Xue Meng awoke dizzy. His limbs felt weighed down as if he had gone through a marathon.
His phone alarm just went off. The alarm sound pierced his eardrum, almost reaching his soul. Xue Meng sat up with a jolt and groped for the phone. After shutting off the alarm, he threw it aside in annoyance.
The phone landed on the bedside stand with a thud, and he realized with a start that he was not in his bedroom.
Massaging his temples, he walked out of the room and ran into Jiang Lan.
With pajamas on, Jiang Lan had a sleepy cub in his chest pocket.
“You are awake! You got drunk last night, so I brought you to my home.”
After last night’s events came to his mind, Xue Meng scratched his head.” Sorry for the trouble.”
“No trouble at all.” Jiang Lan shook his head.” The toothbrush and hot towel are ready for you. Come to breakfast when you are done.”
They are supposed to come to work before nine am. A glance at his phone prompted Xue Meng to quicken his pace.
Looking at his pale face and dark circles under his eyes in a mirror, Xue Meng thought about the strange dream he had last night. In that dream, a crowd was worshipping a deity statue. That statue seemed to be alive and whispered to him, asking him to make a wish. When he sensed the danger, it was Jiang Lan who came to the rescue.
While brushing his teeth, Xue Meng wondered who finally prevailed in that dream.
After he was done, Jiang Lan had already boiled two plates of dumplings as their breakfast and beckoned him over.
After taking a seat facing Jiang Lan, Xue Meng gulped down his food while describing last night’s dream.”….You don’t know how real that dream appeared to me. I could recall every detail. Luckily it’s just a scary dream….”
Then he ate one hot dumpling to dispel that lingering chill he felt in that dream.
Holding a cup of warm water, Jiang Lan glanced at him and said slowly.” How could you be so sure it is just a dream?”
“Holy cow, please don’t scare me in the morning.”
Xue Meng dropped his dumpling and spilled some soup in his fright.
When wiping his hand with a tissue, Xue Meng suddenly stopped and stared at his empty wrist.” Where is my bracelet?”
He remembered having the bracelet on his left wrist last night.
“There was something wrong with the bracelet. I had already delivered it to the authorities.” Said Jiang Lan.
Staring alternately at his empty wrist and Jiang Lan, who behaved in a mysterious manner, Xue Meng’s face paled when his thought turned to the weird dream again.
“Last night….it is not a dream?”
Putting down his empty cup, Jiang Lan smiled.” Take a guess.”
Xue Meng wanted to question him more, but he didn’t dare and felt he was out of his depth. In a typical fiction plot, the most inquisitive character usually ends badly after the character reveals a secret. Xue Meng wanted to avoid that fate and made it to the end.
Ancient wisdom reminded him that it’s better to remain ignorant when necessary.
After breakfast, they went to work together.
Now everyone knew Suan Ni, so Jiang Lan brought him to work in the open.
There were only five minutes left till office hours when they arrived. Uncle Zhou’s tea was brewed, and Xiao Xiaoyu was going through her makeup ritual.
Uncle Zhou waved to Jiang Lan and gave him a wickerwork pet nest.” It’s for you.”
This nest was hollowed, cylinder-shaped, with soft padding inside. It was obviously made for Suan Ni.
“Thank you, Uncle Zhou.”
A surprised smile appeared on Jiang Lan’s face. Despite its simple look, Jiang Lan knew it was well made, better than any pet nest he could find on TaobaoChina’s biggest online shopping platform. He was so pleased that he thanked Uncle Zhou again.
“I made it myself. It doesn’t worth much. If your cat likes it, I can make another one.”
Jiang Lan put the nest beside the window. The morning sunshine shrouded the yellow nest in a warm glow.
Without a word from Jiang Lan, Suan Ni crawled out of the backpack and jumped into the nest. He took a great interest in the nest. Touching its soft padding first, he then crawled inside and curled into a furball while wagging his tails and purring in satisfaction.
Xiao Xiaoyu melted in adoration. She fetched a packet of beef jerky from her purse and put it in the nest.” It is for you.”
It was Suan Ni’s favorite beef jerky from yesterday.
Suan Ni meowed in delight and crawled out of the nest to show his appreciation by rubbing his head against her palms.
Before Xiao Xiaoyu had the chance to pick him up, Suan Ni went to Uncle Zhou and put his paws on his knees to meow his thanks.
The wrinkles in Uncle Zhou’s face deepened as he smiled and offered another packet of beef jerky to Suan Ni.” Good boy, here is another one for you.”
Jiang Lan didn’t stop smiling while Suan Ni was showered with beef jerkys. Then he returned to his desk to open his laptop, beginning his second day in this office.
He started by familiarizing himself with office regulations. After that, he worked on an excel file. It was already half-past ten when he took a short break. Chief Cheng suddenly showed up and talked to Xue Meng. Before he was about to leave, he glanced at Jiang Lan and said to Xue Meng.” You bring Jiang Lan along to familiarize him with the job.”
At the end of October, Jiang City will host an international tournament. As part of the preparation for this tournament, the street administration office was to collect data on the local population.
Hanyang district lies on the outskirts of Jiang city. As a sleepy backwater, this district sheltered some unsavory elements among the local population. Considering this, Chief Cheng asked them to be meticulous in collecting data to avoid disrupting the tournament.
Xue Meng was obviously very experienced in this work. Loaded with a huge pile of data collection forms, he asked Jiang Lan to join him.
