Li Yundong stared at the huge throng of people gathered at the 9th floor's elevator lobby. "Um... President Cao? Not that I'm an expert in how entertainment companies usually function, but I don't think this crowd is the status quo. Has one of the movie actors your company is managing decided to drop in for a visit?"
The woman beside him didn't answer, so Li Yundong glanced at her. President Cao looked extremely pale. Her breathing was a bit ragged, and one of her hands was pressed firmly against her chest. A dozen alarm bells sounded in Li Yundong's head. Is she about to hyperventilate? He reached out and touched her shoulder gently. The woman flinched as if his touch had burned her.
"Are you alright, Ma'am?" Li Yundong asked.
President Cao shook her head. Her eyes had cleared a little. "I'm fine... Just wondering what's going on, is all..."
Li Yundong didn't buy that for a second. Her face didn't look fine; she looked ill. Li Yundong glanced around a few times. "Why don't we head over there?" Li Yundong pointed to a spot at the corner of the elevator lobby, where a tall potted plant sat beside a window ledge. "You look like you could use some air."
President Cao nodded shakily. Then, under the pretense of guiding her away from the crowd, Li Yundong jabbed his knuckle into an acupoint between President Cao's shoulder blades—the Lingtai.
By the time they reached the potted plant, the color had already returned into President Cao's face, and she was tapping furiously on her phone. Once again, Li Yundong was reminded of the fact that Su Chan really did know her stuff. Stimulating the Lingtai could probably calm an ADHD patient high on cocaine.
President Cao released a frustrated growl and lowered her phone from her ear. "Damn it. My assistant isn't picking up. And nobody's answering the phones in the office."
Li Yundong surveyed the crowd once again. What the hell are all these people doing here? If the floor plan of the 9th floor was anything similar to that of the 19th floor, then there would be a long hallway on the right side of the elevator lobby that would lead straight to the office. And judging from the fact that the elevator lobby was jam-packed, the long hallway was most likely crowded as well.
Li Yundong turned towards President Cao, who was still trying to call someone on her phone. "Do you recognize anyone here?" he asked, gesturing at the crowd. "Maybe one of your employees?"
President Cao shook her head. "Most of them are from different floors."
Li Yundong frowned. Typical, he thought. People and their seemingly infinite nosiness. Without further ado, he grabbed a guy who had just stepped out from the elevator nearest to where they were standing. "Hey, buddy," Li Yundong said, trying to sound as friendly as possible. "Do you know what's going on? Why did you come up here?"
"I'm not sure what's going on," said the guy. "They said something about an incident on the 9th floor. That someone died or something."
"What?!" President Cao gasped. "Who died? What did you hear? Tell me everything."
The guy blushed. "U- um... Hi, President Cao. The truth is I have no idea. That's why I'm here to find out."
The guy walked away and quickly joined the crowd.
"Oh, God... What a mess," President Cao said with a sigh.
"Calm down, Ma'am," Li Yundong said. "I don't think we should jump to conclusions just yet."
"Easy for you to say," President Cao mumbled. "It's not your job on the line here. Someone died, for God's sake."
"That's just what one guy heard from his buddies, who might be just as clueless as you and I. I hardly think that counts as hard evidence."
President Cao sighed. "Okay. Yeah. You're right." One of her palm moved to her chest again.
Li Yundong continued as he scanned over the crowd with his eyes. "Based on the size of the crowd, it's likely this has been going on for quite a while now. If it's true that someone's life is in danger, why isn't the ambulance here yet? Surely, someone must've called."
President Cao looked out of the window for a moment. "Yeah. You're right. No ambulance yet." She sighed. "I guess I'll have to go over there and find out. I'm the president after all."
"Wait," Li Yundong said.
President Cao turned back around with a raised brow.
"Are you sure you're up for this?" he asked seriously. "Earlier, you looked like you were about to pass out." Something told him that President Cao had a chronic health problem. Call it a gut feeling.
President Cao waved him off. "Nah. I'm fine. But do you mind coming with me? I could use some help."
"Sure," Li Yundong said.
They walked away from the potted plant and headed back to the crowded lobby. As soon as they joined the crowd, there was a ding. One of the elevators opened, and President Yin stepped out. There was a young woman with her which... Hey... Isn't that...? He groaned inwardly. Zhou Qin was right. What was it with him and these funny coincidences? Geez!
President Yin had already reached President Cao's side. "What's going on here, Kefei?"
