He Shao didn't know how Li Yundong knew he was being watched. He had made sure that he stayed hidden from view behind the corner of the building, but somehow Li Yundong knew. It was like the guy had some kind of animal instinct.
He Shao stepped out from his hiding place once he was sure Li Yundong was gone. He spat on the ground. "Unbelievable! That f*cker managed to cheat death again! And now he even has a beautiful woman hanging on each arm? F*ck!"
He Shao turned and saw Xie Fei running towards him.
He Shao's glare stopped Xie Fei in his tracks. The two men stared at each other for several seconds before He Shao waved Xie Fei over. Xie Fei approached him warily.
"You dumb f*ck!" SMACK! He Shao slapped Xie Fei in the face. Xie Fei staggered backwards, then looked back at He Shao in fear, his hand holding his left cheek.
"Don't yell my name like that while we're out in public, you useless piece of shit," He Shao hissed. "What would it look like to others if they see a person of my status hanging around a lowly thug like you, huh? You f*cking idiot! And of all the places we can meet, you had to pick here?" He Shao straightened out his suit jacket, then glared at Xie Fei. "Why did you ask me to meet you here anyway?"
Xie Fei smiled at He Shao sheepishly, the hand on his cheek dropping to his side. "He Shao... actually... I was thinking if you could lend me some cash..." Xie Fei said. "I mean... I'm kinda in deep shit here. So, can I—"
"You motherf*cker!" He Shao slapped Xie Fei again. "You knew you're in trouble and yet you want to drag me into your shit? F*ck! You can't even do one thing right! I asked you to deal with that Li Yundong, and now look at this! Look at the shit job that you've done! I even gave you a f*cking gun!" He Shao snorted. "Zhao Yujian. Really? That's your idea of a hitman? Why didn't you hire someone who knows what they're doing?"
Xie Fei held both of his cheeks, which were now red and swollen. "How was I supposed to know that Zhao Yujian would fail? He really looked like he wanted Li Yundong dead when I spoke to him at the hospital! I really thought he could finish the job!"
He Shao snorted, though he remained wordless.
"Come on, He Shao! Just help me... please! I'll call you my boss, o- or become your servant! I'll do anything! Just get me out of this mess, please!"
He Shao stared down at Xie Fei, his eyes filled with disdain.
"Come on... please? You know how it is with cases involving guns!" Xie Fei begged. "The cops are all over it like a bunch of bloodhounds! I'm screwed if you don't find a way to help me lay low."
He Shao's vicious glare made Xie Fei jump back in fear. "You useless piece of shit! You were the one who came to me the other day swearing and cussing like you really wanted Li Yundong dead!" He Shao sneered. "I gave you a f*cking gun, and what did you do with it? You created a mess is what you did! You f*cked everything up! And now you have the guts to show your face before me and ask for my help?"
Xie Fei dropped to his knees and threw his arms around He Shao's legs. "He Shao... Boss..." Xie Fei wailed. "Please... You’ve gotta help me... If I get caught then you—"
Xie Fei was once again silenced by He Shao's glare. "So you're saying you're gonna rat on me, is that it! Huh?!" Xie Fei stumbled to the ground after receiving a kick from He Shao. "You're gonna sell me out?!" He Shao delivered another kick to Xie Fei's head. "You gonna give my name to the cops?! Is that it?" He Shao released a roar of laughter. "Here's some bad news for you, you fool. Do you know who my father is? Huh? Do you?"
Xie Fei whimpered.
He Shao laughed again, then sneered. "You're a nothing but a lowly piece of trash that I can literally destroy with just a single phone call. You think I'm afraid to let you get caught by the cops? Let me tell you something, you dumb f*ck. I own the cops! Even if you end up in jail, I can have you murdered before anyone approaches you with a deal!"
Xie Fei clambered to his knees, then slapped his own cheeks hard. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Xie Fei slapped himself again. "I didn't mean that! I swear to God I didn't mean that! I'll never rat you out, boss! Never! I swear to God!"
He Shao laughed. "Fine by me! Go rot in jail then! That's no concern of mine."
Xie Fei threw his arms around He Shao's legs again to prevent him from leaving. "Wait! He Shao! Wait! I won't rat you out, I swear! But it might still lead back to you if I'm caught! Like I said, the cops are all over the case! Then you might have to deal with bad PR and all that shit. So isn't it better if you give me some cash and I disappear from the city once and for all? The cops will never find me, I swear!"
He Shao jerked one of his legs free; Xie Fei stumbled, but quickly recovered and threw his arms around He Shao’s calves. He Shao wrenched and tugged a few more times, but Xie Fei refused to let go.
