Chapter 9 - Liu Meng“s Hesitation
Chen Quan silently ate his fried rice that he somehow was able to order at a French restaurant. Only someone who loved the “old times” like Chen Quan could bear to do such a borderline outlandish thing.
“Sir, I’ve been meaning to return your card before, but couldn’t find you in your room…” A waiter approached Li Yiming and said politely.
“Oh, thank you. You’ve done the transfer?” Li Yiming put down his utensils, wiped his mouth and picked up the bank card from the plate the waiter presented to him.
“Yes, sir. Here’s the receipt.” The waiter pointed at a small paper slip on his plate.
Li Yiming picked up the paper slip and glanced at it. ‘It’s all in English? At least I recognize the numbers…’
“I’ve kept your room number confidential from the lady in order to protect your privacy. However, I did take note of hers…” The waiter continued on.
“Thank you very much.” Li Yiming put the receipt down on the table, slid the bank card back into his pocket and picked up his utensils once more.
“Sir…” The waiter was perplexed. He could not understand why Li Yiming decided to spend the money. The only reasonable explanation now was that it was a desperate attempt to get Fang Shui’er attention.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot.” Li Yiming noticed that the waiter had no intention of leaving and put down a hundred yuan bill on the waiter’s plate.
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant. Sorry for interrupting for your meal. Please enjoy.” The waiter promptly put the bill back onto the table. He had been a silent observer of the events that unfolded near the pool. Although he held some contempt for the models who were blatantly selling their bodies in the lookout for a shortcut to wealth, he still respected Li Yiming greatly for standing out for the weak and vulnerable, especially after hearing about the “incident” with Mrs. Qiang.
Li Yiming frowned as he trailed the waiter with his eyes and resumed on finishing his plate. ‘Not bad, this steak… but that foie gras… it tastes like saltless tofu.’
“So… you have an affair with Fang Shui’er?” For the first time, it seemed like Chen Quan could not resist the urge of gossiping.
“What do you mean?” Li Yiming swirled the red wine in his cup, just like the people did in the movies.
“I’ve heard about what happened at the swimming pool. And… she’s looking at you now.” Chen Quan sipped the rice liquor bottle he ordered, which was a cheap brand sold for a rather hefty price on the ship.
“Oh?” Li Yiming turned around. He found Fang Shui’er sitting alone at a table nearby. She raised her cup of wine in his direction.
Li Yiming reciprocated the salutation.
“I’ve met her… a few times before.” Li Yiming turned back toward Chen Quan, who winked at him. Li Yiming brought his hand to his forehead, pretending to massage his brows, and peeked between his fingers at the surveillance camera attached to the roof.
‘Yiming, the ship is picking up speed.’ Li Yiming was about to finish his steak when Bai Ze suddenly interjected.
‘Picking up speed?’
‘Yes, it’s more than double the speed of what it was in the afternoon.’
“It seems the auction’s about to start…” Li Yiming put down his knife and fork and emptied his cup. He then slowly rotated the glass until it projected a reflection of Fang Shui’er in all of her radiant beauty.
* * *
Liu Meng opened the car door and jumped out, giving the driver a small fright. She walked to a stone bench and sat down. She was now back at the small plaza where she started her ride. Night befell the city, and the plaza grew livelier as middle-aged women began dancing in groups and merchants set up their stands of drinks and baked food.
Liu Meng stared aimlessly into the bustling crowd, her mind lost in her thoughts.
On the taxi, the driver purposely drove slowly and remained silent instead of starting a conversation. He peeked at Liu Meng’s thighs from time to time, and this irritated her to the point of wanting to burst out in anger. On one occasion, the driver even made an exaggerated movement to change gear in an attempt to grope Liu Meng’s legs. She easily avoided his and pondered about the situation.
‘Sexual harassment… there’s no mistake about it.’ Under any other circumstances, Liu Meng would have given the driver a lesson he would not forget during his lifetime, but she was aware that she now had to carefully weigh her actions.
Liu Meng continued to observe the driver silently. He was a man in his thirties, with short hair and rough-skinned cheeks colored by an unhealthy yellow tint. His seatbelt wrapped around a rather visible belly, and his unkempt grey jacket made of a worn out grey fabric, made him rather unpleasant company.
The driver slowly licked his lips and gulped down his saliva as he ogled Liu Meng’s lower body. It took a while before he looked up and realized that Liu Meng was staring back at him. He moved around, clearly discomfited by Liu Meng’s confrontational gaze.
“Are you looking at me because you find me beautiful, or because you want to do more than just look?” Liu Meng suddenly asked in a glacial tone.
Liu Meng’s daring question made the driver tremble, causing the car to swirl slightly off course.
“It’s not the first time you’re doing something like this, isn’t it?” Liu Meng turned her attention toward the nail marks that were imprinted on the neck of the driver.
The driver seemed to want to retort, but something about Liu Meng’s gaze made him swallow his words.
“Stop the car.” Liu Meng sighed and took two hundred yuan out of her handbag.
Liu Meng’s attention shifted from the middle-aged women who danced in the open to the girl who was in the middle of her nightly jog. She reminisced the horrible news she once saw on TV about young women who were victims of rape and murder when they returned home late at night. She swore that she would kill anyone like that if she met one. However, she was no longer sure of her own conviction.
“I think we need to talk.” Liu Meng scratched her hair anxiously and switched on the transmitter on her collar.
“You found something…?” Big Beard asked.
“Yes…” Liu Meng was unsure how to broach the subject.
“Go on. We’re all listening.” Qing Linglong invited Liu Meng to speak out.
“What exactly are we looking for him?” Liu Meng
“The people who deserve to die, of course.” Qing Qiaoqiao answered eagerly.
“Yes, but who are those people?” Liu Meng asked back.
“Well, those who…” Qing Qiaoqiao sank into a dead silence.
“What I mean is, how are we supposed to decide whether someone deserves death or not? Should they obey laws, or perhaps our own morality? I just bumped into a taxi driver, and I had a strong feeling that he could have been a rapist. I hate people like that, but does he deserve to die?” Liu Meng sounded a little detached, and, above all, confused.
Liu Meng’s friends could do nothing but ponder silently.
Big Beard stopped typing and reached out for the pack of cigars in his pocket. Eyeglasses took off his glasses and wiped the lenses with a piece of soft cloth. Qiaoqiao looked at her sister, unsure about how to answer Liu Meng, and Qing Linglong stepped on the gas pedal with a bitter smile.
“I believe you know more about Li Yiming than we do.” Stargaze, who was sitting under a willow tree by the river, seemed somewhat amused.
“What do you mean?” Liu Meng took a deep breath.
“Li Yiming is someone who will think about getting an umbrella if it rains, not about how to stop the floods and disasters that might come with it. He’ll even to help those around him if he can. “
“You’ll need to help yourself before helping others. That’s true for the ordinary citizens who live here, and true for both you and me. We need to obey these rules, and, for the moment being, we’re nothing more than enforcers.”
“You mean…” Liu Meng hesitated. She understood the gist of what Stargaze was trying to say: to follow her own heart.
“Go. You can afford to make mistakes, but you cannot simply sit here and doubt your own conviction.” Stargaze peeked at the dimmering crescent of the new moon and lowered her head once more as a faint light slowly wrapped her.
‘Can afford to make a mistake, but cannot simply sit here and do nothing…’ Liu Meng clenched her fists and glanced in the direction the taxi disappeared after dropping her off.
“So you agree with Stargaze?” Qing Qiaoqiao turned toward her sister.
“What do you mean?”
“Better to make a mistake… than let a single one escape justice.”
Qing Linglong looked away from her sister and pushed on the brakes. The car stopped right below a residential block.
“Let’s go, we’re here.” Qing Linglong closed the navigation program on her cellphone and looked up at the apartment windows. Behind the curtains was shone a bright light.
* * *
“I am sitting on the city walls… contemplating the mountains… but the clashing of metal… the bellowing of flags… it was the army from Sima.” From the old radio came a piece sung by a dry voice. A skinny man leaned against the back of his chair, tapping at his tea bowl with two fingers as the song kept playing. His eyelids were half closed, and if it was not for the worn-out coat he wore, he would undoubtedly have been mistaken for an old retiree. 
“What a nice tune of the Empty Fort…” As the piece played on the radio concluded, the man raised his head and slowly closed his eyes completely.
1. This refers to a play adapted from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which the famous Shu eneral/strategist Zhuge Liang tricks his opponent Sima Yi using reverse psychology.