Dali and Luo Youyou had been stuck at the hip for the past two days, showing all sorts of public displays of affection. The employees in the store teased Dali with outright jabs at him being a lolicon and a pedophile.
This store was gradually getting on the right track with a stable income. Sales and marketing were handled by Dali while I basically watched over the store. The shop assistants all addressed me as ‘Song-ge.'
About a fortnight later, Xiaotao phoned to inform me of an incident in prison–the Imitator was killed last night.
I was taken by surprise; I couldn’t imagine why something like that would happen to him.
Xiaotao dropped by the store to pick me up and we were on our way to Mount Leopard Prison. The Imitator’s body had been placed in the prison’s infirmary. The laceration was very small–a stab wound under the rib. There was basically no blood on the surface of the skin. The shape of the wound looked rather irregular, resembling a self-made weapon.
This sort of incident might often be seen in American TV shows, where prisoners grind metal fragments into knives and stab other inmates. But in reality, this was extremely rare. For entertainment purposes, confrontation and danger were often exaggerated in TV shows but real prisons weren’t actually that chaotic.
According to the prison guards, when the Imitator was released from his cell for leisure time, he suddenly squatted under the barbed fence. The prison guard initially assumed he was ill. But when he walked over, he noticed the Imitator’s chest was covered in blood. He was immediately sent to the infirmary for rescue but died later that night...
At the time, there were quite a few inmates in the compound, with guards watching them. None of the guards noticed anything suspicious during the leisure time and they didn’t know who the culprit was.
After a brief pause, I said, "Bring me all the inmates who were with him!"
The prison guards brought the inmates in one by one. After questioning, they reported nothing out of the ordinary these past few days. But when the last inmate entered, I noticed his furtive eyes.
I asked the same question, and his answer matched the others. But I noticed from his body language how nervous he was. "You’re lying!" I sneered.
"Every word I said is true. This guy has always been strange and liked imitating us. Everyone stays away from him," he cried in a fluster.
"Do you usually pick on him?" I asked.
"Him?" The inmate laughed, "More like he’s the one doing the bullying. When he first came in, we were going to mess with him! But we never expected this guy to be so strong. All he needed were two or three moves to take us down. After that, we never bothered him again. As long as we ignored him, he left us alone."
"Did anyone speak to him the night before the incident?"
The inmate didn't expect the sudden change in subject. Covered in cold sweat, he faltered, "N-no!"
Xiaotao snapped, "You better tell the truth. We can reduce your sentence!"
But the inmate didn’t believe Xiaotao at all. "Don't lie to me. You’re not the system. After interrogating me, you’re just going to get up and leave."
"We can reduce your sentence by half a year. You can trust me on that," assured Xiaotao.
The inmate looked around, worried as if the walls had ears. Finally, he lowered his voice and said, "You must keep this a secret. I'm afraid if I tell anyone, I’ll be the next one to die!"
He explained that he couldn't sleep that night and was tossing and turning in bed when he suddenly caught a whiff of a strange fragrance coming from outside the cell. He looked up and saw a man standing near the cell door with an incense stick in his hand.
"Was it a prison guard or an inmate?" I interrupted.
"An inmate,” he answered. “He was wearing the same uniform as us. I don't know how he got out."
"What did he look like?" I added.
"It was very dark at the time so I couldn't see very clearly, but he looked rather muscular.”
Upon catching a whiff of the scent, he realized that it made him faint. He used to be a swindler and knew that sedating incense existed in the Jianghu. So he quietly put his sock over his crotch, pissed himself and covered his face with the soiled sock so he wouldn’t pass out.
The others inhaled the incense and slept like logs.
Heart jumping wildly, he immediately assumed the guy had sinister motives and wanted to hurt everyone. However, the man pulled out a small tube and blew it, aiming at the Imitator. A needle pierced the Imitator's neck, and he woke up.
The man outside whispered his name, "Yi Qianren, come over here. I have something to say to you!"
The Imitator walked to the cell doors slowly. Hiding in the quilt and eavesdropping, his cellmate couldn't hear their conversation very well. But the gist of it was inviting the Imitator to join an organization, claiming that they had taken fancy to his skills. And if he agreed, he would be rescued from prison within a month at most.
When the Imitator refused, the man sneered, "You can think about it carefully. I’ll give you till tomorrow afternoon. If you agree, pull off the top button of your uniform, otherwise..."
The Imitator’s cellmate failed to catch the man’s last words. Then, the man left.
Because he didn’t usually speak to the Imitator, he was afraid to ask him any questions. Besides, he was a prisoner. Why involve himself in any intrigue? It was best he stayed away from the affairs of others.
The Imitator never took off his button and was killed during leisure time the next day.
"Did the man say anything about this organization?" I asked.
The inmate shook his head, "No, he only mentioned that this organization is very powerful! He assured him they would be able to get him out of prison and even boasted of an inmate they freed a month ago. Apparently he’s done a lot outside."
The realization dawned upon me–the late-night visitor was a member of the Jiangbei Daggers. It seemed that they planted an inside man within the prisons so they could bring over outstanding criminals to their side. And if they refused, they would kill them.
Xiaotao excused the inmate who repeatedly reminded us not to break our promise before he left.
"This organization is everywhere,” sighed Xiaotao. “How formidable!"
Though I didn’t feel anything for the Imitator, I had never put him on the side of the wicked. He was a man, neither good nor evil, just like a ghost drifting through the earth.
His death at the hands of the Jiangbei Daggers was a great pity. But at the same time, I was glad that he hadn’t become an enemy.
"Let’s round up all the prisoners so we can try and narrow down our guy!" suggested Xiaotao.
"No,” I disagreed. “There are thousands of inmates here. I’m sure the organization has placed more than one man on the inside. If we make any rash moves, it’ll attract their attention."
"Are we supposed to just let it go then?"
"If we meet criminals with special skills in the future, we must place them in solitary confinement without contact from anyone."
"I feel a deep sense of powerlessness,” lamented Xiaotao. “The organization succeeds with all their evil plans every time. Until now, we’re not even sure of the full extent of this organization."
"Don't underestimate yourself,” I comforted. “Haven't we managed to undermine them several times?"
Xiaotao pointed to my chest–the place I was previously stabbed with a knife. "But the price we pay is too high!" she smiled bitterly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter