The new office was not like what he had imagined.
Office hours started at nine o’clock. In the last few minutes before nine o’clock, the people in the office switched into work mode, tidying up their desks, hanging their name cards on the neck, and sitting upright before desks. Now the whole place looked like a real office.
Jiang Lan took a breath of relief.
Xue Meng introduced him to the members of the office on his own initiative.
The man reading a newspaper and sipping tea was named Zhou Rong, but everyone called him Uncle ZhouUncle was used here as an honorific to show affection and respect to middle age men. He was in his fifties with a lean body and a kind smile. When he didn’t smile, he had an air of a sage to him. He was transferred from a higher office to enjoy a more leisurely pace of work here until his retirement. He wasn’t assigned any work, so he took charge of cleaning the office. Jiang Lan’s desk was cleaned by him before Jiang Lan came.
The young girl’s name was Xiao Xiaoyu. She was pretty and looked fashionable. She got her job here by passing an exam a few years back. Now she was responsible for receiving people in the reception hall. She liked this job because the office was very close to her home, so she never bothered to look for a better job elsewhere.
There was supposed to be another young man named Zhang Tianxing in the office, who happened to take a one-month leave of absence until the middle of May.
Xue Meng was the most junior member of this office. Winking at Jiang Lan, he said in a joking tone.” They used to dump work on me before. Now you can relieve me.”
Jiang Lan smiled.”Ha.”
Then he asked.” What did we do here?”
Unexpectedly this simple question gave Xue Meng a pause. After appearing to think hard, he finally declared solemnly.” We serve the people, of course!”
Jiang Lan looked confused.
What did these empty words supposed to mean?
Coughing, Xue Meng added.” To put it simply……We have to do everything.”
Seeing the surprise in Jiang Lan’s face, Xue Meng laughed and patted Jiang Lan’s shoulder like they were already good friends.” Don’t be afraid. In this office, we can be busy. But we also have the leisure time we need. The colleagues in other departments said they are really jealous of us.”
Rolling her eyes, Xiao Xiaoyu said.” Can you detect the sarcasm in their words?”
Then she turned to Jiang Lan, and explained.” Don’t listen to his nonsense. We are here to try to solve all the problems the whole neighbourhood might have. Anything trivial might be dropped in our lap. You are so handsome. The neighbourhood Aunties In Chinese, they were called Dama, referring to women in their fifties or sixties would definitely like you. Next time a quarrel breaks out among them, like fighting for a group dance spot, we can send you to intervene.”
Jiang Lan.” ???”
Although everything was not what he had expected, Jiang Lan still followed Xue Meng to go through the onboarding procedure. After that, the Chief’s office door was opened. In it, A middle-aged man sat behind the desk. He waved Jiang Lan in for a talk.
The Chief of the street administration office was named Cheng Ruhai. He was chubby, had a square face with a bald spot at the top of his head and a kind smile.
“ You are Jiang? I have read your dossier.”
At the mention of his dossier, Jiang Lan’s heart skipped a beat. Feeling a bit guilty, he didn’t dare to meet Chief Cheng’s eyes. Without thinking, he laid his eyes on the shining bald patch on Chief Cheng’s head. Then he withdrew it quickly to avoid embarrassing the Chief. Finally, he settled on focusing on his nose.
He acted this way for a reason.
When he first joined the special service branch, he didn’t try to conceal his identity. He soon paid the price for that. Every time he went to the Monster Bureau, the colleagues he met there always acted cautious and fearful around him. He tried to be extra friendly to mingle with people. But because he was a Tao Tie, he only got cautious and fearful looks.
After his many failed attempts to make friends, Jiang Lan gave up. Gradually he became just like other members of the special service branch, always alone.
Because of this, he concealed his identity in his application form when taking the job test for the street administration office, pretending to be an ordinary monster.
Monster’s appearance couldn’t tell their origins. Pretending to be a normal monster was supposed to be enough for him to mingle with his colleagues.
