Chapter 54 Humbert Humbert Twenty-one

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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Fei Du was taken aback at first. Then he sat back into the chair and asked disingenuously, “Huh?”

When he slouched in the seat he looked like a playboy. With a faint smile lingering on the corner of his mouth, he turned to face Luo Wenzhou and added, deliberately, ”What did I do?”

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

Had it coming. Luo thought, quickly regretting his cheap and unnecessary question. Rather than dealing with a Fei Du that was ambiguously flirtatious, he’d rather race the one with the word “jackass” written on his forehead.

It happened every time when they were alone: when one seemed irked the other would make sure to rub it in some more.

Mistaking Luo Wenzhou’s short pause for embarrassment, Fei Du felt quite amused. He couldn’t help but add, “I treated the respectable officers with something warm last night. Is Captain Luo going to petition me another honorary flag?”

Fei Du moved in a little closer as he spoke. Luo Wenzhou could see the different shades of lights reflected in his eyes and the delicate patterns of his iris that were like ripples in a pond. Fei Du continued: “What do you plan to write on it this time? Let’s see…”

“Fei Du.” Luo Wenzhou suddenly interrupted with a straight face, “Keep doing it and I’ll think that you have an ‘unspeakable agenda’ on me.”

Fei Du: “…”

Because of their peculiar history, Luo Wenzhou usually acted like an old fuddy-duddy in front of him, so much so that Fei Du had almost forgotten how shameless and brazen this man actually was.

Surprised at the enemy’s charge, Fei Du decided to retreat. He looked out at the shady memorial building and replied: “Captain Luo, are you sure you want to discuss such an unserious topic in this circumstance?”

“Well, I have serious topics too.” Luo Wenzhou replied, “Are you really going to go back to school in September and leave that heavy fortune of yours in  the others’ hands?” 

“Worry not. I have a reliable team.” Fei Du shrugged, “They don’t even need to be very reliable, just a little more reliable than me would do. Besides, even if I’m not there every day, they’ll still need my signature on the larger decisions. I am still in charge. Granted that they were to screw it all up and bankrupt me…”

“The remains are still worth more than a base level civil servant’s lifetime salary, parenthesis, including retirement pensions based on an average lifespan of 250 years, end parenthesis. Am I close?” Luo Wenzhou finished his flaunting for him, “Cut the crap. When your father had the accident you were still a student — and not a particularly bright one — why didn’t you ‘trust’ that reliable team of yours and live on your stock dividend?”

Fei Du looked up. In the rearview mirror he ran into Luo Wenzhou’s gaze — the man’s eyes were earnest and stern.

“You took over your father’s company, but not for the money. You were probing.” Luo Wenzhou asserted, “You must have applied for the Yancheng Police Academy for the same reason. What is it… or should I ask, who is it?”

“You, perhaps?” Fei Du replied calmly, “Maybe I’ve suddenly acquired a niche taste in the prim and proper?”

This son of a b**ch Fei Du kid is full of sh*t. Nothing sincere ever comes out of his mouth.

Fei Du squinted, eyes aggressively sizing up Luo Wenzhou’s sculpted nose bridge and lips as if ready to kiss them. In a soft and slightly nasal tone, he asked: “How do you know that I was not a good student? Captain Luo, besides smuggling electronic gadgets to me, were you concerned with my report card too?”

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

He huffed, then unlocked the door. But before Fei Du retracted his mischievous gazing, Luo Wenzhou suddenly reached out and grabbed the collar of his haute couture shirt, successfully ruining his irking flamboyant posture.

“First off, “Luo Wenzhou lectured, “My handsomeness has stood the test of time and is widely applauded by the People. This is the most classical kind of handsomeness. Calling it niche only reveals how poorly-read and ignorant you are.”

“Secondly,” He glanced at Fei Du’s plastered arm pitifully, “Tsk tsk…Honey, it’s been a while since I last saw a shameless douche like you. After me? You’ll need more milk baths to toughen up the bones, Director Fei!”

He pointed at the door and commanded, “Get out.”

Director Fei had never had such a slap on the face in his ample flirting experience. Facing a hard landing for the first time, he actually found it quite refreshing. As a handicapped personnel, he dragged his crippled body out of Luo Wenzhou’s car. His tempted eyes followed Luo Wenzhou as he walked towards the memorial. After sizing him up, he decided to cease fire for now, and followed him into the hall.

The air in the memorial hall is cold and crisp. They might have installed a refrigerator rather than an AC in there. 

The two were greeted by frigid air, both literally and figuratively. The handful of staff checked Luo Wenzhou’s police badge dubiously, trying to figure out why on earth a police officer would want to search the ashes of the deceased.

