Consultant of the Mysterious Department
The furnishing in Long Bing’s home was simple and looked like they were dated, giving one the feel of nostalgia. Xia Lei felt like he’d walked into an oldies-themed television drama set.
“These things were left by my parents. I haven’t touched them in years,” said Long Bing.
Xia Lei spotted a family picture on the television cabinet. The picture was of a man and a woman in military garb with a chubby little girl between them. The girl in the picture was, unquestionably, Long Bing.
Xia Lei was curious and thought, ‘Long Bing doesn’t look over 24 or 25. And herself as the girl in the picture looks about four or five. Her parents were alive then, and there weren’t any wars in the past 20 years. How did her parents die on the battlefield? Were her parents in the same line of work she is in now? Special forces or spies?’
He wanted to ask but didn’t.
“I’ll go prepare the guest room for you,” said Long Bing, “You go cook.”
“Huh?” Xia Lei had not expected to be put in the kitchen to cook on his first visit to Long Bing’s home.
Long Bing patted him on the shoulder, “I’ve seen and tested your culinary skills. A guest is coming later, coincidentally, so you’ll come in handy.”
“Is the guest you’re talking about the someone who wants to meet me?” probed Xia Lei, “Can you tell me who he is?”
“No. Go cook. There’s meat and vegetables in the refrigerator.” Long Bing turned away and headed upstairs before Xia Lei could speak.
Xia Lei shrugged gloomily and headed towards the kitchen, grumbling to himself, “What does she take me as? A convenient chef? Servant to a queen? Really…”
Xia Lei slaved away in the kitchen. Long Bing returned to the living room after preparing the guest room and flipped through the information Chi Jing-Qiu had given Xia Lei. She took some pictures, made calls and sent the information to someone. When she had nothing else to do, she started watching television, having totally no intention of going to the kitchen to help Xia Lei with the cooking.
It went without saying that Xia Lei felt like Long Bing was more and more like a proud and isolated queen.
An hour later, Xia Lei had cooked up several dishes; Mapo tofu, beef and peppers, broiled meat slices, pork in fermented soybean sauce and tomato egg soup. These dishes were all done in the Sichuan style instead of the Northern style. He’d cooked them that way on purpose - that’s what she got for watching television and not helping!
Just as Xia Lei placed the last dish, tomato egg soup, on the dining table, the doorbell rang.
Long Bing got up to open the door and a stalwart old man walked in. His appearance made Xia Lei think of Golden Lion Xie Xun* from a mythical martial arts television series because of his upward-reaching eyebrows which gave one the impression of anger. The only things different from the character was that he was short-haired and not golden-haired like Xie Xun.
Xia Lei had already spent a period of time as Liang Zheng-Chun’s disciple and had reached a certain level in his learning and practicing of Wing Chun so he was sensitive to certain things which were related to martial arts. When the old man had walked through the door, Xia Lei had felt something martial arts-related - This old man had the same martial arts master aura as Liang Zheng-Chun!
Who was he?
Xia Lei could not help trying to guess his identity and started to feel a little nervous.
“GIrl, is this the Xia Lei you often speak of?” the old man said after walking through the door and taking one look at Xia Lei.
He was not polite but coming from an old man like him, it seemed ‘sort of’ all right.
Long Bing seemed to respect this old man and she nodded, “Mm, yes. He is the Xia Lei I told you about.” She then said to Xia Lei, “Come here, I’ll introduce you. This is Shi Bo-Ren, or Elder Shi.”
Xia Lei hurriedly took off the apron and walked over, saying politely, “Hello, Elder Shi.” He went before Shi Bo-Ren and held both his hands out, waiting to shake hands with him.
Long Bing was already a ‘higher being’ in his eyes. This Shi Bo-Ren seemed obviously even more important than Long Bing. He had to be very careful when interacting with big fish like him.
“Not bad.” Sho Bo-Ren nodded and reached out his right hand to shake with Xia Lei.
Xia Lei smiled, “Elder Shi, I made some dishes in preparation of your arrival. Let’s eat together.”
Shi Bo-Ren did not move but suddenly clamped down hard with his right hand.
