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After that, Xu Chuan closed his mouth and lowered his head, stopping watching Shi Weichong and Shi Jin. He looked as if the conversation ended and he wasn't willing to speak any longer.
Shi Weichong tried to provoke him with a few sentences but to no avail.
Xu Chuan had been Shi Xingrui's counselor for many years and was aware of the current state of affairs in his family. As an accomplished lawyer, the taunts weren't going to bother him; it was impossible to make him talk if he didn't want to.
The conversation stalled. Shi Jin looked at Xu Chuan and spoke his second sentence since entering the interrogation room: “Who are you looking at through me?”
Shi Weichong frowned.
Xu Chuan started, then raised his head to watch Shi Jin again, but kept silent.
“You never stared at me like this when I was still fat.” Shi Jin looked straight into Xu Chuan's eyes, letting Xiao Si add a small buff to himself. His voice softened and his speech slowed down, and he asked, “Third Brother said I look like my mother. Did you know her?”
Xu Chuan scrutinized Shi Jin's face. His eyes moved slowly from the young man's eyebrows to his nose, finally falling on his lips. The lawyer's Adam's apple bobbed up and down. “The lips are the most similar… Why did you lose weight? You don't deserve this face! You should die! Die!”
Suddenly, he surged to his feet and reached out to grab at Shi Jin's face. Shi Weichong's expression changed. He moved to stand in front of the teenager and shoved Xu Chuan back hard, bellowing, “Calm down, man!”
Xiang Aoting, who was waiting outside the door, rushed in at the first sign of trouble. He approached Xu Chuan, who had fallen to the ground, then, composedly, pulled him up and handcuffed him to the chair.
“Tch.” The lawyer suddenly calmed down. He leaned back, then turned to look at Xiang Aoting and Shi Weichong—but avoided Shi Jin—and sneered, “I admit you have some skills, Shi Weichong. Several of my friends in Ruixing said they'd drawn others to their side and were sure to obtain the majority of the shares, yet the company still ended up in your hands. But you're really ridiculous—it was you who encouraged others to crowd out and push aside your youngest brother, and now you pretend to be a loving brother? What a farce.”
Shi Weichong's face sank like a stone. He did not refute Xu Chuan's words but simply said, “What I owe Xiao Jin, naturally, I will pay him back. And you, what are you playing at? Your kidnapping attempt failed, so you want to at least drive a wedge between us?”
“Drive a wedge? No, I just think it's ludicrous.” Xu Chuan lowered his head and whispered, with a kind of weird, jaded solicitude, “Shi Weichong, you're a talented man; Shi Jin, this trash, is not worthy of being your brother. And Shi Jin, you're a true example of being sold out and still helping your seller count the money. You deserve to be called the trash.”
“Enough!” Shi Weichong jumped to his feet and circled the table to gave Xu Chuan a punch. Then he went back to Shi Jin who was still sitting and pulled him towards the exit. He didn't want the teenager to listen to Xu Chuan's ravings any more.
The punch caused the lawyer to slump to the side. He licked the blood inside his cheek, his eyes following Shi Jin as he walked out. Suddenly, a smile appeared on his face and he mouthed, They want to kill you, run.
Shi Jin's forehead furrowed.
“What did you say, you b.a.s.t.a.r.d!” Xiang Aoting yanked the man back, not letting him look at Shi Jin again.
Xu Chuan put his head down and laughed. As he did, his laughter grew louder and more insane, until he looked like a true madman.
Shi Jin slowly took his eyes off him and left the interrogation room along with Shi Weichong, shutting off Xu Chuan's laughter behind the door.
A moment ago, after the lawyer's soundless utterance, his progress bar dropped to 700, the lowest it was since arriving at B City. There was no doubt this decline was related to the reduction of lethal factors, not the increase of survival factors.
This proved Xu Chuan was indeed one of the people who tried to kill him, but his behavior was contradictory—he obviously hated him, but that last sentence seemed like an attempt to save him.
What was the meaning of these words? Did Xu Chuan imply Shi Weichong and his other brothers were going to harm him?
