Three Tombs 04
Compared to Hongjing, Yongchuan, which was several hundred miles away, was a true metropolis – with its tall buildings, ceaseless traffic, and countless passers-by that walked hurriedly down the busy streets.
As he came out of Yongchuan Station, Lin Chen saw Fu Hao who waited by the exit nervously on his tip-toes.
He was surveying the people that came out of the station carefully, as if afraid to miss out on any small detail.
Lin Chen watched him from a distance.
The scene reminded him of the incident before the New Year.
With his hands in his pockets, he walked up to Fu Hao, startling him.
“Xue Zhang, you should’ve at least waved or something.
You don’t look excited to see me at all,” Fu Hao complained.
“Shall I re-enact the scene according to Professor Fu’s script” Lin Chen asked with a grin.
Fu Hao let out a small “hmm” and circled him silently.
Then, with eyes wide open, he said, “Xue Zhang, didn’t you bring anything”
“What do you mean”
“A birthday gift.”
Before Lin Chen understood what he meant, Fu Hao dragged him out of the station by the arm and launched into a monologue, “Let me tell you.
Earlier, Zheng Dongdong and the gang were flaunting the birthday gifts they bought for the old man.
I saw that there was Ganoderma, ginseng, a Shoushan stone seal …”
Fu Hao’s words shocked Lin Chen.
“Whoa, are they paying tribute to the emperor or something” he asked half-jokingly.
“There’s more! That suck-up Zheng Dongdong gave him an eight-panel folding screen made of rosewood!”
When he saw that Lin Chen wasn’t rattled by this news at all, Fu Hao started to get agitated.
“Xue Zhang, this is a warning sign! The gang is paying top dollar for a birthday banquet and lavish gifts for the old man.
Shouldn’t we do something too”
“Yes, at the Cohen May Flagship Intercontinental Hotel.
It’s the best hotel in Yongchuan.
Zheng Dongdong is the manager at Cohen May now.
Of course he’s going out of his way to show off by booking an entire hall for the old man’s birthday,” Fu Hao said as they were walking.
Lin Chen merely thought it wasn’t a good idea.
“Does the old man know about this” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” Fu Hao replied, a bit taken aback.
“In the group chat, they said they want it to be a surprise.”
“They’re way out of line,” Lin Chen said as he shook his head.
“Well, what can you do The old man is too nice.
He would never tell his students off.
Even if he doesn’t like it, he’ll still appreciate the effort.
I bet they’re counting on that.”
Professor Fu doesn’t drive, and the taxi stand was always packed.
Before Lin Chen realized, they had already arrived at the bus station, just like back in their university days.
Old habits die hard.
There were a lot of students that waited at the bus station, and many food stands on the nearby streets.
The aroma of food wafted towards the station.
Lin Chen suddenly turned around and started to walk in that direction.
He returned with a plastic bag filled with fresh fruit.
“Xue Zhang, what’s up with that” Fu Hao gestured at the red plastic bag in surprise.
“Didn’t you ask me to buy a birthday gift”
“That’s way too casual! Can’t you get something more expensive”
“I don’t have much money on me.”
If you don’t have money, you can still make the thought count.
Whereas if you have money, you can make good use of it.
Even in a city of endless choices like Yongchuan, Cohen May Intercontinental Hotel is the favorite choice of the rich and famous.
Situated on the lakeside, it offered a splendid view of the natural scenery, while being a short walk from the CBD at the same time.
It’s an understatement to say it’s in a prime location.
But Lin Chen and Fu Hao had to ride the bus for almost an hour and then walk 10-15 minutes to get there.
The sun was setting, and the reddish hue of dusk covered the sky above the lake.
As he carried his plastic bag of fruit, Lin Chen stepped into the hotel and approached a waiter.
Fu Hao stood off to one side while Lin Chen asked where the event was taking place.
As soon as he said the words “birthday banquet,” the waiter bowed lightly and replied, “You must be looking for Mr.
Su’s sixtieth birthday banquet.
It’s on the third floor, sir.
Please follow me.”
There was a light fragrance in the elevator of the five-star hotel.
During the entire trip from Hongjing to Yongchuan plus the hour-long bus ride, Lin Chen hadn’t felt anything.