Great power coursed from Shi Bo-Wen’s hand. Xia Lei felt like Shi Bo-Wen’s hand was not a human’s hand but a vise! He reacted instinctively and his right hand also started to exert power to counter Shi Bo-Ren. Veins popped out in the two men’s hands and the clear, distinctive sound of bones crunching could be heard.
“Ah! The boy has hidden depths!” So saying, Shi Bo-Ren suddenly swung his left hand at Xia Lei’s shoulders.
Xia Lei’s raised his left hand and used the outer side of his elbow to block Shi Bo-Ren’s attack. The elbow was one of the hardest places of the human body. Shi Bo-Ren’s palm-chop struck his elbow and made a small smacking sound as it was deflected.
A flash of surprise showed in Shi Bo-Ren’s eyes. He suddenly raised his leg, knee aimed at Xia Lei’s underbelly.
Xia Lei moved his upper body forward and his left hand down, blocking with his elbow again. Hard elbow and hard knee collided with a loud, muffled bang and Xia Lei and Shi Bo-Ren were pushed apart.
Long Bing looked at Xia Lei in surprise. How had he grown so powerful in the time she hadn’t seen him?
“Good one, boy! Your Wing Chun’s not bad!” Shi Bo-Ren chuckled, “Where did you learn your Wing Chun from, boy?”
“Liang Zheng-Chun is my Master,” said Xia Lei.
“Liang Zheng-Chun?” Shi Bo-Ren tried to recall the name and said, “I know of him. He’s a descendant of the Wing Chun founder, Yan Yong-Chun. I’ve heard of him years ago but never met him.”
“My Master has a school in Hai-Zhu City. He keeps a low profile and lives simply,” said Xia Lei.
Shi Bo-Ren stared straight at Xia Lei, his gaze seeming to bore into Xia Lei’s core, “How long have you practiced Wing Chun?”
Xia Lei was about to say that he had been practicing for over a month but felt it was the wrong thing to say and changed his words, “I’ve practiced for a period of time.”
A slight frown appeared on Shi Bo-Ren’s face. He did not seem satisfied with Xia Lei’s answer.
Long Bing interrupted, “You’ve fought and chatted. When are we going to eat? Boss Shi, it is better for you to test Xia Lei’s culinary skills than his Wing Chun. His culinary skills are better.”
“Oh? I must try it then.” Shi Bo-Ren laughed heartily, “Let’s eat.”
Xia Lei let out a silent breath of relief, thinking ‘Long Bing called him ‘Boss Shi’ earlier. This Shi Bo-Ren must be her boss. Long Bing is already so impressive and this old man is even more powerful. What department do the two of them belong to?”
He wanted to ask this question but dared not. Some people’s identities were state secrets - how could a normal civilian like himself pry into state secrets?
Shi Bo-Ren enjoyed the dishes, “I haven’t had such authentic Sichuan cuisine in ages. This is great.”
Long Bing smiled a rare smile, “I didn’t lie to you, did I? You’d rarely get dishes as good as these even if you went to authentic Sichuan restaurants.”
Xia Lei reached a leg over under the table and gently nudged Long Bing’s ankle. He winked when Long Bing glared at him.
Xia Lei meant to tell her not to sing his praises too much as it made him embarrassed but Long Bing seemed to have a different understanding. The additional wink after the nudge made her cheeks turn red. What did these actions mean if not a hint at something further?
“Hey…” A strange smile appeared on Shi Bo-Ren’s lips, “Can the two of you wait for me to leave before you do things like that?”
Xia Lei felt awkward right away.
Long Bing’s face grew redder and she glared angrily at Xia Lei again.
It was strange - this was his first time seeing Long Bing display girly shyness and Xia Lei found her very charming. He felt his heart thump in response. However, this heart-thumping response triggered his left eye and he lost control of it. Long Bing, seated opposite himself, lost all her clothing at once. Her snow white neck, proud, full and plump peaks, pale as fine jade. And the natural gems crowning the snowy peaks…
Good thing there was a table over his lower body. Xia Lei brought his eye under control lest he spy on Long Bing’s most secret place. He had taken only one look but he had been hit hard by what he saw. In the second that he’d seen the two gems crowning those snowy peaks, he felt hot blood rise right up to his head and the material of his trousers strained to hold him in.
