Chapter 40: Humbert Humbert Seven

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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The bus fell into utter chaos. Some students were screaming, “Hurry!” Some were crying, “Miss Hu!” The wild-eyed offender thrust the knife into Hu Lingling’s stomach. For Hu, life had been good and rather eventless up to that point. She never would have imagined that there existed such excruciating pain in this world. She collapsed onto the ground. All strength escaped her. Her eyes were pinned on the half-opened bus door, praying that it would close, and the bus would flee.

The bus key still dangled next to the steering wheel, seemingly forgotten by the offender. The driver was holding the gear shifter in his hand. He could shut the door with a simple press of a button. He was experienced. He was capable. He could push the gear in place within one second and drive away from all of this…right?

Not quite.

Driver Han Jiang looked ghastly. His body seemed too stiff to move. He sat there and yelled to the offender, “Stop it!”

Hu Lingling could no longer speak. She kept shaking her head desperately at Han Jiang, hoping that the driver could just leave her and go. However, in the next moment, she heard more chilling words coming out of this honest man’s mouth: “Wasn’t this just for the money? What the hell are we going to do if you kill her?”  

Hu Lingling felt all the hair on the back of her neck standing up.

In the meantime, the curtain at the back corner of the bus was blown up by the night wind. With the help of the billowing curtain, the girl in the floral dress silently snuck behind and slid down from the bus window. Like a slender but nimble kitten, she landed on the muddy grass without anyone noticing.

Interrupted, the offender angrily threw the knife over to the driver, bent to grab Hu Lingling by the hair, and started lashing out on her. 

Everyone’s eyes were drawn to the gruesome violence. The howling storm and the screams of the woman covered the girl’s steps; the starless night became her ally. She avoided the headlights of the bus and sprinted towards the opposite direction.  

There wasn’t a single breathing soul on the crooked mountain path. No light, no signs. The shadows of the rocks and the trees jumped at her as she ran, like monsters lurking in the darkness. She couldn’t tell where she was going, and she did not dare to look back. Even her own footsteps frightened her – they sounded like someone was chasing her from behind.

No one had ever taught her what to do under such circumstances in the wilderness. All she could do was keep running— 

All of a sudden, the girl’s eyes were blinded by a strong flash of light. Her brittle nerves had been on the brink of snapping. To her, men were as frightening as ghosts right now. Startled, the girl tripped on a rock and fell: “Ah—”

A car screeched and stopped beside her. Her ears were booming and her whole body was stiff.

Right then, she heard a very crisp and sweet voice, “Daddy, is it a small animal? Is it a lamb?”

That young girl’s voice broke her free from the suffocating nightmare. Her heart was beating like a drum. She heard soft footsteps approaching. A man appeared in front of her, holding an umbrella.

He looked gentle and kind. He couldn’t be a bad person.

She cried, “Uncle, help!”

Her floral dress had been covered by mud. Her knee was scrapped. One of her toenails was broken by a rock, and blood was everywhere. The man looked at her, then gently picked her up and held her in his arms.

She lowered her defense at the presence of another child. Under the extreme fear and anxiety, she trusted this stranger unconditionally who came about in the middle of nowhere.

“A bad man abducted our bus. He had a knife and he hurt Miss Hu. It’s over there. Uncle…”

The man’s footsteps were very light as if he was trying not to startle something. 

“Shh…” he said softly, “Be good. Don’t be afraid. Let my daughter be your company.”

Following his line of sight, she saw another girl smiling behind the lowered car window. She was about twelve or thirteen years old with her hair tied up in a pair of ponytails. Her face was cherubic — she had a pair of beautiful witty eyes and lips that glossed in the color of cherries. It looked like she had stolen a lipstick from some grown-up.

She smiled like a blooming flower.

 

“I am not very familiar with this area.” Fei Du turned to the manager of the “trouble-seekers’ club” while standing in front of a map of Xiling District. “Besides this place, are there any other villages or towns around?”

“Well…Xiling was originally developed to be the “backyard” of Yan-cheng city. Its core industry is high-end vacation catering and recreation businesses.” said the manager. 

“Most projects that landed here are pretty space-demanding. Let’s see…there is a winery with a golf course in the vicinity. And a horse riding club. The villagers that originally lived here have all been relocated to the housing complexes downtown. With today’s weather though, I doubt that there would be much traffic for golfing or horse-riding.”