"Hey, Mengfan." President Cao shook her head. "I'm not sure. I'm about to go check it out." Then, she pointed at Li Yundong. "And your brilliant employee is offering me his assistance."
Li Yundong smiled at President Cao, then stole a glance at the young lady beside President Yin. The murderous glare she was giving him was a clear indication that she had yet to forget about the little "accident" at Uniqlo the other day. Li Yundong forced out a smile, which the lady answered with a snort.
"What's the matter, Shen Hui?" President Cao said in a tone of suspicion, her eyes bouncing back and forth between Li Yundong and Miss Forget-To-Lock-The-Door-In-Fitting-Room. "You two know each other?"
Shen Hui snorted, then glared at Li Yundong as though he wanted to skin him alive. "I'd rather die than be acquainted with a pervert like him." She jabbed her finger in Li Yundong's direction.
President Cao's gaze snapped to him while President Yin did a face palm. Li Yundong clenched his jaw. He was done with this girl's bullshit.
"Listen, Miss Shen. I don't appreciate you throwing out wild and unfair accusations like that," he said, taking a step forward. "It was a misunderstanding and you know it. You were the one who forgot to lock the door in the first place. And you could've answered me when I was calling my girlfriend's name outside that fitting room, but you didn't!"
Shen Hui looked like she was about to argue, but a loud scream from the crowd made her stop. Li Yundong glanced towards the crowd, where a commotion seemed to be taking place. Li Yundong turned back to Shen Hui and shot her a warning glance. "We'll finish this discussion later. Now we have a problem to deal with." Li Yundong walked towards President Cao. "Stay behind me, Ma'am. I'll clear a way for us to get through."
Li Yundong closed his eyes and began to feel the presence of his Qi at his lower Dantian. By the time he opened his eyes, his Qi had already been moved to his Shenting and Lingtai.
A split second later, his clear voice sounded over the crowd's din. "Make way for the president!"
They were still trying to squeeze past the crowd in the long hallway when a man's voice made them stop. "Cao Kefei! You f*cking bitch! Give me the money, or I'll paint the walls of your office with blood!" Li Yundong could feel President Cao stiffen beside him. Murmurs and whispers sounded in the hallway. Li Yundong pushed his way forward. "Make way, make way. Coming through," he said in a low tone. He turned back around and gestured for President Cao and President Yin to follow.
"Cao Kefei!! Where are you!! Come out! Now!" Desperation colored the man's voice, which was a bad sign. Li Yundong knew how dangerous a desperate man could be; this was Zhao Yujian all over again.
A series of screams rang out. It came from somewhere past the end of the hallway, where the office of Huasheng Studios must be located. "Ten minutes! I'll give you people ten minutes to get Cao Kefei to come up here! If she isn't up here in ten minutes, I'll start slitting throats!"
So, he's got a knife, Li Yundong thought as he squeezed past a guy with a beer belly.
Moments later, they reached the end of the hallway. A few people turned their heads when they saw them. One of them was about to shout, no doubt to announce President Cao's arrival, but Li Yundong quickly clamped his hand over the guy's mouth. "Shh," Li Yundong said. "Don't tell him we're here yet." Li Yundong held the guy gaze until he nodded. Then he gave the rest of the crowd—near the end of the hallway—warning looks. "Don't say a word," he whispered loud enough for them to hear. When he saw nods of compliance, he turned around to face President Cao. "Stay out of sight for now. That guy clearly has a problem with you."
"But he said he'll start killing if I don't show up," President Cao whispered anxiously, then glanced down. "My phone's already ringing. Someone's calling me."
Li Yundong shook his head. "Put it on vibrate. He gave you ten minutes, right? That's more than enough time for me to assess the situation first."
President Cao thought for a moment, then nodded.
Li Yundong gave President Yin a pointed look. "This is your building. Do you want the cops involved?"
President Yin and President Cao shared a look with each other.
Li Yundong sighed. "You know what, I'll let you two decide." Then, he held out his hand to President Yin. "Give me your phone."
"Why?" President Yin looked at him warily.
"Just trust me," Li Yundong said.
President Yin pressed her phone into Li Yundong's hand. Li Yundong unlocked the phone's screen and launched the camera app. He gave the two women a final glance. "Stay here. I'll be back."
