Chapter 13 - Disappointment
When they reached the miners, Shen Yu saw that some of them were pouring the silt into the sluice while others used metal rakes to roughly separate the larger chunks of gravel from the smaller. Further along, other miners scooped the separated dirt into what looked like wicker baskets similar to what many farmers used to carry crops. However, the ones that they were using were a lot larger than the ones that she was familiar with. She later learned that these were gold pans used in gold panning. Shen Yu watched as the workers filled the pans with water and shook them. The agitation caused the water to flow out, carrying bits of dirt and silt away from the pan. In the end, what was leftover were bits of gold dust and other heavier minerals. Shen Yu felt excitement rise when she saw the little bits of gold glimmering in the sunlight. This was the first time that she got to see raw gold dust being mined.
The people back in her village had previously talked about gold panning. They said that it was very simple process and didn’t require complicated tools. All it required was strength, a source of water, and patience. Panning was very similar to rinsing rice. The dirt needed to be mixed with water and agitated, leaving behind scrapings of gold in the end.
Based on that, she assumed that panning for gold was as easy as picking up dead fish from a dried up lake. Shen Yu had thought that it would be easy to get rich on just one night’s work. After seeing the process in person, she realized that the gold yield from panning was very low. A miner may go through bucket loads of dirt to just get the smallest amount of gold.
At this point, their guide called out to the person that they were looking for, telling him that some old friends were over.
An old man came out from a distant tent. He had messy white hair and a beard like a goat’s. He was neatly dressed in a gray buttoned up jacket, gray trousers, and had on some cloth shoes. Behind the old man followed a younger fellow with a tall and broad physique. He was dressed casually in a blue t-shirt and shorts which he paired with some tennis shoes. His dark eyes were lively and not a detail was missed by them. Even Shen Yu could tell at a glance that this man’s background was not simple, he had to be someone who was well versed in martial arts. She wondered idly if this man was the old man’s bodyguard.
The old man smiled when he saw the group waiting for him, clearly recognizing Tang Can. He greeted Tang Can as his brother in the national language and had a strong Shandong accent . Shen Yu raised an eyebrow. Tang Can was young enough to be this man’s grandson and he was calling him his brother? Just from this one conversation, Shen Yu could tell that this old man was a wily old fox.
“It’s good to see you again, old man,” greeted Tang Can, his signature smile on his face.
The two men hugged each other as if they were old friends but Shen Yu quickly noticed it was just for show. During the maneuver, she could see that the old man took the opportunity to whisper something into Tang Can’s ear. Unfortunately, she was too far away to tell what was said.
After slapping each other on the back and making some other small talk, they finally separated. The old man pointed his hand first at Shen Yu and then at Zhang Fei. “Which girl were you referring to?”
Tang Can glanced at Shen Yu and the old man immediately started grinning at her. He inspected her from head to toe. Shen Yu felt uncomfortable under his gaze. For some reason, she felt like she was about to be sold to the highest bidder and she couldn’t shake that awkward feeling.
The old man finally noticed the silver bracelet on her wrist and stared at it silently. After a while, he turned to her and asked, “Girl! Can this old geezer take a look at your bracelet?”
Shen Yu smiled. Without hesitation she took the bracelet off of her wrist and handed it over. “Here you go!”
After receiving the bracelet, the old man’s expression changed, as if he was inspecting something very important. His eyes became huge and it was difficult to see what he was thinking. Shen Yu noticed the corner of his mouth started trembling and started to feel perplexed. It's just a bracelet that mom gave me, why did the old geezer react this way? It’s not as if it's worth anything.
Shen Yu watched the old man closely as he slowly got his emotions under control again. When he returned the bracelet to her, the expression on his face was bland, as if nothing had happened.
“Thank you!” he smiled at her and then turned towards Tang Can. He shook his head from side to side. “You guys need to go!”
Shocked by the man’s sudden change in demeanor, Tang Can exclaimed, “Old man!” He then walked closer to the man to discuss something quietly. Unfortunately, Shen Yu was out of earshot and could not hear anything. She did notice that Tang Can’s face slowly lost its color and became pale.
The old man had his back towards her so she couldn’t see his expression. The only thing she could hear was, “Tang Can, my brother, you guys should leave now while the sky is still light. Otherwise you’ll have to camp in the mountains and this old geezer doesn’t have any extra tents for you. I apologize for the inconvenience.” He flapped his hands at the group.
Shen Yu stared at the two of them, unsure of what to do. In the corner of her eye she could see Zhang Fei and Mazha look at each other uneasily. Disappointment permeated the campsite.
“You guys should leave now,” warned the bodyguard. “We have some Tibetan mastiffs here that we let out at night to guard us. They’re not as well-behaved as those other dogs you saw earlier. They have a tendency to attack strangers. You need to leave this place now.” They watched in silence as the scruffy old man and his bodyguard went back to their tent.
“Sorry about that,” their guide said sheepishly as he spread out his hands. “But I’m sure you heard what the old man said. We don’t let strangers stay with us, so I’ll have to ask you guys to leave. “
Tang Can wrinkled his brows and glanced at the old man in the distance before making eye contact with Mazha and Zhang Fei. Finally he looked at Shen Yu and said, “Let’s go.”
The guide escorted them back to their vehicle. On the surface, the guide was accompanying them to show them the way out but Shen Yu could tell that he was actually there to make sure they left the campgrounds. When the car finally drove off, Shen Yu saw that the man was still standing there to “send them off”. Only after had they driven a distance did she see that he finally turn back to the mining camp.
Zhang Fei stared at Shen Yu with hostility before turning back to Tang Can. “How is this possible?” she complained, a frown on her face. “Did we find the wrong person?”
He chuckled lightly. “Maybe we did.”
Mazha muttered nonstop as they drove away, cursing quietly under his breath. “Isn’t that old geezer trying to trick us? We’ve been following his clues all along but when we finally find the person he pretends to not know anything. What the hell is that f*cker trying to do?”
“Ahem!” said Tang Can, looking Mazha in the eye. “Don’t swear here.”
Shen Yu wasn’t fooled by Tang Can’s attempt at distracting her. She could tell his actual intention was to make sure Mazha didn’t accidentally say too much.
Didn’t he say that I could try gold panning myself? Looks like that was a lie too. Mazha’s wrong, the real f*cker is my smiling friend over there. She really wanted to give him a piece of her mind. Just what was going on behind that fake smile of his? Whatever it was, it wasn’t good news for her!
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