Imperial Kitchen was not the pinnacle of fine dining in Hai-Zhu City but it was the most unique Chinese restaurant. It looked like an ancient palace and the furnishings were also done in the old style. One felt rather ‘imperial’ indeed when dining there.
Hu Hou brought Xia Lei to a private room the moment he arrived.
There were several starters on the table and red and white wine. The hot dishes had not been served yet but the cost of the meal looked quite substantial judging from the starters and alcohol.
Xia Lei gave a small laugh. “What is this, Mayor Hu?” That sentence counted as his greeting.
Hu Hou laughed dryly, “You know my status, Xia Lei. It’s already illegal to meet you here to talk about things; show me some empathy.”
“You’re being so formal, Mayor Hu. Just tell me if you have something to say or have any requests of me. I’ll do it for you if I can,” said Xia Lei.
“You said it. I’d like you to get your workers to disperse and go back - can you do that?”
“I’ll pour you some alcohol, Mayor Hu.” Xia Lei had his slippery moments too.
Hu Hou covered his wine glass with his hand and looked at Xia Lei with displeasure. “Look at you, changing your mind right away after saying that I can make any request.”
Xia Lei put down the bottle of Wuliangye Liquor in his hand. “Mayor Hu, this may be a matter of suffering some criticism for you but to us it’s a problem of filling the rice bowls of hundreds. You’ve had my company sealed, and for half a year at that - what am I going to pay my workers with? What about insurance? This concerns the cutting of livelihoods and the workers have anger in their hearts. They just want to vent - is that not allowed? It’s not that I haven’t tried to dissuade them; they did not listen. What can I do?”
Hu Hou looked like he was holding back a laugh. “You’re not afraid of being arrested?”
“Mayor Hu, if arresting me solves the problem then have someone come arrest me now. I’ll have no complaints,” said Xia Lei with a smile.
Hu Hou shook his head and smiled wryly. The workers of Thunder Horse Manufacturing were just walking on the streets and were holding placards with non-discriminatory slogans on them so what basis had he to arrest Xia Lei? If he did have Xia Lei arrested, it wouldn’t solve the problem but make it worse, escalating the matter.
“Xia Lei, it’s not that I’m not seeking justice for you, but… Politics is the most complicated and dirty thing in the world. You’re an outsider so you cannot understand my difficulty. I want to help you but I have no power to do so. Even if I stand on your side, I won’t be able to protect your interests - I’ll also be made to step down. So please, understand my difficulties.”
“I understand. That’s why I’m here,” said Xia Lei.
Even Shi Bo-Ren was unable to help, much less a small city mayor like Hu Hou.
At that moment, a server pushed the door to the private room open and started laying out the dishes.
There weren’t many dishes but they were all very delicate and of high quality.
Hu Hou’s phone rang all of a sudden when the server was uncorking the red wine. He stood and walked towards the exit as he said, “Excuse me, I’m going to take this call.”
Xia Lei nodded and watched Hu Hou walk out of the private room. He was curious - who could be calling Hu Hou at this time? His left eye twitched at that thought and the wooden wall disappeared from his vision.
Hu Hou stood outside the private room to take the call with a respectful look on his face.
Xia Lei fixed his gaze on Hu Hou’s lips and lip-read the conversation on his end.
“Yes… Mr Gu, I’ve invited him here. What time are you coming? Yes… I mean the two of you should sit down together and talk things out. Things have escalated to this point, I can’t step down… Right, right, everything has a solution. You two sit down and have a talk. I’ll be the mediator. Let’s resolve the conflict together, what do you think? Mm-hm, I’ll wait for you.” Hu Hou hung up.
Xia Lei stopped using his ability and thought ‘So he’s trying to be a mediator. But with Hu Hou’s pull, the most he can get is Gu Ke-Wu. It’s not possible for him to make an appointment with Gu Ding-Shan. Is Gu Ke-Wu coming to negotiate with me? Wait… Hu Hou said he ‘ invited him here’ and ‘what time are you coming’ so doesn’t that actually mean that it wasn’t Hu Hou who invited me of his own initiative but that someone else asked him to…?’
Hu Hou walked in. The server had put the red wine in a decanter and pushed the serving trolley away.
“Excuse me.” Hu Hou seated himself. He looked at Xia Lei and made to say something but stopped.
Xia Lei’s gaze went to the decanter the server had put on the table and quietly activated the power of his eye. The decanter and its contents were magnified instantly and looked like a red swimming pool. Everything had been magnified and the image was crisp and clear. He quickly discovered a white powder in the bottom of the decanter and that it was dissolving slowly.
Xia Lei’s gaze then went to the hot dishes which the server had just brought in and discovered that these dishes too, had some white powdery substance in them. The white powder in the dishes dissolved more slowly than in the wine and was more obvious.
This was a trap!
Xia Lei felt a chill go down his back. He would have been on his guard if it had been Gu Ke-Wu who had invited him. However, he was not as wary since it was Hu Hou. He would not have known that this was a trap if he had not lip-read Hu Hou’s phone call and discovered something strange!