"Haven't you heard what I just said, you dumb f*ck! I already told you the cops are inconsequential to me! My father—"
"Wait! Wait! He Shao! B- but y- you don't want to trouble your father over trivial matters like this, right?" Xie Fei tightened his arms around He Shao's legs. "B- besides, you're a man of status, He Shao. Surely you don't want to be dragged down by my shit?"
He Shao growled and wrenched one leg free. Then, with his free leg, he delivered a harsh kick that caused Xie Fei to roll on the ground a few times. "You motherf*cker! How stupid do you think I am? If you really didn't want to drag me into your mess, you wouldn't have asked to meet me here in the first place!" He Shao sneered. "I'm done with you. Enjoy yourself in jail, or go kill yourself for all I care."
Xie Fei was up on his feet in an instant. "N-n- no! P-please! Just some cash! Just a little bit of cash is all I ask! Then I'll get out of your sight forever! You'll never see me again! I swear!"
"Out of my sight forever, huh?" He Shao's eyes glinted, his countenance twisting into something sinister. "You know I have easier ways to make that happen..."
Xie Fei's knees gave out, and he fell flat on his butt. "H- H- He Shao! Don't tell me... y- you... wanna k- k- kill me..."
He Shao raised his brows. "Oh? Looks like you're not completely dumb after all..."
"N- n- no! Please! Please! I- It's not worth it! It- it wi- will cost you more money to hire a hitman to kill me than to just pay me to disappear! I don't need much! I don't need much! I swear!"
With narrowed eyes, He Shao stared down at Xie Fei, who was still trembling on the ground. Moments later, He Shao snorted. "So that’s why you asked me to meet in a public place. You knew I wouldn’t try to kill you myself in public, and you knew it would cost me a lot more money to hire a hitman to wipe out your sorry ass. Well played."
Seconds passed in silence. Xie Fei used those seconds to slowly climb back to his feet.
He Shao glowered at Xie Fei. "100 thousand, and that's it. Get the hell out of this city. Don't let me see your face again."
Xie Fei smiled at He Shao obsequiously. "Th- thank you, boss! I'll disappear! I swear! You'll never see me again!"
He Shao pulled out a checkbook from his jacket and tore out a check. "Here!" He Shao tossed the signed check to Xie Fei. "Now scram!"
Xie Fei groped around in the air for the check, which was floating in the air after He Shao had tossed it. Xie Fei got the check after several attempts. "Th- thank you boss!"
He Shao shook his head in disgust. "Go! Get out of my sight!" He Shao waved his hands. "Seeing your face makes my eyes hurt."
A few women passed by just then, whispering and pointing fingers at He Shao.
"What are you looking at?" He Shao roared. "Never seen a hot guy before!?"
The screams of the frightened women intermingled with He Shao's roaring laughter— an amalgamation of fear and mockery.
Nobody should be able to tuck a napkin into their collar with as much grace as Zhou Qin had done. Nobody. Unless, of course, they had ten doctorates in fine dining etiquette or something, then that might be a different matter.
Zhou Qin had brought him and Su Chan to an upscale French restaurant called Biarrotte French Restaurant. At the door, the three of them were immediately greeted by an immaculately dressed—suit and bowtie—foreign waiter, who, after noticing their ethnicity, seemed a bit taken aback. Although Li Yundong couldn't for the life of him understand why. Hello? You're running a restaurant in China, who do you expect to walk through the door, anyway? A Martian?
Maybe the guy was new.
By the time they got settled at their table, Li Yundong had come to the conclusion that the purpose of this establishment wasn't to feed the public, but to increase the country's bankruptcy rates. That napkin hanging from Zhou Qin's collar, for instance looked like it cost more than his rent. He dreaded the moment he actually looked at the menu. God forbid he ended up with a brain aneurysm.
"So. What are you guys having?" Zhou Qin asked, looking at him with an arched brow. Li Yundong met Zhou Qin's gaze across the table and tried not to cringe when he caught a glimpse of the prices listed in the menu. Su Chan was... well... being Su Chan: fiddling with the cutleries and plates as though they were national treasures, even though it was pretty clear to everyone what—or who—was the real national treasure.
"This restaurant has the best French cuisine in town," Zhou Qin said when Li Yundong failed to come up with a response. "This is the go-to place if you want authenticity. It's the real deal."
Li Yundong acknowledged her remark with a smile and a nod.
"I've been here before," Zhou Qin went on. "The food's pretty good."
