Chapter 51: The Death of Chu Yuan Jiang
Soon, He Ling and I arrived at our destination, a house on the beach. The location was isolated, and the scenery barely satisfying. There was not much human activity in the immediate area.
We spent the rest of the day cleaning the house. Once we were done with that, he sat on the balcony in a trance and I tried contacting Chu Yuan Jiang.
I didn’t call, instead sending him an email to our secret email address. I described what had happened, gave my current address, and attached my contact information. I had no idea when he would see it. Later that night, He Ling and I silently finished a simple meal I made, and we both went back to our respective rooms.
In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom. As I walked past the window, I thought I saw someone on the beach. This might have been a mirage. Nevertheless, disturbed, I went to He Ling’s room and knocked on the door. There was no answer after a long time.
I yelled his name. Still, no reaction.
I grabbed my coat and ran to the beach. In the darkness, I could vaguely see a long line of footprints stretching out into the sea. I walked faster, and eventually started to run following the trail.
The moon had set by now. Barely disturbed by the starlight, the dark night seemed to have swallowed everything but the surging waves.
“He Ling!” I yelled.
His shape appeared in the faint illumination. The water had reached his shoulder, but he kept walking towards the depths.
I hurried to him, despite the sea drenching my pants, running at first, then wading, and finally thrashing through the deep water. Once I got close enough, I pounced at him and pulled him up.
“What are you doing?” I grabbed him and hauled him back by his collar to the shallower part where we could stand up.
He looked muted, gray in the moonless gloom. Only his eyes still glimmered in the dark, reflecting the stars.
He looked at me indifferently. “I couldn’t fall asleep, so I came out to swim. What made you come?”
“Swim? With your fucking shirt on?” I yelled.
There was a long silence. Then, he lowered his head and sighed. “I really just wanted to swim.”
I wiped off the water on my face. “Fine. After such an exhausting trip and two days with no sleep, now that we finally settled down, care to enlighten me at last?”
He didn’t answer me. His shirt was completely soaked, sticking to the body, and water was dripping from his eyelashes.
I took his hand and led him towards the beach. “What are you so afraid of? For a man, nothing is a big deal. Don’t you remember – ‘A thousand gold coins gone, more will turn up again’?”
He staggered as I dragged him along to the shore.
After this incident, I started to pay close attention to He Ling’s schedule.
One day, he asked me, “Have you gotten in touch with Chu Yuan Jiang?”
I nodded. “Yes, on the first day here.”
He nodded too, as if he was sleepwalking. “Good. Is he okay?”
“I sent him an email and he said he understood, and told me not to worry about him.”
He Ling fell deep into his thoughts again.
*** *** ***
One day, during the second month of our stay here, I went with He Ling to the town to do some shopping. On the way back, after we had filled our car with food and daily supplies, he stopped by a newsstand and quickly scanned through an English newspaper. There was a small column with a picture showing a bloody man being carried away with police cars protecting him.
I couldn’t read the article, of course, but it prompted He Ling to drive to a different shop several blocks away and buy several Chinese newspapers.
I asked, a bit confused, “What happened?”
He suddenly looked up at me, eyes beaming with a light I couldn’t understand. “Get out of the car and go back on your own.”
I was stupefied and didn’t move.
The air around him seemed subtly different and his lips curled up.
He threw the newspapers at me, and at a glance, I could see that picture from that English newspaper was enlarged many times and placed on the front pages of the Chinese press. The first pages were full of related reports.
I browsed through the contents as fast as I could. Apparently, the richest Chinese man in County X, Peter Xiong, was shot last night in his house. He was transported to a hospital in critical condition and it was currently unclear if he was dead or alive. The police believed the attack to be a targeted assassination attempt. Preliminary investigations suggested the instigator to be a Chinese man Chu, an acquaintance of the victim. An arrest warrant had been issued.
I raised my eyes, and saw that He Ling had reverted back to his cold and aloof self. “I am going back to see Xiong Xi Liang right now. Are you getting off, or coming with me?”
He slammed the door and I staggered away as the car zoomed away from me.
Walking back slowly, I couldn’t recover from the shock. Things changed too fast for me to digest. My brain was filled with static. In the dizziness I told myself, I needed to go back to the house and get the new replacement bank cards. I had just asked Chu Yuan Jiang to come here and he agreed to do so. But where could he be right now?
After four hours of walking, I finally got back to the deserted beach. I opened the door with my key, and I had barely stepped one foot into the house, my mind lost in a maelstrom of worries, when a gun was pointed at my head.
I turned my head slowly, but without much ceremony, and saw a pair of equally surprised eyes looking at me.
“Where’s He Ling?” Chu Yuan Jiang withdrew the gun as he asked.
I gasped. “Look at what you’ve done. He’s gone back to see Xiong Xi Liang.”
