"Where are we going?" Li Yundong turned away from the window beside the passenger seat and shot President Cao a curious glance. "This isn't the way to Dongsheng Realtors."
Li Yundong found out during his job interview that Dongsheng Realtors had rented out an entire floor to Huasheng Studios, the entertainment company ran by President Cao.
President Cao laughed. "Oh, no. We're not going to my office. Nobody in the city knows about Zhang Guozheng and Tan Fei's arrival."
"Zhang Guozheng and Tan Fei?" Li Yundong couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice.
President Cao smiled. "Yeah. They're the co-stars of the new TV series that my company is producing. The filming schedule is still being planned, but they wanted to explore the city before filming starts." President Cao sighed. "As the head of my Huasheng Studios, I'm also in charge of their travel arrangements and security while they are in the city."
Li Yundong studied President Cao's profile for a moment. "Okay... But what does that have to do with me?" Li Yundong asked with a raised brow. "You have a team of professional bodyguards who are trained for the job."
President Cao sighed. "That's the thing. They think my security team is incompetent," she said in a grim tone. "And I don't blame them, what with all the stuff that's been going on in my company..."
"There were a bunch of riots and protests a few months back. And more recently, Wang Yong's stunt."
"And you're worried that they might terminate the contract with your firm?" Li Yundong paused in thought. "They signed a deal with you, right? That TV series?"
President Cao shook her head. "I don't think they'd go that far. But still, those two are VIPs that I can't afford to piss off if I want to survive in this line of work. If anything happens to them during the filming, or while they're in the city, I'll lose credibility. My career will be over."
Li Yundong stared out the windshield. "I see."
They drove in silence for the rest of the journey, which lasted about fifteen minutes.
"Shengyuan Hotel..." Li Yundong said once the Lamborghini pulled to a stop in front of a building. This was the same hotel where Zhou Qin's birthday party was held the other night.
"Yeah," President Cao said, killing the engine. "Come on. Let's go meet the movie stars."
Li Yundong exited the Lamborghini and followed President Cao into the lobby. To his surprise, they didn't stop at the concierge's counter. Instead, President Cao led him towards a cafe at the lobby. He glanced around a few times and immediately understood why President Cao had brought him to that cafe— privacy. The cafe was located near the end of the huge lobby, away from prying eyes. The choice made sense considering the fact that the movie stars had arrived at the city in secret.
Inside the cafe, President Cao stopped in front of the counter and exchanged a few words with a waiter. The waiter nodded and led them to a secluded booth at the back of the cafe. President Cao pulled out her phone once they slid into the booth.
"Do you want to order anything?" President Cao asked without looking away from her phone's screen.
Well, he hadn't had lunch yet, so he could eat. However, after a moment of thought, Li Yundong declined the offer. He didn't want to be eating on the job because of, you know, professionalism.
President Cao began to make some calls. "Hey, Xiao Zhang. It's me. I'm already here at the cafe. Can you give me Zhang Guozheng and Tan Fei's ETA?" President Cao stopped talking and listened to the voice on the phone.
"Sure," President Cao went on, "and tell Da Liu that I won't be needing his services anymore. Yes, Da Liu, the one in charge of security." There was another pause. "Just tell him that the situation has changed. He'll understand. Yes. I've recruited someone else for the job." President Cao suddenly looked at Li Yundong and smiled. "Of course he's qualified. Yeah. It's a last minute thing though." A crease formed between President Cao's brows. "What do you mean you don't know how to tell him?" President Cao rolled her eyes. "What, are you saying you want me to tell him myself? What am I paying you for, anyway? Fine. Be on standby. Wait for further instructions."
President Cao hung up the phone with a snort. "Young girls these days..." she grumbled. Then, President Cao looked up as though sensing Li Yundong's eyes on her. She smiled, then shrugged. "My assistant."
Li Yundong smiled back. "Problems?"
President Cao opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again when her phone vibrated against the table. She took one glance at the screen and sighed. She gave Li Yundong an apologetic look and slid out of the booth "Sorry. I have to take this."
"Go ahead, don't worry about me."
President Cao left the booth in a hurry. Li Yundong sat back and studied the cafe's interior. Ten minutes later, when President Cao still didn't return, he was starting to feel bored. He reached into his pocket and took out the talisman that Su Chan had given him before they parted ways at the campus gates.
The more he studied the talisman though, the more peculiar he found it. The first thing he found strange was the texture of the paper. On the surface, it looked thin, like it would tear if he applied the slightest bit of force onto it. However, when he tried to pull it apart with his fingers, the paper felt sturdy. It wouldn't even bend. It was as though the talisman was made from an ultra-thin piece of concrete rather than paper. And here was the weirdest part—the talisman released a burst of green light and vibrated in his hand the moment he tried to pull it apart. Next thing he knew, his hand was repelled from the talisman.
Li Yundong took a deep breath to calm his hammering heart. He glanced around the booth to see if anyone had seen that flash of green light. He really didn't want to run into any more trouble. Thankfully, nobody noticed anything strange because of how hidden the booth was.
