Fang Zhao had actually used a dog on him.
Fang Sheng was so mad he wanted to smash his bracelet, but luckily, he held back. He had just been fired. He wouldn't be receiving any income for some time. His severance pay was still being processed—it hadn't been wired to him yet. There wasn't much left of his cut from the revenue from song downloads during the new talent contest after he had bought his new apartment. The bracelet had cost him tens of thousands of dollars. He couldn't afford to trash it now.
Fang Sheng wanted to vent his anger from losing his job. He didn't dare take aim at the folks at Neon Culture. All he could settle for now was Fang Zhao, the person who had "set him up." Little did he expect Fang Zhao to not answer altogether and put his dog on instead. Was Fang Zhao mocking him?
Knowing full well that his tirade would only be answered with dog barks, Fang Sheng took a few deep breaths and hung up. He was going to bottle up his frustration and take off, but after taking two steps, he stopped suddenly to look at his bracelet.
He was so angry he had let his guard down. He reviewed what he had just said. He didn't think he had confessed to stealing the songs outright, so even if Fang Zhao had recorded the conversation, it wouldn't amount to much proof. He wouldn't lose in a court of law.
Good thing he had restrained himself. If he was thrown off by a few dog barks and confessed to stealing the songs, then it would all be over.
So that was what Fang Zhao was up to?
"You wanted to set me up again!"
Fang Sheng stared at the end of the road, eyes burning.
Fang Sheng was being paranoid. Fang Zhao knew that he wouldn't fess up to stealing the songs that easily. Here was someone savvy enough to steal the three songs without the original host of his body noticing and without leaving a trace of evidence. He wouldn't be easily duped into a confession.
There were always people who felt that they were entitled to your generosity. Even if there was a falling out and they were clearly in the wrong, they wouldn't own up to their mistakes. They would even play the victim.
Personal interest and temptation distorted the human heart.
Fang Zhao had seen so many examples and heard of so many during the end of days. Fang Sheng acted purely out of self-interest. If it were the end of days, Fang Zhao would have delivered a bullet to his head, but the rule of law prevailed in the New Era. Fang Zhao didn't want to run afoul of the law on account of Fang Sheng and squander the rare opportunity of a rebirth.
"Good job." Fang Zhao picked up his bracelet and fondled Curly Hair's head. He grabbed a handful of dog food and placed it on the dog's plate.
Fang Zhao returned to the lobby of the 50th floor after making sure the technicians had installed the gaming equipment properly.
The department was on vacation, so no one else was in the lobby. Zeng Huang and Wan Yue were spending time as a couple. They wouldn't be showing up during the vacation. Pang Pusong was traveling with his family. Song Miao was gone too. The only people left were Zu Wen and company. They gathered in their studio to game every day. If all you were doing is gaming, then you might as well live out of the office. You wouldn't have to worry about the utilities bill, and the cafeteria food wasn't that bad. It was also quite cheap.
When Fang Zhao approached, Zu Wen's group had just wrapped up a gaming session and they were deep in discussion.
Neon Culture had reached out to Zu Wen and company as well, but not through an agent. A few of their technicians knew Zu Wen and his team and put out feelers, but the Silver Wing crew rejected the overtures.
Setting aside the tremendous potential of the Polar Light project, they had landed the unlikely boss who was addicted to gaming. It didn't make sense to give that up. For folks like them, as long as they weren't in a pinch, bonus size was secondary. The key issue was whether they could partake in their preferred form of entertainment during office hours.
Why had Zu Wen stayed when the entire virtual projects department was purged last year? It wasn't that he was lazy. He was lured by the prospect of gaming all day if the department no longer received any assignments.
The group stopped talking when Fang Zhao entered the room.
"I'm going to head home for a bit. Are you guys going to stick around?" Fang Zhao asked.
"Yup. But we're going to head out later in the day to check out a gaming trade show. Will you be using the flying car, boss?" Zu Wen asked.
The department had two flying cars. Zeng Huang and Wan Yue had taken one of them and one was left.
Zu Wen and company leered at him, which gave Fang Zhao a kick. "No. I'll take public transportation. Knock yourselves out."
"Thanks, Boss!" Zu Wen hooted.
"We'll bring back some samples for you," the others said.
Fang Zhao left the office after reminding Zu Wen and company to lock the door to the 50th floor before heading out for the trade show. He didn't bring Curly Hair. All he had to do was pick up a few things from his black street apartment. He would be back first thing in the morning.