Chu Yuan Jiang murmured a curse, limped to the sofa and fell into it. I could finally see his face clearly. It was so very pale, without any trace of blood, that it looked positively ghastly-green.
He sank deeper into the sofa, bent forward and hid his face in his hands before coughing violently. “That motherfucker played me like a fiddle.”
I sat next to him, stroking his back to help him get his breathing under control, and sighed, “Who has the guts to fool our Master Chu?”
Chu Yuan Jiang fumbled out a cigarette and lit it up, staring at the floor gloomily without a word. I seized his cigarette and put it in my mouth. “Didn’t you quit? Why are you smoking again?”
He just kept sitting there silently with a morose air. I gently took his hands into mine. “Tell me, what on earth is going on?”
He lit up another cigarette. Seeing that more than half of the box was already gone, I didn’t bother to stop him this time.
He finished it in silence, and then suddenly said, “You have been fucking fooled as well.”
“Oh?” I looked at him quietly.
He collapsed on the sofa as if all his strength left him. The only thing left was exhaustion, and a pair of dangerously bright eyes. “Fucking whoresons. It started with Da Biao’s idea to tamper with the car. Not a big issue honestly, he probably just wanted to vent a grudge, not to kill anybody. The guy who did the job was sent by Xiong, who has sort of been helping it happen. Who the fuck knew what he was thinking about.”
“Do you still not understand?” Chu Yuan Jiang closed his eyes, and continued with a hoarse voice, “He Ling was using both me and Lin Ye. Now that Xiong is half dead, our Young master can just swallow all his business whole.”
“Weren’t all assets of the He family bought by Xiong Xi Liang already?”
“Smoke and mirrors, all of it…At the beginning, Xiong Xi Liang did indeed attack He Ling ruthlessly, and severely hurt his target. But do you really think He Ling gullible? He had sold all the profitable branches of He family to several foreign companies, and the things that remained in his name, those bought by Xiong Xi Liang, were merely shells loaded with hidden liabilities, which became a toxic burden on Xiong Xi Liang. Only later did we learn that all those foreign companies were in He Ling’s indirect control by virtue of cross holding, even though he was not listed as the shareholder…”
“Are you saying…” I suddenly felt ghostly coldness behind my back.
Chu Yuan Jiang gave me a frail smile. “Even Lin Ye, a fox’s cunning incarnate, was deceived by his fake retreat… He Ling had been in touch with Lin Ye as well, and kept claiming that the Xiong guy did it. And indeed, the guy who went under your car and was caught by the surveillance was Xiong Xi Liang’s man.”
“Was Lin Ye involved in this as well?”
“Lin Ye had been investigating this. He sent someone to tell me we got it wrong right after I did it.”
Silence suddenly pervaded the big, empty living room. Neither of us said anything.
I fumbled out another cigarette, but somehow couldn’t make it light up. In the end I threw away the lighter in frustration.
“Did you say that Da Biao tampering with the car was not a major issue? Then why…”
“It was He Ling’s trick.”
My dumbstruck face seemed to make Chu Yuan Jiang suddenly concentrate all his strength into a blow to my belly. I bent down in pain.
The tremendous shock was suffocating, but once I heard Chu Yuan Jiang’s violent coughing above me, I crawled back to the sofa, pressing my stomach, to help him “You fucking idiot…… Whenever you see a pretty face you instantly forget your own family name, don’t you?… What did you mess with He Ling for? Did you take him for an ordinary guy?”
I couldn’t say anything, and lowered my head.
When the pain lessened, I asked him hoarsely, “How did you get here?”
“Lin Ye had someone send me here.”
“Oh. You got your next steps figured out?”
Chu Yuan Jiang recovered his breath. “This place… It’s not far from Mount Olympus, right? I want to go climbing.”
I looked up at him, but found it hard to see him clearly.
His eyes contained too many things. Time had left traces on his face. And there was a thin wrinkle caused by the way he squinted and curved his lips.
“I have been fighting with people for my entire life, but in the end, I was saved by my enemy multiple times… And that’s enough. Let’s go climbing, shall we?”
My fingers were shaking. “But that’s an elevation of over 3,500 meters. We should train for a six months at least beforehand, not to mention your…”
Chu Yuan Jiang smiled. “You have been hiding it from me, but how could I have no feel for my own body? Before the trip, I had some tests done. The cancer is already at the advanced stage.” He held my hands tightly as he talked, and said gently, “Just treat it as my last wish, can you? I don’t want to go to jail again.”
My eyes were getting damp. I wiped my face. “Okay. Let’s go.”
I used my card to buy a car in the town, and drove away with Chu Yuan Jiang.
…I had learned that he got the incurable disease, just as we had moved aboard. I had never told him explicitly. Neither did I take him for treatment. All the people I knew who had been through chemotherapy didn’t last six months.