But now that he was about to see his professor in a few minutes, he suddenly started to feel nervous.
The waiter placed his hand on the door of the banquet hall and pushed it open with a bow.
Inside, the hall was filled with people, and the dazzling lights were so bright that they hurt one’s eyes.
A bespectacled old man sat on the far end of the main table.
He was only sixty, but all his hair had already turned white.
The old man was surrounded by people; they talked to him, and he talked to them.
There were smartly dressed people in suits, as well as young people in casual garb.
But the old man spoke to all of them with the same patient smile.
He shook their hands with both hands, and listened to them attentively with his head slightly bowed.
Lin Chen walked across the carpet that was printed with the Mayday canary and rose logo, and on the edges of the crowd, and waited for a turn to speak with the old man.
At that moment, the old man patted the arm of the student in front of him, as if to say “excuse me for a sec.” And then he looked up, and happened to make eye contact with Lin Chen.
“Chen, you’re here,” said the old man, adjusting his glasses slightly.
Under his warm gentle gaze, the noise in the hall seemed to fade away like an ebbing tide in that instant.
For a man as polite as the old professor, when he excused himself from his conversation to greet Lin Chen was a major show of favoritism.
Lin Chen approached and squatted down before the old man.
“Professor Su,” he said softly.
“You’re back,” the old professor said, as he placed his palm on the young man’s hair.
His voice sounded a bit hoarse.
“Yes I am.”
“Good, that’s good,” replied the old man, patting his head.
Lin Chen handed him the bag of fruit, “Happy birthday.
Here’s a vitamin supplement for you.”
The old man opened the plain-looking plastic bag.
In it were six peaches.
He let out an amused laugh.
Upon witnessing this sight, someone who was standing in the middle of the hall felt displeased and went over to the main table.
“Oh it’s you, Lin Chen.
Long time no see!”
When he heard a loud voice booming in his ear, Lin Chen stood up and turned to face a man dressed in the management uniform of the hotel.
He felt a bit startled and instinctually glanced at Fu Hao, who mouthed the name “Zheng Dongdong” at him.
Lin Chen extended his hand at the man, “Hello, long time no see.”
Although Fu Hao has mentioned Zheng Dongdong many times, Lin Chen still couldn’t remember much about him.
He vaguely recalled that Zheng Dongdong was the student council president of their year.
With no other information to go on, he could scarcely offer more than a canned “long time no see.”
“Of course, you’re a busy person.
I know you can’t fit us old classmates into your schedule,” said Zheng Dongdong sarcastically.
Lin Chen thought for a moment, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
The conversation fell into an awkward silence all of a sudden.
Out of the corner of his eye, Zheng Dongdong noticed the plastic bag in the professor’s hands, “Oh What lovely present did you give to our prof Let’s see it.”
“Here you are at a birthday banquet, and all you brought was a bag of peaches” Zheng Dongdong intentionally raised his voice and pretended to be shocked.
His words drew the attention of many other people in the hall.
“Yup, I bought them on the way here,” Lin Chen replied in a calm voice without any trace of embarrassment.
His demeanor made it impossible for Zheng Dongdong to continue his mocking, which only made the hotel manager more displeased.
When he saw this standoff between his two students, the old professor clapped his hands together and turned to the young man standing behind him, “Haozhen, didn’t you say you miss your Xue Zhang Lin Chen Come meet him.”
Only then did Lin Chen notice a slim, pretty young woman standing behind the massive pile of birthday gifts next to the professor.
She seemed to be recording something.
She quickly turned to face him, her long, straight hair that cascaded down her shoulders with this movement.
What a pretty face! The girl had sculpted brows and sparkling eyes.
She wore a chestnut-colored cardigan and knee-length black pinafore skirt.
She closed her notebook and came over, her pearl earrings peeking out from under her long flowing hair as she walked.
“Hello, Xue Zhang,” she smiled and extended her hand.
Lin Chen gave her the once-over, his gaze finally settling on her striking fuchsia nail polish.
Xu Haozhen hesitated a bit but didn’t withdraw her hand.
At last, he shook it, “Hello.”
