On the night of the return home, Yi Hui received a call from Tang Wenxi: “Why did you leave so soon?”
Yi Hui told him truthfully: “After the competition, I had nothing else to do, so I went home.”
Tang Wenxi said regretfully: “It’s a pity… There’s an art exhibition at school this weekend and we were thinking of asking you to come along.”
The words ”we” reminded Yi Hui of the old acquaintance he met by chance when he was talking to Tang Wenxi last time. He couldn’t help but feel nervous. His empty hand clenched into a fist and shrank into his sleeve: “You, just go and see it by yourself, never mind me.”
“Never mind you? How can that work, we are old classmates. You left in such a hurry the day before yesterday and we didn’t have time to have a meal together. Next time don’t you dare to shirk it off.”
Hearing that he was as enthusiastic as when they met face-to-face, Yi Hui gradually relaxed.
When they parted, Tang Wenxi asked for his mobile phone number but he didn’t expect him to call so soon. At that time, when he saw Yang Chengxuan, Yi Hui was too busy panicking. Now that he was sitting at home far away from the capital, he felt safe enough to think about this friendship that originally belonged to Jiang Yihui.
From the few words during their previous chat, Yi Hui noticed that Tang Wenxi admired Jiang Yihui. He called Jiang Yihui an “art genius” and there was just a bit of envy but no jealousy in it. It meant that Jiang Yihui’s talent was recognized by the people around him.
But Yi Hui was different. He started drawing in elementary school simply because he liked it and his family was well off. No one put pressure on him. He was not motivated to learn and he never compared himself with others. He could paint whatever he wanted. His level of painting was definitely different from that of Jiang Yihui who had specialized in painting.
The lack of confidence made Yi Hui very nervous. He was so anxious he felt like hanging up the phone without saying a word.
Tang Wenxi on the other end didn’t notice anything. He chatted with Yi Hui about art-related topics. Seeing that Yi Hui was holding back, unwilling to talk more, he complained: “Classmate Jiang, what’s the matter with you? You weren’t like that before. Even though you don’t usually talk much, when it comes to painting, you are full of energy. You alone could speak for the whole hour.”
Yi Hui was taken aback for a moment. He looked at his reflection in the window glass, unable to imagine this face looking confident and eloquent.
“I, I don’t know what to say, no one will listen.”
“What do you mean?” Tang Wenxi raised his voice, “I listen, we all like to listen. Promise me, if you have time in the future, you must come back to school often.”
After hanging up the phone, Yi Hui sat alone in the studio for a long time.
He knew that they liked Jiang Yihui, not him.
No one would like him.
Even though someone once said “like” to him, it was against his will and they had other purposes.
Whose “like” was like that? Rude, perfunctory, insulting to the extreme. Anyone with a little intelligence could have seen how much he hated him.
Yi Hui walked outside, squatted down in front of the pot of iron jasmine that had been moved indoors because of the cool weather, reached out and touched its dark green leaves, exhaling slowly.
That’s right, if no one likes him, no one will miss him, and if no one misses him, no one will be sad.
What Yi Hui didn’t know was that in S City, more than a thousand kilometers away, everything was in a mess because of him.
On the outskirts of the southern part of the city, the sound of police sirens echoed in the mountain. High-watt LED lights illuminated the surrounding grass in a ghastly white light and a small house not far away also shared the little light as well, casting a low, dark shadow on the muddy ground.
There were traffic jams on the way and the mountain road was slippery with the rain. It took a lot of time to get up the mountain. Zhou Jinheng trekked through the mud on the mountain path to find this place. A group of police officers exited from the hut.
The night on the mountain was wet and cold, and his hair and body were soaked by the rain but Zhou Jinheng didn’t realize it. He pushed his way through the crowd into the hut and looked around. There was no one inside.
The man who called him to report the news was still there. He took his arm and dragged him out, as if he thought this place was gloomy and unlucky: “Young Master Zhou, Young Master Zhou, please come out. He has been shipped away. I called you several times but you didn’t answer…”
Zhou Jinheng seemed to have not heard, threw him away and walked in again.
