yet made a single phone call, partly because he now knew that Tao Ran had someone in his mind; but partly because every time when he saw that darn little PSP, he felt haunted by this very strange feeling. 

Today it had gotten worse apparently – he even had a nightmare.

“Alright.” Fei Du changed his mind, “Text me the address.”

 

At the tail end of July, Yan-cheng City’s rainy season was supposed to come to an end as well. However, this year the rain kepting on going strong, and it even grew heavier toward the end.

Luo Wenzhou was back in the office after having left for home two hours ago. He shoved the car somewhere in front of the Bureau and, without taking an umbrella, threw on the hood of his hoodie and rushed into the rain.

“Captain, the second-floor meeting room. Hurry!”

Luo Wenzhou shook the water off from his soaking jacket, accidentally revealing the three scratches on the back of this hand. He hurried up the stairs. The breath that got stuck in his chest finally smoothed out and he asked: “Where are we now?” 

“I’m not sure. Just arrived myself too.” Tao Ran carelessly tugged the umbrella away, “What happened to your hand?”

Luo Wenzhou snappily scratched the wounded hand and said, “A light bulb went off and I was there changing it in the dark. Then the old man’s call came in, so I rushed to take it and stepped on big boss’ tail – Chief Lu!”

Speaking of the devil and he was here.

Lu Youliang waved them over and then stormed to the meeting room. Luo Wenzhou and Tao Ran quickly followed.

“Today was the last day of the recruitment summer camp of Sixteenth Middle School. They organized a trip to the Xiling Ancient Civilization Exhibition. The class rented a bus and the only two adults on the bus were the driver and a teacher. They escorted 18 fifth graders and left the museum at around 5 pm. They were supposed to arrive at school at 7, but they lost contact since.”

Given that the whole criminal investigation team of the Bureau was urgently assembled in the middle of the night — the bus was obviously not lost to some car accident. Luo Wenzhou and Tao Ran exchanged glances but they both remained silent. Chief Lu pushed the door open and entered the room. The others were about to stand up and salute him, but Lu pressed his hand down: “Don’t mind me. Keep going!” 

The projector proceeded to the next slide, and there was a large 3D map laid out in front of everyone. 

“The missing bus’ license number is YAN-NLXXXX. It belonged to the Heng-tong bus rental company. The driver’s name is Han Jiang, male, forty-one years old, and has been a bus driver for 15 years. The teacher on the bus is Hu Lingling, female, thirty-two years old. She is from the Sixteenth Middle School and is a Yan-cheng local. The bus left the museum’s back entrance at 5:05 and took the interstate. At around 6 o’clock, a couple parents heard about the extreme weather conditions affecting parts of the interstate and called to check in with the teacher. They were told that the bus had already taken a detour to avoid the area, but since the road was rougher they would arrive 1 to 2 hours later than planned.”

“Around 7:40, a parent called again to check where they were. The teacher’s phone was powered off at the time. The parent didn’t realize any problems then and called his kid instead. The call went through, but he only heard children crying, screaming, and a man’s angry yelling. Before he was able to get any information, the call was hung up after 4 seconds.” 

“The parent immediately called the police. A couple of children on the bus had child GPS location services on their phone, but the tracking showed that they were scattered around a hillside. We suspect that the phones had been dropped at the abductor’s command. Luckily, one child wore a sneaker that had GPS tracking, and it shows that their current location is off the planned detour. They are currently somewhere in the mountainous area south of the Xiling County and are still moving.”

“Is the abductor someone on the car originally, or did they run into him on the way?” Luo Wenzhou asked, “Did the abductor contact anyone or make any requests?”

“Not yet.”

“Luo Wenzhou,” Chief Lu raised his head, “This case needs coordination and support from multiple local counties. You will be the front-line commandant and report directly to me. Can you do it?” 

Luo Wenzhou was slightly taken aback. He could feel the looks from many directions falling on him as Chief Lu spoke. Luckily, he was a seasoned leader and didn’t let a single sign of worry show on his face. He nodded nonchalantly: “Yes, sir.” 

“The children’s safety is our number one priority. Quick!”

 

The rain became heavier and heavier. It looked like it was not going to stop any time soon.

A girl sat beside the teacher. The rain fell through the window and soaked her floral dress, but she dared not move to close it.

She heard Miss Hu plead, “Brother, how can I help? Here, take all the money and valuables on the bus as you wish. None of us will say a word. We promise to hold our tongues…I have some of the parents’ contact numbers too. If you have some difficulties, I can let them know as well and they could…” 

“Shut your mouth.” The man sitting beside the driver coldly cut her short. The knife in his hand gleamed, “Do as I told you to, and don’t say another word. Keep driving forward!”

The young Miss Hu exchanged a nervous look through the rearview mirror with the driver, hoping that the man behind the wheel could come up with some ideas.

However, the driver only replied to her with a frightened look and then avoided her pleading eyes altogether. He followed the abductor’s orders religiously.

Earlier that day, the bus full of fifth-graders took a muddy pathway as a detour and ran into a car that had broken down in the middle of the road.

The road was too narrow for the bus to go around, so the bus driver and the teacher got down to talk with the car owner. He was a young man with scruffy looks, but seemed quite easygoing. The three adults tried their best to move the car off the road. After some hard work, before Miss Hu was able to catch her breath again, a blade took her by the waist.

Under the screeches of the overworked wiper blades, the bus drove into the mountains of Xiling, farther and farther away from any towns or villages. Suddenly, lightning struck and lit up the ghostly face of the abductor.  

“Drive to the open space over there,” he said, “and stop there.”

The bus parked obediently. When the engine stopped roaring, silence took over and made it all the more nerve-wracking.

