Nana's aunt shook her head. “I didn’t know. I’ve been staying at my eldest son’s apartment for most of the time to take care of his son. I’ve rarely come back here. My husband has spent more time home than I have. How could he not find them?”
Li Mazi kept observing the floor. Eventually, he walked up to us and said, “I can tell that those things have been here for at least one month. When we arrived in the room, we immediately heard some noise. I refuse to believe that Old Chef has never heard any commotion.”
I thought about the matter then said, “It’s possible that he wasn’t in his right mind at night. Some evil spirit might have been messing with him.”
Li Mazi nodded and said, “Yeah, it’s possible.”
“Please, you must save my husband!” Nana's aunt cried again.
I tried to comfort her. When she calmed down, she continued, “I don’t understand. Didn’t they say that the House Protecting Immortals would protect one’s house? Why do they want to harm my husband? Although he doesn’t worship the House Protecting Immortals, he has never hurt any of those small animals.”
“Hold on, what did you just say?” I suddenly got a very important clue.
Nana's aunt was puzzled. I guessed she didn’t get what I meant and thought that she had said something wrong.
I asked, “You just mentioned the House Protecting Immortals, right?”
My eyes moved to the hole. Mice, snakes, and hedgehogs… these three animals belonged to the five making up the House Protecting Immortals; the other two were Fox Immortal and Weasel Immortal. Perhaps the last two weren’t popular in this area, which prevented them from appearing in this house.
Was it possible that the Five Immortals of the Northeastern Region were the ones messing with poor Old Chef? But why would they want to do that?
My imagination started to run wild.
In Northeastern China, the House Protecting Immortals were famous due to the ‘Riding Immortal’ ritual.
‘Riding Immortal’ was a form of shamanic ritual performed by the shamans to expel and eliminate monsters and ghosts.
To perform the ritual, they would need two items, the Literary King Drum and the Military King Whip. By using these two tools and the matching chant, the shaman could invite the House Protecting Immortals to protect the house and expel the evil spirits.
Was the drum that Old Chef had mentioned the Literary King Drum? Also, when he said that he wanted to lay eggs, he was probably possessed by the Snake Immortal.
“It seems I’ve discovered part of the truth.” I said coldly, “Aunty, I have a question. Zhao Dafa is from the Northeastern region, right? Does his family worship the memorial tablet of the House Protecting Immortals?”
Nana's aunt wore a dumb-struck face and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t really know. I have never visited his house before. However, it’s true that he is from the Northeastern area of China. The neighbors in this building all know this.”
I smiled and said to her, “This matter seems to be closely related to Zhao Dafa! Fengshen Nana, we’ll need to part ways here. If possible, we should deal with this matter today. You have to bring your uncle home as soon as possible. Try everything in your power; resort to bribery if you have to. Li Mazi and I will keep an eye on Zhao Dafa. We want to see if we can get any clues from him.”
Fengshen Nana was hesitant for a while but eventually nodded. “Okay, if Zhao Dafa has plotted against my uncle…. He’ll have to pay the price.”
I forced a smile. “Let’s leave revenge for later. We don’t have time to waste. We have to move now.”
Li Mazi and I sneakily went to Zhao Dafa’s apartment.
The Zhao family lived on the second floor. It was broad daylight, but his windows were closed. The apartment was dead silent. We didn’t catch any bit of sound from the outside.
It could mean that Zhao Dafa had already set up his vendor stall outside and was doing business.
However, I didn’t understand one thing. How could a small vendor like him, who sold food by the street, buy such a good apartment? Even if he rented the place, it would still be very expensive. It should cost at least five or six thousand renminbi per month. How could a farmer who grew vegetables bear this expense?
Li Mazi stood by the window and peeped in for a while. However, the window glass panels were some sort of special glass that only allowed the people inside the room to see the outside and not vice versa. That was why we couldn’t see what was inside the apartment from here.
Li Mazi suggested, “How about we break the window and get in? I’m sure we could collect some evidence. If we get evidence, I don’t think that Zhao Dafa will dare to ignore it.”
I thought it over for a while, but in the end, I rejected Li Mazi’s suggestion.
“We’re here to save a man, not to chase after a murderer. If we alert Zhao Dafa, he might think about fleeing or attacking us. If we want to untie the knot, we need to find the one who tied it. I’m not sure if we can save Old Chef without him.”
Li Mazi had a headache and cursed, “This is too damn complicated. There are so many people to mess with. Why did Old Chef have to choose this Northeastern old man?”
It was pointless to discuss this matter any further. We could only wait until Zhao Dafa closed his vendor stall and returned home.
However, I couldn’t figure out why a man with such skills worked in the food market to earn a living. He was an interesting person. Did he want to experience an ordinary life that much?
Li Mazi and I went to find a place to hide. We decided to stay and watch from there.
We hid and watched until the night fell, but we didn’t even see Zhao Dafa’s shadow. Fengshen Nana called me and said that she had already picked up her uncle. She was downstairs and told us to help her.
Li Mazi and I could only give up on our task for the time being. We walked downstairs to see Old Chef.
Old Chef looked even worse than before. There was no focus in his eyes. Moreover, he was drooling, and his teeth clattered nonstop.
When Li Mazi approached him, Old Chef abruptly opened his mouth and tried to bite Li Mazi. Furious, Li Mazi stealthily pinched him.
The three of us had to struggle quite a bit to bring Old Chef back to his apartment. As soon as we got into his place, he started to wiggle restlessly. He roared and screamed, “Let me out! Let me out! I don’t want to stay here!”
His fear seemed to come from the bottom of his heart. I assumed that he had endured extraordinary torment while living here.