After the handshake, Lin Chen went over to the old man and whispered, “What’s this all about”
“These kids gave me a bunch of useless gifts.
So I’m recording the prices, and I’ll have them take the gifts back for refunds.
Then I’ll take their refund money and donate all of it,” the old man whispered back.
Lin Chen was bemused, “Don’t you think that’s a bit inappropriate”
“Inappropriate You’re the one who brought me a bag of peaches!”
“But at least you can bring them home,” Lin Chen replied.
His remark made the old man laugh a bit too loudly.
This once again caught the attention of Zheng Dongdong, who stared daggers at Lin Chen.
Since there were many other students who waited to have a word with the professor, Lin Chen took his leave shortly after that.
The banquet began at six o’clock on the dot.
Seating arrangements are an important matter at such events.
And many people knew that Lin Chen is the professor’s favorite student.
But for some reason, both he and Fu Hao were assigned to the farthest table, while the main table was occupied by many elite professionals.
The old man was surrounded by a mob of people, including students going over to make a toast to him once in a while.
Lin Chen remained at his corner table without joining in the action.
The seating arrangement was very random.
Lin Chen and Fu Hao didn’t get to sit with their fellow classmates.
The guests at their table seemed rather aloof and unfriendly.
Everyone sat there eating in silence which created a spooky kind of atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly, the food was excellent.
Perhaps the chef knew this was the manager’s treat, so he took extra care in preparing the menu.
An unrestrained Fu Hao ate half a plate of shrimp.
As he rubbed his belly, he heard Zheng Dongdong’s dreaded voice again.
“Lin Chen, why are you here There must’ve been a mistake.
Come, come, let’s go sit at the main table,” Zheng Dongdong said as he held a glass of red wine in one hand.
He must have just given a round of toasts.
His face appeared flushed from all the alcohol.
His loud voice sounded half sarcastic, half cordial.
It was a no-win situation for Lin Chen.
A twisted person like Zheng Dongdong would surely find some way to get back at him for his earlier slights.
Whether he accepted or declined the invitation, Zheng Dongdong would find a way to give him a hard time.
The people at the nearby tables had already noticed what was happening.
But Lin Chen was a bit of a wild card.
Without appearing the slightest bit distressed, he clinked his own wine glass lightly against Zheng Dongdong’s glass.
“Okay,” he said simply.
Once again, Zheng Dongdong was annoyed by his calmness.
When they arrived at the main table, the old professor saw Lin Chen and patted the empty seat next to himself enthusiastically.
“Chen, come sit here,” he beckoned.
The table was full.
It was obvious that the empty seat belonged to Zheng Dongdong.
Knowing the professor, this gesture was his way of making a clear statement.
All the guests – most of whom were the professor’s students – now watched Zheng Dongdong judgingly.
The old man asked the waiter to set a new place at the table.
Zheng Dongdong gave another round of toasts as if nothing had happened, and then sat down in the new spot.
Once seated, he made eyes at another guest at the table.
The guest took his cue and put down his wine glass.
“Lin Chen, I’ve heard so much about you.
You were always the top student in your year, nobody else could catch up.
So, tell us, what kind of work do you do now”
“I was working as the dormitory supervisor at Hongjing Experimental Primary school …” Lin Chen answered diligently.
“Pfft,” the guest interrupted him.
“But Fu said you’re a consultant for the Hongjing Police Department.”
“Yes, I just started there.”
“That’s quite the career change,” the guest mocked.
Lin Chen didn’t reply.
“Working at the police department in a small town like Hongjing is such a waste of your talents,” Zheng Dongdong chimed in coolly.
“Well, not everyone can become a manager at Cohen May at a young age like you,” the guest played along with Zheng Dongdong’s act.
“Cohen May is an international corporation.
If you ever become the CEO someday, don’t forget about us!”
“It’s harder than you think.
As psychology graduates, we are less sought-after than those business majors.
Besides, the Cohen May brand is under the Xing family conglomerate.
Surely the CEO will be one of the family’s own!” Zheng Dongdong replied opaquely.
Everyone was shocked by this revelation.
It’s common knowledge that Cohen May is a top-notch five-star hotel, but few of them knew that it’s owned by the Xing conglomerate.