“What do you want to see?” The front desk staff asked as he swiped them in, “This is not a do-eval place — unless you count the ghosts — I’m assuming the police department hasn’t expanded their jurisdiction to the underworld yet?”

Luo Wenzhou was barely keeping it together on the surface after fending off someone’s full-long ‘attack’. The man’s coarse and inviting voice still lingered around his ears and he just couldn’t get it to shut up — he’d wanted the whole world to shut up actually. So he replied bitterly: “What if someone put a bomb in the ashes?”

The staff looked at him in disbelief. Obviously he had taken them as those creative psychos.

The temporary storage for ash boxes took up a whole wall. Small compartments stacked all the way up to the ceiling. Su Xiaolan stayed in a corner … inside a small crystal picture frame. 

“C-106  — Su Xiaolan.” The staff checked the name with his record, “This is her. The daughter and the fiancee placed her here. If you have any words to ask, feel free. I’ll leave you two to it. I will be back in 20 minutes.”

He put his palms together and bowed to her picture, then walked away.

Fei Du reached for the picture, but Luo Wenzhou slapped his hand away. Instead, Luo took out a pair of forensic gloves from his pocket. After carefully inspecting the crystal picture frame for any hidden slots or abnormality, he finally passed it over to Fei and started digging through the rest of the relic.

“Quite an interesting pick.” Fei Du commented.

“Indeed.” Luo Wenzhou agreed as he searched, “It is the same one as what we have on record from 20 years ago.”

The storage slot for the ash box was far from spacious, so there wasn’t much to dig through. Besides the picture frame, Luo Wenzhou only found an old dress, a pack of mint-flavored cigarettes, some lipstick, and some other common burial objects for a woman. Nothing groundbreaking.

“The so-called memorial for the dead is in effect all for the living. The picture at the memorial usually reflects how their living family and friends remember them. The close family members would tend to pick a recent photo, while a childhood friend might pick something more memorable. Occasionally the deceased might pick their own photos, usually representing their biggest life achievements. These are pretty much all the cases.” Fei Du lightly knocked on the crystal frame, “So the most memorable moment in Su Xiaolan’s life is when she was a little girl? And after that, was she practically dead in someone’s eyes?”

Luo Wenzhou was still searching through her things to make sure nothing was missed. Before he got to reply, his phone suddenly rang.

The “Anthem of Five Rings”(1) echoed in the crooked storage room and created the ambiance of a horror movie. Even Luo Wenzhou got goosebumps. A head popped out: it was the staff who had left them minutes ago. He commented wearily: “Silence the phone. Officer, this is a public space. Please be considerate and don’t disturb the others at rest.”

“Brother,” Luo Wenzhou replied with a murderous look, “If I were inconsiderate you’d be on the ground by now.”

The staff dared not reason with a savage. His head disappeared again behind the wall.

Luo Wenzhou picked up the phone with a ghastly look: “Tao Ran, what have you?”

“The old residential area is still standing.” Tao Ran loosened his uniform collar as he spoke. While on the phone, he dashed under a tree to borrow some shade while fanning himself vigorously with a photocopy of an old map. He continued, “I am literally melting…Anyways, the residential area is called “Xiang Yang”. It’s one of those early privately-developed construction projects, one of the higher-end ones back then. According to the grandpas playing chess nearby, when Jin Xiu Middle School was still here many of the rich kids rented here.”

“How about that short wall?” Luo Wenzhou asked, “According to Guo Heng, he saw Wu Guangchuan’s apartment through the hollow bricks of the wall. Could you locate it roughly?”

“Jeez…the area has changed so much that its own mother wouldn’t recognize it. You’re always good at asking for the impossible, Boss.” Tao Ran panted as he spoke. He wiped off the sweat on his forehead with his sleeves. Not far from him, some other equally soaked officers were waving at him: they were lucky to find some surveyors from a nearby construction site. With the help of the old maps and the currently standing Xiang Yang buildings, the surveyors managed to redraw the demolished buildings that once stood there. The road had been widened more than twice, and what used to be Wu Guangchuan’s apartment was now part of the avenue. Luckily, there was not much traffic in the hot summer afternoon. Two police officers each held a wooden measuring stick and stood 1.5 meters apart from each other. Between them was the location of Wu Guangchuan’s apartment door.

Tao Ran circled around the brick fence of the Xiang Yang buildings as he thought out loud to Luo Wenzhou: “I think the place is somewhere in between buildings 7 and 8. According to Guo Heng, they were facing a corner and Wu Guangchuan’s place was some 30 meters away…It is very hard to locate, Wenzhou. There is an old bike rack next to this building, with only a narrow passage leading towards the back — even I would need to walk sideways, and yet Xu Wenchao led Guo Heng through it quickly. How did he manage to find this passage?” 