Old Chef panicked and ran around the apartment. He really wanted to run away. We couldn’t stop him, so we had to find a big rope and tie him up. Then, we threw him onto the couch, where he finally calmed down.
After seeing that the pillar of the family had turned into a madman, Nana’s aunt was heartbroken. She came and hugged her husband. “Husband, what happened to you? Please, open your eyes and look at me. You have to hold on! If something bad happens to you, how can I continue to live…”
Old Chef rolled his eyes at his wife like he was looking at a stranger. I called and pulled the poor woman to one side as I was afraid that Old Chef would hurt her.
“Old Zhao, you’ve come home really late today.” All of a sudden, we heard people greet each other outside.
“Yeah, the business was pretty good today. Come here, friend. Take these mung bean sprouts.”
When we heard those people greet each other outside, Nana's aunt’s anger burst out. “That damn Zhao Dafa is back! I’m going to bring him and ask for an explanation!”
I immediately stopped her. “Aunty, calm down. You can’t let the anger cloud your mind; just leave this matter to us. Nana, you stay here and watch your uncle. Don’t let him run away. Li Mazi and I will take care of the rest.”
Fengshen Nana nodded and said, “If you need help out there, just call out loud.”
“Okay,” I said then left with Li Mazi.
As soon as we got out of the door, we saw Zhao Dafa.
Zhao Dafa looked around fifty or sixty years old. He was pushing a three-wheeled cart that held a lot of vegetable baskets.
After Zhao Dafa secured and locked his three-wheeled cart, he went upstairs. The man had a gray beard and a hunched back. He limped strenuously the entire upstairs. It was as if he could fall off the stairs at any minute.
His pitiful appearance could easily get others’ attention and make them sympathize with him. If we didn’t know the inside story, we would have never thought that this man had a plan to murder his neighbor.
As I was thinking, Zhao Dafa almost reached the final step. We didn’t know why, but he turned his head to look at us all of a sudden.
The moment our eyes met, I suddenly felt scared. Damn, did he see through us?
I tried to sound calm as I said, “Sir, does that small vegetable cart belong to you?”
Zhao Dafa became tense. “I-Is… Is something the matter?”
“I’m from the property management unit. Some people have complained that you’ve parked your vehicle incorrectly, which affected other people's parking as well. Could you park it properly somewhere else?”
Zhao Dafa exhaled in relief; he had bought my story. Right after that, he went downstairs to move his cart aside. He didn’t even complain or ask why.
However, because of that, I was even more sure that he was hiding something. If he didn’t do anything that made him feel guilty, why would he be afraid of people coming to his door? Still, it was beyond my expectation to learn that Zhao Dafa’s character was pretty good.
After we waited for Zhao Dafa to finish moving his cart, Li Mazi and I left to prevent people from suspecting us. After Zhao Dafa went upstairs and entered his apartment, we stealthily followed him. We stood by his door to listen to the movements inside his house.
Zhao Dafa was probably very tired. Not long after he got in his bed, we started to hear his snoring.
Li Mazi couldn’t stay idle. “So, we’re just waiting here and watching Zhao Dafa sleep?”
I said helplessly, “Why don’t you go back and check on Fengshen Nana’s uncle? I’ll stay here to watch him.”
Li Mazi nodded and said, “All right, let’s do that. After all, it’s going to be more suspicious with the two of us here. We’re more likely to be busted.”
Then, Li Mazi went downstairs while I stayed in the corner and watched the door.
Not long afterward, I heard some noises coming from the room.
Zhao Dafa had stopped snoring. Right after that, I heard him sigh in a daze. He muttered, “How did things turn to this?”
I knew this sigh of his meant trouble. I pricked my ears and tried my best to get more information. Not long after that, I heard footsteps in the room, followed by the sounds of someone rummaging to find something.
The rummaging noise stopped shortly after. However, Zhao Dafa kept silent for quite a long time. Then, I heard him hit a drum.
The drum sound was heavy, hoarse, and dull. It was very different from what I had imagined. It resounded once and was followed by silence.
Then, I heard a shaman dance.
“It’s getting dark and the sun has set in the West. Birds are flying back to the mountain, and tigers are returning to the forest. We worship you and we invite you, Immortals. At first, we would like to invite the Fox, then the Yellow Weasel. Then we invite the third, the Snake, and the fourth…”
I felt my hair stand on end as I listened to the chant. He’s performing the shaman dance to invite the House Protecting Immortals!
Not long after he had started to sing and dance, I felt a cold wind blow behind me. It was so chilly that I had goosebumps all over my arms.
I turned around, and a dark shadow stood behind me. The shadow had a pointy face and a strange-shaped head, as well as a wretched smile on its face.
The shadow moved toward me, forcing me to step backward. I didn’t dare to confront it directly, so I pretended to pass by and quietly descended the stairs.
I didn’t really leave but stood in the corner. I needed to watch that shadow. After the shadow floated and glided into Zhao Dafa’s apartment, I heard Zhao Dafa whisper something to that dark shadow. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about or discussing, but I was sure that the shadow was reporting that it had seen me peeping at his house. Shortly after, Zhao Dafa pushed his door open and craned his neck out of the door to look.
Luckily, I hid well. Otherwise, Zhao Dafa would have found me. However, someone suddenly poked my back.
I jolted back in shock only to discover that it was Li Mazi.
Li Mazi had an anxious, restless expression. “Little Brother Zhang, things don’t look good. You should go down and check on Old Chef.”
“Let’s go.” I understood that something had happened to Old Chef. Without any hesitation, we descended the staircases.Previous Chapter Next Chapter