Chapter 13 – Deputy Director
Li Yiming turned around to look at his visitor. It was a man in his sixties, not too old by today’s standards, but he looked frail and weak. He made his way through the crowd with the aid of an assistant.
“Are you talking about this bracelet?” Li Yiming was alarmed by his sudden intrusion and waved the jade bracelet he had just bought. He clasped his fingers around Liu Meng’s hand and pulled her behind him. Liu Meng herself hid her hand with the storage ring behind her back.
“No, I’m talking about the one you’re wearing,” The old man smiled gently and limped toward Li Yiming. He was staring at Li Yiming’s storage bracelet.
“I can’t,” Li Yiming swiftly refused. He was even more unnerved by the fact that the old man was interested in his storage bracelet. He was ready to strike if something was ever to happen. With three levels in speed, he would be able to strike at the old man’s vitals before the latter could hit him.
The old man froze: he did not seem to have expected a refusal. His extended hand remained still in the air awkwardly, and then he began coughing violently. His chest heaved as he produced a low, empty cough, just like an old ventilator.
‘Swindling?’ As a precaution, Li Yiming took two steps back and put himself as far away from the old man, just enough so that he would not be accused of anything he did not commit. 1
The assistant quickly patted his back gently and threw an angry glance at Li Yiming. “My apologies, too sudden of a question.” The old man struggled to breathe normally and smiled sorrily at Li Yiming.
“This is Mr. Ye. He’s the deputy director of the Shangbei Historical Museum and the chairman of the National Antique Collector Association,” said the helper.
‘The deputy-director of the Historical Museum? The chairman of the Antique Collector Association?’ For those who had gathered around to watch, it was a shock that this old man had such an impressive background. Some already speculated that Li Yiming might have found a treasure by his act of good will while others, who had spent enough time in the district to recognize the old man, were coming forth to greet the old man.
Li Yiming was also shocked, and he felt a little awkward to be approached by the old man now. ‘Really? I just robbed the museum last night, and now the deputy-director finds me? This guy seems also pretty carefree, wandering the streets like that when the museum has just been robbed…’
What Li Yiming did not know, however, was that the old man, a famed antique collected in the country had stopped working at the museum since half a year ago. This was because he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy, which has caused him to lose most of his hoary hair. After receiving the bad news about this morning, director Ye knew that despite his best intentions, he could not be of any use. Therefore, the only thing he could do was to at least relieve his emotional stress by taking a stroll in a familiar place. He noticed Li Yiming’s purchasing of the broken jade bracelet to help Yang He and initially thought of Li Yiming as a rather admirable young man with a good heart. However, a few more glances later and his attention was drawn to the bracelet Li Yiming wore. He found it to be an object of a simple design with rustic carved patterns, but he could not tell with what material it was made, despite his lifetime of experience in antique appraisal. Then, he saw Liu Meng’s ring, and, once again, despite its modern design, he could tell that it was an ancient item from the tarnish of the silver. The intricate emblems carved onto the ring reminded him of something he saw in a book about ancient artifacts a long time ago. His interest had been piqued by these two young people, who were not as simple as they seemed. He wanted to try his best to at least have a look at the two objects.
“Well, it doesn’t matter that he’s the deputy-director. It’s my bracelet,” Li Yiming maintained his refusal: he would not let his guard down so easily in a domain, especially it was about his storage bracelet. Although the content of the item was only accessible by himself only through the focus link, Li Yiming simply did not want to take the risk.
The onlookers’ eyes lit up with curiosity when they heard Li Yiming’s refusal. They knew that Li Yiming was no ordinary young man after his display of seemingly meaningless benevolence, and now, with such a stiff attitude even toward someone who was famous in the antique field… Thoughts and speculations ran wild once again for the kind of background Li Yiming must have possessed.
“Can I have a look at the ring on this miss’ hand then?” The old man asked again with an inscrutable countenance: if not the bracelet, then the ring.
“I’m sorry,” Li Yiming refused once again. The ring was no different from the bracelet.
“Young man, I mean no harm. It’s just that I’m a little curious after a lifetime spent working on artifacts. The two items you possess are truly one-of-a-kind,” The old man explained with a smile. ‘Well, I should blame myself for being too eager. If the bracelet and the ring really are treasures, I doubt that he would just let me play around with them, and I would do the same if I was in his shoes.’
“I’m sorry, but we really need to go,” Li Yiming’s voice softened after seeing the old man’s attitude change, but he still did not want to risk their storage items.
“Don’t be in such a hurry, we are very sincere. This might not be the best place to talk, so how about we have a cup of tea together? Mr. Ye’s knowledge about antiques is recognized in the field, and who knows? It might even benefit you to have a talk with him.” The assistant was quick to move forward and stop Li Yiming as the latter made ready to leave. It was the first time he had seen the old man be this interested in an artifact ever since he had been diagnosed with cancer.
“Excuse me, my shop might not be big, but I could arrange a few seats for you here. How would that be?” A shop owner on the street was quick to intervene. He was a quick-thinker, and he started considering the proposal from the moment the old man revealed his identity. The world of artifact appraisal was one of bragging, extraordinary tales and of curious audiences, and if one such great story was to originate from his shop, then without a doubt it would help his business greatly. Additionally, he would be doing a favor to the old man, which in itself was something that could become quite useful in the future. The shop owner ordered his clerks to bring a table and a few chairs out of the store and set them down right at the front. Of course, the reason for doing so was partly due to the fact that the store itself was not too big, since it was located in such an expensive district, but the other reason was that if Li Yiming and the old man were to enter the shop, then it would be a lot harder for the story to spread around. The shop owner hoped that the crowd would all become helpers for doing free publicity.
