It was a dark corner and the gunshot wasn't that loud, so it didn't draw much attention on a busy black street at night. Some shops were playing music at deafening volumes—their employees were completely clueless.
Yue Qing was taking payment at his counter. He raised his head abruptly and looked in the direction of the gunshot. It might have eluded others but it stood out to him amid the clutter of other noises. He couldn't hear it clearly, but he instinctively knew it was a gunshot.
His shop was quite crowded, so Yue Qing didn't head outside. He sat at his counter, adjusted the surveillance camera installed at his entrance, and watched his monitor. The street corner was a short distance away and his camera had limited coverage.
A few secondary school students riding their skateboards passed by, joking among themselves.
A few drunken men mumbling as they leaned on each other.
Not them either.
Yue Qing spotted someone on his monitor.
He was carrying something in his hands. Yue Qing zoomed in and realized it was only a takeout box from a neighboring barbecue restaurant.
Fang Zhao showed up in Yue Qing's shop soon.
"Overtime?" Yue Qing asked with a smile and probing eyes.
"It's a busy time at work, but it'll start getting even busier from now on. I might be gone for a few days straight starting tomorrow. I'm just going to crash at the office." Fang Zhao opened his takeout box.
He handed Yue Qing a piece of barbecued meat. "Have some?"
"Thanks. The barbecued meat at that joint is decent. They get their meat from Muzhou. It isn't hybrid meat." Offered food, Yue Qing flashed a wide grin. He pulled a bottle of liquor from a shelf and offered Fang Zhao a glass.
"Bonus?" Yue Qing asked. He knew the barbecued meat wasn't cheap. People in the neighborhood typically dined on compressed synthetic food. Real barbecued meat was a luxury on a black street. A palm-sized piece cost 200 or 300 dollars. Yue Qing indulged himself only once or twice a month.
"Yep. That's why I splurged." Fang Zhao handed Yue Qing another piece.
"That's right—your new song sounds great. I downloaded it. The music video looks good too. I recommended it to my old comrades. They enjoyed it too. I heard in the news today that you're about to release your second single?" Yue Qing asked.
"Hence the overtime."
"I'm rooting for you. We'll be waiting for your new release, haha!"
Fang Zhao bought 10 pieces of barbecued meat. He and Yue Qing each had three pieces and he saved another three for Ai Wan. Ai Wan had said he was too busy to drop by and asked Fang Zhao to leave the pieces with Yue Qing. He would pick them up when things died down at his shop.
Fang Zhao brought the remaining piece in the takeout box upstairs.
Inside his shop, Yue Qing slapped his forehead. He was so busy eating and drinking he'd forgotten to ask Fang Zhao if he'd seen anything unusual at the street corner, but it probably had nothing to with that kid. Then who was it?
Yue Qing pulled up his surveillance monitor and started watching the people who passed by.
Around dusk something went down on the street behind his shop. It was a violent dispute but no one was killed. Yue Qing also learned that a gun was lost. But a lost firearm wasn't something people discussed publicly. After all, it wasn't a legal gun. Most of the guns in circulation on black streets were made in underground workshops. They were never registered and no one advertised when they went missing.
But he didn't nail down who had taken the gun. The gunshot from the street corner must have had something to do with the lost gun.
Who had taken the gun?
Yue Qing stared at his monitor for some time but didn't spot anyone suspicious. He eventually gave up. Who cared—as long as trouble didn't come his way.
As for Fang Zhao, he had already arrived on the second floor. As soon as he opened his door, Curly Hair approached, wagging his tail violently. The smell of barbecued meat excited it even more. It couldn't stop whining.
Fang Zhao scanned the room and didn't see any damage. He fondled the dog on its head. "Good job."
He placed the piece of barbecued meat on the dog's plate, closed his windows, and drew the curtains. He took off his coat, from which he plucked a gun.
The gun was a rather old model, but it was still quite advanced for Fang Zhao's time. There were many improvements.
Fang Zhao also removed a mangled bullet from his pocket.
So when Yue Qing was glued to his monitor searching for suspicious characters who might have picked up the lost gun, Fang Zhao was upstairs studying the gun he'd confiscated. He was a long way from home. He didn't know how to use the current generation of guns, so he had to study up.