With heart in his throat, Jiang Lan listened to Chief Cheng’s talk.” Despite our racial difference, in serving people, we have the same ideals and principles. After you joined our office, you are one of us. If you have any problems with the job, just ask. We will do our best to help you. If you face any difficulties in your private life, Zhou and Zhang will lend you a hand.”
Chief Cheng leaned a little closer, lowered his voice.” Zhang and Zhou are like you, not ordinary people. Zhou was transferred from a higher office. Although he is almost retired, he has no problem being a tutor to your young men. If you have any difficulty, feel free to ask him. Zhang is on leave at the moment. You will meet him when he returns.”
Jiang Lan didn’t expect Chief Cheng would talk about these. His tenseness was gone, replaced by cheerfulness. Trying to hide his smile at the corner of his mouth, he nodded.” I will work hard, and won’t disappoint you.”
Chief Cheng laughed heartily. Patting his shoulder, he said.” Don’t be such a serious young man. We are all quite relaxed here.”
When Jiang Lan came out of the office, his mouth was smiling, and his eyes were radiating.
Admiring Jiang Lan’s handsome face, Xiao Xiaoyu laughed.” I will no longer feel sleepy at work with this face around.”
Throwing her a look of contempt, Xue Meng then suggested.” Today is Jiang Lan’s first day at work. After work, let’s get together for a celebration. I know a perfect barbecue place….”
Jiang Lan was about to nod when Xiao Xiaoyu objected with a sneer.” We have been to that place countless times. I am so tired of the food there……Let’s have crawfish instead.”
She turned to ask his opinion with a pleasant look on her face.” Jiang Lan, what do you think?”
He had just met them. In a situation like this, it is advisable to avoid picking a side. But something on Xiao Xiaoyu’s smiling face changed his mind. His survival instincts kicked in.”Crawfish!”
Xue Meng gave him a look of betrayal, condemning him silently.
Xiao Xiaoyu’s smile grew brighter, and said to Xue Meng with a look of contempt.” Look, Jiang Lan has better taste than you.”
After a brief duel of words, they resumed their job. Jiang Lan wasn’t assigned any work because he just came. Xiao Xiaoyu brought some office regulations and job manuals for him to read.
While reading documents, Jiang Lan extended his hand into his backpack under the table, patting his little brother’s fur head. Now Suan Ni was fast asleep. After taking a peek at his little brother, he resumed reading with enthusiasm.
Although this place was not what he expected, he liked the vibes here.
The office hours started from 9am to 5pm with a 90 minutes lunch break. As Xue Meng said, you could call their pace of work leisurely. After finishing a spreadsheet, typing a report and exchanging banter in the intervals, they would soon have a lunch break.
In the afternoon, when Xue Meng was in the restroom, Jiang Lan took a phone call for him. On the other end, a middle-aged woman’s voice shouted in a very thick Jiang City dialectMost of the Southern China dialects are incomprehensible to outsiders. In extreme cases, neighbors lived across the river don’t understand each other if they don’t bother to learn Mandarin, talking like a machine gun blazing.
Jiang Lan could understand Jiang city dialect. After recording their conversation, he told his colleagues in the office.” A woman called to report a shop in Culture Street engaging in evil cult activity and promoting superstition.”
“She again? She has probably called a dozen times about this matter.” Xiao Xiaoyu shrugged, appearing hardly surprised.” In her previous call, she claimed that the shop owner had committed murder. So we asked her to call the police, but she hung up. After two days, she called again claiming her home was haunted by a ghost, which was sent by that shop owner…….Today her story sounds very normal if you compare it with her previous calls.”
Jiang Lan asked.”So we leave it at that.”
“These kinds of calls are too many to take them seriously.”
As they were talking, Xue Meng came back. Hearing what they just said, he said.” You will get used to it very soon. There are no shortages of weird people.”
Sipping his tea, Uncle Zhou said.” If there is nothing else to occupy your guys, maybe it’s a good idea to take a look. After all, she has made so many calls to us, we would look bad if something did happen to her.”