He could already afford a place in downtown Qi'an. Barring massive, extravagant properties, he could pay in cash.
But it was hard to find quality real estate in Qi'an these days. And folks who owned prime properties were reluctant to part with them. Fang Zhao hadn't been looking online because Duan Qianji had promised to introduce him to a homeowner looking to sell, a veteran composer. The composer rarely lived in his home but didn't want to sell it to a stranger either. Duan Qianji knew that Fang Zhao was in the market, so she had approached the elderly composer. But the owner wasn't in Yanzhou. He would return in a few days to handle the paperwork and meet Fang Zhao at the same time. It was only a matter of days. Fang Zhao could wait.
Evenings on black streets were still the same. Loud dance music mixed with laid-back tunes. Drunks shot the breeze in clusters. Young punks new to the life were plying their trade.
Fang Zhao bought two boxes of barbecued meat for Yue Qing, who ran the shop downstairs from his apartment, and the drug store owner, Ai Wan.
"Thanks. Not much to report. A few days ago a drunk wanted to toss a bottle at your window. I got rid of him," Yue Qing said as he took the boxes. He grabbed a piece of meat and started chewing away. "Are you moving?" he asked.
Yue Qing didn't know how the entertainment industry operated, but he had watched the music videos for the two movements. And he knew from news reports that the two songs were a big hit. Regardless of whether or not Fang Zhao was the actual composer of the two movements, judging from his official credit, he stood to benefit in a major way. It was time for him leave.
"Soon, but I'm not going to give up my apartment in the coming weeks," Fang Zhao said.
"Please make sure you give me a heads up when you move out so I can buy your apartment," Yue Qing blurted. He had been eyeing the flat above his shop for some time. Tenant records were kept electronically. Once Fang Zhao gave up his flat, it would be up for grabs. If another tenant moved in, Yue Qing wouldn't be able to buy it.
"Planning an expansion?" Fang Zhao asked.
"It's about time. I've also been in touch with the tenants on the two floors above yours. I should be able to buy those flats next year. I've been laying the groundwork for some time, haha." Now that he had saved enough, Yue Qing could proceed with his shop expansion. Naturally, he was in a good mood. Of course, folks like him couldn't compare to Fang Zhao, who could earn more than 1 million on one song alone. But average folks had their own way of life. Yue Qing was quite happy with his life right now.
"Got it. I'll give you a heads up before I give up the flat."
Yue Qing's shop was swarmed with customers, so Fang Zhao got out of the way. He left the shop and headed up the staircase.
But once he got to his apartment, Fang Zhao could tell that something was wrong.
When he lifted his head, he saw someone standing in front of his flat. Another approached from behind on the staircase. The sandwich approach signaled premeditation and professionals.
The staircase was dimly lit. To cut costs, public areas like this either had faulty lighting or were dimly lit.
Fang Zhao didn't look back and continued walking until he was two steps away from the man standing in front of his apartment.
He looked perhaps a few years older than Fang Zhao. He had a crew cut except for a crown-shaped hairdo in the middle, which was dyed half red and half blue. His right cheek sported a tattoo of a snarling beast.
Fang Zhao remembered Yue Qing mentioning once that black street thugs with a beast tattoo on their right cheek were typically hired guns and not young punks who engaged in random petty crime.
In other words, someone had paid them to show up.
When the man scanned Fang Zhao's bracelet, Fang Zhao had a hunch who their employer was.
"Fang Zhao?" The man standing in front of the door gauged Fang Zhao like a quality control inspector. His teeth were dyed neon green. The beast tattoo on his cheek became even snarlier.
A fellow resident on the second floor was about to head downstairs. He turned around immediately after noticing the impending conflict, too terrified to even fart.
The man standing in front of Fang Zhao's door was holding an electric rod that emitted a live current. The sound echoed clearly in the corridor. He took a step toward Fang Zhao and said, "Don't be afraid. Just hand over your bracelet and we'll be outta here in no time. There's no point in blocking traffic."
But before he could finish, Fang Zhao had pulled a gun and trained it on him.
Fang Zhao could hear the trailing footsteps cease. He flashed a warm smile and told the man in front of him:
"Don't be afraid. You've made a long trip, so why don't you step inside for a chat. There's no point in blocking traffic."