The next day, Fang Zhao took Curly Hair downstairs to Yue Qing's shop. He would be crashing at his office for some time. He would need Yue Qing's help keeping an eye on his second-floor apartment.
Ai Wan was there too. He was telling Yue Qing about the four young men he'd treated at his pharmacy last night.
The four kids were petty thieves in school and eventually graduated to robbery. Now they had dropped out and continued their life of crime. Their previous marks were outsiders, they robbed small amounts and no one was killed, so black street residents turned a blind eye. But their job last night seemed to have gone awry. The four of them were badly beaten.
Ai Wan had asked them what had happened. Initially, the four were tight-lipped, but eventually, Ai Wan got a few words out of them.
"I'm guessing the four kids are the ones who picked up the gun. As for who beat them up, they wouldn't say. They only suffered from flesh wounds. They'll be hurting for a while, but they'll be OK in the long run. The person who attacked them just wanted to teach them a lesson."
"So the gunshot at the street corner was those four kids?" Yue Qing asked.
"No way. Those four kids had never handled a gun before. Even if they had a gun, they wouldn't have the guts to fire it. Even if they had the guts, they never had the chance to follow through. They were knocked down before they could see their opponent. The shot was fired by their attacker, probably to scare them. One of the four kids was so scared he peed. I could smell the piss on him when they arrived at my shop," Yue Qing explained animatedly.
When he spotted Fang Zhao, Ai Wan greeted him with a smile. "The barbecued meat yesterday was great. I hear you'll be stuck at the office for a while? Rest assured, Old Yue and I will keep an eye on your apartment. No one will dare touch your windows. Just treat us to barbecued meat again next time you get a bonus."
"Sure thing. No problem," Fang Zhao responded succinctly. He was in a hurry.
"Go, go. Don't worry about your apartment." Yue Qing tossed Fang Zhao a bag of compressed biscuits. "For your commute."
"Thanks!" Fang Zhao stuck the bag in his pocket and headed out in a hurry, Curly Hair in tow.
As Fang Zhao faded into the background, Ai Wan picked up where he'd left off with Yue Qing. "Say, which outsider is capable of delivering such a good lashing in this neighborhood?"
"You think it might be that kid?" Yue Qing pointed at Fang Zhao's silhouette.
Ai Wan shook his head firmly. "Him? He's a musician. How could he? The four kids told me their attacker clearly knew how to handle a gun. But aren't you the only veteran on this street, Old Yue?"
Yue Qing didn't think it was Fang Zhao either. "Let me look up the new tenants."
After leaving his black street, Fang Zhao called a cab because pets were banned from public trains. The first order of business was applying for a permit for his dog. He listed "Curly Hair" as its name.
The dog was only officially adopted when it had a chip implanted. The chip served as its ID. Fang Zhao could locate it wherever it went. And a quick scan would reveal the pet's identity and owner.
After registering his pet, Fang Zhao brought it to the company.
Staffers on the ground floor were puzzled to see Fang Zhao bringing a dog to work. Then they noticed that he wasn't stopped. The security guards took a quick glance at him and moved on. They had no intention of interfering.
"I'm not mistaken, right? The person who just passed by was Fang Zhao, no?"
"Yep, and he brought a dog."
"The things newcomers can get away with these days..."
"He's even younger than you are and he produced an epic, haha."
"Your information is out of date. My sources tell me that he's been promoted."
Fang Zhao ignored the discussion and ducked into the elevator. He was on the phone with Bu Lai. The body he inherited was weak. He needed to work out.
"Why, isn't it Manager Fang? Congratulations on the promotion." Bu Lai's jaded face beamed a warm smile.
"You need more equipment? I can ask the property staff to hold your equipment."
"No, I was actually wondering if you had any exercise equipment."
"I don't think so, but I could order some, although the company already has a gym. You wanna set one up in your department?"
"That's what I was thinking."
"No problem. Your floor is quite spacious anyway."
"Anything else? I'll put them in the same order."
"...Manager Fang, you're here to work."
"I also want the gear for shooting games. I prefer realistic guns."
"Fang Zhao, you're here to work."
"Let's go with games that aren't too old. The newer the better."
"Fang Zhao, you're here to work!"