“I see.” Fei Du nodded, “When the police call, let me take it.”

The manager’s forehead was covered with question marks: “Police call? Why would the police…”

His question was cut off by an incoming call at the front desk. A girl by the piano picked it up and answered drowsily: “Hello. Xiling off-track adventures club…Boss, it’s the police!”

The police acted very quickly. Their men already arrived at where the hijacked bus was parked.

According to the satellite, this was a very tricky spot. The bus was parked in an open space. If the SWAT team were to approach, they would almost certainly be noticed prematurely. What’s more, the bus windows were all covered with curtains. If the hijacker stayed put and hid in the bus with all those children as his hostages, the snipers could not do anything either.

The clock was ticking. The police redialed that number, but the phone was already powered off. It looked like this man was determined to be in charge: only he could initiate the negotiation, not the other way around.

It was well over 10 o’clock in the evening. The pouring rain had finally started to dwindle away to drizzles. Meanwhile, Tao Ran led another team and stormed the other suspect, Han Jiang’s apartment.

” Han Jiang used to be a truck driver. But a couple years ago, he got into card gambling somehow, lost most of his fortune, and got kicked out of his job because he couldn’t stay punctual. His wife also left because of it. He behaved for a while, and found another job at a car rental company. Before long however, he found himself a new hobby: Mahjong. This time he was targeted by a group of Mahjong sharks, which not only cost him all of his fortune, but also put him under heavy debt — more than a million in total.”

“No wonder he’s risking it.” Lang Qiao pressed the headphone closer to her ear, “What about the other guy? Any discoveries? Despite being a compulsive gambler, Han Jiang has never had a criminal record before. Even if he decided to go off the beam, I don’t think he’d start with something this big. The brain behind this must have had some history.”

“There is a suspect.” Tao Ran replied: “I just sent the picture to you. His name is Han Chengzheng, male, 29 years old, a distant nephew of Han Jiang’s. He has been incarcerated twice in the past, once for knife robbery and once for assault. The guy was recently released and came to Yan-cheng to reportedly look for jobs. Lately, he has been frequenting Han Jiang’s apartment. The neighbors all tried to avoid him because he hung around with a blade in his hand and had gotten into several fights with others. Last night he rented a small shabby car. This morning, someone saw him driving out of town but no one knew where he was headed. I think it is most likely that he is the other abductor.”

“Talk about birds with the same old stinking feathers flocking together…” Luo Wenzhou’s voice came from the headphone, “So Han Jiang used to be married? Does he have kids? How old? Boy or girl?”

“A nine-year-old boy. Because of Han Jiang’s gambling problem, the ex-wife forbade the boy to see his father. They live in another city. The rental company that Han Jiang works for has a long-term contract with the Sixteenth Middle School, so Han had driven the teachers and students many times – they pretty much consider him part of the school staff. The man was said to be honest, easy-going, kid-loving…basically no one saw this coming.”

“Got it. Negotiators,” Luo Wenzhou chewed on the new information and came up with an adjusted plan. “In the first call, from what we heard from the teacher, she probably didn’t know that Han Jiang was involved. She trusts him. So — unless things went absolutely awry — Han Jiang would try to stay undercover. He was likely pushed into this because of the heavy debts. There is probably still some sympathy to the kids left in him. The other man though, most likely the brain of the team, is a habitual law-breaker with multiple criminal records. He will do whatever it takes to get the ransom. Now the two have a common objective, but their liaison is weak. We can try to break it…”

“Boss!” Lang Qiao interrupted him, “A call! From the abductor.”

Luo Wenzhou shouted, “Attention, all units.”

At his command, everyone was on their toes, ready for the battle. They all put on their headphones. The negotiation team was ready.

The second call was made exactly one hour after the first. The negotiator picked it up but heard a ruthless male voice rather than that of the female teacher: “Is the money ready?”

Everyone’s heart sunk.

The negotiator hesitated, then asked: “Where is the Miss that I spoke with last time?”

The man’s heavy breathing could be heard over the phone. The negotiator added: “I’m here with a couple other parents, we’ve gathered over 3 million — my wife is on her way with the money. As for the rest, we are still trying. We’ll get it ready no matter what it takes. But please, please keep your words, and don’t hurt the children!”