Before he finished, a message was pushed to both of their phones. It was Lang Qiao.

Lang Qiao had dug out the old record from Jin Xiu Middle School’s archives and found Xu Wenchao’s registered address in middle school: Xiang Yang building 8, Room 201.

Phone in hand, Tao Ran turned towards the mottled building next to him. Suddenly, he plunged through a small opening in the bushes and ran up to the second floor of building 8. The hallway window had long been stuck by moss and rust. The window frame was covered by layers of dated mechanical oil and dust. It opened in the same direction of the master’s bedroom window of 201.

Tao Ran looked closely, eyes wide-open. Through the window he saw the two colleagues holding the wooden measuring stick on the road. A couple meters behind them he saw the rocks that represented the basement of Wu Guangchuan’s apartment. Back in the days, many basements were rented out separately. They usually had barred windows to protect against theft. Around the medal bars, many tenants put flower pots to avoid pedestrians’ accidental tripping, as well as to protect their own privacy. 

Twenty years ago, this city hadn’t become so garish and sleepless yet. After nine o’clock in the evening, most streets would have already quieted down. 

For the few that lived in the darkness, only in the heart of the night could they peel off their human skin, expose their charred bones, and unleash their lust in the basement that never saw the light. At that time, would there be a pair of eyes from above that pierced through the flower pots and saw into the nasty corner via the destined angle of fate?

Tao Ran’s pouring sweat mingled with the goosebumps. He rushed into the office of management and slapped his ID onto the table: “Please, help me check who the owner is for apartment 201, building 8. Also, has it been sold recently?”

“201?” The staff flipped through the record, “Nope. It’s always been under the same name.”

Tao Ran panted heavily: “Is the last name Xu?”

“No, not Xu. It’s Sun. A family of two.” The younger staff turned to look at the more senior one for assurance, “Right, Sister Zhao?”

“Yes. They were an older couple, with a daughter. Their daughter was what…close to forty?” The middle-aged woman on the right poured Tao Ran a glass of water. 

Tao Ran thanked her. Meanwhile he felt a little disappointed. Just now in the hallway he had a strangely strong feeling that something was off with apartment 201. It turned out that he was just overly sensitive.

Just when Tao Ran was about to leave, he heard the middle-aged woman who poured him water say: “Their daughter is quite the achiever, you see…A couple years ago she went abroad, and then took her parents abroad too. Once I heard from the father’s brother: it seemed like they wanted to sell the apartment before leaving. But god knows what happened — maybe they didn’t find a suitable buyer or something — the apartment wasn’t sold in the end. Perhaps they rented it out, I mean, at least the water and electricity bills were always paid on time…”

At that time, as if she suddenly thought of something, Sister Zhao’s ranting abruptly ended. She awkwardly exchanged a look with the colleague next to her.

Tao Ran keenly picked it up: “Ma’am, do you know who the tenant is?”

Sister Zhao beat around the bush, eyes awkwardly looking downward: “I don’t really know. You see, nowadays even the water and electricity bill payments don’t go through us any more. We don’t have much interaction with the residents really.”

Tao Ran’s eyes landed on a wall poster that said: Safety First: say no to group renting. His expression turned stern. Deliberately, he asked: “Wait, you guys don’t have any illegal group rental going on here, do you?”

The two management staff both stuttered. Sister Zhao explained: “No, no, no…that apartment was just a little short of luck — they never found a long-term tenant so you sometimes see different faces in and out of that one. But it wasn’t group renting, I guarantee you…”

Tao Ran shot up: “Give me the keys!”

The management might have taken some bribes and kept their mouths shut about group renting here. But is room “201” — with people coming and going — really one of such cases?

Meanwhile, Luo Wenzhou had flipped Su Xiaolan’s “home” upside down and found nothing worth noting. Disappointed, he turned to Fei Du: “Director Fei, seems that you’re not always right on target after all.”

Fei Du leaned on the wall of ashes and answered recklessly: “You might want to check the last remaining place before judging my judgement.”

As he spoke, he reached in and pulled out Su Xiaolan’s ash box. The box was covered by a double folded satin drapery. As if undressing his lover, Fei Du’s fingers gently ran through the fabric. The satin eagerly opened up for him, exposing a square wooden box.

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

 

  1. Anthem of Five Rings(五环之歌): This is Captain Luo’s ringtone, a reflection of his particularly down-to-earth taste (or should we say lack of taste?) in music. The Anthem of Five Rings was a parody song written and sung by Chinese traditional stand-up comedian Yue Yunpeng. The melody was borrowed from an old pop song “Anthem of the Peony”, and the lyrics are some silly statements about the fifth ring road in Beijing.

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