He spent a minute turning the small room upside down, looking behind the curtains, under the wooden table, under the bed, wherever he could. He pursed his lips tightly without saying a word and searched every corner thoughtfully, preparing not to stop until he got the result.
In the end, he was dragged out by the police. When he kept trying to go inside again unconsciously, they seriously said that he would be charged with obstructing official duties and destroying the scene.
Zhou Jinheng suddenly reacted when he heard this: “What scene?”
Police: “The crime scene.”
“Murder.” The police thought he was here to make trouble. After answering, they dragged him outside the cordon and announced, “Start clearing the site, evacuate as soon as possible.”
Zhou Jinheng was pushed to the periphery, nearly ten meters away from the hut. He didn’t give up and rushed in regardless. Several people grabbed his shoulders and dragged back his arms at the same time. He couldn’t move, staring at the small house hidden in the dark.
He didn’t know that his eyes were bright red and bloodshot, his chest was heaving violently, his breathing rapid, and strands of wet hair were stuck to his forehead. His pants were dirty with mud and his clothes were soaked and mottled by the rain. He looked wretched, his usual glamorous appearance gone without a trace.
The sound of pattering rain was mixed with the sound of the police transcribing the conversation with the owner who had just arrived.——
“How old is this house?”
“I can’t remember, more than ten years, right? In the wilderness, no one lived there for so many years, who would remember?”
“Then how did you make a deal with the deceased?”
“I live at the foot of this mountain, there, just to the south, where the light is. I walked up the mountain that day and saw him wandering around, so I asked him what he was doing. He was so happy when he heard that I was the owner of this house and asked me if this house was for sale.”
“Then you sold it to him?”
“Hey, how can I do it? There’s no title to this crummy house either. How could I, a good law-abiding citizen, do this kind of business? But he, a few days later, he came here again and said that he wanted to buy this house. I refused to sell it. He chased after my *ss and said that he could pay as much as I wanted. I thought he was very sincere, so I decided to rent it to him to play for a couple of days and helped him move some furniture from the bottom of the mountain.”
“Did you give him the key?”
“I gave it, how could I not? I got paid with one hand and delivered the key with the other.”
The police showed a photo from the phone to the homeowner: “Are you sure it was him?”
“It’s him. I’m sure it’s him. He’s a handsome young man but he talks stupidly. Here-” The homeowner pointed at his head and lowered his voice. “There may be something wrong. He’s a fool. I gave him the key. He confirmed with me several times and asked if the house belonged to him from now on…”
As soon as he said that, there was a burst of noise next to him. Zhou Jinheng suddenly broke free from those who held him, rushed over extremely fast, grabbed the homeowner by the collar and pulled him up, looking down at him and shouting, “Who did you call a fool? He is not a fool, you are mistaken, right? Tell me you are mistaken!”
The owner was taken aback, hesitating to say anything, and the people around him hurriedly pulled Zhou Jinheng away.
In the chaos, he saw the photo on the screen of the police officer’s mobile phone. The man on it had a white face and a few strands of short soft hair falling onto his forehead, covering most of his black eyes.
The man was smiling brightly at the camera, just like on the lock screen wallpaper of the phone Zhou Jinheng clenched in his palm, grinning wide to reveal two small, sharp tiger teeth.
When he arrived at the hospital, Zhou Jinheng still couldn’t tell the difference between reality and illusion.
He was very clear about his goal of coming here. He asked the information desk and walked to the morgue quickly. He didn’t get a chance. The staff said that the body had just been taken away by relatives.
“His brother said he wanted him to be sent to the capital for cremation and his father also signed and agreed.”
Zhou Jinheng’s heartbeat was still very fast but his brain was running faster: “Don’t you need to do an autopsy?”
