There were four railway stations in Shengtian, one on each direction. Among those, the North and South stations were the key transportation hubs through which nearly all traffic arteries inside and outside Shanhai Pass were linked.
The pair rushed to the North Station at dusk. Xiaozhai led the way through the security check, Gu Yu in her wake.
Tossing her bag onto the conveyor belt, Xiaozhai beckoned at Gu Yu with her hands behind her back, who "switched on" his mental force swiftly and directed it towards the innocent female security inspector.
"Please form a line and go through one at a time…"
Detector in hand, the girl was about to scan Xiaozhai when her heart throbbed unexpectedly and she felt extremely uncomfortable. Frowning, she swept the detector randomly across the air and certain passenger sneaked past her in that moment.
The next second, the feeling disappeared without a trace. How peculiar.
'Well, I probably did not sleep too well last night.'
The girl explained to herself, then scanned Gu Yu carefully and only let him pass after making sure that no alarm was set off.
Our pair of culprits pursed their lips knowingly at each other at the same time and slipped away with their bags.
The waiting hall of the station was remarkably spacious. The half-sphere-shaped ceiling was supported by criss-cross beams, forming a unique structure as grand as a dome.
All ticket entrances were packed with passengers of every age group and gender. A hubbub of voices flooded the entire hall.
After a fruitless search for a vacant seat, they resolved to stand outside the crowd instead. Both having huge backpacks over their shoulders and wearing crisp outfits, the long-legged pair stood there like tritons among minnows, attracting much attention from the passers-by.
The train they were taking was an Ordinary Express one (TL/N: as opposed to the Direct Express trains), which would take them to their destination early next morning after over ten hours of travel.
A short while later, they heard the announcement. "Train No. XXX from Shengtian to Jiang Zhou is now ready for ticket-checking…"
Having reminded Xiaozhai, Gu Yu joined the line and had his ticket ready for boarding.
Because of the incredibly long route of this train, the platform was packed with passengers. Their seats were in a 4-seater scheme in Car No.12 and facing them was a couple in their fifties.
"Make way! Let me pass!"
"Hey, you've stepped on my foot! Move on!"
"Please help me lift the bag up… oh, thank you!"
The clamor went on inside the compartments and only quieted down slightly after the train moved out.
Communication between Gu Yu and Xiaozhai was instantly reduced to a minimum. With all these people around them, they couldn't say anything substantial, yet neither was the prittle-prattle kind who enjoyed idle chit-chat.
In the end, they both leaned backwards and rested with closed eyes.
The old couple opposite them found it rather strange. The good-looking young couple was pleasing to the eyes and they were hoping to strike up a conversation during this long journey. As it turned out, the two were rather distant and did not seem to welcome greetings from strangers.
Before long, the train left Shengtian behind and gradually took up its speed, making a special sound as it moved along—probably one of the most familiar ones to the ordinary people. Countless men and women had returned home, gone to school, gone on business trips, searched, lost… each with their individual stories, all accompanied by this noise.
Of course, the peddling sound of "beer, beverage, bottled water; peanuts, sunflower seeds and eight-treasure congee" was practically standard issue on a train.
As this boisterous yet harmonious atmosphere continued, night set in outside the windows. There were no signs of any cities, but an endless stretch of bleakness and desolation. Lights were switched on in the compartments, outlining dim shadows on the window glass.
Sitting idly for hours on end inevitably resulted in fatigue. The passengers had gone quiet with tired expressions. The uncle opposite them seemed to be hungry, and produced a bag of peanuts which he ate with beer and marinated eggs.
Many hours seemed to have passed before the train stopped at a small station. The attendant reminded loudly at the doorway, "We'll be stopping for five minutes. Anybody who wants to take some fresh air, please be quick. Don't be late to come back!"
"I'll go take a cigarette break."
"Buy me a tea egg while you're at it."
"Watch out for your bag!"
