When they were almost out of the market, Xia Lei spotted a shop selling wheat, beans and other farming supplies. He’d also spotted the owner and he was a burly, bearded, headscarf-wearing man of about forty; a typical Pashtun.
As they drew closer to the shop, Tang Yu-Yan lowered her voice and said, “Right there. The one in the doorway is Karam, our guide.”
Xia Lei scanned their surroundings. There were less people here but it was still bustling. He didn’t see any suspicious people but he was uneasy for some reason. He felt like there was a pair of eyes watching him and Tang Yu-Yan.
He had his X-ray vision but this was not a catch-all ability. He was unable to observe each and every person in such a busy environment, and he lacked the experience in surveillance.
Tang Yu-Yan led Xia Lei to the grains shop but did not stop at it. She went past the shop and into a jewellery shop next to it.
Pakistan’s goldsmiths and silversmiths were world-famous and the jewellery shop was full of exquisite jewellery, mostly silver.
The owner of the jewellery shop was a native Punjabi. Upon seeing the two Chinese people, Tang Yu-Yan and Xia Lei, he became a tad over-enthusiastic. Tang Yu-Yan spoke fluently for a bit with the owner in Urdu, then picked a few pieces of silver jewellery. The owner only charged her the cost price.
Xia Lei thought they would turn around and into the grains shop when they exited the jewellery shop but she did not even glance at it as she walked straight to one of the exits of the terminal market.
Xia Lei couldn’t help looking back at it, and he happened to see Karam enter the jewellery shop. His left eye twitched and revealed the scene in the jewellery shop. He saw Karam talking to the owner of the jewellery shop and take out a bill, presumably to have it changed into coins. When the owner of the jewellery shop gave him the coins, he bent to pick a crumpled paper ball from the paper basket.
Xia Lei stopped using his X-ray vision at that point.
Not one word was said between them but all the words they needed were on that paper.
Xia Lei was abashed. He had been admiring the exquisite jewellery earlier and had not even noticed when Tang Yu-Yan placed the paper ball there. He had seen what transpired but pretended not to know. After he left the market, he asked Tang Yu-Yan, “Weren’t we going to meet Karam? Why are we leaving?”
Tang Yu-Yan spoke softly, “He already knows what to do. Let’s go back. He will wait for us outside the city tonight.”
Xia Lei didn’t ask more and followed her to the intelligence station. He looked back to scan the surroundings behind him after a while. The feeling of being watched hung behind him like a shadow but he was unable to find anything suspicious. It was difficult since the women here were all clothed in black from head to toe, and he could not use his X-ray vision on all of them.
“Did you discover something?” Tang Yu-Yan sensed Xia Lei’s strange actions.
“I keep having this feeling that someone’s watching us but I can’t see who. Do you have this feeling?” said Xia Lei.
“I don’t. I’ll know if someone is following us. This patch of territory is under our surveillance and our informants will detect something even if I don’t. Don’t be nervous. It’s your first time on a mission like this so being nervous is unavoidable. I had this sort of feeling my first time too,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
Hearing her say that let Xia Lei relax a little. He looked backwards less too.
As they stood at an intersection, a window of a Toyota Camry was wound down and a blonde woman stuck her head out the window. She opened her mouth and spat the chewing gum in her mouth at Xia Lei.
Xia Lei hurriedly dodged it and said angrily, “What are you doing?”
The blonde woman spoke in Russian, “What did you say? I don’t understand! You be careful, next time it won’t be chewing gum but a bullet.”
Xia Lei wrinkled his brows and replied in Russian, “Are you threatening me? You’re being rude spitting chewing gum at me. Apologise.”
The blonde woman grinned. “You should be more careful. Next time will be a bullet, not chewing gum.”
“You bitch!” Xia Lei walked towards the Toyota Camry.
The light changed from red to green at that moment and the blonde woman stepped on the accelerator, leaving Xia Lei behind.
Tang Yu-Yan pulled Xia Lei back to the pavement. “Forget it. I don’t understand what you two were saying but I think there’s no need to get upset over someone as rude as that. You need to remember what we’re here for. What’s a little insult? The mission is most important.”
Xia Lei still watched the Toyota Camry in the distance.
The blonde woman stuck her head out the window again and gave Xia Lei the finger as she mouth something intelligible.
“Shit, if she comes back here I’ll punch her for you!” Tang Yu-Yan was pissed too. This blonde woman was just so aggravating.
Xia Lei watched the Toyota Camry still. The images of the blonde woman giving him the finger and the shape of her mouth as she spoke surfaced in his mind again and again. He used lip-reading on her and what she’d said was ‘chewing gum, chewing gum, chewing gum’.