He looked at Shi Weichong, who was walking in front of him, and shook his head again—no, they weren't the murderers. Perhaps who the lawyer meant by “them” weren't his brothers but other people, such as… Xu Tianhua?
And putting that aside, Xu Chuan's strange att.i.tude after seeing Shi Jin's face… What was the secret hidden behind that?
“Xiao Jin.” Shi Weichong abruptly stopped, released Shi Jin's arm, and turned to face him.
Shi Jin was pondering Xu Chuan's words and didn't react in time. As a result, he collided with his brother's chest.
After a startled moment, Shi Weichong squeezed Shi Jin's shoulders in a gentle hug. “Xiao Jin, about the past things… I'm sorry,” he said.
Shi Jin returned to himself. He patted Shi Weichong's arm comfortingly. “You don't need to apologize. I know Xu Chuan was just trying to make us turn against each other, I won't be fooled by him.”
Shi Weichong tightened his embrace, then let go and touched Shi Jin's head. “Thank you.”
Shi Jin shook his head and smiled at him.
Since he'd chosen to believe in Shi Weichong, he'd never abandon this trust, which was so hard to build, because of someone's mad ravings; not unless there was solid, irrefutable evidence proving his brother is not worth it.
When they were ready to return, Xiang Aoting got into the car with them to sent them back.
Shi Jin waited until the two men's mood more or less returned to normal, and asked, “Big Brother, Fourth Brother, Xu Chuan seemed to have known my mother and hate me because I look like her. Do you know anything about her?”
Xiang Aoting shook his head and said, “All I know is that your mother was brought from a remote town by Father. She spent two years with him and died shortly after you were born. Apparently, the childbirth took a toll on her body.”
The answer he gave was very vague. It contained nothing more than what was said in the novel, lacking any valuable new information.
Shi Jin glanced at Shi Weichong—as the eldest son, he had more opportunities to get along with Shi Xingrui than the rest of the brothers and should know more details.
Sure enough, after Shi Weichong took a moment to think back, he said something different: “Your mother was rather young, she wasn't even twenty when she gave birth to you. I didn't have many chances to see her either; since she arrived, Dad seldom came to meet us. Especially after you were born, Dad almost completely ignored his other sons, and did not see us again until after your mother's death. Actually, before she appeared, he hadn't hooked up with anyone for a long time. I remember he held the idea of marrying her officially.”
Shi Jin listened to this in a complex mood. “I'm sorry,” he whispered.
Because of the unexpected appearance of a young woman, their father started to give them the cold shoulder, practically abandoning them. Shi Weichong and the others must've been very upset—at the time they were but children, around ten years old.
“It's fine, we're all used to it,” Xiang Aoting soothed. “Whether your mother was there or not, Shi Xingrui never treated Big Brother and me as his sons.” When he spoke about Shi Xingrui, his voice became harsher.
Shi Weichong's expression hardened too, and he drove in silence. It took a long time for him to speak again: “In fact, I always thought that Father saying he wants to marry your mother was just him sweet-talking her. It was only after her death when he kept you close by and carefully brought you up, that I changed my mind. For Dad, you were different, and that never changed.”
Shi Jin kept silent. He had no idea what to say.
They were all the same, all were Shi Xingrui's sons, yet the original ‘Shi Jin' was always the special one—this was the root of the conflict between him and his five brothers. No matter what he said now, there was no way to gloss over it.
“If Xu Chuan got acquainted with your mother, it must've happened during the two years she lived with Dad.” Shi Weichong abruptly changed the subject and his tone returned to normal. “If we want to discover the reason for his strange behavior, we must start from that time.”
Shi Jin woke up and nodded, letting out an affirmative hum. He also didn't want to continue discussing the previous, depressing topic.
After returning to the club, Shi Jin found Lian Jun to make a report of what happened. He described Xu Chuan's weird att.i.tude and his own speculations, trying his best to be as accurate and exhaustive as possible.
Finally, he sighed and his voice fell: “Originally, I wanted to ask them about my father's att.i.tude toward their mothers before my mother appeared, but seeing Big Brother and Fourth Brother's expressions at that moment, I simply couldn't.”
