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Chapter 45 – The Desert Fox
"I must have been scared silly. Who knows why that uncle suddenly had to kneel, as if he had seen a ghost or something…" Mazha mumbled quickly, obviously trying to cover up something.
Shen Yu smiled but didn't pursue the matter. From the expression in her eyes, it was clear she was thinking deeply about something. No one could tell exactly what was turning around behind her large eyes though.
A bit further away, Tang Can was asking Old Mr. Yun why the Uyghur man suddenly became frightened. The old fox unexpectedly frowned worriedly and took a quick glance at Shen Yu. He stepped closer to Tang Can's ear and whispered a couple of sentences. Like storm clouds crossing a clear sky, the young officer's expression turned dark. Shen Yu could barely hear his quiet reply: "Then what should we do?"
The old geezer let out a profound sigh and contemplated for a bit before he slapped his thigh and said, "Actually, this might be a good thing!" The rest of the conversation went unheard as Old Mr. Yun lowered his volume such that only Tang Can could hear. The young officer nodded his head repeatedly in approval.
Shen Yu observed the two men from the side, making sure to watch their every action.
Although they found the person they were looking for, they didn't have much to show for it. The next day, Tang Can and the old fox went to the same village again. This time they left Shen Yu behind. She spent the entire morning staring blankly at her silver bracelet, as if it would tell her secrets if she looked at it enough!
The weather suddenly changed that afternoon, and the villagers said it was the first rain of the season. The rain barely covered the ground before the temperature dropped sharply as if it had been fall instead of summer.
"Wear a fur coat in the morning, switch to cotton in the afternoon, end up eating watermelon around a coal brazier." This was a common saying for the locals in Xinjiang, and they used it to describe the province's unique weather patterns. Despite how cold it was in the morning, Tang Can persisted in taking Shen Yu out that day.
Although Old Mr. Yun didn't go with them, Mazha and Zhang Fei came along with them. Later on, Shen Yu found out that the armed forces had been divided into three groups. One group would stay with the old geezer in the small village within the Ruoxiang county. OlYun claimed that the local donkeys were quite unique, and he wanted to take a closer look at them. Shen Yu snorted in amus.e.m.e.nt when she heard his outrageous statement. If the old man had to lie, couldn't he find a more believable one?
The rest of the soldiers had already set out the previous night, but Tang Can didn't deign to tell her where exactly they went. Then again, he also didn't enlighten her on where they were going next either.
Xinjiang is a large but spa.r.s.ely populated area. Because of that, the vast highways that were present everywhere else in the nation were not common here. However, the military off-road vehicle they drove was well able to handle the rougher roads of Xinjiang. A light touch on the gas pedal would cause the car to lurch forward and the engines didn't labor more than usual. Mazha repeatedly praised the car for its performance, and he seemed very enthusiastic. It was obvious the male soldier wanted to test drive it himself.
By now, it was more than clear that Shen Yu and Zhang Fei did not get along. However, they were somehow both a.s.signed to sit in the back seat together. The two of them ignored each other and plastered their bodies as close to their respective sides as much as possible. Shen Yu deliberately kept her face to the window and watched the outside scenery. As they drove, she could see the lush green landscape disappearing into a desolate desert scene.
Mazha was still irritated by the recent events. The young man grumbled under his breath incessantly. He complained about traveling from Hami to Ruoxiang county to find the Uyghur old man, only to find that the person wasn't able to do anything for them. After all that trouble, they still had to travel on their own. From his perspective, it would have made more sense to travel directly from Hami to Lop Nor instead of making such a lengthy detour.
His whining continued for quite some time and he seemed akin to a perpetually, dissatisfied sourpuss. Even Shen Yu started to feel annoyed at the soldier. Finally, Zhang Fei snapped at him heatedly and commanded him to "Shut up!". Only then did the male soldier fall silent.
The car continued to move steadily forward through all of this until Tang Can received a phone call. Afterwards, he smiled at Mazha and said, "Okay, you've complained enough. Calm down and things will be better soon!"
"What will be better?" asked Mazha, suddenly excited. However, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get the young officer to enlighten him with more details. Mazha danced around in his seat and scratched his head furiously in his desperation to know.
After traveling for approximately another thirty minutes, the car finally slowed down to a stop. Without stopping to take the keys from the ignition, Tang Can jumped out of the car. Mazha quickly followed him, snarling, "What the h.e.l.l! Looks like that b.a.s.t.a.r.d is here!"
Shen Yu was completely bewildered at this turn of events. She was given no context and thing seemed to be rapid changing. Only after she got out of the car did she finally have an inkling what was going on. The soldiers who had left earlier were right here. They had surrounded the Uyghur man, Abu Lizi.
Ever since Shen Yu and the others visited the man, the older man acted as if he was facing an unexpected catastrophe. Earlier, when the group went back to pack their belongings for a trip, Abu Lizi had snuck him and his family out of the village and run away. Now, the soldiers had found him with a small donkey. But his family members were not with him.
One of the soldiers remarked to Tang Can, "We actually really need to thank Abu Lizi's donkey here. If it wasn't for the donkey's large head, we wouldn't have been able to spot them so quickly."
The old man was kneeling in front of them on the ground. From Shen Yu's perspective, she could see the Uyghur man continuously kowtowing and mumbling something. Exactly what the man was saying, she couldn’t tell.
Mazha rushed up in fury and, in a couple of steps, reached Abu Lizi. He kicked the old man viciously in the b.u.t.t and cursed at him, "You old b.a.s.t.a.r.d, stop pretending!"
The old man sobbed and cried in the Uyghur dialect but the words he said were not understandable. After being screamed at by Mazha, Abu Lizi curled up into a ball on the ground and trembled incessantly. No other words came out of the old man's mouth.
Mazha snarled, "You b.a.s.t.a.r.d! You're such a wily Desert Fox! Speak to us in the Mandarin dialect, I know you can!" Abu Lizi had been frightened out of his wits by the barbaric actions of the young soldier and didn't dare to speak anymore.
Shen Yu watched from the side in complete puzzlement. Only after Tang Can explained the situation to her did she understand what was actually happening.
Apparently, Abu Lizi was not actually from the Uyghur tribes and was actually a descendant of the people who fled into Xinjiang in the sixties to escape famine and unrest. His father later died and his mother ended up marrying someone from the Uyghur tribes in order to survive. That was how Abu Lizi ended up with a name from the Uyghur tradition. In terms of age, the man was only in his early fifties. As for why he still looked the same as he did decades ago, it could be explained that he was born naturally to look a bit worried. Now that he was older, his looks matched his age.
Looking at his wretched appearance now, Shen Yu could only feel that this contrasted too much with how the man presented himself earlier. Abu Lizi was not an honest man. Those who too easily changed their appearances were not good people.
The young officer continued to explain the events to her. In the late seventies and early eighties, many gold-crazed explorers poured into Lop Nor to find legendary treasures and wealth.Abu Lizi, had travelled in and out of Lop Nor on several trips then and was a well seasoned traveler. The reasons for his trips differed. Sometimes it was for the sake fame and getting television coverage. Other times, he guided expedition groups to the mysterious salt lake for pay. Tang Can's details became more hazy but Shen Yu got a general gist of the idea. The Desert Fox was the nickname Abu Lizi earned through all of these years. From that name alone, she had a good idea of what his character was actually like.
Mazha was able to force Abu Lizi to start talking in Mandarin, albeit with a Xinjiang accent. When she heard him speak, she wanted to laugh with amus.e.m.e.nt. However, the next sentence he said quickly wiped any trace of a smile off her of her face!