Li Yundong’s smile faltered a bit, and he shook his head. "I've never been to a fine dining restaurant before. So I don't really know what I'm doing. Or, in this case, reading." Li Yundong paused emphatically, then pushed the menu aside. "I think it would be best if you order for all of us." Li Yundong smirked. "You know, to save us some humiliation."
Zhou Qin's mouth opened, but the waiter came to take their order before she could speak. She passed the menu to the waiter and then spoke to him in fluent French while Li Yundong entertained himself by studying the look of shock on the foreign waiter's face.
The waiter recovered quickly and switched back to Mandarin. "The full-course meal, miss?"
Zhou Qin nodded elegantly. "Yes, please. We would also like a bottle of Royal Takaji Wine, and your freshest Foie gras. Also, for the caviar..." Zhou Qin paused as though she was sifting through her memory for something. "I already tried your Osetra caviar the last time I was here. I guess I'll be having your Beluga caviar today."
Li Yundong wondered if the waiter had valid health insurance since the poor man's eyes looked like they were seconds away from popping out of their sockets. "T- the B- Beluga caviar, miss?"
Li Yundong sniggered inwardly. He didn't even want to know how much this elusive Beluga caviar cost.
Zhou Qin smiled at the waiter elegantly. "Yes, the Beluga caviar." Zhou Qin arched a delicate brow. "Shall I pronounce it in French for you?"
The waiter recovered and straightened himself. "There's no need for that, miss. The Beluga caviar it is. And I must compliment you on your superb French. Not many non-native French speakers could reach that level of eloquence, and yet you speak like you're one of us! That's very impressive! Not to mention your elegance and your good looks. Truly, it is an honor to serve you today, miss." The waiter bowed slightly.
Zhou Qin pulled out a 100-yuan bill—because that's what rich people do— and gave it to the waiter. Li Yundong wondered how fast he could settle his bank debts if he dressed up in a suit and bowtie and sweet talk a bunch of rich people.
"Thank you for your compliment." Zhou Qin lips curved elegantly. "But, as you can see, my friends here are eager to say bon appetit. So I would appreciate it if we are served quickly."
The waiter bowed and retreated from their table. For the next few seconds, Li Yundong found entertainment in observing the waiter, who was alternating between sneaking glances at Zhou Qin and walking forward. When the waiter bumped into his colleague and got a dirty glare in return, Li Yundong shook his head and looked away.
"So, the great Miss Zhou speaks French, huh," Li Yundong said with a smile. "I'm impressed."
Zhou Qin's answering smile was subtle, just wide and brief enough for Li Yundong to detect it. "My dad had plans to send me to Paris. So he pretty much forced me to take lessons in French."
Li Yundong chuckled. "And here I am, someone who can't even speak English properly." He look at Zhou Qin. "Seriously though. The way you spoke French just now was..." Li Yundong nodded. "Impressive."
Zhou Qin's intense stare made Li Yundong feel like squirming in his seat. "Being able to speak a foreign language is nothing special." Zhou Qin took a sip of water. "But someone like you..." Zhou Qin's gaze found his again. "A hero. That's rare."
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Nah, like I said. It's what any decen—"
"Yeah, but can just any decent human being catch and support the weight of a grown woman who had fallen off the top of a building? Is there another man out there who is honorable enough to draw gunfire to himself so that his classmates, the same ones who had mocked him countless times, could escape unharmed? You're a good man, Li Yundong. And you're special."
Heat rose to Li Yundong's cheeks. Special. Right. The only thing special about him was probably his dumb luck. His meeting with Su Chan. Taking that drug whether by intent or accident. He didn't obtain those things by his own efforts. They were flukes, nothing more. He wasn't born special. He was just some fat dude who got lucky.
Li Yundong shoved his self-deprecating thoughts to the back of his mind and tried to make things light. "You know that's not gonna work right?"
Zhou Qin raised a quizzical brow. "What do you mean?"
"Buttering me up," he said, winking at Zhou Qin. "I'm not gonna hold back my appetite on your account today. Nope. I’m not going to show you any mercy."
Yeah right. As though he had control over how much he could eat since he wasn't even the one who ordered their food. Still, Zhou Qin burst into laughter. Maybe she was just taking pity on him.
The waiter returned a while later with a serving cart.
The waiter uncorked the exquisite wine and began pouring into their flutes. Li Yundong watched the waiter work until he felt a tug on his arm.
"Yundong... I have a question..." Su Chan was looking at him with a curious gleam in her eyes, which sounded a million alarm bells in his mind.
Li Yundong shot her a warning glare. "What question? If it's a rude question, then you better keep it to yourself."
Su Chan pouted adorably. "You're such a meanie! Who's being rude? I've been a good girl lately, haven't I?"