Lian Jun was still looking down at the doc.u.ment in his hands, neither answering nor interrupting him. Shi Jin didn't know if he was listening.
He slumped down on the desk and muttered, half to himself, “Actually, I heard some rumors that my father got together with my brothers' mothers not because he liked them, but because he wanted to have more sons. I can't remember ever seeing them; he prevented me from meeting them, as if he wanted to blot out their existence. When Big Brother and others were underage and came to play with me, it was Father who sent someone to pick them up each time, and when they were adults, they came by themselves. No woman ever appeared at home. Dad seldom mentioned them, as if they had nothing to do with him, as if he had already completely cut all the ties with them.
“The biased, indifferent father who had abandoned their mothers, the spoiled younger brother who didn't know anything but still wanted them to love him… No wonder they used to despise me or even hate me. If we changed places, I'd probably want to kill my irresponsible father and foolish little brother too.”
Lian Jun finally lifted his head from the doc.u.ment. “You wouldn't,” he said.
“What?” Shi Jin didn't hear his words clearly and looked up at him.
“With your personality, even if you were in Shi Weichong's position, you would simply keep far away from that rotten mess rather than getting involved in all the drama.” Lian Jun closed the file, picked up a pen and poked Shi Jin's forehead, then moved his wheelchair from behind the desk. “It's time for dinner. Go to the dining room.”
Shi Jin touched his forehead, and his eyes brightened. He approached Lian Jun to courteously help push his wheelchair and asked happily, “Jun-shao, you're not angry with me anymore?”
Lian Jun did not refuse his help. He folded his hands on his abdomen, then said, not changing his expression, “I wasn't angry.”
“You were obviously angry.” Shi Jin enthusiastically pushed the wheelchair forward and cajoled with a zeal, “Now that you aren't angry, you will eat more, right? It was clear you were hungry, why were you forcing himself to not eat?”
Expressionless, Lian Jun uttered coldly, “I couldn't bear looking at you. Your foolish appearance while eating affected my appet.i.te.”
Shi Jin gnashed his teeth but had to admit his way of eating wasn't the most dignified, so he conceded the point for the sake of the general interest: “Fine, from now on I'll try to eat more elegantly.”
Lian Jun turned his head slightly and ignored him. However, that day, he ate half a bowl of rice more and drank a few mouthfuls of soup.
Shi Jin's face radiated with joy and pride. He watched Lian Jun with an expression of an aged father gratified his disobedient child finally behaved himself.
A few days later, Xu Tianhua, former deputy director of Ruixing, was tricked by the police into returning to China. He was secretly arrested at the airport and incarcerated in a room next to Xu Chuan.
Faced with Xu Chuan's allegations of ordering Shi Jin's kidnapping and death, Xu Tianhua dug his heels in and refused to admit anything. However, as if a dam had broken, Xu Chuan abandoned his previous silence and started to speak. He knew a large amount of incriminating information about Xu Tianhua's actions and revealed it all—from his petty tricks in Ruixing to the evil deeds committed outside. He also provided the account number Xu Tianhua paid the deposit to for the kidnapping case.
Xu Tianhua lost it. After being betrayed, he decided he might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb and Xu Chuan had to go down with him. He announced the lawyer was selling Shi Xingrui's secrets to himself and provided evidence.
After the two dogs tore into each other, both were convicted and received a pair of “silver bracelets.” With the number of charges against them, they were expected to spend the rest of their lives in prison.
When Shi Jin got the confessions from Xu Tianhua and Xu Chuan, his mood was complicated. He had a.s.sumed Xu Chuan was lying in order to deceive him and the person behind him was not Xu Tianhua, but someone else. Unexpectedly, not only were the two men really working hand in glove, but this cooperation began many years ago.
He watched his progress bar decrease directly to 600 after Xu Tianhua's arrest, not knowing what to say.
Judging from the two declines in the progress bar, Xu Chuan and Xu Tianhua must've wanted to kill the original ‘Shi Jin' and they took steps to actively implement their plans. However, they didn't appear to be the most dangerous lethal factors because although the bar had fallen to the safety line, it was hardly close to emptying.
