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Fang Sheng was arrested on account of his song theft and alleged a.s.sault.
He had been struggling since he'd been kicked out of Neon Culture. He wasn't a talented composer, so he set his sights on music school students.
Qi'an was home to some of the continent's best music schools. Other than the Qi'an Academy of Music, there were two other decent music academies. Quite a few students attending these schools lived on a shoestring budget. Some worked part-time jobs, but compet.i.tion for music-related part-time gigs was fierce, so some students chose to cover their tuition and expenses by other means. They would not take credit for their work, instead posting excerpts of their songs online to draw buyers and then selling the songs to the highest bidder. That was how certain pop starlets came by their original compositions. It was an open secret in the industry.
Fang Sheng was planning on buying a few decent songs from these poor yet talented students. He was more or less blacklisted in Qi'an, so he would move to a city far from Qi'an and sell the songs there to turn a profit.
He targeted students who were consumed in the creative process yet clueless about the business side of things, cheating them out of the fruits of their labor with extremely low prices. When he had built up a collection, he would flee to another city.
His marks were often students whose personalities resembled that of the original owner of Fang Zhao's body.
He really got addicted to stealing.
The real reason was that this was such a killer shortcut. When he'd stolen the initial three songs, next thing he knew he had a new apartment and a company car. The temptation of overnight riches was too seductive. If Fang Zhao hadn't intervened, Fang Sheng would have done just fine.
Yet Fang Sheng's latest ploy had failed. A prospective seller had balked at his offer, but he went ahead and tried to steal the student's song anyway and was caught red-handed. The victim pet.i.tioned police to use a lie detector on Fang Sheng.
Fang Sheng crumbled under the dual pressure of the lie detector test and interrogation and confessed to stealing Fang Zhao's three songs.
After arriving at the police station, Fang Zhao had his ID checked and was brought to a conference room. This wasn't an interrogation room, so it wasn't as intimidating. The walls were transparent. You could see the movement in a neighboring hallway. The room was also furnished with snacks and refreshments.
A man in his 40s with a square face, sitting in the room, raised his head and asked, "Fang Zhao?"
"That's me." Fang Zhao sat down at the same desk to face the man.
"Did you bring the items we requested?" the man asked.
"I did." Fang Zhao removed a notebook from his bag and handed it over.
The notebook was what the original owner of his body had used to compose. In it, he had jotted down all his scores. When Fang Zhao got the call from the police at the office, he was asked to bring proof that he was the actual composer of the three songs.
A second officer took the notebook for verification. Current-day technology could determine the rough date the notebook was written in and establish the timing of the compositions. Even though Fang Sheng had confessed to stealing the three songs from Fang Zhao, the laws of evidence required further proof. Having the actual compositions was even better.
The man who stayed in the conference room, the notetaker, noticed Fang Zhao turning his head and looking outside. He asked with a laugh, "Do you recognize the man in the blue-checkered shirt and the two folks next to him?"
"Who?" Fang Zhao responded as he gazed at the surface of the desk.
"The girl who is crying is called Wei Qian. She's a student at one of the local music academies. Fang Sheng almost stole a song from her. If she hadn't buried a signature code in her score, it might very well have been registered under Fang Sheng's name."
"The man standing in the middle, wearing the blue-checkered shirt, is her older brother, Wei Chi. He's a student at the Qi'an University of Science and Technology. When he found out his sister had been robbed, he started asking around about Fang Sheng's whereabouts. When he got a tip, he tracked Fang Sheng down. He caught Fang Sheng taking pictures of another person's score, so he detained him and called the police. He also borrowed money to hire a kick-a.s.s lawyer. Multiple thefts and a.s.sault—I'm guessing Fang Sheng will be locked up for at least 10 years. You should thank them. If they hadn't requested a lie detector test, we might not have found out about the theft of your songs."
Since Fang Sheng's hired guns had failed to steal Fang Zhao bracelet and the attempt backfired on him instead, this time, Fang Sheng hadn't dared outsource the job again. He'd done the deed himself, but he was caught in the act.
"Hey, how come you didn't sue him when your songs were stolen?" the officer asked Fang Zhao.
"I had no proof. I had no case," Fang Zhao responded.
"True. This kid's a sly b.a.s.t.a.r.d. He never left any concrete proof. Typically, the lie detector isn't used before a conviction." The man gave Fang Zhao a sympathetic look. Knowing your work had been stolen but not being able to do anything about it, seeing someone profit from the fruits of your labor—that had to have been a horrible feeling.
There were strict rules governing the use of the lie detector. They could only be used in certain types of cases and the scope of questioning was limited.
The officer who processed evidence returned to the room and returned the notebook to Fang Zhao.
After the notebook was deemed legitimate evidence, Fang Zhao proceeded to fill out a bunch of paperwork that reverted ownership of the three songs from Fang Sheng to himself.
Neon Culture had immediately recalled the three songs that Fang Sheng had stolen when they got word from the police, transferring their rights to Fang Zhao.
"Can I see Fang Sheng?" Fang Zhao asked.
Fang Zhao was led to a temporary detention center.
"There are headsets on the wall." The officer who'd brought Fang Zhao to the detention center showed him where the headsets were located and left. The Qi'an police were quite careful about privacy issues.
Fang Sheng looked skinny and downcast. He didn't know what had gone wrong. He didn't get it. Was it simply bad luck? Everything was supposed to go according to plan. How come things always went south at critical moments?
Fang Sheng had intended to buy Wei Qian's song for 50,000. Fifty thousand was a bonanza for someone like her who didn't know the market and wasn't calculating. It was enough to cover her tuition for six years and obtain certain luxuries. But just when she'd been about to sign the contract, a call from her older brother sowed doubt in her mind.