The staff member replied: “An autopsy, you say? It’s been done. Hypoxia combined with hypothermia triggered cardiac arrest. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of external injury.” Seeing Zhou Jinheng’s blank expression, he reluctantly added, “It’s not a very painful way to go and it’s been cold recently, so the corpse is not unrecognizable.”
After coming out of the hospital, those words kept circling in Zhou Jinheng’s head – the corpse, the scene of the crime, it was a fool, unrecognizable.
Unrecognizable, how could it be possible? Yi Hui’s appearance was so clear that he could see him smiling as soon as he closed his eyes.
He didn’t know where to go. He returned home again. The Doraemon doll was lying on the bay window and the unfinished painting was still there. Zhou Jinheng breathed a sigh of relief.
The little fool didn’t take his favorite thing and he didn’t finish painting. How could he die?
He wouldn’t die.
The man who notified Zhou Jinheng of the news was probably afraid that something would happen to him. He had been following him since the mountain. When he saw his expression relax, he thought he had calmed down. He said something like ”Sorry for your loss“, but when he saw that he didn’t have any special reaction, he boldly added: “As the saying goes, if something old doesn’t go, something new won’t come. This is all God’s will. We have long said that Young Master Yi was not worthy of you. How could he be worthy?”
Anyone who had heard of the relationship between the two of them also knew that Zhou Jinheng hated Yi Hui. They never attended any kind of gatherings together, and when he was free, he would hang out in bars all night and never go home. When he mentioned Yi Hui occasionally, his eyes were full of contempt. A blind man could see that if he could have kicked Yi Hui away, he would have kicked him away a long time ago.
Therefore, the man took it for granted that it was the result Zhou Jinheng wanted and smugly patted him on the back. Unexpectedly, Zhou Jinheng reacted strongly and looked at him with eyes a hundred times sharper than before: “How many of you? Which ones?”
It was completely dark.
When they arrived at the bar, the people were forewarned and were about to run away, but Zhou Jinheng blocked them at the back door.
“Who locked him in?” Zhou Jinheng’s face was grim and his voice was low. “Speak!”
The three of them were smiling playfully a moment ago but now they were so frightened that they tried to back away. They looked at each other and none of them dared to speak.
They took a step back and Zhou Jinheng took two steps forward. The fierce aura of hostility emanating from his body filled the narrow passage, enveloping them. Obviously, he was one against three but they were frightened to cold sweat, their usual arrogance dissipating without a trace.
It was only when they were cornered and had nowhere to retreat that the three shivering men spoke up and started pushing each other –
“It was him. He saw Master Yi coming to meet you and asked us to go and tease him together.”
“You are talking cr*p! Obviously it was you, you said you wanted to see if he was really stupid and you dragged me along…”
“Master Zhou, listen to me. I didn’t participate. This matter has nothing to do with me. When the two of them said that they were going to send Young Master Yi up the mountain, I didn’t follow them. I also advised them not to overdo it.”
“What a load of fart! You were the one who was enticing him the most and saying how you would help him see if Young Master Zhou would like his birthday present.”
“But it wasn’t me who did that prank, was it? It was you, you locked the door before you left and told him to behave himself and wait for Young Master Zhou in the house.”
“How was I supposed to know you took the key? It was out in the middle of nowhere and no one could hear him screaming for help.”
“Who knew he was so stupid, told him to wait and he would really stay still. If he had a normal mind, he would get out through the window and run away.”
Zhou Jinheng didn’t have the patience to listen to the rest of the bullsh*t, and his anger, which was at a critical point, was ignited without warning. He rushed forward, pressed down the man and hit him, starting at the key parts, his fists falling on his head, face and chest, every time as fierce as it could be.
When the police arrived, the three of them were already unconscious on the ground, unable to move. Zhou Jinheng was still sitting on one of them, swinging one punch after another tirelessly with the muffled sound of heavy blows landing on the bloodied flesh.
Even when being pulled away by the police, he still held the man’s shirt and refused to let go. He stared at him with bloodthirsty eyes like a beast and asked with a hideous expression: “Who do you say is stupid? You F*cker speak!”