Li Yundong studied Su Chan for a moment, then chuckled.
"Yes. Yes you have. " Li Yundong nodded. "Fine then. Fire away."
The waiter had already put the wine bottle away and begun dishing out the appetizer, the first course in their thirteen-course meal. Zhou Qin was watching them while sipping wine from her flute.
Su Chan held up luncheon knife in one hand, and then a steak knife in another.
Then, she gave Li Yundong a look of utter puzzlement. "Yundong... Why do they have knives on the table? Do they perform autopsies here?"
Li Yundong raised his napkin just in time to avoid being drenched by the wine that Zhou Qin had just spat out.
There was a loud clink.
When Li Yundong lowered his napkin, Zhou Qin was already on her feet, frantically wiping her skirt with her own napkin. Beside Zhou Qin's plate lay an overturned flute whose contents were now on Zhou Qin's skirt. The waiter quickly righted Zhou Qin’s flute and begun refilling it, though his eyes were on Su Chan the whole time.
Li Yundong tore his gaze away from Zhou Qin and glared at Su Chan. Su Chan flinched, then hunched her shoulders slightly.
Before Li Yundong could come up with a suitable reprimand, there was a loud gasp followed by a high-pitched shriek. Li Yundong turned away from Su Chan and nearly jumped back in shock when he saw what the waiter was doing to Zhou Qin's dress.
"Hey! Are you trying to rinse my dress with wine? Good God…"
The waiter gasped and immediately righted the wine bottle in his hand. It was too late; the front of Zhou Qin's dress was already drenched with wine. Li Yundong wondered how the guy had even landed this job with such shitty hand-eye coordination. Apparently, the guy had missed the mouth of Zhou Qin’s flute by inches in his attempt to refill it. Like, seriously, what the hell happened?
Which, of course, would be a silly question to ask, since the answer was pretty obvious.
Su Chan happened.
"Oh, gosh! I'm so sorry, miss! I'm so sorry!"
The waiter scrambled around for a napkin. Zhou Qin took a deep breath and then waved off his attempts to clean up the mess. "Never mind. Just leave it," Zhou Qin said, her voice surprisingly calm. "I'll clean it up myself."
Li Yundong did a facepalm and groaned inwardly.
The waiter apologized profusely and left their table after Zhou Qin’s polite dismissal. Eventually, having realized the futility in cleaning her skirt with the napkin, Zhou Qin excused herself to the ladies' room.
Li Yundong raised his face from his hands and sighed. "Su Chan... For once in your life would you please just think before you speak?"
"I... I was just curious... Aren't knives used for killing and cutting up dead people?" Su Chan mumbled weakly. "Who uses killing tools to eat? Isn't that a bit barbar—"
"Enough!" Li Yundong hissed.
Su Chan flinched and clammed up instantly.
Li Yundong glanced around their table. Sure enough, the occupants of other tables were casting disapproving glances towards their table, no doubt having heard Su Chan's thoughtless remark.
Why? Why me?
Li Yundong closed his eyes, then took a deep, calming breath. Seconds later, once he was sure he wouldn't start screaming profanities, Li Yundong opened his eyes and looked at Su Chan seriously.
"Let me ask you a question."
Su Chan fiddled with her napkin for a moment. "O... okay..."
"Suppose that I screwed up yesterday and let Zhao Yujian get the drop on me," Li Yundong said.
"But that's impossible—"
"Shush..." Li Yundong held up a finger. "Let me finish."
"So Zhao Yujian was holding a gun to my head. And obviously, if he shoots, I'll die for sure. Suppose that you were there, but you didn't have any weapons with you. No knives, no needles, no swords, nothing. And you only have one second to save my life. Given those circumstances, what would you do?"
Su Chan bared her teeth. "I'll move in with lightning speed and then punch him in the face."
Li Yundong raised his brow. "Will that hurt him? Remember that if you fail to hurt him, he's gonna shoot, and I'd be dead."
"Of course it's gonna hurt him! I'll have you know that my punches are powerful enough to kill."
Li Yundong nodded. "Okay. I believe you. Now. A second scenario. Suppose I put an apple right here" —Li Yundong tapped his finger on the linen-covered table — "on the table, then ask you to eat it. What would you do?"
Su Chan looked completely affronted, perhaps even more so than the time he told her that silly bird joke at McDonalds. "What kind of question is that? I'll pick it up and take a bite of course!"
Li Yundong raised his finger. "So you would pick up the apple with your hand and then take a bite? Is that what you would do?"
"But earlier, you told me that your hands are capable of murder," Li Yundong said with a raised brow. "And now you just told me that you'd use your hands to eat. Does that make you barbaric?"