“The culprits behind the kidnapping and the car accident weren't the same people?” Shi Jin sprawled listlessly on the sofa, going over the movements of his progress bar. He raised a hand to rub his forehead. “It seems plausible that most of the fluctuations in my bar should be due to Xu Tianhua and Xu Chuan. For example, the rise when I first met my three brothers after arriving in B City was because according to Xu Chuan's confession, Xu Tianhua sent people to watch Shi Weichong's every move. Xu Tianhua wasn't willing to take being forced out of Ruixing lying down. He was trying to discover my whereabouts and use me to contest with Shi Weichong, so when Shi Weichong found me, it didn't escape Xu Tianhua's notice. Let's not forget, Xu Tianhua also had a lot of influence in B City…”
Xiao Si was doing his best to a.n.a.lyze too:
“So, it could be determined Xu Tianhua had nothing to do with the car accident because he had no motive,” Shi Jin agreed with Xiao Si's hypothesis, then thumbed through Xu Tianhua and Xu Chuan's confessions again. The more he examined it, the worse his headache became; he just couldn't grasp any clue. “It wasn't Shi Weichong, it wasn't Xu Tianhua either, so who the h.e.l.l was the culprit behind the car accident? Was somebody fishing in troubled waters?”
Xiao Si pondered so hard it almost ended up crashing.
Shi Jin let out a deep sigh and emptied his brain, letting his thoughts drift aimlessly for a while. In the end, he chose to give up for now. He got up, put away the confessions, then left the room, deciding to accompany Lian Jun for a meal first.
As the end of the year was approaching, the club finally gained a bit of the festive atmosphere. All kinds of New Year's goods and ornaments were slowly being purchased; Fú characters could be seen hanging here and there, and the dumplings frequently appeared on the dining table. Fried dumplings, steamed dumplings and dumpling soup—Shi Jin loved eating all kinds of dumplings.
Slipping the last Sam Sun dumpling onto Lian Jun's plate, he found a topic to talk about: “How is Chen Qing's situation? Was there any progress?”
After deciding to take the conservative approach to saving Chen Qing, Lian Jun kept quiet and bid his time. He gambled that after failing the first a.s.sa.s.sination attempt, Black Rose's boss would definitely find an opportunity to try again.
Even though half a month had pa.s.sed, there was no follow-up news about Chen Qing. Fortunately, his two children were still safe and sound, which let them know Black Rose didn't regard Chen Qing as a throw-away chess piece yet.
Lian Jun eyed the plump, white dumpling on his plate. Eventually, he picked up his chopsticks again and ate it. Dabbing his mouth with a napkin, he said, “The leader of Black Rose is not a rash man. He will plan his next action only after making sure the last failed attempt didn't arouse my suspicion. He will act sooner or later, we simply have to wait.”
Shi Jin nodded his understanding, then requested cautiously, “Can you take me with you the next time Chen Qing invites you out?”
Lian Jun glanced at him and shook his head without any hesitation. “No. Next time we meet, it won't be a simple dinner, it would also involve Chen Qing's rescue. It's highly likely we will end up in a firefight with Black Rose. You lack practical experience, I can't take you with me.”
Shi Jin refused to give up. “I can hide, I won't get in your way.”
“There's no need to bring you. You're going to stay in the club.” Lian Jun's tone brooked no argument.
Shi Jin still wanted to speak. Lian Jun immediately reached for the fruit platter, grabbed a piece of honeydew melon, and stuffed it into the younger man's mouth. Then he turned his wheelchair and left without a back glance.
Shi Jin shut up to munch on the melon. His eyebrows wrinkled, then he took the remaining slices of melon from the platter, mumbling, “Hey, this melon is quite sweet…”
Xiao Si: <…>
Two days later, Shi Weichong began to call Shi Jin every day to ask him about his New Year's arrangements. After thinking it over, Shi Jin declined Shi Weichong's invitation to take him home for the Spring Festival, saying he wanted to stay in the club with Lian Jun.
Shi Weichong was angry enough he came over.
