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Zhang Heng grabbed the car key from Fox, and together with Little Boy, went up to the second basement of the parking lot.
“Can you really tell if a woman is really jealous or just pretending?” he asked her as they approached a black Volkswagen Transporter that had seen better days.
Opening the creaky door, Zhang Heng slid into the driver’s seat, moved it to his position, and adjusted the rear-view mirror.
“No, why would I bother myself with such trivial matters?”
“I only said it to make him feel bad. Anyway, there’s no actual way to verify such things,” Little Boy said, “hey, do you really know how to drive?”
“It feels bizarre to have to answer the same question twice,” Zhang Heng replied
“It’s not too late to give up now. It’s better to admit defeat than to put on an act and then get caught later.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll try not to let the cat out of the bag.”
Zhang Heng started the car, and forty-five minutes later, the Volkswagen pulled up below a bridge. Under the glare of its headlights, a figure could be seen pacing anxiously by the pier.
Zhang Heng stopped the car, a little taken aback. Since it was a black job, he expected his employer to be someone from the underworld, but the man before him looked like a regular person in his forties or fifties. He was slightly bloated, had a slick of oily hair but was clean-shaven. With the frumpy windbreaker he had put on, he looked somewhat petrified.
Instead of climbing in right away, the man asked apprehensively, “Is this the car to the laundromat?”
“I’m sorry, the laundromat is closed,” Zhang Heng replied. It matched the agreed-upon code, and the man heaved a huge sigh of relief when he heard those words. He opened the car door and climbed into the front passenger seat. “Thank God, you’re finally here, I was so worried I nearly died,” he stammered nervously. He carried a cardboard box close to his chest, and it was evident that it was very important to him. He had his arms wrapped tightly around the package as it was the most precious thing in the world, not loosening his grip even as he settled down in his seat. “Where are we headed to?” The man gave Zhang Heng an address of a remote location, a place quite a drive away from where they were. Unfamiliar with the city, Zhang Heng did not react when he saw the address, but Little Boy’s brows furrowed when she heard where they were headed.
“Why are you going into the Albanian’s territory?”
“That, uhh…” The man wiped the beads of sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand, not knowing what to say.
“Is there a problem?” Zhang Heng asked. “Those guys are big-time criminals. They are inextricably linked to the red-light district business in the city, smuggling and tricking girls from their own country into coming here in the name of working abroad. They would then turn on them, keep them captive, before forcing them to provide services to men. Sometimes, they would even prey on female tourists who are traveling alone, planting good-looking members of their community at airports or train stations to strike up conversations with the girls. After they’ve gathered the target’s information, they decide whether or not to make a move. On top of that, they are also involved in other criminal activities—you’ll basically find them when there is money to be made.”
“I… I have some business with them,” the man stammered.
“It’s unwise to make the Albanians your business partner,” Little Boy said to the man. She then turned to Zhang Heng. “This is too dangerous. I suggest that we abort this job,” she said.
“No, no, no! I must go there tonight,” the man immediately panicked, saying, “I’ve already contacted their leader. He’s a very kind person, and there shouldn’t be any danger.”
“Then, we should just hand the car over to you, and you can go there yourself,” said Little Boy.
The man was speechless. He began sweating even more profusely. Desperate, he begged, “I… I can’t… I’ve heard a lot about them. If I had options, I would never have chosen to associate with them. Please, I beg both of you – don’t abandon me. I… I can pay you more.”
“This has nothing to do with money,” Little Boy replied sharply.
“I can give you three hundred, no, five hundred… one thousand!” the man promised, “If the transaction goes smoothly, I can even give you two thousand.”
“You’re that loaded? I couldn’t tell,” Little Boy raised her eyebrows at the man.
“If I’m really rich, why would I get myself involved with those people?” the man smiled sadly. “What do you do for a living?” Zhang Heng suddenly asked. The man hesitated for a while. He did not want to divulge too much information about himself, but at the same time, he was even more afraid that his driver and companion would desert him and let him deal with those demons on his own. So, eventually, he decided to tell the truth.
“I’m a chemistry teacher,” he sheepishly muttered.
“Chemistry teacher?!” Little Boy studied the man again and realized that his temperament was truly that of a teacher. “So, what is a Chemistry teacher, instead of being in school educating people, messing himself up with the underworld?”
“Same as you-money,” sighed the man again, “I had a happy family… but seven years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease. At the stage she was in, no medicine could cure her. She could only rely on drugs and machines to keep her alive. We have to fork out a large sum of money every month for such kind of extensive treatment, and we’ve used up all our savings. We even sold the house and the car. Then last year, my wife was so overwhelmed by it all that she filed for divorce.
“The school that I work for has set up two fundraisers for me, but the donations were just a drop in the bucket compared to the medical costs. I’ve borrowed from family, friends, the bank… even loan sharks refuse to lend me any more money. There’s nothing I can do. If I can’t pay this month’s bills, the hospital will stop my daughter’s treatment. I don’t have a choice. I have to take the risk. Please, please help me! I really need this money to save my daughter’s life! Once it’s done, we can split the money 30:70.”
“Hang on, did you…” Little Boy’s gaze fell on the cardboard box in the chemistry teacher’s arms. Then, she paused, finally understanding it all. “The balls you have on you… you know the consequences of getting caught with those?”
“A person like me has nothing else to lose. If I can help my daughter live, even for one more day, why must I worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow?”
The chemistry teacher hugged the box to his chest, his teeth chattering. “…but don’t worry. I know the rules. Just pretend this conversation never happened. No… you’ve never even seen what’s inside the box. Even if something did happen, it would have nothing to do with you.”
“No.” Little Boy shook her head. “Even if you are willing to risk dealing with criminals like these, they have 10,000 ways to swallow an ordinary person like you alive. Let go when you should. You’ve already done your best. That’s just how life is… your daughter will not blame you even if she gets to know…”
“No! no… it’s not the end. It hasn’t ended!” The teacher’s eyes widened, his breathing grew heavy, and the green veins on his neck bulged. The fear on his face vanished, replaced with a demeanor of a stubborn bull. “Please, Fox said that you are both capable people. There must be a way you can help me complete this transaction, right?” he resolutely insisted.
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