Miss Hu’s heart was already at the level of her throat. The girl sitting beside her was sobbing uncontrollably. Miss Hu covered the girl’s mouth and tried desperately to signal to the other children to be quiet and not to provoke the abductor. She took many deep breaths and finally gathered the courage to carry out her plan. Slowly, she snuck one hand into her purse. 

“You!” The abductor, holding a knife against the driver’s neck, pointed at Hu Lingling. Her hand froze. The abductor’s eyes were pinned on her: “Don’t try to be sneaky behind my back. Come over here!”

At that grave moment, Hu Lingling found what she was looking for. She quietly tucked it in the girl’s hand and rubbed her hair.

The girl’s eyes widened. Miss Hu did not say a word, only signaled the bus window to her. Then, she slowly got on her feet, hands cleared, and walked forward as demanded.

The girl with the floral dress tightly gripped the keychain siren to hide it in her hands and put them behind her back. 

Less than three miles away, a group of playboys just had a blast and came back inside soaking wet. They originally planned on racing the SUVs, but they later discovered the more exciting motorcycles. After a crazy lap in the shower, everyone was completely sodden.

Fei Du loosened his shirt collar and threw the helmet to the side. Then he took a towel to dry his hair and pushed it back. He had to admit that this “trouble-seeking” way of entertainment was quite relaxing.

“Mr. Fei, you’ll stay here tonight, right?” The handsome girl who handed him the towel asked while staring at him with a casual, flirty head-propping pose. The “Cheetah” perfume that she wore was cold and intense, a perfect complement to his boiling blood after the motorcycle race. Coupled with her classy look and elegant temperament, she was almost a tailored piece of temptation. 

Zhang Donglai was laughing his head off on the side. Fei Du could guess with his toes whose idea it was.

Actually, it wasn’t a big deal if he stayed. However, Fei Du looked at the girl again and just couldn’t feel excited for some reason. Somehow, the cheetah was lacking some wild spirit. It was like being served a piece of peppered steak when you were craving for the hellish Mexican ghost pepper.

His heart was thirsty for something bolder and stronger, and he didn’t plan to make do. Politely, Fei Du smiled back: “I’m afraid I can’t. There is an early meeting tomorrow and I’d better go back to the city tonight.” 

The girl was a little disappointed: “But you were having so much fun… Besides, it’s already dark out and the road condition is not good. It’s safer to wait until the morning anyway.”  

“Would it be worse than running around in the mud, on motorcycles, amidst a heavy storm? Actually, I wasn’t planning on coming at all today but, somewhere in my head a voice told me that if I didn’t, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.” Fei Du lowered his head and looked at the girl in the eyes, speaking as if his honey-drenched words came for free, “And after seeing you, I finally knew why. It’s been an evening well spent. This trip would be worth it even if it were raining knives.”

The girl blushed. She tried to think of something smart to say but inevitably failed. 

Fei Du picked up a bowl of hot ginger soup and planned to leave right after the sip. However, the club manager walked in: “Master Fei, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little longer. I just heard that the roads have all been shut off in this area. A lunatic abducted a bus full of elementary kids and went in the mountains. It’s quite serious. Even the SWAT teams were sent out.”

Fei Du was taken by surprise.

 

The ‘lunatic’ guarded the only exit of the bus, holding a knife in each of his hands, and pointed them at the only two adults on the bus. He threw over an old-fashioned non-smartphone to Miss Hu: “Now I want you to give them a call.”

Miss Hu glanced at the floral-dressed girl one more time, then at the cowardly hiding driver. Slowly, she took the cell phone and the roster, then dialed for one of the parents on the list. “H…Hello…I…I’m the Teacher Hu Lingling. Our bus was abducted by a man on … Ah—” 

The abductor poked the back of her neck with the knife. A sharp pain coupled with cold sweat tugged her nerve stings heavily.

“Don’t be so chatty. Tell them that I need money. Tell them to find me 5 million and send it to my designated place. When they are ready, I will call again to tell them the location. If they want to involve the police, so be it. But remember that I have all these little bastards in my hand. If I see one police car, I will kill one little bastard. I will blow up this bus if it comes to that… Hah… to give you a taste of roasted ducklings…”

 

The call was abruptly hung up. Luo Wenzhou raised his head.

“Boss, we’ve roughly located the caller. It fits the GPS information sent from the boy’s shoe. Now, how do we get there?” 

Luo Wenzhou pondered, then said, “What about the background info of the driver and the teacher?”

Lang Qiao was surprised: “Didn’t we just agree that they ran into the abductor on the way…”

“If the abductor was alone, how could’ve he known that it was a bus full of children? Even if he did, and granted that he had some weapons, could he be so confident to face two adults by himself?”

Lang Qiao was startled by the idea. Right then, Tao Ran’s call came through: “Captain Luo, we are at Driver Han Jiang’s apartment. He’s sold a lot of his furniture. According to the neighbors, he may have a drug problem.”

Luo Wenzhou’s brows furrowed.

 

Hu Lingling’s heart was pounding like crazy while she watched the abductor flex his muscles and flaunt the knives in front of her eyes.

“This can’t go on for much longer,” she thought. Her eyes met again with the floral-dress girl. The girl seemed to have understood her plan. She curled herself in the back as small and insignificant as possible, and she quickly threw the key chain siren out of the window.

Sharp screams of the alarm pierced through the night sky. The abductor froze. At that moment, Hu Lingling suddenly jumped onto him. Together, the two rolled out of the bus from the half-opened front entrance. Hu Lingling ignored the excruciating pain from the stomach wound left by the blade and shouted at the driver: “Go! Now!”

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