Li Yundong crept towards the convex corner at the end of the hallway. "Psst, psst. Guys, make way." He shouldered past a few guys and peeked out from the corner of the wall. Other than a huge entrance sign with the Chinese characters "Huasheng Studios" carved onto it, he couldn't see the entrance. I have to get closer. He stepped around the corner and crept towards the entrance sign, using the crowd as his cover. The buzzing was loud in his ears—too many noise within a confined space. It would take too long to sort through the buzzing, so he didn't bother. He crouched behind two onlookers, then slowly raised himself until he could see past their shoulders. A beefy man stood blocking the entrance of the Huasheng Studios and, as expected, the guy was armed with a knife. The man's attire stuck out to Li Yundong; it seemed totally out of place. Li Yundong might not be a fashionista, but he was pretty sure that no one would dress in a thick trench coat during summer. He's hiding something under that coat... Li Yundong zoomed in with Mingmu and tried to identify any bulges on the coat. Well, at least he didn't see any signs of a gun. When Li Yundong switched back to normal vision, something caught his eye. A woman lay unmovingly at the man's feet. He switched to telescopic vision again. The woman's eyes were closed, but she was still breathing. There were no signs of blood. He raised President Yin's phone to snap a picture of the scene.
Moments later, Li Yundong returned to the end of the hallway where President Cao was waiting for him anxiously. "What did you see?" she asked.
Li Yundong handed her the phone instead of answering. President Cao took the phone and gasped when she saw the photo. "Oh my God... Is she..."
"She's alive," Li Yundong said. "Still breathing. No noticeable wounds. Probably just unconscious."
"Six minutes, Cao Kefei!" the man yelled. "You've got six minutes before I start slitting throats! I know you're hiding in your office like a coward!"
Several loud slams followed suit. "Open the damn door! And come out!"
Li Yundong regarded President Cao seriously. "How do you want to handle this?"
A deathlike pallor formed on President Cao's face. "I- I'll have to talk to him. See what he wants."
"Kefei..." President Yin grabbed the other woman's shoulder. "Are you sure..."
President Cao's face held a steely resolve. "I'm sure."
President Yin nodded and glanced at Li Yundong. "The cops are on the way." President Yin jerked her thumb at somewhere behind her back. "And my security team's on standby."
Li Yundong was a little surprised that President Yin was even telling him all this instead of just taking charge—after all, she owned the whole building. But for some strange reason, she was letting him, a total stranger, call the shots.
There was only one plausible explanation he could think of—this was another test.
"The cops can't do anything here," Li Yundong said firmly. "Maybe they can send a hostage negotiator, but I'm not sure if that will help. And with all due respect, I don't think there's anything your security team can do either." Li Yundong peered over President Yin's shoulder towards a few uniformed men armed with sticks standing nearby. Li Yundong looked President Yin in the eye. "The bad guy seemed pretty desperate. He might start attacking people if the cops or your men show themselves. Also, I think he's hiding something under his jacket. We don't know what he's hiding or what he's planning. It's best not to provoke him."
President Yin nodded her agreement. "So, what's the plan, young man?"
Li Yundong's eyes slid towards President Cao. "Can you distract him, Ma'am? Just keep him talking."
"And then?" President Yin asked.
Li Yundong looked at the other woman. "I'll sneak up on the guy and disarm him."
A look of alarm formed on both women's faces.
"And preferably knock him unconscious before he can try anything funny," Li Yundong added.
"Are you sure you can do all that?" President Yin asked.
"Yes." Li Yundong squared his shoulders and took a breath. This was no time for self-doubt. "Yes I can."
"What if you fail and he becomes aggressive? What if he starts attacking people?"
"Then I suppose I have to try my best not to fail."
President Yin stared at him for a moment before she nodded. Li Yundong gave her a pointed look. "President Yin, I think you should accompany President Cao when she talks to the guy. I think she's unwell."
Surprise flashed inside President Yin's eyes, but it was quickly replaced with resolve. "I will," she said with a nod.
Li Yundong turned to Shen Hui. "Look, Miss Shen. I know we got off on the wrong foot, but right now I need your help. Can we put aside our differences and work as a team?"
Shen Hui huffed. "Fine. What do you need?"
"Thank you," Li Yundong said. He took President Yin's phone and passed the device to Shen Hui. "Show the photo to President Yin's security team. Brief them on the situation. Tell them to start dispersing the crowd. These nosy idiots will just get in the way, not to mention give the bad guy more hostages to pick from."
"Fine," Shen Hui said grudgingly.
"Tell them to do it quietly," Li Yundong said. "Like I said, the bad guy is unstable. We don't want to provoke him in any way."
"Three minutes! Come out you cowardly bitch!"
