"A pack of Red River."
"There you go!"
In the convenience store on Hongmei Street, the shop owner randomly grabbed a pack of Fine Red River from the shelf and smacked it on the counter.
The customer was one of the old neighbors, who shot one glance at the cigarettes and flared up. "Are you f**king kidding me? Do I look like I can afford a 15-yuan 1 pack? Gimme the Big Red River!"
Absent-minded, the shop owner gave him another pack instead, then took the five-yuan worth of coins and dropped them into the drawer one at at time; the petty little amount clanked and clattered.
Ever since the other night when the kid was almost taken away, he had been ill from fright. Just imagine the pressure from all the emotional and legal responsibilities he had to have felt from ignoring an obvious wrongdoing carried out right in front of him.
Had the kid not been returned, with the frantic state of the mother, he might well have been torn into pieces by the woman. The man was your typical bully with a coward's heart and a forcible-feeble personality, who would retreat into his own shell in no time when there was real business. He appeared to know his place better these days.
The migrant villagers downright loathed him; they would rather go to the shops a block away than buy from him. It was thanks to his old neighbors that he could still sell anything, or the shop would have long been closed down by now.
That customer tore open the package and lit a cigarette with his shaking, scrawny hands. Swaying his shoulders idly about, he was about to waddle his way across the road when there came a "beep, beep".
The vehicle was in a hurry and he jumped back in a haste. Looking up, he saw an SUV with a nonlocal license plate, which whooshed past him.
The newest model, top of the range, and 800,000 yuan 2 at least, the vehicle was swollen with arrogance.
"Why, that's a vehicle from Dongyun. What's it doing in Bai Town?"
The man swallowed a four-letter word he was about to let loose and turned curious.
At that moment, there came another honk and a second vehicle with a nonlocal plate drove past him. This time, the license plate said it was from as far as the neighboring province. Its model was even flashier and the bodywork was as conspicuous as a small hill.
Even the shop owner was somewhat startled. What the hell was going on?
And it did not finish there. Immediately after that, there came the "vrooms" and "beeps" of all kinds of automobiles. In a mere couple of minutes, luxurious vehicles were streaming into Bai Town, most of which were nonlocal. Even the handful of exceptions might not have local passengers in them.
The two men were struck dumb. It seemed like ages when the man said, "Damn it! In my thirty years of life, I've never seen anything like that here in Bai Town!"
"Where do you think they're going?" the shop owner asked.
"The only places that way are Phoenix Fair and Phoenix Mountain. Are they a tour group? Doesn't seem so!"
The man froze all of a sudden, then slammed his palms together. "F**k, I know it! Our area is planned as a new district and those fellows are here to bring up the house prices!"
'Oh, shut up you idiot!'
The shop owner spit on the ground and would not dignify that claim with a comment.
In the meantime, a dozen vehicles drove in a single file, threaded through the alleys, passed Phoenix Fair, and headed further to the north. A line of green mountains stood in the distance.
The vehicles then drove onto a gravel road and into a vast stretch of wildland. Finally, they stopped outside a courtyard. Because there were so many of them, the vehicles had to be parked in a line outside the gate. The polished metal bodies were almost sparkling in the sunlight, which together looked rather imposing.
The doors were opened and about two dozen people filed out. They were all young men and were obviously divided into two groups. One group was the bosses, who made no effort in hiding their signature characteristics of government officials, magnates, and military men. The other group consisted of bodyguards, who looked rather peculiar with a big suitcase in each of their hands.
These were none other than the juniors of various families, who had heard about the news and showed up promptly to trade.
The crowd rushed into the small building and the room was instantly packed. Yuan Peiji was among them—he was in charge of reception and coordination. These men had come from eighteen out of the thirty-six provinces of the country, everyone with a status as prominent as his, if not higher. These families were all top of their local food chains.
"Old Yuan, this place is tiny . You were building a house anyway, why didn't you make it bigger? There are not even enough chairs."
They immediately recognized that accent and knew the speaker to be a man from the capital. The man was rather tall and sturdy, with thick eyebrows which gave him an honest and dignified look. But those who knew him better dared not take him lightly, for the man was a crafty fellow.
He barely finished his sentence when a man with a northwestern accent chimed in, complaining, "And that lousy road, can you do something about it? We're not here for a one-off job. I'll pay for it if you don't have the money."
"Keep your money in you pocket. Old Yuan doesn't have the money, are you kidding me? He must have left the road like that for a reason," said a young man with delicate features scornfully.
"What reason? Who on earth would want to drive on loose stones?"
"I don't know about the likes of loose stones, but if it's loose women, I know quite a few."
"Who the hell are you pointing finger at?"
"Why, what are you all flaring up for?"
The northwestern guy had a particular fondness of other men's wives and a habit of letting the husbands know about it. It was public knowledge in their circle. With the deliberate provocation from the pretty guy, the northwesterner jumped at it right away.
No one tried to mediate and everyone was looking on with smirks on their faces. With their status, nobody would take the words of others at face value. They only showed people what they wanted to show, as for exactly what was in their minds... only they themselves knew.
As the two bickered on, the capital fellow suddenly moved closer and said, "Old Yuan, I went to look around the foot of the mountain after I got off the car. That mountain track is a deserted dirt road. We can leave everything else as is, but this road alone we have to fix! How could anyone walk it?"
"I can't take that liberty. The mountain belongs to Mr. Gu." Yuan Peiji shook his head.
"Make some suggestions! We can't have the master coming down here all the time, but should go up there and show our respect. We can then build a meeting pavilion or a meeting hall halfway up the mountain. It's not such a big deal building a few houses, is it?"
'And you think you know everything!'
Yuan Peiji rolled his eyes in his mind. 'How do you know that I did not make that suggestion in the first place? The man could not be bothered, what could I do about it?'
Presently, the room was in a hubbub, with everyone talking to everyone else about money, fun, and women. From the look of it, this bunch was nothing but wastrels.
What was interesting, however, was that no one mentioned a thing about the stuff they brought. Instead, everyone was fishing for information from the next person.
The bodyguards stood behind them with motionless faces.
A long time passed when a fellow checked the time and said abruptly, "It's three o'clock. Why is he still not here?"
"Maybe something came up. Let's just wait," said Yuan Peiji.
"He's always late?"
"Not really. He'll explain briefly when he's running late. We can't actually ask about the specifics."
"Hey, you've met the guy a few times. How do you feel about him?"
"It's hard to say. All in all, he's no ordinary man."
"Not ordinary? Are you saying he's like, an immortal?" The northwestern guy snorted.
It wasn't an answerable question. Yuan Peiji darted a look at the man and secretly felt sorry for the latter already.
A while passed and there was still no Gu Yu. All their life, these young dignitaries never took "no" as an answer. They were the ones humiliating others, not the other way around.
"I say, this fellow is putting on a lot of airs, isn't he?"
The northwestern man was obviously disgruntled. "A swindler, that's what he is. I'm gonna be frank with you. I have nothing but money with me today. I'll shower him with it later. Let's see how much that yokel can say no to…"
He was still talking when there came a crisp sound, as if something invisible had slapped him hard over his face. His giant body lurched to one side and a red mark appeared on his cheek.
"Who did it?"
Bringing a palm over his cheek, the man was fuming. He was about to stand up and look around when there came another.
The fellow stumbled again and his other cheek turned purple.
The invisible hand did not stop there and the face-slapping continued, growing louder.
Not a sound could be heard in the room. The deadpan bodyguards had long lost their composure and the dignitaries gaped with open mouths. They could do nothing but watch the man being ruthlessly humiliated.TL/N: a little over 2 USD TL/N: roughly 130,000 USD