Xue Meng agreed.” I am free this afternoon. I will take a look.”
Then he asked Jiang Lan.” Why don’t we come together?”
Jiang Lan didn’t have anything to do, so he decided to tag along. Before leaving, he left Suan Ni sleeping in the office.
Culture street was a little far from their office, so they drove their office car. Unfortunately, they ran into a traffic jam just when they entered the street. It appeared to be quite crowded ahead, with two police cars parked by the roadside.
Xue Meng leaned out of the car window, speculating.” Maybe there is an accident ahead?”
Jiang Lan had a good hearing. He said after listening to the chatter.” Looks like someone died in the residential area.”
“Again?” Xue Meng was shocked. Soothing his goosebumps, he said.” Last month there were three unnatural deaths in our district. This is the fourth.”
In a mysterious tone, he lowered his voice almost to a whisper.” I heard those three people died in a bizarre way. It looks like a supernatural force was at play.”
Giving him a glance, Jiang Lan said.” Supernatural?”
Xue Meng nodded.” This news has already spread around the neighbourhood. It is said that those three victims passed away with bizarre smiles and a healthy pink colour on their faces. They were relatively young and had no record of serious illness. But suddenly, they pass away. Do you think it’s very strange?”
The job in the street administration office needed them to maintain constant contact with the whole neighbourhood. This enabled them to collect many gossip and rumours. But this grim news was quite shocking.
Xue Meng was a little unnerved after describing the deaths. Lowering the car window, he let the fresh air in to soothe his nerves.
Seeing him like this, Jiang Lan mocked him.” Are we tasked with debunking superstition among the people? It looks like you actually believe this.”
But Xue Meng claimed.” My reason told me this is nonsense, but I couldn’t help being drawn to it.”
Finally, the traffic started to move. He started the car and followed along. In the passenger seat, Jiang Lan leaned out to take a look at the residential area. But the police car and the ambulance were already gone. After seeing nothing unusual, he withdrew his eyes.
It took them more than half an hour to reach the jewellery shop because of the traffic jam.
The shop’s name was” Wishes come true”. It appeared this shop was just opened for business because everything looked brand new.
After parking their car, they entered the shop to hear a greeting.”Welcome!”
A Chubby shop owner walked towards them with a warm smile.” Anything interest your two gentlemen?”
They scanned around, detecting nothing unusual. This place didn’t look like a hiding place for evil cults engaging in superstition activities.
Xue Meng whispered to Jiang Lan.” Looks like we made the trip for nothing.”
Showing their office badge, they explained to the shop owner their purpose of visit.
Hearing that his shop was reported for engaging in a superstition activity, the shop owner at first appeared stunned, then he said helplessly.” I am selling lucky gems. How come I have anything to do with superstition?”
“Yes, these bracelets are made of lucky gems.”
The shop owner picked up a random bracelet to show them.” Of course, lucky gems are just a marketing gimmick.”
This bracelet was made of milky white gems with traces of red on the surface. It looks pretty beautiful.
Apart from this bracelet, other jewellery in this shop was also made of the same material.
Picking up one, Jiang Lan thought this stone was beautiful. With a smooth surface, it has a soft touch.
They didn’t see any problem after walking around in the shop.
Spreading his arms, Xue Meng said.” Let’s get back. We are finished here.”
Before they left, the shop owner wanted to give them two men’s bracelets. Xue Meng tried to refuse, but the shop owners had none of it, claiming he just tried to compensate for their trouble.
Finally, Xue Meng offered to buy it because he also likes it.
The shop owner watched them leave, and said.” I wish you two luck and welcome to visit again.”
|↑1||Uncle was used here as an honorific to show affection and respect to middle age men|
|↑2||In Chinese, they were called Dama, referring to women in their fifties or sixties|
|↑3||Most of the Southern China dialects are incomprehensible to outsiders. In extreme cases, neighbors lived across the river don’t understand each other if they don’t bother to learn Mandarin|