Chapter 24 - Lao Li
As Shen Yu rushed out of the tent, Tang Can and Mazha jumped out of the car. With two soldiers to apprehend the uninvited guest, the scuffle immediately turned into their favor. Mazha disarmed the invader and quickly made the person kneel on the ground with his arms forcefully pulled behind his back.
The unknown man cried in pain on the ground. “Please forgive me! I was wrong! Please spare my worthless life!”
Furious, Mazha cursed the man. “Did you think we were dumb sheep, just waiting to get sheared by you? Well guess what, we’re not sheep, we can easily defend ourselves. Bet you regret it now!” He breathed heavily and tried to control his rage but still kicked the thief with his foot. The kick must have contained a decent amount of force as the thief shrieked when it connected.
The intruder sniveled piteously and continued to sob in pain. “Brother, can you please spare me? We’re both from the same province, please forgive me on account of that!”
Shen Yu observed the scene and thought that something felt weird when she heard the unknown man speak. She paid close attention to what the man said. Her reporter's intuition was tingling, and she had a good one. Otherwise, how would she survive in the field for so long with no support from her managers? A reporter who couldn’t sniff out a good story when there was a whiff was a reporter who was out of a job.
The person’s words did not calm Mazha down. Instead, it made him more angry. He kicked the man with more force than he did the first time and barked, “Who the hell is from the same province as you? I’m from the Mongol tribes! That’s hundreds, maybe thousands of kilometers away from Shandong!”
The man continued to cry and wail, begging for forgiveness and acknowledging his faults and wrongs.
At that moment, Shen Yu noticed that Wheaty was not feeling well. The yellow colored dog was laying on the ground and her bark sounded weak and painful.
Shen Yu ran over to where the dog was lying down. Using her flashlight, she looked at the dog more closely. A long, jagged wound stained the dog’s back. Blood flowed out of the injury, oozing faintly. Shen Yu felt a pang in her heart and her legs quivered. She sat down with a thump on the ground and, with shaky hands, tried to close the wound on Wheaty’s back. The dog had lost a decent amount of blood. What if Wheaty lost too much blood? I wish I could put all of that blood on the ground back into her!
After Tang Can noticed what happened to Wheaty, he immediately went to the trunk of the car and grabbed a first aid kit. He called out to Zhang Fei, asking her to help treat and bind Wheaty’s wounds. Zhang Fei sniffed coldly and avoided him by walking to the side. She sneaked over to Mazha and helped the other soldier interrogate the intruder.
To Shen Yu, Zhang Fei disobeying orders didn't affect her plans at all. She had no intention of asking the female soldier for help in the first place. She snatched the first aid kit from Tang Can and imperiously ordered him to hold a light for her. She opened the medical kit and took out the required supplies. Binding wounds was something that even she knew how to do. After inspecting the dog’s wounds, she inwardly rejoiced that they were not severe. Although the cuts on the back were long and ugly-looking, they were only surface injuries and did not go deep into the flesh. She quickly stopped the bleeding and bandaged up the dog. By the time she was done, Mazha had figured out the identity of the intruder.
It was the gold thief, Lao Li! The same Lao Li who had been sentenced to be mosquito bait for seven days and seven nights! In fact, the knife he used to harm the dog was the same military-issued dagger that Mazha had left him to help him slip his captors! Infuriated, Mazha took back the knife and used dirt from the ground to clean off the blood from the blade.
Only now did Shen Yu realize that Tang Can was right about the gold miners. None of them were good people. Given a chance, they would all use unscrupulous methods to get ahead. Even though they saved Lao Li, he did not have any feelings of gratitude towards them. He even went so far to try to steal their vehicle to escape. He was truly an animal that bit the hand that he fed him!
Mazha dragged Lao Li over to Shen Yu and Tang Can. With fire in his eyes, he told Shen Yu to do whatever she wanted to punish him, since she loved Wheaty the most. Shen Yu had the urge to beat Lao Li to death for what he did to the dog but, in the end, she managed to put her feelings of revenge away. She ground her teeth in frustration but had to conclude that hurting Lao Li would not lessen Wheaty’s wounds. She turned to Tang Can and asked if they could bring Lao Li with them when they left the mountains tomorrow.
Tang Can agreed to honor her request. For their safety, however, they would have to make sure Lao Li didn’t have any way to harm them when they went back to sleep. They decided to tie the thief up again.
When Lao Li saw Shen Yu pleading for clemency instead of hollering for his blood, his eyes welled up with tears. He had never thought that someone he had wronged would be kind to him and even let him be taken off of the mountain. He kneeled in front of her and kowtowed several times.
“Even if I get reincarnated into an animal in my next life, I will always remember your kindness.”
“Shut up!” snapped Shen Yu. Lao Li flinched in fright and crouched down low, as if he was trying to kiss the ground. Shen Yu took a slow, deep breath and then continued, “You are human. While alive, you should act like a real human, with humanity. Don’t continue to live like a beast in man’s clothing!”
Lao Li nodded timidly and assented. He kept his head lowered in shame, as if it was weighted with a heavy stone.
Shen Yu spent the latter part of the night next to Wheaty to keep the dog company. She could hear the dog quietly whining in pain. Every cry in pain made her heart clench with sorrow.
