Chapter 22 - Established Rules
“All clean now!” said Old Mr. Yun, a smile on his face. He placed his hand with the gold kernel in it in front of Shen Yu’s face. “It’s yours!”
After seeing the gold fall out of her shoe and then get licked by the old geezer’s tongue, Shen Yu’s stomach rolled at the thought of touching it. After almost vomiting up her lunch on the spot, she hastily shook her hand and rejected his offer.
When he saw her refusal, Old Mr. Yun instantly took the piece of gold back. Reverently, he took out a small bag about the size of a tobacco pouch from his pocket using his other hand and he carefully pinched the piece of gold between his fingers. He fastidiously placed the metal into the pouch that was held open by his other hand. After closing the bag with exact movements, it was stored back into his breast pocket. Only after it was put away did his face relax into a pleased smile.
He beamed at Shen Yu and said, “Girl, take off your other shoe too!”
Shen Yu was bewildered for a second before she suddenly realized what he was after. Goosebumps popped onto her limbs as she released her foot from her other shoe. Old Mr. Yun personally took the military issued shoe from her and turned it over, dumping out water mixed with silty sand. Using a finger, he examined every single grain of sand. Not a glimmer of gold could be seen. After confirming there was no gold hidden anywhere, he smiled and gave the shoe back to her and told her to put it back on.
Shen Yu could feel her scalp tingle with uneasiness but she couldn’t pinpoint why she felt this way After she finished putting her shoes back on, the feeling of disgust came back. She ran to a nearby clump of weeds and puked out her guts, her face green with nausea.
After she finished vomiting, Shen Yu felt more comfortable. She avoided directly looking at Old Mr. Yun and quickly glanced at him. Just looking at him was enough to bring up the disgusting memory of him licking the piece of gold that came out of her shoe. It was enough to make her feel queasy again.
“Drink some water!” said Tang Can, holding out a bottle of water. Shen Yu wasn’t sure when he came up behind her. She took the water he offered and rinsed her mouth before gulping down big mouthfuls. She felt much better after drinking the water.
Seeing her calm down again, he smiled at her. “There are all sorts of people in this world. Since you’re a reporter, I’m sure you already knew this!”
His words were indeed true! The world had many types of people, but this was the first time she had ever personally met someone as greedy and avaricious as Old Mr. Yun. He seemed like the type to throw away his own life for money. She felt fortunate that she wasn’t able to pan any gold earlier. Even if she did, it would have been a waste of her energy. With a personality that grasping, Old Mr. Yun was merely paying lip service earlier when he said she could take gold home. If she took his words to be true, he would have had an aneurysm!
Tang Can continued, “Gold miners are all people who love wealth more than they love living. Before any of the workers can stop for the day, they all need to prove that they’re not secretly hiding any gold they found. The miners strip naked and undergo inspection. Their clothes are checked and ruffled through. Rain or shine, all of them must wash themselves in the creek from head to toe, including their mouths, nostrils and ears. Every orifice of their body is washed, including their butts. Only after proving their innocence under inspection are they allowed to put on clothes again, eat, and rest.”
Shen Yu’s mouth dropped open after hearing his explanation. She couldn’t help but ask, “How can these people be like this?”
The officer shook his head sadly and replied, “All gold miners have established rules like this. This helps establish discipline and proves to everyone involved that no one is taking a secret cut of gold for themselves. Only when everyone is proven clean can they all sleep easy at night.”
Shen Yu looked at Tang Can briefly but had nothing more to say.
Together they headed back to where Old Mr. Yun was standing. By the time they got back, the miners had finished their lunch break and had gone back into the stream to start working again. Mazha and Zhang Fei were both on their cellphones. When they saw the two return, they gathered around Tang Can and started talking to him, muttering quietly about something she couldn’t hear. Shen Yu tactfully kept her distance from them. She swiftly glanced at Old Mr. Yun and his bodyguard. They were also whispering into each others ears. Everyone had secrets!
Bored with her surroundings, Shen Yu went to go play with Wheaty.
Shortly after, Shen Yu saw one of the miners holler that his stomach was hurting. Holding his belly in pain, he ran towards a grove of trees that were located a distance away from the river.
Other miners yelled at him. “Lao Li, why do you need to run so far for a bout of diarrhea?”
The person called Lao Li continued to run, not looking back. “Aren’t there women here today? I feel embarrassed going to the bathroom in front of them!” He darted into the small bunch of trees.