Everyone was talking all at once. Quite a few male passengers got off to take some air and some new passengers went on board soon after that.
Holding a water bottle, Gu Yu was looking out of the window in boredom when Xiaozhai gave him a nudge. He turned around and saw a bloke with a crew cut walked into the carriage carrying a bag.
Everything about this man looked completely ordinary—everything but his bag, which was huge and stuffed full, but judging from the way the man carried it, it felt, well, light.
Immediately after him walked in another fellow who was short and lean, with an evasive look. The two appeared to not know each other, but turned to stand on either end of the carriage, blocking both exits.
Exchanging a knowing look, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai shrugged simultaneously.
It was deep into the night and the train rattled on. Sleeping overnight on a train was a wretched experience, regardless of whether one spent it on a hard seat or on a sleeping berth. Most passengers were nodding their heads in drowsiness by now and only a handful remained awake by playing with their cell phones.
After an attendant finished another round of routine check-up, the crew-cut guy and the shorty stood up suddenly.
Standing beneath the luggage rack, the crew-cut man zipped his large bag open, which was filled with nothing but a few stacks of old newspapers. He had long since picked his target. Reaching out with his left hand, he snatched over a small backpack a little way off and stuffed it into his empty bag rapidly.
In their line of work, this trick was called "content replacing".
The shorty, on the other hand, took up a much more "high-tech" approach. Strolling along the aisle with much easiness, he would sweep his hand slightly every time he passed a mark. Cell phones and wallets then fell out like ripe fruit.
With a wiping motion, anything dropped down would disappear into the shorty's pockets and their previous owners were still swaying in half-asleep, totally unaware of his deeds.
The slang for this trick was "digging from sleepers".
Hierarchy existed in all occupations. For pickpockets, the most junior staff stole with bare hands and those using a razor blade were experts. It could get even "better". The title of "Industrial Giants" went to the train-hopping burglars.
Pickpockets who operated on trains would usually get on board with short-distance tickets, do their thing and slip away right after. These were veteran thieves who knew better than to linger. After stripping off several marks, they turned around, ready to hide away in another carriage.
However, the shorty had just walked a few steps away when something tiny ripped through the air and hit him. All he felt was a pain at the back of his right knee, which sent he kneeling to the floor with a thump.
He cursed under his breath and struggled to stand up. But this time his back took the hit and he fell on his face because of the pain, landing on the legs of a passenger.
"Snore… oh… who? Who's that?"
A fatty was snoring with his face upward and opened his eyes with a shudder. Looking down, he found a man burying his head between his thighs...
"What are you doing?" The fatty shrieked.
Realizing things were going south, the crew-cut guy turned to run away, but got it even worse. He fell to the floor and smashed face down.
"Is there a fight?"
The passengers were woken up by the noise and stuck out their heads in confusion. One of the girls with sharp eyes suddenly pointed at the shorty and called out, "He's a thief!"
The others turned towards the man and indeed noticed three cell phones stuck around his belt. With that, the carriage seethed with excitement at once.
"Isn't that my phone?"
"Damn, my wallet's gone as well!"
"Call the railway police! Now!"
"Pin them down! Do not let them run away!"
The chaos continued for quite some time until the railway police finally arrived at the scene. Because of the irrefutable evidence, the next station along the route was immediately notified and the culprits were to be escorted into custody. The chief attendant arrived in person for a series of apology and consolation. He then inquired, "Who discovered those thieves?"
All heads turned to look at the fatty.
"No, it wasn't me, I…" Sweat was trickling down his face.
"Thank you so much! May I have you name and phone number please? We must have a public commendation for your good deeds!" Ignoring his explanation, the chief attendant went up to the fatty and shook his hand fervently.
"Such a nice young man. Thanks to him, nothing was stolen."
The old couple were also among the onlookers. After seeing enough of the bustling and stirring, the uncle turned his head back, ready to return to his snack. He called out with utter confusion, "Hey, where did my peanuts go?"