Data collection was divided into different sections. They were only responsible for the few streets that fall under the administration of their office. It was a simple yet time-consuming job. Jiang Lan and Xue Meng started to sweep the building in the nearest apartment complex.
Sweeping the building means going from floor to floor, door to door, to interview residents of every household.
Xue Meng was responsible for knocking on doors and interviewing residents while Jiang Lan was filling in the data collection form. When they finished sweeping one building, and on the way to the next, Xue Meng suddenly whispered to Jiang Lan in a nervous tone.” Have you seen it?”
“Bracelets!” Xue Meng raised his eyebrow and immediately lowered his voice.” In the building we just swept, at least ten residents wear those bracelets, and a few of them also wear the necklace…I am not sure if the rest of them don’t wear them or simply have them under their sleeves.”
A moment ago, it was Xue Meng who was interviewing the residents, so Jiang Lan didn’t notice it. The building they just swept was No.1 Block. Jiang Lan said with a furrowed brow.” Have you seen anyone wearing the bracelets in the other apartment complexes?”
Xue Meng shook his head.
Then he added cautiously.” Did you mention there is something wrong with the bracelets? Would it cause any problem if too many people are wearing them?”
Jiang Lan said hesitantly.” Perhaps not.”
He had always filed a report with the Bureau. If Ying Qiao’s boss acted quickly to track down and arrest the Tai Su, there shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Unnerved by Jiang Lan’s uncertain tone, Xue Meng asked in a cautious tone.” Perhaps? Do you mean it is possible some bad things would happen?
“I am not sure.” Jiang Lan went toward the No.2 block with a pile of data collection forms. Sensing his tenseness, Jiang Lan tried to comfort him.” Our feeling nervous wouldn’t make any difference. There is nothing we can do for them at this moment. The choices lie in their hands now.”
The bracelets left by the Tai Su didn’t harm people directly; it was more like a medium. Through the bracelets, the Tai Su could lure people into making outrageous wishes, and they don’t know the price for granting their wishes is their life.
What could be done is to apprehend the Tai Su as soon as possible. But putting the Tai Su in chains was not the end of it. Once a wish was made, a price had to be paid now or on a future date, even if the Tai Su wasn’t around to claim it. There is no escaping it.
With the feverish crowd in his mind, Xue Meng had a vague sense of Jiang Lan’s cryptic words. He couldn’t help but soothe the goosebumps in his arms when he recalled he almost forgot Jiang Lan’s warning.
Xue Meng didn’t have much time to contemplate what Jiang Lan just said. He knocked on the first door in the No.2 block.
An unfriendly-looking middle-aged woman opened the door. She warily clutched the door and spoke to them in a thick accent.” Who are you?”
Xue Meng showed her his work ID hanging from his neck.” Hi, we came from the Hanyang Street Administration Office to interview local residents. May I ask your name and the number of people living in your household?”
The middle-aged woman tied her eyebrow in a knot and answered impatiently.” Zhao Qunfang, there is only me in this household.”
Ignoring her impatience, Xue Meng pressed on.” We also need your mobile number.”
Zhao Qunfang said a string of numbers and said.” Are we done?”
Xue Meng was about to answer, but a poke on his waist stopped him. Jiang Lan stepped forward.” Have you called to report a jewelry shop named” Wishes Come True” in Culture street on May 4th? We have already investigated the shop but didn’t notice any signs of activities associated with superstition or evil cult.”
Jiang Lan had already recognized her voice a moment ago. So he stepped forward to question her.
The looks on her face suddenly changed. Fear appeared in her eyes, and she tried to close the door.” What are you talking about? It is not me. I don’t know anything.”
Xue Meng quickly stepped in to jam the door and said smilingly.” Please don’t be afraid. We are only here to collect information. It is just that the jewelry shop has some problems. May I ask you to provide us with some clues?”
“I don’t know anything! If you stayed here any longer, I would call the police.”
Zhao Qunfan’s face grew grim after being pressed by Xue Meng. She cursed them in dialects while trying to close the door.
But she couldn’t. When Xue Meng tried to extract his feet, two police officers appeared with a question.” May I ask if Zhao Qunfan lives here?”
Before she had time to answer, Xue Meng answered for her.” Yes.”
Sensing officers’ suspicion, Xue Meng hurriedly presented his word ID.” Officer Comrades This honorific has long gone out of fashion but is still reserved for the Police officers, we are here to collect data on the local population on behalf of the Street Administration Office of Hanyang District. Madam Zhao misunderstood our purpose a moment ago.”
The work ID dispelled any suspicion the officers might have. Giving them a brief nod, they walked towards Zhao Qunfang. The police’s presence seemed to put a damper on her spirit, she asked.” Why are you here? I didn’t commit any crime!”
After showing their police badge, the officers asked.” May we talk inside your home? We come to ask you some questions in connection with Li Chunhua’s death.”
Zhao Qunfang’s eyes were evasive.” I don’t know anything.”
The officers gave her a printed document.” We found the record of your chat with her on her phone. It appeared to us that she maintained frequent contacts with you before her death.”
Zhao Qunfang remained silent for a moment, and then she let them come in.” Fine, come in. What would you like to ask?”
Two police officers walked inside. Jiang Lan instinctively felt there was something wrong. Since the officers didn’t object to their presence, they followed them inside.