The eyes of the onlookers nearby were trained on President Cao. Li Yundong rolled his eyes. "You know what? You guys might as well make yourselves useful." He raised his brows. "You guys like to make noise, right? Well. Go ahead. Yell. Announce President Cao's arrival."
Li Yundong turned back towards President Cao. "Alright. Time to move. Are you up for this?"
President Cao took a deep breath, then exhaled. "Yes."
"Don't worry, Kefei. I'll be there with you the whole time."
Li Yundong moved around the corner, then crept towards the entrance sign. The onlookers had begun shouting. "President Cao is here! President Cao has arrived!"
"Silence!!" the man yelled. The crowd fell silent. Li Yundong crouched lower and kept moving forward through the crowd, squeezing past shoulders while keeping track of the bad guy's position.
"Where is she?! Where is that bitch?"
"I'm over here..." President Cao's voice sounded somewhere behind Li Yundong. He looked behind him and spotted President Cao and President Yin standing at the end of the hallway amidst a sea of onlookers.
"Excuse me. Let me through," Li Yundong whispered, squeezing past a few guys. He slowly crept forward, making sure to stay hidden behind the bodies of the onlookers. The whole place was too crowded for Li Yundong to charge at the bad guy and then do a takedown. Obviously, Li Yundong had to sneak up on him and then take him out from behind.
"I'm here now," President Cao said loudly. "I'm here to listen to your demands. But please put the knife away first."
"My demand is simple! Cash!"
"What's your name?"
Good. Keep the bastard talking. Li Yundong tapped on the shoulders of the two guys in front of him, then pressed a finger to his lips when they both turned around. "Let me through," he whispered.
"My name? Why the f*ck do you care? Just give me the money!"
"How do I know if I'm paying the money to the right person if you don't identify yourself? For all I know, you could just be some random guy looking to extort money from my firm."
Li Yundong squeezed past the two guys in front.
"Fine! You want my name? It's Wang Yong! And I'm here on behalf of the people your company owes money to! You can call them and check if you don't believe me."
Several gasps sounded. Suddenly, the crowd was shifting. The people in front of Li Yundong were now retreating.
"Out of the way!" Wang Yong yelled, drawing more gasps. The crowd started moving and jostling again.
Wang Yong was slowly making his way from the entrance towards the hallway where President Cao and President Yin stood. Li Yundong moved his Qi towards his legs and arms, just in case he needed to make any explosive movements. Then, he stayed hidden within the crowd and waited. Moments later, Li Yundong started moving towards the front of the crowd again. Wang Yong had already moved past him, so Li Yundong would end up somewhere behind Wang Yong the moment he stepped out from the crowd.
"Please... Put the knife away... Please…" President Cao said.
"Shut up!" Wang Yong screamed. "Where's the money!"
"I was told there is a two-day grace period—"
"I don't have two days, you bitch!" Wang Yong yelled. "They're gonna kill me if I don't collect the money from you today!"
Li Yundong stepped out from the crowd, wincing when the girl beside him squeaked in surprise. Fearing exposure, Li Yundong quickly took a step back and blended back into the crowd while keeping his eyes locked on Wang Yong.
Wang Yong was now standing a few feet in front of the two presidents. His back was facing Li Yundong, and he hadn't turned when the girl squeaked. Li Yundong sighed in relief and stepped away from the crowd again. This time, none of the onlookers were stupid enough to make a sound.
"Calm down... please... Let's just talk..." President Cao was losing her cool.
Li Yundong kept walking. He had to go really slow to prevent the heels of his dress shoes from clicking too loudly against the floor. After a few steps, he came to a halt; it was too damned hard to walk quietly in these shoes. He bent down to remove the shoes, then tucked one of them into the waistband of his pants. Just in case he needed a way to launch a long-range attack.
"I'm done talking!" Wang Yong screamed. "Now give me the money or I'll stab this knife through your heart!"
President Cao gasped, then whimpered. President Yin had clearly noticed Li Yundong already as she was now looking past Wang Yong's shoulder and straight at him.
Li Yundong pressed his finger to his lips and make a circular motion with his other hand. Keep him distracted, he mouthed the words to her. He tiptoed forward, moving much quicker now that he was barefoot.
"Hurry up! I want it in cash!"
"B- But I can't give you the money because I don't have that much cash right now!"
Li Yundong stepped over the body of the unconscious woman and kept moving.
"Looks like I have no choice but to take things to another level!"
Wang Yong was now gripping the knife with an icepick grip, and the knife hand was raised above his head. Both President Yin and President Cao screamed.