Su Chan suddenly glanced down at the table top. "N- no?"
"Look at me, Su Chan."
Su Chan raised her gaze timidly.
"So why is using a knife to eat any different?"
"I- I don't know..."
"Listen. A tool is just a tool. It's how you use the tool that counts. In the hands of a barbarian, even a pair of chopsticks can be used to take a life. Do you understand?"
"Yes... I'm sorry, Yundong."
"People from different cultures do things differently. But just because it's different doesn't mean that it's wrong or less respectable." Li Yundong reached out and took Su Chan's hand in his. "Remember the outfit I wore to Zhou Qin's party the other night?"
Su Chan nodded.
Li Yundong smiled, then begun tracing circles on the back of Su Chan's palm. "Do you think I looked good that night?"
A small smile tugged at Su Chan's lips. She bobbed her head up and down.
"So you liked that outfit, then. But here's the thing. That outfit is from another culture. The western culture, and it's called a suit."
Su Chan's expression took on a guilty look.
"So I wore the suit that night. But was it a wrong thing to do?"
When Su Chan didn't react, Li Yundong gave her hand a little nudge.
Su Chan shook her head.
"Okay. Again, I wore the suit. But does that make me less respectable? Or look less good?"
Su Chan shook her head, slower this time.
"See? The same principle applies for using knives and chopsticks to eat our meals. There's no right or wrong here. It's just a different way of doing things."
"Mm... I'm sorry..."
"Remember that night when we were chased out of our old home?" Li Yundong smirked. "Well, I'm sure you won't forget, since you were crying like a baby in front of everyone. Then you started yelling all this stuff about me becoming a hero or something."
Su Chan blushed and tried to pull her hand away from his grasp, but he tightened his grip.
"And then after you were done crying like a baby, you told me I'd always been nice to you..."
Su Chan nodded.
"Remember what I told you right after that?"
"You said... You said that everyone should be nice to each other. That the world is going to become a better place if everyone's nice..."
"Yup. I did. And I truly believe that." Li Yundong sighed. "Well, you see, one way of being nice is by respecting each other regardless of skin color, culture, or any other stuff that makes people different."
"If a foreigner suddenly comes up to you and starts talking trash and mocking our Chinese culture, how would you feel?"
Li Yundong smiled. "Exactly. You'll feel angry. Then do you think it's fair for others to mock our culture?"
"Right. So the same principle applies to us as well. We don't go around mocking other people's cultures. We try to respect them."
"I understand, Yundong. I'll watch my words next time."
Li Yundong ruffled Su Chan's hair. "Good."
When he released Su Chan's hand and looked up, he saw Zhou Qin sitting in a chair at an unoccupied table, smirking at him. Zhou Qin stood up and strode towards them. There were still noticeable wine stains on the skirt of her dress, but at least it looked somewhat dry.
"Nice lesson there, Confucius," Zhou Qin said as she took her seat.
Li Yundong chuckled. "Stop joking around." Then, he studied Zhou Qin for a moment. "You okay?"
"I'm good. It was an unfortunate accident." Zhou Qin paused with a quirk of an eyebrow. "Though I believe the waitstaff here needs a serious lesson in professionalism."
Li Yundong chuckled and shook his head. He glanced at Su Chan, who was staring down at her lap.
Su Chan lifted her gaze. "Hmm?"
"Don't worry about it, okay? Just enjoy the meal. Are you up for a feast?" Li Yundong wiggled his eyebrows.
Su Chan giggled, then bobbed her head twice. Food always worked on Su Chan. Always.
Zhou Qin raised her hand to summon the waitstaff. When a waiter (a new one, not the wine-spilling one) came, she said, "Please give us three pairs of chopsticks."
Li Yundong nearly fell off his chair when he heard the request. He gaped at Zhou Qin, who just smiled back at him.
The waiter was now staring at Zhou Qin like she was nuts.
"Um... Zhou Qin... Is that even appropriate? I don't think they have chopsticks at French restaurants..."
When Zhou Qin winked at Li Yundong, he suddenly saw the twinkle of mischief in her eyes.
"Well, you see... it's just that I suddenly have a craving for Fusion cuisine..." Zhou Qin quirked her brow. "What can I say? Having wine spilled all over her dress does that to a girl."
Li Yundong burst into laughter. So Zhou Qin did have a playful side after all. This was gold. He gave Zhou Qin a thumbs up, then stared at the waiter's gobsmacked expression. "Well? You heard the lady. Three pairs of chopsticks! What are you waiting for? Chop! Chop!"