But Fang Sheng hadn't wanted to wait, so he'd stolen Wei Qian's score instead. Who knew that it was planted with her own signature code?
What was worse was that, after he stole Wei Qian's score, he'd moved on to another school where he got a student drunk and was about to steal his score. He had wanted to buy it for a bargain, but this student was more business savvy and asked for at least 150,000. Fang Sheng had no intention of sh.e.l.ling out that much money, so he decided to steal again. He had even planned on fleeing Qi'an that very night, yet Wei Chi had caught him red-handed.
If he'd had a choice, Fang Sheng wouldn't have confessed to stealing Fang Zhao's songs, but he'd known he couldn't beat the lie detector test. And if he'd stonewalled, he would've face an even heavier sentence. After weighing his options, he'd decided to come clean.
There was no escaping jail time now. But in the worst-case scenario, he would be locked up for 10 years—no big deal. He might be released earlier on good behavior. In the end, he would have served six or seven years. He would be only 30 then. There was plenty of time left. Even though he had depleted his savings, he could still mount a comeback.
Fang Sheng plotted his next move. He wasn't feeling great—his face was still swollen and he was missing a few teeth.
As he pondered, he saw an officer bring in Fang Zhao.
"Fang Zhao! Big Zhao! I'm sorry. I shouldn't have stolen your songs. Please forgive me on account of the fact that we grew up together."
If Fang Zhao forgave him and spoke on his behalf, he could apply for parole. Even if he couldn't shave a few years off his sentence, a few weeks or a few months was still something.
After shouting for about a minute, Fang Sheng realized they were separated by a transparent barrier and Fang Zhao couldn't hear him. He scrambled to grab his headset and indicated Fang Zhao to do the same. He thought Fang Zhao didn't know he had to use them.
But Fang Zhao stood there motionlessly and stared at him coldly, as if observing a stranger.
That reminded Fang Sheng of the look on Fang Zhao's face when he'd returned to his black street in a company car to move after signing with Neon Culture.
A lightning bolt flashed through his head. Fang Sheng raised his head and stared at Fang Zhao blankly.
"It was you?"
Fang Sheng looked like he'd seen a ghost.
When he'd hired thugs to grab Fang Zhao's bracelet and was robbed instead, he'd thought that was on account of Yue Qing. He thought the thugs had been afraid of Yue Qing, so they'd turned around and robbed him instead. Now, he realized...
It was Fang Zhao.
It was Fang Zhao all along.
He was the one who had turned the two black street thugs against him. He was the one who had played saboteur every time he was on the cusp of success.
Gritting his teeth, he glared at Fang Zhao, mumbling the words:
"It was you!"
He finally got it. He'd never suspected because he had always based his thinking on Fang Zhao's old personality, but the Fang Zhao standing before him struck him as a completely different person.
Coincidence or luck—that was all irrelevant.
Fang Sheng turned pale, his eyes became bloodshot, and he gripped his fingers tightly, as if he was getting ready to rip his headset to shreds. But soon, his gaze went from projecting hatred to fear, because he noticed Fang Zhao laughing at him.
It was a casual laugh, but it sent through Fang Sheng a deep chill. He felt frozen all over.
If Fang Zhao had set everything up, what awaited him in prison? The more he thought, the more panicked Fang Sheng became.
"Let me out! Let me out!" Fang Sheng yelled at the top of his voice. On the other side of the divider, Fang Zhao had stopped looking at him and left.
After leaving the detention center, Fang Zhao picked up his doc.u.ments and left the police station. He walked along the street and made a right turn, where he met up with Wei Chi, who had already been waiting.
"I've received your last installment. I've taken care of the legal fees," Wei Chi said.
Fang Zhao'd had eyes on Fang Sheng all this time. When he had found out that Fang Sheng was targeting Wei Qian, he reached out to Wei Chi and struck up a partnership. Fang Zhao funded the operation while Wei Chi was in charge of entrapping Fang Sheng.
"You're not going to tell your sister?" Fang Zhao asked.
Wei Qian didn't not know that Wei Chi had set a trap for Fang Sheng so he could steal her song easily. Later on, Wei Chi had seized the moment and caught Fang Sheng while he was stealing another person's score.
"I'll definitely tell her at some point, but not now. The whole point of this plan was to make her more guarded. As the saying goes, never set out to screw people, but also never let down your guard. She was too gullible, all set to pounce at the bait. Creative types like her don't know how to watch out for schemers. She's only going to be taken advantage of when she enters the real world. I won't always be around to protect her. Thanks for your help; otherwise, I wouldn't have come out of this unscathed."
Fang Zhao always carried a knife with him and he'd had someone protect Wei Chi in secret. Otherwise, Wei Chi wouldn't have emerged unharmed after detaining Fang Sheng.
Fang Zhao looked at the time. "I gotta run. They're still waiting for me. Next time you wanna scam—no, I mean deliver justice—remember to count me in."
Fang Zhao watched Wei Chi leave and kept walking. For him, Fang Sheng was only a sideshow. He had simply wanted to reclaim the three stolen songs as a gesture for the original owner of his body.
A flying car appeared in front of him. Fang Zhao checked the license plate. It was the cab he had ordered. He boarded the car in a hurry.
"Headed to Yanzhou Cemetery for Martyrs?" the driver asked.
"It's almost Memorial Day. The cemetery is getting a lot of visitors. I've made two runs already."
"Is it always crowded this time of year?" Fang Zhao asked.
"Of course. You've never been? The Yanzhou Cemetery for Martyrs in suburban Qi'an is the biggest such cemetery in the continent. It's also one of the world's 12 major cemeteries for martyrs. Word has it that everyone who died in Qi'an during the Period of Destruction is buried there."