While the three unconscious people were taken to the hospital by ambulance, Zhou Jinheng was sitting in the interrogation room of the police station. The new clothes he had changed to welcome someone home were covered with blood stains and he couldn’t tell which ones were his own and which ones belonged to others.
He was handed a tissue to wipe his face. He didn’t answer or cooperate in making a statement. The police had to turn around and question someone else.
The man who had been with Zhou Jinheng for the whole day was desperate. He didn’t know how he got into all this trouble trying to butter him up a little, but he helplessly made up a story for the police: “Young Master Zhou, you should know him, right? He is an actor, just getting life experience in the bar, it’s all just a joke, a joke.”
The police were well-informed and didn’t believe in this set-up: “Getting life experience? Is he preparing for a remake of Goodfellas, beating someone to death?”
Soon after, Zhou Jinheng’s father, Zhou Huarong, arrived and slapped him twice without saying a word: “Look at what you did!”
Zhou Jinheng turned his head when he was slapped, still silent, without even lifting his eyelids.
When he saw the wounds on his son’s face, Zhou Huarong’s heart softened. He sighed and lowered his voice to say uncomfortably: “I have already explained the circumstances to the lawyer. Those people are fully responsible. It has nothing to do with you. When the police ask you later, just admit your mistake and say that it was a minor conflict and a momentary impulse, so that I can bail you out as soon as possible.”
Only then did Zhou Jinheng react. He turned to look at Zhou Huarong, his voice hoarse when he opened his mouth: “What responsibility?”
Zhou Huarong was dumbfounded: “Of course Yi Hui’s death is their responsibility and it has nothing to do with our family. Don’t talk nonsense after you go out and quit messing around for a while…”
Before he could finish speaking, Zhou Jinheng interrupted: “Who is dead?” Then he said to himself, “He is not dead.”
His expression was indifferent, and only after a closer look one could discover that it was not indifference but numbness and stubbornness of someone who was not going to listen to anyone and was completely immersed in his own world.
It was a sleepless night.
The capital in the early morning was already autumn-like, misty as if in a layer of gauze, the air dry and cold, and the wind felt like the night dew had penetrated the lungs.
Finding the corresponding house number from his memory, Zhou Jinheng had little hope when he pressed the doorbell. There might be no one inside, and even if someone was, he probably wouldn’t open the door for him.
So when the door opened, he was stunned at first and then hurriedly asked, “Where is Yi Hui?”
His heart that had been dead all night leapt to life, and when he saw that the man at the door was silent, he asked impatiently, “Is he here? I want to see him.”
If he had been paying attention, he would have noticed that the man he called his brother-in-law was still wearing a suit and had not had time to take it off. Obviously, he had just returned from somewhere. From the fatigue of his face, it could be inferred that he also stayed up all night.
Cheng Feichi looked at Zhou Jinheng up and down silently and finally cast his gaze on his colorful face, his eyes as cold as a knife: “Not here.”
The response made Zhou Jinheng excited: “You have taken him away, he is here with you, isn’t he?”
“He is dead.” Cheng Feichi said mercilessly without hesitation.
The little smile that had just appeared on his face froze; Zhou Jinheng was speechless.
Cheng Feichi didn’t plan to relent and asked rhetorically: “Don’t you know how he died?”
There was a continuous buzzing in his mind and scattered fragments whistled past his eyes – the barren mountain in the rain, the low dilapidated house, the dazzling bright red blood, the smiling face blurred by the raindrops.
The voices in his ears were noisy and disordered, as if they all came from another world. There were some words spoken that he did not understand and a cruel fact depicted that he did not agree with.
A fact? No, impossible, he didn’t believe it.
With his lips twitching, Zhou Jinheng gritted his teeth and replied: “He’s, not, dead.”
Just three words seemed to have exhausted the little strength he had left. When he raised his head again, the light in his eyes disappeared and his trembling voice seemed to beg: “He’s not dead, please… let me meet him.”