Shen Yu sat by the riverbank, idly watching the miners work. Lao Li got up several times to run into the small grove of trees. Each time he got up, he ran urgently and exclaimed in a thick Shandong accent, “I must have eaten something that has gone bad! The pain in my tummy is driving me crazy!”
A couple of steps away were Tang Can and Old Mr. Yun. They had their heads turned towards each other and were negotiating something. Wheaty had wandered off into the long grass, hunting grasshoppers in the grass and eating those that she caught.
Shen Yu continued to relax and watch the men panning for gold. To amuse herself, she started counting the amount of times Lao Li came up to run into the trees to relieve himself. On his seventh run, Old Mr. Yun’s bodyguard, Wu Li, followed him closely. Both of them entered the grove. Suddenly, she heard a man’s voice screaming. Shortly after, Wu Li came out of the trees with Lao Li in front of him, twisted in the his grasp.
Lao Li pleaded pitifully for forgiveness as he was forced to march towards the group. He sobbed continuously like a broken record, “It was wrong of me! I was a scoundrel! I will never do it again! Please forgive me….”
The entire scene scared Shen Yu to her toes. The bodyguard’s callous treatment of the man sent chills down her spine. Is he is even human? Does have any compassion left in him? How could he stomach being cruel to a man who was only trying to clear food poisoning?
Wu Li harshly pressed Lao Li down to the ground and handed over a cloth bag to Old Mr. Yun. The old man slowly opened the bag in front of everyone. A layer of shining gold was exposed, allowing everyone to see what Lao Li was trying to do. Shen Yu suddenly realized that Lao Li had only been using food poisoning as an excuse to smuggle gold away. Lao Li had been hiding the gold he panned in his mouth and under his fingernails. Hidden by the grove of trees, he was able to transfer it in secrecy. Later on, he would have been able to take his stash of gold and sell it for his own uses.
In front of Old Mr. Yun, Lao Li started begging for forgiveness. He knelt in the mud and knocked his head repeatedly on the stone as tears ran down his face. Soon after he started kowtowing, tell-tale purple bruises showed up on his forehead.
Old Mr. Yun slowly smoked on his pipe as he watched Lao Li apologize to him. The pipe clicked its tell-tale ‘bada bada’ with every breath he took. He smoked until the remaining tobacco in the reservoir had burnt out. Only when he was finished did he deliberately tap out the ashes. He smiled and reached out a hand to gently pat Lao Li’s shoulder.
“Punish him per the established rules!” he ordered.
That one phrase caused Shen Yu’s hair to stand on end. She knew that Old Mr. Yun’s gentle facade was just a pretense. Deep inside she knew greedy people like him were capable of great cruelty. What did he mean by “punish him per the established rules”? She had a sinking feeling that the ‘established rules’ were not something to be taken lightly.
As expected, Wu Li immediately twisted Lao Li’s arm cruelly and picked him up from the ground. The stone faced bodyguard dragged the miner towards a nearby grove of trees. Lao Li wailed and cried hysterically, begging Old Mr. Yun to show him mercy. He screamed that he had an old infirm mother with medical bills and that he was the sole provider for his wife and kids.
“...please have mercy on my worthless life! I’ll spend the rest of my life working like a useless dog to repay your kindness! Spare me, spare me, spare me…” His cries for forgiveness became increasingly desperate.
His miserable cries made Shen Yu’s heart twist in pity. She couldn’t help but walk towards Old Mr. Yun to say a couple of words for that miner in hopes of lessening his punishment. Before she could reach him, Tang Can suddenly came in front of her, blocking her way. She didn’t have the chance to say one word before the young officer told her he needed to talk to her urgently and then dragged her away to a more private space.
Tang Can immediately started talking. “Were you trying to talk to Old Mr. Yun, to plead for leniency?”
Shocked, Shen Yu couldn’t react for a second but then smiled at him contemptuously.
The young officer let out a bitter smile when he read the disgust in her eyes. He slowly continued to explain, “Gold miners follow specific customs. Those who try to steal gold are considered thieves and are sent out to feed mosquitoes. Using rope, they bind up the person’s arms behind their back and place a loop around their neck. Then the thief is tied to a tree and left there. If the criminal survives after being hung there for seven days and seven nights, it is considered to be the grace of the gods and he is set free. If he dies, then it was fate that he needed to die.”
Shen Yu’s face instantly drained of color and became as white as a sheet of paper. She held onto her anger with difficulty and questioned him, “Since you know their customs, why don’t you stop them? How can you just watch as they execute a man in cold blood?”
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