This made Zheng Dongdong’s ladder climbing seem even more impressive.
They started to look at him with envy and admiration.
“Still, if you become the chief executive, you have to promise you’ll treat us all to another banquet like this one!”
“I can’t make any promises about my future.
But for tonight, I can take you all out for drinks.”
“Knowing you, it must be a fancy place!”
“It’s just an old haunt,” replied Zheng Dongdong dismissively, sipping his wine.
He glanced at Lin Chen and asked, “Wanna come with us”
“Come on, Xue Zhang.
Join us,” the young woman sitting next to him piped in.
Lin Chen gazed at her bizarre fuchsia nail polish.
At long last, he nodded.
When he saw that his students had plans for later, the old professor made an excuse to call it a night.
Before he left, he tapped Lin Chen on the shoulder and extended an invite to his place for dinner some time.
After the old man went home, many guests also left.
Fu Hao sat in his spot making eyes at Lin Chen.
Everyone at the main table was detained by Zheng Dongdong.
Seeing that the hall was mostly empty by now, someone said to him, “Dongdong, you promised to buy us drinks.
But we have to pay you back for the hotel.”
Many of the others nodded in agreement.
“You all are too kind,” said Zheng Dongdong, feeling extra proud of himself.
He then turned to Lin Chen, “By the way, where are you staying tonight”
Before Lin Chen could reply, Fu Hao’s voice chimed in, “Xue Zhang is staying with me.”
“You’re kidding! Our university dorms are all single-occupancy.
Are you planning to let your Xue Zhang sleep on the floor” The same guest then turned to Zheng Dongdong, “Dongdong, why don’t you see if you have another spare room at your hotel Book one for Lin Chen so he can join us.
The more the merrier.”
Nodding, Zheng Dongdong picked up the phone and started calling the hotel reception.
After a brief exchange, he covered the telephone receiver and looked at Lin Chen apologetically, “Sorry, man.
Our hotel is fully booked.
The only room left is an executive suite with a lake view for $6000.
I’ll give you a 40% discount, so you only pay $3600.
What do you say”
He waited in anticipation for Lin Chen to turn down the offer so that he could mock him.
His crude ploy made Fu Hao clench his fists angrily.
Lin Chen was as placid as ever.
He placed his hand gently on Fu Hao’s fists and said, “No, thank you.”
As they headed to their next destination for the night, Fu Hao and Lin Chen lagged behind the others.
“Xue Zhang, that bastard Zheng Dongdong was definitely trying to embarrass you.
$3600 per night after a discount You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“What’s so embarrassing about not being able to afford a luxury hotel room” asked Lin Chen.
Professor Fu didn’t know how to respond, so he simply glared at Lin Chen before changing the subject, “Why did you agree to go for drinks with him”
“Because I discovered something strange,” Lin Chen replied.
When he glanced up, he saw that the others were already at the hotel lobby.
Zheng Dongdong was surrounded by a dozen or so people, who seemed to be waiting for the dispatch cars to arrive.
They’ve all had a few drinks and chatted loudly.
But all of a sudden, there was total silence.
In the lobby, a lone man was seated under the chandelier.
He was seated casually on the sofa reading a document, and his police uniform was draped across the armrest.
The gentle lighting of the lobby enveloped him.
Behind him, the lake was pitch black and dead still.
He raised his head.
He had an air of carelessness and a contemplative gaze.
A graceful melody suddenly started cascading from the piano in the lobby.
Lin Chen approached, and Xing Conglian smiled at him.
“What are you doing here”
“I thought you said, ‘no phone calls.’”
Sensing something, Zheng Dongdong turned around.
He saw Lin Chen standing beside a coffee table, seemingly talking to an acquaintance.
He walked over.
The man on the sofa was smiling and saying something to Lin Chen.
From where Zheng Dongdong was standing, he could only make out his hand on the armrest and his handsome profile.
Then he saw a black key card on the coffee table, printed with the iconic Mayday canary and rose logo.
Xing Conglian tapped the key card lightly with his finger and slid it to the edge of the table.
Lin Chen was still in a daze, but he heard the soft, low voice of the other man in his ear:
“Sir, please take your key card.”