The man on the other side of the line smirked: “Is that so? You went straight to find the money without calling the cops?”

The negotiator silently looked up for orders on how to respond to this tricky question. Lang Qiao covered the headphone and quickly jotted down Luo Wenzhou’s command: “Recidivist. Truth.”

“I c…called the police, yes.” The negotiator pretended to be nervous: “But that was before your first call. You didn’t say…”

“Oh. Then where are they?”

“The Xiling District Bureau said they have to report up to the Yan-cheng bureau, who said they need another hour to get here… we couldn’t just wait around, so we started to gather the money. Please! Whatever you do, don’t hurt the children!”

Hearing this, the abductor laughed: “Told ya! Don’t put your bet on those useless scumbags.”

Happy about what he had just heard, the abductor decided: “Since you’ve been good, I’ll let you speak with your kid for a minute. What’s his name?”

The negotiator peeked at the note that was just passed to him: “Chen Hao! I am his father. Please let me talk to him!”

He heard sneering, then a boy’s sobbing voice: “Daddy? Daddy!”

The other officers on the negotiation team exchanged glances in relief — although the boy was terrified, it didn’t sound like he was hurt. Yet.

“Hao Hao, don’t be afraid. Are you with all the other students?” The negotiator tried to get more information on the wellbeing of the other hostages, “Listen to me. It is going to be okay. Don’t panic. Daddy knows you can do this: be calm and be there for your friends, alright?”

The boy muttered, “Okay.” Before he was able to say more, the abductor snatched the phone back: “Enough chattering. You’ve heard him. Now don’t do anything stupid. We don’t need no water, no food delivery…don’t you even think about trying to let the cops sneak in. Prepare the money — that is the only hope for your son’s life.”

The negotiator frowned and shook his head at the team. Lang Qiao tossed the memo that said “sneak our men in”, and gestured a “two” — as in “plan B” — to him.

“Wait! Can I talk to the teachers? The kids are too scared. Whichever teacher that’s on the bus — please let me have a word with an adult!”

Hearing that “whichever teacher on the bus” would do, the abductor again gave a cold smirk.

Then, a low and shaky voice muttered: “Hello?”

It was Han Jiang!

“Mister! Th…this is Chen Hao’s father.” The negotiator also lowered his voice to make the pleading sound more sincere and desperate: “Mister. I know this is a selfish thing to ask. But… if you are a father you’ll understand…Are you? A father?”

A short silence. Then he heard, “Yes.”

“Mister, please…look after those children for us. We will ready the money — we will have it ready no matter what it takes! But please, please keep the children safe. I am sure you can feel me as a fellow parent. I know that you are in danger yourself too, but… Your child, is he about the same age as Hao Hao? Think of him… we can’t be there for them, so we can only beg you to look after them for us. Please don’t let it get physical. Don’t let them get hurt. PLEASE —”

This time, a longer silence. Then, Han Jiang’s voice became even shakier: “I…I’ll try…”

Before he could finish his sentence, a thundering roar of engines went off from the distant hillside. What followed was some hardcore heavy metal rock music, eye-grabbing flashy headlights, and people’s loud whistles and cheers.

The abductor was furious. He snatched the phone and yelled: “What is this?! The cops? You think you are such smart asses, Hah? So long to the lives of your kids…”

From the other side of the phone, the negotiator exclaimed, “No!! No I swear…”

In the meantime, a sickly sweet female voice could be heard in the distant background: “Come on, girls! Don’t be chickens! Babe, you’ve just conquered the ‘Track of Hell’! This will be a piece of cake. Trust me… these boys won’t let you down.”

The sharp whistles amplified by the loudspeaker were so squeaky that it almost made the mountain shiver. Blinding laser beams lit up the valley and cast towering shadows onto the mountain cliff — shadows of some garish sports car with wing-like doors shooting upwards as if they would take off from the ground in the next second.

Han Jiang grabbed the abductor’s knife hand: “Calm down!! There is an off-track racing club nearby, remember?”

“Let go of me!” The abductor raged: “How come they got so close?!”

The negotiator interjected loudly over the phone: “I am as clueless as you are! I swear!! The money is almost ready. You can pick a different place if you want. Whatever it is, don’t hurt the children! Mister, Mister! Mister — !”