Xia Lei’s expression changed and he looked at the chewing gum on the pavement. The chewing gum had the imprint of the blonde woman’s teeth in it and it looked like a piece of chewed-up, garbage chewing gum. This was what confused him. It would’ve been fairly normal for the woman to curse him but why had she said ‘chewing gum’ three times?
He recalled what she had said to him earlier - you be careful, next time it won’t be chewing gum but a bullet.
She had repeated this twice. This was not one of the speech patterns of a Russian woman, surely.
“Let’s go. Stop looking.” Tang Yu-Yan let go of Xia Lei’s hand and continued walking forward.
Xia Lei went up to the pavement and stepped on that piece of chewing gum, then followed Tang Yu-Yan to the intelligence station.
He had confirmed that there was something unusual about this piece of chewing gum. The right thing to do was to tell Tang Yu-Yan, then investigate the chewing gum but he thought of someone and relinquished the idea.
He had thought of his father, Xia Chang-He.
His father had also sent a Russian woman to contact him the last time but she’d been killed by Liang Si-Yao. It was a Russian woman again this time and the hint was fairly obvious - this woman was very likely sent by Xia Chang-He. If this was true and he told Tang Yu-Yan, then wouldn’t it be smashing his own foot with a rock?
Back in the intelligence station, Tang Yu-Yan gathered the agents she’d brought and went through their mission plans. Xia Lei listened for a bit and excused himself to go to the toilet. In his room, he removed the chewing gum from the bottom of his shoe and carefully pulled it apart.
A paper note was rolled up inside and a message was written on it: Son, you’ve been marked. Leave Pakistan. Don’t go to Afghanistan. Danger.
It was not signed but there was no need for that. Xia Lei knew who had written this note.
“Dad…” Xia Lei’s heart was a mess and he couldn’t help the trembling in his hands. ‘He’s alive, he’s really alive. This is his handwriting! I know it! He’s close by!’
Xia Chang-He’s voice and smile replayed over and over in Xia Lei’s head like a video. Two small streams of tears rolled from Xia Lei’s eyes, flowing over his cheeks to drop on the floor. He couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face, an outward expression of the joy and excitement in his heart.
Footsteps suddenly came from beyond the door.
Xia Lei swiftly crumpled the note into a ball and lifted his arm, prepared to throw it and the chewing gum into the rubbish bin, but he stopped. He braced himself and put the dirty chewing gum and paper note in his mouth, then swallowed them.
This was no ordinary place. Every person here was an experienced agent and the smallest negligence would reveal the his secret father!
The chewing gum and paper swallowed, Xia Lei quickly wiped away the tears in his eyes.
Tang Yu-Yan pushed the door open and walked in just as he was done wiping. “Time to eat. I have to call you every time - why can’t you come down yourself?”
Xia Lei wrinkled his brows. “Eating so early?”
“We’re eating early and heading out right after,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
“So quick?” His father’s warning echoed in his head.
“Karam has left the city. We need to catch up to him,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
“All right. We’ll eat, then go to Afghanistan.” Xia Lei went to the door.
His father had sent him a note telling him he’d been marked and to go back but this warning was too late. If he’d sent him this note before he departed, Xia Lei would probably have refused to go on this mission but the arrow had been released from the bow now. How could he shake off Tang Yu-Yan and ten agents and escape this situation? He couldn’t. Plus, Ning Jing, who’d helped him in the past, was also trapped there.
However, this wasn’t the reason why he’d decided to go to Afghanistan. The biggest reason for him to make this decision was his father, Xia Chang-He. His father had gone missing for six years and cut off all contact. It was a rare chance for him to find his father, and he was in the vicinity right now!
‘If I’ve been marked then I’m 80-90% sure that it’s the CIA. Marked me, sure. I’ve never been an easy target so if they want to catch me or kill me then they’d have to talk to my gun first.’ Xia Lei had prepared himself.
Xia Lei spoke to Tang Yu-Yan after their meal. “Yu-Yan, lend me your sniper rifle.”
Tang Yu-Yan asked no questions and handed her sniper rifle to Xia Lei. “Sure I can, but you have to modify one more for my elder brother when we get back.”
Xia Lei looked at her wordlessly.
“Will you do it? I’ll take this back if you’re not going to do it.” Tang Yu-Yan reached to take the gun back.
Xia Lei held the gun in a tight grip. “Deal.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Next chapter will be late because I'll be on the plane back to Switzerland in a few hours... and will have to grapple with jet lag afterwards...
Hope I'll be able to get something done on the plane T.T