Shi Jin remained unmoved despite his brother's face-to-face exhortation. He explained reasonably, “My being who I am, how can I accompany you home for the New Year? In the past few years, father forced you to go abroad and spend the New Year with us. You never celebrated with your mom and her family. This year, you can finally accompany her. If I go with you, how would she feel? I won't go unless you break my legs and drag me there.”
Shi Weichong was at a loss for words. He really wanted to accompany his mother but was unwilling to abandon Shi Jin. He still had relatives to spend the New Year with, but both of his younger brother's parents were dead, leaving him all alone.
Seeing he wasn't relenting, Shi Jin's voice softened and he admonished gently, “Big Brother, I know you're worried about me, but it's all right. I have a lot of people to accompany me, I won't be alone. You should take care of your family. I'll send you the New Year's blessings, so remember to give me a red envelope in return.” He grinned at his brother, looking nonchalant.
The broader he smiled, the deeper was Shi Weichong's frown. Finally, he couldn't help but reach and pinch the teenager's cheeks. “Don't smile… I definitely won't forget about your red envelope, so take care of your health. I'll come to visit you later.”
“Oh, don't worry about me. It's not called celebrating the Spring Festival if you don't put on a few pounds,” Shi Jin said, a little unintelligibly because his cheeks were pulled. He dragged Shi Weichong's hands away, then gave him a hug. “Happy New Year, Big Brother, may you have peace year after year.”
Shi Weichong patted him on the back, sighing inwardly.
In the next few days, Shi Jin received messages from Xiang Aoting and Rong Zhouzhong. Like Shi Weichong, Xiang Aoting wanted to invite Shi Jin to celebrate the New Year together, but Shi Jin refused him too. Rong Zhouzhong only sent a text message with a time and name of a TV station, indicating he's taking part in this station's live broadcast of the New Year's Gala and Shi Jin could watch it on TV.
Shi Jin cheerfully texted back: [Sure, I'll set an alarm to watch the monkey show on time.]
Rong Zhouzhong's reply was brief: [Scram.]
Shi Jin threw himself down on the sofa, still holding the phone. It was too early to be happy: he hadn't gotten any phone calls from the two brothers he hadn't met yet. After thinking for a moment, he sent them a text message with New Year's blessings.
In the novel, the second brother Fei Yujing and the fifth brother Li Jiuzheng's att.i.tude towards the original ‘Shi Jin' was interesting.
Fei Yujing was an extremely busy man. Before Shi Xingrui's death, although he was flying all over the world, he would try to find time to visit ‘Shi Jin.' He would usually bring him some interesting souvenirs and photos, and also sent him local specialties from time to time, which greatly satisfied the original ‘Shi Jin's' hidden desire to travel and have adventures around the world. He played the role of a good brother who “was busy, but still concerned about his youngest sibling.”
After Shi Xingrui's death, though, Fei Yujing quickly disappeared from ‘Shi Jin's' life. He stopped answering his calls, didn't return his text messages, and didn't visit him. He came back several times because of the original ‘Shi Jin's' accident, but he kept away from him. Even when ‘Shi Jin' took the initiative to talk with him, he was always given the cold shoulder. The expression in Fei Yujing's eyes was like watching a stranger, and a stranger he rather disliked at that.
He had never displayed either a strong love or hatred for the original ‘Shi Jin.' When he played a good brother and showed care, it was always very reserved, and later, he quickly distanced himself. While he seemed not to care about ‘Shi Jin' one way or another, he occasionally showed the “if only this person had never existed” att.i.tude.
In his eyes, ‘Shi Jin' was probably like an ink dot put in a wrong place on the doc.u.ment—not particularly annoying, but still something he wanted to erase. Unfortunately, this ink dot couldn't be erased, so he tried to ignore it as best as he could.
Chapter 34 >>Translator's Notes: “Red envelopes” [红包, hóng bāo] – given to family and friends during Lunar New Year. Also called red packets or pockets, they include money, which is supposed to help transfer fortune from the elders to the children. They can also be given between bosses and employees, or between co-workers. ( )“May you have peace year after year” [岁岁平安, suì suì píng ān] – One of the traditional New Year's greetings.