The three consecutive “Misters” plucked Han Jiang’s nerve string like sharp needles.

The school children often called him that, especially the younger ones since they couldn’t tell who the real teachers were at school — all the adults were Misters and Misses to them.

Han Jiang jumped onto his nephew with both hands, trying to stop him from going mad. He grumbled to his ear: “See? The money is almost ready! We are only one step away. Stop making this more complicated than it already is, will you? Open up your eyes and look. Do they look like police cars to you? Hah? They are racing the mountain track… It doesn’t lead anywhere close to here! Scared shitless by some shadows… you’re such a sissy…”

The nephew scouted along the uncle’s pointing finger and seemed to have calmed down a little. Half-convinced, he slightly loosened the grip of the knife.

Han Jiang: “Since a kid ran off just now, this place is no longer safe anyways. Let’s move. I’ll drive.”

Those racers made themselves very audible: even though they stayed in the distance and showed no intention of approaching, their roaring engines and loud music echoed throughout the whole valley. The drum beats seemed to be coming from all around, crushing the nerves of the two abductors. The two picked the furthest direction away from the noisy troublemakers and set off in a rush.

Lang Qiao heard Luo Wenzhou’s order from the headphone: “They’ve just entered our snipers’ range. Try to keep them in.”

On the bus, a loud ringing shattered the silence. It was the abductor’s cellphone which he didn’t have time to turn off after the previous call. The same parent stuttered over the phone: “The money is here! C…cash, over three million. We are still working on the rest but… it should be pretty soon…”

They had already driven far away from the music and lights. But the drum beats could still be heard, and the beats struck faster and faster, driving people out of their minds.

The knifed abductor shouted: “No way! Not a single dime less!!”

Han Jiang slammed on the brakes: “Don’t be ridiculous! Let’s just take the three million and go before the cops get here. There will be more than one million for each of us —  ore than enough for anything.”

“I WANT the five million!”

The negotiator over the phone added, “We have really tried all that we can. Mister, think about your own child. These are all little children! Please!!”

Han Jiang’s vein bulged on his forehead.

“Without the five million, I will kill them all. I don’t mind visiting the prison cells again.”

“But I do!” Han Jiang grabbed the knife that was handed to him a minute ago.

The two glared at each other like two fighting bulls, panting heavily. After a century, the abductor glowered at Han Jiang coldly: “Uncle, are you regretting it?”

Han Jiang kept a stern face and didn’t say a thing. He was indeed starting to regret the whole thing.

The abductor suddenly smiled. He handed the phone over: “Alright. You are the boss. Let’s take the money and leave.”

Han Jiang hesitated at first, but he finally accepted the phone: “Listen carefully. Send one person over, only one. Send a woman. The location is…”

Before he finished, a cold glimmer suddenly caught his eyes and the children’s screams filled his ears. Han Jiang quickly ducked, but it was too late: the bloodied blade had already penetrated his stomach.

Han Jiang moaned, then fought back out of instinct despite the pain. He jumped onto his attacker from the driver’s seat. The attacker, younger and stronger, took a step back while twisting the knife inside Han Jiang’s guts. For a split second, his back pressed against the uncovered glass pane on the bus door.

A bullet broke the glass and hit him right in the back of the head.

The next second, sirens from the hidden police cars and ambulances pierced through the night sky.

 

Half an hour later, Luo Wenzhou wrapped up at the crime scene and finally arrived at the hillside where much of the music and fun were taking place. From a distance he could already see Fei Du leaning on a car with shirt buttons all loosened, exposing his tattooed chest. His long hair was slicked back, dripping wet.

There was no need for props or stage sets — this kid could easily pull off a one-man-show with the theme of “world’s most extravagant orgy”.

Luo Wenzhou was originally here for business. But with a glance at Fei Du’s half-naked chest, he suddenly felt slightly awkward. He cleared the itchiness in his throat with a dry cough, and said: “Ahem…A big thank you to all of you today.”

Fei Du took the half glass of champagne from the girl beside him and raised the glass to Luo Wenzhou at a distance: “You’re welcome. We were only being ourselves.”

Luo Wenzhou was tongue tied, “…”

And he felt annoyed at that spoiled brat again.

“Captain Luo,” Lang Qiao’s call came through at that time and broke the awkward tension between the two men. She barely caught her breath: “A child is missing!”

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