Seeing Shen Yu so sad made Tang Can feel uncomfortable, as if he was breathing air that was too humid. However, he was the driver of the car tomorrow, so he needed to get some rest. After spending some time with Shen Yu and the dog, he went back into the car to go back to sleep.
At the side, Lao Li shifted and turned, his arm sore with being bound so tight. It got to the point when he couldn’t stand it. He raised his head and pleaded quietly to Shen Yu, “The rope is too tight around my arms, it feels like they will snap in half soon.”
Shen Yu pretended that she couldn’t hear the man. Using a louder tone of voice, Lao Li repeated his request again, this time asking her to loosen his bonds. Once again, Shen Yu ignored him. Seeing that Shen Yu had no interest in helping him, Lao Li had to change his tactics.
“My stomach hurts so much when empty. Can you give me something to eat? I really can’t stand it anymore,” he pleaded
Finally, Shen Yu stood up and went to grab some bread and water. However, she still had no intention in loosening the man’s ropes. She slowly fed the old man some bread and helped him drink the water. A breeze blew by, causing the silver bell on her bracelet to chime sweetly.
The sound of the bell caused Lao Li to look at it in shock. He was so deep in thought that he didn’t even notice Shen Yu offering him another piece of bread.
After waiting for a bit with no response, Shen Yu impatiently asked, “Are you going to eat this or not?”
Lao Li instantly opened his mouth and swallowed the bread. After eating a couple more bites of bread, Shen Yu offered him some water to wash it down. After that, Lao Li lamented that Shen Yu reminded him of his own daughter. It had been many years since he saw his daughter and he missed her.
Shen Yu asked, “I thought you gold miners all rested in the winter. How come you didn’t go home to visit when you had the time?”
Lao Li forced out a bitter smile. “I’ve been divorced from my wife for a long time. After my ex-wife remarried she left with our daughter to move to another province where her new husband lives. I’ve been living on my own for a while, and it had been going pretty well for me. But in the past few years I started to feel restless, not sure why. Been thinking about my daughter a lot. Last year, my daughter secretly sent me a letter behind her mother’s back. She said that her stepfather is mean to her so she wants to come and live with me. I actually made a lot of money a while back when I was with the old geezer. But after living by myself for so long, I got lazy. I spent money when I shouldn’t ,so by the time I got her letter, I was poor again. I don’t want her to have a hard, poor life with me. So I went back with Old Mr. Yun to earn some more money, and then I could finally have my daughter live with me…” At this point, his voice became choked up with emotion.
After hearing Lao Li’s story, Shen Yu’s heart tightened, and she couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for him. However, she didn’t let her feelings rule her mind. She distinctly remembered that earlier, during the day, Lao Li said he had an old mother, a wife, and kids to raise. At least, that’s what he was hollering when he was begging for forgiveness. So how did his story change so quickly? Given his history of biting the hand that fed him, Shen Yu viewed his new story with a healthy dose of skepticism. Who knew whether this thief was saying the truth or not this time?
The only part of the story that interested her was when Lao Li mentioned Old Mr. Yun. From what little she could pick from Mazha, she knew that Tang Can and Old Mr. Yun had some kind of business relationship going on, but she didn’t know more than that. However, her intuition said that it definitely had something to with herself, so it made her feel very uneasy. Lao Li was not under Tang Can’s thumb. This a perfect opportunity to get some more information about Old Mr. Yun. If she didn’t take this chance, would she ever get another one?
Shen Yu eyed her target candidly and deliberately started to steer the conversation. Pretending to feel pity for the miner, she said, “Sounds like you’ve been following Old Mr. Yun for a long time. Why was he so callous to an old friend like you? If we didn’t help you today, you probably would have died a slow, painful death!”
Lao Li sighed and smiled bitterly. “That old man? Those who know his reputation all know that Old Mr. Yun is as cruel as can be! This is the guy who could sacrifice his own blood, his own daughter, for his personal gain! No one working underneath him would even dare try to be friends with him.”
Shen Yu raised her eyebrows, not sure whether she believed Lao Li’s opinions. “How could you say that? There is no father in this world who would deliberately harm his own daughter. Look at yourself. You were willing to sacrifice your own life to give your daughter a better life!”
Lao Li groaned in exasperation. “I’m not lying! Old Mr. Yun’s daughter had a sunny and kind personality. Back then, the other gold miners always bullied me but she always tried to help and protect me. That’s why I liked her. When I heard her footsteps, I could hear my heart start pounding faster like it was going to pound through my chest wall. But I knew I wasn’t good enough for her, so all I could do was admire her from afar. It wasn’t just me. A lot of the other people working there also liked her. She was that good of a lady. But no one else liked her as much as I did. I was always the first one to know when she was about the come by. I trained myself to hear the sound of the little silver bell on her bracelet.”
“A silver bracelet with a bell?” she asked, feeling uneasy. Shen Yu suddenly remembered something that happened when she first came into the mountains. She remembered that Old Mr. Yun had asked her to take off her bracelet so he could look at it. She could not forget the weird expression he had on his face when he saw it - it was as if he just had the opportunity to see something rare and uncommon!
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