“Hey, young man, could you please stay a little while? I’m sure that you’re a kind-hearted person, and this won’t take much of your time, okay?” When the director’s assistant heard the shop owner’s proposal, he was afraid that Li Yiming would simply turn around and walk away, so he insisted in a low voice.
“Fine.” Li Yiming found it hard to refuse the request of an old man tortured by disease.
As they took their seats, the shop owner quickly brought tea to the table and even set up the shade roof at the front of the antique shop now turned tea house.
Suddenly, the crowd split up, and a few municipal employees made their way through the people. It was hard for them to ignore the commotion, since the group of onlookers had grown significantly. Director Ye’s assistant quickly scuttled in their direction, and the municipal security seemed to have recognized him. After a few words, the security staff nodded with a smile and started to disperse the crowd. Most left, since they were simply curious onlookers. Only a few people who were genuinely interested in antique collection stayed, and the security found no reason to chase them away as well. Two guards stayed around just in case anything bad was to happen, and the rest resumed their patrol.
The shop owner, who stood at the door, looked at them frustratingly. ‘Oh well, I should be satisfied with the few that stayed. They’ll be my main helpers for advertisement.’ He gritted his teeth and ordered a few more chairs to be moved to the front; he betted on the fact that the security would not intervene for the deputy director’s sake. He invited the onlookers to sit down as well, and his shop was officially converted into a tea shop.
“May I know your name, young man?” The old man seemed quite pleased and asked with a smile. Antique collectors are usually quite patient, and the old man’s earlier loss of composure was an unfortunate result of his rarely aroused natural curiosity and the burden of his disease.
“I’m Li Yiming, and this is Liu Meng.” Li Yiming usually paid reverence to elderly people, it was just that the special circumstances of the domain made him more prudent than usual.
“Oh, Yiming? Your girlfriend is beautiful. You seem like a loving couple.” The old man complimented while looking at their joined hands.
Liu Meng started to blush. She threw a shy look at Li Yiming and retracted her hand back into her sleeve. Li Yiming rubbed the jade bracelet in embarrassment.
“Can I have a look at that jade bracelet then?” Owing to his wealth of experience, the old director was very apt at finding a way to open up the conversation.
“Yes, go ahead.” Li Yiming gave him the jade bracelet. Although the object was also a guardian equipment, it was not nearly as valuable, and Li Yiming did not want to continue to act impolitely.
The director, instead of taking the item directly, opened a bag that his assistant gave to him and took out a black package from it. He spread it out on the table, revealing what looked like a set of deer leather gloves. He only picked up the bracelet from Li Yiming after putting on the gloves. There was only one word fit to describe his attitude: devotion.
“The stone looks good, transparent, not too many impurities, and the gold used to join the pieces is also well made. This looks like something old and worthy of your intentions,” said the director. Instead of addressing the value of the object directly, he simply praised Li Yiming’s noble intentions euphemistically.
“So it’s real?” Li Yiming was surprised.
“Did you spend thirty-five thousand thinking that it was a fake? Interesting,” the director joked.
“I thought that it looked good, that’s all. Can you tell how old it is?” Li Yiming was a little curious about the first antique item he had ever bought and thought that it would be good if he could know more about it.
“The age… well, that’s a hard one to tell.” The director removed his gloves and touched the gold soldering. The motifs carved on it were eroded and indistinguishable. However, when the old man touched the jade bracelet, he suddenly paused and frowned.
“What is it?” Li Yiming suddenly had a bad feeling.
“This…” The old man seemed perplexed. He took two deep breaths, looked at Li Yiming and at his assistant, and then gazed at the bracelet again. He put the bracelet back on the table, and took two more deep breaths. He then picked the object back up and resumed his respiration, and suddenly, his expression changed drastically.
The onlookers were baffled: they had not expected the bracelet to be a rare find that fooled their judgment.
“Can you sell this bracelet to me?” The old man suddenly said. Instead of looking like someone dying from cancer, he seemed like a bridegroom on the night of his marriage.
“What?” Li Yiming frowned as a thought suddenly occurred to him. ‘Unless…’ 2
“Can you sell the bracelet to me?” The old man’s face turned red and his eyes glittered with hope.
“Are you sick?” Li Yiming asked carefully. He thought about the effect of the bracelet: level one virus cleansing. It was a completely useless ability to him, but for someone else…
“What?” The old man’s assistant was furious, who had not thought Li Yiming to be someone who would suddenly say something this disrespectful to an old man he had just met.
The onlookers were also surprised. The young man’s temper had shifted far too many times within a short while: first, an idiot, then a warm-hearted idiot, then very cold, and then insulting an old man?
The director raised his hand to appease his assistant and gazed with severity at Li Yiming.
“You know?’ asked the old man.
Li Yiming nodded with a serious expression, but was very worried. ‘What would happen if the bracelet goes into the hands of a normal person? Would there be a chain reaction of some kind?’
“How did you know?”
Li Yiming shook his head without answering.
“Please, I have cancer, and it’s terminal.” The old man stopped asking questions and instead threw a begging stare at Li Yiming.
The onlookers around them were all confused. ‘What are they talking about? The old man’s not angry at being insulted? And that bracelet… he’s begging for it? What’s happening?’
I haven’t lived that many years in China, but I’m not sure whether people would gather around just randomly like that. Maybe they do that in Shanghai, in a busy antique district?
1. Another one of these unfortunate things that happen (less now?) in China. Elderly pretending to be sick/ injured for usually for scamming the person who goes to help, since there’s no insurance.)
2. A lot of cancers, with exceptions such as HPV/cervical cancer, are not viral in origin. Certainly, lung cancer tends to not be due to a viral infection, so this is a plot hole. Actual reasons include smoking, asbestos, air pollution, radon etc.