The talisman fluttered in the air for a moment, then lay motionless on the table. A sense of wonderment filled his heart as he stared at the piece of paper which, according to Su Chan, could summon lightning and cause instantaneous weather changes.
It was President Cao's voice that brought him out of his trance-like state a while later. He raised his gaze and saw President Cao approaching the booth with her phone still pressed to her ear. Li Yundong quickly placed his palm over the talisman and removed it from the table. By the time President Cao slid back into the booth, the talisman was safely stored inside his pocket.
President Cao put her phone away and gave him an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. They're both late." She sighed. "Well, you know how it is with hotshots like them."
Li Yundong shrugged and got comfortable in his seat. "Guess we'll just have to wait."
"They're here. Finally," President Cao growled.
Li Yundong turned around in the booth and saw a man and a woman heading over towards them.
"About damn time," President Cao said, rising to her feet. Despite the irritation he'd detected in her tone, President Cao was smiling. Li Yundong followed President Cao's lead and rose from his seat as well. President Cao was already moving away from their booth towards the two movie stars.
Li Yundong glanced at the clock and realized that he and President Cao had spent over two hours waiting for the movie stars to show up. From the booth, Li Yundong saw President Cao shaking hands with the celebrities, both of whom were wearing sunglasses. The man, Zhang Guozheng, was tall—probably around 180 cm. He had a square face, a chiseled jaw, and looked to be in his early thirties. In a green, Polynesian dress and also a pair of high-heels with white straps, Tan Fei looked like a diva straight out of a fashion magazine.
When President Cao and the two movie stars arrived at the booth, Li Yundong stepped aside to make way.
"How come it's just you two?" President Cao asked as they all took their seats again. "Where are your agents?
Zhang Guozheng removed his sunglasses. "They're dealing with our luggage. We've decided to come see you first." Zhang Guozheng's eyes found Li Yundong. "And... Is this your younger brother, President Cao?"
President Cao laughed. "No, he's not. He's Li Yundong, the man who will be keeping you safe throughout your visit."
Silence passed as Zhang Guozheng regarded Li Yundong with skeptical eyes.
"He looks young, right?" President Cao went on. "But don't let his youth fool you. I assure you, he's a total badass."
A while later, Li Yundong decided to break the silence. He nodded politely and said, "Hello, Mr. Zhang."
Zhang Guozheng merely smiled at Li Yundong and said nothing.
"A badass?" Tan Fei said snidely. "Is this some kind of joke, President Cao?" Tan Fei stopped talking to give Li Yundong a onceover. "When you mentioned on the phone about a badass who single-handedly took out a suicide bomber, I imagined a tough military guy, not some kid who looks like he's barely passed puberty."
Silence spread in the booth.
President Cao suddenly laughed, though Li Yundong could tell that it was forced. "Well, we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, Miss Tan."
"Don't judge a book by its cover?" All of a sudden, Tan Fei removed her sunglasses, then leaned forward to take a closer look at Li Yundong. "Tsk, tsk, tsk... Not bad, President Cao. You really know how to pick the good-looking ones. Although..." Tan Fei glanced sideways at President Cao. "Running security isn't the only thing he does for you, is it?"
What the hell? Li Yundong clenched his jaw and balled his fists under the table.
"Miss Tan," President Cao seethed, leaning forward as well. "This young man is an expert we have hired to ensure your safety. So I'd appreciate it if you treat me and my employee with respect."
Tan Fei laughed. "Relax, President Cao. I was only joking." Then, Tan Fei batted her lashes at Li Yundong. "Well… If you're really that good, why don't you show me a few moves and prove me wrong."
Li Yundong sneered inwardly. So this was the real Tan Fei, the so-called "elegant beauty." Three minutes with the woman and Li Yundong couldn't detect a single ounce of elegance in her. Clearly, her public persona was as fake as her lashes.
Li Yundong smirked and rose to his feet. "Well. I must say that this has been a complete waste of my time." He chuckled. "Miss Tan... You clearly don't think I'm qualified to be put in charge of your safety. So I'm gonna get out of your hair now." He smiled. "Good luck defending yourself against a gun or a knife without me. Oh, and I'd watch my six if I were you. You don't exactly have a winning personality." The smug look on Tan Fei's face morphed into a scowl, but Li Yundong ignored her and nodded at President Cao instead. "Have a good day, President Cao. I'll head back to the university. Let me know when you have another assignment for me."
"You—" One of Tan Fei's arms swept across the table when she tried to stand up, knocking a half-filled coffee cup off the edge of the table. Li Yundong's hand shot out quickly and held the cup upright near the edge of the table. Hot coffee sloshed against the rim of the cup when Li Yundong set the cup back onto the table.
Li Yundong smirked. "Might wanna be careful there, Miss Tan." He glanced down at Tan Fei's feet. "Don't wanna ruin those fancy shoes."
Which, he was sure, cost more than his month rent.
Li Yundong left the booth with a smile on his face.
The bright side? He got exempted from the exams without having to do anything at all. How cool was that?