Plus, I couldn’t make him lay in the hospital again.
I still remembered when he said to me -“I want to go home.” I’d rather let him die by my side, than have him live a slightly longer life in the hospital.
I never discussed this with him, but I figured that if one day he came to know the truth, he would certainly not blame me. Even though we had so many differences, we shared the same view on life. He would have made the same choice.
For the past two years, he almost gave me the false impression that he had recovered, that his illness was gone. But I knew his body like I knew myself. I knew the situation was worsening at a visible speed.
I should have understood, what Chu Yuan Jiang had been saying before, during the trip on that little hill…
“My life is now complete. I have risen to where I am from nothing, and now I have even moved abroad.”
“Junzi, I am so happy. Really.”
“I have let go of the past now. Of everything…”
“I gave you this to protect you so that you could live a free life, not to chain you. Do you understand?”
“The place I am going is very far away…”
So… He had known it since a long time ago.
He said he went on this trip planning to make the last bucket of gold, and did some routine tests. I knew him. He never was a man who would surrender. Even if he was going to die, he didn’t want to die on a hospital bed.
*** *** ***
The sky was blue.
Flowers covered the ground at the foot of the hill like a piece of brocade, but, as we went higher and the temperature got lowered, they gave way to the snow.
I wrapped Chu Yuan Jiang’s coat tighter around his body. His legs were too stiff to move in the freezing air, so I carried him on my back as we slowly climbed up. I didn’t feel tired at all even though I had been walking for a long time already .
His breath became the white steam next to my ears. Once we reached three thousand meters above the sea level, he weakened noticeably. His face turned ashen, and his body became abnormally hot. “Junzi… I have been climbing up all my life… and even… now… I am still climbing up…” he said weakly.
“Yes,” I answered in a dispassionate voice.
He smiled, wrapping his arms tighter around my neck, and touching my face. “What are you crying for? The doctors said… even minor injuries… and infections could cause osteosarcoma… Just like a possible fall when we walk… it’s my doom that I can’t avoid… At that time… At that time everybody died… and only I survived… But I can’t escape from it forever…”
“You… You often complain… the things I’ve done after going abroad… Now, I am not afraid to tell you… A dying man has no use for reputation… All the money… I’ve been earning… for you…”
I walked forward, step by step. My feet sank into the snow, leaving deep footprints behind me.
His breath became shorter and shorter, gradually robbing him of the ability to speak. I hurriedly put the oxygen mask on his face, which I had been carrying on at side. When I touched his forehead, I found that his body temperature was dropped to an almost deathly level.
I resumed carrying him on my back and didn’t stop for second.
When we reached the top, an endless vista of snow unfolded in front of us. Holding him securely in my arms, I put him down and shook violently. “Yuan Jiang! Yuan Jiang!! Wake up! Didn’t you want to climb up? You are at the peak now…”
His lips were pallid. He opened his eyes slightly, but almost immediately closed them back again.
“Yuan Jiang…” I held him in my arms, crying loudly.
Tears blurred my eyes. I felt someone touching my face, and saw a fading smile under the oxygen mask…
I let him lean on my arms. His face was not as pale and ghastly as before, looking as if it was reddened from the cold instead. It showed hints of color, like the last rays of the setting sun.
He pulled his oxygen mask off with great effort. “Jun… Junzi… I… My life was worthy… The only… Only regret……”
“What… What is it?”
He raised a hand, stroking my face, and smiled. “You… You can’t be mad at me… if I tell you…”
“I won’t be mad…”
I pressed his slightly rigid hand against my cheek.
“If… If only… If only you… were… Were a girl. I… I would marry you…”
My tears fell on his face uncontrollably. “Bull… bullshit… If… If I were a woman, I would play you to death…”
“I would be willing to……” His voice was so soft and light, that it got stolen by the wind.
I tilted my head and kissed the back of his hand. A somewhat lonely expression froze on his face, and the last hint of warmth in the hand touching my cheek disappeared. Stiffly, it fell to the snow.
In my arms, he slowly, so very slowly, closed his eyes.
Not until his body became completely frozen in this icy world of snow did I cry and scream out loud.
Chu Yuan Jiang…
Chu Yuan Jiang…
At that instant, thoughts of following him occupied my mind. I was confused for a moment, and couldn’t understand who he really was to me…
That I could agree to take him to commit suicide here so easily…
That he could leave the last moments of his life in my hands…
I felt my soul shrivel gradually along with the vanishing warmth of his body…
Poem by Li Bai(Tang dynasty) “Heaven has made us talents; we’re not made in vain. A thousand gold coins spent, more will turn up again.”
A slang. When you forget your own family name, you are completely beguiled.
A type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osteosarcoma
The Chinese believe that the ill will have a momentary recovery just before death.