He had never thought of using his X-ray vision on Long Bing before this happened. He had no idea why it happened now and had not detected any inclination of doing this sort of thing before.
Good thing it was just him who knew and not Long Bing or Shi Bo-Ren.
Having wined and dined, Long Bing cleared the dishes and Shi Bo-Ren called Xia Lei to the living room for a chat.
“Little Xia.” Shi Bo-Ren was a little more polite, “I’ll tell you straight why I’m here. I don’t like beating around the bush.”
Xia Lei nodded, “I don’t like beating around the bush either. Please, speak your mind, Elder Shi.”
“All right, I’ll say it,” said Shi Bo-Ren, “It was I who asked Long Bing to investigate you. I’m quite interested in you.”
Xia Lei had asked Long Bing who was having him investigated before but she had not told him and now Shi Bo-Ren confessed to it. Xia Lei did not find it surprising after having the answer to his question.
“You are a careful thinker and have great skill in welding on top of being good at martial arts. I hear you know quite a few foreign languages too…” Shi Bo-Ren shook his head and smiled wryly, “I can’t think of why you’re so capable, so talented. Have you tested your IQ?”
Xia Lei shook his head, “No.”
“You really should. I think the numbers will be shockingly high,” said Shi Bo-Ren.
Xia Lei knew well how he had become so ‘well-rounded’. It was not because of his intelligence but the special ability of his left eye. He could not tell Shi Bo-Ren this, however.
After a pause, Shi Bo-Ren finally said what he’d come for, “It’s like this. You’re a rare talent. I want you to join our department, working for our country. What do you think?”
Long Bing finished with the dishes and came out of the kitchen at that moment and stood next to Shi Bo-Ren, looking at Xia Lei with expectant eyes. She seemed to have already known what Shi Bo-Ren had come for but she kept silent.
Xia Lei already had an answer but he still pretended to deliberate before saying, “Sorry, Elder Shi. I have my own company with over a hundred people depending on me for their livelihood. I cannot abandon them. I appreciate your kind offer, Elder Shi. If another chance comes in the future I will definitely join your department and work for the greatness of the nation.”
Shi Bo-Ren’s brows wrinkled in a frown.
Long Bing smiled, “Boss Shi, I told you he’s stubborn and won’t take up our line of work but you didn’t believe me. Believe me now? If I could pull him in, I would’ve by now.”
“Won’t you reconsider?” asked Shi Bo-Ren again.
Xia Lei reiterated, “Elder Shi, I have already thought it through, I…”
Shi Bo-Ren cut Xia Lei off, “Okay, I won’t force you but I’ll let it slide this time. There’s no rejecting my offer next time.”
“What?” Xia Lei felt a headache coming on.
“Be our consultant,” said Shi Bo-Ren, “We don’t require you to participate in all our missions but you have to act in the areas in which we need your help.”
“What sort of help do you need?” asked Xia Lei tentatively.
“Like last time, when you helped a girl named Jiang Ru-Yi crack the case of the archaeological professor’s murder. You have to help us if we have similar cases. Additionally, you have to help when we need modifications done to weapons. If we have need of repairs, you have to help us,” said Shi Bo-Ren.
“Sure, I’ll be your consultant,” Xia Lei agreed.
What sort of person was Shi Bo-Ren? Though the invitation to be a consultant was in name and not an actual post, he must have a good opinion of him to even offer in the first place. Others would not have had the chance even if they wanted and he would be unable to tell good from bad if he were to reject it.
“Good, we’re agreed.” Shi Bo-Ren stood to leave.
Xia Lei stood to send him off, “Take care, Elder Shi.”
Shi Bo-Ren seemed to remember something and looked back, saying, “I don’t have any salary for you. Any problems with that?”
Xia Lei smiled, “No problems.”
“All right, you kids play with each other. No need to send me off.”
Xia Lei and Long Bing were speechless.
Shi Bo-Ren opened the door and left, leaving two awkward young people behind.
*Golden Lion Xie Xun
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