Hu Hou picked up the decanter. “Let’s first have some red.”
“Nn.” Xia Lei made a sound of agreement and his left eye penetrated the wooden wall of the private room again.
There were no diners in the room to the left.
Xia Lei looked at the wall on the right. Two people sat in the room to the right - Dong Wu and Qin Qi. The table before them held no dishes; there was just a sword.
Dong Wu and Qin Qi were staring at the wooden wall separating their rooms. They did not speak but listened quietly to the movements in Xia Lei’s room.
Xia Lei stopped using his power. He looked at the glass of red wine which Hu Hou had poured for him and said with a smile, “Let’s first have a toast, Mayor Hu.”
“Sure.” Hu Hou raised his glass and clinked it with Xia Lei’s, then tipped his head backwards as he drank.
Xia Lei took the opportunity to swiftly throw the red wine in his glass over his shoulder and into the potted giant alocasia plant behind him when Hu Hou had his head tipped back. Qin Xiang’s training had proved useful; his hand was as quick as lightning. Xia Lei had completed all motions and put the empty glass to his lips before Hu Hou finished drinking and he pretended to enjoy finishing his wine.
Hu Hou licked his lips and put down the drained wine glass.
Xia Lei picked up the decanter and stood to pour more for Hu Hou. “I’ll pour for you, Mayor Hu.”
“Trying to get me drunk? Let me tell you, red wine like this is no different from a beverage to me. I can drink two bottles on my own,” said Hu Hou with a laugh.
Xia Lei laughed. “Then let’s have another glass.”
Hu Hou drank a second glass and the potted giant alocasia drank a second glass.
“Why is the alcohol content of this red wine so high?” Hu Hou shook his head.
“Yeah, I also feel quite dizzy. Is this fake alcohol?” said Xia Lei.
“I’ll go ask…” Hu Hou stood but his legs buckled before he could finish his sentence and he fell to the floor.
Xia Lei snatched up the decanter and splashed some wine on himself, then took his phone out, turned on the recording function, and sprawled himself on the floor.
Two minutes after Xia Lei ‘fainted’, Dong Wu and Qin Qi pushed the door of private room open and walked in.
Dong Wu kicked Xia Lei’s backside and cursed, “Fuck you, punk. The day has come for you, huh?”
Xia Lei’s backside hurt terribly from the kick but he uttered not a sound.
Qin Qi sneered, “This punk is finally in our hands. I have to admit though, that this punk is very wiley and difficult to deal with. We’d probably not be able to catch him if Young Master Wu had not used Hu Hou.”
“This punk is better than us at martial arts and he’s more crafty than a fucking fox. We have to go through some trouble to deal with him but didn’t he still become our prey? He’s finished! Haha!” Qin Qi looked very happy and he kicked Xia Lei again.
Xia Lei was motionless, still.
“Let’s take him away,” said Qin Qi, “It’s all confirmed on the other end.”
“I’ll take Hu Hou and you take this punk,” said Dong Wu. He pulled Hu Hou off the floor and onto his back.
Qin Qi pulled Xia Lei up as well and put him on his back. They left the private room and went through the corridor to the back door.
The corridor was quiet and empty - this was not normal yet normal at the same time.
A server was guarding the back door; the person who had served Hu Hou and Xia Lei their meal. He opened the back door - there was a small alley behind it and a black delivery van was parked at its entrance.
The server opened the door to the van, then went around it and into the driver’s seat.
Xia Lei had two choices - subdue Qin Qi and Dong Wu immediately and save Hu Hou, or let these two bring him and Hu Hou to some unknown place. The risk for the first choice was lower but it would not bother Qin Qi and Dong Wu, much less Gu Ke-Wu. According to what he heard, there could be over a hundred excuses for Dong Wu and Qin Qi to get out of trouble. The second choice would let the situation drag on and carried great risk but there was a chance to make Gu Ke-Wu taste the bitter fruit of his sowing!
After some consideration, Xia Lei chose the latter. He would be able to catch a tiger without entering the tiger’s den, plus, he had his superpower!
Dong Wu and Qin Qi put Xia Lei and Hu Hou on the sofa in the back of the van and seated themselves in the second sofa-row. The server drove the van out of the alley and headed in the direction of the seaside.
‘Are we going to Distinguished Gathering? If we are, then I’ll have to take action on our way there’ thought Xia Lei.
Dong Wu looked back at Xia Lei and a sneer appeared in the corners of his lips. “This is your last trip on this plane. Enjoy your ride - I’ll send you on your way to the next plane later.”
Qin Qi laughed. “He knows nothing. What’s the use of you telling him that?”
“It pleases me,” said Dong Wu.
“I’m not as pissed as you. I’m thinking we should stay overseas for a period of time after this. What’s a good place to go? America or France?” said Qin Qi.
“I’d like to go to Japan,” said Dong Wu.
“I hear Japanese women are very flavourful so I want to taste them.”
“Woah there, I didn’t expect that you’d be more perverted than me at your age. Okay, let’s go to Japan. I want to see who’s better - you or me.”
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